Been & Going

[When I’m President of the Universe] Splat

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There is no end to the joy I experienced upon discovering that the computer scientists and mathematicians call an asterisk a splat.  Thanks, Google!

The Internet has appropriated Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and turned it into a catch-all to describe people who like patterns (much to the consternation of people who actually suffer from OCD, as evidenced by the comments section of this Buzzfeed post.)  I do not have OCD (also, big pet peeve: people who say they “are” OCD when they mean they “have” OCD, because that be bad grammars) but I find myself increasingly irked by product labeling that doesn’t use the asterisk properly.  This is something I notice primarily on shampoo bottles, but I feel like I’ve also seen it on a food box or two.  Asterisks (lat.: asterici) are wonderful little tools used in written communication to direct the reader to a footnote.  I usually do what shampoo tells me to, so when I see an asterisk after “if not completely satisfied, call so and such a number”, I always scour the rest of the bottle until I find its correlating message.  And when I can’t find it, I get frustrated, like really frustrated.  I don’t really know who thought it was acceptable to throw a little splat after that sentence without following through on a footnote.  It’s like telling your dog “wanna go for walkies??” then settling in on the couch for a GoT marathon.  Is asterisk usage one of those things that I assume is universally understood, but it is in fact only grasped by the college-educated culturally elite?  Are the shampoo people hubristic?  These things keep me up at night.

OCD or no, so many other things were wrong with me during my childhood.  I had a growth hormone deficiency and had to take steroids to induce puberty.  I had shitty brain chemistry and spent years taking mood stabilizers and antidepressants.  Oh, and I tested positive for Asperger’s more than once.  Weird, right?  I’m not autistic.  If you know me, that’s pretty obvious.  If you don’t, let’s FaceTime one day and I’ll make extended eye-contact with you.  iContact.  Nonetheless, I spent a good chunk of my life believing I had Asperger’s.*

(Speaking of OCD, I have no idea why the spacing of the above paragraph is different from all the others, but I can’t figure out how to fix it and it is KILLING ME.)

I spent my childhood, teenage years, and indeed the first year of college thinking I was a differently-abled person.  It became the source of and justification for my social alienation.  Hindsight (aka maturity?) reveals that most kids feel alienated at some point in their lives (and those who don’t – the bullies, the jocks, the cheerleaders –  ultimately grow up to lead a sad, unfulfilled existence) (except they totally don’t – popular and powerful teenagers empirically grow up to be popular and powerful adults,) but I leaned heavily on my fucked up brain as an excuse not to assimilate, not to capitulate, not to fit in.

There’s a narrative trope that the ones who don’t fit in (but don’t off themselves, more on that next week) make the best poets, playwrights, painters, etc.  It’s such a beautiful fantasy when you’re a kid.  All that angst, pain, suffering, estrangement, all leading to a life of creative fulfillment where people who get you really get you.  I consider myself a career artist.  I design lights and write plays and pay my bills with it.  That alone is kinda mindblowing.  But I also consider myself a people person, a wit, a bon-vivant, a social Tarzan, swinging from conversation to conversation.  Do you have to be tortured to be an artist?  For every Vincent van Gogh, there must be an Oscar Wilde.  For every Warhol, there should be a Warhol.

Also, I have an ego problem.  I spent a lot of years hating myself.  I used to be obese and contrarian and (gasp) sober.  Then I started working out, agreeing, and drinking, and the pendulum swung the other way.  Last year I wrote a play called Me Love Me about a narcissistic coke-head actor wannabe who rapes his own 4-year-old biological clone.  It was fun.  Whenever I told anyone about the play, it invariably invited conversations about “fight or fuck” i.e. if you met yourself, would you fight or fuck.  People are always surprised to hear I would fight.

Have I mentioned I might be a homophobe?  I think much of my youthful self-loathing also sprayed shrapnel on the gay community because they were pretty and I was not.  Now I  have an inherent distrust of gay people, and I always like to be the gayest person in the room.  So if I met me, faggy ole me, I would fight me.  But then, maybe hate sex after?  No point in completely closing the door…

I have some very smart friends who still say “your” instead of “you’re”.  At some point, that’s just laziness, right?  I used to mispronounce GIF, but then I learned it’s a soft G, and I slowly trained myself to say it the right way.  I declare this the smart person’s onus.  I know it’s nothing new – a million internets have ranted about there/they’re/their/its/it’s/your/you’re/too/two/to confusion – but it’s still disheartening when you see the error come from someone who should know better.  It’s like finding out your favorite celebrity is a Scientologist.  It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s still a major disappointment.

