Welcome to Critics Digest.

Greetings to friends old and new. Ideally new. I’m actually perfectly comfortable with having this only be read by me, which is the statistical likelihood, but I digress. Welcome to Critics Digest.
The old adage “everyone is a critic” has never been more true than today. If you stop and examine it, today we hardly just review movies, shows, albums, art, and restaurants; we’ve branched out into the judgment and critiquing of every single facet of each other’s lives. Every instagram post, every article of clothing worn, every personal choice, every identity, and seemingly everything and every thing. For better or worse (definitely worse).
However, I find that most critics are rather impersonal- leaving themselves out of the mix so as to not hold their own feet to the raging fires of public assessment, and that is the exact opposite of what I endeavor to do here. I shall be reviewing meals, certainly. A film from time to time. But I will also be reviewing hyper specific experiences I’ve had. Moments. The ephemeral and the lasting. The fleeting and the excruciatingly enduring.
In essence, I am reviewing me.
I am reviewing us.
I am reviewing this. Whatever this is.
Ratings will be announced under the particular title each week on a scale that I deem fit based off what I’m actually reviewing. It will change constantly.
Occasionally satire, occasionally serious, occasionally a gag, an instance, a circumstance, an idea- Critics Digest will be reviewing all of it, and all of me. Because a review is just one persons opinion. And as my therapist desperately reminds me when I’m feeling particularly off balance, “The voices in your head are not other people.”
So. Here I am. Here we are.

A Hero on the Brooklyn Bound J Train at 4:17 AM

The two greatest fallacies that the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe teach us is that achieving a physique even remotely resembling their cast members is possible without unlimited resources and extreme dehydration, and that superheroes only exist in comic books or on screen. They are real. They are all around you. You merely need to take notice. While it’s true that none of them can fly, become invisible, or move objects with their minds (no matter what the person who just sold you DMT may claim), they may still use their latent powers hidden in their personality to come to your aid at your most dire time of need.

                  A closing bar shift in New York City is an arduous, spiritually crippling series of tasks. As if the evening itself hasn’t been enough of a struggle: preparing and serving drink upon drink to Wall Street ne’er do wells in the making, tourists on a rampaging bar crawl, and everyone in between and beyond, combined with the added bonus of coworkers, it is a lesson in physical and emotional exhaustion that is bested only by night shift medical staffs. It should be stated that I would certainly lump myself into the begrudgingly referenced coworkers category. When I bartended in smaller towns, I was the nonpareil. An absolute rock star. A valedictorian. In a major city? The most major of cities in these increasingly inaccurately named United States? On my best night I was a solid B. Being from Oregon, I have never been able to stomach ludicrous formalities, interpersonal competition, and the egregious touting of one’s social resume. At times it seemed like everyone was trying to make sure that their online persona matched with how they saw themselves in real life. Millions of performers playing the part of the silent aristocracy/swimsuit model they see themselves as on Facebook or Instagram. It got to me. I was often irritable. Angry. Easily annoyed. Cacophony in particular makes me feral, and when everyone is talking at the same time both literally and spiritually, I become a teeth gnashing lightning rod for all of the worlds stress and bitterness that would certainly make me a less than desirable coworker. To my coworkers in the past, and, hell, to everyone I know, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for not killing me yet.

                  Finally, mercifully, all of the weary, disgusting tasks are done. The bar is wiped down. The trashes and recycling are taken out to be nibbled on by the rats. The till is settled, and the staff has locked the doors and gone next door for the quick three to five shots of whiskey before heading to their train stop. Mine was the Essex street station at the gateway to the East Village: an unnecessarily complicated labyrinthian braiding of staircases that in a city that demands that things make sense and serve their function is incongruous at best. I somehow managed to get lost no matter how many times I had utilized this malcontented station’s alleged services.  Yes, yes, a hot take, isn’t it? A New Yorker with a complaint about the MTA.

                  Awaiting the J train heading back towards the border of Bushwick and Bed Stuy before the break of dawn was one of the better chances that I had to do some of the best people watching in the world. There are innumerable energies swirling in the air at that time of night on the border of Brooklyn and Manhattan. There are couples fighting. Vermin on dawn patrol for abandoned or discarded French fries to bring back to their young. Potentially new couples flagrantly touching each other’s genitals without a single care to be found in this universe or the next for onlookers judgment. Hell, it may be helping them both on. There are confused tourists. Impatient riders that are foolish enough to believe that this is their fastest ride to JFK. Beggars. Drunkards puffing their chests and instigating any onlookers to test their mettle. And many, like me, who are simply deliriously tired and looking to get home to reunite with our first and only love: our bed.

                  4:13 in the morning now. The gold tinted cataracts on the eyes of the train are coming through the oil drenched pipeline. My midnight special is shining it’s ever loving light on me. The train comes to a halt and gives any potential passengers a comparatively cruel twenty seconds maximum (when weighed against the thirty-minute wait between trains at this time of night) to board the train before the doors shut. Inevitably a half dozen or so people can be seen sprinting towards the departing train, literally running a fool’s errand as the steel chariot exits the station. If you’re being honest with yourself, a sick part of you takes a small but unignorable amount of pleasure in watching their reaction to their failure. Other than labor, dollar slices, electricity, and fossil fuel, a large part of New York City runs of schadenfreude.

                  And so, the train departs. The horizon over Atlantic Ocean has the beginnings of a navy-blue wash promising the arrival of dawn. A welcome sight to some, a grisly light shined on the efficacy of their decisions made that night to others. The trip over the innocent East River that through no fault of its own is little more of a raging torrent of sludge, corruption, and centuries worth of corpses is somehow oddly pastoral. However, then you arrive at the Marcy street station, the first stop to service Brooklyn and much like the train you’re on, the aforementioned tranquility comes to a grinding halt.

                  It is necessary to mention that along with superheroes, supervillains are also real. They are all around you. However, unlike heroes that one must actively choose to see, villains have a tendency, a compulsion to make their presence very well known. In a sense, they’re what make it harder to see the heroes around you. Their weapon of choice? Noise. Bombast. Hot air. Their cries, like a banshee haunting an oft warned of bog in Irish folklore can so effectively drown out all of the other sounds of the earth that without proper training and fortitude, one can become convinced it’s the only thing that exists; that the only people that surround you are cage rattling ghouls sent to bring fourth their relentless bounties of disharmony and bluster. They are not surrounding you. They’re just extremely loud.

                  So, it came to pass that the archnemesis of the throngs of exhausted night laborers heading home to sleep boarded my train in the form of a bucket drumming busker. Bedaubed in their shabby, plaid regalia, he began his villainous monologue as so many are prone to do. Goldfinger, and seemingly all of the elites (with the exception of Oddjob) in 007’s rogues gallery simply had to pinch out a descriptive monologue before commencing with their evil plan. We are informed that though it is late, this man is driven by his love for music and of this city to play for us and he hopes that we like what we hear. The detonator is set. There are seconds left. Millions (figuratively and emotionally) could perish in the wake of what this gruesome malefactor has in store for us.

                  It was then that a hero arose. The radioactive spider bite kicked in. The dormant mutant powers were awakened by the trauma. And I saw it happen in real time. A tall man in a hay colored pea coat, a thick scarf and tattered jeans with a small chin and enormous eyes lifted his head off of his chest and let out his heroic call.

