The Stuff about Growing Up Everybody Forgot to Tell You – Part I


My issues with the modern American education system are many (see this and this), but perhaps most upsetting is not what schools are doing, but what they are not. Specifically, not preparing us for life after school, “the real world” most necktie-wearing dingbats call it. Oh sure, we’re beaten over the head with completely useless relics of academia like “algebra,” and “grammar,” and “geography” (be sure to make the air quotes when you read that), but then we’re told that to be productive and successful, we need Google machines and Siri gadgets that will wipe all those lessons from our mental white board. Quick, what’s 2x + 3y? Don’t bother, Google’s already answered it way more amazingly than you can.

But when it comes to information you can really use that you will actually need in the adult world – like, How to shut off your smoke alarm if you try to reheat an omelette in the toaster, or, How to put out a small toaster fire, or, What is a toaster? – our schools get a big, fat F. You, as a result, are left ill-equipped to handle these everyday situations and ultimately find yourself with a broken smoke alarm, ruined toaster, and no omelette.

Well, I’m here to change that. This is the first installment of what will be an on-going series of experiences I’ve had with “real world” problems, and what I learned from them. Hopefully, you’ll then be capable of handling the situations when they inevitably arise.

Lesson I: Toilets

Love ’em or hate ’em, you gotta’ use ’em – toilets make living in a city so much less plaguey than 200 years ago. They’re remarkable gizmos that do the dirtiest deeds we throw at them, get used multiple times each and every day, and yet remain largely untouched by the technological upgrades that have run rampant through our daily lives. Still, with all that weight riding on their tireless, gaping maws, glitches in the whole Magical Disappearance of Caca-Poopoo charade can, and do, arise.

The use of toilets is taught to us at a very young age, well before any formal schooling, and nowadays it’s often the second machine we learn to operate behind the iPad (and it is so crushingly depressing to see myself type that). Yet strangely, the mechanisms behind that mystical seat are left woefully ill-defined. Generally, most of us possess the following mental diagram of how it all works:

Finger1 + Lever1=  Smiley Thumbs1

Well I’m here to tell you it’s not all smoke and mirrors; there’s real science behind your potty – all sorts of pipes and floaty balls and old crusty tubes (there may or may not be elves involved as well, I’m not totally sure). And like all science, it eventually goes tits up, leaving us wondering where it all went wrong.

Always Be Prepared

I’m not going to bore you with the inner-workings of the john – if you want that, check out this MIT student’s ridiculously in-depth explanation with equations and shit. I’m also not going to lecture you about how to fix it – if you want that, read through this site called “toiletology”. What I will do, however, is tell you precisely what to expect when fit hits the shan, which it undoubtedly will, and how (not) to deal with the situation.

First off, while it’s impossible to predict exactly when a toilet will go renegade, you can be fairly certain it will occur under one or more of the following circumstances:

  1. Late at night or first thing in the morning. It’s not clear precisely why this is so – it might have something to do with earth’s magnetic field, or the Dust Bowl – but toilets almost never go haywire during daylight working hours. Instead, the user’s state of mind seems to trigger or prevent mechanical failure, i.e. if you are awake, prepared and capable, all is likely to go well. If you’re half-awake, running late, or in fuzzy slippers, catastrophe usually ensues.
  2. When you are a guest in someone’s home. This one is pretty intuitive; it’s like when someone else makes you pancakes for the first time, they’re gross: lumpy, burnt, vegan – not at all like mom’s (it’s a great analogy, go with it). It’s the same with the toilet, it’s used to a different flavor of “business.” Heck, it probably ends up swallowing those new pancakes. Also, toilets at someone else’s house are way more likely to overflow if their bathroom is super nice and clean. If the towels are neatly folded and arranged by size, or if you see a bunch of magazines in a wicker basket next to a bowl of potpurri, then you’re probably headed for disaster.
  3. On a date. This one happens regardless of whether it’s your toilet or theirs. Typically, all hell breaks loose when you or your date are in the other’s house for the first time. It can be a big win for the relationship to share your home with a potential mate, but you’re best served using the restroom at the restaurant before heading home because toilets just love showing your date what you’re really made of.

Obviously you can’t be assured disaster won’t strike at any time, but if you are mindful of these high-risk situations you can mitigate the odds of winding up with this. But, when your turn comes, and it will, there are a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way that should help you navigate the situation as painlessly as possible.

