Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Infernals Take TJ's and Texting to Town

"Are you guys ready to rock?"

Lead guitarist Chris Dewey stands before the crowd of rockandrollophiles before him at TJ's Bar in Palatine, arms outstretched, fingers flipped into devil's horns, a gleam of defiance in his eyes and lip curled into a sneer Sid Vicious would kill for.

Dimly, electronic chimes jingle. He pauses and looks at an electronic readout.

"Hang on," my text reads. "I'm tying my shoe."

Some of the sneer evaporates, and he shoots me an annoyed look.

Another jingle sounds.

"Ok," my text reads. "Now I'm ready."

I put my phone away. Dewey tries again. “Now let’s get ready to—"

Ding ding!

"Ready to rock, I mean," my text reads.

"Fucking asshole," he mutters into the microphone, drawing a cheer. I look around in aggrieved innocence.

Normally, Dewey wouldn't get any of my texts during his concert. Normally, he'd be so enthralled with the thrill of a live performance, the drunken, admiring sway of the crowd and the delicate scent of buck-a-can Pabst Blue Ribbon mixed with urinal cakes, he wouldn't even notice any of my texts.

Normally, for that matter, he wouldn't even piss on me if I were on fire, whether I texted or yelled to him, "Hey, Dewey, I'm on fire! Ow! Owww!" Normally, if anyone asked who the reporter covering the show was, he'd tell them, "That guy? Oh, that guy is my half-wit cousin from Estonia. He's harmless. Just don't make eye contact with him. And don't put the fire out. He likes fires."

But tonight, the Infernals, suburban Chicago's third-most-popular children's-folk-turned-grunge band, are demonstrating the benefits of 21st century technology and what they can afford when they give up beer for an hour: a Text-o-Tron.

This digital monstrosity consists of a twenty-square-foot screen above the stage, emblazoning text messages sent from adoring fans, right behind them. Every message sent to 3-INFRL, it displays in fiery neon above the heads of Dewey, bassist Bryan Park and drummer Leo Salinas.

The machine has been busy. In the past half hour, it's been beaming requests, adamant orders to play louder, and the occasional Christmas gift wish. The band has incorporated all of this into their act with their accustomed ferocity, and it's truly been a sight to see.

Of course, Dewey isn't displaying proper gratefulness towards me for my text asking him to hang on a minute while I tie my shoe. Nor has he expressed gratitude for my other texts, sent in the middle of one of his guitar solos, reminding him to take out the garbage when he gets home and asking him where the restroom is. (Sometimes, I wonder why I bother writing these fricking reviews. I never met a musician whose fame didn't go to their head and make him too good to be interrupted by texted penis jokes during a show.) The band debated shutting the machine down after my text complaining that Park kept making funny faces at me, but Dewey nixed that suggestion after noticing a reasonably attractive blonde in the front row who may or may not have been making eyes at him. Even now, after three successive messages from me about whether or not the bartender had any more pretzels, he seems to be holding out for one from her. One expressing her devout obsession with the band, particularly him, and giving helpful tips on musical performance and her own measurements and her own proclivity for leather underwear and bondage.

Whatever. Texts and easy blondes aside, the show has completely captivated the crowd. Everyone from the middle aged brokers shooting darts towards the back to the bickering married couple near the jukebox seems to agree: These guys play music that sizzles. Their lineup tonight has ranged from growly originals like "You're Shallow, I Hate You, Die" (composed, according to legend, during one of the band member's honeymoons) and retooled covers of blues classics like "Boom Boom Boom Boom" (chosen, according to legend, because of its repetition of one of the few words Park can keep in his short term memory long enough to sing accurately). The band's chemistry has only deepened in the past five months since their last show, and rumors are starting to fly about a world tour in the spring and a line of Mattel action figures available as soon as Christmas.

But merchandise is only a side thought. This band revels in their showmanship.

"This next song is dedicated to anyone who's ever found themselves up against the world," Dewey snarls, preparing to launch into "Troubles," a blues number balancing a sort of adrenaline-fueled moodiness with rage and repressed homosexual frustration. (Or so I imagine. I haven't actually heard it yet.) "You guys may have troubles, but we've always got music to--"

"Tell Bryan those pants make his ankles look fat," I text him. Ding. My message immediately flashes overhead.

"Okay, seriously!" Dewey exclaims, throwing his mike down and glaring at me with the seasoned glare of a public schoolteacher. "Knock it off! This thing is not a toy!"

Humbly, I put my phone away and fold my hands in my lap, reminding myself to throw in a paragraph in my review about how he likes to wear women's clothes. "Sorry, Mr. Dewey," I mumble.

"In fact, screw this stupid invention," he rages, clambering up onto a chair so he can tear it off the wall and set it on fire. However, before he can enact this deep-seated desire, he catches a glimpse of the blonde in the front row shrugging and putting her own cell phone away. As she leans over to unzip her purse, she flashes an impressive display of cleavage. Dewey stares, a thin trickle of drool running down his chin.

"I mean...except for the ladies," he amends. "Especially ladies with platinum highlights and leopard-print bras."

The blonde looks up at him, batting her eyelashes.

"Yeah...because tonight is Ladies' Text the Infernals Night!" Dewey announces, all but falling off his chair and grabbing the mike again. "Ten texts of your bra size gets a backstage photo with the band!"

Park thumps an opening riff. Salinas dives into a solo.

A cheer rebounds around the bar.

The band soaks up the energy and launches into "Troubles."

The blonde shows some leg. Dewey howls and leers at her.

"I think she's a guy," I text him. My message flashes abovehead.

The blonde snarls furiously at me to mind my own business. But nobody else notices. Rock-fueled pre-holiday merriment is raging, and the Infernals, once again, are demonstrating that they can entertain even while they're busy hitting on cheap, easy women who may not be women.

And at the end of the day, isn't that what music is all about?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A potential submission to NPR's Fiction Writing Contest

This is quite possibly the worst entry I've ever written. In fact, this was actually a writing assignment given to a bunch of sixteen year-olds. They had to begin wtih "No one really believed the story at first" and end with "Like all good things, it came to an end." I was going to showcase their work, but decided to showcase my own instead. No, really. No need to thank me.

"By This Rulebook, I Rule"

A tale of danger, discipline and derring-do, straight from the bowels of a public school! Maybe even the one...your kids go to!

No one really believed the story at first. Least of all Dean of Students Hank Thumpkins. It was just too strange: a guy? And another guy? In the hallway? Fighting?

“Nobody fights in this here school!” Thumpkins declared. “My discipline is too stern! They’re too afraid to fight in this here school!”

Hall monitor Jesse Hueber thought to himself of palm trees and beach cabanas: where he would soon be taking his vacation and where he wouldn’t have to listen to the big, sweating, bull-necked idiot in front of him. But that was several hours in the future, and for now, he had the dean to persuade. Maybe this time, he could be persuaded with the facts.

“I saw the fight,” he said patiently. “I broke it up.”

“Stress, m’boy,” Thumpkins said, swiveling back in his office chair and blowing cigar smoke all over the room. “Nerves. Happens to the best of us. I remember when I was fighting in the war--“

“Sir, I broke the fight up, and I brought the two boys in here to get a referral.” Hueber gestured behind him, where the boys sat sulking, bleeding from their ears and spitting teeth into Thumpkins’ secretary’s coffee mug.

