16 Shades Of Depression And One Of Them Is You

I am calling you, my friend. Can you hear me?

You have overwhelmed me, Joel. For many days now. You have been banging against your steel door in my heart. So tonight I am yours, once again. Speak to me and take me back to a life I no longer know. I am giving you your voice, the one that has lived inside me, quietly, all these years. I want to hear you. I want to feel you.

I need to remember you.

I was so in love with you. Did you ever know? If you did, did you fully understand what that meant?

So many nights we spent drinking after work...and talking. Talking all night long. Talking until we had grown weary with each other and couldn't imagine what we would have to say the next time around. But always...always there was a next time.

We would find each other in the middle of a crowded room and, with one look from you, I would know. I could feel your hurt as if it were my own flesh bleeding. I could taste your tears just as surely as if they had fallen from my own eyes and traveled down the hills of my cheeks to land, salty and raw, on the chapped planes of my lips.

It was late at night or early in the morning, depending, the first time you called me. We had just spent the night in a glorious mind-fuck, dissecting our souls and offering, each to the other, little pieces of them - as we often did. "What do I need to do," you asked. "Do I need to take you out on a date? Do I need to buy you flowers? What, Stephanie? I'm asking you because I don't know. I really don't know."

You didn't need to do any of those things and I told you so. But two nights later, we met at a bar for drinks and called it a date anyway. In the parking lot, on the way to some party, you grabbed me and kissed me for the first time. It was everything I had ever wanted in my life.

I'm sorry if I never told you that.

Later, at the party, I was sitting on a window ledge on the balcony of a second story apartment. You were kneeling between my parted legs. You looked up at me and asked, in all seriousness, why you felt the need to kiss me all the time. I didn't have an answer for you. I was too busy hoping you would just do it again and never stop. I looked down at you, speechless, and you looked back up at me....and smiled - one of those rare things you did sometimes.

(That was something we could never figure out, you know. Our attraction to each other. We tried so many times to understand it, remember? It was way past physical. Had gone beyond that realm two seconds after my eyes found yours for the first time and words flew out of your open mouth right into my soul.)

That night ended in fire. Literally. Kenneth and Shannon's duplex burned to the ground. You looked at me after you took the call and we both knew we had to go. We stood there with our friends while the flames licked the side of the house, the cops took names, and the firemen turned on their houses. Kenneth ran into his burning house at the last minute and returned with a CD that he handed to me. I still have that CD.

We left after the flames were doused. We sat in the car under the lights of your dashboard and you turned to me and said, "Well. That wasn't exactly the first date I had envisioned but I guess I somehow knew it wouldn't be that way with you anyway." And then you turned to me and we kissed as if The War of the Worlds was happening right outside the windows of your car and it was our last moment on earth together. The War of the Worlds could have happened that night. Or any other night I was privileged enough to share space with you. I would have gladly followed you into the dark.

Weeks later, you sat down beside me at the bar. You didn't speak. You needed to tell me something. I could feel it. You ordered your drink then put your hand on my knee. You looked over at me with those eyes of yours. It was always in your eyes, wasn't it? At least for me it was. I could read you a mile away. You knew this and you hated it.

You told me about your demons that night.

How they were wrecking you.

You were so ashamed.

And the fucked up thing about it, J, is I already knew. And I loved you anyway. Maybe even because of. Probably in spite of.

Because none of that diminished who you were when we stared at each other across the table, saying nothing and yet everything. Or how you would come to me at night, put your hands on my shoulders, and touch your forehead to mine until the tips of our eyelashes brushed together.

I loved you crazy. Messed up. Perfect.

I didn't need you to wrap yourself in a neat little box and tie it up with a bow for me. I wanted your broken and beaten, your strength and courage, your flawed perfection.

I wanted every little piece of your puzzle. I did not need for you to assemble it for me. We could do that together.

