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Friday, November 4, 2011

Sometimes I think I should be less grumpy

(Sigh) Yes, I know, the world isn't out to get me personally. It just doesn't give a fuck. About anyone. It's not capable of giving a fuck. But sometimes despite that you manage to get some people together and have a really good time.

I had a reading last night here in Chicago, at Bucket O' Blood Books and Records in Logan Square, the only place in town that wasn't too scccccchicken to let me read, and a cool-stuff emporium that makes me wish I had more disposable income and free time (never a likely combination). We had poetry from Marc Ruvolo, my reading from NVSQVAM, a bit from my as-yet-unpublished sci-fi book LYFE, and two good friends, Joanne Von Alroth and Benjamin Capps, who both turned out to have some absolutely amazing stories to read.

I don't just mean that in the disgusting 'my fwends are awwwwww geniuses!' way that some of my former overlings at the Chicago Reader would say it, I mean it in the, 'seriously, I had a fun fucking time listening to these guys, and I got all sorts of compliments on how I really know how to put together an evening's entertainment' way.

Attendance was low, as it is at these things; but it was high for these things. Ruvolo, the owner of Bucket O' Blood Books and Records and an excellent Gorey-esque poet--at my request he read his twisted, hilarious poem "The Lidded Box" to kick off the evening; check it out in THE GOTHIC BLUE BOOK, a local anthology of creepy-ass lit--says for a reading in a bookshop it was a smash hit.

So here I am, enjoying my day off from the angry shtick. I deeply appreciate everyone who did trek out to Logan Square, and also those who live in Logan Square and forewent or postponed the many other entertainment options available in that neighborhood, and also thank you to the friends who expressed their regret that they were unable to make it. Thank you for coming, TGGP, and thanks to my sister Liz and my old friend Brendan O'Mara for both bringing chums out to discover my sick little world! Ben needs to compile a collection of his off-the-wall Max stories. Joanne, already a noted journalist, needs to write more fiction. That's all. Good times. Good night.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

No one wants my fucking book, OK, here's my political stance.

Yeah, thanks for buying my book, world. This really makes me want to be a more cooperative citizen. Go on, ignore the best I have to give at the current moment. I will surely participate more enthusiastically in your neoslave culture after this.

In other news... my friends are often confused as to whether I am a conservative or a liberal or, even worse, OTHER. Well. That has never been easy to explain, but let me try to clarify where I am now. Which, ironically, I was unable to do until the conservative mainstream fucking mutated into such a giant monster that Ronald Reagan's daughter felt the need to piss on them.

I am an Observer. I capitalize that because when I was an adolescent I realized this thing lived in my mind, slightly outside of myself, just watching and judging (but not being judgmental about, not savoring it--judging was just part of its job) everything I did and everything that went on around me. And at this point in history, ya know what my Observer says? (It's really only as smart as I am, remember, despite its fucking attimatude.) It says that true liberals and true conservatives really need each other, and society needs both of them. And unfortunately true conservatives are no longer involved in mainstream discourse. The difference between Taki's webmag and Sarah Palin's fucking mangled idea of Paul Revere is a gap that I fear is almost too overwhelming to fill. What fucking CONSERVATIVE doesn't know her own country's history, good and bad? Michelle Bachman is an embarrassment too. Slavery was good for black families???? Jesus, even a fraught divorce is better than Dad getting sold up the river at economic random!

In an ideal world, liberals are in charge of coming up with wacky new ideas, some of which may be great and some of which may be godawful,and conservatives are in charge of keeping them from throwing out the baby with the bathwater. None of which has occurred during my lifetime. Equal rights: good idea. The cons let that through. Affirmative action: really bad idea, which in practice only helps minority kids who already have rich/connected parents, as far as my experience goes; congratulations, you helped one rich kid beat another. Where were the professional cons on that one? Oh yeah: being rich kids. Just like the professional liberals who came up with that horseshit (who are now occupied with eating Obama alive, with ketchup). But that's a 1990s complaint; what we're facing now is far worse than "already-set person makes 20 dollars an hour, I make nine."

The GOP now scares the living hell out of me. The Onion made a funny joke of it, but they are so preocccupied with destroying Obama (who CLEARLY hasn't done the wise thing and gone in a bathroom stall with these homosexual homophobes) that they don't care what they do to the rest of the population of the earth. I'm sorry, but when you start doing things like the recent debt-ceiling standoff (which unnecessarily destroyed the most powerful currency on earth; congratulations, you managed to fuck people everywhere just because your dick hurt) I not only don't want to listen to a word you have to say, I want you dead.

