The #fridayflash community is gathering up a second anthology. While the editors run over submissions, a poll has opened up for the readers' favorite stories. Readers and writers are responsible for every story on the ballot. I had the honor of being nominated for two stories: "Thoughts Down from 40,000 Feet" and "Three Bindle Stiffs."
It says something that they're both comedies. It says something else that 40,000 is as informal as possible, while Bindle Stiffs purposefully includes one hundred obtuse words and phrases. Presently 40,000 is in third place and might have a chance of winning, which is another thrill. The contest also features several very talented writers and friends of mine, including Danielle La Paglia and Karen Schindler.
Regardless of which story is your favorite, please stop by and vote. The whole #fridayflash community thanks you.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
They got flippant naming their roads in Middle America. Michael hadn’t thought it would be real, but several hundred miles down the interstate his headlights caught the sign and he pulled onto “Lonesome Rd.”
No buildings greeted him and only the first fifteen feet off the interstate were paved. From thereon Lonesome was only dirt and divots. Michael slowed to ten miles an hour, letting his eyes drift closed. He barely needed the sense to tell where the giant was sleeping, though. It was so big that he’d felt it for the last half hour, growing as he got closer. Here it was oppressive, almost like it was in the car. When it got heavy enough, he rolled to a stop.
He wished Yab had warned him deserts got so cold at night. Chill came through the rental’s windows. Michael rested his hands on the heater. It felt like the giant was stirring out there, making the world tremble. He hoped it wouldn’t wake before the rest of Yab’s plan materialized.
Lights flooded the rental. Michael turned to see that it hadn’t been his giant rumbling; it was an eighteen-wheeler. He rolled his window down, wincing at the cold as he stuck his head out.
“Listen, dude,” the truck driver yelled from inside headlights’ glare, “there’s a big critter sleeping under this road. It’s going to wake up real hungry. You just get back on the interstate and keep going to Nevada. It’ll be a better weekend for you.”
Michael yelled back, “Yab sent you?”
The trucker’s silhouette stiffened, then hustled over to Michael’s car. When he got near Michael could see his vaguely Hispanic face and long, oily hair. He stuck his hand through the window. Michael shook it.
“You’re here for the titan, too?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
“Cool, dude. Meet me in the back.” He shuffled his legs uncomfortably. “Aren’t deserts supposed to be hot?”
Michael grabbed a jacket from the backseat and followed him.
The trailer was open. White track lights illuminated the floor, helping Michael make out the metal oval that took up most of the trailer. It was bolted to the floor. A red LED panel was similarly bolted to the rear side, attached to a crude computer and keyboard.
“Hey, dude.” The trucker rubbed his hands together. “I’m Miguel.”
“Miguel? I’m Michael.”
They looked at each other.
Michael gestured at the keyboard.
“So what is this? A bomb?”
“A-bomb, I think.”
“Yab sent a nuclear bomb? You know how to work one of these?”
Miguel stuck his hands in his armpits. “Hell no. All I do is drive.”
“You just drove it here?”
“I drove a truck twelve-hundred miles keeping an eye out for a road that isn’t on my GPS and a guy who was supposed to mark the spot. That’s all Yab asked. Figured whoever was waiting would handle this.”
The trailer lurched, throwing both men to the floor.
Michael braced himself against the wall. “Titan’s waking up.”
“So what do we do?” Miguel asked, looking for a handle and trigger on the casing. “Point and shoot?”
“It’s not a gun. Nuclear bombs destroy cities. We could be killed. Yab isn’t asking that, is he?”
Miguel shook his head. “The titan wakes up and it’ll kill a lot of people, dude. Yab’s sent me after three titans before and he’s never gotten one of my partners hurt. He sent a bomb and a dude to wait for it. There’s got to be a plan. You got codes?”
Michael at the floor. “I’m not a bomb guy.”
“I’m a psychic. I found the titan and hung out for whoever came. That’s all Yab asked.”
Miguel frowned. “You supposed to ghost whisper the code?”
“It doesn’t work like that.”
“This doesn’t seem like Yab. There must be something. You check your pockets?”
“For nuclear codes?”
Michael checked his jacket– Yab did get clever sometimes – but only found half a pack of gum. He offered it to Miguel.
The trailer lurched again, this time so badly that the men almost flew into the ceiling. The truck came to a rest at an angle. Michael pulled himself up in front of the panel. It flickered, but it was still on.
“Not funny, dude,” Miguel said from behind him.
They heard tapping behind them. They wheeled to find a white-bearded man in a brown parka standing at the door of the trailer.
“Yab people?” he asked in a Jakob Smirnof accent.
Michael asked, “Yab sent you?”
“Yab sent me, yes,” he nodded. “I am teleporter, yes.”
“You teleport?” Michael asked, then looked at the bomb.
The bearded guy disappeared, then flickered into being next to Michael. He tapped him on the shoulder.
