Bullshit

Avoid Lady Puzzles

One of the double-edged aspects of streaming services like Netflix is the fact that, in a sense, you’ve pre-paid for all the content it offers. That often means that when you stumble on some piece of obvious trash—like, say, The Cloverfield Paradox—at 1AM, the bar for pressing select is pretty low. After all, you’ve already paid for it, and you’re obviously looking to waste some of your life. And hey, every bad movie or TV show you watch actually amortizes the amount of money you spent on each bit of media. You have a duty to watch moar.

Now, I’ll pretty much watch anything with time travel in it, which is my thin excuse for having fired up When We First Met on Netflix the other night. I was aware of the film from a few scabrous reviews that took the film to task for its rapey-rapey premise (guy meets girl of his dreams, screws up and becomes her best friend [obviously, gross] while she meets and marries a perfect guy, then stumbles into a mystical time travel photo booth and gets the chance to relive the fateful night so they end up bangin’, which of course he pursues with stalkerish glee despite the fact that his crush is, you know, happy with her dude) which is basically Groundhog Day if it was all about nailing someone who thinks you care about them as a person.

Still, I watched it, which means I am partially responsible for the rapey romcoms to come. Sorry about that.

Let’s put aside the odious premise and the fact that When We First Met is just simply not that good (to be fair, the story does try to bury a less-rapey twist as the main character learns and grows; it’s just unfortunate that guys in bad SFF movies have to use the awesome power of space/time manipulation to try and score a lot before they can grow as people). I want to focus in on one particularly terrible aspect of the story that could be a lesson for guy writers everywhere: The Lady Puzzle.

The Lady Puzzle

Interestingly, Groundhog Day is itself guilty of Lady Puzzle Plotting, but it’s saved by it’s brilliance and a few other things we’ll get to. First, what is Lady Puzzling? In essence, it’s that story where a guy thinks that women are essentially Encrypted Sex Robots. If you want to sex a lady, you need the encryption code, which is generally imagined to be secret intimate knowledge of their likes, dislikes, and opinions. None of which is ever treated as, you know, the sacred inner life of a living being, but rather as bullshit you have to memorize like you’re passing a sophomore year bio exam.

In When We First Met, when our Hero figures out he’s traveled back in time to the day he first met the object of his totally-normal obsession, he weaponizes the years of intimate knowledge he’s gained about her by being her friend [again: gross] to anticipate her every desire. So you get idiot ball stuff like him asking her what her favorite cocktail is only to interrupt her before she can answer so he can parrot her favorite drink at her as if it’s his own.

The idea is, time travel or no, the secret to getting into a lady’s panties is figuring out the Secret Code that will uncross her legs. Like, claim to like the same music or politics that she does! Learn her odd and obscure hobbies and pretend to like them!

You could call this the Taylor Swift Gambit: “Find out what you want / Be that girl for a month.”

Worse, in the film this works. Sort of. In the first iteration, his creepy knowledge of everything about her does indeed get him back to her apartment, but he’s ruined by an earlier interaction which convinces the girl that he’s a creepy stalker instead of a magical male version of herself. Ha ha, subversion of tropes! Except, it was working. Now, ask yourself: If a stranger came up to you and started claiming all of your personal tastes as their own, would you be charmed, or alarmed? In a Lady Puzzle plot, they’re charmed, because ladies must follow programming if you’re giving them the correct input.

Groundhog Day For the Win

I am fond of saying that there are no bad ideas, only bad execution of ideas. So, why then does the Lady Puzzle aspect of Groundhog Day not get a razzie award? For one, the aforementioned brilliance of the movie; it’s sharp and insightful, unlike When We First Met. Second, the character of Phil Connors is presented as pretty much an asshole at the beginning of the story, so the fact that he would use his time loop powers in order to gather information on a lady and use it to crack her encrypted code isn’t surprisingand his evolution away from such behavior is thus affecting and emotionally powerful. In When We First Met we’re supposed to take the main character’s “niceness” at face valuehe’s really in love, yo, and so his antics as he tries to speak the magic words that will get him into her pants is just a manifestation of his desperation to build a life with her. That this is kind of the fundamentals of “Nice Guyism” is completely lost on the folks making this movie.

