A Story

This is a tale I heard way back in Junior High when I was studying Spanish. It’s one of those things that’s stuck with me over the years as an excellent example of the things that terrify others can be overcome by changing the rules, or just by realizing no one else completely gets the rules.

Back in old Mexico, when banditos roamed the desert taking what they wanted and generally causing mayhem, there was one bandit that was feared above all others: El Guapo.

El Guapo was a bandito’s bandito. If a bank was robbed, everyone knew it was El Guapo. When a train disappeared and the desiccated corpses of the passengers were found months later, staked out in the desert and picked clean by crows, it was El Guapo. He was a vicious son of a bitch and he never shirked away from letting people know that.

Like all good banditos, El Guapo had  a certain kind of panache. In addition to his amazing cruelty, El Guapo loved to taunt to the Federales with lyrical messages that explained not only why he killed everyone who crossed him, but why the Federales were impotent to stop him.

He was also known for his epic beard. In the annals of history, El Guapo’s beard is still the standard by which others are judged. The members of ZZ Top are only considered to have 0.8 El Guapo beards; that’s how amazing his beard was.

No one had ever seen El Guapo without his beard. Legend had it that he was born with the beard. In a single breath, people would praise the beard and feel sorry El Guapo’s mother who was said to have died in childbirth because of that glorious facial hair.

Well, as these things happen, eventually the Federales caught up to El Guapo and his gang in a small town dedicated to Santa Muerte, which was an appropriate place for a slaughter. For all his wealth and power, El Guapo couldn’t stand up to the combined might of the Federales. Bullets flew and soon the smell of gunpowder and copper filled the streets. The battle took a heavy toll on both sides, but it was El Guapo’s men that bore the brunt of the lead.

El Guapo himself lucked out and barely escaped the bloodshed, but he only had the slightest lead on the Federales. His knowledge of the desert helped him, as did his keen night vision as he guided his horse by the light of the full moon.

He’d always dreamed of going out in a blaze of glory, gunned down by at least a dozen Federales, but Santa Muerte had cheated him of his glory. So, he struggled to find a way to disappear into the world and hide out until he could be reborn.

In the first town he came to, El Guapo made a decision that he never thought could. Desperate times drove him to desperate measures and he sought out the barber shop.

After banging on the door for at least half an hour, the old barber finally answered the door. He nearly fainted when he saw El Guapo, dirty and bloody, on his doorstep in the wee hours of the morning. He knew he had to tread carefully, lest the bandito shoot him where he stood.

Señor Guapo,” the barber stuttered. “To what do I owe this honor?”

El Guapo shoved his way inside the barber shop and slammed the door. “I need to you to shave my beard,” El Guapo said. “I’ll happily pay you three gold pieces for your troubles.

The barber was aghast. El Guapo without his beard wouldn’t be El Guapo.

“But,” El Guapo continued, “I have very sensitive skin. If you nick me while you’re shaving me, I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

The barber went white as a sheet. There was no doubt in his mind the bandito would pull the trigger. “Señor,” the barber pleaded. “I am an old man and my hands are prone to shaking. Please, let me get my assistant; he is much better at shaving anyway.”

The barber told his assistant El Guapo would pay him three gold coins for a shave – a king’s ransom! – but also had very sensitive skin and a single nick would spell death for the shaver.”

The assistant was talented, but even the most talented people find their hands shaking when threatened with death. “Let me get our young intern, Señor. He  is young and without a family and his hands don’t shake at all.”

The intern was still yawning and rubbing his eyes when he was led to see El Guapo. “I’ll make you an offer, intern,” El Guapo said. “Shave my beard off without a scratch and I’ll pay you in gold. But, be warned, I have very sensitive skin and if you cut me, I’ll gun you down where you stand.”

El Guapo took a seat in the sole barber’s chair and motioned the young intern to come over. ‘Okay,” the intern said and shrugged his shoulders.

The young intern gave El Guapo the best shave he’d ever had. When he was done, El Guapo’s skin was smooth as silk and for the first time he could remember, the infamous bandito gazed on himself without the famous beard. He looked like a completely different person, gentler perhaps, but still living up to his name.

