Will You Help Me Raise $750 To Fight Children’s Cancer?

My goddaughter would have turned ten this year, and that “would have” is your sign that this story does not end well.

I, along with many other loving relatives, held Rebecca when she took her last breath  on her sixth birthday – but that journey to her deathbed was long and agonizing.  I don’t think you can understand just how devastating cancer can be until you see an entire family riding that rollercoaster of hope; this test result looked good, this scan came back indicating everything is stable, and then the doctors sniffle back tears as they tell you that they’ve done everything they can do but this little girl won’t see her sixth birthday.

Rebecca was extraordinary.  She was determined to get her birthday cake.  So she held on, wanly eating cake the night before, passing on the next day.

I wish you could have met her.

But since you can’t, the next best thing I can do is my damndest to make it so that other kids won’t die of cancer.

And so on March 25th, I will shave my head to raise funds for cancer.  Admittedly, shaving the little poof of hair I have isn’t as significant as when I was luxuriously-maned metalhead, but it’s literally all the hair I have to offer.  (And it’ll be the first time I’ve been bald since I was a baby.)

I’m hoping to raise $750 to fight children’s cancer in the next three weeks.  If I hit that donation, I’ll post pictures of my incipient dome.  I’ll even take requests for anything else you might like to see me do.  So if you have the spare funds, I’m asking you to donate as much as you feel comfortable.

Because Rebecca has more of a legacy than many other kids who passed.  She’s tattooed on my arm.  She’s had a charity founded in her name.  Hell, because her Dad was an influential web designer, her favorite color is permanently embedded in your web browser.  That comforts me some days, even if it’s not as comforting as having her around gratuitously insulting me.  (She was the most sarcastic five-year-old you would have ever met.)

But I think of the other kids who died, and are dying right now, the parents hoping with all their hearts for some medical treatment that will stop that impending funeral.  Because remember, cancer’s not some monolithic disease, it’s actually a thousand difference variants, where some strains are more deadly than others.  A lot of cancers that were once death sentences are now commonly survivable.

And I think, “Maybe a couple bucks might make the difference for some child.”

If you think that too, well, I’d appreciate your donation.  Love to you all.

Winning Arguments Doesn’t Make You Right.

My favorite webcomics creator Tailsteak Tweeted this today:

As an veteran winner of arguments, lemme tell you why the man is right. Because I had a shameful habit of debating with lovers about what was “fair” in our relationships.

I won every argument. Rationally. Coldly. Cleanly.

They all left me because I was a dick.

Turns out walling people’s emotions off with logic ultimately loses.

But it goes deeper than that. Because what often happens when you “win” an argument is that you’ve simply chosen a battleground that favors your approach:

  • If you’re quick on your feet, you can “win” any verbal argument against someone who’s slower to form their rebuttals. Take it to a slower pacing, like exchanging emails, and you might find the day it took them to come up with a response completely dismantles your point.
  • If you’ve got access to more “facts,” you can “win” any argument against someone who isn’t as encyclopedic as you are. You see this all the time with creationists, who can pull out reams of plausible-sounding pseudoscientific BS they fling in the air to confuse people who don’t know any better. Or, if you want a real-life example, read the impassioned essays of economists before the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, each trotting out scholarly study after scholarly study to “prove” that this wasn’t just a fluke, tech stocks would rise and never fall. None of their “facts” saved them any money when everything tanked, but they sure did have a lot of information to throw around.
  • If you’re more tolerant of the stress of conflict, you can simply outlast anyone debating you by standing tall against all comers until they get frustrated or upset and walk away. But endurance isn’t correctness.
  • If you’re more charismatic, you can pepper your argument with jokes and write compelling essays spoken in a mellifluous voice that can put a nice fragrance on stinking dogshit. And especially if you’re playing to people’s biases, you can propose fractured ideas that’ll still have people yelling “YEAH!” no matter how many logical gaps that argument has.
  • If you’re logical, you can memorize a list of logical fallacies and poke holes in legitimate concerns all day long until you prove that black is white. It doesn’t hold up to common-sense scrutiny, because life’s messy and feelings aren’t binary, but hey! You’ve never met anyone like the person they’re describing, so that person must be imaginary! STRAW MAN!

