Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Mancers, OR, An Order of Wizards

Necromancer, Pyromancer, Geomancer – these get too much attention, as though they make up the whole of magic. There is a substantial industry, a veritable economic biosphere, supporting the flashy varieties of magicians. For instance, from whence do all these old fogeys get their durable robes? Macraméncers. It’s difficult work, knitting fabric that has comparable Armor Ratings to chainmail. And every generation sees more wizards, despite all of them being bearded and wrinkled shut-ins. How do they manage to populate so? Romancers, the aetherial dating service for people who hold wands more than hands. Surely you’ve encountered that tragic necromancer who seeks to bring his lady love back from the grave, yet zombie hugs are seldom. There’s even a wizard for that least common form of couples counseling: necroromancers. These, and every other stripe of magical servant you can find in The Yellowed Pages.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Maybe They've Stopped Using Stamps

He means to get up early the next day. For a sleepy instant he thinks he’s woken even earlier then expected – and then his eyes adjust to the hands of the clock.

Fucking ten thirty, he means to yell.

He tries to yell it.

He claps his ears. Gets out of the rickety bed and pads across loose floorboards. He can’t hear a thing, not even the ambient usuals.

A drowsy fog still slowing his wits, he decides this must be going around. Twenty-four-hour deafness. You eat enough processed lunchmeat and that probably happens to you. Everything sprouts new side effects all the time. Or maybe he’s sleepy and his ears haven’t woken up! But this can’t be permanent because he’s got bills due and a postman to beat.

He signs the last check, the alimony one, certain to bounce. He stuffs the last envelope and seals it with his last stamp. In a few years, they won’t even use these anymore. The electric company will own your bank account and know there’s nothing in there long in advance.

He pulls on jeans and a plaid button-down. He buttons it halfway down and skips the shoes because pants-and-most-of-a-shirt is exactly how much he cares about the neighbors. No thigh, no belly, but no more decency than that because they all sided with Zelda in the divorce.

He bursts through the screen door and runs for the mailbox. He is halfway there before he recognizes that it is now a pit in the ground.

It was not a pit in the ground yesterday.

The road is now a series of smoking pits. He visits where his mailbox should be and turns down Cherrywood. Everything below the hill is one gaping crater.

He swears. He doesn’t hear it. He swaps his ear with a pinky and finds blood.

He looks around. The neighbors’ houses are all replaced by smoking craters, so nobody else heard him swear either.

Just before reason sets in, he turns up Cherrywood and checks the other direction. It is another gigantic blast zone. He can’t even see the bottoms of those craters. King Kong could be hiding in there. King Kong may have been responsible for all this.

He cannot beat the mailman today. There is no mailman to beat. There is a good chance they have stopped using stamps by now.

Reason sets in. A hand fists over his scalp and tears out a clump of hair. He runs screaming to the porch, deaf to his own terror. A foot plants inside a bucket and drags it with him halfway down the hall.

He picks up the phone. There’s no dial tone.

Of course there’s no dial tone, he actually tries to say.

The world is over, plus you’re deaf. He realizes enough not to say that.

Can he get Disability Pay? That might cover alimony.

He looks in the mirror. Blood trickles from his earlobes. Did whatever blew up the world pop his eardrums and then concuss him back to sleep? Is that possible? Would Disability cover that?

Wait, he watches himself mouth. You don’t owe alimony anymore. Zelda’s dead. Plus, probably everybody at the Social Security Office.

He mourns the Social Security Office workers on his way through the kitchen-cum-living room. There were probably some charitable people working there and it’s sad that they died. Kind of sad. About as sad as he can be about strangers dying without CNN describing them.

He tries to switch on the TV. It won’t go.

Of course it won’t go, he thinks he says. The world’s over. Electricity has ended.

He stubs his toe against the bookshelf. The one thing Zelda left; she was a movie girl, he was a reader. He growls mutely and knees the ugly oaken thing. So wide that it always jutted just a little into the hall and caught him on the way around, even when one foot was lodged in a bucket.

His bookshelf doesn’t run on electricity. As he pulls off the bucket, he jostles against the shelves and a couple hardcovers shake free, plopping open on the floor. He collects them, shaking his head. He always did buy books twice as fast as he read them. He hasn’t done nearly any of them. Shirley Jackson: Novels and Short Stories. Les Miserables. Man, you could bludgeon a guy to death with The Brothers Karamazov. Plus it’s Russian, so somebody probably does get bludgeoned to death in it.

He picks up The Brothers Karamazov. He brings his bills for bookmarks, and in case the mailman has survived the end times. He plops down on the edge of his filthy porch, resting his back against his filthy but trusty plastic bucket.

