Lovin' It - A Comedic Short Story From Yours Truly

“Yes, I’d like three McDoubles with extra cheese.” The Fat Man said.

“Three McDoubles, extra cheese. Would you like fries with that?” The Cashier asked.

“Uhhh…” delayed the Fat Man. The cashier waited.

Behind the Fat Man was another, much busier man. This man was much more important and all around more aesthetically pleasing.

“Jesus could you hurry it up?” demanded the Important Man.

“Yeah sorry I’ll just have the small fries” apologized the Fat Man. He was on a diet.

“Okay,” said the cashier, “Your total will be…”

How much? How much?? Jesus Christ, could this take any longer? It’s just a cash register you dumb bitch just press the God-damn buttons.

“Sorry we’re just having a little difficulty with the machines right now, hold on a sec”

Just do the math in your fucking head!! It’s a burger with cheese and small fries, the price is right behind you, you idiot. Naturally the Important Man kept his thoughts to himself, but boy was he ready to share these thoughts online.

“There we go, sorry about that. Your total comes to six dollars and fifty-eight cents.”

Finally. The Fat Man dunked his gross, greasy palms into the cavernous pockets of his cargo shorts and pulled out his Planet Hollywood wallet. How tacky, thought the Important Man behind him. His wallet was slim and elegant, and much more appropriate for professional interactions should he ever have the urgent need to present both his wallet and himself professionally. Yes, should the Important Man ever be delaying a fast food line in front of an even More Important Man, his wallet would not be not be subjected to the same level of judgment with which he was subjecting the Fat Man’s wallet. Yes, this much he could be sure of and at least he had that, he thought to himself. At least he had that.

“Uhh, I only have 6.50” The fat man belched.

Uh oh. This was not good for the cashier, clearly. She had a job to do. One job, really. Collect cash, that’s it. It’s in her name, even. The cash-ier. How could she, a cashier of high regard and moral standing within her community, allow such a wretched and fat person to slide by on his obligation to pay for what was clearly the cause of his own problems. In fact, the cashier thought to herself, she was doing the world a moral disservice by even allowing him to eat food, let alone help him eat what he can’t afford. The more she thought about it, the more she hated him. It’s eight cents, how can a person be so pathetic to be eight cents short of a McDouble. Moreover, the problem could be easily solved by lowering down one Mc. Surely a single burger would be both delicious and affordable. On the other hand, she didn’t care nearly enough to argue.

“Yeah that’s fine whatever,” she said. Very few seconds had passed since the fat man spoke.

This delay would have normally infuriated the Important Man, but he had become preoccupied with thoughts of his wallet and how he planned on presenting it to all the people he knew who were more important than he was. He took his wallet out of his pocket and quickly put it back in again, practicing. Just in case.

Unfortunately for the Important Man, the man behind him was much less important and was therefore worthless.

Behind the Worthless Man, however, was a Very Important Man. This man suffered from nearsightedness though, and was tragically unable to recognize the quality of the Important Man’s wallet.

By the time the Important Man had ordered and received his McChicken, the Worthless Man had made up his mind and was determined not to take up anyone’s valuable time. No sir, if there was an Important Man standing right behind him, it would be guaranteed that this Important Man would not be annoyed or forced to criticize the greasiness of the Worthless Man’s palms. And they were quite greasy.

“Welcome to McDonald’s, how may I help you.”

Yes. This was it. This was the moment he had been waiting for all along. He knew his order.

“Hello I’d like to order one Big Mac, hold the cheese, with small fries and a small coke.”

He wanted Medium, but that’s okay, it’s too late now. He held his breath.

“Okay, and your total comes to $5.69”

Perfect. He had that much in his bank account, almost definitely. He could tell that everyone was watching, so he was sure to impress when he whipped out his –

Uh oh. Where could it be? Absolute worst nightmare.

“Um. I seem to have misplaced my wallet” he said aloud, not entirely sure what he expected people to do about that.

“Oh,” said the cashier. Another one. “Well what do you want me to do about that?”

“Uhh…” droned the Worthless Man. He had really hoped a solution would have popped into his head by now. The obvious solution was to simply retract the order and get it later after he brought his wallet, but he was hungry so he didn’t want to do that.

“Uhh…” he repeated, hoping to buy some time yet not entirely sure how that would end up buying time. In fact, it had only served to draw even more attention to the fact that he didn’t know what to do. What a faux-pas. What a ridiculous, pathetic little man he was. Everyone hated him, he could tell. He hated everyone else, so it made sense.

“Excuse me,” the Important Man said with a twinkle in his eyes, “Did I hear that correctly? You’ve misplaced your wallet?”

“Uhh…” he repeated, yet again. Now he was only doing it because people had come to expect it from him. “Yes, that’s right. I’ve misplaced my wallet.”

Perfect. With a flash, the Important Man whipped it out.

“That’ll be $5.69,” the cashier said, probably thinking about how great this guy’s wallet was.

“No please,” pleaded the worthless man, “You really don’t have to.” Though when he thought about it, he really wanted this guy to buy a meal for him. If this guy could afford a suit, he could probably afford a Big Mac, hold the cheese, with small fries and a small coke. Actually, if this guy was paying then he could probably afford a Medium.

“No really, I insist,” insisted the Important Man.

“Well, okay.” On second thought, switching to a Medium would be rude and selfish. The Worthless Man thought better of it.

“That’ll be $5.69,” the cashier repeated. Boy, the Important Man thought to himself, this cashier must really want to see this wallet. Well, might as well give them what they demand.

He plunged his hands deep, deep into the recesses of his back pocket. Yes, back pocket. He wasn’t a front-pocket heathen like the disgusting fat man who was once in front of him. Slowly and with elegance he lifted the wallet out of his pockets. How smooth, he thought, how graceful. This wallet was all-around perfect. Filled with cash but not unnecessarily fattened with expired gift cards and hotel keys. Touch-wise, it was magnificent. Its leather was a thrill to feel and brought an erotic pleasure to all who held it.  So smooth, so fine. Delicious, even. If you can eat beef, then why not leather? Truly, this was the filet-mignon of wallets.

“Will that be debit or credit?”

“Credit.” Obviously. What did she think he was, poor?

“Excuse me,” boomed a voice from behind. “Is that your wallet?”

The Important Man spun around, giddy, and came face-to-face with none other than the Very Important Man himself.

“Why, yes it is,” he replied, withholding a blush. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason…” the Very Important Man said, clearly withholding his reasoning. “May I… may I hold it?”

Excellent. “Of course!”

The Very Important Man held the wallet close to his heart. He ran his fingers lightly against its surface, feeling it, smelling it. “So smooth… so fine…”

“Delicious, even?”

“Yes. Delicious.”

Wow. This could not be going any better. If he played his cards right, the Important Man could be well on the tracks to becoming a Very Important Man. He waited patiently.

“You know young man, you remind me of myself when I was a young man. Thankfully I’ve become much more important since then, but still, you’ve got spunk, kid. And a great taste in wallets.”

“Oh, thank you sir. That’s very kind of you to say.” Wow. This was everything he had ever dreamed of happening, all at once. And all because some worthless kid didn’t understand the delicacy and responsibility that comes with being a wallet-owner.

“You know, we could use someone like you over in our office. No one else seems to be able to truly understand the weight and complexity of wallets.”