I loved the black t-shirt you wore to work and the blue bandanna you tied around your head. I loved the glass in your eyes when you had spent the night thinking too hard and too long. I loved the quiet way you called me 'baby' so no one else could hear; the way you could walk up behind me and wrap your presence all around me without touching me at all; mornings when you couldn't speak to me because the night had been too hard; how you brushed the back of your hand against mine so our knuckles were perfectly aligned; the way I could feel you before I even knew you had entered the room; your anger when you would yell at me to get out of your head, and the laughter that would always follow after.

I loved every dirty, ugly, despicable, beautiful, clean, holy, magnificent thing you were.

The drugs were only a part of you and I knew they were not the whole. Just like the darkness in me is not the sum total of my being.

They never disguised you, J. I think you thought they did. I think you thought they were a shield you could hide behind. But they weren't and you couldn't. I could still find you. I knew you were in there. And I knew you didn't want to be lost in there. So you never really were. Did you know that? Do you know that you always kept a piece of yourself so close to you that nothing could ever take it away from you?

It all ended that night in the parking deck, didn't it? We had been fighting and when you tried to kiss me, I slapped your hands away and grabbed your face instead. I asked you if anyone had ever loved you before, if anyone had ever given a shit about you. We were standing so close I could feel your stomach contracting and expanding with each hard breath you took. You cried, holding on to my hands around your face. You touched your forehead to mine and for a moment, only a moment, stared into my eyes, out of breath. Then, you pushed my hands away and said, "Fuck you, Stephanie. Fuck you for arousing emotions in me that don't need to be aroused." You turned from me and walked away. I called your name and you turned, walked back toward me and said, "You'll be just like all the rest. The minute I show you, you'll leave me. The minute you see the scars, you'll be gone."


I would have never turned my back on you. Just the thought of you believing I would was enough to break me. And it did.

I've never told a soul about your tears or the way I screamed after you that I loved you while you slammed the door to your car and raced off. How I crumpled beside my own car, too weak to even open the door and get in. How I cried for you on the cold, hard floor of that stupid parking deck.

I had already seen the scars on your soul and I loved them. How could you think I wouldn't also love the scars of your flesh?

You called me months later, after I had left town. I drove back to see you and you told me you were sorry about that night in the parking deck. Your apology meant nothing to me because I didn't need it. I never needed you to apologize for anything you did, were, or felt. It wasn't that way with us and you knew it.

That was the last time I ever saw you.

I know you are out in the world, J, because I looked you up. I hope life hasn't changed you much...your core, your center. I hope you are the same J I knew and loved. Mostly, I just hope you found a way to finally wrestle your demons. I hope you have made peace with yourself.

I'm sorry I could never help you do that.

Maybe my memory of you is stronger than the one you keep of me. Maybe our time together meant more to me than it ever did to you. It doesn't matter. I didn't love you because I hoped you would love me back. I loved you because I had to. Because it was all I could do. Because it was the only thing I could do and it didn't matter if you felt the same. I can no more choose who my soul connects with than I could have chosen my parents at birth. We are all free to love but we are not guaranteed that our love will be reciprocated. If any of you are waiting for someone to love you back before you give your own love freely, then many are the moments of life you will miss out on. Beautiful are the people you will never know.

I'm glad I didn't miss out on my moment with Joel.

Anyway, I'm locking you back up now, okay, J? I can only take so much. I wish the best for you and I always will but it hurts to think of you. I'll love you always but I have to say goodbye for now. It isn't forever. I know your memory will pound on my heart again and my soul will set you free.

For several days now, I've had this song on continuous loop...in my car, on my computer, anywhere I found myself alone and had a moment to listen. I knew it was speaking to some deep part of me but I couldn't figure out why or what it wanted me to know. When I started writing this to J, it all made sense and I finally understood. Even though Conor is telling his own story in this song and it isn't mine, I found Joel in the lyrics anyway. Not in the individual words, because the story Conor tells is a very personal one, but in the song as a whole. Like the way a good book can take you places you didn't even know you could go. That's what Conor did for me by sharing his story and I want to share it with you.

You will need to turn the volume up as loud as you can stand it. It's the only way to take this ride.


Fatty McDuff and the Pig Suckers

No, not the name of my new band.

Listen up. I'm about to share some knowledge with you. So turn your thinking caps on and grab a pen.

