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Our History With Donald Trump

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The letter above was mailed to members of the Summer’s Best Two Weeks 2003 kitchen crew shortly after it was written on January 14, 2004. Why we sent eighteen teenagers a letter with a giant picture of Donald Trump on it probably needs some explanation in light of recent events.

We’ve told the story before of how we met. (Part One here; Part Four, the first time Donald Trump appeared on this blog, and an explanation of how Ben and a crew of teenage boys parlayed Trump money into winning the affections of Erin and high school girls, here. ) Donald Trump played some small part in that story. It all began when Ben’s grandmother, for unfathomable reasons, gave him Trump: The Game as a Christmas present. It is a terrible game. Poorly designed. Visually unappealing. Worse than a poor man’s Monopoly, because a poor man’s Monopoly would at least have some semblance of gameplay, purpose and enjoyment. It was, like many (if not all) things Trump, a vanity project.

Because Ben brought that board game with him to summer camp in July 2003 (he was moving out of his apartment and it ended up in the trunk), Trump: The Game informed the milieu of the Summer’s Best kitchen in unexpected ways. Trump Money became the currency of lovelines (notes passed between the sexes, scrawled on the back of the paper thin play money). Trump: The Game’s slogan — “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!” — infiltrated our language and evolved into amusing inside jokes (“It’s not whether you clean the dishes or not, but whether Tim does them instead,” etc.) Trump’s hair provided fodder for both jokes and deep philosophical ponderings.

It’s hard, now, not to revise that collective memory in light of Trump’s presidential run. When we found the letter pictured above (Trump looking slightly less orange), we had to laugh. (Trump marrying us?) But that laughter was also tinged with unease. How did a reality TV star full of braggadocio — one so comical and buffoonish as to amuse two lovestruck twentysomethings and countless teenagers thirteen summers ago — become the presumptive nominee of one of our two major political parties? When Trump disparages a man born in Indiana for his Mexican heritage and implies that his ethnicity disqualifies him from ruling fairly on the Trump University trial (Speaker Paul Ryan called the remarks a “textbook definition of a racist comment,” though he still supports him), or when his first response to the worst mass shooting in American history is to tweet “appreciate the congrats on being right about radical Islamic terrorism,” as though he is and must always be the warped prism through which all national or geopolitical events are refracted, who is the joke on? (Can we even call it a joke?)

In short, we prefer The Donald of 2003 over The Donald of 2016. He will remain, in our hearts, the man who played a bit role in our courtship; the man whose bluster and imperiousness supplied endless material for ironic teenage banter; the man, in short, who was a footnote worthy of laughter, and nothing more.

Rest in peace, The Donald of 2003.

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Vote NO on Issue Beelzebub

Several years back — three years ago to the day, actually — we posted a “Memo To The Squirrel Who Defaced Our Pumpkin.” Several readers thought perhaps the nefarious squirrel, whose eyes burned like the fires of hell, was simply misunderstood. They called him “cute.” This led us to do some oppo on our nemesis, whom we were able to I.D. as Beelzebub The Squirrel. His reign of terror was thoroughly documented here.

Now, regrettably, Beelzebub has returned. Behold.

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Our pumpkin originally had a full set of teeth. When we spotted Beelzebub gnawing on a huge chunk of Mr. Pumpkin’s face tonight, we reached for the shotgun.

Because we do not own a shotgun, we were forced instead to dig further into Beelzebub’s wretched past. The details are shocking. The faint of heart are encouraged to forego the rest of this post. What you are about to see is not pretty.

A lifetime subscriber to Guns & Ammo, Beelzebub was ecstatic to receive the Beretta PX4 issue.

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Beelzebub never travels without his hookah.

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Friends wearied of his constant Mission Impossible reinactments.

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Upon completing Defense Against The Dark Arts, Beelzebub could apparate into any feeder he wanted.

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Beelzebub’s collaboration with “Weird Al” Yankovic on a Sir Mix-a-Lot spoof did not chart.

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Pitchfork said his musical collaboration with various canned goods “defies categorization or numerical value. We have no idea if this is the future of music or the end of the world.”

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Beelzebub’s stint on the Canadian World Cup squad was short-lived after an ill-advised bicycle kick led to a career-ending groin pull. 

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Despite being near-sighted, he is known to wear an eye-patch when he’s packing.

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To make ends meet, Beelzebub collaborated with Hallmark on a series of very lame birthday cards. He called the experience “humiliating.”

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His boxing foes said he frequently hit after the bell, below the belt.

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Republican critics say Beelzebub is the real leader of the free world.

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Art historians are unanimous that this is not an improvement upon the original.

