A Guide for Boys: Adventures and Other Ventures in Human Capital (Ages 6+)


There are certain expectations everyone has of a Boy, fair or not. One of these expectations involves jar opening. So many jars are so difficult to open, Boys. Especially pickle jars, from our experience. Not even jalapeño jars are as difficult to open as pickle jars. Not even olive jars are as difficult to open as pickle jars.

We have some theories. One of these theories is that we are in a pickle when unsuccessfully opening a pickle jar, and some omnipotent entity enjoys the pun approximately as much as this omnipotent entity enjoys watching us squirm.

In order to really stick it to this omnipotent entity, Boys, it is important for us to remain calm. It is even more important for us to use a jar-gripper pad. It is so very important to the self-esteem of you Boys to never appear weak, regardless of whether—or in what ways—you fear or suspect or know yourselves to be weak. For this reason, keep a jar-gripper pad on your person at all times.



There will be times when you Boys find yourselves on the brink of tears. One minute you were beyond reproach, playing football or eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or walking around an auditorium in a designated order as a part of your elementary school’s commencement ceremony, and the next you were tackled hard or reminded that everyone you have ever known or ever will know will one day die or saw your father sobbing in the auditorium bleachers.

You don’t know exactly how it happened. You swear on the lives of everyone you have ever known or ever will know that you found yourself in this situation with a complete lack of causality, nothing linking precipice with impending act. Normally, we advise that you Boys overcome the stunted nature of your gender’s approach to emotional repression, but we also have practicality to consider in a case like this. We do not wish for you Boys to be mercilessly teased and bullied with an even more severe lack of mercy by those Boys with less healthy self-conceptions than even your damaged sense of acceptable conduct. Under similarly adverse situations, Boys have long insisted that they have “something” in their eyes. Of course, the critical flaw in this strategy is that the culprit itself remains unidentified. The lack of specificity is suspicious to even the least skeptical onlookers.

Next time you Boys find yourselves on the brink of tears, and an untrustworthy onlooker gives you a suspicious look, insist not that you have something, but that you have ceiling tile debris or a droplet of Cholula hot sauce or even belly button lint in your eye. The more unusual the item, the more plausible the explanation.



Where does it go, Boys? There is never enough time. Even when we are paroled from school for the ten weeks of summer vacation, it is never enough. Even when we are paroled from work for the latest weekend, it is never enough. Why are there three-hundred-and-sixty-five-and-one-fourth days in a year, Boys? The Roman Gregorian calendar is objectively inferior to so many alternative time-measuring calendars at our disposal. Why are there fifty-two weeks in a year, Boys, or seven days in a week? Why are there twenty-four hours in a day, Boys, or sixty minutes in an hour, or sixty seconds in a minute? Why are we forced to work five days a week, rather than four or even three days a week? Why do we live to work, rather than work to live? Why has Boy economist John Maynard Keynes been so wrong when, from data, he predicted the millennial generation would work fifteen hours a week thanks to the increasing efficiency of production afforded by technological innovation?

Why is there never enough time, Boys? Well, it has something to do with the human condition, and another thing to do with wage slavery.



There are so many misconceptions about the nature of bullying that we know not where to begin.

Because all Boys revere the anthropologist David Graeber, all Boys know that bullying is a kind of elementary structure of human domination. But few know that decades of scholarship have concluded that bullying is about humiliation as much as supremacy. Contrary to the popular conception facilitated by lazy art, bullies rarely suffer from insecurities and are instead usually fueled by their desire for provocation and violence, often in the service of enforcing a singular social code which pervades power relations across most facets of American life.

Keep in mind, Boys, that when you are children, you quite literally cannot leave a school. It is quite literally against the law. The school attended by children is not so different than the workplace attended by adults. Miss too much school and your parents are thrown in jail. Miss too much work and you’re fired, denied access to the capital you are forced to exchange for access (whether temporary or permanent) to a home. Then, you are thrown into jail for loitering or for lacking private property—depending on perspective—or perhaps thrown into a homeless shelter if you’re lucky, bussed into another county by sheriffs with no interest in seeing the likes of you around the streets their employers own.

