Sunday, February 16, 2014

22 Clickbait Titles You Won't BELIEVE Someone Got Paid To Write

Seriously, guys. If you must read fluffy microblogs, at least read ones that don't have to actively trick you into reading them.

Every day I scroll through facebook is a day I feel sad about culture. Not that I don't have friends posting genuinely interesting content, but in order to get to it I have to tromp through a minefield of basically advertisements that people voluntarily shared.

Perhaps they genuinely enjoyed the content of said articles, and this is fine, but I think the widespread adoption of intentionally manipulative headlines that only teasingly hint at the actual content is irresponsible.

They whisper "reward" to the animal brain and then give it candy it doesn't even particularly care for, but has come to associate with the idea of reward. CANDY GOOD YES says the brain. And then you click through five more ad sponsored pages of chupa chups or sweet tarts where they forgot the tart part and replaced it with extra food coloring.

This becomes an unhealthy habit, I believe, because the brain turns on a reward-filter to scan through the mass of links it sees on a daily basis and pick out the ones most likely to be rewarding. But if you've come to associate reward with only the titles which tell you they'll reward you, you're probably missing out on some more modest links that just tried to summarize their content, and meanwhile paying only people who are actively and obviously trying to trick you, whether the content is good or not.

This is very similar to those empty upgrade games on facebook or mobile phones -- wait around long enough and click enough times to get a picture of a thing you don't really have and an animation that tells you you're the best for doing so! These games are addictive because they feel good. The brain is so ready to buy the idea that you found the secret to happiness, that all it really takes is someone telling you you found it and then flashing colors at you just to be safe. But you'll be EVEN HAPPIER if you stick around.

This is also how drugs work. Drugs simulate fun. This can be awesome. But if used improperly, they can start to replace actual fun. And then you forget how to have actual fun because it's easier just to buy it.

There are lots of people making actual fun, you just don't see it because they're trying to make the fun speak for itself. There are lots of people making awesome games. Lots of folks writing wondeful blogs. Don't limit yourself to the dark side of the writing industry, the quick cash grabbers and the desperate.

Don't (just) do drugs.

This is a public service announcement from a single mom who figured out one weird trick to find hot singles in your area that will SHOCK you when you see the emotional ending of candid celebrity funniest animal pics you will see this week, so take the quiz to find out which character you wish you had known about your early twenties! Four years bad luck if u dont share thissss$

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

July 3rd, 2013, 11:30 PM

I'm sitting outside, looking across a wide Illinois farm horizon with the stars stretching down to the ground, clear, unmurky, but a hint of dew sparkling on white-green flood lamp lit grass, miles-distant trucks reening down the parallel interstate, and I'm about to smoke my last cigarette. Ever.

I already uttered that last independent clause about 12 hours ago. I had just finished reading the book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking and was sitting outside, still on the farm, house to myself, wearing nothing but boxer shorts, and listening to Matmos' Last Delicious Cigarette. I'd even told my mother shortly before that I was about to smoke my last, an event which I was taking to be pretty sacred and which I was told to concentrate entirely on. So there I was, eyes closed, mind fully on the task at hand, and, again, mostly naked, when suddenly a pickup truck appears next to me and my mom, aunt, and grandma pile out and bustle around. I felt a little panicky, but did my best to focus. I had decided this was my last, after all. "But the ritual was broken," said a voice in my mind, right around the creepy five minute mark of the song. The monster was still crawling inside of me.

I was good all day, not without pangs or triggers but in the mindset of a non-smoker and happy to be there. The night is difficult for me. It beckons me as always. But now I end this, and then I show the night that we can be together without the middleman. At the ellipsis, I shut off the light, commune with the night, and end six years of addiction. 3, 2, 1


Yes, I can say positively, without fear or feeling of loss, that that was it. The ritual was completed. I lit the cigarette, took a drag, and began, as is habit, to gaze at the stars. Then I remembered my purpose, my focus. I leaned up against the chain-link fence and stared at the cherry. "This is it," I said.

