They Choose For You (unedited excerpts: Chapters 1 and 2)

Reading Time: 10 minutes

(Life and general laziness has made it difficult for me to finish this book – so I would love any feedback you have on the first 2 chapters. The setup is slow but I’m about 3/4s of the way finished with the entire book draft and am really happy how it’s going – minus the whole finishing part. Any feedback should be sent to and is appreciated!)

“If you truly want honesty, don’t ask questions you don’t really want the answer to.” – proverb

Someone was banging on the steel door, though, with a door of that type it was more of a deep, dull thud.

Thud, Thud, Thud.

Andrews Adams had always considered his door kick-in proof – the main reason he installed it. The “thuds” took on the rhythm of the banging variety commonly associated with the police.

Thud, Thud, Thud, Thud.

“Mr. Adams, open up. We want to speak with you.”

There were a myriad of reasons why Andrew Adams would have the local authorities on the precipice of entering his premises after he opened his custom reinforced 2 inch thick steel door of his townhouse. He just hoped that the reason was on the more innocuous side of his transgression ledger. It was a either a good or bad testament to the way Andrew had lived his life to this point that the potential contents of the conversation were unknown to him.

It could quite literally be about most anything.

Even though it was mid-morning, Andrew was dressed in cut off sweat pants and an ancient, beat-up yellow Mr. Bungle t-shirt. Half asleep and moderately hung over, Andrew stumbled towards the door and went to deal whatever fate awaited him.

After more than a few bolts snapped unlocked, the door opened and there stood a youngish, athletic woman flanked by a man, who embodied the phrase “brick shit house.” She had short black hair, was medium height but had an inquisitive, pretty face with green eyes that were peering over Andrew’s shoulder and into his apartment. Whom he assumed was her partner was built like a professional wrestler sporting what barbers called “the ‘ole #2″ haircut. He felt his eyes on him even though they were covered by sunglasses. Both were dressed in suits. They didn’t have the appearance of normal police.

“Mr. Adams, I’m Inspector Natalie Davis. Can we chat inside, please?” She didn’t introduce Frankenstein.

He let Davis step inside and led her to his brown sectional couch. Both Natalie and Andrew wiped the crumbs of some long ago late night snack off the cushions before sitting. Her accompanying silent threat didn’t sit, and instead chose to stand between Andrew and his door. Which immediately and intentionally limited his options considerably.

“Mr. Adams, do you know why we are here?”

“Haven’t the foggiest,” Andrew replied while flashing his most (he hoped) innocent smile.

“Have you been harassing your neighbor, Mr. Adams?”

“You should ask him the same thing,” Andrew replied much too defensively. “The man is a menace and is up to something. If I ever saw him with a dog I would assume he was walking it home to beat it. How else to explain the pounding noises and squeals? I’ve banged on the walls to tell him to keep it down but that’s hardly harassment, right? That’s just trying to teach him to be a better neighbor. These are town homes…good walls don’t make good neighbors.”

“What is your WIFI’s SSID,” Inspector Davis replied undeterred.

“SSID?” Andrew said feigning confusion.

“The WIFI’s name? I want to jump on really quick…what’s it called?”

Andrew hesitated. Ah, that’s what this is about he thought. Hopefully. “It’s, um, ‘TheManIn657CheatsOnHisWife,’ I think.” And then he tried to hide his smirk. He had learned the hard way many times over that few people shared his humor or appreciated his cleverness.

Especially the cops.

Inspector Davis eyed Andrew, waiting for him to speak first. Andrew just stared at her blankly, with an even smile. He tried picturing the emoji that did that flat expression and used that as his inspiration.

After about a minute, the Inspector pulled out a small screen and started typing something onto it.

Apparently she didn’t need the WIFI password after all.

Looking up, Davis said: “It says here that you design applications for smartphones. And that you made a bit of money off of a recent one called…is it, Fap Happy Bird?” He swore the corners of her mouth turned upward ever so slightly.

He returned the look with another smirk. But he only nodded in response. Though the slight burning on his face meant that his cheeks were reddening.

“How does that game work exactly, Andrew? What’s the goal?”

This should be fun, he thought.

“It’s a quick twitch game where you shake the screen in an, err, upwards and downwards motion. And you try to hit each…eh, tall building…until it…mmm..explodes. The quicker you make the motion the more points you receive. The buildings get higher as the game progresses and you have less time to make your bird…er…” Andrew simply ended with a sigh. It was a stupid game for stupid people, but it paid for his apartment and most of his other endeavors. He merely cooked the shitty dish, it was the others that had the taste and the appetite to eat it.

