Friday, November 30, 2007

It Is Written (New Social Contract, Part 3 of 4)

In the interest of teaching rather than preaching, I have taken the time to write down some Unwritten Rules from the New Social Contract that I think You might want to look over. Since I live in New York City, where there are myriad Unwritten Rules that go ignored millions of times each day during rush hour alone, more than a few of these rules pertain to living here. They can be applied elsewhere, such as in cities with mass transit, but forgive me if I'm geographically alienating some of You.

This list is incomplete, never-ending, and subject to change at my own discretion.

Article #553-J of the New Social Contract officially declares that the Central Park loop runs counter-clockwise. Clearly not everyone knows this, including the ambulances I see on their way to rescue people who have been forced into a ditch while riding clockwise. "Look at me! I'm going against the grain! Look at me! I've got a broken neck!" From now on, violators will receive a lifetime ban from city parks and streets.

Article #904-C of the New Social Contract disallows pets at work. This may be a city phenomenon, but no matter: these arrogant pricks who waltz into the office with their doggies must be stopped. First of all, I have allergies and don't like dogs biting me. I don't like them getting in my way and I don't like them much at all. Would You like it if I brought my green mamba to work and it bit You, and You got sick? Exactly. Mostly I'm jealous of the attention these coddled mongrels get, but these are MY rules, so there's gonna be some personal shit here. Leave your pet at home. If You can afford fifty cans of Alpo each week, You can afford a dogsitter.

I was at a place that had a giant Rottweiler mascot galloping around the halls. This dog would use the stairs to go up and down between floors, and once he sprayed hot diarrhea all over the stairwell. He miraculously blasted some on the metal banister and I slid my hand right through it. Hence, no more pets at work. To show that the New Social Contract is not discriminatory, any human who shits on the banister will also be ejected from that place of business.

Article #187-U: New Social Contract between me and anyone else who is speaking to me: stop telling me about the colorful, richly textured History of Your Family. It may be interesting and full of swash & buckle, but I just can't reciprocate. I know nothing about my family history and if I bothered to find out anything I'm sure it wouldn't be anymore tantalizing than the maze on the back of a cereal box.

Man With a Puffy, Fat British Accent: See here old boy, my grandfather was a Flying Johnny in the Battle of Britain, you know, and he commandeered two crack RAF squadrons. Jolly good chaps, called themselves the Boxwell Boys, yeeeesss. During a ferocious dogfight over the banks of Chestershire, my grandfather's Hawk Hurricane was shot down into the Channel by a Messerschmitt manned by Rudel himself, the bastard. Glorious, tricky bastard. My grandfather and his gunner, a young laddy named Parker whom the men nicknamed Laddy Parker, were trapped as their plane began to sink. Down, you know, down, down, DOWN they sank into the cold waters. It was all looking very bleak, so Laddy Parker and my grandfather began singing that old British fight song, "Crack 'Em Down, Jonsey, And Tell Sergeant-Major I've Gone Off." Fortunately, it was the favorite song of a young minnow that was thrown back just the day before by my grandmother, who was working in the local cannery in Brighton! (She was doing her part, just doing her part, you know.) Anyway, this minnow was not regulation length, so she walked down to the end of the pier and tossed the little bastard back. Glorious, swimmy little bastard, he was. And then that very same minnow followed the sound of my grandfather and Laddy Parker singing at the bottom of the Channel, rescued them and dragged them ashore to safety. It was was brilliant, you know! Just brilliant, yeeeesss.... So what about YOUR family, eh, old boy?

Me: Uh...once we were in the car, and my mom ran over a cat and kept going. We cried.

Next: The New Social Contract Rides the C Train

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Higher Learning (Mensa, part 4 of 4)

"No penalty for guessing."

Like "take the pitch," the fateful baseball term that ruined my childhood, this was something I had heard before. Specifically, during my SAT. Like "take the pitch," I didn't quite understand it and was too ashamed to ask what it meant. Like "take the pitch," I pondered its meaning using my own foolproof logic:

No penalty for guessing? How the hell do they know if I'm guessing or not? It's just a bunch of pencil marks! It's all graded using a machine that can't possibly distinguish a guess from a knowledgeable answer. This must be one of those phrases that they throw out to confuse the dumb kids, to separate the mice from the men.

I decided to stick it to the system and leave anything I wasn't sure of blank. I'd show them. Let them taste the bold flavor of genius. My combined score on the SAT was 920. NYU film school didn't seem to mind.

I sit there with my Mensa test answer sheet in front of me. There are many blank answers. The proctor announces that there's one minute left. I notice that everyone in the room starts scribbling frantically. To this genius it looked like they were filling in their answers randomly.

"Hey, people!" I nearly shout out loud. "No penalty for guessing! Relax! You're gonna break your pencils!"

The proctor repeats, "No penalty for guessing..."

Then adds: "It's better to put an answer down than to leave it blank."

I have another Moment of Clarity and start scribbling.

