Archive for June, 2008

Recently, on one of the handful of websites that I read obsessively while at work, they did a story about one of their favorite topics: men who are clearly douchebags, that want to sleep with a lot of women, and are so convinced of their innate, lotharian qualities that they’re even willing to teach you and me their secret, sextacular techniques (for the low, low price of $99.95).


Folks like Paul Janka, Dmitri the Lover, whatever. That guy “Mystery.”

Inevitably, when something like this happens, one of the commenters always says something along the lines of “Where do these guys come from?”

Well, my friends, let me explain.

You know how on the roads, there are some drivers that are awful? Speeding past people on the right, merging without paying attention, tearing along on the shoulder of the road…just terrible, dangerous people with no concern for anyone else on the road? Bad Drivers.

Obviously, the best thing for a Bad Driver (and for all of us, in general), is for the Bad Driver to get into an accident, because this will either a) teach him the error of his ways, or b) kill him. Possibly c) nothing will happen to him, but I believe that most Bad Drivers are at least capable of basic “fire = hot” learning functions.

Now, when you see a Bad Driver merging blindly into your lane at ninety miles an hour, do you just hunker down and let him crash into you? Of course not! You get your ass out of the way, sometimes in a panic, to make sure he doesn’t hit you. This is because you’re a Good Driver.

There are, generally, more Good Drivers on the road than Bad Drivers, and this is precisely the problem. Because all of the Good Drivers get the fuck out of the way of the Bad Drivers, the Bad Drivers don’t realize that they are shitty drivers. In fact, they are convinced that they are the best drivers in the world: because they always get where they’re going faster than everyone else.

You look at a fellow like Paul Janka, and you can see a similar problem: he’s clearly a predatory douchebag. He insists that his success with women is about 1:10–which isn’t really that impressive. According to an article I once read heard about in Maxim magazine, even a relatively unattractive man can make 1:10. Paul Janka, everyone agrees, is fairly handsome, so his low success rate must be because he’s into teh buttsexxx.

Anyway, what happens when Paul Janka’s in the bar? All of the intelligent women who have self-esteem either spot him a mile off, or quickly realize that he’s an irrepressible dipshit. All of the intelligent men realize that competing over women in the bar is a zero-sum game, and that being near Paul Janka is probably unpleasant. So what happens? Only the woman that secretly feel really bad about themselves, who maybe aren’t really into teh buttsexxx, but will give it a try if they think it will make people like them, actually give him the time of day.

Paul Janka’s very personality automatically selects for the people that will sleep with him, so he’s convinced that he is actually some kind of ladies’ man. Because he doesn’t realize that there’s an entire set of people that avoid him reflexively, he doesn’t realize that his success rate is closer to 1:20, and that he is a terrible man. Instead, he has gained a powerful, over-inflated sense of self-worth (which, ironically, does serve to make him more attractive).


The same thing is probably true about, say, Bill O’Reilly. While Bill was growing up in his well-to-do Long Island suburb, it probably did not take his friends long to realize that arguing with him was both unpleasant and unproductive (Also? He’s clearly into teh buttsexxx). This would naturally lead him to the false assumption that he was right all the time–when, in fact, he was just completely irritating. This leads to the unassailable personal confidence, which enables him to get his own TV show, which continues to be popular because…well, human beings are naturally ingratiating towards bullies. That’s why they still exist.

Now, presumably the number of douchebags in any given society can’t be 100%. In fact, there’s probably a critical mass (I’m guessing between 5% and 16%) at which, like rabid, angry gerbils, they begin to kill each other off. But they’ll never be eliminated completely, because one of the natural and unavoidable side-effects of making a society full of decent fucking human beings is that it ends up accommodating the shitheads.

What all of this boils down to is, I guess, this: being a douchebag can help you be more successful. The trade-off is that no one will like you. Even the people that pretend to like you don’t, really.

You poor, deluded fuckers.

