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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: March 13-May 13, 2006

Thursday, March 30, 2006:

In the very first Life in Hell strip Matt Groening ever published, he had Binky the rabbit launch into a tirade about "forbidden words," which he defined thusly: "I'm not talking about so-called obscene or profane language, or even substandard English... Nosirree! I'm talking about those words and phrases that betray a lack of imagination on the part of the speaker or writer. Forbidden words include cliches, trite fad words, unnecessary jargon, solemn mystical mumbo jumbo, or parrot-like repetition of polysyllabic pseudo-profundities." He would later publish lists of such words ("...illin', infotainment, interface, jazzercize, just say no, kinder gentler nation..."), and for all I know, still does, as I haven't seen the strip in a few years.

At any rate, I've been compiling my own list of such words. Terms and phrases I'm thoroughly sick of hearing, even if I'm guilty of using some of them from time to time myself:

Feel free to contact me with your own additions. I'd like to do more of these until I hear from Groening's attorneys.

CURRENT MUSIC: Out of the Loop by I Am the World Trade Center.
Must really avoid bursting into cackling laughter when reading local obituaries on Maine AIRS. Even if one of the paid obituaries euphemizes a man's death by saying that he "has passed on to the HELLS ANGELS FOREVER CHARTER" and elderly woman who is my co-reader pauses in the middle of said death notice to mutter, "Oh my God" into the mike.
8:43 PM.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006:

Thanks to tremendous help and encouragement from Janna, I have been offered a job with AmeriCorps, designing the new Senior Wealth Care program at the Eastern Agency on Aging. I start May 1. I'm very excited about this. However, as I don't want this entry to sound like a late-'90s Gwenyth Paltrow-on-Oprah gratitude journal, I'm going to talk about last Wednesday, which was among the worst days of my life.

I'd been contacted by my temp agency to see if I'd be willing to work a shipping/receiving job. It was described to me thusly: "You'd be packing up some boxes and maybe some light lifting. You will be at a bank, so although we want you to wear comfortable clothes, make sure you dress nicely." Since my year of shipping/receiving work at Barnes & Noble with Jon was an unqualified blast, I thought that sounded like something I could do. The job was to last five days, which was also nice, since I haven't worked in awhile, so I accepted. Put on my slacks and my fancypants shoes and got to work early Wednesday morn.

First off, I was told that I'd report to the bank at 19 Main St. in Bangor. I quickly discovered that, although Bangor has a lot of great things to offer- including fresh seafood and a lyric in Roger Miller's "King of the Road"- a building with the address of 19 Main St. is not among them. There's a 21 Main St. and then there's a Thai restaurant that seemingly has no address, but it's the last one on the road. I spent more time than a reasonable human being should have walking up and down the block, thinking, "I need the bank to be here" in the hopes that it would suddenly materialize like Hogwarts' Room of Requirement. Finally, I walked to a bus stop, successfully begged a dime from a sympathetic young woman, and called the staffing agency. Seems I was supposed to go to 19 Maine Avenue, but it was a moo point anyway, because the bank had decided us temps were supposed to show up at a different branch anyhow. This branch happened to be located in the same plaza as the staffing center itself.

I drove to the proper branch in an irresponsibly quick fashion, and none of the bank's workers seemed to be aware that they'd asked for temps. Finally, I was shuttled through several doors into a tiny back foyer, where several sad-eyed drones were carrying hefty boxes up from the basement and stacking them beside the open receiving door. The temp supervisor (who looked and sounded like a humorless version of Tone Loc) informed me that, rather than packing boxes as I was led to believe, we simply had to move two rooms' worth of boxes up from the basement so he could load them onto his truck. He told me we were "making a chain reaction" in that three of us would be carrying boxes up the stairs, and he and another temp would be carrying them outside. I should've bailed then, but dude was really intimidating. 

