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Defusing the Bomb, or A Clumsy Dance with Optimism

A sinister feeling has been slowly creeping up on me over the past few years, commensurate with my increasing level of awareness of (first) all of the evil shit that's going down in the world, and (second) all of the greedy, compassion-less bastards that are exacerbating the problems and/or stymieing the significantly smaller chunk of humanity that genuinely gives a damn.

My warm-blooded, liberal heart has for so long hoped that the goodness inside each of us will ultimately prevail, that we'll eventually stop persecuting people based on their religion (or lack thereof), skin color, sexual identity, or nationality, that we'll some day stop trying to kill each other, stop exploiting everything and everyone that we come across.

Imagine, if you will, that all of the hate in the world is a bomb (fitting, considering the implications of certain hate-filled groups in the world with easy access to nuclear and biological weapons). The bomb is about to explode, causing a massive amou…

When Happiness Loses Its Appeal

I cried this morning. Scratch that - I wept.


Before it happened, I called in sick. I've been fighting a cold for several days, see. After that was taken care of, I sat down on my couch and broke down into sobs.


The scariest part is that I didn't even know why I was crying. I don't usually cry, see. Not even at funerals or weddings or anything. In fact, I can remember each time I have cried over the past couple of years.


Just a few days ago, I called a very dear family member who is dealing with some seriously heavy things. Near the close of the conversation, she started crying and said, "You're very special to me." I dittoed both sentiments.


This last summer, well before moving to Kansas City, I found myself crying a lot. My grandmother died - cancer - in her house with the rest of my family taking care of her. Her youngest son, my Uncle Joshua had died tragically just months previous.


Before that happened, I parted ways with my girlfriend, Jennie. Easily the most…

Pet Peeve: Faith and Faith

"Everyone has faith in something. Even if you don't believe in God, you might have faith in humanity."
In a handful of conversations now, a coworker at YVC has said this, or something like this. I understand her intent, but I must object to her sentiment. I believe she's committing the fallacy of equivocation.
The word faith - like the words spirituality, religion, and even God - has come to encompass a pretty large swath of definitions, and not all definitions are equal. Consider: A) I have faith that my doctor will take good care of me during surgery. B) I have faith that the scientific method is a good way of discovering truths about the world. C) I have faith that human goodness can overcome evil actions. C) I have faith that an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God watches over the earth and all its creatures. D) I reached that point in my life where I had to make a decision. I decided to take a leap of faith.
There are obviously some profound differences in the way t…

I make friends

Don't knock it til you try it. That's what they always say. And in the case of online friend-finding services, they're right. I am not ashamed to say that I have made most of my acquaintances so far through meetup.com.

Let me elaborate a little. Meetup is not so much about finding friends as it is about finding group events. Before I even moved to KC, I joined meetup and started searching the KC area for groups.


For example, I searched for "books" and found some book clubs. I joined one. So far, I haven't been interested in reading any of their books, so I haven't attended any of their meetups. Meetup can be the virtual equivalent of hanging around a new group of kids at school just close enough to pick up their basic behavioral patterns, but not so close that you're committed to engage them in meaningful social interactions. You move like this, keeping an appropriate distance, from group to group until you find a good match, and then you plunge in.

I fo…

Some more posters and tattoos for work

This is what they get when they ask me to design a tattoo for recruiting youth

Introducing the Youth Volunteer Corps

The organization I work for was started in Kansas City in the 1980's by a man named David Battey. It now has over 50 member sites all over the United States and Canada. Those of us in the Kansas City branch have the advantage of working in an office shared by the national staff. David even comes in periodically. You can learn more at the YVCA website if you're interested.

The Kansas City Branch consists of 5 team leaders (I am one of them), the program director (my boss), and the program cultivation artist. You can meet the team here. Warning: my bio is pretty cheesy. 

Anyway, my job has three main parts (for now).

The first is an after-school project. Every Thursday, I bring a group of youth volunteers (11-18 years old) to a place called Operation Breakthrough

 Operation Breakthrough is both a day care and an alternative school for children living in poverty. 98% of the children are living below the poverty line. 25% of them are in foster care. Another 25% are homeless. My grou…

Kansas City Livin'

July 30, 2010 - Arrive in Kansas City, confused, alone, and terrified of the city people. I carry only identification, my lucky pen, and a pair of rubber gloves to ensure I'm not infected with the disease that makes all city people assholes. As it turns out, I didn't need those gloves. I had arrived at an orientation session for my new job: Youth Volunteer Corps Team Leader, a gig with AmeriCorps, the same corps that hooked me up with the Student Conservation Association last summer. And the city people I met there were all really nice folks.


