When I log into Facebook, I have a certain expectation of what I am going to see on my newsfeed or who I am going to interact with.  You know, the usual: someone’s mad at so and so, new love is in the digital ether, Bobby Smith thought of something really witty to post and did a favor to everyone by posting it, the Red Sox won, the Red Sox lost.  Recently, that expectation has drunkenly fallen down the stairs.  I have seen more cinnamon roll pancake recipes and tributes to nieces and siblings on Facebook in the past week than poorly written status updates and adorable cat pictures.

It was a rapid change; abrupt enough to jar me out of my mindless morning Facebooking session to think to myself, “what in the blue hell is going on?”  Why am I seeing a pepperoni pizza casserole recipe at 6AM?  Why the hell would I want a pepperoni pizza casserole anyway?  Has pizza become so boring that we need to casserolize it?  Why does everybody suddenly adore every family member, organic or removed, that they’ve ever been related to?  Why am I seeing religious propaganda?  If I want to be told that I’m a Godless heathen, I will go to Downtown Crossing and listen to the Angry Jesus Man for three seconds.  And above all, guns don’t belong on Facebook, because it’s a goddamned website.  You can’t even shoot people there.

So far, I know this: I did not change.  I’ve gotten a few years older, read a few more books, and even shave more often than I used to, but I have not undergone a large enough paradigm shift to warrant noticing drastic sociological changes on Facebook.  On the opposite side of the keyboard, Facebook did not change.  While Facebook does abruptly change the way it appears with either organizational changes or site redesigns, the fundamental identity of Facebook did not change.  It is still the Internet town hall where the world’s masses gather to publicly urinate on each other and swear loudly while others are watching.

That leaves only one culprit: its user base.

The collective we changed.  I truly believe that we are devolving as an intelligent people.  The always on, everyone has a voice culture of Facebook has encouraged anyone and everyone with a working mouth to open it whenever the hell they want to.  If pepperoni pizza casserole is on the mind at 6AM, well, why not just shout it out to the whole world?  Here’s a picture of my dinner.  Here’s what I did for my workout.  Here are the intimate details of my life that previously only me and my mirror knew.  Check out my new abs!  Here are my likes and dislikes;  in fact, you are one of them and I will passive-aggressively let you decide to which list you belong.

Here’s the issue that I have that precious few people understand.  Facebook isn’t an intimate setting like your home living room where you and five of your friends are sitting around shooting the shit.  It’s a public space, like a mall or a stadium, and when you open your mouth a lot of people will be listening whether they want to or not.

To wit: if someone walked up to you while you were shopping for a pair of pants at the mall and handed you a recipe for peanut butter cheesecake scones, you would probably have more than a small problem with it.  The same goes with religious propaganda and the gun debate – while there is a small targeted audience that will receive the message, the larger part of the audience will go around the crazy town crier and into more comfortable spaces.  Such as continuing to scroll until seeing something far more interesting or entertaining.

That isn’t the solution, though, even though it’s what I do now to cope with it: when I see some crazy on my Facebook newsfeed intimately telling me how to prepare goat curd yogurt from expired milk to avoid spending an extra 12 cents at the evil grocery store or why banning 50 round mags is unconstitutional and everyone in Congress should be thrown in jail, I keep scrolling, because I wouldn’t entertain it for even a second in a public space.

Facebook has taught us to become extremely comfortable with telling everyone exactly what is on our minds and in our hearts to the point that normal discourse with fellow human beings has been irreparably affected.  “Did you see on Facebook” has become a standard lead for a sentence.  We should be ashamed of that.  “Did you see on Facebook that Bobby posted a picture of a man in American flag underwear holding an AK-47?”  Currently, human intelligence has no problem processing that thought.  Let’s change the locale: “Did you see at the mall that Bobby was showing people a picture of a man in American flag underwear holding an AK-47?”  Why does it become reprehensible when it occurs in an actual public place as opposed to a “fake” public place?

When Mormons, Unitarians, and Jehovahs come knocking at the door, we run and hide and pretend that we’re not home.  You can’t do that on Facebook because it is the most public place that has ever been invented by man.  Let’s change that by cutting the bullshit.  Let’s go back to posting pictures of our cats waging war on bottle caps and posting our celebrity doppelgangers and posting witty things that will make your fellow man laugh rather than break the last political straw he has left.

tardkids

Tard the Grumpy Cat endorsed this post.