Then again, if Tipper Gore fell on my sword I would not be sad, so I still don't know what I am.

LATER: Oh, wait, no. I do know what I am, but not on your axis. I'm a person who just wants all the horseshit to end. Quit having babies, and we won't have any more stupid debates.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My friends write fun shit part 2: Nick Mamatas and SENSATION

Boy, I'm a slow piece of shit. My own book (NVSQVAM, aka NOWHERE, Nine Banded Books) is coming out tomorrow and I still have yet to get a review posted of Nick Mamatas' latest novel, SENSATION. I've been meaning to do this for weeks, but it's been one thing and then another... hm, maybe the reason only ten people read this blog is because there are only ten damn posts a year. Note to self: root out compulsive perfectionism. COMPLETELY! And then salt the earth where it... AAAAANEEEWAAAY. Everybody, meet Nick Mamatas and SENSATION.

Full disclosure: I've never lived in the same city as Nick, but I've corresponded with him on and off for christ--ten years or so now? He wrote the blurb that appears on the cover of NVSQVAM. We've met a couple of times and he has kindly (probably too kindly) included my stories in a couple of horror anthology projects he's been involved with. And what project remotely related to modern sci-fi or horror hasn't he been involved with? I swear the guy must have a time machine, he does and writes that much stuff. I'd like to think that if I were less of a misanthropic introvert I could be a bit like him, but fttt. How someone extroverted enough to get all the stuff-he-does-that-involves-others done actually manages to write as much as he does is a total mystery to me.

Aaaaanyway. When my copy of Sensation arrived, it was just after I'd written the post below, regarding Andy Nowicki's The Columbine Pilgrim, and it got me thinking: wow. Whatever else there is in the world that pisses me off, at least I've survived till that period in my life (a shot relatively few people ever have on the board at all, so I count myself lucky in this regard) when people I actually know are putting out books I actually, genuinely want to read and take great pleasure in reading and would most likely read even if I didn't know these people, assuming I found out about their books somehow (which isn't that likely, since my chronically shitty income usually mandates that I find my reading material in the paperback section of the used book shop, if not the library). When you're younger, of course, if you're at all "creative" or if you associate with such animals, you will have all kinds of crap thrown at you by friends who, in their callow self-expression, are desperate for but so rarely deserving of praise. Always uncomfortable. So it's very nice when the field begins to thin, and reading your friends' shit stops being a chore and turns into a pleasure.

SENSATION is along the lines of YOU MIGHT SLEEP... , Mamatas' 2009 collection of wacky sci-fi short stories, which was honestly about the best short-story collection (certainly takes the prize for sci-fi collections... sorry, Vonnegut) I've ever read. The conceits that Mamatas comes up with are incredibly clever, and he nearly always carries them out with a perfect version of the sort of wry humor that seems to be the most consistent method these days for lifting sci-fi stories safely clear of the overly-serious kitsch pit.

In SENSATION, all of human history is revealed as a byproduct of a war between a species of arachnid and the parasitic wasps who rewire the spiders' brains to build them nests even as the wasps' eggs hatch inside the spiders' bodies. A human woman gets stung by a slightly radioactive wasp, and her ensuing hijinks set off a hipster revolution, an economic catastrophe, and some serious reality warps.

Since I'm just shitting this piece out, however, and because I'm tired as hell from my new temp job, instead of trying to boil down all the thoughts I had while reading SENSATION, I'm going to pick on what is at the forefront of my mind: the day my copy of the book arrived in the mail, Nick posted on Facebook about an ONION review of the novel. Big deal, hey!--most major publications only condescend to review one book a year anymore, so those slots are publicity most precious--but they kinda panned it. I refused to read the review before I read the book--not because I'm that horribly sensitive to peepwle picking on my fwends, but because I hate spoilers almost as much as I hate mosquitoes.

It was nagging me, however, as I read the book with great pleasure: oh damn, the mighty ONION AV Club (everyone knows that's the paper's weakest link, but power is power I suppose) knows why I shouldn't be enjoying this, but I don't. Oh no, I'm having fun in a pissed-in sandbox. I'm a philistine, boo hoo. I wonder why, exactly, though?

