Tag Archives: Project McSweeney’s

Dear all you insane children,

I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot (itself sort of funny; since I only have one, you might think that would make getting off on the wrong one more or less impossible–but these are just metaphors). Anyway, I can’t say it thrilled me when your parents died and left you in my care. Living paycheck to paycheck as I am, buying five used twin beds really tapped me out. I had to borrow against my wages for your morning gruel, nasty as it is, so please stop throwing it at the wall with such disgust. Sorry you find it difficult adjusting to my drafty shack and the nocturnal fumes rising off the bog. I’m sure we’d all rather be living in your parents’ mansion, but that’s been sold, the proceeds locked in a trust until you come of age, in order to safeguard a brighter future for yourselves.

Mind you, my future will likely be just as grim as my present and my past. I’m sure it’s no shock to you that my life was a sad story before I inherited five fussy children. Time was, I was one of the best wide receivers in the university. Had a beautiful girlfriend, too–a cheerleader! Then I shocked everyone, developed a rare form of diabetes that resulted in my having to have my leg amputated. So I lost a leg, a girlfriend, and a sweet future. Took a job as a custodian at the college where I used to be a star, started drinking a lot and avoiding everyone I used to know. Developed a staph infection, and bam! Get this hideous wart on my face! Life’s just awesome. I’m lucky I’m not a hunchback.

But, horrible as my life was, at least I didn’t have to worry about someone putting gasoline in my liquor bottles, or stirring laxatives and pureed ghost peppers into my milk. That I’ve sobered up lately is a good thing; that I’m about to get fired from my job because of all the stomach problems I’ve had is a bit less stellar.

But lately, my dear children, you’ve really taken it up a notch. I don’t know who gave you those asps you put in my bed, or how you managed to find the time to build that contraption of spikes that almost impaled me when I ran out to put out the fire you set in the garden, but you must know that the emergency room bill for the snake bites means it’s going to get even leaner around here. Plus, those tomatoes were really coming in nice. Thanks for ruining those, too.

It really is a shame. I like you all–even Janet, who seems to be quite a talented artist. I really enjoyed her painting of the castle before she set off the explosives hidden behind the canvas and blew half my face and all my hair off. It was truly the last great thing I saw with both my eyes, even if it did cost me one of them (just dumb luck the flames managed to miss the wart on my nose). Regardless, I hope she keeps going with her art.

As for the twins, Hector and Helen–you’re always good with a joke, even if it is at my expense. Such biting wit! I’m sure these mental wounds will heal in time, but a sense of humor is forever.

Little Susan, I wish you’d talk more. Sometimes in your sullen glower, I see a hint of understanding. Out of all your siblings, you seem the wisest.

And Jack, the oldest and fiercest–you are arrogant, to be sure, but that kind of confidence will take you places, even if all you choose to do with it is wield dangerous weapons. Take it from a former athlete, you’re a natural. The way you swung that mace at me yesterday made me reflect on what a great baseball player you’ll make someday.

Just, please, stop trying to kill me. I hope this letter helps you understand: I want the best for you. I hope — oh damn, here Jack comes with a shotgun pointed at me. This looks grim. Might be time to put down the pen.

If you should find this note soaked in blood under my body, just know — I tried, but maybe you really will be better in an orphanage.

Your uncle,


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One block from work, my phone stops playing music for no good reason. Ordinarily, I’d assume I’d hit my pocket just so, but there’s no chance this time. My hands were out, drumming the air in a mostly unobtrusive way to “Zero” by the Smashing Pumpkins. I really don’t think it was me. The phone’s on the fritz. Sometimes it does this, and I have to just find another song. Just one of those things–something else in the world going wrong. I’m scrolling through artists, wondering if I want to spend the rest of the day listening exclusively to The Police, when I think, “HOO BOY! I’m really going to die someday!”

I said I thought that, but really I shouted part of it at a street vendor. Picture a man walking along, thumbing through his iPhone, walking past a food cart, suddenly screaming, “HOO!” with a look of surprise and a bit of a faint smile.

It’s certainly not the first time this thought has occurred to me; first time I had it I believe I was three or four years old. In the pie chart of Thoughts Most Thought in My Head, it’s probably somewhere between “I want to have sex” and “I could really go for some tater tots.” In junior high, I almost stopped reading horror novels because it no longer seemed to matter if the characters lived or died, since they were all going to die someday (only later realizing that, all things considered, it was better to go in one’s sleep than to be carved up by a clown wielding a rusty chainsaw). These days, I’ve gotten used to the thought, scolded it for being cliche, and yet still it comes bounding along from time to time, in varying strengths and severities. It stops by, says hello, menaces me a bit, then flitters away again to wherever it goes after that.

But like a slap, the thought can be playful or painful. For whatever reason, this morning, it’s born hard–a real sharp crack right across the cheek of my half-awake mind. The smile on my face is because I find the sudden severity of it amusing, and my masochistic side is closely tied to my sense of humor. Call it self-schadenfreude.

It’d be the same if someone came running around the corner with a giant mallet and hit me hard in the stomach. I’d go down, sure, but I’d do so laughing, because, honestly, who does that to someone? Like putting pureed habanero in someone’s OJ, it’s rude but so funny.