He happily gave the intern the promised three gold pieces. “You do excellent work,” El Guapo said. “Your hands didn’t shake at all. Weren’t you afraid you’d cut me?”

The intern shook his head. “Not really. If I’d cut you, I would have just slit your throat right then and there.”

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Better Living Through Chemistry Follow Up

My teeth came out just fine. The doc, a huge, bear of a guy, had the first three out in ten minutes. The last one gave him some fits, but a drill bit took care of it. I walked into the office at 3:30 and was out by 4:15. I’ve now got a little plastic package full of teeth that I intend to take out and smash with a hammer at some point as revenge for all the problems they’ve caused me in the past 45 years.

I posted about it on Facebook and got a whack of stories from people who had their wisdom teeth removed and, it seems, no one has a good experience with this. The stories ranged from “I had the doctor straddling me with a pair of pliers in my mouth” to “I woke up early to find the dentist coming at me with a hammer and chisel.”

Someone needs to find the genetic marker that makes wisdom teeth grow and flip it to off. It’d save everyone a lot of problems in the future.

By the way, the Valium didn’t do much and wore off within a couple hours. The heavy-duty codeine-based pain-killer didn’t do much, either. I guess I’m not cut out to be a drug user. The heavy-duty Ibuprofin worked like a champ, though.

My extraction went fine, but in order to maintain the cosmic balance of life sucking after you get your wisdom teeth out, I got full-on sick right Thursday night. Fever, chills, the whole nine yards. Yesterday, I was exhausted and coughing. And let me tell you something, having a runny nose when you’ve got four big holes in your jaw sucks because blowing your nose hurts.

Anyone got any good stories we can use to terrify the people going in to get their wisdom teeth out?

Irony Can Be Pretty Ironic Sometimes

In Airplane II, the greatest movie ever made and co-starring one of the greatest actors of all time – William Shatner, Commander Buck Murdock quips: “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”

Makes ya think, right?

Anyway, my son has recently picked up on the word ironic and, like most Americans, seems to think the word refers to unfortunate situations. This is probably due to the influence of Alanis Morissette who probably wonders when idiots like me are finally going to let “Ironic” go. Seriously, it’s been twenty years now.

Contender for 2016 Irony Density award.
Contender for 2016 Irony Density award.

The problem is one of definition. According to Google (who knows all and shares all), irony is defined thusly (bonus for all you writers out there: synonyms!):

i·ro·ny1

ˈīrənē/

noun
The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
  1. ““Don’t go overboard with the gratitude,” he rejoined with heavy irony”
    synonyms: sarcasm, causticity, cynicism, mockery, satire, sardonicism

    “that note of irony in her voice”
    • a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.
      plural noun: ironies
      “the irony is that I thought he could help me”
      synonyms: paradox, incongruity, incongruousness

      “the irony of the situation”
    • a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.
      noun: dramatic irony

An excellent example of irony would be the fact that I pulled this definition straight off a Google search and am writing this in Chrome. Google’s own spell checker thinks sardonicism is spelled wrong (it’s not, I Googled it).

According to Merriam-Webster, a simple definition of irony is this:

  • : the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny

  • : a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected

Most people are not going to use the classical Greek tragedy version of irony, which leaves us, non-ironically enough, with a simple definition: “You get the opposite of what you expected. Hilarity ensues.”. Kind of like right now, when you expected a serious discussion of irony and got this blog post instead.

Key points:

  • Opposite
  • Humor
  • Strangeness

If a statement meets those criteria, it can probably be considered ironic. Does “Like raaaaaaiiiiinnnnn on your wedding day” meet the criteria? I would imagine, unless you’re a goth, rain on your wedding day would be the opposite of what you’d expect, but from the point of view of the wedding party, it’s hardly funny. Even if it was goths, they wouldn’t find it funny because they usually have no sense of humor. From the perspective of an outsider, especially one that doesn’t really like you, rain on your wedding day might qualify as ironic because it’s the exact opposite what was expected and it’s funny as hell when it happens to someone else. It’s like Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold) said in True Lies:

“I mean, if it was just some idiot and not you, you’d be laughing your ass off.”

