Pinching Pennies

pennychartI was obsessed with these pennies. Not at first; the obsession grew over the course of a couple weeks. Previously I had never liked these coins. I remember in my first week or two of working as a cashier, I wanted to strike up some small talk with one of the boy cashiers. I never knew what to say, so I made jokes. “I hate pennies,” I told my coworker. OK, so it wasn’t a joke, just a random thought that had made it past my verbal editorial board. “Panties?” he asked, half confused and half wanting to make a real joke out of it. “Hey guys, what do you do when a girl tells you she hates panties?” Ha ha. But it was true: I hated that little copper nonsense trinket.

A cent? What for? They only pass back and forth between polluted hands, unwashed, unwanted, unsung. Let’s eliminate the need for pocket clutter and just round up. Or down? This concept may be too Fascist for these times…

That dirty little Lincoln is the estranged, drug-addled, red-headed cousin of the affluent silver family. Quarters, nickels, and dimes; always useful. Fifty-cent pieces; yessir. Silver dollars; how regal! But pennies just make me eye the bottle of hand sanitizing gel, longing for hygienic absolution after every monetary transaction.

Bacterial colony living on copper coins.

Bacterial colony living on copper coins.

“You can keep the pennies,” many a customer has allowed me. Or better yet, “The register can keep the pennies.” No one wanted them. To make them sound important, I often counted change back to people in terms of pence. “Two pence is your change today!” Or: “Here is your 6p, good sir.” I was only hit back with blank stares. Occasionally I used “two bits” in place of “twenty-five cents,” but I really wanted to make the penny into something it wasn’t.

Until we got the new rolls.

The day they arrived in the register I barely noticed their fresh new packaging: paper rolls instead of plastic. However, when I twisted open the roll and released the coins into the drawer, my eyes thrilled at their sight: shining brand-spanking-new pennies from THIS YEAR, fresh from the mint, gleaming in their copper glory. My good god, these fresh beauties had never been spent, never been touched by filth-grubbing bums, never ground by a dirty boot into the feculence of the earth. They were sparkling virginal legal tender; the pride of US currency. I took it upon myself to defend and protect these little gems.

“And here are two shiny new pennies as your change,” I told one customer. He held the practically worthless two cents in his hand and stared at them as if they were either gold or shit. No one shared my pride. No one deserved this treasure.

After a few days of coveting these paper rolls in my drawer, I grew increasingly protective of them. If any tainted pennies rested in my drawer, I made sure to give them all out as change and empty the penny compartment completely before filling it with the new rolls. I’d give all the old rusted patina coins as change and secretly smile down at my own stash of brightly burnished copper.

I was fixated on them. Not even just my shiny new ones, but pennies in general had entered my greater consciousness; I looked out for them, desired them. A customer had left three cents on the counter, finding them unnecessary to take with him. This happens quite often and I find it somewhat generous, even if it was just a 100th of a dollar. The next customer came along and needed one of the pennies to complete his purchase of $40.01. I gladly allowed his use of the communal penny and started bagging his CDs. As I directed him to the front to pick up his bag, I watched his hand grab the remaining two cents. As we both walked toward the end of the counter, I eyed him tapping the pennies along the counter top nonchalantly as if he hadn’t just stolen money from us. He obviously planned on taking those two cents, even though he had just spent $40 on music. Even though he earned a salary, he simply couldn’t resist taking those two remaining dirty little coins.

“You can’t just take those. They’re for people to spend,” I called. My greater sense of perception understood how trivial the two cents were, but my overprotective cashier power came forth and secretly reveled in making him lose face over two cents. He fumbled them back onto the counter, apologizing.

I won.


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Exaltation from Above


It was a sultry July night and the static in the air was up to no good. Every occupant of the tenement pushed opened their windows into the dark indigo night hoping for a respite from the heat, a change in the mood, but there was no breeze to speak of, just a dull hum and the occasional frenzied cackle carried up from the street. The guy in the unit upstairs took this opportunity to stand by his window and slowly unravel an entire roll of packing tape. Without pause, slowly unraveling the tape as well as the rest of us.

