The following video may be upsetting to some (all) people. This is a caricature* of a Donald Trump supporter:

There are many things wrong with America. There will always be many things wrong with America. A society governed by the law of averages will always produce cracks through which Wrongs will flow. To get a handle of what this means, play a game called Democracy 3. I keep giving my people nice things and they keep assassinating me.

An ideal government will consider the needs of its people and enact policy that will best provide for those needs. The needs of the people are varied and many, and often change from year to year. The people elect officials who most closely embodies those needs. This is what I mean when I say we are governed by the law of averages. A candidate is elected 60/40, and a best case scenario would result in policy benefiting as many people as possible.

That’s the ideal system; we do not have it and are not even close. A third dimension of governance is money. Whoever has the most dollars wins. Suppose an elected official wins via 60% of the electorate and fails to implement a majority of their campaign promises. With little exception, the official was offered incentive not to. This angers the people, who then vote the official out.

A successful politician will balance the needs of the people against the need for money. Running a political campaign requires a lot of cash. To wit, nobody thought Bernie Sanders would go anywhere without at least a few corporate sponsors on his race suit.

We The People don’t have a lot of money. Our political capital is The Vote. We study the candidates available to us, discuss issues facing The People, and decide who is worthy of our vote. The law of averages takes care of the rest, and we give the elected official a set amount of time to champion The People’s needs. If they don’t, The People roll the dice on someone else.

Over the past few decades, the electorate has become suspicious of the voting system. Anecdotal evidence of trucks of paper votes disappearing, electronic voting machines casting a vote opposite of your choice, voter suppression and discrimination, invalidated votes, and voter purges have understandably shaken the public’s confidence of our voting system.

When The People feel their voice is not being heard or even shrugged off entirely, they shut themselves out of the political process and start talking amongst themselves.

Enter The Donald.

We saw Diet Donald already: The Tea Party. They made some noise but never gained significant ground to rattle government in a manner pleasing to them. But The Donald is Strong and Loud. He got people’s attention, and he has staying power.

When he entered the race, I thought it was a joke, a big publicity stunt for whatever business venture he was to launch next. Surely a man with no political experience would be put to rest by lifelong politicians, right? Exactly the opposite. He didn’t play by any modern political playbook and easily defeated a large field of nominee hopefuls. Jeb Bush’s “please clap” remark was the death of the Republican race. The size of Trump’s and others’ manhood became a topic of presidential debate. I can’t believe I just wrote that. It’s a topic of puerile schoolyard banter, not public policy.

The Donald gave voice to millions of disenfranchised voters. His supporters said, “Holy crap, he says what I say to my drinking buddies!” I don’t believe media pundits who say The Donald is unhinged and says whatever is top of mind. This is a calculated attempt by Trump at bringing a fringe society who would not otherwise vote to the polling station. This fringe doesn’t have to believe everything he says. Quite the opposite. Only one topic needs to resonate: bring Law and Order™ to people darker than beige; kick out every illegal immigrant; jail political opponents; institute religious testing for those not of Anglo-Christian faith; grab women by the pussy; institute torture; turn unfriendly nations into parking lots; let our allies fend for themselves; the list continues and can include anything that restricts, suppresses, or dismisses the rights of others.

The Donald is not a person who introduced these ideas into American society; he is a representative of the ideologues and is the man who has given light to these views on a national scale. They previously existed in dark corners of the internet and basements of That Guy You Don’t Talk To. At minimum, a third of the country is going to vote for Trump. He has decidedly shown that we are not, in fact, The United States of America. There are those among us who would wish ill will to a shockingly large number of people and Donald Trump has given them agency.

What horrifies me most is Donald Trump has given legitimacy to questionable and offensive rhetoric. He has mocked the disabled, objectified women, criticized female journalists, banned news organizations from his rallies, threatened to loosen libel law, threatened to withdraw from NATO, asked the Russian government to hack us, asked the Second Amendment “people” to do something about Hillary… the list goes on. In any other election cycle, he’d be tarred and feathered. But not this one. I fear we’ve hit a turning point in American politics: this won’t be the first Trump, but one of many more Trumps, dialing up the rhetoric further, and one of these cycles, Mini Trump is going to win.