Davis looked down again to her tablet, but this time, Andrew noticed her expression turned cold and serious. “Also, you used to be very active on the real-time social conversation network Atwitter but deleted your account recently. But before you did so you posted a series of tweets ‘bemoaning the encroachment of technology on our lives” and spoke of “a government with no regard for liberties.” You used the word ‘revolution’ 27 times in the last 6 months you had your account. Also, the keywords ‘government’ and ‘death’ and ‘drones’ have shown up well over a half dozen times.”

She looked up at Andrew, who finally protested after that last part.

“Look, lady pants. I may have used those words but you are taking them out of context. And I can’t imagine I used them together…often. In terms of revolution I’m a tech guy. We talk about revolution in the industry all the time. Mobile revolution, virtual reality revolution, zombie revolution, the fucking robot revolution.”

“So why delete your account, Andrew?”

“Hmm, I wonder why? Probably for this very reason! I felt it was being monitored. Plus, you know how it is now – no one is allowed to say anything remotely interesting in public any more. Social media, hell, conversation of all sorts is watered down. None of this is anything illegal as far as I can tell.” Andrew challenged, voice raising. “If there is anyone whose door you should be knocking on it’s the dude next door.”

“Why is that?” Natalie asked.

Andrew paused, took a breath and said: “There are boxes being delivered at all hours. I haven’t even seen the guy outside in the daylight before. There are noises – pounding, screeches, and…screams.”

He noticed movement behind him. A quick turn of the head confirmed that Natalie Davis’s partner had silently flanked him.

“So if that’s all you got, you got nothing,” Andrew said.

“It’s not. Not by a long shot,” but Davis slipped her tablet into his coat jacket, turned, and walked towards the door.

Her partner followed him and remarkably, turned and said, “See you soon.”


Andrew’s eggs arrived, but he was more concerned with his coffee. He’d snuck some alcohol in it out of flask from his front, buttoned up plaid pocket. No one at Beggs seemed to notice, as the two dozen occupants in the small, mostly outdoor cafe were either eating their food while looking at their phone. Or just looking at their phones.

“Dude, if you are drinking that means I have to drive, and for god sake’s it is not even eleven in the morning yet,” said Jay Bradley, Andrew’s (only) friend. He was medium height, with curly brown hair that sat on his head like a birds nest with flimsy construction. His slim frame was dressed in a non-descript light blue button up shirt and brown chinos. He essentially could be any of the thousands of middling bank managers in the history of the universe. Which he just happened to be. “Just stick with that one cup, and maybe the machine won’t shut down your car.”

Jay was referring to the unfortunate fact that every automobile was required by law to have a built-in breathalyzer. The federal government had withheld highway funds while states sued and protested but over a few years had eventually forced every state to enforce a 0.02 BAC legal limit. Essentially, one glass of wine would set if off, so unless you were walking, or using the fully government owned-ride hailing system Uber, you were out of luck. Your car would simply not start. While the effect was minimal for larger, more centralized cities where taxis and Ubers were prevalent, the law had shut down an estimated half of all bars and restaurants in the suburbs and rural areas. The ones that remained countered by setting aside metered overnight parking spots for those that wanted those two beers with dinner. They were jokingly referred to as “soon to be handicapped” parking.

“I’ve got a workaround,” Andrew said and pulled out a small mouthpiece from his pocket. “I can drink whatever I want, though I choose moderation. You know, free will and all that claptrap.”

“They choose for you, Andrew,” Jay said. “Risk mitigation. Species survival. You can’t be trusted.”

“But everything can kill you. Cigarettes. Genetics…Fucking air.”

“I hear they are working on that genetics part. Air, too. They will have a pill for that.”

“But if I take pills for my heart, my mind, my dick. What is the point? I’m just a half-conscious, lobotomized zombie. Isn’t life about the ups and downs? Without challenge how do you know what it feels like to succeed? To fail? Why smooth out all the mountains?”

“Right,” Jay said with a mouthful of turkey bacon. “What’s the point of living if you are miserable all the time?”

Andrew huffed, “You should be in advertising. I’m sure the Department of Mental Health would love that tagline.”

This conversational turn shouldn’t have surprised Jay. His old friend Andrew was easily riled up, particularly when talking about the current state of the world. It was something he’d mentioned his first day in college when he met him over 15 years ago. Jay had introduced himself to Andrew while standing in line at the bookstore. Andrew had said “Hello” and then proceeded to rail against the publishing conspiracy that resulted in overpriced textbooks.

