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WRITE CLUB, New - Debut at SPACE, 1/7/12

Old hunkered by the mouth of his cave, as he had always done. His cave sat near the summit of a mountain. His mountain.

Old sat cross-legged in frayed robes, with a gnarled staff in his lap, a staff ideal for hiking – worn smooth by his grip, and just the right height for him to lean on when covering tricky terrain.

But Old had not been hiking for a long, long time. He could not recall the last time he had quit twirling his greasy beard by the fire to stretch his legs.

Old could remember a time when he had strode about this mountaintop, chancing upon all manner of wonderment and mystery – Old had seen eaglets accepting fresh-ripped meat from their mother’s hooked beak; Old had seen jagged towers of ice shearing off a glacier’s face and plunging majestically into the frigid lake; Old had seen just-laid tracks of the Yeti.

But that was an impossibly long time ago, however. Old had remained hunched by this fire at the mouth of this cave for a time beyond calculation.

Old’s legs calcified into a slack and unmoving knot; Old’s mind folded like the skin of a teepee around the spindly frame of the ideas he liked best, leaving all others outside it.

Old’s face creased not with laughter or worry or sorrow – it collapsed in on itself while he squints blankly into the embers.

Old ate the same rinds of bread, the same thin gruel, day upon day upon day.

Old dispensed the same threadbare wisdom to his dwindling number of visitors, and regaled them with the same pointless stories – stories rendered all the more pointless by the fact that his fidgeting visitors had heard them many times elsewhere. These pilgrims would lapse into silence as Old murmured these stupid, stupid stories. They had known him only an hour, but they had already come to hate Old a little bit.

They had climbed this goddamn mountain to hear platitudes from this toothless old bastard who managed somehow to smell like cabbage even though there wasn’t a head of goddamn cabbage within a thousand fucking miles of this cave.

These pilgrims would tromp back down the mountain the second they could. And they would never come back. And word would travel. And the pilgrims stopped coming altogether.

And Old grew more addled and lonesome and irrelevant. His yellowed and misshapen feet wore a shallow trough between his place at the fire and the nest of rancid thatch he slept on, and his narrow ass wore a shallow cove into the stone beneath him.

He cursed his longevity as he waited. He waited so long he forgot why he waited. What vestiges remained of his purpose dried out, curling away like onion skin and getting consumed by his dismal little fire. Old’s rheumy and unfocused eyes watched without understanding the cinders of his purpose borne aloft on tendrils of smoke.

Death was a mercy denied him. Each whistling breath was a cruelty. Each day’s waking a betrayal.

He grew more sunken and bowed and barren.

Then. One day. As the dawn was breaking, Old poked at the embers of his fire with a stick and peered down into the valley through the disconsolate smoke.

His heavy-lidded eyes opened wider than they had in a long, long time.

Down below the tree line, he could see movement. Ferocious and single-minded movement. And Old heard thundering footfall. And cracking tree limbs.

The first of the aspens dropped with a SHUSSSSSSSH and a BOOM. Then a pair of fir trees, sheared off like wheat under a scythe. And the trees kept falling in a march up the mountain.

Whatever was down there was kicking up a hell of a dust cloud. And dirt clods. And stones. And chunks of tree root.

Old gazed, transfixed, at the swath being cut up the mountain – his mountain.

Whatever that thing was down there, it was hauling ass for sure. Old could hear it growling, now.

A figure burst through the last of the trees, a figure whose features and form were tough to make out because of the staggering velocity of the guy. This guy was SPRINTING up the face of the mountain. But four-limbed like a primate – planting his knuckles, springing upward like a baboon burning with a need to kill you, just tearing up the mountain like demon.

Before Old could fully take in this figure – the bunched muscles, the bursts of sod and sticks, the blazing eyes – the demon primate was upon him, standing just the other side of his pitiful little fire.

The baboon demon thing was totally still – not inert, like Old, but coiled, thrumming, ready.

Old was so far past readiness, he didn’t even recognize it when it stood by his fire.

Old sat in stupid silence from a moment.

Finally, Old croaked in voice gritty with disuse:

“What’s your name?”

