Since 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University has held the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants submit the first sentence of a terrible novel. Here are some I’m thinking about submitting:

It was the kind of day that shone with the brilliance of a silver turd that got stuck somewhere in the toilet of a billion universes; the planet’s top scientists said such luster would not be seen again until the ice age of 3045, which would kill off all the Venus flytraps, xenophobes, and alter boys.

He awoke from a deep, sultry, and ironic sleep, likely induced by a harsh drug mined from some evil pocket deep in the earth, and discovered to his delight that his entrails were wrapped around both his neck and his genitals; from his experience, this was probably either a hilarious sorority prank or a sign he should buy a condo in Vermont.

The logy and sarcastic ant was prone to flatulence, which caused tremendous unrest amongst not just the colony, but all living creatures in a two-mile radius (it was quite the talk around the water coolers); the queen, however, adored the intoxicating scent, which drove her into a murderous frenzy when she listened to Mel Torme.

Quasar was cruising to the Pleasureplex in his vintage hovercar, chartreuse and exfoliated hair flapping in the balmy breeze, when a dilapidated orangutan from a hostile wormhole appeared and smashed him in the cheekbones; he was sent careening into another dimension where nuns and accountants run rampant in the streets and eat raw possum.

Eighteen dollars and seventy-nine cents later, Sandra discovered that the shiny but eerily-glowing toe ring was neither whimsical nor fragrant as promised but was, instead, a portal to the very depths of hell (or Miami, depending on the tides); she began to grow suspect of the slithery but gorgeous bullet-train engineer who sold her this droll but unholy relic.

The surly barista, weary from seven straight hours of Mongolian throat singing, looked lustfully at the knick-knacks on the tawdry Ikea shelf, then – with no provocation from his criminal parrot Irving – swept them to the uncannily clean floor with a robust gesture of his macho hand; the trinkets shattered into 438 heart-rendering fragments of a world gone mad.

Sure, he was a master of upside-down ping-pong, owner of a second-hand hubcap empire, father of 25, grandfather of 3,942, held the record in projectile vomiting (class 5), thrice beat up drunk congressmen, ate 32 ounces of meat an hour, and could smash a LEGO brick with his pinky finger…but could he name the capital of Fiji for $200?

The hunchbacked and fertile bricklayer approached the sarcastic and unruly koala with the brazen cojones of a hopped-up preschool teacher whose last paycheck bounced and whose box turtle had savagely bitten her buttock; as he rudely closed in, he readied the nine-iron wrapped in spoiled bacon and prepared to annihilate the beast, or at least offer the fuzzy bastard a smelly gift.

Back in the late 90s and early 00s, I worked at a toy company (I won’t say the name, but their hit toy rhymes with “Schmurby”). It was the most fun company I ever worked for, and I got to know most of the employees.

One of my coworkers was a 22-year-old, Sheila (not her real name). Sheila was nice, down-to-earth, had a good sense of humor, was happily married, and ecstatic that she had newborn twins. She’d often stop by my cubicle to chat.

Also: Sheila was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. I won’t go into a physical description because we haven’t kept in touch and my memory’s a bit foggy, but suffice to say she was a definite head-turner.

If a group of us went out for drinks after work, most guys at the bar (I’m not exaggerating here) would take turns hitting on her. She’d politely turn all of them down. One particularly interested guy claimed to be from a modeling agency and gave her his card.

After I got to know her pretty well, I asked her a question while we were cube-chatting one day. I said, “this may sound a bit strange, but…what’s it like looking like you do?”

She wasn’t surprised at all, and replied, “it’s hard, because you have what every guy wants.”

I said, “that’s exactly what I thought it’d be like.”

I already knew most of the male employees acted like idiots around her, but she’d tell me stories of how some of the women were very bitchy to her – jealous of her looks and the attention she got.

I should stress that she didn’t dress inappropriately or give anyone the impression she was interested in anybody. In fact, she was one of the most normal women I’ve ever worked with. And in case you’re wondering, she had average-sized boobs.

But I felt sorry for her. Can you imagine: you’re happily married, well-adjusted, love your family, and just want to live your life – and nearly everywhere you go, men behave like horny apes and women get pissy with you?

Anyway, I sympathize with the world’s truly beautiful women who just want a normal life. Beautiful men? Eh, deal with it, hombre.

I’ve read a few articles about how people just aren’t naming their kids “Gary” anymore.

Think about it: How many famous Garys can you name? Oldman, Sinise, Hart, Shandling (with 2 r’s), Busey, Cooper (which may have spiked popularity back in the day)…but probably not a whole lot more. And how many Garys do you know who are under 40?

Maybe the Gary Glitter scandal way back when soured folks on the notion. Who knows.

*FUN FACT: There were 90 girls named Gary in 1947.

I was named after my dad’s best friend, Gary (name redacted). My dad was 25 when I was born, and he and Gary had been friends for a long time. I remember visiting with his family several times. He seemed like an okay guy.