Finally, in Groundhog Day, the Time Loop Pickup Artist technique is shown to be only intermittently successful. Yes, Phil does manage to seduce one woman using the trick, but it fails spectacularly with the woman he really wantsover and over again. She reacts with increasing alarm and suspicion as he tries to construct the perfect evening that will lead to sexy time, culminating in an epic supercut of face slaps. It’s not until Phil leaves off and becomes his true self that he escapes his time loop and winds up with the girl.

To be fair, as alluded to earlier When We First Met does ultimately concede that the Lady Puzzle approach is a bad idea (spoilers, in the unlikely event you watch this movie, follow). After several failures, our hero realizes that his crush will never truly love him no matter how he manipulates reality, and slowly begins to realize that his crush’s roommate is actually the woman who has always been there for him, and with whom he’s had a true connection. It’s meant to subvert the whole Friend-zoney, Red-pilly vibe of the premise, but I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. You’ll have to judge for yourself … though I wouldn’t recommend it.

When writing stories, something else I don’t recommend? A Lady Puzzle plot. Somers out.

The Clicks

My wife, The Duchess, often gets irritated with me due to my reaction to celebrity sightings. We live near New York City, and are frequently there, so there’s a non-zero chance we’ll run across a famous person. When we do, invariably The Duchess doesn’t notice but I do, and my reaction is to wait about three blocks and then whisper to her that someone famous was hailing a cab or being raptured or something back there. The Duchess curses my name, turns, and races back to see if she can still see them.

I do this for three reasons: One, my wife’s rage and antics are amusing to me. Two, I think people are The Worst and thus cannot think of anything worse than strangers intruding on my life. And three, I don’t give a shit about celebrities, and there’s an unreasonable, ornery part of my personality that doesn’t want to feed their famewhore machines with my attention unless they’re performing for me like some sort of court jester or pet monkey.

The Clicks

I carry this attitude to the Internet, where the famewhoriest of famewhores all live. This translates to a truculent refusal to click on things that are very clearly designed to make me click on them—and this goes triple for things that are Outrage Machines, the sort of video or blogger presences that are there to be controversial and upsetting solely so middle aged idiots like me will rush to click on them and see what’s so terrible. So that we can then rush back to our own Internet backwater and write up breathless condemnations, defenses, hot takes, or other reactions. In an attempt to scoop up e second- and third-hand clicks in the wake of the flagship controversy.

The problem with my obstinate refusal to give these folks clicks is that it means I can’t actually see what’s casuing all the fuss.

In the past, if you watched some controversial thing or gave in and listened to something, you could often do so without rewarding the jackass that created it. These days, however, if I click on something just to find out why everyone’s so pissed off, I am in fact rewarding that jackass with a Click. But if I refuse to bestow that Click, then I can’t really judge for myself. It’s a very strange place to be, especially since I myself am out there with my virtual tin cup, begging for Clicks just like everyone else.

Does this mean we’re all living in an episode of Black Mirror? Probably. But as long as I don’t have to fuck any pigs, I’m okay with that.

The Last Mile

Pierre le Chat, 2003-2017

My cat died two weeks ago. I know that not everyone understands the curiously powerful emotional bond some folks forge with a pet, but I’ve always looked at it this way: These animals don’t choose to live with us, we do that for them for our own selfish reasons. In exchange, we owe them a good life. We owe them the basics, plus affection. I’ve always thought my role was to ensure they were never afraid, or unhappy.

And for 14 years, we managed that for Pierre. For 14 years that cat wanted for nothing, never doubted that he was loved, and knew nothing but security and the curious joys of a routine observed obsessively. And then we hit the Last Mile problem.

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Pierre wasn’t my first cat to die. When I was a kid, my brother and I rescued a gray and white cat from a neighbor’s house; she was headed to euthanasia because their son had moved out and left the cat behind and they didn’t want her. So my brother and I took her in. We named her Missy, and Missy spent every night in my bed, purring away as if she knew she’d been saved. Ten years later, I was in college and Missy’s kidneys failed her, and I selfishly let my mother take care of her and when the time came to put her down I visited her at the Vet, scratched her ears, and left, and I look back now and feel like 19-year old Jeff was a coward.

20 years later, another cat had a stroke and literally died right there in the room. It was a terrible shock and we cried, but at least we thought he simply died. No suffering.