“We have the same hymn book, Brother Andrew. You know this,” Jay said. “Happiness is just a small, meaningless respite between extended bouts of unhappiness. Check. How’s the 2-2-2 breakfast by the way?”

“Good, of course. I mean, there are only 4 things on the menu. I miss the days when there was more variety,” Andrew said pushing his plate away and transferring a bit more clear liquid from flash to coffee mug.

“Yeah, but after years of the empowered common folk giving star ratings to every food joint in town, the masses took it up a notch and started rating all the dishes at every restaurant. And pretty soon no one would buy anything that wasn’t top rated at the place. Which, as you know, means it made no sense to have variety. I mean, what else could the owner here do, for example? Just focus on his best few dishes and everyone is happy.” Jay emphasized his point with an audible “mmm” as he forked his scrambled eggs in his mouth.

“Right, who would want to take a chance on a menu item on a whim? Like, I don’t know, a fucking human being?!” Andrew raised his voice, looked around sheepishly and took a deep breath. “Sorry, it’s just…well, there were some people who came by the house earlier. Two inspectors…”

“You been bugging your creepy neighbor again? Liking his Facebook posts from 5 years ago to mess with him or something?” Jay interrupted him. He knew about Andrew’s obsessions, and that he was most likely bi-polar. But Jay didn’t think he was dangerous. Andrew, once you cut through the paranoia and constant theorizing, was actually a great friend to Jay. Though they were very different – Jay with a bank job, wife and a young son, Andrew living alone working on overtly phallic mobile applications – they had been through a lot together. Both didn’t come from money. They only went to college because the public college they went to was relatively cheap, and even that required government loans. But when Jay had needed money to get through the month, Andrew had lent him what he could and thus they both made it through college, even if their grades were middling. And when Andrew had pitched his idea to Jay about his mobile app, Jay had been his first investor. And that had worked out nicely for him.

But his friend didn’t have in him to not continue to push things, and when he started getting obsessed the only way for Andrew to stop was to reach the end of the thread. And no matter what happened he kept pushing, like a dog who got bit in the nose but keeps sniffing around in the backyard. Jay actually found it to be an admirable quality, as long as Andrew didn’t endanger himself or suffer from the blowback. On this particular issue, he wasn’t so sure that wouldn’t occur.

“Shouldn’t you be focusing on the sequel to Fap Happy Bird? You almost done with it? The original can’t still be selling,” Jay said trying to redirect the conversation.

“It is still in the Top 20 paid apps believe it or not,” Andrew allowed himself a smile. “I think the giggle factor and the fact the game has somehow not been banned is keeping it going. It’s success isn’t helping my motivation to finish the second, though. Plus…”

Andrew looked Jay straight in the eyes. Any good humor that he’d had before was now gone. “There is something going on next door, Jay. There are boxes – dozens a day – being delivered to his home at night. Burning smells. Weird sounds…sometimes bad, terrible sounds. He’s up to something.”

With a sigh, Jay, looked back at his friend.

“Is it worth going to jail over, Andrew? This particular obsession seems odd. What did your neighbor ever do to you? Who cares what they are doing? Focus on your own shit, man.”

“Look, the two inspectors at my house, weren’t police. I’m not sure who they are but they definitely weren’t public servants.”

“How do you know this?” Jay asked.

“I looked up the Inspector’s name. Ran some queries through some backdoor channels I know. Definitely not police.”


“So, this just confirms that my neighbor is up to something. And if I can get two strangers posing as police to knock on my door just for changing my WIFI’s name…”


“Never mind, the point remains,” Andrew quickly continued, “that I have to know what is happening on the other side of the wall attached to my own. I don’t feel safe. My home is not secure.”

Jay and Andrew stared at each other for a few moments. They had both finished breakfast. But there was an expectant look on Andrew’s face.

“The only way to do anything about it is to get people to believe you. And to get people to believe you will need evidence that your neighbor is doing anything other than minding his business. As your friend I will give you this gift, and I know that the moment it leaves my mouth it will be the worst thing I’ve ever said, and that a day will not pass from here until my untimely death that I won’t regret saying it,” Jay said.

Jay Bradley closed his eyes, took a deep breath and exhaled. As they had so many times before, the two friends needed to support one another. He opened his eyes and said: “Prove it to me. And I will help you.”

