I decided to take a course on Mexican labor in the United States during one semester of college in an attempt to learn more about my culture and heritage. The first portion of the course dealt with the history of Mexico and how its economy came to be what it is today. At the time, I was trying to raise money to go on the class trip to Arizona, all while attempting to fundraise to bring a prominent speaker to campus to lecture on men’s role in ending sexual violence on college campuses. I spent my days surrounding myself with spreadsheets and writing letters to potential donors, claiming that their help was greatly appreciated, while, at the same time, I had no idea what exactly they did. My victories came in the form of letters and emails from those who agreed; my defeats from those who denied my requests.

By the time it was all over, I actually believed that socialism was the only thing that could make me happy again because capitalism was driving me insane.

While trying to learn about the Mexican economy, the only thing I actually learned was that I knew nothing about economics and that Mexico did not have anything resembling an economy until 1994—until then, what they had was a cluster of debts.

My instructor tried to explain the history of the Mexican economy using a simulation game that involved paper money, cans of corn, hats, and a timer (I would tell you what each item symbolized, but, frankly, I don’t remember, and it all went way over my head).

The only thing that I remember about that simulation was that, in my head, I kept thinking that it was the world’s most depressing game of Monopoly.

Since then, I’ve realized that economics is just like Monopoly (and I base this on absolutely no prior knowledge of economics whatsoever): not in the sense of supply and demand or business savvy—it’s all about people you hate fucking you over.

Monopoly is a long, tedious game where people you formally loved—like your family—immediately take every opportunity to take every possible fake dollar from you that they can. It usually ends with deep frustration for the people who have made you go “bankrupt” (“Fuck you and you’re hotel on St. James’ Place, Grandma!”).

Economics is a long, tedious process where people you formally trusted—like your government—immediately take every opportunity to take every possible real dollar form you that they can. It usually ends with deep frustration (also known as “poverty”) for the people who have made you go bankrupt (“Fuck you and your cheap labor and economic prosperity, China!”).

I was never good at Monopoly—I will never be good at economics.

My Mother, The Son Whisperer

In no conceivable way can I say that my mother is the stereotypical nagging mother. However, mothers worldwide should condone my mother for developing a new form of nagging that will revolutionize modern familial desire as we know it.

My mother—a bright, idealistic, second-generation Mexican-American woman with a deep familial loyalty and a desire for her children and grandchildren to better their lives by any means necessary—has achieved nirvana in nagging.

She has mastered the art of nagging me without saying a damn word.

I no longer live at home, and I barely see my mother and father—I only make the trip back to Adrian for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the off-chance that someone I care about dies. However, even though forty miles of space and an hour of time separate my mother and me, I can never get her out of my head.

I cannot talk to an attractive girl in a bar without thinking of what my mother would think of her; in fact, I can’t even order a drink at a bar without hearing my mother’s voice in my head, asking why I would order something like that and calling me an alcoholic. I can’t go to the grocery store without hearing my mother’s voice in my head, asking why I have to spend the extra sixty-two cents on the organic eggs instead of the regular eggs, which she calls “just as good.”

How my mother came to achieve this level of maternal perfection, I will never know—nor do I care to know. Whatever caused my mother to obtain an excruciating level of motherly smothering must have been painful, unholy, and partially demonic.

The best example I have of my mother’s staggering internal nagging began when I was sixteen: at the time, my mother was working as the Personal Assistant for the Prosecuting Attorney of Lenawee County. On a daily basis, my mother interacted with lawyers and saw all of the nice things that lawyers would buy and all of nice things that lawyers buy for their mothers. She would come home from work and remind me of such:

“You know, Irv [the prosecutor] bought his mom a Cadillac for Mother’s Day.”

How is a sixteen-year-old supposed to compete with that?

“Yeah? Well, I bet Irv didn’t write his mom a really nice poem for Mother’s Day!”

* * *

I was getting my hair cut the other day.

My stylist and I were talking about random things: What I’m planning on doing after graduation; what to do in Ann Arbor on the weekends; and how college students have to always to have themes for their parties. And she was laughing hysterically the entire time.

