Wishing for the Sears Wish Book

I recently posted a meme that said, “This generation will never understand what that Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog meant to us 40 years ago.” In response, some millennial type commented, “We’ve got Amazon now, it’s basically the same.” No, it isn’t. In fact, it isn’t even fucking close. The Wish Book was a once-a-year thing. Amazon, on the other hand, is always available. And, try as they might, those assholes will *never* be able to provide a similar experience.

Antici…pation

Every year, I awaited the arrival of the Wish Book like a junkie waits for their next fix. I mean that literally. I was antsy, staring out the window and willing to do any-fucking-thing that might hasten the arrival of that magnificent periodical. The beginning of September to whenever The Wish Book actually arrived was the only period of the year that my parents never had to worry about checking the mail because I wore out the god damned hinges on the mailbox, a prayer on my lips that my prize would be in there as I opened the door and peered inside.

The Arrival

And, when it finally did arrive? Oh man, I would lie on the floor, flipping through the pages and dreaming about the treasures that might turn up under that fucking tree Christmas morning. Before the big day was even on the horizon, that catalog was worn and dog-eared and falling apart. And, then the big day came and the moment passed. But, for just a little while, we had a tiny bit of insight into what life was like for rich kids.

What Was the Big Deal?

It’s really hard to explain how it was back in the days before the internet existed to someone who’s always had the retail world at their fingertips. Back then, Amazon was Sears or Montgomery Ward or J. C. Penney. These guys were mail-order businesses and, early on, you literally ordered by mail–i.e. filling out a form and mailing it in with your payment. Of course, that changed with the advent of wide-spread telephone service. Then, you placed your order by phone and paid when you picked it up at the warehouse. Unless, of course, it was too big. And, when I say “too big”, I’m talking appliances, motorcycles/scooters, cars, even houses in kit form. Then, a tractor-trailer brought that shit to your front door. Over the years, Sears and Montgomery Ward have sold all that and more. Let’s see that fucking Lex-Luthor lookalike top that shit.

The Everyday Catalog Was Okay…

As a mail-order business, Sears had their regular catalog and that was where you’d find those above-mentioned items along with all the more mundane stuff like socks, underwear, or towels. I say “mundane”, but there are many young lads who were first exposed to the contours of the female form through that book’s ladies undergarment section, so maybe it wasn’t as boring as I make it sound.

But, The Wish Book Was the Shit

While there may be a question about the regular catalog, there was none about the excitement generated by the Wish Book. The front half of the catalog was for the adults: clothes, household goods, electronics, etc. But the back section? Holy fucking shit, it was kid heaven. Toys, glorious toys, as far as the eye could see! Practically any plaything you could imagine was found in the pages of the Wish Book. Slot car race sets? A shit ton. Barbie? God damn right. And, her fucking Dream House, too. G.I. Joe? Hell yeah! Along with all the equipment you’d need to outfit your fighting man from head to toe (on the land, on the sea, in the air). Of course, no Christmas catalog would be complete without a selection of decorations. There were trees, lights, wreaths, even a “Life-like Santa and Reindeer” for your front yard. And, candy! Did you hear me? You could order fucking candy out of the Sears Wish Book. To be fair, you can order candy from Amazon, also but I’m not sure I’d recommend it.

Ah, The Good Old Days

I know I sound like an old fart, reminiscing about some golden age that never really existed. There’s probably more truth in that assessment than I’d like to acknowledge, but bitching about “those darn kids” is one of few the perks of making it to this advanced station of life. I mean, I make weird noises when I get up, I walk into rooms and forget why I’m there, and there’s fucking hair growing out of places that hair isn’t supposed to be. If you tell me I can’t bore with my childhood memories, what do I have left? Now, shut the fuck up and listen while I tell you about walking to school. In the snow. Uphill both ways.

If Satire is Dead, QAnon Killed It.

For the past four years, watching the news has been like drinking from fire hose that’s spewing toxic shit and it doesn’t show any sign of letting up. That’s making it more and more difficult to write satire because every time I think I have a good candidate, it gets eclipsed by a more insane story. And QAnon is the responsible party more often than not. The latest antics of these crazy-ass mother-fuckers may have just driven the final nail into satire’s coffin.

Holy. Shitballs.

In case you’ve been living under a rock–or just decided to protect your sanity by tuning out the news–QAnon is a mostly online conspiracy theory that claims there is a worldwide cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles that runs everything, including the United States. And, George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama are neck-deep in it. But, as bad as things sound, these folks claim there is a savior on the horizon: Donald Trump. Yes, friends, these folks actually believe a semi-sentient, morally bankrupt fuckwit our 45th president will usher in “The Storm” to rescue the children, save the world, and publicly execute Soros, Hillary, and Obama. Of course, this “storm” has yet to break despite repeated, very date-specific predictions. But hey, it only has to happen once, right? If that doesn’t make you say, “Holy shitballs,” I don’t know what will.

QAnon: From Russia with Love?

QAnon, in all its batshit insanity, did not spring into the public consciousness completely out of nowhere. Its origins lie in another crazy conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate. You probably heard about that one when Edgar Welch shot up a Washington D.C. pizza joint called Comet Ping Pong, whose basement he believed held Hillary Clinton’s secret lair where she was sexually abusing children in satanic rituals (Comet Ping Pong, by the way, doesn’t even have a basement). Where did he get this utterly bonkers idea? From, wait for it, Alex Jones. Where did Jones get it? From Twitter and Facebook. And, according to a Rolling Stone article, they got it from shadowy sources with possible ties to Russia and/or the Trump campaign. Again, holy shitballs.