August 11, 2010 - Arrive for good, with a few other essentials, like a toothbrush, a lease agreement, and a tenor saxophone. Move into my new apartment, located in the bloody, pumping heart of downtown - Quality Hill Towers. Quality indeed. Even though the refrigerator is barely larger than the one I had in my college dorm, the view is remarkable and the location is extraordinary. I am positioned right between the River Market district (ho…

Egg

Into the poorly lit kitchen I go. Right into the trash heap, that's right. Senseless, trying to keep these counters clean from grape jelly and mayonnaise. And of course, the skillet is dirty. It's always dirty. Sometimes I think my roommates crouch in the darkness of the pantry, sauces at the ready; and as soon as I clean the skillet and go on my way, they spring into action: dumping, frying, and caking as much nastiness onto the pan as is humanly possible. I think they just want to make me feel hopelessly and utterly defeated. And I do. I feel defeated by entropy.

So I clean the pan, feeling a great existential weight resting on my shoulders. The work will always be there. For me. For those who come after me. We're all Sisyphus, after all - the collection of us, that is. Humanity.

The pan is clean, so I grab the egg carton from the refrigerator. I just despise that word: refrigerator. Nothing graceful or pleasing about that word. I wish we could call it something else. E…

For Stuart

He strokes his chin gently
and stares intently
at Webster's Big Book of Grilling.
The suspense is killing
me.
Oh no, he's moving
those steaks are behooving.
The pan gently tipping
the sauces, all dripping
down the sides of his cutlets.

We just had a time
shooting bottles, sublime
and stress-melting entertainment.
And now, a well-deserved break,
some salmon, some steak,
and a smoke to boot.
"Hey, why don't we shoot
a movie for Scott?"
"I quite like that idea. I like it a lot."
It's a great idea
from my friend
Stuart.

Afterlife

The bullet took the man rather by surprise. Why, just a moment before, he was sitting in the park, working feverishly on a crossword puzzle. The last thing that went through his mind, besides the speeding death-bean, of course, was the answer to 11 across: "having escaped or left without permission."

Nine letters, long, begins with an a... Ends in ed, obviously; past tense and all. Aha! It must be 'abscon--

Dead. The bullet killed him instantly. Shot from a gun held by a man believing himself to be Harold Bloom reincarnate. (It mattered little to the man that Harold Bloom was still alive).

But this story is not about the delusional Bloom aspirant. This story is about the dead man with the bloody crossword puzzle in his lap; his name was Harold. This, however, was pure coincidence. As a matter of fact, the delusional man wasn't even aiming for Harold; he was aiming for a pigeon.


Harold felt himself falling gently yet swiftly, as if being lowered by stage wires for dra…

A Scene From My Zombie Movie

front exterior of house. suburbs. night.
side exterior. murmuring voices. thin wisp of smoke from around corner.
back exterior. four college-age boys standing in circle. it is a still, dark night. they  talk openly and pass around a pipe. they laugh. something funny has just been said.

Boy 1 (after laughing subsides): Yeah... It's coming. One of these days.
Boy 2: Dude, when the zombie apocalypse happens, I'm going right for Josh's house. Have you ever seen his stash of guns?
Boy 1: No.
Boy 2: He has an arsenal, man. An arsenal.
Boy 3 (pantomiming): When it happens, I want a shotgun. Headshot. *boom!* Headshot. *boom!*
Boy 4: Baseball bat. Don't have to worry about ammunition or reloading. That's when they get you. When you run out of ammunition, or when you're reloading. You're totally exposed.
Boy 2: I want that gun from Zombieland that freakin', uh, uh, uh, Woody Harrelson uses, dude. That thing is so bad-ass.
short pause. everyone ponders.
Boy 2: What …

A Litter of Communist Kittens

One Winter I walked through the park
An hour or two before dark,
And as I put on both my mittens - behold! -
A litter of Communist kittens.


