Why I Will Never Be a Dog Person

I really enjoy hot dogs. Franks. I’m a guy who likes everything on it. Ketchup, or catsup for you older people, mustard, relish, sauerkraut, onions, banana peppers, to name a few of my choice condiments. As far as these dogs go, I’m what you’d call a dog person. But, the real thing. You know, man’s best friend. I’m not a fan. I have a disdain for dogs, a caution toward canines. I have nothing against dog lovers though. I understand that some people can find comfort in the company of a border collie or they feel that the only thing they can depend on is their dachshund. I get it. Dogs can be a great help to those in need. I’ve seen I am Legend, Because of Winn-Dixie, and the classic Air Bud. It’s pretty obvious that dogs have a place in our society and can make a difference in the lives of man. All I’m saying is that I’m not one of those people. I have seen what dogs can become and I’d much rather keep my distance and take my chances with humans.

My first exposure to the primal perversities of pups was when I was a missionary in the Philippines. As I served as a missionary, I had the typical “missionary gets chased by crazy dog” story quite a few times. That’s not what soured my sensitivity toward animals of the canine persuasion. What really turned me away from ever having an affinity toward mans’ supposed best friend was observing the actions of the run-of-the-mill mangy mutt. Hairless. Skin falling off. Eating garbage. Diapers to be precise. While serving in the city of Santiago in Isabela Province, there was a dog whose calling card was the stench of digested diapers. You could smell him coming. The only word that can adequately describe the disgusting deluge of death that dispersed from his being is putrid. He was the guy you didn’t want coming to parties. He was bad news. Imagine the horse of the apocalypse that represents disease and famine. Now picture it as a dog. He would creep around the corner seeking an entrance to no avail. With his snout still deciding whether it wanted to stay on his muzzle, he scared away all other dogs, all humans, and precipitated the premises with putrefaction. Not only were the dogs nasty, people would sometimes eat dogs. After seeing someone eat a dog in the

Philippines, I pined for a nice hot dog. You get the picture? Seeing that dogs once domesticated, when left to their own devices, can deteriorate by great degree into diaper devouring degenerates and then being turned into a delicacy, I decided that the canis lupus familiaris, at least for me, was most definitely can’tis lupus.

You’re probably thinking, “Jace, you’re basing your hatred toward hounds on one lousy experience. Not all dogs are like that.” They can be like that, mind you. And before you blame me for blaspheming the beagle, I wish to share with you two encounters I had with a dog not too long ago. One involves a soccer ball and teeth and the other involves a vacuum, a cleaning check, and a dog biscuit.

world cup ballI love soccer. I love it even more than hot dogs. A few months ago, I purchased a world cup game ball. I didn’t have a ball of my own that I could just kick around. It wasn’t the real thing, it was just a replica. A usable replica. While stopping by a friend’s apartment to pick him up to play soccer, I saw that one of his roommates had a dog. It was pretty docile dog. But, this didn’t stop the dog from biting into my almost brand new world cup game ball. I did everything to stop the dog from puncturing the ball. Luckily I was able to get the ball to higher ground before too much damage was done. A once unscathed soccer ball now pocked with bite marks resides on the top shelf in my closet. As you can see, I’m still pretty upset about it. Serenity now.

The following week, we had cleaning checks. One of my roommates has a dog. It’s a very nice dog. Sometimes it comes into my room unannounced. Nothing wrong with that. Only this time, I had just finished vacuuming my room for the cleaning check. I was going to be gone on the day that the checks happened and I wanted to make sure that I did my part to clean. I had scrubbed the stovetop and the oven and I cleaned almost every inch of my room. The vacuum was the last part before I would head out of town. Using the skills I learned from years of both vacuuming and mowing lawns, the carpet was cleansed and devoid of dust and crumbs. As I turned the vacuum off, I sat down satisfied with the work I had done. Moments after my triumphant cleansing of the carpet, the dog came into my room. Normally I was fine with it coming into my room. No biggie. But, this time was different. In its mouth was a big, brown dog biscuit. He looked at me with this treat hanging from his jowl and chomped. He chomped three or four times. Crumbs flew everywhere on the carpet. As soon as the last of the biscuit was in his belly, he turned in an air of mocking me and left the room. Like a battlefield, the carpet was left covered in shards of brown and black; dirtied by a dog who had no intention to lick up the leftover slivers of saliva covered biscuit. I closed the door and vacuumed the spot where the dog had hilariously heaped a mound of spit slathered biscuit.

You might feel like I’m being too dramatic, but that’s like your opinion, man. Thats-just-like-your-opinion-man-gif-8-1-People can own dogs, groom them, train them, and live with them. I’ve just not been that impressed with my experiences with the canines. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, man! People, when left to their own devices, can do some pretty terrible things.” True, but before the next time you look your dog in the eyes, I implore you to take some time to read Jack London’s book White Fang and his short story “To Build a Fire.” You’ll definitely be leaning toward canine caution. As for me, I’m alright with taking my chances with people while eating a dog without thinking about diapers.

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Lessons I Learned from Going on a Date with Myself

You’ve probably heard of a married couple who has the same name. Patrick and Patricia, but they both go by Pat. Aaron and Erin. Jessie and Jesse. Kelly and Kellie. Corey and Kori. Just to name a few. It seems pretty cute when you first think about it. You both have the same name. You might even have some similar interests. But is it possible to have too much in common to the point of it being creepy? Maybe. It was for me. In the spirit of weird coincidences, I’ll go a bit Rod Serling or even Hitchcockian on you guys. What you are about to hear is coincidence to the nth degree. The following is a tale of two individuals whose paths crossed in a drive by Nerf shooting. Little did the assailant know, but the shot that was taken made a short pass through the Twilight Zone.

The Summer of 2017 was underway. The sun wasn’t too hot. It was hot enough that people didn’t want to be outside in the middle of the day, but it was cool enough that people would start emerging around 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon. We had been working all day. We were glorified handymen fixing broken shelves, drawers, doors, and cabinets in married and student housing complexes. After a rather fruitless year of school, the three of us were hoping the Summer would bring with it prospects of dating. It had been a long and tedious year indeed. Each of us had had lousy experiences dating and we were ready for something better to come over the horizon.

