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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Blowing Stuff Up With Steve Russ

The main things I remember about Steve Russ: His dad, his Bama sweatshirt, The Oujia Board Incident of 1987, and blowing stuff up.

We kicked around the same neighborhood for most of high school, starting out roaming in a small herd of young teenagers on bikes and skateboards, ending up in our cars, barreling around, causing trouble.

The guys had easy names back then. Erik, Aaron, Mike, Tom, Steve. Nobody named their kids Judah or Topher or Mordecai, the way people like to do now. We’d sit around over at Erik’s playing Nintendo, or we’d hang around my house playing pool, or we’d hang around Mike’s house, looking at his wide assortment of actual, deadly weapons – it was a different time.

Steve Russ had a sweatshirt from the University of Alabama. I’m pretty sure that’s where his family was from, and they were pure southern. They had southern accents, they had southern views, they cooked southern food, and his dad was pure southern, too. As in, don’t screw with him, not even a little bit, not even once.

If we were hanging around Steve’s house, and his dad yelled from the other room – “Steven!” – my pal Steve Russ would not only jump in the air and get moving that way, but he’d answer, “Sir!”

A clear rule in that house: Dad called, you jumped, and you respectfully made sure he knew you heard him and that you were jumping.

So Steve Russ was always getting a little crap from the rest of us. Aaron would do an impression of Steve jumping up and answering “sir!” Erik – for an OSU-related reason, I think – gave him crap about the Bama sweatshirt. And we all thought the southern discipline thing was pretty weird.

One day in 1987 – and I think it was Memorial Day, though I’m not sure – we were all hanging around over at Steve’s house. His folks weren’t home, and someone had a Ouija board, and I’m not even going to bother telling you what the Ouija board was doing. It was beyond the standard I’m-not-moving-it-are-you-moving-it routine.

That thing was suddenly coming up with answers that the two guys touching it couldn’t have known. Coming up with separate, detailed personalities which I know from experience, are hard to come up with when you’re sitting there thinking about it for an hour, let alone on the spur of the moment, while you’re screwing around.

No, I’m not going to try and convince you that we were talking to dark spirits that day, but I’ll tell you this – neither Steve nor I will ever touch one of those things again, and if someone gets one out in front of me, I’ll leave the room.

I guess I would play with a Ouija board if you put a gun to my head, but I wouldn’t try that on Steve Russ. You’d lose your gun and your Ouija board that way, and then you’d need a dentist.

Just listen to how this guy turned out:

A Navy EOD Diver, for starters. That EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal. When I think about Disposing of Explosive Ordnances, I think, man, that sounds pretty dangerous. Then factor in the words on either side of it, “Navy” and “diver.”

Either of those things – way beyond my capacity for keeping control of my bowels. Dive a hundred feet under water – no thank you. Do it in order to Dispose of an Explosive Ordnance?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Did you ever see Men of Honor, with Cuba Gooding Jr., and Robert DeNiro? I remember when I saw it, I was thinking, man, these Top Gun-type movies are getting pretty specific. This one here’s about being the best Navy Underwater Explosives Expert. I was even sort of thinking, while I was watching it – I don’t think there really are guys like this.

But there’s Steve Russ, and that’s exactly what he was doing, while I was growing my hair long and picking out funny hats. And it’s just the beginning. He’s been career military this whole time, while the same slackers who used to make fun of his Bama sweatshirt were hanging around on campus, eating Shake and Bake chicken.

The 8th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team CBRN NCO HAZMAT Response. That’s his current job, working for the U.S. Army, now. After extensive training in Stuff That Would Make Me Cry Every Single Time, after years of doing things they literally make movies about, Steve went to work for the U.S. Army.

If there’s an anthrax attack or a dirty bomb or something, guess who’s going to suit up and drive there?

Plus, I’ve seen his picture on Facebook. If you were thinking he was the soft and pudgy sort of career military explosives expert, you were wrong again. He looks exactly like he could rip your heart out of you, and show it to you before you died.

A beautiful wife and two beautiful children, too. It would make us all feel better about ourselves if this guy had turned out to be some kind of jerk, but no. He’s an easy-going, good-natured, well-educated guy, who likes to hang around with his family, when he’s not training to save us all from freaking James Bond villains.

I remember one time I found him out jogging, and pulled up next to him in my car, kind of giving him crap about that, too. Like jogging wasn’t cool, but being a wiseass pixie man in a ’78 Nova – that was just awesome.

I used to blow stuff up with this guy, before he became ten kinds of an expert at it, so I feel kind of like I was in a garage band with Eric Clapton, before he got signed. We blew up much smaller things than he blows up now, and he’s actually trained to stop things from blowing up, too.

We didn’t do a lot of that, stopping things from blowing up.

No, we learned the very basics about playing with fire. We found out that aerosol hair spray, for instance, was highly combustible, and we found out that you can cook your eyebrows off, in the process of learning about it.

We shot off a lot of firecrackers and bottle rockets – this at the tail end of the Age Of Pop Bottles Made Of Actual Glass. We also shot off handfuls of them taped together, and we shot them off in pairs, pointed opposite directions, and we shot them off upside down, so they’d blast the bottle apart.

Did we ever pour some gasoline in there first? Sure – decisions were made. Don’t try that at home.

Now here’s the thing. I was thinking that Memorial Day would be a great day to honor my old friend Steve Russ, but I’ve been told that actually, that would have been Veteran’s Day. Steve hasn’t fallen, and Memorial Day is to honor fallen soldiers.

Things are often a little bit different here at The Curse of Future Tom, so I mean no disrespect by it, and I hope I’m right in my thinking here – pretty much any day is a good day to thank these guys.

