About gun ownership

This is a guest post by my good friend Joel Tagert. It was originally posted on Facebook, but since you have to be his friend to read it there, I asked if I could post it here to share it with a wider audience.

I owned a gun, very briefly, when I was twenty years old. My ex-wife’s father bought it for us, a diminutive silver pistol ensconced in a gray plastic case. At the gun range I was surprised at the recoil. You wouldn’t think such a small device could snap with such sharp force.

The idea, I guess, was that it provided some kind of “protection.” Protection against what, I’m not sure, because we lived in a pretty nice apartment in a Ft. Collins suburb that reeked of safety. The roads were wide, the lawns were landscaped, fathers rode bicycles with those baby-carrier trailers behind them. We’re talking Safe City, USA, where a few frat boys lighting a couch on fire makes it into the evening news, and people lounge unafraid in city parks at two in the morning.But still! Protection! Because, you know, bad things can happen. Don’t you watch TV? Bad things happen all the time there, unless you stop them from happening by shooting them with a gun. I mean, how many times did Scully save Mulder’s ass by putting a slug into some sewer-traveling monster? Do you want to get your face sucked off by a sewer monster? No!

Okay, that’s silly. But bad shit does happen, for real. Watch the news, you’ll see. Men shoot people over drugs, money, transgressions real and imagined. Men go crazy and shoot their wives and children and themselves. Men walk into crowded restaurants, and movie theaters, and schools, and open fire with assault rifles and multiple handguns with extended clips. Whole nations go crazy, sometimes, and thousands of men shoot each other – and women too, of course, children, whoever happens to be around – over money, territory, transgressions real and imagined.

And this, this will protect you, this contrivance of steel and powder bucking in your hand. You will face up to that sewer monster, that madman, those soldiers, and you will shoot them down. You will stand triumphant over their bodies like Russell Crowe in that one gunfighter movie. You will cruise down the halls in strangely smooth movements mowing down demons with your chain gun, you will say “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker,” as the top of the building explodes.

But meanwhile the gun will wait in your bedside drawer. If you’re really paranoid, like my dad, you’ll keep it out of its holster, fully loaded, on top of the nightstand, in case someone tries to steal your TV from you in the middle of the night. The gun will wait, but you will know it’s there. You will tell yourself it’s a last resort. You will feel that now you are really a man, because you hold the power of death in the palm of your hand.

And you would never hurt those close to you. That’s not what it’s for. It’s for all those jerks out there who do want to hurt you, who might cut you off in traffic, and you both start yelling, and then he fires a gun. You would never fire first, unless he had his gun out already. The scenarios are endless. They run constantly through your mind. You’ve seen them before, many times, mostly on television. You never know when you’re going to be attacked. That’s why it’s important to always have the gun with you, in your glove compartment.

And you would never hurt those close to you. You’d have to be really fucked up, on booze or drugs or something, to even think of that. But you do think of it, one more scenario at the edges. It does happen. Like I had a friend who threatened his wife with a gun one time. They had a pretty negative relationship, seems like. Not like mine. I hardly ever scream in uncontrollable rage, at anyone. Maybe he thought it was the end of the world, for him. Maybe he craved a sharp climax to a life that made no sense, at the time. Maybe he thought he was the messiah, like a lot of these guys do.

So the gun will wait. It will lie in its dark drawer and when you think of it your thoughts will be dark. You will dream of shooting and being shot, because a gun is a very common, nearly universal dream image, an archetypal symbol of sexual aggression. You will talk with your friends about it, and agree that guns are just cool, and ignore the dark thoughts of gore and unhappiness eddying through the corners of your mind.

Because what else, after all, can you do? How can you give up this perceived if extremely uncertain defense against the possible aggressions of your own neighbors and countrymen? How could you live so defenselessly?

You would have to surrender. You would have to walk down the streets as though ready to offer yourself in sacrifice. You would have to open your arms and expose your heart for all to strike at, if they would. You would have to turn the other cheek. You would have to let go of this surprisingly heavy weight you’ve been carrying, and feel light as a feather. You would have to treat every day like your last. You would have to give up your fear and embrace the world, even if it kills you.

Confessions of a Halo Addict

Halo transformed me from a guy who plays video games to a gamer. Before Halo, I owned a PS2, I had a few games for it, but I had no intention of owning any other systems, and I didn’t think of myself as a video game guy. I was just a guy who liked to play video games sometimes, just like I watched movies sometimes – hell, I bought my PS2 partly because it doubled as a DVD player. Halo changed all of that.

A few guys at my work would not shut up about it. How great it was, how I needed to play it. Finally, I decided to rent an Xbox and the game to check it out for myself. And from the moment it started, I was hooked. I played it every night until it was due back at the rental store, then dropped another $15 to rent it again so I could finish it. Two days after I took it back, I broke down and bought my own Xbox, and a copy of Halo to go with it.

Halo wasn’t full of big, new ideas. It added a few new twists to a well-established genre, made the experience feel at home on a new platform, and then just nailed nearly every element of the game to perfection. Okay, there were a few overly repetitive sections, but aside from that, it got everything right. The controls were tight, the graphics were gorgeous, the enemies were smart and tenacious and fun as hell to fight. Even the story was pretty solid, a nice little tale that blended the best elements of AliensStarship Troopers and a few other sci-fi popcorn classics.