The three of us were sitting in an old blue GMC pickup truck. I was sitting between the driver and the passenger.The work day was coming to a close and one my buddies had a “great” plan.  He brought a Nerf pistol with him to work and as we drove around in the truck we were using he said, “Hey, why don’t we take two bullets each and write our first name and our phone number and the words ‘text me/call me’ on them. We’ll roll down the window when we see a cute girl and we’ll spin the barrel and shoot our numbers at them.” Inspired. I had my reservations. First of all, I didn’t think shooting a nerf gun would be a smart thing to do on a college campus. Second, I had just spent the last eight or so months getting rejected by every girl I asked out. So, I wasn’t excited nor motivated to engaged in anonymous number shooting. I was reluctant to join, but I succumbed at the last second. I wrote “JACE” and my number and the words “Text me” on two of the nerf bullets. I gave them to the designated gunslinger and prayed that my number would not get shot out.

During a stop in traffic, the passenger called out to us saying that he saw someone to shoot, so he spun the barrel and shot. The bullet hit near her feet. We didn’t get a really good look at who we shot. He yelled out the window, “Pick it up! It’s for you!”

We drove away. If you’ve ever seen a butcher slapping and punching a piece of meat, you will know exactly how my heart sounded as it bounced and floundered against my ribcage. Sweat was forming on my forehead. My breath was getting shorter and the only words that went through my head were, “Please! Not my bullet!” The passenger checked the barrel to see whose bullet had been propelled at the unknown female pedestrian.

Passenger: Mine are all here. [To driver] Yours are all here, man.”

Jace: [clears throat and laughs nervously]

Passenger and Driver: [grins form on their faces, very much like the Grinch from the 1966 adaptation of Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas]

the grinch

I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I had been shot. I held my anxiety-laden heart and tried to catch my breath. Maybe she left it. Maybe she picked it up and threw it away. My mind went over every scenario hoping that she didn’t pick it up. Literally thirty seconds later, I feel my phone vibrate in my tan corduroy pants. All the blood drains from my face. I hope this is my mom telling me that she loves me. I can’t take a text from this phantom female. Slowly I pull the iPhone 5 SE from my mended pocket. The number isn’t one that I have saved. The conversation goes as follows:

edited 1st text Jacelynedited 2nd text Jacelynedited 3rd text Jacelyn

So, that happened. I felt pretty good about myself. I was able to secure a date with a girl who got shot by a nerf bullet with my name and number on it who oddly enough had the same name or at least went by the same name as I did. So, we set the the chicken date up for the next weekend because it was already Friday. I continued to text her and get to know her better. In addition to having the same name, we had also served as missionaries in the Philippines, the only difference is that she served in Cebu (speaking Cebuano) and I served in Luzon (speaking Tagalog). Even though we didn’t speak the same language, it was something beyond the name that we had in common. To make things even trippier, I found out that she had ten people in her family, just like me and that we were both number seven of ten.

As I thought about it, I consulted with my older sister, my go-to dating guru. I asked her in complete sincerity what she thought about this whole situation. She said that she had a friend named Corey who married a girl named Kori and they both had the same last name. The girl was “lucky enough” to not have to change her last name. This just made things weirder. As we talked about it, I realized that as much as I wanted to find a girl with similar interests as mine, I wasn’t sure if these similarities should include name, number in the family, and the country that we served our missions in.

I felt really weird about it, but I still went through with the date. I cooked a classic Filipino dish called chicken adobo. I brought a lot of rice because you can’t have too much rice with Filipino food. My two comrades who got me into this date with my doppelganger had similarly asked girls out so that I wouldn’t be alone on a date with myself. So, the date went well. The chicken dinner was great. Everything went swimmingly. We even played some Quiplash. My name was “the other Jace” and her name was “the real Jace.” It was kind of cute. The date ended and I took her home. I enjoyed the date, but I really didn’t see anything happening. Honestly I couldn’t get past the thought of kissing a girl with my name because I would be able to say that I kissed myself. It was a little too much for me. Just my luck, the next day, she texted me and said that she just wanted to be friends. I felt a lot of relief. I came to understand through taking myself out on a date that similarities are important, but we shouldn’t get hung up on finding someone exactly like us. If you found an exact copy of you, you would most likely go crazy because you’d be talking to yourself all the time. It’s more about being yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin than it is finding the the perfect person. Let’s face it. Nobody is perfect. You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. So, how can we expect to find the perfect person if we focus on finding people who are exactly like us? Each of us is unique and that’s the beauty of dating and courtship and life! Even though we may have similarities, it’s the differences that bring us together and make us better.

If you’re still not convinced that this is weird, I cordially invite you to watch this video. It’s the “MeHarmony” skit from SNL a few years back. Enjoy!

https://www.hulu.com/watch/282844

 

Spaces, Spaces Everywhere and Not a Spot to Park

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner bemoans the wrath that is brought upon him and his crew after he shoots the albatross that was circling around their boat. In the heat of the following days,their circumstances become dire and the mariner exclaims:

Water, water, every where,The Ancient Mariner

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

There are definitely times in each of our lives when we metaphorically shoot an albatross. We binge watch series on Netflix instead of study for a test. We pig out on ice cream instead of eating something that is actually healthy. We stay up late for no good reason and wake up groggy and irritable. Our actions have consequences. Sometimes we do something knowing wholeheartedly that it will bring ill fortune. We can’t escape the consequences of our actions. But, what if killing the albatross is the only option? What if there is no other way? Who should bear the brunt of the consequences? I am a strong believer that every man and woman is responsible for their actions and is therefore responsible for the consequences. While each person is, quoting poet William Ernest Henley, in a large part the “master[s] of [their] fate” and “captain[s] of [their] soul,” there are definitely times when the albatross has to go.

captain philips

My albatross was shot sometime around 1:00 this morning. I got to my apartment late last night. There is permit parking that is available to those who possess permits. And there is free street parking, which goes faster than a pack of gum in a middle school. Upon my arrival, all free street parking was taken. Each spot was occupied down to the trickiest parallel parking positions. Although the supply of free spots was exhausted, there were several permit spots still up for grabs. I had inquired about a parking tag before I moved in and felt pretty confident that I would be able to get one, but that was most definitely not the case. Knowing completely what I was getting myself into, I pulled up to a spot marked “Permit Parking Only.” I sat in my car for a while before taking my keys out of the ignition. “I know that parking here will result in me getting in trouble, but there is no other way.” I could empathize with the Ancient Mariner there was definitely water everywhere, but not a single drop that I could drink. I fell to the temptation of parking in the permit only parking without a permit. I went to bed and really didn’t think that much about it.

