Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: This Country, Spring 2011

Squabbles over a few billion dollars halt trillions in a budget that nobody has. The government shuts down and no one thinks about the nation it represents.

A Mormon is leading a former Baptist minister as the top candidate to challenge the black president.

Meanwhile, Feminists despise the most famous female candidate.

As Hillary Clinton winds down her career, a young nephew asks, “Can boys be Secretary of State?”

People are more afraid of radioactive milk than unions being busted.

Ayn Rand’s secular propaganda prepares to become a Summer blockbuster, guaranteed to draw enthusiastic Christian audiences.

This nation is bad Science Fiction, and I love B-movies.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Possible Origins for Him. 12.

To listen to today's story either click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio or click this text to download the MP3.

He started when there were still a few gaslights on the streets. Probably took inspiration from Prohibition, and he's fought snuff, glue, cocaine, venom, all the way to whatever kids do to themselves today. Nobody asks how he's survived at least seventy years of stab wounds, gun shots, druggings and falls from skyscrapers. You figure, he pals around with aliens and amazons. He's probably picked up STDs stronger than the average human, so of course he's timeless. Many think he's immortal. Many are cowardly and superstitious.

They all ask how I made it this long. Wondering why some do-gooder hasn't snapped my neck. Wondering how, with all the times I've gotten it wrong, or lost control of a dirigible, or just didn't care about malfunctioning detonator - how I lasted these decades.

This one I can answer: I'm not the first of me.

There's been at least three. Me, The Boss, and Grandpa. No telling who preceded Grandpa J. He was good, though. A bit of an anarchist firebug.

“Where's the judge? Is he in this room?”

No, it's a bomb. Kaboom.

“Where's my wife? I hear something in the closet. Janine, is it you?”

No, it's a bomb. Kaboom.

“Where's the bomb? I hear this locker ticking. Let me open and snip the wires.”

No, that's a clock. The actual bomb is under the floorboards. Kaboom.

That sort of humor. One day it blew up in his face. As best we can tell, the only thing that made Grandpa J frown was his inability to blow up The Bat. Tried and failed, tried and failed. Somehow that caped freak kept coming back unsinged. So on this last time he hid the bombs in his own coat and held on. By the range of the blast, he also wired himself up to the surrounding nine buildings. No way to escape that intimate a detonation, you see?

Grandpa J was the one who walked away. Depending on when The Boss was telling it, he lost somewhere in the range of a foot, an arm or two, half or two thirds of his face, either half or all of the flesh on his person, and his entire wardrobe save a pair of boxers with hearts on them. Whatever his state, it was gruesome. And Grandpa J made it seven city blocks out of the smoke, avoiding or murdering police until he came to The Boss's little den.

I wasn't even working for him back then. He was operating in a boarded up row house, giving out free meth and beds, and lacing every fifth dose with his newest concoctions. If everybody's high, nobody cares when one guy freaks out and starts eating the insulation.

Somehow, Grandpa J broke in. He shambled straight into the lab. Made eye contact with The Boss. Shuddered from the strain. Gave one gasp that sounded like a laugh, and took his last pratfall. Thud. Dead.

Mmm. The professionalism.

The Boss saw an opportunity. No more Mr. Third-rate Drug Dealer. No mere mad scientist. All those mind-altering gases he'd worked on? Now fashion them so the kids laugh theirselves to death, or see nightmare clowns, or whatever. A little facepaint, a book of one-liners, and suddenly The Boss had a topflight gimmick. Live-action fan-fiction that the crowd thinks is genuine.

If you go back through the headlines, you'll find that period when The Joker began wearing more black and carrying more conventional guns. Mainstream bullshit. See, he got carried away on the power trip. All that buzz Grandpa J had built up around the brand. The thrill of a single phone call convulsing entire police departments. Superheroes who once upon a time wouldn't even visit the scene of his crimes now racing to head him off.

Simply put, he sucked. He couldn't fight. He couldn't plan more than one twist at a time. He had to hire every goon in the city to cover his ass, to get into fisticuffs for him. Twice I tied up the damned Bat over vats of acid I knew he'd never actually fall into. Some weeks I was in clown costumes. Other weeks, bad imitations of movie stars. I spent half a summer as a chauffeur Buster Keaton, powdering myself into monochrome before speeding the boss away from his latest bank heist.