…and so on.

The point is that a lot of arguments are “won,” but not really. The people convinced are convinced more, the people who are dubious remain dubious. (And yes, if you think I’m somehow not richly guilty of this, please recognize that I most certainly am guilty as heck. Though I’m trying to get better.)

What I’d argue – and of course I’m arguing now – is that true winnings are holistic. They involve all the variables – engaging both emotion and logic, altering opinions instead of barraging people until they walk away, ensuring the “facts” that hold up your side of the debate match reality as closely as possible in a complex universe.

I don’t know what percentage of arguments that have been counted as “won” have been truly won, even if we break it down on a person-by-person basis. Even leaving aside the people who can’t be budged from their starting opinion, I suspect any number of arguments that someone’s claimed “victory” for were just winning a battle, not the war.

But it’s something to ponder as you’re arguing with your friends and lovers: are you valuing cleverness over thoughtfulness? Are you hauling out facts that aren’t really facts, but are actually a justification for your biases? Do you hold the upper hand only because you’re more belligerent?

I’m not trying to convince you, man. Because I probably can’t. I can only ask the questions.

In the end, on this one, you gotta convince yourself.

“Can’t You Take A Joke?”: On “Humor” In Relationships

I rarely advise people to make fun of their boyfriends’ dicks… but this was kind of a special case.

It was a joke, you see.  All in good fun.


When we first got married, I used to joke about my wife’s age.  She was eleven years older than I was – which I found funny, because I rarely felt that gap.  We had the exact same sense of humor, she was still whiplash-sexy, and if anything she had more of a thirst for adventure than I did.

The age thing cropped up so infrequently that it felt ridiculous that it existed at all.  So I mocked it, by mentioning her lumbago or asking what it was like to ride velociraptors.  Nothing much, just little jokes scattered throughout the week.

After about two years, Gini asked me to stop.  “It makes me feel old when you do that,” she said.  “It’s not funny any more.  I don’t know that it ever was.”

So I hugged her.  And I stopped.

Because I didn’t mean the joke.  Not that way.

And if my wife wasn’t laughing, what was the point?


“He’s a good boyfriend, I guess,” my friend said.  “It’s just that, you know, he keeps making jokes.”

“Jokes,” I said solemnly.  Because my friend didn’t seem like she was laughing.

“Yeah, tiny barbs here and there,” she told me, folding her hands in her lap.  “Little observations about how scatterbrained I am, or snide comments about how I’m slow to catch up with him.  It makes me feel shitty.”

“Have you told him that you don’t think it’s funny?”

“I have! And he gets sullen and says, ‘Well, I don’t wanna have to walk on egg shells around you.  It’s just a joke, can’t you take a joke?’  And you know me, I take lots of jokes, but these – well, they don’t feel – “

“They don’t feel like jokes,” I finished.  “They feel like he’s making secret complaints about you.”

She hung her head.  “…yeah.”

“Well, my advice is to make fun of his dick.”

Her head snapped up.  “Pardon me?”

“I know you’ve complained how your sex life has dropped off recently.  So joke about how his dick doesn’t work as well that it used to.  How you could get way better and more satisfying dicks out there.  It’s funny because it’s true!”

She frowned.  “I don’t think he’d like that a whole lot.  He’s… sensitive about that.”

“I bet he wouldn’t.  But do you have to walk on egg shells around him?  Can’t he take a joke?”


She didn’t actually make fun of his dick.  Because she’s not a jerk.

I would have, but I’m kind of a notable asshole.


