For example, do I exist, or am I just telling you that I do?

Some years ago while I was still working as a comedian I was watching another comic and kind of studying the audience, and I had a little epiphany. Lower case “e.” This wasn’t a finding Jesus, realizing I was gay, kicking heroin type epiphany. I’m not even sure it counts, in fact, because I don’t still subscribe to the idea.

What I began thinking about was the idea of creating our reality through perception, and how the only definitions we have are the ones we create, and choose to believe. If we choose to believe something, it is true. It was sort of Arjuna & Krishna thing.

The warrior Arjuna is in the midst of a terrible civil war. His advisor/concigliere/buddy is the god Krishna (thus showing that leader have always said that “God is on my side” just some have meant it more literally than others). Arjuna is feeling uneasy about slaughtering his cousins and neighbors, but Krishna reassures him that all of this is just a veil of illusion, and has no bearing on what’s really, really real. It was all very Matrix.

So my feeling, that night, was that since all experience is unique, and it is impossible to communicate with others without some level of façade, or illusion, then honesty, was in effect, impossible. Thus, if everything is a lie, then nothing is a lie. The only truth is that which we create for ourselves. So if you make up things about yourself, who cares? What you have made up as an idea of yourself is as close to the unvarnished truth as anything you’re likely to way when trying to be honest, while have the luster of at least reflecting who you would liketo be.

Now, I no longer believe this, but I am still fascinated with the concept, particularly in relation to celebrity and pop culture – both entertainment and political. Especially in the way that a moment of unvarnished honesty can become so jarring and confusing. We don’t want that – we want the polished, publicist-approved text. Tom Cruise? When he lectured the Good Morning America guy? Picked on Brooke Shields? Jumped around on Oprah? He stops the perfect control machine, acts like a human being in public and people think he’s gone crazy. Yet these sorts of things go on all the time, it’s just that usually it’s fixed through editing, reshoots, rewriting the answers to the interview questions. And we like it that way, because we want the illusion.

There’s a current interview with Tom Cruise in which he’s asked about his recent behavior, and the interview has so clearly been worked through and sanitized – preplanned answers, set talking points in order to explain away everything. Make it vanish. Yet it restores the illusion we so much want. When Oprah rips a guest a new one, or gets them to say something stupid, we want that illusion to be the reality, rather than the idea that those interviews are manipulated through editing so that she always comes out the people’s hero.

And celebrity culture, I suppose, is supposed to be this way, but the trickle down is kind of frightening. Celebrity illusion is now becoming the normative M.O. MySpace profiles, fictional degrees from prestigious universities, etc.

I don’t know…no point. Just interesting.


"She's all, 'silence is golden,' and I'm like, 'Yeah it is,' and she says...

Hey, remember that part in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life where the people at the dinner party have all died from poisoned mousse, and the Grim Reaper shows up? And he’s yelling at the one fellow, “You Americans, all you do is talk, and talk, and say ‘let me tell you something’ and ‘I just wanna say.’ Well, you're dead now, so shut up.”? Delightful!

Or in Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy when Ford Prefect, upon analyzing humans theorizes that we believe that if we stop talking our brains will stop working? Then he concludes that it is, in fact, that if we stop talking our brains will start working? Bon mot, Adams!

Or in Hamlet when Queen Gertrude barks at Polonius to quite blathering, saying, “More matter, less art!” Wacky!

I just mention it because I’ve been marveling at people who genuinely seem incapable of not talking for even a few moments at a time. Why is that? Now, a lot of people say that the more people talk the less they say, but I’m not sure about that. They might say as much, it’s just that the twelve minutes of genuine conversation are suffocating under the weight of fifteen hours and forty eight minutes of…Christ, I don’t even know. Gossip? Filler? Sports scores? Maybe the substance there, it’s just there on the “infinite monkeys” principle.

“I like pepperoni okay but not from that one place with the skinny guy with all the piercings; omigod doesn’t that one hurt? You know, that one? That can’t be clean you know he probably smells I don’t like it when people smell. Have you seen that Axe body spray commercial it’s so funny. I wish I was funny but I’m not; maybe I should try to be but then I suppose I will never be happy if I continue to search for what happiness consists of. It’s the great paradox: I will never truly live if I am looking for the meaning of life. The guy in the pizza place was trying to be funny this one time, but he’s too skanky, and…”

That sort of thing. Perhaps not, since there’s no time to conceive of the twelve minutes of meaningful discourse while churning out the rest.

