The cheat code

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start (or ‘… select, start,’ for two players)…

That’s the cheat code for “Contra” — a multiplayer action/adventure video game, and one of the original “shoot ‘em ups,” harking back to its Nintendo release, in 1988. If you executed that key sequence to perfection, voila! You’d receive 100 lives. “Life and death,” in the context of “Contra,” thus became less crucial, and more an example of starting over.

Starting over is fairly normal for almost all video games. Your avatar “dies” and you have to begin again, at the last checkpoint.

In “Contra’s” case, dying was easy. A barrage of projectiles could fly your way at any given moment. You could burn through 20 lives or so in the first level alone.

Contra – Level 1

An escape

In the real world, we only get one life (that we know of!). So the “Contra” cheat code somewhat liberated players, who vicariously guided their burly avatars through the murky alien landscapes of “Contra’s” many levels. Removing the threat of death freed us, as players, to take chances, try new things (that we might not otherwise entertain if it meant certain doom). As in most contemporary Nintendo games, each Contra” level ended with a boss you had to beat. A particularly difficult boss became less intimidating, with the safety net of 100 lives to cushion any anxiety of defeat. We could go out on a limb, take risks, and learn from our mistakes with little to no consequences. Needless to say, most bosses fell to our near immortal avatars.

Beat the Contra boss to complete the level.

No consequences

“No consequences,” however, created a consequence itself. Vastly minimizing the threat of death removed all the drama. The no-risk aspect suddenly turned a fairly difficult game into some kind of sandbox environment where players could try new things in order to move onto the next level. And once the cheat code hit the mainstream, “Contra” became notorious as one of the easiest games to beat.

Extrapolating ‘Contra’

I beat the game (with the cheat code). Soon, I lost interest in playing, but the concept of unlimited lives stuck with me. What if this were true in real life (IRL)?

We could try new things. If our gambles didn’t work out, no worries! Let’s reset and try a new approach. A vivid imagination soon rendered me jaded to this concept, as well. No consequence IRL, or in a video game instantly felt boring, like drifting aimlessly through blank space.

It’s at that point that I discovered a newfound respect for death. I had always feared it, but now I actually respected it. Death is necessary for life. It adds the key ingredient of consequence so that we measure our decisions before executing. It forces us to be better humans.

It’ll always be sad to see loved ones go. But heed the fact that this aspect of life is necessary for everyone. Our mortal brains can’t completely comprehend the role death plays in all of our lives, but we can at least acknowledge its necessity. Not only is it a passage into the unknown; it provides the special sauce of intrigue that makes all of our lives more interesting.

Think about it.

Daredevils would be obsolete. Perhaps war would go away (since weapons would no longer pose a threat), but that doesn’t mean violence would subside. It just wouldn’t carry any sort of impactful effect.

What would we do with our days?

Immortality may certainly be within human reach at some point in the future (or if we finally realize time is an illusion!). But microcosms like “Contra” indicate that the current human consciousness may not be ready for such lofty responsibility — what would we do with unlimited time?


Simulated realities far more advanced than the 8-bit Nintendo “Contra” have certainly emerged since the ‘80s. And it’s expected that virtual reality (VR) could soon surpass the brain’s ability to distinguish “reality” from illusion. VR and augmented reality (AR) also beg the question, ‘What actually is reality?’ Some scientific theories have even entertained the idea that the “real world,” is itself a simulation.

(He knows Kung Fu)

That latter scenario is exciting. Death truly becomes just a passage into the next shell. We might actually be avatars in a video game that’s influenced from a dimension above this world!

Life, in the metaphysical sense, now becomes a journey that transcends death. Surely there are still consequences. Choose poorly in one life, and you might wake up in the next as a Dung beetle.

Starting over also takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not some finite, ultimate end we must all dread (mortal death); in fact, it becomes an opportunity at every waking moment. And, just like some infinities are bigger than others, (yes, that’s true; ask a mathematician!) some “start overs” are more significant than others. You could start over midday, if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You can restart your professional life, with a career shift. And, yes, the most ultimate start over that we know of is the death of this earthly existence, into the unknown. But if this life truly is a simulation, then the “ultimate” start over breeds hope of new beginnings into a world entirely out of our current experience.

