A little cure for the Monday Blues

As might be obvious from some of my posts, I do have a day job — in the field of Medicare insurance — and from October 15 to December 7 every year, it’s the annual enrollment period, or what we like to refer to as our tax season.

So… I’ve been working seven days a week, plus overtime most days, and it’s not going to let up for a while, and this can have an effect on keeping up with the regular publishing schedule.

Don’t worry — The Saturday Morning Post installments of The Rêves are written and scheduled well into March, and the Friday Free-for-All questions are actually easy to do because they’re prompted.

But I might be doing more recycling or shorter mid-week posts up to Thanksgiving, at which point I’ll have a special treat as I bring back a month-long feature from last year’s holidays.

Meanwhile, I wanted to give a shout-out and a plug to an incredibly talented young actor, comedian, singer, writer, dancer, improviser, Disney park super-fan, and all-around swell guy I know: Zach Timson.

Some of you might even know him from a little online thing called the Who Was? Show. (In that clip, he shows up briefly as Henry VIII.)

Anyway, I’m fortunate enough to know him IRL through ComedySportz, and his talent, despite his youth, never ceases to blow me away. Here’s just one sample.

His big ambition is to one day be a cast member on SNL, and if it’s still around, I have no doubt that he would be if he makes the right connections. If you liked the clip above, do yourself a favor and go browse around his other videos.

Oh. Did I mention that he is one of the most amazing voice impressionists I have ever heard? If he doesn’t make it on SNL, he could still be the Rich Little, Billy Crystal, (insert famous impressionist here) of his generation.

I was fortunate, in the days before the lockdown, to meet a wide range of people via ComedySportz, from our College League on up to senior members of the company and those I played with in Rec League.

But the most important thing it taught me was that you should never discount someone’s ability to teach you just because of outer appearances like age (lack of or too much), physical ability or disability, or experience or ability in actually doing improv.

That last one might seem paradoxical, but sometimes it takes seeing something done… I don’t want to say “wrong,” so maybe I’ll just say “not well,” in order to make you understand how to do it better.

I certainly learned that one in trying to help beginning writers improve their work over many years. The ones who taught me the most were, again paradoxically, the ones who seemed to learn the least from me.

Of course, when a master of their craft walks into the room and starts teaching, it’s obvious in a second, and I have also learned over the years from many brilliant mentors, like the late Jerry Fey, who guided me from being a novice writer to a produced and award-winning playwright in a very prestigious regional theatre, or Rick Steadman, who got me into and then made me reasonably good at improv.

Which is the long way around of saying that Zach — and all of his teammates on the college league — have taught me a lot (as mentors) about doing improv, how to be funny, how to relax and just have fun on stage. But if I’d ever looked at any of them and thought, “Yeah, they’re just kids. What do they know?” I never would have learned a thing.

Listen always to the generations above and below yours. The elders have experience, while the youth have passion. Unite the two of those in yourself, and oh, the places you’ll go.

Image courtesy of Pixy#Org via CC0 1.0 license.

Sunday Nibble #40: A short guide to knowing your shit #4

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This one inevitably occurs when you’re in public. Perhaps you’re in line at the mall, or at a party, or grocery shopping. Even more likely, you’re at a formal event, like a wedding or funeral.

It starts small. Just that sudden little gassy feeling, only it’s not an impending burp. Well, in a sense it is, but let’s call it an Australian Belch — it wants to happen down under. The only problem, of course, is that there are a lot of people around, so you can’t slip one out and you can’t slip out of the room. Why, what would people think if you abruptly left your pew (or a P.U.) and ran down the aisle while Auntie Lou is eulogizing your late Grandpa John in glowing terms?

So you try to hold it in, but the more you do the more insistent it becomes. You may even experience the phenomenon of feeling gas bubbles in your intestines pop, which just makes the need to toot your horn even more pressing. All you can do is clench and suffer through it until the time is right.

Eventually, you finish checking out, or they finishing checking out your grandfather, and you’re able to make your way to a safe place to play a few bars of “Fart and Soul.” You’re not even going to try to find a bathroom, you’re just going to liberate the Methane Menace into the open air, perhaps on the fly. Maybe you duck into an alcove off of the church lobby, or one of those side corridors in the mall. You might even just call “Blast off” as soon as you’re outside the market and you have the cover of noise and a breeze.

All right, captain. You’re all clear, so it’s time to announce, “Engage,” and open the shuttle bay doors. You give that fart permission to launch with an encouraging nudge, and it’s finally free to fly away.

Then you realize with a sinking feeling that this shuttle was carrying a full cargo which did not make it into the open air. You’ve now experienced the exact opposite of The Phantom because you have just crapped your pants.

Meet The Traitor

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #38: The Rêves, Part 16

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Another garden

It obviously wasn’t a work or school day for anyone after the storm, although the internet was still up at the house, so Brenda and Jonah retired to their respective home offices to check in and see what was going on.

Meanwhile, Esme took Samuel and Malia on a tour of the front and back yards respectively to figure out what had been lost and damaged.

Brenda got the news almost immediately via a county bulletin: All Metro lines were closed, buses and at-grade trains due to extensive flooding, and the entire subway system due to even worse flooding. Drivers, station workers, and the like were put on furlough with full emergency pay until further notice.

Meanwhile, people like Brenda were only expected to keep tabs of their email, and consider themselves on-call.

That wonderful delusion ended ten minutes after she logged on that afternoon, when she got a text from Rita.

“URGENT!” it said. “Call me ASAP, away from earshot.”

“Damn,” Brenda said as she grabbed her cell and headed outside and down the street. At least they hadn’t gotten any flooding up here on top of the hill.

After she’d walked a block, she dialed Rita, who picked up immediately. “Hit me,” she said.

“Remember that project I mentioned? The one we wanted you to run?”

“Yeah, don’t remind me,” Brenda said. “What?”

“Well, somebody seems to think they got it on good authority that this little, um… weather anomaly is a direct result of the entities that they wanted to task you all with hunting down.”

“Oh, hell no,” Brenda said, but Rita continued.

“Plus, missy, it’s been booted up to state level. Direct report to the Governor hisself, and they are considering creating a state cabinet position for it right now.”

“Look, I have no idea what caused that storm, okay?” Brenda said. “You’re asking the wrong person.”

“Right. You still haven’t come through with your two little steam-punk boys — ”

“Rita, they are grown-ass men. Don’t talk about them like that.”

“Are you sassing me?”

“If that’s some kind of boss to employee threat, you really shouldn’t make it in the same breath that you’re offering me a job that will bounce me five hundred steps above your ass, should you?” Brenda replied. There was a long pause.

“Lordie,” Rita finally said, “You damn well better take this one, girl. It could see you as governor in four years.”

“I don’t want to be the governor,” Brenda snapped back. “I don’t want to save the world. I just want to enjoy the career I’ve got, be the best mother I can to my kids, and keep my family together and happy. Understand?”

“Understood. But last I heard, when weird supernatural forces were out to destroy the world with apocalyptic storms, the best way to keep a family together and happy was to go out and defeat that shit. And you and your team — and yes, I mean those gay boys — are the ones to do it. Do you understand?”

“I don’t even know where to — ”

“Stop,” Rita said. “I just emailed you their address. And, tell you what. I’ll forget your sass and all that if you don’t take the position, but I would very much appreciate it if you could get both of them on a Zoom call with me within, oh, say… forty-eight hours.”

“What?” Brenda shot back. “You don’t have their email or number?”

“Oddly enough,” Rita replied, “No.”

“And the city is flooded and shut down,” Brenda reminded her, “So how the hell am I supposed to get to them?”

“If you figure that one out,” Rita replied, “I’ll knock you up three paygrades.”

She hung up and Brenda restrained herself from tossing her phone into the street, but not from shouting, “Bitch!”

“Bren?”

That’s when she turned to see that Esme and the kids were in the front yard, probably not close enough to have heard the conversation, but close enough to have heard the aftermath.

“Oh, hi, Mom!” she said. “Didn’t see you there. How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Esme replied. “And you? Don’t answer. Kids, go inside and write down all the stuff we found wrecked. Your parents will need to know.”

Samuel and Malia nodded and ran inside. Esme walked out into the street to Brenda.

“Spill that tea?” she said.

“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied, “How can an offer come along that is just so unbelievably incredible and yet totally fucked up at the same time?”

Esme just laughed. “Dear, that is the kind of thing that happens all the time. Let’s take a little walk, see what’s up with the neighborhood, and discuss it, okay?”

