Pal Claire Zulkey kindly interviews Smellcrap for her blog. She attempts to pick a fight between WRITE CLUB and Literary Death Match. I am fine with this.
Note: the Edward here referenced is the fearsome Edward Thomas-Herrera, my opponent in this bout.
Long time ago, a friend told me this story. It is a story of thanks, and is therefore unusual.
A Russian guy – this was back in Iron Curtain times, so he was a Soviet guy – comes to the United States. He defected I guess, so it was like Moscow on the Hudson, but free of Robin Williams, so it’s a FAR less annoying story. Guy arrives at this bustling airport – LaGuardia, maybe, or JFK – doesn’t matter. The guy knows nobody in the U.S. He has no people here. There’s nobody to come collect him and shepherd him through this disorienting new world he’s been disgorged into. So he’s staggering through this garish airport and there’s a throng of strangers and signs he can’t read and announcements he can’t understand. The guy is at a loss – he feels totally dislocated. He feels abandoned and adrift. Plus, he’s hungry. Long flight from – I don’t know, let’s say Minsk. And all this Soviet guy knows is like black bread and vodka, so American shopping is WAY more than he’s equipped for. So the guy goes to a kiosk and he is TOTALLY overwhelmed by the neon Doritos and Zagnut bars and those orange circus peanuts – guy has no idea what any of this shit is. But then he sees little plastic cups of yogurt. Guy knows yogurt. So he buys a thing of yogurt and he slumps into a bench, and he’s spooning this yogurt into his mouth that’s slackened by the overkill all around him.
He gets to the bottom of the container. And there is this miraculous red jelly – this sweet, summery little dollop of fruity goodness at the bottom of the cup. The guy has only known plain yogurt all his life. He has ONLY had lumpy, sour gulag yogurt. And he comes to America and gets served this mild, textureless cup of uniform excellence that has this sweet buried treasure of unaccountable deliciousness. The guy is beaming.
Which is sensational and marvelous and terrific. Of course it is.
But the reason this story stuck with me for like 15 years? It is an anomaly. We have all had these moments that fleetingly imbue the world with more luster and quicken its pulse. The reason we notice these moments is that they stand in such stark contrast to the fifty-six thousand shitty moments that surround it on all sides.
For every INSTANT of “Wow, that’s amazing” there are HOURS of “Fuck this – are you kidding me?”
For every buoyant moment where your load is lightened and the way seems clear, there can be whole days where you want to fill a pillowcase with canned sardines and beat the piss out of everyone in your path. For every moment where you feel certain that we live in a benevolent universe guided by a Divine hand, there can be months where you wanna drown yourself in a toilet full of Mitch McConnell’s turtle shit. For every moment where the light of reason seems it won’t be snuffed out, there can be whole years where the caterwauling mob threatens to consign us all to a future where we live in squalid and sulphurous underground burrows and we eat uncooked grubs by the light a guttering fire fueled with the few final pages of the last remaining books.
Look, I’m not Bartleby the Scrivener up here – I would not ALWAYS prefer not to. But my bullshit detector is exquisitely sensitive, and hair-triggered, so it does not permit me to say “Thanks” wherever “Fuck, No” is required.
Those moments of thanks? Those moments are easy. Those moments are cake. They require nothing of you.
You know who says “No Thanks”? The 99%. And Woody Guthrie. And Tom Joad, and Henry Fonda AS Tom Joad. Scout and Atticus Finch. Robin Hood. And George fucking Bailey. Plus, R2D2, and two of the Ghostbusters.
Tellya who else says “No Thanks” – Tiananmen Square Guy.
So if you’re pleased with the way things are going, if your allegiance is with Mr. Burns and Darth Vader and Mr. Potter and the Koch brothers Cthulu, you go right on ahead – vote “Thanks”. Cause in YOUR world, things are aces. But if you want to be an advocate for positive change in this world, you have to vote “No Thanks” – you HAVE to.
I’m with Dan Savage. I want it to get better. Edward doesn’t. Edward likes things just as they are. Edward LIKES intolerance and hatred. He’s crazy for it – can’t get enough of the stuff.
And you know who else would vote “Thanks”? Anthrax. And that dew drop of snot that’ll be hanging off the end of your nose till next April.