When I got older, I asked my dad about him, because it seemed like he never talked about him or mentioned trying to get together with him.

My dad told me that, many years ago, Gary had gotten a job with UPS that paid pretty well. He worked his way into management, and made some serious bucks. That’s when things changed.

The way my dad put it, Gary basically made new rich friends and wanted nothing to do with him anymore because he didn’t make enough cash.

So not only is my name going extinct, but I’m also named after a douchebag.

Let’s say you work for a large company. Your job is in an office, with a desk and computer and phone and whatnot (perhaps this applies to you already).

You come in every morning and get your muffin and coffee. You fire up your computer and check your e-mail.

Each day, you see four or five e-mails (or more) from your new CEO, hired a year ago (you know, the guy in charge of everything). The messages are sent to the entire company.

The e-mails sporadically praise a group of individuals, often executives in the company. But most of the correspondence entails:

1. Bragging about himself, and taking credit for things with which he had nothing to do

2. Blaming other people when he doesn’t get his way

3. Pushing expensive agendas that don’t seem to help the company

4. Complaining about everything

5. Lying about basic things everyone in the company knows

6. Insulting others and name-calling

Wouldn’t you start thinking, even if it were a decent-paying job: “Hey, what’s this guy’s deal? He’s nuts. Why am I working for a madman?”

You mention it to some co-workers. “Isn’t this a little disturbing?” Two-thirds of your colleagues say, “yeah, it’s at least a little disturbing.” Some say they’ve even gone to Human Resources about it.

But one-third respond, “they hired him, so he must be competent. And I think it’s cool that he speaks his mind.”

You’re torn. The e-mails get more and more unhinged, and you think the company is suffering. He just signed off on a proposal that put the business even more in debt.

When do you say “enough’s enough,” and either look for another job or push to get a new CEO? Or would you just hope he gets fired as soon as possible?

I keep hearing folks say we should invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution. I haven’t studied the Constitution since high school, so I decided to refresh my memory.

It’s only four sections, and the first three just set up the line of succession if the president suddenly leaves office.

But section 4 lays out how to get rid of el presidente:

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

A little convoluted, eh? Let me try to simplify (thanks, Wikipedia):

The vice president and “a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress” (pretty sure it means the cabinet) write a declaration that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” The declaration is given to the president pro tempore and the speaker of the House.

Once this happens, the vice president is immediately made “acting president.”

The president can then write a declaration stating he’s hunky-dory, and give it to the president pro tempore and speaker of the House.

Then the vice president and “a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress” have four days to declare “nah, bro, you’re nuts” and give it to the president pro tempore and speaker of the House.

Then Congress must convene within 48 hours to resolve the issue. They have 21 days and must have 2/3 votes in each house. If they get the votes in the time frame, the vice president remains acting president. If not, the president becomes acting president.

HOWEVER…according to Wikipedia:

However, the president may again submit a written declaration of recovery to the president pro tempore and the speaker of the House. That declaration could be responded to by the vice president and a majority of the cabinet in the same way as stated earlier. The specified 21-day congressional procedure would start again.

SO…

My question is, if this were to transpire, do you think Trump would fight it? Do you think he’d send a second “man, I’m chill” declaration? How long would he fight while lackey Mike Pence is at the helm?

Been thinking about death lately, maybe because I’m old, but I thought of a Stephen King quote (totally paraphrasing):

“Most people think about dying peacefully in their sleep after a good meal, a good bottle of wine, and a good lay. But few people think about being crushed under a car while crankcase oil slowly drips on their forehead.”

Which got me to thinking about the worst ways to die. I’m morbid that way.

Freezing

Supposedly this isn’t a REAL bad way to go, but still, you’re fuckin’ freezing to death.

Starvation

Just wasting away until your stomach eats itself (not sure that’s what happens but it sounds cool).

Drowning

Aside from immediate suicide, drowning is the only cause of death where you actually choose the moment you die. That’s fuckin’ creepy.

Set on fire

The largest organ in your body set aflame. The pain factor would be off the charts.

Cut in half

Ouch! Especially if it’s from head to toe.

Skinned/flayed

The largest organ in your body slowly stripped away until you bleed out. No thank you.

Falling into lava

“If you drop your keys in molten lava, let ‘em go, man, ‘cuz they’re gone.” – Jack Handey

Eaten by lion

How horrible would this be? Powerful jaws just ripping you apart. At least you’d be a meal for something.

Impaled

I’m’ talkin’ a big ol’ spike up your bottom that pierces your insides. Not very pleasant at all.

Eaten by shark

Like eaten by a lion, only in water and 1000 times more terrifying.

From 1982 to 1986, I attended Northeast Missouri State University in Kirksville, MO (it’s now called Truman State University).

My tuition coverage was fairly balanced; my parents paid for two years, I got a grant one year, and took out a loan for the last year.

