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Chicago Literati - 3/28/16

The site Chicago Literati had the theme "Crytopzoology"

So I wrote THIS goofy thing, which they were kind enough to publish. 



WRITE CLUB, Skin - 10/20/15

Do me a favor. Close your eyes.

Now run your tongue along the roof of your mouth.

Nice, right? Little nubbly, maybe, but nice.

Now run your tongue along that same roof of that same mouth, but as you do, imagine its covering of skin is gone. Imagine you’re running your tongue along the underside of your own skull, that the veneer enfolding you is gone and that you are suddenly lapping at yourself like a cannibal with a soup bone.

It is your skin alone that prevents each of you from being totally sickening right now. We are each of us just a sausage casing away from lurching around like a mess of slaughterhouse castoffs.

Whatever shame the beauty industry has heaped upon you, whatever deficiencies of pigment and elasticity, of smoothness and suppleness that bum you out about yourself – whatever dry patches or smelly regions – ANY of these shortcomings is INFINITELY preferable to heaving your skinless self around, leaking like a bloody stack of flank steaks.

Think of it. Soaking through all your clothes. Leaving a trail of your fluids like a goddamn slug.

Think of the keypad on the last ATM you used – imagine scores of skinless fingers gristling their transactions over those buttons, commingling into a gruesome human paste before you place your own glistening finger on there.

Think for a second about plunking down into a seat on the El, into a shallow bowl of the more horrifying soup warmed by the seepage of a thousand asses unknown to you.

Imagine you try to keep things sanitary, so you get a squirt of antibacterial stuff and you rub in, and IT IS TOTAL FUCKING AGONY SINCE YOU JUST WILLINGLY APPLIED ALCOHOL TO YOUR EXPOSED NERVE ENDINGS AND JESUS FUCKING FUCK DOES THAT BURN.

A properly administered high five would make you pass out from the pain.

Think now of a world without facial expressions – each of us a toothy Lon Chaney Phantom of ourselves, an unblinking and toothy wet mask. It’d be like living inside the world of Mars Attacks! which, like every fucking thing Tim Burton does has the subtlety of a two-hour dick punch with a frenetic fucking soundtrack by Danny Elfman.

It would be a world without nostrils, you guys. We’d all be drizzling snot all down our fronts all the time. Like even when it’s not winter.

It would be a where we couldn’t wink or whistle. Snapping your fingers would just be a clammy slide.

Kissing, you guys. Kissing. Would just be clacking teeth together with somebody while you ooze on each other.

And, before I move on. I would like for you each in your mind’s eye to view any scene from any porno ever. Look at it: the raunchiest, writhing-est no-skin porno scene. Do NOT look away. GAZE UPON the skinless porno playing in your mind right now.

STARE into the madness that is two or more bodies, glazed in their own juices, gyrating on each other in a viscous pile making a sound like couple of uncooked mutton legs in a washing machine full of Crisco; a sound like snatching a panicky trout from a bucket of Jell-O; a sound like hauling a nest of angry weasels out of a crawlspace full of Ranch dressing.

Look at it, you guys. LOOK at it. Because THAT is a world without skin.

Which isn’t to say that there would not be advantages. In a world without skin, celebrity chef and noted racist Paula Deen would have no place to put all that orange.

In a world without skin, Black Lives would not have to Matter, since we would all of us be red and raw as ground chuck and would greet each other with a soundless and bulge-eyed scream-smile.

In a world without skin, there would be no white privilege, since we’d all be sporting the same meat leotards.

In a world without skin, the Trump candidacy would collapse in chaos when he grows confused about who to hate.

In a skinless world, sexual aggression would cease because dudes would be rightly horrified by their own quivering jerky boners.

Cosmetic surgery would be a thing of the past, as we would all adhere to universal aesthetic standard of being totally fucking horrifying – a brave and sickening new world where videos of Kate Upton dancing are the stuff of Clive Barker nightmare.