After finishing the book, however, when I let myself read the ONION article at last, I had to laugh with relief. One of their complaints was that a revelation halfway through the book sucked out the dramatic possibilities. Jesus shit, man, the first ten pages sucked out the dramatic possibilities! Mamatas isn't much of a "dramatic" writer, at least not when he's in sci-fi mode; he's more of a funny-thinky writer. When you read one of his stories you don't really care where he's going, even though he isn't predictable; you care how he gets there. It's like reading a Jane Austen novel, except you don't know the heroine is going to get married at the end--for all you know she could end up living inside a giant squid. But the squid isn't the bloody point, it's the squid jokes.

OK, so I didn't feel too stupid about that. A simple difference in expectations; it was a complaint I could at least make sense of; the reviewer apparently expects drama in every story regardless of the type or intent of the tale (which puts him right up there with people who demand sympathetic characters, but at least it's a coherent system of expectations).

The last sentence of the review is, however, kind of mind-blowing when you think about it, and I quote:

"Weirdly, SENSATION throws its most caustic satiric barbs at hipster poseurs, not the near-totalitarian aims of the spiders, which comes across as though Mamatas has switched allegiances this time, from Kerouac to Cthulhu." [Mamatas' previous novel heavily referenced Jack Kerouac.]

"Weirdly"? Really? Weirdly?! Weirdly, he satirized characters who were based on a type of people who actually exist instead of skewering those insidious, Nazi, hyper-intelligent spiders who control the world. Because, man, those fictional spider are totes the ones whose behavior needs critique and correction! Ho-lee-shitburgers. If you needed any evidence that the ONION's AV Club might be a bit divorced from the mission of their editorial department, you might want to glance over that review for a minute. I never thought I'd see the day when I would feel the urge to gently explain the point of satire to the fucking ONION. Then again, Sarah Palin thinks her hair can run the federal government, and people are still watching AMERICAN IDOL, so... I give up. Reality is just going to do whatever the hell it wants, I guess.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Friends Write Fun Shit Part One: Andy Nowicki's novella "The Columbine Pilgrim

You know what I think powerful people love the most about life? It's the fact that karma is no more than another comforting fiction, and in all likelihood the shit they pull, unless it's flagrantly stupid, is never going to come back and bite them in the ass.

But perhaps the reason they're not quite happy -- why they need massages and facelifts, why they feel a little insecure, why they have to pile up yachts -- is that once in a while, it does. Once in a while, one of the serfs will take it upon himself to manufacture some karma. "The rabbit," as the Relaxed Muscle song goes, "is gonna teach the eagle a lesson. With his Smith and Wesson."

Tony Meander, the "hero" of Andy Nowicki's latest novella (full disclosure: I've reviewed a work of Andy's before, Considering Suicide, and that work was printed by the same outfit that's set to release my new novel NVSQVAM this June 15, Chip Smith's Nine-Banded Books), is one hell of an angry rabbit.

Thirty-three now, he's never gotten over the trauma of his high school existence as a weird, smart, hyper-bullied nerd. On the surface, his life seems OK now; he's on track for a PhD, even if he is alone, and the reader suspects he always has been alone; in fact, he's quite religiously anti-sex as an adult, claiming the loss of sperm will reduce his powers. His colleagues have no idea what "powers" he's talking about, though he occasionally makes jokes about himself becoming an ubermensch or god of some sort. When he's not talking weird crap, though, he seems like an uber-decent fellow.

But under the surface, the basic loathing he developed for human nature while his classmates tormented him continues to boil and bubble till it finally breaks his brilliant mind. He goes on a murder-suicide shooting rampage at his class reunion, blasting through the crowds till he gets to the pretty, bitchy cheerleader who made him hate sex so much, whose fake come-ons--she once deliberately crowded up to him to give him an erection, then berated and humiliated him for his body's involuntary response--ruined one of life's main comforts for him. He has a special surprise for her. And the way she reacts is even more surprising.

The plot is a simple revenge fantasy; but the book is interesting in other ways. Tony is, as the title suggests, a huge fan of the kids who carried out the infamous Columbine mass murder, wherein two bullied students took out their violent revenge while they were in high school. In fact, for most of the book, while he sits in his car near the site of the reunion, he is under the schizoid hallucinatory impression that he is actually on a pilgrimage to Columbine, and since the text is delivered in the first person, the reader is taken on his imaginary journey with him. I don't think this is a spoiler, since most of the events he describes are so dreamlike and unlikely; in fact, even Tony wonders whether anything he's experiencing is real.

