My New Poem Of Resistance

The Resistance Racoon.jpg

I have a new poem out with Writers Resist.

In English:

When Our Culture Is Los Angeles Instead of Joshua Tree, This Is How We Elect a President

And it was just translated into German today (In this scenario, I’m the resistance racoon):

Wenn unsere kulturelle Heimat Los Angeles heißt statt Joshua Tree, wählen wir so einen Präsidenten

A Rant: “Here, Let Me Put You On Speaker Phone.”

It’s well-known that I don’t like cell phones (see my article last year for VICE Magazine), but the truth is I don’t like any kind of phone (Not a rotary phone, not a cordless phone, not a payphone, in fact, no phone at all). I’m partial to the phrase “A phone is an appliance, not an obligation,” and I treat all phones like appliances, annoying appliances, appliances that I want to silence or rip out of people’s hands, appliances that I want to crush with my 20-ounce framing hammer.

But one of the worst phone-gadget-accessory-inventions is the speaker phone. That small insidious button is a true asshole.

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I hate being put on speaker phone. Hate it. I hate speaker phone like many people hate Justin Bieber, long lines at the super market, heavy traffic, engine trouble, or the uglier Kardashians. I have never knowingly put another human being on speaker phone in my lifetime, and I hope I never become a terrible enough person to do this to someone I love (or even to someone I just sort of like).

There are so many things I hate about speaker phone, so it’s difficult to know where to begin with this rant. Maybe I’ll just start with this one, tiny, abominable phrase:

“Oh here, Pete, let me switch you over to speaker phone so you can talk to everyone.”

Really? You’ll do that for me? You’ll just switch me over to speaker phone so I can talk to everyone? Everyone I didn’t ask to talk to? Thanks. I really wanted to talk to everyone. I really wanted to talk to everyone so badly that I called you, only you, just you, one single person, to communicate one single thing that now is going to take FUCKING FOREVER because I’ve got to navigate the Everest-size crevasse that is communication with whoever EVERYONE is.

And also, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to many, many people who I can’t picture in whatever size room you’re in, wherever you are right now, doing whatever you all are doing. I already had a hard enough time just picturing you and your face and your actions while we’re on the phone having a singular conversation, but thank you for giving me another mental challenge. I really wanted this phone call to be a mental Gordian Knot rather than a quick one-on-one communication to convey a message or ask a question.

Next: The sound of a speaker phone in someone’s car.

The other person’s voice cutting in and out? The mumbling? The “What did you say?” repeated over and over. The person saying, “I’m sorry” but it’s never an actual apology. Or what about the side conversations in the car during the phone call? The passing traffic sounds? The driver’s comments about other drivers? The music in the background? The clicking? The clunks? And all the while it sounds like a prenatal ultrasound machine is struggling to find a baby’s heartbeat. It’s really a great experience. I just love being on car speaker phone.

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I also love seeing fellow drivers talk on their speaker phones, leaning out their open windows, or looking directly at me while talking to their own empty cars like patients at the state hospital in serious need of heavy psychotropics. And then when they yell at whoever they’re talking to as if they’re trying to get my attention? Oh, I love that too.

Let’s see…

Another of my favorite things is when I’m apparently too stupid to detect that I’ve been SECRETLY on speaker phone the whole time. I say something like, “Oh, that’s a good question. Let me talk to her for a minute and see what she thinks.”

Then the person who I called directly chuckles at my ridiculous and obvious stupidity. He says, “You’re already on speaker phone, Pete. She just heard everything we said.”

Oh really? She was silently listening like a creep, like a stalker, like a serial killer to everything we just said, not commenting, not letting me know that she was listening, just you and her in on a little trick you were pulling on me? That’s so funny. That so chuckle-worthy. I love, love, love it when I don’t know someone is in on our private conversation.

But I get that people are busy, that sometimes they have to click me over to speaker phone, that sometimes they’re cooking or changing a baby or doing something else that might actually be sort of worthwhile or important when I call them…

Which leads me to my least favorite calling experience: When someone CALLS ME and we’re already on speaker phone when I pick up.

“Hey Pete, how’s it going?” and it sounds like they’re calling me from a public restroom, the hard sounds caroming off the stall’s angles as I’m forced to picture them squeezing off a burrito-sized log.

