On the importance of poking dinosaurs with sticks

I’m not particularly good at metaphor, but let me take a crack at it anyway: Say there’s a dude repeatedly poking dinosaurs with a stick. No matter how much he argues that he has a right to go around poking dinosaurs with a stick, that nothing in the law prevents him from doing so, none of us would probably be very surprised when a T-Rex finally chomps said stick-wielder into a bloody mess.

That said, we probably shouldn’t be high-fiving over the guy’s bloody carcass, either.

That’s kind of how I feel about last week’s closure of online gossip rag, Gawker, after it ticked off a very rich, very powerful T-Rex.

Let’s get some background: In 2007, Gawker posted a story eloquently headlined, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” As you probably surmised, the story centers around one Peter Thiel and reveals, through mostly anecdotal evidence, that he is, most likely, totally gay.

“But, Adam,” you’re probably saying to your newspaper or computer screen or phone or wrist watch right about now, “who the heck is Peter Thiel? And why on earth would anyone care whether or not this person is or isn’t totally gay?”

Good questions. To answer the first, Peter Thiel is a multi-billionaire venturehedgefundcapitalistentrepreneur. To answer the second, no one. No one cares.

Well, that’s not true. Peter Thiel cared. He was understandably upset about being outed, and in a fashion befitting some pop culture’s best wealthy fictional villains – Lex Luthor, Charles Foster Kane, Smaug – he very vocally vowed revenge before rescinding into the shadows to plot and scheme.

Jump ahead more than five years, time which Gawker spent doing its dinosaur-poking due diligence. In October 2012, the site published grainy video footage of popular childhood hero and professional Atomic Leg Drop artist Hulk Hogan practicing the crotch clutch suplex on a friend’s wife. The wrestler sent a cease and desist letter to the site, which Gawker creator and managing editor and overall nice guy according to sarcastic people Nick Denton metaphorically crumpled up and tossed in a trash bin.

“Washed up celebrity sex tapes are protected by the God-given constitutional rights laid down by our forefathers in ink drawn from the blood of angels,” Denton probably said upon receiving said letter, chin shoved so high into the air it knocked no less than three satellites out of orbit. The End.

Or was it? Spoiler: It wasn’t.

Displaying the kind of intestinal fortitude that secured him the WWF Championship in his 1988 Wrestlmania title fight against walking mountain Andre the Giant, Hogan dragged himself up from the mat, rope-by-rope, and fought back.

He took the case to court in Florida, where a judge ordered Gawker to remove the video. Despite being, by my rough estimates, a good foot or so shorter than Hogan and looking way less impressive when emerging from clouds of smoke to the sounds of Jimmi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child,” Denton crossed his arms and defiantly refused to remove the video.

So, Hogan sued Gawker, and like the towering warriors of the squared circle, these two giants waged a ferocious battle that lasted until March of this year when a jury ruled that the sex tape violated Hogan’s privacy and awarded him a total of more than $140 million in damages, bankrupting Gawker and leading to its inevitable closure.

“But, Adam,” you’re undoubtedly asking your chosen reading device, “Didn’t Hogan lose most of his money in his divorce from ex-wife/Brooke Hogan co-creator Linda Hogan? How could he have possibly afforded to wage a legal war of attrition?”

Ah. Well, you’re not the first to ask. Turns out, when Toto pulled away that particular curtain, who should we find operating Hulk Hogan’s pulleys and levers (and repeatedly yelling “brother” into a red and yellow microphone)? None other than Peter Thiel. For more than a decade, the billionaire had been secretly funding a battle against Gawker, hiring a team of lawyers to find “victims” of the site. This included Hogan, whom Thiel aided to the tune of $10 million.

Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuun!

So, now that you’re all caught up, why should you care about any of this?

“But, Adam, you magnificent moron, didn’t Gawker get what it had coming?” you’re asking me. “I mean, if the site didn’t profit off the misery of others … if tasteless gossip and salacious rumor weren’t its bread and butter … and IF Denton had just pulled the Hogan tape when it was first ordered … wouldn’t they have never been in this mess in the first place?”

Good question, and maybe. But that’s almost not the point. Strip away the context, and this is a story about a very, very rich man using his wealth to silence a news organization for writing something he didn’t like. It was a trashy, mean-spirited something, but the result still sets a disturbing precedent.

