Friday, May 30, 2014

Why I Was Sterilized

A few months back I celebrated the first anniversary of having undergone a vasectomy.  As with most other major life decisions—especially those concerning one’s reproductive capability—it was not one arrived at by myself lightly nor without generous aforethought and introspective contemplation.  To proactively, and permanently, remove my ability to procreate was a decision many years in the making.  To date, only a select few close friends and associates have known about my decision, and I have now opted to elucidate, for a broader audience, some of the reasons why—if for no other motive than in the hopes that I might counsel others who wish not to bear children in their lives that the decision to become sterilized is neither “selfish” nor deserving of the harsh, indignant light of a society that bears down unfairly upon the single and the childless, of which I am (unapologetically) both.

I fully realize that many of you will not agree with me or my decision.  Some of you may not understand; others may even condemn.  But I ask only that you keep in mind one basic premise: My reproductive life is my own destiny to make as a please, up to and including not reproducing. 

How I arrived at the decision:

I’ve known pretty much since age 26 or 27 that I did not ever want to have children.  At that time I was in a long-term relationship with a woman a decade my senior.  Of all the many, many problems she and I had, the specific issue of procreation was, thankfully, not one of them.  She too had never been married and had no children, nor desired to bear any.  When weighing the pros and cons of the two of us “going the distance,” having kids never once entered into the equations, which was a blessing given the rapidly shrinking window of her reproductive years. 

The terminus of that relationship—my first, and to date, my only long-term—is now more than half a decade in the past.  There has not been any feeling of reversal in the intervening years as to my own wish to remain childless.  In all of my dating life since then, I have become even more comfortable being upfront with such information with new partners.  There are 6 billion people in the world; there’s always someone else who will be a better fit for me (and for you). 

As my thirties have ground on, I toyed more and more with the notion of cutting off the little swimmers permanently.  Since I did not wish to have kids, and since that would be a necessary dealbreaker for many potential future relationships, why not just cut off the tadpoles at the source and live my life as I wished on the course I chose?  That way, moving forward in my sexual life, I could engage safely in healthy, adult, consensual activity with theoretical future long-term partners without the fear of inadvertent conception.  (However, I cannot stress enough the importance of continuing to engage in safe sex even once you’re sterile as STDs await the careless and the foolish!)

The older I’ve gotten, the less and less I like children in general.  While many of my friends and relatives have wonderful little ones whom I love to make funny voices for, ply with sugar and caffeine and them tell them to leave their toys where their parents are sure to step on them, I also like handing them back when posterior aromas arise, when they start crying or when I’d simply rather return to engaging in adult interaction.  I actually get a kick out of being Cool Uncle Eric, the adult who will act like a doofus for them and let them do (almost) anything and let them run hog-wild and have fun before returning them to their rightful owners for deprogramming.  Frankly, after a few hours of being the goofy chaperone, I’m pretty beat.

Which transitions nicely into my next point.  Parenting is a 24/7/365 job, without break or respite.  Once you have children, it’s rather difficult to turn them back in like library books—or to even catch a break for a few hours.  Your life is no longer your own.  Which, obviously, is the way it ought to be: Children should be the primary focus for parents.  It’s a major, major responsibility, and my hat is off to anyone who can do it or who has done it.

Or who even wishes to.    

Furthermore, I’m not getting any younger.  I’m 35 now, and some days even eight hours of sleep still isn’t enough.  I don’t advise bearing children in your twenties (certainly not in your teens!), but on the other hand, I totally understand how those who bear children later in life tend to have more lackadaisical parenting styles.  (This is especially true of folks with multiple kids and for whom the youngest, the baby, is typically afforded a do-what-you-want modus.)  I can’t imagine tending an infant as I approach 40, let alone a toddler in my mid-forties, who will then be a teen when I’m in my fifties.  At that point I think I’ll be far too busy pondering why my friends have started dying (oh, wait, they already have!!!) and how I’m going to survive the ever-growing gap between rich and poor to give full attention to the next generation.