At the end of my freshman year, I got kicked out of the dorm (for which my parents were paying) for smoking pot. No biggie, I was wanting to move off-campus anyway.

I knew an apartment would probably cost more than the dorm, and my folks wouldn’t like that – plus, you don’t get the meals bundled into the dorm package.

I decided I needed a job to pay for rent, bills and food. So, like most folks back in the day, I looked in the local newspaper.

Lo and behold: an ad wanting a guitarist for a local band. I called, auditioned, and was hired.

For three years, we played pretty much every Friday and Saturday. There were five members in the band and we usually made $250 a night. My weekly take: $100. Monthly average: $400. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always cash under the table.

I had a roommate, and our rent was $150, so that was $75. Split utilities were another $25. So I had $300 a month for weed, booze, and food. I moved around a decent amount, but that was the average.

Weed: Liked the good stuff, so about $125 per month. Back then that bought a lot of sharing with friends and long drawn-out stories.

Booze: Would usually pay for it about 12 times a month (we generally got free drinks while playing at bars). Always got the cheapest rotgut and piss beer. Usually bought booze and brought it to a party. I’d say $10 a pop, so around $120 per month.

Food: That’s roughly $65 a month for food, toiletries, all and sundries, etc. Sometimes, if we had a few days off for the month, I only had $5 a week for food. PROTIP: A dozen eggs and a cheap loaf of bread will make several meals.

Any leftover money: Used to bribe local officials.

MORAL OF THE STORY: If you can pay your bills by strictly being an artist, do it. It’s worth the egg sandwiches.

I played football all through high school, but was never really much good at it. My freshman, year, though (in Carlyle, IL), I pulled off one feat that impressed even me.

Can’t remember who we were playing, but we were down, and I was playing defensive secondary. They were deep in their own territory, and the running back broke loose. He was on his way to an eighty-five-yard touchdown.

Not on my watch.

I quickly said “oh shit!” and sprinted toward the goal line, angling toward him from the right.

I was closing in, but he was not giving up. I ran as fast as I could, dove, and grabbed him by the ankle. He came down at the 2 yard line. Our meager fan base loved it.

They scored on the next play and we suffered a defeat, but still, ya know, I ran that bastard down.

The next day we were in English class with our buxom teacher, Dixie Parsons. And yes, she was as attractive and charming as her name implies. Long black hair, nice rack. In short: the kind of teacher a 15-year-old boy wants to impress.

One of my teammates asked, “Miss Parsons, did you see our game last night?”

She pondered a moment and said, “Yes, yes I did. And you know what impressed me the most? When Mr. Webel ran all the way down the field and tackled that guy.”

I can’t remember if I got an erection, but I probably did.

These days, we’re bombarded with information. TV, Internet, radio, you name it. So much news is thrown at us it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not. Especially when we have president who tells us certain news is fake news…which confuses things even further.

I took a class in college called “Critical Thinking.” It was a general education class – but one of the best gen ed classes I ever took.

Every class, we’d nitpick a few short articles; real articles from magazines. The professor (who was quite sharp, and looked like the singer from Midnight Oil) would literally dissect every sentence. Why did the author use this particular adjective or this particular phrasing? Why is the author mentioning something that doesn’t seem relevant to the story? Is the author, either bluntly or subtly, trying to sway you toward a particular type of thinking?

I learned a lot. (Got a B, though, because I missed too many classes due to hangovers.)

Anyway, use your head when you intake news. I used to write for a small-town newspaper, and I know how hard it can be, as a writer, to remain objective sometimes. Just be smart, think about every word and sentence you’re reading or hearing, and use your best impartial judgment.

Oh yeah – use those same standards for everything that comes out of the White House. And the president’s mouth.

Not long ago, Louis C.K. premiered a show, Horace & Pete, on his site. He wrote, directed and stars in it. You have to pay for the episodes, so I only watched a few (I’m cheap).

The show is set in a bar and revolves around its owners and patrons, kind of like a more existential “Cheers.” In one episode, two regulars start arguing politics.

Another regular steps in and says, “wait a minute. Let me ask you guys something.”

He asks the conservative, “what’s your description of a liberal?” The conservative lists several negative things.

He asks the liberal, “what’s your description of a conservative?” Likewise, a list of several negative things.

The intermediary asks, “if you both have this predetermined opinion of each other, how are you ever going to reach an agreement?”

Another regular laughs and says, “you think they WANT to agree?”

 

That pretty much sums up how I feel about US politics these days. It’s all us-versus-them. I lean to the left, mainly because I’ve always felt that democratic policies were more in line with my beliefs than republican policies.

But I’m willing to meet in the middle. We need to get this big ol’ USA ship righted again. If you can honestly get me to see the light about something, I’ll admit defeat and change my mind. But you should also be big enough to do the same.

In the meantime, all this name-calling and hatred isn’t getting the country anywhere. You know, “united we stand, divided we fall” and all that.

P.S. I still stand by my assertion that the president’s definitely not right in the head. Can we at least agree on that?