What’s the Deal…-ey?

Now, you might think that the multiple times that “The Storm” hasn’t broken would dissuade these folks. And, you’d be wrong. Earlier this month, the whack-a-doo faithful gathered at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, with the expectation that John F. Kennedy Jr. would emerge from hiding to become Il Douche’s vice-president when this tangerine nutsack will supposedly be reinstated (that’s not how any of this works). You read that right, beloved, these people believe that JFK Jr., who died in 1999, actually faked his death to escape assassination by Hillary’s cabal and has been silently biding his time until the right moment to reveal himself. And, apparently, that “right moment” involves a short-fingered vulgarian that no Kennedy would be caught dead with. Can I say “holy shitballs” again or would that be redundant?

What the Actual Fuck?

If you thought the crazy ended with JFK Jr., you are oh, so wrong because the longer this thing goes on, the more insane it gets. Oh, did I forget to mention they’re still out there? Because they are, periodically gathering in Dealey Plaza and hoping to see something amazing. And, it’s not just JFK Jr. they’re looking for now. They’re expecting him to appear alongside his father, John F. Kennedy. You remember him, right? The former president whose assassination, in Dealey Plaza, in front of a crowd of eyewitnesses, was captured on film? And, that’s not even the craziest part. They’ll make this joint appearance to anoint Lord Dampnut as the “King of Kings.” Okay, this one deserves more than just a “holy shitballs”, I’m thinking it should get a “what the actual fuck” at the very least.

No One would Believe You

As you may have noticed in the photo at the head of this piece, exaggeration is an important part of satire. Basically, you blow something out of proportion to show how ridiculous it is. And that’s where the problem lies these days: you really can’t blow this shit up any more than it already is. I mean, hell, if I’d tried to put the stuff that’s actually happening right now in a story back in 2015, people would’ve said, “Get the fuck out of here. We’re never gonna see some crazy shit like that.” And yet, here we are.

One Foot in the Grave, the Other on a Banana Peel

I said at the beginning of this post that the latest QAnon insanity may have finished off satire. They’re not alone but the level of their fucking batshit craziness is unsurpassed by any other group. In both content and quantity. Thanks to them, I have to say that if satire’s not dead, it’s on life support. And these whack-jobs are reaching for the goddamned plug.

Thanksgiving is the Best Holiday of the Year

Okay, I get it, we’ve headed into the holiday season. But that doesn’t mean all you Christmas cluckers can start with all your shit. I mean, seriously, your favorite holiday is a month and a half away and if you start with your crap now, by the time the day actually gets here, we’ll be looking at the proverbial dead horse. Besides, Christmas doesn’t actually begin until December 25th. The time leading up to that day is Advent (I hate Advent and you assholes just made me reference it. Know that I will never forgive you.) and even that doesn’t start until November 28th. Second, jumping the gun the way you happy assholes do completely ignores the hands-down best holiday of the year: Thanksgiving. 

Right about now, some fuckwit is thinking, “Thanksgiving? What’s so great about Thanksgiving?” To that, I say, “What the fuck is wrong with you? Thanksgiving is the best.” If you doubt me, here are a few reasons why I say that:

  • All the food, none of the stress. Look, after a certain point in your life, Christmas starts to lose its appeal. Granted, the charm makes a comeback when your kids are little, and again when you have grandchildren, but the universal constants of Christmas are food and stress. And, there’s a ton of both. With Thanksgiving, however, you get to forego the fucking stress and eat yourself into a food coma. It’s a-ma-zing.
  • Speaking of food. American Thanksgiving fare may be one of our greatest contributions to the culinary world. Well, excluding turkey. I’m not really a fan of some shitty, dried-out bird meat. But, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing/stuffing, deviled eggs, green beans, biscuits, and pumpkin pie? Oh god, yes! I realize I didn’t include macaroni and cheese in that list. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But, for me, the jury is out on whether it’s a legitimate Thanksgiving side (in my family, it makes an appearance on New Year’s with the black-eyed peas and collards), but I ain’t hatin’. If it’s part of your tradition, chow down. 
  • The leftovers. Oh my god, the leftovers. Yeah, I know they start to get monotonous after a while (turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey gravy, turkey hash, turkey a la king, turkey soup), but until they do? Heaven. Just… heaven. Especially this awesome fucking sandwich.
  • Spending time with family. Okay, this one is a bit of a double-edged sword. If you’re lucky, like me, you have a family you actually want to hang around with. But hey, I get it; not everyone is so fortunate. Look at this way, if you’re not one of the lucky few, Thanksgiving is pretty much a one-and-done, which translates to a much shorter time with relatives who irritate the fucking hell out of you. Christmas cannot say the same.
  • Because it falls on Thursday, it’s always a guaranteed 4 day weekend. This is one of the most underrated perks of Thanksgiving. A for sure long weekend every time it rolls around? Take that, Christmas with your middle-of-the-week bullshit.
  • The parades and football. Okay, I fucking hate football (sports in general, really) but watching a bunch of semi-sentient gorillas give each other traumatic brain injuries is a Thanksgiving tradition. And the parades aren’t what they used to be, with all those Broadway numbers and such (fuck a Broadway number). If I’m being honest, Christmas Day, with it’s “A Christmas Story” marathon, actually has better televison options. But, tradition is tradition, and we will watch parades and fucking football (gag) on Thanksgiving Day.
  • The nap. I suppose you could take a nap on Christmas Day but when would you find the time? Between the god damned enforced socializing, eating 2-3 meals, opening gifts, and traveling to multiple relatives’ homes, you can barely catch your breath, much less find time for a snooze. But, napping is required on Thanksgiving. In fact, about 30 minutes after the meal, your fat-ass, Trump-supporting uncle will stop driving you crazy because he’ll be kicked back in the recliner with his hand shoved into the waistband of his pants (belt unbuckled, of course) snoring like a freight train. That means you’ll get a few moments peace even you don’t take a nap yourself.
  • It’s not religious. That means you don’t have put up with the Christian culture warriors and their god damned incessant carping about the “War on Christmas”. Will you have to listen to basic-ass white girls yammer on about fucking pumpkin spice lattes? Yes, but that’s a trade I’ll make any day.
  • Corporations haven’t found an easy way to cash in on Thanksgiving. That means it’s not nearly as commercialized as Christmas. Sure, there’s Black Friday. But that can work in your favor since many of your more aggravating family members are often the ones who love that shit. They head out to stand in long lines and fight crowds for deals that aren’t really deals and leave you at home with all that lovely food. That’s a win in any book if you ask me.
  • NO GIFTS! That’s right, friends. No obsessing over finding the perfect present for that asshole cousin who’s so hard to buy for, no trekking out and fighting the god damned crowds, and, most importantly, no spending money you don’t have on shit they don’t want. Does it get any better than that?
  • It’s the perfect excuse for day drinking. Not only is a glass of wine part of the Thanksgiving meal in many households, a cocktail or two before eating is also included. And then, there’s the digestif, an after-dinner drink to aid digestion (man, the French think of everything). Just make sure your fat-ass uncle stays away from the Irish coffee or you might not get those few moments of fucking peace.

