Category Archives: Blog

Lest We Forget Obvious Child

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FYI: if you haven’t seen the excellent Obvious Child, spoilers are ahead.

December is my favorite time of year for movies. It’s the heat of Oscar season, so many films I’ve been hearing about for months – via Sundance, Cannes, Toronto – will finally make it to commercial release. I’m pleased to see Boyhood getting all the buzz that it has; Birdman remains my favorite film of 2014, though Whiplash is a pretty damn close second. Still ahead for me to see: American Sniper, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Selma, A Most Violent Year, Nightcrawler, and Top Five. I’m pretty sure when I’m in South Jersey for the holidays, I’ll end up seeing Mr. Turner or Into The Woods with my parents.

2014’s been a rich year for character dramas – especially on the indie level (seriously, what hasn’t A24 released yet?). But one film getting lost in the shuffle of all the “Best Films of 2014” articles now popping-up is – I think – one of the most important movies of the decade and a comedy at that; that movie is Obvious Child.

There’s a lot about this film that makes it wonderful: Jenny Slate’s performance; Gillian Robespierre’s script and direction; David Cross in an ill-fitting tanktop – c’mon, America!

But Obvious Child is a comedy about a young woman getting an abortion. Well… there’s more to it than that – the same way there’s more to The Producers, Dr. Strangelove, The Landlord, or Harold and Maude. Those were also dark comedies that tackled big stuff – nuclear war, institutional racism, The Holocaust – with a lot of poise and earnest. They were also all produced during the 1960s, one of America’s uneasiest decades in cultural history. So maybe it’s no coincidence – as feminist politics has become a mainstream talking point since 2008 – that Obvious Child is now here: a whipsmart, self-effacing niece to the aforementioned titles.

Slate’s Donna Stern is a lovable but messy stand-up comedian, who gets dumped by her asshole boyfriend, loses her day job, and its the dead of winter in New York City – a season when you never want to leave your house because climate change has turned the city menopausal. To stave off depression, Donna hastily hooks up with Max, a really nice guy b-school student, and they forget to use a condom. And then Donna gets pregnant. And then Max falls for her, not being the wiser. And then Gabe Liedman and Gabby Hoffman showcase the coolest Gay Best Friend-Roommate duo ever captured on cinema – which made me wonder, “Why don’t I have a gay best friend?” Well then again: I’m a white, straight dude, so I would also need a podcast.

In a time when our culture is becoming increasingly politicized but remains oddly ignorant, Obvious Child is a straightforward, funny look at how young people fuck up. And the “fuck up” here is understandable. Let’s be honest, proto-millenials: if you’ve remained single into your 30s and live in a big city, you’ve had unprotected sex with a stranger or casual acquaintance at least once. For whatever reason, it happened. The only people who are going to judge you are the conservative assholes who have misinformed opinions about everything. And they’re the reason Creed was a big deal, so who cares what they think?

Fucking Up is the only way kids in their 20s learn how to become adults in their 30s. Fucking Up means dealing with the scary side of life, and figuring out how to get to the other end in one piece. Obvious Child shows a young woman – without health insurance – having to make a tough decision about her body and her life, and doing it with a great sense of humor. The last movie I remember laughing this hard at in a theater was The Big Lebowski – and I was 15.

Part of why this film’s jokes land so hard is that the plot is terrifying. There’s no moral dilemma in Obvious Child (sorry, Kirk Cameron). Instead, Donna’s pregnancy shines a light on all the glaring uncertainties of her life. If you take a hard look at 21st Century adulthood, you would think Darwin is trying to kill all of us: college debt isn’t going away; no one wants to pay a living wage; Tinder has made us all a little more shallow; and in show business, if you’re not careful and enterprising, you’ll be eating Ramen forever.

Now that I think about it: I’m surprised anyone I grew up with is now a parent; Godspeed, you Kings of New England.

In Donna’s case, there would be nothing responsible about becoming a mother. Which sets-up a question a new generation of taxpayers now confront: who would take on more responsibilities when there’s a lot of yourself left to figure out? In a world that demands more time, more expenses, more personal sacrifices well past your 20s – what’s the point of keeping up with the Joneses? Futhermore: why bring a child into this mess?

