Oil. Black gold. Texas jitterbug juice. It seems like in today’s society, all of us are greatly effected in almost invisible ways by this sludge, whether it makes us yell at coworkers because, “The price of gas went up another 4 cents! It used to be cheaper than cola in my day! Grumble grumble gr!” or simply because we can’t live without imported mangoes year round. But for some of us, the effect isn’t just in the back of our heads; it is always palpable. One of these places where the entire landscape has been changed drastically because of recently accessible oil is in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Otherwise known as Murder Alley.
Murder Alley is a term my friend, Hannah, and I invented right before we were embarking on a road trip through the region. See, it turns out that when an oil boom starts, a lot of young men with few or no family ties go where the money is. This influx of young men means there will be a lack of women, children, and elderly permanent citizens who actually care about establishing a community. It’s basically like the cast of Animal House, only replace John Belushi with a disgruntled guy that works out all day and has no real incentive to be decent.
And thus we have the term Murder Alley (alternatively, you could call it Rape Lane, Arson Road, or Pushing-Old-Ladies-Down-Wells Boulevard).
As you could guess, my friend and I were super excited to go through there.
I was going to visit my then boyfriend in Fargo-Moorhead (Moorhead is the town in Minnesota that’s basically integrated into Fargo) — because long distance relations were in vogue back then, and I always stay trendy — and my friend was visiting family in Bismarck, so we both had great conviction when we embarked on this journey. We had a plan: we’d drive for nine or so hours, I’d drop her off, and then I’d complete the last two or three hours alone. Nothing could go wrong!
Unfortunately, apparently there was nothing good on cable that day, so God/Gaia/His Supreme Lord Spaghetti Monster decided it wouldn’t be that simple.
Five hours into the trip, we entered the outskirts of this aforementioned Murder Alley when my oil light mysteriously came on. My friend and I pulled over off the side of the road, which happened to be next to a dead end running perpendicular to the highway. Because we had left after work, it was already pitch black by then. Stars illuminated the sprawling plains eastern Montana and North Dakota are so famous for, a chill immediately hitting us as we exited the car. Hannah and I bundled up against the brisk Montana winter air and went out to check the oil level, but as I took out the dipstick Hannah whispered something.
“Greg,” Hannah quietly muttered next to me, warily looking behind us.
“Hrm?” I asked nonchalantly, focused on getting this done with as soon as possible.
Out of the corner of my sight I noticed her eyes wide as small cookies (which are, you know, wider than most eyes). “There’s a car there.”
I turned around, confused, when I saw it: forty feet from us, dimly illuminated by my headlights, was a dark car. No one stirred within it, no noise coming from the ghostly vehicle. In a time when you hear rumors of uncouth people feigning help only for their scraggly gang buddies to lunge out at potential helpers and steal their vehicles, seeing this deserted car off the side of the street seemed like an omen of doom — especially in a place we’d jokingly said would result in our untimely deaths. So Hannah and I did the only natural thing and pissed ourselves.
“Fuck shit!” I yelled as I put the dipstick back in and closed the hood, bolting back into the driver’s seat. Hannah was already in the passenger’s side, having deftly translated my exclamation of terror into its intended signal to flee.
We drove off back into the highway, catching our breath and trying to avoid cardiac arrest, when I noticed an acrid smell in the air.
“Do you smell that?” I asked my companion.
“Uhh, yeah,” she weakly said, her adrenaline beginning to pump again after it’s 4 second reprieve.
Before we could exchange anymore commentary, I noticed something else: ebony smoke, billowing forth from the front of my car. Quickly following this succession of terrible smell and terrible sight was a terrible sound, as my car’s engine imitated a dying hoard of kittens, a series of hissing mewls and grunts escaping its metal maw. The car stopped accelerating and I pulled off the side urgently, Hannah yelling a string of expletives rivaled only by Game of Thrones dialogue.
On account of the smoke, potential burning, and barely-avoided dismemberment, we forewent leaving our seats and checking the hood once more, opting instead to simply call a truck to take us to the nearest town (or maybe it’s more appropriate to call it a village), Glendive. Then we waited.
We waited in my car for three hours, and it was quite apparent that, with my car’s engine going super nova, that we wouldn’t reach North Dakota anytime soon, much less our destinations past Murder Alley. So when the truck came, with a jovial, stereotypically small town driver, we had him take us to a hotel that still used faxes as their primary form of electronic communications. We restlessly fell asleep, ready to spring awake and defend ourselves from rapscallions at any moment.