“Right? When you think about it, all you really are is your wallet,” the Important Man stated with pride.

“Or your clothes.”

Yes that’s true, the Important Man thought. “Or hair,” he added confidently.

“What?”

“What?”

“What do you mean, hair?”

What? What did he mean by hair? He searched through his thoughts frantically, hoping to find an explanation for his foolish comment. He had taken things too far. “Well,” he began, “hair is pretty important, don’t you think?”

“No,” stated the Very Important Man. “Hair is not important.” This was a strange thing for him to say though, as he had a lovely head of hair and seemed to have few reasons to diminish its importance.

“Oh…” delayed the Important Man, not entirely sure where the conversation was heading, “you’re right. Totally and absolutely.”

The following thirty seconds of silence felt more like two minutes of silence, at least. They both seemed to expect the other one to talk, though neither would.

“One Big Mac, hold the cheese, medium fries and a medium coke?”

Glorious days! Could it be, thought the Worthless Man? Hath Providence held him in such high regard as to bestow upon him this fortune? A Medium! A Medium! He could practically leap for joy.

Woah! Hold up. He couldn’t forget that he was in a McDonald’s right now. To show such innocent and sincere emotions regarding something as simple as Medium Fries would be frail and pathetic. He was a proud heterosexual, and not at all like those all-in-your-face-about-it heterosexuals you see all the time in the media. He was careful never to display either too much pleasure or too much aggression.

Should the others around him ever understand the true depth of emotions he felt, they would think he was super weird. Would they? Probably. They’re probably even weirder though. In fact, the Worthless Man thought, they’re probably the weirdest people in this McDonalds. Look at those suits, that weird obsession with wallet texture. When nobody’s looking they probably pay their shoe shiners to tickle their feet or something. Sure, he had that weird thing about dolls, but the Worthless Man knew that was peanuts in comparison to the freaks around him. Suddenly, he began thinking about dolls again.

“One Big Mac, hold the cheese, medium fries and a medium coke?” Surely, the cashier thought to herself, the customers could at least try a little bit to pay attention and make her job easier. But she knew they were only just going to blame her anyways. Whatever.

“Oh sorry, that’s me I think” peeped the Worthless Man, grabbing his bag and scurrying away.

Finally, the Cashier thought to herself. What a weird and worthless guy. He forgot his receipt but he probably doesn’t care. Honestly who ever cares about the receipt? They could probably stop printing receipts at fast food restaurants forever and probably not a single thing would change. In fact it’s probably a huge waste of paper. She thought back to the thousands of receipts she had thrown out in her cashier-ing career and resented the bourgeois pigs responsible. Had it even been thousands of receipts? Millions? Jesus, has she really worked at McDonald’s long enough to have thrown out a million receipts? How big even is a million anyways?

“One Filet O’Fish, please.” Right, the customers.

She turned her attention to the source of her annoyance and instantly recognized that she was talking a Very Important Man. Play it safe, she remembered, Important People always represent a risk to the status quo.

“One Filet O’Fish. Would you like fries with that?” she said as safely as she could.

“No. I’m on a diet. Obviously.”

“Yes of course. You have an incredibly slim physique, as well as an impressively manicured head of hair.” That was not nearly as safe as the sentence she had been expecting to say, which was something more along the lines of “One Filet O’Fish coming up.”

“Really? You think so?” The Very Important Man very much enjoyed having his ego stroked, among other things. “You know, I’m always saying that Hair is the most important asset we have. All you really are is your hair.”

Now that sentence sent the regular old Important Man into a severe internal rage. How dare he!

“You low, slithering creature!” he shouted.

“What?” The Very Important Man turned around. Was that insult? That was a really weird insult he thought to himself. Kind of lame, really.

“You said that hair doesn’t matter, and yet here you are! Praising the merits of hair right in front of me! That was my idea! I said that.”

Meanwhile, the Worthless man was just about to drive out of the parking lot when he remembered that he hadn’t thanked the Important Man for paying for his Big Mac hold the Cheese, Medium Fries, and a Medium Coke. He knew that going back and thanking him was the polite thing to do, but would it be weird? It had been at least a couple minutes already, would the guy even appreciate him coming all the way back into the store just to say thank you? He probably wouldn’t. He’d probably say something like “What? Who are you? Did you seriously walk all the way back to this McDonald’s just because you forgot to thank me? What’s your problem? Why are you so weird?”

But what if he didn’t say that? What if he said “Young man, I know you didn’t have to come all the way back here just to thank me, but you did anyways. That shows positive character traits and I’m interested in pursuing a potential friendship with you”. What if this guy was the next Bill Gates? Then he’d really want to get on his good side. Or what if this guy was the next Hitler? Then he’d really, really want to get on his good side. He resolved to go back to McDonald’s.

“All I wanted was a fucking McChicken and a potential job opportunity or maybe even a friendship and yet again I don’t get to have my way!!”

The Worthless Man instantly regretted his decision.

“I even bought this fucking loser his lunch so I would seem altruistic and like a worthwhile person to know. Look at him! Look what a loser he is, and I still bought him lunch!” By now the Important Man was on autopilot, while The Worthless Man was more or less parked.

“His untucked shirt, his unmatched belt. His greasy, greasy palms! He doesn’t even have a wallet! What do you say kid, do you have a wallet? Why did you even walk back in here? Is this some kind of racket, huh? Pretend not to have a wallet so the obviously more Important and likely handsome, kind, and generous Men in the room take pity on you and buy your food? What are you, homeless? I bet you think you’re real fucking clever. But your whole plan fell through, cause I’m still in this McDonalds because this DUMB FUCKING BITCH at the counter can’t even take an order right, because she’s so slow and incompetent at every single thing she’s ever done and everyone else is just so fat or incompetent or otherwise degenerate and counterproductive!”

For the first time in a very long time, the Worthless Man felt good. Sure, this guy was being a huge asshole, but he was making a bigger ass of himself than the Worthless Man ever would. By comparison, everyone probably thought he was a much cooler and more sympathetic than the important man. He didn’t appreciate the insults, but what better way to climb up the social ladder than by having people pity you? And besides, his palms were greasy. There’s no use in fighting against facts.

He could take it all. No insult was too great to break his moral high ground. And once he dropped the bomb that he had only walked in to say thank you, he knew he’d absolutely crush it in terms of Sympathy Points. This guy would feel so bad. He’d look like such an idiot, and in front of everyone!

“Actually,” the Worthless Man began, suppressing a smile, “I only came back in to say Thank You for buying my meal.” Boom. Bombshell – Dropped.

“Thank me?”

This was it, the Worthless Man knew. A moment of reckoning.

Thank me?”

Here it comes! Was that a lip quivering? A twinge of guilt, perhaps?

“You walked all the way out, got in your car, drove away, and then turned all the way back just because you forgot to thank me? I mean, who even are you? What did you expect, I’d be so happy to see a polite young man in this society that I’d drop your pants right there and suck your dick? I knew you were a loser but I didn’t even consider how worthless you were. You care that much about my opinion of your politeness that you wasted so much time just to let me know you appreciated a free meal? Of course you appreciated it, you IDIOT! What is your problem? Why are you so weird!?”

Silence. This was not how any of these people expected this day to go. Except for maybe the cashier.

