Hey guys. It was seriously Loose Butthole of me to not update on Sunday, so to make it up to you I put together some charts and graphs representing the way I feel about some things. Click to make 'em bigger. At least, that's how I think it works. Fuck it! Figure it out for yourselves; this is 2012.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
I’m a big believer in the philosophy of ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it’ – largely because it allows you to be lazy as hell depending on how strictly you define the word ‘broke.’ Take the set of metal Ikea drawers I bought a couple weeks ago and still haven’t assembled. I’m not sweating it, because they’re not broke at the moment and my need for storage space is manageable, so I’ll just chill the fuck out and let the box lean up against my entertainment center until I feel like misunderstanding instructions, bruising up my fingers, and screaming obscenities about Sweden.*
*Take it from a Finn – it’s the Washington of Scandinavia.
Those of you who were reading last week may have remembered that last Saturday was my big Day of Improvement for The Mystery Wagon – that is, the day that I went to AutoZone, picked up some scratch remover, and tried to pretty up the side of the car that I totally shitrocked on my way out of the alley.
I had high hopes for that afternoon, as evidenced by the fact that I spent a full two updates planning and talking about it, plus this super-belated update recapping it. I saw it as an excuse to break out of my slothful, ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ mentality. My car was pretty clearly broke in a cosmetic sense, and the least I could do was try to fix it.
I dropped $20 at AutoZone on a small box of scratch remover and some special polish cloths, drove back, and parked in the alley behind my apartment. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and my Mexican neighbors were throwing a fully fledged birthday fiesta for one of their kids, complete with a bouncy castle and what I’m pretty sure was a Spanish language rendition of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ blasting during the piñata ceremony. These afternoons are the sort of afternoons made for working on your car in an alley.
I opened the box of scratch remover and was immediately disappointed to see two separate balms I had to rub on the scratches, along with several small strips of sandpaper and a lengthy list of bilingual instructions.
For how gung-ho I was about the entire process, it turns out I was really only gung-ho because I thought the process of removing scratches from the side of one’s car was as simple as spending the money and then taking 20 minutes to rub one product onto the affected area, at which point the problem went away forever. Seeing that this was going to be a complicated process – and by complicated I mean ‘one or two more steps than I’d anticipated’ – quickly reduced my enthusiasm.
However, I’d come so far and blogged so much that I figured now was no time to give up. So I set to work, first gently sanding the scratches with strips of wet sandpaper, then applying substance A, rubbing vigorously for two minutes, letting it sit, and then applying substance B and rubbing it equally vigorously for two minutes.*
*I want to say I put in some ‘elbow grease’ but that term has always sounded really gross to me, because I’m sure a lot of people, particularly in states that were enthusiastic about Rick Santorum in the primaries, actually have elbow grease, and it’s not something I want anywhere near The Mystery Wagon.
At first, I wasn’t impressed with the results, but as I worked harder and my expectations dropped lower, I started to feel better and better about the work I was doing. The scratches weren’t going away, no, but they certainly did appear to be shrinking as a direct result of the physical labor that I, Truman Capps, was doing in the sun.
”Pero no dice el corazón, el corazón dolorido de breaky que yo sólo no pienso comprendería…”, a drunken Mexican father wailed into the karaoke machine a few hundred feet away.
My work completed, I packed up the gear, went inside, and watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 while eating vegetables and hummus in hopes of balancing out my previous usefulness by just being a totally lazy shit for a few hours. That night, I went and met some friends at a bar in Los Feliz, the whole time secretly hoping that they’d notice The Mystery Wagon in the parking lot and say something.
”Woah, Truman, your car… There’s clearly some visible damage to the rear right side door, but somehow not as much as I would’ve expected, almost as though somebody with a reasonable degree of competence in the auto maintenance department had worked on it. Did you take it to a shop?”
“Hell no! I did it myself, because I’m an adult male, and that’s the sort of thing that we do.”
It rained that night, and when I got a look at my car in the morning, I was in for a bit of a shock.
The scratches seemed to be just as noticeable as they were before I applied the remover – what’s more, rainwater had unseated the rub-on scratch remover, leading to big swirly stains of it on the side of the car door. I had gone into this venture in the first place because I didn’t want my car to look like I was a typical shitty California driver, and now not only does it look like I’m a shitty California driver, but it also looks like I’m a shitty Oregon car maintenance dude. The only phrase I can think of to describe this situation comes from the brilliant Comedy Central series Workaholics: It’s seriously Loose Butthole.
What I can’t quite figure out, though, is whether the rain fucked up my work, or if I just lost so much perspective in the course of working on my car that it took me a day to get the necessary space and realize that my car was just as fucked up as before and all my work and $20 had done was give me some false sense of accomplishment.