Furthermore, I dislike interacting with children for the same reason that I don’t enjoy interfacing with adults lacking in conversational abilities.  There’s a wonderful quote from Oscar Wilds that a bore is “someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship.”  Kids can’t hold down a real conversation precisely because they’re kids and they haven’t yet achieved a level of maturity for a give-and-take, balanced conversation.  Just as with any other life skill, conversing at a mature level requires both age and experience.  Sadly, I’ve run into far too many adults who suffer from this very same deficit.  You know the type: that guy who can’t stop talking about his Saran-Wrap collection and his idiot coworkers and who never pauses long enough to catch a breath, let alone to ask you about even a simple question about your life and invariably returns the focus to himself.  At least children have the excuse that they don’t yet have the skills to engage in proper discourse, but I fear that far too many of them will just grow up to be adults who never STFU either.  To quote George Carlin, “God, people are fucking boring!”

I have to interact with too many adults who are terrible conversants just in the course of getting through my day.  One reason I remain single is I suffer fools insufferably—combined with my ADD, a non-engaging conversant will bore me faster than a toaster infomercial marathon at three in the morning.  Therefore, I choose to subject myself to the vagaries of child-prattle as seldom as possible.  My time and my sanity are important to me, even if they aren’t to your children. 

So that’s more or less the how I came to decide to get snipped: I don’t want kids of my own because I don’t wish for the responsibility, the investment, the encroachment upon my lifestyle nor for their incessant, infantile drivel.  And I already feel I’m too old. 

Now I shall turn to the why I got it done.

The onus for contraception falls unfairly on women

Women have to carry a developing humanoid to term for nearly a year and then suffer the birthing process; men only need fire off their baby gravy and walk away.  That’s a pretty shitty deal in the mammalian sweepstakes, and I don’t pretend for a second that it’s in any way equitable in terms of the biological investment between the genders. 

It’s little wonder then that medicine has sought ways to “solve” the conundrum of contraception through such female-centric options as the Pill, the Patch, hormone injections, etc.  To use a hockey analogy, with nine players all fighting to fire into a single goal, it make more sense to protect the goal itself rather than to try to individually block—or kill—all of the players.  (Although, depending on the metaphorical men in question, eradication might be far more preferable.)  Barrier methods such as condoms also follow this strategy of stopping sperm from meeting ovum. 

But let’s get real: What men have to do to avoid conception versus what women do is terrifically unbalanced.  I think if guys had to take a pill every day that fucked up their dicks and made them moody and gave them weight fluctuations, they’d be far more sympathetic in this regard.  Some women don’t or can’t utilize birth control for various individual biological reasons, and yet the question is always asked: “Are you on the pill?”  No one ever asks a male: “Hey, are you sterilized?” 

To date, no male birth control pill has been successfully brought to market by Big Pharma.  But were such an option available when I started becoming sexually active, I would have absolutely taken it.  (One scare was enough, thank you very much, Crazy Lady From Orange County.) 

The burden for birth control has been, to date, unfairly placed on women due to a combination of sex-specific reproductive specialization, economics, varying—and largely sexist and/or misogynistic—societal mores and medicine.  So, in my own small, insipid way, getting sterilized was my gesture of evening out the playing field, however slightly. 

It’s my little way of saying, “I’m with you, girls.” 

It’s cheap

Best $30 I ever spent.  Yes, thirty dollars!  My insurance company required only that I fork over two copays to consult with a urologist and then for him to perform the procedure.  The remaining two grand was paid for thanks to the “good people” of Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Thirty dollars for a lifetime of not having to worry about impregnation.  (To be fair, it’s not like I’m saving money on prophylactics.)

Since I wish to avoid inducing nausea, I will skip over the particulars of the actual surgery itself, for which I was fully awake and had only a local anesthetic.  (I have a rather high tolerance for pain, but until given an extra shot or two directly into my business, I thought I might actually vomit the pain was so intense.  As I have a slight background in medicine and am far from squeamish, I intended to watch the procedure, but the pain associated with the surgery prior to the extra dose of anesthetic usurped this plan.  Thank God for my view being blocked.)    

It’s reversible

If the zombie apocalypse arrives and I’m one of the last men on earth, recanalization is medically possible…for a price, of course (but frankly, I’d still rather let the human race perish).  When I first inquired of my insurance company as to if the vasectomy would be covered under my policy—which it was—they made sure to repeat and then repeat and then repeat again that a future reversal would be entirely out of my own pocket to the tune of $50,000 or more.  (I had to sign several documents indicating I understood what I was getting into.) 

That’s like buying a tricycle but then deciding you’d rather have a Porsche. 

Sorry, but no woman, nor any theoretical future child of mine, is worth that kind of investment.