But I think about jokes in relationships.  And sometimes jokes are highlighting something that’s ludicrous to you – like for me, that weird dysjunct when Gini and I would discuss the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion only to discover how I was in high school while Gini was long-married and pregnant with her first child, and how could that be when we feel like we should have been teenagers together?

Absurd.  I should make a joke about that one.  To take the edge off.

And then there’s other, darker absurdities, like how ludicrous it is that your partner can’t remember to pick up the damn prescriptions from the store after work, or how they’re too slow to follow this simple plot line in a movie.  And then you make a joke about that, because seriously, this is stupid, the only way to deal with this stupidity is to highlight it.

But who is your joke mean to amuse?  You, or your partner?

And if your partner’s not laughing, what’s that joke really for?


Truth is, a lot of so-called jokes are meant to remind someone that they’re inferior.  And not all those jokes are bad; my wife occasionally makes jokes about how I cannot follow directions, even ones on iPhones, and I laugh because yeah, man, I cannot do that.

Those jokes are shared.  She thinks I’m incompetent at finding my way around, and man, I know I am.

But there are jokes that are actually complaints buried in a razorblade chuckle.  Those jokes are intended to remind other people what a pain in the ass they actually are, and that maybe if you stopped being such a massive disappointment I’d stop jabbing you with this so-called humor.

Because that humor’s not actually that funny, or clever, when you analyze it.  It’s usually an excuse to take a pot shot at someone’s foibles, wrapped in the convenient excuse of “It’s just a joke” if they take offense.  Which, honestly, they should, because you’ve just called them dim or unreasonable or both.

And the great thing about that masked humor is that you never have to own up to it.  “I’m not saying you’re stupid!  It’s just a joke!  A joke I will continue to make long after it has ceased to amuse you in any way, a minor disrespect I will trot out time and time again until you stop doing the thing I deem to be a pain in my ass!”

Basically, those jokes are the coward’s way of telling someone how you feel without ever having to own up to it.  You don’t have to have a big fight because honestly, who wants to keep dating someone who openly thinks you’re intellectually inferior to them?  You can just keep sliding that inference right in.

It’s a good way of making someone feel continually shamed.  And it’s all in good fun.


http://www.theferrett.com/ferrettworks/2018/01/how-to-make-fun-of-trumps-tiny-shrivelled-penis/(For the record, I’m generally not down with dick-shaming, because dicks come in various sizes and you can’t really control whether they work the way you want.  As I’ve mentioned before, shaming people for their penises is kind of a shitty thing to do.

(But that’s the other problem with these sorts of jokes – they’re not nuanced.  The dick joke is a quick substitute for a far more complex conversation which would sound something like “I know you’re not always in the mood, but I still want to feel desired – so even if you’re not up for orgasmic sex on any given night, what compromises should we make so I can feel more of a sense of satisfaction?”

(But me, I’d probably make the dick joke.  Because when I’m in a snippy mood because someone’s taking potshots at me, I tend to return fire via the method I was shot at.  It’s a weakness.  I’m not proud of that, but man I wish I was as perfect as some of my essays make me sound.)


My wife and I are not without these bits of humor ourselves, you realize.  Occasionally we take cheap shots at each other.

“Am I really that much of a pain in the ass?” I’ll ask after the more edged kind of joke.  And she’ll stare at me with that steely gaze of hers, and nod.

“Yep,” she says.

“Righty-O,” I say, and either decide to change my behavior or live with her disapproval.

We’ve got a system.


But I think of my friend’s boyfriend’s jokes, and mine.  I wonder who it was making laugh.  Because when I discovered my jokes were no longer making my wife laugh but instead distressed her, making her feel old when that was not my intent, I stopped in a New York minute.

And I wonder whether my friend’s shame when her boyfriend “jokes” with her is the intended effect.  Because I suspect it is.  I suspect his jokes are his way of letting off steam by venting right in her face, and if she stopped being scatterbrained in the ways that annoyed him, those “jokes” would have fulfilled their purpose.