I’ve avoided making comparisons of Trump’s rise to that evil guy with the toothbrush mustache. But if you want to understand Trump’s rise in near documentary quality, a German film has you covered: Look Who’s Back. Highly recommended viewing in this election cycle.

America has a lot of problems, but the foremost issue of our time is the ideological divide of our people. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is under assault; we are now the land of the free if you are of a certain social class and home of the brave if the powers that be decide you are worthy of defending. We are no longer The United States of America. We are The United Pockets of America, where certain geographic areas lean one way, other areas lean the opposite, and there is no reconciliation between the two. In a land of opportunity, both say no to the other. I cannot offer a solution other than to listen to each other. When both sides shut each other out, neither win.

I wrote this article for one reason. I keep hearing people ask:

“How did it get this way?”

*A caricature, while usually larger than life and outrageous, is still based on real life.

Boston: Have you heard of Uber?

London: Tally ho, on we go.

Seoul: If you have any information leading to the arrest of this woman please make a report.

Pyongyang: Acceptable fares include showing your personal picture of the Dear Leader or donating a family member.

Paris: We take cigarettes, bribes, or fare jumping. We’ll also speak English if you give us five euros.

Pittsburgh: This line ends at Primanti’s.

New York: Take the A to the 5 to the B to the X to the LMNOP.

Moscow: Moskau! Moskau!

Madrid: If you’re going to bomb us, please let us know.


Washington, DC.: Did you know our trains drive themselves?

Cleveland: Did you know we have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

San Juan: Please send money.

Boston: Please send money to us too.

Terrorism and war share strategies but different casualties.  War usually pits conventional armies against each other while terrorism usually targets friends and neighbors.  War has rules, terrorism has nothing, no governing morals, no Geneva Conventions.  Terrorism is the cry behind which armed assailants open fire on concert-goers in the name of a cause.

There was a brief moment between congratulation and claim: ISIS, or ISIL, lauded the attacks on Twitter, then took responsibility.  Witnesses reported no such claim, none of the terrorists yelled allegiances before opening fire, no one screamed religious epithets.  I’m glad for that: Islam has been a religion under fire for promoting anti-everything beliefs, but Islam is just a religion, one of many on this planet, followed by millions or billions, and just like any religion, a few nutcases are among the ranks.

ISIS is a group comprised mainly of religious nutcases.  They interpret the Koran with strict law.  The same would happen if we Americans adopted strict Biblical law: we would be able to sell family members into slavery or stone those we deem as lawbreakers.  To that end, I understand what they’re doing, but I still think they’re mad.  Governing by 2,000-year-old law is like using an abacus at the grocery store.  It’s outdated, inefficient, and ripe for mistakes.  ISIS believes in a strict interpretation of Islamic law, but most or all of the ISIS leadership is living in the past (approximately 20 centuries ago).

At a restaurant that had the privilege of not being bombed, I asked my girlfriend Jasmine, “At what point do we consider ISIS a sovereign state?”  She said we shouldn’t, as that would lend legitimacy to what they’re doing.  I agree.  But declaring war on a terrorist group and declaring war on a country are different things.  Who do you attack in a terrorist group?  And where?

ISIS controls a large patch of land from Syria to Iraq.  Despite repeated attacks from the US, Russia, Turkey, pissed off Frenchman, Syrian government soldiers, any Iraqi forces left, ragtag resistance fighters, mavericks who decide to cross into the country to take out as many as they can before being beheaded, ISIS has a border.  A border that isn’t receding.  ISIS has issued its own currency, built schools, and recruited new soldiers, many of them children.

If you’re looking toward the womb for new soldiers, the fight’s already been lost.

The ISIS mission statement, whatever that may be, is unsustainable.  They want to declare war on the entire world.  They literally do not have enough manpower, equipment, or weapons to do so.  What they can do is sneak a few people into a country they hate and open fire, detonate a bomb, and instill fear in the locals.  No one can catch them all.  When I visited France a few years ago, military police were everywhere.  The threat of gunfire can’t protect the citizenry.  You never know who’s going to go to an Eagles of Death Metal concert.  It sucks to think that, in one minute, you can be partying along, and the next minute, you can be dead on the floor.