I scratched up the other side of The Mystery Wagon last summer when I lived in Studio City under very similar circumstances – I was trying to pull out of a tight spot in the garage under my apartment and, bingo was his name-o, I’d ground some of the paint off the side of my car. I was pretty bummed about it for a week or so, but gradually I got used to the scratch, and now I barely see it.
I guess that’s going to become the case for the other scratch as well – I’ll notice it less and less until it just becomes yet another story woven into the fascinating tapestry that is the life and times of The Mystery Wagon, like the missing seatbelt in back or the arrhythmic turn signal or the ominous length of black rope coiled up next to the snow chains.
My car was kind of broke, I tried to fix it, and it got slightly more broke, in that I now have to wash scratch remover off the side of my car. I’ve decided to amend the credo: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It – If It Is Broke, Hire A Professional Because You’ll Only Fuck It Up.
Truman Capps is hoping to get some money from Subaru for all this product placement.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
There’s an ongoing, lively debate between gearheads and greasemonkeys regarding what is the greatest car of all time. Audi drivers prattle on about luxury and German engineering, while Toyota drivers are big on reliability and fuel efficiency. GM drivers are all about raw power and also the inherent huge dickness of driving an American car, and pretty much nobody has anything good to say about cars made in England. Everything I’m saying right now, like most facts I state on my blog, is based on conjecture and Wikipedia, but I think it’s acceptable in this case because the car superiority debate is pointless and stupid – we already know what the best car in the world is.
The best car in the world is a 1997 Subaru Legacy station wagon, light blue, with power locks, rear seats that fold down, and a bike rack. It’s a pretty specific package, I know, but coincidentally it happens to be the exact car that I drive, and I’m here to tell you that it’s better than literally all other cars, and also some countries. (I’m looking at you, Slovenia.) I call it The Mystery Wagon.
By the time I was old enough to drive around the apocalyptic, suburban expanse that is Salem, Oregon, my family owned not one but two Subaru Legacy station wagons, one of them blue, one of them silver. At the time, we called them ‘Ol Blue and Hi-Ho Silver. (I only include this detail so you understand that my whole family is like this, not just me.)
We’d bought Hi-Ho Silver from my late Aunt Karen when I was in middle school to replace my Dad’s old Ford Taurus. A ’95 Legacy, Hi-Ho Silver was the elder statesman of the pair, and my parents’ preferred car.
We picked up ‘Ol Blue, which would eventually become The Mystery Wagon, a couple of years later, due largely to how impressed my parents were with our first Subaru, when my parents bought it from the insurance company my Mom worked for. It had been a company car for several years, and at some point in its service either one asshole acting independently or a crack squad of assholes smoked in the car, leaving a thin film that coats the inside of the windshield to this day. The possibly carcinogenic film is probably why ‘Ol Blue was, by default, my car.
‘Ol Blue turned into The Mystery Wagon somewhere between me using it to learn how to drive, a thousand-odd late night Muchas Gracias runs*, and the 9/11-meets-Deliverance disaster otherwise known as my senior prom, in which it served as our limo. I wouldn’t call myself a people person and I have limited patience for animals, but let me tell you: I fell in love with that car – a deep, binding love that continues to this day.
*Muchas Gracias is a small 24-hour Mexican fast food chain in Salem and the greater Willamette Valley. Think of it like Chipotle but with the ingredients they use in prison food and no health and safety standards whatsoever. They sold a six-dollar burrito that was so big you could probably hide a Glock in it if you wanted to assassinate somebody. (And knowing the clientele at Muchas after 11:00 PM, that probably happened at least twice.)
I didn’t take a car to college, both because I didn’t feel like I needed one in Eugene and because my parents didn’t particularly want to give me one. They moved up to Portland with their two Subarus (keep reading; it gets more liberal) and traded Hi-Ho Silver for a Prius, which they own to this day. No word on if they’ve given it a cute name yet.
The arrival of the Prius only strengthened the bond between The Mystery Wagon and I. Dad takes the bus to work and Mom uses the Prius, so throughout college The Mystery Wagon was just an extra car that they had parked out in front of the house, for use on Ikea runs, during snowstorms (did I mention The Mystery Wagon has all wheel drive? Because it does.), and as the car I used whenever I came home to visit. After graduation, it was essentially mine to take to LA.
I love everything about The Mystery Wagon. Sure, it’s a reliable car that gets great – okay, good – okay, decent – okay, not terrible mileage, but more than that, it’s the last line of defense between me and Hollywood douchebaggery. Nothing says ‘I don’t give a shit about your fucking yoga class’* more than tooling around the city in a 15 year old station wagon that hasn’t seen the inside of a car wash since the Bush Administration.
*Or any yoga class, for that matter. Fuck you, yoga!
That said, I still take pride in my car, so imagine my frustration when I scraped up the side of it trying to pull out of the alley behind my apartment last week. In my defense, it was dark out and the entryway to the alley where we park is a narrow, Death Star-style easement between two buildings, and I’m definitely not the first person to have trouble with it.
