Men humiliate men. Constantly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Man who finishes in last place in his fantasy football league is required to make an embarrassing photo calendar that celebrates famous moments in print history, including a recreation of the ESPN: The Magazine Naked Prince Fielder cover and the famous photo of breastfeeding on the cover of TIME.

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Brilliant.

Also something you would find almost exclusively in the company of men.

Embarrassing your closest friend in the most unimaginable and horrific way possible is the stuff of men. So, too, are most pranks and public insults. Men are intentionally cruel and purposefully hurtful to one another on a minute-to-minute basis,  and we are just fine with it.

We actively, unrelentingly seek to annoy, harass, humiliate, poke, and prod one another. We plot and plan for months (in sometimes years) in order to pull off the perfectly timed prank.

The best gift that I have ever received was a gift-wrapped box that my friend, Jeff, handed me before a round of golf. We were kicking off my bachelor party weekend, and Jeff told me that this little box was my wedding gift. I was instructed not to open it. Just hand it to our friend, Tom, when there were lots of people around him, and tell him that it was my gift to him for agreeing to be a groomsman in my wedding.

I asked no questions. Just did what I was told.

I waited until a large group of men had gathered near the starter’s shed and handed Tom the box. “Thanks for being a part of my wedding,” I said.

Tom looked surprised. Appreciative. Humbled. He thanked me. Then he untied the ribbon and open the box. Inside was one of the largest spiders I have ever seen. Tom is deathly afraid of spiders, so he screamed like a little girl, threw the box into the air, and ran.

Best gift ever. Not only was Tom’s reaction priceless, but my own surprise was like icing on the cake.

But this is the kind of thing that almost only happens with men.

Women are rarely involved in pranks. They are almost never openly cruel to their closest and dearest friends. They never seek to embarrass or humiliate the ones they love. The idea that a group of women would make one of their friends pose for those calendar shots is unthinkable. 

I’m not sure why this is so, but I’m so happy to be on the male side of this equation. I have been the victim of many, many pranks and cruelties at the hands of my friends over the years. I have been humiliated far more often than I have humiliated a friend. As a friend once told me, “It’s not that you’re an easy target. You were just born to be the target.”

It’s true. I don’t know why, but he was right. Had I been competing in that fantasy league, the universe would have undoubtedly pushed me into last place, injuring my players in any way possible to make it happen, and I would’ve been the one posing naked.

It would’ve been humiliating photos of me hanging in offices and kitchens and features on Deadspin.

Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Saddest photos ever taken

First day on the bus. Breaks my heart.

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Thankfully, there are these images at the end of the day to not-quite-balance the sadness of the early morning hours.

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Open a toy. Record. Make a fortune.

My wife made me aware of the inexplicable existence of YouTube videos that feature the removal of toys from their packaging.

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That’s it. Someone purchases a Transformer or a Barbie Doll or a SpongeBob Squarepants action figure and opens the toy on camera.

And millions of people watch.  

I can’t imagine who the audience is for these videos. Are little kids flocking to YouTube to watch their favorite toy emerge from it’s plastic cocoon? Is there a Brony-like brand of adult who is fascinated by this? Is this some kind of fetish that I can’t understand? 

I don’t know.

I didn’t believe Elysha when she told me that these videos existed, so I started watching this one, which had ten million views at the time, waiting for something to happen.

Something… anything other than toys emerging from plastic.

Nope. Toys removed from packaging. That’s it.

The world is a strange, strange place.

Posted in Quandry, Recommended Reading/Viewing | 4 Comments

I went to Maine to officiate a wedding for a couple I had never met, and it wasn’t crazy.

My friends think I’m a little crazy.

Three days before the start of my school year, I headed to Maine to officiate the wedding ceremony of a couple who I had never met.

The bride is a fan of my novels. We met online a few years ago after she read Something Missing and reached out to tell me how much she liked book, and over the course of time, we got to know each other. She went on to read all three of my novels, and she got to know my family thanks to social media.

Yes, it’s true. I drove for more than 17 hours over the course of three days in order to reach my destination and return home.

Yes, it’s true. I arrived at a cabin filled with people who I had never met.

Yes, it’s true, all of this was happening in my last few days of summer vacation.

My friends couldn’t understand why I would sacrifice three precious days of vacation in order to spend a total of about 30 minutes marrying a couple who I had never met.

Some of them thought it crazy to drive into the woods of Maine to meet someone who could very well have been an ax murderer.

More than a few thought it ludicrous that I wasn’t charging this couple a hefty sum of money to officiate a wedding four states away.

