Saturday, October 9, 2010

Eight Questions

This week Anthony Venutolo tagged me with eight questions. Below are my answers.

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?

Hulk powers. Oh my God, Hulk powers! Get angry, destroy everything, solve everything with thoughtless brute force. I don't know why Banner is sad all the time. I would gladly trade all my intellect for the ability to kick a bridge over for traffic being too slow.

2. Who is your style icon?

Eudora Welty. She’d write whatever style she pleased. Which is my way of weaseling out of having a style icon, because there isn’t one iconic style I cherish over all others.

I hope you mean writing-wise. Clothing-wise? Let’s got with the Hulk again. Tattered purple pants. Very macho.

3. What is your favorite quote?

It changes routinely. At present it’s from Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, put into the mouth of Isaac Jaffe:

"If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. And if you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you."

Sorkin is unparalleled for quotability in modern TV and film.

4. What is the best compliment you've ever received?

In high school I was sent to a writing conference at this Community College. This felt huge for me, and I loved all the panels I attended. The last was a workshop with an author of Holocaust memoirs. I brought two things: a gratuitously violent action story, and a love poem to my imaginary girlfriend. When it was my turn, I suddenly realized there was no way I could read something violent in front of this man. So I pulled out the poem. When I looked up from the page every girl in the room was looking at me, which was very unusual at the time (still is), and the author smiled at me.

“You should share that with her,” he said.

He looked so knowing, so sure of himself and happy at this little writer boy in front of him. None of them had an inkling she wasn’t real and judging me invasively, if approvingly. That’s probably the best compliment I’ve ever gotten.

5. What playlist/CD is in your CD player/iPod right now?

In the car it's Lettuce's "Outta Here" and "Rage!" Two of the very few albums I listen to in their entirety. I’m a terrible song miner.

On the computer I've been listening to every version of the theme from Jon Carpenter's Halloween I can find. Tyler Bates did some great tinkering on it. It’s that time of year.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

Natural night owl. Even as a kid I loved New Years Eve and being allowed to stay up late into the night. I wrote most of my first novel after dark. Trying to force myself into becoming an early riser, just because it's more convenient to be on civilization's clock.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

Cats. They are on average smaller and thus take less time to bury.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

It’s the creation story for this place. Back in college I was afraid I was losing my creative drive by focusing so acutely on assigned topics. So whenever I got up from the textbook or computer to use the bathroom, I’d improvise a monologue related to anything other than what I was working on. If I’m studying 1800s American politics, then it can be about orcs and dishware. If I’m studying Kafka, then it can be about the Three Stooges. I’d keep it up until I returned to the computer. Bathroom Monologues. Sometimes I’d type them up and IM them to friends. That’s the tradition I uphold here at the writing desk, while working on short stories and novels.

In keeping with the game, I'll now pass these questions on to Karen Schindler. Tag!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Ghost Dancer

“Come on!” Anne called, waving her sister over. “Lawrence’s sweethearting with a ghost.”

Patricia and Anne crept under his window. They hid behind the shadow of his flatscreen monitor. Outside it was pitch black, contrasting against his lit bedroom.

All he had were the computer and the bed, but you’d look at Lawrence no matter what else was around. He was 6’4” at 17 years old, and puberty still hadn’t given him enough fat or muscle to carry the height. He was a scrawny giant, with long legs and fingers. A human scarecrow. There was something wrong with his right knee, such that he couldn’t help but walk awkward. It was like God left a KICK-ME sign on his back.

But there was something more to look at tonight. His bed was pushed to one corner, leaving the floor empty. He stood the straightest they’d ever seen him, hands extended in front of him, holding nothing. One was low, where a woman’s hip might be, while the other was high, as though on a shoulder. His bad leg led him two steps here, then pivoting and taking two steps there.

Anne canted her head. “I think he’s waltzing with her.”

Patricia looked from Lawrence to Anne and back again, like this would share whatever the other two were seeing.

“Waltzing with who? I think he’s going mad.”

“No.” Anne rested her elbows on the windowsill, watching Lawrence dreamily. “He’s dancing with a ghost girl.”

Patricia scrunched up her forehead. “There’s nobody there.”

“Dunce, she’s transcendent.” Anne waggled her nose in the air, glorying in this bit of vocabulary. “Can’t you see her gown? It’s frilly, like Nana’s curtains. He keeps almost stepping on it.”

Patricia focused on her brother’s feet. They shuffled deliberately – either he was neurotic, or was trying to avoid somebody’s feet. She glanced up and saw his lips moving.

“Is he whispering to himself?”

“Poor Lawrence.” Anne sighed at the sky. It was nighttime in Heaven. “He was so lonely that he found a girl from beyond the grave.”

“That’s crazy.” Patricia pushed her. “Crazy’s what he’s doing. Dancing all alone.”

Lawrence looked at the window and both of them ducked behind the monitor. They were grateful that Dad had gotten him a widescreen for Christmas. The two girls stayed down, not even breathing for fear it would give them away. When the window didn’t clatter open, the sisters peered at each other.