A few years later another cat hurt his paw, and had to have a claw amputated. He died on the operating table. Just never came out of the anesthesia. While I was bothered that his last memories were filled with fear and confusion being in a place he hated with people he didn’t know, at least I thought he died while unconscious.

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Pierre had heart disease. Heart disease in cats is tough, because they often show zero symptoms. Pierre had lost weight, but he’d been fat and I’d spent years trying to find a diet approach to get him slimmed down a little, so for a long time I thought I’d simply finally hit on the right dietary approach. He wasn’t diagnosed until 2 months before he died, and throughout those 2 months he still seemed more or less normal. He was hungry, affectionate, and occasionally playful. We thought maybe the medicine would make him feel stronger and he might gain back some weight. We thought it was reasonable, based on his behavior, that he might go another few years on the meds.

Then one night he couldn’t go to the bathroom, and started breathing very heavily, and wandering the house restlessly. Twelve hours later we made the painful decision to put him down. His last few hours were awful; this roly-poly, delightful cat just lay on the floor, gasping, foaming, staring. And that’s the Last Mile problem: We gave Pierre 14 great years. But his last 12 hours were awful. He didn’t die in peace, in a warm bed surrounded by those who loved him. He died in a exam room, with an IV line in him, afraid and in much discomfort. We were there petting him, but I’m not sure how much that helped.

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As you get older, and enough people and pets die on you, you start to realize that this is true for most of us. We have control over our lives and can make ourselves happy and comfortable until the Last Mile, when it all goes to shit. When the end comes, it often comes suddenly, surprisingly, and with a violence and pain that is shocking to all involved. As a kid I was taught by TV and movies that people tended to die in ways that allowed for catharsis—for final speeches, for confessions, for closure.

Maybe this happens sometimes; I mean, apparently people also sometimes spontaneously combust, so anything is possible. My experience is that this doesn’t happen. Death comes and it’s chaos and confusion and before you know it you’re getting a call from the hospital or the palliative care place and you’re rushing to get there before the end. Or you’re being told by a veterinarian that you should seriously consider putting your cat out of its misery. At that point, you have choices, but no control: Every choice leads to more suffering, except one.

You can control an animal’s existence for optimal comfort, health, and affection, until you can’t. The Last Mile will always defeat you. Someday the Last Mile will kick in for me, too. I’ll be able to compensate for life’s little tricks with medicines, therapies, and lifestyle changes, until I can’t. And the Last Mile will be as terrible for me as it for every other creature.

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Life goes on. We adopted a new kitten in honor of our departed buddy, as we’ve done before, seeking to convert grief into a small, good thing. This kitten has a Last Mile waiting for it as well, but hopefully not any time soon. In the mean time, I will write novels and take trips and eat great dinners, I’ll kiss my wife and shake hands and hug friends, I’ll watch great movies and laugh at great jokes. Life goes on. Until it doesn’t.

Pierre, February 2004

“American Vandal” and the Art of Parody

Look at all the dicks indeed.

Netflix’s American Vandal is a good show, a pitch-perfect parody of both true-crime documentaries in the vein of Serial and Making a Murderer and mysteries in general. It’s also kind of hilarious. This is a show, after all, that concerns itself with an act of vandalism that sees bright red penises painted on 27 cars. This is a show that uses WHO DREW THE DICKS as a catchphrase, hashtag, and secret handshake.

Here’s what American Vandal does 100% right: It comes from a place of affection for the very things it’s making fun of.

The Right Way

A lot of parody gets this part wrong. A lot. People tend to parody stuff they despise, because they need to channel that rage somewhere, but that sort of parody is rarely funny. It tends to go for the jugular with a viciousness and blackly humorless violence that simply doesn’t translate into anything entertaining. Look at all the Trump-centric parodies out there; you might agree with the sentiment, but they are rarely actually funny.

That’s because the authors of such parodies don’t actually like what they’re trying to mock. But American Vandal does. You can tell from the fantastic attention to detail; not only do they get the rhythms of these documentaries exactly right, they also get the rhythms and tone of high school life, the varied look and feel of different Internet services, and the way a mystery works right.

