The Monkey Wrench Gang (Monkey Wrench Gang, #1)The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book itself is a flop, but I couldn’t rate it too low because I respect Abbey. The Monkey Wrench Gang can be summarized as “a juvenile effort”, both for the moony-eyed adolescent rebellion that drip from the pages, and the lack of established voice.

Still, the main ingredients are there. His hail mary attempt at an antihero protagonist, George Heyduke, is appropriately named in that he’s sort of a wook Duke Nukem. He wanders around the desert drinking fifty beers a day, pissing on everything and trying to fistfight people. This is supposed to cast him in a sympathetic light. It’s sort of the Rick Sanchez effect in reverse; Abbey wanted you to like Heyduke because he represents this absolute ideal of anarchic masculine freedom and self-governance, but the loony ignorant bullshit he does makes it so you can’t relate to him beyond that conceptualization. Abbey tries to railroad the story along after him, beliving the ideal is enough to carry the character and the weight of the plot. It isn’t, for either.

Heyduke joins up with Seldom-Seen Smith, a cunning and likeable polygamist Jack Mormon, as well as an old doctor named “Doc” and his highly sexualized assistant/token female/book smurfette, Bonnie. All are burgeoning eco-terrorists in their own way, most with little acts of casual, almost cute defiance like defacing billboards or pulling up access trail markers. The presence of other like-minded desert anarcho-primitivists causes them to escalate rapidly and they wind up sabotaging bulldozers, lighting things on fire, and attempting to blow up a bridge.

Despite the destructive themes, the Monkey Wrench Gang takes pains to avoid advocating armed insurrection against the park authority. They tapdance around it, and each time they opt out, it’s dissonant enough to break the immersion. Sort of a Batman thing. Heyduke often has actual wilderness cops at actual gunpoint and you get a bit of his internal monologue, trying to talk himself into it, but he never goes through with it.

I think that was more the author trying to cover his own ass than a deliberate characterization choice, especially with the implication of Heyduke’s internment as a POW and his rambling, telegraphed PTSD reaction when asked about “your war”.

So why three stars? Because I get it. The government really is out there fucking with the pristine beauty of the wilderness. The American west is gorgeous country, and one of the peak experiences of my life was hiking up a New Mexican mesa and standing alone on an escarpment in the hundred degree sun, eyes shaded by my doofy $10 mesh cowboy hat, gazing out over the infinite expanse of orange desert. It made me feel alive in a way I never had before, and some people never will, especially as they build more convenience roads and escalators and coke machines and entire McDonald’s on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

I understand the desire to stop the pay-per-view expansion. We spend our lives sealed up tight in our flashing mirrored coffins, pleasantly entertained from cradle to tomb. Our strife is largely pretend, but in the absence of anything real it becomes out obsession, and as a culture, it’s made us insane. The leading causes of death in America are, in order, heart disease, cancer, accidents, respiratory disease, stroke, alzheimer’s, and diabetes. All but accidents fall under the heading of “metabolic syndrome”, which is doctor-talking for getting fat and complacent because not only is there no need to walk the five miles to see something special, three miles of that road has “NO PEDESTRIAN” signs, whereupon violators will absolutely be prosecuted.

I get Abbey’s message. The land belongs to us, and it’s being taken from us, and when we don’t act to stop it, we’re complicit in both the theft and the consequences, which in this case are the loss of our humanity (as applied to the “human animal”) and our own slow, rotting deaths.

I’m on board with the ideology, but the execution in the book was poor. The characters weren’t believable. They were all too old. That was a deliberate stylistic choice; 1975 had just seen out the sixties, and the ones fighting the power were all teens and twentysomethings, so Abbey was trying to demonstrate to the Movement that some of the olds can be trusted, too. They just have to be crazy. I suppose it’s possible, but I couldn’t suspend the disbelief.

It almost redeemed it when Heyduke was killed in the shoot-out with the wilderness pigs. It gave it a sort of 1984 twist, very impactful, that would have been a solid ending. Then it turned out — sike! — it wasn’t Heyduke, the mountainman Mary Sue, who died in that shoot-out, it was “just a fuckin’ scarecrow, Doc, ha haaaaa, gimme a beer.”

Bad, bad call, Abbey. I know you love the character, but straight up, nobody else did. Martyring him would have made him mean something. You took that from him, and now everyone can tell it’s just a weird teenage self-insert.

Interestingly enough, Abbey wrote Desert Solitaire seven years earlier, and that was an infinitely better book. The same grinning, puckish anarcho-cowpoke sensibilities without any of the turgid prose or cartoonish characterization. If any of this “join me in the shrub my brethren” rambling struck a chord, I’d highly recommend you read that one, and try to upcycle any neurons spent on this book.

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Providence: Big Bear Boss Battle and Lovecraft’s Grave

May 26, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

The narrow escape from Dystopia Beach left a bad taste in my mouth, and my only recourse was to cleanse it with some of Providence’s world-famous Greek food.

I ordered moussaka and they gave me a hot pocket with chili powder in it for some reason. Whatever. We got beef, we got eggplant, there aren’t any dandelion sprouts on it, I’ll be okay.

My olive oil levels once again stabilized, we ranged out to Brown University campus to see what Atlas Obscura vaguely described as a “colossal, untitled bear”.

We just so happened to show up on graduation weekend, because of course we did. The campus was overflowing with humans and absolutely filthy with pigs, setting up their little flashy-light campus cruisers on every corner, blocking intersections, leering at college girls from beneath their sad faux-military haircuts like the hundred palette-swapped bastards of Hoggish Greedly.