Someone else I’d like to acknowledge, even though it’s not Father’s Day, either, is Steve Russ’s dad. Yes, the guy Aaron used to do an impression of. The guy who’d yell Steve’s name, and it was like the voice of the Almighty. The guy you didn’t want to screw with.

I just wanted to tell him that at least one of the slouching, mumbling little slackers from back in the neighborhood can see the whole trip Steve Russ has taken, from the skateboard to the freaking HAZMAT response team, and I know who gave him directions. I know that someone was there the whole time, making sure Steve didn’t get too comfortable, slacking with his wacky pals.

Nice job, sir. Your results speak for themselves. I’ll bet to this day, you can still make old Steve Russ jump a foot and come running, just by calling out his name.
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UPDATE – I was in brief contact with Steve this evening through email, and his immediate response was that he didn’t deserve the recognition, that every other member of the Armed Forces ought to be honored and not just him. So I’m not going to sit around arguing with him. Thanks to every single one of you from me and Steve Russ. I hope everyone reading this gets out the phone and calls someone you know who’s serving, and tells them that, too.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Enter: Bobo

Put this in the Strangest And Most Jarring Facebook Messages Category: meet Robert Bobo.

I hadn’t seen him since high school, and we didn’t hang around together that much. I just have a series of memories of winding up standing in the same group of people with him, at a football game or a study hall or a big, crazy keg party in the middle of a soy bean field.

One thing I can remember about him though – always smiling. Never acting like the bad guy from The Karate Kid. A lot of people in high school go through Bad Guy From The Karate Kid phase. Rob was never like that.

His sister is around here somewhere, and I’d say I probably knew her a little better than I knew Rob. We are a couple of guys who, in the pre-Facebook world, would have very likely never set foot in the same room again, and not for any particular reason. Just as a matter of probability. It would have been pretty unlikely that I’d have ever run into his sister again, either.

But at first, that’s pretty much all The Curse Of Future Tom was – a bunch of people from my high school and a bunch of people I know now, mixed together. A lot of people who I probably would have never seen or heard from again, if not for Facebook.

Now I’m getting incoming links to the web site from all over. I followed one all the way back to the Czech Republic. A discussion group, talking in Czech about my Lost rant.

So anyway, when Robert Bobo popped up in my Question Bucket – even if he wasn’t using the Bucket properly, like most people – he said, some pretty immediate Strange and Jarring Things.

The first is, he’s got a terminal illness, and it hurts. He’s got a year or two to live, is what he tells me.

And then he goes on to say that he used to own a company which worked on the computer effects in The Matrix and What Dreams May Come. That he’s taken a leak with Robin Williams.

I really like your blog, he tells me. If I write something, what would you think about posting it?

I don’t know, man. What on earth would you TALK about? I mean, terminal illnesses and ground-breaking films?

You really need to have a solid platform, if you’re going to blog. Like me, a skinny, fat guy who likes to sit around watching television and drink bacon-flavored bloody marys. That’s the kind of gripping perspective people are really out there looking for.

So yes, obviously, Presenter Of One Of The Strangest And Most Jarring Facebook Messages I’ve Ever Received, have at it. Nearly Two Months Ago Tom said that I had to post at least eight hundred words a day. He didn’t say, AND NOBODY ELSE, JUST YOU!

I think that about 90% of the original members of The Curse Of Future Tom will be happy to hear about practically anything that isn’t LOST. I wouldn’t tell Rob that, though. He appears to be itching for a fight, and if he thinks you don’t like something, I am concerned – that’s what he’s going to do.

In my mind, I’m thinking you haven’t read his post yet, so if you haven’t let me just point out, I’m only being flip and casual about the subject because that’s the way he wants it. I know that I enjoy flying off the handle on a semi-regular basis, let off some steam as they say. I don’t know what I’d do if no one ever gave me a reason to do so.

My old friend Robert Bobo wants you to know about his condition because it’s not a secret, and also because there are logistic factors attached to it. He’s far enough along, for instance, that it’s tough to plan anything. Some days are better than other days, and the worst ones, he tells me, are worse than anything the rest of us will have to go through for a long time.

How long does he have? What exact condition is it? What is up with his hostile, invisible monkey? Well, head on over there and ask him.

But I know what it’s like, having something to say and never being able to say it. The big difference is, when I was sitting around unable to say anything, at least nothing anyone would be able to hear, there seemed like there was a future out there in which I might be a writer in one form or another. Having the future out there was a blessing and a curse.

It let me think that there was plenty of time, and it let me reassure myself, some day you’ll get there. And it let me stagnate for so long. I wasn’t dying, wasn’t even approaching the intensity and magnitude of Rob’s experience. But in a lonely and melodramatic way, I sometimes felt like I was.

I know that right away, even when the numbers were in the double digits instead of the thousands, writing The Curse Of Future Tom felt like a daily dose of medicine, prescribed finally for a condition I’d had all along. And I’m not going to hog the pills.

He’s right here, with his first post. You’ll notice pretty quickly, he’d rather you don’t tiptoe around him. Someone go over there and flip over his desk, start screaming obscenities at him – you’ll probably make his day.

 

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The Hostile Imaginary Monkey And Me, by Robert Bobo

Hello. I was inspired by my High School friend Tom to write again. Let’s just get it out of the way…I am dying. I could be gone tomorrow or two years from now but nobody knows. In the mean time I would like to post what I think and feel.

The majority of you are just wasting time reading a blog rather than doing something productive. I will admit, I was that person from time to time. Now my biggest decision is whether to piss in a urine jar or make the trip to the bathroom. It sounds simple enough but can you really put yourself there? I surely couldn’t until recently.

I suppose I am pretty lucky. I have traveled the world, been to major events most people only dream of and I have a wonderful family.