“Hey man!” I yelled up to him through the stone-thick vermin-infested ceiling, “What are you DOING?” But the tape roll ran its course for the next 40 minutes straight. Only the distant intense wailing of a small child broke my tape-gun fixation. I wondered, was that child the guilty party behind the rotten diaper garbage stench that filled the entire building today? And just as the riotous clucking of the nocturnal tree-fowl heightened to an unbearable crescendo, I realized, we all die alone and this may be the last and most sublime sound that will enter my human ear holes before my corpse is shucked clean of its soul by an almighty demon god. [inspired by true events]

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Stories from the Block: Part 1 — Crazy TV

As an observer in this world, it can start to feel like the action around you isn’t real, but rather that you’re watching an episode on a screen. The task at hand is to dare to understand what you are observing and appreciate the spectacle.


A scruffy black man parks himself near a low tree on the sidewalk and begins his bombasts. His voice booms and carries into the air, clearly and loudly up to the 9th floor where I live. Even with my windows shut I can make out his words. His cadence and vocabulary are similar to those of someone with Tourette’s, but without the pauses in between outbursts. His discourse is peppered with blasphemies and accusations, blaming others for his insanity.

For hours he bellows into the open night, unleashing his angry and endless stream of consciousness made up of broken thoughts and enraged bitterness. He seems to never tire or run out of breath. His ranting can go on for hours into the night, only to be resumed in the early morning with that same tenor of anger and despair. His vocal chords strain under his epic fury and resentment, sometimes reaching a fever pitch of absolute bile. He might live in one of the halfway houses in the area. He might be homeless.

One day I stepped onto a bus and he was already aboard yelling directly in the faces of several passengers. He stooped, pushing his face within inches theirs, screaming at top volume, “You’re why I’m crazy! Why do I have to be crazy!!?!” He walked down the aisle getting in each face, roaring his profound question. Some passengers seemed intimidated and were obviously uncomfortable, but a large number of them simply ignored the man. A few began to snicker. Suddenly he panicked as if the bus was careering straight into the gaping chasm of Hell. He screamed ten times in a row, “Driver, let me off this bus!!”


As he stepped off, the laughing passengers became even more vocal in how droll they found the situation. “He has PTSD, from the war. I knew him back then,” one passenger revealed. They lived through something atrocious together, and now years later only one of them can laugh about it.

On my street, he stands below my window and lets his constant pain be known. Sometimes when I catch a phrase or two, I laugh a little myself, but otherwise it is deeply disturbing. Today he screamed for hours, but stopped when a fire truck and ambulance sped up to the corner with their sirens blowing. Another McDonald’s casualty?


The EMTs got out and rushed to a person who had collapsed at the corner of McDonald’s and Halfway House Row. Yelling man seemed fascinated by the action as he stood back and watched silently with a sideways glance. General Schwarzkopf’s doppelganger stepped out of the paramedic truck and helped hoist the body onto the gurney. An EMT kicked some small hard object into the crosswalk, pointed at it and then to the yelling man, scolding him firmly. What object could possibly have made the EMT so irate, blaming the now-hushed street man? A bit of a crack pipe? An undersized dildo? The General and the other EMTs quickly pushed the gurney back into the truck and drove off. Yelling man began wandering to another destination to work up the heated froth necessary for his next tirade. The streets are now more or less quiet, if only for a moment.

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Oakland Morning


Mornings in an urban neighborhood can be inscrutably stark. Last night’s chill remains in the air. Last night’s unbidden bodily fluids remain on the sidewalks, heaped in viscous knurls. Store owners are just arriving to set up shop and hose the mysterious gunge piles off the streets. Pedestrians can’t tell which puddles are hose-water and which are urine. The equivocal stains on these sidewalks only get deeper, more layered, everlasting. Ossified street folk are at the terminus of a dark day and preparing for their first bucolic nap in the sunshine.


Baby strollers and shopping carts packed with garbage bags must be carefully safeguarded from predators of every ilk. Inveterate Chinese scavengers begin their day poking through dumpsters collecting sluiced bottles and cans, wearing wide brimmed hats, gloves, and dust masks. Morning traffic yields to hobos pushing shopping carts filled with recyclables down the middle of the street, against traffic. The average bicycle, if properly secured, will balance up to four large garbage bags filled to capacity with glass. A shopping cart can hold around ten. Since it is a business district, Saturdays remain relatively quiet, even at 10am. All businesses are closed and gated, except for a spare few of the cafes. The majority of their customers will have begged and bargained for the change they use to buy their coffee, mumbling epithets as they inhale the heated brew.