Don’t you ever just stare at people, trying to figure out the circumstances under which they’d be quiet for a moment? Earthquake? During the earthquake, I mean. After the earthquake would actually warrant lots of talking. I don’t trust people who can’t stop talking. Unfair, perhaps, but I just don’t. If no time is devoted to thought, then the words are just, essentially, gas leaked through vocal chords.

I know people talk because they’re nervous. People talk because they’re excited or bored…but you can also think for those reasons. Or perhaps discuss your anxiety and/or bordeom. One can, perhaps, take a moment to think of something meaningful or relevant to say. Didn’t think of anything? Oh, that’s too bad. Shut the fuck up, then, how about?

I wish I knew the solution. I’d tell everybody. All the time.


Look to the future and say, "Fore!"

Hey, when you’re wrong about someone, you have to admit it, right? Because I’ve pretty frequently thought that this administration was evil. Sometimes horrible. Sometimes deliberately cruel. Sometimes bafflingly stupid. Certainly liars. But it seems important to me to be able to acknowledge when your perception of someone you despise is wrong. After all, isn’t that the hope of the world?

You see, the United States has been losing wetland and marshes every year since we started keeping track in 1954. On Earth Day in 2004, President Bush said that he wanted to not just stop the loss, but actually increase the acreage of wetland in the US. After all, farmers and ranchers – you know, those people in political ads in soft-honey focus smiling in front of waving flags? – depend on it so much, as does the ecosystem, and all humans really rely on it for…um…shoot. That thing we do? With our lungs? Breathing! That’s it.

Anyway, I figured it was more sinister bullshit. Or stupid. Or deliberately horrible. Certainly a lie. But last week, secretary Norton announced that they’d done it! They’d increased domestic wetlands by almost 200,000 acres! This is especially impressive considering that, according to the US Geological Survey, Hurricane Katrina destroyed around 64,250 acres of wetland. Norton’s report shows “a loss of 523,500 acres of swamp and marsh wetlands and a gain of 715,300 acres of shallow-water wetlands.” Wow.

Rightly so, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said, "The President's historic support of voluntary conservation programs has led the nation to this important milestone.”

Warms the heart, doesn’t it? Ahhhhhh.

Hm. We lost over half a million acres, but gained 700,000…that seems a little weird. Well, best not nitpick. Right? Right.

Because if one did, one would discover that the government redefined the criteria for qualifying as a “wetland.” This new definition includes…

Ready? Take a deep breath.

Golf courses.

I’m serious. Fucking golf courses!

You see, in addition to being 'wet' 'land', when bird’s migrate, sometimes a couple of them stop to catch their breath in the water-hazards. Before getting zonked in the head by a Titleist, that is. And that’s how we lost a half-million acres of wetland (the most ever), and gained a lot of…”wetland”.

It’s hard to keep getting upset, especially since this sort of thing is certainly not unprecedented. Reagan did this all the time. He redefined “mentally ill” in order to empty out the asylums, which was, coincidentally, around the time the “crazy homeless guy” first appeared on the American landscape. Then he redefined “homeless” to keep those statistics from going up and redefined "poverty” and “unemployed” to show that poverty was down. Clinton did it too, redefining “job” to show how many new jobs his administration had created. And, my personal fave, Reagan redefined “vegetable” to include Ketchup, so he could show that the dietary needs of people on federal assistance were being met.

Anyway…when you’re wrong about someone, or an administration, you have to admit it. And I was wrong about all those things I at times thought about them. Because, in fact, they are apparently all true simultaneously. They’re horribly evil, deliberately cruel, lying idiots.

It feels good to admit that, you know? Like a breath of fresh, golf course air.


The Proverb Goes: "Revenge is a dish best served cold"

As I may have talked about before, I was raised to be a fierce advocate of gender equality. I was forbidden from watching shows that were deemed degrading to women, and to be aware from an early age of gender bias in society and the workplace. This, like most parental notions, had it’s plusses and minuses. Often, because we’re all such simpletons, the gender issue gets mired down in the same absurd black & white thinking as the race issue, or the religion issue. Namely, the argument is put forth that “we’re all totally, exactly the same except for ________.” The blank is where you insert ‘skin color’ or ‘genitals’ or ‘kooky religious practices.’ I, at an early age, spewed this silly idea about whenever the opportunity presented itself. That and the idea that of course Superman could beat Batman in a fight and even discussing the issue was absurd.

