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WRITE CLUB is back, baby

The Hideout. Tue, 7/20. 6pm


Mind vs. Body

Heaven vs. Hell

Fight vs. Flight

In addition to myself, here's out lineup:

Emily Rose is a Chicago-born and raised poet and performer. She performs at poetry readings, open mics, and Poetry Slams around Chicago and nationally. An organizer in her community, she is currently a Real Talk Avenue Resident, member of the 2010 Mental Graffiti Team, a board member for Chicago Slam Works, a regular contributor and producer for The Encyclopedia Show, Tournament Director for Louder Than a Bomb, occasional host at The Green Mill, and much much more.

Edward Thomas-Herrera is a playwright and performer living and working in Chicago. He is currently working on a musical entitled "Hell is for the Very Hot." He listens to a lot of opera and that makes him gay. Please visit

Ali Weiss is a freelance writer and videographer with a long-standing performance habit. A New York City native, Ali is a proud resident of Chicago's Lincoln Square, where she produces a spoken word show called The Paper Machete at Ricochet's every Saturday at 3pm. More info at

Steve Heisler is a freelance pop culture journalist who writes for The AV Club, GQ, Details, Variety,, and the Chicago Reader. He's also a comedy producer with Just For Laughs, a writer and performer with the Neo-Futurists, a regular at The Paper Machete, and a former member of the Time Out Chicago action squad. He's a baller, shot caller, brawler— 4 life, yo.

David Kodeski is the creator of "David Kodeski's True Life Tales," an ongoing series of critically-acclaimed solo performances. He is a founding ensemble member of BoyGirlBoyGirl and is currently working on a libretto in collaboration with Chicago Opera Vanguard based upon a suitcase full of mysterious letters bought via the internet. The opera is slated to premiere in 2011 at Queen's College in Belfast.



This is my favorite thing I've written this year:

My chrysalis has split. My oaken fists are the size of gas cans, and wrapped in leather gauntlets studded with the broken teeth of those who doubt me. My egg carton knuckles are dusted with ground glass and rock salt and justice. Oh, and they are ablaze with cleansing, cleansing fire. Behold the Oaken Fists of Flame.

My eyes are embers big as ostrich eggs. If you are a liar, avert your gaze. If you prey upon the unsuspecting, run. If you have no honor or imagination, pray for mercy.

I have no further need of practice – the Mr. Miyagi in my mind has drilled me. The wax is on. The wax is off. Johnny can try to sweep this leg if he wants to see his foot shatter like a hot dog dipped in liquid nitrogen. Your douchey sensei from the bad dojo cannot save you, Johnny

I wear The Porcupine Jacket – quilled with Saber Tooth Tiger fangs and punji sticks. Attempt an ambush at your great and lasting peril. I wear the Retribution Boots seasoned with shark tears, oiled with ninja sweat, sealed with eagle screams and dragon dander.

I shall speak the ancient incantation which is NOT “By the Power of Grayskull!” but is very like it, and a trench deep and wide shall open at my feet. It is a fearsome crevasse with a floor of molten magma a mile down. This year, the moat of fire follows me wherever I go. Those who would oppose me drop into the moat of fire and go up with that forlorn little huffing sound Verbal Kint makes when Keyser Soze takes a powder.

I mile-high Hulk jump to the stone canyons downtown where bankers congeal for their day’s orgy of acquisition. Perhaps they know that they build dynasties of dust and empires of kindling, but I doubt it. The Oaken Fists of Flame have their work cut out.

I produce a stack of plane tickets. I line the bankers up and explain that their pirating career ends one of two ways: Peace Corps or The Oaken Fists of Flame. My announcement is simulcast onto every screen in every trading pit on the globe, every laptop and Crackberry, and onto the inside of their sleeping eyelids. “Swine Pirates! You have taken the Last Fucking Chance we gave you and drank it to the dregs. Then you bundled the dregs and tried to sell them again. You are done. Forever. Effective immediately.” Every bit of financial hardware the world over erupts in a shower of sparks. It is completely bitchin’ and mighty to behold.