Then I’m on the south side of 20th Street, heading west toward my building, watching people walk past me with their dogs and their own iPhones and iPads and Kindles and things, thinking, “Yep. I really am gonna die. Rumor has it it can’t be avoided. And no afterlife, not for me, dirty atheist that I am. It’ll be like before I was born. Remember that? Sure don’t! That’s the good part. I don’t think I know what death’s like, but, really, I do.”

The mind-melting idea of nonexistence, the suffocating lack of any thoughts at all, terrifies me. I cling to fantasies: that maybe everyone else is playing a giant joke on me and no one really ever dies and someday all the people I think are dead, like Stanley Kubrick, my grandfather, and Osama bin Laden, will pop up over the other side of my cubicle and say, “Surprise!”; or that someday, given infinite time, the universe simply has to repeat itself, and I will return to relive my life an impossibly long time from now–a resurrection through recycled molecules, the spiritual equivalent of monkeys eventually randomly retyping Hamlet.

Such thoughts rarely work, and they didn’t today, either. The people passed me, I passed the people, that old drink-to-the-face thought evaporated, and I pushed play on “Next to You.”

Then I went into work and wrote some computer code.

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I know I’ve been guilty of a lot of Top Ten lists in the past myself, so I thought I’d offer some basic pointers for those looking to get into the list-making game. Without further preamble, here then are the most important things to remember this year, determined through science:

10. If you put more than ten things on your Top Ten list, the next time you play chess with me I get to play with two extra pawns. Oh, you don’t think that’s fair? Some anarchist you turned out to be!

9. If you leave something off or put something on that you shouldn’t have, I will come to your house and stay either way too long or simply punch you in the face and disappear into thin air.

8. Most people probably already know your list is subjective opinion. You might not need to remind us all that your rankings are not factual or objective. 

7. The most blatant lies are usually put in the number 7 and number 2 spots.

6. Generally #6 is freaking mind-blowing. This is where people will be surprised to find you so wise and erudite.

5. While you have never stood out in a crowd of 1,374,398 people, putting this list together and posting it online may/may not be the time you finally rise above the rest and get people to pay attention to you, although probably only if you’re ranking the top ten things your pet monkey or your pet robot did this year. (If you don’t have a pet monkey or pet robot, you should making getting one a New Year’s resolution.)

4. Putting a documentary about inner city life or a rap album on your list only gives your list credibility if you are ranking the best rap albums or documentaries about inner city life. Extra credibility, though, can be earned if the rap album appears on the documentary list and the documentary on the rap album list.

3. In all likelihood, you will enjoy the process and find it deeply rewarding, and it will help you understand what has happened to you this year, which was painful and horrible. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again, though–the list-making.

2. It probably would have been a better use of your time to learn a new word in Spanish than to make your list. Did you know embarazada means pregnant, not embarrassed? Now you do, so I’ve undone that mistake for you. (Always remember to practice safe sex when making a list, even if making it en la ciudad de mexico.)

1. Someone will die, no matter what you do, while you write your list. Probably unrelated, but I thought you should know.

Dear Lisbeth,

I’ve had such a good time meeting you this summer! I’m really going to miss you, and Camp Wamkeag, and all our friends, and all those sunset canoe rides around the island. Hanging out on the picnic tables outside our cabins at night, swatting flies off our bodies, sweltering in the heat in the afternoon, and stealing kisses behind the art shed after making tie-dyed t-shirts–this has all been so transformative, such a total blast.

This place fills me with such warmth. It’s really hard to think about going home to my stupid small town, where people think I’m weird and don’t pay much attention to me. It has meant so much, to have this romance this summer, and to at last finally kiss a girl. I didn’t think I’d have to wait until I was thirteen to cross that milestone, but now that I have, I can’t imagine I’ll ever forget you.

I like you a lot, Lisbeth. I will miss you terribly.

Just please don’t write.

Basically, I want us to be like Rose and Jack in that movie Titanic–together for a few days, and then you stay on your door floating in the water, and I turn into a popsicle. All great summer camp romances are like that movie–short, sweet, and without time enough to discover any flaws. If they’d both made it to the States, things probably wouldn’t have worked out.

What are we going to do? Write back and forth about the asparagus we had for dinner and how much we hate our stepfathers? How stupid geometry class is? Sorry, but long-winded exposition does not make the best reading material.

And you know as well as I do that there’s a vague but definite sense of arbitrariness to our affections, sweet as they are. We may be young, but we’re not stupid. We chose each other because we were both available and because the risk was so low, given that camp lasts only a week, and the big final dance in the main lodge that caps it off doesn’t even require fancy dress!

Oh, those slow dances! Getting a bit misty here. We really connected. And we didn’t have to say anything.

But seriously, let’s not ever move that far past the surface. We’re young. We’re cute. We both like each other for liking each other. Relationships rarely come and go with such a lack of guilt and heartbreak. Later, there won’t be summer camp to go to, and we’ll have to give reasons for not wanting to see each other, or we’ll have to work faster and with more obvious callousness during some one-night layover somewhere.