Now, this idea (The gender one. I still stand by my Superman claim) is stupid for two reasons: one, it’s not true. Two, the precept is inherently bigoted, itself. Now, you say to me, “Byron, that’s crazy talk. Stop talking crazy.” But listen! The idea here is that we (let’s say, white people) shouldn’t be prejudice against them (let’s say, absolutely anyone now, or in history who has not been white, been white but the wrong kind of white, or been white but distantly, genealogically connected to someone who was not white) for the sole reason that they are just like us. If they were not just like us, then it would be understandable to hate them, make them sit in the back of the bus, etc. You see what I’m saying? But the fact is there are differences between genders, races, etc. Huge chasms. But these differences aren’t hierarchical, there just…you know…differences. Most of them are really interesting and fun, and then periodically infuriating.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because I got attacked by a dog earlier this week.

There’s a connection. Just hang in there.

I was walking my dog and we came across another dog, and after a moment of sniffing, apparently realized that they had finally, after years of searching, tracked down their sworn enemy (“So, Muffin, we meet again! Do you know the old Russian proverb about revenge?”). They go at it, determined to avenge whatever. I step in to break it up and the dog goes for me. Fine, to be fair, he didn’t go after all of me. Just my neck.

Okay, so, blah blah blah, we’re in the emergency room and many hours later a doctor sees M and me. He’s saying that dog bites are highly prone to infection and so often they don’t stitch them, since that can heighten the infection risk, but since they are highly visible they probably should. But, he tells me, it’s my call. One cut is on my chin, the one in (well, through) my lip didn’t need stitching, and the other one is a two inch gash about half a centimeter below my carotid artery (about an inch of which will likely scar).

Here is where – as a generalization, of course – a certain gender difference comes in. M can not fathom why I am slow to answer. But I’m struggling with the fact that the one on my neck is going to be such a cool scar! I know this is childish, but come on! Right below a major artery, so it involves a near miss with extreme gore and possible death, it’s on the neck so it’s visible and screams out an interesting story (granted, it implies something more interesting than the real one, but still) - I mean, damn! Cool scar at a relatively low price.

I mentioned my very real, very logical, very in-no-way-motivated-by-a-desire-for-an-interesting-scar concern about the risk of infection, but it was transparent bullshit. Fortunately, the doctor was male, and he knew exactly what I really meant (again – a female doctor might – might – have known what I was really saying, but probably not, she would have just thought I was a germaphobe. And if she did know, she probably would have thought something, reasonably so, along the lines of, “Jesus. Men.”). He said that without stitches the scars would be really ugly – like, the first thing people would look at when they meet me – but that there were going to be a couple scars regardless. Fine. Fair enough.

He did an amazing job stitching things up, though. Almost too good. Probably because he was talking about rabies, a disease he is utterly fascinated with (He bumped me up in the triage line so he could have me as a patient, “just in case”), so he was in his groove. He even let me know that he’s worked with twice as many rabies patients as anyone else in the U.S. (Which is two. It’s not a common disease).

I just found the whole male/female approach to this funny and interesting.

So, what’s my point, then? Appreciate ethnic and chromosonal differences? Nah. That’d be a good one, but to be honest, I think my point is that I got attacked by a dog and I really want people to know, but I don’t want to out-and-out brag about it.

Which is tough to do. It’s all about balance. I blew it yesterday, the first time someone asked what happened to my neck, because I didn’t want to brag, so I said, “Dog.” Yawn. Boring!

But I don’t want to go the other extreme either (“’Twas a mid-morning just like this one! A howl like the cries of the damned echoed across the park…!). Because both versions are true, they’re just different (See where I’m going with this? Christ, am I clever or what?). The key to a good brag is not to say that both extremes of the story are the same, but to appreciate that each has validity autonomous unto itself, but in conjunction with each other creates a balanced story that is both interesting, yet humble; subtle, yet complex. Not identical, but extremely complementary.

Vive le difference.