So, yes. A skinless world – it might prove an inadvertently more egalitarian place, a place better equipped to judge not by the presence of our skin but by the content of our character. We might become better able to hate each other for the right reasons, the productive and just reasons. Like the looming class warfare which is so long overdue.

And yet.


Skin – despite the trouble it causes us – remains worthwhile.

Consider the massage. Consider the caress. Consider the kiss – WITH lips.

Consider – the thigh of a 16-month-old baby. Consider well the bulging softness of the baby leg – bursting and creased, like a ripening peach. There is no more delighting thing in all this world than the leg of a well-fed baby. To deny ourselves the chance of hand-chomping the velvety blubber of a baby leg that’s swaddled in the softest skin you can conceive of.

So to review:

On the one hand: a no-skin world of jackhammering squelchy porn that smells like a wadded up Band-Aid soaked in pus. 

On the other: the fleshy and sweet-smelling innocence of a pudgy, pudgy baby leg that leaves you cooing and hopeful.

The choice is yours.


You're a Crooked Jerky Jockey, and You Drive a Crooked Horse

With deepest apologies to Dr. Seuss. Whose moral compass we really could use.

So. You're the mayor of a major metropolis - the third largest, say, in a fading relic of the Empire of Sneetch. And say some of your residents have Stars on their bellies. And some do not. 

And they're shooting each other. Like all the time. Star Bellied Sneetches mow down the Starless Sneeches, who shoot each other. And Sneetches who are really young - too young, even, to know or care whether they have a goddamn star on the Sneetch-bellies or not - get cut down routinely by the Sneech mayhem that surrounds them. 

Sneetch pundits weigh in on this, like constantly. Sneetch reporters wade in Sneetch blood, standing with furrowed Sneetch brows in the rain or the snow or the heat, lights atop the Sneetch cruisers pulsing behind them, Sneech police tape cordoning off the many little evidence tents of the many, many shell casings strewn across the Sneetchy street.

Sneetch blood is the same color - whether it pours out of a Sneetch with a Star or not.

There's a vocal bunch of Sneetches - all across the Empire, a shrill and dogged bunch of Sneetches (nearly all these have Stars on their bellies - nearly every goddamn one) who insist that the right to bear Sneetch arms cannot be infringed upon, and that a pile of dead Sneetch babies is a price worth paying for this most Sneetchy of liberties. These Star Bellies wish to give Sneetch teachers guns to combat the crazed Sneetches who, with growing frequency, come to shoot Sneetchy children in their classrooms. These Star Bellies are furious. Like all the time. Mostly about the Empire's Head Sneetch, who has no Star - a fact to them that is as sickening as it is galling.

But your city - we'll it Sneetchago - is plagued even worse than other places. Every Monday, the Sneetchy news has a box score of the body count. A weird thing about your city is that all the Star Bellies live on one side of town, in the North, and the Starless all live on the South Side. Long time back, this Sneetchy animosity prompted a bunch of Star Bellies, who owned everything, to banish the Starless to their own part of town, and things settled into a low Sneetchy boil.

And say you, as mayor of Sneetchago, have a Star on your belly. Goes without saying, probably, that the cabal of Sneeches who put up the money to buy your election also have Stars. And say you're a bottomless pit of ambition and, behind your Star, beats the heart of an abrasive asshole. But your Star Bellied advisors just have you dial it down a little and wear a sweater in interviews, and the residents of Sneetchago never pay much attention, so you're good, mostly.

And say the cops you hire to patrol the perilous streets of your city have mostly got Stars, too. And say - beyond the usual degree of hate speech and paternalism - there's a handful of cops on your Sneetch force who regularly beat the shit out of Starless citizens, who torture and abuse them with seeming glee. And they have a history of thwacking a Starless suspect with their night stick while he's cuffed, say, or pepper-spraying demonstrators and hissing about how they're all a bunch of Starless goddamn animals.

And say one of these Star Bellies - a real sack of shit, who has demonstrated over and over how he's a hate-filled Sneetch who honestly has no business wielding police powers, just totally loses his shit one day. And he empties his service pistol into the prone body of a Starless Sneetch, who was really just a kid. 

