Porn!

Why-do-porn-sites-have-share-it-on-Facebook-button---memeThe notable pop culture essayist Chuck Klosterman once wrote a piece about pornography in which he said something to the effect of: “Most porn is about as erotic as banging your head against a wall”.

He’s a guy who likes girls. I think he might even be married to one at this point. I am also a guy who likes girls. I think I might even have slept with one or two what seems like a lifetime ago.

I’ve been in a bit of a drought when it comes to female companionship for a while, so it would seem I’d be the perfect target audience for the abundance of free porn our new digital age has so graciously made available. Except, like Chuck, pretty much everything I’ve seen has struck me as being about as much of a turn-on as a tooth extraction.

Most of it seems to consist of some dude jackhammering some poor girl in 12 different positions for an hour straight. None of this would fall into the rather quaint definition of “lovemaking”–it’s more or less like extreme sports. Or an endurance contest, at the very least.

I’m not sure the participants are even enjoying themselves all that much. The guy is exerting himself to the point of having a stroke while the girl alternates between looking bored and being legitimately in pain. Subtitles would likely reveal that every time she says “Oh yeah, fuck my pussy good” she’s really thinking “Come on, man, can you fucking finish already?”

The titles for these epic adventures in filmmaking are truly great. Poetic, even. “Fat and Frantic” deftly employs alliteration, as does “Tinkling Teasers”. “Fun in the Barn” certainly leaves much to the imagination (although it promises “bizarre barnyard behavior!”), however, “Asian Coed Cocksuckers” does not. I was dismayed to find out that “(Fill in the blank) Sucks and Fucks Like a Champ” is not a franchise like “Star Wars”, because if it was it would have at least 3,472 episodes, and I love “Star Wars”. It must be a shared copyright used whenever the star of the piece (fill in the blank accordingly) possesses championship caliber talent, as opposed to those sad sacks who suck and fuck like someone who’s not going to make the playoffs.

Back in the day, you’d have titles like “Debbie Does Dallas”. I never saw that one, but I’ve always wondered how far she got. That’s a pretty big town.

A part of me wishes I could enjoy this stuff. I just want to be one of the guys. Instead, it just makes me alternately laugh out loud and shake my head (that’s lol and smh for you younger folk).

Somebody must get off on it, though, otherwise there wouldn’t be six zillion hours of it a mouse click away.

Being that so much of this content is free, I worry about whether or not these “performers” are able to monetize what they’re doing. With all of that sucking and fucking like a champ, you might need a hip replacement at some point. Tommy John surgery, even, if you’ve really pushed the envelope. Do the producers of “Cum to the Stables” offer health insurance?

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Spinner Racks

Until recently, I lived next door to a 9-year-old who was always riding his Spider-Man BMX bike, except for when he was riding his Spider-Man scooter. He’d get on the school bus every morning with a Spider-Man backpack slung over his shoulders. His father told me that he’d seen every Spider-Man movie dozens of times, watched Spider-Man cartoons constantly, played Spider-Man video games, ate Spider-Man fruit roll-ups and went to sleep every night under the watchful eye of dozens of Spider-Man action figures and toys while wrapped up in Spider-Man bedding. On a regular basis, the child would burst out of the front door of his apartment in a full head-to-toe Spider-Man Halloween costume. However, according to his father, the one thing this kid had never laid eyes on is an actual Spider-Man comic book.

Fairly regularly, the comic book industry’s top publishers will launch initiatives to engage “younger readers”, and my eyes glaze over every time. For a medium with such a graying audience, I’m not sure what qualifies as a “younger reader” anymore—35 as opposed to 45?—but I do know this: kids don’t read comics any more. That ship sailed many years ago, for a variety of reasons. And anyone paying attention is aware of the fact that not only have comics not been written for or marketed to kids in decades; they really haven’t been available to them at all.

While the emergence of comic shops (the “direct market”) in the seventies and eighties may have helped save the industry, it also had the effect of removing comics from the public consciousness by transforming a commonplace product available virtually anywhere to a specialty item available only at select locations. When I was my former neighbor’s age, 9 times out of 10 any place that carried magazines and newspapers had what is commonly referred to as a spinner rack. In many grocery stores, they’d be positioned right by the checkout for maximum “Mommmmm, pleeeeassssse?” impulse purchase effectiveness. Batman crashing through a skylight right at eye level.

 

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When I was that kid’s age, I rode my bike up to the corner convenience store a couple of times a week. On Wednesdays, the guy who ran the place would let me cut open the new bundles of comics and magazines. I’d go through the comics to see if the new issue of The Amazing Spider-Man or Saga of the Swamp Thing was out (then I’d go through the magazines to see if there was a cover story on KISS or Van Halen or AC/DC in Hit Parader or Creem.)  Sometimes, I’d ride a little further down the road to the strip mall where I could find three more spinner racks at the drug store, the supermarket, and the toy store. Today, if I want to purchase a comic book, I have to get in the car and drive several miles to a specialty store.

Of course, even if comic books were easily available to the average kid, they now cost (adjusted for inflation) a considerable amount more than they did in those bygone days. How far exactly could one expect an 11-year-old’s allowance dollar ($3.99 or $4.99 for some 20-odd pages) to stretch?

But never mind kids. Let’s say you are older, part of the demographic comics are actually targeted to nowadays. You’ve just seen a Thor or Iron Man movie, enjoyed it, and wouldn’t be averse to picking up a comic book featuring one of those guys if you ran across one. Well, you’re not going to, because you’ll never run across a comic book at any retail establishment that you might frequent during the course of your day. Spinner racks don’t exist anymore. However, any checkout counter in America worth its weight will have a plentiful supply of Dutch Masters so you can roll a blunt.

