Monday, May 31, 2010

Plans for Summer 2010!

Open self to new experiences. Close season with great distrust of alligators, unlicensed physicians and ball gags.

Keep diary to record every thought. Learn upon review that you suffer from multiple personalities, each with their own credit card debt.

Promise self to drink less alcohol this summer. Then promise self to at least make less alcohol this summer. Eventually promise self to simply end each night either at home or in a nearby park.

Take vow of celibacy to avoid unhealthy relationships. Rescind vow after violating second pet cat.

Teach self a foreign language, initially a recognized tongue but inevitably something you like to call “Monkeyish.”

Commence diet consisting entirely of fruits and vegetables. Grow to hate green, red, yellow and every other color save “flank steak.”

Work on abs. Then on delts. Then on glutes. Then solely on wang.

Get in touch with spiritual side. Experience flashback to when you and Father Hanahan played “Strip Candyland.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to Foist Your Creativity Upon Others

In the late 1890’s, the head of the United States Patent Office advocated closing his department for good, stating with full confidence that everything that could be invented had been. Which is why today America remains at the forefront of whalebone whittling technology; Nielsen Ratings show reading the Sears Roebuck catalog is the leading form of weekly entertainment (followed closely by watching either candles burn or relatives succumb to consumption); and scientists continue to make great strides in the hopes of one day curing the leading cause of death in our nation, accidental wheat scythe beheadings.

Truth is, ingenuity is rarely appreciated in its time, especially in business. In fact, I am practically brimming over with great ideas, even a few that do not involve elaborate revenge fantasies or sure-fire schemes to win handsomely at roulette. Yet for some inexplicable reason the following brilliant concepts have yet to see the light of day or get us past the receptionist desk at most corporate headquarters, small business offices or parents’ places of work:

• A house plant that actually thrives under routine neglect and the occasional arc of cat piss
• A sitcom about mismatched roommates, one a refined neat freak unaccustomed to squalor, the other an escaped Colobus monkey with a loaded handgun and steadily improving aim
• A microwaveable single-serving Hot Pocket dinner that does not end with the lonely, malnourished consumer crying over both a woeful financial status that would greatly concern friends and a pitiful social calendar that would greatly bemuse Capuchin nuns

So why are we all now not living in a world replete with lush albeit less-than-favorably aromatic ferns, meals that actually promote a positive self-image and program after program featuring homicidal primates? Is it because I can’t tell the difference between a fully realized concept and a half-assed notion borne out of momentary whimsy? Could it be because the stupid Colobus monkey kept shooting himself instead? Does it have something to do with the fact that whatever discretionary income I did manage to cobble together to fund one of my ideas instead went to a Hot Pocket dinner that, alas, did indeed conclude with copious sobbing and self-recrimination?

No! It’s because today’s so-called business executives and venture capitalists are accustomed to commonplace ideas, warily eyeing any new concept or monkey show with great suspicion, much like the Aztecs could not conceive of using an inflated ball for their soccer matches when a human head clearly worked so well. But while I have enjoyed nothing even remotely resembling success, personal vindication or a simple patronizing pat on the back, perhaps the following pointers will help you sell your million-dollar idea. After all, you probably possess far more charisma, not to mention the ability to conclude a meeting with potential investors without shouting such retorts as, “Well, how about I shove the proposal up your ass sideways?! Will that get my point across?!”

• Think about your audience: Do they appreciate directness? Do they respond well to threats? Have they committed any particularly egregious act, perhaps on film, that could be used as a persuasive tool? Business is all about people. The more you know your audience, the more likely you will have them all nodding nervously in agreement.

• Identify the underlying message you wish to get across: All too often good ideas are lost in a sea of pointless asides, needless charts and nonessential yet oddly mesmerizing stammering fits. Know precisely what it is you are ultimately trying to communicate to your audience, such as “I want to be loved,” “Please someone give me approval” and “I’m scared and could really use a hug.”

• Mention a common experience that proves your point: Stand-up comics call this the “You ever notice?” gambit, as in “You ever notice how this company has been flushed down the crapper more times than dead goldfish? You ever notice how many of the bottom-feeding, ass-dragging, chromosome-dangling retards responsible for tossing it down the toilet are in this room right now? Well let’s do something about that…and them.”

And should all else fail, it never hurts to open with a joke, like “This company is a joke.” You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll earn the attention of everyone in the room.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Short Story about a Long Time Ago

October: At 6 a.m. my wife rolled over in bed and asked, "Are you happy?" By nine that morning our marriage was over. By noon I was lying alone, my echoing sobs having quieted to a low, plaintive wail (with a temporary spike in howling hysteria after calling my folks for emotional support only to hear my dad say to my mom, "I knew their marriage was in trouble! You owe me $20!").

More than anything I wanted to run screaming out of the bedroom, out of the apartment, out of the building until my lungs collapsed and I awoke face down in a new town with a new identity and a new lease on both my life and a sporadically profitable independent film theater. But I couldn't move for two good reasons: 1) I saw no reason why I should get out of bed, ever, and 2) Thanks to a recently renewed rental agreement I was contractually unable to move for the next eight months.

So I remained in the bed we bought with our wedding money, staring blankly at our first apartment as husband and wife. (I thought "first" because I could not yet comprehend the words "last" or "only." As for "our" I couldn't conceive of any other possessive pronoun.) Emotionally crippled but just mentally active to do myself further harm, I tried to imagine how the apartment would look without certain furniture, without her clothes, without everything just as it was for the past five years. I tried and tried but could only see the world as it always had been and felt always should be.

I couldn’t let go of the past. I couldn’t face my future. Legally I couldn’t move on. At that very moment eight months seemed impossible, not because of the length of time but because of what awaited me at the end of that time. In eight months everything in the apartment would be crated, stored, taken or gone. Every sign that I was married would be physically erased. Everything that I considered integral to my life would officially be over. And so at that very moment I came up with a plan so simple, so perfect, that I smiled for the first time in 13 hours.

I would stop time.

November: Time is an unusual construct in that it's both objective and subjective. Tuesday will always follow Monday but for some the hours in between will fly like seconds while to others the seconds will seem to drag for days. So although to friends and family a full month had passed since my wife left, inside my apartment it was still a few minutes before 6 a.m. that October morning.

Thanks to very precise depictions of such geographical locations as the bedroom, kitchen and living room--and the careful mounting of such specimens as photographs, shared purchases and unsorted CDs--the apartment had become a highly detailed diorama of a happily married couple. Yes, with absolutely no effort on my part save for increasing OCD and fending off requests from my ex to pick up her belongings, I’d transformed the place into a comprehensive museum exhibit of a personal epoch. Every dusty shelf, every unwashed fork, every mildewed tile now served as an artifact of a better, brighter time.

Each morning I would wake up and look over a completely controlled environment, secure in the belief that nothing had really changed. Sure, my wife had left but that was only temporary. After all, almost all of her clothes were still here. Her art supplies were still in their cabinets, waiting to be used. The shelves we built together were still standing, holding our books. When she was ready she could come back and we could resume our life as if not a second had passed. As long as I didn't bother her she would return. So happy was I in this very notion that I lied on my couch with a big smile...and stayed there for the next three days.

December: It had been almost two full months since I had left my controlled habitat on my own volition or for longer than a few minutes. All my food purchases were made online through Fresh Direct. All communication was made through texts, emails and social networking sites. Nothing in the apartment had been altered. Even the clock on the wall had stopped. I had become a 21st century Miss Havisham but with a higher probability of prostate cancer and a minor mental breakdown away from renaming my cat "Estrella" and raising her to break the hearts of all future suitors.

With Christmas fast approaching--and knowing how much the holidays mean to me--my ex offered to come over and help me put up our tree. I declined, knowing that any decorating would disturb the purity of the space; any attempt to meet her would scare her off. Plus, I feared she would take the opportunity to grab a few of her things, which in my head was akin to swiping the "Madonna Litta" from the Hermitage. Still, I missed the idea of companionship, the one element of my marriage I was was so far unable to recapture in the apartment.

Fortunately--by which I mean in the most selfish definition of the word--it was during this time that my best friend's own relationship had collapsed and he was looking for a place to stay. Unlike me, he saw the parting with his girlfriend as a chance for to renew his life and an opportunity for the both of us to meet new people. But since I was thoroughly incapable of leaving my comfort zone--or exiting through the front door--he opted instead to bring the world to me. Soon the place was teeming with strangers and while I not so secretly feared they would inadvertently nudge a chair out of place or use a cup that was no longer meant to be touched, I was happy to be around others again. Of course, by "be around" I mean hide in my bedroom while my new roommate entertained. But I felt I had finally found that perfect balance between control and comfort. My stuffy museum had transformed into a lively gallery, where you couldn't touch the paintings but everyone could enjoy the wine and cheese, and that made me smile.

January: While my friend engaged in an endless series of erotic Tetris configurations with various women on the small couch he now called his bedroom, I actually met someone new. Or, to put it more precisely, someone met me. Unable to venture outside without waking up with a start to find I had been circling the same block for two hours much to the amusement and then alarm of the corner fruit stand guy, all my human contact was conducted online. However, I was doing even that so tentatively that it took me a week before I noticed a woman I'd never met had sent me a MySpace message.

We soon exchanged a quick volley of honest and humorous messages, through which we learned two important facts: 1) We shared a peculiar fascination with the movie Roadhouse and 2) We shared a romantic link in that she had slept with the man my ex was now dating. Believing these such to a matter of instant kismet--and that my dating someone shortly after my wife left an insignificant detail--I asked her out on a date (one of my first prolonged periods out of the apartment in months). Our first night ended back in my old bedroom while my friend entertained what sounded like a mariachi band and half the NYU female freshman class in my living room.

