Last night I was about a third of the way through The Book with No Pictures when I heard a brrrap behind me and to my right, as if Bea had shuffled a deck of cards. She yowled. I looked up from B.J. Novak’s instant classic, which is usually the only book Cora will tolerate at bedtime anymore, and saw blood.
“What did you do?” I asked. She held up her bashed fingernail and I determined she wasn’t hospital-level injured, so I kept asking.
“What did you do? Did you stick your finger in the fan? Why did you do that?”
I tossed the book on their nightstand, scooped Bea up, and headed downstairs. Cora was right on my heels.
“Gina,” I said as I rounded the corner into the living room.
Gina slid on her socks from the hall into the kitchen like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Her eyes were huge.
“She’s okay,” I said, “but she’s bleeding all over the place. I think she stuck her finger in the fan.” We headed to the bathroom.
“I thought you guys were kidding around at first,” Gina said, “but then I heard you call my name and I was like ‘omigod.'”
Bea squirmed and boohooed in my arms. I laid her across the sink. Gina had gotten a wet washcloth while we spoke and started cleaning the blood off Bea and me.
“I didn’t see her but it made the sound,” I said. “You know, like when you stick something in a fan.”
“We’re going to have to put it under the faucet, Bea,” Gina said.
“Noooooo,” Bea said.
I took her hand and ran it under the tap. She continued to complain but didn’t struggle. Her finger had already stopped bleeding, and I could see it had come from a small slice at the tip.
“Yeah,” I said, “I know that sound from when I was a kid, we were always sticking shit into fans.”
“Bea, you don’t stick your finger into fans or it will chop it off and you will go to the hospital,” Cora said.
Gina applied antibiotic ointment to Bea’s finger and folded a big adhesive bandage, which was shaped like a cupcake, over it. The novelty dressing was a bit floppy, so she grabbed some medical tape, wrapped it around once, and tore it off.
“There,” she said. She wiped Bea’s tears with the damp cloth and searched us for any remaining blood.
“Thank you,” I said.
Bea still in my arms, Cora and I trudged back upstairs. I put Bea down in her bed and grabbed The Book with No Pictures with the intent of picking up where I’d left off. I sat down beside Cora and opened it to the part where I’ma robot monkey.
“Hat Back,” Bea said. “Hat Back.”
“Okay, okay, let me finish this first and I’ll read it,” I said. I cruised through the remaining twenty pages in record time and got up to put the book back in my office. It’s autographed and technically Gina’s, since I got it for her along with signed copies of The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson and Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling as a Dunder-Mifflin themed Christmas gift, so I don’t want the kids to wreck it.
I retrieved I Want My Hat Back from its home in Bea’s bed and performed it with all the gusto I could muster after the previous ordeal.
When I finished, I placed the grimy, jacketless thing back into Bea’s bed.
“Hat Back,” she said. “Twinkle Little Star.”
I bent down over her bed rail and sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” while I finger-combed her hair, still damp from their bath. She breathed deeply and sniffled.
“I love you,” I said, and I stood and turned around to attend to Cora’s bedtime requests.
“I want the Mary Poppins good-night song,” Cora said.
“Twinkle Little Star,” said Bea.
“Uh,” I said, “Okay Bea.” I turned back around and began my encore.
“Why does Bea get two songs?” Cora asked in the pause after the first line.
“Because she’s hurt,” I said, and kept singing.
By the time I’d finished, Bea was out. I turned back toward Cora and sat on her bed.
“Mary Poppins,” she said.
I sang “Stay Awake” and only had to make up about half the lyrics. She didn’t notice, or at least she didn’t mind.
“Another song,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, and did “White Christmas,” which is normally her first and only request. Sometimes I phone it in, but yesterday I committed. She was out or well on her way by the time I had finished crooning my heart out. I kissed her on the head and quietly left the room.
Bathtime, storytime, blood offering to the fan gods and all, they were in bed and resting by 8:30 pm. I silently hoped they wouldn’t get me up at 6 am, but we all know hope is a mistake.
It ended up being 6:45 am, by the way. Tired and chronically yawning, but grateful, I made it to Cora and Bea’s respective schools and work on time. Bea’s little bandage was still hanging on for dear life when I dropped her off at day care. I can’t think too much about her standing there in the middle of that room while her supervisor vacuumed, so loud.
Bandaged Bea with a big head of hair, moderately tangled, and pink jelly shoes she can put on herself. Oh Bea. We’re only little once.
I will explain what happened last night, then I will tell you what has been going on with me.
Arkansas is in the midst of attempting what I call “mass executions” before their drugs expire this month. That means eight guys gotta go, and they’ve already done three in the past few days.
Last night I was sent this screenshot, which appears to be an animated live update of someone being executed. I was already emotional about this situation, from being inundated with hate all week on all the local news pages where the good Christian citizens of Arkansas were calling for blood, and I assumed they had found their Nightcrawler angle on this entire mess. I had that detail wrong, and I guess I’ve joined the ranks of Fake News after sharing it and tweeting it repeatedly.
Thing is, they were live broadcasting outside the prison. They DID seek to profit from this tragedy, and while the tasteless image was used to describe the execution process, it was not a progress bar. Because I flew off the handle and assumed one thing, I’m the garbage guy, which is fine, because that’s how I feel all the time anyway.
Furthermore, it really doesn’t matter because it would have stopped nothing. These guys are dead or are going to die, and who really cares about a bunch of murdering rapists? I think anyone who would read this understands that we have a justice system for a reason and why lynch mobs are dangerous. I think you probably have also heard about the West Memphis Three trial that took place here in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and understand why some of us around here might have questions about our justice system. If you aren’t familiar, please read up on it. I cannot summarize it here properly, but believe me when I say a bunch of superstition about the occult led the West Memphis police to frame some juvenile delinquents and drag them to Jonesboro where local business leaders and attorneys colluded to form a kangaroo court and put them on death row as an example to everyone watching. The three were eventually freed after twenty years, and Damien Echols came back to Little Rock for a day last week to protest these executions, his very point being that THIS STATE has NO BUSINESS executing ANYONE.
