Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rapid-Fire Wisdom: Thrice Around

Yet another year has passed of learning and observing, so now it’s time for some unsolicited reporting.  If you’re unfamiliar with this (I almost guarantee you are), heed my warning: I may not be right about the randomly formulated tidbits of wisdom below.  They just seemed like they would work at the time.  The truth is - I don’t have all the answers. In fact, there are days when I think it would be arrogant of me to assume I have any answers at all.

-Waiting for a pipe dream to happen could mean missing out on something you wish you would have caught.

-Fellas - if she doesn't want to do it sober, don't let her do it drunk.

-Rookie writers - put that fucking thesaurus down.

-Don't give a shit about what others think of you? That's fine, but it’s no excuse to be an asshole. Be a good person and be pleased with the way you think of yourself.

-If you consistently have mental breakdowns when you get drunk, you weren't meant to drink. Switch to weed.

-Everyone has shit happen to them. It doesn't matter how big or small – if it affects you, it counts. You can either process it, learn from it, and move on… or you can use it as an excuse for the way you act. You can’t undo anything, so you may as well let it improve how you are.

-On a clear summer night, take the time to look up and lose yourself in the perspective that a sky full of stars gives you.

-Opposites don't really attract. So unless you're a magnet, look for people whose qualities compliment your own.

-If you're a creative, write your dreams down as soon as you wake up - they're free inspiration.

-You're an adult now. Learn the proper usage of your, you're, they're, their, there, to, too, etc.

-Own a nice pair of sunglasses, a classy watch, a nice coat, and a grownup hat.

-Never wear a pair of shiny dress shoes with normal jeans.

-Playing the "humble game" shouldn't always be your default. If you receive praise for doing something truly great, revel in it for a moment. Then move on.

-Fellas - have a repertoire of colognes for different situations, and use them sparingly.

-Fellas - one woman's opinion gives you a good idea - many give you the right idea. Unless it came from a woman’s magazine, then it’s horribly wrong.

-Desperation has a foul odor.

-Fellas - having trouble with the “friendzone”? Here’s your problem: even though you're being nice, you're also most likely being boring, meek, and quiet about your feelings for her.  Show that you have some goddamned worth, and grow a fucking backbone.

-Ladies - if you want an honest answer about how you look in those pants, ask your friends.  Your boyfriend/husband knows better.

-Learn the difference between being helpful and being a doormat.

-Fellas - leave your forest camouflage hats for the hunting trip.

-Cook for yourself, or for the people you’re eating with.  The rest of us don’t care, so enough with the pictures. Seriously.

-Always have a project in the works, and make it something that isn't time-sensitive so you can work on it to fill idle time.

-Being a pessimist is taking the cheap way out of dealing with getting a shitty hand. Just suck it up and work for better things.

-Leave the gossiping for the teenagers.

-Thinking of the world as a whimsical place where great things simply happen, or blessed lives fall into place, is a fast track toward failure.  Great things tend to require work. Not always, but often enough to where taking the risk is not worth it.

-Reputations don't come out of thin air – there's at least some truth behind them.

-Don’t base your life on a quote by someone just because they're famous - there's one for almost any point of view.

-Ladies - whether or not it’s true, if you pick apart the appearance of a woman we find attractive, we automatically assume you're jealous.

-If you truly believe in your cause, don't just protest it when the weather’s nice.

-If you're lucky enough to love someone that loves you back, appreciate what you have and show them every chance you get.  Most of us don't have that.

-Keep a PG rated vocabulary until you know you’re in R rated company.

-The number of friends you have only really matters when… oh wait, it never matters as long as there's at least one.

-Life is too fucking short to not go in for the kiss.

-Have a sense of wonder.  The universe around you is infinitely fascinating.

-There are no secret shortcuts in life, and anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you a book.

-Fellas - stop looking for the dream girl. She doesn’t exist – at least in the way you think.  Every girl out there is flawed, and if you’re expecting perfection, you'll never learn to appreciate how wonderful her flaws make her.

-Ladies - stop looking for the exciting bad boy with a heart of a puppy.  He doesn’t exist.  The way a man approaches life is the same way he approaches love.  If he’s a hardass on the street, he’ll be a hardass on you.

-Nine times out of ten, the latest health fad proves to be no more effective than conventional techniques, the latest self-help fad proves to be a load of bad ideas dressed in fancy words, the latest political fad is recycled ideas from twenty years ago, and the latest music genre is just plain shit.

-If you struggle with social small talk, do what they do in the business world and make yourself an “elevator speech”.  If it’s interesting enough, all you’ll have to do is answer questions until your momentum is going.

-Ladies - with great power comes great responsibility. So once you discover the power that biting your lower lip at the right time has over us guys… use it only for good.

-Never underestimate the soul-healing power of a late night drive with the windows down and the music up.
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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Last Impression

"What should I say?"
"How do I act?"
"Does my breath stink?"
"Don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up."

This is what I assume are the kinds of thoughts someone has when they're worried about making a good first impression.  I can't recall them myself, because I can't recall a time when I had that kind of worry. While I do admit that coming out of the gates strong does matter to a point, I also think the emphasis people put on it is all wrong – it's too much.

There's this idea that the first impression is the only impression, if you get it wrong.  I'm here to say that isn't the case at all, and I’m proof of it.  Depending on my mood, someone’s view of me could range from loveable and dorky to downright nuts.  I've strolled away from many first-time encounters with the other person unsure if they wanted to try it again without having me fitted for a straightjacket first.  Yet somehow, I almost always get along with those people down the line.  Outside of job interviews and within reason, a first impression can always be forgotten by the subsequent time spent with them.

That’s where the real impressions begin – in the meat of a relationship.  It’s not when you're shaking hands for the first time, it’s when you’re embracing for the fiftieth.  I avoid taking someone’s actions to heart when they’re new, because, at that point, nearly every person tends to become a better version of themself.  It’s only natural – I catch myself doing it sometimes.  But when you really know a parson and exchange your insecurities with them over coffee at three in the morning, you two are tied together on a very fundamental level.  That’s the kind of impression that stays with a person.

