Kestrel's Nest

dave's little slice of hate

Moral Absolutism and the Penn State Scandal
I'm glad that PSU was punished by the NCAA for the Jerry Sandusky molestation scandal. I'm glad that the school was levied a huge fine, lost football scholarships, and had wins removed from its record. I'm glad that those wins were taken away from Joe Paterno.

I am not, however, motivated by a vengeful glee in relishing this punishment. I don't really care about college football so I'm not interested in making snarky (if accurate) remarks about Penn State like some of my friends from The University of Pittsburgh. Pitt and Penn State have had a rivalry for many years so it's understandable that the Pitt fans and alumni share a secret smile in PSU's downfall, though, for the most part, they seem respectful. I could be wrong - I shy away from internet forums and rabid fandom. I didn't go to Pitt, I went to Allegheny College (and I have my own beefs with my alma mater) so I don't have a horse in that race.

I am motivated, instead, by what I can only consider a "moral imperative" about "justice" that Penn State is punished. I put those words in quotes because I fear falling into the same trap as so many PSU students, alumni and fans who are now lashing out about the unfair punishment they must endure. The trap to which I refer is absolutism -- believing in something so strongly, so absolutely that I lose sight of all perspective. I believe in justice. I believe justice is one of the greatest concepts humanity has conceived, that we have evolved from a philosophy of "might makes right" to the enlightened ideal that no one single man is above the law. Jerry Sandusky is a single man. And yes, Joe Paterno is a single man.
There are many who, in the aftermath of the NCAA's decision, feel that PSU is being targeted unfairly. That the sanctions and fines -- no appearances in the post season for 4 years, $60 fined, loss of Bowl revenues, fewer football scholarships -- are punishing the wrong people: the PSU faithful, who took no part in the crimes or cover up and ought not to be punished. They decry the penalties as unfair, but, I think, recognize that there were more severe penalties that were not enacted. The NCAA could have eliminated the PSU football program. That would have had a disastrous effect on the school, other university sports funded by football revenue, the local economy, and the other campuses of the PSU system. Enrollment might well plummet.

Ultimately, though, Penn State will recover. It's a black eye, this scandal, but even the
worst shiner fades in time. In ten, fifteen, twenty years the cheering crowds in Happy Valley will return with more enthusiasm and passion than ever before displayed. To those momentarily hurt by the scandal I say, "There there." This, too, shall pass. And things will return to normal.

But should they?

In Happy Valley, football is religion. It is the lifeblood of the university, it is centerpiece of the economy and its fanatic supporters have already demonstrated their unwillingness to be reasonable in the wake of what should be a simple moral question. When Joe Paterno stepped down, students rioted. No wonder of it: Penn State is a party school. Drinking is a huge part of the culture. The administrators even admit they are unable to curb, curtail or control underage binge drinking. Clearly the student body is enraptured in a culture of booze and football which supersedes their better judgment. This is a campus where a student donned a Captain America costume and took to the streets when news came out that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. It's just natural that these idiotic college kids would look more to their beloved football idol than the cold, hard facts of the situation. Right?

Such moral judgments should be reserved only for the truly religious. The sentiment of the preceding paragraph is one I've noticed in the media surrounding any story about Penn State. It's easy to throw up one's hands with a "What can you do?" attitude and simply admit that's how life is in State College, PA. I'm not religious, though, and I don’t want to be accused of such biased morality. I want to understand why the student body reacts as it does without judgment. I want to know why seemingly reasonable people would overlook monstrous acts and still maintain a defensive posture. "Don’t attack my school!" seems to be the sentiment. It's nice that they have a sense of camaraderie, of belonging to something greater than themselves. But the idea to which they belong has been demonstrably proven to be false - a false idol, frail and human, who committed, in my opinion, a crime far worse than those of his assistant coach: Ignorance of sin is, I feel, greater than sin itself.

But like I say, I'm not a religious person. So why do I feel so strongly about Paterno and Sandusky? Why do I feel confident that my moral compass is accurate on this one? What makes me more correct, say, than the religious zealots who denounce my lifestyle (homosexual) as immoral, sinful and punishable by eternal damnation? Just why do I think my morals are better than theirs?

Well, I just do. I'm right, and I think I can prove it, but would anyone believe the argument? Not disinterested third parties, mind you, but opponents - could I really sway anyone with my arguments? "Justice," I'd contend, "is dispassionate. It cares not about an individual's social status, class, background, aspirations, skin color, eye color, height, weight -- it concerns itself with only one question: 'Did you break the law?'"
"Nonsense!" my opponents would contend. "There's racial bias in the justice system! The wealthy can afford lawyers to reduce their sentences and get them off on technicalities!" Of course they're right and I know it. I know the systems of human justice are, and always will be, flawed. That doesn't mean they aren't ideals to which we should aspire. But back to the question of morality -- why do we overlook the actions of two men to defend a place to which we give money in order to receive a slip of paper? Let's consider each man.

Jerry Sandusky needs help. His crimes are terrible, yes, but that doesn't mean he's not worthy of our pity. Pedophilia is a serious issue but it can be treated. I could go on for pages and pages about how the criminalization of pedophilia and mandatory reporting laws have done a disservice to our culture in combating this affliction, but I'm not going to waste the space here. Look up Dan Savage's podcast on the subject for some more interesting thoughts.
Instead, I want to focus not on Sandusky's paraphilia, but his actions. Anyone can be a pedophile, but not everyone has the ability to use his power and connections to not only solicit young boys but to exert enough influence to keep the whole thing quiet. If, say, I were to approach a young boy in the shower at my local YMCA and begin touching him inappropriately or (heaven forbid) engaging in salacious acts, and I was observed by another party, do you know what would happen to me? I would be immediately attacked. Without reservation, anyone who saw me behaving inappropriately with a young child would rush at me with speed and the intent to do grievous bodily harm. What makes me different from Jerry Sandusky? Other than not being a pedophile, I don't have considerable influence. I'm not a respected demagogue. No one would see me behaving inappropriately, assess the situation and then turn and walk away.