“They look like good young Christians to me,” declared Thumpkins. “Good-hearted, too. What do you want to go starting trouble for around in this here school?”

“This one,” Hueber said, gesturing to the taller boy with brass knuckles and a split lip, “wanted to beat up this one,” here gesturing at the shorter, muscled boy with the black belt in jujitsu and prison tattoos, “for taking his lunch money. He said if he didn’t give it up, he’d beat him up.”

“Uh huh. And then what happened?”

“Then he beat him up.”

“Well if he did give up the money, why would he want to go ahead and beat him up? It just doesn’t add up, Jenkins.”

“My name is Hueber.”

“Whatever.” Thumpkins waved a hand. “Now me, when I’m prosecutin’ a case, I like to make sure I have all the facts at hand.”

“I have all the facts, sir,” Hueber said grimly. “I was there. I saw it.”

“Doesn’t mean you have all the facts, does it, Jenkins?”


“What’s that boy’s blood type?” Thumpkins asked abruptly.

Hueber blinked again. “Sir?”

“His astrological sign? Heritage? Opinions about the future of the gold market?”

Hueber stared, his jaw working soundlessly.

“You don’t know? Then how can you say you have all the facts?”

“I don’t…I…sir, he’s bleeding on me!”

“Pure speculation, my boy. Why, that blood could have come from anywhere before it started oozing out his veins. Now ain’t that so? Say that’s so, boy.”


“Won’t have any of this nonsense in this here school, Jenkins. Go wash that boy’s blood off your face. You’re a disgrace to your uniform.”

Hueber started sweating. “I don’t wear a uniform, sir.”

“And you never will, not with that attitude. Shape up or ship out, that’s my motto.” Thumpkins looked at his watch. “Well, now, I think you boys have learned a valuable lesson, haven’t you?”

“Sure have, sir,” said the tall boy, cracking his knuckles and staring malevolently at the other.

“I have indeed,” responded the squat boy, drawing a line across his throat and flipping a pair of nunchuks across his chest expertly.

“Good.” The dean beamed triumphantly. “Now, Jenkins, I suggest you go start your vacation. Beginning right about now, isn’t it? You’ll feel better after you get some time away.”

And Jenkins—er, Hueber, did. He had a great vacation. But like all good things, it came to an end.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A late post

Had I world enough and time, I would have told this story:

It was late. Tso and I were boozing it up in an Irish pub.

We laughed. We cried. We argued politics. We swore at each other and yelled at things. It was grand.

And suddenly, a man passing by came over to us. "Excuse me," he said. "I don't mean to interrupt, but...are you two gay?"

"No!" shrieked Tso.

"Yes," I said immediately. Then, startled, I blurted out, "No!" while Tso murmured "I guess..."

"I'm just asking because my son just came out of the closet," the man went on. "You two looked like you were tight. I just couldn't tell if you were buddies-for-life tight or who-wears-the-dress-tonight tight."

A long, pregnant pause. We looked at each other.

"We'll get back to you," I announced.

Monday, October 17, 2011

And now, a humorous comment, made in a suburban bathroom...

"This must be where the Jolly Green Giant comes to take a piss."
--me, at Lamplighters in Palatine

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Epilepsy walk-a-thon draws local band, volunteers, ass-kicking

The Third Annual Geriatrics Run for Epilepsy 5K began at 8 a.m. and in an hour and a half, I've already managed to lap the two runners in front of me. I take deep gulps of air and pump my arms harder, feeling the cold fall breeze burn my lungs and send my sluggish blood pumping like through my veins like Tom Sizemore through a Vegas brothel. I come up right behind my rivals. They look tough, but I could take them.

"Lovely morning, isn't it?" one middle-aged mother of three croons at me.

I compress my lips together and shove my shoulder towards her, sending her flailing into the underbrush, screaming a dwindling "What the hellllllllll..." Her partner, another middle-aged mother of three with a t-shirt bearing a scanned picture of her two-year-old astride the family dog, flings her hands up in front of her.

"Don't hit me!" she screams. "I don't have insurance!"

I take the opportunity to fake her out and double around, leaving her to scrabble after her friend and yell for the First Aid patrol (who, I might add, are one hundred yards behind us, at the starting tent, doing early-morning lemon drop shots). Excellent. Two down. One hundred sixty-five to go.

That prize is mine.

Actually, I'm not quite sure what the prize is. While the announcer was giving his speech about all the proceeds being donated for research into epilepsy, I was lacing up my spikes and whispering veiled threats to anyone nearby.

"I just feel so good to be doing something that makes a difference," one walker commented to another.

"I feel good that I'll be feasting on your remains when this is all over, you dried up sack of dirt," I whispered hoarsely. He turned and glanced at me curiously, obviously cowed by my grizzled demeanor and hard-as-nails countenance. It's called a "psych out." And it works. I should know. My students do it to me every morning before class begins. Sends me screaming to the nurse's office every time.

"Might want to get some hot tea for that cold, buddy," he tossed at me, doing some deep knee bends and hamstring stretches.

"Well you might want to take off your mother’s girdle,” I retorted.

He rolled his eyes and walked away.

“Because you’re really a girl,” I yelled after him. "And gay!"

Look, I need every advantage I can grab. The crew of runners/walkers (both with and without motorized wheelchairs) doesn't look threatening, but looks can be deceiving. Beneath the facade of flaccid skin, neon shorts, bottled water and excessive camaraderie, they're all athletes. They want the prize as much as I do. So I can spare no one. I can take no prisoners. And I can leave no mothers-of-three unaccosted. Into the ditch they must go.

"That bastard back there tried to muscle me
off the course! Luckily he hits like a girl."

As I pump my arms and increase my power-walking speed to a cool 3.5 miles an hour, I realize that there are a couple more sixty-somethings coming up in front of me, chatting about what sounds like Sunday brunch with a son's future in-laws, which I immediately take for smack talk. Emitting my most bloodcurdling scream, I shoulder in between them, head-butt one into a nearby chainlink fence and set a pick that sends the other tumbling ass over end into a nearby ditch. Four for four. God I'm awesome.

The surge of adrenaline gives me the energy to round the path at about 3.3 miles per hour, where, in the distance, I see the Love of My Life standing on a stage with several other musicians surrounding her, staring at me. Her expression is fifty percent "look at this stud" and seventy-five percent "God but I'd like to jump him right now." As I pass, I give her a cavalier wave and wait to hear some shouted term of encouragement, or perhaps catch a pair of her thrown panties.

"You asshole!" she yells. “They were going to help me pack up my drums!”


Perhaps I should explain.

First of all, I don’t want to give the impression Kim can’t get me to help her lug her drums around. She can. But there are conditions that must be met, and frankly, this isn’t the place to talk about them. (Ok, it is. It involves a steak dinner and plentiful references to me as Long-o-san.)

Second of all, Kim's band, Get Real, is performing at the walk-a-thon as an accompanying benefit concert. The idea is to pump some tunes into the atmosphere to get the crowd of suburbanite geriatrics cum casual athletes a bit of extra juice to complete the course. Kim explained the idea to me a few weeks ago: the band plays music, the walk-a-thon goes on, and a refreshment tent serves libations and cheese Danish.

