Baltimore: The Antidote to D.C.

It was another slow August, and my girlfriend and I wanted to get out of D.C. She’d taken a week off work to visit her family in the Midwest, but decided at the last minute that she didn’t want to spend her paid vacation hiding in her childhood bedroom from her Republican parents, who wanted to have a serious talk about this business of living with a man she wasn’t married to. I hadn’t taken time off, but I didn’t need to, since I didn’t have a job to take time off from. We decided to visit friends in Baltimore.

We took the train to Baltimore and then a taxi to the house where Lana’s childhood friend Aidra was staying. It was a three-story townhouse in a moneyed neighborhood right on the water. The house was owned by Aidra’s aunt, who was traveling around the world that summer, and Aidra said we were free to crash in any of the bedrooms. Aidra seemed a little twitchy, but I figured it was because she’d spent the summer alone in the big empty house.

I dropped my bags off and went to meet my friend Jon, while my girlfriend stayed behind to catch up with her friend. Jon was a student at MICA, the art school, and he lived in a huge warehouse with several other art students. The place was so big that they each had their own prefab shed or gazebo they’d bought at Home Depot, all of them arranged in a rough circle, so it was like a huge indoor Smurf village, only instead of Smurfs it was populated with dudes wearing paint-splattered boots and girls who didn’t shave their armpits.

Low-Rent Districts

It looked like a utopia to me. “How much is your rent?” I asked Jon.

He shrugged. “Two hundred a month, but a lot of months we don’t pay. The landlord doesn’t keep track.”

“Really?”

“Someone was killed right outside last week,” he said. “Right on the corner there. I guess he figures no one else would rent the place anyway, so why bother?”

No one had been killed anywhere near my house in D.C., not for a long while, even though I lived just a block from what was supposedly the deadliest intersection in the city, 6th and O. This was before gentrification really picked up, but it was clear the neighborhood wasn’t bad anymore, and our rent had started to reflect that.

The only crime I’d seen was when someone robbed the corner store across the street while I waited in line to buy a 40 ounce with my unemployment check money. He’d flashed a gun, but asked for the money politely, with a smile, and left without even squeezing off any warning shots, which at least would’ve held off that year’s rent increase.

We drove in Jon’s truck to a bar that had dollar beers. Halfway there, he paused at an intersection and pointed down a long, deserted street. Rusted out kitchen appliances were piled across the street to form an impassable barricade.

“No one even cares,” Jon said. “It’s been like that for months.”

Home Sweet Home

Baltimore seemed like the opposite of D.C., like heaven on earth. Dilapidated warehouse villages, Mad Max-style anarchy, murders and municipal indifference to keep rents down. D.C. just seemed so D.C., populated by earnest nonprofit employees and interns in their early 20s who dressed like they were in their early 40s. Rents were steadily climbing, and I knew it was going to get a lot worse, though I had no idea how bad it would eventually get. As we drove, I felt the uneasiness of someone realizing they’d made the wrong decision.

At the bar, I felt self-conscious about being the only one without paint splatters on my clothes. I made a decision then and there; I was going to move to Baltimore. If Lana wasn’t on board, we’d have to break up.

Upon returning to Aidra’s house, we found police cars parked along the street, their lights flashing. Lana was sitting on the front steps of the house, one arm bandaged, as a group of cops tried to calm a raging, purple-faced woman who I suddenly realized was Aidra.

“What happened?” I asked Lana.

“I don’t know. Aidra went off her meds last week, and just came at me.” Lana pointed up at the third floor. “She tried to push me out that window while screaming gibberish. She had me halfway out before I was able to fight her off. The glass cut my arm all up.”

“What should we do? Call her aunt?”

“We’re going home,” Lana said.

A Sinking Feeling

She went into the house as Aidra screamed at her from behind her cordon of police about the hidden microphones and cameras Lana had installed in her house. I stood there thinking that if Lana hadn’t gotten hurt, maybe I’d have gone through with my plan and told her I was staying in Baltimore, but now I felt bad, although that was only part of it.

I also remembered now that my name was on the lease for our apartment, and that I couldn’t just walk away from it. It seemed like an extremely D.C. thing to think, and I realized that even though I’d made the wrong choice, it was maybe too late for a do-over.