Comic books have transformed from a common, affordable piece of Americana—available just about anywhere—to a relatively expensive niche product with an extremely narrow audience found almost exclusively at a handful of specialty outlets. As such, they have essentially become a resource through which movie and television studios and video game developers sift for characters and concepts to present to an actual audience.

Ironically, superheroes are more prevalent in our popular culture than at any time in their history, yet the source material itself has never been more irrelevant.

Smoke a Pack a Day

wisconsin wolf

The term “Outdoorsman” has always struck me as hysterical. “Outdoorsmen” never fail to proclaim a profound love of nature, but what they really love is nature on their own terms. They’re not interested in truly wild ecosystems—what they’re really interested in is a managed wildlife park with plenty of shit to shoot. If a naturally occurring species happens to interfere with the shit they want to shoot? Well, that ain’t right.

I had this discussion with one of my regular customers at my place of business. He’s one of my favorite customers, actually. We get so many ornery meatballs who ask for the impossible, but he’s not one of them—he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. We both live and work in Madison, Wisconsin, and somehow we got on to the topic of wolves because he has land up in the north woods which makes me jealous to no end.

This guy was fairly adamant that wolves “Don’t belong in Wisconsin”, and that if he ever saw one on his property he’d shoot it.

He kept going on about how wolves were reintroduced to Wisconsin, except that never happened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reintroduced wolves in other places: red wolves in the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina in the 1980s, timber wolves in Yellowstone a decade later, and more recently Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. But Wisconsin’s wolves are naturally occurring: the state is one of the few in which wolves may never have been fully eradicated by predator control programs that began in the late 19th century.  Over recent decades dispersing animals from Minnesota and Michigan’s upper peninsula have joined whatever native population remained, and their numbers have grown because protection under the Endangered Species Act has coincided with a changing public attitude towards their presence; whereas wolves were once commonly viewed as vermin, a threat to man and livestock alike, human attitudes have  evolved dramatically in the last century.

One of this guy’s big problems was that “Our deer herd is being decimated”. In fact, according to the Wisconsin DNR, “Studies have shown that wolves have minimal negative impact on deer populations, since they feed primarily on weak, sick or disabled individuals.” But even if it were true, nature is designed to balance itself out. For example, wolves have inhabited Isle Royale National Park just off of Michigan’s upper peninsula for decades, but are now dying off. This is because in this isolated location the wolves have not only suffered from inbreeding but have nearly exhausted their primary food supply of moose. So those few remaining wolves will likely perish,  the moose will slowly recover, and then it will start all over again when some intrepid pack crosses an iced over Lake Superior and recolonizes the island. Nature adjusts. It knows what it’s doing. We only think we do.

Wolves have been demonized for ages, which is particularly striking given that every breed of domestic dog is a direct descendant: the DNA of a timber wolf and a Chihuahua is nearly identical. We hated them so much we nearly exterminated them in so many places around the world, but not before we developed weiner dogs!

For whatever reason, wolves check a box, tip a scale that more common predators like the black bear don’t. They seem to be bound up in our nightmares. While bears are more frequently involved in clashes with humans and their pets, wolves tend to avoid us like the plague. Yet nobody ever says “Bears don’t belong in Wisconsin” or anywhere else, for that matter. Given that we’ve only got about 28,000 of those, I suppose that’s a good thing.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources just released a report that shows the state’s wolf population hitting a record high. The study concluded that for the year 2015 there were close to 900 wolves calling Wisconsin home. For that year, there was a grand total of 13 attacks on livestock or pets. Despite the fact that many thousands of people live or vacation in wolf country, there was not one reported incident of a negative interaction with a human: not a single wolf ate a single baby.

There are certain yahoos native to western states like Montana and Wyoming; ranchers and “Outdoorsmen” who regularly attend public meetings brandishing signs with what they must think are really clever graphics, like a picture of a wolf carcass accompanied by the slogan “Smoke a pack a day”. I’d like to think my customer isn’t kin to them folk. Actually, he came in the next day and clarified his position a bit. He said he’d only shoot a wolf if he thought it was a threat to his little kids, and that he’d actually like to see one in the wild someday. By “in the wild” I presume he still means someplace other than Wisconsin.

This is all not to say that wolves are all sweetness and light, cuddly little fur balls that fart rainbows–any predator can be dangerous under the right circumstances and should be regarded with caution. But come on, man…..

The above photo is of a black phase wolf in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge about an hour and a half north of where my customer and I had our little debate. Unlike him, I’m thrilled that it is there.

Just Got Back

Just got back from New Jersey, family visit and all. And it struck me how conditioned I was to living there, yet how much of a culture shock it is when I return now, after having moved to Madison, Wisconsin almost four years ago.

 

Basically, I feel like I spent the better part of a week in an insane asylum.

 

And it is a pretty nutty experiment in humanity:

 

Take a state small enough that you could fit two of it inside Lake Michigan, wedge it in between New York City and Philadelphia, pour in close to nine million people and season with one of the most obscene costs of living anywhere on planet Earth. It’s more or less a recipe for disaster, but I must tip my hat to my former Garden State compatriots because somehow you’ve managed not to just freak the fuck out and slaughter each other out of sheer frustration already.

