Archive for the ‘Comfort Zone’ Category

How Head Lice Saved My Christmas

Friday, December 27th, 2013

When help arrived this far-gone family’s mental resources were DONE

HOLIDAYS ON LICE_Where Excuses Go to DieAnd when I say “done,” I mean that arguing and shrieking could be heard from the driveway. Anna, the specialist who’d soon be knocking on their front door, had been given detailed instructions and a description of the wits’ end she’d have to deal with. Slowing for the address, Anna pictured having to talk her way past a police perimeter or finding the family of seven tossing its furniture into a bonfire on the lawn. These were panicked people.

Not one of them knew which had been child zero, the one to bring the louse home. They only knew that dad couldn’t go to work; the kids had been removed from school; and no one had so much as put on a sock in four days. They all wore towels, the only cloth they believed wasn’t contaminated. Each was driving the others nuts with complaints and tantrums – let alone living the misconceptions of their predicament.

When the 14-year-old shaved parts of her head with the wailing martyrdom of St Ludmila of Bohemia, mom finally called a head lice removal service. Where she’d once been too proud to dial Hair Whisperers, Lice Lifters, The Lice Squad, and especially an outfit called Lice Schmice, at this point she’d been reduced to begging. (more…)

Affluenza: Ass-Backward Social Conditioning

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

As a trapped society are we now chewing off our own leg to survive?

THE PATHOLOGY OF WEALTH IS WHERE EXCUSES GO TO DIEAmidst the dumbing down and de-waging of America, are we now also agreeing that if a child is raised in a household where excuses are the norm, this in itself is insurance from liability? Holy crap! Are there no limits to the a-hole ethics and diminished expectations we’ll sign off on?

Whatever your answer, we’re probably still going to be arguing about this five years from now, so get used to the term “affluenza.”

Welcome to Where Excuses Go to Die’s 2013 Excuse of the Year.

After killing four people, Ethan Couch  –a lethally spoiled  16-year-old drunk driver–  got off  essentially scot-free: not because he’s rich, but because of complications resulting from wealth. What complications? Well, for starters, mom and dad never taught him right from wrong.  Also, being raised in a monstrously overprivileged environment provided freedoms that Ethan’s child brain was incapable of processing. Unsupervised access to disposable income and empty luxury homes didn’t help, as they conditioned Ethan to remain separate from his peers, i.e. immune to the lessons learned in moral training grounds teenagers tend to create for themselves. The kicker, far as I see it, is that, as a child, Ethan learned if you hurt someone you sent them money. (more…)

Cops and Cathedrals – Part I

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

For me, really embracing Detroit means being a wreckage dork first

Downtown Detroit Lives_©Where Excuses Go to DieI’m in Detroit this week and have assorted free days to leave the safe confines of my host’s Grosse Pointe neighborhood for Mad Max Island, aka downtown.

I’m sitting at a table with coffee now, preparing  for the 21º weather and listening to police scanner feeds covering Wayne County, which itself is like sticking my hand into a bucket of ice water before it’s poured over my head.

Off Waverly Street, a policewoman reports, a fight between two women has just ended with one holding the other’s hand in a car door and breaking it. A suicidal man is offering to kill himself, but through police observations from across the street, he has a severely autistic adult in tow who is resolutely unwilling to step away.

“Daughter is threatening mother with a gun over a check” crackles over the air, followed by an officer in another location answering a call involving “a group of people” attempting to “force their way into a home” where workers are inside. Aside from that literal siege, a mile away, an actual home invasion is announced as being “in progress.” (more…)

The Cellblock on Sesame Street

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Today, even Sesame Street intersects with Incarceration Boulevard.

New Character Alex on Sesame StreetThe most important thing you can learn from Alex, a new Sesame Street character with an incarcerated dad, is that he exists. While he’s not yet a regular on the show, Alex is out there on the Internet, interacting with your children via the “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” initiative, an online tool kit designed to help kids aged 3-8 deal with having parents in custody.

To some, that might sound a little scary. But fear not, Helicopters, there’s safety in numbers. One of every 28 children in the United States has a parent in prison, so Alex has a lot of friends, some of whom are already interacting with your child in real life.

WheresMom_TulsaPeopleThis is what makes Sesame Street so special, because it traditionally tackles issues head-on, literally at the 3-foot level. Because parents can’t always be there.