We saw each again shortly after that. Then again. Then again, until due to the lengthy subway ride from her place in Brooklyn to mine in Manhattan she had more or less moved in with me. And so without leaving my place, without changing a thing, I had secured friendship and a relationship. It was as if my museum had become a gallery only to be altered slightly once more into a live historic recreation. And so I looked around the apartment with a smile, thinking, "I feel at peace. I see possibilities...I smell smoke."

Then I turned around to find my halogen lamp had burst into flames and was now burning like an Olympic torch.

February: Over the next few weeks, appliances broke down with alarming regularity. The TV speakers grew fainter and fainter until my friend was forced to provide his own detonation noises while playing Gears of War on Xbox 360. The freezer and the refrigerator alternated days of operation, leaving me to wonder if we'd be dining on melted ice cream or liquid butter that night. And the bathtub began to leak, causing my downstairs neighbor to make repeated visits to explain how the excess water was damaging both her kitchen and her cancer recovery.

Meanwhile, my ex's requests to come get her things understandably took on a more insistent if not demanding tone. At the same time, my new girlfriend understandably began hinting, then suggesting, then requiring I start getting my wife's stuff out of my apartment. She said she was growing tired of living in a pop-up photobook equivalent of my previous relationship. I said that was nonsense as I pushed aside a bridal gown in the closet to get a sweater. She said I acted as if every item from my past had been affixed to its current place with a golden spike from God. I said the long-dried roses from my wedding ceremony still resting prominently on a shelf were but a whimsical interior decorating choice and should not be ascribed any deeper meaning. And so we argued more and more as my friend sat on the couch, making armor-piercing noises while playing Halo 2, and I smiled so tightly my skin snapped when a kitchen cabinet door fell straight into a pile of dirty dishes.

March: In just a few short months I had gone from feeling like I had absolutely no one in my life to feeling like I had far too many people in my living room. My friend and my girlfriend were now at each other's throats for reasons both territorial and claustrophobic. My ex just started showing up unannounced with her new boyfriend and several empty boxes after repeated calls to collect her things had gone unanswered (for fear my talking to her would only annoy her). And my downstairs neighbor was making repeated visits to complain how the level of noise from the sheer number of people in my apartment was preventing her cancer recovery.

I spent less and less time in the apartment now, going for long walks that still let me see the same corner fruit stand guy several times in the period of an hour. Each time I would pass my building and look up at my window two thoughts would pop in my head: 1) I can't go back in there and 2) I can never leave there.

April: By now not only had I lost almost complete control of my apartment, but also any hold on time itself. Despite all my plans--despite my sheer will--six months had still managed to pass somehow, taking everything with it.

Just as quickly as they had entered my life, everyone had left. Tired of arguing with me and having to live in my ex's shadow, my girlfriend moved to her own place in search of enough space for our relationship to work. Tired of arguing with my girlfriend and having to supply sound effects for Quake 4, my friend moved in with another buddy in search of surround-sound. Tired of me, my ex removed everything of hers from the apartment in search of closure. And just tired, my downstairs neighbor moved to have me evicted from the building, filing a complaint stating that my actions were having a severely detrimental effect on her cancer recovery.

And so I lied awake in the bed, staring blankly at a now almost empty apartment. More than anything I wanted to walk out of the bedroom, out of the apartment, out of the building and keep walking until I awoke somewhere new. But I couldn't move for two good reasons: 1) I hadn't started looking for a new apartment and 2) I hadn't packed yet.

May: Space is an unusual construct in that no matter how small your apartment is it never takes less than 1400 boxes to pack it. Every day I'd go out looking for a new place to live. Every night I'd come to an increasingly empty apartment with more and more boxes, tape and paper plates (having mistakenly packed my dishes and utensils in the very first box I sealed). This continued until all that was left was an Aero mattress and an air conditioning unit that would eventually fall out the window into an empty alleyway.

On my last day I went downstairs to drop off my keys when I bumped into my neighbor. It was the first time I'd seen her since she failed to get me evicted.

"I told you I'd get you kicked out of the building," she said.
"Actually, I'm leaving on my own accord."
"You shouldn't have tried to fight me," she replied, ignoring what I had just said. "People take cancer very seriously."
"Listen, I apologize if this is rude but, well, what kind of cancer is it?"
"There was a mole on my shoulder," she said. "I had it removed six years ago."
"And I've been recovering from cancer ever since."
I looked at her for a few seconds before leaving my keys with the doorman and walking out the building.

June: At 5 a.m. I woke up in bed to find the morning light casting a heavenly glow on mounds of collapsed cardboard and popped bubble wrap. The first items packed, my dishes were also the last items unpacked--thanks to a hurried box labeling system that differentiated "stuff" from "things"--causing me to continue eating off of paper plates for an unseemly length of time until my parents came by and took me out to dinner.

Sometimes while unpacking I'd look around my new home, imagining where the Klippan, Expedit, Benno and various other IKEA furniture would go, and I'd smile. It's considerably smaller than my old place but it comes with a private /backyard, just perfect for parties (and on the ground floor, so as not to disturb neighbors). Sometimes I just sit outside with a book or laptop and lose all concept of time.

Most things remain in storage to this day, complete with a small box containing my wedding DVD, some photos and a few party favors from the reception. Maybe one day I'll reopen it. Maybe not. It's nice to hold on to, but it feels even better to let go.

Scenes Cut from Last Night's "Lost" Finale

Hi-jinks and shenanigans are afoot when guest stars The Harlem Globetrotters wash ashore.

John Locke further unnerves his fellow survivors with his continuous, spot-on impersonation of Dame Edna.

Jack gets a rare opportunity to show just how little he knows about thoracic surgery.

The remaining survivors divide into two warring tribes—“Greasers” and “Socs.”

“Driveshaft” proves to be Charlie’s unofficial band nickname for “The Wiggles.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Reading Comprehension Quiz

The following is a reading comprehension quiz of an actual newspaper article that ran in Oklahoma's Tuttle Times. Please read the article carefully and then answer the corresponding questions. You may begin now.

Argument Ends with Pickup in Pond
A fight about gambling started a married couple down a path that would end with their pickup being driven into Tuttle Pond.

According to Tuttle police reports, the incident began when Eddie Pauley, 24, and Patricia Pauley, 22, of Oklahoma City, visited some friends in Tuttle on Saturday. Both of the Pauleys told police that they had been doing “beer bongs” at their friends' home, and Eddie passed out in their truck, a 2000 black Chevrolet Silverado. When he awoke, his wife was driving to the casino in Newcastle. Eddie told police that he was angry that his wife was going to gamble, so he took over and started back towards their friends' home on South Frisco.

The report says that about six and a half miles east of downtown Tuttle, Patricia became angry and began hitting Eddie and kicking the steering wheel. Eddie lost control and drove into a mini storage facility. When employees there approached the Pauleys, Eddie got into the back of the pickup and Patricia got behind the wheel.

Patricia then drove out onto Hwy. 37 without yielding, immediately striking two vehicles. Eddie Pauley told police that at that point, he was thrown out of the truck bed, only to wake up in someone’s yard. He left, returning on foot to his friends' house on Frisco Road.

Patricia, still believing Eddie was in the back of the pickup, turned the pickup around and started back south on Highway 37. According to the police report, Patricia said that she does not remember anything after the turn, but witnesses at the scene saw her jump out of the truck at about 30 mph. Unmanned, the pickup crossed Hwy. 37, went through a fence, across several lawns and drove into a pond until it completely submerged under water.

Upon arriving on the scene, officers observed that Patricia appeared to be "very intoxicated," according to the reports. "I could smell a very strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on her breath and person," said Sgt. Jason Lanier in his report. At that point Patricia walked out onto Hwy. 37 and began to take off her clothes. She was then placed in the back of the patrol unit where, according to officers, she urinated.

Patricia told the officers that her husband was still under the water, but when Sgt. Lanier told her witnesses had seen her husband leaving the scene on foot, she threatened to sue and shouted obscenities. Lanier wrote in his report that when he asked Patricia for a description of her husband, she told him she didn't remember what he looked like, but his shirt was white.

Tuttle police officers searched for Eddie Pauley, who was seen by witnesses screaming and running south on Sara Road and in a creek in the 5500 block of Hwy. 37 for more than an hour, but did not find him.

And now, the quiz...

1. According to Patricia Pauley, what is her husband Eddie’s most salient feature?
a. His infectious laugh.
b. His way with rebuses, anagrams and puzzles of all manners and delights.
c. Hanes undershirt, medium.

2. Why did Patricia take off her clothes on the highway?
a. She thought she was at work.
b. She thought she was babysitting.
c. She thought she was on a highway.

3. When Eddie woke up on the yard, what was his first thought?
a. “You know what this place could use? A koi pond.”
b. “Shouldn’t the rock group ‘Foreigner’ have been deported by now?”
c. “What that flirty waitress at Denny's lacked in looks she more than made up for in ass.”

4. Why did Patricia Pauley tuck and roll out of a moving vehicle and let it sink into a pond if she believed a loved one was still inside?
a. Because no one gets between a lady and the Baccarat capital of the world that is Newcastle, Oklahoma.
b. Because no one gets between a wife and her $48 in accidental death insurance.
c. Because she was going to say a black guy did it.

5. What song did the Pauleys probably first dance to as husband and wife?
a. “Strokin'”
b. “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”
c. “Strokin'” vs. “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”—The Mash-up

6. How do the Pauleys probably conclude their annual Christmas newsletter?
a. “If it bleeds it breeds, Love Pat & Eddie”
b. “What the twisters didn’t kill the floods drowned, Sincerely the Pauleys”
c. “Oh God, I shot myself. XOXO.”

7. How would the Pauleys define the difference between Iran and Iraq?
a. “One is real.”
b. “Iranians are Muslims. Iraqians are Islams.”
c. “Support our troops.”

