During my birthday weekend overindulging, it was discovered that I went to bed early one morning, fired up the eBay app on my phone, and recklessly bid on a slew of items from my childhood. I had no recollection of doing this until later that day, when I started receiving emails telling me I lost out on set of Choose Your Own Adventure books, a vintage designer series Trapper Keeper, a brand new pair of Nike ACG Air Mowabbs from 1994, a weathered yet complete Domino Rally set, and a fully functional yellow Sony Sports Walkman. We all had a good laugh about it, and I promptly deleted the app from my phone to ensure I didn’t have a few too many and accidentally hit “buy it now” on a single engine Cessna aircraft.
While I was grateful that I didn’t win all of these items (except for the Mowabbs. Sober Mike definitely approved of Inebriated Mike’s calculated decision making there), I did manage to win two auctions. One was a $4 set of six M.U.S.C.L.E. Men action figures, which will make for an excellent addition to Shady Mike’s Tumbleweed Saloon. I used to trade figures I had doubles of for new ones with other children in my kindergarten class, and that experience helped shape me into the shameless, calloused, opportunistic Garbage Pail Kid broker I would become during my years as an elementary school student.
The second item I won was a $10 forest green Timex Expedition Watch. It’s nothing special as far as watches go. It’s digital, it has a stopwatch, and the forest green and mulch brown color scheme is a perfect signifier of the sporty, outdoorsy Cannondale / Eddie Bauer / Clif Bar consumer trend that dominated the early-to-mid 1990s.
In 1993, my mother took me to Ames and bought me this very same watch soon after we moved back to New Hampshire from a very rough, very isolated, very impoverished and very abusive living situation in Wisconsin. My mother, having pennies to her name after the unplanned dash across eight states (and a run-in with an unsavory state trooper who demanded we pay a speeding ticket in cash), wanted her thirteen-year-old son to have something nice because she thought he deserved it. She walked me up to the spinning display case on top of the jewelry counter that held men’s watches, and I chose this one. I remember flicking the Indiglo button on and off long after bedtime, casting an eerie green light on the timbers of the unfinished attic room we slept in until we were able to find a home of our own a few months later.
It would take years for me to develop the emotional maturity needed to associate that Timex Expedition with the foreign-yet-perfectly electric feeling of freedom and genuine hopefulness for a happy future we experienced immediately after our escape from Wisconsin, a split second for that thought to dissipate into the furious blender of adolescence, and being buried under more than two decades of sedimentary adulthood, until one fateful night as a thirty-six-year-old man, lying in bed with a smartphone and a belly full of Pabst Blue Ribbon, when my subconscious decided to bring this unlikely avatar back into my life.
I’ll wear it for as long as it glows in order to remind myself to persevere though the truly awful moments, because nothing feels quite as good, and goodness doesn’t feel quite as deserved, until you’ve gotten through to the other side of an awful moment in one piece. Alive. Intact. Grateful. I’ll wear it so I always remember to feel that way.
And I’ll also wear it so I’ll be reminded to shut my phone off after 10:00 pm on weekends.
Michael tests out a chapter from his next book at the “finding your voice” themed Long Story Short event at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His wife (vertically, ugh) filmed from the audience, but professionally recorded video and high quality audio versions of this performance should be available shortly.
Jess and I walked into the local deli and waited for the family in front of us at the register. A middle-aged woman with a makeup job like Mimi from The Drew Carey Show ordered a ham sandwich. Her son, a lanky tweenager in sweats and white socks with mandals, chose a breakfast sandwich from the menu before spinning around and barreling into us on his way to the drink cooler, walking away without apologizing. He was holding his mother’s large, expensive handbag for her, as if she couldn’t possibly be burdened with it during the ordering process.
The daughter, a stocky young woman with unruly strawberry hair and a belted print dress which can only be described as the cross-eyed Chernobyl baby of the Fresh Prince’s school uniform blazer and a Magic Eye poster, shared her mother’s unfortunate penchant for MAC products. She sashayed up to the counter and ordered as much with her dramatic hand gestures as she did with her mouth.