Baltimore was twice as cool, at half the price, and was trending in the right direction, or at least not trending in the wrong one. D.C. was all about property values, career advancement and young, white-collar couples pushing Cadillac-style strollers, sipping expensive coffee from cardboard cups. When I told people in D.C. I was on unemployment, they moved away from me like they thought poverty might be contagious.

When Lana came out with our bags, Jon drove us to the train station, and we returned to our life in D.C. — orderly, upwardly mobile, and certain, and at the same time, stifling, sanitized, oppressive, a vaguely Stepfordian dystopia. Every time a neighbor bugged us about our grass being an inch too long, I thought wistfully back to the Baltimore of unpredictability and furor and rusty appliance barricades. A few months later, Lana and I broke up. She immediately moved to Baltimore.

 

A Local Cabin in the Woods

When the dog days of summer hit and D.C. gets downright swampy, a lot of people start thinking about getting out of town. But the grass isn’t always greener, and in the end, you may be better off hunkering down in your air-conditioned apartment.

The weekend trip is a rite of passage for every new relationship. You get to see how things work in a new context, and you’re guaranteed to get some insights about the other person. Traveling reveals character; driving, especially. I’m a big believer that bad drivers are bad at everything in life.

I was once sitting at a red light with a woman, four cars back from the front, and she did that thing where she tapped her horn the instant the light turned green. I knew then and there that things wouldn’t work out.

Southern Hospitality

We were headed to a rented cabin in West Virginia for a few days in the country. It was summer in D.C., and we thought it would be cooler out there. We stopped in a little town a half-hour from our cabin to get groceries, and on the way back to the car, a pair of local guys called me over. They were clearly drunk and had a breathalyzer attached to their steering wheel.

“Blow on that for us, would you?” One of them asked me. “We have to get home. It’s an emergency.”

“Well, if it’s an emergency,” I said. They seemed pretty down and out, so I thought I’d do them a favor. I blew into the tube, but the breathalyzer made an angry sound.

“You didn’t do it right,” said the guy who’d asked me. He looked at me with bloodshot eyes. “If you do it wrong twice in a row, it locks the steering wheel for eight hours. So do it right this time.”

This was said in a tone that was clearly threatening. “I’m going to go wait in the car,” said the woman I was with — let’s call her Mandy — and left.

I bent and blew into the tube as hard as I could. A green light blinked, and the two men smiled, patted me on the shoulder and got in. They peeled out of the parking lot and went shooting down the road. The driver was weaving a little, but he straightened out as they passed a school bus going the other way.

“Got to make nice with the locals when you come up here,” I said as I got into the car. Mandy looked at me but said nothing.

Long & Winding Road

The cabin was off a dirt road, down a winding driveway, nestled in the woods. As I was unloading everything from the car, Mandy said, “I think there’s someone in the house.”

The house looked deserted to me, but it was in the middle of nowhere, and I could imagine someone breaking in and squatting there, this nice tourist cabin that was probably empty three-quarters of the year. Maybe the two drunks whose car I’d started were squatting here, and we’d all have a laugh before I blew their car to life again and sent them on their way.

“Want me to check it out?” I asked. We hadn’t been dating long, and I knew this was a great opportunity to fool her into thinking I was a tough, alpha male type.

Goldilocks? Snow White?

“Yes. It looked like a woman. Maybe a girl. She was in the upper window.”

I unlocked the front door and went inside. It was a small but appealing cabin, recently renovated. Everything was clean and in its place; it didn’t look like anyone had been living there. Upstairs, the bed was made and everything looked untouched. I looked out the window and saw Mandy sitting in the car. She didn’t look like she was enjoying her weekend trip very much.

“It seems fine in there,” I said to her back at the car. “Maybe it was just the sun reflecting on the glass or something?”

“I don’t know,” she said, unconvinced. “But I’m not sleeping here until we really search the place, top to bottom.”

Inside, we went through every closet, looked under the bed, threw back the shower curtain, opened all the cupboards. There was no sign of anyone. We’d just started to relax, make a few jokes about being nervous city dwellers, when I noticed the outline on the kitchen floor.

Don’t Go in There

“Is that a trapdoor?” I said.

“I believe so,” Mandy said. She stood there looking down at the trapdoor, hands on hips, trying to look nonchalant.

“Should I open it?”

“Absolutely not.”

But I couldn’t resist, and besides, what if there was someone down there, waiting for us to fall asleep so they could creep out?