                  “NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT,” our avenger dauntlessly bellowed. “Everyone here is just tryin’ to fuckin’ chill. I will personally give you five fuckin’ dollars to not play that shit.”

                  “Yeah?” The cretin inquired.

                  “YES. HERE!” My knight followed up. He then reached into his pocket, grabbed a five-dollar bill and handed it to the dastardly busker who thanked him and slinked off into the depths of less fortunate train cars to the back. I realize in this moment that this might be the closest thing I’ll ever experience to what the allies must have felt when news reached them that the Third Reich had finally been toppled.

                  After a momentary pause, the rest of the train car, in a flash of gratitude began to applaud this person’s deeds. It was then that he truly became a legend to me.

                  “No! Stop clapping! Everyone shut the fuck up.” He roared.

                  I have never been so impressed by another human being in my entire life. My inner child wanted to introduce myself so I would know where to send letter after letter of sketches I intended to draw of him in various capes and form fitting spandex uniforms, however, I knew to honor my champions request for silence. It was, after all, the gift that he bought us. Peace amongst chaos. Quiet amongst pandemonium. It would have been disrespectful at best to shirk the boon at the end of this hero’s journey.

                  And thus, the remaining six or so minutes that I had on the train were exquisitely hushed. A takeaway that I will keep with me from this life altering experience is ultimately something I knew all along. Gift of Gab, the unparalleled wordsmith MC of Blackalicious once astutely mused that, “Everything you learn you’re only remembering.”  That being, you can both be and find the heroes you need in your life, you merely need to take notice, and rise to that occasion when you feel the knowing call in your soul.

                  The other takeaway is that it’d be just great if everyone shut the complete and total fuck up more often.

Dining at decision 2020

With appetites for new leadership thoroughly ravenous, we once again find ourselves at another election; the multi-billion-dollar quadrennial pop up restaurant from which we will all receive the same dish depending on the volume of the orders.

Yes, this screed will be metaphor heavy. For your enjoyment I suggest you accept this now.

We seem to reach this stalemate every time the restaurant opens its doors again. The menu is teeming with exciting and new dishes. We peruse the options, excitedly looking at dishes we might have never even thought possible at the restaurant. Ultimately, you can order whatever you want. However, like patients afflicted with advanced Alzheimer’s, we depressingly forget that in the end, you will only actually receive one of two choices the restaurant has listed; specifically, an offering from one of the two owners of the restaurant.

“Hey, that doesn’t seem right! Many other restaurants allow me to generally get mostly what I ordered in some way!” you cry. And you would be correct. But you’re not at that restaurant now, and you won’t be for a very long time. However, if you don’t order, the likelihood that you’ll be force fed the significantly worse dish increases.

Isn’t dining out fun?

The owners of the restaurant are constantly fighting about which direction the restaurant should go in, and even more upsettingly, the more aggressive, snide, underhanded, and bombastic owner almost always seems to get to pick the chefs, the cooks, the servers, and the bartenders, even if a large majority of the patrons don’t like the staff at all.

“Gosh. This restaurant is the worst!” you say. Yes. Yes, it is.

Could you imagine if this crude metaphor was actually how government was run? Why you’d hardly believe that you lived in a free, Democratic, fair, just, or even sane society at all would you? But I digress.

After many moons spent bickering between the tables about which of the dishes seems like the best option for everyone to eat, the patrons, with whom we place an egregious amount of value in propping of their illusion of choice have once again decided. The customer is always right, after all! Naturally they have proudly bypassed every nutritious, nuanced, carefully crafted, artisanal, and healthy option on the menu. Predictable as ever, the people love their fatty fast-casual dishes.

So, even though initially you ordered the microgreens and radish salad with locally sourced organic veggies topped with aged goat cheese and a pomegranate vinaigrette served adjacent to a perfectly seared grass and sake fed Wagyu strip steak topped with a warm pat of miso compound butter, you are handed a new menu.

Again, you’re still technically free to order whatever you wish, but you can only have what’s on the new menu in the end, which is much shorter now. Just two dishes. And for an added bit of fun, you may not even get that!

I present to you, ladies and gentlemen and every beautiful soul in between and beyond…
Your first choice: A three-day old Whopper value combo from the Burger King down the street. Or your second choice: A pint of bleach from under the sink in the basement.
“How? Why?” You say to yourself. “I don’t want either of those things!” You lament.
Yes. This truly is a fucking terrible restaurant isn’t it?

However, the three-day old Whopper combo isn’t starting to look so bad when you remember that your other option is being forced to drink a pint of bleach. Interestingly enough, there are many people in this restaurant that love bleach. They think it tastes like a vintage Château Lafite Rothschild, even though it is quite literally bleach. They attend large parties that one of the other owner throws reaffirming their love of bleach. They have parades for bleach.

Many of the people you’re dining with aren’t exactly thrilled about the Whopper combo either. But the stakes are too high now for that kind of thinking. After all, the Whopper is still food at least. There are still a few calories and vague hints of nutritional value in there. Besides, you’re going to get one or the other. Best to pick the Whopper in the hopes that next time you can convince the owners to drift more towards offering something like that salad you wanted the first time.

Because -not to be redundant – your other option is a pint of bleach.

Want to know another fun part about dining at Decision 2020? It doesn’t even matter what most of the restaurant wants. You can still get the pint of bleach instead of the Whopper you’re now desperately hoping arrives at your table when faced with the possibility of chugging bleach. You see, it ultimately depends on the sections in the seating chart that the host has coordinated with the two owners of the restaurant. Amazingly enough, hungry reader, if you can’t convince some of the patrons at table 27, 12, 17, 35, and 9 that they should order the Whopper combo, you might all still get the bleach. Yes, even if many more people ordered the Whopper.

You might be thinking, “Why do I have to convince someone not to order bleach? Shouldn’t they just know not to order bleach?”

Yes. Yes, they should. However, people don’t like being told what to order. Some may order the bleach out of spite, or even worse: the last time this restaurant popped up, most people didn’t even order anything off the menu at all, and that’s how we got stuck with the bleach in the first place. Except for the fact that the bleach got less orders last time and still got served to everyone. Don’t forget about that tricky seating chart!

So, remember to make a plan to order, since one of the owners is going to do whatever they can to ensure you get the bleach. After all, if they don’t own the restaurant anymore, they could go to jail for how poorly they’ve run the restaurant, but since they’re an owner, they can’t be prosecuted. That owner will try and throw out large amounts of your orders and see to it that it never reaches the kitchen. Hell, that owner is actually trying to convince some of the patrons to hurt you if you don’t order bleach. Meanwhile, they don’t even care that that owner has all of his money tied up in bleach and other various cleaning products. That owner also thinks take out should be illegal, even if, thanks to a pandemic, dining in a packed restaurant could literally kill you, and that’s not even to speak of the bleach!

So, remain vigilant, and remember: the most powerful tool you have against fighting an owner trying to force feed you bleach is peacefully requesting that you get a three-day old Whopper value combo from down the street. At least that’s what the previous owners say, anyway.

Bon appétit!

Your Conspiracy Theory

When you consider which came first, the chicken or the egg, everyone fails to consider the farmer that makes money off of both the work of the chicken and the value of the egg.