This is what it’s like to have your life flash before your eyes. It’s not really that you live the whole thing over again. And it’s not even that you see images of important times in your life; it’s not some kind of metaphysical highlight reel, a “this is your Album of Kodak Moments.”

One minute you’re driving along, and you’re talking out loud to yourself, enthusiastically upholding both ends of a conversation that you meant to have with the girl that works the cash register at the bookstore, the girl with the really great ass. The next minute, you’re trying to stop and swerve, and you’ve jumped those cheesy aluminum guardrails that are supposed to keep you from flying off the overpass and onto whatever street that was.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how you’ve driven over that street every day for years, now, and you still don’t know what its name is. Here is the street, “Insert Street Name Here,” playing an integral part in your life and you don’t even know what it’s god-damn called.

There’s a single, timeless, breathless moment. A free-fall as your car, no longer driven by you, and instead solely under the command of harsh Physics herself, reaches the top of a parabolic arc, and will shortly begin to careen towards this stupid street whose name you never bothered to learn.

Your body panics. Your adrenal glands go off like fire alarms, flooding your system with all those chemicals whose names you also never bothered to learn, and damned if it isn’t too late now. Your Fight or Flight mechanism, not knowing that it can’t really help you here, anyway, has just wrested control of your body away from your conscious mind. It is feverishly trying to put one of its two skills to work, inhibited by the immutable laws of a) not having anyone to fight, and b) not having anywhere to run to, because you’re wearing your seatbelt, and even if you weren’t, you’re upside-down in a car fifty feet over a busy street. We can presume that a plan will not be forthcoming.

And while your limbic system and your adrenal glands and your subconscious and cerebellum and all your other important, instinctive parts work to try and save your life, your conscious mind finds that it has nothing to do. It is completely out of control. The National Guard has declared martial law, Emergency Services is on the scene, and that self-aggrandizing figurehead Thought is asked, not for the first time, “Why don’t you go for a little walk, boss? We’ve got things taken care of here.”

This is basically the same thing that happens when you dream, except when you dream you’re asleep, so you don’t know it. This time, you’re awake, and you can be privy to all the things that you’re doing, while your mind wanders off down its corridors of memory.

Naturally, you take a moment to look around. The inside of your car is upside-down, but you’re upside down with it, so everything looks about right. It’s the rest of the world that seems confusing—it’s the image beneath you, rising rapidly and strangely slowly, that is inverted. The damp inner-sanctum of your car, filled with the detritus of months of nor bothering to clean it out (I mean old plastic bottles that used to be filled with water, and receipts from what must have been the hundred sandwiches you bought at Subway, a flyer about “Would you like to have your house painted?” There are some old parking tickets as well, that now will never likely be paid, and a hesitant and usually-ignored little bit of consciousness points out that there is an upside to all of this after all.) is all right as rain. It’s just a little shook-up.

Marcel Proust apparently relived his entire life after having a cup of tea, and I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe it is; maybe you did, too, and you forgot it all. Maybe Marcel Proust was some kind of a freak. The fact of the matter is, as fast as your mind can move now, unfettered by the sluggish input from your senses—and it can move fast; you remember a dream, now, in which you spent a full ten years fighting an army of men made from old wooden fence-posts, who had barbed-wire claws and gnashed splintery teeth; you lived a whole decade holding them off, keeping them from the blood-red poppies that grew in the garden beside your house, though of course you cannot now for your life remember why it was so important to defend them—it still cannot move fast enough to give you your whole life.

You take a moment to remember fragments of today. Waiting in the rain for someone to open the door and let you into the bookstore. The greasy smear you left on the window pane after you pressed your forehead against it stands out particularly vividly. There may have been some guilt there; it’s irrational, the way guilt is usually irrational, that you should care about a greasy window on the store that you’ve come to hate. A bookstore, I hear, is a nice place, but good god I wouldn’t want to live there. The blonde girl with the spectacular ass is the one that let you in this morning; she flirted with you, but only a little. She has a boyfriend, of course, and there are laws of destiny that do not respect your skipping heart.