I grabbed the pull rope and swung the door up. A narrow set of stairs went down into a pitch black stone-walled cellar that looked like it extended quite a ways back.

We stood there looking down into the dark. It didn’t need to be said that neither of us was going down there. I could tell that Mandy was thinking that this entire trip had been a mistake, and I didn’t disagree.

“Do you want to sleep here tonight?” I asked.

“No.”

“Me neither. Let’s just head back.”

We put the bags back in the car, did a nine-point turn, and headed back up the driveway. As we turned onto the dirt road, I looked back at the house, thinking I’d see someone stealthily moving a curtain aside to watch us go, but the house was dark and still.

The Final Nail

Going back through town, we hit a red light and sat behind a line of pickups. I could see Mandy’s hand hovering above her horn, just waiting for the light to turn.

“They’ll shoot you for that out here,” I said. “That guy in front of us literally has a gun rack on his truck.”

Mandy looked at me. “Don’t tell me how to drive,” she said.

It was a long drive back on that winding-two lane, knowing there were drunks weaving around out there, their cars blown to life by over-credulous tourists. That was the last time I took a weekend trip out of D.C., with Mandy or anyone else.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Mr. President!

Would you be surprised if I told you that Father’s Day has only been an official holiday since 1972, when it was signed into law by President Nixon, of all people?

The cynical point of view is that he was heading into an election that fall with a less-than-stellar approval rating, and the Father’s Day proclamation (which previous presidents had declined to issue) was a low-effort way to get a little publicity and appeal to male voters. If this is indeed what he had in mind, it worked; he won the election a few months later, taking 49 out of 50 states.

Of course, he never finished that term.

Father’s Day may be on its way out, too. It’s like when you watch live sports and they cut to the cheerleaders. “Society can’t possibly let this go on much longer,” you think. All the cultural currents are against it.

This isn’t a bad thing. I’ll miss cheerleaders more than Father’s Day, if only because I don’t have to drop $100 on them every year for bad cologne and a tie that’ll never be worn. (Half that money is overnight shipping, because who remembers Father’s Day until the last minute?)

Father’s Day was actually established as a response to Mother’s Day, which is, you know, not a great look.

After Mother’s Day celebrations became widespread, various people piped up and said, “Hey, what about DADS?” which must have provoked plenty of eye rolling, because back in the 1910s, fathers did basically zero parenting. They planted the seed, paid for the food and they were done.

But the cologne and tie industries stepped up their lobbying, and soon we had a new money pit.

There are actually religious traditions celebrating fathers that go back to the 14th century. These generally took place around the feast day of St. Joseph, which is kind of weird, because as I understand the story, Joseph didn’t, you know, actually father his son. We’ve been celebrating Stepdad’s Day all this time and we didn’t even know it!

I kid, I kid.

While mothers have always done way more of the work of parenting, and still do, dads are obviously impactful too. Not to get too neo-Freudian on you, but your relationship with your father basically establishes your relationship with the world. If you uncritically accept your dad, you’ll probably grow up to be the type of person who tears up at commercials and unironically says things like, “Heck, I dress like this for comfort!”

And if you generally disapprove of and roll your eyes at your dad, you’ll probably grow up to be the type of person who gets face tattoos and listens to podcasts about government conspiracies. Thanks, dads!

But as much as I joke about Father’s Day, I’m just like you. I couldn’t imagine not celebrating it and risking my dad thinking that I’ve forgotten about him.

So next Sunday, my dad will wake up to an overnighted Amazon package, read the accompanying note that says, “Why would you tell an 11yo that kissing girls gives you fatal diseases???” smile as he looks at the enclosed tie and cologne, and then put that tie and cologne in a dusty cupboard that already contains dozens of other unworn ties and unopened bottles of cologne.

Then he’ll go back to posting Minions memes in the comments section of Walmart’s Facebook page.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day is sort of a strange holiday; we’re thanking our mothers for concentrating all their youthful vitality into a baked potato-sized little being and then expelling it. Are we sure we should be grateful for this?

My mother always tells me, “Trust me, do NOT have kids.” I laugh and nod, because yeah, having kids is the absolute last thing I would ever do. But she’s also letting me know that her mistake — my existence — has ruined her life, which I can’t really argue with. I guess she’s still mad I crashed her car into a cemetery in high school.

She’s probably onto something, though.