“Yeaaaaahhhhhhh, I’m having a VEGGIE sandwich on a SPINACH bagel, hold the onions. And a pickle. AND A PICKLE.”, placing selective vocal emphasis on the healthiest sounding ingredients of her order, ensuring that all three people in the restaurant were well aware of her sensible dietary choices.
Deciding to pick out our drinks before arriving at the register, I walked over to the cooler and slid one the glass doors open to grab a Coke and a Nantucket Nectars Half and Half. As I slid the door shut, I looked to my left and noticed the girl wearing the garment industry’s visual interpretation of schizophrenia waiting for me to step aside with her arms folded across her chest, a sigh of regal indignation whistling through her nostrils.
When it came time to pay, the growth spurt ravaged son hulked back over with the giraffe testicle sized handbag, which the mother rummaged through until she was able to procure a card. After being handed a receipt, the family walked over to a table in the sparsely decorated dining area, and sat together while their order was made.
I turned to Jess and gave her my well rehearsed “are you seeing this?” look, thinking it would only be greeted with her age-old “please don’t talk about this until we get into the car” face, but it was clear she’d been taking the whole show in along with me, and was equally fascinated by it. We shot each other a half smile, and approached the register to make our order.
Waiting at the pick-up counter for our food, neither of us could help stealing occasional glances at the family, who were completely silent at their booth; the son engrossed with his smart phone, the daughter fiddling with her feral twists of hair, and the mother staring out the plate glass window. They sat like that for several minutes, not one word being spoken between them. Their shift from obnoxious to eerily restrained was so violent that it was impossible not to casually speculate about it, especially when bored and waiting for sandwiches ourselves. Were they fighting in the car on the way to the deli, and were staying quiet to keep from re-erupting in public? Were they one of those strange military families that employs strict no speaking rules at the dinner table? Were they just British and incapable of conveying emotion to each other? Were they —
“One breakfast sandwich, one veggie sandwich on spinach no onion and a pickle, one ham sandwich. Your order is ready.”
QuasiBroDo bolted up and lumbered over to the pick-up counter. Instead of taking everybody’s food back to the booth like a human being, he grabbed only his sandwich from the tray and sat back down, leaving the other two sandwiches behind.
Without hesitation, DressPilepsy shuffled out of the booth and angrily pumped her way over to the pick-up counter, while her socially inept brother gnawed on his breakfast sandwich like a caveman scraping the last scraps of cheek meat off of a moose skull.
She picked up the tray with the remaining two sandwiches with one hand, and began walking it over, when the toe of her flip flop caught on a chair leg, pitching her forward and sending the tray clattering to the floor, just inches from the family’s booth.
Every head in the restaurant craned to get a better view of the commotion. The contents of the sandwiches were scattered over a comically wide swath; a tomato here, a slice of onion there, a lone pickle rolling down the tile floor like a wheel from an exploding car, finally coming to rest against the far wall.
Doing my best no to gawk at the carnage and risk the chance of being thought of as insensitive, I spun around and pretended to read the menu on the wall. After enough time had passed that I couldn’t chance staring at the menu any longer without being thought of as illiterate, I turned to Jess, who wasn’t even attempting to hide the fact that she was watching the sister and brother on their hands and knees, peeling slabs of deli meat off the floor. The mother’s heavily painted face remained emotionless in the wake of her sandwich’s demise, so much so that it gave us reason to believe there might be an ill-gotten prescription for pain medication rattling around in her expensive handbag.
Jess and I took our order from the counter when it was ready and walked out to the car, content in knowing that while the human condition is largely chaotic and unfair, witnessing the occasional example of life exacting justice is enough to keep you trudging through the years with a smile on your face, or at least enough to keep a couple of jaded New Englanders laughing all the way home.
Here’s an interview I did with NPR earlier in the week, along with several book recommendations. Can you pull the car around for me? I’m basically a celebrity now.
Top o’ the…mid-afternoon…to ya? That really didn’t work out like I planned, sorry. I’ll get right into it.