There is grumbling – “We’re numbers guys,” they protest. “We require proof.” The Oaken Fists of Flame deliver ample and percussive proof. Each skull I punch explodes in a nimbus of eleventy million sandwiches that drift into the hands of the homeless guys the douche bankers stepped over to get to their make-nothing work, and their soft white bodies sunder themselves into nourishing mulch for the community gardens that spring from the rubble of their institutions. Each sandwich is just the way the homeless guy likes it. Most of the banker weasels join the Peace Corps, so their heads stay on their necks instead of bursting into sandwich bombs. Overseas, they will dig wells and teach English and bandage wounds. They will find perspective and meaning and they will pitch the leachy do-nothingness they’ve clung to. A few will try to snake out of the deal and become day traders or something. I will hunt them down in the suburbs. I will dismantle their palaces and send the rubble to Jimmy Carter who will build modest and trim little homes for people who need them. Jimmy and I throw each other a “carry on with your bad self” type of thumbs-up as I go rocketing away.

The profit motive doesn’t disappear, exactly, but its addictive properties are neutered. People trade goods and services, for sure, and they strive for material comfort. But it’s crazy how fair they become with each other and how they really start to want the best for everybody. REAL best, not theoretical unattainable best – everybody works toward it some each day. We pause while raking our yards or waiting patiently on train platforms to rib each other about it: “My son may not see the crowning spires of this Cathedral of Awesome, but we’ll get there.” “Ah, who we kidding? His sons won’t see ‘em, either,” comes the reply.

And we laugh – not in the resigned, beleaguered, hope-killed way we’ve known too well, but in commiserating way about the outrageous good fortune our grandkids will know and in our preposterous good luck in helping it happen. And you know what? We’ll catch the next train, since that guy across the street is moving a couch and he looks like he could use a hand. Plus, I bet the wife would really like a bunch of those wildflowers I spy over that way.

I Hulk-jump from school to school, rooftop to rooftop. The Cleated Boots of Retribution drive media centers and tutors and markers that aren’t dried out and trombones and and MacBooks for everybody (even Bill Gates can tell you PCs eat ass) and massive pay bumps to teachers – the Boots drive these things down deep into the bedrock below every school, where they can never be taken away. Each day in the lunchroom, gelatinous slop is off the menu. Schools become the coolest buildings in the neighborhood – they have rooftop gardens and murals and are round-the-clock Curiosity Centers open to all, where even childless citizens swing by for reading lists or gripping conversation.

At each school I land on, the impact shears off metal detectors, which is no biggie because anyplace my enchanted feet touch down, bullets die in midair. Frustrated thugs try to trade in their gats at police stations. The cops have a good laugh, since these are now dry-firing scrap. The ingenuity of the thugs, expressed as cunning all their lives, blossoms. They start recording studios and throw pottery and garden and open vest pocket shops crammed with things that are so cool that kids entering them say “You can do this for real?” and are fully and meaningfully mentored on the spot and for all time. The ingenuity and urge to serve in the cops, which they’ve poured into the illusion of control, now gets funneled into tossing a ball around with neighborhood kids and helping out in soup kitchens and generally pitching in.

On to the libraries. With a knuckle bump, each is stocked to bursting with the latest titles. All the VHS tapes split into DVDs. All the cherished documents are in humidors that will guard them for good. There are dignified and private bathing facilities for homeless folks.

The Oaken Fists of Flame are magnets that pull the bolts from tanks and warplanes and attack helicopters and aircraft carriers – which all shimmy and clatter into heaps of scrap. Crack squadrons of sculptors descend upon the heaps of martial hardware, fire up their torches, and build crazy cool kinetic sculptures all over the place. Unharmed soldiers and sailors scratch their heads and remember they never wanted to kill anybody anyhow – they just wanted to go to college. They let their helmets and flak jackets drop and head over to campus where the registrar awaits with a full ride scholarship for each of them. Hey, free popcorn!

