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:
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, 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 or Uptown, 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.
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 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.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.
 I stole that from Hubert Selby, Jr.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 I wonder if you know what newspapers were, Future. Well, they are news, printed on paper.
 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.