Can Older Brothers Be Trusted? (Probably Not.)

The elder deceiver and his innocent brother, circa 1996

When I was younger, I would try to get my brother to believe outrageous things. I made a game out of seeing what “fact” I could pass off as real. The idea was to tell him something that was plausible enough to sound legit but ridiculous enough that if he believed it, he would look dumb and I would look hilarious.

I was able to pull this off thanks to my status as the older brother. It wasn’t a matter of adoration or that he thought I was an implicitly trustworthy guy, just that some knowledge could be assumed because I’d been around longer.

The first thing I remember trying to get him to believe was the existence of a giant map. But the map wasn’t just giant – I told him a guy in Arizona had a 1:1 scale map of the world. Essentially, some guy out in the desert had a map that if unfolded would be the exact size of the Earth.

CSX - now owned by Disney. NOT!

CSX – now owned by Disney. NOT!

I didn’t include many more details than this. Repeatedly insisting one thing was true was more effective than laying out a lot of evidence for it, as I realized that the more info you include, the more info you have to account for. The lack of details worked in my favor, and my little brother went from refusing to listen to me to believing there was a giant map.

The next thing I got him to believe was that they were building a bridge to Hawaii.

Later I told him that his favorite train company CSX sold out to a bigger company.

Another strategy I employed was not telling him these things very often. A well-placed story every couple of months was easier to pass off as true. An outright lie wouldn’t be expected if mixed in with other (actually true) facts. Over the course of a few years I also told him:

  • that you could have a number with two decimal points (like 1.456.6548);
  • that our parents were no longer on speaking terms with some of their closest friends;
  • that the best way to impress his 9th grade English teacher was to swear at her, because that’s what I did when I was in her class and for some reason she appreciated the boldness and rewarded me instead of punishing me.

The stories would only go on for few minutes before I couldn’t hold it in any more, or until he’d get sick of being strung along and go confirm the truth or lack thereof with my parents. They’d laugh and gently tell him I was an idiot.

To be fair, in most circumstances he wasn’t that aloof. He was always at least 25% skeptical of my claims. After a few years he stopped believing anything I said at all, even if it was something basic, like what we were having for dinner or something funny someone said at school. I ended up having to work just as hard to convince him I was serious as I did to convince him of something implausible. I still have to swear up and down how honest I’m being, even about things that wouldn’t ever demand that level of scrutiny.

Much to his credit, however, he has been able to exact his revenge.

Once my family and I were all driving somewhere on vacation. We were talking about animals and my brother told us an interesting fact.

“Did you know that a group of flamingos is called a ‘plantikon?’” he asked. “A plantikon of flamingos – like ‘a crash of rhinos’ or ‘a murder of crows’?”

He was interested in animals from an early age. He worked at an open-air nature park at the time and was considering going to vet school. We had no reason to doubt him.

“How interesting,” we all agreed.

He closed his eyes, bit his lip, and looked around at all of us to make sure we fully believed him.

“Yes! YES!” he screamed. “I GOT YOU! ALL OF YOU! AT ONCE!! I totally made that up! A plantikon of flamingos? A plantikon of flamingoes? That’s not even a real word!

He yelled almost with relief, but there was a healthy – and deserved – amount of gloating as well. He was vindicated. He got me back for years of half-baked factoids and he got my parents back for laughing at my mendacities. His joy was infectious and we all laughed at ourselves.

 

This girl was cannibalized by her own family - PSYCHE!

This girl was cannibalized by her own family – PSYCHE!

More recently, he got me again.

He was in Omaha, Nebraska for a couple weeks of job training and sent me a picture of a statue he found when he was out exploring. It was a little girl smiling and running and holding a basket of flowers.

He said the city is basically overrun with statues and explained why he sent me a photo of that one in particular: ‘So apparently in Omaha back in the mid-1800s there is a really famous case: a girl was brutally murdered in public, then roasted and eaten by her crazed family.’ He then quoted the plaque: “This statue is a memorial to that horrifying event.”‘

I asked whether the statue was a memorial to the event or the girl, as I thought it odd that the people who built the statue would inscribe it so ambiguously.

 

Woah, I said. Weird commemoration. You rarely see a statue that so openly discusses an event like that. I told him as much and even started to type “Glad you made it safe!” when he called me.

Hello?

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Got you! GOT YOU! Yorrrrrre DUMB!” (The ‘you’re dumb’ was drawn out and exuberant, like an umpire relishing the chance to call someone out.) “Of course that girl wasn’t eaten by her family! That statue commemorates the bravery of pioneers. I can’t believe you would think they would make a statue for the cannibalization of a little girl! HAAAAAH!”

Again, his laughter and celebration was infectious and I laughed at my own gullibility. I imagine I’ll have to dust off my lying abilities and get him back soon. (Everyone else can trust me though!) I expect this will go on for a long time. In fact, once when my mom was going to the dentist she saw two eighty year-old men walking across the parking lot. One abruptly cut in front of the other and made him stumble. They laughed and the stumbler pushed the guy who cut him off. One of their wives was with them and rolled her eyes.

“They’re brothers – it never stops!”

 

Delirium – Church – Forced to Rot – The Dark and Bleak – Coathanger Abortion: an Overwhelmingly Positive Experience

Bernie’s, Columbus, Ohio
5/17/14

“I’d like to see a small mosh pit.”

FlierBernie’s – perhaps the most odiferous of Columbus’s institutions. It is a subterranean bar/bagel shop/music venue that always smells like a state park pit toilet but whose importance as a venue cannot be overstated. It exists literally underground – just by being there, no matter what kind of music, you have shown where your affinities lay. You have to be in the know, you have to want to go there, you are happy to go there, and this is why I went by myself two weekends ago.

Bernie’s non-descript doorway opens to a graffiti-covered stairwell that in turn opens to a lunch counter and booths and tables. Fliers with the evening’s schedule were taped all over the venue and said the show wouldn’t start until 9. I was there at 7:30, as the Walgreens 5×7 photo fliers said the doors opened at 7. No matter, there were ample places to sit. Time flew by as I watched band members run in and out on desperate pre-show errands and confused college students huddle in a corner of the bar as a form of nervous self-preservation. The substantial wait was worth it, as it turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve been to in years.

Each member of the opening band appeared to be no more than fifteen years old. Delirium were all seventeen (though one kid ruefully owned up to being sixteen) but looked years younger. They played a sort of noodly metalcore, the kind that could be assumed from their high school-shag haircuts and pattern-print t-shirts. Yes, it’s probably be the case that I’m old and think everybody under twenty-five looks the same, but their youthfulness worked in their favor when it came to surprising the crowd with their incredible musical abilities. The first few seconds of their first song proved the larger point that high school bands today are so much better than high school bands when I was younger. I feel that the bar has been raised because metalcore is predominantly a teenage phenomenon and with it has come an overall enheavying of what’s palatable to mainstream ears – kids today learn arpeggios and syncopated double-bass patterns where kids back in the day learned some shitty Nirvana riff and were considered the epitome of greatness.

Delirium’s talent was evident as soon as they started playing: arpeggios, sweeps, scales, and weird tapping occurred with such gratuity that it made me chuckle. It wasn’t like the music of Viraemia or Monumental Torment (intended to baffle you with otherworldly musicianship/brutality) but the product of a band replacing traditional riffing with a lot of little guitar tricks, as if they have no experience with the former because they started out learning only the latter. It was interesting to see that you can transmit the same level of nuance with a series of untraditional guitar playing as you can with chords or riffs. Their abilities, from vocalist to drummer, were impressive enough to gain the approval of the old metalheads in attendance, a notoriously stodgy crowd. (Years ago a gray-haired metalhead wearing an empatched vest over his leather jacket told my friend to take off his flap-eared winter hat because it was an embarrassment to metal. “Did you even know that guy?” “No.”)

Delirium

Delirium – Canton, Ohio

Delirium were clearly having fun and were really excited that people were enjoying them. They were playing like pros while still not quite being able to pose and headbang as confidently as their older brethren. The friends that came with them were excited as well, obviously having as good a time on the road trip as they were at the concert specifically. Delirium: a band of friends having fun and being friends and stunned at how fun being a band can be. Hold on to it my young friends! Soon you’ll have to put up with the flakiness and mercurial personalities of adult musicians.

Delirium stuck around for the duration of the show and moshed and cheered for every band that followed. Every compliment they received was repeated among themselves with wide smiles and disbelief. The older dudes in the other bands had to feel like they were the coolest people on Earth for being so revered by the next generation. Delirium’s bass player was overheard telling his mom that no, no he wasn’t ready to leave – the headbanging must continue!

The show was put on by Jonathyn Arthurs, a 17-year old theistic Satanist who performs under the moniker The Dark and Bleak. He also books shows and shoots promo photos as Crystal Moonlight Studios. TDAB will be discussed later, but suffice it to say that like Delirium’s set, the whole affair had the charming naiveté of an excited kid – the fliers with set times were posted everywhere (“set times are approximate”) as were signs noting that

“Neither Crystal Moonlight Studios or Bernies Distillery are responsible for any injuries or stolen/missing property. Any damages made to the venue or any of the bands equipment is YOUR responsibility and you will be required to pay for the damages within a short period of time. Please stick around for all the bands and just have a good time.”

The enthusiastic professionalism of the signs aside, this professionally-run ship did make for smooth sailing. The show was a little ahead of schedule and nothing appeared to have been broken at the end of the night.

Assorted parents and grandparents were in attendance – what did they think of the name Coathanger Abortion? The name Coathanger Abortion was even conspicuously absent from the illuminated dry-erase board that lists the evening’s bands. Coathanger have been a band since 2000 and have toured extensively since then, so you also had to wonder what they thought of everything, the parents and teenage bands and the promise of a one-man black metalish band playing right before them. It is brutal death metal so it’s always going to be a little weird, but still.

After Delirium was a band from Columbus, and they were unfortunately called Church. The vocalist noted that the band can be found online at facebook.com/notyourmomschurch, leading me wonder if the whole point of the name was to be able to make that joke. They were all metaled out – wallet chains, beards, sleeveless shirts, etc. – and played beer-drinking metalhead-metal, a fist-pumping force one or two steps heavier than Lamb of God. They actually sound a lot like the bands on underground metal comps from the late 90s/early 00s and reminded me of Deceased, if Deceased were actually good. (I recently re-listened to Blueprints for Madness and it is fucking terrible. [Aside from ‘the Triangle,’ which is a killer song with cool lyrics about the Bermuda Triangle.])

Church

Church – Columbus, Ohio

Church is good but the tepidity of their moniker carried over to their song titles: “False Redemption,” “The Lack of God,” “Sheep to the Slaughter,” etc. etc. I want to hear stuff like “The Vault of Ancient Bone & Poison Saliva” and “Genesis of Putrescence” – how is one supposed to lead the charge against moronic religious bullshit when your battle hymns aren’t particularly inspiring? But their bassist is a towering dude who looks like Peter Stormare from Fargo and we all know that guy didn’t need to be a wordsmith, so whatever. But the band was good enough. Delirium loved them and the power of their set made a dad shout something between songs. “What did you say?” his companion asked. “I don’t know – I just wanted to yell!”

Forced to Rot was like Church, but tighter and with better equipment, and they too played no-frills underground Metal. They were a little more brutal overall than the previous band, as they opted for guttural vocals instead of throaty old-school roars. Like Church is one step heavier than Lamb of God, Forced to Rot is one step heavier than Church.