The stranger said nothing, just reached over the fire and grabbed a fistful of Old’s beard. He twisted the coarse whiskers into a knot around his fist, lifted Old off the slab of stone. He met Old’s eyes for just a second, his gaze volcanic with contempt.

Then he hurled Old off the face of that mountain.

And Old, as he cartwheeled through the air – before he shattered on the rocks below, and even though he was hurt and bewildered to have been chucked wordlessly off what had been his mountain – thought to himself:

“Whoa. That was pretty bad-ass.”


WRITE CLUB, Santa - Benefit Show, 12/28/12

NB: All the numbered items below are "title cards" I flipped in advance of the section following. Make sense? Of course it does.

1.) Introduction

There are similarities: two bearded men with in an interest in changing our behavior. HOWEVER, there remain critical differences.

2.) Purity of Motivation

Santa Claus wants only your happiness. He wants you to know joy and plenty, and he works his ass off to help you get there.

Jesus? Bit of a dick, actually.

On the cross, He said:

“Forgive them, Father – they know not what they do.”

Which COULD be read to mean that he urged “God’s” forbearance and mercy upon mankind; that it was our fallibility and fear that led us to persecute and kill him. That even in his last agony, his plea to his invisible dad-God was to lay off the smiting.

That’s one reading.

But looked at ANOTHER way, this is maybe the most passive-aggressive thing anybody’s ever said about anything at any time. Because to ME, it seems clear that the “Prince of Peace” is really saying:

“No, yeah. You guys should totally kill me. I mean, since you guys are such ignorant and primitive swine, it’s not like you can help yourselves. Dad-God, you should totally not wipe them out, cause that would be like executing retards.

And, YEAH, He said “retards.”

2.) Farts

When Santa Claus farts, it smells like spruce, and fresh ginger bread, candy canes melting in cocoa, and ardent wishes fulfilled – the wishes of everybody you’ve ever been fond of.

Every bracing gust of Santa’s ass-wind radiates the warmth of a potbellied soul-stove around which all people living and dead may warm their feet, and where we are granted freedom from fear and wanting. We are made whole for a time – we are unbroken, and our hearts become – even if only fleetingly – expansive, forgiving, and kind.

When Jesus Christ farts, it’s nothing but two thousand year-old frankincense and myrrh, so it smells like a mummified candle store.

3.) Comprehension of the Human Heart

Santa asks only that you try your best. Santa applauds your efforts – he appreciates that you keep plugging away, and he forgives you for falling short.

And Santa asks that you do your best THIS YEAR, and he will bring your presents THIS YEAR. There’s a statute of limitations on his judgment.

JESUS rewards? MAYBE after you’re dead.

Which of these guys understands you better? The guy who gives you an encouraging chuck on the chin and a payoff you can grasp?

Or the dude who expects you to remain pure indefinitely – just for the sake of it, offering you only the model of his cheerless self-sacrifice –a joyless slog of pain and futility toward some entirely theoretical prize you won’t live to see?

If you wanna motivate somebody, do you set for them an ambitious-yet-reachable goal?

Or do you go: “Army-crawl through that endless expanse of shit-speckled shards of glass for the next unspecified number of decades and I will totally give you a lollipop after you croak?”

4.) Appetite

Santa will eat the cookies you leave him. He’ll chow down on the cookies, and he’ll down the milk, and he won’t turn his nose up at a couple-few fingers of brandy, either. I bet he’d take a pull on your one-hitter if you left it for him.

If you personally eat a wheel of cheese, and a tower of macaroons, and a handle of scotch, Santa will remain your pal.

Jesus? He wants you to dine on homemade wine and dry-ass rustic bread.

He’s one of those self-righteous hippies who trick you into coming to their house for dinner only to slide a platter of weird-smelling nut loaf in front of you, then follows it with side of spelt drizzled in fucking misery. Fuck that guy. You will eat a McRib on the way home from his fucking house.

5.) Cultural Portrayals

Does the face of Santa appear in shrouds and in the grain of plywood and in water stains at overpasses and in toast? No. Jesus has cornered that particular insanity market.

True, there is Silent Night, Deadly Night, the slasher flick about a teen who DRESSES LIKE Santa and kills a whole mess of people, ONLY cause he was traumatized by watching his parents murdered by a dude in a Santa suit, so it’s forgivable, really, when you think about it. Aside from that, pretty much all the portrayals of Santa are totally positive.