8. What would the Pauleys do if they won the lottery?
a. Set up diverse investment portfolio with half the winnings in furs and the other half in revenge.
b. Build three extra stories on garage. Purchase hovercrafts.
c. Buy local Arena Football team. Buy charging rhinos. Create new sport with one-week season.

9. What was most likely the front-page story of the Tuttle Times the day this article ran?
a. “Community College Misplaced”
b. “We Don’t Understand Today’s Doonesbury”
c. “Dog Has No Idea He’s Best in Show”

10. Patricia leaves the methadone clinic without her pants at 2:45 P.M., traveling on her good foot in a zigzag fashion at approximately .2 miles per afternoon. Ten minutes later, Eddie—just fired from his auto detailing job for huffing and telling his Portuguese boss to “Go back to Puerto Rico with the rest of you Cubans, you wop!”—takes off in someone else’s El Camino, backwards, against traffic, at 185 mph on a cloverleaf, resulting in turns that hurl the eight unattached dogs in the back of the pickup at such speeds that the resulting sonic booms shatter the windows at the local Krispy Kreme, forcing the cancellation of the Tuttle High prom. How long will it take for the Pauley’s to arrive home just in time to see their kids being taken away by Children’s Services?
a. Patricia is struck dead by a flung schnauzer.
b. Eddie dies in traffic, realizing too late that while Flinstones Chewables do indeed have many curative properties, one of them isn’t “Fights Leukemia.”
c. The Pauleys accidentally reunite in Tuttle 25 years later, separated only by time, conflicting emotions and a submerged 2000 black Chevrolet Silverado resting between them.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where Will Lindsay Lohan's Body Be Found a Year from Now?

Blocking industrial waste run-off pipe

Starring dead-eyed up at nine first-year medical students in Antigua

Serving as load-bearing beam for yurt

Assisting in buoyancy for gruesome reenactment of Kon-Tiki expedition

Making numerous pratfalls in gender re-imagining of Weekend at Bernie's

Scaring crows from tasty corn

Pressed tightly against crack under closed door to prevent further heat from escaping

Partially reanimated to wave arms frantically over head, attracting potential customers to new car lot

Repeatedly drowning and resurfacing in Old Williamsburg water mill

Helping her mom use the HOV lane during rush hour

Heavy Mental

Recently I overheard the following exchange in a restaurant:

Woman: The brain is an amazing thing!
Man: I know! What with those neurons and all!

And you know what? The brain IS an amazing thing! But like all...uh...things, the brain needs to be regularly attended to if it's to remain in tip-top shape. That's why recently I've become fascinated with brian brain teasers as a means of sharpening my wits. Take this mental poser for example:

"A couple is brutally murdered in their car. We are talking horribly, gruesomely butchered here. Chest cavities ripped wide open. Heads lopped off with a jigsaw. Eyeballs plus optic nerves hanging from the rearview mirror like so many graduation tassels. Limbs severed and rearranged to spell out 'Ha Ha.' Just really, really sick stuff. But, oddly enough, there's no sign of forced entry. The doors are all still locked from the inside. The windows aren't smashed. The trunk not touched. Nothing. So how did the killer do it?"

The solution, it turns out, is "The couple was sitting in a convertible.” Unfortunately I was torn between “Something to do with the glove compartment” and “I thought jigsaw was some kind of puzzle.”

Clearly I have a long way to go to make the most of my brain-like thingy.

My New Official Bio Blurb for all Publications, Websites and--if Rewritten in the Past Tense--Obituaries

Once called “a sexy bastard” by his grandmother, Francesco Marciuliano has always felt ill at ease around other people. Shy to the point of reclusive, awkward to the point of ridicule, inarticulate to the point of, uh, whatever, Francesco finds solace only through his relentless public speaking engagements. A lover, a fighter, a candlestick maker, Francesco would kill to be any of these things.

"Francesco Explains It All" Mission Statement

Founded in 2007, Francesco Explains It All is one of the world's countless providers of services to both the public and communal sectors. Here at Francesco Explains It All we are all leaders in our area of responsibility, with a deep commitment to deliver leadership results that befit our obligations. We have a clear vision of where we are going and yet still maintain a positive, productive attitude. We are honest and straightforward with each other and therefore prone to internal conflict. We once had a vending machine. We yearn for success but settle for “lessons.” We huddle for warmth. We hear things, like a bear clawing at our office door, and steady ourselves for yet another attack. We miss our families. We are not certain of our current location. We think we may be near a river or burst sewer pipe. We are very hungry. We provide daily blog posts. We can’t stop sobbing. We lost another to the bear.

How to Celebrate the Summer Indoors, in Your Cubicle, in Complete Denial

• Introduce “two-piece” business casual.

• Install a Slip ‘n Slide on the escalator.

• Periodically run up and down the office hallway, screaming “Ice cream man! Ice cream man!”

• Replace office chairs with patio furniture, the copier with a Weber grill and your supervisor with a Slurpee machine.

• Forgo business cards in favor of carefully marked water balloons.

• Find out which employee has a pool. Show up at his house each morning, en masse, in swim trunks, for “meetings.”

• Gather together a couple of your buddies and go “cruising” around the office in the mail cart.

• Instead of “hello” say “aloha,” instead of “goodbye” say “surf’s up” and instead of “the finished presentation is on your desk” say “God, I so fucking wish I were in Hawaii right now.”

• Introduce “Summer Concert” conference calls (bring guitar).

• Bring the outdoors inside. Release a swarm of cicadas on the senior manager’s floor.

• Refer to the summer intern as “cabana boy.”

• Relive the innocent joys of your childhood summers. Spend the majority of your afternoons sneaking cheap beer.

• Rename the conference room “the summer carnival,” the hallway “the boardwalk” and your cubicle “the nude beach.”

• At 8, drink your coffee out of pineapple shell. At 12, eat your lunch out of a picnic basket. At 3, ask a coworker to apply a generous layer of tanning oil on your back and hindquarters.

• Set off the sprinkler system—set off some fireworks.

• Introduce “Half-Price Margarita” PowerPoint presentations.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Determine Which Career Is Best for You

That’s easy. You’re going into marketing. Everybody goes into marketing. Even people who claim to implant artificial hearts or extract live landmines are in fact presently sitting in a conference room named after a letter or compass point, trying to determine if they can promote something as a fruit juice even though technically it’s not a liquid.

But why does everybody go into marketing? Because anybody can go into marketing, minus babies, the dead and certain types of waterfowl. Marketing is the universal “gimme.” It’s the career safety net for those of us who keep falling. It’s the professional “Get Out of Jail Free” card for anyone who has a tendency to accidentally lock him or herself in a prison cell. It’s the job opportunity God Himself bequeathed us when he looked down at mankind and realized it took us four centuries to create fire in something other than our cupped hands. (In fact, Catholic doctrine holds that every human being is born with two things—original sin and a lead in advertising.)

Marketing also offers many, many employment opportunities. Copywriter. Graphic Illustrator. Guy Who Sits between Copywriter and Graphic Illustrator. Not to mention all the people who have to look after those people! Managers. Senior managers. Vice Presidential Senior Managers! Marketing is like a glorious pyramid scheme that can never, ever fail because there will always be more people willing to sign on. Of course, the downside to going into marketing is that from then on you won’t be able to show your face at a high school, college or family reunion again.

But what if you really, truly do no want to go into marketing? Well, entering the job market gives you a chance to learn some hard truths. And one of those truths is that it’s almost never about what you want to do. It’s about what you’re doomed to do. (A philosophical doctrine Calvinists despondently referred to as “Oh Well.”) Think of it like the sorting hat in Hogwarts, but instead of discovering if you possess the bravery, loyalty, intelligence or cunning necessary for a particular house you learn if you have what it takes to man either the register of the grill.

That’s what the job search is all about—sorting through your skills and matching them with the most suitable career opportunity available. In other words, combine Michelangelo with “interior design” and you get the Sistine Chapel. Combine Michelangelo with “day care” and you get several irate parents wondering why someone is exposing their three-year-olds to nudie drawings.

To underscore this I tried to devise a precise formula showing how professional success is dependent upon corresponding talents. Alas, I proved to possess not even the slightest talent necessary for making simple, cogent arguments for a reading public. So instead I quickly cobbled together the following example:

Why Cats Are Not Employed As Doctors
• Valuable minutes lost in surgery as doctor furiously paws at nearby fly.
• While informing patient's family of their loss, doctor suddenly loses interest and walks off.
• In bid to become chief surgeon, doctor scent-marks entire hospital.
• Doctor refuses to respond to own name during code blue.
• Staff grows increasingly alarmed as doctor runs up and down hallway for no apparent reason.
• Sensing colleagues' growing dissatisfaction with his work, doctor curls up against a radiator and goes to sleep.
• Doctor raises hackles and bares teeth whenever new interns are introduced.
• Doctor loses medical license after licking self, instruments clean.

So what have we learned? That cats are best employed in service industries? Certainly. But more importantly, always listen for meows when entering a hospital. The life you save may very well be your own.

Seeking Inspiration, Finding the Day Has Passed

Before I launch into another blog post about the travails and triumphs of being an artist/writer/performer some of you might be asking, “Who the hell is this guy and why on earth should I give a damn what he has to say about making art?” To which I can only reply, “Who am I? Who am I?! I just happen to be the Vanderbilt Elementary School Fire Safety Poster Award-Winner for both 1976 and 1977, so step the fuck off!”

Okay, now that we got that unpleasantness out of the way, let's begin...