The show’s producers and writers (and by extension, sponsors) often address the questions children ask about a variety of subjects that confuse, confound, and anger us grownups. This time, the topic at hand is incarceration – and the reality that 2.7 million U.S. children have a mom or a dad in prison. Alex is Sesame Street’s answer to the soaring numbers of kids in America who have questions about what it means to be quarantined from the rest of society. “Coming from a Muppet, it’s almost another child telling their story to the children,” Jeanette Betancourt, vice president of outreach and educational practices at the Sesame Workshop, told NBC’s Today.

Criminal detention and life behind bars is about as dark a subject as you could ever cover with a child. I’m not a parent, so I’ve never had that conversation, but I’ve witnessed and overheard hundreds.

In visiting rooms at the various prison facilities in which I was housed during my four-year tour, it was hard to pull my eyes from the interactions between incarcerated fathers and their children. (And to say it’s not polite to stare in prison is a deadly understatement, believe me.) I witnessed everything from familiar representations of guilt, phony-baloney contrition, overwhelming love, and genuine pride to awkward reverence and equal opportunity resentment.

Much of this extends well beyond the individual child-parent bond. There are caretakers, aunts and uncles, older and younger brothers, and so forth, all of whom have an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, who have questions that need attention from the best person to answer them: the one who doesn’t get to leave.

So bravo! Sesame Street, for showing adults how urgently we need to start educating our children  –and ourselves–  about the effects of mass incarceration. It’s a problem that won’t likely be going away any time soon.




Abandoning Old Furniture is a Hate Crime

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Littering should be judged by respective degrees, just like murder.

Abandoned Mattresses are Hate Crimes_Where Excuses Go to Die“First degree littering” would be considered the worst, of course, a genuine, pre-meditated affront to humanity.  “Second degree” wouldn’t be any better, except that maybe you put a “FREE” sign on your old-ass queen size. But because that’s a stupid excuse, I take it back: there’d be no second or third degrees.

It’s all bad. It’s all willful and deliberate. 

When I find some skanky mattress or overturned recliner dumped next to sidewalk tree, I imagine locating its former owner and rubbing his face in it the way my father taught our dog not to crap in the house. There’s simply no excuse for making your problems ours, and those who do are self-serving leeches with rat urine for blood. So no, the “Take Me” sign you stuck on that used condom of an old couch doesn’t frame this picture any more forgivably. Your Carrington-Breckenridge microsuede fat throne and you can go to hell.

I can’t say why the site of abandoned furniture hits my who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are? nerve with the precision of a laser-guided missile, but when it strikes I picture the culprit creepin’ around, lookin’ for the right spot and the perfect moment to dump a lifeless TV before racing off like he’d just waved his dick at some kids.

Self-serving leech with rat urine for blood_Where Excuses Go to DieIf the offending home furnishing happens to be sitting in front of your home or at the end of your driveway   –and it belongs to you–   that’s a different story. But old couches are most often abandoned in and around condo and apartment complexes. Discarded mattresses are leaned upside electrical boxes, building entrances, parking garage gates, and in street gutters for all to enjoy.

(Here, too, I imagine a herpetic male tenant who doesn’t pay his child support, waiting ’til midnight before wrestling his personally varnished king-sized Euro-top out of the building and into the alley, where it’ll stay for weeks.)


The Sounds My Neighbor Makes

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Yeah, getting to know my neighbors means getting over myself

Sounds My Neighbor Makes_Where Excuses Go to DieIt’s funny, wanting to stand out. We desire individuality and to express ourselves uniquely, but we’re pleased when we discover we’re just like those we want to stand apart from. We enjoy learning that celebrities have wrinkles, blotchy skin, and one leg longer than the other. We gobble up captured private moments of public figures and we’re eager to learn how much in common we have with those whose fabulous lives we insist could never be ours. I can’t even imagine having anything in common with Paula Deen, but you get the idea…

Down here on earth and up the street on which my wife and I live, I smile when I hear my next-door neighbor drops his keys and mutters under his breath, still balancing things in his hands. I hear his daughter ask questions he either doesn’t have the answer to or has no patience to explain, and though I don’t have children myself, his impatience is gratifying. It’s not his exasperation that makes me root for him, but rather the certainty that I’d be likewise confounded. Soon the daughter will be older and bolder. Maybe she’ll hide his keys behind her back one afternoon and I’ll lean in to hear how it turns out.

