Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Bavard's Guide to Unsavory Persons: Volume 2 - Douchebags and Scrotes

      Click here to read Volume 1: Dickheads and Assholes

Douchebags and Scrotes:

Certainly, much has been said about Douchebags. But like the terms “hero” and “genius,” the Douchebag title is bestowed all to readily - and irresponsibly - these days. Which is not to say the world isn’t full of Douchebags. Popularity of the word is partly due to its unprecedented applicability. Ironically, the misuse of the word is a prime example of Douchebag behavior, as the defining characteristic of a Douchebag is a pathological ignorance, be it linguistic or otherwise. True Douchebags possess a certain tone-deafness to the world at large, which accounts for everything from their misguided fashion sense to their appreciation of extra-large vehicles and wearable technology. Much of the misuse and mislabeling associated with the term Douchebag can be explained thusly: First, the word has tremendous aesthetic appeal. It rolls poetically off the tongue, and lends itself to vocal fluctuations and emphatic variations. Secondly, there is inherent ironic humor in the use of the term when one considers its literal definition. Much of the labeling of unsavory persons draws humor from this juxtapositioning (see Dickheads and Assholes). And finally, misuse of the word Douchebag, and its less potent offspring “Douche” and “DBag”, comes from its PG-13 nature. Douchebag is not a curse word, nor does it make direct reference to genitalia or a sex act, though it dances perilously close.

So, then, what exactly is a Douchebag? Well, primarily, a Douchebag is not an Asshole or a Dickhead (or a Fuckface, Jerkoff, or Jackass, but that’s getting way ahead of myself). Douchebags do not know they are Douchebags, or at the very least, their Douchbagginess is unintentional. Douchebags famously unplug things accidentally. Things like powerstrips connecting an array of office or classroom computers. Douchebags make things worse in an effort to make them better. Things like software glitches, copy machine jams, soup, and bad hair dye jobs. Douchebags get caught copying your homework and the teacher rips only yours up to send a message. (that teacher, by the way, is an Asshole). Douchebags, thinking they have some special connection to all living things, get bit by dogs and make babies cry. Unlike certain other unsavory persons, Douchebags are not without friends. In fact, it is common for a person to feel surrounded by Douchebags, at parties or bars or family reunions. One’s Douchebag nature can be transitory (unless it is connected to the permanence of a bad or misspelled tattoo). You can grow into or out of your Douchebagginess. Treatments and interventions are effective. Often times a Douchebag can be cured with a simple item, like a mirror or a credit card statement. Generally speaking, a Douchebag’s antics are harmless. A Douchebag will absolutely make you late for an important meeting – by insisting on driving you, and then running out of gas – but they will rarely hurt you. Women do not make very good Douchebags, as an essential ingredient in Douchebag behavior is an imbalance of testosterone. Birds are nature’s Douchebags, for their reliance on elaborate posturing and vanity, as well as their unique ability to fly into things while trying to move gracefully. Women continue to befuddle the world with their attraction to Douchebags. And certainly, using a pseudointellectual highbrow tone when writing about things like Assholes, Dickheads, and Douchebags in an attempt to entertain people on your blog so they will buy your novel, is Douchebag behavior at its finest (or is it? See below).

Scrotes (or Scroats) and Douchebags are mortal enemies, at least from the Douchebag point of view. The two distinct groups are frequently mistaken for one another. Douchebags think Scrotes are pussies. Scrotes think they themselves are Douchebags.  A true Douchebag would never possess the self-awareness required to self-identify. Anyone who refers to themselves as a Douchebag is probably a Scrote or a Dickhead, depending on their nature. A Scrote is like a benevolent Dickhead, generally fun-loving and utterly harmless. Scrotes lack ambition, either through laziness, or an over-intellectualized, college-based understanding that ambition can get you assassinated. A Scrote will absolutely use Shakespeare as an excuse to sit on a couch and take bonghits and watch Judge Judy. Woman make terrific Scrotes. Male and female Scrotes are exceptionally compatible. In fact, Scotes get along exceedingly well with other Scrotes. Entire Scrote armies can be found on tour with Phish, in churches, and at GameStop. A Scrote’s unsavory nature stems from the fact that they are generally forgetful, irresponsible, and sensitive to a fault. Scrotes cannot handle criticism, which, coupled with drug use, can result in a toxic atmosphere of self-doubt and depression. “I’m such a fucking Douchebag!” is the classic mantra of a certifiable Scrote.