This is Water

Reading Time: 11 minutes

I was listening to the excellent WTF podcast between Marc Maron and Jason Segel this morning. And at one point Jason became very open about his struggles with alcohol and happiness. He spoke of striving for something that he could never possibly achieve.

While mentioning a movie he has coming up about David Foster Wallace called “The End of the Tour” he called out a commencement address Mr. Wallace gave in 2005 at Kenyon called “This is Water.” I decided to read it and it absolutely blew me away. The insight, and yes, sadness the man had was remarkable. And when he talks about suicide and knowing that he killed himself a few years after this speech makes it is even more devastating. But for those of you (us) who think a certain way, I think this is inspiring. The writing, and words chosen are beautiful and admirable. Enjoy.


This is Water, by David Foster Wallace (taken from this transcript of the speech, video is here)

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

If at this moment, you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude — but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense.

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic selfcenteredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real — you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue — it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphal academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default-setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me. Paying attention to what’s going on inside me. As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: “Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired, and you’re stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home — you haven’t had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job — and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the workday, and the traffic’s very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store’s hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can’t just get in and quickly out: You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store’s crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough checkout lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day-rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can’t take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.

Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I’ve worked really hard all day and I’m starved and tired and I can’t even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid god-damn people.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious form of my default-setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just twenty stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks, and so on and so forth…

Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do — except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: It’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to rush to the hospital, and he’s in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am — it is actually I who am in his way. Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re “supposed to” think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it’s hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you’re like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flatout won’t want to. But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible — it just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…

Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over:

“This is water, this is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

Love and Meatballs in Boston, Part 2

Reading Time: 9 minutes


(Check out Part 1, which focuses on love and Part 2 on, well, meatballs.)

By the time she had left me for good – 1999 – I had moved out of my hovel in Beacon Hill (though people paid a lot of money for said hovels) and to Brookline. I still had 4 roommates, though different ones. This time, the folks were much more normal and none were actually Emerson students: two brothers – Mike and John Fader – as well as Mike’s girlfriend Stephanie. And their friend Ralph. And Ralph’s cat. I got along really well with everyone except the cat.

To be clear, my roommate turnover wasn’t because I had zero close friends at Emerson or was a terrible roommate (other than sleeping with one). I did have a couple friends but for various reasons never lived with any of them. And of course the aforementioned disastrous relationship kept me busy for most of the time anyways.

I did have a very good core group of friends that I developed earlier while at Bowling Green State University. And one in particular, Jared, I became close with only after graduation. Jared had attended a rival school a half hour away – the University of Toledo*. We had mutual friends but didn’t hang out too much while in school. But after graduation, as it was harder to pin me down as I bounced around to other cities, Jared was one of the friends who visited me the most. With Boston being the most notable and early example.

(*As an aside, Toledo’s mascot – the “Rocket” – literally carried a whiffle ball bat to football games. At one particularly heated game at Bowling Green, the Rocket attacked and beat my poor, helpless mascot – Freddie Falcon – while his co-mascot Frieda looked on in what I imagine was horror. Though her expression externally never actually changed (it was the outfit), she eventually threw herself on top of Freddy in an attempt to stop the attack.)

So it was that Jared came to visit as 1999 came to a close, as real and potential pandemonium was predicted to occur on New Year’s Eve.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, Jared and I along with a few roommates spent most the day playing video games and watching football. The Playstation was particularly utlized – and especially a certain WWF (this was pre-WWE name change) game. Then like today, the thrill of hitting your friend over the head with a virtual chair brought a warm feeling. And the ability to customize your wrestlers – my 400 pound wrestler was named “Cow Patty” – made it even better. I was more of a Sega Hockey player, and arguably one of the best ever at that game and nearly unstoppable with the Detroit Red Wings and Jeremy Roenick. So this was a nice break into something different, and it allowed me to be on equal footing with all comers and not call on my Fred Savage, “The Wizard” level of video game prowess.

At some point we flipped on CNN – which was the biggest news channel at the time – who were dutifully covering the worldwide New Years Eve celebrations as they rolled from Syndey to London and progressively across the globe. And of course the newscaster waited anxiously, and dare I say hopefully, with cameras planted everywhere, for something truly terrible to happen related to Y2K.