The Girl was slower to shake Dystopia Beach’s malaise. The whole drive and for most of the walk she was grumbling and gnashing her teeth with a formless misanthropy about to Brown being ritzy ivy-league digs. It was surreal. Like looking in a pretty, red-haireded mirror.

“There’s just an arrogance to it,” she told me as we passed the sixth or seventh lax bro in salmon chino shorts and sandals. “Like it carries all this weight just because it’s an ivy league school. There’s this grand implication to it, like they pity anyone who didn’t have the few hundred grand lying around to avoid a state school. It’s pretentious.”

“I didn’t know Brown was ivy league.”

“Yeah!” she said. “Brown is like, a big deal art school.”

I shrugged. “Can’t be too big a deal. I never heard of it before I found out about the bear.”

Let’s talk about the bear.

According to Atlas Obscura,

“This strange bear slumps in the corner of a university quad. There’s nothing cuddly about the oversized creature, or the abnormally large lamp slicing into its head.

Untitled (Lamp/Bear) by Swiss artist Urs Fischer is a unique addition to Brown University’s campus. It certainly keeps with the school’s reputation as the most free-spirited member of the Ivy League.”

Oof. Okay, I could see how the ivy league thing could get grating.

It’s supposed to be made of bronze, but the pictures on the site made it look like a perspective trick done with a beanie baby. Although, this beanie baby has a lamp jammed in its head, with sort of a Sid’s room Toy Story aesthetic. How could I resist?

We left the car by a park and climbed up a ridiculous hill toward the campus proper for what had to be the better part of a mile.

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Take warning #hill #providence

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Yeah, that’s an understatement.

Halfway up, Google Maps told me we were approaching “Lovecraft Square”. We swung a block wide to check out what was undoubtedly a grand monument to Providence’s weirdest son.

Not so much with the “grand”. I figured, they’re so free and easy with bronze in this town, the least they could do is throw together a bust of his grimacing elongated mug. No such luck. This plaque was the entire memorial.

“They did my mans dirty,” I said with a mournful shake of my head.

When we finally crested Mount Brown, we walked into what appeared to be an active graduation ceremony. Real frying pan-fire scenario. We had to push against the flow of bodies, functionally swimming upstream to get onto one of the several quads and begin the hunt.

For a gargantuan sky-blue bear sculpture, it proved surprisingly difficult to find. We did two laps of the block before turning the correct corner and facing the monster down.

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Boss battle #bear #brown #providence

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It was truly huge, and deceptively made of metal. I knocked on its huge foot and it did, in fact, make a ting sound. A local approached me, sensing my awe of the size of this lad, and asked if I’d take her picture with it.

“Sure. You here for the festivities too?”

“Oh, I just graduated,” she said with commendable nonchalance, leaning on the bear. “I just didn’t want to walk. The ceremony is a waste of time, and it’s not like I’m done.”

“Yeah? Congratulations! What was your major?”

“Evolutionary biology,” she said. “But it’s just a Master’s. I’m going for the doctorate, this is barely even a thing.”

“You did the work!” I said, taking the picture. “You can be proud of the work. A lot of people never make it to Master’s, even if it is just a pit stop for you. Congratulations, really.”

She looked down and smiled and said thanks. It was a humble, charming gesture, but obviously too close to a compliment. I broke even by telling her I didn’t walk either.

“The ceremony itself is absolutely bullshit.”

Staring up into Untitled Bear/Lamp’s cold, vacant eyes, I finally knew fear.

The Girl and I swam back downstream and tumbled down Mount Brown, then got into the car and made our getaway. We had already settled affairs at the hotel. There was only one stop left to make.

Howie P had an understated plot in the center of a sprawling cemetery complex, differentiated from its fellows only by the worn grass, the stacks of pennies, and the small Cthulhu statue.

“Rise, H.P.,” I said with an appropriately necromantic gesticulation. “Wise fwom youw gwave! Get your bony ass up, we got things to do!”

He remained reluctant.

“Up and at ’em!” I said. “Come on. You gotta see the state of the place. Cthulhu’s a household name! Heads up, don’t say the N-word, though. That’s… pretty important.”

The lazy bastard stayed down. I frowned over at the Girl.

“Maybe it has to be dark,” I said.

“This is ghoulish,” she said.

“It’s what he would have wanted.”

I left an incantation hanging, hoping it would take once night fell. We didn’t stick around to find out. If you see a lanky skeleton with social anxiety jangling around Rhode Island, that’s my bad.

And so ends the Providence chronicle. We headed back to Philly to prepare for the next week’s jaunt to a beach, distinct from the Rhode Island beach trip in that it was planned and consensual.


The Bastard

Newport: Dystopia Beach

May 26, 2019. Newport, Rhode Island.

When you hear the words “cliff walk”, what comes into your head? I pictured a hiking trail in Sedona, Arizona, with crag outcroppings protruding from mesa spires, of the sort an intrepid travel bastard could shimmy along, maybe hurdling a shoddy wooden gate, to gaze down a few hundred feet into an abyss of orange stone and bleached animal bones.

So imagine my surprise when the Girl and I sat on the bridge in fifteen minutes of deadlocked traffic only to discover that Newport, RI was, in fact, a crappy tourist trap beach town.

I could feel my blood pressure escalating as we drove past parking lot after parking lot, all full, all $20 minimums.

“This is the cliff walk?” I asked.

“That’s what it says,” the Girl said, corroborating on her own phone.