Bank heists. Grandpa J never would have lowered himself to knocking over banks.

The night with the shark tank was it for me. I guess it looks like they’re smiling if you tilt your head like so and huff paint. The Boss stole that one from Grandpa J – and did it worse. The Bat got loose, like always, and got onto our boat. The Boss fell into the motor. Lost an arm. I was gathering the bits in a net when I saw the Bat throttling him. Hit the freak from behind and dumped him overboard.

He lived. I’m sure he had something in his belt for sharks.

The Boss lived – because of me. I had to beat the Bat just to keep him alive. I was so angry that I slapped him with his own dismembered hand. He didn’t laugh. How dare he not laugh at that? That’s hilarious, right?

He lacked class. I explained this as I jammed his wrist down his throat. I didn’t want his hand, or his coat, or his machine gun. Only took the book of one-liners.

If you go back, there’s this period when the Joker goes neon. Bigger smiles. More musical. More explosions, like Grandpa J would have wanted.

Knew where he was buried. I dug up his skull. Put a honking red nose in the socket and left him on my mantle. Talk to him when I’m lonely. He doesn’t talk back – I’m not crazy. I’m just respectful of my elders.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: R.R. Crossing

Looking through a windshield and a hundred windows rushing by, moving too rapidly to make out any faces. You look for a girl who isn’t looking for you anymore, and catch a glance at someone with her hair color staring at something in her hands. Her phone? Then the train carries her to her Full Ride. Red lights cease flashing and the bars come up. You are now safe to cross the railroad and drive to a permanently quieter house.

Maybe she was on her phone. Maybe she’ll have left a message. Maybe she’s calling you right now while she travels several hundred miles an hour towards dorm rooms, late nights and the lies of boys becoming men.

You check your cell just in case. No message, no hum of the vibration setting.

You press the gas pedal and roll across the tracks. Time to go put the things she missed in boxes. Time enough to catch the news. It would be nice for Lester Holt to announce, “Bright young woman’s train arrives safely. World welcomes her. Promises to retain virginity until Nobel is won.”

What twit said you couldn’t go home again? Didn’t he have a mother who had to? You wonder if he went to university.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Multi-Function Books

Physical books are unfavorable items. Chapters lack ringtones, you have to turn all those pages, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse comes with no free flashlight app. Telling a story, developing new characters and plot devices, commentary on society and the world – "Meh," says the market. "These are single-function devices. I don't want a book that’s only always Shakespeare."

Hark, I beg you. It may only be The Norton Shakespeare, restricted to the same words on the same pages no matter how many times you scroll over them with your fingers. But observe. It can be placed in front of a door to keep the thing open. Somebody annoyed about the door always being open? With its convenient heft, The Norton Shakespeare makes a convenient bludgeon to resolve most any argument. You may even pick up a few insults from the book’s “single-function” as you discover its new functions. Should you be ousted from the apartment complex for unruly behavior, your can tear up the book and line your clothing with its crumpled pages. As you shudder in the evening chill, you can peek at whatever pages emerge from the fraying ends of your jacket. They are often inspirational, or at least so vacuous you can infer whatever you want into them, making certain whatever you read is uncannily germane to your circumstances. You can’t line your coat with iPhones. Those are the really restrictive devices.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bathroom Monologues: Ism

Like all religions, Humanism struggled to appeal to new generations. The next generation just so happened to be killer robots.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reading While Writing

By Mendhak [민다ᄏ] [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

I read capriciously. Some times I want Horror, others long Fantasy, or I’ll binge on history or pop science or anything that makes me laugh. I’m a terrible consumer of books, perpetually borrowing and purchasing more than I’ll read. I had copies of Good Omens and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for eight years before actually finishing them. Upon recent reflection, I realized nothing’s gotten in the way of my reading more than writing.