To get back to the terrible metaphor that opened this thing, journalists are sometimes required to go around poking dinosaurs, either to get them to move or maybe admit they’ve been skimming funds from the local coffers or whatever else dinosaurs do. Which isn’t to say there aren’t bad journalists out there or publications profiting from the misery of some poor brontosaurus who’s been poked to extinction. There absolutely are, and Gawker may have very likely been one of them.

But to celebrate its demise is to discourage other journalists from picking up sticks. Before you know it, the world is completely overrun with T-Rexes sleeping comfortably wherever they want, their bellies filled with the flesh and blood of whomever they darn well felt like eating.



Gun control arguments have gotten un-bear-able

This is another totally true story. I’m a journalist; you should never question what I tell you:

The other day, I was on the terrace of my palace on the moon with a friend of mine who’s a magical talking bear, when the conversation turned to the ongoing gun control debate.

It started innocently enough. We were trading bear puns, a favorite hobby of ours.

“I find you unbearable today,” he told me, cackling from around the stem of his pipe.

I frowned and shoved my foot in his face.

“Looks like I’m bear-footed today,” I told him.

He pushed my foot away with his paw.

“Was that a joke? I bearly noticed.”

“Just bear with me. I’ll think of something better.”

“You mean bear-tter, right?”

And we both started laughing so hard I thought the airtight dome that surrounds the moon palace and allows us to breathe might collapse.

After calming down, Aloysius … that’s the bear’s name, Aloysius McUrsine … Aloysius took a couple of contemplative puffs on his pipe and returned to reading the day’s copy of Human News Today, his preferred daily rag. The front of the paper had a story about U.S. leaders arguing the merits and demerits of stricter gun control laws, the sight of which set my mind to wandering away from the moon to more earthly concerns. Like many people, it’s an issue that had been plaguing my thoughts since the June 12 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; and the Dec. 2, 2015 shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California; and the Nov. 29, 2015 shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the Oct. 1, 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon; and the July 16, 2015 shooting at those two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and the June 18, 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; and the May 23, 2014 shooting in Isla Vista, California; and the April 2, 2014 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas; and the Sept. 16, 2013 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. and so on and so forth.

I knew Aloysius was feeling political that day because he was wearing his #BlackBearLivesMatter T-shirt, so I decided to get his take on the matter.

“Well, Adam,” he said after giving his top hat a contemplative readjustment, “from what I gathered, there are basically two options when it comes to gun control.

“First, there’s the Everything Option,” he said, holding out one empty paw. “Basically, this means every single person in the country is armed at all times with whatever weapon they see fit. Handguns, high-powered rifles, automatic weapons, falconets, broadswords, lightsabers … once those are invented … medieval flails and impromptu bludgeoning weapons like nunchucks made from two staplers connected with fishing line will all be fair game.”

“And how exactly will that make us safer?”

“Well,” my bear friend said, puffing on his pipe, “the theory goes, if everyone is armed to the teeth, the threat of possible violence will prevent actual violence. Most people don’t want to start fights with someone who could potentially reduce their bodies into tiny puddles of goo with a pocket Death Star or something.”

I nodded. “Makes sense, I suppose. What’s option two?”

Aloysius held out his other empty paw.

“That’s the Nothing Option. With it, nobody has any weapons at all. The government outlaws anything more dangerous than a bouquet of peacock feathers and forcefully removes any and all firearms from people’s homes and … if all those threats don’t turn out to be empty … cold dead heads.”

“That sounds like the safer of the two,” I said. He shook his head.

“From what I understand, the only people left with access to weapons will be the criminals,” he said. “Everything from psychopaths to prostitutes to jaywalkers will roam our streets armed with katana blades, AK-47s, bazookas, high-powered laser pointers and fistfuls of Roman candles rigged together with duct tape. It will be like open season on innocent people, if those who oppose the Nothing Option are to be believed.”
The bear leaned back in his chair, hooked both paws into the arm holes of his stylish vest and sighed.

“And that’s basically it,” he said. “Those are the two options when it comes to gun control.”

I scowled and said, “Neither sounds great. Couldn’t there be some kind of, I don’t know, compromise? Like, a third option that isn’t so extreme?”

Aloysius threw his head back and released a booming laugh. It echoed across the dome.

“Oh, Adam,” he said, using a claw to wipe a tear from one eye. “You’re so naive. That’ll never happen. You humans are too territorial to share middle ground with each other. And because neither side is willing to budge, this argument will never be settled. I’m just glad I hibernate through much of the 20 years or so I’m alive so I don’t have to listen to the endless quibbling.”

It wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, but it was likely accurate.

“So what should we do while our leaders debate this until the next inevitable mass shooting?”

