Mr. Dan Kelly Urban Etiquette Discussion #843765

I always wonder what the thought process is behind this. Machismo/male privilege? A lack of basic urban etiquette? An inflated sense of one’s size (the dude is big, but, at most, he “needs” two side-by-side seats)? Cultural differences (e.g., “Bah! Women are second-class humans!” or “In Gmöszk, where I am coming from, life is hard and one must prevent the wimmens, cripples, childrens, and non-Gmöszkeans from sitting down, else they grow uppitys!”)?

Personally, I ascribe it to mental deficiency. Not full-blown cognitive impairment. Just a general, dim-witted lack of perception of others, selfishness, a misplaced sense of persecution, and an allergy to acting decently because it would be “inconvenient.”

An example. I once stood up on an asses-to-elbows crowded train to give an elderly lady my seat, and a guy, about as big as this fellow and listening to his tiny electronic music box, grabbed the seat as she started to sit down. I looked at him, gobsmacked, then said: 

”Hey, buddy. I was giving the seat to this lady.”

He looked at me blankly, nodded sharply, causing his jowls to jiggle, and then said, “Oh, okay.” Nothing behind his eyes. Just marshmallow fluff.

Then he remained seated while the woman, the surrounding people, and I all stared at him. He wasn’t threatening, so I said, “Uh, hey, guy. Why not give her the seat?”

He then cleverly outwitted me by keeping his head down and ignoring us. Another gentleman two seats behind me got up and let the lady sit. I kept staring at the idiot the whole way home. He never looked up. I figured it was a combination of low intelligence, bad parenting, and, mostly, embarrassment, which always, ALWAYS fades when you continue to act like an ass. Yeah.

Mostly, these people (men) probably do it because they think most folks wouldn’t bother to confront them (not out of fear, just from a sense that it’s not worth it to mix it up with them; and then there’s the asinine/horrifying attitude that infects our country: “What if he/she has a GUN?”).

But then again… why do they do it? How does it benefit them? If you ride, say, the Blue line, from end to end, you’ll be on the train no more than 30 to 40 minutes. Unless you’re toting heavy objects, and/or you’re physically impaired, you don’t suffer much more than a minor foot cramp by scrunching into a seat.

My friend Kathy once suggested it was because they suffered from severe enlargement of the testicles. Poor souls. Let’s take up a collection.

Later Note: After reading more of the site, I’d like to add that it is hilarious to hear the “But men need to spread their legs because their junk is in the way!” Ladies, in case you were wondering, that’s a load of bollocks (chuckle, snicker). We’re not toting steel rods and bowling balls down there. They’re semi-squishable—at least enough to sit down with our knees together.


I’m a copy editor/copywriter for a living, and part of my job involves delivering edicts on our editorial style, establishing standards for how and why we say things in our communications. Got that?

Anyway, a co-worker came over today and asked me, “Dan, do you have any standards?”

“NOOOOOOO!!! ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!” I immediately replied, to the laughter of all around us.

What else could I say? Such opportunities don’t pop up every day.

As a Boy I Built Gingerbrick Houses, Because They Were SENSIBLE

So here’s a stupid question, but give me a break, because we never built one in my house when I was growing up. I’m thinking of making one with my wife and son, because it’s fun, and I’m freaking jolly and shit.

After you build a gingerbread house and let it sit around for a few weeks, are you supposed to eat it? Or is it simply intended as a monument to consumerism and folly?

Grisly, Man

I recently finished a double-bill of non-survivalist media by reading Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and watching Werner Herzog’s film Grizzly Man. The thread running through both works is obvious—young to youngish fellow enters the Alaskan wilderness to escape civilization and become one with nature, eventually perishing when nature proves a terrible host. They’re both fine, entertaining works that provoke interesting debates—both external and internal. As you’ve come to expect, however, I’m less interested in discussing the works themselves than the way in which the stories were told and debated.

Treadwell and McCandless were anti-establishment, outdoorsy fellows who preferred to sleep under the stars, live off the land, and groove on all the natures, man. McCandless graduated college, gave away all his money, and hit the road for three years, telling everyone who’d listen that he planned to rough it in Alaska’s bleak wilderness. When he finally made it, he lasted about 112 days before succumbing to starvation at the age of 23. Treadwell had a couple of decades on McCandless, was a former substance abuser, and had walked away from a failed acting career. He eventually decided to enter Katmai National Park to observe and interact with the park’s brown bear population. After 13 summers of filming and, in his mind, befriending the grizzlies, he and his girlfriend were mauled and eaten by one.