But within the hallucination, Nowicki explores not just the themes of powerless, human group behavior, and revenge, but the utterly weird thing that is religion itself.

A lot of Nowicki's writing (he labels himself a "Catholic Reactionary," a self-labeling which may or may not be part satirical) deals with religion in a strange fashion; for example, Contemplating Suicide is a meditation in two halves, the first being a fictional (but suspiciously autobiography-tinged) narrative of a miserable nerd who, facing his fall from childhood's purity and the bleakness of the godless, boring, senseless grown-up world, can't decide whether to kill himself. The second half is a somewhat scholarly essay (but too angry to be properly scholarly) asserting that we must believe in god, because otherwise things are meaningless, and to say that things are meaningless is a meaningless statement.

The two pieces sound like they were written by two different people, and the net effect is the queasy feeling that even if God exists, there's something wrong with the way we envision Him; and if God doesn't exist, that's an even worse fact than it seems on the face of it. So perhaps to live decently we must force ourselves to believe in... in... um...

"The Columbine Pilgrim" presents religion in an entirely different light; Tony's self-aggodizement comes off as a grotesque parody of the Catholic canon, complete with whorish Virgin Mary. His new auto-worshipful religion, a splicing of Marx, Nietzche, and a dab of Hitler for good measure, could be read as a scathing satire of the anarchic tendencies of secular society; if man really is the closest thing to a god, what's to stop the rabbit from glorifying his gunplay--or the eagle from gloating over his talons, for that matter?

However, it could also be read as a satire of the religious impulse itself; the way Tony slowly begins to believe his mad ideas is a maddeningly near-logical fulfillment of his wishful thinking. It's as though he's sitting in a theater watching a 3-D movie, and the part of his brain that's dedicated to suspension of disbelief slowly creeps over the rest of his cerebral cortex, finally convincing him that the movie is the world. His wishful thinking becomes his reality, and in the new reality his religion tells him that it's his duty to shed blood in his own name.

All in all, a stimulating read, and a short one; good for the ADHD, but personally I'd like to see Andy write something longer once in a while. Not that this needed to be longer; it's the right length for Tony's swift descent into the abyss, even if that makes the character's name a touch ironic.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Oh, boy, more shitty fucking weather

I know, I know. The Earth is not a sentient being, and it is CRAYYYZEEEEE for me to think it in any way has it in for me. I'm trying not to take it personally that it's thirty FUCKING degrees out in what is now the second half of April, but the closest I can come is the slightly less paranoid delusion that the planet hates not me specifically, but all of us. You, me, squirrels, cows, cats, dogs... the planet fucking hates us all. Who knows? Maybe when we walk around, we tickle. Why else would EVERY FUCKING CLIMATE BE SHITTY?

I know, I know, mine is a temperament that is extremely averse to cold. I'm generally not warm enough until everyone else is sweating their ass off. Move to Florida, Ann, and you'll suddenly be a sunshiney sweetheart with a perfect personality. Oh yeah? How cheery do you suppose I'll be after my house gets mowed down by a hurricane and an alligator eats my ass off?

Well, if I don't like cold and I don't like hurricanes, I can always move to Africa... and die in a drought! Or catch some horrible disease from a mosquito, hurrah! The only good thing about cold climates is that the bugs' reproductive cycles are at least given some pause by the yearly freeze. Move to someplace that's comfortable year-round for me, and chances are it's equally comfy for disease-ridden bloodsuckers who will kill me just to get a snack.

Unless, of course, you're talking about a desert. Yeah, that's fun. I want to spend half my life worrying about water, yeah! There are parts of the Middle East where you can get hit with a sandstorm and a snowstorm on the same fucking day. How that region wound up with so many theocracies is a mystery I'm not even sure I want to solve.

Once again, the only way I can believe in a deity in a world like this is to believe in one with a shitty, nasty sense of humor. Oh, look, the little Chicago monkey is trapped in a cold dark apartment suffering SAD and cabin fever because every time she goes outside she can feel her bones freezing. Comedy gold! Oh, how funny, look at that African baby, his lips parched with thirst, while elsewhere people lose their homes in a flood. HILARIOUS! THE IRONY! OMFUG THIS SHIT IS SO HYSTERICAL IT'S WORTH ALL THE SUFFERING! BRING IT!