Next time you want to call something ironic, make sure it meets the criteria: opposite, funny or strange. If it doesn’t, it might just be unfortunate. Or funny.

Which would be kind of ironic.

As usual, The Oatmeal hits the nail on the head

Better Living Through Chemistry

My teeth are a mess. Mostly due to my wisdom teeth who, now that I’m 45, have decided to start moving around again. The end result of this latest bit of dental restlessness is a cracked tooth and an impending trip to the dentist. One would think with a name like “Wisdom Teeth”, the damned things would do more than just jack up people’s mouths.

542ad53a29349
You are not sorry, Nazi swine!

I don’t hate dentists, but I fear them in the same way I fear Black Widows. They’re fine when they’re doing their thing and I’m doing mine and never the twain shall meet, but when we close ranks, things get ugly.

When I was a kid, I was watching TV when, out of the top of my eye, I caught something black descending from the ceiling. Turned out it was a widow and she stopped about six inches from my face. The chair was against the wall so I couldn’t move and she just hung there. She held all the cards and she damned well knew it. All the fires of Hell burned in her eight beady little eyes. A stray breeze would have blown her straight onto my nose where she would have gleefully injected her hated venom. Needless to say, I freaked the hell out and started screaming.

Ultimately, my mom smashed the thing with a copy of TV Guide (yes, this was a while ago, why do you ask?) and I developed a deep-seated fear of Black Widows in particular and spiders in general.

blackwidowcomic
Whoops. Wrong Black Widow. Much easier on the eyes than the spider, though, so you might want to skip the next picture.
Feilich spider image
And a foot across it was if it was a day! Full of fangs dripping poison that burned holes in my very soul!

I can’t point to any one time when I’ve been to the dentist and it’s been quite as gnarly as a Black Widow inches from my face, but there’s just something about people messing around in my mouth that fills me with the same dread panic you get when you face mighty Cthulhu or Black Widows. So, since this is the modern age and every problem can be fixed with a pill, my dentist prescribed me diazepam, better know as Valium.

So, I’m about to embark on my first journey down chemical way. I’ve already warned my work that I’ll be sending out some rambling, insane message later tonight talking about shoes and bugs in my head wearing shoes and how the Kaiser wants my apricots, so I’m good to go on that point. I’ve got a ride to and from the dentist, so I’m good to go there. Now all I’ve got to do is deal with the actual time in the dentist’s chair while he (or she) is going medieval on my mouth.

Hopefully, the diazepam will kick the hell out of my heebie-jeebies and this ordeal will be over quickly and with a minimum amount of me have a total freak out.

valium
Trust me, in this case, denial is best.

So, wish me luck.

Book Review – Enablers Anonymous by Nico Laeser

I really like Nico Laeser’s writing. He’s got a smooth, easy style that sucks you in and brings the story to life. I’ve already reviewed Skin Cage and Harmonic: Resonance and just like those two books, Laeser brings his trademark wordsmithery to Enablers Anonymous. Also, just like Skin Cage and Harmonic: Resonance, Enablers Anonymous is hard book to drop into a single category. That’s not a bad thing. Genre bending is a very good thing to see in a writer. Witness Kurt Vonnegut, a man who I still struggle to categorize, but whose works I absolutely adore.

Maybe that’s why I like Laeser’s books so much. Just like real life, they defy the petty attempts of humans to shelve them. As such, they’re best left on the coffee table for more people to read and experience.

Enabler’s Anonymous follows the life and times of a self described loser. A fuck-up who has few (if any) fucks left to give. Life being the chaotic maelstrom that it is, Jimmy winds up doing more than he ever thought he could. As the old song (and saying) goes, “Only cream and bastards rise”. Our hero fakes it until he makes it and finds himself standing atop a self-help empire and wondering not only how he got there, but whether or not he even deserves it.

It’s part Fight Club (without the fighting) and part Catcher In The Rye and part sequence of events that seem so realistic, you can’t help but wonder why this hasn’t happened to you.