The instant reaction of most people, particularly Alaskans, was to write off both men as nut-jobs without a lick of goddamned sense. Anger is an understandable reaction. Humanity’s history is a record of divestment, not reunion, with the wild. Our species left Nature behind because Nature tried hard to kill us. The idea of entering that world without the skills, supplies, or technological advantages, humanity developed to deal with Nature’s cruelty, is romantic, yes, but also highly unrealistic—if not inane.

Looking at both men’s lives the similarities are unavoidable. McCandless was a child of privilege from a relatively stable family. Predictably growing disgusted with his life of wealth, comfort, talent, and achievement, he ran the opposite way at full tilt as soon as he came of age. For three years McCandless hoboed across America, working shit jobs and living in a tent on the outskirts of town. Like a modern My Man Godfrey, he decided living on the edge of poverty and associating with peripheral humans was somehow more real than the life he was already living.

While McCandless’ resilience and resourcefulness are impressive, his sense of duty and loyalty appeared highly mutable. Anyone reading Into the Wild will nod sadly at the stories of McCandless’ issues with his father (who, at his worst, seems to be a demanding but caring hard-ass [Later note: Sean Penn’s Into the Wild suggests spousal abuse, though it’s not entirely clear what was happening or how often.), and understand that urge to escape Daddy’s gravitational pull. But how many readers, I wonder, note that McCandless abandoned his beloved sister without a word as well?

Krakauer touches on this selfishness in his and other adventurers’ lives, but fails to make more of it. In Krakauer’s descriptions, McCandless comes across as a twitchy savant with an entirely self-constructed personality (going so far as to assume the trail name of Alexander Supertramp). McCandless engages in multiple poses as a literary rebel, vagabond, social activist, and philosopher of nature, all performed with overweening self-awareness. It’s funny then that—despite being a former college journalist and avid reader who chose to pursue a Jack London by way of Walden lifestyle—McCandless is silent, or at least non-reflective about his adventures. The grievously brief notes he left behind, scrawled in the margins of his heroes’ books, are terse unto meaninglessness. As a writer I wonder why he bothered going if he wasn’t interested in communicating what he found.

McCandless comes off as a sweet, dim, arrogant, but highly functioning kid, however, beside the sweet, dim, arrogant, but severely damaged Treadwell. While McCandless’ decision to enter the wild with minimal supplies can at be ascribed to an addle-pated search for adventure and self-actualization, Treadwell’s decision to not only live amongst the grizzlies but also approach, nay, interact with them, was incomprehensible. Watching Grizzly Man, directed by weirdo-collecting  weirdo Werner Herzog, we have to opportunity to see and hear the pre-mauling Treadwell. He is sincere, excited, committed, and completely sliding off the rails. His ongoing, self-directed pep talks… His creepy baby-talk with the bears, foxes, and other critters that cross his path… His rants against the park service, which apparently dealt with him with an exorbitant amount of patience… The segment where he palpates a bear turd with an awe reserved for views of the Grand Canyon… If there’s a segment where he sounds sane, I can’t remember it.

It’s saddening, because his message—preserve nature and protect the bears—is a necessary one. By film’s end, however, you can’t really tell what good Treadwell did, or even if he was out there for reasons other than ego. His role as a filmmaker seems tacked on—a pose even—but that might be Herzog’s fault, who pastes together the hapless man’s footage to suit his needs, only commenting favorably on the parts of the film—several minutes of waving, whispering, wind-blown grass—where Treadwell is off-camera.

At least Treadwell has his chance to speak from beyond the grave, an opportunity not afforded McCandless’, who remains a bearded wraith in the few photographs he snapped of himself. Interestingly, I started watching Sean Penn’s film version of Into the Wild. I noted that Penn and Emile Hirsch flesh out McCandless beyond Krakauer’s series of vignettes showing “Alexander Supertramp” as a predictably rebellious post-adolescent of tremendous emotion but outstanding shallowness. If we had footage of McCandless disjointedly declaiming his adulterous father and cushy upbringing while babbling about social activism, transcendental philosophy, and Doctor Zhivago, would we find him more or less sympathetic than Treadwell? Would religions, or at least religious feelings, erupt in others?