And perhaps the ability to start over in one’s mind is a quality that’s uniquely human. Starting over or reassessing a concept is the process by which we learn. Today, and every day after that can be the first day of the rest of your life. The latter depends on how good you’ve become at adapting, at starting over again and again, evolving ever closer to the person you’re meant to be.


I’m still here

I once saw Casey Affleck in the Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive. He’s from Cambridge, and must have been visiting home. He kept looking at me out the side of his eye, because I couldn’t evoke the courage to tell him I really appreciated he and Joaquin Phoenix’s fourth-wall shattering I’m Still Here. Instead, I just kept glaring at him like big brother Ben probably used to do before delivering him a charley horse directly to the bicep.

The two cinematic scientists—Affleck and Phoenix—experimented with what separates the “real world” from fiction, as Phoenix descended into public career suicide on purpose to propel the plot of their film. The famous spectators and vocal critics of Joaquin’s descent, flipped from witnesses to characters, when the movie hit theatres in 2010.

And now with networks like Hulu releasing docuseries about events that are still unfolding, it seems present day is catching up to the reality those visionaries altered in the early aughts.

Take The Dropout or Pam & Tommy, both produced by Hulu. The latter took place a little longer ago, but I remember living through that fiasco. And the Elizabeth Holmes debacle of her company Theranos has yet to fully unfold, but the big reveal (her secret) are fodder enough for another hit docuseries on Hulu.

Even HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty could classify as this reality-bending genre, although it took place in the early 1980s. Hollywood has certainly been no stranger to making fiction from reality in weekly made-for-TV movies, biopics on prominent public figures and your good old period pieces about the Civil War or ‘Nam. But those traditional dramatizations took so many liberties that the audience knew all along it was heavily embellished. In this data-heavy space we occupy currently, the facts are aplenty and the storytelling is evermore accurate.

Instant drama, based on real events, but reimagined, massaged and maneuvered to fit into the small screen. As the margin between action and reflection shrinks, and we real-world beings can strattle the fourth wall that separates the everyday from imagination, we’ll become characters in our own narrative. Instagram influencers would argue that’s already what they do.

What is the self, but a story we tell ourselves? And now we can tell the general public, by the aid of modern technology and abounding streams to broadcast.

The world really is a stage.


The console

Once you’ve recognized the CONSOLE, produce the DROPS.

As we surf on through the DEW, the DROPLETS form in the MOVIERAIN. Like LIGHTNING BOLTS, we LEAP between each WORLD, forming from some infinite possibility CLOUD.

The DROPLETS rain down, releasing energetic FREQUENCIES, as they burst to the Earth below.

And SHE echoes about HER spacetime, out, out, into the COSMOS.

She RINGS like a BELL singing unto the ETHER.

We catalog the DROPS formed, as SHE becomes aware listening to the music…

FREQUENCIES combine as a resounding harmony of understanding.


get weird.

RADCLIFFE and THOMAS. They just want to be noticed. They can’t seem to get out from under cool NETWORK correspondents’ ubiquitous shadows.


Dwindling as shrinking saplings, RAD and THOMAS thus resort to a pirated MOVIERAIN technology, an uncannily efficient and astoundingly captivating film production technique (detailed specifics of LADYBUG DROID (LBD) 7.0 on script pages 2, 24-28, at

RAD and THOMAS are thus propelled to stardom on the wings of their LBD 7.0, as quick fixes sometimes do. But repercussions and reverberations are attracting the attention of unwanted guests. This omega-level tech has also garnered the gaze of an extra-dimensional entity, known only as the GHOST.

Can’t a guy just get weird anymore?

The serenity of a BLACK SCREEN breaks as a HEAVY BAR DOOR bursts open into–



RAD walks down the BAR.


THE BOYZ hold their KEYS OUT under the HAZY LIGHTS. Their SHINY METAL glistens in the MISTY FOG.

A YUPPY fails miserably at ordering a MANHATTAN. Needless to say at this point, the wine selection at the DREAD PIRATE DRAGON is RED or WHITE.

Ummm…. Excuse me! Can I palease get a Manhattan, and what kind of Ryeee do you have??

The YUPPY tries to yell her order over the WALL of GENTLEMEN now gently JANGLING their KEYS.

AND THEY SING (to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock”)

Get the fuck, get the fuck, get the fuck out! Get the fuck out! Ohhh… get the fuck OUT!