“I am teleporting people, animals, okay?” He pointed to the LED screen. “Not big bombs. You do bomb yourself.”
Miguel looked him over.
“Belarusian, okay? I am Mikhael.”
Miguel offered him a hand. Mikhael shook it.
“Sorry I am late, but I am parking ten miles away.”
“You drove here?”
Mikhael nodded like his partners were developmentally challenged.
“I am teleporter, okay? I give you code, I teleport us safe from bomb, we drive rest of way home. It be okay. Okay?”
“Code?” Miguel smiled.
Mikhael produced a piece of translucent orange plastic and handed it to Michael. Paper was folded inside.
“Code is your job, okay?”
Miguel snickered. “Code is your job, dude.”
Michael frowned, snapped the plastic and read. He typed the code on the keyboard. The LED flashed numbers.
Mikhael gripped both men by the shoulders. Miguel crossed himself. Michael rubbed the bridge of his nose. Psychic and bomb guy? Well, at least Yab wasn’t asking him to do PR. That guy was going to have a difficult morning.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
On August 24th of 2010, Satoshi Kon succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He was 46, and with only four feature films under his belt he was probably my favorite living filmmaker. Most Americans don’t recognize his name. You’re lucky if somebody knows who Hayao Miyazaki is; a second anime director would be pushing it. But Kon was just as much a student of Terry Gilliam as he was of Gundam. There was no one so maddeningly versatile, and certainly not in the anime space. Kon was fascinated with trash and the homeless, wrought dream stories that were actually dreamlike, and brought actual Horror to cartoons.
His most infamous movie is Perfect Blue (1998). Recognition glimmers in the most eyes when I mention it among Kon’s movies. That recognition is typically followed by a tip of the chin and a narrowing of the eyes. Those people are not interested in anymore Kon movies; they presume the rest are like that. They aren’t. He never did another movie like it. Arguably nobody else has, either. It’s animated Psychological Horror. Take a moment to count how many animated Horror movies you’ve ever seen.
Didn’t get beyond the fingers of one hand, right?
Perfect Blue isn’t a slasher. It focuses on a young pop singer who wants to move on with her life. She’s matured and wants to expand as a solo act or an actress. But having grown up as a pre-packaged superstar, she has little direction or self-identity. Her fans turn violent with perceived betrayal. A photographer talks her into a risky photo-shoot. She begins seeing things, perhaps visions of the self she was or wants to be. She gets threats, fumbles for work, and as sleep ebbs, winds up chasing a hallucination of herself down a city street. Then the murders begin.
That photographer? We guessed he was doomed, but we don’t know if she did it. Both the pop star and the audience wonder if she’s so lost that she’s unconsciously active. Maybe the images she’s chasing are the real her, or one of her psychotic fans is doing the dirty work. It’s a stark reflection on celebrity culture and identity within fame. Darren Aronofsky was attached to adapt and remake it for American audiences before Kon passed. He made Black Swan instead, and that movie feels overwhelmingly imitative. It’s downright funny, too, to think that American cinema only now has the guts to try to do what Kon did in cartoons a decade ago.
After the intensity of Perfect Blue, the average audience member figures his next movie would be more Horror. Yet the closest thing is Millennium Actress (2001). That movie follows a two-man documentary team as they explore the life of one of Japan’s most iconic actresses. Her life’s work has spanned most of Japanese cinema. Now in old age and addled by senility, her life story blends with the stories she starred in. So she was a timid schoolgirl, and a woman searching for love in World War II, and an astronaut. As her narrative unfolds, the documentarians are drawn into her delusions, actually taking part in her memories. As opposed to Perfect Blue, this lady has so much sense of self that other people get lost in it.
It’s not Horror at all. The old woman is wistful. Her stories are romantic, sometimes bittersweet like when we watch her separate from a fictional lover, or harrowing in escaping wartime Japan. She pursues the same enigmatic man through several movie realities, giving us both a glimpse at the life she wanted and film history itself. We are there live for Japanese cinema’s most famous kiss, for the political struggles of a Kurosawa screenplay, and for a brief instant, an attack by Godzilla. It’s a biography of national film.
My personal favorite Kon movie is Tokyo Godfathers (2003). I don’t know how you sell that movie, unless you’ve already got considerable friends in your industry. Imagine: a comedy about three homeless people, one a transvestite who fashions “herself” the den mother, who find an abandoned baby on Christmas, and while inexplicable miracles blossom around the child, they search for its mother and deliberate on the tragedies that took them from home. It’s a Comedy.
Our transvestite believes God can deliver her a child since He did it for Mary. That’s only trumped when she shows up the next day with the lost infant, and the slackjawed look on a soup worker’s face believing it’s a Christmas miracle. As much as I enjoy shows like Archer and Venture Brothers, they peddle shock with their mature subject matters. All of the jarring content in Tokyo Godfathers feels like it belongs there. It is simply so idiosyncratic a world, right to the moment before the credits roll.
