Distracted Driving Enters the Modern Age

The enthusiasts, tiresome bunch of cliché-spouting Neanderthals they are, will tell you that driving a manual will make you focus on driving—that the transcendent, semi-religious joy of operating a stick shift will quell any sandwich-eating, cell phone using, vanity-mirror-checking, radio-fiddling, butt-scratching distraction with which the 21st century driver occupies himself on a minutely basis.

That’s bullshit. I drive a manual and I can do any of those things even as I shift with my own hands and feet. And do I! I twaddle on my iPhone with the best of them. I can check traffic, learn German, look up the service history of the Austro-Hungarian SMS Monarch, and beat Flappy Birds between 2nd and 3rd gear. I can squeeze a pimple with laser-like focus as I rev-match. I can operate a ham radio while downshifting. Eating? Please—sandwiches are for amateur hour. I can eat pizza, chicken wings, KFC Famous Bowls, chimichangas, pomegranate seeds, fricassée of escargot with those long forks, and an entire box of Tropical Fruit Gushers in the individually-wrapped portions, balancing the box on my knees as I navigate the San Diego Freeway and fishing the packets out like the claw of an arcade game. God and Bunkie Knudsen delivered unto us the modern automobile expressly so we could shuck oysters at 90 miles per hour. This is an activity I honor on a regular basis.

They say that with the advent of computer-driven vehicles, distracted driving will soon be a thing of the past. Not so! I know plenty of ways to distract a computer: even more if you know a machine language. You could, for example, tune all the radio presets to the same channel, then cycle through them over and over again until the computer asks you to stop it. You could turn on the seat heaters in July. You could press all the climate control buttons and try to create a little tornado—hot air on one side, cold on the other, recirculated air, fan on high—right there in your front seat. If your car is fancy enough to have digital gauges, you could set it to display the same information as the touchscreen. Double vision! You could drive around with the seatbelt off, wearing nothing but earplugs. Eventually, your computer will beep at you in a huff as an admittance of its electromagnetic defeat. It knows that you have entered the Konami Code of biological superiority into its ECU, and will therefore implode if it continues violating the Laws of Modern Motoring (Rule 1: never cause to harm a European Union regulatory committee. Rule 2: Always obey NHTSA Deputy Administrator David J. Friedman. Rule 3: never cause harm to EU committees unless Friedman—who looks like he could bash in a couple of heads—decides to fuck with Slovenia).

At any rate, I don’t trust a mere computer to perform the Knudsen-Given Right of Motoring for me. What does a computer know, anyway? Computers were made by nerds, sackless losers in basements who drink bottled corn syrup and think that “heel-toe downshifting” is something you do with a blow-up doll in the back of your mother’s Porsche Cayenne Hybrid. You can’t trust the whims of an unfeeling, calculating death machine! Would you trust your toaster to cook a pizza for you? (Only if it’s one of those Red Baron Singles they serve at transient hotels, and only if you turn the toaster sideways.)

Cars were built by humans, dammit, easily distractible humans who once studied the rational mathematics and sciences and now program the robots and feed the designs into CAD and outsource production to countries where the humans aren’t considered as human as us. How is a computer going to replace the passionate dynamism of the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive35is? How can a computer understand the man-to-machine connection that a stick shift provides, the same way that hand-cranking a magneto and feeling it snap your wrist into 500 fragmented pieces, thereby delaying your plans to pop down to Outback Steakhouse for a Bloomin’ Onion, indicates a beautiful union of irreplaceable mechanical passion?

How will a computer understand the mindless tedium of driving in traffic when it does so without any sign of tedium whatsoever? A computer can’t evolve thumbs and therefore occupy itself with liking the Instagram photo of some beef stroganoff that your ex-girlfriend just made, as you move the shifter into 3rd gear with your knuckles while scanning for any cops that might ticket you for “texting while driving,” as if people still text instead of using the Facebook Messenger app. Would you trust a computer to make snarky tweets at celebrities on your behalf as you’re blowing through a red light, nearly running over a Hispanic woman and her double stroller? You know what they say: never trust any technology that yields to a kick.

They’ll take away my stick shift and all my handy distractions when we’re in bubble cars, belted in to robots, wired for energy as nothing more than glorified batteries. Maybe we’ll power a Tesla Model S. I hear those don’t come with a manual, which makes it the worst car in the world

The Cabin, Part 1

He had it all! McMurdo thought to himself, suitcase by his feet, teeming box in his arms, as he surveyed the cabin in which he was about to reside for the next three months. This is it! Every writer’s dream! He had mostly finished unpacking, for the most part, and he had dashed one last Facebook message, deactivated his account, deleted the app from his phone, put it in a desk drawer in the basement, locked the door, and buried the key underneath some mulch next to the doorstep. In the foyer he had hastily assembled an IKEA bookshelf and filled it with Baudelaire, Proust, Kierkegaard, Simone de Beauvoir, anthologies of Greek myths, a few Jonathan Franzen novels, The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, and some loosely-collected David Sedaris essays. He hadn’t finished a single volume—ok, he had gotten through some Jung once during an introductory psychology class—but he’d be here for three months; there’d be plenty of time for reading! He ripped the wireless adapter out of his laptop and flung it into the woods, quietly hoping it wouldn’t leech dangerous mercury into the groundsoil. Before he pulled into the steep, winding driveway he had sent out one final tweet: “Going away for three months!” and hashtagged it #writerlife and summarily deleted that account. Then, he threw the phone battery into the woods.

He had even taken care to unpack the Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter first, now resting insolently on a TV dinner tray in the corner of the dim wood-paneled living room. He had picked it up at a flea market, a slight veneer of rust on the dull, dented blue casing. Cormac McCarthy wrote on one. So did William S. Burroughs. Or maybe he used a different model? It didn’t matter—the seller didn’t have one in stock, and to nab the Olivetti he had passed up a perfectly good Smith-Corona that was even less. The O key didn’t work. He’d learn to write without it.

The unpacking was done—the sparing clothes hung neatly in their racks, the bedding pristine and smooth, virginal. The patio, where he figured he would spend most of his time, had been wiped down carefully with cleaning solvents. The brown leather couch was aged like the cabin itself, looking just as comfortable; across the floor on the opposite wall there was a glaring lack of a television. In between, a modest round coffee table overflowing with dog-eared issues of the New Yorker and the Paris Review and McMurdo’s little black notebooks—Moleskines, “the preferred notebook of van Gogh, Picasso, Hemingway, and Chatwin,” each one said on the inside cover, each one half-filled with half-formed thoughts in the hopes that over the coming three months, they would all be tapped into and molded into beautiful little carvings of McMurdo’s infallible mind. Riches and wonders would soon ensue. A heavy stone fireplace, in the corner (opposing the sad little TV tray, despite—as mentioned earlier—the lack of a television) surrounded by a brass poker set, a pair of empty candle holders on the mantle, and a buttoned leather armchair with gold rivets and an imposing formality at odds with the cabin itself. McMurdo planned to fill the space between the candle holders with bottles of fine brandy, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, pipe tobacco; he planned to fill the candle holders with their intended objects and spend his evenings slowly getting drunker, smoking all manners of tobacco in pipe or cigar form, spilling burnt ashes onto the pages of Baudelaire, Proust, Kierkegaard, Franzen, Jung, and Sedaris.