“Where are the cliffs?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are they underwater cliffs?” I asked, studying the sweaty, teeming mass of humanity that thronged the beach like a People of Wal-Mart field trip, slathering themselves in however many lotions it took to achieve that greased-pig sheen. “That’s a cliff swim.”

“I don’t know!”

“This looks… just terrible,” I said. “I don’t want to wade through this. Let’s go dig up Lovecraft.”

“I’ll pay for the parking,” the Girl said.

“It’s not about the parking,” I said. It was exactly 50% lie. “Although, $20 is more than I would ever, ever pay for a beach, even if I’d wanted to go to a beach, which, in case you missed that, I don’t.”

“I did pick that up, yeah.”

“Aren’t we going to a beach like next week with the Crew?”

The Crew is the appellative used to refer to the Girl’s coworker group chat, so named to differentiate them from The Lads, which is my shitposting group chat. We’re each in both chats, and use “lads” as a gender neutral referential, so these delineations are largely useless.

“Yeah,” she said, “but we just drove like forty minutes. We can’t just turn around now.”

“I’ll bet we can.”

“This was the north trailhead,” she said. “Maybe the south trailhead has less people? Let’s at least try it. We came all this way.”

I grumbled noncommittal swear words until we found the south trailhead. We snuck into a metered space and bought three hours for three dollars, which was only upsetting on principle.

There was a serpentine line of slippery, coconut-reeking beachfolk, and with horror I realized it led to the restrooms. We waited there for a good twenty minutes. I’ll level with you, under ordinary circumstances that would’ve been the final nail in the coffin.

Fortunately, these were not ordinary circumstances. The girl behind us had a one-year-old black lab named named Coda. I didn’t ask which Coda she meant. It could either be Spanish for “wedge”, Italian for “tail”, or Japanese for “finale”. She jumped into the air repeatedly to slam her snout directly into my eyeball. Coda is a beautiful, stupid miracle and I miss her every day.

Coda helped to ground me. I, too, am a big dumb hyperactive animal, easily distracted by loud noises and food smells. We formed a kinship, and she and I would both scan our gross surroundings, then she would wobble up to me, tail pulling 3000 RPM, and ram her giant, stupid skull into my kneecap, just to check in, before returning to sentry duty. We weathered the bathroom line together, just Coda and me, and our respective handlers.

The most difficult part for Coda was some teenage girl who looked as though she owned a lot of Nightmare Before Christmas clothing who kept walking up and saying “OOOOH HELLO CODA!” in a very high, loud voice. Coda knew a response was expected of her, but didn’t know what it was. The familiarity was obviously making her owner uncomfortable, which in turn made Coda shy away from the interloper. That didn’t seem to discourage this girl, and she returned to the bathroom line again and again, not to wait, but to shriek.

When it was finally my turn, I said, “Let me show you how it’s done” and hit the timer on my watch. I was back out in a tight 45 seconds, hands washed and everything. I announced my time to everyone behind me in line. They were all nonplussed, except for Coda, who was ecstatic.

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I understood where the little stick figure guy was coming from as soon as I started the cliff walk. It was dense with human flotsam, and none of them seemed able or willing to move faster than “amble”. On our left, the sea stretched to the horizon, hurling waves against the patches of gravel that, perhaps, were the eponymous cliffs, reeking of dead fish. On our right were mansions.

That’s not wholly true. On our right were ugly mesh fences with derogatory little placards threatening to call the cops of trespassers and closing with the words “BAD DOG!” I don’t know if they meant actual dogs. Beyond these were a few acres of painstakingly manicured lawn, then the mansions.

“Why are they taking pictures of the mansions?” I asked.

The Girl didn’t understand what I meant. I wasn’t being cute; I didn’t get that some people regard modern and near-modern mansions with the same reverence as baroque churches, or something comparably significant.

“It’s all architecture,” she said. “Some people are really into it.”

I wrinkled my nose at a family of four clustered up against the fence like the bars of a jail cell, stretching their arms through the slats to photograph these actual, occupied residences. The American dream is alive and well in Newport.

A selfie stick might have come in handy. That would be the first practical application of a selfie stick, though no less sad.

We tried to circumnavigate the plodding hordes and set a hikeable pace for the cliff walk. There were no cliffs. There was barely a walk. It was an aesthetically pleasant cattle chute, and it was making my teeth itch.

We abouted-face and clambered back over the pile of rocks toward the grim slaughterhouse path full of waddling tourists and Amish women enjoying a truly dazzling rumspringa. The rocks would have been the high point of the trip, as I do love a good clamber, if I were able to set my own pace.

I realized some time ago that all of the problems in my life stem from people being in my way. I mean this literally and metaphorically; in addition to the constant flow of dumbasses clotting up the sidewalks and roads, preventing me from walking, biking, or driving at a reasonable pace, I could have shaved a year off each of my degrees if it weren’t for all the useless bureaucrats who seem to exist specifically to obstruct.

I know what I have to do, and how I’m going to do it, and all that I want from these human obstacles is for them to vacate my fucking path.

But they won’t. They love it. It’s simply not meant to be. So I stood on the rocks, waiting for the people in front of me to weigh the apparent hundreds of pros and cons for each step they took. Behind me, a mother decided that the rocks were too good a disciplinary opportunity to pass up, and proceeded to screech commands at her toddler with mounting gravitas from roughly six feet behind me the entire time.