I was already well on my way to addiction, but I didn’t reach the tipping point until I fired up the multiplayer with a few of my friends after a night of drinking. If the single player was a fantastic execution of standard elements, the multiplayer was a perfect distillation of those same elements into a brutal, adrenaline-fueled competition. Shooting my dear friends in the face with a shotgun, I found a place of purity—a fierce, competitive spirit I hadn’t felt in years. We played until our fingers were all but blistered, our eyes failing as the sun came up.

And the next week, I did it again. And the next. And the next. I became the Halo guy, and every Friday night for ten months I had a Halo party at my house. I bought a second, 27-inch TV and talked friends into lugging their own 80-pound TVs over. Most nights, we had four Xboxes, four televisions and a party that ranged from six to fifteen people playing. We’d play for six to eight hours, breaking only to smoke cigarettes and talk shit. One of my roommates joined us, and became a pretty good player in his own right. Another took to renting a hotel room on Friday nights to get the hell away from us. My girlfriend threatened to leave me if she didn’t get at least the occasional Friday night date. I told her to go ahead. Saturdays, she could have. Fridays belonged to Halo.

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on Westword‘s Latest Word blog. You can find it in its original incarnation here.

How to make your band famous

So, you’ve started a band (or a solo project, or even a non-musical artistic project). You want people to know about your sweet new band. You want to spread the word far and wide.

That’s where I come in. It’s what I do for a living. I am the press.

Not all of it, naturally. I am but one tiny part, but I have been doing it for a minute now (or how ever many minutes there are in five years), so I have a pretty good handle on it. And I get asked, from time to time, what a band can do to get coverage. I’ve talked to a few folks one-on-one, and participated in a conference or two on the topic, but hey, seems like maybe it would be easier to just throw it out there and let people in on the Big Secret.

Continue reading

Is it awesome?

So, you like something. You want to signal your approval. Here’s a little test to see if “awesome” is the appropriate word to use.

When you go to say it, can you just say “That is awesome” in a normal, everyday tone of voice? If you can, it’s not awesome. It might be cool, pleasant, interesting, neat, or even groovy, but it’s not awesome.

If it is awesome, you will want to shout “That is AWESOME!” and you will get that feeling in your chest—an eruption of joy and, yes, awe— that you got when you were five years old and someone showed you a magic trick or gave you a kick-ass new toy and you were so excited that you couldn’t sit still. That is what awesome is.

Learn to use the Internet (and a little sense): A response to Kony 2012

If you’re reading this post, then you’re obviously on the Internet. If you’re reading it any time close to when I’ve posted it, that means you’ve certainly seen the Kony 2012 video, whether you’ve watched it or not. And by now, chances are pretty good you’ve seen some counter-information as well, suggesting that maybe throwing your support blindly behind the people who made that video isn’t all that great of an idea. Maybe you’re wondering what you should believe? Who, if anyone, you should be supporting? Whether or not a Facebook status update can, in fact, lead to the downfall of an African warlord?

I’m here to help. Sort of.

Now, I am not here to explain this situation to you. I don’t really have time to dig deeply enough into it to offer an informed opinion. But if you’re curious, you can easily figure it out yourself, because, see, as I pointed out waaay up there at the top of this post, you have the Internet. Combine that with a tiny bit of sense, and I bet you can figure this out for yourself in the same amount of time it took you to watch that video in the first place. Google the guy, read a couple of articles about him, familiarize yourself with a tiny bit of the history of Uganda, and maybe learn a little bit about this charity that wants your money, and you are well on your way. Yes, this takes more time than clicking “Like” on a video posted on your wall, but you will come away knowing that your opinion, wherever it ends up, is approaching being an informed opinion (which, by the way, is the only kind of opinion worth a shit).

There was a time when a certain degree of ignorance when it came to stuff like this was excusable. Way back in the ’80s, you’d be at the mercy of whatever your local library had on hand, as filtered through your own miserable skills at looking things up and/or the ability and willingness of a librarian to help you (note: in my experience, librarians are always happy to help, but people rarely ask for whatever reason). Now? Shit, type the name into Google, hit enter, and a world of information spills out, all while your boss is paying you to look busy! Skim his Wikipedia article, read a couple of Time pieces, maybe even go deep and bust out some article in Foreign Policy and all of the sudden you are the smartest person in your newsfeed!

It’s not hard if you have reading comprehension skills equal to those of a bright 9th grader. You don’t have to be some computer wizard: type a simple question or even a string of keywords into Google (“Joseph Kony Uganda” for example) and info just appears, as if by magic (computer magic!). Within the first three pages of results (30 or so links), you should have everything you need to start forming an opinion. If you really care, you can always go deeper. And if you don’t care enough to do this? Then shut the fuck up about it. I don’t care to hear another half-assed, ill-conceived, and ignorant opinion about anything. Not when you a literal world of information is just a few clicks away. Failing to do this, on any topic you opine about, is a sign you’re more interested in hearing yourself talk than in the truth, and that just tells me I shouldn’t be paying any attention to what you have to say.


