Supporting local artists who suck, and other tricky situations.

My town is not what you would consider an especially sophisticated community. The restaurants are mostly all chain restaurants. The ones that aren’t are pizza parlors. It doesn’t have trendy coffee shops for young hipsters to mix and mingle, it has multiple Dunkin Donuts where grumpy blue collar professionals can get their morning caffeine injections. The local dive bar’s patronage has an average age of 102. They all drive 4×4 pickup trucks. Writers, musicians, painters, and other more esoteric creatives do not flock here for its vibrant and dynamic artistic scene. It has no artistic scene.

My town has warehouses. It has tobacco fields. It has tobacco barns. It has assorted tobacco-centric farm equipment retailers, resellers, and servicers. Its only nod to high culture is one museum. It is a tobacco museum.

For all of that, there are artists here. There are painters, musicians, and writers. Against all odds, they exist. I wouldn’t say they’re thriving, but like a persistent fungal infection they lurk in the dark sweaty crevices of this fine rural hamlet, stubbornly plying their craft with little fanfare or support. To them I say – Thank You. Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let anybody discourage you from your dreams. Also, maybe don’t read the rest of this post.

As a dedicated consumer of art, especially strange paintings and genre fiction, and a creative dabbler myself, mostly of strange paintings and genre fiction, I want to support their endeavors. I want to take pride in their accomplishments. I want to enjoy the fruits of their labors, the results of their efforts, the expulsions from their imaginative wombs.

To that end, I recently visited the small independent bookstore down the road from my house in order to browse the local authors section and, hopefully, find a new favorite author that I could stalk and imprison a la Stephen King’s Misery. To me, an independent bookstore should be a cramped and disorganized place full of crooked, teetering stacks of second or third-hand cookbooks, Harlequin romance novels, and John Grisham paperbacks. The type of place where time has no meaning and hours of browsing can result in the discovery of countless How-to manuals for rebuilding obsolete automobile carburetors, or a stack of dusty travel books for now defunct nation states, or a signed copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s lesser known and controversial Hobbit sequel Radagast’s Revenge – There and Back Again Two, Electric Boogaloo, or even a hitherto undiscovered copy of the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. It should be the sort of establishment which smells more than faintly of cat piss, the overweight bewhiskered culprit has laid claim to the most comfortable armchair, and the elderly proprietor is clearly just barely tolerating your patronage, and would really prefer if you left immediately without touching another one of their precious yellowing  and dog-eared paperback treasures.

The independent bookstore near my house is not like that. For one thing, the owner is young, and SO NICE. Truly, a credit to her profession. For another, her store is well-lit, clean, and organized, with only two walls of books, all of which appear to be new prints. If I’m being honest, the small amount of books actually available for sale in the bookstore is surprising. I might have more on my bookshelves at home. In a world with Amazon, and digital readers, and mega-bookstores like Barnes and Noble however, this perhaps is not insanity. Instead of trying to compete with those businesses, my local independent bookstore offers something different, something you can’t get with the click of a mouse online. Events. Book signings, Book clubs, Author lectures, Arts and Crafts lessons, whatever you can think of, it’s probably scheduled. This place is less of a store for buying books, and more of a venue for literature related activities. It’s an interesting business model, and I truly hope it succeeds.

For all its lack of actual books, it does have a fairly large shelving section dedicated to local authors, so I went there with high hopes that I’d find something at least remotely interesting. It was a bit of a wash I’m afraid. The section had all of the expected non-fiction biographies on local historical figures and fixtures, the type of obsessively but amateurishly researched fare that exists everywhere because any time a town has a person or a thing there is someone who feels the urge to write about that person or thing. There were also some young adult fiction stories which were recommended as good sellers, but I wasn’t in the mood for young adult, especially because good young adult fiction is often fairly bad, and I don’t imagine debut young adult fiction from an unknown local author would be any better. The store owner, who so solicitously helped me in my search was able to recommend one local author’s science fiction book, which I happily purchased because local and science fiction were exactly what I was looking for. I should have requested that the book also be good.

Unfortunately, it sucked. It sucked so bad. It was the opposite of good. It was, in fact, terrible. This thing was an abortion from start to finish. Obviously a self-published job, I was immediately annoyed by the amateurish formatting errors present throughout.

Like how the author indented every new paragraph. But also put a space between every new paragraph. I mean, you do one or the other. That’s an obvious rookie mistake that even the slightest editorial oversight would have caught.

In addition the dialog read like it was written by a non-native speaker with Aspergers overhearing and transcribing the conversation between two other people who also have Aspbergers, and also all three of them have never heard anybody else ever have a normal conversation but they kind of know what words are and that you need to put a few in a row and then put a comma or a period, so they’re going with that and hoping for the best.

I don’t want to go into too much detail but the premise was shaky, the plot was shit and the execution was weak. 0/10, I award you no points, and may god have mercy on your soul. The most upsetting part however, was that I really wanted to like it. I wanted to become a fan. I wanted to be impressed and excited by the literary genius of a local author. Because I wanted to support him. I want to support all my local artists. But what does that mean? Am I obligated to support my local artists, even when they suck? If they produce garbage, do I have to happily consume that garbage with a smile on my face, because hey, they’re local? Tell me the rules here.

