“They think blue-eyed people eat Haitians,” Jack says as I walk into the main tent and sit on the uneven ground.

“What?” Joel laughs, his brown eyes crinkling in amusement.

Kelly, the quintessential blonde-and-blue-eyed American, looks devastated. “You’re kidding.”

Great, I think, instead of bringing five well-meaning volunteers to Haiti, I’ve allowed three cannibals into the country.

Myself and five of my friends are gathered around Jack, a British twenty-four-year-old with eyes like turquoise, and Hannah, his twenty-year-old Australian girlfriend with soft brown eyes. They’ve been running the volunteer project at which we recently arrived for six months now, and have forged strong enough friendships with the locals to discuss Jack’s probable cannibalism.

“No, seriously. One of the kids made a joke about me eating people, and I asked Eddy about it,” Jack says, referring to his best Haitian friend. “He didn’t want to tell me, but eventually he explained that it’s a superstition.”

Why?” Joel asks.

“I don’t know,” Jack says, “I think it’s something to do with colonists. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? These white people with blue eyes show up, take your children away, and you never see them again. What happened to them? Oh, they were eaten.”

“So, Eddy thinks you eat people?” I ask.

“I mean, we’re friends, he knows I don’t eat people,” Jack smiles and rolls his eyes, then looks at me. “But one of you might.”

During the flights, taxi rides, and seven-hour bus trip to the border region of Anse-a-Pitre, Haiti, where we will be spending a month working on a reforestation project called Sadhana Forest, talk occasionally sprang up about voodoo—called voodune by Haitians, Joel tells us, a nugget from his pre-trip frenzy of self-education on everything Haiti. Joel wants to see a ceremony, if possible, and I agree, though I honestly don’t expect to see anything that exciting. I know little about voodune, but I feel confident that it’s not the evil witch doctors who torture heroes in action movies, nor the dolls made with a lock of hair from some poor victim. These are Hollywood dramatizations; I’m sure the practice of voodune is much more tame, logical, even mundane. But that childish part of me that wants to witness the “exotic,” the unnerving, secretly hopes it isn’t.

We arrive at Sadhana and set up our lodgings for the month: an airy six-person tent within the confines of the community, a small rectangle of land with a wall low enough to be scaled, as a few of the teenagers soon prove. Three nights later, I fall asleep to drums and chanting that stomp their way into my dreams. Joel asks if I heard the voodune ceremony the following morning.

“What ceremony?” I ask.

“Didn’t you hear the music last night?”

“Oh, yeah. I thought that was just the disco.” Jack had mentioned the dance halls nearby, some of the few places for recreation in the village.

“Oh, um, I don’t know. I thought I heard chanting.” Joel looks at his feet.

I stretch my memory back through the night, trying to remember the details of my half-conscious mind. “You’re right. So, that was voodune, then? Huh.” Despite myself, I almost feel cheated, as if my first experience of voodune should have been announced, introduced like the beginning of a spooky campfire story. Of course it wasn’t, I chide myself, because it isn’t some fiction to scare children, it’s a real system of beliefs. Within a week the ceremonies have become commonplace, the sounds of rhythmic worship often penetrating our tent’s walls well into the early morning. Voodune is as much a piece of the sound landscape of nighttime in Anse-a-Pitre as the bleating of goats and scurrying of rodents.

A few days later Roosevelt, a teenage boy named after the first United States president to visit Haiti, walks through the doorway into our compound. The doorway is intentionally door-less, meant as a sign of the community’s openness to visitors. Roosevelt looks to be about sixteen, with a shaved head and large, curious eyes that scan us calmly. “Bonjou,” he greets us.

“Bonjou,” we answer. I’ve been eager to talk with the locals, but don’t speak enough Creole, and few of our visitors so far have spoken French that I can understand. Their French is often accentuated by Creole sounds, and sometimes even whole words or phrases are switched out for the more comfortable tongue. But Roosevelt’s French is the formal standard taught in American public schools, and, with my meager conversational skills, we begin to chat.

One of the first things he asks me, one of the first things anyone asks during “small talk” in Haiti, is whether I believe in God. I say, “Oui,” because I don’t know enough French to explain my patchwork of spiritual beliefs, which includes the cherry-picked aspects of several world religions and my personal superstitions sewed together. I’m not sure how to explain when, or why, my personal experience has created part of my spirituality, why I believe that coincidences have meaning but predestination is flawed, why I think there’s a powerful Universe but not an all-powerful God. I hardly know how to discuss them in English without sounding completely irrational. But, more than an inability to describe my beliefs, I don’t want to alienate Roosevelt—or, rather, make myself more of a foreigner than I already am.

He begins talking about God, doing things for His glory, his plan to become a doctor so he can help people, as is God’s will. I understand that we’re talking about a Christian God, and I’m curious to hear Roosevelt’s take on voodune, a Christian’s opinion of an oft-demonized religion.

“Many people practice voodune in Anse-a-Pitre,” he says in French.

“I know, we hear them playing music at night,” I respond.

“Yes, there is a voodune house over there—” he points over the back wall of our community, towards the ocean. “They perform rituals sometimes.”

“Can we see one?” It’s shameless, totally shameless. But when will I ever get the chance to see a voodune ceremony in Haiti again?

He explains that yes, we can, they do ceremonies for tourists and we’ll need to pay to see one. In elementary French, I try to explain that I want to see a real ceremony, not one created for tourists, even though I know I am one, but I want to be treated like an insider—does this all make sense?

“Yes,” he responds, “but other people aren’t allowed to see those rituals. Voodune followers only.”

“Have you seen one?” I ask.

“Yeah…” he says, breaking eye contact, and I get the feeling he either hasn’t, or witnessed something he’d rather forget. Up to this point, Roosevelt has only expressed open curiosity and friendliness, so his distant gaze makes me think maybe more questioning is a bad idea, maybe I’ve hit a buried nerve.

About a week later, walking through woody bushes on our way towards the sea, Roosevelt points out two thatched huts.

“That’s where the ganga lives,” he says in French. I ask him to repeat—I don’t recognize this word, ganga. I think it must be a French word I haven’t learned, but after he says it again, explaining, This is where the music, the drums—I finally understand,

“Oh, people who practice voodune!” I’m wary of using the term “witch doctor,” mostly because I can’t use the term without picturing some Halloween bastardization of a wild-haired, skull-wearing sorcerer, but I interpret ganga to mean as much.

