The Black Gums of New York City

The moving pictures always portray New York as a place where one looks upwards: up at the skyscrapers, up at the trees, up at the bright lights, while saying something like this:

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This has not been my experience of New York. I’m not saying that there aren’t skyscrapers and lights to look at, I’m simply saying that I never look up when I’m in New York. This, in part, is because of the wind. The skyscrapers of Manhattan serve effectively as a wind tunnel, turning the mildest of garbage-scented Staten Island zephyrs into whirling garbage-scented tempests by the time they reach street level in Midtown.

To look upward in such a wind is to risk being hit in the face by an airborne rat or falafel cart. Also, people in Manhattan like to scream verbal abuse at people who look them in the eye. So I’ve always walked with my head down in Manhattan.

Your typical New York sidewalk gazer will eventually notice a phenomenon of New York sidewalks, particularly in the more heavily populated areas (okay, all the areas of New York are heavily populated, to the point where it seems that the only way they could fit more people is with a blender.).

The phenomenon is gum. Gum carpeting the sidewalks. Gum that was spat on the ground eons ago, and, in the intervening years, having lost it’s stickiness on the shoes of many an angry tourist, has slowly absorbed the rainbow of particulates that float through the Manhattan atmosphere, combining them all into a dazzling tie-dye of ash gray on grime black on excrement brown.

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Photo: Aoife

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This is on the Empire State Building, by the way. Photo: Nick Traveller

The sheer quantity of gum you’ll come across in a single-block walk is staggering. It is a single person’s lifetime of gum. It is the amount of gum that can be found in the stomachs of an entire school district-worth of elementary students. It is the gum of generations. There’s so much of it that one must imagine that there, underneath your feet, is the expectorant of the stars. Woody Allen’s gum. John J. Astor’s gum. Biggie’s gum. Dorothy Parker’s gum. Jerry Seinfeld’s gum.

What is it, one wonders while searching for rare open patches of cement, that makes New Yorkers such prolific big league chewers? Have Bloomberg’s anti-smoking laws pushed so many to quit smoking that the city’s foundation now consists of 92% Nicorette? Has the Big Gum lobby been particularly effective in indoctrinating the masses of our country’s largest cities? Or do they simply need something in their mouths to keep from constantly screaming in terror?

(One does not wonder why they spit on the ground, however, as New York is a town that runs on garbage. I don’t mean that garbage is big business, I just mean that people literally run — and drive — on garbage. New Yorkers just push their garbage onto the sidewalk and into the streets when they’re done with it, where it waits for 286 years until it is partially fossilized and can then be scraped off the asphalt with a forklift and unceremoniously dumped on the shores of Staten Island or New Jersey.)

More ominously, what is it that New Yorkers are planning on doing with all of this gum? Unless they want to be slowly buried under it’s rise, like some sort of horrible tar glacier, they will have to dispose of it at some point. And lest they be forced off their island, they’ll have to send it somewhere else. This can not possibly be a good thing. Because tar gum is only useful for one thing: filling in cracks. And we all know how much New York hates a pothole.

Featured photo by Nigel Munoz.

Cucumbers are to Cats as Wedding rings are to Me

I haven’t thought about analogies since taking the SATs over ten years ago. Back then, me and my classmates spent many an hour trying to fill in the blanks of these strange questions:

Cobblestone : Pebble :: _________ : Toothpick

a) A tree

b) A plank of wood

c) A splinter

d) Your dick

The formula is pronounced this way: “A cobblestone is to a pebble as a blank is to a toothpick.” It was basically a way of showing that you could identify the relationships between things. So in this particular question, you’re asking yourself, what’s the same degree of difference from a toothpick as a cobblestone is to a pebble? A splinter is smaller than a toothpick, so that’s out, and a tree is exponentially larger than a toothpick, so that’s out. And we were all taught in our SAT prep classes that the answer was never “Your dick.” The answer “Your dick” was a red herring: it was designed to make you waste valuable test time wondering whether answering “Your dick” would be an admission of a small penis or a large penis. Penile hubris is not something colleges look for in their applicants.

