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Saturday
Dec312016

Keep Your Hands Dirty

I may not know much. But I do know that I feel brutalized by this year, a year I'll happily roll into a shallow grave, hastily bury, and hustle away from. I know lots of people who feel likewise. I feel confident that if I was able, and organized a Kick the Corpse of 2016 party, there would be a line wrapping around the block and down the street to get in - scores of people stooping to lace up their steel-toed-est boots. Bet I could charge extra to kick it in the dick.

There's a hashtag. #fuck2016. When you earn a goddamn hashtag, you know it is for serious. In this shimmering and spastic age, it is the equivalent of having your name carved into the stone plinth of an immortalizing statue. 

For the handful of you that might actually read this, I am known as a person perpetually sitting in a burbling tub of vitriol. As such, it would seem my course is clear: continue to rail against the world and its idiocy. This I will do, for it's how I'm wired. I will holler myself hoarse. I will grit my teeth into powder and lean into the idiocy. I will carve crescents into my palms with my nails as I shudder in rage. I will bloody my knuckles on the brick walls of bullshit. But this is not all I aim to do.

I aim to hunker down and make the best, most fearless, most precise and clear-eyed art I can make.

This, finally, is the only means I have at my disposal to quiet the caterwauling hoggishness and dirtbaggery that abound. I am not an evelope-stuffing drudge equipped to dig like a mole at the mountainside that needs leveling. I am not a gregarious and earnest young person who can stand with a clipboard and accost passersby with well-intended imprecations. I am not a power-grubber equipped to roam the corridors of control to strongarm legislators and whatnot. I am not a preacher who can set souls aquiver to conquer the unrighteous peaceably. 

I write. I am a person who says things. As such, in the face of the rapidly massing clouds of shit storm that gather ahead of us. 

It may not be much, this arsenal. It may not amount to anything like a serious defense against the pummelling armored hordes that are pouring over and through our long-breached walls. It may not provide cover for the thin-boned and timorous remnants of our fighting force. It may be little more than the last whimpers of those consigned to the flames.

I concede it is not much. But it is what I have. And I'd rather die clasping it than to acqiuesce. 

Friday
Dec022016

The Absolving Botany of the Orphanberry

The orphanberry bush will not grow in the sun-dappled patch where huckleberry brambles bob in the breeze. It will not grow in the moss-lined gulleys where the gooseberry and currant take root. The orphanberry will only sprout in spots that have known trouble and hardship. You will not find it alongside the clean-rushing brook, or the shaded glen that echoes with birdsong.

The orphanberry will only grow in the weedy dooryard of the butcher, or the rutted mud where the carnival has moved on; it will bud in the dust along the tannery wall, or the scalded soil of the alms house. Where tears are shed for the stillborn, and blood spilled in battle; where blight has claimed the wheat, and where fire has swallowed the church - anywhere widows are made, anywhere the fugitive dies trapped, the elbowed stems and the mean leaves of the orphanberry will shiver and unfurl.

The fruit of the orpanberry bush is harsh, and is shunned by ruminants and grazers - the deer will avoid it, as will the the sheep. Only the hardy, well-muscled gut of the ominvore can withstand it. Black bear have been seen to nibble at it, only reluctantly, and raccoon only in leanest times. 

The berry itself is no bigger than a sparrow's eye, and black as an undertaker's hatpin. It is said to taste of sugared tears and of a longing unnamed. The rare person that dares eat of the orphanberry bush will grow afflicted and offish. In the North, they once called this this plant the hermitmaker bush.

Many, when they find it, will rip it from the ground, attempting in vain to banish its sad magic. Where it has taken root, though, it will always reappear. Until its mournful work is done. 

The orphanberry leaches the grief from a patch of ground, lixiviates the unease and dismay from the earth. It goes where it is needed, the orphanberry, to probe the earth with its lanky-fingered roots to draw up the poisons we leave in our wake, to dissolve and abridge the suffering so that the sweeter fruit might one day grow there. 

Where you see its crotched stems and jagged leaves, affirm that you will know a bitter harvest for a season or so. But we soak the ground in our poisons, and so must wait for its slow and reproachful reclamation. And strive for some lull in the heedless sloshing of our toxins.