International Women’s Day!

On this occasion of International Women’s Day, I’d like to say thanks to just a few of the women in my life. If you weren’t named here, don’t think it’s because I have nothing to thank you for, know that it’s more that I don’t have infinite time to thank you all.

My mother, Cindy Ramsey Casciato
Without this woman, I wouldn’t even have life. More than that, she raised me to be fair, open-minded, intellectually curious, and fierce in protecting the things I care about. In other words, she’s responsible for almost everything I consider my core attributes. (Except being an obnoxious, abrasive jerkface. I figured that out on my own.) Thanks for everything, mom!

My daughter, Eris Casciato
My daughter helped me figure out what is really important in life, and helped me grow up and become an adult. If she had never been born, I’d have probably spend most of my life trying to stay drunk; avoiding responsibility, ambition, or accountability; and ended up a loser and a disappointment. Instead, I’m semi-competent at being a decent human being, thanks to her inspiring me to get my shit together. In other words, she made my life worthwhile and gave me purpose. She is also cool beyond all measure. Thanks, Eris!

My wife, Abby Benson
My wife is my best friend, my constant companion, and an ever present joy. You know when people say “partner” to refer to their lover? She is genuinely my partner, in a way that no other woman I have ever been involved with before her ever was. She has my back, and I have hers. She is excellent at her things, and those things complement the things I am excellent at. She keeps me healthy and sane, and continually challenges me to be precise in the things that I say, honest about my feelings, and true to myself. She is also smokin’ hot. And she’s about to make me a dad for the second time, which is beyond wonderful. Thanks, Abby!

My sister in law, Anna Bjornson
For always, always calling me on my bullshit, because, let’s face it, someone has to do it. And she’s really fucking good at doing it in a way that I not only respect but value (even if occasionally I get a little butthurt about it). Also for exposing me to many wonderful new ideas throughout our years of knowing each other. Thanks, Anna!

Patricia Calhoun, editor of Westword
I had the wonderful good  fortune to do my internship at Westword. That led to a four-year professional relationship with the paper that ended only when I got a full-time job that precluded me from writing for them simultaneously (city editor at The A.V. Club, my current job). I didn’t work closely with Patty often, but often enough. Quite simply, she showed me how this job should be done. She’s simply ruthless in chasing the truth, dispensing edits, and calling out stupidity wherever she sees it, and holy shit is that great. And she can edit and write at a higher level than anyone I have ever seen, and faster than I dreamt possible. She is simply excellent at her job, and one of my inspirations. Someday I hope to be half the writer and editor she is, and if I stop being such a slackass, I may even have a shot at it. Maybe. Regardless, she set the bar I strive for. Thanks, Patty!

That’s all I have time for, but there are so many other women I owe huge debts of thanks to, so let me just list a few names here: Sylvia Dawson, Lindsey Trout, Elizabeth Asscherick, Jude Buchanan, Tuyet Nguyen, Donnita Wong, Janelle Purcell, Dr. Sheila Rucki, Zoe Williams, Elizabeth Ramsey, Judy Ramsey, Giea Ramsey, Cammie Ramsey, Kara McQueen, Micole Smith, Erin Thompson, and many, many more. Thanks, I wouldn’t be who I am without you (but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I blame you)!

Why I am a feminist

I am a man, and I am a feminist.

The current, sustained assault on women really pisses me off. Women are being attacked right here in the U.S. for daring to stand up for their basic human rights. In 2012! What the actual fuck, America?

I have a brilliant daughter (and a second one on the way), a wonderful mother, and the best wife ever, not to mention a large number of female friends. These women mean the world to me. But they aren’t the reason I am a feminist. No, I am a feminist because women are human beings, and I believe in the essential equality and dignity of all human beings, regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or other method dreamed up to subdivide us. And yes, that even includes gender.

What does this mean in my day to day life? It means that I don’t think rape jokes are funny. It means that talking shit about women drivers is a good way to show me you are a simpleton with a sense of humor that calcified in the third grade. It means when some hateful bigot with a radio show decides to slander any woman that chooses to use birth control, I get fucking hostile, and when some moron defends him to me, I am likely to react with venom and insults and escalate it from there. It means when one of the front-running candidates of one of the major parties in the U.S. launches a war against women in the media, and his cohorts trip over themselves trying to out-hate him instead of calling him on his bullshit, I am going to consider that party Public Enemy No. 1. It means if you attack a woman for speaking up, for exercising her rights, or for just being a woman, you just made an enemy.

Feminism is something I studied only briefly in college, so I can’t tell you what sort of feminist I might be, or discuss the finer points of feminist theory. I may even be a bad feminist for not really caring a whole lot about those distinctions. Whatever. What I do know is that women are people, and as people, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They deserve to be able to make their own choices in life. They deserve the same protections under the law and the same rights as men.

Believing this doesn’t make a man less of a man. It makes a man a decent human being. Not believing this—believing instead that women are too stupid, too venal, too “female” to deserve your respect and recognition as fellow human beings—doesn’t make you more of a man. It makes you an asshole.