There was another thing about Obvious Child; a revelation, in fact. In the film’s penultimate scene – when the abortion is done, and Donna sits in the recovery room, looking at the myriad of other women who have undergone the same procedure that day – it hit me: “Holy shit… this is part of being a woman. Something like this happens to all of them at some point.”

It would be really stupid for me to say, “NOW I GET IT!” I’m white, and own a Jewish penis – I will never really get it. But I did have that moment good art aspires to: communicating something universal about the human condition; profound, even. And it has stuck with me – as a man, as a heterosexual, as a “comedy person”, and as a writer – since June 2014.

I only bought 2 Blu-Rays this year: the 4K remaster of Ghostbusters I & II, and Obvious Child. At this point, I don’t think I need to explain why. But I will say: if you haven’t seen Obvious Child yet, please see it. It’s very funny and very worthwhile.

If I ever have kids, I’ll make sure they will – when the time is right.

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Sober Fox

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For 30 days while on the road, I quit drinking. This is a story of the ensuing frustration, revelation, and tacos.

I’m not an alcoholic (I don’t think), nor do I think going sober for 30 days at all epic. I have plenty of friends and heroes who don’t drink; some for years, some for decades. They don’t drink because they shouldn’t drink. I didn’t drink because I just wanted to see what would happen.

I grew up around alcohol. My parents were drinkers. My grandparents were drinkers. Booze was a big part of my childhood.

Back in my Jersey hometown, drinking in the woods or the local golf course was “a thing”. However, I was decidedly straight-edge and coincidentally(!) a virgin through all of high school. Who needs booze when you’re watching The Sirens of Sondheim with the other drama club kids – right, guys?

I stayed off alcohol until college. There: I perfected the drunken superpower of turning a good time very awkward; just give me a couple of beers and tell me, “I think W. is a great President”. It was a fun for no one.

In these leaner L.A. days, I’m described by all my friends as “a conservative drinker”. On the rare occasion when I am loaded, I’m a charming drunk, the kind that would make Peter O’Toole proud: stumbling into a 2 a.m. Uber, hazy from Jameson, sometimes with a new phone number, uncommonly with an evening companion, craving a cigarette or a plate of Carne Asada fries. Often, there are drunk texts: all to women back on the East Coast; all of them harmless, or cute, or sexy, or some combination of the three. Almost always: those women are happy to talk for a few minutes, but they have lives outside of my antics and want to go back to bed.

I had flirted with sobriety since I got serious about my writing career 3 years ago. Like many heralded talents of this era, I’ve always juggled a day job with a writing project. A typical day for me is 10-12 hours at my job, maybe 90 minutes of writing that night – if I can still stand. Nothing easily destroys that short burst of energy like an after work cocktail. I’m the kind of person who obsesses over making each day count. So: sobriety always seemed like a smart business move. But then again: who the fuck eats steak with a glass of water? (Peasants, that’s who.)

The key change, however, happened in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide. It wasn’t a moment of clarity. Earlier this summer, I started working out and hiking, so I was already drinking less than I had in the past. But the suddenness of Williams’ death – and lack of details when it first broke – made alcohol feel like a bad move, no matter what.

A few days after my last beer, I was quickly hired to work on a reality show that shot on location in the Southwest and Oregon for a month. Like most TV production jobs, it was a “Drop Everything”-type situation and I needed the money. By day 4, I was driving alone in a minivan, shooting through Northern Arizona, en route to New Mexico. The double-time pace helped me stay clean for 7 days. After that, I didn’t have a plan. If I felt like a drink, I would have a drink – but I didn’t. If anything, I wanted to see how long I could go and I made the arbitrary decision of 30 days at the suggestion of a colleague.

30 days. No alcohol. On the road. In the middle of nowhere… awesome.

The first thing I noticed was how present alcohol had become in my life since I was 19. Even as a lightweight, the impulse to have a beer with a meal or nurse a whiskey over a dinner meeting was strong – really strong. By day 9, I realized how much distance I had put between me and that angry, straight-edge kid. Did I betray him? Probably, but he also thought being the first person to discover Postal Service would get him laid. He was a nice kid, but misdirected.