But first—provisions. For this he would have to drive the 5 miles into the nearest town, along the windy state highway behind RVs and Toyota Priuses and lollygags and dilly-dalliers, which was really anyone that dared get in McMurdo’s way, or even within his vicinity. Five miles didn’t seem far enough. The town had a population in the low four figures, scattered among rolling farmland and clapboard housing and the occasional strip mall where half of the storefronts were moody and vacant. Its main street was a turgid collection of browns and greys. The door to a sports bar was open, and McMurdo could see a scattering of rough-looking men inside. Losers, he thought, as he drove on to CVS to buy himself inexpensive whiskey.

A bottle of Evan Williams thus acquired, McMurdo drove home—being careful not to memorize the route so he wouldn’t find an excuse to visit town again. (That sports bar looked intriguing, the sort of place Bukowski could spill out of at 4 in the afternoon.) He had brought back a smattering of groceries—mostly premade salads, some TV dinners, and a box of Cheerios; if he could lose some weight here in these woods, he wouldn’t mind. He left the bags by the front door, took a pull from the whiskey bottle, placed it by his desk, got out his laptop and began to write. His laptop had one of those programs that would block out all other distractions (Internet, Freecell) for a determined length of time before allowing the writer to take a much-needed break. It was difficult work, after all, to create genius out of thin air. McMurdo had already removed any method of accessing the Internet—he could still see the wireless adapter from the patio, glinting in the midday sun—and was thusly unburdened by the need for any safety net. He wrote a single sentence, stood up, grabbed the whiskey bottle, walked to the patio, leaned against it in a pose a photographer from LIFE Magazine would have killed to capture with a Leica M3, and took another swig from the bottle.

Yeah. He would be happy here. This was nothing like this cramped, $1,400/month apartment in Van Nuys—a studio apartment overlooking Ventura Boulevard, hazy and humid, the sun bearing down over the Valley like an oven lamp. There, he had barely a kitchen and an old futon he bought on Craigslist for 20 bucks that was lumpy and thin underneath its marine-grade vinyl. He had hardly any room to stretch around, even on the futon. He had no silence to himself that wasn’t interrupted by the passing of airplanes overhead, the clanging of bottles from ornery bums with shopping carts; if he closed his eyes he could trick his mind into believing that the wind roar from the passing cars sounded like waves crashing on the beach. That is, until a Harley roared by and snapped his loitering mind out of its fantasy with its Screamin’ Eagle pipes.

But here—here, he closed his eyes and heard the babbling of a creek down the hill from the patio. He breathed in and smelled freshly-fallen pine needles instead of diesel smoke. The temperature was a balmy 67 degrees, the air so crisp it chilled his nostrils as he inhaled. He looked around and caught a figure in the stillness, between the trees: was that a fawn? Yes, it was!

This was the life! No police sirens! No paunchy Harley riders with their gym shorts flapping halfway up their pale wrinkled thighs! Best of all, no people! Three months was too short. He wanted to stay here forever, churning out greatness from this secluded mountain cabin he would be proud to call home. Yes! Now I can finish that Great American Novel in peace!

Three hours later, McMurdo walked back in from the patio. The whiskey bottle had been drained to the top of its label. He blinked, and stared at the laptop screen: one hastily scribbled sentence stared back, its adjectives chorusing for attention. Good enough. McMurdo leaned on the armchair. His self-imposed exile was off to a great—productive, exciting, wondrous—start.

Fat

February 10, 2014

Food. I love food. I love eating food. I love the smell of food. I love ordering it more than I love eating it. I love the idea that someone else in the back of a decrepit kitchen makes it magically appear out of thin air and nothingness, thereby qualifying them for some sort of trained professional even if it may be their first day on the job back from parole and they’ve already violated every single health code since Hammurabi. I love the presentation: anything from a pinky-sized morsel of steak tartare with a towering garnish that resembles the Chiquita Lady’s headgear to a Subway footlong liberated from its wax-papered Iron Mask residing between my legs as I barrel down the Grapevine at 80 miles per hour in a Volkswagen Passat. I love eating it with people: in big groups, with a friend, with my girlfriend who can’t eat anything unless it’s gluten free and vegetarian and preferably Italian but not too expensive and sometimes pizza but not always pizza and are you sure it’s gluten free? Finding a restaurant with her is like a hostage negotiation. We trade escape plans, helicopters to Cuba. Occasionally, shots are fired. But once we sit down and the waiter brings us to our tale and we drink 5 glasses of water and I eat all the bread (because she’s gluten free, remember) and then out of the corner of our eye we see the waiter bringing us our entrees and it’s such a beautiful sight that I could kiss that man or woman straight on the lips, all of this restaurant posturing is worth it.

Food is an occasion, an event not to be taken lightly. Oh sure, eating at a restaurant by yourself is nice. And I’ve done it a lot—with every cuisine and on nearly every continent, I’ve found myself walking into a dimly-lit, sparse restaurant (just the way I like it) and mentally drowned out the ambient noise and the Ke$ha playing over the loudspeakers and the constant grinding and chopping of forks and knives in order to attempt reading a book that I must hold cumbersomely with one hand while I negotiate a salad with the other. I am surprisingly ok with this. Waiters will look at you funny, but my thing has always been to tip them well, those poor, dumb bastards. (Just kidding! Please don’t spit in my Puerco pibil!)

I love shopping for food, especially when I’m hungry. I’ll eat half my purchase on the drive home—usually I’ll eat my body weight’s worth in ham as soon as I cross the parking lot. People may stare, girls may cross the street to avoid me, and friends may cancel their party invitations as they see me grabbing a fistful of deli meat and cramming it into my drooling maw. But there is no greater sensation in the known god-damned universe than satiating your hunger with a gluttony of food that you just bought.

I love making food, too. I love stressing out in the kitchen, as I tend to do, when I busy myself with making three things at once: the main course that has to simmer for 10 minutes, a side dish that’s boiling, and some coffee. Or steeping some tea, or pouring myself my third glass of Bushmills. I like to drink when I cook, because then it takes away the burden of cooking something disastrous. I do this anyway. Never see me cook when I’m hungry—I eat all the raw ingredients. When I’m home I’m like the Tasmanian Devil of snacking. Bring on that DiGiornos!