Patricia pinched Anne on the shoulder. “Tell me you didn’t really see anyone.”

“I did, too.” Anne sucked her lips inward, turning her mouth into an angry line. “She’s ravishing. I’m happy for him.”

“There’s nobody there. Come on.”

They rose just high enough for their eyes to peek over the sill. Lawrence was still dancing in an ugly square with his invisible bride. His hands were stable, even if his right leg kept trembling for position. He was definitely mouthing something.

“I’m looking,” said Anne. “I see the prettiest girl in the world. She’s got blonde hair, braided like Mom won’t let me do mine. And her eyes are like the moon. I think he’s talking to her.”

“He’s talking to himself. Besides, ghosts wouldn’t look like that. They’re dead.”

“Well what do they look like?”

Patricia folded her arms. “Like nothing.”

“If you don’t see anything, and ghosts look like nothing, then how isn’t she a ghost?”

Patricia was a year older, but that only made her eleven. It didn’t give her a good answer. She watched the nothing-girl in her brother’s arms. The absence of a bosom pressed to his chest, and the absence of legs matching his steps. The nothingness that hesitated just as long as his bad knee did, matching his strides and following his lead. Even if she wasn’t there, she was more elegant than he was. It was nice for him to get such a dance partner.

She squeezed her eyes closed.

“Maybe I’m crazier than he is.”

She opened them to find Anne glaring at her with pure ethereal intensity. It was like Anne saw ghosts in her now.

“Don’t you call him crazy. He found love.”

“I’ll call you crazy. And so what?” she said with the conviction of the convert. “You think he’s got a ghost girlfriend. Either he’s gone mad or gone wizard.”

“Necromancy? Oh, that’s unnatural. I thought maybe she came to him.” Anne’s fire was doused. Her eyes blinked and flickered in worry. “What are we going to do with him?”

“Maybe we can ask to meet her, and talk it out.”

“You can’t ask to meet your brother’s ghost girlfriend.” Anne shook her head so rapidly it almost gave away their location. “It might break the spell.”

“Or get you committed.”

Lawrence’s great shadow approached the window. This time they darted away altogether, not wanting to be caught by his phantom lover or whatever virus was eating his brain stem. They hid under the porch and prayed he wasn’t an evil wizard now.

“One, two, three,” he repeated to himself. “One, two, three.”

He didn’t even notice them. Lawrence bent over the monitor and clicked a Related Video, starting up the next Waltz practice on Youtube. He’d get this eventually. He was glad nobody ever saw him practice this. He couldn’t imagine what it looked like.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: The Grudges

He will cross the state to pick you up when you’ve got nothing left but a hard luck story and your boxers.

She won’t even answer the phone, though the porch light will be on when you drive up.

You are always acutely aware that you’re supposed to do something in their mutual presence, but you’ve never figured out what.

He will forget you blasphemed his Savior two days later.

She will remember you left the toilet seat up two years later.

You are very careful in their bathroom. You once splashed a little water from the sink and made sure to dry it with your shirt to avoid soiling any linens. You noticed her changing the towels five minutes later.

He still reads comic books (Wolverine rules).

She reads James Patterson, but can and will quote Schopenhauer if you piss her off.

You cannot remember what you did to piss her off, but she has seemed pissed off for as long as you’ve known her.

He says she’s got no problem with you.

She says she’s got no problem with you.

You’ve woken up in their guest room multiple times to find the door locked from the outside.

She spends nine hours cooking Thanksgiving supper and talks for two more hours before she lets anybody eat.

He eats Pop Tarts (cherry) straight from the shiny package.

You wonder what the conversations are like after you leave.

He will spend all afternoon in the garage, fixing an engine that works fine. He will claim nothing is wrong.

She will drive to every fertility clinic and seminar possible for an answer.

You wonder if (somehow) she believes you two hanging out is causing this.

She would throw a lamp at you if you asked that.

He’s pretty sure she would, anyway. He’ll be right back – he has to look for the key to this stupid door, but you can climb out through the window if it takes too long.

You wonder, sometimes, how their marriage has lasted.

He gets quiet, but he always does what she asks.

She always buys more of those Pop Tarts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: To The Door

To listen to today's monologue either click the triangle to the left to begin streaming audio, or click this text to download the MP3. Enjoy me going silly for seventy-one seconds.

A word of warning: what you are about to see cannot happen. It can never have happened. It will not happen. It is nevertheless real. Everything beyond this door is one-hundred-and-one percent true and nothing will change that. But these things do not happen. Every member of tonight’s audience must concede that on any day of the year that everything they will see tonight is impossible. You swear its oath when you get up for work in the morning, and have low-fat lunches, and fall in love, and grow old and turn to dust. There are things that we as a society agree do not happen. It is for the sake of productivity, efficiency, and other fine traits that make men build doors. For your sanity and my liability I insist that you concede that what you are about to see is true and truly not happening. If you cannot concede it, cannot concede without first seeing what cannot lie beyond this door, then I must ask you to take your refund and return to the parking lot. To those who make concessions to what cannot be, though, I invite you: ladies and gentlemen, to the door.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Gay Marriage in ______

I didn't think gay marriage was plausible before. My mind changed on a recent trip to ___, one of the few states where it is legal. I came adequately prepared, with a diving suit, several tanks of compressed air and dehydrated food. It was cumbersome to walk the streets in that suit, and further cumbersome to see couples happily walking along the streets without such equipment. They were all heterosexual couples, or people so old and dried out that any sex life between them, hetero or homosexual, was a wishful illusion. At first I wondered where the packs of roving gay couples were, but then something else caught my attention.

