Sunday, October 30, 2011


In hopes of getting some writing done, I am going to give myself more projects than I can ever hope to complete.  This way, I can get more done than I would otherwise.  I never reach the bar that's set for me - never have, most likely never will - so, if I set it prohibitively high, my inevitable failure will be more successful.  Rather sick, if you ask me.  But what this means is, with November 1st looming just twenty-eight hours from now, I figured I could pick up the frayed threads of this hapless beast of an unfinished novel and try to weave something new from it.  Let's see how far I get with NaNoWriMo 2011, shall we?...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The following is a verbatim transcript taken directly from a recording made in a hidden back room at the Jayne County Public Utility Department and Plus-Sized Clothing Factory Outlet building in Port Winestain, Washington, on November 9, 2009. Every attempt has been made to transcribe the dialogue on the tape as accurately as possible, but please be aware that, due to the poor quality of the writing recording, a certain amount of inaccuracy is inevitable.

FIRST VOICE: …two, three, testing… the time is now 8888 hours Pacific Standard Time, according to my broken digital wristwatch, the ninth day of November, 2009. Beginning preliminary interview with subject, (indistinct), a resident of Port Winestain, Washington, brought to secure location earlier today by associate L.Tablewood under false pretense of free pastry. Subject has been, um, subjected to standard course of hypnosis, aversion therapy and brain cleansing, via intravenous application of various psychotropic drugs and an Olivia Newton-John film festival. As a result, subject has lapsed into a catatonic state interspersed with intermittent moments of lucidity – at, um, 8888 hours today, he began foaming at the mouth and screaming uncontrollably about what a terrible actor Michael Beck was and had to be restrained. Sedatives were applied, and there were no further outbursts, apart from a seventeen-minute interval during which he was heard to moan, “Poor Gene Kelly… poor, poor Gene Kelly…” At this time, subject is more responsive and calmer, though still under restraints for reasons of safety and my personal amusement. I will now begin the questioning process of subject’s examination in order to determine efficacy of subject for recruitment and utilization in Phase Two of ongoing project. Questioning of subject will have to wait for a moment, however, subject to my attempts to subject the listener – our obedient subject – to the greatest number of uses of the word “subject” in a single sentence I can possibly subject said subjects to. During this portion of the examination, subject is having breathing and pulse rate monitored, albeit with the same watch I’m using to tell time, so his present pulse rate is holding steady at 8888. The questioning will begin after a brief message from our corporate sponsors at Megalomaniacorp, LLC. Hey, ladies, have you ever felt the need for a feminine hygiene product that also chops vegetables with a single –

(break in recording)

– subject, can you hear me?


FIRST VOICE: Can you feel me near you?

(SUBJECT does not respond)

FIRST VOICE: I repeat – subject, can you hear me?


FIRST VOICE: Can I help to cheer you?

SUBJECT: Well, you can start by having Jeff Lynne killed.

FIRST VOICE: Subject appears to be regressing to the first recurring gag in the present chapter, refusing to respond to interlocutor’s attempts to distract him with a different, equally weak pop-culture reference. I feel it may be best to move on. Subject, I am now going to ask you a series of questions. I want you to answer them as fully, completely and honestly as possible. And don’t worry; there are no wrong answers. Let us begin. Are you comfortable?

SUBJECT: Yes, I suppose so.


(distortion on tape, loud electronic buzzing, sound of bacon frying)


FIRST VOICE: (chuckles) Heh-heh. Sorry. God, that never gets old. Okay, first question: have you ever been convicted of a felony?

SUBJECT: Does high treason count?

FIRST VOICE: Of course.

SUBJECT: Then no.

FIRST VOICE: Do you have any criminal record at all?

SUBJECT: Oh, yes, quite an extensive one.

FIRST VOICE: Please outline your misdeeds for the microphone.

SUBJECT: Well… I started very young, when I was cited for loitering. The charges were later dropped, but the stigma lasted for some time. In my mother’s defense, it was a difficult birth. I think it set me down the wrong path in a lot of ways – I was something of a blackmail and fraud prodigy. I bilked dozens of crossing guards, lunch ladies and hall monitors out of a lot of money all the way through third grade, and I was only able to avoid prison because of my age and because it sounded so cute when I said “extortion”. My entire adolescence was technically a misdemeanor, as I was accidentally classified as a Class-A substance from the age of 14 to 22. Made it difficult to get my driver’s license. After that, I became a globe-trotting confidence man. I visited all four corners of the world, using a forged passport and a bootleg copy of the Michelin guide, unlawfully boosting people’s self-esteem. I was finally caught passing out false senses of security in Marrakech, put into a maximum-insecurity prison, and forced to sign an onerous contract for the movie rights to my story. I didn’t even get a cut of the basic-cable sales, do you hear me? I didn’t even get a cut of the basic-cable sales!