Poor people have absolutely no business having children

For the lion’s share of my post-college life, I have either been completely broke, just about broke or slightly above broke but for a year or two.  At the time of this writing, I live paycheck to paycheck and am once again seeking a second job at a restaurant just to make ends meet.  (I don’t even have furniture in my place yet.)  That basically covers my bills every month but not groceries nor paying off my debts.  To bring a little human into that equation would be the apogee of folly for I would be fiscally unable to provide for it. 

I’m fairly egalitarian in most of my views, but on procreating, I firmly believe that you shouldn’t have kids until you’re financially able to support them.  Sociologists have studied why the poor seem to have more children than they can care for, which include income and class disparity, lack of education, prevailing social attitudes as to a woman’s “proper place” and a whole host of other social and economic factors.  I’m fortunate that I grew up in a fairly comfortable middle-class situation and was blessed with a first-rate secondary and high school education that included comprehensive sex education.  However, this did not change the fact that, as an English major who entered the workforce as the bubble burst in 2000, I was all but assured a difficult professional vocational road.  Furthermore, I’ve been through not less than five layoffs in my career, so even my East Coast German work ethic hasn’t helped stem the vagaries of the economy, over which I have no control. 

Sometimes working hard just isn’t enough. 

And so I’ve eked out a fairly lower-middle-class living in the 14 years since graduating college.  At times I couldn’t even feed myself, let alone a partner, and certainly not a child or children (plural). 

Government help exists for a reason, but wouldn’t getting sterilized be a lot cheaper?

I’m just sayin’. 

Kids have everything, including fucking Vegas!

American culture is so high on children that even Las Vegas, that last bastion of sin and vice, has made a stab at being “family-friendly” for the better part of 15 years.  I was in Vegas recently for a conference, and if there’s one place in the world where I do NOT want to be tripping over little monsters, it’s Sin City.  The Disney empire was built specifically for and by you, with finely overpriced destinations in California and Florida for your saccharine, sanitized fun and view of life.  Please take your little shits there, and leave me Gomorrah

People with kids never shut up about their fucking kids

The vast, vast majority of my friends and colleagues who have children are amazing parents.  Every time I visit them and see how hard they have to work not just to pay bills like I do but also to tend and care for their progeny, I continue to be impressed.  It requires a level of fortitude and thanklessness that I find to be frankly miraculous.

But it’s just not me.

One of my absolute biggest resentments about the child-worship society is when someone I have never met before, within 30 seconds of being introduced, whips out their phone to show me pictures of their little Mini-Me’s. 

Now I must explain, there are instances of social necessity when politeness must trump my personal ire.  For instance, if my boss were to show me pictures of his or her family, I must, of course, smile and nod if in fact I wish to keep my job.  But that is about the only time when it is acceptable for someone outside of my circle of friends, family and associates where I will blow smoke up someone’s ass regarding photos of their children.  When I see photographs and images of my friends’ children, my reaction and smiles are genuine—the sheer joy that I see on the faces of my friends makes me joyful precisely because I know they are happy, and I know that they are providing loving homes for their little ones, to the mutual joy of all.  They’re the “good ones.”  And again, because they are my friends, I want to show interest in their lives, which includes their jobs, their ambitions, and yes, their spouses and children. 

The thing is, I have nothing to add quid pro quo in such conversations; I can’t whip out my phone and show my friends pics of my spouse or children.  (I don’t even have pets!)  This goes back to the phenomenon of adult conversation: Just because something is interesting to you does not mean it will interest me—and vice versa.  So sure, let’s talk about your kids for a few minutes, but then let’s move the conversation on to something of more mutual interest.  This is how a real conversation is, or how it should be.  You ask me questions, I ask you questions.  We discuss things we have in common as well as the uniqueness of our respective lives, even though such may be less than fascinating to the other.  Because that’s what friends do.  That’s what being adult and being polite is about.  It’s how mature people engage in verbal intercourse.  I’ll listen to almost anything a good friend has to tell me because he or she is my friend.  I expect the same in return.

But if you are not my friend, if you are not my boss, or if you are not my family, I could not care less about your kids, especially if we have literally just met for the first time.  So a few years back I instituted a new policy: If, within the first few minutes of meeting me, you show me pictures of your children, then I in turn will take out my phone and show you a dirty photo.  If you’re shocked at this, my reasoning goes as follows:

You didn’t ask to see a pornographic photo, just like I didn’t ask to see pictures of your little poop machines.  And speaking candidly, I find your assumption that I would even want to to be as offensive as you find the smutty selfies that various women have sexted me over the years. 