That said, I was wrong and sloppy in my approach, and something that momentarily got some attention ended up getting deflated. I’m not a news organization, so I can’t post a retraction and soldier on, sally forth, chin up, whatever. I’m not a leader who gets to lie about every mistake and keep on truckin’. That’s what your politicians do. I’m wrong constantly. I’m almost never right, I feel, and it’s no surprise that I’ve been increasingly ignored, unfollowed, and unfriended the shittier my opinions get. I am so politically removed from most of you, Democrat and Republican and Other, that I’m viewed as the local nutbar, and that’s fine. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it is lonely as fuck.
I have been flailing for the last fortnight trying to figure out what my way forward is online at this point. I have deleted and reinstalled the Facebook app daily. I have quit and unquit within the span of fifteen minutes. I don’t want to offend those of you who have had chemical dependencies but I am addicted. I need the thrill of being online and the dopamine hits and I’m not getting them. My brain is panicking and doesn’t know what to do. It is devastating to write 2000 word essays about my kids every day, some of which I think are my best work, and have 20 people read it if I am lucky. I could make YouTube videos where I throw them across the room and be famous, but I am not that cruel. The point is that society would eat that shit up, but they’re not getting hardons for the mundane right now. Maybe my heartwarming family stories full of angst and at least two mentions of death are too boring these days.
So I’ve been cruel online lately. I’ve punched down. Stomped down. I find myself agreeing with bigots and fascists because they point out what’s wrong with the reasoning of “libtards” and I take a moment and wonder if I could make it in their world. I couldn’t, but I have to say it’s tempting. If I thought someone would embrace me with open arms I could be Alex Jones, or Anne Coulter. I want to be loved by someone and it’s always gnawing at me, in the back of my mind. I could L. Ron Hubbard this shit and start a religion. That’s what I want. It’s what I need. Then, I think is this temptation? Is this the secular devil? This is what you guys mean when you talk about that, while you thump on your bible, and it’s a human thing you’re describing. “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
This used to be the type of thing I’d post on MY BLOG, which no one reads, and I’ll probably copy/paste it for posterity’s sake (this was originally posted on Facebook, which I cannot escape), but I’m tired of writing and proofreading for hours for nothing. I’ve made this pledge privately and I’ll do so publicly now: I am going to keep writing, about my life, my kids, and things I love, like science fiction, but I am quitting politics. I think the world will get along fine with my $35 check to the ACLU and me living and just being a person. I am too wild to feed into the narcissism of all that shit. It makes me Jekyll and Hyde, or more ironically the Wolfman (Talbot). I wake up with the figurative blood on my hands and vaguely remember what I’ve done. I’m constantly filled with remorse. I can’t do it.
And some of you might point this out as my privilege, that I can be nihilistic and self-centered and stop speaking out about things. You’re correct. Thing is, I cannot handle it. It is affecting my mental and physical health. I need a pass for this. If you want to call me a sick boy, the dude who couldn’t hack it in the world, that is fine. I would rather live and be happy with my kids in this hellscape than fight and fight and make myself ill for nothing. Still a trashbarge of doom. I could have carved out an existence on this punishment sphere, and I’ll look back and realize that I had things to love all along but I spent too much time hating the world to realize it.
I love my wife and kids. Gina, Wiggles, and the girls are the best thing that ever happened to me. I owe it to them to stop staring at my phone. I owe it to them to stop hating everything so much it kills me.
I’ll always be around, until I’m not, but I have to change if I’m going to survive. If that means I turn a blind eye sometimes, so be it. I can’t wreck my own castle and expect to go out and conquer territory. I am the worst revolutionary. The one everyone ignores. Well, I’m stepping off this streetcorner. I’m putting down the bullhorn. I’m going to enjoy being a father.
Gina and I were married on January 11, 2016, which was the day before her birthday and the day after we returned from what may be tied with the Dallas Fan Existential Crisis as most angst-filled convention we’ve ever attended. David Bowie had died the day before, which had a little bit to do with it, but we’d reached the ends of our ropes in other ways.
There’s no pretty way to say we were losing our minds living apart, which was one of the judge’s requirements prescribed during my previous divorce. It’s a completely understandable arrangement; I can imagine how less responsible parents might have a series of strangers shacking up with them, and I can further imagine how that could be detrimental to their children, but it still seems a bit nanny state to me.
Gina has always loved the girls, and it is a testament to her huge heart that we’re even together. I’d like to cite my charisma and devastating good looks here, but we all know no amount of game can make up for having two kids from a previous marriage and going through a brutal divorce process. I’ve said it before, but Gina really is the patron saint of stepmothers, and I’m not sure what I’ve done to win this lottery.
The tone of this love letter is already different than some I’ve written in the past, so let me make something clear: I stray from any sort of negativity when I talk about our relationship in public, and I’m absolutely going to hold to that pledge. Not that I have anything to complain about when it comes to Gina, but it really is a death knell when I see some of you folks whining online about something your significant other did. You need to address that shit in private, otherwise it’s emotional abuse, plain and simple. I’ve been guilty of this in past relationships, and every time it pops up on my On This Day app, I cringe.
Furthermore, when I’m writing about celebrations of love, I try to keep it positive. There’s something missing, though, if I act like nothing was ever hard (haha, maybe I should say difficult). Holy shit, guys, it wasn’t just difficult. At times, it was devastating, but it wasn’t because of us. It was baggage, circumstances, and the world. We’ve won such a victory here, but there’s no reward without a struggle. I’ll save the happy sappy shit for our legal anniversary on January 11th or Valentine’s Day. Today, however, a day before April 16th, which was the day we celebrated our marriage publicly with our friends in a mostly-traditional ceremony, it’s time to get real.
The first thing I did when we arrived home on January 10, 2016, was crack a beer and put Space Oddity on full blast. Life was short, and we were going to get married.
