Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gift Cards: Are They Tacky, or the Best Idea Ever?

Image by Donald Trung from Wikimedia Commons
Christmas time is here again, and you know what that means – time to spend money you don’t have on things no one needs to please people who don’t like you. At least, that’s what it’s always meant in my family.

Jim and I went Christmas shopping at the mall last weekend, which was a whole ordeal in itself, and Jim bought his nephews gift cards. What else was he to do – we’re old, we don’t know what kids like, and even if we did, there’s not even a toy store at this sh*tty mall. Even if there was, do kids even play with toys anymore? Don’t they just binge-watch YouTube videos and scream profanities at strangers in online games?

The thing is, there’s a lot of debate as to whether or not gift cards are an appropriate gift. People seem to fall into two camps: Those who hate gift cards, and those who love them. The anti-gift-card folks argue that gift cards are just as tacky as cash, but less useful, because you can only spend them in one place.

To that, I say, just give the person one of those Visa or Mastercard gift cards that’s just a pre-loaded debit card. Or, you know, just give them cash. It’s 2017. Gays can get married, dogs and cats are living together, men are wearing long hair and women are wearing trousers, and an evil toupee is ruling the free world. I don’t think we need to be overly concerned about the tackiness, or lack thereof, of giving another person, whom we presumably like, cash or a cash equivalent as a gift. I mean, who doesn’t like getting cash? When have you ever, upon receiving some free cash, recoiled and exclaimed, “My word, I can’t possibly accept this tacky gift!” Never, because it’s awesome.

Another argument against gift cards is that giving one is like admitting that you’ve given up trying to find that person a thoughtful gift. But, you know what, some people suck at gift giving, okay? There’s no knowing how many marriages, families, and friendships have been saved by gift cards. Even if you’re generally good at giving gifts, you might find yourself in the position of having to buy for someone you don’t know very well, or someone much younger than you who’s probably into cool and trendy things of which you’re not even aware, or someone who already has all the things they want. You know, one of those assholes who, when they want something, just goes out and buys it like some kind of savage.

I love gift cards, for the record. When I was growing up, my extended family always bought me pretty sucky Christmas gifts, because I was young and they were old and they never knew what I might like and, looking back on it, my mother probably wasn’t much help because somebody had to be feeding them these terrible ideas and she’s got a few screws loose, bless her heart. I would have loved some gift cards. I always asked for gift cards or cash, which request was always met with either a) raucous laughter, or b) a pouting expression and the words “Well, that’s no fun!” No, you know what’s really no fun? Sh*tty Christmas gifts, that’s what.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #124: Christmas Traditions Around the World

More than 160 countries around the world celebrate Christmas – that’s a lot of elves on a lot of shelves. Kidding, I’m pretty sure only we do that. Elves on Shelves make me glad my mother raised me without Santa. I have enough problems without worrying that I’m going to be murdered in my sleep by evil toys.

If, like me, you share the opinion that the appearance of Christmas trappings in stores before Halloween is a national tragedy, then don’t go to the Philippines. There, they begin celebrating Christmas on September 1 and continue all the way to Epiphany, January 6. In fact, nowhere in the world is the Christmas season as long as it is in the Philippines. The Christmas season officially begins with a series of nine Masses delivered at dawn, starting on December 16, but carols can be heard and decorations can be season for months beforehand. That’s what happens when you don’t have Thanksgiving.

Christmas lanterns called parols are popular.
~ Image by Keith Baconga from Wikimedia Commons

In Armenia, Christmas is celebrated on January 6, the “old Christmas” celebrated by the Amish and some Appalachians. Christmas used to be celebrated throughout the Christian world on January 6, until the Roman Catholic Church recalibrated their calendar in the late 1500s. But in Armenia, and among Armenian communities in other countries, like Ukraine, Christmas is still celebrated on the January 6, because they rejected the Gregorian calendar.

Armenians combat holiday binge-eating by fasting for the week before Christmas, eschewing meat, dairy, and eggs. Some may refrain from eating anything at all for the three days before Christmas, to purify themselves before they receive the Eucharist (Holy Communion, for you Protestants). Families break this fast with a lighter meal on Christmas Eve, before sitting down to a feast on Christmas Day.

Russia, and other Eastern Orthodox countries, also celebrate Christmas a little later than we’re used to, for similar reasons. Russians celebrate Christmas Day on January 7. Ded Moroz, or Old Man Frost, and his granddaughter, Snow Maiden, bring gifts to children on New Year’s Eve. They wear long blue robes, just like Santa before Coke rebranded him.

As we’ve previously discussed, Yule, or jól, was and presumably still is an important holiday for pagan Scandinavians. Generations of Americans have grown up with A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Norwegians ring in Christmas with Disney’s From All of Us to All of You, or the Soviet-era film Three Nuts for Cinderella, whose popularity in Europe has been likened to that of It’s a Wonderful Life in the United States, which I assume means that everyone knows how it ends but no one has actually sat down and watched it. The main day of festivities takes place on Christmas Eve, December 24, which church services and a large family meal on the day of. In the week between December 26 and New Year’s Eve, children may dress up as Yule goats, or Julebukk, and go from house to house, singing songs in exchange for treats, like Halloween but colder and honestly probably scarier.

