These 5 Habits Can Improve Your Life Immediately

These 5 Habits Can Improve Your Life Immediately

(I posted this over on Quora and it blew up, so I thought I’d re-post my answer here for those of you who might have missed it …)

This will be fun … and controversial. So, hold on to your ass. I’m going to tell you five things you can do, right now, to improve your life.

1. Masturbate.

You’ll be less anxious and less stressed if you do.

The best advice I ever got in high school? It came from my driving school instructor on the day before my road test. He was an older Jewish guy who looked and spoke a lot like Jackie Mason. After dropping me off at my house, he said to me, “Go jerk off tonight. It’ll clear your head and you’ll be relaxed for your test tomorrow.”

Now, I’m not saying this is advice you want someone to give you unsolicited, especially from someone you barely know, but … Seriously. It works.

2. Don’t Care So Much.

There are few things I actually care about. I care about the women in my life. I care about my family, even though they drive me up a fucking wall, and I care about helping people as much as I can with the time that I have left on this planet.

Everything else? I don’t care.

I’ll do what I have to do to make a living, but unless I’m doing something that involves any of the above, I’m doing what I need to do to get the job done — and done well, mind you — but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it either. In fact, beyond what I need to do to perform well on my tasks, I’m not going to think twice about it once it’s accomplished.

Put another way: Prioritize everything you do around the things you care about most. Everything else is bullshit.

3. Don’t Work More Than Four Hours a Day

This is sort of related to the above, but has to do with the way we’re wired mentally.

You only have so many hours in a day that you can be productive.

A lot of this has to do with your brain being a goal oriented machine, some of it has to do with the way the modern work day is scheduled.

For example, how many of you find yourselves trying to kill time on any given work day because what you’ve been given to work on won’t fill nine hours? I bet it’s almost all of you.

I’m convinced you can produce more, excellent work, in concentrated bursts of productivity then you can being trapped in an office all day for nine hours because someone somewhere decided that was the mandatory length of time for the average work day.

So, whenever possible, make the most of your four productive hours.

4. Remind yourself that you’re going to die.

I know. That sounds morbid. But if you find yourself losing your shit about something, ask yourself, “If I was dead tomorrow, would this matter?”

9 times out of 10 the answer is a big, fat, NOPE!

Don’t remind yourself to be morbid, do this to remind yourself that time is the most valuable thing that you have, and you shouldn’t waste it on stupid shit that’s not going to matter a day from now or even a week from now.

Take it from me. I almost died when I was 30. Everything I do after that must pass a very specific test, “If I was dead tomorrow, would this matter?” If the answer is no, and as much as possible, I won’t do it.

5. Keep an open mind.

I know. REAL controversial, but seriously. Try something new every day.

Question everything you read and hear.

Try weed.

Sleep with someone of the same sex.

Let the dog take YOU for a walk.

Life is short, do everything you can that’s within the realm of not harming yourself or others.

If you go through life shutting yourself off from everything this world has to offer, you’re going to be real bummed when you die and find there’s no afterlife and not a hell of a lot to do aside from being nothing.

So, live a little, love a lot, and enjoy.

Surprise! I Have a New Book on Privacy Out in October

Surprise! I Have a New Book on Privacy Out in October

This might take some explaining.

A couple of years ago, I was up at the University of Buffalo taking graduate classes in Higher Education. Basically, because I was bored, but that’s a different story. While there, a company approached me about writing a short book on privacy. So I said yes, wrote the book, and then the company more or less folded not long after I handed them the manuscript.

At that point, I just assumed the book was dead and, honestly, I forgot it existed. When people ask me how many books I’ve done, I told them two. The one I ghostwrote (which is coming out … eventually), and “Social Media Is Bullshit” that St. Martin’s Press put out. But I’ve actually done three.

That third one is called “The End of Privacy” and you can pre-order it here. The book is about exactly what you think it’s about: You have no privacy. You never had any privacy (since the American government has been violating your privacy since World War 1), and we’ve made it possible for billion dollar companies to form on the back of your data.

“The End of Privacy” is meant to be a brief explainer book on the subject of privacy. It’s only 100 pages, and it’s a quick read.

I’m going to do some media to promote this, but I won’t be blogging about it. Privacy is one of those weird subjects where everyone cares about it, but everyone also knows there’s not much we can do about shit like Equifax. Especially in the United States. Overseas it’s a bit of a different story.