Pear is to apple as potato is to:
A) Banana
B) Radish
C) Strawberry
D) Peach
E) Lettuce

A month later my Mensa letter comes in the mail. It's way too thin to tell me anything except that I am NOT a Smartypants. I open it up and, indeed, I am nothing but a Dumbass.

Not one to resist any opportunity to be in the spotlight, even if it means humiliation and ridicule, I gather my friends together and open the envelope "live." We all sit in the living room of my Mensa-friend's house. I sink into his big leather armchair, knowing that it's the last time we will be on equal ground. He seems to know it, too, which is why I think he allowed me to sit there. Everyone stares at me, resembling greedy heirs at the reading of daddy's will.

I tear open the envelope with a flourish and read the single sheet of Mensa stationary. There is an awkward silence. All of them look away. Mr. Mensa sits across from me, a smile of victory plastered on his face. He comes over and pats me on the shoulder:

"Get out of my chair."

A boy and his father are in a horrible car accident. The father is killed. They take the boy into the operating room--oh never mind....

If the official Smartypants club was not going to have me for a member, then I would have to validate my intellect in some other half-assed way. I needed to go back to school and earn my degree.

did I?

Thanks to the wonderful world of the Internets, all that had confounded me at those pesky traditional learning centers was taken right out of the equation. My salvation appeared one day in my junk e-mail box. Sandwiched between "Ass-Licking Asian Teens" and "You Want to Stick Your Dick WHERE?" was the answer to all my prayers:


Obtain a prosperous future, money-earning power and the admiration of all!

Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities based on your present knowledge and life experience.

No required tests, classes, books or interviews.

Bachelors, masters, MBAs, and doctorate degrees available in the field of your choice.

No one is turned down. Confidentiality assured.

Call now to reserve your diploma within days!!

About three days later my formal education was FedEx'd to my doorstep. There were letters of recommendation from esteemed professors:

A transcript:

3.93. Not too shabby.

And of course....

But what young man's education would be complete with out a super-deluxe, ultra-fine, custom-made, built-to-last....

...laminated mini-diploma.

That's what I call $450 well-spent. I was also able to get the good Dean to send me a doctorate in child psychology for a friend. Makes a great gift.

Call me Dr. Smith, please. I earned it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007


My sister and I are in these red outhouse-rocket things. They're chained together so that one tows the other. She is operating the lead outhouse-rocket which doesn't blast through space, but sort of gallops about ten feet above the ground, depending on how fast she pedals.

And she's taking us through downtown traffic, hurdling the traffic lights like an Olympic runner. And the cops come get us, but then they let us go and say we have to report to jail the next morning. So I fly to California and visit my friend The Scribbler. I wake up in a giant hotel suite in San Francisco and realize that I'll never make it back to the east coast in time for jail. I call my father and he's disappointed because now my sister has to do time for both of us.

Then I wake up.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Deer Here (New Social Contract, part 2 of 4)

After a quiet hour of laying on my back, naked, completely tuned into the rhythmic crashing of the surf, I noticed that a naked, muscular, super-tanned man resembling Steven Baldwin had passed by my towel aimlessly for the third time. He was lingering, posing, gathering courage as if in a crowded singles bar. Finally he walked right up to me and said:

"Do you have the time?"

I didn't, but the shadow of his giant cock told me it was about twelve fifteen. I muttered that I didn't have the time, sorry. He must have felt that my answer was encouraging because he crouched down like a baseball catcher and said:

"What a beautiful day, eh?"

My eyes darted around and saw no one else within fifty feet of me. I was now officially being hit on, a nauseating violation of nude beach etiquette. I stammered for a moment, rendered nearly mute by the enormity of my naivete for seeking out a nude beach on Fire Island by myself and by the enormity of his genitals, which were carving a deep trench in the sand as they swung back and forth in the breeze. He looked quizzically at the dunes behind me and said:

"Have you seen any deer around here?"

Just to be fair, there ARE signs posted near the dunes that say deer might be frolicking, but there were no fucking deer around right then, okay? He didn't have a salt lick and he certainly didn't have any hunting gear on, so unless he was also planning to fuck some deer after he finished with me, his inquiry about the wildlife seemed dubious. I sat upright and brought my knees up so that my crotch was hidden.

"Uh, deer here."

If there were any deer around I'm sure they were all crouched down in the dunes laughing at me. And if there's any poetic justice in the world, Shirley Gonzalez was right there with them, snickering her fat ass off. I kept still and stared at the sand, keeping my eyes averted from the hypnotic bronze pendulum that was trying to lure me into its clutches. As I scanned the beach for a piece of driftwood to fend it off with, I naturally started thinking of Swiss-born philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau.