I think this may be a depiction thereof.

In Sweden, the first major celebration of the Christmas season is St. Lucy’s Day, in honor of a saint martyred in the third century after refusing to give up her virginity to a husband. St. Lucy was Italian, so it doesn’t really make sense that her feast day, December 13, is so widely celebrated in northern Europe, unless it was due to the Christianization of an earlier pagan practice. Her holiday on December 13 does coincide with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year.

A St. Lucy's Day church service.
~ Image by Claudia Grunder from Wikimedia Commons

On this day, oldest daughters dress up in white, and don a crown of lighted candles such as that worn by Lucy to light her way as she carried food to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs. Once they’ve transformed themselves into walking fire hazards, the girls usher in the Christmas season by waking their families with the song “Santa Lucia” and a breakfast of coffee and St. Lucy’s buns. 

The buns in question.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Why I’m Going to See "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Even Though I Hate Star Wars

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out two years ago, I initially wasn’t going to see it. I hate Star Wars, which might surprise some of you, considering that Star Wars is exactly the type of thing I generally like.

I don’t hate the Star Wars franchise because of its (considerable) flaws. When The Phantom Menace came out, I was sixteen. My aunt Martha, who is only ten years older than me, found out that I hadn’t seen any of the original Star Wars movies, so she insisted that I sit down and watch all three of them back-to-back before immediately taking me to the theater so I could watch The Phantom Menace. While I was watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, my aunt sat next me, delivering rhetorical analysis and commentary. “See, this is where he redeems his father,” she said as I watched the climactic battle between Luke and Vader.

It was enough to put me off the entire franchise. So, I wasn’t planning on going to see The Force Awakens. But then, shortly before the it came out, or maybe right after it came out, I was talking to my friend Kathryn on the phone and she revealed that she was going to see The Force Awakens.

“I didn’t know you liked Star Wars,” I said, surprised.

“Well, I don’t,” she replied, “but you have to see it. It’s a cultural moment.”


For the record, I didn’t like The Force Awakens, and I didn’t really care for Rogue One either, but I went to see them. I did so partly because I wanted to see if I still hated the Star Wars franchise (I did), but also partly because if you want to participate in society, you have to see the latest Star Wars movie. Everyone else is going to see it, so you have to see it too. I suspect that, like voting or going to work, many of us will do it out of a sense of obligation, but we’ll be miserable the whole time. All I can say is, this one had better not have a damn Death Star in it.

But you know it will.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #123: Pagan Yule Traditions

Hauling a Yule log, from Robert Chambers' The Book of Days, 1864

Jim suggested this topic because we recently finished the Netflix show, The Last Kingdom, and he’s been reading the books by Bernard Cornwell. He tells me the books go into a lot of detail about Uhtred’s pagan customs. I’ve mentioned the pagan origins of Christmas before, although I once made the mistake of referring to them while in a K-Mart and turned around to find a stranger glaring at me. Today, the term Yule is used in most of the English-speaking world as a synonym for Christmas, but today I want to talk about the pagan Yule traditions that predated our Christian ones.

As you may know, Yule was originally a midwinter festival celebrated by the Germanic people who populated Northern Europe and Scandinavia and came to settle in England as well. Those original celebrants of Yule considered the Yuletide period to last about two months, beginning in about mid-November and extending to early January. There’s just something about this time of the year that makes people want to set fires and get drunk. Gee, I wonder why that is.

Pagan Yule traditions included a feast, which customarily took place in a temple, to which farmers would bring livestock for sacrifice. The drinking of ale was mandatory, just like it is today. The sacrificial animals were eaten at the feast, and their blood was sprinkled on the walls and idols of the temple, as well as the men within.

While the midwinter sacrifice in the West European Stone and Bronze Ages may well have had an element of ancestor worship and veneration of the cult of the dead, it’s unclear whether this aspect survived into more recent Germanic pagan times.

Other Yule traditions, such as the Yule log, a massive log that, in the Middle Ages, was burned throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas, may also have their origins in Anglo-Saxon paganism. In medieval times, the Yule log was believed to have magical properties, including the ability to ward off lightning, mildew, toothaches, and assorted bad luck. In some parts of Spain and France, the log was believed to “defecate gifts,” according to historian Gerry Bowler.

The origins of the Yule goat do go hark back to pagan traditions. The god Thor is said to ride through the sky in a chariot pulled by two goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr. The significance of the goat has its roots in the Indo-European god of harvest and fertility, a white goat named Devac or Dazbog. The last sheaf of grain bundled during the harvest was believed to have magical properties and was kept for the Yule celebration; the spirit of the Yule goat was said to visit in the days before Yule to ensure that preparations were being made correctly. Neighbors would prank one another by hiding a wooden or straw Yule goat in one another’s houses; if you found such a goat in your house, you had to get rid of it by hiding it in someone else’s house. No word on what would happen if you didn’t.