He reads out loud, not because he can hear it, but because Zelda hated when he did that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Unbelievable Girl

God sent her to harass me. Girls that pretty don’t laugh at my jokes. I mean, yes, I could have met a girl who looked like her at the AIDS Quilt. People of every shape, even mine, do that. But girls that pretty do not compliment my eyes. They don’t look at them; even I’d never noticed my freaking eyes before. And without the deliberate and cruel intervention of a divine entity, I couldn’t possibly have run into her later that night at the second-run theater for Cabin in the Woods, or that weekend at Tom Waits. Those things do not triangulate on their own.

The long, stringy hair that keeps getting stuck between my teeth. Jesus, everything about her was designed to mess with me. Every morning I have to come up with some dumb explanation for how that happened, even though I was asleep, and she knows it. Every morning she looks at me, preemptively bemused with the apology to come. Nobody would do that unless God made them to mess with my head.

She never has emergencies; she never needs to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. She never even needs help reaching anything; she reaches things for me. She never misses work, and finds all the good music long before I do. I’ve never introduced her to one band she didn’t nod along to and say, “Oh yeah, them!”

When she needs me, it’s extracurricular. Like she couldn’t balance an account if she wanted. Half the time I think she makes up her fear of driving in the rain so I’ll feel important. I keep glancing at the passenger seat, hoping to catch her with her guard down and not cringing at thunder, and at the same time, I hope I never catch her doing that. Maybe she’s not a trick? It’s a nice thing to believe.

I want to believe in her. That’s the worst part. That someone who’s taller, and smarter, and healthier, and just better than me would actually want me. But I don’t have the faith. God, am I going to kill this relationship by waiting for it to disappear?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: What if he doesn’t have a secret identity?

"What if he doesn’t have a secret identity?

"I mean, I’m familiar with the patterns. These holes in his schedule, of fifteen minutes or two hours or seemingly random nights when he doesn’t stop crimes. His activity is localized on this city, and radiates outward from there. There’s video of him seeming distracted. I get where the double-life theory comes from.

"But as best as I understand it, he’s a fucking invincible alien. He owns a private ice palace full of extinct monsters and can pop into space on a whim. What if he has priorities other than saving people?

"Maybe we’re his hobby. We’re the X-Box. We’re the toy chest. When he’s not making dinner or doing homework, he puts out our forest fires and punts missiles out of the sky. And because a boy likes his videogames, he does it a lot. But he doesn’t do it all the time.

"How do you know he doesn’t vibrate out of this reality during those time-holes? Maybe he’s on another plane of existence. Maybe he goes to Heaven. Maybe he wages secret wars grander than anything we’ve seen. I’m saying: there’s an infinity of things he could do with his time rather than pretend he’s a hotdog vendor.

"I don’t see why he’d want a double-life. That’s been problem from the start. Our lives are miniscule to him. We’re so much smaller that we’ve spent billions of dollars and countless tech-hours trying to track a second life of his that may not even exist. He is the important thing. Why masquerade as unimportant? What does he get out of that?

"And even if he does go to an apartment today and dress up as, I don’t know, a goofy reporter, what prevents him from being a mechanic tomorrow? Or a janitor? Or a mercenary in Afghanistan? Because if being us is his hobby, then he can just go around assuming new roles all the time. You don’t fantasize about the same stuff all the time. You imagine different girls, different destinations. So why wouldn’t he?

"Yet here’s our big project” trying to find the singular secret identity of a god who doesn’t need one. My guess is we want that so we can exploit the weaknesses we find. Because I sure want to piss off that guy."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Inventor’s Luck

In Hyun Hyun, the thong of a sandal snapping is bad luck. It comes from the tale of a nomadic trader – a struggling inventor traveling up the highway, which was full of the requisite highwaymen. He managed to avoid them until coming to a sheer precipice. There was no way down except the highway itself, but here a great robber lay in wait. As the inventor padded around in admiration at the view of ice floes, his sandal thong snapped. He stooped to fix it as the great robber sprang, and so flew over his head and down the precipice. Presumably he died. He never shows up in any other stories.

The inventor fled barefoot into the city beyond the highway, evading the great robber’s goons. Kindly sages sheltered him and foolishly cured his frostbite. He even retained enough of his wares to trade for the unique local materials, from which he crafted his most infamous product: gunpowder.