Aside from having a really cool name, Forced to Rot were fantastic. Watching them play made me re-appreciate x100 why metal is cool: it’s unparalleled musicianship, you get enveloped by sound, and there are parts so universally good that you headbang involuntarily. Plus seeing a bunch of long hairs headbanging in unison is super sick regardless of what kind of music you normally listen to.

Forced to Rot

Forced to Rot – Loveland, Ohio

But it is always awkward when only one guy in a band is wearing corpsepaint. One and only one member of Forced to Rot had his face painted like a skull. I guess my feeling is that it is kind of goofy and a little bit distracting, but if it helps him get in the zone, who cares…? I’m personally taken out of the zone when I look up and see not a misanthropic ghoul but a guy who just really wanted to wear corpsepaint. But it’s not really his fault – how many times has a band’s corpsepaint looked genuinely creepy in high-contrast album art only to lost its entire forest-dwelling mystique when you see the band live and you realize it’s just a bunch of sweaty men dripping white paint down the front of their distended tank-tops? (This wasn’t the case here; no sloppy paint, it was just kind of out of place.)

But again, who fucking cares? It was a metal show – it’s not often you get to unabashedly celebrate this thing of ours with a bunch of people who totally get it. Forced to Rot’s vocalist got it and definitely appreciated it. All night he was positive and happy. Between songs he made a point to complement each one of the bands. “Delirium – if I played guitar like that I’d have no fucking fingers left! Church – give it up for the only kind of church I enjoy!” It wasn’t just the music that made this show great – it was cool to see that this thing, the metal scene, an international subculture, a thing that few people inside and outside of metal really understand the value of, continues to exist on its own terms with camaraderie and insouciance.

The singer was positive through the end of their killer set:

This is the last song. It’s time to go crazy. But more importantly, it’s time to have some fun. If that means committing mass murder, then so be it. If it means getting yourself hard and jacking off in the mosh pit, do it! If it means…oh, whatever, just play the fucking song!

The Dark and Bleak

The Dark and Bleak – Columbus, Ohio

The Dark and the Bleak is apparently somewhat of an institution in Columbus. It is the solo project of the aforementioned Jonathyn Arthurs, a young man who epitomizes the idea that working hard will bring success. According to the collection of flyers on his Facebook page, he has played everything from high school battles of the bands to a Used Kids Monday Matinee to the Obetz Zucchinifest, where he opened for Bret Michaels. I can’t imagine how crazy the last show must have been – the Dark and Bleak, in Obetz, at the Zucchinifest, wearing a black leather trench coat and face paint, on stage playing shredding metal by himself, to people who are there to see Bret Michaels. But I was admittedly skeptical – how many trenchcoat and nail polish-wearing teenagers really have decent solo projects? What is the likelihood that a band with a plain font logo will actually rule?

He explained his MO during his set at Bernie’s: “Some of you may be wondering, ‘why is he up here by himself?’ And the answer is because I promote independency. You all have the power within you to reach your dreams. You know that fear you feel? Take that and turn it into motivation!”

The Dark and Bleak live

Jonathyn Arthurs – The Dark and Bleak

Right on, man! I like this message not only for its general application but because it allows him to fearlessly do what he does. But I got nervous for him when I heard him sound-checking his mp3 drum tracks. It was a Casio-keyboardian 4/4 beat, and he was being really particular about it. He walked around the stage, then out in front of it, then smiled and shrugged at the sound guy. He introduced himself, thanked everyone for being there, and started playing. And it was fucking KILLER. I was stunned at how good it was. He was shredding as well as any of the known one-man death metal bands that routinely play festivals and put out records. There was conveniently a brick on stage, and this allowed him to stand with one knee bent, a position taken to maximize brutality. (He reportedly sometimes brings his own fan, for maximum hair enblowment.)

Goddammit, though. I hate to say it, but the second song he played confirmed my initial fears. The song starts with bells that sound like a sample from the ‘Home Alone’ soundtrack, and is followed by a metal-voiced recitation of poetry over mid-paced melodic metal. The stylistic change completely caught me off guard. It’s the kind of metal that people who like metal without getting too hooked by a specific subgenre listen to; the midpaced triplet-driven song is a staple on metal albums, and I guess he wanted to make a contribution of his own. It was well-played and the title “Masquerade” implies an important reiteration of seeing through society’s bullshit, but the gothic flavor nonetheless killed the momentum of the first excoriating attack.

Fortunately the next song he played was more like the first. He said that he wrote the song in 2008. This means he wrote it when he was around eleven: “This next song is about pollution. But first, I’m going to take this [leather trenchcoat] off – this thing is ridiculous!”

He laughed as he said this. He seemed at home on the stage but was humble and appreciative and very polite. His modesty throughout the night was endearing. “I have one more song before we get to the real talent.” Pointing at the kids in Delirium: “I’d like to see a small mosh pit.” More than half his set was ripping death metal, and I was continually impressed and was able to look past a long solo that was only incidentally in tune. This kid rules. Support him in doing what he’s doing: leading a metal life because it’s satisfying on the deepest possible level. (And according to a recent Facebook post, there are “64 things left to finish in terms of recording the new album. But with 3 things or more getting done each day it should be done in great time.”)

Coathanger Abortion was sitting quietly in a corner of Bernie’s. They were manifestly brutal death metal dudes – Gutrot shirts, camo shorts, hawking the requisite color-logo-with-gruesome-white-art shirts almost mandatory in BDM. Stylistically, I knew I would be really into them – they are on Comatose Music and will be touring with Devangelic and Lust of Decay this summer – but I couldn’t help but be annoyed by their name. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Disgorged Foetus and Nailshitter, and that Scatorgy record is great; it’s not baroque grossness that’s the issue but the kind of grossness their the name implies: the kind of really, genuinely eerily violent and misogynist brutal death metal that makes you realize that maybe some people involved with this musick really are terrible assholes and not just dudes trying to outdo each other with scenes of zombie and medical violence. Lividity, Incestuous, Female Nose Breaker – dudes who seem to take pride in being as fucked up as they can as a supremely juvenile form of revenge against women they probably routinely creep out. I was prepared for Coathanger to say something ultra-degrading between songs but they totally did not. They have a song called ‘Leaves,’ about smoking weed, and they have a song ‘Mall Monster,’ whose lyrics are the following:

Now as darkness falls over me, sitting at the hotel waiting to leave
Just waiting to get this night over
Down on your knees
Crawling toward a break
I can’t escape from this place that I hate
I can’t wait to leave this place in the morning
I can’t wait any longer
Waiting for dawn
Mall monster. Muzak insanity, its driving me crazy
Mall monster. Glaring at security cops
Seeing constant pop culture
Yuppie fashions under surveillance
Surrounded by a mass of idiots
Money blowing fools
Dollar signs are everywhere
Pick me, buy me, I am what you want
Food court terrorizer strolls by you
Cover your children’s eyes
The mall monster has consumed you
Shit on sale

CA album

Coathanger Abortion – “Dying Breed”

I admittedly passed on their album “Dying Breed” because of the band’s name, but now realize I was totally remiss in doing so. As a review on Encyclopaedia Metallum goes, “Within the grotesque heap of muck known as modern brutal death metal there are some albums floating around out there that no one has and know one [sic] even knows about that are insanely sick.” (Seriously, get this album. It’s really, really good.)

I like brutal death metal way more than I like regular metal, so the pleasure I derived from watching Forced to Rot play was multiplied tenfold when Coathanger started playing. I was entranced watching everyone in the band go about their business. They are so tight and the riffs are so patently interesting that the brutality almost took second stage to the joy of watching the songs unfold. Almost but not quite, since the fact that it was brutal death metal made everything that much more enjoyable. The drummer was absolutely incredible (and sports killer sideburns), the guitar players were astounding, and the vocals were awesome grunts that sounded like someone was turning on and off a faucet running with the sound of inhuman roars echoing through a drain. (And it wasn’t even the regular vocalist – the bass player handled vocals since the vocalist couldn’t do the tour.)

And within watching Coathanger Abortion play is the essence of Bernie’s – it’s not your mom’s church but an even higher and much more genuine form of affirmation. You feel proud of what you are into; you can’t believe you are witnessing something so powerful – on a small stage in a dank basement in a random city on a random evening, something is going on unlike anything else on earth. You are moved to headbang, to smile hugely in appreciation of an insane riff or Neolithic mosh, to celebrate it all with thirty other people, the number not a poor turnout but a hush-hush klatch that makes the evident secrecy that much more profound. Thank you Jonathyn Arthurs/the Dark and Bleak/Crystal Moonlight Productions for setting up the show – it was totally fucking sick.

Delirium: https://www.facebook.com/DeliriumBandOhio
Church: https://www.facebook.com/NotYourMomsChurch
Forced to Rot: https://www.facebook.com/forced.torot
The Dark and Bleak: https://www.facebook.com/thedarkandbleak
Coathanger Abortion: https://www.facebook.com/CoathangerAbortionOfficial
Bernie’s Bagels: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bernies-Bagels-DeliThe-Distillery/117607638316419

Today is Tomorrow: 24 Hours of Groundhog Day

That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers! It’s GROUNDHOG DAY!”

Groundhog Day posterIt is a genius meta-challenge: do you have what it takes to subject yourself to twenty-four hours of a movie in which the protagonist is himself subjected to a horrifying twenty-four hour loop? Would you lose your mind doing it or have a total blast? These are questions posed every February 2nd by the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio, when they host their annual Groundhog Day viewing party/endurance marathon. The movie in question is of course Groundhog Day, and they challenge you to watch it twelve times in a row. Completing the marathon yields a year’s worth of movie tickets, a very coveted prize considering the average theater’s tragicomic ticket prices. On the contrary, a ticket to the Gateway event is only fifteen bucks, and fifteen bucks for twenty four free movie passes is certainly a gamble worth taking, to say nothing of the singular weirdness of staying in a movie theater all night with three hundred other entranced revelers.

7660 days have passed since Groundhog Day was released on February 12th, 1993. The movie chronicles the surreal hell of Phil Connors, a TV weatherman played by Bill Murray, who learns some important life lessons when he finds himself reliving Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA, over and over and over again. Andie MacDowell plays the sweetheart TV producer who inspires him to be a better man and Chris Elliot plays the unnerving odd guy Chris Elliot is known for. Initially Bill Murray is excited at the surreal turn of events, as he realizes he can steal money and perfect his wooing techniques, but he grows increasingly despondent when it doesn’t seem like the loop will ever end. The only way out seems to be to win Andie’s heart by becoming a good person, and some genuinely warm n’ fuzzy moments makes up the last chunk of the movie as this transformation takes place. But it takes Phil a long time to get to this point, and the movie becomes a bit darker when you realize the enormity of what his character is actually facing. At minimum, it is estimated that he relives Groundhog Day for at least forty years, though Stephen Tobolowsky, the guy who plays Ned the Insurance Salesman, said one of the writers “felt something like 23 days were represented in the movie, [but the total time Murray is trapped lasted] over 10,000 years.”

