I am more ancient than most of my friends. In fact, I could be grandpa to a few of them. For others I’m old enough to be their dad. To the rest I could be the big brother who left home before they hit puberty. That’s all okay, because none of them asks me for candy or presents, and that’s what I really care about.

We’ve become friends because we like some of the same things, such as acting and computers and not worrying about the stock market. We’ve had some of the same fun. We’ve made the same stupid decisions. Then we looked around at each other through the suffering we had brought upon ourselves and said, “What the hell. Let’s bond.”

My young friends embrace new things more readily than my own age group, or at least they don’t have a seizure and swallow their tongue when a new operating system is released. That dang Windows 8 is an exception, of course. My young friends get out and do things. They’re a little less judgmental than people my age. They’re sure a lot less grumpy.

My wife, who’s also younger than me, finds it hilarious that I value having friends who go out and do fun things. That’s just because I don’t go out and do things with them. In fact, she met some of them before I did, and for a year they thought she was lying about being married. They never saw me, so they figured I was no more real than a dragon or a leprechaun.

However, my wife’s amusement is unjust. Even if I stay home, I can enjoy hearing about adventures later on, after the hangovers of youth have subsided. Whenever I do emerge from my lair, some of my young friends are often busy doing fun things, giving me the opportunity to tromp along and do fun things too. Just having that opportunity is worth a lot. Otherwise my only options would be cable news, Red Lobster, and fantasy football.

A gang of my friends is going out to drink and tell lies tonight. Although I’ll be sitting here fumbling around with plot points and internally inconsistent characters, if I wanted to I could be out having fun with them, and I’d be welcome. Like I said, that’s worth a lot.


One of my younger friends who invited me to a concert by somebody called “Cephalic Carnage.” I think I’ll be busy changing the air filter and testing our fire alarms that evening.
My younger friends sometimes look like this to me, especially when I’ve just turned down their invitation to a concert by somebody called “Cephalic Carnage.”

 Photo by Jon Eben Field
Licensed under the 
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I admit I am a vengeful person. I admit it just like I admit I’m a person with bad knees. It’s inconvenient and annoying, but it’s become an unfortunate part of who I am. I’m trying to let my grudges drift away, but I think that would require some sort of radical intervention, similar to cutting out my knees and replacing them with knees made of gentle and forgiving titanium.

Some people say they can hold a grudge until it’s old and gray. I can hold a grudge until it dies. Then I stuff it, mount it, and hang it over the fireplace. Then I chat with it through the Ouija Board. My wife shakes her head when I say that, but she doesn’t say, “Oh honey, you’re not that bad.” She says, “Someday you’re going to have a stroke while you’re trying to destroy a Wal-Mart Super Center with just the power of your mind.”

I hear that the first step is admitting you have a problem. Okay, I have a problem. But it strikes me that I don’t know just how bad this problem is. I don’t know if it will ruin my life, or if it will just ruin my breakfast once in a while. I decided to check out what history’s great thinkers had to say about vengeance and anger.

A quote has floated around for a long time, attributed to Buddha, who was certainly a wise old chap. It is:

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

— Someone who wasn’t Buddha

Why do I say that the author of this quote wasn’t Buddha? I did a little poking around, and Fake Buddha Quotes convinced me it was so. Nobody seems to really know where this came from. For all we know, some washer woman ruined Buddha’s favorite robe and he never forgave her.

Confucius was another terribly smart fellow, so I checked him out and found this gem:

“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

— Someone who wasn’t Confucius

Again, nobody seems to know who actually said this. It appears nowhere in Confucius’ writings. Maybe some blind-drunk blowhard in a Kyoto bar came up with it and decided it would sound better if people thought a famous Chinese philosopher said it. We don’t know.

I looked for any kind of well-known observations about vengeance. A lot of people talk about this one:

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

— Someone who wasn’t a French novelist whose book would someday be made into a movie in which John Malkovich hisses like a viper

Nobody can figure out who came up with this one. Some people say it was Choderlos de Laclos, who wrote the novel Les liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons). Different people say it was Shakespeare, or an anonymous Japanese guy, or Mario Puzo. We might as well say it was Ricardo Montalban in The Wrath of Khan and move on.

I don’t think anybody really knows a damn thing about how much it hurts you to hold a grudge.

Regardless, I’ve set some limits for myself when it comes to vengefulness. I am not allowed to hold a grudge against any person I could reasonably be able to communicate with in my lifetime. If I might meet them, talk to them, exchange emails, or be tempted to call them a walking goat’s whang on Facebook, they are strictly out of bounds. That leaves plenty of people whom I may regard with seething hatred. For example, I will never watch a Dallas Cowboys game as long as Jerry Jones owns the team. I don’t care if they win a dozen Superbowls and give every orphan in Texas a puppy. My rage is pure.

