Tuesday, October 28, 2008


(as a way of dealing with what was/is actually a pretty emotionally and mentally traumatizing event, I’ve decided to write this blog entry as a tribute/parody to/of the great horror writer, H.P.Lovecraft. For those not familiar with his work, I suggest reading these first:


Of course, you might decide to read more of that instead of the blog itself, which is pretty cheesy and full of denial, and the approach I’m using means only this: I. Am. Still. Dealing. With. It.)


The darkest parts of the universe contain some of the most foul and reprehensible creatures known to man. It is, perhaps, only our predilection for covering up the horrors by denial and repression that allows us to survive such things. For myself, I can only hope my memories are crushed -- shattered beyond recognition soon, for the human mind is not built to survive the tests and despairing wraiths of the festering pools of horror I have been subjected to. If deadening blackness waits too long, my mind will eventually shatter under the weight of too many times at the key hole, too many times at the window, too many times at that little...hole thing... in the door, you know, the thing with the lens that bends that allows you to see who’s at the door – the peephole, that’s it! Too many times at the peephole, waiting, listening for the sounds that might come by....

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

I was once a student at the College of Rose State, located in the City of Midwest in the state of Oklahoma, which is a part of the States United in America, on the continent of America (North), sitting plainly on the planet of Earth in the Universe known as This One. A friendly place, its fountain wet and sparkling with the lights underneath the water in a technically brilliant display of wet light. The buildings sit full of people during the day, but closed and empty at night, possibly to allow sleep to release them from the possible horrors that could possibly exist somewhere on its campus. No man knows.

For four or five years this campus was my home away from home, since I did not live there, but at home, a place not on campus, making, therefore, the campus not my home. It felt like one at times, and I had developed a friendly banter with its occupants and temporary visitors one might call dialogue.

“Hey, Dave!”
“Hey, what’s up?”

We spoke to each thusly, these others and myself.

At the time of this horrid tale, I was recovering from what would come to be known as the Relationship I Needed To Get Out Of But Couldn’t. A young, red-haired beauty had smitten my heart, and I was hers, heart and soul. After a few happy months, during which we saw each other frequently, my heart grew 3 times as big, full of the love I had for her, and hope for the future it might contain.

Alas, it was not to be. The woman turned out to be possessive and a bigot, and had concealed such personality “quirks” from me until familiarity bred ease of around-ness, and she dropped her guard. I, for once, was traumatized, knowing my strong feelings for her would make it difficult to leave. After months of mental anguish and physical exploration, I knew I had to leave, but how? I knew that if I was in her presence I would never be able to utter the words I needed. So I did it on her answering machine. A spineless move I admit, but what else you gonna do?

Thus freed, I spent the next few days both pining for and yearning against the young woman, whose face I saw every day until I took her picture down from the bookcase. I begged off the dating scene for a while until I could get my bearings straight, which I did by looking down and seeing where I was. “Healed!”, I proclaimed myself. But my proclamation was incorrect. I was not healed, just alone – alone and lonely. And horny. Very horny.

One day in late October, I was venturing around the Humanities building, where I spent most of my time, due to the fact that many of my friends were there, and I had a lot of classes in the building. I entered the computer room through the door, where a Spanish immigrant woman I was acquainted with was typing away, and a woman with shorter hair sat with her back to me, typing, as well.

“Hey, Anna. What’s up?”
“Oh, hey, Dave. How are you doing?”
“Oh, okay. How’s your grandmother?”
“Oh, she’s fine.”

It was at this point that the other, non-Spaniard woman turned over to look at us. Her short hair and glasses proved the fact that she was a short-haired woman -- with glasses.

“Hey, Anna? Who’s this?”
“Oh, hey, (her name removed to avoid accidental incantations of some sort), this is David.”
“Hi.” (me here)
“Are you a student?” (Her)
“Yeah, last year of a two-year program stretched out to five.”
“Nice to meet you.”

She turned and returned to her typing. Anna and I went into the main broadcasting room for a class we had. It was a class in... NEWS FEATURE PRODUCTION! And kinda fun.

That Friday night, I dressed myself to the eights and planned to attend a campus theatrical production, something I enjoyed doing, since I was the campus theatrical production reviewer, and took my job very seriously, handing out stars and everything. I noticed some friends in the audience who were not Spaniards, nor immigrants, and sat down next to them, for the familiarity of friends can often overcome the weirdness of... the... inside place with the thingie in the lobby. The short-haired woman was among them, dressed nicely, and looking very cute, I might add, if the horrors of cuteness can cover the deeds of the black soul. And we’d just met, too.

After the play – a fantasia that Jeff Tiger completely stole, I went to take my leave of the group, when the short-haired woman with the glasses asked if I wanted to meet up with some people to have a drink at a restaurant nearby. Lonely from my broken heart and horny in my soul, I took her up on the offer. We went to the restaurant, drank, and talked. The conversation was pleasant, as pleasant as conversation with a militant vegetarian can be. Yes, she was a vegetarian, a militant one. As I just said.

Drink combined with more drink combined with horniness to produce what is known as a “make-out session” in my car back on campus, where I had driven to reunite her with her mode of transportation – a small, blue farm truck. The kind with the flat bed in the back and cab all the way front – like the British ones. Before things got too far, I righted myself, said I’d had a good time, and prepared myself for what was next.

“So, would you like to do this again?”
“I’m free Wednesday.”
“Okay. What do you wanna do?”
“Let’s get dinner. Do you like Flip’s?”
Flip’s was/is an Italian restaurant in Oklahoma City, with a large vegetarian menu.
“Sounds good,” I said. “How ‘bout I pick you up here and I’ll drive?”
“See you then.”
We separated then, slightly disheveled, and exchanged phone numbers. We also decided what time we should meet, since that was something we needed to know.

She got in her little truck and drove away, her vehicle making a noise that I thought was cute at the time, but which now reverberates in the moldy passions of my soul:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

Between the time I had sucked face and the time of the date, I’d had second thoughts. I definitely wasn’t ready to get involved with someone emotionally, since my heart was still bruised and battered from the Tyson-like beating it had recently taken. I decided that if the date went well, then I’d continue to see the woman, but deep down, I knew this was not the time for such things.

We met and headed to Flip’s.

Dinner was comfortable, full of small talk and black bean soup. Eventually, she said something that told me I needed to cut this off, quickly.

“You know, there are a lot of vegetarian dishes you might like. I’d love to cook some for you. You could come over and I’ll cook.”
“Sounds nice,” I uttered, knowing that any more would give her the idea that I was interested.

I drove her back to campus to drop her off, and realized I needed to end this now.

“Hey, I’m sorry to do this, but I don’t really think I can date right now.”
“Oh, what’s up?”
“I just had to get out of a relationship that really wasn’t right for me, and I thought maybe I was ready to go out with someone again, but I’m really not. I’m sorry about this. It has nothing to do with you or anything like that, it’s just that I think I’m going to deal with myself for a while. Okay?”
“Well, we can just hang out, right?”
“Sure.” A BIG mistake. I had left an opening – an opening that I wanted never to be filled, but which turned out to be big enough to drive a farm truck through.
“Okay, well take care, and I’ll see you around campus.”
“Okay, and I’m really sorry. I had a good time tonight, but I’m just not ready to date anyone, yet.”
“Well, I’ll keep in touch.” She got out of the car and closed the door, walking over to her farm truck. She got in and drove away.

