The drive-by text message

Years ago, my boy Lance was seeing a girl who turned out to be crazy.

Now, I realize this is like saying he was seeing a vegetarian who turned out to be a Democrat or a Prius owner who turned out to be a terrible driver, but stick with me.

Go out with me!

"Be my boyfriend, right now!"

Lance had a three-stage system for getting rid of girls he didn’t like. I won’t drag you through those stages, but the final one was to just stop answering the phone or returning calls altogether. Stage 3 wasn’t usually necessary, because they’d usually scram at Stage 1 or 2.

Anyway, this one did not. From the balcony of our second-floor apartment one night, while Lance is in the middle of Stage 3, we see this girl’s car pulling into the lot. Slowly. She does a slow drive-by, looks up at us in the balcony as Lance goes, incredulously, “She’s driving by my house.”

This maneuver has a modern counterpart. That counterpart is the drive-by text message.

Have you ever received a text that said something like, “What’s going on?” or “Hey, what’s up?” or just, “Hey”?

If you’re like me, your first reaction is to be annoyed at such a wasteful message. I only get, like, 300 of these a month, man. Let’s make ’em count. But your second reaction was more like, “Uh oh.”

This is because the sender is trying to bait you. If you respond, they know your phone is on, your phone is near you and you can communicate with it, meaning you won’t be able to ignore the almost certainly painful conversation they actually want to have with you.

Example 1:

Incoming text: “hey whats up?”

Your reply:  “not much just hangin out”

Incoming text: “with who, that skank from wednesday? we need to decide what we are”

Example 2:

Incoming text: “hey man”

Your reply: “yo whats up?”

Call comes in, you answer.

“Hey, man, sorry to bug you this late, but I ran out of gas on the highway and I was wondering if you could bring me some.”

This is the drive-by text, and it is never, ever good.

The heckler and the critic

I think any journalist would tell you the best part of the job is the anonymous people calling you gay on the Internet and photoshopping your head into elephant droppings*.

*This really happened to a journalist I know.

It’s just part of the deal. You write something someone doesn’t like about, say, a power forward, and all the sudden people are rooting for your death like you’re at the Coliseum.

Now, this hasn’t happened to me recently. Not as far as I know anyway. But it has happened to somebody I know, and I just happened to be watching stand-up comedy on YouTube recently when I stumbled upon a film project by Jamie Kennedy called “Heckler,” in which Kennedy explores heckling from every angle. What it’s like to be heckled. Why people heckle. How different comics deal with heckling. He also deals with Internet criticism.

Pretty fascinating stuff, to me.

Here’s a scene in which Kennedy takes a couple of hecklers backstage for an interview:

What’s interesting here is that the heckler can’t articulate what he didn’t like about Kennedy’s show. Kennedy asks him what should have been a penetrating question: “Why are you giving me your opinion, because you want me to get better or you just want to be like, yeah, fuck you?”

The guy’s answer is that he wants Kennedy to get better because he’s on TV and “I can be like, Jamie, stop telling shitty jokes.”

And then Kennedy: “I hope you get spine cancer.”

Here’s one of Kennedy interviewing Carrot Top, possibly one of the most hated-on comics of all time:

Carrot Top is genuinely hurt by the heckling and mean-spirited criticism and seems to genuinely not know why so many people hate him, considering he’s been a hugely successful comic for the better part of two decades, now.

Here’s Kennedy opening up to Dr. Drew:

And here’s Kennedy dealing with an actual heckler at an actual show:

I bring this all up not to talk about Jamie Kennedy, nor to suggest that being a sportswriter and getting ripped on a message board is the same as  being a stand-up comic and getting yelled at while you’re on stage.

I do think there are some similarities, though.  What I think we’re dealing with is two different types of people.

1) The heckler types.

These are the people who go to a comedy show and yell at the comic. These are also the people who are known on the Internet as “trolls.” They go onto your message board or blog post or whatever and write anything they can write to make you angry. That’s the whole point. They aren’t interested in arguing against your argument, they just want to get a rise out of you.

They do this because they are losers.

2) The irrationally angry.

These are the people who strongly disagree with something you’ve written, so much so that they can’t see three inches in front of their face because of all the blood rushing through their heads. These are people who believe what they believe and can’t be bothered with facts or confronted with the idea that not everybody agrees with them.