After practicing some Internal Smiling, the Important Man was able to calm himself down from his episode. For a moment, he considered apologizing to the people around him but realized that if he acknowledged that what he did was wrong (which it was, he knew), then no one would be able to say “Well at least he stuck to his guns”, which he knew was a really important trait to people. So instead, he decided to double down.

“You all make me sick” he said for some reason. He didn’t exactly know how they made him sick, but at least now everyone would be asking “Why do we make him sick?” instead of asking “What’s this guy’s problem?

There was no backing out now. He had made such a fool of himself, but he knew that he would only look like a fool if he acknowledged that he was one. He wasn’t like the Worthless Man; he wasn’t going to spend precious thoughts of his worrying about what other people would think about him. If anyone thought he cared what they think then they would lose all the respect he had tried so hard to gain.

“Disgusting.” He said, slowly losing his grasp on how he was planning to handle the situation. The more he thought about it the more he realized how much he needed to leave, but he recognized that leaving would be conceding defeat. And he never lost.

The Worthless Man was dumbstruck. He had never expected anyone to ever behave so irrationally and so counter to common decorum. He was at a complete loss for words. He wanted nothing more to tell this guy off but recognized that that would only be stooping down to the other guy’s level.

The Cashier was more or less unsurprised, and was simply grateful for the opportunity to not be handling fistfuls of sweaty bills.

“Excuse me” the Very Important Man spoke up. “I understand there might be some heavy tension in the room, but I might have some information that could alleviate it.”

Knowing the spotlight was on him, the Very Important Man took his sweet time in delivering the news. Everyone waited desperately to hear what he had to say. And they waited. And they waited.

“My name is…” he continued. And they waited a little longer.

“Steve Esterbrook!”

They waited still more, clearly not knowing who that is.

“And I’m with CBS on UnderCover Boss!!!”

“Whaaaaaaaaat!! No way dude! We’re on TV!” shouted some guys in the back that hadn’t been involved in any of the conflicts so far. The rest of the restaurant erupted at the prospect of being televised. Dozens of otherwise quiet and uninterested patrons began shouting and searching for hidden cameras. Discontented frycooks in the back kitchen smiled at each other, contented at the prospects of their future after being featured on CBS’s hit show Undercover Boss. Even our beloved cashier seemed unusually self-aware and posed.

The only two not sharing in the excitement were none other than the Important and Worthless Men, who by now had become petrified with fear at the prospect of being clearly seen in the homes of millions of Americans.

The Important Man yet again debated over whether or not he should apologize, though he quickly realized that if he apologized after doubling down it would look like he only apologized when he realized other people were watching him, and that would be the worst option yet.

“You’re a piece of shit and your company is poisoning America.” Yes, tripling down was the correct choice, he thought. “And hair is extremely important, too. I was right about that.” Can’t let them forget that, either.

Surprisingly, the Very Important Man stuck out his hand.

“You know, I gotta say that I find your honesty extremely refreshing. Even when the pressure to back down was high, you really stuck to your guns. That’s the kind of thinking we need around here. How’d you like to be the CEO of McDonalds?”

This is a test, the Important Man thought. Don’t be a Worthless Man. Don’t thank him.

“Fuck you,” he spat back at Steve Esterbrook

“You’re hired.”

Perfect. All according to plan. This was probably also giving CBS huge ratings. The Important Man fantasized about the millions of Americans at home right now watching his inspirational rags-to-riches story unfolding right before their very eyes.

“And you,” Steve Esterbrook began, turning to the cashier. “I have to say that I’m very disappointed in your performance. How much time has passed since that grotesquely fat man walked in? And how many customers have you served? 3? 4? It’s clear to me that you don’t care about your job.”

She didn’t.

“And here at McDonalds, we need to have a team that’s incredibly passionate about everything they do, from when they first see our Golden Arches until their last satisfied customer. And unfortunately, if you’re not in touch with the McDonald’s spirit, then we have no option but to McTerminate your employment.”

That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. She can always just go get another job somewhere else. Or not. She’d probably get a nice McSeverance package because McDonalds wouldn’t want to look bad in front of all the fine folks at CBS.

“What about me?” the Worthless Man asked. It had been some time since he had last spoken and he was sure that everyone was curious about what he had to say.

“Who are you?” asked Steve Esterbrook.

“Nevermind, sorry…” the Worthless Man mumbled.

As the interviews and celebrations continued, the Worthless Man snuck out of the restaurant without even so much as glancing at those Release Forms that the producer began handing out. If McDonalds or CBS have any decency then he would be in the clear, as far as his anxieties went anyways.

On his way to the car, he began to reevaluate the whole situation. The more he thought about it, the more he realized what a cool story he had to tell people. “You’ll never believe it,” he’d say to people, “I was on CBS’s hit show Undercover Boss.”

“No way!” his hypothetical audience would say, “You were on TV?”

“Yeah,” he would say. “I was on TV”

“That’s cool,” they would say.

“It’s not that cool,” he would say, though deep down he knew it really was that cool.

So many potential friends, he thought. He’s closer now than ever before to being an Important Man with cool stories and a television appearance. And best of all, without even spending a dime he still had his Big Mac, hold the cheese, Medium Fries and a Medium Coke. He reached deep into the bag, eager to re-experience his favorite memories from McDonalds. He was finally happy.

But by then, it had already gone cold.

Playing Pretend - Dynamic Playacting and its Relationship to Our Psyche

Life imitates art far more than art imitates life, and Mr. Wilde could not be more correct. If anyone doubts this claim, they need only to look at their childhood to see the truth of that statement. When children play, who do they become? Do they become plumbers, bankers, regular people? No, they become John McClane, they become Luke Skywalker. Children live out fantasy in a way that transforms reality. For me, I was never living a fantasy, what I considered to be reality was my fantasy, there was no defining line and everything was tied together. Balancing a checkbook was as foreign to me as Pokemon, thus there was no real or unreal, only what I saw. The world in which I lived in (and still currently do) was defined by what I saw on television and video games, or what my friends told me or what I read in books. This  was most evident in the way we played. What most adults consider to be  “playing pretend” was never pretend for my friends and I. We played “Games in Human”, and the distinction is important as it wasn't just pretend, it was a new form of experiencing something. There are the classic forms of art, books, paintings, movies, and the newly emerging artistic potential of gaming. And then there are Games in Human. I would go to my friend Tyler's house almost every day, and the options for us seemed limitless. He had all the latest systems, a Nintendo 64 and a Playstation, and every VHS tape you could imagine. It all went to waste though, as neither watching Pokemon nor playing Pokemon could ever compare to being Pokemon.