And that’s the key to it’s success, really; it offers a well-constructed mystery, populated by interesting characters, and it takes its universe seriously. When characters are funny, they are funny because of their personality traits and quirks, not because the creators are just mercilessly mocking them and making them into strawmen and caricatures. The fact that every charcter in the Vandal universe takes the mystery and its surrounding subplots seriously is why the show clicks. This is best demonstrated by the simple fact that they demonstrate real stakes: The accused dick-drawer, Dylan, faces being held accountable for $100,000 in damages, likely felony criminal charges, and the ruination of his college ambitions. Dylan is bit of a dick, it’s true, and in the early episodes he’s played for laughs as this dumb, self-absorbed prankster (we all knew a Dylan in high school, seriously). But as the show goes on his predicament is shown to be really terrible. Being accused of drawing the dicks could ruin his life (and kinda does, anyway).

Those stakes are key. It shows that everyone in the show is taking it all very seriously, and so the mystery works, and so the parody works. Coming at a humorous subject with disdain isn’t a recipe for hilarity. You have to come at it from a place of affection.

Money

Visual Representation of My Writing Work

When I was a kid, I thought of money in fantastical and curiously practical ways. I never thought in terms of dollars and cents, but rather as packs of baseball cards and Huffy dirtbikes. When I paused to contemplate something’s worth, I would stack up packs of gum in my head, or paperback books.

My brother and I were given an allowance, tied to the dutiful execution of chores, but it wasn’t much. Anything more than the aforementioned baseball cards or the occasional candy bar would leave me penniless, so any sort of big purchase had to wait for my birthday or Christmas, and required the ceaseless and exhausting lobbying of my parents. Money didn’t mean anything, really; the only thing that mattered was the stuff that money could be magically transformed into.

I remember lusting for things. There was no such thing as instant gratification. I wanted a first basemen’s baseball mitt, a good one. When my mother took us to Sears for school supplies, I would wander off and stare at the gloves, signed by the greats. I would smell the leather and lust after them. I wanted a dirtbike, a shining, black bike that I imagined myself sailing into the air on. When my mother took us to Sears (my childhood is 34% Sears, 23% Two Guys) for family pictures, I would wander off and stare at the racks of bikes, imagining myself racing about the neighborhood on them.

None of these things cost money. They cost time and effort. I simply had to wait, and wait, and beg, and beg, and eventually, usually much, much later than I wished, they would be acquired.

Today, as a working writer and a grown-assed man, not much has changed. I still don’t think of things in terms of money; instead of packs of baseball cards (thousands of which still languish in boxes in the house) I think in terms of freelance assignments or book advances. If I want a new phone, say, I don’t scheme to put a few hundred dollars together, I scheme to get three or four additional freelance assignments.

The digital age exacerbates this, because I don’t actually carry cash any more, an I get incensed when businesses don’t offer some way to pay aside from cash—not from any sort of idealogical position, but simply because I never have any in my pocket, so it’s a pain in the ass. Without actual dollars to pass out, the act of buying things and services is abstract, so I operate using a kind of unique, bespoke currency we can call Jeff Bucks. Jeff Bucks come in the form of freelance jobs and other miscellaneous sources of income.

Someday I dream of being able to pay for things by quickly composing a blog post on my phone while standing in line at the checkout. Or, more accurately, I don’t dream of that at all because my god that would be terrible, wouldn’t it? Imagine being the poor person behind me as I pull up the thesaurus to find synonyms of cutting-edge.

Be Prepared

You have no idea what men of power can do.

After Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed the bottom half of my house and cost a bazillion dollars to recover from, I went on a small-scale preparation tear. You always prepare for the last war, or in this case the last natural disaster, so no doubt all my efforts are in vain, but I figured the only thing worse than not being prepared for an unknowable disaster was not being prepared for a disaster you knew full well was possible.

So, my disaster prep was more or less dictated by our experience during Sandy. We bought RTE food because the grocery stores and restaurants were closed for a week. We bought battery-operated water alarms in case the flood came while we were asleep. We bought flashlights that double as lanterns. We bought jugs of water. We bought a huge 7,000 RPM generator because the power was off for a week. I got a propane model with an electric starter because pulling that fucking ripcord is for people who have some level of physical fitness, and I don’t need to be out in the rain crying because I’ve been pulling that fucking cord for three hours and my hands are bleeding.

I realize that other folks suffered much worse—and other folks are suffering much worse right now in some areas. We were lucky, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time.

