Friday, December 31, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: A Man Undermined

Paul Sawyer, real name Saul Sauerberg, pushed through the door and walked deliberately to Gerome’s desk. He put up his hands sideways like a field goal post. The gesture probably meant something else to him.

“I assume you’ve seen the piece,” Paul said through the uprights.

“I assume everyone on this floor has seen it.” Gerome folded his gnarled, brown hands. “I got it as an e-mail attachment, and I barely know how to open those.”

Paul got to pacing, shutting the door like an afterthought on his circuit between the window and his managing editor’s wall of plaques. He paced like this before shows. It was how he warmed up. “I assume you’ve seen it because you summoned me here. But I would have come anyway. I was on my way here when you were calling to have me come in. You were the first person who came to mind when I read the piece.”

“I’d think of the writer. If a pretty lady didn’t like me as succinctly as she didn’t like you, I’d think about her before any wrinkly black men. Now I want you to verify this for me. Is she right? Did you use methamphetamines last year, while under contract?”

“The gall. The bile. The various mythical juices this woman must possess to quote me out of context, and try to paint me as some junky riding a corporate account.” He broke his pacing to wave four fingers and a thumb. “I will have you know that at least five of the quotes in this piece are entirely fabricated.”

“Was the one about meth entirely fabricated?”

The pacing resumed. “She wanted an angle. I mean, why interview a sports journalist? Newsmakers make bad stories. It’s incestuous. It’s masturbatory. I only did it because Kendal said it’d draw more attention. Get me out there, get new eyes. Eyes always help. But it’s clear she only asked so that she could claim things about me. Unsubstantiated things that could damage my career if people in this company take them out of context.”

“You’re saying you used meth out of context?”

“I’m saying that she did not take a single sentence from my mouth and put it where it belonged, and I’m frankly insulted that this company would believe this borderline hearsay, this transparent case of libel, before even consulting me.”

“I’m sorry. Were you expecting the network heads to meet you in my office?” Gerome put a palm on his desk, as though affirming it was tangible and not an illusion. “I am consulting you. You’re facing me and we’re exchanging words in our shared language. What I think is our shared language.”

“This company should have more faith in me. I could have jumped two years ago. I could have jumped last year. I could have gone to NBC Sports. I could be Keith Olbermann right now. But I stuck with the girl who brought me to the dance. Do you know I’ll have been here five years this March?”

“Five years.” Gerome shook his head. “If it’s relevant, I’ve given twenty-three and I have no idea when my anniversary is. I say ‘if it’s relevant’ because I’m older and I know in your position it looks like I’ve had more years to hand out to corporations. But I’d like you to answer if you smoked pot.”

“I know you’ve worked here twenty-three years. Look at those awards.” Paul tapped one, and the noise it made disturbed him. He only gestured to the others. “You’ve earned them all for this company. I respect that, I respect the work. That’s why I’m coming to you.”

“You’re coming to me because I summoned you, and possibly because I can fire you.”

“Out of admiration for all your work in journalistic integrity. Because reason matters to you. Reason, ethics and journalistic integrity. You’re not going to let someone oust me from a position I put my heart into just so she can get more hits on her blog. You, of everyone in this building, will understand a man undermined.”

“Paul, in 1996 I was aggressively addicted to cocaine.”

Paul stopped pacing.

“I spent more than your current salary on it, and twice did lines of it off the backside of a Forbes 400 CEO. If you want to narrow it down, it was one of the female CEOs. My wife and children have forgiven me and I’ve undergone treatment in secret, but I actually still crave to this day, in the adjacent century. It took someone very powerful and patient to save my life. I’m telling you this because you’re making me crave it right now. Also because I think if I tell you this, you will answer me: at any time during your contract with the company we both work for but do not value more than the livelihood of a good man, did you use illicit substances?”

Paul sat. He smoothed out his pants aggressively. At some point the creases had gone uneven and needed pinching.

“Yes.”

“Okay. Now we can talk.”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Riren 100

Every year I write The Riren 100, a comprehensive list of the top hundred pro wrestling matches in a year. The last couple years it has received pretty amazing syndication, and this year it's expected to appear on a batch of front pages. Since I get a lot of confused feedback about it, I'm opening up this source post. I'll link any place it's appearing, and if you have any comments you can feel free to leave them here.


I won't be posting the list here because it's really long. Feel free to point out other sites where it's popped up so I can add them.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: "You’re in my thoughts." –Many random friends

"I'm in your thoughts? Maybe you should have concentrated harder during the surgery. This scar is way bigger than the doctor said. By the way, did you imagine that guy clearly? Tight ass. Or I was medicated and it was actually an IV stand. I don't know, I wasn't paying attention, but apparently you were because you imagined my entire life. God, my entire life. When I rear-ended that bitch, and then she turned out to be my student loan officer? That time the circus took out a restraining order against me? How did I not see it sooner? I am in your thoughts, and you're fucking crazy. Get on some ritalin and start imagining me getting laid by a cheerleading squad already."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Black Hulk


[Once again at the booth. MEGATRAN, a Chinese knockoff of Megatron made from blue plastic instead of white, sits on the center, using a flame jet from its index finger to warm a plate of nachos, from which everyone at the table is eating. GRUFF STOVER sits to MEGATRAN’s right, MEGATRAN’s giant cannon slung over GRUFF’s shoulder. GRUFF strokes it possessively. SAMID sits to MEGATRAN’s left, wearing a chainmail bikini. ARYANA sits to SAMID’s left, in a pink tuxedo.]

Gruff: Why’s The Incredible Hulk got to be white?

Samid: He’s green.

Megatran: All the newspapers say he’s white when he turns back into a person.

Aryana: How come it’s white? The only people who are actually white are albinos, and we don’t call them white. I’m kind of sandy.

Gruff: Why can’t The Incredible Hulk be black?

Samid: Because he’s green.

Gruff: When he’s a normal person, he could be black. You don’t know.

Aryana: They say he’s a physicist. David Banner or something.

Gruff: There aren’t any black physicists? What about Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Samid: I really don’t think he’s the Hulk.

Ayrana: I thought he was an astronomer.

Gruff: The Incredible Hulk is not an astronomer.

Megatran: Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist.

Gruff: He could have been bombarded by astro-rays. That made the Fantastic Four. If it can make The Thing, why can’t it make The Incredible Hulk?

Megatran: Because Neil deGrasse Tyson’s job is on the ground. He has never gone into space.

Gruff: You don’t know that. He could have gone to space, got hit by giant green rays, then covered it up. That’s why you don’t know he went to space. The point being if some white Banner can be the Hulk just because of his physics project, why can’t Tyson by the Hulk because of his?

Samid: Under that logic, I could be Hulk and have covered it up.

Gruff: No you couldn’t.

Samid: Why?

Aryana: You’re not black.

[SAMID gapes at ARYANA. GRUFF snaps his fingers victoriously.]

Gruff: See? Woman’s got it.

Samid: How?

Aryana: Because sometimes a lady knows when to jump on a side. [She raises a fist] Hulk smash puny logic.

Samid: Logic is tumbling away from us.

Aryana: In fact, I’m willing to suppose something. [She looks to Gruff] There is only one black man who can’t possibly be the Hulk.

[GRUFF nods]

Gruff: Damn straight.

Samid: Who?

Megatran: Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Aryana: No. Barack Obama.

[GRUFF snaps his fingers victoriously once again]

Gruff: Lady has it.

Samid: And how do we come to this?

Aryana and Gruff: [in unison] Because he’s Superman.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Hottest Present of the Holiday

Under the tree in pink wrapping paper, a doll that whispers once a day to her new best friend. Tonight it’ll say “Hold the pillow over Baby Sam’s face until he stops wiggling.” Tomorrow it’ll say “Crush up Mommy’s pills and put them in Daddy’s bottled water.” Or some variation. By New Years, they will have the house to themselves.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Odysseusmas


Grandpa Odysseus hates carolers. We didn’t understand, for he was otherwise festive. The one post of his bed was a tree, and every December 1st he decorated it so bright you could see it from space. He gave uncanny gifts. Last year I got a dried out Cyclops eye, and Threnody got the prettiest fleece you’ve ever seen. For the dinner he always orders prime cuts from Old Circe’s Farm, which is a long way to go, even if it is succulent. He’s never met a door-to-door salesman he couldn’t con, and he’ll swap stories with Jehovah’s Witnesses in the foyer all day. His only gripe is Christmas carolers. Barely able to walk, he’ll fight his way down to the docks and we have to tie him to a mast to keep him still. You’d think a war vet would be scared of something a little more challenging than two or three little carolers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: "Does anybody know what Christmas is all about?" -Some bald kid

“It’s lights and glitz and pretty houses.”