There is a cheap, beige plastic identification card (everything official here is beige; beige is the color of employment, it makes up the coat of arms of Management) with a white piece of paper affixed to it. The paper is held in place by Scotch tape, placed both thoroughly and cunningly, such that it almost seems as if this was a card specially printed for you, instead of a generic card with a white label on it that bears your name, a card that will bear someone else’s name soon enough. The truth is that this is a card that simply does not care what name it carries. Its sole purpose is to be picked up for five seconds, slid through an electronic machine that, through some arcane principles of electricity and magnetic voodoo (and there’s something else that you probably could have taken the time to learn), will record somewhere, somehow, you are clocked in. The card will then be returned to its place, waiting again for its brief orgasm of activity.

The memory of sliding the card through the card-reader is clear as a crystal. It didn’t work the first time, and the machine beeped irritably at you. It did work the second time, and this memory is accompanied by an actual feeling of triumph, and a simultaneous sense of disgust—disgust that a human being could be so degraded in dignity as to feel triumph at so small a victory. Two thoughts came unbidden there, I am quitting this job, was first, and then, I’m going to write a god-damn novel.

It is a peculiar feature of thoughts that the more we feel like we must believe something, the more aggressively we assert it. Surely there is no chance that the Almighty would consign any novel to Hell, simply because its author had quit his job at the bookstore—if that were the case, undoubtedly most novels would be so confined.

Oddly, memory jumps away here, to the sixth grade. Josh and Sam sat with you in the cafeteria, and when you got up to buy milk, leaving behind the brown paper bag that carried your lunch, they would steal your dessert, which consisted of a pair of butterscotch snack-cakes. They did it regularly, and it was utterly infuriating, and yet you never seemed to realize that no one could steal your lunch if you took it with you to buy your milk. Fortunately, you had to pack your own lunch every morning. The memory would certainly have been unbearable if it had been your mother who had made your lunch for you. Worse yet, imagine if she had packed your lunch, but hadn’t told you about the dessert, leaving it as a surprise, perhaps with a little note reminding you to have a good day and that she loved you.

Imagine how many days this might have gone on, and you never realized it, because those two bastard sociopath pre-teens (and let’s not be too harsh on them; aren’t all children bastard sociopaths, in their way?) kept stealing the best part of your lunch. They didn’t even eat it, either; they just peeled the icing off, rolled it into little balls, and stuck it to the ceiling. But imagine, those tokens of your mother’s love, each day going awry. You, not realizing how much your mother did love you, and how much she wanted you to have a good day. And she, not understanding why you never mentioned it. Why you could never just say thank you and give her a hug.

The two of you would have grown to resent each other, slowly and surely. You would think she was uncaring, she would think you were ungrateful.

That’s not how it happened though, or at least that’s not how you remember it. The memory is fickle, for all its stark relief. It is vivid, but there’s a moment of uncertainty, now. Did the boys steal your dessert from you, or did you steal it from someone else? Why didn’t you take your lunch with you when you went to buy milk? Why didn’t you just sit at another table?

This leads directly to a second memory, which is the memory of when you did start to sit at another table, next to Kari Gately who wore short jean shorts and had long, smooth legs, that she didn’t seem to mind letting brush against yours under the table. Middle school is a time for sublimated sexuality; retrospect makes things clear. How would life be different if you’d asked her out then?
Probably much worse, considering the jowls she’d grown by the time your high school reunion had rolled around.