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In conclusion, when you step into the voting booth next month — please, vote no on Issue Beelzebub.

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On Nicholas Sparks & Failure.

Newsweek has a back-page feature called “My Favorite Mistake” wherein celebrities share just that: their favorite mistake. Some of these are enlightening and amusing. Some are written by Nicholas Sparks. In the most recent issue, Sparks wrote that his favorite mistake is “when I start a novel before I’m ready to write the novel.”

Before we go any farther, we should say this: It might sound presumptuous for us, two unpublished authors who have both taken cracks at writing a book, to quibble with the advice of someone who has not only published books (plural), but whose books have also become New York Times bestsellers and been turned into movies and made their author tremendously wealthy and successful, such that his advice is sought for things like Newsweek’s “My Favorite Mistake” page. Us? We have not written a book. We have not sold the rights of our unwritten book to Hollywood. We are not on Newsweek‘s speed dial. So Nicholas Sparks clearly has the last laugh here. Nonetheless, we are going to proceed with the rest of this post.

Sparks writes about a book he started called Saying Good-Bye, which sounds very much like every other Nicholas Sparks novel (love triangles, melodrama, Italian men), except that he “couldn’t come up with an ending.” One of his main characters was dying but he couldn’t figure out what her dying wish would be.

What did Sparks do? “I hit up strangers in the street for an ending.”

What? You hit up strangers in the street for an ending? We suppose this is not unlike a Hollywood studio test screening a film before its general release — except, of course, in that case the film would actually be finished by that point. But what is Sparks saying here? Literally, that a stranger on the street could write a better ending to his book than he could.

What did those strangers tell Sparks when he asked them what their dying wish would be? Nothing valuable, Sparks says:

All their answers were too melodramatic or unbelievable.

Aha! So these people weren’t strangers, because they clearly recognized they were being asked to write the ending of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

But Sparks “still didn’t know the ending”:

It’s a strange thing, because most novels take me five months to write. If I’m four months in and only two thirds of the way through, there’s a problem. The writing becomes more challenging. You begin to dread the process of going to work. The words come very hard, if at all. You work for hours, and you eke out a few pages. Finally, in the last days, you’re not writing anything at all. You’re sitting at the keyboard for six hours — and nothing! You’re writing, but deleting everything you write.

Sparks wants us to believe two things about writing: 1) He’s good at it, and it comes easy to him. He can write a novel in five months! 2) It’s really, really hard, and even Nicholas Sparks can sometimes not do it.

What the paragraph above does not convey is any sense that Sparks writes because he loves to do it. He writes because he can. Except when he can’t, when it’s very hard (“The experience of writing a failed novel is painful,” Sparks tells us, adding “it’s a terrible period of time that I never wish to revisit”), and then he’s made the mistake of starting a novel before he’s ready to write the novel, whatever exactly he means by that.

What has Sparks learned from his “favorite mistake”?

Those [failed] novels taught me a few things. I have to know how the characters meet. I have to know what’s driving the story. I have to understand the conflict and how the store will end. If I don’t know those four things, I don’t start a novel anymore.

Contrast this to something the writer Curtis Sittenfeld said about Jennifer Egan: “Once at a reading I heard her say something I’ve thought of often since: that she wouldn’t want to start writing a book she knew from the outset she was definitely capable of pulling off.”

This second way — the Egan way — is fraught with peril. Taking on something, anything that promises the potential of failure requires courage. We are not a culture that likes to fail, and we require that our successful members (by which we often but not always mean “celebrities”) genuflect to failure but sanitize it for us. My favorite mistake was failing, but it was a terrible time I never wish to revisit. I never start anything now that I can’t succeed at.

That may be a formula for finishing books — again, Sparks clearly outranks us in that category — but is it really art? Is it anything to be celebrated? Is there any joy in creating (producing?) it, and any joy in receiving? Where is the mystery that comes when someone — if not the reader, then at least the author –discovers something unexpected along the way?

Something we cling to, as people who still one day hope to write a book, is that we’re simply in the early stages of failing, and that these will serve some greater purpose once we reach the end. Maybe that’s naive, or delusional. But anyone who says that his favorite failure is learning how not to fail seems to have wasted a golden opportunity to have actually learned something. If we all must fail — and evidence seems to suggest we must — we should salvage more from the clutches of failure than empty pieties. There’s got to be a better ending than that.

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Old Navy & Grammatical Heinousness

Old Navy commercials are the worst. They’re too lame to be ironic, too kitsch to be redeeming. We feel empty after letting them steal thirty seconds of our life. They are just soul-suckingly bad.

