Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do" -John Lennon, "Imagine"

Laid my head on the pillow and did as he asked. All the lines disappeared off the globes. Tax men took off their ties and road workers dropped their jackhammers, no longer getting fiscally motivated. Pedestrians wandered out of their houses, looking skyward and puzzling out just had changed, just milling, just wondering around, not asking, because to ask would be to connect with a goal, and that would be governance. They did a lot of staring until a wave emerged, I think from China or Russia or Utah, one rogue government rolling forth, marching together and bombing wide. They blew all the accidental anarchists off the face of the earth. Nobody aligned to stop them, because the singer ordered no governments. So they died, asking why this one government was allowed to form and getting no answers. I never did find out why. I got up and had things to do, and by that time he was singing the next track on the CD.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: I Hate Gay

There is an audio edition of this monologue. If you'd like to listen click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio, or click this text to download the MP3.

Today, I hate gay. I hate people who are gay, people who might be, people who aren’t, and people who hate people who are. I hate the whole of it. I hate that when my best friend and I walked downtown chatting for two hours, people suspected things. I hate whoever threw the brick. I hate the protesters outside the hospital. I hate the counter-protesters who claim to support him and are chanting his last name wrong. I hate that they won’t leave him alone. I hate that blogs keep posting cell-phone pictures of his mangled forehead. I hate that he’ll have to wear a hat to cover the scar any time he goes outside. I hate that he’ll find a way to make it fashionable. I hate that “elective cosmetic surgery” isn’t covered by his insurance.

I hate that when I went to his apartment to get his stuff, people tried to encourage me. I hate that they told me to be brave, and to be there for him. I hated it because who were they to tell me to be there for my friend? I hated it because their sincere emotional advice referred to a relationship they only imagined I had.

And I hate the little old lady who scowled at me through the crack in her door, safety chain still hooked, busy hating me for another imaginary relationship. And I hate all the neutral faces that stared at me like, “Does he belong in my apartment building?” and “Is he gay?” and “Am I okay with that?” I hate them all and their crappy floral wallpaper.

On the drive back to the hospital, I hate all the pedestrians who don’t look at me or my car or in my direction. I hate everyone who doesn’t know, who isn’t preoccupied with this. I would hate them if they were looking, and I hate that they aren’t. I hate that they’re getting on with their lives, and that many of them have nothing to get on from because they don’t know, don’t care, have a club somewhere to look impressive at.

I hate the radio. I hate callers blaming religion, blaming my God Who is Love for people hating people who like people who are different from the people that they like. I hate callers blaming my evolution, blaming natural selection wiring our brains to be disgusted at someone not being disgusted at things that disgust us. I hate the host blaming my country, blaming a culture that enshrines free speech, allows rainbow marches, and pays for the public radio that introduced me to The Village People. I like The Village People.

Pulling into the parking lot, weaving amongst protesters and counter-protesters, I hate whichever amendment lets interlopers gather in groups. I hate that hateful people know what gay is. I hate that they’re not gay. I hate somebody’s sign saying you’re born that way, accusing your genes. I hate somebody else’s sign saying it’s a choice, and gays made the wrong one. I hate that either of those things would matter.

I hate that it rained. I hate that the box broke and his shirts fell on the sidewalk. I hate that none of those people helped me, and I’d hate if somebody offered. I hate that my friend is going to laugh at these dirty shirts in the context of all possible Bad News For the Day. I hate that I wasn’t the one who was hit.

I hate the crowds outside, and the journalists in the waiting room, and the three people in the elevator. I hate that I didn’t see who that fuck was when he threw the brick, and I hate each of them for possibly being him. I hate that I’ll walk around this city for at least another three years, potentially passing him every day, and never knowing that I could have caught him and beat his face in. I hate that I’ll blindly suspect people just like he did, and just like he did, I’ll almost always be wrong.