I woke up this morning and went to get something out of my car. While on my way to work this morning with a container of fried rice in one hand and my keys in the other, I discovered that my car had been booted. It wasn’t one of those cute boots you see on infants. It wouldn’t look cute in a family photo. My heart sank and I honestly heard the sound of metal hitting the blacktop. The yellow-black boot was utterly, unabashedly, and absolutely unfashionably preventing my vehicle from moving. I was a bit upset, but I did what I needed to do to get the boot off. I called the company’s very expensive shoe horn to remove the boot. I shot my albatross by staying out too late.

College towns are notorious for difficult parking customs and laws. I love when I am able to safely secure a spot for my 2003 Acura 3.2TL, or ODB as I call him. There is satisfaction in knowing that your car has a home. I understand how it feels when someone takes my spot in a parking lot, or when someone without a parking tag prevents me from parking. I’ve had nights when I’ve had to drive around for an hour looking for a spot at like midnight and managing to secure a spot a good mile away from my apartment. I have had to park in a neighborhood I’m not familiar with because some bonehead without a tag took my throne. The throne that I paid for, mind you. I get it during regular semesters. More people are around which means more cars. There is a high supply in students with cars and a very limited amount of parking spots. It’s basic economics. It makes money for both the apartment complex through selling stickers and the parking enforcement makes money through tickets, giving boots, and even impounding cars. People need money. It’s a part of life. But, I would have to argue that the summer is definitely different. There are less students. Less students equals less cars.The ratio of cars to parking spots changes as a result of graduations and move-outs.

The summer is a time of relaxation, recharging, and regeneration. There is no better time to get things in order than the summer. People drive down long coastal roads with the windows down blasting their favorite summer songs. Kids are out of school. Everyone is outside. It’s a happy time. Or at least it should be.

Getting booted, getting a ticket, or even getting impounded impedes the flow of happiness during a time when excitement and happiness abounds. Everyone should be happy. Even the institutions bend on cutting students’ pockets and dripping their debit cards dry enjoy happiness every once in a while. The happiness of both apartment complexes and parking police comes from siphoning students salaries. While this is both awful and outright unjust, there should be some way for tenants and tyrants to meet in the middle. I don’t suggest being more lenient during the leisure seasons. I’m not an advocate for anarchy. Order must be maintained, and laws must be abided by.

My plan to pursue both the purse of the parking police and the public interest will be fair to both parties. Impartial to all who own cars. I hereby propose the end-all solution to  automotive woes of students all over America.

With the institution of parking tickets, more and more people race to buy parking tags. It usually doesn’t cost that much, but due to limited parking in most college towns, these spots are finite. I feel like competition is very American. And I love America. So, the stakes should be higher when it comes to parking in a college town. Not only should the students be subject to the rules of having or not having a parking sticker, but everyone in town should be. It would create a friendly competition of who should lay claim to spots in the ever increasingly coveted car parks.
To make things interesting, each parking lot will be equipped with a keypad where each driver will input the current number of miles on their odometer for that particular day. If a car doesn’t have the requisite amount of miles, then the car cannot be parked in that spot. If drivers are able to get the needed amount of miles, then they will be granted access to the parking lot. No more parking stickers. Parking police will still be able to enforce parking laws, but instead of getting people for not being in the right spot, they will only be able to cite those who aren’t able to get a spot period. The police will be able to go around at midnight for 15 minutes and check who wasn’t able to find a spot. It will be like a giant game of musical chairs and hide and seek.

Along with this, to involve the whole community, drivers who are able to consistently drive the required amount of miles will be given discounts. Cheaper gas, cheaper tune ups, and maybe even coupons and VIP passes to restaurants. And for students, cheaper tuition and books. Sounds pretty nice, right?

With these incentives, there will also be penalties for those who aren’t able to find spots by midnight. If the parking police catch you driving past midnight still looking for a spot, they can get you and you have to pay a flat fine of $30, or a box of donuts for everyone in the car. You have to pay the fine before the sun rises that morning or else the fine is compounded. The money that is collected by the parking police will be used to build parking garages that adequately meet the needs of the community. Although this might lead to the creation of tribes and factions in the community and maybe even a civil war, it would definitely solve the parking problem. In a community like this, the albatross that we have to kill won’t be our paychecks. We’ll actually be saving money. The only albatross we would have to worry about is the OZone layer. Sure, by driving so much and using so much gas, we’d burn a hole right through the atmosphere. This might be a small sacrifice to make, but it’s definitely worth it. We might have a Mad Max: Fury Road situation on our hands if things get too out of control, but in the end if we are able to drive our cars enough to deserve a parking spot, we’ll be able to have a stress free summer, and sleep soundly at night knowing that in the morning, our cars will be safe, secure, and above all bootless.