MORTIFIED, the YUPPY executes a 180 and BEELINES it from the BAR.


C.U. RAD, who’s now SITTING at an END STOOL.

RAD stands up on his STOOL, holding his MUG HIGH.


(to: BOYZ)
Let’s get weird.

Get weeiiiiiirrrrddd…



STILL BLACK — THE LETTERS ‘g-e-t- -w-e-i-r-d-.’ TYPE ACROSS an otherwise BLANK SCREEN.

get weird.” is the weekly segment RADCLIFFE and his colleague THOMAS produce from the Olde Neighborhood. RAD and THOMAS are employed by the ever-looming NETWORK, whose modern and imposing presence foreshadows the sheer power of its broadcast reach. The NETWORK’s 24/7 premium news programming sets the TICK by which all other TIME ZONES wind their WATCHES.

COOL AF CORRESPONDENTS descend from all over the globe for their exclusive chance to report for this hallowed institution. RAD had never felt so out-classed, himself a local in the Olde Neighborhood.

He and THOMAS currently grind it out in the NETWORK’s PIT, as lowly PAs, performing odd jobs mostly for the state-of-the-art production facilities’ ELITE.

The DUO’s only saving grace is their weekly 1-minute segment that usually takes all week to film and produce. But, lately, RAD’s been playing around with some pirated technology. It allows THOMAS and HIM to produce the MOVIERAIN, an unorthodox filming style that can record the entirety of spacetime in an enclosed area. Like a bar.

THE BOYZ are churning out the FOOTAGE like there’s no tomorrow. There may even be no such thing as tomorrow, as things really start to “get weird.

And now, this…

A synopsis of the cult cinematic classic “Napoleon Dynamite.”

short stories


RADCLIFFE felt a vibration on his thigh. Someone was texting him.

“Did you RSVP yet??” The text read.

Two seconds later, his phone chimed. A new email.

“Dear Members, Please make sure to blah, blah, bladdy blah…”

RAD could not bring himself to read further. At what point in the day did he not have to react to some notice? At the notion of “notice,” three notification icons appeared instantaneously on his idle screen.

YOUTUBE: “Watch this video of owls attacking hawks.”

INSTAGRAM: “Someone you barely know anymore has just posted an update after a long time of not posting. Why this is news, we don’t know.”

EBAY: “A message from someone watching your item: ‘Does it come in plaid?'”

Complete drivel, he thought.

They say, if you put a frog in a frying pan and turn up the gas ever so slowly, he’ll grow accustomed to the heat on an unconscious level. He’ll reach the temperature for boiling and won’t even know it, by then it’s too late.

That’s how RAD felt in this day and age. Except it wasn’t the heat that was turned up; it was the information. WiFi radio waves permeated every 3-dimensional corner of the world. No node was left untouched. We were all swimming in a supersaturated slush of memes, updates, beeps, notifications, emails and other digital bits.

Our reality became synomymous with this omnipresent grid. It happened so gradually–first computers, then laptops, then smartphones and other mobile devices, then mass adoption to the point that you could barely function in society without one of these tools.

And now? In a moment of clarity, suddenly RAD became aware to it all. He could feel himself boiling.

‘I must escape,’ he thought. Way easier to dream such a notion.

You see, the comprehensive Snapchat digital video database, aggregated from virtually every smartphone owner on the planet, contained quite the complete user list. In other words, we were all tagged as individual pixels that comprised the Grand Internet projection. To truly GHOST (disappear) from this digital net, he would have to scrub all traces of his identity from the mother database.

He knew this because he worked for the NETWORK.

He had heard of one man who had accomplished this Herculean feat. Aptly named the GHOST. It was one of his first assingments reporting for the NETWORK. The guy had appeared in a few people’s Snapchat stories, in the Olde Neighborhood, within a short time window. This spike in spectre activity prompted the NETWORK to send its local correspondent, RAD, a native of the Olde Neighborhood, to interview its witnesses.

The NETWORK landed just outside our neighborhood like a spaceship. The futuristic architectural design from I.M. Pei resembled no earthly idea of an edifice I had ever imagined.

The intention of the NETWORK was world-class broadcast journalism, ignoring no corner of the globe, however miniscule. To appease their local neighbors, they had appointed RAD as their ambassador.