It’s a miracle I never grew up to be a fat kid. My most distinct childhood food memories all relate to the Yum! Corporation of brands, which really should be renamed the [Bulging Gurgle]! Corporation. I remember participating in BOOK IT! and rushing home with my coupon for a free Personal Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut, which I always ordered with sausage and pepperoni and picked out all the vegetables from the deep-dish pizza my parents were eating with forks and knives. (Later in college I found out that my sophomore roommate’s dad, the Vice President of Yum! in Canada, allegedly invented the “PPP.” To this day I owe him a great debt.) I remember a love of KFC, instilled by my parents: no, not of the chicken, which has worn dry and terrible for me since then*, but of its mashed potatoes and gravy—and, more importantly, the cole slaw, which is still the Finest Cole Slaw In The World, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. (In senior year I learned to make it myself, discovering that the secret ingredient—the one thing that gave it its world-conquering zest—was Miracle Whip. I reacted to this like the bad guys in Indiana Jones reacted to the Ark of the Covenant.) I ate fish sticks, Banquet pot pies (Marie Callendars’ if I was fancy, which always turned out to be a glaring disappointment), Pringles by the sleeve, frozen burritos subsequently microwaved. I ate canned peaches—full syrup, please, because I want my goddamn diabetes! My girlfriend threatens to end our relationship every time I bring this up to her. I hated drinking milk out of my vintage Adam West-era Batman glass my mother found at a thrift sale. I drank 5 cans of soda a day. When my mother loathed my complaints long enough, she would buy me a Surge at the Wal-Mart vending machine. Remember Surge? Remember Vault? Remember Taco John’s? I do. And to this day, the only thing I’ll order at a McDonald’s is a Filet-O-Fish.

(When my dad first arrived in America in 1985, he was a svelte 140lbs. Then, he discovered Coca-Cola and McDonald’s and for decades resembled the moon from Voyage dans la Lune. To this day, he has no regrets.)

For a while, Subway was the epitome of health. I would order a buffalo chicken sub, a Five Dollar Footlong special, loaded with ranch dressing and banana peppers, the buffalo sauce down my hands and around my mouth. I can look down right now and expect to see a gross amalgamation of white/orange sauce oozing dangerously towards my pant legs, something I’d eat en route to Phoenix for some terrible reason, finding a way to steer with my pinkies because my hands are covered in this disgusting sauce. Every Subway smells the same, all its horrible quick-rising bread imparting toward its customers and storefronts and parking lots the same malodorous stench of wet newspaper, a dog’s saliva, and Jared Fogel’s leg hairs ground into a pulp. They should distill Subway scents into a spray bottle and use it to chase away rodents.

I told you those stories to tell you this. I ate like shit—holy hell, am I surprised I’m not dead yet. I love food that much, no matter how crappy and terrible and wrapped in a plastic Tyson bag. I am, after all, a Man of the People. If Men of the People demand dollar-store graham crackers, then Men will oblige. It’s a miracle against God that I’m not yet dead of diabetes. My metabolism deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature and a Tony Award, in that order, for somehow keeping me alive.

It was around junior year when I started to feel fat. (Finally? Finally!)

I lived across the street from a dining hall that was all Taco Bell and KFC, all Burger King and Sbarro (the latter two so prevalent across Syracuse University’s campus, I vowed never to eat at either until the day I died). I was young and dumb and flush with meal plan points. Down the hatch those Whoppers went. Fuck yeah, dollar tacos. Fuck yeah, I want some goddamn KFC chicken fingers. I became bloated and lethargic. I think I weighed around 170 or so, though I exaggerate today. I went to the gym sporadically, but more importantly I vowed to eat healthy-ish—no more soda, no more KFC except maybe once a month. More sandwiches, definitely. When I get my own kitchen, I’m definitely cooking. And no way in hell am I buying Banquet chicken pot pies.

Today, I think I’m doing ok—except for the sheer volume of food I eat when I’m bored. Instead of Pringles, it’s almonds and Multi-Grain Cheerios. Instead of chips and salsa, well I make my own salsa—and guacamole, because avocados are a healthy fat! Instead of beer, I drink a lot more whiskey. Sure, the sugar’s dense, but there are less calories. I have, in short, successfully guilt-tripped myself into eating healthy—constantly on the verge of fatness, buying healthy because the taste of junk food leaves me with a feeling of paranoia and loathing. Whatever it takes. I haven’t been to the gym in a year. The gym sucks. Just like escaping my gross, depressing childhood, it’s a miracle that I can still fit in my Miata’s seats. The day I can’t, I’m driving that car off a cliff.

*besides, everybody knows Popeye’s is better. And Bojangle’s is better than both of those.

I Think People Without Motorcycles Have Empty Lives And I’m Not Sorry About It

January 27, 2014

I never thought of myself as the kind of person who judges other people’s choices. But after spending enough of my life with motorcycles and without, I can’t deny what I really feel: It’s a perfectly fine choice to never become a motorcyclist, but there is absolutely no chance that your life will be as full or meaningful, or that you will learn as many essential truths about existence, as you would if you had a motorcycle.

Because when it comes down to it, there are certain truths about life that you literally cannot know until you’ve put a leg over a BSA Super Rocket and stomped on the kickstarter. Our lives—our careers and the things we want, like Ducati Panigales—are ultimately born from a desire to create a safe, happy space for ourselves within which moments of joy can occur. That’s it. That’s really it. And I’ve had a great many ride experiences and learned a lot from them but none of those lessons are illustrated in such stark, bright clarity as they are from your experiences and emotions you have putting a knee down all the way around the Snake.

I’m not saying you can’t have a happy life without motorcycles. Of course you can. You can be happy making all kinds of choices. You can also be happy as a racist, but that doesn’t make you an especially great person. I’m not saying that motorcycle-free people are bad like being racist is bad. I’m simply illustrating the point that happiness does not equate to living a great life. My actual point is this: I don’t think people are somehow bad or wrong for not having a sweet Triumph Bonneville, a Honda CB500X or even a Gixxer—I just think it’s really, deeply sad. I feel tremendously sad for them.

Why do I feel sad for people without motorcycles? Because they’re missing out on this rad thing that gives you an entire new scope of what it means to love, and to give of yourself, and to care for something else more than yourself. Because with motorcycles, you often do things for their benefit that don’t feel good, like rejetting Amal Concentrics, and there is no thanks except from the shop manager who you just gave $300 when you realized that they were still gummed and needed new floats, but you do them because it’s just…what you’re there to do.

Which is another thing: Having a badass-as-hell bike doesn’t have to be your primary and sole focus in life, although for some people it is, and all the power to them for sure. But even if you have a booming career and active social life with plenty of track sessions and don’t focus 100% of your time and attention on your stable of well-maintained two-wheeled fun machines, they are still the center of everything. When you don’t have bikes, the hierarchy of your priorities is constantly shifting, with all the things you care about—riding buddies, Arrows high-pipes, off-road adventures, etc.—always vying for top spot. Once you become a motorcyclist, no matter how the breakdown of your day goes, no matter how you apportion your time, your multiple and myriad motorcycles are undoubtedly, unquestioningly your absolute top concern.