“Oui,” he affirms, giving the houses one last glance. I examine the unassuming huts, the large circular clearing in front of them, as we pass. They could belong to any Haitian, ganga or Christian. I guess voodune is really as mundane as I first assumed. I’m ashamed to have hoped for more.

Tropical storms roll in later that week. Jack and Hannah are anxious because it hasn’t rained in months, and the trees that we are supposed to be planting are still sitting in the nursery for lack of hydrated soil. The rest of us are anxious because we’re certain a hurricane is coming.

“If it was a hurricane, someone would have told us,” Jack argues. “The Haitian people here would know. They would tell the group of crazy white people who live in tents that a hurricane was coming.”

We all voice agreement, but no one, besides Jack and Hannah, seems to be entirely at ease. I turn back to reading my book. I’ve been devouring Shutter Island all week, partially because it’s an easy read, and partially because there’s been a hurricane approaching the tiny isle and I think that if I can get past that part in the book, maybe we’ll avoid the same fate in real life. It’s a silly superstition, I tell myself, but a quiet voice in my memory reminds me of that time I cured John’s illness. My boyfriend, John, had fallen ill the same day a character in the book I was reading at the time took to bed. The day I read that her illness had ended, John’s did, as well. I knew the happenstance was nothing more than that, a coincidence, but the part of me that finds them meaningful had a hard time keeping silent. So I read as others talk about tying down the tents and waterproofing valuables, and when the storms pass with little rain and scant damage, we all feel we’d been a bit foolish.

I’d woken up a few times in the morning to discover a sleeping mat lying out in the main tent. As people often used the mat for midday naps, I never thought to question it. One Sunday morning, waking up late—around 7:30 a.m., just before the sun gets too unbearable—I notice Eddy’s straw hat lying next to the mat. Eddy comes around almost everyday, a twenty-year-old Haitian man with a well-groomed chinstrap and a quick smile. He speaks English, French, Creole and Spanish, and often serves as our translator. I remember him being here the night before, chatting with Jack and Hannah in the main tent after most of us had gone to bed, but didn’t realize he had slept over.

“Did Eddy sleep here last night?” I ask, pointing at the mat.

“Yes,” Jack replies. “He sleeps here a lot. Is this the first time you’ve noticed the mat?”

“No,” I respond, a bit defensive, “I just didn’t realize. I mean, why would he sleep here? Not that I mind, but doesn’t he live nearby?”

“Because he’s scared of the dark.” I scoff. Jack stares at me. “I’m not joking, he really is.”

How could Eddy, the bodybuilder who lifts weights everyday, be scared of the dark in his own neighborhood? “Why?” I ask.

“The jab, of course.” My blank look prompts Jack to continue: “The jab is like the devil—or, more like an evil spirit, really. Haitians believe that if you’re walking alone at night, and someone shines a light in your eyes, the jab can enter your body. I mean, it’s very practical really, because a lot of men get jumped at night.”

“But it’s never completely dark,” I say. “What about moonlight, doesn’t that count?”

Jack shrugs. “I don’t know, it’s not like a cut-and-dry thing, it’s a superstition. Anyway, Eddy sleeps here when it gets too late.”

“Where is he now?” I ask.

“He had to shower,” Jack replies, “before going to church.”

One day a CD shows up in the kitchen, near the barrels of filtered water. The only electronics we have in our campsite are a few cell phones, solar-powered flashlights and one radio, so this new addition is glaringly out-of-place. No one seems to know where it came from, or to whom it belongs. We leave it there, waiting for someone pick it up. After about a week Mackinson, one of the local teenagers and a frequent visitor to Sadhana, off-handedly scoops it up on his way out.

Jack notices and calls him back. “Mackinson, what is that?” Mackinson describes it as something given to him at the church, by one of the missionaries. Eddy had told us about the group of Americans who were visiting this week. Apparently, one of the priests gave a guest lecture last week.

“Eddy thought it was funny,” Jack says.

“In what way?” I ask.

“Well, he said it was good, it was just…funny. Kind of boring.” I imagine a congregation of Haitians chuckling softly as a priest expounds upon the evils of adultery and the kindness of the Lord from the pulpit—Does this white man know that most of us mothers aren’t married, because we can’t afford to be? Does he know what real evil feels like, when it stalks your village at night? A new irony dawns on me—

“Wait, does Mackinson even own a CD player?”

“No,” Jack says, “I’m not sure anyone does in Anse-a-Pitre.”

“So, how is he supposed to…”

Jack shrugs. “Don’t ask me. I’m not a missionary.”

During our last week in Haiti, Jack and Hannah declare a National Sadhana Forest Holiday so we might spend the day relaxing together instead of planting trees or carting water. A couple people decide to use the Internet in a nearby town, and Kelly convinces the rest of us to go spelunking on the closest mountain. She found an awesome cave the other day while adventuring alone, and wants to share this breathtaking natural wonder with us. We gather up our water bottles and a couple headlamps and venture out for a day of exploration.

About an hour and three misleading stone outcroppings later, Kelly is still set on finding her spot. “God, where is that cave? I know it’s around here, you guys,” she asserts, again.

“Wait, is this it?” Hannah hikes up a steep ridge, pointing at the gash in rock face on the other side.

“No, it was…cooler than that,” Kelly says. “I can’t explain it, it was just so beautiful, and I just really want you guys to experience it, it was like…where is it?”

We continue up the slope, around the cacti and shrubbery that somehow flourish in this parched landscape. I’m bantering with Joel, trying to avoid slipping into one of the mini-canyons that often sneak underfoot, when from up ahead Kelly cries,

“This is it, oh my God, this is it! We found it!”

The mottled rock plateaus out at the entrance to the cave, an unassuming orifice in the mountainside. Kelly and Hannah have already descended into the dimness when the rest of us reach the opening. I scoot my way past Eddy, who stands planted at the lip of the cave, ready to lend a hand to anyone stumbling down through the earth. He looks away, up towards the summit, as Jack follows the group into the cavern.