A modern Yule goat Christmas ornament.
Image by Pilecka from Wikimedia Commons

Part of the pagan celebration of Yule involved sonargöltr, or the ritual sacrifice of a boar. TheSaga of Hervor Heidrek mentions the swearing of an oath on the bristles of a Yule boar, after which the boar is sacrificed. The blood of this boar could then be used for divination. The sacrificial boar may be the oldest continuing Yuletide celebration. In modern times, it’s echoed in the Boar’s Head Feast, which takes place at Queen’s College, Oxford, Hurstpierpoint College, and at various churches and universities in the U.S. and Canada. The sonargöltr may also be why many consider ham to be the traditional Christmas meat.

King Haakon I of Norway, aka Haakon Haraldsson or Haakon the Good, is credited with the Christianization of the Yule season, and of Norway itself. King Haakon himself was a Christian, but many of his people were pagan, so he decreed that Yule celebrations were to take place at the same time as Christian Christmas celebration.

Håkon den Gode og bøndene ved blotet på Mære by Peter Nicolai Arbo 
The guy in red is King Haakon, I think. I don't know Norwegian.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Resistance Fatigue

If there's one thing I can say for this administration, it's that I, like many other Americans, am politically engaged on a deeper level than I've ever been, indeed on a deeper level than I ever thought possible. Is this President Trump thing a long con run by a shadowy cabal if frustrated high school civics teachers? Because it sure as hell feels like it. 

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't entirely *uninvolved* before. I knew who my representatives were, I dutifully voted, I complained about faithfully about Dubya for eight whole years. When Obama got elected to his first term, I watched the inauguration online from France and cried. Twice, I even watched a political debate. (in my defense, I didn't see the need to watch debates because I always knew I was going to vote for a Democrat anyway. I'm a queer woman who cares about other people -- who else am I gonna vote for?)

But now I don't just know who my representatives are -- I tweet at them. And I use Resistbot to fax and email them. I even called once -- although I nearly panicked when an honest-to-God human being picked up the phone on the other end, so I never called again. I don't follow Trump on Twitter, because I don't want to give him the satisfaction, but I pay attention to the news and I complain to my representatives in Congress, threatening not to vote for them in 2018, but failing to mention that I wasn't going to vote for them in 2018 in the first place.

The thing is, as I'm sure that many of you have noticed, this administration is wall-to-wall batshit. It's crazy tweets and racist immigration policies and attacks on free speech all the way down. No sooner have I got done faxing my Senators about one thing then I'm faxing them about another. It's exhausting. I am experiencing resistance fatigue, and as a result, my faxes to Congress have lately become a little unhinged. Here are some actual excerpts from a recent fax:

  • I'm frankly sick and tired of writing you people to ask you to STOP. TRYING. TO REPEAL. THE ACA. (But don't worry, I'm not going to stop).
  • Do you want our brightest minds to go abroad for affordable educations and stay there to begin their careers? Because that's what's going to happen if you pass this [tax] bill.
  • If you expect me to vote for you in November 2018, WHICH CAN'T COME SOON ENOUGH IN MY OPINION, you'll vote against this devastating tax bill.

I've learned that there's one thing that really sucks about civic engagement: When I write my representatives, THEY WRITE BACK. Yes, I know it's just a form letter. Yes, I know I shouldn't read it. But I always do, just in case it might say something sensible for a change, but it never does, and I always want to just hurl my laptop into the sun, or at least hit REPLY and type KISS MY ROSY RED ASS, SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, YOU ARE SO FULL OF SHIT. But I can't, because it's a no-reply email address, which is just as well because I probably shouldn't be telling U.S. Senators to kiss my ass. Probably.

Besides, Shelley Moore Capito doesn't even read my emails herself. It's some unpaid Congressional intern who has 517,978 more emails to answer to earn her father's freedom. I can't tell that overworked kid to kiss my ass. 

I no longer have the energy to fax my representatives every day -- about once or twice a week is all I can manage -- but Resistbot, my most reliable friend, still texts me every day, reminding me that "It's time to tell Congress what's on your mind!" and "You should never doubt that your voice can make a difference!"

Shouldn't I, Resistbot? Shouldn't I?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

6 Facebook Reactions We Need Now More Than Ever

Guys, it’s Day 29 of NaBloPoMo and I almost forgot to write a blog post. In fact, it’s technically Day 30 of NaBloPoMo, but we all know the day doesn’t really end until you go to bed, or the sun comes up, whichever happens first. I’ll be glad when this hellish blogging challenge is over.

If, like me, you’ve long campaigned for the Facebook dislike button, you may have welcomed the rollout of Facebook Reactions with a certain amount of…well, not excitement, really…let’s say…attentiveness. But while the reactions do allow us a minimally broadened range of emotion in our interactions with distant relations and old high school classmates, they still leave a lot to be desired. Especially lately. Here are the Facebook reactions we need in Trump’s America.

1) Barf

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Is Congress trying to take your healthcare, again? Are Nazis rallying in your hometown? Is Garrison Keillor a f*ckbag? Is it snowing? You need the barf reaction, and you need it now.

2) Middle Finger

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Dislike button? It’s too late for a dislike button. Angry face? Doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s time to bring out the big guns. We need the middle finger.

3) Eye Roll

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Has your elderly aunt or first cousin twice removed praised the Lord one too many times this week? Is your high school homecoming queen posting those syrupy memes about how military wives are the best kind of wife there is? Now you can show them exactly how you feel about their deeply-held beliefs.