I hate that he’s watching cute cartoons and doesn’t have to scramble to turn them off when I come in. I hate the unguarded tone he uses on the phone with his mom. I hate that the half of his face that’s showing is smiling in assurance to a mother who can’t see him. I hate that she’d call when he needs rest. I hate his God-damned mother. What is wrong with me?

I hate the way he flaps his hand for me to set the box down and take a load off. And sitting there, waiting for my friend to need anything, I hate. I hate what others would say this means about me, or my feelings about him, or what our relationship secretly is in their minds and in none of our experience. In some way I hate myself, but mostly I don’t. I hate the things that make me hate. I don’t hate myself, not until he catches on and actually tries to comfort, reaches out from the bed and pats my wrist and asks if “You’re taking care of you.”

And what do you do there?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Experience of the Holy

Lo’s chest jerked erratically, like somewhere under the bed there was a man with a rope tugging on his ribs. The jerks slowed until he was still, and Puck worried the man had died on him. Not now, not when they’d contacted the big guy behind it all. He poked Lo’s shoulder, and the man’s eyes opened a sliver. Puck inclined, trying to angle himself to be visible in that narrow swath of eyelid.

“So what was he like?” he asked.

Lo put a hand over his face. “Have you ever looked at a stained glass window?”

“Really, he looked like all that white iconography? That’s almost disappointing…”

“No,” Lo cut him off. “No. Imagine looking at an eyeball.”

“An eyeball?”

“Except your eyes are stained glass windows. None of the optic nerves, cones or rods. And your beautiful stained glass windows are looking at an eyeball. Yeah.”

“That makes no sense.”

Lo removed his hand and looked up at Puck’s eyeballs. “It makes new sense. I’d never looked as a stained glass window before.”

“What the crap does that mean?”

“It may mean you have to see him yourself to talk about it. Or…”

“Or what?” Puck snapped.

“Or you can appreciate my best attempts to tell you what it was like.”

With that Lo laid back down and rolled his back to the ingrate. Next time Puck could have his own epiphany.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Walt Disney Star

Contrary to popular belief, Walt Disney did not have himself frozen on his deathbed so that he could be cured in later centuries. He had an intimate knowledge of death and larger things, which he imbued upon his many fine cartoons. Rather than be frozen, cremated or stuck in the ground, he took the appropriate course of being shot into space. Specifically, he was shot into Polaris, the north star, so that he would always be looking down upon his millions of fans. He even answers the occasional celestial-born wish. But do not pray to him – he is a good Christian star, and takes only wishes. Preferably those for transformation and riches, like a boy looking up from his drafting table and wishing he was one of the lights in the sky.

Monday, December 6, 2010

True Stories of John 6: Digital Horse, OR, The Life and Times of Felicity (Digital Horse)

Early in Red Dead Redemption your cowboy is taught how to rope, break in and keep horses. You chase a herd of horses across the sunny plains of Hennigan's Stead. On that mission, between all the brown and white backs, I glimpsed gold hair. I tried to chase it on my modest mare, but it was too quick.

Back in town a friend and I messed around the General Store and found the listing of all available horses. Near the bottom was the Kentucky Saddler, a golden-pearl steed that was supposedly one of the fastest alive, only matched by the equally rare American Standard. My friend and I were stunned. If we could catch that, we'd ride it for the rest of the game. We immediately ran back out into the fields, but the horse was gone. I was stuck with a standard horse, which I named Felicity. I name all my horses Felicity, because I love Zapp Brannigan.

Any time we passed through Hennigan’s Stead again, we’d run across the fields for a hint of golden pearl hair. Day after day we had no luck, until my vacation ended and I returned home. I wrote, did errands, cleaned the house, and finally sat back down with the game. I listened to two hours of streaming NPR hunting that stupid horse without any luck. One time, just once I saw it. I lassoed it, dismounted, and a cougar jumped from off-screen to kill me in a single bite.