But can we say the same of JESUS? We cannot.

Because of JESUS, John Lithgow would not permit his daughter Lori Singer and her boyfriend Kevin Bacon to dance. And what of Chris Penn? For did not Chris Penn long only for Kevin Bacon to teach him sweet dance moves in a montage set to “Let’s Hear It For the Boy?” Of course he did – that’s all any of us want.

And because of JESUS, Piper Laurie went straight out of her mind and punished her daughter Sissy Spacek for having her period. I mean, yeah, getting doused in pig blood sent her over the edge to kill everybody at the prom, but all that Jesus weirdness at home can’t have helped.

6.) Roman Catholic Priests

When Catholic priests engage in non-consensual ass play with choirboys, or altar boys, or kids from the daycare, or, really, any kid that’s too slow-footed or trusting to elude capture, whose skirts they hiding behind?

Well, the coarse-woven robes of Jesus, that’s who.

Santa does not sexually assault children.

Which isn’t to say Jesus did, necessarily – we just can’t know for sure. Long time ago. It is worth noting, though, that Jesus seemed to hang around with a whole shitload of whores.

I will concede that Krampus, one of the folkloric antecedents to Santa, did rape some kids each year. But this was less an act of sexual aggression than it was an expression of the Germanic insistence on ruthless enforcement of an unyielding Teutonic moral code.

7.) Conclusion

So, if you wanna throw in with a weird-smelling hippie who offers you no hope in this life and serves shitty weird food, that’s your business.

The rest of us are gonna hang with the big man.


Paper Machete - 12/15/12 - "Primates"

In my capacity as Dean of Mean for the Machete, I was assigned the Apocalypse. 

This is what came out.

According to fucktards, the Mayan calendar’s tells us that the world will end next Friday, a conclustion that is rooted in shitty scholarship, alarmist fuckwaddery, and a toxic slurry of prejudice, unreason, and unacknowledged despair. 

The shoddy non-scholarship that has led to the Da Vinci Code-caliber bunching of our collective panties is this:

  • The numbers run out of the Mayan Long Form Calendar.
  • White people learning of this, with their rigid, linear mindset draw the conclusion that no more numbers = time has run out. No time = the end of everything.
  • This sloppy interpretation fails is to take into account cultural context. In the European mind, Time is an arrow – let fly by a hand unseen from a long-ago bow. And that arrow flies onward in a single direction. Till the end of forever. The Mayans tradition – like many others – held that Time was cyclical. It’s like believing that because the odometer on your dashboard has turned over to zeroes, your Ford Fiesta has ceased to exist.


Look. I’ll be honest. I had another piece almost ready to go.

I wrote a thing that was a mashup of that Cusack movie 2012 and that REM song The End of the World As We Know It. It was fairly funny. In it, I posed the theory that the song was Michael Stipe’s incredibly repetitive Bucket List for the species, and I did a detailed dissection of that fucking movie, which I watched – IN FULL – and can tell you is easily one of the most bloated slabs of ineptitude every committed to film.

But then yesterday happened.

Look. I know you came here to be entertained. But when I heard the news yesterday, I could not finish that other thing. I couldn’t. Not for want of trying, but I just could not.

Because I’m not just shaken. I’m scalded. I’m scoured out.

Because like the Mayans understood, and which they carved into a stone tablet that we fail again and again to read:

The world. Keeps ending.

Over and over again.

It ended yesterday in Connecticut. And it ended at that movie theater in Aurora. And it ended at Virginia Tech. And it ended at Columbine. And it ends every fucking weekend on the South Side. And it keeps on ending.

The average height of a kindergartner is about 40” – just above waist high, and they weigh about 40 pounds. The average kindergartner is incapable of real harm. The average kindergartner is entirely blameless. The coffin of a kindergartner is only a little taller than a mailbox.

To execute a kindergartner is no difficult task. You can snap their trusting little necks with ease. But to snuff out 20 of them is a job that requires the right tool. And the American toolbox is the most unlatched in the world. The unlatching of the American toolbox ensures that every workplace dispute, every squabble between hillbillies, every run-in with the cops, every argument on a loading dock – or, as in Sandy Hook yesterday or Aurora or Columbine – every switchback on the road of madness, ends in lethal and blood-spattered fashion.