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

 

In T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” doubtful and insecure Mr. Prufrock contemplates whether he has any right to do anything in the universe especially with the presence of “a bald spot in the middle of [his] hair.” After mulling through his thoughts and the hypothetical thoughts of women regarding the pattern developing atop his head, he asks the question, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” For centuries, men (and sometimes even women) have dealt with the discomfort of the chroming of the dome. The falling of the hair follicles has been proclaimed as the demise of mankind’s capabilities of doing anything remotely cool. In an attempt to forgo the inevitability of the passing of one’s pompadour, many have resorted to covering their craniums with caps and combovers. Some succeed in securing the sensation of being seen as “not-the-guy-who-started-losing-hair”; while others flounder. Whether we like it or not, we are surrounded by Mr. Prufrocks; those whose loss likely leads them to question their quote-unquote confidence in themselves. Although there are definite drawbacks when it comes to the degradation of the dome, there are an equal amount of benefits to being bald. Through weighing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the quaint cue ball, we can see that there are numerous adages that can be said about those whose heads are hairless on top of “bald is beautiful.” And when considering the question Mr. Prufock proposes, it is imperative to understand that some of the most powerful men around lack luscious locks, yet they compensate this loss of locks with their actions.

The Bad of Being Bald

Before we get into the benefits of baldness, let us first address the negative aspects of the infamous glabrous life. The first folly of the depilated dome can be seen in the example of one of modern literature’s favorite knight errants, Don Quixote. In Miguel de Cervantes’ story of the legendary lancer Don Quixote, one of the first things that Cervantes mentions about Quixote is that he became mentally unbalanced because his brain was fried. Sunburns are bad. They hurt, they’re miserable, and they lead to peeling skin. Some people enjoy peeling skin, but no one likes when their skin is peeled. Imagine sunburning a shaven head. There’s no protective barrier between your skinhead and the violent UV rays from the sun. Baldness often leads to burnt brain, in the case of Quixote, which subsequently leads to Quixotic behavior and overall decaying of mental and ultimately physical faculties. If you are considering going chrome, I offer one piece of advice: don’t go outside when the sun’s out unless you’ve first slathered your head with the strongest sunscreen on the market, and capped your chrome with an adequate covering. Please take the necessary precautions.

Along with the prospect of brain burns, inherent with hairlessness is acquiring the title of “lucky friend” in addition to being the bald buddy. Every cohort of friends has at least one bald or balding friend. It’s essential. When the Jazz-Rockets game is close, luck (and even some prayers) is necessary. When the prayers have been offered, the next step is to go to the lucky bald friend. Everyone crowds the bald buddy and rubs his head. Not only is this practice weird, it is uncomfortable for all parties involved and is absolutely fruitless. One bald man tried rubbing his own head and this is what he said: “I rub my bald head all the time.. Don’t think it’s given me any luck .yet.” Another person said regarding the rubbing of a bald head, “eww i think its very strange if you rub a bald mans head you get good luck.i dont believe in that stuff.” Although this practice has been almost entirely devoid of fruition, some bald men had said that they rub their own heads for good luck and it works. One man declared, “I’m bald and I need to rub my own head for good luck!! lol!!” Rubbing a bald head may not be lucky for the rubber, but it might provide immense benefits to the lucky friend.

Benefits of Bald Spots

There are many reasons why being hairless is so heinous, but in actuality being glabrous is great and glamorous. You don’t ever have to worry about having a bad hair day. You can’t have bed head. You will never have to buy combs. You may still have to use shampoo and conditioner, but it’s totally your choice. And most of all, there are many successful bald men to keep you company in the event that your hair escapes your head.

Lex Luther. Former associate of Superman. He was a very successful business magnate and owner and creator of LexCorp, the incredibly lucrative aerospace engineering firm based in Metropolis. He made some of his most important life decisions immediately after losing his locks in a lab accident. Rather than moping around complaining about losing his hair, he took initiative and moved up in the world.

Walter White. Before he was Heisenberg, he had a full head of hair. This isn’t to say that men who manage to maintain their manes are less successful than those who fail to do so. Walter was a high school chemistry teacher, but it wasn’t until he got cancer that he unleashed his full potential. Although the hair loss came initially as a result of chemotherapy, he decides to keep his dome clean even after he goes into remission. As is so with Lex, Walter made himself into the man we know him as today after bic-ing his head. If it weren’t for his decision to shave his head, the crown he would later inherit as the meth kingpin of the Southwest region of the United states wouldn’t have been able to fit. He wouldn’t have made the decision to kill his rival and former boss Gustavo Fring. He wouldn’t have been able to earn sufficient funds to pay for his cancer treatments, and he wouldn’t have been as remembered as he currently is. Some say that being bald makes you blend in and get lost in the crowd. This is not so. Being bald makes people remember you even more. Once you make the choice to go chrome, people will remember your name and they will say it.

Thanos. Last on the list is one of the most powerful men in the universe. He hails from one of Saturn’s moons, Titan. Many people have been upset that the Russo Brother’s portrayal of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War isn’t true to the comics because Thanos is always shown wearing armor; particularly a helmet. Although some say that he doesn’t look as fierce as he would with a helmet or with armor, without the helmet he is able to accomplish his goal of showing what he calls “mercy” to the universe. Thanos considers Mr. Prufrock’s question, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” and answers with a resounding and universe-shaking “yes.” Of all the bald men listed, Thanos shows bald men can be successful and indeed have the commitment and drive to disturb the universe. He stands as a pillar of the band of bald brothers universally. His work ethic and commitment to a cause and his goals is definitely something to snap to.

So, whether you, or your friends suffer from acute or actual depilated dome, don’t worry too much. You’re in good company and you don’t have that much to fret about. Mr. Prufrock asks the questions, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” and doesn’t give a straight answer. He states that “[he] shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.” He continues claiming that he “[hears] the mermaids singing each to each,” but he doesn’t “think they will sing for [him].” Rather than allowing the chroming of the dome to cripple your confidence, take courage in the fact that you can be successful like the aforementioned shaven yet highly outstanding men and make your mark and disturb the universe.

Forks, Fingers, and Rice

The floor and walls were cement. There were three standing electric fans stirring the humid night air. I sat at a cheap plastic table on an even cheaper light green plastic chair. Before me was a plate with a mound of rice and a side of corned tuna. Rather than grabbing a spoon and fork, I went straight for my “kamay.” My hands. As gross as it might seem, I ate with my hands. And it was good. You don’t have to believe me. As a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines, I learned a lot about myself and about others. One of the most important lessons I learned was that different people do things differently and it is paramount that we take the time to understand, respect, and sometimes adapt to those differences. One of the first lessons I was taught was when eating rice you can use two things: a spoon or your hands.