As we watched, there was a sudden “Breaking News” graphic that flashed followed by a breathless report on a suspected terrorist plot that had been thwarted. The camera showed two Algerians being escorted into police cars, and I noticed something familiar about the buildings and the neighborhood. Jared walked to the windows and put his head out one and said something along the lines of “what the hell” and sure enough – they were being arrested down the street. Only then did I notice the flashing lights from the street that reflected onto our wall. I was living directly across from a large Jewish temple in Brookline – the Kehillath Israel – and hadn’t thought twice about it until that day.

Unperturbed, we seamlessly went back to playing our video games, and eventually Jared and I took off for our New Years Eve bar where we were going to spend the evening: The Last Drop located in the Back Bay. There wasn’t a whole lot to the bar itself, and it had the inglorious nickname of “The Last Stop” due to the fact that it was regarded as the place you went at the end of the night after hitting up the other, cooler bars (with classier ladies) in the area. But I loved the place.

They were offering all you could drink and eat for like seventy-five U.S. dollars. And this was the late 90s, so seventy-five dollars would be like a thousand dollars today!

He and I actually dressed up a bit – khakis, buttoned up shirt and sweaters – which was normal for Jared but was essentially at the tux level for me. After a cab dropped us off we posed for a picture out front before we entered The Last Drop. We had this great concept to take a picture every hour that night of ourselves as a sort of time-lapsed chronicle of the evening. The first one captured was straightforward, as we were dead sober, smiling, buttoned up and feeling great.

We walked in and began to drink, eat, and have the expected wonderful time. The bar wasn’t overly crowded which was a great sign to me but also could have been an indication that we had chosen the lower end of the entertainment options that evening. But considering I was paying my own way through graduate school, there weren’t many other choices. It was also the reason we were one of the first people there: we wanted to get value for every penny of that seventy five dollar entry fee. Jared and I were quite convinced that the establishment would be taking a big financial loss on our entry fee that night.

The food was the normal, bar food sitting over heating lamp variety – potato skins, chicken fingers but also some frankly extraordinary meatballs. It was if they were somehow lost while being transported from a 5 star restaurant and ended up at The Last Stop instead. Think of a delicious meteorite landing on a bland Earth from some foreign (probably French) corner of a more edible cosmos.

One minus of the bar was that it had one bathroom with a single toilet for both men and women. That wasn’t an issue at first when the bar was mostly empty but once the night got going, the drinks got flowing and we “broke the seal” it definitely became problematic. So it was that Jared and I found ourselves in line a few hours in, and having to pee quite badly but doing our best to be patient while we waited for folks to rotate in and out of the bathroom.

At some point as we waited, a cute, yet sloppy drunk girl in a tight dress started walking to the front and butted ahead of everyone. Her looks allowed her to get away with a fairly onerous party foul since everyone behind us in line was primarily dudes. She reached Jared and I – we were at that point the next two to go – and asked to go ahead of us. Being gentlemen we of course told her to go fuck herself, and to wait in line like everyone else. A wave of obscenities began to pour from her mouth, and they continued as I went to the bathroom, did my business and then opened the door to let Jared take the next turn. The chick shot me a glare as I walked by her and again dropped some nasty words from admittedly lovely lips in my general direction. I just smiled and waited for Jared.

Jared exited a few minutes later, held the door for the girl, cavalierly waved her in, smiled and walked over to me. He then pulled me quickly to a spot at the bar as far away as possible from the bathroom and began to laugh hysterically.

Uh oh.

“What did you do?” I asked Jared both wanting and not wanting to know the answer.

“I pissed on the seat,” he replied.

“Ha! Nice!” I said. That girl probably deserved it. Sadly it didn’t end there.

“And then I pissed on the sink. On the wall. On the floor. Basically there isn’t a single dry spot left in that bathroom!” And then he ordered us both a beer and laughed.

Nervously glancing over my shoulder I eventually noticed the girl who suffered from Jared’s bladder’s tirade walk by us at the bar, give us both the finger, and without a word walk out the door with the rest of her friends.

We found someone to take another picture of ourselves to celebrate our urinal victory. The picture showed two smiling guys, but both of whose shirts were hanging out. I also had meatball stains on my sweater.

We drank more and as the evening wore on I tried to keep to myself and my friend for the most part. That wasn’t easy when hanging out with Jared, who was far more extroverted than me and engaged anyone who would or wouldn’t listen to him in conversation. He thrived on being the center of attention, and would have made a great stage actor if he hadn’t been miscast as an auditor. Still, he tended to be funny, obnoxious and prone to do about anything. Perfect company for a New Years Eve binge.