Why was Sandusky allowed to continue his rapacious activities for years? Because the men who could have done something about it were fearful of their jobs. Why? Because football is religion in Happy Valley and to question Sandusky is to question St. Peter or St. Paul or a similarly revered religious figure. And the matter was brought to the attention of the man himself, the Pope of Penn State, Joe Paterno. Not unlike the actual Pope (note how I've been mum on the Catholic Church scandal so far) Paterno turned a blind eye.

There's no denying the impact of Joe Paterno. He transformed the football program at PSU and has amassed a record of wins that may well be unrivaled for the remaining history of college sports. Should his legacy be tarnished? Yes, absolutely.

The great failure of demagoguery is that we fail to embrace the very greatest thing about ourselves -- our imperfections. The human struggle is an attempt at perfection in a fundamentally imperfect world. Our aspiration to perfection is what motivates our movements of thought, science, art, poetry - we intend to make something that transcends the human condition. That's the appeal and the drama of sports - we are drawn to something greater than ourselves, to lose our individuality in a sea of navy and white, to cheer on a team as it hopes to go for a perfect season, win after win after win. And by handing over our individuality, we elevate those responsible for our transcendence to godlike status, seeing in them neither flaw nor fault. We forget, temporarily, in both our humanness and their humanness. When we believe in anyone, for any reason, above their respective humanity we have made an error in judgment. If you are religious, this is justified by claiming the individual is beyond criticism for they are beyond humanity -- Jesus was the Messiah, Mohammed the great prophet, Buddha the enlightened one -- but if your religion is grounded on the gridiron, and not miracles, then the failure to recognize humanity is all the greater.

Here's why: Faced with evidence that his chief lieutenant was indulging in inappropriate behavior, Joe Paterno did nothing to correct the actions. Instead, he actively sought to cover up the allegations and pretend nothing was wrong. He did not take his friend aside and say "You need help, Jerry. I want to get you help." He did not remove his friend from the vicinity of young boys until he got the help he needed. He avoided all of these things to preserve the pristine reputation of his school, an act which ultimately tarnished that reputation and that school.

This must be the lesson: that we should never seek to cover up, deny or hide our shortcomings and failures. The truth will out and it is better to be in control than not. Joe Paterno could have removed his friend from his responsibilities, encouraged him to get help. If anyone asked, he could have said "My friend Jerry needs help. He is my friend, and I want to see him get the help he needs." If the story broke, he could have said "Yes, I tried to keep this story from the papers, but not because I wanted to protect my reputation or that of the school, but because I was worried about my friend. I was worried that the media would demonize him and ruin his life. He has made mistakes, and he is responsible for those mistakes. But I am his friend, I will stand by him and I will make sure he gets the help he needs so that no one else need be harmed by his actions."

Of course we all know that never would have happened. Who knows? Maybe Paterno did encourage Sandusky to get help. What we know is that Sandusky was not removed, more boys were molested, and ultimately the scandal exploded. Paterno was taken down, Sandusky has been convicted. Why, though, didn't Paterno act?

Crimes against children are considered the most heinous in our culture. Sexual violence against children is beyond the pale, the very worst that our imaginations can offer. As the religious might say, there's a special place in hell for people like that. Why, though, does this stigma exist? Obviously there is the belief in childlike innocence. Rape happens every day, and when a woman gets raped a part of us says, "Well, she was an adult. She knew the risks." But if the rape victim is a child, we say "That poor child. There is no way that child could have understood the risks. No way that that child deserved to be raped, like those adult women do."

Don't think that's true? This is the price we pay for a religious society, obsessed with sinfulness. Women who have sex are sinful therefore they deserve their punishments, both physical and spiritual. That is why the "rape culture" so often described by feminists does not change. Somehow, though, we believe that children are sacred, spared from the taint of sin and sensuality that we as adults are. That's why sexual assault of children rankles us so; it twists in the pit of our stomachs and makes us feel wretched.

We're so obsessed, in fact, that we parade the victims, pour out our hearts, wail and moan, and pray, pray, PRAY that someday, somehow they'll recover. And we ignore the fact that a significant number of sexual assault victims go on to lead healthy, normal lives. We forget that the first step in the healing process is admitting that something bad happened, making the guilty parties accountable, and moving forward. We're so sex negative that we don't create the kind of environment where someone like Jerry Sandusky could have come forward to a trusted, confidential therapist and received help for his issues.

This in no way exonerates Sandusky of the evils of his crimes. I am in no way suggesting we judge him less, or that he does not deserve the full punishment for the crimes of which he was convicted. I have no deep-seeded hippy-dippy liberal agenda asking for compassion and understanding for a man who willfully molested young boys by means of forgiving him or lessening the horror of his actions. I do think that compassion, understanding and forgiveness are within our capacity and we should consider leveling them towards Sandusky, not for his actions but because we could have helped him and others like him if we showed more of those qualities. Even so, he chose to exert his power and he chose to commit his crimes, therefore his punishment is just.

