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Remembrance of Things Past: in memory of my grandmother, Margaret ‘Margie’ Hendler

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On October 30th, 2014, my grandmother Margie died.

It wasn’t a surprise. If anything, it was somewhat of a relief for those of us who’d been watching her deteriorate over the past two or so years, from a vibrant, active woman to a shaky, blind, deaf, confused, withering soul with no escape from the confusion in her head, no outlet except to sit and gaze at the ocean. I didn’t spend much time with my grandmother that last year, because what remained of her wasn’t the woman I knew. And the woman I did know would hate for people to see her in that state: mentally unsound, confused, her eternally kept up black hair a snowy, untended white, her clothing covered with stains from food that went uncleaned. My grandmother was always a meticulously neat and stylish woman. She went to the hairdresser once a week to have her hair dyed what she referred to as brown, which the rest of the world regarded as black. Her mornings began with the ritual of ‘putting on her face’: a lengthy makeup process involving fake eyelashes, drawn-on eyebrows, lipstick, rouge, eyeliner, until she emerged completely transformed, so completely that it was jarring to me when as a teenage girl traveling with my newly widowed grandmother and sharing a hotel room, I discovered that beneath the heavy makeup, she had a totally different face. This isn’t intended to sound negative: my grandmother was a whiz at maximizing her features, a makeup magician drawing on what wasn’t there naturally. As someone who’s never worn more than lipstick, it was impressive.

So I kept my distance, preferring to remember my grandmother for who she always was to me rather than that scared, frail, failing woman. Maybe that sounds terrible and selfish to some people, but in order to debate that, we’d have to break down into a discussion about opinions on death, which is messy, long, and completely unresolvable.

I could ramble on about my memories of my grandmother, as I have spent months struggling to come to terms with how I feel. She had a rich, long, incredible life. She outlived my grandfather by almost two decades, something I think she never fully accepted. They had a fantastic, loving, happy marriage. She traveled around the world. At 32, I am extremely fortunate and grateful that I had my grandmother around as long as I did. So I accept her death as timely and inevitable.

I have taken on the task of cleaning out my grandmother’s belongings from her condo and storage. It’s here that I’m discovering the complexities of my grandmother, secrets and sides of her that a grandchild would never know, and the purpose of this blog is to pay some kind of tribute to who she was, a human being whose physical legacy is at times moving, funny, tragic, and dark.

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My grandmother collected handkerchiefs and scarfs, to an extent that I could never imagine. Her dresser was crammed full of them, many monogrammed. And then I found this one. My grandmother was always, as mentioned, a snappy dresser with a unique sense of style. Many of her belongings look like they belong on some hipster Etsy and not on a 94-year-old woman. She had a collection of rompers that rival my own.

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She was always plagued by dental problems–something my mother and I didn’t inherit–but for some reason I was unaware that she wore false fronts. We found two sets of these in the house.

IMG_0534My grandmother was always known to have mints in her purse at any given time. We found this impressive collection of altoids in a drawer.

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She was a secret sugar fiend with a sweet tooth that she passionately denied. She loved M&Ms, apparently so much that she kept this secret stash of them in her bedroom.

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She was a card-carrying Jew. Literally.

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While cleaning out her things, we found literally hundreds of pieces of paper with addresses and phone numbers written on them. Although she had dozens of address books, this seems to be her chaotic system of preference, because we found tons of similar papers in storage, too.

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Another thing Grandma collected to the point of hoarding: business cards. There were hundreds, if not thousands of business cards, often for the same shop that she frequented weekly.

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An anniversary card from my mother, handmade, 1967. All of my mom’s cards to her parents were carefully designed artistic endeavors.

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As I mentioned, my grandmother was spotlessly clean her entire life, but she did have some odd habits, likely developed as a result of the Depression and growing up quite poor with a large family (five brothers). This envelope was, for reasons unknown, completely filled with used tissues.

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Pretty much my grandmother’s ideal itinerary, as penned by a caregiver for her to reference. My grandmother was an atheist, pretty hardcore about it, but as she got older, there was something she found very calming and beautiful about specifically the Wayfarer’s Chapel. She accumulated an impressive amount of information on the place, although her interest was largely in the architecture and landscaping.

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As she got older, she struggled with incontinence and IBS. You can tell we’re related because neither of us can spell the word diarrhea without spellcheck.

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My mother says this cigarette holder was part of a Halloween costume.

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A list of all the immediate family birthdays, in extra large font. She suffered from Macular Degeneration and by the time she passed, was pretty much entirely blind. At the point where she was almost completely blind, she began seeing detailed hallucinations or projections of things, largely oddly medieval. It turns out this is a relatively rare condition known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

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She was shockingly sturdy and healthy most of her life, so when she began falling, she actually pulled through injuries that most elderly people would have been killed by.

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One frustrating thing I’ve discovered is that almost none of my grandmother’s old pictures are labeled, leaving me with piles of photographs dating back to the Victorian era with no clue who anyone is in context to me. For example, I have no idea who the woman to the left of my grandmother is in this picture. I would guess this is from the 1940s and she is in her early twenties here.

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My grandmother was a volunteer at UCLA Medical Center for many years, where she provided tours for young doctors. She loved being there, but after she lost her license, it was impractical and so she stepped down from her post. I’m not sure why she wrote this information on this particular note, or why it was on her mind at that moment,but I do think retiring from her volunteer work was probably one of the hardest things she ever did. No idea what the whooping cough is a reference to.

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As mentioned previously, my grandparents were very happily married for over half a century before my grandfather died from lung cancer. This particular greeting card must date back to the first few years of their marriage, and it’s actually a little booklet filled with illustrations and reasons why he loves her.

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More greeting cards. They had very traditional roles: she was a homemaker and he went to The Office.

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Like I said, she had a strong, unique sense of taste. Why she had a neon pink ’80s jacket featuring slam dancers and the words Hardcore ’88 on it, I do not know.

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Not sure what the current market is for 60-something year old baby teeth.