When you get to the front of the chow line and they ladle out the stew full of snouts and hooves, you say “No Thanks”.
When you work hard and play by the rules, and they still bulldoze your house while you’re in there brushing your teeth, you say “No Thanks”.
When your daughter is possessed and her head’s spinning around and she’s puking all over the place, you say “No, sir, Mr. Devil – No Thanks”. Or maybe you’re PRO-Satan, like my opponent here.
The majority of moments – the moments that bore and exasperate you, the moments that vex and baffle you, the moments of defeat and outrage, the moments that test you – these are the moments that teach you what you’re made of.
It may seem counterintuitive – perverse, even – to ask that you find in favor of the many millions of moments that make you say Screw This, Up Yours, No Thanks. But THESE are the moments that stitch together the quilt of human progress. If you wish to find for complacency, by all means, vote “Thanks”. But do so with OPEN EYES, friends, because “Thanks” is Ann Coulter having demon babies with Rick Perry. I don’t know about you – but I say “No Thanks” to those demon babies. I hope you will, too. If anybody needs us, we’ll be over here, saying “No Thanks” with Jon Stewart and Obi Wan Kenobi.
This Is Your Brain On Drugs, But It’s Actually Less Like a Frying Egg Than It Is One of Those Snake Things, You Know? On The Fourth of July? Where You Light ‘Em and They Hiss A Little And Grow Longer?
Performed at This Much is True, 10/11/11. And with it, my aspirations for elected office go up the chimney.
Mescaline is a psychedelic alkaloid in phenethlyine class. It occurs naturally in the Peyote Cactus, the San Pedro Cactus, and the Peruvian Torch Cactus, among several others. Mescaline was first isolated and identified by German pharmacologist and chemist Arthur Heffter in 1897. It was first synthesized in 1919 by Austrian chemist Ernst Spath.
The board game Trivial Pursuit was invented in 1979, in Montreal, Quebec by Canadians Chris Haney and Scott Abbott.
To my knowledge, these facts were unrelated until May of 1983. On the evening of May 20th, a Friday, I ingested a dose of mescaline and narrowly lost a game of Trivial Pursuit – the original Genus version – to my mom.
For those among us who may in fact be “square”, let me “hip you to the scene, man”. Mescaline is the active agent in peyote and other hallucinogens used by an array of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas in a variety of ritualized ways. Perhaps more famously, it is the shit that Jimi Hendrix would line his headband with when he wanted to unload a monster jam.
Mescaline is to blame for Hendrix doing live versions of “Hey Joe” thirty-eight minutes long.
Trivial Pursuit, like most things Canadian, is clever enough for a time, but then we tire of it and stow it on a shelf next to Nickelback, Robertson Davies, and Matthew Perry. We store it away and speak of it only occasionally and with bafflement, like: “’Member how much we used to listen to Rush?”
I think we can agree that this episode must be structured in accordance with the categories of Trivial Pursuit – this is only fitting. Our narrative categories therefore are: Geography, Entertainment, History, Arts & Literature, Science & Nature, Sports & Leisure.
Section One: Geography
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What South American country took its name from the Latin for silvery? Argentina.
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What Pacific trench is the world’s deepest, at 36,198 feet? The Mariana Trench.
What New England town was the setting for this story of controlled substances, juvenile criminality, and parlor games? Amherst, Massachusetts, my hometown.
If I asked you to picture in your mind’s eye the quintessential New England town, you would very likely conjure a place like Amherst. Town square presided over by stately maple? Check. Woods threaded with winding brooks and fieldstone walls? Check. Prestigious, ivy-clad campus that so perfect and harmonious in its rolling swards and colonial buildings, that it makes you feel like maybe the ruling classes ARE actually better than you, and DO deserve all the rewards of privilege? Check. Only home of Emily motherfucking Dickinson? Check.
This was the scene of my crime.
In my defense: we lived in the bad part of town. Which is about like Schaumburg. We lived in the Rolling Green Apartment complex. Shoddily constructed townhouses, obviously designed as off-campus housing for college kids – not the high quality ones at Amherst College – the dirtbag ones from UMass, the massive state school in town. I lived my whole childhood in what for most was a way station before they really embarked upon their lives – I was a full-time staffer at the residential equivalent of a temp agency.