“It’s about the culture wars.”

“It’s about who has the most bad ass tree.”

They talked over each other, sentences lapping over sentences like so many waves coming ashore, none complete or convincing, doing little more than disturbing his mental sand. He took the lapping as long as he could.

Then the boy took a breath and his blanket and the stage, since no one else was using it.

“And there were in the country some hardworking guys catching a breather. Something fell over them, a sort of irrational notion skipping across three minds, unspoken and inexplicable. They saw people with wings surrounding a little newborn baby. And one of the winged guys said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Here is a boy who will grow into more than a man, and he’ll be good to those who hate him, good to those who offer nothing, and maybe he’ll start a revolution, and maybe he’ll bring some people back from the dead. But he will never be about death, or revolutions, or fury. He’ll be about being. Go see him.’ The three guys looked at each other, not straight in the eye, each thinking he should pack a present.”

“It’s all commercial now.”

“We get twelve days in ours.”

“Jingle Bells makes me want to stab somebody.”

The boy dragged his blanket off the stage and out of the school and past the church and past the tree lot and past the condos, which were colorful but dim that hour. He joined his best friend in decorating the best tree they'd ever have. It was scrawny and slouched towards nothing in particular, except someone being born somewhere, because if you go far enough in any direction you'll find someone beginning. He wrapped his blanket around the base as a skirt, and his friend hung a red ball from the low thing's highest branch. It was ugly. It was the best they'd ever have.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: What’s The Best Christmas Movie?

Tiffany: It’s that movie with the ugly guy and the bitchy family. Uh, you should ask Ben.

Rodney: It’s a tie between Die Hard and Die Hard 2. It depends whether you’re more interested in blowing up an airplane or a skyscraper. Regardless, Bruce Willis has a lock on this.

Ben: I know what I vote for, but maybe you should ask Dad.

Aunt Sheena: We’re No Angels. I’d hang Humphrey Bogart’s stocking.

Gino: Toy Story! (upon being told Toy Story is not set on a holiday) Toy Story!

Dad: Ben says I know? Well, I guess you’re old enough for this story. Back when I first married your mother, Grandma was very rude to her. She picked on her whenever I left the room, and your mom never told me because she was trying to be a good sport. Grandma would complain about water stains on the silverware, or the brand of wine, or that food didn’t smell proper. Little things that can really hurt when they add up. I didn’t know about it until this one Christmas, when Grandma found out Ben was failing a couple classes and got it in her head that he shouldn’t get any presents until he shaped up. That’s what she used to do to me when I was little. Instead of bring this to me, she went to your mom and really tore into her about her parenting and your kids’ future, while your mother was struggling with the first turkey of her life. I came in with some firewood and found her sobbing, and Grandma acting insulted. When I asked, she bolted past us and locked the door to our bedroom. Ben let me know what was going on and, well, that’s the first and only time I ever kicked my mother out of a house. Even after that your mom wouldn’t let me into the room. Didn’t matter what I said. I could hear her crying and crying. It hurt to leave her like that, but I finished cooking and got you kids ready for supper. You were really little, probably don’t even remember any of this happened. We couldn't eat in the kitchen, because her wailing carried in and filled the room. The sobbing got so loud that it turned into pure noise. Soon I couldn’t tell if she was crying or laughing. I almost kicked in the door, because I thought your mom might hurt herself. I was reeling back to kick when the door opened. Her face was bloated and pink, but smiling. The TV was on behind her. She wiped away a tear and asked, “Have you ever seen The Ref?” Then busted up laughing. I’ve tried to watch it since. Denis Leary looks like he bit a lemon, and I don’t “get” Kevin Spacey. It doesn’t matter. That is the best Christmas movie. It might just have saved your mom's sanity.

Mom: It’s a Wonderful Life is nice.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ten Hints to Dave's Christmas Present, 2010 Edition

My brother likes to figure out his Christmas presents by groping the wrapping paper. Last year I got him a book, but left a series of hints as to which book in the card. I shared the hints here and people seemed to enjoy it. I'm doing it to him again this year and figured I might share it again as well. The rules are not to Google anything. You can work it out with others, though, and converse in the Comments section.

  1. This is a book. The title is fewer than five words.
  2. The author had an unusual first name. It's almost like a measurement of direction and weight. 
  3. This is not the most famous book of its author. You probably read excerpts from this author's most famous book in high school.
  4. The author was very socially conscious. That most famous book helped spark reform in the meatpacking industry, though that wasn't the author’s point.
  5. 80 years after its publication, this book was adapted into a film with a different title. That title is also fewer than five words. 
  6. The book and film both deal with one of the essential materials of the modern industrial world.
  7. The main character of the film is different from that of the book. Though the book's main character plays an important role in the film, the actor wasn't nominated for anything. Perhaps he was too young.
  8. All of the letters in the title of the book are present in the title of the film.
  9. If you add the number of words in the titles of the book and film, you would have five words.
  10. The titles of the book and the film both refer to liquids (well, you might call one a fluid).

Have fun!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: “The weather outside is frightful…” –Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne, “Let It Snow”

The weather outside is frightful. White waves blow up over the curb, down the driveway, licking at the lip of the garage door. The thermostat says 90, but everyone’s looking for a second sweater. Up to 100 and Timmy tries to get the fireplace going. The second they open the chute, snow spills down and vomits across the carpet. Dad goes for the shovels outside and finds the doorknob frozen still. Through the window? Snow upon more snow. Grandpa says you’re sissies and brushes it away. It grabs his broom and he tumbles in. It closes up behind him. When Mom and the Aunts try to fish him out, it avalanches through the window and overtakes the whole hallway. Dad and Timmy huddle around a burning Douglas fir.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Straw Women

The Miller got drunk and boasted some inane things. This happens, but sometimes it forces a man to improvise. The next day he gathered his three daughters and informed them they would get their inheritance early. They were very excited until they were met with three carts of straw.

"Each of you inherits this much for now," he said. "Whosoever of you can spin your straw into gold will get the rest."

The youngest daughter did the logical thing and put out a Craigslist request for alchemists. The only respondent was a man with a molten complexion who refused to give his name. She brought her cart to his chemical dungeon for a demo. The place was full of gold, but just to show he was on the level, he plucked up one straw, slid it between his fingers, and lo it was reduced to shimmering metal. He offered to transform her entire cart load in return for a favor, one he wouldn't mention now, but which would some distant day come up. She agreed by dumping the cart load in one corner. When he turned to begin alchemizing, she filled up the cart with his existing gold and got the hell out of there. He never had vengeance, since she'd never given him her name either.

The most voluptuous daughter took her cart of straw far uptown. She spent a few pennies on a dress, then undid every button on the thing and pretended to sulk at the highest class bar. Hormonal young men sprouted around her. She weeded the lower- and middle-income ones, hitting up the rich boys with stories of failed crops and just wanting to get away. Before last call she had spun five of them in a bidding war for her straw (and, perhaps by miscommunication, her maidenhead).

The most enterprising daughter used Yahoo (TM) to search foreign commodities markets and find what locales were in the highest demand for imported straw. She found two targets in South-East Asia that were under the impression that European straw was the most desirable. After compensating for shipping costs, she spun the trade deal into certificates representing eight ounces of gold each.

The daughters returned with their carts of riches. The miller hugged them and brought out the most extravagant wine and, over the course of the evening, learned the means of his daughters' wealth. The youngest and most voluptuous daughters awoke the next morning face-down in a pile of straw outside, each with a note informing them they'd been disowned for "general harlotry." The most enterprising daughter awoke to learn that she hadn't gained her father's wealth either - the old man had been going bankrupt. Instead she was assigned as his new personal investment manager, and was to "inherit" a 5% fee.