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

What I said was truthful – I had no intention of dating anyone for a while, and just wanted to lose myself in a series of meaningless sexual encounters, not taste delicious black bean soup at her place. “That seemed to go well,” I thought, and headed home.

Over the next few weeks I began to receive letters from her – letters that were full of friendliness, slight flirtation, and advice for how to deal with my problems. I smiled as I read them, and filed them in the plastic container I kept my more impermanent, scrunched up papers, before I took them out to the big, green, roll-able trash bin. If the letters seemed to be coming more frequently than they should, I was too busy with school and work to notice.

Eventually, the letters still kept coming. She began to hang out in the broadcasting lab more often than normal, since she wasn’t actually a part of the department. After the 9-10th time I “accidentally” ran into her there, I began to avoid hanging around the lab socially, and only showed up to do my work – a change in my social nature I assumed would be temporary.

The letters still still kept coming – one of them a card-slash-puzzle, with a picture of the something-I-can’t-remember on it. I began to realize that my plan was not working, and that I’d have to avoid her even more. I kept the letters, for some reason – a reason my subconscious may have been preparing me for – the horrors up ahead, around the turn, over by that grey house on the corner – no, not that one, the one with the white fence and the – yes, that’s it. Those horrors.

I continued to avoid her, sneaking around the broadcasting lab when I could, ducking around corners, and slipping into the radio booths for a chance at sweet, sweet privacy. I was invited to a Christmas party at her house and politely declined, stopped answering phone calls from her and politely saying I was busy – every single time, and never, ever ventured across campus without looking around first. At the time, I was not quite self-aware enough to notice that I’d altered my normal daily patterns – a sign that should have been obvious, much like the big, golden arch that announces your arrival at McDonald’s. There would be no delicious fried pies for me, though. I was in for a rude awakening, and not by alarm clock, but by Tiger.

Jeff Tiger was a photographer for the paper, and also enrolled in some broadcasting classes. He was a cool person – cooler than most everyone I knew. His sense of humor dry as the dust on the bookcase I’d neglected to clean and smart as all get out. The Spring semester had just started, and I was delighted that my eternal college enrollment was about to end – this chapter, of it, at least. I showed up at the lab and joked about it “being safe?”

Jeff seemed weird -- like a weird tale. He walked over to me and spoke softly. There was no stick to be seen.

“Hey, there’s something you probably need to know.”
“What’s up”, I asked, head slightly cocked with my usual quizzical look.
“Let’s talk somewhere else.”

We walked to one of the empty radio booths and he revealed to me something I was not prepared for. He had attended the woman’s Christmas party, as had a few other students I was familiar with. What they had seen there and what they had experienced had dumbstruck them enough that they seemed not to think I needed to know this, or were too scared of the consequences to reveal the horror to me.

Indeed, they had gone to the party at her place outside of town. The hostess without the most-est had given them the obligatory tour of the dwelling, which was normal until they all got to her bedroom.

There, on the wall, covering much of it, was a collage of photographs of me, taken at various places and events for the school paper and not used, but here blown up and assembled into a larger, more bigger picture of obsession -- obsession with me. While many of the guests thought this was weird, they said nothing, possibly to avoid upsetting the host, which is something you should avoid at parties. After the consumption of much alcohol, she took one of the pictures off the wall and began rubbing it on her privates, saying how much she wanted to fuck me and how we’d made out before and it was “totally awesome,” or something like that.

Jeff looked up at me, and I’m certain my face had lost all color, and since I am white, that’s not necessarily as impressive as the large brick that fell onto the floor – shat from my very insides.

It all came crashing around, Keyzer Soze-style, until I had the picture in my head – a picture I would most definitely not be rubbing against my privates. The letters, the “accidental” meetings at the lab, the puzzle-letters – all were signs of obsession. One make out session and some laughs had produced infatuation, for want of a much harder term to actually admit to at this point in the story.

“Are you shitting me?” was my response.

Now, my avoidance was filled with more than mere avoidance – it was filled with despair. This despair yanked at my soul with a tight grip, spilling my fears into the open for all to see. This was fucked up. I'd heard about this sort of behavior, but it was usually the other way around.

Now I ventured around campus even fuller of awareness, noting every time she seemed to show up in the same building I was in or at some event I was participating in. I noticed that I had lost my joy at my impending graduation. Attending classes now became a game of militant vegetarian and mouse, but this time, the vegetarian might eat the mouse, with a black bean soup for an appetizer. The weather seemed colder somehow, as if it was winter, which it was.

At night, I couldn’t sleep, for my ears were now aware of a noise that I had heard before, but which I now recognized:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

Was she actually driving by my house at night? To see if I was home? The answer, it turned out, was yes. I found myself listening for the sound of her farm truck before I passed into merciful sleep, looking out the window from a crouched position to see if – horror of horrors – her truck was out there. If there was a knock at the door, I looked through that hole-thingie to see if the visitor was her, knowing I would have to pretend to be either dead or too busy to actually answer it.

This went on throughout January, into February. I played avoidance, and she was winning, if the point of avoidance is to avoid, which it is. I finally realized that I was being Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. I heard the

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

of her truck in my dreams, and they became nightmares.
I decided I needed help. I contacted Darryl, a man who headed security on campus, and personal acquaintance from a few classes and asked what could be done about it.

“Well, is she really following you around on campus?”
“Yup. It’s really freaking me out.”
“I bet. Well, have you thought about getting some kind of restraining order, or something like that? Using legal means to deal with it?”
“No. I don’t really want to do that.”
“Well, we can do a couple of things. If you want, I can arrange it so that you have an escort around campus...”
“Really? You can do that?”
“Sure. It’s part of our job. You’d be amazed what kind of fucked up people want to scare their wives or girlfriends.”
“Jesus, this is fucked up.”
“Yeah, sorry. The other thing we can do is simply make sure there’s a security guard present by your classrooms when you come out, and not necessarily escort you around. They’d be there just to kind of watch out for things.”
“That would be cool.”
“No problem. Sorry, man.”

And, with that, I knew what was happening was far more than just a spurned person trying to hook up with me – it was Stalking. I was being Stalked. If man is the most dangerous game, and I am a man, then my dangerousness was being overpowered by her Stalkingness.

I continued to go to work and school. At the time, and now again, I worked in north of the City of Oklahoma, many miles from Rose State’s campus. I assumed she had no idea where I worked, and, thus, did not concern myself with her possible appearance.

I could not have been more wronger.

One Wednesday, about 30 minutes before I was to leave work for the day and head to a Jean Claude Van-Damme hockey/terrorist movie, I looked outside. Her truck was parked in the lot.

“Jesus Christ,” I softly uttered to myself.

