The Evil Within

It’s hard to tell if some of the internet’s favorite darkest jokes are funny anymore.  Some white guy shoots another dozen people, we ask “WHERE WAS HE RADICALIZED?”  The President says something rash, and we nervously laugh about nuclear war.  And in recent weeks, we quip about how everybody would be fine if we just followed Mike Pence’s rules, or if we wouldn’t be better off if we just got all men out of government, or how we’d rather hear that beloved public figures had died than that they’d done the seemingly inevitable act of harassment or worse.

It’s common, is the point.  Astonishingly common.  The rule, rather than the exception, maybe.

Maybe some of these more intentionally-strident statements on Twitter are actually right.  Maybe it’s ironically right to stereotype based on gender, but the stereotype is that men are likely to turn bad.  Maybe we’re all carriers of this disease and its emergence is more likely and tougher to battle than any of us might care to admit.

Logically enough, i then wonder, what if it happens to me?  When do i become compelled to do something this (pick one on a range from: stupid > shitty > immoral > horrible)?  What happens, does a switch flip?  Is it age?  Is it triggered by wealth or advancement in society?  Is it lurking?

There’s something that naturally bristles when you see people say that all this awfulness is partially your fault when you know you’re not awful.  Like watching the umpteenth episode of DuckTales where the boys learned that Webigail could do anything they could, and 11-year-old me thinking ‘i fucking know that already’.  It doesn’t matter, until someday in the distant distant future it’s somehow made right, it’s for those of us carriers of the evil gene to deal with.  Not being evil is not enough, you have to at least support the idea that it exists and still requires work.  Maybe it’s complacency, decades of conviction and assurance that you’re a good person, that allows it to sneak up on you, and one day you find yourself defiling a potted plant and thinking you’re still okay.

Don’t get me wrong, i don’t actually think that i’m going to turn evil someday, but maybe considering the possibility that we all might be capable of this behavior is a good reminder to, you know, not.

Why even bother?

Walking up the empty ramp into my polling place in an off-year election this morning, i was struck by how different it was from last year, and how it yet acutely reminded me of Election Day in 2016.  Normal life existed before then, normal life where you didn’t (even as a straight white male), feel like you had to be fighting all the time, and when you didn’t check news websites every morning and use their font size as a proxy for how bad the first news of the morning was.

Life before Election Day a year ago was nuts, sure, but the direction it was headed in was more or less the same direction it had been.  Everything basically sucked, and was likely to keep sucking unless you were a rich straight white male, but it was a gradual suck for most of us.  Things were going to cost more, you were going to get sick, your employer probably could give two shits about you, and your governments were never going to be able to do enough for any of us.  But it wasn’t getting worse, and it wasn’t getting worse by-design.

It’s this last part that makes us really feel like we’re in a bad movie, or a prestige cable drama that’s maybe just a little too grim for its own good. The fact of it is, while there remain groups of people that have been unfairly targeted yet again, these assholes have basically come for all of us, too many times in the last year.  On Election Day last year, even before you factor in what it must be like for minorities of one kind or another, we were all doomed to be materially hurt by our government.  Even/especially people who voted for the motherfucker.  A switch was flipped, and each and every one of our futures was dimmed.

We’ve had to struggle to keep the harm to our health insurance merely serious and costly rather than fatal and astronomically expensive.  We’re in a battle to prevent our taxes from going up to pay for nothing that benefits us.  We’re all going to breathe dirtier air and more of us will watch our homes flood sooner.  We’re all in greater danger of being shot by some asshole who shouldn’t have a gun.  And every last one of us is in line to get fucked harder and more often and in ways we can’t defend by increasingly unaccountable corporations.  And that’s before we think about the increased possibility of shooting, even nuclear war.  A switch was flipped and everything sucked.

And beyond the use of our country’s machinery to make everything terrible, they’re going and breaking the machine.  Firing career public servants, leaving countless more offices dark and gathering dust.  Perverting institutions that should be protecting citizens. Hiding information from us at every turn.  And taking every step to ensure each subsequent election will be more engineered for unfairness than the last.