Fuck you, god, and fuck you, mother earth. What kind of mother gives you fucking frostbite and malaria? If Gaia were in a court of law she'd be up for billions upon billions of charges of child abuse, from a mild chill to beating Japan silly with a tsunami. I know, I'm lucky to have access to clean drinking water... but what I wouldn't give right now to be able to stroll down the street without feeling like the very planet is sticking knives into my skin. When the very air around you is attacking you without mercy, how can you seriously believe in any kind of benevolent deity?

Do Christians just not feel the cold, the way some people aren't ticklish? Or maybe they love the abuse. "Thank you God, thank you Gaia, for teaching me this valuable lesson in..." HORSESHIT! HORSESHIT HORSESHIT HORSESHIT! I'm going to huddle under the covers and cry some more now. God damn it, the wind is just screaming outside, but my heat isn't even on, because why would it still be on when this kind of weather in April is just a shitty unfunny joke?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Things I fucking hate

In light of personal miseries, I have been feeling rather irritable lately. Off the top of my head, here is a fun list of shit I absolutely hate.

1. Death. OK, universe, real funny joke. Even if we finally find someone we love who won't break our hearts, they're going to die anyway. And we die. And our pets die. And our grandmothers die. And everything dies and you aren't reincarnated and there's no afterlife and that's all horseshit because it's so obviously wishful thinking. And why wouldn't you wish that death would go away? Death, fuck you in the eye.

2. The expression "give 110 percent." There's only one situation in which this isn't absurd nonsense, considering the fact that "100 percent" means "all that it is possible for a particular person to give"? This is only non-nonsensical if you redefine "100 percent" as "all that it is possible for a particular person to give WITHOUT DYING." Since nearly 110 percent of the time this stupid fucking phrase is put into play, it's at work, the usual meaning of "give 110 percent" is "work yourself to death for me while I underpay you, serf." I hate people.

3. People.

4. Arrogant people, particularly intellectually vain people, who can't spell or use grammar properly... especially when they're posting all over the internet and clogging up its possible utility. Yeah, genius, you may be a software-writin' badass who makes ten times what I do an hour, but unless you can express yourself without giving me a headache, shut up and get off the internet. You got paid to set it up, now take your money and let literate people take over the debate.

5. The GOP today. I understand the classically conservative impulse; for fuck's sake, I went to school to study ancient Greece. But you people aren't conservatives. Your only real philosophy, insofar as it can be articulated, is "Life in a political party should be a competition to see who can be the most hateful, arrogant, and blatantly insane member of this frighteningly powerful freakshow." Fuck off, you're all mad as hatters and far less cuddly. You'd be hilariously funny if only you weren't running half a continent into the ground.

6. The Democratic Party today. Oh, the things you say sound so nice. TOO BAD YOU'RE FUCKING LIARS! (I guess I can make an exception for the senators in Wisconsin. Obama and Feingold only seem to lie when they really need to, and there's a handful of current senators whom I trust, but most of 'em... nah, I wouldn't hire them to cat-sit.)

7. Me, when I try to make sense out of politics. I might as well try to film my cat's hallucinations and use them as a doctoral dissertation in 19th-century French painting.

8. Noisy optimists. Just because you're either unusually fortunate or especially stupid or both doesn't make it OK to power-hose your fucking sunshine up the rest of the world's fundament. SHUT UP. Life is not good, and it never has been, for the vast majority of your fellows.

9. Pro-natalist tax and social spending policies. I can't seem to bitch about this enough to get it off my chest, it just keeps burning. When I have money, I get taxed so breeders with no jobs can live on welfare. But when I don't have money, there is NO SOCIAL SECURITY NET FOR ME, apparently because nobody feels bad for people who haven't bought into the life-lie and brought more sufferers into the world. "You aren't playing our little game, so we don't give a shit if you suffer. But we'll gladly steal your money when WE need it." And tax breaks for parents to boot?! That's just adding insult to injury, especially when the rest of us are already paying all kinds of child-related tax expenses. You cause more expenses, but you pay less. On which planet is this fair? If it wouldn't get me into so much trouble I'd almost be tempted to steal a child and tell the government it was mine; people who are irresponsible enough to make children probably shouldn't be trusted with them anyway. Fairness aside, these stupid policies actually give people an economic incentive to bring more suffering onto this accursed world.