So, that’s why this book is only 100 pages. I tried to condense everything into one place, so you know what’s going on and can knowingly talk about it, but I don’t spend much time getting into the weeds. There’s a bunch of books on privacy that are already out there, and if you read them, you’ll find they really struggle to talk about the issue and fill up a book. A lot of the time you get the author just droning about some tangential shit to fill space, and I’m not that kind of person.

So, I’m now the author of three books. You can check out this book soon, and if you see my dumb face popping up in different media outlets to talk about privacy, you know why.

Why You Should Focus On Doing One Thing

Why You Should Focus On Doing One Thing

I’m having a frustrating week. Bad for me, good for you. When I’m frustrated, that means I blog. I vent. You learn stuff. Everyone wins.

Proctor & Gamble Says I’m Right … 5 Years Later

This article about Proctor & Gamble taking a stand against a lot of the crap involved with online marketing and advertising was a bit of a kick in the teeth.

I’ve run into people at P&G numerous times throughout the years. This includes during one of my first “Social Media is Bullshit” presentations five years ago.

After I finished, two P&G people came up to me to thank me. They really liked the presentation and agreed with what I had to say. The thing is, they turned their badges around so I couldn’t see who they were at P&G, only saying they worked in the marketing department. Then they added, “You’re absolutely right, but we can’t do anything about it.” This is something I heard a lot over the years, and even just heard recently this Spring involving a very large part of our government you would never think of when you think of being obsessed with social media, but they totally are.

Now, P&G is out there fighting the good fight. They’re more or less saying what I was saying, calling out the fraudsters and bullshit online metrics. I’m not going to lie, this stresses me out.

I’m thrilled! But … I’m also stressed. These days when people hear the title of my book, they laugh and they’re open to learning more about it. But man, it’s easy to forget but I had to eat so much shit when the book first came out. No one wanted to hear it. Not (many) journalists, media outlets, tech companies, VCs, marketing people, advertising agencies, you name it and I had a hard sell to make to all of them.

It’s nice to be proven right; Don’t get me wrong, and the fight is far from over too. Just one more example involving Sherly Sandberg that I saw TODAY: She’s featured in The Drum saying Facebook is going to show that digital ads (re: Facebook ads) “ring the cash register.

Motherfucker! Facebook has been saying that for almost a decade now! 

Yes, Facebook Ads can be useful for a lot of things. I don’t dispute that. For those of you on a budget, they’re less expensive than Google’s Adwords, they’re a good place to test copy, headlines, and image thumbnails, and depending on what you’re selling, you may see results from using them. All true.

But at the same time, Facebook often exaggerates about their numbers and reach.

Not to mention, for those of you who have run Facebook ads, you’ll notice that their system punishes you the longer you run an advertising campaign with them. If you run an advertisement that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better results for the same ad — Yes, you should change up your copy and call to action, but people do need to see the same brand/ad multiple times before it even sticks in their head.

So if you’re constantly forced to change your ad because Facebook wants you to put more money into their slot machine, it’s a challenge to actually build a brand within Facebook’s system. Unless money is no object, which is all they really care about. Even though most of Facebook’s growth is occurring overseas, the majority of the advertising dollars they need to collect come from the United States and Canada.

Facebook wants agencies and big brands with big budgets that can drop $500k-$1M a month and don’t even care about the results as long as all those soft metrics are reached. Everyone else be damned.

So if you run something that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better, or even equivalent results to what you were getting when the campaign started.

And then there’s the whole debate about whether or not page views / unique users are actually great results to hang your hat on. Business Insider actually just came out agreeing with me that those numbers, after a certain point, are meaningless.

Growth for growth’s sake is stupid as long as you can pay your bills and turn a nice profit.

 

You Don’t Get Points For Being First

You don’t get points in life for being right or even being first. That was one of the big lessons I took away from “Social Media is Bullshit.” P&G heard me say stuff that they’re now saying publicly five years ago. I didn’t get a medal — although I think I’d look pretty sweet with one.

There’s a common misconception that you have to be first, but that’s not actually the case. You have to be first in your customer’s mind, not first to market.