ADDENDUM: Bill Gates is one of the most philanthropic people the world has ever known.  He is not going to give you $500.00 for sharing a picture.  Get a grip.  You’re embarrassing the rest of us.

A couple of winters ago, Domino’s sent me a flyer advertising that they would deliver gooey-hot pizzas in “ALL” snow storms.  What an interesting proposition.  Here I am, gawping lazily out the window, watching snow pile on the sill, unwilling to risk injury or accident on unreliable roads, but for as little as twelve bucks I could force someone else to do it for me.

Boston hasn’t received a major snowstorm since the Halloween Nor’easter of 2011.  That is a pretty significant drought for a city that averages 43” of snowfall per year.  Just months before that, I job-hopped from the retail industry (stays open in the event of snow, the apocalypse, 9/11, etc) to higher education (presidents and trustees get together with a Ouija board to determine whether to close).  I was very excited for nostalgic throwbacks of winters in Maine – snow days – but, an absence of snow compels an absence of snow days.  We did get a day off when Hurricane Sandy blew ashore, but chasing the grill cover down the road and wondering which blast of wind is going to shatter the window just doesn’t compare to watching snow banks rise and cars slide into each other.

Because of the uncooperative mien of Mother Nature, Ill Nino, El Nino, the jet stream, or whatever modern day blame is assigned to the lack of snow, I have yet to test Domino’s claim.  That could change tomorrow with, what, the 102” of snow we’re supposed to get.  The self-serving asshole in me wants to call in the delivery minimum and set an egg timer.  The compassionate retail-scarred wimp wonders why this service is offered to begin with.  There’s always a cutesy news story after every tempest about heroic pizza slingers delivering pies in the drifts three hours after they’ve been ordered and getting a nice tip for their troubles.

How much would the tip have to be to make a run worth it?  This guy seems to think that any tip will do, as long as the thought is there, but his basis of comparison is no tip at all.  Shouldn’t the thought be – I mean really, do we need pizza right now?  How about a can of Chef Boyardee – that’s almost pizza.  Or an English muffin with pasta sauce and a slice of American on top?  If I don’t want to go out, should I make someone else do it?

I don’t think I will test the all-weather delivery.  It seems like an insult to the poor bastard that has to work in those conditions.  Several years ago I opened my store in the midst of a true walloping – a foot on the ground with more on the way.  My car did a front wheel burnout trying to climb the slight grade into the parking lot, and where it stopped is where it parked.  One bushy-tailed customer bought an MP3 player right after the doors opened at 9am.  That lonely sale sat in the till well into the afternoon, and I sat twiddling my thumbs wondering how to excavate my car after it was walled in by the plow.

Nope, I’ll go pizza-less.  In true New England fashion, I stocked the booze cabinet, also known as the spot where I stash the bottle I’m working on.  No snow storm is complete without it.  If I get a raving case of the drunchies, there’s a 24 hour 7/11 next to my house.  I’ll be interested to see if they abandon ship on Friday night when I stumble over for a Slurpee.

Let us suspend historical accuracy for a moment and watch a movie.

I am a male with red blood.  Explosions, girls, guns, slow motion bullet-time photography, and pithy one-liners are among the one-dimensional things that I enjoy.  I will even admit to having a tiny man-crush on Josh “Tough Guy” Brolin and Ryan “I Play A Damn Good Retard” Gosling (see also: Blue Valentine, Lars and the Real Girl).  So why, oh why, was I unable to wrap myself around Gangster Squad?

The opening scene of the movie depicts Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen torturing a man who crossed him in some way (drugs? money? gambling? laughing at Sean Penn’s performance?).  During this scene, we learn several inauspicious things about the next two hours:

  1. Sean Penn is not very good at pitching a 50’s gangster Americana accent.
  2. As a result, Mickey Cohen sounds like a drunk man with Bell’s palsy.
  3. What Mickey Cohen was doing in Los Angeles, for the historically uninitiated, is not important, along with the development of the rest of the story.  Based on what I was being shown, I felt that he was the Freddy Kreuger of the 50’s: everyone knew about him, dreamt about him, but no one actually figured out what the hell he was doing and why he was there.
  4. Aside from Mickey Cohen, I do not remember anybody else’s name.

