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Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Idea for a Story 2

The first one is here, if you're curious.


Sometimes it seemed important for Barry to say his name aloud. Speaking aloud also reminded Barry he was in possession of a voice, however craggy and cracky it was.

“Barry,” Barry said into the void of his apartment one grey and drizzling Wednesday afternoon. “Bar. Ry.”
The apartment did not respond, as expected, but Barry's point was made all the same: He was Barry, he had a voice, and therefore he had lungs, a heart, and all the organs needed to justify both a name and an ability to speak even in a vacuum.

“Vacuum,” Barry said next. Two 'u's. “Barry.” Two 'r's.

Barry was sitting at his computer, working. For years he'd suffered in a cubicle in an office downtown, working his way up to the level where an office became pointless; several months ago, his manager broke the news to him: “Bar, we've decided to promote you.... raise... work from home... weekly meetings via Skype... lucky bastard...”

Barry accepted the promotion without hesitation. “Nothing I do here that I can't do from home,” Barry told his manager.

“One thing you can do from home,” the manager joked, “is work in your underwear.” Then a pause. “Please, though, when we do the Skype thing, make sure you're wearing pants.” Another pause. “And a shirt. Please.”

Barry always wore pants while working. He felt there should be a modicum of business decorum. One 'u' for each word.


The apartment, again, responded to his name without responding at all. Barry glanced at a framed poster of a Picasso painting to his left. It hung on the wall in a way framed posters usually do, which is to say it seemed, always, on the verge of collapse.

It also hung there in a way Picasso prints always hang, which is to say it seemed to vibrate with kinetic energy. Then Barry returned his gaze to the computer screen. A PowerPoint slide. There was a picture of a puppy asleep atop a pile of empty water bottles, and the heading of the slide was “How Can We Make the Uncomfortable Comfortable?”

The entire PowerPoint presentation was due in a half-hour. Barry had no ideas, but he at least had a name. And a pair of pants.

What he did not have was weed, which, as even his manager knew, was a vital component to Barry's work. Tucked into Barry's paycheck each week was an allotment called “Discretion,” which was tax-free for reasons Barry never questioned, and it was a considerable allotment, and it afforded Barry one of the alternate uses for his craggy voice. Barry reached for his iPhone and spoke to it: “Siri,” Barry said. “Call Himself.” After the call was made, Barry texted his manager: “Need more time on the pres. Two hours.”

The manager responded: “Fine. But 1 hr better than 2.”


Barry in pants and shirt, with socks and shoes, no underwear, a hat to hide his mess of hair, a messenger bag, a jacket. This Barry dressed and prepared exited his apartment for the first time in two days—opening the door, Barry heard the apartment sigh as if he'd just opened, from the inside, King Tut's tomb—and hurried down the first of three sets of staircases. As he went down, Albert was going up.

Albert was younger than Barry. He was new to the city and unsure why he'd even moved there. Barry knew Albert lived in the apartment above, with two roommates and three cats, but that was about all Barry knew of Albert.

“Hey,” Barry said.

“How's it going,” Albert responded.

“Not well. I'm out of weed, and have a deadline,” Barry said. Then he clarified: “I only smoke when working. I'm not a stoner, except by trade.”

“Cool.” Albert was polite enough not to point out that Barry's ample frame was blocking his ability to climb the stairs. “So,” Albert said.

Barry, mid-stair, hands on both the wall and the railing, felt something should be said to prolong the conversation, which was his first conversation with a non-computer-screen human in weeks. “So how are the cats?”

“I don't know. They're not my cats.” Albert made a gesture indicating a desire to continue up the stairs.

“Oh.” Barry understood. He realized conversation was not required. His left hand slipped from the railing, and his right slipped from the wall. “Weed,” Barry said. “Deadline,” Barry said.

Albert, already moving past Barry, took a few steps beyond before questioning this odd collection of words. “Hey. Hey! What the fuck does all that mean?”