So the answer is b) A plank of wood.

Anyway. I haven’t thought about analogies since finishing that test. Until recently, when cats started freaking out about cucumbers. If you haven’t been following the more pressing world news of late, you haven’t heard about the new discovery that cucumbers freak the ever loving shit out of cats.

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The internet was abuzz with thinkpieces as to why this may be (snakes, probably?), subreddits, compilation videos, and pleas to cease the cat torture.

I, however, knew how the cats felt. Not that I have anything against cucumbers, but because a new element has recently been introduced into my life from out of nowhere that has turned me into a gibbering, non-functional mess:

My wedding ring.

I have now been married for two months. The marriage part I quite like. The ceremony was wonderful, the party was great, the honeymoon was a blast, and domestic, married life is pretty chill. But the ring has been a problem since day one. I actually lost sleep the night of the wedding, not because of the excitement or because of nerves about marriage, but because the ring felt impossibly heavy on my finger. I slept weird on my arm for a bit that night, and woke up with pins and needles, and I decided that it was because the ring was cutting off circulation to my entire left side. It was the only new element, it was the only thing that made sense.

The next day, as Steph and I hung out with all of the friends and family who were still in town, I fiddled with it. Every time I did jazz hands (and yes, I do jazz hands regularly), it jangled dangerously, as if it was about to shoot off across the room. One of my friends, who had gotten married five months earlier, said, “Oh yeah. That weirdness hasn’t gone away yet.” Other recently married friends told me that they still fiddle. They spin the ring like it’s a quarter. Others flip them into the air and try to catch them on their finger, a la Lord of the Rings. Others use them as percussion instruments against stone tabletops.

When we went on our honeymoon the next day, I met a man at the resort who said, “You two are newlyweds, right?”

We said yeah and asked how he knew. “Oh, you can always tell,” he said, “The guys are always fiddling with their rings.”

There are several reasons why women don’t do the same thing:

  1. They’ve had their engagement rings on for months now, and thus are used to it.
  2. Women (generally speaking) are more frequent ring-wearers than men, don’t find the feeling as alien.
  3. Their rings are generally lighter.
  4. Women are conditioned to be able to function in mild discomfort: think heels, tight pants, piercings, make-up, bras… men have no such conditioning, and, as such, are babies.

My ring is also a source of deep fear for me. This is because of the ring I bought. It’s a hefty silver thing, and it’s made of tungsten carbide. I got tungsten carbide instead of gold because a gold band costs a couple hundred dollars, while a tungsten carbide ring costs you about $10. Tungsten carbide rings are cheaper than a good craft beer. They’re also stronger than gold. They’re less likely to scratch, they don’t stain, they don’t rust, and they can last a lifetime.

I thought all of this was a good thing, until I started talking to my friends who do manual labor. Or, you know, who work out. “Oh yeah,” they said, “Just don’t break your finger while you’re wearing it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, if you get it caught on something while you’re mowing the lawn or lifting, and it breaks your finger, the doctors won’t be able to cut it off because it’s so strong. So they might have to take off your finger instead.”

Everytime I lift something with the ring, I imagine feeling sudden pressure, a snapping sound, a shooting pain, and then watching the doctors pulling my finger off my hand with a satisfying popping sound, like a cork out of a champagne bottle.

My friend says, “Matt, they’ll probably try to get the swelling down first. Or they’ll just grease your finger before chopping it off.”

“Oh. Right.”

It is this that haunts me. It is this, I assume, that has haunted many men, and has led to their early marriage freak-outs: not, as society assumes, a terror of monogamy or a fear of commitment, but rather the introduction of an ominous alien jewel onto their being. Like cats with cucumbers, we newly married men know that finding something where before there was nothing is a terrifying event indeed.

Why new and improved tampons are all that is wrong with society

A few weeks ago, while writing an article that I assumed no one would ever read and that I was not particularly enjoying writing, I thought to myself, “fuck this shit.” This article was adding no particular benefit to the world, it wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind about anything or make them think. It would be read by a few hundred people tops and then it would be forgotten in the sea of forgotten horseshit that is the internet.

