The tragedy of the commons in literature

Think about this. This is important. It’s really, really important. Suppose you are, indeed a prodigy. Suppose that you are funnier than one percent of one percent of one percent of the people out there. In other words, you are one in a million. In a collected sample of one million people, there’s a good chance you are the funniest person in that group.

Here’s what that means. There are a thousand people on Facebook as witty as you. There are over three hundred people tweeting stuff as good as or better than yours.

That’s if you’re incredibly unique. Let’s say you are just unique. Let’s say that you are the top 99.99th percentile. There are a hundred thousand Facebook users funnier than you. There are literally tens of thousands of people tweeting better shit than you every single day.

Luck is important now more than ever.

How I knew I was addicted to coffee

My coffee maker has a pinhole in the grinder. It was caused by the abrasive wear of crushed coffee beans. They slowly ate away at the hard plastic wall, and finally a pinhole formed, out of which fine grains of coffee spewed every time I made a fresh pot. It filled the gap between the housing and the wall of the coffee maker, with a fine dust of ground coffee and I  wondered if I should just clean it out.

But another part of me said that I should let it go on compacting, getting harder and harder until at last it formed a brick that I could then grind up and smoke in a bong. And that’s when I knew I was addicted to coffee.

Time travel problems with people from the dark ages

I suppose if you somehow transported a wretched serf from the tenth century to today, the thing that he might find the weirdest of all is how every single morning we stand in a metal tub and baste ourselves in hot water for ten minutes.

Witches, they will say. They’re all witches, and they’re slowly cooking themselves to death.

These notes on my Google Keep are not helping me at all

I found this on my phone today, under Google Keep:

Why the Lego Movie is evidence of Time Travellers from the future

And then there was nothing after that.

Then I remembered bolting out of bed about two weeks ago, inspired, excited, ebullient with this idea. But it was too late to do anything about it, so I would have to write it in the morning. But I knew that I just had to leave this note to myself a reminder. Because it was too good an idea to forget.

I’ve completely forgotten what the evidence was. But I won’t delete this message from my phone. What if, one day, I look at it, and whammo I suddenly remember everything? And what if it’s really good? What if it’s true? Is it not worth keeping the note around on the very slim but incredible chance? What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s adding any weight.

The harm is that my phone is now full of notes I don’t understand but can’t delete lest one of them contains a cure for cancer. If someone were to read the notes on my phone they would think I had a disorder.

Halloween approaches and I am consumed with fear. Because of my damned neighbours

The countdown is on. In mere days, the biggest First World Problem will be at my doorstep. A hundred overfed, me-first middle class children extorting me: give us candy or we egg your house. And I will give them candy. Why? Because, last year, I didn’t give them candy. No one egged my house. No one left a flaming bag of dog crap on our doorstep.

But the neighbours disapproved.

We were woefully unprepared when we first moved here. We expected the traffic of children to be as light as the last townhouse complex we lived in: maybe we would see a couple dozen children. Looking back now, I laugh at my naive former self. What a rube.

There were signs that we should have been more prepared. Up and down the street, the Halloween decorations were out weeks in advance. Giant inflatable Frankensteins on the porches. Ghoulish skeletons hanging from the branches of trees. One fool even took the opportunity to get the jump on Christmas. He put up Santa on his roof, speckled in blood. Zombie Santa. Every day for two weeks, my daughter walked to school, past this psyche-strangling, childhood memory embedding, images-to-relate-to-therapists-much-later spectacle. After a few days of that, Natalie asked me if Santa was evil. This is the actual conversation:

Natalie: Is Santa going come down the chimney and eat my brains?
Me: (sensing that this is a pivotal moment in my child’s understanding of our cultural mores and subtleties) Yes.

Halloween is not a spectator sport on my block. It is a full-contact game of Keeping Up With The Joneses. Except the Joneses are undead. Sensing that, being the new people in the neighborhood, we should try and be part of the norm, my wife went out and bought a giant spider, hung it in our front window, then looked at me like she had finished painting the Sistine Chapel.

My neighbor, Herb, was unimpressed.

“I see you got a stuffed spider in your window,” he told me over the fence.