I went to Maine to marry Charity and Brent because when life presents you with a unique and unusual experience, you take it. A fan of my fiction asked me to play a role in one of the most important days in her life.

How many authors are given that opportunity?

How many people are given that opportunity?

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Despite the long drive and the time away from my family, I had an experience that I will never forget.

I stood on a rock beside a crystal clear lake and assisted as two people promised to spend the rest of their lives with each other.

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I met some amazing people along the way, including Truc, who somehow managed to cook a five-course Vietnamese dinner for two dozen in a tiny cabin kitchen in a place where questions like, “Where is your ginger?” engendered responses from supermarket employees like, “I’ll need to get my manager.”

I met Shelly, her husband, and her sons, who run a second-generation boy’s camp by the lake that teaches young man how to build canoes from scratch and paddle them across open water.

I met Sahar, the fire-eating, sword swallowing circus performer who entertained us with a death-defying spectacle after the wedding.

I met a painter from San Francisco. Fire fighters from Wisconsin. Many more. People from every corner in the country gather in Maine for this celebration, and I was fortunate enough to be there with them.

Yes, the drive was difficult, and the traffic was horrendous.

Yes, I missed Elysha terribly.

Yes, it would’ve been great to have spent the time swimming and biking and golfing and playing with Charlie and Clara.

Yes, I had a book to finish and could’ve used the time to wrap it up.

Yes, I had a classroom to prepare and a garage to clean and a thousand other things to do at home, but never again will I be presented with an opportunity like the one I had in Maine last week.

Sometimes you say yes because the question will never be asked again.

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The Louisiana Literacy Test of 1963 is astonishing. Impossibly difficult and truly evil. I think I’ll give it to my students.

The website of the Civil Rights Movement Veterans, which collects materials related to civil rights, posts samples of actual literacy tests used in the South  during the 1950s and 1960s.

These tests were designed to prevent African Americans from voting in local elections. They were purposely difficult and confusing, and many times, the questions were simply impossible to answer.

Slate recently ran a piece that included the Louisiana literacy test of 1963, which is “singular among its fellows.”

Designed to put the applicant through mental contortions, the test’s questions are often confusingly worded. If some of them seem unanswerable, that effect was intentional. The (white) registrar would be the ultimate judge of whether an answer was correct.

The test was to be taken in 10 minutes, and a single wrong answer meant a failing grade.

The questions are astonishing in their Machiavellian degree of opacity. The people designing and administering these tests may have been racists, but they were clever racists.

Take the test, or at least take a moment and read the questions. It’s unbelievable.

I return to the classroom today to a new batch of fifth graders and a brand new school year. It occurs to me that it would be fascinating to give my students this test and see how the perform, and even better, how they react to some of these questions.

What better way to demonstrate the criminal inequities of the pre-Civil Rights era? 

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A perfect visual representation of how I feel about my daughter’s first day of kindergarten

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Speak Up: Storytelling Workshop launching

We are launching a new advanced storytelling workshop next week, and there are still spots available for those of you who are interested.

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Details below.
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Our storytelling workshop focuses on the storyteller’s actual performance. You are not required to attend a beginner’s workshop, but please know that much of our direct storytelling instruction takes place in the beginner’s class.

Every participant will be expected to tell at least one story during the course of the six classes (and hopefully more). We will also be dissecting audio and video of stories from The Moth and other storytelling shows, and I will tell a story at each session and discuss how the story was “built.” I will also “work out” stories on the stage (unprepared , allowing for a peek into the initial creative process (as uncomfortable as that may be for me!). 

This advanced workshop is designed so that anyone who has taken an advanced workshop already can take this workshop again and expect entirely different content, since the stories will always be different, and the lessons taught are constantly changing. This is being done to meet the request of previous workshop attendees who would like to take another class but felt that there was nothing left for them.

It will also result in a much more interactive workshop, with greater opportunities to participate. 

Following each story will be an extensive critique in a friendly, non-threatening, low-stakes environment that targets story construction, performance, and revision. We will also focus on self-critique and the critiquing of one another, with the goal being to develop better analytic skills.   

Additional goals include:

  • Formulating anecdotes and story kernels into fully realized stories
  • The continued development of humor, suspense and high stakes in a story
  • The effective use of loaded language
  • Revision for time constraints
  • Shorter, spontaneous storytelling opportunities

The first five sessions will be taught by me, but Elysha will join us for the last session to bring her considerable revision and critique talent to the class.  