Of course, I’m generally speaking an incompetent man. Despite being an Eagle Scout, I am not very good at the whole be prepared schtick. Or I should say I’m very good at being physically prepared in the sense of having the tools and materials you’re supposed to have, but not very good at making those things work in an emergency. It’s like when I was in the Boy Scouts: I technically knew how to build a shelter out of leaves and branches, how to make a fire. But any time I had to actually attempt those things under pressure, it was what scientists call a shitshow. Much like my entire Boy Scout career, ha ha! (bursts into PTSD tears).

And so when the power went out at the Somers Compound in Hoboken recently, I began to sweat. Because I was going to have to use the generator.

The Leviathan

I live in an attached rowhouse with 0 ground-level outdoor space. That’s right, 0. No yard. We do have a second-floor deck that is quite nice, but the house is 100% lot coverage as a result of 1970s/1980s-era Hoboken wheeling and dealing; this town used to be the Wild Fucking West when it came to zoning and work permits. So when I ordered our generator I figured we’d put it on the deck, NBD. Except the generator weighed like 5,000 pounds and appeared to be made of solid pig iron, or possibly be merely a habitat for several dozen incredibly dense beings of pure energy. A friend of mine helped me carry it up to the deck, but I was already sweating the Judgment of The Duchess.

My wife, The Duchess, is a sweet and lovely woman who long ago accepted my incompetence as part of the Price of Loving Jeff. My cheerful inability to manage simple tasks just amuses her, these days (there was a brief period of trying to shame me into competence, but it was a long time ago and I emerged as cheerfully useless as ever). A side effect of this, of course, is that anything I claim will work she immediately assumes will not. It’s that simple. And so she took one look at the generator and assumed it would either a) never be needed, making it a waste of money or b) never actually work, making it a waste of money.

Years go by. The generator sits there. I fire it up every now and then and let it run a few minutes. But I’m haunted by all those fires I couldn’t start as History’s Worst Eagle Scout (aka the Eagle Scout who Smoked and Drank a Lot and Faked His Way Through at Least 50% of His Merit Badges), and I knew someday the lights would go out and The Duchess would suggest that it might be time to run the generator … and I worried I wouldn’t be able to get it going.

And then the lights went out when The Duchess had a huge project to finish that required the Internet.

Dead Squirrels

The lights went out due to two adventurous but doomed squirrels who blew up two transformers on the block within a few days of each other. The poor things were splattered everywhere, and the lights went out for about four hours. The Duchess began to freak about her project, and so I went to fire up the generator just to get the Internet back up. Every step made me nervous, because this was the pattern of my life: A decently reasonable idea about how to stay alive during a non-emergency like a few inconvenient hours without Netflix magically transformed into humiliation. I opened up the gas line, adjusted the choke, and hit the starter button.

And nothing happened. I knew then I would have to simply climb down from the deck in my bare feet and start walking, starting a new life wherever I happened to find myself. My new name would be Derek, I thought, and I would live a simple life without any sort of electricity as a sort of penance for this. I would certainly never be able to face The Duchess again. She would force me to carry the generator down the stairs by myself while she taunted me with cruel insults.

I adjusted the connections to the battery and tried again, and the generator fired up. Five minutes later we were the only house on the block with electricity, and I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway when he makes fire for the first time.

What does this prove? Nothing. I didn’t engineer the generator, extract and process the propane, or do anything except press a button. But believe me, pressing a button is so often beyond my capabilities it was still a momentous occasion, and I wondered, briefly, if maybe I did, after all, deserve this Eagle badge.

Probably not, but a man can dream.

The Intruder

WHY ARE YOU RUNNING AWAY???

My brother Yan and I meet up once a week to have lunch and drink beer, and insult each other savagely:

ME: Still older than me, I see. My goodness, you look like a zombie.

YAN: Still calling me Yan, huh? The creative writer can’t think of a better pseudonym?

Yan and I both like a bit of beer variety; when I was a youth I spent a long time drinking Coors Lite, the Silver Bullet, and I still feel a strong urge to do penance for that. So we usually try to find a bar that offers a decent selection of beers on tap. We also like our bars much like we like our souls: Empty. I’m an old man, so shouting over EDM is undignified, and we both just prefer a bit of space and the ability to actually get a bartender’s attention. Crowded bars are a young man’s game.

Empty bars have there own problems, of course. On the one hand they tend to go out of business, seeing as they’re empty all the time. On the other hand, when you’re the only people sitting at the bar, it leaves you vulnerable to The Intruder.