“What?” I asked irritably, craning my neck around her to try and see the TV. “That sounds stupid.”

“They raised almost a hundred grand last year,” Kim said, shutting the afternoon movie off. “And with a drummer this time, they could up that. It could help a lot of people.”

“What do I care about people?”

“We’ll be playing heavy metal mostly.”

Well, once I heard that, I was sold. Personally, I think epileptics should be allowed to marry and have child visitation rights, or whatever the whole debate is about, but let’s face it: good music is good music.

Still, when Kim told me I’d be there and would have to compete, I knew enough to get pumped. I've been undergoing an insane workout regimen of red meat, tight t-shirts and the occasional sit-up. The day before, I prepared for the race by watching a bunch of Rocky montages where he's hitting the bag, running through the streets of Philadelphia, all the while accompanied by appropriate eighties music and montages of his previous fights. Inspiring stuff. It could work for me too, I reasoned. So I synced up my iPod with the appropriate playlist and made sure televisions were stationed all around my house and back yard while I motored from room to room, blaring "It's Raining Men" on my headphones and reliving footage of myself getting jeered at by teenagers in my classroom. If manliness were a drink, I'd be blowing a .93.

Which brings me to the race’s end: Get Bent is pumping out “More Human Than Human” and there’s only one more senior citizen in front of me. If I were a Terminator, he’d be in the middle of a big red digital circle with the word “Eliminate” emblazoned beneath him. My spikes are coated with venom, and I scent his desperation in the air.

And there’s Kim, at the drum set, glaring at me with one eye as she keeps pace with the bassist with her other.

Tempting thought: leave the geezer alone, let him help pack her gear up, not have to lift a finger during set breakdown. I pause. Then I decide, What the hell. I was never going to help them anyway. I move in for the kill…

“Last call for free bagels!” blares the loudspeaker. “All competitors, you did a great job today walking for progress! Now if you want a free bagel, come on down to the table before they’re gone!”

Wuh-oh. Free? Bagels?

“You got lucky, old man,” I growl at him, throw my gear down and stalk off for some hard-earned food that somebody else paid for. Just barely out of the corner of my eye, I see him sneer at me in toothless contempt. Fuck him. I’ll get him next year.

Still, all things considered, it was a productive morning. According to my pedometer, I’ve walked 3.1 miles, falcon-punched sixteen people over the age of forty and burned three calories. Plus, Get a Job has played 24 songs and booked a benefit concert for third world eating disorders. Sweet. Time to throw in a piece of pie too. And as I head for the buffet table, I can hear the band warbling White Zombie’s famous lines:
Yeah, I am the jigsaw man, I turn the world around
With a skeleton hand say
I am electric head, A cannibal core
A television said, yeah...
So in closing, dear reader, I urge you to not be the jigsaw man with the skeleton hand. Or the electric head. Or a cannibal or television. Apparently all those are bad things to be, and I wholeheartedly endorse Rob Zombie’s words, whatever the hell they’re about.

What you want to be instead is generous and giving. And the best way to do that: pledge my next Walk for Autism. One dollar per person I knee in the crotch and force onto the sidelines.

Speaking of which, you'll have to excuse me. The children's one-mile is about to begin. And this year, I've got some stiff competition.

"Now kids, you know the rules. Baseball bats to the
kneecaps are fair, as long as the judges don't see it."

Sunday, October 02, 2011

NPR's Fiction Contest, Take 7--A Western

This month, some author I never heard of gave the marching orders: "You want to enter the contest? Get your little story published? Oh, how cute! Of course you can give it a shot! And maybe you'll win! And maybe I'll quit writing and go back to busing tables! Anyway, send your putrid attempt at creativity to NPR before the end of September. The rules: Your 600-word story has to begin with someone coming into town, and end with someone leaving town. Got it? Good. Don't screw it up."

To me, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for a Western. So...

"He Came for a Drink...of Death!"

a pulp Western by professional pulp Western writer Tripton Duncan (Western writer of pulps)

“I’m looking for a killer.”

Christian encyclopedia salesman Skinny Muler spurted rancid beer out of his mouth and turned to gape at the tall, weather-beaten stranger who’d just sauntered into the Drunken Horse Saloon. His face was grizzled, his eyes a perpetual squint and his expression was that of a man who killed as easy as some men breathed. Good. Maybe he’d be in the market for a new set of encyclopedias.

“Mister,” he began, reaching for his satchel, “if it’s global warming you’re looking to disprove, I’ve got just the—"

"He was riding a horse," the stranger continued. "He's wearing a cowboy hat."

Larry Diddlesman, town barber and closet horse molester, sputtered a mouthful of whiskey onto his table. "Horse?" he stammered. "Hat? Why that sounds like Bellybutton Lint Leroy Baines!"

The stranger nodded. "That's him. Where is he?"

Pigtrough McWithers, one of Larry’s necrophilic drinking companions, sputtered the mouthful of turpentine he’d been drinking and bolted out the door. Larry shot a glance desperately to the side. "Bellybutton? Never heard of him."

"How come they call him Bellybutton Lint?" Skinny wondered. "Because he's got lint in his bellybutton?"

"No." The stranger rolled a homemade manure cigarette and lit it. "Because he's really tall. Now where is he?"

"I told you I ain't seen him," said Larry. Meanwhile, Johnson Nopenis at the other end of the saloon sputtered ranch dressing out of his mouth and ran out the door. 

"Then how did you know he was in town?" the stranger asked casually. "And how did you know he's going to the train station, to catch the 4:10 to Columbus?"

"I never said that," stammered Larry, sputtering whiskey and outhouse water. "Besides, he's going to El Paso!"

"Uh huh," the stranger drawled, plucking a piece of cowshit from his lip. "On the 4:10."

"He's getting on the 6:30!" spat Larry. He stood up, noticing an attractive foal mare outside (which sputtered its drinking water all over the porch in terror) and began running towards the door. "At the station by the post office. And I don’t even know him!"

“Go hump your horse,” the stranger said mildly. Outside, a terrified whinney erupted. Meanwhile, to the rest of the bar, the stranger announced, “If Baines comes back, tell him Bart Johnson’s in town, and he's coming to kill him for--"

"Say!" Skinny gaped, drool running down his chin. “Bart Johnson! Why you’re that poet from San Francisco!”

“What?” The stranger paused, then grabbed a drink of whiskey off the bar so he could sputter it out of his mouth. “Er, no. No, I’m the psycho killer from out Wichita Way, the one who shot—"

“You’re the one who wrote ‘Love is Like a Limp-Wristed Flower?’” Bartender Skunk Cassidy, busy cleaning up all the sputtered whiskey, beamed. “Why, that poem makes me sob like an Englishman!”

“I tell you, mister,” Skinny proclaimed, “your sonnets about how small testicles are a sign of a loyal heart are what gave me the guts to start beating my wife.”

“That ain’t me,” the stranger protested, careful to enunciate his bad grammar. “I, uh, I be Bart Johnson, meanest sonofabitch in the west.”

“The Bart Johnson who wrote an ode to President Garfield in otto rima?” Skunk wondered. “And the Bart Johnson who was caught having sexual relations with a maple tree? Say, did you know there’s one of those by the train station?”

Everyone waited. The stranger appeared to be doing some figuring.