The same day over and over again for 10,000 years – not that my friends and I were worried that watching a movie twelve times in a row would be equally as maddening, but the prospect of watching the same movie twelve times in a row was kind of daunting: an entire day in one place, in the same seats, with hundreds of other people eating, farting, snoring and talking, all of us experiencing the difficulties inherent in doing the same weird thing over and over again. My good chum Pat and I were both new to the contest, but our friends Tess, Afton, and Kevin were old hands and explained that the viewings break down like this:

1-4: You sleep through most of them.
5: “This is a good movie.”
6: “This is the best movie ever made.”
7: “…”
8-10: “I can’t comprehend anything that is happening in this movie.”
11-12: Fun because everyone is going crazy, but also excruciating because you’re almost done.

I figured my point of no return would be 16 hours – I had to stay if I made it that far, and Pat assured me that he would convince me to stay. I legitimately didn’t know what to expect.

 

Dylan and Pat in the building

Dylan and Pat in the building

****

The rules of the challenge are as follows:

  • You must be present in the theater for every screening of Groundhog Day in its entirety.
  • Cell phones may be carried into the theater, but must be powered down during the screenings.
  • No laptops, tablets, or other devices are permitted in the theater.
  • Your lanyard must be in your possession at all times during the marathon. This is very important, as the lanyard is punched after every viewing, and you must have all twelve punches to win the tickets.
  • Every time Phil says “Ned”, you must say “Bing!”

“I think it would be funny if they wouldn’t let you socialize, like they make you watch it,” Pat said. “I want them to fucking crack down. I want them to make it a challenge.” I know Pat would fare well in a contest like this, even if it were one of those sinister experiments where you are strapped to a chair and your eyes are pried open as you are bombarded with all kinds of horrible sights and sounds. Pat is up to stuff like that – he has a competitive drive that has made him successful business owner and allows him to be infuriatingly good at every sport. People come to the event in pajamas with pillows and blankets; he firmly considers the people stretched out on sleeping bags in the front of the theater to be cheating. How hard can it be when you are essentially allowed to camp?

A valid point, but I don’t think the theater has psychological trauma in mind when they host the event. The marathon isn’t intended to toughen you up mentally; it’s supposed to be ridiculous fun, and it is. Attendees are encouraged – If not expected – to join in chanting lines, which range from quotable insults to a horrified “UGH!!” when poor Andie MacDowell makes a woodchuck face at Bill Murray. The experience inspires exuberant narration, and attendees yell whatever they want from the anonymity of the theater. A lot of the commentary is genuinely hilarious, but this anonymity also lends itself to some cringe-worthy unfunniness, attempts at humor that make you feel bad for the person who said them. But no worries, you can try again soon – the open invite for audience participation gives everyone a second chance to shine, and indeed, there is nothing quite as affirming as cracking up the people in the rows around you.

****

The first American reference to Groundhog Day comes from a diary entry from 1841, where it is explained that if the groundhog emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, winter will last another six weeks. This is the same tradition as it stands today. Appropriately, the diary is that of guy from Pennsylvania. The world’s most popular rodent arbiter resides in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the movie takes place and where real life Groundhog Day crowds have numbered up to 40,000 deep. The tradition seems to come from a mix of ancient weather lore involving prognosticating animals and contrasting calendrical systems. The pagan festival Imbolc celebrated the seasonal turning point on February 1st, but other traditions held that spring did not begin until the Vernal Equinox, about seven weeks after Groundhog Day, the traditional first day of spring for us in the US. A groundhog or hedgehog was used as a way to settle the disparities between the two calendars, and either choice he makes corresponds to one of the calendars’ first day of spring. Groundhog Day organizers say that the Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts are accurate 75 to 90 percent of the time. Thirty-three percent accuracy could be expected by chance, and a Canadian study unfortunately shows that weather pattern predictions made on Groundhog Day are right only 37% of the time. Buzzkill scientists from the National Climatic Data Center have described the forecasts as “on average, inaccurate,” saying that the groundhog “has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.” (Spoiler alert: in the movie, Punxsutawney Phil predicts that winter will last another six weeks.)

Our night started off not in Punxsutawney but in a restaurant next to the theater called Mad Mex. Tremendous plates of nachos were necessary to carry us through at least the next couple of hours, and after 10:00pm everything is half-off. The waiter noted that the new margarita flavor was good because “nobody has sent it back yet,” and it was thus ordered and consumed. Not too long into our meal, a guy sat down next to the hostess’s stand, right across from our table, and promptly broke down in tears. “I hate boys,” he said, explaining that his boyfriend puts everyone else before him.

Patrons of Mad Mex soon began getting up and leaving. It was clear where they were going. They were carrying sleeping bags and backpacks and were dressed in sweats and pajamas, and some people even had laundry baskets full of games and enough food for the next 24 hours. We too left in order to claim the perfect spot. The sad guy from Mad Mex was in an impassioned argument with his presumptive boyfriend on the sidewalk when we walked outside, and they too would likely enter a time warp of their own, arguing in endless circles as they tried to sort out the complications of love.

****

The Marathon Begins…

Back row clique
Back row clique!

12:00 – We quickly realized that the undertaking wouldn’t be as big a deal as we thought – we sat in the middle of the topmost row, with nobody on either side of us for at least three seats. We were able to put up armrests and stretch out and sleep as freely as we wanted to. Sitting in the back row seemed crucial to our success since nobody could hang their stinky feet over our heads, and we weren’t in danger (or as much danger, at least) of something like the hurricane-level of puke that annihilated the area behind some seats in the middle of the theater. But I did begin to understand why the challenge might yet be pretty difficult. Stills from the movie that precede each showing tell you how many times you’ve seen the movie and how many you have left. These stills are supplemented by key soundtrack music played on a loop, so not only did you hear the same songs multiple times throughout the course of the movie but you’re stuck listening to them over and over again before the movie even starts. Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” was followed by a ridiculous number called “the Pennsylvania Polka.” The tradition of clapping along with the latter started as soon as it began playing over the still, and we caught on to that aspect of the event.

Welcomes were given by the staff and the rules were read. The concession stand would be open the entire twenty-four hours and alcohol sales would stop at 2:30am but would begin again at 6am. The first viewing felt more like a normal night out at the theater than the beginning of a ridiculous challenge. I hadn’t seen this movie since 2010 (I remember this specifically because I was housesitting for a guy that had it in his collection) but I pretty quickly fell asleep. I woke up in time to see a surprisingly amazing truck explosion. The truck drives off a cliff and smashes below; its intense smash is satisfying and incredible. The resulting explosion is great too – big, full, multi-layered, good expansion, deep oranges and reds – as is the way the gate bursts open when he drives through it. Note that the grill of the truck breaks when this happens. It became a scene I greatly looked forward to.

2:00am – I was wide awake as the movie began again. On top of the quoted lines and random quips, nonstop talking and settling occur for the first fifteen to twenty minutes of this and every subsequent showing. The atmosphere was that of a giant slumber party.

Pat was lying on the floor resting; he overhears the scene where the local yokel shows Bill Murray a half-full or half-empty glass and says Billy Murray looks like a half-empty kind of guy. “That’s the whole message of the film!” Pat realized. He told me with the sureness of an inebriated philosopher that Groundhog Day is a metaphor for our search for happiness – you could look at the groundhog’s augury like glorious spring is just six weeks away, or that winter will brutally oppress us for six more. In other words, look on the bright side! Life is what you make it! Pat imparted this wisdom and fell back asleep.

4:00am – I was tired and kind of grouchy as the third viewing began. I was worried that perishable food I brought would go bad before I had a chance to eat it but I was too full to keep eating. Nachos were raffled off by theater staff. I noticed that the stunt double used when Bill Murray jumps off the tower looks like Ben Stiller, and that the bath water Murray sits in to electrocute himself is probably ice cold, judging from the cold shower sequence earlier in the movie. I began appreciating the attention to time-related details, like taking into account how doing thing A for a few seconds longer the second time means that subsequent thing B would happen differently the second time around. But sometimes the movie wasn’t as accurate as I’d like in this regard (some events take place in the exact same way regardless of how long Bill Murray takes to do the thing that precedes them), but I realized that I had ten more viewings to obsess over these disparities and so I would be better if I put them out of my mind. It’s just a movie, anyway, right?

Groundhog Day factoid

Groundhog Day factoid

6:00am – I realized I hadn’t even seen the movie all the way through yet. There are scenes that I didn’t remember seeing the first three times around, and there are scenes I saw between naps that I wasn’t sure where/why/how they fit in the narrative. An announcement was made that the concession stand had started serving breakfast burritos. The paper towel dispenser in the men’s bathroom was jammed, but the front had been pried open by attendees desperate to dry their hands.

8:00am – “Now it gets difficult,” a veteran told me, “Most of the sleeping you’ll do has already been done.” I was increasingly annoyed by the peppy song that accompanies the opening credits. The song is called “Weatherman” and was co-written by the film’s director, Harold Ramis. Heard nowadays, the song is totally anachronistic – it is one of those catchy, distinctly American-sounding rock songs that play during the opening credits of comedies from the 80s and 90s. (Which are themselves a very distinct and sorely missed breed.) But I soldiered on. I got an encouraging text from a friend at 8:50: “You can do it!” My parents also cheered me on when the night got started.

10:00am – Somebody nearby started a story that begins with “I didn’t work at PetCo but…” but unfortunately I don’t hear the rest. After five viewings, I still hadn’t seen the movie all the way through, but from this point on, I watched the movie pretty much in its entirety from this viewing until the end of the challenge. The ten o’clock showing was different, as there was markedly more shouting, clapping, and merrymaking, and it increased with every viewing.

Unfortunately this increase in volume also applied to our neighbors and their wellspring of criminally unfunny comments. It was kind of awkward because other unfunny comments fade into the darkness but you are hyper-aware of failed humor when the perpetrators are only a few seats away from you. There is a scene where Bill Murray says he is going to go back to his room and read Hustler; our neighbors yelled “Go read Hustler – everyone likes to see naked ladies!”

12:00pm – I found that I always happened to be looking up at the screen when Andie MacDowell’s name is listed in the opening credits. I also found that the opening sequence of clouds rolling backwards is simple but really cool, and somewhat haunting. I was also able to study McDowell’s distinct mouth, as her twenty-foot visage was on the screen pretty frequently. People in the audience continued chanting at choice moments: each scene with Needlenose Ned the Head is repeated word for word every time. The diss Chris Elliot delivers about the Home Shopping Network is always awarded with a tremendous “OOOOOOoooohhhhh!” Everyone clapped in time with the slaps of the slap sequence and everyone claps sarcastically when the waiter drops his tray. Brian Doyle-Murray’s speech as the mayor is also a beloved moment in the film, as attendees love to help him call Punxsutawney Phil the “Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators.” The increasing dollar amounts are chanted when Bill Murray get auctioned off as a desirable bachelor.

2:00pm – Two young kids were in attendance with their dad. One of the two became a sort of celebrity for the occasion, as he was the first to lead claps and cheers and even yelled a bunch of comments of his own, at the screen and in response to other people who are yelling stuff too. Between showings, everyone around him observed that not only was he having a FaceTime chat with his Grandma but that they were talking in another language. Everyone who saw this looked at each other knowingly, nodding at how hard this kid rules. As the day wore on, the two kids and the dad change seats from time to time, leading one person in the audience to ask “Hey! Where’d that kid go?!” in fear that the family would miss part of the action, or, worst case scenario, that they had left, which would have been a bummer for the kids but also worrisome to the rest of the crowd, for what would it mean for their own endurance if their totemic spirit decided he had finally had enough? Not to worry – his commentary resumed quickly enough, just from different seats.