Which doesn’t make them seem like jokes, but more like whips to goad her into better behavior.

And when you contemplate the way he denies that he thinks any less of her, they’re just jokes, can’t you take a joke, it seems not only like whips but a kind of secretive, manipulative whip.

This behavior, by the way, is not reserved for folks who identify as male – I’ve dated women who had caustic humor to highlight my shortcomings.  And there are whole families who communicate largely through sarcasm and buried resentment, their banked anger jetting out in quips and mean-spirited stories told before as large an audience as they can collect.  “This person is inconvenient or inept,” is the moral of the tale.  “And I hold no hope they will ever improve.”

As it is, I have a friend who has an awkward talk to have – about what jokes are for, and whether they’re worth telling if nobody, not even the joke-teller, is truly laughing.  To discuss whether this is a communication pattern she’s willing to live with, to discover exactly what he thinks of her, to figure out whether this person is truly willing to change their behaviors or whether they just want to justify them.

And I’ll be honest: it’s probably better that she doesn’t make fun of his dick.  It probably wouldn’t get the point across, it’s unwarranted body-shaming, and as noted, it’s not really addressing the fundamental point of her complaint.

But I bet he wouldn’t think it was funny.


To Date, You Must First Pass The Three Rings Of Poly Hell

So you’re polyamorous, and on the prowl for a new partner! You may think love awaits you, especially online – but before you pass through into true poly bliss, you must first pass:


The email drops into your dating profile in-box. The profile picture is attractive, the person can put together a coherent thought, and they say more than “hi” or “sup?”

Hell, that’s better than 90% of your potential connections right off the bat!

So you chat a bit. You wanna find out how this person does poly! Are they relationship anarchists? Are they looking for a triad? Are they furry asexuals hunting for hot cuddles in a chicken suit? It’s unknown, and all terribly exciting!

Then they utter the words that annihilate your hopes:

“We’re poly, but my partner doesn’t know yet.”

That, my friend, is not poly, but your bog-standard cheating. At best, you’ll be the thin end of the wedge as they trot you out after a few awkward dates to go, “Sweetie, I was too chickenshit to have this discussion with you before I had someone on the line to fuck, but… here’s someone who’s agreed to bump uglies with me.” Worst case, you’ll have a bunch of bad sex at your house while they panic every time their cell phone buzzes.

Not good! So you move onto Ring #2….

You’ve progressed – their partner actually knows they’re hunting for new affection, so it could in theory actually be called polyamory! And you decide to get together for a date, and arrive at their house, only to find the walls festooned with icicles.

This place is emotionally cold, man. Positively stygian.

Sometimes that coldness manifests as a couple who talk at each other like they’re firing off clips in each other’s direction – these terse bullets of anger where it’s clear that everything their partner does irritates them like sandpaper. There’s gratuitous eye-rolls, loud excuses made for their partner’s behavior, occasional quick trips to the bathroom so you can’t watch ’em tear up.

Or sometimes it manifests as a frat party – hey, they’re so thrilled that someone else is here to take this asshole away they’re practically pushing you out the door! New lovers are incoming, people who’ll bring joy that this old partner never could, and could you get the fuck out now so I can have the bed? A bed which does not contain old-has-been over here?

Experienced poly people flinch, because they realize what’s happening here: you have a couple who’s imploding, and decided, “Fuck it, we might as well try poly before we break up.”

And sure, maybe you like this person – but they’re like a rocket fired off an earthquaking Krypton, trying to escape the nuclear blast that will consume them all. Which means that dating them means a) leaping face-first into the conflagration of a messy breakup or b) discovering that the reason this breakup wasn’t messy is that they really don’t do emotional entanglements.

Maybe it’s all worth it if this person is the love of your life, but, I mean, it’s date #2, how would you know? So you fire your own escape pod and land in…

Hey, it’s another couple! Funny how couples privilege so often plays a part in this, but let’s not think about this now.