Brenda just nodded. Esme held her daughter’s arm as they started a long, slow stroll through the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Jonah had found out that it was going to be business as usual, albeit remotely until streets were cleared. He was suddenly strangely grateful for everything they had learned during the plague, which hadn’t stopped any of his company’s construction projects at all while sending all of the designers and draftspeople off to work from home, which had actually become mostly the norm since then.

He pulled up a current design for low-income housing his firm was working on to be built on the west side. Nothing fancy, just a wood-frame block of flats, designed to accommodate a lot of families and rent cheap, something the developers were only willing to do with a heavy government handout, of course.

Every time Jonah heard one of these fat cats privately bitch about being forced to “put up welfare queens and their broods,” as they would say when they thought he wasn’t in ear-shot, the more he just wanted to punch them out, but he restrained his anger.

The biggest welfare queens were these same rich bitches who lobbied to get their property taxes cut to practically nothing, get gigantic subsidies on utilities, publicly complained about “illegals” while using nothing but undocumented immigrants on their construction crews — paying them way below what union workers would have gotten — and quite often grabbed up choice pieces of land via eminent domain, never mind that it was already covered with apartments with people who couldn’t afford to move anywhere else in the city when they got evicted.

“Motherfuckers,” Jonah often muttered under his breath. His firm had tried to do it different, but it was so difficult being in a profession that had to deal with the City Council and County Board of Supervisors, who were all some of the most corrupt people Jonah had ever met.

He had often considered running for office, but then wondered if the mere process of campaigning and getting elected turned out to be a deal with the devil, so he decided to do what he could from the inside, and last night’s storm suddenly threw a red flag in front of his face as he looked at the plans for the Sepulveda Arms Apartments.

On paper — at least in words — they looked amazing. It was a series of eight six-story buildings, arranged on three acres, with three buildings fronting their long sides on the north-south streets, and three fronting their short sides along the east-west side streets, a city block in front and a half block on the sides. The building sized gap in the middle was intended to create urban park land, with a swimming pool, community areas, and so on.

But… translate those words on paper to plans on a blueprint that an architect could read, and Jonah suddenly saw how this would not do at all.

First off, it violated the two golden rules of L.A. construction that had been learned through many earthquakes: “Thou shalt not build between four and eight stories, for such heights doth shake most mightily.”

The other rule: “Thou shalt not build the car stables beneath such housings, lest they fall into the ground even more mightily.”

In other words, four to eight story buildings with underground parking were the absolute worst things you could possibly build in L.A., especially for residential property.

But there was more, and again the storm had armed Jonah perfectly for it. If the flooding and winds and everything else were a harbinger of things to come because of climate change, a place like Sepulveda Arms would blow over in a New York minute.

They were designed for a temperate climate with little rain or wind and no thunderstorms, and he noticed that the bid used the cheapest of materials for the walls, windows, and doors. Anything resembling a mere tropical storm would take the façade off of the place in a second, not to mention flood the garages beneath.

He marked up all of his issues on the digital blueprints, wrote out his concerns, then sent it back to the design committee.

Meanwhile, Esme and Brenda had walked for a while in silence before Esme finally said, “My rose garden is gone.”

“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied. “I’m so sorry.”

“So are the children’s herb and vegetable garden.”

“Oh no. Are they okay?”

“Yes,” Esme said. “I talked to them, and we all agreed. Flowers and vegetables and herbs will grow wherever you plant them, and if they get torn up in one place, you can always take them to another.”

“I don’t want to move my garden,” Brenda replied. “My roots are here. My family.”

“Why would you have to move?” Esme asked.

“Rita is hinting that they’re going to offer me a state job. One with a much higher profile.”

“And a lot more money, I hope,” Esme added.

“It’s not always about money, Mom,” she said. “Although Rita did hint at that. But I don’t want to move to Sacramento. Sure, it’s the state capital, but it’s a provincial little shithole.”

“Well, they can’t move the capital to L.A. But why would you have to move, anyway?”

“I’d expect that my office would be there.”

“You know offices don’t mean a thing anymore,” Esme explained. “You just need a place to be on those rare occasions when you have to go up there in person. Make your deal right, and those could be as rare as you wanted.”

“I suppose,” Brenda answered. “And maybe I’m just over-reacting. I mean, Rita did say ‘considering,’ not ‘offering.’”

“Your boss with Metro?”

“Right.”

“So why is she offering you a state job when she’s county?”

“She’s not, Mom. She’s just the messenger.”

“I didn’t even know the state had anything like the Metro. Oh — is it high-speed rail?” Esme asked.

“No. Actually, it’s about what caused the storm.”

Esme stopped walking and looked at Brenda with an expression of happy shock. She covered her mouth and stared for a beat. Then, “Oh my lord, dear. You mean figuring out what caused it?”

“We know what caused it. This has to do with keeping it from happening again.

“That is amazing news, actually,” Esme gushed. “Moving from working the subways to saving the environment? How can you say no?”

“It’s not exactly saving the — ”

“Brenda, if you don’t take a job like that where you can directly save the planet, then I will kick your ass. Understand?”

Brenda just sighed. This hadn’t turned out very helpful. “Let’s go home, Mom,” she said. “The kids are probably starving.”

“Lord knows, I am,” Esme answered with a laugh, but Brenda suddenly wasn’t in the mood.

* * *

Anabel v Jezebel

The usual collection of Class II old school stars had gathered again — this time quite openly at Hollywood Forever, and they brought a few more folk along with them. Naturally, Bette held court as Bette was wont to do, but for some reason decided to go full-on Baby Jane Hudson mode today.

“So now you see what those goddamn faeries want to do to us,” she bellowed in fine form.

“You shouldn’t call them that,” Marilyn intoned, in her more demure character from Bus Stop.

“It’s what they call themselves, you stupid slut,” Bette shot back. “Las hadas. That is literally ‘the faeries’ in Spanish. And their full name for themselves is the savage faeries — ”

“More like just the wild faeries,” someone called out. It was Ritchie Valens, who technically hadn’t been invited, but unfortunately was technically qualified, since he was Class III.

“Who the hell let that beaner in?” a voice called out, and everyone turned to see that it was Harold Lloyd, then turned as another voice boomed out.

“Unfucking cool, asshole,” a voice called out and while most of the old school crew didn’t recognize him, they still recognized that he was one of them.

“And who might you be?” Lloyd asked.

“A musician, like Ritchie here,” he replied. “He’s never heard of me either, but he certainly had an influence on me and my band. My name is Johnny Ramone,” he said. “I’m buried right over there, and I will not tolerate any second class racist fuckheads spouting that shit off, no matter who they thought they were when they were alive. ¿Comprende?”

“Don’t you know who I am?” the pasty-faced spirit demanded.

“Yeah,” Johnny replied. “Same as me. You are fucking dead and, honestly, the number of living people who remember you is going to shrink really rapidly really fast, so don’t get cocky.”

“I don’t appreciate your language, young man,” Lloyd spat back.

“And I don’t appreciate you being a hateful cunt trapped in your generation.”

Lloyd just stared at the young apparition with the woman’s hair and leather jacket, then sank back down. Meanwhile, Bette felt total admiration and Rudolph felt total lust.

“You were saying?” Johnny turned to Bette and she suddenly morphed into her character from Jezebel, red dress and all.

“What I was saying,” she continued, “Is that there is a plot against us, and it’s led by those people who still have direct connections to the living world. You know the ones. Class I. Hah! Little people, never famous, only remembered by their families. And they have put themselves in league with the… what did you call them, Mr. Valens?”

“Las hadas selvajes,” Ritchie replied.

“Right, that. The ones who died without even anyone remembering them, and who were scattered to the four winds and… look what they managed to do. This storm? This scourge that swept the city? That was them, and it was fully backed by the Class I Rêves… traitors… like Anabel.”

This got the crowd grumbling even as it kept growing, and some of the newest members who were Class III — famous but remembered by loved ones as well — started to pop up.

It was starting to feel like an Oscar “In Memoriam” reel, actually, but maybe that was encouraging.

“So what do we do?” Bette called out. “How do we stop it?” she demanded, but the crowd just looked back at her blankly.

Finally, Marilyn piped up, doing her shtick from All About Eve, in which she was a mere bit player in a Bette Davis tour de force. “We have to ally with the ones who keep us here,” she intoned breathily.

“Exactly!” Bette agreed.

“The living humans,” Marilyn continued.

“Amen!” Bette shouted, and the crowd assented.

