The Worst Valentine’s Day Ever

I have intimacy issues because of my strong Protestant upbringing, and abandonment issues because of my parents’ broken, loveless marriage. It’s a lot funnier than it sounds.

For one, I’m not saying that I’ll call a woman I’m dating every five minutes to make sure she hasn’t betrayed me. I am saying that sometimes I wake up hugging a pillow. Nor am I saying that if you touch me I’ll scream, but I am saying that a couple weeks ago I saw a pretty girl I’d been flirting with sitting alone at a bar with an empty glass, and I said, “Trying to get the bartender’s attention?” and she said, “Yeah, but it’s like I’m invisible,” and I said, “They’re really busy back there. Good luck!” and walked away.

Hey, you’re out of underwear too! Excuse me; I have to go do laundry.

If it makes any difference, I’ve been trying to overcome these weaknesses. Four years ago I was so closed-off that when a girl on my lap whispered, “I’m not wearing a bra” and “You have a boner,” my responses were “That’s nice” and “Sorry.” That wouldn’t happen today. Plus, I keep in touch with friends who live out of town now rather than assuming they’ve moved on like Mom did.

Just stringing together a bunch of stories about my sexual inadequacies would be over-sharing, even by my standards, not to mention disjointed and amateurish. Instead, here’s a story about how both of these seemingly opposite currents from my childhood came roaring up at the same time and I ended up alone on an hour-long rage walk through Boston winter at 3 am.

Check out my band Insecurity Currents. Or don’t.

Valentine’s Day 2010 was supposed to be big for me. I had just started seeing the results of my plan to transform from “sweaty and unfuckable” to “sweaty and unfuckable but not quite as overweight,” plus I was freshly returned from a semester abroad in the Netherlands, with all its attendant newfound worldliness. Every year up to then I spent at home trying to determine if masturbating would be too sad, but this year was different. This year, there was Allison.*

If you have to ask, the answer’s yes.

I met Allison the previous spring and didn’t think much about her until one night, when we talked for hours after an after-after-party and both decided to stay up and catch the sunrise. Being exhausted and having no romantic angle in mind helped me to avoid my typical intimacy-terror, so to my surprise we hit it off.

Of course, I was too insecure and uncommunicative to capitalize, so nothing happened. Then there was some (almost certainly imagined) will-they-won’t-they tension, and then we didn’t see each other for eight months.

Worth the wait!

Shortly after my return to Boston, she invited our mutual friend Carlos over. Her tone when Los put me on speakerphone, plus her politeness when we went to her place, plus the fact that Los and I had the same emotional screws loose and he amplified my already out-of-proportion expectations, led me to believe that Allison and I were weeks away from eloping in Vegas.

So I super-vaguely asked her if she wanted to do something, and like I’d be there, sometime maybe next week, whenever. And she said yes!

Usually only the McRib gets me this excited.

Well, not really. She said, “I was going to throw a Valentine’s Day party for my single friends at my place, but it looks like most of them can’t come. You’re welcome to stop by if you want.” Most of you would hear, “I announced my plans to people in our mutual social circle and so if I don’t mention them and you find out later I’ll look mean, so I’ll let you down easy by inviting you to something a sane person wouldn’t go to and hope you get the message.” But I heard: “I’m gonna be all alone on Valentine’s Day. Won’t you please comfort me with your genitals?”

With pleasure, citizen.

As you might expect from Mr. Mommy Left So I Have To Hang Onto You Forever Because You Smiled At Me Once, I showed up to her place on the fourteenth. Turned out that by “most of her friends,” she meant “everyone but you and one loud guy who’s been drinking since noon.” Uh oh.

“Hey man, I’ve seen you around somewhere. What’s your name?” said the guy in Allison’s living room gesturing freely with a handle of rum. “Yeah. Peter. Tim, right?” said the guy in Allison’s living room who handles confrontation with panic attacks and high pitched laughter. We shook hands. His arms were as hairy as a Greek sasquatch’s, his grip as crushing as my feelings of inadequacy.

I could barely pee in a public bathroom if there was another guy in that time zone. Now I had to make my first date moves while sharing a couch with Alpha T. Budweiser.

“You called?”

It did not go fucking swimmingly. Huge problem number one: Tim would not stop talking. What, was I supposed to win her over with my looks and charm? My signature pickup strategy back then (now) is to yammer on until she breaks down and laughs at something I say (me). This means I had to settle for eye contact, smiles, and body language, all of which I over-thought until I reached a Creepometer of Ginger Little Person.

In an effort to solve problem one, I decided to rely on liquid courage for a confidence boost. Huge problem number two: apparently, when I get drunk on disastrous non-dates, I gain zero confidence and triple the Leering and Handsy quotients on the Creepometer until I shoot all the way up to Clown Doll on a Rusted Swing at Midnight.

Never doubt Google Images.

This did nothing to help huge problem number three: I wasn’t yet aware that I’d just developed lactose intolerance, and judging by the sounds my insides were making I ate thirty pizzas that day.

Let’s review. I’m drunk on a couch next to a girl I have a crush on, who’s next to a large drunk man. I’m trying to keep my head up enough to watch Allison’s Star Trek DVD, trying harder not to literally shit myself, and trying even harder still to somehow translate this into me getting laid later.

“Dijou know you’re preddy? Nobody ever told you that probally an they should. Wanmy beers?”

Still, that ain’t shit compared to what happened next. Since Allison lived a ways away from either of us and Boston’s subway closes at 12:30, she offered to let us stay in her living room. Tim took advantage of this by getting blackout drunk and, huge problem number four, having a nervous breakdown in a heap on her floor.

I got to know Tim very, very well that night. I know his most deeply buried anxieties, I know what he misses about his father, I know where he got stabbed. That’s a lot of unwanted intimacy for somebody who’s hugged his best friend twice. Best of all, I got to watch Allison soothe his troubled mind with an expert touch while I sat on the couch and stared at them like a distant cousin at a funeral.

I miss Craig. Greg. There are sandwiches, right?

After about an hour of this, Tim calmed down enough to get to sleep. Finally, I thought, the world’s worst third wheel has been tamed. I settled into Allison’s couch while Tim used her bathroom. Then, HUGEST PROBLEM: SEX NOISES.

Fuck!!! I opened one eye. Yep. Tim was gone. God fucking dammit. I laid down some medieval curses on my night, like fuck tonight and tonight’s next seven hundred generations. I’m the world’s worst third wheel! I showed up here barely-invited, drank her liquor, and sat here like a dick until the train closed. I’m that guy forever.

They were getting louder. I shot up and gathered my stuff, sure to make as much noise as possible because what the hell guys, and stormed out. Then, as I turned to close the front door behind me, what should I see but Tim sitting at the kitchen table, head in his hands, Allison rubbing his shoulders. I froze, but it was too late; the door slammed. Loudly.

How romantic.

Oh, right. Allison’s roommate’s boyfriend showed up earlier, and I just implied that she’s the kind of person who’d screw Tim with me still in the other room. Not only did I manage to blow whatever chance I may or may not have had with Allison, I blew even the chance to sleep on her couch. So a-walkin’ I did go—three miles, across the Charles River, in zero degree wind, feeling like an asshole, alone at 3 am the day after the only Valentine’s Day I’d ever had hope for.

There was no second date.

Dodged a bullet!

*This story is way too personal, so for the first time I’m changing the names. The sort-of-romantic interest and the drunk guy, who are both now my friends, have had their names replaced by a different sort-of-romantic interest and drunk guy (who are also my friends). Hi guys!

The Death of Conformity

On my first day of sixth grade in August 2001, I looked so ridiculous that 9/11 was justified. If you had seen me then, you would have thought, “that child must grow up in a world of pain and fear and I will do whatever it takes to make that happen,” and then you would kill 3,000 innocent Americans and yourself.