But what I miss is confrontation. Everyone just agrees with me anymore because I am sick. I love to argue and defend a point even if I really don’t believe it has merit. Most of you will just read this and laugh…go about your day. I enjoy beating baby seals, selling Cambodian children in Central America and throwing away recyclable products. For crying out loud, somebody get mad at me.

If you truly have balls and want to actually say something then write it out. I say I will defeat anyone with any argument from any side. What is on your mind? Any topic or subject. The “dare” is on the table.

I thank Tom (and Future Tom) for giving me a forum. Future Bobo is resting in peace and Past Bobo is still smiling! Anyone?

* * *

I just had a long discussion with my best friend George. George is a monkey and only appears to talk to me at the most inopportune times. My kids even know of George and the younger claimed to have seen him outside.

We even named our dog after him…she was a girl so it was Georgegina but I digress.

You see, George comes around whenever I screw up or do something good. I haven’t written anything for almost three years until I happened upon Tom who gave me a venue. George told me this was good and to make sure I gave him credit.

He then told me to pick at a scratch on my leg which led to two hours of bleeding. You have to sort through the weeds to find the flower with him.

When you are sick and dying you tend to give up. Just a fact of life. I sit in a hospital bed and think of all sorts of things but rarely do anything about it. In fact, George even stopped coming around for a while.

He said I depressed him. I guess I could do that to almost anyone after losing 60 lbs and being a walking pharmacy. Then it clicked….share your misery with everyone and make fun of them!

That is what I want to do. Poke at other’s misery besides my own. George said there are millions of people out there and at least 90% would love to have a go at you…testing his theory.

Worst case nobody responds and Tom is reduced to writing a teen love novel because of me. I will still be dead and the 1,000 postcards to subscribe to “Teen People” (checked with “bill me later”) I have filled out in other’s names/addresses will continue to remind everyone of me!

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Lost Rant Follow-up: Live Together Or Die Alone

My rant about Lost – I never expected it to take off like this.

Thursday on WordPress, for instance, The Curse of Future Tom was the 40th most popular blog. Doesn’t sound like taking off, until you realize there were nearly 300,000 different posts that day.

With a few days to think about it, since I posted my open letter, there are a couple of things I’m not completely in love with about it, but I’m glad I wrote it, and I stand by it.

An overwhelming number of the responses have been positive – people who felt just like me, who were simply happy to see their thoughts and emotions on the finale articulated and defended.

Closing in on ten thousand page views so far, I’ve blocked about thirty posts by people who I simply didn’t feel like arguing with. I was clear in the letter – I wasn’t opening a debate. And so if you showed up emulating the qualities I was talking about, well I didn’t feel obligated to post your comment on my blog.

My thinking was – get your own blog. It’s not that hard.

To be fair, most of the comments I blocked were either about my possible homosexuality, or about how stupid blogs were in the first place, so it seemed fitting.

But a funny thing happened. A lot of People Who Thought The End Of Lost Was Awesome showed up, disagreeing without emulating the qualities of the People I’d been talking to. I posted their comments, and we usually had a civil and interesting exchange.

Frankly, they had a lot of good points. Not enough to make me like the ending, certainly. But good points. I just couldn’t see moving on without acknowledging that.

So today, I’m going to clarify a couple of things about the letter which I think need clarified – based on some really insightful and calm responses to it, and also based on some personal reflection.

First, there was something weird about who I was talking to. I mean, I spent eight paragraphs really clearly stating, if you liked the show, and you’re still comfortable with people who didn’t, then I wasn’t talking to you.

It seemed like I couldn’t have been clearer about that.

However, sure, reading it over and over, I can see that by the end, I was really blurring the line again. It started to sound like I was yelling at everyone who liked the show, not excluding the people from the first eight paragraphs anymore.

Sure, I asked you to stop reading if you were just a regular Person Who Thought The End Of Lost Was Awesome, and not the pseudo intellectual variety, but I really doubt anyone did. I doubt anyone said, cool, see you later. At least, not because I told them to.

But again, that’s what I said, and although I was blurring it toward the end, I reiterated that sentiment. I even apologized. So when I received responses saying that I really didn’t mean that and that I really was insulting everybody, I was puzzled.

I mean, I could see how you might say, Tom doesn’t know what the writers of Lost meant, or Tom doesn’t have the right to tell them how they have to end it – sure. But the letter is a different story. I wrote the letter. I know if I meant the eight paragraphs or not. I meant them. But yes, I got many responses telling me that I meant something else.

Again, this letter was addressed to bullies, plain and simple. A lot of us felt really let down by the end, despite the fact that we understood it just fine, and a lot of people immediately began to insist, you either liked it or you were some kind of moron who didn’t get it. And I mean, over and over again, on site after site, that’s what you’d see, anytime anyone said anything about not liking the end.

The problem was, it was like arguing politics, trying to do it in comment form. Lost is like health care reform or immigration – it’s so complicated that it’s not conducive to sound bites or sniper fire. So I sat down and knocked out that letter in about an hour and a half, trying to articulate exactly how one could dislike the end, and still not be a moron.

But Tom, weren’t you also being a bully, in your letter?

No, I don’t think so. I think I was being Walker, Texas Ranger. I don’t think it’s still called bullying, when you push a bully down.

But to be sure, a lot of people sitting around enjoying the show without being a bully got beer splashed on them, when I started flipping over tables and calling the bullies out. That was really rude, and it turned out to be insulting to some people who most definitely were not asking for it. For that, I am truly sorry.

There was a lot of poison in the letter. Generally, I’m not crazy about spewing poison into the universe. But you also use poison to get rid of rats, and just as there were a lot of people who didn’t have the letter coming, there were an awful lot of people who did.

For that, I’m definitely not sorry. I turned out to be speaking on behalf of many thousands of people, and I received praise and sincere thanks a lot more than anything else.