On yet another trip to the single stall restroom, I literally bumped into a girl wearing a white dress. Luckily I didn’t get any meatball stains on her. Her white dress really stood out. And not in a good way. It wasn’t a smart cocktail-type, white dress. It was more of a “princess at the ball” dress which made her look silly considering where we were. And I told her so.

“You have prom tonight?” I asked, in a not quite inebriated but quickly getting there manner.

“I’m an assistant to the mayor of Boston – Mr. Menino. I just came from a banquet attended by some of the biggest politicians from town. I’m meeting a friend here. Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“Just some asshole,” I said honesty. “Got anyone to kiss when the ball drops?”

“Yes, and it ain’t you buddy, that’s for sure. Piss off.”

Boston girls were pretty awesome.

We didn’t make a ton of friends that night, though we certainly had a number of folks we didn’t piss off (or on) as the night got later and everyone got more and more drunk. But we also didn’t make any additional mortal enemies. And it became pretty obvious to both of us that there would be no female companionship to kick off the millennium. But with Jared sleeping on the couch and the amount of fun we were consuming, it really didn’t matter.

New Years Eve counted down live on a small, mostly green colored television in the corner.

Dick Clark stared into my eyes like a soulless vampire. He was telling me to do something for him. I just wasn’t quite sure what. I assumed there would be a subliminal code word involved that would activate his plan.

Some girls poured champagne into a party hat like a funnel, which at the end contained my mouth.

We took another picture to celebrate. This one showed Jared and I both drenched in sweat and alcohol, my glasses were on crooked and both our shirts were out and unbuttoned showing t-shirt underneath. I had lost my sweater completely at that point.

Later, we decided to catch a cab back to my place and I took an entire container of meatballs off the table nearest the exit with me. It probably weighed twenty pounds and my hands actually got burned a bit as I held the tin catering receptacle. I was beyond fear at that point and didn’t try to hide them (not that I could have) or run. I simply walked outside, strode calmly past the bouncer and the line of folks waiting to get in and straight into the cab.

The perfect crime. And a victimless one at that.

A confession: for some reason when I was younger I had a habit of stealing food at the end of heavy, holiday-related drinking nights. At another New Years party a few years prior, at complete stranger’s house, I actually placed an entire honey baked ham under my arm and ran out the door yelling “Out of my way! Ham!” I’m not sure if it was the theft or the fact I had also fallen into the (covered) pool earlier in the night that caused me to never be invited back. I’d like to think the culinary thefts were because I didn’t have a lot of money in those days. But on reflection I was being less “Robin Hood” and more “really drunk guy who had uninhibited decision making.” I’m happy to report though that it was just a phase, and after a certain point I stopped stealing food and instead just went through a late night Taco Bell or White Castle drive-thru.

Anyways, Jared, I and the still heavenly pan of meatballs all returned to my place in Brookline. Mike, his girlfriend and Ralph were all back as well – and everyone was in similar, late night New Years Eve shape. In fact, as we walked in the door Mike was banging on his bedroom door and yelling through it to Stephanie, who had somehow locked herself in the room.

Acting purely on survival instincts, since, she could probably only survive in there for a week, tops – I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. I then proceeded to chip away at the wood around the door latch. This, surprisingly, did nothing but eventually remove a few hundred dollars from our security deposit. Luckily, Jared had a similarly well devised plan and ran full board from the adjacent bathroom and slammed his shoulder into the door in an attempt to unhinge it.

The door was unimpressed. And Jared crumpled to the ground writhing in pain.

The incident did have a happy ending, as Stephanie eventually simply found the lock that was miraculously attached to her side of the door and unlocked it, thereby setting her free.

When all was said and done, the terrifying Y2K bug ended up not really resulting in mass blackouts, electronic failures or really anything at all. It certainly didn’t effect the Playstation, which we fired back up and played till the sun came up.

Jared’s shoulder ended being only badly bruised. And truth be told the only really horrific injury that occurred on New Years 1999 occurred to Jared’s custom wrestler, who was beaten senseless by Cow Patty with a virtual chair to the head at least a hundred times that early morning.

Love and Meatballs in Boston, Part 1

Reading Time: 7 minutes


In 1999, people thought their computers were going to kill them.

Since then, the “Y2K bug” has been a largely forgotten episode but it was a pretty damn big deal at the time. To be clear, since you are reading this – obvious spoiler alert – the world didn’t end, but at that time folks were definitely unnerved and thinking that was a possibility leading up to New Years Eve and the end of the 1990s.