Pat noted that the scene in which Bill Murray steals the truck/varmint-naps the groundhog occurs almost exactly one hour into the film. We took this into consideration for the rest of the viewings, almost like a breather that the movie is two-thirds of the way over. The coffee served by the movie theater is surprisingly good, and refills are free. Pat noted that Bill Murray gives the finger to the camera – during the second newscast he does on the first day, the 3-2-1 countdown ends with 1 being his middle finger. Lots of details like this are noticed, including the unsettling layer of reverb/creepy frequency placed over top the ‘Pennsylvania Polka’ when Bill Murray gets freaked out.

“Ohhhhhhh…SIX!!!!”

4:00pm – This was the wildest showing yet. The hootin’ and hollerin’ reached a hilarious, exuberant pitch. The audience has taken to yelling “SIX!!!” every time Bill Murray’s alarm clock goes off at 6:00am. A wag in the audience also yelled “3:02!!” when that time was shown on a clock. One of my favorite shots is the giant alarm clock face switching from 5:59 to 6:00. I found myself yelling along with everyone without even intending to.

Our genius neighbors got told for the second time to put away their electronic devices during the showing of the movie. They take huge offense to this despite the rules’ clear prohibition on devices, and the scolding was a topic they discussed with the utmost derision every twenty minutes for the rest of the contest. “We’ll give her an anti-bitch coupon if she’ll let us use our phones,” they snickered. The also took to calling the attendant a “device Nazi.”

The audience’s sense of humor reflected the fact that we’d been there for sixteen hours: “That’s Shia LaBeouf’s stepdad!” someone yells when Production Assistant Alecia LaRue’s name rolls by in the credits.

6:00pm – I began getting kind of antsy. My stomach was weighted down with food, as I’d eaten all my provisions out of fear that they’d go bad. I wondered if I could sneak into a different movie. I wasn’t too bothered by the ethical dilemma of not seeing every single showing, as sometimes self-preservation trumps morality. But just getting up and walking around is good too:

Pressure ulcers, also known as decubitus ulcers or bedsores, are localized injuries to the skin and/or underlying tissue that usually occur over a bony prominence as a result of pressure, or pressure in combination with shear and/or friction. The most common sites are the sacrum, coccyx, heels or the hips, but other sites such as the elbows, buttocks, knees, ankles or the back of the cranium can be affected.

A simple example of a mild pressure sore may be experienced by healthy individuals while sitting in the same position for extended periods of time: the dull ache experienced is indicative of impeded blood flow to affected areas. Within two hours, this shortage of blood supply, called ischemia, may lead to tissue damage and cell death. The sore will initially start as a red, painful area. The other process of pressure ulcer development is seen when pressure is high enough to damage the cell membrane of muscle cells. The muscle cells die as a result and skin fed through blood vessels coming through the muscle die. This is the deep tissue injury form of pressure ulcers and begins as purple intact skin.”

The customary ‘SIX!’ yell started off a ‘7! 8! 9!’ succession. Someone yelled “You can count!” in response, to which the initial yeller yelled “I’m a math major!” This was actually true – the proud math major was observed doing math homework between each showing.

Our neighbors’ choice comment from this showing addressed the motivations of the “creepy” psychiatrist Bill Murray sees: “Mommy touched me when I was little so now I’m going to help people,” they narrated.

In 2012, Bill Murray embarked on a nationwide party tour in which he would come to your house and hang out, provided you call him Keyser Söze and had a banner out front that says “Bill Murray can crash here!” There was some speculation/hope that he (or anyone from the movie, for that matter) would make a surprise appearance at the contest, especially since Murray reportedly has a house in Dublin, a nearby suburb.

(Bill Murray was also said to have this trick where he’d walk up to you and steal your hat [and not return it] just so you could tell your friends that Bill Murray stole your hat. Yes, it would be funny, but reckoned I would also be pretty annoyed if he stole my lucky hat. As he hadn’t shown up, it did not seem that this was in danger of happening.)

8:00pm – I got up and walked around for the last forty-five minutes of this showing. I met Max Vokhgelt in the lobby and he told me that he and his friends were keeping some tallies: “I’ve Got You, Babe” plays ten times in the movie, as does the “Pennsylvania Polka.” I added this to my own list of tallies: Bill Murray is slapped ten times, once because he asks to be slapped, once in the bedroom, and eight times during the sequence showing his repeated failure to woo Andie MacDowell. Fifteen snowballs are thrown during the snowball fight sequence, the last being a particularly (some may say unnecessarily) forceful throw at a kid. There is an uncomfortable scene when Bill Murray tries to get Andie MacDowell to stay with him – she offers ten refusals to his fifteen inducements to stay. He hits himself in the face three times in the psychiatrist’s office. “Strrrriiiiiiike!!” is yelled by the audience when the guy gets a strike at the bowling alley, and someone pointed out that, come the final showing of the movie, the guy will have bowled twelve strikes, a perfect game. Candice at the concession stand said that everyone was cheery and optimistic when the day started but by this point everyone was red-eyed and looked defeated. Alcohol sales were steady. The staff was commendable for the quality of the bathrooms – I was worried about potential hygienic disaster but it had all been managed perfectly. The movie theater itself did not take on the offensive odor one might expect from three hundred people sitting around and eating all day, so that was a relief too. This was the penultimate showing and people seem to be gearing up for an explosive final viewing.

9:00pm – someone in the first row was clearly using a tablet. It was a dark theater, so any source of light was completely noticeable from anywhere in the room. A few people started booing, and a few people yelled warnings at the dude to put it away. Suddenly, the movie stopped and the lights turned on – a staff member walked up to the guy and told him he committed his final error and that he’d have to leave. My neighbors renewed their colorful invectives against the fascist theater staff, as they were beside themselves that such an affront was actually taking place. Not that I encourage submitting to some arbitrary authority, but the rules for the marathon were very clear, not to mention the offending party had been repeatedly warned that devices are verboten any time the movie was playing.

10:00pm – the last showing was great and worth the 22 previous hours. Everyone immediately started yelling and cheering when the movie began, and everything yelled throughout the night was repeated again, but much louder and more enthusiastically, if that was even possible. People got up and danced to the opening credit music and the music used to transition between scenes. The warnings for Bill Murray to watch out for a shovel that’s about to hit him reach a fevered pitch, with the awesome kid in the audience noting sadly that “he never heeds our warnings” after Bill Murray gets clocked. Someone yelled ‘HOGROUND DAY!’ and for some reason this was utterly hilarious. The scene where Gobbler’s Knob is named for the first time was an audience favorite: “Wait for it….wait for it…. [‘Gobbler’s Knob’] YEAH!!!!!” “Why is that funny?” someone asked. Uh, what? The place is called Gobbler’s Knob for crying out loud! The last viewing definitely felt like the shortest. I wanted the movie to progress not so I could go home but to hear the new commentary to our favorite parts of the film. But before you knew it, the challenge was over. No more stills or Pennsylvania polka or card-punching once the credits finished scrolling. People gathered their belongings and shuffled out of the theater as easily as if they were leaving a normal night at the movies.

The movie originally ended with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell waking on February the 3rd to find that Andie is trapped in her own time loop, and I’m sure there would be more than enough people willing to stay for another twenty-four hours. I’m sure Pat would have been up to it.

 

11 down, 1 to go!

11 down, 1 to go!

****

As is the case with any fun event, once it is over you can’t believe all of the anticipation and antics have finally come to an end. It is weird experiencing something unusual with hundreds of other people and then leaving as if nothing had happened. It was kind of a bummer to bid goodbye to all these intimate strangers.

Walking home was a little strange because my sense of time was genuinely kind of skewed. Not that I am by any means whatsoever comparing myself to people who have actually experienced some kind of horrible real life imprisonment, but I had the briefest glimpse into what confinement-induced time disorientation must be like. It felt like ages ago that Pat and I walked from my apartment to the movie theater, but it also felt like no time had passed at all. Fortunately I was already wearing sweatpants and comfortable tennis shoes – the discomfort of my compressed ass could be addressed by running a few laps around the block.

Would I do the challenge again? Possibly, as the last couple of viewings are definitely worth experiencing again. Will I do it again? I’m not sure, for right now the idea of seeing a movie in a theater sometime even in the next month is pretty unappealing. But I do have a year’s worth of free tickets, so a night at the movies might be in order to simply to celebrate my dubious accomplishment. Having ate and slept and lived there for a day, the theater almost felt like a home away from home.

(Apparently a musical adaptation of Groundhog Day in the works, which I will absolutely not be seeing once, let alone twelve, times. A musical marathon would be tantamount to torture, even if it is based on a story I have come to know intimately.)

 

Rebuffed and Disappointed at the Threshold of Sexapalooza 2014

“Sex is like snow – you never know how many inches you’re going to get or how long it’s going to last.”
“Sex without love is mating; love without sex is philosophy.”

Fortunately it is not often that this author experiences significant disappointment. Cancelled dinner plans, rescheduled hangouts, the heater of one’s car not working on a long drive in the middle of winter are all part of being human, and these mild inconveniences can usually be dealt with and forgotten with little difficulty. But a run of relatively painless living made the collapse of a recently scheduled meeting with Liz Lewis all the more of a letdown. Lewis is the proprietrix of Black Kat productions, and she was in town to oversee Columbus’ third annual Sexapalooza, an adult expo offering a “diverse collection of exhibitors, entertainment, educators and non-profit community groups that represent each city’s sexual community.”

I wanted to speak with Liz Lewis for a book I’m working on about the ins-and-outs of a variety of occupations and hobbies: what is done differently do make Sexapalooza a more female-oriented show? The parent company is Canadian, so what kind of international rigmarole do you have to go through to plan things from afar? What kind of sponsors jump at the chance to partner with such an event, aside from the obvious? Was it possible to work in this field without being, ahem, pleasantly distracted all the time?

I initially made a phone call to the marketing and graphic design department of Black Kat productions, the assumption being that the marketing behind a kink convention would be substantially different than that of something a little less edgy. The woman responsible for this department said she was too new to give a comprehensive overview of working for Black Kat, and she said that Liz Lewis, the president and founder, would be the person to talk to since Sexapalooza is her brainchild. She offered to try to set up a meeting with Lewis on Sunday at noon, as early Sunday is the calmest time of the event and there would likely be plenty of time to talk. I got confirmation the next day that the meeting was set up, and I immediately got to work researching the event.

Lewis was originally in the magazine business, publishing Touch, a magazine for the swinger community, and then Whiplash, a magazine for the BDSM community. As the internet made print BDSM community-building increasingly obsolescent, Lewis ended her run as a print publisher and started Black Kat Enterprises, a company that distributes adult toys and novelties. This side of the business led her to exhibiting at the Western Canada Taboo shows and various other sexpos, which in turn led her to start her own adult consumer show. Thus Sexapalooza was founded in 2007. Sexapalooza is now an international affair, with events held yearly in Canada and the US. According to Men’s Health magazine, Columbus has the honor of being the third most sexually active city in the country. And because of its statistical averageness, it is also a city known as a reliable test market for various new products and foods. The city’s refreshing openness yet familiar consumer values make Columbus the ideal place for an upscale adult expo.