The car is shuddering against the ground now, an intricate series of short jerks and shakes, happening at just such a rhythm as to make it impossible to see or hear. The portion of your brain responsible for doing math—neglected as it has been for so many years—has spent the intervening moments of boredom calculating things. It informs you that you’ve spent three-thousand, one hundred and five hours urinating, sixty-eight thousand, nine hundred and fifty hours sleeping, and that you’ve said, “God, I hate this job, I’m so going to quit it and write a novel” approximately one thousand and ninety-five times in recent memory. That part of your brain goes on to say that this is about once a day, every day for the last three and a half years. Which, coincidentally, is about how long you’ve been working there. It adds that it tried to calculate precisely how many times you’d just said something along the lines of, “Screw it, I’ll do it tomorrow,” but it got tired and give up after sixty thousand.

This would be a time to feel regret, perhaps, but you don’t. Your conscious mind is unmoored from its housing, free from the purely biological thinking of the emotions.
A strange sensation from your neck makes it through the barrier of endorphins that your lower-brain has erected, a kind of armor to protect you from pain. A sudden sense of inevitability rushes in, a wave-front just ahead of a slow, tiny, dark constriction at the edge of your vision.

The afternoon comes back to you, courting coquettish Memory, who so often alludes, so often teases, but so rarely gives up the goods. She is loose and easy today, and she conjures up visions of Kirk, who works at the bookstore with you. Kirk, who almost everyone used to call Captain Kirk, but whose name is really Kurt. A sudden flower of realization blooms, and it occurs to you that the nicknames probably evolved the other way around—from Kurt, to Captain Kurt, to Captain Kirk, to just plain Kirk. “Captain Kurt” is the only weak link in the chain of reasoning, and you make a note to yourself to ask someone about it. You’re almost giddy when you think, “Screw it. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Kirk looks like an old hippie, and has aged exactly the way that old hippies must hope they won’t. His beard is ragged, his hair is lanky. His face is bright red. He seems to be a kind of stubby, perma-fried Santa Claus. Kirk likes to talk about obscure bands, and you had a conversation with him today. At least, you suppose it was today; there’s no real way to tell, because virtually all conversations with Kirk are the same.

Conversations with Kirk go like this:

Kirk, “I just saw ‘Slippery Toad Anus’ at Slappy’s last night.”

You, “I don’t know what that is, Kirk.”

Kirk, “Oh, Slippery Toad Anus was at the forefront of late 70s epic prog-synth rock
movement, before that whole scene got taken over by Whacked-Ass Mindy and flit bulla wok dallalala baghhum fakdug….”

And so on.

Kirk has been working at the bookstore for fifteen years. He has not written a novel. He hasn’t started a band, either, or built a house, or learned German. He’s never seen Morocco. He’s never found his soul-mate.
Your thoughts light, finally, on the one thought they’ve been skirting around this whole time. It’s too late, of course, to really worry about it. A kind of fuzzy darkness has crept in around your eyes, and now you feel like you’ve got glaucoma. You’re just staring up at the dashboard of your car—it’s up now, because the car is inverted. You’re looking at the dust on the dashboard, and realizing that dusting the inside of a car is something that people actually do (and aren’t you still avoiding the issue?), but you can’t turn away or close your eyes or do anything but stare.

It’s not like I ever thought it would be a great novel. You. It’s not like you ever thought it would be a great novel. But it would have been something that was mine, not just something that I was doing, or interested in, but something that was really mine. Yours, I mean. Your novel. The one that you kept thinking over and over in your head. Shit.

Never mind. That’s not the way that it ends. That’s not the last thing that you or anyone else thinks about when their life flashes before their eyes. There is a last thought that pops into the dark, once it’s closed out the last little bit of light. You have one second to think it before fragile consciousness dissolves into rain and dust. One second to think it, the last thing you’ll ever think, one whole thought before it’s over. Do you want to know what it is? It’s this:

“Crap, I forgot to clock-out when I left work.”

Sometimes I feel old.

Not that old. But old-ish.

I’m 28, so yeah. Not old, I’m aware. But I feeeeel it. Down just past my heart and behind my guts. Where the feeling-place is.