Even without social media and the level of connectivity the world has today there was a lot of chatter and speculation. The press played its normal role of framing the story, instilling fear and generally freaking the more gullible subset of the human populace the fuck out.

And what better story than the Y2k bug? If you recall (and please continue even if you don’t) there was a glitch in computers of all types that would manifest when the internal computing clocks struck 2000. Apparently, in many computers the code was programmed in such a way that only the last two digits in years within the computer’s internal clock would change, meaning anything past 1999 wouldn’t be recognized or the internal clocks would change from 1999 to 1900 and stop functioning. In the run up to New Years that year there were a myriad of other related, horrific, Maximum Overdrive-style possibilities being floated.

(Yeah, that description sucked. Look, I’m not a computer scientist and you most likely have internet access. Feel free to go Wikipedia to find a better explanation, Einstein.)

As my admittedly diluted explanation shows, I (and most people) were never quite clear on the mechanics of how it was all going to go down but that still didn’t stop us from thinking a computer glitch was going to cause ATMs to stop working, transit systems to not function and planes to fall out of the sky. Factor in the timing – the end of the century and millennium – with its typical religious zealots and never-do-wells predicting the end of the world and the Y2K bug story became bigger, and more frightening, than was probably necessary.

For me though, that year was marked not just with all that nonsense floating around in the collective human ether, but my impending completion of graduate school in Boston. Those two factors – and an additional one more personal – resulted in me having a very “fuck it” or, to be more polite, “come what may” attitude as the millennium closed.

To add more color to this wondrous period of my life, I was in my mid-20s finishing up graduate school at Emerson College. Emerson, located in downtown Boston, had a fairly unique set of classes at the graduate level. For me specifically, they offered the relatively rare option of receiving what amounted to a Masters of Arts in marketing. Since I despised numbers of all types (stop staring at me 27!) and my undergraduate degree was in marketing I made the decision that the “B” in MBA wasn’t ultimately necessary to my career. Plus my GMAT scores – a test which I took on two hours sleep and terribly hung over – showed me to be highly proficient in the area of verbal matters, reading comprehension and creative writing. Conversely, my scores in math placed me firmly in the middle seat of the slow bus to Dumdumville.

And honestly, after being out of school for a year and a half and working for a Wendy’s franchisee I decided I wasn’t ready for the real world quite yet. Especially if the real world entailed me sitting in my Honda Prelude timing how long it took on average for a car to make it through the Wendy’s drive-thru. For 75 locations. In 3 different states. With that or graduate school as an option, tens of thousands of dollars in school loan debt didn’t seem so bad.

I was and continue to be aware of the fact that marketing and advertising folks are generally held in about as high regard as politicians and serial rapists and that historically marketing classes tend to attract an “Island of Misfit Toys” collection of castoffs from other, more esteemed curriculums. But for whatever reason, I seemed to have an aptitude for the “art” and theories of marketing. As a result, I enjoyed those classes immensely and almost exclusively, no doubt resulting in the good grades I received in those classes. Those grades then propelled me into the academic virtuous cycle that dropped me like a twister (cyclone not ice cream) in Boston.

And resulted in my story present-time as well as future-tense predicament: a marketing career.

One of the other plusses to attending Emerson College was that at the time they were considered one of the most “wired” colleges in the country. And though the late 90s don’t seem that long ago, when considering the acceleration of technology that has occurred in the past decade plus since; we were at the time closer to rock scraping Neanderthals versus the multi-screen consuming super humans we are today. A “computer lab” with a half dozen computers with Word Perfect installed was a big deal. And the ability to readily access the burgeoning World Wide Web was hugely impressive. And not just for the photos of naked women you could view and/or print out. And all joking aside, that process DID occur painfully slow as the photos revealed themselves line by pixilated line like an extended computerized erotic massage.

In addition to shifting my career toward more digital-oriented marketing, there were a number of big personal events that occurred while in Boston.

Just physically living there was one of them.

I had moved to Boston after getting accepted into Emerson College without every visiting either the college or city. The first time I experienced both was when I pulled up in my friend’s car and moved in with 4 people into a tiny multilevel apartment in Beacon Hill. I had never met any of them before. It was a very real world experience, in a MTV kind of way, too. Eventually I met people from all over the world, of all creeds and politics (okay, well, it being Boston it was mostly liberal), and even became good friends with a number of gay guys – which, for someone who lived his life primarily in small towns in the Midwest was eye-opening.