A final mission for the fighter pilots, who skywrite the following: “Religious leaders: quit being so bossy. You guys are super-great in a lot of ways, but we, The World, would really appreciate it if you’d just offer good counsel and fellowship, without all the conflicting ‘Dos and Don’ts’. Let’s all shoot for tolerant and rational, OK? Pope? Don’t you have anything you’d like to say to us all? And hey, Muslims? The criteria for cartoons from now on? Whether they are funny and well rendered – and that’s IT. Hindus: more yoga, less fighting with Muslims. Buddhists: you guys actually seem to be doing pretty well with this stuff, so carry on. We’re all sharing this old sandbox, so everybody be cool, OK? Oh, and Scientologists? You guys are not an actual faith, but rather a sinister and transparently profit-seeking enterprise. Turn in your badges.”

And then, just to see if anybody’s paying attention: “Surrender, Dorothy!”

And from that moment on, the enchantment is in effect. Priests will stoop to tie the shoes of little boys – any other kind of touching and they burst into flame. Every impulse to spew intolerance or invective or policy from the pulpit comes out as mush-mouthed vowel sounds that make the grown-ups on Peanuts seem clear as a bell. Soon enough, people just stop listening to those folks, just shaking their heads going “Man. What are you so afraid of?”

And every parishioner in the Church of the World is now un-blaming and seeks reasonableness and justice, and since the enchantment has crushed Pragmatic Accommodation into dust, and every citizen on every continent (including you, Antarctica – no more in-fighting at McMurdo Station, you guys) now acts as a square-shouldered and sharp-eyed monitor of themselves and others with an unwavering Courage of Conviction. Slave labor and exploitation and abuse in all its forms go up the chimney of history never to return. All the ingenuity of the world’s poor that for millennia has been devoted to the hardscrabble chase after bread and dodging of the lash is unleashed. The pace of invention and progress makes the Renaissance look like a middle school science fair.

My cleated boots dig into the North Pole, sending a squid-legged asterisk of lightning bolts to every capitol of every nation. Pissing contests over real estate cease. Leaders who lack good will and have no intention of heeding the rule of law – we look at you and see that not only does the Emperor have no clothes, he is eating his own foot. We ignore you and you go away.

Presidents and prime ministers start talking to us like grown-ups, in frank terms about the complexities of the whole situation. We respond in kind – not only are we ready to tussle, we acknowledge the difficulty of their jobs by sending them encouraging notes and baked goods. Death threats and those that issue them shoot into the sky Aurora-style in a display as dazzling as it is humbling. As we watch it, we mutter: “Man. So much certainty. Where can it all have come from?”

And journalism is resuscitated as the tough job that it is – the ongoing attempt to make sense of crazy-complicated things even in the face of perpetually shifting circumstance. They will try to get it right and we will try to stay reasonably informed so we can all make course corrections as we go. And if there are blowhard asswads who insist on continuing to holler in the obscuring and unhelpful manner nobody needs, The Oaken Fists of Flame will find them and smash their throats. They will remain as they were, except the only sound they will be able to produce will be the squeaky “mee mee mee” of the Muppet Beaker, and they will exert a Beaker-level of influence over us. Sometimes we tune in to watch the colorful streamers that issue forth from their mouths, but otherwise they go roundly ignored. After a short time, they grow translucent for want of regard.

And advertising evaporates because my ember eyes have seared into every brain the certainty that we deserve better and the ability to push the plate away and ask politely but firmly: “Please. Stop serving me a slab of turd and telling me it’s meatloaf. I can see quite clearly that this is turd. Take it away, please. Right now.” And all the squandered intelligence that’s been poured into advertising gets redirected into writing novels that are maybe not so hot, but are better than turd-as-meatloaf claims any day, or forming klezmer bands or becoming kite designers or, hey, really just about anything would be preferable, to be honest.

