I’ve been watching a lot of Sopranos lately. Every morning I tune in to the 8:00 A&E showing. I’ve not been awake ten minutes and I’m watching Paulie smash a guy in the back of the head with a shovel, Chris put five across his bitch’s eye, Tony fuck some broad in a roadside motel. Before I’ve finished a cup of coffee I’ve seen sex, violence, chauvinism, prostitution, embezzlement, collusion, theft and murder. It’s great.

Part of what makes David Chase’s show brilliant television is that the characters are dead on. There are thousands of Jersey knuckleheads out there just like the guys in The Sopranos who are willing to kill, maim and take what they want. And that’s just in Jersey. There are goons the world over willing to step on you to get what they’re after. And I’m not just talking gangsters and tough guys. Look across the George Washington Bridge, to Manhattan, to find even bigger hoodlums. No, not Johnny Sack and the New York crew—I’m talking about the financial district crew—the guys who conned the nation out of tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money. These thugs in their high rise offices at JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, just to name a few, are hard fucking core gangsters. These guys shat all over us and took what they wanted.

The point is, the world belongs to people with balls. Whether it’s through twisting arms or twisting laws, it doesn’t really matter. Some people have balls and take whatever they want. Then there’s the rest of us who play by the rules.

But there are rules, and then there are “rules.” Tony Soprano is at heart a pragmatist. What allows him to be one, however, is that people know he’s a big, bad motherfucker who will, in the end, take care of business by any means necessary. The unspoken threat that Tony will carve you up and dump your body in the harbor gives his negotiations that extra “oomph.”

Now, to diverge for a moment, I’d like to talk politics—specifically, the tea party movement. Guys, I like your anger. The problem is that you’re mad at the wrong people. The real enemy is not Obama, liberals or socialists—it’s not universal health care, illegal immigrants, homos or dope smokers. It’s the Wall Street plutocrats who rig the system and take all of our money—who wreck the economy and get people kicked out of their homes—who nearly plunged our entire nation—the world, possibly—into economic ruin. These rich pricks are the enemy.

The tea partiers always like to talk about what patriots they are. I’m all for being patriotic. But, I’d like to remind those historically myopic rabble-rousers of exactly what a Patriot is. The tea partiers chose to name themselves after those people who, in 1773, boarded ships docked in Boston harbor and dumped their cargo of taxed tea into the water in protest. But the Boston Tea Party was just a small part of the Patriots hard-line stance against their oppressors. They regularly tarred and feathered Loyalists. Think about that: dumping hot tar all over somebody’s body and then, to add insult to injury, a few feathers. That’s some hardcore gangster shit. Not only that, Patriots burned down Loyalist homes to get their point across. Not surprisingly, it worked. They chased those British bums out of town.

Tea partiers: if you want to talk about patriotism, at least get your terminology right. Let’s step off of this flag-waving, dumb hillbilly, Fox News, anti-intellectual, Mexican/darkie-hating, drill baby drill, get-your-hands-off-my-guns, the founding fathers were infallible man gods, bullshit. Patriotism has somehow been subverted by a political vein that clings to a nostalgic, romantic fantasy of America as a good ol’ boy club for whom Ronald Regan is the eternal hero. It’s John Wayne in a western who dispatches of the bad guys, gives a laconic, feel-good, one-liner with a tip of his cap then saunters off into the sunset. Patriotism has been turned into a myth and hijacked by the far right.

How did our nation react after the bank bailouts? Aside from some cries of protest—some professorial finger wagging from the Administration—nothing. Despite pointed work by journalists such as Matt Taibbi, who laid out the entire hustle for us, who described, in detail, the horse-race financial schemes that led to this crisis, we as a nation have sat back on our heels and let it keep happening. Sure, some of the banks are beginning to pay back their debts, but no real work has been done to close the loopholes that led us into this malaise. The people who work for Goldman Sachs et. al are still getting millions of dollars in bonuses precisely for coming up with new financial schemes. This is what investment banking has become. These guys don’t fund emerging markets and industries. They create bubbles that burst in their favor, flood the system with toxic junk and then profit by betting against the fact that their own unsustainable policies are going to fail. Even if we change the laws, I’m confident they will come up with new ways to hoodwink the public at large. These guys are good.