Toss in an interesting group of supporting characters, including a group of fantasy gamers, the smarmiest boss on Earth, and a coffee cup that brings a delightful bit of irony, and you’ve got a cracking good tale.

“By now, everyone knows the name James King. 
 
They see me on top of this block-tower pedestal, and it seems they’re all trying to knock it down, scraping away the lies I used to glue it all together.
 
I went from warehouse loser, worst employee of the month, to self-help superstar and media flavor of the month, using the tried and tested method—fake it until you make it.
 
What I made was a media monster. Now, an angry mob is at my door, wielding pitchforks and flaming torches, screaming, “Down with the Placebo Messiah!”
 
Ignore what the critics, and my absentee shoulder angel, tell you—I’m not all bad. Come in and help yourself to the complimentary food, but go easy on the coffee creamer or you’ll be up all night. It’s time for me to confess the true version of my story—I’m about to tell all.*
 
*including where to find the tastiest breakfast wraps in town.”

enablers

Get your copy here

Follow Nico on Twitter

Nico’s also an artist and musician (which makes me feel humble and pretty boring)

Sniffing girls, wildlings and finding my butterfly…

Wonderful stories from the one and only Max Power.

Maxpower's Blog

I remember the pressure of the knife against my throat as clearly as if it was yesterday and the sense that in that moment, things might go terribly wrong. Having skedaddled out of a very hairy situation only minutes before, more as a precaution than anything else, being trapped and surrounded by a marauding gang of knife wielding men in a remote part of town late at night, left the three of us feeling less than confident that we might escape unscathed.

That we did, was more down to experience than luck, an element of comradery, balls that were needed and applied at the right moment and a hint of cowardice in one of the gang members that surrounded us, threatening to cut us up and throw us in the river. God it seems like such a long time ago now. I’m not sure if I’d handle it with such…

View original post 1,141 more words

Obligatory Election Year Blog Post

Ever stop to wonder exactly how the media can shape an election, intentionally or unintentionally? It’s remarkably simple: the best politicians know how to use the media to their own ends.

In January of 2004, I was in a hotel room in Bend, Oregon watching the Iowa Democratic caucuses on the TV and eating Mongolian stir-fry. Anyone familiar with the 2004 Iowa Democratic Caucus will immediately realize I was about to see an interesting sideline to US political history take place live and in color.

Remember this guy?

Howard-Dean-Joe-Raedle-Getty-Images-72350864
YAAARRRGH!

His name is Howard Dean and, at the time, he was considered one of the big movers and shakers in the upcoming Presidential election. I watched his speech at the caucus, primarily because I was curious about the guy people were calling a Rockefeller Republican (socially liberal, but fiscally conservative – it is actually a thing) and a guy who was so adamantly opposed to the ongoing war in Iraq.

So, he gets up and delivers his speech and God damn was that guy excited. Most candidates act like they’re excited, but Dean really was into it. He was having the time of his life and you could tell he actually believed in what he was saying.

And then, while I was munching on something unidentifiable, but fairly tasty, he threw out that scream that everyone has made fun of for over twelve years now. At the time, I remember thinking, “Damn. He’s genuinely excited.” He had some good ideas and I was leaning toward issuing my relatively worthless vote for him in the New Mexico primary. NOTE: NM votes really late in the primaries. Usually, by the time we get to vote, the primaries are pretty much decided.

So, I was feeling kind of proud of myself and generally happy that the Democrats might field someone who could take on Bush. I watched the rest, including the lackluster speeches from Kerry and Edwards, and even watched some of the final media interviews. And when Dean got a chance to talk to the media, my heart sank. One of the first things I remember him saying was something to the effect of “You guys in the media have been pretty mean.”

Right then and there, I knew his campaign was over. You never let the media smell blood in the water. No matter they say, you rise above it or ignore it. You can scream and yell about what jerks they are when you’re in private, but when you’re actually being interviewed, you never let them know they’ve gotten to you.

My guess was right; Howard Dean did not get the 2004 Democratic nomination. That went to this guy:

frankenstein

Whoops, wrong pic.