So I was working in the basement with two other temps. We estimated that the boxes averaged between 30 and 40 pounds each, and they contained reams of paperwork: labels on their sides marked them as "Deleted online applications," "Cashier drawer balances," and so forth. Each box was also labeled with a "DESTROY" date to indicate how long these records needed to be retained. Some boxes contained heavy folders of junk that should've been shredded a year ago, and some of them had absurdly optimistic destruction schedules for the year 2030. My fellow temps were perfectly friendly to me, but we didn't really click. The guy, whom I'll call Lloyd, was my age, and was being crushed under the weight of child support he owed to his druggie ex-wife: "The only time she was happy to see me was on Fridays when I brought home a check. Then she'd spend the weekend blowing lines with her friends. I didn't care, in the end, as long as she left me beer money." The woman, whom I'll call Phillys-Ethie, was 42, and introduced herself by saying, "I'm not racial or nothin', but this is migrant worker work." Both of them were missing front teeth, due, they confessed, to bar fights.

I don't want to sound snobby, as though physical labor is beneath me, but I later calculated that throughout the day, I made 230 trips up and down the stairs, lugging nearly two and a half tons of accounting crap along the way. Not really what I signed up for. Particularly since I was wearing my pretend-to-care-about-how-I-dress shoes, which aren't particularly ergonomic in the sense that both my big toes currently possess blisters big enough to look like goiters. After about an hour, my hands smelled like sweat and blisters as well, like the aftermath of a round of miniature golf played with an exceptionally cheap putter, and my mind was playing an endless loop of my high school guidance counselor saying, "With an English degree, you can get any job you want."

After a few hours, we were joined by Perky McRahRah, the guy who owned the truck into which we were loading this outdated crap. He instantly bragged that he was working twice as hard as Lloyd and I (based on the fact that Lloyd and I were a little worn out from numerous trips up the stairs, while he was dewy fresh and carrying two boxes at a time) even though he's twice as old. He's a douche.

PERKY McRAHRAH: Do you guys vote?
ME: Yes.
ME: [exaggerated sigh]
PERKY McRAHRAH: Well, I'm running for governor as an independent.
ME: Oh yeah? Do you have a website or anything where I can check out your platform?
ME: Hmm.
PERKY McRAHRAH: But I will! Right now I'm just focusing on getting those 2,500 five-dollar checks so I can qualify for money from the Maine Clean Election Fund.
ME: Good luck.

So I know who I'm specifically voting against this November.

On our lunch break, Phillys-Ethie and I walked over to the staffing center and informed them that we wouldn't be returning to the bank the following day. I then overpaid for a Quizno's sub and wandered, dazed, around Bull Moose Records, with no memory of the many CDs I'd been intending to purchase. They were playing "Tonight, Tonight" by Smashing Pumpkins, which I will admit to finding affecting (I think the video, which features Mr. Show's Tom Kenny and Jill Talley in a parody of George Melies's A Trip to the Moon, is playful enough to deflate the arrangement's pompousness).

For the remainder of the afternoon, every time we came in contact with Tone Loc, he claimed to be throwing up in his mouth because the temp who was loading the truck with him wouldn't stop talking about string cheese. Lloyd and Phillys-Ethie swapped pit bull stories and drunk-driving tales (LLOYD: "My brother and I were wicked wasted the other night and drove off into the woods near the sheriff's department to outrun the cops." PHILLYS-ETHIE: "That was you? I heard about you on the scanner! I figured it was one of my cousins!").

So since then, my legs and back haven't really worked. I feel like I'm housing a thousand broken robots beneath my skin, and it's an effort even to walk. I kept reminding myself that I'm lucky that this was abnormal in my life- I've recently seen the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, and at least I'm not an Asian woman who has to work in even shittier circumstances on a daily basis for significantly less money because that's the lot into which they were born. I'm so lucky that I was born where I was, into the family I was, and so forth. But it's really not cool to mislead people the way I was misled. Regardless, I hope it's made me more sympathetic to the plight of those who have to do this stuff every single day with no way out. I don't know the best way to help them, but I want to, because after even a day of it, I was utterly broken. Help people if you can, is my point.