 

Wisconsin natives are largely pretty jovial and welcoming folk. And I’ve met many who seem utterly fascinated with the idea of anyone having been born and raised in a place like Jersey.  One of them asked me “Do people in New Jersey think we’re crazy because we drink so much?” I answered that I don’t, at least, and God bless you for how comparatively cheap beer is out here. Another seemed stunned when I told her that brats are indeed available at grocery stores throughout the Garden State. Pretty much all of them look at me like I’m an insane maniac when I attempt to explain that bagels are actually a specific ethnic recipe that is entirely different in flavor and texture from round bread with a hole in the middle. And if I happen to mention that there are mom and pop pizzerias where pizza by the slice is available on virtually every corner? Well…..

 

There’s also the whole accent thing. Apparently, I don’t have much of one because I’m always getting people who are surprised that I don’t sound like a character from “Goodfellas”. But I can detect the subtle nuances. Where I come from, you know you’ve crossed into the South Jersey/Philly area when people start pronouncing the word phone as “phoon”. Wisconsinites have their own tics. It took me a few minutes to realize that when somebody said they were “Going oat” they meant they were headed someplace, not that they were about to have a granola bar.

 

And on the subject of friendliness, I have to say the kindness of Midwesterners is extremely exaggerated. Yes, for the most part people are generally more pleasant here than they are in Teaneck, but that’s more a characteristic of place than of anything inborn. They don’t live in a thimble-sized state with 9 million people that abuts two of the biggest cities on Earth, they live in a much larger place with less then 7 million people and a shit ton of farms. Of course they’re going to be less coarse. But I can tell you this: once they get behind the wheel, they’re the same breed of obnoxious asshole as anywhere else.

 

I worked at Target for a while and some of my co-workers dreaded the arrival of the so-called “Coasties” come back to school time. The Coasties are people from places like New Jersey whose kids have enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, and they come out here to help get the little shits set up for dorm living. They are considered to be unfathomably rude. I’d try to explain that most of them really aren’t being intentionally jerky; they’re just conditioned differently by virtue of coming from a pressure cooker environment. They move fast, talk fast, and try to get as much shit as possible done in as little time as possible not because they’re assholes but because where they come from it’s an absolute necessity.

 

I also chuckle a little bit when people complain about the Beltline, which is the major highway skirting Madison’s borders. It’s three lanes at its widest point and only stretches a few miles. I like to imagine these Non-Coasties sitting in a car on the Long Island Expressway or the New Jersey Turnpike with double the lanes of traffic in each direction and it’s a fucking parking lot for the next 17 miles.

 

Pizza and bagels aside (It’s the water!), Wisconsin is a beautiful place to be. And Madison is a vibrant city, a university town stuffed full of dining and culture and shopping that is accessible in a way that New York is not—you can get in and out of downtown in a relative snap. You get both city living and a small town rural feel all in the same space. Drive only a few minutes out of town, and you’re into the great wide open: farmland and forests. If I drive an hour or so north of here, I’m in territory that’s wild enough to support a population of wolves. I might even hit a moose on the way.

 

They’ve certainly got a few things backwards out here. The drinking culture includes possibly the most lax drunk driving laws in the nation, while the pot laws are among the harshest. I’ll give these cheeseheads the benefit of the doubt that they’ll figure that out eventually.

 

When I got back to work last week and was asked the standard “How was your vacation?” I said the usual: “Too short”. And then I said to myself “I survived the insane asylum. Thank God I made it back.”

Steady, Aim…

Right about 1980-81, I was a fifth-grader, and it seemed that every other day I was coming home from school to find out who got shot that particular afternoon. Assassination attempts on Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan were unsuccessful. John Lennon wasn’t so lucky. It wasn’t long before Saturday Night Live was airing faux news footage of Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat being gunned down while exiting a limo accompanied by the straight-faced narration of Joe Piscopo’s Ted Koppel.

In reality, Reagans, Popes, Beatles and (going back a few years) Kennedys getting shot wasn’t exactly an everyday thing.

But what really wasn’t an everyday thing back then is what happens all the time now. Here in the year 2015, if a week goes by that doesn’t include a massacre at a school, shopping mall, office building or movie theater, we call that a win. We settle for small victories like that nowadays.

On October 1, President Obama addressed the nation—for only the fifteenth time in his term—after yet another mass shooting, this time at a community college in Oregon. He’s still got over a year in office left, so he’ll surely have the opportunity to do it again at least a few more times.

The president was clearly exasperated, which might be the only response all of us, as sharply divided as we are as a nation, can agree upon.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking that I’m about to call for more gun control. I wish it were that easy. But it’s not. I’m all for what is now commonly referred to as “common sense” gun law reform. Waiting periods? Fine. Background checks? Good. Close the gun show loophole? Go right ahead, because none of those things does a damn bit of harm to law abiding gun owners, regardless of how much they may bitch and moan about minor inconveniences that are usually less difficult to navigate than your average visit to the DMV.

It’s also clear that our mental health care infrastructure is woefully inadequate. There are far too many cracked psyches lurching around out there unchecked and untreated. Anytime you see those vacant swirling eyeballs, it’s a good idea to keep moving.

We can do lots of things, if for nothing else than to assuage our consciences, but I have a hard time believing it’ll change much of anything. That’s because somewhere along the way something has become really wrong with us: we’ve regressed. Call it de-evolution, if you will.

Shooting each other is just how we resolve things now. Your asshole neighbor lets his tree grow over your fence? Shoot the bastard. Some fuckface cuts you off on the freeway? Fire at will. Feel like you don’t fit in and hate society in general? Go to any public gathering place and unload a clip or two.