We have ripped the lid off the American toolbox, and there are many among us who will not rest until we have pressed a tool for killing into the hand of every truck driver, green grocer, crossing guard, doorman, and dry cleaner in the nation; who would have us believe that every daycare, food court, and off ramp will be rendered safe when each of us carries our own killing tool from this unlatched and lidless toolbox.

Which is insane.

If you look into a pit filled with frightened and suspicious primates, a pit where the threat of violence is constant and imminent, the solution is not to tip a box full of hammers into that pit. The hammers will only escalate the already volatile situation in the pit. The hammers are the death knell for the primates in the pit.

But the primates cherish their hammers, and they will protest that the Primate in the Sky has imbued them with the Divine Right to wield as many hammers as they like, and that any prohibitions on the possession or use of hammers constitutes tyranny of the basest kind, and preparation for this tyranny, the primates will stockpile hammers.

And they will publish glossy magazines about hammers. And they will form clubs and societies that advance the cause of hammer culture. And elect primates that pledge never to impede the hammer agenda. And these primate constituents will exert constant pressure upon these primates they elected to remove all barriers to hammer ownership. And these hammer societies and clubs will throw their primate money behind the most compliant primate candidates, and before long, hammer ownership comes to viewed as an inviolable primate right.

But every once in a while, there’s an unstable primate who loses his primate shit and starts swinging hammers two-fisted in the crowded confines of the pit. And then he turns the hammer on himself. And in the wake of this rampage, he has left a pile of dead little primates. And the primate pundits in the pit will speculate at length about the bizarre motivations of the berserk primate who killed all those adorable primate kids, but they won’t say a fucking word about the hammers.

And then some out of work primate will swing a hammer at his girlfriend, and the primate pundits will stand astride her lifeless body to talk about the downturn of the primate economy, but they won’t say a fucking word about the hammers.

And then some unpopular primate teen will crush a bunch of skulls in his cafeteria, and the primate pundits will talk about the music and video games the primate teen was into, but they won’t say a fucking word about the hammers he snuck into school that day.

And the primates will shed tears and post on primate facebook that all primates everywhere should hug their primate kids extra hard that day, and should implore the Primate in the Sky for a return to primate sanity.

And these primates in the pit – the same fucking primates who won’t bat an eye when they gotta take off their primate shoes at the primate airport, and can only bring a tiny thing of shampoo on the primate plane, or when they’re no longer permitted to use certain pesticides on their primate farms, or gotta show primate ID to get certain cold medicines at the primate CVS, for fear that they’re cooking primate meth – these primates will howl for the heads of any primate who wonders aloud if maybe the primate love of hammers and how easy hammers are to get might have something to do with all these hammer deaths in the pit.

They will call these primates treasonous faggots who hate primate liberty. And, if these lippy primates persist in this line of questioning, these uppity elitist primates better watch their fucking backs, because who knows when some hammers might start swinging at them. Or their primate wife and kids. Be a real shame if that happened.

And the rational primate, the primate prone to questioning hammer policy in the pit? He freaks out a little bit. Cause he just wants to protect his primate family. From the veiled threat of hammer violence.

So what does he do? He goes and gets himself the biggest goddamn hammer he can get his hands on.

And the uneasy order is restored in the pit.

Until the world ends again.


WRITE CLUB Chicago Humanities Festival - Belknap DEATH - 11/4/12 & 11/12

Interesting. Used (slightly modified) piece twice. First bout (vs. the estimable Bilal Dardai) victorious, second bout (vs. the Live Lit bone-cracker Samantha Irby) a crushing defeat. Sidebar: the Poetry Foundation is just about the fanciest place into which I've ever been permitted entry.

If you could reanimate the corpse of your civics lessons, you’d no doubt recall that patriot Patrick Henry famously said: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

We think.

Given our context – a festival in celebration of… whatever the humanities are, in this TEMPLE erected for a literary form nobody cares about – I mean honestly: look at this place. It’s a fifty million-dollar bookcase. All those books back there? Poetry. Or worse: about poetry. Building this palace is like launching an aircraft carrier to defend stamp collecting.