Before I close, I want to stress that this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just the things I could think of in the moment. And, believe me, I am no expert on holidays. If there are egregious errors, please feel free to drop a comment and inform me of them. If not, then tell a Christmas freak to shut the fuck up and wait until December to start their bullshit. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Deviation From the Norm Will Be Punished

Recently, I noted on social media that I hate musical theater. Like my intense loathing of sports,  it’s a fact that I’ve never been exactly shy about sharing. I also don’t care for Beyonce, or the latest trend on Netflix–the exception to that is “Tiger King”. That shit is insane and I cannot get enough. On the occasions when I voice these dislikes, the response is always the same: a startled gasp followed by, “You don’t like _____???” There’s also an unspoken component, an implied “What is wrong with you?” Nothing is wrong with me. I just enjoy different stuff than you do. That’s not a bad thing unless, like most of us, you live in a society where deviation from the norm will be punished.

We Like What We Like. Or, Do We?

We all want to believe that we have good taste and come to our likes and dislikes on our own. And, in some casess, that’s probably true. But, what if we only like a lot of those things because we’re supposed to like them. Maybe we like them because we’re unwilling to pay the social cost of not liking them. Because that cost can be unreasonably high.

Deviation from the norm will be punished.

One of my favorite Christmas specials is “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. It premiered when I was 3 years old and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t a part of the Christmas season. It’s that cheesy Rankin-Bass stop motion animation that’s oddly comforting to me. After all these years, it’s still an integral part of Christmas for me. So, when the memes started to fly, it was distressing. Especially since they pointed out things that had lurked naggingly in the back of my mind for a while. None more so than this one:

Jack Johnson’s version is how the story should have gone

This hit me like a punch in the chest because it has been a continuing feature of my life. To society, differences are scary and it deals with that fear by attempting to enforce compliance. Unless, of course, it can find a way to capitalize on them. If it can’t, its response is to marginalize and compartmentalize them; i.e., call it stupid and cram it into a box well out of sight. And, that can be a best-case scenario. All too often, the reaction is more like, “KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!”

A Whole Other Level

While society’s demand for compliance harmony can be a lot to deal with for neurotypical folks, if you’re neurodivergent, it’s taken to a whole other level. Not so much by the demand itself, though. It’s the fact that we’re handed yet another societal expectation among a metric fuck ton of others that get pushed on us without our consent. There’s the forced extroversion, the bombardment of sensory input, the weird-ass social conventions, and so much more. And now, you tell me I have to like certain things or I’m once again wrong in some way? It’s just one more layer among multiple other layers and it’s exhausting. Interestingly enough, however, our salvation lies within the very thing that creates those layers.

It’s Not All Bad, Though

Crazily enough, this is one area where being neurodivergent is actually a benefit. Spending your life being visibly different will develop a pretty thick “fuck you” skin. One that allows you to blow off stuff you’re not into, regardless of what other people say. You still have to mask, of course, because people don’t like it when you tell them they have sucky taste. But at least you’re not trying to convince yourself that you like that shit, too. Granted, it’s not much but it ain’t nothing, either.

The Bottom Line

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to live in a world where we get to like what we like because we actually like it. One where the things that make us happy don’t also mark us as “wrong” or “weird”. Where the phrase “deviation from the norm will be punished” doesn’t capture its zeitgeist. Imagine a world where geeking out over something you love is considered normal and doesn’t call your worth into question or push you to the margins. That world would be amazing. We could make it happen, you know. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be so worth the effort.