- I am extremely excited to announce the release of the unabridged audiobook for The Adventures of KungFu Mike and the Magic Sunglasses. The massively talented Mercury Welles was in charge of narration for this project, and coming from someone who listens to 3-4 audiobooks a month, I believe he did the best possible treatment for this material. It’s seriously bizarre to listen to it. It’s so good that I forget I’m the guy who wrote the script.
It’s starting out on sale for only $13.96 (a penny cheaper than the audiobook) on Audible. I’m being told it will be available on Amazon and on iTunes in a few days.
- I’m going to be interviewed by Peter Biello on All Things Considered tonight at 5:50 pm EST on New Hampshire Public Radio. You can stream the conversation directly from their website, but if you’re not able to catch it in time, it will be available on The Bookshelf’s archive immediately after.
- In other news, a new book is on the way! I’ll have a manuscript ready for the editor by late spring. I’ll keep you posted about that as it progresses, but as of right now, I think you’re going to love it. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at my own writing before. [/narcissism].
I think that’s about it for now. Enjoy your Friday, and try your best to cause a little trouble this weekend. You’ve earned it.
I clicked the flood lights on, and let the dog outside for his last pee of the night. I kept the door open (screen door closed) so I could hear him walking on the old, crunchy snow in the backyard, which normally lets me know when I need to let him back inside. After a few minutes, I called for Rodney, thinking he peed right away, and was spending some extra time sniffing an old toy, or the corpse of a vole who met his demise when the warm confines of an engine bay suddenly became whirling and violent.
*crunch crunch crunch*
It wasn’t the crunch of the snow, but the distinct sound of frozen leaves being trampled through. Hearing this made me think he was on the outskirts of the yard where it meets the woods; his favorite place to poop. That would explain his delay, right? One look out the kitchen window put that theory to bed. He was nowhere to be seen. Where the heck was he?
*crunch crunch crunch*
I called for Rodney again. Nothing. This time the crunching seemed closer to the house. I waited a minute, and then called for Rodney again. He never came to the door.
*crunch crunch crunch*
The way my mind is wired, it tends to go to the dark places before the logical ones, especially when I’m exhausted. It’s basically a perverse, reverse Occam’s Razor. I envisioned a matted coyote dragging the corpse of my dog through a patch of decaying leaves. I opened the screen door, and walked into my driveway to find my dog and lead him inside, wearing nothing on my feet but a pair of socks.
*crunch crunch crunch*
Close. Very close. I rounded the corner to the backyard, and that’s where I found the dog. Not sniffing a frozen poop, not being tugged into the darkness by the plaque glazed fangs of a wild creature.
Rodney was staring at me with his big embarrassed eyes from a wooden prison of his own design. He’d crawled under our picnic table to investigate one of his long forgotten toys which was nestled in an old pile of leaves that collected there before the first snow fell, and by the time he was ready to come inside, had forgotten how to crawl back out from under it. Every time I called him, he walked around in a circle looking for a secret exit, crunching the leaves under his feet as he went.
I lifted the picnic table up so he could escape, and the two of us walked back to the house. As I opened the door for him, he looked at me, almost as if to say “please don’t tell your friends on the Internet about this”, and I looked back at him, almost as if to say “I love you more than anything, but consider my retelling of this story as a tax on stupidity.”
I was just shopping for a few items at our local Market Basket, when a man in a black raincoat, glasses, jeans and a pair of hiking boots ran into me with his shopping cart in the dairy aisle. I was only carrying a hand basket, so there was nothing blocking his cart from running directly into my pelvis. No apology offered; the man simply backed his cart up six inches, and maneuvered around me while I stared at him in disbelief.
Several minutes later, I found myself behind the same man in a newly reorganized aisle that strangely featured diapers, baby food and soup. As we meandered toward the end of the aisle, and I quietly wondered why someone would choose to wear a black raincoat on a perfectly sunny, fifty-five degree day, he suddenly abandoned his cart in the middle of the aisle, completely blocking anybody from entering and exiting it, and walked away to browse the baked goods. I was reaching critical levels of frustration at that point, and was surprised at the amount of willpower I had to conjure up just to make sure I didn’t flip his cart over on its side, and send his inexplicably large collection of Dole chunked pineapple cans barreling down the waxed linoleum flooring in every direction. Instead, I bashed his cart with my hand basket as I approached, hoping the noise would force him to turn around, realize his folly, and openly vocalize his embarrassment, but he didn’t. He just continued to squeeze and occasionally smell loaves of bread. At that, I squeezed past his cart and walked away, drained and defeated.