Here’s a run-down: I was about 5’2″, just over 200 pounds, with a perennially red face and hair that I spiked straight up like a prediabetic Bart Simpson. Even worse, I was in my “punk” phase—I wore No Fear shirts, blasted NOFX from my bright yellow Discman, and carried a giant black Trapper Keeper with “DEATH TO CONFORMITY!” scrawled across it in gel pen to clarinet practice.

"Call Mossad. We have terrorism to stage."

Unbelievably, this wasn’t even the horriblest of it. I was trying to have my snotty rebel image-cake and eat my pastor’s kid uptightness, too. I once walked out of an English class analyzing Lennon’s “Imagine” because it was “too godless,” but had no problem blasting System of a Down at home. I scribbled anarchy As on everything and rambled about creationism in science class. Two wars and a Patriot Act don’t seem like such a high price now, do they?

Tragic though this time was, without it I never would have transitioned into an almost-regular person. This is the story of how I decided dyeing my hair blue was a good idea, and how if it weren’t for a kid at church named Johnny and his shitty taste in music, I might have been uncool forever. (I am very cool now.)

The bad guy from The Karate Kid agrees.

I don’t feign ignorance of popular music. For music made after about 2004, I have no excuse—I’m just a cheap beer-swillin’, ukulele-playin’, ex-Apple Store workin’, filthy hipster. This is not a label I’m proud of, but at least I understand what I am. A few weeks ago, I read a Pitchfork review that said the word “hipster” is “passe” and “2009,” probably to assure its readers that they aren’t that thing that gross employed 26 year-olds call them. Here is some math:

  1. Their readers are reading Pitchfork.
  2. They hate people who read Pitchfork.
  3. Q.E.D. we should all hate ourselves and each other.

I would never lie to you.

For music made before then, though, cut me a little slack. Why? Well, let me explain. On Friday night, I went to a karaoke bar for a friend’s birthday. Any readers who were sheltered as children are probably nodding right now, because karaoke is the definitive expression of missed cultural experience that we have to pretend to be as nostalgic for as everybody else. For a pastor’s kid, walking into a karaoke bar on a Friday night is like being the offspring of slave-rape trying to pass as white and walking into a job interview in the Reconstruction South.

"Do you have any references, Mr. Hemings?"

See, popular media is The Devil’s Work, and, more than anyone, pastors must Protect Their Children. If the pastor’s kids are seen huffing reefers and spraying Marilyn & Manson logos in the baptismal, how can he be trusted for advice on how to keep your grandkids out of a sex gang? So us PKs all have giant gaps in our cultural knowledge—gaps that don’t even necessarily correspond to popularly sinful things, as a lot of innocuous stuff gets filtered out too.

In other words, when the karaoke DJ announced that coming up next was a jumbo-sized block of Hall and Oates, everyone else in the bar cheered and I muttered “awwwwww fuck.”

If even one drop of your blood does not love Hall and Oates, you will be shot.

It’s not just music, either. Sure, I still don’t know if Buffalo Springfield was a band or just a guy with a weird name, and I think every CCR song is a Lynyrd Skynyrd song and vice versa, but that’s only the beginning.

People my age: what’s your favorite formative years-nostalgia TV show? Chances are I’ve never seen it. Yeah, I watched some cartoons, and Fresh Prince was okay for some reason, but everything else is as hazy as an explanation of contradictions between gospels. So if you reference Saved By the Bell, Full House, The Wonder Years, Boy Meets World, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Clarissa Explains It All, Step By Step, Family Matters, Sister Sister, or any Disney Channel original movie around me, expect a nervous laugh, some stuttering, and maybe the distant stare of a father being told his autistic/dying son will never play football.

Sort of like this.

By 1998, the tide was poised to turn. Like many kids of the late ’90s, I swooned for Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” without understanding a word of the lyrics. The song’s about how meth abuse and constant sex ruined the singer’s capacity to feel love. I liked the “do do do” part. So my brother and I got a copy of the cassette for our July birthdays, only to have our mom immediately confiscate it when she saw the lyric sheet burn a hole in a Bible.

Oddly enough, my liberation came from someone even more repressed than I was. His name was Johnathon and his parents couldn’t fucking spell. More importantly, he was the sole kid around my brother’s age to attend our church in those days, so by the Law of Children they had to be friends.

"Soon we'll grow apart. Only one of us will handle it!"

One week in 1999, they decided to exchange their favorite tapes. My brother’s was the censored version of Third Eye Blind’s self-titled first album*, and Johnny’s was MXPX’s Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo.

MXPX, for those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar, was one of the 90s’ nominally-Christian rock bands deemed acceptable by religious parents who wanted their kids to almost fit in. They had a minor hit in 2000 with “Responsibility” and were briefly on the verge of being one of those bands like Switchfoot or Relient K whose songs you can’t name but whose logo you recognize because a lot of eerily friendly people at your high school wore it.

"Wanna come to our teen club on Wednesday night?"

Their music wasn’t and isn’t good, but by golly we’d never heard anything like it! They played hard, fast, and anti-authoritarian, plus if you didn’t like a song it’d be over in two minutes. We spent the next week tearing through that cassette, committing this strange new artifact to memory like it was boobs. (One other huge event of 1999 was the birth of Napster and its clones, with which my brother and I spent the next year melting our friend Bruno’s internet connection. How else would we get to hear Enema of the State?)

Don't give this to your nine year old. "Adam's Song" is way too sad!

Considering our enthusiastic response, we figured Johnny would love Third Eye Blind too, right? Wrong! When Sunday School rolled around and it was time to swap tapes, he handed us ours with a forlorn look and said, “Sorry guys. Can’t listen to it.” Why not? “Secular.”

“Secular.” I’d never heard the word before. A metaphor for how sheltered I was? Maybe, but this thing’s already 1,300 fucking words long so let’s get out of here. If I stay in one place too long the student loan toughs start pawning my food. At the same time as I was flabbergasted by his weird parents’ decision to let him only listen to bands that thanked Jesus in the liner notes, I respected his commitment to the faith. In fact, I decided then and there that I wouldn’t let something as silly as music lead me astray.

It didn’t last. I slogged through a solid two or three years of MXPX, Five Iron Frenzy, and (shudder) P.O.D., before giving myself completely to Tony Hawk soundtracks, Epitaph Records samplers, and MTV’s pop-punk flavor of the week—sometimes literally. Gradually, semi-rebelling against culture led me to learn what it was in a way that being sheltered from it never did. Maybe someday I’ll figure out when I’m supposed to clap in “Private Eyes.”

Which one's George Michael?

Sorry for this rambling nostalgia bait. Next week I’ll write about the top ten gayest things my gay mom did in church and also how I was fat. (Preview: 10. cut hair above shoulder length, 9. laugh, 8. I used to spend 30 seconds catching my breath on landings, 7. vote.)

*The same tape as before, but we were forbidden from listening to “Narcolepsy,” because it mentions demons, and “Losing a Whole Year,” because one of its verses is about how his girlfriend’s vagina won’t get wet. What I’m saying is that Third Eye Blind never get any credit.

The Non-Education of Mark Schmidt

“Where did you come from?”

Those were the words of Laurel Stankus, a fellow top competitor in Illinois high school impromptu speaking, during our senior year. She was right to be confused: a few weeks ago, I had Jeremy Lin-ed my way into the highest echelon of local speech and debate. I went from zero tournament wins in three seasons to not just the most statewide, but in the most competitive region.

"Topical reference. Nice!" -me, a month ago

This was all the more surprising because, like the NBA, speech leaves no superstar behind—usually, you’ll know who’s in the state final two years ahead of time. For the preppies I eviscerated, I was an unexpected nightmare on the Rejection Letter From Northwestern scale.

I’ll jump off my own cock now. Just know I was good.

No one appreciates my talents.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m as competitive as the Bizarro Golden Globes. The root of this is, of course, insecurity—growing up fat and weird, you miss out on a lot of the guidelines for how people usually interact, like “not telling your friends they’re going to hell,” “how to react when a girl smiles,” and “eye contact.” But you know whose screwups never get noticed? Winners!

We'll shut up about your hairline when you win a ring.