Wednesday
Nov302016

My Deathscribe Failure

Hey nerds. So friends at a theater company called Wildclaw, do this really cool annual contest where they present a program of short horro plays - radio plays, with a live band and Foley artist providing live sound accompaniment, etc. 

Very cool event. This year was the first time I submitted. I'm not really a playwright, and I've never created anything just for audio, so it was a cool challenge.

Mine was not selected, but I had a good time writing it. While I would not regard it as a fully satisfying short play, I believe it's a diverting genre sketch.

It's entitled The Unkindest Cut. Here it is:

The Unkindest Cut

__________________________

SCENE 1

ROSE: A server in a roadside diner. She’d rather been anyplace else, but does

a conscientious job. She might be in her 30s. She does not seem youthful.

DENTON: A calm, violent stranger. He is in his late 30s. Civil, mostly, but

seething.

COOK: Owner/short order cook of roadside diner. Overworked, old, used up.

SOUND: THICK RUBBER GLOVES - LIKE

INDUSTRIAL GRADE YOU’D WEAR

WHEN WORKING WITH SOLVENTS -

TUGGED ONTO HANDS.

SOUND: STEEL TOOLS AND

IMPLEMENTS LAID WITH CARE ONTO A

METAL TRAY.

SOUND: A MAN, GAGGED, AWAKENS

SUDDENLY, TERRIFIED. HIS SCREAMS

ARE MUFFLED BY THE GAG THAT FILLS

HIS MOUTH.

DENTON

A surgeon, where he is freed of the obligation to preserve life, can explore more

fully the limits of his own gifts, and he finds the freedom to pioneer bold

techniques, pure techniques. And even, where he is diligent, something like

artistry.

SOUND: HE TRIGGERS A BONE SAW,

MAN SCREAMS THROUGH GAG.

SOUND: SCREAMS INTENSIFY AS THE

BONE SAW BITES INTO A SCALP AND

SKULL. BONE SAW CYCLES DOWN.

MAN PLEADS THROUGH GAG. SCALP IS

SHUCKED OFF LIKE THE LEAVES FROM

A WET EAR OF CORN. SCREAMS

CRESCENDO AND TRAIL OFF.

TIME HAS PASSED.

SOUND: THE BELL AT THE TOP OF

DINER DOOR DINGS SOFTLY,

SIGNALING THE ARRIVAL OF A

CUSTOMER. SIZZLE OF THE GRILL,

SCRAPING OF UTENSILS, ETC.

ROSE

Evening. Coffee?

DENTON

Please.

ROSE

Need a menu?

DENTON

Nope. Don’t think so. You got chicken-fried steak?

ROSE

Sure.

DENTON

Any good?

ROSE

Not really.

DENTON

What’s good, then?

ROSE

Different place.

DENTON

Kay. Where’s the nearest place?

ROSE

Like eighty miles west. That’s how we stay open. Chicken-fried steak?

DENTON

(Resigned.)

Sure.

SOUND: DENTON SIPS COFFEE, DINER

SOUNDS, LATE NIGHT CHATTER OF A

HANDFUL OF PATRONS.

2.

DENTON

(VO)

A ribbon of road in the dead of night - some patch of nowhere at the edge of

some garbage town. Places like this offer up as many patients as a surgeon can

harvest.

SOUND: A SHARP DING! OF THE BACK

OF A SPATULA SWATTING A BELL.

COOK

Order up.

SOUND: PLATE SLIDES TO A REST ON

COUNTER.

ROSE

Here you go. Enjoy.

DENTON

Will do.

ROSE

Don’t be too sure.

DENTON

(VO)

Not this one, I think. This patch of nowhere would be a poorer parcel of nothing

without her.

ROSE

More coffee?

DENTON

Sure. Thanks.

Time passes.

SOUND: CLEARING AWAY DISHES.

ROSE

We’re about to close up. So if you could settle up the check…

COOK

Yeah, pal. Let’s head out, OK? You don’t gotta go home, but you can’t stay here.

Ha.

3.