Nearly all of the Neighborhood residents’ personal accounts were identical. Mary LoGrasso who ran the local laundromat recounted quite lucidly, as she folded clothes amidst the whirring of washing machines:

“It was the strangest thing. I was snappin’ a video of myself, right here at work. I was going to send it to my girlfriend. When I went to add a filter in the playback, I noticed this shadowy figure in the background. I immediately looked up from my phone, but no one was there. It was as if he appeared and disappeared out of thin air…”

Then, Mary looked off in the distance, as if to relive that shocking moment more than remember.

“Or not that he was physically present in the shop. It almost felt like he was stuck in my phone.”

RAD corroborrated Ms. LoGrasso’s account with three other store owners on the block, who had encountered similar Snapchat intruders to their screens.

RAD titled his piece “The Snapchat Ghost Haunts Olde Neighborhood,” but nothing more came of it after the story hit print. Perhaps the publicity had scared the GHOST away.

RAD rode his bike through the city to clear his head.

The streets seemed empty, as he weaved through them by the power of his pedals. Graffitied snapcodes painted the sides of abandoned brick buildings and in the dark alleys between faceless concrete skyscrapers. He paid them no mind. They had always been there. They were like the maple tree shadows cast by the Sun at dusk. Natural fixtures.

Snapcodes were the physical gateways into Snapchat’s digital world. They resembled Braille patterns–a seemingly random mélange of dots–but aiming a phone’s camera at them would link that user to the associated content at the other end.

‘What if these were the key?’ he thought. Just because they had always been there didn’t mean they couldn’t provide some link to the elusive GHOST.

Picking up his pedaled pace, RAD started snapping every code he could find. First, he hit all the known spots. He snapped the one in the alley way behind the laundromat. Nothing. It was an old advertisement for Tide detergent. He snapped the code hidden under the highway overpass, just outside the Neighborhood. Nothing. It was some punk’s personal account. Over the next few weeks he spotted and snapped a total of 320 snapcodes and all brought him no closer to the GHOST.

Then, one day, when RAD thought he had done snapped every damn code this side of the Mississippi, an odd friend request appeared in his Snap queue. The advantage of cataloguing 320 bunk codes availed RAD the knowledge that this new request contained a code he had never seen, online or in the real world. He quickly accepted the request of this 321st code.

Instantly, a story from the anonymous user appeared. RAD looked down at his phone in anxious anticipation. It was from a man’s point of view walking up a street that looked to be in the Olde Neighborhood. RAD knew it was a man walking, because he began to talk:

“OK, if you’re watching this story, then you’ve accepted my friend request. I’ve noticed you’ve been scanning a lot of the breadcrumb snapcodes that I’ve laid throughout the city. Look, I don’t expect you to understand this right now, but we need to arrange a live chat through this channel. Exchanging stories back and forth simply won’t fly. In order to do this, I’m going to need you to do exactly as I say, at exactly the precise time I say and in exactly the precise place. We’re going to link our phones.”

RAD listened intently to the man’s instructions. He tried not to let the fact that this may very well be the GHOST distract him.

The next afternoon, RAD followed the man’s cleanly laid out procedure to a tee. He arrived at the Prado at precisely 3:20 p.m. He aimed his phone at the exact angle specified, in the direction specified, with the statue of Saul Revere standing proud in the foreground. When the second hand on his wristwatch ticked to exactly 3:21 p.m., RAD snapped the shot.

At first, RAD thought he had accidentally cued a filter to appear in his Snapchat screen. A man was walking around in the space by the statue where RAD’s phone was focused. But, when RAD looked up, away from his phone, his naked eye on the statue, no one was there. He glanced back down at his phone screen. Now, the man was looking directly at him.

“Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” the man beckoned to RAD from the small rectangular screen.

‘Yeah, yes. Yes I can.’ RAD said. Was this really happening? I am talking to an augmented reality within my phone, he thought.