Winners never repeat that hilarious pun but louder. Winners never feel like everybody’s staring at them when they walk out of a clothing store still wearing their horrible old gross clothes that definitely have lint they’re not seeing.  Winners never fail to recognize a vegetable on a menu.* Winners get away with breaking the rule of threes. (BOOYA!)

In fifth grade, I lost a writing contest that I had won the previous year and therefore had to pretend not to care about. I had written a story I considered my magnum opus: The Cyclist, about a young man who struggles to escape life in a motorcycle gang after getting involved in a series of grisly murders. It fucking lost to The Little Fucking Ladybug.

They told me my story was DQ’d for being too violent, but that’s a crock of shit. If Li’l Cormac McCarthy had turned in The Woad, it would’ve won.

Awards include a Pulitzer, a MacArthur fellowship, and five gold stars.

The girl who won was one of the mostly-Hispanic school’s precious little white princesses and her story was just adorable! She giggled all the time and sometimes brought in cupcakes for the class “just because” and remembered everybody’s last names, so fuck her times infinity. My stories were gritty and non-linear and killed off main characters. The Little Ladybug gets scared of a rainstorm and becomes friends with a caterpillar.

"The ladybug is Steve Biko, the caterpillar is Frantz Fanon, and the broad leaf is Algeria. Tee hee!"

Scorned writers are horribly jealous people. Fat, young writers who are bad at everything else and just had their crush on Jenny Wilhelm outed (I TRUSTED YOU JUSTIN!!!) are even worse. The previous year, that contest put me on public access TV, in the local paper, and at a big Young Authors’ conference. Everywhere I turned, people were willing to overlook all of my social maladjustments just because I was The Winner; for two weeks, I lived in a zero-to-hero montage.

But White Princess had no flaws! She was pretty, popular, and didn’t smell like taco meat and glue. What would she gain from winning?

That day, I felt the first sting of envy of everyone more likable than me who succeeds in my field.

Pictured above.

Though I’ve tried to suppress this, it has led to most of my accomplishments. (You’re reading one!) The more golden-boyish my opponent, the less I secretly feel he deserves success, and the harder I work to try to destroy him.

Nobody I have ever faced has been as golden or as boyish as Mark Schmidt.

Yes, this picture's real.

He was like a little German Kennedy but with good posture. He went to a slightly nicer high school than I, is now at Georgetown, and will one day be appointed Secretary of Being a Nice Young Man. Oh, and he was the only person standing between me and dominance of Illinois high school impromptu. Okay, not “standing”– more “as untouchable as a greased-up George Zimmerman.”

See, in our first three years of high school, Mark had appeared in the state finals for impromptu and a related event five times, winning twice. If I’m J-Lin in this, he’s Michael Jordan in 1998; at the beginning of our senior season, the rest of us were planning on fighting for second while he ran a victory lap.

I'm not exaggerating when I say Mark's speeches are so good that if you heard one you'd let him murder an unarmed teenager.

This was my goal, too. I made my first varsity team and got a fantastic new coach (the one and only Hemant Mehta). Then, to my surprise as much as anybody’s, I placed within striking distance of Mark at a couple tournaments. That was all I needed to put him in my sights.

All the ingredients were there. Mark was a sharply-dressed future island-owner with the politeness of an English greeting card, who made judges swoon with his professorial grasp of rhetoric and current events. I was an insecure slapdick who once won a round by joking about Saddam Hussein gassing Bambi’s mom. I had to crush him.

Thesis: THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE! Support: HEADS! Conclusion: THE QUICKENING!

I did what I always did: got really competitive, let success get to my head, and made groundless assumptions about someone I barely knew (see everything above). For a while it worked—when Laurel asked me where I’d come from, I had just scored my first victory over Mark in one of the nation’s toughest tournaments, officially surpassing him in tournament wins.

I could taste his Teutonic blood. And it tasted good.

I'M A VAMPIRE! I'M A VAMPIRE! I'M A VAMPIRE!

I slumped a little towards the end of the season, losing that lead. But so what? All that mattered was the state final, which, after weeks of grueling preliminaries, we both made it into. I was so ready. This was our Thrilla in Manila, our heavyweight 15-round rubber match; the two undisputed superpowers battling for ultimate bragging rights, just me and him.

And I slaughtered it. I went up last, meaning I didn’t see the other speakers, but I didn’t need to—the polite laughter, the thoughtful nods, the enthusiastic golf claps all told my ego that there was no way in hell Mark beat me. So I bit my tongue all the way to the awards ceremony, where I looked forward to out-Marking Mark and

I CAME IN THIRD.

GODDAMMIT!!!!!

THIRD! What is this fucking garbage?! Who the fuck is this girl in second? Oh, just the one who went to the school that WINS EVERY YEAR who SUCKED ALL SEASON. Her speech was probably about a LITTLE GODDAMNED LADYBUG  (NO I’M NOT OVER IT) and the judges were IGNORANT COCKSUCKERS who couldn’t handle my GREGARIOUS CHARM so my ONLY OPTION is to TRACK THEM DOWN AND SLIT THEIR THROATS.

All I wanted in the whole world was to drag these perfect specimens down to my Penguin-like level, and I was thwarted. Not by disqualification or Batman, but fair and square. That’s what hurt the most, and it’s what brought my ego back to earth. All I could do was deal with it. Suppressing my envy has been one of my biggest goals as a wannabe ex-weird kid, and getting dealt such a painful defeat helped me face that insecurity in myself.

P.S.: If you’re reading this, state final judges, I own a Bowie knife. Sleep lightly.

This should help.

*What, we’re just calling eggplants aubergines now? Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me.

The Men of Mannheim, Part II: The Manchildren

Today’s post is a sequel to last week’s and that’s all you need to know. You’re smothering me.

Sometimes, the adults in a boy’s life offer him worthy guidance and a stand-up behavioral model. Sometimes, they tell him the devil is brainwashing him with Pokemon. This is a story of the latter.

I SWITCHED TO GIRLS YOU GUYS

It's too late for her.

A professor in a comedy class once told me that critics usually favor comedy movies starring “childlike” leads over movies with “childish” ones. Childlike characters are adults who are in some way innocent or naive—think Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin or Seth Rogen in his one movie you don’t hate. Childish characters just plain act like little kids, throwing tantrums and getting boners in public—think anything involving Adam Sandler, or, if you’re a hundred, Jerry Lewis.

fact: 13% of French children in the 1960s were fathered by Jerry Lewis's eyes in this poster

The French don't actually think he's funny. He threatened to invade and they've been playing along ever since.

Most of the comedies that your friend who drinks nothing but filtered water and Earl Grey call “guilty pleasures” are childish ones, and most movies you see because Esquire called them “hilarious and achingly real” only to discover that they’re dramas about beautiful sad people who make a sarcastic reference to a writer you’ve never heard of every 40 minutes are childlike.

The manchildren of Mannheim Baptist Church were about as childlike as watching Sideways with all of Paul Giamatti’s lines replaced with fart sounds.

if you think this movie would be a lot better, you're in the right place

PFFFFFTTTTPBLPPPBLTHHHHHBBBBBB!

There were three in total: Phil, Gene, and Jay. Phil was the most interesting, the most likable, and the one I have the most stories about. I have so many, in fact, that he’ll get his own post somewhere down the road. For now, I’ll tantalize you with these:

  • he owns nearly every special edition Pepsi can released in the past quarter century,
  • one day in his thirties, he rode the American Eagle roller coaster at Six Flags Great America twelve times in a row, and
  • he devotes a week each year to watching his VHS copies of every Godzilla movie available in America.
on second thought, Phil is awesome

"Nothin' like C-Pep and Mothra in '99."

Gene was just fucking crazy. He filled every Midwestern mama’s boy stereotype you can imagine—living in his aging mother’s basement, wearing a floppy tweenage bowl cut, bragging about mostly imagined athletic prowess (in karate no less), steadfastly refusing to get a job or girlfriend. He was a living bad Danny McBride character.