So there.

“I’m tired of selfish men”

When I first moved to Illinois in December of last year I was talking with a gal through a dating site.  We had great chemistry and were set up for a first meeting when she asked me about kids.  When I informed her that I would not be procreating, she said (reasonably) that we should probably not go any farther as that was an absolute dealbreaker for her. 

Fair enough.  I’m not going to lead anyone on nor misrepresent my intentions and desires.  I don’t believe in lying to women just to get laid—honesty is the correct path, always.  So I texted back to say I completely understood and wished her well. 

This was her exact response:

“I’m just so tired of selfish men.”

OK, now you’ve picked a fight, honey!  Firstly, the lady in question was an attorney, who thus should know better than to apply ad hominem attacks in her argument.  Heretofore, she had apparently found me nothing but charming and pleasant.  Now I’m suddenly selfish?

To her credit, she later apologized for the remark, which was rather big of her.  But then she said something even stranger:

“I just think it’d be so great to see kids all excited on Christmas morning.”

That’s quite a massive investment of time, money and energy into raising another human being for the incredible minor flash memory of Junior beaming when he unwraps his Tonka Truck the morning of December Twenty-Five.  Her remark also perfectly illustrates yet another reason why I find it difficult to relate to would-be parents: They seem to focus solely on hyper-specific theoretical positive future moments rather than the massively inordinate difficulties that befall even the most well-meaning, well-prepared, well-heeled and even-keeled parents.  (To wit, I have a friend who beams himself into a future of watching Predator with his son someday, but I always ponder how disappointing it might be if Movie Geek Jr. said, “Daddy, this movie really sucks!”  His entire reason for parenting would suddenly be entirely nil.)  No one ever seems to take into account the fact that for every jovial Christmas morning, there will be the death of a grandparent, the loss of a favorite toy, Fluffy getting run over by the UPS van, chicken pox, measles, puberty, truancy, failing tests, experimentation with drugs and sex, fights, bullying, college funds and the normal bad choices that young people make throughout adolescence and beyond.

And that’s if everything is NORMAL!

No one wants to believe that they might actually be disappointed in their children either. Every hypothetical progeny is always the golden child, the honor roll student, captain of the chess and football teams, the valedictorian at Harvard, Hercules unto earth. 

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the only thing that doesn’t lie is numbers.  Most children born today will be nothing but average wage-earners…just like me.  While I’d love to wax about what phenomenal accomplishments I’ve made, the truth is, mostly through my own choices and despite constant striving, I’ve led a decidedly lower-middle-class life punctuated by periods of poverty.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love love LOVE my life and would rather have it than anyone else’s, but I’m fairly certain that when I was a wee lad, my parents had visions of me being a successful something rather than a wage-earning what-I-am.  Sure, they tell me constantly that they’re proud of me, but I’m part of the first generation in a century where the children actually did worse than their parents.  My generation has far more qualified, college-educated people than ever before competing for fewer and fewer jobs.  More and more people are being added to the planet every year, which will only increase the competition for economic and biological resources. 

To put it another way, the future, as now, will feature a kakistocric oligarchy of the superrich robber-barons and everyone else.  The media has people believing that we’ll will be rich someday, but it’s just not true and flies in the face of all economic theory and principles.  Most of us, college-educated or not, will be clock-punchers.  I’ve done every menial job you can think of and then some.  I never thought I’d work at a restaurant at age 35 after doing so at ages 26 and 16, but that’s life, and I’m not ashamed of it. 

My point is only that the “narrative” that people create about their progeny, whether theoretical or actual, will be far disparate from the realities of the life that actually awaits. 

No one ever said, “I really hope my kid is an average wage-earner someday.”  Welcome to the real world; enjoy your stay.

So if anything, in response to the Lawyer’s admonition as to my being selfish, I would retort that my desire to remain childless is anything but selfish.  One less person in the world means (slightly) more resources for everyone else.  If you multiplied that by millions of others, then the 21st century population bomb might not be so incredibly scary to behold. 

Finally, I don’t need a little Mini-Me to validate my own existence.  I’m fine with it as it is and don’t need the ego stroke of my genes continuing on beyond my own existence. 

This “selfish man” sleeps soundly at night without crying emanating from the next room, thank you very much. 

But someday I’ll get a cat. 