My home: popcorn ceiling. Insubstantial walls – one of which, in the upstairs hallway, I had punched a hole through when infuriated with my brother the preceding year. Shag carpet throughout, in the proud squad colors of Team Seventies: brown, tan, and gold. It was at our Formica table on the night in question that I was tripping balls while playing my mom and brother in Trivial Pursuit.
Section Two: Entertainment
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What island was the jungle home of King Kong in the 1933 film? Skull Island.
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What word was intentionally omitted from the screenplay of The Godfather? Mafia.
What popular and beloved family pastime was Ian Belknap defiling with his strident ingestion of hallucinogens in May of 1983? Trivial Pursuit.
This story throws into stark relief the fork in the Entertainment road – one way, there’s wholesome good times that can enrich the mind and nourish the soul; the other way there’s self-indulgence and debauchery and dissolution. There’s the immolation of one’s youth and the squandering of one’s potential; the deluded pursuit of pleasures that are illusory and of experience that is false. There’s the betrayal of one’s ideals, the wreckage of one’s body, and the decay of one’s brains.
I chose the latter path. Which, unaccountably, intersected with the former.
During my junior year of high school, I really fell off the old cliff – my already shaky academics took a nosedive from which they would not recover – I was getting hammered most weekends, and doing whatever drugs I could. What was my reasoning? Fuck you. That was my reasoning. For I was so punk rock.
And let’s be clear: mescaline is not a gateway drug. Mescaline is what you’re taking when the gateway is well behind you – the gateway is growing smaller in the rearview by the time you’ve started in on the mescaline.
Section Three: History
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] Who called himself an orphan of America at the Chicago Seven trial? Abbie Hoffman.
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What university dismissed Timothy Leary for involving students in drugs? Harvard.
What was the name of the guy that got the mescaline taken by Ian Belknap in Amherst, Massachusetts on May 20th, 1983? Al.
My buddy Al got it for us. Al was an awesome guy – my mom loved him, asks about him to this day, in fact. Al had this wild streak not readily detectible under his teddy-bear-ish persona. Al was once struck by lighting hopping a fence at the State Forest, where he was tending to his crop of weed.
Al is one of those guys you could plunk down anyplace and he’s fast friends with everybody there. Al had that facility where he’s collecting hugs and high fives everywhere he goes. You could drop Al into that Saturday detention in The Breakfast Club, and by day’s end Al would be best pals with each one of those stereotype kids.
It was this facility that enabled high schooler Al to get in good with the dealers on campus at UMass. It was always Al that got us the mushrooms. Or the acid. Or sometimes some coke. And Al could be counted on to rustle up the kindest bud.
Al and I planned to more or less wander aimlessly on that glorious spring day.
Moments after we ingested the drug, however, my mom pulled up in her brown ’78 Corolla, and called cheerfully: “Hey! Where you been? We’re having dinner tonight, remember? Hi, Al!”
I had not. I had not remembered that mom and my brother Josh and I had planned to have dinner together that night. I could, in that second, picture with appalling clarity the note that said “Dinner, Friday” on the corkboard in the kitchen at home. But that was no help now. Escape was impossible. With a desperate glance Al’s way, heart thundering, I got into the car with my mom. It was like an abduction – from the wigged-out world I had just committed to inhabiting for the next six to nine hours, to the sane and sedate world of family dinner. This was some serious bullshit, you guys, that was harshing my buzz like I can’t even tell you.
Section Four: Arts & Literature
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] Who was the first novelist to present a typed manuscript to his publisher? Mark Twain.
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What’s the Scottish equivalent of John? Ian
Regarding this experience:
Has Ian published the super-sensitive story of this episode and the many revelations arising from his callow and impulsive choice to take narcotics prior to passing an otherwise pleasant evening in the company of his family? A story that jumps back and forth across the timeline and culminates in his bittersweet but nonetheless hard won realization about the fragility of the tender, tender web that binds us all? Maybe in the kind of middling literary journal that traffics in this kind of slop?
He has not. But he’s open to discussing such a project with any editors who might be here tonight.
Section Five: Science & Nature
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What’s the only mammal with four knees? The elephant.