And that is why I think the Penn State punishment is appropriate. I think that the institution should be shamed for harboring this man, misguided by his inner demons though he was. I think that it should be a clear message to the world that such acts of cowardice and concealment can never be tolerated, that they will always be found out, and that failure to rid yourself or your organization of such cancers will always lead to self destruction.

I'm sorry if that offends the Nittany Lion faithful, but I charge you with this: Be good and do good. Live your lives with your heads held high. Learn from this example and take its lessons to heart; never allow its like to repeat at your school, or any place you work. You have the power to restore dignity and honor to your school. You have the power to overcome these obstacles and set an example for the generations to come. You can be a part of the change that is coming, accepting the sins of the past and building a better world for tomorrow. You are Penn State.

10 Books That Screwed Up The World
Browsing Half Priced Books recently -- searching, as I do, for Pride & Prejudice & Zombies -- I encountered a book called "10 Books That Screwed Up The World," and reading the dust cover decided to purchase. As I found it in the humor section, I imagined that I would be on an entertaining joyride of the flaws and foibles of famous books -- Mill's Utilitarianism, Hobbes' Leviathan, Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, etc. How wrong was I.

As I began the first chapter, on The Prince, by some Italian gentlemen whose name I cannot recall, it became quite clear to me that the author and I had fundamentally different views on the world. In fact, I found his "criticism" of these supposedly screwy books to be an interesting, if abbreviated, reminder of certain philosophies which I have encountered in their various evolved permutations throughout my life. For instance, I had forgotten that Descartes is the originator of the "ghost in the machine" concept or that Hobbes is the progenitor of the notion that what other people do is okay as long as it does not hurt us. Yet the author, whose name is Wiker and perhaps ought to be Wanker, has merely offered a summary of the works of these philosophers, the briefest of biographies, and merely concludes that because many of them were atheists that their conceptualizations of good and evil, morality, and the true nature of humanity are inherently flawed.

True, I believe that these great thinkers upon whose ideas our modern world is built did give short shrift to spirituality, but in the goal of disseminating their ideas, which indeed were radical, they had to adopt a martial stance -- no greater evidence than Karl Marx, who called for revolution of the proletariat in the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Marx, I'm sure, was every bit the dictatorial douchebag the author posits, as even his colleagues and compatriots indicate (Engels of particular note). Nevertheless, the author fails to realize that the moral authorities which had governed the world for so long required such men to shake the very foundations of faith so that Faith would remain relevant in the rapidly modernizing world.

My own worldview is not so lopsided as either this author or the philosophers whom he attacks. I believe, instead, in a macronomic philosophy which encapsulates both the notions of theism an atheism as byproducts of the natural human condition. Dealing with the micronomic viewpoint of this Mr. Wiker -- and these Mrs. Darwin, Hobbes, Mill, Marx et. alia -- gives me tremendous pause at the way in which ideology has ensnared the human senses and created the kind of ineffectual partisanship which results in the useless dissipation of our energies.

Though it does stir up in me a notion which I find quite curious -- that antagonism is the truest way to identify what one believes. Were I to ask a Liberal or a Conservative to state what they believe and why, I no doubt would get a list of core beliefs, but these would be tainted by a longer list of what they are NOT. A conservative is NOT interested in wasting the dollars of the taxpayers; a liberal is NOT interested in legislative morality. By exploring this book, which I had considered putting down when the thesis of its author became clear to me in Chapter 1, I have forced myself to experience and review ideas contrary to my own. Owing in part to my radical moderation, I am able to divorce myself from personal animosity and thereby critically analyze these affronts, which in turn have allowed me to produce a laundry list of "what I believe," the result of which is a clearer understanding of my own guiding philosophy and what compels me to do good in this life.

What interests me most is that however insular one may be, antagonism seems to be a natural occurrence. While antagonism may come in deliberately brutal forms (i.e., that of an invading army), it also comes in the most benign of forms in those who simply choose to disagree with us. The fundamental selfishness of humanity always breeds some measure of reaction when an idea to which we hold true is challenged. This is not to imply that selfishness is bad, for in my concept of philosophy it is the defining characteristic of humans. Our concept of "self" is what separates us from our animal brethren, and part and parcel to that concept of self is what we believe. Invariably, challenges to our believes translates into defense of the self.

I have never understood the appeal of hermitage, but I suppose one could successfully argue that the life of a hermit is perhaps the only kind of life free of antagonism. At least, that is, antagonism of a human form. No doubt the hermit has some philosophy or concept of life that is challenged by the natural world -- whether that philosophy or concept is concrete and definable is itself a subject of philosophizing as the hermit is not going to communicate it to the greater world.

Nevertheless, for those humans who choose to live in civilized society, challenges to our beliefs occur frequently. This, to me, explains why angry letters are written to television executives when profanities are uttered during prime time, two boys exchange a kiss on some popular teen melodrama, or Janet Jackson's breast is briefly exposed in a wardrobe malfunction. Such affronts require the response of angry letters because they are challenges to the fundaments of decency and morality held by the writers of the letters. Those who believe homosexuality to be unnatural and immoral are offended at its inclusion in the mainstream media because .

It is not necessarily the intent of the television show to cause offense, but merely to tell a story which involves something true -- homosexuality exists, and homosexuals engage in its practice. One cannot escape from this fact. Bestiality, cannibalism, rape, arson, murder, pedophilia -- these all exist, though perhaps we would prefer they not. Each time we are reminded of their existence, it sparks a challenge to our morality. If you believe those acts are immoral and wrong, the antagonism of their mention reinforces your own stance that such acts ought to be banned, and punishments created and enforced against those who practice such atrocities. If you believe that those acts are natural and, while a bit unsavory not deserving of moral condemnation, the antagonism reaffirms you ambivalence to such acts and perhaps inspires reaction against those who are consumed by righteous indignation against such acts.