Cut Your Losses

Realize that once it starts to happen, it’s going to happen. The sooner you acknowledge that at some point we are all the karmic punching bag of fate, the sooner you can steer your proverbial ship through literal troubled waters. Follow the advice herein and a potential meltdown will be a mere containment leak.

First of all, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. The swirling whirlpool can be hypnotic, but it is critical to remain vigilant – never take a flush for granted. The first mistake the unprepared make is to lull into a trance and not act with exceptional haste.

Next, do something, but not anything. Once you’ve noticed that something is amiss, do not wait for the situation to rectify itself, trust your instincts… Well, mostly. The biggest mistake the inexperienced mal-flusher makes is to press the handle again. It seems reasonable; it’s the only lever on the whole contraption – like the Home button on an iPad. But while pressing the button is a good thing in most cases, it can be the worst decision you make if something’s wrong. Consider the following diagram:

Finger1Lever1Frowny Thumbs down

See? It makes a lot more sense when you actually see the problem laid out visually. Remember, I speak from experience and I can tell you that pressing the lever will only leave you desperately attempting to turn back time with your mind so you punch the you from the past and alter the future. As yet, that has proven an ineffective solution. I advise you to grab a plunger (if you don’t have one, stop reading this blog right now. There is nothing more important you can be doing with your time than buying one right this second!) and give that nasty staff the ol’ heave-ho! That should clear things right up.

Now, if you were unable to consult the trouble-shooting diagram above, and you pressed the lever, you’re going to have to start throwing down towels immediately. DO NOT attempt to find “bad towels” suited to this task – there are lots of towels out there and no sacrifice is more noble for your absorbent friend than this. That said, you will have to bury the towels, or better yet cleanse them with fire. Contrary to what you may have been told, everything that happens in the bathroom is immoral and shameful. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to perform an exorcism when it’s all over with (and yes, the Catholic Church posted rules on performing your own exorcism, here).

Once you have banished the demons back through the Gates of Hell, it’s time for bleach! It’s not fun, but the only thing more powerful than the Will of Christ is a good ol’ fashioned scrubbing with Clorox. As noted above, this will almost certainly not be the best time to dawn rubber gloves and knee pads, but it’s got to be done. If you’re sleepy, too bad; if you’re late, be later; if it’s someone else’s home, tell them you will show yourself out afterward; and if you’re on a date, go ahead and make a pact to never speak to or about one another or this incident ever again.

It’s OK to cry while you’re scrubbing, the Clorox will destroy your tears, too.

All done? Great! With a little guidance and solid information, an otherwise life-altering tragedy can just be another dark secret that you take with you to the grave.

Stay tuned for the next installment: Bats: AAAHH! HOLY @#$%, HELP!!!



What Bovine Fellatio Can Teach Us About God

Eh? Beautiful, right?

Eh? Beautiful, right?

I got a real good glimpse at the Meaning of Life when I was in the Badlands last month. Needless to say, that’s not what I was expecting to return with; I would have been happy with some decent Instagram pictures and a shot glass that proved I’d been there. But when Life gives you Divine Insight, you make Divine… Insight… drink.

For starters, I’d never been to the Badlands. In fact, being from Minnesota, pretty much all of South Dakota had always been little more than a painfully long stretch of highway between the Twin Cities and the Rockies. Not that I maintain these aspersions, but that’s what I was thinking from the passenger seat as my girlfriend hightailed our asses west along I-90 en route to Badlands National Park, where she promised I would be amazed. “It’s magic,” she told me.

While I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the landmark, I’d heard from several people how terrific it was – tales of camping at the park in the ’60s, close encounters with bobcats and bison, special points off the beaten path that I just had to see – “It’s magic,” they all said. Plus, I considered myself an outdoorsy guy anyway – I’d peed in the woods, eaten apples at an orchard – I knew I would appreciate the grandeur of Mother Nature, regardless of what state it was in. Still, seven hours of “Life Begins At Conception” billboards picturing diaper-clad infants wearing a fireman helmet or holding a sunflower only tempered my hopes for South Dakota’s attractions. I also found myself losing my previous affinity for both firefighters and sunflowers. When we passed the “Help Control the Wildlife Population: Wear Fur!” advertisement, all I wanted was to get to the Badlands, see a bobcat or whatever, and get out of South Dakota.