Out of all the Men of Mannheim, Gene was the one I looked up to the most, because that shit’s awesome to a nine year-old. Once, when I was five or six, I asked my dad where all his toys were. I couldn’t comprehend that adults have Frasier and tennis leagues and heroin, a whole different entertainment language than kids. Gene, though, spoke my language, of Super Nintendo and play-fighting and prayerobics.

we're both total Michelangelos

He just GETS me, y'know?

Of course, guys in their early thirties who relate perfectly to elementary schoolers because of their shared interests are horrible role models. But he had the same wide-eyed sincerity in his love for Christ as us kids, so they slapped a badge on him and let him teach AWANA. (This one, too, is another post. Shit this thing is crashing. Save it!)

Okay. Every guy I’ve told you about so far pales in comparison to Jay.

never mind, it's just FUCKING BRITISH PEOPLE

PULL UP!!!!!

The more seriously a manchild takes his idiotic behavior, the funnier the situation is. By that metric, few people I’ve met are as funny as Jay Liotta. Jay was Ray Liotta’s uber-Christian cousin and looked so much like him that, despite his rough hands and cheap clothes, people screamed at him when he refused to give autographs. He had the same poofy black hair, the same acne-scarred cheeks, and, of course, almost the same name.

The only reason any of that’s funny is because of his livid insistence that it wasn’t. Do not compare Jay to Ray, his Hollywood cousin living in sin, or he will be very angry, regardless of how often he deals with that comparison. Sadly I can’t give you a firsthand account, but I can extrapolate one. Picture a JT lookalike screaming “I told you, I’m Dustin Timberlake!!” at a bunch of terrified seventeen year-old Illinettes, then date the reference by two decades and you get the idea.

3. a small, often filtered Illinar

Illinette, n. - 1. girl from Illinois, 2. word I'm disappointed to find out I didn't just invent

Even that wasn’t the funniest thing about Jay Liotta. The funniest thing was his insane, hate-fueled crusade against Pokemon.

Let me take you back to 1999. I’m in fourth grade, Pokemon is the most popular thing to happen in my lifetime, and Jay has been coming to Mannheim off and on for a few months. In an effort to involve him more in church, my dad invites him over for dinner. Before he arrives, my dad takes my brother and me aside and says, “uh, hey boys, you know how I told you Jay is Ray Liotta’s cousin? Do me a big favor and don’t mention that tonight.”

Mr. Mime used Restraint! It's not very effective...

My lips are sealed.

I only remember one thing about the dinner. Jay put on his most serious “I’m-not-Ray-Liotta” face, then read aloud, verbatim, a chain email about the evils of Pokemon he had printed out. “You and your kids need to hear this, Paul,” he began. “All across the world, children are becoming hypnotized by a Satanic Japanese cult called Pokeymon.”

Being a combative little shit, I interjected immediately with “PoKAYmon!” My dad shushed me with Hurt Locker urgency. I feel bad for him in this story. The poor bastard was forced into a precarious middle ground: on one side, a lunatic, on the other, an enraged half-person yet to learn that not everyone responds to his logical little tirades.

QED MONSTER RANCHER IS A HORSESHIT RIPOFF

I FUCKING TOLD YOU, HORSEYS GO IN L SHAPES!

Jay “Not Ray” Liotta was just getting started. “Children are taught to imprison demons into Pokeyballs, and are rewarded for lording over as many demons as possible. They are urged to ‘catch em all,’ leading wars between their demons and other demon lords.”

“That’s not how it works!” I could see the panic in my dad’s eyes and I did not care. Pokeintegrity mattered too much. “First of all, you’re a Pokemon master, and second of all, they’re not demons, they’re little creatures.”

“Uh, okay, Peter, how about we don’t—”

I'm Hatton in this

Use your words!

ACTUALLY (ed: my favorite word, 1996-2003), ‘Pokemon’ means ‘pocket monsters’ in Japanese, and just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s hypnotizing anybody—”

This is the point where any ordinary adult would avoid picking a fight with a fourth grader. Jay Liotta was no ordinary adult. Jay Liotta was a damned maniac who yelled in my face that I had been brainwashed by the secular Jap media and I was meddling in evil magic.

That is the point where any ordinary child would get scared of the big mean man screaming at him. I was no ordinary child. I was a stubborn asshole who kept the fight up for a solid five minutes until my dad gave up and banished me to my room.

I still think I would’ve won. Fuck that guy.

This is Bizarro Ray Liotta. Not Jay Liotta.

The Men of Mannheim, Part I: The Superfans

Unless you want them imprisoned or unemployed or in ska bands, make sure the young men in your life have plentiful male role models. We’re pitiless, violent, stubborn, and, starting at three years younger than whatever age you think, sexually frustrated. We need adults of our gender to show us safe ways to channel the evil lurking within (extremely specific pornography, talking about “hops” and “single-malt” to sound like less of a drunk, pushups).

Unfortunately for me, the non-family adult males of my formative years can be broken into two groups: the Superfans and the Manchildren. Let me explain.

rule 34 on single malt scotch GO!

Aged in an oak barrel for forty years just so you can face lunch.

If it’s your job to raise boys and they look for surrogates in the media, don’t get too worried. They all do. Just make sure the surrogates are cool. Male-targeted media is basically a strobe light held inches away from our faces by a bikini model who screams “BUY THE EXPENSIVE ONE AND YOU CAN COME IN MY MOUTH!” Being able to decipher which loud distractions other men like best (football, Bruces Willis, Springsteen, & Wayne) will ensure a strong, if insecure, social standing for your budding li’l sociopath.

"daddy, I always want to hurt people, is this normal?" "yes"

"I'm always angry for reasons I don't understand but I sure know the value of teamwork!"

Throw in a few male high school teachers and he might just manage to bullshit his way into the role model world later in life. I wish this post didn’t sound so sexist, but honest? Young men don’t trust women on anything. To them, truth can only come from someone with hairy chests and good punchin’ knuckles. They’re way fucking worse than I am, and that’s saying something, because according to people who don’t get my jokes I blame sexual assault on its victims.

not posting the whole joke because I ain't fucking going through that again

For those of you who can't tell that pointing out an issue is not the same as supporting its practice: sometimes annoying people kill themselves

My favorite media role models as a kid were mostly basketball players and comedians. Like any Chicago child of the ’90s, I worshipped the Michael Jordan Bulls and everything in their universe, be it Dennis Rodman’s hair dye, Space Jam, or this awesome thing:

One of the few combinations of my two favorite things was the old Superfans SNL sketch series that Comedy Central aired in constant reruns. For those of you who are ignorant/foreigners (ew), the sketches featured a bunch of grotesque fatsos with thick, supposedly Chicagoan accents eating meat and talking about their love of hometown sports. Even twenty years later, when I tell people where I’m from, I’m often greeted with a Superfans impression.

My normal reaction is to say that no one in Chicago sounds like that. This is a dodge. Pockets of the accent still exist in the blue collar near-western suburbs. I should know—I used to hear it every Sunday at Mannheim Baptist Church from men with the role model finesse of workshop accidents.

anytime I read something written in any dialect I hear Slave Jim. Just me?

"Sure, da boy lahst a heeand, but now 'e knows naht ta lose a heeand no more."

From 1996 to 2001, my dad was the pastor of a church whose building and members were both made in the Depression. Attendance declined steadily each year as the regulars died or went to nursing homes, making it a more depressing place to grow up in than most juvenile cancer wards. Church leadership? A Korean war vet, two guys named Frank, and whichever cat lady in the Social Committee had the most functioning organs that week.

I can remember eight parenting-age men total, including my dad, one out-of-place sane guy, and three oddballs who’ll be the stars of next week’s post. That leaves three middle-aged blue collar guys who came because their wives did. I call them the Christian Superfans.

fyi I have no idea if any of these guys liked sports

Jesus vs. Ditka, who wins? Hold on! Jesus's name is Jesus Ditka.