YouTube was not the first online video service, it was just way more awesome than the previous one. Dropbox was not the first online hard drive. Nintendo was not the first home video game console maker. Airbnb was not the first peer to peer home sharing service. The New York Times was not the first newspaper in New York City. LinkedIn was not the first business / professional social network. Facebook was not the first social network. Windows and Mac OS were not the first operating systems to use graphics as part of the user interface. Netscape was not the first web browser to use graphics.

This list is pretty extensive, but you get the point.

The difference between the first companies and successful ones I named is that they were so much better than what came before them. Being so much better than the competition allowed them to became the first in their target customer’s head.

Whatever came before that product didn’t matter. So much so that if you ask most people today if Facebook was the first social network, a lot of people would say yes. But they weren’t. They were almost a decade late to the social networking game. They just had a way better product than MySpace.

(If you want to read more about why being first in mind, not first to market, is important, I highly recommend the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. You can see my notes on the book here.)

So, take it from me. I tell you all this because when I hear people say “You gotta be first” my skin crawls. Dude, I was first. I was five years ahead of where the marketing world is now with what P&G is doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re first.

Just be better. 10X better is what the startup people like to say. That comes from Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, and he’s right. You know what I did wrong that I regret a lot? I could have done a better job with SMIB, but I didn’t. So it made a dent, but it didn’t break open the advertising and marketing industries liked I hoped it would. It wasn’t 10X better than books that came out around it. But you bet your ass that I learned my lesson and the next one sure will be.

Focus On One Thing

Alright. Second thing and this is why I’m actually frustrated. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Good stuff. Positive stuff. But for those of you who freelance, whether it’s consulting or writing, you know there’s a lot of hurry up and wait that goes on.

You have good talks, good ideas, everyone is excited, but what people don’t tell you about freelancing is that you only get to work on your schedule when everything is all set and running. Otherwise, you’re waiting around on other people’s schedules. And while you may think you have the most important thing in the world to do, the odds are good you don’t rate too highly on the to do list of others because they have A TON of more important things to worry about.

(If they didn’t, why would they hire you in the first place?)

So, you wait. And when you wait, you have to keep your attention from wandering. This is where I often get into trouble.

I’m very calm and patient about most things in my life, but when it comes to my career I’m a lot like Bojack Horseman in “Stupid Piece of Shit.” I get that little voice gnawing away at me. I don’t like to wait because there are things I want to do. That little voice has always been there, but it got worse after I almost died (and it’s the reason I see a therapist. Believe me, when you crash and see nothing on the other end, your brain immediately goes, “I want to do ALL THE THINGS” when it comes back on.)

Allow me to let you deeper inside my head for a moment, so you understand what these things are I want to do.

My current goal is to write for Marvel Comics within the next three years. So, what does that mean? It’s seemingly impossible to break into the comics industry, especially if you’re just a writer.

So, you can publish your own comics (check!),  you can go to industry conferences (check!), and you can write for industry publications (almost everyone I used to work with at ComicsAlliance.com now works for comic companies like DC.)

And … you can take a major swing for the fences.

You can do what I just did and pitch a self-help book, disguised as a graphic novel, to major publishers and hope one of them picks it up.

Then, if one of the publishers does pick it up, you can hopefully generate enough heat (re: Press and media attention) to the point where the people at other publishers (Image, IDW, Boom, Archie, ect.) will want to work with you.

The way that breaks down, at least in my mind …

  1. Year one: You write, and get paid for, self-help columns for a major media outlet (check!). You pitch a self-help graphic novel to your agent (check) and hopefully, you can sell the darn thing.
  2. Year two: Your graphic novel gets finished and published while you continue writing your self-help column, and then you write for other places and start doing media appearances to promote your stuff. At this point, hopefully, one of the smaller publishers will be happy and receptive to work with you, and they put you on a book like Ghostbusters or Sonic the Hedgehog. Something that’s already pre-sold to the audience because of what the comic is based on so that people are going to take a risk on a “new” comic writer.
  3. Year three: You do a kick-ass job on Ghostbusters to the point where an editor at Marvel is like, “I like your stuff. Pitch me your idea for Deadpool.” (If you’ve read Social Media is Bullshit, you know I’d be AWESOME at writing Deadpool, although I really, really want to write Guardians (the original team, not the movie team …), Darkhawk, X-Men, and New Fantastic Four. In other words, shit I read in the ’90s when I first started reading Marvel.)