Oh, who are we kidding here? Knowledge? From me? I don't think so. But I will tell you a story. And maybe you will learn something.

Or maybe not.

In any case, read on, reader.

I woke up Monday morning, got naked, and jumped on the scale. As is customary for a Monday morning. When the digital readout appeared I blacked out, stumbled off the scale and dove headfirst into the bathroom sink, slashing my forehead on the counter and splitting my lip in two. I lay there for a good 30 minutes or so while my body regained consciousness. Finally, when I was able to stand, I gingerly stepped back on the scale because surely I had read the numbers wrong in the Monday morning fog that pervades my brain each week. Right? Right?!

Wrong. The numbers were the same. Luckily, I was holding onto the counter for support the second time around so I didn't take another tumble, but I did let out a four letter word that sounded something like 'suck' but started with an 'f.' Got it?

Okay. So none of that really happened. Well, at least the part about falling over and injuring myself. You believed it though, didn't you? Of course you did because if you know me, you know it isn't too much of a stretch. I did, however, check the scales twice just to make sure it was true. Because we all know, SCALES DON'T LIE!

After my communion with the scales, I stared at my face with revulsion in the bathroom mirror for a good 15 minutes.

Then, I had the following conversation with my reflection:

"Pig sucker with an f! You disgust me! What are you doing with your life? What? Tell me, please, because I really don't know. Is this some kind of a sick joke, Fatty McDuff? Why don't you just jump in your car and ride on over to McDonald's and pick up one of those sausage mcmuffins you like so much. Better yet, get two... one for the ride home and the other one after you've mounted the three steps into the house and worn yourself out from the exertion. You know, so your body can refuel. You make me sick! I can't even look at you!"

After my pep talk, I draped the mirror with a black cloth, then went in search of clothing that might fit over my newly acquired curves. I debated staying in my pj's all day because surely none of my clothes were going to fit now. In the end, I opted for a loose t-shirt and drawstring pants (which basically looked a lot like my pj's minus the hearts). I didn't bother with the whole make-up and hair thing, just threw a head band around my bed head and called it a day. I debated on whether or not to even brush my teeth, what with me now being a fat slob and all.

Sexy, no? I know you can hardly control yourself from drooling at the mental image I have prepared for you. You're welcome.

I sat on my bed for a few minutes while I gathered my thoughts. What to do. What to do. That was the question.

That is the question I know you are all dying to get answered.

Well, this is what I did.

I grabbed a cup of coffee because there are just some things in life I simply will not give up and you can't make me. I opened the fridge to see what delites (de-lites, get it?) awaited me there. In the brilliant glare of the refrigerator's dome light sat a dozen oval goodies just begging to be tossed into a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes, give or take.

Eggs, people! Eggs! Perfection in a shell. (Don't start with me about cholesterol and how egg whites are better than egg yolks and yada, yada, yada. I am on a budget, people, and can't afford the fancy egg-white containers they sell at the market. And I know all about how you can separate the yolk from the egg white in the privacy of your own kitchen if you are scrambling said eggs but, frankly, I don't know how to do that and besides, I am lazy. But we're not talking about scrambled eggs here, we're talking about boiled, and what good is the sucking egg without the yolk anyway?) After the little dead chicks finished their death boil, I peeled one back, added just a dash of salt, and by dash I mean a lot, and dug in. De-li-cious.

After my hearty breakfast of one boiled egg and 37 cups of coffee, I filled up my water bottle from the tap (33.8 fluid ounces, thank you very much) and set about to do what it is I do every day. Which, to be quite honest, is a whole lot of nothing except stalk internet job boards in the hopes that someday soon I will be gainfully employed. Oh, and I take Elijah outside a bunch because really the weather is almost perfect and it seems sinful and slothful to stay inside all day long in front of a computer (which I guess is the same thing since slothfulness is a sin, right? I don't know. I fell asleep during the first chapter of Genesis).

Three hours later, I feasted on a salad consisting of romaine lettuce, garbanzo beans and pecans with a dab, which means a lot, of lite Italian dressing. Now, here are two things you should know. It's very important.