All the excuses in the world, though, don’t make up for the fresh row of scratches along the rear end of my beloved car. It’s kind of embarrassing for me to drive now – driving an old, dirty car in LA says, “I don’t view my car as a status symbol,” while driving an old dirty car with noticeable damage in LA says, “I’m just as bad a driver as any natural born Californian,” which is very much not true.
That’s why I’ve decided, per my last post, to spend my Saturday afternoon fixing up my car. Thanks to a handy Popular Mechanics tutorial I found on the Internet, I know how to buff out a scratch, and the AutoZone down the street from my apartment has all the necessary tools (a rag and a bottle of scratch remover.) I might even take a radio outside with me and listen to Bruce Springsteen while I work, since I feel like most of his songs, on some level, are about a guy working on a car.
It’s not just a pride thing, though. As I may have mentioned a few times before, I really do love this fucking car, and I want to take good care of it, because in addition to being The Greatest Car On Earth it’s also my car, and I want to keep it looking nice. This car carries me over a mountain pass every day; the least I can do is spend a couple hours tenderly rubbing salve onto the rear portion of… Okay, you get the idea.
So Saturday is going to be a big day – at least, big by Truman Capps standards, given the sort of stuff I usually do on a Saturday. I’m heading to AutoZone to pick up the necessary supplies, getting the car washed on the way back, and then seeing how much of the damage really will ‘buff right out’ the way that I nervously whimpered it would when I first saw the scratches. I’m giving it 50/50 odds that the car somehow explodes in the course of the maintenance – if it does, you’ll see it on the news Sunday.
Truman Capps was going to explain how The Mystery Wagon got its name, but opted not to, because like most things that happened in high school it’s a serious case of ‘you had to be there.’
Monday, March 19, 2012
Chevron has a number of helpful billboards set up around Los Angeles that feature a running countdown until Friday at 5:00 PM, at which point ‘Weekend Warriors Go To Work’, or something like that. I should point out that in this case they’re not talking about the National Guard or the Army Reserve, who are actual weekend warriors who literally do go to work on the weekends, but instead to people who spend their weekends kayaking or hiking or fixing their cars or doing any other activity listed in the ‘Things Truman Doesn’t Do’ handbook.
For somebody who lives in a world city – albeit the crappiest one in America, far outshined by Chicago and New York – I’ve really done very little to take advantage of it in the 8 months I’ve been living here. Something I always complained about, first in Salem and then in Eugene, was that there was never a huge amount of stuff going on. In Salem there was hard drugs and various youth group meetings, in Eugene there was soft collegey drugs and a whole bunch of indie music events I gave exactly zero fucks about.
Even Portland, which I’ve stated time and again is The Greatest City In The World™, wasn’t necessarily a hotbed of fascinating activities for me. Again, I’m not really into indie music and I don’t drink coffee or beer, so most of the city’s cultural lynchpins didn’t apply to me. And while I had a lot of great times in Portland, it’s very much a small city – there are only so many events going on at any given time, and things usually close up before they should. If New York is The City That Never Sleeps, Portland is The City That Stays Up Late Enough To Watch Letterman And Then Passes Out On The Couch. (Salem is Terri Schiavo.)
Los Angeles, though, is huge. Look it up on Google Earth – it’s just a big, gray, self-centered tumor spreading from the Pacific Ocean to the Imperial Valley, casually talking about what famous people it’s met and whining about how it hasn’t been to the gym in ‘like forever.’ It’s The City That Never Misses A Chance To Take Its Shirt Off.
This city is home to approximately 18 million people, the tallest building on the West Coast, lord knows how many miles of beaches, multiple mountain ranges, an observatory, a few canyons full of severed heads, dozens of museums, hidden oil derricks, a huge sign that says the name of the neighborhood beneath it, and, somewhere out there, both Christina Hendricks and Alison Brie, which qualifies it for CILF status.
I have seen precious few of those sights. I realized this the other night while hanging out with my friends Dylan and Holly.
You see, it rained this past weekend, which in LA is usually bigger news than our serial killer du jour, and the three of us were chatting about the experience of waking up on Saturday to the sound of rain pattering against our windows.
“It was great. As soon as I heard it raining, I downloaded Fallout 2 and spent the entire day in bed playing video games.” I said, including, as usual, too much information about precisely how pathetic my life is.
“Yeah,” Holly smiled, nodding. “When I woke up and heard the rain, it was like a relief. I just thought to myself, ‘I don’t have to go out and do anything today. I can just sleep in.’”
“Uh huh.” I said. “Yeah, I… No, I totally get you. Every weekend I’m just so busy doing things. It was good to feel like I didn’t have to go out and do… Things. That I am always doing.”
