Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Skepticism about Telepathy

Arguing telepathy with this skeptic was confounding. He was sure he knew everything I thought and wanted to tell it to me before I said it. And then the conversation was over- like magic.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Shameless

They had to be newlyweds or serial killers. Cheryl preferred them to be newlyweds, two kids who had never experienced the carnal and found it extremely to their liking. When they finished, she'd knock and ask them to please move the bed six inches away from the wall. She couldn’t nap with all that unnecessary shared thumping on her bedroom wall.

An hour of unnecessary shared thumping later, she wondered if it was a couple at all. Perhaps there was a washing machine up against that wall, one that squeaked like two pairs of panting lungs. She turned up her surround sound and attempted to lose herself in a blockbuster movie of swords and stubbled men.

Two hours of unnecessary shared thumping later, she questioned how many washing machines had such a long cycle. What kind of stains would require that kind of intensity?

Three hours of unnecessary shared thumping later, Cheryl had a mindful of stains that might require that intensity. She clutched her aching back and banged on the wall with a broom. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t seem to hear.

She banged on their door. The bedsprings were audible from the hallway. They didn’t cease. The next door down opened and wrinkled Mr. Parkins squinted out, glaring like he didn’t want her to ruin this stereophonic delight for him. Mr. Parkins was a widower, and the only one who buzzed her up when she forgot her keys.

She hung her keys on one of the coat hooks. They bounced to her new neighbors’ tempo. Cheryl stared until she considered calling Mike. See what he was up to tonight.

Or who he was up to. No, she wouldn’t give in to that son of a bitch. He owed her the apology. Besides, her back was killing her. She rubbed at the pinched nerves.

Halfway into The Two Towers, Cheryl wondered if they weren’t escapees from a nymphomania clinic. Around when Gimli said to toss him but not to tell “the elf,” she thought better of it. No, given how many hours it had been, she doubted they could have mustered the will to run this far before crumpling to the grass and rutting.

Around when Ian McKellen saved the day, there was a minor miracle. She realized she was more annoyed at the idea of the inconsiderate lovers than the noise. In fact, it fit very nicely into the beats of the soundtrack. It was as good as white noise.

So she did something stupid. Something Mike would have called stupid, but he was the sort to get caught in the dish room with a waitress. Bracing her back for the pain, she pushed her bedposts flush against the drywall. It commenced trepidation immediately. The mattress felt like a hundred vibrating fingers under her aching spine.

It was the best sleep of her adult life, and the next morning her neighbors were whisper-quiet. Either that or she’d built up a tolerance.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Remembering Frank Muller: John’s Inspiration for Narration

 Frank Muller and his daughter, Diana, in studio. Courtesy of

This would have been Frank Muller’s 60th birthday. Muller passed away in 2008. Though he never wrote a book, he was one of my largest inspirations in literature.

Muller was one of the greatest narrators of my lifetime. He was a stage actor who only happened to see a notice for narrators in the lobby one day. He wound up reading hundreds of books for cassette and CD, sadly losing his voice just before the rise of Audible and podcasting. His breathy, almost contemptuous reading of Melville’s Moby Dick was the only way a teenaged John Wiswell got through the entire thing.

A Muller impression is difficult to build. The words roll across the roof of your mouth more than they do your tongue. Wind comes from the top of your throat, rather than the bottom where your lungs and all the active parts rest. Your mouth becomes a nasal passage. Sentences begin strong and end almost in whispers. Every ‘w’ and ‘n’ is a potential place to stretch. When you realized that voice has narrated Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, you reached for your credit card, because holy shit. He read Hannibal Lecter like that?

I don’t hide my fondness for audiobooks. They’re good in the car, while you clean, and sometimes I’m simply in the mood to listen rather than read. At this stage I enjoy picking them up for books I’ve read, so I can hear how other people interpret voice (and often, to argue with their choices). At thirteen, when I was bedridden and often didn’t have the strength to sit up, people like Mr. Muller brought me the world. They read me legal thrillers at noon, Horror stories at dusk, and could you please, I know it’s 1:30 AM, but I can’t sleep and I’d so like to hear the Battle of Helms Deep one more time. Mom scooped them up from the library every week to help bide my time. Even when I got walking again, I’d take his recordings out to listen to time after time.