For the first time in months, Barry found himself in a position, quite literally, of looking up to someone. Albert was near the landing, hands splashed across the railing and the wall, bent at the hip, looking back down at him. If it were a PowerPoint slide, the heading would be, “Exasperation: How Do We Make Youth Less Exasperated?”

“I have a deadline.” Barry shrugged. “We all have deadlines, but mine is in an hour.”

“I meant the weed part.”

“Seriously? Weed. I work best when... What?”

Albert descended the stairs he'd just ascended, and leaned in to Barry. “I live with two girls and three cats. I just moved here. I have no fucking idea where to get weed. I do ten million things all day, every day, and they're all ten million things I like doing but when I come home, I would like... you know?”

“I'll speak to Himself,” Barry said. "If he says it's okay, I'll give you his number.”

“It's okay if not.”

“No, I'll see if he's okay with it.”

“You could just sell me some.”

“No, I don't do that.”

“But it's the same thing.”

“No, it isn't. Puppies on empty bottles.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

Barry took a moment. “I'm not sure. But it means something. I gotta go.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Idea for a Story

A young man--let's call him Gleg--does a kindness to another young man (let's call him Albert, because why not).

After the kindness, both discover the other loves video games, and that each has a subscription to an online gaming service not unlike Netflix...

No, scratch that.

Gleg... Let's not call him Gleg. Avery (why not) lives alone with his cat. He's nearing middle-age, and the type of person who can tell the date and time without consulting a clock or calendar. He wakes up every morning, pads to the kitchen to twist open a can of cat food, then drops the food into a nearby bowl. The sickening sound the 'pluuump' makes as the food disk slides out of the aluminum can into the bowl is strangely pleasant to Avery, and wildly exciting to the cat.

The cat is named Alopecia because the cat is a Sphynx.

No... scratch that. The cat is named Furball, because Avery (why not) is not very imaginative, and the cat is a generic mix of many breeds.

Each morning, Avery finds delight in the cat's delight, and rubs her neck while she eats. As Furball eats, she purrs, and as she purrs, Avery feels her delight in his fingertips. Then he showers, dresses, and walks to the train several blocks away.

He manages to sit in the same seat each day because he is at the beginning of the line. He chooses the same car, the same seat, and waits with the train to begin its journey into work.

No... scratch it.

Each morning is a mystery to Avery. And this one particular morning is no exception. The train, stuffed with humans of various sizes, volumes, devices, and intentions, are crowding the train which has been at work much longer than Avery. Avery is a part of the train's long journey. He is not, of course, simpatico with the train's day--he is merely stuffing himself into the train's busy schedule.

Avery is dressed for work. He is wearing a dark button-down shirt tucked into khakis, with Furball hair cris-crossing the back of the shirt. He has on his sneakers. His hair is combed, as usual, but also as usual the breeze constant across the world has knocked his hair out of sorts. When the train resumes forward momentum, for the first time in his life Avery lurches into another human being.

The human--a male--is jostled so hard that he drops a syringe. The syringe falls to the floor of the train and Avery, still trying to correct his own balance, accidentally steps on it with his sneaker, smashing it into....

Nah. Scratch that.

The human--a male--is jostled so hard that he drops a piece of paper he'd been clutching in his hand. The human male also drops himself, falling backwards, reaching out with his hands for something to hold and finding only other humans with which to steady himself. Feeling guilty, Avery bends over to retrieve the paper, and sees the words, "your deaths" and "justified." The color drains from Avery's face as he realizes

Ick. No. Scratch that extra hard.

Avery bends over to retrieve the paper, and sees the words, "my death" and "better off." Avery, who makes it a point never to pry into the business--or the papers--of others, exercises a rarely used ability: he skims. Most of us skim things we shouldn't, but Avery never does. Skimming is a form of eavesdropping. But he skims the paper, then reaches out to the male human still flailing around as other passengers on the train either attempt to steady him or avoid him.

