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The Demerits of Missing Toes – 2014 Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition Winner

Nobody knew how the Marshalls got that trailer on that building in the first place. Hell, the Marshalls didn’t know how the Marshalls got that trailer on that building in the first place. If anybody remembers anything about it a’tall, they’re not talking. Though Clarence Marshall, family patriarch and present-your-honor the night it happened, figures that it was the business end of some red-blooded drinkin’ and drivin’. And back before the kids came along, they used to get drunk. A lot. Blackout drunk. Wake-up-the-next-day-with-the-house-on-top-of-the-goddamned-bank drunk.

 

Most landlords would have probably evicted the Marshalls long ago, and I’m pretty sure Arthur Castlerock would have too if anybody could figure out how to get the damn thing down. Since nobody could, he just started charging them rent, and the Marshalls just started paying it. The deal didn’t seal without some amount of dispute, deals rarely do. But at the end of it all, the trailer became part of the Marcott County Bank building. It probably violated the hell out of just about any code you could dig up, but nobody was digging anything up, and the only laws most folks concerned themselves with were the laws of physics. But the Marshalls always had a special relationship with the law, physical or otherwise, and the law had spoken.

 

I met Titus Marshall when I was two weeks shy of seventh grade and visiting my dull aunt and uncle down the country. When I came upon him, he was with a pack of kids wandering around Bloody Creek at the edge of town looking for a toe that had gone missing.

 

“What’cha looking for?” I asked politely.

 

A small fellow, about my age, pointed at a big boy sitting by the creek, “My brother’s toe. It came off right about here.”

 

“A toe? The kind grows out of your foot?”

“Yeah, that kind. You seen a toe around here?”

 

“Which toe is it?” I asked.

 

“The one he lost, fool,” said the boy.

 

“No, I mean which toe on the foot?”

 

“Hey Jake,” the boy yelled.

“Yeah?”

“Which toe you lose?”

“The one’s missin’, stupid,” he yelled back.

 

“Naw, like which one on the foot?”

“Oh,” Jake looked down, “Pinkie.”

“You sure?”

 

“Pretty sure.”

 

The boy turned back to me, “It’s the pinkie. You’d know to see it.”

 

I said that I hadn’t seen any toes today, but if I saw one, I’d bring it on by. I asked how it went missing.

 

“Well Jake was choppin’ up bullfrogs with the hoe–”

 

“Chopping up bullfrogs?” I asked.

 

“Dead ones. Anyway he was standing too close and must’ve chopped off his toe along with.”

 

I was impressed. “Why isn’t he screaming?”

 

“Happened so fast, he never felt a thing.”

 

I told him that it might be easier to keep track of your toes if you did less chopping. He said yeah, but what could you do? Life had to be lived, toes or no toes.

“I suppose,” I said.

“Well, it was good talking to you, but I’d best get back to finding that toe. You see a toe, bring it on by,” and he was gone.

 

That night, when Aunt Marcie asked me if I’d managed to make any friends, I gave an account of my adventures. My mother said that I wasn’t to make friends with the sort of people who lose toes. I asked her how you could know if anybody would lose a toe until they did. She said you could just tell.

 

“But how?” I asked.

 

“Don’t play with those boys again,” growled my father, “Mind your mother.”

I said I’d mind as best I could, but I maintained it was pretty hard to predict toe-losing propensities in anyone until it was too late. Aunt Marcie explained later that people who went around chopping up dead bullfrogs were probably more likely to lose toes than those who didn’t and that if I paid attention to the things people did, it might help me to identify the kinds of people who tended to lose things like toes.

 

I had started the next day with the fullest intentions of minding my mother like I told everybody I would, and sat myself outside with my uncle’s blind dog Clovis with the bright idea of teaching it to fetch, figuring that would round up some chuckles, if nothing else. But Clovis’s flat refusal to use any of her remaining senses gave me a case of selective memory, and by two-thirty, my mother’s Absolute Law started to look more like a Friendly Suggestion, and I found myself on my way back to the creek. I did a pretty good job convincing myself that since there weren’t any rules on going to the creek, no rules were being broken. If there happened to be kids at the creek, toeless or otherwise, I couldn’t much help that, and it would be impolite not to say a friendly hey.

As it turned out, the boy I had met yesterday was there, and this time he was alone, building a small fort out of twigs. I recognized him immediately. He was wearing the same clothes.

 

“Hey,” I said politely.