Escapes from this bleak reality remain tempting in substantial ways.  Mueller’s investigation feels real, feels like the work of the sorts of ferociously competent people we used to have in our government.  The burgeoning farm team of young progressives running for stuff everywhere might start bearing fruit in time to displace these monsters.  But what if he fires Mueller?  What if Mueller has the goods and no one cares?  What if he’s voted out and won’t go.  What if the part of the country that’s been told that everybody’s conspiring against them and their guns doesn’t take losing well?  Like nuclear war, this is a thing we have to think about now.

This doesn’t mean i’m giving up.  After all, i’m still sticking up signs and rage-donating and ready to go fight to undo this next year.  But a day like today is a reminder that we’re at the bottom of the hill, looking a long way up.  It’s not fine.

Road Trips, Expected and Otherwise

This is long.  I don’t even know why, but it was fun to write.

Normally, the girl and i do not put a lot of mileage on our car.  Neither of us drive to work, and our routine activities don’t really add up to all that much.  So it’s been a fun month for the car in that we took two ~2000-mile trips up and down the eastern seaboard.  For reasons.

One of these was planned a long time ago, the new and improved summer version of my side of the family’s every-two-years Thanksgiving conclave.  A giant house with everything you could want, with the Outer Banks beaches as its backyard beckoned for a week of slacking off and drinking a ton of beer.  With enough beer, even i probably would like the beach more.

To North Carolina

We set off from Boston on a Friday afternoon and made fine time toward our halfway point in coastal Delaware.  Somewhere near the ironically named Walt Whitman service area on the New Jersey Turnpike, texts start flooding in.  About this.  First we figure we’ll just improvise, as it’s just a power outage.  Buy a lot of ice, plan on perspiring more and altering our grocery plans.  My mom, already in a motel for the night, stocked up on flashlights, because dealing with situations like this is her superpower.  A half-hour further down the road, and the text messages changed further.  Now it was an evacuation, destined to be a long one.  Now my mom’s working magic on her iPad, and suddenly several cars worth of us are all making a right turn and heading west.  As shown.

There’s no booking alternate accommodations on the beach in the summer for 14 people on zero notice, probably not for any amount of money.  Thus did we find ourselves still in North Carolina, but in the mountains of Asheville.  Specifically in a golf/aviation (yes, really) resort on top of a mountain.  So anyway, this is a change of plans, and we packed wrong for it, bought the wrong liquor for it, etc., but we are resourceful people.

Some things we learned:

  • Fuck golf resorts.  We rented a nice house in a nice, but not busy golf resort, with a clubhouse on top of the mountain with gobsmackingly nice views.  It even had a bar!  An empty bar with reasonably priced drinks!  Seemingly begging for well-behaved lushes like ourselves to exchange money for said drinks!  But they don’t take money, they start by asking for a $25 resort fee.  Per day.  Per adult.  Then you can pay for your drinks.  Perfectly engineered to keep the merely comfortable away from the actual 1%, ’cause while i can afford that, fuck you for asking.  Also golf, as typically practiced, is dumb and a waste of human effort.
  • There must be something in the water (or the tax breaks) in Asheville, as three different west coast breweries have branches in the area, as well as numerous homegrown ones.  So much cheap beer to drink in so many places.
  • The fact that there’s a US Forest Service-run natural rock waterslide that you can go play on for $2 is kind of amazing.
  • The Biltmore Estate is pretty cool (once we realized it was a thing you might go see in the area).  It is impressively large, but it’s telling that the thing that’s most often mentioned is how many rooms it has, it’s so impressively subdivided.  As the girl noted, it’s almost like it’s half mansion, half hotel.  And more than half park.
  • This part of North Carolina somehow has butterflies like we have mosquitoes.

To the Middle of Nowhere

After that (also, quality family time, including indoctrinating both my octogenarian great-aunt and my six-year-old nephew into playing ruthless games of Asshole), the girl had another quest for the ride home.  There’s a state park in northern Pennsylvania renowned for the darkest night skies east of the Mississippi, so she figured we should go chase the Milky Way.

One corollary to there being dark skies, which we quickly picked up upon, is remoteness.  Cherry Springs State Park is something like ninety minutes north of I-80.  About 20 minutes into that, we began to appreciate that there would be many closed gas stations between us and our destination, but maybe no open ones.  We backtracked and filled up, and were proven right.