I recently had a night like that with a friend of mine.  Our friendship is a unique one.  We don't talk every day and we only see each other every couple of weeks, but there’s a trust that we've slowly forged over a long time and in each other’s company, we find solace from our normal lives.  It was last week Wednesday we had a spontaneous escape from our respective monotony, and we finished with a very honest coffee-infused conversation.  It was the kind of verbal exchange that brings about such a release, afterward you feel as if you have learned to breathe all over again.  Once our goodbyes were said, I backed out of her driveway, and soon I was on the southbound freeway headed home.  The night’s remnants were still in my head and the solitude of the 3 a.m. freeway stirred up the thought, “I'd be OK with dying right now.”

He said whaaaaaaat??

Now before you all start your assumptions, let’s get something straight.  I'm not suicidal, I don't have a death wish, I'm not being morbid, and I'm not pretending to be depressed to get attention – like those teenaged pricks on Tumblr.  God, I can't stand them.

Contrary to what you may think, that notion came from a well of content.  I was content with who I was at that moment, and if I happened to die in a car accident on my way home, I would have been content with how I left the world.  It’s an odd thought, I know.  When I first had it a few years ago, it made me tilt my head for a moment or two.  But since then, that thought has become one of my life’s philosophies.  I've come to call it the Last Impression.

Every sentence has a period, every speech a conclusion.  There’s a reason why we stress who has the last laugh and why we have a thirst for conflict resolution.  Closure is the most important part, because there’s nothing else after.  It’s the one last chance for one to make the effort they set out to, so that’s how I sometimes approach my life.

“If I died tonight in my sleep, or in an accident on the way home, would I be happy with the person I was?”
“Did I bring happiness to the last person I was with?”
“Are they better off now than before we met tonight?”
“Did I leave a good last impression?”

Now before I sound too much like a motivational speaker with perfect hair and an all-too orange tan, you should know that I don't often accomplish this goal.  I, like you, am only human.  Unless you're the evil Skynet.  But regardless of the possible robot uprising, my encounters aren't always wrapped up with a pretty little bow.  Sometimes they're ended with an uninspiring “smell ya later”, sometimes with bad blood, and sometimes they end when a few people realize I walked out the door ten minutes ago.  So far, a good last impression is a sporadic occurrence.  In fact, my last one was that same Wednesday night last week, and it probably will be for a while, until I make another that great.  This is a relatively new approach and it’ll take me some time before I become proficient at it.  The point is, it puts a perspective on things that many people often find morbid, but I don't at all.

Not having a fear death allows me to think about it objectively.  I’m not a morbid guy, but I often ponder what would happen after I get shoehorned into a pine box.  It’s guaranteed to happen eventually, so why not contemplate it?  Some things I've even planned.  I already have my funeral song, and my best friend knows to put those Groucho Marx glasses on me if it’s an open casket, but those are just details.  What I mainly think about is the bigger picture.  I wonder how the people I know would remember me and what they would say. Outside of the occasional “oh for fuck’s sake, I remember when he did that” comment, I like to think that I would be remembered as someone who left the world as a good person.  Well, overall, anyway.

Sometimes, the best horse to back is the one that finishes last, and this is one of those cases.  Any asshole can move past a bad first impression.  That’s why so many people give their friends the disclaimer “He’s an acquired taste.”  I much rather care about the last impression – I want to leave a good aftertaste.  Heh, that was almost a good analogy.

Oh piss off, Marilyn.  That shit was funny.

The point is, that feeling I had a few nights ago made me happy person.  After a night of drinks, skee-ball, coffee and conversation, I knew that if something happened to me, I would be fine with leaving it all at that last goodbye.  I’m happy looking back on my last impression, and look forward to making many more.
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Friday, August 23, 2013

Wanna Get Married, Man?

Normally, I would write out a few paragraphs leading up to the announcement of my ordination in Dudeism, but that wouldn't be very fitting with The Dude’s way of doing things.  So here it is: there’s a religion based on the philosophies given by Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski in the movie “The Big Lebowski". It’s called Dudeism, and I’m ordained in it. Yep, I can marry you.  In the state of Wisconsin, at least.

If you would like my services, payment is a series of White Russians, a few Credence tapes, and some smokes. Below you find what I will say during the ceremony, man.  

My friends, we are here to participate in a wedding, or, in the parlance of our times, to witness this Dude and this Lady Friend in the process of getting hitched. Can I get another Caucasian, Gary?

Congregation replies, “Another Caucasian, Gary.”

By this act we unite __________ and __________ in dudely matrimony. What we do today is done in harmony with the laws of the state of Wisconsin and in the beautiful tradition of Dudes throughout history who, while not heroes – ‘cause what’s a hero?? – fit in with their time and place.

__________ and __________, before I lose my train of thought, I want to say that you stand before me, “His Dudeness”, or “El Duderino” (if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing), having requested that I marry you both without compulsion but with joy. Do you both do this abidingly and without being uptight, man?

Dude and Lady Friend reply “Fuckin’ ay, man.”

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Do any of you compeers know of any new shit that’s come to light concerning why we may not continue with this wedding?  If so, please speak up and say, “This aggression will not stand, man.” If not, let it be cool.

Compeer with an objection says, “This aggression will not stand, man!”

SHUT THE FUCK UP, DONNY!!  Let us continue. __________, if it is your desire to become the exclusive coital partner of __________, then repeat after me.

“I, __________, take you, __________, to be my Very Special Lady/Dude/what-have-you. In this moment, I promise before these compeers to not fuck a stranger in the ass, and to love and abide with you even when I’m handling your dirty undies while you’re busting my friggin’ aggets, and basically being an all-around human paraquat.”

Far out, man.  To other partner:

__________, if it is your desire to become the exclusive coital partner of __________, then repeat after me.

“I, __________, take you, __________, to be my Very Special Lady/Dude/what-have-you. In this moment I promise before these compeers to not fuck a stranger in the ass and to love and abide with you even when I’m handling your dirty undies while you’re busting my friggin’ aggets, and basically being an all-around human paraquat.”

Bob Dylan’s “Man in Me” plays while the couple kneels on a ceremonial rug that really ties the room together and drinks from a communal White Russian. 

 _________ and __________, you have shared promises and whatnot in our presence.  Do you have a token or symbol of abiding together that you wish to exchange, now that you’re privy to all the new shit?

Couple replies "Well, yeah, man."

__________, will you give your token to __________ and repeat these words:

“I give you this ring as a constant reminder of the promises we exchanged today. As you receive this ring, receive my promise to abide always and forever with you while adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen.”