I remember eating rice as a kid. Forks were used. I didn’t ask any questions because that’s just how I thought rice was transferred from plate to mouth. Grab fork, scoop up rice, lift up, disregard spillage, eat, repeat. But, that’s not how Filipinos did it. Let me describe the process. It’s not hard and it could make your rice eating a lot easier.

The first mode is by way of spoon. Grab spoon with right hand, grab fork with left hand. Scoop rice with spoon and use fork to gather rice for your spoon. Use spoon to transfer rice to mouth. Chew, swallow, repeat. Pretty simple, right?

Over the last two years as I’ve been back in America, I have noticed how much difficulty goes into eating rice for most Americans. As I’ve thought about it more, eating rice with a fork is like trying to dig a hole with a pitch fork. Sure, it gets the job sort of done. But, a shovel does a better job because its job is to dig and transport dirt. I believe that spoons and shovels operate under the same principles. To further my point, spoons seem to be the more frequently used tools of escaping prison. I’ve only seen that happen in movies, but you get my point. Spoons have a specific function, so why don’t we use them in situations where that specific function can be practically utilized?

If you feel awkward eating rice with a spoon, the “kamay method” should do the trick. Rather than worrying about the technicalities surrounding spoons and forks cooperating, you can just use your hands. The rules are simple. You can follow these rules or look like a toddler. Totally your choice. Using your right hand or dominant hand (I have nothing against lefties), first grab your rice. Don’t just grab the rice though. Pack it between your thumb and your fingers. After this, it gets pretty easy. Once you have your rice, grab the food you’re eating with the rice. After this put the rice-food combo in your mouth. Chew, swallow, repeat.

If you’re still a strictly “fork forever” sort of person, my opinion of you doesn’t change. I’m just sad for you. I’m sorry that you haven’t seen the light. Forks and spoons can coexist when eating rice. Hands work too. So, the next time you eat rice try the spoon-fork combo or try it with just your hands. Trying something new is sometimes weird and scary, but you can’t judge until you try. I promise it is a lot easier than forking through a mound of rice with a side of corned tuna.

Frogs and Freytag’s Pyramid

What makes a story a story? Is it the characters? The plot? The lesson being taught? For something to be constituted as a story, does it have to have any of these elements? Some would say that a story is not a story without the “essentials.” Although I am a sucker for good and meaningful stories, I’d have to argue that a story doesn’t need to follow any sort of structure for it to be an enjoyable story with a moral at the end. To be completely real,in the moment, life, for example, sometimes doesn’t follow any sort of structure. We usually look back on experiences and are able to construct a narrative of what happened that most likely ends with us learning something from the experience. It isn’t until we look back that we are able to see the story. But, that discussion is for another day. To understand how a story that lack’s structure can still be a good story, we first have to understand what the structure is that most stories are built around.

Freytag’s Pyramid (Dramatic Structure)

First off, who is Freytag, and why did he make a pyramid?

freytporGustav Freytag (1816-1895) was a German author and playwright. Freytag states in his book Die Technik Das Dramas or Freytag’s Technique of the Drama: An Exposition of Dramatic Composition and Art (1863) that although Aristotle established laws regarding drama, and this includes literature as well, the rules that he made were over 2,000 years old and that the human race had “grown more than two thousand years older” (1). With humans being both older and more advanced in some ways, Freytag decided that it was high time that these rules went through a modification to fit with the times. He claims that the rules laid down by the Ancients like Aristotle were “limitation[s that] easily seem[ed] to us the death of free artistic creation.” He continues saying that “Never was a greater error” than such a system of restraints put upon storytelling (2).

So, Freytag did what anyone does that has a beef with the system. He changed it. Instead of continuing the use of a Greek sanctioned, mathematical, and mechanical set of rules, he ironically decided to change it out with his own semi-equation-like pyramid. I’m not mathematician, but this new system sure as hecks seems pretty geometric. All joking aside, this pyramid has served as the guidelines for many stories both on the stage and on the page. Think of your favorite movie, television show, or play. Let’s look at Freytag’s pyramid first to get a feel for what it’s all about.

freytag_pyramid

This structure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I’ll throw a favorite movie of mine and we’ll see how it fits. Batman Begins.

Let’s start with the Exposition. Bruce Wayne goes to the theatre with his mom and dad. He is frightened by the bats in the play. We see that Bruce has a fear he needs to overcome. His parents decide to leave the theatre so that Bruce can feel safe. As they stroll through the wet, dark alleys of Gotham City, BAM! Inciting Incident #1 – Enter Mr. Joe Chill aka “the bad guy.” Chill attempts to rob the Waynes and fails to do so, so he shoots Thomas and Martha Wayne…  BAM! BAM!

batman_beginsBruce is left with a fear of bats, two dead parents, and a lot of heated anger toward Mr. Chill. Bruce, as an adult, decides to kill Chill once he gets out of prison. Someone else beats him to it. He runs away to Asia to join the League of Shadows. There he meets Ra’s al Ghul. Inciting Incident #2 – Bruce realizes that the League of Shadows is bad and that they want to destroy Gotham because they think Gotham is bad. Bruce Runs away and decides to overcome his fear of bats by building the Bat Cave. Rising Action – Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows come to Gotham and try to destroy Gotham. Complication – Ra’s al Ghul burns down Bruce’s mansion. Bruce is upset. Climax – League of Shadows attempts to fill Gotham’s water supply with drugs that make people hallucinate and kill each other. With the help of Commissioner Gordon, Lucious, and Rachel, Bruce is able to locate Ra’s and attempts to stop him. They fight on a train. The rails are destroyed, the train crashes, the city is saved, and Ra’s al Ghul gets ghosted. Falling Action – the city needs to be fixed because of all the crazy chaos that the League insinuates. Bruce has to find a new house because his mansion is ashes. Resolution – Batman becomes the symbol of justice and safety that Gotham needs. Because of how popular Batman becomes, he gets a calling card from the Joker saying that he’d like to hang out sometime. Sequel? Fade to black. Credits.