Moral? Oh yes, the moral is that your accountant can still screw you out of your riches and go live with her sisters if you don't behave.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Imaginary TED Talk, OR, Thinking Things Out for “Baby”


Technology is increasingly personal. It once took up an entire room, then it fit on your desk, and now you’re unfashionable if it isn’t in your pocket. Your music, credit card information, address and the phone numbers of everyone you’re vaguely interested in are entrenched in portable devices.

It went from “over there” to “over here” to “under your fingers” to “in your hand” to “in your hand, ear and mouth, and frequently before your eyes.” It will go “inside.” That’s the next level of intimacy, once it becomes simpler to inject you with everything rather than having to deal with all those cumbersome senses individually. A child will never be lost again with a GPS in her brainstem. You’ll think about someone and it will autodial them, or autotext if you don’t feel like hearing them. Telepathy will come in various broadband fads and forms of hourly rates.

There’ll be new options. Yes, it’s a phone, a music player, a source of directions. But wouldn’t you like it to help your sense of direction? It could look up the route, or it could stimulate your brain so that you constantly know the route, altered on the minute by the latest traffic reports. Precognition by satellite. It’ll fill in whatever blanks you want. Entire years of History class, downloaded. Masterpieces of literature not memorized, but digitized and hyperlinked, any info you need autofilling on your tongue. There will be apps to speak more clearly, more deeply, more engagingly. You’ll have a bus load of Winston Churchills.

The brain does more than know things. It runs things. Nanomachines in your bloodstream will prevent clots and alert you to infections and diseases. That’ll be good enough for the launch party. To make the real money, though? Motor skills. We can get your baby ready to walk the second his legs twitch. Perfect hand-eye coordination, no attention deficit because our data stream is double-checking the bloodflow in his brain. They will grow up inclined to athleticism, and in old age, even as their minds fail, we’ll keep their bodies from betraying them. No nervous twitches, spasms or epileptic fits. In-between, we can tone down those autoimmune responses. You know how many people don’t die from influenza, but just because their bodies overreact to the infection? Subscribe to our stream and you’ll never vomit again, and perhaps go your whole life without a fever, in addition to catching every early warning sign for diabetes and cancer. When we cook up the cures to diabetes and cancer, we’ll probably give you an automatic update that gives them to your body for free.

Technology can be dangerous. There will be outages. You may go through one of the few places without coverage, or a total blackout may leave a few city blocks without functioning bodies. So they won’t be able to stand and will soil themselves. Perhaps they’ll all die of heart attacks. I don’t think you’ll mind too much. You’ll mind enough to copy, paste and Like something on Facebook about it. But every year thousands of people die on our highways. We don’t stop the companies from making cars out of destructible plastic, or honor the speed limits with any diligence, or ban automobiles. Nothing to decrease the convenience of getting from place to place quickly. So when I offer you autodialing in your head, autofilling on your tongue, and never suffering from the symptoms of a flu ever again, all at a modest monthly package price, I don’t think you’re going to stop me. At worst I’ll find some other country that will inject its children with these, and they’ll get ahead, and your kids will do it to their kids to catch up. The rates will be higher then. That’s progress. Trust me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Son of Pherson

We left Ireland because were starving and getting bombed by anarchists. We came to New York and went from McPherson to Pherson, because Irishmen could still get killed in the land of prosperity. We washed our clothes and shaved off the red hairs. But God said, “Not so easy.” Recessive albinism came back. The family could not run away from that. My father could, could dump me and my mom. Sometimes lay awake at night imagining he tried to hide in some colony of the nocturnal blind who couldn’t see me, and a new complication was waiting for him. Maybe he and all the rest of his spawn went deaf. I imagine that’s waiting for me, if I ever try to escape what I am.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Two-Hour Delay

They armored up. Boxers, t-shirts, socks, jeans, another pair of socks that you pulled up over the ends of the jeans, polar fleeces, snow overalls, military boots, winter jackets, earmuffs and knitted caps. They didn’t want to shovel, didn’t want school to start at all, but in raiment that would make Iron Man envious, the boys were at least proud.

Leigh and Finnegan each took a shovel. They slung them over their shoulders like rifles – well, Leigh held his like a rifle. Finnegan imagined a spear. They marched onto the porch, Leigh clearing left, Finnegan right. In the distance a car’s tires snarled for traction on ice.

“The blizzard’s overtaking the whole state,” said Leigh, even though the snow had already stopped. “It’d be an emergency if, you know, it hadn’t killed the president.”

“Oh yeah. Washington is a wasteland now.” Finnegan went along. He cleared off the last and stood there, reflecting on the roads, ploughed but slushy. There was no traffic. “I’ll miss people.”

“We’re the last,” said Leigh, sidling past him to begin the path to the driveway. “Just me, you and Mom.”

“Good thing Mom can cook.”

A red SUV rumbled by. Both boys turned their backs to it, not even letting it violate their peripheral vision.

“Everyone wiped out. All the Gym teachers.”

“All the Math teachers.”

A harsh wind whipped their backs. Leigh stiffened and Finnegan wiggled.

“Quit it.” Leigh smacked his brother in the butt with his shovel. “You’re drawing attention.”

“From who?”

“The Lord of the North. He’s the one sending snow. Can only tell where we are if we move.”

Finnegan fidgeted to stillness. He glanced up and thought he made out a pale castle resting in the clouds. Of course. The Lord of the North.

Their path was made of big slates. Leigh cleared one square, Finnegan did the next, and so-on. Leigh brushed all his snow on the left side, facing the street. Finnegan turned around after one square to find his brother collecting all the snow he’d dumped and adding it to his leftward piles.

“What are you doing?”

Leigh pushed the drift up higher. “Building a wall so when the Lord of the North sends his orcs they’ll have a harder time getting in.”

“Orcs?” Finnegan stared across the street to the amassing hordes. Their bloody flags poked through snow-bent trees. “Are those orcs?”

“What else would they be?”

The Lord of the North sent another gust, and Finnegan turned his back to it. It blew his hood over his face, so that all that showed was a pondering frown. The orcs banged their axes on their breastplates in-between the tinkles of the house wind chime.

“I think they’re gathering,” Finnegan warned, trudging to the driveway. “We’ll need an escape route.”

“I made a rocket engine in case that happens,” Leigh said, shoveling all the same. “It’ll let the car drive over the snow.”

“You did not.”

“I did.”

“When did you learn to build rocket engines?”

“At camp.”

“You didn’t go to rocket camp.”

An arrow whizzed by, nearly taking off Finnegan’s cap. It dug so deep into the snow that only the feather showed. A black feather.

“Orc arrows?”

Three more zipped down, digging into the drift by the path. The boys dropped their shovels and dove onto the slate.

“They have archers?”

As though in answer, the wind pulled a fresh blanket of snow from the roof. Black arrows tore through it mid-air, pelting the side of their house. A few clattered down and bounced off the boys’ legs.

“Don’t move,” Leigh warned. “The Lord of the North can see you.”

“We’re behind the wall.”

“He’s in the sky. He’s probably telling them where to aim.”

“That can’t be how it works.”

One black arrow drilled directly into the slate between Finnegan’s legs. His eyes bulged. He knew someday that part of him was going to be very important, if it wasn’t eaten by orcs. He shimmied out and grabbed their shovels.

“We can’t shovel anymore,” Leigh screeched, taking his all the same. “We’ll be killed.”

Finnegan held the blade of his shovel over his head like a shield. Arrowheads dinged off the plastic like rain. Leigh gaped, then mimicked with his. It was kind of like 300.

They kept the shovels above their heads while they peeked over the wall. Orcs were crossing the street and beginning to ford the snowfield of their lawn. They carried bannered spears that fluttered in their Lord’s evil breeze. And they weren’t alone.

Finnegan asked up at him, “Do they have a cave troll?”

 “They can’t!” Leigh insisted. “It’s day out. Snow’s white and they live where it’s dark.”

The cave troll roared. The boys hugged each other, the sound shaking their bodies. The roar kept going, perpetual and inhuman, until Mom pulled out of the garage. It wasn’t a troll at all; it was the roar of a gigantic engine jutting from the hood, spewing jets of fire. She leaned out the window and called.

“You guys took forever out here. I’ve got your bags, now come on. The delay’s almost up and there is school today.”

“Told you it wasn’t a cave troll,” said Leigh. “And that I make rocket engines.”

He waddled over, no longer afraid of black arrows or Lords of the North. Finnegan stayed behind, huffing through his nose and thinking about Math quizzes.