Another blurry concept: “I could write a better ending.”

Yeah. A lot of people jumped on that line. To be fair, a lot of them jumped on it in a good way. I bet you could, Tom. Or, I wish you would, Tom. Or, it’d be hard to write anything and not have it be better than what we got, Tom.

And then a lot of people had a good old time, pointing out that I’m nobody and these guys wrote a show of truly epic of historic proportions. Who cared what I thought?

Fair enough.

I still think I could write a better ending, but all that means is, I think I could write one I liked better, one that the thousands of people who identified with the letter would like better, and that I could do that leaving the rest of it intact.

That I could let the People of Faith keep their redemption themes, their symbolism, their characters and resolutions, and that I could have given the People of Science a lot of the hard answers they were looking for. I guess I wouldn’t let you keep all of it, Faith Crowd. If it were up to me, I’d have gotten rid of that whole cork in a cave thing. I’ll stand right by that – I thought it was one of the most uninspired images I’d ever seen.

It seems to me that if an ending addressed both of those groups, instead of declaring the Faith crowd the winners, then it would have not only been a better, more satisfying ending, but that it would be in keeping with one of the central themes of the show – that we have to live together so we don’t die alone.

I’ve said before, I’m of the school of thought that symbolism ought to run parallel to a story, not be used as a heavy plaster to patch giant holes in the plot. That’s about how I felt about Lost. The hardest thing I could imagine about writing the show was pulling it all together, and then they just sort of said, we’re not going to do that. Put their hands in the air like Pee Wee Herman and declared, “I meant to not answer questions.”

Which brings me to another regret: If a stoner, etc, has to explain your show to everyone, then you wrote it poorly. That was clearly the most asinine thing I said, right there. The writers of this show are obviously not a bunch of crappy writers.

I’m going to characterize that remark as similar to something you’d say when you’re playing poker, and your pal busts your flush with sixes over sevens. It was a childish thing to say to a crew of writers who really obviously kept me hooked for six years. I didn’t get what I expected, and that doesn’t make me stupid, but it doesn’t make them crappy, either.

And all of that brings me to the end, where I called them sons of bitches – again, that was supposed to be in a jocular manner. The way you’d say it to your pal with the full house. You son of a bitch. I thought that by bookmarking it between the word “Namaste,” well, that the irony would be clear and so would the tone. So that’s not something I want to apologize for at all, but yes, I’m over it. Whose turn is it to deal?

Because what I was saying, was true. They grifted me, and they grifted a lot of people like me.

Someone in an interview would say, here are all these questions, do you guys know where you’re going or what? And they’d say, we’ve known the end since the beginning.

That doesn’t necessarily mean, we’re going to answer all the questions. Every time they responded, I believe they were intentionally trying to give the impression that they’d answer these questions. That maybe lying is too strong a word for what they did – they just misled us.

Even the series build up – THE TIME FOR QUESTIONS HAS ENDED!

A little bit of a difference, isn’t there, between that and “THE TIME FOR ANSWERS HAS ARRIVED!”

Do I think they SHOULD have answered more questions? Yes, I absolutely do. But it looks like they didn’t promise it. They just knew we were thinking it, intentionally misled us, allowed us to keep right on thinking it.

They played with our expectations, grifted us, and they even said they were going to do it, in the episode “The Long Con.”

To be clear, I don’t appreciate that any more than I appreciate getting sharked or tricked or grifted, for real. But again, this wasn’t a matter of not understanding the end, it was a matter of expecting a different one. A meatier one.

That doesn’t mean I’m a Person Who Thought The End Of Lost Was Awesome now. No, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But I’m finding it easier to direct my anger only at bullies, and I’d like to put something a little more positive out there in the universe, especially since suddenly, thousands of people are listening.

Lost was all about the Jack’s journey from Man of Science to Man of Faith. Lots of us think the journey ought to go the other way, but the writers of Lost didn’t, and that’s their choice. I don’t have to like it, but I do like their central theme about living together so we don’t die alone.

I also wanted to thank the thousands of people who took the time to read my rant, the thousands of people who said that it really spoke for them. For my part, I got a lot of my rage out, and it’s not healthy to rant forever. I might have hated the end, but I did love the show for a long time, loved it in a completely unique way, as far as television goes.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2010 in LOST, Television/Movies

 

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The Lunch Money Job

I have to pass another school every day, on my way to drop off my girls, an elementary school right around the corner from theirs; they’re in Junior High.

The first few times I notice the armored car parked in front of it as we drive past, I think, maybe the guy who drives it drops his kid off on the way to work. Then a few weeks later, we’re driving by it again, and there he is, a uniformed driver, carrying a bag of money right out the front door.

He’s about fifty and half skinny, half fat – definitely not a first stringer. He has charcoal hair, too long and worn in such a way that it always looks like he needs a shower, and his skin is pale and pockmarked, wide, cheap glasses straddling a lumpy nose. But he’s on duty, that’s for sure – his eyes are narrow and they dart around. Somebody try something, his demeanor says, and yes, he’s got a gun.

“What is up with that guy?” I wonder aloud.

Two daughters in the car – Ellen riding shotgun, Chrissy in the back seat.

Chrissy says, “He comes to our school, too.”

“Yeah,” Ellen agrees. “I’ve seen him in the morning, when I go in early for Math Club.”

It’s a school zone, so we roll on by nice and slow and I get to take a look in the empty cab of the armored car. When they send these things out to banks, there’s always a guy who stays in the vehicle, and one who transfers the cash, and sometimes there’s even a third guy, locked in the back, a guy trained and sworn to refuse to open the door even if there are guns to his partners’ heads.

Whatever this third stringer is doing, they don’t expect any trouble. The last thing an armored car company should do, not expect trouble.

“What is that thing?” Chrissy wants to know.