1) Nuts are your friend. NOT the human variety. Get your mind out of the gutter! Of course, it's true that not all nuts are created equal and some are better for you than others. Again, NOT the human variety. Geez, people. Work with me here. But it's also true that nuts are sucking with an f expensive! Who can afford nuts? I mean, good god, nuts break the bank. Lucky for me, I have at my disposal a freezer full of pecans that will probably outlast my tenure here. So pecans it is for me. You, however, should feel free to take your pick with the nuts. Just be careful and don't overdo it. It's hard, I know. Nuts are so damn good. (I'm not going there again.)

Enough about nuts. The other important thing you should know is:

2) Salad dressing is tricky. You think you've done a great thing for yourself buying that bottle of fat free, don't you? Think again. Fat free salad dressing is often loaded with sugar to make up for the fact that it tastes like cardboard. And we all know that sugar translates into carbohydrates and that is almost never a good thing if you are sedentary like yours truly. Lite salad dressing is a little better with the carb/protein ratio, depending on which kind you purchase. And some regular salad dressing is even better. Sure, it's a little higher in fat but, honestly, you need a little fat in your diet, right? Just read the label is all I'm saying here. And be wary of that black hole which is the fat-free mind-suck of all sucks. Of course, you could always opt for lemon juice and olive oil but, really, that tastes like horseshit and we all know it.

A study in science, that's what I have you given you, friends. For free. You can thank me later.

Another three hours later and I had finally finished my 33.8 fluid ounces of tap water so I rewarded myself with a diet coke and two slices of extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Yummy. You're salivating, right? I filled my water bottle up again and stuck it in the fridge to chill for later.

The whole water thing was seriously starting to get on my nerves anyway. I couldn't make progress on my job hunt because I was running to the bathroom every 10 minutes or so to pee. Which totally distracted my focus since after the blessed urination took place (it does feel so good to pee, doesn't it?), I would inevitably give myself the finger in the blacked-out bathroom mirror and then remember the book I had started reading yesterday. There, through the open door of my bedroom, it lay. On my crumpled bed sheets all splayed out and face down like a whore just waiting for me to dive in. How could I resist? I couldn't. No harm in going in there and picking up where I left off, just for a few minutes at least. And I may as well get more comfortable by making myself horizontal, and so what if I just happen to doze off? Bite me, potential employers.

So, anyway, you see my trouble here? With the water and the bladder and the cursed book? It's hard to be productive when such are the enticements of life.

Shit. Where were we? Hell if I know. Moving on.

Later that afternoon, I laced up my sneakers, put a leash on Elijah, and decided to hit the trail. There's a park not far from the house that really isn't much of anything but it does boast a mile long 'nature' trail through some pine trees. Stunning. Elijah was beside himself with joy at the prospect of finally getting out of the house. It's true. I'm a bad mother and don't walk my dog like I should. Caesar Milan would be appalled at my ineptitude. But, lucky for me, Elijah is perfection in a 115-pound, black coat of beauty. No, he isn't fat. He is big. BIG, I tell you. He's part great dane, part lab, and 100% perfection. Did I say that already? Well, it's true. The discussion of Elijah deserves its own separate entry so I will refrain from regaling you with tales of his awesomeness for now.

Off to the races for us because I had decided I was going to pick up running again. I used to be a runner, or at least what I considered to be a runner, which was probably more like a jogger or one of those retarded looking power-walking people. At the height of my running career, I ran 4 miles a day. Please, for the sake of order, try to contain your amazement at my athletic prowess. Then, for reasons we won't delve into here, I quit. Just like that. I wasn't sure I would ever pick it up again even though I wanted to.

Lucky for me, the scales changed all that. In a way, I guess I owe a bit of gratitude to them, huh? Nah. Suck it, scales.

Our first run together was really a bit of a joke. I could barely breathe and my legs were on fire. Eli, for his part, was more interested in pulling my arm out of socket on his quest for squirrels, birds, and insects than he was for physical exercise.