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I have no idea what this is from but perhaps she worked on a lot at some point.

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In her later years, my Grandmother LOVED Hallmark cards.  At least once a week, she would wobble down to the shop where everyone knew her name and carefully pick through all the cards until she found ‘the perfect one’. As a result, she accumulated hundreds of greeting cards for all occasions–birthdays, baby births, weddings, bereavement, graduation–which will never be sent to anyone.

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I know very little about my great-grandfather. He died when my grandmother was still a teenager, and from what I gather, he used his heart issues to validate not working, so my great grandmother toiled as a seamstress to provide for the large family. After he died, my grandmother dropped out of junior college to help take care of her family. She never spoke very much about her father except anecdotally, likely because behind the stories of him swatting an owl out of the attic and whatnot, he was not a very admirable man, a man whose only act of affection she could remember was to pet her head and cry when she was very sick as a child. Still, a diary she kept that has very few entries noted the day he passed and that ‘he fought like a champ’, and she saved all of the Western Union correspondences she received from around the country expressing sympathy.

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My grandmother was a huge traveler. My grandfather…not so much. Still, he loved her enough to take her away as often as possible to as many exotic locations as possible. Here are two not so exotic ones with the original Greyhound flyers from the forties.

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My great-grandmother Bella was born in Kiev to what we presume was a relatively well-to-do Jewish family, based on the few heirlooms we have of hers–a fur wrap, some pearl opera glasses. Little is known about her emigration to America, other than the fact that she came through Ellis Island. It was always explained to me as ‘like An American Tale’, in case I wondered. She was, from all accounts, a vibrant, eternally cheerful woman no matter what the circumstances, who danced with my mom to the Beatles and wrote weekly letters to Eleanor Roosevelt. When she passed away, my family had several trees planted in Israel to honor her memory.

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Photobooth picture of my grandmother when she was likely in her late teens or early twenties.

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FYI SHE BELIEVED IN IMMUNIZATIONS.

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Toe tag from my mother the day she was born.

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TB x-ray card

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Self-explanatory

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My great-grandmother’s will, written considerably before she died. Fun side note, she was also quite tall.

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My grandmother loved taking pictures with shitty disposable cameras. Until stumbling across these, it never occurred to me that I never saw most of them. And so I found a large treasure trove of pictures from my childhood I’d never seen before. Above are pictures of my with my brother and my two cousins.

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My grandma saved locks of my mom’s hair. Fun fact: she was blonde at some point.

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Speaking of my mom, here’s a picture of her and my uncle in their groovy band, “Home Brew”. Things to note: the one guy who was like ‘fuck no, white flares’. and the guy to the far left who seems to have at least a semi going on. To the right is a picture of my mom being incredibly awkward in middle school that makes me feel a lot better about how goddamn disgusting looking I was at that age.

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I thought this was kind of a neat thing. It appears to be a photo taken at some ‘Hollywood nightspot’ in the thirties or forties of my grandmother’s brother and his ‘gal’. This was the outside envelope. A nice little piece of nostalgia for the days of classic Hollywood.

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Additionally, here’s an autographed photo from some starlet who my great-grandmother did seamstress work for.

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I’m optimistic that the other half of this picture will show up, although I won’t be any closer to knowing who anyone is. They’re all family from Russia, likely Bella’s brothers and sisters, and they’re all having a fucking great time.

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In a box I affectionately dubbed “The Box of Broken Dreams”, I discovered a ton of photographs of all the family exes, including this family portrait with my father. My brother is dressed up like a taxi cab.

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I lived a couple of blocks from her my entire life, so every year, her house was my last stop on my trick or treating route. She hated Halloween, hated the kids, hated the entitlement that accompanies expecting free candy, but every year she would grudgingly dish out candy to children through gritted teeth, making unnecessary old lady comments to the older looking ones about being ‘too old for this’ and chastising chubby kids for being greedy while questioning their need for candy. Needless to say, she was a target for heavy egging and toilet papering, which went well with my step-dad’s agenda since HIS favorite thing in the world was to hide in the bushes and hose off any potential teenage assholes. He would literally hide there, giggling in anticipation, for hours.

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Speaking of my step-dad Kevin, who I was also very close to and who passed away in 2003, this picture I recovered last week from my grandmother’s is the only picture I’ve seen that I’m in with him. This is because as a punk rock weirdo in high school, I was extremely uncooperative and camera shy. As a result, there are very few pictures of me from that period of my life.

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Except for the tons and tons of them I discovered that my grandmother had taken, because I can’t say no to my grandma.

I’ll publish this “as is” for now but I will have more to add once I’ve unearthed my grandparents’ wedding portrait from the tons of boxes in my garage.

it’s a funny thing. People have often critiqued my habit of saving old notes, greeting cards, and other seemingly worthless, sentimental ephemera. They argue that I’ll have no use for it, that it’s unlikely I’ll ever look at them again. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw a heated discussion on Facebook that concluded with the general consensus that keeping a diary is a narcissistic hobby. Funny thing is, I’m willing to believe most of those people maintain blogs, which are just the ultimate narcissistic diary, right? A public accounting, such as this one, which is why I’ve had little interest in blogging. Something where you get instant gratification and approval for sharing intimate details of your own life and your opinions. People confuse that with a diary, which is generally used by people who feel the need to explode emotionally on paper in order to pluck the words in their heads out and put them somewhere safe and quiet. They are tomes that are never meant to be read by anyone until after they’re dead. They’re the ultimate privacy, a place to store your brain, often kept locked up and hidden.

And long after your blog has disappeared, those diaries will remain. They are solid evidence of existing, of the tiny moments in life that make up a whole person. The internet is a tricky, faulty thing that with one minor mistake or misstep, can erase entire memories, decades of a person’s life and efforts. So I keep my notes and my greeting cards, not for me but because maybe some day my granddaughter will be going through my things after I’m dead, and she will find some kind of insight into her own identity. Or at least get to know that she inherited her shitty PE grades from me via my old report cards.