__________, will you give your token to __________ and repeat these words:

“I give you this ring as a constant reminder of the promises we exchanged today. As you receive this ring, receive my promise to abide always and forever with you while adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen.”

__________ and __________, you have exchanged your promises, given and received tokens, and have pretty much taken it easy in my presence. By these acts you have become matrimonial Dudes. By the power vested in me by The Church of the Latter-Day Dude and in accordance with the laws of the state of Wisconsin, I hereby pronounce you Dude and Very Special Lady. You may seal your promise with a physical act of love, preferably a kiss. For now.

Couple kisses.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, Dude _________, and his Very Special Lady _________. So fuck it, dudes. Let's go bowling.

Everyone grabs a lane and starts the reception, as the ceremony was held at a bowling alley.

But if your foot is over the line... be sure to mark it zero,.
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rapid-Fire Wisdom: Part Deux

It has been over a year since I wrote the first Rapid-Fire Wisdom, and a lot has happened.  I've learned a lot, and observed a lot more.  Being that school is on a quick break for me, I thought I might take a seat and pump out some more tidbits that you all can cram in your mindholes.

Once again, may I point out that nothing is absolute, so if you choose to follow any of this… it may not work out.

-Charles Caleb Colton's line, “Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery” is a first-class cop-out.  Real flattery comes from praise and promotion – not plagiarism.

-If you're staying in a strange city, don't be afraid to trust the concierge. They know what they're doing.

-You have to let someone’s signature joke or impression happen naturally.  Demanding it will ruin it.

-Peacocking is a ridiculous idea. Be natural, be yourself. She noticed you.

-Don’t get annoyed in someone seeks sympathy every once in a while, it helps if they're going through a tough time.  But if it’s a consistent thing, don't be afraid to call them out on it.

-Let your friends brag about you – it holds a lot more merit than if you did it yourself.

-People are rarely asked to give a speech that they're not being graded on.  So if you're asked to, accept the honor.

-Guys - If you're walking and happen to catch eyes with a woman – regardless  of her age, weight or looks – give her a friendly smile.

-"Check the validity of a quote before you cite it." -Jesus

-“On matters of style, swim with the current. On matters of principle, stand like a rock.” –Thomas Jefferson

-Find yourself a vice, an addiction, an interest, and a passion.  If kept in check, those things will give you a more rounded, interesting life than simple virtue.

-In cards as in life, don’t play the king if you can win with the jack, and don’t show your hand until you have to.

-Keep a pen and paper by your bed.  If you think you’ll remember that great idea when you wake up, you’re wrong.

-If you don’t know what that button controls, don’t press it.

-Be mindful of others’ feelings. Sure, you may think it sounds cool to say, “Screw how they feel,” but what if you were in their position? Yeah, you’d think differently.

-"Know-it-all" = "Asshole".

-Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

-There’s a difference between “Fake it till you make it” and “lying”.

-Buy a PostSecret book and look through it from time to time.  It’ll help remind you that most people are like you – they don’t have it all together.

-Guys – keep an eye out for a change in her hair. Mention it before she does.

-Guys – if you’re into her, be a man and just fucking say so.  You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.

-Girls – He’s probably into you.

-You don’t have to like the classics, but you should appreciate them.  They’re classics for a reason.

-Own up to your mistakes, admit when you’re wrong and embrace your flaws.  People will respect you for it.

-Guys – if you're compelled to look at a girl, don’t stare.  Her friends are most likely watching you make faces only a registered sex offender could relate to.

-At this point in the English language, it doesn't really matter if you have one space between sentences, or two.  What does matter is that you should make a choice and commit to it.

-Never salt your food in the presence of the cook.

-“Every guy wants a good girl who will be bad just for him, and every girl wants a bad guy who will be good just for her.”  Just don't hold out for that, you'll pass over a lot of good people if you do.

-When entrusted with a secret, keep it.  If you're not certain you can, tell them.

-Take two Aleve a day – one in the late morning, and one in the early evening.  If you're observant, you'll notice what changed after a week or so.  You're welcome.

-Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

-Singing in the car or sticking out your tongue in photos doesn’t make you weird, much like wearing hipster glasses doesn't make you a nerd.  Weird is when you act like yourself and it makes people around you uneasy, and nerdy is things like… being fluent in Klingon.  If you're one of the beautiful people, just play that role and quit pretending – you’re pissing off the rest of us.

-It is perfectly fine if you have chosen to not own a TV.  However, you're the only one that cares.

-Learn to be a critical thinker. Before you pass along something you’ve come across, check its validity.  More often than not, you'll find inaccuracies – especially during an election year.

-Screw it, I'll just come right out and say it: JUST BECAUSE YOU FOUND IT ON THE INTERNET, DOES NOT MEAN IT’S TRUE. FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

-If you must borrow someone’s car, return it to them with a full tank of gas, and just as clean as you got it.

-If you can't afford to tip, then you can’t afford to go to the bar in the first place.

-There are a lot of nooks in the world. Find yourself one and use it as a place you can escape to.

-Fads die early and often.  Staying current isn’t hopping on every emerging bandwagon, it’s waiting for a little while and selecting the ones that matter and have staying power.

-Don’t use the term “FML” if you know where your next meal is coming from.  Quit whining and suck it up like the rest of the goddamn adults.

-Life isn't a movie.  The chubby comic relief doesn't end up with the dream girl.

-Don't split hairs if someone’s metaphor isn't dead-on, you’re not grading them on a speech. If you knew what they meant, let it slide.

-The same goes for grammar.

-Everyone’s life sucks to a certain degree. You're not alone.

-Simplicity is usually the best course of action.

-Keep your favorite childhood stuffed animal, and remember that there’s nothing wrong with hugging an inanimate object like it’s a puppy on Christmas morning.

…and last, but certainly not least:

-Don't be a dick.
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Friday, March 22, 2013


Whenever an astronomical lottery jackpot is sprawled across the evening news, people always have the same reaction.

A handful of change is spent at a gas station, and that colorful sheet of receipt paper they get in return is stuffed in their wallet, like a golden ticket to financial nirvana.  It serves as a reminder at restaurants and bars that a conversation has to start via, “What would you do if you won?”  The first idea that someone almost always throws on the table is getting out of debt for themselves, their family, friends, or people they want to see naked.  Past that, many take it upon themselves to spread their new wealth around in the form of contributions to charities, reliefs, and gifts to other people they might want to see naked.

