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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Talkative Corpse: Part Two

Author's note: Below is the second sample chapter of my third novel, THE TALKATIVE CORPSE: A LOVE LETTER, soon to be available for Kindle. Since the sample chapters are going to appear in reverse order onscreen due to the back-asswards nature of blogs, it would de-confuse you if you read the post immediately below this one first. That chapter is a prelude of sorts, written by a future historian who has discovered the main character's (speaking below) time capsule/diary. 
Monday, July 25—2011 circles round the sun since the birth of the great weasel in the sky[1]:
Dearest Posterity, if you still know how to goddamn read:
Let’s call me Johnny Jaggo.
                  Jonathan is my actual first name. Like my grandfather I am usually called Jack. But I want this to be written under a pseudonym. Although I don’t intend to have any children, my cousins and brothers and sisters breed like the Catholic rats they are, and I don’t want to embarrass any of my future relatives. Even if they’re breeder rats.
And “Jaggo”—which is short for “jagoff,” which is Chicago dialect for “a lump loved by himself alone”—is what my time makes of me.
                  And this thing you’re reading is a diary.
I’ve never been much of a diary writer. But I have always liked reading history,[2] and dear Future, I would like for you to have plenty of it to read as well. And it has come to my attention that lately everyone has been keeping all of their notes for you on a large, fragile electric sheet of papyrus called the Internet.
This won’t do.
The Internet is a hybrid between a library, a tower of Babel, and an imaginary anthill. You go to a special machine and it lets you inside. There is much information and also a lot of useless crap, since unlike a book, anyone can have their say in it.
For your purposes, however, historians of the Future, the problem is not its overall quality, but its insubstantial nature. The Internet might be harder to destroy than the library at Alexandria, but it might also turn out to be much easier. There’s nothing to burn, but someone may pull the plug. Someone may not, but the way things tend to go I don’t think I’m an idiot to prepare for the worst.
You may in fact be in the process of reinventing electricity. Or even fire. Wouldn’t shock me. Because the news sources (there are so many of them now!) mostly seem to think we’re going through a crisis. I know, everybody thinks their own generation dwells at a real important turning point and all that apocalyptic masturbation. But sometimes they turn out to be right, and I really love reading history books, so I’m not taking any chances on your behalf; I hereby accept your imaginary gratitude. Like Juvenal without the confusion of the persona—and without having much of a stake in the old order or the status quo—and not writing in Latin—and not writing in verse—well, more like some nameless Teutonic medieval monk, I guess—I’m going to leave you some quality evidence on the eve of... well, you’ll know that better than I.
So for the sake of future historians, assuming you have some Rosetta Stone to help you decipher ancient American English, I am going to call my diary However Many Months I Feel Up to Doing This For in the Life of an Ordinary Outcast of My Time.
I will print it all out on the highest-quality paper I can find, and then cover it with plastic laminate. I got a great deal on the laminating machine. And plastic? Plastic might even outlive nuclear waste. So what if none of the current weasels pay me no nevermind, not even enough to give me a job at a decent wage; in this gob of hopefully unmelted plastic I hope that part of me will outlive them all. From here on in I’m all about you, anthropologists of the new dawn!
                  So. Welcome back to the year 2011. We count these years AD or CE; I don’t know how, or if, you’re still keeping track of our mostly ill-fated laps of our little solar sewage pool, but I hope that helps. I live in the neighborhood of Uptown, in the city of Chicago, in the country of the United States of America, on planet Earth. In the doubtful event that you know anything about 2011[3] or Uptown[4], then I fear you’re going to expect a far more exciting tale than my life is going to cough up.
I can guarantee you that in advance. I don’t belong to any goddamn gangs, I’m not going to get evicted as long as I keep showing up to my minimum-wage shit job, I’m not a male prostitute or an orphan, and I’m not a junkie.
Oh, as I admit that, I can hear you space-traveling Utopians dropping my poor little time capsule here into your solar-powered trash cross-mogrifier. Comfortable readers always feed on the ‘gritty,’ right? You really fucking love your suffering, covered in blood and track marks, and it’s got to be someone’s father’s fault: it’s all gotta be Jesus. You need it extreme. I have to be the dying guy in the sexy police outfit who cops shitty tar heroin at Lawrence and Sheridan. Or the incompetent drug dealer the next block over who’s always hollering about his business into his cell phone, so loud you can’t hear your own headphones, and then braying like a victim of inexplicable injustice when the police bend him over a squad again. I must needs be part of that couple I saw in the middle of Argyle Street the other day who were fighting with inexplicable urgency over a medical cane. Or the guys who were drinking from bags and taking bets on who would get the cane in the end. I gotta have dreadlocks in my butt hair, I need to have the cops find me duct taped to a chair by a rival gang. You need all pain to be a festival of the out-there, you can’t let suffering be dissected too close to normalcy’s door, you simply will refuse to watch. Dissect that out there in the gutter, where it belongs, where all of it is, please? Please? All of it?
Well, I’m neither barking mad, nor a reality-TV sacrificial lamb, nor a pregnant teenage boy consumed with consumption; sorry.  Though labor laws are indeed broken like acid capsules over my head every day, I am not embroiled in a landmark legal battle. (I hate fighting, in fact.) I don’t have any outright mental diseases (aside from being introverted, which would actually be a virtue in Japan, I hear) or physical handicaps, and I have no interest in youth culture whatsoever anymore, not even out of envy; I’m white, I’m male, I’m literate. I even had a halfway decent job at a newspaper once, which kind of spoiled me for what we’re going through now. I’m not particularly alcoholic, for Chicago anyway, and let me repeat, I’m definitely not a junkie[5].
No, there’s no reason, other than historical, for anyone to give a shit about my particular person. I’m a self-made loser, 40 years old and still stuck in this studio apartment with neither cross-ventilation nor a windowsill sturdy enough to put an air conditioner on. My suffering is plotless, boring, the kind of grinding down that the world does to common people who would rather have their spleen dissected than try to “network.”
Hm, I guess I need to explain that sort of crap to you, Future, since even if you still read English it won’t make any intrinsic sense. So.
“Networking” is supposedly the new way that anyone with enough grit can get ahead. But it’s just a contemporary euphemism for nepotism, glad-handling, and the accepted righteousness of the monopolistic power-grip of the outgoing and empty personality type. Generations of celebrity culture have bred us all into 30-second TV-commercial versions of people. If you try not to be like that, if you try to glimpse something better, more sincere, less glitteringly ugly, you’re fucked. I suffer for the good things in me, the voice that says sure, be nice to others, but beware the gang, the gang might have accidentally conspired to self-destruct…
All the crusaders for social justice just shrug at this kind of suffering. It’s not dramatic, and they’re social types themselves anyway, and hey buddy, that’s what happens when most people are born around here these days. There are too many people on the planet and not enough caviar to go around, much less limelights. Life is obscure, ill-compensated, and grimly inconsequential. But central-heated, in most of Chicago, USA, anyway. And at least we have on-demand TV comedies for free now; those are part of the Internet, too. So as long as you scrape up and pay your Internet bill you can sit there and laugh till it’s time to go to work again. Never mind that the Internet took away my “career” in old-fashioned newspapers[6] and made me a full-on peon again. When Holy Progress rolls its iron spikes along your spine, you’re supposed to feel grateful for the chance to be a martyr. Or at least shut up and enjoy the entertainment.
Well, I do have my Internet, for better as well as for worse. And it is an excellent source of news, I must admit, and that news is often processed into comedy form; I usually hate what’s happening in the world, but I also happen to be droolingly addicted to comedy, so the medicine goes down pretty well. In case none of our news at all is left floating in the ether, I am perfectly happy to sit here and process it into laminated paper for your benefit.
 I certainly have enough free time to do it. These days the Job Gods have seen fit to grant me only part-time minimum wage restaurant work. Which means that most of the time I literally cannot do anything except go for a walk, sit in the park, or sit in my apartment, because most of the other places you can sit require you to either be spending money or making it. Hell, just sitting in the park, you pretty much have to pay off the beggars to get a second’s peace and quiet these days.[7]
So I’m just going to crouch here in my studio bunker and type. If I squint and pretend to myself that this will make your job any easier, Historians of the Future, I can comfortably hallucinate that my life here has some gob of meaning and reason in it. Yes, indeed, you are more than welcome. Just read, please. It’s so lonely to think of, being dead without anyone ever listening to this.