CURRENT MUSIC: Eveningland by Hem.
Self-pity fighting with self-loathing. Mutually assured destruction.
4:11 PM

Doot? | |

Monday, March 13, 2006:

A couple days ago, I had an interesting discussion with an older man about his military experience, and it left my head spinning for most of the day. I'll try to keep his factual personal details to a minimum, because although I'm generally careless about such things to a degree that my friends get reprimanded by their titular superiors, this could actually have legal implications assuming he told me the truth. I didn't even catch his name, actually, so I'll call him "Lawrence" because his scary/gruff SOB personality reminded me of Lawrence Tierney. Furthermore, my knowledge of military terminology doesn't go much beyond "DEFCON" and "unexploded ordnance," so I'm just going to guess at things. (Look- if you want informed commentary on military-related topics, Ben's your man. I'm largely your man for links to wonderfully sophomoric things like Tard Blog, so bear with me.)

Can't remember how we got on the subject of the armed forces, but I get the impression that it's a topic that's never far from Lawrence's tongue. In much the same way that I will scuttle across a crowded room for the chance to open my fat mouth if I hear someone mentioning Chris Ware, Scientology or the MPAA Production Code, the history of Lawrence's military service became the focal point of our conversation as soon as he could force it in.

Lawrence was in "the service"- I'm not sure which- for twenty-odd years in his youth. Early on in his career, his abdomen took a bullet in Laos which laid him up for nine months. While recovering, he received notice that he would be shipped off to Vietnam as soon as he was judged fit. This understandably rankled him: "I'm 19 years old, and they're shipping me off to Vietnam when I was expecting a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge." He complained to the hospital chaplain as there was really no one else to complain to, and the chaplain promised to do what he could to look into the issue; the chaplain attempted to reassure Lawrence that his upcoming trip was probably a clerical oversight, since the US was in the middle of conscription fever.

It wasn't a mistake, though. There were no deferments, Purple Hearts, or discharges forthcoming for Lawrence because officially, Lawrence had never been injured. In fact, he'd never officially been in Laos at all, but had been in Huntsville, Alabama all this time, training infantrymen. You see, technically if you want to get technical, it was illegal for United States military personnel to be doing whatever Lawrence and his unit (tee hee) had been ordered to do in Laos, so to this day, his military record reveals that he never had a severe enough injury during that period to necessitate bothering the medical workers of Huntsville. His superior officer explained to him that there was no way to get him out of serving in Vietnam without exposing the fact that the military had been in Laos, so guess what? 'Nam ho! Oh- and also that Lawrence should never tell any of this to anyone, ever.

So up to this point, I thought Lawrence's was a pretty glamorous anecdote. Though there's no shortage of illegal United States operations in other nations, from our meddling in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War up through Operation Quasar Clusterfuck in Iraq, I'd never previously known anyone who'd been silenced by the military because of the naughty exercises they'd put him through. However, when he moved on to the Vietnam portion of his tale, Lawrence said, "We figured out we could fit 13 American soldiers into a helicopter, but 17 gooks would fit 'cause they're so tiny," and my admiration for Lawrence fell to the ground like a popped blowfish.

(Interesting sidebar I discovered at The Racial Slur Database: Though "gook" is popularly known as an idiotic term for Vietnamese people, it was likely coined during the Korean War. Korean civilians would approach American soldiers and say, "mi guk?"- Korean for "American?"- but our sympathetic soldiers thought they were saying, "Me gook." So not only is the word gook ignorant on the same level that all racial slurs are, but it's also ignorant in that its etymology came from a completely different culture than the one it's applied to. Kind of like how spic was originally a slur against Italians, according to The Vice Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, for the way Italian immigrants would say, "No spika da English." Racists are a clever bunch.)

Anyhow, Lawrence currently works security at a prison hospital. He told me that, some time ago, a serial killer was bedridden and restrained for some reason, and Lawrence was standing guard outside the door. A nurse, who'd just taken a look at the killer's chart, exited his room looking completely pale and terrified. She said to Lawrence, "That man in there killed six people!" She was clearly having trouble being in such close proximity to him, because serial killers frankly aren't that common in Penobscot County.

Sensitive fella that he is, Lawrence immediately told her that was nothing because he had over 200 confirmed kills in Vietnam and she started sobbing and ran away. (He was disciplined by the hospital's HR manager.)

