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Entries in Hideout (17)


The Wisdom of Solomon

Donald and Evelyn had been affixed to one another for almost thirty-two years. To say that they loved each other would be overstating things – even calling them attached to one another by anything stronger than habit would be a stretch. Their allegiance, such as it was, consisted more of a kind of adamant fixity on the condition of being married, rather than any abiding or personal stake in each other.

Their definition of themselves as individuals, to the extent that they thought with any frequency or care about such things, was in large measure dependent upon being a married person. Golfer. Gardener. Spouse. These formless conceptions of themselves, these predigested descriptors – these provided them some minimal degree of clarity and comfort.

Donald had one time thought, to his own rueful amusement, that their marriage was like a dog turd that had spent a long winter inside a snow bank – when the spring sun melted it free, it retained something of its form, but was blanched and ghostly and odorless.

Evelyn, for her part, regarded Donald’s presence in her home as a low-level nuisance that was decades now in duration – he was an infestation, almost, of some lumpy mammalian pest that she could never bring herself to drive away.

They had raised an unspectacular child who had long since moved away, and who, if they were honest, was fading in their memory.

What passed for conflict was when they both slept, and the dog ambled off the foot of their bed – there would be a listless jockeying of feet to lay claim to the warm patch vacated by him. In the morning, in the wake of this listless maneuvering, there was a slight increase in how clipped were their exchanges.

On the whole, though, they just marked time in proximity to one another – Donald on aimless walks, leash limp in his hand, staring blankly at the dog’s asshole; Evelyn absently reading middlebrow books that never stuck in her memory. They would dine on sensible portions, stay informed about world events in a resigned and tongue-clicking way, and would gaze unblinking at their own flickering screens while seated not far from each other.

In all, theirs was a tidy and arid little life. They were both flat-footed and glassy-eyed, pear-shaped and settled, in body and mind.

But when Donald awoke with the cold ring of a gun barrel pressed into the meat of his left cheek, the way they had been was snuffed out completely.

Evelyn’s eyes flew open, as a voice – a hellish, robotic voice – said “Wakey-wakey.”

And, for the first time in long time, Donald and Evelyn were awake.

“You know who I am?” said the voice behind the mask, digging the gun barrel into Donald’s face, then lifting it and resting it on Evelyn’s forehead. There was a smell in that room, now, like cordite and something musky.

Donald and Evelyn nodded furiously, tearfully. They knew who this was.

They had fretted in their low-intensity way over reports of a string of home-invasion killings throughout the region. The press called him the Solomon Killer, after the king in that baby-splitting story. He would break into the bedroom of a sleeping couple and force them to choose which of them he would shoot in the face. He would only shoot one of them. If there were kids in the house, he would leave them alone – he would only shoot a spouse in the head while the other one watched.

Profilers claimed that it was this compound suffering – the survivor’s guilt, the traumatizing spectacle, the visions of blood-spattered pillowcases persisting long after he had committed the crime – these were the real goals of the Solomon Killer. The production of a corpse was, for him, just a means to these. On the television, on the Sunday morning programs, the profilers conjectured soberly that the Solomon Killer’s… gratification resided in this “long tail” of grief and misery.

“So,” said the voice. “Which of you is it to be?”

Without hesitation, in the span, really, of a flinch, Donald and Evelyn pointed at each other. Fiercely, and with purpose.

And, in those trembling and wide-eyed instants before the gun went off and the room filled with the ferrous smell of blood, Donald and Evelyn, their index fingers stabbing vehemently at the air between them, saw one another more clearly and understood each other more fully than they had in a long, long time.


WRITE CLUB, Nice - 12/17/13

As the founder of this thing, I’ve written something like 70 WRITE CLUB pieces. I’ve performed the show in five North American cities. I’ve written to a wide range of topics.

And I can tell you this:

Nice is the worst fucking assignment I’ve ever given myself.

Not only am I temperamentally unsuited to the task of advocating for Nice, but from the standpoint of writerly craft, Nice is one of those gutless, toothless, limbless words that drive me right around the bend.

You know the ones. The words.






All those fucking words that are so thumb-worn and degraded from centuries of having drizzled off the tongues of the insincere that they have ceased to contain any vestige of their meaning. Words so compromised and pissed-upon that they may as well be made-up non-words like “edutainment” or “nutraceuticals.”