So, most movies follow this pyramid in some way or another. If you want to test it, just plug in your favorite movie or television show and give it a whirl. But, what happens when this pyramid isn’t followed? Can the story be a good one? Or does this make the story not worth reading or watching. In some cases, a lack of structure can make a story less desirable, but in the case of Mark Twain’s 1865 short story The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County the lack of a central story and the apathy expressed by the narrator toward the only thing that resembles a story can help us see stories in a different light and recognize that not all stories need structure for them to be considered good stories.

jumping frogBeing a contemporary of Freytag, Twain was probably aware of this “new” dramatic structure. But, just like he always does, he tears it apart and shows how ridiculous it is. Twain was a master of his craft. His sharp and oftentimes stinging criticism, accompanied by his use of local and distinct dialects in his characters are among a few of the reasons why he is considered one of the greatest American authors of the 19th century. His fame and influence has survived well into the 21st century. This notoriety also comes from his breaking away from normal narratives of his time and becoming one of the leaders of American Realism in literature.

His amphibious tale does something that sets it apart from a lot of his other works. He takes Freytag’s Pyramid deconstructs it brick by brick. In this short story, Twain gives a personal narrative of how the narrator, in search of his friend’s friend Reverend Leonidas Smiley, is pranked into hearing the long winded legend of the Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County aka Dan’l Webster, as told by the tramp Simon Wheeler. After listening against his will to the story of a frog that “wanted [an] education, and could do ‘most anything,” the narrator realizes his mistake and takes his leave just before Mr. Jim Smiley is about to tell him about a “yaller one-eyed cow that didn’t have no tail, only jest a short stump like a bannanner” (104, 108). So, why is a story about a guy listening to a tramp tell story about a jumping frog worth reading? Well, the story inside the story (the one about the frog) and the narrator’s reaction to the story can help us understand how to see past a story and see real life.

The story itself has no real plot arc. The narrator gets tricked into listening to a pointless story and leaves disgruntled. But, the legend of Dan’l Webster the frog, although it ends in a very flat and unsatisfying way, follows some sort of structure. Exposition – Mr. Wheeler takes a very long time telling the narrator about Jim Smiley because he doesn’t know any Reverend Leonidas Smiley. He tells of how Jim Smiley is a betting man. Rising Action – Mr. Smiley finds a frog that can jump higher than any frog in the county. A stranger in the camp challenges Mr. Smiley’s frog to a contest to see who’s frog can jump the highest. Climax – The frog’s are primed to jump. Smiley fills Dan’l Webster “to the chin” with quail shot (don’t ask me why). Smiley and the stranger say “ready set go,” and… the stanger’s frog jumps while Resolution Dan’l Webster stays grounded. Mr. Smiley stands confounded as to why his frog didn’t jump. After dumping out the quail shots, old Dan’l Webster jumps like he did before. Smiley runs to challenge the stranger again, but isn’t able catch him. Although this story does follow the steps of Freytag’s Pyramid, it really doesn’t follow it in spirit. The resolution leaves the reader confused, a little upset, and like the narrator “lacking both time and inclination” to listen to any other stories.

The genius of this story is that it doesn’t need a story arc to be entertaining or to even present a thought provoking message to its readers. Twain, although a harsh critic of society and humans in general, shows the reality that sometimes stories don’t need to be structured to get their point across. Through subverting the structure of Freytag’s Pyramid, Twain helps us understand that sometimes life has little to no structure, even when we try to organize, plan, and prepare. When this is the case in our own lives, all we need to do is see the ridiculous “jumping frog” moments in our day and learn to laugh at the supposed structure and oftentimes lack thereof in life generally.

Samuel Johnson and Fiction in the Age of Netflix

Samuel Johnson Breaking Bad #2Naturally, as a millennial college student, one of my best go-to pastimes is watching the occasional episode or two of a show on Netflix. Most, if not all, college students alike can relate to the need for a little downtime, so why not, right?

Browsing through the new shows to watch, I’ve come across a vast array of classic television shows and movies. Great stuff. I’ve discovered the original Twilight Zone (do-do-do-do — do-do-do-do)

in the grandeur of its surreal and hauntingly timeless social commentary. I’ve watched John Wayne — the distinctive, the hero, The Duke and The Legacy — in the WWII classic depicting the D-Day Invasion, The Longest Day. And along my Netflix scrolling, I got in touch with my musical side, choosing Milos Forman’s 1984 drama Amadeus. Among these classics, all of which I enjoyed, I feel that I’ve found, or rather, rediscovered the awe and mystique of a modern classic of a very different genre, in Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad. Okay, okay — before you start sharpening your pitchforks and running me off the internet — please give me an ear and a couple of eyeballs on this one.

Breaking Bad is a modern classic and it very well may be a bit misunderstood in this category. The baseline story of Walter White, the sidetracked high school chemistry teacher that turns to cooking meth and drug trafficking to support his cancer treatments is a fascinating story. It takes the viewer through twists, turns and life troubles all tied and mangled together in this difficult life dilemma of Walter’s own making. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I know, I know — I promise — I get it. The show has very strong language, dark and oftentimes very morose themes, sexually uncomfortable content, gruesome, unthinkable violence, and of course the themes that accompany drug abuse at its absolute worst. Need I say more? Believe me, I’m not condoning Breaking Bad or saying that it is a cleaner show than many others on the Netflix spinwheel. What I am saying is that Breaking Bad, even at it’s worst isn’t too bad. It’s difficult plot lines and complicated characters in unthinkable quandaries is timeless and in the classical sense — a classic. Breaking Bad is actually pretty good as it shows the consequences of living badly. It shows Walter and his friend, Jesse’s lives with the above mentioned morally messy predicaments, void of the safety of fixed morals that naturally accompany the good of John Wayne-ish heroes. It is not sugar coated. Where John Wayne comes out on top because of his principled right and good, Walter comes out on the bottom because of his disingenuous wrong and bad. Breaking Bad in all of it’s gutsy awfulness allows the viewer to see that bad behavior, although it sometimes results in short-term rewards, ultimately proves to be damning and destructive.