"Sorry." Avery.

"Thanks." Male human.

Avery returns the paper to the male human (what the hell, let's still call him Albert) and says, "If you really want to do this, my office is on the 67th floor of the Tension Building. The windows open. You shouldn't, but it's fine for you to... you know. I'll let you in."

"So you agree I should just end it," Albert says.

Hm. No. Scratch that.

"So we live in the same five story walk-up. Two things, dude: you not even recognizing me and--two--not thinking I could just jump off the roof. Dude. I don't need 67 storeys to hit the ground. I just need five good ones, and I could do that without leaving my apartment."

"So." Avery thinks. "So." Avery continues to think. "So. Ah. I'm sorry. What can I do for you to make you either not do what you, ah, intend to do, or at least making your intentions less unpleasant?"

Avery considers Furball's food taking the long slide from the can, the sickening 'pluuuump' into the bowl, and reaches out to Albert--he extends his thin hand to the shaky human male. "If I can make it through 8 hours, you can."

Albert grasps Avery's hand. Shakes. Avery thinks the handshake feels rather papery and flimsy before he realizes the suicide note is still clasped in Albert's palm.

At work, Avery

Ugh. No, scratch that. No need to drag it out. Summary: Avery has a weird job, he's so miserable he doesn't realize it, and there's a very amusing incident in the breakroom where he sets a Sharpie on fire.

At home, Avery sits down on his couch and is caressed by Furball. He checks his email, which is empty, then checks his social media sites, which as all as barren as the Moon. Avery takes a quick shower to wash off the day's interactions, then returns to his computer, opens GSG, and selects a game. He's made a point, over the past year, to stop purchasing games from GSG. He's also finished most of the purchased games many times. So he's torn: keep up his resolve and not spend more money; or buy a new game.

No scratching. Just get to the point. Yaddayaddayadda: Albert.

Avery calms Furball. Albert wipes the blood from his left hand. "So. Yeah."

"Sorry. I should've warned you. The cat can be a bit much if you just grab at it."

"Right. Fair enough."

"I'm Avery," Avery says.


"Albert." Avery seems to consider the name. "Sorry, Albert. I didn't mean to knock you down and didn't mean to read your suicide note."

"It happens." Albert stares at Avery for a moment. "Anyway. So I just came down to repay you."

"But--I knocked you down. I didn't do anything." Avery stroked Furball, sandwiched between his crossed arms.

"You did two things. You offered me kindness, and you offered me an apology. It's nice. People are nice. They just aren't enough."

"You aren't still considering... you know." Avery meant it to be a question, but it was no question.

"No." Albert shakes his head. Stares at Albert. Shakes his head again. "No."

"Ok. Good."

Albert reaches out a hand to Avery. Avery, by habit, allows Furball to drop to the ground and reaches his own hand out. Avery and Albert meet palms.

"I'm giving you access to my GSG account," Albert tells Avery. "I know you like playing games. The whole building hears you screaming obscenities at 3 in the morning."

Avery shrinks back a bit. "No. I... surely that's just when I... I stub my toe on the way to the bathroom or something."

Albert firms his palm against Avery's palm. "You yell at Mario, for chrissakes. You're yelling at crap characters on GSG. The free games. My parents pay for my GSG account. It's expensive. So, when I'm not on it, you can use it. I'll text you the sign in shit."

Avery glances down at Furball. The cat is still on her back, recovering from a sudden drop (cats don't always land on their feet, and that is by choice).

Avery is thinking, You mean I can actually play Fuffut 3 without paying for it?

Avery says to Albert, "Thanks. I'll text you my GSG account info too. You can use it when I'm not on. Too."

Fuffut 3 is a game Albert wanted to play but refused to buy. Patience, he insisted, and patience he has, but the buzz around the game makes him

Scratch that. Point? Avery cannot log into GSG when Albert is on. It is Albert's account.