It’s a sacrifice to deny myself any grudges against such a large group of people, but I reward myself by despising non-human entities with searing vehemence. I won’t name them here, but there are airlines I refuse to fly, stores I refuse to shop in, and bars I refuse to get drunk in. I have gazed upon certain businesses with bitterness whenever I drove past, and I’ve rejoiced when on occasion one closed its doors forever.

Yes, I’m a vengeful son of a bitch.

The corollary to all this bitter vengefulness is blind, stupid loyalty to “my” people and institutions, even when that loyalty may not be too wise. If you’re my friend, I don’t care what you do, I’m on your side. First of all, I’ve probably done something as bad or worse than whatever you did, and second, if I stop being your friend when you screw up or disagree with me then I wasn’t much of a friend in the first place.

When I was a kid my father told me that the world is full of people, and every one of them is looking for a friend. That’s a pretty extreme statement, but I’ve found it to be true. Yet I’ve kept my list of friends pretty short, and there’s a good reason for that. I consider someone to be my friend if I feel like it’s okay for them to puke in my car.

Maybe I’m not the nicest guy around, but I’d like to see Buddha top that.

My friend, who has definitely puked in my car.
My friend, who has definitely puked in my car.

Before a reader can cherish a book with all his heart, the book must get its ass kicked quite a lot. Any decision along the way can crush the book into a gritty paste. The author must decide to write the damn thing, and to not quit before the story’s done. He has to decide to stop compulsively revising the story and show it to other humans, exposing his soul to annihilation should someone say that he chose an adverb poorly.

At some point an author has to decide to toss the story’s fate into the hands of other people. If he doesn’t, it will be appreciated only by his mother, his college roommate, and his basset hound. This is a risky proposition, since those people might be mean, and they might know more about the book business than he does. Agents, editors, publishers, bookstore owners, and people who want to read books will all judge his cherished creation. Sticking the story in a snappy-looking binder and dropping it into a desk drawer for all eternity can seem a lot more desirable.

I’m struggling with that decision today. I intend to expose my manuscript to the uncaring scrutiny and possible condemnation of agents in the next few days. And I’m preparing a proposal that I hope will cause them to decide that my story is just what’s needed to lift the spirit of humanity in desolate times. Or at least that a fair number of people will buy it, read it, and smile.

I will include something called a “pitch” in this proposal. It’s sort of like the description you’d find on the back of a paperback book. It should sell the book. After a person reads the pitch, whenever he thinks about the book he should feel like he’s just shot up heroin. The pitch is really important. The first pitch I wrote for my story was:

When five young mice of Briarcliff Manor venture into the harrowing barnyard, they want only three things: to find enough food to eat, to avoid becoming something else’s food, and to create as many little mice as possible. They don’t want to get involved in the travails of young Cinderella and her cruel sisters, or to dabble in the affairs of fairy godmothers. They certainly don’t plan to become horses and haul a carriage from one pointless place to another pointless place. But the world doesn’t seem to care what mice want. The tiniest mouse, Abernathy, along with his siblings and his friends, must employ recklessness, subterfuge and sarcasm in their struggle to survive. No matter what trouble that wretched cinder girl gets them into.

When I read over the pitch, I realized there was a chance that it might not be perfect. Since I hoped that other people would be mesmerized by its brilliance, I decided to use the brains of other people to help me improve the pitch. I sent it to a passel of my smarter friends and asked for their help. Some of them had even read the manuscript before. My friends delivered all the help I could have desired. In fact, here’s a selection of the guidance they provided to me:


Friend 1 – “I don’t like the sentence in the middle. It doesn’t fit with the rest of it.”
Me – “Wow. That’s my favorite sentence in the whole thing.”
Friend 1 – “Get used to working with editors.”


Friend 2 – “Saying ‘Cinderella’ straight out is giving everything away. And saying ‘tiniest mouse’ makes it sound like a children’s book. And I know it’s not a children’s book. You must have said damn a thousand times in that book, and you mention some really frisky mouse behavior.”
Me – “I wasn’t sure agents would spend more than four seconds looking at this, so I didn’t want to make them try to figure out it’s Cinderella. But I guess I should give them more credit. Good point about the children’s book. Maybe I could say ‘horniest mouse’ or something?”


Friend 3 – “Saying ‘pointless place’ twice is kind of awkward.”
Me – “Yeah. I guess you’re not telling me that saying it three times would be better, are you?”


Friend 4 – “Why should we care about these mice?”
Me – “Great question. I care about them because I’ve lived with them for months. They’re like penniless relatives I can’t get rid of. I don’t know—maybe you’d care about them if you spent eight bucks for the book? Okay, I’ll work on it.”


Friend 5 – “Even though it’s a ‘sales’ paragraph, it sounds too ‘salesy.’”
Me – “Ouch. If it sounds too much like a sales pitch then I’ve screwed up. I need to go more for, ‘Would you care to see my etchings?’ and less for, ‘Hey baby, you lookin’ for a date?’”


