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Funbag

I’m Great At Falling Asleep Now

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Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about prep school, sleep, the definition of private parts, and more.

Before I dive back into the Funbag after a week off, let’s all give a big round of applesauce to last week’s guest host, Justin Ellis. It’s always fun for me to be on the reader side of the equation with this column, especially when someone as sharp and talented as Justin is its caretaker.

Unfortunately for you, I’m back in charge here, and so now you must deal once more with my unyielding horseshit. Your letters:

Matt:

What are your tricks for falling asleep, even if stressed out? Has quitting drinking improved your nightly sleep cycles?

Quitting drinking has improved my sleep, yes. Ask anyone who’s off the sauce and they’ll tell you the same thing. Excessive drinking is scientifically proven to fuck with your sleep patterns, so here’s a rare example of me not talking out of my ass about something. Back when I drank, I’d wake up at 3 a.m. feeling like someone had slapped me in the face with a bag of piss, and then I’d stay that way for another 12 hours. That’s your circadian rhythms on Old Overholt. Teetotaling has eliminated that issue entirely.

I still wake up in the middle of the night to piss, but I usually fall back asleep without much effort. And if I don’t fall back asleep quick, I have trained myself to not freak out over it. Because I spent decades going through a process where I’d be very tired, get into bed, fail to fall asleep, and then keep myself up wondering WHY I couldn’t fall asleep. I’d look at the clock and freak out. Oh my god, it’s 2 a.m. If I fall asleep right now, I’ll only have slept for five hours when I wake up! The more I fought my insomnia, the more it took hold of me. So I finally decided to stop pressuring myself to fall asleep, and that’s helped a great deal. I have four other basic tips for Matt here, all of them rather obvious:

Have a regular bedtime. If your bedtime is all over the place, your body will get confused and pissy.

Have your phone in another room. If it’s on your nightstand, you won’t be able to resist scratching that itch.

Read a book before bed. Nothing makes me tires faster than reading a book in bed. Ten pages in and suddenly I’m 15 years old again, fighting to keep my eyes open while plowing through Crime And Punishment.

Pretend you’re napping. I just pretend I’m lying on my couch and that everyone else is stuck at work while I’m being a lazy shit. That tends to take the internal pressure off.

Steve:

What menial task do you think you are best at and how would you rank in a global competition? Some examples being ATM usage, grocery shopping, laundry folding, dishwasher unloading, etc. For some, speed is of course the overall goal but I think you also need to consider efficiency, skill level (like can you successfully fold a fitted sheet), and overall technique. On a personal level I think I’m an expert at selecting my coffee from those fancy touch screen machines – we have one at work that I see people struggle on and I just roll up and get in and out within 30 seconds, I already know where each button will appear that I need to press, exactly where the cup goes, etc.

I’m a fantastic grocery shopper. I have a whole system down. I got my recyclable bags. I got my self-scanner. I got my list, which is arranged in order of the store layout (my wife’s idea). I can get in and out of Giant with half a week’s worth of groceries in less than 20 minutes. I don’t fuck around. Put me on Supermarket Sweep and I’d fuck you up. My only weakness is that I sometimes inadvertently miss an item on the list. But I have brain damage, so I’m exempt there.

Also, I have my mother’s gift of being able to repurpose leftovers into something new. Eating the same shit two nights in a row is depressing. But what if I took the grilled meat from last night and whipped up a lil pasta dish with it? NOW WE’RE TALKING, BABY. It’s a whole new meal. Well yesterday’s meatloaf is today’s sloppy joes/And my breath reeks of tuna/And there’s lots of black hairs coming out of my nose…

Finally, taxes. I love taxes, man. I didn’t officially hire an accountant until last year, because I kicked that much ass at going through all of our tax forms and bank and credit card statements. And even with an accountant now in tow (Hey Mike!), I still do my expense spreadsheets for him every year, and then we go over all that shit before filing. I’m thorough as fuck and I enjoy it. I love looking at old credit card statements and being like, “What the fuck is this? OH RIGHT! That was when we all went to Busch Gardens! That was fun!” Doing taxes is reminiscing via an Excel spreadsheet, which is easily my favorite kind of reminiscing. And it makes me feel like a true businessman to sit at my desk and pore over all the family paperwork. I used to be a proud financial illiterate. No longer. I am the finance master now. If I didn’t have this job, I swear to God I think I might become a CPA.

Just don’t ask me to garden. I suck at that.

Brian:

What’s it like to attend boarding school? Just curious.