10. Heartbreak. Why is the human psyche set up so that the uncontrollable fickleness of another being makes us feel like we're being repeatedly kicked in the stomach? So literally so that it's almost impossible to climb out of bed? Well, for some of us. The heartbreakers probably don't feel very much stuff. What a miserable world.

11. And finally... winter. The little death. Why are all the good big cities the ones with the brutal winters? Fucking hell. If I don't get some warm air and sunshine on my skin soon soon I am going to peel it all off so I can't feel anything anymore. It's not like it's making me any vitamin D. I guess I could move to Los Angeles, but I hate cars even more than I hate winter. (Yeah, having a monkey, possibly drunk, maneuver an unrailed two-ton hunk of metal at 60 miles per hour is a GRAND idea. I sort of want to set this aside as a separate item of hate, but I want to stop short of a neat dozen so that I might cause a fraction of the irritation I feel at the moment.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pippi the Unnatural Woman

A Disjointed Tale Which Probably Breaks Some Copyright Laws

It was the night the cops found where the gangbangers had tied up a bunch of people and used duct tape to shut their mouths and attach them to a chair and slit them open somewhere or something and they died, and there was a chase and the gangbangers shot at the cops and hurt one of them and the cops fired back and killed the lead gang guy and nobody was probably all that upset except maybe the five girls who thought they were his true love.

When it happened Pippi Longstocking, who had grown up to be better known as the Unnatural Woman, was walking down Devon with her friend Vomit Tony. Vomit Tony was some kind of real estate slime by day, but at night he walked on the wild side. He thought both sides were pretty wild, but the Unnatural Woman rolled her eyes at him. Always. Come to think of it, calling Tony her friend was a pretty loose use of the word. He was more like somebody she had known since that unfortunate week when she aged twenty years and began to see the world through eyes that weren't all full of whatever hallucinogen children naturally secrete.

Anyway. Pippi and Tony saw it all, and Tony guessed correctly that the gang guy was going to die and the cop was going to live. "That's the way it always goes. The cops train for years how to shoot, and these stupid fuckers on crack think they can win a shoot-out? When they hold their guns sideways and laugh instead of aiming them? No wonder they're always shooting random fucking grandmothers and kids on the sidewalk. They should be forced to go to a shooting range so they only kill each other.

"Then again, they'd also kill the cops. I dunno. It's a no-win world. You want to go get a beer? You're a bitch today. I'll show you how an Italian mobster aims when I take you home afterward," he said, pointing at his crotch.

"Get that away from me, you savage," she growled. "Don't fuck with me. I'm not drinking. I haven't been drinking. I need to think. But when I'm not drinking the emotions come back."

"What emotions? You're the most emotionally repressed person I've ever known."

"You just think that, you piece of shit, because you live in bars, and that's the only place you see people. I only get a break from my emotions when I'm in a bar. When I'm not in a bar, you bet I wish I could repress them, but it's hard to repress something that's punching you in the face with -- I'd say brass knuckles, but it would have to be something heavier than brass. Antimatter knuckles. Punching you in the face with antimatter knuckles, Tony. Shit, you should see me during my period. I spend half of it chewing through the plumbing in my apartment and the other half shooting my illegal rifle through the window at everything that moves and some shit that doesn't. Why should a snail live when this shit is killing me? I've never been in a relationship, because it would mean I'd have to commit murder twelve times a year."

"Come on, let's go to the bar."

She punched him in the nuts.

"Huh," she said as he rolled on the ground. The police cars were still swarming around, but they had paid no attention to the nut-punch. "Huh. You know, I still don't feel any better. Sure, let's go to the bar before I kill someone."

"I hate you, Unnatural Woman."

"Oh, you don't feel anything like that. You don't feel anything at all, why else would you be such a puke? But if you insist, I'll buy you the first beer and we'll call it quits."

They got a pitcher each and sat at the bar. A hipster with braided facial hair was riding his unicycle up and down the bartop and he spilled Pippi's first glass of beer. She smiled politely and poured herself another. When he made his next lap, without taking her lips off the glass of beer, the Unnatural Woman pulled a stuffed fish from the barroom wall and deftly slipped it into his spokes. He pitched over the bar and cracked his skull open on a fishtank. The fishtank broke, the floodwaters slipped up stiletto heels, there was a tumult, and during it the Unnatural Woman slipped with her pitcher into the bathroom to steal someone's package of cocaine and change into her slut disguise.

