Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Saul and the Plymouth Fury

It was an authentic 1960’s Plymouth Fury. Over two hundred thousand miles and, if the previous owner was to be believed, still ran. No car Saul’s father ever owned lived that long. He ran his hands over the black hood, letting his fingertips trace the dimples.

Two hundred thousand miles was the easiest part of the deal to believe, and Saul took it all seriously.

“Hey there,” he said, speaking to a car for the first time in his adult life. As a kid he’d talked to them all the time. They’d never spoken back, barring the radio. “I hear you’re haunted.”

The Fury sat in his driveway. It did not speak. It did not honk or flick its radio to a rock ‘n roll station, which the previous owner claimed happened sometimes.

“Did you really kill that guy’s wife? Or was she just a bitch who texted while driving?” He took a step back and collected a brown paper bag. “I’m not taking anything away from you. I just want you to know, I’m on your side.”

He produced a bottle of Castrol GTX3 and set it before the Fury’s front left tire.

“This is the best oil in town, and I’m promising to change it every 5,000 miles. Screw what the owner’s manual says. Plus we’re only getting Premium gas. It’s already damned expensive, and if a couple pennies more makes you happy, we do it.”

Saul canted his head around one side of the Fury, regarding the two dents in the driver’s side door. “I’m going to offer something more. I know a parts dealer out of Michigan that can get you a new door, off another car. No way to hammer those dents out as-is. But I don’t know how you’d feel about that. So let’s say, if my foot doesn’t get mysteriously caught in the door like that guy warned me about, for the next three months? Then we do it. If it does, that’s all that needs to be said. Regardless, you get this.”

He added a bottle of wax behind the Castrol. It didn’t look impressive, but had cost the most of anything at the shop.

“Is it true they found a hobo dead in your backseat? I don’t think so. I think that’s crap. But again, I just want you to know, I’m on your side. Oh.”

His eyebrows went up as he remembered. He reached into his jeans and pulled out a pine tree air freshener. It dangled from his middle finger for a couple of seconds, wagging in front of one of the Fury’s headlights.

“I promise you will never see one of these. That shit has got to be offensive. You’re not a forest. You’re one of the best cars ever made and that smells good enough for me.”

With that, he pulled back on the air freshener and released, slingshotting the thing into the adjacent bushes. It could hang out there. Even if they were haunted, smelling like plants wouldn’t offend them.

“Think it over, okay?” he asked the Fury. It did not rev its engine or flash its headlights in magical compliance. He walked inside to get a soda, and to give the car a chance to run over the bottles of oil and wax before its tire in case they made it unhappy. It was only a few inches of the car to roll, and Saul was open to signs.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Possible Origins For Him. 9.

There is an audio edition of today's story. To listen either click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio or click this text to download the MP3.

“Why are you this way?”

I wake up and can’t move. My forearms catch on something. I try to roll over, and that’s when I notice the straps. Leather restraints around my wrists and ankles, across my knees, chest and forehead.

I’m in a small room, empty. Three walls are white, one with a little window. The fourth wall is all Plexiglas. On the other side are three people in suits and white coats. One is a blonde, two are brunettes. The brunettes are men – that’s what you call a guy with brown hair, right? A brunette? A bruno?

“Why are you this way?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I say. “Can you please come loosen this? I can’t feel my legs.”

They look at their palm pilots and clipboards. They look nervous, like I’ll bite them through the glass.

“How did you access the air conditioning system?”

“Where did you find that many amphetamines?”

“Why did you strangle that orderly to death with a rubber chicken?”

I don’t know what they’re talking about and they won’t listen. My legs tingle. I’m thirsty. There isn’t even a mirror – I don’t remember what I look like. I ask who I am and seconds later they shuffle away. They leave together, like just one of them doesn’t dare stand outside my cell on his own.