Unfortunately, the questions I wanted to ask were to remain largely unanswered. The parking lot monitors were typically unpleasant (seriously, try to talk to them) and their gnarliness augured nothing good for the interview. The $7 parking fee didn’t help, and neither did getting yelled at by the same people for trying the wrong door. Lewis was located by the staff and we were introduced, but I was told immediately that she wasn’t going to be available. Her time was very valuable, as was made clear by repeated mid-conversation bids for me to Hold on just a minute! while she addressed the concerns of whoever was on the other end of her earpiece. (Though it should be noted that the stress inherent in running a major adult expo can be assumed, and it is absolutely understandable that my ideal, hours-long, conversation couldn’t realistically take place.)

The look of disappointment that greeted this author when he was introduced to the interviewee was enormous, as the lack of major press credentials was clearly a letdown:

“Who are you with?”
“Uh…myself?”
*Sigh*

All further interactions involved trying to impress someone who doesn’t respect you professionally in the least. I was told to come back in half an hour. Agreement on my end was assumed, as Lewis was already walking away before the initial sound of the word ‘yes’ was even completed.
Sexapalooza 2014 was held January 17th-19th at the Vets Memorial building in downtown Columbus, a building worth noting for its historical status/impending implosion and for the larger than life statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger that flexes out front. (Arnold and Columbus go way back – a promoter named Jim Lorimer set up the first Arnold Sports Festival in 1989 and it has been a mainstay in the city ever since.) The building’s foyer is stripped of all accoutrements; the interior is a strange light blue and the color is punctuated almost exclusively by homemade signs that direct people to the main hall or parking payment machines. Maybe the paucity of décor is deliberate in order to accommodate the maximum variety of events, but the near total lack of signage can also be confusing, as was the case when a mom walked in with her two children. People collectively held their breath as she strode in confidently and looked for the ticket booth. Was she actually trying to bring kids into the sex show? There is a wall of dildos right inside – you can see it from here! Regardless of the intensity of one’s sexual proclivities, everyone else in the foyer looked ready to break out in protest had the lady tried to argue that her kids should be admitted. But it was an honest mistake – it turned out she was looking for the AAA Great Vacations Travel Expo, which was to be held at the same place the following weekend. They promptly left, and it was unclear if the mom even registered what she and her kids accidently almost walked into.

That scene of confusion was witnessed while waiting next to the drinking fountains for the rescheduled interview with Mrs. Lewis. The incident had just finished when Mrs. Lewis came striding back across the room to talk to a paunchy middle-aged guy who was asking for a refund, since he had only stayed for a couple of minutes and didn’t think he should have to pay full price for only a few minutes’ worth of admission. He had time to buy a few things, judging from the heft of the bag he was carrying, but wanted his money back since he didn’t have time to check out any of the product demonstrations or hang around until the “Intro to Burlesque” seminar started at 1:30. (There was a “second-generation professional magician” scheduled to perform as well.)

Lewis listened to the guy’s request politely but with the look of someone who is utterly repulsed by not only the tackiness of such a request but that a person would even think to ask such a lowly thing in the first place. True, the refund request was odd and tacky, and the patron was promptly denied a refund. She then spotted me and rushed over to see what this interview was all about.

Lewis is slightly taller than average, 40s, with long blond hair. She has a small overbite and was clad in an all-black pants suit. The author’s spiel about getting a “comprehensive understanding of what she does and how she does it” didn’t do much to change the low esteem in which he was already held, and his attempted investigations may have furthered her annoyance that she had not only agreed to speak with someone but that that someone was poised to ask multiple pages’ worth of questions. A tacit glance at the stack of papers held aloft made her eyes narrow; she suggested email instead. A hesitant email agreement was struck, and a further attempt to (politely) stress that the project was all about thoroughness resulted only in the comment that she would be answering the questions with one sentence replies only.

There was one last plea to be made: would it be possible to talk about just a few key things, since both author and interviewee are both present? Yes, she sighed, fine, and powerwalked over to a set of stairs in the foyer, where the following conversation occurred. The exchange lasted exactly five minutes and ten seconds:

Did you make a conscious choice to work in the adult industry?

No, I just kind of fell into it because I met somebody and started selling advertising for a magazine. Then I started my own fetish magazine and distributing a line of products and started exhibiting at consumer shows and then I started my own consumer show.

Are the rules that govern this event markedly different than any other event?

The only difference is the by-laws, whatever the local by-laws are regarding nudity. Because I’m in a number of different cities, I have to make sure that were not breaking any of the local by-laws.

Are there any venues for advertising that balk at advertising Sexapalooza?

Oh sure, not in Canada but definitely in the States. The first year we were here, they wouldn’t do billboards. There were a few radio stations that turned me down, some of the entertainment weeklies put me in the back with the prostitutes and escorts and the strip clubs and whatnot. This is the third year now and we’re in the front [of the weeklies]. All of the radio stations want my ads and we’re on billboards and digital boards.

And this event is intended to be a little classier and female-oriented than your average adult trade show?

Definitely. It’s not a porn show. There are other consumer shows that are similar to this that bring all the porn stars in; we don’t. We are more the burlesque, pole dancing, belly dancing, product demonstrations, seminars. There’s more education here, I think.

Taking that into consideration, do you have to turn down certain advertisers that want to take part in Sexapalooza?

Not at all, but we don’t really go after the porn stars or porn producers, so that hasn’t really been a problem. They haven’t come to me, so no.

I understand that you are a devoted Rotarian. How does Sexapalooza and Rotarianism overlap?

I just try to run my business following the beliefs of being a Rotarian, which is being honest, trusting people, trying to be fair, and I try to make sure that when I do business with somebody it’s beneficial to both of us.

Is there any consternation on their part about what you do?

Nope. When I joined the club in Peterborough, everybody knew what I did for a living. There are two clubs in Peterborough – I did join the younger club because I thought they would be more accepting, and there was no problem.

Why did you publish a fetish magazine in particular?

I enjoyed the people, I like the fashion, I like the parties. They were cerebral, they were artsy.

Is there still a misunderstanding about what this event is about, or are people starting to understand it a little bit better?

I think it takes a few years. This is our third year here in Columbus and definitely people know what to expect now. Other cities where I’ve been for six, seven, eight years, yeah, no problem. In Ottawa, for instance, that was my first show, everybody considers it a fun night out, they’re gonna go out and buy some toys and have a good time.

Is the publicity that these events receive fairly accurate in representing what it is supposed to be about?

I think the media is pretty fair with me.

Is there an “average” attendee?

No, not at all. It runs everywhere from whatever the age limit is to get in – back in Ontario it’s 19, in Quebec it’s 18, here it’s 21 – right up to people in their 70s. I started a Sexy Senior discount program a few years ago and we get a lot of seniors coming to the show now.

Is it distracting to work with subject matter like this?

All in all, it’s a business like any other. I get up, I go the office, I get on my computer. I think it’s more fun than selling, I don’t know, office supplies or something boring. It’s more fun because of the subject matter and the people I get to interact with.

Do you see yourself doing this for the foreseeable future?

Probably ‘til I retire, yeah.

The internal debate about whether or not to pay twenty dollars to walk around inside for a little while didn’t last very long. Sexapalooza ultimately was not attended by this author despite the promise of a bondage bed demo and a G-Spot and Female Ejaculation how-to video. (And I certainly didn’t want to commit the same faux pas the refund-attempting guy did in asking for my money back.) The Vets Memorial employees who had helped track down Liz Lewis gave me a card that waived my parking fee, as they had looked on sympathetically as I was rebuffed and dismissed by the organizer. It’s ok though; I’ve never organized a major expo of any kind and so the amount of running around required shouldn’t be underestimated, and I don’t blame her for not wanting to sit down for a leisurely chat. If nothing else, the brief insight I had into Sexapalooza demonstrated that despite the sexiness of an event, the logistical necessities that govern it are the same as those which goes into organizing the Dilbertian insurance company expo that takes place every year at a hotel conference center where I used to work.

Things Left Behind by the Guy Whose Lease I Just Took Over

In celebration of my new apartment (which I actually really like), here is a list of the things I found when I moved in not too long ago. The previous tenant left:

  • a black futon mattress, on the ground, folded into quarters;
  • a porn DVD: “Video Magazine Nineteen, vol. 13: College Girls” (under the futon);
  • a miniature grill with two full cans of lighter fluid;
  • a J°S. A. Banks tie still wrapped in tissue paper, with a $79.95 price tag;
  • a drawer full of loose plastic utensils and a stack of paper plates;
  • a double-boiler;
  • corduroy pants and a blue button-up shirt;
  • a pair of underwear and scattered socks;
  • an almost untouched (still mostly shrink-wrapped) bulk package of peanut candy (which was, ahem, pretty good);
  • a small box of rice;
  • a Harry Potter beer stein, which is about a foot tall, has a heavy silver lid, and features the full-color insignias of all six houses; on the bottom is a price sticker reading $40;
  • a suit hanging in the closet in one of those suit bags you take when you’re traveling;
  • various plastic lids and tops to appliances;
  • a huge pack of paper towels;
  • a wobbly black desk with three white trash bags taped across the top like plastic sheeting, covered in crumbs and featuring one small chemical symbol drawn in pen;
  • and a plastic double-edged skull axe Halloween decoration.

Naturally I contacted him to return some of the valuable stuff. He didn’t want any of it.

(But this was nothing compared to one roommate experience I had. I arrived in Valencia, Spain for the year without arranging anywhere to live beforehand. Through a Craigslist-type message board, I found an apartment for rent and was able to see it that afternoon. I liked the apartment and was eager to stop paying for a hostel, so I was able to work out a deal that I could move in ASAP with the understanding that the remaining two rooms were to be filled as quickly they could, either with people I’d found myself or people that answered an ad the realtor posted online.

A day or two later we got a call from the realtor saying that she had found someone for us. We could come and meet him as soon as we wanted, because at that moment he was in the realtor’s office around the corner, waiting to move into the apartment. We walked over to meet him. We were introduced to his aunt and then to him. My roommate and I exchanged a subtle look because the roommate that the realtor was trying really hard to pretend was a great choice for us was sitting in the corner of the room, breathing heavily, sweating heavily, and looking at us in a way that can only be described as “distraught leering.” He was a big, solid guy and his hair was soaked through. His aunt had actually found the apartment for him and co-signed his lease, as she was looking after him while he was in town.

He seemed nervous and exhausted and his aunt explained that had been on a bus all day, traveling from the northwestern corner of Spain all the way across the country to Valencia. We talked with him and tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, as maybe his deranged appearance would lessen in severity after a shower and a good night’s sleep. He told us that he liked to cook, and we decided that a good way to get to know each other was to make a meal the next evening, after he finished moving in. My roommate and I shrugged as we walked back, trying to empathize with his journey and the stress of meeting new people.

Long story short, the meal was surprisingly good and the awkwardness was more or less only that which occurs when you have to spend time with someone new. A few days go by and it’s fine, though I do start to wonder what I’m going to do when my girlfriend comes to stay for four months, because I definitely wouldn’t feel safe leaving her alone with the new guy when I was at work. He hadn’t yet stopped breathing heavily and interjecting strange exhortations into our conversations and so I wasn’t sure if he was as socially adept as one might hope, a notion that I was trying to pretend was my only worry about him.

One night I went out with a bunch of people and end up staying on someone’s couch across town. My original roommate was going to have some people over, and I was told that there would probably be people crashing on our couch. Cool, the bohemian lifestyle; fine by me. But I got a phone call at about ten thirty the next morning from my roommate. He isn’t home, he says, because he almost got in a fight with the new guy. Why? Because earlier that morning, a girl that was staying on our couch woke up to find the new guy giggling and taking photos with his cellphone as she slept.

