Some people sleep on soft mattresses. I sleep on a hard mattress, and that makes me better. In fact, I sleep fitfully on an Olympic-grade mattress, a cold and merciless sheet of titanium, a pillowless place where only most-trained slumbernauts can find any rest at all.
And my only meal is the ortolan, a crunchy bird literally drowned in alcohol, which I devour whole a bite at a time, my face draped in a towel so you can not see my bloodied gums sharded with tiny, needlelike bird bones. This is Olympic-style eating. It is the best -
- oh, drop the bullshit, can we?
This essay’s inspired by another essay on FetLife titled Double black diamond sex, which ostensibly has the positive (and correct!) message that you have to find the sexual partner who loves doing what you do, but is sadly wrapped up in the bullshit idea that there’s a style of sex that is superior simply because it is difficult. According to that essay, there’s “beginner” sex and “intermediate” sex and then the dreaded double black-diamond super-ski magnate sex, which not anyone can aspire to.
(Guess what kind of sex the author of this essay has? G’wan. Guess. It’ll be totes surprising.)
And let me say here that difficulty is not goodness. Unless the only music you enjoy is the tweedliest of prog-rock where the musicians play in time-signatures that don’t exist within human thought. Unless the only movie you like is Primer, a time-travel movie so complex that even Wikipedia seems vaguely confused about what actually happened.
The fact is that this Saturday, I went to the Velvet Tango Room, literally one of the top five bars in the entire world, a place where I had $18 cocktails using only the freshest ingredients, with ice cubes that tumbled out of a $10,000 ice machine designed to create perfectly-cubical cubes at zero degrees so they wouldn’t melt your drink, everything squeezed and shaken by hand.
Then I went to Old Fashion Hot Dogs, a dive so divey that I’m not even sure they’re aware enough of the Internet to *have* a website, and paid $3.25 for a bacon-and-egg sandwich.
Both were delicious, in their own ways. Except according to the Double Black-Diamond guy, “a good skier won’t bother with the bunny hill,” and I would never of course be caught dead eating simple food.
There’s this ridiculous hierarchy assholes keep trying to build, where it’s not enough to have found the sex/food/movie they like to experience, but they actively have to start ranking things so what they like is on the goddamned top.
Sex is about enjoyment. And yes, I have my “double black-diamond days” where I feel like breaking out all the skill and equipment and the whipped cream and the gimp suit and the team of Clydesdales, and that can be fucking awesome.
I can also have a quick missionary lay. And that can be just as good.
And it’s not for some people. I get that. Some people need all the acoutrement and the seven-hour fuckfest to get off, and I completely am behind that. They should find like-minded people to swing from the chandeliers with.
But do you have to malign the people who like the quick missionary stuff to do it?
In a world filled with kink, the last thing we fucking need is to take our own preferences and turn them into some sort of objective superiority in order to make people feel like, “Gee, I can’t have the *good* kind of sex.” The good kind of sex is the one that makes all people satisfied. That is not the same as complexity, because I know of some skiers who *can* do the double black-diamond but prefer the gentler slopes because they don’t have to worry as much.
We fuck. We love. We enjoy. Let’s not make this complicated.
Or maybe, according to this fucked-up scale some people are espousing, the more complicated we can make it the better it’ll be. But I think if we apply that logic to relationships, we’ll see how quickly that shit falls apart.
A friend of mine got some wonderful news the other day: her cancer is in remission.
And she felt a terrible guilt.
Because she is a friend of mine, she knows all about Rebecca, and the brain cancer that took her life on her sixth birthday, and she had the reaction of, “Why did I live when that beautiful little girl didn’t?” And perhaps that reaction is natural, and human – survivor’s guilt is a very real thing – but I said something to her, and I want to say it to all of you:
I am thrilled that you’re alive.
I want you healthy.
I want no one on this Earth to die of cancer, ever again. Not a little girl, not an old man, not a middle-aged genderqueer, nobody.