Across from my cell is another with a Plexiglas wall. Its inhabitant is a big man. Half of his face is scabs, like he’d laid down on a hot stove and stayed there. I don’t know if that’s true. He tears a button from his cot and keeps flipping it. His bad eye, the one without a lid, stares at me. He’s not restrained. I am. What did I do?

Security walks by often. There’s a camera with a steady red light in one of the corners of my ceiling. It’s not enough. At least one guy comes by ten times that day. Nine times to look. One time he has a newspaper. He presses the front page against my glass. The headline reads: “STATE SEEKS DEATH PENALTY AGAINST INSANE MAN.”

I can’t make out the photo. It looks like a cartoon face. The guard speaks through the glass to me.

“I hope they get you, you sick fuck.”

Night falls through my little window. I feel like I’m not alone and don’t realize for a while that I’m right. There’s a man in a black mask glaring through the pane. We’re however many stories up and he somehow got there. I call for help and nobody comes. I try to smile, to put on an unaggressive face, and he bares his teeth at me. If he could get through the glass I think he’d strangle me.

I blink and he’s gone.

I can’t get up to see if he was really there, and the people who work here won’t help me. It doesn’t matter what I yell. My fellow inmate, the scarred man, wakes up and stares at me with that eye. He calls me a clown and tells me to shut up or he’ll kill me. That’s the only response I get in this world.

Let’s say I’m not an amnesiac. That I just want to stop. To put down my knives and joy buzzers. But everything else is true: the shrinks are terrified of me, the law wishes I was dead, and there are masked faces following me around in the night. What are the choices? Play dead, or be “this way.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Familiarity Does

Matvey stood under the 40-watt bulb in the garage, sizing up the body. He pulled on some latex gloves and picked up the wire cutters, nodding like a lumberjack sizing up a young tree. He took the cadaver’s left hand and began snipping off the fingertips so that the authorities wouldn’t be able to run prints if they found it after he dumped it in the river. The fingers swished into the wastebasket as he responded to Nikola’s assertion.

“They may say familiarity breeds contempt, but I’ve always considered that glib. Sure, you’ve got to know what something is to hate it, but that isn’t always why you hate it. Sometimes you hate something because you can’t figure it out.”

He dropped the left hand to start on the right. It lolled off the side of the workbench, bushing against Matvey’s knee. He kicked it aside and continued.

“Now your country’s Mark Twain said familiarity breeds children, which is funnier. Also less true, I think. I am mighty familiar with my siblings, but unless I blacked out one holiday, I never fathered a baby by them.”

He dropped the wire cutters into the basket along with the fingers and the last of his low mein. Prying open the mouth, he squinted, angling the head so the garage’s dim bulb could illuminate inside.

“No, Nikola. I think familiarity breeds ability. The more familiar you get, the easier it is to do something. You get on a unicycle enough and you don’t even have to think about pedaling.”

Matvey grunted at Nikola’s bridgework and reached for the pliers.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

True Stories of John 4, Spookiest Moment

I’d just picked up a friend from the train. Let’s call her Gladys, because it’s a nice name and I don’t want to give her real one out. We rolled down the hill in my little Camry and onto the small concrete bridge. At the end was a stop light, with just one vehicle paused there. It was a white transport, like a short bus for school, but with state and police markings.

Waiting behind them, Gladys and I chatted idly about her job search. We looked around my empty car, to the stone walls that artistically lined either side of the bridge, and at the overcast sky. Anywhere but the police transport in front of us. There was a mix of that awkwardness about looking into other people’s cars, and the intimidation of police.

Eventually the light turned green and the transport remained at the intersection. I frowned at the transport. Then Gladys asked something.

“Is there anybody in there?”

I craned my neck and looked through their rear windows. You could see up the aisle of padded benches. There was no one in sight, even on the driver’s side. I stuck my head out the window and noticed the driver’s side door was open. So was the passenger’s exit. The transport simply sat there, engine off, under the grey light of an overcast day.

“Where do you think they went?” I asked. I didn’t have many ideas.