Bummer, you'd say. That would be a drag. And after that Starless Sneetch's untimely end was chronicled on the news, as just another item in the weekly box score, that would be the end of it.

Only this time, this sack of shit Star Belly's execution of that Starless kid got caught on video.


So you hustle the Sneetchy Council to authorize paying out a bunch of money to that Starless kid's family, hoping they'll keep their Sneetchy traps shut. And you delay release of the video - NOT BECAUSE you have a Sneetchy election to win, or anything.

But then a Sneetchy journalist perseveres enough to get a Sneetchy judge to order you to release it.


So you try to bury the release around a holiday weekend when all the Whos in fucking Whoville will being singing carols and you can put this fucking nightmare behind you.

But it does not work. Like at all. The Starless rise up and link arms and ring your palace and chant for your ouster. 

Fine, you think. You can wait this out.

But it does not work. The Starless are right. And even the usually compliant Sneetch media know they are right. And you are fucked.

So. You stand tall - well, not tall, exactly, for you are frankly a pretty pipsqueaky little Star Belly - and you summon the full might of your office to empanel a Task Force.

But it does not work. The Starless see through this. And so do the usually compliant Sneetch media. You are even further fucked.

So. You ratchet things up a little. You fire the Police Sneetch in Chief.

But it does not work. And Sneetches everywhere - Star Bellied and Starless alike - are clamoring for your ouster.

And you put on TWO sweaters and you stand before the microphones - there will be no questions - and you talk about healing. But as you do, you don't really acknowledge the centuries of Star Bellied hatred, or outline a plan to dismantle the systems that have oppressed the Starless. 

So it does not work.

So you shut your office door. And you rage and throw lamps, you heap abuse on your Star Bellied advisors and the Sneetch who timidly suggests you put on a third sweater - you send him packing.

So you start scheming about who else you can sacrifice - what other Sneetches in your administration, like the Sneetch State's Attorney, maybe, you might dispense with to deflect attention from you, who are, after all, a good and civic-minded Sneetch currently wearing not fewer than two sweaters.

But it does not work.

And so. Say you are the mayor of a major metropolis - the third largest in the fading relic of the Empire of Sneetch - and your Star Bellied ass has been painted into a corner by brushes dipped in the blood of gunned-down Sneetches. And you have no one left to sacrifice. And the Starless citizens are demanding your departure. And the usually compliant Sneetch media is doing the same. And the deep-pocketed Star Bellies who put you in office are not returning your calls. And even though you used to work for him, the Empire's Head Sneetch, who's never really made too big a deal about his own belly, which is Starless - he won't help you, either.

And you are out of sweaters. And the chanting grows louder. Because now some Star Bellies are chanting, now, too.

What do you do? What can a Star Bellied mayor, who had a good goddamn thing going, do? When the floor starts to buckle under his feet?



Tears of the Magnificent

The Chicago Tribune ran a photo essay on its site about the Michigan Avenue Black Friday protests in the wake of the release of the police cruiser dash cam video of the murder of Laquan McDonald. It contained lots of pictures of brown-skinned people (and a smattering of white faces) standing resolute across the doorways of the Apple Store and Water Tower Place; standing nose to nose with cops itching to unload the pepper spray; locking arms and chanting.


For a certain kind of person, these are stirring images of everyday people asserting their rights of assembly and expression, of seeking redress of grievences perpetrated by the excesses of the state. For me, it was a heartening display of people - people trampled generation upon generation by a system resolved by means economic and racial to marginalize and subjugate - rising up and reasserting their humanity.

For another kind of person, these images represent the dissolution of social order - the lippy and ungrateful grousing of "those people." In interviews with shoppers - who mistakenly take themselves to be the stars of this story - several among them expressed variations of "mistakes happen" with regard to the pumping of 16 bullets into a 17-yar-old kid. One wonders what the individual and public response on the part of these inconvenienced people might be if a constable had emptied his clip into one of their sons on the village square in Glencoe

As rousing as I found these images, and the protest that inspired them, I found the picture above the most telling and troubling of the bunch.