I can’t believe that it’s any easier to get your hands on a gun today than it was in 1981. Yet, in 1981, somebody wasn’t shooting up a college campus every other week. They just shot a pope or a Beatle or a politician here and there.

A friend of mine has an interesting theory. He’s convinced that over the past few decades we’ve been pumping ourselves full of pharmaceuticals that have long ranging effects we’ve no way of predicting; that all of those antidepressants and erectile dysfunction pills and allergy/lactose intolerant/ADHD medications help to somehow flip a switch from normal person with a few issues to full-on batshit insane. It’s as valid a theory as any other, I suppose.

A few weeks ago, some wonderful individual in Arizona started firing at a minivan during a road rage incident, killing a 4-year-old girl.

Last weekend, the world watched in horror as ISIS militants slaughtered civilians in a series of attacks in Paris. The question quickly became: “When will they start doing stuff like that here?” Could be any day, really: if not this week, then the next.

But we already have terrorism on our doorstep. It’s called how we deal with each other.

I was sitting in a fast food restaurant the other day, with a basket of chicken tenders, fries and a newspaper in front of me. I was tempted to look down at the paper, but I said fuck that: I’m watching the doors.

I suggest that wherever you are and whatever you’re up to, that you do the same. And think twice before flipping off the jackass who’s tailgating you.

Fuck You, Pay Me

There’s a part in “Goodfellas” where Ray Liotta’s character is explaining what it’s like to go into business with the mob: “Business is bad? Fuck you, pay me. You had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning? Fuck you, pay me”.

If you’re thinking about going to college, and even slightly considering using any sort of financial aid to do so, think harder. Because those are the kinds of people that you’ll be in business with. They won’t literally break your legs, but they will take the ground right out from under you.

In this country, we sell our children a horrifically antiquated idea: that a college education is the gateway to self-sufficiency and a middle-class existence.

You need to think long and hard about what that education is going to gain you in a real material sense. You may need to think long and hard about opting for a trade instead, as certified electricians and auto mechanics are often much more employable and more highly paid than your average liberal arts degree holder is in this economy. If you do decide to pursue higher education, make damned sure you are acquiring skills and qualifications that are specific, recession-proof, and immune to whatever technological innovations that are sure to hit about three hours after you toss that cap and gown into the air like a giggling idiot.

Student loan debt, while certainly capable of leading you to the point of bankruptcy, is not dischargeable if you actually do file for bankruptcy under current law. This is an anchor tied around your neck for the rest of your life.

If you file for something called an Income Based Repayment Plan, ostensibly the holders of the loan will calculate a monthly installment that is “affordable” for you based upon your financial wherewithal. Don’t count on it. Your living expenses and any other debt you may be carrying are not taken into account; you simply provide a copy of your most recent tax return or about two month’s worth of pay stubs and they’ll magically arrive at a figure for you.  A year ago, my minimum monthly payment was zero dollars: I earned so little in retail that I wasn’t required to make any sort of payment. This year, while my monthly income has dropped slightly, I am required to make a payment of nearly $75 per month. I can’t get an explanation for this turn of events. There’s no transparency in this process and few, if any, options to appeal. If I get an account rep on the phone whose English is actually intelligible (outsourcing!), they’ll tell me that, well, that’s just how it is, have a nice day, and “Fuck you, pay me.”

You will, of course, struggle to make this payment. If you’re ever sixty days late on a payment—and you will be at some point—these helpful assholes will report you to the credit bureaus just to twist the knife a little further, because what’s more helpful to someone earning less than a living wage and carrying a crapload of debt than to crater their credit rating as well?

They’re also quite fond of outsized late payment charges. Cant pay $75  on time? Here’s a lovely $212 penalty! Because clearly anyone who can’t afford to make the minimum payment on time has an extra couple of hundred bucks to spare.

Never mind the principal; unless you hit the lotto, write a hit rap song, or invent the next hot shit smartphone app, the interest and penalties alone will ensure that you’re on the hook for the rest of your days.

Racketeering isn’t just for the mafia, you know. The student loan agencies and the for-profit institutions of higher education work hand-in-glove with the United States government to grow quite a racket, indeed,  and one that will fuck you up good. They’ll fuck you in the ass and the mouth, and you’d best cover your ears, because they’ll eventually be coming for every hole.

Big surprise here: the politicians aren’t going to help you. Every now and then, some fringe character will raise the idea that college should be (gasp!) affordable, and get blown out by the anti-Big Government crowd in a nanosecond. The only current presidential candidate who actually would try and do something about the situation is the admitted socialist Bernie Sanders, who stands absolutely no chance of winning the Democratic party’s nomination, much less the general election.

So by all means pursue that communications degree, but understand who you’ll be going into business with: “Car broke down? Fuck you, pay me. Kid got sick? Fuck you, pay me. The price of everything went up but your wages didn’t? So sorry! Fuck you, pay me.”

Being in retail, I naturally work with a lot of college students. Some of them are studying nursing, some are English Lit majors (nursing’s probably a bit more practical), and they’re all so positive that, despite all evidence to the contrary, grand prosperity awaits them. One of them is doing the same stupid thing I did, which is to take the maximum amount of aid he’s eligible for, pay for his tuition and books, and use the remainder for other expenses. Deep down, I’d like to tell him that this is a horrible mistake, but he’d never listen. He’s completely certain that he will seque from senior year to an entry level salary of at least $65,000 a year. He’s bought the hook, the line, the sinker, and who am I to discourage his American Dream?

I hope it all works out for him, because he’s got himself a romantic rendezvous with Mr. “Fuck you, pay me” coming up real soon.