“By the post office, right?” he asked Skunk, heading for the door.

Outside, the maple tree sputtered its whiskey.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Diane Ravitch reviews two books about education and education "reform." Take note: when have we not been in an educational crisis? Get off my back, America. I'm not the problem.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bachmann sets record straight on Biblical submissions

AMES--On her Sunday talk show circuit, Representative Michele Bachmann, after winning the Iowa straw poll, fielded questions about a comment she made in a 2006 stump speech in which she said she became a tax lawyer because her husband wanted her to. "“Tax law? I hate taxes,” she said in the speech. “Why should I go into something like that? But the lord says, be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands."

Bachmann said on Face the Nation that "submission" really meant "respect." “I respect my husband, he respects me,” she said. “We have been married 33 years, we have a great marriage…and respecting each other, listening to each other is what that means.”

The Flannel Diaries feels that a reexamination of key Bible passages is in order, since previous instances of the word "submit" or "submission" may have been misconstrued by earlier scholars and pious readers. Here are some revised passages:

"Now as the church [respects, mutually respects] Christ, so also wives should [respect, mutually respect] everything to their husbands." --Ephesians 5:24

Clearly some syntax problems here, since "bow to the will of" works much better in context. Nevertheless, the early Bible was way ahead of the sort of Biblical allusions that would be used to keep women barefoot and pregnant for years to come.

"Obey your leaders and [respect, mutually respect] them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." --Hebrews 13:17

Clearly someone "keeping watch over your souls" is not someone you need kowtow to. After all, regardless of your level of power, they think of you as an equal. That must have made for some really liberal slaveowners in the day.

"[Mutually respect] yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." --James 4:7

See? God is more like a business partner. One hand washes another. He's open to your ideas. It's not like he's God or anything.

Any more passages we missed, please submit them to us. Whoops...we meant "respect" them to us. Because we respect you. Mutually.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Infernals, not Journey or Night Ranger, Play the Gallery Cabaret (and they're not the band Foreigner either...)

Truthfully, I do make mistakes on occasion. Some of those mistakes are benign (“I swear, ma’am, I have no idea what you’re talking about; I think your breasts were staring at me”); others transcend the boundaries of the social compact (“I did say ‘Watch out for that truck’ dear; you just weren’t listening closely enough”). Whatever the case, while I am probably closer to perfection than anyone else on the face of the earth, I do fall somewhat short of perfection itself, and have never claimed otherwise. Which is sort of like perfection, isn’t it? It totally is. Yeah. That's right. So I am perfect after all.

With this particular mistake, I can only say that I’d had a hell of an afternoon. I’d spent the past few days with my aunt and uncle in cosmopolitan Jackson, Michigan, taking in the sights, culture and je ne sai quoi of the downtown area, which was delightful enough, only to get a reminder text from my Concert Watch calendar app: “This weekend—Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger. Retrospective piece due. –Ed.”

Ed. is, of course, my editor, and Journey, Foreigner, et al…well, if you don’t know them, then I’m surprised you can even stand upright, much less read this. But that reminder said it all: I had a big concert to attend this weekend, and a piece to write about the show that would be so easy to compose, it would make Megan Fox look like a Puritan’s daughter. So there was no time to waste: I was on the next train to the city. Which left after an hour’s delay. And then there was another hour stuck on the tracks due to a bridge accident. And another ten minutes waiting for the pizza-faced teenager sharing a seat with me to wake up from his dope-induced coma long enough to grab his bag and get out of my way. So if I didn't have all my particulars about the upcoming act committed to memory (like what band I was seeing and where it was and what year it was, etc.), I could hardly be blamed.

Outside the station, I glanced at the address on my phone and gave it to my cabbie, who did a three-point U-turn on Jackson without so much as glancing around, rambling into his own cell phone the entire way in Kenyan, stomping on the accelerator and rushing towards my destination while I buried myself in the Chicago Tribune to see what I’d missed these many days away. Teachers, I noted in an op ed piece, are still to blame for our nation’s intellectual and economic deficit. Good. I didn’t miss much.

I got to my venue: The Gallery Cabaret, in Bucktown. Not the sort of place a bunch of eighties bands would have sought out, I thought, but then again, I’m always underestimating the lure of nostalgia. I walked in, ready to Not Stop Believing, to be Sung Away, to Know What Love Is and, if I was lucky, get Hot Blooded.

Instead, I saw guitarist Chris Dewey on stage, yodeling lyrics that are still, this many hours later, bouncing around in my head:
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, there’s a hole
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a fucking hole…
Next to Dewey, bassist Bryan Park was not so much playing an upright bass as he was pleasuring powerful riffs out of it, and drummer Leo Salinas’ arms were a blur of motion as he kept the pace steady on what I’d thought was a lighthearted children’s song:
The axe is too dull and the straw is too long, dear Liza
I didn’t sign on for this shit my Liza, oh Liza…
The first thing that occurred to me: Man, Journey’s really gone the grunge/folk route, haven’t they?

The next thing: Oh wait, this is The Infernals show! The Journey concert is tomorrow night.

The next thing after that: Wait…I’m supposed to cover this show.

The very next thing, and the last I can remember for a while: Shit. I need a drink.


The Infernals got their start, like every other garage band in the northwest suburbs, in my garage. Park and Dewey were doing introspective moody pieces in their own bands prior to 2007: Park had spent time in an ensemble called Dead People’s Pants until the lead singer signed a record deal in North Carolina and took his microphone stand with him when he left. This effectively left Park on a solo career that never really got off the ground since he couldn’t play bass and hold the microphone at the same time. Dewey and Park later joined the retro-grunge-punk act The Limping Dogs, and after a triumphant debut last year, dissolved when they lost one member to marriage and another member to a glue-sniffing rehab clinic. Such are the trials of suburban musicians. It’s not for the faint of heart.

From the ashes of these ruins, molded by drummer Salinas and crystallized with a recently-discovered book of Children's Camp Songs, came the Infernals, who promise, true to their advertising, to be infernal. And oh how they deliver. Drawing on previous material and relying on a curled-lip-of-derision ethos, the trio manages to blend folk music and their own immutable truculence into a forty-minute crowd-pleasing set that draws fans of the obscene and the traditional alike. After the show, I stuck around partly to get quotes, but mostly because I couldn’t remember where I was and wanted directions to the red light district.

“The genesis of our work sprung from a rereading of Nietzsche,” Dewey was saying to one potential signing agent, gazing at him in what I took to be rapt fascination while he checked his watch and scanned the crowd desperately. “The way he completely articulated the angst of the modern human was something we felt wasn’t adequately represented in modern music.”

“Hey Dewey!” Park yelled from the other side of the bar. “Come over here and pull my finger!”

I took a note: “Band has synergy.”

“Of course, Nietzsche had it right when he said ‘God is gay,’ Dewey continued to the agent. “He was also on to something when he talked about a tree falling in the woods making no sound, and…you know, that thing about the lotus tree. So that’s where we came up with our interpretation of ‘The Cat Came Back.’”

“I think you’re talking about a different philosophy,” the man said, pulling out his own cell phone and pretending to take a call.

Dewey looked annoyed. “Hey, pal, who’s the one who just played the song? Me, all right? So don’t get airs.” He paused. “Anyway, when can we get our first million?”