"That's what you said before, yet here you are," said the cigarette.

"Yes, but this time I'm quite sure," I said.

"But look at how good I make you feel," said the cigarette. And for a brief moment, it was true. The anxiety, the feeling of something left undone, the shaky grabbiness that had compelled me towards my aunt's cigarette case (sorry, Aunt Jenny), that darkness in the back of my mind which shines through my eyes like a coyote's reflective retinas hunting in the moonlight, all were gone and replaced with a rushing calm to the brain like a cool breeze on sunburn, an electricity down the arms and legs. For that brief moment.

"But you're the source of the unease in the first place," I said, taking another drag. It did not taste good. The buzz grew uncomfortable, the lightheaded dizziness not pleasant, but closer to the feeling of the one-shot-too-many that turns you inside out. I grimaced. "No," I said, "You're not worth the trouble."

I stared into the cherry, and it pleaded with me, linking me in time and space to countless beautiful nights with a ponderous atmosphere, standing and staring in the dark and fearlessly, lovingly, wondering, breathing, being. I took another drag and countered with visions of countless more nights of lethargy, depression, hunched over and frowning into a phone or staring with a sickened and bitter look at the ground. All at once, the sinus sponginess which had dissipated throughout the day returned. Smoke drifted into my face from the tip, stinging my eyes and nostrils. I became congested.

"We're done," I said. "I almost can't believe it, but we're really done. I'm never going to see you again and I'm not going to miss you." I almost felt mean.

"But... but the ponderous nights! The work breaks! The parties and the meeting of beautiful strangers!" The cigarette's lip all a-quiver, I wondered briefly whether I'd been too harsh. I took another drag and coughed, a deep, gagging, esophageal cough, like the body can't figure out which pipe to clear. There arose a familiar ache in the back of my throat, discrete and sub-dermal.

"No, fuck that," I said. "We may have circumstantially had some good times, but you are not my friend. You're abusive and demeaning and expensive. My mind is made up."

I dragged, then stared into the cherry. It came in and out of focus. It was not as pretty as I remembered. "This is it," I said again. No response.

Drag. Stare. "This is the end." No response.

Drag. Stare. "The last time this will ever happen." Beat.

In the dark, I couldn't tell how close I was to the filter. But then I realized I didn't care. I flicked the remainder of the tobacco out and stomped the cherry. I felt a bit weak, woozy, gross... but then I smiled, and stared up at the stars. It was over, and I liked it that way.

Happy Independence Day (12:35 AM)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Empire Ants

At night the pill bugs roam the cement-slab back porch like herds of bison across a vast mossy plain. The earwigs inexplicably take refuge on the backs of the white plastic chairs. The ants continue their highway transit, taking back roads through stucco cracks, up into the doorjamb gap, and between the cabinets, careful to remain out of sight throughout the majority of their pilgrimage. Many good men died for this information, they say through scent, but the strongest path, the road most traveled by, leads to a stockpile that will last for generations to come. The promised land is rich with milk and honey, papaya nectar and spiced rum, powdered chocolate, and pure sugar. When you arrive, you can eat your fill and still be left with more than you can carry home.

I stopped squishing the ants due in part to such mental narratives. Personifying them made me wary of becoming the sort of god I had stopped believing in out of sheer hope. I also didn't like my hands smelling like turpentine, as they would after I would intercept a few scouts, thinking that I could leave them as a deterrent to others, or prevent them from discharging a "target acquired" pheromone, or even just diminish their ranks enough to force the hive to relocate.

I eventually determined that the slaughter of individuals was futile, and perhaps even enabling. When an ant would approach a spot in which I had killed another, it would not turn around, but rather move faster. Its situation was clearly dire. It was doing what must be done. Nowhere but human houses is there such a stable collection of victuals. Outside, other groups explore new paths every day, praying for a wounded beetle or a fallen bird, but each day the trails wash away with the dew or lead to a treasure now gone. Why wander aimlessly for the hope of sustenance when you can find the promise of endless expansion? With the discovery of the kitchen door, these ants achieved an enlightenment.