I was afraid she was going to snip off my ear because she was laughing so hard.

Finally, she managed to stop laughing long enough to say, “You’re really funny! You should go into stand-up comedy.”

I replied with the following:

“I can’t go into stand-up comedy because I don’t write anything down. I don’t keep track of the shit I say. Something just pisses me off or makes me self-conscious and I rant about it until something funny comes out of my mouth and people laugh.

“The only way that I can make it in comedy is if I were to take my mother on stage with me, have her stand at the side of the stage and start asking me why I don’t want to go to law school, and I’ll eventually get so neurotic about it that I’ll just go off and people will think it’s funny.”

At that point, I realized that my mother need not be present, because—due to her tremendous, goddess-like skill—her voice is forever on loop in my head.

I’ll be at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase next week.

The Wendy's Cup

In high school, I worked at a Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburger Restaurant in Adrian, Michigan.

Anyone who knows anything about Adrian will know that it’s basically a little slice of Alabama north of the Mason-Dixon Line: Seeing Confederate flags and faded “Bush/Cheney 2000” stickers in the back windows of pick-up trucks was not uncommon. These sights—like the Confederate flag itself—were symbols of the culture in Adrian.

People often hear stories about how people who grow up in these areas are empowered. These stories often show the outcast (the minority) rise up against the majority (white people) and their blind bigotry and hatred to teach them an important lesson and to make them a little wiser.

My story is not that kind of story.

Adrian is about twenty miles southeast of the Michigan International Speedway (MIS), the annual site of three low-profile NASCAR races. For one weekend of each of the summer months, RVs and pick-up trucks (most of which bear the Confederate and/or American flag in some way, shape, or form) crowd US-223 on their way to these races, and poor Adrian becomes the stomping ground for hicks and yahoos alike.

The problem is that Adrian is the closest thing to a big city within an hour of MIS, so the NASCAR fans flock to it in order to keep their supplies in-check and to get a hot meal. The local WalMart is lined with more RVs than a Winnebago show lot; pick-up trucks and conversion vans fill up the parking lot of every major restaurant in town; every convenience store in town stocks extra Budweiser just to make sure that they have enough to satisfy the tastes of the visiting yokels—some from as far away as Tennessee.

This does not bode well for the seventeen-year-old who gets stuck in the drive-thru at the Wendy’s just off of US-223.

I started working there when I was sixteen. My sister and older cousins had all worked at the same Wendy’s and we had developed a sort of legacy there—we were a family of good employees. I followed gracefully in my family’s footsteps by earning “Employee of the Month” three times and becoming a favorite among managers and customers in my almost-three years there. Although fast food was not a glamorous part-time job, I still took pride in my work because I was damn good at it and (at least when I was at that age) a $300 paycheck was nothing to laugh at.

Over the years, the drive-thru became my favorite position. Sure, there was something about the wide-open steel and heartiness of the grill or the connection with the common folk at the front register—even the fry station had its moments of glory. But the drive-thru was for champions: working side-by-side with my manager who was responsible for putting orders together; striving to beat my record time by constantly keeping my eye on the digital timer above the automatic window; speaking articulately to customers who trusted me with their orders so that they could continue on with their busy lives. It became my domain, and I was damn good at it.

Of course, the true test of any fast-food employee is how one deals with difficult customers, and this sentiment was no truer than during Race Weekend.

The week before, I arrived at the restaurant to check my schedule for the following week. I went back past the kitchen and through the supply area to the employee lounge—nothing more than a small table, two chairs, a set of hooks on the wall for jackets, and a television for watching training videos. Taped to the wall was the schedule, and, when I looked at it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I was scheduled from eleven in the morning until nine at night on Saturday and Sunday of Race Weekend.

I went to my favorite manger, Alaya (a small single-mother with long brown hair in a single braid and pale complexion), who was also in charge of the schedule, and uttered the following:

“What the fuck, Alaya?”

She turned to me quickly, as if she had a speech prepared.

“Look,” she said sharply, “I hate doing this to you, but Sharonda’s on vacation and I’m stuck closing both days. Ruby can’t work because she has a wedding to go to and Mandy’s already over thirty hours that week. I need a drive-thru person, and you’re the best I’ve got. I need you for Race Weekend—I need someone good. Do this for me.”