That’s all well and good, I’m the same way.  But after those basics are covered, the descriptions of pleasure spending start.  Every material fantasy they've spent time formulating gets described down to every minute detail.  Superfluous cars, mansions, expensive clothes and extended stays in luxurious hotels on tropical islands are the popular choices, but that’s where I tend to stray from the group.

Granted, it would be fun to drive around in a Lamborghini, but what would be the point?  Utilizing half a million dollars’ worth of machinery and engineering, only to garage it for eight months out of the year?  Sorry, no.  I don’t see why I would buy a mansion either, I’m single and in my twenties.  I don’t need eight bedrooms or a foyer with an echo.  Though, a small library with a secret passage would be nice.  Would I buy expensive clothes? I seriously doubt it.  Over time, I've narrowed my wardrobe down to a bunch of t-shirts, some black button-downs, a few pairs of jeans, a wool coat and a pair of boots that I’m pretty sure doesn't belong to me.  I used to obsess over the seemingly unattainable treasures, though.  I had it in my head that they were the benchmark of refinement.  But after a while, I no longer did.  I grew beyond it.  I still understand why one would like to have nice things, but a car with the price tag higher than most homes in a well-to-do suburb feels ostentatious to me now.  When it comes to wealth, if someone takes the route of subtlety when gross excess is within reach, I think it shows real class.  To me, true refinement is in the understatement.

Unless you're this guy.

But what about the exotic destinations?  The tropical islands?  Now that’s an idea closer to my liking.  Sure, if I won the lottery I might spend a few days or weeks on a beach with nothing but booze and solitude, or if I were fortunate enough, the company of a woman - but I wouldn't want to stay there.  I'd get bored after two weeks, guaranteed.  I’d want to keep moving.  Roaming around is what I crave.  Travel.  Freedom.  I want to disappear into the world.  The other stuff that people talk about buying is just that: stuff.  It’s just a collection of things to occupy one’s living area… stuff to keep one marginally entertained between mandatory engagements.  Now I’m not saying that I’m some smug, bare-bones douche that believes they're above having possessions, no.  I own my fair share of trivial shit.  But success in the form of material excess is a concept that is beyond me.  When I think of winning the lottery, I immediately imagine dropping my trivial shit in favor of open roads, desert sunsets, roadside diners, run-down hotels, and nothing to keep me company but my unfamiliar surroundings.

I know that before I have mentioned the idea of a Route 66 road trip, but my solace of freedom is so much more than taking a rented Chevy sedan down one stretch of road for a week and a half.  What I’m getting at is a roaming residence.  PO Box: Everywhere.  If I had the option to, the majority of my time would be invested in absence.

There’s a reason why one of my favorite books is Kerouac's “On the Road”, why I often drive to a truck stop 30 minutes due north to have a cup of coffee, and why I drove an hour to and from work for a full year.  I have a strong wanderlust, but without the ability to wander too far - I’m cursed with the combination of a restless spirit and a restful environment.  But this isn't a new concept.  In fact, it’s a pretty big cliché these days, thanks to Tumblr and all of the “empty freeway” pictures being passed around, like the one at the top of this post.  The difference between me and many others is that I didn't learn this feeling from watching Easy Rider or Into the Wild.  My comfort with solitary travel has been in me for a very long time.

...and for the record, don't do what this guy did.

Since I hit my teenage years, I had always been a bit of a loner.  Sure, I had friends and went to the occasional party, but I often had no problem not hearing the phone ring or rarely seeing someone make their way up to my door.  Sure, it wasn't the healthiest way to go through young adulthood, but it ultimately worked out for the best, because it was then that I discovered creative writing and those awkward puberty-infused poetry phases were kept private.  Since then though, I seldom feel the need to surround myself with people, just to get by.

You could call it social anxiety, but I have a tendency to engage total strangers when I’m out and about.  You could call it depression, but anyone who has known me for more than thirty-eight seconds will tell you that I am often a happy fucking guy.  You might refrain from describing it again because you already have two strikes… but please, keep swinging.  The truth is I don’t even know how to define it, other than “Content-With-Solitude-Other-Than-The-Occasional-Lonely-Bug-That-I-Remedy-With-Friendly-Social-Interactions-itis”.  It is that condition I have, combined with the need to roam, that fills me with enough confidence to believe I’ll eventually end up on the road and on my own.

Recently, I attempted to take a road trip from Milwaukee to Boston, to visit Big Sis. It was long-overdue and I was very much looking forward to hanging out with her.  I could have flown, but I saw it as an opportunity to drive, as a way of reconnecting with something I was missing.   Though it may not look like it, this essay has taken quite a while to put together. Other endeavors have come up during its creation, but the real reason for the delay is that I lost my passion for what was driving its theme.  After a while, I simply couldn't remember why I wanted to roam throughout the country.  So, I took to the freeways thinking that on the way to Boston, I might also fill the void that had been the source of so much frustration.

Is it just me, or does Stock Photo Guy look a lot like Val Kilmer?

Sadly though, the unforgiving rain, ice and snowstorms that engulfed the northeastern part of the country that week made it impossible for me to reach my destination, and I was forced to turn around and drive westbound for six hundred miles with my tail between my legs.  After I made that U-turn in a Pennsylvania Burger King parking lot, I knew that the 8+ hours of driving would be an unpleasant retreat.  To say that I was angry would have been an understatement.  I was a ball of fury feeding on a steady diet of nicotine, caffeine, gasoline and cursing.  That is, until whatever god of travel I was blaspheming took pity on me, if only for a moment.

I was on the Ohio turnpike, somewhere west of Toledo.  It was around ten o'clock at night, and the sky had been filled with a constant, yet gentle, rainstorm since the sun went down.  On that particular stretch of road, there are no lights to speak of.  Vast fields were on either side, and light poles were only present when a junction with another freeway was coming up.  I had been cruising in the left lane, passing up truckers for some time, but then, I stopped seeing their approaching taillights. Soon, the headlights from approaching eastbound traffic stopped as well. Then the rain stopped. Using that as an opportunity to get some fresh air without soaking up any windshield runoff, I put my window down and turned the heat and music up.  Ahead of me, behind, all around, there was nothing.   All I saw was the light from my car reflecting off of the freeway lines.  I lit a cigarette, and the icing of the cake came in the form of a song on the radio, "A Horse with No Name" by America.