This is well and truly Real America we’re driving through now; ‘towns’ that consist of six ramshackle houses, maybe three with any signs of life, but most with at least four cars (or what used to be cars).  Windy, narrow roads with no speed limit posted.  A burbling stream out our window.  Bugs pelting the windshield like driving through a snow squall.  Progressively smaller roads pointed further from civilization.

Finally we find it, and sure enough, it’s plenty full, with lots of people looking up.  Unfortunately they’re looking up at a full moon (which we knew about, and knew it would set later), and a persistent haze.  We pitched the tent in the dark easily enough, and sat and had a dinner of leftover Chips Ahoy and a beer.  After nearly half a dozen times taking the girl camping, i’ve still yet to actually do it well.  Maybe it pours rain, maybe it’s cold, or maybe we’re just half-assing it on the way somewhere else.  But i swear, you can get good at it, sleep well and warm, eat good food, and enjoy a fire all night.

So we get up several times through the night and look up.  Now there are a lot of stars, far more than we city dwellers are used to.  But we also know it’s not enough.  The just-set Moon is lighting the haze enough to hide a lot of the stars. It’s still nice, though.

The next day, it’s a further 90 minutes on back roads in the middle of nowhere until we get to I-86 in New York.  Through all this, i remain suspicious at Apple Maps’ decision making, but not once is she wrong.  More on this later.

To the Beach, For Real This Time

The girl was, to put it mildly, disappointed to have missed out on a week on the Outer Banks, as she does love the beach so.  Since we were already going to quest toward the totality of the eclipse, and this meant a lengthy drive in one or more directions, it made sense to at least rig it to stop somewhere near the water.  Thus:

As we drove south on Saturday morning, the girl was entertained in the car by play-by-play of Boston vs. Internet Nazis; even though it wasn’t a very close game, we regretted missing it.

So here’s where we started to appreciate, if not trust our telephone copilot.  Traffic bit us hard on this trip.  First, she routed us around a stopped bridge through scenic Chester, PA. Later, back roads in Delaware instead of the highways.  Sometimes it was a break-even, sometimes it was a huge savings, but we started to notice that if nothing else, these alternate routes were taking us places we maybe wouldn’t see otherwise.  Boring places, crappy places, beautiful places, but at the very least, parts of part of the country we wouldn’t have seen.  Considering how i lament road-tripping with no time to take side trips, having a computer there to generate advantageous detours really changes the experience.

In any event, we arrived at the Bay Bridge/Tunnel at sunset, which is a good time to arrive there.

So i hadn’t been back to the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area since i was in NROTC as a college sophomore; i spent a month there in the summer of 1995 doing push-ups and learning about the Navy and the Marines.  Anyway, not a lot of time at the beach.  Which is nice, if you’re into beaches, but even nicer if you like seeing F-18s taking off constantly or SH-60s buzzing the coast.  The beach was just teeming with people, lounging immersed in the shallows at low tide on a hot day.  And even i like playing in the waves.

But time for business.  The eclipse being a rather fixed deadline, we needed to get within shouting distance of it that night.  This is where we started running into the fun of lane closures on weeknights on two-lane interstates.  Watching the arrival time tick up on the phone, and debating back-roads-at-night versus actual stopped traffic.

This is also where we tried Bojangles.  Listen, i am a Popeye’s devotee, having spent formative years in New Orleans, but there are people who will try to tell you Bojangles is better.  This is untrue.  Chicken’s different.  Spicier at first, maybe, and with a good flavor, but less crispy and not as much like crack.  The sides are quite good, but really my quarrel here is with the biscuits, my good sir.  i say, suh, these biscuits are not up to any comparison <slaps them with a glove>.

To the End of the World

Anyway, the following morning we get up and bounce early and start heading south.  Traffic is heavy, and frequently stopped, but not the sort of thing that will prevent us from getting to our destination.  But, as my wife the weather person reports, our intended destination of Columbia is due for 47% cloud cover.  90 minutes west, Greenville has 25%.  We ask the phone lady nicely, she refers us promptly to a narrow side road with no yellow line and no cars, and we set off west, confidently.  It wasn’t scenic, but it was easy.  We even stopped for gas and what, judging by the line, was the only convenience store with a bathroom for miles.  Maybe i made some rash decisions there.