Breaking Bad is pretty bad. It is. But, on the other hand, it is good in that it shows the stark contrast between the consequences faced by characters in the show that choose dishonesty and deception and those that go about their lives doing what is noble and right. The presence of moral dilemmas and glimpses of upright moral character in the show is what stands out to the viewer — even me, for example.The development of the characters, exhibited through both moral deterioration and moral maturation is what really sells this series to me as a modern classic.

In all of it’s badness, the character driven scenarios are drenched in the reality of consequential outcomes. Some shows that are similar, even grittier, than Breaking Bad in type and genre,seem a bit over the top and unrealistic. Some shows tend to portray characters in normal life situations as only consisting of actions and behaviors that are morally problematic. The characters and their unscrupulous behaviors and choices are even devoid of natural consequences. Sure. Sometimes people just plain get away with stuff. They do. There have been murders that are unsolved and atrocities and injustices to humanity that remain among some of the most heinous and puzzling unsolved mysteries. All of this does happen in reality. People do hurt other people.This isn’t anything new in history. It only takes a view of the nightly news to remind us of the unkindnesses we as humanity can perpetrate unconscionably on one another. The media, in all of its varied facets, is feeding on these atrocities. Ratings on accessible streamed viewing and movies at large are proof of the increased satiation of themes that show murder, mayhem and gratuitous sexual and violent content. Many of the popular shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and especially HBO right now are rated TV-MA and seem to project and glorify a lifestyle of carnality without consequences as the perpetual norm.

It’s difficult to find anything that is void of social morality decline with very little in a storyline that reflects the reality of eventual consequences. There seems to be plenty of nudity, carnage and profanity without responsibility and conscienable liability. What kind of message does the media present when gratuitous sex, graphic nudity, profane language, and gruesome violence are glorified? Is this the kind of media that we should indulge in? If so much out there can be defined as “mature,” is all “mature content” bad? How do we employ wisdom in making these perplexing multi-media choosing decisions when there are so many options available? Is there something to learn from bad moral behavior that will direct us to do and be better? Do I have to watch 1960’s reruns to feel like I haven’t been Netflixally violated?

In relation to these questions, I’ve done some deep digging. I have dug deep and in so doing, I have excavated some fascinating old essays and periodicals. I might even refer to these as “bloggings from the past.” Some are even past — way past — the past. I found some extremely sage and scholarly advice from English essayist, Samuel Johnson.You know. Samuel Johnson. 18th century “blogger-extraordinaire.” He’s the one who wrote and compiled the first comprehensive English language dictionary. Ring a bell? Well, if you don’t know who he is, take a listen. Johnson was a proponent of practical common sense and morality. One writer spoke of Johnson saying that he embodied for the English people “all [of the good qualities] that [they] admire[d] in [themselves].” Fun fact, if any of you are wondering why words like “selfie” or even “😂 (the laughing-so-hard-that-you’re-crying emoji)” have been added into the dictionary, you can thank Samuel Johnson. He believed that instead of creating a dictionary that taught only the proper words and usage of words, the dictionary should encompass the language and every facet of it in its entirety.

Among these, he wrote many essays in periodicals that dealt with social issues, most especially in relation to the preservation of morality and the importance of teaching and living a life of virtue. He actually wrote a sharp, opinionated essay in 1750 in his periodical the Rambler, which, in his day, went viral. He addresses what he believes to be the do’s and don’t’s relative to how writers should write fiction. His words seem to echo the concerns many of us have as a result of being bombarded by immorally saturated media.

Johnson took on the media of his day. He wrote about writing with a moral core and with social responsibility. He believed that when one would write fiction, a writer should consider the possible lessons that can be learned from the media and the potential influence the content in the writing can have on the youth. Literal youth, the young at heart, the young at mind. That could really include everyone. He expresses that “[fiction is] written chiefly to the young, the ignorant and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct and introductions into life” (Johnson, On Fiction). Deny it all you want, but the truth is, whether you’re a teenager or middle aged adult, each of us at some point fit into the demographic of “young, ignorant, and idle,” or as the up-and-coming urban poet Khalid puts it, “young, dumb, and broke.” Each person has the qualities of a youth and the ideas, scenarios, and situations that are presented in the media have the power to either influence for good or for ill. Johnson emphasizes that “[youth are] easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current fancy.” Most youth, and even most adults are looking for ways to fit in and feel “normal.” This may seem like a modern train of thought, but believe it or not, teenage and even any-age insecurity has been around even before Johnson’s time. With the presence of these feelings of needing to fit in and wanting to feel cool, individuals oftentimes look to the media they consume as a way to identify with a group. When the media presents immoral and indecent behavior, some individuals will look at that as a sort of norm and conform to that idea in order to “[follow] the current fancy,” as Johnson would say.

So, with this being said, those who publish this kind of media that is presented, not only to youth, but generally, should be careful when it comes to the type of message that is being presented. With regard to today’s media selections, there are a lot of shows that portray a life of sexual promiscuity, dishonesty, irresponsibility, violence, alcoholism, drug abuse and everything in between as bringing true and lasting happiness. In regards to this, Johnson writes that although it is important to write characters based on reality and the “general converse and accurate observation of the living world,” he argues that “many characters should never be drawn.” Generally speaking, breaking the law and performing indecent and immoral actions isn’t generally what everyone does on a daily basis. Performing actions that lead to breaking the law and being incarcerated usually don’t leave people happy either. Johnson continues saying that drawing these characters, through the media, that ought not to be drawn “more frequently… [make] men cunning [rather] than good.”