The dates for the workshop will be September 2, 16, and 30, as well as October 7, 14 and 21. Workshops are taught at Wolcott School and will make use of a stage, a microphone and stage lighting in order to allow for practice in an authentic environment. 

The cost of the advanced workshop is $225

If you’re interested in attending, please send us an email and we will register you for the classes. First come, first served. We only allow for eight participants at a time, so once I have eight confirmed attendees, the workshop is closed. 

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My maybe-girlfriend asked if we could watch The Simpsons. I knew I had found a wife.

When FXX started airing every single episode in a row last week, it shattered the record for the longest-running marathon in TV history.

FXX is airing all 552 episodes of the Simpsons over the course of the next two weeks. Though I have not seen all 552 episodes, I have watched many, and The Simpsons have intersected with my life in important ways.

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My best friend and I watched the very first episode of The Simpsons back in 1990. We were living together in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and we had been eagerly awaiting the debut of this new show for weeks. We had seen The Simpsons on the Tracy Ullman Show and couldn’t wait for them to get their own time slot. We watched on a 19-inch color television that was set atop a baby changing table in a living room covered with posters of heavy metal bands and super models.

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We loved the show immediately. Within a week, we were quoting Bart Simpson and planning Simpsons TV parties. Within a month, a poster of Bart Simpson was hanging in our living room above the television. We watched The Simpsons religiously for three years before my friend left for a job in Connecticut and I moved into my car.

Fast forward to 2003. Elysha and I are on our first date of sorts. We’ve been colleagues for two years and friends for a year, but our friendship had been shifting over the previous months into something more. We hiked up Mount Caramel in Hamden, Connecticut as friends one day, but on the way down, Elysha reached out and took my hand, signaling to me that things in our relationship had changed.

When we arrived back at my apartment, we sat on an uncomfortable futon, talking about our families, our friends, and our dreams for the future. In mid-sentence, Elysha stopped me. “I’m sorry, but The Simpsons are on in a couple minutes. Would you mind if we watched?”

It was as if the roof of my apartment had split open and the purest,  warmest rays of the sun were pouring down upon me. Never in all of human history has there been a man more certain of his future with a woman.

We watched The Simpsons, sitting side by side, laughing at the antics of Homer and Bart. The show was already 13 years old by then. My TV was much larger, and the posters on the living room wall were gone. I was in Connecticut now, too, and I was sitting beside my future wife.

But The Simpsons played on. And more than a decade after that first date, The Simpsons continue to  play on. Today, Elysha and I are married. We have two children. Our first is entering kindergarten tomorrow. So much in this world changes so fast, and so few things remain as markers of our past.

The Simpsons is one of those few treasures that have endured while so many other cultural icons have fallen. The show began airing in my first year spent living on my own, and it still is airing today, 25 years later, as my daughter takes her first big step outside the home. 

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My kindergartener

My daughter enters kindergarten tomorrow. I can’t believe it.

Time hasn’t exactly flown by for me. I write to my children every day, reflecting on the day’s events, noting tiny bits of amusement, and selecting photos of time spent together. This process, which I began when I first knew that my wife was pregnant, serves as an excellent way of marking time and remembering the moments. It slows things down a bit. Makes a month feel like a month. A year feel like a year.

I’m not left wondering where the time has gone. I can look back and see it. I feel it’s weight and heft. I just can’t believe how little time there has been since she was first born.

Five years is nothing. Clara is everything.

Now a part of her will belong to the world. She is joining the community, beginning the hopefully slow, inexorable separation from her parents. Thankfully, happily, joyously, that process has many, many years to go.

Today I celebrate my daughter’s last day with us before we hand her over to teachers and principals and the start of her future. Today is her special day, we have told her. Anything she wants.

She has chosen playgrounds and splash pads and ice cream.

I hope these choices will never change.  

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My daughter is making new friends for me

My wife was telling me about a couple who we are scheduled to have dinner with next week.

“I don’t know these people,” I said. “How did we meet them?”

“Clara introduced us,” Elysha said.

“Clara?” I asked. “Our five year-old daughter?”

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“Yeah. Clara met their daughter on the playground, and then she met the girl’s parents, and then she introduced the parents to me. They’re really cool. You’ll like them. Score one for Clara.”

I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Someone recently asked me how we manage to sell out our Speak Up storytelling shows so quickly. “Where do you advertise?” he asked.

“We don’t,” I said. “We have Elysha. She knows everyone.”

And apparently Clara is now following in her mother’s footsteps.

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