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The Greek Body

The Ancient Greeks are thought to have had rather short lifespans, often ending in their 20s and 30s due to the chaos that was Ancient Greece. Yet, we know that many Greek philosophers lived into their 90s. Whether reaching their final days or the third-way mark, like us they suffered the multitude of physiological ailments that become upsettingly apparent by our 30s.

The Great Hippocrates of Kos, crackerjack of Western medicine. (Image by Wellcome Library)

The Great Hippocrates of Kos, crackerjack of Western medicine. (Image by Wellcome Library)

The Greeks focused their medicine on balance of hot, cold, wet, and dry, and of the four humors: phlegm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile. Hippocrates of Kos (460-377 BCE), the Grand Poobah of Modern Medicine, introduced some illuminative concepts to the world, such as the idea that diseases were caused by natural origins, not spiritual. How could he believe such heresy? A pox on him!

Hygieia, as daisy-fresh as the day she was born. (Image by  Alexander Handyside Ritchie)

Hygieia, as daisy-fresh as the day she was born. Image by Alexander Handyside Ritchie.

Hygiene comes from the Greek term hygieine techne, meaning ‘healthful art.’ The art is based on the discovery that keeping your parts clean is vital for health. Hygieia was the Greek goddess of health and cleanliness, but I’m sure even she had her moments where she let things ride in the same underwear for a few days. As we get older we ponder more about whether or not we should be licking doorknobs and subway poles, and whether to eat something off the floor (in front of someone). Hand sanitizer becomes something we purchase instead of just using a pump-full for free at the doctor’s reception desk.

Greek physician cutting to the chase. (Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

Greek physician cutting to the chase. (Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

Cholesterol comes from the ancient Greek terms chole, meaning ‘bile,’ and stereos, meaning ‘solid,’ describing the state of cholesterol first discovered in gallstones. The lipid cell is fundamental for biosynthesis in all animals. It builds membranes and maintains their fluidity. The issue that causes concerns is hyper- or hypocholesterolemia, an imbalance of cholesterol levels. In our 30s we begin to pay attention to conditions that affect cardiovascular health because we know our tickers’ days are numbered. Good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, HDL and LDL—which is which? Elevated LDL basically jams your arteries with fat and hardens them into pink strips of rebar. The Greeks used flaxseed to lower the bad cholesterol, and the guys in the Whole Foods HABA aisle will tell you to do the same thing.

Just let your blood flow like a mountain stream. (From England or Netherlands, 12th century.)

Just let your blood flow like a mountain stream. (From England or Netherlands, 12th century.)

Hemorrhoids, from the Greek haimorrhoides, meaning ‘flowing blood’ (also known as piles, which is actually from the Latin pila, meaning ‘balls’), are a delightful condition your aging body will get to know eventually. ‘Rhoids are the most common anal pathology and they love to make jokes about you—their favorite being, “Rectum? Damn near killed him!” Dear readers, I know it feels like the hemorrhoids are trying to kill you, but rest easy. They are now with you for the long haul. If they really bother you, you can traipse down to the druggist and have him do a loud-speaker stock check for Preparation-H, Tucks pads, or Anusol. Or you could opt for the Hippocratic method of treatment, burning, cutting, and drying with a hot iron.

Ring it proud! (Leper with a bell circa 1400.)

Ring it proud! (Leper with a bell circa 1400.)

Psoriasis, Greek for ‘itching condition,’ is an itchy, scaly rash that will drive you mad for the rest of your days, and may be one of mankind’s oldest skin diseases. However, this chronic, non-contagious, and usually genetic condition remains difficult to treat. Most people who are going to have it show signs by their 30s. Hippocrates introduced the usage of pine tar and topical arsenic to treat the unbearable itching. Prominent Greek physician Galen (133-200 CE) opted for a broth of boiled vipers—and I say, to each his own. Historically psoriasis was often confused for many other conditions. We now know that most biblical accounts of leprosy were actually psoriasis, but treated with the further stigma of shame. Patients believed to be lepers were forced to ring a bell or clapper to announce their unclean arrival, speak in only a whisper, and avoid touching anyone else. The good Ol’ Testament, spreading truth once again! It actually took hundreds of years to sort out the distinctions between the signs and symptoms of psoriasis and leprosy. If you are stricken with this malady, get yourself a good bell anyway. It’s your way of taking back the ailment and saying, “I’m here, I’m itchy, get used to it!” Cousin to our friend psoriasis is the illustrious Eczema, Greek for ‘something thrown out by heat’ or ‘to boil over’ referring to the boiling bubbling blisters. Eczema is another chronic, noncontagious skin condition characterized by itching, oozing vesicular lesions. Oh, the weeping!