This wasn’t some Vegas, Elvis impersonator-associated notion. Gina had survived a harrowing car accident a few weeks before when she totaled her car and escaped with a few bumps and scratches. She only drove home that night because a court order said she had to spend the night under a different roof than my children, otherwise she would have been safe with me. I don’t believe in fate, but if you want to call that a sign, I’m not going to hold it against you.
So, the next day we drove to the Craighead County Courthouse, got our papers, found a Justice of the Peace, got married, Gina moved in, and we lived happily ever after, The End.
Oh wait, something else occurred a month later, and a month after that she showed me a positive pregnancy test. I’ve strained my brain trying to remember which time it happened,but I can’t peg it down. It had to have been early February, and I’m certain it must have been a great time for everyone involved.
I have to tread carefully on this next part, because there were a few days of sitcom, no, rom-com level misunderstanding as we both assumed the other person wasn’t ready for this even though we both were. No one wanted to say the words, but every time we discussed the situation, it was more along the lines of “What are we going to do,” not, “Holy shit this is amazing.” I mean, we had just gotten married, and it was time for stability and relationship building, not cranking out babies, right?
The standoff finally ended one day when she said, “We have to talk,” and I started spilling my guts. We had our Hollywood moment, or something close to it, when we realized we both wanted the same thing and that we were also terrible at communicating sometimes. Conflict resolved, set sail for parenthood (again).
(Willie, if you’re reading this, you were always wanted – though you were a bit of a surprise – but Gina and I were also terrified of upsetting each other. Thank you for being here, and thank you for teaching us how to talk about Important Things.)
Gina and I held a public wedding ceremony at Lake Frierson on the 16th of April that year. Only a handful friends knew we were already legally married, and next to no one knew she was pregnant (although I’m sure they’ve done the math by now). The girls were in attendance, which was wonderful, and I have to say it was the most pleasant wedding I’ve participated in. Third time’s a charm.
I thank Gina, too, but not enough. I thank you again here, love, for all you do. There’s no way I can repay you, other than being here and loving you and Willie.
As we journey into our second year of marriage and our first year of parenthood together (my fifth, personally, but who’s counting), I cannot pass the day without marking it. Though there’s no traditional precedent for dual anniversaries, I think we’ve earned January 11 and April 16.
Last night I walked by the humor section at work, as I do at least a dozen times a day, but this time I paused because a Garfield book was out of place. I picked it up, flipped it open, and thumbed through the pages. It was the first collection, where Garfield looks weirdly misshapen through about half the book and slowly morphs into the familiar cat we all love (or love to hate).
When I was a child, I sat in the Trumann Public Library every afternoon after school and read their comic collections from cover to cover. I was also a fan of the Time Life books and the Disney annuals, and sometimes I’d wander into science fiction, but I pretty much stayed in the left-hand corner as you walk in the door, right past the model of Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution. At the time, I didn’t know a Talbot had once steered that ship, but it wouldn’t have meant much to me anyway. Just a handful of years later, I would be on the opposite wall perusing (and I do mean perusing, fuckers, look it up) the works of Stephen King and Michael Crichton, but in elementary school I was more interested in the adventures of a particular orange cat.
Back in the bookstore yesterday, I read strip after strip without much effect until I came to one where Garfield accidentally jumps into a toilet, and here’s the kicker: It was a short, weekday strip which would have been printed in black and white, but there in the book the “SPLOOSH” was lovingly rendered in yellow ink. That, combined with Garfield’s “I hate Mondays” in the last panel really tied it all together.
In my later Cedar Park Elementary years I discovered The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, of course. I hate to even mention the works of Bill Watterson lest you all collapse in jizzheaps of orgasmic self-satisfaction at being fans of the greatest comic that ever was or shall be. Man, fuck you, Bill. I suffered through the goddamned documentary where a guy travels to libraries and museums to pull out newspapers and prints featuring Watterson’s work and view them with all the awe and wonder of Indy in the map room. Bill is hiding somewhere in the Midwest and burning his oil paintings, the most noble artist. Whatever.
As for The Far Side, it is beyond reproach. I envy the kids these days who get to do book reports on things like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or whatever Raina Telgemeier’s most recent relevant work is. I tried to do a book report on a Larson collection in fifth grade and I got my ass handed to me by one of those teachers who looked and acted 60, but I’m sure she was actually 32. The same crone gave my brother a D for turning in a brilliant short story about three ghosts named Moe, Larry, and Curly, who were, as he put it, “Zestfully Dead.” Sometimes that phrase hits me in the shower and, thirty years later, I have a good chuckle.
As products of 1978, Garfield and I share a special kinship. I could read not long after the 1980s rolled in, to the glee and excitement of all my relatives. This was probably also my downfall, because speed of development doesn’t have too much correlation with the point at which someone peaks, so while Little Bobby Talbot, Boy Genius, would soon become Bob Talbot, Idiot-Man, the general expectation of automatic greatness was set early. Sorry to disappoint you, fam.
The old folks would often sit me on their knee and ask me to read the funny papers, since that seemed both appropriate and challenging enough for a toddler, and I guess I gravitated toward the adventures of Jon Arbuckle and his sassy cat. The dotted-line Family Circus comics always seemed like an adventure, but what the fuck was Mary Worth?
Later, I’d seek out Jim Davis’s fresh takes at the library, and I even got into US Acres for a while when ol’ Jimmy couldn’t keep up with my lust for more original grumpy-cat action. There were other tomes there that I wish I could find online, like a huge, taped-together hardcover on the history of Popeye. I know way too much about that salty sailor and his Thimble Theatre friends, and I have the handful of taxpaying citizens of Trumann, Arkansas, to thank for it.
They also had an even thicker, even more taped-together fat black book on the history of comics in general. It started with the Yellow Kid, and the Katzenjammer Kids, but it also introduced me to other classics like The Spirit, Krazy Kat, and The Red Tornado. I don’t remember the collection’s exact title, and my Google-Fu has failed me so far, but I’m sure someone else out there read this thing. I cherished it, and if I could find a copy online for under $100, it would be mine by tomorrow.