I couldn’t say “no” to her. She promised me the next weekend off if I could just help her get through Race Weekend. I conceded and got ready for my shift, trying not to think about the line of RVs that would soon clog the drive-thru.

The Saturday of Race Weekend was not so bad—most true NASCAR fans stayed at a campground close to the Speedway. My ten hours went off without a hitch, and, as I walked out the door at the end of my shift, Alaya told me to rest up for the next day.

The next morning was a typical Sunday morning: the after-church crowd filled our dining room to capacity and the drive-thru was full for a good hour, but it was nothing unusual. Gordon, the Sunday-morning manager, ran a pretty tight ship, and, with his number-one drive-thru boy at his side, he was unstoppable. After the crowd died down, he told me to go on my break (an hour for every five hours we worked), at which point he reached into his pocket, pulled out a five-dollar bill, and told me to go to the convenience store down the street to pick up an energy drink for myself because (in his words) I was going to need it.

As I returned from the store with two cans of SOBE Adrenaline Rush (sugar-free—sugared energy drinks give me a headache), Alaya walked in with a look of sheer determination on her face.

I had never been to war, but I had imagined that the look on Alaya’s face was similar to that of General George S. Patton before the Battle of the Bulge.

She stormed into the kitchen, put on her apron, washed her hands, and gave me a Look that said, “Bring it the fuck on.”

Too nervous (or, perhaps too jittery from the first can of SOBE) to eat, I sat in the lounge until my break was over. When the clock struck four, I was ready: I tucked in my shirt, put on my hat and apron, slipped on the wireless headset, washed my hands, and clocked in. The race would be over soon, and the race fans would be hungrier than ever.

My shift was relatively quiet at its start: a few families grabbing a quick bite before afternoon mass; an elderly couple coming by for their weekly Frosty; a few teenagers grabbing some cold drinks after a game of basketball on the humid June day. We passed the time by cleaning the little nooks and crannies that didn’t get cleaned to perfection every day and by talking about whatever we could find to talk about. Alaya—usually full of wisdom and input—was uncharacteristically quiet.

I opened the drive-thru window and looked outside: a dark overcast covered the once-bright June day. The air was humid and sticky—a sure sign that it was going to rain the next day. The air was sill and all was quiet.

Then I saw the line coming from 223.

Alaya walked up behind me and peered out the window. I looked at her quickly. She was as calm as the air.

“They’re here.”

Swiftly, she ran to the back and told everyone to prepare.

“Ben: Load up the grill. Michael: Get at least two more baskets of fries down and a basket of nuggets. Amanda: Make sure you have enough buns. Marena: Load the drive-thru up on ice and make sure the pops are all full.”

“What do you need me to do, Alaya?” I asked.

“Just get ready.”

The line came in and surrounded the entire building with an impenetrable wall of RVs and pick-up trucks—we were trapped by rusted Fords and a sense of down-home Americana that made me want to vomit all over my cash register.

With the first Berp! of my headset, I began a routine that would seem to last for an eternity.

“Hi. Can I take your order, please?”

The orders came in as if these bumpkins had small armies to feed (one might think they had the common decency to eat something at the track; but they wouldn’t do that because one can’t be fuddling with a hot dog while watching cars go around in circles): Three Number Fours, two Number Twos, a baked potato, two orders of chili, four Kids’ Meals, and Frosties for the whole lot. Three and four and five cars in a row had orders totaling well over forty dollars.

My coworkers were beaten up by the sheer size of the orders. Their foreheads dripped with sweat and their hands moved faster and faster: flipping their burgers; dropping their fries; building their sandwiches; and I hopped back and forth from my register to my window, sending each of the pick-up trucks off with their orders with a nearly-silent “Fuck you” muttered under my breath.

“Have a good night.”

“You too!”

Every car had the same musty smell of stale Marlboros and Bud Light fuming from the open windows. The kids in the back screamed over the Brooks and Dunn booming from the stereo. Everyone was dressed in stained tank tops and sleeveless t-shirts with photos of various NASCAR drivers printed on the torsos.
I lost count of how many times I heard “Y’all” from someone’s mouth.