I’d be an absolutely terrible father

You know that bumbling dad on most sitcoms who really doesn’t give a shit about his kids but is kind of stuck in a marriage he can’t fathom with a woman he can’t stand just because he knocked her up during a one-night stand?  The guy who would rather watch bowling on TV than hear about the day you had at school (think Al Bundy)?  That would be me.  I work all day, and most of the folks I encounter in the world make me want to vomit up shit on a near-constant basis, so having to come home and hear high-pitched, squeaky voices clamoring “Daddy, daddy!” doesn’t put a smile on my face; it makes me wish, in this particular phantasm, to be back at the office staring at the laser beams emanating from the copy machine. 

Furthermore, I’m impatient, frequently forgetful, often inattentive and insensitive to the needs of others, and enjoy noise and silence in precise alterations too much to have my little bulwark against the world invaded by ankle-biters.  Furthermore, I like to drink prodigiously, be out until the small hours, swear a great deal and watch violent movies that have lots of nudity.  I’m not giving that up for anyone.  And I’m certainly not spending my wakeaday hours watching the same five animated movies with Junior.

If you don’t want to see tits, my advice is to stay away from my home.  There will be no “family-friendly” section in my Blu-Ray library unless it specifically involves more advanced fare like Mary Poppins


I make no bones about the fact that I suffer from anxiety and depression, for which I am medicated and have achieved a more even-keeled existence over the past few years.  Not only that, but to no one’s surprise at all, I was diagnosed as ADD when I was nine, for which I was also medicated.  All such conditions have a high concordance for being passed on between the generations.  Furthermore, cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis and senility run high on both sides of my family.  As do alcohol abuse and Germanic screaming matches. 

My cutting sense of humor would hardly balance out the darker side of that potential genetic stew.

No kid is going to out-me me

“I see so much of myself in Junior,” goes the common refrain.  Some people think it’s cute, but it’s not so to me. 

I don’t want to see a little bit of myself in a little human being.  I’m all me, and frankly that’s all the world will ever need.  Period. 

“My kids are my world…”

Ugh, if I have to hear or read this tired bromide just one more time on a dating website, I’m going to burn down the nearest McDonald’s Playplace a la The Wicker Man.  OF COURSE your kids are your fucking world, dipshit!  It’s like saying aloud that you need oxygen, water and food to survive.  It’s a given and need not be repeated. 

I think the reason that so many people say aloud how much they looooooooove their kids is that deep down, they’re actually trying to convince not me but rather themselves of the fact.  I believe this actually presents an existential crisis for some parents: All those lost hours of sleep, lost time, money spent and countless sacrifices made for the sake of the offspring must, surely must, be for something.  No one wants to believe that they’re bad parents or that they didn’t do a good job of raising a child.  Or that having the child cut off so many other potential paths.  And so they talk themselves into a self-reinforcing schema that because their kids are their “world,” that it was all worth it. 

Even if it wasn’t. 

Maybe it really was all a major mistake.  Imagine looking at yourself in the mirror, hating being a parent, but being stuck with the duty.  While I no in any way advocate for such a course of action, I can actually understand when mothers or fathers simply vanish into the ether one day without a trace.  It’s a way of fallaciously trying to reclaim the carefree days of yore, which are gone forever.  (My siblings and I have discussed how our father seems to be engaging in revisionist history about our childhoods, when he seemed so frequently to be cranky and annoyed with us but now talks glowingly of what “enchanting” kids we were.) 

I actually think I’d have a lot more respect for a lot of parents if they just came out and said something to the effect of, “You know, my kids are a royal pain in the ass and they cost me a fortune and they annoy me almost all of the time, but I’m kind of stuck with em and so I do the best I can and we manage to actually have some pretty good times together.”  If I saw that on a woman’s dating profile, that type of honesty might catch my attention—certainly my respect.

A little while back I was visiting with a friend from high school, who took me on a tour of his adopted Southern hometown.  In one of the more awesome soliloquies on the subject of parenting I have yet witnessed, my friend let loose with the following:

“Kids ruin everything.  They ruin your house, they ruin your marriage, they ruin your body, they ruin your sleep, they ruin your bank account.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but if I had it to do all over again, I’d just be one of those assholes.”

To this I had but one response: silent respect. 

OK, two responses, the second of which was turning to my friend, a wicked smile upon my lips, and the retort, “I am one of those assholes.”

I love being that species of childless asshole who does what he wants when he wants and with whom he chooses and without regard for little humans under my care.  I am not at all interested in trading off. 