4) Popcorn

This one looks like a basket of assholes, a.k.a. Congress.
Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

I need this one for when my white trash cousins are going all Jerry Springer up in my News Feed, all-capsing each other in a desperate bid to be king or queen of the trailer park. It’s not a contest, guys, you can all be awful.

5) Disappointed-But-Not-Surprised Face

I know what you’re thinking: Disappointed-but-not-surprised is an emotion to subtle for an emoji. Perhaps, but it’s the perfect reaction for today’s political climate. Has another beloved actor, news anchor, writer, or politician been outed as a sexual predator? Is Trump tweeting again? Disappointed-but-not-surprised face is the emoji innovation we’ve been waiting for. If we can put a man on the moon, and an evil hair piece in the White House, we can figure this one out.

6) Exhausted Face

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Every day, all day. Is it 2020 yet?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

5 Things That Would Annoy Me If I Were Dating Me

One of the things I really love about my fiancé, Jim, is that he’s patient. Not “grow-a-beard” patient, because I won’t let him grow a beard, but “put-up-with-my-crap” patient. Here’s some of the stuff that I’d probably hate about me if I had to date me.

1) I bitch a lot.

OMG, do I ever bitch a lot. I’m a bitch. Past boyfriends and girlfriends have lodged a lot of complaints about me, my personality, my appearance, and my general approach to life. In their estimation, I’ve been:
  • Too skinny
  • Too fat
  • Too old (I was twenty-eight when I was told this. I replied, “How the f&ck old do you think twenty-eight is, motherf*cker?”)
  • Too “high maintenance,” whatever that means
  • Too dowdy
  • Too slutty
  • Not slutty enough
  • Too fussy about my appearance
  • Too lazy
  • Too ambitious
  • Too hairy
  • Not hairy enough

That’s just a small sampling of complaints that have been lodged against me by former lovers, many of whom have also bitched vociferously about my being a bitch without a trace of irony. It used to hurt my feelings when someone I was dating called me a bitch, but now I have come to accept that I am a bitch. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still not okay with being called a bitch. Name-calling isn’t cool.

But I am a bitch. Call me a bitch? I’ll bitch about that. Leave some trash lying around? I’ll bitch about that. Leave dishes piled in the sink? I’ll bitch about that. Let my cats out by accident? You better believe I’ll bitch about that. Let me get hungry? OH SHIT YOU BETTER RUN.

2) I hate everyone.

I was going to put “I’m on my phone ALL. THE. TIME.” in this spot, because I am, but then I thought about it and realized that wouldn’t bother me at all. I like it when people are on their phones all the time, because then I don’t have to talk to them. I like people just fine, as long as they leave me alone.

But they never do.

3) I leave cupboard doors open.

I go into the kitchen, open up a bunch of cupboard doors, and then leave them open. The next time I walk through the kitchen, I close them again. If I was dating me and I did that I’d definitely bitch about it.

4) I always say I’m going to fix things, but then I don’t do it for like six months.

My future-father-in-law likes me because he thinks I like to fix things. I wouldn’t say I like it, but whenever something breaks it always falls to me to fix it because I’m the one with the confidence to f*ck it up. But I don’t enjoy it, which is why I always put it off. I have a stack of a flooring material in my garage that I’ve been saying I’ve been going to install for over three years. Once Jim thought he broke the vacuum cleaner, and I didn’t even look at it for two months, which is a shame because it just needed emptied. I'm impatient. If I were dating me, I’d definitely bitch about this pattern of behavior.

5) I’m cheap, apparently.

Jim recently called me “very thrifty,” which was news to me. I mean, I never considered myself cheap, but I’m probably biased because I obviously know about all the money I waste on frivolous things like meat and another jacket, even though I already have one. So yeah, I guess I’m cheap, which is funny because cheapness is one of my top deal breakers in a relationship. I would definitely dump me for being cheap.

Monday, November 27, 2017

What Do You Get the Cats Who Have Everything?

Christmas is coming up, and that means I have to decide what gift to buy for my cats this year. But it’s getting difficult, because my cats already have a lot of stuff.

I’m obviously going to stuff their stocking with catnip, treats, and cat toys, even though they already have lots of cat toys. Little has been digging them up from all over the house lately – catnip mice, catnip other things, a little tennis ball, a doorknob cover, a stuffed bunny, a big crinkly monkey head, and numerous milk rings, just to name a few. Last year, for their big gift I got them a Jackson Galaxy Crawl Tunnel, and Jim was so taken with the persona of Jackson Galaxy that he hung the label up on the wall, where it has become part of the décor.

I thought about getting my cats a new cat tree, but they don’t really need a new cat tree. Their five-foot-tall cat tree is still in pretty good shape, and they also have a two-foot-tall cat tree out on their catio, and they also have a catio. They don’t need a feeder puzzle; they have one of those, too.

They have two wand toys; one still makes chirping noises, but the other just makes a sad burbling sound occasionally that they seem to find no less fascinating. They also have what I like to call the cat donut:

It has a plastic ball in it.

I was going to get them a big new pet bed, but then I remembered that they have a big body pillow upstairs that I gave to them after I received it secondhand. I don’t know where I’d put a big new pet bed anyway. Besides, my cats don’t even need a bed – they have my boobs.