Reading consistently is nigh impossible when I’m working at high volumes, plugging into a novel daily or spurting out short stories every week. I have anecdotal confirmation from other writers in multiple fields that it’s the same for them. You spend so much time producing and criticizing words that your enthusiasm or energy is spent. I write “or energy” because there are times when I hanker for that new Stephen King. Then I pick it up and even his mastery of voice can’t get me through two pages. My mind won’t go. It’s irksome to realize that you are still able to watch a movie, play videogames or have a night with your significant other. More irksome when your significant other finds out you think that's bad.

I ran into a new complication while composing my next novel. When I did read, I was reading less useful things. Yes, Cobra II was an important report – but shouldn’t I be catching up on fiction? Fiction in my genres? Or all those classics that I bought and swore I’d go through? Laurence Sterne can’t read himself. He’s dead.

Triage of reading while in heavy-production periods was too difficult. I could take in a superhero trade paperback, but not Walter Isaacson's Einstein. Simply to get through my pile, I had to cave and let myself read whatever my mind could grab onto. A grown writer was excusing himself, “At least he’s reading.”

If I couldn’t curate individual reading order, I had to triage what was available. My old formula had been to read:

1. One contemporary Speculative Fiction book (since Horror and Fantasy are my primary wheelhouses).

2. One important Speculative Fiction book over ten years old.

3. One piece of classic fiction literature.

4. One book of non-fiction of any stripe I pleased.

5. One trade comic book or miscellaneous publication over one hundred pages.

All in about that order. The first two covered my primary industry, then I plugged into my passions for older books, the style of which always left me ready for thoughtful non-fiction, before closing with comics. Comics are the easiest thing to read – I’ve had English teachers who said they weren’t reading at all. My whole scheme worked so well before I began working so well.

I examined the formula for my new habit. Now I’d only borrow or purchase books like this:

1. Does it have three or more recommendations from friends, peers and/or critics you trust? Should you trust them – have they steered you incorrectly before?

2. Is it popular? Is it selling fast? You need to know more about the marketplace. Remember how embarrassing it was when you thought Toni Morrison was a guy?

3. Is it important Speculative Fiction? You can always know more about the history there.

4. Is it a classic? Is it at least really old? How cheap can we get this thing for? If it’s not in the library or very inexpensive, come back in three months and ask me again.

5. Non-fiction, you say? Is it that fascinating? Wait six months, then ask me again.

6. Is it in the twenty-five cent bin? Okay, you can have it.

That last is why I read four Greek tragedies in a row. Thanks, thrift stores.

The new checklist of priorities made sure I only had specific books available. If I am going to read capriciously, it’ll be from a thoughtful selection. It’s akin to shopping when you’re full, so the wiser choices will be in your cupboard. Sometimes that leaves me scanning the shelves for literary Oreos, but you can only eat what you've got.

If you regard my Goodreads scroll for the last two months, you’ll see that those literary Oreos have still popped in. Comics are allowed in, in moderation. Even the Persepolis and Bone-type comics are easier reading, I respect them as an art-form, and hey. “At least he’s reading.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: The President is a Foreigner

To listen to the president's address either click the triangle on the left or click this text.

Some of my fellow Americans are concerned that my birth certificate brings my citizenship into question. They fear that a foreigner has usurped the laws and will of our great nation to subvert its government. I can promise to you that I was indeed born on American soil, but I will also confess that the birth certificate you’ve seen is fraudulent.

You see, I was born in Kenya and when I come from, they do not issue birth certificates anymore. Some Americans may be concerned that Kenya is not a state in the present union. To those I say: it will never be. It’s a commonwealth. It was admitted to our great union in twenty-two-eighty-three when we finally gave up that “protectorate” nonsense. That was the same year that Puerto Rico, Turkey and Venus joined the U.S.

I was born three years later at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Mombasa, which was firm U.S. soil. In a field trip to the second Dark Ages I fell in love with this rustic, primitive way of life and decided to remain. Manipulating politics with decades of foresight just seemed like the thing to do. This way I could quash burgeoning time traveling projects and prevent any further competition from my own future, leaving this present my own pseudo-democratic playground. Evil? Possibly. But I have done it all as a citizen of the United States of America.
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