If I was just a consumer, it wouldn’t really matter at all. This author made a product, I didn’t like the product. End of transaction. The complication is that, I also write. It’s a small town. If we both keep writing, we will potentially cross paths. Maybe even at an event at the aforementioned bookstore. What if he asks me if I’ve ever read his stuff? What if he’s read mine? What if he actually likes my writing? I mean, he probably wouldn’t, it’s pretty bad too, but still. Stranger things have happened. How do I navigate this tricky situation? Advise me, Friends.

 

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Where am I!?

It has been over a minute and a half since my last post. Shameful. Churlish.

Warranted?

The thing is, I haven’t been posting, not because I dislike you and want by my absence to make your lives a meaningless hell of joyless despair, but because I’ve been busy. I’ve got big stuff going on. BIG STUFF.

Big Stuff 1 – My next book has been completed. That’s right, the first draft of The Night Ripper is done! I am still plugging away on editing and formatting and whatnot, but the story has been completed. Guys, I think you’ll like it. It’s got monsters. It’s got aliens. It’s got spaceships. It’s got jokes. If you enjoy those things, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’d like to read an advance copy to help edit and provide feedback, let me know. Look forward to its release sometime this summer. For me to make my self-imposed release deadline however, I need to spend a portion of my limited free time actually working on the book. Thus, less blog posts.

Big Stuff 2 – I’m lifting again. I mean, I never stopped exercising and I’ve tried to remain as fit as my sedentary office job allows, but I’m lifting HEAVY again. Relatively speaking of course. I won’t be invited to compete in any World’s Strongest Man competitions anytime soon, but I am working to get back in to the 1,000 lbs club. The prerequisites for being in this club are simple: Lift over 1,000 lbs cumulative between your squat, deadlift, and bench press. Admittedly, this is a very attainable goal, and is not especially impressive to actual power lifters, but for a slim baby with bad knees like myself, it’s a good goal. Being in the 1,000 lbs club  is basically the minimum weight required for you to be allowed to answer yes to the question: do you even lift, Bro? I want to answer yes to that question again. So I’ve been working out. Thus, less blog posts.

Big Stuff 3 – I’m getting married. That’s right. After only a decade of living together, I bent the knee and asked Mistress Kay to upgrade to Wife Kay. (Downgrade?) She said yes. So I guess you could say it’s getting pretty serious. I mean, we talk or whatever. What this means for me is that since the original has been upgraded to fiance 1.0, I suddenly have the unenviable task of trying to find a new replacement mistress while faced with the added handicap of being old and gross and completely undesirable to any of the opposite sex in my advanced age. The odds are not in my favor. It ALSO means that in my negligible free time, which has already been lessened by my writing and lifting efforts, I’m now dealing with all the soul-crushing minutiae involved with planning a wedding. Venue visits, vendor meetings, food tastings, guest lists, engagement party plans, wardrobe, decor, wedding website design (maxandmarissa.com), save-the-dates, invitations, the list is endless. If I need to spend one more second deciding which stationary card stock has the right weight and feel necessary to convey our love to our potential guests, I’m going to chop of my ding-dong and use it to hang myself from a ceiling fan set on low so that my dickless dead body does stately loops of the living room. Which brings me to Big Stuff 4. All these fancy wedding plans we’ve made cost money. My job pays me just enough to enjoy the mediocre lower-middle class lifestyle I have grown accustomed to. No more. So I’ve gotten a second job.

Big Stuff 4 – I work in retail now. That’s right, I’m a janitor at a shoe store. I asked for my name tag to read Al Bundy, but they refused, so you can see how well things are going already. Because nothing says SUCCESS like being a 32 year old part-time retail employee. Especially when you’re the only male employee, and all of your coworkers are high school students who make more than you because they’ve been doing it longer. Plus sometimes I get to see people I know who are shopping while I’m working, and that’s not at all awkward or embarrassing. Today at work I ran into a girl I graduated college with who I at the time thought was beautiful. Turns out she is still beautiful. She is still beautiful, and I was wearing an apron with my name on it and dragging a mop bucket to clean up diarrhea from the bathroom floor. Again, the last time we saw each other, WE WERE GRADUATING COLLEGE TEN YEARS AGO. She was probably pretty impressed with how much I’ve achieved since then. I’ve gained not only an apron, but also a bucket full of dirty water. Well, gained access to at least. I need to leave them behind when I go home at night. I would have loved to have spent some time catching up, but instead I had to mop diarrhea for $10/hr. Luckily I only do this every weekend and most week nights. I guess you can say things are going pretty well for me.

So there you have it. I admit I have not been posting as frequently as I want to, or as much as you would like, and for that I apologize, but there have been mitigating factors. They are temporary at least, so I should be able to return to a more regular posting schedule soon enough. That, or you know, there’s always the penis noose idea.

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What the Hell, America?

I wish this article from The Onion, a satirical (that means fake) news website wasn’t so on point. Because right now I’m wondering when and where is the next mass school shooting going to take place? OBVIOUSLY, it’s going to happen again. I’m not being pessimistic. School shootings are a thing now, and literally nothing has been done on a national level to really figure out how to prevent them.