FIRST VOICE: At this time, subject is beginning to get a trifle melodramatic. This is entirely in line with the preliminary studies conducted by our psychiatric consultants, who have seen similar behaviors in other, similarly ill-drawn protagonists. I do feel I should warn you, subject, that I have a third-generation VHS dub of Two of a Kind on hand and that I’m not afraid to play it.

SUBJECT: Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I’ll stay focused.

FIRST VOICE: Much appreciated. It’ll all be over in a few thousand words. Now, next question – do you have a history of anti-social behavior?

SUBJECT: To call it a “history” would imply that it stopped at some point.

FIRST VOICE: So your anti-social tendencies are ongoing.

SUBJECT: I don’t even approve of ice cream socials.

FIRST VOICE: Would you call yourself misanthropic?

SUBJECT: That’s too limited. I don’t like dogs, either.

FIRST VOICE: At this point, I should note that I’m smiling enigmatically. All right, subject, I would like to ask you a few questions about your medical history.

SUBJECT: I performed a few appendectomies at parties, but that was just an ice-breaker. I never learned how to play the guitar.

FIRST VOICE: I should clarify – I mean to ask about any health problems you may have had. Have you, at any point in your life, suffered from any of the following: neck lumps, shuffles, the “capybara flu,” groinal paradiddles, engorged hoo-hah, pernicious flapdoodle, Marv Throneberry’s Condition, avoidanoidal dominosis, rockin’ dropsie, horizontigo, sores of Damocles, epidermal potholes, renal jihad, rotoscopic epistrophy, panic in detritus, subcutaneous homesick blues, intestinal catamites, the Abyssinian Drip, ordure of Taurus, nephritis Andronicus, the Boston Batwanger, pellagra non grata, deconstructivitis, Volpone’s knee, the Crunge, hillbilirubin, upraised fistulae, preshrunken genes, Chia petulance, varispeed intransigence, descending sevenths, garanimalia underusitosis, fiveskin, bananaramadanaykroydoncorleonahelmsleeperholdencaulfieldenstream, gorp, furtive glands, hypnagogic throat whelps, man-queefing, pancreatic schenectady, bronchial spazzalopilis, neo-spores, cardiac probation, the purple rosacea of Cairo, droopy lipids, horse lassitude, or baby backfat?


FIRST VOICE: Very good. One final question – when you reach Heaven, what do you expect God to say to you?

SUBJECT: “Oh, good – the second shift is here.”

FIRST VOICE: Okay. At this point, subject, I am pleased to inform you that you have passed the examination with flying colors. On behalf of the Tablewood Foundation, I would like to welcome you into Phase Two of Operation: Procedure. What I am about to tell you is both strictly confidential and slightly goofy. If you repeat any part of it to any individual unaffiliated with the Tablewood Foundation, you are liable to punishment up to and including immediate execution; also, you will forfeit your deposit. Your task will be –

(growing hubbub in the distance)

SUBJECT: Do you hear a growing hubbub in the distance?

FIRST VOICE: That’s impossible. They’re not in season. Your task in this operation shall consist of –

(sound of interview-room door being kicked in; several indistinct voices can be heard)

THIRD VOICE: (indistinct)

FIRST VOICE: Excuse me, you’re not allowed to kick in doors in this part of the building.

FOURTH VOICE: (indistinct)

SUBJECT: What the hell…

FIFTH VOICE: (indistinct!)

FOURTH VOICE: (indistinct?)


SUBJECT: Is this part of the interview?

FIFTH VOICE: (indistinct) – said, take off your damn vocal indistinction masks! We’re here already!


FOURTH VOICE: You’ve got a lot of nerve, pal! We know exactly what you’ve been up to!

FIRST VOICE: So you’ve figured us out, have you? Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time…

SUBJECT: Um, would you mind informing me? I mean, I am the protagonist…

THIRD VOICE: Shut your caketrap, dude! We’ve got a plot function to serve over here!

FIFTH VOICE: All in good time. All you need to know right now is that we’re here to rescue you.

SECOND VOICE: But first, we’ve got a faceless functionary to take care of.