“I wish it was a cave troll.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Steel of Man, OR, Points if you can guess who this speaker is

“Superman is not out of touch with this country. This country is out of touch with him. At what point in the U.S. did truth, justice and the American way become distasteful? What deluded do-nothing piss-ants could look up in the sky, see him catch a plane and crack sarcastic over it?

“What is this, Lois? “No one can relate to an invincible idealist.” Were you drunk? Who relates to George Washington for his flaws? Did people rally behind Simon Bolivar because he had a drinking problem? And before you pretend they were different, remember the most popular religion in the world is founded on a moralist so powerful he was conflated with God. We live in a sycophantic celebrity culture – the people who are above your reach are who you follow on Twitter and gossip rags. So don’t tell me that a guy who stopped the fifth plane from flying into the Sears Tower with his bare hands is uninteresting.

“I can understand that coming from cynics like The Slate, but not this paper. How dare you ask whether he makes us weak. He rescues children from burning buildings and astronauts from launch explosions.

““Does the hand from the sky hold down more than it lifts up?” Garbage. We have thousands of years of human history where we didn’t fix our own mistakes. Bridges go unmaintained until they collapse. Submarines sink. We were failing long before someone was flying at the speed of sound to save us. Are you pissed he gives your articles a happy ending every so often?

“As far as I’ve seen from the fiftieth floor of this building, this man gives up a personal life in order to be there to help us. This paper will not libel him. I don’t care if print is dying – I will let it fold and fall to the ground with my head held high before I attack the last worthwhile citizen of this country. You will scrap this editorial and write something worthy of him. Get people back on his side.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: "Season of the Witch" is apparently a "thing" now


Season of the Witch? That’s the worst. The absolute rock bottom. In spring everything’s blossoming and we go outside. In summer it’s hot, you swim and girls wear skimpy clothing. In Fall you at least get nice foliage. Winter gets the worst bias, which I appreciate: it’s colder, the blizzards, and suicides rise on account of all the holidays. But the season of the witch is the nastiest season, the one I’d sleep through. All the storms of hail and frogs. The freak weather that makes you sweat until you alchemize. And Jesus Herbert Walker Christ, when the crone trees blossom and the green faces pop out and start screeching “I’ll get you, my pretty!” Terrify my kids and wake me up at the crack of dawn every damned day. Why we can’t cut them down, it doesn’t stand to reason. Just because they’re on an endangered species list. They cast hexes on apple pickers! They should be endangered.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: What if Santa Claus became The Pope? (The Tweets)

 -Pope Claus promises presents if Nuclear Nations disarm their missiles.

-Vatican denies "elf slave trade."

-Obama, Claus to share milk, cookies at Camp David.

-Pope Claus takes stand on priest abuse scandals: "I know which ones are naughty."

-Child to meet with Pope over coal-giving transgressions. "We hope to put hard feelings behind us."
 
-"Vatican relocates to North Pole. Michelangelo commissioned to recreate Sistine Chapel ceiling in igloo."

-Dalai Lama: The Pope's flying sleigh is "pretty sweet."

-ACLU worried about "pope impersonators" on public property. "Sitting on his lap is fun for your child, but offensive to others."

-Pope OK's violent videogames for "some children." "Just check the list twice."

-Lesson in Forgiveness: Pope says reconciliation can get "anyone off the list."

-"What About Mrs. Claus?" Catholic Church questioned about chastity.

-Pope to appear on Oprah. "We'll see who can hide better stuff under their chairs."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bathroom Monologues: Devolution of Television


A curious device that never could have made it in the wild. Not simply because something in the wild wouldn't be civilized enough to make it, but because its path has been one of survival of the weakest. At every stage it offered another reason for it to die out, and yet it flourished in a grand example of counter-evolution. It began as a behemoth device, the center of living rooms as much for its entertainment value as for its bulk. You could not have it in the living room without it being in the center, much as you couldn't have a sun in a solar system without everything falling into orbit around it. Over time the fat devices got bigger screens, and color settings. Then richer color settings. More knobs, which were more likely to break off. The wired remote controller became wireless, with more buttons, which were more likely to stick or go on the fritz. The box itself grew to "big screen," which were liable to die if ever dropped, due simply to mass they packed into the impact. They went flat panel, but remained heavy, and curiously came with recommendations to be hung from walls. More TVs were broken falling from failed wall mounts than any other incident in television history. They adapted symbiotic relationships to the cable box, satellite dish, VHS player, DVD player, BluRay player, home theatre system, iPod mount, Netflix streaming box, and various videogame consoles, such that soon no one had simply one wireless remote, and no universal remote could reliably keep track of its functions. The sets went "HD," to have the highest fidelity picture quality ever, and in doing so developed such sensitive screens that if someone brushed up against them they would scratch permanently. Even dust could mar the viewing panel. Soon they went beyond HD, to 3D, requiring users to wear uncomfortable glasses that often resulting in headaches or nausea from prolonged use. Some sets were promised to eventually not require the cumbersome glasses. They would have even worse effects on their owners. The reason was not obvious, but expected from the device's lineage.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do" -John Lennon, "Imagine"

Laid my head on the pillow and did as he asked. All the lines disappeared off the globes. Tax men took off their ties and road workers dropped their jackhammers, no longer getting fiscally motivated. Pedestrians wandered out of their houses, looking skyward and puzzling out just had changed, just milling, just wondering around, not asking, because to ask would be to connect with a goal, and that would be governance. They did a lot of staring until a wave emerged, I think from China or Russia or Utah, one rogue government rolling forth, marching together and bombing wide. They blew all the accidental anarchists off the face of the earth. Nobody aligned to stop them, because the singer ordered no governments. So they died, asking why this one government was allowed to form and getting no answers. I never did find out why. I got up and had things to do, and by that time he was singing the next track on the CD.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: I Hate Gay

There is an audio edition of this monologue. If you'd like to listen click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio, or click this text to download the MP3.

Today, I hate gay. I hate people who are gay, people who might be, people who aren’t, and people who hate people who are. I hate the whole of it. I hate that when my best friend and I walked downtown chatting for two hours, people suspected things. I hate whoever threw the brick. I hate the protesters outside the hospital. I hate the counter-protesters who claim to support him and are chanting his last name wrong. I hate that they won’t leave him alone. I hate that blogs keep posting cell-phone pictures of his mangled forehead. I hate that he’ll have to wear a hat to cover the scar any time he goes outside. I hate that he’ll find a way to make it fashionable. I hate that “elective cosmetic surgery” isn’t covered by his insurance.

I hate that when I went to his apartment to get his stuff, people tried to encourage me. I hate that they told me to be brave, and to be there for him. I hated it because who were they to tell me to be there for my friend? I hated it because their sincere emotional advice referred to a relationship they only imagined I had.

And I hate the little old lady who scowled at me through the crack in her door, safety chain still hooked, busy hating me for another imaginary relationship. And I hate all the neutral faces that stared at me like, “Does he belong in my apartment building?” and “Is he gay?” and “Am I okay with that?” I hate them all and their crappy floral wallpaper.

On the drive back to the hospital, I hate all the pedestrians who don’t look at me or my car or in my direction. I hate everyone who doesn’t know, who isn’t preoccupied with this. I would hate them if they were looking, and I hate that they aren’t. I hate that they’re getting on with their lives, and that many of them have nothing to get on from because they don’t know, don’t care, have a club somewhere to look impressive at.

I hate the radio. I hate callers blaming religion, blaming my God Who is Love for people hating people who like people who are different from the people that they like. I hate callers blaming my evolution, blaming natural selection wiring our brains to be disgusted at someone not being disgusted at things that disgust us. I hate the host blaming my country, blaming a culture that enshrines free speech, allows rainbow marches, and pays for the public radio that introduced me to The Village People. I like The Village People.

Pulling into the parking lot, weaving amongst protesters and counter-protesters, I hate whichever amendment lets interlopers gather in groups. I hate that hateful people know what gay is. I hate that they’re not gay. I hate somebody’s sign saying you’re born that way, accusing your genes. I hate somebody else’s sign saying it’s a choice, and gays made the wrong one. I hate that either of those things would matter.

I hate that it rained. I hate that the box broke and his shirts fell on the sidewalk. I hate that none of those people helped me, and I’d hate if somebody offered. I hate that my friend is going to laugh at these dirty shirts in the context of all possible Bad News For the Day. I hate that I wasn’t the one who was hit.