In my experience, it is ironically the most factually based assertions that make these people the most angry. These people will read a story about, say, their favorite player being tried for sexual assault and conclude everything possible — usually including, but not limited to: the writer is a homosexual, the accuser is a gold-digger, the newspaper is always out to get this particular team and the writer is a crappy writer, anyway, so harumph —  except that the player might have sexually assaulted someone.

They do this because they have uninteresting lives and as a result have attached far too much of their own identity to a team, to the point that they actually believe the team’s actions reflect on them.

Fact: 87 percent of these people drive PT Cruisers.

Pictured: Despair.

Pictured: Despair.

For the most part, I think it doesn’t take writers too long to get over this stuff. I like to argue, and I like to defend my positions, but once I realize someone is just trying to get a rise out of me, I find it pretty easy to let it go. And when it’s just a fan who’s angry because I wrote something negative about his team, that’s just as easy to ignore. I think most journalists are that way.

It’s probably a little different for comics, because the job is so much different. It’s a live performance, and live performances are all about feeding off the audience. And (this applies to writers, too) I think anybody willing to put their name and face out there for the public is, on some level, seeking approval.

Then again, who isn’t?

On proposing and manliness

Engaged 009

At first, and for an awfully long time, I just didn’t feel like proposing and being engaged and having a wedding.

This is not to say I didn’t want to get married. I did. I had always planned on getting married, and I’ve known for quite some time now that I wanted to marry Abby, who I successfully proposed to on Friday night.

It’s just that I never really had any interest in the process of it. I just wanted to skip right to the being married part. And what I didn’t fully realize until Friday night is that the very process of proposing, the process that seems so trite and ceremonial and needless is, in some ways, the part that forces a man to decide who he is going to be.

When I was 16, our school paper did a survey asking guys how they would eventually propose. Some gave cliche answers (“probably at a nice dinner or something”), some put a little more thought into it. I said this: “Hey, you in the red, you wanna get hitched?”

I was trying to be funny, of course, but it was a revealing attempt. I’m not much for social convention, and I don’t like doing things just to avoid being considered a jerk*. I am not good at that, by the way.

*For example, at any large social gathering, you inevitably meet someone for the first time. Although I don’t normally get a real sense of enjoyment out of this, it’s fine. What I can’t stand is the conversation you inevitably end up having with that person during a moment when the person who introduced you is not part of the conversation for some reason.

What I say: “So what do you do?”

What I mean: “My options are to just walk away or say something, so here’s something.”

What he says: “I’m a sales rep for a financial software company.”

What I say: “Oh, that sounds interesting.”

What I mean: “In no way is that interesting, but if I say it is, maybe he’ll take up the next 15-20 seconds talking about it while I space off.”

What he says: “Yeah, I like it. It pays the bills.”

What he means: “I hate it, and I really wish this conversation would end soon.”

So it was with my engagement. The process always seemed like a formality to me, even before I met Abby. I knew I was never going to be one of those guys who proposes without knowing what the answer would be, so the whole thing always felt a little unnecessary.

Nonetheless, I got the ring on Monday and on Tuesday had a brainstorming session with a couple of my writer buddies as to how I could propose. The session centered around this idea: She’s going to be telling this story over and over for the rest of her life, so you cannot screw it up.

That’s what I kept hearing. I got it from everybody. My friend John, who had proposed at night, on a beach in Tampa, said this to me. My friend Lance’s mom said this to me. The lady at the jewelry store said it.

Generally, I would say I work well under pressure (some would say I work only under pressure), but this was a different kind of pressure. This was pressure to do something I didn’t know how to do. And it was pressure to be a way (romantic) I’m not used to being. It felt sort of like being asked to fill in for Walter Kronkite one night, only you’ve never been on the air before and it just so happened to be the day JFK was assassinated*.

*I mean, sort of.

And I just made it worse with the most moronic move possible. On Wednesday, I made reservations at the restaurant for Friday, and told Abby about it, before I had any real idea how I was going to propose. I had jumped out of the burning building without bothering to make sure there were firemen holding a trampoline beneath me.

At that point, this was all I had:

  • I wanted to do it in a romantic, secluded place in Kansas City.
  • I wanted to involve sentimental elements from the past.
  • I wanted it to be (somewhat) surprising.

By Thursday evening, I had created this:

Hopefully, in 20 years, Beyonce's "Single Ladies" will still be memorable, otherwise this is going to make no sense.