John_Kerry_official_Secretary_of_State_portrait
(Sorry, Mr. Kerry, you’re supposedly a great guy, I just couldn’t resist tossing a little joke in here.)

Howard Dean’s failed performance in the primaries was largely chalked up to that famous scream. It was the talk of the media for months. Someone even made a Howard Dean sound board so you could sit at your computer and listen to Howard Dean scream. Dean himself admitted it wasn’t the classiest move he could have made. But I have a different theory about why he got pummeled in the media and that was because he let them know they got to him.

Well, that and the Democrats wanted someone statesmanlike to take on the young, folksy twang of George W. Bush. Personally, I don’t think the DNC was ever behind Dean; he was too different from them. I don’t think they were behind Edwards, either, though. Kerry, while not the most exciting person to listen to, was experienced and brought an older, wiser feeling to the election and that’s what the DNC figured would win.

Until John Kerry got Swiftboated and Waffle-Housed and his whole campaign sank like the freaking Titanic because he couldn’t control the onslaught.

Flash forward twelve years and we some similar themes, albeit with different results. This time around, instead of Kerry vs. Bush, we’ve got Clinton vs. Trump and, damn, has this one gotten crazy. As of right now, one of the first things I look for when I read the news every morning is “what batshit insane thing did Trump say today?”

hillary-clinton-thumbs-up
More power? Thumbs up from me!
donald-trump
I can kill a puppy on live TV and my people will still love me.

Ah, there we go. Second Amendment folks can take care of the Hillary problem. That’s better than any cup of coffee for waking you up in the morning.

Nutty as this election cycle has been, it’s interesting to see some parallels with different results from the ’04 election. Dean went after the media early on and folded like a bad poker player when they went after him. Trump, on the other hand, went on the offensive. The extremely offensive, some (including Megyn Kelly) would say.

And that’s what’s really interesting. Trump – who has zero political experience, almost no filters, no real grasp of international politics, and is willing to go on the warpath over the slightest thing – is an absolute master of the media. They love to hate him and they love to repeat whatever insane thing he recently said. He could walk on stage and fart for 45 minutes and there would be an endless series of articles about “Trump’s Fart: What Did It Mean?”

And, amazingly, his followers would inhale that fart and claim it was the last breath of Freedom or some damned thing.

It’s easy to forget that Howard Dean had followers before the media destroyed him. He was, in some ways, an Internet sensation. Sure, he wasn’t in Trump’s league when it came to minions, but he was hardly unknown and unloved. The main difference, other than the fact that Dean had policies that didn’t involve building a wall around Mexico and filling it with water, was that Dean couldn’t manipulate the media like Trump can so a lot of people never figured out what Dean was really up to.

On the other hand, everyone knows exactly what Trump wants to do and they’re still in love with him. Which just goes to show there’s really no such thing as bad publicity. He can keep whining about the election being rigged (it’s not) or the way the Republican party is mistreating him (they are, but for very good reasons) and the media will dutifully report on how atrocious a person he is, his minions will continue to lick it up, and it won’t make a damned bit of difference come November.

What I find interesting about the media and Trump is how they’re doing his bidding without even realizing it. Every time they print a piece about Trump’s craziness and how terrible it is, he wins whatever sick little game he’s playing. And he’s doing it by just being himself.

Hillary Clinton, in her own way, is using the media to her advantage, too. All she has to do is shut up and let Trump talk. He’s already got his followers and is unlikely to gain or lose more over the next few months, but Hillary is busily picking off the disgusted Republicans and her lead will continue to grow.

And that’s how the media is influencing this election. Dean capitulated when the media spanked him. Trump is busily spanking the media back and giving them enough fodder to keep his name at the top of the headlines. Hillary, on the other hand, is doing her best to ignore the worst the media can throw at her. Three different ways of manipulating the message and the media.

Learning to the use the media is the first thing every politician needs to master. Trump gets it, even if his messages aren’t always (or ever) positive. Hillary knows when to keep her head down and when to rise up. Dean completely misunderstood how to deal with the media.

In the end, we’ll find out on the second Tuesday in November who did the best job of using the media.

Check out Howard Dean’s scream here