Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: 10 Fates Worse Than Death

1. Two deaths (if you think death is bad).

2. No death (if you think death is a necessary part of life).

3. Death plus a little more anxiety about it before it happens (only marginally worse, but it qualifies).

4. Immortality plus perpetual childbirth (if you have a vagina).

5. Immortality plus perpetual childbirth (if you don’t have a vagina).

6. Immortality plus spending your entire existence preoccupied with the terror that you will soon die (time squandered and all that).

7. A book by Kurt Vonnegut.

8. Immortality plus spending your entire existence preoccupied with the terror that you will die in the distant future, but the terror is so crippling you never get anything done before then anyway (“The Angst Infinite”).

9. Being painstakingly de-atomized, picked apart speck-by-speck, divided countlessly until you have not died, but have ceased to be anything philosophically identifiable as you (splitting hairs, if you will).

10. Being fired from your coroner’s position which you cherished (you liked your death job, now you don’t have it).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Possible Origins for Him. 16.

The order was to maim him emotionally, not to terminate. Back then, he and the Kitty-Kat had a litter, and one of the girls grew up to play superhero. An easy dig. She danced across the rooftops, her purple spandex shimmering in the pale moonlight. She had one of those domino masks. I lined it up like a target: in one eye and out the other. I adjusted the butt in the crook of my shoulder and wormed my eye into the scope. My finger stroked for the trigger. And then…

I squeezed on thick air. It was thick – no cool breeze of a skyline, but the mold of a padded room. My cheek rested on a cushion, my eye lined up with a buttonhole. There was a little slot in the door you could see out. Across the hall, a man looked out his slot and babbled about the importance of today’s date.

“April Fool’s Day. Mark your calendar.”

If you visit that asylum today, it’s got bulletproofed glass walls. No singular doors with slots. I don’t even think the calendar guy exists anymore. The purple spandex girl isn't somersaulting around anywhere, either. Everything's new, except me.

He's still flapping around the belfry. Hates me every time. How much angrier he’d be if he could remember all the times I’ve killed his kids. Instead, he’s grumpy over things I never did. Keeps trying to psychoanalyze me with history that never happened. Who gives a damn about psychiatry? Last time, I seduced a psychiatrist into a sidekick. I think she’s on Suicide Girls now. Not sure what our relationship is supposed to be.

I have no problem hating him back. Self-righteousness in a drab wardrobe. If you stretch your mind, you’ll remember me fighting him in Spring of nineteen-forty. But go to the local archives of your favorite metropolitan paper of record, and the first headline that mentions either of us is from nineteen-eighty-seven. Did every journalist miss forty-seven years of a blood feud? Were they all home sick the times I actually killed him?

You don’t believe me because I smile too much and am too white. Permanently pale, except at least twice, this was make-up. It damned sure was originally. But fine, I embrace the life of an entertainer and that somehow makes me unreliable. There’s a punk out there now – I beat him into a bloody paste, then blew up the building for good measure. Today he’s skipping along the rooftops with vigilante strippers. And I’m the crazy one?

Here’s my litmus test for madness.

Do you remember when he drove everywhere in a blue car with eyes for headlights?

Do you remember when the Amazons wiped out Washington, D.C.? Because I do. Dislocated three ribs laughing. They still ache at the sight of a magic bustier.

Do you remember when I finally offed him? Thought that was actually the purpose of all this. On top of the WayneTech Building, every floor wired to blow, showering the highways with glass as I strangled him and he struggled not to slit my throat with a batarang. We were both carried aloft by the explosion and his cape. We were both dead before we even began to fall.

Never got to finish that fall, neither. I landed in a brightly-lit subterranean office, talking to Lex Luthor about forming a league of villains. There was a wall of monitors behind my head. To my immediate left, Groundhog’s Day was on.

If Bill Murray has taught me anything, it’s that my purpose in life is not killing one man. The three other times I’ve done it and didn’t stop the universe rebooting were just scientific confirmation.

My purpose is about a fuller experience. It’s kryptonite smiley faces, crippled sidekicks and poisoned water supplies. It’s about a joyous history of histories. It’s about spending as much of my account as I can before God changes banks on me.

As a little boy I always thought science was the best evidence of God. Atoms are the smallest. No, electrons are. No, gluons. Time’s linear. Or it bends. Or it forks. Or it’s a web. He makes it up as He goes along, and we just presume that’s the way it always was since that makes you look sane to the others.

In a year, or five years, or ten years, you won’t even remember we had this conversation. I’m going to blow your head off, and maybe next week God will get bored and you’ll pop up as mayor. And you’ll pour tax payer money into a committee to discover why my fingerprints and DNA aren’t on record, groping after an origin story that got erased decades ago.