It Follows

The Intruder is that guy (and it is always a guy) who has nothing better to do but wander into bars on his own (because he is always alone) looking to have a conversation with … anyone.

Yan and I were sitting at the bar in this absolutely empty place, insulting each other, and The Intruder walked in, taking the form of a pudgy middle-aged guy in a bowling shirt. He made a joke about the place being empty when he walked in, and Yan and I made polite responses because we’re not, you know, animals.

The Intruder then tried to make conversation with the bartender, but lady bartenders are well-trained in shutting down eird guys who try to chat them up while they’re working, and she made short work of him. So he sat down right next to Yan and began his attempts to intrude on out conversation. Yes, the bar was empty. And he sat down next to us. As far as I am concerned that makes him a monster of horrific proportions, undeserving of mercy.

I was facing The Intruder, and in my peripheral vision I could see him repeatedly stare at us in a clear posture of wanting to make a comment and insert himself into our conversation. I began drinking faster.

Look, I know what some people might say: He’s lonely. He’s a lonely guy just out looking for some human contact, why couldn’t we include him in our conversation? First of all, fuck you. Second of all, he’s not lonely, he’s a monster. Third of all, in my gentler youth I did in fact sometimes treat Intruders kindly, and all it got me was a lot of conspiracy theories, conservative political diatribes, and, oddly enough, resentment. Plus, experience has taught me that the Intruder will never leave or stop talking. Once he latches onto a host, he will extract all of your garmonbozia, believe me.

So, we speed drank and called for the bill. The Intruder tried to start a conversation literally as we were walking away from him, but we employed the friendly-wave technique and just kept walking. We went to another bar down the street (one of the joys of living in bar-infested Hoboken) and continued our conversation in peace, and the Intruder, I assume, consumed several less savvy people that afternoon, growing large on their souls and offal.

The lesson? My brother and I are unfriendly assholes, certainly. But also that the Rules of Polite Society should be sacred, and one of those rules is: If people are having a private conversation, you should not intrude on it.

Why Jon Snow’s Stupidity Matters

Derp.

Note: This is discussing the TV show Game of Thrones specifically, ignoring the books.

Far be it from me to drag on people who are selling millions more books than I ever will, or attracting millions more eyeballs than anything based on my books ever will (unless I finally do my Pantsless Dancing exercise video, in which case: Watch out, world!) but it’s time to talk about how astoundingly dumb Game of Thrones has gotten in its later seasons—specifically the character of Jon Snow—and why it matters from a writing point of view.

We don’t know how close to the books the show is right now; Martin may have a much better handle on the story and the characters, and it’s been discussed to death how Game of Thrones is on an accelerated pace right now in an effort to finish the story before we all get collectively tired of it. I can forgive, therefore, the compressed and nonsensical time frame; after all, no one wants to have six episodes of Jon Snow slowly making his way to meet Daenerys in a damned rowboat, passing the time by chatting with Ser Davos about their unhappy childhoods and fighting sea monsters. Okay, maybe the latter, a little.

Side note: How is it possible there are no sea monsters in Westeros? For serious.

The time thing doesn’t bother me. Sure, it’s shitty storytelling, but there are economic factors pushing them, and I can still enjoy the show despite them. No, what bothers me is that Jon Snow is fucking stupid. And not in a defensible way.

Da King In Da Norf

Jon is a major character in this show (again, the future books may be different [and thus, better]), and might even turn out to be the ultimate hero/survivor in all of this. And the problem isn’t so much that he’s stupid, but that his stupidity would not exist in any slightly realistic universe. IN a realistic universe someone as stupid as Jon Snow would have choked on something as a child and died, or possible fallen down a hole and starved to death, or maybe have accidentally stabbed himself with a dagger. Here’s a few quick rundown of the disastrous decisions Jon Snow’s made in recent episodes, going back to the end of last season:

  • Allowed himself to be baited into a solo charge at the Battle of the Bastards, setting his army up for annihilation (prevented only by the fortuitous arrival of Sansa and Littlefinger)
  • Abandoned his kingdom to go personally visit Daenerys, bringing just a small honor guard
  • Allowed that honor guard to be immediately disarmed, like without even a shrug
  • More or less allowed himself to be a prisoner with no reason to believe it would work out aside from having copious amounts of Plot Armor
  • Came up with this absolutely shit idea that they needed to have a wight on hand to prove to people that the Night King for reals, yo
  • Decided that he had to manage this task personally
  • Then brought about a dozen people with him on the raid despite having a fucking army at his disposal, without bothering to tell his sister what he was up to as she sits in Winterfell ruling in his stead (this despite the fact that apparently he can send Ravens like super fast anywhere he wants)

I could go on. Should I go on? No.