A common argument against having, say, a Laverda 1000 Jota, is the desire to be as ambitious as you want to be in other regards. Riding a motorcycle gives you a monumental incentive to live life with more purpose and excellence than you otherwise would. When I bought my first hooptie Yamaha UJM off some guy on Craigslist for 1400 bucks, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to devote the energy to my career that I wanted to. I was afraid I would get bogged down in motorcyclehood and everything else I had been working for would stall out under the pressing obligation of that new role.

That is the opposite of what happened.

Suddenly, all the plans for how I envisioned my life took on new urgency. It turns out that was like a supernatural electrical fire lit under my Iron Butt to get serious about accomplishing everything I had previously thought I had all the time in the world to do. I didn’t stop wanting all the things I had wanted pre-Motorcycle Riders Course—in fact, I wanted them much more intensely, and suddenly had renewed ride and clarity about going after them. I ended up accomplishing more on my bike than I did in all the years before.

And I think that’s what it comes down to: You absolutely have more free hours in the day and less broken limbs on the line when you’re going through life without oil stains on your garage floor that are never gonna friggin’ come out, no matter how much Zep you use, but whatever dude, but that doesn’t inherently make you capable of accomplishing more. When you have more on the line, you can react in one of two ways: You can crumble beneath the fear of hitting a patch of sand on the 101 and the stress of syncing a row of four Keihin carbs, or you can use the presence of your Electra-Glide and the compulsion to take it on an amazing ride as motivation to make your life as big and fantastic and full of lovely things as you always wanted. And on top of all of that, like I said, you get the unique experience of getting to learn so much about what it means to be human, what it means to love, what it means to truly commit to a motor vehicle your parents will threaten to disown you over, and the incredibly liberating, tragically indescribable perspective that comes from popping a wheelie on a Honda CBR1000RR Repsol Edition all the way out of your cul-de-sac. 

Adapted from a terrible essay on Thought Catalog. Turns out, it works better if you replace “kids” with “motorcycles.”

Things

January 10, 2014

I like things. Sometimes, I don’t like things.

Sometimes, there are things I like, but there are things I also like. Occasionally, there’s a thing I like but don’t feel too strongly about, and sometimes there’s even another thing I like more. Sometimes I like a thing for years, but slowly find myself getting tired of the thing, so I don’t like it that much. Maybe it’s because I found another thing I like, a thing that does its job better, or perhaps it’s a new thing. Very rarely will I like a thing that everyone else likes, but sometimes I think that if everyone else likes it, it must be pretty good. Then I try the thing and—usually more than most—end up liking it.

You could say that liking things has always been something I do.

There are things I don’t like, too. Maybe it’s because of the color. Or maybe it’s because of how big it is, and whether the thing is too hard to put with other things. Sometimes it’s a thing that I remember my high school bully liking, and somehow self-consciously I find myself not liking it. Oh, sure, if I see it in front of me, I won’t choose it, but if I was presented with it—say, on a date, for example—I’ll smile and pretend to like it, because in the end it’s not a bad thing. I won’t mention the reason why, of course. Mike, my high school bully, really enjoyed the thing. More than I thought anybody could like things. But me? I’m the sort of guy who likes things, and doesn’t like other things. I think I mentioned that before.

Very rarely do I hate things. One time at my old job, where I used to organize things, there was a thing that I knew I instantly wouldn’t like. I don’t know why, I just knew. The more I worked there, the more my suspicions were right. I hated using that thing: it would always break, and it was always falling off my desk and making the most tremendous clanging racket. I never knew where to put it, even though it was part of my job, the job where I organized things by type and category and sometimes put things with other things. I knew where I had put this thing: in the category of things I hated.

I suppose I’ve always liked things, as far back as I can remember. I remember growing up and my father buying me a thing with money he earned making other things. I remember looking at the thing and immediately deciding, with my irrational infantile mind, “I don’t like this thing.”

Undeterred, my father went to the store where they sold more things, lots of things. This time, I went with him. I held his hand as we browsed the aisles full of things—shiny things, bright things, big things, small things, things that needed two hands to carry them. Finally, after what seemed like forever, we found the thing I really wanted: it was a thing that I knew I would cherish forever. Or, at least I found another thing to like.

In college, I experimented—as one does—with liking new things. I found some things that, for a while, I adopted as “my thing.” Then I made some new friends who liked another thing and I ended up liking that thing too. Boy, that was a mistake. It took a few years of my life to recover from liking that thing too much—even loving it, I guess I could say, which was not a thing I should have loved. Ho boy, what a bad idea it was to even know that thing! But I’m back on the straight and narrow now, and I’m in a program that tells me not to like that thing no matter how much I reminisce about the time I used to really like that thing. 

I don’t like that thing anymore. But who knows.

If I like something, I sometimes tell people about it. I like to have an opinion on things. If I don’t like a thing, I like to ask myself why I don’t like that thing, and try to justify it. Sometimes I feel silly liking one thing. But that feeling doesn’t last long because I just don’t tell anyone about liking it. 

I don’t tell people that I used to really like some things.

Once, I met a person who didn’t like this one thing I liked. I thought, “how could you not like [this thing]?” You’d have to be an idiot to like it, he retorted, and that made me mad. I had to defend the thing I liked to him who had not only not liked it, which I would have been ok with, but had called me an idiot for liking it, which was not ok. Then, someone who had been listening within earshot had suggested another thing that he liked, and we both agreed that that guy was an idiot for liking that thing.

It’s hard to like things sometimes. Ask me how I know.

My girlfriend likes some things, but I’m trying to get her to like other things. Like this one thing I like. I keep buying it for her, telling her to try it, because I think she’ll like it. But she keeps saying, “didn’t you used to like that thing way too much? Why do you want me to like it?” And then I look at her like she’s grown two heads and I say, “well, everybody likes this thing. Cool people like this thing. I used to be a cool person. Sometimes in my darkest moments of self-actualization, I dive into the deepest recesses of my brain and examine just what about that thing I liked. And then, a wave of memories floods back. I liked that thing because it made me feel invincible. It made me feel successful, popular, loved. That thing put a fire in my soul and bravery in my head, and a warm feeling all around me from my head to my toes. The thing was habit-forming, and the thing was the best thing—the only thing—in the world that I cared about. All I wanted was more of that thing. When I couldn’t get that thing, I would get angry. And when I got angry, I got violent. And when I was violent, it would threaten to unravel my life, and it did. So I couldn’t get that thing anymore. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it wasn’t that thing that got me in trouble—it was how I acclimated to liking the thing that I liked so much, and how I couldn’t handle liking that thing because I needed it so much. Now, I still like the thing, and I still want it because of the fire in my soul and bravery in my head, and I can handle myself if I like the thing just a little bit at a time.” 

