The Black Tapes - Post Mortem

The first podcast I ever loved was Welcome to Night Vale.

We were driving to Maine, which is about an eight hour trip from my house, and my wife told me there was something I needed to hear. She called it a "podcast," and since I am an actual human being who can put the prefix "pod" together with the suffix "cast," I didn't even need her to explain that it was like radio for the internet.

But I did need an explanation. I needed her to explain why she was wasting my time. I knew what a podcast was, but I didn't think it could be anything important. I didn't think it could be anything amazing. I didn't think it could be something that I loved.

But after five hours of listening to Cecil Palmer tell me strange tales from his strange town, I was in love. Night Vale was funny and creepy and touching and horrifying, and it was perfect.

I listen to a lot of podcasts now. I listen for entertainment, for news, for social commentary, for ways to make myself and my world better. I listen in the car, walking the dogs, doing the dishes. I almost always have my headphones with me now, and it's all because of that one, first podcast.

The Black Tapes wasn't my first, but it was the best.


The Black Tapes S03E06 - Into the Black

Alex Reagan: Hi Nic! You look like a bag of ass dragged through an interdimensional rift covered in razor blades and gasoline!

Nic Silver: Hi Alex! You look like a mental patient that escaped psychiatric hold by using your face to break through the security glass!

Alex Reagan: Anyway, I just wanted to call and let you know that we've got it all figured out! Daeva Corp is a front for the Order of the Ceonophus, a Satanic religious order that is owned and operated by Thomas Warren!

Nic Silver: Wow, that's a serious accusation! Do you have anything resembling proof?

Alex Reagan: Absolutely not! But guess what? Someone was thoughtful enough to smuggle an audio recorded twenty years back in time so that they could record Thomas Warren's experiments at CERN! And it turns out his machinery was designed to create the Unsound!

Nic Silver: That's amazing!

Alex Reagan: Oh and guess what? It turns out that all of this stuff about the Mysterium and Percival Black and the Un-Un-Sound and all of that was complete bullshit that doesn't actually affect the story in any way!

Nic Silver: Holy shit! That sounds like a discovery that should have been made on-air!

Alex Reagan: And get this! Richard Strand, devout skeptic and evangelical atheist, agrees with me that Thomas Warren is using the large hadron collider to open up demonic portals all over the world!

Nic Silver: What an unexpected character development! Hey, while I've got you on the phone, let me show you something!

Alex Reagan: I sure hope it's not a creepy video of me sleeping while a menacing cultist looks on and Tall Paul lurks in the corner, waiting to devour my innocence, my soul, and my flesh!

Ron Howard: It was.


The Black Tapes S03E05 - Worlds Collide

Alex Reagan: Last week, Richard Strand revealed a black tape that contains undeniable physical evidence that Tall Paul is real and manifests in front of children, most likely because he needs to devour their flesh and feast upon their souls in order to bring about the apocalypse. But we'll get back to that in a minute!

Richard Strand: Hey Alex! So I think the guy mentioned in the prophecy of the Horn of Tiamat is the Protestant reformer John Calvin! He was the oldest of four brothers, killed a heretic, and brought his religion to a new land, Switzerland!

Alex Reagan: And you just happen to have a talk scheduled for Switzerland next week! How convenient!

Richard Strand: I know! Why don't you come with me! The hotel is very nice, and the beds are easily big enough for both of us!

Alex Reagan: <3 <3 <3


The Black Tapes S03E04 - Songs and Signs

Alex Reagan: Oh my god Richard! Look at all of he children in this photo! They all look exactly like Sebastian Torres!

Richard Strand: I suppose that's true, if you ignore the fact that this child is blond, this child is a red head, this child is asian, and this child is clearly female.

Alex Reagan: God damn it Richard I am so tired of you having a calm logical explanation for clearly inexplicable occurrences! You can't just pass this one off by saying "apophenia this" and "Alex, most children have two eyes, a nose, and a mouth" that!

Richard Strand: So I take it you aren't sleeping again?

Alex Reagan: Look, the fact that I spend every harried night haunted by the echoes of a song I can't quite hear, the whispered suggestions that I put an end to this farce by killing first myself and then everyone I love, the appearance of scar tissue in the shape of various occult sigils on my arms and legs and torso, and a person I don't quite recognize staring back at me in the mirror has nothing to do with your inability to admit that this Chinese boy has distinctly hispanic features!