Step One: It’s 4 P.M. Get Out of Bed.
While I cannot speak for all artists, I can saw with complete certainty that being a cartoonist can be a lonely, dispiriting, depressing enterprise teaming with self-doubt, self-loathing and self-employment. To combat such demons some of us turn to God. Others turn to drink. Absolutely none of us, however, turn to sex, given that the average cartoonist makes a Dick Tracy villain look like Clive Owens by comparison. And such a self-realization can be far to harsh for one soul to take. You see, we cartoonists are not a handsome lot. And lord knows few of us can earn a living wage practicing our art. Now true, we do possess hours upon hours of free time within which to masturbate recall or create mental images in the privacy of our bathrooms, but that hardly makes up for not meeting new people or being unable to afford ADA-approved toothpaste. But why is the actual act of writing a comic strip so depressing? Because when you get right down to it it’s just you and your thoughts, and there’s nothing like being left alone with your thoughts to realize that the last creative idea you had was way back in 1978 when at age 11 you decided to make an independent film that you conservatively budgeted at $123,000.

Step Two: It’s 5 P.M. Get Out of Bed.
By now you’ve spent over an hour staring at the ceiling of your apartment (or, if you’re the typical cartoonist, staring at the encrusted flypaper hanging over your pestilential cot at the YMCA) with nary a comic strip idea coming to mind. But just because you can’t think of a single idea doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. You just have to look outside of yourself for inspiration, mostly to your laptop. After a few minutes of net surfing you’ll soon come across something like this, an actual Austrian McDonalds’s ad circa 2002:

Soon the mind starts reeling with potential knee-slapping yet though-provoking concepts. “I know! I’ll do a satire of McDonald’s marketing strategies!” you exclaim to your cat, marveling at your ability to connect the idea of “advertising” to an ad you just saw. But then you recall that most major corporations are not known for their sense of humor or litigious restraint. So you say, “I know! I’ll do a comic strip laying bare how a culture of fast food has hastened heart disease, childhood obesity and startlingly poor labor practices!” But then you realize that’s the sort of idea that requires additional research. And that few hilarious jokes can be credited to the spirit of Upton Sinclair. And that writing such a gag will only make you regret having your fourth Enormous Omelet Sandwich in as many hours. So you say, “I know! I’ll do a joke about sesame-seeded breasts!” But by then you realize your cat is shaking his head in disgust.

Step Three: Seriously, You’re Going to Get Bed Sores.

After spending the last four hours in bed trying to work all the humor angles of a picture that you’ve come to realize isn’t so much “funny” as “creepy,” it’s no surprise that you would start having doubts about your aptitude for humor writing. Or your willingness to move, bathe or interact with society ever again. It’s a dark, enervating period that can perhaps best be summed up by the following little-known poem from the great Emily Dickinson:

Oh Christ, It’s Already Midnight
Oh Christ, it’s already midnight

And I mourn the cessation

Of another day of watching

“Degrassi: The Next Generation”

But just as you’re about to shut your eyes, just as you’re about to forfeit all hope, just as you’re about to decide to give up the comic strip game once and for all and take that job selling Christmas ornaments year-round at “Santa Village and Above-Ground Pool Store,” an idea slowly forms in your mind. An idea so uproarious, an idea so unprecedented, an idea so remarkably insightful that in a drowsy daze you quickly commit it to paper before you pass into sweet, sweet slumber. An idea that, in the light of morning, reads “Make sure to write down an idea.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Conversation with Far More Manlier Men than Me

Big Delivery Man: Got your new fridge here.

Me: Oh great! Thank you!

Bigger Delivery Man: By the way, this one holds a lot more beer.

Me: Oh, right....Wow...Beer!...Yes, more beer! That's great because...because that means, well, more beer...And, y'know, like the saying goes, bros I right?...Wait, am I right?...Anyway, high-five!...High-five!...C'mon, guys, don't leave me hanging!...Please don't leave me hanging...Please don't leave me...Y'know, if I leave my hand up like this long enough it looks like I'm hailing a cab...or saluting a German officer which...which is not good at all...Listen, I'm just going to put my hand down, go over to that corner and sob gently because, well, that wouldn't faze anyone at this point now anyway, would it?...Going to go cry now...Good news about the more beer, though...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Now with Freezer: The Grand Victory of a Tiny Triumph

Back in college I was so painfully shy I was unable to order pizza over the phone, not only denying myself almost 95% of my collegiate nutrients but also leaving me to depend on the help of friends or the likelihood a large with pepperoni would be delivered to my room by mistake.

This, however, was a step up from high school, when I both averted my gaze any time my name was called in class (resulting in several minutes of "Francesco?...Francesco?...I can see you, Francesco...Francesco!...Scott?") and managed to avoid using the bathroom six hours a day for three straight years for fear of bullies or social contact.

And somehow even this was a grand leap from elementary school, when I was so scared to ask for permission to go to the bathroom that I simply thought it easier to pee at my own desk. (The fact that I still wound up on the "Honors" track instead of the "Food Industry" or "Monitored by Scientists" track confounds me to this day.)

To put it lightly, speaking up has never been a strong suit of mine. This fear has followed me well into adulthood, causing no end of delays in professional advancements, personal achievements or even tasting a Starbucks Holiday Latte (which ultimately proved a remarkable letdown to say the least). It has also led me to continue living for years with an inoperative oven, two dead burners, a closet door that does not close and, worst of all, an ancient, malfunctioning refrigerator...

...complete with an equally defective icebox.

While living with what increasingly feels like a prop from The Honeymooners--and having to defrost every 36 hours--certainly has had its quaint charms, I began to long for an appliance that allowed me to keep dairy products over the course of a full afternoon or did not require eight pounds of salt and the torch from Fahrenheit 451 every time I wanted access to a Fla-Vor-Ice.

Thus, when it came time to renew my lease--an act I do year after year despite my ramshackle existence solely because it allows me to utter the phrase "private backyard" (which in New York City is the equivalent of saying, "Would you care to see my griffin?")--a wholly unique thought popped in my head. "What if," I wildly pondered, "I asked for a new fridge...or at least a fridge from this decade...or at least a fridge with working door hinges...or at least a fridge with shelving that does not consist of cardboard featuring cereal mascots...or at least a fridge that does require it's own coal shoveler...or..." It was at this point I cut off my train of thought, for fear I would call up my landlord requesting they replace my refrigerator with a burlap sack resting atop an ice floe.

So after several days of pumping myself with courage--and then having to rest an additional two days after discovering my body can only handle mild pluck, not outright valor or even middling grit--I called my landlord and announced with my boldest squeak, "I would like a new fridge." To which they immediately responded, "No. You already got a new fridge in 2008."

Admittedly, I was not prepared for this response, if only because the very same fridge was in my apartment when I assumed the lease back in 2007. When I mentioned this over the phone--much to my own great surprise--I was informed that I was wrong, that my refrigerator is practically brand new and that it was still under warranty with its seller, P.C. Richards. When I asked if they could send someone over from P.C. Richards to check my two-year-old fridge that was at least three-years-old, my landlord said with not a little annoyance that since it was under warranty it was my responsibility, not theirs, to have it repaired. Then they hung up.

For someone who considers talking on the phone a Herculean effort--and requesting anything a Satanic exercise--this was perhaps the worst outcome I could have imagined. It was as if I had finally worked up the courage to ask a woman out only for her to say, "I'm sorry, I only date men." Ashamed, ashen-face and almost certain I would never be able to keep cheese, I then did what I thought was my only viable course of action--do what a stranger had told me to do and call P.C. Richards for repairs.

Working under the theory that due to the warranty calling P.C. Richards was not so much bothering them with a favor as fulfilling a contractual obligation they themselves had put into motion, I dialed the number my landlord had barked at me and told the store my situation. The store asked for the refrigerator's identification number. The store then said they had no such refrigerator on record. The store then asked me to locate the refrigerator's manufacturing date. The store then asked me to read said manufacturing date aloud.

"March 1997."

And so I was embarrassed for the second time in under 15 minutes. Embarrassed that I had bothered an appliance store (though I'm quite certain my chagrin could easily lend itself to any number of retail outfits). Embarrassed that I had not thought to look up the manufacturing date myself. And embarrassed that I had let myself be so easily convinved I was in the wrong from the very beginning.

But something else had happened. In addition to being embarrassed I was also quite enraged. And it was because of this newfound anger that I was able to skip completely over my "Six Stages of Grief over Having to Call a Stranger" (Stage 1: Fear; Stage 2: Panic; Stage 3: Horror; Stage 4: Outright dread; Stage 5: Put off call for eight months; Stage 6: Aneurysm) and immediately call back my landlord.

"Hel...Hello, this...this is Francesco. We spoke earlier...No, no, I know...I know....I know...I'm sorry...I'm sorry, but...but...I called P.C. Richards and they have no record of my refrigerator. In fact, I found out...I know...I'm sorry....I found out that my fridge was manufactured in 1997, and so could never have been delivered in 2008."

Then there was silence, followed by a hushed but hot-tempered exchange in Hindi on the other end of the line and then eventually the following response.

"You must have read the manufacturing date wrong."

Now, I admit that I have never had a facility for foreign languages, but I am quite confident that I have a firm, white-knuckled grip on Arabic numerals. Had the refrigerator been built in Japan and the manufacturing date been written in Kanji, then yes, I would have readily admitted that I could not say with any certainty whether I was reading a year or perhaps the name of a Kanto prefecture. But this was patently ridiculous. And it was at this very ludicrous moment that I realized my landlord and I had accomplished something previously thought physically impossible or only the commodity of feverish science fiction--we were actually communicating across two alternate realities.

In my reality I had a 13-year-old fridge that made such a horrible grinding noise it sounded as if I was milling granite in my kitchen. In my landlord's reality I had a brand new fridge featuring such technological advances as a relentless icebox that could store a single ice tray or King Cone and a vegetable crisper sans drawer, resulting in more of a tomato cubbyhole.