Being Neurodivergent In a Neurotypical World

If you’ve ever wondered what neurodivergent folks think about neurotypicals…

If you’re neurodivergent, you understand one thing above all others: the neurotypical world is fucking weird. From the odd social conventions (shaking hands? What is that all about?) to chit-chat (they talk at length about absolutely nothing! And, expect you to do it, too!), to the mind-bogglingly figurative way they think, neurotypicals often seem more like aliens than fellow humans. Unfortunately, there are more of them than there are of us which means they get set up the conditions of our shared world. And, it’s nearly inscrutable to us neurodivergent types.

It’s a Neurotypical World. Neurodivergents Just Live in it.

Living in this neurotypical hellscape isn’t easy. I mean, how can it be when you’re dealing with the illogicality that characterizes neurotypical thinking? The hidden meanings, unspoken contexts, and arcane social conventions they’ve set in place make very little sense to us. What is a poor autist to do in such a nightmare world?

Neurodivergent=Wearing a Mask

To navigate this neurotypical shitshow, an ND has to resort to tricks: aka, coping skills and masking. Over the 60 years of my life, I have built up a set of these skills through trial and error, therapy, and exchanging notes with other neurodivergent folks because community–irritating as it can be for people like us–can be a big help in navigating the hard stuff. Knowing that this isn’t really an option for some folks, I called on a few friends and put together a list of the things we do to make life slightly more bearable.

The Tips:

I’m going to break these hints down into two categories: Actual-things-you-can-do and Not-much-you-can-do-but-this-will-keep-things-from-sucking-so-bad. The first set includes things you can do things to make life easier/better/not quite as sucky. The other category, I believe, is pretty self-explanatory.

Actual-things-you-can-do tips

  • You’re probably already doing this without even realizing it, but recognize that this world isn’t built for brains like yours, it’s built for neurotypical ones. This is important as everything else flows from it. If you don’t acknowlege a problem, it’s hard to do anything about it.
  • Understand your needs and know your limits. And, don’t let anyone push you beyond them. Because they will. And, all too often, the person doing the pushing will be you.
  • Find your “support person”. This is someone who understands your particular situation and is willing to help carry the load. It can be a spouse, a parent, one of your adult kids, a friend… you get the picture.
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “Fuck societal norms.” I mean, if we’re living in a world that doesn’t take our needs into consideration, why should we give a shit about its standards? The fact that this is the one of the most freeing things you can do as a neurodivergent is a definite plus.
  • Headphones, ear buds, whatever you call them, are life savers. They block out extraneous noise, stifle distractions, and let the world know you aren’t open to conversation. Although that last one depends on neurotypicals paying attention and picking up on another person’s obvious signals. So yeah, it’s really hit or miss. 
  • Exercise helps. It’s not a panacea but it is beneficial. As long as you do it alone and away from other people who, if we’re being honest, are usually why we need to exercise in the first fucking place.
  • Lean into the weird. It’s not like you can stop being odd, so just say “fuck it” and let your freak flag fly. Not only is this as freeing as saying “fuck societal norms”, it will also save you a ton of energy. Because trying pretend to you’re “normal” is exhausting.
  • If medication works for you, take it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Everyone’s brain chemistry is different and that is okay. Also, ignore the fuck out of NT’s who try to tell you medication is bad and all you need is (insert whatever “science woo” bullshit is making the rounds at the moment) to function. The same goes for an NT who pushes you to medicate when you don’t want to. It’s your body/brain and you get to decide what goes into it.
  • By now, you’ve probably figured out that dealing with the neurotypical world will drain the fuck out of you. So try to have a plan in place whenever you know you have to do it. And, make sure your support person knows the plan.
  • NT’s rarely say what they mean, so know that “How are you doing?” is not an invitation to for you tell them how you’re actually doing. They most likely don’t give a shit, so just say “Fine” and move on. Yeah, I know it’s irritating but believe me, it’s not worth the hassle of pushing back.

Not-much-you-can-do-but-this-will-keep-things-from-sucking-so-bad tips

  • Prepare yourself to be told you’re wrong. A lot. Constantly and in a million little ways. In general, neurotypicals have an overweening need to be right and they have no problem with making you out to be wrong to do so.
  • As I said in the intro, NT’s fucking love chit-chat. Of course, we neurodivergent folks would rather crawl through a mile of broken glass than talk about the goddamn weather. Unfortunately, there’s not a tip or a trick to deal with this. The best I can tell you is that, if you find yourself cornered by a chatty NT, just smile and nod. And, get the hell out of the situation as quickly as you can.
  • Socialization/community are overrated. Sure, they’re necessary but my God they’re hard. And quite often, the benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost. Sadly, it’s like small talk: there’s not a lot you can do about it. We’re outnumbered and can’t expect our (often weirdly) specific needs to take precedence over others. That said, it would be nice if our needs were even fucking considered once in a while.
  • Know that there are people who will derive great enjoyment from fucking with you. They will use your difference against you because it’s “fun” for them. While you should never hesitate to tell these people to piss off, do so with the understanding that it probably won’t do much good. Your best bet is get the fuck away from them as soon as possible.

This Isn’t Over

That’s it for now. This will be an ongoing list and will be revisited on a regular basis as learning how to live in this world is not a one-and-done deal. We learn new tricks/tips/skills every day and we should share them with each other. Because, as I said earlier, community may suck but it’s our best bet at navigating the dystopian shitshow that neurotypicals have created.