The cave walls seem in a constant struggle—expand or contract?—as folds of eroded rock crawl across them, giving them a feeling of movement. The air hangs damp, like the inside of a pneumonic lung. Kelly is leading us through the remembered space, eager to point out the cave’s obvious beauty. Layers of rock, the colors alternating amongst gem tones of reds and blues and greens, compose the encompassing walls.

“Somebody was gettin’ crunk!” Kelly exclaims, gesturing towards the empty alcohol bottles resting in depressions across the cavern floor. A simple metal plate lies near them. Jack approaches one of the bigger stalagmites, a stone taller than him erupting from the cave floor, and knocks on it lightly while pressing his ear against it.

“I don’t think we should yell,” he advises.

I giggle, then realize he isn’t joking. “Wait, really?” He nods, his eyes scanning the ceiling’s precarious geology.

“Oh, sorry,” Kelly whispers. “Hey, guys, check this out—I think it’s a voodune mask!” She rests her hands on either side of a hollowed-out tree trunk, or branch, some piece of a tree large enough to fit over a person’s head and small enough to stay there. Holes the size of coins punctuate the wood, which looks weather-beaten, etched with wrinkles.

“Or it could just be a tree branch,” I say.

“But look at these eye holes!”

“Kelly, they’re all over, and no two are close enough to actually see through,” I contend. “I think it might just be driftwood.”

“Well, yeah, I guess that’s true,” she admits. “I just didn’t know what it was. I really wanted it to be something interesting.” She walks away and I step in to take a more critical look. I feel a bit guilty for disparaging Kelly’s discovery—it could be a voodune mask, I don’t know nearly enough about voodune to say it isn’t, but I’m not going to immediately equate weird object with voodune. Besides, driftwood makes a rational explanation, given the remnants of sea life that speckle the mountainside, perhaps specimens from a time not too long ago when this mountain laid underwater.

Kelly and Hannah, head lamps secured, slide down into the darkest reaches of the cavern, claiming to look for the aquifer that lies under the mountain. Joel and I linger, taking our time admiring the incredible reality of something that seems so fake. I imagine we are in a gorgeous mouth, being eaten alive by the rows of wavy stalactite teeth hanging from the ceiling. As Kelly and Hannah descend deeper into the crevices of the earth, Joel and I sit halfway between where they venture and the entrance. There is something that won’t let me follow them, something tugging me back.

Jack’s absence reverberates like an echo. I look behind me and see him perched on a wide stalagmite, face open towards the entrance and the sun. Jack isn’t one to shy away from exploration, from witnessing every part of a landscape, I think. He must feel something is amiss.

I whisper his name, and he turns slowly towards me. “What’s up?” I ask.

“I don’t know where Eddy is,” he responds. I follow his gaze back up the eroded footholds to the opening and notice, for the first time, that Eddy hasn’t joined us in this adventure; he isn’t even within eyeshot.

“Maybe he’s checking out another part of the mountain,” I respond weakly. Of course he isn’t, he knows this mountain as well as I know the streets of my hometown.

“I think he’s scared of this cave,” Jack responds.

The plate, the alcohol bottles, my general sense of unease suddenly all make sense: This is the jab’s cave, a place of voodune worship and terror. And we’re shamelessly invading it. Just days before, Jack had explained the midnight ritual of offering food and drink to the jab before delving into its cave, swimming through the tunnels of the aquifer to an opening at another part of the mountain. It’s a cleansing practice; the participant is believed to be inhabited by the jab before exorcising him on the other side of the pure underground river. The locals use the caves that pockmark these mountains as altars, some of them housing spirits and their beliefs as naturally as they were formed.

We know caverns like this are something sacred, and yet we’re still trying to see how far we can probe. I imagine watching a group of people play Sardines in a cemetery, or a church; the image makes me uneasy—That would be quite uncouth—but I know it’s not the same feeling. My spiritual beliefs are not so concrete as Eddy’s, not so compelling that I actually fear places. I try again, this time imagining myself as a young Haitian man who just watched a group of foreigners, my friends but outsiders nonetheless, access a cave I believe houses an evil spirit, and with aplomb. Am I more worried for their safety, hurt by their nonchalance, or angry at their transgression? All of these emotions at once? Eddy wasn’t standing by the entrance to help us descend into the cave; in fact, he probably didn’t want us to enter it at all.

I feel almost nauseous, swaddled in guilt and the awe of beliefs I don’t understand. Jack turns back to me. “I don’t feel good about this,” he says.

“It’s…eerie,” I offer. He nods. The word isn’t enough, doesn’t begin to cover my new understanding of the pain we’re causing Eddy, my wish that Kelly and Hannah weren’t so deep in the cave already, the feeling that the walls are inhaling around us.

I want Kelly and Hannah to return. I want them to reach the end of the cave, I want us all to stop admiring this space in the wrong way. But from somewhere deep under me, I can hear Kelly’s exclamation that they’ve just found the aquifer, and this cave probably goes on forever. I have to retrieve them, I can’t possibly sit here any longer. And, in some selfish part of me, I still want to explore as much of the cave as I can.

I call down for Kelly to bring me one of the headlamps so I can join them. I hear her scuffling over, and a steep but short drop is illuminated under my feet. I ease myself down. Kelly turns back to the edge of the aquifer, and I can see nothing.

I’m not afraid of the dark. Imagining unseen rats, snakes lying in wait to slither across my feet, does not frighten me. Yet suddenly I feel a spurt of adrenaline, my fight-or-flight response kicking into high-gear.

I’m not afraid of the dark.

I can only attribute my alarm to one thought: the jab. That’s crazy, I tell myself, I don’t even believe in the jab. But down here, it almost seems crazier not to.

Here, I am a bit afraid of the dark.

“Hey, you guys,” I whisper.

“Hannah, this is so cool,” Kelly says. “Seriously, the coolest thing I have ever done.”

“You guys,” I say, more loudly, dispelling some of my fear. “I think maybe we should go.”

“Oh.” Kelly’s enthusiasm is cut short. “Um, okay, we’ll be up soon.”

I make my way back up through the crevice, breathing in thinner air and light. Joel is taking pictures of the stalactites.

“How was it?” he asks.

“Yeah, good, good,” I respond. Jack is still scanning the entrance from his perch. I want to apologize to him, but I can’t think of a logical explanation for why I should. In my peripheral vision, I see a scrap of paper lying near Joel’s feet.