It’s hard for me to stay with phone calls that obviously begin on speaker phone. If you’re too busy not to multi-task, don’t call me. Don’t call me while you’re in the bath shaving your legs or slopping soap on your genitals. I don’t want to hear that watery-sudsy sound in the background.

And don’t call me while you’re peeing (which people actually do somewhat regularly with me). I don’t need to hear the force of your stream and wonder about your coffee or water intake as you ask me what I’m up to. I want to say, “Who cares?!! You’re FUCKING peeing right now, right when you called me!”

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And please don’t ever call me as you try to find something that you’ve lost. I can hear your hand sorting through that spilling-over junk drawer as you say, “Yeah I was just…” more sorting noises, then “I’m sorry, I’m just…” more sorting noises, and I have no idea why you called me, but if I wait a minute or two while you find whatever it is, I’ll get the opportunity to know what our conversation is going to be about.

Yes, thanks for calling me just now. This is great. This is a really, really, really wonderful phone call we’re having here. Thank you. Thank you so much for letting me join you on this incredible adventure with your favorite technological accessory.

Release of Brendan Leonard’s Funny Shit In The Woods And Other Stories

From the best of Semi-Rad.com, here’s my Amazon review of Brendan Leonard’s book:

“If you like humor, the outdoors, insightful observations, ridiculous confessions, coffee, short stories, intentionally bad drawings, and people who are nearly, kinda, almost, sorta rad, then this is the book for you.”

Click here to see the book.

Leonard is a contributing editor and writer for Climbing Magazine, Adventure Journal, and The Dirtbag Diaries. He enjoys living out of his van in the American West.

A 4th Of July Rant: Is Patriotism Dead?

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This past week, the United States’ World Cup soccer team played Germany in the final round-robin group-play match for each team. It was an important game, with an opportunity for both teams to advance to the World Cup’s final 16.

Before the game, my wife went to the grocery store and bought mini American flags. My daughters got out the face-painting kit and we decked ourselves out in red, white, and blue, head to toe. Then we drove across town to watch the game, and as we drove, all windows on our car rolled down, we sang and waved the flags, chanting “USA, USA, USA,” to everyone we passed on the street.

From an outsider’s perspective, we were waving the Stars and Stripes so fervently that we could’ve passed as Floridians at an NRA convention.

But this is not Florida. I do not live in Alabama or Tennessee or Georgia or Arkansas. My medium-sized town in Oregon is a liberal college town. Elderly men sport ponytails here. Vinyasa Yoga and organic grocers are the norm. Thousands of cars still carry anti-Bush/Cheney bumper stickers as if the past six years have erased none of the citizens’ bitter memories.

So as my family waved its American flags and chanted “USA,” most people we passed either glared at us or looked confused. I thought that was funny – considering the implications of the coming World Cup game AND the fact that the 4th of July was just around the corner – but people here are interested in neither the World Cup nor the 4th of July.

Five quick facts about me so you don’t get the wrong idea:

  1. I wouldn’t generally consider myself a patriotic person.
  2. The 4th of July is probably my least favorite holiday.
  3. My house is not littered with guns.
  4. I teach my daughters that “The Tea Party” refers to a historical event in Boston not a current political party.
  5. I didn’t vote for Obama the first time around because I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I think it’s ridiculous that in 2014, in the great country of THE United States Of America, we have never had a female president.

All of those statements are true for me, yet still, here I was chanting “USA” and pumping the flag at everyone we passed.

The way I see it, patriotism is complicated. While I realize that our country is flawed, and I do know about our atrocities in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, I’m still proud to be an American. There are 212 nations on this planet, and every country is evil in some way. But every country is also good.

So while I recognize that the United States has conducted quite a few shady foreign deals, I also know how much good this country does. The United States contributes more in International Aid each year than any other nation on earth, and its total giving is more than twice what the second-best country commits. Or, for a specific example, I know that our government and US citizens stepped up to rebuild Haiti even though there were zero political points to be gained in that situation. Haiti had nothing to offer the United States, no oil, no minerals, no cushy vacation spots, yet the United States committed to post-earthquake relief like no other country on earth was willing to do. So while the US government makes calculated international chess moves, some of which are questionable at best and despicable at worst, this is also the country that performs incredible acts of altruistic philanthropy. We feed the hungry in Africa, we make attempts at peace-keeping in war-torn nations, we support the U.N.