I hate the crowds outside, and the journalists in the waiting room, and the three people in the elevator. I hate that I didn’t see who that fuck was when he threw the brick, and I hate each of them for possibly being him. I hate that I’ll walk around this city for at least another three years, potentially passing him every day, and never knowing that I could have caught him and beat his face in. I hate that I’ll blindly suspect people just like he did, and just like he did, I’ll almost always be wrong.

I hate that he’s watching cute cartoons and doesn’t have to scramble to turn them off when I come in. I hate the unguarded tone he uses on the phone with his mom. I hate that the half of his face that’s showing is smiling in assurance to a mother who can’t see him. I hate that she’d call when he needs rest. I hate his God-damned mother. What is wrong with me?

I hate the way he flaps his hand for me to set the box down and take a load off. And sitting there, waiting for my friend to need anything, I hate. I hate what others would say this means about me, or my feelings about him, or what our relationship secretly is in their minds and in none of our experience. In some way I hate myself, but mostly I don’t. I hate the things that make me hate. I don’t hate myself, not until he catches on and actually tries to comfort, reaches out from the bed and pats my wrist and asks if “You’re taking care of you.”

And what do you do there?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Experience of the Holy

Lo’s chest jerked erratically, like somewhere under the bed there was a man with a rope tugging on his ribs. The jerks slowed until he was still, and Puck worried the man had died on him. Not now, not when they’d contacted the big guy behind it all. He poked Lo’s shoulder, and the man’s eyes opened a sliver. Puck inclined, trying to angle himself to be visible in that narrow swath of eyelid.

“So what was he like?” he asked.

Lo put a hand over his face. “Have you ever looked at a stained glass window?”

“Really, he looked like all that white iconography? That’s almost disappointing…”

“No,” Lo cut him off. “No. Imagine looking at an eyeball.”

“An eyeball?”

“Except your eyes are stained glass windows. None of the optic nerves, cones or rods. And your beautiful stained glass windows are looking at an eyeball. Yeah.”

“That makes no sense.”

Lo removed his hand and looked up at Puck’s eyeballs. “It makes new sense. I’d never looked as a stained glass window before.”

“What the crap does that mean?”

“It may mean you have to see him yourself to talk about it. Or…”

“Or what?” Puck snapped.

“Or you can appreciate my best attempts to tell you what it was like.”

With that Lo laid back down and rolled his back to the ingrate. Next time Puck could have his own epiphany.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Walt Disney Star

Contrary to popular belief, Walt Disney did not have himself frozen on his deathbed so that he could be cured in later centuries. He had an intimate knowledge of death and larger things, which he imbued upon his many fine cartoons. Rather than be frozen, cremated or stuck in the ground, he took the appropriate course of being shot into space. Specifically, he was shot into Polaris, the north star, so that he would always be looking down upon his millions of fans. He even answers the occasional celestial-born wish. But do not pray to him – he is a good Christian star, and takes only wishes. Preferably those for transformation and riches, like a boy looking up from his drafting table and wishing he was one of the lights in the sky.

Monday, December 6, 2010

True Stories of John 6: Digital Horse, OR, The Life and Times of Felicity (Digital Horse)


Videogames are a multi-billion dollar business. Many girlfriends can’t comprehend how their men complain about a half hour drive to Kohls and yet spend an entire day on the couch staring at a TV. I hope this story will begin to educate.

Early in Red Dead Redemption your cowboy is taught how to rope, break in and keep horses. You chase a herd of horses across the sunny plains of Hennigan's Stead. On that mission, between all the brown and white backs, I glimpsed gold hair. I tried to chase it on my modest mare, but it was too quick.

Back in town a friend and I messed around the General Store and found the listing of all available horses. Near the bottom was the Kentucky Saddler, a golden-pearl steed that was supposedly one of the fastest alive, only matched by the equally rare American Standard. My friend and I were stunned. If we could catch that, we'd ride it for the rest of the game. We immediately ran back out into the fields, but the horse was gone. I was stuck with a standard horse, which I named Felicity. I name all my horses Felicity, because I love Zapp Brannigan.

Any time we passed through Hennigan’s Stead again, we’d run across the fields for a hint of golden pearl hair. Day after day we had no luck, until my vacation ended and I returned home. I wrote, did errands, cleaned the house, and finally sat back down with the game. I listened to two hours of streaming NPR hunting that stupid horse without any luck. One time, just once I saw it. I lassoed it, dismounted, and a cougar jumped from off-screen to kill me in a single bite.

I had trouble sleeping that night, so I sat up and went on a bounty hunt. Apparently there was somebody so horrible that the feds would pay be $200 to kill him or $400 to drag him in alive. I tracked him across the entire world map, about four minutes’ ride, which in playing feels like fifteen, which in memory feels like an hour. It’s an investment. I arrived at a rocky plateau and had to shoot it out with the hombre and his seven goons, all of whom had the high ground while I had a two-foot rock to hide behind. I managed to catch him alive, bind him and drag him halfway across the state.

Halfway I spotted a blonde horse drinking at the gully.

I left that stupid hombre and my normal horse instantly. If it was real, peasants probably would have gawked at the grizzled man sprinting down the slopes and squealing like a child.

It was bad. The Kentucky Saddler tossed me immediately. I lassoed it and was dragged fifty feet. I lassoed it, almost reached, and was flung over its ass. It took me five tries, always having to get back up and chase it down until it slowed to climb back on, before the thing took pity on me and stayed still. I won.

“Good boy, Felicity,” I told the TV.

He had fabulous stamina. This guy could run for ten seconds straight -- which again is an achievement in videogame time. We collected the bounty I’d left behind and dozens more across the landscape. We ran into the desert to hunt snakes, chased down trains, and stormed the high ground in a ludicrous number of shootouts. He helped me chase down every other horse in the game except the rarest black stead, filling up my booklet with horse stamps. I never kept any of the horses we caught. They were for sport. Felicity was for keeps.

Eventually I had to go to Mexico. I crossed on a raft under the cover of darkness. There was no other way, no bridge or safe rail. Felicity could not come, for he would drown fording the river and could not fit on the raft. Despite my stealth, banditos soon emerged and hurled Molotov cocktails at me. I was forced to shoot flaming bottles out of the air or burn to death over water.

When I reached the other shore, I whistled. Felicity galloped to my side, having defied the laws of physics and game mechanics to materialize near his master.

“Good boy, Felicity,” I told the TV.

He was my method of transport for everything down south. I was after Javier Escuella and Bill Williamson, two men whom the game would like you to shoot. They were in a gang with you years ago, but left you to rot and die. Within minutes of meeting them again in this game, they shoot you and leave you for dead again. They run a miserable gang now, one that stabs prostitutes and sets ranches on fire for fun. They’re so awful that the federal government wants them dead – has hired you to kill them, and kidnapped your family to make sure you do it. Every sign points to getting these guys.

I spent the week of my free time pursuing them. I double-timed rebels and the military for leads. I did favors for nuns, idealists and necrophiliacs. I defended a train from forty robbers and burned down a shanty town. I collected women for the General’s pleasure and escorted a girl safely into the U.S. Anything for a lead. And always Felicity was there, either carrying me along the mission, or waiting idly by the finishing point.

Finally on Thursday I got a clue, and Felicity sped me to the fort. Alongside a band of revolutionaries I laid siege to the place, picking off snipers and burly shotgunners. I worked my way through three stories of the hovel before pinning down Escuella in a store room. He tried to sweet talk me, then jumped out a window and onto a horse. I followed him and whistled for Felicity. The familiar blue dot appeared on my minimap – but he was too far away. Escuella would escape before Felicity would get here.

I had to mount a generic red-brown horse and lept into pursuit. I pulled out my lasso, throwing and missing over and over again as the bandit fired his six-shooter at me. Being a big-baddy, he had unlimited ammo. I couldn’t shoot back. I wanted this man alive for his information.

Then I heard a third set of hoof-thumps. I looked over my cowboy’s shoulder, and there was the golden-pearl horse. I wanted to jump to him, but there’s no such function in Red Dead Redemption. Felicity kept pace behind us, as though equally invested in my vengeance. I turned to Escuella and threw my lasso. It missed. He fired off three shots, and I veered to the left out of the way. Another throw and he was snared around his middle, jerked off the horse and flying to the ground. I dismounted and hogtied him before he could resume firing.