Some more dull bar things happened, and when she woke up near sundown the next evening there was someone beside her in the bed. Which was not her own, but she had the sense she was still in the neighborhood. She checked to make sure it wasn't Vomit Tony, then let the body sleep till it woke on its own. She sure didn't want to hear noises start coming out of its head any sooner than necessary.

But they started coming out inevitably, like death and taxes, a saying which doesn't make sense because squirrels never pay taxes but you see them dead all over the place. She sighed. The person started comparing her to girls he'd gone to bed with in high school.

"Haaaaang on, buddy. You still talk about high school? Oh, Jesus, how fucking old are you?"

"I'm 20."

"Shit. I hate Courtney Cox so much. Or Demi something. That old woman who's fucking the little boy. Bad as a dirty old man. Bad as the pedophiles who buy my goddamn books. I'm in my thirties, OK, I'm not telling you which one, but I'm telling you this much, my address is not in cougartown, OK? Get away from me. Fuck, I told Vomit Tony not to make me drink anymore." She urinated on the bed and he looked up at her, hurt.

"What, did you think I was going to be honored or something? I know you guys, you'll fuck a pumpkin." She threw on her normal clothes, not the slut ones, and ran outside. Sure enough, she was only four blocks from her stinking hovel and her teeming cage of pet rats. But it was long enough for her to see two different flocks of police cars chasing two flocks of whatever-they-were, one going up the north side of the street, the other up the south. They respected each other's chases, almost like normal traffic.

"Shit," said the Unnatural Woman. "Am even I going to have to start to stay in after dark?"

Two drunk guys were laughing. "I love the blue lights! It looks like a Christmas tree!"

The Unnatural Woman walked faster. She could almost feel the bullets on her brain. "I should be the one doing the shooting, not some random flock of boots and cocks."

Suddenly, coming the opposite way, she saw the hipster again, his whole head in a bandage except for his insipid grin, his stupid legs whirling on the unicycle pedals, going right for the scene of the action, as though he didn't notice anything.

"That does it, I do got to stay in now," said the Unnatural Woman. "Definitely staying in."

Insomnia again; playwright Ben Jonson

Terrible terrible terrible. Insomnia is yet more proof of an absent or malicious divine being (as though teeth weren't enough). If the cosmos is going to hand this fucking disease out to people they should at least be perpetually 26-year-old trust-fund babies whose relatives are all dead and whose friends are all extremely deferential so they never have to do anything at a particular hour and can at least get some blessed sleep when they finally drop over. People who can buy heroin when they really just want to nod off. Space monsters who need not sleep but blood. But no, it just gets handed out at random, so you just don't sleep for a week.

Then again, I could just blame Ben Jonson. I didn't get home from seeing his comedy play till 11 PM, it's almost 4 in the morning now, and I'm still all riled up. I think that's my real problem, not some made-up brain disorder. Even if he's been dead for almost 400 years, sure, why not, blame him.

I just discovered Jonson this week; yeah, I know, I claim that I speak English so I should know more about Elizabethan drama, but I should know more about a lot of things. He was the first poet laureate of England (before the term was properly invented) and wrote Volpone, one of the most famous satires of his time. And I didn't know who he was till I ran into the fine Chicago actor Don Bender, who told me there was a rarely-produced Elizabethan drama starring his person playing at a theater in my neighborhood, and this was closing weekend. He gave me a 2-for-1 ticket voucher (I just decided in my head that deal seats for great plays at off-Loop theaters should at least be considered a minor economic indicator) so I agreed to come.

The person who was going to split the ticket with me canceled, and I was going to stay in my house and watch King Lear on Netflix streaming, but then I decided I needed a mission for the night, and boy, I'm glad I did. I got in at a very discounted price anyway, and I had the time of my life. Bender warned me the intermission was an hour and a half in, and I swear it was the shortest ninety minutes of my life. When I got to the theater I ran into D'wayne Taylor, another greatly enjoyable and underemployed Chicago theater actor with whom I've briefly shared a day job, and I told him the Italian names on the character list looked like lampoons of character names from Plautus.