By day 11, I found I didn’t need alcohol to be social or outgoing. Kyle Kinane has a great joke about sober people who also love to dance at weddings, “Those should be the first people in line for murder suspects.” He’s kind of right.

As my “sobriety experiment” continued, I began to wonder if it was one of the dumber decisions I’d made (and I used to be into “raving”). The whole point of sobriety is for people to deal with life head-on; to overcome addiction or inhibition, and be fully realized human beings. I chose sobriety “just because”. And it was temporary sobriety, prompted by nothing: no rock bottom, no moment of clarity. After 30 days, I didn’t know if I could go full-on sober, or if I would want to.

There were some days I hated being sober, like day 19: our show’s night out in Salt Lake City. SLC – if you’ve never been – is a very charming place. Not my first choice for a wild Friday night, but it’s conducive: it’s small, it’s walkable, it’s filled with young people who want to live in city less “complicated” than, say, Milwaukee. As we bar-hopped around downtown – me guzzling 5 club sodas that night – I got some flack from my co-workers. A few thought I was missing out on bonding; a few didn’t get the difference between 19 days and 30 days. When I look back on that night, I also wonder what I really gained, except knowing that my limit of control has a far reach. Which is good to know, but I wouldn’t’ve minded cutting a little loose and then flopping into bed; perhaps a drunk text would float over the Utah mountains towards the New York City rooftops.

But in the end: I didn’t do anything. By then, I had been sober 19 days, and if I made it this far on my dumb decision, I was going to make it to 30, Goddammit.

It is worth mentioning that during this stretch of time, I’ve never been healthier. The lack of alcohol helped my immune system sustain itself over 30 days of work, and travel across 7 states. Not dealing with morning hangovers also let me maintain my work-out schedule, which is just as Rooseveltian as my dumb decision-making. My body became the leanest and most defined it has ever been in my life. For the first time, I kind-of, sort-of looked like the swim captain you wanted to fuck in high school. Being a former fat kid, that achievement meant a lot.

The other significant health note: I wasn’t getting laid, which I had been doing a lot of since a break-up back in February. To keep it brief: I was the one that got dumped. I didn’t see it coming. I really liked the person; I thought it was going to get serious. It didn’t, and rather than deal with my feelings, I decided to cope with sex. For a while.

It’s funny: when you’re depressed, the stuff that works great in your 20s – drinking, sex, improv classes – doesn’t quite work in your 30s. Weirdly, it kind of feels like you’re running from something! That is: until you decide to quit drinking for 30 days, leaving you no choice but to face your depression. Well, you do have a choice, but I’m not famous enough to have Courtney Love read the suicide note at my funeral. Maybe Tara Reid… maybe.

After three weeks of busy days and quiet nights – often alone with my thoughts – my yearlong depression came into hard focus during Day 21-27 in the woods of Oregon. I guess you could call it… I don’t know, “functional depression”? It’s not like I was writing a pitch for Courtney, but I had spent 2014 acting as if nothing was wrong – and not just with my dating life.

Show business is… tough. My path in it has found some consistency after patches of inconsistency that were propped-up by a few lost years in a crappy office job. Building a career in Hollywood is a patient, piecemeal process that I – and all of my friends – are wading through. And yet, through stints of unemployment and regular script rejections, I found myself focusing on all the stuff you’re not supposed to: my age, my fuck-ups, my old UCB peers who are now staffed on shows, my friends back East who’ve found happiness in more stable life choices; how much I missed New York, how indifferent I still am to L.A. as a city; how days seem to go by a lot faster than they did 10 years ago.

By day 24, when I thought about context: it made sense that I would look for a distraction – like a failed relationship, putting off an attempt at sobriety – to not face the harder shit that had been weighing on me this year.

Production wrapped on day 27. My flight back to L.A. was the next morning. I spent the late afternoon hiking in the woods, taking photographs of things you’d find in a place with four seasons. I climbed out onto a fallen tree over a stream to catch the sunset. The night before had been the wrap party, with an open bar. Unlike SLC, I was happy to abstain. As tough as sobriety had been, I didn’t want a filter anymore. I stood out over an Oregon forest and finally admitted the obvious to myself: I was still broken-hearted; unhappy; frustrated; depressed; hungry for some kind of success, something that would answer the question, “When the fuck is it going to be my turn?”