She doesn’t like the thing, but I think she will. Because she likes things too. 

 

 

Roommate Chicken

April 12, 2010

“Hey, can you pick up some toilet paper?”

It wasn’t a terribly unreasonable request. I had bought the paper towels, for example—a mega-value pack of 36, whittled down to two rolls over the course of a semester. I had also bought the paper towels before that. Come to think of it, I had bought the last round of toilet paper as well.

The stuff wasn’t cheap. $6.00 for 8 rolls, after all, was a Subway footlong plus tax.

“Yeah, sure,” he said with some reluctance. “But I won’t be able to make it until tomorrow afternoon. Is that ok?”

There’s a game roommates secretly play with each other. From the minute they move in with each other, whether they know it or not, they are in this game together. It’s called Roommate Chicken, and it goes like this: eventually, somebody’s going to have to take out the trash or do the dishes or unplug the bathtub or buy more toilet paper. It’s just a matter of holding out for as long as possible for the other one to do it. The toilet can stay clogged until the odor wafts across state borders, the sink can spawn new and diverse ecosystems inside moldy glassware, or the roof can finally cave in and destroy an Xbox and both controllers. But you win when your roommate finally caves in and screams “I can’t take this anymore!” If you can get him or her to clean the dishes—or buy toilet paper—then you are the champion, and you reap the joys of laziness.

The beauty of this game is that I knew I wouldn’t be the only one to suffer. I could imagine him exquisitely performing one of his legendary 20-minute bowel movements (every morning on the regular, right around when I needed to take a shower). Halfway done, he turns to the toilet paper roll. It is empty. He panics. His mind races; his rectum is no longer energized. A cliché scenario, but one too common: “Oh, he mentioned something about this,” he laments. He looks around the room for anything to help end the misery: the floor mat, the bath towels, the dog-eared copies of Maxim in the magazine rack. (Why, this perfume ad should do just fine! Double duty!) And eventually he would lay his eyes on the box of Kleenexes behind him.

“You know you’re not supposed to use those,” he informed me. “They’re not supposed to be flushed down the toilet.” Pause. “You know that, right?”

I imagined the plumber’s van parked out in front, a murky ooze of brown liquid escaping from the bathroom and flowing down the hall towards it. The plumber would be on his knees, arm in the toilet up to his elbow, tools everywhere, straining to unclog the dying commode at all costs. “Well,” he would say, after a lengthy and protracted battle with the beast as well as his own sanity, “I diagnosed your problem and found THIS.” He would hold up the torn, dripping tissue in my face, accusatory eyes glaring, as the stench rose from its soaking folds and slowly injected itself into my nostrils. “Didn’t anybody tell you that you couldn’t flush these?” Goddamn kids, he would think. You think they’d have some common goddamn sense.

I wasn’t about to leave my dirty crap-stained Kleenexes in the wastebasket. C’mon, we try to be civilized here, I thought. This may be college, and even though we spend all of our money on pitchers of cheap beer at dive bars—and though I wouldn’t recommend anybody to walk through the kitchen floor barefoot unless they had previously built up their immune system from fighting off tuberculosis— I sure wasn’t about to resort to leaving fecal matter in the wastebasket. That would be where I draw the line. And despite what my supposedly know-it-all roommate believed, one flush wasn’t going to blow up the toilet and send it skyrocketing upward in a fireworks display of porcelain, biological waste and tile grout that would guarantee that we wouldn’t be getting back our security deposits.

Or would it?

Harris

September 21, 2013

I first met Harris at Syracuse University in sophomore year. We were walking back from a concert on campus, walking alongside each other in a bid to leave as quickly as possible. We both watched a drunk kid walk, facefirst, into a stop sign. Since we witnessed him hit the sharp edge of the sign and not the flat part, we immediately became friends.

Harris was lanky, rail-thin, incredibly Jewish, with a sardonically sarcastic voice he could never turn off—some called him “Giraffe,” while others more cruelly deemed him “Scarecrow.” We pledged Delta Chi Fraternity that semester, more out of coincidence than anything. I wanted to join the ranks of Theta Chi, he was ready to leave this whole Greek life thing behind. One wonders what would have happened if we had. But alas, after nights of commiserating in dining halls and, I eventually talked him into pledging Delta Chi (though he consistently maintains that he had reached this conclusion himself.) On the day we were initiated we celebrated  with Keystones and Franzia alongside our new brothers, eager to embrace the college experience head-on with the audacity of barely functioning children. We spilled beers and screamed at each other. We fought over girls, we commiserated over different girls. We made racist jokes to each other (he was always good at that, even today, as if just discovering my own background, as if that phrase “love you long time,” more offensive for its overuse than its racial overtness, hadn’t been a curse inflicted by Kubrick all those decades ago). One ponders at what age a man can truly grow out of that phase. The mere fact that I’m still friends with him means that it may never happen.

We became roommates junior year, living near campus with our own separate rooms. He had a girlfriend, I was seeing someone. Neither lasted. But somehow, through constant grating and complaints, through clichéd joke after nonresponse, we stayed friends. It was a friendship defined by equal parts bickering and sincerity. It was one where I would tire of his racially-informed gags and he would ceaselessly complain about how fast I walked. “You guys fight like an old married couple,” observed a mutual friend, when Harris demonstrated his unique ability to overpower me with a joke at my expense and somehow bring another friend—my friend, dammit—one into the fold to join the chorus, the song where I’m the butt of all that can be said.

Just last month, he scheduled some time off to come to Los Angeles. We were all three years out of college, and while I had made it a habit to crash on his couch when I was in New York City for work, it’s a bit humbling when a friend decides to take some time off and fly 8 hours across the country to visit you. His real estate banking and private equity position at Citi was pushing him into long hours and nascent alcoholism. “I’m going to just drink this entire weekend,” he announced. Even the during time off that he had scheduled weeks in advance, his phone buzzed with emails.

I liked the prospect of two guys running around Los Angeles going on a mild bender. I picked him up in a 2013 Lotus Evora S: a car that hails from the low-volume British cottage industry, $92,600 of driving perfection that Lotus had wanted me to test for the weekend. From the airport, we went straight to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. “I really want a burrito,” he said seated in the outdoor patio at Barney’s Beanery.

“This, uh, isn’t exactly the place to get burritos,” I began. “Listen, if you really want Mexican…”

"You’re not gonna get the same burrito as me, are you? That’d be weird. Hey, why are there potatoes in here? Is that a California thing?”