I swear to you, I couldn't have written it better myself. There I was, by myself on a road cutting through nowhere, in the middle of a clear night, listening to a peaceful song and finally recapturing what I thought I had lost sight of for what seemed like half of a lifetime.  Amidst the overwhelming feelings of defeat, anger and all of the reflections that came along with them... I somehow felt at peace.  It was a truly surreal moment that reminded me why I decided to write this piece in the first place.  It was those moments of absolute solitude... from everything, even myself.  I wasn't who I normally am: a creature of mental and emotional peaks and valleys.  I was just there, existing.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It was very real separation from a conventional reality.  In those few precious seconds, my entire world was limited to the fifty or so feet I could see in front of me.

Then the wondrous feeling ended.  The rainfall resumed, along with the eastbound traffic, and a sign saying "Chicago - 232" pulled me off of the Road to Nowhere and set me back on the Ohio turnpike, west of Toledo.  That harsh geographical awakening also reminded me of the principle idea behind wanderlust: the wandering.  Having a destination gave finality to the trip.  Having a destination gave me a goal to work for, and that goes against the whole idea of wandering.  It's the pure joy of not having to be confined by time or distance, but only by one's own tolerance for sitting down. To quote the old adage, "It's not the destination, it's the journey."

I don’t want to end up being one of those poor saps that always talks about life, but never gets around to living it.  That ominously vague fear and being stuck with many daily routines drives me crazy inside.  That anxious insanity in the pit of my stomach comes to a head and every once in a while, out of nowhere, I get a fleeting urge to depart.  No note, no warning… I just want to grab whatever is within arm's reach and leave.  Then, as quickly as the feeling arrives, it dissipates and I'm left with the aftermath - a rush of adrenaline, similar to what one feels when they almost get into a car crash.  All I know is that I was inches away from a major event in my life, but now I'm not... as if it never happened, as if it was never going to happen.

But I hope to one day get to a point where I can act on these urges.  It may seem selfish to pick up and leave like that, and maybe it is, especially if I have a girlfriend or wife at the time.  But do you know what? Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have a woman who would hop in the car with me, point ahead and say, “Jeffy, bring me that horizon.”  But until then… the passenger seat of my car will be reserved for toll change, road snacks, empty coffee cups… and the occasional spent lottery ticket.
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Full Disclosure
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Confessions of a Non-Trad

In the weeks leading up to my return to Academia, I was not a very enthusiastic guy.  In fact, the very concepts of “enthusiasm”, “excitement” and “pride” were completely lost on me.

See, as soon as I clicked that Finish button on UW-Waukesha’s enrollment website, the self-deprecating suburbanite in me jumped out and began to jab at me with the business end of a baseball bat labeled “shame”.  It didn't matter that the economy was in the tanker, or that the job market was bleak, or even that the rate of adults going back to school was at its highest ever.  The only thought going through my head was the warped ideology that I was twenty-eight, and I should be on my way by now, not starting over.  For a while, the word “failure” was a recurring character in the ongoing sitcom of my psyche.

Then it came.  September 4th.  Tuesday.  D-Day.  Turning onto University Drive and going up a hill littered with potholes, I watched the flocks of what looked to be twelve year-olds making their way up the sidewalk.  Every single one of them seemed to be fighting the weight of their over-stuffed backpack, without the advantage of post-pubescent muscle mass.  I swear to you, if it weren't for the smokers, this place would've looked like a junior high school.  Facial hair was more of a myth than a certainty to this bunch.  I expected a game of tag to break out at any moment.  I kept searching for the game of four square or hopscotch.   With my windows open, I knew, at any moment, I would hear “Cooties!!”  Have I made my point yet?  These fuckers looked young.

Another thing that caught me off guard was the diversity of these young cats.  It wasn't just skin or hair color, it was everything – all styles were represented.  It was like the training facility for people that walk down the Venice Beach Boardwalk was right here in Southeastern Wisconsin.  To be fair though, my previous college experience was not quite as diverse.  Once upon a time, I was locking down a degree in Criminal Justice.  Anyone who’s done the same wouldn't be surprised when I say the most diversity I witnessed was the day two guys walked in looking slightly different, and I learned there was more than one kind of hunting camouflage.  Back on University Drive, one of the examples of this melting pot I was about to join had both a positive and negative effect on me.  As I was looking for a parking spot, I noticed a hippie on a moped and it made me wonder what kind of awful experience I was going to have.  Though seconds later, that same hippie ran his little scooter into a curb and flew headfirst into a bush.  At that moment, every bit of dread I had turned into vague optimism and I thought to myself, "Maybe it won’t be so bad here after all."

A hippie falling is funny to anyone.

Cut to a few weeks later.  By now, the syllabus has been memorized, and textbooks are showing wear, but everyone still groans whenever someone mentions the hoakey “ice-breaker exercises” that I personally thought were limited to kindergarten classes, Lamaze circles and AA meetings.  Fortunately, the idea of being a guy in his late twenties that’s also in college is no longer a burden on my mind.  In fact, I've come to enjoy the experience.  Like an extremely watered-down version of a Primatologist living in the jungle, studying spider monkeys, I constantly observe the teenagers around me, learning odd things that I never knew before.  Though, there was a moment when I noticed a common theme that seemed to run through their entire generation.

Allow me to elaborate.  I was in one of my classes and during a small group discussion I couldn't help but hear some of the other conversations taking place in the room.  One exchange in particular caught my attention.  It was two guys talking, and one of them said a word that I, nor the kid he was talking to, could recognize.  Luckily my comrade in confusion was looking for answers.

“What the hell does that mean?” he asked.
“Oh that’s my new word for something that’s weird and cool at the same time.”
“Sweet, when did you make it up?”
“Over the summer.”

"Wait... what?"

The number of confused people in the room dropped to one, and that person was still me.  His friend, on the other hand, accepted the explanation and they continued like it never happened.  Don’t you think that’s weird in some kind of way?  Creating yet another word for something that’s beyond common and simply introducing it to someone else as if Merriam & Webster added it to the database the night before… I had never seen that before.  But I have seen other things like it since I sat down in my first class weeks before.  Right then, I figured out the Unified Theory of their generation.

