I have some bad news to report, friends. We used the wrong kind of dirt in the Awkward Press content farm and all our writers died. I think it was the soil. It also could have been the thin, airless plastic box we made them work inside and the fact that our in-house cafeteria only served pencil shavings.
So on to the next plan for bringing this crumbling blight of a web presence back into the public eye. In looking at our stats, it has become clear to me that people love two things: lists and horror. The perennial top two articles are our friend Clay McLeod Chapman’s “Top Ten Horror Movies That You Probably Didn’t See,” years 2011 and 2009. I will not be competing with Clay’s wonderful articles, because I don’t know the horror genre well enough to say anything that would add to the national discussion. Luckily there is plenty of horror to be found out there in the real world that can be fashioned into an arbitrary list, so without further ado, I present to you: The Top Ten Real Life Horrors.
Houseflies are the filthiest, most disgusting thing in the universe, and they are ALL AROUND US. They lay their eggs in shit. Their eggs hatch into squirmly maggots that get their kicks snacking on human flesh. They hang out on garbage and filth and then get their filthy garbagey feet all over your food. They vomit acidic saliva on their (your) food before they eat it and they spread tuberculosis and they look a fright. They taste with their feet, for Christ’s sake. That’s all the proof you need that God hates them.
If you have ever felt guilty for killing a fly, just remember that they want your mother dead so their babies can eat her. It’s a war out there, and if you’re not with us, you’re with the flies.
9) Cell phones
Yes, yes, cell phones probably cause brain tumors. So it goes. If you’re terrified of getting brain tumors all the time then maybe you should get rid of your brain. Don’t get me wrong, brain tumors are no joke. Please get tested immediately. But the cancer-causing side effects of cell phones are far less terrifying to me than their very raison d’être: to shepherd our souls into the matrix.
All phones have always been somewhat terrifying in that they transform your voice into the sole manifestation of your being and then thrust that voice into a strange ethereal way-station where you can connect with others sans bodies. That’s creepy. But at least back when we used phones that had to be plugged into the wall, there were built-in limitations that still kept us tied to the physical world.
With the advent of the cell phone, the wires disappeared, and with them, our perspective on the necessity of being available. Now a simple electronic hand-block was all we needed to enter into these tantalizing ethereal way-stations. Location lost all meaning. As did our unspoken social agreements that A) the ethereal way-station is inferior to the physical realm and B) the ethereal way-station has boundaries. You can’t just barge into someone’s house at all hours of the day. And back when calling a person meant you would be creating a loud sound in their home, we maintained a certain sense of decorum about when and under what circumstances we would try to reach that person.
No longer. Now any time is fair game, because it’ll just go to voicemail if the person is unavailable. Which in essence means the person is always available; because when every call is registered, every call must be completed, or else the entire societal structure crumbles. For those of us who don’t particularly enjoy talking on the phone, the cell phone is this constant source of anxiety, this thing that we must constantly keep fed with our time and attention. We’re screaming out, “don’t drag me into the matrix! I prefer the physical realm!” but still the calls keep coming.
As if the phone wasn’t bad enough, along came the smart phone. Now I am constantly seconds away from every email, every text, every Facebook post, every Tweet, every phone call. When I’m not hanging out in some virtual space, I am thinking about the thing I’m going to say next in that virtual space.
Maybe you feel differently about it. Maybe you’re able to shut out the noise when you’ve got something to do and pick it back up whenever it feels comfortable. I admire you and wish you well, but realize this: you’re a dying breed. Feeling distracted is the new paying attention. We are in the matrix. The wires have been clipped and we are all just floating in space where everyone can hear us scream.
Money is the worst. It is every negative emotion and human impulse bundled together and baked into convenient, pocket-sized slips of paper. (And not even paper anymore, now that loan sharks and hobos are the only ones who use actual cash.) It’s just numbers floating in computer space, numbers that mean both absolutely nothing and absolutely everything. It is the driving force behind wars, hunger, environmental catastrophe, social inequality, anxiety, crime, depression, and the Transformers films. I wouldn’t say money is the root of all evil—most rapists aren’t in it for the profit. But it is certainly the cause of and the justification for a whole lot of bad behavior among us hominid types.