They really didn’t need to take an official vote, but it was decided. Anabel and any of her allies — all of the Hadas, all Class I, and any traitorous Class III’s — were now considered enemies. This put the Class III’s who were present in the awkward situation of throwing their lot in with the Class II’s right now, or fleeing without being attacked.

But before any of them could make a decision, a stream of black mist came flying into the meeting and manifested itself as a woman. Well, at least the top half of one, everything below her waist hovering above the ground on a column of black smoke.

“Trust humans?” she scoffed loudly. “Really? This is what they did to me when I was alive. But that’s nothing compared to what they tried to do to me afterwards.”

“W-w-who are you?” Jimmy asked, back as George Bailey.

“She’s The Black Dahlia,” Johnny explained. “Infamous murder case in the 1940s… but aren’t you buried in the Bay Area?”

“Only my body,” she replied. “But the memories — ”

The crowd erupted in sudden jeers and Johnny approached her. “Yeah, don’t bring that up with this bunch, okay?” He explained. “They don’t like being reminded of… things.”

“Aren’t you one of them?” she asked.

“Yes and no,” he replied. “I’ve barely been here twenty years, so I’m Class III. Why should we not trust the humans?”

“Because they want to enslave us, trap us, and maybe even destroy us.”

A lot of the gathered Class IIIs let out a unanimous horse-laugh on that comment, Ritchie and Johnny notable among the exceptions. Bette stepped forward.

“Oh, really now, child? You think that? No, I think you’re confusing your sad fate at human hands with reality. None of us would still be around if humans did not remember us. Hell, you wouldn’t even be able to manifest so far from your grave without human memory. See how that works?”

This brought a murmur of confusion from a lot of the group.

“What?” Bette replied. “You never paid attention to the rules? We’re here because humans remember us. Those jealous Class I bitches who were never famous want to destroy us. How hard is that to understand?”

“I saw the creation of your kind in this city,” a voice boomed out. “And I realized that it would bring the downfall of humanity, because a lot of undeserving people would become really rich and way too fast.”

There was a murmur among the crowd and then a split as a bunch of them parted like the Red Sea before Moses, looking terrified. Anabel marched through the clearing and to the center, standing to face Bette, who glared back, defiant.

“Now… what were you saying, you bitch?” Anabel continued.

“I worked for my fame,” Bette hissed at her. “Oh, that’s right. I had fame.”

“I had fortune,” Anabel replied. “And I worked for that. A lot harder than you did. Well, because I didn’t do most of my work on my back.”

Bette rushed for her, but Anabel easily held her back without even touching her. “I don’t think you see the problem, Miss Davis. Yes, you’re here because the humans remember you. That is the only reason you are here. And yet, they are the ones who decided to try to wipe us all out. So how can you be on their side?”

“Why are you lying and saying they want to wipe us out?” Bette demanded.

“Because they tried to do it to me, and a few others. Haven’t you noticed any of your Class gone missing in the last couple of months?”

“We don’t exactly take roll here,” Bette replied haughtily.

“Maybe you should,” Anabel spat back before turning to the crowd. “It’s war all right,” she announced. “But I am not the enemy, and neither are the Hadas. The enemy are the humans who don’t want us to be remembered, who don’t want us around, and want all of us, but especially Class II, to vanish forever.”

There was a huge murmur from the crowd as Anabel continued.

“The storm?” she said. “That was definitely the Hadas. But it was not aimed at any of us. It was aimed at the humans, as a warning. Maybe they’ll heed it, but I doubt that they will. But if you want to save our kind, then don’t listen to people who are only famous for being famous. Listen to those of us actually in the struggle.”

A double rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky in the distance, with Anabel perfectly centered beneath it and the crowd gasped.

“I’m leaving now and gathering more members for my army. If you want to join me, rest assured that you can follow me out of here with the full protection of the Hadas, and not a single Class II can touch you. Of course, if you’re Class II, you’re also welcome to join. It’s time to fight or die… again.”

Anabel turned and marched out, all eyes watching her, then turning back to Bette, then to each other. There was a moment of confusion and chatter, and then large clumps of the Class III crowd turned and followed Anabel.

Bette bristled. “You’re making a huge mistake!” she shouted out, but she could sense she’d lost a lot of them. Then, some Class II’s started to leave. She was livid, and took on the guise of one of her least known roles, Madame Sin, a direct-to-TV thriller in which she played a possibly Chinese super-villain who actually won.

“You can run but you can’t escape!” she warned them. They didn’t listen.

* * *

Friday Free for all #37: Creepy tattoos

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What do you think of tattoos? Do you have any?

I don’t have any serious objections to tattoos, to a point. I think they can be a beautiful expression of some facet of a person’s personality. But… they do completely turn me off when they become too extreme, like if someone has full sleeves on both arms, or either or both sides of their torso are heavily covered.

Anything from the neck up, forget it, especially on the face, and the worst aesthetic violence that can be done to a nice ass is to bury it in ink.

I don’t currently have any tattoos, but only because I could never decide what to get, although I have ideas, which I’ve written about here before.

Out of everyone I’ve ever been in a long-term relationship with, only one of them had tattoos — a side effect of dating nice Jewish boys, who don’t get tattoos. But the tattooed one was a stylist from Australia whose mother came from Malta and father came from Lithuania. They met on the boat over while leaving Europe for Australia, and the rest was history.

He actually spoke Maltese, which is fascinating because it’s the only Semitic language written with the Latin alphabet — which is the one you’re reading this article in.

Anyway, he did have a lot of tattoos when I met him and we started dating, and more continued to appear during our relationship. That had nothing to do with why we ended it, though, but it’s another thing I’ve noticed about people who seem to pass a certain “tattoo limit.”

They just keep going, like it’s become an addiction, sometime with extreme results, as in the case of Rock Genest who came to a tragic but not tattoo-related end.

Of course, there’s always someone who goes further, and in this case Genest was very much outdone in the extreme tattoo and body mod department by the likes of Paul “The Enigma” Lawrence.

Then there’s always Sylvain Helaine who made the news recently because he was almost totally inked (or maybe totally, they don’t put those pictures in the paper), and so lost his job as a kindergarten teacher because one kid got scared.

Oh, don’t worry. He’s still teaching first grade up. The French are practical, not heartless.

What behaviors make you think a person is creepy?

I’m sorry if it makes me seem judgmental, but extreme body make-overs, like the above-cited Enigma, do make me think that a person is creepy, or at least not making the best life choices.

And that includes all of the extreme bod-mod freaks, like Jocelyn Wildenstein, who was infamous for having a long series of plastic surgeries to make her look like a cat, with questionable results.

In her divorce in 1999, she received $2.5 billion in a settlement, plus $100 million per year for the next 13 years but, in a brilliant turn, the judge prohibited her from spending any of that money on more plastic surgery.

She did sell the house in New York for $13 million, presumably to finance her surgeries and yet, somehow, she managed to go bankrupt in 2018, just six years after the gravy train stopped at the last station. She turned 80 this year, so who knows what she looks like at this point.

I bring up the details of her life only because they do illustrate the point: there’s a lot of  creepy of the cringe variety going on here, and you can see it in other cases, like the couple who spent over $300K on plastic surgery in order to look like Barbie and Ken. No fairytale wedding and Malibu Beach House for them, though

Eventually, they broke up, reportedly because “Barbie” dyed her blonde hair brunette and “Ken” didn’t like it. Sadly, “Ken,” aka Quentin Dehar, committed suicide in February 2020 at the age of 27. (The only links about it online in English seem to be badly machine-translated from the French press, since he was a TV host there but not really well-known elsewhere.)

By the way, Quentin wasn’t the only adult human wanting to transform himself into Ken. There were at least two more.

But all of this is just small beans compared to the ultimate in creepy, and that is trying to force yourself sexually on someone who isn’t interested, or in a situation where they wouldn’t expect it — a “pastime” that seems to be engaged in by almost exclusively men.

Oh, not completely exclusively, but women do make up a very small percentage of exhibitionists, who are people who derive sexual gratification by exposing themselves to others.

In some cases, they even masturbate, often in public places hoping to get caught, which elevates the creepy factor up another level. Finishing in public (and on a public place) notches up the creepy again, and if a guy ladles out his bone gravy in a public restroom or on a public sidewalk or anywhere else with that P word in it and doesn’t clean it up, he wins the king creepy award in this category.

Of course, there are worse things. The best defense against some guy exposing himself is to joint point at his junk and laugh, then walk away. But there are other creepy people who go further.

The stereotype of construction workers hooting at women on the street exists for a reason. Sure, it probably almost never happens now, but it used to be a common thing.