It is something strange to see the lasagna-loving cat I studied so much in my youth bandied about in memes and edits, but I don’t take too much offense. It is a testament to the enduring work of Jim Davis. You don’t see nearly as many Peanuts memes, and the Calvin and Hobbes ones are often saccharine, but if I remember my Žižek properly (he was either quoting Mao or disagreeing with him, but I digress), an ideological battle is won when the enemy starts using your language. Now that religious fundamentalists explain superstition in scientific terms, it is only a matter of time before they’re engulfed by rational thought, which they don’t have to accept, but they’ll still be forced to describe their denial with our words.
It is the negation of negation. When you claim to loathe Garfield or at least be bored by it, yet you continue to describe life and humor with its imagery, it has already penetrated to your core. There’s a strange ennui about the comic, a depth many miss until they remove dialogue boxes or work it into live-action plays or YouTube poops, and for all the complaining about Garfield, almost forty years later you are still complaining about Garfield. Slavoj may not be right about everything, but he’s hit that one square on the nose.
My kids are aware of Garfield, mostly in cartoon form, but they’d rather watch The Real Ghostbusters. Lorenzo Music voices characters in both, so perhaps there’s something about his benzo’d Bill Murray delivery that appeals to children. In any case, I’m glad they at least tolerate a thing that was once so important to me. I suffered through enough dark, tediously boring afternoons of Peanuts cartoons at Granny’s house to know what it’s like to just not feel it. I know some of you have fond memories of good ol’ Chuck, and I don’t seek to shit on them, but to me it was all grey skies and WWI fantasies, screaming beagles and irrelevance. I wanted to watch Sesame Street.
Dat Vince Guaraldi, tho.
I had a ratty, orange, stuffed cat I dragged around the house and yard on adventures. It was my buddy and my constant companion, though the doll now rests in some box, I am sure, in a sequel to Toy Story 3 that doesn’t end in donation or incineration. Consider it, perhaps, an alternate ending 10 minutes into the film where the correct container gets put into the attic. Time to gather dust, roll credits.
I had something you wrote about, Mr. Watterson, and for all the slutty merchandising, maybe I had it because Jim Davis didn’t hide his light under a bushel. Maybe you wrote about something only someone else could provide. Your comics are a history, and they are history, but all the beauty and insight in the world sequestered in your cabin, torched in the woods, do not touch what was striped and sour and droll and mine.
I had a friend, and my friend’s name was Garfield.
It is at times like this when I’m not writing or even writing about writing but writing about not writing that I can only comfort myself with examples of Kafka or Fitzgerald wailing and gnashing their teeth over the thing that would not make itself available. Worse yet, though, is the realization that while I’ve definitely hit a few homers, mine were knocked out of the park at practice rounds in ball fields no one will ever see, which amounts to masturbation. No quantity of nuts blown into the toilet or your favorite sock will produce an heir no matter how much flourish and gusto you coaxed them out with.
There have been times I looked online for inspiration, but either the Almighty Algorithm or the dystopian present’s mundanity or both have taken hold and all I see now are hundreds of posts about an airline. I’ll blame you whenever I can, and today has been a wonderful opportunity in that regard.
That said, I’ve resigned myself to guerrilla warfare when it comes to creative acts. Every time I sit down to produce one large work, I’m smothered by wrongness. I’ve been in enough relationships that were panic-inducing from the get go. Every book I start feels like the wrong partner, but maybe I just fear commitment.
Perhaps I’m afraid of going dark for months only to emerge with another hunk of garbage. Possibly, I’m afraid I’ll never love it, and I might be even more terrified it would develop some kind of following, which I’d be forced to defend. Is it possible to carry to term something so hated and have it flourish? Do the scriveners of cliterature adore their own fantasies or are they more fond of the paycheck that follows? Did they dream of Hemingway’s Spain while they hashed out this month’s titillating tale, available now on Kindle for $2.99? Did they clutch their dogeared Bukowski through college and emerge with the next hot cautionary teen free-verse hit, and another, and another?
Did they squeeze that turnip from their office or did they stand in a restroom stall to proofread while they huffed piss? Excuses are excuses, but I’m actively selling my belongings because I’m failing to make it on the income from a full time job and an inherited farm. If the Great American Novel is something I can find, I’ll have to steal it piece by piece. It’s too cumbersome, too great a thing to haul off during lunch breaks and precious time away from my growing offspring.
It is not lost on me here, the hypocrisy of searching for success when I rail against the very system that refuses to accept me. I’m the unyielding problem child who begs for unconditional love between tantrums. I’m Cool Hand Luke digging his hole while society says, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Once, I read a union-busting pamphlet that described socialists as losers, whiners, lazy, and chronically depressed. I can’t take exception to that anymore, but I still ask, “Why should I love a world that goes against every fiber of my being?” I must own the stereotype, though, in order to move forward. Revolutions are not led by #winners. I am the shit guy. I’m the one who can’t hack it here. I’m the one who cannot be pleased, so I yearn for an order and a method different than this one.
Funnier, still, is that I have all the equipment to win butin precisely the ways I don’t want to. I have the land, the face, and the race, and the religion is there for me if I choose to accept it. I’ve been so gripped by layers of self-loathing that I’ve denied what I arguably am in favor of some other thing, which is a fairy tale. Still, I’d die a dreaming pauper before I sold my small remaining excuse for dignity out for a few pats on the back from gold-adorned soft white hands.
So many people claim to want change, but it is usually in the order of things, not the method. Whatever label they slap on it in the western world, it usually boils down to replacing capitalism with intersectional capitalism, as if that could be a thing on a grand scale, but capitalists will package it thus and sell it to you as a first step toward democratic socialism if it gets your buy in, though they obviously have no intention of taking you there.