I shuffled another step forward, and then full stopped, balanced on a rock, drinking in the soothing sounds of the sea and NO, AIDEN! GET BACK HERE! DON’T RUN! AIDEN! WAIT! I WILL COUNT TO THREE! YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU! AIDEN!

We went back up the narrow walkway and passed the bathroom line, which had somehow become longer. I nearly jogged to the car.

Purgatory is real, beautiful reader. It’s real, and it’s loud, and it smells like cocoa butter and butt sweat. Stay out of Newport.


The Bastard


The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and FlavorThe Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We want to boil things down. Heuristic categorization puts our brains at their happiest. Reductionist classification is neat, concise, and rewarding, and it makes sense that we would take the same approach to nutrition. Unfortunately, it just don’t work.

We are big stupid animals, and like all other animals, our bodies are programmed to seek out the nutrients they need. Reindeer are herbivores, but they’ll sometimes bust into bird nests and eat their eggs. They spit out everything but the shells, because they’re after the minerals.

We do the same thing. Anecdotally, I knew that after deadlift day, I was required to get borger, but I didn’t ascribe any evolutionary significance to that. The amino acid profile is ideal and all, but I’m as much a victim of social conditioning as the next American, and we’ve all seen Bronan the Insanian gnawing a haunch of roasted beef after a long day of indiscriminate power fantasy murder.

Turns out though, it’s not just me. There’s this quirky little practice known as geophagy which is exactly what it sounds like, cropping up most often in the tropics, among pregnant women. They start eating dirt and clay. That kind of climate and food monoculture can prompt mineral deficiencies that, while ignorable in adults, can prove fatal to the fetal. Quickest way to replenish these minerals is straight from the source, which I’m told “don’t hurt”.

Thing is, this isn’t a coherent thought. These women aren’t thinking, “Well, my magnesium is a little low today. Better house a handful of sand.” It’s not a fitbit situation. They’re just suddenly hungry for dirt.

Once upon a time, hunger communicated our body’s nutritional requirements to us. When our muscles were depleted, we would get a hankering for fats and proteins. When our blood sugar dropped, we would want fruit, to get it back to level.

We form positive associations to the most nourishing foods, to encourage us to seek them out again in the future. It’s a great strategy for long-term health maintenance. The thing is, these days, most food isn’t. It’s a chemical culture, and the Western diet consists largely of perfumes and grain.

But we’re still running the paleolithic hardware, and the neosimian meat husk hasn’t caught up with the artificial flavoring industry yet. Why would anyone drink soda? Soda is terrible. It’s a slow-acting poisonous grass distillate in a suspension of nutritionally vacant corn, because that’s the only way to pour that much sugar into the bottle and keep it liquid.

But soda, to the stupid animal within, is a sweet, light, colorful beverage. Like juice! And juice is just the best part of fruit! Fruit is made of vitamins and fiber, which the hardware unconsciously knows we need.

Thing is, our biological imperative doesn’t say “dam i could use some vitamins and fiber rn”. All we have is the idiot monkey mind screeching “ORANGE SODA NOW!!!!!! BLZ”

Meanwhile, there’s this concurrent pincer manuever coming out from the food production industries because on one hand, the persistent haze of synthetic, perfumed food scrambles our bodies perception of what it actually wants, so a craving for meaty tacos can be conflated with Taco Fiesta bugles, and simultaneously the meat industries are increasingly breeding these fat, placid, neotonic animals.

On a sociological level we are definitely what we eat. Just look around a Wal-Mart.

Young animals are less flavorful. We’re not sure why, but the tissues just don’t have flavor, and when you genetically engineer animals to resemble younger versions of themselves, usually to grow the assembly line and get them to market faster, you wind up with flavorless meat. As a result, we need to blast chicken with spices to make it taste like food. Fifty years ago, you could just heat chicken up and it’s a meal.

Not only is flavorless food a joyless experience, it further confounds our ability to draw the association between what our body needs and what our stupid monkey brain (our flavor cravings) actually want.

So we wind up functionally addicted to non-food, chasing a high we’ll never actually attain because a Whopper and high fructose corn syrup is different from a steak and a few oranges, but neither our dated evolutionary programming or the painstakingly calibrated artifice injected into our “food” will allow us to recognize that we’re starving ourselves by getting too fat.

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Providence: Animals, Art, and ACAB

May 25, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

We bade a fond and eventual farewell to our beloved Courtney and headed across town with no particular destination, short of eventually winding up at H.P. Lovecraft’s grave. I had grand designs to re-animate him. It’s what he would have wanted.

As the Girl and I tramped down the street, our footing growing rapidly less dependable and our voices louder as we repeatedly discussed how “everyone here is so nice!”, a man yelled at us from a picnic table that this place has the best lobster roll in Providence.

I didn’t particularly want a lobster roll, but I knew I’d be a fool to ignore this shouted wisdom. We entered a transplanted 50s style dinner with a chunky, melted disco ball rotating in a desert of checkerboard tile. The walls were lined with surreal, semiprofessional 60s-style counterculture art.

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The restaurant was called NicoBella’s, and the ambiance was good, if you’re into taking acid and watching Happy Days. As the food goes, a lobster roll is a lobster roll. It was good, but there’s a cult following on lobster rolls I’ve never understood. This might out me as a classless savage but I’ve never been particularly wowed by lobster and mayonnaise. It’s like chewy crab. I’d rather have not chewy crab, and then I also get to keep $10.

We settled up and continued our journey, bearing witness to Providence’s many splendors.