I nodded. “We bought candy, too.”

He looked wistfully in the distance, a solemn expression on his face. “The Parkers down the street, they got that damned 15 foot tall inflatable Frankenstein out again. Third year in a row.” He shook his head. “It just ain’t right.”

Sensing a chance to bond, I commiserated. “Nothing inflatable at our house,” I said, and Herb looked at me with a small bit of disdain.

“Course not,” he said. “You got a spider in your front window.” And, having pronounced complete judgement on our feeble attempt to decorate, he turned without a word and went inside.

I should have taken this as a warning. But, being partially autistic (self-diagnosed — the most reliable kind), by the time I walked back into the kitchen, I had completely forgotten the conversation. There, my wife asked me what we had been talking about.

“He’s thinking of getting an inflatable spider,” I said.

Of course, he had more than an inflatable spider. When Halloween rolled around, Herb had carved — get ready for it — 17 pumpkins. They lined the path to his front door, like an evil gauntlet. Giant cobwebs hung from the eaves. A recorded loop of howling wolves and clanking chains was hooked to a motion sensor and scared the bejeezus out of kids when they arrived at the door. He had replaced the doorbell chimes with a bloodcurdling scream.

The coup de grace was, when he opened the door, he had an actual three-headed rabid dog chained up in the hall, and from its mouth, actual demons from the fires of hell would charge the children and attempt to steal their souls. I don’t know where he got the dog. I didn’t even know we had a dog pound nearby.

Beside Herb’s house, beside his grand spectacle of Halloweirdness, sat our house, like a lump of unbuttered mash potato sitting beside Peking Duck. We had a single smiling pumpkin, beneath the window where there hung a stuffed spider from Wal Mart. And when children knocked at our door, it would be opened by either a man ghoulishly dressed like a dad trying to watch the hockey game, or a mom dressed as an overcompensating parent feigning extreme fear at every costume.

On our first Halloweeon on this street, we thought we had brought game. We thought we were ready.

When the first batch of kids arrived, we opened the door full of excitement and joy. And we came face to face with six children.

“It’s probably just the early rush,” I shrugged. We passed out candy. No sooner had we closed the door, sat down to laugh at the unexpected size of the first group of children, then the door rang again. This time, there were eight kids, with more streaming down our front path.

“That was early rush,” I corrected. “Before that, we had the early, early rush.”

But then the doorbell rang again, and we opened it to to more kids than we could quickly count. Behind them, we could hear a low buzz, like a hive filled with thousands of children bees, dressed up as wasps and caterpillars, going from comb to comb, looking for honey. The sidewalks were crawling with goblins and ghosts.

Eight year old boys dressed as MMA fighters.

Eight year old girls dressed as tramps.

Toddlers with wings.

They were everywhere.

We looked at the street. We looked at our already draining bowl of candy. We looked at each other with a dawning realization. We were on the Titanic, and there weren’t enough lifeboats.

We tried to ration the candy: one piece per child. But it was fruitless. And then came the moment: we ran out of candy. Yet, they were still knocking at the door. “What do we do now?” shrieked Joanna, and I rummaged through our pantry. “Kidney beans?” I offered up, half in jest, half hoping that we could finally get rid of the damned things.

That’s when Joanna panicked and suddenly turned off all the lights in the house. There was silence. We turned to each other.

“Whew,” I said, “That was close. For a moment I–”

The doorbell rang. We didn’t move. The doorbell rang again. Joanna looked at me and mouthed, what do we do?

I turned off the porch light. A few moments later, the doorbell rang. I closed the curtains. But still they came. Hands over her ears, my wife slowly slid to the floor, while outside, a scratching at the door continued, and the low muted groaning of voices, muffled by masks, ‘Triggerdreat, triggerdreat, triggerdreat …”

And then I saw it. The flickering light from the eyes of our one Jack O Lantern. It was the pumpkin, on the front porch, calling to all the Trick or Treaters like a siren. I threw Joanna aside and burst through the front door, struggling through the throngs of youngsters, their hands in the air, reaching for me, pulling on me, calling for candy. I waded through them like wading through a hip-deep marsh, as more children arrived. When I reached the pumpkin, with a last effort, pulling up the final reserves of my strength, I lifted it high in the air and, with all my might, threw it off the porch, over the front lawn, over the sidewalk and into the middle of the street where it burst open like a … well, like a pumpkin that has been thrown onto the pavement.