What if you meet the love of your life and she wants kids but you don’t?

I find this question to be extremely presumptuous.  Firstly, it assumes right away that I am immediately in the wrong for not wanting kids, a prejudice which I am working hard to fight at every available opportunity.  Secondly, I would turn this query upon its head: What if she meets me but I don’t want to have kids?  Why is it automatically assumed that the male in question must make the sacrifice in this particular equation? 

I believe firmly that people should stick to their convictions, including—and especially—where procreation is concerned.  Compromising my decision for the sake of an “ideal” mate would—while ostensibly romantic—ultimately doom not only my partnership/marriage but also the psychological well-being of my theoretical children.  The day would come when this alternate-universe EFA looked down upon his children, whom he never wanted to have in the first place but for the sake of “winning” their mother, and realize that the trade-off was not worth it.  The marriage would suffer and ultimately end, resulting in yet another broken home.

Compromise is a good thing, and it’s what all relationships are ultimately built upon, but when it comes to the issues of procreation, there can be no such thing when one partner wishes strongly to have children and the other does not.  It is best for both persons—and for the sake of any theoretical offspring—to part company and/or just be friends. 

The good news is that there are many, many potential mates for both those who wish to have children and those who do not.  I thought I was the “only one,” but in the course of my interactions with friends, colleagues and others, I find there are more and more of “us” who wish to purposely remain childless.  There’s someone for me other than the ad hominem Lawyer out there. 

As there is for you.  You don’t ever have to “settle” on this issue.  Ever.

Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?

By even the most conservative estimates, raising a child from birth to age 18 costs roughly in the neighborhood of $250,000.  That’s right, a quarter of a million smackers just to get them to voting age.  This doesn’t take into account college and the inevitable “helping out” that even the most independently minded among us need from time to time in college and entering young adulthood (or beyond).  Worst job market in a generation, and many of my gen have had to move home at one point or another (myself included).  A parent’s duty doesn’t end the day you turn 18; it’s a lifelong ride not just of finances, but of guidance in one form or another.

But back to the monetary issue.  By not having the responsibility/necessitating of spending a quarter mil on one—or several times that for each ensuing unit dropped—I will have built up a pretty decent nest egg for my retirement years.  No, I may not have my disappointment-of-a-son there to help me get into my adult diapers, but with the cash saved by not procreating, I can afford hospice care and the best damn drugs money can buy (legal or otherwise).

Also, frankly, I don’t plan to live long enough to become senile.  I’ll take any disease you can throw at me, but as soon as I start to lose my marbles, my personality, what makes me uniquely me, just take me out back of the barn and put a bullet in my skull just like they did to Candy’s dog in Of Mice and Men.  People who want to live to a “ripe old age” typically do so to ensure that their “legacy” is intact with grandchildren. 

You can burn it all ten minutes after I’m gone. 

Except for my writing, that is.    

There are too many of us already

By even the most conservative estimates, the population of Planet Earth will top 11 billion by 2050.  Eleven billion!!!!  Aside from the obvious facts of an ever-increasing populace competing for fewer and fewer resources, the effects of the biosphere and overcrowding, my choice to not have kids will, ultimately (and sadly) not make much of a difference in the grand scheme. 

But I know I’m not the only one.  I know there are more like me out there (I’ve met you!) who also wish to remain childless and do their part for the greater part of humanity and the planet’s health in general.  You’re not alone; I’m one of you!

And you know what, if I’m ever saddled with the notion of wishing to shepherd a young person to adulthood, I could always adopt.  Nurture is often as important—or more so—than nature.  Consider how many children grow up unplanned and unwanted.  They could use good homes too.  I’m not only pro-choice, I’m also pro-adoption rather than pro-creating.  You can still be a parent without being a biological gamete-spreader.  Consider giving an unwanted child a home instead. 

For ’tis better for one child to be born into absolute love than for a million children to be born into absolute apathy.  (You can quote me on that.)

Aren’t you worried about disappointing your parents?

In a word, no.  Next question.

What about continuing your “legacy”?

When I was in the Australian Outback in 2011, I learned that that Aborigines have a vastly different approach to death than do we here in the West (or the Far East, for that matter).  When a member of the tribe dies, the elders order a week of mourning, whereupon the tribespeople wail and moan, some even cutting open their flesh to allow the grief to “flow out” of their bodies.  When the tribe elders declare the period of mourning over, the deceased is never mentioned or spoken about again.  As a nomadic hunter-gatherer people, where all that matters is the next supply of food and shelter against the Outback’s unforgiving landscape, climate and dangerous fauna, such luxuries as lineage and legacy simply have no place in the continued health of the tribe.  (Even more existentially devastating, if a member of the tribe is injured too egregiously, even if young, he or she is tied to a tree and left behind so as not to hinder the clan’s survival.) 