(sounds of a scuffle)

FIRST VOICE: At this point, I should mention that three gentlemen in – oof – military fatigues have – ach – entered the interview room and are presently punching me repeatedly in the face, attempting – boof – to cover these sounds with a portable compact – owch – disc player which I believe is playing “Sounds of Scuffling, Volume – hunhg – Three.” Now, one of the gentlemen is spiriting subject from the interview room – gorp – which would indicate a change of scene, and quite possibly – kjghh – the end of the chap –

(tape ends)

(11/10/09 11:27 PM)

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I recognized the grip – not vise-like so much as the expert pinch of a jumbo binder clip. I turned to face its owner, 6’3” of pure predatory benevolence, from his receding hairline (much of which seemed to have migrated to his upper back), Rollie Fingers mustache (which, it’s said, he got at a ridiculously low price at an estate sale), gap-toothed smile and camo business suit. He radiated good cheer and dark intensions, like the murderously unctuous host of the most dangerous game show. Hell, you could even hear the announcer shouting out his introduction, with all the bonhomie of a skilled voice artist who just happens to have a gun to his head to ensure that certain vowels are drawn out and certain syllables punched – Ladies and gentlemen, Leeeeeegggg TA-blewooooood!

“I should have guessed I’d find you here,” he said. “If you’re gonna wait for your ship to come in, it’s pretty wise to stick to the coast.”

“And I suppose you came here just to quip.”

He laughed. Oh, what a sickening, mirthless laugh he had. “Not exactly, no. Here, walk with me.”

“Sorry, I’m on my way to work.”

“Ah yes, work. Still teaching retards how to knit, are you?”

I bristled. “We don’t use that word,” I said coolly. “We call it crochet.”

“Come on, there should be enough shiny objects to keep them distracted for a while. I’ve got something to show you.”

“No conversation I’ve ever had which included that sentence ever ended well.”

“Don’t make me change my mind here. There are opportunities that await you, and from the looks of you, those are getting fewer and farther between. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as they say. We won’t be going nearly that far, so your journey will begin with me slapping you in the back of the head and pushing you so you’ll start walking and cease pissing me off.”

Leg Tablewood was, as always, a difficult man to argue with. Like many of the best predators, he had a way of sneaking up on you and inducing intellectual paralysis with a single dart of his tongue. And like many of the best predators he knew how to blend into the scenery while doing so. He knew how to sell, and he knew how to acquire; but he knew not to make such a big fucking deal out of any of his big fucking deals. Below the radar, that’s him. And where better to stay off of whatever grid was available than Port Winestain? His all-copper condo was the envy of all who gazed upon it, except, of course, during thunderstorms and the quarterly tsunamis the state government had approved as a population control measure. But the man himself was rarely to be seen, never photographed, and given to the most sporadic of public appearances – this last was where I had first encountered him, nursing a Dying Etruscan (one part beer to two parts schnapps to three parts crème de menthe, then poured out and replaced with straight whiskey) at last summer’s Let’s Mock a Few Gimps charity event. Why he gravitated to me, in a room filled with dignitaries and prostitutes from all over the Turmeric Beach Peninsula, I’ll never understand, but he sidled up to me with a grand smirk that seemed to hide all the secrets of the ages and proceeded to mumble at drunken length about how many islands he’d bought and bombed (using his personal flotilla of missile carriers and nuclear canoes), and would I be interested in investing and would you mind not breathing on me since people were looking? I wish I could say I was strong enough to resist such rancid charisma, but alas, I was enthralled. Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most about him was that, unlike nearly everyone else I’d ever meant, he was a real listener when he finally ceased talking. My unfortunate history, my dreams, my fears, my shrieks when he put his cigarette out on my neck – he took them all in, nodding with real-seeming interest, studying me with more intensity than anyone I had ever encountered who was not being paid by the state to do so. At the end of the evening, having spent the bulk of it in my presence alone, he gave me a friendly tap on the forehead and said, “Don’t go far, kid. I may be able to put you to use some day.”

And that he did. I can’t claim to have cleaned his gutters better than any who came before me, but having lettered in leaf gathering back in high school finally paid off ($10 and a glass of what he claimed was lemonade but reminded me of the time I got hit by that Ciera and the panicked driver shot a heavy stream of wiper fluid straight up my nose). But even then he strongly implied there was more to come, a big payoff beyond my wildest imaginings. That didn’t mean much, considering that my imagination was so weak and ill-defined that the women in my sexual fantasies had a tendency to get sudden headaches or phone calls about their dying grandmothers in the middle of everything, but he gave me encouragement just the same. Had that day he promised finally come? Perhaps I would find out in succeeding paragraphs.

We walked for some time along what we euphemistically referred to as city planners euphemistically referred to as Main Street, past the Anal Bead Emporium, the retroactive psychic’s storefront, the dealership that supplies over 70% of the stripped cars on blocks for the town’s front yards, Madame Ky’s Chinese Restaurant… and into the largest of Port Winestain’s abandoned buildings, the place that served as Tablewood’s in-town HQ. “C’mon in,” he said, slapping me on the back hard enough for me to expectorate blood. “There’s some people in here I think you should meet.”