Most of my weekends are basically extended weekday evenings, with the only difference being that I stay up later reading Reddit and there’s usually a particularly hostile game of Risk somewhere in there. I haven’t been to the beach in well over a month. I haven’t been to Griffith Park since I moved here. If I’m in Hollywood it’s either for business or because I’m meeting someone for an overpriced drink in a bar so loud I can barely hear them namedrop.
I think Dylan and Holly’s strength lies in that they’re a Power Couple who’ve been dating since like the fourth season of The Office and currently live together. Couples automatically do stuff more often than single people for a variety of reasons:
1) Sightseeing Alone Is Weird
I’m not going to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art alone, damn it. Everyone would think I was weird, or Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, even though I am without a doubt Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
2) Doing Nothing Together Is Difficult
Frittering a day away alone is way easier because you don’t have to worry that somebody else is bored.
3) External Motivation Does Wonders
I would wager that at least 65% of the people at a Farmer’s Market or a mall or a sporting event on a Saturday would, in their heart of hearts, much rather be in bed asleep or stoned and watching TV to recuperate after a long week of work. When you’re single, you can make all kinds of great plans to go for a bike ride along the beach, but when it’s 7:00 AM and all you want to do is sleep, you don’t have to answer to anybody but yourself. Couples, on the other hand, always have somebody else there to keep them honest.
I know it sounds a lot like I’m doing the classic 2005 LiveJournal ‘why am I single’ blog post, but I’m genuinely not – I’ve been in a relationship before. I’ve stared into that black, desolate abyss. I’ve had arguments about whether the hypothetical food at our hypothetical wedding will be vegan or not, I’ve pretended to be interested in the beads at the Eugene Saturday Market, I’ve watched Titanic because I knew it was going to get me laid. I know what a relationship is, and it’s not worth all that just so I can have an excuse to go to The Museum of Jurassic Technology with somebody.*
*Google it. It’s two miles from my apartment and it looks awesome.
But sadly, the Weekend World discriminates against us single people. There’s nothing sadder than a table for one at brunch, save for maybe two heterosexual guys going to brunch together and spending the entire time desperately trying to convince themselves that nobody thinks they’re gay. I don’t think I have any male friends down here who would be super interested in a trip to Echo Park, with its cute little two seater paddle boats, or the Getty, with its romantic views of the coast.
Part of me wants to take this as a hint that fate, Science, the universe, or whatever is trying to tell me that it’s okay to be a lazy slob on the weekends because circumstances are such that I’ve got no other choice. Thing is, this is the same part of me that told me it was acceptable to eat several fistfuls of shredded cheese for dinner tonight, so I can’t be sure that part of me has my best interests at heart.
That’s why I’ve decided to give Weekend Warriordom a try. Next weekend, I’m going to go out into the alley, perhaps with a can of Strongbow, and work on my car. Yes, that’s right – I’m going to perform maintenance on an automobile, and yes, my name is still Truman Capps. I’ll cover the specifics of what I’m going to do in Wednesday’s update, and the horrible results on Sunday, if I’m still alive at that point.
Truman Capps is actually not a huge brunch fan, because hollandaise is overrated.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
I hate when people use the word evil to describe Rush Limbaugh. He’s not evil. Pol Pot was evil. John Wayne Gacy was evil. Augusto Pinochet was evil. Calling Rush Limbaugh evil weakens the term, because he isn’t evil – he’s just a huge, fat, blubbering, worthless piece of shit asshole. Make no mistake: There is a huge difference.
Evil is knowing that you’re inflicting grievous harm on others for your own personal gain and not caring. Neil Goldschmidt, for example, had a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl in the mid 1970s when he was mayor of Portland, as a result of which she developed a number of severe emotional problems and lapsed into poverty and drug abuse, dying in her mid 40s.
Goldschmidt spent the bulk of his career covering up the uncomfortable fact that he was a rapist; after the story broke in 2004 he shiftily accepted responsibility for what he’d done whilst simultaneously trying to discredit as much of the victim’s story as he could, and, after learning that she’d been raped by another man while living in Seattle, publicly stated, ”…bad things happened up there for which she's probably blameless, in the sense that she didn't invite it -- I mean literally ask for it. But she was always putting herself in circumstances like that.”
Neil Goldschmidt is evil. He really wanted to have sex with an adolescent girl, so he did it without particularly caring about what it was going to do to her, and then he didn’t want to face the blame for it, so he attempted to dehumanize her in the eyes of the public.
Rush Limbaugh is a huge asshole and a terrible person, but he’s not evil. Calling him evil is like me calling bleu cheese evil just because it’s ruined pretty much every meal I’ve ever had it in. Bleu cheese is just doing it’s job – being stinky and bitter. Rush Limbaugh’s job is more or less the same.