What is the answer?  There is no answer.  You just have to hope someone won’t shoot you in cold blood.

I conducted a scientifically valid survey and found that at least one of these two conversations occurred today in 100% of all American households:

  1. “I am not going anywhere near a store tomorrow.”
  1. “I can’t wait to get my hands on $1 DVDs and $4 HDTVs at Big Box Retailer tomorrow!”

Social media, for all that it’s good for, has been extremely vocal in the Thanksgiving Is For Families movement; please pardon me if I omit the requisite hotlinks to individuals decrying the commercialization of every sacred moment that Could Be Spent With Family. You’ve seen them. Yet despite all that spit and anger, stores still open whenever they want. Why doesn’t Big Retail get the picture?

Please stop posting these.

Please stop posting these.

RadioShack opened at 8am Thanksgiving Day. Stores that opened at 8am closed at noon to allow their employees time to go home and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner before returning to the store at 5pm and working until close (midnight).

Dear RadioShack,

Have you ever prepared a Thanksgiving meal (in under a few hours)? Why don’t you just tell your employees to have Thanksgiving at Denny’s? The message will certainly be clearer.


Superfan Rick

In a statement, RadioShack spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said: “Given the customer demand for store hours on Thanksgiving last year, we made the decision to open on Thanksgiving.  It gives us the opportunity to stay competitive.”

The same article notes that level of demand: RadioShack lost $137.4 million dollars last quarter. RSH is trading under a dollar. Its market valuation is $85 million (if you had $85 million dollars lying around with absolutely nothing better to do, you could buy the entire company, all 4,400 stores, or approximately $19,400 per store). Rabid shoppers will clearly bombard them this holiday season. Just a suggestion, RadioShack: you might want to keep doors in stock since America is about to bust ‘em down.

For every one (1) person who posts something about Families and Thanksgiving and The Sanctity of Employee Respect, there is one (1) nonvocal person who will be crashing the gates at your local mall, receiving 50% doorbuster discounts on all the crap they can grab at The Gap.

Don’t forget to pick up half-price yoga pants. Half-price yoga pants are very important. Looking good while wearing them is irrelevant.

Happy Thanksgiving. Now get ready for Christmas.

A bunch of us were drinking in the dorm – we’re graduate students staying on campus for a brief spell in the summer – when some young shiny faces appeared and told us that drinking in the common areas was not allowed.

“But we’re writers and need alcohol,” we said.

“No alcohol in the common areas.  You can drink in your room with the door closed.  Have a great night!” They trotted off, all happy with themselves.

We kept drinking and never saw them again.

Later the same night, two different girls pulled the same crap.  They told us to beat it with the booze and then left the building.  They, too, did not come back.  We’re not even sure they lived in the same building as us.  They were definitely undergrads, maybe on campus for summer orientation, but in general clearly hated having a good time.  Before they left, they made their convictions known to all.  We found this when we grabbed more beer from the fridge:

damned passive aggressive kids these days

A few nights went by, along with several cases of beer.  The spirit police did not bother us.  We turned up the Red Sox game and hollered over Cards Against Humanity.

Disaster struck while I went to the bathroom (not that kind of disaster).  Yet another set of kids scolded us for drinking.  At this point these interruptions moved from being a mild annoyance to a serious social problem.  Who brainwashed these children to the horrors of alcohol?  Their prom must’ve sucked.  But whatever – we had waited these rule-thumpers out and never saw them again, but the stakes changed this time.  I sat down and reached around for my beer.  It was down the drain, the empty in the recycling bin.  I had just cracked the damn thing.

Hostilities continued.  On the last night we were there, some girl with glasses as big as her ego told us to pack it in.

“You need to put this alcohol away.  Now.  While I watch.”

There is nothing quite as embarrassing as being tongue-lashed by an ill-managed superiority complex.  After we were shamed into one of our rooms, holding beers in a confined space, a public safety official came by to remind us – no doubt summoned by the girl who had done her good deed for the day – that no alcohol was to be consumed in the common areas.  Holy crap dude, by now we’ve got it.  But, he said, I just wanted to let you know.