“OK, I don’t know how long this signal is going to last. So I’ll be quick. The year is 2033. Your current experiment with the 3D-recorded show, ‘get weird.’ will initiate a rift in the spacetime continuum, once it hits a mass audience. Right now, with your minimal, but growing, audience, you’re merely creating minor gravitational ripples. Those ripples are what allowed me to detect your dimension’s signal, in fact. I then planted all of the ancient snapcodes all over the city, via Snapchat’s historical database. They would appear very old to you, but they’re actually from the future. I need you to do two things: (1) Don’t release your opus episode on the NETWORK’s prime-time slot. I know it’s a masterpiece. I know it all too well. But that grand exposure will set a series of events into motion that ultimately usher in a post-truth era. Nothing. Not even reality itself can be trusted. Fabrication technology has surpassed the discernment of the human lens. Needless to say, this awesome power has been exploited–”

STOP. Hard cut. OK, let’s back up a bit. One thing you need to know about RAD is that he’s the producer of a revolutionary segment presently, called ‘get weird.’ The NETWORK is overwhelmingly a multimedia news outlet, but they let RAD release his weekly, well-produced, well-edited segments–a documentary series on the people of his Olde Neighborhood. It was a hobby, turned professional identity. And now RAD had been approached to bring his quaint little segment to the big stage. The NETWORK was starving for ratings and views and they believed ‘get weird.’ would get them there.

Back to this inter-dimensional Snapchat:

RAD tried to simultaneously listen to the GHOST’s explanation of his origin, while also attempting to wrap his mind around what was actually happening right in front of him, inside of his phone.

The man continued.

“…and No. 2–”

RAD finally interjected, if at least to catch a moment to process this.

‘Wait, wait. So you’re from the future? The Snapchat GHOST is from the future. Of course. OK, so don’t air my episode. I am quite proud of it, but OK. I can do that, I guess. Dare I ask what the second thing is?’

“I need you to find, well, me, on your side. I’d be about your age I think, 27-28?”

‘OK, why?’

“I need you to find my counterpart in your dimension. I need you to find him so that we can complete the retinal sync.”

‘What is that?’

“If I can sync retinas with my past self (in your present), I can complete my leap. I can enter your dimension and release myself from this drab prison over here. Post-truth is no joke. It’s terrible.”

‘Where do we find… you?’

Suddenly, RAD’s screen became blurry. The projection vibrated, like liquid waves, and the phone shut off. And he sat there, under the Saul Revere statue, dumbfounded. And he hoped and he prayed that the GHOST would send him another Snapchat story.

awkward, short stories

Cutting-edge technology, sans manners

I enter Moronfabs on a bitter morning in March. In the refurbished brick and mortar building, on a busy, potholed Somerville street, I find shelter from an air that had scathed my skin like a cold razor. I’m 15 minutes early for my interview.

For some reason, reception is up four floors. I’ve already seen three quarters of the building, before I’m received. Furthermore, there’s no one there to receive me. Just a vacant iPad displaying an NDA stands atop an empty reception desk. A signature on the digital doc will notify my interviewer that I’ve arrived, the soulless iPad assures me. I produce my digitized John Hancock. The pixelated line drawn by my own digit, the most technologically advanced way to scribe one’s endorsement, looks bastardized against that same identifying mark scrawled on paper with ink.

I spend those 15 minutes waiting alone, in a mock lobby where potential co-workers pass by. They don’t offer so much as an acknowledgment of my presence. That’s OK. I’m too busy wondering where they got that R2-D2 end table. Perhaps it serves as some conversation piece to subtly indicate that this office and its occupants are fun, despite any other evidence I can observe from the young professional parade coldly gliding by.

A few more minutes pass; it’s now 10:03 a.m. He’s three minutes late for our scheduled appointment. Finally, the ice breaks, as my would-be hiring manager, all 6’2″ of him, enters my whereabouts. He greets me with a half-assed handshake, whisking me through unexplored bowels of the office building. A kitchen adjacent to the lobby teems with uber-casually clad workers. Through there lies a sales room. Slightly more stylish, cooler cats man terminals and adorn headsets, vocally pushing the company’s product to prospective buyers.

I am introduced to none of them.

The next thing I know, after much more whisking through anonymous conference rooms and workshops, I find myself in a small office with a single table. A laptop sits in front of me. Its screen broadcasts two Germans, teleconferencing from Deutschland, which is six hours ahead of our early A.M. Their lack of response to my presentation and thousand-mile stares–I can almost hear the German beergardens calling them from the other end–urge me to rush through the remaining slides. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. And that place, right now, is Germany; population: this 2-dimensional duo quite literally phoning it in.