One thing you notice when people you know have kids, is that no one’s life gets easier afterward. It only gets harder. But no, they always say when you point this out, aside from the sleep deprivation, premature graying, perpetual firehose-like outrush of cash and the eating of dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets in the car on the way to karate because you don’t have time to make a real meal, no, aside from all that, it’s totally worth it when you see that kid smile at you.

To which I say, “But that kid just smiled at me, and all it cost me was a packet of stickers I bought at Target.”

But then, once in a while, you get a mother who, like my mother, admits it was probably a mistake. In those cases, you want to ask, “So why did you?”

The strange thing about having kids is, I’ve never heard anyone explain why they had kids. Usually you just get, “Because I wanted them,” which is really something you say when you get caught shoplifting a pair of headphones, not when you’re justifying the creation of another human being.

Not that simple desire isn’t adequate motivation to do something. I bought a leather jacket last week because I wanted it. But it isn’t kicking anyone’s airplane seat nonstop from NYC to Dallas.

I mean, we all know why people have kids.

mothers day

We all have, woven into our DNA, a biological imperative to transmit our genes into the future. But that’s never how parents justify having kids. They never say, “I just had this weird urge to transmit my genetic material, and then, boom!”

The disconnect between the real reasons mothers (and, yes, fathers) have kids and the reasons they give makes me wonder if there’s something necessarily self-deluding about the decision, that maybe you can’t undertake something as clearly ruinous and inadvisable as having kids without fooling yourself a little. And that when the fog clears, years later, and you see what you’ve wrought, reality kicks in.

Most people don’t admit to themselves, much less anyone else, that they feel this way. They say things like, “Who knows how my life would’ve turned out? Besides, sleeping 10 hours a night and having disposable income is overrated!” Or, “I’m so proud of my kids.” (Don’t think they’ve escaped unscathed: Was it Jung who said the biggest influence on a child is the unlived life of the parents?)

But then, once in a while, you get someone who’s honest, and comes right out with it, instead of perpetuating the whole scam. So yeah, thanks Mom, I guess. Happy Mother’s Day?

 

AwesomeCon is this Weekend!

It wasn’t so long ago that liking comics, science fiction or any other aspect of “geek” culture would get you wedgied, swirlied or otherwise quietly ostracized from mainstream social circles.

How the wheel has turned!

Nowadays, if you tell people around the office water cooler that you didn’t see the last Avengers movie, they’ll look at you like you just said you don’t have indoor plumbing in your house, and then, after you leave, quietly whisper to each other that you’re an elitist.

Are things better or worse now? Hard to say.

The lines are definitely longer at AwesomeCon, though, which is happening this coming weekend at the Convention Center downtown. What started in 2013 as a relatively small fan convention has mushroomed into a major DMV cultural event, complete with a roster of guests including Weird Al Yankovic, four cast members of Star Trek: the Next Generation, and the guy who played Hercules in that Xena spinoff from the ’90s.

Fans of Marina Sirtis, the benevolent and busty Counselor Deanna Troi, will be excited to know that she is on the list. Also on tap: Brent Spiner (Commander Data, the modern version of the emotionless Mr. Spock), Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher, a somewhat dull character who writers kept interest alive in by creating some sexual tension between her and Captain Jean-Luc Picard) and Jonathan Frakes (Commander William Riker, aka No. 1, another bland character).

Older movie buffs will be excited to see Ralph Macchio, the original Karate Kid, at the convention. If you decide to buy an autograph for $40, ask him about what it was like working with Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny.

Even older comics fans will remember Lou Ferrigno, the hulkier half of The Incredible Hulk, a 1970s TV series also starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner, the Hulk before he gets angry.

Kelly Lebrock will be there because she was in Weird Science, but she will always be better remembered for that ’80s Pantene shampoo commercial where she says, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” If you go and you find she is no longer beautiful, please be kind, despite the temptation to taunt her.

Although we haven’t heard much from him lately, revered and respected actor Anthony Michael Hall, star of coming-of-age iconic classics such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, will also be in attendance, probably talking more about his roles in Weird Science, Edward Scissorhands and The Dead Zone.

Another serious and beloved actor of his time, Val Kilmer, best known for his portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors movie and his appearance alongside Tom Cruise in Top Gun, has also been reduced to signing autographs for money on the weekends, although his John Hancock is $75.

Somewhat curiously, James Brindenstine, NASA administrator appointed during the Trump administration, will also be in attendance.