I made another note: “Dewey makes the business decisions.”

Salinas, meanwhile, was signing autographs towards the front. Park approached him, finger outstretched, a pleading look on his face. Salinas sighed, complied, and looked over at me threateningly. As if to warn me, If you print that I just did that, no one will ever find your remains.

I nodded in understanding. He flipped fingers towards his eyes, and then towards me. Point taken. I scribbled in my pad: “Stay in safe house after publication.”

Before I could go, however, I had to get that one quote that encapsulates a band’s attitude, artistic motivation and overall level of sobriety. The kind of quote that totally finishes off a shitty article in an unread music rag that was dashed off on four hours’ sleep and a bad burrito. Thankfully, I had a pad full of preprepared softball questions that would surely elicit the kind of tripe I needed to cash in my piece and get a night’s sleep. And maybe a chance to cop a feel, which, I won’t lie, would have been nice. I glanced over at Park and noticed that he had by now had amassed a bevy of beauties willing and eager to pull his finger until the sun came up.

I went over to him. “Mr. Park, I wonder if you could tell me how your band managed to transform the more mainstream sound of your earlier album Infinity into the mainstream, but totally original and inspirational Escape of 1981?”

Park blinked at me. “What?”

I looked again at my notes: these were for tomorrow’s interview with Steve Perry. Crap. That meant I’d have to retool my entire piece, as I’d taken my notes based on the idea that I was watching a Monsters of Rock concert down at Tinley Park instead of these ass-clowns.

Still, Park looked pretty far gone: maybe he’d answer the question anyway. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do any more prep work than I already had. So I waited.

He blinked again, downed his drink, slammed it on the bar, and regarded me with bleary cunning. “I think music…should sound good,” he proclaimed.

Okay, one down. I transcribed his quote and wheeled over to Salinas, free at the moment, consulting my notes for the Night Ranger interview tomorrow. Eh. Close enough.

“Mr. Salinas, can you tell me more about the emotion you’re trying to convey in ‘Sister Christian’? Does the line ‘What’s your price for flight’ get into anything religious, or does it have more to do with social mobility in the then-booming American economy?”

Salinas stared at me levelly, and I realized uneasily that I was standing in the presence of pure malevolence. “I saw you write down what I told you not to,” he said in a menacing whisper that would have done Hannibal Lecter proud. “I’m telling you now so that, when you don’t wake up in the morning, you know why.”


I did my best not to squeal and scamper away, and found Dewey towards the back, tuning his guitar and muttering to himself. “How was I supposed to know it was just a guy in a suit? Could have been an agent. Get an agent some day. Make millions. Get revenge on everybody…”

“Hello, Mr. Dewey,” I interrupted him.

He glared at me. “What do you want?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just a quick quote, if you don’t mind.” We were old friends, so I sat down next to him, figuring his look of disgust and contempt was just old-friends-kidding-around-like. “So. First, can you tell me what it’s like working with the legendary Mick Jones?”

“Who’s that?”

“Or how you managed to so successfully capitalize on your single ‘Say You Will’ without descending into eighties power ballad cliché? I mean, that was pure marketing genius.”

“Our single what?

“Okay, okay.” I sighed, scowled unhappily, and grudgingly prepared an original question. “Mr. Dewey. Just how much do you guys rock the house?”

He smiled happily. “If we were an army, our music would be the Shot Heard Round the World, man.”

Okay. All right. Not bad. I wrote it down and prepared to leave.

“Which is, of course, how the Germans entered World War II and conquered Australia,” he continued. “Now as to Nietzsche’s role in all of this…”

And as I guzzled beer and listened to a history lesson that would have made Cliff from Cheers suffer an aneurism, I realized that these guys were going places. I don’t know what places, or whether these places are hospitable or remotely appealing, but whatever they are, I’m sure there will be plenty of wine, women, song, German philosophy and holes-in-buckets to go all around. Find their website. Come see them play the church picnic next weekend. Pull Park’s finger. Join the revolution.

And protect me from Salinas. I think he's having me followed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Own Little Book and Film Club Discussion

Aaron and I found, coincidentally enough, that we'd seen the same movies and read the same books within a couple of days of each other. So, after rousing ourselves from our respective summer lethargy and hangovers, we met yesterday afternoon at a local coffeehouse to have a rousing, inspiring intellectual discussion of the works in question. (Note: for convenience's sake, I have assumed his middle initial begins with an "S".)
1 p.m.

GJL: Ugh.
ASS: Yeah. No more tequila shooters on Sunday nights.
GJL: So, that book?
ASS: What book?
GJL: You know, maybe we'd better do this tomorrow.

Twenty-four hours later...

GJL: So, I understand you finally finished The Average American Male, by Chad Kultgen?
ASS: Yeah. It was stupid.
GJL: I think so too. Although I did find a couple nuggets of humor towards the end--
ASS: No you didn't. It was totally worthless.
GJL: Well I really think that...
ASS: It sucked. Let's go back to the bar.

Two hours later...

GJL: What about that movie we both saw? You know...
ASS: Tree of Life?
GJL: That one. I thought it was a rollicking tour de force that is completely unparalleled in this summer's commercial- and merchandise-driven drool.
ASS: I too believe it to tower over all the Hollywood drivel saturating the local cinemas like a clogged public toilet.
GJL: Well then. There you go.
ASS: When did you see it?
GJL: I didn't.
ASS: Me neither.
GJL: Let's play pool.

Thirty minutes later...

ASS: So let me get this straight: You think Don DeLillo's novels are overrated hash--
GJL: Yep.
ASS: But you also believe that J.J. Abrams is underrated?
GJL: His filmic references are intuitive and insightful.
ASS: He doesn't do references. He rips off other movies. Because he's got all the cinematic imagination of a pile of rocks.
GJL: Well maybe you're a pile of rocks.
ASS: Also, you scratched off the eightball. I win. You owe me another twenty dollars.

Two minutes later...

ASS: Gumph! Gumph burmph!
GJL: Sorry Aaron, but I don't understand what you're saying. You'll have to take that eightball from out of your throat.
ASS: Ughm fumh!
GJL: Right. Guess that's hard to do with your arms broken and a pool cue up your ass. Well, I'm out of here. I'm going to go watch Super 8 again and take careful note of his homages to Steven Spielberg. What are you going to do?
ASS: Urrrrrm...
GJL: Bleed on the floor and pass out? Sounds great.

"Don DeLillo blows. Now how can I make him realize this? Hmm..."

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Upon Sighting a Toilet on a Ledge"

One foot on the floor
And one upon the ledge
Keeps me leveraged sure
While doing my business.
That's right. In Sevierville, Tennessee, in Dolly Parton's home town, there's a local bar with good food and cheap drinks. Its main bathroom has a toilet that's on a ledge. I have some ideas on why it's like this, but I don't want to gross anyone out...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Let me tell you about Arizona..."

For those of you who care, I'll be gone for a couple of weeks, starting tomorrow, at a journalism institute in Phoenix. For those of you who don't care, why are you reading this? Get lost.

I broke the news to some friends at a neighborhood bar the other day (they indicated their displeasure by cheering and buying everyone rounds), and my plans were overheard by this guy nearby. He was short, grey haired, smoking something that vaguely smelled of compost, with an expression on his face that made him look like he'd sat on something sharp.