In every office and coffee shop, at every bus stop and at the end of every bar, they sit, these words, by the bucketful. Used by the desperate in the wrong-headed belief that any utterance, no matter how hollow or false, is preferable to the silence that surrounds us always. People who would sooner say SOMETHING, because the prospect of a stretch of nothing said, a howling pause in the something-ness, well it’s more than most can bear.


There, now. Wasn’t that nice?

It is no secret that many people labor under the misconception that I am not a nice person. I am quick to hatred, and live suspended in a molten pool of judgment and harshness.

But it is not for want of ABILITY that I am not a Nice person. It is because I believe that being NICE is not worth aspiring to. NICE people are well suited to standing in line till they die; NICE people make outstanding hostages. If you want a trainee for middle management or a lamb for the slaughter, call a Nice person. Nice people are good cannon fodder or medical test subjects.

In short, Nice people are mostly stupid and afraid. I also am mostly stupid and afraid, but I am nonetheless lacking in Niceness.

But setting aside the hollow and senseless aspects of Nice, the pleasing and vacuous and agreeable aspects of it, what do we find? What was the original intent of the word?

Well. Murky as fuck, as it turns out.

[PRODUCE Oxford English Dictionary]

Following are several archaic definitions of Nice, which will demonstrate that despite the vastness of my hostility, the nanoscopic scale of my patience, and the combustibility of my good will, I am, in point fact and despite the evidence of your senses, Nice.

“Shy, reluctant, unwilling”

“Wanton, loose-mannered, lascivious”

“Requiring or involving great precision, accuracy, or minuteness”

“Critical, doubtful, full of danger or uncertainty”

And finally “Fastidious in matters of literary taste”

Now then. On the surface, the misguided among you could argue that I am a bit of dick. But if one RETURNS to true nature of the word, it is plain to anyone that I am as Nice as I can be.

Where reluctance and being critical are concerned, where one has need of doubt and lasciviousness, one would be hard pressed to find anybody more fully empodying these attributes than I. I am a PARAGON of unwillingness, a TOWER of uncertainty. In fact, when you apply the right metrics of assessment, I rapidly emerge as THE NICEST PERSON YOU HAVE EVER MET.

It is precisely BECAUSE of my misanthropy and formless dread that I am so Nice. It is LESSER people, people lacking the courage to be judgmental and unforgiving that actually LACK in Niceness.

It is the people who seek always to be agreeable and civil, actually, that are the dicks, here.

Not this guy.

I am distasteful and truculent enough to recognize that it is those traditionally regarded as The Nice who ACTUALLY demonstrate the worst kind of cowardice and hypocrisy with their solicitude and tact and enthusiasm. It is the TYRANNY of jocularity and accommodation, in short, that have conspired to ensure that Nice Guys like myself finish last.

You have it in your power, however, to RECLAIM Niceness from the legions of the attentive, the armies of the cordial, the fascism of the friendly.

You have it in your grasp, here, this night, to seize for good and always the sense of what it means to be Nice. Do NOT LET this singular opportunity slide, ladies and gents. Do NOT permit these CHARLATANS to continue selling us the snake oil of their respectfulness. DEPROGRAM YOURSELF from this Cult of the Kind.

NOW is your time to stand and be counted. 


Who among you is Nice enough to return my salute?


WRITE CLUB, Damned - 4/16/13

“Have a blessed day.”

Even in our very darkest hour, when we stand at the brink of slipping into the volcanic pit of our loathing and brutality; when humanity seems poised to send its last weak ripple out into the pond of the world; and the cowl of hatred and fury threatens to blot out the sunlight of kindness and clarity for the final time – there will be calls in these times for the relaxing… of standards.

I say: NO. Now more than ever, we must cleave all the more closely to what we know to be true and right. Whether free speech, or civil liberties, or common sense – there are cries to leave these by the wayside – if only temporarily. They can be restored to us at some later, more placid date.

But once the soil is eroded – it is gone for good.

“Have a blessed day.”

Of all the farewells in the language, this one stands out as the grisliest of the bunch. As grating as it is presumptuous, as patronizing as it is sanctimonious, and as hypocritical as it is vapid.

“Have a blessed day.”