Football Has a Problem

Football has a problem with toxic masculinity and it doesn’t like to talk about it.

Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ve probably heard about Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden and his fall from grace. If not, the short version is that he wrote a bunch of emails containing racist, homophobic, and misogynistic remarks. When they came to light, he was forced to step down from his job (long version here). It’s no secret that football has it’s problems but this brings up an issue that I don’t see us talking about as much as we should: football is the standard-bearer of toxic masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity?

You’re probably seeing that phrase a lot lately, but actual definitions seem to be a bit thin on the ground. So, let’s take a minute to unpack it. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, toxic masculinity is a group of ideas concerning “the way men should behave that are seen as harmful, for example, the idea that men should not cry or admit weakness.” The idea that men must not show any emotions except excitement or anger, that they must be dominant or they’re somehow less than a “real” man, and that a man must win at all costs? These are all a part of toxic masculinity. And, they have led to many of the problems we face today.

It’s Not a Surprise

When looked at from the standpoint of toxic masculinity, the news about Gruden isn’t at all surprising. Julie DeCaro’s article for Deadspin, “Stop Venerating Men Who Care About Nothing But Football,” begins by detailing a few of the many of red flags that were waving. She writes:

“When he was the head coach of the Raiders and Buccaneers, Gruden famously awoke every morning at 3:17 to the Notre Dame fight song. The alarm clock that played it, a relic from his childhood, expired of natural causes.” She goes on to say, “These days, he is awakened by cellphone. He chooses between alarms set for 4:29, 4:15, 4:04, 4:00, 3:52, 3:47, 3:45, 3:30 and 3:15—”just in case I need to cram a little.” Most days, he is at his desk by 4 a.m., and he stays there, save for a workout, for about 12 hours.

Can you say “obsession”, boys and girls?

He’s Not Alone

The thing is, Gruden’s not the only coach with this level of fixation about football. DeCaro also tells us that former New York Jets coach Adam Gase left his wife at the hospital minutes after the birth of their child. Why? To meet with a potential recruit (it was Peyton Manning). She says that these stories, and others like them, are passed around the sporting world as lovely tales of the sacrifices coaches are willing to make for their teams rather than “psychopathic behavior”. While you can argue whether or not this type of behavior is psychopathic, I think we can all agree that it’s not a healthy way to live one’s life.

A Primer for Toxic Masculinity

DeCaro’s article describes toxic masculinity to a tee. The obsession with winning? Check The willingness to overlook disgusting behavior if it furthers a goal? Check. The mocking of anyone not sufficiently “in” (i.e. not sufficiently white/male/straight)? Check. I suspect the only reason the author didn’t say “toxic masculinity” themselves is because of the pushback. It’s always bad when someone criticizes football. Let a woman do it and it would be horrific. Either that or she knew it would never be published to receive that pushback in the first place.

This Is Not New

Football has a long history of questionable behavior. In its early days, the sport was extremely violent and dangerous, resulting in 19 fatalities in 1905. The situation had become so bad that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to shut things down unless drastic changes were made. Later came the head tackling controversy. That was a dangerous technique taught to kids and resulted in numerous head and neck injuries. And, of course, there’s the traumatic brain injury problem plaguing the league today.

“The Past is Never Dead. It’s Not Even Past.” (Yes, a Faulkner quote)

As you can see, football’s past has some truly awful moments. Sadly, its present isn’t any better. Racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments like Gruden’s are depressingly common. And, Gruden’s abject shittiness came to light in an investigation into other awful behavior: sexual harassment. The Washington Post uncovered multiple incidences of sexual harassment within the Washington Football Team’s (the origin of that name is perhaps the pissiest, most passive-aggressive reaction to criticism possible and is right on brand for football) organization. It appears that, while the symptoms may have changed, the disease continues unabated.

It’s Not All Academic

I speak about football’s connection to toxic masculinity from experience. To say that I have never been a big football fan is a gargantuan understatement: I hate it. But not because of the game itself. Most of the bullying in my life came from men who thought football was the pinnacle of manliness. Case in point, I was a firefighter for 22 years which is pretty the epitome of a “manly” job. Yet, because I don’t care for football, my manhood was consistently called into question by men who would’ve quailed in fear at things I did on a daily basis. Yes, that’s utterly ridiculous. But, it’s how toxic masculinity works.

Reading Toxic Masculinity’s Tells

Perhaps toxic masculinity’s biggest tell is that the way that it hides itself. The NFL spent a lot of time, money, and effort investigating the Washington Football Team. They found it had a “toxic work environment rife with sexual harassment.” But, for some reason, they have yet to release a report. And, recently, they said that further investigation has not found any other racist, misogynistic, and/or homophobic emails like Gruden’s. Yes, they’re telling us that they’ve looked and no other coach has sent similar disgusting emails. Seriously?

And then, there’s the response of team owner Mark Davis to Gruden’s mess. He said that he believes that “influential figures within the league office were intent on forcing Gruden out through calculated media leaks of the emails.” Another source said that Davis “thinks the league office is out to get him.” So, in Davis’ eyes, the problem here isn’t that Gruden said abhorrent things or even that he was dumb enough to do so in writing and in an official record, it’s that those disgusting emails were “leaked” to make him look bad. Those, my friends, are some impressive mental gymnastics.