In such a manner, antagonism shapes our sense of self and allows us to grow and develop, defining and redefining our view of the world, and how and why we believe what we believe. What cannot be taught, it seems, is how the rational mind may detach itself from the sense of personal attack which is engendered by such antagonism. For, indeed, it is possible. One may, with an air of enlightenment, remove one's personal opinions and beliefs from the argument. The unfortunate consequence of such indifference is a kind of apathy that, in extreme, is very detrimental to the furthering of humanity. If one is to maintain an enlightened detachment, one must remember that it is important to be tethered to some set of personal beliefs, elsewise the individual may retain a cold indifference to the kind of extremism evident in Nazi Germany or other totalitarian regimes where the ruling junta brutally executes the opposition while the supposedly enlightened middle and upper classes sit idly by.

It is therefore imperative for the radical moderate to maintain a stance of lawful neutrality. That is to say, one must adhere to some sense of duty or justice, defined as the "law," but to also remain neutral in the argument against one's beliefs, so that compromise and cooperation may be fostered.

Rice, interrupted
So I'm at work, standing in the kitchenette, microwaving brown rice for my cheap'n'easy lunch of hummus, pita and rice. There's 22 seconds left on the microwave when a woman who works on my floor walks into the kitchenette, straight to the microwave, and pushes the button to open the door and insert her baked potato and kielbasa. It's such a peculiar affront that I can't really even muster a satisfying "Hey, wait a minute!" or similar interruption. I had been superficially chatting with another woman, who was hanging up a flyer for a bake sale, and thinking to myself, "I really should bring something in," when the incident occurred. Upon seeing my tray of food, the interloper was taken aback. I closed the microwave door and hit start, resuming the heating of my meal.

"I"m sorry," she said, "I didn't notice that it was going." She seemed genuinely flabbergasted. "Really, was the light on? I didn't hear it," she apologizes, before saying she's sorry three more times.

"It's okay," I say, waiting the last 15 seconds, knowing more apologies are coming once the microwave finishes its task. I wait for the three beeps to let me know that the rice is done, remove the glass dish from the oven and discard the wet paper towel into the trash can -- it helps keep the rice moist while reheating -- and place a pita atop so that the rice will warm it.

"That looks good," she says to me.

"It is," I say, "and cheap." I walk back to my desk and erupt into a broad-grinned chuckle. Her brazenness has quite tickled me.

Fun with Jet Skis
Life requires a delicate balance of humor and dignity, even in the midst of crisis. Having lived through such an experience recently, I feel it appropriate to report on the matter, delicately weaving the threads of humor and dignity into the fabric of this tale, so as to lighten the situation but not underscore its seriousness. The names have naturally been changed to prevent embarrassment of the parties involved.

For the first time in four years I went to the beach. Emerald Isle, North Carolina, the southernmost island of the Outer Banks. It’s a quiet little island, brimming with surf shops and Food Lion grocery stores. There’s not very much to do there – naturally advantageous to the over thirty crowd but engenders restlessness in those of us who would like a bit more excitement. Funny, isn’t it, how the universe compensates for these desires?

I have fourteen cousins on my mother’s side of the family. On this particular vacation, seven of them were present. Two of them, Jay and Kit, are the same age – sixteen. They’ve grown up together, probably more like siblings than cousins. That’s one of the byproducts of an Irish Catholic family, I suppose. This time ’round, Kit and his family weren’t present, as they were on a cruise. This left Jay out of sorts for the week – younger than his cousins who can drink – that would include me (though I don’t drink), my sister, and my cousin Joey – and the rest, who are either too young (as is the case with Will and Dill, eight and two respectively) or are girls (as with Danielle). I felt a surge of avuncular warmth and tried to spend time with Jay. He’s a good kid with a heck of a physique and plays football for his high school. He’s known for being quiet around the family and we older cousins tease him for his meat-headed jock tendencies. When he was younger, my brother used to torment him. He was the recipient of the most remarkable wedgie I’ve ever encountered. But this time around there was no one to tie him up and lock him in a closet – not that he wasn’t strong enough to whoop us all if he’d half a mind to do so – so he just went to the beach and looked damn good doing it. I would like to claim I am not jealous, but I also do not spend time working on my triceps, so I’ve no right to jealousy.

So I spent some time with Jay this vacation, which resulted in a lot of questions. Jay doesn’t really talk much to adults, but does open up to those around his age. With me, he does two things: 1) He asks inappropriate questions 2) He repeats phrases ad nauseum. This year it was “Bitch, show me them titties.” The questions had a lot to do with titties, whether I had asked a lady the above phrase, whether I had seen some titties, what I would do if I encountered them, and so on and so on. He also expressed an interest in my high school career, particularly if I took a senior trip. He was newly licensed to drive, so I told him he was going to get into a few accidents, and it was best to make them minor fender-benders. I was trying to be informative but funny, mixing levity with the seriousness of a driver’s responsibility. I had hoped this edu-tainment approach would work.
Late at night, Jay and I would walk to the pier, some eight blocks away, where he would assault me with these questions. As it was one of his only opportunities to swear on the vacation, he took advantage. After one walk on Tuesday with my cousin Joey in tow, we decided to send a photo to my brother, who was living in Portland. It’s something of a tradition to send him naughty photos, established one Christmas when we sent him a picture of four full moons. We were on the beach contemplating what to do, and I snapped with my Blackberry some rather unpleasant parts of their anatomy and promptly sent it electronically to Portland. Jay and Joey were bunking together since Kit was not around. As a gag, Jay took off all his clothes to wait for Joey, who had gone outside to smoke, to return. Joey came back in and started watching TV, so I had to come up with a clever way to get him into the bedroom. Joey’s friend Brendan was coming down, driving straight through from Philadelphia, so I calmly remarked “Hey, I think your phone is beeping.”
“It’s probably Brendan,” Joey said, entering the bedroom. The “Awwww” that followed was, of course, priceless.

