Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Noun Challenge Concludes

He would have come up with a better name, probably something in Latin, but seeing that Apollo was filling out a patent form for the same God of Jokes position, he had to rush. And so for all eternity the deity of humor would have to be “the Joker.” It’s made him the butt of many jokes since; Vulcan frequently asks if he should have named himself “the Armorer,” or Helios “the Sunner.”

His treatment around Olympus has driven the Joker into a permanent bad mood. Taking queues from the Old Testament (which was new when he got this job, and which he considers a reliable handbook for the job), he persecutes his divine competition. Unlike any entities in his handbook, though, his targets could just as easily be represented in a temple as in a nightclub that hosts stand-up. His competition is not just the divine, but all sources of entertainment. He’s razed far more places of amusement than holy sites – possibly out of fear of reprisal from gods, since reprisal from the investors behind Disneyland or the Kentucky Derby are less intimidating.

The biggest snafu so far came from destroying a waterslide park in the Middle East. He thought reducing the place to so much lava and pumice was a good gag. Ironic. The local animistic deities disagreed and the God of Jokes was beset by a hundred thousand immortal flies that cannot be swatted.

In a show of devotion to the craft, rather than seeking vengeance on his competition, the Joker is avidly seeking the license for these flies. He considers their potential in practical jokes to be limitless.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Noun Challenges You to Up the Ante

They skipped the Kentucky Derby that year, for the first time in twelve years. Twelve years ago Clarissa had come down with measles. This year there was a special poker game between high-stakes rollers of a stripe called the “P.P.G.”

There were four players, all impressive. The first as nearly a giant of a man with one eye and a Santa Claus beard. The second was a man all in black, his dark hair shining like bird feathers – and indeed, he wore some from an earring. The third was the most beautiful man Clarissa and Pete had ever seen, with hair of gold, not blonde, but rich and lustrous stuff. The last was an African with a bizarre accent and a bipolar disposition – one pole incredibly depressed over some lost job, the other jubilant, and thankfully, both with expert poker faces.

A hushed audience of ninety-nine ticket-holders was allowed to sit in on this rarest of games. There was Nexus Hold ‘Em, a form Texas Hold ‘Em played with tarot cards. When the big man with one eye won the first round two girls in the front sprouted wings. The African won two people on opposite sides of the room inexplicably fell in love. They were wed at intermission.

There was a game played not for chips, but articles indigenous to the homelands of the players. The one-eyed man actually gambled away bones of arcane creatures. The African had gold embedded in the pores of volcanic pumice, claiming they were born from the first belches of the world. They let out an ethereal shine from their holes that filled the audience with a lust for money. The beautiful man gambled teeth of unknown origin. When one accidentally fell onto the floor a dragon sprouted and nearly ate the bystanders.

The oddest game was straight-up five-card draw, where the man in black, who someone called “Raven,” drew an infeasible hand of five jokers, all wildcards that he claimed constituted a “divine flush.” Raven won the game so hard that he not only took home all the rocks and chips, but broke the entire world economy.

When all was said and done, Pete agreed that this was worth skipping the Derby. He preferred watching the horses to watching old people play cards, but any money he might have won at the track would have been worthless by the end of that final game. Pete was prudent in his aesthetics.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Noun Challenge with Strange Company

[ARYANA sits along the bar in an impractical chainmail bikini guaranteed to piss off feminists; THE INSULTINGLY BLAND SCOTT sits to her left in a t-shirt and jeans; THE JOKER sits to his left in a red vest and slops, sipping an empty martini glass; SPIDER sits to his left in a spandex superhero costume, eyeing THE JOKER warily, even though his mask has no eyeholes.]

Scott: So I thought Ledger stole the movie.
Joker: I liked Eckhart better. More believable.
Spider: And really, it’s too broad a film with too much quality work in the lighting, soundtrack and performances of the whole cast, even in bit roles, for it to be able to be stolen by a single performance.
Scott: But he was so awesome! His laugh gave me the creeps, and he made Nicholson look like a--
Joker: [Glaring at Scott] Listen, you market-tested middle-American pea brain, if you don’t shut up about him I will puncture your larynx with a plastic cocktail sword. [Looking at Spider] If he’s good, I’ll do it with a penknife.
Spider: I always thought Mark Hamill had the best laugh.
Joker: Me too. Had real panache.
Aryana: [Leaning forward to look at Joker] What are you doing here?
Joker: Infringing copyrights, mostly.
Aryana: Oh.
Spider: But he’s wearing a red vest as to avoid being too similar and getting us sued.
Scott: Top work.
Joker: Did you know that my sidekick was drugging me?
Spider: Where is she?
Joker: Hospitalized. Took a chunk of volcanic pumice to the forehead after the tragedy at the Kentucky Derby.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: In Soviet Russia, Noun Challenges You