In 1762 Rousseau wrote his then-infamous "Du Contrat Social" ("The Social Contract"). The core of his theory was that rational individuals submit themselves to the "general will" for the sake of the common good. Popular soverignty was his game. In a nutshell: you respect my shit and I'll respect yours. (He also felt that man is corrupted by society and that he is most virtuous in his Natural State. Rousseau wrote all this tucked away in a small cottage in Amsterdam and clearly not under the shadow of an enormous penis. Otherwise he might have felt differently about man's virtuous Natural State as I did that summer day. Nature, while it looks great in HD, is brutal and unforgiving. If you don't believe me, come listen to the guttural screeching of the two cats who fuck under my window each summer, putting on their own gruesome revival of
Same Time, Next Year)

Since that day on the beach my misanthropy has increased and my paranoia has intensified, but I am what I am because YOU made me this way. You are all out to get me. This feeling stems from what has become a chaotic breakdown of the Social Contract.

You are NOT submitting to the general will.

You are not respecting my shit.

You are not following the rules.

And I'm not speaking about the basics here: don't kill, don't steal, etc. Not those rules. We all know those. Judging, however, by the recent intensity of my stress rashes, it's obvious that some of you may not know what the OTHER rules are--or that they existed in the first place-- and the Common Good is swirling down the shitter. These are the Unwritten Rules of the New Social Contract. Like don't show up empty-handed to a dinner party. Or don't fart in the elevator. Or don't speak to me.

There are probably many more Unwritten Rules than you can imagine. The Considerate know about lots them. So do the Unselfish. And the Aware. I don't know all of them, and the ones I know about I don't ALWAYS follow. I'm not perfect.

But You should be.

Because You're driving me crazy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Proctor's Orders (Mensa, part 3 of 4)

Only one other English word can be made from all the letters of INSATIABLE. What is it?

Sunday, June 10. 9:30 am.

I enter the testing room where about twenty other wanna-be Smartypants are seated at a bunch of long tables. Answer sheets are passed out: multiple choice. Jesus Christ, this is going to be like taking candy from a baby. They pass out Number 2 pencils. Are there any other kind? I take a peek at my test booklet. Lots of math and English questions. Lots of pictures, too. Baroque little analogy puzzles.
Pictures, for fuck's sake. Was this the room for the Baby Mensa test? I wept thinking about all the high IQ pussy I was gonna get.

The proctor reads from a rule book:

"Make sure you fill in each circle completely otherwise it will not be counted."
"Do not write in the test booklet. Use scrap paper."
"You may not go back and complete a section once we have finished with it."
"There is no penalty for guessing."

That last one hits me like a thunderbolt.

No penalty for guessing.......

The proctor says, "Are there any questions before we begin?"

At this point I must reflect on a moment in my childhood that sealed the books on my future as a member of Mensa. In fact, my entire life may have gone in a different direction if I had only learned early on that there is no such thing as a stupid question.

When I was about twelve years old, I was on a Little League team, the White Sox. Our uniforms and hats were green. Early on in the season I was handed a grey, broken-in first baseman's glove from the equipment bag and told to play first base. Apparently our regular first baseman had been grounded for stealing a
Playboy from the X-tra Mart. This glove was a gem. The leather was soft and soothing and it wrapped around my hand like new layer of skin. A first baseman's glove is wide and deep, like having a laundry basket on the end of your arm. It's hard to miss the ball if it's thrown even remotely in your direction. First base is also relatively easy to play. For the most part, you run to first, step on the bag and stick your hand in the air. A moron could play it.

I made the All-Star team that year.

At bat I was....decent. I'm the kid who just swung for the fences every time. If you keep doing that--no matter how bad of a strategy that is--you're going to improve. Well, I had pretty much been swinging the exact same way since I was eight, and I had perfected a powerful but aimless rip. If the pitcher threw it nice and slow and right down the middle, you could kiss that bitch goodbye. It worked about 25% of the time which meant that I was actually one of the better hitters on the team, but since my skill at the plate was limited, I was never involved in any "strategic moments." They just sent me up there and hoped for the best. I don't remember ever being called upon to bunt or take the pitch.

And it's a good thing, too, because I never really understood what "take the pitch" meant. And I was too embarrassed to ask. I tried to figure it out all by myself, but instead of watching what a guy did at the plate when he was told to take the pitch, I'd be on the bench rocking back and forth, trying to figure out what "take the pitch" meant.

After weeks of undercover work, I noticed that they would only tell guys to do it when they were...
at bat. "Bunt" meant bunt, I was positive of that, so the only things you could do at the plate was either swing...or don't swing. Using my keen sense of deductive reasoning and my grasp of modern American slang rather than my powers of observation (i.e. being AWARE of my world instead of living in a self-involved fog), I came to the conclusion that "take the pitch" meant "take a swing at the pitch."

You know.

Take a cut.

Take a chance.

See what happens.

I found this concept very positive and encouraging in a general sense, but not very much so when it came to my own role in the success of the team. Why had I never before been asked to take the pitch? I felt they had little faith in me. I'd show them, boy...

Would I.

Bottom of the ninth. Bases are loaded. Two outs. We're down by a run. We need one to tie, two to win and advance to the championship game where we will play the White Sox (from another town).