The enormous hall that once served as conference room for the militant order of Shriners that used to rent the place seemed empty at first. But as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, an array of shadowy figures made themselves manifest. Familiar-seeming figures in a variety of shapes and sizes. “Sorry about this,” Tablewood said. “They’ve gotten used to the dark. Here, let me shed some light on the situation.” He knocked out several of the boards on the windows. Shafts of light broke through and illuminated the room just enough for me to make the people out.

I recognized them all. There was the tall, skinny deaf guy who wandered all over town, handing out hand-drawn pictures of himself grasping the buttocks of anthropomorphized bears. And the woman who staggered around, screaming “FUCK YOU!” at the top of her lungs to unseen agitators, and “GO SUCK OFF YOUR DOG!” when she came across actual people. And the morbidly-obese woman I was convinced never left her house, shrieking at her coterie of in-home caregivers when she wasn’t on the phone, reporting everyone she knew to the Postmaster General. And the guy with the leisure suit, clown shoes and watchcap who walked into the middle of traffic every day at five to perform what he called the “Serbo-Croatian Lizard Dance.” And several more, all of them the most irritating, nerve-wracking and frightening people in all of Port Winestain, which rendered them a most elite group indeed.
I turned to Tablewood. Though his face was hidden in the darkness, I could feel the waves of smug pride radiating from him. “Why are – what have – who…”

“Let me stop you before you cycle through the rest of the journalistic w’s, pal.” He opened his arms wide. “This is my street team!”

“Okay… please to explain.” (I should note that, in times of extreme stress and/or bewilderment, I have a tendency to lapse into a stereotyped Pakistani dialect. It all goes back to when I was abandoned at a young age in a gas-station convenience mart, but that’s a story for another hastily-written novel.)

“With the money I made from my wildly successful chain of second-hand smoke shops throughout the Midwest, I commissioned a study of every city, borough, township, municipal district, rural route and ghetto in the entire continental United States. Over a period of seven years, we studied and charted every aspect of every one of them – median family income, unemployment figures, divorce rates, trailer parks per square mile, number of individuals who enjoy Tyler Perry pictures, number of teeth per-capita… eventually, my associates and I found it. The most depressed, most depressing place in the whole of the Lower 48. Can you guess where it is?”


“No, actually it was Fort Swayback, South Dakota. Sadly, it was destroyed in a devastating tobacco-juice flood sixteen months ago – ironically started at one of my Ash & Filter franchises – so we had to settle for second place.”

“Port Winestain.”

“Correct. The perfect location for my long-term project. So I moved in. The problem, however, was that, even in the absolute worst places on earth, there are always a few stragglers who spoil it for everybody else – people with college educations, subscriptions to The Nation, people who couldn’t pick Bill Engvall out of a lineup. Decent, upstanding people who, by quirk of fate and bad real-estate tips, end up calling this place home. So I recruited my street team here, some of them naturals plucked from the stinkweed bouquet which sprouts endlessly throughout this burg, others merely promising irritants given extensive training by the top dogs from the Federal Bureau of Discomfort. They stay here most of the time, but I send them out at strategic intervals throughout the day, at the precise moments when some of those decent people are out in public – I send them out to stand too close when they’re shopping for copper fittings at the hardware store, to accost them while they’re crossing the street to the cappuccino stand, to start screaming when they walk past the bus stop. Little by little, they make their lives so intolerable, so unpleasant beyond their capacity for shrugging it off, that the town’s finest citizens will abandon their mortgaged abodes, turn tail and flee to places even slightly more amenable to their respective ways of life. It’s been working like a charm so far, but there still remain a few non-troublemakers within the city limits. But, now that I am about to institute Phase Two, all that is about to change. And that, my friend, is where you come in.”

“Me? Why me?”

“Because you have nothing to lose. And besides, I understand you’re in the middle of writing a semi-autobiographical novel. A good promotional tool.”

“Hey, easy on the name-calling, buddy.”

“Come along, my youngish friend. There’s a debriefing back at the office in twenty minutes. You won’t want to miss this. There’s free pastry. Say goodbye to our newest colleague, everybody!”


“Sorry about that,” Leg said, leading me to the door. “Some of them are always rehearsing.”