I tell you all this because if there’s something you want to do, the odds are good you can (probably) take a shot at doing it. The trick is that you have to think long term and follow the plan, knowing you won’t see immediate results. Shit, if I’m being brutally honest, you might not see results for an entire year. And that’s really hard when you’re impatient.

This, by the way, is also where everyone fucks up. Not just me. Sometimes, it’s for logical reasons. You’ve got the MBAs and data people making so many decisions now, and while those decisions aren’t always bad, they’re almost exclusively made at the detriment of long term thinking and solutions. Sometimes, it’s for illogical reasons, like a voice in your head that’s constantly kicking you to do more better now faster.

Branding is a long term play. Trying to crack into a notoriously difficult industry like Comics is a long term play. The plan I showed you above will take me three years to do. And that assumes everything runs on time.

It may not. It may take longer.

So you have to maintain your focus on this one thing. The second you start trying to do other things is where you mess up.

Like right now? I just sent Peter 9 pages of a new comic while we’re waiting to hear back from my agent. This is what I need to focus on: Comics. But that voice in my head says, “Ok now let’s pitch a TV show! Let’s write a screenplay!”

Every moment of your free time, not dedicated to friends and family, should be dedicated to getting better at the thing you want to do, and being ready for the opportunity when it comes.

The second a comics editor at any of the companies comes to me, I want to be able to show them all these comics. I don’t want to sit there and go, “Uh … I have great ideas!” Shit, we all have great ideas, but too few of us put them into a fixed form.

That’s the way I want you to think. It’s the way I need to think too, so don’t think I’m some guru or anything like that. But it’d be great if we can think like that together.

Wanting to work on a bunch of stuff at once sounds great, but believe me, I’ve tried for years and years trying to spin multiple plates at once, and I found I was ok at most of them, but I could be amazing if I were to focus on just one of them.

So for me, it’s focusing on comic books. For you, it could be doing something else. But the important thing is to not be in a rush.

Don’t worry about being first. Or the guy you worked with getting to write for Marvel before you did. Worry about you and the thing you want to accomplish. And if the thing you’re working on is fantastic, room will be made for you. I very much believe that. And I hope I can get you to as well.

Don’t Lose Sleep Over Things You Can’t Control

Don’t Lose Sleep Over Things You Can’t Control

This week I saw my cardiologist for the first time in a while. Since the Summer of 2013, I thought my heart troubles were behind me. I went in, had surgery, almost died, had another surgery, and everything was all fixed. For the first time in my life, I had a heart working at 100% of its capacity when I left that hospital.

Then, last Summer, I started to feel weird, but I ignored it because it was hot, and I’ve never responded well to the humid Summer heat upstate New York tends to get.

In the Fall, some new symptoms emerged. But I figured it was stress from working with that particular client and having a relationship blow up in my face. One doctor even suggested all the symptoms were in my head. So I saw a psychiatrist. Still, do. Although not as often as I probably should. The symptoms remained.

Now here we are, almost a year later, and I was still feeling weird — and tired. That brought me back to the cardiologist.

The good news is that my heart was fixed from the surgeries. The bad news is that my family has this fun genetic disorder involving the nervous system, and that disorder likes to screw around with your body. Your heart included. Lucky me.

But these days? As bad as that news could be taken, I don’t lose any sleep over it.

Don’t get me wrong. This sucks. It’s going to change some things on my end concerning my career plan, my travel, and some general life things, but I still sleep like a baby.

You know why? Because you can’t worry about stuff you have no control over. I don’t have any control over this. I can take medication. I can exercise more. I can travel more strategically, but there’s no cure. This thing won’t go away. It’s just there. Being a pain in the ass.

And we all have stuff like that in our life. You can’t fix it. It’s super annoying to you, but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, if ever. So you just sort of deal with it. The best way to deal with things like that is to not give it another thought. Do whatever you need to figure out how to work around it, and then just go forward and do it.

Sure, easier said than done. But isn’t everything worth doing?

Image Courtesy: Olichel on Pixabay

There Is No Such Thing As a Free Breakfast Burrito

There Is No Such Thing As a Free Breakfast Burrito

I always ask the people in my life — the ones I work with, the ones I love — “What do you want?”

Sometimes they have an answer, but most of the time they don’t. There’s nothing wrong with that.

For a while anyway.