They seemed to be much more concerned with being a pioneer than a professional.

 “It all makes sense now!” I thought to myself.  With all of them being so experienced at accessing instantaneous information, they’re constantly bombarded with new info that gets re-accessed over & over, and pretty soon it becomes stagnant.  Not to mention all of the well-known works of art, writing, music, etc. that are at the top of every search result.  Their constant exposure to these kids makes them lose their intellectual and creative merit after a while, they lose their luster and become commonplace.  Stare at the Mona Lisa long enough and it’ll look like a doodle.

It’s because of that, these younger generations are no longer looking for the best, they’re looking for the new... and in a way to them, the newest is the best.  That’s why a fresh internet meme pops up every hour and no matter how dumb it is (The Socially Awkward Penguin), it floods the meme market within a matter of days.  With this paradigm of lightning quick creation and subsequent saturation, no one has the time to actually get good at whatever they’re doing.  Everyone thinks they need to forget about striking while the iron is hot and just use it as is - no matter how raw & unformed it may be.  They know no one will care enough to watch that iron take form on the anvil because more is already being pulled out of the forge.

So now, we have an entire generation of young and bright people who would rather be original than official.  They would rather be raw than refined.  Being good at something isn't important anymore, it seems.  Why have an efficient Swiss clock when you can have the chaos of a sundial being rolled down a flight of stairs?

Google didn't have the picture I wanted, so here's a surprised mouse.

Immense observations and grand realizations are not a constant thing though.  It’s their smaller counterparts that litter my weeks with fascinations that pull me even further into the campus community.  In one of my afternoon classes, my professor and I get along more than we do with the other students, because we have much more in common.  A few times, I've proven my Anthropology professor wrong, solely because of my life experience.  Other students come to me for advice, rather than their advisors or parents.  I’m also getting hit on… a LOT.  Unresolved daddy issues, I guess.  This is my hell – I’m the cool guy on campus, and there’s nothing I can do with it.

That is, until I was forced to figure out something that needed to change.  In my English class, I was given the task of finding something wrong with the college community and formulating a solution.  For a few days I brainstormed, but the lightning refused to strike.  Then I got an email from a friend who runs an advice website I contribute to, informing me that the site was getting some really good press and pretty soon the administrators would reevaluate the school policies toward it, possibly legitimizing the whole thing.  This was great news because he was forced to distance himself from it in order to keep his job, but the reason he started it was very close to his heart.  That email was something that made me think every student body could use some kind of entity to give advice on life issues.  Wait a second. . .


“MY college doesn't have that!! …but that’s a solution.  What’s the problem?” I eventually worked backward and thought about my first weeks there.  The few older students I met were very apathetic about the whole college experience.  Like myself, they already knew what the drill was, and they were only there to get the grades, get out and get on with their lives.  I realized that we were an untapped resource of information for teenagers that needed no-bullshit advice.  Later that week, I sat down with a woman whose job was to specifically deal with the older students, or “non-traditional/non-trad” students as she defined them.  I interviewed her about it, and she was very excited about the idea.  But she was also eerily calm throughout the whole interview, it kind of creeped me out.  Toward the end of the Q&A, she mentioned there was actually a club specifically for non-trad students, and it was currently lacking leadership.  The alpha male in me became interested, and began to entertain the idea of trying the leadership role out.

So here I am, playing a much different role than I was just three months ago.  3.8 GPA, active classroom participant, program facilitator and possible extracurricular club leader.  Being called a Non-Trad is about as accurate as my feeling about everything can get.  Next thing you know, I’ll be considering an offer to edit classmates' term papers in my spare time.

Well, now that you mention it…

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Digital Derangement

Once in a while, I stumble into one of the countless dark corners of the internet where the truly weird reside.

I’m not talking about the conspiracy theory sites preaching about the Illuminati being a mysterious world power, nor am I talking about the Tumblr pages filled with creepy photos posted by teenagers portraying themselves as mysterious and artistic.  Those places are filled with the same old ignorance and lack of grammar that I find pitiful and boring.  What I’m referring to are the dusty old digital storage closets at the end of the virtual hall – tucked behind Google’s deserted boiler room.

These nooks are the stomping grounds for the real lunatics that can’t help but spread their demented wings.  They aren’t ill-informed by their peers, or going through a childish phase, they’re legitimately screwed up.  Something is fundamentally wrong with them and it would take therapy, medication, maybe even institutionalism to get them to stop reciting Macbeth to their least favorite sock.  But thanks to the internet, some searching and a bit of luck… we sometimes get a glimpse of this complete madness.

Dammit, Google image search...

I became aware of these places when I was scrolling through the articles of  For those unaware of this website, I highly recommend you take a look.  You’ll see intriguing titles like: 6 Creepiest Places on Earth, The 7 Most Bizarrely Unlucky People Who Ever Lived, 6 Secret Monopolies You Didn’t Know Run the World, The 5 Most Epic One Man Rampages in the History of War, one of my personal favorites: 6 Massive Secret Operations Hidden All Around You and the article that led me to the edge of the rabbit hole: The 7 Most Unintentionally Creepy Places on the Internet.

Out of the seven “Unintentionally Creepy Places on the Internet”, two of them were creepy enough to make me pause and check to see if there was someone lurking behind me.  First was the story of “jamie_marsters” a member of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer forum called “the Bloody Board”.  Jamie was so obsessed with the show, she wrote close to 40,000 posts over the course of six years.  The story took a hard left into the Realm of Weird when one detail came to light: she was virtually the only member on the forum, which meant she was actually carrying on hundreds of conversations with herself.

I know Buffy is cute, but COME. ON.

The other MVP of the article was jamie_marsters’ hard copy version, Humanbeing151.  “Insomniac”, as he called himself on his YouTube account, was quite the rap fan.  Claiming to have written over 150,000 songs for the rap mogul Diddy, his nickname might not have been a nickname at all, but a warning for the impending eerie obsession.  The high point of the video showing his home filled with thousands upon thousands of notebooks is at the 6 minute mark, when he opens one and in it is the phrase, “Brother P. Diddy please accept” written over and over… and over... and over…

Take a cross of Kevin Spacey in Se7en and Jack Nicholson in The Shining, throw in a need to stand next to Diddy in a shiny suit, and you have Insomniac.  Then again, he might actually want to wear Diddy as the suit…

It puts the lotion in the BASKET!!