Right Wing Thought, Explained

People get all wound up about politics and ideology. It’s kind of amusing, as it always seems to get turned into something much more complicated than it needs to be. And everybody eventually gets really angry about something—anything, really. Flags come out to get waved or burned; some asshole’s always got a poster of Obama or Bush Junior with a Hitler moustache. It’s messy, this democracy of ours.

Therefore, as a public service, I have decided to explain right wing thought to you in a very simple and uncomplicated fashion, using a reference that you can easily Google at any time.

Back in May, Vermont senator and Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders appeared on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly.  Sanders stated some core beliefs: that higher education should be affordable for all Americans, that sick people should be able to get treatment, and that it’s probably in all of our best interests if billionaires can’t buy elections. O’Reilly’s response?  “Well, that’s a big government vision, and that’s where you and I disagree.”

So, to be clear: if you think that college shouldn’t bankrupt an individual, if you think basic medical care should be available to all, and if you’re not too comfortable with the idea that a handful of extremely wealthy people can commandeer our entire system of governance, you are one of O’Reilly’s dreaded “Big Government” people.

A level playing field, basic fairness, same rules for everyone? Not a part of “American Exceptionalism”, apparently. And clearly only “Exceptional Americans” should be able to get that cut stitched up without forfeiting six month’s rent.

If you accept and agree with any of Sanders’ precepts, you are at the least a “Liberal” (Or worse, maybe even a “Socialist”, which is completely beyond the pale). Turns out, liberals are the greatest nightmare bogeymen of all time. There’s one behind every tree, under every bed, hiding in every basement in America. And they’re all dead set on taking something precious away from you: your guns, your heterosexuality, your freedom to say “faggot” or “nigger” any time and place you want. And they all hate America, of course.

But the worst thing about liberals is that they don’t accept the natural order of things; they don’t understand that there are favored people, and those of us who are not so favored. Let’s say you’re born into wealth, and therefore never earned any of the privilege that you enjoy. Doesn’t matter: you are automatically a much grander, more highly evolved life form than those of us who live paycheck to paycheck. We’re here to clean the toilets and sweep the streets, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps or go fuck ourselves (the latter being more likely). You’re here to stuff your nose full of coke and go to “da club”.  It’s the natural order of things.

The right wing is stuffed full of people who will never accept the theory of evolution, but for whom Social Darwinism excuses everything.

Test Bites!

I find it amusing how newsworthy it is any time somebody gets bitten by a shark. After all, sharks have evolved over millions of years to be incredibly proficient at biting things, and human beings around the world insist on the idiotic practice of inserting themselves into shark habitat and spastically flailing around. Sometimes, they even bring their dogs with them in order to double the flailing factor. And if there’s anything sharks find attractive, it’s stuff flailing around.

Sharks are particularly good at biting seals, a preferred prey item. Guess what your dumb ass paddling around on a boogie board looks exactly like from below?

Any marine biologist worth his saltwater will tell you that sharks aren’t particularly interested in eating people: apparently, we don’t taste so good as we’re not loaded up with seal blubber (has anyone let these folks in on America’s obesity epidemic yet?). So what’s usually going on when a shark bites a human is an “exploratory” bite. Accordingly, once a shark has taken off your leg and then spit it out because it tastes like shit, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that the little fucker wasn’t really interested in eating you: it was just a test bite.

This summer, with both Shark Week and “Sharknado 3” imminent, a series of flailers got themselves test-bitten up and down the Carolina coast. Around the same time, an Australian surfer, in a great caught-on camera-bit, found himself barged by a test biter, managing to escape with nary a scratch.

I have a lot of respect for surfers. They perform feats of balance and timing (and quite often breath-holding) that are truly impressive. They are also completely and utterly insane. Especially Australian surfers. Not only are Aussie waters some of the most shark-infested in the world, the land down under’s got itself loads of saltwater crocs, and they happen to like the taste of human flesh just fine. Crocs don’t go for test bites; they lock on straight away, then put you through something called a death roll, which serves the purpose of drowning the prey item before consuming it (at least they have the courtesy not to eat you alive) then they stuff you into one of their underground hideouts so the meat can tenderize. They’ll return to this stash a little later for a light lunch, or perhaps a midnight snack.

But I’m digressing. A few years ago, a teenaged girl lost an arm to a test biter while surfing the California coast, but persevered through this adversity to get right back in the water as soon as possible, inspiring the film “Soul Surfer”. As of this writing, she’s still out there trolling around, three limbs on a platter. I guess she figures “What the hell? Wouldn’t it be awesome to go through life without both arms?” I know I’d be super stoked! And I’d be super-soulful while attempting to tie my shoes with my teeth.

I’ve often been browbeaten over the fact that I refuse to swim in the ocean. Actually, I take it even further than that. If you’ve kept up with your Shark Week viewing, you’ll be familiar with the bull shark. A species that can and does live in bodies of freshwater many miles from the ocean worldwide, they’ve been found in the Mississippi River as far north as St. Louis, apparently. The bull is generally considered to be the most aggressive variety of shark, having one of the highest levels of testosterone of any animal ever studied. They also love to hunt and breed in shallow waters, which ups their chances of encountering test bite subjects. This is why I also advise against swimming in any river or lake south of, say, Wisconsin.

If you stay out of the water, you stay out of the food chain.

Whenever somebody gives me a hard time over the fact that I refuse to go any further than knee-deep, they’ll invariably say something like “More people get struck by lightning on golf courses every year than get bitten by sharks.” Even if that’s true, I’m not worried about it, because you won’t find me hanging around the 18’th hole during a thunderstorm, either: I’ll be at the bar enjoying all four limbs.