Christmas Eve: when legends are made.  You are one of three people left.  You’ve completed all of your shopping and can eat Chinese food with impunity, you are looking for supplemental gifts because you’re paranoid, or you’ve just started, taking advantage of zero hour sales and betting that the mall traffic won’t run you down on your way to the entrance.

I sincerely applaud you if you’re cruising for last minute deals.  I, too, like to live dangerously.  I went to Best Buy the other day to pick up a computer for a family member – a favor if ever I granted one.  Best Buy the week before Christmas is a hall of sorrow, with half of humanity stomping about wondering where they can buy the deal they saw in the flyer.  I stood in line behind an older gentleman who asked what the purpose of each port was in a Dell that was on sale.  The answer is plug in your keyboard and pay up for Norton, because you’re going to ruin it within three weeks anyway.

Sure, Best Buy was crowded, but it’s nothing compared to the real heavyweight of retail: Walmart.  I met a cousin for Christmas Eve lunch when I received this dreaded text message from my wife:

“Are you going to Walmart while you’re out?”

No, and I would never casually go to Walmart without heavy medication and Kevlar armor, neither of which I had for my luncheon at Ruby Tuesday.  Then the list arrived: Rolos, one can of cat food (one? are we donating to the homeless cat shelter, or do we just feel bad for one cat in particular, but only bad enough for one meal?), a jar of pickled red peppers, one lemon, and fuzzy socks.  The fuzzy socks bit made me think I was the butt of some joke, perhaps testing the limits of sanity and matrimonial vows, but my cousin was down for it and off we went to the land of the living traffic jam, Walmart.

Five weeks ago I had to brave Saturday mall traffic on another coincidental errand.  Here’s how I fall into these situations: I leave to do my one errand and, when I’m about 98.9% done with the one thing I have to do, receive a text message asking for a “small favor,” which usually involves finding Waldo somewhere in New England.  With plenty of shopping days left until Christmas, the mall crawled with filth wearing Volcom hoodies, while mere hours away from disappointing family and friends, the sloths of Walmart wore sweatpants and frowns.  I’m not sure which I prefer.

At this particular Walmart, a violinist playing Christmas carols accompanied the standard bell ringer, making for a festive white trash atmosphere.  The violinist’s friend / relative / number one fan stood next to her and cheered her on, which really ruined the tempo of O Christmas Tree.  Several people blocked the main entrance to gape at this foreign stringed instrument of heaven.

“Quickly!” I said to my cousin.  “While they’re distracted!”  And we dashed by, through the carriage return, and into retail desolation.

Things Walmart has truckloads of: bras, underwear, regular socks.  Things Walmart has zero inventory of: fuzzy socks.  I think my wife called the store before she sent me off and played twenty questions with the operator: “Hey, what’re you out of?  Duck Dynasty DVDs?  Fuzzy socks?”  I became further suspicious when I found only one jar of pickled red peppers, on a high shelf behind jarred olives.  Walmart was even out of lemons – we had to rip open a multipack and screw someone else out of a lemon.  But, as the saying goes, it’s Christmas.

Along with fuzzy socks, entire displays had been picked naked.  Even the things people didn’t want, like bento box Tupperware and direct to DVD rollbacks, found their way into shopping carts as desperation mounted.  A certain economy arises when you are faced with such a situation: the product in question increasingly fits the solution the fewer there are to choose from.  Toaster ovens become great gifts in the absence of waffle makers.

On our way to the checkout, I had to pilot my cart across an aisle strewn with empty cardboard displays.  Another man with a cart wanted to be where I was standing, and of course, he was where I wanted to be.  After the initial game of chicken, revving the carts to where we both thought we can make it and realizing at the same time that this could only end in disaster, we stood across the aisle, waving at each other to pass through.  This continued until next Christmas when I finally told him to drag his cart to my side.