The woman was still in the truck, waiting, waiting, waiting. And waiting.

“I do not fucking believe this.”
George walked up, a German immigrant who worked with me.
“Who’s that? Your girlfriend?”
“Oh, fuck no. I can’t believe this.”
How did she find out where I worked? I had never told her about my job. Eventually, it would be revealed that she’d used her – ummm- position to look up some stuff on the college’s computers, including my emergency and work numbers.

I decided confrontation would be my only chance here. I figured I was safe, since the building had lots of people in it who might help if I screamed loud enough. I clocked out early and walked up to our secretary.

“Hey, I’m going out to talk to someone. Could you watch out the window and call the police if anything happens?”
“The police?”
“Yeah, this witch has been following me around and somehow she’s found out I work here.”
“Want me to call them now?”
“No. I’m just going to walk to my car and leave. If she follows, I’ll drive straight to a police station.”

I walked out towards my car. Her truck door opened, and she got out. I tried to avoid contact, but when she got close enough I yelled:

“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Well, since you’re not answering my phone calls or ever calling me back, and since I can’t seem to catch you on campus, I just wanted to talk.”
“Do not come to work to see me again. Do you understand?"
“Well... I just wanted to talk.”
“Seriously, leave me the fuck alone. Okay?”

I got to my car/sanctuary and got in. I looked back. She got in her truck and drove off. I waited a minute to catch myself and stop shaking, and stared down at the steering wheel and dashboard. This was getting out of hand. I looked around again for her truck, and then drove off, looking backwards every time I could, waiting for the sound that now filled my head at night, regardless of its actual presence:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

I enjoyed Sudden Death as much as I could. There’s a really funny scene involving a fight between Van-Damme and a large penguin mascot in an arena kitchen that is awesome, but other than that, the film’s pretty pedestrian. I drove home, looking around, listening, hoping that she’d gotten the message.

At home, I continued my routine of looking out the window, listening for the

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

of her truck, and peering out the door-hole thingie. I was not doing well. Coming off of a relationship that had become too painful to continue with and which I had gotten out of in an admittedly cowardly but necessary manner, I was emotionally and mentally vulnerable, and this was not helping. I had stopped going out in case she showed up at the same place I was, and even the weekend S&M sex club visits had lost their luster. The ass-spankings I provided were lackluster, probably. I don’t know, the ball gag kind of helps cut out any complaints. Do we really need to go into this aspect right now? I’m trying to vent here, okay? We can get into my time as a paid dominant later. Shit, that cat’s out of the bag. Anyways.

I began to feel as though I needed to talk to her employer. Before I did this, I decided to talk to Karen, a friend who taught at the college, to see if she knew who I needed to talk to. I went to her office and we chatted away. Outside, even though it was mid day, it was dark. Snow was beginning to fall, and the usual “will classes be cancelled” talk was starting to go around. It might get nasty out, they said, so we watched the snow fall from her office. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Humanities office door open. It was her, the Stalker, I mean. She sat down by the front door, making it so that if I left, I would have to go by her. I was ready to leave, by then. I told my friend what was happening, and she walked out of her office nonchalantly, in an attempt to size up the situation.

“She’s just sitting there. Of all the nerve.”
“I can’t take this much longer. What do I do? I don’t know if I should call security, hide and try to wait her out –“
“Hell, I’ll call security.”
“Hang on. Can you dial upstairs?” (to the lab, where I had a class later)
“Sure. Here.” She handed the phone to me as it rang. As luck would have it, class was cancelled. I was done for the day, and could leave. Good, I thought. The snow was coming down pretty hard, and everything outside was white, pure. Unlike this situation, which was not.

“Okay, I’d better do this.”

My friend told me she’d run interference, and “escort” me out of the office by walking with me. Hopefully, this would throw the Stalker off and I’d get away. As we headed past her and out the office door, towards the exit, we were followed. I exchanged a look with Karen and told her that if I didn’t call her later, to please call me and use the secret “ring once, stop, and then call again” signal we’d worked out so I’d know it was her and not the Stalker. I left out the door, and was followed.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, my shoes went as they trudged on through the snow towards my car, which was parked in far Hyboria.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch went her boots as she followed.

She started to catch up.


I didn’t acknowledge.

Louder. “David!”

Head still down, coat closed tightly against my body, multi-colored scarf waving in the wind, all I could think about was that this was it. “She’s not even trying to hide it anymore,” I thought. I wondered if I should break into a run, or keep going and hope she would just get tired and give up. That didn’t happen.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, scrunch behind me, but much faster. She was running to catch up.

I was truly frightened here – more frightened than at any time in my life. I really did not know what was going to happen next. My senses heightened, waiting for an attack that might surface: tentacles of black ochre wrapping around my very soul, non-Cyclopean geometry mingling with pervasive chills, a sack full of batteries. She had caught up by now.

I stopped. I figured if she was going to stab me or something, then, fine. It’ll at least be over. I honestly felt helpless. Tired. I gave up.
“What? What do you want from me?” I half-yelled, half-whined. I shrugged and felt my body deflate. This had exhausted me completely, and I just wanted something to happen. The constant getting up, looking out the window, staring out the door-hole-thingie, the constant listening for the

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

of her farm truck had finally killed me.

“What is it?” I turned, snow still falling, faster now. I looked at her face. There was no expression on it except misunderstanding. She had no idea. No idea at all.

“I just wanted to talk to you, that’s all.”
“Please,” I pleaded, sanity starting to slip. “What do you want?” I said these words slowly.

Something happened. She seemed to straighten a bit. We both stood there in the falling snow, which was starting to get heavy, and began blurring the perfectly ordinary geometric buildings around us.

She stirred suddenly and did something I did not expect. She shook her head side-to-side slightly and looked at me.

“Relax, David. Sheesh.”

And then she walked off into the snow, her image blurring and disappearing from view. I stood there for a few seconds and then simply turned and walked to my car, got in, rested my head on the steering wheel, and started the car. I had a long drive home, and it would be longer because of the snow.

I never saw her again after that. Maybe something clicked in her. Maybe she had gotten tired of it, too. Maybe the helplessness and resignation on my face as I stared at her there in the snow finally told her that this wasn’t working, whatever she was trying. Maybe she saw my face and decided, “Sheesh. What a puss,” and decided I wasn’t worthy. Regardless, she was gone. It took a few days for me to realize this. I still looked around corners, still looked out the window, still looked out the peephole. After those few days, I realized it was over.

However, it wasn’t. It still isn’t, in some ways. Those “safety checks” I had developed were now habits. I kept looking out the window, the peephole, around the corners. Even when I moved to Norman, I found myself still doing them. I still do now. The whole time altered me. I changed into someone who lost the ability to get close to others, to avoid the possibility of this happening again. I became distant, and it took a long time for someone to break through. "Stalker’s" gone, I guess, probably living somewhere in the Orient, maybe meditating on her vegetable militancy and hopefully not thinking about me at all.