When I went away on my retreat a couple of weekends ago, I filled up the cat fountain and the sink with water as I usually do when I go out of town for a couple of days. But, I must not have seated the plug right, because all the water leaked out of the sink. The cats drank the fountain dry, and pump overheated and melted a little bit. Being as cheap as I am, I tried to buy a new pump on Amazon, but it didn’t fit. Rather than go risk going through pump after pump in a never-ending cycle of stubborn DIY fixitiveness, I decided, after much debate, to just buy a whole new fountain.

“You can call it their Christmas present this year,” Jim said.

Thinking like that is exactly why I’m marrying him.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

#Fatty2020: Fatty's Position on Net Neutrality

If you’re new here, you may not realize that my cat, Fatty, is running for President in 2020. It’s true, he is – and at least five people have already committed to voting for him!

As his campaign manager and the possessor of opposable thumbs, Fatty and I talk regularly about the issues important to American voters, so that he can give the people what they want. As a Cat of the People, Fatty is committed to making things better for honest, hardworking Americans, and also for lazy, dishonest Americans because Fatty doesn’t believe in discrimination, and also because he suspects that a lot of you who fancy yourselves in that first category actually belong to the second, ahem.

What? He tells it like it is!

ANYWAY, that’s why Fatty is appalled that the FCC wants to hand control of the Internet in the United States over to big companies, so that they can raise costs for average users by splitting access to online services into packages, impose data and bandwidth limits, and block or blacklist sites and services of which they don’t approve.

Fatty believes that access to a free and open Internet is a cornerstone of our democracy, and he strongly suspects that those who want to curtail that access are doing so because they don’t want us sharing ideas freely anymore. Fatty would like to point out that the Internet has done a lot of things that members of the current administration don’t like, such as:

  • Showing us what life is like in other countries, where they have things like universal health care, affordable higher education, livable minimum wages, and effective gun control laws;
  • Showing us that people who live under those allegedly appalling conditions are actually happy and healthy and can afford to have kids and take vacations and get sick, unlike many of us;
  • Enabling marginalized groups to band together and even become less marginalized;
  • Helping us get to know people who are different from us, so that we can see they’re not that different after all, and so that we might want to be more like them and/or let them come live here and/or not bomb them or at least bomb them a little freaking less;
  • Enabling us to put our ideas and beliefs before a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions, even billions, which includes
  • Casting light on injustice and effectively organizing for change.

That’s not to mention all the other things a free and open Internet lets us do, like stay in touch with loved ones who are increasingly forced to move to other states, cities, and countries to look for opportunities, order cat food, shop for cat toys, and binge watch human TV programs.

If elected, Fatty promises to take steps to protect net neutrality forever and ever, but he can’t do that unless the American people come together now to protect it for like the fortieth freakin’ time from corporate interests. The FCC votes to dismantle net neutrality rules on Dec. 14. Fatty implores you to use your opposable thumbs to call the FCC, repeatedly if possible, and tell them you support net neutrality:
  • Call 202-418-1000 to reach the office of Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC. Not sure what to say? Intimidated by the prospect of speaking to another human being? Fatty understands. Visit 5Calls.org for a helpful script.
  • Text RESIST to 50409 to use Resistbot to send fast, free faxes to your representatives in Congress, and/or your governor, and/or the President

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Wacky People I’ve Met: Rapunzel’s Boyfriend

Long-time readers might remember how, about three years ago, I regaled you all with the tale of Tide Bottle Pee Man, a wacky person I met at Venice Beach, California. At the time that I wrote about Tide Bottle Pee Man, I’d meant to continue the series Wacky People I’ve Met with more stories, but then I guess I forgot about it – until recently, when I was looking through an old list of blog post ideas I’d made and I came across this one: Rapunzel’s Boyfriend.

I met Rapunzel’s Boyfriend in Davis, California in late 2004. I was traveling through with a friend, and we were violating the local open container laws when we met Rapunzel’s Boyfriend.

Now, if you don’t know me in real life – or maybe even if you do – there’s something you need to know about me. Whenever a group of people I’m with encounters a real nutcase, it always falls to me to interact with that nutcase. I don’t know why – maybe my friends consider me the best at interacting with nutcases, or maybe I need new friends. Maybe both.

Like a lot of wackos, Rapunzel’s Boyfriend didn’t seem like a wacko at first. I was sitting there, cross-legged, talking to him, and yeah, he seemed intense. He had short blonde hair and a face that seemed permanently puckered. He wore a gold crucifix on a long chain, and a flannel shirt unbuttoned over a wife beater. He leaned forward as he spoke to me, with passionate fervor, of the love of his life.

“I’ve been with this girl for years,” the young man said, with a serious and burning gaze that did not seem like that of a man in love. “We’re in love. We’re going to get married, as soon as she gets free.”

“Oh yeah?” I said, smiling and nodding as if this were a perfectly normal thing to say. Maybe, you’re thinking, his young lady was in prison. But I was there, dear reader, and it was obvious that was not what he meant. “That sounds great!” I said. “Congratulations!”

“Her father has her locked in a tower,” the young man said, eyes still flashing. Yes, he said tower. No, I am not making this up.

“That sucks,” I said, “what are you going to do?”

The young man ignored this question. “Do you want to see her picture?” he asked me instead.