The line remained robust and impenetrable for an hour and a half. We were all wearing down, but Alaya kept us all going.

“They’re not leaving until they get their food! Keep it up, Guys!”

Around 7:30 that night, my voice began to get horse and I was angered by every little fault with each of those customers: a man digging around in his ashtray for forty-five seconds for a dime so he could have exact change; a woman who couldn’t decide if she wanted a Pepsi or a Dr. Pepper; a mom yelling at her young son because he couldn’t decide if he wanted a Chicken Nugget or a Cheeseburger Kids’ Meal. With each delay in moving my line, I fell further and further into a dissent of mild rage.

7:46: Still no apparent budge in the line. Our defenses were getting weak, but Alaya and I (the colonel to her general) kept our troops rallied.

An order comes into my headset.

“Hi. Can I take your order?”

I could barely hear him over the roar of his truck. His drawl was thick and drenched in twang.

“Yeah. Do y’alls gots cheeseburgers?”

I had to restrain myself before I leapt out the window, ran up to his car, and punched him right in the mouth.

I looked over at Alaya, who was frantically bagging orders. She stopped and looked over at me with wide eyes. From the back, we heard a few chuckles from the absurdity of what we had just heard over our headsets.

I turned back to my register and hit my “Talk” button. Enough was enough.

Perhaps he didn’t realize that the sign out front read “Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers.” Perhaps he thought maybe we had hamburgers, but we refused to put cheese on them because it would be insulting to the beef. Perhaps he was simply too tired from hours of watching cars go around in circles. Still, in my mind, no excuse existed to excuse his use of that “word” and deplorable grammar.

My voice was sharp.

“No, Sir: We have cheeseburgers.”

I immediately slapped my hand over my mouth—I may have been trying to catch my words from the air and keep them from reaching the customer’s ears.

I looked over at Alaya—my hand still over my mouth—with my eyes wide. She had stopped her bagging and stared back at me, her mouth barely open. My coworkers in the back had gone silent, and the sounds of their food preparation ceased.

I turned back to my register and waited anxiously for the man’s response. I waited to be torn apart; to have my manager called up; to have a formal complaint filed with the corporate office; to be fired for disrespecting customers (no matter how stupid said customers sounded). I sat silent for a moment, until he finally spoke.

“Oh, good. Then I’ll have two cheeseburgers and a Pepsi.”

It took ten seconds for me to formulate a coherent sentence in my head.

“Uh, that will be $5.24 at the second window, please. Thank you.”


He drove off from the speaker without so much a word.

I didn’t know if he didn’t hear me or if he just chose to ignore me, but I all I knew was that I was in the clear.

Alaya came over and put her hand on my shoulder. She then opened the window and waited for him to pull up.

“I’ll take this one,” she said calmly.

She took his money and handed his order to him with no mention of my outburst. He smiled as she handed him his change.

“Have a good night, Sir.”

After he drove off, she placed her hand back on my shoulder.

“I should technically write you up for that, but—you know—I like you too much after that.”

I chuckled. She chuckled back.

“Just don’t do it again.”

Sex & Jesus: My First Time

My first time was with a boy named Justin.

Justin and I dated during my final semester of high school. We were the openly-queer couple in the rural-conservative school. For the most part, we kept our relationship a secret, but we were so deep in puppy love that if anyone had seen us alone, they would think we would be together forever.

After a few months of dating (and making out, groping, and everything but), Justin and I decided that we wanted to take our relationship to the next level: we wanted to be each other’s first.

Justin and I were both raised by Catholic parents who would have appreciated us waiting until marriage, but considering the fact that we were both going to Hell for being with each other anyway, we decided to give in to our lesser desires.

We arranged the encounter: One day, after school, I would drive Justin to my house because my mother and father would not be home from work for another three hours. Justin would tell his mom that he had a meeting after school and that she had to pick him up at four. This would give us time to do the deed and for me to drive him back to school before either of our parents could find anything out.