“What’s that?” I ask, picking up the grimy sheet. It’s been ripped out of a common school notebook, part of it torn off, all of it covered in dirt and slightly damp. Joel and I examine the writing that covers both sides. Not much is legible, except the phrase, “I hope to God,” and a couple other disconnected words.

“This looks like a prayer,” I say.

“Yeah,” Joel agrees. “We should leave it here, but take a picture.” I hold the paper into the light as Joel tries focusing his camera. For some reason, we can’t get the words to show up in any of the photos we take.

“Maybe we’re not supposed to record it,” I say. The longer I stay in this cave, the more I exercise my superstitions.

“Maybe,” Joel says. We return the paper to the spot where we found it, and follow Jack up into the day, Kelly and Hannah following close behind. Eddy appears suddenly, and heads quickly back down the mountain, keeping a good distance between himself and anyone else. As Jack rushes to catch up with him, I hang back to talk with Kelly.

“I can’t believe we just did that,” she gushes. “We just went spelunking, in Haiti, and that cave went on forever, Sarah, we got down to the aquifer and it just kept going, that was so much fun!”

I nod, quietly interject—“I think Eddy is upset.”

“What?” Her face drops, the urgency in her voice changes. “Why?”

“I think he believes the jab lives in that cave.”

“Really? Is that why he didn’t come in with us?” she asks. “That actually makes a lot of sense. Oh, I hope we didn’t offend him.”

“Let’s ask Jack,” I suggest. Eddy has again pulled away from our group, and Jack is walking a bit slower.

“Hey, uh, Jack?” I ask. “Is Eddy upset?”

“No, he’s alright. He said it’s okay, he’s just scared of the boem that live down there.” Boa constrictors? Jack shakes his head slightly. “He suffers from superstitions we don’t, that’s it.”

But, I think, what makes this a superstition and not a religion? Or a lifestyle? Does it matter what we call his beliefs if they affect him so powerfully? I don’t believe Eddy is okay, but I also don’t believe he’d ever tell us otherwise. His relationships with us mean too much to him, and in the past month I’ve never seen him get upset over anything. I wish he would just tell us off, we deserve whatever guilt he has to lay on us. By the time we reach camp, any coldness Eddy has chosen to show us has worn off. We’re only here another few days, and I suppose he’d rather enjoy our company than dwell on our misguided transgressions. He stays with us the rest of the evening, cooking dinner with us and eventually falling asleep in our main tent. A voodune ritual thumps steadily through the night, the third night in a row, and I stare through our tent’s screen roof at the clear light of the moon.

I haven’t felt this emotional about a cartoon since Fern Gully.

I realized today, while sitting in a subway station, that I feel the same way about public transportation as Muslims feel about Allah: Some things just shouldn’t be depicted.

For those of you unfamiliar with Boston’s public transportation system (which is no one, because everyone who reads this is a 20- or 30-something who lives in Boston and can’t afford not to take the subway), it is often represented by this guy:

"You know me from those police sketches!"

Meet Charlie.

Like so much else on the Interwebs these days, the history of Charlie’s name is political, deriving from a folk song written to support a Progressive Party (read: Commie Bastard) candidate in 1949.  But the contemporary history, the one that’s being written everyday in the refurbished wasteholes and desolate lean-tos known as “T stations,” is even bleaker.

As I was sitting at Park Street, the megahub of the subway system, I noticed that every single picture of Charlie I could see around me had been defiled.  And not in the sexy way, either.  It literally looked like someone had smeared shit all over Charlie’s face(s).  The chain reaction that this realization set off in my mind is sad in its exhaustive analysis of something so straight-up stupid:

1. Oh, that’s kind of sad.

2.  Why do I care so much about an asinine cartoon character?  He’s meant to represent the MBTA, he’s not a real person.

3. This is probably a statement about how much the vandal hates the MBTA.

4. Yeah, fuck the MBTA!  Fuck their proposed fare increases and service cuts!  Free public transportation for all!

5.  Wait, why is public transportation represented by a person, again?

That’s where the reaction ended, because I’m still stuck on figuring out why anyone would feel the need to personify the MBTA like this.  I assume it’s to make the MBTA more relatable, something that people can feel a certain bond with.  But, let’s be honest–do you know anyone who has a forehead that just drops like a baby down a manhole, right into their nose?  Or anyone who has skin the color of fermenting caramel?  I mean, if you really wanted to personify the subways or buses, why wouldn’t you just use the people who actually fucking run them?  Put pictures of bus drivers up on buses, for example?  That’s what they do in Portland, OR.  But, then again, they also think things like “barcades” and “vegan food trucks” are good ideas.  Buncha commie douchebags.

Behind Enemy Lines

“Shh, whatever you’re saying right now is not important,” Ben interrupted me as a hot woman walked by.  Travis and Ben were sitting next to each other in the booth, facing the bar and hardxXxcore people-watching, and I was sitting across from them, presumably in the way of tons of sexy babes that they both had a good chance of banging (not at the same time, ’cause that’s totally gay, but maybe if she’s into that).  They were both staring at the newest prospect when I got up to use the bathroom, giving them the finger.  When I returned, they were both eyeing a woman standing near the bar, talking about how intelligent she looked, probably.

“You guys have seriously been talking about chicks in the bar all night,” I said.  “Don’t you have anything better to discuss?”

“No,” Ben said.  “This is what guys do.”

“Yeah, there are guys talking about you right now,” Travis said.  I shook my head.

“Yes there are!” Ben and Travis said in unison.

“Fine, where are they?  Can I turn around and stare at them?” I asked.

“No, we’re not talking about anyone in particular, but they are.  That’s why groups of guys come to bars,” Travis said.

I’ve been friends with dudes my whole life–and no, I don’t mean men, I mean dudes–so when I went to a bar last night with Travis and Ben, and the topic immediately became who in the room they most wanted to bang, I wasn’t surprised, nor offended. It’s not just dudes; everybody does this in bars, to some degree.  This is why public drinking places were invented.

"Yeah, I get it, you want to sleep with me, fine. But why the fuck is every single person in this bar wearing the same thing? And why are the walls padded? How did I get here? God, this Roofie Colada is great, what's in it?"