[1] I stole that from Hubert Selby, Jr.
[2] In fact I managed to finally get a bachelor’s degree in history—with a minor in archaeology and a certificate in accounting—from a shitty public college, for all the good it’s done me; a sudden rash of medical bills prevented me from going to graduate school, for all the good that would have done me either. One of my sisters was a very good peon indeed, and somehow got a PhD; she’s now a substitute teacher for a high school in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. She gets work when the front line teachers get shot, I imagine. It’s a violent time, dear Future, in all senses of the expression. Hope you’re doing better! Send us a postcard.
[3] The nadir of the world economy’s most recent economic depression—at least I hope things don’t get any worse, although of course things always can.
[4] An island of festering gang-infested squalor in the sea of relative privilege that is the north side of this great American city; then again the entire town seems to be generally going to hell.
[5] How the fuck do you become a junkie, anyway? Who’s got that much money and that much free time? Where did you get all that money!? Who did you rob? How many cars have you broken into? Why didn’t your mother kick you out of the house sooner? Even if you’re a trust-fund baby, your parents probably stole that money from somebody for you, one way or another. And instead of starting a small business with your unearned fortune and giving me a job, you are getting high all day, you parasitic piss.

[6] I wonder if you know what newspapers were, Future. Well, they are news, printed on paper.
[7] Future, I don’t know how much you’ll know about the country I live in when you read this, but in case you’re unaware, this year there were a lot more people than jobs hanging around, and some people are too freakish to really do a job very well in any case. So unless you’re in a really nice neighborhood there are pretty much just roaming armies of beggars.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Talkative Corpse: A Love Letter. Introductory Chapter.

As promised.

The Talkative Corpse: A Love Letter
By Ann Sterzinger c/o Hopeless Books

“When you write about the people you hate,
Make sure you do it with love.”
—Hubert Selby, Jr.