When the Columbine school shooting, the first mass school shooting I was old enough to personally be aware of, occurred, everybody looked for something to blame, whether it was Rock music, or The Matrix, or Satan himself. The general consensus was that this was a fluke, it couldn’t happen, it was an abomination, but at least it was over. Except it wasn’t over. The school shootings continued, and all we have left to blame is ourselves.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, an event that occurred six miles from my mother’s house and deeply effected my community with the type of lasting repercussions that can only truly be felt by those people directly and immediately impacted by a tragic event, I really thought we might see some actual changes, whether due to government legislation, or cultural shift. Evidently, 20 dead six-year-olds was not enough for that to occur however.

Now, it’s happened once more, this time in Parkland, Florida, and again, outside of the immediate Parkland Community, who right now are feeling the same sense of betrayal and anger and fear that my town experienced following the Sandy Hook event, for the rest of us, no change has occurred. Life goes on for those not directly impacted by the dead. Sure, people give their thoughts and prayers on social media, everybody points fingers at everybody else seeking to place blame, people who hate guns post about how guns are bad, people who like guns post about how guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and everybody points their fingers at the bogey-man of “mental health”, but ultimately it’s the same exact narrative, with the same exact results that it has always been. The results by the way, are that there are no results.

There are no results, because this is a complex issue that everybody wants a simple solution to. That, of course, is not how the real world works. There is no one keystone issue causing these mass shooting events, so what we’re going to have to do is resolve a bunch of different issues before we begin to see any progress being made.

PROBLEM ONE: The first, is unfortunately, guns. As many of my readers know, I am a gun owner. I hunt. I go to the shooting range. I am licensed to carry, and I often do. I enjoy shooting, and talking about guns, and being immersed in the gun culture. I have family members that work for Colt, and Smith and Wesson. I live in Connecticut, America’s Arsenal, where most of our domestic firearm manufacturing occurs. I have guns, and I’d love to have more. After the Sandy Hook shooting, I even wrote a blog post explaining why I supported gun ownership. I am part of the problem. Because guns are fucking weapons, and they make killing really, really easy. So, while I personally would love to own a fully-automatic machine gun that can fire a million-billion rounds a second and cut a mature oak tree in half like a chainsaw, because I think that would be bad-ass and gives me a massive violence hard-on, I think it’s pretty damn clear that our current gun-laws, gun-availability, and gun-obsession as a country is a big fucking problem. Especially because pro-gun people’s arguments are so very flimsy.

Their arguments usually go like this: Criminals get guns illegally, therefore we need guns to protect ourselves against the criminals! This of course completely ignores the fact that the vast majority of criminal firearm use is against other criminals, not against normal law-abiding citizens. It also ignores the fact that restrictions on the type of guns available to the public won’t decrease your ability to protect yourself and your family. I live in a place where bear and coyotes and the occasional home-invasion are legitimate concerns. I advocate for responsible gun ownership and our right to own and carry arms. But the truth is, my classic pump-action shotgun is a much more reliable deterrent to those credible threats than a high-capacity semi-automatic military style assault rifle would be, while still being a much less efficient tool of mass murder. So while I love plinking through a 30-round magazine with an AR-15 or Ruger mini-14, or High-Point carbine, or AK variant at the range as much as the next guy, I think it’s time to admit that maybe we shouldn’t have such easy access to these types of weapons. So yes, while I personally think assault weapons are really fucking cool and fun to shoot, I agree with banning them. Because they are a tool that makes mass murder very, very, very easy, and the more that are available in the market and in our homes and communities, INEVITABLY the more they will be used in mass shooting events. Will making these types of weapons illegal stop all criminals from getting their hands on them? No. Does making the legal drinking age 21 stop all underage people from buying booze? No. But it sure is a lot fucking easier to buy a bottle of bourbon after you’re 21 than before.

guns-don-t-kill-people

Their second preposterous argument is that Guns don’t kill people, People kill people. I’ve seen Facebook posts where they’re literally like durr, I left my Glock and my scary AR loaded and unlocked on my front porch all day and they didn’t get up and murder a bunch of folks, they must be broken. Congratulations, you’re an asshole who is being willfully obtuse. Yes, my fellow gun-lovers, people kill people. But the easiest way for them to do it is with high-capacity semi-automatic and automatic firearms. Limit those firearms, limit the deaths. Guns are weapons meant for killing. Clearly, if there are more weapons, and those weapons are more efficient at killing, there will be more killing. Just like clearly, if there are more cars on the road, there will be more automobile accidents, so people have grudgingly accepted the existence of speed limits on our nation’s roadways. Not because they are bad drivers with poorly maintained cars, of course not, they’re all professionally trained F1 drivers with brand new hyper-cars who can safely travel 200 MPH in a school zone. Yet they allow the existence of speed limits because they understand that not everybody else is. In fact, most people are shitty distracted drivers with a death wish in broken down jalopies, and since they can’t safely drive 200 MPH, it makes sense to limit everybody to a safer speed. Just like since not everybody is a well-adjusted and stable responsible gun owner, it makes sense to limit the capacity of our personal arsenals to civilian levels of lethality, not military grade hardware.

Argument three is that they need these high-capacity semi-automatic firearms for legitimate purposes like hunting. Nope. Bullshit. I am a hunter. I do think semi-automatic firearms are great for hunting! The ability to put multiple rounds on target quickly allows for clean and ethical two shot kills where a bolt-action firearm may result in an animal being wounded but not immediately killed, and then escaping to bleed out painfully before a second round can be placed on target. So a semi-automatic rifle with a 5 or 6 round internal magazine, like a Browning BAR or something of that nature is absolutely appropriate for hunting. The only time that a 10, 20, or 30+ round detachable magazine is necessary for hunting is if you’re hunting multiple targets. Like say, on a battlefield…or a school.