The last point is particularly dangerous when setting up a movie that contains characters.  It is impossible to expect character development when you cannot remember who the characters are.  Visually, yes, I can distinguish between the good guy and the bad guy, Josh Brolin’s razor-shorn face from the scruffy mug that chomps a cigar, but when my internal MST3K is play-by-playing “The Ugly One” and “The Guy with the Big Teeth,” it becomes a distended bore.  Rather than a film about a story, it becomes a film containing several disparate stories that happen around each other, with no unifying thread.

There were no overtly bad performances by any one SAG member; they all did fine, nothing to win an Oscar or a Razzie over.  The movie suffered from poor writing.  An important part of writing is what I call “connecting the dots”: it’s all nice and fine that you have a bunch of gangster cops who come together to wipe out a common threat, but how are you going to get there?  The writers left that part out.  One scene jerked to the next with no trail to follow, like a dry mop pushing Gangster Squad-sized dirt across the floor.

Okay.  Time to reinstate historical accuracy.  At the grand conclusion of this waste of a reel, we are treated to a fight scene between Mickey Cohen, the former boxer, and the main character sergeant dude, who we’ll just call Josh Brolin.  Cohen predictably has the upper hand in the fight until Brolin eats a magic mushroom, finds intestinal fortitude, draws longingly from a mental image of his wife and child growing up in a gangster-infested City of Angels, and beats the piss out of Cohen.

What was I talking about?  Right, historical accuracy: it was nearly a punch for punch ripoff of the final fight scene of Lethal Weapon.

1/4.  AMC will have it on regular airplay within a year.

Americanized Chinese food is readily available three hundred and sixty-three days out of the Gregorian year.  Nom nom nom, kung pao chicken and moo goo gai pan for all.  The other two days require a little patience and even some strategy to munch on shrimp and lobster sauce in a timely fashion.  Even more impressive is if you get your order at all.  If you would like to witness the slow devolution of the human race in a controlled environment, look no further than a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.

I had the pleasure of picking up the family Chinese food order on Christmas Eve.  It was handed to me in a cardboard box, a box I might have used to put personal belongings in on moving day, making that the happiest and most depressing evening of my life.

I'm very hungry.

I’m very hungry.

While I was waiting for my thirteen pound order to be wokked, an old man wandered into the restaurant and started a fight with the woman manning the counter.

Several gray hairs earlier, I worked at McDonald’s to bring in some extra cash, and the single most annoying thing to happen near the end of my greasy shift would be a soccer bus pulling into the parking lot.  Aside from despair and suicide, two thoughts would roll through my mind:

1)      It is imperative that I leave on time regardless of food safety;

2)      I don’t care about who orders or gets what.

That established, hamburger buns would fly, patties would splat on the tile floor next to the bun it was supposed to be on, and food that didn’t belong in the fryolator would boil into the fryolator.  A good chunk of the storeroom freezer needed to be cooked that very instant with no delicate way of doing it.  There was a period of time when I wouldn’t even look at a McDonald’s knowing what I knew after I left.  Time heals all greasy wounds.

This old man ordered something with something else, hold the annoying, with a side of gross.  His wife called in the order; where is it?

“Number thirty-three,” he said, “number thirty-three.”

Broken English with a few exaggerated hand motions.  “No thitty-thee.”

My attention was screwed to an enormous fish in a very small tank.  I couldn’t place it – was it a Chinese eel?  Or just a disgusting eel?  I nodded amiably, sarcastically appeased by my fishy answer.

DAYUM!

DAYUM!

“This must be a joke.  No thirty-three?  I ordered a thirty-three!”

This nasty eel turned hard to port and did his best to lap the goldfish bowl, scraping glass on his way by.  I bent over and mimicked its undulating mouth.

“No thee-thee,” she snipped.

“This must be a joke,” he repeated.  He nosed up and threw his hands into the air.  I thought it a little dramatic that he did so after he made his objection.  The eel charged the glass with what little room he had, realizing that I was ceding my attention to some other dope in the room.