In Springtime I traveled to London.
I saw bridges and buildings, all golden.
But even amidst all those Britons - again! -
Those Pinkos! Those Communist kittens!


The kittens you usually tickle
are stamped with a hammer and sickle.
Do not let yourself become smitten
by a litter of Communist Kittens.

A Toast

Are you feeling too hydrated?
Wondering how to get that special  scratchy feeling back into your life?
Maybe you're just tired of the same  old boring street vendor food.
What you need is Mr. Toasty!
Mr. Toasty has been servicing the fine folks at Sterling for the past 3 years.
NOW THAT'S SERVICE YOU CAN TRUST! Spring Special!  Unlimited Toppings ONLY 10 CENTS!

We do parties, too!

Just look for the giant toast and kitchenette set!
Mr. Toasty and all subaffiliates are not responsible for any butter or lipid-related accidents.

Dostoevsky, and Sex

It's 5:30 in the morning; I'm awake:
I'm awake because my bed's begun to shake.
There exists, though, no seismic activity,
just two people's passionate proclivity.


While the waking world washes around me,
my dull brain starts sensing some sound, see?
So I put down my ZZZzzzZZZ's and perk my ears up
and hear an erotic heave-ho thup thup thup.


Damn him, my roommate, so callous to those
he affects with his actions, those slumbering souls.
Their sleep is suspended; their rest ends in vex.
And for what? So XY can join with XX?

Oh hey, but gee, bro! Lucky for me, though:
Dostoevsky distracts me from him and his she-beau.
The Brothers: I love it - delicious, complex.
No morning quite like it: Dostoevsky, and sex.

The Depressing Tale of Ed Boxingtonmann

Edward Boxingtonmann was an ordinary man, perhaps just like you or me. He didn't want much out of life: a modest, steady income, some friends to spend time with, a pretty woman to kiss on the mouth. Nothing unreasonable. But fate had dealt Ed a pretty heavy blow.

You see, in his early teens, Ed had noticed that his tongue was longer and more bulbous on its end than those of his classmates. By the time he graduated high school, his classmates had also noticed, and began talking about it behind his back. By the time Edward was celebrating his 21st birthday, his tongue had grown out of control. Whenever he opened his mouth wide, it shot out at amazing speeds.

Just a little red boxing glove, punching it's way out of Ed's oral cavity, and he had no control of it. This trait caught the attention of local law enforcement when, in college chorale, Ed knocked out Caesar, the Italian baritone who stood in front of him. Caesar spent six weeks in the hospital recovering from his head…

A Strange Encounter

The man did not know how he came to be in a cornfield. But there he was. It was nighttime, and the man couldn't see very well. The glowing pallor of the distant city's faint, humming lights washing hazy over the southern horizon helped him navigate around the soldier-like rows of corn. The city scared the man. He didn't know why exactly, but he felt it best to walk north, toward the peace and melancholy of that black sea. The cornfield wasn't too cold. It wasn't uncomfortable, either. It would do well enough, he thought, to just walk around in it for a while.

But the serene stroll was cut short. Just as the man's mind meandered to pleasanter places, a bad feeling caught him across the jaw. I'm being followed, he thought. The Russians are after me. The man started to run in diagonals, cutting through rows every so often to correct his direction. The man ran into a clearing. The Russians were waiting for him there with a space ship.

The man knew there was no…

A Great Day

One of life's biggest annoyances for me is trying to find something in a pile of junk in the car. I get the feeling that the entire pile is conspiring against me to hide whatever it is that I'm looking for. And so it was on this Spring morning in California, I was feeling bullied by this mountain of road trip knick-knacks in the passenger seat, working it's hardest to tumble down around my arms whenever I attempted to push it aside. For God's sake, I just want to find this book. Stuart and Scott are probably in Scott's house drinking or watching a good movie, or eating breakfast.

"Sir, do you need assistance?"

A policewoman! Where did she come from? She sounded suspicious.

"No, thank you."
"Sir, what is it you are looking for?"
"Just my book, thank you." I wanted her to leave me alone. I did have some herb in a brown, engraved, and otherwise conspicuous box on the floor of the back seat. I wasn't thrilled about this lad…

Spies Don't Wear Flip Flops

Spies don't wear flip flops.
They make too much noise.
And when lurking 'round ledges,
they throw off their poise.