So I explain what an armored car is, how it’s bullet-proof, and explosion-resistant, and how security protocols like the one I was just thinking about contribute to its usefulness, for companies with a lot of cash to move it around.

“What doesn’t ‘make sense,” I tell them. “Is what on earth is it doing at schools?”

“Lunch money,” Chrissy says, and I look up at the rearview mirror. She has dark hair and freckles and eyebrows that look pretty sure of themselves. Her tone is like she’s answering a math question, and in a way, she is.

“You’re kidding,” I insist, but then I start checking the math.

There are close to two thousand kids in their middle school, maybe another two thousand in the elementary school around the corner. How much does lunch cost these days? Three bucks?

And that guy isn’t there every day – twice a week, near as I can figure. So let’s see, three days, four thousand kids, three bucks each.

Why not go ahead and say it out loud? “That third string security guard is walking out of there with forty thousand dollars, every time we see him.”

Ellen says, “Guess that’s why they use the armored car, since they’re impossible to rob.”

“Well, not quite, sweetheart. You just have to think it through, step-by-step. Watch the patterns, look for holes in the security. Put together the right string of guys, with the right equipment. There’s nothing that can’t be done, silly.”

“What?”

“You heard me. You see, Ellen, it’s all about having the will to do what other people won’t. Rules are for suckers, and money is for stealin’, you know what I’m saying?”

“You’re a freak, Dad.”

“You’d want a solid wheel man, someone who knows the area like the back of his hand. And at least one really big, intimidating bully, with a shotgun.”

“Dad!”

“No, no. You load it with bean bag rounds, try and avoid the Chair, in case the score goes sour.”

She’s cracking up now, shaking her head, like I’m joking around or something. Does she think this is a game?

I look up in the rearview mirror, and Chrissy doesn’t think it’s a game. Her eyebrows are horizontal, jaw working a little bit on something, probably thinking, the elementary school is the second one he stops at, so that’s when he’ll have the most cash. But he won’t have it on him. If we’re going to do this thing, we’ll have to crack that truck open.

“We need a bomb,” she says.

“That’s right, Chrissy, good job! We do need a demo man, and I think that would round out the string. I’d want to run the job, of course – planning and calculation and dominion over guilt, that’s what I bring to the table right there.”

“Oh my god,” Ellen says. “You guys are crazy.”

“Are we? Or is it YOU who’s crazy, for eating what the Man’s cooking all the time?”

“No, Dad, it’s you.”

We pull up to the right school, and get in line behind a few dozen cars – other people dropping off their kids, not discussing felonies with them, not noticing armored cars.

“Well, that’s awesome, Ellen, I guess you better get on inside then, knock out those grades. You got a whole legit life ahead of you, outside of the Family. Maybe you could be a veterinarian, or an accountant, or a nurse!”

“We’re not a crime Family, Dad.”

“You keep punching that time clock, Squaresville. One day you’re going to wake up and realize it’s been punching you.”

“For Pete’s sake,” she says – her favorite phrase. “I love you, Dad.”

And she gets out of the car, and Chrissy gets out with her, but as they walk up to the door Chrissy cocks her head back at me, gives me a squint, and the subtlest of nods – she’s in.

Yes, and Ellen’s in, too, whether she knows it or not, because this isn’t the kind of Organization you can just clock out of like a factory job. Everybody’s got to paddle the boat, and I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to jail for Ellen, or anyone.

Every time her mom buys a five hundred dollar dog and claims it was forty bucks, or picks up some Klondike bars and hides them under a pile of frozen vegetables in the back of the freezer, every time she does something like that, it’s pretty clear – Ellen’s not a very tough nut to crack. Lean on her even slightly, and that bird sings.

Oh, she’s in all right. We can’t have any loose ends.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Ghost Hamster Chronicles

 

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When The Shrewing Stops

That’s what the man called it, when she was bugging him to do something. He’d say, “Quit shrewing at me, I’m doing it!”

He knew that he was accessing old memories – when they used to date in high school, when they kept at it on and off through college, that’s what she’d say about her mom, man, I wish she’d quit shrewing at me.

Once they were married, her mom quit shrewing, and would instead bite her tongue, having developed a knowing, tight-lipped smile that said, I tried to tell you about this guy. And so resentment began to develop within her like a pearl forming around a grain of sand, and he knew about the pearl of resentment, but she didn’t.

She’d ask him about the lawn right when he walked in the door, didn’t you say you’d mow the lawn yesterday? Using a conversational tone, like she was just gathering information on the subject, out of curiosity, and the dishonesty of it all, the accusation dressed as an innocuous inquiry – it enraged him.

So he would ignore her, literally. Try jumping out of bed at five o’clock in the morning, lugging crates of ceramic tile around job sites for ten hours, then come on home and see how interested you are in passive-aggressive lawn inquiries.

He could do passive-aggressive, too. He’d use a jovial tone, like they were in on the same joke. “Quit shrewing at me, damn! I’m getting to it.” Winking at her, so she couldn’t get mad.

Then he wouldn’t mow the lawn. He wouldn’t do it until it occurred to him without someone shrewing at him about it. Until he had time to do it without feeling like he worked for a flooring company, and also for his wife.

Sometimes she’d ratchet it up to real shrewing, and that’s when he’d really hit her with it. “Quit shrewing at me, you sound like your damn mom. You ain’t my mom!”

The way he saw things, there was a lot about their marriage that wasn’t equal. She had a job, but it wasn’t no fifty hours a week, and she didn’t come home covered in grout dust. She didn’t have to wear a back brace and Teflon kneepads, crawling around on the concrete with a trowel.