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What does a pluviometer measure? Rainfall.
Did Ian have any exciting Hunter S. Thompson type of mescaline visuals as he sat down to dinner with his mom and brother? He did not, aside from the “wah-nah-nah-nah” type of tracers common to such drugs.
Fun fact: the ONLY time Ian is known to have had intense and overpowering visuals was two years later at college. He was surrounded by swirling multi-colored swastikas after having taken acid, giving him the feeling that the very air was alive with Nazis. He cannot say that he recommends this.
Mescaline binds to seratonin 5-HT receptors and stimulates the dopamine receptors in the brain. Which is a neurochemical way of saying that it will fuck you up and you should not take it if your mom is nearby.
Eating is very, very, very low on the priority list when you are flying on mescaline. Since I was a teenage boy, however, I was aware that I would be expected to ravenously hungry at suppertime. Dinner was some form of casserole. It was, I can assert with confidence, the weirdest meal I have ever eaten.
Section Six: Sport & Leisure
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] How many dots are there on a pair of dice? Forty-two.
[Reading Trivial Pursuit card] What bloodsport originated the word crestfallen? Cockfighting.
Was Ian able to clinch a victory in that now infamous game? He was not.
But he came closer than one would expect, given the neuro-toxic sludge sloshing around in his skull for the duration of the game, it is a wonder he was able to bring forth ANY cogent answers to ANY of the questions put to him in ANY category. He lost by a single wedge, because his mom caught some easy questions down the stretch, his brother didn’t give a rat’s ass about Trivial Pursuit, and our hero was verging on fully insane and struggling badly to hold it all together.
So. Here you are. At the center of the board. Game on the line. What do you do?
I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but, if there’s a lesson to be taken from my experience, it would be this: where board games with mom and psychoactive drugs are concerned – you should adopt a STRICT either/or policy. Because, if there’s overlap in that Venn diagram: it gets fucking hairy, dude. For real.
Below is text of (narrow, so narrow) victory vs. Don Hall's Chaos.
Chaos surrounds us. It infuses everything. It awaits you at every turn, stands ready to unfurl without provocation. Whereas order. Order can turn shit around.
Order is taxonomy. Order musters the troops. Order gets shit done.
Order is city streets arranged in a sensible grid.
Chaos is that winding, miasmic clusterfuck of suburban streets where you need a GPS and a fucking Native American tracker to get anyplace. Otherwise you’re just circling around all day, going: “Another motherfucking golf course. GAH!
Order is reasoned debate that guides the policies of our Republic.
Chaos is ignorant and panicky throngs of Tea Partyers dressed as Ben Franklin and packing assault rifles.
Order is a ladybug.
Chaos is one of those gigantic centipedes with those sickening feathery legs that make you want to burn your house down and start over somewhere new.
Order is table manners.
Chaos is trying to eat soup on a fucking trampoline.
Order is turn signals – turn signals and the fucking presence of mind to understand who has the right of way at a four-way stop.
Chaos is the dick hammer in the pick up, leaning on his fucking horn, jumping the curb to pass on the right, while screaming obscenities at you and taking a giant divot out the parkway out front of the preschool.
Order is making love – two people getting busy.
Chaos is the orgy with the gerbil-stuffing, and the kiddie pool full of K-Y, and the ball gags, and the midgets – and yes, I am AWARE that they prefer to be called “little people”, but I say you relinquish a bit of your dignity and right to self-identification when you reveal yourselves to be the biggest freaks at the suck-and-fuck.
Order is a well-maintained late-model Prius – prudent, and just a little stylish.
Chaos is the rusted out El Camino up on blocks out back of the Aldi that’s got an insane hobo eating a live raccoon inside it.
Order is a rented apartment in a safe neighborhood near public transportation with a thriving commercial corridor within a short walk.
Chaos is a shitbox little house you could barely afford in the first place, all the nominal value of which has been vampired out of by a pack of greedy dickballs who burned the world economy to a fucking cinder and will never encounter anything like the kind of consequences they deserve. Not only is there NOT a fucking bonfire in every public square fueled by banker fat, these swindling douche-fuckers have succeeded in getting a shit-ton of the American people to believe that this clusterfuck is somehow the government’s fault, not the arch fucking criminals at Goldman Sachs who are the fucking architects of the whole thing AND who have profited from the downfall like the soulless plundering grave-robbing buzzards they are.