The Little Girl

She's the only blameless one of this trio. She wishes to make her way to the American Doll Store. Where her guardians may purchase for her some overpriced figure nearly her own size that comes with its own reductive and revisionist back story, accessories, and apparel line. The fact that she has been raised to want this connotes a set of problems - of class, gender conceptions, consumerism - larger and older than she is. If there is criticism to be leveled here, it must be directed at the people who are raising her in the bosom of some shitty priorities, not at her. She has inherited a series of stupid and destructive desires, but cannot be held to account for this dubious bequest.

In 12 years, when this little girl is cutting me off in an Audi her dad bought her, I will hate her on her own merits then. For now, she gets a pass.

The White Fucking Coats

Setting aside the vast obliviousness required to try shopping your way through or around these protesters; or your willful minimizing the scale and impact of these protests upon your dipshit errand; setting aside your evident lack of compassion and respect; setting aside your bone-deep fucking BLITHENESS - you might at LEAST pay some heed to the optics of the fucking costume you put on for your little outing. When the Consumerist Corridor is choked with hundreds of brown people - people who have lain their brown bodies across the road bed to interrupt the flow of traffic, and insinuated themselves between you and the doorways of the shops, then fucking MAYBE it might make some sense not to wear BLINDING WHITE OUTERWEAR. The only shittier move would be to wear satin fucking sashes that read "White Privilege" while dispersing the brown bodies with cattle prods. 

Again: Little Girl - you seem sweet and baffled by the proceedings around you in an age-appropriate way.

But Ostensible Grownups: develop some SMIDGEN of self-awareness, no? Because to sashay past a throng of people mourning the murder of one of their own at the hands of the state in whit motherfucking coats seems a trifle Marie Antoinette-ish, wouldn't you say?

The White Fur Fucking Coat

This is appropriate attire for those seeking the role of White Witch in fucking Narnia, not for your jaunt down the Mag Mile of a city whose cops have killed a kid and covered it up. And - just from a style standpoint - those Ming the Merciless shoulders have got to go.

The Grisly Back Story

Whether this trio - again: not your fault, kid - arrives for their Black Friday sojourn from the suburbs of the North Shore or from some kleptocracy in the former Soviet Union, it doesn't matter. They arrive as unconcerned white people, into what they take to be a bastion of plundered white privilege, because that's customarily precisely what it is. Even the name the marketing hordes tasked with reinforcing the cycle of privilege and stoking the aspirational embers that permit it to continue steaming along have bestowed upon the place - The Magnificent Mile - reveals not merely an unquestioning embrace of consumerist excess, but of exclusivity. Because for a Mile or a Kilometer or a League to seem Magnificent, it must be surrounded on all sides by the Dingy and Ordinary, the Tacky and Mundane.

For the denizens of such a Magnificent place to claim and reclaim their stranglehold on the sumptuous, they must distance and re-distance themselves from the plight of the subhumans whom they must pass when accessing the wonders it contains. This distancing is not restricted to the grimy primate who shakes his beggar cup, pleading for stray coins - he is easy to deny and step over, the arhythmic clank of his cup receding behind the walls of consciousness, tucked away like the sigh of steam pipes and crackle of wires - the shake of his battered cup is just the turning of the watchworks that makes the machine go.

And this distancing is not restricted to the valets and shop clerks, in their vests and tunics with unnoticed names stitched over the breast. These murmuring and deferential people, averting as they do their gaze from the incandesence of the Magnificent, scurrying to fetch that wedge of lemon, that room key, that starched napkin. These primates are meant to remain translucent, and just dimly audible. These primates - as a class - are obviously indispensible, as pampering is a labor-intensive proposition, but as individuals, they are identical and interchangeable. Any individual among these primates may scuttle off to foam the latté, to plump the pillows.