It was kind of a dark day for me. But the thought has stuck with me every time I’ve had to do anything that I’ve thought is stupid or a waste of my time. Drudgery holds no purpose for anyone if there’s no meaningful end to the work. And when I say drudgery, I don’t mean “boring shit.” I once spent an entire day washing beets with a scrub brush and putting them on display. It was mindless work, and it was relatively dull, but there was a purpose: the beets needed to be washed and then people would buy them and eat them. Boom. Done.

On the other hand, I’ve spent days at a time writing bullshit articles, like for the now-defunct site HomesForSaleInPortland.com, HomesForSaleInSantaBarbara.com, and, my masterpiece, HomesForSaleInLubbock.com, in which I just repeated the word “Lubbock” three hundred times and called it “Dada” when my boss asked me what the fuck I was doing. But those sites weren’t actually there to sell any homes. They were squatter sites that we were populating with content in order to sell them to actual realtors in Lubbock, Texas, later on at jacked up prices. I was providing no benefit to the world. I was simply making myself (and my bosses) money.

Take, for example, your average tampon commercial. Now, I don’t use tampons, but I’d imagine at some point, they’ve reached a level of adequate absorbency for all but the most Elevator-at-the-Overlook-Hotel of flows. But there’s a constant tendency in commercials for tampons or Maxipads to show off the “new” technology.

Think about that for a second: if those people aren’t lying about the fact that they’ve innovated the absorbency of their tampons, then some scientist, some engineer, actually designed that extra-absorbent tampon. A scientist. Someone who could be working on the next spacecraft. Instead they’re making tampons that can absorb swimming pools or maxipads that can support bowling balls.

Work that is useless is work that is not worth doing. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t enough work to go around. There’s a pothole near my house that nearly took off a tire. People are constantly littering in our town, and someone needs to pick that up. While we’re hiring litter picker-uppers, we could also be hiring an advertiser who, rather than finding ways to visually demonstrate tampon absorbency, could run a public awareness campaign about the harmfulness of littering, especially in a Shore town.

This hustle for money and benefits and homes and cars that everyone in their late 20s (and, you know, in every other age group) seems to be trapped in is what’s contributing to the problem. We’re so panicky about the state of our finances that we jump at the first job to offer us money rather than taking some time to figure out how we can use our skills to their greatest personal and communal benefit.

I’ve heard the arguments against anti-jobism. “If we didn’t make everyone work, people would goof off and exploit the system. It’s human nature.”

Okay, first off, “It’s human nature,” is not a real argument for anything in the 21st century. Do you think humans were built to sit on sofas and recliners? That their “nature” involves staring at a television or a computer screen all day long? That their nature involves driving goddamn flying machines and automobiles? No, it doesn’t. Human nature originally involved living in trees, flinging poo, and never leaving Africa. None of those three things are part of human nature anymore, except maybe the second one on the occasional Saturday evening.

And second, so what if some people don’t choose to work? Who are we to say that the only way we value another human is if they’re working adequately hard enough? Why is our human dignity predicated on labor?

We’re entering an era where work isn’t going to be necessary — or even available — to everyone anymore. This isn’t a bad thing. Let go of drudgery and meaningless toil. Embrace work that actually matters.

Disclaimer: To my female readers, I’m sorry if you feel that tampon innovations have felt worthwhile over the past few years, and that I, a non-user, am being too glib about them. I probably could’ve used the example of men’s razor innovations just as easily (“Hey guys! What if we added ANOTHER blade?”) but then I wouldn’t have been able to make my awesome Overlook Hotel joke. My integrity only goes as far as the easiest crass joke I can make, and for that, I offer you my sincerest apologies.

Featured photo by Erika Gilraen Loss

Guys: Don’t take your wife’s name. Invent a new one.

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Zoe Saldana’s husband, Marco né Perego Saldana, is catching shit for taking her last name. It’s cool that the guy is taking this step, especially when he’s this prominent of a dude, as it’s kind of a ridiculous tradition that only women must give up their family name upon marriage.