But while they may be really smart, I’m willing to bet they’re not that tough. That is, if a shovel was to connect with the back of their head, or a 9mm to somehow find its way into their mouth…

Tea partiers, if you really want to be Patriots, here’s your chance. Stop burning Obama effigies, bemoaning how we’re becoming commies and praying to God for faggots to die. Pick up your pitchforks, your torches and those guns you oft demand to keep but rarely have cause to use and go after these investment bankers. Consider this the new Glorious Cause.  Push these guys around, slap them, kidnap their wives…whatever it takes. These firms like to talk about how they’re too big to fail. Well, so was Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum.

Perhaps a strong populist movement will send a message to the top. Since many are already looking ahead to the mid-term elections, even the presidential election, it’s got me thinking who I’ll be casting my ballot for. I’d vote for Tony Soprano in a heartbeat before I put another politically correct liberal or politically retarded conservative in office. Give me some good ol’ guido pragmatism. Would Tony lecture the banks about how they should be ashamed of themselves, and that maybe they shouldn’t be paying out such big bonuses? Of course not. Would he let Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao snub him at the Copenhagen Climate Conference? Fahgettaboudit. I’m not sure exactly what he’d do, but the one thing Tony Soprano does not do is not get results. He doesn’t do “shame on you.” He does “If that’s how it’s gonna be I’ll cut your balls off, you fucking cockroach.”

That sounds like a real Patriot to me. The plutocrats of today are the new aristocracy. They are the same kind of people that we strong-armed back to Britain over 225 years ago and began a nation in defiance of. America, it’s time to run the bums out of town again. But to do so we need to have balls.   We need to remember what the tough sons of bitches who helped win our freedom knew; what every Jersey wiseguy with a gun in his track pant’s elastic waistline and a bat in his hand knows: there are rules and then there are “rules”. Capiche?

I’m also thinking, if it can work for the good ol’ Stars & Stripes, then it’s good enough for me. Writers, after all, aren’t exactly known for being the ballsiest lot—not in real life, anyway. If pressed to a fight I’d probably run away and use the confrontation as the basis of a misanthropic vignette.

Part of what’s frustrating about being a writer is that you submit your work for review to total strangers far away. I’ve often thought, “If only I could meet these people…put a personal face to my work…not have it just be the manuscript of some abstract person…maybe it would make a difference…”

But now I’m thinking I show up at their office with a different strategy—like the hardbound edge of my rejected manuscript to the back of the head. Maybe then they’ll reconsider. If not, it will make for a really deep, dark story full of irony, pain and regret. Either way: bada bing.

That lucky old sun has been acting like a real pretentious son-of-a-bitch lately.

Always hiding behind the clouds, poking out every once in a while and giving the snow a few minutes of hell. But he doesn’t want to seem so obvious so he returns to his hiding place, waxing all mysterious and aloof-like, and there I am, standing on some stranger’s muddy front yard, feet soaked and pruned, hips and back throbbing with pain, digging in the pockets of my work pants for a map (which I’ve apparently dropped a mile back) and then my flashlight (which, damn it, I’ve also misplaced) and all I can do is glare at the sky, into that perfect white disk of light shining through the eerie flow of gray, and challenge him to come out and stay out.

And when begging for mercy obviously changes nothing I have only to belittle him. I say to him, “Straight to hell with you if you’re too good for earth!” After all, that lucky old sun, as the song goes, has nothing to do. Why not come on out and defrost my working conditions, my work pants, my goddamn soul, huh?

What I need—what we all need—to alleviate these winter blues is not light therapy, but direct action. You and I, we need to work on beating a good hard path out of our current slumps.

Some of my blues are of a regional variety, eloquently addressed by some guy named Greg Olear. Last June my wife and I uprooted from Illinois and moved to Kentucky. I’ve lived in Illinois for 28 years and now—all of a sudden—I am a Kentuckian. I’ve got the license plates; I drink the bourbon; I bask in the brilliance of John Wall.