The funniest of them all was Rick Riesterer, a union tough with a glorious mustache who moonlighted as our sound guy. (Seriously.) He had the thickest Chicago accent I’ve ever heard, and for five years gave not a single fuck. Each week, he’d spend two minutes double-checking cables in the isolated sound booth in the back, then promptly fall asleep. After the service, Rick, having Refrigerator Perry-sized balls, would compliment my dad on his sermon.

fun fact: all men named Rick have mustaches

Equal parts Swanson, Swerski, and guy with a name that's already funny.

Bill was the weird one of the bunch. He and his fiancee found our church in the phonebook while looking for a place that’d marry them in a week. They had their ceremony in the basement a few days later, where half-sandwiches and punch were served. Bill was large, clueless, the only black person there, and thrown into leadership roles largely because he didn’t know he could say no. He taught Sunday School for a few weeks, until the fact that didn’t know enough about religion to answer third graders’ questions caught up with him.

We mostly remember him for his pancakes.

or, if you're a white girl, crepes (BUT REALLY WHY DO WHITE GIRLS LOVE CREPES?)

Great, now we all want pancakes.

That leaves John, more or less Rick’s evil twin. He looked like him, cared as much, and came to church for the same reason, but had a better-paying job, a hotter wife, and a douchey disdain for everything. If Rick was the Herman Cain of that place—entertaining, impractical, may or may practice what he preaches—John was the Rick Perry—soulless, calculated, suburbanized. Or maybe the Newt Gingrich, because I’m pretty sure he cheated on his wife, and I think she had some light cancer for a while.

Strangely enough, at the time I knew John better than any of them, because his wife and my dad were best buds. I don’t remember him well, though, which I think was his plan. Like a true, dickish man, he avoided us whenever possible. (I have since adopted this pattern by never responding to Facebook messages.)

real men pretend they're busy when a chat window pops up and take four minutes to get back

How can you stay mad at that bod?

Am I going to land this thing? You bet! I think a big part of me growing up weird has to do with a depleted stock of role models. Until middle school, I never had a male teacher, never went to camp, never played a sport. The only men I could look up to were my eccentric family members and the bizarro exercises in masculinity I found at church, plus whatever warped shit I picked up from the media.

Like anyone trying to make the transition to real person, I’ve tried to cut back on the inane acting-out I practiced during the years I tried to create an identity with hardly anything stable to base one on. More on this in the next post, but as an example of the bullshit kind of kid I was, I give you me in high school for your mocking pleasure. Goddammit it makes me want to stab myself in the cunt.

but the artwork by Addy Garee is fabulous! I need at least one positive mention of women in this thing or I'll feel bad about saying "cunt."

Not saying I'm a woman with a vagina. I'm saying that because this picture exists I am a man with a cunt.

The Dada Comic

If I never grew a conscience, I probably would’ve been a salesman. I’m better at it than I’m comfortable being. Convincing people to give me their money is like cocaine: once I tried it I realized I had to stop right away or else become a whore. Sure, I’ve only had the social skills/septum to pull it off for a couple years; even so, I’ve battled my inner Baldwin since birth.

if you haven't seen this movie none of this makes sense, sorry

Give me the Glengarry leads! I'll suck your dick!

Salesmanship is equal parts ego, smoothness, and product. Ideally, a good salesman is egotistical enough to believe that his personality should sell things, is smooth enough to hide it, and has a product his mark actually wants. The more unnecessary the product, the more the salesman has to do to sell it. The more a salesman’s work affects a mark’s decision to buy, the bigger the rush.

That paragraph’s boring, I know, but bear with me. I worked at the Apple Store in college, where most people already knew what they wanted and I was just there to ring it up, non-commission.  To a stimulant addict, that’s like a cup of black tea—technically against the rules, but if you call your sponsor over it he’ll hang up.

later that night I died of alcohol poisoning

"Dammit, Lundquist! You're hopped up on cola! Hand in your five year chip."

Before that, though, I was a “charity fundraiser.” I put that in quotes because it’s a lie. I was a telemarketer. But, still, for charity! I rationalized this in my head like so: “telemarketer” is bad, but “charity” is good, so if I put “charity” before “telemarketer” it’s okay! Even if I take commission and performance bonuses!

That’s just the Baldwin speaking. In reality, putting “charity” before “telemarketer” is like putting “baby” before “murderer.” Not only was I a Menace II Society, I preyed upon people’s love of cuddly things like polar bears and NPR. What kept me going was this: compared to the Apple Store, convincing a stranger to give you her credit card over the phone is like jamming a bike pump full of Bolivian freebase into your jugular.

open mouth smiles are creepy

I knew there weren't enough diabetic giants to justify making these.

Being good at telemarketing also has roughly the same affect on your soul. At the end of each shift, I’d walk home feeling like Kevin Garnett after the 2008 NBA Finals. Then I’d get home and collapse into a pile of guilt for the annoyance and insincerity I’d inflicted on the world. Every day I took my ego on a rickety carnival rollercoaster, hurtling from swingin’-dick alpha male to self-loathing catatonic and back in minutes.

"remember that time we both walked into a bar?"

Who put this pic of two Poles here?

Should’ve seen it coming. This wasn’t my first time getting into the mess that is ego-driven selling. It all started at the International Culture Fair at Chippewa Elementary.

I was ten years old and entered in a sales contest. The fourth grade teachers assigned everyone a country, and we each manned a booth selling something we made related to that country’s culture. At the fair, the teachers gave everyone fake currency to spend at the other booths. Whoever made the most won. Most kids went the obvious route and brought food—tacos from Mexico, samosas from India, flags from North Korea.

I had Greece and insufferable arrogance.

but everyone gets a participant trophy

"As you all know, first prize is a gold star. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired."

Just a couple weeks earlier, I won my first writing award, and I won it in style. After a trial, a story of mine had earned Illinois Public School District 2′s Young Author Award. The panel at first refused to believe that a ten year old could write with such eloquence, such panache, such synonyms, and so my teacher and parents had to swear that they had seen me write it unassisted. (Whether this had more to do with my skill or with the fact that the district’s budget was a pack of saltines and an assisted suicide doctor I’ll never know.)

left: Conrad Murray, suicide doctor; right: pack of saltines

Give him credit, he made it out.

Riding high, I decided to play to my strengths and write a comic book about the Greek gods. Sound like a good idea? It is, except OH WAIT! I’M WEIRD! The comic was about the hapless underdog Death applying to join the Twelve Olympians, who laugh him off the mountain. Still sound like a good idea? Pepper in a bunch of “jokes” and anti-jokes written by a ten year-old who lives off of Monty Python, Weird Al, and Daniel Pinkwater books, then give it a “hilarious” anti-climax where Death just gives up and leaves.

Take that and try to sell it to a bunch of ESL kids who live next to the airport and see how you do.

search "kid reading" on Google images and tell me racism doesn't exist in America

¿Por qué me obliga a leer este libro? ¿Dónde están mis padres?

If your answer is anything less than “great,” The Baldwin is not within you. I sold the fuck outta those comics. It was all in the pitch. “Everyone else is selling food. Why not get something you can take home and cherish forever? You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. All in the latest classic from award-winning young author Peter Lundquist. Okay, now say that to them in Spanish.”

I had created something subversive and original, and the rewards were pouring in. At ten, I had no stimulants to compare this to, so I guess I’d call it a big hug on a nice summer day (note: we need to start kids on drugs earlier).

My teacher came by to grade me. She flipped through my comic, bemused, and let out a half-laugh. “Okay, Peter… uh, what is this?” I contained myself. “It’s Dada. You expect it to be funny, and then it isn’t funny, which makes it funny again. So were you right or not? You don’t know!”

more like R BUTT

Marcel WHOchamp?

She bit back laughter, as if to avoid asking “How do you know what Dada is?” followed by “Wait, you clearly fucking don’t.” So began the end. Juan after Juan filed up to me, waving copies of my book, claiming it was unfunny bullshit and they want their fake money back because Belgium is selling waffles. The ruse came apart, Jack Lemmon got arrested, and goddamit I just crossed the threshold of too many Glengarry Glen Ross references.