“It’s the worst scandal to hit the Kentucky Derby since bookies started photoshopping our photo finishes. Seems some joker went around loosening all but one of the jockeys’ straps – er, that is, the straps on their saddles. Only one jockey, Catali, had an untampered saddle. It was raining little men that morning, Catali won, and because of some bad internal legislation, he got to keep the trophy and prize money, and even got his name in the record books for biggest margin of victory. But since then he’s been ostracized and quietly banned from racing.

“He didn’t do it, though. Didn’t do the tampering. He had an alibi, and frankly he’s dumber than his mount.

“No, it was part of the cement consortium that was turned down for the 2001-2005 renovations at Churchill Downs. People outside of Kentucky may not know this, but Churchill Downs is a place – the Kentucky Derby is a thing that happens there. The Downs is really popular thanks to that two-week festival they run every year, and they needed it renovated in the millennium, to put in a bunch of suites and such that they could charge more for. A lot of bidders funneled in for the project, and those who were turned away got real bitter, especially this one distributed of lime and volcanic pumice – the stuff that goes into concrete – who pretty much went out of business when the owners of the Downs reneged on a deal they promised behind closed doors. Ruining a big race and turning the winner into a pariah was their revenge, you see.

“The consortium was thwarted, though, because for all the negative press the Downs made back all its money and popularity by becoming the first race track to ever hold a Rolling Stones rock concert. A couple of the punks from the defunct consortium tried to sabotage the guitars, but they got caught and shuttled away in secrecy. The people who run the Kentucky Derby are still pretty sensitive over anything bringing up the memory of that scandal, even news of them catching people who were in on it. Guess hosting a race where all your world-class jockeys fall off their horses in the gate is pretty embarrassing.”

Unwise challenge? Blame it on my teeth.

Dear People Who Make it to Wednesday,

It's Wednesday, meaning we've hit the middle of the Noun Challenge. It also means I'm having my wisdom teeth pulled. This notice goes up at 8:00 AM, the time when surgery begins. I don't expect it to be fatal, but what do I know? I'm typing this to you from Sunday night while the real me sits in a recliner with two people wielding pliers hovering above, and I'm paying them to do it.

I expect to be out of commission for the rest of the week, as I fully expect (and intend) to be at my most grumpy and helpless while the opportunity presents itself (plus we're fumigating the house, which includes my computer area). Fortunately the rest of the Noun Challenge monologues are done and scheduled to post one per morning. However, I may not be available to respond to comments for a little while. Any well-wishes, offers of gifts and/or thoughts on how the Noun Challenge is going are still welcome.

Offer me a chewable present and you may be banned from the internet.

John Wiswell

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: How do you spell “Solzhenitsyn” in the Russian alphabet?

Should you write some kind of a farewell to Solzhenistyn, John? You wrote one for George Carlin, and you certainly like him more, if it’s possible to prefer a psychotically brave novelist embedded in a totalitarian culture to a stand-up comedian hybrid of a class clown and social critic. But if you write one for Aleksandhr Solzhenitsyn, then that’s a precedent. Writing for Carlin was kind of goofy and kind of okay. You can do anything once. Do it twice, and a pattern is expected.

You can’t write obituaries for every person you’ve ever liked and never met, especially because as time passes people you’ve loved and actually known will drop and then you’ll be stuck with the problem of whether you should tell an audience of strangers about your departed and less remarkable best friend, because even if he’s less accomplished in the market of ideas and global identities, won’t he be worth more to you than the famous or somewhat famous dead people you’ve written about? Likely more important than all of them combined? At least on the day of impact. For all your attempts to become a smarter man, would you not trade Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a devastatingly great novel that carved you off a slice of life in gulags you’ve still yet to fully digest, for one more day with Dan Loden, a fine man of whom no one reading this has ever heard?

