God, I’m a Man at Yale
June 2nd, 2017 by Mike Coughlin
I’m going to Yale because of a fist fucking joke.
People like me don’t go to Yale. People like me go to Hong Kong and end up in a fist fight with a monkey. People like me love a woman for 20 years without realizing it. People like me can somehow fight a man inside a cage, drive six hours to see someone sing in front of 12 people, but won’t open a piece of mail if it might contain bad news. Hell, I’m actively planning on fighting a bear to the death, yet, here I am, going to Yale. Now who, “will never amount to anything,” Brother Charles?
Don’t worry, I’ll get to the fist fucking. I think I can stretch it out, make you sweat a bit, stuff like that. Seems like the thing authors do. That and maybe wear a tweed jacket, smoke a pipe, and sport a monocle. I live in a world where authors look like the Monopoly Man. Full Stop. Am I an author now? Have I officially been admitted to an exclusive society of authors? Would I even enjoy such a group? Can I rattle off a series of rhetorical questions that trick people into thinking I’m not just padding my word count? Perhaps. Drop me into any constellation and I’ll try to figure out why I’m the black hole; I would’ve been a fierce abolitionist right up until I met other abolitionists. If I’m in an authors’ club then I think I need to pen my letter of resignation, Mr. Marx.
I like the title I came up with (oooooh, ending a sentence with a preposition – go on with your bad self). A good title gives this endeavor a framework to work from (two in a row!). Is this how God did it? He conceptualized, gave a name, then filled in the details later? As far as I know, He created everything only using words and I’m only using words so … Fine, I’m not God. Happy? But I’m at least a prophet, peace be upon me.
One also presupposes this … thing … will be sold to a big fancy publisher for millions of pennies. As such, a proper introduction is in order, methinks. Hi, my name is Mike. When asked if I prefer Mike or Michael, I respond with, “I’ve been called both and worse.” That always gets a chuckle from people, though I’d never say it to anyone I thought had a real sense of humor. Women tend to call me Michael, and men call me Mike. I have no idea why that is either.
Gah, I haven’t really told you people what this is, have I? I’m going to Yale. Four words, five if you double count the contraction, that no one ever would’ve expected from me. I say, “I’m going to Yale” the same way someone would laugh, “I’m going to the moon.” I’ll be at a “Yale Writers’ Conference,” which I guess is a bunch of talented and smart people talking about writing and helping each other. I’m supposed to have a manuscript to submit to my soon-to-be fellow writers. Guess what this is? Imagine their disappointment. They’ve worked their whole lives crafting their crafty stories for their craft and then they see shit like this and are told, “He’s your peer.” No wonder writers drink.
A sinking suspicion of mine is that at least some of this is true because I didn’t want to write it and definitely don’t want people to read it. At the very least, I’m trying to not tell a known falsehood. I’m not going to intentionally write a book filled with lies – though if I was, I’d probably lie to you about not lying. Hmm… What is true is that I have a website, halfguarded.com, which everyone should visit so I can have a good bump in traffic. Some of what is here was first there, which is true of most things in life: everything Here was once There. I’ve taken a few pieces, tried to gussy them up – all that – so this should be a weird pastiche of – wait, not pastiche. Dammit. That sounded smart too.
This is some shit I wrote.
I only have a limited amount of time to finish this Bad Idea Made Flesh. If it isn’t good enough for inclusion on a best seller list in a few weeks, I know I’m lazy enough that I’ll shelve it and go back to watching reruns of House. So much riding on so little.
By the way, my mother will get a draft of this with a different joke referenced. She’s a saint of a woman, even though Lutherans aren’t big into saints, and I can’t have her read the words “fist fuck.” Hi, Mom, that original first line, the one your first born child submitted to the smartest people on earth, was actually far worse. Don’t pretend like you’re surprised, you know how I am.
I don’t know if people who write about themselves ever tell the audience what they look like. *whisper voice on* I don’t read much. *whisper voice off* If this is published, there’s probably a picture of me somewhere, and, yup, that’s me. If not, I look wholly unremarkable. In fact, I probably look exactly how you’d expect a mid-30s white dude from the Midwest to look. I’m the Ford Taurus of white people.
After consulting the Internet, I’ve decided this can be considered a pastiche.