After the bell rang, we hopped in my truck, anxious to get to it all.

We arrived at my house, checked to make sure that no one was home, went to my room, plopped down on the bed, kissed passionately, and did what we set out to do (although, I must admit, two teenage boys with over-zealous hormones usually have no idea what they are doing, but the sentiment was what counted for us).

After we were done, we lied in my bed in each other’s arms. I had never felt more connected to another human being in my life. I had found the person to whom I wanted to make love to—we did, and a beautiful moment was born.

Still in afterglow, we lied in silence, occasionally kissing each other and rubbing our hands over each other’s bodies. I looked across my bedroom, and a gleam caught my eye.

I focused in on it, and saw that the gleam came from the rosary that my godparents gave me for my first Communion—my mother ensured that I hung it from my wall to keep the Evil Spirits away.

I saw the little Jesus, nailed to the Cross, His face in the deepest agony.

I thought about the little Jesus, looking at Justin and I from across the room. I realized that He had seen what Justin and I had just done.

I thought about our Catholic parents.

I thought about Leviticus 18:22.

I thought about the little Jesus again, thinking what he thought of what he just saw.

I began to laugh hysterically.

Life and Baseball: The World is Out to Get Me

The moment I realized that I was bad at sports was also the moment I realized that The World was out to get me.

My father’s innate desire for me to be a “real son”—one who played sports, chased girls and didn’t write poems in his daily third-grade journal—was cause for him to sign me up for the third-grade baseball team. I was not opposed to being a part of the team—just opposed to what my classmates would think of my inability to do anything even remotely athletic.

At age nine, I had already begun to develop deep insecurities about my ability to do almost anything. Nine was the age in which I had to have prove that the world was a good place. My life was not terrible, per se: my parents were (and still are) happily married; my sisters were not too terrible of an influence on me (although I still had occasions of being their doll); I was one of the smart kids in my class (most of my reassurance of this was my classmates’ collective attitude of calling me “The Smart Kid,” and I did not complain for good reason).

But gym class and the sports field were two domains that I could never conquer. My father insisted that I join the baseball team, much to my dismay.

A few years ago, I watched a documentary on puberty and learned that most pre-pubescent males tend to be clumsy and physically awkward because their bodies are growing at a rate that their minds cannot adjust to. I instantly thought that I had been going through puberty since I was four years old (and continue to do so).

When I think about it, I find that baseball is the worst sport for kids to play: Give a small, uncoordinated child a ball and encourage him to throw it as hard as he can (remember: the best pitchers in the world can get that ball up to speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour); have another uncoordinated child hold a giant metal stick and swing it to try and hit the tiny ball flying at the speed of a diving peregrine falcon; if the kid is lucky and hits the ball (rather than the unlucky punk standing behind him trying to catch the leather meteorite mid-air), it goes flying through the air where seven other uncoordinated kids try and catch it while wearing nothing but mittens. Plus, baseball is boring—how can you teach kids about athleticism while they’re standing out in left field (where the ball never, ever goes) waiting for something to come their way?

Whoever decided to let children play baseball is either a sadistic human being or was attacked by a peregrine falcon and is looking for some sick, morbid, and symbolic revenge.

However, my father’s attempt to get his own slice of Americana in his household led to him filling out the permission slip. I was stuck on the team, and my father did me one better by signing up to be my coach.

I didn’t know if he was merely trying to get closer to his son or if he was hoping that having himself there would somehow ease my embarrassment—all I knew was that I was in deep now and there was no way that I could get out of it.

The third grade was big enough so that we could have two teams: the Green Team and the Blue Team. I was a proud Bluer along with some of my good friends.

Through a few days of practices, I found that I actually was not that bad at baseball: I managed to actually hit the ball almost every time I stepped up to the plate and was a pretty good second-baseman. I—of course—had my faults: my depth perception was not the best and I missed a few pop flies here-and-there, but, for the most part, I could hold my own on the field.