Hippocrates also believed that sex cured diseases. Orgy for the cure!

Hippocrates also believed that sex cured diseases. Orgy for the cure!

Gonorrhea is a condition that may be more likely to strike you in your 20s when all caution and clothing are tossed to the wind, but still a formidable disease for 30-some-odds. The word comes from the Greek terms gonos (seed) and rhein (to flow), back when the copious flow of mucus was believed to be excess semen. So the next time you or your mate excretes a copious flow, you can exclaim, “Gonorrhea!” As one of the two ‘rrhea’ ailments we will discuss today, gonorrhea, (or ‘the Clap’ from the Old French clapoire, meaning ‘brothel’) can be treated with an antibiotic offensive. You may choose to do as the Greeks did and treat with liquid alum, dried figs, and wine, but please, research the ancient texts for dosage before self-medicating. Also worth a mention are Herpes and Chlamydia, the two Greek characters in the theatrical production of your genital tragedy. Herpes, a Greek word meaning ‘to creep,’ is an inflammatory viral condition that skulks through your body until a weakened immune response allows it to erupt. What a creep! Chlamydia, Greek for ‘mantle,’ cloaks all kinds of beasts with all kinds of infections.

It's just a shame, that's all. (John Arderne, circa 1425)

It’s just a shame, that’s all. (John Arderne, circa 1425)

Last, but certainly not least, we have diarrhea, the most common ‘rrhea’ of them all. Hippocrates is credited for coining the term diarrhoia, meaning ‘flowing through.’ Gastrointestinal conditions are just the tip of the malady iceberg that will give you grief in your 30s. You may find yourself pondering, what is “being regular” and how do I achieve it? If you have diarrhea, it could be the result of a number of health factors, as it is a symptom of numerous diseases and a byproduct of the guilty pleasure diet. Hippocrates recommended spontaneous vomiting to cease the fecal flow. Imodium is another route, albeit less dramatic. Either way, please wait a couple weeks before entering a public pool.

What about all the other oozing bodily fluids? (Image by Suzanne Alexander)

What about all the other oozing bodily fluids? (Image by Suzanne Alexander)

What else can we do but embrace our bodies’ imperfections and deterioration. As we breach the period of ‘middle age’ we learn that some of these horrid Greek disorders are here to stay. Proudly purchase your salves and creams and know in your hearts that Hippocrates would have wanted it that way. And whatever you do, do not image search any of the aforementioned conditions.



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Stalingrad, Not So Bad?

Suffering is inevitable these days.  Everyone you know is struggling, trying to find or maintain something decent, livable, a step up from anguish. No one is quite happy with their job, but those who have one clutch onto it as if it were a beloved child who will very soon grow up and disappear forever. Very soon.

Then there’s finding shelter. In the Bay Area this very basic need, which is in fact one of Maslow’s core physiological needs that happens to support the foundation of all others, is one of the grandest undertakings for the working-class populace. How low will you go to secure living quarters you can only just barely afford? Think of the worst neighborhood you would be willing to live in, the sketchiest building, the loudest neighbors, the longest commute to work. Visualize that place and imagine 200 San Francisco yuppies pleased as punch to come and snatch it away from you.

You and your new roomies just found a great apartment building!

You and your new roomies just found a great apartment building!

In today’s urban landscape it’s difficult to find a dwelling that doesn’t force you to recall false memories of the Battle of Stalingrad or a camping excursion in Auschwitz. People in their late 30s with two jobs must cohabitate with several others in order to afford a room in the city. These other roommates will probably still have not developed the rudimentary habits of personal hygiene, respecting others’ property, and paying rent and bills on time… if at all. The couch is covered in animal hair and the acute body odor of the band that slept on it for the last few nights. The roommates leave the house with the door unlocked, or wide open. They invite friends over who inevitably drink all your beer and use all the toilet paper only to depart leaving you with the fallout. Your ceiling will leak when it rains. Ants will invade your home permanently.

