Monthly Archives: January 2012

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.