But, we persevered. And we've been back every day this week. I even think I've made some progress, although I'm pretty sure I have shin splints.

Once we made it back from our marathon, I grudgingly grabbed my chilled bottle of water and chug-a-lugged. It was about time for Eli to eat and me too. Now, here is the tricky part. Dinner is hard. Hard for many reasons but the main one being I always feel like I deserve some kind of goodness for dinner. Why? I don't know. Maybe on account of all the hard work I do in a day? Just suffice it to say, I want 'comfort food' for dinner nine times out of ten. And that clearly wasn't going to happen.

I settled for a salad prepared the same way as earlier and Elijah settled for the scoops of dog food he has been eating every day of his life for the past five years. Man. Dogs have it easy, don't they?

I finished my water, all 735 ounces of it and called it a night. (Truth be told, I didn't really sleep all that much what with the water and 37 cups of coffee making a beeline to get the hell out.)

That's it, kids. That's how I lost four pounds in four days. Are you impressed? More importantly, did you learn anything? Or did you find it somewhat difficult to keep up?

If so, let me recap:

Water, water, and more water. And after that? More sucking water.
Exercise. If I can do it, what's your excuse?
4-6 small meals a day, every 3 hours or so and go easy on the carbs.

And the most important tip of all: Motivation. How do you find your motivation, you ask? I can't tell you that. Only you know the answer to that. But for me, the scales were a pretty good place to start.

Those pig suckers.

P.S. I forgot to tell you. I'm on the last day of my period which means the shedding of the four pounds can most likely be attributed to the end of my cycle. We all know you pack on a few extra pounds during the dot and then lose it shortly thereafter. But I made you read all that anyway because that's what I do. I am a pig sucker like that.


Raining Baseballs And Other Things That Might Kill You

Guess what? I don't have liver cancer (yeah, I actually thought I did). Well, at least the blood work came back normal for liver function so whether that means I'm in the clear or not, I don't know. But it has at least quieted the demons in my head that are trying to kill me.

Although, last night I couldn't fall asleep until well after 2 a.m. because I was sure my head was going to explode. It's true. I had a shooting pain in my left temple and could feel this intense pressure mounting. (I've been afraid of aneurysms ever since I learned how to look up words in the dictionary.) Every time I nodded off, I jerked myself back awake. I guess I don't think I can die if I'm awake? Don't know. I tried to explain to the creator that I don't actually want to die yet even though I keep saying to just off me now seeing as how my life is one big ball of shit. Maybe he listened? Again, don't know. All I know is I'm alive this morning and that's good, right?

This is what I do, in case you are not familiar. I don't think I'm a hypochondriac per say. I just worry incessantly about the Grim Reaper. A few weeks ago when I fell and busted up my face, I was sure of two things: 1) The fall had caused a blood clot so deep in my brain that it would be inoperable, and 2) My nose was broken but since I couldn't afford to do anything about it, it would eventually heal on its own causing all the cartilage to be damaged, thereby causing the decay of said cartilage and resulting in my nose collapsing sometime in the near or distant future (I still worry this could happen).

Then there was the time in college I was staying over with my boyfriend. I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him I was going to have an aneurysm (see what I mean about the aneurysm thing?). I think he called me a crazy bitch before he rolled back over. I drove myself to the ER and sat in the waiting room, thinking (logically, of course) that at least I was in the right place if my head was going to blow up. I never even checked in. Just sat there. After a while, the sun started to come up and I felt safe again, so I drove back to my boyfriend's house and let myself in. He didn't wake up. Or if he did, he didn't acknowledge my return. Can't really say I blame him either way.

I wonder why we broke up?

When I was little, I was petrified of lying on my back in bed because I was sure baseballs were going to rain from the ceiling and crush my chest. I thought that if I slept on my side, the raining baseballs would do less bodily harm. (What are you laughing at?)

Strangely, I don't worry about common things like burglars and rapists or even the swine flue. You know, the kind of things that are more likely to actually happen.