At the checkout line, I noticed the man in the black raincoat was standing in the line over from mine, behind a young woman in sweat darkened workout clothes. As I waited for the customer in front of me to place the plastic grocery separator on the conveyor, I watched the man look at a crumpled handwritten list he’d pulled from his pocket, frantically search his cart, and then ask the sweaty woman to watch his cart while he grabbed one last item. The woman agreed, and he sped away. One would think a task like this should have taken less than a minute to complete, but no. After five minutes, the man was still nowhere to be seen, and the poor woman advancing the man’s cart through the line for him wore a facial expression that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than extreme disappointment in herself for having agreed to help a man who I was quickly coming to believe was the most socially unaware person in the continental United States.
The man eventually returned, and thanked the woman for holding his cart. She offered a meager half smile, and turned around to empty her items on the cart just as the store’s loudspeaker system crackled to life.
“Attention Market Basket shoppers. We were hoping you could help us celebrate the birthday of one of our associates. It was actually last week, but he was off on vacation, so we weren’t able to celebrate it until now. He’s in the office right now, so we might be able to get him to raise his hand so you can see him. No? OK. So at the count of three, if all of you could yell ‘happy birthday Barry’ at the same time, that would be amazing. Ready? One…”
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY BARRY!!!”
Everybody turned to look at the man who managed to screw up something as simple as a happy birthday salutation, and I wasn’t even remotely surprised to discover that it was my nemesis in the black raincoat, sporting the shit-eating grin of a man who genuinely believed he just did something very nice for a total stranger, even though he didn’t have to.
“We’d like some lobsters, please.”
I stood behind a group of four middle-aged people, three men and one woman, at the seafood counter of my local grocery store, holding my empty basket and waiting my turn. A fresh-faced teenage boy wearing a hairnet and long white coat spent several minutes fishing live lobsters out of a tank behind the counter, and stuffing them still wriggling into a clear plastic bag. When he was done, the boy placed the bag of lobsters on the scale.
The same man who placed the order glanced at the weight readout, and adjusted the thick pair of glasses leaving big red divots in the sides of his nose. “Oh no, that’s about a pound too much. We’re going to need to find some smaller lobsters, then.”
Unshaken, the attendant went back to the tank and started the process over again. I watched this for a while before fishing my phone out of my pocket, and choosing to spend my waiting time by scrolling through unread emails. While balking at going over a projected lobster allotment by a measly pound seemed a bit odd to me, especially since it looked like at least four adults would be participating in the meal, I didn’t think much of it. Some people are just picky that way.
I am the official shopper of my household. I run the bulk of the weekly errands for my wife and I, including the appropriation of foodstuffs. This is because I possess both an inexplicable knack for supermarket efficiency, and the uncanny ability to remain calm in a wide spectrum of frustrating public situations. I’m also pretty good at organizing the shopping lists based on how the layout of the aisles. My wife, while infinitely more intelligent than I am, would sooner tear her own eyeballs out and re-stuff the tender sockets with Warheads sour candies than navigate a crowded grocery store. Me? I rather enjoy it, and since I can go shopping in the middle of the day when it’s less busy, I’m the go-to grocery guy.
“Oh sheesh, would you look at that. Still over.”
“Um, do you want me to see if I can get you some even smaller lobsters, sir?”
The man consulted with his bespectacled colleagues like it was a question on a high school quiz show before hamfisting his buzzer. “Yeah, I think that’s best.”
Slightly peeved but not even close to upset, I exhaled out of my nose, and returned my attention to my phone’s screen. I’d been standing at the seafood counter for close to ten minutes at that point, and while I’m responsible for my own work schedule and could afford to be patient, I certainly didn’t want to spend the remainder of my afternoon watching Milton from Office Space dicker over $3 worth of lobster.