[Scenes from next weeks 'Idea for a Story': A desperate Avery realizes Albert is seldom off GSG. Albert contracts a sudden illness. Avery meets the love of his life... in a game on GSG.]

Scratch that: GSG kills off Albert because they can make more money off Furball videos posted to Youtube.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Nightvale Novel is Causing a Crisis

Welcome to Nightvale is a podcast. True.

Welcome to Nightvale is now a novel. Also true.

I have always loved radio broadcasts. True. In fact, I used to buy cassettes of old radio shows.

Radio is a dying medium. True.

Print is a dying medium. Eh--dunno.

Here's the thing: Welcome to Nightvale, which I started listening to a few years back, now has a book--a physical, weighable book--out. A recent interview with the writers of said book mentioned the audio version.

As a fan of Nightvale, I can now either go a bookstore and purchase the book; I can go online and purchase the virtual book; I can go online and buy the audio book, which is essentially an extended podcast.

"You like books," Greg told me.

"I am trying to... it's just... I have a screen where I can read--"

"Books. You're the son of a printer."

"I'm the owner of an iPhone 6."

"You like books."

True. I have a lot of books in storage in Alabama, and it feels as if I've been castrated because those books are not with me. Those books are just there, sitting in boxes. And the thing about books is that they smell a bit, and the paper has a raspy sound, and the font declares itself.

"You read and you criticize the paper. Get the damn book."

"But I can just buy it online. Do I want it as a---"

"Get the book. The physical, actual book."

There is something magical about having a book. The pages turn. They feel crisp between the fingers, and they sound oh they sound like a release, a sigh, when they flip over to the next page. And G's right: the font is important. And he's right: paper. The weight, the texture, the....oh god, the kearning.

Books are not made for light carriage. They are things to be held, and considered, and contemplated.

"Just admit you don't like iBooks."

I'm old. My nuts are so low because my books are missing, and I've pretended for years that iBooks was a decent substitute.

It isn't. True

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Medium is the Missage

Across various platforms the other day, I wrote or had conversations about  Star Wars. Hardly a thing unique to me: with the reveal of the new and final Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens trailer, most everyone was either talking or typing about Star Wars, or else enduring those of us who couldn't shut up about it.

'Cept I wasn't breaking down the trailer, scene by scene, and offering theories on what each shot meant. I wasn't spinning complicated theories over why Luke Skywalker was missing from both the official theatrical poster or the trailer. I wasn't focused on Han Solo's apparent Dana-Scully moment of acceptance that the Force is real. Because I'm a rebel, and a failed geek.

For whatever reason, and after a lifetime of watching the movies, I zeroed in on the apparent lack of mass media in the Star Wars galaxy.

First things first: I am a fair-weather fan of Star Wars. The original trilogy is great, and I've watched those movies many times. I saw the prequel trilogy in theatres one time each, and slept through most of the third movie, which was known as Star Wars: ROTS for a reason. I never ventured into the expanded universe--the tie-in books and games and cartoons, though I'm not opposed to their existence.

Secondly: It turns out the expanded universe is a non-starter now. When Disney acquired the franchise, they cut the fat, and the fat was the vast expansion of the core of the galaxy far, far away. No matter what happened in that expanded universe, it is all neither here nor there. So far, what has happened in the original six movies is all that matters in that galaxy.

To those who've tried to say my thought experiment is flawed because I did not toe the waters of the murky expansion, I say there is nothing there to consider. The films are my focus.

And the films, as George Lucas has said, are meant to be echoes of one another. "You see the echo of where they're gonna go," he said in a behind-the-scenes short. "They're like poetry. They rhyme."

True, not all poetry rhymes, and I'd argue that he lost the meter in the prequels, but okay, George. Your creation, your rules. If you can insist with a straight face that there is no underwear in space, then you can say the films you spent most of your life making are rhyming poems. What mortal hand or eye dare question this symmetry?