DENTON

(VO)

This one. That. Right there. That is the line that killed you. A cliché - a rehearsedsounding

cliché - mouthed a thousand-thousand times before. A meaningless

placeholder of a thing, the insinuation of sound where none was needed. I will

go to work on this one. Cliché is like ear wax - it accretes inside us, providing

nothing but the dank reminder of our own decay. Making us incrementally more

disgusting, deafening us a bit to world outside us, till our ears are cradling oily

little pools of disease right in our own goddamn heads. Scoop it out, most would

tell you. But it only reasserts itself; it only recolonizes its cave, like a slow, sickly

tide. I say lop off the ear. And butcher the host. Burn the corpse. Salt the earth.

SOUND: INDUSTRIAL DISHWASHER

THRUMMING, SCRAPING OFF FLAT TOP,

ETC. - THE SOUNDS OF A CRAPPY

RESTAURANT SHUTTING DOWN FOR

THE NIGHT.

SOUND: BELL AT TOP OF DOOR DINGS.

ROSE

‘Night.

DENTON

Yes.

SOUND: BELL DINGS, DOOR SWINGS

SHUT, ROSE THROWS DEAD BOLT.

SOUND: CLOSING BLINDS,

RESTOCKING SUGAR PACKETS, ETC.

SOUND: FEW LIGHT TAPS ON GLASS OF

THE FRONT DOOR.

ROSE

(Hollering)

We’re closed!

DENTON

(Through door, speaking loudly.)

No. I know. I was just here? I forgot something.

SOUND: BOLT THROWN OPEN, BELL

DINGS.

4.

ROSE

Right. Hi. I was just breaking down. Didn’t see anything where you were sitting.

DENTON

No. You wouldn’t have. It’s not a thing. And, if we’re getting technical. I guess,

really. I didn’t forget. I’m just back.

SOUND: KITCHEN DOOR SWINGS OPEN

COOK

(Wary.)

What’s this, now?

ROSE

Says he forgot something. That’s not a thing. And he didn’t forget.

COOK

We’re closed up, Mister.

DENTON

Right.

COOK

So… you better…

DENTON

Yes. I will. I am.

(Longish pause.)

ROSE

Did you need…?

DENTON

Nothing. Thank you. You.

COOK

Me?

DENTON

You. You know Hippocrates?

COOK

Wait. What?

5.

DENTON

Hippocrates. Greek. Father, supposedly, of modern medicine. Hippocratic oath?

Heard of the Hippocratic oath?

COOK

Look. Mister --

DENTON

(Interrupting, harsh.)

Have you. Heard of. The Hippocratic oath? Simple question.

ROSE

Sir. We need to --

DENTON

(Interrupting, authoritative.)

No.

(To COOK.)

Answer, please.

COOK

Yeah. I mean I guess so. It’s the thing, the, like, pledge that doctors take. When

they, I don’t know, get sworn in, or whatever.

DENTON

Pretty good. Essentially correct. Bonus round --

ROSE

(Interrupting, trying to assert authority

she knows she does not have.)

Sir. It’s time for you to leave, please.

DENTON

(Calmly.)

No. Bonus round: what is the first principle of the Hippocratic oath?

COOK

What? I don’t know that.

DENTON

Bedrock of all medical intervention. Precursor to any drug…

SOUND: HE LAYS ITEMS ON COUNTER.

6.

DENTON

Or surgical procedure.

ROSE

Whoa. What, what is that shit? Why are…?

DENTON

Syringe. Scalpel.

SOUND: HEAVY METAL IMPLEMENT

HITS COUNTER WITH A CLANG.

DENTON

Rib spreader.

COOK

All right, Mister. That’s enough. I own this place, and I’m asking you to leave.

Right now. Rosie. Call the cops.

SOUND: DEAD BOLT SLAMS HOME.

THEY ARE LOCKED IN.

DENTON

(To ROSE)

Stay where you are. There is to be surgery. You assist, or you go under the

knife.

SOUND: ROSE stifles a sob.

(To COOK)

What. Is the job. Of a surgeon?

COOK

Mister. Your crazy ass seems to believe that tonight it’s your job is to get on my

last nerve. You march out that goddamn door right now. I’m calling the State

Police barracks right now. They will be here in less than six minutes. And they

will haul your nutjob ass into the lockup.