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Mural time 😎 #providence #art #wallmanifesto

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There was a preponderance of corporate art, which is exactly what it sounds like, and a pretty sick mural adjacent to  a building on which someone had painted a lengthy treatise on the importance of imagination. It was a real tl;dr moment, but I thought it was a cool concept, and took a picture for posterity. You can read it above if you’d like. I will eventually.

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Follow your dreams #providence #celebrity #cat

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What a glow up, folks.

I’m not sure what sentiment they were hoping to convey with this one, but I can’t imagine this is what they were shooting for.

All this sight-seeing had worked up another mighty thirst. I also needed more food. There’s another  reason I’m not particularly moved by lobster rolls: they’re insubstantial. Man cannot live by mayo and hot dog buns alone. I needed a borger, and I needed it quick.

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The Hoff beckons #lunch #providence #hassle

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We nearly made moves on Hoffburger, but wound up about a block down at a place called Trinity Brewhouse. Most of the decision was motivated by the poor lighting in the place. I’d been baking in the light of the hated Daystar for hours, and I needed to retreat into a nice, dank root cellar and replenish my reserves.

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More murals, ft: just everyone #providence

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The gang’s all here. The beer selection was impressive. I ordered the strongest thing, as that’s what I meant by replenishing my reserves. That’s generally my M.O., as I’ve found each subsequent beer is better, contingent on the strength of the previous. Still, the options gave me pause.

When the waitress came by, I ordered what sounded like the greatest concentration of meat and peppers they had available, some chipotle pepper jack monstrosity called the Firehouse. The Girl ordered nachos. I don’t know why. She ate ten chips. I didn’t even want nachos, but my fool’s honor forbade me from not finishing them.

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Borger #borger

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We weren’t long for this world after these calorie bombs. Full of meat and beer, we waddled down two or three more blocks before realizing Night Dinner wasn’t realistic, and we circled back around to the mall. We found the car without re-entering that liminal zone that level-warped us under the bridge.

Back at the hotel, we made our way through the weed fog of Calcutta Hall and into our room. I was asleep within seconds. The Girl got sick and maintains that the nachos poisoned her. If they had, I would have gotten roughly eight times the dose. Sort of a Strong Belwas situation with the honeyed locusts.

I theorized that maybe she got sick because we had been drinking a thousand beers in the sun all day. This suggestion turned out to be unwelcome.

The next morning, I realized our time in Providence was wearing thin. If I was going to reanimate H.P. Lovecraft, it had to be now.

But first, we had to do a “cliff walk”. We gathered our supplies, loaded up the car, and set out for Newport.


The Bastard

Providence: Snug benches and the Gun Totem

May 25, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

I’d spent too much time in the Delph and my skin was starting to itch. I’d already booked three or four flights for the summer and had a slew of weird adventures lined up, like a beer festival in Denver that I will be attending on a cocktail of whatever further psychoactive substances they legalize in the interim (don’t tell the Girl, it’ll be a fun surprise), another Left Coast voyage for a wook music festival I’m promised will be in some way shamanic, and a presumably more civilized jaunt to Iceland. Stay tuned.

But that’s then, and for right now I’m breaking my back every goddamn day, somehow using my useless degree to accrue a vast fortune destined to be converted to unmarked bills for my inevitable disappearance into Latin America.

The Girl and I loaded up the car and went to Providence, Rhode Island.

The trip was a straight shot up the highway where I wasn’t forced to kill anyone. I’ve tamed most of my frustrated adolescent rage and sublimate it into useful things, such as writing, hitting a tractor tire with a sledgehammer, and a +2 bonus to both attack and damage rolls. The only place my incandescent, white hot fury persists is road rage, and I frequently inform strangers who don’t signal when merging that I will “peel off your fucking skin and eat your insides like an avocado” while my passengers look on in mortified alarm. This was worse when I drove for Uber.

We dumped our gear at the Motel 6. We booked it exclusively for the cardboard cutout of Tormund Thunderballs in a tuxedo, which is the only amenity I consider relevant in a lodging. Unfortunately, that’s at the Super 8. Not Motel 6. Same number of letters, same division and placement of vowels and consonants, same numerical character at the end, but one has Tormund and the other has fifty stoned Indian dudes sitting in the hallway that leads to your room.

We got there around 10pm and, plumb tuckered from the drive, we fell into a merciful unconsciousness.

According to an algorithm advertisement for something called “WaterFire”, which is almost my favorite post-punk band, the move is dropping your car at “providence mall”. It was the first common noun location I’d seen on Google Maps on this side of the Atlantic.

Farbeit for me to challenge the oracle, this was the move we made.

The parking garage exits were not clearly marked, and the first door we tried set off an alarm. We pretended this was normal or appropriate, and then found ourselves in the Silent Hill bowels of the mall, trepidation mounting as we navigated the labyrinth of the flaking plaster, bare yellow hanging bulbs, and inexplicable metal painter’s scaffolding that materialized around every corner and stretched, foreboding and monolithic, to the thirty foot ceilings. We’d noclipped out of reality in the city that built Lovecraft, and I already didn’t like our chances.

Every door we found was locked, and we had gone too far into the Backrooms to follow our breadcrumbs back to the parking garage, even if I wasn’t born with crippling directional insanity. The alarm wailed in the distance, growing louder and softer at complete random, like the physical manifestation of anxiety.

Desparation was setting in when we turned another identical corner and found three iron push-bar doors. Some demon had forgotten to lock the middle one.

We emerged under a bridge near the Providence Waterfront.