The burning hatred I hold toward a system I both cannot change and, as I hurtle toward forty years of age, have not succeeded in, consumes me as well. I’ve taken the old adage about rage being like drinking poison as a challenge. If I drink enough, perhaps I’ll become a choking, flammable cloud. This spiritual self-immolation is destroying me, but when the spark arrives, won’t there be change?
I am the worst combination of things: A spoiled American, a guilty middle-class white man, a pessimist, and a dreamer. I am vain, narcissistic, and in control of very little except, sometimes, where I take a shit. I am the migraine, grinding away in the dark. I am broken-tooth insomnia.
This isn’t leaderspeak, but I am not that. It’s best I embrace who I am and what I’ve always been, which is the guy who wasn’t very good at things even though someone thought he was supposed to be. For all my bluster about being Bolshevik Batman, I’m more like the copycats Batman beats up before he tells them to go home and leave it to the experts. I should mention that Bruce Wayne is Ayn Rand’s wet dream, but it still follows. I’m a basket of contradictions that barely tolerate existing in the same container, and so are my metaphors.
I will write of angst if that’s all there is. I’ll fill volumes with tension headaches and neck spasms. In time, I’ll have enough essays on pessimism and the futility of struggle to publish “Fuck It: Why I Can’t Say Fuck It and Stop Fucking It,” which will sell for only $2.99 on Kindle.
I used to run all over town until I fucked my knees up, then I’d run some more. For all my irresponsible self-injurious behavior, you’d think I would have been doing marathons, but I ate way too much and pushed myself too hard too quickly. Most of my runs were six to eight miles, and I think my longest ever was almost ten miles, which is not even a half marathon.
I’m not going to give myself zero credit here. I peaked in mid-to-late summer when the temperatures were regularly over 90° F. Sometimes I’d weigh myself before and after the run and I’d drop five or six pounds of water weight in a couple of hours. One time it was more like eight. I didn’t know that was possible, but next time someone tries to sell you one of those miracle weight loss contraptions, rest assured they’ve found a way to sweat some water out of you, which you’ll add back next time you take a sip.
I also ran up and down Crowley’s Ridge, through the Craighead Lake Park, and down into town. I’d often cross one of the treacherous overpasses and cruise by Wal-Mart and the Mall at Turtle Creek. This city has few sidewalks, so I’d bolt across parking lots, empty plots, and ditches. I’d return home with swollen knees and go to work barely able to squat, or walk for that matter.
I’d often picture myself talking to Dad, but I never felt any sort of presence other than my own futile straining. I’d try to force it, to dig my nails into something in my brain, but it never clicked. I was alone, myself and the trail or the road, and I did find the elusive runner’s high a handful of times. It felt like I was riding a motorcycle, just elation, cruising, and the world humming past me. There were other moments when I screamed and cursed my way up steep hills, which is difficult to convey without making it sound funny.
These days I look for reasons to avoid cardio. I’m thrilled to no end when I pick up a resistance exercise workbook and part of the intro has been written by some wise dude who proclaims, “Cardio is a gigantic waste of time!” He’s wrong, but I love the comfort of confirmation bias.
If you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more, of course, but if you want to look good with your clothes off, you gotta lift. You also might want to do a bit of cardio lest your heart violently explode, but that’s up to you. I feel like I get enough being on my feet at the bookstore forty hours a week. Your Mileage May Vary.
Please don’t misread this as your life goals prescribed by your new unsolicited fitness guru. This is my experience and it doesn’t have to match yours. If you have different plans, by all means follow your dreams whether it means running ultramarathons in Arizona or having your living room wall removed by firemen. We all gotta die sometime.
I see lots of you struggling with things, and it’s hard sometimes to do anything other than click sadface when you say your life is being destroyed, or that you hate the way you look, or that you’ve gone in for another surgery. I don’t want you to feel alone, especially when it encompasses your body, because I’ve had all sorts of struggles in that arena. Still, though, when yours include almost dying, repeatedly, I don’t know what there is left for me to say other than, “Holy shit.”
Maybe, “I see you.”
When your struggle is that you are objectively more beautiful than me but you hate yourself, all I can say is, well, I’ve been there. I used to be young and attractive and I hated myself. I still do, inside and out. No one hates Bob Talbot as much as I do, and because of this I know no quantity of compliments will fill that hole. I could have billions of screaming, undulating fans and the moment I went home and it got quiet I’d taste dirt again. I can’t run from the CPU sitting atop this meat machine. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Yesterday I stood at the customer service desk and looked at the Nook sign fifteen feet in front of me. I gazed, unblinking, until my vision got blurry and I thought, “I bet if I stared hard enough I could jump through that O.”
I don’t know what I look like or sound like when I’m trapped there, and I do mean trapped. I feel imprisoned, and I vacillate between strange silence and animated preaching about socialism. Sometimes I’ll come up with a decent shitposty idea and chuckle to myself, then I’ll wonder if I have time to hammer it out on my lunchbreak. On a day like today, when I’ve gotten up early to lift weights and write, I use that precious hour for study.
I hope sadface is enough for you. Sometimes when I see bad news, I want to launch into a screed about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but then I realize I’m making it a bit about myself. If I’m lucky, I embarrass myself so badly even thinking about it that I clamp my mouth and my hands shut and go on with my day. I don’t think my message about how that must have been terrible and one time, at band camp, I got a flute stuck in my pussy, is going to help anyone when your entire family just got marched over by the “Spirit of Troy” Marching Band from the University of Southern California.
We all know that’s not my job, though. Half the battle is that you shared a feeling, and the other half is that someone said, “Hey, I hear you,” because these are often situations money can’t fix. Hell, if money will fix it, suck up that pride and fire up a GoFundMe. I’ve given plenty of people I’ve never met a few bucks because someone I do know said it was important to them.
Otherwise, we’re here. I’m here. I hate to say, “We’re all in this together,” because it’s certainly closer to, “Everyone dies alone,” but while we’re breathing, give me a holler. I hope that next time I yell into the void, you throw me a sadface. I’ll return the favor. I can spare the 1.42 calories (not kilocalories) per click.