“Of course!” I said, chirpily.

At this, the young man reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. It was one of those trifold black leather wallets with a clear slot for a picture, and in that picture slot was a wallet-sized picture that was hand-drawn. I could tell it was hand-drawn because it was drawn badly. It was like a little kid’s drawing of a princess in a tower. It looked kind of like this:

Complete with bars and everything.
“Wow,” I said, voice dripping with sincerity. “She’s beautiful.”

Later, after Rapunzel’s Boyfriend has left, my friend asked me, “What was that guy talking to you about? He seemed intense.”

“You’ll never guess,” I said, and told him about the picture. We laughed about it at the time, but looking back on it, I really hope that young man was f*cking with me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #122: Black Friday Edition Two, Electric Boogaloo

It’s Day 24 of NaBloPoMo and I almost forgot to write a blog post! So buckle up, guys – this one will be pretty slipshod, as I only have 52 minutes to research and write it.

Thanksgiving is over for another year. We’ve celebrated family, friends, and togetherness; we’ve given thanks for all of the blessings in our lives. And by now, we’ve also participated in that other most American of holiday traditions – trampling a stranger to death as we rush to fistfight another stranger for some slightly-discounted electronics.

I didn’t go Black Friday shopping this year, because I never go Black Friday shopping, although I did consider going to Lowe’s to buy some of the stuff I constantly seem to need to keep this dump I live in from falling down around my head. But I stayed home, because I had heard that West Virginia is the 10th most violent state on Black Friday, and I didn’t want to risk it. I’ve been to most of the states, and I can tell you that West Virginians are hands-down the friendliest in the country. If the friendliest people in the country are among the most willing to bludgeon some rando with a handbag, I think that’s saying something.

I can’t say I participated in Buy Nothing Day, because I bought gas and lunch at McDonald’s, and I also made Jim buy us groceries. We’re going to be married soon so his money is my money now. That’s how it works, right? Buy Nothing Day is a day of international protest against consumerism; it’s held on the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., the UK, Finland, and Sweden, but on the following day in more than 60 other countries. I guess that means I can still have a chance to participate. I’ll probably forget and buy something.

It’s ironic that my future father-in-law was working on unblocking his kitchen sink this morning, because Black Friday is more than just a big shopping day – it’s also the busiest day of the year for American plumbers. According to Roto-Rooter, there’s 47 to 50 percent more business on Black Friday than on other Fridays, and the four-day Thanksgiving weekend sees a 21 percent boost in business for plumbers when compared to other Thursday-to-Sunday periods throughout the year. Chris Rainaldi of Rainaldi Plumbing in central Florida told ABC News, “We work from 7:30 in the morning [with a full schedule] up until 6’o’clock at night.” What’s causing all those plumbing problems? It’s mostly kitchen drains and garbage disposals clogged by Thanksgiving prep and clean-up, but plumbers also have to deal with sewer mains clogged by things that shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, like turkeys. Kidding, it’s usually cotton balls and tampons and stuff like that.

If you went Black Friday shopping last night, you may, like one of my Facebook friends, have witnessed the very moment when the shops started playing Christmas music. Christmas lights are already burning in many towns and cities, and those lights are collectively bright enough to be seen from space. According to data from NASA and the NOAA, Christmas lights cause some major American cities to glow 20 to 50 percent brighter at night during the Christmas season. Lights start getting brighter on Black Friday, and continue until New Year’s Day. Light intensity increases the most in suburban areas, which can be 30 to 50 percent brighter during the Christmas season, while central urban areas are 20 to 30 percent brighter. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Movie Review: Justice League [SPOILERS]

Today after Thanksgiving dinner with his parents, Jim and I went to see the new Justice League movie, and boy, was it bad. The plot was hard to follow, but we’re 78% sure it involved a Steppenwolf concert. (Jim made this joke, but I’m stealing it from him. We’re going to be married soon so his jokes are my jokes now. That’s how it works, right?)

Seriously, though, Jim and I thought it would have been a much better movie if the Justice League had fought the band Steppenwolf. Hollywood, get on this.

I have to say, I was disappointed in the Aquaman character. I’m not a big a comic book person, and I know people shit on Aquaman, but he commands the seas, right? I’m just saying that I feel like Aquaman should have been able to handle this third-tier villain on his own, or at least put up more of a fight. I guess Steppenwolf was just born to be wild.

And, maybe it’s not for me to say, but Victor needs to see a therapist, like, yesterday. I mean, sure, it’s hard to be almost killed in an ambiguous accident, lose your mother, and wake up as a robot with half a face, but the man needs some coping skills. I was really worried about him when Steppenwolf just ripped his leg off like it was a drumstick, but I didn’t realize that he was made out of Legos and that Batman would be able to just snap him back together. NBD, right? Wrong, because you can’t just snap back together your feelings, guys.