As I finished tying him up, I noticed the blue dot was gone from my minimap. I picked Escuella up and turned to put him on Felicity. Behind us was the golden-pearl horse, collapsed in the dirt. Escuella’s last three shots had missed me, but killed him.

I lost my breath for a moment and nearly knifed the fictional bandit in my arms. Instead, I threw him over the red-brown horse and plodded back to civilization. I passed through Hennigan’s Stead, hopeful for a reincarnation. Not a single horse frolicked on the plains that digital day.

I turned Escuella in. Nothing changes whether he is killed or captured; he’s forgotten and you’re ordered to Blackwater, a heretofore unreachable settlement in the north. I travelled aimlessly, figuring I’d find the new house, save and go do other things. It honestly did not feel right without Felicity, and I didn’t name my new steed. Night fell around me. Red Dead Redemption’s nights are breathtaking, grass going gloomy and skies filling up with pinpoints of light. As I passed through the frontier, I saw a black horse silhouette on a hill. I neared, expecting better light to reveal it was just a dark brown one.

But no. That was a pitch black horse. The American Standard. The only one I’d never caught, and the only one in Felicity’s league.

It didn’t run as I rode by. I stopped at the bottom of the hill. I hadn’t saved my progress and risked losing a lot if I stayed. I physically pointed at the TV.

“You. Stay there.”

Then I bolted for town. I’d only be a minute, so hopefully the thing wouldn’t vanish or get eaten by a boar. Boars are voracious in this game.

Boars were not the problem. Nearing the town, I saw a broken down wagon. A woman yelled for help, which is a classic sign of a trap. Four bandits hide behind it to mug you. I usually dispatch them with Eastwood-like ease. But I was riding too fast, and so the characters all sprung up illogically quick and fired in unison, without aiming. I toppled off the horse and the screen went red.

I dropped the controller. I went downstairs, heated up some soup and called my grandfather. I like to check in on him.

After I simmered and the soup bubbled, I picked the controller back up. My cowboy woke up in a swanky frontier hotel with green wallpaper and blackjack in the lobby. I walked passed them and whistled for my horse. Felicity didn’t come. It was a random brown and white stead. For the heck of it, I rode back out to the hill. It was night again by the time I arrived, but there was no black silhouette up there. I rode up to where it had stood, then looked across the plains.

Down at the bottom of the hill were five horses. Four seemed to be running away from the fifth, which looked darker than the others. I descended, and it was indeed the American Standard. I lassoed him, hopped on his back, and as God is my witness, stayed on for the entire struggle. He reeled to his hind legs with the full moon behind us, then fell forward, complacent.

A grey and green logo flashed at the bottom of the screen: “Achievement Unlocked: Buckin’ Awesome.”

I’d caught him. The last horse, and possibly the best.

I told the TV, “Good boy, Felicity.”

Today we fought two grizzly bears at once. We’re bonding fast.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: There is a monster behind you


There is a monster. You never see him because he's constantly behind you. Turn your head, and he'll move to stay out of sight.

He follows you everywhere. He is behind you in line at the grocery store. In traffic, he is why they flashed their brights at you. In the empty movie theatre, he sits too close. He doesn’t like movies. He prefers to watch you sleep.

Maybe everyone has a monster. I do, and you do. That’s at least two. They prize anonymity too much to talk to each other, and often do not even believe in each other. A census has therefore been very difficult to conduct. Monsters are solitary and solipsistic things.

You cannot film him. Set up a camera behind yourself, and it will be his hand framing the shot. Stick the camera in your wall and he’ll climb in with it – he knows all about the insides of walls.

One day, he’ll try to eat you. Not today, not with us talking about him. He’ll wait months and years like you wait ticks on the egg timer. He’ll wait until you’re cooked, sick and weak, and certain he’s not there. That’s when you’ll see his hand on your shoulder. That’s when he’ll crack your shell and bite the yoke.

There is no malice to this. He doesn’t hate you. Often when you’ve broken your heart, lost your love, or have to sleep in the backseat of your car, and feel like there’s someone else crying along with you, it’s him. He times his gasps with yours so you won’t hear. He can’t bear to give himself away, especially not in those times. You might get attached, and then he would.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Slice

Always served a little too cold, though the stale smell of suburbia is so common you may mistake it for fresh. The crust is thin and flaky, buttered and glazed as though the cook thought she would fool you with its appearance. Cut from the whole, it immediately loses shape, triangle collapsing, filling dribbling out the sides. The juice is thick and red, sweetened with aspirations put off too long, congealed with a suspicion of greater meaning. There are innumerable fruits to it: crunchy little relationships, pudgy occupationals, and big fat failure berries. No forkful is the same, though critics complain about culinary monotony. Discontent is a fad both in food criticism and post-modernism. Still, if you can appreciate that you get served at all, a typical slice of life is pleasant.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Thoughts Down from 40,000 Feet

At 40,000: “The handle totally doesn’t move. It’s locked. I’ll bet you a tequila it doesn’t.”

At 39,997: “Son of a bitch!”

At 39,000: “Oh my God, it is fucking cold up here.”

At 38,000: “Oh my God, I’m going to die.”

At 36,000: “Oh my God, it is fucking cold up here. I wonder if I’ll shatter when I hit the ground.”

At 33,000: “If I spread out my limbs I’ll slow down. I can survive this.”

At 32,500: “If I curl up into a ball it’s a fuck of a lot warmer.”

At 32,000: “Curling into a ball will protect me too, right? I can tuck and roll when I reach the ground.”

At 31,000: “Rationalizing is dangerous.”

At 29,000: “Would I rather die? Or land, have all my bones pulverized, and be a human ball of goo in a wheelchair forever? Like Stephen Hawking but dumb?”

At 26,000: “Why doesn’t everyone on an airplane wear a parachute? The tickets are really expensive.”

At 25,000: “How much does a parachute cost?”

At 24,000 “My shirt could stretch out into a sweet parachute. I’ll float to safety and look damn sexy on some random local news program.”

At 23,950: “Well that failed.”

At 23,900: “Oh my God, it is fucking cold up here.”

At 22,000 “Why didn’t I dare Jake to pull the lever instead?”

At 20,000: “If I studied for half an hour per test, and had at least one test every two weeks, in at least six classes per year, from first grade through high school…”

At 18,000 “I spent over a thousand hours reading boring shit in my life and none if it is going to stop me from hitting the ground. Teachers are paid too much.”

At 17,000: “I wonder if they’ll have a funeral.”

At 16,700: “I wonder if Jenifer will be there. I wish I’d hit that.”

At 16,500: “Jenifer totally wouldn’t let me hit that.”

At 16,100: “Jenifer totally would let me hit that now that I’m dead. Why can’t I get pre-emptive grief sex?”

At 13,000: “I wonder if my mortician is secretly a necrophiliac. They’ve all got to be, right? Why else would you hang out with dead bodies.”

At 12,500: “I wonder if I’ll get a mortician. A wet-vac makes more sense.”

At 12,000: “God, if you save me I’ll totally start going to church. Just answer this prayer.”

At 11,500: “‘No’ is not a viable answer to this prayer.”

At 11,000: “Unless they have my funeral in a church, in which case I’ll have gone to church even if you say ‘No.’”

At 10,900: “You’re a crafty one, God.”

At 10,000: “Oh man those are pine trees? And all the little cars. Life really does look like a Godzilla movie from up here. I thought they just had shitty budgets.”

At 9,000: “It would be really sweet to be Rodan right now.”

At 8,000: “It would be really sweet to be any kind of creature that can fly right now.”

At 7,000: “No, Rodan is the sweetest.”

At 6,000: “Is this really all I have to think about before I die?”

At 5,000: “I wish I was more sad. Maybe I’m a sociopath.”

At 4,000: “They will totally call me a sociopath. I opened the door on a freaking plane.”

At 3,000: “Dad will just call me a moron.”

At 2,000: “Fuck you, Dad.”

At 1,500: “I wonder if this would be more impressive if I was born a hundred years ago. No TV and special effects movie bullshit making crazy shit seem unimpressive.”