Today I had the pleasure of asking someone who works on Capitol Hill (I won’t drag him into this by namedropping him) why he doesn’t reach over and punch Paul Ryan in the balls.
I also asked if he ever went back to his office and said, “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”
That’s the most exciting thing that’s happened since yesterday, when I got asked to move my IWW pin three inches from my lanyard to my shirt. I’m pretty sure even asking me to do that is technically illegal, but all sorts of things are technically illegal, like scheduling people for breaks they often do not get or setting up situations where they’re forced to work off the clock. You know. Things like that.
At the risk of seeming like some easy-to-pick-off lone wolf, the entire situation is made even more ridiculous by the circumstances. I’ve worn this thing for five years and they claim they didn’t notice. If they hadn’t had us remove all our “bling” (it’s fucking “flair,” Jesus – get it straight), no one would have been the wiser and I could have gone on being a slacktivist who wishes he didn’t live in a right-to-work state.
I’ve kept it on symbolically, as a token of the beliefs I hold, the organization I’ll never have, and what I passionately feel is humanity’s only way forward. It just happens to be barely protected speech (and sometimes it isn’t) so I have that going for me, which is nice.
I don’t have to point out what a sad, harmless, pitiful man I am. I toss my screeds to the wind and I don’t even know most of the twelve people who read them. I wish you spoke to me more. If you’re afraid of doing so publicly, do it privately. I need to know I’m not doing absolutely nothing, which is what I fear most.
This isn’t funny or entertaining, and I thank you for tolerating it today, if you are even that generous. I’m tired and I have nothing to show for it. I love my wife and my family, but as far as achievements go with regard to writing or activism, I have strained myself to the max for no gain. For loss. It’s devastating.
I almost threw that dumb fucking pin in the trash, but then what would I be? If I can’t even cling to my ridiculous ideals, I’m nothing. Why am I even here?
Have a great Saturday, if you can. I’ll be at work until five, then I’ll go home and try not to be such a downer. It’s a challenge I’ve failed lately.
PS – It’s hard to write on your lunch break with your boss hovering over your neck, but I’m the gonzo retail journalist, right? This is my domain, between danger and despair.
I’m not kidding about Revolutionary Brocialism, guys (click the link then click all those links, and two hours later you will be indoctrinated). I didn’t turn off my brain during the election season (FULL COMMUNISM, BABY) and I’m not going to now. I hate to say I told you so, but oh wait I don’t hate it. I love it. I fucking revel in it. Here is my victory dance and our reward is living in the dystopian present.
If your activism takes place under a capitalist framework, the end result is your support of the existing capitalist system, period. I will discuss topics like identity politics with left-thinkers. Call it socialist, communist, or whatever rad label you want to stick on it. It’s fine as long as you consider yourself left of whatever this milquetoast right-wing oligarchy calls itself today (Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Shailene Woodley).
If you want to discuss activism under a Left worldview we can talk all day. You can tell me how wrong I am and I will concede, yes, I am often a jackass. I’m not some fucking Tankie who thinks Stalin had a lot of great ideas. At the end of the day, I am a reasonable guy who wants workers to have control of their destiny, and we’re so many light years away from that concept in America I might as well be talking about Eric Roberts’s chances at finally bagging that Academy Award he missed out on thirty years ago.
If, however, IF you want to come at me with some Lean In Pepsi commercial shit I will burn hot with the colliding rage of a million star systems then I will post a missive about as threatening and hilarious as a kitten batting at a moth, because we all know I am that guy. I will probably quit Facebook for an increasingly diminishing amount of time (it pretty much halves every time, historically – three months, six weeks, three weeks, ten days, four days, two days, a day, twelve hours, six hours, three hours, you can do the math here but I want you to know this has actually happened I am not kidding) then come back all apologetic until I do it again in three months.
When Glorious Leader was elected, I vowed to use my talents to fight the good fight, and the only void-given talent I have is being the biggest fucking dickhead on this side of the Internets. It would be a crime to deny the world my perspective, and I think history will look favorably on me.
That said, I apologize in advance for what will inevitably result in my alienation from almost everyone who gazes upon my screeds. My old friend and spiritual adviser, Scott, once told me 90% of the population would never get me, but I have my 10% solidly pegged down. I’m fine with those stats. If you find yourself in the tenth, I love you. Everyone else can go get fucked. This is the Talbot Way. There’s almost eight billion people on the planet. I have an audience somewhere.
Here’s a photo because photos increase traffic up to 300%.
Once again, I get nothing from this site but a little more in debt and paid in the brain (which really doesn’t happen much anymore). I taste dirt and if you want to see my actual work that wasn’t hacked out under the duress of general life terrors maybe click on this story about a trip with my kids.
It’s not fair for me to call your beliefs garbage then ask you to view mine with a kind heart, but that’s also the Talbot Way. I can dish it out, but I can’t take it. Maybe I just need the love only Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism can offer, but we have to get there first, and step one is probably starting organizations and learning how to use a firearm, lefties.
For what it’s worth, I drink Pepsi all the time. I think we could have socialist Pepsi. Socialist Shailene Woodley. Socialist Avengers films. Socialist Mumford & Sons. Whatever pleases you will be in the holodeck, and it doesn’t have to make someone a buck.
It’s ironic to use the word sell when I’m trying to sell you Star Trek in the name of Space Communism. Everything’s a transaction, really. We aren’t that far removed from our ancestors in the tide pools. We could be a better thing, though. Maybe I’m the actual idealist, the angriest dreamer. Maybe all I know is, “I’m an asshole because I love you, world.”
I see what we could be, and I will never stop screaming about it until next time I quit the Internet for ninety minutes.
It’s my first day back at work, and shit’s weird, yo.
First, I forgot my keyboard at home, so I’m SwiftKeying my hiney off. That’s shop talk, though, and most people don’t want to see the kitchen. They just want their dinner.