Maybe the guest list’s not exactly chock full of A-listers, and maybe geek culture isn’t quite totally mainstream just yet, but AwesomeCon’s guest list might be the most eclectic ever compiled.

If only they’d gotten Worf …


AwesomeCon, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; Friday, April 26, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, April 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; tickets, $15-$999.

 

Cannabis Festival 2019

People who love weed and people who hate weed have one thing in common: smoking weed.

This isn’t supposed to be some kind of glib little non-comment; I mean that if you talk to people who smoke weed regularly, you’ll find that most of them like it, but a lot of them don’t really like it. I happen to be one of the latter.

I don’t smoke every day — I’m not one of those compulsives who downs a liter of vodka in the closet in the morning and then wrings their hands about it — but I do partake when it’s offered, which, if you’re a long-haired layabout with an ironic crustache, is fairly often. And I hate it about 90% of the time.

But my fear of being thought uncool is far greater than my fear of spending the next three hours staring at myself in a mirror and muttering, “What the hell are you DOING with your life?” So I always smoke the weed that’s offered, and I always hate it.

So it was strange, being at the 420 Festival at the RFK Festival Grounds where weed — and weed smokers — were everywhere. I was with my friend Anthony, who loves weed, and within 10 minutes of us walking in, he’d seen someone he knew, who offered us their dab pen.

I took what I hoped was a small hit, but soon I was thinking about the inevitability of death, how my refusal to schedule six-month checkups at the dentist was a symptom of a profound lack of self-respect, and how everyone was looking at me.

But maybe I was just high?

“Hey,” I said to Anthony. “Are all these people staring at us?”

He looked around. “I think so, yeah.”

“Oh, God. Are you sure?”

“Yeah, they’re definitely staring,” he said. But he didn’t seem bothered.

This is sort of what I meant about how people who love weed and hate weed both smoke weed.

I used to think that I was having a different experience when I smoked weed than the people who loved it. But a little questioning revealed that, no, we were both experiencing roughly the same thing. It’s just that they didn’t seem to care, and I cared too much.

As we walked around the festival, I was struck by how many educational booths we passed. There were a lot of booths about how weed was actually good for you, like kale or flossing, which made me like weed even less.

A clean-cut young man was talking about how he microdosed a small amount of THC edibles throughout the day, to increase his productivity at work. Consuming weed to be better at your desk job? Not even the most deranged, paranoid pothead in the seventies had ever envisioned this future.

There were even booths about how weed legalization was good for the economy because it created jobs. Jobs? That’s like selling vodka to an alcoholic by telling them it’ll give them cirrhosis. I’m trying to live in a world with fewer jobs, not more.

There were also several community service booths, but unfortunately I was too high to appreciate them.

When I saw the table for the free HIV test, I immediately became sure I had HIV, and then when I saw the table about some kind of community bail project for people in jail, I became utterly sure that I’d committed some crime for which I would be sent to jail. I just couldn’t remember what. I looked around for cops, but what I saw instead was the DC Slices booth.

A few minutes later we were sitting down with slices of pizza, mango lemonades and funnel cakes. We were bent over our plates, staring at passersby as they stared at us, eating as fast as we could. This, I thought, is exactly what eating is like in jail. I made a mental note to Google, “how to make a shiv out of a toothbrush handle” when I got home — if I made it home.

An attractive woman in yoga pants walked by. “You’re staring,” said Anthony.

I tore my eyes away and thought for a minute. “You know,” I said, “being an attractive woman is probably like being high all the time. Everywhere you go, everyone’s always staring at you.”

Anthony looked at me and then stared off into the distance. “Whoa,” he said.

 

Creative Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

All holidays are made up, but Valentine’s Day seems especially made up. I don’t even have to go to the Valentine’s Day page on Wikipedia to tell you that, whatever its origins, it had nothing to do with a mediocre prix fixe dinner and a Victoria’s Secret gift bag. And yet here we are, dreading the 14th and texting our significant others, “Uh I don’t care what we do, why don’t you decide.”

No one really cares about Valentine’s except trophy wives and couples who’ve been dating less than a year — we’re basically being held hostage by the people you change airplane seats to avoid.

But until I’m elected president and sign my landmark “Valentine’s Ban” legislation, we’re stuck celebrating it. So here are some stupid ways to ironically celebrate what’s probably the dumbest holiday of the year, tied with Christmas. (“It’s Jesus’ birthday, so put a tree in your living room.”)