Brendan did come down, staying up for nearly 24 hours straight on his drive from Philly. We had discussed the possibility of renting Jet Skis and Brendan was all about this idea. He awoke the next morning, found a place in one of the travel brochures, and booked us for 5 pm on Thursday. Sure enough, 4 o’clock rolled around and it was time for us to head out. I rustled everyone up, and we split into two cars: Jay, Brendan and Joey were taking Joey’s car, while myself, my sister, her boyfriend and my cousin Elizabeth drove in my mother’s car. We signed our release forms, forked over our money, and sat through two safety demonstrations, the key point of which was that all jet skis should be 250 feet away from each other at all times to avoid any issues. Jet skis, it turns out, do not have breaks. Another key fact was that in the sound on which we would be skiing, there were sandbars. The establishment had flagged off the perimeter of the ski area: red flags marked the borders, black flags the corners of the over three square mile rectangle. We waited for our turn, life jackets on. We were the yellow group, and as we waded out to our skis, an instructor showed us how to use the skis and reiterated the safe distance of 250 feet. There weren’t enough skis, though, so I remained. Lucky for the others, as our thirty minutes would not begin until I was saddled up. After a few minutes I was good, and soon found myself cascading along the sound at 71 miles per hour.

I’d never been on a jet ski before. About ten years before, on another vacation in Delaware, my family had rented jet skis. My sister and brother, thrill-seekers both, had ridden with adults. The memorable story there was that my sister had gone full tilt into a small wave which bounced my dad, with whom she was riding, off of the ski into the drink. Jet Skis have a cutoff switch attached to a rope on your left wrist, so my dad climbed back on and they went out again.

I didn’t go out with them that time because thrills aren’t my thing. I don’t like roller coasters – the sensation of plummeting tenses my leg muscles, a sensation I find painful rather than pleasant. I nearly wigged out on the Norway ride at EPCOT when I thought our boat was going to go down a hill backwards. But I’ve mellowed, and grown to enjoy amusement park rides that go somewhat fast, and on a trip to Orlando even rode a ride you could call a rollercoaster, singing as I did the entire time about how much I hated the friend who dragged me on. This year was different, though. I’m nearly thirty years old and it’s time I had some fun. Jet skiing? That sounds wonderful! I was keen to experience the fun that I had purposely avoided so many years before.

Because Jay was licensed, he didn’t need to ride with another adult. As I tore through the sound, I watched him, his face alight with teenage glee. He got a little close to me – intending to splash me, I’d bet, but I threw on evasive pattern delta and got away from him. A short time later – time always feels short when you’re paying $55 for 30 minutes of skiing, doesn’t it? – I noticed a confluence of skis. It was Elizabeth, my sister, and Cullen, her boyfriend.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Joey lost his finger,” Cullen said.

The first thought that went through my head was something close to “Figures.” Joey has had some troubles. He was in the process of losing his license before we went on vacation, and he’s had to call me on a couple of occasions late at night. Usually it’s for taxi service, and for that I commend him, as it demonstrates a responsible inebriation; but at least one time was after a DUI. To be fair, he didn’t seem intoxicated to me, he’d passed a field sobriety test, and it was only when the cop took him to a hospital where they drew blood that he was busted. ’Course, they found some other substances in there (pot) which led to all kinds of nifty troubles. I took him home, woke up 4 hours later and drove him to the police station where they’d impounded his car.

So “figures” was going through my head. Then suddenly it struck me – “Wait, his finger? His finger was cut off?” I jetted over to the corner where two skis were idling. Jay and Brendan were sitting there, and I asked what was going on. Joey had passed me on a ski with one of the attendants, but I couldn’t see what happened. Brendan tried to explain that there had been a collision between Jay and Joey, and apparently Joey had lost a fingertip. Okay, finger tip. That was a lot better. No need to panic now. Only – yeah, it was panic time. A finger tip? I’d taken out six kids to jet ski and now one of them was going back without a finger tip. Fantastic. How could I be so stupid as to let this happen? I was the oldest, I should have been in charge – I should have yelled at everyone before we left not to do anything stupid.

I turned my ski and headed back through the purple flags to the dock. Of course, I realized while puttering back there wasn’t anything I could have done. Accidents happen. Now was not the time for blame, it was time to take charge and figure this whole mess out. I got off the ski and went up the dock. An ambulance had already arrived and one of the EMTs was coming towards the end of the pier. “Where are Joey’s cousins?” he asked.

“Right here,” I said. “I’m the oldest.”

The EMT walked me to the ambulance, where I peeked inside. I remember asking Joey how he was doing, and he replied something like, “Oh, you know, fine.” It was then I saw his finger. The tip of his right index was gone, and it was bleeding like crazy. Tip, by the way, refers to the part of the finger from the first knuckle on up.