But for people who work in marketing, communications, basically any industry where you need to capture and keep someone else’s attention, you know that everything you do takes forever to work. This is especially true if you don’t have any money to put behind it. You don’t NEED money, but it certainly helps and can speed up the process.

But most of us don’t have money. Either because we have our own limited funds to tap into, or because our department is only given so much to work with each year. Or the people in charge don’t believe in marketing and therefore don’t want to spend any money, but then they complain when they are not getting the results they’re looking for. (There is no such thing as a free lunch. Or as I like to tell people, there’s no such thing as a free breakfast burrito.)

Your biggest asset and your greatest enemy is time. Nobody knows how much time we actually have on this Earth, and we’re really good at wasting what of it that we do have. (Take it from someone who almost died not long after turning 30.)

So if the answer to the question of “What do you want?” is “I don’t know”, it’s fine for a while. We all need time to sort things out. But. You have to remember that you’re wasting the time that you do have with indecision.

And since it takes forever to convert people to whatever it is you want to convert them to, the longer you take to start doing this, the longer it’ll take to finish.

So don’t answer with “I don’t know” for too long, especially if you want to accomplish big things in your life.

(Photo Credit: Chef Buck on YouTube)

Fun with Co-Writers

Fun with Co-Writers

I’ve been busy.

I know. We’re all busy.

But I have a plan I have to stick to, and I can’t do it if I completely drop off the map.

So! I have teamed up with two writers, and a long time behind the scenes collaborator, to bring you new stuff.

Basically, I’m giving them the ideas and doing some light editing, and they’re doing the writing. So if you’re like, “This stuff doesn’t sound like you!”, I know.

K. Thor Jensen, who recently put out an interesting new graphic novel called “Cloud Stories” is working with me on proving (or disproving) a theory about “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” You can catch the first article, “The Gentle Art of Judo” here on LinkedIn.

Some of you might have seen the Marie Claire story where my ghostwriter (now co-writer), Jaclyn Schiff, got namechecked. Once she’s free we’ll work on some more marketing-focused content that’ll pop-up on some other websites you’ve probably heard of. (Not here, though.)

My long time collaborator, Amanda King, and I will be bringing back the book summaries here on this website. I realized after I wrote an 11-page one for “Start with Why” that I should work with someone to help crank these out faster and keep them manageable for those of you who don’t have time to read 12,000 (or more!) words about a book that you can probably read in that time it’d take to read through my notes.

Those summaries will run either here or on a new website. I haven’t decided yet. Until then though, enjoy the new stuff!

 

On the 120th Anniversary of Dracula, an Update on My Take

On the 120th Anniversary of Dracula, an Update on My Take

I’m a day late on this. Still getting adjusted to having a day job and a schedule. May 26 was the 120th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” If you haven’t read the book yet, you can get it for free on a variety of platforms here. If you’re like me and prefer reading books in print, Barnes & Noble typically has a copy of “Dracula” floating around along with their reprints of other classic books. (Of course, I rather you buy the thing from your local, independent, bookstore, but those are becoming harder and harder to find these days.)

 

“Dracula” starts slow, but if you stick with it, the pacing of it picks up dramatically and it becomes a bit more of an action-adventure novel. There’s also a lot of (unintentionally?) funny moments in it. It’s those funny moments I want to talk about.

 

Almost 10 years ago I started work on a parody of “Dracula.” It was originally called “Dracula and Kittens” but then later became “Cold Hilarious Fate” after the kitten subplot mostly got cut from the manuscript. (And yes, the new title is a reference to the often underappreciated “King of the Hill” cartoon.) The book was created just before books like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” became huge hits but never quite got off the ground. Putting parts of the manuscript online did get me a book agent, and that lead to the creation of “Social Media Is Bullshit,” but for years “Cold Hilarious Fate” languished.

 

A big part of the book was highlighting the odd moments of humor found within “Dracula” and completely amping them up. Dracula, standing at the doorway of his castle and unable to move until Harker agrees to enter plays as weird in the original book, but in “Cold Hilarious Fate” is a moment for Dracula, who is an asshole, to further mess with Harker.

 

I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the book. It seems like I revisit it every few years and then abandon it when other stuff comes up. So, don’t hold your breath, is what I’m saying. But that said, if you want to know what the book would be like, you can check out the first chapter of it for free.