And this distancing is not restricted to the merchant primates, the florists and jewelers, whose shabby little lives are devoted to swirling around the Magnificent to offer their fawning, subhuman counsel about which sailing vessel is suitably yar, what thread count is minimally acceptabe for the guest rooms. These primates have names. It must feel to them like the Magnificent have bestowed a soul-cooling balm when they speak these names.

And this distancing is not restricted to the primates in suits, the bankers and other stewards of the capital, the vault-keepers and bean counters. Due to their proximity to the capital - the fuel that fires the entire engine - these primates must be granted the delusion that they are Fully Human. They have names that must be remembered and added to the Christmas card list that's managed by one of the lower primates. Because they are sentinels and servants of the capital, theirs is the highest work a primate can undertake, and as such they are very nearly cherished - these are the only primates permitted to curl on hearth rugs at the feet of the Magnificent.

For it is the Magnificent alone who may occupy the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human. To offer sanctuary to any among the other primates - who, though rumored to share some long-distant branch on the evolutionary tree, cannot hope to mimic convincingly the refinement and grace of the Magnificent - would constitute treachery of the worst kind. Occupants of the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human, when they are young, may indulge in casting their moon-eyed gaze across the Insulating Sea of Blessed Capital and imbue the primates with something akin to Full Humanity. These Young Magnificents may sound out the names embroidered on the smocks of the primates, and intensify their eye contact when they encounter these helper primates on docks and at ski lifts, in hotel lobbies and at poolside bars. But this effort (which the Young Magnificents could never really bring themselves to really believe) costs too much, and is a fallacy of youth, so must be tucked away in the same attic as the trunks filled with kite string and sand pails, picture books and pinwheels.

These Young Magnificents must mature and ripen into the bloom of their Full Humanity, and stop filling the heads of the primates with aspirations they can never realize, mobility they do not have. These Young Magnificents must one day embrace their Humanity in its Fullness, and concede that there is only room for a select and limited number of inhabitants on the Very Tiny Island. Besides, the primates, being coarse and deprived, could never feel truly at ease on the Island. So it is a mercy, really, to deny the primates admittance, as they would be all in a muddle. 

This mercy is the burden of the Magnificents. And the primates are ill equipped to understand such a burden. So can never be anything like Fully Human.



America Runs on Duncan

On November 6, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan celebrated his 51st birthday. And since the embrace of his peerless policies is so total, and the successes brought on by the clarity of his vision continue to proceed at a goddamn gallop, and the during his tenure has been marked by an uninterrupted series of victory laps, many workplaces in the private sector have adopted his clear-eyed reforms and are now enjoying the fruits of their success. If you're a CEO, Executive Director of a large non-profit, or any other reactive halfwit who unaccountably occupies a place of power while asserting your right to remain badly out of touch, here's all you need to know in order to run your enterprise into the ground The Arne Way:


  1. Facilities. In lots of workplaces, the vogue in recent years has been to opt for an open floor plan - lots of space to foster informal collaboration, and a more egalitarian environment with greater transparency that allows easy checkins across departments. While there are merits to such an approach, The Arne Way demands that you say "Fuck that noise." Here's what you do: give up your lease on that sleekly designed office park or highrise suite and get yourself a crumbling building - a forbidding brick one that puts you in mind of an abandoned mental hospital or a haunted armory - that has not fewer than two of the following: a) asbestos, and lots of it, b) lead paint on every surface - the more flaking and chipped, the better, c) a century-old boiler designed to run on whale blubber but retrofit to burn coal, d) a joyless and confused floorplan that makes you want to curl into a ball of thwarted defeat to die in a stairwell, e) an address in Detroit, f) toilets clogged with the corpses of rats.
  2. Capital. Adequate funding is the lifeblood of any enterprise, so be sure and pin your hopes on a capricious source - and this is critical - TOTALLY UNRELATED TO YOUR ACTIVITIES. Maybe Arne didn't innovate here, in pegging the funding of local schools to property taxes, but he by golly has seen the wisdom implicit in this system, since: a) THE INEQUITY IS BAKED RIGHT IN, and b) EVERYBODY resents it. Say you run a marketing consulting company - you should capitalize that with a little money from every florist in your town; or you're in the insurance game - just snag your employee retirement plan from whichever frozen yogurt place is nearest to you.
  3. HR. The staff you have now? The ones on the front line providing the service? They have NO idea what they're doing. Not only are they inept and stupid, they are super-hostile to the most fundamental goals your company has. They are the enemy, and you need to do everything you can to villify them, marginalize them, debase and hector them in every way you can conceive. That's a good start, but you also have to insinuate layer upon layer of management people who have conflicting understandings of the objectives of the enterprise and who prescribe fixes that cancel each other out. If you could get these management folks ramped up to where they're like a shrill cyclone made of bees and panic, that is best.
  4. Compensation. Back to staffing - you should aim for a starting salary just north of rag picker, and just shy of barista. These venal assholes will have negotiatied a regular series of pay bumps, so you MUST make it your mission to ensure that they never stay more than a couple years. Just keep lining up the cannon fodder and mowing them down. It should be like the military - put them in harm's way, pay them diddly, pay TONS of lip service to how much you support and value them, then when they return home all fucked up by the adventure you sent them on, cut their goldbricking asses loose and don't look back.
  5. Expectations. Stratopherically high - impossibly, catastrophically high. Pack their heads full of the kind of tough-love uplift where Michelle Pfeiffer sits the wrong way on chairs to REALLY REACH THESE KIDS, stoke the embers of their good intentions, and leverage to whatever pollyanna impulse it is that drives these hapless idiots to want to help anybody. Once you've wound them up and set them loose, change entirely the means of assessing what they do. Like if you run a parasailing concession at a resort, the rules of dog sled racing should suddenly pertain in a totally unannounced way. It is CRITICAL that you maintain a baffled Orwellian insistence that it has ALWAYS been the rules of dog sled racing that have governed the operations of your pararsailing company, and that if your staff cannot even manage to keep sight of so basic a precept of the immutable laws of dog sled parasailing, then perhaps they're not really cut out for this work. Your aim, as you snuff out the last of their good will and lofty aspirations like Chief Bromden pressing that pillow into McMurphy's lobotomized face, should be that the last thing they see is your profound disappointment in them, and that their pure motives have been a squalid and pointless folly.
  6. Double Down. When the consultants you hired to displace your parasailing staffers turn out to be crooked and bungling, you should not only NOT question them or their methods, you should bulldoze the derelict mental hospital where your former staffers had been failing to deliver, and build a new building for these consultants, who seem super awesome, even though there's all these fucking academics squawking about how their methods are unproven, and how there's a preponderance of data that's emerging that suggests their approach is sub-optimal. You push those fucking eggheads to the ground and threaten them with a preponderance of your foot in their ass.
  7. Blame Roulette. If you keep the system dervishing a s good clip, it's just a formless blur where everybody's a villain, or nobody is. When it's been going long enough, you could place your recrimination bets on any number, red or black, and it'll be a goddamn jackpot every time. If you build enough hopelessness into the system, then all players on all sides of the table wind up shellshocked and glassy-eyed by the inevitability of their failure. Likewise all spectators to the game - who are each culpable, as well - leave the table with the sulphurous savor of failure on their tongues.
  8. Activity. Lots and Lots of Activity. Once you've instilled the bone-deep sense of futility in your staff, and encircled them with a scrum of consultants who will reinforce paranoia and dysfunction at every level; once you've whipped the public into a froth, and have created an entrenched and cynical executive class that will either plunder your enterprise of all its riches, or lapse into the stasis brought on by pointlessness, then you can set all the pieces spinning in perpetuity. Like a mobile. Arriving nowhere. Twirling on the same stupid axis. For good.

If you follow these simple steps, then one day you too can preside over an enterprise everybody claims to cherish, but which they treat like an incontinent grandparent with Tourette's. And the real hell of it is: Grandma will never die. She'll just remain stuck in the same mortifying cycle: shitting and swearing, shitting and swearing.