(11/8/09 – 8:44 PM)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I limped painfully past the boarded-up houses and luxury tenements of Stephen Street, cursing my literary pretensions. “Think, damn you, before you buy any more ‘footwear inspired by the works of Flannery O’Connor’,” I mumbled. The sun laid a harsh cast over everything, not that anything needed it – this was, after all, the town that Diane Arbus fled in tears, claiming it was “too depressing.” I could scarcely believe my lack of luck – this sick, venal municipality dangling precariously over the Pacific, not even my damned hometown, marked me from the day I arrived here as a youngster. A combination of parbroiling hormones and a miserable climate led to the first of five suicide attempts (off-brand vodka, a jumbo bottle of analgesics, and the pills that came in it), after which my guardians spirited me away to happier climes just a little ways down the road. I enjoyed a blissful semester in the comfort and security of Fort Clanieachicook, but a misunderstanding between myself, a gape-jawed sophomore, and a bandsaw sent me right back to Port Winestain, where I managed to graduate third in my class of seven at PWHS before the second of my five suicide attempts (head in toaster oven) granted me a blessed reprieve and a happy soujourn at the State Hospital for Depressives with Singed Hair and/or Grill Marks on Their Cheeks in North Eastham (since shuttered, sadly – the town, I mean; the hospital’s still there). Upon my return, I resolved to make the best of a bad situation, which meant the third of my five suicide attempts (Pop Rocks, Pepsi, a centrifuge). After I recovered and stopped oscillating, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. Inspired by my favorite book at the time, Zen and the Art of Stowing Away in the Baggage Compartment of a Greyhound Bus, I set out to traverse the highways and byways of this land in search of America. I was thwarted when a guy in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho informed me that they had broken up almost twenty years before and then pummeled me mercilessly and stole my shoes for comparing the words of “Ventura Highway” to Leaves of Grass. With the passage of time and the wisdom of hindsight, I daresay Reverend Jefferies had a point. Licking my wounds (and nearly dislocating my spine in the process), I returned to Port Winestain and attempted to settle for and into the simple life such a locale provided. I found a job cataloguing the high school’s collection of stage play manuscripts and at night busied myself working at my uncle’s still, brewing up some of the finest bootleg liquor in all of Jayne County. But the constant overcast weather and the futility of my surroundings led to a worse depression than before and in short order to the fourth of my five suicide attempts (Picnic, lightning). Clearly, I was never going to make anything of myself in this miserable burg. A clean break was clearly in order, so I sold all my possessions, committed a few minor felonies which would ensure my quick imprisonment should I set foot there again, and said goodbye to Port Winestain for what I was sure, what had to be, the final time, and departed. Destination: Unknown.

Unknown, New Hampshire, was a place I had read and heard a great deal about – some of the underground publications whose monthly appearance in my mailbox had been one of my few sources of solace in this coastal blight of a town, like The Bi-Fortnightly and The New Archaic, published frequent squibs on the goings-on there, most regularly on the Scribe and Scrivener’s Retreat held there every July at Brobdignag Gardens, overseen by one of the finest writers of our age, Burnham Woodruff. What burnished, glowing daydreams I had, my mind’s eye dancing with visions of some of the greatest freethinkers and creative artists in the world, wandering through the verdant fields without aim but with an occult sense of purpose, composing sestinas, epic tales, lyrical contraindications, beholden to no one but themselves and the ministrations of their muses. And I heard there were chicks there. This, I was sure, would be the place where my life’s artistic destiny would be forged, the venue for my metamorphosis from sickly, maladjusted small-town freak to robust, confident big-city freak. So, armed only with a dream and a sidearm just in case I ran afoul of that jerk in the baggage compartment again, I headed east.

To say it didn’t go quite as expected would be an understatement. So instead I’ll say it fucking sucked. I took up temporary residence in a small sub-basement apartment in the Derry ghetto, acquired and filled out all the necessary paperwork, provided a sample of my writing and a hunk of scalp, and waited. Three weeks passed. Finally, the word: I was to report to Brobdignag Gardens the following morning with only a change of clothes, a notebook, and an overall weakness of will. There were seven other novitiates waiting to enter the Gardens that morning besides me, all of whom seemed to be cut from similar, threadbare cloth – every one of us had the desperate, haunted gaze of the sub-suburban oddball, and all the hopes, dreams, dandruff, adenoids and halitosis that went with it. By the end of the first day only five remained. By the end of the second only three. By the end of the third there were four (one of them left the day before to attend BanacekFest 2003 at the Nashua Civic Center and came back a day early when his George Peppard costume was rejected by the event’s organizers). But our numbers kept dwindling after that. For, as it turns out, the Scribe and Scrivener’s Retreat should have had the words “From Reality” appended to its name (though, to be fair, there wouldn’t have been enough room on the sign). Upon entering, we were roughly manhandled and thrown into makeshift bungalows, denied protein and sleep, and forced under the watchful eye of armed guards to write almost a thousand words a day, every day. Those who did not were hauled away in the night and never seen again. During the day, we were obliged to perform acts of endurance – our arms pulled behind our backs until our shoulders separated and then made to copy-edit for hours (“AP Style, not Chicago Manual, maggot!”), twenty-mile runs at the crack of dawn while listening to lectures on Ayn Rand, long days under the punishingly hot sun alphabetizing Woodruff’s library. As for the Great Man himself, he spent most days pacing menacingly above us, shouting excerpts from his manifesto, Das Kapitalized, in between making threats like “you split that infinitive, I split your skull!” The worst moments came when he would stop in front of a hapless novitiate, like the one we called “Corpulent Guy” who had collapsed on a particularly hot afternoon while attempting a particularly grueling allegory. Woodruff loomed over the poor guy, a menacing smile cracking his features, and said, “What we have here is a failure to elucidate.” I never saw Corpulent Guy again.