Example # 1 of Scrote behavior: A pack of Scrotes move into a furnished apartment. The dryer venting tube is disconnected from the wall outet. Rather than simply connecting the tube to the outlet, the pack of Scrotes determine the dryer venting mechanism is defective. For one year the dryer simply vents into the small room where the appliances are kept. The paint peels off the walls. Lint on the floor is four inches deep. There is a toilet in this room, and when the pack of Scrotes girlfriends (not Girlfriends) comes over and use the toilet they don’t tell the Scrotes to fix the room (because these girls themselves are Scrotes). The Scrotes are sued by the landlord. They ignore the lawsuit and it “goes away.” For years afterwards, none of the Scotes can understand why they have such a hard time getting approved to rent apartments.

Example #2 of Scrote behavior: This same pack of Scrotes purchase a newspaper subscription. The newspaper is stolen off their porch three or four days a week. Rather than notify the newspaper company or the police, the Scrotes decide instead to wake up early, on a rotating schedule, and collect the paper before the thief has arrived. A Scrote then defecates into the paper, refolds it, and returns it to the porch. The shit-filled paper is then stolen, not by a thief, but instead by an autistic neighbor who is trying to save himself fifty cents and a walk to the corner market. He gives the paper to his bedridden grandmother, who then finds herself covered in Scrote feces. The police are notified. Nervous and repentant Scrotes are questioned. Police are granted access into the Scote lair, where they discover an extensive marijuana growing operation.

Coming up in Volume 3: Fuckfaces, Jerkoffs, and Jackasses

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Bavard's Guide to Unsavory Persons: Volume 1 - Dickheads and Assholes

Dickheads and Assholes:
The defining characteristics of Dickheads are mean-spiritedness, stupidity, and a lack of self-awareness. Dickheads are further characterized by their ineptitude, brutality, and inability to read people. Dickheads are Dickheads by choice. Dickheads think they are being funny when they are not. This often involves the telling of racist jokes. Dickheads' antics hurt. They always laugh at their victims and assume they are endearing to their “friend group”. None of a Dickhead’s friends actually like the Dickhead, but they are too scared of retaliatory pranking to ever say or do anything about it. Dickheads are impossible to kick out of bands. Dickheads can be seen handing out Dixie cups of vodka to marathon runners, who are expecting water. If you start a war, you are probably a Dickhead. All Dickheads are bullies (but not all bullies are Dickheads – see below). You cannot be a female Dickhead. One never accuses a Dickhead of being a Dickhead to his face. Dickheads honk at you to GO! when you are waiting for a pedestrian at a crosswalk.  Dickheads are often cuckolds. Your older brother is probably a Dickhead.  Dickheads wear offensive or inappropriate Halloween costumes. Dickheads give mean or insulting gifts. Dickheads give bad stock advice. At a sports bar, a Dickhead will gloat ostentatiously and laugh at your team’s misfortune even if his team isn't even playing. Dickheads are bad tippers because they don’t know any better. Dickheads are buffoons. There are no Dickheads in the animal kingdom. Dickheads drink beer. Dickheads borrow money and don’t pay it back. Women hate Dickheads.