Paprika (2006) wound up being Kon’s final feature film. It has the strongest mass appeal and is the most successful. In it, researchers invent two machines that allow us to enter dreams. One device goes missing, and we pursue the thief through both the real world and the pell-mell dreamscape. Our protagonist is split in two, into the more reserved real woman, and the wilder free spirit that can jump between imagined skyscrapers. Paprika has plenty of crazy dreamworld events, like an army of toys or a psychosexual interrogation. There’s more creativity in its opening credit sequence than in most whole movies you’ll see this year.
But outlandishness isn’t surprising in dream movies. Very few movies actually attempt to feel dreamlike. They simply do weird things and then have somebody wake up. Yet you know almost every nightmare you ever had went nothing like Nightmare On Elm Street. They’re seldom so coherent, consistent or direct.
Paprika offers us something more: some of the most dreamlike moments in cinema history. At one point our heroine is in pursuit and leaps over a guardrail. The camera veers, and suddenly there is no concrete on which to land. She’s now falling through the sky. The first time I saw it, I was jarred in my chair. I’d never seen the betrayal of momentum portrayed like that, though I’d felt it in thousands of nights. I tensed up in my chair, not feeling her descent, but the surprise of finally seeing this sort of thing done on my television. It was the same unusual feeling I’d gotten watching a Psychological Horror anime, and a Comedy about homelessness.
What remains most striking is how irreconcilable the four movies are. The verisimilitude of Paprika’s dream moments could not happen in Tokyo Godfathers. The astonishing humor of Tokyo Godfathers could not happen in Perfect Blue. And Perfect Blue’s identity crisis? Couldn’t last a day in Millennium Actress’s dementia.
His next film was only a third of the way through its shots. “The Dreaming Machine” sounded like an alternate title for Paprika. I was almost disappointed. But the synopsis? In a 2008 interview he said, “It'll be like a "road movie" for robots.”
Well, God damn it. I wanted that. And after an artist you enjoy passes, it’s easy to feel greedy. He should have done more. But Kon took years to get movies right, and get unusual movies through Japan’s systems. A year later, I’m only grateful he gave us those four. It’d be thrilling to create four so dynamic works myself, in any medium.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
“The notes say his family took out the restraining order the year he began on heroin. Did he begin on heroin?”
“Nobody starts on it. But it was goddamn bane and mistress for two years, yeah.”
“Before he stepped down to meth?”
“From a methadone clinic. Used it to get clean, but it addicted him right up. Lost five teeth. That was an even harder fight for him, because there wasn’t any step-down drug from there.”
“At which point you say he hit the bottle.”
“He had that kind of personality. He went face-first into liquor. Said it was healthier and wouldn’t get him arrested.”
“Until he crashed his car into his own apartment complex?”
“Got evicted and had no car to drive away in. He said sitting on the sidewalk across from a church was what convinced him to try and dry out. At least once it started raining.”
“From beer to caffeine and cigarettes?”
“Those places encourage it. Yeah. But he kicked the cigarettes earlier this year.”
“That is something for that personality. Was he still drinking soda and coffee?”
“Three weeks ago he said he was actually off that, too. Was going ‘raw vegan’ and ridding himself of toxins. I have no idea how a guy could go through all that only to hang himself.”
“Well. What did he have left?”
Monday, August 22, 2011
Zeus turning into a swan to get laid is a myth. Self-publishing being only for hacks is just a lie.
Maui accidentally catching the islands of Hawaii on a fishing trip is a myth. The overbearing Latina Mami is a stereotype.
Loki tricking Baldur into getting shot to death with mistletoe is a myth. A “free lunch” is usually a ruse.
Hercules fighting an infinite-headed dragon for redemption is a myth. 15% off on your car insurance is a promotional exaggeration.
Isis summoning a golden penis out of a catfish pond is a myth, and an awesome one. Clean coal is not.
Anything the speaker disbelieves is called a myth. This is obnoxious.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Click here to hear this indignant rant.
“Stop improving yourself this instant! What were you thinking? I had a static mental image of you as the lazy, drunken shithead who abused me in home room ten years ago. Why are you sobering up? Quit donating to that diabetes charity. And who the fuck said you could be a fireman? Who gave you the right to grow as a person? And especially, to grow into a better person after I was enjoying imagining you living in the gutter forever. Do you know how annoying it is to see someone you hate improve? No, put down the God damned steamed carrots or someday you’ll lose the pot belly. I need you to have a pot belly, asshole. Because I have a bit of one, and I don’t donate to charity, and I gave up on being a fireman when I was twelve and you pulled me off the jungle gym because you were an asshole. And you’re still an asshole! An asshole for taking your shitty self away from me. Can you imagine the distress I’d undergo if one morning I woke up respecting you? Jesus Christ, man. All you think about is other people, when what I need you to do is only think about yourself. Is it that hard?”