Our first stop was some sort of Veganarium that sold exotic egg sandwiches covered in dandelions. They had no cups for the mustard or hot sauce, so I was forced to use coffee cup lids as shallow condiment receptacles. This worked surprisingly well, but I am an idiot, and the liquid tabasco rolled through the tiny vent and got all over my shorts.

First meal. First meal of the day! I’d been awake for like an hour!

This tiny egg and quinoa-grain bread or whatever provided me the power to cross town for elevensies at Providence’s most highly recommended mom-and-pop restaurant, which is called “Kitchen”. That’s the whole name.

Kitchen had five tables total and a line of hipsters out the door and halfway down the block. We wound up waiting for around forty-five minutes, which sounds much worse than it was, as Girl and I wound up befriending a troupe of theater kids from the local art school. I butted into their conversation when they couldn’t think of the thing that’s “like a dragon but with just two legs and wings” (wyvern), and they proceeded to provide us with many thoughtful recommendations for things to eat and do around downtown, all of which we promptly ignored.

This slight wasn’t deliberate. We just rapidly forgot.

When our time finally came, I found I could not fit into the booth.

Kitchen is a little farm-to-table dealie that provides an excellent experience with  standard breakfast fare. I housed my own eggs, sausage, and bacon, then ate most of Girl’s eggs, which may be a contributing factor as to why I don’t fit in some chairs. I declined her leftover biscuits, however, as I deny the Demon Wheat.

We bade goodbye and good luck to the theater kids who were, unbelievably, still waiting in line. The one whose actual name was Gunner said, “We’ve been waiting for two hours now. It’s too late to bail.”

We homed in on our first destination: the Gun Totem.

When reading about this on Atlas Obscura, I assumed an obelisk made of a thousand guns would be really imposing and perhaps suggestive of the fact that we live in a society.

I don’t know if I’d call it anticlimactic, it delivered as advertised. I think Yurp just spoiled obelisks on me. They really mean it out there.

We sat on the river bank and watched a battalion of little goblin tourists try to frighten away the ducks with limited success. This gave me a mighty thirst, and we wound up at the best bar in Providence, a little street corner affair called the Malted Barley. The beer was cheap, the portions generous, and the waitress an angel given material form by the name of “Courtney”. I have not encountered a Courtney in the wild since 2006, and I assumed they went extinct.

Courtney pumped us full of beer and shared with us sacred, secret Providensi lore. I asked her about WaterFire, and her already somewhat disproportionately oversized eyes widened still further in alarm.

“Is that tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Google said to park at the mall. That’s the extent of my knowledge. What is it?”

“Oh,” she said, then, “Oh! WaterFire is this big downtown event where they float burning wood on the river, and that’s the event.”

She paused, then said, “It’s a lot better than it sounds.”

She kept bringing us larger and stronger beers, and soon I was very much daydrunk and doing all in my power not to shout like a crazed animal and alarm the gentle Providencians.

It must be said, the people of Providence are very friendly and surprisingly willing to engage. Courtney theorized this was due to the nice weather. We informed her that we were Philly natives, and it is advisable to avoid interacting with strangers in Philly, as many of them smoke a lot of crack and want you to give them money for absolutely no reason.

“There’s still some of that here,” Courtney said. “But it sounds like… less.”

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This has been a lot of words, and this seems like a natural narrative break. More to come soon.


The Bastard

Catch-22Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this when I was young and it made perfect sense. I reread it the other day and it feels like my brain has been restored to factory defaults.

In my wasted youth, my url was “basically Yossarian”, and my girl was giving me grief about it. “This is him? This is the guy you identified with?”

Yeah. And still do! You’ve got to understand, Yossarian is just trying to get out of this alive. Everyone in a position of authority is either an idiot or a monster, most of them some combination thereof. Major Major is an avatar of negligence and irresponsibility. Cathcart is a vapid, narcissistic caricature of toxic masculinity. Korn is the probably the worst of them because he’s smart enough to see backstage, he recognizes the corruption, and he revels in it and the opportunities for casual sadism it affords him.

His peers are crazy, too. Everyone is nursing their own private madness, and everyone keeps looking at Yossarian like he’s the crazy one.

Yossarian is certain he’s not crazy, but his environment is imprinting on him. Didn’t Cervantes say something about madness as the coin for the realm? What else is a boy to do?

He stumbles blithely along, set in his convictions that there are things that are right, and there are things that are wrong, and no amount of maniac god-figure fiat doublespeak is going to convince him otherwise.

Poor Yossarian is an arguably sane figure in an insane world, and his only concerns, aside from personal adherence to his internalized code of honor, are staying alive and getting laid. That’s it. That’s all he’s worried about.

What more is there to worry about?

A catch-22 itself is a self-protecting contradiction, the most succinct version of which is “Catch-22 gives them the right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing”. It’s the only catch, and the best there is. The whole of the book layers them one on top of the other, just like in real life. Maintenance of Catch-22s are the function of bureaucracy.

You pay your taxes.

They send you a letter saying your e-payment didn’t go through, they need a money order. You send them a money order.

Two days later, you get another letter saying it took you too long to send the money order, and they’re charging you a late fee.

You can’t pay it electronically, since they can’t figure out how to debit your bank account, so you need to send them another money order. You send them another money order.

They send you another a letter saying it took too long for that money order to reach them, so they’ve applied another late fee.

Your life, right at this moment, is full of Catch-22s. They’re everywhere. That’s why zen koans exist in the first place, to point out the paradoxical absurdity inherent in everything taking place around you.