She got up and shut herself in the bathroom. She called my roommate, who came out into the living room and asked what was going on. The new guy immediately got super-defensive and says that it’s his house and he can do whatever he wants. The conversation got heated and so my roommate and all his friends leave the apartment. A little while later the new guy’s aunt calls my roommate and asks him why he threatened to punch her nephew. My roommate is gobsmacked and really wanted to ask her how she could possibly think that it was he who should be worried about in this situation.

Shit. I went home and tried to talk to the guy. He was wildly pacing around the apartment and continued to chain smoke. He snapped at me when I suggested he stop smoking because it’s against the lease to smoke inside. Finally we talked for a little while and he seemed to acknowledge that he did something really sketchy, but it’s one of those situations where the shame of it makes him not contrite but want to lash out in the embarrassment he can’t handle. (My roommate said the aunt told him that he made the new guy cry when he threatened him to punch him.) He calmed down a little but then flared up again when my roommate name came up. He pushed his way out of the apartment after calling me a ‘fucking American scum’(!).

My roommate and I met at a bar to discuss the situation. ‘We can’t go back there when he’s there. I won’t go back there when he’s there,’ he said. I agreed. I had a backpack with all of my valuables in it and we both had floors to sleep on that night. We would tell him he had to leave tomorrow. But do we confront him alone? What if he won’t leave? What if he gets violent?

But not too long after we got to the bar, I get a call from the guy’s aunt asking me to meet her. I go to the apartment to talk with her, hoping that this will somehow be resolved but not looking forward to how. We agree we’ll let each other tell our respective sides of the story, and I’m trying all the while to come up with the most tactful way to explain that her nephew is and was being super creepy to people. She was actually a genuinely understanding person, and fortunately for us it turned out that the guy was already on an overnight bus back to where he came from, and she just wanted to clear everything up and suss out what might have really happened.

We went home that night and looked into his room. We stood in the doorway for a second feeling a bit of trepidation about actually walking in, like the guy was in there waiting for us, or that his essence was adrift waiting to be breathed in. We walked in and looked around the room, trying process the weird couple of days we’d just experienced. We started opening drawers to see if he’d left anything behind. Right after nervously laughing about the discomfort we felt having him in the house, we discovered that he had stashed a long kitchen knife in the drawer of the table right next to his bed.

Despite this debacle, the landlord still thought she had the ability to select sane roommates and her search continued. (She also insinuated as long as we lived there that we were somehow at fault for running the guy out.) Unfortunately anyone we might know who needed a house had found one at this point, and so the next two people that lived in the house were people found somehow by the realtor.

Roommate A and I had a few days to ourselves before we were introduced to the next guy one afternoon. We came home from work and he was unpacking in the spare room. He seemed decent enough. He was happy-go-lucky, a moderate soccer fan, and was studying economics. He was from Portugal.

In time, we learned he liked to sing loudly and would belt out tone deaf renditions of 90s US pop songs, but only the choruses or a line or two from a verse repeated over and over. This happened a lot but wasn’t that big of a deal, and it was actually kind of endearing. The weirdest thing that happened with him was a result of my girlfriend and I agreeing to go out with him and his friend. We went to the bar down the street. We hung out and talked on the sidewalk about nothing in particular. The bar always had this incredible deal on tiny bottles of beer, and so every table around us was piled with literally dozens of bottles. Anyway, his friend was nice enough but we were distracted by the act of talking to him, since his face was engineered in such a way that his mouth was always open really, really wide and would blast out pressurized puffs of air into your face every time he used certain syllables. An hour or so later we ended up in a bar that was blasting the ‘Friends’ theme song when we walked in, a song much enjoyed by the patrons, almost all of who were all jumping up and down and clapping with the claps in the song. The new roommate had been really flirty with my girlfriend all night to the point where I was wondering if I should say something to him about it. (And I’m not a needlessly upset guy). But suddenly his attention shifted to me, and he started dancing high up on my thigh, with his eyes closed and head shaking in time with the music. Then he licked my neck and kissed me a couple of times before acting like nothing had happened. Thus the flirtation balance was restored and we continued on into the night.

Roommate A moved out a little while later (supposedly because he wanted to be closer to the center of town) and was replaced with a fresh-faced eighteen year-old kid from Morocco who had never lived outside his parents’ house. I learned that he could usually be found in his room laughing at top volume with his friends on Skype or watching soccer games. Sometimes he would leave to go to the Halal market around the corner, but that was about the only place he went aside from going school, which was down the street from our apartment, on the same block.

His most perplexing behavior was his bathroom behavior. He would shut himself in there for at least a half an hour a time, and when he finally left literally every surface of the bathroom was as soaking wet as if he’d sprayed the entire room with the shower. The toilet seat had drops of water all over it, the towels were damp, the walls were dripping. This never changed and I never learned what he did; I would only hope that I got to the bathroom before he did.

One day I walked in the kitchen as he was microwaving the collapsed remains of a rotisserie chicken, but not on a plate. It was just sitting on the rotating microwave tray. A little while later his dad came to visit for a week. His dad was always neatly dressed in a suit and tie. We didn’t speak any mutual languages so he just smiled at me or shook my hand profusely every time we passed. One evening I met them in the kitchen. They were preparing dinner by microwaving a box full of popcorn shrimp, again without a plate, just sitting on the rotating tray. The shrimp had a breading that in the oven would have been crispy and nice but in the microwave completely melted and turned into a gross glop that covered even a wider section of the microwave plate. I finally asked him why he did this. Not out of anger or disgust, just genuine curiosity about what was going on. He said that he didn’t use a plate because he didn’t know you could microwave them. But what about the soup you regularly microwave in a bowl? I asked. It’s the exact same principle. I saw him consider this and agree.
The last problem I experienced in this apartment happened in August, when I was moving out as almost the entire city of Valencia goes on vacation. I left a pair of shoes and sandals and a sweatshirt and some magazines there to get later but when I came back to get them, I found that the other two guys had already gone home, the realtor’s office was closed until September, and the guy who actually owned the place was far away on vacation as well. Thus the apartment consumed a handful of my belongings.)

The complex world of a Staples copy clerk

Interview conducted on 8/17/12 and 9/3/12

I’ve been at Staples for about six months. I was working full time but I’m down to 20-25 hours now. When I applied, I just wanted to be a cashier. I wanted a dumb position; I didn’t want to be a supervisor; I didn’t want any sort of responsibility at all because I was going back to school. Then they found out I went to CCAD (Columbus College of Art and Design) and am studying engineering and told me there was an opening in the copy center. They thought I would be better suited there. It’s really hard to find people that have the skillset that they can throw in there and be successful in a short amount of time. Like standing at a counter for long periods of time, knowing how to work equipment (that’s my background in engineering), and my art background. A lot of times customers prints things for presentation purposes, so they’re supposed to look really good. You have to deal with turnaround times and that can be a little more stressful than scanning a barcode. You have to have an eye to spot errors and know how to set things up. I do at least maintain my bottom-tier status, though. (Laughs) I live close, it’s the right number of hours, school is just down the street – so the job’s more convenient than anything else.

In part, I took this job because I was sick of being full time at Target. Target doesn’t seem like it would be that bad, but it really sucks the life out of you. In part it’s because of the people, although I feel like I had fewer assholes to deal with at Target than I did [when I worked] at Michael’s [a hobby store] or Staples. If someone has a problem at a register and you’re a cashier, the interaction usually only lasts about five minutes because then you call a manager. At Michael’s in the frame shop, I would have to stand there, sometimes up to two hours, with the same person. I couldn’t walk away. It’s the same at the copy center. I had to be pleasant and nice – you put on a happy face and do your little dance. I really, really hate customer service jobs but I’ve in customer service for over ten years, so I guess it speaks for my ability to do that.

At Target, everybody was a ‘team member.’ We didn’t have ‘employees’ or ‘coworkers,’ we were ‘team members;’ everything was ‘team’-oriented. I’m surprised they don’t have more of that at Staples. Their focus is customer service. They really drill you about sales, which is really annoying because I’m not a pushy salesperson. I hate that. The way I’ve been able to handle the pressure about selling to customers is that I will inform them [about a sale or upgrade] and that’s it. I’m not going to try to convince them. I’m not going to argue, I’m going to say “We have this” and that’s it, end of conversation. I hate trying to sell something that isn’t necessary. I can’t stand trying to push or force something on somebody.

Unfortunately, even working in the copy center, we’re not supposed to copy anything aside from our schedules. We have to pay for everything else. They have cameras; I don’t know how often they check them but it’s often enough that they’ll page someone over the intercom and tell them to get back to work. There is a little bit of discretion – some coworkers won’t charge me for scanning when I have to – but still…

You just kind of learn where you can break the rules and where you can’t. [When I’m working on my personal projects] at least I can try until it is right. I don’t have to worry about waste because they would work with a project until it was perfect for any other customer. That’s one good thing I guess. If you do that at home, you’re screwed because you’re wasting your own materials. At least there I can lighten the contrast or whatever as much as I want. They assume there will be some amount of fudging on that.

But it’s really, really hard to get fired. They have to want you to be gone and then they’ll find something really small to fire you for. If they need you and you’re experienced and they don’t want to train anyone else, then you have to work really, really hard to get fired. My guess is they’ll just write you up and say “Don’t do it again.”

To the best of my knowledge, there are no hazards to my physical health. Maybe a paper cut. (Laughs) Though we do have a kid there who is on blood-thinners – he recently had surgery and he’s not allowed to cut anything. (Laughs) It’s more work for me when we’re working together but whatever. I did cut myself down to the bone at Michael’s on a piece of glass – it was pretty disgusting and I almost passed out.

In retail, the employees are actually the worst part. They’re gossips. Whenever you work that closely with people, gossip is going to happen but it’s particularly bad in places like a sales floor where you are allowed to just wander around and don’t have someone listening or watching you all the time. People stop working and walk over to the copy center or people call my extension to gossip. That’s something I really hate about the retail jobs I’ve had. At Target, I had to work with up to fifteen people. And a lot of them were eighteen, nineteen, twenty year-old girls, and they were much more concerned with gossip than they were with working. It got really old. I had one employee throw a hanger at another employee and bitch her out in the middle of the floor, which was nice. Another one had a complete and total mental breakdown; she started sobbing and locked herself in a fitting room. There was another girl in a different department that cussed out my friend. It sounded like she made a death threat. Even though they stress teamwork at Target, there was probably the least amount of that out of anywhere I’ve worked. The kids at Target really didn’t give a shit at all.

At the copy center, you only have five people working in a small space. There is a lot of personality going around for that little area. The people here are just as immature. Everybody makes sophomoric comments but they’re a little less emotionally charged. It’s usually gossip about stuff outside of work because that’s more entertaining than talking about work. I don’t divulge much of my personal life because I know people talk. As with any gossip, there’s no way to keep misinterpretation from happening, even if you’re specific or vague. People are really paranoid and false; it’s really, really frustrating and I don’t want to be a part of it. But to be somewhat social and not to seem like you’re a total asshole, you kind of have to play the politics. Sometimes you do get sucked in. It’s really difficult to avoid it. You probably spend more time with the people you work with than your family.