But it’s still a little unsettling. I don’t talk like them (though I do love the way they talk); I don’t follow college basketball; and I’m intimidated by horses and Ashley Judd movies.

Even more unsettling is I don’t know how long I’ll be here in Kentucky. Could be another year. Could be another twenty-eight.

All the same, I recently turned 29 years old, which is the real reason I’m bitching. 29 has thus far been a kind of transition period for me. The year in which I should probably figure out some way to grow up just a little more.

The recent moping, the bitching, the self-hatred—these are the natural side effects of what I’ll call youth decay.

As I write this I am imagining more than a few readers (over 30, to be exact) rolling their eyes, cracking their arthritic knuckles, and saying something like, “You’re just a kid” or “Wait till you’re forty”. Well, I understand that perspective, and I willfully acknowledge how precocious and shortsighted complaining about 29 seems. But I don’t care; getting older sucks. I’ll put it plainly: I don’t want to grow up. Not ever, dude.

And what does that mean anyway, to “grow up”? Do the males of the species ever actually grow up?

Can we switch gears, talk some baseball? Major League baseball players statistically (well, sabermetrically) have a window of time wherein they perform at their peak level. This period of time is roughly four years, ranging from 29 to 34. After that, a player’s stock drops considerably. Unless he is preternaturally talented or completely juiced on steroids.

All the great ones defy sabermetrics. At 29 years old, Babe Ruth completed his fifth season with the New York Yankees, wrapping up the year with 200 hits, 46 home runs, and 121 RBIs. He batted a none-too-shabby .378. Ruth’s last year of formidable production occurred in 1932, at the age of 37, when he swatted 41 homers, drove in 137 runs, and batted .341. In the Babe’s subsequent three years—the final years of his career—Ruth’s numbers dropped considerably. The Babe just ran out of juice.

It gets me thinking: have I peaked? (Yes.) Is it all downhill from here? (Maybe.) Will I really be wearing Chuck Taylors and backwards trucker hats at 30, 35? (Of course you will, dumbass.)

Truth is, I really don’t know. And perhaps comparing my intellectual/emotional “career” to that of a professional baseball player’s statistical career is slightly unreasonable. But only slightly. Baseball is all about rules and repetition. Such is life.

29. That’s how old former Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa was when his juicy production blossomed. Sosa’s home run total in 1997, at 28 years old, was a paltry 36. The following year a 29-year-old Sosa belted 66 home runs. 29 was Sammy Sosa’s peak year, arguably the greatest year of his playing career, clean or not.

Allow me to revise my mantra: I need to take direct action toward happiness and I need to consider cheating as a short cut.

Cheating is really the only way to persuade friends and family that my youth decay is not as bad as it seems. How cool would it be if all it took was a simple drop of the drawers and a quick jab at the buttock with a needle? One shot to grant me the power to get away with wearing ironic T-shirts and unkempt hair well into my late thirties! Juice me up!

Are anti-depressants to the game of life what performance-enhancing drugs are to the game of baseball? Unfortunately, self-medication has never worked for me. Which is not to say I’m anti-drug, but I can’t help it; I love to suffer.

“Hi. My name is Justin Benton and I’m addicted to feeling bad.”

There’s no point in masking my bellicose malcontent. The moping, the bitching, the self-hatred, all of it works for me. Whereas getting loaded on fifth of Jack and creeper weed doesn’t really do the trick.

When I think about 29 I am always reminded of Prince Hamlet. Some undersexed academics with nothing better to do have suggested that Prince Hamlet may have been a teenage boy. But I prefer to think of him as a mercurial and whiny 29-year-old Manchild. The kind of guy who is supposed to act his age and step up to the plate, but is not entirely sure if he’s up for it. And, of course, Ham asked the greatest question of them all: what the hell’s the point?

Every hard-thinking, self-hating twenty-something has wondered if to-not-be is better than to-be. I’ve been there, pondered disappearing, suicide, whatever. Wondered—why me? But at some point you’ve just got to grow up and accept that you are here, you exist. So, now, what are you going to do about it?

Me, I’m going to stop pondering not-being and start thinking about what to be.