GO TO WHITE CASTLE

I have this theory that most new things start out as jokes between two people who are high, and then somehow, they became actual serious things, and this one seems to back up that theory.

On Valentine’s Day, White Castle converts to a tablecloths-and-candlelight restaurant, with waitstaff and reservations, so you and the love of your life can go split a dozen sliders while discussing baby names under fluorescent lighting. Last year, they took over 30,000 reservations.

I actually really like the ironic tackiness of this idea, but unfortunately the closest White Castle is in Whitehall, PA, so unless you’re REALLY committed to this joke, maybe just hit the Wendy’s drive-thru.

Related: heart-shaped pizzas from Papa John’s and Pizza Hut. Though the execution was so blatantly sloppy, maybe only opt for this if you’re trying to ease your significant other towards a “this-isn’t-really-working-out” moment.

THE LOVE SAUSAGE

Get your mind out of the gutter. The Love Sausage is an Irish novelty sausage that’s shaped like a heart. “Lightly truffled, wrapped in bacon,” reads the description, and it’s shown with two fried eggs nestled inside.

If you secretly want to murder your significant other, but don’t have the nerve to actually plunge a knife into their heart, this gift will basically do the same thing.

SHRED YOUR EX’S PHOTO AT HOOTERS

If you don’t have anyone to celebrate Valentine’s with, you’re rootin’ tootin’ mad about that and you like bad chicken wings, everyone’s favorite breastaurant is offering 10 free wings to anyone who brings in their ex’s photo for a ritual shredding on-site.

While some people would argue that angry single men publicly burning their exes in effigy and then eating plates of meat while staring wordlessly at college students in push-up bras is kind of disturbing, I think that — actually, no, it is pretty disturbing when you put it like that. Everyone stay far away from Hooters on Valentine’s Day.

NAME A COCKROACH AFTER YOUR EX AND WATCH IT BEING EATEN BY A MONKEY

You can go to the Facebook page for the El Paso Zoo in El Paso, Texas, bestow your ex’s name on a cockroach, and then watch that cockroach being devoured, live on Facebook, by a meerkat on Valentine’s Day. It’s kinda creepy, but also kinda cute. The zoo’s had such a huge response that they’ve had to recruit several more cockroach-eating creatures, including two tamarins and a marmoset.

Act fast and you’ll be able to spend your Valentine’s evening sitting alone at your laptop, watching a grainy livestream while tearily screaming, “Take that, Jordan! And you still haven’t given me back my books!”

 

Super Bowl or Fair-to-Middling Bowl?

At some point, I became that which I hate most: a person who doesn’t watch a single football game all year, who doesn’t even follow what’s happening in the NFL, but watches the Super Bowl.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with watching football. And there’s nothing wrong with not watching football. But watching only the Super Bowl bespeaks a certain kind of desperation. It makes it seem like you’re afraid of missing out. Missing out on what?

Something super, obviously. Which is ludicrous, because if you’ve ever watched a football game (and I’ve watched one a year for the past 10 years), you know that nothing super ever happens. Mostly it’s fat guys running into each other and then falling down. But I continue to watch the Super Bowl (maybe the name’s ironic?) for two reasons: because I bet money on it, and because it’s terrible.

Let’s address the betting first. The Super Bowl has this thing called “prop bets,” which are all these random events that you can bet on, many of which aren’t even sports-related: whether the national anthem will be longer than, say, two minutes, what songs the halftime performer will sing, etc. You do some research on each one (i.e. 10 minutes of Googling), place your bets, and sit back.

Money won from betting is so much sweeter than money you earn. When you get a paycheck from your job, you know deep down that all you did for that money was physically show up to an office, restrain yourself from yelling obscenities at your co-workers, and maybe fiddle around with an Excel spreadsheet from like 4:40 to 5 p.m. every day. You didn’t really earn that money; that money is more like a bribe that society is paying you to not become the Unabomber. But gambling money?! Betting is a multi-billion-dollar industry whose entire reason for existence is to separate you from your money. Outsmarting those people and their algorithms is extremely satisfying.

“Oh, but you didn’t outsmart anyone; you just got lucky,” people will say. Yes, but getting lucky means the universe wanted me to win that money. The universe was on my side. That’s what luck is. And that’s the real reward of the gambler; knowing that, for a moment, your intentions and the universe’s intentions were perfectly lined up.