I had trouble sleeping that night, so I sat up and went on a bounty hunt. Apparently there was somebody so horrible that the feds would pay be $200 to kill him or $400 to drag him in alive. I tracked him across the entire world map, about four minutes’ ride, which in playing feels like fifteen, which in memory feels like an hour. It’s an investment. I arrived at a rocky plateau and had to shoot it out with the hombre and his seven goons, all of whom had the high ground while I had a two-foot rock to hide behind. I managed to catch him alive, bind him and drag him halfway across the state.

Halfway I spotted a blonde horse drinking at the gully.

I left that stupid hombre and my normal horse instantly. If it was real, peasants probably would have gawked at the grizzled man sprinting down the slopes and squealing like a child.

It was bad. The Kentucky Saddler tossed me immediately. I lassoed it and was dragged fifty feet. I lassoed it, almost reached, and was flung over its ass. It took me five tries, always having to get back up and chase it down until it slowed to climb back on, before the thing took pity on me and stayed still. I won.

“Good boy, Felicity,” I told the TV.

He had fabulous stamina. This guy could run for ten seconds straight -- which again is an achievement in videogame time. We collected the bounty I’d left behind and dozens more across the landscape. We ran into the desert to hunt snakes, chased down trains, and stormed the high ground in a ludicrous number of shootouts. He helped me chase down every other horse in the game except the rarest black stead, filling up my booklet with horse stamps. I never kept any of the horses we caught. They were for sport. Felicity was for keeps.

Eventually I had to go to Mexico. I crossed on a raft under the cover of darkness. There was no other way, no bridge or safe rail. Felicity could not come, for he would drown fording the river and could not fit on the raft. Despite my stealth, banditos soon emerged and hurled Molotov cocktails at me. I was forced to shoot flaming bottles out of the air or burn to death over water.

When I reached the other shore, I whistled. Felicity galloped to my side, having defied the laws of physics and game mechanics to materialize near his master.

“Good boy, Felicity,” I told the TV.

He was my method of transport for everything down south. I was after Javier Escuella and Bill Williamson, two men whom the game would like you to shoot. They were in a gang with you years ago, but left you to rot and die. Within minutes of meeting them again in this game, they shoot you and leave you for dead again. They run a miserable gang now, one that stabs prostitutes and sets ranches on fire for fun. They’re so awful that the federal government wants them dead – has hired you to kill them, and kidnapped your family to make sure you do it. Every sign points to getting these guys.

I spent the week of my free time pursuing them. I double-timed rebels and the military for leads. I did favors for nuns, idealists and necrophiliacs. I defended a train from forty robbers and burned down a shanty town. I collected women for the General’s pleasure and escorted a girl safely into the U.S. Anything for a lead. And always Felicity was there, either carrying me along the mission, or waiting idly by the finishing point.

Finally on Thursday I got a clue, and Felicity sped me to the fort. Alongside a band of revolutionaries I laid siege to the place, picking off snipers and burly shotgunners. I worked my way through three stories of the hovel before pinning down Escuella in a store room. He tried to sweet talk me, then jumped out a window and onto a horse. I followed him and whistled for Felicity. The familiar blue dot appeared on my minimap – but he was too far away. Escuella would escape before Felicity would get here.

I had to mount a generic red-brown horse and lept into pursuit. I pulled out my lasso, throwing and missing over and over again as the bandit fired his six-shooter at me. Being a big-baddy, he had unlimited ammo. I couldn’t shoot back. I wanted this man alive for his information.

Then I heard a third set of hoof-thumps. I looked over my cowboy’s shoulder, and there was the golden-pearl horse. I wanted to jump to him, but there’s no such function in Red Dead Redemption. Felicity kept pace behind us, as though equally invested in my vengeance. I turned to Escuella and threw my lasso. It missed. He fired off three shots, and I veered to the left out of the way. Another throw and he was snared around his middle, jerked off the horse and flying to the ground. I dismounted and hogtied him before he could resume firing.

As I finished tying him up, I noticed the blue dot was gone from my minimap. I picked Escuella up and turned to put him on Felicity. Behind us was the golden-pearl horse, collapsed in the dirt. Escuella’s last three shots had missed me, but killed him.

