6/17/14

You're invited to feel socially obligated to attend my birthday dinner!


Dear friends, it's that time of year again when my mass email and/or a Facebook notification reminds you that the exact same calendar date when my birth occurred many years ago is almost upon us again this year. As you all well know, we've all been socially contracted by the coincidence of birth into accepting a custom peculiar to our culture that deems this annual on-paper recurrence on the Gregorian calendar an event worthy of celebration with some kind of gathering or other. So please allow me to remind you of your duty to fulfill this social obligation this coming Thursday. That's not technically my birthday, because my birthday falls on a Monday this year, so we'll in fact be celebrating my birthday three days later. Some of you may be thinking "why not celebrate two days before on a Saturday?" but unfortunately I already have another social obligation to attend a wedding ceremony where a lot of money will be spent on a lavish party to celebrate two people promising a government official that they will spend the rest of their lives together, unless of course they change their minds and decide to divorce later on. I had to buy a tuxedo just for those kinds of obligations, and would like to get my money's worth, so I should really attend that wedding. You may also be wondering why we're doing this on a Thursday instead of a Friday, but that's because I'm playing tennis Saturday morning and don't want to be hungover. Also, I couldn't be bothered with throwing a real party at my place because that means my house getting trashed and either me spending a fortune on alcohol or depending on you guys to bring alcohol, in which case everyone will just bring some beers and hit the hard liquor, which means we'll be out of drinks before midnight, so no thanks. Thursday it is then!

We'll be meeting at L'Exorbitante restaurant at 8 pm. As you can tell from the fancy French name, L'Exorbitante will be expensive, so for those with solvency issues, I suggest you abstain from starters, stick to a non-red meat main like chicken or pasta, and forget about wine and dessert. If people ask why you're not eating much, just say you're not too hungry. Don't say you're broke, because that's an instant bummer for everyone at the table, and all you'll get is awkward silence and a sudden loss of eye contact from those around you. Stick to tried and true socially acceptable ways to say you're broke, like "I had a late lunch" or "I just don't have much of an appetite". We'll all know what you're really saying without having to go through the discomfort of addressing it openly. For some of you for whom any kind of eating at all will be out of the question due to lack of money, I will expect the usual "I'll come after dinner for a drink". That's fine, we all do that at some point, whatever. Others among you will just reply to this email with a "Happy Birthday! I'll try to make it!" and then write another email the day after my birthday dinner saying you or your dog or your girlfriend was sick and therefore couldn't make it. I'm sure most of you would like to opt for that old trick, but I'm not going to let you, because this is where I say "Please let me know if you are attending or not because I'm making a reservation and need to know exact numbers". Bam. I just played the RSVP card. So you're going to have to work on coming up with creative, semi-credible excuses if you think you're expecting to get off the hook that easily.

That being said, I will accept all fabricated excuses to not have to come, without question, since I know that I too will welcome the opportunity to invent some kind of lie to not have to attend some of your inevitable upcoming birthday dinners, either because I'm broke or because I can't be bothered. I also understand that most of you are either married or pretty much partnered up for life, as am I, so the thrilling allure of going out and meeting someone attractive with whom you could strike up an engrossing conversation that will effortlessly segue into flirting and the distinct possibility of amazing new-sexy-person sex, and possibly even new love... is essentially non-existent. That's not going to happen at a birthday dinner. We're not in our twenties anymore. Instead we will all pretty much be sitting beside our same old significant others, perhaps making do with secretly checking out each others' partners with furtive glances as we engage in inane forced conversations with people we barely know whose only thing in common is that they know the person whose birthday it is, viz. me. We will of course be waiting for the alcohol to kick in so we can loosen up and relax a bit, even though with each drink we order we'll be painfully aware of the accumulating bill that awaits us at the end of the night. But I have no need to remind you that even as we get a few drinks in and start feeling like we might be having fun, there will inevitably arise in the back of each of our minds the lingering worry of obligations, money, your job, health, and the fact that you have to leave early to get enough sleep for work the next day, all of which will be tinged with a faint melancholy unease of wasted youth, and for some of us maybe even a despairing general feeling of regret for what might've been.