And the habits are all still there, 12 years later. I still wander in front of windows and look out like a sad, caged animal hoping someone will release it. I find myself walking up and looking out the peephole in the door for something that probably isn’t going to materialize, but which, deep down, I still think can. At night, I still hear the sounds of cars driving by, and listen for the horrid noise of her farm truck, its sounds confined to the repetition of a single, mad onomatopoeia of all too obvious source:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.


As an addendum to this rambling shoggoth of a tale, I’d like to add one thing. What I really lost after all this, and which has never honestly returned, is Trust. Until this year, I don’t think I’d ever realized how the two events –bigoted, controlling girlfriend and Stalker, not to mention my own failures in past relationships with people, friends or otherwise – had destroyed my ability to do that.

One of the most important parts of any true relationship is Object Permanence, otherwise known as Trust, specifically, your ability to trust that when someone isn’t around, or isn’t reachable, that they’re still there for you. That is something that’s always been difficult for me, and these events have made it well-nigh impossible. It affects every relationship I have with people, and every move I make as a person.  And, of course, that lack of Trust is also a part of how I see myself. If you can’t trust anyone, that includes you. I hesitate before every sentence, every time I put something out there for people to see or read, I am concerned about communication and fear that what I write or say will never be what it is I mean it to be -- which in a post-modern world  makes it even more difficult, since all meaning can be and should be questioned. 

To lose such trust in yourself and everything in general makes life a horrible thing to live. You cry out for those moment of real sincerity – real, unbreakable and unmistakable, true moments when you can relax and allow yourself the beautiful opportunity to really let go of your self and accept someone else’s.

I wrote this as a Lovecraft parody because I wanted to try and find a metaphor (this was all symbolic? Really, Dave? REALLY??!) for the way you can be altered by events in ways that never leave you. Lovecraft’s protagonists may win a small victory, but they never can leave the experience behind. They are changed for the worse. And while the immediate danger may be over, the universe is full of other things that will snatch you up into its darkness and spit out the contents, chewed and desiccated. Even in the Role Playing game based on his works, you have a Sanity level, which, if you lose too much of it, means you lose your mind.

I am altered. I know this. I cannot help it. I have tried and I have failed and yet I try again. One thing I despise is the bullshit definition of insanity as “to repeat an action over and over, expecting a different result every time.” No. That is Life. Following that idea, then Life itself is Insanity, and it may be. Lovecraft’s “gods” are nothing more than infinitely powerful, mindless beings who do what they do because they simply do it. Those of us in the wake are buffeted around and try to ride out the tempest.  And *you* try surviving a hurricane and see if you don’t come out different through the other side.

And, something else that’s real and horrible. One thing that is not in the story, and which I left out as a politeness, is that I did have a girl friend at that time, at best we were FWB’s, but she was still someone I was close to. We’d both been hurt recently, and just needed some shelter for a while, and we did that for each other, even as this was happening, which she was aware of, and which she helped with just by being someone who demanded nothing and expected nothing but friendship and some fun.

She’s not allowed to talk to me anymore. Or her long time friends. (I say “allow” when I really mean “she’s made the decision to go along with someone else’s demands on her and her life”.) True, lasting relationships survive on Trust. When that trust is destroyed, nothing works again as it should. It is only the truly strong who can overcome such horror and begin again, and I know I am not a strong person anymore. I am tired. I am tired of being sad, of being alone when people are all around me, and I am tired of trying. Perhaps the meaning of all of the experiences related in the story is that the horror ultimately has won. No truck sound is needed to trigger my fears. All I need is the sound of my own voice.  Sometimes it can convince me otherwise, but I don’t trust that guy enough anymore to let it be.


Monday, October 27, 2008


I turned 40 on October 28th. Happy Birthday to me and everyone else who shares it. On the day I was born, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention played their Royal Festival Hall performance in London, which would later be incorporated into the film Uncle Meat, and which is available on the CD Ahead of Their Time. A pretty good concert, the first half is devoted to a “story” that Zappa made up involving the more “talented” band members going on strike because they want to play “real” music, and not that comedy rock crap Zappa kept throwing at them. “They’re making up their lines as they go! Isn’t that amazing?” Zappa intones at one point. Eventually, a monster eats someone and the rest of the concert goes on as normal – again, pretty good, not great.

As I sit and recount some of the more outlandish bits of my life for public consumption, I realize I’ve shifted into a weird, second-person voice. Let’s change that.

I’ve had a pretty full life. I’ve done some fantastic things and some really bad things. I’ve helped and hurt people. I’ve been self-centered and generous. In short, I’m a human being. If there’s one thing existentialism has taught us – and it has – it's that human beings are flawed critters, and once that part of us is recognized then our very existence is ours. We follow laws not because the laws make us, but because we choose to follow them. There’s no psychic force that makes you follow the speed limit, just as there’s no force that makes you be good or bad to people – it’s just you. I’m not religious, and I don’t want to offend anyone here, but ultimately, you are responsible for what you do. That idea is both liberating and fucking scary. What’s to stop you from murdering someone? You. Even if you’re religious, the choice to follow that religion is yours. Belief in a higher power doesn’t cancel out the idea that you make the moves. Sure, there may be a higher power that puts the idea into your head, but you’re the one who has to put the idea into action. Belief may say that the higher power makes you do stuff, but you don’t always do what that higher power says, right? I mean, if every thing you do is directed, then what's all this crap about "free will" that's used as an excuse for the inevitable "If there's a God, then why is there so much suffering in the world? Why is there good and evil?" You will never get an answer to this, only static like that TV in Poltergeist.

Here's an "example": Picture poor Job – no, not the Arrested Development character who performs “illusions” (“a trick is something a whore does for money, Michael” - shot of disturbed children surrounding him – “or candy.”), but the Biblical one – shaking his little fist at the heavens, cursing God for what it’s either allowed to have happen to him, or what it’s done to him. Job has put up with an enormous amount of crap, and has every right to finally snap and curse God. God, of course, snaps right back with a long, beautiful speech known as “The Voice of the Whirlwind.” It’s amazing stuff, some of the best writing ever, but which can be boiled down to God looking down on Job and saying, “Fuck you.” Now, the original pre-translated story ends there, but the Biblical version, translated by monks who simply could not let Job end up that way, throws in a moral where Job, in celebration of his previous faith in the face of calamity, gets pretty much everything he wants: family, money, cows, and a Wii (way before electricity, which is pretty much another smack in Job’s face).

I digress in my digression. At this point, the late, great Bill Hicks enters the room and begins reciting a part of his “My Philosophy” routine, where he digs himself into a hole so far down in his routine discussing serious matters that he winds up in China, where he is chastised for not telling “dick jokes:” “Why you no tell dick jokes? No one want to hear your philosophy, tell dick jokes!”

Sigh. My point is that no matter what creed or philosophy or religion you might adhere to, you are the one who has to put it into action. That puts an enormous amount of power in the individual, and can be reeeeeally scary. Some people say “fuck this”, and decide to retreat into the masses, letting others tell them what to do and think. Others go too far with the individuality and “there-is-no-higher-power” parts of existentialism and simply give no shit about the effects their actions have on other people. We call these people Objectivists. HA HA!

