Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Verified

Time travel and Creationism were accidentally co-verified this morning when three particle physicists passed through a rip in reality and arrived six thousand years in the past, finding nothing but a bearded giant looking for the light switch.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Don’t Even Have a Name

Lita sank into serene exhaustion. He couldn't read her - she looked happy and in more pain than he'd ever felt. Part of it was the drugs, but he couldn't even tell if she was asleep. JC drew the curtains to her room and closed the door as quietly as he could, seeing himself out to the hall.

A nurse waited for him, wearing actual candystripers. He didn’t know anyone did that anymore. She pointed a pink fingernail to the adjacent room, then held up four fingers.

Four minutes.

He bowed his head.

The curtains in this room were open to a sunset illuminating triangular clouds, like upside down piles of gold. In the middle of the bed, on top of the sheets, his newborn son twitched his legs. He wore a sky blue knitted cap to warm his hairless head. His eyelids were pink and his face was lumpy, like a fleshy potato. JC hoped nobody said he looked like his father, at least not for a while.

He reached out and pinched one of his son’s feet. It was wrapped in a booty, sent by Lita’s mother. The old bat would be here tomorrow with boxes of gifts and questions about christening.

“You know you don’t even have a name yet?”

His son didn’t seem to know. He waved a tiny hand over the sheets, exploring what cotton felt like. JC did the same, letting his hand drift to his baby’s. Eventually his son grasped onto his middle finger. He was warm and squishy, a little like the wet towels they gave you in first class. JC looked at the little hand. The fingers encompassed the first digit of his finger, and a little more.

“Look at how big your hand is. You could play sports. Wouldn’t even need a baseball mitt.”

His son pursed his face. JC tried to mimic it, but only felt his cheeks contort. Adults puckered their lips; babies, it seemed, could pucker their entire heads.

“Be careful. If you’re a ball player, they’ll hate you.”

With his spare hand, JC drew a chair to the bedside. His boy kept holding on.

“No matter what you do, they will hate you. Be a star for the Red Sox, and New York will hate you. Be a star for the Yankees and the rest of the country will hate you. Be president and the other party will hate you, and a year later you won’t have done enough and your own party will join them. Write the next Great Gatsby and people will call you pretentious. Write the next Lord of the Rings and people will call you a dreamer. I know a guy who hates firemen. Firefighters. Says they get too much respect since 9/11, since they mostly sit around the station. Even if you make a thing that gets a lot of respect, some people will hate you just for that. I hate that guy that made Apple, just because. Reflexively.”

The pile of golden clouds drifted out of view. Now all he saw were three red flashing lights, some airplane headed somewhere. He thought the boy’s eyes were following them. Exploring what planes looked like.

“You can play ball if you want,” he assured. “Play a game I don’t like. Let me hate you, but you’ve got to overcome it. Don’t let other people’s disapproval stop you. If you do you’ll spend every weekend wanting something you can’t find the place to buy. You’ll wind up somewhere – if you’re lucky, somewhere safe. Your mom and I will still love you. But you’ll wind up some place that doesn’t do. You’ll be a chef somewhere, and one night a couple will come in, frowning, ordering expensive stuff that doesn’t please them, arguing in hushed barks. You won’t be able to smile for them. Nobody changes that couple’s night, but you can change yourself despite them, in place of them. If you can’t, that’s when you know too many others got in place of you. Then, the best you can do is do better by your children.”

His boy pinched his finger, then let it go. Now he tried holding onto the blankets.

“You can make beds for a living if you really want.” He assured again. This did not win back his baby boy’s attention. “If anybody hates you for what you love?”

He almost cussed. Then he remembered reading somewhere that kids didn’t understand anything you said, only the tone. So he leaned down to his son’s face. Their noses brushed together in an Eskimo kiss. His son only looked puzzled, perhaps curious what eyebrows were.

“If anybody does, I’ll fucking hate them back for you so you don’t have to waste the time.”

The candystriper nurse entered in his peripheral vision. He lingered another moment before turning his boy over, from one cradle of arms to another. Watching them depart to the nursery, he entertained letting the boy grow up and pick his own name. That was probably too far. He'd talk it over with Lita, whenever she felt rested.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Theseus the Cheater

“Tell me a good one, Grandpa!”

“I’ve got a good one. So King Minos, fearing Theseus would take his throne, sent him into the Labyrinth. This was a giant underground maze, dark and so convoluted that no one had ever gotten out. Therein dwelled the Minotaur, the king’s deformed son, who was half-man and half-bull. It was giant and famous for devouring anyone who was trapped in the Labyrinth. No one was allowed to leave without slaying the monster.”