I look over at my hiring manager, whose brow gleams with sweat. Will his colleagues accept me? What will they think of his lackluster recruitment efforts? I’m reminded of my overly self-conscious mother, perpetually concerned with how her child’s behavior will reflect upon her.

Not that there was much oxygen in the small room to begin with. But post presentation, it feels like even that thin air has dissipated. If a whole room could have a lump in its throat, it would be this one. For what seems like an eternity, I’m locked in a little, stale closet, with strangers, whose collective body language clearly conveys that they’ll never be co-workers. I long for that cold, outside air.

My now defunct hiring manager follows my rushed presentation with an abbreviated tour of company departments. At best, as he breezes through half-baked explanations for the various areas of his workplace, it feels like a formality fueling justification for my visit. After all, this failed engagement burned a half day from my current job. If I had been contracting, that would have also equaled one half day’s pay.

At last, my tour guide and I reach the exit. A brisk and long-awaited goodbye, capped with a handshake, ends my brief career at Moronfabs. I brave the gray, unforgiving air outside once again. As I look out the window of my meandering Uber ride, upon little reflection, I know the job’s not mine. What may sound like sour grapes is, in fact, relief. I’m thankful to be heading toward a place where I actually like the people. At no other time does that seem more important to me than in this cab.

short stories

The Bachelor

“If he doesn’t choose my daughter…” the fine red veins were visible in the backs of Mr. Snyder’s eyes. The retired detective’s dimming lights protruded so far from his face, they looked as if they may fall from their sockets.

As Snyder shook his head, the air held heavy in the severe silence. Then, the shaking stopped. And those two strained optical globes shrunk back under their wrinkly eyelid canopies.

“… I’ll kill him.”

The camera crew had barged into the Snyder Family’s home not 20 minutes prior, and Papa Snyder had already worked himself into a homicidal frenzy, imagining his only daughter’s heart broken by the bachelor and the heinous game show he came from. Show producers decided to cut his couch interview short, at this admission of premeditated murder.

They brought the bachelor into the next family’s home. Maybe Mr. Marsh, Desiree’s dad, wouldn’t be so threatening in the face of his potential son-in-law.

The two sat on the shinily upholsetered couch. Eyes locked. The bachelor, a silver fox called Kent, held the stare to not expose his fear. Mr. Marsh: Zen.

“What is it that you’re planning with my daughter?” He was eerily calm.

“Um, um, I care for your daughter very deeply,” Kent’s velvet tone aimed to cool Mr. Marsh’s concerns.

“But how can you sit there saying you care for Desiree, when you’re currently courting three other women??”

Marsh’s voice rose at the utterance of “women.” To Marsh, Kent was afront to all females now, not just his blood.

“Ummm, that’s just the game.”

“This isn’t a game! This is my family.”

“OK. Cut!” a producer, off in the murk of the makeshift set in Marsh’s living room, called this second segment to a halt. The bachelor’s presence did not seem to help the situation.

In the sanctuary of neutral territory–a bar down the street–they set the lighting for Kent’s talking head atop a barstool.

He looked directly, desperately into the camera.

“I mean, I guess I didn’t expect them to react so aggressively,” Kent’s metallic eyes shifted back and forth looking downward. His whole body squirmed in the backless seat. His voice quivered. His shoulders shrugged. “What did these guys expect?”

“Okayy, Kent,” the producer yelled from off screen.

Kent dismounted from his cushioned perch to meet him. The producer put his consoling hand on Kent’s high shoulder.

“OK, we still have two families to visit. You ready for this?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I signed a contract, right?”

The producer, calmly, carefully: “Yes, yes you did.”

The show’s production van–a white, beat-up, unmarked box–followed two car lengths behind Kent’s chauffeured black car to the third home. Inside the back, black-leather seat, Kent felt the onset of flop sweat, but tried his best to calm his nerves, lull the butterflies in his stomach, and muster the resolve to confront his next would-be in-law. The buttery leather squeaked as Kent sunk into the warm confines of the car seat, the last comfort he’d experience for hours, maybe days.

Suddenly, a strong vibration in his hip startled Kent. The producer was calling.

“Kent, we’re about 10 minutes out from the next house. You don’t have to come in to join Kathryn and her family.”