And each of us in the whole wide world finds love. And if we’re among the lucky who already have it, we begin to notice and appreciate it. So men quit being skeevy weirdos or puffed-out rooster people and women can look in the mirror and go “Jeez, you know what? I am kind of knockout,” and mean it, but not get all full of themselves, either. The world gets way sexier, like how you can take a basically OK-looking person and sling a guitar on their back and put a beat up cowboy hat on their head a look on their face like they’re thinking of a poem, and they suddenly look great.

Those who pollute knowingly are turned into pigeons that are immortal and whose only sustenance is to peck at tepid puddles of puke in gas station parking lots.

We all use our turn signals. And for those hold-outs who remain horn-leaning, pass-on-the-right Audi-driving dickfaces, their cars evaporate and are replaced by stilts. They have a top speed of two and a half miles an hour, and now when they come sprinting into the office, it’s not as a hard-charging ego-face, it’s to say: “You guys! There’s pollywogs in that ditch at the edge of our parking lot!” And everybody scrambles out from behind their desks and goes dashing across the lot to catch some. And then they spend the rest of the afternoon making an amazing habitat for them that will sit on the reception desk and where each day they’ll be closer to turning into actual no-fooling frogs! And on the day they get set free, the office will be closed and there will be this incredible picnic. Bring a Frisbee.

There are bikes leaning on just about every lamppost and when you need to get someplace, you can snag one and head off. You can ring the bell if you feel like.

A lot more of us begin sentences with phrases like “So check it out – I made this new thing,” or “I wrote this for you,” or “I skinned my knee a little bit when I was gathering these, but it was totally worth it,” or simply “Hey, stencils!”

The media and entertainment companies quit trying to out-stupid each other. Creative people of skill are allowed to try to devise new things that totally blow your mind. They work at the most extreme verge of their abilities and take the tough project of making quality creative work as far as their intelligence can carry them. They stop talking about their work being “like Happy Gilmore meets Apocalypse Now” because they’re trying really, really hard to make stuff that is unlike anything that has ever been ever before. And even if it ends up being stinky, it still winds up being an exciting attempt.

Sleeves around the globe are rolled up. We apply ourselves with purpose and clarity and esprit de corps. There is so, so much to do.

But – BUT – everyplace we strive and struggle, everyplace we pit ourselves against the darkness and limitation, the heartache and unfairness, everyplace we Plug Away at the Great Buckling Down, we are willing and even eager to slide aside our blueprints and cookware and study materials, we are willing to Hold That Thought and to Leave This for Another Time, we will hang our aprons on the hook, and dog-ear the pages, we will snap shut the cases and let the monitors sleep. We will still the hammers and we will set down the wheelbarrows and lay our pencils on the workbench.

Because there is urgency in the voices out in the yard – they are beckoning us away from dinner and other projects. Every kid in the neighborhood is playing an epic game of tag. And we are invited. And we will by God play some motherfucking tag, man. And everyone is fleet and plays fair. And we laugh until the fulcrum of our jaw hurts.

And even though it’s unheard of that there would be fireflies this early in the season, there they are. And we have supper on the porch. And kids get piggybacks and wives get kisses. And the moon is huge and the cricket serenade just about knocks our socks off. Hey, an owl!

And we sleep and feel safe under the dome of stars like a blanket fort as big as the world. And we know plenty. And we are unafraid.

And by year’s end, I can retire The Oaken Fists of Flame. And the Boots of Retribution. And pop out the ember eyes like contacts. And lay on a grassy hill. And watch the sky. And listen to the clover.


You're Going to Need to See This

Aug. 5. The Neo-Futurists. I will narrate the My Little Pony Movie. Lashed to a chair. LIVE.



For Dad

Dean of Mean style. At this weekend's Paper Machete, I will unleash a Father's Day card. It ends here, Old Man.


The Mighty and Fearsome WRITE CLUB Returns.

Two opposing writers. Two opposing ideas. Seven minutes apiece. Audience picks a winner. Winners divide proceeds of the show among charities of their choosing.

Tuesday, July 20.


The Hideout

1354 W. Wabansia in Chicago.

More on lineup/themes soon.