Assholes are similar to Dickheads, with two fundamental differences. Assholes are intelligent and direct. Like Dickheads, Assholes are mean-spirited and brutal. But their general competency makes them far more dangerous. Being an Asshole is not a choice, it’s a birthright. Assholes do not tell jokes or attempt to win people over with humor or affability. Racist comments made by Assholes represent fundamental beliefs. The animosity an Asshole incurs is intentional. While a Dickhead might be part of a friend group that includes mostly non-Dickheads, Assholes only hang out with other Assholes.  An Asshole would never be a marathon spectator, even to prank the runners. In fact, many Assholes run marathons. They also cycle and rock climb. Assholes are the ones who convince the Dickheads to start wars. Like Dickheads, Assholes are bullies; however, unlike Dickheads, Assholes’ bullying lacks any creativity and shuns tradition. An Asshole does not bully with schoolyard wedgies. An Asshole just sets your car on fire. Women can absolutely be Assholes. Assholes do not need to be told they are Assholes. Assholes do not honk at you, you honk at Assholes. Assholes are remorseless cheaters, at games and in relationships. While your older brother is a Dickhead, it’s your friend’s older brother that’s the Asshole. Assholes don’t participate in Halloween, unless it involves throwing eggs, which is not done out of respect for a tradition, but simply because it hurts and stains. Assholes don’t give gifts and they return all gifts they receive. Assholes don’t give stock advice, especially when they should. Assholes are bad tippers because they lack empathy. The animal kingdom is made up almost exclusively of Assholes (dogs are the exception). From the perspective of the animal kingdom, the human race is a race of Assholes. Assholes drink wine. Assholes don’t borrow money, they manipulate the system and steal it. Women love Assholes.

Alternate Definitions: While the term Dickhead has only two meanings, the one described above, and its literal meaning, the term Asshole has an interesting third application, beyond the one mentioned above, and its own literal meaning. Some Assholes are victims or gullible morons, as in, “I can’t believe he cheated on me again. I’m such an Asshole!” Or, “Jesus, what kind of an Asshole would take the Cardinals +11 on the road in San Francisco?” Or, “Yeah, Mac, some Asshole just okayed us to bill 450 dollars for an alignment, an oil change, and two new tires.”

Click here to read Volume 2: Douchebags and Scrotes

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Sci-Fi Bike Commute: Part V – Extended, Format-Breaking All-Gormenghast Edition

"When I bought my bike last August [2012] and committed myself to riding to work, I added the following spontaneous and bizarre stipulation: I would listen exclusively to science fiction audiobooks." [and some fantasy]

Phase 13: Year 2 of TSFBC: New Job, New Bike, New Baby

The Book: I don’t remember exactly how Titus Groan ended up in my ear buds. I think it was the only unheard sci-fi/fantasy book left in my Library’s Overdrive catalogue that didn’t look like a pulpy mess - no gleaming abs or lightning bolts shooting out of finger tips. I just got lucky. And that’s the way it goes sometimes. The fates hand you the exact book you were looking for, even if you didn’t know you were looking for it. There I was, knee deep in genre-conforming space opera, loving my whizz-bang plots, paper-thin characters, and dubious technobabble.  And suddenly, I couldn’t get my hands on The Evolutionary Void, the last book in Peter F Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga.  Apparently, the library didn’t see the logic of acquiring the fifth book in a five-book series, when they do carry the first four books. I have a government job, so this makes perfect sense to me. But there was this Titus Groan thing, this brilliantly bizarre cover art. I clicked to learn more and found out Gormenghast is a three book series (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone). Why not give it try?

Cut to me on my bike, riding to work, laughing, giggling, rewinding the trill laughter of Dr. Prunesquallar. Smiling like there’s something deeply wrong with me. What the hell is this? Where did it come from? How had I never heard of Gormenghast before? And how am I supposed to take it all? Is it a comedy? A satire? A commentary on the drudgery of daily ritual in some pre-postmodern kind of way, or just weird high fantasy, to be taken on its own terms?

And more questions: Where the hell is this place, this Gormenghast Castle? And when?

I knew immediately that I didn’t want to read a word about these books. I didn’t want to know the author, his (her?) country of origin, critical responses to the text, or even the publication date. It seemed essential, and consistent with the text, that I experience Gormenghast in a total vacuum. So I won’t spoil the contents for anyone else who’s weird like that. Which puts me in the difficult position of trying to convince would-be readers to get their Gormenghast on, without really telling them anything more about it. (That's the plan, at least.)