I worry about things like this: blood suddenly pouring down my walls from the cracks in the ceiling, my door opening of its own accord and a ghost child glaring in at me, my bed taking on a life of its own and levitating, apparitions accosting me in the hallway in the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom (I used to have this thing where I had to make it back in the bed, feet up, under the covers, before the toilet finished flushing. Something bad would happen if I didn't. Luckily, I never found out what because halfway back from the bathroom, I would take a sprinting leap and land on all fours in the middle of the bed before the toilet even had time to finish its twirling. My boyfriend at the time was not fond of this behavior but he didn't have to live with the dark images so there's no way he could understand). And, of course, the liver cancer, lung cancer, aneurysms, blood clots. Those kinds of things.

Meanwhile, I skip merrily through a darkened alley looking for ghosts and get my ass snatched, raped, killed, and thrown in a dumpster.

Oops. Didn't see that one coming.


"Parental Advisory Warning"

Ever tried to buy a CD from Wal-Mart that wasn't The Jonas Brothers or Taylor Swift? You can't. Not unless you want the "clean" version and who wants that shit?

Actually, does anybody even buy CD's anymore? I still do. There's something thrilling about ripping off the packaging of a new CD while sitting in your car in the parking lot in front of the store where you just bought the thing, getting pissed off because of the stupid tape they put around the edges of the case and realizing your fingernails won't do shit to unglue it because yesterday you bit the last one completely off over your morning coffee. Still, somehow you manage to get it off and open the case. There's always that smell (distinct like a new car) of printing and cardboard. Before you take the actual CD from its protective little claws, you take a moment to pull out the insert to see if the lyrics will be printed or if there will be any good art in the booklet. Finally, you can't wait a minute longer, so you slide the CD into your player, toss the case on the passenger seat, and put your car in drive. It's like being a kid at Christmas all over again as soon as the first opening notes hit you on your way out of the parking lot.

You just can't get that shit from digital download.

I made the mistake of buying a CD at Wal-Mart not too long ago. It wasn't Taylor Swift or The Jonas Brothers, mind you. I paid for my purchase and did the whole ritual thing out in the parking lot. Not 40 seconds into the first song, I heard this: "you're like a freaking lunatic..." Huh? What the fuck? I know this artist would never substitute "freaking" for "fucking." Why would anybody unless you're in a room full of 5 year-olds or catholic nuns? Seriously, I think us regular folks can handle it. I grabbed the case from the passenger seat and then I saw it. The "Clean" version. Now, typically I look real hard for this shit on the outside of a CD because I want to make sure I'm not getting the clean version. But that day, I was in sort of a hurry what with my dog waiting in the car and trying to get back home. In any event, I put the car back in park, pressed eject, fitted the CD back into the case, found my receipt, and went in to make the exchange.

I explained the situation to Shartreuse at customer service. She looked me over as if I were the proud owner of two heads. She glanced at the CD, looked at her coworker, looked back at me, then shouted to the manager standing out by the bays of cash registers.

"Darnell! This girl want the dirty version of this here CD! She wanna listen to them curse words!"

Darnell came over, took the CD and repeated: "You say you want the dirty version?"

"Well, as I explained to Shartreuse, I would prefer to purchase the explicit version. You know, the one with the "Parental Advisory Warning" on the label? I didn't realize I was purchasing the edited version. Can I exchange them?"

"Naw," Darnell replied. "We don't sell no dirty CD's in Wal-Mart. You ain't gonna find no dirty CD's in any Wal-Mart anywhere. You gon' have to go to the record sto' if you want to buy that stuff and ain't no record sto' round here. You have to drive to Birminham' to get that stuff."

"Okay," I said. "No problem. Can I just return this, then?"

Shartreuse snapped her head around. "Return it? You done opened it. You can't return it."

Darnell agreed. "It's yours now. We can't take it back on account of you don' ripped the tape off and everythang."

I nodded my two heads simultaneously, wiggled my forked tongues at them, and took my no-good, sinnin' ass back to my car with my clean CD.

I actually did listen to the CD on the way home. I got a good laugh out of it, if nothing else. Once I was home, I ejected it, wrapped it back up nice and neat in its case and promptly threw it in the trash.