            So I go to his house, we watch an episode of Pokemon, and then decide to do that episode in real life in our own way.  I get on all fours and I start crawling around, “Charmander, Char,” I say, spewing fire across the land, “Mander.” Tyler on the other hand is a Squirtle, because he's that awful kind of person to pick a water type right after you pick a fire type just so he can beat you. We battle, and oh, what a valiant battle it is. He shoots me with his (admittedly nonexistent) water gun, I dodge, he says I can't dodge and that it hit me, I say he's wrong, he says I'm stupid, I say he's stupid, we argue, we decide to resolve the argument with another Pokemon battle. This time he shoots again, I manage to dodge it again with a cool somersault, Tyler concedes its coolness and agrees, only to shoot me again. This time it hits. The flame on my tail extinguishes, I'm not meant for long in this world, I'm dying. Tyler walks over to me and looks down, reveling in his victory. He's cocky, ignorant of the impending attack. I feign death, only to come back with a flamethrower attack as he turns his back on me. He falls to the ground, burnt to a crisp. We lie there in agony and in our final moments a voice cries out, “Draw?” “Draw,” I agree. We get back up, returning to human form. Not being one for competition, I suggest that we team up next time. He points out that we're the only ones here until I point out the massive army of robots marching on our land. We go outside, scavenging for stick-swords, trying to find the perfect balance of weight and energy concentration (which is a very, very important element of a stick-sword). Blades in hand, we return to vanquish the robot-hordes, but all does not go according to plan. So caught up in my robo-slaughter, I end up lost in the battlefield (all the way across the other end of the basement) and Tyler is left by himself to guard the base. He shouts across the room, informing me that the Robots killed Raul. I don't know who Raul is, but I won't stand robots killing my fellow man (the backstory of the horde is actually quite deep, a precursor to my love of storytelling). Fighting back both tears and robots I cut a swath of destruction through the horde and make it back to base. Back to back, we spin around the room slicing off heads and stabbing metal hearts. Suddenly stillness. The robots shut down, the battlefield is calm. Tyler and I pause for a moment in our collective fantasy. Then the robots begin to march backwards, combining together to form one big mega-robot. It charges its ion cannon and in perfect unison, we charge together, charging up our own attack on the monster's core. He falls to the ground, shaking the earth as he stumbles. The battle is won. We high five.

            The games we played were not mere self-aware pretending. I knew what that was, I had an imaginary friend named pretend. I made him up so I could be like the other kids and the tv shows that talked about imaginary friends. With Pretend, I was playing. I knew he didn't exist and I just toyed with the idea of an imaginary friend. The Games in Human that we played were different. We knew they weren't real either, but it didn't deter us the same way I was with Pretend. We acknowledged that the fantasies were our own creation, but we still lived them. As children we were powerless in our lives and so we became gods. Willfully creating and destroying at a whim. When our friends died, we cried. When we died, we were scared. When we fought, we felt the glory of battle. To us it didn't matter that we created it, it was real to us because we felt it and we lived it. Pokemon was created by someone else and it influenced us in just the same way. Our parents felt alien to us, alone in a world we could not understand. We knew that the shows we watched and the games we played were fake, but the culture it produced was real. Attend any science fiction or anime convention and you'll notice the same sentiment. The things we see are fake, but the things we feel, the bonds between characters and our connection with the shows, are real. To the human mind it is all the same, what we know to be real is really only what we perceive, the things we feel and see and hear. At its most basic level, a movie is real. If something is felt and believed hard enough, it becomes real. Art imitates life and in turn life imitates art, a dog chasing its own tail, not knowing where he begins or where he ends.  We were children raised by culture, by an idea. Weened on television and video games, acting out the fictional in our real world, bridging the gap between the real and unreal.

Remembering the Greats - Edward Albee

Edward Albee once claimed to be writing the same play his whole life. He could not be more correct. All of his plays have central themes tying them together, all different variations on the same idea. Particularly in American Dream, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,  and The Play About the Baby, all three plays are essentially the same play. They are all centered around a dysfunctional couple interacting with the youth, they all involve games and verbal battles, and are commentaries on modern American life and marriage. Albee plays with language and creates shockingly violent scenes with nothing but the power of words. There is very little physical action but the language more than accounts for it. Amongst all of his plays are three recurring themes, Identity and imagination, young vs old/innocence vs experience, and modern American family life.

            It's a sad fact that I know more George and Marthas then I do Lucy and Rickys. The world of Edward Albee is bitter and painful. In fact, pain is a must, according to the Man, “if you have no wounds how can you know that you're alive?”. George and Martha, I believe, are the couple in the most pain together. Spending their afternoons playing games and insulting each other, they have nothing to live for but their hatred of the other. While there is some real emotion there (and exposed in the end), they cover their emotions with games, especially toying with a younger couple. In Albee's plays, the older and more experienced seem to relish in hurting the young and innocence. George and Martha torment Nick and Honey, trying to expose the darker truths of love and marriage. The Man and the Woman want the girl and the boy to feel pain, to live and be prepared for the pains of married love. Mommy and Daddy physically mutilate a baby the same way the older couples verbally mutilate their younger counterparts. Notably, Grandma is not as violent. It is only the middle-aged characters that feel the need to hurt others. The naivete of the more innocent couples seems to irritate the older couples, and it bothers them so much that feel the need to hurt others. Misery loves company, especially in the plays of Edward Albee.

            No one can be sure of anything in an Edward Albee play. The very idea of identity is thrown aside as characters can't even remember if they had a baby. As Grandma warns us “Be careful, be very careful. What I told you may not be true.” None of the characters in any of these plays are trust worthy, and the concept of what is and isn't real is continuously thread throughout his plays.  In a conversation with George and Marta, Nick says that he can't tell “when you people are lying, or what”, to which George and Martha respond “You're damned right! You're not supposed to”. That comment may even be a wider message to the audience, does it really matter if we can tell the difference between truth and illusion? George insists that no, it doesn't matter, “but we must carry on as though we did”. What is and isn't real does not matter, it only matters what we feel as that's the only thing that's real to us. A nonexistent son causes George and Martha all the same trouble as a real son, does it really matter if he exists if he affects them just the same? The Young Man is the exact opposite of this notion. He very clearly exists, but has no feeling and affects no one. He is everything on the outside and nothing on the inside. He may as well not exist as he's just a husk of a human being. He is as real as George and Martha's son, after all, “What's true and what isn't is a tricky business.” Albee finds truth through fiction, and sometimes, the unreal can be most truthful thing there is.

            Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Play About the Baby are tied incredibly close together. For one, they are both plays about babies (or lack thereof), and portray an old and a young couple. The Play About the Baby could even be read as either a prequel or sequel to Virginia Woolf, the two are that similar. Perhaps they Boy and the Girl are George and Martha, imagining their baby before he grows up and gets killed later. Or maybe the Man and the Woman are George and Martha, moving on and sharing their trying to break the illusions of others. In both plays the reality of the baby is questioned. As the Man orders everyone to “pay attention”, he notes that “what's true and isn't true is a tricky business” (10), just as Martha notes that George “[doesn't] know the difference” between “truth and illusion.” George responds with “No, but we must carry on as though we did.” This is one key difference between the two plays, when the characters acknowledge what is and isn't real. In Virginia Woolf, George and Martha know that the baby isn't real, they just play vicious games with each other and with their “son”. The secret, rather, is for Nick, Honey and the audience. In About the Baby the couple believes the boy is really there, but the Man and the Woman continue to question its existence. While the audience writes them off as crazy, they end up ultimately correct (but it is still a surprise). In one play, the existence of the child is never questioned, while in the other, the questioning is a central aspect of the play, with the man even asking “What is a Baby?”