Your conspiracy theory, for lack of a better phrase, is boring. It’s an exhausted trope. Well-worn, entirely too traveled, and wholly predictable. In fact, your conspiracy theory in some cases can actually lead to more damage than the subject of the conspiracy itself. By submerging the truth under yet another lie is the think tank equivalent of throwing a dead dog a few feet above the soil of a missing corpse; only throwing those actually looking for real answers off the trail. Most perilously of all, it can lead to the greatest enemies of the truth and action: tribalism, and soon thereafter, apathy.

Still, the beauty and concurrent grotesqueness of humanity is that we are nearly impossible to control in too large of a group for any ultimately meaningful period of time before some power structure is toppled in favor of another- for better or worse. Why is this? Because we deify those that come to power, forgetting the whole time that what defines power is ever changing, and that those who are deified are made of the same flesh and blood as you and I. No matter who their father was, no matter what schools they went to, and no matter how many formerly deep-rooted principles they allowed to be fed to the dogs along their ascent. Hanlon’s Razor, which has been pushed to the sidelines for years in favor of Occam’s much more palatable aphorism, clearly warns us, “never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” This means that they, whoever this mysterious and foreboding nonentity that ‘they’ are, are just as subject to the same shambling, foolhardy, deeply tragic flaws as any one of us. Most importantly, the bulk of the unnamed other are too stupid to be this malicious, and certainly too stupid to do so on their own.

The most grandiose of your conspiracy often appears to be rooted in a small group of shadowy puppet masters with an overwhelmingly complicated plan to subjugate and enslave humanity, when in reality there is only one prevailing truth therein: people with an unfathomable amount of money want to keep making more of it while giving you less of it and are willing to sacrifice your life and the very earth itself to sustain their ever expanding wealth. These people are also in love with your conspiracy theory. It’s the dead dog in the grave just a few feet above the hidden body of their intent.

When distilled down to its purest form, the secret to power is three pronged: desperation or the perception thereof, ignorance combined with self-assurance, and lastly, all ills being made manifest at the hands of a false oppressor that the leader promises to rid you of once and for all. It’s what Trump does for his base, what Bush did for his, what both liberal and conservative entities alike did during the cold war for decades, and so on and so forth.

Though this playbook has countless examples throughout human history: I’ll only use the two most major events in social and geopolitical American history as my examples in this review of your shitty conspiracy theories. All I ask is that you never forget the farmer before inquiring about the chicken or the egg.

On September 11th, 2001, as I’m sure you all remember, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan’s financial district. Taking with them in the process some three thousand souls in the immediate and leading to wholesale slaughter in the middle east, all done under the banner of freedom and forever changing Americas trajectory and relationship to the rest of the world. 

After the initial flag rallying in the months that followed, which most Americans were guilty of (Bush enjoyed an 88% approval rating for some time after the attacks), it didn’t take long before a wealth of conspiracy theories started making the rounds of our then fledgling internet and into the minds of our compatriots. It makes sense, really.

We were attacked and needed answers. As such, we were desperate, so the first stage of power acquisition is complete. We were certainly ignorant to what the actual answers were, so stage two was under way. This left us perfectly susceptible to anything that would follow. Namely, a completely illegal war with the Iraqi’s and a seemingly endless military presence around the Persian Gulf. Thus, the third prong of power is forged. “Terror” was our enemy now. We’re not just fighting people anymore. We’re now fighting a concept as defined by the people in charge.

It seemed so baffling to us that people assumed there had to be someone orchestrating the calamity. And there was- but only after the calamity had started.

Hanlon has already instructed us never to attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance. Some of us forget in light of our recent leadership that George W. Bush, though he looks like the paragon of statesmanship compared to our current president, was a notoriously terrible leader. A bumbling toddler in far over his head whose ignorance seems affable in retrospect only due to his boundless naiveté. Could he have protected us from such an attack? Possibly. However, I don’t tend to expect too much from men who declared an annual holiday of “Jesus Day” in their home state that they once governed. (Yes. It’s true. Google it.)

The towers have fallen. The chicken has laid the egg, or the egg appeared in front of the chicken miraculously- it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that now the farmer comes to sell them both off in the form of Dick Cheney and various military and oil interests at home. Where America saw chaos, the aforementioned saw a golden set of circumstances to both enrich themselves and their friends behind the wizard’s curtain. Thus, in the wake of the chaos, and the plumes of ash and soot polluting the ground, these men saw only blue skies above. Military contractors, oil lobbyists, tech security firms, all of their subsequent shareholders and the like. The farmers. All of whom were absolutely thrilled with us bickering about patriotism, persecuting innocent and peaceful Muslims at home, questioning each other’s loyalty to the United States, sharing conspiracies, further dividing into tribalized camps of thought, and left without a clear course of action, doing little to nothing productive about it, and anyone speaking to the truth of the matter was labeled a traitor or worse.

The farmer has a bountiful harvest, indeed.

This leads us to now. Nineteen years after the attacks. An entirely different world. One unrecognizable to the discourse of even two short decades prior.

An irretrievably stupid charlatan, game show host, and serial rapist whose only value system is calculated in personal wealth is now president. A virus ravages the world, and particularly the United States, thanks in large part to the scourge of anti-intellectualists that have always held a firm foothold in our body politic that reject science entirely, for whom duty bound care has a reach only so far as their perception of oppression and their misunderstanding of freedom. For whom cruelty is the prize in and of itself, and, still following their leader, see anger, oppression, and even the deaths of those who look different than them as victory enough; no matter how little their champion has done for them. A prophecy long warned about by all competent thinkers in the United States’ deeply problematic but theoretically noble history has now been realized: the morons, now, at long last, are finally being led by the moron god. Servile to his every command, no matter how insane the decree may be shouted as it is from the mountain top of a social media app.

However, this isn’t 2001. We all have computers in our pockets now. We have access to all types of information ranging from accurate to absolutely baseless and lethal.

So, in times of abject chaos, it makes sense that a host of conspiracy theories emerge. After all, we’re now desperate. The first step is complete. Self-assured ignorance is the natural next step, because our access to information has now utterly backfired. Instead of leading to the betterment of humankind, it has for many devolved into a choose-your-own-adventure reality, allowing anyone to simply pick what they believe and put back what they would rather not acknowledge as if it were selecting produce at a supermarket. Everyone is assured. Right or wrong. Then, the moron god begins spewing accusations of who is to blame so that you can distill your confusion into an easily sipped liquor. It’s the Chinese. The Democrats. The Blacks. The Mexicans. The Jews. The RINO’s. Take your pick, says the moron god. Then, the conspiracies emerge.

George Soros is behind this, cry some. Bill Gates is using this to get us microchipped, say others. The Clintons. The Obamas. The illuminati.

All of these ideas please the farmer so much that you forget that he is running off with all of the chickens and all of the eggs.

The fact is, an event, a catastrophe, an instance, mirroring the randomness of the universe at large, just simply happens. It is then that the opportunists rise.

While we argue, the treasury announced that 500 billion dollars of our money will not be accounted for to further line the pockets of their rich friends. Your owners. Your farmers.

While we argue, tax cuts and relief funds are dispersed to millionaires and billionaires so that they don’t lose their bottom line. Not just maintaining wealth, but actually sending it soaring. Profiting from the fruits of our chaos and suffering.

While we argue, we still have only been given a measly $1200 to tide us over since April.