Good riddance.

You can't buy "Explicit Lyric" CD's at Wal-Mart but you can get whole seasons of Family Guy or Sex and the City on DVD. You can only purchase "Clean" versions of music but you can load up your cart with Stephen King's entire library.

How about a "Clean" version of Fight Club to go on the shelves at Wal-Mart? Instead of a "fight club" there could be a "dancing club" where all the men gather in city basements and abandoned warehouses to learn how to do the jig in private. Brad Pitt and Ed Norton could be dance instructors posing as tough guys. Instead of all the self-help meetings Ed attends in the beginning of the movie, he could instead be hard at work canvassing offices and bars for men needing to get in touch with their inner dancer. Ed could then set out creating an underground "Dancers Anonymous" for all men who are finding it harder and harder to control said inner dancer, especially when their wives make them watch Footloose. That goddamn Kevin Bacon. How come it's okay for him to dance but not me? I wish there was someplace I could go and be free. Free to dance. I'm tired of only being able to get my groove on in the crapper." Later, when Brad Pitt enters the scene as Ed's way cooler alter-ego (although, if I were directing the movie, I would reverse the roles so Edward Norton was the cool one because isn't he anyway?), he could take over the Dancers Anonymous and rename it "Dance Club." The first rule of Dance Club, there is no Dance Club. Meanwhile, the men show up at their day jobs after a hard night of dancing, icing their feet, flexing their calves, and curling their lips.

And, sure, Wal-Mart can stock "clean" version of Stephen King novels. Instead of blood and guts being torn from abdomens, they can be replaced with gummy worms and jolly ranchers. Or how about just leaving whole sections of the book blank.

And every time one of those old, nasty whores in Sex and the City makes a sexual pun or talks about her pussy, we'll just fade to black on the screen or bleep it out until all you'll be getting for your purchase of Seasons 1 - 4 is a picture of the New York City skyline and four ugly bitches sitting around a table staring into the camera with vacant, dead eyes.

And Wal-Mart is worried about a fucking CD being clean. Apparently, a "Parental Advisory Warning" doesn't hold the same weight as "Rated R." Why? If you're in the music section with Johnny and he picks up a CD that clearly states "Parental Advisory Warning - Contains Explicit Lyrics" are you going to buy it for him? If you're in the movie section and Johnny picks up a movie that is clearly "Rated R", are you going to throw it in the buggy?

If a movie can sit on a shelf with a rating of R or NC-17 then why can't a CD with a Parental Advisory label?

It's a big, fat double standard.

The reality is, nothing is stopping Johnny from hitching a ride with the 16 year-old brother of your next door neighbor and walking up to the ticket booth with his money in his hand and slapping it down on the counter for the latest version of The Exorcist. Are you relying on the douche bag behind the ticket counter to be your kid's personal cop and request ID? By that logic, you should count on the cashier at Wal-Mart to refuse little Emily her purchase of South Park - The Movie. Because, oh yes, it's okay to stock the shelves with movies, books, video games, fashion, mags, and Barbie dolls. Just not that damn devil noise!

We can't listen to the lyrics but we can watch Lady Gaga being hung from the rafters at the VMA's while a pool of blood forms on her onesie. It's okay to watch Madonna and Britney Spears kiss on live television. It's alright to see female pop stars perform half naked on stage. We can channel surf in the midst of all this and entertain ourselves by watching a bunch of plastic whores desecrate themselves at the feet of a rich bachelor while on another channel a family is being torn apart by divorce at the expense of 8 children. And don't even get me started on Hannah Montana and the vileness that is Miley fucking Cyrus, Whore-In-Training. Kids watch this shit?

Of course they do. And you can bet your ass that Wal-Mart will make a fucking mint this Christmas selling whatever it is that little slut-puppy is peddling this year.

This is all fine and dandy, of course. Just don't listen to the lyrics!

Wake the fuck up.

I could keep going, but what's the point? If you get it, you get it. If you don't, chances are good we can't hang.