She dealt with the kids most of the time – he knew that was work, but it was the kind of work where you’re in charge, and you can watch TV and take a nap. It wasn’t equal work, and she didn’t pay the bills with it. She used her money for her own things, and for gymnastics classes and 4-H. What was equal about working fifty hours a week, and barely having enough for a decent bar tab on Friday night?

So when she told him she was leaving, that she had a new guy who sold insurance across town, that she was taking the kids with her but she’d drop them off on the weekends if he wanted them, and if they wanted to be dropped off – when she told him at the kitchen table with the phone in her hand as if he might attack her or something, he was genuinely excited, and told her so.

He said, whatever. I can’t wait to hear what my head sounds like when all the shrewing stops.

I know, she told him, and she left, leaving eight years behind her like a contractor walking off a job site.

And it was quiet, that’s how it was. The man had a blast. He’d have his buddies over after work, and they’d play cards and crank the music and later if they felt like it, they’d go out. And he had plenty of money left over – the grocery bill was so much smaller with three mouths out of the house.

He’d fall asleep on the couch with the television on, and not have to hear about it while he made some eggs in the morning, leaving the pan in the sink. It didn’t take long to clean up, either, when he got home, and everything was where he’d left it. No one picked up his stuff and “put it away” for him.

But as time went by, little things began to creep into view, things he didn’t know how to deal with. A gray ring began to form around the toilet, for instance, at water level – what the hell was that? He’d try to blast it off of there with his urine stream every time, and spit the mouth wash in before he flushed. It was blue, why not?

There were groceries he had completely forgotten about, groceries like coffee filters and salt and even the same mouthwash he’d been spitting into the toilet. You had to go to the store and buy those things. And although he could empty the trash cans and replace the bags, do the dishes and put them away, he realized that he had never mopped a floor in his life.

Had she been mopping? The man didn’t think he’d ever seen her mop a floor, but there sure was something wrong with the floor, now that she was gone. It was developing a film that wasn’t quite sticky, but was certainly no longer smooth. And evidently dusting was a real thing that added up over time, if you didn’t do it.

The man told himself, who cares. I’d rather see a little dust and learn to mop a floor, than listen to all that shrewing. But there was something forming around the idea now, like a mysterious black pearl from story books, forming around the grain of sand that used to be his wife.

When the cable went out one day, he realized that not only had he forgotten to pay the bill, but that the first two months she’d been gone were the only two times he had ever done so. And because of his rocking parties with his pals and his generous bar tabs, he realized he wouldn’t have the money to pay it for a while, and had to watch old DVDs like Get Smart and Lord of the Rings.

When the kids came over, they were bored, and told him so as he lay on the couch. The wanted to go to the pool or the park, and he didn’t have the energy. Also, just leaving the house with them made money fly out of his pockets. He’d tell them, if I can entertain myself around here, then so can you.

The black pearl grew as the months went on, and one day he fell ill, and had to go to work anyway, and plowed through the day with his sinuses sealed shut, and there was no one at home to make him any soup or anything. He was determined to take care of himself, though, and he stopped by the grocery store to buy some Campbell’s and tissues, on the way home.

Once he was there, he realized he’d forgotten the crackers, and when he went to the pantry, he couldn’t find any. He yanked open a decorative wooden box labeled tater bin, and leaned it toward himself to look inside, as it was the last place he hadn’t looked for crackers, and then the lid snapped off of it, and he fell backward, spilling the bin all over his feet and onto the floor.

It was full of rotten potatoes, exploding with maggots, potatoes that had been festering for God knew how long, and the tiny white worms clung to his socks and the hairs of his shins, and wiggled in an expanding cloud toward the walls, and under the refrigerator, and the man threw up on himself, there on the floor with the worms.

It was then that he experienced his cathartic black pearl of realization – that perhaps his needs exceeded his merits, and that there were so many things the woman had been doing all this time, things he had never noticed.

That he’d never be able to count them.

That he’d never be able to simply do the things that she had been doing, to take care of him and the house, in a way that would make things the same again.

That the world was quiet now, without her around, but that it was empty, too.

That she’d taken with her many things that he’d never valued, even though he should have, and that it wasn’t as simple as he thought, to fill her shoes.

The worms began to wriggle up his pants legs, and he had to jump to his feet, nearly slipping in his own vomit, to shake them out again, and the man had his first non-selfish thought in many years.

He thought, damn, I wonder if this was what she was shrewing about, all along?

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag

 

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An Open Letter To Anyone Who Thought The End Of Lost Was Awesome

Let’s just start from a position of mutual respect, because I mean it when I say that I don’t want any trouble. I’m not here to pick a fight, and I’m not here to assess your intelligence, and I don’t want to call anyone names, though it’s possible that before I’m finished here, I will do all of those things.

But only if you’re asking for it. If you are simply a person who enjoyed Lost right up to Hurley’s Church Jamboree, then I am nothing but happy for you. I am in fact, jealous of you. I wish with all my heart that I felt right now, about Lost, the way you feel. Please, treasure your happiness and joy and satisfaction – I have no interest in taking it away from you.

And by the same token, when I tell you that I, and millions of others, feel enraged and betrayed by the ending, that we are utterly stunned by the forest of unanswered questions, that we expected most if not all of the bizzaro plotlines to converge in a more direct and satisfying way, let’s just agree to disagree.

All I need you to do, is refrain from trying to tell us that we are stupid, or that we don’t “get it.” See, that’s false and it’s insulting, and that’s how problems start.

We all watched the same show, and we all watched the end. If you liked it – or even loved it – I don’t think you’re stupid. I think your expectations were different from mine, that’s all. By all means, keep your dignity, and I will keep mine.

You can even think of it as living together so we don’t die alone, if that rings your bell.

No, if that’s all right with you, then this letter is over. Namaste. Rock on, fellow human being. Please, take nothing past this point personally, because you and I can live in peace, my friend.

