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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?"...