My knees are trembling as I walk toward the batter's box. I look across the plate, past the on deck circle to the dugout where our coach, Paulie Walnuts, is standing behind the chain-link fence barrier scratching his crotch and picking his ear simultaneously, a feat of dexterity which I did not think he was capable of. Paulie Walnuts is a hot-headed Italian guy whose idea of coaching is to whip the fungo bat at our ankles like a snapped rotor blade from a Black Hawk helicopter. He calls it "the
vaffancul bat."

So I step up to the plate and I'm watching Paulie Walnuts do his scratching/picking thing and he's looking right at me the whole time, his aviator shades hiding his eyes, his cap resting just oh-so gently on the top of his hairdo, giving him about six inches of extra height. Scratch, pick, scratch, pick.

He's giving me a sign. Guess which one.

"Holy fucking fuckcocker," I think. (I was new to cursing) "This is terrific! Pressure's off! Now I don't have to
decide whether to swing or not. Coach just ordered me to swing at the first pitch. So be it."

I stare down the pitcher, wishing I was wearing my glasses. Bring the heat, piss-shitter.

The pitcher rears back and launches one, a wild throw that soars over the backstop and into the parking lot. I'm too busy swinging to notice. Strike One. A collective groan from my dugout and the crowd. I gather up a fistful of grape flavored Big League Chew and stuff it into my cheek. Paulie Walnuts screams my name, a look of utter disbelief on his face, as if I had just stuffed the bat up my ass. He scratches his crotch and picks his ear with such exaggerated force that I worry he might end up putting himself in the hospital. Obviously he wants me to take a BIG FAT CUT at the next pitch. I blast a lakeful of purple spit onto home plate and throw Coach Walnuts a conspiratorial wink which, in retrospect, must have looked like the beginning of an epileptic fit. I'm sure he would have preferred that to what happened next.

The pitcher throws one right down the middle and I swing so hard that I spin myself right out of my Roos. Strike Two. In the dugout Paulie Walnuts is eating his own hair. My teammates are lunging at the chain link fence, thrashing it like prisoners about to riot. Walnuts starts tapping the
vaffancul bat against his open palm, staring at me with murderous intensity.

"The fuck is their problem?" I think. "I can only do so much up here."

Paulie Walnuts screams at the top of his lungs, "MARK! DON'T......SWING!"

The moment stands there in time.

My only thought: "So THAAAAAT'S what 'take the pitch' means."

Everyone's watching me have my Moment of Clarity. The other team realizes how big of an asswipe they have in the batter's box. My father searches for the cyanide capsule that he saved from Korea. My mother frets. Of course if I had hit a grand slam she would be fretting as well, worried that I might catch a cold as I rounded the bases.

The catcher tosses the ball back to the mound and says, "Throw it right down the middle, Stevie. He's not gonna swing."

Stevie does just that. Strike Three. Game over. The shame and regret fills my skull like thick mucus and I feel I might drown. I stand there as the other team runs around whooping and cheering, throwing their gloves in the air. I'm frozen, stunned at my own stupidity, tears welling up in my eyes. My teammates walk out of the dugout and don't speak to me. Paulie Walnuts comes over and pats me on the shoulder. I look down at the ground and head for the parking lot. I can hardly see. There's a loud hum inside my head and my jaw feels like it's about to snap away from my skull. Parents are looking at me, but I don't say anything and neither do they. Straight to the car. It's locked. I yank at the handle, desperate to hide on the floor of the backseat. My father comes over and unlocks the door. I get inside and just stare out the window. No one in my family says anything for a few minutes, not even my mother, a world record to this day. I cry quietly in the backseat all the way home, hoping my sister isn't staring at me.

We don't even fucking stop for ice cream. Dad tries to drop me off in an apple orchard and drive away, but mom is adamant about taking me home and tries in vain to defend me: "Well, I think they should
outlaw those crazy signals. What is this, the Navy?"

I never played baseball again. If only I had asked Paulie Walnuts what "take the pitch" meant....I would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame right now.

NEXT: Part 4, The Stupefying Conclusion

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Self-Pity Corner: Don Logan Home Alone on Thanksgiving All By Himself

"The people you work with really do become your family. Like your brother and your sister-in-law, or that cousin you have funny feelings for. And the crazy, angry uncle everyone sort of hopes isn't coming this year." Scrubs (Thanksgiving episode, season 1)

I am that angry uncle. I didn't come this year. And I think they were happy.

I'm the one who comes home from The Big City to visit the Country Mice on major holidays. I need to be picked up at the train station a solid 45 minutes away. And then dropped off back there the next day. Just another stop on my whirlwind tour, I'm sure they think. I'm a pain in the ass. I moved away from home to The Big City and now they have to Deal With Me.

When my mother had cats I would come home and sneeze. And scratch. And gasp for breath. It makes everyone uncomfortable and they all, especially my mother, stare and want to help, but they know they can't and I just ruin everything. I remember one Christmas dinner sitting there at the head of the table and blasting sneezes like machine gun fire, loud and piercing ones that just wouldn't fucking stop. Between sneezes no one talks. They just stare. Or they look down at their plates, hoping it will stop, waiting for normalcy.