We got beers, then drove home, then bought tallboys of Dos Equis in paper bags and drank them on the beach. It was thrilling. It was like getting away with shoplifting in middle school, or getting away with buying weed in high school—two things I hadn’t done, and two things I wouldn’t have done without an accomplice.  Despite living next to the beach I hadn’t been there in months. It was overwhelmingly peaceful— bare feet in the sand, a spray of calmness over our slackened features, lying there in our blankets towards the cold and cerulean sea. We both drifted off into naptime. Then, I lost my keys on the beach, having fallen out of my pockets and into sand-strewn oblivion.

—-

The Lotus, mercifully, still had its key intact. It took us to Griffith Park, 20 miles away but an eternity in Los Angeles. Distances in this city are forever changing, forever elastic: things that seem to take ages to get to are only 3 miles away, yet when pushed the average Angeleno won’t hesitate to drive 35 miles to Los Feliz for a fish taco and a comedy show. I’ve always maintained that if it takes one highway to get to, it’s half an hour away. If it’s two highways, it’s an hour. If it’s three highways, well—you never needed to go there in the first place.

We saw Los Angeles in its flat-plained splendor: the US Bank building, outlined across smog, the traffic on the 101 zooming by on an early Saturday afternoon. All you need to know about LA, I explained to Harris as he stared at the grid-like sprawl, is right in front of you. See, we do have a downtown. Over there is Century City, home of the building from Die Hard. I, like most Angelenos, live somewhere in the middle. Past the 710, thar be dragons. We learned about the stars and planets. We looked at the telescope on the dome of the Observatory, looking down at us. We took photos, we took photos for other people. We wondered why the hell James Dean’s bust was there. “Oh, well, you see, there’s a plaque here,” Harris informed a tourist. “Kinda explains everything.”

Neither of us went to the LA Zoo, so we went there in the worst possible weather to ever attend a zoo. It wasn’t clear who was more haggard—the animals from snowy climes, tucked away in the corners of their cages, or the humans overpaying for shaved ice. We went to go have a well-deserved beer, which somehow necessitated a drive to Pasadena.

That night, we went to the Laugh Factory, on Sunset, something else I had yet to do. “Hope Michael Richards doesn’t come on,” said Harris. The first two acts were straight Asian and Jew jokes, “so I guess they got us both.” The valet had asked us whether we wanted to pay double to have them park the Lotus out front. I was flashy, but I wasn’t that flashy; we waited for them to bring the car from the same parking lot as the ones who didn’t drive Lotus Evoras. In Los Angeles, that was a lot of people.

As we waited, a drunken middle-aged woman stumbled across the valet line and into the street. “Somebody move this fucking Ferrari!” she slurred. The car in question was a red C6 Corvette.

—-

The last day, we went to Santa Barbara—but we took the long way there. Up Las Flores, around to Piuma, failing to stop and gawk at the ocean beneath us, over and past the stubby cliffs. We stopped at Mulholland Outlook with all the bikers, the car geeks, the girlfriends dragged there by flat-brim-capped boys in slammed Integras with NO FAT CHICKS, CAR WILL SCRAPE stickers on the back, a surer sign of virginity than Juliet’s bedsheets. “You know, Jay Leno comes here a lot,” I informed Harris as I pulled into the overlook in the Evora, next to a stripped-out, roofless Lotus Exige. Its rotund, bearded owner was busy explaining to bystanders exactly how much money he had spent on building the car and how much more he spent on divorce proceedings. “Usually with some weird-ass car.”

“It’d be cool to meet him,” he said. “I’d probably ask him, ‘hey—’” and his voice raised about 2 octaves—“‘whaddya think about Jimmy Fallon?’”

“’Hey! Well, this is my third Miura…‘”

“’Well, uh, don’t ask me about Conan, ok?’”

“I wonder if Jay owns a 1992 Taurus SHO like Conan?” I pontificated, in my regular (albeit still squeaky) voice. “That’d be awesome. Just to rub it in, you know?”

“Wait, Conan drives a Taurus? Why? That’s dumb.”

We met my friend Cory, who was on his way to Santa Barbara to meet his German girlfriend, who had been on the road with a friend on the Great American Road Trip for the past year. After bullshitting for about 20 minutes, we hit the road; we were to meet them at noon, an hour and a half away. And 10 minutes after we left, our friend—who was still there—relayed to us that he had just met Jay Leno, who showed up with one of his famous weird-ass cars—this time, it was another Lotus.

The Evora hummed and bleated its way up the 101 in relative serenity. We didn’t talk, drowning the silence with Harris’s iPod of gangsta rap, as we had done the last two days. By now, I assumed that he had adjusted to the novelty of tooling around Los Angeles in a rare, hand built, British sports car—the sort of car he would ogle on the street if he saw one in Lower Manhattan, but never would consider owning one even if he moved to the suburbs. It’s all the car you need, I told him, my fingers drumming on the Evora’s perfect steering column, steering with so much feel it could read Braille. The road to Santa Barbara oscillated between mist-strewn fog, blinding sunshine, and light traffic. The Evora pointed and squirted past Dodge Ram duallies and Toyota Siennas, the perpetual sea cows of the road, its 345-horsepower engine using every one of those modestly-numbered horses. Harris, to give the man credit, never flinched while inside the Lotus at all—he never feigned nausea as we drove across the Mulholland canyons, never complained or felt frightened or, at the very least, exhibited his own fear of death. He was quiet, without drama, like the Lotus: the perfect passenger. For some reason, and despite the jokes, despite the complaining, he seemed to trust me, me in my element, the only realm in which I deserved respect.

Cory took a liking to him immediately. Racial jokes flowed like water between the three of us. His girlfriend, Joanna, and her friend, a pink-cheeked blonde, talked amongst themselves in quiet, lilting German. We walked the length of State Street past the bland, stucco-walled boutiques and the unaffected preppies, as bland as bland does. We bought gelato. A homeless man hooted at Joanna. (We thought this was the funniest thing in the world.) Then, we went to the beach and once again, we dug our toes in the sand.

—-

That night, before Harris flew out the next morning, we drove from San Pedro to downtown Los Angeles, which at night becomes one of the Seven Wonders of the World—an all-singing, all-dancing laser light show, dedicated to both the gutter and the stars apparent. The Lotus sang as it spun up the 110. We listened to Kendrick Lamar in the cool night air, nobody saying a word, getting off the freeway at the Convention Center then down Flower Street to Hope. We drove past beggars and partiers. We past the Library and the Library Bar, past abandoned cars in Skid Row and Maseratis in valet lines. We roared down the Second Street Tunnel, downshifting with the windows down, hitting the redline in 2nd gear, laughing like madmen.  

“Honestly, don’t move anywhere else,” said Harris. “Why would you? This place is paradise!”

We were two friends separated across time and space and socioeconomics but cackling madly at the simple joy of an absurd car, an absurd city for the two of us. And from the beach to the night sky, from LAX down the 105 past the glittering rows of airplanes on approach, Harris—a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, someone who, like so many of his Manhattan proles, had all but written off the West Coast, who found it shallow and without substance like everyone else who comes here—well, I had an inkling that Harris had finally started to understand Los Angeles. 