“No joke.”  Stern.  Like telling a child that he forfeited dinner for behaving badly.

“Give me a phone,” he decided.  “I’ll call my wife.”

“No,” the woman said.

I sidled up to my wife, ready to take in the shit show.  The eel watched with a special gnosis.

“Fine,” the man grumbled.  He pulled an antennaed dinosaur from his pocket and stared down the bridge of his nose.  The woman directed traffic around the wreck, handing out bags of food in exchange for plastic swipes.

“Do you think—”

My wife hushed me.

“Yah hallo?” the man was saying.  “Hallo?  Yah.  I’m here and they don’t have the order.”  The man cocked his shoulders.  “Yah!  They don’t have the order!”  He suspended his free hand in the air away from his body, palm out, waiting for his meal to fall from the sky.  “Yah.  It’s a thirty-three, right?—thirty-three?  Yah, that’s what I told them.  They don’t have a thirty-three.”

The woman cleared out the line behind the old man.  I counted about a hundred and fifty in receipts.

“Okay.”  The old man pocketed his phone.  “Yeah, my wife said she called in a thirty-three.”

I sighed.  My wife sighed.  The eel sighed.  A few bubbles wiggled to the surface.

“Okee.   We cook now.  Okee?”

“No!” He pounded his fist against the particleboard counter.  “I called it in like I was supposed to!  I want it now!”

“Thee-thee?” a cook called from the back.

“YES!” the old man hollered, lunging past the woman with his index finger.  “Thirty-three!  That man has my order!”

“No no no—” the woman urged, backed hurriedly by the kitchen staff.

“Ahhhhh,” the old man huffed angrily.  He threw his palms into the woman’s face and shook them pinky to thumb.  “This is a bad joke, a bad joke,” he chanted.  “A bad joke.”

“We cook—”

“Forget it,” he interjected with biblical importance.  “I’m leaving.”

The man ruffled the collar of his faux leather jacket.  He turned, pushed open the door.  The bell attached to the hydraulic swing-arm clattered against the glass.  He shot one last forlorn look back at the woman before the door eased shut.  The woman pounced on other orders piling behind her on the stainless steel prep counter.  I turned to my wife.

She smiled.  “Do you think he’s at the right restaurant?”

“Nope.”

Many of you have finished your Christmas shopping.  Some are aghast that Christmas is tomorrow.  I am in both camps.  Though I am writing a bad gift countdown, it is still outrageous to think that the big day, the day of all yearned for days, is a few hours away.  An apocalypse averted in the interim is even more impressive.

Christmas Eve holds a special place in my heart.  Any cares in the world can be dismissed with the simple reckoning that Christmas is tomorrow.  The world slows down, if only for a second, to acknowledge that we can take a step back and shut off our minds to the constant beating of that consumerist drum once the clock strikes seven – the retail monoliths close their doors and it’s game over.

You have precious little time, yet there you are, standing agape in the malls of America, wondering what to get all those people you didn’t shop for.

You are not alone.  For every person that finished in November, there are a hundred hungry souls looking for a deal on Christmas Eve.  The malls are packed, the streets are crammed, and you are honking your horn, angry at the car that stole your parking spot in front of Nordstrom.  You are ready to throw in the towel and buy the first item with a price tag stickered to the front, but worry not, weary Consumer, for you have the wisdom of those before you.  When making those last minute buys, you should avoid…

SLIM AWAY

slimaway

It is reprehensible to gift a fat-loss solution to someone.  It is worse to give them a corset to hide the problem.  On the list of things I’d rather die from, shock from receiving a muffin top masker appears between being smothered to death by grimy pennies and being shot at point-blank range by a close talker with onion breath.

This is an ‘As Seen on TV’ product, which is a nudge-nudge and a wink-wink that means your hopes for this product will be dashed.  That little red sticker is a beacon for the damned: come all, ye with heavy wallets and light heads, for I will solve your problems.  Bed Bath and Beyond designates an entire area of their stores to this product category, helpfully alerting You to avoid that useless area and waste your time elsewhere.

Busting your ass is the only way to lose weight.  Busting your ass into a corset will not.  Read the reviews and count how many people mention the zipper breaking easily.  Protip: the zipper ain’t faulty.  Unless you’re looking to lose a few names from next year’s shopping list, skip this one and buy literally anything else instead.