This doesn’t mean that in order to be truly happy, one shouldn’t have flaws or imperfections. Each of us has weaknesses and that’s what makes us human and plenty of humans learn how to be happy amid flaws and imperfections. Imagine a television show where everyone is good and there is nothing bad in it. To be honest, a show where the characters are all perfect and have no character flaws would not be on the air for very long. It’s the character flaws that can help create a conflict, which then can be resolved. The rigid dichotomy between good and bad is what makes life life. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi speaks of this dichotomy. Lehi states that, “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11). Samuel Johnson agrees that the combination of good and bad is necessary. In this context, a character needs both vice and virtue. As Johnson states, “vice is necessary to be shown, [but it] should always disgust…. [and] Wherever it appears, it should raise hatred by the malignity of its practices.” Disdain for characters that do abhorrent things, seems to be a natural response to socially unacceptable behaviors. We should naturally revile their very presence in our stories! But, these characters do bring a contrast — opposition — that can help teach a moral value, except when we glorify the behavior of the disdainful. As Johnson advises, when presenting a character’s vices, they should be presented so that the audience doesn’t want to imitate their actions.

We can have characters that have both vices and virtues, while at the same time not making their vices look appealing. According to Johnson, we need to be careful how we present the good, the bad and the ugly. If we choose to present the bad and the ugly, we need to take care that we show the accompanying prison time, loss of fortune, feelings of twilight zone-like craziness and seeing the love of your life leaving you for John Wayne and listening to Mozart. Just sayin’.

So, Breaking Bad. This show is, in my opinion, a good example of what Samuel Johnson wanted emulated in writing. TV shows can have characters with virtues and vices, and oftentimes more of the latter, and still present the vices in a non-glorifying manner and send a message worth discussing, especially for youth. There are a variety of characters that do bad things and keep the bad cycles going in Breaking Bad. And, there are some with redeeming qualities, too. Johnson would be proud!

In Walter White, we see a man who is driven to “break bad” because of a lung cancer diagnosis. He’s a good person with a good heart at the beginning of the series. But, we quickly see this mild tempered father and teacher turn a new, but not very glamorous leaf. As we see through the series, he makes morally questionable choices that he feels are justified because he either is doing it for his family, for the greater good, or to save others when it is convenient for him. At the beginning of the series, the audience can relate with Walter. He’s in dire straits and is out of options. We all have times when this happens. There are bound to be times when the bad choice outweighs the good, and the bad choice looks like, ironically, the only good choice. Although Walter is initially very relatable, through his choices he alienates himself from everyone that matters to him in his life, as well as the audience. He chooses short-term gratification through choosing bad over good. Walter, a desperate chemistry teacher with cancer changes into a godless, murdering, almost drug kingpin. The thing that I appreciate about this metamorphosis is that it absolutely shows the consequences of Walter’s actions. Although he gratifies every desire he wants, in the end he is left with no family, no identity, and as the romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley puts it, is left a “colossal wreck” (Shelly, Ozymandias).

The same can be said for Jesse Pinkman, Walter’s partner. Jesse Pinkman is a meth cook and a drug addict. Throughout the series, we see how Walter’s actions and manipulation of Jesse, accompanied by Jesse’s own impulsive choices, destroys everything that Jesse loves. As the series progresses, we see glimpses of what Jesse wants. We see what brings Jesse joy in his life. This is very evident in the episodes “Kafkaesque” and the series finale, “Felina.” In “Kafkaesque,” Jesse is asked in his support group about what he would do if he had the chance to do anything he wanted, assuming that money wasn’t an issue. He expresses his love for woodworking and that if that were the case, he would pursue a career in carpentry and woodworking. He recalls taking a tech class in high school and having to make a wooden box. He discloses to the group that making the box was the only thing he really gave his heart to in high school. This joy is revisited in the finale when Jesse is cooking meth against his will. He daydreams that he is creating a box out of wood. The scene creates a feeling of sublimity. It shows what could have been Jesse’s reality, but this picturesque scene doesn’t last. He wakes up only to realize that he is basically a slave. This scene, rather than painting a false idea about the consequences of being a meth cook, instead illustrates Jesse’s regret for having ever joined Walter in cooking meth in the first place.

If we look at both of these characters and their development throughout the series, we can see that the show’s creator and its writers do not glamorize or glorify vice. Johnson cautions us if a character is shown to be “indeed splendidly wicked…” but their wickedness overshadows their righteousness, “we lose the abhorrence of their faults, because they do not hinder our pleasure.” This sort of character, which Johnson emphatically proclaims, “ought never to be drawn,” leaves the audience believing that it is possible to practice the “art of murdering without pain.”  Johnson ends his remarks by declaring that although vice is necessary, “virtue [on the other hand] is the highest proof of understanding, and the only solid basis of greatness; and that vice is the natural consequence of narrow thoughts, that it begins in mistake and ends in ignominy.” These remarks are very true in the examples of Walter and Jesse. We see that as the characters realize that the life of meth cooking, drug abuse, dishonesty, and murder only leads to destruction, they begin to be enlightened and come to an understanding. An understanding, that is, of the truth of what is right and what is wrong, although it comes too late in both cases.

In relation to Johnson’s words, we can see that in TV shows like Breaking Bad, although they sometimes overdramatize reality, they oftentimes present what in reality really does happen. When this is done in the media, books, movies, and television shows, they can be used to foster an environment of teaching and learning in regards to making decisions and living a virtuous and moral life. Instead of showing only the good, we can use the good and the bad in the media as a means to facilitate discussion regarding good and bad choices. In our own choosing of media, we can determine which media glorifies vice and which media presents moral dilemmas through a real-life lens. And in turn we can become wiser viewers. In becoming wise viewers, we can help others be wise in the media they choose to indulge in. In a time where morality is becoming more and more subjective, we would be wise to learn how to recognize the media that aids in building up morality as well as understanding the benefits of a virtuous life and seek opportunities to teach those we love to do the same, even if those lessons come from unexpected sources.

What do you think? Do you agree with Samuel Johnson on this issue? Is all mature content bad? Are there any tv shows, movies, or books that you’ve been able to learn from? Can “bad shows” teach good, meaningful lessons? Is it okay to let youth watch TV shows with mature themes? If so, when would allowing kids to watch, or read material with mature themes be appropriate? Please respond in the comments. Thanks!