If you are unfortunate enough to share an apartment building with several other tenants, you will endure their sounds, smells, and invasions of privacy. At any given minute in the day, you will hear their car alarms, fake orgasms, bad music, loud TVs, screaming dogs, clamoring children, and petty arguments. You will smell their rancid cooking and off-brand incense and be forced to evacuate the building every time someone “cooks spicy food” that triggers the central fire alarm to ring in every unit. The fire trucks will rush to the scene and the alarm will ring out until every last layabout shuffles down the long stairwell.  Only then will the firemen usher the tenants back inside, shaking their heads in disdain.

The owners of the neighboring tenement buildings have the delusion of grandeur that their former halfway houses are now some sort of high-class suburban chateaus that require constant landscaping maintenance. Laborers are hired to arrive at 7AM on weekends to mow the lawns and prune the trees. The “lawns,” however, are strips of dirt dotted with garbage and dog excrement. That doesn’t stop this guy from breaking out the Line Trimmer to spruce up the glorified litter box:


Weed-whacking the dirt: productive and efficient!

This coveted living space, by the way, comes with a parking spot for an extra $200 per month. If you can’t swing that, you must move your car several times a week from one spot to another, usually underneath a bird-infested tree, otherwise you will owe the city $83 per day in tickets. In fact, even if you do move it to a non-street-sweeping spot, there is a good chance you will still get that ticket out of spite. Within two days on the city street your car will be covered in dozens of fecal spatters and a sticky dark film that can never be scrubbed off; not that you would ever pay for a car wash. But the one time you drove to your parents’ house and used their high-power car-washing supplies you discovered that the filth could not be removed.

Some guys got all the luck.

Some guys got all the luck.

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Holidays with Demons, Sadists, and Other Devourers of Children


Kiddies, consider yourselves warned (photograph by George Brett)

Winter holidays are a time of reflection, relaxation, and acting out our suppressed emotions by dressing up like sadistic demons. Let’s take a look at how cultures around the world celebrate the monsters and cryptid beasts of winter as they parade the streets, ward off evil spirits, and threaten little children.

Belsnickel – Pennsylvania Dutch/German
Belsnickel, a character from German lore, is a cantankerous tattered old man with a simple motivation: flogging children. The man is whip-crazy, hunting down mischievous kids and playing bad cop to Santa’s good cop. In Germany and Pennsylvania Dutch communities, Belsnickel appears in dilapidated furs and a sooty face, carries a bundle of switches, and terrifies the local naughty children with threats of a good thrashing. Belsnickel precedes the visit of St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, by a couple weeks ensuring that the wayward children rectify their behavior by Christmastime.

Belsnickel brandishing his twigs

Belsnickel brandishing his twigs (photograph by Peptobismolman1)

Pennsylvania German children can expect a violent scraping of birch switches at the door heralding Belsnickel’s arrival. The unkempt thing on the doorstep enters the home and questions the children’s righteousness. If the kiddies have been good, he tosses candies upon the floor. If they greedily scramble to retrieve the sweets, he scolds them with the sharp wrath of the switch. Can’t win, can you, kids?

Though several Pennsylvania German and Dutch communities have suffered the ire of Belsnickel for well over a century, they still invite him to the annual party. The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center in Kutztown, Berks County, and the Lehigh County Historical Society commemorate Christmas with a real life Belsnickel ready at the whip.

Kukeri and their towering fecundity

Kukeri and their towering fecundity (photograph by Klearchos Kapoutsis)

Kukeri – Bulgaria
In Bulgaria between New Year and Lent, the kukeri, or mummers, take to the streets in a striking masquerade and procession to banish evil spirits from the villages. Also taking place throughout the Balkans and Greece, the ritualistic pagan traditional finds men bedecked in elaborate towering costumes made of fur pelts, wooden masks and phalluses, and a belt of giant copper cowbells. Kuker is a deity who signifies fertility, celebrates the new agricultural season, and heralds in the regenerative resources of spring, the ancient new year. The ritual can be traced back to the Bulgarian’s Thracian ancestors, who deified Dionysus, a god of wine, sex, madness, and other physical ecstasies. The kukeri visit the homes of the village, by force if need be, and symbolically bless them with a prosperous year. They often act out dramatic scenes, including acts of sex, death, and rebirth.