There isn’t a litmus test for being a writer beyond you wrote something and maybe someone else read it, right? Is an audience necessary for a writer? Trees falling in the forest and all that. I heard that Salinger had been writing for decades and had all of this stuff in his basement, waiting to be released when he dies. Then he died and the world got nothing. I appreciate that level of dedication to trolling. I hope my amazing book becomes the next The Catcher in the Rye, and because high school kids will find it full of swears and it’s short, it becomes a go-to book for those who are forced to read, and then I can live off it for the rest of my life. Unenthusiastic teens, that’s my audience!
I just had to correct a typo, as I wrote “I right” instead of “I write.” Jeezuz, I’m a fraud.
I’m in an actual cubicle at the moment, straight out of a 1990s movie about sad corporate workers – it’s even gray with a little blue in the felt lining. Someone wants to remind me of a burnt out, soot-stained Soviet Russia. Odd how the height of capitalism and communism end up looking the same. My current position is the legal equivalent of data entry, most of which involves me reviewing loan files from the mortgage crisis. I just came across a letter from a sad fuck who was underwater before the ink dried. The barely literate letter is just him pouring it out, begging for another month – just one more – so the family doesn’t have to move before his daughter graduates high school. I’d Jackson Pollock the walls with my amygdala if I had a gun.
I don’t have a gun. I might get one, maybe, if my plan of living in a small cabin near Deadwood, SD ever comes to pass. It would be a rifle or something, whatever I’d need to fend off wild animals. Otherwise, I’m not touching a fucking gun. This is doubly so because of the time a friend of mine (drunkenly) fired off a handgun on accident and the bullet ended up being lodged in the side of a safe. How that thing didn’t ricochet and kill me is as close to proof of the divine as I’ve found. I should probably start learning to throw a hatchet instead.
I literally just googled “how many words in a book chapter” because I don’t have the first clue what I’m doing. The results won’t shock you, says the Buzzfeed voice in my head: there isn’t a standard answer. I can’t believe fucking Buzzfeed of all sites is apparently a legitimate news source these days. Everybody, grab your fiddle.
Whatever. This is my story. I don’t know who will read it, who will publish it, or any of that shit. Push comes to shove, I’m putting it on my site. If you’re reading this on my site, that means I wasn’t talented enough to get a book deal, not even from that company that was gonna publish Milo. To all of you at Yale, in my class, who I think have to read this, Hi. If this is in a book, a real one with paper that has a Library of Congress Catalogue Number on it, and you’re reading, how cool is that? Who could’ve foreseen a white guy from Yale getting a book deal…
I read that there are published authors who attend these conferences. The way the website put it, I got the impression that folks might be intimidated by this fact. I had no idea I was supposed to be intimidated. Let’s face it, unless John Grisham shows up, I probably won’t have heard of you. And if he does show up, I’m sure as hell not going to be all, “Oh no! How could I possibly compare to a man who churns out the same book every single summer?” then faint like I’m a Southern Belle devastated by the news of her husband’s combine accident. Seriously, he has his millions, why does he keep doing that? Do something different already. Didn’t he dream of becoming the next Hemingway or Plath? Writing long form Mad Libs doesn’t seem very satisfying.
This Yale thing is a big deal to me, if you haven’t noticed. I really get off on validation from authority and Yale is one hell of an authority. I used to rely upon my dad as that source of affirmation but he’s been dead five years. I need daddy to say he looooooves me and then I’ll be happy! What a stereotype I turned out to be. The nice lady who sent me the acceptance letter told me she’d read my submission and it was really good. Someone from Yale thought I was talented. I will live off of that compliment for months. And if I don’t get any other compliments, I’ll just frame that one.
If success has a 100 parents and failure is an orphan, I run an orphanage. This (road to Yale) all started when I was 14, writes Charles Dickens. Yes, I’ve been a screw up for at least 20 years. Do I go into all of that here? This is supposed to kind of be an introduction to everything, I think. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the fist fucking soon enough. 14 though. Right. Puberty. Fur where there wasn’t fur. Girls, from a distance, usually me under the stairs — that sounds really creepy and … fuck, it was really creepy.