Chapter 1. Crime Knows No Color

(From “Cold Hilarious Fate” written by Bram Stoker and B.J. Mendelson)

I’m on my way to Romania to do some work for Carlin, Prior and Hicks. It’s my first big assignment outside the office and only the second trip abroad for the firm since “The Happy Loman Incident.”  Since the firm was footing the bill, I decided to take a minor detour through Germany and spend a few days here. My grandmother’s family had been wiped out in the Holocaust, and  I wanted to see the place where anti-Semitism is made.

 

My detour took me to Munich and the Hotel Munchen Palace. In further proof that Yelp can never completely be trusted, the hotel was great, but they still used Yugos to transport their guests around the German countryside. Noticing the hotel manager,  I walked to my Yugo as quickly as I could. I had hoped he didn’t notice me, but Mr. Jonathan P. Heidenreich saw everything. He emerged from the hotel drenched in Coppertone and stared at my ride with a look similar to what the Nazis must have given Poland just before invading it.

 

Heidenreich was a bit of an odd character. Portly, bald, and disheveled he seemed to enjoy sharing his poetry unsolicited with all of the hotel guests. Each night during my stay here, I heard Heidenreich roam the halls, knocking on each door under the guise of asking his guests about their stay, but then saying in perfect English, “May I read you this poem I have just written? It is about my cat, Ilsa.” When I saw him making his way toward our vehicle,  I rolled up my window and said to the driver, who had introduced himself as “Johan,” “I hope he’s not going to read us more of his fucking poetry.” Johan did not respond in any discernable way. Typical German. No sense of humor. Smiling I guess is also prohibited within the confines of this horrible vehicle. Although truthfully, if I owned a Yugo, I wouldn’t be smiling either.

 

Instead of molesting our ears, Heidenreich curtly wished me a pleasant trip, perhaps indicating he, in fact, knew what was done to his lobby bathroom, and then he said to Johan, “Show our amazing American Bavaria’s beauty but be back before early evening. You know what nasty night it is.” Johan, not impressed at all with needless alliteration, or life itself, answered Heidenreich with an emphatic, “Ja.” Johan Schulz: Man of many words. On his days off, Johan offers rides to tourists around the Bavarian countryside. Heidenreich had introduced us when I checked in a week ago, but it was a brief encounter. Johan simply took out his hand, I shook it, and then he walked away without saying anything further. Johan was certainly a model for cold, emotionless, German efficiency. I bet he would have made a great Nazi.

 

As the Yugo’s “powerful” engine came to life, I asked Johan what was happening tonight. Johan simply crossed himself as he answered laconically: “Walpurgis nacht.” “What THE fuck does that mean?” Johan snorted in response to my inquiry and looked at his watch. It was a great, old-fashioned German silver thing as big as a Volkswagen. His eyebrows gathered together as he gave me an impatient shrug. I realized this was him being passive aggressive. Had I consumed a proper German breakfast this morning, I would have replied to his passive aggressive behavior by farting at him and showing him the terrible vengeance I have brought upon his country during my trip abroad. But as an American in Europe, I am obligated to act classy at all times when within the presence of a European, least they think of me as one of “those people.” You know the ones I’m talking about. The Americans who visit Germany for the first time. Fat, out of shape, ignorant, wearing jean shorts, and constantly asking anyone who even remotely looks German, “Where do you keep the Jew Gold?”

 

About an hour into our trip, I saw a road that looked little traveled, and which seemed to dip through a small, winding valley. It looked so inviting that I asked Johan to stop his plodding Yugo. He did with a heavy sigh and a cross look. I momentarily reconsidered farting at him. I then told Johan I would like him to drive us down that road, which prompted a seemingly endless barrage of excuses delivered in broken English, many of which were followed by Johan crossing himself at the conclusion of each statement. His reluctance to make a simple left turn piqued my curiosity. We hadn’t stuck to any sort of course on this trip, going wherever I wanted, and now we came across a seemingly harmless road and he won’t go down it? Fuck that. I have Johan as my driver for another few hours still. Something was up. I started to ask him various questions. He answered fencingly, and repeatedly looked at his watch in protest as he did. Frustrated, I then told Johan I wanted to get out of the car. But before I could even take off my seat belt, he had opened his door and raced out in front of mine, blocking it with his enormous Aryan frame. I didn’t think a German could move that quickly unless he was taking something that didn’t belong to him. Johan towered over me by at least a foot and had about 200 pounds of muscle to my 145 pounds of lank. He made an impressive road block. If I was in a more joking mood, I would have said something witty to break the tension, like “With speed like that, the Aryan Barbarian will capture the world wrestling federation title in no time.” But I wasn’t feeling very funny. I was kind of pissed off at his odd behavior. Even the monsters don’t act like this. Well, except the one that ripped off Happy Loman’s arms and beat him to death with them.