The good news is, they seem nice! The partner you want to date is happy, and they seem to be stable as a unit. This is workable.

And then the lists come.

“Thursday nights are the only night we allow outward dates,” they say firmly. “And there’s no sleepovers.”

“…okay,” you mutter.

“And no kissing in public. Or kissing, period. We do the kissing around here.”

“How’s that work?”

“And you have to clear all the movies and TV shows we might see together, because I’ve promised them everything…”

The list rolls on and on, a bureaucratic parody of love as interpreted through Congressional regulations, and you realize: this couple is happy.

It’s just that they are determined to retain that happiness at all costs.

And they are doing so by treating you as an option that can be quickly jettisoned. You will be walled off by regulations so as to not pose any threat to this central relationship, your joy segmented into tiny, manageable boxes, and should your mutual affection with your new lover cross some nebulously-defined boundary then you will discover just how quickly your newfound metamour will ice you out.

And so you leave, and… congratulations! You have escaped the three rings of poly hell-dates! Except…

Wait. There’s more rings? Rings experienced polyamorous daters may know of, and report in on?

Well, no worries. I’m sure they’re all surmountable. After all, we all know that polyamorous dating is like an onion. Or a parfait. I’m sure there’s dessert in here somewhere.

“Is hard work and making the right decisions now considered a privilege?”

Yesterday, I said this:

“Working with a personal trainer for six months requires a whole lot of privilege: the spare cash to hire one. The surplus time to spend a couple of hours a week in the gym. Enough health to be able to get to the gym and work out effectively.”

And some dude responded with this:

“WTF does privilege have to do with it?

“The money to hire a trainer isn’t privilege. It’s the result of working hard(or smart) minding your budget, and earning it.

“The time to go work out isn’t privilege, it’s time management, and having the discipline to get off the couch and going out and doing it.

“Is society that far gone that hard work and making the right decisions is now considered a privilege?”

Well, let’s examine my career of hard work, shall we?

I’m a programmer.  Part of the reason I am a programmer – one of the few jobs that pays consistently well in this economy – is because my parents were rich enough to afford a PC for me back when a Vic-20 cost about $900 in adjusted numbers.  Growing up in a middle-class household wasn’t something I did – I was just born with.

Yet wait!  I didn’t start out as a programmer.  Honestly, I flunked out of college after six years of sporadic attendance because I was a slacker.  I actually was a dropout who worked in a bookstore, helping maintain their computer tech section.  And because I worked hard and smart there (because I’m much better at hands-on experience than I am sitting in a class), eventually I got hired into their Home Office as a software buyer, then moved laterally into my programming profession which helps pay for a personal trainer.

If I hadn’t had parents well-off enough to get me an Atari 400 (and its awful keyboard) for Christmas, I might have worked in the mystery section instead – and my opportunities in the home office would have been considerably different.  I wouldn’t have been promoted up the chain as quickly, and even if I had been promoted into the home office I wouldn’t have had a lateral move to programming.

In fact, without that foundation of luck at the bottom of some very hard work, I might still be working at Barnes and Noble as an experienced bookseller.

And as luck would have it, I would have been fired yesterday as part of B&N’s “fire all the experienced book clerks” layoffs.

As for my time management, well, I’ve lucked into a stable job that’s mostly day shift.  I could have drifted into game programming, where time crunches mean working 90-hour weeks for months at a time or you get fired.  Or, you know, I’ve got friends who earn less than I do in different fields who work two or three jobs to get by on top of kids, and their spare time is fragmented and incomplete.  My time management is fucking trivial – again, because I stumbled into the right career.

And none of that is accounting for the other privilege that I lucked out with my career.  Programming turned out to be the wave of the future.  Many smart and hard-working people chose careers that the best futurists thought would be stable – I was minoring in journalism in 1989, which seemed stable, but how was I to know that my chosen career of programming would help destroy the career of a reporter, which seemed like a stable choice way back when?