By the end of the play I thought: Wow. If only I could be half that on the money twice a year, I'd be a millionaire. How you top Plautus is the question on every silly person's lips, and clearly it was up Ben Jonson's pen.

Plautus was the ancient Roman comic playwright who worked the hell out of the 'clever slave' character and the 'greedy potential heirs circling the dying rich guy' theme in his day. (Or in the latter am I conflating him with Horatio? I don't remember anything, I don't sleep anymore.) I think Plautus is funny as heck, but Ben Jonson seems to have read him and said to himself, "Hm, so I think I'm pretty much a genius, so I'll just take this Plautus stuff and make it even more awesome by messing with people's heads and not ending this anything like someone who's read Plautus would guess."

I should have seen he was going to throw a big curveball when he switched the clever slave formula up from the start. The clever slave is usually servant to a young master, who's trying to get around a mean father or potential father-in-law to marry the girl of his dreams. He faithfully (even if he gets some digs in at the usually quite stupid young hero along the way; think Jeeves and Wooster) helps his master out without substantially questioning the social order, though he's often the most sympathetic character in the play.

In Volpone, however, the title character is a wealthy, old but vigorous man, who gets his clever servant Mosca to help him in his schemes -- the first of which is definitely not love. Volpone has no children, so each of his clients believes he has a shot at the estate. (This was a not-uncommon theme in Roman comedy and other writing.) He wants to leverage extra valuable gifts out of his greedy potential heirs by pretending to be near death and in the process of writing his final will. When the vultures come around, the old fox puts on his cap and lies in his bed in a phony half-cadavarous state while Mosca assures each macabre suitor in turn that he will, indeed, soon enjoy Volpone's entire estate as long as the pearls and plate keep flowing in as a show of their "affection." When each leaves, Volpone gets up and scampers around laughing, remarking how greed engenders its own punishment. He doesn't plan to die anytime soon.

There is a love plot, but it looks like a Plautus love plot that's been smacked upside the head with a cricket bat. Volpone is momentarily turned away from his satirical schemes of revenge on those who would have his fortune when he catches a glimpse of one heir's beautiful wife, whom the heir keeps locked in her room because he's madly jealous. Volpone falls in love, and Mosca cooks up a scheme in which he uses the heir's own greed to get him to force his own wife -- suddenly forgetting his jealousy and ignoring her attempts to protect her honor -- to lie in Volpone's bed with him as part of a quack cure cooked up by a physician. Of course, the minute he's left alone with her Volpone springs from the bed and begins first to seduce, then to violate her. Mid-rape, however, another potential heir's good-looking but stupid son -- whom Mosca has brought to the estate as part of another sneaky subplot -- hears her cries, wounds Mosca, ruins Volpone's voluptuousness, and saves the girl.

There's a court scene, and it looks like Volpone's going down for bodysnatching, but another of Volpone's would-be suitors is a lawyer, and Mosca gets him to turn it around on the young wife and the young bachelor. By this time in a traditional Plautus-type play, the two attractive but insipid young people would be safely married. Instead, they await sentencing, she as a trollop and he as a would-be parricide.

OK, that's enough spoilers; I know, you watch these things for the way they get to their endings, not what the endings actually are, but the surprises in this Elizabethan take on the clever butler and the greedy heirs are part of what made it special for me. Let's just say there's a really clever twist on the master-servant tradition and an unexpected but satisfying ending, and I'm really psyched to have found out about this playwright, and call it a night, because I haven't slept in two days. (Wow, that was a lot more pleasant than my drowning-in-a-port-a-potty insomnia post.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

I can't stop "They're Winning" by the Walkmen running through my head

For christ's sake, I first heard this song, what, a decade ago? When I had hope. When I was young. When I had illusions. Oh, what can I say about illusions? They're the only thing that makes life worth living -- and yet they're the thing that makes people commit the most atrocious actions. War. Birth. Murder. None of these horrors would be worth committing were it not for the delusion that they are somehow important, good, or at least instructive. And then you live the rest of your life, which is indeed mostly composed of "I've stood in line/so many times/how can I/do it all again?"...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Political Activism

Q: What's an even more useful substance to slip into the civic water supply than LSD?
A: The Pill!

Sorry, on the eve of the publication of my new novel I'm trying to figure out what the stats on how many books are released a year by what now must be 7 billion possible authors, and trying not to cry. Positive thinkin', man, positive thinkin'.