As far as Staples is concerned, I can’t see myself hanging out with anyone there. I tried twice to hang out with people outside of work. I tried twice and I realized it was a mistake. There were a couple of people I thought were decent, but when we went out it was more of the same, it was just “this person this” or “this person that.” It was nothing positive or interesting. Maybe I’m just not calloused and bitter enough yet. (Laughs) When we have the freedom to talk about whatever we want when there aren’t customers around and I still don’t click with coworkers, I don’t see the point of seeing them after work. (Laughs)

Theoretically, if I meet someone who is actually cool and I do hang out with them after work, I don’t see anything wrong with dating coworkers. Technically, if you aren’t the same rank, you aren’t supposed to be dating. But I’m not swayed one way or the other about keeping it professional or not. Whatever happens is fine.

I did date my manager at Target, though. We went six or eight months without anyone even knowing we went on a date. Once they found out, they were worried that he was going to give me preferential treatment. He didn’t treat me any differently. It wasn’t like we were banging in the bathroom or utility closet or anything. I think I probably had less of a problem than he did in terms of worrying about getting in trouble. It would have been much bigger of a problem for him that it would for me. In fact, he was probably harder on me than other people. He raised his voice at me once and told me to calm down and actually brought the store manager back because I was in quite a mood. But I calmed down after that. (Laughs)

There was a friend of mine, “Kate,” who was dating a supervisor who was in a different department, and he and Kate and this other girl that worked with us – another supervisor – all got together; Kate ended up having a threesome with the two other managers. She had two supervisors she broke the rules with. (Laughs) Her boyfriend made some remark about my ass, so Kate asked me if I wanted to join them. (Laughs)

I guess I have learned a little bit working here that has been useful, but not a whole lot. I’ve learned a little bit about printing in general, but I know someone who is a professional printer so if I really have questions, I can just ask him. It kind of sucks because we’re not allowed to design anything, we’re not allowed to do anything like that. We’re not even supposed to edit anything, even if someone puts a comma in the wrong place. I understand why because it can get out of hand and take a lot of time. It’s frustrating if I have ten people in line and someone says they just need to fix this, this, and this, and everyone in line wants to do something like that.

You can get sucked into a hole with that, doing it over and over and over again. So that doesn’t really bother me at all that we’re not allowed to fix anything. It’s just is frustrating to tell someone “Sorry, I can’t fix it.”

The amount of stuff we can do is hard to learn. There is still shit I don’t know how to do. We have to guess how much time a project is going to take. There is no way to figure it out unless you’ve done it. If you are the only person there, something that might take fifteen minutes can take as much as two hours if you get stopped by five people. Turnaround time is hard to judge. If something is late, people get pissed. There’s a lot of procrastination on the customers’ side, and they come in and say ‘I need this yesterday’ and I say ‘I can’t do it’ and they don’t like that answer. Of the people that come in with things they need done immediately, 90% of them get mad when you say you can’t do it right away. We can’t tell them it’s their fault for procrastinating, even if it is.

It’s also frustrating when a customer is completely lost, like they have no idea what is going on. I try to empathize with them, because if you’ve never had to do any printing you don’t specifically know what you need. People expect miracles to happen. If they bring something in that’s marked up or that the formatting is completely wrong, they expect that we’re just going to be able to fix everything. I have to had their flash drive back to them and say “I can’t do this.” I don’t really have a problem with that if I tell them what they have to do and they say they’ll do it, but other people just stand there and stare at you for five minutes like you’re going to come up with another answer.

Sometimes people surprise me with their ideas, and that’s one of the benefits of working here. There was a woman in the other day that was an artist. She had really great, beautiful work but she had it on construction paper, which is a paper full of acid which means the [artwork] is going to be destroyed in ten years. She had me copy it on this iridescent paper and it made it look ten times better. There was one woman that came in that had quotes set up three to a page and had them printed on color cardstock. She turned them into bookmarks for graduation gifts for some kids in a class of hers or a church group or something. It was kind of neat. She went to Target and bought ribbons and was punched holes in them and was putting ribbons all over them. It was neat to see someone doing that. Other than that, it’s all pretty run of them mill, not very exciting. It’s a copy center. There is nothing earth-shattering there.

It’s mainly businesses, dissertations. I do enjoy when people bring in dissertations to be bound or printed because I’ll sit there and read them. I’ve been tempted a couple times to keep files but we’re not allowed. There was a dissertation on mathematics education that I was incredibly interested in. I had As and Bs in all my calculus classes but when I got to upper-division linear algebra, I hit a brick wall. The dissertation was specifically about different ways to teach math, so I was really tempted to keep that one but I restrained myself. Staples takes privacy very seriously. They’re pretty good at grooming for applicants they expect won’t [keep customers’ files]. I think that’s part of why the overall age of the people in the copy center is higher than the people on sales floor. They figure more mature people might not take things…?

It’s nice – sometimes – to be able to interact with people for longer. I had one guy come in who looked at my hair clipped back. He stopped in the middle of what he was doing and looked at my hair and said “I’m sorry… my wife has so much hair, just like yours, and it’s always in the way and I was wondering where you got your hair clip so I can get her one.” I thought it was sweet and really sentimental that he stopped and noticed a small detail like that. It’s interesting the people who pass through there, their comments…sometimes it’s kind of weird. But I don’t get upset at peoples’ comments until they step behind the counter and stand like two inches away from me. [It’s common to look over the employee’s shoulder at the computer when getting an order ready to point out the specifics of what needs to be done.] It’s obvious to me when someone is intentionally trying to stand close to me. Their intention is not to see the computer screen. I had a guy that leaned in a little close and asked if I smelled caramels. (Laughs)

There was a guy in the other day that was a World War II vet. There have been a couple of veterans in there that have photos, documentation of their time, their discharge papers…that’s always something that’s very personal to me. It can be very hard. I have a number of family members who are in the military and I dated a guy for a while who was in the Army, in the infantry. He was deployed twice. I heard some of what he went through but didn’t ask a lot of questions because it was obvious he didn’t want to talk about it.

A lawyer came in with a case where a woman who was a fitness competitor was suing the Red Cross. It was a huge, huge case; he had binders and exhibits. It was some sort of medical malpractice suit against Red Cross. Like a blood transfusion they didn’t check…something went bad. That was hard for me to see because I considered competitive fitness for a while – I did competitive bench-press – so to see someone’s goals and everything tied to that taken away… though I don’t know if it’s worth suing Red Cross over.

There are rules about what we’re allowed to copy and we do have the option not to print something if we are personally offended by it. There was one copy job I would have refused, but that’s only happened to me one time. I had another employee working with me who didn’t have a problem with printing it, so we printed it. But if it was just me, I wouldn’t have done it. I think if it had been different people wanting it done, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. They were these two creepy, seedy looking characters who wanted to make a copy of what could have been the cover of a snuff film. There was a woman with normal flesh color from the neck down. She was blue and grey from the neck up. The image cut off above the eyes. There were two lines that came down kind of like a vest but went under her breasts, with a zipper. There were two sets of men’s hands; one of them was unzipping the vest thing and the other had a wire wrapped around both hands and around her neck. Both of them had gloves on. It was a photograph – I don’t know if it was Photoshopped or if they set it up that way; it wasn’t a genuine, actual act, I hope.

But that’s the worst I’ve seen in there. That one in particular… I was just (long pause, punctuated by the beginnings of sentences)… A while ago, I might have just swept it into the category of pornography and would not have made a distinction between printing that or something else [in terms of it violating the rules against printing generally obscene material]. If someone would have come in with a photograph that was revealing, with little more room for interpretation, something more explicit without that aspect of violence associated with it, I would print it. I do have some problems with anything that represents a man, woman, or child as not fully human, the implication that they just have a use – it’s a matter of utility, not that this person has unique qualities, that there’s something about them… as soon as you remove that element of personhood, people just become a thing. And you don’t have much respect for things. It makes it much easier to kill or act violently when you don’t have to associate your action with a person dying. If you are actually in their physical space, you can be removed from them by cultural differences, race differences, whatever that makes it seem like you’re not killing a person. There is no part of me that would reproduce anything that conveys that message. The more an idea permeates into a culture, the more it’s made acceptable, and the more it’s accepted and the more frequently it’s going to happen.

There is a guy I work with who has worked at Staples for seven years. If they’re not doing it to be a kiss-ass, I have a lot of respect for that [longevity]. If you value your job that way, if it’s something you’ve built up a lot of knowledge about, if it something you’ve taken ownership of, I certainly respect that. The fact that he has his accolades [evidenced by pins on his nametag] and has worked there for a while does not faze me in the least. What bothers me about him is that he has been there so long that he forgets what he used to not know. Everything is common sense to him, so if you don’t know something, you’re unintelligent. I’ve worked a bunch of part-time jobs and there hasn’t been one where I haven’t been treated like a complete idiot, simply because long-time employees think something I have no idea about – if only because I haven’t been there long – is common sense. But I understand that being in that same position in retail for that long…there’s no way to not be apathetic or have an attitude about it.

Right now, this job is just a means to an end. Just a paycheck. If I had a job where more was expected of me and I had to have a higher degree of professionalism I might feel differently about it, but where I am now, I really don’t care. The only reason that I’ve put more effort into this job is simply because I don’t want to look like an idiot to people who walk up to the counter, even though there are some things that I don’t know and I’m going to look like an idiot regardless. There are some employees who know more than I do, so when a customer walks up and asks for something that someone else has done for them that I don’t know how to do, it’s frustrating. I get bitched at, called “retarded,” whatever. I guess that’s been my biggest motivation to do well, that and I’m generally a curious person, so if I have questions I’m going to ask them. But regarding particular goals to climb the ladder, I really couldn’t care less. I’ll work here until I’m done with school.

Eventually, work for me will not be just “What bullshit can I put up with?” There are only 2% women in mechanical engineering, so I’ll probably have a job in that field if I want.

If I get into engineering and I decide I hate it and I want to go paint, I can devote time to being an artist and work at Staples or a coffee shop and earn my money that way…if I’m ever really in a rut, I can say, I have this degree and I need a paycheck. It’s kind of an assurance. The piece of paper (i.e. my eventual college diploma) is my backup. I can always do art. I can do art without a degree but I can’t be an engineer without a degree. Even if I get an engineering job and I want to take a class on intaglio or something like that, I can go and pay for the class on intaglio and I won’t have to take out loans.

If I ever decide I want to have kids, it’s a matter of not wanting to put them in a position where we’d be struggling financially. What do I teach my kids? Do I teach them to do what makes them happy but have them constantly feel like the floor is going to drop out from underneath them, or do I tell them to go to school so they never have to worry about that?

“Don’t Squeeze the Juice!”: Translating the Untranslatable, Expressing the Inexpressible.

(Note: The weird piece below is for my friend Martin Hugo‘s art exhibit “Not Guilty?”. He is showing a collection of twenty different shirts that were once for sale outside of the courtroom where OJ Simpson was on trial for murder in 1994 and 1995. This is the introduction(?) to a book he will have for sale that features photos of the shirts and an interview with Hugo and fellow designer Shawn K. about their impressions of the shirts and the shirts’ deserved though unrecognized place in fashion. Below is the postcard for the show and a few pics of some of the shirts (which obviously don’t do them any justice). The show is Friday, August 31st at Skylab, 57 East Gay Street, 5th Floor, Columbus, OH.)