Kukeri on the prowl

Kukeri on the prowl (photograph by Elena Chochkova)

The Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games (Mummer’s Games), established in 1966, held in Pernik, is the largest folklore festival of Bulgarian culture.

Here comes Krampus (photograph by Giulio)

Here comes Krampus (photograph by Giulio)

Krampus – Alpine countries
Krampus, Krampus, Krampus, where do we begin? Named for the old German word for “claw,” this bestial creature has scratched his way to commercial success as the bad boy of the Yuletide season. Krampus plays the anti-St. Nicholas in a vision of evil magnificence: hulking, blackened, and goat-like, with sharpened horns and a serpentine tongue. While primarily clomping his cloven hoof (the other foot being a claw-pronged bear paw) across the lands of Austria, Southern Germany and other Alpine countries, his reputation has emerged in cultures all across Europe as the most infamous of holiday demons. Similar to many of our mythical creatures of the pre-Christian holiday season, Krampus serves to strike fear in the hearts of young babes. Yet, where other beasts merely threaten punishment to the immoral, Krampus kidnaps them and whisks them away to his evil den.

Krampus drooling over the prospect of thrashing naughty young tots (photograph by Horst A. Kandutsch)

Krampus drooling over the prospect of thrashing naughty young tots (photograph by Horst A. Kandutsch)

Mari Lwyd's gaping skull (photograph by Andy Dingley)

Mari Lwyd’s gaping skull (photograph by Andy Dingley)

Mari Lwyd – Wales
Next, on New Year’s Eve, we travel to Wales, where Yuletide revelry is still in full force. Cups of Wassail punch are passed around to the sounds of clinking glass and merriment, perhaps in preparation for a Noson Gyflaith (Toffee Evening). Suddenly you hear a knock at the door. Is it a group of carolers? Why no, it’s Mari Lwyd, the wraithlike specter of an old grey horse who’s gaping skull seems to float above a mass of ectoplasm, and she wants inside your home. You’re sort of obligated to let her in and appease her with cakes, ale punch, and even money. The village of Llangynwyd, near Bridgend holds re-enactments of the ritual with burning torches succeeding the Mari on New Year’s Eve.

The Badalisc knows about all of your bad things (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

The Badalisc knows about all of your bad things (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

Badalisc – Val Camonica, Italy
Hailing from Val Camonica, Italy, the Badalisc, or Badalisk, is a woodsy creature who is dumb as a stick and looks like one, too. Appearing as an oversized worm with an enormous, furry, horned head, flashing eyes, and gaping mouth, his main form of malevolence revolves around annoying the community with his insipid gossip. The village of Andrista celebrates the feast of Badalisc in a ritualistic tradition every year during the period of Epiphany on January 5th and 6th. The Badalisc is captured by the townspeople and dragged around the village while being lured by a sexy young woman. After some typical old world drumming, fighting with a hunchback, and bickering with the witches, the Badalisc gives his speech, exposing the transgressions of society. Eventually he is set free to crawl back into the woods until the local residents have racked up enough sinful stories for Badalisc to reveal the following year.

Badalisc in action (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

Badalisc in action (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

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Mustache Monomania


Typical mustache-themed pollution found among the thriving aquatic plants in Oakland’s Lake Merritt

Baby hipster

Baby hipster

Fake mustache tolerance runs rampant

Oakland is the only city in California listed on the notorious “America’s Most Mustache Friendly Cities” report. Hence, we predictably encounter the detritus of the inexplicably still-popular parody: the fake mustache. The use of the fake mustache attempts to mock society, yet at the same time blindly follows its hackneyed fads. The paper backing shown above had been pulled from a stick-on mustache that was undoubtedly attached to the tender upper lip of an innocent toddler, who I assume was also donning a hoodie and sunglasses. This whole charade just goes to show that no toddler is truly innocent and that young Oakland parents want their kids to look like the Unabomber, or just porn stars. Either way, the babies are exhibited as the farcical caricature of well-manicured sexually mature men—the male counterpart and precursor to the immoral abomination we know as the pageant girl.