That won’t happen in my lifetime, sadly – “cancer” is an umbrella name for a thousand different different kinds of diseases, and we could completely cure breast cancer and still have the astrocytoma that ravaged Rebecca’s brain running rampant – but I am never going to be angry when someone else lives. I was not in the least comforted by thinking, “Well, other children went through this.” I would have been far more comforted by the knowledge that this was a unique situation, that in all the billions of humans who lived we were the only ones who were watching a child die of a disease we could not cure, and that all the other families were living peacefully and thriving.
If you live, it is a triumph to me. It’s a middle finger thrust into the face of a cold biological process that, God willing, one day science will manage to stop. And in your case, it looks like science did stop it, and good.
I speak for no one else, of course. I don’t know how my wife feels, I don’t know how the Meyers feel, I don’t know what’s normal. But if you’ve had some life-threatening disease and you made it when Rebecca didn’t, I will clap my hands and sing your joy and praise whatever powers that be that you will continue to be ambulatory.
I’m thankful you’re here. Live long. Live well. Live beautifully.
A few months ago, on Facebook, I asked people for a recommendation of a good local tattoo artist. And then, because I am stupid and Facebook is impossible to search, I lost about ten good recommendations from people.
I’m going to be getting a tattoo of Rebecca – a silhouette of a photo taken of her, so I need someone who’s very good at doing photo-perfect work on flabby skin. My friend Kat will also be getting a tattoo to commemorate Rebecca’s life, but hers will be a design that she needs help with, so I need an artist who can also translate rough sketches into actual beauty.
This will be my only tattoo, I think. God willing. So make it good.
And it has to be a local tattoo artist – we have someone good in Pennsylvania, but we don’t want to drive three hours to what might be a multiple-session tattoo. So while I know there are many fine artists in your town, I’m not interested unless your town is near Cleveland.
(I’m also smart enough to know that tattoo artist > tattoo parlor, so specific names will be weighted better.)
Anyway. Thanks for everyone who did recommend last time, and I’m sorry I’m sufficiently dumb to forget to bookmark a Facebook post. If you can recommend here, I will at least be able to Google this post when I find it.
My friend Geoff Hunt asked a great question: What are you most happy to have left behind from your life as a 20-something? And my answer was immediate:
That wandering feeling of uncertainty.
Which is to say that my teenaged years were about trying on masks really rapidly – one week I was seriously into prog rock, then I was a punk because I liked Billy Idol, and then I was soooo into reading 17 Magazine and pop for a while before I figured out that it was for girls. I had no idea who I was, so I kept experimenting – which was totally healthy, of course, because how are you going to know what you really like doing unless you try them all on?
And that’s why a lot of us don’t hang out with our teenaged buddies. It’s not that they’re not nice people. But there’s often these distinct and unpleasant reminders, usually in the form of embarrassing anecdotes, that they knew you before you were fully formed, and they keep highlighting these failed trial runs of Who You Might Be.
I thought I’d left that behind in my twenties, but the truth was that I’d left behind the wild experimentation but kept the idea that there was some role I had to play. I was a Rebel Punk. I was a Rowdy Drinker. I was a Guy Who Slept Around A Lot. I was a Bookseller. I was an Intellectual. I was a Jokester Who Told Funny Stories.
I spent a lot of time feeling like I was doing those roles pretty terribly. Mainly because I was an Intellectual but I hadn’t read all the right books – and more importantly, I didn’t want to, but I kept throwing myself at musty classics I didn’t enjoy because hey, that’s what Intellectuals did. I actually hated going out and getting drunk every night, but everyone else did it after work and it was what Rowdy Drinkers did, and so I did that. Plus, I had to Tell Funny Stories, so the drinking helped with that, even if sometimes I felt like I was exposing way too much of my life with these stories at inappropriate times, but that’s what my heroes did and so did I.
Oh, and I was a Rebel Punk! So I couldn’t enjoy a fine glass of Scotch and a nice meal, I had to be Rebellious and drink crappy beer at clubs that were sometimes fun dives but other times were just fucking uncomfortable pits I couldn’t wait to get out of.
And by the time I got to the end of my twenties, I was coming to realize that roles were like training wheels on a bike. They might be helpful when you’re starting out to give you an idea of how things go, but soon enough they start constraining your journey and they look totally dorky.
So I cast that off.