The next morning we waited as Hannah’s father came for us, and Murder Alley was almost behind us by midday. But when we finally got to Bismarck, I looked for another way to Fargo, only to discover the buses between Bismarck and Fargo were cancelled due to one of the blizzards so common in the area.
It seemed like I was doomed to fail, and my entire trip had been in vain. In fact, not only had I inadvertently blown up my mom’s car’s engine, but I was now almost-certainly stranded in Bismarck as the sixth wheel in my friend’s family get together. There remained one chance at salvation, though: two friends who lived in Fargo-Moorhead. I pleaded with them, begged them, to come and bring me back to Fargo, despite the danger. Ah yes, infatuation truly makes people super smart and selfless.
They acquiesced, persuaded by my pitiful cries and offer to buy them dinner at a North Dakota staple, Space Aliens — basically Pizza Palace from Toy Story. After dinner, we set off into the raging blizzard, and I look back thankfully that I was blinded by love’s rosy shades, ’cause otherwise I would’ve been blind with pure terror.
If you desperately need to make a bowel movement, I suggest you drive through a blizzard in North Dakota. There are few times of extended horror that match driving in a North Dakota blizzard, where spectral semis appear next to you as you glide down the highway, only becoming visible as you get so close you could reach out and touch them. The flat plains of North Dakota turn into a never ending, time-sucking vortex during a storm, where the road seems to continue on and on forever. There are no turns, no stops, just a line that, after hours of silent snowfall, seems to extend infinitely.
We managed to arrive in Fargo safely, and I was dropped off in front of my boyfriend’s door. There was a moment of tired ecstasy; despite the blizzard, and the car engine melting, and the ever present danger of being taken prisoner by maligned miners, I had gotten to where I needed to. Soon I would be in the arms of my love. I had escaped Murder Alley!
He broke up with me as soon as I saw him.
Recently, I’ve been volunteering at a weekend writing workshop for kids. At one of these classes we had to create a how-to guide on a topic of our choosing — and by “we” I mean the children, and I, being the Repository of Infinite Knowledge I am, decided to also write something. After pondering all the possible subjects I could explain (how to act like a muppet, how to get over 10 Twitter followers total, etc.), I ended up making a comprehensive guide on How to Always Be Right.
See, if there is one lovely quality about me, it is that I know a multitude of useless facts, and pretend to know about even more about things I have little- to no inkling of. I have learned after years of tireless information giving that being an expert at fake-information-giving while retaining my pride requires the ability to frame everything in such a way that, more than being proven correct, I can never be proven incorrect. It’s like how Congress doesn’t do anything so they can never be blamed for doing something wrong.
If you’re an aspiring know-it-all, I now present my guide on How to Always Be Right, which will surely aid you in
having people roll their eyes at your constantly impressing your friends. This will be written in the same format as the sheet the kids and I were given.
How to Always Be Right
Topic: Extreme knowledge imitation.
Audience: People who hate admitting defeat/ignorance.
Purpose: Never be wrong. Ever.
- Begin by making a reasonable claim, like, “I hear birds grow their feathers between 6 and 8 weeks old.” Provide unconfirmable support, e.g. “I heard this on NPR or in the Audubon Magazine sometime in the late 20th Century.”
- If someone challenges your claim, push back by pointing out the subjectivity of life and that the definition of “right” and “wrong” is transmutable, so you’re definitely right in some form or context, even if it isn’t apparent to the majority of society.
- If the person continues to feebly deny your rightness, disarm them by acknowledging they have valid points, though they are clearly less valid than your own. Pat them on the back for having a fraction of your knowledge.
- Finally, state, “Well, I guess we’ll never be sure about the true answer, so I’m probably, most assuredly right.” Then nod at them in humble victory and change the subject to ice cream before they can speak further falsehoods.
Supporting quotation: “Greg, you are so right, I am/we are sorry for ever doubting your unparalleled brainpower.”
If there is one thing I know, it’s that getting a job is hard. Not only do you have to show them in a brief cover letter and resume that you’d be a good fit for the job, but even if you get the interview you have to be both more professional, personable, sociable, and huggable than all the other candidates. One wrong move, whether it be wearing assless chaps, pulling out and eating a burrito during your interview, or asking to compare the color of each others mucus, could immediately end your prospective career at Blinds to Go.