I didn’t wanna go to boarding school. I loved Minnesota. I liked my school, even though I wasn’t terribly popular. I liked my life the way it was, and I didn’t want to start over again. The problem was that my dad, together with my mom, decided to move to Connecticut in 1991. I pleaded with them to stay. I even got my best friend’s folks to agree (at least this how I remember it; they may differ) to let me live with them all the way through to graduation. My folks said no to that, for obvious reasons. So it was either move to Connecticut and go to school there, or follow in my siblings’ footsteps and fuck off to boarding school. I chose the latter.

Back in the day, I kept the fact that I went to boarding school on the DL because I thought telling people I went to boarding school might make them think that my parents didn’t love me. This was untrue—my parents loved me very much and still do. I now usually keep it on the DL because it makes me sound like I grew up like a privileged dipshit. But you’ve seen photos of me. Polo shirt, thumbs, etc. I look like a kid who went to prep school, so any attempts on my part to hide that fact are bound to end up failing. I am who I am. No sense in denying it.

I complained about prep school all the time when I was there. The courseload was brutal (we had class until 6 p.m. every day, with sports midday to break up the schedule). The weather was shit. I still couldn’t get laid. But in retrospect, I loved it. I loved it more than I loved college. I don’t really talk to any of my college friends any more. But I’m still best friends with many of the people I met at prep school. I loved living on my own. I loved skipping assembly. I loved many of my teachers I had (more on that in just a moment). And I loved that the place made me smart. It’s no coincidence that prep school is where I realized I wanted to be a writer. One time I wrote a short story in English class and read it out loud for everyone. When I was finished, there was a brief lull before one kid went, “Jesus, that was awesome,” and some of the other kids nodded. That was it. That moment put me right here, right now. I know it as well as I know my own name.  

That said, prep schools are fucked-up places. I put a decent amount of that into Point B (which is based on my prep school), but none of the exact specifics. A filmmaking teacher was convicted of child pornography while I was there. The year after I graduated, I went back to campus and visited my favorite English teacher at his house once or twice. These weren’t long visits, but I still felt lucky to get a moment alone with him, with no other loser students vying for his attention. I showed him a screenplay I had written (two crooked cops assigned to investigate a murder they committed!), and he gave me a few pointers about proper formatting and making it not suck. I loved that he cared. I respected him terribly. But now I have no idea if the feeling was mutual, because that same teacher wound up accused of sexually abusing other students (the accusations surfaced long after he had died). Another teacher of mine was accused of similar crimes. And so were some of my friends’ teachers.

In 2017, I routinely got emails from the school disclosing that X teacher from decades prior had engaged in sexual misconduct. The school hired a white-shoe law firm to investigate all of this shit, and then they spat out a cursory report that would make Roger Goodell nod in approval. When I went back to school a few years ago to inquire about these abuses, the alumni office shut me down. One of the ladies there said to me, “Don’t you think it’s strange that these victims would go to the press before coming to us?” I did not.

I think that school has cleaned up its act in certain ways since my time there, in ways that both society and litigious parents have perhaps demanded of it. But I can’t know how much. All I know is your average prep school is stocked with intelligent, impressionable kids, all of them looking to stand out, all of them under unbearable amounts of stress from coursework and college prep and family expectations, and all of them cloistered away from their parents, usually somewhere horribly cold, paired up with teachers who are drawn to that kind of environment, for reasons both noble and shady. Every prep school student knows that the school wields tremendous influence over their futures, and an irresponsible teacher can use that influence to repugnant ends.

And the kids can be shady too. I know I was. When we had a chance to take a break from being diligent little study drones, we were savages. Devoid of booze and pot (some kids were good at scoring both; I wasn’t), we would watch porn in the common room. We streaked. We hazed. I hazed. I was, and remain, more of a beneficiary of that culture than a victim of it. So my feelings about the whole matter are complex, so much so that I don’t know if I myself can really parse them. I probably don’t want to.

Ben:

Are there any regional phrases/ways of speaking that are not native to where you grew up but you use or want to use? I have really come around on the Pittsburgh-area “this check needs cashed”-style construction. We all know it needs *to be* cashed, just cutting the filler!

Ben, if I ever caught myself wanting to talk like a yinzer, I would jump off a dam.