“Hey yourself,” he said.  

“Just wondering if you ever found that toe.”

 

“Oh, that? Naw, we never did find it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“No worries. Life’s just like that sometimes.” He traced a pattern in the dirt thoughtfully with his index finger for a few seconds, “You still got all your toes?”

 

“Yeah.”

“That’s good,” said the boy thoughtfully, “Yeah… Keep ‘em if you can. What’s your name?”

 

“Laurie.”

 

“Laurie? I never met a boy named Laurie.”


“It’s short for Lawrence,” I said, “It was my grandfather’s name.”

“What was your grandma’s name, Stan?” He laughed, “I’m Titus. My parents got some sense. You can’t make fun of my name.”

I told him Tight Ass would work just fine. He rolled his eyes.


“Tight Ass.” I chuckled at my genius, and received a sock on the arm.

“You still got all your toes?” I asked.

 

“So far,” Titus said.

 

“You think you’re gonna lose any?”

 

“No plans to.”

“Then you should come by the house. We’re here for the week. I can ask my Aunt Marcie to make shepherd’s pie.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“You’ll like it.”

Titus said he probably would, since he liked a good dose of pie, and that he’d bring Jake, who was also a fan. I explained that I wasn’t supposed to associate with the likes of folks who couldn’t even hang on to their own toes. A shadow passed over his face, and he said if Jake weren’t welcome, he weren’t welcome either, simple as that. We speculated on the demerits of missing toes until Titus had the bright idea that maybe my parents meant that I wasn’t supposed to fraternize with Marshalls.

“What are Marshalls?” I asked.

 

“Us.”

 

“What’s wrong with Marshalls?”

 

Titus said he didn’t know specifically what was wrong with Marshalls. Sure, they lost toes from time to time, but who didn’t? Sure, sometimes they liked to get drunk down’t the legion, or re-market borrowed shopping carts, or accidentally set fires (usually after coming back from the legion), but truthfully, he said, it was more likely about where they lived than anything.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

 

“Downtown on top of the bank.”

 

I tried to picture that, and failed.

“The bank downtown yonder. It’s the only one. You can’t miss it.”

 

“And you live on top of it?” The idea fascinated me.

 

“Yup. We got a trailer on the roof.”

Titus had a strange habit of pronouncing roof ruf. I couldn’t figure out if he was kidding or not. That was something I was starting to like about Titus Marshall. You couldn’t tell if the fool was kidding or not. The things he said were so far stupid, they cycled back around to wise, like those riddles inside the chinese cookies. Love is better than hate. Holy shit, cookie. You’re goddamned right it is. I mean, it’s so obvious, but I never really thought about it that way before.

 

“We’re not from here,” I explained, “We’re just in town visiting my aunt and uncle for the week. My parents have no idea where you live, so it won’t matter.”

“If you have family here, they’ve already told your folks all about us.” Probably, he speculated, years before I was even born. I told him there was enough stuff going on in my own family right now to keep their jaws too busy to worry about a trailer on a roof, like my sister living with some guy she wasn’t even married to. That was big-ticket gossip. It was all anybody talked about these days. Titus said if you think about it, it’s like that with every family, and yet somehow every family in the county found the time to talk about the Marshalls.


While I chewed on that, Titus asked me if I liked to read.

“Sure do,” I said, “I just finished the Knightfall story-arc.”

“No, fool, those are comics. I mean do you like to read?”

 

Titus claimed he had read all the classic adventure books that I had always just assumed you avoided until school made you read them: Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book.

“Don’t be stupid,” I said, “The Jungle Book is a movie.”

“Yeah, but before it was a movie, it was a book. Movie’s bullshit anyway. You need to read the book to really git it.”

I thought about that and shrugged. “Naw,” I said, “I guess I don’t like to read.”

“I like to read as much as I can so I can study on how to write a book someday,”

“Write a book?”

 

“Yeah, why not?”

 

“About what?”

 

“Philosophy.”

 

“What’s that?” I asked.

 

“Reckoning on things.”

 

“You mean like whether or not the last Simpsons was any good?”

 

No, Titus explained, it wasn’t much like that at all. It was more along the lines of whether God was really just a space alien or whether everybody that looked at a blue chair saw the same thing. Stuff like that, he said, was what a philosopher reckoned on the most.

 

“Is that what you want to do when you grow up,” I asked, “be a philosopher?”

 

“Figuring to,” he said.

“Damn, dude, God ain’t no space alien though.”