As someone with too much experience interviewing and making common mistakes like saying my potential boss sounds terrible to work for, I am using all my excessively wonderful knowledge of the interview process to create the most comprehensive and wonderful guide that was made by someone who is terrible at interviewing and proud of it. Following all of my steps will ensure interview success and the beginning of the career of your dreams, regardless of how lame your dreams are!*
Greg’s Ultimate Interview Prep Guide:
Identify whether the company likes Obama or thinks Obama is a Kenyan: No matter how much people say they want to avoid politics, everyone has a strong feeling on the topic of Obama, and identifying a company or interviewer’s opinion of our current president will be incredibly helpful in not only identifying a great topic to converse about (“Oh man, that Obama! What an upstanding dude!” or “Oh man, that Obama! I can’t believe he and his shadow czars fool everyone!”); it’ll also create the basis for much of your interview prep.
Get to know your interviewer: Your interviewer will be looking at your resume, your cover letter, and — potentially — your social media accounts and what comes up when they google you. The thought of them knowing so much about you, like that time you tried to smuggle a panda from China, might get you a bit nervous, which is the biggest interview faux-pas, no-no, and don’t-do-that-Jack. As such, you need to even the playing field. Start by looking at them on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, but remember that that’s just going to give you a basic idea of who they are — and that’s assuming you can find info on them! In order to make sure you are thoroughly educated about the person you will interview with you should hire a private detective to follow them and root around in their past. If you discover something like their secret family or IBS that’s also a perfect topic to casually bring up during your conversation and bond over.
Wear only hemp/milk-based or wool clothing: This part is open-ended, based on the answer to the previous question. If you’re going to work for a progressive company, it’s important to show your love of the environment by only wearing hemp or, if it won’t offend their senses, trendier milk-based clothing. Meanwhile, if they fall into the more conservative bracket, you should be sure to wear traditional clothing like wool, and never mix fabric types lest you be labeled a sinner. Your dedication to their values in either instance will show that you truly know and care about the company’s goals, even if you truly don’t.
Practice the interview as much as you can: As good teachers say, “Practice, practice, practice, nyah!” The best way to ensure you’ll do well is to practice until when someone asks you how you’re doing you respond by quickly reciting your professional history. In this vein, practice until the last possible moment before the interview: that is, when you’re waiting in the company’s lobby. Don’t be worried if anyone sees you talking to yourself or gesturing emphatically, as this will only show your dedication to concisely convey your love and dedication to not being unemployed and poor. Some people also warn against sounding mechanical, but really, doesn’t every company want to hire more robots?
Look exceptionally involved: Once you start the conversation, you need to always stay focused on the interviewer. Being disinterested is the kiss of death for a job seeking stallion such as yourself, and the easiest way to look involved is to never look away. Ever. As such, consider this quite possibly the most important rule: you must never break eye contact with your interviewer. To do so is to show weakness, and you might as well just yawn or scratch your armpit in caveman-like ignorance. Even letting your eyelids flutter half-closed for a mere moment would convey a lack of enthusiasm for your future cash dispensing overlord. Blinking = dying. Literally.
Prepare answers for standard questions: The most basic, predictable, and blasé part of the interview process is actually being interviewed. It is during this intellectual gladiatorial bout that you will practically-but-not-quite compete to the death with other people you’ve never even met for the chance to be the next Uniqlo Second Floor Greeter (yes, that’s a thing). It’s always good to have a number of stock stories ready for the day of reckoning, like that time you guided baby ducks across the street or when you successfully got to 99 points in Boppit. Preparing specific answers for specific questions is also a good idea, for instance: when I’m asked about my greatest strength I say, “Powerful thighs that allow me to stand for long periods of time and kick down doors,” and when I’m asked about my greatness weakness I quickly answer, “I do so much work that my coworkers don’t have anything to do and give me too much affection.”
And there you go! Using Greg’s Ultimate Interview Prep Guide™** you’re guaranteed to make a lasting impression.
*Note: Greg does not claim any liability for restraining orders or sexual harassment claims filed against less successful interviewees.
**Note: We guarantee nothing.
I have been absent lately. I’m sorry. But I’m going to try and write more again, and the first thing I’ll do after my brief hiatus is one of my favorite types of posts: a bad movie idea.
You see, I have this super power that allows me to quickly turn most anything into a really awful, yet awfully believable, movie idea.
A bad movie post is also very appropriate because last year I made four very beautiful (and disturbingly realistic sounding) bad movie ides for the holidays. This time, there is no theme besides being a movie that is sad and sadly realistic. I give you
This Town Isn’t Big Enough
Raymond Eugene Cornelius (working name, I’m sure producer’s would want to pick something sexier) is a happy-enough New York man who is average in most every way; he’s in his late 20’s, been through some relationships he views with a mix of nostalgia and slight pain, works a decent job that affords him enough to survive and, occasionally, indulge. The only thing that seems to set him apart — and something he prides himself on — is his name, which is unique from start to finish.