But since we are here in this I’m ascribing to each of you and extraordinarily high degree of egg-headedness. As such, I shall operate on the assumption that you care about things like attribution and provenance – you recognize that as ideas are passed from hand to hand, there should be an anally retentive record of these pathways.

Anything short of this kind of butt-squinching documentation about the chain of possession for ideas sparks a frenzy of academic knife-sharpening that makes the average flame-war on Yelp!  or Amazon seem positively sedate by comparison.

I think it’s safe to say that this is the kind of crowd where if I speak the words “epistemology,” or “tautology,” or “semiotics” – if you listen carefully you can hear the nerd-nipples stiffening.

Like most Americans, I cannot with confidence tell you what “epistemology” or “tautology” or “semiotics” mean.

But academic hackles are known only go up where there is nothing at stake, which is what separates dork-fighting from the real kind. Only at Comic Con is it possible to witness slap-fights about the place of Jar-Jar Binks in the Lucas canon. Likewise, it is only in the halls of academia where bitter tears are shed by the gallon over disputed punctuation in the doctoral thesis nobody will ever read.

In fact, the ONLY time you’ll see historians retract their catty claws is when the detail in question is agreed to be of abiding benefit to the national narrative. Which, in the case of Patrick Henry’s alleged statement, is clearly what’s going on.

First of all, let’s just say it: Patrick Henry is a one-hit wonder – “Give me liberty or give me death” is the “Hey Mickey” or “Baby Got Back” of its time – a shallow, idiotic tune we should all be mortified for having danced to so lustily. And it’s a hit from era of such chronic lameness, men were expected to march to their deaths behind a dude playing the fucking fife.

The trouble? Henry never published the text of the 1775 Virginia Convention speech alleged to contain this line. The version we think we know was published 17 years after his death by his biographer. Who wrote it from memory. A full twenty-four years after the speech in question. Now, speaking as a guy that’s constantly walking into my kitchen and forgetting what I came in there for, I readily concede people were smarter back then – but even so, twenty-four YEARS is a long-ass time to wait before jotting anything down.

But even if we accept this quote as valid, and even if we set aside the false dichotomy of Liberty vs. Death, it’s STILL no contest. Look – in principle, Liberty is appealing. Who among does not think we want freedom? However, we invariably find that that Liberty, so virtuous in principle, turns out to be total nightmare.

Because in practice, Liberty is nothing more than the paralysis of too much choice. And this mind-cracking weight of choice squashes from us all sense of control and clarity like grapes in a wine press until we are ankle-deep in an ineffectual puddle of our own waffling.

America has been in this Liberty bidness for a long-ass time.

With too much Liberty, we become the fattest country in the world, where the national pastime is gun violence. We elect paunchy helmet-haired men who declare that global warming is not real from what has become the Atlantic coast of Kentucky; men who draft constitutional amendments that defines rape as being between a man and a woman; men who lobby to “solve” the society-smashing perils of gay-marriage with drone strikes, and immediately get caught in the airport bathroom trying to give a handie to the dude in the next stall while chanting USA! USA! USA!

This is where Liberty leads us. We can’t handle it, man. Because we tend to be selfish, ignorant, short-sighted swine. No disrespect intended.

In his acceptance speech last night, President Obama acknowledged this – in talking about the messy nature of life in democracy, he talked about this tendency for rancor and squabbling. He said “These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.”

We suck at ramifications. We got no patience for consequences. Complexity is super-boring. We like tidy conclusions with only the most casual relationship to the facts – Americans will flatly declare things that are insane like “Racism’s over – we elected a black president,” or “Kim Kardasian is a star.”

And here’s what the Patrick Henry lobby, the fat cats in the pocket of Big Patriotism, don’t want you to know, brother: Death? It’s the completest Liberty there is. In Death, there is no rancor and squabbling, Mr. President.

When laid beside Death, is Liberty not a stingy little thing? A self-seeking and small-minded little thing? Of course it is.