Sorry this post is a little shorter than my two previous entries.  I’m smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  I’m the Staff Lighting Designer, and I’m also involved with 8 productions.  One of them is a play I wrote called NO HOMO, which I am shamelessly plugging here on this very blog.  If you like my writing, you’ll definitely like my writing, so come check it out.  Use code BRANDON on the ticketing website for a discount.

Next time I might talk about suicide.  But also I have a rant about reality TV, so we’ll see which way the coin lands.


*I’m relatively certain the DSM nixed Asperger’s a year or two ago and instead created a simpler autism spectrum, upon which those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome would fall on the lower end.  Also, good for you for following the splat!

[When I’m President of the Universe] Chances

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I have a playlist of music on my iPhone that is all bossa nova, samba, and jazz.  It’s a simple playlist: four complete albums with a total of 54 tracks.  On hot days, I like to roll down the windows in my car and put the playlist on shuffle.  Zen on the 405.

Today, I selected the playlist, hit shuffle, and track one of album one started to play.  There’s a 1:54 chance of that happening.  This first track was Bebel Gilberto’s spectacular cover of Duran Duran’s “Rio” from her live concert in Rio on an album called “Bebel Gilberto in Rio.”

I created this playlist a month ago for a road trip I took through San Diego with my best friend.  We were celebrating our last few days together before he had to (got to) leave for a 15 month national tour in a show so awesome his NDA won’t even let him post the production’s name on the internet.  This particular track came on at just the right time when everything felt perfect and eternal and temporal and instant.   Now I think of him every time I hear it, and that makes me smile.  Unless he renews his contract, he’s slated to return to LA in June 2015.  We’re supposed to finally move in together and adopt a puppy when he gets back.   But that’s 15 months away, and lives change, and plans change, so I’m not giving it too much thought.  He has only been gone a month, and I miss him so much, it hurts.  He’s off having the time of his life, and nobody deserves that kind of happiness more than he does. Meanwhile, I’m jealous that he gets to have an adventure without me.  This is a selfish and human reaction.

I don’t hear from him now that he’s on the other side of the country workshopping.  I’m not surprised he’s not staying in touch.  If good communication is my jam, it’s his Marmite.

It’s rough.  So I listen to Bossa Nova.

It’s a risky venture to shuffle a live album.  The applause that segues between tracks gets cut off, and that can be jarring when you’re trying to Zen on the 405.  But it’s such a good album, and it’s such a good playlist, so I man up and push through.  Shuffle chose the next song.  It happened to be track two off the same album.  The applause segued the way God (and the record producer) intended, and I allowed myself a moment to consider the odds of two tracks playing in a row, which are 1:54*53. (1:2862)

In high school, I was a math whiz.  I scored a 5 in AP Calculus AB and a 4 in Calculus BC.  I also got a 4 in Physics Mech.  When I got to college, I used my AP credits to skip out of requisite math and science courses so I could just take the fun theater classes.  It caught up with me, though, when I got forced into a CogSci course my senior year.  I farted my way through it at the expense of my GPA.  I also lit three plays and directed two others that semester, so priorities.

I used to be so good at math. I used to speak French.  I used to know how to study.  Somewhere along the line, that all disappeared.  I barely remember derivatives, I forgot how to conjugate, and I procrastinate like a… [insert simile here]

I wonder if I’m driven enough to excel in the world.  To an extent, it doesn’t matter – there are fifty bazillion people on the planet, and the odds of rising to the top are astronomical (1:fifty bazillion) – but I also used to be a bit of a child prodigy.  I started playing piano when I was 2 years old.  It must have been so much fun for my parents to show off their little virtuoso at parties.  I can still plunk out a tune, but my ability to play by ear has faded away, as has my knack for sight-reading.  Had I put a little time and effort into it, I could be making so much money as an accompanist, or a musical director, or a concert pianist.  Now it’s a relic of my past.  Just another thing I could have been but now won’t be.

At least I still remember factorials.