Translator’s note:
It’s not what the layman would expect, yet the thing has been common to culture after culture throughout the eons of the human experience: A society’s most popular art appears to dignify types of people whom the society itself fails to value. No, that’s an understatement; pardon me: in fact, popular works of art, particularly those which reach mythological or historical status, often glorify classes of people whom the myth-generating society tortures, banishes, or enslaves.
Take the classical-era Ancient Greeks: to hear the myths, songs, and legends of Atalanta, of Artemis, of Hera and her wrath, one would expect to find evidence of an egalitarian, or even a shrilly matriarchal, social fabric.
Not so! In daily life, under the banner of the virago Athena, even the wealthiest Athenian housewife lived hidden indoors, kept from the vote, shut out from the joys of the symposium, and, it is presumed, generally illiterate.
In their turn, the clever men of classical Greece would later be idolized by the rising Romans for their culture and learning—so much so that after the Roman legions captured the Greek cities and played dice upon their polished paintings, every great Roman house wanted to its own learnèd Greek captive slave, that he might meekly tutor its heirs.
By contrast, types who are officially reviled may often be secretly desired. When the Ancient French lost their colonial empire in the 20th century, their former subject lands officially reviled the haughty Gauls, yet  flocked to their cities in a great, uneasy wave.
We had myriad such examples, backed by reasonable amounts of evidence.
Imagine the archarological community’s embarrassment, then, when the findings from the recent unearthing of Ancient Chicago were produced.
In our defense, the radiation levels near the major American sites have only recently dropped to levels that allow us to safely perform extensive digs; till now, all evidence has come from remote sites far removed from the great population centers.
The surprise engendered by the John Jaggo Manuscript, nonetheless, remains a major blemish on my profession.
Before the excavation of the Chicago site the evidence of Ancient America’s tendencies in the arts was scant. Assuming a few motion pictures of which we found many copies: Edward Scissorhands, Dirty Dancing (of which we found two versions), Batman, Spider-Man (mythological pieces; we found several variants of each)*—scholars could, or did, only guess that this society must have been particularly enlightened regarding the rights and value to society of two classes of people: the common-born and the psychological freak.
Based on outlying areas’ extensive kitchen-midden evidence of near-universal consumerism as well as films such as these, we extrapolated that, after said films’ release, equal rights must have been enforced for those not born to relative economic privilege as well as to those who failed to conform to neurotypical standards of their day. This seemed to have been particularly likely to hold for such individuals who were, as our discipline’s jargon has it, “of clever and/or worthy status based on a loosely defined mix of intelligence, talents, moral qualities, and quirky good looks”— for short, “clever-worthies.”
In our further defense, the narrative arts did not provide the only evidence for this hypothesis. Corroborating guesses were supplied by worship and burial sites, which more often than not contained religious objects devoted to one of three apparently inter-related prophet-gods: the first a leader of rebellious slaves, the second a manual laborer who was literally nailed to a tree for being strange (!), and the third a merchant who became a land pirate who nonetheless continued to preach that the devout should give 2.5 percent of their extra income to the poor. Clever men all, and all, by even 21st-century standards, not just freakish but clinically insane.
But the John Jaggo manuscript has revealed these “theories” for what most anthropological “theories,” of necessity, are: mere hypotheses, based on what evidence we had at the time. Faith in such ideas has often been shaken throughout archaeological history by later discoveries of additional artifacts. Such is the conscious way of all sciences: ashes to ashes. So we must accept it. The image of the pre-Great-Blast society of the North Americas at which we have chiseled for so long must now be faced with a slightly heavier instrument.  
The author of the John Jaggo manuscript is self-described (although not in quite so few words) as an ordinary member of the educated laboring caste except for his psychological non-standardness. Nonetheless he records his experience in the years 2011-2012 CE as the life of one who could still, despite any enlightenment depicted in this fascinating people’s art and religion, be thoughtlessly cast aside precisely because he was an obscure and economically embarrassed freak—apparently without anyone else’s being ethically bothered. He also seems to have been, at least in his own tacit estimation—since why else would he have bothered to create such a deliberate artifact out of his own story?—a clever-worthy.