Somewhere in between is the rest of humanity, creeping along, trying to make sure food is there, bills are paid, and there’s some fun around to take their minds off of the fact that life seems to consist of no more than trying to make sure food is there, bills are paid, and there’s some fun around to take their minds of off the fact that life consists of the same shit, day after day. Of course, that’s assuming you’re not somewhere that basic survival is still an “option,” such as the so-called Third World. There, the options narrow down to “eat” or “don’t eat and you die”. Regardless of your philosophy, creed, or religion, all human beings screw up, and all human beings do great things (although some at different levels than others. You think me giving a homeless guy a couple of cheeseburgers matches the woman who bathes a person who can't do that for him/herself anymore?). As the great philosopher John G. Maynard once said: "All pain is relative." So is happiness.

I’m a happy person. I’ve done some really nice things, and some really shitty things. I like to think that they balance out all right, but I know I’ve hurt some people so much that they’ll never want to see me again, and might have some sort of psychic damage years of therapy will never fix. I also know that I’ve done some decent stuff I can be happy about. Among my accomplishments is marrying an incredible woman who puts up with my shortcomings as I put up with hers, and we both try to help each other get over the rough spots. We have a child who is so amazing that her teachers thank us for her, and other parents thank us for her, as well. Lori is the main person to thank for that; I had to work most of the time, and pitched in when I could. We’re both still working on that whole “shoe-tying” thing, though.

But it’s not as though any of that erases the bad stuff, it just makes the bad stuff fade away a bit. I owe apologies to many people, and I’d like to take the time for one right now:

To David Gibson.
I am sorry I let our friendship end the way it did. We used to be as close as people get, and, for various reasons that are too stupid to recount here (but let’s just say I was a jackass and move on with it), I let that disappear. Those were great times, and I fucked them up. I hope you can forgive me, because even though we do this “Facebook” thing these days and seem to be cool again, we were once close enough to cry in front of each other. You seem to have a good life, my friend, and I wish I could still be a part of it the way I used to be. I am so sorry.

And, of course, there are dozens of others, ranging from people I've worked with to that guy whose girlfriend dumped him at a bar so she could take me home, to the guy whose athletic scholarship got yanked away from him because I flunked him in one of my film classes (Star Thought: show up for class every once in a while and this sort of shit doesn’t happen. Kapeesh?)

But there’s a lot of stuff I’m glad I did. The family thing seems to be going well. Lori and I have been married for 8 years, mostly very very happy, sometimes only very happy, and our daughter’s extremely happy. I’ve read to people with AIDS as their eyesight faded, and tricked women into dumping me so they’d wind up in the arms of the person they should have been with. I tried to get Jerry Brown elected president in one of the most lost causes ever – I still can’t find the cause and have looked under the mattress several times – and tried to teach people in my classes that just because you disagree with a point, it doesn’t mean the point is invalid, or below your scrutiny. And my brother and I talk again, and have for 8 years after we didn’t for a few others. Let’s not go into that except to say I love him very much, and I know he does me. And our relationship is better than it ever has been. Rock.

I turn 40 today. Everything still seems to work fine, although I stretch out a lot more to make sure it all still does. I still have my hair -- longer than in high school, but not as long as it has been in the past. My legs kick ass, and I have shapely calves some dancers would give their eye teeth for. I still think my eyes work, although the raccoon-esque bags around them – which are more hereditary than sleep-deprived – grow bigger and darker with every day. You can, of course, as my “cousin” Paul Westerberg once said, check my age by the rings, much like a tree. 40 is nothing more than a count – a way to tick off the years you’ve survived, not the years you have left. People use 40 as a marker because it’s halfway to 80, which is “old”, and after that, you’re getting close to death. But you can die at any time, and that’s not based on your age, your philosophy, religion, creed – whatever. You could be halfway to death at 15, or 50. Dwell on that, and you lose out on the enjoyment that the stuff before death can contain. 40 is the end of the “high-pitched years”. You know, when you play hide-and-seek and count out loud, the pitch of the numbers gets higher before you reset to the “10’s” “(get higher as you count) 37, 38, 39! (down again) 40.” However, after 40, most people stop counting and say their age at the same pitch for the rest of their lives. I plan to keep rising and falling, just like I always have. I'm happy. More than that. I feel young -- if young feels like the satisfaction you have with your life before it gets all complicated by shit such as life.

So, Happy Birthday everyone! Eat what you want. Drink what you want. Remember to tell people what you think about them, and be nice when they tell you exactly what they think of you. Don’t hurt anyone unless they ask you to, and apologize when they don’t. God or no God, you might as well behave as though someone's watching you all the time, and, as always, there’s no script for you to follow, so make up the lines as you go along.

And don’t get eaten by the monster.

PS: There will be more dick jokes in the next blog. (As if anyone continues to read this thing...)

Saturday, October 25, 2008


What follows is all true. It's pretty raunchy, has some raw sex and drug use, and lame attempts to take an everyday situation and make it into some kind of metaphor for the human condition. In this, I freely compare myself to Robert Altman, without the talent. Or the pot. Tonight.

I used to wear a black, valour bathrobe to school. Initially, it was part of a drama skit I did, then a part of a research paper that couldn't materialize, no matter how hard Mrs. McIntire tried to help. Irregardless, it felt damned comfortable, and comfort was the buzzword for my Senior year.

While coming back from a jazz band trip to Stillwater, I heard a cry from the back of the school bus we were traveling in. It was Jay, and he was asking for me to throw the bathrobe back to him. I did. Now, I wore clothes underneath the thing, so don't think I was naked here. After we got back to the high school, Jay was waiting for me to take him home, and he was leaning back on my blue Pinto's passenger door, robe closed, still in his jazz band uniform -- blue blazer, tan pants, you get the drift. As I walked towards him, I noticed the slight grin, slight embarrassment (Jay embarrassed?), and how he held the robe closed around him tightly. He apologized for something in advance. I stopped and looked at him quizzically. He mentioned that he'd been getting a blow job from some girl in the back seat and things had... well...gotten messy. He also said he'd pay for the cleaning bill and opened the robe. It looked like someone had punched a saline breast implant. $15.00 at Rod's Cleaners that Monday. He never paid me.

My sophomore year of high school, there were tryouts for the No.1 and No.2 jazz bands. Initially, Mr. Coon (Yukon jazz band director, as opposed to Mr. Taylor, the head band director) had simply assigned us to each class, and Jay was in the No. 2 band, probably because he'd been busted for pot the year before, and Mr. Coon wasn't taking any chances. After the dust settled, the three drummers in the 1 band were Jay, a guy named Shawn Thompson (who shall now be known as "DL"), and me. DL shouldn't have been there. An ass-kisser, he'd memorized how each song we were playing went, and played the same fills and riffs he'd heard on the recordings (no matter how lame they might have initially been) -- so much so that Jay and I used to make fun of the fact by repeating those same fills on the conga drums behind him, or singing them to each other. This perturbed DL to no end, and made him do those same fills even harder, as if to emphasize the fact that he was playing the same drum fills over and over. He quit the next year. Jay moved to his earned post as No.1 drummer, and I found myself half the time behind the drums, half the time behind the new vibraphone that the band had purchased, possibly because they had someone who could sort of play it -- me.