Okay, fine, you say, but isn’t it a necessary evil? Like, how could you build a society in which everyone had equal access to everything? So in your world, Dinsmore, everyone would have an Xbox and a Playstation and a Wii and every game made for these systems? Everything? And would there even be everything to have if we didn’t have money as a motivating factor? Would there be any incentive for a guy to sit down and invent, say, the steam iron if he didn’t think he was going to make a killing?
Those are great questions! I do not know the answer to them. But I do know this: the alternative we’ve come up with, in which people who have money hire people to help them make more money, and the people who can’t get hired by those people are trapped in a nearly insurmountable pit of inopportunity, THAT IS A BAD SYSTEM.
Having said all that, and believing with all my heart that mo money = mo problems, I still want it. You still want it. We all want it. And when we get it, it will still be the worst. Boo, money! Go away! Give me some first. But then go away!
(Note: While doing research for this piece, I found this article about a guy who lived without money for a year. He still relied on things that were produced by commerce to survive, so I can’t call this an entirely pure experience. And he didn’t have an Xbox. But still, knobs for going the distance, brother.)
7) The private prison industry.
Time to get real, yo. Of all the threats to our liberty in this country, perhaps none is more sinister than the fact that CORPORATIONS MAKE MONEY BY IMPRISONING PEOPLE.
First of all, some scary statistics: America imprisons a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world—more than Russia and China combined. To combat the insane levels of overcrowding, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is giving $5.1 billion of your tax dollars to for-profit prison companies. The top three of these companies have spent a combined total of $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists. The job of these lobbyists is to help lawmakers find new ways to put your fellow citizens—or perhaps even YOU—in jail.
What’s even more terrifying is that it’s working splendidly, most notably in the anti-immigration movement. The private prison industry, under the sponsorship of a nefarious organization known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wrote the language behind Arizona’s “Papers Please” anti-immigration bill. They then donated money to the campaigns of 30 of the bills’ 36 congressional co-sponsors to ensure the bill was passed. (I don’t know why the other 6 co-sponsors didn’t cash in . . . I guess they just signed on out of the goodness of their hearts.) But point being, the private prison industry created and paid to produce a new law that would increase the prison population, not because they gave a shit about the state of Arizona or have an ideological stand against illegal immigration, but because they make their money by putting people in cages.
Remember when I mentioned ALEC back there? Right up there, in the last paragraph. These guys weren’t just instrumental in crafting Arizona’s anti-immigration legislation. They were also the dudes who came up with the "three strikes" laws that have handed people life sentences for shoplifting, and the "Stand Your Ground" bill that makes it easier for lunatics like George Zimmerman to go around shooting innocent kids in hoodies. ALEC literally writes bills, hands them to legislators along with a stack of filthy lucre for their campaign chests, and then watches gleefully as their bills get drafted into law, word for fucking word. Two of their major corporate donors just happen to be private prison groups, so you can guess the focus of these bills will not be on lessening the prison population. Follow some of those links. Seriously, this ALEC shit is nuts.
Look, you may have your own thoughts about what we should do to prevent crime. I happen to believe our criminal justice system is irrefutably skewed toward oppressing giant swaths of our society, but maybe you’re more of the “you do the crime, you do the time” variety. Fair enough.
At the end of the day, though, I ask you this: is it right for a corporation to make money off those crimes? And for those corporations to be assisted by lobbying groups who are fighting to make it easier for people to go to prison for longer stretches of time? ‘Cause lemme tell ya’ the last thing a private prison industry wants is for crime to go away. And if that doesn’t make you feel at least a little queasy about your own legal rights, than clearly you don’t spend as much time doing drugs as I do.
Ooh! And speak of the devil . . . there’s a Democracy Now! special about ALEC with Bill Moyers! Forget those links. Just watch that. Bill Moyers is the king.
6) This fucking thing.
Ahhh! Look at this thing! You hate this thing! What is this thing?
This is called a potato bug, a/k/a a Jerusalem cricket. I first became aware of this thing one night when I went out on my porch to enjoy the stars. Instead, I got to enjoy this fucking creep hanging out on the wall about six inches from my face.