The Mayans were wrong, which means you can’t avoid the icy stare of death from Aunt Ethel when she discovers that you bought her a doggy DNA kit for the dog she doesn’t own.  With Christmas bearing down on you like the cosmic reality of a solar flare wiping out life in the habitable zone, it’s time to get serious and avoid this truly awful gift.

EMERGENCY MEAL KIT

EMK

Continuing in the tradition of people willing to buy literally anything, Sky Mall is offering an emergency meal kit for the holidays.  There are plenty of emergency kits that I would buy during the holidays (a bad conversation ender; an emergency food spice kit; a flask), food is the one thing that Americans supply in abundance around the holidays.  Just last week, I went to two holiday parties in one day, and pooped out an emergency meal kit the next morning.  Our level of binge revelry is excessive.

Why is Sky Mall selling this product?  This seems like the forte of Cabella’s or doomsday bunker builders.  Sky Mall is the QVC of the airways, selling overpriced junk to people who believe they need it at the price Sky Mall is offering it.  As I wrote that, I did a quick search on Cabella’s website and found that they do indeed sell the same product, and – Sky Mall is undercutting them by thirty-nine cents.  Perhaps they are trying to corner the thrifty but upscale doomsdayist.

Nothing says poor planning like gifting someone an emergency meal kit days after the purported end of existence.  At this point, it would make a great gag gift, but deep down, you know that Aunt Ethel deserves better cooking than this.  Save some face and leave this one in the trunk of the car – you never know when you might be trapped in your vehicle for days.

The hoary specter of Christmas hangs over you like the dreaded sword of Damocles.  You have but six shopping days left to snag a gift perfect enough to make friends and family feel poorly about leaving you off the Christmas card list this year.  The sword dangles nigh in the midnight hour, and there is much trash to choose among the treasure.  Follow me, Faithful Consumer, for I will show you the foolishness in the gold.  At all cost, you must avoid…

NAP MASSAGING BED REST

napbedrest

I freely admit that I am a lazy person.  However, like a yellow belt or a letter grade of ‘F,’ there are levels and branches of laziness, and those who are lazy loathe branches higher and lower.  The Nap is reserved for people who eat French fries and slurp ketchup out of the packet.  I am willing to look past the half-assed recliner (see what I did there?), but attaching it to your bed reads like the start of news articles about 800 pound men who are removed from their homes by firemen.

How is this convenient?  When I come home from a long day of getting my ass kicked by life, the last thing I want to do is to set up a pop-up couch.  The second to last thing I want to do is break down my pop-up couch and lie in the spot that I previously occupied but in a slightly different position.  What I love most about getting into bed is the crisp coolness of the sheets; I might as well crawl up a sweaty buffalo’s ass and go to sleep.

How does this product work with a spouse or significant other?  “Excuse me honey, could you move over?  It’s time to deploy the NAP.”  To the uninitiated, this sounds like a safe word, a come on, or a fair warning before a nuclear Dutch oven.  Yes, yes, right away: if this Rube Goldberg machine is anywhere near the mass of an actual couch, then your partner is better off sleeping on the floor or in the bathtub.

How is this comfortable?  I’d rather try my luck in a hammock swinging over a bed of hot coals. With a couch or a chair, the line of action is reasonably direct: bend knees, plant ass, say “ahh.”  Do you approach this from the foot of the bed and slither like a nasty eel through the covers and into the seatback?  You might make it if you jump from the side of the bed, but watch out for a rogue bedspring.  Putting a cup of coffee on the armrest might need some serious reconsideration.

I get the feeling that this product is the half of the ejector seat that made it out of the plane.  At a hundred smacks, this is a black hole on your credit card, and it’s a surefire way to lighten your Facebook feed without doing any extra work.  Grant a Christmas miracle this season and avoid giving this gift.