So we must take the good with the bad. And the good in this country is incredible. Take a minute and consider our freedoms. Imagine what might happen if a common citizen of Iran went online and criticized that country’s government. Imagine what might happen if some blogger in North Korea burned a national flag in front of a government building. What would happen to those citizens of those nations?

Consider the freedom of speech in the Untied States and what that includes.

Consider the right to keep and bear arms.

Consider how anyone in the United States can, at any time, drive state to state, all across this country, move anywhere he or she wants, start a business, practice a religion, espouse a variety of political opinions, change his or her mind, blog about the president, come out of the closet, or tweet to promote communism, socialism, or imperialism.

Sometimes liberals forget our freedoms, and I’m saying this as a liberal. I’m a public school teacher, a social justice advocate, and I don’t believe in censorship. I’ve never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, and I write for VICE Magazine. So I’m not a conservative in any way.

But sometimes I get fed up and have to act like a regular ol’ redneck hick. One of my friends told me that she was rooting for Germany in that World Cup soccer match “because,” she said, “you know, I’m just so embarrassed to be an American.”

And that’s when the patriot came out in me. I said, “Okay, you can root for Germany in that match if you also admit that you love Hitler, Auschwitz, European colonialism, and pulling for the overwhelming favorite in all sporting events.”

My friend said, “But doesn’t it make you a little sick to your stomach to chant USA? Do you know how many foreign assassinations we’ve engineered?”

“Yes,” I said, “and foreign assassinations are wrong. But is genocide better? Are you saying that killing a few enemy combatants to gain foreign oil rights is worse than murdering 33 million Jews? Is that what you’re saying?”

Like I said, I get fed-up sometimes. Then I become an absolute jerk.

My wife, who is a better person than me, pointed out that German soccer players are probably pretty sick of Hitler comments. Maybe so. But I wouldn’t know since I rarely play soccer for the German national team.

I just get so tired of people saying they might leave this country. A young person in dreadlocks said to me on the street, “You know, man, if we bomb one more village in the Middle East, I’m fuckin’ leaving this country for good, you know? I’m going to Thailand, bro. It’s so sick there.”

That’s annoying, and that kid doesn’t even know what he’s talking about, but the worst is celebrities who threaten ex-patriotism, the very celebrities who’ve made millions of dollars via the freedoms that this country affords.

During the reign of the Bush administration, Alec Baldwin kept promising to become an expatriate if certain things happened in this country. He listed what those certain things were, and all of his fears and prognostications came to fruition. Yet still, Baldwin never left the good ole U.S. of A. Thankfully for him, freedom of speech covers hollow threats of disloyalty or…could we call it instead “middle-aged-multi-millionaire-loudmouth angst”?

I can say from experience that it is terribly, terribly difficult to be middle class. It is also terribly, terribly difficult to live in this country where I have to pay minimal taxes and only get to do whatever the hell I want.

A Healthy, Long Rant – Give The Commenter The Floor

I was commiserating with Jay Kinzel (a regular commenter on this blog) about one of our collective pet peeves, when a person bores you to death in conversation.  Can’t they tell that they’re punishing you?  Don’t they know that they’re horribly and unforgivably boring?

Jay and I realized that there are certain phrases that precede total and utter boredom.  For example, when a kid says, “Let me tell you about this one episode of Sponge Bob.”

“Really?” I think to myself.  “Please, please don’t.”

Or when a person says, “Well this is what my cold’s like.  It’s sort of a…”

In this situation, I wonder why I’m being tortured.  I wonder what I’ve done to deserve someone describing the minutia of their physical ailment.  “Oh, you have thick clogging snot in the back of your throat?  Really?  Thanks for telling me that.  I certainly do appreciate that specific detail.  Oh, you’re eyes are scratchy and there’s a whitish film on your tongue?  Can I smell it?”

Seriously.

But while I was thinking about this, Jay was doing much better.  He was writing a solid and detailed rant on the topic.  And his rant is too good not to include here.