Gladys shifted in her seat, trying to see over the stone wall to our right. It was only a couple feet away, and only a couple feet high. On the other side was a slope leading to the river. My imagination, being my best friend, and best friends very often playing horrible tricks on you, suggested a serial killer crouched on the other side of the wall, lying in wait for a dumb enough local to get out of his car.

Gladys asked, “Should we wait?”

I didn’t know what to answer. Could you pull around a police transport? Was this a traffic sting? I felt like, at best, I would leave this intersection with a ticket.

The light went yellow, then red. No one came back. No driver, no maniac, no state troopers escorting a convict after letting him take a leak. We sat there behind this hulking vehicle, until the light turned green again.

Gladys developed this magnificent two-face act. She would look at the transport and seem pathetically nervous, then look at me like this was no big deal and I should go. She swapped between the looks dissociative brilliance. No argument had to be made; she quietly convinced me that something awful was waiting around here and we should let it be.

I gave in and pulled us around the left side of the transport. We looked through all the windows. No one was there. The driver’s side door was gaping open, and we could see through to the side of the road and the grassy hill on the other side. I turned us onto the main road and looked down the hill, expecting to see some explanation. There was no one there. We didn’t even see another car on the road for another ten miles.

There was nothing about it in the paper the next day or blotter report that weekend. I asked a couple of people who were in local law enforcement, but nobody knew what I was talking about. I never found out what was going on that day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: What’s Scary About the End of the World

I listened to him because it was his fire that kept the dogs away, and his beans we ate. If I was good he might even crack open one of the last remaining beers in New England. I could see three bottles in his satchel.

“Dying isn’t what scares anybody about the end of the world. Everybody thinks he’s going to make it through to see Mad Max. Because if you don’t? Then it’s the end of you, and who cares about the rest?”

He stuck his poker in the flames, stirring the logs. Scintillas flew up, like he’d angered a flaming hornet nest.

“What’s scary about this was never dying in the atomic blast. It wasn’t even that all the fun would be over. No more new movies. No more spring fashion. No more daycare, low fat food, or bitching about the price of gasoline.”

He threw up his arms and announced to the abandoned building, “Ladies and gentlemen: the internet is closed!”

He sat back down beside me, the poker dangling from his fingers.

“All that stuff blows away in the wind. The closest to culture you’ll get is a shred of The New York Times in a tumbleweed.

“No, that’s not what’s scary. That’s what’s depressing.

“What’s scary comes right after scavenging for food and fighting a stray for shelter before it rains. And it’s not the lack of food or shelter, or the plentiful irradiated dogs.”

He jabbed the poker at the nearest window. Its glowing orange tip accused the rest of the planet, perhaps for not being frightening enough.

“It’s that it’s out there. Observe the toppled buildings and wilted flowers. Look past them. Somewhere, out there, is the legitimate shit. The wide steel doors that the government has kept locked. The Devil himself, riding horseback down the highway, weaving amongst a graveyard of dead cars. The gurgling noise in a pit from the earth, and there’s no CNN let to tell you why it opened.

“Yeah. That’s the legitimate shit. The bogeyman that’s been waiting in your closet all your life for the day when the door would be knocked over. It’s stuff that’s waiting for you at the end of a long and leveled field. That’s what’s still scary when you’re scrounging for canned food and a place to sleep.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Reasons why I should write the new Legendary Pictures Godzilla reboot.

Dear Legendary Pictures,

I am aware you are in the planning stages for a new American Godzilla franchise. As a writer and longstanding fan of giant monsters, I am concerned for the film. Nobody needs another TriStar Godzilla. I am a versatile steward, capable of writing a screenplay featuring series favorites like King Ghidorah, lesser Toho rogues like Gorosaurus, or recognizable creatures in the public domain, like one of those giant Buddha statues in China that is animated by science gone wrong. Yet I am not offering myself merely as a writer, but in every facet of my being to ensure a quality film.