I lost my breath for a moment and nearly knifed the fictional bandit in my arms. Instead, I threw him over the red-brown horse and plodded back to civilization. I passed through Hennigan’s Stead, hopeful for a reincarnation. Not a single horse frolicked on the plains that digital day.

I turned Escuella in. Nothing changes whether he is killed or captured; he’s forgotten and you’re ordered to Blackwater, a heretofore unreachable settlement in the north. I travelled aimlessly, figuring I’d find the new house, save and go do other things. It honestly did not feel right without Felicity, and I didn’t name my new steed. Night fell around me. Red Dead Redemption’s nights are breathtaking, grass going gloomy and skies filling up with pinpoints of light. As I passed through the frontier, I saw a black horse silhouette on a hill. I neared, expecting better light to reveal it was just a dark brown one.

But no. That was a pitch black horse. The American Standard. The only one I’d never caught, and the only one in Felicity’s league.

It didn’t run as I rode by. I stopped at the bottom of the hill. I hadn’t saved my progress and risked losing a lot if I stayed. I physically pointed at the TV.

“You. Stay there.”

Then I bolted for town. I’d only be a minute, so hopefully the thing wouldn’t vanish or get eaten by a boar. Boars are voracious in this game.

Boars were not the problem. Nearing the town, I saw a broken down wagon. A woman yelled for help, which is a classic sign of a trap. Four bandits hide behind it to mug you. I usually dispatch them with Eastwood-like ease. But I was riding too fast, and so the characters all sprung up illogically quick and fired in unison, without aiming. I toppled off the horse and the screen went red.

I dropped the controller. I went downstairs, heated up some soup and called my grandfather. I like to check in on him.

After I simmered and the soup bubbled, I picked the controller back up. My cowboy woke up in a swanky frontier hotel with green wallpaper and blackjack in the lobby. I walked passed them and whistled for my horse. Felicity didn’t come. It was a random brown and white stead. For the heck of it, I rode back out to the hill. It was night again by the time I arrived, but there was no black silhouette up there. I rode up to where it had stood, then looked across the plains.

Down at the bottom of the hill were five horses. Four seemed to be running away from the fifth, which looked darker than the others. I descended, and it was indeed the American Standard. I lassoed him, hopped on his back, and as God is my witness, stayed on for the entire struggle. He reeled to his hind legs with the full moon behind us, then fell forward, complacent.

A grey and green logo flashed at the bottom of the screen: “Achievement Unlocked: Buckin’ Awesome.”

I’d caught him. The last horse, and possibly the best.

I told the TV, “Good boy, Felicity.”

Today we fought two grizzly bears at once. We’re bonding fast.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: There is a monster behind you

There is a monster. You never see him because he's constantly behind you. Turn your head, and he'll move to stay out of sight.

He follows you everywhere. He is behind you in line at the grocery store. In traffic, he is why they flashed their brights at you. In the empty movie theatre, he sits too close. He doesn’t like movies. He prefers to watch you sleep.

Maybe everyone has a monster. I do, and you do. That’s at least two. They prize anonymity too much to talk to each other, and often do not even believe in each other. A census has therefore been very difficult to conduct. Monsters are solitary and solipsistic things.

You cannot film him. Set up a camera behind yourself, and it will be his hand framing the shot. Stick the camera in your wall and he’ll climb in with it – he knows all about the insides of walls.

One day, he’ll try to eat you. Not today, not with us talking about him. He’ll wait months and years like you wait ticks on the egg timer. He’ll wait until you’re cooked, sick and weak, and certain he’s not there. That’s when you’ll see his hand on your shoulder. That’s when he’ll crack your shell and bite the yoke.

There is no malice to this. He doesn’t hate you. Often when you’ve broken your heart, lost your love, or have to sleep in the backseat of your car, and feel like there’s someone else crying along with you, it’s him. He times his gasps with yours so you won’t hear. He can’t bear to give himself away, especially not in those times. You might get attached, and then he would.
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