 

“How do you know?” Titus asked, “You ever met God?”

 

“Well, no,” I said, “And who cares? Say you’re right. I still gotta go back to school in two weeks even if He is.”

 

Titus told me that I had just been philosophizin’.

 

“I’m gonna be a firefighter when I grow up,” I said proudly.

 

“You gonna drive one of those big red cocksuckers and put out fires, huh?”

 

“Yup,” I said, “I think that’s the bravest job a person can do. Braver than being a philosopher.”

“Tell that to Socrates,” Titus said with a smile.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

 

“Well ol’Socrates was this Greek philosopher back about a million years ago. Socrates never told a lie. Didn’t believe in it. He told the truth no matter what. But people don’t much like to hear the truth.”

“That’s dumb,” I said, “ Ain’t people always saying ‘Tell me the truth’?”

Titus said, “The next time your teacher asks if you wanna learn or sit there and daydream all day, tell her the truth and see what happens. Grownups only tell you they want to hear the truth so they can figure out how bad to punish you. Anyway, Socrates always told the truth, no matter how much it pissed people off. And the government decided they had to get rid of’im because he was makin’ everybody look really bad. So they killed him.”

“How did they kill him?” I asked.

“Made him drink hemlock. That’s poison. Plato was another really smart guy. Probably the smartest that ever lived. He was Socrates’ student, and it wasn’t long after ol’Socrates was killed that the shifty bastard came up with the Noble Lie.”

“What’s that?”

 

“He says that it’s ok to lie as long as the lie helps folks.”

 

I thought about this, “You mean like when you tell a girl she looks pretty even when she looks like a truck?”

 

“Something like that, yeah,” Titus said. He didn’t know too much about it. As far as he figured though, when your teacher is murdered because he’s too honest, you better get busy on preaching lie-telling. A noble lie, Titus figured, was the easiest way to do that and still let people hang on to the feeling they get when they do the right thing.

 

I was astounded. The most thought I’d ever put into lying was to figure out how much I could get away with. I wasn’t totally sure what noble meant, but I was fairly confident it wasn’t that. “And you wanna do this when you grow up?” I asked, “Shoot, isn’t it just easier to grow up and do what your daddy does?”


“I don’t want to do what my daddy does,” Titus said with a laugh.

I asked him what his daddy did and he told me his daddy didn’t do anything but drink at the legion and stick trailers on rufs.

I told him that was something. He just gave me a weird look and said I didn’t git it. I was getting tired of hearing about all the things I didn’t git. I gave up trying and asked him how the trailer got on the roof of the bank in the first place.

 

“Nobody really knows. They just woke up on the ruf one day. That’s just something happens in our family. Folks wind up on top of things and nobody really knows how they got there.”

“Don’t you remember?” I asked.
No, Titus said. It’d been up there longer than he’d been alive. From what he understood, one of the more industrious Marshall kin, in charge of operating a large crane at work the day it all happened, decided to knock off early with a pint of whiskey. Only problem was, he forgot to leave work after he knocked off of it and wound up driving the crane out past the farms where the trailer used to sit. By that time, Clarence was well beyond drunk himself and as near as the two of them can figure, they must have somehow hitched the trailer to the crane, towed it into town and hoisted it on top of the bank. All Clarence really knew was that he woke up the day after all the shit and terror with a dreadful hangover and a damn good view of town. And that, Titus explained, was why people didn’t like the Marshalls. They did things like live on rufs, lose toes, re-market shopping carts, become philosophers. Things like that Just Happened to the Marshalls. I said it wasn’t a good reason to not like somebody. Titus said there weren’t many good reasons not to, when it came right down to it, but folks like my family always found a way to justify it.

 

“Like my family?” I asked, “I told you. My parents don’t know you. And they always told me that you should never…” I searched for the word, “… that you should never be judgmenting of people. They harp on about it all the time, so you don’t have to worry about them. They’re cool.”

 

“Your parents are talking about folks in a courtroom or foreigners who don’t speak English saying somethin’ stupid by accident. When it comes to honkey rednecks living life the way they see fit, folks like your parents are the first ones to holler about how us living life by our own business is their business.”

 

I bristled. “What, did you read that in a friggin’ book too? Is there some book telling you how my parents are when you haven’t even met them?”

 

“I don’t need no books to tell me that if my brother ain’t welcome around your place just because his toe is missing, then I’m probably not welcome there either.”