Los Americanos

March 20, 2011

They burst into song just as they left the escalator. Four guys, all above average height, dressed in sweatpants and tight v-neck t-shirts. Two with spiked hair. Three in shorts. (It was 50 degrees out, slightly balmy.) King’s Cross Tube Station was lightly crowded that night. The stillness only served to amplify their presence.

“BABY, DON’T YOU WORRY,” they shouted, “’BOUT A THING!”

It was a Saturday night, so I should have expected this. 9 in the evening was still rather early to get a rousing chorus going in a crowded subway.

And yet, they had gotten all of the words correct.

“EVERY LITTLE THING!” they sang in unison, stomping their feet, clapping aggressively. “IS GONNA BE ALL RIGHT!”

They geared up for another chorus, and I watched as a little boy danced to his father, who smiled and tussled his short, golden red hair.

“EVERY LITTLE THIIING!”

Stomp.

“IS GONNA BE ALL RIGHT!”

And as I listened to their voices carrying off into the corridors of the Underground, somehow not getting any dimmer as they walked past, I realized that they weren’t shouting in a British accent, or any accent at all; they were, I slowly realized, yes!—they were completely, unequivocally, American.

You can always spot the American in any crowd. He’ll be the confident-looking motherfucker in Abercrombie sweatpants and flip flops regardless of the weather, impeccably-gelled hair and bloodshot, half-opened eyes, more baked than a glazed honey ham. His name will be Lee, or Brett, or Steve-O, and he will only have two goals in mind: to shotgun the cheapest locally-produced beer his parents’ money can afford, and to fuck a foreign girl that he can add to an ever-expanding map of overseas hook-ups. He marks them on a map of the world, or a globe with brightly colored pins: Paola in Barcelona, Nikita in Prague, Arnbjorg in Oslo, Ling Wang in Shanghai. Someday, he’ll pass this map onto his grand children so they don’t  think he’s some washed-up old prune who never got his dick wet—hell, he still taps asses like he used to tap kegs, what do you think those blue pills are for?

But that’s the future, and this is now. Or the recent past, anyway, when I encountered a pair of Americans, Chad and Brett, during the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. Chad wore flip flops, khaki cargo shorts and a large American flag draped around his sweaty, slab-like shoulders in lieu of a shirt. Fat rolled from his body and jiggled every time he led the crowd around him in a rousing chant of “USA! USA! USA!,” whether they participated or not. Usually, they didn’t. Brett was a frat boy in a flat-brim baseball cap and a rugby jersey that he bought when studying abroad in England, something that rendered him a genuine product of the Continent, he said, a move that gave him added sophistication compared the other members of TKE. Like most Americans he was a “mutt,” someone who claimed ancestry from almost every country in Europe, including some that didn’t exist anymore. “Let’s see,” he said, “I’m part Dutch, like a quarter Swiss, half French on my mom’s side, and the rest is like, Swedish, German, Welsh, Italian Russian, my great-grandfather was Polish, Czechoslovakian, Irish…”

The Irish, yes, please don’t’ forget the Irish, that was the nicest part. It comes in handy for all Americans on a particular day of the year, a day of celebrating the specific cultural achievements of a 32,000-square-mile country by wearing a KISS ME, I’M IRISH shirt and gulping cheap beer with food coloring added to it.

The people around him by Wangfujing were far more discreet: the Germans waved small tricolored flags and spoke their guttural language rapidly, the Japanese clapped occasionally and looked apologetic immediately afterwards, and the British merely stared everyone down sullenly, as if praying for the day when everything they saw returned to the Crown. Only the Chinese around us gave the Americans any competition, and only because they (just as they are in the world) outnumbered the Americans immensely, and, after all, it was only fair to give the home country some credit.

That’s the beauty of the American race: no matter what country you’re in, no matter how backwards and insular the locals are, you will always be thought of as an American: that boisterous, fun-loving rascal who might have sex with your daughter and overpay for tapas. He’s fun to drink with and his attempts at appreciating your culture are condescendingly quaint—until he takes it too far and pees in the community well, or curses the name of a local 14th-century saint. And he always gets outnumbered in a fight, but even as the locals rain blows upon his head they still think, man, this guy could have been the best man at my wedding, at least until three Jager bombs ago.

Being American is a full-time job, foisted upon the tourist’s backpack-toting shoulders. As such, despite my Mongoloid face I am proudly a descendant of the melting pot; that beautiful union of survivors who sound like Don Cheadle in Ocean’s 13, a lifetime’s worth of Anglophile culture distilled from rewatching Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Every conversation I seem to have in pubs has always led off with “you American?” and ended with a sobering discussion of The Blitz. I would counter by lamenting the lack of ranch dressing available in England—a basic staple of nutrition, as far as I was concerned, and its unavailability represented a barbaric and underdeveloped nation—and they would ask me to explain this thing called the “Super Bowl” that they had witnessed a few weeks ago. “It was the green-and-yellows and, uh, they played the black-and-yellows,” said the young man at the pub, who could recite the starting lineup of Arsenal’s 2003-season match against Chelsea won the Premier League cup after being undefeated, along with injuries, walk-ons, cards thrown, and pointed commentary on Chelsea’s lack of defense at the 65-minute mark. “They would throw that rugby ball or something and run a bit, and that was exciting, but they would pause the game every five bloody minutes!”

I couldn’t fault an American—one of the few that actually owned a passport—who had never been to England. After all, why choose rainy skies and an overwhelming familiarity of the language when one could jet set to France, or Italy, or Greece, and complain loudly in his or her mother tongue? But it always shocked me to hear someone say that they’d never been to America. A lesser nation like Canada or Tuvalu, perhaps. But this was America, goddammit: the home of every major cultural export, a country that dominated entertainment, politics, war, fashion sense, and obnoxious celebrities. We tell ourselves that little boys in the Mongolian plains dream of riding horses across the wilds of Texas while wearing a cowboy hat, in a way that their current nomadic horse-based lifestyle just couldn’t match. I had always assumed that by the time anyone was 20, they had lived with relatives in Virginia for a year (for unspecified alimony reasons), attended a wedding at Myrtle each, or spent New Year’s in New York City making bad decisions with flip-flop-shorn men named Chad. Hell, if everyone in the world wanted to come to America, what excuse did the British—with the means and infrastructure to support a cross-continental trip—what excuse did they have?