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C? I’m on to you, Mom.

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High Concept Catch Phrases that Should Catch On: Dropping The Cougar

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Dropping the Cougar has nothing to do with ‘cougars’, the trendy phrase used to describe older women who prey on younger suitors. By the way, isn’t it funny how young women seeking out older guys are gold diggers or have daddy issues, and older women are feline predators, but both young men and older guys walk away unscathed? Huh. Thought I’d point that out. Mull that over as you’re like ‘ugh Sabrina just ruined this blog with her damn feminist theories.’

No, we’re talking about the old school Cougar. Not the Puma. The John Cougar Mellencamp. What you don’t know about JCM is that he is very cool. He was all posed to be the new Bruce Springsteen with Pink Houses and songs about the heartland and left wing politics. And then it all went wrong. ‘Wild Nights’ came out and his music somehow lost its hipness and relevance. There’s no one blowing off dust on his ‘Nebraska’ and declaring it a lo-fi classic, although he’s a talented, smart guy. No doubt about it, between Jack and Diane and Wild Nights, he’s considered a novelty.

So what happened? Well, we believe it can all be traced to one moment: the decision to drop the Cougar from his name and become simply John Mellencamp. This moment shall here after be referred to as ‘Dropping the Cougar’, when you make the decision to change or rid yourself of something distinctive that makes you more intriguing, although you seem to judge it as a hindrance. See also: Jennifer Grey’s nose.

I’m Getting Old

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It’s that time for me as a woman. Thirty is a mere four months away. I can already taste the ashes of my youth in my mouth. Sure, people say, thirty is the new twenty (which, why would anyone want to be twenty again? Twenty sucked! Twenty, you were stupid and still a nervous teenager! 23 was the goddamn bomb). My generation is experiencing a renaissance of relevance. Most people’s careers at this point don’t get kick-started until they’re thirty. It could be worse, I could still live with my mom. And so on, and so on, comfort comfort back pat back pat.

But I can feel the change. It spreads over me as I stand, pensive in front of my wardrobe, realizing I don’t want to wear my novelty t-shirts. Much like the Game of Thrones meme Winter Is Coming, age is wrapping its cold, withered arms around me. I am getting….old. And these are the signs.

1. I want babies. I don’t SUPER want babies because let’s face it, babies are horrible, boring, shitting, crying, non-communicative wiggling piles of dictatorship who dominate your life and destroy your sleeping patters. For years, I’ve kept my secret OMG BABIES urge repressed by reminding myself that I can’t even handle the concept of pregnancy without cringing. I think those 3D ultrasounds look like parasitic demons have taken residence in your womb. Yet, I want. I want my own kid. I know that’s selfish and shitty.  There are so many needy kids in orphanages. But what if I get one of those Russian babies with attachment disorder? If I’m going to get a fucked up, crazy kid, I want it to be because he or she inherited my fucked up, crazy genetics. It’s narcissism, I know. BUT anyway, stop judging me, fuck you. So let me go on with why this is worse than any other time when I’ve supplemented some creepy urge to parent with a pet. I am worried about my reproductive parts. Yes, we’re living longer and having babies almost disturbingly late in life, but my mother went through menopause pretty young. So the window of time for me is narrowed. Which, of course, puts an undo amount of stress on any future relationships I will probably continue not to have. So, after giving this careful consideration and putting it forward to a couple people, I concluded that by 35, I would request one of my very handsome, tall, gay male friends help me with this dilemma. As soon as the deal had been made, I looked at the mirror and almost screamed. Somehow, in the last decade, I have gone from aspiring to be Gloria Steinem to being Jennifer Aniston. Fuck my life.

2. The Youth Music Sucks: Okay, not all of it. I quite like some of the snazzy tunes, but for the most part, when I turn on the radio, I just hear a constant stream of derivative shit. I carefully combed through the Pitchfork top 100 and NME top 100 singles of 2011 and 85% of them were horrible. Mumford and Sons? GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. I mean, they make Coldplay sound like the Sex Pistols. Occasionally, I stumble upon the odd Jay-Z single, nod my head gently and say NOW THIS I LIKE, the way my grandparents would whenever a swing revival band popped up.

3. Speaking of youth music, I now hate Ben Gibbard: It occurred to me while letting my iTunes just do its thing: he annoys the shit out of me. His voice once registered plaintive pathos; now I find myself telling him to shut the fuck up. ‘Someday, you will be loved’? Really? That’s the most patronizing sentiment of all time. Fuck you.

4. Old guys are getting a lot hotter and young guys look like fetuses: I felt like a child molester when I was watching  American Horror Story and ogling Tate (he was born in 1988, it’s safe!) For the most part, guys in their early twenties look like pretty little babies to me. I’m suddenly much more interested in the Jon Hamms and Michael Fassbenders and the guys with flecks of gray in their hair and scars on their faces.

5. I judge the way my dates live: This sounds bad. It sounds mean and bitchy. And honestly, I will say: you are exempt from this if you are a male under thirty. However, when a 35-year-old guy is living in a rundown apartment with no furniture but a mattress on the floor and his guitar collection, a kitchen sink overflowing with molded dishes, and a non-functional shower, I realize: this is your life. You really don’t see anything wrong with living in constant debt/fear of eviction and don’t care that the last show your band played was at The Cobalt three years ago. I can no longer envision dating someone who doesn’t at least aspire towards somewhat nice things. And I know a lost cause when I see one. And when I have children, they have to be of the non-adult variety.

6. I want nice things: I am no longer sated by cheap crappy furniture from Ikea. I want to own…antiques. I want things to be organized. I want a housekeeper who comes in twice a week because I admit that I loathe cleaning but want things clean. I don’t want to live like a college bum anymore.

7. I’m too old for Forever 21: Okay, I still shop there, because I’m kind of not rich, but I hate it. I want to be able to shop in nice stores where everything isn’t chaotically crammed into non-organized piles and a teenager isn’t following me around, asking if I need a dressing room/sort of making sure I’m not shoplifting. I don’t want to buy horribly sewn together, cheap clothing that dissolves in the washing machine. I want to afford Les Habitudes and top of the line vintage.