“Should we get some salmon?”
“We could do that. How much do you want? Half a pound?”
“What do you think? Three-quarters of a pound?”
“Gosh, I’m not sure. Maybe two-thirds of a pound would do it.”
I found myself abandoning my phone to eavesdrop on the conversation taking place in front of me. Two-thirds of a pound of salmon? Were they shopping for an OCD support group pot luck? One of the shoppers turned and looked at me, and then quickly looked away. I took that as a good sign, because that meant they knew somebody was waiting behind them, and that had to speed up their ordering. I heard mumbles about the price of crab legs, and then “oh look at those swordfish steaks. Neat.” I went back to my phone, and noticed I had to wipe a little palm sweat from the screen.
The seafood counter attendant brought the newest bag of lobsters to the scale, and briefly darted his apologetic eyes over to me before returning them to Rain Man’s scrutiny.
“That’s perfect. Let’s do one more bag exactly like it.”
I squeezed my phone like a $600 stress ball as the young man in the hairnet filled a second plastic bag, noticeably choosing the smallest lobsters left in the tank. I turned around and thought about abandoning the line to get the rest of my shopping done, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d invested too much time in the seafood counter at that point, and no matter how much sense it would have made to leave, I would have felt like I’d given up; like I’d let those people win in some small way. I took a deep breath, placed my basket on the floor, slid my hands into my pockets, and waited some more.
“Alright, that bag looks great, too.”
At this, I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to kick my basket to the side and do the Cupid Shuffle right there in front of everyone. “Nowww walking with my fiiiishhh, nowwww walking with my fiiiishhh”. Thank Christ. I could finally finish my shopping and get on with the rest of my —
“Excellent. Can I help you out with anything else?”
“Yeah, I think we’re going to go for two-thirds of a pound of this salmon. No, not that piece. Take the piece toward that top. No, not that one. That one. There you go.”
My nostrils flared involuntarily, and my left eye twitched like a dying chipmunk on a stretch of country road. I looked to my left and right, half-expecting to see cameras for TLC’s “Extreme Couponing”. There weren’t any cameras, but an older woman standing behind me let out a conceding sigh, and walked away to parts unknown. The four people in front of me knew they were blocking other customers from ordering; they just didn’t care. They were shopping as if they were the only people in the entire store; as if their combined neuroses somehow trumped basic human decency. I suddenly wished all of them developed a severe shellfish allergy and dropped dead at dinnertime.
“OK, there you go. Anything else?”
“You know what? I think we’ll go ahead and get some steamers while we’re here.”
I stared at the seafood counter attendant with the vehemence of an unsatiated serial killer, hoping he would see the molten rage pulsing through my face, and ask the foursome in front of me to momentarily step aside so I could order a simple, painless, polite pound of tuna steak. My attempt went unrecognized as the attendant went over the price of steamers, and helped the group order juuuuuuust the right amount.
“Alright, here are your steamers. Is that going to do it for you?”
No. No. NO. NO. NONONONONONONONO. Stop it. You are done. You are done, and you need to leave right now. Take your fucking lobsters, and go die in a forest fire.
“…We’re interested in these mussels, but they look pre-bagged. We don’t need two whole pounds of mussels. Could you sell us just one pound? Is that possible?”
“I’d…I’d have to ask my manager about that. Hold on a second.”
I tried to do the math in my head, as I buy mussels rather frequently. What was a pound between four people? Four mussels a piece? Five? Could you even consider that an appetizer? Just as the frazzled attendant turned to find his manager, he met my gaze.
“Hey, are you with these guys, or are you separate?”
“I’m separate, actually.”
“Oh yes, he’s separate from us.” The lobster-ordering man with the thick glasses turned to acknowledge me before his tone turned hard. “This young gentleman has been waiting very patiently, too.”
It was perfect, given the situation. The man, in a perfectly distilled state of delusion, actually tried to shift the blame for my delay on the poor kid earning a lousy minimum wage. I instantly drained the dregs of my restraint reservoir to keep from choking him unconscious with his own Croakies.