When bullied by capitalism, most adults would like to not risk suffering or death while devoid of purchasing power. Similarly, when bullied by a peer, most children would like to leave for a place where they will not be physically or psychologically assaulted. Most of you Boys will have been bullied in one manner or another, to one degree or another, and so you know that within a school, escape is impossible. Within our society, escape from capitalism is similarly impossible. Because a fight between a bully and the bullied is never fair, the bullied adult must agree to forty or more years of wage slavery in order to avoid being penalized by the state for the crime of refusing to participate in the economy.

Meanwhile, the bullied child must capitalize on the optimal time to inflict maximum damage on the bully in order to disincentivize the bully from further abuse. When this moment arrives (after weeks or months or perhaps years of sustained abuse) the bully and the bullied will be taken into the office. A teacher will assert that they are both guilty of fighting. The principal will say it doesn’t matter who started it. The principal will say that it is a matter of principle. Onlookers who refused to intervene will say they either feared becoming targets themselves, or that the bullied received what he deserved. So, the bullied is victimized thrice over, first by the assailant, next by the institution ostensibly responsible for protecting him, and finally by a species ready to blame the victim’s reaction as a retrospective justification for the original aggression.

“Okay, okay, okay,” you Boys are saying. “This is a whole lot to take in. Jesus Christ is this bullying stuff more complicated than we could have ever imagined!” You Boys are scribbling notes to your future selves. You’ve connected the plight of powerless schoolchildren and the powerless proletariat, and you’re wondering where this revelation leads. This moment can arrive for an adult at any time, really. When onboarded for their first job or harassed by a boss or colleague for the first time. Maybe the latest deductible for a necessary medical procedure is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or perhaps the deadening years and decades of toil collectively create enough fissures to shatter the illusion that there’s any dignity to this absurd existence. Eventually, the employee will be taken into an office. A Human Resources representative will assert that they are guilty of damaging morale. The supervisor will say they are just not a good fit for the corporate culture. Both will remind the victim that it is a right-to-work state, which deliberately means just about the exact opposite of what you Boys would assume. Colleagues who refused to intervene will say they feared becoming targets themselves, or that the disloyal employee received what they deserved and rejoice in having one fewer competitor to overcome for the next promotion.

Boys, the hoping-for-reform era is over. It’s time for direct action in every facet of civic life—strikes and sabotage and everything entailed by the destruction of the status quo. We are not free, but we soon can be. Kick that bully right in the cajones, Boys. Sock Capital where it most hurts: in police department windows, and the lawns of public officials who are sustained by oligarchic donors, and that street named for the wall which protects the few from the many. In the honor of the recently deceased anarchist David Graeber, graffiti the revolutionary slogan he coined anywhere and everywhere because we miss him and because it’s true: We are the 99 percent.



All self-help books are didactic, Boys, because all self-help books definitionally have moral instruction as a foundational impulse. The genre of self-help goes back at least as far as famous Roman wordsmith Cicero’s On Friendship and On Duties, but exploded in the latter half of the twentieth century, partly because people will always want to believe that they can change—and soon—if only they knew how, and partly because a neoliberal society that places the praise or blame of success or failure squarely on the individual must insist on selling you programs of self-discipline across as many fields and topics as your salary can afford.

Didacticism is not exclusive to self-help, of course, as Aesop can attest. But when we tried to write literary fiction back in the day, peers always complained about our didacticism. It was disguised beneath humor and never moralized through narration or dialogue. Still, writers who spent pages describing a single flower—writers who recycled the same clichés and metaphors to render the most melodramatic of emotions in the minds of characters stuck in the same situations we’ve read thousands of times before—would renounce all decorum when reading our work, abandoning any pretense that the essential goal of their aesthetic project wasn’t to reinforce the status quo. They did not like when a story of ours would leave the reader thinking that billionaires should not exist or that drone strikes are bad and the cool president who expanded the drone program was a war criminal. Their eyes bulged and their mouths hung open and their vocal cords said things like “this doesn’t feel earned” and “I’m taken out of the reading experience here” and “this is really alienating, and readers should never feel alienated.”