Jay and I never had a single conversation of any real importance. We never discussed life, future plans, politics, anything other than music, drugs, and fucking. I saw Jay every day from 7th grade until we graduated, and I have no idea who he was, except that he got a lot of pussy. And he liked Frank Zappa.

"Music, Drugs, And Fucking" is the title of my next album.

4. I once sold all my Zappa albums to help out a friend, and had to get back "Zappa in New York" from Jay to do this. I drove over to his house and got it from him, and went straight to the Record Shop on 23rd street, over by the Red Dog Saloon, a strip joint of no mean reputation. Alexander, the owner of the record store, a tall, very skinny man who always dressed in a white tuxedo shirt and black vest, much like Bill Berry circa 1986 (and me, circa 1986-90), looked carefully at my wares, nicely impressed, and then he got to the "New York" album. As he unfolded it to look at the gatefold sleeve, small pieces of pot flecked down the spine onto the glass case in front of him. Jay had obviously rolled a joint on the open album, and he hadn't cleaned it off before he gave it back. Alexander smiled and said, "Well, I guess I can give you an extra dollar for that."

Jay once tried to get me to sell insurance with him during my Senior year. I always wondered where he got the money for those suits he used to wear. Jay dressed to the nines his Senior year. While I had my robe, he had his sport jackets and dress shoes. I assumed this was what adulthood would be like, and noted the difference between us: he wore dress shoes, I wore fuzzy bunny slippers, since I was highly influenced by Val Kilmer's character in the film Real Genius. I wanted to be him. Jay wanted to be Neil Peart, but a Neil Peart who got laid a lot, and wore nicer shoes. We once picked up a couple of girls at a band contest in Atlanta (Altantia) my senior year. He was wearing his blue, dragon patterned kimono robe, and I made them laugh. No one ever laughed at Jay's kimono. Only one of us got lucky, and it wasn't Jay, for a change. I have no idea what the young woman's name was, but had fun with her in the bottom of the hotel parking garage. Jay thought that was the shit. This may have been the only time the fuzzy slipper was on the other foot.

Speaking of the Senior band trip to Altantia, Jay made very sure we got all the percussion equipment packed on the buses, along with his two suitcases. When we got to the hotel, he revealed that he'd smuggled his entire home stereo on the bus in one of the percussion containers, and one of his suitcases was nothing but bottles of booze wrapped in socks and other pieces of clothing (this suitcase was much lighter on the way back). In our room was Jay, myself, David Pritner (another senior), and Marcus Perdue (a sophomore who out-matured all three of us). I didn't get to drink very much, because I was still the lookout guy, sitting out in front of the room and sending little signals out when someone of authority was coming by. That "someone" was Mr. Taylor, the only band director who'd made the trip, and who pretty much gave up on the idea of controlling us, since he was the only person of authority there. Bottles were disposed of the same way Luther Mauldin (sp?) disposed of hotel phone books -- out the hotel window. When we drank the last of the champagne, we threw the bottle out the window at the building across the street, and it hit some sort of electrical fixture, sparks shooting everywhere and plunging the abandoned building into darkness. We immediately closed the window and curtains, turned off the lights, and avoided the phone calls that kept coming -- possibly from Mr. Taylor, possibly from the two girls Jay and I had picked up, probably from people wanting us to turn down the Rush and Zappa tapes. Fun trip. We're all going to hell for it, but it was a fun trip. It's called "Altantia", by the way, because that's the way it was spelled on the itinerary we got from Mr. Taylor. Oh yes, on the way to the city, someone threw a bottle of Jack Daniels into the bus toilet, which led to us being stranded in the bus depot for a few hours while they tried to figure out what to do. Good times.

Jay and I carried on a "war of attrition" or "war of stupidity" on DL for most of our senior year, stemming from the time DL bitched out a band director in front of a few students for no reason than to make himself look good in front of a few students. Jay and I surreptitiously recorded the thing and played it for Mr. Taylor later on, who just shook his head, laughed, and whispered, "Jesus." Towards the end of the year, an event happened that illustrates how close Jay and I were and how vindictive we both could be towards DL. DL was dating an amazing young woman he would eventually dump, whose mother used to bring him breakfast snacks during first hour band. She would open the band room door -- it was a separate building from the main high school -- show DL the snack, and then close the door. When Mr. Taylor wasn't looking, DL, who was our tympani player (primarily because no one else wanted to and DL defended his turf enough to make eyes roll) and who wasn't always needed during rehearsals, would sneak outside and eat. The last time he did it, Jay and I made eye contact, he rushed to the far door, I went to the near one, and we locked them. After a few minutes, a quiet "knock" could be heard, and the door knob jiggled. Same with the other door. I asked Jay, as unloud as loud could be, so as not to disrupt the entire proceedings, "Hey, where's Shawn?" Jay replied, "He went for doughnuts and a Coke."

David Gibson, trombone player extraordinaire (no, really, the guy's the reincarnation of Frank Rosolino, but with less violence), turned and asked us the same question.
"Where's Shawn?"
Jay and I in Unison: "He went for doughnuts and a Coke."
From across the room, Wayne Coon Jr., trumpet player.
"Where's Shawn?"
"He went for doughnuts and a Coke."
This spread quickly through out the band until Mr. Taylor finally had enough, slammed his conducting wand down, and yelled, "What the hell is going on?"
"Shawn went for doughnuts and a Coke." Mr. Taylor dipped his head down, shaking it slowly, at last beaten. Then, there was a loud pounding on the door. "This is the Principal! Open up this door!"
One of us did, and Mr. Lobaugh -- my neighbor and old friend -- opened the door, looked around, and then Shawn came in, head down, no eye contact to be made. Mr. Lobaugh closed the door and left.
After a moment of silence, Mr. Taylor got back to the task at hand. Someone behind us, possibly Mike Smith, quietly asked how the doughnuts were. He got no answer.

DL, of course, stands for "Dickless".

I've been looking for Jay for a few years now, just to see how he's doing. He and I both received full rides to the then CSU on jazz scholarships, and we both blew them, although it took him a much shorter time to do so. We used to carpool, but after the 10-20th time of knocking on his girlfriend's apartment door to no avail -- or him answering the door half dressed while he played old Chase tapes -- Chase is to Chicago as a high school Stone Temple Pilots tribute band is to Pearl Jam -- and was too high to go with me, I just stopped. The next time I saw him was, I think, at the same party (which will now be referred to as "The Party" because of its ubiquitous-ness in these blogs) where I saw Cindy Gamsjager the last time. Poignant coincidence, or one hell of a party? Your choice. The party thrower wound up re-painting lines in a parking lot, while the rest of us got off scott free.