Argument four: We need these battle rifles to protect ourselves against the government! Um..the government has drones, and helicopters, and tactical nuclear warheads. Your AR-15 won’t be saving you from a military assault. Also, why do you think we are in danger from our own military? These people are our own neighbors, friends, family members. They’re not going to turn on us if they’re ordered to by a suddenly homicidal government.

Argument five: Yeah but…we need guns in school to protect the childrens from these maniacs. Really? Because it’s realistic to believe that we can obtain trained and trustworthy armed security in our schools now? The schools where teachers have to spend their own money for pencils and crayons and calculators for their students? And where do we find these mythical affordable trained and trustworthy armed security guards? Retirees from the Kern County PD? Graduates from the George Zimmerman school of Community Protection? I’m sure some of the larger, urban, or wealthy school systems can place actual on-duty police officers in their schools, but not all the schools, and not all the time. So maybe instead of promoting an unrealistic solution to counter the symptoms of the problem, we focus on fixing the cause of the problem.

Argument the sixth: The Second Amendment! Yes, the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear arms. It is a great amendment, one of our most cherished rights as American citizens. But it is conspicuously  absent of any language guaranteeing us a certain type or class of arm. It can do with some updating and clarification, for which there is of course precedent. Example. The 18th Amendment enacted prohibition of alcohol. The twenty-first Amendment stopped it. So, amendments can be changed if the need is great enough. 17 dead people in Parkland, FL might be saying that the need is great enough right now.

So problem one – we’ve got a lot of guns, and many of those guns are super good at killing loads of people quickly. Solution one – Less guns altogether, less high-capacity guns specifically, and more stringent rules and regulations regarding purchase and ownership of said guns. Again, I like guns. I’m just being realistic about what they actually are.

PROBLEM TWO: “Mental Health”. This is actually more about health in general. The fact of the matter is that our for-profit health system in the United States is a joke and a LOT of people go without necessary assistance because they simply can’t afford it. You break a limb in Canada, you go to the hospital, it gets fixed, you get your medicine and you go home. You break a limb in the United States, you go the hospital, it gets fixed, you get a bill for $100k, your friends make a Go Fund Me asking for donations, you can’t work while you’re recuperating, you have no income, you lose your car and house, you’re now homeless, you get cut by a rusty nail, you get tetanus, you can’t afford the tetanus shot since you still have no health insurance, and you die. Similarly, you have depression or anger issues, or PTSD, or some other mental illness or issue, you have no health insurance so you can’t get the care or medicine you need, you flip out, grab one of your eighteen legal assault rifles and go shoot up a school. Meanwhile Chad who just got a $750k bonus for securing the Henderson account is stoked that he didn’t have to pay an extra $4.99 on his taxes for universal healthcare because fuck em, that’s why.

So problem two – we’ve got shitty expensive healthcare and sick people can’t get the help they need. Solution two – we get just a bit socialist and end the for-profit healthcare system in favor of a single-payer or other nationalized healthcare system. When an essential medication costs $3 to produce, and other countries can happily buy it for $5, but we’re getting billed $800, so many people just go without…something needs to change. If our sad, angry, mentally ill young men can get the help they need, things won’t reach a crisis point where they’re showing up to school with guns and pipe bombs.

PROBLEM THREE: Men. I mentioned sad, angry, mentally ill young men in the previous sentence for a reason. That’s who is doing all these mass shootings. Not women. So we need to figure out why. Are men simply violent, uncaring brutes susceptible to rage and anger issues? Maybe. But probably, we just exist in a culture where the male ideal is to BE a sad, angry, violent brute because feelings are gay and gay is bad. Young women get sad and angry and mentally ill just as much as men, the difference is they are allowed to cry and emote and discuss their issues in a supportive environment, so their most violent impulses are safely blunted and redirected. Men, who do not have that support system, and who are raised to believe that the strong, stoic, violent alpha male is king never evolve those healthy coping mechanisms, and then when something goes wrong, like a girl dumps them, or a cruel classmate or coworker mocks them, or they are mistreated at home, their only recourse is to blindly lash out. Their instinct when they feel pain is to cause pain. I know it is. Source: I’m a man. When I was young, my dad was killed, and I became very angry. Violent even. Because I was a child without a fully developed mind, and I did not know how to cope with my strong emotions. So I lashed out, got in fights, was generally a dick. Luckily, I had the support of my mother and extended family and community, and I was able to afford therapy, but more importantly, I was able to begin playing football, and then get into boxing, so during my most formative and angriest years, when hormones were raging and I was still learning about myself and learning how to control my feelings and my responses to my typical youthful angst, I had a safe environment to get out my aggression in a healthy and productive manner. THAT more than anything, the cathartic release of football and boxing helped me work through my anger until I got old enough and mature enough and secure enough in my masculinity to handle and express my emotions in nonviolent and healthy ways. I have no idea what type of person I would be if I didn’t have those healthy and safe avenues for releasing my pent up frustrations and anger. And those avenues are not available or appropriate for everyone. So we need to do better with our young men’s emotional intelligence. Basically, we need to allow them to hurt. We need to allow them to express themselves. We need to be kinder.

