Story Starters

We all have a bunch of amusing stories that we tell other people.  You know how it is; when someone talks about how the seat on airplanes are “just getting too close together”, you have a story about accidentally opening the emergency exit door instead of the bathroom.  It’s not one-upsmanship, you’re just contributing to the conversation.

A friend asked me to start writing mine down.  She’s an English teacher and said that a lot of my openers would make good story-starters for her 10th-grade classes.

So here’s a list of single sentences — that are all true, by the way — that might help spur your imagination.  I’ll add to them from time to time.

  • It was the first of the month, so Billy could finally get his leg back from the pawn shop.
  • I was in the bathroom, attempting my morning constitution, when my roommate asked soberly, “I have some sad news; are you sitting down?”
  • “You know what we got for Christmas in County?  CHOCOLATE milk!”
  • All catalytic converters have platinum in them, and I already have a sawzall.
  • Sure, Gordie has cerebral palsy, but that doesn’t make him less of an asshole.
  • My mom texted “I love you.”  I have no idea how to respond to that.
  • It cost $11,000 to flush my toilet with the lights on.
  • He said, “I don’t remember a thing from my 20’s.”
  • I was changing her diaper when it shot clear across the room.
  • On our first date I broke both her arms.  I wish I could say I was surprised, but she was the fifth person I hurt on a trampoline.
  • He’d already lost a toe, then half a foot, then a whole foot, then half a leg to diabetes, but he was taking a stand.
  • I offered to buy coffee for her everyday for a year if she’d just ask him out.; unfortunately, she was bold and a venti-extra-shot kind of girl.
  • Everyone said it’d be different when they’re your own, but I still don’t like babies.
  • They had an honest-to-god canon that we loaded with a bowling ball and shot every Thanksgiving.
  • It was another Thanksgiving at The Bus.
  • As we were picking up souvenir cups off the ground of Tiger Stadium, my uncle said, “Leave those.  You never know who has eggs.” It was 1988.
  • It was like, if I get enough broken cars, it would equal one car that runs.
  • Because he squatted to pee, we didn’t know if Bowser was a boy or girl for months.
  • It was two weeks after my dad died; come to find out, it was my brother who’d been stealing all my mom’s money and M&Ms.
  • Eminent Domain is great when it works the other way around.

Fremdscham

Everyone has their default setting.  Some people are happy-go-lucky (happy people, by the way, are the only ones that can be described as “go-lucky”) and others are serious fellows (serious people, by the way, are the only ones that can be described as “fellows”).  I’m neither.  I’ve known for years what I am, but it’s always been difficult to explain.

Here’s a good example of who I am:

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Somehow, this was a different experience than the last Florida Spring Break

The Family and I went to Florida for Spring Break this year.  We didn’t want to go to all the Disney stuff because the kids are just too young to really enjoy it.  Instead, The Wife bought some sort of non-disney city-wide tourist-trap pass for all four of us.  One of the items on that list was a Pirate Dinner Show.

 

We sat right up front.  The kids had a blast.  The Wife was part of the show (when asked, she refused to be a “zesty wench”, but for some reason eagerly volunteered for “beanbag tosser” in some sort of one-on-one pirate competition).  The entire audience was into it.  And I was squirming the entire time.

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She was only gone for about 20 minutes, so it’s cool.

It’s not that it was a waste of money (it was practically free with that pass thing) or a waste of time (I’m on vacation with elementary-age kids; the entire experience is waiting for them to get ready and taking them to the bathroom), it’s that I was embarrassed for the performers.  I was embarrassed that these guys can’t hack it as actual actors or circus performers — they can’t even get a job at one of the Disney parks — they have to work in this obviously-converted warehouse and entertain people who are arguing with a five year old about how much Pepsi they can have.  I hated it.

 

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Yes.  This is what the president looks like.