Or so he thought.
One day while joking with a friend, he decides to google himself. Only when he googles “Raymond Eugene Cornelius” the person who comes up isn’t him; it’s another man located just north of New York. This other Raymond is a few years older, with a life that sounds more exciting and — gasp! — unique.
The discovery of this second, and in some sense original, Raymond Eugene Cornelius throws our protagonist into a spiral of depression and shame. The thing he had prided himself about most was his name, his very identity, and now he has discovered that someone else has possessed this aspect of him (and more) his entire existence. In a way, his being is a shame. So, of course, he decides to take action.
He decides the other Raymond Eugene Cornelius must die.
Raymond 1 travels to this other city and stalks Raymond 2, planning what he’ll do to this man who has stolen so much from him — only to discover the man he has come to kill is, by all accounts, a great person. Raymond 1, using an alias, befriends Raymond 2, and slowly learns his nemesis is a pediatrician who volunteers at the local homeless shelter and is a devoted single father of two. Suddenly, Raymond 1’s plans are thrown into chaos as he realizes he loves (whether platonically or romantically will depend on whether the Director wants an Oscar or not) Raymond 2, the man who stole his identity.
Raymond 1 battles his feelings, but eventually he decides he can live in the shadow of this other man, and if he wants to be an individual he should strive harder.
Unfortunately, the world has other plans.
In the climax of the movie, Raymond 1 is confessing his story to Raymond 2, who is shocked but also expresses how he reciprocates Raymond 1’s feelings; he says that, even though Raymond 1 only associated his uniqueness with his name, he possesses so many other virtues (which I haven’t really figured out yet, as the basic plot makes Raymond 1 pretty blatantly a psychopath). Raymond 1 flees afoot, ashamed, and Raymond 2 follows. As Raymond 2 is in the crosswalk, he hears a horn and the sound of wheels turning that he had missed: a semi-truck is coming! Raymond 1 turns back in time and observes the danger his friend is in, and desperately pushes Raymond 2 out of the path of the speeding vehicle.
Raymond 2 recovers from his fall and goes to Raymond 1 (this is getting confusing), finding Raymond 1 is dead.
And so it goes that Raymond 1 dies saving the man who, until that moment, he had blamed for his lack of identity, and, for the first time since Raymond 1’s birth, the world does indeed only have a single, unique Raymond Eugene Cornelius.
And hey, maybe this sounds a bit ridiculous, but I want you to think: is this more ridiculous sounding than movies like Her, about a man who falls in love with his phone’s OS, which is getting a number of prestigious nominations? Really? Not really!
Spike Jonze, I look forward to your call/email/hastily scribbled post-it note asking me to be your new idea guy.
This is a story of my experience working in the sponsor area of the Komen Greater NYC’s Race for the Cure. 110%. No embellishment. NOPE!
The participants came in hordes, ravenous after their run. They flocked about each table, gobbling up Tropicana from the north all the way to Skim Plus in the south, leaving not one cluster of Honey Bunches of Oats in their wake. Sometimes, they made the trek through multiple times, sating their appetites and filling their bags with epic loot.
I stood in the middle of the chaos. Not even my zipties — useless and unfamiliar to most of these people — were safe from the out pour of runners gaining their second wind.
During one brief respite of calm, I went to the privy, leaving my beautiful, blonde, Bond-girl of a coworker in charge of our tent, the Sponsor Concierge Table. When I returned, my bombastic companion greeted me, flustered, her bosoms heaving in a way I thoroughly noted but ignored.
“Greg,” she hissed, “This woman asked me to watch her bags!” Her voice was sultry and smooth, a slight drawl left from her southern roots that could lilt any man into a stupor unless he liked dudes like I do.
I looked at where she motioned and, indeed, saw three bags: a purse flanked by two Duane Reade bags that had been supplied for sponsor items. I knew enough to never look through a woman’s purse, lest I come across a hidden sand-snake or tampon, but I peered inside the two bags she had gotten from us and discovered a mess of food, including at least twenty bananas.
I pivoted to face my lustrous cohort once more, taking off my glasses in a dramatic way Laura Roslin would’ve been proud of. “I think she took this all from us.”
Before more needless exposition occurred, the woman in question waddled towards her bags. She was a mango shaped Asian woman in her 40’s. As she passed me and my partner, doing her best to ignore our presence, I questioned her, my voice strong and powerful like a Tahitian monsoon; “Ma’am, did you actually participate in the race.”