 

“My folks just don’t want me losing a toe too,” I said, “that’s all.”

“This ain’t about toes,” Titus said, “Your folks probably let you run around with all kinds of people who do fool things and don’t think nothing of it.”

Of course not, I almost said but wait now… This was something. I thought back to last year when that jackass Clint Hayward flung his idiot self off our pump-house. He was aiming for the pool but missed it by about five feet. He spent the rest of the summer between his house and ours being waited on by my mother and showing off his cast. A cast that, by the time school was back in, was so covered in signatures, it looked like the wall of the old mill after the ninth-graders had been at it. And what about Carrie Pernette? Running laps in phys-ed when she turned around to wave to her friends and barreled smack into a box horse, busting her leg, arm and nose? My mother practically had us married in her mind even though she was such a klutz, she’d probably set the house on fire getting up a bowl of Cheerios.

 

“So accidents are the same as losing a toe?”

“You think that shit yesterday wasn’t an accident?” It was impressive, the calm way in which he cussed, like he was checking the TV Guide. “You think Marshalls wake up saying to themselves, ‘It’s a mighty fine day to lop off a toe.’? Like we deserved it?”

“It’s not that anybody deserves to have bad things happen,” I said, “It’s just that with some people, you’re not surprised.”

 

“That’s everybody. It’s not fair that people like your parents are always changing their mind on what’s ok because of who someone’s daddy is.”

 

I was getting frustrated. Titus’s tricking way of taking my parents out of context was making me begin to doubt their sincerity. Telling me that he knew my parents better than I did was annoying enough, but that he was making sense in a way I’d never seen before was just too much. And sitting there, thinking about it, about the trending topics of their gossip, about who could be trusted in our hometown and who couldn’t? Yup. The bastard was making dreadful good sense.

 

The Folks Who Can’t Be Trusted demographic at home was the mountain folk, who townies affectionately called ‘Roneys’, named for one of the larger family groups that made its home on the North Mountain. And up to now I had assumed the All-Roneys-Are-Bad-Roneys phenomenon was the result of some mysterious, corrupting influence found at higher altitudes. But it was beginning to dawn on me that the only authority I had on their inherent badness came from people who didn’t even associate with them, people like my folks. All that trouble they allegedly caused was only evident in idle gossip and almost never in concrete example. One incident stood out in my mind like a stronghold against the growing fog of doubt, regarding a stunt a Roney kid pulled during a math test last March. He had taken off his shirt and written dirty words on his chest in permanent marker. The teacher had called him revolting. That word stood out more than the act itself. Revolting. And I remember thinking it was not only revolting, it was typical. Typical of Roneys to do Roney-fool things like write cuss words on themselves, typical of Roneys to be revolting, somehow forgetting that Clint Hayward spent the better part of that same year in and out of detention for chronic fuckery, most of which was at least that mindlessly stupid. At the time, I guess I thought it was somehow different. Now I wasn’t so sure. I was starting to worry that maybe I had the wrong folks. And if the wrong folks were actually the folks right here at home and I hadn’t even seen it, where did that leave me? Sitting by a creek with a smug asshole who had my number and knew it, that’s where it left me.

 

But at that age, and in that time, I didn’t have the words to express that. So I did the best I could with the words I had. “You take that back,” I said.

 

“There ain’t nothing to take back, son” Titus said calmly, “Because it’s the truth. I can tell by your face it’s the truth.”

“Aw fuck right off with that shit,” I said, giving the f-word its first test-drive. It felt impressive and I took it out for another spin. “Fuck you.”

 

“Come on,” Titus said, “I’m saying how most folks are if you watch what they do instead of listen to what they say. And if your folks told you to avoid us all because ol’Jake lost a toe, then your folks are most folks. That’s all I’m sayin’,” He looked at me strangely, “I’m not saying you’re like that. I don’t even really know you. I’m saying you can’t know what it’s like to meet folks like that unless you come from folks like us. So when I say I don’t want to come over, I mean I don’t want to come over. It ain’t nothin’ on you. You ain’t your parents. At least you ain’t yet.”

 

I don’t quite remember who started it but the next thing I knew, we were rolling around on the ground beating the living cobalt blue out of each other. I was strong, but Titus was fast, and when it was all over, each of us was sporting a black eye. My nose was bleeding and Titus was favouring his right arm.

