Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye, 2013

For me, 2013 felt like a year in exile. Having lost my apartment to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, I’d been living at the family beach compound, paying rent, eking out a meager existence. Over 80 percent of my belongings that survived the storm have been in storage for the last 13 months.

So 2013 was limbo.


A transient state of existence.

I feel like I should be moving on, pulling up stakes and exploring whatever’s over the horizon.
The shore is sand and surf and incestuous politics. Small towns with boardwalks and garish condominiums. It wears on you after a while. The lack of intellectual stimulation. A drought of new ideas and people. A foreboding sense that everything is run by the same tribe and anything from the outside is anathema.

I’ve felt this crushing sense of mediocrity for a long time.

2013 crystalized it for me, living on the edge, not having my own place.

Staying here just for the job, a career I’ve had for 20 years.

So what kind of end-of-the-year summary is this?

Some good things and bad things happened in 2013. No major catastrophes, thank God. Yet no stunning victories, either. Just baby steps along the “Time Marches On” montage occurring in my head every Dec. 31.

Being blunt, I’m very lucky. Blessed, even. Fortunate to have my family and a wonderful girlfriend and soulmate in my life. They keep me sane and grounded and loved and for this I’m eternally grateful.

So let’s crank this shit out so I can ring in the new year drunk off my ass:

Still In Love. Yep. Elnie is still with me, and tells me she loves me every day. This girl is like luggage – I’ll have her for life. We celebrated our one-year living together milestone in June, and three years dating in July. Not too shabby.

Diabetic Cat. Smuttynose, my furry feline companion since 2000 started looking peaked, emaciated and sickly during the summer. His fur, a tattered mess, his third eyelid closing. After a trip to the vet, we found out he has diabetes. We now have to inject him with insulin twice a day. Now he’s put on weight and his eyelid receded, so he’s on the mend. Plus, he doesn’t urinate like a race horse. Had we not done anything, Smuttynose would’ve died.

New Car, New Computer, New Job Promotion. Adding to the changes, I sold my old car and bought a new Honda Civic, and in the spring purchased a shiny new MacBook Pro. I also was promoted from a lowly reporter to a managing editor. This comes with a modest – and I stress modest – pay increase, but I’m not complaining. It means more responsibility and learning additional skills, which I’m greatly anticipating. I’ll still file stories, but I’ll also prepare pages, write headlines and edit stories.

No Gencon. We couldn’t make it to Gencon this year. The August gaming convention is something I look forward to, but in 2013, it wasn’t in the cards. Maybe next year…

Ravaged Earth Second Revised Edition. This one’s a biggie. The second revised edition of my roleplaying game, Ravaged Earth, was released in May. Limited PDF release, with a softcover released at Gencon in August, making it doubly sad I didn’t attend the convention to promote the book. Still, having Ravaged Earth released in the form I’ve always wanted was a fulfillment of a dream. It’s 322 pages of pulpy goodness surrounded by Martians, weird science and fisticuffs.

Sickness Stalks Me Like A Plague. Okay, a bit dramatic here, but I did have a strep throat and a cold this year. Throw in a few upset stomachs, high blood pressure and bad cholesterol and I’m a ticking time bomb. Hope I get better in 2014. Maybe cybernetic enhancements will prolong my life.

Juicing. During the summer I watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”, a documentary about Australian businessman Joe Cross, who used a Breville juicer to help him lose weight. Obese and out of shape, Cross drank nothing but fresh juice for over a month and shed pounds. Bolstered by this touching infomercial, I bought a Breville juicer and started my juicing adventure in August. Here are the results: Joe Cross saved my life. I went from 214 pounds of sweaty American lardass to 194 pounds, and kept the weight off for five months and counting. Every morning I blend a unique concoction of kale, cucumber, celery, apples and carrots, or whatever else I have on hand. And it works. My ultimate goal is to continue juicing and exercising until I’m down to 184 pounds, my ideal weight.