“Theseus promised to slay the monster and return alive. Minos’s daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with his bravery and gave him a spool of thread so that he could follow it back after he fought the Minotaur.”

“That’s a little less awesome, but still, does he fight him?”

“He came prepared. Though all were to face the Minotaur unarmed, Theseus smuggled a sword in under his tunic.”

“That wasn’t cheating?”

“It was a very large monster.”


“Theseus crept around the dark the hours, leaving his trail of thread behind. Eventually he heard the clopping of the Minotaur’s hooves. They shook the maze around him.”

“That must have been scary!”

“He stalked the monster for a time, not attacking it right away. Instead he allowed it to tire and go to sleep.”

“Go to sleep? It sleeps?”

“Not for much longer. Once the Minotaur began to snore, Theseus slit its throat with his sword and took off the head as proof that he had won the battle.”

“Won the what? He didn’t even fight it! He cheated it with an illegal weapon when it was bed time!”

“It was a very large monster.”

“Then don’t fight it!”

“He had to fight it. The princess was counting on him. So he took his spool—”

“He didn’t even find his way back out! He cheated again! Did Minos lock the door and punish him for breaking the rules?”

“No, Theseus returned triumphant and escaped with Ariadne, making back off to sea. He was heralded as one of the great men of the ancient world.”

“All for a girl?”

“Actually, next he abandoned her on an island.”

“He ditches the girl? What the hell, Grandpa?”

“Well Ariadne was a witch.”

“Yeah? A dumb witch that falls in love with cheaters.”

“She cast a spell on his ship.”

“What spell?”

“Well Theseus’s father had a deal with him. If he was successful with Minos, he should sail back with a white sail. But Ariadne used her magic to turn it black. So Theseus’s father jumped into the sea and killed himself in grief.”

“That’s kind of cool. Did she ever get revenge on Theseus, though? He was the jerk.”

“No, but I think we’re going to talk about Medea tomorrow night.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

True Stories of John, 5. The Birthday Present of 2010.

So far as I heard, nobody celebrated Nat’s birthday. He got Facebook wall congratulations, a blender from his mom, and that was it. He is a dear friend, a considerably better person than myself, and too affable to receive no birthday festivities. He lives in another state and had an acting gig that day, so I couldn’t intervene directly. I had to wait until he visited.

I set a large box in red checker wrapping paper on my ottoman. It had a small paper note wishing him a happy late birthday and expressing that I hoped he liked this, because it was incredibly hard to get.

When the time came, he unwrapped it. Inside he found a smaller box wrapped in “All Star” sports-themed wrapping paper and another note.

“Try Again,” this one said.

Inside was no present, only a third note.

“Maybe under the bed in the other room?”

He considerately went there, got down on the carpet and checked under that bed. Low and behold, there was a note waiting for him.

“Does that Styrofoam thing look like a gift box?”

He looked around the room. Tucked under the desk was a Styrofoam container my family had never thrown out. It wouldn’t decompose and we might use it for something some day. It was firmly wedged under the desk with several other boxes.

After digging it out, Nat looked unsurprised to find another note inside. But this one was not in English.

For those of you who don’t want to type that URL in, it led to a file download. Nat downloaded the .txt and opened it to see:

“Okay, making you download clues was going too far. Just check the dresser my TV is sitting on.”

There are two drawers in that dresser. The top drawer had a note reading, “No, the other drawer.”

The bottom drawer had a sizable present in it, in gold and white flower print paper. It also had a note.

“You don’t trust this.”

Inside he found a slightly smaller box in “Best Wishes” wrapping paper. It also had a note.

“I don’t blame you.”

Perhaps unsurprising, inside he did not find a present. There was only another note.

“You’re already thinking about it. Go ahead. Go get a knife.”

After chuckling for a moment, he went downstairs to the kitchen. In the silverware drawer there were many knives, including one with a note wrapped around it.

“Grill me a cheese.”

That was an in-joke between the two of us, stemming from our love of the Archer cartoon. It took him a while to figure it out, but to the right of the silverware drawer was my stove, with a covered pan sitting on it. When he lifted the lid, he found a new note.

“Do you get the joke yet? It was under your nose to begin with!”

Nat had spoiled my game early by noticing that my ottoman is hollow. You can store things inside it. Before he’d even unwrapped the first present, he’d opened the thing and discovered where his gifts actually were. So now he came upstairs, set the original giftbox aside and opened up the ottoman.

Except it was now empty, save for a note.

“Fuck you. Maybe you’ll get them when you go home.”