I wasn’t under the stairs like some troll, for the record. What happened was, as I walked up the stairs, if my gait slowed, and if a certain Girl Who Shall Not Be Named got to the top first, and if I glanced up and saw a flash of thong as her skirt failed to keep up with her body, and if I then thought about that moment for the next several decades, well, who was hurt, huh? HUH?!
I look to my audience for support and find none.
When I was in 8th grade, someone told me to take a test so I did. I didn’t know what it was, because I was 13 and mostly into cage fighting and comic books (as opposed to now…). Turns out, this was a test to see if I was smart enough to go to the smart kid high school, Benet Academy in Suburban Chicago. It also turns out, I was smart enough! Me, a smarty-pants!
It was drilled into our heads that Benet was a Top 50 high school nationwide and number two in the state of Illinois, as determined by US News and World Report. When you accomplish things, it’s important to brag about them a lot, otherwise how would anyone know? This goes double when you’re coasting on a reputation built by a previous generation.
Benet was a breeding ground for the ubermensch. The jocks were all smart, the smart kids were all jocks, the funny kids were in the band, and everyone was pretty and smelled nice. Boys were in ties and khakis, we didn’t have a wrestling team but were competitive in golf and soccer, parents would spend obscene amounts of money trying to one up each other at fundraisers, and no one ever got pregnant (though I think someone visited her aunt for a while). It absolutely should have been miserable but it really wasn’t, not objectively so. People were nice and many of them have grown up to still be nice. I was an outcast only because I put myself in that box; I was insecure and stuff like that. Even then, I could float between social circles, safe on the periphery.
I started Benet when I was, you guessed it, 14. Then I did … nothing. I farted around for four years and graduated. I was in the environmental club – sorta. I went to it a few times and collected the recycling bins but that was only because a friend was doing it. I didn’t party or anything fun either. No wine, women, song, or dance for me. I was a pothead without the pot. I was just … there.
I did my homework – when I did it – right before class. If it was important, I’d maybe wake up early and do it while I watched Ghostbusters cartoons. When I was 16, I’d get to school really early because I’d have to drop my dad off at the train if I wanted to have access to a car. (I didn’t have my own car until I was 24 and started law school. I had nowhere to go so what did I care?) Even though I’d have almost two hours to kill every morning, I still rarely did anything until just before the bell. I had a 3.something GPA when I graduated; I know I must have picked up something there because how else would I learn anything? Collecting an entire run of X-Man while I waited for my brother to finish his drum lessons?
I wasted my talents in other ways too. I was a good baseball player growing up; always an All-Star, stuff like that. In high school, I showed up to a few practices to try out. I knew I was as good as the other kids but I thought the coach was kind of a douche. He taught religion class, though he wasn’t a priest or anything, and had a smugness to him. At least I thought he did. He was probably a nice guy and I just looked to justify why I didn’t want to try at something.
When I was 17, I was told to take another test, so I did. It was the ACT. I had heard of it but that’s about all. I knew I was going to college, but that’s just because what else would I do? I’m too dainty to be a mechanic. I took the test and received a good score. I don’t exactly remember the number so much as I remember everyone being impressed.
Some of the my classmates went to schools like Brown and the Naval Academy and, yes, Yale. Smart kid schools. One girl grew up to be a model who also works at the University of Chicago, which is bullshit. You should get to be either smart or attractive, not both. I went to the University of Iowa. I visited once and my parents told me to go there, so I did. I really didn’t need my ACT score for Iowa but now it’s one of those tentpole moments of pride: that time I did moderately well on a standardized test.
As before, I more or less existed for the sake of existing, no studying or partying (I bet my mom is thrilled to read that I never studied). I burned daylight reading comic books, watching MMA, and playing video games. Granted, time at Iowa wasn’t as valuable as time at Benet but I’m sure people would’ve killed for the chance to go to a Big Ten school. Or any school. You ever read those stories about previous generations of immigrants? My maternal great-grandmother was from Norway and refused to speak Norwegian because she “didn’t want to sound like a dumb Norwegian.” She was from a generation of dust clouds that coagulated into shit-stained granite; people who would arrive in America at 12, not speak English, get thrown into a classroom, go to the library every day and study, and within months were writing poetry. They did all that while working 10 hours a day in a factory, only breathing soot, eating the leftover warm water from the stew their father ate that their mother made from stolen potatoes, and sleeping on a bed made of dogs. I listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs while reading Spider-Man and resenting everyone else who had fun, lying to myself that they were all jerks and that I was the real winner. What a dickhead.