I’m not sure where it started. Probably the increasing frequency of married friends with houses and lawns had something to do with it. But I think it may have really kicked in when I joined Minneapolis’s teenaged population at a concert for an indie-rock outfit called Islands. As the kids cheered and requested songs, I noticed that A) all these songs sounded the same, and 2) the skinny-boy jeans worn by half the band were offending me on a lot of different levels, all of which coalesced into this thought: “These damn kids and their tight pants…”

When I walked out of the concert – before it had actually ended, mind you – I saw a middle-aged couple standing outside the doors, wondering if the show was over yet since they’d come to collect their son. I wondered if I would’ve had more fun hanging out with these two. “Oh, I think that was your boy standing quietly near the back, so he could get a better view. Sensible young man, I’m sure he’ll go far…”

But if the slow descent of the aging process brings with it the occasional early onset of crotchety ranting (for which this site is known far and wide), it also brings a bit of wisdom.

A lot of creative types will get maudlin sometimes and tell you that there’s a lot to live up to when you’re in your 20’s. They will point out that Orson Welles had already filmed Citizen Kane by the time he was 25. And look what Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, etc accomplished before they were 27. Hell, look what Buddy Holly did, and he died at age 22.

It’s a bullshit way of thinking, and obviously I’m mature enough at this point not to foolishly compare my life to the cultural big guns. Maybe too mature…

So of course I got to thinking about this while I was tying my shoes on a Monday morning. Monday morning – the absolute worst time for introspection. “Here you are, 28 years old. A book you haven’t done anything with, a writing job that’s rapidly boring you, no real plan for the future…what have you really accomplished so far, old man?”

But then it hit me. Here’s what I’ve accomplished: I’ve successfully outlived a bunch of people who peaked, collapsed under the weight of their own living legends, and died before they could even hit 30.

I’m counting this as a victory. Look what I get to do, that Janice Joplin never will: survive long enough to get more chances to do something very interesting.

A brief moment of before-work clarity. A slight reminder for myself – not yet 30 and already panicky about my legacy – life ain’t a sprint. It’s not a marathon, either. I think it’s a lot closer to one of the zanier adaptations of “Around the World in 80 Days.” Fast, then slow, in frequently uncomfortable weather, using modes of transportation that are just plain wrong. With an occasional cameo by a Hollywood star….

Shit, this metaphor’s gotten away from me.

George Carlin’s death this week was a bummer. But I keep thinking of Bill Hicks, a guy who probably could’ve been Carlin’s greatest successor if pancreatic cancer hadn’t taken him out at the ripe old age of 33. He put it a lot better, and a lot simpler:

“It’s just a ride.”

(Yesterday was my roommate’s birthday, so everyone offer fond wishes and empty promises of wheat beer to Tad.)

-jkh

George Carlin, RIP

Posted: June 23, 2008 in Braak
Tags:


Well, shit. I don’t get hugely depressed when celebrities die, but this is depressing. Just for real, honest-to-god depressing.

George Carlin died last night of heart failure. He was 71.

All things considered, 71 isn’t a bad run. And it’s not like Carlin’s life was especially rarefied; it was a dense and meaningful existence for a lot of people, and it kind of hurts me just thinking about this.

Here is his website; there’s clips on there, a timeline of his life and history.

What I always admired about George Carlin was how fucking smart he was. He wasn’t just a clown, he was a craftsman. He knew how his art worked, he knew the mechanics of his language, the power and function of humor in a way that I don’t think any other comedian ever did. The Marx brothers, maybe, but there were three of them (four, five) so I don’t think they count.

It’s funny, not long ago I was planning on writing a post here in which I showed conclusively why Carlos Mencia is a shitty comedian; I was going to use transcripts from one of his routines, and compare them to one of George Carlin’s, and point out how the former really is just an inferior artist.