And there’s still the phenomenon, which many of my female friends have complained about, of complete strangers (guess the gender) making comments to them like, “Looking good,” or “You should smile,” or a suggestive “Well, hello.”

One of the funniest instant responses to that which I ever saw was in the long ago days before COVID, when I was walking into a 7-Eleven behind a woman who got to the door before me. Some guy standing outside made some comment of the “looking good” variety, and without missing a beat or pausing at all, she flipped him of and walked inside.

I couldn’t help but laugh. The creep deserved it.

See, if you don’t know the woman there’s no reason at all to engage her unless maybe you’re in the elevator asking her what floor she’s going to. The one exception might go something like this:

“Hey, that is a really nice (blouse/hat/scarf/perfume) you’re wearing, and my (girlfriend/wife/side piece) would love that. Where did you get it?” The caveat, of course, is that you’re actually asking so you can get it for your SO, you get the information, thank her and leave.

Incidentally, this kind of creepy is not exclusive to straight men. Gay men do it all the time, particularly much older ones creeping on twinks. This one is particularly prevalent online, with inappropriate comments galore any time some young attractive guy posts a photo, suggestive or not, anywhere that older gay men hang out.

Of course, I’d guess that the majority of those people commenting would not be so bold as to say the same things in person, but a good rule of thumb there is that unless it’s an outright, “Hey look at me naked and tell me I’m hot” kind of posting forum, if you wouldn’t walk up to them and say it to their face, then hold your horses and don’t be so damn thirsty online.

Same rule applies to the straight boys and the bi boys.

Obviously, the next level of creepy after comments is unwelcome physical touch, and the rule here is this: Outside of shaking hands upon introductions or hugs between friends who’ve established this as the norm (both of which may not exist post-COVID), if you’re not married to it, dating it, fucking it, or paying to fuck it, hands off. Period.

Of course, medical professionals and parents/family members get obvious exceptions, although none of that touching should be in any way sexual, and the only one who should be penetrating any orifice should be doing it for strictly diagnostic reasons.

Unless you’re fucking your doctor, of course, in which case that’s already been covered.

But… getting too close physically, and doing things like putting your hand on a shoulder, or even hovering over someone — particularly if you’re of higher status in the hierarchy than the person you’re doing it to — is creepy.

It’s what women in business have had to put up with for decades, and it could be as subtle as a boss leaning over their shoulder to use their mouse to click something onscreen for them or as blatant as blocking the breakroom door, or doing the old lean on the wall while facing them and standing too close.

Outside of the business environment, this involves a lot of tits and asses getting groped and, again, it’s more of a bad-actor dude thing than it is a straight guy thing. When I was a young party twink and went out to the clubs, I had my ass grabbed without invitation more than a few times.

Of course, I was too young and naïve to see it as assault and, probably due to self-esteem issues, took it as a compliment instead in that awkward “any attention is good attention even it it’s creepy-rapey, right?”

See, back in the day, I did not think that I was at all attractive, but when I recently ran across some pictures of me in my mid-late 20s, the thing that most struck me was, “Jesus Christ, I was fucking hot.”

Shit. If only someone had told me that back then. But that gets into the whole irony factor — in bars and clubs, people won’t approach people they think are hot because they fear rejection. So I should have been the one hitting on people instead of just standing in the corner being shy.

On the other hand, due to that whole self-esteem thing, if anyone who decided to talk to me was half-way attractive, I’d wind up going home with them. Yeah, I was a slut.

Then again, I suppose I dodged another creepy bullet, which is people who “know” they’re hot, and tell you. (Note: They might not necessarily be.)

That’s because these are also the same asshats who will wind up trying to or succeeding at raping you, whether of the outright assault, roofie in the drink, or ignoring your No’s if the two of you go home together variety.

Rape and sexual assault are the creepiest things of all, with the act being committed against an adult human being at Level C, but only because doing it against an adolescent minor is Level B, and doing it to a pre-pubescent child or younger is Level A.

Note that evilness on that scale is in ascending order. The lower the letter, the hotter the hell the perp should burn in. Not that Level C shouldn’t be hot enough to melt the Sun.

Moral of the story: There is a place and time for you to get jiggy with yourself or with someone else, although if you engage in any of the behaviors noted here, you don’t deserve any sexy time with anything that isn’t a Fleshlight or Fleshjack. (You can google those yourself because both pages are totally NSFW. Option one is the straight dude version, and option two is the gay one.)

Oh, right. I almost forgot. The one behavior creepier than anything above is knowingly and willingly voting for Donald Trump on November 3rd. That action alone will go to the lowest circle of Hell available.

Neither Face nor Feelings

A while back, the website BigThink had an ultra-short science fiction story contest. This was my entry, which took first place — your Thursday night bonus.

No carnefab Manager liked hearing from an NFA Inspector, but especially not when the message said, “Fieldspec high neuro count. Site audit 213245-1330. Pres Req.” Paul Ingersoll read the message and checked the time. 213245-1312.

“Shit,” he muttered. He barely made it to the factory floor before the Inspector arrived and gave Paul the lot number from the batch in question.

“Restaurant stock, Mendocino,” he explained. “Chef reported a twitcher.”

Paul checked the number, heart sinking — one of their “perfect” batches with ideal genetics. Every vat in this factory was churning out a thousand kilo slab that had been born from those cells. Now the government said every batch from that lot might be useless. No. Not might. Was — if the Inspector’s results confirmed the chef’s report.

The Inspector was already at the nearest vat, a large, open-topped box full of pinkish liquid. Inside sat a rectangular red slab, riddled with veins and marbled with fat. This slab was only at five hundred kilos, so had a few weeks to go, and had never given any indication that it was anything but an entirely senseless block of artificially grown meat, built from cells that divided without consciousness. That was the point — to produce meat with neither face nor feelings. It had worked for nearly a century, except for the two times that it hadn’t, both long before Paul had been born.

The Inspector pulled out a wand and touched it to the slab. There was a blue flash and snap and the slab twitched along its entire length. “Okay,” Paul thought, “Not world end without genetics,” although he knew he was lying to himself.

The Inspector tapped his forearm repeatedly, sending notes to a government computer. Then, emotionless, he pulled out a biop kit, dipped a finger on each hand into a vial of blue goo that grew sterile gloves up to his wrists, sprayed anesthetic on the slab and proceeded to gingerly poke it with a rod that plucked out a small cylinder five millimeters wide and deep. He stuck the rod into a hole in the biop kit case, then sprayed the wound with healer. By the time he peeled off the gloves, the results came back, Paul feeling ill as he waited for the hammer to fall.

“Neuro count exceeds Fed Regs by one hundred sixty parts per million,” he finally said. “Recall ordered for every batch from this lot. You retire the rest. We confiscate the original germ lot. Sig off inspection and results, please.”

The Inspector held out a flat pad and Paul touched his palm to it. What else could he do? They had been producing bad meat and nobody noticed. It probably wasn’t in the original germ lot, but mutations were always possible, and so were deviations with stem cells that decided to grow into

something besides meat, fat, veins and red blood cells that were kept oxygenated by the vats. Still, stem cell deviations generally led to things like hair or teeth, sometimes a hoof. They rarely led to the development of brain cells — so rarely that this was only the third time it had happened, and Paul Ingersoll was the poor unlucky son of a bitch in charge of the factory where it happened. Had been in charge. All the recalled meat that wasn’t already dead would be euthanized. The meat in this factory would be retired, the employees held on retainer until a clean germ line was brought in. Paul, however, would be transferred. Not retired, and not laid off. He would carry the responsibility for this problem for the rest of his career, which was a long time, since he was only twenty-seven.

* * *

The warehouse known as “The Old Cows Home” covered thirty square kilometers in the California desert. Inside were endless rows of swimming pool-sized vats where retired meat went to live because nobody was sure whether it was aware or not and nobody wanted to take the chance that it was. Perhaps the bad meat that had already been sold was lucky. Even if it did develop consciousness, four minutes out of the vat without oxygen would have killed it or severely damaged any sort of brain, so it was easy to think of as dead, and no one would feel guilty if tasked to destroy it.

The retired meat was not so lucky, and neither were the people who had to deal with it. It had to be treated like a living thing, brought from the vats to the warehouse on life support, then re- installed in the larger vats, to be left for… nobody knew how long. The lots already here had arrived thirty-eight and sixty-two years previously, and were still going strong and growing. Each vat started with one slab, the size of an adult cow. The oldest slabs had filled half their 2,500 cubic meter vats, and it was time to worry about what to do when they started to outgrow those. Thanks to the Compassionate Food Act of 2034, amended 2070, killing the slabs would be murder; letting them die, negligent homicide. Paul’s job now was as one of the nurses to all this meat that would have been food had it not developed nerves and at least some rudimentary feelings. Maybe.