Bandwagon Express

In Pine Lake. Georgia, where I once lived, there was a lady who nailed a canvas onto the posts of her wooden fence. She painted sorrow with sunshine and flowers. Decay with lilies and moss. Sometimes she painted the occasional sage expression. There was a four-way stop in front of her house so it was impossible not to see the canvas if you lived in the neighborhood.

Each morning, on my way to work, I would crawl to a pause in front of the canvas to see what her art would inspire in me, if anything, or to swallow her words of wisdom like breakfast and digest them as I drove the 30 miles to a job that required nothing of me and inspired even less.

One day, it was this: "We have come to this great place to be fools or to be excellent."

I remember wanting to laugh maniacally some mornings as I thought about that and other times I found myself nodding my head in agreement. So many times, I would see her out on her stoop, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette and I would want to pull over the car and ask her, "Am I a fool or am I excellent? How do I know when I'm not a fool anymore? How will I know when I have achieved excellence?" But then I would look over at her, staring down into the coffee grains at the bottom of her cup, watching the tip of her cigarette burn bright orange as she inhaled, and I knew she was wondering the exact same thing.

Finally, after about a month, she covered it up with something generic about peace, love, and harmony. A saying that slides like drool out of the corner of our mouths while our feet remain firmly planted on the same hard ground we have been harvesting since conception.

I wondered if she had lost her inspiration or if she was just dumbing down her art for the sake of her viewers.

But, then, one morning, a Saturday, I took Elijah for a walk and I stopped in front of her canvas and written there in tiny letters and in almost the exact color of the blue background she had chosen, were these words: "Like sticking a magnetic peace sign on the back of your Prius, it don't mean shit."

I was so relieved. I didn't realize I had been holding my breath until I let it out. I think I even had tears in my eyes. Elijah hiked his leg and pissed on her mailbox (I guess he was relieved, too). It was a beautiful moment.

We walked home and I thought about her canvas. I thought about the way we label ourselves before we step out into the world. From the fabric of our clothes, to the car we drive, to the way we style our hair. All of it - one big flashing neon advertisement to the world about who we are and what we believe in.

And it's all crap. Every single bit of it.

Being vegan doesn't make you hip. Buying organic doesn't make you environmentally aware. Listening to rap music doesn't make you a thug. Wearing tie-dye and following jam bands doesn't make you a hippie. Collecting records and knowing as many unknown musicians as possible doesn't make you eclectic or cool.

We can't subscribe to a culture or a way of life like we subscribe to a magazine or a radio station.

And yet, we try so hard to do just that. We try so hard to grind down and compress the intricate, simple, complex pieces that make us who we are, and who no one else can be, until our brain has been boiled down to flavorless mush; offering it in our outstretched hands to our neighbor, a stranger, the guy on the subway, and all the while it's pouring through the cracks of our fingers until we are left with nothing by days end.

Pretty soon we can't remember the last time we admitted out loud that we actually like Bruce Springsteen (gasp!), or that recycling is really a pain in the ass, and we'd give anything to trade that Prius back in for our gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoe.

Shhh! Don't say those things outloud!

Oh No!

Look out the window, kiddies. Here he comes and he's saying, "All Aboard!" The bandwagon conductor is circling the neighborhood and that bitch won't stop until he's got every last one of us on the back of that ride - jammed in like peanut butter between two slices of white bread.

And we're off!

Hey, look! There go the hippies in the VW bus! And over there, it's the thugs raised up in the Escalade! Look at the 'green team,' they're being propelled forward by the fumes produced from their own gas.

No matter how good potato salad claims to be, it's still just potato salad, folks.

As for me, I'm going to slip off my Sperry's (aren't those the latest in footwear?), unplug the toaster from the counter (I heard it was good for the planet), throw on a rap record and vibe (to get in touch with my inner thug), scramble some tofu (no animals were harmed in the packaging of this product)...... and uncork a bottle of red (because I just feel like it).

And I'm only going to have one conversation with myself tonight as the vino slides down my throat, numbing my body and quieting my mind:

Will I continue to be a fool.... or will I be excellent?

After I pass out, then wake back up, I'll let you know the answer.