The plane ride from Portland to L.A. was quick – three and a half hours, I think. At take-off, my body finally shut down, and I let exhaustion wash over me. I had gone 28 days without a drink. All I wanted was a Jameson to commemorate a job well done. But I had to wait 48 hours. If I didn’t, all of the trouble I put myself through would be a complete waste.

Everything I learned about myself still sat at the back of my mind.

Day 30, I was alone in my apartment in Echo Park. The clock struck 9:39 p.m. It was done. I had gone 1 month without drinking a single sip of alcohol.

I let another 20 minutes pass; I didn’t feel like drinking anything. But a small part of me wondered what I was still trying to prove. I went to my fridge, and opened a beer. I sat back down on my couch. I took a swig.

The empty carbs bombed my stomach like Hiroshima. The alcohol buzzed straight to my head.

I was back in an altered state. My problems were still there, the objective truth of my life still hung over my head. But with alcohol: I was coping, like everyone else. During my lost years at my crappy office job, I tried – really hard – to be like everyone else.

I never, ever liked it.

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MCA, My Billy Goat Bearded Hero

If you follow me on Twitter, or are friends with me on Facebook, I’ve made it no secret how deeply the death of MCA a.k.a. Adam Yauch has affected me over the last two days. Adam was one of my heroes – right up there with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Jim Carroll, and Joe Strummer. I’ve loved the music of The Beastie Boys since I was 14 years old (my first two Beastie albums were Licensed To Ill, and Hello Nasty, which features “I Don’t Know” – a heart-breakingly enlightened MCA solo piece with Yuka Honda). They were a band that’s been with me for 15 years; a band I never grew tired of, whose music continued to blow me away, even as their hair began to turn grey. If you missed Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two last summer and you love the Beasties, I highly recommend buying it. The album hinted what we could have anticipated if MCA had survived his fight with cancer: 3 elder statesmen of hip-hop who refused to take themselves seriously as age seemed to catch up. In addition to jokes at their own expense about pushing 50 and still rhyming, they continued to evolve musically and came full circle with brilliant tracks like the Jimmy Cliff by way of Paul’s Boutique song “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” featuring Santigold, and the rambunctious, sonic dance track, “Make Some Noise”.

I remember watching MCA’s video message in 2009, announcing the diagnosis that would eventually claim his life, and couldn’t help but feel worried. Optimistic at the early detection, but worried. This man was just more to me than a music icon.

On November 23rd, 1999, The Beastie Boys released The Sounds of Science – their greatest hits anthology. It was my 16th birthday; I was confused and aimless. Actually, for a month and a half, I had been contemplating suicide. What led me to such thinking I can only describe as a mix of things that – when you’re 16 – seemed epic and unmanageable. But what kept me from moving forward on any impulses was my slim hope that my problems were not a be-all, end-all. Anyway, the minute The Sounds of Science came out, I bought it and fell in love with it (as I did with all the Beastie albums). Included in the 2-disc set was a 40-page booklet where the Beastie Boys included notes and stories about their songs. Attached to the song “Bodhisattva Vow”, MCA included an essay about his conversion to Buddhism and the personal headaches he created during production on Ill Communication in order to meet the Dalai Llama for the first time.

This essay served as the first exposure I ever had to Buddhism, the one faith – if any – to which I’ve felt any spiritual connection.

Adam’s words about falling over himself to meet His Holiness were both humble and passionate. It was shortly after his first meeting that he became more impassioned to the cause of Tibet, and recorded “Bodhisattva Vow” as a hip-hop tribute to his faith and his mentor. This was when MCA, the humanitarian, was born. MCA, the obnoxious party boy, was now pledging to save the world. If nothing else, but because it was his duty as a human being.

“Whoa.” 16 year old me thought.