Yossarian can see behind the curtain too, and this virulent game of machiavellian grabass horrifies him. He tries to warn the others, but they write him off as a kook. It’s hard to portray credibility when you’re sitting bare-ass naked in a tree, but what else were you supposed to do? That poor kid’s guts were all over your uniform.

In the last few chapters, he drifts along through the fall of Rome in a shellshock haze and realizes there’s no humanity in humanity, and there never has been. It’s always thugs, barbarians with clubs clotting together to mutilate the weak.

He’s not insane, and he didn’t stumble into a pocket of insanity. It’s pervasive, endemic, built into the very fabric of our being, the inevitable result of grouping more than a dozen people in one place. Insanity is a contagious disease of civilization, and the more people, the worse it gets.

At the end, Korn essentially congratulates him for cracking the code and invites him to the inner party. All you’ve got to do is grin and stay the course. Let them rot, and you’ll have all the power you could ever want.

He thinks about it for a while, then he goes rogue, consequences be damned. If they get him, they’ll have to earn it. If they break him, it will be with the stick, not the carrot. The book ends with Yossarian fleeing into obscurity, a fugitive for the rest of his life, going to join his gnome mechanist best friend in Sweden where he will impregnate a small fleet of tall, blonde Nordic women who swim in the nude.

The Code, stay alive, and get laid.

As good an obit as any.

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Do Attend

April 27, 2019. At 27th and Girard Ave. on the vacant lot, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

It started, as so many things do, with a call to arms. A valiant Philly native assessed the amount of food alive in his body and declared, “This jawn shall not stand.” Under cover of darkness, this unknown hero planted the following cipher in mailboxes all across the Delph:

do attend

And attend we did. This mysterious figure had tapped the zeitgeist of both Fairmountaineers and ex-first graders the world over, had given voice to their most secret, fondest wish: to be put under anesthesia and immolated in a steel furnace, only to be resolidified into an invulnerable statue, free from all pain and all food.

“Farewell,” I bid my loved ones. “My time has come. Catch me at the steel furnace thus:”


leanin p heavy on terminator references these days

I got on my bike and rode, as Freddy Mercury commanded, across the dystopian Delphscape and out to the vacant lot, eager for my metallic ascendance. And what to my wondering eyes should appear?


Glorious. I shackled my faithful steed Rocinante to a rusted fence next to a dumpster full of wood and sallied forth, giddy with the anticipation of curing my body dysmorphia the old fashioned way.

what meeting would be complete without a DJ?



“Excuse me,” I asked the dude on the right, cutting in front of the reporter. “Are you the anesthesiologist?”


A fair question. “Will you be the one sedating us?”

He looked down at his colorful outfit, then back up at me.


“All right, sorry to bother you.”

I moved on.



This guy was cosplaying as a bulldozer. Not very effective, but his heart was true.




I believe this is what the kids call “squad goals”.



This guy brought a grill. Sadly, not a furnace, not hot enough to melt steel, and not large enough to immolate me. Think bigger, my friend.



Oh no.



My heart bled for that fluffy champion but I wasn’t going to get caught in the crossfire until my soft, beautiful body had been replaced with hot, beautiful steel, so I made my way back up to the meeting DJ.

And lo, as it is foretold, so it became.



my mans is prepared, come what may






To my mortification, a socialist newspaper had chosen this venue, at this moment, to attempt to discuss the Green New Deal. At least, that’s what was on the newspapers they were waving. I obviously didn’t read them. I did eavesdrop on a conversation happening nearby, though:

Dude 1: “See, but that’s why we need free college! Everyone deserves to go to college!”

Dude 2: “Are you kidding me, dude? Half the kids at college are just there to party and be fuckin’ idiots. Most of them drop out in a couple months! You want everyone to do that?”

Dude 1: “No, I just… they deserve a chance!”

Dude 2: “They have a chance! It’s called loans!”

Dude 1: “We need debt forgiveness!”

Dude 2: “Why would we need that? The job market’s already saturated!”

It got mumbly after that, and if I really wanted to hear this debate to its conclusion, I could go into literally any Facebook group. Instead, I decided to get a beer.

Crime and Punishment Brewing Company across the street had made a jalapeno double IPA to commemorate the Fairmount denizens metamorphoses into the 21st century answer to the terracotta army. Since Abba was over, it seemed like now was the time.


I saw this ghoul as I crossed. As you can see, in my pursuit of journalistic integrity, I got close enough that he could have swiped me with whatever the hell is going on with his left hand there.

This was the man who wrote the letter. He had transubstantiated… but at what cost?

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was starting to rethink the invincibility. I didn’t want to carry an umbrella! Umbrellas are for wimps!

A modern Buddha like this dude must have known that, and he must have been carrying it as an ironic statement — “I can no longer be harmed, yet I embrace the trappings of wussyhood, for who could challenge me”? An inspiration without saying a word. The Flower Sermon, reborn like a phoenix in concrete.


I waited in line for a thousand years and got the jalapeno beer. It tasted like how I remember New Mexico.

I was over it, though. The flesh husk had carried me this far, and I may as well see it through to its natural completion. Besides, it’s the future. The transhumanist movement is already surgically implanting magnets in their hands, and all of our high-profile billionaires are mad scientists hurling their limitless money at developing sci-fi tech. It’ll be the singularity in a couple years. I can wait.


And what Philly outdoor event would be complete without somebody climbing on top of shit?

Nobody stole Rocinante. I saddled up and went home. I’d nursed all the food in my body since first grade. Another year wouldn’t hurt.

But there’s always next year.