Turns out Old Navy also stinks at grammar:

The person who writes copy for Old Navy t-shirts has a pretty easy job. No puns, no of-the-moment cultural references, just a word about sports or summer, followed by a couple of exclamation points. It’s hard to screw it up. But screw it up, someone did indeed.

Hundreds of thousands of shirts from the retailer’s new college football line have been shipped to stores with the phrase “Let’s Go”, sans apostrophe. Major grammar fail.

Grammar being one of our hobbyhorses, we hate to see the English language butchered by anyone, much less one of the most annoying companies on earth. Professor Lentz would be no doubt be aghast.

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That said, Old Navy is not alone in its corporate abuse of the English language. All the following images are taken from failblog.org and collegehumor.com:

Nokia.

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Walgreens.

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Gandolfo’s.

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The Zionsville Times Sentinel

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Dairy Queen.

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“Sir, I regret to inform you you’re not wearing pants.”

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Ill Fares The Land

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Mark Hoobler loaned me (Ben) Tony Judt’s Ill Fares The Land, and I’ve been reading it slowly, in bits and pieces before bed over the past several weeks. Judt, who died last year, makes an eloquent case for social democracy and laments the growing divide between the rich and the poor, not just in America but also Europe. (Judt was born in Britain.) The title of the book is taken from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, The Deserted Village: “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,/Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

One of the thornier verses in the Bible comes when Jesus tells his disciples, as a poor woman pours expensive nard on his feet, “The poor you will always have with you.” This verse has been twisted by some commentators to mean, “The poor are always here and there’s nothing you can do about it.” This is clearly not what Jesus meant. In the context of the passage, Jesus was addressing his closest followers, whom he knew would always have the poor with them. Jesus spent a great deal of his time hanging out with the poorest and sickest people around, and he was making it clear that following him meant knowing these people intimately. Poverty may be a fact of life, but Jesus was not telling his followers to be resigned to it. He was telling them a fact about how they should be ministers.

I am troubled by this because I have to ask myself frequently, Do I always have the poor with me? If Judt is right, then it’s probably true that many of us do not. “For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest,” he writes. “Indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.”

Harvard professor Michael Sandel recently commented in the New York Times that if he were president,

I would lead a campaign against the skyboxification of American life. Not long ago, the ballpark was a place where C.E.O.’s and mailroom clerks sat side by side, and everyone got wet when it rained. Today, most stadiums have corporate skyboxes, which cosset the privileged in air-conditioned suites, far removed from the crowd below. Something similar has happened throughout our society. The affluent retreat from public schools, the military, and other public institutions, leaving fewer and fewer class-mixing places. Rich and poor increasingly live separate lives.

I grew up comfortably in a mostly rural Pennsylvania town, and I had rich and poor friends alike. I went to public school until college, when my parents were generous enough to allow me my first choice of school. (Kenyon has always been expensive, though not so obscenely expensive as it is today.) I’ve been spared any great financial distress since graduating from college (something I almost certainly wouldn’t be spared had I graduated today), but I’ve also had patches where, employed but uninsured, 30% of my monthly paycheck went toward medicine I could not manage without.

The city I live in today, Cincinnati, is the tenth poorest city in the country. This is according to data from the 2007 Census. The poverty rate here is 23.5% — over 71,000 people, or more than could fit inside Paul Brown Stadium. The poverty line is $22,050 for a family of four. The thought of raising just one child on that income is hard for me to comprehend.

It’s easy for liberals like me to wish for political programs that would radically address issues like poverty. I have been guilty of thinking that if Washington just enacted more of the right policies (right meaning the ones I agree with) then poverty would be less of an issue. Now that I have a son, I have a new vantage point on issues like taxes, education and fiscal solvency. I don’t want him growing up in a world where rich and poor never meet. I worry that our country is losing its middle class, the place where I feel most at home. What exactly am I going to do about it?

So each night I have another ten or fifteen minute conversation with Mr. Judt, and turn these things over in my mind as I lie in bed thinking about what I have and what I don’t have, what I should be content with and what I should be discontented by, what kind of father I am and what I will say to Sam the first time he sees a homeless person and asks why he does not have a bed to sleep in at night. Do I always have the poor with me? I think about the last poor person I talked to — a homeless man, earlier today, selling Streetvibes outside the store where I work. My job requires that I tell him he must go, because it is private property and he cannot solicit here. “You want to buy a paper?” he asks. I feel like I should, but I don’t have money on me. And it may encourage him to come back. He walks away, shoulders permanently slumped, moving on to the next person who will not give him what it is he needs. No transaction has taken place between us.