Much of what they find, we would consider waste: A few grains of rice neglected from Chinese leftovers, a coffee slosh, kiblet dust or cricket corpses. A search through the forgotten depths of a pantry revealed a honey bear, its contents long since dried up and tunneled through; a two-year expired hot chocolate packet, with a single tiny hole, now empty. Countless generations have come and gone to this place, civilizations grew and collapsed around powdered Gatorade we forgot to drink half a decade ago. I once found a small outpost mining something from the inside of a toilet top. We obviously don't miss what little they take.

Yet when I sip from a glass I left just minutes ago and find a few on my tongue, or my cat is crying because they've swarmed her food bowl, or I pull the remains of the ambitious out of my toothpaste, I grow more than murderous; I grow genocidal. Then there is talk of poisoning the nest. I go back to sprinkling cinnamon in the cracks, to wiping my finger across the trail or displacing a spider web to a popular byway. I will stomp on a moth feast. I will dig up a damn hill and dump it on another, and they will blame each other. I will kill for peace. To simply have the luxury of not being forced to think about ants.

From outside the situation, my advice to the ants is to keep a low profile. If they are too successful, there are only two scenarios: a) they win; we are overtaken and destroyed or driven out, and the gravy train runs dry. They deplete their resources and must move on or die. b) We win, and they die a burning chemical death. But if they just slow their roll, they go virtually unnoticed, and may continue in comfort indefinitely. It's not that I would begrudge any creature success in the passion of its existence, but what can they hope to gain except more of themselves to feed? What more could they want, apart from continuing to be ants? They will acquire no transcendence. They will learn no secrets, for the secrets we keep available to them are not Laws, but perishables.

I do not wish for the end of all ants, nor even these ones. I only hope enough wayward explorers can happen upon wilderness discoveries to reignite interest in the wider world, and thin the inward stream to a trickle or a drip. After all, that is the only way they will truly thrive and spread.

And with that, I take the remaining sip of my papaya nectar and spiced rum and spray it sprinkler-style out into the yard, like sugar-beams facing the future. Suck on that.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Speedy Batman/Speakeasy of the East Side

A few days back, I was enjoying the brief stint of decent weather on my front porch, sippin' on tea and juice and listening to Rick Flair mashups, when I was approached by a scrawny but muscular man probably in his late forties wearing a plain black T-shirt, denim shorts, workboots and sunglasses. The first thing he said to me was, "There was a black man on your porch the other night." The man was black himself, though he said "black" in an accusatory fashion. "You notice anything missing?"

 "Not really," I said, though that might have been the fate of our old half-functional vacuum that had sat neglected on the front porch for some time before, I began to notice, apparently disappearing.

The man continued, "I saw him, and I said, 'You know these folks?' and he said, 'Yeah, Joe live here.' and I said, 'You don't know who live here; now get off this porch before I beat yo ass.' I told him that and he took off."

"Well," I said. It occurred to me that the man speaking to me might well have been the same man that rang my doorbell a few nights back, whom I saw walking away when I answered the door. I remembered no intervention. "Appreciate it, I guess."

"Yeah. I'm friends with the chief of police, you know him?"
"I know of him."
"Well I'm friends with him, and when they got a murder or something, need to find a man, they call me. And then I go find them and kick they ass."
"No shit."
"Yeah man. So if I see someone strange comin' on your porch again at night, I'm'a kick they ass too."
"I don't know about that."
"Man these realtors, they don't tell you shit. All they want is your money. They don't tell you nothin' about the area."
"Yeah, they just don't want that much of my money is the thing. I know exactly where I live."