And I also cast this idea off, in my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon of all time:
Because I had the idea that I had to be A Grown-Up, and A Grown-Up knew How To Do Things, and when my car got broken into then someone would hand me the Big Book Of Insurance Information and I would be magically gifted with all the knowledge. And I spent an inordinate amount of time chastising myself for not knowing how to buy a house, or not understanding how the stock market worked, or having no idea how my furnace worked in my apartment.
The truth was, I eventually realized, that yes, it’s all ad-libbed, and the best skill you can have as a grown-up is Investigation. I don’t know how much about to make a claim on insurance! But I know that there’s a number, and I can call someone there, and have them explain it to me, and then read whatever forms they send me. Today, there’s an Internet I can look at, which is also fantastically helpful.
Which is freeing. I still don’t know much about buying a house. That’s because Gini had bought seven houses in her lifetime, and I let her be good at what she does, and in the unlikely chance I ever have to buy a house solo, I can do research. I don’t have to know it all, and in fact the world is too damned big to carry all of this information I don’t need right now with me, so what if I don’t know how to start a fire in the woods or change my own oil? It’s not relevant. And if I want to learn it, great – certainly I’ve acquired all this silly info on beekeeping, despite the terrible job of it I’ve done this particular summer – but the point is that I’ve shifted away from the idea of Being A Grown-Up, and so I don’t have to memorize this arbitrary list of Things I Feel A Grown-Up Should Know.
And basically, my thirties and forties have become a journey in leaving roles aside and being me. I still sleep around a lot, but I do it because I enjoy it, not because I feel it’s some sort of identity I must project. I know a little more about the stock market, but my investments are mostly simple 401ks and a couple of IRAs, and I am comfortable knowing that my money isn’t completely optimized. And I’ve discovered I’m not an Intellectual at all, I don’t enjoy many of the great classics, and while I can occasionally be smart in public I’m in no way diminished if I haven’t read War and Peace or if someone knows more about the Scottish independence movement than I do.
Basically, in my twenties, I felt this constant, vague shame that I wasn’t living up to something. Now that I’m forty, I’m okay with being ignorant, and not fitting into anyone’s conception of me.
That’s a gift. It’s a wonderful freedom.
I can’t wait to find out what an idiot I’ll think forty-year-old me was, once I get to be sixty. I think that’ll be awesome.
I’d take a couple million from my last movie, and hire some very good hackers to set up an anonymous website. Then I would hire a couple of paparazzi and a private investigator.
This website would be called The Abyss Looks Back At You.com, and its entire purpose would be to:
1) Pick random users on Reddit who have posted links to, or otherwise supported, nude pictures stolen from celebrity cameras. Random. Could be anyone.
2) Have a hacker trace them back to their home address.
3) Get the private investigator to spend five days investigating them.
4) Send the paparazzi to stand outside their houses and take pictures of them. Only them. Not their family. That would be cruel.
Then periodically, I’d just post lengthy exposes of their lives, similar to what the Washington Post did with John Menese, the guy who started The Fappening. Not outright malicious stuff, of course, though if anything horrific turned up, well, we’d have to post that. Making excerpts of their Reddit-anonymized persona and linking it back to their real name, their job, their other hobbies. Posting pictures of them, coming out of their home, eating at restaurants, going to work. Just making it clear that anyone who decided that celebrities were exempt from the normal rules of privacy because they’re celebrities could be, to a very real extent, turned into a celebrity against their will.
Just a little chill, mind you. Just so that anyone passing that kind of thing would know there was a chance – a chance – that posting today’s naked pictures might have someone track back their burner account and show them what happens when someone turned that merciless eye back upon them.
I’d do that. But then again, I’m not a nice guy. And thankfully, I’m neither rich nor famous.
But I’d sure think about it.
My goddaughter Rebecca wore a rainbow princess dress that we got her for Christmas. She loved that thing. I saw her wear that dress more than anything else, wearing it to school, wearing it to play in, tearing around the house in this gaudy, frilly thing.