"Arizona?" he asked. "You're going to Arizona?"

I affirmed that I was.

"Let me tell you about Arizona," he said. "Arizona. You got to understand about Arizona."

I waited. Everyone else was smarter: they left to go play darts. But I stood there expectantly.

"The thing about Arizona," he began, rapping his knuckles on the table for emphasis. "The thing you got to understand about Arizona..."

I ordered another drink.

"The thing about Arizona that nobody realizes..." he went on. "I mean, Arizona, man, it's...Arizona, you understand..."

I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came back, I edged to the dart board and played a few rounds.

"Let me tell you one thing about Arizona," I heard behind me. I turned. I saw him, a fresh drink in his hand and an earnest expression on his face. "I tell you what, what you got to see about Arizona..."

"What?" I yelled. "What about Arizona?" I can be even-tempered, even in a bar. But still, enough is enough.

He looked at me as if I'd just asked him what color fire trucks are. "It's full of assholes," he proclaimed, finished his drink and stalked off righteously.

Well. There you have it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture-Fest 2011

To celebrate our last day on earth before the Coming of Christ and Doomsday tomorrow, I'm throwing a Rapture Festival. We've rented out the auditorium on Main Street, which is only available until midnight, when it will presumably be engulfed in flames.

Party highlights:

--we'll snag some of the locusts that will infest the world and use them to chase tequila shots
--a "Best Jesus Disguise" contest. Winners might get a chance to sneak aboard the Holy Spaceship; runners up get to take the leftover snacks to hell afterwards
--Rapture-Twister. What pose will you be holding when you vanish? We'll save a picture for you just in case.
--a piñata

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Thoughts that ran through my head in haiku upon regarding a telephone mounted on the wall next to a toilet

Wow. That is something
I have never seen before.
I think I'll call Tso.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Tech Assistance Phone Call

Setting: My living room, where my Airport Utility modem has quit working. After drinking two beers, I look up the number for the tech support line and dial it. Then, realizing I have to pee, I hang up, visit the bathroom, and redial. Then I remember I have to wash my hands, but decide not to and continue with phone call.

ME: (humming tune to "Facts of Life") Got to get this thing fixed. That porn's not going to download itself.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Welcome to the Airport Utility tech support hotline. Your call may be monitored for quality assurance. Please state the first name of the owner of the Airport Utility device you are calling about.
ME: Gregg.
AV: Did you say Egg?
ME: No, Gregg.
AV: Did you say leg?
ME: Why would I say leg? Christ.
AV: Did you say Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior?
ME: (pause) No.
AV: It looks like you're having trouble speaking English. Would you like to switch to Spanish?
ME: No!
AV: Please use the Spanish for "no" if you do not wish to use Spanish.
ME: Non!
AV: That's French. Si a usted le gustaría ser frotado en bruto, por favor, pulse tres.
ME: Stop! Arretez!
AV: All right. It looks like you're a complete imbecile. Would you like to switch from voice commands to the numerical keypad on your phone?
ME: (sobbing) Yes!

AV: Please press one if you wish to use the numeric keypad.
ME: (presses 1)
AV: You have just pressed one. If you meant to press two, please do so now.
ME: What?
AV: Did you just say "shut"?
ME: No!
AV: You have selected the numeric keypad options. Please do not speak any more.

ME: ...wait...
AV: To get a technician to your house to fix your Airport, please press one. To get a technician to your house to listen to your problems with your job, please press two. To get two mechanics over to your house to make out with each other, press three. To get a technician to your house to beat you to a pulp, please press four.
ME: (after some consideration, presses one)
AV: You have selected four.
ME: What? I did not! I pressed thr--I mean, one!
AV: Chuck will be by in five minutes. If you want him to limit himself to physical violence, please press one. If--
ME: (frantically pressing zero for operator) The box makes your product look so sleek and user-friendly! Where did this horrible nightmare come from?

AV: (pause) You have pressed O for "Okay, everything's good." We're glad we could help.
ME: You cold blooded bastards!

AV: To end this call, please hang up.
ME: (does nothing)
AV: I said hang up!
ME: (scared, meekly) All right...
AV: Punk.
ME: (hangs up, trudges to call therapist, drink more beer)

"Hey guys! This one's actually dialing three!"

Monday, April 18, 2011

Idioms I Hate #217: "Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic"

In a Tea Party rally this past weekend, Palin, using her tried and true playbook, railed against President Obama for spending the country into a future fiscal Armageddon, and the GOP for not cutting taxes on all poor people, rather than just most.

Such stories are entertaining for me these days, as opposed to frightening, when I believed she would seek, and get, the Republican primary nomination. The only reason the story stuck in my head this time was one of her idioms:
“Yeah, I’ll take on the GOP establishment. What more can they say about us, you know?” she said. “We didn’t elect you just to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. We didn’t elect you to just stand back and watch Obama redistribute those deck chairs. What we need is for you to stand up, GOP, and fight.” via today's Chicago Tribune
I've always liked that metaphor. Even if it's a bad one.

Not that that's Ms. Palin's fault. It's just that, if you put it in context, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is a lot like playing music on the Titanic, or serving drinks on the Titanic. It's a lot better than some of the things people did in an effort to save the Titanic. Or themselves, for that matter.

To the best of my knowledge, the saying was cooked up sometime in the 1970s, when some politician was talking about his campaign. I don't know that anyone was rearranging chairs anywhere on the Titanic, but if we're going to keep using the ocean liner as a metaphor for anything doomed regardless of our efforts, then deck chair arranging doesn't actually sound so stupid.

Some other stuff people did on the Titanic, as per my exhaustive research (that is, my fuzzy memories on James Cameron's Titanic:
Fought over life boats
Fought over life jackets
Shot each other
Yelled at each other
Fell overboard and died
Drew each other in the nude
Fell in love and had sex in the storage space

Rearranging chairs in the midst of all this seems like a desperate attempt to retain one's sanity and sense of order in the face of impending madness, death, mob rule and rampant rich-person adultery. And if our current economy really is doomed to die a watery death and plummet to the depths of the ocean, then whoever's holding the chair-arranging seminar, sign me up. I need to blow off some steam.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Intercepted letter to Bullets in Madison from band manager Joel Pendelton

Following correspondence to Chicago band Bullets in Madison from their manager intercepted via FOIA filed this morning.

Okay, I know you "fired" me after I booked you to that kid's bat mitzvah in Boise, and I know you think I spend too much time at my car dealership and not enough time cold calling concert venues. But I've got some advice that can't possibly miss this time. I just saw the Clinch Mountain Boys and Cherryholmes concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last night, and I've got to tell you, they packed quite a crowd. I took some notes of what they did, and I think that, if you take a few pages from the Gospel of Bluegrass, your indy rock thing might just hit Zinc on the Billboard.

I listen to your music and I love it. I also want to kill myself. But I listen to bluegrass, and I want to go to church. And marry my cousin. Now don't church and weddings naturally lend themselves to more people? Which would mean more fans? Just seems like a no-brainer to me, is all.