Now, I’m not going to. Fuck Carlos Mencia, that ignorant pile of shit. It pisses me off that we get to keep fat Ned and lose Carlin. If there is a God, this is incontrovertible proof that he’s got no sense of humor, no matter how fucking ridiculous the platypus is.

Rest in peace, George. You’ll be missed.

Shut Up

Posted: June 20, 2008 in Anney E. J. Ryan
Tags: ,

It wasn’t embarrassing enough to be rejected by my family. I had to go and tell my best friend about the witch.

Lisa lived down the street; she was a freckly little blond, with painted fingernails and the mouth of a teenager. But she was not beyond playing with Barbie dolls.

One Saturday afternoon, we played with our Barbies on my bedroom floor. We started with innocent stories: Melissa had a job interview; Becky had a gymnastic meet. Then the Ken dolls marched in. The Barbies stopped whatever they were doing to have sex with them. Neither one of us had been given “the talk” yet, so the sex consisted of removing the Barbies’ and Kens’ clothes and having them plant random kisses on each other’s privates. At the sudden knock of the door, we shrieked and threw the dolls under the bed.

Mom entered and announced that she was taking orders for lunch.

When she left, we cracked up laughing. If I couldn’t tell Lisa, who could I tell?

I put down the Barbies.

“Can I tell you something?”

“What?” she asked.

“This is going to sound really crazy,” I said. “But a few weeks ago, while I was trying to fall asleep, I saw the head of a witch pop up on the side of my bed. I swear to God. It was not just my imagination. It was real.”

“That’s really freaky,” Lisa said. “You know what? I saw the same thing the other night. I was sleeping and I woke up to pee. When I came back, there was this head in the middle of my bed. It looked exactly like you described it. Only it had a green face!”

I gasped. The air punched out of my stomach. This instant, unquestionable belief was not at all what I expected to hear and yet, perfectly tuned to my own private thoughts.

As if we were in some horror movie, the room grew dark, and all the noises of traffic and birds ceased in the windows. I couldn’t believe it. Something was happening. I knew I had been right. It felt so good to be right, I hardly felt scared. Instead, I felt purpose. A mission had been presented to me. Was I brave enough to take it on? Dammit. Yes.

“Lisa!” I hissed, grabbing her hands. “We have to do something!”

“What?”

“Ask your mom if you can sleep over tonight. We’ll sit up until my parents go to bed. Then, we’ll go up into the attic, because I’m sure that’s where she lives. That’s the only possible place. And I can’t climb up to the attic by myself.”

“Shut up!” Lisa erupted with giggling. “I never saw no head on the side of my bed!”

“You didn’t?”

Lisa cried, “No! God, you are so weird.”

I stared at the carpet, tongue-hooked and stung by the air that suddenly hurt all over my skin.

“Girls!” Mom called. “Lunch is ready!”

Lisa started to clean up. I watched her hands remove her clothes from my dolls, and my clothes from her dolls.

“Don’t put everything away. We can play after lunch,” I said.

“I gotta go home.”

“Because I saw something on the side of my bed?”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “No, because I have to go to the mall with my mom.”

We put the Barbies away. She placed hers in their pink plastic square case. I lay mine in a vintage green valise that my mother had given me. Wordlessly, we thundered down the stairs and to the kitchen.

What could I say? Nobody had told me that secrets weren’t meant for best friends, but strangers on a train, never to be seen again.

We sat, eating our grilled cheeses and zoning out to the Cosbys on the tiny kitchen TV. The screen blurred beneath my burning eyes. It was an episode I’d seen a million times. Really I just wanted to look like I was watching the show.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d said. How could I have been so stupid? Of course she wouldn’t believe me. Lisa was right. I was weird. Not because I had seen a witch on the side of my bed, but because I talked about it. I crossed that line drawn between the people who talk about such things and the people who don’t.

But I still didn’t know when to shut up.

After a period of way too long silence, I looked up at Lisa and asked, “So what are you and your mom doing at the mall?”