So this is from Jay:

“It may be hard to admit, but we’ve all done it.  We don’t mean to do it.  It just happens.  We verbally assault someone with a boring story.  There is no shame in being boring.  I’m probably the most boring person on the planet.  I have an MBA, live in the suburbs, married once, have a golden retriever, drive an SUV and have 2 kids.  I’m the antithesis of the dude from the Dos Equis commercials.  But what’s worse than being boring is not being self-aware.  So, I put together this list to give you a guide or a heads-up that you are about to bore to death another human being.  If you start a story with any of these statements, you are on your way to making the person you are talking to wish they were somewhere else.  Anywhere else.

  • You won’t believe what my kid did yesterday. Yes, I will.  I have two kids of my own.  They probably did the same thing you’re about to tell me about your kid.  And, I could barely feign interest when my wife was telling me about my own kid.  So, keep track of this stuff in a scrapbook and then never, ever show that scrapbook to anyone.
  • I saw this amazing video on YouTube last night. YouTube has some great stuff.  I’ve seen a lot of funny and amazing stuff there.  But, your description is going to be neither funny nor interesting.  Just email me the link and I’ll check it out.  Don’t try to paint me a word picture about the 6-minute time-lapse video of a skyscraper being built.
  • My boss is so stupid. This may be true.  Most people think this about their boss.  But, the only thing I will be thinking while you tell me this boring story is how smart can you be, working for someone who you think is so stupid?  George Carlin said it best, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”
  • I just barely lost my fantasy football matchup this weekend. I love fantasy football.  Love it.  I’m in between 4 and 8 leagues every year.  But, even if we are in the same league, I couldn’t care less about how you lost by 1 point when Tom Brady hit a Hail Mary in the waning seconds of Monday Night Football.  Keep it to yourself, Sparky.
  • Maybe you had to be there. This should be self-explanatory.  What this really means is, “Unless you were actually there witnessing this event, my verbal recap will have zero interest to you.”  I had to be there.  I wasn’t.  Let’s move on.
  • Let me show you some pictures from my vacation. Unless you went on vacation with Miranda Kerr, Candice Swanepoel or Meatloaf, I couldn’t have less interest in your vacation pictures.  Sure, I will flip through them, fake smile and look for every opportunity to skip a picture or two.  But make no mistake, I would rather watch paint dry.
  • You won’t believe the stuff that was on sale at the store today.  This one seems so obvious.  But, it’s amazing how many people want to tell me (or even worse) show me what they got on sale.  Ugh.  Your last bowel movement has as much appeal.
  • My kid is so smart.  Everyone thinks his kid is smart.  I even think at least one of my kids is smart.  But, unless your kid gets into college at age 10 or something like that, I’m not going to be impressed.  And even though I may be impressed, I’m still going to be bored.  So, if little Molly makes the honor roll, great.  That’s never been done before.  Congrats.
  • The Presidential debate last night was unbelievable. Let me guess.  Some middle aged dude in a blue suit and a red tie talked about the need for change, how he can fix “the system” (whatever that is), and how his opponent will ruin your life if he’s elected.  Yep.  Seen it.  Next.
  • I may have told you this story already.  If you ever lead with this one, I will definitely say I’ve heard it before.  Starting a story like this is kind of like a Get Out of a Boring Story For Free Card.  Thanks.
  • I heard this on Facebook.  I’ve never been on Facebook, but I think you usually “read” things on Facebook.  Facebook doesn’t speak to you, so you can’t “hear” things, right?  Either way, it doesn’t matter.  I don’t give a %&#@.
  • So, last night we were playing this board game.  The only thing worse than the agony of having to play a board game, is listening to someone recount their playing of a board game.  Yes, I’m sure it was brutal when you rolled doubles for the third time and had to go to jail.  Life really isn’t fair, is it?
  • I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since my grandpa died.  (In addition to being boring, I am also insensitive.  I submit this as Exhibit A into evidence.)  I’m sure your grandpa was a great guy.  Mine was too.  But, you know what?  There was probably a service and eulogy 5 years ago.  We don’t need to recount it here.  People that are actually alive aren’t very interesting.  What makes you think the dead guy will be interesting?
  • I was sooo drunk last night.  I get that your drinking may make me more tolerable.  But, I assure you it did not make you more tolerable.  Just sayin.
  •  Did I tell you about my trip to Washington DC?  Don’t ask me this question.  Because I will be forced to lie in order to try and avoid hearing this story.  And even if I haven’t heard the story from you, I’ve still heard it before.  “First, we went to the Smithsonian and then we went to the Lincoln Memorial and then…” ZZZZZZZZZZZ.
  • You won’t believe what happened at work today.  There is a 100% chance that I will believe it.  I take great effort in not talking about what happens to me at work.  Why?  Because work is boring.  There is a reason they pay you to be there.  Work is a fact of life.  Talking to someone else about your job doesn’t have to be.
  • I found these great coupons.  This is the ugly stepsister to “You won’t believe the stuff that was on sale at the store today.”  And it is really ugly.  Now you are going to tell me about crap that you haven’t even bought yet?  You cannot be serious.
  • I just read about this amazing new diet.  Wow!  You can only be telling me this because you think you are fat (probably true) or you think I’m fat (certainly true).  Either way.  Neither of those things is going to change.  So what do you say we skip hearing the boring story about this diet and go get some ice cream?”