The roads were freshly paved and most buildings were in good repair. I checked into a corner bookstore to find the new Jimmy Carter and Stephanie Meyer. The Social Network and Let Me In were playing at the movies. It appeared new outside-world products were still travelling into ___. And though I was deprived of smell within the suit, all food served in street-side cafes appeared fresh and unspoiled.

Then a terrifying thing transpired. The helmet disrupted my peripheral vision and, attempting a crosswalk, I was nearly bowled over by a delivery truck. I tumbled to safety in a gutter, where my sleeve snagged a grate. It tore. I clutched at my neck, preparing to choke to death on _____'s tainted atmosphere. My air hissed out, while ____’s air seeped in silently. I closed my eyes and prepared for death.

To my surprise, I did not die. I lay in the gutter for half an hour before realizing that the atmosphere of ___ was relatively potable to a foreigner. I removed my helmet, though I kept a pair of goggles and a spare oxygen tank just in case. I rested beneath some oak trees. They had turned as orange as any other place in the country. I reflected upon them, and all the other samenesses of this place where gay marriage was legal. Two Hispanics jogged by in sweatpants, one man and one woman, chugging along as though they had no idea that alternative lifestyles were available. They breathed heavily and did not die. They seemed entirely unimpeded. It was then I decided that yes, gay marriage could happen, if only because its occurrence would affect so little else that most natives wouldn’t even notice.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Burden of Proof

Five hours into the debate the philosophers invented "Burden of Proof." Though records differ, the first draft of the "Burden of Proof" went something like this:

"You prove it!"

"No, you!"

Fifteen motions later, the concept of “Burden of Proof” was established as something like this:

"One party has the burden of providing substantial evidence for the veracity of its position."

However, it took fifty more motions to extract, "and that party is the other side" from their definitions.

The idea was never introduced to find the truth. It's not even mentioned in historical record what the philosophers were debating that night. Truth has very little to do with debates, after all. If there was a truth that could be got at through them, it would be clubbed, caged and wheeled out on stage. One debater would get the blue ribbon and go home cocksure.

Debating then, as now, was about charisma, showmanship, the appearance of logical complexity, and sounding clever. Either side in an elite-level debate could make a convincing argument no matter his side. For government? Look at the evils of corporations in need of regulation, and the abuse of warlords in states without police. Against government? Look at the evils of government that don't regulate themselves properly, and the abuse of power by police. For the rich, against religion, the ancients were smarter, the internet is making us dumber - the skilled debater, then and now, could champion either side and was raised to be able to embrace whatever platform was profitable.

What the philosophers invented that day was a substantial weapon in debate. “Burden of Proof” meant the other side had to prove its case or your side won by default. That day it went much as it does today:

"You've got a position. Prove it beyond my ability to object or you're wrong."

To which the second party replied, as anyone can and usually does in different words:

"By opposing my position you have also taken a position, and since I believe my position I don’t see it as a position at all but merely the truth, and if you do not prove your position beyond my ability to object, then you are wrong by default."

"No, you!" follows shortly thereafter, usually in different words.

On that campus, as today, Burden of Proof didn't matter. It didn't matter if things were unprovable - they hadn't even invented the clock, so couldn't prove what time something happened, and just like today, most events went unfilmed and unwitnessed, and therefore were also next to unprovable. But that Burden of Proof was a great wedge in the mouths of either side. Accuse with it, then dig it in with all your charisma, showmanship and ability to sound clever.

We don't know what those debaters were arguing over. We do know, though, how the audience voted. One hundred and four students of the campus were in the pews that evening. They were compelled to check 'For' or 'Against' the motion of the evening on their way in. 58 were For, 46 were Against. On their way out they were compelled to again check their positions on the matter, in a primitive attempt at polling. The poll found 58 were For, and 46 were Against. This suggests to some that public debates, then as now, were mostly for the entertainment of the already convinced.

Hard to prove it, though.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: The Last Man and His Mother

There is an audio edition of this story. Click the triangle on the left to listen to the stream, or click this text to download the MP3.

The last man on earth sat alone in his room. There was a knock at the door.

"Freddy, supper's ready."

"Mom! I'm writing!"

"Okay honey. I'll leave it in the fridge."

He was the last man on earth. The one and only

"Do you need some Pepto?"


"Okay, okay!"

The last man on earth held his head in his hands. No one understood him.
Counter est. March 2, 2008