Anyway, my brief empire had fallen. I was crushed. But then I figured I was too smart for them and learned nothing because I was a dick. Follow me on Twitter.

still a cola addict

Nothing's changed.

The Greased Lightning Savior

Hey lovers, two things: first, sorry I’ve been a delinquent. Work has been shitballs crazy and also I have seasonal affective disorder and every December I stay inside and hate myself a lot. Second, I was a guest on The Blake Wexler Show. Get it for free on iTunes so you can hear the evidence (and learn about this blog’s origin). Okay here’s a post.

I attribute a lot of my weirdness as a kid to my strong religious upbringing. That said, holy hell am I glad I wasn’t homeschooled, because those creepy little fuckers have the social skills of divorced dads at laundromats for the first time. It’s like no one told them not to walk up to people and smile vacantly until they talk, because no one did. (If that offends you because you were homeschooled and your mother always said you’re perfectly normal, remember: she owns a life-size crucifix.)

"well, technically fourth-specialest."

"You're my second-specialest little guy."

I didn’t find out just how close I was to being a Duggar until 2007, when Jesus Camp came out on DVD and everyone I knew who saw it asked their ex-creepo religious friend if hardcore evangelical Christians really are that kooky. My revelation didn’t come necessarily from my answer (“yes”), but from the fact that I was everybody’s ex-creepo religious friend.

Good thing I never went to a Jesus Camp. Wait, hold on. I totally did.

this image is copyrighted to GOSPELGIFS so keep it on the dl guys ok?

Thank you Lord for ruining our eyesight!

For the heathens out there, VBS stands for Vacation Bible School. It is the place pop songs go to die in agony and kids go to get the Satan spirit-fingered out of them while everyone else is at a water park or something (I don’t know how summer works). Every year, once real school gets out, parents or annoying kids drag their kids or parents to church for a week or two to learn about how god loves them so much that he Marvin Gayed his son so Jews can’t get into heaven anymore.

"What's Going On" is our generation's Sermon on the Mount, prove me wrong

He died for our soul.

Then everybody does crafts and sings and hates being there. Well, okay, it’s just the godless or soon-to-be godless kids who hate it—when I still thought it was all true, I loved VBS. I was that irritating kid who raises his hand after every single teacher question, even if it was “did you know that you’ve completely ground away my will to live?” (“Yes! Next question!”)

I was big on volunteering, too. Need help putting chairs away? No but I’ll do it. A King David for the Friday play? I’m your tubby blonde star. Someone to cover up your affair? I’m no first stone-caster!

conservative Christians like to say this verse and "judge not lest ye be judged" get taken out of context because they haven't heard about irony yet

"It's only okay to murder adulterers if you're perfect." - Jesus/Jack the Ripper

My main VBS contribution was also my nerdiest. I ran the projector.

Starting at age 11, when we moved to a new church that played songs too new for the hymnbook, it was my job to switch out lyric sheets on a ’70s-era overhead projector made of green plastic and cancer fumes. I feel weird typing “projector” over and over, because this was no ordinary projector. It was evil. Not once in seven years did we ever replace its child soul-powered lightbulb, clean it, or turn it over to the Museum of Shitty Technology That Offends All Five Senses. I’m gonna call it Apollyon, because that’s the coolest demon name in the bible.

"projector" is also a way lamer name for a metal band

Twinsies!

Every Sunday and every day of VBS, I faced off with Apollyon in what can only be described as the clearest visual representation of the downward trajectory of my faith. At first I took the job so I could be in the front pew, soaking up every word of the Word. As time wore on, though, I stayed so other people wouldn’t see me spacing out or trying not to laugh at the song lyrics.

Laughing? At praise songs? How cynical is this guy? Well, feast your ears on this and tell me:

“Hungry I come to you for I know you satisfy/ I am empty but I know your love does not run dry… I’m falling on my knees/ offering all of me.” If you hear that as anything other than “I want to suck Jesus’s dick,” you are a Mormon.

So, to bring it back to VBS, by 2007 I was a rebellious, moody, atheistic teen who wanted to get the hell out of Illinois and church forever. But since I was just the right age to make sure the kids didn’t glue their eyes shut or murder the weak among them, I was conscripted as a VBS “volunteer.” Joy.

lo, a miracle! Three days later he called me back.

"It's a lot easier to praise from your knees. C'mon, WWID?"

Oh, quick major setting detail I forgot—our church was 90% Chinese. Combine the conformism and fear of evangelical Christianity with the conformism and fear of Asian-American culture and you get just the right atmosphere to let outlandish shit slide. Case in point? The song that made me quit VBS forever, “Go Go Savior.”

Plenty of pop songs get butchered in modern churches—it’s a simple, easy way to connect with the prized younger audience. Every American church had its own version of Hoobastank’s “Crawling in the Dark” in 2002. (If I just brought that song back into your memory after years of repression, I am so sorry.) “Go Go Savior” is a whole different monster.

only 434Animeguy would put "The Reason" over "Running Away"!

The only "best of" I'd ever write about Hoobastank would be in the event of their deaths and would order them from most to least just.

“Go Go Savior” is a word for word rewrite of “Greased Lightning” and the most cynical Christian cash-in since indulgences. I don’t remember the lyrics, except that “greased lightning! Go greased lightning!” was replaced with “Go savior! Go go savior!” and all references to pussy wagons, chicks creaming, and getting lots of tit were purged in favor of descriptions of Christ’s love. Our church bought it and played it for children because apparently none of the people in charge had ever heard “Greased Lightning” before.

burnin' up a quarter mile of tough stains

It has a song?

There I was, at Jesus Camp, listening to a recording of a children’s choir bleating over synthesized guitars to the tune of a song about getting your dick wet, feeling Apollyon spread tumors around my throat and lungs, when I realized: I don’t have to do this. I’m not the weird almost-homeschooled kid anymore.

That night, my Jesus Camp days ended. It took me a few years to get that I had just replaced weird religious kid with weird angry kid, but at least I finally broke ties with my old phase.

Fuck I hate Hoobastank. Why did I make myself think of them.

please never wear helmets

If you're thinking "I liked that one song" look at this picture and learn to hate again.

The Sit and Reach

There is nothing a fat kid dreads more than Presidential Fitness Week. We spend so much effort on ensuring that the extent of our physical inadequacy is never uncovered that, when all that truth comes out, every fat kid in the country turns into a sweaty version of Bill Macy at the end of Fargo.

Steve Buscemi was hot in that movie

"Don't make me run a mi-hi-hiiiiile!"

Honest. Next time a fat kid’s in your house, offer him food and watch his eyes. He’ll sneak looks at everyone else’s plate to make sure he’s no higher than second in total food intake, no matter how hungry he is. This is because we try to make people think that the reason for our fatness is whatever reflects least pathetically on us: it’s not that I eat too much, it’s that I have a slow metabolism; not that I fear exercise, but that I’m too busy for it.

appropriate facial reaction

My gym has weird hours and also is a Wendy's.

Dodging the truth is harder in gym class, but we have ways. Here are some tips from a lifelong pro:

  • change in a bathroom stall,
  • team with other weaklings, not athletes—you can blame your team’s horribleness on them, and most importantly,
  • find at least two things you’re good at and overcompensate.

Expend no effort at something you’re bad at (almost everything). Then, when you find out you’re okay at badminton or have a good volleyball serve, be sure to murder the shit out of it in gym. Don’t worry about how much you’re sweating, even if you smell like a South African whorehouse. The extra work you put in might convince people that you’re not terrible, but just too cool to care about running or dodgeball. (It won’t, but you’ll think that and maybe not cut yourself tonight.)

if you're offended by me saying my sweat can smell worse than AIDS, you haven't seen me show up to class late

Cheer up you fucking disaster.