Very early during my first year in Boston, I ended up in a relationship with one of my 4 roommates. She was smart, beautiful and my first true relationship. She was half Spanish, half Columbian and was at Emerson to be a political reporter. She actually even had her own multi-hour, NPR-like political radio talk show at the school. My father had discussed/yelled politics at me my entire life and here I was at 24, sipping a beer with a beautiful girl and discussing the pros and cons of European-style socialism versus the free market system.

It was a passionate, intense and ultimately confusing relationship for me. It was the type of relationship where we would scream, she would spit in my face, I would break something against the wall, and then we would immediately smoke weed and sleep together. We broke up multiple times and she cheated on me every time she went back home to New Orleans (and of course made a point to tell me about it). And in the interest of full disclosure, I cheated on her as well but only during our “breaks.” She never agreed with the importance of that distinction, but I truly felt like I had some emotional and definitional air cover for my actions.

I wouldn’t trade that relationship for anything. Sure, it was ill-conceived and crazy – as she and I both likely were – but I learned a lot about women and life, even if the primary lesson was that dating a roommate is a poor idea in general. This is in addition to the ancillary, repeatedly forgotten lesson that my intelligence drops in half in the face of real (or imagined) interest in me from females.

We broke up for good a year and a half after it began. We had been running on fumes at that point, and she wasn’t really happy in Boston. We discussed me moving back with her to New Orleans and I actually considered it for a spell, but even with my then emotional naiveté I knew that would end badly. Most likely for me.

One night she took a call from the apartment in Southie she rented while sitting on my lap in her kitchen (she had moved into her own place at that point). She listened, hung up and then began to sob uncontrollably. Her mom had called to tell her that her father had collapsed in the kitchen and was at the hospital in a coma. He had suffered a brain aneurism mid-sentence during a dinner party.

I helped make travel plans for her, and in fact bought her plane ticket on a credit card. She caught the first flight out that next morning. A small blessing was that she ultimately managed to make it in time to see him before he died – though he never regained consciousness. It was a crushing shock to her mom and family, as he was only 50 years old when he passed.

There was a very real possibility that I wouldn’t see her again.

But I did. But only once: when she came back to get her stuff and fill out paperwork dropping out of Emerson.

She had decided to withdraw from Emerson and move back to New Orleans to live with her Mom, and this while needing only a few more credits for graduation. There was no discussion between us because I had zero say in the matter. And I had made the decision previously that I wouldn’t move there. Not that it mattered, since she had started dating her high school boyfriend in the month since our separation. Which (again) she dutifully told me about and who she promptly cheated on…the day she told me.

The next morning, I walked her to the “T” – the subway in Boston. There, I stood with her waiting at the Harvard Avenue stop for the “B” Green Line that would eventually take her to the airport. We ended up quickly hugging but it had as much passion as a hand shake with a stranger.

She stepped on the subway. And I never saw her again…

…But I did trade an email with her once.

A few days after Hurricane Katrina I sent her a quick email asking her if she was okay and if there was anything I could do to help her and her family. Earlier that night, I had been watching hurricane coverage and became concerned when the network anchors explained that Metairie, just northwest of New Orleans (and where she had moved back to) had been particularly hard hit by the storm. I emailed without expectation of a reply. And respond she did (and quickly), thanking me and telling me she had lost everything and was temporarily living in a dorm room at the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. (I couldn’t help but think to myself – with whom?) She also told me she was a reporter and part-time producer for the local CBS station in New Orleans, and had been one of the last to stay on the air that night. She mentioned that she and her family were relocating to Houston and she didn’t know what would happen next.

And I don’t know what ever did, either.

[Editors Note: Well, until…]

Flight from the Shadow

Reading Time: 1 minutes

Heard this on the Reboot Podcast, that was sent to me by a friend after they read my previous post. And it really struck me. It is from Chuang Tzu, who was born in 370 B.C. It again shows the struggle that many people go through…and captures it wonderfully:

There was a man who was so disturbed
by the sight of his own shadow
and so displeased
with his own footsteps,
that he determined to get rid of both.

The method he hit upon was
to run away from them.
So he got up and ran.

But everytime he poot his foot down
there was another step,
while his shadow kept up with him
without the slightest difficulty.

He attributed his failure
to the fact
that he was not running fast enough.
So he ran faster and faster,
without stopping,
until he finally dropped dead.

He failed to realize
that if he merely stepped into the shade,
his shadow would vanish,
and if he sat down and stayed still,
there would be no more footsteps.

Exact text quote courtesy of The Unbounded Spirit.