The farmers saw this immediately. A fantastic opportunity to profit out of fear and turmoil.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is a list of factual events. These people could easily be toppled were we for once as a people united against our greedy masters, but no. The farmer is counting on us to bicker about who is REALLY responsible for the missing chickens and eggs.

Your conspiracy theory is all of the aforementioned things: misguided, predictable, well-worn, boring, and ultimately destructive. But there’s another thing, a much more somber facet of your conspiracy theory that we have yet to mention: it is cowardly.

Alan Moore, legendary author, put it best, “The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory, is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not the illuminati, or the Jewish banking conspiracy, or the grey alien theory. The truth is far more frightening. Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.”

It is cowardly to simply attribute all of the ills of the universe to a fictitious other, and then proclaim victory over their attempts at remaining clandestine. Thanks to conspiracy theorists, the farmer doesn’t even need to be clandestine anymore. He can say it. Flaunt it. The moron god and the high priests of the moron god’s pulpit can say the quiet part out loud now.

That is, unless, we see this grim, half rehearsed sideshow for what it is.

Never mind which came first between the chicken or the egg. That is the conspiracy.

Keep your eyes locked on the farmer.

two aphorisms and word choice


This will be a brief entry, as I believe that the bulk of your media consumption -in light of the awakening white America appears to be in some way undergoing in the wake of George Floyd’s murder after years of people of color begging to have their pleas for justice and equality heard- should rightly be focused primarily on amplifying, listening to, and the avid reading and concurrent action inspired by black voices.

Thus I will be limiting this week to what may seem like a semantic argument, but something needs to be made clear. When it’s us, we the people, our language is semantics. When it’s those that hold power, it’s the law. It’s the language of the oppressor. It allows every legal interpreter and lawmaker the wiggle room to bend and twist the words into such hideous shapes and contexts that one can barely recognize the framework from which they were created. It’s how the interpretation of the 13th amendment abolished formal, antebellum slavery while paving the way for an entirely new, legal form to emerge. It’s how the “war on terror” was sold to us, it’s what prevents any action on gun violence, and it’s what allows corporations and CEO’s to make off with all of our money while we as a society argue over table scraps.

Our language is important, too. Even at a colloquial level. So let’s start with a popular aphorism which you may all be familiar with: a jack of all trades is a master of none. This implies, incorrectly, that being skilled at many subjects or practices while allegedly mastering none is a poor practice for one’s self and society at large. However, that’s not the whole expression. The original, complete expression is “a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” It is almost always better, the aphorism suggests, to have a broad diversity of subjects one might not necessarily excel in, but are at least mildly adept in.

Similarly, lately, the phrase “a few bad apples” has been bandied around with a cynical dismissiveness to somehow explain away the cries of the suffering, the bereaved, and the perennially terrorized with an easily digestible explanation for why some cops are murderers and racists. This, of course, abdicates the rest of the entire phrase: “a few bad apples spoils the barrel.”

So, are there still good, honest, cops serving in our country? Of course. However, the culture of silence and internal power structures amongst the ranks of “blue lives” has forced many of them into silence, which is complicity, and therefore, for the purposes of the work to be done, as harmful as the violence and subjugation itself.

I have found my fingers empty of words for the last few months. I have not known what to write; feeling instead of typing up musings of various levels of (alleged) humor, my time is better spent learning, advocating, protesting with voracity, and especially listening. I will be returning with regular, and actually frequent entries in the not too distant future, however, I in no way feel comfortable with taking up any space, nominal or otherwise, that could be spent listening to black voices in this time of internal undulation of existing power structures.

Perhaps, this is a necessary and healthy entropy we are experiencing that’s simply going incognito enshrouded in fear and doom. Perhaps everything that was holding us back is finally being properly seen by everyone in society, like a CAT scan revealing the true severity of the cancerous facets of our nations body.

There is no neat little bow on top for all of this sentiment. Simply put, people are dying that didn’t have to or deserve to and with a breakneck frequency in the United States.

How will you remember your role in this history?

Hot Springs (and Picnics)

Rating: 2 out of 10 stars, in so far as that stars are gaseous, distant images that only appear pretty from afar.

(I have never cared for picnics. I don’t see the point. You take a would-be lovely meal to be enjoyed with fantastic company and instead of dining at a table with all the accoutrement at the ready to feast in leisure for a hearty repast, and instead decide (willfully, I might add) to make it unpleasant. No meal in my life has ever been made better with the addition of squinting, sweating, and propping my torso up with one arm until that becomes uncomfortable and repeating that with the other arm until the meal is over so we can leave. As an added feature, when not dusting away ants or shit covered flies, you’re also swatting away yellow jackets, which are comically undeterred by your threats and are instead imbued with confidence massively disproportionate to their Lilliputian stature. Picnics are just terrible. If you’re of the sort that enjoys picnics, you may wish to read no further, lest I pick apart a different experience you may otherwise enjoy were it not for my sardonic dissection. Though it may seem as such, I truly take no pleasure in ruining ultimately harmless things that people enjoy. You’ve been warned.)

The compendium of things, places, and scenarios that I have found pleasurable in my life is a vast and blissful collection. It brings me joy in the darkest of times to remember the moments that I have experienced that brought me joy and left me delighted. Often it is all too easy to forget that the meaning of life is actually pretty simple: we, as a collective consciousness, act as stewards in the service of acquiring delights for ourselves and the universe. Every living thing yearns for delights. How amazing must it feel for a polar bear, after a long winters’ hibernation high up in a snowy den on a mountainside to emerge to the first warm lights of spring and stretch out its impossibly strong legs? How truly incredible must it be for a pod of dolphins to successfully corral a large school of helpless fish; knowing that itself and all of its friends will swim away with the fullest of bellies towards an afternoon of play and sex? How delighted must the albatross be, as lifelong pair-bonded creatures, to return after weeks or even months on end to its kinds’ cliffside, and somehow be reunited with its mate, the love of its life, amongst the myriad of seemingly indistinguishable others?

Things we may not perceive as conscious know delight. Even trees. Especially trees. How delighted must the young sapling be in its persistent yet meditative existence, to be blessed with the right break in the forest canopy so as to expose it to the necessary sunlight it needs to grow, and thrive, and sing its life giving song in the form of oxygen and shelter for all who hear it as it grows mightier with each passing day.

                  So, as a teenager, when I learned of what hot springs were, naturally I assumed these would be among the uppermost echelon of delightful things. Its resume practically speaks for itself: a naturally occurring pool of hot water set in amongst the nooks of nature, far from mass access. Serene, tranquil, and deliciously secluded.

                  However, as I quickly learned, hot springs, aside from the scenery, are the opposite of delightful. They are incomparably dissatisfying; even going so far as to invoke a looming and lasting melancholy. Inspiring a special kind of disappointment that can only come with high expectations being chewed up by yellow, slobbering teeth masticating your hopes into fine paste within in the cavernous, ever-starving maw of reality.

                  One winters day, I decided to take my friend up on the offer to go to hot springs for my first time. He told me that we were meeting up with two more of his friends there from a different circle, and that this place was truly magical. At this point in my life, the prospect of meeting friends of friends wasn’t stressful at all, it was exciting, even. Odd, in retrospect. But here we are.