Unfortunately, there is no escaping Presidential Fitness Week. You will fail at several basic physical tests in front of your peers. Tough titty. With any luck, though, you won’t self-destruct entirely, because there are two tests you have a shot at.

Pullups are right the fuck out. No fat kid has ever done a pullup. Play it cool; don’t try. Same thing with the mile run. Walk. If someone yells at you, jog half-heartedly until they stop staring.

so why did the XFL fail?

Were you even listening to me?

The biggest failure potential comes from the sprint and the pushups. You have to sprint, but luckily everyone hates your body as much as you do and won’t want to look at your gross boobs hitting you in the face. Pushups suck because you’ll probably defy the gym teacher’s expectations and do one, so they’ll be on your ass “encouraging” you to “succeed,” which means all eyes will be on your body as it crumbles like that bag of Doritos you sat on once.

who am I kidding "once"

At least crushed Doritos have a use.

That leaves crunches and the sit and reach. Crunches are a breeze! If your suck-it-in muscles are as developed as mine were, you’ll smoke all the skinny kids. Sure, you’ll leave a sweat outline on the mat that’ll convince everyone you’re a giant human-shaped slug, but whatever!

Sit and reach was my signature event. Maybe it’s my aforementioned freak knees, maybe it’s the fact that I have an NBA-length torso on jockey-length limbs, maybe it’s my hours of practice at grabbing cookies and remotes without getting up. Whatever the reason, I sat and reached better than almost anyone. Since this test involves no physical exertion, but is as public as all the others, I recommend that all fat kids get good at it if they want to feel almost like real people.

I think he misunderstood the phrase "iron cross"

Suck it! Not literally, though I'm sure you can manage by yourself.

My final tip, fat kids, is that if your school has some kind of cool-sounding program where you can opt-out of regular humiliating gym to help special needs kids, don’t you fucking dare do it.

I did. Please learn from my example.

not pictured: the last eight inches of the pole ;)

Don't do this either.

My high school had one of the biggest Special Ed programs in the country. People brought their kids from several states away just to get the specialized treatment that the school was increasingly incapable of providing, because the exponential growth of disabled kids was at near-Chernobyl levels. To meet the demand, they outsourced gym to one overworked lesbian and a ragtag band of student volunteers.

spread Kid Vid's eyes apart a few inches too

This but whiter.

I jumped at the opportunity. Little did I know that I would spend the majority of my last two years of gym with Nate. Debilitative cerebral palsy Nate. Near-quadriplegic, family of champion wrestlers, trapped-intelligence Nate.

Nate hated me. HATED me. I know a thing or two about burning with resentment but holy shit guys, I’ve never seen anyone hate anyone like Nate hated me, and I’ve seen my friends become successful quickly. And I totally deserved it.

"Watsky's shooting ANOTHER video?! Goddammit I'm running out of spite-tattoo space!"

If I were black and raped this guy's sister, he and Nate would be even.

You see, Nate knew my motivations from day one. Most of the people in the class were at least passably healthy and there to help. Not this guy. I joined the program out of cynicism, laziness, and the knowledge that the girls with the highest pity ceilings would be there.

(Side note and important rule: every hot girl who volunteers with special needs kids has a disabled brother, and the hotter she is, the more disabled he is. Really hot girls whose brothers are just a little Tourettesy have no reason to be there. Yeah, it’s getting real as shit in here.)

you can hate but this is LIVED EXPERIENCE, PEOPLE

I don't make the rules.

To make things worse, I had a functioning body that I voluntarily didn’t use. While I bitch about running a mile, he would’ve killed me in a heartbeat if it meant he could walk for a day. To make things even worse, my job with Nate was to provide resistance for his exercises.

For half an hour a day, he had to try to punch me and I had to effortlessly hold his fist in place.

man I really come off bad in this one, huh?

Just really, really close.

What was most impressive about Nate’s hatred is that he expressed it all without the use of words. Yep! He couldn’t talk. He could, however, bore deep into my soul with his hate-eyes, and you had best believe that someone without the use of his voice or limbs gets really good at non-verbal expression.

I still remember the exact moment of the worst expression I ever got from him or anyone. Presidential Fitness Week, junior year. The special needs kids and volunteers took the tests together when possible, so for the first four days, Nate watched with a mixture of spite and amusement as I huffed my way to Does Not Meet scores like an obese penguin.

"a merciless god destroyed my motor functions but even I run faster than you."

This but whiter.

Friday. Flexibility Day. I had to administer the test designed for Nate, which he passed, painfully and barely—his range of motion had grown less than his therapist had hoped. Right afterwards?

The sit and reach. I killed it. Best score in the class, easy. Despite the pitifulness of my body, my greatest strength was his greatest weakness.

There are no words for the look he gave me right afterwards, but below is the closest I’ve got. That, fat kids, is why you shouldn’t be like me. Or, if you’re going to join a program like that anyway, at least get laid. I won’t high-five you, because you’re despicable, but I will understand. Go outside.

and then we were stuck with each other for another year.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

The Lost Birthday

As a rule, I don’t cry and I don’t puke. Like crying, though, there are exceptions—public exceptions. Including the time I already covered, my years of partying have caused me to throw up a grand total of five times. All but one of these involved a phenomenon college students everywhere call “the spins.”

for a fun time, add vodka and/or ricin to your next keg party!

Asphyxiate! Asphyxiate!

For all my old readers out there, first off, what was Bush One like? Also, the spins happen when you drink and smoke weed at the same time and make you feel like you’re in that ride where they stick you to a wall and drop the floor out from under you and make out with the girl you were flirting with, except the ride only ends when you yell at it and throw up on its couch.

I can’t handle the spins. I’ve held on to my guts through rollercoasters, pure absinthe, fevers, and mixing bathtub gin with malt liquor and Smirnoff Ice. Pass me a joint, though, and I turn into a sixteen year-old Juliet understudy.

except I never remember to turn the shower on to cover the sound :(

"We're looking for someone a bit, uh, 'younger'-looking."

I’d give you examples, but bragging about how much I used to drink already makes me sound like a bro douche so I’ll cut the shit. The focus here is supposed to be on how being a weird kid made me act out, both for the attention and because I had the social sense of a retarded time traveler.

so crates are a great packing method, huh?

"Nice dress, queer."

Instead, here’s a story that foreshadows the disaster that was my nineteenth birthday more accurately. In fourth grade, my best friend Justin and I were huge Mortal Kombat fans. Maybe it was our insecurity over being two of the only whites in town; maybe it was blind pubescent bloodlust. Whatever punches the hurt away!

Anyway, one recess, we decided to stage a playground fight as Scorpion and Sub-Zero. The homoeroticism of screaming “GET OVER HERE!” while pretending to penetrate another guy’s chest with a spear was lost on us, but whatever! Murder’s fun!

imagine any fighting video game announcer has a boner the whole time. You're welcome.

He paid his fifty bucks.

The fight began when whoever was supposed to be watching us stopped watching us. We both screamed “MORTAL KOMBAAAAAT!”, ran to a patch of open blacktop, and pretend-beat the living hell out of each other.

This lasted for about two minutes, at which point the principal, under whose open window this had all happened, dragged us into her office and gave us detentions.

I wish I could say that was the dumbest part of that story, but then there’s this: we knew we were under her window the whole time. Even so, our impulse to do something self-destructive with obvious consequences pushed us onward, because ten year old boys are invincible.

Kel Mitchell has lived up to the legacy of his role by becoming invisible in Hollywood.

Either that or we were following the "we're invisible if no one's looking at us" rule.

College is a great time to exorcise this particular belief. On no day did I learn this lesson (that is, don’t do things that will bring you pain) so immediately as on my nineteenth birthday.

First things first: I can’t remember what happened. My memory is a photo album that your ex got to first, just a couple of shots that you know aren’t the important ones. All that I’m sure of is I fell out of a chair, had to close one eye to read, and at some point said “this doesn’t taste like rum anymore.”

guess me and Trevor just went all-out on our blanket fort that year

Weren't there more people here?