“Come on over,” I said.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Merry Christmas to you.”  He skated on by and that was that.  If only gifting was that easy.  The exchange of thanks without insular commercialism: a Christmas miracle, much like making it out of Walmart alive on Christmas Eve.  We used the self-checkout, a system designed by angry billy goats, got caught up in the jam around the violinist, froggered through traffic, and drove away at warp speed.  To all the people I cut off in traffic: a Merry Christmas to you and yours.  I want to go where you’re going, but it’s hard to communicate through all that noise.

The world is a cruel place.  Unfortunately, it is the only place we know, which makes it a little harder to cope with.  Perhaps if we knew of some better place, life would be easier.  The mall is not one of those places.  The mall is an open invitation for germs, stupidity, and the hope that we may one day evolve beyond the magnificent failures that creep past us.

I was in the mall because my wife dropped off her rings to be resized.  The job took conveniently longer than her shopping trip, so she dispatched me to pick them up.  I’m sure there’s some sort of rent-reduction clause to make this happen.  So I putted around, killing time, dealing death stares to the center kiosks that attack passersby with their harassing pitches.  No, I don’t want a remote control helicopter.  No, I don’t want a massage in the middle of a heavily-trafficked corridor.  Malls might be enjoyable if stores didn’t rely on siphoned traffic.  Just kidding – no mall is enjoyable.  No thank you, cellular store guy standing in the hallway, I don’t need your services.

While I was walking around, I heard a woman say, “It doesn’t look like they have a lot of Patriots stuff.”  Here’s a picture of that store’s display:


I sincerely hope she finds what she’s looking for.

I found myself walking around Michael’s Saturday night because my wife needed clothespins for a craft project.  Here’s an abridged list of thoughts I had upon entering the store:

–       Why does every craft store smell like a potpourri factory?

–       There is no way this place would pass a fire inspection.

–       Michael’s hates disabled people because the store is merchandised like a Tough Mudder track.

Craft stores must be run by people featured on the TV show Hoarders.  Here’s the concept: fill a few dump trucks with yarn and popsicle sticks, trough it in a 10,000 square foot store, and invite the general public to pick over the pile and put things back wherever they please.  Price tags and item descriptions are optional.  Add a few Christmasy signs and an aggressive holiday soundtrack to let everyone know that you mean Christmas.

I was wondering why life had forsaken me to wander the claustrophobic aisles of Michael’s on a Saturday night when I heard this:


Next time you are dining out with someone, ask them to pass the pepper as loudly as you can without screaming, and then shove past them to grab the pepper yourself.  This is what I was confronted with.  I stepped into a display of Christmas ribbons to let her pass and she plowed on by, a round little troll wearing a striped purple shirt and hideously dimpled yoga pants.

I am a reasonable man.  I am walking around, looking for wooden clothespins in the made-out-of-wood aisle.  Surely you can understand my confusion when I discovered them in the tiny-paint-bottles aisle.  And I know these are narrow aisles with no regard for ADA compliance, but shouting ‘excuse me’, shouldering past, and stopping right in front of me so I can immediately bump into you is an affront to decency.

So I said (shouted) “EXCUSE ME!” and dropped a shoulder, charging into the mason-jar-fad aisle.  The jars were marked down for a pre-Black Friday sales event and arranged on the shelf to simulate a recent earthquake.  Jars were on their sides, upside down, on the ground, everywhere but looking nice.  Ugly as they were, this is an unfortunate merchandising strategy many retailers showcase around the holidays, if not year-round.  There are three general holiday strategies retailers follow:

–       Pile ‘em high and watch ‘em fly

–       We’re participating because everyone else is

–       We had to buy insurance in case our customers develop seizures

Michael’s seems to have mastered the town dump concept, which saves the company money by paring merchandising and signage costs, but creates a disorganized, chaotic atmosphere that makes people like me want to take a swing at ignorant purple trolls desperate for seasonal glitter.  Stores that employ this method usually survive because they are a specialty retailer and shoppers are there for specific items.  Like craft clothespins.

My retail alma mater, RadioShack, is what I call a “me too” retailer: their only motivation for doing anything is other retailers, and they can’t be left sitting alone in the lunchroom.  The last Christmas I worked there, corporate provided clear stickers to put in the windows as holiday decorations: a set of snowflakes and a set of cellular logos.  Nothing says ‘we’re really trying’ quite like a holiday-themed window sticker riddled with air bubbles advertising AT&T.