You may wonder what services a professional writer can offer besides a dynamite screenplay featuring a minimum of five giant monster battles. Well for one thing, hiring me will make storyboards obsolete. I will slouch, pull my elbows to my chest and enact any Godzilla sequence for directors, actors and/or catering staff whenever necessary. This way you will know exactly how stage directions are supposed to go. I make a very believable radioactive breath sound, too.

Scientists suggest that between seven or eight hours of sleep are optimal for the human body. Thanks to a lumpy mattress I haven’t slept a full night in months, and believe these scientists to be sissies. I will gladly sleep only three hours a night, spending the remainder of the dark hours showing your actors how to portray realistic fear of titanic threats, patching up and airbrushing dinosaur costumes, and setting up tiny Lego towns.

Do not mistake these services as a smokescreen for lazy writing. Not only will I produce a screenplay immediately upon request, but I’ll stay on set to re-write any lines you dislike, and to play sounding board if the actors try to adlib. I will set up a tent near the fire escape, my pen living within the range of your beck and call. My screenwriting will only cease once the film is distributed to theatres, at which point I will happily deploy to any theatres where you would like audiences to have their reactions scripted.

I cannot stress my devotion to the project enough. If at any time you feel the extras are slacking and someone needs to literally be crushed to death to appropriately express Godzilla’s magnitude, I will sacrifice myself. I can’t think of a better way to die than beneath a mammoth foot.

And I will do all of this for one dollar. Being a professional writer I do not work for free. But realistically, even if you throw it away and keep two gag jokes, it’ll have been a worthwhile investment in your eight-digit-budgeted film. Not that you’d want to throw this screenplay away – it’s going to be awesome, especially when Godzilla and Jesus team up to take down the Idolatrous Ro-Beast, Mecca-Jesus. I am fully knowledgeable about series history, having seen every Godzilla film multiple times. Even Godzilla’s Revenge, one of the worst films to ever be screened on multiple continents, and I’ve seen that sucker eight times. Thanks, WPIX New York.

John Wiswell

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Possible Origins for Him. 8.

There is an audio edition of this story. To listen either click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio, or click this text to download the MP3.

I was in high school. Like now, I was a gangly kid. Very into photography. Mostly funeral photography, but you know, you can only take so many rolls of a corpse in so many poses before they say you're "different." So I helped the school paper. One day I hopped over to a science expo. They were irradiating clowns to see if they'd be funnier when exposed to plutonium. One of the clowns got loose and bit me. I fainted dead away.

Woke up in a hospital room with chattery teeth stuck to my sternum. The doctor said I had two days to live at best and there was nothing modern science could do to save me. Well my father was a super-physicist before he died in a tragic fall from a trapeze, so I set about updating modern science. I constructed the most advanced containment field known to man to keep the chattery teeth from reaching my heart. It all plugged into this purple jumpsuit. Sort of my prototype.

My family was overjoyed and we went out for a picnic. There we were, on the lawn outside a carnival, when this black car rolled by. It turned out my mother was a witness to some mob crimes and they wanted to send a message. So they sent it, at eighty bullets per second. In less than a minute, every relative I'd ever known was dead. I swore revenge over their bodies.

I returned to my family mansion to plot this revenge. I needed a symbol. Something to strike fear into the hearts of superstitious criminals and lazy cops. But what?

It was then that a clown flew through the window. How he got in, I don't know. I couldn't get him out and eventually beat him to death with a broom.

To get the homicide off my mind I went spelunking into the cave beneath the family mansion and was shocked to discover a letter from my dear departed dad. He'd been hiding it for when I was older. Turned out I wasn't actually his. Ma and Pa had found me in a field when I was just a baby amongst the remains of a crashed spaceship. I was the last son of a dead world. A planet of mediocre stand-up comedians. My birth parents had sent me here because the yellow sun would imbue me with superhumor abilities. So the letter said.

Anyway, the next week I got caught in a nuclear test site and the gamma explosion turned me into this. True story.
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