DENTON

Call if you must.

SOUND: DIALING.

COOK

Ringing. You’re gonna wanna make tracks, pal.

7.

SOUND: FAINT, FAINT RINGING, TINY,

DESPONDENT. RINGS FOR A WHILE.

DENTON

Still ringing, is it? I think you find, Mr… Proprietor. That the State police barracks

- ugly brick building - squat, like strip-mall chiropractor, or something? Six and

four-tenths miles south on I-80.

ROSE

(Dreading)

Yeah…

It’s empty.

SOUND: TINNY, FAINT RINGING.

HANDSET REPLACED IN CRADLE.

ROSE

What… whattayou mean “empty”? There’s like eight guys on duty down there.

DENTON

Verb tense.

ROSE

What?

DENTON

Verb tense. Eight guys, technically, are down there. Nobody is on duty. The

commander there. Big fella. Ruddy face. Hendricks, I think? Bushy blond

mustache, yeah? Here it is.

SOUND: AN UPPER LIP, CONTAINING

HENDRICKS’ MUSTACHE, LANDS WITH

A SQUELCHING SPLAT ON THE

COUNTER. ROSE SCREAMS.

ROSE

Is, is that Danny’s MUSTACHE?

DENTON

Right, yes. Obviously. Wait. “Danny” - that’s Hendricks, yeah? Then, yeah.

That’s his. (Catching himself, amused.) Was. Verb tense.

8.

SOUND: ROSE COLLAPSES INTO A

SEAT, SOBBING.

DENTON

(To ROSE) Yeah. OK. Let it out. Where was I? Oh. Right. (To COOK) What is the

JOB of a surgeon?

COOK

(Placating, wary, wanting to say

alive.)

To, to heal?

DENTON

Good. OK. To heal. He heals by what means?

COOK

He… cuts.

RIGHT you are. He cuts. And what does the surgeon cut? He cuts away the

unnecessary; he removes the unwanted. In order for the host to carry on, he

slices away the unclean, he carves out the… affliction. The rot. The sickened

and malformed and useless.

(Pause.)

DENTON

That. Is What I’m here to do.

(To ROSE)

Will you assist? Or will you be the subject to a procedure, as well?

ROSE

(Choking back sob)

Just… let us go. Let us both go.

DENTON

(Calmly, as to a child)

Assistant? Or patient?

COOK

Rosie, you don’t have to --

DENTON

(Interrupting)

Assistant. Or patient. There is no third way.

9.

ROSE

I can’t… don’t…

DENTON

Decide. Now.

SOUND: DENTON ADVANCES ON HER,

SLOWLY DRAWING A LARGE AND

MENACING KNIFE FROM A LEATHER

SHEATH.

DENTON

There is no clearer border. In all the world. Than the edge of a knife.

(Pause)

ROSE

(To COOK)

I am so, so… sorry.

COOK

Rosie

ROSE

Sorry.

COOK

No.

DENTON

Good. Administer the chloroform.

SOUND: DENTON PRODUCES GAUZE,

BOTTLE, POURS LIQUID ON GAUZE.

DENTON

(To ROSE)

Don’t breathe deeply near this gauze.

(To COOK)

You. Remain still. You will not want to be conscious for this. The chloroform is a

mercy.

SOUND: COOK CRIES SOFTLY.

SOUND: ROSE PRESSES GAUZE TO

COOK’S FACE. HE SLUMPS OVER.

10.

DENTON

Rose. ROSE. Open your eyes. Do not look away. To assist a surgeon, you must

remain sharp-eyed and fully present.

SOUND: DENTON’S BAG, HEAVY WITH

METAL IMPLEMENTS, COMES TO REST

ON THE COUNTER. HE PULLS A STEEL

TRAY OUT.

DENTON

Lay these tools on the tray, please. In neat rows.

SOUND: ROSE, SOBBING, REMOVES

IMPLEMENTS FROM BAG, LAYS THEM

WITH CARE ON THE TRAY.

SOUND: DENTON HEFTS COOK’S LIMP

BODY, LAYS IT ON COUNTER.

DENTON

Let’s begin. ROSE. Open your eyes. I won’t tell you again. Put these on.