The Novel. I’ve been trying to publish my satirical novel “Ecophreaks” for a few years now. Between manic bursts of energy, I’d pimp the thing out, usually receiving no responses or a polite “we’re not interested”. I never made it past the query stage. Apparently, humorous novels about the environmental movement, corporate greed and talking monkeys don’t sell. In March, a small book publisher in California expressed interest in the novel, which I sent to them. I finally passed the query phase and sent a chapter of the book. They wanted to read the entire thing! This was the furthest along I’ve ever come. Ultimately, they rejected the novel, saying they’d have to pass on it. I didn’t do much with the novel after that, but 2014 is a new year. I might try again. Self-publishing is out. Heard too many negative things about that. I’d rather have a funny novel gathering dust than a funny self-published novel nobody buys.

Writing Like A Demon. I haven’t exactly been shoving Cheetos in my maw and watching re-runs of “30 Rock” on Netflix. I’ve been writing. Like a fucking demon. Sometime in the fall, I got my writing mojo back and began frantically scribbling new tales. I finished a few short stories set in an alternative steampunk Paris, complete with magic and supernatural creatures. It’s a dark historical fantasy setting, and it’s beautiful. The mythology weaves itself over several stories, and Im about to complete a prequel which sets everything in motion. The ideas for this world germinated in my head for a long time, and it’s about time they come alive. The more I write, the more details reveal themselves. Hope to tell more stories wet in this universe in 2014.

Won Another Award. In 2013 I won a third place award for best feature in the New jersey Press Association's Better Newspaper Contest. The story was a feature about World War II veterans and the war's impact on the small coastal community I cover.

 Family and Friends. Spent time with relatives I haven't seen in years. Went to the family's church and had fun introducing my girlfriend to everyone, eating Armenian food and enjoying good company. Hung out with family at a Christmas party and played light saber duels with my cousin. Gaming with friends, played some pretty outstanding tabletop games: Boss Monster, Dominion, Cards Against Humanity, Smash Up!, Dixit, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Fortune and Glory. Good times!

             As far as resolutions for 2014 are concerned, I have one: to not live with regret. During a recent lunch with a friend, he told me how talented I was and that I was "wasting my time" writing for a weekly newspaper. He said I should venture out into the world of larger things, at least a metropolitan newsroom, where my talents could be appreciated. 

           When I told a family member about how my job wasn't that challenging, she replied "At least you like to write." Implication being, I should enjoy my job because I like to write.

            Thing is, journalism isn't what I like to write. I create characters, weave stories, forge worlds from words. It's much more rewarding struggling through a short story, fashioning all the plot hooks and building characters than it is sitting through a boring council meeting. 

            Yet journalism is how I make money. It's how I keep the bill collector at bay and the wolves from my door. It's not what will get me noticed, land me an agent or published in the real world. 

            Hard work crafting those stories will, not stringing together 500 words about the latest zoning ordinance. 

            I want to be braver when it comes to myself. I want to say yes to new experiences, not dodge them out of convenience. I'd like to network and develop a cadre of like-minded people who share the same goofy, geeky interests I do. 

            I'd like to finally be published, to entertain readers with my stories. For 2014, I'd like continue doing the insane thing I was put on Earth to do. Continue writing. 

Here's hoping 2014 brings opportunity, health, and success. Also, good books to read. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ravaging Philcon

This past Saturday, I demoed Ravaged Earth at Philcon, a science fiction convention based in Philadelphia but now held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

I first ran Ravaged Earth at Philcon back in 2006, when the game was mired in development hell with a fledgling publisher who couldn’t get it off the ground.

Since then, two editions of the game were released. I spent four panels at this Philcon promoting the hell out of the second revised edition. Grasping my copy of the game like a mouthy infomercial pitchman, I attended every panel and plugged the book, the publisher (Reality Blurs), and explained to strangers in a conference room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel everything I could think of about the luxurious and ever profitable world of game design.

     The infamous sign-up sheet, taped to the game suite door. Names have been painstakingly redacted to protect everyone's identity.

For my demo, which I was
scheduled to run from 8 p.m. until midnight, I wouldn’t be caught off guard. Like any good Boy Scout, I understood preparation is key. Before the convention, I busied myself gathering the essential tools every Game Master should possess. I fashioned a GM screen from two binders and fastener clips, bought a BattleMat, printed and cut out Disposable Heroes line of paper miniatures.