Okay, action time – someone had to get on the phone to call his parents. One of the attendants was trying to talk to me about the incident. He was clearly pissed, and kept reiterating how lucky we were no one had died. Plus, there were damages to the skis and someone had to pay. I grabbed my wallet out of my mother’s car and threw down a credit card that had a zero balance. My sister was trying to get a phone, hers was almost dead. I put my blackberry in her hand and told her to call Joey’s dad. After a quick assessment, the establishment decided $600 worth of damage had occurred. Again, we were lucky – jet skis cost about $8500 and damage is usually in the thousands. It was then I noticed Jay. The gravity of what happened was hitting him. “Oh, shit,” he said in a warbling voice that only those in shock can muster. Suddenly everything was crashing down on him – parental wrath, familial scorn and the realization that Joey no longer had a fingertip.

“Breathe,” I said. “In through the nose. Hold it. Out through the mouth.” I repeated this mantra to him several times. I turned to sign the credit card receipt. The attendant gave me a brochure and circled a phone number – they wanted us to call tomorrow to let them know the status. I turned to Jay. “In through the nose. Hold it. Out through the mouth.” The ambulance was getting ready to depart; my sister would be riding with Joey. She was a year younger than him, so that made sense. Okay, now who was going to drive Joey’s car? It was a stick shift, did anyone know how to drive one? Cullen did, so he and Brendan get in Joey’s car. Where’s the hospital? I ask several EMTs. They give me directions – a left at the big intersection, go across the bridge, make another left, look for the KFC then make a right. Hadn’t these guys ever heard of street names?

Finally I wind up in my mother’s car. Jay is seated next to me, Elizabeth in the backseat. She tries some comfort about reattachment, advances in medical surgery. Jay’s eyes start to water. “Maybe I’ll be quiet,” she realizes. I maintain an even tone. My phone is ringing a lot, but I’m driving so Elizabeth answers. She passes it to me – first, it’s my mother, telling me to come back to the vacation house. I calmly inform her that no, we’re going to the hospital. I give instructions again to her, so that my aunt and uncle can come out. I fill my mother in on our plan – who’s driving which car, etc. It rings again, this time my sister. She says that Joey is doing well and is making jokes – an EMT has asked him how he feels, and he says he’d like a beer. The EMT laughs, and Joey responds that he’s not joking, he wants a beer.

I follow the landmarks and make it to the hospital. We walk into the ER waiting area and I talk to the receptionist so that she knows Joey has got family waiting for him. Another phone call – this time I think it’s my uncle, but I don’t remember as I write this. Jay is still doing kinda badly. I take him to the bathroom, keep telling him to breathe. I leave so he can use the facilities. When he’s done, I suggest we take a walk. We walk around the hospital, and I try to talk to him. We reach a gazebo and I suggest we sit down for a spell.

Once we’re seated I tell him what needs to be said – “You’re my cousin, and I love you unconditionally.” I tell him to call me, any time, no matter what, if he ever needs me. I make sure he has my number in his phone. I ask him what he plans to do that night. I know it’ll be tough to face the family after this, so I tell him I’ll deflect questions as best I can, and if he wants, I’ll spend the night with him. I ask him if he wants to leave, but he says he wants to sit for a while longer. I ask if he wants me to get someone cooler to sit with him. It’s a joke, but he says he doesn’t want to see anyone else. I say that’s okay, and that I’m here for him, whatever he needs. I talk a little more, trying to reassure him, and then suggest it’s time we get back.

We complete our walk, and as we get back to the ER entrance, my uncle has arrived. Jay gets nervous as he walks towards us, and my uncle deflects my “Give us a minute” with an equally calm “I need to talk to him.” He walks over to Jay arms open. Jay says “I’m sorry” and my uncle says “It’s okay, it was an accident.”

I leave since it’s not my place to be there. I hover in between the sets of automated sliding glass doors, and my sister beckons me inside. “You don’t have to listen,” she chides. A few minutes later and they both come in. Cullen and Brendan have arrived. There’s little more for us to do, so we decide to leave. Brendan comes with me and Elizabeth, Jay again riding shotgun. My sister and Cullen drive Joey’s car and we head home.

The confrontation has worked – Jay seems to be calmer, my uncle has said all he needed and there’s an understanding. In fact, my uncle is taking all of this remarkably well. We drive back, and Jay goes to see his parents. I hang out, relaying as much of the story as I can to my mother and assorted relatives. Apparently they were both in the northeast corner of the sound near the black flag, and they turned into each other. I don’t know the physics of it, and they don’t really matter. I wait for Jay to go upstairs and then talk to his parents. I explain about the $600 worth of damage that I’ve paid for. Jay’s dad wants to write me a check, but I say that we don’t need to take care of it right away.

It’s a long night as we wait for Joey’s return. Cullen and my sister had gotten lost on the way back, but made it eventually. We are all sitting up, waiting. I had explained to Jay that Joey may stay overnight. It’s a resort town in North Carolina, so they are having trouble getting an orthopedic surgeon to look at the wound. Sure enough, Joey and his parents do come back. There’s not a lot of fuss, as it’s late and most everyone has gone to bed. Jay and Brendan are up, and I’m keeping my eye on Jay. The parents describe some of the procedures done, some stitching – there will be an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon on Monday when we return to Pittsburgh.

The relief of the night comes after the adults have gone to bed. Joey comes out of his room, his finger bandaged tightly, and says to Jay, “I’m sorry if you got yelled at for any of this. I know that you didn’t do it on purpose.” They embrace quickly. It’s the last bit of tension that needs to be released. Things now are not cool, but they will be.