8. I’m patronizing teenagers: I always hated them a little, especially when I was one, but now I have become one of those eye-rolling assholes regarding youthful idealism.  I know it’s their time. It’s their time, down there, and I’ve already ridden up Troy’s Bucket of Crushed Naive Political Notions. They need to march around in their Amebix back patches and shout ‘No Justice, No Peace!’ and really feel like they’re CHANGING THE FUCK OUT OF THINGS and pierce their faces and whatever it is that makes being a Super Liberal College Freshman so awesome. So I don’t pull over and point out they spelled college wrong on their signs advocating free education (although I suppose that would be evidence in their favor that it’s a necessity) or that they’ve incorrectly credited ‘The revolution will not be televised’ to Zach De La Rocha. Or lecture them on the idea that looking super punk rock may not be as important as dressing like an adult in order to get people to take their point seriously. Because hey, I was there. I used to be them. I went to Black Bloc meetings (and, admittedly, got into constant fights with everyone because I was a Debbie Downer pragmatist) got detained with anarchists, having many harrowing stories about almost getting maced in the face. So who am I to sneer at their ambitions?

9. I enjoy Frasier: There, I admit it. I find the bantering between Rozz, Frasier Crane, and his brother Niles to be absolutely delightful. Cheers still bores me, though.

10. I hate 90s Nostalgia: I now understand how the generation above me felt when everyone in the early 2000s started grabbing their neon exercise pants and grooving to Olivia Newton John, while waxing nostalgic about the eighties. Because now the 90s are back, and no one is old enough to remember that they mostly sucked. Especially the fashion and music. Sure, there were like two years where grunge and Brit pop were promising, but by 1995, the airwaves were dominated by plastic, shitty hip hop and Rolling Stone was predicting the death of rock and roll and the rise of rave/electronic “culture”. And by culture, I assume they meant “repetitive, shitty sounds played over loudspeakers in warehouses crammed with white people with no rhythm sucking on pacifiers and tripping balls”. The movie Go is not exactly the Fast Times of Ridgemont High of the mid-nineties, okay? And dressing like Stephanie Tanner or Kimmy Gibler on Full House is not ‘ironic’, it’s ‘ugly’.

The myth: 

The reality:

11. I am out of touch with slang: I realize that the expressions I use now are as awkward, clunky, and dated as when my mother describes something as ‘bitching’.

12. Calling oneself an ‘alcoholic’ is now a depressing admission.

The myth:

The reality:

13. Realizing there are fundamental life skills I will never develop: I will never be magically good at gift wrapping or interested in cooking fancy meals or know how to/want to sew things. I want to pay other people to do those things.

14. I would rather die than work in retail ever again. 

15. I refuse to learn any of the names of socialites more recent than Paris Hilton.

16. I can never have sex with anyone who has a mohawk again. Because, I mean, if they’re my age, they’re retarded, and if they’re younger, it’s creepy.

17. Realizing all the youthful things I’m never going to do in my twenties: Well, fuck.

18. Wait, Miley Cyrus isn’t the face of tween life anymore?

19. WHAT THE FUCK IS A TWEEN?

20. This is what I’ve been listening to for the past month:

21. I want to live in a house. My house. Where I can start collecting old news papers and slowly evolve into the elderly witch lady I’ve always wanted to be.

22. I forget a lot: Seriously, I have a touch of the Alzheimer’s. To start with, I forget where my keys are, what I did over a weekend, important dates, doctors’ appointments, where I’m going, and a lot of really good topics I had for this list.

Movie Romances to Avoid

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Ah, the cinema. Since the dawn of the movie era, it’s served as the template for romantic expectations. Sometimes in an entirely unhealthy way. Here, I am going to critique some of the worst examples of Hollywood romances from film and television throughout the past 80 or so years.

1. My Man Godfrey: Carol Lombard and William Powell meet and fall in love in this exquisite screwball comedy from 1936. Powell is a ‘forgotten man’ that Lombard retrieves while on a scavenger hunt. After developing a crush on him, she convinces her father to hire him on, where he gets to witness the savageness of wealth, until it’s revealed that his ‘forgotten man’ status means he was, at one time, a known man, and he saves the family with the wisdom he’s acquired on the street.  First of all, how many homeless guys or slackers do you know who actually pull themselves up and teach everyone a valuable lesson about the value of the dollar? Second, Lombard’s character is borderline retarded here and he’s pretty much a genius. Granted, she’s hot, but there’s nothing to sustain.

2. Sid and Nancy: Well, they both die. And pretty much, they both kill each other. And before that, they lie around a lot in shit and vomit, and they never fuck.

3. The Little Mermaid. You might remember this fondly from childhood. This is the reality: Ariel is 16. SIXTEEN. And her father has the audacity to believe that A) she might not know what’s best for her at that age and B) wants better things for her, but he’s the enemy. And the whole part where Ursula declares “The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber/They think a girl who gossips is a bore!/Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation/It’s she who holds her tongue who get’s a man,” is only partial jest. Their entire relationship is based on her fawning over him and him thinking she’s kind of pretty.

4. Pretty much any Disney romance. Look, just because you woke me up from a curse doesn’t mean I automatically want to marry you.

5. Breakfast At Tiffany’s: He’s gay. She’s a bitch.

6. SLC Punk: The ending, when Steve-o meets the girl who changes everything for him, all we see is a mustached cunt who makes a lot of superficial judgements about people. Womp womp.

7. Flashdance: The biggest problem is that there really wasn’t any need for a romance in Flashdance, so the line they threw in where the rich guy is after the poor girl who lives in an amazing warehouse of awesome is really extraneous and forced. Plus he’s creepy, old and unattractive.