We understand. We are annoyed by certain kinds of didacticism too, of course. Sometimes a Boy wants to escape from reality through narrative, or distract himself from death, or linger in a scene of war without considering the tremendous suffering implicit in armed conflict. Sometimes the writers of this guide want to live in a different world. But, Boys, we’re all stuck, together, in this world. We’re ruining this world, Boys, but we have the power to change ourselves and change the world. This guide is just the start. Permit us some didacticism, please, when we talk about Kathryn Bigelow laundering War-on-Terror propaganda in her movies or systemic racism in the criminal justice system or Chevron’s incarceration of a lawyer who successfully fought to hold the company accountable for the oil pollution of Ecuadorian rainforests and indigenous land. There’s a lot to be angry about in this world, Boys. Aren’t you angry?



Who would ever craft such a peculiar idiom, we thought while young, because who would ever want to encourage the pipers of the world by paying to hear their ear-curdling music? As we later learned, to pay the piper means to face repercussions for one’s actions.

Not long ago, our CEO visited our regional headquarters following an exposé revealing that various individuals within various branches of the company had consulted for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, advising specific cuts in spending on food, medical care, and the supervision of migrant detainees, as well as providing possible strategies for how to accelerate the deportation process.

The bad public relations tanked the company’s stock price, and layoffs were coming. For the eight hours we were contracted to work prior to the CEO’s 4 p.m. speech to our regional headquarters, we refreshed our email inbox at minute increments, eager as we were to learn whether we were to be among those thanked for our service, provided various platitudes of invariable valuelessness, and escorted out of the building upon immediate abandonment of our key cards and company laptops and salaries. All of us were in such a state of agitation. The uncertainty drove us all to the brink. We would have done anything and everything to maintain a semblance of control over our lives.

Some low-level workers were fired, but none of those morally culpable for these crimes paid the piper. The piper keeps playing all the same. Just as no one should ever pay a piper for the privilege of listening to their music, no one who should pay the piper ever does. That’s just not how things work.



Every Boy wishes to be remembered. It’s one of the most universal and stupid things all Boys want. The CEO of one of the largest record companies (named after himself, naturally) in the world donates a hundred million dollars to rename one of the largest concert halls in the world, in doing so violating the terms of the previous namesake (requiring an out-of-court settlement, naturally) and, naturally, this Knucklehead still can’t connect the dots. Legacy this, influence that, we fear the inevitable.

How much do you Boys know about your great grandparents? Use your powers of reflection, please. We have been strengthening them for a reason, Boys! It is time to really use your powers of reflection. The implications for your sense of self and morality will be stupendous. This is not the culminating moment toward which we’re building, but it’s certainly good practice.

What do you know about these ancestors? A name, perhaps? Possibly an occupation? A distinctive physical attribute if you’re lucky? Three generations is all it takes to be completely forgotten, even among relatives. Imagine the millions of dead strangers from this same era who lived anonymous lives of quiet dignity, or prominent lives of loud destruction.

Collective memory is a scam designed by private equity financiers in Hollywood to pacify consumers into watching blockbusters with interchangeable characters and the same plot in perpetuity. We have been forced to compete rather than collaborate, taught to think of only I and me rather than us and we.

We hope this revelation sets you Knuckleheads and Goofs and Goofuseses and, yes, even you Punks free.



If we can only guarantee a single thing about the future, it’s that by mid-December, individuals who claim to be your friends and family will expect you to confirm your emotional investment in their well-being by purchasing specific consumer products. Most of these friends and family will send you letters or emails or voicemails making abundantly clear that they’d like a bassinet, or a contribution to their GoFundMe campaign to start a business dedicated to making ironic miniature clothing for babies and small animals, or a formal apology in front of the entire family for the things you said last Thanksgiving about the viability of a business dedicated to making ironic miniature clothing for babies and small animals.

This year, we humbly suggest that you purchase a copy of A Guide for Boys: Adventures and Other Ventures in Human Capital (Ages 6+) for everyone. There is no better training for the grim realities of living in the world with hopes and dreams than being disappointed by friends and family on Christmas. It’s for their own good. We’ve got inventory to move, and you’ve got people to disappoint, a classic win-win scenario.

Samuel Rafael Barber is 0.00000001253133% of the population, a Chicano from South Texas, and the author of the chapbook Thousands of Shredded Scraps of Paper Located across Five Landfills, That if Pieced Together Form a Message. A PhD candidate at the University of Denver, his fiction appears in DIAGRAM, the Normal School, Passages North, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. According to life expectancy tables, he will live another 51.2 years.