Truth is, there’s a lot of tiny privileges I did very little to get that make for me being able to be a personal trainer – and I haven’t even gotten into “health,” as I have at least two highly motivated friends who would love to work 70 hours a week on their career as I do, but have conditions where they pass out in the middle of the day.

So in light of that, let’s reexamine what you said here:

“The money to hire a trainer isn’t privilege. It’s the result of working hard(or smart) minding your budget, and earning it.”

When you say that, what I hear, my friend, is fear.  Because what you’re peddling is this fantasy where everyone who works hard and smart gets rewarded.

But truth: when I worked in retail, I knew a lot of people who were smarter than me, who worked harder than me.  When you say “The money… is the result of working hard (or smart),” what you’re actually saying – without knowing a damn thing about my history – is that the decent salary I have right now is the result of me being flat-out better than those earning less than I do.

Yet I didn’t choose a career so much as ping-pong around luckily until I found something I was suited for.  I didn’t wake up and say, “I SHALL BE A PROGRAMMER!”

I just, you know, had parents who could afford a computer for me to play SimCity, so when Waldenbooks asked, “Who wants to handle the DOS section?” I went, “Oh, I know how that works.”

A small decision.  Seemed trivial at the time.  But that tiny edge has snowballed over the years, combined with other edges, until here I am, the college dropout in a good job that can get me side benefits of personal training.

That’s privilege.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard.  I’ve worked my ass off at every job, got ahead because I’m bright.  My novels, as noted, are both the result of privilege and maniacally writing seven novels before finally cracking the door with my debut novel Flex.

But I also had luck bubbling beneath it.  And what I’m hearing in your befuddlement is this panicked denial that luck has anything to do with success – the myth of the self-made man where it’s all hard work and skill.

Full truth, my man: some people worked harder than you, and got shit for it.  Some people worked less than you did, and got rewarded in full.

Life isn’t fucking fair.

Which isn’t to say that effort doesn’t matter, because even though the game’s unfair, the best strategy is still hard work and cleverness.  Hard work is like knowing the odds at poker – it gives you a strict advantage over those who don’t do it, but sometimes the cards go against you and all your skills at bluffing and reading tells mean you get cleaned out.

As such, I’m smart enough to realize that without that game of SimCity, I might have given a different answer to that Waldenbooks question.  And I would have been just as smart, just as hard-working, and rewarded entirely differently.

So I think you can work hard without devising this sad fantasy where anyone who’s less successful than you brought their failure upon themselves.  Hard work and making the “right” decisions is not a privilege, but the payoff for that can often be the end result of privilege.

Maybe you call it luck.  I don’t really care.  What I do care about is that you knew nothing about my job and assumed that I earned the cash for a personal trainer from hard work and smart moves, leading to the unfortunate implication that anyone who can’t afford a trainer was either lazy or dumb or both.

I have too many smart friends on the lower tiers of the economic echelon to look them in the eye and say, “You deserve your poverty.”  I know too many trust fund babies from my childhood in Fairfield County, assholes who got $500,000 loans from their daddies to start disastrous businesses and were basically man-children until they were 35 and yet kept getting bailed out until they had some semblance of a stable career.

I can embrace the complexity of “I worked hard and I worked smart” and still realize that one unlucky break could have given me an entirely different outcome.  I can look at what other people don’t have, and work hard (and smart) to try to fix the flaws in society that shut out people who weren’t as lucky as I am in terms of family wealth, in terms of race, in terms of gender, in terms of health.

Like I said about my newfound physical fitness:

“There’s plenty of people who have the levels of financial and physical privilege that I do that didn’t put in the work. So I take a lot of pride in what my wife and I have accomplished in the last six months, even as acknowledging the privilege that lets it happen.

“One does not diminish the other.”

Still true, my friend.  Still true.