SOUND: ROSE AND DENTON PULL ON

HEAVY RUBBER GLOVES.

SOUND: IMPLEMENT SLID OFF OF TRAY.

DENTON

Take these. Cut the shirt off him. We need to see what we’re doing.

SOUND: SURGICAL SHEARS SLICE

THROUGH COOK’S SHIRT. ROSE

MOANS SOFTLY, AND, FINISHED, SETS

SHEARS ON TRAY.

DENTON

I know you don’t wish to watch this, Rose. Hand me that scalpel, please. But

believe me when I tell you: listening will be far tougher on you. When you listen

to a cut, and do not follow the blade with your eyes, the sound of it grows and

grows, expanding to fill every nook of your skull and fold of your brain. Observe,

now. Eyes closed for this first cut, Rose.

SOUND: ROSE SNIFFS, BREATH

CATCHING.

11.

DENTON

That’s right. Here we go.

SOUND: AN EXQUISITELY SHARP KNIFE

BREACHES THE SKIN ON CHEST OF

THE UNCONSCIOUS COOK. FAINTLY AT

FIRST, BUT GROWING IN VOLUME AND

DENSITY, THE SOUND COMES TO FILL

THE WORLD - A MOIST, HUNGRILY

SLURPING PATH FROM COLLAR BONE

TO PELVIS WITH SOME SCRAPING AND

SNAGGING ON THE BONE BELOW.

BLOOD POOLS UNDER COOK’S BODY,

SPREADS ACROSS THE COUNTER,

SPATTERS THE FLOOR.

DENTON

Good. Eyes open. Let’s get to work. Hand me the chisel and mallet, please. We

need to get through this sternum.

SOUND: WHILE ROSE GASPS,

GAGGING, STEEL MALLET STRIKES

STEEL HANDLE OF CHISEL. AND AGAIN.

AND AGAIN.

END OF PLAY

12.

Monday
Nov282016

Satire in the Time of Swastikas

Patton Oswalt posted a really thoughtful thing about the role of "bog-standard show biz jealousy" as being a component of the current fractious nature of our post-election world. He cites Clive James' analysis of how the Nazis rounded up cabaret entertainers IMMEDIATELY - both to contain their influence, but also out of envy. The post is HERE, and lays out with greater nuance this joyless aspect of intolerance - give it read.

Good comedy has at its core the aim of brain-jostling - cognitive dissonance is part of the idiom of capturiing laughter. It relies on the ability of a listener/reader to track multiple goals, and to make fine-grained assessments of them all through a bit, or story, or essay. For instance, if I write a[nother] thing about masturbating tearfully, I am relying upon your ability to recognize that the ACTUAL subject is not the literal fact of my tearfully beating off, as I so often do. I am expecting, without stating so explicitly (to do so would pop the bubble of "magic," "magic," here meaning something like "fart jokes = philosophy"), that you will have the requisite acuity and nimbleness to make an educated guess at what my sob-spanking is meant to signify.

As a consumer of comedy, therefore, you must have a measure of cognitive flexibilty (not like yoga-instructor, but like, say, paunchy suburban dad attempting in vain to touch his toes) in order to be able to mine my bit about weepin'-n'-tuggin' for all its rich depth. I am imparting to you, in the well-crafted depiction of the semen and tears pooling at my feet, the sensitivity to appreciate that what my actual goal is might be to lay bare the condition of desperation that might lead to the creation of a vignette involving such well-salted socks. I am trusting that you believe me to be smart enough to not be wasting my goddamn life agonizing over how best to convey blubbering self-pleasure, and that the frankly quite upsetting picture I paint for you might in fact be a stand-in for something else. And I further hope, as I feverishly revise my tableau about weepy pud-pulling, that you will stick with this piece, however upsetting you may find it, because you wish to learn what, if anything, I have to convey about the aforementioned condition of desperation.

You are also permitted a fleeting self-administred chuck on the chin for being "in on the joke," for being savvy and wised-up enough to get what's REALLY happening. Don't dwell. Don't Fresh Air's Terry Gross-NPR-overexplain-the-whole-fucking-thing-thereby-destroying-for-all-time-what-once-was-amusing-about-it. Just enjoy your moment. Quietly. Internally.