            Albee's plays are difficult to define as “tragedies” or “comedies”, even with the loosest definitions of those terms. There is no structure, no arc, the plays simply exist, more Beckett than Shakespeare. Like Chekhov, they could played as either tragedies or comedies, however unlike Chekhov's Tragicomedy, Albee's humor does not stem from the inherent humor within tragedy. Albee's tragic and comedic moments stand apart, isolated with no effect on either side. It is not black comedy, the plays aren't funny because they're simply so tragic. Albee's humor does not come from tragedy, rather it comes from wordplay and absurdity, unrelated to the inherent sadness. In fact, the humor comes from its seemingly isolated position. I believe that Albee's plays are theatre of the absurd It's the absurdity that makes it funny, something as crazy and and unbelievable as mutilating a baby because it didn't satisfy. A girl shouting “Get hard” is unexpected, even more unexpected is a completely normal reaction. Seeing Martha brutalize George is unexpected behavior for a couple, and that unpredictability makes the audience laugh. In addition, the humor stems from silliness and wordplay. The situations are most serious, (difficulty in bearing children, broken relationships) yet they are told through jokes and wordplay, such as spoonerisms. As the Man says, “O what a wangled teb we weave”. While he might be correct and they might weave a wangled teb, it's funny, it's unexpected. “Bumble of Joy,” “Burgen,” It's that juxtaposition of silliness and absurdity with a tragic event that makes it funny. It's a couple berating each other so violently that the only recourse is to laugh at each other. It's when George accepts Martha’s vitriol and when he doesn't react when she leaves to go sleep with Nick. It's that juxtaposition of humor and tragedy that forces and audience to laugh, as well as those unexpected responses to absurd and tragic situations.

            So much could be said over whether or not Albee's plays are tragedies. Ultimately, it depends on the audience and what they view as a positive ending. While Chekhov plays depend on the direction, Albee plays depend on what the audience values. If they value happiness, then Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is very much a tragedy. The couples exit broken and miserable, perhaps unable to ever fix themselves for quite some time. If they value hope and truth, then it can be a very positive play. Many believe that George does the two of them a favor by killing off their son. By breaking that illusion, George is severing their last ties, giving them room to build anew. They were clearly miserable before, so George is just (somewhat cruelly) ending their misery. The ending can be seen as a happy ending, they hold each other and sing, and Martha finally confesses that she's afraid of Virginia Woolf (truth and self-awareness). Now that they have no one, they can finally have each other. Yet there is a third, somewhat depressing, interpretation of events that sees this play as asserting the impossibility of happiness. No matter what they do they cannot end up happy. They didn't do anything wrong nor did they do anything right, they simply existed and are therefor cursed. George and Martha are essentially damned if they do, damned if they don't. It's cyclical, as it's said in The Play About the Baby, “I can take the pain and loss later...but not now.” George and Martha are essentially the product of that thought, continuously pushing off the pain for later. That can't last forever, and George is finally taking the pain now, for the both of him. It's like tearing off a Band-Aid. It's the eternal question of a broken relationship, what should I do to make myself less unhappy? Will breaking up hurt more than staying together? Some see Albee as saying it doesn't matter, either way will result in pain.

            The line between tragedy and comedy are blurred even further when comparing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf to the Play about the Baby. The plays are quite similar, but they can be read so differently. The Play About the Baby is definitely much faster. It's Vriginia Woolf's vaudevillian cousin, moving at a quicker pace and getting more and more absurd. It's arguably more comedic, with more jokes and silly moments. The audience will certainly be laughing more, but that does not necessarily make it a comedy, nor does it make Virginia Woolf, while heavy, a tragedy. The ending of About the Baby is, in my opinion, much more depressing. George and Martha sever off their last tie and have put themselves on the path to recovery. No recovery seems evident for the Boy and the Girl. Even worse, this is the first tragedy to strike them, not the last. While George and Martha are finally done, the Boy and Girl have only just begun their lives and are only awaiting a crueler world. The play may be more fun and lighthearted, yet the ending is haunting. Is a tragedy simply a sad story? Is it a story where the characters end up worse off than they did before? Or is it something more than that? Edward Albee blurs those lines.

            The difficulty in analyzing Albee's plays is that you can't simply look at how the characters end up. The characters are so broken and fragile that they carry heavy meaning behind them. It is enough to look at what happens to the characters, rather you must see what it means for the characters to end up the way they do. I personally believe that The American Dream is a tragedy because everyone ends up happy. It's hollow, soulless, and incredibly depressing despite the fact that everyone is “satisfied”. The entire idea of satisfaction brings up so many questions. As a result of mutilating the Young Man's twin brother, Mommy and Daddy are now left with soulless husk of a person, and they're happy about it. As far as Mommy and Daddy now, Grandma was taken by the “van man”, who they made up, and they recover so quickly. They fill that void with the Young Man, whose own story is tragic, and live happily ever after. The fact that they live happily after that, however, is incredibly depressing.  In The Play About the Baby, the Man remarks that he cries in movies in which “Good things happen to good people,” coming from “a troubling sense of what should be rather than what is”. While the Mommy and Daddy are certainly not good people, Albee plays with that same “troubling sense,” to create his unique brand of tragicomedy. The audience does not want the play to end happily, no one is rooting for Mommy, no one wants to see her “satisfied”. This is America, Albee seems to say, this is the American Dream. Grandma even calls the Young Man “American Dream”. He is completely superficial, yet he is the ideal of Mommy and Daddy. He is attractive but has no heart, cannot feel, cannot complain, and has “only syntax around me.” The American Dream is the same as this broken individual, and Albee even explores that in his other works. Beautiful on the outside with it's white picket fences and loving couples, the American Dream falls apart under further scrutiny, just like the Young Man. If the Young Man is the metaphorical portrayal of the American Dream, then George and Martha are the literal portayal. They are as broken on the outside as the Young Man is on the inside. Albee puts American marriage under a microscope and pulls out all of this violence hatred hidden behind the white picket fences. These couples fall in love with the idea of love itself, not each other. They long for an ideal that they can't have, and the reality of the situation is wrought with pain. As Honey peels the label off of the bottle, Albee is peeling the label off the American Dream in that same scene, pulling back the final curtain and showing a relationship at its rawest and most hurt moment. The Boy and the Girl unconvincingly make a case for their love, arguing that “we're happy, we love each other....we have a baby” (29).  They love each other because they're supposed to, because they have a baby, that's the way things go. The Man and the Woman try to warn them of the pain ahead, but believe themselves that pain is good, that you need a scar to “know who you are” (35). George and Martha don't even have a baby, they're the American Dream collapsed. They too fell for an ideal but that ideal fail them and they're left with nothing but contempt and games to torment each other with. Regardless of definitions of “tragedy” and “comedy”, Albee's criticisms are both hilarious and strikingly depressing. Albee lures the audience in with silly language and absurd situations and leaves them haunted with a bleak condemnation of American life.

A Review of Ballyturk by Enda Walsh

Ballyturk is a bold new play by famed Irish playwright Enda Walsh, and quite a difficult play to review at that. In a setting of “no time” and “no place”, the play depicts the lives of the (unnamed) first and second characters, played by Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murphi, and the introduction of a game-changing third character, brilliantly portrayed by Stephen Rae. In the spirit of Beckett and other absurdist writings, Ballyturk is by no means a traditional narrative. At it's core, two characters entombed within some sort of eternal, windowless garage/bedroom/stage, spend their days enacting the fantasies of their shared fictional world of “Ballyturk”, a quaint Irish town with grocers, old ladies lovely imaginary forests and hills. Rather than ask questions or explore or give any sort of explanation to the audience, they live and perform in this space as if they've been here their whole life, too discouraged to even remember ever asking any questions. In a dazzling mix of physical comedy, top 80's hits, nonsense scenes (including a particular obsession with a certain yellow jumper), and gripping metaphysical philosophizing on the nature of life and death.