He asked if I’d hidden them in his car. I didn’t say it, but no – I’d had no chance to tuck them in his trunk, though I’d liked to have. By deadpanning, I managed to psyche him out and he went for his coat. As he lifted it, the wrapped presents fell out onto the floor. That was the best improvisation I could do while he’d been downstairs checking the knives and pans.

The gifts had a note.

“Now you get the joke.”

As for the gifts? A collection of old time radio comedies like Burns & Allen and Abbott & Costello, and the deluxe edition of The Dark Knight, featuring Heath Ledger as The Joker. It took him a moment, then he laughed and shook my hand. I wished him a happy belated birthday, internally trying to figure out a more convoluted method for next year. Perhaps a riddle on his Facebook wall, a .txt on an obscure Bit Torrent and freezing a folded note in a block of ice.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fantasy Novelist’s Exam for John Wiswell's Ito, Book 1

The following is based on David J. Parker’s Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. The exam can be found here:

My answers, based on the first novel I ever wrote, can be found below. Way more of them are honest than you think.

  1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
There’s a chase scene, a banquet in the middle of the woods, an assassination plot, main character looks up a girl’s skirt, she kicks him in the face, another chase scene, he’s saved by a sea serpent, is drugged, then walks in on an execution. So: no. What?
  1. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
No. Why?
  1. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn't know it?
No? What about the farmhand?
  1. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
What is your hard-on for Luke Skywalker?
  1. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
  1. How about one that will destroy it?
No, but that sounds cooler.
  1. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about "The One" who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?
Before the first draft it was.
  1. Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?
Do I need one of those?
  1. Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?
And now I want there to be one. Do you see what you’re doing?
  1. Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?
God damn you and your Luke Skywalker crush. No!
  1. Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?
  1. Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel?
Describes them as a narrator, or is that an accurate description of any of the characters? If the former: no. If the latter: no.
  1. How about "a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior"?
No. What is this?
  1. How about "a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons"?
Actually, that might be one of the bad guys.
  1. Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around?
No, just all the female readers.
  1. Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?
No, they exist to trade captures and rescues with the guys. It’s like a date night with more bondage.
  1. Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?
At an early age I was told that for virtue of having a penis I could not do anything that was feminist, so I’m going to say, “No.”
  1. Would "a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword" aptly describe any of your female characters?
“Mountainous psychic politician” or “ninja she-Gandalf” would be closer.
  1. Would "a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan" aptly describe any of your female characters?
Do you just want eggs? Is that it?
  1. Is any character in your novel best described as "a dour dwarf"?
You got me. He shows up at the end. No, he really does. I should probably change his race.
  1. How about "a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage"?
No, but there is a half-orc (his other half is a bear).
  1. Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?
No, I made the goblin and the dwarf friends to be different. For real.
  1. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?
Only in real life.
  1. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?
No. They also exist to be swallowed by Krakens until Captain Jack Sparrow is on one of them.
  1. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
No. Yes. Yes, I do not know. No, I don’t know when the thing to be known was… I hate you.
  1. Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like "The Blasted Lands" or "The Forest of Fear" or "The Desert of Desolation" or absolutely anything "of Doom"?
  1. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you've read the entire book, if even then?
No. Writing those is a skill I don’t have and do envy.
  1. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
Quartet. What? Stop looking at me like that.
  1. How about a quintet or a decalogue?
Hey, screw you!
  1. Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book?
It was almost that thick the one time I printed it.
  1. Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you're still many sequels away from finishing your "story"?
I really feel like we covered this earlier.
  1. Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books?
That sounds hilarious. Are you doing that?
  1. Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?
Yes. No really, what? Do you think he’s not really dead? Because there are rumors.
  1. Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group?
No. You’d know if it was, because I’d have cut off my hands by now.
  1. Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?
No, from a fantasy realm to another fantasy realm. I feel like that should happen more frequently.
  1. Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names?
  1. Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?
You could stretch “Hung Lo” to three syllables if…
  1. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named "Tim Umber" and "Belthusalanthalus al'Grinsok"?
It took a while to learn that this was a problem, but now I fear it almost as much as the cold shadow of looming death.
  1. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
It used to and sort of still does! Thanks for the panic attack!
  1. How about "orken" or "dwerrows"?
Stop doing that.
  1. Do you have a race prefixed by "half-"?
“Half-breed” happens once or twice. But they’re not real. They’re disavowed on the first page.
  1. At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?
That’d be sweet.
  1. Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG?
No, though the appeal of a turn-based novel is great.
  1. Have you done up game statistics for all of your main characters in your favorite RPG?
No. I can barely fantasy-cast any of them as living actors. I’m bad at these fetishes.
  1. Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast?
Are they hiring?
  1. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls?
I am seriously considering adding inns to my world in order to accommodate this.
  1. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don't?
Like everyone who lives in the democratic, electric, heated, wifi world, yes.
  1. Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?
At least 50% of the book. You’ll hate it.
  1. Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won't break the plot?
Only if one of them told the others that there was a quest. That would be handy.
  1. Do any of the magic users in your novel cast spells easily identifiable as "fireball" or "lightning bolt"?
There’s an aging ray. Does that count?
  1. Do you ever use the term "mana" in your novel?
It might be moaned at some point, but that’s a slur and not the kind of magic you’re thinking.
  1. Do you ever use the term "plate mail" in your novel?
There’s an arming doublet.
  1. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term "hit points" in your novel?
Missed opportunity!
  1. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?
No, but given that “arming doublet” appears more frequently than “gold,” I think I’m safe.
  1. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
Only the ones that carry my dreams.
  1. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?
I don’t know how many more times I can pretend something sounds like a sweet idea I missed and want to include it, but you keep coming up with these.
  1. Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it?
Seriously. You keep coming up with these.
  1. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?
No. One guy goes throw an intangible edge from his scimitar. It looks like a rainbow.
  1. Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor?
The giant killer gelatin sort of does that with its spines once.
  1. Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more?
My twenty-foot stone ogre’s sword does.
  1. Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?
Trains to do what? Why do I think it’s something with a frying pan?
  1. Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns?
Much more than I assume you’d like.
  1. Is your hero able to withstand multiple blows from the fantasy equivalent of a ten pound sledge but is still threatened by a small woman with a dagger?
Clearly you’ve never been in a romantic relationship.
  1. Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man?
I’d like empirical tests before concluding anything here.
  1. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an "on the road" meal?
So you want a McDonald’s in my fantasy realm?
  1. Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead?
  1. Do you think that "mead" is just a fancy name for "beer"?
Now I do.
  1. Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?
  1. Is the best organized and most numerous group of people in your world the thieves' guild?
There’s a thieves’ guild?
  1. Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death?
Maybe in Book 2.
  1. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?
Maybe in Book 3.
  1. Is "common" the official language of your world?
Maybe in Book 4.
  1. Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before?
  1. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?