Here’s a fun field trip: go to your local RadioShack and take a look at the signage hanging above the wall paneling (it’ll say RadioShack, or The Shack, or whatever they call themselves now).  When the floor associate isn’t looking (close to all the time), climb up there and rip one of the signs down.  It’s double sided.  Right around this time of year, the store manager flips all the signs so the Christmas ornament side is showing, and that is about 80% of the holiday merchandising strategy for RadioShack.

Some stores go overboard.  After being mauled at Michael’s, my wife and I went to Bath and Body Works.  My nickname for the place is The Headache Store; when you walk in, the air is chewy, and I’m under with a migraine in about five minutes.  But I am not ashamed to admit that I like their smelly hand soaps.

Bath and Body Works sells Christmas by the pound.  The store is bathed in shades of red, flashy ornaments hang from every display, the music is a mix between trance and Burl Ives, and the store’s seizure insurance policy is framed in the manager’s office.  It’s clean, bright, shiny, and completely over the top.  The atmosphere works and the upkeep is manageable because the store sells approximately twelve products.  Candles, soap, shampoo, and lotion, in scents ranging from aquatic starfish pine nut to red velvet mandarin chicken.  Stores with narrow inventory are successful by selling a pleasant shopping experience.  Purple trolls do not smash into you at the local craft warehouse while looking for cotton balls, located in the googly eyes aisle, across from beveling knives.

I would like to postulate Rick’s Theorem of Retail Congregation: the quality of signage and merchandising across a retail brand is directly proportional to the quality of customer it attracts.  Here’s how to test this: does the store appear generally nice?  Do the customers appear generally nice?  The theorem holds when the answers match.  If they don’t match, have another look.

We grabbed three packs of clothespins and headed for the registers, where we had the fortune of waiting in line behind the purple troll.  She was telling a friend in a staccato whine how badly she wanted all the things she had seen on her trip to Michael’s.  Answers: no and no.  The theorem holds.

When my new girlfriend called and said that a rat had taken residence in her apartment, I thought she was testing the relationship waters.  Would I kick down the door and lay waste to rat-kind, or would I tell her to call the Orkin man to take care of her pest problem?  Let me tell you a secret: I have never seen a rat in the wild.  Or in the urban, suburban, or rural.  Mice, sure, but never rats.  Rats lived in sewers and grew up to be small alligators that nipped at your ass when you sat on the toilet.  Rats did not habit the apartments of newly found girlfriends.

I told her that I would come over, and when she answered the door, she seemed disappointed that I was not carrying a bazooka.  I mean, it’s just a rat.  The Marines or the National Guard would be a little heavy.

“Thank you for coming,” she whispered.  “It’s in the closet.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, stepping through the door, “it can’t hear you.”

She led me through her apartment which, embarrassingly, was only vaguely familiar.  We had met outside of some shit bar.  I was waiting for a bus and she was waiting to pass out.  We hit it off immediately.  Her name was Racquel, she lived somewhere along the 72, and had very little standing time left.  I was feeling charitable, or a little drunk, and offered to escort her home.  She accepted and promptly fell asleep on the bus.  Like a gentleman, I dragged her up the stairs and threw her into bed.  I let myself out.

A few weeks and a few dates later, we were somewhat steady, and I was her rat-killer.  It was only the second time I had been in her apartment.  It was neat and tidy, like her sober personality, and her manner was businesslike as we stepped into the bedroom that I had once drunkenly left her in.  She turned to me with urgency.

“It’s in there,” she pointed.

I grabbed the handle and slid the door away.  Dresses, blouses, and pants were stuffed to the rafters, and a neat but overpopulated shoe rack sat on the floor.  There was little room for a rat.

“Are you sure-”

The door clicked shut and I heard her padding away.

I nodded slowly and realized the task at hand.  This was a battle in the Coliseum, a fight between beast and gladiator, and the winner would have the young girl’s heart.  The loser might not have to worry about death, but loss of respect and tainted integrity was just as deadly in a young relationship.  The failure of this test would bring certain peril.  I brought a hand to my mouth and rubbed the stubble.  Should I kick it to death?