But you’re really not who I want to talk to right now. This next part of the letter is for a different kind of Person Who Liked The End Of Lost.

Right now I want to talk to every one of you posturing pseudo-intellectuals, who’s been blowing up the internet with your insipid insistence that the show actually did answer a satisfying number of questions, that the ending really was full of meaning and depth, that they really delivered the goods they’ve promised us for six years.

Those of us who didn’t like it, just didn’t get it, you’ve all been blathering. Because we’re stupid. Because we’re shallow. Because the show was only for super geniuses, like you.

I’ll tell you what, I’m not even going to debate the answers to the questions. I’ll bet there are a few things that I missed, no doubt. And I understand that I can extrapolate the answers to a lot of questions, and fill in the blanks for myself. Yes, I could have done that without watching the end, and you know what?

I could have done it ten times better. There. I’ve said it.

Don’t believe me? Give me ten million dollars and an island, let’s find out. Trust me, I’m not claiming to be a superwriter here, just pointing out the bar is very, very low right now.

You know that they didn’t have the WHOLE story together from the beginning, right? You know, for instance, that Mr. Eko was meant to be the anti-Locke. That they simply failed to hammer down his contract, and he split. So tell me, a major character like that and they just dispose of him for practical reasons – how does that fit in with the “all of this happened for a reason” theme?

That’s why the kids were disappearing, too. Because by season two, they’d look a lot older, and the plot was only what, a couple of months at that point? So they had to use a plot device, get the kids out of here. Yes, everything happened for a reason, all right. Just not very good reasons. Reasons unrelated to the story.

Your idea of answers is far different from mine. If you showed up in my bathroom at three am, and I said, what the hell are you doing here, you’d say, “I’m an accountant.” And then you’d be bewildered that I was expecting a better answer than that.

What’s this obsession with answers, that’s so shallow, you’d say, and then you’d be picking your teeth out of my sink.

What the hell was the island? You’d think they could have told us that, an island that moves, what is it, why the time travel?

Here’s you: “You’re so dim! The island symbolized the struggle of good vs. evil!”

But that’s not what I asked. The show started off about a literal plane crash, on a literal island that you could get to in a submarine or a boat or a plane, from our literal world.

I know what it symbolized, you arrogant ass. You can put your sock puppets down.

Because all along when they were throwing crazy plotline after crazy plotline at us, we kept asking the producers in letters and interviews and online, are you guys totally full of crap, and just throwing things at us, or do you know what you’re doing with all this? Are you going to hook all this together?

Don’t worry, the producers said, we know exactly what we’re doing. All will be revealed.

So, for instance, the time jumping was explained as a mysterious wheel that was stuck. When they said, all would be revealed, I expected them to eventually reveal what was up with the wheel. Now, eventually Widmore “explained” the wheel as, wait for it..

A wheel. A wheel they brought along, that they were going to “hook up” to the “energy pocket.”

Listen, if that counts as an answer to you, chief, that’s fine with me, but trust me. It doesn’t make you smart.

Okay, how about the numbers? Why the numbers? What was up with the numbers?

Yes, I know. I saw them written on the cave wall. If writing the numbers on the cave wall and having Locke Monster tell you with a twinkle in his eye that every character has a number, if that counts as an explanation to you, then I think maybe it’s time I told you, babies don’t come from storks.

Why would the numbers have to be entered every 108 minutes into a computer? Why, smart guy? Did you just say because the numbers add up to 108?

Seriously, I am not even going to spend sixty seconds looking up the numbers and checking, since the producers couldn’t be bothered to write their show, but would that really count as an answer to you?

Did Jacob manipulate the lottery, so the numbers would bring in Hurley? Or did the numbers become important because Hurley was going to replace Jacob, and he won the lottery with them?

Here’s you: “Not everything has to be spelled out, man. The pieces are all right there, just put them together and stop asking to be spoon fed. It’s spiritual, man.”

But see, when the producers said, “all will be revealed,” that’s what I took it to mean. Not, we’ll leave the existing pieces lying around the set, and you can use your imagination to put them together and form your own answers, because it’ll be spiritual. This isn’t a book of Mad Libs. This was the most convoluted plot in television history, and they said they’d tie it all up.

There’s no denying, they didn’t tie it all up.

I’ve seen a lot of you claiming to know all the answers, but also claiming to be somehow above explaining it to lesser minds. The Emperor sure has a nice outfit on, doesn’t he, genius? Are you 100% positive, that the joke is on us, and not you?

Jacob uses magic ashes to explain to everyone why he brought them here, after he’s dead? Seriously, you’re all right with that, and I’m the simpleton?

How ‘bout Jacob walks on up the beach on day one, or even day two, says, “Good news and bad news, everyone. Let’s have a talk.” You see how we wouldn’t need the Magic Commune With The Dead Ashes Plot Device, right out of the clear blue sky, that way?

My favorite is when I’m called a “so-called” fan. Because, now that I’m saying the ending sucked, it’s like the Indians are on a losing streak and I jumped ship. But this isn’t a baseball team, all right? When a show starts sucking, and you pretend to still like it, that’s not admirable. That’s you, being a posturing, gullible fool.

See, if I had really missed the point, and the point was really right there, then someone around me would be explaining it to me by now. The vast majority of my friends and associates have either never seen the show – and frankly, I envy them – or they are every bit as livid as I am.

You seem to believe, Mr. The End Of Lost Was Awesome, that we all missed it, and you got it. That you’re that much smarter than everyone I know.

Basing your entire assessment of your intellect on your television watching skills. You’re awesome at watching television. Go ahead and look in the mirror and say that a few times, see if you puke, cause I just did, a little bit. In my mouth, just typing that.