 

We didn’t say much for a good few minutes. I was confused, angry and hurt. I hated my parents. I hated that jackass Clint Hayward. I hated Socrates and I hated myself for not knowing The Jungle Book was an actual book, and not just a movie with a weird name. But most of all, I hated Titus Marshall.

“You busted up much?” I asked.

 

“Ain’t too bad. You’re gonna want to put some bacitracin on that mess before your ma sees it,” he said.

 

“Probably,” I said.

We sat on for a few more minutes, but everything felt different and there didn’t seem much else to talk about other than the Batman Knightfall story arc (which Titus had also read, in his spare time, of course). I had the stubborn sense of wanting to stay and talk to him, while simultaneously wanting to get the hell out of there. I felt like something needed fixing so badly it was probably too broke for fixing.

 

Finally I gave up and said I best be getting on home. Titus said he reckoned so. As I walked up the bank, I looked back a few times but Titus had returned to his twig fort as if the last hour had just been another hour. I walked at a pace to beat the devil, chasing the sun west, dreaming up noble lies to take home.

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An open letter to the magical unicorn that poops cheeseburgers

North Korea is once again back in the news. And once again, for the stupidest of possible reasons. Right on the heels of threatening the USA for a Seth Rogan movie, the whiney little bitch everybody loves to hate is now threatening South Korea for putting a Christmas tree too close to the border. ON THE SOUTH KOREAN SIDE OF THAT BORDER which means north korea should, by all accounts, suck it.

Enough is enough with all the threats, North Korea. I’m pretty sure the global community has their number. I mean… First of all, north korea is poor as fuck. They don’t even HAVE AN ECONOMY. It is at a dead standstill where the only job worth having is helping a geologically dead nation perpetuate the myth that it’s not dead. So where they’re getting all these magical bombs they keep threatening everybody with from is anybody’s guess but MY guess is that they’re fully expecting a member of the Kim family to shit some out of his ass like a magical unicorn that poops cheeseburgers. Because North Korea is logical like that.

Second of all, what will they do next? Send in their emaciated army who spends so much time organizing parades for the Dear Cocksuc.. er.. LEADER… that they barely know what a trigger is and couldn’t figure it out anyway because they’re so hungry their stomachs are eating their own brains?

And no respectable leader of a country like North Korea would send it’s pissant army to invade a country that actually has food, water and the right to wear t-shirts that say “fuck” on them and expect them to come back. I’m guessing half those troops want to get their asses across that border just so they can blend into the surrounding population and finally live in a country with working toilets. So any threats of an invasion can pretty much be laughed off since the worst thing that will come of it is a giant influx of North Korean defectors ready, willing and overly eager to swear allegiance to the first non North Korean country that will have them. (Read: South Korea, patron saint of those poor North Korean nationals who are so desperate to get out, thousands risk their lives and die daily just trying)

North korea reminds me of that kid in middle school who was a total sniveling asshole to everybody and then, as soon as he was told to fuck off, threatened everybody with his “insert-vague-relation-here” who was “with the CIA/FBI/Illuminati” and would “shoot us sniper style” the second we left school for daring to not love him as much as he loved himself. Whatever. Words.

Fuck you north korea “Take down your tree, stop making your movie”

Stop sucking a giant bag of dicks, how about that for a start?

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Literary engineering

I am almost starting to think that once the characters are developed, once the story is mapped out and once the characters agree to being part of the story, THIS is your next step. 

Write the first line. Write the last line. Then it’s just a question of coloring inside the lines.

Those lines will likely change in terms of things like adjectives. But the point is that their shape should stay the same.

The only thing I can write worth a damn are my own sorry opinions on things. But my voice is more suited to fiction. This presents a problem because instead of already having the story at my disposal, i have to engineer it. Little resources like this are really a godsend for an imbecile.

http://firstlinelastline.blogspot.ca/

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I dreamed up this man last week and i killed him

In the spirit of my many generous donations to the Society of My Kids’ Bad Choices, I hereby leave my two useless sons these three beans, which I used your inheritance to purchase while drunk at a pub in Yorkshire. It is still a wiser investment than either of you two pisspots ever made.

To my beloved succubus Sara I leave you nothing and have instead chosen to give it to Dale Buford, your gold-digging lover, in the sincerest hope that the only thing of yours he wanted to get his hands on was your money.

My remaining forty million I leave to Conrad Little, the poor devil my jackass son fired last week on a dare. My fortune is yours on the stipulation that you make a point to rub it in his face as often and as opulently as possible. I don’t know where I went wrong but I leave you the means to make it right.