                  When we parked, we walked along a thin, winding trail dusted with evening snowfall that was so beautiful I felt like a protagonist in some ancient Japanese myth. I felt that any minute now a talking cherry tree or a wise, yet rather foreboding housecat would call for us to aid them in some side quest that we would be fools to refuse, bringing us glory amongst all the nearby villagers for generations to come. Songs would be written of us. Intricate, yet seemingly effortless paintings would be made of our heroism against whatever Oni or demon threatened these woods. Regrettably, these hot springs were almost five thousand miles, and innumerable years ahead of rural, feudal mythmaking Japan, and no such instance would occur. The first disappointment of the evening.

                  Eventually, we reached our destination, and the woods opened up into a clearing which bore five stacked and interconnected pools of hot, natural spring water; flowing into each other and illuminated by candle and moonlight. If that had been it, my opinion would be as high for hot springs as it is for October sunsets, or pesto.

                  That was not it. Far from it.

                  Sometimes you can read or hear about a feature (or a defect) of something or someone that you either forget or don’t process until it’s right in front of you. Thanksgiving dinners are a perfect example of the less than desirable facets of family members that come roaring back to the forefront of our consciousness at the end of every November.

                  Hot springs are heated by sulfur deposits rising up from the earth. I didn’t think anything of it to learn that. “Cool,” I might have said conclusively.

                  Sulfur, famously akin to the smell of rotten eggs, would upstage the smell of the worst rolling boil fart from the most diehard vegan you know. Methane farts are the Garfunkel to sulfuric vapors’ Simon.  

                  Being that this was also in Oregon, many people had decided to be nude at this hot spring. I have absolutely no qualms about nudity. To the contrary, I’m quite a fan. But the greatest disappointment was yet to come.

                  Now naked and shivering, I tip toed my way to the stink pools and slipped into the waters. Expecting at the very least the relief of enveloping warmth.

                  No such luck.

                  Hot springs, I learned, aren’t even hot. They are warm at best, and most often tepid. I’m sure they must have been a godsend before the industrial revolution, but in an age where hot tubs and scalding showers are very much a thing, this seemed like a letdown. It was a letdown. Except now, wet, naked, and shivering with a nose full of sulfur I now have to strike up conversation with two strangers who come highly recommended by my friend who I don’t want to embarrass in my state of abject misery.

                  An entire hour passed that may as well have been an eon before I was finally able to convince my friend that it was time to go home. It would take several more hours before I could convince my testicles to depart from the safety of my guts and go home as well.

                  The next time anyone recommends a trip to the hot springs, I cannot strongly suggest enough that you instead book a hot tub or simply take a shower. It’s much more pleasant and you can typically control both the temperature and the guest list.

                  Unless, of course, you’re the sort that like picnics. Then by all means go, and may whatever you delight in, however strange to me, bring you joy.


Rating: Perfect.

Thalassophobia is known as an intense and persistent fear of the sea. The aforementioned concept is often lumped in with the fear of clowns, ducks, and toasters as being an ‘irrational’ fear. Perhaps it is, depending on its manifestation. If you lay away awake at night in Kansas City terrified that the wrath of Poseidon will swallow you and your family whole as you tuck your litter of unhealthy children in at night, yes, that would be irrational. Perhaps being actively afraid of the sea is itself irrational in a way. However, there is such a thing as a healthy fear. A respectful fear. A sensible fear. After all, it are these impulses that keep us alive. It’s why you (should) check both ways before you cross the street, look at the expiration date on cartons of milk, and avoid dating men who rarely blink.

To have a sensible, reasonable fear of the sea is hardly a phobia. You, as a human being, bereft of webbing, fins, gills, natural defenses given the environment, or any other quality that would protect you or even make use of you in the sea are at perhaps your most vulnerable in the waters of our oceans. You are a speck on a speck. Infinitesimal, and to many creatures that traverse its seemingly endless scope, an hor’s doeuvres that would put up a comparatively lackadaisical fight on even your best day.

And yet, we go out anyway.

We are unlike any other species on earth: actively and willfully putting ourselves in danger and at the mercy of the elements for excitement, pleasure, or to show our high school enemies that we’ve lost the weight that they have ideally found.

So, ignoring all of the unbelievable amount of knowledge that should convince me to stay out of the ocean, I accepted my friends invitation one morning on the shores of Maui to go kayaking, and ideally, observe some whales.

“They could easily crush you,” I remembered.

Yes, but as Lord Byron so perceptively stated, “The tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.”

A few friends, my sister, and I had been basking in each other’s company and slowly conducting our research as to what the bottom of a bottle of rye whiskey looks like the night beforehand when the idea came to my friend for kayaking at dawn. Dawn, an uncivilized time of day to wake up, was not a prospect that seemed in any way fortuitous, but he told me that the waters in the early hours of the morning were mellow and flat; moving on an easy, malleable surface, and with hardly a sound to be heard around you of tourists and commercial whale charters.

The island of Maui enjoy the world’s largest concentration of Humpback whales during the winter months (which is still anyone else’s summer). The soon to be new families of whales gather along these safe, warm shores to give birth to their calves or to mate before swimming back across the Pacific Ocean for the algae bloom along the upper rims of the Pacific Northwest.

During these winter months around Maui, one can see literal scores of whales breaching out of the water at any time of day, or night depending on the phase of the moon.

As is my nature, and yours, I accepted this offer to go kayaking. Much more bemoaning of the early rising time than the very real threat of the power of the ocean and its inhabitants.

After my second cup of sweet, nutty, Kona coffee, my sister and I awkwardly shambled our way into the two-person kayak on the sands of Olowalu and disembarked into the sea.

My friend was correct. The waters were so calm, so peaceful, so serene, that for a brief time the only sounds that could be heard were the songs of sea birds and my sister’s enraging penchant for vocalizing her chewing gum.

We rowed at least a mile out into the water effortlessly before taking a break.

“We have snorkels!” My friend suggested.

So overcome by the beauty as I was, I grabbed a snorkel without hesitation and dove into the ocean. Again, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.

I’ll spare you the descriptions. I’m sure you have a friend or two who has gone scuba diving once or a thousand times and would be ravenously thrilled to give you a nonconsensual account of their bevy of experiences.

When I returned to the kayak, I reached into our aqua pack and pulled out a beer. What better way to celebrate an early morning workout?

Then, she exploded out of the water.

The sound that a fully grown, pregnant Humpback whale makes when it bursts out of the water and crashes back down into the depths is what I can only imagine cannonball fire directly next to one’s poor teenage ears was like during the Civil War. It is the single loudest percussive blast that I have ever heard, and Higher Power willing, ever shall hear.

They look large on camera, don’t they? Well imagine one of these multi-ton behemoths, this nautical colossus that could obliterate you with one brush of their tail, a mere thirty meters away from you.

Yet, they don’t harm you. Actively, anyway.

They simply dance, swim, and sing.

In the presence of a whale, you are in the presence of a God. Hundreds of years old, infinitely strong, impossibly large, and yet, peaceful. Communicating by song. In that moment, you become polytheistic. You don’t have a choice. You have proof.

My sister and I produced a sound from our bodies that is unrepeatable, and phonetically impossible.  The best way that I can describe it: imagine the sound that would be created by the lead singer of your favorite metal band hitting their most resonant, rumbling note while simultaneously being punched in the stomach, but it’s clear that they’ve wanted that their entire lives, but didn’t know until that moment.