Humor, when it's well-wrought, is seldom about just one thing. It dwells in ambiguity. 

Not so the swastika. The swastika is a rigidly inflexible symbol. It's the paunchy suburban dad above, after he's torqued his spine on the Slip-n-Slide - couch-bound, swearing under his breath, infantile.

In terms of rendering a swastika, it is roughly comparable to writing a capital "A" - straight lines, arranged simply. It is a rudimentary job, drawing a swastika; a job within reach of even the most enfeebled, the most cognitively compromised. 

Often, whether due to being rushed (lotta parks and bus benches to cover, after all) or, one hopes, pangs of guilt/suspicion that one is wrong to add this symbol anyplace, it is botched pretty badly.

Given the unadorned nature of the thing, and given how frequently this super-simple symbol is butchered by the very dipshits that seek to celebrate its use and advance its cause, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the folks inclined to use swastikas are irretrievable simpletons and therefore ill-equipped to handle the brain-jostling that comedy seeks to do. To jostle such brains is like sending a single grape ricocheting around inside a tumble dryer - it is not merely that such brains are small in size, it is that they are easily bruised. And when bruised, they send their hosts rampaging. 

So what are we, the purveyors of Lacrymal Monkeyspank lit, to do? Are we to shelve our cosseted and hard-won works of dolorous self-gratification? Is the collective capacity for cognition not equal to the task of grapping with the nuances of our tear-streaked spooge-spatter? Are we to abandon our life's work for want of the nimbleness required to enjoy it?

I for one, will not. They can take my exhaustive descriptions of weep-wanking when they pry them out of my cold, dead (from exhaustion and, one presumes, dehydration) hands.

I will just take responsibility for the fact that - if I am to traffic in layered accounts of sad self-consolation, as indeed I continue to - then I must also be prepared to offer my unvarnished, unlayered, unambiguous assertion that swastikas and what they signify are some fucked up shit, and I do not wish to see either them, or, more importantly, the warped and infirm world view that they are meant to express, in my world.

So, swastika-makers: cut the shit, you guys.

Fans of stratified accounts of sordid self-stimulation, we shall return to those momentarily - that smarty party will rage on in just a bit.

But for the un-nimble among us, the inelastic and plodding, who are fucking shit up for the rest of us:

Do.

Not. 

Put.

Swastikas.

Anyplace. 

For any purpose.

At any time.

Thanks a bunch.

You may experience it as an act of defiance that arising from your mounting desperation. But for us, all we see is that our path is slicked by your tears and ejaculate. Which is gross.

Tuesday
Nov222016

Reviewing the Subtext, Episode 3

I will go out on a limb and declare it flatly: Jews are people. I married a Jew. She is undeniably and complexly human.
This vid is making the social media rounds:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz7A_hbDvjI
And I don't wish to add to the teetering stack of think pieces about Media Complicity in Perpetuating and Legitimizing a White Supremicist Message. Nor do I wish to wish to add a voice to chorus calling for Trump to denounce.
I want to talk. About how fucking smiley everybody in this clip is.
I want to talk about how we have been conditioned for generations to expect that Serious Ideas will drizzle like fucking dew drops from well-glossed lips and blinding white teeth of the growing ranks of the Nonthreatening and Conventionally Attractive. Which I get - I'm as shallow as anybody. I'd rather look at Pretty People than a Buncha Uggos.
Here's the thing. Sometimes, TV, SOMETIMES - ideas are SO fucking important that the coverage of them warrants suspension of the Botox Principles that typically govern such things. Sometimes, TV, SOMETIMES, when you're covering, say, the encroachment of hate groups into the Very Fucking Highest Corridors of Fucking Power in the Goddamn World, that should MAYBE be sobering enough that your presentational style could maybe do with an adjustment, namely that you don't have to chew our fucking food for us. Sometimes, TV, SOMETIMES, what is wanted is for there to be NO SOFTENING WHATSOEVER, what is wanted is for a shell-shocked and and stung-looking human stare dead into camera and joylessly confide that the Era of of Snuggle News just drew to a fucking close, because there is a motherfucking Nazi just down the fucking hall from the Oval fucking Office.