The simple fact of it is that this is shit writing. Even if we assume for a fun moment that getting a wight to show off to the doubters is necessary, any sane King in the North would delegate the task to a trusted lieutenant (Tormund, we’re looking at you). There is simply no need for Jon Snow to actually be in the north personally. And we’re supposed to believe that Jon is a smart, solid choice to be King of the North. His entire character arc is a guy who was and literally knows nothing to the one woke bastard in all of Westeros who sees the true threat. So he really shouldn’t be this terrible at the job.

There is, however, a plot need for Jon Snow to be in the north. The showrunners want Jon to be the badass, they want him to be the one to put together the puzzle pieces for defeating the Night King, and they wanted to demonstrate the growing and completely icky and nonsensical love affair brewing between secret cousins Daenerys and Jon. So they sent him up there despite the fact that it’s dumb. In short, since Jon’s arguably the main character at this point (or at least the focal character for the moment), he needs to be in on all the major plot developments.

Forget the timeline. Forget the fact that the Night King has been marching his wights for about six months and is still miles away from the Wall. This is the problem: Shit writing. Shortcuts in the service of smart plotting I can forgive, but shit writing that ignores the rules of decent storytelling deserves to be mocked.

Of course, I’m still gonna watch the show, because watching dragons burn the everliving shit out of wights is fun, dude. Bad writing can be entertaining. It’s still bad.

As you were.

 

Walking the Walk

Kids, I like to walk places, which makes me a little weird in modern-day America, where people apparently think walking three blocks to a store is pure insanity. One of the things I love about Hoboken, my home town, is its walkability. I don’t own a car currently, and don’t need one; literally everything I need is within easy walking distance, as long as you define “easy walking distance” as the distance that a normal adult in good health should be able to walk without complaining, passing out, or falling into some sort of storm drain. For me, that’s about 3-4 miles.

Now, some folks react to the fact that I walk 3-4 miles every single day with a bit of incredulity, as if spending hours at the gym working with machines is much less weird than simply walking around for exercise, but that’s okay. My brother, Yan, actually walks a lot more than I do. He often spends entire days just walking around. The man could use his legs as Jaws of Life in crash situations. So I’m not the weirdest Somers, which has always been my only true goal in life.

I like walking, what can I say? And when you walk around town every day like I do, you see some shit.

Some Shit Jeff Has Seen

ON my merry perambulations, I’ve seen

    • Many, many fancy people with umbrellas in the sunshine. Now, I know the sun is bad for you. I am sure my own skin is so damaged from the sun I will someday look remarkably like Tommy Lee Jones. Still, the number of folks I see parading about in the sunshine holding cheap, regular CVS-style umbrellas over themselves is remarkable. So I have remarked upon it. I wonder if these folks maintain their low-rent fanciness in other scenarios as well; perhaps all of their cans of diet cola at home sit on fancy white doilies?
    • Men walking about in 90-degree weather wearing long pants and jackets. Look, not everyone likes shorts. Some people think the world is far too casual, and some people just don’t like to expose skin. Fine and all, but … the jacket? I’ll be walking about in a constant puddle of my own sweat (and believe you me, I am wearing shorts in these scenarios and would go nekkid if I could) and some middle-aged dude will stroll past wrapped up like he’s recently teleported from the North Pole. And I can only think about the swampy nature of his nether regions.
    • Neighbors who live on my block getting out of cars approximately 3 blocks away from their house. It’s certainly possible they drove from another, distant location. But I wouldn’t be surprised to discover they drove from their house to the Chipotle, because walking 6 blocks there and back is obviously not what god intended them to do.