Emerging from the woods, it turned out Greenville is a nice little college town.  We immediately take the girl to a cocktail bar with a roof deck (full, sadly) and drink a little.  Perusing the map a little showed two parks, one along the river and promising a waterfall.  And sure enough it’s just covered with people, some sitting in the water, others walking around, plenty of nerds with telescopes and shadowboxes, and high-end cameras.

This is the part where we stress heavily: There is no substitute for the actual totality of an eclipse.  

It’s impossible to describe sufficiently or do justice to with bad photos.  It looks like something you’ve seen before, but only in movies or science fiction.  Like some malevolent force has covered it over.  Or like the sun is the malevolent force just barely being held back, with the wispy, fingery corona spilling out.  It feels like a dark amusement park ride when someone accidentally turns the lights on, ironically, like some mechanism behind every day of your life has suddenly been exposed.  The two minutes passes quickly, and light spills out the other side like molten metal.

Staying in a Motel Would Be Too Easy

Now we had a day and a half to drive back to Boston, and obviously we wanted to make headway that afternoon.  The highways out of Greenville were clogged, so we got routed on surface roads, to suburban roads, to rural roads to get around them.  It wasn’t the massive gridlock that people thought might happen, but it was a big, significant movement of people the whole day.  We could tell because we were following this crazy backroads route with other cars from northern states (and in heavy traffic once we returned to the interstate, again, all people like us returning north).  Amusingly, we got within an hour of where we were in Asheville two weeks earlier.

So the plan was to camp the night in Shenandoah and close the loop by getting to see the Milky Way in the sky.  Conditions were perfect for it, but traffic meant that we reached Skyline Drive at midnight, with 25 miles to drive at 35mph, with presumed furry creatures waiting to jump in front of us at all times.  It was not awesome.

But the skies were perfect.  A nice band of the Milky Way (you know you’re looking at the right thing when you have to spend time deciding if it’s a cloud), and many orders of magnitude more stars than we get at home.  A trickle of shooting stars, even.  Getting up to take a leak at three in the morning becomes the greatest thing.

Other Stuff

  • Between the two trips we maybe ate at McDonald’s eight times, which is like, half a year’s worth for me.  It was glorious.  We also went to a Wendy’s, a Burger King, an Arby’s (not just for Jon Stewart), a Bojangles, a Dairy Queen.  No Chick-Fil-A or Hardees, obviously.
  • The girl continues to profess her love of Circle Ks, and their still-100% record on clean bathrooms.
  • Does anyone know why abandoned cars and road debris proliferate like mad as soon as you cross the Mason-Dixon line?
  • Similarly, why do people pull over into the left-side breakdown lane down there?  This is dangerous madness.
  • The further you get from Boston, the fewer Mini Countrymen you see.
  • The two trips were 4,300 miles in total.
  • There were actually very few Tr*mp stickers and signs out there in Real America.  Plenty of confederate flags, though.
  • In a line at a fast food restaurant, an older gentleman looks at the UHC logo on my Revs jersey and asks if i’m in the healthcare industry.  Polite conversation follows, we northerners squirm and wonder why.
  • After spending $28 in tolls in New Jersey alone, we again decided that Massachusetts needs to toll out-of-state-drivers better.
  • Related: Why does the rest of the country have better roads than the northeast?  Is it the snow, or is this an effect of them getting $1.37 back on their tax dollar and us getting $0.63?
  • Alas, i didn’t get to go to a megachurch this time.  Someday, though.

On Foreign Dialects

New words and phrases we have learned from the teenager.

We disclaim any responsibility for any outcome of your attempts to use them.  We do so only with caution, as maintaining a shred of the teenager’s respect is crucial to our success as fake parents.