If that isn’t enough, take a second and think about your own response to my claim that football is the home team of toxic masculinity. If you’re a man, it’s most likely some variation of “Oh, that’s bullshit!” Right about now, some of you are probably thinking, “Hey, there have been some really decent people who played football! So, it can’t be filled with toxic masculinity.” Right, just like the existence of good men who are cops means that the institution of policing isn’t riddled with problems.

Carry the Banner, Boys!

Racism, misogyny, and homophobia are the three pillars of toxic masculinity and they are all well represented within football. But, where racism and homophobia are a little more under wraps, the misogyny is right up in your face. From the lack of female players to the dreadful working conditions of cheerleaders–the only truly acceptable role for women in the sport–to the multiple sexual harassment claims, this destructive concept stakes its claim on football for all to see.

But here’s the thing: football, in and of itself, isn’t really the problem. The problem is that we men have taken what is basically a kid’s game and loaded it up with all our bullshit. And, then we use it to police and/or marginalize others rather than deal with our own insecurities. Which is pretty fucked up. And, that’s why I say football is the standard-bearer for toxic masculinity.

A Socially Awkward Weirdo

Neurodivergent folks in the only social interaction they can’t screw up
Image courtesy of “Rick and Morty”

For the record, I am the “socially awkward weirdo” of the title. This is something I’ve written about before (here, here, and here). Not in those exact words, of course, but I do have some new information about my being neurodivergent.

A Whole Different Operating System

If you’re not familiar with the term “neurodivergent”, the dictionary says that it means “differing in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal.” Basically, it’s a fancy way of saying my brain is wired differently than most folks. Think of it in terms of computer operating systems. Most people’s brains run on Windows while most neurodivergent brains run on Mac OS. Mine, apparently, runs on Linux.

Discovery

It wasn’t until my 30’s, after what we’ll graciously call an interesting childhood, that I figured out what was going on: I have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, aka ADHD. A lot of things that were confusing finally began to make some sense. But not completely. It took another diagnosis to bring things into focus.

Gaining Some Clarity

I say that because finding out I have ADHD was extremely helpful, but it still didn’t completely explain certain things like my uncanny ability to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time, the fact that social situations can feel like playing a game without knowing the rules–and finding that the rule book is written in hieroglyphics–,or the way a seemingly trivial incident can trigger an angry outburst which can include cursing and throwing things. Those things are part of the disorder, sure, but it always felt like something else was going on.

Things became much more clear a couple of months ago, I underwent some more tests and found out that, in addition to ADHD, I was gifted with a lovely little side helping of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Not quite enough to rise to the level of a diagnosis according to the DSM-V, but still. And, if you don’t know what the DSM-V is, google it and then count yourself lucky as that means your life is most likely hasn’t sucked on a cosmic level.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Because of my ADHD/ASD, social situations can be a lot. I get overwhelmed in crowds which means public spaces are always a difficult for me and I’m never completely at ease in them.  After an outing, even something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store, I will retreat to my bedroom when I get home to decompress. Also, my thinking can be very literal. And, of course, there’s the hyperfocus. Right now–and probably not for the first time–every neurodivergent person (ND) is saying, “Oh yeah”.

Let me take a moment to say that being neurodivergent isn’t a bad thing. I mean, I learn some really cool stuff going down the rabbit holes that hyperfocus inevitably brings. Things like the fact that Ernest Hemingway named his junk (Mr. Scrooby, in case you’re wondering) or that there’s a mythic figure from the Ardennes region of Europe that has an elephant’s trunk and the eyes of a basilisk? Would I have found these amazing facts without being neurodivergent? Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s just not the sort of thing you actively search for.

A Never-ending Compromise

Really, my ADHD/ASD has never caused me problems. The way society has chosen to deal with my neurological difference is another story. For neurodivergent people, life is one long series of compromises as very little in this society takes our admittedly special needs into consideration which means we’re constantly trying to figure out how to navigate systems that do not accommodate us. To say it’s taxing is an understatement.

Deviation From the Norm Will Be Punished

You may think that heading is hyperbolic. If you do, you’re most likely a neurotypical individual. That means you live in a world that is constructed to work with the way your brain operates. Not neurodivergent folks. Saying the world isn’t set up for how our brains operate is a lot like saying that Adolf Hitler didn’t like Jews. It’s true but doesn’t come close to capturing the reality of that situation. Every day is give-and-take for us, with us giving and the world taking almost exclusively. And, the only breaks we get are in spaces we’ve created specifically for that purpose.

I know, It’s a Lot

Okay, I realize this may sound like a long, whiny rant but the things I talk about here are all issues ND folks live with on a day-to-day basis. I know this because whenever more than two acknowledged ND people are together, this will become the main topic of conversation at some point. And yeah, it’s a lot. But, think about this: if it’s a lot for you to read about, imagine what it’s like to live with. And, remember that feeling the next time you want to make one of those “I’m a little autistic/ADHD, too” jokes. We hate that shit.

Coronavirus, aka The Stupidest Plague Ever

I really thought that when our inevitable dystopian future finally arrived, it would be… well, dystopian. At least, more dystopian than what we’re dealing with now. I was expecting leather and gas masks and insane automobiles, a la Mad Max. But this coronavirus-driven apocalypse is turning out to be more “Idiocracy” than “Fury Road”. I.e., one shitty dystopian future.