 

There was an awkward moment that followed between Johan and I. I, in the car looking up at Johan, the Aryan Barbarian. Him, peering down at me with all the menace you’d expect from an angered German. It crossed my mind to inform him that my mother was Jewish, just to see if he’d flip out, enter Beast Mode, and put his fist through the window in an effort to hoist me over his shoulder and shake me to see if any hidden “Jew Gold” came loose, but I thought better of it. Instead, I rolled down the window and informed him that I wanted to exit the vehicle. There was another pause before he finally sighed and took a step back. I am pleased to inform my readers that, yet again, a German surrendered to an American.

 

Once I finally got out of the Yugo, Johan implored me not to go down the road. He seemed always just about to tell me something–the very idea of which must have frightened him; as each time he would cut himself off, cross himself and say mysteriously, ‘Walpurgis-Nacht!’ Each time I would reply to him by saying, “I still don’t know what the fuck that means.” I tried to argue further with Johan, but it’s difficult to argue with a man whose native tongue is German. Even the nicest things said in that language sound like a chainsaw cutting through rusted metal in the midst of thrashing guitars, thunderous drums, and some kind words about Jesus. This was Germany after all, and aside from murdering millions of innocent people, they’re also known for their uplifting brand of heavy metal music that focuses on positivity and peace. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

 

A couple of horses from a nearby farm had apparently heard our argument and had moved closer to us. At one point standing mere several inches away, separated only by the farm’s odd, white picket fence. You would think the German owners would have gone with cold steel and misery, but apparently, that wasn’t the order of the day when they built that fence. At one point, Secretariat and Barbaro had started to queerly sniff the air. At this sight, Johan grew pale and looked around in a frightened way that didn’t befit his murderous German heritage. Whatever was going on, the next thing I knew Johan had picked me up over his shoulder, which prompted me to immediately inform him that I did not possess any sort of “Jew Gold” on my person. Johan swiftly opened the passenger door, and then threw me into the car as if I were a feather pillow. He then got in and drove a few feet down the road to get away from the horses. “Johan, I know one of those horses appeared to have taken a dump during our conversation, perhaps indicating their agreement with my position, but I feel you’re overreacting!” He said nothing. When I asked again for an explanation, he again crossed himself and pointed to the spot we had left. “’Buried him–him what killed themselves.”

 

“Jesus. Again with your strange and mysterious German shit! Do you mean he killed himself, Johan?  A suicide? You know, the thing your former dickhead leader did instead of manning up and letting the Russians play soccer with his skull, which they probably did anyway? You people still bury your suicides on the side of the road? What the fuck is wrong with you people? I mean seriously. Have the people of Germany ever stopped, looked themselves in the mirror and went, “Wow. We’re pretty fucked up. We’re like the neighbor who molested Punky Brewster on one of those very special episodes.” As Johan was about to respond, we heard a sort of sound that straddled the sonic line between a belch and a roar. Johan, for the second time in a short period, again went pale and said simply, “A drunk bear.” I asked, “You have wild bears in Bavaria?” I didn’t realize there were still bears in Bavaria. Especially after the Germans had taken it on themselves to kill what was apparently a peaceful one named Bruno a few years earlier for no other reason other than that he was adorable. Classic Germany.

 

“No. Circus. Abandoned not long ago. Now roaming freely” Johan added. “And they’re drunk?” “Circus rum.” I immediately got out of the car, informing Johan, “I have got to see this.” Upon exiting the car, in the event Johan attempted to again hoist me over his shoulder, I took from the seat my solid oak walking stick — which I always carry in the event I needed to fuck up a mugger — and closed the door. Johan again followed me out of the vehicle, but this time nowhere near as fast as he had previously. Perhaps with my stinging Punky Brewster remark and wooden weapon of choice, he had decided it would be for the best if a drunken circus bear devours me. At the very least he’d return with a good story, and one the fucked up people of Germany will all probably blog and brag about to their weirdo friends in Switzerland.