At 500: “Nah. They didn’t have planes back then.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Demotion of Pluto

Not enough mass, too short a radius, too much ice. There were other celestial bodies nearly the same size, and it wasn’t doing anything about it. Few understood the demotion of Pluto, and fewer appreciated it. Petitions emerged, millions of people who had never been to an observatory demanding Pluto was a planet. A full planet, not a “dwarf planet.” There were seven dwarves and none of them were Mickey Mouse’s dog. It was plain logic. But science made like Atlas, and shrugged. Atlas was silent. Pluto’s sky toppled in protest.

But one man found it all convenient. The debate was settled out of court, off campus, no scientists asked or equations answered. The demotion was convenient, as full planets cost a lot. Governments want to land on them, plant flags and dreams. You can buy a planetoid on the cheap. Our intrepid investor landed first, signed the papers, and planted his sign.

“Welcome to Planet Pluto.”

So said the ownership. Whether your science said one thing and somebody's math said another, branding put the official name on it. Economics solved the controversy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

He'll Be Back

first-ever cyborg
felt winter's chill, laid back down,
and switched himself off.

(This haiku originally appeared in SciFiKuest. First paid sale I ever had.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Ghouls, Ghouls!

The man wrapped his brown fingers around the bars of his cell. He slammed his body into them until they rattled.

"Ghouls, ghouls!” he yelled at them. “The dead are rising from shallow graves in an army that honors to debt made in life. High-born and casteless shamble together across the islands, eating the flesh of any who stray too close. They devour bird, buck and man alike. Any who survive their feast fall sick and rise like them. It is a plague of carrion that has already wiped out three of the islands. They do not stop, feel pain or drown. They walk off the edge of the island, plunging into the sea, not a single body floating. For days it seems like it is over, but they walk along the basin. Soon it is as though the ocean is afraid and alive with gooseflesh, a thousand scalps rising along the shoreline. They come dressed as their loved ones buried them, not listening to reason or threat.”

The man drew himself up, pinkshot eyes imploring at his jailers.

“If we don't stop them they'll finish the archipelago and come here!"

"That's fucking ridiculous," said the succubus. She returned the cell keys to her belt. "I eat dead souls. If there was a roving buffet I'd have gotten an invite."

She turned to the wraith deputy, who had no rational objections. They linked arms and walked out the cell block, leaving the man to rant about his ‘living dead.’

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Not a Slut, OR, Bafflingly inspired by A League of Their Own, OR, I’m awful


"They say you're a slut."

She smirked into her cigarette-holder. "Do they?"

"Why do you cheat on your husband so bad? I seen you with a man a night at least every night since the war started."

"That's not cheating."

"I bet your fella wouldn't agree."

"You never met my Hatiel. Before he went off to fight he said I'd miss him sore since he was the best I'd ever have. Dared me to try every man I found until he got back."

"That's the most twisted thing I've ever heard."

"Then listen to this."

"What?"

She sighed from her diaphragm, blowing smoke out the window. "I can't wait for him to get back. He was right."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Anyone Can Do Malaise Redux - The Audio

Cathy Webster won our Third Anniversary contest. She requested I record an audio of this oldie, "Anyone Can Do Malaise." To hear the audio version either click the triangle on the left to begin streaming or click this text to download the MP3.

Dear Professor Hannaford,

I spent two hours last night trying to co-write a piece with Ed like you assigned. I wrote one paragraph, then he did the second, and so-on. In two whole hours he ruined every story, leaving it unwritable. I cannot work with this man any further. I am attaching our last co-written piece below as an example.

I went first.

Sincerely,
Charlene



The popcorn chicken is too cold. Hot outside, but a squeeze shows it's frozen in the middle. I poke some buttons and add a few minutes to the timer. In the next room some guy who sold me a magic mop that didn’t work is selling something that has to do with X-Rays and hospital visits. Somewhere, someone coughs.

Out of nowhere an armored transport smashes through the wall! It crushes my stupid microwave oven. Popcorn chicken bits get stuck between the treds and fling up at me in all kind of crazy slow motion before the transport totally crushes me! Oh my God, the humanity! Armored commandos ignore my lame emo carcass as they jump out the back to secure the room. Let freedom reign!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Why Youtube Hurts My Soul


Watch the ad that sponsors the video that is a trailer for the movie that’s the first of a trilogy that you’ll have to buy on DVD to see uncut, upon which you’ll see ads for the BluRay which has even more content including the trailer for the spinoff that will have the tie-in videogame for the system you want that you’ll have to sift through six blades of ads to launch before you see eight studios advertising their brand on the load screen, all company logos flashing directly above the manufacturer of your TV or monitor, which is eternally stamped before your eyes. And you pay for the bandwidth.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Me, Myself and You


You take a hundred dollars and tomorrow's newspaper. Bet everything on and win the first, second and third races. In the fourth, bet a thousand on the most favored horse that loses. Sit out the fifth, then bet everything and win the sixth and seventh. Blow five thousand on any horse you like that loses in the eighth. Before the ninth, go up to the window and make a show of being unable to pick a horse. Even ask the teller for his advice. He won't say anything – every man can see enough of the future to know it’d get him fired. Wind up not betting on any of them and go home for the day with your winnings, which will be comfortably over a hundred thousand.

It's not the millionaire's scoop you want. I know because I wanted it, back when I was you. But you've got to lose some of the time, and never come out ludicrously far ahead. Humility is a smokescreen, and in time you’ll come to realize owning just one percent of the company that topples Apple makes you plenty rich enough. It's a principle you'll soon be applying in the Commodities Market, in politics, and at the lab when you purposefully get every equation wrong and convince the company that these new particles are useless. Your co-researchers cannot be allowed to figure out time travel too. This only works if we're the only one in on it - me, myself, and you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Thanks Anyway


They were pale and pink and puffy people. They wore too much and it did not keep them warm. Though they arrived on large boats, they did not return to them or sale away to wherever they were meant to live. Instead they dug at frozen ground, hunted drunkenly and starved sober. The Woman of Myth hollowed out a gourd and stuffed it with crops. She held it aloft, commanding, "Give us your poor and your tired."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fifteen Authors Who Influenced Me

There's a game running around where writers name fifteen other writers who influenced them. I did it for Paul Brazill, but people kept tagging me on Facebook about it anyway. Reading a few, I was annoyed not knowing how these authors influenced the people listing them. So I'm going to do it again, but I'm also going to say a little about them. Prepare to watch a man admit he stayed up to 1:00 AM Fridays to watch TV and compare cartoonists to classicists. Dignity, I'll miss you.*

1. J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit was one of the first true novels I read from cover to cover and is partially to blame with me getting into literature at all. Tolkien’s world-building and sense of gravity for all the fantastic elements drew me into prose in ways no modernists and post-modernists did. I still remember reading the end of Fellowship of the Ring at my grandmother’s and trying to hide under the bed, for terror at the prospect of someone as great as Gandalf being killed. By college I wasn’t writing anything like Lord of the Rings, but I had the “Tolkien Instinct.” If there was any question of what to do in a story, I’d ask, “What would Tolkien write here?” It was almost always the wrong answer for what I was doing, and it took me another two years to get a grip on it. Imitation was not how I needed to pay homage to the father of Fantasy. Just writing good Fantasy should do.


2. Akira Toriyama – Most famous for his comics Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, which actually had a bigger impact on me than Lord of the Rings. It was reading those bizarre comics that I realized how hard it is to come up with truly alien stories. I loved Tolkien’s Norse and Medieval fantasies, but they were still familiar enough to the Arthurian stuff I grew up with. Toriyama had the advantage of drawing on thousands of years of Asian culture and classics, so my little white ass in New York was baffled. Monkey-tailed boy living in a dinosaur-infested wilderness that is sometimes invaded by sentient plants that might be the devil, then escaping on adventures with a perverted bipedal pig in a car that fits into a capsule. Delightfully outlandish. First I imitated it, actually writing fanfiction that helped me ace my Humanities class. Then, around 180 pages in, I realized this thing wasn’t publishable and wasn’t mine. This was someone else’s world. Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Dragon Ball – worlds that were hard to make, shouldn’t be made again because someone had already done it, but that if I really wanted to write towards, I should study. Oh, and Majin Buu is my role model.



Imagine them high-fiving. Imagine it!