He built his cred with me by voicing some of the best John Grisham and Stephen King titles. Runaway Jury. Different Seasons. His The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet might be my all-time favorite narration. Though likely good money to Mr. Muller, they were his ‘in’ for me. I enjoyed them so much that if he was reading Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, I’d give that a shot as well. Muller enjoyed bouncing between from classics and contemporary literature, claiming the variety of work recharged his batteries. His was the rare class of professional narrators, like John Glover, whom could convince me to pick up an audiobook through name value, something typically reserved only for authors.

In 2001, Mr. Muller had a motorcycle accident. He was thrown across the highway and landed on his face and chest. The helmet potentially saved his life, but his body was racked and his heart stopped multiple times in the hospital. He was disabled for the rest of his life, and never able to narrate again. Lingering complications followed him to his death.

His was one of the few celebrity deaths that actually shook me. I’d wanted him to read my books. Until college I internalized everything I wrote, seldom reading it out loud, more often imagining his voice in my head. Whenever I got off my ass to finally pen those epics I had hidden in me and made excuses not to write just yet? Well, he was supposed to record those. It was one of those big dreams, third only behind making inexplicable millions of dollars and entertaining other bedridden children with my works.

Now even if I wrote them, even if they were great and successful, his voice wouldn’t be there to bring them to life. It was about then that I began saying everything I composed out loud to test its quality. It’s good exercise for writers, especially developing ones – you catch more qualities of grammar and implication. I kept at it, though, because I was so nervous in front of recorders or audiences. During a class reading, I’d stare at the page for safety. God forbid I missed a word.

It is not exaggeration to say the loss of Mr. Muller’s talent spurred me to embarrass myself. I took storytelling classes. I talked publicly about my sickness, family and mythology. I performed work in front of more groups, including my least favorite audience, children. I took out books I’d never seen before and read them out loud to test how voices arose. It was a crash course to getting over my own awkwardness, stutters and issues. There were hours when the syndrome would fog my brain and leave me unable to complete sentences. At my best, I still tripped. You don’t know how reassuring it was to read Muller telling Ric Johnson, “I find myself making every conceivable mistake at some point or other. That's why take 2 was invented.”

There's been a little success. The Possible Origins narrations are one of the most popular features on this site. Last year I got my first requests to do book recordings.  If I'm so fortunate, maybe one day I'll narrate my own audiobooks, or maybe I'll be the recipient of someone else's talent. But today I won't record anything. Today I've got Muller's Great Expectations, and I'm in the mood to listen.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: The Merits of Factual Inaccuracy

"My films have come under a lot of fire in recent years. People say I’m inaccurate to police procedure. It’s true, in that movie that Cracked now mocks, I wrote that it took three minutes for the FBI to trace a call when it actually only took a few seconds. And the sequel is now blamed for starting the urban legend that an undercover cop has to say he is if you ask him. Cops smirk at that. They know it’s not true, and told me so on my ride-alongs and interviews. I researched thoroughly to help my writing. The three-minute rule was simply more dramatic, which is why so many other screenwriters copied it without checking. That’s not the only reason I wrote things like that, though. My movies are full of inaccuracies like that on purpose. If there is some copycat who takes my serial killers for inspiration, or I want him to try and burn off his fingerprints or mail a note full of letters cutout from magazines. I want him to think he can stay on the phone line for one minute without getting caught. Now they say movies and videogames don’t really influence people. That’s fine. When undercover cops make fun of me for getting it wrong and demean some jackass dealer who thought they had to expose themselves – well, I’m proud."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Possible Origins for Him. 13.

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.

Ahem. Is this on? Mm. Good.

There’s a lonely island near Lesbos. It’s the birthplace of theatrical humor, of soap boxes and one-man shows. That last, because they are all one-man shows. The island was populated exclusively by the male gender, because stand-up is a tough business for the ladies. And because they were mostly the social-critic kind of stand-up comedians, they were largely unfuckable and perilously homophobic. This left them loveless and childless. Many was a night, after their sets, when they would stare up at the stars and pray to gods they’d just mocked for being irrational to give them a child. One uncynical open mind.