Richard Strand: ...Anyway, have you ever heard of stirpiculture? It was an early eugenics program practiced by the Oneida Community, with the goal of producing children that were physically, mentally, and spiritually superior to the average human.

Alex Reagan: Wait, they're a weird sex cult? I love weird sex cults!


The Black Tapes S03E03 - A Family Gathering

Alex Reagan (on the phone): Hi Simon! I came to Turkey like you demanded! So when can we meet?

Simon Reese (on the phone): Meet? Who said anything about meeting? I'm in Russia, and while I could use my forbidden powers to slip between the worlds and reappear in your hotel room, which I am 100% going to do while you're sleeping tonight, I thought it would be more mysterious if we spoke over the phone.

Alex Reagan (on the phone): We could have spoken over the phone without me dropping ten grand in airfare, Simon.

Simon Reese (on the phone): Oh yes, you could have, but then your eyes would have been denied the true sight, the sight of the blind fool god, the sight that sees not what is but what was and may yet again be, the sight of the ancient and broken and powerful thing that hides beneath the torn tapestry, the lie that gives all truth its power!

Alex Reagan (on the phone): ...what?

Simon Reese (on the phone): Go to the cafe across the street. One of my henchmen is going to kidnap you and take you to the Horn of Tiamat. Jesus, Alex, this isn't complicated.


The Punisher (Netflix) Trailer


The Black Tapes S03E02 - The Musica Mundana

Alex Reagan: You'll remember that last week's episode ended with a phone call from Thomas Warren, or as I refer to him when I'm having a little alone time, Sexy James Bond. The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Alex Reagan (on the phone): Hi Sexy ... erm, Thomas! So glad you called, I was hoping you could help me rend the last few fibers of Richard Strand's fragile psyche by telling us some dark and terrible secrets about his father Howard!

Thomas Warren (on the phone): Hi Alex and Richard! Well to start with, I can tell you that Howard Strand was working for my organization, Daiva Corporation, because we thought he was the best chance we had at uncovering the long-lost Horn of Tiamat, which we will certainly not use to bring about the Final Conflagration!

Richard Strand (on the phone): And you found the Horn in Iraq?

Thomas Warren (on the phone): Well, no, we didn't find it, but your father did. He said something about "finally now I can unleash the Great Beast whose Name is Six Hundred and Sixty Six, using the body of my only son as his host, and usher in the End of Days!" before shoving the Horn into his safari vest and running off into the night.


The Black Tapes S03E01 - The Sins of the Father

Alex Reagan: This episode of The Black Tapes is brought to you by mother!, the upcoming psychological horror that poses the terrifying question: what could possibly make Jennifer Lawrence sleep with Javier Bardem? Has she been drugged? Blackmailed? Possessed by some vile demon of lust and spite? Or is she just making a play for an Oscar, like Charlize Theron in Monster? There's an answer somewhere out there, an unlike some people (cough Nic cough) this movie only has 90 minutes to get to the final revelation.


My Last Squat Session

I didn't know it at the time, but my last squat workout was on May 1st, 2017. It was an easy workout, 225lbs for five sets of five, but my knees cracked and popped on each rep, and I had trouble walking out of the gym.

The pain never got better. This wasn't typical leg-day soreness. It wasn't muscular pain. This was an issue with the joins themselves. Days, weeks later I still had trouble walking and taking the stairs.

My wife finally bullied me into seeing my doctor, who ordered X-rays and an MRI. The images showed two torn ligaments, a torn tendon, bone spurs, and "floating bodies," whatever the hell that means.

Last Friday I met with an orthopedic surgeon, who told me two things: one, I had degenerative osteoarthritis in my knees, and two, that I would never squat again.

I'm thirty seven, but I have the knees of a seventy-year-old man. I'm not a candidate for surgery, so the best they can do is pain management. And now I'm not sure what to do. I'm not sure what I am.

I've always been strong. Lifting weights, being bigger and stronger and better than I was yesterday has always been a core part of my identity. But now my own body is betraying me, and I'm not sure who I am anymore.

I have other things. People I love, activities I enjoy, skills that I'm proud of. But I don't have "being strong" anymore, and without that, me isn't one hundred percent me.