8. Pretty In Pink: All of the romance in this is awful. First, we’re supposed to root for Andie and Blaine. Blaine is a douche and a half. I mean, he’s worse than Stef because he’s a pussy hypocrite. He dumps Andie before the prom because he freaks about his social status, and then when she shows up anyway, he acts like it’s a big test and has the nerve to say, “You never believed in me.” And she falls for it and forgives him! What! But who can blame her when her role model is Annie Potts’ awesome character who sells out all of her punk rock originality to dress like a sick yuppie in order to appease her complete tool of a boyfriend.

9. Batman Begins and Dark Knight: Why does anyone like Rachel? In Batman Begins, she’s an uptight, self-righteous bitch who judges everyone. She’s basically a sophomore political science student at a liberal East Coast private college. Sick. And in the Dark Knight, she’s a sarcastic, insensitive  asshole. Instead of being all indignant about everything, she’s an eye-rolling know-it-all. Batman, stick with your own kind.

10. Superman Returns: Before we start on how this movie sucked, let me say, the one hero in this is the poor guy Lois Lane married, who isn’t superhuman but risks everything to save his asshole of a wife and his kid who isn’t his kid, yet all the credit goes to Superman. Maybe Superman and Lois Lane are actually perfect for each other because she’s a self-involved twat and he’s a hollow piece of wood.

11. Bonnie and Clyde: He’s impotent and quick to rage, and she’s desperately trailing after him.

There will be a sequel when I bother to think of some.

 

Animals are Awesome: Mountain Lions Edition

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KNOWN by a plethora of names: cougar, panther, puma, catamount, mountain lions are, in some ways, the La Llorona, Large Marge, or the hitchhiking ghost of the wilderness: rarely spotted, almost mythological creatures of deadly intent.  Growing up in L.A, I was frequently regaled with tales of mountain lion sightings, mostly as a flawed method of attempting to woo me.  High school weekends invariably ended in stoned, drunk late-night hikes through the mountains that attempt to protect Los Angeles from the Valley’s lameness. Once removed from any sign of Los Angeles beyond the dim brown smog layer illuminated via city lights, one of the dudes would ominously warn the girls that mountain lions were rumored to prowl the area. It’s unclear to this day how that was supposed to result in anyone getting laid. I’d just stare at them and say, “the punchline better be that you have a gun, because if a mountain lion attacks us, we’re screwed.”

I did not date much in high school. Boys found me ‘difficult’. I find me ‘logical’.

But let’s be honest: if a mountain lion came bounding out of the darkness toward you and a guy trying to stick his hands in your pants, he’d scream like a girl and take off running, while you stood there, eyebrow cocked, arms crossed, shaking your head as the mountain lion cheerfully engaged in the fun of a chase and subsequently mauled him.

Finally, I had a real kind of not really sort of close encounter with a cougar that wasn’t a 45-year-old hag trying to hit on my brother or a poor, mangy caged creature at a drive-through safari. I was hiking in the woods at night with two gays, so I can trust that the one, who grew up in the area, wasn’t telling me a tall tale to seduce me with fear. He paused, looking terrified, and said, “Backinthecarbackinthecar,” the way people do when they’re being robbed or I do when I see a spider. After we’d retreated to the safety of his ancient Cutlass, he said, “Did you hear that crying? That sounded like a baby? That’s a mountain lion, and if you hear one, you’re too fucking close.”

We never did see it but I took his word that no one buried a baby in a pet semetary that day so that it would rise again and make its way home through the woods.

Which brings me to my three favorite local mountain lion tales, both personal and newsworthy.

Story 1: One of my punk rock friends in high school was cursed with the burden of residing in Simi Valley. Simi Valley is a haven of sameness: rows and rows of housing developments forcefully instilled on the mountainous region of Southern California. Strip mall after strip mall of identical chain stores, enormous SUVs, and bland, personality-deprived homes attempt to blight out any hint of a world pre-1980, but the Los Angeles wildlife don’t give a fuck, and still reside in the hilly landscape. Simi Valley is not distinct in this: my own home in Coldwater Canyon was a haven for deer, raccoons, skunks, and enormous coyotes eternally grateful to retarded cat owners who let their beloved pets outside to ‘be free’, which is as sensible as saying a four-year-old should have sex because it ‘feels like it’, but responsibility is so 1958, what are you, a fascist?

Anyway, for a while the animal population dropped down. The deer receded, the only skunks were in zoos, and the most exotic local creature was an opossum.  But thanks to the above-mentioned irresponsible pet owners, the animals came back. Including mountain lions.

My friend who lived in Simi Valley called me one day and said, “I know you’re home, turn on the news. Check out my house.” It seemed that his mother had decided to wake up and bake pies that morning. Upon leaving, she left the kitchen window open to air out the space. My friend came home after nightfall, wandered to the kitchen, flipped on a light switch, and lo and behold, there was a mountain lion eating a pie on his counter. Unsure what to do and not wanting to be mauled, he turned the light off and backed as slowly and quietly out of the house as possible. He then sat in his car and waited for his mom to come home so he could honk and warn her.

The mountain lion made all the local news stations, who followed closely with tense accompanying dialogue to update Californians on the mountain lion’s every move. You see, this was the first major domestic encounter in ages, and we all watched, fascinated, as the lion emerged from the house, climbed a tree, and went to sleep on the roof. It was like an African safari in suburbia. More importantly, it was a plot from a children’s novel, waking up something raw and Where The Wild Things Are within us that longs to have cities crumbling and returning to nature. Repossess your property, we silently urged the mountain lion! You go, girl.

Finally, animal control tranquilized it and removed it, and no more was heard about that particular creature.

And so that brings us to Story 2, where a seed has now been planted in the hearts of those watching the telecast and sympathizing with the mountain lion’s plight against a world that invades its home and gives it the boot like some asshole King of England shit. If only mountain lions had the right to bear arms in order to resists having soldiers quartered in their homes! Mountain lion rights! Todos somos illegales!

Sensing a disquiet and discontent against the masses, it was in the city of Los Angeles’ best interest to provide evidence that eviction and extinction are the best answer. That said, they introduced: the mountain lion serial killer.