Unfortunately, getting to that moment of perfect harmony requires you to watch about three hours of fat guys running into each other and then falling down. And the game itself isn’t even the worst part of it. No, the worst part is everything else.

Credit: Staff Sgt. Christopher Bolen

The Super Bowl always starts out with a conspicuous display of patriotism; literal troops waving literal flags, and sometimes even literal bald eagles trained to swoop down out of the sky at the anthem’s crescendo. What does patriotism have to do with football? I have no idea. If I was cynical, I’d say it was pandering. And it doesn’t stop there.

The commercials — oh Lord, the commercials — are even worse. Never mind the “funny” ones (they’re never funny) — the worst ones are the Very Serious ones.

It’s always a car or beer commercial. It starts with some artfully filtered footage, often in slow motion, a montage of some sort, with a voice-over from a famous actor solemnly reciting various Hallmark-card quality sentiments about Family and Country and Community and Love and Courage, etc. Then at the end, you see, something like a bottle of Coors Light. And you’re sitting there angry, actually angry, not only because you let a stupid Super Bowl commercial get on your nerves, but because the sheer quality of the pandering — low, sloppy, barely trying — is actually insulting to your intelligence. They thought that was going to get me to buy their stupid beer? But when you turn to Meg from HR to say that, you see she has a single tear rolling down her cheek.

“That was a good one,” Meg says.

“Yes, Meg, that one was pretty good,” you reply.

Then comes halftime, when a not-very-good band plays not-very-good music, and since they’re performing on a portable stage wheeled out into the middle of a football field, they also have paid audience members rush out onto the field and gather around the stage and “cheer.” And you can tell from the frozen grins on their faces, and the mechanical way they wave their arms, that in the Paid Audience Member contract they signed, it almost surely said something like, “If you are filmed on camera not smiling or waving your arms at a rate slower than twenty (20) oscillations per minute, Super Bowl LLC reserves the right to withhold payment.”

And it occurs to you that you’re basically the same as those fake audience members, looking on without any real interest or joy, except you’re not even getting paid. And you hate yourself.

But then this is also part of the reason I watch the Super Bowl. Because if this kind of thing still infuriates you, at least you know you haven’t totally lost it yet. Nothing against Meg from HR — she’s a perfectly pleasant woman — but let’s be honest, there’s a reason her husband left her last year for a woman who sells essential oils on Facebook.

And that’s the Super Bowl. It’s like a three-hour field trip to the Real America (which is also the Worst America), and at the same time, if you’re lucky, you can make some money off it. For example, this year, the national anthem is a lock to go long. Gladys Knight is singing it this year, and if you think she’s not going to milk it, you’ve never watched her on “Hollywood Squares” in a dentist’s waiting room. Brevity is a four-letter word to Ms. Knight. Bet the farm on the over. (You’re welcome.) Brevity is a four letter word to Ms. Knight. Bet the farm on the over. (You’re welcome.)

Furloughed? There’s a Drink Special for You!

Aaaaaand the shutdown continues.

Sure, the government of the most powerful country on the planet has been shuttered because someone can’t tell the difference between a marketing slogan and a campaign promise, but look on the bright side – there are drink specials!  

If you’re a depressed government employee who’s not being paid, Lord knows you need some cheap drinks. Some people might say that depression and alcohol (a depressant) don’t mix, but to those people I say BLEARRRRGH, as I vomit onto their mailbox and then pass out in their front yard.

Without further ado, here are the best places to drink during the shutdown.

CAPITOL LOUNGE

This bar’s shutdown cocktail menu made waves on social media, with offerings like the “Nothing Else Mattis” (Mad Dog 20/20 and vodka, ugh), “Mexico Will Pay For This” (tequila, orange juice, grenadine), and the “Border Wall Banger” (tequila, Galliano, orange juice). Each is $5 with a government employee ID, which is a pretty good deal if you’re into crippling hangovers.

Of course, people on Twitter started suggesting cocktail names – for example the “Moscow Mueller” and “Kavanaugh Beer.” I’m disappointed no one came up with the “Benedict Arnold Palmer.”