She looked at me furtively. Then she began priming her hoard for quick transport.
So that’s your game, wench? “Ma’am, did you actually participate in the race?” I repeated, my voice steely and cool, like the Terminator’s without that indiscernible accent. Again, she looked at me, a veneer of sweat forming on her bushy eyebrows.
I tried once more, putting on my friendliest intimidation face. “Ma’am, are you involved in the race at all?”
She knew she couldn’t ignore me any longer, so she finally responded. She looked at me, eyes glazed in fake confusion, and waved behind her. With a thick Chinese accent she uttered one word: “Husband.” I looked at her, my brow raising in a face that clearly illustrated What the frack she talkin’ about? Again, she gestured behind herself in a vague way and said, slightly more confidently, “Husband,” before meandering off as if in a stupor.
I regarded my companion. “Well, I guess she didn’t speak English very well.”
My sexy, voluptuous comrade looked at me gravely. “When she asked me to watch her bag she spoke English fine.”
I had been conned. That day I was had, grifted by the classic, “Take two or three bags worth of free stuff and then pretend I can’t speak English,” and had been powerless to stop it.
But I promise you this, Three Bag Lady: next year it’ll be different.
This isn’t awkward. This isn’t awkward. It isn’t awkward! I kept repeating the phrase to myself, the thoughts becoming louder and louder until my ears almost hurt, as my parents and my friends sat in our living room, eating sausages and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol (NOTE: for my family, one drink is excessive). I tried my hardest to will the not-awkwardness into reality, but — just like when I tried to will being Tina Fey’s long lost son to be true — nothing happened.
Outside, snow fell, blanketing our home, and making the scenery perfect for the day: it was Christmas Eve.
As we sat, chatting and imbibing, the lack of someone’s presence was easily noted. We pretended it wasn’t an issue, that there was nothing amiss, but we all knew the terrible truth; my brother should’ve been there. But he wasn’t.
I can’t believe this happened. That jerk. If only I had said something else. Oh, this terrible!… Oh well, I thought, mentally going through all five stages of grief in under 3 seconds.
My dad began to joke about something with my friend’s mother. What did he say? I don’t know, I was too distracted, but, knowing them, it probably involved feces, The Bachelorette, or blowing up fruit, because we are classy people.
A few minutes more passed, and then I heard footsteps coming upstairs. I looked expectantly, and it was him: the prodigal brother. He had returned, after 30 horrible minutes of uncertainty.
The last fateful time I had seen my brother was, as said, half an hour before. Upon seeing him I made an inquiry about the one request I had given him for the evening, and it set him fuming.
“What? You were serious!?” His arms came up like a comic book character, showing his frustration and disbelief.
“Um…. Yes.” I looked at him simply, perplexed at his confusion and shocked at such a dire reaction.
“I thought you were joking!”
“Um… No.” Again, I looked him up and down, one eyebrow raised in skepticism at this reaction. I saw the steam building up inside his body with nowhere for it to escape except through his mouth in loud bursts of frustration.
“You can’t do this! You can’t be serious! Greg, this is Christmas Eve, you can’t take over!” He bellowed all this at me, his indignation matched only by his incredible rate of speech.
My dad, hearing this (not unusual) level of volume and passion from my brother’s voice hurried over to resolve the conflict. Ah, my father, always the mediator; I knew I could rely on him. “What’s going on?” he asked, his voice serene as two sleeping kittens.
“Greg was serious earlier!”
My dad simply laughed. “Hah, no he wasn’t! Greg, you were joking, right?”
I looked at them both plainly, aghast at this turn of events. “Um… Nooo?”
Then my dad’s face, generally calm and kind, changed, as he too was filled with anger. “Greg, you can’t tell me what to do in my own house! I dress like this for meetings and I won’t let you tell me what to wear in my own house!”
My brother pointed one finger at me and poked me squarely in my chest, basically bowling me over because he was in good physical condition and I have the physique of a pudding cup. “Greg, you’re a Christmas dictator.” He decided he could no longer look at someone as atrocious as Kim Jong Un and went downstairs in a huff, never to be seen again (for 30 awkward minutes). My father called to him to come back, but his words fell on deaf ears. He looked at me once more, angry that I would make a request that so thoroughly destroyed our family, before returning to his work getting dinner ready.
All I could think about was the previous day’s phone call that sent this whole thing into motion.
“Hey Greg, can I bring anything tomorrow?”
“No, I’ve got the food covered. I was just wondering if you could wear something other than jeans so it’s a bit nicer.”
“Hah, right, okay. See you then.”