Hopefully, in 20 years, Beyonce's "Single Ladies" will still be memorable, otherwise this is going to make no sense.

After a day of taking her on what amounted to a musical scavenger hunt, using songs that were in one way or another relevant to our time together, I tucked this inside an actual newspaper, asked her if she had seen my story that day and handed her the paper. “It’s on the inside,” I said.

Tip: If you think you might be getting engaged, get some waterproof makeup.

Tip: If you think you might be getting engaged, get some waterproof makeup.

Her mascara started running pretty much immediately, but I made her read the column first and when I could tell she was done, I got down on my knee, pulled out the ring and asked that final question I refer to in the column.

The funniest part of this story is the re-telling of it, especially to my family, who basically think of me as a caveman. I think they expected I would just walk in from work and toss her the ring box like it was a Keystone Light on a fishing trip.

I don’t feel like a new man, but I do feel like a little bit more of one. Not in some macho way. But there are certain things a man must do in his life, and (generally) I think getting permission from his girlfriend’s father and then proposing to her is one of them.

More than anything else,  it is the dividing line between boyhood and manhood. There are others things, too, but this is the one you get to choose. You get to decide when you’re ready for full-on manhood. And when it’s time, you have to step up and make a play.

Near as I can tell, that’s what manhood and leadership are about. Recognizing when it’s time to make a play, and then making it happen.

I’m definitely not the playmaker I want to be. Not yet. But I feel good about this one, and I think maybe that’s the difference between 16 and 26.

Proposal story coming soon …

So, this is a little narcissistic on my part, but I can tell from the stats on this blog that I’ve gotten an unusual amount of traffic since Friday night, when I proposed. I assume there are people stopping by to see if I’ve posted anything about it.

Check in Monday, when it gets the full Cub House treatment.

On marriage, and buddies

There have been a few hundred bad movies and a few dozen decent ones written about the different ways men and women relate to marriage.

By and large, they all say the same thing: Women are hopelessly excited about it and men are hopelessly nervous about it, even when the marriage is not their own.

But they never explain the reason this is true, which is that, it turns out,  women make relatively terrible friends, whereas men are more or less dogs (in virtually any sense, but especially in that they are loyal).

Pick any woman you know. Think about her two or three best friends. Most likely, at some point, they have been in a protracted disagreement that caused them to temporarily end their friendship. This disagreement most likely involved one of two things:

1) The rights to a boy.

(Example: Jan can’t believe that Donna would send a flirty text message to Steve when she clearly knew that Jan had been to the Tasty Freeze with Steve last weekend).

2) The rights to attention from others.

(Example: Donna is livid that on her birthday, Jan decided to announce she wanted to break up with Steve, causing the rest of the party-goers to focus on Jan’s hardship, rather than Donna’s celebration).

What started as a simple slight or (possible) miscommunication became a verbal struggle involving totally unrelated epithets designed to bombard each other’s self-image. The only remorse expressed between the two was quickly followed by an excuse for the offending behavior which doubled as an attempt to swing the emotional attention back on the apologizer’s side.

This lasted from three to 12 weeks.

Now, this is not to say men don’t get into disagreements. But it is to say that men on both sides of the disagreement prefer to end the disagreement as quickly as possible, in order to resume the friendship. There are many strategies for this, including:

1) A fistfight.

2) Just dropping it forever.

3) A rhetorical compromise.

(Example: “Hey, man, I’m just saying that if you’re gonna drink my protein powder, just ask me about it first,” which really means, “You’d better stay out of my protein, and you know that, but I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”)

Do not touch another mans Muscle Milk, or the models that come with it.

Do not touch another man's Muscle Milk, or the models that come with it.

I’m speaking in generalities, of course. But I’m getting to a point. And my point is that all of this is the reason men and women approach marraige differently.

Ultimately, women are subconsciously trying to get away from their friends and men are consciously trying to hang on to them.

This is what I realized in watching my two best friends, Lance Hill and John Tanksley, get married this summer.

For any of this to make sense, you have to realize that no man will ever be ready to get married without an outside stimulus.

By that, what I really mean is that no man will realize he is ready to get married without an outside stimulus. This is because when men think of ourselves as married, we think of ourselves as being mature, settled, successful, secure. We imagine buying an engagement ring with cash. We imagine having a three-bedroom house with a Suburban in the garage. We imagine wearing suits to work, and being (pseudo)-important. We imagine being able to grow awesome facial hair.