Problem three – toxic masculinity and the unaddressed rage of young men. And that is our fault. All of us. Solution three – be better to each other. Change the cultural ideal. Place more focus on the Mr. Rogers’ of the world, and less on the Conan the Barbarians. Allow our boys to admit when they are hurting, and applaud them for their bravery instead of mocking them for their perceived weakness. Because otherwise they might just choose to prove their strength with a semi-automatic firearm.

Unfortunately, this issue is even more complex than what we have already discussed, and these three problems, even if completely solved, likely won’t stop all of the violence, but I think we can all agree they’d be a really good start. Because otherwise, we’ll just have to live our lives waiting for the next mass shooting. And next time, it might be at our own school.

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Pilgrim Granny and the Legend of Tiny Town

Grandma!?

Grandma (Targaryen?) and her suspected twin brother Maester Aemon Targaryen

Gaze in wonder upon the mystery and glory that is my Grandma. Some may say that this photograph is proof that eventually, all old people end up looking exactly the same, regardless of race or sex or gender, before eventually slipping back into the bubbling primordial ooze from whence they came. I choose to believe that it is incontrovertible proof that my unassuming grandmother is actually a previously unknown Targaryen heir, and should be elevated as such to her rightful place on the Iron Throne of Westeros. Which she would promptly replace with her over-stuffed power recliner, because Iron Thrones hurt her back, and she prefers to raise her feet up when she’s working on her crossword puzzles.

With or without this ancestral link to the dragon lords of Westeros, the woman is a legend. You know how people always like to joke about how “kids nowadays” have it so much better, usually followed by hyperbolic anecdotes about how the older generation had to walk to school sixteen miles every day, in a snowstorm, uphill both ways? I think my grandmother is where those jokes came from. The woman grew up on a tobacco farm in South Western Massachusetts, in a roughly 400SF, two hundred-year old farmhouse, with seventeen brothers and sisters. Her childhood was like the Beverly Hillbillies, if the Hillbillies had never struck oil. This is no joke, the house was so small, and the family so large, that the boys had to sleep outside in the chicken coop. Being stout Puritanical stock who could trace their lineage back to the Mayflower and beyond, the lads never even complained about their sleeping accommodations as far as I know. There are no records surviving regarding how the chickens felt about the situation.

Being raised on a tobacco farm, my grandma’s male siblings had the dubious pleasure of working in the fields until their lungs filled with tumors and were coughed inside out, courtesy of their constant exposure to carcinogenic pesticides. The womenfolk, spared this particular fate, tended to have longer lifespans, and were expected to enter into suitably feminine careers, such as marriage, or nursing followed by marriage, whereupon they would engage in stern Puritanical sex for the sake of procreation only.

My Grandmother, being a good and proper woman, became a nurse, and then married, and then, through a series of encounters with her new husband that likely involved lackluster, fully-clothed missionary in an unlit bedroom, began producing children of her own, eventually giving birth to three daughters before her husband suffered from a sudden and irreversible case of death. Thanks to the untimely demise of her first husband, which was endured with the typical stoicism of a woman whose entire experience with men to that point could have been summed up as “they work hard, then die horribly”, Grandma soon remarried, this time to a widower who brought two sons of his own to the family. Together, they swiftly set about doing what people without easy access to Pornhub or Japanese Manga have been doing for millennia, and they quickly welcomed three more girls into the family. One of which died shortly thereafter. As did her second husband, thus ending the Brady Bunch era of her life.

After losing two husbands and a daughter to the various cruel twists of fate, Grandma never remarried, instead devoting her energies to her nursing career, raising her seven surviving children, and then being the best loving but no-nonsense grandma ever to her swiftly multiplying grandchildren.

Eventually, she moved back to that hilariously tiny farmhouse in Massachusetts alongside a couple of her surviving and also widowed sisters, and they spent their days cranking the thermostat up to 8,000, counting pills, and bickering about whatever it is that geriatric roommate sisters bicker about. This, naturally, would be the Golden Girls era of her life.

This would also be the scenario I grew up accustomed to, and to this day I love visiting Grandma’s, not only because all of her many children and grandchildren, despite living in different states, are all super close and truly enjoy spending time together, and not only because the farm has horses, and sometimes peacocks, but mostly because of the house. The hilarious, ancient, miniature house. Sure, it’s appropriately sized for my increasingly diminutive Grandma, but it was most certainly not adequate for the seventeen people it once housed. It just doesn’t seem possible to me. My imagination cannot fathom it. Not just because of the small footprint of the home. It is legitimately SMALL. We all call it Tiny Town for good reason.

BEHOLD. TINY TOWN.

This is....nice?

I enjoy a comfortable stand up in the Tiny Town sitting room

tinytown3

I enjoy a refreshing cup of water in the Tiny Town Kitchen

I’m not a short man. But I am not a giant man either. I’m 6’2″ on a good day. Tiny Town is not for the claustrophobic.

Although one of her sister-roommates has since passed on, Grandma remains in that little farmhouse absolutely slaying at solitaire, puzzles, and crosswords, and inhaling those smutty harlequin romance novels that are the mainstay of elderly lady’s nightstands everywhere. All of her grandchildren are grown, but she now has an ever increasing swarm of great-grandchildren periodically underfoot whenever she hosts a family gathering. These usually involve her inviting all of us into her home, where she will promptly turn off her hearing aids and ignore us as she plays solitaire or reads her books. Positively Legendary.