I suppose I can join the masses, throw on a pair of sweatpants and skip leg day for the next thirty years, but the rack will still be calling my name. I suppose I can get back into Yoga and calisthenics, become good at a different kind of strong, but the iron was and always will be my first love, and I'm going to miss her.

I don't have a whole lot of wisdom to impart about this. I'm still kind of processing myself. But I will say four things:

One: Don't do stupid shit. Unfortunately this message will be lost on the people who need it most. I think a lot of my issues started in high school, when I was quarter-squatting six hundred pounds because I thought I was awesome, or when I raced with the other guys on the team to see who could do the most leg extensions with the full stack in one minute. Or hell, even running cross-country in the off season. Two hundred pound men do not run cross-country.

Two: Learn good form. It's an old saying, but it's true: squatting doesn't hurt your knees, the way you squat hurts your knees.

Three: Don't train through pain. Pain is a signal that something's wrong. Sometimes, pain is injury entering the body, no matter what your friend's shirt says.

Four: Enjoy yourself while you can. Chances are you're too young to be worried about the end of your career. So am I. It still happened. Every once in a while take a moment to appreciate the fact that you are, in all likelihood, one of the strongest people on the planet. Sure, there are hundreds or thousands of professionals that are stronger than you, but the vast majority of humans on this planet don't even bother trying to improve themselves. The fact that you're even in there, that you're under the bar and trying, puts you well ahead of the pack.


How Medical Billing Works in America

Here's how medical billing works in America.

Let's say you're hungry. You schedule an appointment with your General Chef, who confirms that you are indeed hungry, and that you should indeed eat. The copay is $25. You tell your Chef that you really want a Big Mac, but Burger King is the only restaurant in your network, so they write you a prescription for a Whopper.

Three weeks later, you go to Burger King and order your whopper. They won't tell you how much the hamburger will cost, but the co-pay $75, payable at the time services are rendered.

A month later, you get separate bills from the grill operator, the bun technician, the lettuce placement specialist, the tomato manager, the condiment dispenser, and the owner of the building the Burger King operates in. None of the paperwork tell you what services are actually covered by the bill. The total is $5,000, and despite the fact that you presented your insurance card before receiving your hamburger, your insurance was neither informed of nor billed for the food.

You submit the meal to your insurance company, but they have forgotten who you are and deny the claim. You fill out form 137-B(i), Appeal for Denied Burger Coverage, and wait. Thirty days pass, and now the bun technician and condiment dispenser have applied late fees to your account.

Your insurance provider remembers who you are, and pays the negotiated $125 for the $5,000 hamburger. This satisfies the bun technician, lettuce placement specialist, tomato manager, condiment dispenser, and landlord, but the grill operator, despite working at a facility that is covered by your insurance is not covered by your insurance himself, and his portion of your meal is again denied by the insurance company. You pay the grill operator $145.

All told, your Whopper cost $245. The various players in the burger-making exercise claim that it cost $5,500, and write you off as a $5,355 loss. The cost of the insurance that sent you to Burger King when you wanted McDonalds was $10,000 for the year.

Democrats claim that medical billing is too complicated and medical procedures are too expensive, but instead of a Single Payer system, they set up a Tiered Hamburger Acquisition system. The Platinum Plan allows you to eat at any restaurant you want, and reimburses 90% of the cost, but can only be afforded by families making more than $100,000 per year. The Gold Plan allows you to select from a variety of well-known chain restaurants, and covers 85% of costs. The Silver Plan allows you to choose between McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's, and covers 80% of costs. The Bronze Plan, which is the only plan feasible for low-income families, forces you to eat at Arby's, and covers 75% of the cost.

Republicans, on the other hand, want to cut taxes, so they dismantle the Tiered Hamburger Acquisition system and replace it with the American Hamburger Act, which charges a family making $12,000 a year $6,000 for a Catastrophic Meal Replacement Plan. This plan only provides food in case of extreme duress, and states are allowed to opt out of covering patients who became hungry due to lack of eating. If you don't buy into the plan and become hungry, you aren't allowed to eat for another six months.

Meanwhile, in Canada anyone can go to a Tim Horton's whenever they feel hungry, and their taxes have already paid for the meal.