Friend 6 – “I stumbled over ‘becoming something else’s food.’”
Me – “Yeah, that whole sequence is crap. I need something more like, ‘Veni, vidi, vici,’ or, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’”


Friend 7 – “There needs to be something between the part about the world not caring what mice think and the part about the tiniest mouse and his friends. It seems disconnected.”
Me – “But Friend 1 told me to take out that sentence! Crap. It sucks when you write just 125 words, and the first part’s disconnected from the second part.”


Thanks to my smart, generous, and extremely honest friends, I have created a newer, more irresistible pitch:

The mice of Briarcliff Manor want only three things: to find enough to eat, to escape being eaten, and to have as much sex as possible. They don’t want to get involved with some stupid girl and her two cruel sisters, or to dabble in the affairs of fairy godmothers. They certainly don’t plan to become horses and haul a damned carriage from one pointless place to another. Faced with these threats to their dignity and lives, the audacious mouse Abernathy and his friends must employ subterfuge, bold stupidity, and strategic cowering in order to survive. No matter what trouble that wretched cinder girl gets them into.

Now I shall finish up the proposal and deliver it into the hands of as many harsh, bitterly practical agents as possible. Let the annihilation of my soul begin.

I like the friends I have on Facebook. I’ve culled my friends list ruthlessly, like a dog breeder drowning puppies while trying for a new type of canine, maybe a Saint Berdoodle. So now my friends list contains real friends, or at least acquaintances I like. This has led me to do far stupider things than I did when my Facebook friends included my dentist’s uncle and the guy I met at the gas station.

The Wise Folk advise us to avoid certain subjects in polite company. We should not discuss sex, religion, or politics. I think this is usually great advice. But now on Facebook I’m not in polite company, I’m among my friends. So I say to the wise folk, “Screw you, you god damn commies!” I feel comfortable talking to my friends about delicate subjects. They’re my friends.

Allow me to show you the stupidity of my ways. Say I’m scanning posts and see that a friend linked an article. It reveals that last Christmas Eve the Republican National Committee held a cross-dressing orgy and sacrificed goats on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. My friend has commented: “This is outrageous! These guys are traitors to the nation!”

Back when my friends list included the guy I met at the gas station, I would no more have responded to this than I would have inhaled Drano. But now I’m among friends. I may freely read this article and offer friendly insights.

I admit that the image of the RNC writhing in ecstasy under Abraham Lincoln’s gaze is amusing. Yet I try to be honest, and I comment: “I read the article and am not sure it’s accurate. The article was written by a plumber in Little Rock who said he’s never been east of the Mississippi, and he relied on his nephew’s field trip to DC for his source material. I couldn’t locate anyone else who saw this event, and unless the RNC has a Romulan cloaking device then someone should have seen them and said something. And while the article appears on a website named www.window.on.truth.com, it’s in fact owned by the non-profit ‘Kill Republican Maggots Who Kick Orphans.’ I’d say exercise some skepticism.”

Half an hour later my friend responds: “Maybe, maybe not. There’s no proof that they DIDN’T have this orgy, is there?”

I suppress my knowledge that it’s impossible to prove a negative. My friend knows how she feels, and I’m not determined to change her opinion. She likes her opinion. We had a friendly conversation, polite on both sides, and I’m happy. So I comment: “I see what you’re saying, and you’re right—I can’t prove the orgy didn’t happen. If some of these guys have their penises fall off later, that could be evidence that an orgy might have happened. But overall, go you!”

Fourteen seconds later a comment appears from one of my friend’s friends. I’ve never heard of this person, and if he was on fire I probably wouldn’t bother to write an app to simulate a stream of urine directed onto him.

He comments, addressing my friend: “I don’t know where this guy came from, but he’s just the kind of shit-for-brains reactionary who’s going to drive this country into a revolution that will end in an influenza pandemic and nuclear war! Just because someone’s a plumber doesn’t mean his words are false—that’s nothing but elitist thinking from a lackey of the rich and privileged who have filled this country’s prisons with the innocent poor and are conducting scientific experiments on them to create a super-soldier! I’ll bet he’s never even been to an orgy! I’d like to see this asshole debate the real issues instead of drooling his opinions—I’d shred him in 2 seconds! But I doubt he has the guts!”

As I read this, I reflect that they are called Wise Folk instead of Pretty Folk for a reason. I should listen to them more. I feel a gut-wriggling urge to respond to this snot-streaming cretin, but it’s evident that hours of spiteful conflict will ensue with a person I do not know, care about, or wish to see in the gene pool. Only evil lies at the end of that path.

There is salvation. It’s called the “Block” button, and I punch it as if it was the ejector seat and my F-18 was flaming out.

Sure, Facebook is a social network, but social isn’t always good. Most murders are committed by someone close to the victim, and the most vicious wars are fought between people with only a few degrees of separation. If I want to enjoy my time online, I’ll keep my fingers in my pockets when those touchy subjects float by. If I want a fight, I can always walk up to someone in a bar and call his mother a clot of nose-filth.