Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Dead Strangers

"It’s interesting that we view people snapping as revealing their true selves. A politician makes one racist comment, and especially if you’re opposite his party, you declare this is his true personality. It’s mostly interesting because it runs explicitly contrary to evidence. The majority of a person’s actions are apparently false; it’s only this outlier event that defines them. And who does it define them for? Not themselves. They can explain they’d just had back surgery and were on pills, or hadn’t slept in three days, or were quoted out of context, and strangers will judge them anyway as secretly base and awful. The cynic supports the hypothesis saying it’s impossible to be perpetually kind, but easy to be selfish and base. The notion of a basic human, stripped of civility and society, semantics and sympathy, exposing their private selves, the celebrity would be one long indiscretion all the time. That rancid self is allegedly sustainable. With minimal evidence for their case, the strangers judge the celebrity’s sustainable persona. That’s most interesting because there’s only one thing anybody can sustainably be forever: dead."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: The Ring of the Lord

The Red King seemed permanent. He had so many waterways, and his army was so vast, so motivated by fear and malice. Some skirmishes, it seemed like the sky obeyed him, raining down hill on his foes. He was even gifted a ring by the very Devil himself that granted immortality, an everlasting contract to walk the earth and do his damnations.

It took all the High Houses, all the fleets of the world, and quite a few bribes just to turn it into a fair fight. All those war machines, and all those regimens, and the biggest port city in the world in flames. It’s funny, devilishly funny, that it only took one man to cut off the Red King’s hand. Brave Hixon, the foot soldier who would become a commander and a prime minister, lopped it off with a bayonet. I watched it fall into the surf. It looked like a diving blackbird and the ring was its eye.

His hand plummeted between sailors treading water and sharks tasting men. It made a gory morsel, and was swallowed by a thirteen-foot great white. All the maelstrom had attracted all manner of predators, and a giant squid soon snagged the shark. She remained on the upper levels of sea for all the fresh hunting, and so the squid was harpooned and netted by the victors of the Red War. In the belly of a shark, in the belly of a squid, in the hold of a privateer vessel, the ring came back to land.

The squid’s guts were sold to the High Houses that now ruled. It was part of a buffet celebrating great commanders, and one bit found its way to the plate of the most notorious defector. Without his opening the westerly gates, the High Houses never would have had their second front. He was gloating when the ring passed through his colon. It managed to pass through him entirely before he realized his bowels were not merely straining from the feast, but bleeding.

The ring travelled through the sewers as he travelled to his family crypt. There were state honors. There were rumors, too, that the Red King had cursed his betrayers. Silly talk. His remains were rotting in a second-grade tomb in a tourist backwater.

You may not know it, but sewer runoff was one of the sources of water used to mix cement for all the new High House buildings. By high misfortune, the ring was sucked into the foundations of the first free court house in the region. In its annals law was handed over to the juries, and populist justice would overturn all the evils of the Red King’s reign. For twenty-two years lawyers and summoned free peoples debated our rights, and signed quite a few dubious concessions.

Then, in the twenty-second year, anarchists bombed the city. They hit the magistrate’s mansion, two postal offices, and the court house. The memory is acrid, for that was the day Brave Hixon spoke on the steps. He was very inspirational until everything exploded. It was only part of a civil war.

Rescue workers shuttled in from around the region. Brave men and women were coughing up the dust for months afterward. Bits of the rubble got everywhere, including in-between the treads of boots. The ring travelled halfway across the continent before its shine was spotted on the bottom of one such boot. The rescue worker was trying to pry it out when his shuttle derailed. Awful mess. Probably the anarchists again.

The boot was pulled from the wreckage ten hours before its owner. Brigands showed up before aid, and they pillaged the luggage and bodies. One particular brigand absconded with four sets of boots and a designer rucksack. He didn’t even notice the embedded jewelry; he actually wore that pair of boots when he went grave robbing that night.

Grave robbing was endemic back then. With the High Houses building up the world, old and superstitious things like crypts went untended. And with all these attacks around the continent, the High Houses couldn’t be asked to care. They might even have been happy to see the Red King’s hole desecrated.

They might have been happy to see this grave robber prying open the lid of the largest sarcophagus. It was stacked on top of three other boxes. They jostled as he worried the lid. They creaked, and slumped, and one of his feet slipped. The sarcophagus came down on top of him. Crushed his skull just as the ring popped loose from his boot. It rolled up the slate floor, wobbled around his knee, then down through the broken lid. It came to rest in the Red King’s palm, for he still had one hand.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: I Am Not a Chauvinist

My career in politics began in ninth grade Health Class. Every Thursday we got a visitor, and our third visitor was very important to me. She was a specialist. This specialist asked our class a question to gauge how sexist we were. The premise alone had most of us stiff in our chairs.

I clutched my little fingers into a fist as she asked, “How do you prevent rape?”

The distressing answers, more from girls than boys, flew up with every hand.

“Stay away from alleys.”

“Don’t dress like a slut.”

“My mom keeps a knife in her purse.”

These answers disgusted me; how dare they put the onus on the victims? And these answers disgusted our specialist, who frowned with increasing severity. Hands fell pre-emptively, leaving me with hope that maybe I did have a good idea. It was the most reliable way to stop such crimes. I held up my arm at the same time as Ashley Harding. Ashley got called on first.

“Don’t rape anybody,” she said.

The specialist nodded a sanitary nod. This was what she wanted, and she launched into an explanation of why. As she began explaining the differences between a patriarchal and a feminist point of view, I sank in my chair. I was crushed. My idea didn’t fit either of these categories.

In retrospect, it was a blessing she didn't call on me. She would have quashed a revolution politics. If called upon, I'd have told the class: “Put cameras everywhere. Shoot people as necessary.”