Anne Hjelle was riding her bike through the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County when a mountain lion leaped out and viciously attacked her. The cat clawed and bit at her face, attempting to drag her off the bike path and into the woods. This Ted Bundy motherfucker’s plans were spoiled when two other bike riders heard her screaming and began assaulting the cat with any potential weapons around: sticks, logs, fists. The lion gave up and ran off.

A subsequent search of the area turned up the half-buried, gnawed-on body of Mark Reynolds. Finally, a chance to put down any potential myth that mountain lions are innocent creatures just making their way home like the rest of us. They were, it was reported, blood-thirsty and deadly, fast-moving, and learning to be unafraid of people and their magical robot transport machines.

A mountain lion was shot and killed near the site of the body, and initially news reports sensationalized the manliness of shooting a creature doing its thang in its home by claiming the cat charged at the rescue team. Regardless, once a cat has a taste of human flesh and a concept that people are quite vulnerable, experts argued, that animal now had the sociopathic insight of any other serial killer and needed to be done away with.

But Story 3 argues that is, like so many lies this world tell us, a slanderous misrepresentation of a mountain lion’s motives when attacking a person.

I was riding on a train back from Santa Barbara in the days of yore when I was holding out to be the oldest California resident with no idea how to drive a car. (I made it to 24! Go, me) While watching scenery fly by, I struck up a conversation with a park ranger next to me. Now, this is unusual. Normally, when I go on a train, the only way I will talk to anyone is if I’m being very obvious about reading Strangers on A Train, after which I turn to the person next to me and say in my most sinisterly smooth voice, “Care to make a deal?” Most people just stare at me and move away. Actually, usually someone will stand rather than sit next to me on a train, because I have perfected the Stare of Go Away, accompanied by headphones, a book, a laptop, a taser on the table in front of me, and a t-shirt that says ‘I hate people.’

This ranger, though, lived dangerously and started regaling me with her experiences. “Mountain lions,” I asked her. “Tell me about them.”

She shook her head and sighed. “People,” she started off. “If only they would just die.” This is the basic attitude of most people I meet who work with animals or in any kind of nature preserve, which echoes my own misanthropic attitude and makes me ponder whether I want to wait and be the Twilight Zone guy who gets a city to himself to read in, or just start caring more about the environment. Since my eyesight has gone south recently, the latter seems more sensible.

So, mountain lions. She told me that in twenty-something years of park ranging, she’d only had one call where a mountain lion inflicted injury on a person. It seems a two-year-old was wading in the shallows of a river where signs indicated everywhere that mountain lions had been spotted. Of course, human arrogance causes us to callously disregard those signs, the same way a teenage boy tells me, the moonlight reflecting off his braces, that should a wild cat charge out of the trees, he will protect me.

As the child played, a mountain lion leaped down from a hill and tried to reverse its actions mid-air after noticing people. It landed on the kid and badly scratched the crap out of it before retreating, petrified, into the woods. The parents began demanding that the animal be tracked and put down. The park ranger stared at them, internally flipping them off, and said, “So if a mountain lion breaks into your house, you shoot it, but if you break into his house, you shoot it? Hells naw.” (Side note: For the sake of journalistic integrity, she may not have said ‘Hells Naw.’ That could be the author’s creative liberty)

Animal experts speculate that the assault on Anna, the wayward bike rider, may have been the result of a mountain lion protecting its kill from other predators, since a multi-assault in one day is extremely rare. Others point out that a female mountain lion was struck and killed by a car close by, and her cubs were found later, leading them to believe she was potentially protecting her litter. While the motives of an animal can never be completely known, there is also reason to suspect that the previously attacked deceased man actually suffered a heart attack and the lion took advantage of his weakened state. Nature. That’s how it fucking works, no matter what a Juggalo might think.

And oh, yeah. I stand a way greater chance of being mauled and buried in a shallow grave by the boy trying to spook me as he leads me into isolation than by a mountain lion.

In conclusion, this is the cutest thing to defy nature ever:

Bad decisions: Formative crushes on fictional characters

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We all experienced it: the misplaced infatuation with various fictional men in film and TV. From Peter Pans to Batmen, they’ve  established the foundations for our taste in real-life romances. Which explains why we’re all so fucked. So let’s take a look, shall we, at some of the reasons we fall for these guys, and why it’s a horrible idea.

Stef, Pretty In Pink:

The Myth: Stef is the biggest fucking dick to ever grace whatever high school Molly Ringwald goes to in Pretty In Pink. He’s rich, privileged, cocky as fuck, can bang any chick he wants without consequence, except…Molly Ringwald, who’s more interested in that huge pussy, Blane. And that’s exactly why we want Stef. He’s the asshole that we eccentrics think we’ll tame. He wants us because we see right through him. He wants us to condemn him and forgive him. WE CAN CHANGE STEF. And he can afford to buy us lots of shoes. And he’s super, super hot.

The Reality: Stef is not interested in us because we’re so real, intriguing, or unique. He is into us for the same reason people collect stamps: he doesn’t have us. Once the chase is over, you’re another boring acquisition and a punch line for the boys in the back rooms at SoHo House.  In the best case scenario, you’re of good enough stock to merit a marital merger. Before the ink’s dry on the certificate, he’s cheating on you constantly when not pressuring you do to more and more depraved, humiliating things in bed involving saddles, gimp masks, and safety words he ignores or pretends he mishears.

 Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything


The Myth: Let’s get it over with. But Sabrina, you say. Are you mad? Lloyd Dobler is the best boyfriend on earth! He gave her his heart and she gave him a pen! He got the shakes from fear and pleasure while losing his virginity! He’ll follow you to the end of the earth and never stray! HE LIKES THAT PETER GABRIEL SONG.