This example should in no way taken to be about myself or my own situation – I am in no way freaked out by the plummeting value of my house, nor am I plotting to head down to the financial district with vials of battery acid and coils of piano wire when the bank takes it off our hands. These are examples ONLY, and should not be interpreted as some desperate plea on my part to grasp at help that will never come. I’m not drowning. Why would you guys think that?
And finally, like most complex ideas, this dichotomy is perhaps best expressed in terms of pubes.
Order is a Brazilian wax. Order creates the clear border between the fur-bearing and the hairless. Order imposes shape and reason to that otherwise disquieting bush down there.
Chaos is a coarse and musky man-thatch - the impenetrable, bewildering snarl of say a Robin Williams. A galling and pungent confusion of dick fur that threatens to storm the castle of his fly and cover his entire body like kudzu – that is Chaos, my friends.
If for this reason alone – the knowledge that Chaos is a lumbering Robin Williams pube-Wookie, a Pube-bacca, if you will – you must find in favor of Order.
Which is not to say that Order does not have a downside. Too much Order, and you’re trapped in a carpeted warren of cubicles every waking moment, watching the sand of your life drain through a futile and frustrating hourglass populated by unimaginative and boring people you hate, in a pointless grind that makes you curse your student loans.
Too much Order, when unaccountably coupled with “Law”, and there are cops beating on mentally ill guys who are not resisting, and there are courts that permit the repeated execution of men on the strength of dubious and sometimes laughable evidence.
Too much Order, taken to its ghastly conclusion, and there comes a time when one kind of citizen is loading another kind of citizen into cattle cars.
But make no mistake: we NEED Order. To protect us from ourselves. Inside each of us, there is a steamer trunk full of Fuck It. It is Order that keeps this trunk safely locked. Without Order, we each of us pop the lock on the trunk full of Fuck It, and we will be unrestrained – unrestrained in our hatred and envy; unrestrained in our lust and avarice; unrestrained in our selfishness and want. We must each of us take a pledge each day we come into contact with one another – a pledge that we will reenlist in the Army of Order. For if we do not take this pledge, if we do not reenlist, then we are stranded in a world peopled by nearly seven billion of us, each of whom has opened the trunk full of Fuck It.
And such a world, as you can readily imagine, would make the zombie apocalypse look like an ice cream social. If we as a species permit ourselves to go unrestrained – in other words, if we each open the trunk of Fuck It – in no time the streets will be filled with naked men, carrying hatchets and machetes, dragging burlap sacks filled the heads of stray dogs and Girl Scouts. You guys know I’m right. Without order, it’s packs of naked maniacs as far as the eye can see.
Look, I KNOW it can be EXCRUCIATING trying to get along with assholes like me. But we gotta keep trying. We gotta reenlist. We gotta keep Order. Otherwise: nothing but naked maniacs.
Like most of us, when confronted by the blandly complacent face of James Franco, I say “Man. I just wanna kick that guy in his neck till he’s fucking dead.” I know. You feel it, too.
Whether it’s Franco on General Hospital, or Franco hosting the Oscars, or Franco’s collection of stories, cause he’s a fucking writer all of sudden, or Franco teaching a class at the NYU called “Editing James Franco with James Franco”, or Franco cutting a record with Danger Mouse, or Franco opening a gallery show of his watercolors, or Franco taking over for Vin Scully up in the broadcast booth for a couple-few innings of the Dodgers-Pirates, or Franco’s feud with wait-what?-are-you-shitting-me? Bruce Vilanch? The “joke writer” who each year makes the Oscar ceremony feel like it’s a grueling test of human endurance.
If I encounter the misapplication of the phrase “renaissance man” slathered on this vacant-eyed shitwad by some slack-jawed copy editor one more time, I won’t ever quit puking. I am not even exaggerating, here – if I leave this stage and you speak the phrase “James Franco, renaissance man” within earshot of me, I will puke out my fucking rectum right on your table. My whole intestinal tract will come rocketing out of me, coiling on your table in a puddle of bile and ropey gut snot.