They weren’t even, from what I could hear, being crude or derogatory, other than blatantly checking out every single female in the fucking place.  They pretty much just said things like, “Oh man, that girl is easily the hottest chick in the bar right now,” and then stared.  Whatever, I do the exact same thing with my friends when we go out, I just don’t do it as voraciously.  What bothered me was:

1.) That was all they were doing, and

2.) I couldn’t participate.

When I called them out on only talking about girls, Ben said, “Yeah, we look at girls and talk about them, whatever.  You wouldn’t understand.”

“I wouldn’t understand?” I asked.

“Yeah, you wouldn’t get it,” he said.

“Right, because I don’t look at girls,” I said.

“Well, not the same way we do.”

“Because you don’t think I’m interested in girls.”


“Not even a little bit.”

Now Ben looked a bit hesitant.  “Well…are you?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Yeah, I am.”

But Ben was right–I don’t look at girls the same way they do, which was made obvious when he said:

“Dude, my vacation was fun, but there are no hot girls in Seattle,” referring to his recent stint in the West Coast city.

“Yeah,” Travis agreed, “Boston’s got the hottest girls.”

I made my I’m incredibly dubious face.  “Eh…”

“Dude, are you fucking serious?”  Travis immediately pounced on me. “Are you retarded?  The girls in Boston are stupid hot.  Everybody knows that.  There are, like, magazine articles about it all the time.”

“You’re so angry right now,” I said.

“I get angry when my friends are being retarded,” Travis said.  “And you were totally being serious just now.”  He looked away, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Girls in Boston are boring,” I said.  “They all look the same.”

“Whatever, that’s not the point,” Ben said.  “They don’t need to be interesting for me to want to bang them, they just need to be hot.”

I thought about saying something like, “Yeah, you don’t need to talk to them before or after sex, you just need them to shut up and put out,” but at that point I was afraid they might agree with me.  I tried sitting on their side of the table, facing the crowd, to see if I could as shamelessly objectify the women in the room as they could, but they decided it was too weird for all three of us to sit together and stare, so I went back to watching them watch people.

Later, when the subject turned to a girl whom Travis likes, he was all understatement and courtesy.

“So, why do you like her?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, looking away.  “She’s really, really cool.”  He wouldn’t say anything else about her, other than that he’s really into her, and that he thinks she’s cute.

Which is exactly how I talk about people I like–which is to say, I don’t talk about them.  I usually just try to make shit happen, and then talk about them later, being all gossip-face with friends after winning some mild victory or watching part of my dignity get torn to shreds.  But if I want to be one of the dudes, I’m going to have to learn how to match my action with lots of dick-swinging swagger and bravado.

OK, Cupid, WTF? (LOL)

If you follow the news, you might remember a little story back in June about how I started an online dating account while living in Prague.  (Actually, if you follow the news, you’re probably trying to be a respectable human being, who has well-informed opinions on important world events, and, consequently, you dun give a fook about my forays into virtual mate-baiting.  Kindly go back to analyzing the recent Dow figures, you adult bastard.)  I wanted to make friends while spending a month in the city, especially ones who would pay for my beer.

Here's to you, Patriarchy!

I came back from Europe a couple months ago, but, wouldn’t you know it, the Interweb in the U.S. is the same one they got over there (guess the Space Race isn’t over), and my sexy Net persona followed me home.  As I was back in Boston without many romantic prospects, I toyed with the idea of using my account in my home country, in my own city, even, which can be a problem because it means you can easily run into people you met on the site IRL.

Or, the opposite can occur, and you can run into someone on OKCupid who you already know in “reality,” without knowing it’s them.  Which is what happened to me last week.

I got an email saying someone had “chosen” me, much like God chose the Jews to be His people (see: entourage/Entourage).  Before opening the email, I told myself that, unless it was someone interesting or wildly attractive, I would delete my account, because I was sick of knowing who rated me as a human on a five-star scale.  I clicked on the email and examined my admirer’s thumbnail.

He looked eerily familiar.  I went to his profile–late 20s. Works as an English as a Second Language teacher.  Has tattoos on his lower right arm.

Lives across the hall from me.

Yes, my fucking roommate gave me a high rating.  Which kinda makes me think he didn’t know what I, his roommate, look like.  I had moved into the apartment just a week or two before, and the only times I’d seen this guy had been when we were watching T.V. with our other roommates in a dark living room.  I’m fairly certain he had never looked me in the eyes.

“Maybe he knows and wants to bang you,” Orion, another roommate, said.  “It would make hooking up super convenient.”

“Dude, I think he knows,” Jason, my best friend, said.  “Maybe this is just his way of telling you he thinks you’re cute.”

“He’s stalking you,” said Eddie, our cab driver.
“How can he stalk me if I live with him?” I asked.
“Well, that just makes it easier!”

Thanks, Cabbie.

I toyed with the idea of messaging him and asking him out on a date.  I would ask him to meet me at my house, and then give him our address and see if he freaked out.  But humiliating someone you live with is usually a bad idea for the same reasons dating them is–namely, because you fucking live together–so I decided to poke fun at him in private.  (And then write about it on this blog.  Whatever, it was the nicer thing to do, just trust me on this.)  I sent him an “award” on OKCupid (side note: fuck you, OKCupid).  It’s a picture of a stuffed bear, titled, “Smarter Than the Average Bear.”

Because when I think "someone I want to bang," I think these guys.


I wrote a note that was something like, “Yeah, hey, I live across the hall from you.  Well done.  Thanks for giving me a high rating, I AM pretty awesome.”

So that message, to me, sounds bitchy, but also overly cocky, so he would know that I wanted to call him out, but don’t actually care that he “chose” me.  I wanted both of us to be able to laugh at the fact that he didn’t know what I look like.  Immediately after sending him this “award,” I disabled my account.

That was about a week ago.  He hasn’t brought it up, and neither have I.  Instead, he’s invited me to watch a movie with him and looked me in the eyes about three times.

“He probably took that as a sign,” Jason said.

“Yeah, he thinks you want to bang him,” Aaron agreed.  “Guys take anything as a sign.  ‘Oh, she’s standing next to me?  She wants me.  She’s not looking at me or talking to me, but she’s standing right there–she totally wants me.'”

Well, fuck.