The potato bug is a gelatiney, 4 inch long tarantula-ant that hangs out underground, snacking on our good, homegrown American crops. Occasionally it ventures out of its warm dirt home to scare the living piss out of any humans who are unfortunate enough to cross its path. Thankfully, it is usually harmless. But that does not give it the right to be so hideous. Lots of completely harmless things are perfectly lovely to look at, like baby pandas. Can you imagine if your garden was filled with baby pandas instead of these terror-inducing monsters? That would be the snugly-wuggliest garden ever!
Also, the well-trained reader will notice that I said the potato bug is “usually” harmless, implying there are times when this monster is, in fact, full of harm. What I should have said is, “this hideous freak is completely harmless if you take the sensible approach and run screaming in terror the minute you encounter him. If not, he will bite you. And it will hurt.” That would never happen to me, because I would immolate myself if this thing ever got near my skin. But if you’re one of those weirdoes who feels a strange compulsion to put living creatures on his arm just to see what happens, be forewarned: everyone hates you.
5) Cars, Petroleum, The Human Body, and The Continued Relevance of Donald Trump
I have spent far more time writing this list than I should have, considering there is writing I should be doing that pays me money. (Just kidding. No one wants to pay me money.) Half the time has been spent writing, and half the time has been spent figuring out what in the fuck I’m going to do for #5. In the first iteration of the list, #5 was "the continued relevance of Donald Trump". I assumed that if I delved deep enough into Trump’s checkered past I would be able to prove that he’s somehow single-handedly responsible for both the coarsening of our culture and the rise of the modern gilded age. Which is probably true, but after reading like 2 articles about Donald Trump I realized that I don’t give a shit about Donald Trump. And while his continued relevance may be obnoxious, it probably does not deserve to rank much higher on the terror scale than, say, the ease of access to loose nuclear material.
My next thought was the human body. We’re all walking around in these hideous blood shells filled with poop and acids and tiny horrid insects and that is awful. But I if I started digging deep into the horror of the human body I’m afraid I would not last through the night. I’m sure it’s gross in there. Let’s leave it at that.
Next thought was petroleum. And not necessarily because of how many terrible things in our world are dictated by our need for oil. More because petroleum is a bunch of dead animals and plants that we pay to squirt into our car-holes so we can drive places we could easily walk. And also our Earth has been completely destroyed because of our insistence on sucking this shit out of the ground just so we can light it on fire. That’s pretty much the worse thing there is and anyone who drives a car should be shot on sight.
Which brought me to cars. Cars are terrible. They’re giant rolling death machines that cost a lot of money and ruin everything they come in contact with. 3,500 people die in traffic accidents every day. 3,500 people dying, every single day, because you’re too goddamned lazy to bike the 3 miles to work. Did I say you? I meant me. Because that’s what I do every day. And I live in Los Angeles, where it only rains once a year. And when it rains, it rains frogs.
Yes, cars stink. In a perfect world, we would treat cars like airplanes: that thing we use three or four times a year when we go someplace we can’t reach any other way. I know, I know, you have to drive an hour and a half each way to work every day. But if we didn’t have cars, you wouldn’t have to do that. Because businesses wouldn’t build their offices out in some desolate office park miles away from where anyone lived if no one was able to get into work. We might actually be able to live in the places we live in.
Hey, but don’t feel guilty. I’m not saying I’m any better. I know, be the change and all that. I’m hardly out there keeping it real on my fixie. I drive a car because I’m afraid if I didn’t I would be hit by a car. Is there irony in that? There’s something, all right.
Anyway. All of these things are scary in their own way. Food for thought, I guess. I’ve been staring at this list for too goddamned long.
It’s really not my intention to gross anyone out here. When you read the title of this list, you maybe expected to see a bunch of pictures of narsty-looking diseases or like grody animals with blood spurting out of their asses or whatever. If that’s how you get your jollies, more power to ya’, man. I’m sure there are all sorts of lists over at Cracked.com that’ll get your juices flowing. I’m just trying to go a little deeper here, beyond the gross-out, into the realm of the disturbing.