And then I’ll have to stuff it all back down my throat so I can scream at you.
There are literally thousands of reasons to hate that squinty-eyed shit hammer, but when I learned of Franco’s participation in the Museum of Non-Visible Art, that’s when I clicked my laptop shut and burned my own house to the ground.
The Museum of Non-Visible Art is a “project” by a husband and wife team who go by the name of Praxis, because, apparently, they feared that their real names Brainard and Delia lacked sufficient capacity to annoy.
At the Museum of Non-Visible Art – which is a website – you can BUY for real currency, nothing so shabby as an object or experience, but the privilege of receiving the DESCRIPTION of an art project that will never get made. This is pretty mind-blowing if you’re eight, or really high, or living a hundred years ago. Hey: Praxis - Google “Marcel Duchamp”, you exasperating secondhand squirrel turds.
Here is an excerpt from the Praxis Manifesto, which goes on for I-shit-you-not three pages:
“The only surface worth painting is the mind of the viewer.”
What a bunch of beat-offs. Now, if this was mouldering in the cyberspace, ignored as it ought to be, I wouldn’t have shit to say about it. But, these douche cannons had the epic temerity to ask for money to support this “project”. And they FUCKING GOT IT. They enlist Franco, and some star-fucker simpleton pays TEN THOUSAND FUCKING DOLLARS to get this dickhead to describe a shitty idea. TEN FUCKING THOUSAND FUCKING DOLLARS.
So, obviously, like any rational person, when I heard this, I felt like executing every shitheel dickface moron who shares genetic material with the fucktard who dropped TEN GRAND on this. It’s like the guy went: “How do I skull-fuck the poor WHILE doing the dumbest fucking thing anybody ever heard of.”
And it’s not just the money – it’s the fact that I could pitch a shot glass into this crowd, and fucking anybody I hit is gonna rattle off a dozen ideas better than anything Franco has ever conceived of. And describe that idea more vividly than that cipher whose inexpressive face and empty head exist solely as transport for that pile of fucking hair of his.
If there was any justice in this life, we’d never have heard of this idiot piece of shit, and James fucking Franco would be wearing a jester hat and juggling devil sticks at fucking Burning Man, instead of being granted a global platform for this derivative wad of self-congratulatory monkey shit.
I fully believed that I could not work myself into a more complete fucking froth of paralyzing rage. I was convinced that it was literally impossible for me coax anything more out my already overtaxed Jesus-Fucking-Christ-O-Meter – I thought I was red-lining to the fullest extent possible.
Then I learned that Gwyneth Paltrow had a fucking website. Where she doles out lifestyle advice. So. Treat yourself. If you are after a more vapid distillation of Oprah-fied self-indulgence, I defy you to find a better candidate than Paltrow’s GOOP-dot-fucking-com. Gwyneth, when not a film and recording star, is dutiful wife to the frontman for Coldplay, which the data shows is the shittiest band of this or any other century, had this to say about the launch of GOOP:
“When you go to Paris and your concierge sends you to some… restaurant because they get a kickback, it’s like, No. Where should I really be? Where is the great bar with organic wine? Where do I get a bikini wax in Paris? People know that I know that…”
Now. I am baffled. An anorexic millionaire can make such a statement publicly, and we somehow fail to be engulfed in class warfare. In another age, this kind of blithe and towering self-regard would have earned Ms. Paltrow the chance to deposit that well-tended head of hers into the basket at the base of a guillotine.
So. The time has come to act. Here is what I propose: we must beat James Franco to death with Gwyneth Paltrow. Now you may be saying: “Can’t be done. Gwyneth Paltrow weighs like forty-six pounds and has hollow bird bones. There’s just not enough mass there to beat anybody to death.”
I hear you. I do. But I THINK if we crush her into a blonde little nugget, and drive railroad spikes through Franco’s shoulders so he’ll stay still, and we really put our backs into it, I think we can do it, you guys. We may have to work in shifts, pummeling around the clock. And even if we can’t – even if the physics of using a bird-boned waif as a weapon preclude us from clubbing every last breath out of this smug and galling heap of chickenshit – even if it proves totally impossible, I think it’s really, really important that we try.