This is why I don’t like most things.  All I can ever think of is, “What must this guy’s life be like?”  It’s why I don’t argue when a cashier rings up red delicious (misnomer) apples instead of gala; I’d feel embarrassed if I was my age working in a grocery store and I wouldn’t want someone to point out a mistake.  It’s why I stopped going to comic conventions; I’d feel embarrassed if I was dressed up like a Hobbit arguing about which Thor was the best.  It’s why I’m never on Facebook; I’d be embarrassed if I shared a fake news article about Trump saving a cat during Katrina.

 

But how do you put that feeling into a quick “I’m just a happy guy” description?  Last week, I found out: “Fremdscham.”  It’s a German word that means something along the lines of “Why aren’t you embarrassed by this?  You should be.  You should be so embarrassed by this that I feel embarrassed for you.”

It’s my baseline emotion.

When you talk about how you plan dinner a week ahead of time so that the pork has time to marinate: fremdscham. When you explain that your kid is too hyper when she eats artificial ingredients: fremdscham.  When you ask for necessities for Christmas: fremdscham.

 

 

From now on, if someone says, “what’s the deal with Nick Jones?”, you say “fremdscham.”  That’ll sum it up.

 

Something Happened

Something’s happened since surgery last year.  I don’t know what it is.

Maybe it’s because I had set myself up (just in case) to let everything go.  Or maybe it’s because I got everything 100% done before the surgery took place (because I knew I wouldn’t be ab;e to do much afterward).  Or maybe I’m just getting old (it happens).  But I feel depressed.

Is that the right word?  Sad?  Empty?  No.  Maybe empty-headed.

I feel like I have nothing to say about anything.  I used to have things to say about everything.  I used to have an opinion about democrats vs. republicans, sex vs. masturbation, and honeycrisp vs. gala.  Now I sit around with an empty brain waiting to go to sleep to start the next day where I’ll do the exact same thing all over again.

Is this how normal people feel?  I always wanted to be normal.  Is this it?  Whiling away the hours between dinner and bed time by looking on Twitter and Netflix.  Having constant vigilance for running out of milk.  Listening to my kids for the slightest sign of them possibly facing some sort of adversity.  Is that what people do?  Is that where the crazy overreactions come from?

So maybe that’s it.  Because everything is done, because I really don’t have anything to look forward to — or more to the point, because I don’t feel like I’m improving anything — I feel like I’m sitting still.  And sitting still makes me sleepy.

I want to go back to not caring about the world at large cuz I had shit to do.  I can’t care about your pre-existing condition, I have one page left to ink.  I can’t think about my kids being uncomfortable on the bus, I have a floor to install.

Maybe this is what people mean by “getting old”.  There are some things you have to give up on.  There are some things you have to accept.  I will never have another kid.  I will never be a professional artist.  There aren’t any more big surprises.  The best I can hope for, moving forward, is incremental improvements.  I’ll get a little better at my job, I’ll be a slightly better dad, I’ll be a vaguely better husband…

I feel like maybe this is it.  This is as good as it gets.  I have everything.

Living out the next 40 years in marital bliss seems a little anti-climactic.

 

Crotchety

How old do you have to be before the word “crotchety” applies to you?  I’ve never met a toddler I’d describe as “crotchety”, but I know some older folks who make a fuss if they don’t eat dinner by 4:00.  Where’s the line?

I only ask because I think I can start to use this to describe myself (along with “debonair” and “dryscalp”).

MaEwiK2Z2plHLF9MpthVwhgv-ysI’ve always had crotchety tendencies (starting sentences with “back in my day”, mentioning that I’m the only one who knows what makes an IRA “Roth”, and making nondescript grunting noises to cover up smells, etc.), but I think my new stance officially pushes me over the edge:

I vow to never again watch a parade.  They’re dumb, they’re boring, no one likes them; let’s stop pretending.