After a few more puffs on his pipe, Aloysius said, “Just grin and bear it, I guess.”

It was a decent bear pun, but at that moment, neither of us much felt like laughing.


A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pregnancy

Let’s dispel a myth: There is no “we” in pregnancy.

I’m not sure why or when couples decided that being preggers is a two-party affair and should share the news as if they will both be hospitalized, side-by-side, holding hands as they simultaneously squeeze out potato-shaped humans in less than a year.

Beyond the superficial, there’s almost nothing remotely similar between being the one who’s knocked up and the one who did the knocking.

I speak from experience. My wife has been pregnant for the past eight months. How much of that time have I spent being pregnant? Let me do some quick calculations …
… plus two …
… carry the nine …
… divided by three-hundred-sixty-five …
… and …

None of it. I have spent none of that time pregnant.

For me, pregnancy is basically a nine-month version of survivor’s guilt. My life goes on as normal as my wife struggles with even the most mundane tasks.

I’ll take you through a typical day. Every morning, I awake from a restful night’s sleep to the sounds of my wife struggling to breathe beside me, the covers kicked down to her feet from when she either woke up sweating at 4 a.m. or had to urinate for the fourth time that night and was simply too exhausted to pull the covers back over her.

I slip quietly from the bed and tiptoe across the bedroom. Not that it matters; Mandy is far too bone-weary from having spent at least two of the six hours we’ve been in the bed struggling to fall asleep while our rambunctious offspring practices Muay Thai against her ribs to be bothered by my stirring.

No doubt, as I’m in the kitchen grinding beans for the fresh pot of coffee my wife isn’t permitted to enjoy, Mandy is stumbling half-asleep to the bathroom for her morning ritual of gagging and questioning every decision that led to this point in her life. While she’s in there, she’ll try to decide whether or not she can make it through an entire shower without falling asleep.

After a breakfast of whatever crumbs of cereal are left in the four open boxes in our kitchen, we’re both back in the bedroom getting dressed and ready for work. I’m feeling a bit lazy since it’s Tuesday and the previous day was kind of rough what with deadlines and all, so I’m rolling into work wearing one of a hundred T-shirts available to me and a pair of loose-fitting jeans. Mandy, on the other hand, will have to choose one of two outfits that still fits her, neither of which is clean because her husband had the sniffles over the weekend and just couldn’t bring himself to do laundry. Neither outfit fits comfortably at this point. I comment that I think I may have lost a little weight over the weekend; she contemplates how sympathetic a jury would find her story.

Nine hours later, we’re both at home after the day’s work is done. I complain that I had to conduct a phone interview, take two photographs, post a bunch of stuff on Facebook and write an entire column about whatever nonsense I wanted, and I’m just spent. Mandy has collapsed on the couch and so isn’t capable of complaining at all. I ask her unconscious body if she’d like me to fix dinner. She snores in response. I decide to wait until she wakes up and then ask again. I spend the next two hours snacking on whatever food remains in the house and playing video games.

At some point, she’ll wake up and stumble into the kitchen to fix herself a sandwich that she doesn’t find the least bit appetizing. It will be set to the soundtrack of me repeatedly asking, “Are you sure you don’t want me to do that for you?” while scrolling through our Netflix queue.

After supper, it’s time to start winding down. The clock strikes 8 p.m., and Mandy knows she had better start the process of getting ready for bed. She drops several subtle hints that a massage might help her relax.

“My back is killing me,” she says. Or, “My shoulders are so sore.” Or even, “This kid is really putting a strain on my legs.”

Eventually, she’ll cede to the fact that her husband of 10 years isn’t going to stop playing that pinball video game and retire to the bedroom. Ten minutes later, he’ll make his appearance.

“Hey, Mandy,” I’ll say timidly as I peep through the crack in the door. “Did you want me to rub your back?”

She’ll smile meekly and say, “That would be nice.”

I’ll respond by sighing as if she’s asked me to spend the weekend constructing a scale replica of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse out of freshly-harvested thistles.

After a laconic, ten-minute, single-handed massage, most of which I spent patting her belly trying to coax my daughter into pummeling her guts for my amusement, I’ll kiss Mandy on the cheek and ask if she’s ready for bed. She’ll relent and say, “Yes.”

It’s not because she necessarily wants to call it a night at 8:30 on a Tuesday, but because she knows if she gets out of bed now, she’ll just have to urinate another 50 times.