And inevitably my mother, sitting at the other end of the table directly across from me, with a look of pity and anguish on her face, says,
"Mark, do you think it's the cats?"

And I try with all my might not to scream,


Instead I just hold it in. I know she feels bad, I know she's just trying to help. If lopping off one of her fingers would make it all go away, the woman would gladly do so. This is not an assumption. She's told me many times. I look at my plate and blow my nose over and over and over and over, hoping my brain will pop and it will all end.

I had become Don Logan, the Ben Kingsley character from
Sexy Beast: an unwanted, oppressive presence. Someone that elicited discomfort and fear. Someone you had to tiptoe around.

For a while I had no reason to come home anymore. Home was a threat. I became sick when I went home, and what's the point of even showing up if you're gonna bring yourself and everyone else down? It's not like I was earning frequent flier miles. I wasn't having any kind of fun. Neither were they, I'm sure. So my trips home became confined to my mother's birthday and Christmas.

My nephew was born on October 27, 2004 (go Sox) and I've been trying to make it home more often, and now he's kind of remembering who I am and calling me by name. I showed him my ipod and he says "Music!" and then I hook the earphones on and let him listen to the Beatles and The Go! Team and The Kinks, and he loves it even if his rubbery little ears won't allow the earphones to stay on more than ten seconds at a time. It's actually the first thing I've been able to do with him that didn't confuse me or reinforce the notion that kids are just Not My Thing. I mean all they do is cry and bitch and whine and pout until they get what they want and--
Breathe deep....repeat until anxiety fades...

I am not a man-child, I am not a man-child, I am not a man-child, I am not a man-child, I am not a man-child, I am not a man-child, I am not a man-child, I am not a man-child....

I just had to reevaluate my existence for a moment. Unlike a child, I can hold down a job and I know enough not to stick forks into light sockets. I can drive a car and I have a basic understanding of how the stock market works. I don't poop my pants and I don't get to take naps five times a day. I earn more money than the average six year old. I also have been laid. So kids are dumb and useless, and I'm taller and not as dumb. There. I feel better.

That was a close one.

Anyway, I have been spending the last few Thanksgivings in New York City, away from Home. My sister and her husband usually go to upstate New York and spend it with his dad, and my mom goes to have dinner with her brothers. This year, for some reason, everyone decided to stay in Massachusetts, but nobody told me until the last minute. In the meantime, my friend Panic Attack had invited me to a Straggler's Feast and I felt weird about canceling. They told me it was fine, no big deal if I stayed in the Big City, and that was that.

This is where Self-Pity Corner really turns up the heat: I then told Panic Attack that I was going home to have dinner with my family in Massachusetts and canceled. I thanked her and she understood. I chose to be alone. I don't know why I did that. Some reasons pop into mind: I didn't want to travel to Massachusetts during the Thanksgiving rush; I didn't want to be at Panic Attack's house because they have a cat; I just wanted to sit alone and not speak to anyone.

No one REALLY wanted Don Logan at their dinner table, anyhow.

So here it is, Thanksgiving Day, and I'm alone in my apartment. In the oven is my Grandma Sadie's Super-Secret Meat Stuffingpalooza, which is coming out pretty good judging by the aroma. I've never made it before, no one really has since she died. Before she was dragged down into the whirlpool of dementia, she jotted down the recipe for me. I've kept it tucked away in a book ever since.

I called my sister's house, where Grandma Sadie used to live, where my mother grew up, where her father died, where I can't be EVER because they have two dogs and a cat. There were lots of voices: my nephew running around making noise, my sister barking out orders to her husband, my mother calling to her grandson. Turns out my father was there also. He had made Other Plans, but changed them at the last minute to be with the last family he has left. Everyone sounded like they were having Busy Fun.

The only one missing was Don Logan, and I think everyone--my family, Panic Attack and Don himself were okay with that.

Turns out Don Logan makes great stuffing. Thank you, Sadie.

(And, yeah, Don Logan quoted
Scrubs. You know why? Cuz he likes it. It makes him laugh.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nude, Naked & Guilty (New Social Contract, part 1 of 4)

One summer I went to a nude beach on Fire Island with my then girlfriend, and we enjoyed it tremendously. It was sexy and carefree. It felt voyeuristic and naughty. It made us feel horny and simple and glad to be alive. We were toasting our nude bodies in the sun and savoring the nudity of others. Male, female. Old, young. Fat, skinny. It didn't matter cuz we were all nude and it was fucking great. Try it sometime.

The following summer I was without a girlfriend. I was working at a job I hated and was broke. I decided to take a leisurely day off and return to that same beach by myself, hoping to recapture the same serenity I felt the year before.

I arrived early and noticed an immediate difference as I emerged from behind the grassy dunes onto the hot sand. The vibe was not the same. The weekday crowd was sparse. The sky was overcast. It felt odd removing my shorts, like I was committing a misdemeanor. I felt naked and alone.