How Did We Get Here?

Basically, people have said/done some stupid shit. It all started at the beginning of 2020 when a novel coronavirus popped up in China. Whether it came from weird meat (who the hell eats a pangolin?) or some shady research in a Wuhan lab, we may never know. But it spread quickly with the first American case occurring in Washington (state) on January 21st, blazing through the country like a wildfire. Now, we’re looking at 700,000 dead and Americans being less than welcome in numerous countries around the world. Of course, that last bit has sort of always been the case but it was because we’re arrogant, not idiots.

This is so Stupid

In the title, I say this is the stupidest plague ever and a lot of the credit for that goes to our “least racist” president, Donald J. Trump (the “J” stands for “Jerk off”). The Presidiot was quick to lay all the blame on China and attempted to impose travel restrictions on people who were conspicuously non-white while simultaneously downplaying the severity of the virus. It only got worse from there, with him touting dubious “cures”–from drinking/injecting bleach to a medication pushed by Dr. Demon Sperm–, promoting skepticism about basic infectious disease control measures, and claims that the virus was just the flu and would mysteriously vanish one day.

All of this, combined with years of Republican efforts to dumb down the populace to uncritically accept their bullshit an acceleration in the growth of anti-intellectualism, has brought us to a place where people are willingly dosing themselves with horse dewormer rather than getting vaccinated because “muh freedoms!”

Okay, it is Stupid. But a Plague?

So, by a strict definition this probably isn’t a plague. It’s not bacterial and it’s not caused by a rat but Merriam-Webster defines “plague” as “a disease that causes death and that spreads quickly to a large number of people.” If that doesn’t describe what we’ve been dealing with for the last 22 months, then I don’t know what would. But, here’s the thing: it didn’t have to be this way.

It Could’ve Been Different?

The short answer is, “Of course it could’ve different!” The longer answer is basically the same, but a lot more nuanced. Because, for things to be different, we needed leadership that actually led instead of pandering to people’s fears and worst instincts in an extremely cynical–but thankfully unsuccessful–attempt to get re-elected. It also required Americans to think critically, evaluate sources, and listen to the experts. And of course, put the needs of others above their own. Or, at the very least, give those needs equal consideration. We’re not good any of at that. Never have been, really. And it all came together to land us in this totally unnecessary shitshow of a pandemic.

What Happens Now?

Honestly, I don’t know. It looks like the Delta variant may be burning itself out in those states where it’s been running wild. I guess that’s a good thing but, for my tastes, there are way too many dead folks for the word “good” to apply. But, rates of vaccination–the obvious way out of this mess–continue to lag while the virus continues to mutate so we could be right back to square one come the winter. So, what do we do? I say, wear a mask and keep up your social distancing. If you’re vaccinated, get a booster when you’re eligible. And if you’re not vaccinated (but could be), stop being a selfish asshole and get the fucking jab. The rest of us want this to be over and we’re sick of your shit.

Move It or Lose It

About to run my first race, the Wonder Woman 5k at UNC-G’s 2019 Homecoming
Okay, so this blog post is going to be a bit out of character for me but it’s important. But I promise you I won’t proselytize, just share what I’m doing and learning. And, leave it to you to make your own choices. So, let’s get started.

So, what is this mysterious topic? Health. As in exercise, weight loss, aging, that sort of thing. If you were to dig through the archives of this site, you wouldn’t find anything about health. Why is that? Because, I’m sad to say, I didn’t really put a priority on it. I should have. As a firefighter, I saw the need, both for me and numerous citizens I helped. I made efforts now and then, but they never took hold. Until 2019, that is. Since then, I’ve lost over 50 lbs. and I exercise daily, including running 3 days a week. That’s a drastic change. So, what brought it about? I became a grandfather. And, I realized that if I wanted to see my grandkids grow up, I had to do things differently.

That realization really hit home in 2018. That’s when my doctor told me that my Type II diabetes was progressing to the point that I was going to need insulin soon. I’d been using Trulicity, an injectable non-insulin medication, for a while. But actual, for-real insulin? That got my attention. Up till then, I’d never really thought of myself as a diabetic before. But, if I started insulin, there would be no denying it. So, I asked him for other alternatives. He suggested weight loss surgery and I was on board immediately. Now, I know that sounds weird but, with my medical history–7 major surgeries in 5 years (most of them cancer-related)–surgery is no big deal for me. I had to jump through some hoops insurance-wise and do a shitload of tests, both medical and psychological, but in May of 2019, I underwent sleeve gastrectomy and never looked back.

After surgery–the recovery from which was the easiest I’ve ever experienced–I decided that I wasn’t going through all this for nothing. I had to make it count. I owed to myself and my family to do whatever it took to be here for them. Within 5 days of being discharged from the hospital, I was walking every day. Within another week, I started a Couch-to-5k running program. As soon as it became available, I started an exercise program for bariatric patients through UNC-G’s Kinesiology department called BELT. After completing that, I moved over to another UNC-G program known as HOPE. Between my doctors and these two programs, I’m in better shape at age 60 than a lot of people half my age. I’m kinda digging that.