After that, a few others in the pod ambled lazily along afterwards and returned back into the perceived unknown.

So, excited, and somehow exhausted, we returned back to shore shortly afterwards and got loco mocos from a food truck.

What do you do when you’ve swam with sea turtles, sunbathed off the shores of an ancient island, and been greeted by a God all before 10am? You go back to sleep. There is no building upon that.

There will be many more reviews on this platform, but know this going forward, even the best possible review will always come second to whales.

The Reality of Cauliflower Rice

Review: Zero out of 9 whole grains

Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Anna Hampton, Prop Stylist Claire Spollen

We appear to have become so aggressively bereft of the powers of insight as to passively accept the ever further egregious commodification of our own insecurities in conjunction with our diets, in spite of its easily spotted nature. Nutri-system, health shakes, calorie counting, paleo, keto, Atkins, intermittent fasting, liquid diets, detoxes, etcetera and ad nauseum- there is no diet fad that year after year and decade upon decade we increasingly physically unfit and mentally malleable apes will not succumb to.

This is all of the diet information you will ever need. I’m about to save you potentially thousands of dollars and hours for free. Here it is: show restraint, try not to eat late at night, eat less carbs, drink alcohol sparingly and if you do then gravitate towards wine or spirits instead of beer, eat plenty of vegetables, whole, clean foods and proteins, indulge in junk only every so often, hydrate well, exercise regularly, purposefully and diligently, and lastly and most importantly: make it a lifestyle, not a phase.

That’s it. I just told you every piece of dieting information you’ll require for the rest of yours or anyone else’s life. Heed it or not. Do it or don’t. I really don’t care. You can be miserable with the body of a Greek demigod; you can experience endless joy with the body mass of a Hungarian basilica. It doesn’t matter what shape you take, all that matters is that you’re happy, and ideally healthy. The rest is just bullshit and snake oil pitched to you by interchangeable sets of abs that can speak to you through social media or your dumbass friends.

What I DO care about is something at play that I find not only insulting, but sinister. An insidious tumor that must be surgically removed before it metastasizes into something that we can no longer control. I am referring, of course, to cauliflower rice.

I take umbrage with a dizzying array of insignificant things, I’m aware of this. At times I’m even more passionate about the aforementioned than the full-blown atrocities of the world. Perhaps it’s because I feel that while I am largely powerless to halt the systemic ills of existence, I do feel that the infinitesimal is something I can change. I have a long, storied history with pesto and how if it’s made with anything other than a basil base, then it ceases to be pesto. Is that correct? No? Well not with that attitude.

I think that people who vocally don’t like Game of Thrones are much more annoying than people who do; and though I haven’t watched the series in years, I was genuinely upset that so many people were so disappointed by its final season. Why? Because it’s heartbreaking when a story you’re invested in is massacred, and as someone who saw what was done to The Hobbit, my compassionate heart bleeds for Game of Thrones fans. That said I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was hit with a deluge of indescribable schadenfreude upon hearing about all of the parents who named their daughters Khaleesi, only to be absolutely devasted at the long projected plot “twist” where the woman whose thing  is owning flying iguanas that can set everything on fire went right ahead and set everyone on fire. I’ve found myself more surprised by a watermelon meeting its demise at the hands of Gallagher.

This brings me to cauliflower rice.

First of all: how dare we? Yes, we consume far too much carbs in America, but that’s hardly the fault of rice. It’s our fault. It’s our fault that we’ve run afoul of the staple grain that has sustained us a human race for tens of thousands of years; suddenly made a villain because a small group of horrible (likely) blonde people (likely) from Los Angeles deciding that this ancient fuel was now your enemy. To think of all of the incredible dishes that rice can and has given us over the years. Its powers are employed by people the world over in kaleidoscopically diverse usages. Can cauliflower do even a percentage of a percentage of what rice can, and this is how we treat rice? For shame. Cauliflower deserves better.

Secondly, putting cauliflower into a blender does not change the very plant that it is. You don’t put corn into a blender and get quinoa. When you blend cauliflower, all that you’ve done is butcher an ear of cauliflower and are now branding it as rice because it’s a familiar name that’s a far more attractive substitute than calling it, say, mush.

Yes, I have tried using blended cauliflower as a pizza crust; and then I realized something profound: what if instead of having a pizza with depression just about as often as I’d like, how about I have an actually delicious pizza every once in a while? Then, like a spore on a dewy morning my mind expanded and bloomed into a veritable pasture of sensible ideas. It was a clarity the likes of which had always seemed so distant as an American that, culturally, can only see things in terms of whatever Michael Bay project is coming out next.

Show restraint.

This review is a plea, ladies and gentlemen. Not just for the preservation of the dignity of rice, but for sanity to win the day whereas it pertains to our diets.

Don’t hate the grain. Hate the player.

Food Poisoning

Rating: Zero out of 10 Modern Families

Many lament the mistakes and sins of their youth, and I am no different. For example, there was a brief period in my late teens where I felt that capri pants were quite fetching on me and complimented the front pulled miniature bangs I sported for a summer. We all make mistakes. Some of them are more misguided than others. In hindsight, the most noteworthy of my less than stellar choices I’ve made was a two-pronged error.

  1. After having lived in Oregon for my entire life, surrounded by trees and serenity, I moved to New York City and into East Harlem in the dead of winter at the tender age of 22.
  2. A few weeks after arriving, I got some seafood chow mien at 3:30 in the morning.

The worst errors are the ones where you have absolutely zero external forces guiding your mistake except your own stupidity. Where nobody did this to you but you. And there has never passed a day in my life where I, like Odysseus and his men, was unable to avoid crashing my ship into the rocks to heed the sirens song of easily accessible chow mien.

When I returned home, I shoveled this burbling mass of noodles, vegetables, and tainted seafood into my face with the joy that a child experiences when getting into the first of their Halloween candy haul. It was a euphoric experience. All of the flavors and carbohydrates sopped up the cheap whiskey in my stomach like a sponge as my taste buds danced on the rings of Saturn. While I drifted off to sleep watching some Netflix special with my eyes occasionally crossing, I finally knew peace.

That is until a few hours later at around 7 in the morning my body awoke me with the sensation of an ensnared beehive marauding in my stomach. I sat at the edge of my bed trying to ascertain and explain my way out of what I could tell in my heart what inevitable. For me, the lead up to food poisoning is exactly the same as the stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance.

Shock: “Oh fuck. Oh fuck I think I’m getting sick.”

Denial: “I can’t be getting sick. That’s not what’s happening. I just feel weird. I’ll go back to bed soon and be fine.”


Bargaining:” Okay, maybe I can just drink some water. If I have water and have vitamins, I can get out of this.”

Depression, typically done in the bathroom: “Oh no, this is happening. What have I done? I’m so stupid.. I’m gonna barf. I’m-“

Testing -or the first round of projectile vomiting- is far worse than vomiting from the flu or having too much to drink. This hurts. It’s as if your stomach, throat, skull, and even your teeth have been tied in knots and used to anchor an old stone hauling barge.

Acceptance, typically done shivering on the floor while sweating and wiping bile off of your cheek: “Okay, the moment I can get back to my bed, I’ll calculate how long I can stay in bed before I’m broke.”

Thus began by next week of abject uselessness. The first several says between non-stop fits of vomiting, I found myself so delirious that I began to marathon Modern Family, and dammit I thought that it was pointed and witty. That’s the level of malnutrition I was dealing with.