I dropped a knee to the carpet and cocked my head to see under the clutter.  The need for a vacuum was clear.  Dirt, grit, and bits of gravel dropped from the shoe rack pebbled the nap, but there was no rat.  None that I could see, anyway.  While I was looking, I wondered if I would find any dirty secrets: bones of lovers past, a mountain of soggy bar coasters, the eleven herbs and spices for KFC chicken.  No such luck.  Just shoe boxes and balled up socks.  But it gave me pause.

Some of the debris on the carpet was shredded bits of cardboard.  That’s when I knew.  The little bastard was inside one of the shoe boxes.

My tolerance for creepy-crawlies is very low.  Fortunately, it’s not a standard question on date night.  “So where do you work?  Can you kill spiders?”  I would rather burn down the house than stand toe-to-toe with a spider – could you pass the pepper?  I’m sure insurance companies work that into their premiums.  Oh – are you going to the bathroom?  You’re leaving?

When I was a young child, my family spent a week in the Maine wilderness shacked up in a lonely cabin by a lake.  Every night, we all stared at the ceiling while constant scratching, scampering, and other stock horror movie noises kept us awake.  We discovered that a cloud of bats was living in the walls.  At dusk, at least two dozen of the little devils flew out of the eaves, and my folks went to work on plugging every hole they could find.  Their efforts were premature.  The bats that stayed in for the night were very angry when they found that their egress was destroyed.  We spent the next hellish night fighting for our lives with brooms and wiffle ball bats, swinging violently at flapping black baseballs and beating the tarpaper walls as little lumps scurried down.

I decided that I needed a weapon.  With one eye on the closet, I tiptoed to the door and cracked it.  She wasn’t there.  “Racquel?”

“Did you kill it yet?”

I rolled my eyes.  “Yes, and now I’m wearing its head as a hat.  Do you have a baseball bat or a broom or something?”

She crashed into a closet and rumbled around.  A yellow handle poked through the open slit.  I pulled the door a little wider and caught a glimpse of her ashen face before she disappeared again, and it assured me that my own ridiculous and irrational fear was validated.  I eased the door shut and brandished my weapon, a ten dollar corn broom from the local hardware store.  The worn bristles swished as I hefted it.

There it was.  The Rat King.

I really didn’t know what I was expecting, but there it was, in all its glory, and I stood there feeling like a thief caught in the act.  I couldn’t kill that.  It looked so pitiful and defenseless.  It’d be like killing my mom’s cat for raiding the pantry.

The rat regarded me with its needly black eyes, and the whiskers quivered as it sniffed in my direction.

I cracked the door again.  “Racquel?”


“Can you stand by the front door and open it when I tell you to?”

“Sure…” she said, with a little hesitation.

The rat hadn’t moved.  I laid the broom on the carpet, with the bristles resting just before the little beast.  I waited.  The rat still didn’t move.  Very slowly, I approached on the side, taking great care not to startle it.  The rat bobbed its head and followed me with shaking whiskers.

Also very slowly, and with great trepidation, I stuck out my shoe, and nudged it in the butt.  The rat obliged and stepped onto the rigid head of the broom.

I carefully and firmly grabbed the handle and hoisted the rat into the air.



“Open the front door.”


I heard the deadbolt turn down the hall and I made my move.  Curled my foot around the door, pulled it away, stepped into the hallway.  The rat stuck out on the head of the broom like a hood ornament.  Racquel turned around and her eyes blew out of her head.

“FUCKING SHIT!” she screamed, and disappeared behind a slamming door.

I carried my cargo down the hall with short, deliberate steps, and when I crossed the doorframe, flung it down the hall.  The rat landed on its feet and turned back, insulted.  There, I thought.  Someone else’s problem.  I slammed the door and addressed my other problem.

“Racquel?” I called, knocking on the door.  I assumed it was the bathroom.

“Is it gone?” she screeched, still in the grip of hysteria.