Last night, Gini and I put the dress in the corner with my dead Grampa’s chair, my dead stepfather’s lumberjack shirt, and my dead Uncle Tommy’s cane. Our little shrine to the fallen. And then we drank a couple of glasses of wine and read Cracked articles aloud to each other to laugh and finally, at two in the morning, I realized I needed an Ativan to sleep on top of that. Now I feel stomach-sick and logy.
I’m coming to realize that this grief is like arthritis, a lifelong condition with flareups. I’ll have good-Rebecca days and bad-Rebecca days, and… they’re all boring. It’s the same emotions over and over again, and I don’t want to talk about them because there’s nothing to be said.
So this is not a particularly good morning. But not quite bad enough to call in sick.
On most days, I keep myself amused through the day by reading comments as they come in (though I often wait until the end of the day to respond). To do that, I usually have to write an entry. And I was in the process of writing an interesting one about how you disclose your relationships to your other partners in poly, because that “How much should I tell them?” is one of the trickiest things about managing multiple partners, and… I just fell apart. I’ll probably do it tonight, God willing. It’s a solid topic.
But on the days I have nothing to offer, I ask you to give me amusement by asking me questions that you honestly want to know the answer to. Not bullshit questions like “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?” but anything else ranging from “So what’s your opinion on curling?” to “How do you manage a girlfriend and a wife?” to “What’s your favorite bit about writing?” to, well, whatever. I’ll answer honestly. And you’ll distract me a bit on a day when I could use some distraction. So it’s a mitzvah. If you can manage it.
Lakewood’s been having a weird trend lately: nerd bars. Or at least two nerd bars, one dedicated to board games and the other to classic arcade gaming, have opened up in the past two weeks. And since my good friend and TOTES NERDCORE RAP SUPERFAN Angie was visiting, we decided to head out and see how this whole nerdy thing worked.
Our first stop was the Barcade, which was a brilliant concept: why not put a bunch of arcade machines in a place where people serve drinks? Oh, wait, Dave and Buster’s did that, busted. Except Barcade has what one newspaper called the “reverse casino” model: all the games are free, but you pay for the drinks.
Okay, that’s not technically true. The selection of pinball machines (which include the Best Pinball Game of All Time, Attack from Mars) cost fifty cents, presumably because repairing pinball machines costs lots of money for spare parts. But you walk in, buy a drink, and get to play classic videogames all night.
This sounds great, and largely it is, but Barcade was so packed this early on that we literally had to elbow people aside to move. You know that rocking convention party where people are jammed in a room hip-to-hip and if you take a step back without warning you’ll knock someone over? Yeah, that crowded. So actually getting to the games was a problem. But the interior was pleasantly designed and clean, with lots of fun drinks – I had the Kevin Bacon, a bourbon-and-candied-bacon drink that was quite tasty, and Angie had the Punky Brewster, which was like cotton candy in a glass.
We would have more and larger drinks, but a) the bar had sadly sold out of their oversized novelty glasses already, and b) it was such a struggle getting to the bar that ordering one drink was enough. (Though the bartenders were a selection of hipster eye candy of both sexes.)
The bar had a really superb selection of classic videogames from the 80s and 90s, and they held Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat tournaments during the week. We watched a guy pile up a million-point score on Robotron 2084. We played Frogger, where Angie schooled me. We played Gyruss, where I schooled Angie.
But the issue was the crowds, which made it hard to play – you had to push through narrow corridors packed with people to get to your machine, and then wait a while for your turn, though thankfully most people were good about the “you lose, you walk” and not abusing the infinite credits. The main exception was a group of superbly annoying Woo Girls who’d camped out by the fucking Ms. Pac-Man machine, which inexplicably allowed continues, so they squealed and stayed for literally an hour as they were all like, “We’re up to 500,000 points now! Look how many screens we’ve gotten!” And everyone else went, “Yes, you fucking morons, you can get to 500,000 if you put infinite quarters in a badly-configured machine.” Why the hell would any free arcade allow continues on a Ms. Pac-Man?
Yet there was something happily convivial about getting snookered and playing the games of our youth. People were happily giving advice, if you needed it, and it would be pretty easy to strike up a conversation if you both found yourself waiting in line for the Street Fighter machine. So the crowds were both a plus and a minus, and I think when the blush is off the rose and there’s enough space to at least walk down the aisles without having to hip-check people out of the way, this will be truly awesome.