     

    Amen, Jay.  AMEN.

 

 

Quick Links, Writers, And Hater Reads

When his students say, “This book sucks,” my-only-friend-in-the-entire-world-Jeff-Hess says, “This book isn’t bad, you’re just a bad reader.”

Harsh.  To the point.  Accurate.

High school kids – for the most part -don’t give reading a chance now.  But can you blame them?  Their parents don’t read. No one they know reads.  And reading isn’t nearly as entertaining as Facebook, movies on Netflix, misspelling words while texting…

Prolly.  K.  Whatevs.

And how can a writer of prose compete with a reality show?  Does a writer have Kim Kardashian’s body?  Does he date Reggie Bush?  Or mediocre NBA short-term husbands?

Try explaining to the average person why cliche phrases are unacceptable.  You might as well say that Mandarin should be the national language of Mexico or Spam is the greatest meat of all time.

What about the overuse of adverbs?  Like totally, literally, phenomenally, you’ll fail.

Reading isn’t cool.  Even good stories don’t compare to explosions, Myth Busters, and chefs who cuss every other word. You know what’s great?  Getting called a FUCKING LOSER because your fillet minon is 10-degrees too cold.  I love that show.  Like, it’s so good.

But books.  Paper books.  Real books.  Stories that take more than three minutes to read, more than five minutes, more than seven minutes…..

I asked my students to read a nine-page story the other night for homework and they couldn’t do it.  I said, “At an average reading speed, this will take you nine minutes.”

They stared at me, glazed as doughnuts.  And only half of them read half of the story.  I would figure out how many pages that is but it’s a math problem and I just got two texts in the last half minute.  And I’m important.

What did you say?

New page.

What is this about?

Damn, look at this pic.

Hella.

Google Images.

Is there a hyperlink I can click?  Oh wait.  Why’s my internet connection slow?

Fuck.

Idiocracy Central.

I went to a place called “Putters” last night.

For a little kid’s birthday party.

(Insert long, long sigh here)

I hate little kids’ birthday parties.  I hate the money spent and the food coloring mixed with Crisco cake. The “entertain me” attitude of the children.  The more more more and more. The talking to parents I don’t know.  The talking to parents I do know but don’t like.  The gift bags….

I heard a mother say, “Whoever invented the idea of gift bags ought to be drug out and shot.”

And I heartily agree.

Little bags of presents at the end of a party?  Bags of presents for all the kids who are invited?  When it’s not even their birthday?

So back to this place, this birthday place called “Putters,” where I went last night:

Putters is a video arcade, putt-putt mini-golf course, Lazer Tag (that’s right, with a “z”), pool, beer, pizza, mini-bowling, and children’s playground location.

To add to the general atmosphere of developing ADHD in young brains, there were TVs mounted in every corner (all set to the NFL “Game Mix” – a sports show of multiple games at once, ticking scores and stats, and, for example, “Patriot’s Win” in a big box in one corner).

I’m not showing what it’s really like there.  This entry is NOT fragmented enough to represent the scene.

It was like the start of the movie Idiocracy, when I’m supposed to press play on my DVD player remote, but I can’t even figure out what I’m supposed to do because the screen is too chaotic in front of me.

And supposedly we were there to celebrate the birth of a 5-year-old.