But while it’s a cool feminist gesture for men to take their wife’s name, why should either partner take their partner’s familial name? Isn’t the point of marriage to create a new family? Shouldn’t you create a new name? Don’t you know that all names are made up?

Look: My last name, Hershberger, is not the most sonorous-sounding name on the planet. It’s the sound that would come out of the Swedish Chef’s mouth if he was trying to say say “hurdy-gurdy” while gargling marbles. And its meaning is even less exciting: it means “deer mountain” in German. I fucking hate deer, and the only nice thing I can say about mountains is that they’re a place you can get drunk sometimes. And I’m not worried about being “the last of the Hershberger’s,” because if you’ve ever been to Amish country, you can’t shake a butter churn and not hit a Hershberger.

Steph’s last name is a little nicer sounding: Albanese. But it means “Albanian,” which I’m not.

We’ve toyed briefly with the celebrity moniker Hershbanese (which I actually love), after having thoroughly rejected the Applebee’s special Albaberger, but now, we’re kind of at an impasse. It just seems too silly. We don’t want our kids to have the six-syllable and billion-letter hyphen “Hershberger-Albanese,” but we’re just going to not worry about that for now.

The answer, though, is simple: we should invent something new.

The name “Smith” is an occupational surname for Blacksmiths. They chose to take on that last name, that’s the only reason they’re called that. And the only reason there’s a Smith everywhere is because there had to be a Blacksmith in every town, and apparently a long day of pounding metal makes you DTF.

So why do we cling to these names? They don’t mean that much anymore: I’m German by descent, but I’ve never actually been to Germany and I’ve never danced around a maypole or whatever it Germans do in their spare time, so there’s no reason my last name should be German. It should clearly be American. Rather than trying to absorb my subservient wife into some broad, barely-connected clan of people who like deer and mountains, I should start my own clan. And my clan should be reflective of my family’s character.

Matt BeerKing. Matty Nosocks. Matty Nopants. Matt Naplord. Matt Chucklesworth.

This is just a preliminary brainstorm. Steph probably won’t be on board with the socks one. But the point remains: there’s no reason we shouldn’t be inventing our own names.

Featured photo by Gwen.

The one word we need to ban from politics

I’m trying something new today! My first-ever webcomic. I apologize for the terrible art, but hey, you’ve been putting up with terrible writing for god knows how long, so my guess is you’ll be okay with this. It’s a coincidence, by the way, that the second dude kinda looks like me.

If I could ban one word from politics, it would be:

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Not “hypocrisy.” Not “hypocritical.” Just “hypocrite.” Why, you ask? We are all, after all, very used to this kind of hypocrite:

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Scan 2

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That guy’s a douchebag, right? Why shouldn’t he be called out for being a douchebag? Mostly because we refuse to acknowledge the same in ourselves.

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Scan 7

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For every this dude:

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There’s this dude:

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We’re totally fine with contradiction when it’s within ourselves, but we get shockingly unsympathetic when it’s in others.
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The insane complexity of human existence makes hypocrisy necessary to function on a day-to-day basis. The pure can’t survive in a messy world.

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None of this is to say that hypocrisy is okay. Just because we’re flawed people doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold ourselves to a higher standard and keep working on ourselves. But calling someone else a hypocrite is useless.

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Ultimately, the paradox of the word “hypocrite” is this:

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23 ideas for fixing America’s problems