Okay, how can I put this? You're an all-male band, and you know I'm totally liberal and open-minded about that sort of thing. But there were quite a few females on stage at this concert, and I think that it would help gain an audience if the audience got the idea you liked girls too. You know, sexually. You guys do know women, right? Mothers, girlfriends, wives, illegitimate daughters, whatever. Just shove a banjo in their hands, they'll blend right in.

Somber colors, t-shirts, wool caps. Great. I like it. But the fedoras, sequin gowns, button-down shitkicker suits and ten-gallon-hats these guys were wearing could work too. No, don't say anything. Just picture it. You want to set an upbeat ambience, right? Actually, I guess Losch's flannel shirt would still work. Which brings me to...

The bands last night called out for people to clap their hands in sync with the music. And cheer. And whistle and stomp and square dance. How about square dancing? The opening riffs of "Joel Found His Angel Cowering" would be perfect for a hootenanny! And Losch wouldn't even have to change his shirt!

Trust me on these, guys. Meet me at the thrift shop for some wardrobe shopping and we'll ring in a summer tour that the Oakridge Boys couldn't possibly compete with. Oh, but we'll have to do it around eight. The lot opens at ten.

Yours most sincerely,

Joel Pendelton
Professional Indie Rock Band Manager
c/o Pendleton Used Cars
Berwyn, IL

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Comics today suck

I'm thinking of boycotting the funny pages. I just can't take it. Maybe this isn't an overall, nationwide thing; maybe it's only a Midwestern thing. But seriously, are we really that boring that the only way to tickle our funnybones these days, the only way to access shared experiences and philosophies, is to comment on the pieces of suburban existence?

Humor should reflect the person, right? So what do today's comics reflect about me?

Let's talk about the weather.

Teens text a lot.

My kids are so cute!

Getting old sucks. Let's talk about the weather.

Admittedly, there are comics that go beyond the pedestrian. Doonesbury. Mallard Fillmore. On a good day, Get Fuzzy. It's just that the Chicago Tribune nixed most of these over a year ago. The readers have spoken: when we need to be entertained, we don't want to think. Which is why I read so much about cute, texting kids out playing in the weather.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another Pathetic Moment of Triumph for my Pathetic Scrapbook (for my Pathetic Old Age)

Had to hear some complaints about the testing director from some of my classes today. "Oh man, she's so mean." "God, do you know, like, if you don't have the test number for the quiz you're supposed to take, she, like, yells at you? She can't just turn around and look it up?" "Yeah, she's a total Nazi."

If I were Jon Stewart, I could do a whole bit on bad Nazi analogies. But I did have one card to play.

"Remember that one time we were reading the Declaration of Independence?" I asked them. "And we got to the word 'inalienable'?" And you didn't know what it meant?"

Nods. General agreement. Some of the sharper ones are already starting to look abashed.

"And I told you to reach under your desks and grab that thing called a dictionary, and look it up?" Pause for drama. "And you said it was too much work?"

Pause. Beat.

"So I'll see you one Nazi testing director," I said carefully, "and raise you twenty-five honors seniors."

Nobody took the bet. But when we got to "interposition" in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, they did take their dictionaries.

Friday, March 11, 2011

When I Get Passionate (I Also Get Stupid)--Published: 2001, Park Lake, Inc.

George Edison walked into his swank Upper West Side apartment just after six p.m. He slung his jacket in a corner and turned on the television real loud. He made himself a bourbon and water, slamming ice cubes into the glass with maximum force and noise, and made sure to belch loudly several times before shouting, "Jessica! Where's my dinner?"

He heard nothing. Glancing about the apartment, he saw his wife's coat and floral-print purse lying on the sofa, next to a suit coat, pair of pants and silk underwear he didn't remember leaving there. Shrugging, he finished his drink and walked towards the bedroom.

The door was slightly ajar. He went to push it open, then paused.

"Is your husband home?" he heard a male voice asking. "I don't want him to catch us together, making love."

"No, lover," his wife's voice, unusually husky and labored, responded. "Don't worry. I locked the door hours ago, and he'll be at work until six."

"Then there's plenty of time for us to finish making love."

"Yes, lover. Plenty of time. For lovemaking."

George frowned again. Something seemed suspicious. He burst into the room and found his wife of six months in bed, the covers up to her shoulders. Next to her sat a balding, near-naked man with a thin mustache, in the midst of kicking his shoes and socks off.

“Jessica?” George intoned quizzically. “Didn’t you hear me come in?”

“Oh, hi honey!” she chirped, making shooing motions to the man next to her. “I was in the shower. Doing my hair. And making a plate of brownies. How was your day?”

“Jessica, I think…I think we need to talk.”

“All right, darling,” she said, making a warning gesture to the mustached man, who promptly dove into a closet two steps away from where George stood, shaking and scratching his head slowly. “But can we make this quick? The plumber is coming over to take a look at my pipes.” Jessica giggled obnoxiously at her witty double entendre, and then, remembering she was supposed to be playing it cool, tapered down to a series of annoying horselaughs.

“Jessica, I don’t know why, but I think…I think you’ve got something going on behind my back.”

“Goodness!” She looked as though he’d accused her of stealing the rags off a homeless orphan’s back, and George felt immediately guilty for making such a beautiful, faithful woman look so upset. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I mean, I work all day, and when I call you’re never here. I come home and you’re always in the shower, or in bed, or in bed with another man. I just don’t know what to believe any more.”

“It’s all in your head, darling.” Jessica, waiting for George to turn and look out the window, made seductive noises towards the man in the closet, who was hanging out the door, grinning widely and giving her the thumbs up. “You’ve been working too hard. You’re imagining things.”

“Am I?”

“Yes, dear, you are. Where did you get the idea I would ever be unfaithful to you?”

“I don’t know…” George shook his head moodily. “I wish I could believe you.”

“You can believe her, pal,” said the man in the closet. “She’s as faithful as I am to my wife.”

“Maybe…” George shook his head some more. “Maybe…”

“Maybe nothing. Oh pooh!” Jessica kicked her negligee under the bed and wrapped a robe around her as she got out of bed. “This is all so incredibly silly. Just look at the facts. I say I’m faithful to you. Benny says I’m faithful to you.”

“Benny? Who’s Benny?”

“Exactly!” she shrieked, hooking an arm around Bennie’s neck briefly to give him a long, lingering soul kiss. “Who is this Benny person you’re always going on about? You’re pulling it all out of thin air, dear! You need to relax.”

“Maybe you’re right,” George said, accepting a handkerchief from Benny so he could wipe his eyes, which were tearing up at the thought of the shame he’d just brought on the most wonderful woman in the world. He was beginning to feel ridiculous. “I’m sorry, darling. How could I be so insensitive?”

“It’s all right, darling,” Jessica cooed, patting him on the shoulder and leering seductively at Benny. “Why don’t you take a walk to clear your head? It might make you feel better.”

“Good idea, darling.” George went to go get his coat. “Will you start dinner while I’m out?”

“Um, probably not. Maybe you should eat out.”

“Another good idea. It’ll clear my head.”

“And dear? Make sure you’re not back until after nine? And knock first, so you don’t surprise me. Or Benny.”

“I will, dear.” George’s eyes were moist again, but this time with unbounded love for his radiant, slightly-perspiring bride. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, you know.”