I do worry about the hammering, though, as three games were out of commission by the time we got there at 9:30 on a Saturday, and the Centipede machine’s fire button was well on its way to breaking. A bunch of drunks playing arcade machines are an unforgiving bunch, and I hope they have a repairman on call full-time, or soon this place will be a bunch of snapped joysticks.
(One other fascinating bit: there were several really attractive women in total club garb, standing about and looking confused. I think they were just hitting all the clubs in Lakewood and this was an obligatory stop – and while there were no shortage of women piling onto the NBA Jam and Simpsons machines, the club girls kept craning their necks about as if trying to see the appeal of this place.)
Then Angie and I walked down to the Side Quest Bar, which was about twenty minutes away on foot. The Side Quest Bar is devoted to board games – they have a selection that you can pay $1 to rent, and you’re encouraged to bring your own. They were in a soft open, with no food and limited beer selection (though honestly, their limited selection was pretty comprehensive).
Alas, the Side Quest bar was pretty much a solid dive bar with themed drinks, Dr. Who on the overhead screens, and a lot of games. The games were good, but part of the bar is the social aspect, and there weren’t really enough tables to play games on – only two or three big tables that I saw, whereas most of the space was taken up by the bar itself. So when we got there at around 11:00, I wouldn’t have found a place to join in. And I think this bar will succeed on whether it can get strangers to mix, i.e., finding multiple gamers willing to go to a bar to find a pickup game of Dominion or Cards Against Humanity, and I didn’t necessarily see that mixing – mostly groups keeping to themselves. (Though who knows, maybe those groups got there early as mixed people and had formed solid friendships by the time I’d arrived.)
But the atmosphere doesn’t really say “nerd,” unlike Barcade’s cool black themed bar and uniformed servers – it says “bar” with stuff thrown in. But the drinks were nice – I had a butterbeer that was surprisingly cinnamony (which is a nice change of pace from all the butterscotch-o-rama butterbeers I’ve had, if not necessarily superior), and Angie had a Sonic Screwdriver that I would have had more of were it not brimming with Red Bull.
I’ll probably go back to Barcade, as I’ll always play videogames. The Side Quest I may check out later on, to see how it’s evolved after the initial rush of curiosity is over – I suspect that will stand or fall on how creative the owners are at making events that get people in there to play games together. I’d play a Magic tournament there, if there were enough tables, and that spot would be perfect for a good round of pub trivia. So let’s hope.
Just in case you’d like to meet a weasel/hear him speak on panels/throw tomatoes at him, my physical form will be schlepping around the Context convention in Columbus, Ohio in a few scant weeks. You’re welcome to drop by and say hello.
If you’re curious as to what I’ll be talking about there, well, it’s:
9:00 p.m. Friday:
Putting the “Horror” in Cosmic Horror
2:00 p.m. Saturday
Ferrett Steinmetz reads a story for you, maybe even an excerpt from Flex, I dunno, something good
3:00 p.m. Saturday
Social Media for Authors and Readers
5:00 p.m. Saturday
The Art of the Short Story
A nice enough mix, really. Or you can just buy me a drink. I like drinks.
So the Economist fucked up yesterday, posting a review of a book called “Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” which had this whopper of an excerpt:
Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.
And I think I know why that happened, really.
Well, first off this review was an “online extra,” which in terms of most big magazines these days means “extra content that we don’t really look at.” They’re basically blogs, and sometimes people get paid for this and sometimes people don’t, but certainly nobody’s looking too closely at it. So you had a throwaway article that slipped under the radar. That has to be taken into context.
Still. Someone had to glance at it. So why did this pass muster?
See, the thing about slavery in the South – and perhaps one of its greatest horrors – is that it was, above all else, a business. Why were people enslaving other humans and forcing them into slave labor? Well, it was profitable. You had a lot of people making large amounts of money off of it.
So like any business, they found ways to keep refining it. A slave escaped? Let’s close up that security hole. Slaves don’t have a lot of motivation to work? Let’s find ways to terrorize them into being more efficient. Say, how much cotton are those guys picking, anyway? We can’t improve what we can’t measure! So let’s start weighing in, setting quotients, looking for ways to get better yield!