So, you know how I just said the plot was hard to follow? I lied, it wasn’t. A big ugly guy with horns on his hat shows up, starts f*cking sh*t up with his flying zombie bugs, and then Superman makes a miraculous recovery from death to stop him, because only Superman can stop this evil from taking us all on a magic carpet ride, even though Aquaman is literally right there. Okay, I just read some of Aquaman’s Wikipedia page, and here is a list of things he can do:
  • He has superhuman strength;
  • Can breathe underwater, duh;
  • He once picked up an 8,000-ton Soviet sub from the ocean floor and threw it two-and-a-half miles through water to the surface!!!!!
  • He can swim at speeds of up to 3,000 meters per second!
  • And can see in the dark, which doesn’t sound that impressive next to the other stuff, but
  • He can fly
  • He can communicate telepathically with marine life, creatures that live on the sea, and probably creatures that evolved from sea animals, including humans;
Aquaman can kill a person instantly by pulling the water out of their body! GUYS, HE IS MORE THAN QUALIFIED FOR THIS JOB. But no, we need an excuse to bring back Superman, so, let’s bring back Henry Cavill, the most wooden Superman in history. But let’s have him spend like 20 minutes of the movie making tepid googoo eyes at Lois Lane in a cornfield because that’s more entertaining than, say, a zombie Superman who just starts flying around and eating everybody. Now there’s a movie I’d pay to see.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

3 Ways You Can Support This Blog

It’s day 22 of NaBloPoMo, and I’m still going strong. Whether you’re a longtime reader or you’re new here, if you like what you’ve been reading, do one of these three things to help support this blog.

Leave Comments Directly on the Blog

When I post here, I share the links on my Facebook page, and most of my readers like to comment on those Facebook links. That’s great! I appreciate every word of feedback and engagement that I get from fans, friends, and readers. But let me tell you why I’d prefer that you leave your remarks right here, directly on the blog, in the comment section right underneath each post.

Comments boost the blog in search rankings. Search algorithms, especially Google’s, take a lot of things into consideration when assigning search rankings, but one of those things is whether a page has a community interacting with it. Your comments show search engines, and other readers, including readers who might be considering publishing my work elsewhere, that this blog has an actual readership and, hopefully, they will get people to stop saying things like, “Well at least it gets you writing,” when I talk about working on my blog. So, when you read a post, do me a solid and go to the bottom of the page where it says, “Post a Comment,” and enter your comments, concerns, questions, crazy rants, compliments, insults, or rebuttals into the comment box, select an account you want to use from the “Comment as” dropdown menu, of which “Anonymous” is an option btw, and click “Publish.”

Share Posts on Your Social Media

I LOVE IT when people share my posts on social media. The majority of my traffic comes from social media shares, so it's a great way to promote the blog and increase it's readership and make me like you more. Besides, there's really no better endorsement of my work than to show it off to all of your friends. Tweet it, Facebook it, email it to your listserve, talk about it at your next dinner party.

Pay Me

This maybe never occurred to you, but if I got money for doing this, I’d be able to do it more regularly. There is a donate button on the sidebar at the right that allows you to send a single, or recurring, donation via PayPal. Tbh I kind of hate to ask for money, but I’m doing it because a) I needed a third thing for the list, and b) because sometimes, people (you know who you are), message me to complain when I don’t post often enough, and I’m like, “Chill out bruh, it’s not like I’m getting paid for this,” but you have the power to change that. Or you could just comment and share, that’s fine, too.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

How to Cope with Your Family This Holiday Season

Last weekend, I went on a retreat with some members of my community writing group. While I was there, one of the members, author Adam Horne, said, “I want to have Thanksgiving with your family so I can meet these people you’ve been writing about.”

And that, let me tell you, was a super awkward moment. I didn’t know what to say, because I’m not having Thanksgiving with my family. It’s like he wasn’t even paying attention. But at least I know a thing or two about coping with a difficult family at the holidays. If you, too, are wondering how you’re going to make it through dinner this Thursday, I can offer you some advice.

Stay in the Kitchen

In my experience, the worst people at any family holiday gathering can be found sitting on their asses, waiting to be served. If you help with the cooking, you can avoid them and most of their opinions. After dinner, volunteer to do the dishes. Everyone disappears when you start doing dishes.

Sit at the Kids’ Table

If you know the other adults at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner are going to want to talk politics, or interrogate you about your love life, or remind you that you have 45 cents in your bank account, go sit at the kids’ table. Tell your adult relations that you’ve been missing your little nieces and nephews, or that you’ve just been waiting for the perfect opportunity to get to know the half-siblings your dad has had with your much-younger stepmom, and plop your ass right down on one of those tiny folding chairs. Your smallest relatives won’t want to talk about Trump; they barely know what a president is. Spend the meal discussing little Nevaeh’s favorite dinosaurs instead.

Ignore, Ignore, Ignore

Are your relatives severely unpleasant? Are they horrible, narcissistic monsters? Years of being treated like sh*t have taught me a valuable lesson: Nothing you could ever say will upset a nasty person more than saying nothing at all.

When your abusive Grandma Prunella comes out with a snarky remark or some horribly insulting bullsh*t, simply don’t react. Continue eating or chatting with Cousin Sativa as if the person wasn’t even there. Chances are the nasty person in your life lives for these moments when they get to destroy you emotionally, so don’t give them the satisfaction.