I write this ode to Grandma and Tiny Town, not because anything tragic has happened, thankfully it has not, but because this year, for the first time that I can remember, my sisters and I will not be spending the night in Tiny Town on Christmas Eve. This has been a tradition for my family harkening back to when my own father, holding strongly to family tradition, died young, suddenly and terribly, and my mother couldn’t face doing Christmas at home alone. Like all traditions eventually do however, it has at long last come to an end. Partially because I now own a house of my own only twenty minutes away from Grandma’s, where Mistress and I have our own comfortable bed, in stark contract to the Tiny Town sleeping arrangements, which usually end up looking something like this:

Such Comfort.

Five Stars, would recommend.

But also, not insignificantly, we won’t be spending the night at Grandma’s Christmas Eve because my sister and her husband had their first baby last month! While I can only imagine they made that strange decision because it provides them with a semi-mobile bag of replacement organs or blood, should they find themselves in desperate need of spares, but that’s such a long-term investment for something they may not ever even need, and in the meantime here they are stuck with a semi-sentient potato who thus far just farts and shits his way through life, so I don’t know, it just seems like a risky investment to me. In any case, the existence of this brand new creature whose entire life revolves around drinking titty milk, crapping his pants, sleeping, or crying really precludes any possibility of my sister’s family being able to spend the night comfortably in Tiny Town, and if they’re not spending the night, I sure as hell aren’t either.

Don’t go feeling bad for Grandma however, we’re all still going to be visiting Tiny Town bright and early Christmas day for family brunch, so she’ll have plenty of opportunity to turn her hearing aids off and ignore us then. Legend.

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Take a Knee

This isn’t supposed to be a political blog. My intent has always been just to tell jokes and talk about spaceships and shit. I lasted thirty years without having the slightest interest in politics, and I could have easily gone an additional thirty comfortable in my own ignorant apathy. Hell, growing up I never had any idea who my parents voted for in national elections. I don’t think they even discussed it with each other, because honestly, it didn’t really fucking matter. When the choice traditionally fell between one interchangeable blandly incompetent democratic politician, or another assembly line produced inoffensively evil republican politician, there was really nothing worth talking about. I certainly never would have felt compelled to talk about it. Besides, who was I to share my opinion even if I had one? I”m just some regular jagoff, a dumb stupid idiot, who is not even cool.

Unfortunately, thanks to our wildly incompetent, divisive, offensive and childish POTUS, having strong feelings one way or another regarding the current political landscape is, like getting crabs at UCONN, 100% unavoidable. So what is there to be angry about? Take your pick. Environmental protection rollbacks? Affordable healthcare? Education costs? Women’s rights? Current and potential foreign wars? Civil unrest? Tax breaks for the super rich? All very important topics that we should be concerned about, for sure.

Let’s talk about athletes kneeling during the national anthem instead. THAT’S the one. THAT’S the topic worth fighting about.

Here’s what is going on, for those of you who are lucky enough to be living in an isolated cave or impenetrable jungle, and haven’t had access to outside news for some time. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat down during a televised performance of the National Anthem preceding an NFL football game, in order to protest and draw attention to the issue of police brutality and the unfair treatment of People of Color, which is endemic in our society. After receiving an enormous backlash for his actions, and discussing the issue with a friend who was a military service member, Mr. Kaepernick adjusted his protest to kneeling, which is an otherwise universally accepted position of respect that hurts nobody, but still quietly and unobtrusively gets his point across. Inspired by his actions, other teammates, players for rival teams, and indeed even athletes competing in different sports began to take a knee as well.

Predictably, people lost their fucking minds. Their arguments were many and varied, but generally followed the same basic themes.

Argument 1: Who do these athletes think they are? They’re rich, their lives aren’t so bad. They have nothing to protest about.

To which I say, I did not realize that you had to be personally victimized by injustice to fight against that injustice. I guess we should go remind the people who protest against animal abuse that they aren’t allowed to, because they themselves are not animals. Or maybe we should make a time machine and travel back in time to remind everybody who fought against the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews that they shouldn’t bother if they’re not Jewish themselves. Evidently, you simply cannot stand up for what is right and just, if you’re not a direct victim of injustice. You’re not qualified to have an opinion on the matter. It’s somebody else’s problem and you should just keep your stupid mouth shut. It’s the same logic, right?

Argument 2: They are paid employees of their respective teams. We don’t pay them to have opinions, we pay those boys to battle for our entertainment. Dance monkey, dance. They can feel feelings in their free time. At home. Alone. Where we don’t have to see it, and it will achieve nothing.

Okay, but here’s a thought. The NFL supports the American Cancer Society by wearing pink apparel during games and raising money for the fight against breast cancer. We don’t pay those darn athletes to fight breast cancer. They probably don’t even HAVE breast cancer, so its like, why do they even care? I hate pink. I think it’s an ugly color and I don’t want to see it. I also hate cancer, and I don’t want to be reminded about it. So why aren’t people angry about #NFLPink like they are about kneeling for the national anthem? Is it conceivable that they’re angry, not, like they’re saying, because they don’t think athletes should show support for an important cause, but actually because they just don’t respect the cause those athletes have chosen? Weird.