Everything was predicated on “Maybe.” Maybe this meat felt pain. Maybe not. No one knew because the world of 2132 was black and white, either/or, and the only way to answer the question was to commit a prohibited act. As long as there was any chance that these inanimate slabs of protein might experience an unpleasant sensation, the question was considered answered, and the answer was, “They are our responsibility for as long as they live.”

If they ever became sentient, and vengeful, Paul hoped that they would understand — they had been created out of the desire to feed the planet humanely.

* * *

You can read this story where it was originally published at BigThink.

Wednesday Wonders: Facing the music

For some reason, face morphing in music videos really took off, and the whole thing was launched with Michael Jackson’s video for Black or White in 1991. If you’re a 90s kid, you remember a good solid decade of music videos using face-morphing left and right.

Hell, I remember at the time picking up a face-morphing app in the five dollar bin at Fry’s, and although it ran slow as shit on my PC at the time, it did the job and morphed faces and, luckily, it never got killed by the “Oops, Windows isn’t backward compatible with this” problem, so it runs fast as hell now. Well, whenever I last used it, and it’s been a hot minute.

If you’ve never worked with the software, it basically goes like this. You load two photos, the before and after. Then, you mark out reference points on the first photo.

These are generally single dots marking common facial landmarks: inside and outside of each eye, likewise the eyebrows and mouth, bridge of the nose, outside and inside of the nostrils, top and bottom of where the ear hits the face, major landmarks along the hairline, and otherwise places where there are major changes of angle.

Next, you play connect the dots, at first in general, but then it becomes a game of triangles. If you’re patient enough and do it right, you wind up with a first image that is pretty closely mapped with a bunch of little triangles.

Meanwhile, this entire time, your software has been plopping that same mapping onto the second image. But, at least with the software I was working with then (and this may have changed) it only plops those points relative to the boundaries of the image, and not the features in it.

Oh yeah — first essential step in the process: Start with two images of identical dimensions, and faces placed about the same way in each.

The next step in the morph is to painstakingly drag each of the points overlaid on the second image to its corresponding face part. Depending upon how detailed you were in the first image, this can take a long, long time. At least the resizing of all those triangles happens automatically.

When you think you’ve got it, click the magic button, and the first image should morph into the second, based on the other parameters you gave it, which are mostly screen rate.

And that’s just for a still image. For a music video, repeat that for however many seconds any particular transition takes, times 24 frames per second. Ouch!

I think this will give you a greater appreciation of what Jackson’s producers did.

However… this was only the first computerized attempt at the effect in a music video. Six years earlier in 1985, the English duo Godley & Creme (one half of 10cc so… 5cc?) released their video Cry, and their face morphing effect is full-on analog. They didn’t have the advantage of powerful (or even wimpy) computers back then. Oh, sure, they had pulled off kind of early CGI effects for TRON in 1982, but those simple graphics were nowhere near good enough to swap faces.

So Godley & Crème did it the old fashioned way, and anyone who has ever worked in old school video production (or has nerded out over the firing up the Death Star moments in Episode IV) will know the term “Grass Valley Switcher.”

Basically, it was a mechanical device that could take the input from two or more video sources, as well as provide its own video input in the form of color fields and masks, and then swap them back and forth or transition one to the other.

And this is what they did in their music video for Cry.

Although, to be fair, they did it brilliantly because they were careful in their choices. Some of their transitions are fades from image A to B, while others are wipes, top down or bottom up. It all depended upon how well the images matched.

In 2017, the group Elbow did an intentional homage to this video using the same technique well into the digital age — and with a nod from Benedict Cumberbatch, with their song Gentle Storm.

And now we come to 2020. See, all of those face morphing videos from 1991 through the early 2000s still required humans to sit down and mark out the face parts and those triangles and whatnot, so it was a painstaking process.

And then, this happens…

These face morphs were created by a neural network that basically looked at the mouth parts and listened to the syllables of the song, and then kind of sort of found other faces and phonemes that matched, and then yanked them all together.

The most disturbing part of it, I think, is how damn good it is compared to all of the other versions. Turn off the sound or don’t understand the language, and it takes Jackson’s message from Black or White into the stratosphere.

Note, though, that this song is from a band named for its lead singer, Lil’ Coin (translated from Russian) and the song itself is about crime and corruption in Russia in the 1990s, titled Everytime. So… without cultural context, the reason for the morphing is ambiguous.

But it’s still an interesting note that 35 years after Godley & Crème first did the music video face morph, it’s still a popular technique with artists. And, honestly, if we don’t limit it to faces or moving media, it’s a hell of a lot older than that. As soon as humans figured out that they could exploit a difference in point of view, they began making images change before our eyes.

Sometimes, that’s a good thing artistically. Other times, when the changes are less benevolent, it’s a bad thing. It’s especially disturbing that AI is getting into the game, and Lil’ Coin’s video is not necessarily a good sign.

Oh, sure, a good music video, but I can’t help but think that it was just a test launch in what is going to become a long, nasty, and ultimately unwinnable cyber war.

After all… how can any of you prove that this article wasn’t created by AI? Without asking me the right questions, you can’t. So there you go.

Image: (CC BY-SA 2.0) Edward Webb

Talky Tuesday: Compound interest?

Like several other languages, English uses compound words to create new concepts by sticking two other words together. This can actually be done in one of three ways: open compounds, which are separate words (hang glider); hyphenated compounds, which are what it says on the tin (life-size); and closed compounds, which happen when the words are fused together (superstar).

The latter shouldn’t be confused with a portmanteau word, which is one word shoved into another. That is, the separate words merge to form one that doesn’t contain a complete version of either. A famous example is smog, which comes from smoke and fog.

These kinds of words are named for a portmanteau, which is a large suitcase or trunk that opens into two equal parts, as opposed to a regular suitcase, which pretty much has a shallow lid and a deep storage area. Fun fact: portmanteau is itself a portmanteau, derived from the French words porter, “to carry”, and manteau, “mantle.” They’re very common in English, but not today’s subject, although you can find lists of them online.

Another thing that compound words are generally not is agglutinative, although that depends upon what you’re agglutinating. Broadly speaking, an agglutinative language is considered a “synthetic language,” but that does not mean made up. In this case, synthetic refers to synthesis, which is the creation of a whole from various parts.

English can show agglutinative propensities in word pairs like teach and teacher. The former is a verb, the latter is a noun describing a person who does the verb. Farm, farmer; game, gamer; preach, preacher; account, accountant; debut, debutante; and so on. These are all agglutinative words in English, short and simple, but they really aren’t an essential or sole feature of how words are built in the language.

A good example of simple agglutinatives are the classical versions of the Semitic languages Hebrew and Arabic, which both work in similar ways. They start with a simple word root, and then add prefixes, suffixes, and infixes to change the meaning, basically building a root outward into various concepts. (The modern versions are apparently more analytical, less agglutinative.)

Complicated agglutinative languages will pile on the prefixes and suffixes until a speaker winds up with a ridiculously long word that expresses a concept in great detail, but which a lot of other languages would have achieved through separate words and parts of speech.

What analytical and inflected languages do is build meaning through things like articles, nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, interjections, and interrogatives. A language spoken (at them) loudly and — wow! — what?

If you really want to go hog-wild with an agglutinative language, then check out Turkish. It’s a hot mess, but that probably explains why Recep Erdoğan is always so cranky.

But let’s get back to those compound words, because they are also a feature of Spanish and German, which both do them in very different ways, not only from each other, but from English.

English compound words tend to just go for it, jam the words together, and done. Examples: Airport, baseball, windfall, extraordinary, worldwide, sailboat, stockbroker, etc.

Spanish compound words are a little more practical, since they tend to pretty much describe what the thing does, which English compounds don’t always do. Also, they tend to be masculine words regardless of the second half so that, for example, the word for umbrella is masculine despite the second half of the word being feminine (and plural): el paraguas.

Other great examples in Spanish: abrelatas, can opener, literally open cans; autopista, highway/freeway, literally automobile trail; bienvenido, welcome, literally the same in Spanish; cumpleaños, birthday, literally complete years; horasextra, overtime, literally extra hours; lavaplatos, dishwasher (the machine) and also literally washes dishes; matamoscas, fly swatter, literally kills flies.