Healing takes time, I tell Jay. When these things happen, things go into a state of flux. Sometimes, we just need a good night’s sleep and a new day, to look at the situation with a fresh perspective. It will heal, I tell him, but don’t expect it to happen right away. Joey seems to know this, too. He knows that he and Jay will get back to where they are, but not right away. He confesses to me that he doesn’t want to be around Jay right now, so he doesn’t say anything out of anger. They’ll be cool, he promises, but Jay isn’t his favorite person right now. He’s told me that he feels bad for Jay, and I interrupt to tell him that now is his time to be selfish and not to worry about other people. He agrees – he was going to say the same thing before I interrupted.
The timing of this crisis is perfect. It happened on a Thursday so we have all day Friday to deal, one last day at the beach. Saturday morning we leave to head home. Friday night, Jay and I sit in the living room. Everyone’s gone to bed after watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics. I suggest one last walk to the pier.

Jay and I talk. I want to make sure that he’s got someone at home, someone he can trust, to talk to, to confide in. Jay confesses he doesn’t really want anyone to know about what’s happened. It’s his way of saying, I think, that he doesn’t need to talk it out with a shrink. He thanks me. I repeat what I’ve said – I’m always there if he needs me.

We get to the pier and look back on the week. I had asked him on an earlier walk how his vacation was going, and he mentioned how it was kind of dull for him. I bring the point up, and he realizes the irony. He’s clearly sorry about what’s happened. And for now, he’s learned his lesson. He doesn’t want his friends to know, because they’ll just say what an idiotic thing he’d done. I don’t pull punches – it was an idiotic thing he’d done. But, I let him know that life is full of idiotic moments, and we can’t all be geniuses every day. I tell him not to worry too much. This is the first big screw up of his life, and I console him with stories of my brother and Joey. They’ve had a few incidents themselves. We discuss briefly using the F-word with our parents. I tell him that how we talk to our friends, when it’s accustomed, is different to how our parents hear that word. He doesn’t have a retort or a one-liner. He says, “I never really thought about how they would take that.” It’s a start to seeing the world differently, thinking about other people. Maybe this has helped to open his eyes. He’s got a long car ride back home, nearly twelve hours. I don’t envy him that.

I feel somewhat bad for all the attention I paid Jay when Joey was the victim. Of course, a lot of that is because he was in the hospital and inaccessible, but more so I think it’s because Joey can take it. He’s been through hardship before, so it’s not unusual for him. He’ll have a story for the bar.

We get back to Pittsburgh. An uncle’s father has passed away, so we make a trip to the funeral home. I see Joey and his sister there. We talk briefly. They’ve met with an orthopedic surgeon. Turns out they’ll need to take down some more of the bone to stitch the skin over. Joey’s on painkillers, but handling himself well. He wants to be a stand up comic, and has been going to an open mic night on Tuesdays. “I’ve got at least five minutes on this” he says holding up his bandaged stump.

Life requires a delicate balance of humor and dignity.

Today's Tip
If you want to affix posters to your walls with Fun-Tak (or a similarly named versatile, reusable putty-like pressure-sensitive adhesive), you have no doubt learned that a major drawback is that long exposure leaves an oily stain on paper or paper-like material.

If you attempt to place another adhesive to your poster in the hopes of preventing this oily stain, e.g. tape, I make the following recommendations:

* Do not use Masking Tape. Masking tape has no lasting adhesion and will fall off... like, immediately. Poor choice.
* Do not use Electrical Tape. Electrical tape may only stick to electricity for all I know, because it does not stick to anything else. This is a specialty tape and should be revered as such. Use only on wires, dummy.
* Do not use Duct Tape. Contrary to popular myth, duct tape is not a panacea, nor is it a miracle substance. It is not even very useful on ducts. It will dry out and the added weight of this heavy-duty tape will add strain to your Fun-Tak causing the posters to fall down frequently.

My own personal recommendation is the use of invisible tape (known by the brand name Magic Tape or colloquially as Scotch tape). This lightweight, durable adhesive offers a barrier between paper and Fun-Tak, and because it lacks acetate it does not reflect light (becoming seemingly invisible). Also, it resists drying out and yellowing, making it ideal for this project.

Here endeth the lesson.

Which Tarot Card are You?
You scored as XIII: Death, Death is probably the most well known Tarot card - and also the most misunderstood. Most Tarot novices would consider Death to be a bad card, especially given its connection with the number thirteen. In fact this card rarely indicates literal death.Without "death" there can be no change, only eventual stagnation. The "death" of the child allows for the "birth" of the adult. This change is not always easy. The appearance of Death in a Tarot reading can indicate pain and short term loss, however it also represents hope for a new future.


XIII: Death


II - The High Priestess


I - Magician


0 - The Fool


IV - The Emperor


XVI: The Tower


XIX: The Sun


XI: Justice


VIII - Strength


III - The Empress


XV: The Devil


VI: The Lovers


X - Wheel of Fortune


Which Major Arcana Tarot Card Are You?
created with

Tipping for Pizza with Porno
A friend of mine works for an online video distributor. This distributor makes the majority of its money not on your populist movie fare [e.g. Legally Blonde 3: Blonde, Fabulous, and Blonde! :) ] but instead on films of an "Adult" nature. For, what else do adults do, when convened for an evening, but whip out their dicks and start slapping the minge of the nearest Indian lady whilst another starts rubbing enormous black titties of a moaning Nubian starlet. Forgive the vulgarity of the description, but I think it’s silly to call pornography “adult.” What could be more childish (hearing a fart echo in a church notwithstanding)?

Well, it seems that even in the world of online pornographic retail, some titles don’t just fly off the shelves. This leaves the poor distributor overstocked with titles. Which means, eventually, a bigwig decides the pass the savings on to YOU!