At night I laid awake watching snow fall from the night sky and on to the stone streets beneath my 7th story apartment wondering if this was how I died. Felled by my own hubris and love of greasy Americanized Chinese cuisine.

During the days I sweat while shivering, trying desperately to convince myself to get some kind of vitamins into my system. Like a young soldier trying to inch my way up the beach at Normandy on D-day I dredged downstairs and across the street to fetch some orange juice. I barely managed to return to my apartment whereupon which, after drinking one 6oz glass of juice, I spent the next two hours vomiting the aforementioned nutrients out of myself.

Around day four I spoke with parents in some kind of garbled infirmed patwa that gave even my father cause for concern. After all, what good was the cure all of ginger ale and rest if you couldn’t sleep or keep literally anything down?

On day five, two of my roommates finally came in to check on me. They informed me that they had been avoiding me because they didn’t want to catch what I had. Which was understandable. Until I realized shortly after they had left that that’s now how food poisoning works. They did however manage to compliment me on the recently acquired ab definition I was now sporting thanks to my severe illness, which although useless in my state, was admittedly a confidence booster. NOTE: Don’t get sick to lose weight. I shouldn’t have to say that, but here we are.

On day six the clouds parted, and my blood cells finally got back to work with such consternation and fortitude that I was able to eat a single packet of ramen noodles. A bit of a hair of the dog, all things considered. However, these noodles had been processed and gassed out of anything even close to nutritious so long ago that anything that could have possibly been living in them died a long time prior to getting my balmy hands on them.

Around the seventh day, I rose. Lazily I put on sneakers and made it two whole blocks to look at the river and have a peek at New Jersey through my bloodshot eyes. As I stared towards the south, I pondered how breathtaking it is that decades of life and experience can be chopped down like a sapling by a few microscopic particles stemming from poor refrigeration. Then I thought about all of those who have gone before us for the sin of simply being hungry. How many mountains of human bones there must be before we even knew which mushrooms were good or bad? I shudder to think.

Here at Critics Digest, I cannot possibly recommend that you get food poisoning, especially if you’re single, broke, in your early twenties, and need money. However, if you’re looking for a revamped perspective on the joys of being healthy, you’re only one helping of late-night seafood away from a master class in gratitude.

The City of Reno, Nevada

Rating: Perfect. Perfect in every way.

If Las Vegas was the child, and King Solomon had been able to carry out his insane judgment, Reno would be what remained; an ill-begotten bastard infant cleaved in twain by circumstance and poor governance. The grieving mothers in this case would be the state of Nevada and the world at large.

Though the description I have just given of Reno sounds bleak, I certainly have no intention of robbing this anomalous municipality of its own peculiar charm. For though I just employed a rather disparaging Biblical comparison (and to be fair, if at any point you’re being compared to something in the Bible, it’s likely in a disparaging light), I will instead give a rare spoiler at the preamble of the review; my judgment usually being reserved for somewhere around the back third. So here it is:

Reno is resolutely one of the best cities in the entire world. If I knew of other habitable celestial bodies and was able to explore them with any thoroughness, I still feel certain that Reno would remain on my short list. You should go there. You should spend time and money there. Five stars. 100% rating. The whole enchilada.

However, there is a catch. You should only heed my recommendation if you’re rather crazed, generally unstable, and this is the most important, possess a taste for the grotesque intermingling unrepentantly with the exquisite. There is no middle ground. There is no one or the other.  

To properly enjoy Reno, you must self-identify with a term that I have coined and will spearhead with voracity until it has successfully entrenched itself into our daily lexicon. That being: bougie fluid.

Bougie fluidity is both a state of mind and a practice. It is a taste and a lifestyle. Best of all, by nature, it’s inclusive and can be acquired at any point in one’s life if they keep an open mind no matter your background. To be bougie fluid, you must be open to the idea that spending two hundred or more dollars on a meal every once in a blue moon is not to be written off as an extravagance but rather an enriching, worthwhile experience; a necessity for the advancement of refinement, taste, and your sense of pleasure. Because you deserve it. You must also be able to gleefully suck down Coors Light on a sweltering day by a low, ambling river while listening to bluegrass because any other beer is too dense, you’re not here to put up a fuss about your knowledge of microbreweries, and you know that bluegrass is a divine choice in any context. To be bougie fluid you must own at least one tailored suit or fitted dress and some article of clothing with either the sleeves or legs wrenched off haphazardly. You must be equally at home in a gallery opening as you would be in a dive bar and occasionally just as contemptuous of one or the other depending on your mood. You must know what salmon roe tastes like just as well as the head. You must both detest the scourge of irresponsible gun ownership and sales while at the same time knowing how to and enjoying shooting them. You must know that some of the finest works of visual art on earth exist in museums scattered across Europe and Latin America. You must also know that most of finest works of art could never be made by the hands of humankind: the low fog over a forested valley, the satisfying and conspicuous rustling of twigs and leaves under the hoof of a young elk in Autumn, perfect silence save the sounds of a crickets lustful song underneath a meteor shower on a clear august night.

Basically, you can’t be a jerkoff. White or blue collar. Capable of anything while concurrently above nothing.  

With that in mind, I have yet to experience a city that will test how much you have truly actualized this practice within yourself better than Reno, Nevada. You will find no break from one or the other. You have no choice. Reno forces you to come to terms with both sides of your bougie fluidity and it has no patience for your wavering sensibilities one way or the other. It is a feral beast in a sequined jacket. A shambling, knock-kneed corpse in a Jean Paul Gaultier dress. A rodeo clown dining on foie gras while being gored by a bull donning a hot iron brand of the Monster Energy logo. It’s beautiful. It’s disgusting.

Aren’t we all?

Geographically, Reno is perfectly situated to its character. Nestled poetically between the naturally abundant splendor of Lake Tahoe and its titular national forest to the west and the desolate, hopeless ruination of the desert to the east. There is a burger joint there called Fat Cat that deservedly boasts simultaneously about the unparalleled quality of its burgers while concurrently touting their flagship sandwiches life threatening qualities. It’s the perfect metaphor for America at large: great for your soul and bad for your heart.

I could write an endless screed about the week that I spent there, however, for the sake of brevity I’ll localize it to one instance alone.

Several dozen of my dearest friends and I were there for an acting competition in college to see once and for all who was the best at make believe according to the small handful of nominally successful actors and directors judging the event. We were staying at the Circus Circus hotel and casino, and after a day filled with enriching our fertile thespian minds that were as of yet unspoiled with years of overwhelming disappointment, we made our way to a fantastically private nook of the hotel called Gecko’s. Its neon, lysergic charm was enhanced further by the faux-Mesoamerican décor and an unbeatable deal on decent margaritas for the next several hours. During that time, my friends and I discussed plays, acting, made jokes, and generally engaged in the kind of revelry that is worth more than anything when all is said and done. However, for my part, the joy came to a grinding halt when amidst the chaotic, high rolling fun I spotted a woman by the slot machines adjacent to the higher stakes poker tables. I will make mention of this woman’s weight not to shame her for its overabundance, but only as a descriptor to you, the reader, of what I saw. No, I will shame her for the actual sin she was committing. This behemoth of a human was chain smoking at her machine while ambidextrously trading between stuffing more coins into the slot and slugging whatever was in her cup. She was doing all of this while her two very young children that I assume were but pray to the powers that be were not her own were tugging on her pant legs begging to go home. She was doing all of that while wearing a t-shirt that said typed with the impact font: “SHIT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PARTY NAKED”.