Having said that, this one is pure gross-out. I first learned about sounding through Dan Savage’s excellent (and sometimes way disgusting) sex advice podcast, Savage Love. Now, I understand that people do all sorts of gross things in the bedroom, and for the most part, I’m all for it. Smack each other around with a fish dinner or whatever, if it keeps your relationship going, more power to you. But I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would ever be into sounding.
What is sounding? Also known as "cock-stuffing," it is a sexual practice engaged in by some men in which they stick a metal rod in their peeholes and use their urethras like tiny vaginas. I don’t know if there is a comparable sensation for women, because my request for sexual reassignment has yet to go through. Also, I’m still a little unclear about how lady-parts work. But I guess the closest corollary I could come up with on parts that I know we both have is your ear or your nose. Like, imagine jabbing something into one of those holes for pleasure. Except also imagine that when you’re jabbing that thing into that hole you are creating the sensation of taking a burning, stabbing piss. Sexy, amiright? No, I’m being facetious. That sounds terrible!
I will say this: if you are interested in sounding, PLEASE do yourself a favor and buy proper equipment. I read an advice column about sounding while writing this in which the writer advised against using a thermometer on account of how the glass could shatter inside your urethra. Which, VOM. Be safe and sound, you guys. I totally just made that up.
You can order these awful torture sticks on Amazon. I went to the trouble of creating an Amazon partner link so I can make money off of anyone who buys a set of sounding sticks through Awkward Press. Just my luck, this’ll be the thing that makes me my fortune.
3) That skin disease that woman had who walked past me at the Birch Run Outlet Mall.
Okay, picture this. I am seventeen years old. You don’t need to picture it: here I am.
So that should give a you a pretty good idea of what we’re dealing with.
For the past year, I’d been working at a store called Wallet Works, which was located in the Manufacturers Market Place outlet mall in Birch Run, Michigan. This was my first job, and it was certainly a job, all right. As you probably guessed from the name of the store, we sold handguns. Ha ha, just kidding. We sold wallets. And purses. And a suitcase. Literally, a single suitcase.
It was the summer after my junior year of high school, and the future was looking bright. I was going into my senior year as class president, practically guaranteeing that I would spend the next year sailing on a sea of teenage trim. I had a car and my own phone line (yeah, that used to be a thing) and an income. Also, I was smoking hot (see above.) And here I was, working the summer sale spectacular—the Biggest Event of the Summer in All of Michigan—at the Coolest Wallet Store in the Mall (eat it, Buxton)!
I was monitoring the outside tables to make sure no one was pocketing our wallets when I saw her: the Melting Lady.
She was an older woman, probably in her seventies. If you didn’t look at her face, she would have looked like your average old granny. But I looked at her face. And what I saw there still gives me nightmares. Her face was covered with a plethora of gruesome, dangling, gooey-looking sacks that grew out of her skin. I looked it up in a moment of self-hatred a few years ago and saw pictures of others suffering from this skin condition, but I won’t subject you to them because I don’t want to be responsible for the outbreak of self-immolations that it will surely inspire. Instead, I’ll give it to you in drawing form.
Right? And that’s just a cartoon! Like, remember when you saw the picture of that Indian tree guy from a few years back and you immediately threw your computer monitor into the bathtub to cleanse it of the hideous image? That’s what it felt like when I saw that unfortunate old granny browsing through our wallets, only I couldn’t throw my monitor in the bathtub because in this case the monitor was MY MIND. And I’m no doctor, but I think if you removed your mind and threw it in the bathtub it might screw up the mechanics more than seeing some old bat with a horrid skin condition.
2) Outer space
Yeah, I know, you listen to David Bowie and think you’re like an astronaut or whatever. But I got news for you, son: you wouldn’t last a minute in that fucking capsule, let alone out there in the real space. You’re no astronaut. You’re an astroNOT. Heh.