Because I grew up all over, I tend to affect a handful of regionalisms from everywhere I’ve been. So I still say “ope,” like Minnesotans do. I still occasionally say “cheers” instead of “thanks” because I spent a semester abroad in England. And I say my Os like a Maryland person (I don’t even know how to write it out phoenetically … eau?) since I’ve lived here longer than I’ve ever lived anyplace, and by a wide margin. I also say “y’all” earnestly now, although with a flat accent. Back in the day, I liked affecting all of these linguistic habits. It was a deliberate thing, because I was a kid who was desperate to fit in. Now it’s mostly unconscious. I don’t wanna deliberately adopt other regionalisms anymore, because that’s poser shit.

HALFTIME!

Sam:

I’ve been a Browns fan for about 10 years. What do I do now? What would you do if the Vikings had just signed Watson? Had structured his contract in a way that helped him minimize any financial loss from a suspension? Would you stop watching?

If you don’t think I quietly fantasized about my team trading for Deshaun Watson this offseason, you are alas mistaken. I did. I hated myself for it, and I felt “relieved” when he went to Cleveland instead. But the truth is that I’m just as much of a moral hypocrite when it comes to my fandom as pretty much every other fan. I wanna win, and I don’t really care if those wins come via The Right Way or not.

I don’t believe that a significant number of Browns fans are gonna bail now that Watson is in the fold. And if they do, they’ll be back the second he beats the Steelers twice over. If he had gone to my team, I wouldn’t have stopped watching. I would have felt like shit about it, and reasonably so. But I still would have watched. I cheered for Brett Favre on my team, for fuck’s sake. I felt guilty over that, but what does that guilt even mean if you keep on watching? The guilt is worthless. Insulting, really. I’m feeling guilty mostly to make myself feel good and look good. If I wanted to live my values, I’d never watch the NFL at all.

Pull out from there and I, like millions upon million of other people, am willing to eat a lot of sausage despite seeing how it was made. I watch football. I drink coffee. I shop on Amazon. I’ve used Seamless for delivery. I live in AMERICA, a country that has so much shit to answer for that I can’t even list it here despite the fact that I have literally infinite space to do so. I live a quietly damnable existence that keeps all the evil machinery up and running, and I’m too comfortable to ever stop. I am the problem.

Matt:

We can all agree breasts, vaginas, and penises/testicles are private parts. What about butts?

Can we all agree on that? Here now is another obvious question that I never really contemplated before someone asked it. But I’m ready to answer it now. Private parts reside in the space between your undercarriage and the top of your waist: penises, testicles, vaginas, etc. That’s it. Not butts. Not even breasts. Very exclusive club.

Allison:

Ok so you put a link to a commercial for Freedom Rock in the Funbag and it got me to thinking about that whole genre of commercials (all these great songs you love for just $19.95!). Once in a while, a phrase or something will trigger one of those 3-second song snippets to get lodged in my brain. The best cure for an earworm for me is to just let it play out, but since for many of these songs, these little snippets are basically all I know about them, they won’t ever “play out”, and that one three-second hunk of song will just kick around my skull for hours. It is absolutely maddening. Please tell me I am not the only one with this particular brain malady.

I have that exact same malady and the Freedom Rock ad is almost solely responsible for it. I have never, to this day, have never heard “Black And White” by Three Dog Night in its entirety. No one has. Not even McKenna. I’m not sure it’s even a real song. But you better believe I know every fucking square inch of the snippet they played of it in that fucking ad. Same deal with “White Room,” which is a real song and not a very good one.

I even get PARODY song snippets stuck in my head. Once a month, I get 1984 Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat cruising into my skull to serenade me with 10 seconds of “Fee Tines A Mady.” Sometimes I sing it out loud in the house and no one else has any idea what I’m referencing. There are worse things to get lodged in there. But song clips are particularly insidious because they’re engineered for the task. If your brain only hears 10 seconds of something, it’s easier to remember that than a whole song, and then to replay those 10 seconds over, and over, and over again.

Shep:

Did people throw things into the trash can from across the room before basketball was invented? I think tossing refuse into small receptacles from moderate distances is an innate human instinct, but is it possible that people never thought to do it before the 1890s?

Shep, old friend, how do you think basketball CAME to be invented, hmm? Dr. James Naismith was operating on a patient one day, threw that patient’s exploded appendix into a nearby latrine, and then said to himself, “You know what? I could make a sport of this.” That’s all true. Everyone knows this.

Todd:

I know we’ve got five years to go, but I can’t help but think you’ve already pondered some aspects of your, “I am now 50” column for us down the road. A mix of gratitude at being alive mixed in with some “dad stuff” your kids are now making fun of you for, plus perhaps some “fuck — Tom Brady is still playing” reality thrown in, and finally, some braggadocio on mastering a technology not yet invented but that will be a household name by that time? … and did I just ruin this future column?