Not that I’m one of those people waving his hand dismissively and saying, “Oh, he’s just an entertainer. He exaggerates things to get ratings, and he says what a lot of people are thinking!”
Because for one thing, the fact that a lot of people are thinking something doesn’t necessarily mean you should go out and say it publicly to a massive audience. When the Erin Andrews nude video leaked a couple years ago, a significant majority of men in this country thought, “I am going to download that video and look at it while I masturbate.”
However, I don’t recall anybody going on the airwaves and saying that out loud – and that’s the sort of thing you’d remember if you heard it coming from Andy Rooney or Brian Williams. The reason that we don’t automatically vocalize every thought that we have is because humans inevitably have a lot of really shitty thoughts in the course of the day, the bulk of which are better left in the privacy of our own minds.
The things Rush said about Sandra Fluke and women in general really, really pissed me off, because I know, admire, and am, in fact, related to a number of women who did nothing to deserve all this, short of being born without penises. Just the other day I was driving home on the 405, fuming about the horrible things this piece of shit said about women, when a pink Volkswagen Beetle cut me off.
Goddamn it! I thought to myself as I hit the brakes, and, before I even knew what was happening in my brain, followed that thought up with: Probably some fucking woman driver.
See? That was a thing that I, a pro choice liberal feminist, thought to myself. Of course, I don’t actually believe that – it just sort of popped into my head. Sometimes you just think shitty things. The fact that Rush Limbaugh goes on the radio and routinely says every shitty thing that he can think of doesn’t make him some kind of bold and tireless crusader for what’s just and good; it makes him functionally retarded since he seems to lack the part of the brain that tells us when we should just shut the fuck up, already.
So let’s tally it up: Asshole? Yes. Bad person? Yes. Bigot? Yes. Hypocrite? Yes. Detracting from the cause of intelligent and rational discourse in the American political arena? Yes. Deserving of censorship? Fuck, no!
I’m not talking about the consumer pressure that’s caused 140+ of his sponsors to leave, resulting in large patches of dead air between segments on his show. We, as consumers in a free market economy, have the right to do business or not do business with whomever we want, and those businesses have the right to advertise or not advertise with whomever they want.
For example, earlier in the year a bunch of folks tried to boycott JC Penny for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson. JC Penny stood by their spokesperson, the nation had a laugh at the folks’ expense, and everyone moved on. The same pressure has been applied to Rush Limbaugh’s sponsors, almost all of whom have decided that they’d rather not stand by him and have taken their money elsewhere.
This is not censorship; this is a wise business decision on the part of 140-odd companies. Censorship is Jane Fonda’s demand that the FCC ban Limbaugh from the airwaves.
I do not like Jane Fonda.
In 1972 she went to North Vietnam, posed for pictures on a Viet Cong anti-aircraft gun, made propaganda broadcasts on Radio Hanoi, and publicly called American POWs “hypocrites,” “liars,” and “war criminals” who were “trying to make themselves look self righteous.” She apologized 16 years later when controversy about her wartime activities threatened the box office profits from her latest movie. I think she’s a reactionary who makes liberal feminists look bad, and her campaign to sully our reputation continued in a CNN.com editorial she coauthored:
Like the sophisticated propagandist Josef Goebbels, [Limbaugh] creates rhetorical frames -- and the bigger the lie, the more effective -- inciting listeners to view people they disagree with as sub-humans. His longtime favorite term for women, "femi-Nazi," doesn't even raise eyebrows anymore, an example of how rhetoric spreads when unchallenged by coarsened cultural norms.
Here’s a tip: Criticizing someone for comparing women to Nazis loses its power when you compared him to a Nazi in the previous sentence. Where did you get the idea to compare him to a Nazi, by the way? Nobody ever does that these days. Very creative. Moving on.
This isn't political. While we disagree with Limbaugh's politics, what's at stake is the fallout of a society tolerating toxic, hate-inciting speech. For 20 years, Limbaugh has hidden behind the First Amendment, or else claimed he's really "doing humor" or "entertainment." He is indeed constitutionally entitled to his opinions, but he is not constitutionally entitled to the people's airways.
As I may have mentioned a few times, Rush Limbaugh is an asshole and there’s very little good in him. (Although he never went to a warzone and made nice with enemy combatants while American servicemen were dying…) But above all else, he is a very popular asshole. A lot of Americans like listening to him for reasons that I’m still trying to understand, and the FCC is there to make sure that everybody gets equal airtime.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I don’t find the idea of an America that blindly tolerates hate speech scary. I just find the idea of an America where the government silences anybody they disagree with way, way scarier.
Truman Capps said a lot of nasty things about people in this update, so he’d like to mention that he thinks George Takei is a really great guy.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
I really love being white, which is fortunate, because I’m really good at it,. That said, it’s not like there’s really anything to hate about being white in the first place. Hating being white is like hating having free steak delivered to you, or your own Learjet – like Louis C.K. says, white people aren’t inherently better, but being white is far easier and less stressful than the alternative. Pretty much the only downside is that between Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, and the Pope, white people have a pretty solid reputation for ignorance and bigotry.