Yeah, I’m the crazy one because I remember back when he had just one sidekick and JFK’s assassination made sense. You all go on pretending this is how it’s always been and I’m just a pathetic headcase. I don’t suffer from this insanity. I enjoy the clarity.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Monologue for Bill Cosby as a Marginally More Lucid Father Than Usual

“I’m not ignoring her, dad,” said Theo, gesturing to the living room door. “I was just paying attention to the game.”

Bill patted his son on the shoulder.

“That’s your problem, son. You think sanely. But to a woman, there is no such thing as her man paying attention to something else. There is only the absence of attention being paid to her. When you go to the game, put your arm around her and make sure to look at her every five plays. Eye contact, boy, it will save your life. If you want to leave for drinks, start by saying, ‘Sweetness, would you like something?’ Always make it seem like your intentions flow back to her or she’ll go berserk. Now, a woman goes berserk saying things like ‘Fine’ or ‘Nothing’ or ‘You have fun.’ Those words are the steam escaping pipes that are about to blow. And when they blow, you won’t even hear it. You’ll just get burned. She finds a way for you to have forgotten the beef of taco night, and three hours of screaming later you’re sleeping on the couch with the game on mute, because good-Moses you don’t want her hearing none of that baseball. There is no sealing off those pipes. You’ll wrap them in chocolate and duct tape, and the second you turn your back and friend some girl on Facebook, they’ll burn the back of your neck again. Every lucid argument you make will only service the deep madness that is believing all your time ought to be hers.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Corpsing

Kill one of their runners. Carve the note into his chest. Leave it in your language, not theirs. You could text them. It is faster. Corpsing is simply clearer. They'll get the message and leave town by dawn.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Ice Tea

I don’t see the appeal of ice tea. Sure it’s more portable than typical tea, and impossible to spill, but you have to wait for it to melt to drink. In the mean time you have a brick of frozen matter to babysit. It doesn’t have any interim uses. It won’t talk to you about lolcatz or serve as a paperweight. Have you ever weighed your papers with ice tea? The condensation leaves them soggy. Get a long phone call and your hard beverage goes soft and ruins the desk. You can idly lick it like an ice pop, but just try offering that around. Nobody wants a lick of a huge brown block that smells like leaves.

My secretary will ask why I don’t have some of her ice tea instead, and I’ll rebuff, “That’s not ice tea. That’s iced tea. See how your typically hot beverage has ice cubes floating around in it? It’s been iced. Mine has been frozen to the point where it is ice. I have ice tea.”

She invariably leaves before I finish. I don’t know why. Perhaps in search of iced cubes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Happy Endings and the Nonsense of Realism

Prepare to have a lot of endings spoiled for you.

Sometime in adolescence we learn disdain for the things we like. We still want to watch cartoons, play with action figures and have stories at bedtime, but these are inappropriate desires for ‘grown ups.’ Children grow to feign disgust for the things they actually desire, preparing them for adulthoods of denial. Often those adulthoods are spent desperately seeking childhood freedom, such as the necessary irrationality they can now only get through alcohol or pot. I blame that same anti-rational kickback for why so many people will watch a third awful Transformers movie.

Especially if you aim for an intellectual life, one of the things you learn to disdain is the happy ending. They’re unrealistic and trite. They don’t happen. When they do, it’s still more important to the cynical intellectual to write about when they don’t. Ours is a culture that disdains naïvety but cherishes cynicism, despite those being the same thing. They are bald-faced, oversimplisitic ideologies that prejudge people and the world, glomming onto any supporting evidence while blithely ignoring or making excuses for the exceptions. To be cynical is merely to be naïve in the negative direction. Like the sweetly naive, the cynics claim they know the real world and demand their realism.

Never mind that all fiction is inherently unrealistic – no matter how bleak, it’s just words on a page. Denis Johnson is one hundred percent as make-believe as J.K. Rowling. Not one word of it wasn’t made up at a keyboard. Many in my crowd are suckers for unhappy stories, leading them to universally rebuff me for thinking JT LeRoy was a fraud. That one had a happy ending, I guess.

True tragedy and moments of profound melancholy possess inarguable power. No distaste with darkness robs Of Mice and Men of its closure. recently posted an editorial positing that 1984 is a classic because it’s depressing. I’ll freely admit that the best novel I read last year – final got around to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – ended about as bitterly as he could make it.