Death is the Great Emancipator, because it is only Death that offers complete freedom from choosing. Anything. Ever. Only Death that grants the cessation of desire, the everlasting reprieve from longing and unrequitedness. Death alone that bestows freedom from all striving – and we, The Unfulfilled, know from bitterly won experience that our striving leads only to misery and want. Only in death, my friends, are we relieved of the chaotic snarl of our hankering, the restless clot of our hungering.

If you claim to cherish Liberty, then you know it is only in Death that real freedom is possible, only in Death that true Liberty abides. Counter-intuitive though it may seem, you must cast your vote for Death. To do otherwise constitutes cowardice of the worst sort, and only serves to declare your contempt for the Liberty of any lasting kind.


(Victorious) Shame That Tune - 11/9/12

Listen here: if you haven't been to see Shame That Tune @ Hideout, you're a damn fool what's been robbing yourself of terrific experience. Abraham Levitan is an improvisational musical genius and Brian Costello is a sharp, wry host. Their interplay is spot-on, and the whole thing zips along briskly. Oh, and I won. I may lose at WRITE CLUB with frequency, but it's clearly an outstanding proving ground, because whenever I do anybody else's competitive reading, I seem to win.

The year was 1978, and I was on the cusp of my sexual awakening. Which I think we all recognize as literary code for “still pubeless and untouched by the hand of another.”

In 1978, I was 12 years old, and, knowing nothing, I was drawn to the same coltish and blandly attractive girls as the other dudes in sixth grade – all of whom seemed more advanced and sexually precocious than I.

I just copied the other guys – your Ray Wilsons, your Paul Theilmans, your Mark Tibaldis. In the sixth grade of Fort River Elementary, there were two alpha females – one blonde (Kristin Mallory), and one brunette (Dana Townsend), just like Betty and Veronica.

I developed a bad crush on Kristin, the blonde one. The Betty. She was a gymnast, so she was everything I was not – where I was a chunkwad who had to shop in the Husky department, Kristin Mallory was lean and tall and straight. Where I was halting and dopey, Kristin Mallory was graceful and poised. She was a sun-kissed wonder. I was a hapless and artsy little nerd.

That was the year that the sexual baseball diamond method for categorizing intimate encounters was explained from boy to boy. Honesty compels me to report I had yet to even round first base, because I was, as you will recall, on the cusp of my sexual awakening.

As a budding artist, I had a vivid inner life, and my dreams were far more engrossing than what passed for reality. It was the revelation of one such dream, about an amorous encounter with Kristin Mallory, that made me a sixth grade pariah.

The dream was this: each spring, a fair came through town – a Tilt-A-Whirl, and Ring Toss, and so forth in the town square. In real life the fair was always a shabby mud pit where you had to dodge puddles of puked-up funnel cakes.

But in my dream, the fair was held on a clear and bracing spring afternoon, the grass lush and green. In my dream, Kristin Mallory and I were on a date – I had won her a stuffed panda, and had demonstrated valor by not blowing chunks on the After Burner, which all agreed was the scariest ride. We were ending our perfect date with a placid ride on the Ferris wheel just after sundown.

The bony-faced attendant of this dream Ferris wheel possessed secret carnie knowledge, and though he did not speak, his wall-eyed gaze wordlessly imparted the following as we boarded:

“I kin tell it’s true love for sure. Imma hep you out.”

I feel I may have super-imposed this Sling Blade voice later on, but still. Feels right.

My carnie mind-meld matchmaker then STOPPED the Ferris wheel when Kristin and I were at the tippy top.

Which in dream logic made it sexy time. I totally felt her budding boobs, you guys – AND, she let me put my dream hand down her dream pants, touching the mysterious and fleshy gateway that we sort of learned about in health class, the exotically named parts of which, like labia, I always got confused with the names of flower parts, like stamen. Even in my dream I worried there would be a quiz.

I spent the balance of that dream making tender finger-love to Kristin Mallory in the swaying cradle of the Ferris wheel.

Which would have been fine. It would have remained a cherished memory from the cusp of my sexual awakening.

Except that later that week, I told a few of the other guys in my class that I got to third base with Kristin Mallory in my dream. And they immediately ran and told her. And with scalding tears running down her enflamed cheeks, she confronted me. I hung my head, struck mute by her mortification and outrage.

It being a small town, and word of my perversion traveling like wildfire, I didn’t touch a live human female for two years after that.