And finally to the Edgewood Historical Society, this is rather awkward as I have been officially broke since the start of this sentence so I can only offer my humble apologies for pissing on your bust of Churchill in 2004. Please understand it was purely political and had nothing to do with my feelings about the historical society at large. I do not bear you any ill will for subsequently removing me from the Board of Governors. Had I been in your position, I would have done the same thing.

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Happy Birthday

Last year on my birthday, I had just gotten out of surgery. Shortly after that, my eldest cat passed away from lung cancer. This year, at a hotel in Texas, i watched a small yellow bird fly into a glass wall and die. Right in front of me.

If i were a superstitious person, I’d probably be feeling worried. If I were a metaphorical person, I’d probably be wondering what my place is in the world. But as a rational person, I think the answer is far more simple.

There comes a point in every life where things shift. Where things stop building up and start falling away. Where death is no longer a mysterious villain hiding in the shadows. There comes a point in life where it starts to stand a little closer, hides a little less. Starts to look vaguely familiar. There comes a point in life where the world you have built around you starts to flake and peel. And I think there comes a point in life where you feel yourself slowly begin to disintegrate alongside it. And I think with every passing birthday, you feel this especially keenly. After all, the average life is full of dead birds. Most of them we eat.

The death of that little yellow creature today? That was just damn bad luck. Bad luck for the bird. Bad luck for me, who happened to walk outside just as she came in for her final landing. Bad luck for the elderly groundskeeper I found  around the corner, who helped me take her out of the rain.

A few hours later, I saw that same groundskeeper walking through the lobby and our eyes met. And that look he gave me… was welcoming. An old person nearing the end of his life looking at a young person nearing the end of the beginning of her life and between our mutual gaze, all those years in between.

I treated myself to an omelet and mimosa for breakfast. Because it’s my birthday and because a fella deserves eggs and alcohol for breakfast on her birthday.

Robert Frost once said that he could sum up life in three words. It goes on. Robert Frost is dead now. And that should probably depress me but you know something? It doesn’t. I chose to find it hilarious. Because it’s my birthday.

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The Art of Revenge (Alternate Working Title: F-U Sun Tzu)

Do any of you know anything about hedgehogs? Hedgehogs are amazing animals. When you disturb them, their cute little harmless raccoon faces ball up into their little house of spines. Those spines are sharp and pretty much impenetrable to anything less destructive than a nuclear bomb. And people look at a balled up hedgehog and think to themselves “How cute is this? Li’l fella can turn into an urchin when disaster strikes. D’awww… Cute little coward. Just runs and hides. He’s a good hider, that cute little coward. Awww..”

But hedgehogs have another defense.

They are immune to snake poison.

Most people don’t know that hedgehogs more or less eat snake poison like most Americans eat Fruit Loops. Pretty much any snake poison you can think of. That shit is like candy to those little bastards. And every once in awhile, the hedgehog decides “Hell man, I feel like fucking with a snake today because fuck snakes. Snakes suck. They slither through the grass fucking with everybody.

Not today, asshole. Not. Fucking. Today.”

A hedgehog has been known to engage in the sport hunting of snakes. Sometimes it eats the snake it kills but mostly it just slaughters them in cold blood and moves on.

Because fuck snakes.

Salman Rushdie said this once: “I didn’t want to become some embittered old hack getting his revenge for the rest of my life. But I didn’t want to become some scared creature cowering in a corner either. I remember telling myself not to carry the hatred around so i put it away, although I know where it is. I have it in a trunk in storage.”

Never underestimate my ability to haul that dirty bitch out any time i want.

If you want to get into the philosophy regarding the quality of revenge, then there is some valuable truth in the old saying that living well is the best revenge. This old gem isn’t suggesting that you fuck over everything that moves in a desperate and myopic journey to becoming drunk with power so that you can puke the contents of its hangover all over your childhood tormentors. Besides, the whole ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” style of revenge is played out. Romantic, yes but impractical in today’s world and even more than that, a badge to just how much his nemesis had controlled him all of those years. Sure. He became an artistically skilled fencer. Sure. He made some great friends along the way. Sure. Eventually he killed the six fingered man. And i’m sure that it felt good. Why wouldn’t it feel good to kill the object of a lifelong obsession? He had to kill him, not because the six fingered man had once killed his father but because Montoya’s obsession with that dirty rat-bastard was the only driving force in his life. And what did he get for his happy ending? A sobering realization that he now had no idea what to do with his life.