If I ran an RPG, I’d go in with both barrels fully loaded and triggers cocked. I’d blow the kneecaps off the players with my awesome pre-made character sheets, and dazzle them with my brain-shattering GM skills.

In short, I’d be an indestructible Teflon-coated game mastering juggernaut, a polyhedral dice-throwing stud.

However grandiose my ambitions, reality widely diverged from my Walter Mittyesque fantasies. At that point, I was running on fumes, as I’d attended a staggering four panels that day, starting with an early one at 9 a.m. Four panels, each separated by one hour increments, doesn't give you time to rest. If I wanted to unleash the fury, I'd have to recharge my spent geek batteries.

By the time 8 p.m. rolled around, I had taken a brief afternoon nap and was refreshed, invigorated and rarin’ to go. Earlier that day, I noticed the sign-up sheet for Ravaged Earth was filled. Players were coming. All I had to do was deliver.

As 8 p.m. rolled around, I set up in the gaming suite at a large table. It would serve as the arena for my carefully woven pulpy tale.

There’d be action, thrills and heart-pounding adventure.

Oh, yes.

There’d be adventure.

However, as 8 p.m. turned into 8:10 p.m., no gamers showed up. Would I have to cancel the demo and slink back home, head hung low in defeat? What happened to all of the players who signed up? Did they get cold feet? Grow bored? Latched on to a decadent private party elsewhere in the hotel and were doing bodyshots off an 18-year old elf princess in a chainmail bikini?

What happened?

If I was going to run the game just for my girlfriend, so be it. She showed infinite patience with me and supported my writing endeavors. Girlfriend played Ravaged Earth in the con games I’d run before and excitedly recounted her exploits from the gaming sessions. This time, she even came dressed as her character, Fun Yi, a.k.a. The Black Lotus, fabled avenger from Shanghai. She ordered a red silk cheongsam adorned with peacocks. The dress was a little too tight, but she squeezed into it for the convention.

Fun Yi would not be denied her night of glory!

Fortunately, Fun Yi wouldn’t be alone. Other players arrived and joined the game, much to my relief. Heroes included the aforementioned Fun Yi; Dr. Blake Cutler the gadgeteer; Captain Lightning, a superhero; and Mr. Automatix, a robot butler. A fifth player who portrayed the Amazing Renaldo, a magician, briefly joined and cut out early. More on this dude later. 

The heroes began in New York City in the summer of 1936. A mysterious red light erupted in the night sky several weeks before, suspended in the atmosphere over the city. As the days pass, New Yorkers have grown accustomed to the object, which the newspapers dub “the Red Star”. One night as the heroes are out, they witness a bright flash of light burst from the Red Star and plummet earthward, crash landing somewhere in the city. The heroes decide to investigate and inquire about the object. A newspaper vendor tells them the object fell somewhere in the Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Following up leads, they arrive at Paterno Castle just in time to hear a woman screaming. The heroes knock on the door and a weary-eyed butler greets them. Mr. Automatix finagles his way past the butler and the others follow. The heroes search the house while the robot keeps the butler busy. They stumble upon the maid’s body in an upstairs closet, then see a Martian probe digging in the garden. They confront the Martian probe and destroy it. Captain Lightning summons his contacts at the New York City Police Department, who arrive on the scene. The heroes learn the Martian probe was digging in the garden, possibly searching for something. Grabbing shovels from the garden shed, the heroes start digging and find a small piece of Aetherium buried deep in the soil. Dr. Cutler takes the metal back to his laboratory for further study.

A peculiar advertisement runs in the newspaper the following day, seeking anyone who witnessed the strange object fall from the sky the previous night. Inquiring about the ad, the heroes travel to Colombia University and find Dr. Dunphy, an eccentric professor interviewing the witnesses. The heroes recount their tale to Dunphy, who tells them about a dreadful cult of Martian worshippers called the Children of Phobos. Dunphy suspects the cult is behind a recent spate of murders occurring after the Red Star first appeared. He tasks the heroes with finding his contact, Officer Simmons of the NYPD. Simmons had been investigating strange Martian glyphs found in the New York City sewer tunnels underneath Manhattan when he vanished.