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan released Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which was surprisingly not a book presaging all the dick-lengthening emails future generations would receive in their email inbox. No, Understanding Media was sort of McLuhan's way of opening Schrodinger's box and explaining, at length, what had just happened. The medium, McLuhan famously stated, was the message. To me, his book is about what happens when the cat--the object of import in Schrodinger's thought experiment--comes to realize the real story is not about the cyanide pill but about the person contemplating the ramifications of peeking into the box.

Anyway, my point here--obscured a bit by a weak analogy--is that A New Hope came out in 1977, the same year McLuhan had gained such notoriety for his thoughts on mass media that he practically invented the double-meta joke by appearing in a fantasy sequence in Annie Hall. In fact, by 1977, people were so obsessed with the concept of media and how media affects us, several films and novels and television shows and New Yorker think-pieces had been released on the subject. Network comes to mind. All the President's Men--the book, then the film--as well.

The idea of media, and its uses, is an interesting subject for me. Which is why, while everyone else was speculating on Luke's absence and why there's a new Death Star in the poster, I was wondering why there is so little memory-retention in all the Star Wars movies.

To contrast, think of Star Trek. Not wanting to get in a geek war over which of the Stars is better: Trek or Wars. I like both. I'm a fan of both. I know random things about both. But from a mere media standpoint, Star Trek is a stronger example of McLuhan's theories if only because for Star Trek there is a reliance on media not present in Star Wars. There is a continuum. People recall previous, defunct cultures and languages, and consult texts, and occasionally come across the future equivalent of news alerts.

True: Star Trek is meant to be our future.

Star Wars is meant to be a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

However, the characters of both Star Wars and Star Trek act in very human-like ways. The characters on the trek are just as relatable to us as the alien forms in the wars. (Spoiler: both the future treks and the past, distant wars were dreamed up by humans.) It's understandable that Star Trek would reference Shakespeare and Milton and The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," a song that happens to mention Spock and therefore causes all sorts of implications. (Schrodinger's Cat would suggest you keep the box closed on that discussion.) And to be fair to Star Wars, we do get one lousy opera and a dance number to give us an idea there is some culture in the galaxy.

It has been pointed out to me that the Empire of Star Wars was a totalitarian regime. North Korea, China, and Soviet Russia were cited as examples of such a regime. Fine, except all of those totalitarian states had state-run media. The Empire, so far as I can tell, lacked even a Baghdad Bob to spread the Good Word of the Empire's deeds. Even Nazi Germany had a media center, and they were killing people with even more gusto than the Empire, so surely the word was spreading without Goebbels. Yet even the Nazis needed a propaganda minister.

FOX News would've loved the obliteration of Alderaan, and given pelnty of coverage. Alas.

(I must pause here to say the one piece of expanded-universe works difficult to strip out of the new Disney property is the Star Wars Holiday Special. Not only did that special introduce Boba Fett, but so far as I can tell, it's one of the only Star Wars properties to include the concept of a mass media for the Empire. There are cooking shows, news bulletins, and even emergency broadcasts from the Empire. Also, Lumpy, Chewbacca's son, consults actual printed material in order to create a droid. Imagine! Someone in Star Wars actually reads instructions before just randomly doing something (blue prints don't count)).

The medium is the message. McLuhan was right, of course. Star Wars is a medium, and it is more truly the message to us than Star Trek could ever be. In one, people recall the recent past, consult texts from time to time, and are aware of the basic concept of news reports.

In the other, everyone seems to have a memory wipe every 20-30 years, no one cites anything more weighty than their own faulty memory, and at no point is anyone seen reading a damn book or watching a documentary or news story.

To me, it is interesting. And I don't--really, I don't--mean to compare Star Wars to Star Trek. It's just a handy comparison, as both the Stars are popular enough to get across the shorthand to my (random) thoughts. Plenty of science fiction and fantasy works integrate media. Star Wars, however, is so stripped of mass media that I find it remarkable.