            The inherent issue in reviewing a play of this nature is doing so in a way that the reader will understand. Simply put, this is a play that needs to be seen, not described. And what a play to see. The set resembles some sort of garage-turned bachelor pad, and yet its inhabitants are anything but bachelors. In a move taken straight from Brechtian philosophy, the lighting and sound design constantly remind us that we're watching a play. In a room without windows, light seems to come in from opposite directions and casting perpendicular shadows, and a mildly discomforting mid-morning glow. During the meta-theatrical performance of “Ballyturk” (the play within the play), spotlights guide the action, with lights and shadows defining what is and isn't within the realm of this world. Non-diagetic soundscapes become diagetic once referenced by the characters late in the performance. Nothing, visually or aurally, seems to make any coherent sense. But that's the beauty of this show, it doesn't have to. Not once during the show did I feel like I knew what was truly going on, but not once did that ever bother me. Everyone will walk away with a different experience and understanding of what they saw. For me, it was a reflection on the escapism of fiction, and the role live-theatre plays within that (and how seemingly minor details like lighting and sound can radically alter our interpretation of action), among countless other core themes. If you go in expecting a nice story with a lesson, you will be sorely disappointed. But if you can suspend your disbelief for 90 minutes and experience the sure purely as it is, then this will be an experience worth having over and over again. For those of you who love theatre and the art of theatre-production itself (like myself), then I could not recommend this higher, it is a must-see. For the rest, not so much.

What is the Role of the Royal Family Today?

In the spirit of tea and crumpets, rather large hats, and a forgetfulness of the letter “H”, the Monarchy is about as British a subject as a foreigner can imagine. In a vision of raised pinkies and delicate china, the British Monarchy persists in the imagination of anglophiles all over the world. To an outsider, it is the pinnacle of British-ness, representative of bygone days of extravagant wealth and for some reason, a much beloved rigid class structure with an emphasis on the power of noble birth. Every boy and girl has at some time dreamed of becoming a prince or princess, of amassing fabulous wealth and embarking on a noble quest to save and defend your country and unite it with a True Love's Kiss. And in today's cynical modern world, the UK is one the last bastions where the dream is alive. That is, only if you're a direct descendant to the throne and your greatest, grandest parents conquered a nation thousands of years before you had any control over the matter. The fact is, today the Monarchy is nothing more than a symbol, but don't let that discount the Queen, a symbol is still a powerful weapon, especially in the hands of a global power such as the UK. The question remains however, a symbol of what? Depending on who you ask, the Monarchy can represent either the best, or the worst of Bristish society. To a lot of people, the Queen is a regal sort of mother, a powerful national figure to unite her people under a single ruler. She is a cultural icon, representative of an historic tradition older than than even most modern countries. To attack the Monarchy would be to spit in the very face of Britain herself. And surely, if Britain did have a face, it would be Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. And yet, to others she remains a figure of an outdated and unnecessarily extravagant system. She may be lacking in power, but her vast wealth (acquired by no means other than a lucky birth) and influence raises the eyebrows of her detractors. To them, the idea of any monarchy goes against the fundamental merits of democratic thought, and the idea of having an unelected ruler makes her subjects subservient instead of  willing participants of government. Obviously it is a contentious issue, and especially difficult to discuss from an American perspective. However, surprisingly, it is not an argument that I personally am unfamiliar with. The delusion of democracy in America does not equate to pure freedom like many imagine it does. The ability to choose a ruler does not equate to any control of the rule itself. The saving grace of the system is the term limit, but that still allows for four years relatively uncontrolled rule, influenced only by the level of popularity the president maintains. Typically, that level of popularity has less to do with his rule or policies, and more to do with the desire to have a beer with him. So in that regard, from an American perspective, there are a lot of benefits to the Monarchy that may not be as noticeable from a purely analytical aspect. To truly understand the role of the Royal Family today, it requires both a historical breakdown of its right and purpose, as well a modern day comparison to other governments as a measure of efficiency and necessity.

            The first question to ask when approaching the subject of the Royal Family seems to be “Why them?” Why does Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of House Windsor deserve to live in a palace, have fabulous wealth, and have direct influence over government? Who is she and what are her qualifications for the job? Well, the Windsor family is really just the renamed Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family. They changed their names during WWI to sound less like the enemy (Even though Kaiser Wilhelm was a grandchild of Queen Victoria and first cousin to George V). But then the question is, who are they? It starts with Ernest the 1st, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. His younger brother Leopold became King of the Belgians, while his second son, Albert, married Queen Victoria, and became the beloved Prince Albert. Queen Elizabeth II and her family all descend from that line, taking their name from Prince Albert, and their claim from Queen Victoria. Now, everything seems to make sense considering that our present Royal Family can claim lineage from Queen Victoria, but everything just opens up again when you go back and ask the same questions again. Who is Queen Victoria? Victoria is the daughter of the fourth son of George III (who was so famously challenged in the Declaration of Independence) and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. She and the Georges above her belong to the Hanover dynasty, where things get really interesting. As a result of growing anti-Catholic sentiment (established initially by Henry VII of the Tudor dynasty and the growing conflict that ensued), James II lost the throne to William of Orange. But when William died without issue, the throne was returned to James's protestant daughter Anne. When Anne was dying, the threat of a roman catholic dynasty re-emerged, with all of the strongest claimants to the throne being devoutly Catholic. This situation was remedied with the passing of 1701 Act of Settlement, rendering any Catholics or spouses to Catholics legally unable to contend for the throne. As a German descendant of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, George of Hanover (later George I), was the strongest, protestant claimant to the throne and soon established a dynasty of his own, despite being 52nd in line for the throne. So even Queen Victoria's line to the throne is flimsy at best, despite the huge technological advances made during her reign. What's the point of all of this genealogical backtracking? Essentially, it's to establish that the throne is completely arbitrary. Any legal right/claim doesn't really matter when the monarch can create the law. So with the historical background established, the question becomes about right. What right does Queen Elizabeth II claim to deserve her wealth and power?

            To start, let's look at her fully styled title: "Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”. There's a lot of significance hidden in those words. Specifically, “by the Grace of God”. Even though it's just basically a hollow title, it establishes that the Queen's right to rule is a Divine Right. While I'm sure no one really takes that very seriously, it's still a dangerous legal precedent. It brings up the obvious question: By the Grace of what God, exactly? In a country where almost 60% of people consider themselves Christian, 25% have no religion, and 5% consider themselves Muslim, claiming any sort of divine right is going to bring up some sort of religious issue. Especially in looking at the 60% of Christians, how many of those Christians are Catholics? Is it by the Grace of God that Catholics are forbidden to sit the throne? Can a Queen appointed by the Grace of God hold sway over a country in which over a quarter of the population don't even believe in any God? This is where the idea of “right” falls apart. Really, there is no right. There's no real technical claim to rule the country. The only right to rule is the right of happenstance. Hopefully your parents married into the right family, or maybe you belong to the correct religion, or maybe you're so frustrated you behead the King and set up your own republic.