The one time that I do start to feel a bit self conscious about my ethnicity – as though you can call living in Culver City and liking Huey Lewis an ‘ethnicity’ – is when I go to Ikea. Because while Ikea is staffed and patronized by a large number of racially, ideologically, and economically diverse people, when somebody asks you how your weekend was and you say, "I went to Ikea on Saturday.”, the un-PC knee jerk response is still, "Yeah, I’ll bet you did, honky.”
So I went to Ikea on Saturday – with my white friends, in my Subaru – to pick up some home furnishings and eat some cheap meatballs, not in that order.
My room was pretty short on furniture. For the past eight months, the corner of my room was home to several decaying cardboard boxes, the veterans of several college-era moves, loaded with various books, DVDs, and trinkets that I had no storage space for outside of the boxes I brought them to California in.
Until recently, though, I’d never had enough disposable income to justify a trip to Ikea, because as we all know, that minimalistic paradise may as well be a vengeful blue and yellow god who tricks countless mortals into sacrificing large stacks of money to him in return for the false promise of a living space as cozy as the ones in the showroom.
Being as my immediate concern was paying my rent in a timely fashion, I opted to hold out on an Ikea run until I had some income to dispose of. I mean, I needed furniture, but needing furniture isn’t the same as needing food or medicine. There has never been a furniture emergency, unless you count when poorly constructed bookcases tip over and crush their owners, in which case I will probably suffer a furniture emergency in the next week or so.
Point is, the work I’ve been doing in advertising is considerably more lucrative than getting coffee for people, so this weekend I opted to go out and drop around $100 on home furnishings before I inevitably screw this job up and have to go back to living on a tight budget again.
Ikea is a roller coaster ride, from start to finish. On the one hand, you’re excited and inspired by all these beautiful dwellings around you and thrilled at how little you’ll have to spend to make that shelf your own. On the other, you’re contending with gigantic crowds, hopelessly lost in the ergonomic maze, and, if you’re there with a significant other, probably having a fairly pouty and melodramatic fight.*
*I’m not stealing that joke from 30 Rock, 30 Rock stole that bit from a thing that always happens in real life.
After you leave, though, is probably the ultimate low point. Driving away, your car loaded down with hundreds of dollars’ worth of cheap balsawood, it begins to sink in that the battle is only half over. There’s one more step between buying your Ikea furniture and having it in your house, and that’s building the fucking furniture.
I have limited Ikea construction experience – I’ve disassembled and reassembled my desk, LACK, several times, but that’s pretty easy seeing as it’s only got four parts. I had been cautioned to stay away from anything with moving parts – such as drawers – unless I had an engineering degree, so I did just that. But I did not expect that BILLY, my seven-foot tall bookcase, would drive me to the brink of insanity and then send me over it, screaming and yelling all kinds of profanity.
I know some people say that putting together Ikea furniture is easy, but in my defense, those people are idiot liars because putting together Ikea furniture is fucking impossible. I spent an hour and a half just pounding dowels and trying to get planks installed facing the right direction, and that was before things even got frustrating.
I first realized I was out of my league when I found that the sort of screwdriver the asexual humanoid was using in the instruction manual was not included with the supplies, so I had to drop everything and go to Rite Aid in search of a screwdriver and a hammer. The good news is that while their limited tool section lacked a hammer, it did have a screwdriver with a hammerhead in the base. The bad news is that it was made by a company called Latitude, which proudly produces tools for women and women only.
So I bought the hammer/screwdriver designed for women with the turquoise handle and went home to continue being vexed by a Scandinavian bookcase. I do emasculating things with such depressing frequency that I think it’d make more sense to just start mentioning when I do something that actually is relatively manly.
I returned home and spent the next two and a half hours on the floor of my bedroom alternately screwing and nailing BILLY. The process was far from enjoyable for either one of us – he was obstinate and unyielding, while I, due to my lack of experience, was mostly just frustrated. Finally, though, after a lot of sweat and anguish, I was able to finish, and ultimately I’d say I’m pretty satisfied.
Oh yeah, that’s right: BILLY is black. Needless to say, making him hold all my possessions like that is triggering my finely tuned white guilt right about now.
Truman Capps disappoints his older readers to no end.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
3) CHECK YOUR DREAMS AT THE DOOR
Los Angeles is full of people doing shitty, menial jobs who wish they were doing awesome, usually highly artsy and creative jobs involving music or acting or some shit like that. Frequently I’ll find myself in conversation with these people.