There’s a lot of traffic today.  I’m not going to have time to stop for food before I get to work.  That’s bad news bears.  I’m going through this whole muscle-building thing so as to make more men want to sleep with me.  I’ve struggled with weight and with food issues my whole life (my driver’s licence still shows a cherubic lil piggy faced Brandon at 200 lbs, which wasn’t even anywhere near my heaviest), and I wouldn’t have a problem with not eating all day if I didn’t now understand I need protein to gain muscle.  God I’m hungry.  Why didn’t I pack a sandwich??

Shuffle chooses the third track.  It’s the third track off the same album.  Like they say: two’s company; three’s a recognizable pattern.

I don’t believe in spirituality or superstition, nor do I put great stock in coincidences.  The human mind evolved to look for patterns.  There’s a reason we constantly see Jesus’ face in tortillas, grilled cheeses, and dog anuses.  It’s called pareidolia, and it’s the same reason we see the man in the moon.  I guess there are different definitions for a “pattern” but it seems clear that a pattern can emerge without being utterly remarkable.  Three tracks in a row is fun, but so are crossword puzzles.  I read somewhere (fancy way of saying I heard on a Radiolab podcast) that the odds of one person winning the lottery twice are crazy high, but the odds of no person ever winning the lottery twice are crazy higher.  It’s bound to happen – it’s probably not going to happen to you.  Probability.

Shuffle plays the fourth track off the album.  This is still happening.  That’s 4 tracks in order out of 54.  The odds of this thing that just happened are 1:54*53*52*51  (1:7590024) (0.000000131751889%)

What are the odds I’ll ever meet Mr. Right and fall in love?  What are the odds I’ll ever become a famous playwright or a famous lighting designer, or get cancer, or have a seizure while driving and veer into oncoming traffic?  What are the odds the universe will descend into instant entropy and everything will just become plasma?  What are the odds I’ll get to work on time today?

I’ve designed lights in SoCal, New York and Chicago.  I’ve worked on operas, dance concerts, musicals, comedy shows, straight plays, weird things with naked people in them… And my plays have been produced in Los Angeles and NYC.  Granted I produced them, but nonetheless, I got it done.  Plus I get to spend a lot of time hiking and going to the beach and working out and being a lazy puss.  Also, I have credit card debt and no savings.  But the beach.

Track five turns out to be track five.  1:54*53*52*51*50.  1:379501200.  I’ve now passed the odds of being killed in a shark attack and the odds of being killed by lightning.  I really like this album.  Track five is a mellow ditty called “Samba da Benção.”  It’s 12:24pm on the 405, but in my mind it’s that final beautiful moment of twilight where you watch the waves gently lap at the beach, and the moon refracts in the water in just such a way, and there’s still a little bit of red light, but it’s not a menacing red, and you turn to the person you love, and you smile, but you don’t say anything.  You don’t need to.

I was in love with a man.  He was beautiful and gentle, and when he touched me, it was a feeling I’ve still never experienced with anyone else.  It took a while to realize I was in love.  It was almost a painful feeling, and I was addicted.  December 31, 2010, a suite in Las Vegas, post-coitus, my head resting on his toned, muscular chest, I smiled and said “I just want you to know, you make me so happy.”

He looked me in the eye and said “I need you to understand that you’re just a physical sensation to me.  When I caress your body and stroke your hair, it’s just physical.  You’re not my boyfriend, and we’re not in a relationship.”  (I thought) we had been together for three years.

He fucked me two more times that night.  Once the next morning.  Snow closed the El Cajon Pass, and it took us 22 hours to get home.  We spent 5 of those hours sharing a small bed in a Motel 6 in Barstow, lying back to back.  He was the only man I’ve ever loved.

The truth is, we weren’t in a relationship.  He was a casual FB, and I had created a fantasy world around our relationship.  I didn’t come to understand this about us until almost 4 years later when I found myself on the other end of the same conversation with another poor gentleman.  That was not a fun moment of introspection.

Track six.  Odds: 1:18595558800.  (18595558800 is also totally a fake phone number in Kentucky.)

Since I started working out regularly, I have developed rather fierce callouses on the insides of my hands.  I’m secretly proud of them, because they make me feel manly.  I wonder if my heart is calloused, too.  Not literally – that would be crunchy – but I’m trying to convince myself that “No Pain, No Gain” also applies to love.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

My phone was never on shuffle.  I realized it eventually.  I could have (should have) realized it after track 2.  It would be pretty cool if my shuffle randomly played 17 tracks in a row.  Sometimes you just want to believe that something magical is happening, even if the odds of that magical thing happening are 1:2.308436973392412e+71.  (Or the more dynamic 1:54!)  (I guess I still am slightly good at math.  Maybe I should try sitting down at a piano.)