I live just on the east side of Athens, GA, already one of the poorest municipalities in the nation, and while my street itself is not rough, comprising mostly old black families that have been there for generations and own the houses and have jobs, it is not far off from some of the more notorious development projects and the tent city by the river and railroad tracks, both hubs for poverty and crime. Still, I recognize most of the people that I see on the street, I'm friends with my neighbors, and I have yet to experience a break-in, unlike my previous college apartment a block from campus.

"See, I do cocaine myself," the man went on, "I get high. I smoke crack... but I work for it. So I'm just saying. You ever need someone's ass gettin' kicked, you know where to find me." No I didn't. "Also, if you ever need beer on a Sunday or something."
"Oh, I've got that one covered," I said.
"Hey, man, you mind if I have a cigarette?"
"Sure, whatever."

And he left. The speedy Batman/speakeasy of the East Side, up in smoke, on his way, surely, to do a line with the commissioner over an ice cold Sunday beverage. I wish I could pull some sort of moral out of this. If stimulated, even the destitute dream of justice and social freedoms? Complicated excuses raise more suspicions than they alleviate? Don't watch stupid videos outside if you don't want to look like a naive white kid? Entertainment gets you free stuff? Either way, my character profile of this area is constantly widened.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Ethics of Recycling Are Not So Black and White, But Rather Floral.

I consider myself to be an ethical person, in that I try to rationally consider the many possible repercussions of my actions. Or make impulse decisions and later justify them with business ethics. Generally, recycling is a big part of that. I don't usually like to let things go to waste when they could be used or repurposed in some positive manner. But is it ethical to give away something you know no one else should have? You know, like Ukraine saying, "naw, you go ahead, China, we weren't really using that warship anyway."

I was going through the long-abandoned depths of my closet yesterday looking for clothes to donate to the thrift store when I found a near decade-old collection of Hawaiian shirts. And that was when the ethical automaton in my brain returned a grinding "does not compute:" not in re-encountering the fact that I had at one time purchased these items; I was young and naive and avoided mirrors. Business ethics. No, my problem is that I'm not so sure it's right to keep Hawaiian shirts in circulation.

Sure, someone could use them. Could. But I wouldn't give an aging red-head henna hair dye, just as I wouldn't give a homeless person the Bitter Melon I bought at the Asian market (on sale; business ethics), because that would imply that bitter Melon is a food, and I happen to think honesty is a virtue, and the truth is: Bitter Melon tastes like ass. I would rather eat pizza from a garbage can, or a stick dipped in ranch.

Maybe it's best to at least make possible the opportunity for mistakes. Sometimes people need to learn things the hard way. College-town liquor stores happily release droves of Keystone and Mr. Boston upon the pre-traumatic public. But I also know that Hawaiian shirts can be a gateway into areas of the human experience that one would be wise to avoid. True, there was the time that I decided to kick heroin, and, not wanting to let a good thing go to waste (it was that good good too), dropped the remainder of my stash off at the local Boys and Girls club. But that was different. I was legally insane at the time. Business ethics.

There is a time and a place for Hawaiian shirts, and it's not this decade in an impoverished Georgia town. Who knows, maybe they'll come back into style. Maybe if I keep it long enough my son will inherit a vintage Hawaiian shirt just when they're at the height of fashion and his peers will consider him the "Overlord's Twitter" or whatever the kids'll say in those days. And I'll think to myself, "I am the proud father of a fourteen year old young man on the road to success... God that kid looks like a douchebag."

I'm beginning to think I should instead donate the shirts to a local theater, for use in the costume department. Then I could write a play about how four middle-aged lesbians meet a tragically young-at-heart jazz-fusion apologist at a James Taylor tribute concert on the beach of Half Moon Bay and mistake him for one of their own. Hilarity ensues as they maneuver through the horrors of their time and grapple with personal demons. But the play ends on a crucial question, as the audience doesn't get to see what they do with their shirts at the end!