I think that gives you a good general idea, and you can find lists online as well. But when it comes to the granddaddy of ridiculous compounds that give agglutinative languages a run for their money, look no farther than German.

English may rarely stick three words together to make one compound, but that seems to be our limit. The Germans? Well, they do seem to have a knack for sticking words together to describe things they couldn’t be arsed to come up with single words for, like literally calling gloves hand shoes (die Handschuhe.) I don’t think we get quite that lazy in English.

But the Germans transcend that. Are three words a compound limit for them? Oh hell noes. They’ll go on shoving words together all day long to express a specific concept. I guess the idea of sentences is too much for them.

I kid! A big chunk of my ancestry is German — well, at least the quarter that came down from my paternal grandfather  — and it is the third language, besides Spanish and English, that I have actually studied beyond a passing interest. But, c’mon. Some of their compound words are ridiculous.

Here’s a good one, made up of no less than eight separate words: rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. A literal word-for-word translation into English is “beef meat labeling monitoring tasks transfer law.”

The Week made a great compilation of ten of the worst offenders, but I have to share a couple of them here.

Hey, this one is only three words! Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften, legal protection insurance companies, as in companies that will indemnify your ass against lawsuits.

Again, only four little words but one huge result: Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän. It literally means Danube steamship company captain, and wouldn’t you hate to have to shoehorn that word into your resume? But let us take a moment to look at the unfortunate word in there, and you know exactly which one I mean: dampfschiffahrts. Dampf means steam, and that should be pretty obvious after two seconds of realizing that it’s similar to the English word damp. Likewise, schiff for ship should be a no-brainer.

This leaves us with fahrts and no, it does not mean what you think it does. It comes from the German word fahren, to drive, and tends to wind up in anything involving a vehicle or journey. For that other word referring to the gas driven out of your ass, you want to use der Furz. And yes, it’s a masculine noun, because of course it is.

What? We all know that women never fart. It just isn’t done.

And, finally, there’s another four word jam slam: Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister. It refers to the master of chimney sweeps in a district, but breaks down to district (bezirks) chimney (schornstein) sweep (feger) and master (meister).

Momentous Monday: Ending canine prejudice

There’s a reason that I call this site The Word Whisperer. That’s because prior to starting it, I worked for a decade for the Dog Whisperer, and for a good part of that I was Senior Editor and Head Writer on his website, as well as keeper of the corporate voice and (sssh, don’t tell!) the ghostwriter for all of his online articles and a lot of his media interviews.

So, in other words, I was deeply into all things dog, and one of the subjects that he was passionate about and which I crusaded for was the plight of the pit bull. As in by the early 2000s, they had become one of the most maligned and misunderstood breeds in the country.

They were banned everywhere, simply based on perception, and especially the misconception that “pit bull” is a breed of dog. It’s not. It’s a type of dog, comprising at least four distinct breeds.

But for those of us who are pit bull fans because, face it, they are sweet dogs, there was a recent victory as the city of Denver voted to overturn their pit bull ban originally imposed in 1989. No mean feat, considering that the anti-pit bull crowd turned out to argue against it but, trust me, I’ve had experience with them, and they are an emotional bunch who won’t let facts get in the way.

What they like to ignore is that any dog can be dangerous and that unknown breeds of dogs involved in incidents are often reported as pit bulls, especially if they’re over a certain size. They also ignore the fact that dogs can sense when a human is anxious or uneasy around them, and this can actually lead to attacks. So… the people who fear pit bulls act fearful around all dogs, and bad things are going to happen.

This was a question I dealt with in one of my more popular articles on Cesar’s site, which I’m now going to plagiarize and paraphrase from, because I can. (Bastards scrubbed all of the bylines recently, but that’s a long story I’m not going to go into until TMZ is writing me a big-ass check.)

The question I asked: How did pit bulls get such a bad rap?

Would it surprise you to learn that pit bulls used to be America’s darlings? Before the mid-80s, stories of pit bull attacks are practically non-existent. As noted, there is also confusion over exactly which breed of dog is a pit bull — American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire terrier and, at times, the bulldog. This confusion seems to have dogged the breed from the beginning, as there is some disagreement over the origin of pit bulls.

In one theory, pit bulls began during antiquity as the so-called molossus, a now-extinct breed that was used by the Greeks as shepherds and guard dogs. In times of war, they marched off to battle with their humans. Eventually, so the theory goes, the Molossus made it to early Britain, where it became known as the mastiff. In the first century CE, Rome discovered the breed after defeating the Britons, and the dogs spread all over the empire. For the next four hundred years, they were used as war dogs, and intermixed with various local breeds all over the European continent, becoming the forerunners of the modern pit bull.

A competing theory places the origin of the pit bull in England at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, when butchers would use large, Mastiff-type dogs as “bullenbeissers,” which translates as “bull biter.” Trained to latch onto a bull’s nose and not let go until the animal was subdued, these dogs were the only way that humans could regain control when a bull became agitated. Unfortunately, this practical if dubious use eventually led to the “sport” of bull-baiting, where dogs were put in a pit with an intentionally riled-up bull and spectators placed bets on which dog would hold on the longest, or bring the bull down. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but this is also the origin of the terms “pit bull dog” and “bulldog.”

Still not a specific breed, the bullenbeissers were bred with terriers, combining their intelligence with the strength of the mastiffs. As bull-baiting came to be banned in the 19th century, dog fighting became popular as an underground and quasi-illegal activity in the UK. British immigrants to the U.S. at that time brought dog fighting, as well as their dogs, to the New World. However, as the breed spread to Americans and Americans spread across the continent, pit bulls began to be put to their original use, as general purpose herding and working dogs. Because of their fighting history, though, the American Kennel Club would not recognize the breed until 1936, although they defined it as a Staffordshire terrier, distinct from the American pit bull terrier.

Far from being considered a killing machine on legs, pit bulls seem to be an American favorite in the early half of the century — indeed, during World War I, the country itself is personified as a pit bull on army recruitment posters, and several pit bulls go on to become famous in the American military. Referring to an athlete as a pit bull is a very common sports metaphor through the 1930s, and it is meant as the highest compliment. There is also a famous racehorse in the late 1930s named Pit Bull, as well as a number of pit bull stars of early motion pictures. Frequently, pit bulls are associated with children, as in the Our Gang comedies, as well as with Buster Brown, both in short films and as the corporate mascot for a shoe company. The famous RCA Victor image of a dog and a gramophone also featured a pit bull terrier.

All of that pit bull love went away by the mid-80s, and by New Year’s Day 1986, over thirty communities are considering breed specific legislation and bans on pit bulls. What changed?

For one thing, despite being illegal in all fifty states, dog fighting made a comeback in the 80s, and the pit bull is the dog of choice. It is also the preferred guard dog for drug dealers and gangs, with a hugely publicized attack in 1987 in which a pit bull guarding a marijuana crop in California mauls and kills a two-and-a-half year-old boy.

By the summer of that year, every single proposed ban has become law, but not necessarily with the support of animal professionals. Kent Salazar, head of Albuquerque’s animal control division, commented at the time of their proposed ban on pit bulls that he didn’t think a ban on pit bulls was necessary, saying, “We have all the means to protect people with clauses about vicious dogs.” He also noted that, a few years previously, Doberman pinschers were the target of such bans. His words went unheeded, and Tijeras, New Mexico, just outside of Albuquerque, passes the toughest pit bull ban of the time, allowing animal control officers to seize and destroy them on sight without compensation to the owner.

The various pit bull breed bans are decried by animal control officials as “the most concentrated legal assault on a pit bull they can recall,” as well as “canine racism.” The Houston Chronicle quotes unnamed officials as placing the blame for the problem squarely on humans. “(M)any of the pit bull attacks are due to a skyrocketing number of poorly bred and badly trained dogs raised by backyard breeders, who are trying to cash in on the pit bull’s growing reputation as a cheap, but deadly effective guard dog, particularly in urban areas.”

Nearly thirty-five years after the beginning of this anti-pit bull hysteria, the tide seems to be turning a little bit, but every step forward is followed by a step back. Even as Florida is attempting to overturn all breed-specific legislation, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin is considering imposing a new ban. Yet it only takes a brief look at the history of pit bulls to realize that the dogs are not the problem; the humans who misuse them are. For over a hundred years, holding the owners personally responsible was enough to prevent attacks, and the breed was perceived as very child-friendly. With outreach and education, it may be possible to restore that image and rehabilitate the pit bull’s reputation, restoring an iconic American dog to its rightful place among mankind’s best friends.