“YOU!” in this case is actually the employees, who are told “Yeah, take a box of porno.”

My friend explained this to me at a party one night, about how he was thinking of giving me a great big box of porno as a present, but thought I wouldn’t like it.

“Are you kidding?!” I said, exclamation and question marks in my voice. “I would love to have a big box of porno!”

Now, I am famously gay and asexual amongst my friends, so I don’t really have any “use” for pornographic videos (i.e, wanking). But I’m also famously a collector of movies and it’s an affront to my hobby that someone wouldn’t think enough of me to supplement the collection. Free movies are the best way to increase, double or even triple a movie collection. So what is no one has ever heard of “Why Me?” starring Christopher Lambert and Christopher Lloyd? I own a copy on VHS, mothafuckas!

The party worked its normal course with the ponro conversation long since forgotten. And so I decided it was time our little funnymaking group, Spinster Comedy, recorded some sketches for audio engineering and webcast. I arranged a recording session at our apartment and got together the finest voice actors I could find. This included enlisting my video distributor working friend who showed up with – miracle of miracles – a box of porno.

38 titles in all. And running the gamut – “Chocolate Gazongas #2,” “Old Hag Gang Bang,” “Big Dicks for Mini Chicks,” “Dick Sergeant – personal favorite of mine, “over 4 hours of service men who service men” – and so many more! Starring at the cover of “Cumswapping Headliners #3” I was awestruck, not just because I wasn’t sure what “cumswapping” was but also that there were “headliners” – and it makes me worry for all the underground cumswappers out there. Ladies, transferring cocksnot from your mouth to another lady is not remotely dignified. I just wanted you to know that. (I somehow envision a cadre of cumswappers to read this blog, reform their life, and become a group of singing nuns with enormous breasts)

The night wore on, because recording an audio sketch is serious work, and you need a read-thru to get the cadence, a couple more rehearsals to get it right, and then your spot at the microphone. We started at 6:00 so it became time to order food. While waiting for its arrival and working our second sketch of the night, I suddenly piped up after a take –

“We should tip the pizza guy in porn!”

A sudden wave of grins swept the room. A giddy, mischievous wave of grins. Though everyone in the room was approaching thirty, we had magically been transported back to middle school, tittering about the prospects. All I needed was braces and an outbreak of acne and the scene would have been a stereotypical slumber party, replete with trying to light farts on fire.
I quickly tried to talk my way out of it, of course, because even with a room full of guys egging me on, I could feel my proverbial bollocks shrinking at the prospect. I have never been one for heroics, nor am I a candidate for Jackass-like behavior.

We selected an appropriate title, “Mexican Anal Gang Bang,” for its hopefully universal appeal, and I put the
$10.00 tip on top of it. Sooner than expected, the doorbell rang and a delivery man in perhaps the most ridiculous coat I’d ever seen handed me a pizza, two whole hoagies and an order of wings. I quickly pawned off the food to one of the guys, grabbed the cash and video, and handed it to the delivery guy saying “Keep the change.”

Without any reaction whatsoever he took them and went on his way.

We quickly closed the door and began to titter about what had happened. You know the feeling – that excitedness in your stomach about doing something terrifically naughty. But the giggles were now outright laughter – not just because we had accomplished this outrageous feat, but because, in Pittsburgh of all places, the delivery man was Latino. These are details that you just cannot fabricate.

For one brief shining moment I was a stupid kid instead of a balding man. And since my childhood wasn’t rife with those kinds of moments, it was nice to put it in the old scrapbook. “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, in my life,” said my roommate. High praise indeed.

Most adult videos will run you about $30.00 a pop, either in stores or online. We calculated that my collection now contains – at minimum - $1000.00 worth of adult entertainment. Or as I prefer to think of it, 37 more tips.

Cabaret Spinster is TONIGHT

Cabaret Spinster opens tonight at 10:00pm down at Open Stage Theater in the Strip District (after the OST performance of "Burton," which should let out approx. 9:45pm)

Tonight's Cavalcade includes:

The Stand-Up Comedy of Gab Bonesso
The Acoustic Comedy Magic of Sean G. Donaldson and Addi Twigg
Short Films "Let's Go Fly a Kite" and "The Cure"
Sketches from Spinster Comedy

Admission is only $5.00

For more information, go to:


Cabaret Spinster
--from the guys that brought you “Mr. Goodbird USA”--

Pittsburgh’s Multimedia Comedy Conglomerate presents four outrageous nights of uproarious, side-splitting, shit-a-thousand-mudshrimp comedy. Spinster Comedy, forged from the ashes of Mr. Goodbird USA, proudly presents its first live performance, including five original sketches and several short films. Along for the ride is a cadre of comedic cohorts who will absolutely make sure you do, indeed, shit genuine mudshrimp out of your respective recta. Afterwards, all are invited for the traditional post-show pow-wow/talkback. Refreshments, libations and merchandise will be offered at state minimum prices or lower. Feel free to also stay after and help prepare jambalaya which Spinster Comedy will distribute to local homeless shelters.*


Gab Bonesso
**stand-up comedy**

The Hodgepodge Society
**satirical essayists**

Sean Donaldson & Addi Twigg
**acoustic comedy magic**

Eric S. Donaldson
**novelty songs**

Friday & Saturday

May 12 & 13
May 19 & 20


Open Stage Theater



check us out on MySpace:

*We’re not actually going to feed the homeless.

chicago is a fun, fine town
and i went there. chicago. yes i did. saw some people i knew, had myself a fine time.

the politics of blogging can be terrifying. if you're not careful what you say.

purple monkey dishwasher.


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