Now, there comes a time when a small child is arguing with his or her parent that the kid will say something so unbelievably stupid in their own defense that even they will be startled by the boldness of their doltishness (ex: "Bunnies WOULD make good pilots!"). This is known as "the point of no return" in a verbal quarrel, the point at which one person is so desperate for a victory that they are no longer concerned about being right but simply about not having to admit that they are wrong. It was this very point that my landlord had reached. So desperate was he to not be made a fool--as well not to have to cough up $600--he fearlessly tried to undermine the very linear nature of time itself. And it was at this very point that I miraculously found my voice, my confidence and my very right to express my needs.

And so I said--not muttered--in a calm yet courageous tone, "Get me a new fridge today."

It's been a few days since that series of increasingly insipid conversations, a period of time punctuated with Fla-Vor-Ices retrieved from my brand new refrigerator with actual freezer. And while the preceding story may seem a small series of inconsequential events to you, dear reader, please know that to me it means if not a grand victory in personal development (at the tender age of 42) then at least a tiny triumph in being able to store and eat leftover pizza I order all by myself.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Toast to Two Friends


People…People…May I have your attention, please…People…I promise this won’t take long…Please?…Now…now I know it’s getting late and we’ve already heard some, well just some incredible toasts tonight. But I would feel negligent if I didn’t take this opportunity to say just how…how overjoyed I am for both George and Talia. To all of you they made an absolutely radiant bride and groom. But to me, they make up a great part of my life, both in quantity as well as quality.

As many of our fellow employees here tonight might remember, George and I joined Landmark Financial the very same year, through the bank’s internship program. Boy, we were inseparable back then. Am I right, George, or am I right? I tell you, there wasn’t a person in the office who didn’t at least once say, “There go George and his friend again.” Oh, the stories I could tell. But I won’t! I won’t! These lips, sealed, my friend! Ziploc sealed!

(Jake laughs)

Let’s just say, we had an amazing, amazing time together at Landmark. And soon George was making some amazing strides of his own up the fabled corporate ladder. No surprises there, of course! After all, you all know George. When he has a goal in mind, there is nothing or no one that can hope to prevent him from achieving it. Small wonder in short time he was made Senior Director of International Exchanges. And because George and I started out at the company together, I always felt I somehow shared in his success…No more so than when I was made his personal assistant. Once again it was “George and his friend,” working side-by-side, just like the good old days. George networking on the golf course, me working behind the scenes, making sure there was always someone there to pick him up. But George didn’t rest on his laurels. Not even then. He always had the next goal in mind, the next conquest. George is always striving to better himself. To better his life.

Which of course brings us to his Talia. Remarkable, resplendent Talia. Brilliant girl. Beautiful woman. My ex-wife. In Talia, George found everything a person could ever want, could ever hope for, could ever dream about but fears deep down in their soul is just far too grand for one to hold in their little, little hands. Why, just looking at her right now, wrapped in white, George’s arm wrapped around her…She seems less like one of us and more like some luminous, celestial being who didn’t fall to earth so much as lift another to her heavens. That’s Talia.

Ask anyone from Landmark and they’ll tell you, Talia…sweet Talia…The moment you and George locked eyes…then eventually lips…back when you and I attended my company’s picnic a few years ago, everyone immediately knew you two were meant to be. Everyone, that is, except “head-in-the clouds Jake,” of course! Not a clue in this ol’ noggin, I can tell you that!

(Jake laughs)

Ahhhhh, not a clue. As Talia’s sister always used to say, I was probably once again lost in thoughts no would pay a penny for. Actually, I think I was at the drinks table. You know how it is. First you’re pouring yourself a glass a wine. Then someone else asks you to pour them a glass of red. Then another person asks for two glasses of white and before you know it it’s an hour later and you’re making what Janeane in marketing still refers to as “the worst fucking martini she’s ever had.” Am I right, Janeane, or am I right?!

(Jake laughs)

Just suffice it to say that when I returned from the bar some time later I was now one glass short and two steps behind!

(Jake laughs fitfully)

Yeaaaaahhhh…But…but that was then and here we are now in this, well, palace is the only way I know how to describe it! Huge chandeliers. Marbled floors. Pricey valet parking. It’s an extraordinary place for an extraordinary occasion and I for one am very, very happy to welcome George into our little extended family.

Speaking of family, how about our little son Timothy as the ring bearer, huh? Was he something or was he something, people? I was so proud I almost cried…but as Tal was quick to say, no son wants to see his father burst into tears again, so I remained strong, right, Tim? Your ol’ man held firm, isn’t that right?! Besides, why should I cry? This is a happy day! A happy…happy day…So! Everybody! Let’s raise our glasses another time in honor of Timothy’s outstanding contribution to this magnificent event…Oh, no, no, Timmy. No champagne for…What?…Well, Tal, I just thought…Yeah, yeah, you’re right. What harm could one little sip…Wow, you…you just downed that, didn’t you, son? Well I guess it’s a real party now!

(Jake laughs heartily at own joke)

Ahhhhhhhhhh…I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Talia’s remarkable parents, Theo and Sylvia, on their daughter’s good fortune. Theo. Sylvia. You two have always—always—been nothing but…completely honest with me and I have no doubt that you will be able to open your hearts now to both George as well as to me. Although don’t think that means ol’ Theo will go easy on ya, Georgie. No siree! That proud papa has some remarkably high standards for his dazzling daughter and if you fail to meet them—well, believe me—he’ll let you know it in no uncertain terms. To this day I can still hear him say, “My daughter doesn’t marry assistants. She hires them!” Now THAT was a wedding toast, let me tell you! And Sylvia, well…Sylvia can be forthright, George, God bless her heart. Forthright indeed. And it takes a good, strong son-in-law to see the acute love behind all her startlingly blunt statements.

And let’s not forget Talia’s equally beautiful twin sister, Clarissa. You know, like most twins, Tal and Clarissa always seemed to not only read each other’s minds but also predict each other’s future. In fact, Clarissa once told me this very day would come long before Talia knew or we were even divorced. She also had quite a few predictions about where I would end up…but what’s the fun of having in-laws if you can’t tease them once in a while, am I right?! Besides, Clarissa’s been really great to me the past few months, keeping me up-to-date and in the know on all her sister’s wedding preparations, calling me up to mention the Vera Wang gown, the Bulgari jewelry…the performance by Tony Bennett. In fact, it was Clarissa herself who practically insisted I come tonight, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank her for giving me the extra little push I needed. I never, never would have wanted to miss all this.

I, uh, do regret, however, that my lovely date missed sharing this beautiful evening with all of you wonderful, wonderful people. But on the plus side, it let me enjoy both the chicken and fish dinners! Got me a little “surf ‘n turf” action going, I did! And in case no one has mentioned, guys, both meals…Delectable! Absolutely delectable! Like eating at a four-star restaurant without panicking about what to do when the bill arrives! Still, I know you would have adored my date Maura, Talia. She sort of looks like a younger version of you…so hands off, Georgie!

(Jake laughs)

In fact, Maura reminds me a lot of Talia. They both work in publishing…although Maura is a few levels higher. They both have lovely singing voices. Maura even sings twice a week at a place in the Village, which is something Tal had always hoped to do one day. She even models part-time, just like I told Tal she should have done ten years ago. And her parents are good people, Tal. Good people. You’d really like them. The father actually shakes my hand and the mother lets me eat at the same table. And they made a killing at the stock market, just like your dad Theo has been trying to do. The family likes each other. And they like me! I’ve never felt so welcomed. So warm. So at home…I only hope Maura will give me another chance…

But that’s neither here nor there. Tonight, it’s all about Tal and George. And, as many of you might know, this isn’t only a wedding party for the lucky bride and groom. It’s also, alas, a farewell party. Now, in case you’re asking yourself, “Why, whatever could that Jake mean?” let me be the first to break the big news. Last week, my good—make that great—friend George here was made C.F.O. of Landmark’s branch in Tuscany and I…I couldn’t be more pleased for the man. For both of them! Why, I remember when we were married how much Talia would talk about one day travelling to Italy…or France…or Canada…and I’m very, very delighted to hear that George was able to make that long-held wish of hers a reality. In fact, I, too, can look forward to visiting the scenic Tuscan countryside, now that I’ve been granted alternating weekend visits with Timmy. Although, costs being what they are, I probably won’t be able to get over more than once or twice every few years. But I will always send love and presents to the best, best son a father could ever have, don’t you worry about that!

Naturally, I’ll also be mailing quite a few treats to the best cocker spaniel any man could ever find, Peanut Butters. Before I met Talia…lovely Talia…back when I had just moved to this city, Peanut Butters was, well, he was my one true friend. You know, not a lot of people can say they are fortunate enough to have one true friend, am I right? But not everyone could say they had a dog like Peanut Butters! We stuck together. “PB&J” people might have called us! Yes sir, I could always count on Peanut Butters. I knew no matter how bleak things got, no matter how much the loneliness ate at me, the moment I made it up to my ninth-floor walk-up and opened that door, there would be good ol’ PB, sporting that big furry grin, drumming his tail against the floor like Keith Moon and giving me the strength to face even the darkest hours. And I know Peanut Butters will be there for my son as he was for me, helping Tim get used to his new home as the two of them run back and forth on George’s Tuscan estate, having a grand old time without a single downstairs neighbor yelling at them to quit making such a damn racket.

Of course, with George leaving, as his assistant I’ll now finally be able to pursue my own dreams outside of the company. I’m not exactly sure what those dreams are quite yet, having spent most of the last week printing resumes, cleaning out my desk and trying to extend my health insurance. But don’t any of you worry about Jake here! I’ve been networking. In fact, I handed many of you my business card during the cocktail reception, so you can bet I’ll be looking forward to some promising leads any day now, guys! Whatever bites you may get, reel them on board and I’ll let you know whether or not they’re too small to keep. In the meantime, my folks have been kind enough to let me move back home to the basement where Tal and I first lived when we got married. The place still looks the same, Tal, right down to the photos of the two of us my parents kept on the wall. I guess like George and me they can spot a good thing, too, huh? Why, just a few weeks ago…I’m still laughing about this…my, my Dad said to me, “Hey, nimrod, why not make a play for the twin now? She’s just as pretty and has a better rack!”