And the gods, in their infinite cynicism, sent them a single child. And not any old child, but one imbued of many divine gifts.

The charisma of Richard Pryor.

The guile of Andy Kaufman.

The misanthropy of George Carlin.

Somewhat sadly, the complexion of Jim Gaffigan.

They adored this gift, because there’s nothing funnier to a bunch of Bill Hicks wannabes than a baby that heckles when he's offered a pacifier.

Their island was alone forever. An experimental fighter pilot crash landed amidst this sausage-fest. She was something of a bombshell, and that meant all the boys were after her. Except the actual boy. He was a little disappointed to lose their attention so quickly. The boy conspired to keep her unspoiled and unsoiled, since what’s better for a social-critic comedian than frustration?

The boy even helped fix her plane with aeronautics knowledge he’d picked up while his guardians had been mocking airline food. The two escaped this snarky isle to the modern world, where he promised to spread their way of life – without them, because really, what a bunch of assholes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: "#changemantovelociraptor" -Lou Freshwater

Of Mice and Velociprators by John Steinbeck

Wise Velociraptor's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Velociraptor by James Joyce

My Velociraptor Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
The Amazing Spider-Velociraptor

All the President's Velociraptors by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

The Velociraptor Who Knew Too Much by G.K. "Openin' Doors" Chesterton

The Descent of Velociraptor, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin

The Velociraptor in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas

"A Good Velociraptor is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor

The Invisible Velociraptor by H.G. Wells

Velociraptors Are From Mars, Pterodactyls Are From Venus by John Gray

Death in Venice by Thomas Velociraptorn

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Wrestler in Black

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

"You see that man in the corner? Seems like the type to sit in corners, doesn’t he? Black singlet, black boots. I think that’s mascara around the eyes. You’d never think that last year he was the most colorful character in this locker room. Had lime green tassels on his armbands. Came out to Rush, high-fiving everybody.

"Hard worker. Was then, anyway. Got onto his first shows offering to set up and tear down the ring. Worked the merchandise tables for the privilege of wrestling for free. Never understand why marks want so bad to fall on their heads. You’ve got to pay my ass to get me here.

"I was there the afternoon he got lucky. Was some big Japanese star, come over to the States on an excursion. That’s Japanese for “easy money.” This guy, don’t want to name him, was showing off to the rookies. Showing them his most dangerous moves and holds. That sulking man over there? He laughed at the name, of Rear Naked Choke. It is kind of a silly name.

"So the Japanese star invites him to try escaping it. Kid says, 'Sure.'

"Japanese star stands behind the kid. Wraps an arm around his neck. Braces his wrist with the other. Legs circle the kid’s waist, drags him to the ground. Kid’s got no leverage. Thrashes around, throws meager elbows into the guy’s side. His hand went up like he forgot it was there. Faraway look in the eyes and all that. Thought he was doing a bad job selling it until we realized why he wasn’t moving. Even his ribs had stopped working.

"Crap show like that, the only medic on sight was on the other side of the building. Kid might have been dead three minutes before they brought him. Pounding on his chest on a canvas mat he’d rolled out earlier that day. It was a miracle when he started sputtering again.

"After getting flashlights in his eyes and saying the day of the week, he rolls out of the ring. Staggers behind the curtain with the same glassy eyes he’s got now. He didn’t make a stink. Nobody complained. Japanese star finished his excursion. Went home. Is on TV there, I hear.

"Kid went home. Came back the next weekend for the show, with that getup. Thought he was trying to play us at first. Says he doesn’t want entrance music. Comes out to awkward silence. Even the fans who like to chant nonsense felt it eventually. Where once he was flying around the ropes, now he moves all methodical.

"Nobody’s had a three-minute conversation with him all year. Works his match. Takes his money. Goes wherever his home is. Is he playing the character to you and me? Other wrestlers say so. But they sure look nervous when he wraps his arm around their necks on his finisher. And they aren’t that good at acting."
Counter est. March 2, 2008