Take me to your leader

Cheese, anyone? Photo by Erin J. Bernard

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a person exceptional.

I mean, really exceptional. How does a person become well regarded, special, distinct among the cloying and dull-witted masses? Is it something you’re born with? Something you’re selected for? Or is it something you simply create?

It’s a mysterious kind of calculus, and from all appearances, those who’ve cracked the code aren’t about to start talking.

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The gum smacks are the pulse I’ll follow if my walkman fades: How Stephen Malkmus saved me from mental derangement and a possible incarceration at the Guatemala-El Salvador border

I am an atheist, mostly.

Still, my ears have on occasion been filled with sounds so strange and wondrous that I can only describe them as heaven-sent, as precisely what the voice of God might sound like if he did, or does, or could, in fact exist.

And that voice sounds pretty much exactly like Stephen Malkmus from Pavement.

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The Student Of The Opposite

There is a moment in drunkenness, markered somewhere between the vague mileposts of sloppy and rip-roaring, when both time and truth come temporarily untethered from their stations. It is the first sip of a third Cuba Libre, the carafe of red wine hitting the empty stomach, the quick-spreading warmth of a molten double shot: A joyous vapor that sets the body reeling as it fast recedes from the reaches of the brain.

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The Hummus Wars

Hummus and Pita - Erin J. Bernard

Hummus and Pita – Erin J. Bernard

I used to hate hummus. I mean, like, really, really abhor hummus. Considering my Middle Eastern heritage, my intense dislike of the beige stuff was pretty much sacrilegious, and intensely baffling to everyone around me. And I guess that was sort of how I wanted it.

Hummus was available by the vatful at every family gathering we ever had when I was a kid. And I summarily shunned it. I’d turn my nose up at my Lebanese grandmother’s ministrations, preferring instead to dip my carrot sticks in nasty-ass ranch dressing; to smear my Syrian bread with spicy mustard, or cheese dip, or anything, really, so long as it wasn’t that vile, lemon-tinged spread.

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The Ross Syndrome

Res Ipsa Loquitor, eh?

So. I have a confession. And a question. And a SUPER GREAT idea.

First, the confession: every single time I go into a “Ross Dress For Less” store, something odd happens. Within minutes of passing beneath the gray and blue marquee and through the front doors, I am overcome by an overpowering urge to poo. And I’m talking RIGHT THEN.

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To All The Jordynns I’ve Loved Before

This week, as I proofed a story involving a whole bunch of elementary-aged kids, I began to notice something rather strange. A good 75% of the kids had been bestowed with names that were either completely bizarre or had been spelled “creatively.”

An inordinate number of these names had random consonants and double vowels plopped down at their middles or ends. It almost seemed haphazard, but bulk of the names were so obviously over-conceptualized that I knew something else had to be going on. To wit, and I swear I’ve not fabricated a single one of these:

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‘Undescribable Unthings’: Tiger Woods And Franz Kafka Get A Dressing Down

“Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers. This is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.” – Franz Kafka

This quote has been bouncing around my head ever since the Tiger Woods scandal reached its thundering crescendo a few weeks back. At first, though, I wasn’t sure why this mini-parable — coming as it does from such a different age  — so resonated with the way I was beginning to understand the flashpoint event that sealed the demise of a longtime American hero.

Let’s start with the general. Kafka’s parable seems to offer commentary on the way Men deal with Dissent and Difference. We’re groping at two key truths about humans, here: one, that we are inclined to favor the predictable, the orderly. Two, that we place our bets, consistently, on unstable entities.

And, Kafka suggests, this fundamental paradox leads us to act in some rather odd ways, to create all sorts of bizarre archetypes.

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On Being Mistaken For A Homeless Person, And, Later, A Criminal

Once, when I was 21, I was mistaken for a homeless person in a McDonald’s bathroom in Berlin.

Yeah, I was a bit gaunt and ratty on account of two months backpacking around wintertime Europe and way too many cheap French cigarettes and a recent bout of walking pneumonia, besides. And sure, I was sporting a messy head of dreadlocks under my dirty pink bandana and struggling under the mighty weight of an overstuffed pack. But. I was angling for some novel brand of a nation-neutral globetrotter aesthetic with my look. I even sort of fancied myself a modernized incarnation of Dean Moriarty, and I had the tatty, coverless copy of On The Road (picked up at a hostel in Amsterdam, and how is that for traveler cred?) to prove it.

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After The Flood: Social Connectivity In The Credulous Age

Last September, I attended my 10-year high school reunion. I’d felt a powerful and unexpected surge of icy dread in the weeks leading up to that inveterate ritual of passage into mid-life. The whole thing seemed so painfully overblown, so likely to disappoint.

I was secretly desperate to skip it entirely, but a handful of best friends propped up my courage with a few strong drinks. Arm in arm, we strolled giddily into a flashy and very grown-up-looking event hall at the designated hour. We donned nametags boasting our senior pictures and we screwed our collective courage and we headed for the bar.

And you know what? It was actually fun. We all stood around a crudités table, drinking whiskey-cokes and giggling into our shirtsleeves as we compared the battle scars of our first decade of adulthood; dog tags from tours of duty in Iraq, ill-advised yin-yang tattoos, tarnished wedding bands. Out in a courtyard attached to the building, the guys shed their jackets and passed around cigarettes, while the girls took off their shoes and danced with each other.

Someone lit a joint. And as I gazed around me, I was suddenly struck by an overpowering sense of semantic disorientiation.

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On Groundhog Day, On Groundhog Day

The occasion of Groundhog Day seemed a fortuitous moment to finally sit down and do a little write up of an all-time favorite film, Groundhog Day. Like the best Big Lesson films, its presentation is unassuming. So unassuming, in fact, that it took cultural critics and religious zealots almost a decade to begin trumpeting its genius in numbers loud enough to be audible. Likewise, it took me a good dozen viewings over almost 20 years to arrive at the revelation that there is a veritable wealth of postmodern thought packed into this film.

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