Online Dating in Other Countries is Hardly as Embarrassing

We all know the stereotype of the young American who goes backpacking around Europe to “find herself,” to try new things and make mistakes that she’s sure will be hilarious in retrospect.  Well, readers, I am loathe to admit that, despite the fact I did not begin traveling around Europe to discover some abstract notion of selfhood I thought might be hiding across the Atlantic, I have done something I promised I would never do, something with all the potentiality for regret as wearing a Green Party t-shirt to a Going Rogue book-signing.

Yes, since being in Prague, I have taken up online dating.

I vowed never to do it while in the States, due to its highly inorganic nature (excuuuuse me for thinking people could meet each other face-to-face), but now I realize that, in a foreign country where I don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, I need friends.

So, from my limited experience in but extensive contemplation of the subject, I bring you a List of Reasons that Online Dating is the Same as Animal Contests at the State Fair:

1.)  Contestants are judged based on signifiers of breeding capability.  In other words, it’s a beauty contest.

...Do I even NEED to comment on this?

Okay, so beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we all find different people attractive, etc. etc.  The unavoidable and irritating fact is that there are things society deems attractive, and there are things that the people of OKCupid (yes, this is the website I’ve been using) deem attractive.  Dr. Marquardt, a plastic surgeon in California, believes he’s found a formula for universal human attractiveness:


Now think about the fact that OKCupid has a feature called, “My Best Face,” in which users do nothing more than submit several photos to the website, and other users decide between two people, saying which one they’d rather date based solely on a single photo.  The website then gives you your “analysis” of which photo displays “your best face.”

On a more basic level, you look at profiles based on the photo each person uses.  Chances are, unless you’re open-minded or real desperate (ohGodpleasedon’tjinxme), you’re not going to date someone who isn’t physically attractive.  You’re not even going to read their list of favorite movies.  They’ve already lost the beauty contest.

How does this relate to animals, and/or breeding?  Easy: what we find attractive in humans are signifiers of their ability to reproduce, same as how dogs are judged on the length and sheen of their coat.  Check out the first part of this (offensive) article from Psychology Today here.

The article focuses on what men find attractive in women, but look at nearly any male’s profile on a dating website, at the proliferation of shirtless muscle pics and photos displaying abundant facial hair, and you’ll see it works both ways.

His face isn't even in the photo. I mean, I'm all about objectifying men, but not when they do it for me.

2.)  Contestants groom themselves for review.

Not only does this include deciding which of your best faces to put as your profile picture, it also includes the content and style of what you choose to write about yourself.  When prompted with the phrase, “I’m really good at…” what do you choose to say?  Do you actually include things you’re good at, like burping the theme song to Ren and Stimpy, or making children cry?  Or do you include things that you’re good at that you think others will find attractive, like writing love poems or having sex (I can’t tell you how many profiles I’ve seen where someone actually writes, “Sex,” with some sort of emoticon after it)?  Or maybe you take the intellectual route, and write something ironic, so people will know you’re both modest and funny?

And what do you put down for your favorite books, or music?  Do you put a long list, so people think you’re really cultured?  What if that just makes people think you’re pretentious?  Do you write, “I like all music, except country and rap,” because then you don’t turn people off with your taste in music, while still showing that you put some effort into distinguishing your sonic preferences?  Is that too obviously self-conscious?  How do you make yourself attractive to only the other attractive people who have deigned to use an online dating site?

"Please, I'll change anything--I'll say I like smooth jazz, I'll list my job as 'professional heartbreaker,' just please message me!"

3.)  Contestants can win awards.

Yes, OKCupid actually allows you to send awards to people, based on scintillating indicators of personal worth, such as “Eye Candy,” or, “The Perfect Mix.”  You then get to write an explanation of why you’re giving this award, for reasons I imagine end up reflecting an intimate knowledge of the person–reasons like, “U R Hot!” or, “You’re the perfect mix of cute and sexy.”

It’s the same way we award animals at the Fair.  Sure, that Border Collie could be a huge bitch, but you’d never know it just by looking at her flowing locks and coy expression.

Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, Big Boy.

That said, I’ve also had a surprising number (read: at least one) of positive interactions so far.  We’ll see if I can get past my utter disdain for the inanity of the website, let alone the concept of checking out people online, long enough to actually make the time I spent creating my profile worthwhile.

Oh, and for the record–my profile is both self-effacing and hilarious.  Promisies.


Cleanliness is Next to Seriously Annoyingness

I think it’s safe to assume that at this point in human history, what with a global recession, the end of capitalism, overpopulation and a proliferation of extreme bullshittery (see: the existence of doggie butt covers),

People buy these. With money.

that everyone will end up working at least one job that they really don’t give a rat’s ass (cover) about. For a lot of us, especially those with college degrees in the arts, they will probably be the only “real” jobs we ever have. I’ve been working jobs like this ever since I was 15, when I interviewed for a position as a cashier at a chain grocery store and the new manager–a transplant from Alabama named Woody, who was married to a woman named Candy–asked me if I saw myself having a career in the grocery business. And, like anyone who was looking forward to a career as a maybe-successful-but-ultimately-still-starving-artist, I said, “Yes,” because I knew it was the first of many, many times I would have to pretend to care more about a job than I actually do.
Today, however, I almost stopped pretending entirely, and would have probably been fired on the spot for it. It’s because my manager, and the owner of the restaurant/bar at which I currently work, compared her slightly dirty restaurant to a “shithole.”
Picture this: You walk into a bar. The staff–good-looking girls, all–greets you immediately. You sit at the bar, or at a table, and within seconds you have a drink in front of you and have ordered food. This place seems pretty chill: cool artwork on the walls, fun music, the staff is friendly and everything seems pretty clea–ho. ly. shit. What the HELL is THAT?! Is that a fucking FRENCH FRY on the FLOOR? What kind of place IS this? Who the HELL runs this SHITHOLE?!

I can only imagine this is what my manager assumes runs through the minds of customers who come in after our lunch rush, before we’ve had a chance to sweep the floor, and causes them to determine right then and there to never come back to this heinous insult to the hospitality industry again. A single stray fry was enough for her to tell us that customers don’t want to come back to a place that looks like a “shithole,” so we really need to up our game and keep the place clean.
It took all my self-control not to burst out laughing, because I have seen shitholes, my friends. Literal holes into which piles of shit have collected. Toilets in rural Haiti that I had to stand over because cockroaches were crawling out of them. Holes through which I shat while maggots matured in the feces below.