CARMINE’S

This downtown establishment is offering happy hour specials including $6 bourbon all day until the shutdown ends, and from 2 to 4 p.m. every weekday, furloughed federal employees get a free order of meatball sliders. “I have a master’s degree in public policy so why am I eating charity meat sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon,” is what you’ll think shortly before you lock yourself in a bathroom stall to cry it out and then Google “best MBA programs.”

 

DC BRAU

Furloughed feds get a discount based on how long the shutdown goes on; on day 20, you get 20 percent off, on day 30, 30 percent off, et cetera.  If Trump follows through on his threat and this shutdown goes on for years, after about three months and 10 days, DC Brau is going to be paying you to drink there. At the 300-day mark, they’ll be paying you $10 to drink a $5 beer! I don’t care what the manager says, the math is on my side.

COMMISSARY

This P Street place is extending Bottomless Mondays to Bottomless Monday through Fridays, as long as the shutdown lasts. That means that every weekday, you can get bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys for $15. It’ll be just like that special existentialist episode of “Sex in the City” where the girls drink themselves to death.

 

ESPITA MEZCALERIA

This Shaw Mexican eatery is offering half-priced margaritas to furloughed workers for as long as the shutdown continues. (Bonus offer: Make an unironic comment about “building the wall” and pay double the normal price!)

CITY WINERY

This Ivy City restaurant and live music venue is offering $1 glasses of wine to government workers. For less than the price of a movie ticket, you could wake up tomorrow with several texts from your ex saying, “Is that you screaming outside my apartment?” or “You better pay to fix my window — where did you even find that dead possum?!”

 

Try These Sensible Resolutions

My New Year’s resolution is to openly mock my friends when they fail at their New Year’s resolutions in, like, three weeks. And they will fail, because everyone fails at keeping their New Year’s resolutions. (I’ll fail too; I can’t resist a good mocking.)

But why do we fail? Is it because we lack discipline? (Yes.) Is it because since the day we were born, genetics and history have locked us into a predetermined future in which escape, control or self-improvement is nothing more than a delusion? (Again, yes.)

But it’s also because your resolutions are kinda bad. No one’s going to notice even if you do lose that 10 pounds. Quitting smoking is just going to turn you into a vaper, which is arguably even worse. There’s no point in trying to cut your screen time if you don’t treat the social anxiety that’s making you constantly want to escape into your phone in the first place.

You don’t need more discipline, you just need better resolutions. So here are some resolutions that will actually make your life better, if you manage to stick with them for more than two weeks, which you won’t.

1. STOP TAKING ADVICE FROM YOUR PARENTS

I’m always amazed at how many adults actually take advice from their parents. A friend of mine recently had two job offers in two different cities, and made her choice based on which city her mother thought would be better for her. This is a woman who accidentally filmed her daughter’s entire wedding through the front-facing camera of her phone, so all she got was a 45 minute closeup of her own quivering tear-streaked face. And you’re going to consult her about a major life decision? She watches network TV!

Your parents’ values and worldviews were formed in an era that’s been paved over and replaced so many times that at this point they might as well be from ancient Egypt. If you really think “the old ways are the wisest,” how about next time you get sick, you go see a Civil War-era doctor who uses leeches and tongs? It’s 2019 — if you need life advice, you’d be better off asking a high-schooler.

2. STOP DRINKING DUMB COFFEE

Coffee is just hot bean water that’s crappy Adderall from before they invented Adderall. You’ll have so much more respect for yourself (and lose so much weight) if you just drink it black. I mean, if you want a milkshake, have a milkshake. But if you want coffee, have coffee.

The only exceptions: you can have milk in it if you’re some kind of goatherd getting by on 800 calories a day, and you can have a little sugar if you’re 9 years old or younger. That’s it. And if you put flavored syrups in your coffee, you should absolutely go to prison, and not like a cushy, minimum-security prison where they send white-collar criminals. You should be sent to the type of prison where they keep El Chapo.

3. STOP TRYING TO PERSUADE PEOPLE

It pains me when I see someone on the internet trying to argue with someone who thinks, for example, that climate change is a conspiracy. You could show that person all the graphs and tables and scientific reports you want, but they won’t budge an inch. You can’t reason with someone whose position is motivated by emotion. And you know who’s motivated by emotion? Everyone.

We all just follow our gut and then retroactively make up some shaky intellectual justification for our position. Trust me, your life will be so much better and easier if you accept that no one’s reasonable, you can’t change anyone’s mind and our differences are profound and unresolvable.

Happy New Year!