I assume most of you will come fashionably late, but as you know, if you come too late, you may not have any seating options other than what's available, which means you may end up spending the birthday dinner talking to someone you don't care to talk to, generally trying to muddle through some awkward and painful small talk about what you do for a living and how you came to know me. On the other hand if you come too early, there's a chance that you may feel obligated out of courtesy or pity to sit next to a couple or person who is already there at an empty table, even though you otherwise wouldn't choose to sit next to them. Even worse would be you being the first person there, as that would mean you are a loser/losers who might actually be looking forward to this birthday dinner, and/or had nowhere better to be and nothing better to do beforehand. So pick your time well.

I'm aware that some of you will drink wine and others won't, so will the wine drinkers please divide the wine bill separately. Please beware of waiters pouring wine for you, as they will try and go through as many bottles as possible. Once the wine is in your glass, I'm afraid you'll be expected to chip in for the wine bill. To be on the safe side, place your hand over your wine glass in case you're distracted in a conversation or playing Words With Friends on your iPhone to avoid painful human interaction while the waiter's pouring wine. The waiters love to pounce on the distracted. That being said, at the end of the dinner about a fifth of the wine will be sitting around in half drunk glasses. This is inevitable. Just accept the waste and pay up without complaining about those who didn't drink their wine.

During dinner we will all of course want to take photos of ourselves to post up on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. May I suggest that photos intended for Facebook be taken without it being announced that a photo's about to be taken. A dinner party looks fun when everyone's engrossed in conversation and having fun without being aware of photos being taken. If everyone's sitting around a table smiling at a camera it looks like a photo being taken is the most interesting thing going on at the dinner party, which is sad. I accept that photos taken for Twitter will likely be used for sarcastic purposes, but try to do that without insulting people there, including me. If you don't want to be at my birthday, then just do what everyone else does and pretend like you do, okay? I promise to do the same for you.

Naturally at some point after the mains, people will want to switch seats to sit with those who don't bore them as much. I just want to say please don't let this turn into the inevitable boys sitting all together talking about cars, gadgets, prices of things, and football, and girls sitting on the other side talking about... whatever girls talk about, I don't know. I know this happens every time anyway, but let's just at least try and keep boys and girls kind of mixed.

Also, in case anyone's considering buying a big elaborate cake, don't bother. Just pick a dessert off the menu and stick a candle in it. I'll act delighted. Contrary to what you may be thinking, a sparkler is NOT a welcome bonus as that will mean I'll have to embellish the delight act, which, frankly, I can't be bothered to do, especially considering I know that what comes next is the bill.

You will know the "fun" is over when your bill arrives... although, theoretically, we may know the fun was over way before that, if it ever was there to begin with. Nevertheless, reach calmly into your wallets while you and your partners whisper and point at items on the bill. Everyone has to pay for whatever they had or sort their respective bills out with the waiter. That being said, I'm resigned to accept that I'll still be stuck with a hefty amount of the bill that somehow went unpaid, either because the restaurant is stiffing us or because you overlooked a couple of items. I know, it sucks, but hey, I dragged you to this thing so I accept that ultimately I'm responsible for it. Plus that means my conscience is clear about leaving a few beers unpaid at all your upcoming birthday dinners. Of course we could alternatively split the whole bill evenly, but who are we kidding, that's just going to lead to a 45 minute all-table series of arguments about who had what and why they should be expected to pay for so-and-so when they didn't have any so-and-so. So let's just stick to the original plan.

This email ran a little longer than expected, but I really like to map things out and consider all angles beforehand so that the dinner is at least bearable, and the only thing we have to worry about (other than how much it's going to cost each and every one of us) is having a good time.

So see you Thursday. It's going to be "fun"!

P.S. I'm considering whether we should all wear ironic birthday hats. Thoughts?

6/1/14

Hi, I'd like to sign up for the revolution please


- Hi, I'd like to sign up for the revolution please.

- Okay, let me see... are you an aspiring Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist, Maoist, Socialist, Socialist Nationalist, Kurdish-Socialist, Alevi-Socialist, Democratic Socialist, Social Democrat, Communist, Anarchist, Anarcho-Syndicalist, Structuralist Marxist...

- I'm, uh... I don't know, what's trending right now?

- Well, it depends who you ask

- Right, obviously... let's just go with straight up Marxist.