Listening to her lecture, I realized while I wasn’t a feminist, I also wasn’t a chauvinist: I was a totalitarian.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

John is a Versatile Blogger Once More

Marianne Su has become the most recent person to grant me The Versatile Blogger Award. This is still one of the most flattering things that happens to the Bathroom Monologues, since versatility is one of the things in prose that I value the most. Marianne also decided that her “seven admissions” would be seven wishes. For this edition of John Wiswell: Versatile Blogger, I’m following her variation. Time to rub the lamp.

1. I wish to write and edit faster. Right now at least eight of my professional friends are cursing me because they think I’m some paragon of productivity, but there wasn't a day writing my novel that I didn’t think this was taking me too long. This desire will never abate.

2. Neither will my wish to be able to simultaneously read and write at high volumes abate. At present I am a wretchedly close-minded writer, obsessing over my own manuscript for most of the waking hours of the day, and so am unable to enjoy almost anything with a cover while in such throes. This is an awful habit for a novelist. We need to consume lots of prose to keep our minds nimble and our attentions acute to what’s going on in the market.

3. I wish some of my readers would buy me stuff off my wish list linked to the right. Eh? No? Nobody? Yeah, that's probably fair.

4. I often wish I liked everything that was popular. Life would just be easier, and society significantly easier, if I could just enjoy the works of William Shakespeare, The Beatles, Radiohead, Watchmen, Mark Wahlberg, Rockstar Games, cell phones, and all the other overblown nonsense my fellow primates seem to gorge their life-hours upon. There’s an honest relief when I consume something hugely popular and find I actually like it, and it's not the relief of a satisfying work. At these times I feel like I've made a little in-road with my culture. And I do like some very popular works and artists (I adore Pixar, worship at the altar of Stephen King, and was as hooked on Lost as anybody); just not enough of them to feel like I'm doing it right.

5. Like every time I get the power of wishes, I wish to be able to solve all my problems with blunt, unthinking violence. I would gladly trade any intelligence I had for Hulk powers (not that Hulk’s powers ever solve his problems).

6. An equally neurotic and equally frequent wish is to be able to suffer for others. My syndrome has made me very accustomed to pain and strife, and often I see friends not handling their physical problems and earnestly desire that I could take it for them. It’s a sort of whipping-boy effect. Now, if I was smart I’d just wish to get rid of their suffering, but I traded my intelligence for Hulk powers in the previous wish.

7. This one is another everyday wish: that my works entertain people the way great writers entertained me when I needed them most. There were very dark nights in my bedridden teens when getting to the next page of a Mark Twain or Michael Crichton novel was as close as I got to the will to live. This is the sort of goal I think a person can work towards, and strive and struggle to be worthy of, but isn’t something you can actually achieve. The author wishes it. The reader achieves it.

Thanks to Marianne, and here's to another year of posting daily for everyone's amusement.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: The Carnivore of Crime

One of the most dangerous masterminds in the world, with a rap sheet over sixty five million years long. The Carnivore’s villainy has withstood all of evolution’s attempts to wipe him out; though his fellow dinosaurs are fossils, this lizard is the tyrant of the underworld. His underlings, the Filet Minions, are as highly-trained a themed gang as could be found in the civilized world. He was the only major villain in America with no lasting arch-nemesis, on account of his penchant for devouring them. These days his prime targets are vegans, whom he calls the “modern day herbivores.” He has only one exploitable weakness: his peanut-sized brain cannot resist any form of word play.

Monday, January 2, 2012

True Stories of John 18: Suicide Jumper

This isn’t a true story about me. I was just party to one awful night for this man. He’s a fast friend of mine and wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call him Quan.

Quan was driving back from the Chinese restaurant when the man stepped into the road. It was just after dusk, leaving the winding road very dim. He was driving ten miles under the speed limit, but still too fast to see the man as he jumped. Before he knew it the hood crumpled and his windshield shattered. It’s a minor miracle that the jumper didn’t pass all the way through and kill Quan. Blood splashed his clothes.

Whatever it says about me, after he got home, I was the first person Quan contacted. I actually thought he was joking when he said he was shaken up and needed to talk. We sat there for hours as I tried to ask the most polite questions possible and ease his jangled mind.

A minivan had been coming in the opposing lane, he told me. It screeched to a stop. Quan and the other driver called 911 almost simultaneously, and they were only minutes from a police station. Flashing lights arrived shortly.

Quan’s car was impounded as evidence. He was kept at the station for hours trying to prove his innocence to people who was too shaken to read. It turned out the man had been suicidal and chose that method to end it. Without a car, Quan’s parents had to pick him up. What a call that must have been to make.

When his Asperger’s flared up under the stress, Quan preferred to type instead of talk. Most of our conversation was in instant messages. After half an hour his spelling and punctuation evened out, and his details grew. You could almost watch him calm down through syntax. I latched onto any mildly promising details, like his estimated speed and the lack of a crosswalk, swearing he had a defense if this went to court, and Quan seemed to register that I cared. I think that’s why he said what he did, something that in almost a decade I never would have thought could come from inside him.

He said he was glad he hit the jumper.

I asked why.

Quan remembered the minivan. That driver hadn’t been alone: he had a little kid in the front passenger seat. If Quan hadn’t hit him, then the jumper would have crossed the double yellow line, and that kid would have seen a man go through his windshield. In all his turmoil and shock, part of him was glad he’d suffered this instead of that father and son.

It was hearsay, but nothing stuck out to me last year like that. At no time this year have I been sadder for a friend, but in my perverse way, at no time have I been prouder. Whatever that says about me.
Counter est. March 2, 2008