The Reality: Lloyd Dobbler is probably the most deceptive and dangerous boyfriend in pop culture history. Let’s look at the facts: he’s a creepy guy in a trench coat who likes kickboxing. Who is this guy in the real world? One thing is for sure: he does not look like John Cusack. Probably, he’s a fat, pimply, creepy World of Warcraft/ WWE fan. Or he’s one of the Columbine shooters. And he’s been obsessed with a girl for years that he doesn’t know and has nothing in common with. NOTHING. And let me remind you of reality: sweetness does not actually override having nothing intellectually stimulating to discuss, especially when he’s a skinny little nerd and not some raging hunk of cro-mag hot. As for following you to your prestigious college, yeah, good luck with that. Ladies, if you want something destructive waiting for you at home that doesn’t work, is always happy to see you, follows you around lovingly, and shits all over the house, get a dog. Trust me, it’ll be less awkward when your friends meet your awesome dog than your dumb boyfriend who has nothing to contribute to your Ivy League conversation.

Peter Pan


The Myth: Everyone under ten has a crush on Peter Pan. He’s the thin green line between childhood and the stress and expectations of becoming an adult, something particularly meaningful to young girls, bred to be much more accepting of our quickly fleeting adolescence. He’s brave, handsome, quick-witted, and underneath it all, *WARNING: HOOK SPOILER* he can eventually be persuaded to grow up.

The Reality: Okay, to start with, before we get into HIM, he already comes with the worst baggage of all time: Tinkerbell, a psychotically obsessed, pathetically enamored platonic friend who is hellbent on destroying you, despite knowing he will never want her. If you find a way around her, keep in mind that he’s a guy who only abandoned his perpetual adolescence because he was henpecked by that nag Wendy, who appealed to him because he’s essentially looking for a mother. The reality of an adult Pan is not a cheeky, charming, adventurous man-boy, but rather, that guy who you’re engaged to for ten years who has filled a majority of your house with ‘collector figures’ and video game systems. You will resent him your entire relationship, and after years of accumulating a growing hatred for him as you clean up after him and his equally emotionally stunted friends, and desperately pleading with him to stop spending every penny on Star Wars toys instead of rent, you’ll leave him and he won’t even notice. Also, he is quite possibly actually a woman.

Robin Hood


The Myth: Robin Hood is dashing, witty, brave, and generous. He cares about the downtrodden. He’s politically subversive and not contented by armchair politics. He believes strongly in women’s rights and finds the more independent you are, the more he adores you. He’s not jealous or judgmental, but he will FUCK UP any guy who disrespects you.

The Reality: Yes, he is great, provided you don’t mind having your kids visiting their dad in jail most of their lifetime.

Jordan Catalano, My So-Called Life


The Myth: He’s like, so dreamy and cool. He’s in a band. And he went for a nobody like Angela Chase, who seemed devoid of any interesting traits besides an ability to always chew on her hair without it appearing wet. He’s like, the slacker poet idiot savant. He’ll write a song about you breaking his heart and you’ll know he loves you.

The Reality: He seems more like a matchup for your best friend Rayanne, and in fact, he will fuck your best friend. And some of your other friends. And when you get HPV from him, he’ll stare blankly and say, ‘What’s HPV?’ And when you explain what it is, he’ll blink a few times and accuse you of getting it elsewhere, despite proudly writing a song about taking your virginity. Oh, and he’ll write an even more embarrassing song about you breaking his heart, play it at a party, and some crazy chick will try to fight you for causing him emotional pain. And you’ll find out he got HPV from her. In ten years, there will be a website dedicated to the girls he gave it to. Most of them will be your friends who never mentioned they were banging him while you were together.

Sid Vicious, Sid and Nancy


The Myth: He’s a doomed, gentle but unstable spirit who desperately seeks nurturing and love. The two of you will enjoy hedonistic dysfunction together. When you’re in pain, he’s in pain, and if he’s not, he will make it happen, literally, by banging his head against the wall. He doesn’t care what his friends think of you. It’s you and him against the world until you go out in a blaze of glory. He’s your punk rock Romeo, the Clyde to your Bonnie.

The Reality: To start with, he might kill you or at least not notice you lying bloody on the floor. He’s a drooling drug addict with little hope of ever getting clean but maintains a persistent, touching desire to do so that makes you stay with him long after it’s beyond sense. His desperation brings out the mother figure in you, but after a while, you wonder why you’re taking care of a vomiting, scrawny stranger who is neither your child nor capable of getting a boner. He has a very limited life span and most likely smells really bad.

Troy, Reality Bites


The Myth: Ethan Hawke’s iconic Troy is the quintessential grunge-rocker poet. He’s like dating Kurt Cobain before Cobain was all confused by those millions of dollars. He’s too intellectual for heroin, and his secret passion for you burns him from the inside out, leading him to publicly claim his love for you in his trademark passive-aggressive manner. He will leave mixed tapes of Magnetic Fields songs on your front step and dedicate multiple spoken-word pieces to you. Pictures he has discreetly snapped of your lipstick and fingernails will make up a majority of his multi-media conceptual art project he’s been working on since dropping out of grad school because it was for ‘capitalist sellouts’.

The Reality: What a fucking miserable asshole. He’ll never compliment you, he won’t pay for jack shit, he’ll constantly being trying to one-up you intellectually, he’ll put you down in front of your friends and then accuse you of being overly sensitive, the one time he does dishes, he does them so badly you never make him do them again, and he hates literally fucking everything. Everything. That movie? Too commercial. That band? Good ten years ago. He is never going to finish any of the novels or video art projects he has started but refuses to get a job because it interferes with his artistic freedom. Seriously, you’d be better off with Matt Dillon’s character in Singles because at least that guy knew how to say bless you without lecturing you on how lame religious references are and belittling your mother for celebrating Christmas earnestly (while accepting the gift she gives him, although making fun of it). One day, you’ll realize his ‘deep songs’ are total garbage.

Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure


The Myth: Sure, they’re dumb, but they’re sweet, and some day, they’re going to make the most important music of all time.

The Reality: You don’t live in the future, and currently, Wyld Stallyns suck.