Grocery Barging!

There’s a sign on the front door of my place of employment that reads: “All who enter here are duly obligated to behave like complete and utter animals”. I can’t see this sign; none of us who work here can, but it’s there nonetheless, and I must salute our clientele for following the rules to a T. After all, when we follow the rules, we help create a more harmonious society.

What we nominally provide at this establishment are groceries. However, on a much deeper and humanitarian level, we offer catharsis.

I speak directly to you, my customers, now: You people are savages, and you know it, yet you are prevented from embracing your primal selves by societal norms virtually every moment of your lives. But not here!

Obviously, you couldn’t behave like this any place else. If you pulled this kind of shit on the job, you’d be out the door. Any institution that refers to itself as a school would not have you, unless forced to by court order, and if you behaved like this around the dinner table the special people in your life would have no choice but to wall you up in the basement and leave it to Dateline NBC to discover your remains 50 years from now.

It’s a hell of a thing, trying to maintain some semblance of decorum and civility whilst enduring the aggravations and humiliations of everyday life. One’s id quite naturally demands release! And there are limits to the therapeutic capacities of aggressive driving, internet trolling, and committing mass slaughter on an X Box.

This is where Grocery Barging comes in. The beautiful simplicity of Grocery Barging is that there are no special skills required: anyone can do it! Basically, you just charge in there and throw as much shit around as quickly as possible while nobody’s looking (And if anyone does happen to be looking? Well, fuck it, go nuts anyway!). It’s fun, and it’s free! A great form of exercise and stress release, it’s all completely acceptable, because almost all social norms dissolve at the retail level.

Grocery Barging, like sports fandom, is a great equalizer. People from all walks of life and economic strata can come together in a common cause. Both the welfare queen and the stockbroker (they’re both Cowboys fans) can agree on the hearty satisfaction of flinging an unwanted bag of salad clear across the fucking room.

The other day, for example, a perfectly respectable looking gentleman in a three-piece suit came in to the produce department where I work. He proceeded to select a head of romaine lettuce, hold it up to the light for examination, then shake it vigorously three or four times to shed the offending leaves. He left those leaves on the floor and strode away cool as a cucumber (see what I did there?). He knew I was on the other side of the room watching; he just didn’t give a rat’s ass because after all, I’m paid to clean up after him. I decided right then and there that I loved that man: I wanted to turn gay just for him.

Later that day, a woman in a security guard uniform stormed straight over to the shelves holding the containers of pre-cut fruit and began swatting them around while muttering “No…no….no….dammit!….no…..” until she had located the two cups of watermelon chunks that warmed her little heart. I watched this from across the room as well. What an absolute fucking angel she was. Marry me, I thought, as I surveyed the damaged product.

I never knew just how much people really love strawberries until I got this gig. You can’t keep them stock. But if you do, they’re going to get seriously Barged. Typically, strawberries come in 16 ounce plastic containers (the industry term for these containers is “clamshell”), and there’s nothing the average consumer seems to enjoy more than flipping them all over the place in search of the perfect package. If that means spilling the contents of a half-dozen unwanted clamshells on the floor, so be it. As Jack Nicholson’s Joker once gleefully explained to Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!”

Now I know that not everything that goes on is the customers’ fault. There are the Secret Monkeys. These crazy little shits live up in the ceiling, are invisible to security cameras, and descend to wreak havoc on the banana table in record time whenever the department is empty. Devious and cunning, they watch and they wait and they snicker and they scheme. Once I have neatly stocked the table, separating the organics from the regular and the green from the ripe, they gleefully plow through it all.  Over millennia, they have evolved the highly refined skill of removing the one banana they want from the bunch while simultaneously ripping the tops off of the rest of them. This is both a demonstration of prowess and a method of marking their territory. It’s also a statement of defiance: “If I don’t want these particular bananas right here, I’ll be damned if anyone else will once I’m finished!”  More than mere vandals, they’re thieves, too. They love nothing more than removing the more expensive organic bananas from the adhesive bands differentiating them from the standard product. They could care less that every penny of theft one way or the other finds its way out of an employee’s paycheck, as the cost of labor is the only cost retail really has any control over. Those fucking monkeys probably owe me about 50 bucks at this point. After consulting with my colleagues at other stores, I’ve confirmed that the Secret Monkeys have indeed infested our entire industry, yet their existence cannot be confirmed by science. And that’s their deadliest weapon: they are everywhere and nowhere at all times.

You know those guys who made that TV show “Jackass”? Well, I don’t know them either, but I love that stuff. Way back when I was a greenhorn, I thought the kinds of things I ran across must be the work of a small percentage of pranksters. Then I realized that wasn’t the case at all; that the people who take swigs out of smoothies and put them back on the shelf are indeed the people I pass on the street—my neighbors—and most likely at least 80 per cent of the people reading this now. There’s no shame in admitting it, folks.

Once you’ve mastered the fine arts of Barging bananas and strawberries, causing that sad son of a bitch who calls himself a “produce clerk” to trundle out of the back room a few minutes later and say to himself “What the f………..?”, you’ll likely have yourself a “Eureka!” moment and realize that you can extend the concept to include the entire store.

For example: you decide at the last minute that you don’t really want that quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream? Just take it and throw it up on the shelf with the paper towels. After all, they pay people to clean that stuff up, and at least you were considerate enough to leave it right next to the paper towels. Get yourself to a Target or a Wal-Mart and you can really mix it up by doing things like leaving packages of underwear in with the frozen pizzas and/or stashing quarts of milk in the electronics department.