Unfortunately, due to the immature fan base of Cracked, these two were harassed so much, they were forced to delete their respective accounts mere days after the article was published.  All that remains are a few traces of their mythology kept alive by random people who were able to download screenshots and videos before they disappeared.  Naturally, this bummed me out because I had only just been exposed to these kinds of things and it was an entire year before I was lucky enough to come across another.

Late one night, I was doing research for a story I was writing on psychological disorders.  Specifically, I was looking for information on brain deformity in relation to psychotic behavior.  After a series of clicks I found myself on a scientist’s blog, and it was exactly what I was looking for, so I started scrolling.  One of his posts was quite short compared to the rest and stood out in a way that caught my attention before I had a chance to finish reading the post before it.  In it, he said he received a mysterious package in the mail, a book called Being or Nothingness by “Joe K.”.

His description of the book’s contents was quite odd and further research revealed even odder circumstances surrounding it.  I found that Being or Nothingness had become somewhat of an ominous Wonka Golden Ticket in certain social & professional circles.  The people who received it were revered by their peers but still, no one had any clue what the book was about, or why it was sent in the first place.  My trail of impromptu research eventually ended with a nonfiction book called The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.  When I finally got around to reading it, I found out that the mysterious “Joe K.” was just a random person with mental health problems and the connection between the recipients was just their involvement in the field of Psychology.  As for the book itself, it was simply filled with nothing more than the incoherent thoughts of someone in dire need of counseling.  Needless to say, I was disappointed.

The discovery of it though, I still enjoyed.  Stumbling upon something genuinely unorthodox and connecting the dots of the story behind it felt like I was in a crime movie during one of those “detective researching library periodicals” montages.  Since then I’ve made one other discovery, and it wasn’t nearly as elaborate or mysterious… but still very weird.

Recently I pulled an all-nighter via a marathon of every Laurel & Hardy movie I could find.  After going through my DVDs, I started searching YouTube & Amazon for any others I could view for free.  On Amazon, I noticed something a little off: an online version of a Laurel & Hardy movie that could be rented for $250 or bought for a whopping $600.  Looking into it revealed that this movie, Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy: Bye Molly, was actually a reworking of L&H’s Berth Marks, done by a guy named Ken Jacobs.  I checked YouTube and there it was, in its entirety… for free.  Out of the 124 minutes, the first 90 are single frames of the movie being flashed forward and reverse repeatedly.  Even people without epilepsy could get seizures from this film. 

The Tribeca Film Festival deemed it “Experimental”, while I more accurately deem it to be “Fucking Stupid”.  Clicking on back to Amazon, I checked for any reviews on it and found only one.  Now this film may be odd, but that review is a real gem.

Holy padded room, would you look at that paragraph of Batshit Craziness.  If halfway through you got the feeling that this was just some 17 year-old leaving a sarcastic review and overdoing it... you’re not alone.  But then I noticed he has only one other review and it too, is for Laurel & Hardy.  While reading it, I could see this guy is THOUGHROUGHLY versed on the subject, and VERY passionate about it… the kind of passion that leads to a movie star staying up at night, clutching a shotgun and hoping that shadowy figure in the corner is just the dog liking himself.

Oh, and his handle on Amazon is an obscure reference to whom?  Yep, you guess it.  Laurel & Hardy.

All things considered, I was left wondering if this person just felt like leaving a tongue-in-cheek review, or if he really is a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.  Truthfully, I’d rather not find out.  Half of the fun for me is thinking that weirdness might actually be out there, ready for me to raise an eyebrow at whenever I feel the need – even if it might just be someone with an odd sense of humor and a lot of spare time.

Though I guess the same thing could be said about a lot of those little oddities on the World Wide Web:  They may seem messed up, but it’s probably just someone fucking with you.  However if Cracked has taught us anything, it’s that every so often there’s a total nutjob with an internet connection and a lot of free time to fill.  So while they’re still out there, I’ll keep looking for them and reporting back to you.

Who knows… I might be one of ‘em.

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Full Disclosure

Friday, June 22, 2012

Talk Hard

Every week, my body seems to require one sleepless night and last night, I filled that quota.  Normally the cause is reflection on the events of the day, too much caffeine, or those asshole neighbors across the street that never seem to shut up… but this time it was entirely own doing.

I’m currently staring at a sunrise with heavy eyes because of my love for a lesser-known Christian Slater movie, “Pump Up the Volume”.  I got home, tossed my keys on the kitchen table, went to my room, settled in bed and closed my eyes expecting to sleep... but the urge to watch it for the tenth time was an unstoppable force.  My attachment to this 22 year-old piece of young-adult cinema isn't because of the old-school Beastie Boys references, its cliché "mysterious geek" storyline, the conflict with school administrators, not even the jokes about chronic masturbation.  It’s idea of a lone voice speaking for the underdog and being heard by society.

But I like chronic masturbation...

In the movie, Christian Slater plays a shy high schooler forced to move with his parents from the East Coast to a cookie-cutter suburb in Arizona.  There, he starts his own late night pirate radio show as “Happy Harry Hard-On”, gaining a significant following by the kids at his school.  The plot then grows into a conflict that is a commentary on media’s role in free speech in America.  The last two words of the script, "talk hard" I found interesting, in a cheesy kind of way.  Just like Happy Harry Hard-On, I dug it.

“Talk hard,” he said earlier in the movie, “I like that.  I like the idea that a voice can just go somewhere, uninvited.  Just kinda hang out, a dirty thought in a nice clean mind.  A dirty thought is like a virus, it can kill all the healthy thoughts and take over.”

The premise of the movie got me thinking, as you might've guessed, but it also brought me down a bit.  I took a quick look around and realized there is very little chance of something like this ever happening.  Why, because the premise is unrealistic? Hell no. Well, not in 1990 at least. It won’t happen because it isn't 1990 anymore, its 2012.

Pause for a moment and think about all of the social media sites you’re involved with.  Personally, I’m on five – Facebook, LitReactor, Red Room, Blogger, and WordPress – and considering the times we live in, that’s a pretty conservative amount.  Off the top of my head, I can think of another six major sites that are along the same lines.  These days, if the narcissist that dwells in every one of us wants to be heard… it will be.