  • Curved, v.: Rejected, ignored with prejudice.
    Example: “Jane tried to talk to me after what she did, but I curved her and walked away.”
  • Finessed, v.: Obtained, via purchase or otherwise.
    Example: “I just finessed a new Canada Goose coat, my mom gave me the money for it.”
  • Extra, adj.: Excessive, particularly pertaining to causing the teenager to have to do something they don’t want to do.
    Example: “The dishes?  But I just picked up my clothes, that’s so extra!”
  • Flexed, v: Showed off, especially a new possession or ability.
    Example: “Samantha was straight up flexing her new Canada Goose coat even though it was 60˚ out!”
  • Roasted, adj. and Burnt, adj.: Completely owned by a joke, trick, or insult.
    Example (after pulling a container out of the fridge and finding it empty, for instance): “Roasted!  Ya burnt!”
  • Force, n.: Someone who tries too hard at things the teenager disapproves of.
    Example: “Ms. Norbury keeps trying to get me to join the math team, she’s such a force!”
  • Gone Ham, v.: To do something with abandon, go crazy.
    Example: “Your boy went ham on that pizza, I must have had like, three slices!”
  • Needs Some Milk, adj.: Has just done something embarrassing. (strong emphasis on milk)
    Example: “Cole just tripped with his lunch and spilled everything, kid needs some milk!”
  • Sus, adj.: Bad, undesirable.  Believed to be derived from ‘suspect’.
    Example: “That Starbucks is sus–it has long lines and is always out of pastries!  I’m going to get a smoothie instead.”

Work: Faucet Filter

In 2013, while working freelance for a Boston-area design firm, I worked on an under-faucet-mounted filter system for a well-known water products company.

The challenge here was to take existing filter parts and modify them for a new interaction in a new industrial design.  The fluid flow feature size and shape needed to be optimized for performance, while still fitting inside a design the client really liked.  Beyond that, this had to be accomplished with a minimum number of parts, concealed and minimal seams, and a small electronics package and button underneath.  I have one, but just for decoration.  It turned out really well, I think.

You can buy it here.  I don’t get any money from this.

review 81MrWHpkFsL._SL1500_ endoffaucet_iso

 

On Cartoon Villainy

Since politics and culture are inextricable from each other, it’s easy pickings for any number of thinkpieces on just why thing X is responsible for the present fall of the republic.  Here’s a half-baked observation, including spoilers for some things.

As our increasing appetite for darker, more complicated stories and more complicated, conflicted, flawed heroes gave way to movies, books, and tv shows about antiheroes and actual villains, we became blase about legitimately bad people in real life.

How are we supposed to decry torture while applauding Jack Bauer?

Even though he was a sociopath and an asshole, were you really glad Walter White didn’t get away, or were you rooting for him and his big pile of money, an everyman’s badass?

Isn’t it great when Frank Underwood subways, er, subverts his enemies to his own corrupt urges?

Weren’t we thrilled when Darth Vader showed up in Rogue One and slaughtered good guys mercilessly?  Didn’t we want more of Heath Ledger’s Joker?

Batman and Superman have to fight each other, hell, even Captain America’s conscience isn’t clean; so many of our good guys are kinda assholes, too.

Are we desensitized to evil?  Enough so to not recognize it on the nightly news?

When prison guards boil someone in the shower?

When frat boys laugh with excitement over sentencing Americans to death-by-bankruptcy?

When CBP tricks visitors into giving up their visas via coercion?

When Congress tells ISPs they can finally sell you out.

When ICE ambushes people trying to become citizens and deports them?

When the guy responsible for awful things done in Iraq sets up a meeting between our government and the awful government of an adversary to talk about helping each other do awful things?

When the Department of Justice takes a look at the detailed investigation of systemic racism on the part of police departments nationwide and hard work to fight it and says ‘never mind‘?

These aren’t just horrible things, these are transparent, cartoonishly evil things being done in broad daylight and being bragged about in a lot of cases.  Swaggering, cackling, excellent evil showing up and doing whatever the hell it wants, for reasons ranging from deep cynicism and greed, to racism, to just straight up petulance.  Forget the problem of a third of the country endorsing and cheering on these things.  Ask so many of the rest of us why there aren’t so many more of us in the streets, why we aren’t seizing a moment in real life to join a battle of good and evil.