GEESES

  • A lot of geese, because we have a lot of geese living on the river here in Hoboken. They make me unreasonably happy for some reason, similar I suppose to the Tony Soprano Swimming Pool Ducks.
  • A lot of Stoop Sitting. I dunno about where you live, but here in the NYC metro area people of the older generations are still very fond of setting up shop on their front porch or stoop (or on the sidewalk if there’s no other choice) and … sitting there. All day. Just watching the world go by and engaging in conversation with anyone who wanders by. It kind of creeps me out, to be honest. My Mother once told me that when she was a young girl in Brooklyn, no one had air conditioning, so stoop-sitting was a consequence of their apartments being like ovens during the day. It’s possible these folks don’t have A/C either, but I am dubious.

Walking is about the only exercise I’m willing to engage in, because I am a strange and wonderful being filled with secrets. That’s me; if you prefer a gym or yoga or jogging, more power to you. I’ll just keep walking, and making mental notes about the terrors that await us on the streets.

Childhood Melodrama

I was possibly inspired to run away because they put this sweater on me, but I can’t prove it.

I had one of those annoyingly cheerful childhoods, for the most part. We weren’t particularly poor or rich, and my brother and I were allowed to wallow in our imaginations as much as we liked. We were fed and clothed and had a lot of toys, with efforts at giving us a spiritual background that were just half-assed enough for us to shrug them off. I’m not saying my childhood was perfect—there was, I think, a normal portion of trauma, body horror, and emotional ruination (my people are Catholic, after all). But in general I had a great time building immensely complicated things with Legos, playing Pac Man, and eating elbow macaroni in meat sauce, a dish my Mother called Slumgolian.

So, being generally a very happy child up until the usual age when happiness becomes impossible (around 12), I naturally had to try and manufacture my own drama. Why should all the children of divorce get all the sympathy?

Attempt One: Hiding

Children are as a class of citizen pretty convinced that they are taken for granted. We figure out early on that we were brought into this world (purchased, most likely, probably from a catalog called TINY SERVANTS) solely to perform chores and other grunt work for our lazy parents. What about our needs? Those televisions aren’t going to watch themselves, after all.

So at some point every single child in the universe hatches a simple plan: I will disappear, and when my parents realize I am missing there will be much sadness and tearing of clothing and regret. Or possibly a revelation that they aren’t human at all, but rather disgusting slitherbeasts from another dimension, which would explain a lot.

So, feeling unappreciated one day, I hid.

My master plan was not very masterful. I hid in my parents’ bedroom closet, for one, and they could probably hear my pudgy breathing in there. For two, I brought no provisions or entertainments. This made the hour or so I crouched in there seem much longer than it actually was, which in turn made the lack of reaction from the house more alarming and infuriating. I mean, I was missing. What the fuck were my parents doing?

Of course what they were doing was being completely unaware of my absence. I eventually gave up and sulked back into society, most probably because I needed a snack.

Attempt Two: The Runaway

Some times after the closet debacle, I hit on an improvement to my plan to inspire my parents to, you know, regret treating me like I was some sort of insufferable little prick of a child. I would run away, which had the extra dimension of actual absence I thought would push this plan over the top. I would go on an adventure, and when the police brought me home a few days later my parents would have learned a serious lesson.

Looking back, it’s obvious that lesson would have been send this kid to military school immediately, but at the time I had high hopes for a later bedtime and a higher cookie ration. Yes, my childhood was terrible.

Anyways, I walked out of the house to embark on my bold plan, then realized something I’d failed to take into consideration: I was not allowed to cross the streets alone. In order to officially run away, I would have to actually cross the street. The only time I’d crossed the streets was when playing stickball with the older kids in the neighborhood, who prized me for my speed (hard to believe in my current state of dotage, but true in 1979), and I always dreaded hitting a double and being stuck on second base, in full view of my back door, where Mom could emerge at any time to call me home for some reason.

The difference was, sitting on second waiting to be batted in was a temporary scenario. Running away was a commitment to disobedience I was, ironically, unprepared to make. Which didn’t stop me from running away. It just meant I ran around the block.

I don’t quite remember how long I remained out there, suffering, without food or shelter. Possibly an hour. Possibly and hour and a half. What became clear to me was that if I was going to elicit the dumbfounded sorrow of my parents over their treatment of their youngest son, I was going to have to find a new approach. One that kept me in potato chips, video games, and socks fresh from the dryer.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how my lifelong dislike of things like effort and planning have shaped my entire life. But things are easier today, of course, because if I’d had Facebook back in The Day, I could have simply informed everyone that I’d run away, and achieved everything I wanted without leaving my room. Truly, we are living in the future.