The internet has become The Great Equalizer.  There are all of these mediums for people to speak out, and most have nothing to say!  It’s become this one loud noise of monotonous pseuso-self-expression and it takes a small miracle for someone with substance to surface among the huddled, noisy digital masses.

No, I’m not claiming to be one of those people.  Cool your jets, Ace.

It’s not just the abundance of useless crap that’s clogging the pipes, either.  It’s the ass-backwards popularity curve that has grown alongside the internet; the obsession with celebrity news over world issues.  I’ve learned to tune out such things by avoiding the “Entertainment” tab on the CNN & MSNBC websites and skipping past the E! channel when I’m looking for something to watch on TV, but I’d have to live as a hermit in the mountains to not notice how many people are wondering if Kim & Kanye are going to get hitched.

No, I’m not claiming to be one of these people, either.  Pipe down, Bub.

Do you think Happy Harry Hard-On’s 2012 version would be talking about whether or not Travolta is gay? I should say not, Harry’s angst was how teenage angst should be; driven, original & creative and back in 1990, being the only kid in down with the means of reaching out to others on a grand scale was definitely possible.  Today on the other hand, he wouldn't stand a chance against Perez Hilton's pathetic excuse for an abortion of a news blog.

Seriously, fuck that guy.  I sometimes feel actual pain knowing that he's making piles of cash for getting the scoop on a speculative boob job photo of a celebrity and pointing it out via Microsoft Paint's Spray Can feature, set to bright pink.

Pictured:  the fucking Devil.

It saddens me, knowing that people with something meaningful to say are being drowned out by empty sensationalism.  Will we ever get another lone voice like Happy Harry Hard-On?  I like to think so.  History always repeats itself and history has had a few of these guys already.  From historical figures like Socrates, all the way to free speech advocates like Lenny Bruce, and the unfathomable number of others in between.  Each one of these people had the need and drive to yell over everyone else and educate them at the same time.

The problem I see now is the drive that pushes that kind of person can, nowadays, easily be matched by technology that’s within the grasp of any asshole with an internet connection (guilty…).  Being heard is too fucking easy, you no longer have to work for it!  The ease of it means, while a few of these people saying something worth listening to are rising to the surface, they’re also accompanied by a horde of others that want to tell the world about their cat, collection of Elvis dishes, or their handful of Instagram photos they took of a chair.  Fuck it, I’ll just cut through the crap and say it…

It’s my belief that not everyone was meant to reach out to the world.

This may seem like a touchy subject for some people humping the Bill of Rights, saying "How dare you suggest that not everyone be given their right to free speech!"  To which I reply, "That’s not exactly what I’m saying, however, it IS my very right to suggest that anyway.  So please, go touch yourself to a picture of Thomas Jefferson and quit bothering people.”  I’m just saying that some people need to shut up.

On that note…
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Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Alpha Bird

It's a pleasant day, so I thought I would clean out my car.  In it I found a notebook that I hadn't touched in a month.  In fact, I forgot it even existed.  I opened it and found a few pages I had filled up in quite a hurry.

Seeing as how in recent days I've been distracted by another endeavor revolving around The Written Word, I thought I'd convert those pages into 11pt. Calibri and share 'em.

It was one of the first beautiful mornings of the season.  The idea of neglecting the warm air by sitting in the same coffee shops I had inhabited all winter felt like a grand injustice, so the drive thru and a little freeway driving was the name of the game.  By the time I passed Miller Park, the urge to be a deep/mysterious/soulful/pretentious wordsmith overcame me, so I made for the lakefront. 

Down by Bradford Beach, I found a little unmarked parking lot nestled right up against the water.  It was only nine in the morning and there was already a score of cars parked with their owners relaxing in the driver’s seat, windows open.  I found a space that was relatively secluded and had a nice view of the harbor to the south.  Opening my notebook and clicking my pen into the ready position, I gazed through my windshield, foolishly expecting divine inspiration.

It’s really tough to feel deep & soulful when time and time again, you prove to yourself that you're anything but.  The first ten minutes of sitting in front of a beautiful view was spent trying to pinpoint a seagull that had a different call than the others.  It almost sounded like he was mocking his friends. 

Another car pulled up and parked nearby.  The birds must have recognized the car, because soon after he turned his engine off, they swarmed him like some kind of Hitchcock knockoff.  My suspicions were confirmed after he opened his windows and began to toss bits of bread onto the ground – it seemed to me that he was a frequent visitor.  Seeing the birds fight over their breakfast turned into a lesson of dominance in the wild.

The seagull with the sarcastic call swooped in and stood before the others and their food, raising his wings.  The Alpha Bird had made his introduction to the meal and his disciples turned around, defeated.  Many flew away to other cars, seeking new means of morning nourishment.

The clouds above us opened up, and the sun transformed the water from an endless blue-grey cloth flapping in the wind, into a great plane of crystals, shuffled around by the Moon’s gravitational pull.

The man in that car decided to fancy himself as some kind of National Geographic documentarian, as he brought out his cellphone and began to film the two or three birds that decided to set up shop on the hood of his car.  Bit by bit, he lured them closer to his window to get a better shot for his soon-to-be YouTube failure.

Then it happened.

He accidentally dropped a handful of his stale, torn-up ammunition into his car and the Alpha Bird seized the opportunity, hopping into the cabin of the car.  What followed was ten to fifteen seconds of the most amazingly funny commotion I've been lucky enough to witness in years... four, at least.

The Alpha Bird, not to be trifled with, immediately began flapping his wings in the face of the one-time documentarian.  He tried to return the favor in defense of himself – without any sort of luck.  Faced (heh heh) with the harsh reality of nature wanting to feed, he found just enough clarity in the chaos to find the door handle.  Opening the door and tumbling out was his only reaction, out onto the pavement covered in bird shit – thanks to his want to feed & film birds that people see all the time.  With his hands and knees covered in seagull excrement, he couldn’t think to do anything but watch as the (then) three or four birds tumbled around and made a mess of his makeshift film studio/stale bread depository.

Did I lend this man a helping hand?  No.  His stupidity deserved a reckoning and I still had some coffee left.
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