Maybe Denver will be a first step back toward the direction of sanity and a reminder: It’s never the dog’s fault. It’s always the human’s.

Photo: The author being viciously mauled by the Dog Whisperer’s pit bull Junior. © 2017 Jon Bastian.

 

Sunday Nibble #39: A short guide to knowing your shit #3

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This one can come on just as strongly as Chocolate Rain and it may even come with sudden cramps. All you know is you’d better get to the facilities stat. You think you have barely enough time before the howitzer fires as you settle onto the pot, brace yourself, and then… nothing.

Okay, maybe a little assistance is required, so you bear down to try to exorcise the demon hiding in your rectum. There’s more rumbling and gurgling and maybe another cramp, so you give it another hard push and then it all comes out for what seems like an hour.

What’s most noticeable about this one is that while you don’t feel anything, you hear a lot. Your butt is now a thundercloud hovering over the upper Mid-West during the worst storm of the season and, while you don’t have lightning shooting out of your rosebud, it sure as heck sounds like you do. The windows rattle and you might even knock a picture or two off of the wall. Your pets have long since gone into hiding, and pity any roommates or loved ones who are in the same building. Did they hear you? Oh yes, they most certainly did and, by now, they can probably also smell you.

“This is going to be a full can of Febreze job,” you think to yourself as your butt-tuba continues to play its solo in your personal Symphony Number Two, First Movement. Perhaps, sloth-like, you won’t even have to poop for a whole week after this one.

At least the sounds on the inside have stopped and so has the cramping, but since this is a full symphony, there are still a few movements to go, broken only by the brief silences between them.

Then, finally, the clouds part and the Sun returns. You can’t wait to see exactly what monstrosity just used your heinie for some base-jumping. So you look in the bowl and there’s nothing. Zilch. Zip. Nada. This movement was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

You expected so much but, alas, ‘twas but a fart.

This is known as The Phantom

* * *
Read the next installment.

The Saturday Morning Post #37: The Rêves, Part 15

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Rescue

In the afternoon, the fog hadn’t burned off and it was still raining, although the hail and thunderstorms had stopped. Joshua’s cell rang, which was really unusual — no one called anyone anymore — but he looked at the display and saw that it was Brent, so he answered.

“Uncle Brent,” he said, “How are you and Drew doing? Survive the storm okay?”

“We did,” Brent replied, “We’re fine, although we lost a lemon tree. And you boys?”

“Holding up on the top floor,” Joshua said. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere.”

“Oh, too bad,” Brent said. “We’re downstairs, wondered if you wanted a ride.”

“You’re what? How?” Joshua asked.

“You’ll have to come down to see,” Brent teased.

“So, the flood waters are gone?”

“Oh, no, they’re not. But the fog only comes down to about fifteen feet. So do up your faces, dress warm, put on your hip-waders and get your asses down here.”

“Okay,” Joshua replied. “See you in a few minutes.” He hung up and turned to Simon, who looked completely confused.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Joshua said.

The funniest part was that they actually did own hip-waders, although they had to look around to find them. At one point, Simon had gone through a big fishing phase and Joshua had gone along with it. It wasn’t that he liked fishing. He didn’t. He despised it. But if Simon was there, he didn’t care.

So they dressed warmly, put on the hip-waders, took the stairs down to the lobby and found that it was still flooded up to almost their armpits. Outside, they found Brent and Drew, sitting in the front seat of a goddamn hovercraft.

Oh, it wasn’t one of those full-on military versions, or the kind that ferried passengers commercially. It was about the size of a wide minivan, with an open cockpit and seating for four. Brent was in the driver’s seat, Drew next to him in his usual sun hat.

“Climb aboard,” Brent announced.

“Well fuck me,” Joshua muttered.

“Sssh!” Simon  hissed at him.

Joshua went up the ladder first, then helped pull Simon up, and they took their seats in the back.

“Why do you even have this?” Simon asked.

“Oh, past life,” Brent explained. “Doing biological and environmental impact surveys in the wetlands around here. Also fun for vacations. And this is one of the few electric models.”

“You know how bad the mileage is on the gas ones?” Drew chimed in. “You’re lucky to get eighty miles on a full tank, and that’s a regular car-sized tank.”

“Do you have anywhere in particular you need to go?” Brent continued.

Joshua and Simon looked at each other, not sure.

“Ausmann?” Simon said quietly.

“We should probably avoid him,” Joshua said. “What about Danny and Preston?”

“How are we going to find them?” Simon wondered.

“I’d start with where he’s buried,” Joshua whispered.

“Okay,” Simon agreed.

“This is going to sound weird,” Joshua said, “But can you get us to Forest Lawn Glendale?”

“We can sure give it a try,” Brent replied, and he fired the thing up and started it moving.

Since they were basically sitting on top of an inverted air hockey table with a fan in the back, the thing was a little loud, and the sudden ballooning of the skirt as the craft noticeably lifted was an unexpected noise, a sudden “fwoomp.”

The acceleration was also kind of slow, so they weren’t going all that fast as Brent took them east on South Chandler toward Lankershim. That didn’t really matter, though, because there was no traffic at all. The streets were empty and silent, the sky above about three stories up was solid white, and everything between there and the filthy water in the streets was full of falling mist.

Surprisingly, the traffic lights were still working, although all of the buildings they passed were dark, many of them with busted-out windows.

“Didn’t the news say they shut all the roads?” Simon asked.

“They did,” Brent explained. “Fortunately, I have an exemption.”

He pointed to an official state permit that was laminated in a frame on the dash: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“I’m still deputized, even if I’m retired,” Brent explained. “So we have permission to be wherever we need to be.”

“Sweet,” Joshua grinned. Of course, he still hadn’t decided whether their single-craft armada was the coolest or most ridiculous thing ever. On the one hand, Drew was huddled in the front wrapped in what looked like a Snuggie, huge floppy sunhat hiding most of his head and face, and Brent was actually wearing a boat captain’s cap with all-white shirt and pants and a pea coat.

Joshua and Simon couldn’t have looked much better, what with their black rubber hip waders covering their lower halves, only to reveal flannel shirts under cable knit sweaters, both of them also wearing elaborately patterned toques.

Then again, there was no one to see them, so Joshua supposed they looked as cool as they wanted to.

Brent turned left on Magnolia, which seemed to be flooded a bit deeper, and then gunned it, and suddenly they were actually moving at decent car speed down the street. It was absolutely the most surreal moment that Joshua and Simon had ever experienced. The worst flooding they had ever seen before in the Valley was when the water backed up to barely cover the sidewalks, with flumes shooting out of overloaded storm drains.

This was something else entirely, and they could only imagine what it was like in the center of the Valley, which was its low point, with a huge public park designed to do double duty as a flood control basin.

But Brent continued eastward down Magnolia, and Joshua and Simon lamented all of the storefronts and businesses that were inundated. This stretch happened to hold a lot of places that had supplied them with their costume bits over the years, as well as a couple that had provided their tech. A lot of them had even managed to survive the plague years, but neither of them knew how they would survive this.

Their favorite costume shop of them all, where they had gotten a lot of custom work done, was inundated right up to the bottom of the marquee sign above its single story.

“Fuck,” Simon muttered as they passed it. Joshua just grabbed his hand and held it tight.

Eventually, they neared the bridge on Magnolia that leapt over the freeway and train tracks — although it was just a raging river down there now — but Brent turned right before they crossed it and headed south on Victory.

This took them past Griffith Park, which was a strangely unaffected island rising above the chaos below, and finally to a point where they crossed over the freeway on a sudden dry stretch and came back down outside of the cemetery gates.

This was the first moment when all of them just kind of did a collective “What?”

The water in the streets here was still about three feet deep, and Forest Lawn didn’t really have any kind of substantial walls around it, just some low brick work and very open wrought iron. And yet… not a drop of the floodwater on the outside spilled over onto the property.

“Oh fuck me sideways,” Simon blurted out. “How the hell is this even possible?”

“Honey, how is anything we’ve seen recently possible?” Joshua replied.

“Bitchin’ Hollywood special effects?” Brent offered.

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Drew explained. “Shall we go in?”

Brent didn’t even wait for an answer. He powered ahead into the cemetery.

“So which dead body are you all looking for?” he asked.

“Who do you think?” Joshua asked.

“I know,” Drew said, and he led Brent right to the red marble cenotaph for the LeCard family, where they parked.

Preston’s marker was there, even though the body under was not him — or at least not the Preston they knew, although they also had no idea whether it was Danny. In either case, neither of them were there.