Armed with their wits (and a few flashlights) the heroes descend into the dank sewers. After dealing with a swarm of sewer rats Captain Lightning quickly dispatches by slinging lightning at them, the heroes encounter Officer Simmons’ battered cadaver.       

Without giving too much away, the heroes meet a femme fatale, discover the cultist’s lair, and manage arresting the ringleader in one huge boss battle involving robed cultists and mutated superheroes. When the battle ended, the players wanted to quit.

Yet more of the tale remained, additional adventurous tidbits I’d yet to entice them with. I started explaining the police found additional information in the cultist’s lair pointing to Dr. Richard Pierson of Princeton University.

At the mention of that, one player perked up.

“That’s the guy from War of the Worlds,” he said. “Let’s keep playing and see where this is going.”

With that hook, I launched into the second act, where the intrepid heroes met Pierson in his observatory doing what academic astronomers do best: peering through a telescope at the heavens. Pierson notices jets of blue flame bursting from Mars’ surface. He attributes them to natural weather phenomenon on the Red Planet, until the radio program of orchestral music is halted abruptly and an emergency news report reveals an object crash-landed in the small farming community of Grover’s Mill nearby.

Sound familiar? 

Orson Welles’ rendition of War of the Worlds is a playable scenario in Ravaged Earth!

Pierson takes the heroes in his car to Grover’s Mill, with Captain Lightning flying above. On the road, the Children of Phobos attack Pierson’s car and a chase ensues. Fun Yi, Mr. Automatix and Dr. Cutler manage to shoot the tires on the cultist’s vehicle. Captain Lightning swoops down, lands on the cultist’s car and crashes through the window, terrifying the hapless mooks.

In Grover’s Mill, Martian tripods assault the small farming community. The trundling fighting machines surround the old mill as the State Police arrive. I used the BattleMat and minis for the climactic battle. Captain Lightning entered the mill, found the millstone and pried it loose. Grasping the millstone, he flew through the roof and soared over one of the fighting machines. Making a flawless Agility roll, he dropped the millstone on one of the tripods, crushing it. Dr. Cutler used his telekinesis helmet to jostle loose the bolts on one fighting machine’s spindly leg. The tripod whirled before tumbling onto a house. Meanwhile, the remaining fighting machines incinerated half the cordon of State Troopers. Mr. Automatix fired his zapgun and scored tremendously insane damage, which fried one of the fighting machines, sending it toppling into Grover’s Mill Pond. Fun Yi used her martial arts skill to shimmy up one of the tripods and vault onto its hood. The Martians fired their heat ray and Fun Yi suffered two wounds and fell shaken. Captain Lightning flew to her rescue, seizing the avenger from the tripod, just as a combined flurry of Mr. Automatix’ zapgun and Dr. Cutler’s telekinesis helmet crippled the fighting machine. A bombardment by the heroes and State Troopers felled the final mechanical horror onto a parked car.

The Battle of Grover’s Mill ended with scorched earth, widespread ruination and crushed Martian tripods.

The players were overjoyed, and I felt reinvigorated. Pulling off a good game is one thing. Keeping people hooked and interested requires a unique talent. From their reaction, they enjoyed Ravaged Earth and their new pulpy personas. They investigated murders, scuffled with cultists and took on Martian invaders, all in the span of four hours, my allotted game time.

Onlookers who wandered into the gaming suite gathered around the table throughout the night to observe. They were likewise enthralled with the game and asked about it afterwards.

The player who assumed the guise of the magician returned following the game. He apologized for cutting out early and said that was his first tabletop role-playing experience. He peppered me with questions about the game and I told him where to find it. Pretty cool of him to let me know that. Kudos, mystery man, wherever you are. 

After a day of shilling the game and finally running a demo, I was ready for a little rest. My girlfriend and I played a game of Cards Against Humanity for an hour with about ten people, and had a profanity-laced good time.