-AEJR

I meant this to be my first entry, but I found myself grappling with the tone. And then I started listening to The Who a lot, and got distracted. The tonal problem stems from the opening sentence, so I’ll just say it, and ask for a little patience:

Nazis fucking fascinate me.

Just…just hold on a second.

I don’t mean Nazism. It’s wrong-headed and abhorrent and disgusting. Obviously.

But the fact is, the leaders of the Nazi party were in the classic sense Evil Geniuses, and so it’s hard for me not to be intrigued.

I learned this about myself a while back: if the History Channel is airing one of those specials on the religion or the weaponry of the Third Reich, I do not change the channel.

Anything discussing the history of World War II? I’m just not terribly into it. I get that it’s important, a defining period of the 20th century, but, y’know, I went through 10th grade history. I got it.

But start talking about how a complete mythology of the Aryan ideal was concocted from whole cloth as a means of uniting a nation? I’m there.

Show me concept designs of the strange-ass weapons they were trying to develop? Don’t touch that dial.

Sadly, what may keep me interested is my dork-sense recognition of it all: the Nazis were the only real-life supervillain group of the modern world.

Cobra, the evil organization bent on world conquest, opposed only by G.I. Joe, could not have possibly come up with crazier ideas than the Nazis. And Cobra was a cartoon.

(This is especially glib when you read that the writers on “G.I. Joe” only hit their stride on Cobra Commander when they stopped writing him like Hitler and started writing him like Yosemite Sam. Which is a great example of one of our greatest defense mechanisms: Take something that scares us, and make it a cartoon. Anyway.)


Here’s what really honks me off. It’s that these lunatic ideas weren’t even ideals, so much as a means to an end.


Himmler shoved a wildly esoteric and otherwise completely discarded Aryan mythology down everyone’s throats because he believed it to be a rallying tool to unite the German people. That the Ubermensch depicted in this mythology is a tall, blonde, blue-eyed man-among-men, a polar opposite to the short, dark-haired lunatic they called leader didn’t matter. It was a glorious image, and that it had no relevance to reality was an afterthought.

More disconcertingly, the Third Reich had such astounding plans for breaking the bonds of gravity – of reaching outer space – that at the time they would reasonably have been considered fever dreams.

But what was their primary goal? Was it the development of a moon base, or a space station that would rocket the human race out to the great beyond?

No. The grand idea of the Nazi party was a space-based laser beam that could burn London to the ground.

I tend to be amazed at the presence of geniuses in the world. People with both brainpower and vision. People who could change the course of history.

And every time I look into the possibilities of the braintrust behind the Nazi party, I can’t help but be disappointed.

(See, it’s sentences like that that made me want to wait a while before writing this one up. Tell me I’ve gained a certain level of trust from you all by now.)

I’m not disappointed in Nazis. Obviously.

I’m just disappointed that such staggering imagination, these fantastic dreams that could have propelled the human race into the future, were owned by power-hungry, hateful fucking lunatics. Even worse, lunatics who weren’t necessarily actual racists. A racist at least has a belief structure, warped and inhuman as it is. But these bastards were just so cynically manipulative, that they saw how well hate could work as a means to an end and said, “Let’s try that.”

These were men who looked up at the sky with absolute certainty that the human race could get up there. But as far as they were concerned, the only reason to do it was to scorch the hell out of Europe.

How could people of such limitless imagination have been so limited in scope? How could they have dreamed of the heavens only as a means of creating hell on earth?

Why would anyone want to use their genius that way?

If the Nazi party could have dreamed the future without coloring it with hatred and horror. If they could have powered their potential technology with love and fellow-feeling.

I realize that at best, I’m asking, “Why couldn’t they have used their powers for good instead of evil?” And at worst, I’m just wondering, “What if the Nazis were really smart hippies?” But as a guy constantly looking at tomorrow and wondering why we weren’t there half a century ago, I have to ask that big what-if:

If the Nazis weren’t such stupid hateful fucking bastards, if they recognized that we’re all part of the same world, the same chemistry-set we call life. If the men behind the most horrendous atrocities of modern history could’ve just played for Team Humanity…what could the 20th century have been?