Seriously, this place is clean.  I don’t care where you’re reading this right now–you could be reading this in Aaron’s room (which really isn’t as messy as he makes it out to be) and it still does not merit the term “shithole.”  There are places in the world much, much dirtier than anywhere in the United States (save those cities that our national conscience has decided to forget), and guess what?  People still live there.  Yeah, they do.  They even thrive there.  You know why?  Because our standards for cleanliness are, honestly, way too fucking high.  At the risk of sounding like a dirty hippie:  Do you need to shower everyday?  If you’re sweaty, if you’re covered in dirt, if you threw up on yourself because of that last Jagerbomb, then you should probably at least give yourself a good rinsing.  But showering everyday is a luxury, granted to those of us with consistent access to clean water.  Sanitizing our floors and washing our windows three times a day (again, something I have to do at this job) are luxuries granted by the affordability of cleaning products and the fact that we don’t need to think about chemical runoff from such products getting into our groundwater.

So, America:  get over being clean, please.  And please tell my manager that, when I arrived at work today, I hadn’t washed my hair in about a week.

Parents These Days

Last week, just after Boston took another strong-armed snow beating, I walked down the steps of a subway station next to a man carrying a stroller with a young boy in it, whom I will assume is his son, though I may be giving him the benefit of the doubt.  The boy was probably just over a year old, old enough to say simple words but could hardly understand the complexities of sentences, let alone dry adult humor.  Yet his father was saying,

“Huh, Connor?  Can you say, ‘Disgusting?’ ‘Revolting?’ Huh?”

The child was looking at a blank point, whatever happened to be in his line of vision at the time, probably thinking the same thing I was–Really, Dad? “Revolting?” Isn’t that word kind of visceral for what you’re trying to describe, which is really the type of shitty New England weather you should be used to by now? Except the child couldn’t have thought this, because he does not have enough life experience to know that this weather is common, and his father was being a dramamama.

“Can you say, ‘Miserable,’ Connor?”

At this point I was annoyed, if not highly amused, on two levels:

1.) As a lover of words.  This man was using whatever adjective struck his fancy, without giving any real consideration to what it was supposed to mean.  He did not consider, for example, why the word “miserable” might more accurately describe a child in the throes of a malarial sweat vomiting blood, instead of this moment in his life, when “self-pitying,” or “privileged whinging,” might be more accurate.  Because “miserable” is actually a strong word:


1. (of a person) Wretchedly unhappy or uncomfortable.
Like when you sit in a wretchedly uncomfortable chair.

2.) As a lover of humans and their future.  The little boy did not look old enough to remember this incident (Shiva be praised!), but, unless this man only likes to appear as a shitty parent in public, this kid’s going to get a heaping dose of Daddy Downer until he’s old enough to slam the door behind him in an angsty teenage rage.  Which probably means the kid is going to suck–literally.  He’s going to suck all the happiness out of any room he enters and replace it with a festering hole of bitter, caustic humor.

I know, because that boy is me.

(instrumental break to accentuate the meta nature of your recent mind-blowing)

Top Ten People Americans Forgave in 2010

Best/Worst of 20## lists are boring; let us instead list the personalities that We, the People, opened our hearts and wallets to in the past year.  Some of the people on the following list have been graciously forgiven by the American public, while some have been forgiven for things I think most people just got tired of caring about.

1. Katy Perry, for writing a song about bisexuality that basically trivializes the entire identity.  Her second album, released in August 2010, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200.  In other words, she exploited bisexuality as a means of making money, and this is the response the American public gave her:

This photo is so quickly going to backfire on my point. DO NOT BE AROUSED.

2. Kanye West, who finally caught on to hipster-style irony: if you point out just how much media critics and the general American public think you reign supreme in the Kingdom of Assholery, pretentious music websites (lookin’ at you, Pitchfork) will give your album a 10 star rating.

(Though I’d like to point out that I stood by my boi Yeezy 110 percent.  When this blog blows up and he reads it religiously, he’ll know I was there for him the whole time/ask for my hand in common law marriage.)

3. Bill Clinton, but for all the wrong reasons.  Sure, I don’t want to see the guy’s legacy forever tainted by getting a bj under the newly-polished oak desk in the Oval Office, but I also don’t want to see him become Golden Boy U.S.A. because he has this “great” plan to rebuild Haiti that involves forcing their economy to depend on the import of sweatshop jobs and the export of goods created through cheap labor.

4. President Obama.  After getting flack from both parties alllll year, Obama & Co. finally got their metaphorical shit together and signed off on DADT and START, proving that you can get things done even if people don’t like you.  In fact, it might even be better that way, because then you can sign off on real issues instead of pandering to everybody.

Don't know who this guy is? Read Garrison Keillor at his finest: http://dir.salon.com/politics/feature/2002/11/07/minnesota/index.html

5. Annoying teenagers.  Damn you, Justin Bieber, for capturing the hearts of women who would normally be old enough to become concerned/enraged that you text while driving, and chastise you for ruining your childhood just like that Gary Coleman (R.I.P.), but are instead helpless before your puppy-dog-eye implants.  Nobody else got respect, much less admiration, from adults at the age of 16–why should you?  [Shout-out here to my mom, the only woman over the age of 30 I know who inexplicably loathes the little brat.]

Look into my dead eyes and TELL ME YOU DON'T LOVE ME.

6. Mark Zuckerberg.  People complain about how much Facebook sucks, the fact that he owns every photo and video you give him, but no one’s going to stop using the site because of it.  I know I would immediately lose track of any and all social events, my friends’ birthdays and my birthday, become a hermit and forget that I ever “liked” anything IRL.  Not only that, but the douchebag is Time’s Person of the Year, and the movie about his life is up for 6 Golden Globe nominations and was voted Best Film of the Year by every newspaper you’ve ever read.

"I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share."--Mark Zuckerberg's FB page. Fine, but according to the kid from The Squid and the Whale, you were actually just trying to pick up chicks. The latter sounds a bit more plausible.

7. Ellen Page, for starring in three mediocre movies as an annoying brat (Juno and Whip It, and the lesser known The Tracey Fragments).  Here’s another person on the list that I didn’t personally hate, even though I’d gladly see anyone involved with the contrived The Tracey Fragments trade places with one of the Chilean miners stuck underground for two months.  But Page actually earned the forgiveness of the American people with a great performance in a brilliant movie in 2010’s Inception.