Arm Yourself with Stock Responses

Perhaps you think your extended family would be okay if they didn’t insist on belaboring their sh*tty opinions all day long. If that sounds familiar, go into the event with some stock responses you can pull out when Aunt Irma starts ranting about The Gays or Uncle Balthazar starts revving up his eighteen-hour lecture entitled “Women Are the Worst.” Some of my favorites include “That’s nice,” and “You don’t say” and “Really? Do go on.” Sure, you’ll have to tune out several minutes of Uncle Balthazar’s misogynist remarks, but eventually he’ll notice that you aren’t actually paying attention and start torturing someone else. Or he won’t, and he’ll wear himself out talking and walk away thinking what a nice person you’ve grown up to be.

Know When You’re Going to Leave in Advance

Before you go to your family holiday, know when you’re going to leave. You could decide to leave at a specific time, such as at 7 o’clock, or at a specific juncture, such as after dessert, or when Cousin Jimothy calls you a slut. When it’s time to leave, leave. Have an excuse ready; I like to use, “Sorry, everyone, but I’ve got to go medicate my cats.” If you need backup, have a friend call you with a manufactured emergency. That’s right; ditching your unpleasant family is exactly like ditching a bad Tinder date.

Just Don’t Go

Seriously, if your family’s really that bad, maybe just don’t go? 

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Meditation on the Fanta Can that Jim Left on His Dresser Upstairs

The can in question.

Not too long ago, I had the following conversation with Jim.

“Would you be upset if I blogged about the can of Fanta that you left on your dresser?” I asked him.

“You’re a memoirist. I can’t tell you not to write about your life,” Jim said.

“So…is that a yes?”

“If you ripped me apart on your blog, I’d be upset,” Jim admitted. This, I believe, was an understatement. Jim, like most men, is very sensitive, which is why I’ve hesitated to blog about the Fanta can that he left on his dresser upstairs.

I can’t tell you how long the Fanta can has been sitting on the dresser. I didn’t exactly write down in my diary, Jim left a Fanta can on the dresser today, so I don’t really know, but it’s been awhile – we’re talking a couple of months, at least. So, it’s been long enough that the responsibility for the can is as much mine as it is Jim’s. Sure, he left the can on the dresser, but I’ve looked at it every day for weeks and haven’t thrown it away. I’d like to believe that it’s the principal of the thing – the second or third time Jim ever came to my house, I pointed out that he was messy and asked him to clean up after himself more, which he has done a pretty good job of, Fanta can notwithstanding. I tell myself that I'm involved in a Fanta-can-related standoff, refusing to throw away the Fanta can because it's not my damn can.

But that's not really true, because Jim has left other soda cans in the bedroom, and I’ve thrown those cans away, which has been pretty easy, because there’s a waste basket right there next to the bed.

I haven’t thrown the Fanta can away because it still has some Fanta in it.

I remember clearly the day that I picked up the Fanta can, intending to throw it in the waste basket that’s right there, two feet away, but as soon as I lifted it, I felt the familiar, sloshy weight of liquid in the bottom of the can. Oh, I thought, I have to take this downstairs and empty it first.

That seemed like a lot of work, so instead, I just set the can back on the dresser. And I guess Jim thought the same thing, because he’s never thrown away the Fanta can either. At this point, it's just become a part of the decor. 

This is how we live now.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Adulting Wins to Be Proud Of: Finding Your Friend’s House without GPS

I’m old enough to remember a time when people found their way around solely using maps and/or verbal directions from friends, relatives, neighbors, or randos, which directions invariably got garbled either by the teller or the listener. I’ve also lived in a lot of different places and had to figure out navigational skills that my upbringing in a small Appalachian town didn’t prepare me for, such as interpreting bus schedules, reading subway maps, and remembering the names of streets. So you’d think that I’d have a good sense of direction.

You’d be wrong. People are constantly surprised that, having been to a location one time, the ability to find that location again and again has not been seared into my memory. It probably doesn’t help that, having worked mostly from home for going on the past decade now, I don’t have as much opportunity as others to familiarize myself with the local geography. It’s easy to discount how valuable the experience of simply driving to and from work, the post office, the bank, and the grocery store five or six days a week can be in terms of learning to find your way around town. I had to live in Morgantown for over a year before I could form a reasonably accurate map of the city in my mind.

Even now, I still have to use GPS to find my way around town, even when I’m going someplace I’ve been several times before, such as the vet’s office, where I go every two months to buy skin medicine for Skin Disease, and at least once a year besides to get check-ups and other veterinary care for the cats. My point is, I’ve been going to this vet regularly for a good couple of years and I still struggle to find the office.

And when I have to go out of town, all bets are off. I’m able to go three places out of town without using GPS: my hometown (which I guess technically counts as a lot of places, but whatever), my friend Mark’s place, and my soon-to-be-in-laws’ place. I’d like to blame this phenomenon on distributed cognition, i.e. I used to know lots of phone numbers but now they’re all in my phone, except I can’t, because it isn’t. I was always pretty bad at finding places, and also I didn’t know lots of phone numbers, I wrote most of them down. I only ever memorized my own home phone number, my grandparents’ number, my best friend’s number, and the number of this guy I was in love with who didn’t love me back but strung me along for several years anyway, and I’ve since forgotten two of those, which is just as well because I’m pretty sure those two have been disconnected anyway. My point is that being able to find a place without using GPS is a big deal. I mean, it is for me. Is it for you?