Supposedly because of the new customer shops (it’s a secret shopper, y’all, sorry about the corporate lingo), which begin this Friday, we have to have “clean” nametags and lanyards. After eleven years of bling, I’m going blingless. I’m not sure how a few less pins will save the company, which is in rough shape according to the founder and acting CEO (I’m paraphrasing, but you tell me what “We need to find a magic bullet… we can cut costs but we only can only sustain this for two years,” means), but I’m willing to do whatever it takes short of removing my Industrial Workers of the World pin. It’s still on there and no one has said anything, yet.
That said, I’m not about to declare war on this dying beast. I’ve set my sights a little higher. Socialist Gun Club has a ring to it, and this town needs an IWW chapter. Maybe we can combine efforts. Do the Wobblies have a militant wing?
On a personal note, I’ve been in the dumps for the past few days. I caught a terrible case of con blues before the con had even ended because the good times came at such an emotional cost. There’s a thing the people of Japan call “Paris Syndrome,” where they finally visit France and find out it’s not a weird quirky romantic wine-and-cheese noir-film heaven like they thought it would be. The first time they step in dog shit and get cursed by a French chainsmoker they have a breakdown and have to be rushed to the hospital. Substitute the Dallas FanExpo in there and you’ve got my general malaise pinned down.
If I can just make it through today without having a stroke (I have a raging headache, something that hasn’t happened since I’ve been off work, so I sense a correlation) or getting my ass chewed out by the boss, I’ll be back on my way to smooth sailing on Lake Lackadaisical.
Just keep swimming.
Gina and I hung our convention photos in our living room and hall yesterday. After two years of travel, the walls are getting full. I have my family, my memories, my trusty sidearm, and a hard-on for Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism. Who could ask for anything more?
Yesterday after Bea and I fetched Cora from preschool, we headed over to Goodwill to see if they had any decent picture frames. This is a post-convention tradition for me, and I’ve come away with good finds in the past.
“Can we go to the playground by our house?” Cora asked.
“We can after this,” I said. “First we’re going to Goodwill.”
“Goodwill.” I said. “It’s the charity place where we drop off our stuff. You can buy things there too.”
“Ohh,” she said.
Bea played on her tablet. Cora spent most of the ride describing the things she’d seen at Disney World.
“Dad,” she said, “Have you been on the Tower of Terran?”
“It’s the Tower of Terror,” I said.
“I know what it is,” she said. “That’s how I like to call it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been on the Tower of Terror. It makes me sick. Didn’t you think it was scary?”
“Yeah,” she said, “It dropped me lots of times.”
“Bea said she wanted to bring home some ‘ghosties’ from the Haunted Mansion,” I said.
“Yeah,” Cora said. “It was full of monsters. There was one in the cart.”
“Did you see the big fireball at Indiana Jones?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “Bea hid under the seats. There was a big rock and they tried to squish him with booby traps.”
She also claimed she didn’t get to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, but she’s not always a reliable reporter. I’ll have to ask her mother.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Goodwill building that used to be Books-A-Million (attached to a Planet Fitness and a Burlington Coat Factory that split the building where Kroger used to be, which was a Wal-Mart before that), Cora said, “Dad, can we go look at the stones your dad is buried under?”
“Sure,” I said. “Do you want to go after this?”
“Yes,” she said. “I want to see them and touch them.”
“Okay, but first we have to go get some frames.”
I hopped out of the van and opened the sliding door so I could release the girls from their car seats. While I undid their restraints, I told them they had to hold my hands before we started toward the building. When we’d made it across the parking lot and through the glass doors, I released the girls and paused to hang Gina’s aviators on the collar of my Doctor Who t-shirt (I have yet to find a pair of shades I like better), and they sprinted ahead of me.
I made my way along the left wall toward the back, where they keep their wall hangings, and the first thing I noticed was that someone at Goodwill had adjusted the prices up to weird totals. The frames used to be marked “$1.00” or “$2.00” and now the lowest one I could find was “$2.57” and it was trash. Just about everything else was three dollars and up, which was devastating to a guy who’d walked into Goodwill with seven dollars in his pocket and expected to make a haul.
The girls had found a kids’ exercise bike ten feet behind me. They’d been arguing over who was going to ride it first and Cora had won out. “Dad, can I buy this?” she asked as she pedaled.
“How can you buy it?” I replied. “You don’t have any money.”
“Aww, but I need it.”
“You have a real bike at home. We don’t need more junk. Let’s go to the stones. This stuff is garbage. I can get new ones for this much at Target.”
I walked back toward the exit and the girls started weaving in and out of the clothing.
“Hey,” I said. “Hey.”
Cora went into the jeans and they swung precariously on their hangers. Bea followed her lead and ducked inside.
“Hey, do you want to go to the park?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Then walk right.”
They plunged beneath the racks again.
“Okay, I guess we’re going home,” I said. A tank-topped gentleman on the other side of the fixture looked unimpressed.
“Noooooooo,” the girls moaned in concert.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Two customers on their way out held the doors open for us and we entered the parking lot.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “Thank you.”
At the edge of the sidewalk, Cora grabbed my right hand immediately. Bea prepared to spring across the asphalt.
“Bea, you have to hold my hand,” I said.
I grabbed her right hand with my left and she pulled away hard. I tightened my grip.
“You’re hurting me,” she said.
“Stop pulling,” I said. “You have to hold my hand or you’re going to get hit by a car.” We started off across the parking lot.
We were halfway to the van and she still hadn’t let up. I could feel her little knuckle bones grinding on my palm.
“Bea. Bea. You’re going to get hit by a car and die,” I said.
If the statement meant anything to her, she didn’t acknowledge it. I picked her up with my left arm and carried her the last thirty feet.
I opened the van, they climbed in, and I crawled into the back and buckled them in. Cora knows how to fasten her own belts but she often won’t, and Bea has no idea.