It soon came clear that leaving was the only way out. I knew my page number was up – that wacky post-Restoration comedy of manners I was constructing was lacking in character development, and they all knew it. So I fashioned a clever camouflage consisting mostly of camouflage clothing, distracted the guards with a first-edition autographed copy of Naked Lunch I dangled from the tree outside my bungalow, and escaped under dust-jacket of darkness. I quickly found I had no place to go – the eviction notice on my sub-basement apartment was written on dactylic pentameter, so I knew Woodward had friends on the outside – so, without other recourse, I skulked back to Port Winestain where, as expected, I was thrown into the local jail on a charge of grand theft go-cart. Those six months and fourteen days in stir were perhaps the happiest I ever spent in this town. It wasn’t until much later that I made the fifth of my five suicide attempts, which I’ll tell you about another time.

And here I was now, again, drawn like a magnetic moth to the flame-shaped refrigerator door of this most despairing of locations. Stones in my shoes. Walking the two and a half miles to my place of employment because I forgot how to drive a car. It also seems so inevitable, so pre-ordained. Several more attempts at escape, at finding more salutary climes for a man of my reduced means, and they had invariably failed – I would still wake up in the same squalid room, looking out the same window and seeing the same civic equivalent of terminal depression in front of me. Trudging forward but never gaining ground, a treadmill that wouldn’t even tone up my thighs properly. A failure even in self-destruction. Was there something, someone even, to pull me out of this long, slow circumnavigation of the area surrounding the drain? Had I reached 5000 words yet?

Just outside of the Gorge ‘n’ Loiter on 23rd Street NE, mere blocks from my place of semi-gainful pseudo-employment, a hand clamped down on my shoulder. And a booming, familiar voice direct out of the deus ex machineshop bellowed a greeting. “Well, well, well, well, well. Look who’s back. I think we need to have a few words, comparatively-young man.”

My inner voice was locked somewhere between “oh God” and “oh, good.” This could be the turning point – to what side I would end up pivoting, I did not know. But one thing seemed certain – this was a great goddamned place to end the chapter. And these last ten words would net me my quota.

(10/4/09 – 9:08 AM)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


My muscles groaned, my pores wept, and my clothes were stuck to my body with a slicker of sweat as I sat bolt upright on my ratty mattress, biting back a scream. So far, so good. But something felt amiss just the same. I couldn’t say what it was – the vein in my forehead kept beating the break from “Funky Drummer” as stalwartly as usual, my nostrils felt like the inside of a kiln like every other morning, and the piece of sandpaper at the base of my mouth was no worse than medium grain. So what was wrong?

I rewound my mental DVR and skipped through the events of the previous evening. Through the pixilation and the occasional picture freeze, I picked out selected highlights: a post-chapter celebration with several of my closest virtual friends at Byte Me, Burntumberland’s most-popular Internet watering hole… one, two, possibly four too many Hipster Douchebags (I guess they weren’t as weak as expected), then ending the evening with a disgusting jumbo plate of Godwin’s Slaw, which never sits well with me… meeting up with that psychotic psychic and watching him permanently damage all the exhibits in the Museum of Cutlery without entering the building… stumbling into that after-hours video shoot and spending two hours watching women in lingerie faking tearful epiphanies, getting away just before the authorities burst in and arrested everyone in sight on an emotional pornography charge… three-am mocktails at Chagrin… a frustrating round of mental masturbation, with coherent ideas stubbornly refusing to come… fashioning a bong out of hemp… hooking up my bootleg satellite dish and squinting at the late-late-night British extreme-comedy block on BBC America Canada, two episodes a piece of There’s a Bleeding Pouf in My Sodding Flat! and Are You Being Severed?... then, somewhere in there, sleep. I pawed blindly at the nightstand, grabbed my dream journal and tried to make out my somnambulant scrawlings:

A dark force rises from the east, asks directions, buys some of my macramé. A rough beast slouches towards Jerusalem, is mocked for his bad posture. In 28 days, the skies will rain blood, then will become partly-scabby for the holiday weekend. The point of it all is…

Can’t read the last word. The enigma of poor penmanship. I groaned and sat up, wiping the blear from my eyes and let my lungs go through their morning spasm. And still something nagged at the base of my brain. I couldn’t understand – as far as I could tell, last night was just like any other night, I had my regular apocalyptic dream visions, and I awoke feeling like the rug in a Deadhead’s microbus the way I’m supposed to. I felt disappointment, shame, self-loathing, twinges of nostalgia for times, people and places I couldn’t bear to be around when they were an ongoing concern. I was certain of nothing but ambivalence, had faith in nothing but agnosticism. Contempt, squashed rage, the omnipresent low-grade anxiety like a low-volume feedback loop, that tinnitus of the soul… all present and accounted for. So what was it?