And let’s be even more intellectually honest, John: you had to look up how to spell “Solzhenitsyn.” You’ve only read one of his books, even if his passing has tempted you to buy the whole catalog. And while you admire his mind and his boldness against Stalinism, when you realized he’d written over a dozen somewhat pricey things, you were trying to rationalize a purchase of only six – and true to your mental caliber, you caught yourself trying to divine the best by their titles rather than reviews or content.

Yet you do feel strongly for this man and this writer. His is the first author’s death that sent you to the library (and, spurring you to read the works of the recently deceased. Ken Kesey and Kurt Vonnegut didn’t do that to you, and the cultural event of a notable author’s death giving people rise to read his works is something that a part of you has been dying to join. Weren’t you disappointed when Vonnegut dying didn’t make you want to pick up Slaughterhouse Five? So this departed stranger has a particular saliency, because he’s a writer who dug deep with humanitarian characterization, ruthless honesty about an atrocious system of government, and a tone that jumped across the translation and forced you to read that whole book in one day. How many literary books have you read in a single day? Ironic, maybe, but you miss him already because you wanted more of that despite never getting around to reading any of his other books.

But that doesn’t solve the problem that if you eulogize Solzhenitsyn here, if you type it up, and if you put it on that site, then you’ll have to install an Obituary tab on the sidebar. The deaths of real people, who are posthumously discussed enough in every major newspaper in the country, will rack up like so many points, like so many undrawn cartoons and dialogues between strange people. Do you want that?

And do you want to wake up in a few years and find Stephen King, Kenneth Miller or Terry Pratchett has died, and feel yourself obligated to write about them? King you can swing; you’ll probably write a micro-horror story about a surreal absurd demise for a man who’ll probably pass on natural causes. It’ll be funny. But maybe Pratchett’s won’t be. Maybe Bill Clinton’s won’t be. And once you’ve written about the lives of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Terry Pratchett and Bill Clinton, how do you remain silent about your mother? You can’t and you won’t.

So don’t eulogize him. Let people go read his works for themselves. Go read him yourself while they’re at it.

Bathroom Monologue: Noun Challenge - Pacific Edition

In the Pacific Rim there exists a peculiar volcano. It has been sentient for at least one hundred thousand years. It does not know if any other volcanoes are sentient because volcanoes are very poor communicators. This one has been trying to give the same message for all those hundred thousand years since it realized there was life out there. Life, which trampled its igneous structure. Life, which came to gawk into its maw, like it was some tourist attraction, some kind of infernal Kentucky Derby. Well the volcano was not a wilderness reserve or a pretty painting. It made itself as craggy as possible, with erratic, porous pumice slopes that were difficult to ascend. And yet life kept coming and ignoring the one thing it had said with every earthquake and eruption for millennia: “You’re annoying. Go away.” But Mother Nature didn’t endow volcanoes with particularly good vocabulary, nor some mammals with particularly good comprehension. Mother Nature, it appears, is some kind of joker.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Noun Challenge at the Races

The Joker put his hands behind his head, reclining as Harley pumiced his calluses.

“This is the life, Harls. All because of preparation.”

“How’s that, Mistah J?”

“Got my work done this morning.”

He brought up a pale hand, looking at the track in the valley below. He tuned his radio with the volume low until he heard the murmur of the commentators.

“Always wanted dad to take me to the Kentucky Derby. The races are pure skill, but the gambling? The swearing? The lost tuition payments? Ha-ha! The whole place is a monument to chance and not doing your work beforehand. But today they get a real windfall – a hundred tons of C4 guarantees that the first long shot to come in will bring down the house.” He rubbed suntan lotion over his white face. “Why didn’t I think of leaving Gotham sooner?”

“No idea, Puddin’,” Harley said with a happy sigh, hiding the bottle of prozac in her bag. She’d been slipping him the last two weeks. Only a hundred tons of C4? The pills really did work!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Noun Challenge Recipes

“We’re talking 100% lean horse. Our distributors get them right from the Kentucky Derby, off of the latest mares to come in unsatisfactory place. We only serve the highest sports-grade horse. We marinate them in our special blend of sea salts, ground Hawaiian pumice and an extract from cougar livers that gets it at the perfect tenderness and evokes the natural equine flavor. This is nothing like what those jokers down the street are selling. You know, McDonalds actually owns that franchise. I bet even their pony is low-grade.”
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