That’s a lot of what I’ve been doing and I promised you info on what I’ve learned, too. Here’s some: weight loss and aging have a genetic component. There’s only so much influence you have on them at a day-to-day level. And, when it comes to losing weight, there’s a double whammy: not only is the resistance to dropping pounds genetic, it’s evolutionary. We haven’t lived with our current abundance of food for all that long on the evolutionary scale and our bodies still react like to a lowered intake of calories as a sign of starvation instead of an effort to maintain a healthy weight. When that happens, it lowers your metabolism and scavenges fuel from places like muscle instead of that pesky fat around your middle. Not really what you want, right?

Unfortunately, exercise is of limited use in either losing weight or living longer. No matter what you think, it’s not really feasible to exercise enough to offset that amazingly delicious calorie bomb from Cinnabon. I suppose there is an indirect benefit from exercise when it comes to aging. Being fit does decrease your chances of cardiovascular disease and other things that might cause you to prematurely shuffle off this mortal coil, but exercise is no guarantee that you’ll live longer. I mean, you could have the cardiovascular system of Usain Bolt but there are a multitude of other ways to die that won’t be affected by that. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise, though. While it won’t add years to your life, it will add life to your years. Is that a trite platitude? Absolutely. It also happens to be true. Daily movement does so many great things: improves your mood, keeps your bones, muscles, and joints in good working order, it even boosts your sex drive. Oh shit, I said I wouldn’t proselytize, didn’t I? Sorry about that.

So, I told you the why, and I touched on the how. Here, I’ll go a little deeper in that second one. I mentioned HOPE, the exercise program I’m part of, and running. HOPE is 3 days a week in the gym with trainers. And, by “trainers”, I don’t mean someone who watched a couple of videos or something. I mean, college students who study the body and the best ways to optimize its performance. That looks like strength training, aerobic exercise, along with stability and flexibility work (i.e. lots of core work). And, lots and lots of sweat.

My aerobic regimen is a 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) run 3 times a week with a 5-kilometer walk or 9-kilometer bike ride on my off days. For me, running has an almost zen-like quality. Especially in the warmer months when I can get out in the early morning and everything is quiet. It’s the ultimate “me” time and often makes my day. Walking, on the other hand, gives me inspiration. I’ve worked through many instances of writer’s block while walking. Hell, I wrote most of this post while walking. Biking, though? Biking is just fun. It reminds me of childhood, riding all over the neighborhood and exploring. Let me clarify something: these runs, walks, bike trips are outside. No exercise machines for me. One of the trainers in the BELT program was an avid runner and referred to the treadmill as the “dreadmill”. Every minute I’ve spent on one of those things confirms the truth of that epithet.

I’m going to take a minute before I close and return to the “why” of my newfound zeal for health and fitness. One of the things I like about all of this is the way it makes me feel. Before, during, and after. I mean, it’s pretty damn nice to climb a flight of steps without getting winded anymore. And, there’s the fact that I’m shallow enough to like what I’m seeing I’m the mirror these days. Not to mention the compliments I’m getting, even if they do make me uncomfortable. But, I’m learning to live with that.

So, there it is. Everything I’ve been thinking and saying (mostly in my head, but still) about my relatively recent conversion to fitness nut. It runs a bit long, sure. But there’s a lot I wanted to say. If any of this inspires you to start exercising or helps you keep going, that would make me very happy. If, on the other hand, you think I should shut the hell up and mind my own business, you’re not alone. And, I understand completely.

Respect the Damn Bubble, Y’all

Last week, after a particularly frustrating trip to the store, I posted the following on social media:

All in all, it was a less-than-optimal outing.

In the comments of the post in question, someone gently pointed out that the CDC had dropped the social distancing recommendation a few months prior. And, while that’s true, it really wasn’t the crux of the issue. Because, for me, the issue isn’t about preventing the spread of a disease, it’s about a small degree of comfort.

A New Word

As you may—or may not—know, I am neurodivergent. The dictionary says that I differ “in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal”. Or, to put it more simply, my brain is wired differently that most. My particular version of this is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder with a side helping of Autism Spectrum Disorder. That means, among other things, I have certain social and/or sensory issues that make life, let’s say interesting.

The Pandemic’s Silver Lining?

I haven’t done what you’d call exhaustive research on this, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only neurodivergent person to love social distancing and to be less than thrilled that we’ve seemingly abandoned it now that the vaccines are available. If you were to ask an ND (neurodivergent) person about it, they’d probably give you an earful over how it took a global pandemic for us to get even a smattering of the accommodations we’ve spent years begging for and now, even that little bit is fading away. To say we’re pissed is an understatement.

A Little Perspective

Am I overstating things with that “global pandemic” bit? Maybe. Or maybe there’s something else here. The truth is, every moment in a public space is a compromise for someone like me—one that’s almost never resolved in our favor—and I’m never completely at ease in them. With my social/sensory issues, being out in public can be a lot. If you stand too close to me—and by “too close”, I mean within about 6 feet—it makes me super uncomfortable. Like “crawl out of my skin” uncomfortable. And, don’t get me started on shaking hands. Are there alternatives to the handshake? Sure, there’s fist and/or elbow bumps. And, while these aren’t great either, at least they don’t come with a laundry list of unspoken rules for me to obsess over like a goddamn handshake. And hugs? If I don’t know you pretty damn well, I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your fucking distance.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What it Means to Me

When I started writing this, I told myself, “Self, be nice. Don’t get on your soapbox and rail about neurotypicals and their apparent lack of concern about your needs.” But, that’s kind of out the window now, huh? Sorry if I’ve hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s not that I don’t love you guys, I do. And, I’d love you more if you respected my goddamn bubble.