Every year I watch at least a half-dozen parades, and every year everyone around me pretends to be dazzled by them.  Stop it.  They’re a caravan of trailers with trash stapled to them.  They move slow.  There are horses in every parade and they always shit in the middle of the road. The Grand Marshall is never anyone you’ve ever heard of, and they always pretend like this is some sort of honor (which, I guess, it might be, since they never have to watch the parade).  There’s always the local fire department showing how loud they can be, and there’s always the local politician letting you know that he likes parades too.

The only redeeming quality of a parade is when they throw candy, but even that’s screwed up; they either drop it in the middle of the street or they hit you in the eye.

I say no more.

No more conversations about parade routes.  No more saying, “Oooh!  Lookit this one!”  No more questions about balloons or who owns the one sports car at the front of the line.  No more.

Does that make me “crotchety”, or is that just good sense?

All of the Legends of Zelda Review

Did I tell you I had heart surgery?  I don’t know if I mentioned that.

During recovery, I only slept about 2-3 hours per day (I started to think that — because of my robot heart — this all-the-time-awake was going to be the norm, so I started making plans about what to do with (essentially) another lifetime (including trying out all positions in the self-kama-sutra and watching finally finding an appreciation for Garth Brooks); come to find out it was just a side-effect of the anesthesia). Since I had a ton of time on my hands and was unable to move much, I decided to beat all of the Zelda games ever.  Little did I know there’ve been like 30 of them.

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Yes, I beat all these.  I’m already married, so quit asking.

Each one is terrific.  They all have great music and great gameplay and Nintendo somehow makes the games tough enough for long enough that each one is interesting up until the very end.  Each one has little side-quests that aren’t necessary but are fun to figure out and each one is intuitive enough to know that the puzzles Link encounters should be slightly more difficult than the last puzzle.  They’re all variations on a theme (like sex or AC/DC), but it’s a great friggin theme.

Except for one thing.

Now I don’t mean one puzzle on one Zelda game was difficult to figure out and I’m here to bitch about it; I mean there is one thing on every Zelda game that I needed the internet for.

When the original Legend of Zelda came out, I had it for the NES.  At the time it was a revelation: “I can save my game?!”  But it was also so massive that whenever I got lost or didn’t know where to find something, I would have to ask Chuck.  Chuck was my older brother’s gamer friend.  He knew everything about every video game. When I finally beat all eight levels and had to find Ganon, I was lost; I thought I’d been everywhere.  Chuck showed me where Spectacle Rock was and I was able to finally beat it.

But Chuck’s not around anymore.  Chuck sold his Dreamcast for some meth.  So now, on every Zelda game, there’s one part that I cannot figure out.

mezelda

Keep your shirt on, ladies.  I told you, I’m married.

Good example: in Majora’s Mask, I have to travel west in order to talk to Zora, the water-people.  But I can’t get over the fence.  The only thing that can hop a fence that big is my horse.  But my horse is caged in a ranch to the south.  But I can’t get to that ranch because Milk Road is blocked.  Now the blockage will disappear on the third day of playing, but when I get through to my horse on that third day, my horse’s captor won’t talk to me because she’s too concerned about her cows getting abducted.  I’m stuck.  Chuck would tell me how to figure this out, but Chuck’s living in a half-way house talking himself out of using that prescription pad he stole.

So instead, I look on the internet.  The internet tells me that I have to use my ocarina to travel back in time three days, re-defeat the bad guy from Snowhead, which will make the snow melt, which unveils a cave where I can talk to a Goron who’ll give me a license to play with gunpowder.  Once I get the license, I can go back to Clock Town, talk to the guy in the bomb shop, he’ll sell me a barrel of gunpowder, which I can use to unblock the path to the ranch where I can get my horse and then jump the fence to talk to the water-people (but only after I help out the lady with her cow problem).

I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s not.  That’s exactly what I had to do.

This happened on every Zelda game. Honestly, I don’t know how I’d do it without walkthroughs.

I guess I could try to get ahold of Chuck.  I hear he does cosplay bj’s for a dimebag.