On August 31st at Skylab Gallery, Martin Hugo will be displaying his collection of O.J. Simpson-themed T-shirts that were made and sold before and during Simpson’s criminal trial for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.  Hugo has been searching these T-shirts out over the past few years, shirts that were originally sold on the street by unlicensed merchants, which have now become collectible commodities that often demand high prices on resale sites like eBay. The collection captures an array of aesthetically intriguing “naive” graphic design choices while serving as an inlet to the larger political and social narratives of 1990s America - an era that is currently mythologized as a time of peace and prosperity, which, in reality, was a time typified by bitter, fractious domestic politics. From Simpson’s trial to the Unabomber, Oklahoma City to Waco, the Michigan militia to the Rodney King riots, the Amadou Diallo shooting to David Duke, 1990s America was a cauldron of social paranoia and racial hatred. Hugo’s T-shirt collection perfectly articulates the role of the Simpson trial as an avatar for America’s deep racial divisions and prompts insoluble questions about the nature of commerce and justice in the United States of America.The exhibition will be accompanied by a print publication. C.J. Townsend will be DJing during the opening.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._J._Simpson_murder_casehttp://martinthings.com/

The article that follows uses some pretty bombastic language and freely makes some fairly lofty claims. What may seem at first like facetious praise (or worse, ad copy) is in actuality written with the utmost sincerity and a total lack of pretense, for so rarely does something come along that truly deserves to be called ‘genius’ that anything less than the most profound magniloquence won’t do it justice.

The OJ Simpson shirts Martin Hugo has collected are truly examples of unbalanced genius. They are products without branding, capitalism without commercialism, true examples of art by way of what appears to be the mind of a deranged but entrepreneurial eight year-old. Today they go unrecognized by tastemakers and are too impolitic to be worn as any other vintage shirt would, even by the most impressively ironic dresser. Nose rings and tattoos are passé, shock rock is a lame relic, and shirts with witty, virility-trumpeting double entendres only succeed in classifying the wearer as a moron. Indeed, the OJ shirts are beyond such infantile concerns. Their genius lies in their appeal as outsider art and their simultaneous social commentary; all of the complexities of the Simpson trial are codified into stunningly simple, stunningly brilliant designs. Not many things are this complex while still remaining overtly grotesque (in the best way possible). The shirts bring joy to those who celebrate their baroque strangeness and play an important, almost metaphysical role in keeping society as we’ve established it sane.

As is evident by the abundance of designs, regardless of the fact that two people were brutally stabbed to death, the crime is not universally reviled. The trial was an extremely polarizing affair; like guilt or innocence, the Simpson trial was a black and white issue. The Rodney King beating and the LA riots were contemporaneous manifestations of racial tension, the signs of a turbulent time ushered in by the terrifying thrum and thump of the increasingly popular gangster rap. For OJ supporters, his guilt or innocence was almost irrelevant. On trial was another black man, presumed guilty by overtly racist cops, pilloried by “normal” society as a way to get back at the black community for the terror they inspired in the preceding years. And in the same way that someone supporting OJ was also rooting for the victim(s) of a system already biased against him, fervently professing his guilt was a way for people to root for the other side without directly coming out and saying so.

For this reason, the shirts are immediately shocking because of the way they turn the person wearing them into an intimidating political presence. The wearer is associating him/herself with all that the shirts represent – their statements transcend the cheap, single-minded thrill of the “offensive” slogan to make a statement that directly attacks the values of the status quo. You can never tell if someone is wearing one simply because it’s exuberantly outrageous or to start a serious debate.

As everyone knows, there was enough doubt about his guilt to make the successful case for his innocence. From the beginning, he was innocent until proven guilty, which, in the most official capacity possible, he ultimately wasn’t. Two people were murdered, a tragedy that needs to be treated with the utmost respect, but so do the workings of our hallowed legal system. In a roundabout way, whether intended or not, the shirts celebrate the beauty of the justice system: OJ was found not guilty and therefore he legally has no blood on his hands. The shirts are a raucous and warranted ‘fuck you, assholes!!!!’ to a society whose prejudices usually influence how it operates.

(Or, if some doubt about his innocence still remained, then the not guilty verdict was at least a sort of vindication of a less ethical kind, an example of a minority finally getting to buy his way through the legal system in the same way that rich, white businessmen have for years.)

It is not easy to write a bombastic, inspiring phrase that nonetheless carries the philosophical and socio-political weight of the issue it represents, as you run the risk cheapening the ideology for the sake of brevity. You need a phrase that turns oniony layers of social commentary into something you can yell at opponents without sounding like you are just repeating catchphrases. ‘Genius’ can be applied to those that do it correctly, and needless to say, these shirts do it correctly.

But the shirts are complex for more than just their clever sloganeering. In a certain light, they aren’t even that outrageous. The politics they represent are certainly divisive but are at the same time fairly mainstream. Not to trivialize poverty, crooked cops, racism, and murder, but you aren’t necessarily going to be considered an extremist for debating these issues. They are a common theme in politics. OJ Simpson’s status as a full-fledged criminal is dubious, anyway: because he was found not guilty, he doesn’t carry the same infamy as a mass murderer or pedophile[1]. For example, it would be highly, probably incontrovertibly “inappropriate” to wear FREE TIMOTHY MCVEIGH or JARED LOUGHNER FOR PRESIDENT shirts because the motivations for their respective crimes are hardly sympathetic; the secessionist politics of the former are far too abstruse and weird to be given any mind, and the senseless violence of the latter is just that, not to mention that his psychotic visage brings to mind Jason Voorhees without a mask. Wearing a shirt like this would be extreme but would inspire universal condemnation without the benefit of having made a coherent statement, and it would be hard to make a case for the corrupt politics behind their respective prosecutions.

Conversely, the wearer of the OJ shirts could yet be considered extreme because the pledge to support a controversial cause takes conscious effort to maintain, a position much more serious than offering an uninformed opinion on something in the news. Everyone is expected to weigh in on moral controversies. Reacting to the crime of the week is an essentially harmless pastime, as our opinions on these affairs are only matters of social obligation. We are supposed to pick one side or the other. Our opinions don’t really matter to the people we discuss them with, as they are merely something to talk about. What do Casey Anthony or Mary Kay Letourneau ultimately mean? Nothing, because they had no bearing on society other than to inspire its moralistic indignation for a few weeks. But wearing one of these shirts says that the wearer actively believes that OJ Simpson is innocent, is proud of it, and identifies with the righteous anger associated with it. Wearing a shirt moves the issue from the realm of office cooler small talk and into the face of society at large.

Granted, wearing a shirt may make the wearer feel like he or she is doing a greater duty than he or she actually is, but there is an admirable sincerity on display. The wearer is not driven by notions of being trendy but by the street corner zeitgeist, by a sense of affinity with those directly affected by the outcome of the trial. Thus the shirts offer a more legitimate appraisal of the situation than any example of reportorial gravitas ever could. Why should you trust news anchors, people who are in essence hired to present themselves as trustworthy? Punditry is inauthentic precisely because it presents itself as authentic – the acting is done consciously. We believe them because they know we believe we are supposed to believe them, and both sides act accordingly. These shirts are a loud blast of truth disrupting such broadcasts. No distillation and totally unapologetic. These shirts are authentically, unpretentiously, and directly communicating what so many feel without pandering to commercial sponsors.

From a purely design standpoint, the shirts almost satirize their own brutality. The shirts are arresting in their amateurishness but much more powerful because of it. They are made with an uncalculated approach to design, avoiding the rules (and thus the sterility) of mainstream design because the creator is aloof to the fact that these rules exist. The same aesthetic that makes a cut and paste kidnapper’s ransom note eerily appealing is shared by these shirts. The maker just wants to express something, and he or she does it in a way that he or she thinks looks cool. And it totally does. For whatever reason, these shirts possess an intrinsic brilliance that some things simply don’t. The shirts are a rare example of the kind of utterly groundbreaking success that comes from an inexperienced person saying, “I can do that!”, who then does it in his or her own way and succeeds for reasons that can’t be taught, planned, or even envisioned.

That’s why these shirts are so weird. They are direct representations of what is going on in someone’s brain – unadulterated and replete with charming imperfections borne from urgency. (The urgency coming being the need to get them designed, printed, and sold as quickly as possible at stalls outside of the courthouse.)

The design world doesn’t seem especially impressed by these artifacts, despite their evident genius. There isn’t a huge market for these shirts; Martin paid at most forty dollars for a shirt, and this had more to do with their vintage status than their status as oddball works of art. Despite the lack of official recognition of the shirts’ achievements, the fact that they have an underground following (which may, in fact, only be Martin) heightens their grubby mystique, like illicit goods you have to know someone who knows someone to access, or, in an even more unsettling sense, like the collection of someone who obsessively collects something relatively mundane yet the very act of collecting it (and the numbers in their collection) makes it seem like a perverse hobby. Seeing all of these shirts in one place is an amazing, disconcerting experience.

Taking all of the above into account, the shirts still function as more than just wacky old clothes or vehicles for political expression. They are so perfectly strange that they actually improve our lives. The casual existence of small yet utterly deranged things is a kind of necessary iconoclasm; it’s not large scale miracles that we need but weird little blips here and there on our radar to remind us things aren’t as predictable as we imagine. We don’t expect to see Bigfoot, but we couldn’t handle it if we did. These shirts fill the void between a glimpse of the incomprehensible and something equivalent to the strangeness of déjà vu. Seeing one of these shirts is weird because you don’t know if you saw what you think you saw. They get your brain working and you find yourself thinking deeply about things that don’t have anything to do with the shirts, to use the example at hand, all because you experienced something a little off. These mildly incongruous things upset the complacency and groupthink that society instills in us by reminding us that there is more to life than the examples of it we see in commercials. Life isn’t as squeaky clean as corporations, the church, and the Man wants, and neither is the human experience. Try as it might, capital-S Society can never claim dominion over peoples’ surprising, interesting, and hilarious minds. These reminders don’t have to be strange t-shirts, but in this case they are. These anomalous things keep things from getting too ordinary, even if we barely notice them.

OJ is not around to appreciate the by proxy support offered by Martin’s show. He is in prison for thirty years for the armed re-robbery of what he claimed was sports memorabilia stolen from him, an insane thing for a man so closely scrutinized by society to do. It was a dumb, unsympathetic crime, and it seems that most people feel the same way. His recent incarceration was only a minor scandal, eliciting not protest from the public but rolled eyes and annoyed sighs. There is nothing especially political or controversial about his new charges, just the logical result of some rich prick blowing his third chance at life. Indeed: a search for current OJ-related shirts yields designs where he is only the butt of jokes. (“I Told You OJ Did It – Again;” What Happens in Las Vegas Stays in Las Vegas” (where the recent robbery occurred).) The impact of the original trial and its verdict may have lessened over time, but that moment in time when OJ stood for much more than even he could imagine is carried on through these shirts, as are the raucous spirits of DIY designers, trials by media, and artless art. Thank you Martin Hugo for maintaining this collection and preserving for us an outrageous chapter of human history.


[1] This isn’t taking into account the documented evidence that he abused Nicole Brown for years. Horrible photos abound showing the wounds he inflicted, and at one point she called the police afraid that he was going to kill her. Nobody seems to take this into consideration when weighing in on the outcome of his trial, and it unfortunately doesn’t seem to matter. When discussing this here, his history of domestic violence isn’t being overlooked intentionally but it isn’t being raised because it doesn’t factor, for better or for worse, in affecting the opinions of those that support him and how they are expressed.