(Jake laughs)

Maybe…maybe you had to hear it coming from him. Although I’m sure Tal remembers the dead-on impersonation her pop would do of my ol’ Jake Sr. Theo would pretend to be my dad yelling at birds or mispronouncing “cockroach” as “cocker-roach” and then he, Sylvia and Clarissa would laugh and laugh and laugh…And that’s what truly makes a good marriage, right? The happy times. The times everyone can pull together and have fun. Because let me tell you, those times mean more than all the vacation trips, regular mortgage payments or professionally painted cars a couple could ever hope to have.

I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s all about making the best of the cards you’re dealt, people. Sometimes you only get a pair of threes. Other times you get lucky and score a pair of fives. But no matter what your cards, your money’s already in the pot and you have no choice but play your hand through. But money is something the lucky couple will never have to worry about, am I right? It’s just going to be one big adventure after another for the happy couple! In fact, Tal, if George plans to do to you tonight what he confided in me at the bachelor party, well, let’s just say you’ll not only need to get plenty of rest but also pretty darn limber if you catch my drift!

(Jake laughs)

But still, I feel I would be missing a great opportunity if—as someone who has been married—I didn’t share with the newlyweds some of the important lessons I’ve learned along the way. Think of it as a second wedding gift, George and Tal, from me to you. And unlike all the dishware or envelopes of cash you received tonight, this is one gift you can put to immediate use!

The first—and perhaps most crucial— lesson for a husband and wife just starting out is “Always be ready to compromise.” You see, a marriage is made up of two distinct people, each with their own particular hopes and ideas. Naturally, for a marriage to work one of those people is going to have to forsake their ideas, otherwise you’re going to spend the rest of your lives just butting heads and hitting walls. For instance, I remember when Talia would ask me what I wanted to do—if I had any plans for the weekend, for our finances, for the future. But I wisely stayed out of that debate, knowing full well that one voice can be heard a lot clearer than two. Besides, have we not come far enough as a society to know it’s not just the man’s position to state what he wants?! Eventually, we found our way, with Tal leading and me supporting her decisions at every step, never disagreeing or making an issue out of something we never really had to talk about. Talia and I found our groove. And so can Talia and George.

The second lesson—which is just as important, I think—is “There’s always a tunnel before the light.” You have to expect the bad with the good. You have to. Now that’s not pessimism talking! Not at all! After all, that’s not the Jake we all know, am I right?! Expecting the bad is not the same as planning for the bad…I mean, planning for the bad is not, uh,…well, the thing to remember is many couples lose their way because one or both people thought every day would be like their wedding day. The good cheer. The romantic atmosphere. The endless carving stations. But it’s not always going to be like this. I know…I know, Talia…Talia…Talia and I had some tough times those first few years. We did. Some really, really tough times. But come on, what young couple doesn’t go through a rough patch? And during those times a lot of people, some in this very room tonight, thought we wouldn’t make it. But we did! We most certainly did! Until, well, we didn’t. But as you can see, here we all are again, as one big family, celebrating another blessed union. I guess this is what my son’s DVD would call “The Circle of Life.” Am I right, Timmy?… Timmy?… Where did he go?…Hmm? …Oh, well, I don’t blame him. What kid wants to hang around some adults jabbering away in suits anyway? I know I wouldn’t! I know I…I wouldn’t want to be here…

(Pause. Jake takes out a folded piece of paper from coat)

I’d…I’d like to conclude my toast with a little poem I wrote. I, uh, I originally wrote this for Talia’s and my wedding, but it was cut for time. Still, I think it applies equally as well today as it would have then. Now, just remember, when you hear the word “I,” I’m not talking about me. I’m talking for George. After all, this is their night, and I have no intention of stealing the spotlight from them. So anyway, if you will all permit me…

(Jake coughs)

I’m Sorry
By Jake Gaudern

I’m sorry this may never be what you had wished
I’m sorry if things may be forgotten or left behind
I’m sorry if a day of ours may end with you not waiting for another
I’m sorry if you may miss more than you will ever have
I’m sorry if I’m not there should you ever reach for me
I’m sorry if I should fall just when you need to be lifted
I’m sorry if should you speak I do not hear
I’m sorry if should you leave I am not where you go
But most of all I’m sorry if all of this, and us too, should one day pass.

(Pause. Jake folds paper, puts back in coat.)

Sooooo…So…I ask everyone here, one last time, to raise their glasses to the happiest, luckiest, most incredibly unbelievably, insanely blessed couple I have ever, ever, ever met. To George! My mentor and my boss! And to Talia! To…Talia. My…uh…

(Long pause)

…My very best wishes to you both…

(Jake downs rest of champagne in flute. Pause.)

Yeahhhhh…Oh! One more thing before I go. I want to take this opportunity to once again apologize for my actual wedding gift. I guess I thought a soup bowl would be much, you know, bigger. At least it look big online. Maybe I confused it with a soup tureen. Well, hopefully you can use it as an extra with that set of 12 bowls Tal’s cousin got you. Or I could just try to get my money back like you both suggested…although I’m not sure you can do that after a close-out sale. But don’t you worry about Jake. Don’t any of you worry. I’ll figure it all out somehow. Some day!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Second Chances

Well, spring is fast coming to a close and with it all the great, life-altering plans I had for these past few months. This was the season I was really going to search out my destiny, not just await its arrival. This was the season that I was going to take those first important steps to becoming the person I always knew in my heart I could be, not just walk the same old path to despair. This was the season I was going to give it my all and become all that I can be. Or something like that. Whatever.

But here it is, almost mid-May, and I have yet to make the most of Netflix streaming on my Wii. I have yet to find a better alternative than the vegetable crisper to store my laundry quarters. And, as ashamed as I am to admit it, I have yet to build my writing business empire, going from an unknown principality to an unrecognized feudatory while fighting back both nationalism and stronger royal houses.

But then there is summer. Yes, summer will be my moment. Summer will be my time to shine, to get my act together, not only to improve my life and outlook but also my very soul. Summer will definitely be my year. Uh, season. Whatever.

And just to prove that this isn’t another case of idle boasting or mothballed dreams, I am seriously, definitely, sort of considering enrolling in an adult education course. And while I was indeed surprised to learn just how many classes are no more than a chance to get an autograph from a D-list celebrity or learn that shyness is a poor tool in self-promotion, there were a few options that sounded if not educational then at the very least not entirely booked up:

“Getting Your Classified Ad Published”
“Cooking with Ingredients”
“Finding Your Inner Child with a Flashlight and Scalpel”
“Avoiding Intimacy Issues”
“Daytrading, Horse Track Betting, Slots—The Three Paths to Financial Success”

So stand back, summer. Francesco Marciuliano is here and this time he's going to do more than just tan at a preternatural pace. He's going to learn "How to Start Your Own Handbag Line." Or "How to Invest in Tax Delinquent Properties For Pennies on the Dollar." Or just watch the last three seasons of Lost on his Wii. Maybe. Whatever.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm Simultaneously Attacked and Defended in Today's Onion AV Club

In the comments section of today's Onion AV Club Article Marmaduke!: And 39 Other Blockbusters Coming Out Between May And August my comic strip and writing abilities are both savagely beaten and nicely praised. The fact that the second comment immediately follows the first makes it all the more fun.

"the worst comic ever is Sally Forth. the worst comic ever has always been Sally Forth. the worst comic ever will always be Sally Fucking Forth And Her Goddamn Condescending Smirk In The Last Fucking Panel Of Every Comic Fucking Fuckity Fuck."

"Sally Forth is somewhat redeemed by its surprising all-is-lost attitude toward life and marriage. Plus, Francesco Marciuliano, its writer, is an all-around fucking badass who happens to write for the Onion News Network. Seriously, this man is pretty amazing."

Francesco Marciuliano: Engendering the Hate and Love Since 1967.

Lionel Richie: The Working Artist's One True Inspiration

Being an artist--whether that be writer, painter, musician, actor, comic or any multitude of undertakings--is a peculiar life in that you often have to live TWO lives: the one you want and the one that you need so you can do the one you want. (It's also a life that seems to involve copious tears and pointing at your old college English degree while screaming, "You did this to me! YOU DID THIS! I could have chosen a major with a financial future and less public and professional disdain but nooooooooo! GOD, I HATE YOU SO!!!")

As an artist you want to follow your muse. But as an artist you need to focus on a job (or sometimes a parallel career) to afford such a pursuit. A job that, alas, can be just enervating and exasperating enough to deprive you of the time, energy and desire you need to create and truly feel alive. So you wind up feeling a division within yourself, one that can often have a detrimental effect on both halves of your life.

But I'm here to say that you can do it all! You can have both your "serious, mature adult" life and your "passionate, expressive artist" life! And the best way I can prove such is to cite an actual, successful artist who has spent a lifetime expertly balancing these two conflicting sides. An artist who has been serious when need be so he can be playful and creative when he chooses to be. An artist who is able to write prose that in one case edifies and in the other purely entertains. An artist who is a veritable walking Janus mask.

An artist named Lionel Richie.

Lionel Richie Creative Impulse #1: Philosopher
Yes, innumerable renditions by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of wedding bands have made listening to the already excessively treacly Endless Love not unlike shoving a thorn bush through one’s ear canal. And yes, Easy (Like Sunday Morning) is second only to Norah Jones’s Don’t Know Why in causing automotive fatalities, inflicting almost instant narcolepsy upon the hapless driver who comes across the song on their car radio. But that in no way should diminish the astounding grasp Mr. Richie has had on the nation’s zeitgeist from decade to decade.