As much as the Monarchy would love to be seen as a line of descent, a smooth connection to Our Most Noble Ancestors, it is anything but that. The Monarchy is a patchwork of power, not a line, muddied by marriages and incest and usurpation. Some of England's most beloved Kings and Queens are really German relatives of Kaiser Wilhelm. The Windsors are the Saxe-Coburgs, the Tudors are Lancasters, the Yorks are Plantagents. William the Conqueror was French, Cnut was Danish, Alfred the Great and Offa both fought with the truly native Britons in Wessex and Northumbria. [5]None of it makes sense, none of it is aligned neatly.  If you break down the history of the Monarchy there is very clearly nothing direct or divine about it at all. Kingship arose because power was claimed by those who seized it, and over the thousands of years, that idea has been lost amongst seas of varying lineage and nepotism. Like nations and their borders, kingship is objectively arbitrary.

            Now, this would be a bigger issue if England still lacked elected representatives. Nowadays, the arbitrary nature of kingship (while true), means a lot less now that the Monarchy has lost most of its power. Despite its current issues both in the UK and in America, the democratic system of government is far less arbitrary. The claim to power in that system, is that the officials were wanted, which is pretty hard to argue. The “right” to rule is placed in the hands of the citizens, not in God's or a foreign marriage contract. Barrack Obama and David Cameron are rulers by Grace of The People, which is exactly where the power should lie. But don't let that discredit the Royal Family, what they lack in Political Power they make up for in Cultural Power. And this is really important, even if it may not seem so. The most effective aspect of Britain's political system is the division between government and the Head of State. Her Majesty has been the head of state since before most of the population was even born. Everyone has grown up with her, they like her. And what's not to like? She's great. That, to an American, seems really weird. Mostly because we're not used to liking our head of state.

The downside to the democratic system and majority rule is that 49% of the country loses. Regardless of the issue, America is consistently a nation culturally divided supporting two different possible heads of state. And the result of intense elections filled with negative rhetoric and mudslinging is that we end with a head of state who 49% of the country can't stand. Our primary governor is also the face of our nation, and in having our face change every four or eight years, we can become much more fractured as a nation. For example, look at George Bush. For eight years he was the face of our nation abroad, he essentially WAS America. And so to the outside world, this became America. Take for example the old “Bushisms” of the 43rd President. A “Bushism” was a term coined just for George Bush regarding his consistent failure in using colloquial terminology or proper grammar. Famously he asks “Rarely is the question asked, Is our children learning?” On the other side we have this collection of “Obama's most ghetto moments”, which, if you watch, you'll see is not “ghetto” at all. What is present though, is a constant attempt to disrespect our Head of State and central Face of America. Taking note of every “dumb” thing George Bush does really just serves to make America look dumb. The same goes for Obama. Having a culturally approved Head of State  serves to protect against the diviseness of democratic politics. You may think David Cameron is a bit of an ass, but no one would ever want to disrespect Her Majesty. Meanwhile, if you Google any American politician (Bush, Obama, Romney) and “Hitler”, you'll access tons of images comparing every possible American politician to Hitler. That is the worst aspect of American politics, when each side dedicates its campaign to making the other look worse than them, everyone just comes out looking bad. It's a question of who's the best, it's a question of who's the least worse.

What the Royal Family provides is unity. Simply put, everybody loves them. They're a face of the country that everyone can get behind, regardless of their politics.  While the Conservative and Labour party battle it out in Parliament, everyone stands behind Her Majesty. Even the Scottish nationalists wanted to keep their beloved Queen, with Alex Salmond saying that the queen would be proud to rule over an independent Scotland.  The Royal Family exists above the petty politics of the democratic system. They prevent a solid, unified face for the United Kingdom and the Common Wealth. The Royal Family ties the Commonwealth together, even Canada and Australia love Her Majesty. They exist in a fantastic realm in our imagination of princes and princesses wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. They're a callback to bygone days and a respite from the modern cynicism of today's cruelly honest world. And when we watch them get married or have a baby, for just a moment, an entire nation forgoes its sorrows in the united belief that they are one people, under one Queen. And even though the family might cost a lot of money, and has no real right to rule, damn it, people just like them. That's all that's really necessary.

I Want To Be A Cat

“I’m sorry, I just don’t think you can be a cat, you’re a boy.”

 

I’m 10 years old, Halloween is approaching, and I’m in the store shopping for costumes with my Mom. It’s difficult being 10 years old. For me, the transition into double-digits was a a major milestone. Sure, 10, 11, and 12 don’t end in “teen,” but the addition of another digit was enough of an epoch to mark the beginning of my adulthood. Puberty hadn’t even begun to wrap its nasty tendrils around my hormones, nor was I even aware that it would in the first place, but I became disdainful of youth. In my heart I held a hatred for all things infantile. “That’s for babies,” I’d say, “I’m not a little kid anymore.” And yet, here I am, hairless, following my mom around the store as she buys me my Halloween costume.

 

“What do you want to be for Halloween?” she asks me. It’s a tricky question. I definitively want to be something that reflects my age. Something violent, maybe. Boys are violent. Especially teen boys, or so I’ve heard. They vandalize things, smoke drugs and smash mailboxes, if the movies are to be believed (and they are). So as someone on the verge of teen-hood, I should be something tough, and cool, and violent. I consider buying the classic “bleeding scream” mask. It’s cool, it’s bloody, and it has a pump-activated  special effect that will make people want to talk to you. That’s what Tony wore last year, and his parents got divorced and let him watch horror movies by himself, so he was going to start having sex  way before the rest of us, and we all knew it. I want the Scream mask. I need the scream mask. I wish so desperately I could be the kid that pulls off the bleeding scream mask, but I’m not. There’s something too… scary about it. The long, contorted face. The blood. I love Halloween, I don’t want to scare anyone. Besides, I’ve never even seen Scream, scary movies give me nightmares. I hadn’t even seen Scary Movie. Tony had, though. He asked me about it once and I lied and said I loved it. Now he quotes it to me in the hallways and I laugh and pretend to be in on the joke. I don’t understand it, but it feels good to be a part of something.

 

So scary is out of the picture. I’m not Tony. My parents are doing just fine (for now), and even if they let me watch a horror movie I wouldn’t want to. If I wanted to buy the bleeding scream mask then my mom would buy it for me, even if she didn’t think it was appropriate. She’s not overbearing, she’s just looking out for me. She knows me better than I know myself. At this point I don’t even know who I am. There’s nothing consistent or unique about my identity beyond my favorite TV shows or movies. My go-to fun-fact at icebreakers is “loves animals”. I like swords and magic because I liked Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. My favorite video games are Super Mario World and the Legend of Zelda (specifically Wind-Waker). I’ve never played Fire Emblem but my favorite Melee character is Roy. I loved Roy so much that I eventually tried to play Fire Emblem, but my attention span couldn’t handle the tactics of turn-based combat. My favorite band is The Beatles, and maybe the Rolling Stones. I hate rap because the kids who dislike me at school love rap. The thought of a bunch of 10 year old white bullies shouting “free Weezy” just didn’t sit right in my brain. I can’t blame them though, they learned it from their older brother who smokes pot.  I judge them and consider them beneath me, but deep down I wish I had an older brother to smoke pot with me and show me rap music. I wish I had an older brother to tell me that middle school is no big deal. I wish I had an older brother to fuck up and get into hard drugs and make me look great in comparison. I wish I had an older brother to go to med school and make me scramble to get out of his shadow. I wish I had a sister, of any age, to teach me literally anything about befriending or even speaking to girls. I almost did, but she was miscarried and never spoken of again. In the end, all I had to teach me about life were my parents and the Internet. Everything about my identity is chance, the people I’ve met and the music and shows I’ve been exposed to. I like the things that my Dad and my friends like, and I dislike the things I haven’t heard of. I wish I could be a Tony, but Tony’s already a Tony. I just wished I knew what Jake was. Were other kids shopping for costumes, wishing they could be like me? I’m just trying identities on and seeing what fits.  Isn’t that the whole point of Halloween shopping?