This is a special time of our lives.

So please do forget to write, and let this time we had together remain pure, shallow, short, and perfect.

Love always (unless you ask for more of it),

You’re going to suffer if you don’t think things through in advance, and trough-pissing is no exception.

Let me take a wild guess; you were going to get up from your barstool, walk into that bathroom, face that long steel trough-style urinal, and just open up right over the drain. Am I right? Yeah, I know that’s what a short-term-thinking lemming such as yourself was going to do, because you like to go through life without pausing to ask yourself the important questions along the way. Well, let me force you to reflect on the situation in which you were about to put yourself.

You were trained at an early age to piss right into the center of the pot, and that usually works. So when it comes to a trough, you think, “Awesome! I got the spot right above the drain!” You’re thinking that’s a good thing, because you believe that the best course of action is to get rid of your waste straightaway.

Except you haven’t thought it through. Sure, your decision here is all well and good if you live in a world where no one else exists, but then you probably wouldn’t end up pissing into a trough in the first place. Sad fact is we have to share this rock–all however-many-billions of us–and some of those billions are going to come into that restroom with you. And there you’ll be, pissing foolishly away directly over the drain, no doubt with some stupid day-dreamy smile on your face, and they’ll have no choice but to take an upstream position. Now you’ll start to make a funny face, because the stench of someone else’s urine (probably some rank copper-color that really punches its way on up your nostrils) will commingle with your own (you probably drink lots of water and pride yourself on the clarity of your stream, and it will pain you, seeing it polluted with urobilins from someone else’s kidneys), and you’ll find yourself thinking, “Aw, man, this is disgusting, why is that other guy pissing into my piss?”

Well, this is how a trough urinal works. This is the way it’s been designed. Don’t come crying to me if you wander like a child into the path of another man’s urine.

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but the next time you go to a trough for a little micturition, get as far away from the drain as you can. Yes, it will seem silly to stand all the way over to the side and watch your piss roll down the long length of the trough. But I assure you, it will be worth it when that second man comes in and has to take his position–knowingly, grudgingly, sadly–closer to the drain.

I can’t explain it any better than I have, but there’s a reason I conduct interviews in bars with trough urinals. Nothing beats telling some downstream motherfucker that he’s not going to get the job at the firm while he wrinkles his nose, the stench of my urine in his nostrils as his eyes watch his hopes for his future swirl down the drain.

I just wish I could make all failure so olfactory.

We’ve given up tolerating fixity. Who the hell writes in stone, anymore, amirite?

We’re here to see someone about his ephemerality.

It’s about ingenuity and keeping up with the times.

We’re not just thinking outside the box; we’re ripping the box out of the archivists’ hands, dumping the contents over their heads, slapping them about the head and face with the empty container, and then setting them on fire and flushing their ashes down the toilet.

Provenance this, motherfuckers!

Newer versions of our demands will float out of your computer screen, pool on your desk, and sing you whatever song seems best suited to your purchasing history. So keep in mind, this list is beta, perhaps even alpha. All of it is subject to change; meeting these demands is no guarantee of meeting these demands.


The point is, we see flaws in your original master. We’d rather you take us direct to the remaster. We believe the remaster will know how to deal with us in a more satisfying manner than the last person we saw.

Oh, you are the remaster? Very well, then. Good to know, and a pleasant surprise, if we do say so ourselves. We should have known you’d look different.

To the point, then. These are our demands:

1. Remastermind, the game (let’s play it!): We no longer want to be locked into one combination of four colored pegs. If you guess any of them correctly, obviously our strategy was flawed, and we would like to be able to change it at will. This will result in a much more challenging game for you, we feel.

2. Remaster locks (use them!): The combination changes every time you turn the dial. This prevents the lock from ever opening. Truly, what is the point of a lock being able to be unlocked in the first place? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? We feel it does.

13. Whatever George Lucas wants, he gets. No more fucking crying about it, either. Seriously. You people. It’s like you’ve never seen someone bleeding out their own nipples; you’re always complaining the loudest about the least important things.

c. Remasturbation (do it!): Immediately after finishing, do it once more, with feeling. Make it faster, more intense. Don’t be ashamed; we don’t think anyone gets anything right the first time.

iv. We’d like to point out that the 2003 Stereo Remastered Version of “Roxanne” by The Police, which corrects the pitch of the first few notes and thereby renders Sting’s odd little laugh perfectly nonsensical, is re-re-re-reeeeeee-genius, and the person responsible for it should be given a Medal of Re-Achievement.

FIVE! This one has actually become demand six. See below.

The rest of our demands have been deleted, because, upon reflection five minutes from now, they probably won’t / didn’t seem so interesting. In lieu of them, we would just like to request a slice of pie, pumpkin if you have it. If you don’t have pie, well, your face will be remastered, along with some of your internal organs.

You know, your face really would look better digitally enhanced for widescreen televisions.

We are getting the feeling that the original version of you is about to go out of print.

Come on over here. We’ve got work to do. Don’t be shy.

Stop that screaming. We’re sure if your parents had had our technology when you were born, this is how they would have wanted you to look.