  1. Change to an “everything is on fire” system.
  2. Everyone chooses to be gay and all the people who aren’t willing to give parenting the time, effort and money required to do in vitro fertilization slowly die out.
  3. Let Kanye get in his zone.
  4. Give every politician a sockful of nickels, send them into the Thunderdome, and whoever comes out is our new overlord.
  5. Institute a parliamentary dictatorship.
  6. We all pretend to understand dogs and then obey what they say.
  7. The Constitution is just the lyrics to “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by Smashing Pumpkins, all up to interpretation by an appointed-for-life Supreme Court.
  8. We all admit the apex of humanity was the “Peanuts” Christmas special and walk hand-in-hand into the sea.
  9. We change our justice system so that if you do anything wrong, Chris Pratt refuses to give you a good night hug.
  10. We play the “Chariots of Fire” theme until everyone kills themselves.
  11. We convert the entire country into a laser tag course and have some fun while the world collapses around us.
  12. Make bodily fluids the only currency. Solve income inequality forever.
  13. White men only get to speak when spoken to.
  14. Require every cable news channel to always carry a picture-in-picture box featuring hardcore pornography so everyone either watches something else or watches it for much more noble reasons.
  15. Massive, mandatory, worldwide orgy to blow off all the sexual tension.
  16. Everyone over the age of 10 is executed, everyone under 10 is allowed to grow up. Economy presumably becomes centered around bringing back Dinosaurs and finally inventing a working Iron Man suit.
  17. We all unite to fight the one true common enemy: mosquitoes.
  18. Just shrug and give all the money to the Koch Brothers. They want it the most, anyway.
  19. Play Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” on loop until every male dies of prolonged, throbbing erections. Women are now totally in charge.
  20. We force Y to always be a vowel.
  21. Rename every world capital “Bonetown.” Everyone is at least clear on what goes on there.
  22. Awake Cthulhu.
  23. Create a new law where you’re forbidden to buy a product if you think that the CEO of the company that makes the product is kind of a dick.

Featured photo: Judy Van Der Velden

Don’t Be A Dick: “I’m not a dickpuncher, but…”

GUYS, SERIOUSLY. I’M NOT A BAD PERSON. I don’t go around punching dicks all the time, okay? Dickpunching is wrong, and I think that it’s good that we’re fighting our country’s long, sad history of punching people in the dick. I know a lot of people who have been punched in the dick, and I genuinely feel bad for them and I see where they’re coming from when they say we should be fighting harder as a society against penile pugilism. I get that.

All I’m saying is this: I understand why people punch dicks. I don’t approve of it, but I understand it. I understand that some people maybe kinda sorta deserve to be punched in the dick. I understand that maybe if you’re going around having a dick and just flailing it around, that maybe you’re asking for it to be punched. Maybe don’t dress in a way that shows off the fact that you have a dick if you don’t want it to get punched. Maybe — just maybe — it’s on you a little bit.

I know! I know! If I had a son and he got punched in the dick, I would be devastated. Devastated. But the reality is that my son lives in a world that is just teeming with wangsmacking weirdos. That’s a reality, guys. That’s a fact. And all the liberal do-goodery in the world isn’t going to change that fact. There will always be people out there who think it’s hilarious watching bros get cockclocked. Do I like it? No. But that’s the way it is. So I’m gonna teach my boy how to protect himself. I’m gonna show him how to dress appropriately when walking home alone at night: tight briefs and baggy shorts. Change up which thigh it’s laying against. Walk to the other side of the street when someone with their fists out of their pockets is approaching.

I’m not saying it’s his fault if it happens. But he’ll know what he could’ve done to prevent it.

And look: maybe, just maybe, it’s my right as an American, goddammit, to go online and watch videos of guys getting punched in the dick. Maybe that’s a matter of free speech, and maybe free speech is something we should value more than the feelings of the dickpunched.

And I don’t see the problem anyway, as long as I know it’s consensual and no one in the situation is in any real danger. And if it’s a cartoon? All bets are off. It’s not real life. It’s a cartoon, goddammit, I know the difference between cartoons and reality.

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Hahahaha! Right? Oh, lighten the fuck up, it was made in a different time.

No! I don’t think this stuff creates a culture where dickpunching is tacitly accepted. That’s ridiculous. You know whose fault it is if young girls watch this and grow up into pudpummeling thugs? The parents. Maybe if their mothers were at home instead of out prowling the streets with wiffle bats coated in IcyHot these girls would learn how to behave.