In my head I felt that I should stick with it because it was probably a form of punishment that I needed to endure, some kind of penance for past sins that I had forgotten about. Like the time I was eleven years old and the school bus had stopped to pick up the New Girl, Shirley Gonzalez. She was timid and fat with a face that was constantly braced for ridicule. Mrs. Gonzalez was there by the mailbox to see her daughter off and, as the bus pulled away, I leaned out the window and screamed, "Hey, Mrs. Gonzalez! Your daughter has a fat ass!" Mrs. Gonzalez charged at the bus like a bull in the streets of Pamplona, but we were already gone. I'm sure I cackled and got a big laugh from the people around me. I don't know whether Shirley had heard me or not, but she sat near the front and didn't say anything.

Later that day the phone rang at my house just as I arrived home from school. I was the only one home and picked it up. A woman's voice asked to speak to my mother. I said she wasn't home, could I take a message?

"Is this Mark?"
"This is Mrs. Gonzalez."

I don't remember exactly what she said, but the woman had me crying within six seconds, which I know only because she shattered my mother's own personal record of twelve seconds. I wept not only for the horrible thing I had done to Shirley, but for the wrath that would come down upon me while my mother tried to reclaim her title.

I begged Mrs. Gonzalez not to tell my parents. The woman took pity on me. She felt I had learned my lesson and, satisfied that she had broken me in two like a Saltine, said goodbye. I swooned with relief. My mother came home to find me splayed out on the kitchen floor next to the phone receiver which was swinging by the cord like a scene from some horror movie. The only thing missing was a knife in my forehead and bloody footprints leading to the cellar door, which would be slightly ajar. My mother would leap into action and storm the basement armed with only her marrow-melting voice and an undiagnosed case of manic-depression.

When Mrs. Gonzalez Calls. Coming soon to a pent-up Catholic household near you.

I don't think lying naked on a beach and feeling a tad self-conscious was proper penance for what I did to Shirley Gonzalez, but what happened next might qualify...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Someone Like Me For a Member (Mensa, part 2 of 4)

I set out to prove how smart I was by taking the Mensa test. I told my Smartypants colleague (and anyone who would listen) that I was doing it NOT to validate my own intelligence, but to prove that no one should be impressed with him being Mensa-licious.

"If he can do it, the so can I!" I shouted through the halls at work, "And if
I can fucking do it, then the WHOLE THING'S a big fat fraud!" Everyone around me agreed immediately.

But my scoffing was all a front: I was hideously jealous. I wanted desperately to be in Mensa. To be accepted by worldwide club full of smart, intelligent, clever geniuses! Oh Joy and Rapture: to be officially crowned a Smartypants! I'd be the Wizard of Oz at the next Trivial Pursuit game, me versus the whole room, winner take all. (Take all what? No matter. As long as it was MINE.)

I'd stand near the counter at the gas station and be the go-to guy for lottery numbers, I'd help everyone win big and they'd cut me in on their jackpot.

"Try 37. I've got a feeling."
"Thank you, sir. When a Mensan has a feeling, they're usually right."
"Yes, I know."

I'd sit on my couch like a modern-day Solomon and watch TV while people came to me to settle domestic disputes:

"Mr. Mensa, sir, my father wants me to marry a man I am not in love with. What should I do?"
"Go into porn. That'll show him. Next!"

Finally I'd have a legitimate reason to hide in my room at the next family BBQ:

"Why is Mark hiding in his room?"
"It's okay, he's in Mensa. He's thinking."

No longer would I humiliate myself in public by doing those stupid voices and telling the same boring, long-winded stories over and over again. Like the one where I shit myself in fifth grade and Mrs. Sietz, the one-armed nurse, had to wedge her one-armed body into the doorway of the boys' bathroom so older kids couldn't go in and catch me easing out of my shit-blasted underpants. Oh, sure, it gets big laughs, but who fucks the shit-covered clown when the circus is done? The bearded lady, THAT'S who. A Mensa membership would truly be my one-way ticket to Electric Ladyland.

Picture it: I whip out my Mensa card at the entrance to the New York Public Library and head toward the back. The bouncer unhooks the velvet rope and whisks me to my private table in The Reading Room. I set up my laptop and chill, wait for the action to start. The ladies sense my presence and emerge from behind the non-fiction shelves. They come floating over, start caressing my skull.

"Hey there, scholar," I whisper to the psych major in the sequined thong, "Wanna hear my thoughts on universal truth?"

Before I can say Fermat's Theorem she's stroking my beard and panting like a sexy St. Bernard. My glasses fog up.

"You're giving me right-brain fever, smart guy," she purrs. "I want some of that fine, fine beautiful mind."

I go for the kill: "What say we go back to my place? You can time me while I do the Daily Jumble."

She swoons. My ace in the hole: the Daily Fucking Jumble. Suck it, Will Shortz.

What number is half of one tenth of one fifth of one tenth of one thousand?