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Last known photograph of Chuck

Bill Maher’s Stan Lee’s World

stanlee

I wish I could rock a ‘stache like this

When Stan Lee died a few days ago, there was a lot of mourning on the internet.  A lot (not enough to condemn the people who screwed Lee over or to contribute to his favorite charity or anything, but still).  Like an uncomfortable amount.

There was a some of the appropriate, “I could only be so lucky to have a life like Stan” or “Face front, true believers!  Excelsior!” There was a lot of hyperbolic, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee” or “RIP to a genius who changed the world.”  This is what Maher was reacting to: this uncomfortable overstatement to the death of a 95-year-old who wrote children’s stories in the 60s and sold them for twelve cents a piece.

Maher said (and I’m going to condense all this to get to the heart of what everyone overreacted to):

“[C]omics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.  But then twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature… And now when adults are forced to do grown-up things like buy auto insurance, they call it “adulting,” and act like it’s some giant struggle… I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.”

trump

Is it THAT big a leap to say that a generation of people who love nearly-naked people face-punching each other in order to stop a time-traveling future-self from destroying the current multi-verse elect a failed businessman and game show host?

Notice he’s not talking about Stan Lee here.  He’s talking about comic books (and the generational response to them) in general.  He’s talking about how, in a world where dumb people seem to reign supreme, comics have been sanctified.  He makes an easy connection between these consecrated made-for-children texts and arrested development.  He then makes an (almost as) easy connection between arrested development and the dumb people who seem to reign supreme.

He’s right.  You know he’s right; that’s why everyone reacted to Maher so vehemently.  Again, he doesn’t mention Stan Lee (and so neither will I).  He’s talking about the infantilization of an entire generation. This was more than a “Don’t speak ill of the dead” -type of situation that we saw with John McCain.  This is a “I’m not a child, you’re the child” -type of situation.  It’s projecting.

Dark_Phoenix_poster

I hope it’s just like the comic (where they battle it out with aliens on the moon while a baby-in-a-toga watches)

My generation (I think we’re called “xennials”) is starting to run things.  And for some reason, the things we want to see are the things we grew up with; it’s stuff we already know.  We want to see X-Men as a movie — but not an original movie — we want to see the things we already know; we want to see Days of Futures Past and The Dark Phoenix Saga and Age of Apocalypse.  We want to see a Justice League movie — but not an original movie — we want to see the things we already know; we want to see Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman and Apokolips Invasion.  We want to see The Winter Soldier and Demon in a Bottle and Civil War and The Infinity Gauntlet come to life just as we imagined it (and you will feel our wrath if it’s not exactly as we imagined it).

It’s not enough to make movie versions of non-movie things we loved when we were kids (hence the comic book movies, but also Trolls, Transformers, and The Lego Movie), we also have to make our own versions of already-in-existence movies we liked as kids. It’s why we have a Jurassic Park that’s just like the original and a Star Wars that’s just like the original and a Ghostbusters that’s just like the original.

My generation has sanctified our childhood and pushed it on everyone else.  The Things from our childhood (again, I don’t know why) have become such a defining part of our adulthood that when you say “Comic books are for kids” we hear “You’re being childish.”

Later that week he went on Larry King (another 95-year-old (actually, I think he’s quite a bit younger, but he sure acts 95)) and defended his comment, as he should: “What I was saying is, a culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditations on the human condition is a dumb fucking culture. And for people to get mad at that just proves my point.”   Again, he’s right.  You know he’s right.

I’m not saying comic books can’t be sophisticated literature.  But I don’t see a bidding war for Cerebus or Concrete or Blankets or Asterios Polyp or Maus or This One Summer.  I see people getting excited because, in the comics, the X-Men and the Avengers get together sometimes, and it’s going to be sooooooo cooooool when they finally get together in a movie.

Just like I imagined.


(As a post script, I have to concede that maybe this entire article is just a thin defense of adulthood getting in the way of my own comic book dreams.  No, you’re projecting!)