Despite my fondness for Of Mice and Men and Brave New World, the worst of the unhappy endings is killing your main character. It’s typically a cop-out. Death, even in sacrifice or redemption, bails the character out from having to face future consequences. You’re at least fifty years too late to play the “but those consequences were so bad” card. It’s not deep; it’s the sick-note for Gym Class of fiction tropes.

One of the greatest offenders is the post-Burton killing of villains in superhero movies. Villains in particular should have to stick around in franchises and see what they’ve wrought or develop as characters. How nice would it be to have Doc Ock mentor Peter in Spider-Man 3? Or have Harvey Dent come to his senses after his rampage in Dark Knight? I grasp the desire to kill Osama Bin Laden, but it’s a far better story to have that man meet every widow he’s made.

Danny Boyle is making a career partially on subverting the crumby ending. In India, in a secluded canyon, and in the zombie apocalypse, he puts his characters through utter Hell so he can deliver that one moment of climactic relief. He plays the conventions of bleak fiction against its own crowd. He keeps getting nominated for awards, so thank goodness the wrong people haven’t caught onto what he’s doing yet.

Depressive folk always tell me, “That’s the way the world is.” FX’s Louie having no soundtrack, dull lighting in an airport as he laughs at someone else’s distress – this is, according to The New Yorker, “giving reality its due.” This is real life.

Bullshit. That is something that can happen in reality. A man in a Ronald McDonald costume humming show tunes can also happen. It’s less likely to, though art affords the possibility for it. To mindlessly or pedantically mimic some myopic reality any reader can experience more clearly by putting the book down and living – that’s more intellectually bankrupt than a thousand Happily Ever Afters.

This storytelling environment has left the “happy ending” malnourished. We’ll continue to see trite happy endings, where the heroes either win outright or by Deus ex Machina. RomCom Guy gets RomCom Girl. Harry Potter sends his magic kids off to magic school. In many cases these still satisfy. I’ll almost always side with a treacle positive ending over a treacle negative one, because my soul isn’t a black vortex that demands to be fed disappointment. If we’re going to be superficial, I want to smile through it.

But we should do more with happy endings, though. What else could be done with them? Examining what people want.

In my most recent #fridayflash, “She Danced,” the guy gets the girl. But all we hear is how awful she is at the party. The narrator is smitten; most of my audience wasn’t. Some readers questioned if him getting a date was even a happy ending. For the narrator? Yes, it was. Rather than making an objective value judgment, or lurching for something as universal as a death or finding an angelic object of affection, I wrote something where the character wanted a thing most of us didn’t. Your and his values form an moral  kaleidoscope.

I’m hardly the first to do this. Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle literally ends on the line, “we are so happy.” Their circumstances are tragic, psychotic, and yet, enthusiastically desired. The survivors are deranged and consenting to live in something as tragic as any Greek homicide.

Dared on by better literature, I’ll sometimes go weirder. “Up High” was also a happy-ending story. That one ended ambiguously, and despite some grand guesses, nobody picked my actual intention. That’s what I get for being so damned cheeky and metafictional. For those still curious, I’ll spoil what I meant to happen in the next three paragraphs.

It was originally written for an all-dialogue story contest. It remains a story without a single line of description. In it, our ledge-sitter just wants silence to think. The very existence of the interloper annoys him. All the interloper can do in the story is talk – making more noise. Our interloper gets a bright idea, one other than jumping and killing himself. What was his plan?

He quieted. No more dialogue, the story ended, and the ledge-sitter got his wish: utter silence in his world, which only existed on the page.

Jab me for being postmodern, but that’s a happy ending. Nobody dies, the ledge-sitter gets silence, and the interloper gets to help somebody for once after a year of performing layoffs. The “I’ll show you” ending is a gag, since we’ve never been able to see anything they’ve done. All you’re shown is the blank page below the last line, because that’s all there is.

So, great. John’s examples of neo-happy endings are dating a bitch, going crazy and ceasing to exist. He could have at least pumped the first for Princess Bride.

Rather than undermining my position, though, I see this as underlying the real truth: neither the happy nor the sad ending is intrinsically the best. The best ending is the one appropriate to its story. That’s the big tell, and what makes Of Mice and Men and Brave New World succeed: their deaths are wretched but appropriate closure to great stories. A lame story can’t seed and grow a good ending. No matter what you tack onto the end, it won’t be particularly meaningful.

Likewise, going against what’s built up can be harmful. The end of Batman Begins suffers for Batman letting R’as Al Ghul die, tarnishing the hard-worn altruism and aversion to the death of others displayed throughout the movie. “I don’t have to save you” sounds like hokum, or a screenwriter making up for Liam Neeson’s contract expiring.

Sorry. How cynical of me.
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