Indeed it does. Life happens. Twice demonstrably in her instance and I’m sure an incalculably large amount of times throughout the lands and the ether with regards to all other living things.

Gazing  upon this sight not only made me feel eternally fortunate for the parents that reared me and how they would have never even dreamt of doing something remotely resembling what I was looking at, but also for life itself. For whenever we peer at a snapshot of the void made flesh, and the gaping chasm of all that is unholy stares back at us with Pall Mall’s in its mouth and a ravenous desire for a big win in its heart, if we step back, we remember that we still feel something. Something that is real. Delightful or despicable. And that is what this all is isn’t it?

For better or worse, we are all Reno.

An Interactive Demo of Natural Biology, 6th Grade, 1999

Rating: 3 out of 3 french hens.

The healthiest relationship you can have is the cultivation of self-love, however the longest relationship most people actually will have is with their anxiety. Me and my most insidious manifestation of anxiety, whom I’ve named Sheila, were up late together a few nights ago. Of course, I was trying to fall asleep and dream of something resplendent like soaring over a fantastical coastline, imbued with the gift of flight, arm in arm with Christina Hendricks while we dropped water balloons filled with a non-lethal but a certainly memorable amount of sodium hydroxide over people using selfie sticks. Sheila, however, wanted to talk. It’s not that I don’t listen to her or give her the time of day. In fact, we talk quite often. One could even make the very clear statistical argument that she and I talk more often than most of my friends and I do. Thus, at around two in the morning, Sheila decided to remind me where I learned what the winning combination of death and cognitive dissonance looked like.

At the dreadful age of eleven years old, I had just sat down in my 6th grade homeroom class with the ceremonial thud of my oversized three-ringed binder that zipped up on all sides, lest my precious documents accidentally defenestrate themselves and into the wrong hands. Who knows what our enemies abroad could have done with my lackadaisical renderings Storm, Rogue, or any of the numerous underrepresented women of the X-Men whom I had drawn with anatomically impossibly large breasts. I shudder to think.

              The day started as inconsequentially as so many others had before in homeroom.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, homeroom was a 45-minute period that we had every morning to start off our day at Highland View (now Linus Pauling) Middle School. For the life of me I cannot tell you the bulk of what we actually did in these classes. The only lessons that I seem to recall in the twenty year gulf between my attendance of these classes and now- the interim period consisting of problematically heavy drinking, and other fond memories- are a few vocabulary lessons, and one lightly traumatizing if not informative day where I was taught how to pluck and butcher an entire live chicken by my teacher Nancy Matsumoto’s husband.

Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly. Perhaps your conceptual understanding of the great state of Oregon: the Western Meadowlark that has flown with her own wings since her governmentally sanctioned coronation into white ownership on Valentine’s Day of 1859, is that we are a bunch of soy-latte guzzling liberal ne’er do well’s that would open up a Whole Food’s if given the opportunity faster than a New Yorker can turn on an underperforming Yankees batting rotation. A home of socially conscious warriors fighting an endless uphill battle regarding everything from the irrefutably righteous to the lamentably infinitesimal with no issue too small to take umbrage with.

Now, within the confines of Portland and some small pockets, you would be largely correct, and I am proud to consider myself among them.

However, outside of Portland, save for a few sections of Eugene, Bend, and one particular neighborhood in Ashland, my greater descriptors evading me in favor of clarity, it’s country as shit.

I grew up in one such rather sequestered hamlet in the Willamette Valley called Corvallis. A place where the flag of the noble beaver, the amphibious wood-gnawing member of the vermin family, is flown underneath the American flag on every street corner of the 14.3 square miles the township encompasses.

That said, no such day occurred like this before, and due to the incongruously swift action of the Corvallis PTA, I believe no such day has occurred since. Though, looking back as an adult, I’m extremely grateful for having finally been taught such a visceral lesson outside the confines of home.

I was seated at my desk, likely thinking about how excited I was to watch WWE Monday Night Raw that night (it was at the apex of at Attitude Era after all), when a man of with the stature of such as a snowman that got lost in an LL Bean department store came impishly waddling into the classroom.

I am sure that Mrs. Matsumoto gave a brief preamble about the lesson plan for the day. Really, who would just spring this on a group of eleven-year-old’s outside of necessity? Why would anyone just surprise a class room with an educational jack in the box that shot out the corpse of a chicken instead of a jangling clown?

Sadly, none of us were listening. Mrs. Matsumoto’s ability to lose her audience was unrivaled. As repellent to an easily distracted 6th graders mind as Jeff Foxworthy’s ability to connect to his audience at the Apollo.  Mr. Matsumoto reached into one of his two bags and placed a large cutting board on the front countertop at the head of the classroom. He then removed a series of what I can only assume were sanitary wipes from his bag, and then several large, intimidating blades.  

Now our focus was piqued.

That had done it, I thought.

We’d obviously fucked up so badly that our teacher’s husband was coming in to class to kill us to defend his oft ignored wife. Our insolence would be paid for in the coin of our young, stupid blood.

But hark! A chicken.

Mr. Matsumoto, instead of being the harbinger of our early demise removed from his second bag the lifeless body of a large hen and placed it on the cutting board. While describing what he was doing to the class, he began to remove the remaining feathers from this deceased distant cousin of the tyrannosaurus rex.

In a rather Herculean task, Mr. Matsumoto managed to do in thirty seconds using only several 9-inch carbon steel knives and some dead livestock what his better half had failed to do day after day for months now: have us sit still and be unable to look away.

First, he beheaded the chicken.

Next, he disemboweled the bird and removed several of her unlaid eggs and placed them on the side for cooking later that evening at home. The sight of this caused several of my classmates to scream, and one to leave the room altogether.

However, if you think that stopped Mr. Matsumoto from teaching us one of the more useful if not terrifying skills I’ve ever learned, you’d be as mistaken as that chicken in question’s belief that it would see the first frosts of winter.

Then he shattered both legs and laid the corpse out flat after removing its spine; spatchcocking they call this on the Food Network. You know, where Alton Brown shares this knowledge with adults instead of horrified children.

Finally, he cut the bird into the familiar chunks that we are so familiar with at grocery stories. He then proceeded towards the range at the front of the class that was predominantly used for science classes and instead, after breading the chicken, fried up a few scattered pieces of it and offered to feed it to us.

I was one of the only children to take him up on his offer. He did offer me the much prized “finger” portion of the chicken breast that so many youngsters are drawn to like a recent divorcee to a white wine tasting.

I genuinely don’t know what I was supposed to get out of this lesson. An understanding of where food comes from? An appreciation of the sacrifices these generous creatures make for the sake of our diet that numbers into the millions by the day? Maybe even the opposite; perhaps attempting to instill in me a sense of moral propriety against taking a life so that I myself may have a snack?

I don’t know

What I am sure of is this: damn fine lesson, Mr. Matsumoto. May your blades remain as sharp as your keen eye for engaging young minds. I sincerely can’t think of any lesson that taught me earlier in life that we’re all going to die and that any day I could be next. Sheila and I are in your debt.