Listen Flanders – doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world: if you catch sight of THIS FACE, and still urge me to have a “blessed day,” you mistakenly believe that you and I share a sense of what constitutes a state of blessedness; you further believe – again, quite mistakenly – I concur that you are by some means imbued with the power to draw blessings from the heavens and to bestow them upon me; and finally, you further believe – and again, I hasten to add how badly off base you are, here – that I want your shabby goddamn blessings at all, ever, for any reason.

For you to say “Have a blessed day,” as you press my change into my palm, would be like me saying “Hail Satan!” Which I almost never do. Because it would have NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO with the Tacquitos I am seeking to purchase in your establishment.

I would sooner suffer every anguish conceived by the demon mind than to have you trying to insinuate your blessings into our transaction – I came here for a thing of Skittles and some piping hot Tacquitos, not for your tepidly conceived theology. Mine are secular Skittles, friend, and I frankly resent your attempts to make them some kind of sacrament in your half-assed church-less liturgy.

Now then – if my rejection of your blessings constitutes my damnation, then so be it.

The fate of my soul – assuming despite abundant evidence to the contrary that I have such a thing – is not yours to determine. If my “soul” is to be consigned to your totally made up lake of flames, or your make believe castle in the clouds, then it ain’t gonna be you that does the consigning – you feel me, Tammy Faye?

And even if you WERE so empowered, if you were handling the traffic flow of the afterlife, I would choose the Damned over the Blessed every goddamn time.

Cause “the Damned” is an apt synonym for “the Interesting”.

Whereas the Blessed – whether in this world or the next – are to me is like a congealing tower of rice pudding – a featureless and lumpy expanse of Boring distinguished mostly by its enduring capacity for self-congratulation.

My allegiance is with the Damned. And if you’re honest with yourself, so is yours.

You gotta be suspicious of any word that lends itself to the pretentious version: “blessed” here becoming “BLESS-ED.” The one exception is “legged” – but ONLY where it is used to indicate an off-count, like “three-legged dog” or “one-legged man.”

BLESS-ED is the way your eight-year-old ass feels during hour two of a sermon on the unyielding oak of a church pew. Damned is the way your lungs feel on that first drag of the cigarette you’re not supposed to be having.

BLESS-ED is the opening strains of a shitty song wafting over your cubicle wall – a song so generic, it could well be playing at the party in the After School Special about the perils of underage drinking – a song made infinitely worse when it dawns on you that your new officemate is VOLUNTARILY playing Christian Rock WITHOUT A TRACE OF IRONY – this naturally collapses your remaining affection and regard for the species into a bleak little wad of monkey-brain hatred. At 9:17AM.

Because if there is any more effective means than Christian Rock to make you wanna go do a bunch of heroin in the break room, it has yet to be discovered.

Look, it’s very simple: Damned is Highway to Hell, Blessed is Highway to Heaven – so what’s it gonna be?

The guitar licks of Angus? Or the helmet-haired syndication piety of Michael Landon? Because Eric Ruelle is asking you to choose the helmet-haired piety of Michael Landon. Which, listen… if you can live with yourself throwing in with the helmet-haired piety of Michael Landon and his earthbound minion Eric fucking Ruelle, then so be it.

I guess you wanna be a giant hopeless douche-twat. Which is JUST what Eric Ruelle and all his superstitious, ignorant, quivering little helmet-haired Army of God shit sticks want you to be: a giant hopeless douche-twat.

I don’t want that for you. You don’t want that for you. You don’t wanna look in the mirror and see a giant hopeless douche-twat looking back at you. A vote for BLESS-ED constitutes the unapologetic declaration that you believe yourself to be a giant hopeless douche-twat.

Though Damned, we know you to be a person of quality, a person of valor and moxie. We the Damned welcome you – in all your frailty and imperfection, all your strivings and struggles. Join us. Join the Damned. It is the only way to avoid becoming for all time a giant hopeless douche-twat.


(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.


WRITE CLUB - Belknap, Start, 9/18/12

Start is the best and only site of auspiciousness, the only place where everyone has equal reason to hope. Start is the only place where each pair of feet set into the starting blocks is as fleet as any other in the race, the only place where every rocket will deliver its payload to the stars, the only place each preschooler is a genius and each freshman is valedictorian.