A Christmas Card

Christmas newsletters are the worst.  I get a few every year that literally just list the months of the year and what happened during those months.  Usually it says something like:

January: Tom started working second shift

February: I got bored, now that the kids are out of the house, so I took up Zumba.

March: I decided to lose the weight!  No more carbs for me!

April: Tom just refused to do the 5k with me.  But Dave from work said he would…

I take that back.  That’d be interesting.  We could learn the seedy details of the 50-year-olds who cheated on each other (I heard one’s a “cam girl” now).  Usually it’s about how someone got a new dog, and boy she’s a handful.

So I thought it’d be fun to do a fictional one.  Let’s see if The Wife lets me:


Happy Holidays from the Joneses!

We hope this letter finds you in good health and good spirits. We’d like to share what we did in 2018!

As you know, the Joneses have had our share of adventures over the years – being stranded on L. Ron Hubbard’s boat and that time Lindsay mathematically proved the world is indeed flat (and turtles all the way down) both jump to mind – but I think the events of this year really stand out…

Last year the cardiologist, Dr. Light, said that I would have to have open-heart surgery in May to fix a congenital defect (although I’m not sure how “sexually outstanding” is a defect). Because I have what is medically described as “Thor Chest”, Dr. Light recommended an experimental procedure beyond the usual Frankenstein-esque mess of parts from pigs / cows / goretex / serial killer cadavers. So on May 30th – after a few “conflict-based delays” (come to find out he was a “guest” on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew) – we went in for surgery.

Everything went very well. The surgery went much longer than expected because of the mandatory espionage and subsequent destruction of the only copy of the experimental surgery plans, but I was up and walking the next day.

About a week later I was sent home with a list of things to do during recovery. It’s all the normal stuff: keep tabs on blood pressure, make sure to exercise, don’t lie flat, don’t eat the children, take all medication, etc. (I thought the list was weird; if I can lie flat, why wouldn’t I?). Lindsay went back to work, the kids were going to school; everything seemed to be going according to plan. Until my scars started itching.

I contacted the doctor via the iPhone app and the intern who reads the emails asked the secretary to call the nurse to get in touch with doctor’s assistant who was on vacation about the itchiness and weird growth forming around the incision. At the beginning of July I finally got an email back saying that I should contact a dermatologist (which would be free because we met our deductable!) about that lump, but by then it was too late; the lump had detached itself and was learning our language. By the time Labor Day rolled around, Kevin (Quinn named him) was like a part of the family.

Having Kevin around was bittersweet. He’d often volunteer to help Paige with her flash cards and would clean the toilets without being asked (he said that the Ty-D-Bowl residue was like candy to him), but he’d also levitate to the medicine cabinet and steal my beta-blockers.

One of his vices was late-night prank calls. He played me a couple tapes; I have to admit, they were pretty funny, (think The Jerky Boys, but not as dirty; a lot of Kevin’s humor is raisin-based) but toward the beginning of October, he’d gone too far: he called Flagstar Bank, Lindsay’s place of work. The police report says what he did was technically a felony, but the lawyer said “felony” is a stretch because what he suggested is just a natural bodily function. Either way, it was time for Kevin to go.

We had a family meeting while Kevin was out running errands (he said he only had two more days until he “served [his] purpose given to [him] by Dr. Light to answer all questions and put an end to human misery”, but whatever) and we decided the best thing to do was to sell him on eBay. While he was gone, it rained and, Kevin being Kevin, he left the windows down. Needless to say, because of the water, Kevin morphed into a terrible hell-demon and we had to vanquish him by saying his real name backwards. The eBay deal fell through too.

Since Kevin left, we sold the Equinox and bought a Jeep, Lindsay got a new job at Delta Dental, Paige started her orthodonture, and Quinn has started losing her baby teeth.

It’s been a year of surprises and a year of triumph. We all hope 2019 is a little calmer. And I hope this itchy rash goes away.

With Love:

The Joneses