Then you can start getting into some of the more esoteric practices, like human roadblocking. This is where you park yourself and your shopping cart side by side in the middle of an aisle in such a fashion that no one else can pass. Then you linger, staring off into space with a quizzical expression, as if you’re tuning in to a radio frequency only you can hear. High-tech variations on this technique include roadblocking with your earbuds in while streaming some god-awful indie rock or, of course, while texting. The end result is that you will leave the store employee astounded that your obliviousness to your surroundings hasn’t yet led you to stumble off of a cliff or wander into the path of an 18-wheeler.

At any rate, the possibilities are truly endless! Stop being a loser (like those sad sacks who stock shelves for “a living”) and start Barging today! It’s never too late to embrace your inner entitled and inconsiderate asshole!

This is your time—your “Me Time”, and you deserve it! Don’t you ever let anyone tell you that you’re not special!

THE WORST ALBUM EVER RECORDED IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND

metallica-st-anger

Every now and then, certain ideas take hold in the mass consciousness: ideas that are propagated so vigorously (by a relatively small percentage of the population) that they become cultural “truths”. This usually involves some combination of the traditional press and the exceptionally strident denizens of online forums, the latter of whom can always be counted on to hate pretty much everyone and everything. Before you know it, these notions have bled into our collective awareness without our even realizing it.

For example: even people who’ve never seen a single “Star Wars” movie would tell you that the prequel trilogy “raped their childhoods” (Go ahead, Google “raped childhoods”, I’ll wait….).

Another example: It has been nearly universally agreed that Creed is the most egregiously awful band in the history of rock and roll, except that they spent several years around the turn of the century selling millions upon millions of records while most acts were soiling themselves over Napster. Somehow, they managed to fill stadiums across the globe despite the fact that NOBODY ever liked them. Currently, Nickelback is doing the same thing, even though nobody likes them either.

Yet another example is that at any given point in our pop culture timeline there is always one famous young actress who is deemed to be The Absolute Sexiest Female in All of Human History. At one point during the 1990s, Angelina Jolie was this person. If my memory is correct, she was succeeded by Jennifer Lopez for a time. Several years ago, Megan Fox manned the post, and the current office holder appears to be Jennifer Lawrence (interestingly, both Jolie and Lawrence managed to win Oscars while holding this title, proving that one can be both objectified and recognized for one’s work at the same time).

Which brings us to the Absolute, No Doubt, Worst Album Ever Recorded in the History of Mankind: Metallica’s “St. Anger”. If you were to believe what you hear, this record is beyond raping anyone’s childhood memories—it amounts to nothing less than sacrilege.

Released in 2003, “St. Anger” followed several years of experimentation that saw Metallica evolving beyond their signature brand of progressive and complex thrash metal. They made some pretty straightforward hard rock, recorded a song for a “Mission: Impossible” movie, and reaped a wide mainstream following in the process. All of that alienating much of the audience that had propelled them to prominence in the first place. Metallica were one of the primary architects of a rather revolutionary genre of music—and thus gods walking amongst us—but, they’d betrayed the cause.

“St. Anger”, however, eschewed the commercial trappings of that period, and was initially touted as Metallica’s return to form (and glowingly reviewed in the UK’s Metal Hammer magazine upon its release). And it was…..kind of. But it was also such an idiosyncratic and bizarre record that this time, that core base of uber-metal fans was not just alienated, they were outraged. In the “metal community” (whatever the hell that means; I need to ask Rob Halford….) “St. Anger” is an unthinkably tragic moment in time.

This idea has spread throughout our entire society. Much like the “Star Wars” prequels, even people who’ve never listened to a Metallica record in their lives know that “St. Anger” was an affront to humanity.

There are a number of reasons (beyond the usual “Because it sucks!” rationale) for the profoundly visceral reaction to this record. None of them are particularly logical, but they do make a sort of inverse sense when examined because of how strikingly ironic they are.

For one thing, the band and producer Bob Rock—after spending nearly a decade delivering highly polished radio-friendly product—decided to release one of the least refined recordings you’ve ever heard from a major act on a major label. “St. Anger” is loaded with ambient noise, slightly out of tune guitars, and all manner of dissonance. This infuriated fans, which is certainly ironic given that Metallica emerged from the tape-trading underground of the early 80’s, wherein fans exchanged crudely recorded demos of up-and-coming bands through what passed for the internet back then: pen pals and classified ads in crudely printed fanzines. Somewhere along the line, though, “the metal community” must have shed its roots and decided that it was entitled to a deluxe production. Yet here was “St. Anger”: raw as hell, and sounding exactly like it was recorded in some stoner’s basement on a boom box, just like those demo tapes of yesteryear. And so a band that had become reviled for turning too commercial was now reviled for delivering the least commercial record of its career. In and of itself, this is one heck of an achievement.

Not content to leave it at that, Metallica decided to commit further sacrilege by including not one guitar solo on the entire album. This was essentially unforgivable: metal is about nothing if not guitar solos, and every Metallica record up to this point had featured exhaustive lead guitar workouts. “St. Anger”, however, sported not the slightest flourish of such. Even for a genre of music that endlessly pats itself on the back for breaking the rules, there are rules, apparently. Never let a metalhead tell you he is interested in breaking boundaries or challenging the status quo; these are quite possibly the most conservative fans on earth when it comes to what they demand from their music.