The sun was just finishing its orange and red goodbyes as we turned left off the interstate onto the long, winding road that led to the park and campgrounds. If you’ve never been to the Badlands, it’s a curious site as you meander deeper into the park: First, you come upon a handful of blunt, flat-topped rock outcroppings that jut out of the horizon like giant, crooked molars. After a day’s worth of flat farmland and prairie grass, these instantly become the coolest thing you’ve seen in South Dakota. Then, as the road snakes left and right, you will see more and more of the rocks as they grow closer and closer. And as you approach, you will notice the strange striated streaks that cut horizontally across the faces of all of the rocks, like some titanic ochre-dipped paint brush took one thick, swift pass along the cliffs.

Big-sheep-horn-goat a.k.a. Ram

Big-sheep-horn-goat a.k.a. Ram

The strangest part, however, is that before you notice it happening, you are suddenly just in among the formations. Where they had been distant, slowly approaching sights before, they’re at once surrounding the road and pulling you further in. In a word, it’s incredible. But as awe-stricken as I was, snapping madly in every direction with my Nikon SLR, it was hardly a spiritual experience. No, that occurred as we pulled around the next bend.

Quickly, but with great stealth, the sky had sunk into deep blues and purples, and the brightest stars began to outshine the light of dusk as brilliant specs above us. I didn’t need any more convincing, South Dakota was more than just a painfully long highway – I was impressed and satisfied, so I thought. I was shooting a picture of the early night sky (because who wouldn’t want look at some amateur pictures of the stars as seen through the sunroof of a Dodge Caravan?) when I heard Sarah gasp next to me and hit the brakes. The car halted, I quickly wheeled around to look at her. She stared straight ahead with her mouth making this wide “O”, like she was about to say “wow”… or drink out of a really big straw.

I turned to look out the windshield and I, too, started to drink out of the big straw. In front of the van, not ten feet away, standing on the shoulder was a flock of bighorn sheep. I called them rams, but everyone who knows about big goat-looking things with curvy horns calls them bighorn sheep. Whatever they might have been called, I’d only ever seen them on the Discovery Channel – always charging at one another and slamming heads with a loud crack. But here they were, very much not on the Discovery Channel, very much right in front of our van. They stood still, four of them, all looking right at us, cast in sharp white contrast against the night sky by our headlights. Sarah killed the lights and let off the brake, slowly rolling forward.

Gravel crunched and popped underneath our tires as the van slid up alongside the flock. They were on the right side of the road, so as we came to a stop next to them, the ram-horn-big-sheep stood right outside my window, now softly and more naturally visible in the ambient glow of after-dusk. Three of the sheep kept their gaze forward, eyeing me with suspicious sideways glances. One of the horn-goat-sheep-bigs, though, tracked me as we approached and was now looking directly at me as I kept drinking out of my now humongous imaginary straw. I clicked the automatic window switch and pierced the heavy silence with an obscene whirring sound from the window motor.

I winced.

The goat-foot-sheep-horns took no notice, however; they all just stared straight ahead, except one, the one that was looking right at me with its hypnotic, goofy goat eyes. I stared right back, still holding my camera. I wanted to take a picture, but was worried if I did I’d be committing some unforgivable violation against the sanctity of Everything. So I just sat there, wondering what it was thinking, whether it cared what I was thinking, and if my side-impact airbag had ever been ram tested.

I think in that moment both Sarah and I were waiting for a sign, some Divine signal that this event had meaning and was concluded. I began to feel increasingly connected to the whole of life on Earth. I started to realize that all creatures, sheep-eyed-goat-horns in particular, had magic in them. And I had magic in me. I belonged here, on Earth, in the present. Up to then, I’d never been especially religious, but there, starting eye-to-goofy-eye with that animal, I began to sense God in everything.

As if on cue, one of the pack began to stir from behind the leader, something was about to happen. We watched, transfixed, unable to surrender from our reverie. Whatever happened next would be an Answer (capital “A”) to whatever question we were thinking but could not ask. The sheep behind took a step forward, then another. It began to stretch its head toward its companion in front, who still looked stoically through my very soul. The trailing bighorn stretched its neck ahead and began to bow – BOWING! KNEELING! This beast was in the process of committing some sacred ritual, I could feel it!

Then it happened – the event that I will remember forever. The moment that incontrovertibly gave me the Answer: The sheep bending low leaned forward, craned its neck, and licked the testicles of the lead ram. Then again. Each time its long ram-horn-curvy-sheep tongue flicked out and prodded the fuzzy regal ball sack of its buddy, causing that hairy coin purse to dangle back and forth, back and forth.