So, when are midgets funny?

If you watch the trailers for the new Mike Meyers movie The Love Guru, you will obtain three—and only three!—pieces of information:

  1. Mike Meyers wears a fake nose.
  2. Jessica Alba is pretty.
  3. There is a midget.

This is assuming you didn’t already know number two, which is possible. Maybe you live in a cave on Mars, I don’t know.

Anyway, I think it’s important that we take a moment here to talk about midgets, when midgets are funny, and precisely what makes them funny. If you’re like me, you watched the scenes in the preview, in which Verne Troyer (who is a midget) was exploded across the ice hockey rink by a defibrillator, or punched Mike Myers in the testicles, or had a tiny office with a very low ceiling on which Mike Myers hits his head, and you thought to yourself, “Huh.”

The key to humor, as anyone that’s spent any time telling jokes will be able to tell you, is to set up a particular expectation in the mind of the audience—implicitly or explicitly—and then to confound that expectation through action. The problem with the midget jokes in this Love Guru thing is that they don’t actually set up an expectation at all.

See, all of these jokes hinge on the fact that Verne Troyer is short. The reason the defibrillator shoots him across the hockey rink is because he is short (really, that’s not how a defibrillator works at all, but it’s how it looks like it works, so whatever). The reason he has a tiny office is because he is short. The reason he is able to punch Mike Myers in the testicles (Oh, how I wish I had the chance to punch Mike Myers in the testicles!) is because he is short. Get it? GET IT? HE’S VERY SHORT!

The problem is that midgets aren’t funny because they’re short, they’re funny because they’re unlikely. When the joke is that a midget’s short, there’s no upset expectation—after all, we can see that he’s short. We expect him to be short. So, when he punches Mike Meyers in the balls because it’s as high as he can reach, it’s not especially funny. Though it is kind of satisfying.

But let’s take a case where a midget was funny—remember back in the early years of Scrubs, when it was good? Zach Braff’s character had that daydream of something horrible lurking in the closet, and he opens the door, and a karate midget jumps out and punches him in the testicles? (Oh, how I wish I had the chance to punch Zach Braff in the testicles!) That was funny. Why? Because of all the things we were expecting to see, the last thing was a karate midget.

From the same show, there was an episode in which the Janitor breaks a broom, in a threatening fashion.

JD: Is that supposed to scare me?

Janitor: No, I had my own reasons for doing it.

JD: What possible reason could there be for breaking a broom in half?

The Janitor then hands the broom to his assistant, the karate midget from earlier in the season, who was standing out of sight. This is funny! Why? Because firstly, we weren’t expecting that there was a good reason for him to break the broom—he responded to JD’s question in a fashion that we are familiar with: that of a man hastily trying to cover a poor decision with lies. But he was telling the truth! Secondly, whatever reason that there was for breaking the broom, the last thing we’d have thought would be that it was to make a tiny broom for a midget.

Of course, both of these jokes rely on the midget being short—the fact that he’s a midget is essential to making the surprise a direct and logical, though completely unexpected, result of the action—but the fact that he’s a midget isn’t the joke itself.

If you want to tell a joke with a midget, you’ve got to make sure that you make use of the midget correctly. Otherwise, your audience consists entirely of people who desperately want to laugh at the unlucky but think that they’re not supposed to (or: everyone that listens to Howard Stern). Based on this preview, we must conclude that The Love Guru does not make adequate or correct use of its midget.

What does this mean? One of two things. Either a) this was an inaccurate preview for a good movie, or b) this was an accurate preview of a terrible movie. I am expecting that (b) is the correct choice, so, I guess the joke will be on me if it’s (a).