And all the six fingered man had to say to him? “Oh yeah… I think i remember you…  I wanna say…Ted right? You seriously spent your whole life plotting my revenge? Dude…”

Classical revenge is a selfish activity necessitated by nothing more than pampering a narcissistic wound. And any narcissistic wound means that your tormentor has already won. Whether you get your revenge or not. Knowing that you ruined someone’s life is power. The ultimate power. More power than your revenge can ever take away.

Before you destroy someone who has done harm, you need to analyze it objectively. Will the world be a better place if this person didn’t function as a part of it? Are you serving your own needs by eliminating this presence? Or are you truly and honestly making the world a better place?

Repayment of a slight is revenge. But removal of a cancer is justice. Put away your hatred until you know for sure which category it’s in.

Once you’ve decided you’re dealing with a cancer, planning is everything. You need to think in terms of risk assessment. There is a graph of damage dealt (hit points) and there is a graph of damage received (health) and the point at which the two meet is your sweet spot. So some research is needed. You need to know your enemy. Your resources. Yourself. The many confines and loopholes of the law. Don’t eat poison and expect your enemy to die. That just doesn’t work (i mean.. unless you’re a hedgehog. And if you’re planning your life around the whole What Would a Hedgehog Do strategy, I recommend you consider a different strategy as there are almost zero points of intersect that can be identified between your resources and those of the average hedgehog.)

Knowing your enemy is the best place to start. What are his strengths? His weaknesses? His vices? And more importantly, how does that intelligence measure up against those same metrics you identify with regards to yourself?

The most important thing to understand when you are tallying up the weaknesses of your enemy is that the measure of his greatest strength is his ability to make his weaknesses look like strengths. What is an animal doing when it bristles its fur? It is giving you a sure signal that your size intimidates it. A cat never hisses and arches its back at a mouse. Why should it bother? The mouse is a fraction of its size. It saves this technique for dogs. The ability to feel bigger is not a cat’s strength. it’s the ability to make you feel relatively smaller that makes that cat intimidating. Your enemy’s ability to make its fear look like bravado is the key to exploiting that fear.

Revenge is serious business and if you’re going into it without knowing as much as you can about everything in that list, you are sure to bungle the thing badly. Never put yourself in a position where you could wind up in prison. The nice thing is that the law is ugly. There are LOTS of legal provisions for those who feel they have been wronged. There are lots of actions a person can take against someone who consciously chose to harm them that are perfectly legal and beautifully devastating. Do your research. Don’t get caught up in the temptation to fantasize about the ideal world. Keep your energy focused on the world that is. This is the most important thing. For the love of god, keep it within the confines of any legal loophole at your disposal. This is the science of revenge.

And take your time. Take your good, sweet, patient  time. Crushing the complacency of someone who has done you harm before you wield the ax is what makes revenge not only fitting, but sweet.

This is the art of revenge.

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Heroics

The principal problem i have with most religions is not what they believe as far as the universe as a whole is concerned. The universe is a big place and not really my business to comment on at this point in my life. My principal problem with religion is that it does not often cultivate good. It merely cultivates karma.

I’m not a religious person. I’m not an atheist either. I guess really? I just don’t know and maybe more importantly than that, I don’t care. But certain dynamics do catch my fancy from time to time and one such dynamic is this idea people have about what makes a person good. And it turns out that, if you take most religions at their word, not much does. That if you take most religions at their word, the default state of humans is not that nice, however well-meaning most of them might be. If you take most religions at their word it is more about the relative forgiveness of whatever deity you believe in and less about the ability to achieve ‘goodness’ in the average human lifetime. 

Throughout history, religion and spirituality have operated on a slick barter-exchange philosophy. If you do good, good things will come your way. This has some rational basis in reality. If you do something nice for someone, the likelihood that they will return the favour increases. If you are known for being a nice person, the likelihood that people in general will treat you well also increases. (This is not to be confused with being a passive doormat – which does nobody any good whatsoever) It follows logically that if you’re a jackass, people will tend to treat you like one. Let your asshole do the talking and you’ll become, essentially, a giant asshole with a mouth (read Burrough’s story about the man who taught his asshole to talk for more information on the subject.)