In the visitor center for the famous Ayers Rock—which the Aborigines call Uluru—photos of the dead are covered over so as not to offend the Aboriginal sensibilities.  In fact, such is the Aboriginal preoccupation with leaving the past and the dead behind that movies and television shows broadcast throughout Australia are preceded by a warning message that the program “may feature deceased Aborigines,” so that any who are watching can change the channel in time lest they see a deceased tribesman. 

Such a view of death is about as striking a counterpoint as one could imagine from American and Eastern traditions especially, where people are taught to revere their ancestors and their heritage and to pass on the traditions and names of those who came before unto posterity.  Hearing how the Aboriginal Australians deal with the inevitability of death hit something of a nerve in my being.  All around me I see people obsessed with their “footprint” and what they leave behind for their inheritors.  As no one shall pick up for me when I’m gone, I almost want my leavetaking from this mortal coil to be along the lines of the Outback style.  I wish for no public funeral, no wailing over my corpse, no Bible verses, no stone marking where my bones resideth.  I want it to be just like when I go off on a walk or a drive without telling anyone where I’m going or when I’ll be back.  

My epitaph can be short and simple:

“EFA has gone for a walk”

Or, “Here layeth EFA, the porn guy

While such is my wish for my physical body, since I’m a writer, which of necessity requires a tremendously portioned ego, it’s only my hope that when I’m gone, my “work” might help out future persons possibly not yet born.  The words, the ideas, are what’s far more important from our ancestors than their physical remains—or their lines.  Maybe I’ll leave something behind for the greater knowledge and edification of humanity…or maybe my oeuvre will be forgotten ten minutes after I’m gone. 

It’s out of my control.  And I won’t be around to know it anyway. 

I’d rather live my life while I’m alive than worry about a future I can never experience.  

Guns, Germs & Steel

I’m an unapologetic misanthrope, which means that while I am incredibly fond of a great many individual persons, I am incredibly cynical about people.  Since the dawn of our species, and especially since the advent of civilization, homo sapien has found more and more reasons to slaughter one another in ever-faster fashions.  Think about it: The technology to wipe out every single living thing on Earth in seconds is now almost a century old!  We’d been working up to the splitting of the atom for thousands of years as the ultimate weapon.  The fact that no nuclear devices have been used in war for seventy years is, frankly, astonishing. 

Oh, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t tried to end humankind time and again throughout our history.  Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs & Steel, explains, in excruciatingly candid and researched detail, why Eurasian peoples were able to conquer almost all of the known world over the past three millennia and how, on a long enough time scale, we’ll eventually wipe each other out completely.  No culture or microculture in the world is without its bloody history of exterminating enemies.  The only difference in the 21st century is that genocide tends to be frowned upon, and it happens simulcast on the Internet instead of in books written years or even centuries after the fact.  Nowadays the bloodthirsty ways of our species are on CNN. 

There have been, on average, nearly two wars going every year since recordkeeping began.  Humanity has never been without war and never will be.  These figures don’t even take into account violence committed for personal gain and/or psychopathic reasons and not in the name of the state.  We’ve been killing each other for a long, long, long time.  We’re quite good at it.  And no conflict in history has ever halted wars.  A century ago this year began the Great War in Europe, foolishly misnomered as the “War to End All Wars.” 

It’s not going to get better.  With more of us, no matter how “civilized” we’ve become over the centuries, more wars are inevitable, especially as resources become scarcer and the populations grow larger.  To say nothing of the rape of the environment and the holocaust of the world’s biosphere and species at our hands. 

Why would I elect, purposely, to continue this farce?  To unleash upon the planet another carbon-producing, resource-taking, polluting unit?  To continue on our species’ sad, violent legacy? 

The answer is simple: I shan’t.  My part in the tragedy that is the human chapter on Planet Earth ends with me.  I wouldn’t dream of bringing children or grandchildren into a world where the oceans are dead, the rainforests are gone, murder in the name of religion remains a way of life and most people can’t even point to their home city on a map. 