Sarah and I both furrowed our brows, we stopped drinking from our straws. We looked at one another for the first time since coming upon the animals, both of us crinkling our noses and frowning like some wandering cosmic fart had wafted in through the window. I clicked my window up and snapped some pictures, not at all worried what noises the machines made. We pulled ahead and down the hill on toward our campsite.

I slept beautifully that night, secure that I had, at least for an instant, seen the Answer. Not when the animals – humans and bighorns alike – were modeling for one another in picturesque poses, but the ball-licking. That was the Answer. Of course there’s not a God. And of course there is! And it’s laughing at us, all of the time. And it’s when we pretend that it is not laughing at us that we are at fault – that is our sin. We can begin laughing along at any time, that is our salvation and our reward. It’s because everything is sacrosanct that nothing is, that’s the joke – get it? Cool, me neither!

Whatever you think, whether you’re laughing now or not, you’ve got to go to the Badlands. It’s magic.

Test Tube Baby & The Amazing Technicolor Skin Coat

Go ahead and file this under “Ain’t That a Kick In the Twat!”

Jennifer Cramblett, 36, of Uniontown, Ohio, knows all too well the stigma and intolerance levied against people of diverse or minority backgrounds and orientations. Cramblett is an openly gay woman raised, by her account, “around stereotypical attitudes about people other than those in her all-white community,” that according to the lawsuit she has filed against her new-born baby daughter.

Artist's rendering of sperm delivery mix-up.

Artist’s rendering of sperm delivery mix-up.

Let me backtrack here:

Cramblett and her partner, Amanda Zinkon, embarked and their journey into parenthood in 2011. They worked through a sperm bank in Illinois, flipped through file after file looking for the perfect donor, and settled on a strapping suitor by the name of #380 – a Caucasian male with physical traits similar enough to the two women that the child would reasonably resemble the couple. The plan seemed good, the pregnancy took, and nine months later Cramblett gave birth to a healthy baby girl – or as Camblett calls her, “Payton, a beautiful, obviously mixed-race” baby girl.

Yep, someone grabbed #330 (black guy) instead of #380 (white guy) – an honest mistake, if you ask me; we’re all the same color in the test tube – Fed-Ex’ed it to the happy couple, and the events inspiring the forthcoming Rom-Com script I am tentatively titling “Spooge Swap” were underway.

Now, two years hence, the pair have opted to sue Midwest Sperm Bank for wrongful birth and breach of warranty, citing the emotional and economic losses she has suffered. The “emotional and economic losses” to which Cramblett and Zinkon refer – which they say total $50,000 – include having to drive to “a black neighborhood” to have Payton’s hair cut, relocate to a “racially diverse community with good schools” (God forbid), and cope with the “fears, anxieties and uncertainty” that come with having a child who is and will be stigmatized.  All of this according to the couple’s lawsuit.

OK, I certainly get that you might be a little irked on principle about paying for a specific product and receiving something other than that product. I think in this instance, the parents might warrant a refund or a buy one get one free offer from the spuzz repository. If it was me, I’d call ’em up, be upset but civil on the phone, and tell them we should keep it out of the courts, avoid the bad publicity, send my refund check (be sure that dweeb who grabbed #330 doesn’t address the envelope), and be done with it – move on with another day of happy parenting my super-awesome baby.

What I most certainly would NOT do is publically sue a company for giving me the wrong daughter – the heretofore-modern-miracle-of-science-baby that I would otherwise be biologically incapable of having – a daughter who I say makes me uncomfortable because of my shitty racist family and shitty backwater neighborhood, and who I bitch about because I am also incomprehensibly ignorant about basic hair grooming and modern schooling.

What these two are essentially doing is saying that if they had their druthers, the “beautiful” daughter they now have – thanks to the wonders of western medicine, mind you – would not exist and they would be happier holding a Wonder bre(a)d white kid.

That, mom and mom, is shitty. Downright shitty parenting.

Payton, if you get to read this, there are thousands of intelligent, eager, capable adoptive families that will love the color, sound, texture and smell that you are. And I’m sure they will take you anywhere you want to get your hair cut.