And the blind spot of the Economist is that it thinks all businessmen are good people. It thinks all business is good. And so when someone said, “Hey, these guys who were doing everything that businessmen do right are being maligned!” they shrugged and said Yeah, sure, and let it pass. Because a guy in a suit who’s squeezing profits out of people with reliable, established business practices?
How can he be evil?
Look at the whole of the review, and it’s pretty much a gut reflex of “Why, these men aren’t so different than me, in what they were doing! And yet they’re being treated like they’re villains!” Except, you know, you can be a businessman with great practices and still be a scumbag. It’s called war profiteering. It’s called slavery. It’s called all sorts of things, and yes, it’s still business, because capitalism is not an unfettered good.
In fact, if you look at slavery, it was a very fettered evil.
City of Stairs is the tarnish on R2D2′s dome.
Which is to say that I watched Star Wars again the other day, and what struck me about it this time around is how grungy the technology is. The droids and spaceships are battered, they need polishing, they have the feel of a world that’s been lived in long before you came along. They have the feel of a place that’s been used to serve a purpose other than set dressing.
And City of Stairs, Robert J. Bennett’s latest book, does that with a whole goddamned city.
Characterizing a city is one of the trickiest things a writer can do, and I can think of only one other person who does it consistently; that would be China Mieville. Most writers sort of hand-wave a city the way they do background characters, giving it a single, easily-memorable trait – this is the city of commerce! This is the war city! This is the poor city! – and, if you’re lucky, a couple of districts. And the cities serve well enough as places for the characters to exchange witty dialogue before running out into the wilderness to hack at Sauron’s bones, but there’s always that feeling like they’re not real.
You could live in Bulikov. I don’t know that you’d want to.
It’s a city that has paperwork. And history. And a lot of cultures sloshing around in it. It feels as grungy as C3PO’s battered brass ass, and that is an accomplishment.
The short version of Bulikov is that once, it was a magical city ruled by several marginally-sane and powerful Gods, the seat of an empire that conquered much of the known world – and then a rebellion killed the Gods, and the city fell apart. Literally. A lot of the architecture in the town only worked because the Gods willed it, and so Bulikov – the City of Stairs – is now this dysfunctional and conquered province, and even mentioning that the Gods existed will get you hauled into court. The people are proud and secretive and maybe just a touch resentful that their power’s gone, maybe just a touch relieved because the Gods could rip you to tatters and were not, shall we say, stable creatures.
And of course, there is a murder that triggers an investigation. Because plot.
I don’t mean to make it seem like the city is all the book is about, because that would be boring. Yet Robert J. Bennett is one of the greatest fantasy stylists I know of – if you haven’t read American Elsewhere, which was the first book I read after my heart attack and the perfect book to bring me back to reading after major surgery, then go purchase that – and he writes one of those rare books where I don’t really care what happens, I just lie back and bathe in his words, let them carry me along to strange and distant lands.
But there are characters, vibrant ones – Shara Thivani, the diplomat/spy, who is determined to find out who killed her old professor, and her stoic companion Sigrud.
Sigrud, I will tell you, is the breakout star of this fucking show. Sigrud is… well, at one point he strips naked on an icy river and greases himself up in whale fat, gripping a harpoon, and what happened next was one of the highlights of my literary year. You need a Sigrud in your life, you really do.
In any case, for me, I’ll be honest and say that though I loved it very much, this book didn’t hit the heights of American Elsewhere for me – but American Elsewhere was one of those sacred texts where I read it and it just seemed to sync up with some hidden broadcast signal embedded in my medulla oblongata. City of Stairs, however, seems to be on a different and perhaps more popular frequency, where my Twitter-feed has been ignited with various cries of ZOMG SIGRUD and THE GODS OF BULIKOV and people frantically intellectually masturbating to his pantheon of broken deities.
And Bennett is one of those people where I can say, quite honestly, that you can pick up any book of his and have it be good, and City of Stairs seems poised to be his breakout hit. So get it on it today. It’s coming out next Tuesday. I’d get it now, if I were you.