I did learn stuff at Iowa, but it was all – ALL, he writes, all – stuff I taught myself. We’d be assigned to read a chapter from Hume and I’d read the whole thing because I liked it. I was an autodidact of sort. (I learned that term from a TV show, don’t worry.)
Get to the fist fucking, already!
I graduated with a BA in Political Science. I had enough credits for a minor in journalism but I think there was some paperwork I was supposed to fill out. By now, you should know I didn’t.
A couple of years later, after doing mostly office temp work, I took the LSAT because law school is a thing my dad did and so why not me too? Yes, another test. Yes, another test I didn’t appreciate and didn’t study for and did well on. In my defense, I … didn’t care. Back then, I still believed everything would always work out and law school was more an excuse to put off being an adult than anything. I was and am a man treading water in his own apathy.
I ended up going to Northern Illinois University for law school. NIU is a sour turd of a law school, true, but it was also cheap and I didn’t have to risk anything by going there. I read once that such behavior is consistent with perfectionism. Everyone thinks a perfectionist is this crazy OCD kid who is, ya know, perfect. Turns out, there’s another kind, one who will simply not try because that way they can avoid failure. Hi.
I later looked up what my LSAT score meant in relation to others and found out that it was good enough for Ivy League schools. But why go there when you can go to a school in the lowest tier? I’m guessing my less than stellar transcripts, resume, and complete lack of ambition wouldn’t have really sufficed for Harvard (or Yale!) anyways.
My first week there, I had to look up, “How to study” because I had no clue how to actually do it, such had been my approach to school. Did people just rewrite their notes? Was I supposed to make flashcards all the time? I’m actually facing the same crisis now, as I’m expected to read all my fellow writers’ work and critique it. Back to Google I go. At least in law school, I had my dad around. Every night we’d go over what I learned. We bonded like you’d expect and I received the validation I didn’t realized I craved.
I ended up taking more classes than was required, which dropped my GPA like a tenth of a point below the cutoff to graduate cum laude. I didn’t know what the line was for honors until a week before graduation because – SAY IT WITH ME – I didn’t pay attention to things like that.
The bar exam was the only thing I ever truly studied for (I made flashcards). I passed, thankfully, because that’s the kinda humiliation you don’t want staining your soul. Still, what a dump of a school.
Which brings us all to Yale. I’ve managed to fall my way to the top. People like me should be shot. There are so many people in the world who work their asses off and struggle the struggle of the disadvantaged and here I am, an asshole who just flits his way through life. I’m the most white privileged male who ever lived, but what am I going to do, not accept a once in a lifetime opportunity? Principles don’t put food on the table, resumes that have the words “studied at Yale” do. Still, when someone says, “I’d kill for that opportunity,” I’m the person they should kill.
As for fist fucking. There is a comedian by the name of Doug Stanhope. If you know who he is, good for you. If you don’t, honestly, if he was for you, you’d already know. Enjoy Fallon. Some might call him crass, though that implies he’s dirty just for the sake of being dirty, which I don’t think is true. However, Stanhope is someone who would tell a joke and fist fucking would be the punchline. Ta-da!
Hold up, how does a degenerate comedian who lives on the Mexican border with his sometimes-bald bipolar common law wife and who, in all likelihood, has cirrhosis of the liver, lead to Yale? I’ll tell you, my captive audience, because of course I will.
Monsieur Stanhope has a podcast and on said podcast he closes his shows with music from various musician type friends, as one does. One of those musicians is a gentleman (a term used loosely) by the name of Mishka Shubaly. Hey, wait, isn’t he the dude teaching this class, you would ask if you’re at Yale. If you aren’t at Yale, yes, he’s teaching the class.
Professor Shubaly made mention on Facebook that he was teaching this class. That piqued my interest enough to throw my toothpick into the giant pile of toothpicks. That’s how we all get here, Mr. Reader Friend: Stanhope does material on fist-fucking and sundry topics of filth which appeal to yours truly which leads to his podcast which leads to Mishka which leads to he and I sleeping together (!) which leads to me learning about Yale which leads to me applying.
Then I was accepted.
That wasn’t supposed to happen.
I’m not supposed to go to Yale.