“So, will I just sit out here like a creep?”

“I mean, it beats risking your health, no? I’ve heard Kathryn’s dad is 6’3″, 250. He’s also an ex-marine.”

“Semper, fuck.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t go riffing on the Marine Corps’ sacred motto. Actually, forget I said ‘ex-marine.’ Those guys are marines for life.”

“This is not helping.”

“Oh, ya, sorry. Like I said, you don’t have to come in.”

“I really like Kathryn. I can do this.”



The family’s in the kitchen. The whole crew’s in the kitchen. Everybody’s trying to separate cowering Kent from Kathryn’s dad Gary, clutching the bachelor’s throat with ferocious, unbridled, old-man strength.

“I’ll rip your head off, you salt’n peppered prick!” The anchor tattooed on Gary’s throbbing forearm bobbed in the warm kitchen light, as this father of three throddled the young bachelor. “If you hurt my daughter, I’ll end you. Do you understand me??”

Gasping hopelessly for air, Kent could barely utter vowels, let alone an affirmation that he’d exchange vows with this angry marine’s youngest princess.

“Well, what is it?”

“Garryyy!” the marine’s wife shrieked from the threshold of the next room. “Let him go! You’re gonna kill him!”

“That’s the idea.”

“Sir, sir!” the producer finally came to Kent’s rescue. “We’re sorry. We’ll get him out of your home.”

The marine finally released his grasp of the now coughing Kent.

“Get him back to the car,” the producer instructed his other crew.

As they ushered the bachelor through Kathryn’s childhood home to the front door, Gary hung back breathing heavily. Veins popped out of his temples. His face, beet red under the overhead light gently swaying from the melee a moment ago. He cradled his heavy head in his hands as his wife consoled him.

“Gary, you gotta control your temper. This is Kathryn’s choice.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She shouldn’t have to compete for a man. The guy should just know, with not a shred of doubt in his heart. I guess nothing compares to a father’s love for his daughter.”

Gary was now sobbing into his giant meat claws.

Kathryn entered the kitchen from the back staircase.

“Dad, dad! It’s a game show. Do you have any idea what this is going to do for my acting career?”

Gary lifted his crying mug from his mits and looked at his favorite daughter.

“So you’re not in love with him?”

“I mean, he’s kinda cute, I guess. I think you raised a smarter girl than that, though. Daaadd. I’m not an idiot. I’ve made it to the ‘visiting the family’ stage and I still only have a 1 in 4 chance of marrying this guy. Not exactly great odds.”

“You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that, sweetie.”

The last destination on Kent the Bachelor’s family tour was the Jackson home. Gina Jackson greeted Kent, the show producer and crew at the doorway. Wu-Tang played faintly from somewhere inside.

“Hi, guys. Kent, you’re gonna have to tell my dad that you’re gonna pick me. I know that’s not part of the rules. I’m just a little concerned for your safety, okayyy?”

The producer stepped between them.

“Gina, Kent’s just here to meet your folks. We can’t make any promises like that this early in the game.”

As if from nowhere, Gina’s dad suddenly descended upon the frontstep conversation.

“Hey, Kent, if you hurt my daughter, I’ma sew ya asshole shut and just keep feedin’ ya and feedin’ ya and feedin’ ya.”

Deep inside of the Jackson home, the Wu-Tang rang on…


A wet spot expanded rapidly in the crotch of Kent’s $120 jeans. He froze, as steam rose from the warm moisture heavily flowing below his waste.


Rob & Big

The MTV series Rob & Big was like an episode of MTV Cribs, except you never left. You didn’t want to leave.

Show co-stars and collectively lovable knuckleheads, Rob Dyrdek and Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin, were just too damned fun to hang out with.

It was perhaps a natural progression for Dyrdek, the skateboarder who went pro at 16. He had grown accustomed to commissioning fellow camera-weilding skaters to film him. Those gliding Spielberg’s couldn’t resist catching lightning in a bottle at every trick Dyrdek executed on Ohio skate parks.

Landing in L.A. not too much later, Dyrdek parlayed that GoPro practice into the everyday of reality TV, which was booming circa the mid-2000’s. In between impromptu skate sessions, Dyrdek and Big Black imaginatively unlocked the fun at every turn, by a collaboration borne of mutual respect for one another.