I’ll tell you what I expected. I expected them to not just provide an ending to the main story, but to provide an explanation for all the baffling things that happened. All of them. If they had done that, it would have been without question or hyperbole, the single greatest work of fiction ever produced, including all the works of Shakespeare and John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens combined.

Here’s you: “There’s no way they could have done that. It would have been impossible.”

Maybe so, that’s why we were asking, every time they introduced a new wacky plotline or a new wacky character, that’s why we were saying, dudes, are you positive you got this? You’re sure you can deliver a package this size? Cause you’re writing a pretty tall order here.

We got it, they said, with their John Locke twinkle. Don’t even worry. All will be revealed.

Then the sideways timelines showed up. I’ll tell you what I was thinking, because I’m so stupid. I was thinking, in physics, they say that you can’t change the past. That if you were to go back in time and try, you’d end up creating a new timeline that runs parallel to it.

But that’s just because I’m a slobbering monkey man who doesn’t recognize a decent ending when I see it. My consultation of quantum physics was all because I refuse to use my brain when I’m watching an interesting show, that’s all that is, right?

So anyway, in my sub-moronic hypothesis, I was thinking, the parallel timeline characters would then end up back on the parallel island, and that they’d end up in the parallel past as well, and that they’d set off a parallel nuclear bomb, and that the two nuclear explosions in parallel universes would be the source of the energy pocket.

Two nuclear explosions, causing each other, negating each other. And that the wheel was going to be half in one universe, and half in the other.

And I thought, the Dharma Initiative, being all about harmony, was created to maintain some kind of balance, keeping the two universes from crashing into each other and destroying each other. And that they were caught in an infinite loop, the one nuclear explosion creating the one timeline, the other nuclear explosion creating the other.

The struggle between Jacob and his brother would be that each was a representative of a universe, that each wanted his own universe to survive the struggle. That neither was good nor evil, just both of them selfish, and imbued with power somehow by the energy pocket.

Yes, but you’re the genius and I’m a slack-jawed manchild, with drool on my shirt, because a smarter explanation is, there’s a big, literal cork in a hole in a smoke monster cave factory, and the sideways timeline is a Pantheistic Pizza Party Afterlife Paradise Land, that all the characters created to be happy together in. That the writers killed half a season, Planning The Pizza Party, instead of answering questions that you just told me, they’d never have time to answer.

God, I wish that I was as smart as you.

Now, you might want me to come over to your blog and read what you think happened, but there’s a good reason I’m not going to do that. Several, actually.

The main reason is, the producers of Lost assured me all this time that they would tie all this up. They said, don’t worry, we know what we’re doing. They didn’t say anything about you.

They didn’t say, don’t worry, we’ll wrap it up in such a way that you need to have a stoner who reads too much Ayn Rand explain it to you on his blog. If you write something that takes six years, and then at the end, a total stranger has to explain it to millions of people, then guess what? You wrote it poorly.

The other reason is, I’m pretty comfortable with my intelligence. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, no doubt, but I’m pretty sure I’m not an idiot. And I have one hundred percent confidence in the intelligence levels of my friends. If there’s something I’m missing, one of my guys or one of my gals would have broken me down by now. Happens all the time.

But mostly it’s because you guys who are claiming that the ending was satisfying – you’re not fooling anyone. You’re a bunch of deluded Hot Pocket Munchers, and if Lost was speaking to you in a way that my friends and I couldn’t understand, then it was in the same way Spongebob Squarepants speaks to children.

In other words, no thank you. I’ll be staying out of your basement, freak.

Here’s the truth, they lied to us. They were even laughing about it, on the wind-up special, laughing about knowing where it was going and pulling plotlines out of their butts to kill the time. Like driving around town for six years, taking crazy turns down alleys and sidestreets and through parking garages.

You sure you know where you’re going?

Then six years later, they get on the interstate, and say, “See, told you I know where we were going. Cleveland.”

Not very impressive, even if you think Cleveland rocks.

Hey, I kind of like the idea of a Hurley Afterlife Party, but only as an epilogue.

The idea that HALF OF THIS SEASON was a Hurley Afterlife Party Planning Meeting, oh my god. Where’s Patrick Duffy when you need him, in a towel?

Listen to me. You did not understand the show any better than I did. We both understood it. You were simply satisfied with what little you received, and you chose to stay on board. That part I understand, and even applaud.

But next, you chose to judge the rest of us, for wanting what we expected. You claimed, you actually got what WE expected, even though you clearly didn’t, and you did it to make yourself look spiritual and wise.

If I look at a pile of crap, and say that I don’t like it, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. I understand the pile of crap just fine. I just don’t like piles of crap.

You do, that’s fine, and you prefer to call them masterpieces. Awesome. Grab a spoon, genius.

But you’re not fooling anyone. To the rest of us, you look like a little kid, pretending to read a book, holding it upside down. It would be cute if you weren’t spewing venom all over the place about how none of the adults around you can read.

Instead it’s simply sad. I feel sorry for you. On behalf of myself, and so many of my friends who have been fans of this show since the beginning, I wanted to tell you that. You’re not fooling anyone. Your behavior is sickening, your reasoning is weak, and we don’t want you to explain to us what it’s like to live in your world, or to pretend to.

Everyone this is an open letter, but please feel free to forward this to anyone you think might need it.

For my part, that’s the hairball I needed to cough up. My apologies once again, if you liked the show and you aren’t walking around being a dick about it.

As for the writers and producers, listen, good one guys. I appreciate a good practical joke, I understand you made a stack of cash, and we’re definitely cool, you and I.

You hit us with the old Kansas City Shuffle, and it was no one’s fault but ours.

Namaste, you sons of bitches. Namaste.

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The Curse of Future Tom

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Before the finale: Making My Peace With Lost

Then more recently: Lost Rant Follow-Up: Live Together Or Die Alone

 

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