"Wait, wait, wait--it's called 'The Tracey FRAGMENTS,' so what if we, like, FRAGMENTED the screen?!" = Reason #1 this movie sucked.
Another reason it sucked--Ellen Page's character wears a shower curtain while riding a city bus for much of the film. Eeeeeeedgy!

8. Elizabeth Gilbert, the lauded author of Eat, Pray, Love, for being the worst best-selling memoirist at representing herself.  For those of you unfamiliar with E,P,L, it begins with Gilbert’s descriptions of sobbing on her bathroom floor because she realizes she and her husband need to get a divorce– descriptions that, as one of my writing professors put it, make it sound like “no one has ever been divorced before.”  She decides to go on a world tour to discover herself, to become the strong, self-sufficient woman she knows she is, as any wealthy and newly single adolescent girl would, except this Bildungsroman follows a middle-aged woman.  And, by the end of the book, she’s fallen in love with someone else…whom she marries.  She says she’s “ready to love again,” but I can’t help but think it’s impossible for her to live without a man.  Her book about marriage, Commitment: A Love Story, was a New York Times Bestseller in 2010, and the movie version of E,P,L, starring Julia Roberts, premiered not long thereafter.

I was going to put a video of Elizabeth Gilbert speaking here, but I honestly couldn't get through the whole thing. Besides, this says more than the woman ever could.

9.  Michele Bachmann, who was somehow re-elected in the 2010 Congressional elections.  Sorry to be referencing another Minnesotan politician on this list, but if you’re not familiar with Bachmann (and especially if you are), read this list of the top ten nutso things this Tea Party-er has recently uttered:


10.  And, finally, let us not forget: ourselves.  We’re still at war in the Middle East, still allowing people who have no working knowledge of the Constitution/humanity to represent us in Congress, still won’t allow homosexuals to get married, still having petty arguments over whether the government should provide necessary services like health care–and still making New Year’s resolutions like, “Join a gym to get hot abs like The Situation,” and, “Buy sexy lingerie.”  And, of course, still making Top Ten lists of the year before, so we can wrap it up with a nice HTML bow and pretend none of those things will still be happening in 2011.

Well done, America!

We Did It!


Uh, Excuse Me–Is This the Love Lost and Found?

So I was waiting in the Boston Logan Airport today for my flight to Minnesota, and had the following conversation with the woman sitting next to me:

“I’m sorry, do you know if I should be boarding yet?” she asked.
“Uh, I don’t know, what boarding group are you in?” I asked, because, as much as I may tell men in bars, I am not actually a psychic.  We determined that she was not boarding yet, and that she was sorry for being so distracted.  I said I didn’t mind.  Lull.
“I’m going to see an old flame,” she confided.  This woman had to be at least 45 years old, though she could have been 55.  I really can’t tell women’s ages past 16 or so.  She wasn’t bad-looking, in any case; her eyes were quite expressive, which I always thinks makes people more attractive because at least I don’t need to guess how they’re feeling.  And the joy!
“I haven’t spoken to him in 20 years, and he looked me up–it’s so strange, we both got married, then he got divorced and I got divorced, and so he called me and we got around to finding out we’re both single, and here I am, flying across the country to see him!”
“Wow, that is awesome,” I said, thankful I didn’t need to make insincere small talk.  This woman was totally badass.
“I’ve never done anything this adventurous before,” she said, “I don’t even know what he looks like!”
“I’m sure you’ll recognize each other,” I said.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure we will.”  God, she couldn’t keep the smile off of her face.  Then her boarding group was called and she wished me happy holidays.

Surely, this was a freak occurrence–not just the fact that this man looked up this woman after so many years apart, but they both happened to be single, and she decided to fly across these here United States to spend a few days with him before Christmas.

“Well, you know that happened to your Aunt Lorinda and Uncle Dwayne,” my mom said.
“Ahem, gah-what?” was roughly my reply.
“Yeah, they were high school sweethearts.  Then Lorinda’s mom moved the family to Florida, and they didn’t see each other for years.  Then Lorinda moved back here, and married her first husband.  Well, that didn’t work out.  Then she married her second husband, and that didn’t really work out, either.  She was visiting her mom in Florida, and Dwayne had moved down there for a job.  I don’t know if they bumped into each other or what, but they reunited, and now they’re married.”

So, besides pointing out my obvious ignorance of family history (“Yes, Mom, I’m listening…uh huh, yeah, Grandma was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic…uh huh…listen, I have to, uh, feed my cat…”), this just proves my theory that my family will always fulfill that 1/1,000,000 chance.  In any category, really, except the fun ones, like winning every lottery in the state on the same day, or getting struck by lightning 5 times.

But then I found this:

Dr. Kalish found that reunions with former boyfriends or girlfriends were common in all age groups. Two-thirds of the participants had reunited with their first loves from when they were 17 years old or younger. Their success rate for staying together was 78%. For the overall sample, the staying together rate was 72%.

Apparently, Dr. Nancy Kalish, a psychologist, did a survey of 1001 people from all over the world who had rekindled with lost loves.  And, for the most part, they ended up going really well.  One resounding response was that the sex was great, and many of the respondents reported feeling a deep, soulmate-like bond with their lost love.  [http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/romance_retired/5030]

Well, I’ll be damned.  I wish nothing but the best for that cross-country divorcee with enough pluck to frighten a flock of seagulls.


Allow Me to Do Anything but Actually Introduce Myself

Right, so I’m the new contributor/ADMINISTRATOR, and you just know I’m going to bring a sense of legitimacy to this virtual pile of media vomit with a last name like “Loserman,” the same way a young folk singer knew everyone would respect him with the last name “Zimmerman,” but changed it to “Dylan” anyway, just to fuck with people (by whom I mean his parents, who probably felt distanced from their little Bobby.  Nothing sets parents stomping around the house in an impotent rage more than forsaking their name and saying you’ll never go back to your hometown again.  Psh, parents.).

So strap yourselves in, space cadets–this recent college grad has no prospects besides basic unemployment, a constant hangover and a chip on her well-formed shoulder.  That wasn’t an off-handed compliment to myself, it’s just science.


The famed folker, after he "grew up"