 

So it’s convenient to have my mom shopping with me. She can easily decipher between the things I genuinely want and the things I convince myself to want in order to fit in. She knows I don’t want the bleeding scream mask even though I asked for it. She knows that that’s not me. It’s nice to have someone that knows me so well, and yet a part of me wishes that she didn’t. A part of me wants her to be wrong. The idea that my identity is arbitrary and out of my control is an idea I’m not yet ready to grapple with, and my mother’s presence is a constant reminder that I am young and wrong about nearly everything I have an opinion on. Not that that’s her fault, she’s right, but it makes me feel powerless, like my identity is spiraling out of my control and there’s nothing I can do to wrangle it back. This turned out to be only the beginning of a long struggle to contain and form my identity throughout high school and college, and would eventually lead me to a point of surrender, giving up on my identity and leaving it in the hands of the society that sought to define me as they please. It turns out I didn’t need an identity or a “thing” to make me me. I was me regardless of who I pretended to be, and society would define me as it pleased regardless of my efforts to control it. If I had the intellectual capacity to understand that at 10 years old, I could have saved myself a lifetime of unnecessary struggle, but I did not. Instead, I wanted to be a cat.

 

Not just for Halloween. I wanted to be a cat every day of my life. A few years earlier, when I was around six or seven years old, I thought I was a cat. Literally. I thought I was once a cat in a past life, and had reincarnated into a human, cursed to amble about on two legs for the rest of my life. I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I believed that I was cursed by Voldemort. This wasn’t just a healthy game of pretend, this was my life. This was what I literally believed as a child. I was so certain, I had even done all the calculations. Yes, calculations.  I had my own personal reincarnation notebook where I would sit down and analyze all of my past lives and calculate what percentage those lives made up. I’m making these numbers up, but I think I was about 40% Cat, 20 % Snake, 10% Meerkat, and 10% Human. Meerkat Manor had just premiered and I was super into it. I assumed that the reason I was so into it was because I must have been a meerkat once in the life of my eternal consciousness. I would have dreams, memories, of my life as animal. I remembered being a snake slithering amongst my tribe (which was what I called my friendly group of dream snakes), and getting captured by an evil capitalist intent on harvesting us for our snake milk. I would wake up in terror and fall back asleep, re-entering my captivity and fearing the loss of my snake milk, which apparently existed and was a delicacy to my dream capitalists. The entire operation was very similar to the “Jellyfish Hunter” episode of Spongebob Squarepants, where Mr. Krabs exploits Spongebob into capturing jellyfish for the purposes of harvesting their jelly. In retrospect, the belief that I was once a free animal cursed to become a human as punishment was far wiser than I ever realized.

So I wanted to be cat. I no longer believed I was a cat though, I was 10 years old and had to put childish thoughts behinds me. Instead I believed in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten not made, one in being with the Father. That, and a secret dimension where I could commune with my spirit Ice-Wolf, Leung. If I couldn’t pull off being a scream-mask guy, then I figured I might as well just be myself. After all, that was what everyone had told me. My father, my mother, my friends, Leung. “Don’t try to be something you’re not,” they told me. And I agreed. The only problem was that I didn’t know who, or what, I was. Only a few years ago my identity was fragile enough to believe I was a snake harvested for my precious snake milk, how can I trust anything that I know about myself? “You just know”, I was told. Okay! So, if I am 10 years old, and I am a mature adult who does mature and adult things, and adults know who they are and who they want to be, then I need to be who I want to be. And I want to be a cat.

“I want to be a cat for Halloween!” I told my mother, proudy.

“Ohh… a cat?” she responded, nervously, “That’s cute. Let’s see if we can find you something.” Immediately I could tell that something was wrong from her voice. Something about the idea of being a cat for Halloween was incorrect. My mother would never tell me I was wrong, but she could still know objectively that what I wanted was futile in our society. We wandered around party city aimlessly, looking for the perfect cat costume for a 10 year old boy. Inevitably, we would pass the “adult” costume section and I would be forced to experience adult humor with my mother. Now if this were a 90’s cartoon - passing through the oasis of sexy nurses, stewardesses, police officers, “Indians”, and army officers would have been a formative moment of sexual awakening, perhaps accompanied by the sound of “schwing!”. But the emotion I felt when passing the adult costumes wasn’t arousal, but guilt. Guilt that I was growing up, guilt that sooner or later I would leave my family, my mother and father, and be like the mature, hilarious adults on display in front of me. Perhaps it was because I was gay, but the adult outfits just made me feel sad. The children’s outfits were fun! Pirates, ninjas, my favorite cartoon characters. They were full of life and imagination, the joys of playing pretend as a child and becoming your personal hero. The adults had far fewer options. If you were a woman than you could be a sexy laborer, if you were a man you could be a drunk laborer. That was it. No adult had the option of being something, the only options available were grotesque, punny parodies of occupations. Adults were denied the ability to play pretend. Their costumes were so boring, so literal. It scared me as a child to think of becoming that, that one day my only costume choice would be “Drunk Mexican in Poncho”. The adult costume section seemed to me to be the graveyard of imagination.

Finally we reached the accessory section. There were no premade cat costumes for young boys, and the cat costumes for young girls were boring and uninspired. A black shirt with black ties, and an attachable tail and ears. They didn’t even supply whiskers, it was assumed that girls could just draw them with their makeup. So if I wanted to be a cat, I’d have to make the costume myself. I found ears, a tail, and nothing else. I looked for full sized cat costumes, even the oversized “Cat in the Hat” would suffice. But there was nothing. There were sexy cats for women, cute cats for girls, but nothing for boys. Boys had to be dogs, even though I didn’t have any dogs. I only had cats and therefore wanted to be one, but it was not an option for me. So I stood there, looking at myself in the mirror with cute cat ears, a tail, and a set of makeup in my 10-year old hands. To the best of my ability, I was the closest to a cat that I would ever become. But it was wrong. It was all wrong. Looking at myself, the shy effeminate cat clutching makeup in his paws, all I could feel was shame. I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t be this person no matter what. If I decided to be a cat then the next 10 years would be marked by relentless bullying. No, I was not a child any more. I was a teenage boy in his double digits. I was a cool, masculine, teenage boy who would never be a cat no matter how badly he secretly wanted to be one. Society would no longer accept this from me, I wasn’t permitted to be cute. From here on out “cuteness” would be forever synonymous with weakness and childish foolishness. Any adherence to cuteness would be stamped out by society at large, myself included. So I did what any boy would do when crumbling under the unsurmountable weight of social pressure, I went as an Ice Ninja instead.

I would never be a cat.