Mensa means "table" in Latin. According to the website, Mensa is "a round-table society where race color creed, national origin, age, politics, social or educational background do not matter." You just need to be a Smartypants. Mensa was founded in England in 1946 by Roland Berrill, a barrister, and Dr. Lance Ware, and scientist and lawyer. They had the idea of forming a society for bright people, the only qualification for which was a high IQ. The society welcomes people from every walk of life whose IQ is in the top 2% of the population. Mensa has three stated purposes: to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, to encourage research in the nature, characteristics and uses of intelligence, and to promote stimulating intellectual and social opportunities for its members.

I love doing all that shit. Mensa sounded like a perfect place for a potential Smartypants like me to hang out. I signed up to take the next test. I purchased some renowned study aids:

-Mensa For Dummies
-Genuis? Moi? Oui, Vous.
-How To Get Into Mensa Without Really Trying

I had over two months to study. Turns out I didn't even need to...

NEXT: Part 3, Where I Take the Pitch to Dinner AND a Movie

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Possible Titles for My Next Album

Young, Nubile Vegans
Already Got Me One
The Great Snarling Dragon & Me
Big, Ugly Baby
Dr. Dentist, DDS
The Mysterious Mystery
Note To Self
Unusually So
To Father Vinnie, Who Liked My Hair
Move Those Hips!
Salamander Pie
The Battle For Elbow Room
Molden Goldie
Zip It!
A Cast of Thousands....and YOU
Moby Dick 2: The Quest for Queequeg's Gold
Frank's Big Date
You Sicken Me, Steve
I Got the Overpopulation Hong Kong Blues
Barnacle Boy vs The Seaside Kid (in 3-D)
Leave 'Em Wanting More
Lung Cancer Ate My Brain Cancer (And I Feel Fine)
Find That One-Legged Boy!
Lab Explosion
Blood Red Snowflake
Make That THREE Cheers For Democracy!
Moby Dick 3: The Search for Starbuck's Ghost
Sucking Up to The Man
Fortuitous Consternation
24 Karat Dumbass
Moby Dick 4: Tashtego Goes Bananas
Two Bumbershots and a Glazed Cornea
Boy, Did That Suck
All Alone in the Kitchen
Poop Juice
So Thick, So Rich
Moby Dick 5: Daggoo vs Predator
The Tall, Dark, Strange Man
Let's Not Fight
It's Not You, It's You
Wednesday Morning Quarterback
Peripheral Truculence
Steaming Mad
Nothing Personal, Joey
Moby Dick 6: Ishmael's Revenge

Monday, November 12, 2007

Smartypants In Training (Mensa, part 1 of 4)

Call me Dr. Smith, please.

I have a doctorate in archaeology from the University of
Ravenhurst in Amsterdam.

Yes, THAT University of Ravenhurst. If you want to see--


I was going to provide photographic evidence of my diploma, but then I went looking for it and I can't find it. I looked everywhere. Okay, I looked nowhere. I just can't be bothered. If it was from Princeton I might look for it. Then again, if it was from Princeton it might actually be hanging on my wall. The wall of my mansion. The mansion that I earned at a big law firm that hired me because I went to Princeton and NOT the University of Fucking

"So, Dr. Smith,
how did you earn such an illustrious degree from this mysterious Hogwarts-like place that no one's ever heard of?"

Unlike traditional brick and mortar schools, the University of
Ravenhurst provides, according to Dean Tammy Stone, "bachelors, masters and doctorates based on life experience." One must judge harshly their own level of knowledge before seeking out one of UR's valuable parchments. For me it was a time of serious self-searching which began several years ago....

Q: What does nobody want, but nobody wants to lose?
A: False teeth

If you know the answer to that question, you may be a Smartypants and eligible to join Mensa, the Milky Way Galaxy's official Smartypants club.

All my life I've wanted to be a Smartypants. In what I realize now is a desperate desire for parental approval, there's nothing I enjoy more than Being Right. I get no greater satisfaction than showing the nearest person how clever I am with my cute little jokes about other people's shoes or their weight or their missing digits. I'm good at crosswords and can do the
New York Times puzzle Monday through Wednesday without batting an eye. There's nothing more thrilling to me than blasting my opinions through the air--or cyberspaaaaaaaace--like pithy little blow darts. People have actually requested my wonderfully quirky impressions of various teachers, bosses, Joyce DeWitt (bug your eyes out, purse your lips, and shout, in a sharp and clipped manner: "Jack!"), and Stephen Hawking dumping his wife (in your best Stephen Hawking's Wheelchair Voice: "It's not you, it's me.")

I was reading at an early age. By the time I got to kindergarten I was ahead of my classmates in spelling and comprehension. I remember vividly the day Mrs. Donatelli wrote the word "yellow" on the blackborad and I was the only one who could read it. My hand shot up like a bottle rocket, and I held it high, maintaining the desperate, aching Smartypants protocol. Mrs. Donatelli pointed at me with a smile and said, "I know YOU know what it says, but let's ask the rest of the class."

Had I been old enough to ejaculate, I surely would have. To this day I consider that one of the five greatest moments in my academic career. To put things in perspective, the time I won a free Creamsicle on "Lucky Tray Day" runs a close second.