A mournful groan rose all around me, and the children, the shoulders slumped, their fake tails limp, their fake furry ears drooping, shuffled off of our porch and back into the night. I collapsed to the floor, utterly exhausted. From inside, I heard my wife whispering, “are they gone yet?”

It was then that I looked up and saw, next door, our neighbor Herb, who had been handing out candy. He was frozen in midair, his hand outstretched. The children were also frozen, their grasping hands motionless. They were all staring at me, staring at this weak, contemptible shell of a Halloween host.

Herb shook his head in disgust. He finished handing out the candy. Then, with hardly another glance at me, he turned and went back inside. But as he turned, I heard him mutter, under his breath.

“A spider,” he said. “A stuffed spider.”

10 Books That Impacted My Palate

Here are 10 books that, over the years, have stayed with me for a one primal reason. In the list below, all of these books have lingered because they made a  direct connection with my stomach. They all have food scenes, in one way or another:

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey.

My eggs, sunny-side up, and the orderlies eat it in front of me, mopping up the yolk with butter soaked toast. That’s what I picture every time I have breakfast.

King Rat, by James Clavell.

An egg cracked over steamed rice, and mixed together into a sticky yellow ball. I can’t look at rice without wanting to do that every single time.

The Shining, by Stephen King.

Jack Torrence made a morning breakfast of Excedrin, chewing them like candy. Now, when  I take an aspirin, I chew it and pretend I am hungover.

Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat.

He wrote about capturing mice in the arctic tundra, stewing them up in a pot with mushroom soup and damn it all if it didn’t make my stomach growl.

Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss.

I never accepted the premise that I should try green eggs and ham. This is not a question of trying new things. This is a health issue. The eggs. Are green.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

When the Joads finally find work, they spend their days earnings on a few pounds of fatty ground beef and potatoes. It went all too quick, it was all too bland, but it’s the reason I stand over a frying pan and pick at frying hamburger.

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

From far away across the world, he smelled good things to eat.” I always wondered what could be so good that you could smell it from all the way across the world. I’ve always thought it smelled kind of like frying hamburger.

The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson et al.

Roasted fox sounds pretty tempting, and I’m very curious to taste scrambled snake. But Owl ice cream kinda tightens up my pyloric sphincter.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.

To this day, I don’t know what Turkish Delight is, although I’m sure it’s nothing like the candy bar of that name.

Alive, by Piers Paul Read.

Yes, well, how could you not include this book? My memory is seared with visions of flesh cooking on pieces of fuselage.

And toothpaste. They ate a lot of toothpaste first. If they were smart, the would have saved it until after.

Five things I learned this week

  1. No one has yet referred to what’s happening in the Ukraine as Anschluss. But it won’t be long. And whoever does it first will be called a pundit. It won’t be me. You have to have people paying attention to you first.

  2. My 5 year old son asked me how to spell curious. I think it’s ironic, but I’m from the 90s, so I’m no longer sure.

  3. I just realized that the only people who call me on my land line are telemarketers and my parents. I’m paying $40 a month to let telemarketers call me.

  4. A conversation with my 5 yr old son, who has to pee.
    Ben: Dad, would you watch me?
    Me: What, no, I … okay fine.
    Ben: (One hand on his backside, hips thrust forward) (looks me in the eye)
    Me: I gotta go

  5. For Easter, we had a ham. You know, ’cause Jesus was a jew …

Woke up at 3AM. Wrote this down. Maybe should have kept sleeping

I’m certain that I’m wiser now than I’ve ever been. I’m not proud of that, because I’ve also reached at least the level of wisdom required to realize that I was quite an idiot in the past. I may still be such an idiot, but at least I’m less of an idiot than I was a year ago. At least I know more truths than I did a year ago. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I just know a bunch of brand new cowflops that I call truth.