So I’ll just talk about myself instead. I’m possessive about these books now. They feel personal to me, not because I relate to the story or the characters in any meaningful way, but because I get it. Everyone knows the feeling. I understand and experience exactly what the author wants me to understand and experience. Of course, that’s a narcissistic and delusional way to think about art, but that hasn’t stopped any person I know from doing the same damn thing. And it's especially gratifying to get it, when it is something so preposterous and complex and precise. Every decision the author makes to take the story further, to make it weirder, less commercial, less genre-specific, is exactly the right decision, like it’s not even a decision at all. It’s just what is. Never do I question the pacing, the authenticity of the dialogue, or the plausibility of the events. This kind of writing, where a place and time and population are evoked, rather than created, is always the most impressive, where the author plays the role of a chronicler or journalist, that really, he may not have a creative bone in his body. It’s the world he’s reporting that’s doing all the work.

Really, this audiobook, bike-commute project is about how the stories playing in my head affect my perception of the world zooming past me, how what I am listening to separates my experience from that of the other bike-commuters, who physically access the same environmental factors I do. What are the innumerable grains of sand to the guy listening to the Euro-trance techno pulse, compared to the guy listening to NPR? The guy listening to Simon Vance bellow, “I shall go to the Tower of Flints. I am the Death Owl!”? So what does Gormenghast do to the ocean and the airplanes and the RV park? Well, it obfuscates them, blurs them, and in some cases, removes them altogether. Which is not to say I am transported to Gormenghast. This isn’t that type of story. For a richly detailed fantasy story, Gormenghast is not particularly illuminating.  There’s really just a big huge fucking castle and then some other stuff – characters like you’ve never met before. Archetypes taken to such absurd extremes they cease to be archetypes at all. The nanny, the butler, various dowager aunts, the villain, the cook, the doctor, the teachers, the heir, the precocious princess, the Lord and his lady, each one unique to an extreme. What I get from these books is the unending delight you get from being surprised by people. People you think you know, who turn out to be far more interesting and original that you expected. The whole book aggressively working against every expectation you could possibly have. Irony with a capital ”I”. It’s the audacity of the whole thing that gets me. That someone would sit in a room for years and write this stuff. That they would commit themselves to such an absurd project, see it through, make it beautiful and haunting and transcendent. Sometimes I tell myself that - to pick an example at random - the guy I pass on the bike path who pulls a painted red gypsy wagon behind his bike is strange. But the existence of Gormenghast establishes a higher level of strangeness, a more evolved and refined state of lunacy. If nothing else, Gormenghast has reminded me just how powerful good writing can be.

I’m certain I will find more science-fiction books to rival the Commonwealth Saga. For all its entertainment value, it is not unique. But this Gormenghast experience has left me a little anxious. Is there anything this good still out there? Something I’ve never heard of before? Something I can experience with total objectivity?

The answer: Of course there is. (suggestions welcome)

Random addendum: Other chance discoveries that (gulp) Changed My Life!

I remember The Crossing calling to me from a display table in a resort town in Idaho. I can’t say what attracted me to the bleakness of those cow skulls, but I had to read that book. I’d never heard of Cormac McCarthy before. It was a similar situation a few years later with Infinite Jest, only this time I was in Phoenix, stranded at my ex-girlfriend’s parents’ house with unfixable car trouble and the need to punish myself with something dense and dry. Next thing I knew I was scraping bits of skull and brain matter off the ceiling fan in their guest room. 

And the rest, quickly: Arctic Dreams in a hotel’s lending library…in Thailand. Cannery Row in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s gift shop when I was 14 on a school field trip, trying to impress a girl by being the only kid who didn’t buy a stuffed otter. Jude the Obscure in a box of inherited classroom library books. Master and Commander, in a used book store in Boston (again, I think I was just trying to impress a girl with my interest in all things Napoleonic).


Click here for Part VI of the Sci-Fi Bike Commute: More format breaking fantasy! The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls! Plus the end of the Commonwealth Saga!