I spent so long deliberating on this today that, by the time I had shamefacedly made up my mind to turn it into someone else's problem, the thrift store had closed. Great. Now I'm all worried about what would happen if I got pulled over and the cops searched my trunk.

In other news, I'm thinking of having a bonfire tonight, but I would understand if only my closest friends showed up.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I'll also be posting story niblets at ficly, for the attention deficit:

Doomsday Coming at the Athens Mall

I can't remember the last time I spent any amount of time or money at a mall, but over the summer I had the opportunity to do both for longer than anyone would ever want to. My laptop needed fixing, and the address of the repair shop I happened to find first was in the mall (I discovered after wandering around the outside of the mall for nearly an hour). My friend had dropped me off there, and I was to take a bus home when the repairs were complete.

The shop was run by an Asian couple, piled to overflow with boxes and parts, and a little smelly despite mall ventilation, which means it passed all three of my preliminary quality tests for a computer repair shop. Not only that, it existed in its own time continuum: each time I entered the store, at one hour intervals, I was told that the work would be complete in one hour. Either they were bluffing, or, more likely, the toxic drippings from the food court above had congealed densely enough to slow time itself. Fortunately the distribution of mall food courts throughout the world is uniform enough to ensure that gravitational differences are only noticeable within the stores themselves. They are, however, solely responsible for the coming pole shift.

If any of you have spent any time in purgatory, you'll know that the bookstore is frustratingly small or nonexistent, the labyrinth is paved with clothes you don't really want and gadgets you've never even seen on TV which wouldn't be a selling point to begin with, you probably shouldn't get a hamster, and the free samples aren't fooling anyone. In short, it is an exercise in alternating temptation and repulsion, and you're likely to come out of it with little memory of the events but a vague sense of a lesson learned, especially once you receive the credit card bill. Of the five hours I spent there, I remember wandering, searching for something to hold on to, checking the clock insistently (but the gravity wells play tricks), trying to stay outside which is little better. Sort of like a bad acid trip with more boring visuals. But by the end I was so deprived of meaningful information that I was sensitized to the smallest of packets: the casual conversation, whether eavesdropped or participated.

Waiting for the bus outside I stood next to a man of about thirty five. I said:
"Hey, the bus didn't come early, did it?"
"Naw, you don't much have to worry about that. I'm just hoping it shows up soon. I got off work early to avoid the rain."
It was a hot, clear summer day, and that might have been the end of the conversation, but the mall wouldn't let it be.
"...Man, it's been hot and muggy all day today." He said.
"More like every day."
"Yeah, I'm tellin ya. 'nis only gon' get worse, too."
"What, coming years, you mean?"
"Mmmhm. We done fucked up the ozone. It's just gon' get hotter, and hotter, and hotter..."
"Might be right."
"Hotter and hotter, til e'er'thing just catch fire and burn up!"
"Can't find no water, all you can find is smoked salmon, man, shiiiit."
"Right, well, I just hope we can put it off as long as possible. I got shit to do."

The bus showed up and we boarded and never saw each other again. But I did see the girl, whom I've seen many times before in almost every part of Athens, the girl who wears the same giant sweater and matching stocking cap and walks around covering her face with her hand, so that only her eyes are visible. She sat in the seat across from me and I tried watching her every now and then, trying to catch her with her face uncovered. I had my theories: perhaps she had had some terrible accident, or a stroke, or some such face disfigurement that would make someone self-conscious enough to go to all the trouble to manually hide her face. This time, though, I was mall-warped enough to assume that she either straight up didn't own a face or was a ghost of some sort.

When we got off the bus, I caught her while walking past. For a split second, her face was revealed, a mystery solved. And she was normal looking, even cute. Huh. When I turned around to get another look, though, she was gone.

Athens, Georgia, I believe, is full of ghosts and anxiety. Lesson learned. Mommas don't let your babies spend full days at small malls.