But someone else was, and she was walking toward them.

“Oh shit,” Simon muttered under his breath, turning to Brent. “You might want to move back a way,” he advised.

“Don’t ask twice,” Brent replied, turning the hovercraft around and moving far down the road.

Meanwhile, Joshua stepped forward boldly, hands raised at the elbows, palms out.

“We come in peace,” he said.

“I think your boss might be dead,” Anabel said.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Joshua replied, and she actually raised an eyebrow.

“Anyway, if he’s dead, wouldn’t he be playing for your team now?” Simon asked.

“Phrasing…” Joshua whispered.

“He only plays for his own team,” she replied. “I… urged him last night to stop doing what he’s doing, but he refused.”

“Isn’t he doing what we’re doing?” Simon asked.

“What do you think he is doing?” Anabel asked.

“Well, I mean, like us, it’s basically catch and release, right? For research?”

“You really think that?”

“It’s what we’ve been led to believe,” Joshua explained.

“He told you that he lets us go when he’s done?” she asked.

“Well, funny thing about Ausmann,” Simon said. “He never really says anything in any straight forward way, but we asked him flat out. ‘Do you make sure that they’re let go unharmed when you’re done with them?’ And he said ‘Yes.’”

Simon hesitated a beat, then sighed. “Aw, fuck.”

“He’s never done with them, is he?” Joshua asked.

“Nope,” Anabel replied.

“So, wait,” Joshua said. “You asked him to stop and he refused, so you killed him — ”

“Not me, but he might be dead — ”

“Right. But if he is dead, doesn’t that pretty much stop him?”

She huffed, put her hands on her hips and gave him a jaundiced look.

“Oh, yeah. I guess not. So… what are you suggesting?”

“I get the impression that you only work for him because you had the necessary skills, but no idea what he was really doing. Correct?”

“Absolutely,” Simon replied.

“So how did you get those skills?” she asked.

Simon and Joshua looked at each other, and then shrugged. “Just a couple of coding nerds who got way too curious after they saw something weird in a subway station,” Simon finally offered.

“When was that?” she asked.

“Early in 2017?” Joshua said, hesitantly. “Something like that.”

“And you saw…?”

“Harold Lloyd,” Simon said. “It was really late at night, and he just wandered down the platform, but there were two things wrong.”

“First, we could kind of see through him,” Joshua said.

“Second,” Simon added, “He had all of his fingers.”

“The real Lloyd didn’t,” Joshua explained.

“We were never the kinds to believe in ghosts or any of that shit,” Simon continued.

“But there we were, looking at a ghost,” Joshua said. “But… if he was a ghost, then why did he have all of his fingers?”

“Which Lloyd, in real life, didn’t.”

“So you decided to start hunting us?” Anabel asked.

“I don’t like the word ‘hunting,’” Simon replied.

“Studying,” Joshua offered. “And since we were both basically retired — well, had been a couple of years — we figured, what the hell, why not use our skills to figure out what was going on?”

“Retired?” Anabel asked, incredulous. “From what?”

Simon and Joshua looked around, both of them making sure that Brent and Drew were far out of earshot.

“Okay. Coding and apps, basically,” Simon said.

“Spies?” Anabel asked.

“No, not spies,” Joshua said. “Making apps for people.”

“Oh, applications?” she replied.

“Yeah,” Simon said. “Those.”

“For… what? Insurance? Mortgages? Jobs…?”

“Oh…” Joshua and Simon said in unison, looking at each other, Simon finally continuing, “When did you… um… you know…”

He gestured vaguely.

“Die?” she asked. “It’s okay, you can use that word. It was in 1926. I am caught up on a lot of things, thank you, but not everything.”

“Ah…” Joshua and Simon said in unison again.

“A hundred years of linguistic evolution — my god, this is a primer for time travel, isn’t it?” Joshua asked Simon, laughing.

“We basically became filthy rich and made a lot of money making…” He paused, bouncing one hand palm up in the other, trying to come up with some way to explain it, looking to Joshua, who was more of a history buff.

“Um… yeah, it’s like… Oh… oh, dammit, no, 1920s, too early.”

“Telegraph?” Simon asked.

“No… home appliances. Crap!” Joshua sighed. “Wait, wait, okay. Kind of got it here, maybe. Phonograph?” he asked, looking to Anabel.

“Yes.”

“Okay… so imagine that phonograph records aren’t just for music, but they can also be used for information and learning. Like, you play a record, and it’s a dictionary or a cookbook or something.”

“Uh… they don’t really do that, but — ”

“We’re getting metaphorical here, okay? Go with me, because here comes the next stretch,” Joshua continued. “Imagine now that you have like a typewriter connected to the phonograph, and you can control what part of the record plays by typing words.”

“All right,” Anabel said. “So then what does it do?”

“So it’s… um a cookbook, and you want to know how to make… beef stroganoff. You type that on the typewriter, the needle searches, and boom. It plays back the one recipe you want. And if you want to get really fancy, we can also make that work over a telephone, too.”

“Dude… that was the single most steampunk thing you’ve ever done,” Simon said.

“Love you too,” Joshua replied.

“So… you make records?” Anabel asked.

“We make… tools!” Joshua finally gushed when he landed on the right word. “And while the tools of our time may be things that you can’t possibly understand, men in your time were doing the same thing and making the same kind of money and so, yeah, we both retired right around thirty.”

“Anyway, that’s why we had the ability to create all the stuff we use to identify and track and… study your kind.” Simon offered. “We were already working with portable super computers, so why not take it up another notch?”

“I underestimated you,” Anabel said. “Here, I thought you were just a couple of Ausmann’s underlings, willing to do his bidding. But if I understand correctly, you don’t need him or this job at all.”

“That would be one hundred percent,” Joshua replied.

“Well, then,” she said, “Maybe we can make a deal, and you can help us stop him — ”

“If he’s not dead,” Simon offered.

“Right. Let me rephrase that, then,” Anabel went on. “Stop what he started, but which is apparently stuck in motion. We need to put on the brakes.”

“On what?” Joshua asked.

“On his entire project,” she replied.

“We would still have clearance, wouldn’t we?” Simon offered.

“And it would be a glorious ‘fuck you,’ wouldn’t it?” Joshua added.

“And, honestly, we’ve probably got better firepower, at least on the tech side,” Simon added.

“Okay, so… I guess the only question is whether he’s dead or not,” Joshua replied, “But either way, I think we still have an in, so… yeah. Let’s stop whatever he was trying to do.”

“Thank you,” Anabel replied. “You won’t regret it.”

“What was he trying to do?” Simon asked.

“Commit genocide and destroy my kind,” Anabel explained before suddenly vanishing in a puff of black smoke.

“Yeah, way to hide the reveal,” Simon muttered.

“What?” Joshua replied. “Isn’t stopping genocide , like, the best thing ever?”

“I know,” Simon said. “But we didn’t get to thank her for the opportunity.”

Joshua laughed and kissed Simon, then gestured for Brent to come on back. He swung the hovercraft around and they climbed in the back.

“Was that a fucking ghost?” Brent demanded.

“What else would you expect in a cemetery?” Joshua replied. “Now… home, James.”

Brent gunned it, and the rest of the trip back to NoHo happened in silence.

By the time they’d gotten back home, the floodwaters had receded here. Joshua and Simon bid their adieus to Brent and Drew, then headed into the lobby.

“You want to check the damage now, get it over with?” Simon asked.

“Sure,” Joshua replied.

They took the stairs down to the parking garage, coming out on the floor where there car was parked, expecting to find it a soaked, muddy, and useless mess. Instead, the floors and everything else were as dry as usual, and the lights were even on. All of the cars here were completely untouched.

“What the hell?” Joshua muttered happily as Simon just stared.

Nearby, a maintenance man was walking back to his electric cart. He laughed.

“HOA didn’t want them flood doors until they got talked into. ‘L.A. never floods,’ they said.” He laughed. “Rich old bastards just saved themselves a fortune in lawsuits on that one. Have a great day.”

He hopped onto his cart and rode off as Joshua and Simon just stared at each other.

“Shit,” Simon finally said. “Wasn’t that our idea?”

“I seem to remember paying for it, too. That was the only way they’d do it.” Joshua said.

“Son of a bitch,” Simon muttered, laughing. “Son of a bitch.”

They threw their arms around each other’s shoulders and headed back up, checking to see if the elevator was working. It was, although it smelled a bit… moist.

* * *

Image source: digicla,  licensed under (CC BY 2.0)