- Oh, really? That's kind of old fashioned and intellectualist. Can I at least suggest Marxist-Leninist? It's still intellectualist but a little more practical.

- Okay, fine. I take it you're a Marxist-Leninist?

- Yes, but that's not why I'm...

- Right sure, okay, that's fine. Sign me up for that. Wait, you mentioned Stalinism. There are Stalinist parties?

- Yeah well, there's parties with known Stalinists. They don't like to say they're Stalinists, it's not exactly a popular ism.

- I can guess. And the Trotskyists? What are they about?

- Um, nobody really ever remembers. It's pretty much the opposite of Stalinism I guess. You just have to look out for ice picks.

- What?

- That's just an inside joke.

- The anarchists sound pretty cool, what about their party?

- They don't really have a party, obviously. Organization isn't their thing, they just be anarchist.

- They look pretty cool though, all those black hoodies and red masks and stuff. Like jedis or something.

- Yeah, I'll admit, they look good, but that's only when they're rioting. Otherwise you have to walk around with lots of piercings and ripped pants and weird hairstyles all the time, even when you're at the store buying milk. It gets tiring.

- Okay then, for now let's just go with the Marxist-Leninist party.

- Good choice. Which one? There are fifty eight Marxist Leninist parties. Look, here's the list.

- Oh wow, that's a long list. I don't know, which is the biggest?

- This one, it has hundreds of members. That's the one I'm in.

- Sure, sign me up.

- Okey dokey... So you're set, comrade.

- Great, what do I do?

- Well, to start off with, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with Marxist-Leninist dogma. Are you familiar with that jargon?

- Kind of.

- Also, can you play guitar badly and sing Commandante Che Guevara in really bad Spanish?

- I can play Hotel California on guitar, is that okay?

- No no no, that is NOT okay. Do not ever sing that bourgeois shit. Learn the Comandante Che Guevara song. It's real simple, there's like five words. And learn the jargon too. Let's start with the basics: just call the police and politicians "fascists" all the time and raise your left fist every time you chant something with your fellow party members. Things you don't like are always "bourgeois" and the people being oppressed are always the "proletariat". Plus, history is always and only about class conflict. Got it? Start with that, and you can work up from there.

- Okay, simple enough.

- Oh and you might want to pick a pet topic to be nitpicky about when you encounter other Marxist-Leninists or Socialists. Maybe debate whether the Marxist dialectical materialist teleology is still relevant today, or whether latter day structuralists like say Althusser or Poulantzas had a better grasp of...

- Wait, what? What are you talking about?

- I know I know, none of this is really relevant to anything or has any practical meaning to anybody's life, but I suggest you really memorize some of the main points of contention, pick a side, and defend it furiously without any compromise to look especially revolutionary, committed, intellectual and, most importantly, attractive to the ladies.

- I do want to look attractive to the ladies.

- Sure you do. We all do. Why do you think I always have this solemn semi-heroic expression on my face? Why do you think I wear this Che Guevara shirt and act like I'm fighting the world?

- That's Che Guevara? I thought it was Planet of the Apes.

- No, it's not Planet of the Apes. This isn't a Sci-Fi convention. This is a globally recognized iconic image. This is THE famed revolutionary Che Guevara gazing heroically into the distance from t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, mouse pads and other paraphernalia all around the world. You can even find these shirts at Target now. By the way, you're going to have to change the way you dress. Are those loafers?

- Yeah yeah, I know, I'm going to start dressing really drab

- Good, yes. Wear gray, black, lots of red, and some camo green. Also wear boots. Never wear clothes with logos, obviously. You should also maybe consider sporting a big bushy Marx-like beard, growing your hair out, getting some communist iconography going, hammers and sickles, red stars, etc. Also some of those leather wrist bands, maybe some leather necklaces, earrings. Think Jimi Hendrix crossed with Johnny Depp. That means lots of accessories. Also look into red scarves and Palestinian shawls, that's part of the kit. You don't want to be too ambitious, though, and go for the Subcomandante Marcos look. Everybody at some point thinks they want that look, but trust me, it's no good. You have to keep a balaklava on at all times and have a pipe in your mouth. Not practical. A cotton balaklava against your mouth all day is a hygiene nightmare. I know, because I tried it. The balaklava eventually smells like a sock.