What caused the discrepancy in what is now being called the “clever-worthy freak-commoner status rift continuum”? Why did certain forms of culture show the freak and the drone as consensus-view heroes during the late 20th century—only to have these character types reappear in an apparently self-produced time capsule as angry, displaced, and confused creatures of a society which continued to, as it were, throw boiling oil at them down the castle walls? The fact that the writer of the John Jaggo manuscript is that rare combination of both lowborn and freak appears at first glance to make our task easier. But in fact it merely renders the variables far more difficult to isolate.
Of course, this manuscript has opened up far more questions than it has answered, and new theses spring up like grass after a rain.
A small majority of my colleagues have rushed to get behind the suggestion that the heroic popular depictions of the commoner and/or freak clever-worthy were designed manipulations: that the heroic images shown in the classic “loser-made-god” films were druglike fantasies, sold by the highborn and the socially adept to the real-world versions of the putative heroes, in order to infuse their lives with a false meaning that they might more gamely trudge through education, toil, and death.
This camp of theorists is not, however, dominant, because it is subdivided. Half its adherents believe these fictions to have been designed out of charity—the others, malice.
But both subcamps now agree that the less fantastical portions of the “John Jaggo” manuscript were most likely related to the actual experience of the lowborn and the freak, whereas Edward Scissorhands, Dirty Dancing, and The Outsiders—heretofore our best evidence for the patterns of “real” Ancient American lives—were mere fantasy.
The reason the latter were mechanically reproduced estimated millions of times and the former apparently existed in a lone manuscript (despite the fact that commoners alone must have, by definition, formed a majority of the population) has not been satisfactorily explained by either subcamp.
Thus colleagues from other camps have jumped upon this mystery; many indeed have made it the sole basis of their own pet hypotheses. Some posit economic factors, others the overall preference of human beings for fantasy over reality.
Yet others guess that the John Jaggo manuscript’s author was either lying, or that the narrator/”author”  was in fact the fictional creation of a separate, flesh-and-blood author, whose annotations to the text were lost in the Great Blast. This latter theory is undermined somewhat by the narrator’s habit of annotating his own remarks with footnotes. (These footnotes were not particularly satisfying; if the narrator, assuming he existed, truly was, as he claimed, concerned with making his era comprehensible to our millennium, he was, obviously, not entirely successful.)
The “Fictitious Jaggo” is bolstered, however, by some of the more fantastical events described herein—those very elements which in my opinion render both subcamps of the “John Jaggo as quasi-realist” school rather suspect.
There are other camps still. Those of my colleagues who find themselves most concerned with the difficulties of isolating the variables in this case posit that being just a freak or just a commoner added to a citizen’s status, but being both at once may have actually somehow detracted from it—that wealth and success could somehow transform freakishness into beauty, or that perfect adherence to normalcy could elevate the commoner to a higher caste.
Still other guesses emanate from the literary historians, who compare the “clever and worthy commoner” of the ancient American filmic arts to the “clever slave” who figured so dependably and heroically in the popular comedies of the Ancient Romans despite the generally despicable conditions of actual slaves. Like the clever slave, the worthy outsider of the Americans may have been a mere stock character whose relation to reality was inverse—i.e. satirical.
Certain of my retro-Jungian colleagues have, as usual, used this case as “yet another example” —as Dr. Kayabiff Flugelhoffer-Chang preeningly put it at a recent conference—for their pet thesis of civilization: that below every nation’s articulated set of values there lurks a set of opposite and more powerful values, its “shadow” values, “which creep through the rot that’s under the vine like the death that’s implicit in all life,” to quote one of Flugelhoffer-Chang’s more torrential passages. These not-disinterested scholars include our own society under this “grand theorem of dismissal of the nation-claim,” an idea which I find only very slightly offensive, much to their probable disappointment, not that I care.
More socio-medically minded colleagues guess that it was lead poisoning.
I myself remain torn, too shocked and embarrassed by the contents of the manuscript to take an immediate firm stance, as so many of my hubristic colleagues have rushed to do even in the wake of our humiliation. Is it a hoax? Is it a subtle piece of political propaganda? Was it meant as a religious text? Or was it the true cri de coeur of a maddened man wrestling his demons?
  I do have my hunches. But before I proclaim, I await the results of ongoing digs in the hope that more illuminating manuscripts will be discovered. In the meantime I am content to present you, the general public, with the contents of the Jaggo manuscript, translated from the Ancient American dialect of the Germanic tongues as best myself and my apprentices could do; I await your feedback. I may be reached for comment at the usual address, though replies to comments, depending on volume, could require various amounts of time.
—B. Crominy Cornfeffer
A note on notes: “Jaggo’s” footnotes are numbered, mine denoted by asterisks.