More than that, we imagine having it all out of our system — the fart jokes, the video games, the punching each other in the chest, the burnouts in the parking lots. We think at some point, that’ll all be over.

But it never is. That’s where the outside stimulus comes in.

If we waited until after our last (hilarious) fart on a crowded elevator, until the last time we felt the urge to test the handling capabilities of our girlfriend’s Taurus, the last time we watched something on TV strictly because it involved cleavage,  we’d never get married.

For men, getting married isn’t about being grown up, because we never grow up. It’s about realizing we will never grow up, and finding a woman who is OK with our particular flavor of immaturity.

Left: A man who will never grow up. Right: A woman who is OK with that.

Left: A man who will never grow up. Right: A woman who will soon get used to the smell of his farts.

That is my best friend, John, and his new wife, Brittany. They got married in Buffalo, New York in June, which was about 1,000 years before I thought John would get married.

I was not ready for John to get married. And I wasn’t ready for my friend Lance, who got married Saturday in Chicago, to get married either. This is to say nothing of the women they married, who are both delightful. It is to say a lot about the male psyche, or at least mine.

A lot is made of the father of the bride and the giving away of his daughter, which is both figurative and literal. But it isn’t the same for the groom. His father doesn’t cry when he sees his son take a woman. It isn’t bittersweet. It’s just right. He’s doing what he is supposed to do, starting his own little empire in his own name. It feels that way to men.

What nobody realizes it that it is really the groom’s friends who give him away. It is the groom’s friends who have to reconcile with the reality that the wolfpack is disbanding, that they aren’t 16 or 19 or 22 anymore, that this kid they’ve been farting on is going to have to take on some real responsibility. He won’t be able to come play Madden until 5 a.m. anymore. It’s not that they’re losing him, any more than a dad loses his daughter, it’s just that he isn’t just theirs anymore.

No matter how long it takes, it always seems sudden. Marriage is one of those life events that just finds you. You’re sitting on a bad couch with a video game controller in your hand and an oversized burrito in your belly, when it knocks on the door. It’s time. High school graduation is that way. Moving away from home is that way. Getting a real job is that way*.

*As a sportswriter, I can only assume this is true.

All of it is exciting and new and terrifying and necessary all at the same time.

Even though it came at John and Lance and me and the rest of the guys in what seemed like no time, it was time.

The following documents the occasions:

Song2

Part of any good wedding is yelling "You've lost that lovin' feeling" directly in the bride's grill.

Part of any good wedding is yelling "You've lost that lovin' feeling" directly in the bride's grill.

Another key element is having one exceptionally aggressive dancer in the group. In this case, it was John’s brother, James, who was easily the best nude male dancer at this party.

His second favorite move was to just tackle people from behind.

His second favorite move was to just tackle people from behind.

Sometimes, it can get a little racy.

This is not what it looks like, unless it looks like I am trying to dress a woman I barely know in lacy undergarments while a large crowd watches, in which case, it is exactly what it looks like.

This is not what it looks like, unless it looks like I am trying to dress a woman I barely know in lacy undergarments while a large crowd watches, in which case, it is exactly what it looks like.

The point of this exercise was that, every inch up Rachel’s leg I slid the garter (which I had caught) represented some amount of time John and Brittany would be married. As such, they will be married for, “just short of public indecency,” however long that is. Hopefully at least as long as I’m on parole.

A dance battle between brothers is never a bad idea.

A dance battle between brothers is never a bad idea.

One of the best parts is watching the boquet toss vs. the garter toss. It is not uncommon for the garter to just land on the floor and get scooped up by some unwitting toddler.

Notice the bride scanning the crowd in an attempt to throw the boquet directly to the person of her choosing (probably).

Notice the bride scanning the crowd in an attempt to throw the boquet directly to the person of her choosing (probably).

Now that is has all happened, I’ve realized that my best friends as married men really aren’t any different than they were as single men. They’re a little more predictable, I suppose. And it’s gonna take a little more planning for us to get together to punch each other in the chest, or whatever else we used to do, but that would have been the case anyway. But so far, my relationship with them hasn’t changed because of it, and I don’t think it will.

If this seems surprising, it’s because it would make a terrible movie.