10. Jay took me to a party once, not at Todd Suitor's, where he almost always partied, but somewhere close by. He picked me up and parked a ways down the street, which led to a short walk to the house. We'd just gotten there, popped open beers, leaned against the fence in the backyard and started to talk, when we saw the flashing police lights out front. We dropped said beer, hopped the fence, and ran all the way across town to my house -- quite a ways to do such a thing late at night. We drank beer with my dad out on the patio for a couple of hours until I eventually drove over to the area and let Jay out to pick up his car and drive home. Jay's car was a bitchin' dark-blue Trans-Am (or Camaro, things are shaky here), that looked great, and drove fantastically. It used lots of gas, though. I watched the gas gauge actually go down when he peeled out in the parking lot once. He peeled out that night, too, since the cops were gone. He may have gone over to Todd's to party, I don't know. I went home and continued to think about how cool it was that I actually got to escape a raided party with Jay Hilburn.


As human beings, we crave closure. It allows our lives to fit narrative conventions that we’ve been exposed to all our lives: beginning, middle, end. When this doesn’t happen, our lives enter the world of tragedy – especially when that closure is not how we’d want it, which life regularly isn’t. Here’s a for instance: I had been looking for a guy named Sean Shepler for a few years. I went to high school with him; he was damned funny – “Hello! I’m Mister Icy Drink Machine! Can I help you?” – and damned annoying -- the Drama Room door -- at the same time, but usually more funny. A mutual friend – Brian Gorrell, yet another fantastic musician I’ve had the pleasure to know, let me know out of the blue that Sean was dead, and had not died in a particularly pleasant fashion. I’d lost contact with Sean after The Party. He and I had simultaneously concocted the same lie that saved Cody (the party thrower) from getting charges pressed against him after The Party. We’d drifted apart, but I had seen him DJ down in Norman a few times before I finally moved down here, when I didn't see him again and then heard that he was dead. The sudden news of his death affected me in ways I did not expect, maybe because I was hoping to find him and reconnect, and maybe because it was not how that story should have ended. Sean was talented, damned funny (again), and should’ve had his own radio show on Sirius, making fun of everyone and everything while playing Miles Davis’ Tutu album. If I’m not looking as hard as I’d like to find Jay, then it’s for that reason: I don’t want to find out he’s dead, or drugged, or some other destiny that he damned well didn’t (doesn’t, let’s be optimistic) deserve. In this, I am practicing Avoidance.

As culture advances, mentally – HA!, there’s a concept – we have to become used to the idea that life, ideas, events, whatever, don’t happen the way we’ve necessarily been taught. World War II doesn’t begin with Pearl Harbor and end with the dropping of the A-Bomb. It’s an event that occurred because of multiple historical and cultural problems and multiple stupidities that are much more complex than a Jerry Bruckheimer film might make it out to be. However, it’s easier to think of it as: “We were attacked. We fought back. We built up our strengths, came together as a nation, and then beat the shit out of bunch of racists and fanatics, ultimately leading to the usage of the greatest scientific advance of the time to end the whole thing, and setting us up as world power!” This makes us look absolutely badass, and much of it is true. But there are grey areas: the whole Isolationist Movement and slight turn towards Fascism that people like Charles Lindbergh wanted (and the peace movement, which people Like Edith Keeler would have had us follow before she was wiped from the timeline. Thanks, Captain Kirk.) After the war, we had to deal with the consequences: the A-Bomb opened up the world to advanced means of destruction, we had troubles with prejudices and paranoia of our own to deal with afterward. To this day, many people hate it when their mythology is confronted with reality. Face it, folks. Human beings created this country – human beings who were as flawed as the rest of us, some of whom dug slavery, hated Germans, and fucked around because they could. However, that doesn’t fit the narrative, so we deny it.

I link this to my drug using, sex-filled friend from high school because I’m consciously avoiding answers. I’d prefer to remember Jay as this awesome guy who did and said what I wanted to say and do, and who once accepted a best musician award at a jazz contest while wearing my bunny slippers. He’s probably doing just fine, married, has a great job, and prefers his life now to his action-packed life in high school. I’d like to think that, as I slam closer to 40 and still deal with the fact that my life, as great as it is, is nowhere near what I thought it was going to be. In many ways, it’s better; I never thought I’d be able to have kids, and I never thought I’d be happier poor than when I had a nice-sized disposable income that allowed me to eat what I wanted, buy CD’s out the wazoo, and create a laser disc collection that is the envy of many unknown Japanese people who are still interested in such useless things. So, in a futile attempt to avoid the pressures of a non-narrative ending to a narrative I’ve created, I’d like to mis-quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said that American lives have no second act. We get multiple acts, folks, and have no intermissions or entre-acts to consider what the hell just happened before we move on to the next. There are nice pauses sometimes, but, as Boethius said, “It's my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconsistency is my very essence’ -says the wheel- ‘Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away’.” Good and bad times mix, and we make the narratives of our lives and read them as we want. Many want their lives to read linearly, from beginning to end, but our lives are much more like Tarkovsky’s masterpiece The Mirror, which he uses as a metaphor for existence: our lives are like dropped mirrors, and the pieces reflect back different parts of us and our lives. It’s messier, but more accurate.


One last fragment. Jay called me up out of the blue a few days after graduation and asked if he could come over. My folks were out of town, so he said he'd bring a bottle of champagne, drink it with me in the hot tub, and we'd celebrate our graduation. We did this, but after about ten minutes, a young woman we were both acquainted with suddenly showed up to say hi to me, saw the two of us, and proceeded to take her clothes off and get in the tub, with a "come hither" stare if'n ever I've seen one. Jay immediately jumped at the chance, took off his bathing suit, jumped in the tub, and the two of them waited for me. I took a rain check, and closed the patio doors and the curtains to give them privacy. I smiled and drank more champagne. Eventually, someone else came over, and we talked while stuff was happening. Jay and the girl eventually came in, towels on, and went into the bathroom. Water started running for a bath. I waited a few minutes, and knocked on the closed door. The girl opened it, and Jay was lying naked in the bath tub, huge grin on his face. I grinned back, and closed the door. Our lives were all in front of us then, and hopefully, they still are. Wheel goes round.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Apple Again

For those of you care, The Apple will be on Turner Classic movies this Friday night at 1AM. That's Central Standard Time. Check your local listings for the freak-out near you.

Well, that was an easy blog.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Sorry, Jay Hilburn fans, I'm still working on that entry, and still trying to answer the title question, but, in the meantime, enjoy this obviously biased account of Thursday night's cringe-fest that Pat Buchanan still thinks -- oh, who cares what that racist fuck thinks? -- presented as an excerpt from the rambling memoirs of a bitter, isolated, former college-level instructor (generally referred to by critics as "That asshole ex-musician, ex-videographer, ex-teacher who made jokes about Bush before it was important to do so") who is a warehouse manager/parts buyer living somewhere south of Oklahoma City that liberals try to pretend is a bastion of open-mindedness, but which actually is just another Oklahoma city with more pretensions and better food.

I was looking at myself in the mirror this morning, attempting to count the growing rings around my eyes and thinking in a paranoid manner when it finally hit me. The bar has hit the ground. No more limboing; you have to walk on top of the thing, or be atom-sized small.