Starting is best. There is no defeat in starting. There is no woe or sorrow. There is a limitless vista of victory and valor. The start is the only place on one’s timeline that is not sundered by disappointment. At the start we are each of us lean and lithe, our features fine and fair – our beauty is arresting and total, since it predates the intercession of mirrors and their attendant judgments and unkindness.

At the start, we are limitless in our capacity, we are favored by providence. At the start, we are unhindered by custom, we are unhobbled by misfortune. It is only at the start that our world is swollen with possibility and promise.

At the start, the phrase “he has SO MUCH POTENTIAL” is not a lament, as by an exasperated guidance counselor, but a statement of plain fact.

The start is the only place where universality and harmony are attainable, the only place where we can claim commonality with our fellows, the only site of equality. Up to a certain point, the fetus of a human, and the fetus of a pig, and the fetus of a chicken are nearly indistinguishable from one another – vertebrate tetrapods, curled like fiddleheads. They unfurl, of course, the fetus of the human and the pig and the chicken, and grow into the big-brained bipedal primate that is master of all he surveys, or lunch, as the case may be.

And it is not just that start is thrumming and fulsome with all things bright and beautiful – far from it. The start is engorged with the entire spectrum of possibility, every eventuality of every sort stands beneath its infinite canopy – in the manner of the expanding universe, the start represents everything currently possible, and enlarges to include every possibility not yet conceived. It is no exaggeration to say that the start includes everything within it literally – that every conclusion is foregone, every culmination or consummation – no matter how far off, no matter how involved or improbable, no matter how internecine or circuitous – every ending, every FINISH, has its roots at the start.

There can be no finish – no finish of any kind, ever – without having had a start. Start is the primordial ooze, the enzymatic slop, the genetic material without which there could be no finish.

Think of stories. They do not begin:

“And they lived happily ever after,” or

“And they found, on the handle of the car door … a METAL HOOK!” or

“And then he turned the gun on himself.”

Were stories to lead with their finish, they would be deeply dissatisfying exercises fraught with confusion that would only contribute to our sense of dislocation and misery. Stories would, instead of fostering a sense of kinship as they do now, by their nature make us feel like stupid losers. We’d have no idea what was happening.

Which is what my opponent is attempting tonight. Finish is intent upon making each of you feel like stupid losers with no idea what’s going on. Finish considers you ignorant swine undeserving of any kind of sensible progression. Finish is all massacre and aftermath and rubble.

Start is pudgy, sweet-smelling babies. Finish is placenta. Viscous placenta between blighted rows of corn. On a wind-swept plain. Trailing between the emaciated and blood-streaked legs of a dying Okie, tethering her to the scrawny wad of her stillborn son.

Start is the bloom of a first kiss, dewy and trembling. Finish is robotic missionary sex with your spouse of many years, on sheets gritty with the dander of your failings. Scheduled sex – a chore for which neither of you has any appetite – you avoid eye contact during this dry and joyless grinding.

Start is the tentative shoots of the crocus probing upward to the sun through the winter-hardened earth. Finish is the dying breath of the final Scandinavian botanist tending the world’s last seed bank deep beneath the scorched and sandstorm-blasted hellscape that was once Norway.

Start is sinking one’s teeth into the first bite of a meal lovingly prepared on a sun-dappled porch, surrounded by people you love. Finish is the last drop of acidic and acrid-smelling bulimia-barf, pushed to the back of your closet, in a Nine West shoebox lined with a Forever 21 bag. And you know something? YOU’RE STILL FAT!

Start is the first hour of the first day of your first real job. Finish is being escorted from the building, with your personal effects in a file box.

Start blushes and yearns; it is that place we carry inside us before we were ground down and compromised and leached of our hankering. Remember if you can that pure version of yourself – I’m talking about yourself at your most unafraid. That self you are meant to attain, the one untrammeled by circumstance, unbowed by worry and in no need of solace. I speak now to your strongest self, the hero within you that cannot be struck down; the stalwart and steady-eyed self who remains willing to start even though you know you may not finish.

To this self, your best, most fervent self, your self that aches for discovery and wonder and majesty. It is ONLY in starting that these things are possible. It is my hope that you find for possibility and promise – to do so, you must find for Start. To find in favor of Finish is to concede that your dreams are dead, your aspirations extinguished. I know you to be a dreamer still, and know that you will vote like one.