“That’s nice, dear,” said Jessica, batting her lashes at Benny and shuttling him back into bed. “Now don’t make me put the chain on the door—nine p.m. Not a minute earlier. Larry the carpenter is coming over later to…”

“To check our your drawers?” Benny suggested?

George laughed out loud. That Benny. What a card…

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An excerpt from my mystery-noir novel, So Young, So Tardy, So Dead: A Trip Duncan High School Mystery

The hallway outside Room 167 was dark and dank. The air was fetid. I lit a cigarette against the chill and slouched against the wall, pulling my slouch hat low over my face and balling my hands into fists. Two days’ worth of beard stubble rasped against my coat collar. My eyes were blue steel. My eyes bored holes into the mug in front of me. My eyes could beat the snot out of him if I so desired. And as it happened, I did so desire.

“You’re going to talk, punk,” I rasped. “We can make this easy, like a day at the beach, or we can make this hard, like breaking rocks with the heel of your palm. Your choice.”

“I just…I just need to go to the bathroom,” he said uneasily, producing a hall pass. I smirked, grabbed it from his hand and lit it on fire with my cigarette. Then I dropped my cigarette, so I had to use his hall pass to light my next one. Then I burned my hand on the hall pass. I cursed as I flapped my hand to put the fire out, hopping around in what I hoped was still a threatening, no-horse-manure-allowed manner. At first I was worried I might have lost some ground, but he still seemed suitably scared by my blue steel eyes and slouch hat, so I figured I wouldn’t have any trouble with him after all. Provided he started talking before I got tired of waiting and started using his head for a punching bag.

“I know you know what went down last night, when the dame got herself iced,” I rasped. “You know I know you know. So let’s cut the square dancing and get right to the second course. Empty your pockets and I won’t have to empty your skull.”

He blinked. “What?”

“Spill it, punk. What happened to the broad?”


“The broad, the dame, the femme fatale, the vixen who can make the earth move. Stop playing dumb, punk, or I’ll make sure you never think straight again after I pound your head into last night’s leftovers.”

He blinked some more. “I…uh, I don’t know to whom you’re referring.”

I lit a cigarette. “I think you do. And in a minute, I’m going to lose my temper. Only when I’m angry, my minutes seem a lot more like seconds.”

“So…you’ve already lost your temper? I’m confused.”

I smirked and lit a cigarette. “Keep talking dumb, punk. It’s better than a Bach concert.”

“You know…you, uh, already have a couple of cigarettes going.”

I looked down at myself. Sure enough, the punk was right. One in the lower lip, one in the left hand, one tucked behind my ear. No wonder my hair was on fire. I sucked deep on the cigarette in my mouth and coughed wildly, smacking my hair and putting the fire out. Sooner or later, I’d have to start smoking these things for real.

Never mind. He’d never notice. It was time to break out the big guns. I grabbed him by the shirt and thumped him against the lockers behind him.
“Start squealing, little piggy, or you’re never going to the market again.”

“Hey!” he yelped. “I have a hall pass!”

“Nuts to your hall pass, maggot. Tell me about the girl or your eyes will be playing tennis with your tonsils!”

“I don’t know what you mean!” The punk started sobbing hysterically. “You keep mixing your metaphors, your pronoun referents are ambiguous, and you use dime store clichés with which I’m not familiar! For God’s sake, talk to me like I’m a product of the 21st century!”

My eyes narrowed. So: he was an AP English student. I’d have to change my tactics.

“All right, dummy,” I rasped, lighting a cigarette (and then remembering my other one, and swearing, and hiding it behind my back). “Your main idea is what happened to that young woman Nancy Caskin. Now for your evidence, you’re going to tell me where you were last night.”

“And…and my link?” He looked up, starting to appear hopeful.

“It’s going to link where you were to where she was.”

“Okay.” He breathed more calmly. “Okay.”

Now it was only a matter of time. And a graphic organizer…

Next week: Opening STACS of Death!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Push, by Sapphire: A Review

Push is the stream-of-consciousness novel by Sapphire, poet and performer, that created such a ruckus when first published over a decade ago and which was turned into an acclaimed film, Precious, in 2009. It's the story of a young woman who...holy fuck, this book is disturbing.

Ok, let me start over:

Push tells the story of 16-year-old Clareece "Precious" Jones, who, at the novel's beginning, is pregnant with her father's child. She...I mean, seriously, her father's kid? That's messed up. Plus, get this--it's her father's second child by her. The first one? She had it at the age of twelve! And it's got Down's Syndrome. That is too much.

Okay, where was I? Precious lives with her abusive mother who...oh Christ, I forgot, the mom abuses her too! Sexually, physically, psychologically, you name it. It is totally off-putting. One minute the mom is all, "Make me some dinner!" and then she's clocking her in the head with a frying pan. God.

Right, right, the novel. Well, it's written in the form of Precious' thoughts, stream-of-consciousness, like I said, plus journal entries she writes for class. In these entries, she finds a new voice and a new freedom of being able to love herself and not see herself with the eyes of others...

Her parents? Good God, both of them? Plus she winds up getting AIDS from her father! Like Sapphire decided, "You know what, I don't think this kid is sympathetic enough for an emotive character. What else can I give her?" I'm surprised she didn't pop her into a time machine and dump her on the deck of the Titanic or something.

There are truly moving scenes in this novel, though. Like the extended hands of fellowship Precious finds in an alternative school. Kind of hard to keep those scenes in mind, though, when you remember Precious' account of her father climbing on top of her. Hoo. Man. I mean...boy. Did anyone see the movie? How'd they pull that one off?

Okay, so in closing, Push is an emotive, poetic dagger through the heart of the discerning reader. Precious becomes a Job for the twenty-first century, and as we see her spirit begin to take wings, we are reminded of the transience of life and love, and that both truly are precious for all the right reasons...gah, I can't get those abuse scenes out of my head. Messed. Up.

Fuck me, anybody got any weed? Need to shake this book off.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ways to Pass the Time at a Job Fair

I'm a professional. It's a tough job market out there. You want to give job candidates a fair chance. But if I weren't a professional, this is probably what I'd be up to...
Greet candidates with a pleasant "Good morning!" and then say nothing. How much can you get out of them with nods, throat-clearings and the occasional raised eyebrow?

Start out by telling them, "The jury found Mr. Aaronson guilty, so, we've got an opening after all." Time them for a response.

Begin by staring fixedly at the left hand. Respond to inquiries with, "I'll tell you what I'm not doing--looking for a wedding ring."

Ask interviewee to define professional philosophy without using any verbs. Turn to colleague next to you and yell, "This one's actually trying it!"

Squirm uncontrollably in your seat; cross and uncross legs constantly; exhale violently. Respond to concerned inquiries with, "No no, I'm fine, I'll just sweat it out."

Ask about affiliations with the Communist Party. When they say they're not a communist, shrug disappointingly, hand them a tract and send them to the District 211 table.

Tune out to their answers to your question and think about something sex-related. Then tune back in. Can you salvage any of the interview? Avoid exposure? Rate yourself.

Mention to colleague next to you, "I'm getting so sick of these fucking losers, I think I'm going to puke." Then turn to next candidate, smile hypocritically, and say, "Well it's nice to meet you."

Concentrate hard. Really hard. Stare at them and squint ferociously. Can you set them on fire? With your mind? Because that would be so cool to have that power...