I’ve run Ravaged Earth before at Gen Con and Philcon, and in a local game store. I’ve explained it to gamers, game designers, fellow writers and the uninitiated multitudes I work with. This was one of the best gaming sessions I’ve ever had. Chalk it up to the intimacy, the relaxed atmosphere or the late hours.

Despite being in a near state of zombielike catatonia, I forged ahead and ran the game. For that determination, I should at least get a medal/steak dinner/back rub. 

Thanks to the players who showed up and played Ravaged Earth at Philcon this year. You were a very enthusiastic and fun group. An additional thanks goes out to the Philcon staff who worked with me in the gaming suite.

I’d like to do it again, say next year?

What other exciting tales of adventure and intrigue await?

Tune in to find out!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sandy, One Year Later

One year ago, Hurricane Sandy blew into my life, flooded my apartment and uprooted my comfort and security.

Time heals all wounds, yet the pain of Sandy still lingers. Over a foot of water sloshed around my apartment, soaking my books and furniture, drenching and invading my personal space.

Private living space should be a sanctuary, a respite from the outside. Sandy barged right in, flooding the neighboring streets and seeping under the door cracks, rolling over the carpeting and creeping into low-lying cupboards and drawers.

Waterlogged mattresses, sofa cushions and bookcases. Sandy spared nothing, leaving me with a grim task of sorting through my possessions. A hurricane rendered me homeless, made me a victim.

I hate Hurricane Sandy.

Hate the fact I had to call a shoddy moving company to move my few remaining boxed personal effects one cold November night. Fat men with clumsy hands and dinosaur feet clomping through the dark rooms because the electricity was cut off. Flashlights stabbing the blackness, breaths foggy as the chill crept in.

Hate the idiotic moniker "Superstorm", as if it was forged from Olympus and charged with superhuman atomic thunderbolts.

Hate living without 80 percent of my possessions for a year. Boxes piled in a monstrous heap inside a metal storage facility. Paying over $100 to shelter my belongings while I stay in temporary lodgings where I’ve clearly overstayed my welcome.

Feeling helpless and immobile.

Seeing the town slowly rebuild, watching homes jacked up higher. Constructing taller than base flood elevation because the Federal Emergency Management Agency decrees it. It’s all about flood insurance, about reimbursements, grants and cash making people whole again.

Soup eaten in restaurants, eking out meager sustenance while the downtown digs out, scraping mud from floors, steam-cleaning carpets saturated with briny stench, noticing a sheen of scum where the high water mark receded.

How do you survive something like this?

The loss.

The new reality, where you’re a victim.

Landlord can’t rebuild the apartment. Walls removed, down to bare studs. Fans dry everything, preventing mold and mildew from creeping back. No renter’s insurance means nothing you have is covered.

Everything’s gone.

A FEMA worker from Tennessee apologizes as he records your information. Uncle Sam cuts you a check for your troubles, for another month’s rent in another apartment which you don’t see because you’re too proud to look.

Too proud to admit anything is wrong.

Fixated on fleeing far from this island, this resort town which brims in the summer, choking with tourists frolicking on the Boardwalk.

Yet the Boardwalk is deserted. Badly eroded beach, bereft of sand, which spilled onto the neighboring roads.

Front end loaders, dump trucks, debris. Downed power lines, furniture piled in gargantuan mountains on curbsides.

Gov. Chris Christie in his blue fleece, hugs teary residents, tours the coast. The state uses federal funds to tout how resilient the Jersey shore is, a phoenix rising defiantly from the ashes.

“Stronger Than The Storm.”

We weren’t stronger than the storm. If we were, the storm wouldn’t have gutted our homes, turned us into bitter wanderers, crippled our sense of security and purpose.

A year after Sandy, we’re still putting our lives back together. We’re still frantically searching for new homes and grieving for our old ones. FEMA’s red tape strangles us all, and those who can’t rebuild, sold their homes and moved on. Developers gobbled up crumbling houses, razed them and rebuilt condos and duplexes.  

Sandy was kind to the development community and construction trade.

Champagne corks popping round the clock for them.