I skipped to track 15, which is my favorite track on the album.

I got to work on time, and after a few hours, my boss let me jump across the street for a sandwich.  It was a great sandwich.  My life is pretty good.  One day I want to visit Rio.

[When I’m President of the Universe] Curses!

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I hate “I fucking love science.”  I don’t hate it because of its content (I don’t find any of its posts to be particularly informative nor entertaining, but I’ll let people enjoy what they want to enjoy); it’s the title that rubs me the wrong way.  I have an intimate relationship with profanity.  I love profanity.  Fucking love it.  I tell myself it’s okay to swear like a sailor because I also have a relatively large vocabulary and tend to liberally sprinkle sesquipedalian phrases into casual conversation, but the truth is, I say fuck a lot, probably too much, and it’s why I’ll never be able to hold any job that isn’t theater-related.

Why then, don’t I love “I fucking love science?”  Because it’s precious.  It’s cloying in its “ain’t I a stinker” mischievousness.  There’s a gleeful, twee little poke in the ribs embedded in the title – I imagine the page creator’s thought process went thusly:  “How incredibly urbane to use such a naughty, naughty word to describe my affinity for enlightenment and edification.  My friends are correct to think I’m the wittiest member of our circle.”  Obviously I’m completely justified in hating the title of the page being annoying, so it sticks doubly in my craw to see the internet validate this abuse of abusive language by flocking to the page (13 million + likes.)

Per the rules of memetics (read: BECAUSE INTERNET), everyone now fucking loves everything.  Type “I fucking love” into the Facebook search bar, and you will find a panoply of declared affinities – I won’t attempt to list them all here, but my favorite titles from the first page alone are “I fucking love Norway,” “I Fucking Love Cocaine,” and “I fucking love this.”  Notice, also, how I capitalized all the words in “Cocaine” but not the other two.  That’s because most of the “I fucking” groups take a page from “I fucking love science” and don’t bother to capitalize their titles, even though THAT’S TOTALLY A THING THAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO.  I guess science requires one specific type of smartness, and the ability to clearly convey concepts through language by understanding and following the basic rules of grammar and punctuation takes a different part of the brain.  I don’t know which part because I don’t fucking love science enough.

(and an excuse to do an indented paragraph because I think it looks nifty)

I don’t understand people who don’t at least attempt to use proper grammar.  Well formatted, grammatically correct writing is stronger writing.  By taking  three seconds to do things the right way, you’re showing your reader that the words are important enough to you to merit that attention.  I know a few talented playwrights who send out scripts littered with typos, and it feels disrespectful to the actors: “I want you to memorize all these words verbatim, but I’m not going to take the time to proof-read them.”  (I will never write a blog post about your/you’re, there/their/they’re, to/too, it’s/its, because there’s nothing new to be said, but you can probably surmise my feelings towards such egregious faux pas.)  (Also, watch as this blog post turns out to be littered with errata, and I end up eating a healthy serving of crow.)

I’m pretty sure I learned how to curse from Eddie Izzard.  My friend Alex introduced me to “Dress to Kill” in middle school, and I quickly became obsessed with Eddie’s entire oeuvre.  When Eddie Izzard says fuck, it carries no more weight than any other filler word.  A typical Eddie Izzard routine goes something like this: “smart thing smart thing smart thing irreverent thing fucking smart thing absurd thing punchline.”  That’s primarily how I use profanity as well.  It’s like throwing an egg into a Betty Crocker cake mix.  It’s technically an unnecessary extra ingredient, but it makes you feel like you’re cooking, so you mix it in there anyway.

I should be happy that the internet is doing it’s darndest to up the ubiquity of the word fuck.  I think the idea of “bad words” is one of the more idiotic social conventions humanity has ever inflicted upon itself.   Why is it bad to say fuck?  Words are just air molecules being jostled around in a specific way.  Why is fuck a bad word, but cuff isn’t?  It’s the same consonants and vowel, just reversed.  Shoot v. Shit?  Just a vowel’s difference.  And is crap technically even a bad word anymore?  Growing up, it was decidedly taboo in my household – I remember the first time I heard it said on “Ren and Stimpy,” and it blew my little mind that Nickelodeon got away with a bad word. On TV!