Obviously, I didn’t off myself. Obviously, Adam’s words and lyrics had an impact on me that got me through a rough year. In the months after purchasing Sounds, I would continue to tell myself through that shitty, shitty time: “If I can just make it to the end of this school year, I’ll be fine.” But, Adam also showed me: we can all change. Nothing is permanent in this world; nothing is finite. The guy who will fight for his right to party can, 10 years later, “Say a little something that is long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be due./To all the mothers, and the sisters, and the wives, and friends/I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”

“Bodhisattva Vow” is a very simple song that pledges love and gratitude to the present-day existence had by all sentient beings. In the wake of MCA’s death, it – along with “I Don’t Know” – takes on a very sobering weight about the limited time we have as human beings. It’s not about touchy-feely self-love; it’s about recognizing that life is an opportunity, not a death sentence. Because: you don’t know why you’re here; you don’t know what’s going to make you happy; but what you do know is that sitting around and being uninvolved in the world around you is not going to give any answers.

Adam Yauch taught me that a better tomorrow exists. And, just because you live to see that tomorrow, that doesn’t mean you have to change anything about yourself because you’re older, or that money and success is going to lead to happiness. You should always grow. You should always be open to the world around you. You should always care, and stop to help out when you can. You are not what the world wants you to be; you are only what you choose to be.

Over the last two days, I’ve come to a realization: I loved Adam Yauch. Maybe it was only the idea of him, since I never had the privilege of meeting him. But I loved him, as much as I could. He was a role model and a teacher; a buddha. He was an MC that always left me speechless. He was the only one of my self-destructive idols that showed me life and happiness exists after 23 years old. And it was going to be awesome. On Friday morning, someone I loved very much was taken from me; and as it goes, I will need time to accept it and move on.

As I’ve said – on repeat all weekend – I love you and will miss you, MCA. Your death is one of the saddest things I have experienced since my grandfather, and before that my father, died. But I will never forget what you taught me. I pledge to pass it on in my words and actions to those around me. And maybe, just maybe, I might unknowingly touch some loner kid’s life out there the way you touched mine.

Goodbye, Adam. I love you. Namaste.

“I give thanks for this world as a place to learn/
And for this human body that I know I’ve earned.”

-“Bodhisattva Vow”

“It’s not so simple as I try to wish,/
But then again what is?/
There is no other worthy quest,/
So on I go.

I don’t know./
Who does know?/
There is no/
Where to go.”

-“I Don’t Know”

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From My Queue: “Conversations with Other Women”

In an attempt to reduce the amount of digital clutter in my life, I’ve resolved to actually watch the 50+ films and TV shows on my Netflix queue.

I first stumbled across Conversations with Other Women while doing a random search on Netflix.  The film seemed interesting enough to gather dust on my queue for over a year: a man and a woman with a past meet-up at a wedding and re-explore their failed relationship.  Sadly, I’ve been kicking around a similar script idea in my head since I moved to New York (this is why you don’t dick around, kids).

While the film’s dialogue is smart, it sounds and feels like it’d be much better as a play than a film.  This sentiment is amplified by the filmmaker’s choice to shoot and edit the entire thing in split screen.  My guess is that Hans Canosa’s intention was to experiment with the character’s memories of each other when younger and recollection of past events.  While he does find some moments of great storytelling, the effect is more jarring than daring.  I found myself distracted more often than not, and even annoyed, since the split screen rarely embodies a single shot that let’s the viewer ease into the world of the film.  And more so, that seems to only highlight that the script is heavy on dialogue, light on dramatic action, and gets you wondering why not just make it a play?  The story and characters are interesting enough.

Both Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter are great; Tom Lennon and Olivia Wilde get a lot out of their limited screen time as well.  By the film’s end, you get what Conversations with Other Women is really all about – regrets, hope, possible redemption.  I wanted to like it a lot more than I did, but seriously – 84 minutes of a goddamn split screen?

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Always Ames…

Bonus post! Why? Because the post I had scheduled for today wasn’t ready yet. As you might expect, this provoked me to spend the night sobbing into a bottle of Dr. Pepper, and calling my ex-girlfriend from kindergarten multiple times (Allison, I’m sorry). Anyway, because I did feel inclined to write about something on the QT – and since this is, technically, a blog – then I can’t begin to recommend one of my more recent favorite graphic novels, The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames. It’s a sweet, tragic, hilarious tale of the things a man can do while drunk and the ponderings that are left with him the morning after. Lord knows: who hasn’t woken up the next day after a wild night out to discover he spent $20 on 3 bags of Family Size Dorito’s and has 3 text messages from a girl in Wisconsin (true story). Anyway, The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames. Enjoy readers.