How’s my life been this past year?

I still feel like I’m anxiously waiting for something to arrive. Mingled depression and frustration at my inaction. Sandy left me in limbo, in a place where things run molasses slow. I’ve largely had to do without what I escaped with. When you suddenly lose most of your stuff, the books and music and objects which give your life comfort and meaning, you realize how banal and trite materialism is.

On a personal level, I’m making do with less, streamlining existence. Spartan living with a few books, movies and creature comforts. In this stark absence there’s simplicity and less clutter. Nothing is burdensome, tempest-tossed bookshelves, brimming with volumes and CDs.

Life is very Zen right now. Less is more. Minimalist in the extreme.

I still have my girlfriend, and her love and support have weathered Sandy and every troubling storm since. We’re living together, far from our former lodgings. It might not be closer, with the same conveniences, but it’s become our sanctuary.

She wonders when we’re going to move. She wants new furniture, a new place.

I’m not ready to look just yet. I’m trying to save money to upgrade my apartment. I worry about the neighborhood, about crime, about our future.

Everything drowned in Sandy’s icy waters last October. Part of me sunk, pulled down never to emerge.

Political hyperbole and axioms do little to quell the pain or stave the losses.

Resentment, sorrow, bemoaning our malaise. We’re uprooted, torn asunder, flung to the wolves. Traumatized and angry, blaming FEMA, the state, our own ineptitude to plan better.

We were caught up in a historical storm which tore a rollercoaster from an amusement pier, pushed sand into beachfront homes and turned quiet neighborhoods into canals. We saw nature’s wrath and fury up close, witnessed widespread devastation and began the slow task of rebuilding. Amid the chaos and anger, we saw strangers helping strangers. Whether assisting an elderly neighbor, cooking hot meals or helping someone move, the best of humanity revealed itself following Sandy.

Though Sandy destroyed our homes and property, it didn’t damage true goodness. Selfless acts of kindness came through, amid all this suffering.

We huddle for warmth and give thanks. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sleepwalking Through America

           At 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the federal government shut down after the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House of Representatives clashed over a federal spending bill.

The House and Senate reached an impasse, when House Republicans passed their version of the spending bill which contained an amendment delaying enforcement by one year of the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate” requiring all Americans to buy health insurance.

The legislation also appointed Republicans to attend a Senate budget conference, which Democrats previously requested.

The Senate flatly rejected the proposal, requesting the House pass a bill absent of the provisions. Democrats called for the passage of a “clean bill”, absent of Obamacare provisions. The Republicans flatly refused, saying Obamamcare’s healthcare exchange marketplaces, due to open Oct. 1, would usher in a thousand years of darkness, cause baby Jesus to weep and break up more marriages than Internet porn.

In less flippant, cynical times, such posturing would be met with a bare-knuckle scrum at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial, where Senators, locked in death-embraces, rip each other apart like wild dogs.

Today, we’re the victims of an omnipresent media, turning its nattering pundits loose across the airwaves, ramping up the spin-machine and mass-producing bullshit.

Now the finger-pointing.

Now the incessant carping.

For this, the hoi polloi are rewarded with no functioning government.

We’ve passed the threshold of kindness, America. We’re plummeting off the deep end, hurling down a bottomless chasm ringed with ads for Taco Bell, Crocs and Duck Dynasty.

This country is becoming more and more like a trailer park, but not the fun kind of trailer park with immaculate lawns, happy-go-lucky neighbors and friendly grandmas who leave warm apple pies to cool on the windowsill. No, it’s the kind of festering trailer park inhabited by shifty, inbred rednecks staring blankly at you with narrowed eyes and tilted brows while polishing their shotguns and guzzling cheap beer.

In his farewell address in 1796, George Washington said “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent energies, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Washington’s dreaded premonition is our current reality.

America is a happy dystopia, populated with unwitting dupes too apathetic or lackadaisical to challenge the entrenched oligarchs who blithely gobble every last morsel of freedom from the people’s plate.