I turn out the light, slip from the bed and through the bedroom door. As I pull it closed behind me, I whisper to my wife, “I love you. I can’t wait to meet our little girl.”

I don’t catch her reply. I imagine it’s something about teamwork.

Let’s go hunting with the ‘House Hunters’

If it’s possible to do something both avidly and intermittently, that’s the way Mandy and I watch the show “House Hunters.”

We’ve watched it for years, just off and on, throughout our courtship and now marriage. It’s pretty special to us. We’ll watch it in spurts, a bunch of episodes at a time, until we get sick of the houses and sick of the people and especially sick of the banter and take a break for several months or years, then return to it with renewed vigor. I don’t know if we watch any other show this way. “The Simpsons,” maybe.

Netflix has only fueled our consistent inconsistency. These days, binging is the norm. Mandy and I go through spells of watching one show from top to bottom, then finding another and repeating.

Recently, we made our way through Netflix’s collection of “House Hunters” episodes, and I was reminded why I both love and hate the show. I’m at least halfway convinced it’s some sort of mass social experiment HGTV is conducting to test the limits of human tolerance.

For those unfamiliar, the basic premise of the show involves an individual or couple in search of a new home. An agent will show off three homes, all of which will be nitpicked to death. At the end of the program, the buyer will announce which home he or she hates least.

What’s most fascinating about “House Hunters” is the way the people featured on the show have the preternatural ability to find fault in a house I would like to think most people would have to pour several lifetime’s worth of labor into owning. We’re talking veritable mansions towering a half-dozen stories above manicured fields so green, the word “green” is woefully inadequate. It’s like calling Donald Trump’s campaigning style “abrasive.”

Using a completely fabricated scenario, allow me to use my extensive familiarity with “House Hunters” to paint for you a mental picture of any given episode:

A young couple greets their real estate agent at the door of a large colonial that’s so beautiful, it would draw tears from all but the most grizzled of boulders. Although they are both freshly graduated from college, the couple have already acquired their dream jobs. She writes the clever things you read inside greeting cards; he taste-tests chocolate for Hershey’s. Their budget is $3.5 million, but that’s the upper limits. They’d prefer to keep it closer to $3 million if possible. Their agent makes this seem like an impossible task.

They have a list of demands. The husband would like a personal space — a “man cave,” he insists on calling it — to house his home theater, display his collection of vintage guitars, and still have enough room to build LEGO models of Star Wars vehicles. She’d like a heated pool, a big backyard to host parties and a large, open kitchen for all the cooking she claims to enjoy. Both insist on a fireplace and at least seven bedrooms, in case of guests, and would like a home with a lot of history and character, but fully upgraded with modern conveniences.

The agent claims to have found a home she thinks they’ll love. She is wrong.

The trio step into a living room that could swallow my entire house three times over and still have room. The agent consults her notes.

“So, it says here that Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci once traveled through time to tour this home. Upon seeing this room, he openly wept and claimed, ‘Nothing born from my head or hand could ever touch the majesty of this creation.’ Oh, and here’s a fun fact, despite what is widely believed, Abraham Lincoln was actually assassinated here, not Ford’s Theater. Neat.”

The couple looks around. They are overtly disappointed.

“It feels a little cramped,” the husband says, his voice echoing through the cavernous space.

His wife nods her head in agreement.

“We may want kids some day,” she says, suggesting the two them are planning to found their own variation of the Duggar cult.

The tour continues.

“No granite counter tops,” the husband says immediately upon stepping into a kitchen that’s so up-to-date it’s actually beyond modern, as if some time-traveler plucked it from the year 2525 and dropped smack into the middle of present day suburban America. She stares disapprovingly at the six-burner gas stove.

“And white appliances,” she says in the same tone of voice we now use when discussing Bill Cosby.

The three of them wander casually from room-to-room, nitpicking each apart. Eventually, they stand inside a space large enough the Margratheans could build planets inside it. The real estate agent describes this as the “third guest bedroom’s second closet.”

“This can be your closet,” the wife says to her husband, her voice echoing for an eternity. He mugs at the camera and shrugs in a sitcomy way.

“Thought so,” he says. “You could never fit all your shoes in here.”

The three of them laugh.

Repeat with two more homes.

Eventually, the two of them settle on the first home they hated. We are treated to a brief synopsis of their lives several months into home ownership. Although it took some getting used to, and they had to make some sacrifices, this pinnacle of architecture is finally beginning to feel like a home. They are both happy. So very, very happy. The credits roll.

My heart fumes with hatred. I click play on the next episode.