He went on talking about how he was totally justified in teasing this poor woman with some web of rationalizations that I'm frankly not interested in, but from that point forward, all I could think was, I'm sitting next to a man who has killed over 200 people. It was an odd sensation, and my insides momentarily lurched to a halt. Not that I thought he was going to suddenly turn to me, put his hands around my throat, and whisper, "...And if I kill one more, I fill my punch card for a free fun-size Butterfinger with purchase of king-size Butterfinger" as the last words I'd ever hear, but it messed with me nonetheless.

How does one live with such a thing? Though I pride myself on being a rock-throwing liberal pacifist, I certainly don't blame Lawrence for doing what his commanding officer told him to do, regardless of what his personal feelings are now or may have been at the time. I myself don't really draw a distinction between war and murder, because I naively believe that there are non-violent solutions to any conflict, but I can't blame individual soldiers for doing their job and fighting for a cause they've been conditioned to believe is just. As Ben once said to me, "I've slowly come to the (temporary?) conclusion that soldiers, most of the time, are just human actors carrying out the policies of a country. So why not blame the policymakers? Who else is there?"

But still, directly killing over 200 people? People who, just like you, were only following orders? I don't get it. I have no reductive "insight" to provide here the way I usually do, because I'm utterly befuddled. I remember seeing the odd, faraway, regretful look in my grandpa's eyes when he admitted to Jen and me that he'd killed a sleeping German soldier during WWII- he certainly wasn't bragging, but also wasn't entirely apologetic, and the unspoken implication was that he'd done a regrettable thing that needed to be done to prevent a larger evil, and he still had to remind himself of that. I totally believe that taking one life, even for what may be a just cause, would fuck you up forever if you have a soul. So how can you keep doing it until you're well into the triple digits? I just simply don't get it. How can Lawrence continue to function?

Just an observation phrased as a rhetorical question. Nothing to see here, folks. Unless you have thoughts on the subject. It disturbed me, is all.

I've had "Weird Al" Yankovic's El DeBarge parody "Here's Johnny" stuck in my head for the past week, and it's getting old.

COSMICBEN ADDS A COUNTERPOINT: Well-written, as always. But -- and obviously, I have no way of knowing this, and you know the man, and I don't -- I don't trust "Lawrence" at all.

You linked to my book review page; check out my review of Stolen Valor by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. The gist of the book is that guys like Lawrence are, almost to a person, full of shit.

Again, I honestly don't know for sure about this guy, but the two red flags for me are 1) His "secret" actions in Laos, and 2) His supposed 200 kills.

According to Burkett, a Vietnam vet himself, fake veterans and glory-seekers usually say things exactly like that. They wear the faded special forces patches, complain that their most fascinating and bloody operations were never officially admitted by the government, and that they slaughtered babies by the hundreds because the government turned them into unfeeling killers and now won't give them their 100% PTSD benefits.

The coolest stories are always set in Laos or Cambodia because this is an easy way to account for the fact that they never actually happened and are therefore absent from official military records. If I remember correctly, a real record would at least mention the mission but note that the location and details are classified. Something would be there.

Two hundred kills is also plenty suspicious. It would take a loooong time to kill that many people. The best Marine sniper in Vietnam killed about a hundred people. I don't doubt that plenty of bomber pilots reached that number, but -- and again, this could show my true ignorance of the realities of the war -- it seems completely far-fetched that a ground soldier could ever reach 200.

These guys then suck millions of dollars out of the VA, sometimes without having a legitimate combat or even military record. They excuse laziness and abusive behavior and contribute to the nation notion that Vietnam vets are drugged-out homeless leeches.

Sounds like a kook to me, and kind of a jerk.

CURRENT MUSIC: Alternative by Pet Shop Boys and µ-Ziq vs. The Auteurs.
Suburban robot to monitor reality.
I was looking around on IMDB at the tragic "trivia" notes former sitcom stars have written about themselves, and discovered the following: Jaimee Foxworth, who played middle child Judy on Family Matters before the character disappeared, is now known as Crave and has starred in such films as My Baby Got Back 29, More Black Dirty Debutantes 30, and More Black Dirty Debutantes 32.
TIME: 12:55 PM.

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