Americans and Brits are different—that much is painfully obvious. But it’s gratifying to know that somewhere out there is a corner of America where the British can feel just as home as Americans do anywhere else; where they are free to act as shamelessly and undignified as the boy band in King’s Cross. It’s a Walgreens in the outskirts of Orlando, tucked away in a strip mall across from a McDonald’s with “AMERICA’S BIGGEST PLAYPLACE” and “THE LARGEST CHECKERS FRANCHISE IN THE WORLD!” And in Aisle 3, next to shoddily-constructed folding beach chairs and around the corner from Big Flats beer ($2.99 per six-pack), are five shelves lifted right from a Sainsbury’s, or Morrisons. They are stocked with rows upon rows of Irn-Bru, Marmite, John West sardines, Yorkie bars (Not For Girls!), Ribena, Lucozade, HP Sauce, and the idea that back on America’s turf, away from the Starbucks and McDonald’s and boisterous drunken singing we’ve foisted upon the world, the English have some place to call their own. 

Paul

November 14, 2013

His name was Paul, and he was lean-faced and athletic in a grey shirt and an NY Yankees cap, an Army backpack he had bought at a surplus store. He was on his way to play basketball in Venice Beach. We met when he asked me what my nationality was; he was learning Japanese, you see, and he was practicing telling the difference between Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese. He had just about nailed down Korean people. I told him, well, this bus to Santa Monica College is a good place to start.

Paul had just moved here from Detroit. Even though he was a native, it just got too dangerous for him; no place to start a family, he said. In California he had been here for a month, staying in some roach motel on Adams and La Brea—he winced—but he had slept on the beach for a while, where he would lay awake gazing at what stars he could find, wrapped in the breeze and listening to the crashing waves. An ocean from his girlfriend and daughter, who were in New Zealand. He had never been to New Zealand. He tried to spend as much time at the ocean as he could.

He had been with his girlfriend for six years, but had known her family since he was 16; he had never considered that they would end up together until she asked him first. “She’s gorgeous, drop dead gorgeous,” he said. “Both of them! I don’t deserve her. No way, man.” His daughter was three. He had said to his girlfriend, when we have a child, we have to move to New Zealand. Now that she was three, they had no excuses. He had spent the last $300 he had on securing her citizenship; then, with nothing left, he slowly made his way out West. The journey took six months. He did odd jobs, sometimes staying in a town for an entire month, sometimes just a few days, wearing out his welcome on the couches of friends.

The bus pulled into Tongva Park. To our left was the ocean, stoic and shimmering in the heat wave, a last gasp of summer in the dying autumn months. “Do I get off here for Venice?” he asked. I told him, just get off here I suppose, I’m not sure. “Find me on Facebook,” he said as an aside, and we shook hands. I watched him leave the bus, and as it pulled away I saw him gazing at the ocean that lay between his present and his destiny, as close to their love as he could get.  

How I Die

May 18, 2013

You must understand that someday I will die in a cabin deep in the woods of the Alaska tundra. Cold, naked, driven half-mad by isolation, I will attempt to pen a “manifesto” with ink rendered from pork fat and leather strappings, scrawled on the stucco walls of my prefabricated rental cabin of which I have been living illegally in for the past three weeks. Wolves will encircle the cabin, their baying shouts like steel nails driven into my ears. I will attempt to light the stove, but merely fill the room with pathetic sputterings of natural gas. I will bang on the window, knocking tufts of snow off the roof. The wolves will flinch, momentarily. But they will be back.

My untimely death will eventually be determined by the Fairbanks County Coroner as hypothermia, dehydration, exposure, or a measured ability to finally pull the rifle trigger with my frost-bitten feet.

Someday, I will die in my car as it plunges off the Mulholland Highway cliffs. I will clip an apex in my Mazda Miata at speeds generally considered too reckless for this stretch of mountain road, and the off-camber unsettling will disturb my suspension into rebounding incorrectly, thereby invalidating my steering inputs. I will spin out cleanly off the side of the corner and tumble 150 feet to my demise. There is no guardrail. The car flips onto its roof—there is no roof—and a rock penetrates my skull at a force equivalent to a jackhammer. I die instantly in a thicket of dense bushes and am discovered three weeks later, the headlights still on, the radio still turned to KROQ.

I die when a bus, the #7 Big Blue Bus with service to Broadway and Santa Monica, hits me—cleanly, quickly, no mess, just instant blunt force trauma. Even the bystanders agree that there couldn’t possibly be a nicer way to die. The police are impressed with the bus driver’s willingness to cooperate, and his admission that it was the victim’s fault (read: my fault) from jaywalking, and that he got what he deserved, thereby minimizing the amount of paperwork. The firefighters and EMTs that show up are relieved to find that my body is in one piece and that minimal blood is spilled. The intersection is reopened to traffic in a matter of minutes.

Another bus is called in. The passengers get off, take some smartphone photos, then resume their journey on the other bus. Later, they tweet about it as it spreads across the Internet, just in time for a local news station to file a special report pontificating on the role of social media during tragedies. It’s dramatic, but vapid, exactly what I’m used to.

I will be killed by clowns in my sleep.

Or, alternatively, I die in my car when I park it at the end of a dead-end dirt road by a field. I point a revolver in my mouth and pull the trigger. I’m careful to take the top down and aim my head away from the interior, lest I render it in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, thereby lowering its value in the used-car market. Nevertheless, the angle at which my body lies drips fluids down the door and into the seams, where they work themselves into rust-prone doorsills. The smell bakes itself into the interior, especially after they find me (from my tire tracks) three weeks later. The car is scrapped for less than market value. This is disappointing, considering its low mileage for its year.

Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” In that case, my eventual death at the hands of the Detroit Public Works department becomes the highest-grossing film of Judd Apatow’s career. He, along with James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson all retire at an early age, rich in material wealth and life experiences, and move into a beach house in Playa Del Rey where they practice the refined and gentlemanly Gallic game of pétanque. Apatow dedicates himself to the saving of the Miller’s grizzled langur, whose languid expression and tightly-cropped fur subtly reminds him of Rogen’s work.

Feral cats.

Aliens abduct me, but throw me out of their spaceship when they find out that I don’t respond well to the tapping on the kneecaps thing that pediatricians do. I fall to my death.

I die of old age, after a life well lived. Those whose lives I touched in my many years of beneficence surround my hospital bed; they reach out and brush their hands on my gown, tears in their eyes. When I pass, the whole town comes out to my funeral, and the mayor himself delivers my eulogy. Of the community that I dedicated my life, I was a moral and financial pillar, the most beloved man in the county—nay, the tri-state area. I am lived on by an adoring wife and two generations of wonderful offspring. “Oh Blake,” they say as they choke on their words, “I’ll never forget what you did for us.”

And across my thin, wispy features a small smile will spread across my pale lips—because, you see, I am not really dead. I am borne of time immortal, and immortal I shall forever be—the sparkle in my eyes is tied directly to humanity’s fate, and it expires when I do. I am master and ruler of my own fate. The gods bow to me, the ruler immortal! There is hope in the streets, and yet there is anger in heaven. For we have conquered the bounds of unrequited love and championed the falsity of it.

Or, I’ll just die when I slip in the shower.