Paws Off My Mom, Dean

University of Minnesota Alumni Association – To Whom It May Concern:

First of all, thank you so much for keeping in touch with me as the years have passed since my successful completion of your undergraduate program. It means a lot to know that the institution to which I committed so much of my youth and limited resources remembers my name, my record as a student and my mom’s permanent mailing address.

Speaking of my mom’s mailing address, I would like to humbly request that you desist sending postal mail to her home. It is not only confusing and likely an unnecessarily bittersweet reminder of her pre-empty-nest days, but it is, so far as I can tell, unsolicited panhandling.

This is not to say that I would not like to maintain any correspondence with your fine educational institution – perish the thought! By all means, if you wish to inform me of any free T-shirt giveaways, meat raffles, or Bon Jovi tickets, please do not hesitate to call me directly or drop by my mom’s house any time, day or night.

However, if you are hailing me to request further funds – “gifts” as I believe you’ve called them in your past mailings – please do not waste the paper, ink, or man-power. Not only do I lack any sort of discretionary income to ”gift” your upstanding establishment of higher learning, I believe your requests for donation are in error.

Allow me to explain:

When I first arrived at your esteemed destination of cerebral development, I was told I must first make a substantial donation in order to enroll, “tuition” you called it. I agreed, handed in a check for the amount specified and proceeded to redeem your offer of education through your most venerable bastion of enlightenment.

My understanding throughout this arrangement was that my contributions to your meritorious haven of insight were an exchange for admittance, attendance and overwhelming workload. The brutally humbling critiques of my coursework, I presume, were free of charge.

And, despite the outrageous amounts you requested each and every term, the most basic materials needed to attend your highly distinguished oasis of understanding were wholly NOT covered in the required pre-term fees. Every pen, sheet of paper and textbook were an additional – and if I may say, crushing – expense. I was also vexed to learn that some of the aforementioned (obscenely priced) textbooks were authored by the very professors I was paying to educate me. That’s tantamount to buying an expensive dinner at a fancy restaurant, as well as the furniture – which happen to be whittled by the chef in his spare time. (On the bright side, you can always sell back the furniture afterward for a whopping 5% of what you originally paid).

But I digress. This was your racket and your rules, and I agreed to abide – at least so long as I attended. Now, however, your continued Oliver Twistian pleas for more of my money – years since my hard-won graduation – feel like dirty pool. I purchased dinner, I bought the table and chairs, and now the wait staff are calling me every few months requesting continued contributions. This makes no sense, I’m out. All done. No más. Jumanji! I got the degree – singular. You got the dollars – plural, many times over. Our business transaction is completed and you must now focus your profit motive elsewhere – to other younger, hungrier, less penny wise minds than my own.

In summary, leave my mom alone. Forever.

Warmest regards,
Adam J. Ruggiero, B.A. Journalism

If You’re Gonna Cheat, Cheat Honorably

News broke yesterday that the University of North Carolina was gracing its athletes (mostly football and men’s basketball) with high grades for phony classes.

According to reports, “about 3,100 students enrolled in classes the didn’t have to show up for in what was deemed a “shadow curriculum” within the former African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department from 1993 to 2011.

Firstly, shocking. Who would have thought that prestigious athletic schools within the NCAA would rubber stamp their student athletes’ educations to reap millions of dollars from the sports they play?

Well, me. And you. And everyone else.

The insidious piece of the story here is not that college athletics are corrupt; it is that the college caught – North Carolina at Chapel Hill – chose African American Studies as the bogus course through which to fast-track their athletes. Their predominantly African American athletes. The predominantly African American athletes they were grooming for careers in professional sports – namely, football and basketball – two sports in which the highest-paid and most-successful employees are African American.

Even among players of non-African descent – perhaps especially those – would benefit from an African American Studies course when they are involved in a sport, and a culture, so heavily influenced by African Americans.

If UNC had wanted to ace their players through a fake course, they should have done so with a class no up-and-coming athlete would need – like math. Seriously, is the Pythagorean Theorem going to help when you’re running a post route? Is pi going to help your 40 time? Will long division hit a mid-range jumper with two seconds left?


But, familiarizing yourself with the history and culture supporting the majority of people you’ll be working with – probably useful. Exploring patterns of exploitation by a ruling class of privileged white guys that profited off the talents and bodies of their workforce might, just might, be relevant in the NFL and NBA.

People will cheat and cheaters will cover up, that’s life. But it’s doubly insulting when an institution of higher learning robs students of the knowledge and understanding they will most need if they are to succeed outside of the classroom.