Take the year 1983. US Forces had just invaded Grenada. That “sonofabitch” Reagan had initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative. And Karma Chameleon was the number one song in the land. Clearly we were a nation on the brink of utter self-destruction. We needed answers. We required hope. And then, in the middle of one of our darkest hours, one individual had the courage, the conviction and, yes, the chutzpah, to utter the following startling words to a nation hungry for bold new ideas and a brave new direction:

I had a dream, I had an awesome dream
People in the park playing games in the dark
And what they played was a masquerade
From behind the walls of doubt
A voice was crying out!

Strong words. Strong, bewildering words from the poet laureate of pop himself, Mr. Lionel Richie. The very same man who had the stamina to party “all night long,” the temerity to “dance on the ceiling” and, in that one earnest, emotional video, the willingness to say “hello” to a blind art student. A blind art student who responded in turn by presenting Mr. Richie with a clay bust in his likeness–a bust that, quite frankly, could only have been sculpted by a person completely devoid of sight.

Now, to be perfectly honest, Mr. Richie’s Say You, Say Me is not without its faults. The song seemingly introduces an all-together different tune smack dab in the middle where one would normally expect to encounter a musical bridge or, at the very least, the same song. And for years pundits have argued over the precise meaning behind such cryptic turns of phrase as “Say you, say me/Say it together naturally” only to conclude that sometimes expressing a lucid thought comes second to simply finding the necessary number of syllables to utter during a tune.

But that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is that Mr. Richie–philosopher–was willing to share his dream with the public. He saw a problem in our society–a problem apparently having to do with either lax curfews or an impromptu costume party–and sought to address it the best way he knew how…during the closing credits sequence for the movie White Nights.

Lionel Richie Creative Impulse #2: Voluptuary
And then there’s the man who brought us Brick House. If Say You, Say Me was Mr. Richie’s Ulysses, Brick House was his, uh…Fear of Flying? Instead of the penetrating–if somewhat perplexing–social disquisition of the former song, Brick House laid bare the carnal impulses that truly make us human in a succinct dictum that defied criticism. After all, who in their right mind can cast aspersions against The Commodores’ hard-drivin’, rump-shakin’ machine of flat-out funk? Ronald LaPread’s rubbery bass groove. Clyde Orane’s tasty horn arrangements. Walter Orange’s come-hither vocals. Lionel Richie’s slithery stanzas. All these factors helped not only serve up a massive slice of 70’s soul but gave the world perhaps one of the best verses to ever worm its way into the collective unconscious. A verse that captures the conversational rhythms of William Carlos Williams, the atypical syntax of e.e. cummings and the immediate, lyrical intimacy of Rita Dove. A verse that reads in full:

She knows she got everything
A woman needs to get a man, yeah.
How can she lose with what she use
36-24-36, what a winning hand!

So there you have it, people. Mr. Lionel Richie. Bertrand Russell by day. Russell Simmons by night. How he keeps these two worlds from colliding we may never know. But if he can do it, then why can’t I? Why can’t we all?

I say good day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thoughts upon Seeing David Byrne on the Street

Recently, my mind has turned to thoughts of fame. Not the thought of becoming famous but about who is considered--or what it now takes to be--"famous." Such musings are the direct result of my little celebrity run-in yesterday, when while walking to my office in the West Village I saw David Byrne--DAVID BYRNE!--ride past me on his bicycle (minus, as some have inquired, his big white suit).

Naturally, being the citizen of such a cosmopolitan destination as Manhattan, I was able to maintain a respectable level of composure. So after a few double-takes--and briefly contemplating doing a quick pivot and chasing after the bicycle like some sad, starving dog in desperate need of attention or scraps--I skipped (well, more a manly "caper") to my destination, deliriously overjoyed in the knowledge that I had caught a fleeting glimpse of one of my favorite artists.

In all honesty, it was a very important moment for me. In fact, I have not had such a transcendental celebrity sighting since several years ago when while walking I felt a hand rest on my shoulder and a commanding yet remarkably genial voice state, "Excuse me, son, but can you tell me what time it is?"

At first I had no idea who was speaking, mostly because I tend to walk with a downward gaze (not simply because I'm a New Yorker but because I'm shy by nature). While I was at first surprised to hear someone refer to me as "son," my immediate response was to dig out my cell phone for the time. Then I heard the same strong yet sonorous voice say, "Oh, son, there's no need to go to any trouble." But I quickly took out my phone, flipped it open, looked up to show the gentleman the time...

And found myself gazing straight up at the face of Morgan Freeman.

Now, I have had my fair share of run-ins with "stars." I almost stepped on Joan Rivers' dog outside of Barney's. I stepped on Ed Koch's foot in a movie theater. I walked right smack into Paul Schaeffer on Madison Avenue (like I mentioned earlier, I tend not to look where I’m going). Sigourney Weaver even once asked me for the time in Central Park (Note to celebrity-watchers: Always have a timepiece handy...and never underestimate what inadvertent full-body contact can accomplish).

But Morgan Freeman is not another "celebrity." Morgan Freeman is not just another "star." Having Morgan Freeman ask you for the time is like being in Ancient Greece and having Zeus ask you to pass the grappa. Morgan Freeman is not supposed to walk among us. Morgan Freeman is not supposed to have a need for the mortal concept of "time." And yet there he was on a street corner in Manhattan, in T-shirt and baseball cap, proving both distinguished yet down to earth, baronial yet affable, imposing yet, well, really, really nice. Plus, he touched me on the shoulder, which more or less means I'll never get cancer on the left side of my body.

Anyway, back to the notion of "fame." "Fame"--a wholly intangible quality that eludes most of us even when one consistently and crassly flogs their "humor" on blogs and in comic strips--is a transitory attribute at best. While some individuals like the aforementioned Messrs. Byrne and Freeman will be recalled with great admiration long after they pass on, most "famous people" will go from "household name" to "mortgage defaulter" within a matter on months. That's because we have become a society where the most accessible and meteoric paths to fame is apparently being an Italian-American without a shred of self-awareness, as we all have witnessed through such programming as Jersey Shore, Frank the Entertainer, The Housewives of New Jersey, Jersey Couture, Jerseylicious and the no doubt upcoming Dagos in Wifebeaters Eating Funnel Cake at The Feast of San Gennaro while Yelling How Those Fuckin' Mets Fuckin' Broke Their Fuckin' Hearts Again. (Ed. Note: The author of this blog post is Italian and more than a bit miffed at some of his "paisans.")

Clearly we have become a culture that rewards people devoid of pride or shame or even the slightest ability to manage their own small lives by making those very people larger than life itself. Not only is this patently offensive from a societal point-of-view, but it's also remarkably dismissive of all those individuals blessed with true skill only to see their 15 minutes of fame indeed last no more than a quarter of an hour. Of course, I'm referring to all those former "celebrities," those scrappy contestants of Battle of the Network Stars who made us laugh, made us cry or simply made us change the channel. Where are they? What are they up to? What were their names again? In my quest to truly learn what it means to be "famous"--as well as the inevitable consequences of "fame"--I uncovered the following. Enjoy.

Erin Moran (Happy Days)
Writes an online column for eBay collectors titled "Joanie Loves Tchotchkes"

Wilford Brimley (Cocoon)
Still sitting at kitchen table touting the beneficial qualities of Quaker Oatmeal to viewers, despite the absence of any cameras or television crew.

Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man)
Trouble seeing out of both eyes. Bursitis in right arm. Legs could use a little toning.

Mr. Ed (Mr. Ed)
Stuffed with straw.

Joyce Dewitt (Three's Company)
Still not dead.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Conversations with My Brother, A Corporate Mascot

The following are actual phone conversations with my brother, Marcello, from his years as the official Lycos mascot for all Boston corporate events.

Conversation #1
Marcello: Ces!

Me: Cello! How are you?

Marcello: Not bad. Was the Lycos Dog at the opening of the Star Wars exhbit for the Museum of Science.

Me: Oh...Didn't expect to hear that. What did you do?

Marcello: Usual. Waved at school kids, Danced a bit. You know, usual advanced dog tricks.

Me: Sounds like fun.

Marcello: Yeah, you'd think so. My entire body is covered in black and blue marks.

Me: From what? Wearing the heavy costume?

Marcello: From getting repeatedly punched.

Me: Punched?!

Marcello: Punched, Ces! The kids punched me! I'm here to tell you that children are bastards. Mean, viscious, wholly evil bastards!

Me: What happened?!

Marcello: Remember that Simpsons epsiode when Homer pretends to Krusty at parties and big events? And he tells Lenny what hard tiring work it is, "But when I see how those little kids' eyes light up...I just know they're getting ready to jab me with something"?

Me: Oh god.

Marcello: They wouldn't stop, Ces! The little kids wanted hugs, so I gave them hugs. They were actually really adorable. But when the junior high school kids would ask me for a hug...

Me: Oh no.

Marcello: I would stretch out my arms and then BAM! Straight in the gut!

Me: Every time?

Marcello: Every fucking time! They were relentless!

Me: Then why did you keep stretching out your arms?

Marcello: Because I'm a chocolate lab, Ces! I'm supposed to be friendly! Plus, I think I'm monitored.

Me: Couldn't you do anything?

Marcello: Like what? Wave at kids from behind a pillar? Start swinging wildly at anyone over the age of 12? I'm not even allowed to talk! I'm defenseless, Ces! Defenseless!

Me: But what about the people who were supposedly with you. You know, monitoring. Couldn't they do anything?

Marcello: They were too busy taking pictures! Every time I got clocked I saw a flash go off. They said it was the best sponsored event they ever had.

Me: I'm so sorry, Cello.