Despite the radiant promise of my kindergarten performance, I quickly became one of the great underachievers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Through sixth grade I did rather well, but the rising star known as ME soon nose-dived into Shit City. I started doing as little as possible to keep my grades at a mediocre level, and by freshman year of high school I had scored my first F on a report card (Algebra 1) and had to be.......TUTORED.

Smartypants, indeed!

By the end of my sophomore year in college, I was a full-fledged drop out. But it was only film school, dropping out of which doesn't make you any less of a Smartypants. It just saves you money. Quitting school never hindered my career in television either. In fact, it may have enhanced it.

Victor Serebriakoff, International President of Mensa, once made up a poem about hyperbolic acid, a substance so corrosive that it would eat through anything. One day, Sir Clive Sinclair, an inventor and British Mensa chairman, phoned his old friend with some stunning news: "Victor! You won't believe this but I have actually invented your hyperbolic acid! Stay where you are and I'll dash over to your house with a flask of it right now!" Victor replaced the phone and chuckled to himself. How could he tell that he was being teased?

I was at work when I learned that one of my colleagues was a member of Mensa. This news took me by surprise. We were both editing a television show called "Doctors' Diaries" for the Health Network. We were both the same age, grew up in Massachusetts, wore cruddy clothes to work and shared a similar sense of humor. Granted I didn't know him THAT well, but usually you can sense it when people are playing the same ball game you are. He was certainly not a stupid man, far from it, but for fuck's sake he was no genius.

I started to subtly investigate his intelligence. I went into his office one day and asked him if I could measure the circumference of his cranium. Told him I was gonna buy him a fedora for his birthday. (Not only did he allow me to do it, but when he got no hat for his birthday he didn't even admonish me. This is a Mensa member?) Once I dropped a handful of toothpicks at his feet, expecting him to count them instantly. He just looked down and said, "The fuck?" My suspicions were growing: he had no idea who Tony Stark's alter ego was, no idea who invented flan and told me he had acid reflux. This man knew so little, and yet he was in Mensa. On two separate occasions he failed to guess the number I was thinking of, and at the company Christmas party I noticed he was slurring his words after only four drinks. Also, he was not in a wheelchair with a crown of electrodes encircling his head. To me he seemed unqualified for both Mensa

That's when it occurred to me: maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe being in Mensa had nothing to do with being a genius who could explain the universe backward and forward and count toothpicks in a pile. I could not do any of those things either. Did I need to fit the stereotype and be some twisted card-counting cripple to be in Mensa? Was being in Mensa all about starting fires with your autistic mind and having an encyclopedic knowledge of comic books? Did every Mensanite have to know that the Irish invented chess or that you can remove blueberry stains from a satin shirt using only a feather duster and a 9-volt battery? Maybe most of the Mighty Mensans were just normal people, the ones who could simplify, understand, decipher, organize and clarify common problems better than others.

Maybe I was underestimating my own intellect.

Perhaps I was the ideal candidate...

NEXT: Part 2, Where I Learn That Not ALL Eggrolls Are Made In China

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What You Need To Know

My friend The Knitter told me I should have a blog. I believed her.

She has been listening to my stories and little anecdotes for years now. I often take these stories for a test drive with her riding shotgun. Unfortunately, sometimes I don't know the best way to get to my destination--if there even IS one--and she's subjected to jerky stops & starts and a lot of missed exits. Sometimes I just run out of gas. So I think her idea for my blog was inspired at least partially so that she could just avoid long, winding verbal car trips with me.

That was the last driving metaphor. Note the absence of a Jaws of Life joke.

But why would I want to write a blog? I guess that I fancy myself some sort of writer in the same way that a quadriplegic fancies himself a long-distance runner: A) he's not and never will be, B) no one else thinks of him as such, C) he certainly doesn't get paid for it, and D) he's too busy eating pudding and watching TV to run in the first place.

But a blog seemed like a good idea. A simple way to keep track of my stories and share them with people without actually talking to them. The blog-o-sphere will help me reach an audience, even if that audience is made up entirely of six or seven friends and a guy who Googles "eczema" and ends up here (Welcome, my red, scratchy cyber-pal. You are among friends). This blog will separate me from the losers who sit in their filthy apartments scribbling insane manifestos into notebooks and allow me to sit in my filthy apartment while typing my spell-checked manifesto in crisply designed fonts and bright colors. I will retreat further into the naked-as-I-write-this solitude of electronic communication, hoping that soon I'll be able to just lay in bed and make money while I masturbate. So, here's to ALL the dreamers...

But the actual reason I wanted to blog is this: before I got a cell phone or e-mail or began texting like a thirteen year old girl at the mall, I used to like writing post-it notes. I'd leave them for friends & colleagues to discover. Cute little messages with puns and jokey

"Gone to lunch. Want anything?"

Stuff like that--although that one contains neither pun nor jokey reference; it's just a
pre-cell phone kind of thing. The joke being: You Won't Be Able Reach Me While I'm Gone to Lunch, So Fuck You.

Not a great example, really.

This is not a good start.

Let's regroup...