“It’s gone!” I announced, throwing some extra cheer in my voice.  “Can you come out now?”

The lock clicked and a ghost appeared.  I felt like a lion standing next to this puddle of despair.

“What did you do with it?”

“Threw it into the hallway.  Your super can deal with it now.”

“So, you mean,” she said, with a trembling finger pointed at the door, “that it’s out there?”

I nodded.

“Ohhh,” she moaned.  “How am I supposed to leave?”

My patience collapsed.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “Call your super.  I gotta run.”

“No!  Stay a while!  Let’s have some dinner or-”

“Sorry, I gotta go,” I said, and shoved past her.  I felt her panicky stare even as I closed the door behind me.  Immediately, as if it were possessed, the deadbolt popped and the chain slid into the runner.  I sighed as I walked away, and waved to the rat on my way out.

History will ask – “Where were you when it happened?” – it, a disquieting event that will be talked about for years over coffee and television commercials.  “Where were you?” houseguests will demand.  When your children are old enough, you’ll recount tall tales of what you did when it happened and – the humanity! – how awful it was.  The children will ooh and ahh and gape openly with lurid eyes, and when the charades are over, you’ll dismiss them to their rooms, hoping that your panting theatrics didn’t scare them to sleeplessness.

I was at a Burger King drive-through.

My order was a rodeoburger and a small Icee.  That’s it.  I was hungry; I don’t eat breakfast, and I skipped lunch for some damnable reason, making that rodeoburger all the more palatable and that Icee all the more quenching.  I needed them both, now, but as the universe would have it, eternity is defined as the time it takes for time to expire.  The car idled.  My stomach growled.  I tapped the steering wheel.  Tap, tap tap.

The Burger King bade me to roll forth, and I sat even with a little metal box that stood between me and sweet, sweet barbeque sauce dribbling down my chin.

I rolled the car window down and poked my head out – and that’s when I heard it, a mob of tiny lawnmowers cutting through bags of granulated sugar, monstrous and throbbing on an airy spring day, coming from directions that never should exist in spacetime.  There was something sinister about that droning noise–

The Burger King spoke; I could not hear, but the list of possible topics was short.  “Rodeoburger!” I screamed.  “BLUE ICEE!”

I waited with wild eyes staring madly at the metal box.  That infernal noise was growing louder, and I felt as if a great army of Kitchenaid stand mixers was about to skewer me with rusty dough hooks.  I prayed for advancements in drive-through noise cancellation technology; I wondered to which god that request would be routed.

The box squawked – but it was for naught.  The stand mixers were advancing on my position and the phantasmal King may as well have confirmed my order using armpit farts.  What was the use in playing this game?  If I drove to the next window (a beastly metaphor for life, by the way) and my measly two-dollar order was wrong, then the King could fix it right at the window, right before my eyes, without the Roswell landing warping lines of communication.

Great idea, I congratulated myself, and shifted into drive.  But that’s when one of those goddamned aliens landed on my face and shit really started to go the other way.  I shrieked.  Let me tell you – a shriek is never something that you plan to do and it always sounds like you’re auditioning for a paranormal horror movie, one that leaves theater audiences crying and piss-soaked.  I shrieked and slapped my own face.  I tell myself it’s because there was a winged gargoyle crawling up my cheek, but I secretly think it was out of deep, inconsolable shame.  What happened next is still a little hazy, but if I had to guess, I’d say that my foot slipped off the brake pedal and onto the gas, and my car climbed into the backseat of the next one in line.

I never got that rodeoburger and will never know if the King bagged my order right on the first try.  The guy in front of me had some big problem with my little love tap and several cops took what they described as an “active interest” in our shouting match (I tried to explain that we were shouting because of the noise, but since I was shouting at them because of the noise, they threatened me with arrest).  I spent the rest of the day convincing the stone pillars of law enforcement that I should not be thrown in jail for want of a simple rodeoburger and that insurance hell would be punishment enough for anybody.

There are lessons to be learned from this, and I’ll let the more mentally endowed draw them.  As for me – if a few billion cicadas decide to end their 17-year game of hide-and-seek on Thursday, I’m going to set my alarm for Friday.