David, The Lost Boys


The Myth: He’s a hot badass who runs with a bunch of much, much lamer dudes, but he’s their leader! And he has a sensitive side: did you not see the tears trickling down his face at the idea of a normal life where the woman he loved could love him out of genuine caring and not terror?

The Reality: Are you stupid? This guy is a vampire. Who kills people. And makes little kids into vampires for god knows what reason. I mean, who wants to be babysitting your boyfriend’s vampire kid for the rest of your life? Lame. And everyone who saw Interview With a Vampire knows that vampire babies don’t cope well with eternal youth. Plus, his feet are DISGUSTING, he’s super jealous of shit and shows off too much, and his friends are a bunch of annoying assholes.

Eric Northman, True Blood


The Myth: Well, to begin with, he is incredibly hot. So, so hot. And insanely funny, smart, runs his own business, has a fierce independent streak,  and despite all his cool, sassy claims of utter selfishness, genuinely cares for his BFF Pam. And he can fuck like, all day, like a jackhammer. His greatest weakness is his loyalty to his family.

The Reality: Were you not paying attention? This guy is a fucking vampire. He kills people. Brutally. And he’s also proud of being an arrogant, selfish asshole. But more importantly, he is UNDEAD.

Spike and Angel, Buffy The Vampire Slayer


The Myth: Spike and Angel are both going against everything ingrained in them, loving the enemy, desperately trying to win her heart. For Angel, the task is easier because he’s burdened with the curse of a soul that makes him initially vague and annoyingly stalkerish, and later incredibly emo and boring. But still a hot piece of wood who desperately, tenderly loves. For Spike, he’s so dedicated to proving that he loves Buffy that he endures the seemingly unnecessary agony of regaining his soul, reducing him to a hollow shell of a man. And it really is pointless when you think about how unlike Angel’s Angelous alter-ego, Spike’s soullessness didn’t seem to prevent him from making rational decisions to alter and improve his attitude. And then even though he knew Buffy didn’t love him, he sacrificed himself to save her stupid world anyway. And was rewarded by returning to earth as Angel’s wacky sidekick.

The Reality: Angel sucks. He’s only into Buffy because of a gypsy curse. The minute he’s soulless, he’s a psychotic mass-murderer. And you know what triggers his soullessness? A moment of pure happiness. Which happens to come in the form of any kind of climax. Sure, if you don’t like giving BJs, this is a decent deal, but come on. Do you really want to risk the incredibly flawed arrangement of the curse and have him decapitate you during post-coital bliss? Plus, unlike most vampires, he actually can’t seem to avoid the ravages of age. As for Spike, well, to be honest, pre-getting his soul back, he’s actually kind of okay. Sure, he gets a little rapey from time to time, but he’s trying to quit that. He seems like he could be a changed man and even refrain from murder. But he will write you horrible, sad poems and become a completely depressing Bright Eyes song whenever you fight.

Chris Chambers, Stand By Me


The Myth: Chris is the leader of his motley crew of fifties rejects, all of whom are struggling with their own socially-ostracizing personal problems. He stands up to the bullies even though they’d probably gladly let him stand with them, and he doesn’t let himself get put off by the opportunities his friends will have that he’s left out of thanks to class stature. He even dies a hero, decades down the line, taking a knife for a complete stranger.

The Reality: No matter what, this guy is completely doomed. You wanna be a widow?

Blane, Pretty In Pink


The Myth: Um. Blane is a rich kid with bland good looks and a moderately dorky but endearing personality. He seems blissfully ignorant to the clashing class wars going on in your high school and is moderately computer savvy. He will most likely marry his first girlfriend and never cheat on her because he is too boring to do so.

The Reality: Blane is a gigantic tool who totally dumps Andie before prom because his rich douche friends don’t like her and then has the NERVE to make her feel bad and apologetic for it later. That has to be one of the most appalling scenes in cinema. It’s the eighties equivalent of Irreversible. Seriously, when Andie’s standing there, quietly sobbing, he says he didn’t take her to the prom because SHE never believed in HIM when he gave her no reason to because he totally caved to peer pressure in the first place. What a vile sack of crap. Go fuck Stef and send him the pictures. At least Stef KNOWS he’s a fucker.

Sick Boy, Trainspotting


The Myth: He’s an impossible asshole, a cocky waster who uses and dismisses women, a career addict and criminal who still manages to look sharp. But he does look really good and whatever scent he’s giving off causes women to overlook the track marks and suspiciously fucked-up looking friends.

The Reality: In his own words: “Personality, I mean that’s what counts, right? That’s what keeps a relationship going through the years. Like heroin, I mean heroin’s got a great fucking personality.”

Johnny The Homicidal Maniac

The Myth: Okay, he’s not a movie character. YET. He’s the funniest goth serial killer of all time. He likes tacos and rabbits and is the mastermind behind the oddly endearing, intriguing rambling madness that is Happy Noodle Boy. He really likes The City Of Lost Children.

The Reality: He is a homicidal maniac.

Batman/Bruce Wayne


The Myth:  Batman is an obsessive vigilante desperately seeking to right the wrong of his parents’ murders with a non-stop, unquenchable thirst for justice against all wrong-doers and perceived wrong-doers. He’s clever, strong, fast, and not above witty banter with his foes. If you are out with him and get mugged, he will rip the arm off the mugger later to avenge you. And his real identity–or is it?–Bruce Wayne is a filthy rich, incredibly handsome playboy with more money than brains who, in order to maintain a beard to cover up his night activities, will pay for you to go on all kinds of awesome trips, buy you stuff to appease you, and attend every public event with you, making you the envy of Gotham.

The Reality: Where to begin. First of all, the vigilante/alter-ego stuff gets old. Sure, Bruce Wayne might love you, but Batman might be in love with some total psycho in a cat costume. And the hours he keeps! Plus he might get you killed, or you might be driven mad by him, and he’ll never be able to get over his crippling emotional problems to really be there for you. Also, if you get pregnant, the baby will constantly be the target of ninjas and crazy murderers.