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Sincerely Sedaris…

I was first introduced to David Sedaris via his humor pieces in Esquire magazine. I’ve loved his columns and stories since I was 18. The video above should show you why.

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The Lost Baseball Cards of Diatemacia

Like any antisocial latchkey kid, I went through a collectibles phase. Collectibles were the friends that you played catch with, because you certainly couldn’t ask that from your dead dad. My obsessions were the standard stuff that any 7 to 13 year old boy could love: Star Wars action figures, classic Superman comic books, bootlegs of the Necromonicon that were supposed to help you tell your dead dad you finally got a “B” in math class. But the one thing that always fascinated me in my routine trips to any flea market or antique store were the “lost” baseball cards of Diatemacia. Widely considered one of the most coveted baseball card series in the world, I could never afford a set (a loose pack of “decent condition” cards alone is valued at $2,000). But they are, in a word, unreal.

Diatemacia, in case you’ve never heard, is a lost religion that originated in the American South, sometime between 1860-1890. Not much information on it can even be found on the internet, but we can be glean a bit from the newspaper ribbon in which the cards came packaged. Founded by a wealthy denim producer, Graham Carmichael, Diatemacians believed that the world would one day come to an end, but then be reborn. On the day of rebirth, believers would be “cleansed” by the Divine Babysitter and spend eternity in paradise, contemplating and correcting the errors of mankind. Non-believers would go about their lives as if nothing had ever happened. Except that all male Non-believers would be given enhanced sexual libidos. Because Diatemacians believe that ignorance breeds ineffectiveness, they felt that people of low intelligence had a tendency to also massively reproduce. Diatemacians believe that these people should not be punished for that instinct, but they should learn how to moderate it. That’s why these new libidos will drive men to stick their dicks into literally anything it could fit into: tree knobs, mailbox slots, a hole in their shoe, phonographs, radiators, bath tub faucets, garden hoses, etc. Because God is merciful and wise, he would never make a Non-believer bring any kind of sexual assault or crime upon another Non-believer. On the contrary: around other people, a male Non-believer is no more attracted to a man or woman than he was before the world ended. However, leave him alone in a room full of lamps with no lightbulbs… be careful when you walk back in there.

From what I could gather, Diatemacians valued style and common sense. In their Holy Book of Holy, dozens of chapters are dedicated to the sacrament of a full handlebar mustache. Not to mention they seem surprisingly progressive for a niche religion, preaching that the beauty of woman was should be judged by how many employees she managed.

The baseball cards were originally marketed towards the children of faithful Diatemacians. Carmichael acknowledged that the gravitas of the faith could be easily lost on kids, so he set out to create an extension of the Holy Book of Holy for a younger audience. The cards featured the patron saints of Diatemacia, who received their sainthood at birth. From there, the Saints were groomed for their destiny as spiritual leaders of their faith. Children could spend months collecting and trading a single series of cards, all of which – when assembled together – told the story of each of the 12 Saints in full. Amongst them was Saint Irma of Birmingham who brought industry to Southern farming, and was also believed to be President Ulysses S. Grant secret night-night storyteller.

Today, the market value of these cards alone makes a single pack worth owning – that is if you can find or afford it. In a recent auction in Laos, a pack of cards from a 1933 12th series sold for $500,000. It was one of the few packs today not owned by Vincent J. Pestonschraud, the last practicing Diatemacian left in this country. Pestonschraud is the great-great grandchild of Carmichael himself, and a noted recluse. His estate can be found in a swamp ranch outside of Jacksonville, Florida. His property is rumored to not be far from the burial ground of his somewhat famous grandfather. Thousands of journalists, fans, and “wanna-be” converts have tried to reach out to Prestonschraud over the years, but he refuses to associate with a world that is doomed to fail. In a statement that his lawyer released in 1995, he famously wrote “You’ll never get my grandfather’s baseball cards, you secular basset hounds. Not for all the tea in China, or $300 – which is what all of that tea is worth. The cards will die here on my property and my corpse with them. Any of you ‘Smithsonians’ try to raid my house to take them, will be met with an unpleasant doom – far worse than what God has waiting for you.”

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