I actually filed that same column to Road & Track the week before I went on vacation. It’s still being edited, but it’ll see the light of day eventually. Todd here is correct though. I am not yet 50, but all the signs are there. I’m deaf. I make weird noises. Whenever I’m in the car with the kids, I always point out new storefronts (“That used to be an Army Surplus!”), and, most vital of all, I find myself giving less and less of a fuck. About everything.

Not giving a fuck has become a tired cliché beaten into the ground by movies, TV shows, Kid Rock, you name it. It’s only when you hit 50 that you really put the concept into practice. You don’t TELL people “I don’t give a fuck,” because you don’t give enough of a fuck to announce it to people. It’s not a pose. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s genuine, earned indifference. I’m close to that. I’m not all the way there, but it’s coming. All I want is to nap in my recliner. My family and my work aside, I don’t REALLY care about anything else. Other people are needy. Other places are uncomfortable. I find young people stupid and I have no interest in any of the dogshit music they like. Once I hit 50, I will have seen all that the world has to offer, and all of it will fucking bore me. Your 40s are annoying because it’s all OH BOO HOO I’M GONNA BE OLD SOON. With 50, all of that angst is resolved. You ARE old. And ugly. And uncool. And it doesn’t matter at all. Can’t wait.

JJ:

If you had two rolls to use for lunch, and one was fresh-ish and one was stale-ish, would you eat the fresh-ish one tomorrow, knowing a really stale one awaits you the day after? Or, would you go stale-ish first, knowing you’ll get the same thing two days in a row? Better one great sandwich and one bad one, or two mediocre?

Oh I eat the fresh one first. Then I tell myself I’m OK with the stale one the next day, then I change my mind and throw that shit in the trash. Life is too short.

Mark:

My youngest child is three. I’m convinced the most unpredictable thing in the world is where a toddler is going to throw a ball. You gotta expect any angle or speed. And since it’s a toddler, the space between is minimal, meaning a short reaction time.

This is why, even now, whenever any child throws something to me, I instinctively cover my balls for protection. I’ve been hurt too many times, quite literally, to do otherwise. Gotta keep those testicles on guard at all times, because kids have wilder mechanics than late-stage Mark Wohlers. The line between them throwing something to you and at you is nonexistent. When my youngest was, uh, younger, he would always throw the ball sideways instead of to me. Then I’d get annoyed because I’d have to go fetch that shit out of the woods, and he’d laugh and laugh. Then I’d be like, “OK, now this time, really try to throw the ball at least in my general direction,” and he’d nod, and then ZOOM! Right back into the woods. More laughter ensued. A diabolical little lad. He’s got a more reliable arm these days, but sometimes the ball comes out at 10 mph, and sometimes 90. I won’t know until it comes out of his hand. Mike Trout would cower in fright.

I grew up taught to revere games of catch as the ultimate father/son bonding experience. Field of Dreams, all that shit. And I really do enjoy playing catch with my own kids. But—and movies never tell you this part—the ideal game of catch lasts 10 minutes. Twenty if you’re in a pool. That’s it. Any longer than that and the string music dies down. Daddy needs some Cheetos, boy.

Email of the week!

Ryan:

My building has three apartments in it and one washer & dryer in the basement. Last week I brought some clothes down to do laundry, but somebody was already doing theirs. The washing machine cycle was done, so I took the clothes out and put them on top of the dryer and put my stuff in the washer.

About 10 minutes later, the guy on the first floor texts me and says (I’m paraphrasing a bit) “You cut in line, I still have stuff to wash.” I apologized but also pointed out that I didn’t know how long the laundry had been sitting in there (or whose laundry it was), and he sent back, “No worries! Next time just text us,” and the more I think about it, the madder I get. I’m not the goddamn laundry concierge! It seems rude as hell, possibly bordering on insane, to ask someone else to make your laundry day more convenient (at the expense of their own) because you can’t be bothered to look at the clock. The way I see it, if you’re not down there in the time it takes for me to lug four IKEA bags of laundry down to the basement, get the detergent and everything out of our storage closet, sort the clothes and put them in the washer, then your dibs expires and you lose your place in line. Am I being unreasonable here? (Don’t you dare say yes.)

OK OK! I won’t say yes. I would move though. I couldn’t look at those people ever again.