Argument 3: Our armed forces members are heroes!

That is…potentially true. Doesn’t have anything to do with the flag though. Yes, I get that the flag and the national anthem are deeply tied to our military and our military service members, but they are not one and the same. So protesting one is not necessarily protesting the other. Gandhi often went on hunger strikes. That doesn’t mean he hated food, or chefs. It means he used his hunger strikes as a vehicle for change on a completely separate issue. Athletes are kneeling during the national anthem. This doesn’t mean they hate the national anthem, or the military. It means that they feel so strongly about an important issue that they are willing to endure anger and ridicule and scorn by carrying out an activity that, although it literally couldn’t be more peaceful, or quiet, or unobtrusive, was always going to be unpopular. So maybe we should be asking what problem is so bad that they feel strongly enough about it that they are willing to do something so unpopular to draw attention to it, instead of just being angry at them for doing the unpopular activity. It’s worth thinking about.

Argument 4: These assholes are disrespecting the flag!

I’m going to tell you a little secret. The flag doesn’t care. It’s an inanimate piece of cloth material literally incapable of feeling anything or recognizing disrespect.

…Well, it’s a symbol of the United States, therefore they’re disrespecting the United States!

Okay. But maybe, just maybe the USA deserves a little disrespect right now. You know what they’re really protesting right? You GET it, don’t you? By kneeling, these athletes are saying, hey, this flag is supposed to symbolize a cultural ideal, that of liberty and justice for ALL. And, right now, it’s not keeping that promise. Our country is not keeping that promise. We DON’T have liberty and justice for all, and we want it.

Real talk, that sounds like a great, admirable, righteous thing to protest for to me.

And, if you don’t think they have a legitimate complaint, you’re actually proving that they have a legitimate complaint. Look at it this way. They’re complaining that young, innocent, unarmed black and brown human beings are being mistreated, beaten, and murdered to death with impunity, and you are WAY more offended about the fact that they are complaining, than that young, innocent, unarmed black and brown human beings are being mistreated, beaten, and murdered to death with impunity.

Logic would dictate that you be more concerned with the suffering of actual, real life, living, breathing, human beings, than with a perceived slight against an inanimate object. So, why aren’t you?

US flag

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On North Korea

I am a creature of routine. I prefer eating the same things at the same times for days on end. You could set your watch to the regular motions of my bowels. I have a set sleep schedule, from which any deviation causes me to spiral into a bottomless pit of rage and despair. I enjoy the same books, and the same music, and the same TV shows and movies on repeat to infinity and beyond.

Because I am a creature of routine, I find that I am often stuck slavishly adhering to my habits, even when those habits are no longer desired. In the morning for instance, after I’ve been woken up approximately six minutes before I actually want to get up by the insistent demands of my bladder, and after I’ve stretched the kinks out of my back and shambled downstairs blinking the unpleasant crusties from my eyes , I enjoy a crisp, refreshing bowl of sugary cereal, even though at my age, that really isn’t the healthiest choice to start my mostly sedentary day. Intellectually, I know I should be consuming some sort of fruit, or maybe a couple of egg whites, and not eighteen servings of cocoa blasted sugar bombs, but the thought of eating anything other than a bowl of cereal first thing in the morning to me is simply inconceivable. Equally as unhealthy, while I am eating my cereal, I like to catch up on my social media.

It’s always a disappointment.  First comes Facebook, which honestly, I don’t really even know why I still have, since nobody posts hilarious jokes or sexy pictures except me. Instead, I’m treated to a disheartening parade of newly engaged couples, or newly wedded couples, or newly be-babied couples, all while I know that Mistress is lurking somewhere in the shadowy background of my kitchen like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, scratching behind her ear with her taloned foot and mumbling demands for a precious ring of her own. Next, I try Snapchat, in the naively optimistic hope that I might have received some tasteful nudes from hitherto unknown admirers. Sadly, this is never the case. I don’t like Twitter, since it doesn’t have enough bright lights or pretty colors, so I finish my tour’de’media with Instagram, which, thanks to its abundance of fitness babes and motorcycle companies I follow, is always a consistently enjoyable note to end on. Also, it has memes.

I don’t know if as a whole, we’ve all collectively recently become depressed nihilistic bastards, wallowing in a mire of existential dread, or if we’ve always been this way, but it’s finally socially acceptable to share our macabre cynicism with a wider audience. Either way, I love me some sadness memes. Of course, the State of the Union being what it is, most of the trending topics have to do with President Trump, and the bewildering circus freak show that is the current White House. His most recent focus has of course been Kim Jong Un, and North Korea, probably in a transparent yet somehow still semi-successful bid to direct our attention away from all the other perplexing bamboozlery going on over there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Kim

Here’s the thing about a war with North Korea. It’s a bad idea. It’s a bad idea for so many reasons, and really not a good idea for any reason, but Trump is likely salivating over the idea because he knows that nothing creates a patriotic fervor like a foreign war, especially amongst the type of people who form his support base, and also because he thinks of himself as some sort of godlike gift to this nation, and he figures crushing one of the last great bad guys of our era will cause us to spontaneously erect statues and shrines in his honor.