The Bastard

(note: To anyone I may have photographed or recorded, I took your leaping in front of my camera, grinning, as consent to be featured on my world renown and widely read blog. If this isn’t the case, contact me at and I’ll be glad to take it down. You fuckin’ crybaby.)

Time and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier DaysTime and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier Days by James Wallman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I avoid the self-help genre most of the time. There’s a sheen of sleaze on most of these books, and they tend to read either like a used car sales pitch, ensemble complete with plaid blazer and slimy combover, or like an academic paper that didn’t have enough nuance or jargon to get published in a journal.

This is the latter, but that’s okay. Unlike academic papers, this was designed to be read.

Wallman builds his case with the eclecticism of a caffeinated toddler, tearing validations piecemeal from ancient philosophy, mystically-bent depth psychology (back when they used the term “psychic” to describe the subconscious), and modern positive psychology studies. The result is the Enchiridion — of Adventure Time, not Epictetus.

You’re the hero of the story. Your function is to flesh out the story. Everything you do to make the story more interesting will improve your subjective well-being, which just means “happiness” in the pospsy argot. The more interesting you make your story, the more you do strange or challenging things to build your experiences, the greater the breadth of these experiences, which will result in an expanding social circle and improved social status.

It’s taboo to talk about, but the research is unequivocal that higher status leads to better health, longer lives, and greater self-reported happiness. That doesn’t necessarily mean status as defined by which model iPhone you have. Status can be the strength and number of your social relationships, your prestige at work, and how favorably you’re viewed in the community. You can be broke as a joke and still benefit from high status, so long as that status exists in a paradigm that matters to you.

Wallman suggests as much college as possible, naturally, but also rallies against consumerist culture so viciously that he accidentally winds up making a compelling case for capitalism. The consumption of goods, chasing the dragon of stuff, leaves us hollow and detached from one another. What we own says nothing about ourselves, except that we own things. Anyone can own things. He encourages a disregard for stuff (dude HATES stuff) and a new focus on novel experiences, relationships, and the constant pursuit of flow as the keys to happiness and personal fulfillment.

Wallman makes a convincing case against the brain candy provided by social media. It checks most of our boxes for flow experiences, providing us with a level of risk and the possibility for reward, as any good Skinner box should, but it fails to deliver on anything that allows us to grow as people, and the constant vigilance keeps our cortisol high and our little ratperson noses a-twitchin’. He likened it to slot machines (which he insisted on calling “fruit machines” due to terminal Englishness).

Speaking of, there’s a cute little air of cultural idolatry buried in the text; our mans is British, but he’s kind of ashamed of being British due to the cultural stereotype of their being reserved and cautious, while the guidelines he’s brewing up perfectly fit the likewise European stereotype of the Bold, Brash American, blundering through their Campbellian hero’s journey full bore because they don’t have the refinement to recognize other options.

Great book. I couldn’t put it down. I knocked a star off for the title. Don’t give me rules, I’m a grown-ass man.

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Hell is Other People Driving

January 28, 2019. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Do you want to know why the Buddhist monks can harp on maintaining compassion for humankind? They don’t drive.

I loved road rage. It was a reminder that I was alive, like exercise, or a headbutt. It’s been burnt out of me now; the edge has dulled from overuse, so when I’m driving around the city I don’t get those bursts of life-affirming adrenaline anymore.

Instead, I get are waves of confused pity and a faint sense of betrayal that natural selection has failed. If you have doubts, I understand, and challenge you to drive anywhere in Philadelphia city limits between 7 and 9 AM.

You remember that part in Alice in Wonderland where the Mad Hatter screams “Change places!” and everyone scrambles around the table for no reason? Take that, put it in cars, and make everyone involved drunk and texting. That’s I-95 South.

How are you all still drunk at 7 AM on a Monday? And if it’s that commonplace an experience, how and why do you still have a car?

In my past life, I’d drive around West Chester with my windows down regardless of the season and hurl verbally abusive driving instruction at the trust fund kids. That doesn’t work here, because it’s predicated on the assumption that the listener can be taught. There’s no learning here, no adaptation. It’s reflexive gut-instinct stimulus-and-response bedlam.

They say we are the product of our environment, so I can’t put the full blame on these stupid animals. This city catalyzes it. It’s a vehicular manslaughter factory.

One of the most iconic things about Philly, putting aside Ben Franklin’s portly punam in every shop window and our oft-lauded habit of getting naked and climbing shit whenever the Birds go (GO BIRDS!), is the beverage tax. The county tacks an extra dollar or more onto soda and beer for that thick, juicy tax revenue, which they then use to tear giant strips of road up, then leave. The hole is unattended or covered in plywood for weeks. These are known colloquially as “graves”, due to their size, their depth, and the function they serve for cyclists.

Stop signs are a mass delusion, and summarily disregarded. Exactly one stop light is acknowledged because of the Orwellian telescreen built into it that mails $100 tickets to your house in a random interval ratio.

Philadelphia is somewhere between Death Race 2050 and Mario Kart. I spend the first half hour of every commute emoting wildly at the drivers around me, sneaking up to kiss bumpers, or playing jaunty, accusatory little ditties on my horn.

This is too ubiquitous and pervasive to fix. Butterfly stitches on an amputation. These troglodytes are driven along by thanatos, and if I’m going to be part of the problem, I’m going to be the biggest part.

You can hear me laughing, but it’s the desperate, hopeless kind of laugh you get after hours in asylums.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is Thanos was the hero of Thanos movie.


The Bastard