Piling on the hurt, drummer Lars Ulrich inexplicably decided to utilize some kind of custom snare drum with the chain on the bottom that provides a snare with its usual “snapping” sound apparently disengaged. This resulted in an echo effect that volleys around the songs in rococo fashion and had the effect of annoying damn near everyone. This helped bring to a head a cult of Lars Ulrich hatred that had been festering for years. Ulrich, you see, has generated a virtual cottage industry based upon being branded one of the most pretentious figures in all of popular music (he likes to wear scarves and collects fine art, for example). This is particularly ironic given that Metallica was formed in opposition to everything that was considered “pretentious” about heavy rock music in the 1980s. Lars himself never fails to remind people of this, and has spent the past three decades referring to bands like Motley Crue as being prime examples of the artifice he so despises. Lars is a pretty smart guy, but he is nonetheless completely oblivious to the fact that Motley Crue is maybe the least pretentious band in the world: they couldn’t be anything else if they tried (when they did, on the 1997 album “Generation Swine”, the results were predictably disastrous). Mötley-Crüe-Generation-Swine

The cult of Ulrich hatred has grown exponentially more pathological over the years. Read any Metallica news item online—no matter what it’s about— and you’ll find scores of commenters who insist, despite all sonic evidence to the contrary, that Lars can’t play the drums AT ALL.

Yet for all of the hand-wringing, “St. Anger” was in so many ways a return to the attitude and approach Metallica started out with in the first place. Back was the relentless staccato riffage, the stop-start rhythms, the sideways time changes, and the unconventional song structures. Back was the venom, in spades. Nevertheless, fans for the most part hated “St. Anger” even more than the “Load” and “ReLoad” albums that had preceded it; the records that had alienated everybody in the first place by being too conventional and commercial.

The album’s opening track, “Frantic”, absolutely is. Chaotic and scattershot, it’s all fits and starts like a rusty tractor engine begrudgingly sputtering to life, and it’s roughly a minute or so in before it actually coalesces into something resembling a song. Things just get nuttier from there. The album’s title track alternates between barging forward like a bull that’s just had his nuts removed with rusty pliers and contemplative passages that ruminate on the misfortune of such an event. The second to last track, “Purify”, is similarly charged and features lyrics that are written “Purify……can’t you help me?/Pure if I……won’t you help me?” before finding our narrator shouting “I can find the dirt on anything!” “Sweet Amber” could certainly be interpreted as a love/hate ode to alcohol, and “Shoot Me Again” is chock full of the sort of false bravado common to anyone who sees himself as the victim of a cruel world.

The making of “St. Anger” was (in)famously chronicled in the documentary film “Some Kind of Monster” (the title of track three), which in part detailed singer/guitarist James Hetfield’s struggle with the twin demons of alcoholism and anger. During preparations for the album, Hetfield abruptly left the band for several months to enter rehab, and while he returned sober for the recording process, he returned to a band with no shortage of issues to work out including the departure of longtime bassist Jason Newsted, who’d basically had it with the whole fucking thing, and the eruption of long-simmering tensions with Ulrich, the other half of the Metallica brain trust. For most of the film, lead guitarist Kirk Hammet, a laid-back California surfer who owns an unbelievable collection of comic books and monster movie memorabilia, more or less comes across as the stunned witness of a horrific automobile accident, occasionally attempting to lighten the mood with a half-hearted “Come on, guys…..”.

It’s important to note that just a few years ago, Metallica involved themselves with what, at least in the eyes of metal fans, is most certainly The Other Worst Album of All Time: the late Lou Reed’s “Lulu”. This happened after Reed met the band at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25’th Anniversary concerts and decided that it would be a great idea to draft them for his next project. I’ve never listened to this record, although I should, but the howling that ensued reminded me just what a bunch of sneaky and dirty little bastards those Metallica guys really are. However, since they essentially served as Reed’s backing band, they are disqualified from the dubious distinction of being responsible for the Two Worst Albums of All Time.

But back to “St. Anger”.

The circumstances under which it was recorded lend “St. Anger” perhaps its one indisputable quality: there has never been a record in the history of popular music that more accurately lives up to its name. A zillion bands over the years have released records that are heavier, louder, faster, and more aggressive (and that’s not even taking into account certain bands from certain places in northern Europe that pride themselves on having literally burned down Christian churches) but, I’d argue, never anything so goddamned angry. Not all of the songs on “St. Anger” are great—or good even—but some of them are, and they’re all incredibly hostile. Take it from someone intimately familiar with the subject matter: there has never been a more fitting soundtrack for the kind of batshit insane state of mind you find yourself in when there’s too much rage and rotgut in your life. “St. Anger” is quite literally the sound of a man and the band he leads teetering on the precipice. It is the sound of an unraveling. It is ridiculously abrasive and uncomfortable.

And maybe that’s the real reason why “St. Anger” is so loathed: it makes absolutely no attempt to ingratiate itself to the listener, and in fact violates the implicit (but rarely spoken of) understanding held by most fans and artists in even the most extreme genres of metal, which is that no matter how dark and violent and angry the music may get, at the end of the day we’re all really just having fun and rocking the fuck out—it’s a catharsis. This record may be cathartic, but it is not having any kind of fun. It’s heavy as hell, but there’s not one moment in which you feel the urge to throw up the devil horns and bang your head. It’s the sound of the heroes of an entire generation of music fans—icons to millions—laid low. And for a whole lot of folks, maybe that was too much to take. But for a weirdo like me, The Worst Album Ever Recorded in the History of Mankind was and is utterly compelling, due in no small part to its so-called flaws, and I’m still listening to it all these years later.