Silence is assent; I choose dissention.  My theoretical descendants, if they ever existed, would thank me.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hymns for the Fallen

A few weeks ago I pitched the culture editor at my new employer, The Washington Times, about doing a story on the National Memorial Day Choral Festival, in which I had the rare opportunity to sing this past Sunday thanks to my friend and fellow USC Men's Chorus alum, Dan, who works for MCI out of Phoenix.  It was a very fine concert, and an even finer way for someone like myself--who never served in the armed forces--to honor all of those living and deceased who have.

The Times culture editor accepted the pitch and allotted me 500 words.  The situation was complicated by the fact that I was in the midst of moving from Illinois to DC at the time, so almost all of my interviewing had to be done from roadside Starbucks's and in my parents' home in New Jersey while picking up some final effects to bring to my new home in the District.  But I'm a writer and an intrepid reporter, and despite such hassles I made my deadline and turned in my 500-word opus ahead of zero hour.

Alas...Memorial Day came and went, and despite my "gently" prodding the culture editor at the office all this past week, the piece did not run.  (This I've confirmed via constant searching in the story queue, endless Googling and the lack of a "hey, please send me your invoice" email.)  Before it becomes even less timely, I am self-publishing (to be read: this story has by now lost any chance of a real publication) my writeup, along with photos of myself with the story subjects taken this past weekend at Kennedy.  It was an absolute honor to work with these gentlemen, all of them distinguished veterans of the armed forces and lifelong musicians and educators, on such a special event.

This is just a small sample of what I can do...of what I will do in my capacity with the Times.

Intrepid reporters never say die; rather they learn to no longer taste the bitterness of disappointment--typically masking it with alcohol.


Hymns for the Fallen
WWII veterans to lead Memorial Day concert at Kennedy Center

By Eric Althoff

Weston Noble has a unique claim to infamy.  In 1945 he entered Adolph Hitler’s underground bunker, sat behind the Fuhrer’s desk and…proceeded to put his feet up. 

“I wanted to ‘play the role a little bit,’” Noble, 91, laughs.  “[The bunker] wasn’t even locked.”   

Berlin had fallen to the Russians only a month prior; Noble’s tank battalion was the first American unit to enter the Third Reich’s heart. After his moment of Fuhrer playacting, Noble ran back to his jeep, grabbed a wrench and proceeded to break off a corner of Hitler’s marble desk as a memento to send home. 

Alas, the desk piece never made it stateside, nor, sadly, did millions of young men.  This Memorial Day weekend, those lost will be honored at a special tribute concert at the National Memorial Day Choral Festival at Kennedy Center.  Noble, a lifelong musician and 59-year educator at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, will serve as one of several esteemed guest conductors.

Dr. Craig Jessop, himself a retired Air Force officer and former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, will serve as the concert’s artistic director for the fourth time. 

“I have a very close affinity and appreciation for our veterans, those still living and those who are no longer here,” Jessop said.  “I think it’s a very appropriate way to honor the men and women who have given their lives for this country.  For me this is a very personal and very satisfying way to serve and give back to those who have given so much.”

Jessop, the founding dean of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University, will conduct the Air Force Symphony Orchestra and a “festival choir” composed of various individual choruses from around the country. 

In addition to Noble, Jessop will be joined at the conductor’s podium by Col. Larry H. Lang, commander and conductor of the Air Force Band, and Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, who conducted the U.S. Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra and Singing Sergeants from 1964 to 1985.  Gabriel will lead the ensembles in “Hymn tothe Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan and the march from the D-Day film TheLongest Day.  The latter holds a special place for Gabriel, who landed on the beach at Normandy 70 years ago next month.  He will fly to France to commemorate the anniversary, which includes a concert in Paris and a ceremony at the cemetery on the beach, where Gabriel will conduct the same pieces from the Kennedy Center event.

Asked if it seems like seven decades since that fateful day, Gabriel chuckles good-naturedly and says, “God no!  I’m 89 this month and still going strong.” 

In addition to flying to France, the Alexandria resident’s busy early summer includes leading the Virginia Grand Military Band at Arlington’s Schlesinger Hall on May 24.  That ensemble comprises both active duty and retired personnel.

Of such a busy schedule, Gabriel responded, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Myself with Weston Noble, 91, May 24, 2014.

With Dr. Craig Jessop. May 24, 2014.

With Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, 89, backstage at Kennedy Center, May 25, 2014.

With Dan Schwartz, college chum from the USC Men's Chorus and MCI's tourmeister.