And as far as the military goes, I’m sorry, but that’s just the price you have to pay for a secure America. You knew the risks going into the military: it’s a culture of a lot of young, estrogen-fueld women who are amped up from the rush of battle, and they’re gonna come back and want to blow off some steam. I’m not saying it’s right that they blow of steam by punching the young male soldiers in the dick, I’m just saying, y’know, what did we really expect? I mean, have you seen a dick in uniform? Just… wow. It’s like you’re putting a goddamn speed bag in front of them and saying “don’t touch.”

Yeah. Just like that. Except the bag's a dick.

Yeah. Mmm. Just like that. Except the bag’s a dick.

Like I said: I’m not a dickpuncher. But this is just the world we live in. It’s a dickpunching world. It’s always been a dickpunching world. It’s always gonna be a dickpunching world. Nothing’s ever going to change that.

On another not, have you seen the video of the One Direction guy getting hit in the nuts?

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Hilarious.

How Hulu taught me to hate

I fucking hate Goose Island IPA. I’ve never actually had Goose Island IPA (although, as an IPA-hater, I’m pretty sure I’d hate it), but I have watched shows on Hulu for the last couple of months. Hulu, for those of you who aren’t aware, is a streaming television service much like Netflix. You pay a similar amount and you get to watch a bunch of TV shows and movies on demand. The difference is that Hulu, unlike Netflix, does not put your money towards not showing you commercials. Instead, they have short commercial breaks.

Which I’m fine with. Honestly. Advertisements are evil and the advertising industry has swallowed the better creative minds of the last several generations in the name of selling Maxipads, but whatever. You gotta get your name out there. I get it.

Hulu, though, plays the same commercials. Over. And over. And over again. Like this Goose Island IPA commercial.

Let me break this down line-by-line.

“This is a brewery.”

Translation: You’re a fucking idiot.

“This is Goose IPA. We brew it with these hops.”

I don’t care. Oreos don’t insist I know where the creme filling comes from. And you know what? I don’t want to know. Because if they don’t tell me where it comes from, I can imagine that it comes from someplace delicious, like ground-up Leprechaun bones or Angel semen. In reality, the Oreo filling probably comes from something much sadder, like ground up baby harp seal bones. But me and Oreo have a tacit understanding: don’t ask. Don’t tell.

“But hops don’t grow in Chicago. So we go to Elk Mountain Farms. It’s beautiful. You won’t find a better place to grow hops. Or a better guy to grow them.”

I’m not looking for a better place to find hops. That’s your dumb job. I hope Elk Mountain turns out to be a dormant supervolcano and it destroys the world. Then you’ll feel like an asshole. And who’s the fuck’s the guy that grows them? He’s not mentioned for the rest of the commercial. This isn’t a goddamn Oscar speech. You can leave the thank-you’s out of the script.

“Great hops make a great IPA. Judges at the Great American beer festival agree.”

Really? Is that what they said in giving you your goddamn awards? “This beer was shit, but the hops were so good that the beer became good too! Thank god for those hops!”

“Goose IPA.”

Wait. Wait. What the fuck was that? Why did that guy just do a “How you doin'” face at a goddamn cat?

THAT. THAT. WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?

“We don’t want to be the only beer you drink.”

I… uhh… were we all assuming that’s what this was about? That you were commanding us to drink your beer and only your beer for eternity? And now you’re conceding, “Hey, it’s okay! You can drink other things! We totally won’t murder you in your sleep after fucking your cat if you drink other beers than ours.

“We just want to be the best beer you drink.”

I’m sorry, the only way that would be possible is if you were also the only beer I drank.

“We are Goose Island.”

Ugh. I don’t care who you are.

I don’t want to single out Goose Island.1 But this is what happens when you play commercials over and over again, Hulu. It goes from, “Oh, that looks neat,” to “OH MY GOD HOW CAN I MURDER EVERYTHING SO THIS STOPS?”

So throw Goose Island’s dumb, weird, cat-rapey IPA on my list of “do not buy” products, right alongside Skyn condoms, Mountain Dew Kickstart, and Coke at McDonald’s.


1. I absolutely want to single out Goose Island.