- I've already got some fashion ideas I'm looking into. I was thinking of going for the slick shaved head, black turtleneck, Doc Martins...

- Whoa whoa, you just described Michel Foucault. Do you want to be a postmodernist? You signed up for Marxism-Leninism, remember? If you want to be a postmodernist you can go teach cultural studies at a private university.

- Yuck, no, I don't want that.

- Exactly. You do NOT want that. Postmodernists don't get to storm barricades and engage in romantic revolutionary struggles and fight cops and pretend they're struggling to change the world. Postmodernists just wade in a tepid pool of relativism. They fuck their students and collect art.

- Okay, scrap that then. I'll go for the Marxist-Leninist look. By the way, when do I actually get to go out and, you know...

- You're going to ask when the next protests are, right? You're going to ask when you get to riot?

- Yep.

- That's why they all join. Wanna throw some Molotov cocktails and "fight the system"?

- Yeah, all that revolutionary stuff. I wanna do that.

- I'll bet you do. And at the end of all the danger and fighting and camaraderie as we struggle against the blackguards, you want to fall in love with some female revolutionaries, some fiery young idealist girls you just fought alongside, and you want them to gaze in your eyes and fall in love with your courage, commitment, idealism, and your gorgeous revolutionary heroic good looks, and then you want to have sex with all of them and have them stroke an AK-47 tattoo on your chest, correct?

- Yes, exactly! When does that stuff get to happen?

- Pretty much never. We all think it will, and that's the main reason we go through all this, but the free-love communist thing is a myth. We don't go around having orgies and sharing our men and women who are supposedly always up for having sex with their fellow wild romantic revolutionary comrades. Communist men are just as jealous and possessive as any other men and socialist women are just as picky about who they sleep with. Sorry to burst that little bubble.

- Right, okay, whatever. I'm still up for it though.

- Good, because it's still a lot of self-important, self-satisfying fun. You really feel like a revolutionary, like a warrior, like you're changing the world. But don't worry, it's not really revolutionary.

- What do you mean?

- Come on. I know we say we're populists and that we represent the people and the working classes and revolution and all that, but we're really just a bunch of young idealists who get off on being morally superior and combative. None of this will bring about any real change. We actually like it like that, because that means we get to keep on fighting heroically forever without the chance of it ever actually achieving its goals. It's perfect.

- Right, yeah, I figured that.

- When the people and the so-called working class at home turn the TV on and see red flags and people chanting Marxist-Leninist slogans and hurling Molotov cocktails, they don't identify with any of this. It's just us university students from bourgeois families being populist and pro-worker for ourselves. It's basically just rebellious sloganeering. We get off on feeling like we're actually fighting a fight with a goal toward revolution, but really it's just a periodic pantomime where we chant the usual chants and break the usual windows and bust the usual ATMs, and hurl the usual Molotov cocktails, while they chase us and spray water cannons and shoot gas canisters. It's all part of a well-rehearsed show. The police and state and the bourgeoisie believe they're defending their country against internal enemies, and we believe we're fighting for the people to bring about a revolution against the reigning fascists. Everybody else just watches it all on TV with absolute indifference. Then when it's all over we get to walk around singing Spanish socialist chants, dressing like Jimi Hend... I mean Che Guevara, having serious and pointless conversations about dialectical materialism, and pretending we're the saviors of the world

- Okay... so we're kind of actually just...

- Wankers, yes.

- Hmmm, fuck it. It all still sounds worth it. It's either this or I become a nihilist... or worse, a headbanger.

- Ugh, definitely this. Then when  you get older and rich and work in some shitty profiteering capitalist pig corporation, which we all do eventually by the way, you can justify it by saying "I used to be a socialist". That's a good card to have in your hand when you're a sellout in your forties. You can't say "I used to be a headbanger" and sound cool, that just sounds like you were a loser. And nihilists... well, they don't get laid much. Not that we do either, but at least we're around girls a lot and there's the possibility of it happening.

- True.

- So then, welcome on board! Lesson one: how to dismantle cobblestones and hurl them at bank windows in between spray-painting signposts. Ready?

- You bet!