Marcello: And you know what? It was never the kids from the city. It was never the poor kids from the tough parts of town. It was always these over-privileged white bastards who kept punching me! Every time I got punched it was some grinning white boy. I'm serious, Ces. I think I hate white people now.

Me: How long did this go on?

Marcello: About an hour. Maybe more. I lost count when I started to pass out.

Me: From the punching?

Marcello: No, heat stroke.

Conversation #2
Marcello: Hey, Ces!

Me: Hey there! What's up?

Marcello: Just got barred for life from Gillete Stadium (note: Home of New England Patriots)

Me: I'm sorry, what?

Marcello: Their was some...unpleasantness.

Me: What happened?

Marcello: Got into a fight with the CEO of

Me: What?!

Marcello: We were at the Lycos Box at Gillete with my CEO when the Monster guy kept telling me I have a stupid laugh.

Me: Well, it is...distinctive.

Marcello: I know! It's great, right?! So, I told him to go fuck himself. But then my boss got upset because I'm not allowed to talk while in costume.

Me: Wait, you were in the dog suit?!

Marcello: I was on the clock, Ces! Anyway, he got real pissed and yelled, "Do you know who I am?!" So I said, "Yeah, you're a fucking loser!" The we went at it.

Me: Cello...

Marcello: Do you know how hard it is to beat someone with fabric hands?

Me: Oh god...

Marcello: Eventually I just started choking him and we rolled down the aisle. Then the little pussy started crying, security came and I got escorted out of the stadium in handcuffs, still in costume.

Me: Jesus...

Marcello: But on the plus side, I remembered to keep waving at the kids as they drove me off.

Everything Was Going Great Until the Funeral

"I swear, if he fucking went to Alabama again I'm gonna kill him. That bastard is dead to me."

Back in September 2004 my then-wife and I went down to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama to catch the premiere of her brother’s movie at a local film festival (a movie initially created as a birthday video for me that eventually served as the basis for a charming feature-length film about zombies, rednecks and full-frontal male nudity). By all accounts the trip was a success. My brother-in-law’s film was received with great enthusiasm, my ex got to see her family and we all got to watch several movies for the price of a small popcorn at a Manhattan Regal Cinema. All was well in the least in the Southeast.

Back in my hometown of Dix Hills, New York, however, it was a markedly different story. For some inexplicable reason my parents got visibly—not to mention quite vocally—upset whenever we would visit my ex’s family. It's not that they didn't like my former in-laws. In fact, they truly did enjoy her folks’ company. But my parents live in a zero-sum world. They are also territorial to the point that would unnerve Germans. In my parents’ world every visit to my in-laws somehow deducted a visit to my family. In my parents’ world final tallies aren't so much added but subtracted. In my parents’ world you reflect not on what you have but recall what didn't come your way. Simply put, were the Marciulianos to write their family story it would be titled This Book Should Be Twice As Long and Printed on Saffron and Platinum.

Not being the types to suffer in silence—or at least mutter inaudibly—my parents openly and repeatedly questioned why we would regularly spend a full week at my in-laws’ house after driving 18 hours from New York to Alabama but only a mere weekend after driving 30 minutes on the L.I.E. to Dix Hills. Thus, had I told my parents we were going to stay in Alabama for a couple of days that September the ensuing interrogation would have made Columbo look like a concussed Chief Wiggum. That's because to engage in a dialogue with my folks is to enter a conversational Mobius strip, in which the phrase "But why?" is repeated again and again and again and again and again. Conclusions give way to more theories. Answers only reveal more problems. There is no resolution, just ultimate rejection. And then maybe some cake.

Having ridden that loop one too many times I struck upon a plan. A devious plan. A brilliant plan. A plan that could only come from the cunning foresight God gave a retarded squirrel. In short, I would tell my parents nothing of our trip. True, an actual plan is perhaps best defined as "a prescribed course of actions" whereas mine could best be defined as "evasion" or "remarkably immature." But despite my ex’s then simply worrisome but now clearly wise assertion that such a move would ultimately bite us in the ass, hard, I could detect not a single flaw. My folks would be completely ignorant. I would be completely happy. We would all experience familial bliss. Everything, for once, would go right. And everything, for once, did go right. It really, truly did.

Then came Sunday.

As my ex, her family and myself were engaging in that favorite Alabama pastime of trying to order breakfast without bacon or fried cheese—a arduous task even when requesting only orange juice—my mom was at that very moment leaving a message on our home answering machine. She was calling to inform us that my best friend from childhood, Val, had just lost his father after a long bout with cancer. Now, not only had I known Val’s father since I was about three but Val is a big part of my life, including giving me my nickname "Ces" back in kindergarten when even I had difficulty pronouncing my full name. And although we probably could not have made it back in time for the funeral service I most certainly would have wanted to call my friend that day to offer our condolences—something we could have done had my mom also left a message on my cell phone. True, thanks to my so-called "plan" my mom had no idea we were away and thus had no reason to think we would not get her message in time. But this was the very same person who just the week before had left messages on both my home and cell phone saying "Don't forget, the Emmys are on Sunday." In other words, another call would not have been completely out of character—unless, of course, that character was either trying to prove a point or had gone funny in the head, both of which ultimately proved to be true.

As for the answering machine message, we didn’t hear it until we returned late Tuesday evening, along with another message from Val telling me of his dad's passing and giving directions to the funeral service...which, of course, was held that Tuesday morning.

Naturally, I felt horrible and rightly so. Had I a backbone (or at least a well-starched shirt) I could have stood up to my parents' lunacy and just dealt with the ensuing inquisition and irrationality. I also wouldn't be calling my friend at 11 P.M. Tuesday night apologizing over and over again for not being there. Val, however, took the news much better than anyone could possibly imagine or deserve. In fact, he assumed that since I didn't call back we were probably on vacation and chose not to leave a message on my cell for fear of putting a damper on our time...a thoughtful and kind gesture that made me feel all the worse.

And had I this requisite backbone, I also would have spared my friend and his family from my folks' senior-cast production of An Inspector Calls that very morning. For apparently nothing but nothing brings out the detectives in my parents like a funeral. While others at the service reached for their handkerchiefs the Marciulianos reached for their notepads and pens, determined to solve the mystery that was "Where’s Ces?" The church might has well have been a Victorian drawing room. The mourners a suspect house staff. The deceased a McGuffin. Let others reflect on the passing of a father, husband and friend. The Marciulianos had come to make a statement and regrettably it was not "I'm sorry for your loss.”

My mom surveyed the people and perimeter of the church, spending most of the funeral service wandering around asking "Has anyone seen Ces?" like a bag lady inquiring the whereabouts of her invisible baby. My dad cornered the supposed accomplices. Opting for a direct approach, he sat next to Val on the front row pew and proceeded to grill him, asking over and over again "C'mon, you can tell me. Ces went to Alabama again this weekend, right?" Val just kept nodding "no" while looking straight ahead at an open casket no more than ten feet away. My dad, seeing that he had hit an investigative dead end, then tried a new tactic—"Well, then where would he be if he's not in Alabama? He didn't visit us, that's for damn sure. So where does that leave?" Yes, thanks to our nation's lackluster geography studies, my Dad was convinced there are only two places on Earth--Birmingham, Alabama and Dix Hills, New York. Well, three, when he bitched about my brother moving to Boston.

When Val proved to be of no help, and his sister Danielle rudely interrupted any further questioning by commencing the eulogy, my Dad turned to Val's mother Barbara—the wife of the deceased—and began complaining about our numerous trips down south. "They never visit us. At the drop of a hat they'll go down to Alabama but they never visit us. Can you believe that shit?" Realizing that Barbara neither knew of my current whereabouts nor could empathize, my father slumped in the pew, folded his arms and, according to my friend Val, said to no one in particular out loud "I swear, if he fucking went to Alabama again I'm gonna kill him. That bastard is dead to me." He might as well have stood up, pointed at the casket and said, "Make room 'cause I'm throwing my son in, too.”

And so the service and the scrutiny played out. My mom wandered aimlessly, looking for someone she knew wasn't there but making sure everyone else knew it as well ("I can't believe my son wouldn't come. It's his oldest friend. Where could he be?"). My dad sat in the front pew with the grieving family, wondering if the priest had any information and cursing out my name—in church—while audibly planning his own son's funeral ("And when I bury that fucker I'm not even going to show up. Two can go to Alabama."). Neither of them thought to call my cell phone and resolve the issue once and for all...although there's a good chance I would have simply lied. That’s because for some, you see, maturity is a gradual, almost glacial, process.

I wish I could say the gathering back at Val’s family's house after the service went better. I really do. But the play just continued for another act, only to turn into a one-woman show. With my dad leaving to teach his class my mom was left to uncover any further evidence of our trip to Alabama, which my all accounts she did with a vengeance. She questioned people who did not know me, friends who frankly could care less and Val, repeatedly. Perhaps she felt a certain kinship with my friend, thinking "You lost a father, I lost my son...for a few days." Perhaps she chose this time to make it known she was hurt, not realizing a far greater pain was being felt. Perhaps she had been drinking since dawn. I don't know. I do know I messed up in not realizing when to take a stand. I know my parents messed up in failing to realize when not to take a stand. I know my inaction unwittingly made my ex a de facto accomplice in a disappearance that that never was. And I now know that in general Marciulianos have an almost heliotropic craving for the spotlight, like a flower pushing a massive boulder out of the way to bask in the sun if only for a moment. The facts speak for themselves. In telling the story of my friend's loss I chose to make my plight the central concern. In attending a somber occasion my parents hoped tears would be wept for them as well.

Six years later I’d like to say I’ve learned my lesson. Six years I’d like to say I feel comfortable enough to tell my parents anything, no matter what the possible consequences. But here it is six years later and I’m worried about what my parents will say when they read this…and what I will have to say to immediately change the subject.