 

I noticed at this point that dark clouds had started to swirl across the sky. The sunshine passed, and a breath of cold wind seemed to drift past us, sort of like that creepy feeling you get when you’re talking about someone who died and all of a sudden the room gets cold. It was only a brief breath, however, and honestly, it felt more like a warning than anything else as the sun soon came out brightly again. If it was a warning for what’s to come on my Eastern European adventure, I’d like to take a moment here and put God on notice: Nothing can stop my mighty mugger stick! Johan, tall enough to be blinded by the sun, looked under his lifted hand at the horizon and said: “The storm of snow, she comes.” Then he looked at his watch again and straight away got back into the car. This time, I didn’t join him.

 

This lead to yet another awkward moment. One more of these and we would have pretty much guaranteed that we would have our own BBC series together. Although this time it was I who was now towering over my monstrous German friend as he rolled down his window. “Where does this road go Johan?” Again he crossed himself and mumbled a prayer, before he answered, “Unholy.” ‘”What is unholy?’” “The store.” Curious, I asked, “ You guys have a Costco down there?” Apparently annoyed by my nonchalant retorts and eagerness to walk down this road, Johan burst out into a long story in German and English, so mixed up that I could not understand everything, but I did gather a few things:

 

-There was a popular pet store down this road many years ago. I didn’t catch the name. Something, obviously, had happened at that store.

 

-The employees were all from Romania, and the store exclusively carried kittens.

 

-The German government turned the area into a sort of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. This road marked the entrance to that area, and it is completely restricted. Nobody goes in, and apparently, nobody comes out.

 

Johan was evidently afraid to speak those last words. Unfortunately, as he proceeded with his narration, he grew increasingly excited and began to speak entirely in German. So whatever he was saying was completely lost on me. I can speak in tongues. Even some Aramaic for that one time Jesus wanted to sue Mel Gibson. But German? Forget it. I never learned the language out of spite. I doubt it would have done me much good here as he was babbling endlessly, apparently going pale and then trembling with fear to boot. Never saw a German do that. I didn’t think it was something they did as a people, aside from the ones my grandfather-in-law saw just a moment before flattening them with his tank. Johan was looking around wildly now as if expecting some drunken circus bear would manifest itself right then and there and maul him while wearing a silly hat. Finally, in an agony of desperation, he cried: ‘Walpurgis nacht!’ and started the car. I could only take so much of Johan and his “rumpus night” crap. I am an American. Nobody tells me what to do in a foreign country! “For someone of your size and heritage, you should be ashamed of yourself Johan. You are afraid my friend. In America, we’d call you a pussy, but I think right now that’d be an insult to pussies. So do me a favor and go home. “Rumpus Room” doesn’t concern Americans. None of your fruity Euro-bullshit does!”

 

Johan excitedly implored me not to do anything foolish. I pitied the fuck, he was deeply in earnest; but all the same, I could not help but laugh at his apparent nervous breakdown. What had happened to the calm and efficient killing machine that I began this trip with? Feeling slightly guilty about that, I turned and walked away as he continued to jabber on German. With a despairing gesture, which I promptly replied to by flipping him a little something I like to call “the bird,” Johan crawled off toward Munich in his busted ass vehicle. I leaned on my mighty mugger stick and looked as he drove off. He went slowly along the road for a while until there came over the crest of the hill a tall and husky man. He appeared to be black, which in America would necessitate a subconscious tightening of my grip thanks to years being brainwashed by the evening news, but I could only see so much of him in the distance. When the man drew near the horses, they began to jump and kick about, then scream as if farmer Bill had arrived to send them to the glue factory. Johan must have heard the commotion as his shitbox from hell roared, making the jump to hyperspace and leaving my view entirely. I looked at the horses and then back for the stranger, but found that he too was gone.

 

I was now alone, left with nothing but guilt for my display of mild racism and my mockery of Johan’s fear. What was he trying to warn me about?

 

– John Harker

 

P.S. My grandmother, who originally owned the mighty mugger stick, had a completely racist name for it. My father, when he gave me the stick, tried to justify his mother’s use of a racist word in place of “mugger” by saying, “Well in her day things were different.” I once admonished her about the name of the stick saying, “Grandma, crime knows no color!” Funny enough, her racism later would vanish when she was mugged on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue by a bunch of white guys. Serves her right.