McCandless and Treadwell have their defenders (residents of the edge who favor ambiguity and taking risks without taking precautions always will), but this is not surprising. It’s a human quality to look at the more romantic segments rather than the whole of lives like McCandless’ and Treadwell’s. The positive reaction to their “sacrifices” goes back centuries. We see it with the Christian Desert Fathers—often wealthy men (the poor already know only sacrifice, after all, which somehow cheapens it) who shed their worldly possessions, cut off ties with their families, and entered the wilderness to search for a greater connection with God and personal and spiritual gnosis through self-denial. To a part of the human population, any human willing to subject him or herself to suffering must be extraordinary—ordinary people just don’t do things like that.

People traveled through inhospitable climes and environments just to chat with St. Anthony the Anchorite through the crack between the tomb he lived in and the boulder rolled in front of it. I wonder what he told them that kept them coming? Probably a reiteration of the example of Christ and his admonishment to reject worldly things, take up your cross, and join him. Not that Jesus was an original thinker in that regard. Diogenes suggested the same thing, albeit in a nastier way. But according to legend even Alexander the Great was in awe of that foul-smelling, -speaking, and -behaving cynic, saying that if he couldn’t be Alexander he would want to be Diogenes. Again, anyone so off-putting must be on to something. We must seek their approval; we must realize we can never achieve the pain and failure they’ve experienced. That didn’t prevent Alexander from ruling the known world, of course.

Unconditional compassion is a worthy goal, but it often becomes entangled in rationalization. People can be so compassionate it blinds them to incredibly asinine behavior. I find it staggering that in the face of the evidence—McCandless’ insistence on not carrying the basics for wilderness living; Treadwell’s anthropomorphizing of the Katmai bears—people continue to sew angel wings onto them. No one’s life should be defined or criticized for a single act of self-injuring foolishness; but systematic, life-ending foolishness? Hell, it should be open season on that all year long.

Look at My Dumb! Gee, You’re Thumb!

I love a good hoax or practical joke, but the gist of the Dry Erase Board Jenny hoax seems to be, “Ha ha! You thought she was real! But she wasn’t!” There’s no game here, other than, I suspect, an attempt to garner some hits with a hot piece of… Uh, a very pretty girl.

The moral, I suppose, is that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the Internet. Hardly a new piece of advice, yes? At the end of the day, we come away from this hoax not chuckling, but with a feeling of disappointment that a young woman who’d been sexually harassed hadn’t wreaked revenge on her pig boss. Let me highlight that word: disappointment. I’ll come back to it later.

First, I’d like to address what I’ve just decided to call the “impractical joke.” I had a friend who pulled plenty of impractical jokes that left me more confused than amused or embarrassed. Once he left a note on my desk (I believe he had a female friend write it for him, to achieve a more girly look and feel) “from” another woman at work. The note stated that she knew I enjoyed Nintendo video games (which I did), and maybe we could hook up, play a few at her house, and brush up on our skills. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Something like that. Sexually speaking, I’d hit a dry spell, and I likely would have grabbed most any opening a woman offered me (snicker). However, something didn’t gibe.

A Nintendo date? What the hell is a Nintendo date? If it was sincere, why wouldn’t this woman simply approach me and ask me out? Is this a gag, and if so, what’s the punchline? And again: Nintendo? Maybe it sounds funny in this context. I think I’m making it sound funnier than it was. I was mostly perplexed. I was especially perplexed since I didn’t recognize the woman’s name, and there’s the rub.

I walked over to where my friend and a few other co-workers were standing and asked, “Anyone know what this is all about?” (Note: I’m a lousy subject for practical jokes. I already expect to be handed an exploding cigar or to sit on a whoopee cushion at any given moment).

“I don’t know, Dan. Did you talk to _____________? You should really follow that up!”

“No, because I have no idea who this woman is,” I replied.

“Well, maybe you should talk to her (giggle, titter). I bet you have a lot in common,” he answered.

“Um, I’d have to know who she is first.”

“You know…” and he gestured to another part of the office. “She’s in sales. Over there.”

“Huh?” I replied.

My lack of reaction showed that the jig was up, or that, at least, I wasn’t about to make an ass out of myself. Like I said, practical jokes are wasted on me.

“I wrote it,” said my alleged friend. “This is _________. You know, she has legs like stovepipes.”

I shrugged. I had no clue who he was talking about. Now it was just uncomfortable.

He walked me over to a place where we could see her sitting in her cubicle. She was middle-aged, frumpy, dumpy, and, God forgive me, ugly as sin.