Christmapocalypse continues to bear down on us like an ancient Mayan prophesy of doom.  It is foretold that Christmapocalypse will turn the flesh of the living into the gangrenous rot of zombies, forever marching through the department stores and specialty shops of suburban America in search of the perfect trinket that will express love and affection to whom it is bestowed.  Do not be fooled by mere promises of materialistic ecstasy; there are products out there that exist only to lighten your wallet.  Follow me, Faithful Consumer, for I will show you number two on the list of items to avoid this year…

SKATECYCLE

skatecycle

This contraption is a skateboard designed to take you straight to the hospital.  The first sign of imminent injury appears when you have to wiggle your body below its center of gravity just to get the damn thing to go, like starting a hula-hoop while standing on a slick of petroleum jelly.  If you do manage to get it going and need to dump off, your feet are surrounded by the wheel wells.  There’s a reason why the product video shows the rider skatecycling along at a maximum speed of one foot per second: if you take a sudden turn and lean too far over, you’re going to end up with a pair of broken ankles or a concussion with road rash on top.

I have never witnessed one of these in action and I don’t expect to.  Skateboarding has been around for years, and while there’s new technology in the decks and trucks, I do not believe a reimagining is going to dent what we know it is today.  When the Razor was popular circa everyone I hate, I saw one outfitted with a gas engine that really made it zip.  It also made it hit potholes and rocks at a much faster clip.

This product looks like the result of the owner of Razor Scooters asking his research team, “What if we take off the handles?”  What we have here is something that looks neat but is entirely impractical.  There were probably a hundred models that came off the line before the finished product that is advertised today.  My condolences to the hospitalized whose job it was to test each failure that came out of the lab.  Be a pal and stay a pal – leave this one to a crash test dummy.

Christmapocalypse is nearly upon us, and you stand among the savages in the malls of America, desperate to throw your money into the hungry flames of a greedy incinerator in an effort to please those around you with plastic baubles.  I am here to help you make good decisions, Faithful Consumer, with gifts to avoid giving this Christmas season.  To kick off my yearly contribution to your wellbeing, the first on the list to avoid is…

THE SNACKMAN

SnackMan

Americans love to eat and be lazy.  Combine the two and you get THE SNACKMAN, a motion activated ‘treat’ dispenser that goes beyond all that is wrong with our muscle-relaxant society.

This is a simple gadget.  You slap some batteries in the slot, fill it with your favorite junk food, and wave your hand underneath the chute.  It works exactly as the quarter operated peanut dispensers did at Bradlees back in the day, but with this modern iteration, it omits the side of lead paint chips.

Imagine the invention process:

A man sits on the couch watching reruns of Friends and Seinfeld.  A Costco-sized bag of peanut M&M’s lay draped across his lap.  His rheumy eyes drift back and forth from the bag to the television set, back and forth, dilating on the space between.  The man coughs, doesn’t bother blocking the discharge as it takes flight into the scuzzy atmosphere.

“I wanna eat these M&M’s,” the man sputters, “but I don’t wanna reach into the bag.”

CHA-CHING.  The bastions of American consumerism, with ears to the rails and glasses to the walls, seize upon the Pavlovian need among breathing and blinking Americans to wave a hand and have it.  A waiter, attention, the dog to stop chewing on the corner of the couch, treats.

I get it, though.  We’ve all been there: hungry, lazy, don’t want to get up from the couch, want someone to get something for you.  In the past, that’s been Domino’s and the corner Chinese food place.  With advances in modern technology, Domino’s and Chinese can stay in the past – until you’ve waved the Snackman empty, at which point Domino’s and Chinese is in your very near future.  Be a pal and remain a pal – don’t put a bow on this one.

MacGruber doesn’t know how to read, but that didn’t stop him from reading Silent Is the Night.

Yes, he is reading it upside down, but read it he did.  My first major release, Silent Is the Night is now available as a paperback as well as in Kindle and Nook eBook formats.  The eBook edition has an introductory launch price of $0.99 and the paperback is $4.99.

Silent Is the Night follows the story of a middle school-aged boy who joins his church Christmas caroling group.  The group’s mission is to carol to shut-ins and collect donations for UNICEF.  Along the way, he encounters a full spectrum of people, from a rugged Marine turned school counselor to a crunchy old cat lady.  It’s a story about people trying desperately to do the right thing despite not always knowing how to do it.

I’ve set up a page dedicated to this book on my webpage, and you can find it here.  If you are on Goodreads, add it to your bookshelf!  And, as always, your reviews are welcome.

Thank you for reading!

-Rick