The most Herculean of all tasks

One day long, long again in ancient Greece, Zeus dropped by to visit his son, Heracles. He took the form of a bear or a wombat or a rock or something. Mythologists aren’t quite certain. It was probably a bird, though, so let’s just go with a goose.

“You do far too much sitting around,” honked the Zeus goose. “You need something to do.”

Heracles, a sassy teen at the time, answered with a sigh.

“I’ve got stuff to do,” he said, thumbing down through his Twitter feed on his phone.

“Not enough, apparently.”

“How would you even know. You’re, like, barely even here.”

That really ruffled Zeus’ feathers. Literally, in this case.

“Now see here,” he said, taking a second to preen his feathers before continuing. “Whether you like it or not, I am your father. And when I speak, you will listen.”

Heracles sighed again and looked up from his phone.

“I have created for you thirteen tasks,” Zeus said. He motioned with his wing, and a series of scrolls, each rolled and sealed with a dab of wax, appeared before Heracles. “Each scroll contains one objective you must complete. When you have done so for all of them, you will have become a man in my eyes and may join me in the pantheon of gods.”

The young man scoffed.

“Really, Dad? Scrolls? Can’t you just DM me the list?”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“You wouldn’t,” Heracles said and returned to his phone.

Mythologists say a lengthy argument continued from here. In the end, this battle of stubborn insistence versus stubborn indifference ended with Heracles reluctantly agreeing to complete the tasks, but only if Zeus promised to delay his curfew to 1 a.m. on weekends and stop randomly checking his Internet browser history.

So, one by one, Heracles tackled the 13 tasks, each more annoying than the last. He had to kill the Nemean Lion, Stymphalian Birds and the hyrda; he had to shovel mountains of dung from Augeas’ nasty stables; and he had to fetch Cerberus back from Uncle Hades, who stole the multi-headed pooch when he and Zeus were heavily embroiled in some kind of disagreement over property.

One after the other, Heracles begrudgingly completed his tasks, only breaking to periodically share his misery with his Instagram followers.

But then he hit No. 13. He unrolled the parchment and read it with disdain.

“Choose an appropriate name for your unborn daughter,” he read. “Ugh.”

Now, Heracles had never even considered having kids, let alone naming one. He first consulted several popular baby-naming sites, but couldn’t find a combination of first and middle names that sounded satisfactory to his ears. For days, he marched around Greece mumbling names to himself. None felt comfortable.

Heracles turned to the gods to aid in his quest, but found their opinions of what constituted a respectable name for a child to be far too varied. All of Apollo’s suggestions seemed pretentious, and Ares’ were all too blunt. Aphrodite’s were a little too … how to put this delicately … risque for Heracles’ liking, and all Hermes offered were ridiculous gag names like Apple Blythe or Pilot Inspector or Blanket. Those who didn’t offer their own awful suggestions turned their noses up at the ones Heracles had been considering. Although he possessed strength to capture the Erymanthian Boar and wits enough to remove the Amazon queen Hippolyta’s girdle, Heracles was incapable of counting the number of times someone answered his suggestions with, “You don’t want to name a child that.”

Heracles was stuck. After whipping through the first twelve tasks like Cetus through a Trireme, it seemed the last would best him. He returned to his father humbled and ashamed.

Zeus, lounging around Mount Olympus in the form of a giraffe, nodded his long neck knowingly.

“I figured that last one might trip you up, son,” he said. “Names can be tough.”

“So what do you suggest?” Heracles asked his father.

Zeus shrugged.

“I don’t,” he said. “I think you just have to go with your heart, regardless of what others think. Besides, in the end, it doesn’t even matter. Regardless of her name, people are going to call the kid whatever the heck they want.”

“Is that why everybody calls me Hercules, Dad?”

Zeus flashed two rows of gigantic teeth and patted his son on the shoulder with his hoof.

“No, son. That’s just ignorance.”

For the first time in forever, father and son laughed together.

Haiku of Horror #52

HAIKU OF HORROR now have their own site. If you, like no one else on earth, find tiny little awful poems terrifying, be sure to check it out. 

As much as I like Keanu, I have trouble seeing Keanu as anything but Ted Theodore Logan. Even when he’s chain-smoking cigarettes while shoving cross-shaped guns into the ugly mugs of hell spawn, I’m just like, “Oh, Ted. Don’t you know befriending Satan could help sell Wyld Stallyns’ image?”

Here’s a poem.


Flame kisses paper
He slowly inhales heat, smoke
Flicks away ashes