I used to teach Freshman Comp at OU. Everyone teaches Freshman Comp at OU, because there are 17 million incoming freshmen each year at OU, and those people need to be reminded how to write, even though they've already had 12 years of writing-oriented classes. I taught it for 4-5 years, as I started a Master's Program that ultimately failed me -- there's another blog sometime -- and had the great fortune to gain a family in the meantime. I mean, where do your priorities go when that happens? How could I care about whether or not some freshman knows how to do MLA format when I'm missing CUDDLES FROM MY CHILD!? Oh, yes. It's my job. So I acted just like the head English Dept. Graduate Advisor and did not give a shit. Well, that's an overstatement.

I did give a shit.

Anyway, I was watching the reruns of the Biden-Palin debate and finally figured out exactly why I thought Biden won and Palin lost. I mean, besides the fact that he did better, and the bar had been lowered so far in Palin's case that all she needed to do was not use the word "thighs" in mixed company and she'd "win." And by win, I mean "survive", which is animal speak for "win".

Meaning, of course, that she wasn't eaten by a larger animal.

We used to teach these "units" in Freshman Comp, the first of which was an "Essay Exam" unit. It was a way of keeping students interested in the class by trying to provide them with a way to succeed at Essay Exams, a mainstay of colleges everywhere. The Dept. provided you with a teaching packet, and the students had to buy the Comp packet, which was overpriced and which I used to feel guilty about them buying, since I rarely used the whole thing and could not justify the expense. I mean, these kids could use the money to go to Bill's and drink heavily! By the way: Bill's, formerly Mr. Bill's, is the greatest bar ever. Just sayin'. Hic! Hic!

So, one of the exercises we used to go over in class was titled "Essay Exam Nightmares" -- ostensibly a way to show how people can avoid certain errors while preparing to take an exam. For me, it was the "Don't Do These Really Stupid, Perfectly Obvious Fuck-Ups So You'll Pass An Essay Exam" section, primarily because you would have to be an idiot not to understand these problems. This turned the Comp class into more of a Gateway class, where students learn about such things as time management, where certain skills are thrown at you so everyone can prepare the same way, because all students are the same, y'know. I betcha thooose students never considered how Joe Six-Pack could....

Sorry, got hijacked for a second. Anyway, the questions revolved around being in class for review sessions, not spending every waking hour working on a float of some sort, and this one, which always made me laugh, and which I never gave to the students to answer because I liked asking it in front of the class and giving my own version of the answer. Here it is, copied directly from the packet (all rights reserved -- OU English Dept.):

"Karen selects essay #3 on her American Literature exam. The question reads: 'Benjamin Franklin has been called the "first fixer and former of American political thought." (I usually pointed out the alliteration here. Nice touch.) Discuss (key word here) Franklin's contribution to American political thought. How does his life exemplify the myth of the self-made man in pursuit of the American dream?' Karen remembers a few details from Franklin's autobiography, but doesn't think Franklin's life was as interesting as her own grandfather's struggle to build his own business. She decides to focus upon her grandfather instead. The instructor will appreciate her ingenuity."

Right, she's going to bullshit, talk about what she thinks is important, and not answer the question. Certainly, her answer might contain some parts that do relate to the question, such as a definition of the "self-made man" or "maverick", and perhaps one or two details from Franklin's life. For the most part, though, she's going to try and bullshit her way through this, not because she actually thinks her grandfather's story is better, but she "remembers (a) few details from Franklin's life". This is shorthand for not actually knowing enough to answer, but enough to convince an uninformed person that she does.

I would ask the students what the answer to the "nightmare" would be, and several would yell out that she wasn't actually answering the question. "Of course," I would add. "Who gives a shit about her grandfather? Unless his business involved world conquering, he's not going to be anywhere near as interesting as Benjamin Franklin" -- a man about whom certain rumors persist: he had monkey-sex with every woman in the world.

Now, she's answering the question....sooooort of..... I mean, giving some answer is technically "answering" the question, and she might be able to make the connections, but she isn't actually answering the question, since the question itself involved Afghanistan, and not Energy. I mean, Benjamin Franklin and not her grandfather. As a grader, I would give her, at best, a "C-", especially if it was well written because -- and I want to make this perfectly clear -- she didn't answer the fucking question.

Which is what you're supposed to do: answer the fucking question you're asked, not the one you want to -- not the one you're prepared to answer. If she got away with this, I would blame the instructor for: 1. Not paying close enough attention to see that she hadn't actually answered; 2. Not forcing the student to do what was actually required; 3. Being distracted by the spin and the glasses and the Fargo-to-the-extreme accent, y'know -- shit, sorry, hijacked again -- and allowing that the student at least tried to answer. All of which is bullshit; the question wasn't answered.

If all you want to hear is something, you'll hear it. If all you want is competency, you can see it. If all you're after is survival, then the fact that you weren't eaten by the other animal is enough.

All of this is to say that Gwen Ifill did not do her job as moderator the other night, and Sarah Palin got to do what she wanted to do, which was talk about her fantastic grandfather's dry-cleaning business that he built from scratch like a true American, and which represents the self-made man better than Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of this nation, who caught syphilis from one of his 16,570 lovers, and who still may be alive today (1% certainty here).

What failed us the other night, and what no one seems to want to talk about, is that while Joe Biden knew what the fuck he was talking about, and could actually discuss (key word again!) the issues he was asked about, and which would give him at least a "B+" from me, Gwen Ifill allowed the other, cuter student to get away with bullshitting.

I, of course, would give the student a failing grade, because even though the answer might sound good (and we are really stretching the definition of the word "good" here), the student DIDN'T ANSWER THE FUCKING QUESTION!

I always had make-up exams, in case some students fell prey to one of the other "Exam Nightmares" -- staying up too late, not understanding the material, panicking, being Sarah Palin, all of the above (Sarah Palin again) -- because I was teaching a writing class, and my philosophy was that you could learn from your mistakes, and you should have a chance to fix them, if you were willing to do the work. This allowed students to make "A's" the next time, or at least "not fail".

SPECIAL NOTE: My former office mates, Mark and Janson, used to do something similar, but it involved doing drugs, having students murder certain people "who deserved it", and sexual favors of a Ben Franklin-ish sort.

SPECIAL SPECIAL NOTE: Absolutely none of that last section is true. NONE OF IT. Sorry, Lori (Janson's wife) and Elisha (Mark's wife).

EXTRA SPECIAL SPECIAL SPECIAL SECTION: Mark and Janson are both two of the greatest people I have ever had the chance to be around. I miss them terribly, in that I am terrible at missing people. I can't do it well.

So, as I stand here thinking paranoid thoughts in a Russian existentialist style, I hope like hell that people will re-check the answers Sarah Palin gave, because they are, for the most part, bullshitting-on-a-bad-student's-essay-exam level. I don't care how much they try to spin this, it's still bullshit, just swirled around a bit to make it look better.

Thank you, I'll be making really obvious comparisons all week! Drink up!