I grabbed the half-empty bottle of Toothless Dan’s 96-Hour Energy Beverage, snorted the rim, and ruminated. To what did I owe this strange overlay of discomfort? Could it be the initial flash of that new, hot pandemic all the kids are into these days? (Don’t you just love the way they’re all cutting their hair and altering their wardrobes to show off the left halves of their bodies drooping and rotting away?) No, I’ve always been immune to trends. I looked to my stuffed Chill Wills doll (the first installment of my L’il Grizzled collection I ordered in a besotted moment of impulsiveness from QVC one late night – I made a mental note to check the PO box to see if my Dub Taylor’s come in yet) for guidance and advice – none forthcoming. I hand-combed my hair (I can’t say I’m proud of my old crypt-robbing days, but damned if that thing isn’t perfect for my coif), threw a nervous sidelong glance at the mirror (never make eye contact, never make eye contact), padded to the cupboard and began to forage for what little sustenance I had at hand.

Sugar-Crusted Ramen Squares? Ahh, no milk or picante beef flavor packets left – had to pass. Chef Uschi’s Toaster Pasties? No toaster, and besides, too much estrogen. I could always break down and break into that vintage package of gourmet bomb shelter rations I picked up at the consignment store that one time – the market is much worse for antique foodstuffs than I anticipated at the time, and I’m sure that Duck and Cover l’Orange is still edible…

My cell phone went off – it was the custom Xenakis ringtone and not the usual NKOTB/Borbetomagus mashup, so I knew it had to be important. I flipped it open.

“Moooooo. KLOY plays the hits.”

“This is Ferblungit. Look, I know you’ve got to fill space, but it’s getting tedious. Go and open your goddamned curtains and get on with it.”

Ah. So I’m being monitored. But that couldn’t explain it – I’m many things, but paranoid isn’t one of them. Hell, I volunteered to have my phones tapped under the Patriot Act just so I wouldn’t feel so lonely. Best to do what he says, I expect. I pulled the curtain (actually an old Gadsden flag with the first-draft insignia OW! YOU STEPPED ON ME!) aside, looked through the window (actually a woven tapestry of old crack-pipe screens, professionally deresined), winced at the morning sun (which winced back), and slowly focused on the scene in front of me.

Collapsed wrecks of buildings, with feral street urchins peeking out, mole-like, from behind the shattered windows. Stripped-down, overturned, thrice-baked cars. Scorched earth as far as the eye can see. The far-off sounds of crazed vandals, whooping and shrieking. Desolation, as if God himself had laid his thumb down upon this corner of his creation and pushed. Perhaps, from a sufficient height, we could see his thumbprint and finally get a positive ID, but nothing was taking wing today. It looked as if all the life had been violently suctioned from the area, leaving only the aftermath of an unthinkable cataclysm.

I shivered and laid my head mournfully upon the window. (There’ll be a grid pattern on my forehead now, I thought dimly – must make a point of avoiding those crazed crossword-puzzle freaks today.) “It’s not fair, dammit, it’s just not fair,” I moaned. Here I was – Port Winestain, Washington. No matter how hard I tried to escape, I kept getting pulled back. And no matter how hard I strove to avoid it, I knew what had to be done.

It was nine am. Time to go to work.

(11/3/09 9:00 AM)

Sunday, November 1, 2009


This will have to do for a first line, I thought.

I loitered blearily in front of the registration kiosk, swaying slightly from a combination of sleep-deprived, drink-depraved dizziness and my body’s involuntary reaction to the acid-klezmer-funk sluicing through the Dummytext Building’s sound ducts. The receptionist looked up with a standard, corporate-issue Officious Smile (#3207B), which faded to an off-the-rack Startled Expression (size L) when she got a look at me. Knowing the sheer variety of dissipation that must pass in front of her desk during De-disorientation Fortnight, I was flattered in spite of myself.

Pro that she was, she affected a quick recovery. “Good morning, sir. May I see your identification, please?”