Spies don't wear rain boots.
They squish squosh squosh squish.
So when weather's wetly,
They're bare as a fish.

Spies don't don clogs much,
except in their free time.
or wear climbing shoes much 'cept in need of a high climb.

Spies try to walk quietly -
it's espionage.

But barefoot be the foolish spy
whose foot fits moulage.

The Spider Poem

I do not like spiders.
They give me the creeps.
They have hairy legs.
They make sudden leaps.

But a spider, I hear,
abides in a shell
perched right on your bike,
a plastic motel.

You say you don't know
just how it survives,
with no source of food
and no kitchen knives.

Perhaps you're enough
for your eight-legged friend:
your close company
its needs do attend.

So Jennie, although
that pest is disgusting,
our relationship needs
no readjusting.

Just as the bug is
content, by my troth,
If I can be with you,
I'll take you both.

Things Move Away

Away is such a nebulous word,
a direction,
movement towards the
"not here."

I went out for a bike ride
yesterday afternoon
on the washboard roads
a little ways away from my house
just as the sun was racing away.

As I approached a graveyard, I noticed
a small dog in the road snooping about,
maybe a puppy.
It heard my un-oiled wheels and scrambled
away from me, into the tree line.
With difficulty it bent its little body
twisting itself underneath the branches,
going through all sorts of pains
to escape my reach.

There were no houses around.
I took it to be a runaway
So I called out to it
to no effect. I gave up,
rode away.

An hour later, upon my return to
this tract of road, I saw the puppy again,
in the road,
mangled and broken.
An old farm truck had struck it
little noticing its fatal effect
and drove away towards the last rays
of the day's light.

The dog was not quite dead,
but close. I stood there for a while on this quiet road
straddling my bike
as the poor thing squirmed uneasily
still looking distrus…

A desperate man's last thoughts

the door the door stay out of its way flat against the wall back to the wall quiet. breathe. mask on gun loaded bag ready. no identifying marks? good. breathe.

...

ready. try the handle GENTLE now, damn it. dark and quiet this is eerie as hell is this hell? too harsh - everybody has to eat

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Hungry men sometimes must steal in order to survive. Sure, they can beg. The rude ones beg. The lazy ones beg. Or, they can go house-to-house, stealing food from this person and that. But multiple thefts increase the likelihood of getting caught, and besides, why inconvenience so many people? That's just as rude as the bum on the street. Much more polite to find a rich person (they deserve it anyway, more often than not) and make one big steal. A frugal guy can eat for quite a while off of one good steal. Maybe his entire life.

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stairs are really q…

Stealing the Elephant

One time, my friends and I went to Alden to steal something. Nothing big, important, nothing that, once stolen, would devastate the ex-owner. We drove around until we found the most luxurious house in town (which isn't saying much for a town like Alden) and spying out their front porch decorations. Aha! An elephant trumpeting its trunk. How majestic! How noble! How theft-able! Scott spotted it first, actually. He said, "There it is. We're stealing that elephant." So we circled the block once, talked over our plan, and got into position. The house was well-lit, so we parked the car half a block away, out of the light. Mind you, we parked in the middle of the road, so we weren't exactly inconspicuous. Still, the owners of our target couldn't see us. Michael got out of the car, ran up to the porch, and wrapped his arms around this large and (as we were able to deduce from his body language) very heavy elephant. Michael struggled with it so much, in fact, that he…

On Seeing in Grays

Human beings are pattern-seeking creatures. Look at some shag carpet or a textured wall. Chances are, you'll find a face or even an animal. Kids recognize this. Ever seen a small child lying in the back yard staring at the clouds? Children intuitively know that they can easily find patterns in things. It's not surprising, therefore, to (for example) hear "hidden messages" in reversed Led Zeppelin music or the face of the Madonna burnt onto a grilled cheese sandwich. It would be really surprising, actually, if we didn't find such patterns in random events.

People can find patterns where patterns aren't intended, and in the same vein, we can draw delineations where none are intended. Scientists differentiate one species from another by asking, "Can they breed and produce fertile offspring?" If the answer is yes, the two animals are in the same species. If no, they belong to different species.

Great, so we have natural, clearly-defined boundary lines …