Now, sometimes the conversation is going swimmingly – they’ve held off on all but the absolute best facts about themselves and they’ve been appropriately interested in all my awesome whorehouse stories. Other times it’s halfway through a rambling story of unrequited love set in a Jiffy Lube waiting room. No matter what, eventually we wind up at a line a lot like this one:
“…my dream is to be a [DERP] – as a matter of fact, I’m [DERPING] at [INCONVENIENTLY LOCATED VENUE] on [INCONVENIENT EVENING]. You should come! It’ll be really awesome. The cover charge is [AN AMOUNT OF MONEY I AM UNWILLING TO PAY.]”
I am then left holding a poorly made flier and trying to look interested while actually trying to gauge when I’ll be out of this guy’s line of sight so I can throw it away.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t promote yourself; I’m saying that when you do it within a few minutes of meeting someone it immediately devalues their role in the conversation. Even though we all know nobody cares about what we have to say as much as we do, we enjoy pretending that it’s true, and when you abruptly shove a flier with your face on it into our hands we come to the uncomfortable realization that you’re only talking to us because you want us to do something for you.
The only flier I have ever taken seriously was for a DJ duo called Reaganomics back in Eugene, Oregon. All they played was pop hits from the 1980s. I heard them one night at Fathom’s, physically approached them, and said, “You guys are awesome. Can I have a flier?” They then gave me a flier for their show at Fathom’s the following week, and a week later I came back with my friends and had the best Wednesday ever.
So when is it acceptable to promote yourself to someone? Tough to say. I hung out with a PA for the better part of two shooting days before he gave me his rap CD, and I didn’t feel at all used. Also, since he set me up with a job in advertising, I feel obliged to tell you that his name is Jonathan Denmark and you should all buy his album, so clearly he’s got the hang of this conversation thing.
See? He did it right, and as a result, now I’m promoting him.
4) DON’T GET TOO HEAVY
I once went on a first date with a girl in which she wound up telling me a two hour long story about her struggles with drug addiction, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and sexual abuse. Prior to this story I had had one brief phone conversation with this girl, along with the 20 minutes of the date prior to the part where she opened the floodgates of dysfunction.
I’m not saying that you should bottle up your problems and not tell people about them. Civilization is here so that people can help each other. What I’m saying is that when you first meet someone, you should definitely bottle up your problems and not tell that person about them, because you put them in the absolute weirdest and most uncomfortable position because once they’ve said sorry, there’s really basically nothing else they can say, short of sorry a second time.
Again, this all comes back to empathy – when you meet somebody you want to try to gain some understanding of their nature. What do they like? What don’t they like? You want to know if they’re like you. You want to know if they’re the sort of person you can invest time and energy in caring about.
But when the first thing somebody tells you when you meet them is that both of their parents died on 9/11 while on their way to finalize divorce proceedings as a result of the stresses of raising a child together, you don’t know the person well enough yet to say much beyond, “Sorry,” except perhaps, “Bummer.” Before you have any inkling of whether this person is going to be in your life more in the future, you find yourself feeling sorry for and counseling them. That’s an awkward first impression.
So what’s too personal and what’s all in good fun? I made another chart to help you find out.
As you can see, there are really very few personal details you should be sharing with a person when you first start talking to them. Anything much more intimate than “I’ve got a cold” is way over the line.
PROTIP: Just because an illness isn’t particularly severe doesn’t mean it’s automatically okay to tell people about it. Like pinkeye, for example.
5) FUCK YOU AND YOUR HUMBLE BRAGGING
Months ago I was PAing for a camera crew at a celebrity’s wedding, and, during some of our downtime, was sitting on the back of a golf cart with a cute female PA who was inexplicably talking to me. We were talking about Mad Men and I was almost ready to drop my awesome Mad Men pickup line* when a lanky, funny looking assistant cameraman a couple years older than us shuffled over.
*”Actually, they shoot Mad Men on the Sony lot in Culver City, like two miles from my apartment! Speaking of my apartment, you want to get out of here? Maybe go to my apartment? It’s close to where they shoot Mad Men, y’know.”
“Hey, what’s up?” He asked, conversationally.
“We’re just talking about Mad Men.” The cute PA said.
The assistant camera guy nodded rapidly. “Yeah, I can’t really watch Mad Men, because I know so much about how advertising in the 1960s started utilizing studies by Sigmund Freud to make people think they needed stuff they didn’t, and it just pisses me off.”
Taking our bemused silence to mean, Tell us more! There’s nothing we’d rather hear than your half cocked amateur psychology you found on the Internet, he continued.
“Yeah,” he said, reacting to himself. “See, Freud basically published all these theories that were really big in Europe, and then this ad guy in New York started reading them in the 1920s, and so he started using the theories at his agency and their profits…”
Long story short, he yammered at us for about 20 minutes and I never got that girl’s number, something which I blame entirely on the assistant cameraman since I am normally quite successful in that department. Point is, what this asshole did was clumsily hijack our conversation because he wanted to stroke his own ego over how he read a thing about psychology once.