Finally, the day of the first game was upon us. We gathered at the field just behind the school playground early one Saturday morning. The sky was grey and the wind was high; the grass was slightly damp from a brief misting the night before. We all showed up in our white baseball pants (although some of the less-prepared kids managed to play in their jeans) and our either over- or under-sized gloves. We remained clearly separated as we warmed up on the field—a Bluer dared not cross into the Greeners’ territory, and vice-versa.

The game started and nothing of note occurred. A few quick outs for the Greeners meant it was our turn at bat. My dad called out the line up—and I was to lead off.

Through my week of practice, I learned something about myself: I was okay with being okay. I didn’t need to be a great baseball player—I just had to survive. If I at least hit the damn ball, I would at least avoid the shame of striking out (or worse: being hit by the ball). I put on my helmet, grabbed my bat, took a few practice swings, and approached the plate.

I surveyed the field. Rory, the class athlete, was on the mound; Angie, whose dad was the coach of the Greeners, was on first; a few kids from some other classes filled up the rest of the infield; and my good friends Craig and Jacob took right and center field, respectively.

In left field stood Derek, a good friend of mine.

After years of pondering and contemplation, I have determined that there is no nice or politically correct way to write what I am about to write. I have tried and tried because Derek really was one of my best friends back then (I cannot speak enough to his kindness and great attitude) but one cannot hide from the truth.

Derek was the fat kid.

Rumors floated about that Derek reached the 100-pound mark by second grade. He loved to play sports and, like me, had his strong points: no one could break one of Derek’s blocks in recess football, and he was tall enough to block most shots from the key in blacktop basketball. However, most of these “skills” came from a very simple set of instructions from those on Derek’s teams:

“Just stand still.”

Derek was really good at standing still, and it worked well for him because he was not the fastest runner or highest jumper—in fact, he was the opposite of both of those things.

As I got into my batting stance, I didn’t think about Derek or any of that—I just had to hit the damn ball.

My mother sat clapping frantically in the stands. My teammates yelled for my in the dugout.

“Come on! Knock it over their heads!”

“You’ve got this!”

I tuned it all out and looked over at my father in the dugout. He looked at me, nodded his head and yelled, “You can do it, Buddy.”

I gripped my bat tightly and looked Rory in the eye.

He wound up frantically and threw one just to my right.

“Ball one!”

“Good eye! Good eye!”

The clapping from my mother (and others) became louder and louder. My teammate’s cheering now roared over the entire playground.

Rory wound up.

Right over the plate—crossing my chest.

I swung and missed.

“Strike one!”

The crowed boomed. Both teams were now on their feet, pounding the dirt with their cleats.

He wound up.

I saw it leave his hand and fly right over the plate. I remembered that I just had to hit it, and took a giant swing.


The ball flew over everyone’s heads. Rory watched it zoom into left field.

Everyone went silent

I watched the ball fly as I shuffled to first base—I couldn’t take my eyes off the ball because I couldn’t believe it was flying that far.

Derek perked up from his stance and ran as fast as he could (which was equal to my slow shuffle). The ball headed toward the back fence, just along the third base line. I could not believe what I was seeing: I was about to get a home run at my first ever at-bat.

I rounded first and headed to second. My eye was still on Derek, who still shuffled to the fence. I knew that I had the home run—it was mine.

Finally, Derek reached the end of the fence as I headed to third. The ball was just out of his grasp and was about the drop past the chain link. The crowd began to cheer again, and my mother yelled frantically with excitement. I heard my father yelling from the dugout.

“Good hit, Buddy! Good hit!”

Then, the unthinkable happened: Derek jumped.

I had known Derek since first grade, and I had never seen him jump in my life. Derek’s strength was that he could stand still—not move. He wasn’t supposed to jump; he couldn’t jump.

Almost in slow motion, his feet left the ground and seemed to hover in the air, just six inches above the ground.

It was just enough.

The ball landed in his glove with a soft thud and he hit the ground.

The cheering stopped—except for the Greeners’.

My first home run was ruined by the one person who was not supposed to ruin it.

The umpired called “Out!” as my foot hit third base.

I staggered back to the dugout and my dad patted me on the back.

“Good try, Bud.”

I didn’t even look at him.

I plopped down on the bench, took off my helmet, and came to my realization:

The World was out to get me.