Here’s how I got myself into trouble. I had been having an awful birthday. Almost no one was available, I didn’t have anything planned, no one gave me anything or acknowledged me in a non-Facebook context—in other words, how all of my birthdays will be now since I’m 21.

There were other bad things about it, too, but the one thing I remember most clearly was the pledge I made to myself as soon as I started drinking. Since nothing I hated about the day needed remembering, I decided to black it all out.

also how I look when I try to jog

How I looked by 3 am.

This means that the narrative I have of the night was supplied by other people. According to them, my brother and my friends Tim and Steve came over late and we all got really drunk in my garage. The rest of them passed a bowl around, but I refused because I didn’t want to get sick. (Ha!)

Then they noticed that I’d made a point of getting myself horribly drunk and decided to take advantage. One of my favorite read-along books as a kid happened to be in the garage, and my friends rightly guessed that it’d be hilarious to hear from someone slurring worse than your grandpa when he mixes bourbon with his stroke meds.

bark HUSSEIN omaha beach, fought the Nazis I did

"Backs steal. Olivem. Even the Pepsodent."

This much I know for sure, because there’s an audio recording. I won’t post it here, but I will say that however bad you think it sounds, it’s worse. The book’s main character is a machinosaurus, a sentient bulldozer thing shaped like a dinosaur. For some reason, I pronounced this “makinasaurus,” despite numerous correction attempts. After the second one of these, any time someone said anything or laughed at me saying makinasaurus, I’d shout “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

in the end it turns out the monster is actually a metaphor for Hurricane Katrina

GREAT LITERATURE IS OPEN TO INTERPRETATION

About halfway through, there’s a loud clattering sound followed by uproarious laughter. Tim explains to the microphone that I’d fallen out of my chair for no reason, as I had just been sitting upright. Don’t know if you’ve ever been drunk enough to have worse equilibrium than a dead guy, but it’s possible! Dream on everyone!

I don’t know what I was thinking getting that drunk, especially considering how much of my stomach lining everyone saw later that night. Probably the same thing I was thinking when I punched a kid in the face in front of the principal ten years earlier. Good thing I learned my lesson!

Gary Busey/Robin Williams lovechild, is that you?

Two years later.

The Dumbbell Uppercut

I like a good beer every now and then. In fact, I’m drinking one now because WHAT THE FUCK HANIE, THAT WAS THE WORST START SINCE KRISTALLNACHT. (Caleb Hanie is the new quarterback for the Chicago Bears, and “Kristallnacht” is the name of the first episode of Whitney.)

For a few years, though, I wasn’t a huge fan of moderation. Like many teens, I liked drinking because if you do it enough you aren’t scared of people or hospitals. Plus, the more you drink, the more people around you want to drink, and the more they do, the more likely you are to have sex with something alive.

sample chorus from song I wrote in this period: "I try not to hit on girls at parties, 'cause if they like me they're fucking wasted."

"Looking for warm bodies who like to party!"

I started getting my drunk on at the tender, fuckable age of 15. I’d had a few drinks at parties, but I was so worried about getting trashed that I never let go. Then my parents got divorced and for the first time I had home access to alcohol. Dad’s a strict teetotaler—once, he lectured me on Demon Rum while I watched in horror as he poured a gifted bottle of Grand Marnier down a drain—and my mom was glad to finally keep a couple basic cocktail ingredients in stock at her new place. When she wasn’t at home I mixed myself the worst martinis ever made, varying the dose to discover my tolerance level.

not my fault this party had Tempur-Pedic pillows

Higher... higher... too high.

On one of my drunkest afternoons, my dad called to remind me that his custody period started that day. Shit. Want me to pick you up? Uhhhh, no, thas fine, is a niceday out, I’m gonna walk. What a sight it must have been: me stumbling the six landscaped blocks from her place to his, clutching my backpack like a life preserver. “Sweetie, slow down! That poor chubby boy has a muscle disease. He could wander into the road at any moment.”

The sad part is how close I was to making it. I came in through the garage for some drunk reason, only to be ganged up on by a shelf and the floor.

the shelf rights movement is still in its infancy

I'm not racist, but if I see a couple shelves out on a corner I'll cross the street.

Once inside, I mumbled something about being tired and passed out on the couch for sixteen hours. My bruises the next morning turned me off of drinking for a solid year. Of course, as longtime readers know, I didn’t learn from this experience.

None of the drinking I did in college, though, compared to my Drunk Summer. I came home from freshman year with the exact mix of unemployment, boredom, and self-destructiveness that would’ve made me a terrorist anywhere else. There’s a reason hack Midwestern comics talk about how there’s nothing to do in small towns but drink and smoke weed: living in one drowns their funny brain cells.

IN JOKE

"I spent my twenties killing myself. Go Buckeyes!" (applause break)

Every few days, a couple of friends and I would get together to pound through a bottle of liquor and whatever weed we had. Sure, it was about as healthy as kidney punching each other for an hour, but we never let it get out of hand. No one drove or fucked strangers. All we did was watch stand-up DVDs and lie about girls.

Well, all right. It got out of hand twice.

when people say they're not proud of this period of their lives they're always lying a little

Who put this mug of rum and coke in the freezer? Me?

That picture’s from the morning after the second craziest party I’ve ever thrown. My dad had just gotten remarried and planned to sell his duplex, so before I went back to school my brother and I invited a few people over to get wrecked on a night he spent at our stepmother’s place. The most vivid memory I have of the experience is waking up on the couch that morning, pantsless, with my glasses smashed into my face, a broken guitar and an iron dumbbell at my side, and a thin trail of dried blood between my eyes, unsure how any of this happened.

hope we left a good tip

We ordered pizza AND a ukulele?

WIth a little help, I pieced the details together. The night started with a game of Thumpers emceed by our giant, hyperkinetic Irish friend Matt, who decreed that everyone should chuck whatever bullshit plans they made because it was time to get fucking trashed. Soon after, someone said we should take our shirts off, and everyone did. Well, everyone except this uncomfortable guy I didn’t  know who was there with his already-single-in-her-mind girlfriend, and me, because the sight of my torso would’ve ruined my chances with said girlfriend.*

my brother, ladies and gents. Used to use this as blackmail but now it's just fun public shame!

Like this, but much, much, much worse.

That pic’s from around 10 o’clock. We drank until 2.

Somewhere in that time, I got drunk enough to flirt with Captain Discomfort’s soon-to-be ex caveman-style. By that, I mean I took my pants off and uppercutted her in the face.

Let me explain. My dad tried to un-collapse his body before his wedding and bought some old-school dumbbells from Goodwill, which he used while watching TV. Peter Drunkquist thought it’d be just hilarious to retrieve them from the corner of the room and perform some grunting, exaggerated bicep curls. Oh, also, I pantsed myself so I wouldn’t have to take off my shirt.

note: the previous pic also fills today's naked man quotient. End of discussion.

Like this, but much, much, much worse.

Ms. Somebody Fuck Me Already leaned her bodyweight on the dumbbell and her face into mine, then asked, coquettish, if I was so strong that I could lift all this. Being drunk enough to rob banks, I didn’t get that this was more an invitation to stare down her cleavage than an actual question.

So I pulled. Hard. First, I hit the girl I was trying to sleep with on the chin, then, to complete the visual metaphor, I swung that fifteen pound chunk of metal into my own face.

hey frequent readers, remember how I said I have marker on my face in my driver's license pic? This is the night before. Continuity!

Ruin!

Safe to say she went home with her boyfriend. I passed out, cleaned up alone in the morning, and got driven to the worst dad brunch since the one where God told Jesus about his Good Friday plans. Despite being as well hydrated as a Lifetime wife’s pot roast, I managed not to puke while staring at the croissant on my plate like it was made of roach larva.

That’s the end of that one. But Peter Drunkquist will return in The Lost Birthday. Stay tuned, you fucking vultures.

I like all of you and find you attractive. Here are kittens.

*Yeah, I said “said,” but I used it right. Shut up.

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