Karma is one of those nasty things, like money, sex or controlled substances that you need to sort of understand to have any control over. Imagine you live in a village of 100 people. One morning you wake up pissed off and angry at the world, ready for a fight. And you pick a fight with someone.. anyone.. for any little transgression not because they’ve pissed you off all that badly but mostly because you’re just in a toxic mood. That person now has been loaded up with the overflow of your nasty mood. He, in turn, takes that overflow and turns it on someone. Either someone else, or himself. This negativity slowly snakes throughout the community of only 100 people as hurt individuals pay it forward relentlessly. And eventually makes it’s way back to you. Except that by the time it reaches you again, it has grown and festered and been blown to such an unnecessary proportion that you’ll often get back three times what you originally dished out.

There are only two ways to stop this overflow. Either it reaches a wise and serene person who merely absorbs it and converts it to some kind of empathy and softness. Or YOU must become that wise person who absorbs it and converts it to some kind of empathy or softness.

Religious people TEND to want to stop this vicious cycle of abuse. Their hearts are sort of in the right place. They are of the (not incorrect) belief that they can cultivate their sense of filial love of their fellow man into a sort of karma-killing machine. That they can harness and neutralize negativity and sadness, manufacture it into empathy, and turn it back out as compassion. This is a noble thing. But not as easy to achieve as many would have us believe.

There are several sects of Buddhism that talk about attachment. But I personally believe many of the scholars of attachment misunderstand. They talk about the road to enlightened serenity beginning with the vague idea of “giving up attachments” and many of them often talk of money. The trouble is.. they, and their followers take words like “money” literally. They talk earnestly about giving up the need for material possessions, forgetting in their zealous sense of self-sacrifice that karma itself is a material possession. Or at the very least, our desire for it is the same as our desire for, say, a Bentley. When the great scholars and philosophers spoke of the attachment to money, what they were really trying to say is we have an attachment to expectation. Give and you receive in kind. Give kindness and you will receive something good. Or at the very least, something good will happen.

This is a problem because the two things sort of cancel each other out. If you do good to be recognized as a good person, are you really doing good? Or merely trading in some sort of karmic stock exchange? That may or may not even exist? And more importantly, if you doing good results in your own suffering, are you still willing to do good? Or is your good contingent on what it can buy you? Whether it be heaven, praise? Love? Enlightenment? More good? A perfect world? A longer life or a healthier body?

This is what all religions were trying to get at with the idea of noble suffering i think. The idea of penance or whatever you want to call it. A lot of them are on the right track with anonymous charity or dying for sins or whatever.. but even that is false. Because you’re still getting something out of it. You’re still getting the smug feeling of having been very magnanimous and dedicated to what you believe in. And this is a kind of karma.

The zen buddhists also have this nice idea (from what i can tell) that there is simply NOTHING. That a true buddha is free of karma. That there is nothing the self can gain or lose from doing wrong or right but that they are done because it is the buddha-nature. There is nothing else except that. This idea is even closer to what you’re wanting to strive for but even this is false. Because the hope of attaining emancipation through enlightenment is a kind of karma-exchange. So you are not really free of anything yet.

I think love.. real love.. has something to do with the idea that if you carry the fire inside, you will help keep the fire burning inside humanity. For every hero that sacrifices without thinking, many people will come away from his story with hope for themselves. Their light will burn a little brighter. They’ll wake up ready to face at least one more day with the knowledge that maybe humanity ISN’T just a steaming pile of jackasses. That maybe they’re willing to, if nothing else, continue to attempt to deal in karma which, while not a perfect system, isn’t bad for the average person. And perhaps it’s best if the hero is totally unaware that he has done this. And that the world is totally unaware of who he is. And things continue pretty much the same for everybody.. but the light is just a little brighter. And sometimes the light doesn’t get any brighter. Sometimes the sky still stays dark no matter how much compassion you pump out. Sometimes you start the fight knowing you will lose. But you begin anyway. Because it is your nature.

I read a story a year or so ago about a man who was driving on the highway and saw an overturned oil tanker. The driver of the tanker had been doused in boiling tar. And without thinking, the man pulled over, thrust his arms and half his torso into the tar and saved the driver’s life. Then he ran away. That man lost the use of both of his arms. He refuses to talk about it and nobody knows who he is. He has suffered terribly and will never be the same. But that driver of the oil tanker is alive today because of that one man’s truly and totally selfless action. He didn’t do it for recognition or even because he couldn’t stand to see another man suffer. He did it for the same reason that a bird builds a nest. It was simply his nature. That man is my hero. Whoever he is.