For starters, there’s the process of getting into space. The space station is 240 miles above the Earth. That doesn’t sound very far to me, but it takes three days to travel that far in space, because flying through space is like swimming through dirt. Just one of the myriad reasons why we humans have no business going up there in the first place. During your flight, you’re confined to three decks, none of which are particularly roomy, and one of which is filled with flashing, shining buttons that are all marked with the same descriptor: "engage crew murder sequence". Just kidding. The buttons are used for a giant game of space Simon.
Once you get to space, you’re stuck there. Astronauts on the space station stay on the space station for four to six months. Have you ever stayed inside your house for four to six months, without leaving? No, you haven’t, because that would make you a crazy person. I’m not saying astronauts are crazy people. Staying locked inside your house for six months is clearly the sensible choice when an eternal void of terror is lurking just outside the door.
Sometimes astronauts venture out into this eternal void of terror. Like this maniac:
Still think you could hack it in space? Especially knowing this creep is up there, flying around like a real hotshot? A guy like this would toss you into the sun without blinking! And that’s hard, because the sun’s really bright!
Maybe you’re one of those jerks who thinks it would be cool to walk on the moon. Think again, you satellite dummy. The only thing interesting about the moon is that it is not the earth. If there were anything comparable to the moon on Earth and your parents tried to drag you there for summer vacation, you would murder them. It’s nothing but a big, dumb, grey desert. There aren’t even any rattlesnakes or cactuses. Just rocks and dust. We haven’t landed on the moon since 1972, because even astronauts know the moon sucks. And here you are, having missed out on every bit of fun as a kid so you could get the grades you needed to go to a fancy college and get a useless engineering degree that allows you to spend more years of your life training your ass off just so you can fly into space and float around in some stupid tiny house, staring at endless rows of blinking buttons that you’re not even allowed to push.
You are truly an asshole.
I mean, what else could it be, really? What else is there to fear? It’s all death. Are you afraid of spiders? You’re not really afraid of spiders. You’re afraid of spiders killing you. You’re not afraid of the dark. You’re afraid of being killed in the dark. You’re not afraid of speaking in public. You’re afraid your speech is going to be so terrible the crowd will murder you. That last one’s maybe a stretch. I don’t know why you’re afraid of speaking in public. Get over it! No one cares what you think.
There’s a reason why every horror movie is about people being killed. Because death is the most horrible thing we can contemplate. I don’t have to tell you why it’s scary. But I will, because this fucking article is not nearly long enough yet. It is scary because it is the one thing we all live through but cannot experience. Even the most religious among us has no fucking idea what’s going to happen after death. We can’t even formulate guesses that rise above the level of childhood fantasies. As amazing as we are at taking pictures of things 13 billion light years away from Earth, the best prediction we can come up with for death is that all the good people get to hang out in some cloudland for eternity eating ice cream and all the bad people have to feel really hot all the time.
Maybe you’re one of those people who claims to have accepted death. That’s a lie. You’re just really good at not thinking about it. I’m not saying you gotta sit around dwelling on death all the time, but when you do sit around and think about it, what you’re thinking is “I am afraid.” Because fear of death is the thing that keeps us alive. Fear of death is the human condition, and if you do not fear it, then you are not human. What is consciousness but a death-avoidance strategy? Do you think the incomprehensible-mystery-of-life some call God imbued us with the ability of self-reflection so we could create Two and a Half Men? He imbued us with the ability of self-reflection because he hates us. Self-reflection is a terrible cosmic prank. It makes us spend our lives trying to avoid death while being tormented by the knowledge that death is unavoidable. As far as God is concerned, we might as well be tasting with our feet.
The most likely scenario—were we able to temporarily abandon the egos that make us believe there’s something cosmically special about humans—is that when we die, nothing happens. Our consciousness ends. Our bodies fall apart. Our particles go back into the earth and eventually end up in the gas tank of some moron’s Hummer.
The most likely scenario is that life is way, way dumber than we think. There is no purpose. There is only this accident known as consciousness. We’re basically here to battle all the other creatures on earth in the universe’s long, drawn-out version of The Hunger Games. And the sad truth is no matter what we do, no matter how many Shakespeares and Stephen Hawkings and Aristotles and Euclids and Beethovens we put out there to fight for our team, we’ve already lost to the fucking cockroach. And that is pretty much as terrifying as it gets.