   75. Read that question again and answer truthfully.

Okay, no. Of course it isn’t. Listen: is your sense of humor a rip-off of every passive aggressive comedian who attempts to dismiss a thing by vaguely describing some of its characteristics? I appreciate the passion for literature, but you may need a nap.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Parental Guidance for AMC’s The Walking Dead

This program contains violence, strong language and sexual situations. It may be too intense for some viewers.

Parental guidance is advised.

Of course, it opened up with a married woman yanking off her shirt, her husband’s best friend sucking on her belly button, and them proceeding to fuck in the dirt. So if your kids got passed that, we assume you’re either okay with it or unaware the TV is on.

Also, we’ve spent millions of dollars promoting the fact that decomposing bodies came back to life to eat people in our show.

Also, “dead” is in the title.

We’re just saying, you’re half an hour into an hour-long episode in which people were eaten alive, put guns to each other’s heads, a white man called a black man “nigger,” and several undead skulls were crushed with baseball bats. Your kids are totally going to hurl on the carpet in the dismemberment scene at 10:36. If you don’t realize this is inappropriate for children, we don’t feel guilty. We’re only putting this warning out there in case you’re dumb enough to sue.

Again, parental guidance is advised.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Monologue composed while John grilled during a tornado warning. He worries himself, sometimes.

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

Have you ever seen the emerald dawn rise across a sapphire sea, precious waves breaking upon ruby shores and bruised opal mountains? Does the azure sky not part, not for a sun, but a cloud shining brighter than any celestial bauble? No more? Then why did it when it did?

Sing to me, oh leaden muse, perform thine heavenly alchemy upon tin minds, and reveal wars waged between not men, but gems. See mastodons with golden wool, and silver-eyed chieftains sitting astride forces more valuable than life. For what is war fought? For why does the world spin? The answer, too expensive to know. Greed, what is greed? Admission that all this is wanting, so wanting that we want when we see not all that we already have.

They clash, crystal spitting lightning, great granite bodies breaking, cleaving and tumbling. Knights brave as steel and foolish as ore throw themselves, toss themselves, skip from ships across waters and land in piles. Even the diamonds die, going cold and coal beneath where we now stand. This silt? This sand? The corpses of courage, treasure lost to sea shells and high tide. To war, no more. They were living riches, and battle has spent them.

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