Ask why there aren’t more Princess Leias and Harry Potters.  And wonder if it’s because we all secretly wouldn’t rather be Kylo Ren.

On having a teenage roommate

Confession: since November, i’ve been holding a teenage girl against her will in my basement.

Hahaha, i’m going to big boy jail, aren’t i?

Clarification: since November, the wife’s (metaphorical) little sister has been living with us.  Owing to her mom’s moving to another town while still maintaining enrollment in another faraway school, the kid had a > 90-minute bus-T-train-walk commute each way to school.  Coupled with making some of her own bad decisions and flunking basically everything, we decided that we would solve a lot of her problems by having her live with us.  And sure, there are literally bars on her window, but 1: she has by far the best one of our two extant windows, and 2: she isn’t really mad about living three blocks from Newbury St. and all those sweet sweet material goods.

Some things about living with a teenager:

  • It’s gone a long way towards settling our indecision about what to watch.  No more deciding whether or not we’re in the mood for serious fare or comedy, we’ve got someone to choose for us now:
    • YouTube, especially, and the idea of it as a primary go-to for ‘what’s on’.  She definitely does not like RiceGum, and tells us how she doesn’t like him anymore while she watches.  This is one of those dudes who’s famous online for reasons (i’m not even sure he’s a video gamer anymore), and now he’s mostly known for badly rapping about his beefs with other YouTube ‘stars’.
    • Beyond that, she’s kind of omnivorous, but terrifyingly short on attention span.  Fast forwards through opening credits, skips to favorite scenes like playing the track on a CD on repeat.  Recites seemingly meaningless bits of dialog as non sequiturs.  Berates the wife for her refusal to admit that she’d dump me for her latest onscreen crush.
    • Also, now i have been exposed to the Kardashians, which she’s aware that she shouldn’t like, but has strong opinions about nevertheless.  Also, why does she keep turning on Dr. Phil on snow days?
  • We’re learning about the capacity of our little apartment.  On the plus side, once we get a door installed, we can call it a two-bedroom with a relatively straight face, due to rigorous testing.  On the downside, there is now not a single horizontal surface of the bathtub that does not have a large bottle of hair product balanced on it.  Most of it’s mine, obviously.  There are other things, like needing a third chair at our tiny dinner table, or finding that said table isn’t ideal for homework, then noting that the light in the room is too dim for scrawling out math problems, too.
  • Tongue-in-cheek characterization aside, a lot of the problems with it are roommate-esque in nature.  Dishes and cups left everywhere, things of all kinds just dropped in place and left.  The good news is, we can flat out issue orders to fix this; the bad news is, teenager’s gonna teenager, and these have only temporary, grudging effect.
  • We are picking up new slang, such as “that’s so extra!” (going above and beyond in terms of awfulness, esp. as applied to homework, but also in the sense of trying too hard), and “that’s a neck!” (accompanied by a chopping motion, implying that you have just been owned by a joke).  Also, “literally dying.” (as in, this is her all the time)
  • There are lifestyle changes, too.  It’s tough for us to tell whether this (especially the getting up 1-1.5 hours earlier) has made us no fun anymore, or if it’s just the natural effect of February.  But with our tiny apartment, since she must go to bed at 10, that means so do we.  Or at least we hide in our bedroom.  Which is funny, because as we rationalized making an offer on the place, we said, “who cares if the bedroom sucks, it’s not like we’ll spend any time there!”  Anyway, our renovation punch list has been reordered now.
  • Finally and most disturbingly, i find myself doing all sorts of things my father did when I was a kid, but chiefly just being a relentless hardass on homework.  “Well, you halfheartedly did a crap job on an easy one, so here are two hard ones.”  “Okay, here’s another one, but this time, try.”  “You know this material, but you’re going to fail this test because you’re rushing through stuff you learned in September.”  «Pour le vingtième fois, tu dois savoir le difference entre avoir et être
    • Also, sometimes i’m punning.
    • And i have gray in my beard.

Anyway, the important thing is, what once were straight Fs are now straight Bs, and the kid’s better rested, maybe somewhat better off.  Me?  I’ll get over the whole turning-into-my-dad thing eventually.  And at least the wife gets to make fun of me for that.