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Some of my favorite commentators, among them James Fallows, Jonathan Chait and David Weigel, have all commented recently on taxes and the poor.

And here’s Jon Stewart’s recent funny-sad bit on “the poors.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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You Mean Entertainment Weekly Wasn’t Telling The Truth?

Item! The Miami New Times recently released its list of the Top Ten Cheapest Celebrity Tippers. Guess who’s number five? For fun, we’ll redact his name from the following paragraph and see if you can still guess it!

Xxxxxx Xxxxx, according to Zimbio, showed up at Nobu in Aspen with a party of 12 — without a reservation. After being seated and served, Xxxxx reportedly told the manager: “Thanks for nothing,” and left a signed Entourage DVD as the tip — which is at least a bit more generous than an autograph. According to the story, a Nobu employee hurled the box at Xxxxx as he was leaving, and Xxxxx was banned from ever returning to Nobu. Sounds like something Ari Gold, his Entourage character, might do.

Still don’t know? Ok, final clue: He plays Ari Gold on “Entourage.” We know, this is tricky. Use Google if you need to, but we predict you’ll be shocked when you find out who.

UPDATE! We also enjoyed this, from The Onion.

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Things We Did Not Expect To Be Doing This Summer

Three weeks ago we met with our realtors. We discussed, broadly, what we should be doing now to prepare for buying a new home sometime in the next few years.

Yesterday, Sunday, we had an open house. Half of our life is boxed up in storage right now. As Tad Smith put it after looking at photos of our house online, “From those pictures I’d guess you were the most boring people in the world.”

We are people who accumulate stuff easily. Books. Clothes. Magazines and mail. Pictures for the walls. Antiques. We turn our backs and stuff just sprouts up in the corner like a weed.

Now we’re living the spartan life. It’s all austerity, all the time. When we leave the house everything must be showing-ready. No toys left out. No dishes in the sink. No cat vomit on the kitchen floor.

How did we get here from there? What changed in three weeks?

For one, we looked at houses. We saw one we loved. That night I (Ben) played basketball, and when I came home an hour and a half later, Erin had boxed up the entire living room.

Since then we’ve cooled on that house. But we’ve seen others we really like. We sat down and crunched the numbers. We redid our budget. We power washed the house, stained the deck, sold six boxes of books to Half Price Books for $140 and a box of CDs and DVDs to Abundatrade for $81.02. Those seem like good deals until we remember what we paid for those items in the first place.

It’s a buyer’s market, our realtors told us. And it is. But since we can’t buy a new house until we sell the one we’re in, what will we get for it? Certainly less than what we paid four years ago, even though we’ve dumped a lot of money (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) into this one.

It’s a strange feeling to come home and know that eleven strangers have been walking through your house since you were last in it.

It’s incredibly stressful to sell (or try to sell) a home. We’ve been up past midnight taping boxes and touching up walls. We’ve gone back and forth on numbers. We’ve given our heart over to potential houses only to hear the next day they have electrical, water and roof problems, giving us flashbacks to one of our 80s movies staples.

There’s something else too, when you get ready to sell your home: You start to appreciate it anew. You’re in the curious position of getting rid of something you’re still emotionally attached to. Yes, it will be too small in a few years, if it isn’t already. No, it’s not easy to have a group of friends over. Yes, the yard could be bigger. No, you won’t miss the motorcycle gangs that roar down Irwin at eleven thirty at night. Regardless, it will be hard to leave, whenever the time comes.

Tonight we received our first feedback from a prospective buyer. Below is what came across our e-mail:

1. Question: Is the customer interested in the property?
Answer:  Not at all

2. Question: How well did the property show?
Answer:  Fair

3. Question: Your (and your customer’s) opinion of the price:
Answer:  Too high

4. Question: Please rate this property: (On a scale of 1-5, 1 being Worst; 5 being Best.)
Answer:  3

5. Question: COMMENTS/RECOMMENDATIONS:
Answer:  Surprised at the amount of work that neededto be done for the price. Third bedroom was too small.

Is the “not at all” necessary? Wouldn’t “no” suffice? And if you think there’s work to be done, you have no idea what we walked into four years ago (after paying more than we’re asking now!). The pulse quickens, steam comes out the ears, and you walk around your now empty house taking deep breaths. It’s not easy being vulnerable. Someone’s opinion of your house is not their opinion of you. You tell yourself someone will buy your house, for the right price, at the right time. Right?

In the meantime you wait. You sit on the porch with a beer, watching the neighborhood wind down on an August night. It’s summer. You remember to appreciate the small things, and wonder why you’d ever forget.