It made him very rich, and gave sandal thongs their bad reputation. If only his sandal hadn’t broken, the goons would have beaten him to a pulp and all our wars would have gone so much cleaner.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Paulo Coelho Sells Out (at $0.99)

If you didn’t hear, last week Paulo Coelho and HarperCollins experimented by dropping most of his e-books to $0.99. The sides quickly formed, snarking over whether he’d see 1000% increase in sales. Well, Tech Dirt had the figures. Was it 1000%?

No. It was somewhere between 4,000% and 6,500%.

It was a perfect move for Coelho. It wouldn’t work for everyone. Disagree? Observe the thousands of Kindle authors who can’t move a dozen copies at 99 cents. Rather than a clarion call to dump all pricing, this ought to be regarded as a call to regard how we price.

Coelho is famous, an internationally bestselling author whose works have broad appeal and have won numerous awards. He has millions of fans and Twitter followers. He’s that rare level of author who’s got at least one novel so popular that decades after its release Wal-Mart still wants to carry it. That is a heck of a platform.

You drop his works from $9.99 to $0.99 cents, and sales jump. That makes a lot of sense. Especially right now, where an author doing that becomes a news story, turning the news cycle into an advertising cycle for Coelho. If you’re going to do this, you’ve got to have a broad reach for how to get word out about it. I’ve consoled too many peers whose week-long discounts drew pitiful numbers. Changing price has to correspond with public awareness and desire to work.

One of the only web stores I look at weekly, and I don't even buy many games.

The apt comparison has been made to Valve’s Steam. Valve is a videogame company that created its own marketplace for games from other publishers. You buy Bioshock, you can download it immediately and on any computer you log in on. On most days Valve highlights one title or series at the top of the homepage and discounts it, sometimes dramatically. Around Christmas and July, they run the big Steam Sales discounting plethoras of titles. These deals are one of the big ways Valve has drawn people to download and use the Steam service. Valve now brags it makes more revenue per-employee than Apple or Google.

Amazon has Kindle Daily Deals, but no one in book publishing has done what Steam has yet. HarperCollins could launch the next killer app if every week a different beloved book, series or author’s work was dropped to $0.99 only on its store. We’re not talking emerging authors bidding for audiences. If you know the new J.K. Rowling adult novel is going to be $0.99 this Christmas on Pottermore, you have really good incentive to sign up for the free service.

Such services become their own bastions of advertisement. You have message boards and instant message clients to interact with fellow enthusiasts. Users don’t only peruse the new deals; as it becomes your preferred client, you buy products through it first. Valve notes the spike in sales of a game does not end with the discount period; a year-old game returns to the public mind as new people pick it up and talk about it. And if you're like me, half your purchases come from seeing something a friend would like on sale and "gifting" it to their account, paying to give them a license to download it whenever they want.

Coelho himself doesn’t know when the 99-cent sale will end. It won’t last into perpetuity, and as a less famous author, I thank goodness for that. As feel-good a story as it is, what I’m really excited for is what comes next.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: An Assurance of Fingers

They are the least suited couple at every ball, yet no matter how often they attended, it was difficult to recognize precisely what ways they unnerve that no one else pursues. He seems ugly, yet greeting the hosts, he is no uglier than any other man on the floor, and no woman on the floor is necessarily prettier than her. Perhaps they simply go poorly together.

For instance: most admirers think him a midget, though face-to-face he meets the hosts in the eyes. It is that she stands too tall, with legs needlessly long, making the stout fellow seem downright squat. And he is pudgy, of course, a little thicker around the middle every year, and she wears far too much green. A skirt and bow, surely, but also a scarf and beret? It is garish, and he abets her fashion crimes, holding a peppermint tote bag or avocado jacket when she finally tires of it. And he's such a retch on the dance floor, barely able to keep up with her even if he leads, and he's suffering asthma in a chair in the corner in less than a quarter-hour. She drags his shame in here. It's all her fault, except he never complains, never seems to even be bothered by her enthusiasm, even when it's robbed him of breath and health. So it's all his fault.

And though she's not exceptionally slender or fair or flesh, she must have some tawdry hooks dug in his plump flesh. She's leading him along into here, the manipulations of young lust, and so it's her fault. Even if he leers after her less than half the boys here leer after their half of the girls, and even if she never subtly dispatches him for drinks by mentioning a thirst rather than making a request, or otherwise seems to passively use him as the women of the ball are ought to.

I've never seen another lady touch the back of a man's neck like that - it's always a provocative gesture, yet her fingers are dainty, as though trying to assure him of a thing. I've never felt that assurance of fingers. Maybe that's why I hate them when they're together. No, no, it's got to be that they can't keep feet to rhythm. Unwashed louts.
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