Going back to North Korea, for instance: if North Korea, a tiny country on a tiny planet in a tiny star system, existed in one of the star systems of Star Wars, and if it still had its state-run media intact, people all across that far-away galaxy would know about each "successful" nuclear missile test NK attempted, and would be convinced the "success" was an actual success, and be terrified of tiny NK. In Star Wars, the Empire tested its Death Star by blowing up an entire planet... and the only person with a clue it happened, aside from those on the planet or the Death Star, was Obi Wan.

What's the use? It reminds me of the end of Dr. Strangelove, when Strangelove demands to know the point of a Doomsday Device if no one knows you have it. The Empire should've video'd that shit and posted it to their propaganda broadcast agency. Otherwise, they risk losing their grip on power and being brought down by a bunch of teddy bears.

And here we are. Thirty years have passed. Han, of all people, is forced to remind the young'uns what happened just a generation back. In Star Wars, there are flying cars, cities that look like Blade Runner, inter-planetary commerce, hyperspace travel... and still, just an oral tradition of passing stories down--and you quite literally need to find the right person to pass down the right story to the right rebel in order to get the story started all over again.

Perhaps the reason there's an echo is because there are so many hollow skulls in Star Wars.

The medium is the message. In this case, the medium is a story about people with such short-term memories they can't quite get why they live in a dystopia full of wonderful inventions, and yet have no libraries, internet, or decent opera.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cosby

Ebony has a cover-story this month that is a cover-story to think about.

As a white guy, it is my sad confession: I seldom use the words 'Ebony' and 'cover-story' and 'think about' in a sentence. Perhaps I should.

Here's the cover for Ebony this month. It's a good cover, and gets right to the point. The point, which is that artists should never believe their own art.

It is true! Picasso was an awful human being. Faulkner was iffy as a person. Dickens sucked. Woody Allen makes a lot of movies I quite like, but there's no ignoring the fact that he married his girlfriend's daughter, nor is there a way of forgetting he may or may not have sexually assaulted his own daughter. (More on that in a bit.)

Mozart? You probably would not enjoy hanging out with him. Same with Wagner and Diego Rivera and TS Eliot and Vivian Maier. The best thing one can do, as a creator of art, is to create.

Bill Cosby didn't just create art, though. He became his creation. For decades, Cosby spent a lot of time and effort being our paternal god: he told us what to say, what to wear, and how to act. One of my favorite stories about Bill Cosby involves Eddie Murphy, who is not an artist I spend much time separating from his art, but... this is pretty good.

If you didn't bother to play the above, which... why would you?... the point is Richard Pryor said everything one needs to say when it comes to Bill Cosby, and the hand-wringing over the legacy of the Cosby Show: "Tell Bill to have a Coke and smile and shut the fuck up."

Here's a thing I try to avoid mentioning: I really like Woody Allen. As a white guy, I think it's an easy thing to admit: Woody Allen makes several good movies, and has a solid stand-up routine. Certainly, he's made some awful life choices and it is always terrible to me to admit my true feelings about his daughter--Dylan.

But as a white guy talking about Bill Cosby? It's worse.

Cosby represents love. Hell, one of my favorite memories was playing a cassette tape of Cosby's "Himself" set for my racist great-grandmother, and watching her laugh her ass off. But the difference between Woody Allen and Bill Cosby has nothing to do with race.

Race is there. It's the reason no one should judge Ebony's cover picture. Race is at the heart of every word written about Cosby.

Woody Allen never pretended to be a model human. He never wrote a book about fatherhood, he never told us to pull our pants up, and he never insisted we should clean up our language.

As a white guy, I've loved Bill Cosby. As a goy, I've loved Woody Allen. But 50+ women have not accused Woody Allen of sexual assault. There is no reason to tell Woody Allen to "have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up."

With Bill, though?

The Cosby Show helped the US get what it is to be Black. It is awful that the show is now ruined for future generations. But the cast continues on, and Cosby--the man and the show--can't put a stop to the careers.

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