Fun fact I learned from a cursory glance at a Time Magazine article summarizing a book I didn’t read:

4. The ancient Romans laid the groundwork for modern day f-bombs.

There are two main kinds of swear words, says Mohr: oaths—like taking the Lord’s name in vain—and obscene words, like sexual and racial slurs. The Romans gave us a model for the obscene words, she says, because their swearing was similarly based on sexual taboos, though with a different spin. “The Romans didn’t divide people up [by being heterosexual and homosexual],” she says. “They divided people into active and passive. So what was important was to be the active partner.” Hence, sexual slurs were more along the lines words like pathicus, a rather graphic term which basically means receiver.

I love this.  Next time you’re in WeHo and someone disparagingly calls you a bottom, consider yourself part of a proud and ancient tradition of slut-shaming.


I grant that epithets can be legitimately offensive and are wildly different from profanity because they carry hundreds of years of painful history with them.  Faggots are so named because homosexuals were considered so worthless, their bodies were disposed of by being tossed onto flaming bundles of wood.  It’s hard to defend the word kike when there are people still alive on this planet who were thrown into fucking concentration camps for their beliefs.  (Wikipedia offers an interesting theory on the etymology and derivation of kike, which I never stopped to consider until this day.  I fucking love etymology.)

So I get it, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it.  I’m ambivalent about kike, but I love the word faggot.  This is a minor source of contention between me and some of my gay friends.  I want the word to be re-appropriated because it’s so much fun to say – there’s an f sound, a hard g, and even a t at the end… what a delightful word to pronounce! – but I will also concede that I came of age as a gay teenager in West Hollywood, where gay slurs are very rarely slung without a soupçon of self-awareness.  Had I grown up in a more conservative (and why is it whenever assholes are being especially assholic they always couch it under the name conservatism?) environment, and had I been forced to truly struggle with my identity, the word faggot would probably carry a lot more weight for me.  Nonetheless, sticks and stones and all that.  The one time in highschool someone called me a faggot in earnest, I merely countered with “yeah, and?” Then I ran because sticks and stones and all that.

There is one more insufferably insipid linguistic trend that drives me f*cking bonkers, and I call it Effete Censorship.

Who the f*ck do you think you’re fooling?

An anecdote.  Years ago in Hebrew School, I had a conversation with my rabbi about chametz foods (these are foods that are not considered kosher for passover.)  I mentioned that as a reformed Jew, I didn’t really believe that God (sorry, G-d) was keeping track of every little thing I ate (even back then I was pretty sure I didn’t believe in G-d), and that the importance of keeping kosher for passover was largely symbolic, a way to remember the suffering of our people and to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy today.  Why then, I wondered (in my best Shalom Alechem-character voice), do we make matzo-meal cookies, cakes, and pizza crusts?  Yes, technically the food is kosher, but doesn’t eating it defeat the purpose of our yeasty abstinence?

Replacing vowels in curse words with asterisks is a the equivalent of a matzo-meal cookie.  It’s telling your little brother you’re sorry for hitting him in the face with a fly swatter but only because mom made you.  It’s the California Roll at a 4-way stop sign.

All I’m saying is go big or go home.  If something on Facebook moves you enough to declare “HOLY SHIT!” (and Upworthy will do that to you, folks) then declare “HOLY SHIT!”  Don’t compromise your message!  And conversely, if you’re worried that people are going to judge you for using profanity, then don’t use profanity!  Open a f*cking dictionary, sh*thead, and learn some new words to express your amazement.  Try, for example: “I’m flabbergasted!” or “This blows my mind!” or, I dunno: “Wow!”

I don’t have a coda for this post (if we’re being honest, you shouldn’t ever expect a clean ending from me in one of these things; endings aren’t my forte, which, by the way, is pronounced as one syllable, like FORT, because it’s French and means strength.  If you pronounce it FORT-AY, you’re saying the Italian word for loud.  Maybe I’ll expound upon similar vexations in another post…), so instead I’m going  throw a little introductory paragraph down here:

Hi, my name is Brandon Baruch, and this is my first post on Been and Going.  I’m gay and was raised Jewish (neither defines me, but my writing is more offensive if you don’t know that.)   My goal for this column is a mixture of rant and anecdote, and also I want to coin the portmanteau “rantecdote” and then make that a thing.  A lot of my writing will be about words and language unless I find something else that interests and/or irks me.