3. Stephen King – The biggest influence. At age 13, I was crippled by a neuromuscular syndrome. I was in constant pain and bedridden. The only reason I made it through many sleepless nights was having a King audiobook. I was entranced in Needful Things and Desperation. It wasn’t escapism. It was immersion. I was where I was, could not forget any of it for how badly I was suffering, but I wanted to know what happened next. I’m not exaggerating to say that curiosity about fictional events gave me the will to live. Ever since I’ve been dismissive of academics who look down on fiction for being entertaining. I’ve mined a lot about voice and the nature of endings from King’s writing since, but saving my life is a little bit more important. You can’t do more for a reader than that.

4. E.B. White – Through whose pen I also got the wisdom of William Strunk. I’m somewhere in the middle of prescriptivists and descriptivists. The only thing dumber than literary totalitarianism is literary anarchy. But there are general rules for the way most prose functions. Especially interpreting White (and Strunk via White) for the spirit of the rules, like why “Omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words” has six technically needless words in it, has given me a decent sense for editing.

5. Eudora Welty – Possibly hazardous to my career, but Welty’s versatility in the short story impressed me more than any other feat of any other author in literature. “Why I Live at the P.O.” is airy, trivial and funny. “Where Is That Voice Coming From?” is profoundly disturbing in its violence and racism. “A Still Moment” is ethereal. They tell you to find a niche and stick to it, that way you become a solid commodity. I can’t stand that.

6. Dante Alighieri – My worst influence. Dante convinced me to always do another tangent, to throw in another point or observation. Thank goodness I learned to edit them out later.


7. Douglas Adams – The perfect sense of humor. He seemed to make fun of everything and hate nothing. The first hundred pages of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy dismisses God, logic, friendship, government, and the earth itself. But any jackass comedian can do that. The big trick with Adams was to mock a thing and hug it at the same time. It was the comedy that accepts even the absurd and the intolerable. He could always invert a character to soften a criticism, deflating didactics in the service of pure humor. I still can’t listen to those radioplays without getting ideas. Horrible, stupid, purple ideas that I hope someone, somewhere will laugh at.**

8. Mark Twain – He was so easy to read that his were several of the first novels, after The Hobbit, that I read cover-to-cover. His narration achieves mental voice very quickly. I spent a decade trying to work out how. While recently I’ve become disenchanted with fiction that exists to make a point, his observational fiction still gets me. Even in a boys book like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the fence painting anecdote illustrates a great principle I’ve never read put better. Re-reading my favorites (The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Joan of Arc, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), I think I’m pinning down how he drew me into humor writing, and why the humorist establishment in literature disappointed me so badly. Twain wrote humor to make people laugh and think. Today many writers, especially those who think they are “edgy,” write humor to make people think and luck into laughs, which shows a distinct lack of thought. I think about that. One more way in which Twain influenced me, and continues to be ahead of me.

9. GK Chesterton – How did I make it through college and never hear about this guy? He was the writer I spent years looking for: the one with whom I could disagree frequently and respect entirely. God, sound way too full of myself. Listen, he was rad. The Man Who Was Thursday has aged to perfection, time robbing its original context and adding a second edge. Now it satirizes both Chesterton’s opposition and allies. He stood up for orthodoxy and satirized satire. That's Welty-like range in non-fiction. He and Twain duel in my head these days, as I’m trying to weed out the impulse to reach for good quotes in my writing. They duel almost entirely in good quotes.

 Very funny men.




10. Gail Simone – I actually gave her closing run on Deadpool to a college professor. I walked in on him one day laughing his ass off, and before recognizing it was me, he actually tried to hide the comics behind his back. At a certain stage in my life she specialized in the irreverence of dangerous people and irreverent people in dangerous circumstances. Humor was not just a defense mechanism or an excuse for a point (like it’s treated by too many humorists), but a reason to be, a mode of existence. I loved that so much that it wound up at the core of my first novel, and will probably keep showing up until I go sane. She (and writer #11) almost made me recognize that I love a dynamic cast. You can drop them into the most enticing or boring circumstances, and I will read them. I will read three hitmen in spandex chatting about existentialism while they monitor the Prom. Gail Simone has not written that. Perhaps I should, but if I do, it's because of her sense of casts, which existed in Deadpool, then Agent X, and right now in Secret Six.


11. Aaron Sorkin – Television writers should also count. Literate people of my generation still watched more than twenty-five hours of TV for every book they read, and it influenced us. In high school I’d stay up to 1:00 AM on Friday nights to catch reruns of Sports Night, for its wit and profound monologues. There was a solid year when all dialogue I wrote on my own was a bad imitation of Sorkin’s repetition. He was for me what certain titanic playwrights were for others. Even after I grew out of the imitation phase, I credited his shows (and M*A*S*H) with making me realize my favorite thing in fiction is to establish a few interesting characters and just listen to them talk.

12. Joseph Campbell – Made me look at structuralism. I’d already had most of his key thoughts on culture and cross-culturalism (actually got very angry upon first exposure to him at 12, claiming he stole my ideas thirty years in advance). But his breakdown of the hero’s journey made me diagram stories in a new way. He sort of made me a post-modernist, when I tried to tell a story that was a purposefully backwards version of the heroic arc. Part of me still go back to his lectures when I ponder cultural and religious resonance.

13. Homer – My gateway into Literature. While I don’t pretend to know a mind thousands of years old, he appears to have had a sense of glory, of riveting action, and of sanguine humor. His Iliad caught me at an early age, for being similar in structure to those massive superhero crossover battles I liked so much. Even through translation he had ways of expressing the magnitude of a hero and the intrigue of action. As I grew older I appreciated his way of expressing things, comparing a lance tearing out an eyeball to the blossoming of a flower. That’s repulsive, but it also speaks to why war was waged. There are big pictures hidden behind every book of his poems. The dozen translations of read of his two surviving epics were my analytical training ground, and a significant reason for me giving the rest of literature a chance.

 This list is pants-optional.

 
14.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - I'm pretty dismissive of melancholy and bleak fiction. I think attraction to these usually indicates a life that hasn't been hard enough and a resultingly lethargic mind in dire need of exercise - say, the kind by getting its owner off its ass and living, doing some work in soup kitchens or clothing drives or relief work in a disaster zone. But if I'm bad now, I was impossible about this stuff earlier in life. You could not bother me to finish such tripe. I dismissed even classics of world literature as defeatist, authors who were regrettably celebrated for lying down before hardship. Nothing t swayed me until One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This is an inescapably bleak novel that used bleakness for purposes, particularly to show how a person may refuse to be destroyed by it. Solzhenitsyn was almost doing bold political work in prose, but it was his character in the face of these things, and the character of his characters in the face of these things, that shook me. I've already commended Gail Simone for writing funny people who don't yield their humor. The big thing in Solzhenitsyn's work was creating austere or severe men who did not yield and made me admire that position, something I'd long given up on as valid. Here is work that does not lay bare some discontent and masturbate over how unfair it all is, or how bad life sucks, or how it's meaningless, or you don't like the meaning. It's not the wishywashy unhappiness that dominates so much of modern literature, and that is really just a well-dressed and bourbon-soaked negative of the Care Bears. Reading any Solzhenitsyn is distinct, purposeful, and disturbing in ways Horror can't be. It's an entire border of fiction. There was that time when I asked, "What would Tolkien write here?" Now I am more prone to ask, "If Solzhenitsyn hated this, would I have the balls to stand up for myself?" If I would, then I feel I'm doing right.

15. Flannery O’Connor – Like a lot of these writers, she taught me little things, such as desiring character descriptions that seem sharp but are actually just vague and short (these work amazingly well, at least when she did them). But the big thing for me was learning that this shrewd, frequently shocking storyteller struggled with illness and questioned if the work she did in the hospital counted. That’s a kind of doubt I have – am I responding too much to my conditions, is sickness holding me back or tainting my work? No rational argument makes this doubt go away. You’d think rational people would realize that, but they keep trying with their rational arguments, and thereby disproving the existence of actually rational people. This sick-doubt is something that haunts. The closest thing to curing it is that O’Connor produced an amazing body of work. So, maybe I’m tainted and ruined, but that’s all just an excuse. Good work can be done. Thanks, Flan.




*No I won't.


**Honorable mention goes to Terry Pratchett for writing several thousand more pages of Adams, and convincing me that’s not what I wanted to do.
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