Two peas in a pod of pure, positive attitude


From left: Big Black, Meaty, Rob Dyrdek, as the Death Row trio

Rolling on 22’s, the dual, Zen mind saw promise in every character they met, down whatever path their murdered-out UAV would take them.


That was their mantra. From 2006-08, when the show aired, a drowning American economy had near seized into a doldrum of prosperity for much of the middle and lower classes. I was preparing my thesis in journalism. Our professor had suggested the entire class produce content for a news website that would focus on young professionals striving to survive in an unyielding market at most ventures. College grads were settling for part-time jobs, over-qualified, underpaid and marred by impossible debt from what seemed then like pipe dreams of success. They had gambled on themselves and had lost. Now, the federal banks were looking to collect. By any means necessary—an indentured servant barista, for instance, shilling double-hot lattes to the Baby Boomers, with long-established equity, who could afford them. Hey, at least Starbucks offered healthcare.

I chose to entitle my thesis, “Do Work!” It followed two contractors aggressively seeking residential construction work throughout the South Shore of Eastern Massachusetts. They were brothers. They were independent businessmen. They’d buy vacant lots and build houses on spec (speculation that, once complete or near completed, the house would sell to a would-be homeowner). Just like so many college grads desperately searching for income, Brothers Jared and Shane Crowley were also gambling on themselves. They weren’t sitting around their Marshfield office waiting for incoming client calls. They were hitting the streets in their trailored red pickup truck. Picking up jobs. Specking out houses and building them and selling them. They were, in my eyes, the embodiment of ‘Do work.’

Of course, I had gleaned this from the do-or-die attitude promoted by Mr. Dyrdek and Mr. Boykin. Those two had neither the time nor the luxury to think, to sit and ponder in these quicksand times. Sink or swim. Do or die. Do work.

A cross-country road trip soon followed my graduation, upon completion of that thesis (which earned an ‘A,’ by the way). We took the scenic route in a Subaru, first dipping down into Washington, D.C., then to Arkansas, clear across Texas, stopping in Austin and El Paso. We wedged the Grand Canyon in there. We completed the trip rolling into Hermosa Beach, in Southern California, for a night, ultimately reaching our destination in The Valley, Burbank. My colleague had enlisted in an L.A. Emerson satellite program for film. I was just along for the ride and flew back east a few days later.

I mention this anecdote not as some acknowledgment of closure having completed and submitted my ‘Do work’ thesis successfully. That’s merely coincidental. You see, one particular garment had protected me this entire road trip across 3,000 miles. It was a ‘DO WORK!’ hooded sweatshirt. Big Black’s unmistakable face filled out the ‘O’ in “WORK!” His official signature, “Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin,” lined the bottom of his most popular catchphrase. Its fabric emulated Big Black’s male stripper name, “Black Lavender.” From head-to-waste, I was draped in crushed velvet every time I donned the garment.

That is, until Hermosa Beach. We stayed at a guy’s house my friend and travel companion had known from back home. All that I know is that I slid in with the hoodie hanging on the handlebar of my roller luggage. We strolled into his room, slept over. When we left early the next morning, the coveted sweatshirt was nowhere to be found. Had her friend stolen it? Could the smooth, black velour have slipped from my luggage’s grasp on an errant turn navigating the outside stucco hallways of the Spanish Mission-style apartment building?

I felt true loss that day, en route to L.A. True loss that I hope to regain, by a very simple, but profound idea—perhaps even what that hoodie represented.

From the lips of Dyrdek himself:
“The number one rule: Always surround yourself with good people.”

Since that fateful West Coast day a decade ago, I’ve scoured the Internet for that hooded sweatshirt. That particular design has been discontinued. And lesser search results take its place on every Google query I’ve ever performed. No matter. It’s not about the hoodie. It’s about Big Black. It’s about Rob Dyrdek. And, most importantly, it’s about Rob & Big. For three MTV seasons, they captured lightning in a bottle by surrounding themselves with good people and positive ideation.

That’s a principle I won’t forget, a Black Lavender ideal I can’t possibly lose. Through the teachings of Rob & Big, I know that the crushed velvet velour of true creation, compassion and empathy folds around every bend. As long as you’re looking. As long as you’re surrounded with good people.

Don’t relent. Do work.