Politics has grown nasty, a blood sport akin to bear-baiting or bull fighting. It’s gladiatorial combat with thousand dollar plate dinners, where the same trite partisan hackery and rhetoric passes for insightful wisdom.

It’s not so much the blind leading the blind, but the blind who think they can see, leading people who are only nearsighted.

It’s like sending out a bunch of invitations for a celebrity dinner party and having only Charles Manson and Pauly Shore show up. The only ones who appear are deluded, bloodthirsty maniacs or complete nincompoops.

Hate speech isn’t so much a crime but a national pastime. Political campaigns, unrestricted in the amount of donations they receive, are free to engage in duplicitous behavior, hurling accusations against opponents and perceived “enemies”.

In short, our leaders are assholes.

Assholes with power are the worst kind. Both parties are power-hungry in their pursuit of domination, even subverting the Constitution to get their way.

The last concern a politician has is for his fellow man. Chiefly paramount is his own welfare, the strength of his political party and how he can gain an advantage over the secular, the intellectual, the free-thinker. His goal is to cause dissention and strife, to reap a whirlwind of shit and dismantle all unity in favor of chaos, to drive the hopeful into hopelessness and the secure into insecurity.

In short, his goal is to win.

The shutdown is not a coup de grace. It’s not a win for Republicans. Not a victory for stalwarts who “made a point” by closing the federal government’s operations.

It’s a failure for all the smug, conceited, Limbaugh-listening, round-gutted, Hummer-driving conservative stereotypes who use Obamacare as an excuse. Congressional Republicans tried killing the law over 40 times since it was signed in 2010. Despite being as jumbled as a dyslexic spelling bee, Obamacare is the law. It's a clusterfuck, but it's America's clusterfuck.

Instead of accepting the law's inevitability, instead of educating the citizenry on the Affordable Care Act's specifics, our leaders gave us fear-mongering, outright distortions and disinformation.

The absence of true leadership leaves a vacuum, one filled with ugly attacks.

Blame for the shutdown rests squarely on the Republicans. It’s bad political theater, complete with histrionics, posturing and nutjob pronouncements of a party in its early death rattle. It’s time to admit the batshit craziness of the Tea Party subverts any good the GOP once had. For the long-term survival of the party, it’s time to cut these guys loose and return them to the shack in the swamp.

Slash and burn tactics are desperate. Both parties claim moral ground, yet their desire to reject compromise shows how ineffective they are at working together to solve problems. Instead we're burdened with acrimony and stubborn representatives willing to carve a name for themselves in blood from the well of the House Chamber.

Washington D.C. used to be a town where the future course of the nation was established, where men clung to their principles, espoused creeds and prayed for wisdom. They cherished liberty and the gift freedom affords us. Now it's is a playground of vindictive tyrants, K Street lobbyists in Battistoni wingtips, gawking sycophants tapping on Blackberries, and alcoholic corporate journalists banging out their latest screeds on their MacBooks.

Not so much a shining city on the hill, but a ghetto of Section 8 housing with high-class escorts and an unprincipled spending habit.

What did America do to deserve such a collection of incompetent, recalcitrant hucksters, thieves and con-artists?

It’s like every school bully you knew growing up entered Congress, where they proceeded to torment America with wet-willies, wedgies and swirlies, before confiscating our lunch money.

Now it’s not their fault they’re so damaged and botched, these egocentric sociopaths devoid of scruples. It’s not inherently in their genetic makeup to behave so irrationally with no regard or empathy of humanity. It's not their fault they succumb to the temptation of  campaign donations and are led on a leash by their corporate masters.

It's not Congress's fault they have abysmal approval ratings.

It's our fault. It’s because we let them get away with it. When you see something wrong and don’t report it, chances are it will continue.

Congress’ bad behavior, its partisan bickering, vile rancor and outright naked greed is all our fault.

We allowed these botched villains to run the country through our indifference and apathy.

By supporting either Democrats or Republicans, we enable their gridlock. By paying their salaries, we allow their shenanigans to continue. My advice: change the management. Vote out all incumbents and start fresh.

Until then, we're just a nation of somnambulists lurching slowly towards the precipice, lost in our own dreams.