Look, if you want to tell a bunch of people about how great you are, do us all a favor and just be upfront about it.
Hello, ladies and gentlemen – may I have your attention please? I just wanted to let you all know that I can run REALLY fast. Thank you.
I mean, we’re still going to think you’re a douchebag for interrupting our conversation so you can brag about yourself, but on some level we’ll respect you for being comfortable enough with yourself to just come right out and brag about it without having to hide behind some sort of fake modesty.
Truman Capps hopes that this improves every conversation you have in the foreseeable future.
Monday, March 5, 2012
We’ve all been there before – you’re in a place, such as an airplane, an elevator, or even your own office, when you encounter another human being. Perhaps you’ve wondered in these situations, as I often have, What’s my next move? Do I say something to them? If so, what should I say? Wouldn’t it be easier for me to just kill this person?
The answer, obviously, is yes – killing the other person and either successfully hiding the body and deflecting all guilt or being caught, prosecuted, and sent to jail are both far simpler and more pleasant options than having a conversation, but unfortunately neither choice is terribly feasible if you’ve got any other plans for that evening or the rest of your natural life. Sadly, there’s no way around it: You’re going to have to have a conversation.
Now, the vast majority of the conversations you have won’t be terribly enjoyable or interesting for one or even both involved parties. On the rare occasion that a conversation is enjoyable, it’s because both parties have had the proper training.
Right now you may be asking, ”What is this proper conversational training, Truman, and who do I know who’s qualified to give it to me? Is it you? And if so, how are you qualified to give advice of this nature?”
Well, since you asked, I am qualified to train you on how to have a conversation, and my qualifications come from the fact that due to my conservative, clean-cut, highly approachable appearance I am a frequent target for terrible conversationalists, and as such I’ve had ample opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
So sit back, relax, and gratefully absorb the TRUMAN CAPPS DR. PEPPER TEN CONVERSATION RULEBOOK!*
*I sold a sponsorship to make ends meet.
1) NOT ONE SOLITARY SOUL ON EARTH GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOUR LIFE
Look, I’m sorry, but you had to find out sometime – please don’t take this the wrong way! It’s not me talking, it’s science. Unless the person you’re talking to is one of your good friends, the 20 minute story you’re telling about your decision to drop out of the biology department at the University of Southern Maine and turn your theater minor into a major is of no interest to them whatsoever.
For what it’s worth, it’s not you – it’s human nature. Why are some movies better than others? Because in the good movies, you can empathize with the characters, so you wind up rooting for them and wanting them to succeed. In bad movies, poorly drawn characters feel like strangers and you don’t give a shit about what happens to them, so as far as you’re concerned, the story has no stakes.
And as usual, what applies to movies applies directly to real life – if the person you’re talking to doesn’t know you very well, they’re not going to be interested in your story because they’re not interested in you. The story of how you changed majors may seem like Animal House meets The Graduate in your head, but depending how well you know the listener, to them it could easily be The Room.
Of course, there are rare occasions when someone can have a story so interesting that it trumps these rules – to clarify, I’ve made the following chart, on which any point south of the Axis Of Lame represents a bored listener and any point north represents an engaged listener.
As you can see, really the only 100% surefire way to tell an interesting story is to have it be about the listener, while literally nobody, including the person with whom you’re romantically engaged, gives a shit about your ski trip.
Before every conversation, take a second to assess what you’re about to say versus how well you know the person you’re talking to. Chances are, they don’t care. What should you talk about, then? Well, that’s easy, because…
2) EVERYONE IS MORE INTERESTING THAN YOU
Remember how nobody finds your stories interesting? That’s largely because they’re comparing your stories to their stories, and theirs are so much better than the inane shit you’re talking about. Every second that someone is listening to one of your stories that falls below the Axis Of Lame is a second that they’re secretly hating you for not asking them to tell their awesome stories.
Objectively, of course, there’s no way that the other person’s stories are all more interesting than yours unless you’re talking to Teddy Roosevelt.* The other person just thinks their stories are better because they’re wholeheartedly invested in the protagonist and empathize with every single one of his or her actions.
*And if you are having a conversation with Teddy Roosevelt, what the fuck are you doing talking!? Quit flapping your lips and listen. Any given hour of his life is several times as exciting than the entire fourth season of 24.
But if you don’t want to come off as a self absorbed douche, what do you do? You ask the listener questions to elicit their own stories. Yes, of course you don’t care. Of course your stories are better.
Right now, though, you’re playing the long game. The more you listen to the other person, the more likely they are to want to talk to you again, meaning you’ll become better acquaintances, meaning you’ll soon be able to captivate this person with any of your own stories provided they’re not about fucking skiing. Think of your current boredom as an investment in the future excitement of telling this person a story about a dream you had!