“OK, I’ll get somebody to help you in a second. I just have to find my manager first.”
The attendant found the manager, who explained about how all the mussels were all pre-bagged, and that no loose mussels were available for purchase.
“Well, gosh. I just don’t know, then. What do you think, guys. Should we spring for the two pounds, or should we — ”
The Four Horsemen of the ShopPocalypse turned around to face the man who just swore at them, and that man, even to my surprise, was me. Apparently there was so much raw hate pressure built up inside me that what was meant to remain a thought was forced out of my body through the nearest hole, subconsciously converted into the words “HOLY SHIT”, and fired directly at the source of my misery; all without me having any say in the matter.
They looked at me as if nobody had ever spoken to them like that in their lives, and I looked at them wondering how they made it to middle age in that state of perpetual disregard for the world around them. People like that are the ones you typically find lying dead next to a blackened wall outlet with a butter knife sticking out of it. There was only a spit second of unspoken recognition between us before they broke eye contact, and continued discussing the pros and cons of splitting a $3.99 bag of mussels among themselves.
“Hi, can I help you? I can’t apologize enough for the wait.”
A woman with a red baseball cap stood next to the young seafood counter attendant, and by the grace of baby angels and sleeping kittens, she was actually speaking to me. I placed my order, and was on my way in less than thirty seconds, the sound of four shrewd adults attempting to renegotiate an already failed loose mussel transaction growing blessedly fainter in my wake.
I laughed as I walked out to my car in the parking lot, thinking about how the events of the day made me feel even closer to my wife, who, had she been in attendance, would have thrown folding chairs like a WWF wrestler in a heated interview with Mean Gene Okerlund. Being forced to spend some time in her shoes, I finally understood her aversion to shopping, and her unyielding hatred of bad shoppers. More than understood, even; I shared that hate with her, and was exited to tell her how awful my time at the supermarket was when she came home from work. Shopping rage was one more item on an ever-growing laundry list of things we had in common, and having things in common with the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with feels amazing, even if a few of those things are maybe just a little emotionally untethered.
Love is the primary binding agent in any relationship, I thought as I started my car, but the family that hates together, stays together.
An article about how to make a great chocolate cake popped up in my Facebook news feed while I was cooling down on the treadmill this morning, and I couldn’t help be reminded of why the Internet can be such a terrible place. I’m not talking about the chocolate cake, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with the cake they wanted you to make. The photo of it looked incredible, and I would shove a slice of it directly into my toothy word launcher without hesitation. I’m talking about one of the comments that accompanied it.
“Hmmm Yum Yum Yum Yum. Where can I buy this? I wanna eat”.
It might seem innocent enough, but for me, that specific comment is a prime example of why the Internet, created for humans to communicate with each other, can be the most frustrating venue for communication. Why? Because this is not how people speak to each other in real life.
For example, if a waiter sauntered up to your table and asked you how your meal was so far, and you answered with “Hmmm Yum Yum Yum Yum. Where can I buy this? I wanna eat”, he would either laugh in your face, or slowly backpedal to the hostess’s desk and dial the police. If your register associate at the supermarket looked at your basket and asked if you were making chicken soup tonight, and you said “OHHH YUMMY YUMMY IN MY TUMMY GIVE ME SOMMY!!!”, security footage of the transaction would be sent to every psychiatric hospital in a fifty mile radius, just to make sure a patient wasn’t missing at morning roll call. Unless you are a child or have some kind of developmental disability working against you, being a fully-functional adult and bypassing every conversational norm by instantly barfing out the first handful of words your synapses manage to string together is frowned upon in real life, but on the Internet, it’s just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.
What I’ve found is even more interesting is that people who behave like that on the Internet rarely, if ever, behave like that in real life. Everybody reading this has at least one embarrassing family member on Facebook who over-politicizes every conversation, and posts white trash memes featuring a Minion with its arms crossed throwing tantrums about welfare drug testing. Your news feed is regularly flooded with notifications about Uncle Sassafras commenting “TRUMP 2016” on kitten videos, and reposts of highly refuted links about Subway bread being made out of yoga mats, but when you show up for a big family dinner, Uncle Sassafrass is awesome. He doesn’t crop dust the dining room with his obnoxiously stalwart “old man on the Internet” beliefs. He cracks a beer with you, grumbles about how bad your football team is performing, and recites a couple inappropriate jokes that have everybody blotting tears of laughter with Mom’s holiday napkins.