After we were all secure and had set sail across town, Cora asked again if we were going to the stones. I said yes, we were, and after that we’d go to the playground. She asked again if we were going to get out so she could see them up close.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re getting out.”
“What if the gate is locked?” she asked.
“There is a gate,” I said, “but it’s open during the day.”
We turned left into the Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery and drove about a hundred yards to Dad’s plot. I pulled over to the side of the narrow, paved path, stopped, and got out to open the doors. I looked toward the office, which was about fifty more yards down the path. There were three vehicles parked in front, but we were otherwise alone.
I do not visit my father’s grave often. Sometimes years have passed between, but I always experience great anxiety, as if someone is going to ask me what I’m doing there. It’s a completely unfounded fear, but it’s horrifying to imagine someone bothering me at a vulnerable moment. I recalled the local controversy about people playing Pokémon Go out there and I told myself I wasn’t going to take my phone out of my pocket just in case someone thought I was gaming.
I freed the girls from their harnesses, and they sprang from the van and ran across the grass, which the recent frequent rain had made vibrant.
“Which one is it,” Cora asked.
“Right here,” I said. I pointed to a reddish-brown stone.
“What does it say?” she asked.
“‘Robert O,‘ which stands for Owen, ‘Talbot Sr,’ ” I said. “I’m Robert O. Talbot Jr.”
Cora had already noticed what looked like a pile of flowers between us and the red-bricked office building. “Dad,” she said, “I want to go see it.”
“Don’t go over there,” I said.
“That’s where they put the babies,” I said. “You don’t need to be running around in there.”
It had been a while since I’d looked at it, but the free plots the cemetery offers for infants looked a bit crowded. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a dump for misplaced fake flowers. On closer observation from my place up the hill, I could make out rows. The words “mass grave” popped up in my head, but something else in there told me not to be disrespectful. I wondered why it couldn’t be at least a bit larger, in rebuttal to myself.
Well, babies are small.
“Yeah,” I said. “We don’t need to be messing around in there or they’ll kick us out of here. Look,” I said, and pointed to two footstones next to Dad’s grave. “That’s his Mom and Dad.”
Cora returned to my side and looked down. “Ooh,” she said. Bea floated around behind her, shadowing her wanderings.
“What does that say?” I asked, and pointed to their last names.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Yes you do,” I replied. She can read, and she knows how to write her last name, but sometimes she won’t go through the trouble of sounding things out. “Look, it’s T-A-L-B-O-T, Talbot.”
“Oh,” she said. “Can we go look at the other stones?”
“Well we’re not walking,” I said. “We can drive around and look at them from the van.”
“Okay!” she said, and walked toward the van with Bea in tow.
I turned and looked back at Dad’s headstone. “Welp,” I said. I clenched my teeth and popped a quick two-finger salute.
The girls were behind me and they’d started to touch the Forbis crypt. “Hey,” I said. “This isn’t a playground. Someone is buried there. Don’t play on it.”
“I’m not,” Cora said. “I just want to feel it.”
She ran her hands over the stone. Bea stood beside her, barely visible. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my S7, and fired off a quick series of photos before shoving my phone back into my pants in record time.
I looked around. No alarms went off. No one rappelled out of a black helicopter.
“Come on, guys,” I said. “Let’s get back in the van.”
We loaded up and I drove around the back side of the graveyard. Occasionally I let my eyes wander to the dates on the stones. Things got older at the the far end, although there were more recent burials dotted in, and at the rear there was a mausoleum, as well as a field of plots without headstones.
“There are a hundred million stones,” Cora said. “A hundred eighteen million.”
The pavement ended and a bulldozer sat beside a new dirt road. I wheeled the van around and headed back toward the exit.
“I want to see the babies,” Cora said.
“We’ll drive by them again on our way out.”
“I want to see their faces.”
“They’re buried, Cora, there’s nothing to see.”
“They’re dead, that’s why they’re out here.”
“How?” she asked.
“Sometimes babies get sick and sometimes they die.”
“I thought just old people died,” she said.
“No, anyone can die,” I said, “which is why I tell you guys not to run out into the street. That’s what I mean when I say something can kill you.”
“Oh, okay, like when Bea tries to run into the parking lot.”
“Yes,” I said, “exactly like that.”
“If you get hit by a car and die then they bury you!” she said.
“Let’s go to the playground,” she said.
“That’s where we’re going,” I said.
We headed down Fox Meadow Lane and turned right onto Caraway Road. There’s a wonderful playground right down the street from our house at Miracle League Park, which is connected to the Southside Softball Complex. A couple of happy families were already there playing, and the girls joined right in.
We swang, and swang, and swang, which is Bea’s favorite thing. She loves to go high, as she says, and I pushed her as hard as I could. Her swing hit bar level over and over. The line went slack and she jolted down.
“I’m flying!” she yelled. “I’m flying! I’m flying!”
All the children were immediately Cora’s “friends” even though she’d never met them before, and she had no problem telling their parents what to do. “Help me up here,” she’d say to one if I wasn’t within arms reach. I spent my time pushing, swinging, or climbing. The playground is a great place to exercise, so I got some in while the girls got theirs.
Bea pulled herself through a rolling-bar conveyor contraption and counted each rung overhead out loud on the way through. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” she said with a grunt between each number.
There was a hammock-like swing at the back side of the playground and it was vacant, so I went over and reclined in it. All I could see was the sky and the candy red bar overhead. I put my boots up on the chains. The first quarter moon was up to my right, its white half glowing against bright blue. The wind occasionally gusted, which swung me a bit, and I could hear the soft, high-pitched squeak of hinges, the low rumble of the breeze, and children playing.
“It would be a nice day to fly a kite,” I said to no one in particular.
Fluffy light and dark cumulus clouds raced across the sky, and I considered them through my borrowed shades. I pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket and snapped a photo, then I zoomed in on the moon. It was pixelated and blurry. I clicked it off, lifted my butt, and shoved my phone back into my pocket.
“Nope,” I said to no one, again. “Can’t take a picture of that.”