That’s really it, that’s probably the extent of his thoughts on the matter. He doesn’t want to invade North Korea to save the poor oppressed North Korean people. He doesn’t want to invade North Korea to protect the vulnerable South Koreans. He just feels like him and Kim Jong Un are in a dick wagging contest, and he wants Kim dead and mounted on his wall like a hunting trophy. Trump has, unfortunately, surrounded himself with incompetent stooges, shady businessmen, and military leaders. He has no experienced diplomats to temper his impulsive urges. Admittedly, unlike his other political appointees, I have nothing bad to say about the military leaders Trump has appointed, they are highly respected, experienced, and intelligent individuals, BUT when presented with a problem, military people will invariably come up with military solutions. When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything suddenly looks like a nail.

This is not a good situation to be in when it comes to North Korea. Especially because any punitive military action we take with North Korea will have huge ramifications for their neighbors, like China and South Korea. This being the case, you would think that we would be closely engaged with our friends and allies in South Korea, but the disheartening fact is that we don’t even have a current ambassador assigned to South Korea. Go figure.

Here’s the thing about North Korea. They don’t actually want a war with us. If we went to war with them, we would crush them. We would have air superiority, naval superiority, technological superiority, strategic superiority and tactical superiority. We would win that fight, likely with little to no actual danger to any United States lands or properties, other than the hundreds of thousands of young soldiers who we would throw away in the meat grinder that is any land war in Asia.

Kim Jong Un is not a dumb man. He’s a fat greedy fuck who wants to eat Doritos, snort coke, and pound hookers while getting a continuous handy job from his cowed, brainwashed and starving populace, but he’s not a dumb man. He knows that he has no friends. He knows that if he pushes too hard, he’ll finally get swatted down like an annoying child. But he also knows that he would make that swatting unbearably costly.

North Korea’s weapons program is not advanced enough to threaten the mainland US, despite their best efforts. They likely do not have reliable long range ballistic missiles. What they do have, is plenty of mid-range missiles. So they can very much devastate the population centers of South Korea. Hell, there’s ten million people in Seoul alone, and that one city happens to be a stone’s throw from the North Korean border.

There’s no way around it. If we bomb, invade, or otherwise antagonize North Korea too much, their nukes are going to fall on South Korea. Our friends and allies will die by the millions. We’re putting our friends in real danger of being bombed, and Trump hasn’t even saw fit to send them an ambassador to talk about the situation. If they get fucked over because of our saber rattling aggressiveness, all the rest of our friends and allies are going to start questioning their safety with us around too.

Even if, by some strange miracle, we are able to win a war and topple the Kim regime quickly and bloodlessly, we still won’t be making any friends. The North Korean people are the most militaristic culture in modern history. Nearly everyone serves in the military. Sure their equipment might be rusty old Soviet cast offs or cheap Chinese knockoffs of Russian throwaways, but Western powers have more than learned that a sufficiently determined indigenous force, even if they’re just armed with sticks and rocks, can still seriously fuck up our shit. So, if the Kim family gets deposed, and another warlord takes his place, we get to keep fighting, probably for years and years and years. I’d guess this to be the most likely scenario, knowing what I know about the indoctrination present in the North Korean culture. That or China or Russia would rush in to claim some land and a cheap labor force, and we and South Korea would push back, and World War Three would start.

Less likely, but probably equally as devastating, is if no one stepped up the fill the void, and the North Koreans were suddenly left to their own devices. It’s basically a medieval country over there. They have no internet, limited electricity, limited reliable technology, limited medical resources, and nonexistent education beyond The Great Leader is Great. They have no idea what the outside world is like. If they lose the stability and control of their current oppressive government, their economy, such as it is, will collapse, and they are going to start starving and dying in droves. For a good many of them, their first idea is going to be to get the fuck out of North Korea. So where will they go? First, they’ll go to China, their ostensible allies, but you know damn well the Chinese are going to lock down that border hard, probably with deadly force. Next, they’ll go to reunite with their cousins in the South, where their influx will, if not stopped, likely cripple the South Korean economy and lead to continued strife and violence. So then their diaspora will look elsewhere.

Who is going to take them in? Us? Come on. We’re not even letting our own Southern neighbors in. We’re not even letting wealthy and well educated Doctors and Scientists from Muslim countries in. We’re certainly not going to welcome a horde of anachronistic Asian peasants across our borders, even if they’re just coming here because we blew the shit out of their homeland and they have nowhere else to go.

So there it is. War with North Korea is a bad idea. It would be a Pyrrhic victory at best, and the start of World War III at the worst. It would cost us a lot, it would cost the rest of the world a lot, it would cost our friends and allies in South Korea a really real lot, and it would cost the poor North Korean people everything. Millions of people on both sides of the 38th Parallel would die. Innocent people. Trump would know that if he had some diplomats to talk to, but alas he doesn’t. He has Fox News and a Twitter account instead.

Oh well, at least the memes will be fire though.

ww3

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Everybody likes an eBook sale!

Everyone will (HOPEFULLY) be happy to know that I’ve been plugging away on my next book, The Night Ripper, and as I draw closer to completing it, i’ll periodically be releasing some FREE short stories set in the same universe as The Night Ripper here on this website. These stories will introduce you to some characters and themes which may or may not be present in the book itself, you’ll just have to wait to find out.

In the mean time, look what is currently on sale for kindle. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet I mean, shit, it’s $0.99 :

Apostate_Konstantin_Cover_for_Kindle

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