Why do perfectly literate, sentient, regularly socialized, decent human beings transform into incensed, frothing, willfully ignorant, tact devoid socio-political bulldozers the minute they log in? In my opinion, it’s fear. More specifically, a lack of fear.
Think back to junior high school; easily the most socially awkward years of a human lifespan. You were scared to go to school because you thought people would make fun of your clothes, or scared your teacher would single you out for not having completed your homework. You were scared of the changes taking place in your body. You were scared to talk to the girl you liked, and you were scared to walk down a certain hallway at a certain time, because the bully might drag you into the bathroom and stuff your head in a toilet. You were scared of farting during a final exam. You were scared to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, because everybody would point and laugh at you, and cast you out of their clique as quickly as you were accepted into it.
Everybody’s time at junior high school is enveloped in an impenetrable fog of fear, and while it might give you the cold anxiety sweats to relive those wretched, emotionally tumultuous years, you can most likely attribute a massive spike in personal growth to those very same years, and that is because fear is an incredible catalyst of change. Fear of social rejection forced you to develop your personality and conversational ability, and seek out friends who understood you. Fear of being mocked for your looks drove you to cultivate your own sense of style. Fear of the school bully planted you in the gym or school sports, and built up your confidence to the point that he stopped messing with you. Fear of your friends goofing on you for the rest of your life pushed you to walk up to your crush with your sweaty hands buried in your pockets, and ask her to the Halloween dance.
Fear is a huge influence on who you are today, and continues to influence your choices as an adult. Your fear of being fat is why you’re eating that awful acai bowl for breakfast. Your fear of not getting that promotion is why you don’t walk around the office with your blazer inside-out like the Fresh Prince. Your fear of being ostracized is why you shy away from confrontation with friends and family. It’s why you refuse to talk about politics or religion at the bar, and why, if you see a conversation veering into dangerous territory, you do your best to redirect it. It’s why you don’t blurt out your innermost, guttural thoughts the minute they flash into existence. It’s why you take the time to lend your thoughts structure, purpose and conversational relevance. It’s why you don’t interject into conversations about topics you’re not familiar with. It’s why you don’t tell your Uber driver that his breath smells like a moldy pumpkin, and why you don’t respond to your liberal friend asking how your day went with “well it sure as shit would’ve gone better if Adolf Hillary wasn’t coming for my guns.”
What social media does is strip that healthy, necessary social fear from human interaction, and turns what could have been a meaningful conversation into, well…something else. No longer tethered by the unspoken rules of social engagement, originally well-intentioned people are free to safely vomit all over the Internet with boisterous claims, heavily biased articles from unverified sources, purposefully inflammatory statements, irrelevant commentary, argumentum ad hominem, politically charged Yosemite Sam memes, and everything else that makes it nearly impossible to navigate your personal networks without grinding your teeth. As long as they’re logged in, people are free to say anything without the fear of feeling completely fucking stupid which has always acted as the mortar binding together the masonry of polite society.
I just took you on a very windy road connecting chocolate cake to the virtues of fear, but now that we’re at our destination, I hope you think about our talk the next time your classmate from high school changes his profile picture to a confederate flag, or your naive Aunt Pearl shares a status update from Westboro Baptist Church. Chances are they’re good people and they just don’t know how to govern themselves without the statutes of real world interaction present, and no amount of debate from your is going to shake them out of those behavioral patterns.
All you can do is smile kindly, whisper “Hmmm Yum Yum Yum Yum” to yourself, and click that unfollow button until it snaps right off your god damned mouse.
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Michael Albert Boulerice was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on June 16th, 1980. A few months after, he moved to coastal New Hampshire, where Michael has spent the bulk of his life living ever since.