* Fragments of a novel have also been found, tellingly titled (or so we thought) The Outsiders.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sometimes you grovel, sometimes you don't...

So I'm getting close to the finish with both of the books I'm writing—one mostly realistic except for the fact that there's a future, and a demon; the other a full-on science fiction dystopia—and I've decided I've got the patience to shop exactly ONE of them around the soggy-biscuit ring of agents and publishers.

The science fiction book more obviously fits into a category, so it's pretty clearly going to be less of a pain in the ass to sum up in fifty ass-licks or less; it will therefore go the query-letter rounds.

The other one is an odd, cranky fish, with the odd title of THE TALKATIVE CORPSE: A LOVE LETTER, and GEEEEHD knows no publisher will jump up to risk that, considering the fact that the public gets 50% more brain damaged with every Firefox update. I could have gone to my previous novel NVSQVAM's publisher, Chip Smith, with it—he takes a loss on most of what he does, and if he didn't like it enough to take that loss he would tell me now, not after five months of groveling and pissing away my precious telomeres—but I'm determined that this book should come out as quickly as possible, via e-edition, and Chip, bless his heart, hates those things.

So at the risk—a roughly 100 percent risk, as I'm well aware, and fuck you in advance—of losing readers to the vanity press stigma (or to be more precise, to the lack of a publisher's stamp of approval), I'm going to spend all of my energy editing rather than begging on this one, and "print" it myself as a straight-to-Kindle ebook using Amazon.*

While I polish what's left to be polished, in the interests of letting you decide whether you want to read this for yourself rather than relying, indeed, on that publisher's stamp of approval, I am going to leak the first three sample chapters right here, in serial form. (I had the sample chapters all polished up and ready to send to an agent before I came to the conclusion that fuck them, let the readers decide.) By the time the ensuing tidal wave of frenzied anticipation comes to its juddering peak, I shall likely be ready to "print."

I'm not against anyone else publishing this book without my having to chase them like a horny freshman boy, mind you, so if anyone wants to approach ME about publishing it on paper, go ahead, that would be nice and tactile and respeccable.** It's just that, like I said, I've only got about one grovel in me per year, and then I start wearing thorough what's left of my stomach lining. (Used the last year's stock getting a job, so I don't have any rollover grovels. Sorry.) So stay tuned! I'm thinking intro chapter: Friday.

*Note: it is not in fact necessary to own a Kindle to read electronic books on Amazon, by the by; you can download them via the Kindle cloud reader and read the text on your computer. Exciting note: there are tons of books that have gone public-domain on there for free. Much better than shelling out money that won't ever help the book's (dead) author anyway. It's like the Gutenberg project with better typefaces. (You need an Amazon account, but if you're so paranoid that this would disturb you, what are you doing on the Intertubes in the first place? Don't you know how easy the tubes make it for them to see you? Yeah, I know, Amazon is evil, but so are life and job and the computer you're using, unless it's slave-labor-free and made of hemp.)

**Also, if anyone out there would like to help fund the film version of NVSQVAM (screenplay by Chicago indie filmmaker Emil Hyde), that would be great too. Just sticking that out there.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The world disgusts

The world disgusts so thoroughly,
It's fair to wonder, "Is it me?"
So pull aside the drapes and see:

A giant bowing to a flea,
A baby killed by sting of bee,
And Thackeray grovels on his knee
While marketers are pestering me.

The truth is slandered,
Kittens hurt,
A torturer is fat and pert,
The bombers are on full alert,
And Socrates is eating dirt;

A squirrel raped,
A genius aped,
A nut job cheered on in a cape;

Your best beloved is puking blood
And Shakespeare's name is finally mud;
You got that job to save your skin
And suddenly you're ten years in;

Your enemies are sleek and free,
There's no clean public place to pee,
An oil slick covers every sea,
A nuke right where the sun should be...

So pull the covers over me.
There's nowhere else that's good to flee.