Sexy (Asian?) baby


Sexy baby parties


a.k.a. male infant

To those parents, congratulations! You have a sexy lil man as a baby! I know you reveled in launching that miniature grown-up man from your womb. America loves a sexy baby, so thank you for contributing to this perverse movement. However, if you knew that your baby was fully facial-haired in utero you would have ripped him from your loins and torn him piecemeal, shrieking like a banshee, and you probably wouldn’t have thrown a mustache-themed Lil Man party for him. What if he offers mustache rides to all the little pageant girls at the party? Try to hold back from sexualizing your stylish child. If you’re fortunate, he will eventually grow up to be the Big Man of your dreams:

Baby, full grown

Your baby, full grown

Lil Women?

Alternately, the female version of Lil Men could be Little Women, which summons images from Louisa May Alcott’s famed Victorian novel about four young girls who fussed about their hair and lamented over their poverty. Their dear mother “Marmee” tells the girls, “If Jo would only wear a fake mustache, she could get a real job and support us useless womenfolk.”

In adult society, the faux whiskers are applied in an empty, slapdash manner. Lest we forget what happens when such an unexceptional object receives high ironic status and is bandied about willy-nilly:


Woman wakes from surgery to find doctors put moustache and teardrop stickers on her face


Finally, you’re welcome for not posting any images of real babies with fake mustaches. But please, when in public, pick up your mustache-shaped litter so the ducks don’t choke to death on your self-adhesive charm.

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Gentrification Mutation

Oakland natives

Oakland natives

The effects of gentrification are taking their toll on my Oakland neighborhood, with the most recent intrusion developing within the bird population. We’ve grown accustomed to our ragtag pigeons, scavenging lake gulls, and black-crowned herons who scream, cackle, and squawk into the night. Their birdy cacophony entwines with the discordant howls of the local vagrants. These birds are not the most elegant or ideal as far as fowl demographics go, but they’re OURS.

Suddenly a new feathered tourist has come to town. A fair-weather opportunist. A songbird. Turdus migratorius be his name, also known as the American Robin. His wearisome song consists of a single repetitive, maddening note that he broadcasts ad nauseum ALL NIGHT LONG. And also, ALL DAY. His tirelessness and arrogance are an affront to the local bird residents. He lazily roosts in one tree morning and night, sipping his $5 soy latte while displacing the scrounger birds who are indispensable for pecking the previous night’s vomit off the sidewalks as if it’s a delicacy. I will look into the zoning laws in this area, but I’m open to suggestions. I’m considering organizing a collective nonviolent direct action to pressure this bird out.

Sample the soundtrack:

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Choose Your Stance

St. Paul the Hermit — Jusepe de Ribera

St. Paul the Hermit — Jusepe de Ribera

Functioning in densely populated areas can be a challenge for any decent human. Survival, even on a purely psychological level, depends on your approach to each interaction. Remember, you must welcome the situation no matter how dismal and destructive it seems. First commit to an attitude so that you can then focus on specific situational responses. Choose from the following:

 1. “I hate people.”

When you look up from your inevitable gaze toward the ground and see another person, at least you have already prepared your opinion of them: hatred and disgust. You despise them all equally, thus your expression never need change according to the subject at hand. No extra time is needed to form feelings or thoughts about each individual lout who passes your way. They are all scum and you are secure in knowing that.


2. “I’d rather avoid people, but I recognize that occasional exposure to them keeps me from becoming a mumbling hermit who hoards soiled napkins and tiny bits of plastic wrap.”

That weekly trip to the market might be keeping some folks from turning into Unabombers in their hovels of solitude. Shut-ins may act awkward in social situations, especially while in retail shops and public transportation vehicles, but it’s a good thing for them to air themselves out once in a while.


3. “The landlord and credit companies insist that I maintain an income, and most jobs require being around other people.”

The “objective” section of your resume claims that you love to help people! Note: all positions require that you either work around other people or that your personality does not reveal antisocial tendencies. You’ve embraced the charade just enough for you to function around others and satisfy your basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, sufficient health, friendship, transportation, mobile plan, internet, and whatever supplies your addictions.


4. “I love people. “

No one believes you, but OK.


Now that you’ve chosen a stance, we can progress to specific situations you will face on your mortal odyssey.

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