Ah, there’s the gag. Ha. Ha.


“You know, if you play a practical joke, it should make sense,” I told my friend. “It shouldn’t be mean, either.”

He shrugged. He probably still thinks he pulled a long con on the level of the Spanish Prisoner.

The Dry Erase Board Jenny gag wasn’t mean, but it wasn’t all that amusing either; more accurately, it was no longer amusing once it was revealed to be hooey. Also, as I said, there was no context; no chance for a sharp individual to know he or she was being gaffed. We assumed this young woman had quit her job, and despite the 20/20 hindsight of the “I knew it all the time” crowd, it wasn’t immediately obvious that we were being gulled. It’s as if I said to you, “I’m going to give you $20.” Then, when you put out your hand I’d laugh and say, “Ha ha! Dumbshit! You believed me!” Impractical. People thought they were reading an amusing story, but they weren’t. Ba-dump-bump. My goodness, it doesn’t even perform the primary practical joke function of pricking at anyone’s pride. I’d add that it mostly worked because of the site’s lack of high profile. The Chive is apparently known for practical jokes, so I guess that’s an argument for taking anything they say with some skepticism… but only if you’d heard of them. Which I hadn’t. I wonder how many others have?

Some might suggest this is yet another lesson that the Internet, if not life itself, must always be approached with a belief that everyone is trying to fuck you blue, and if you ever, EVER fall for a gag, hoax, or scam, you had it coming. I am a fairly skeptical person who isn’t prone to abusing his emotions, but I haven’t reached the point where I could live with such a clenched mind and pickled heart. I appreciate skepticism and pragmatism, but reflexive cynicism is the province of dull minds.

Coming back to the concept of disappointment… While I hate describing anything as a trend (that should be left to the Times, which sees trends everywhere the way paranoiacs see Men in Black 1), Dry Erase Board Jenny typifies a notion that keeps popping up in the media: you cannot fight back. Jenny was fake. A young woman tormented by a chauvinist boss zings him beautifully in public… But she didn’t. She didn’t exist. That ‘s a little sad. 2

Let’s review: We were gleeful when this charming young lady stuck it to The Manâ„¢, or rather the little The Manâ„¢ most of us face day in and day out. Then the rug was pulled out. The redemptive final board that said she knew things would turn out okay (which, largely, is how life works. That’s “okay,” not “perfect,” by the way) was invalidated. In the same day, we learned that after the flight attendant’s final speech and beer-swilling slide to freedom, he was not just fired but arrested. Arrested. Fictionally, more and more TV shows build up adversaries who know all, have infinitely deep pockets, and are untouchable—leading to the grim spectacle of watching Our Heroes in a continual cycle of futility. Nietszche explained that we enjoy watching tragedies because we thank the gods it’s not happening to us. Dry Erase Board Jenny goes a step further brings the tragedy home, saying, “Idiots. You didn’t really think there was hope, did you?”

I dislike the Dilbertian attitude of giggling through hell. “Ha ha! The people in charge are incompetent monsters! Ho ho! We’re doomed to repeat the same monotonous, soul-killing tasks again and again! Hee hee! Nothing can be done! Get back to your cube, swallow your daily shit-lump, and let your supervisor grab your crotch, or The Manâ„¢ will have you wearing a paper hat by day’s end! Hahahahahahahahahaha!”

What? Don’t you get it? 3


1. When Megan Jasper of Sub Pop pranked the Times by creating a list of nonexistent grunge slang words the Old Grey Lady published without verification, THAT was funny as hell. Why? Because the Times could have solved it all with a few phone calls. Moreover, the terms were so insanely stupid (Big bag of bloatation? Swingin’ on the flippity-flop? Wack slacks?), it’s difficult to believe the article passed through the hands of the editorial profession’s supposed creme de la creme. Again, it’s all about context.

In the spirit of the grungespeak list, I’ll grant that the invention of the word “HPOA/HOPA” was ingenious. I do suspect the Chive folks ran over to and added it because people like me might seek verification. Ha ha! I thought that was a viable source! What a dope!

2. Arguably, another tip-off that this was a hoax was that Jenny was an aspiring broker, and as such, would have no conscience.

3. They were wise not to say that “Jenny” was groped, propositioned, or otherwise directly threatened. I’d like to know how many feminists, lawyers, and general activists were ready to rain holy hell on her former place of employment strictly on the basis of her being described as a “hot piece of ass.” I wonder how much the Chive people thought this through?