In the meantime, like watching some vulgar, egomaniacal luminary who’s been stripped down to my level of hygiene and over-limit fees, overheard and superficial commonalities with my neighbors will have to do. (more…)

I Gave My Love a Chicken

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

KFC FINGER BUCKETProudly distancing ourselves from the origins of our food

On April 14, Kentucky Fried Chicken will prove to the American people just how much it loves us by unleashing its boneless chicken. Now, in my opinion, food should resemble something that can be found in nature, so we’re not exactly talking about food, here. It’s more mood, as in, we’re not in the mood for skeletons.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a vegetarian, but not a militant one. I don’t believe that vegetarianism will cure all that ails this planet. I avoid meat for my own reasons and let the omnivores do what they will. 
But on the eve of KFC’s boneless drumstick debut, I have to ask, “What more does the goddamn chicken have to do to please you lazy gluttons?”
 Chickens live miserable lives…they die, en masse, in miserable conditions, but we look the other way because they’re tasty. 
These birds give and give and give – they inspire not only our relentless philosophical conundrums (the chicken or the egg?) but even our wedding dances. 
And doesn’t “playing chicken” serve as an archetype for game theory?

WHERE RUBBER CHICKENS GO TO DIEYet that’s not enough. Now we need them to be boneless.
 Not since that narcissistic little bastard in Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” have I seen such self-absorbed, entitled behavior by humans towards nature.
 One day, the chickens will rise up with fists…or beaks…against their oppressors, and it will not be pretty. There will be blood.

Actually, what bothers me most about this bit of “evolution” has nothing to do with the melancholy life and Dachau-like death of the chicken itself. Let’s face it, chickens wouldn’t know melancholy if Sam Cooke himself came back from the dead and serenaded them with “A Change is Gonna Come.” What’s troublesome is that this is yet another assault on our food sense. KFC claims it’s saving us time and making our lives easier, but that’s an excuse for feeding us, technically, rubber chickens!

According to Walter Perez, one satisfied KFC-feeder featured in a USA Today video, “It was easier to eat because it was boneless. It didn’t take as much time.” Watching Walter, I thought, Now here’s a guy with a jam-packed agenda. He doesn’t even have time for a meat product engineered to fall from its bones to begin with! Then I became distracted by pencil-brow’d Virginia Massie’s case for convenience as her two-year-old forages in the background, likely believing there are no bones in food.

What in the name of Michael Pollan is going on here? It’s bad enough that this mood-food is infected with Cartel kilos of sodium, fatty acids, and hormones. Now KFC, McDonald’s, Jack-in-the-Box, and others are hell bent on getting these artery busters into our bodies even quicker. Less chewing is our undoing, people!

SUCKERSIf our fast food overlords were truly interested in saving us time, wouldn’t they serve us healthier foods? Sure, a salubrious diet might take twenty, maybe thirty minutes longer to cook and eat than these processed nuggets of death, but aren’t we then rewarded with five or ten years tacked on to the end of our lives? So by going the boneless route, are they really saving us time? Of course not. Profits are better when you can hook ‘em while they’re moving too fast and feeling too fit to care.

It’s important to remember that corporations and the politicians they purchase rarely have our best interests in mind. Call me paranoid, but every dystopian government I’ve ever read about or seen in movies has used food to manipulate the masses. I don’t need to tell you what Soylent Green is. And not a single meal in Huxley’s Brave New World was complete without soma (“all of the benefits of Christianity and alcohol, without their defects.” Huxley’s words, not mine).

So on April 14, when KFC tries to serenade you with their version of “I gave my love a chicken; it had no bone,” resist. Say no to wing shaped-meat paste masquerading as a real drumstick. As for me? I’ll be at my neighborhood KFC, pulling a Belushi. Not the speedball – I mean the guitar.

I’m no vegetarian, but our first guest blogger and composer of this entry, Christopher Lewis, certainly is. Thank you, Mr Lewis. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a Paraguay

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

If you care to be reminded how cringe-worthy our privileged bitching and moaning can be, watch this trailer for Landfill Harmonic,  a documentary about Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra, where the young musicians play instruments made from landfill debris.

As it was explained to me, “These kids have trash in their hands and look what they do with it!

This folks, is one of the places where excuses go to die.

Reusable Irony

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

For just a dollar, Starbucks patrons can now wait in line with newly purchased, reusable coffee cups. Never mind that the plastic lids and cups are identical in appearance to their disposable predecessors: buyers will be able to personalize them, so a related micro-industry of reusable coffee cup ornamentation will no doubt arise before you’re done reading this.

But because this reusable Starbucks tumbler is a visual match to a highly recognizable symbol of the downtrodden  –an over-the-counter coffee cup–  I’m looking forward to watching it make its way from the hands of the homeless and into the hands of the privileged. I’m talkin’ about skinny-pants and cool moms, coming in off the street and waving their empty cups at strangers, just like those they ignore on the sidewalk. The irony is cruel, exquisite, and reusable.

Mahatma Gandhi is Highly Quotable…

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012