I rifled through my jacket pockets but only came up with an ATM receipt with a negative balance and a few mocking emoticons, a few losing game tabs from the Megasloth Enervation Drink Billion Dollar-Shaped-Bill Cash-Like Giveaway Sweepstakes, a crumpled pack of No Exit 100s, the corpses of two dead lighters and a couple of darkly-bleeding Bics, and a heavily-folded piece of loose-leaf paper covered with my inimitable, illegible scrawl. “Uh, heh-heh, I’m sorry, I appear to have misplaced all my ID.” Did I take my friends’ dare to “ride the shredder” at the Staplegunnery last night? I couldn’t remember.

She pursed her lips with Mild Distaste ($10.75 per 8-oz bottle). “I see. Well, let me see here… how much money do you have on your person?”

A thorough spelunking of my pants pockets turned up a wadded-up dollar, one quarter, two nickels, a train-flattened penny and a token from the nearby Sadville Darkade. “This is all I have,” I muttered apologetically.

Her eyes brightened. “Ah! So you are a writer! Excellent.” She pulled out a drawer and presented a sheaf of papers to me. “Go through the heavy glass doors to your left, walk down the corridor, stop, go back thirteen paces, bite your lip, look around with steadily increasing agitation, tap your feet impatiently, roll your eyes – um, yes, counterclockwise, grumble aloud, and snap at the first person you see. Then come back out here, no, stomp back out here and go through the entrance marked ENTRANCE. You will then be led to the proper office, where you will wait for two to four hours in mounting discomfort until you’re told to leave and come back tomorrow.”

“Is there an easier way to go about it?”

“Well, I suppose we could introduce another character…”

“Excuse me…” A turgid gust of generic schnapps blew into the room, bearing a rumpled mass of tweed topped with a freshly-regurgitated silver hairball upon it. “I am Heinrich Selb-Stefallig, world-acquainted novelist and three-time runner-up of the Roderick Spooge award for outstanding pagination. I am here to receive my weekly allotment of obsequiousness.”

“Oh, yes, Herr Selb-Stefallig, good morning,” she purred. “Wonderful to see you here this morning. Would you like some coffee? A bagel? May I brush lasciviously against your inseam?”

“Perhaps later. Right now I would like to provide mentoring to a comparatively young writing tyro. And then vomit copiously into a wastebasket.”

“Ah, you’re in luck. Allow me to introduce you to – "

“Please, no names. It gives the story a strong if unearned sense of mystery if its protagonist remains anonymous.”

“Wow,” I wowed. “That’s very astute.”

“And were I a different man, I would have twisted that last word into a crude fart pun. But I shalln’t. No, I believe it would be more appropriate to provide you a modicum of guidance, send you on your as-yet-undefined quest, and attempt to establish myself as a character worth recurring. Let us find a place more conducive to all of the above.” He gestured towards the ENTRANCE door, froze, and stared unblinkingly at it for several minutes.

“Um. What’s…”

“Oh, goodness. I’m sorry, Mr. [REDACTED], I’m afraid Herr Selb-Stefallig suffers from a rare malady known as Syllabic Misemphasis Syndrome, or LEB as it’s known for short by those under the tragic sway of Deviated Acronym Disorder. You see, he misread the sign; where you and I might see the noun – ‘en-tr&n(t)s – he sees the transitive verb – in-‘tran(t)s. He’ll be like that for hours, I’m afraid, his eyes pinwheeling, his mind regressing to some pure animal state to the internal strains of The Master Musicians of Joujouka or Vanilla Fudge, perhaps engaged in some highly metaphoric battle with his insecurity, as represented by a seventeen-foot-six-inch tall hydra-headed insect/goat hybrid, or the spirit of his murdered father, also represented by a seventeen-foot-six-inch tall hydra-headed insect/goat hybrid, only with bifocals. But don’t worry, I’ll send him back into the story at a decent strategic interval, providing there turns out to be a story. We’ll have to send you off via other means. Oh – “ she opened another drawer – “but before you’re seized roughly by a pair of massive, hirsute guards and spirited away, you’ll need these.” She handed me two black objects, one resembling a jai alai racket encased in onyx with the ball still in it, the other flat and oblong, like the monolith from a 2001: A Space Odyssey playset. (I am suddenly struck with a pang of regret; why did I sell that complete Kubrick for Kidz action-figure set? It was the rare, limited-edition one too, with the Humbert Humbert bathtime shot glasses, the Barry Lyndon sleep aids and the black cloaked figures to put in your field of vision to cover the sight of people having sex.)

“What are these for?”

She flashed an Enigmatic Smile (#8765Q). “You’ll figure it out. You may want to keep the exposition to a minimum, I will say that.”

Suddenly, I was seized roughly by a pair of massive, hirsute guards and spirited away. They whisked me down a long corridor and flung me bodily into a small examination room. A scowling, mustachioed cop in mirrored shades stood sentry at the door. A balding, bespectacled man in a long lab coat stood behind a table with a Benevolent Smile (generic). His nametag read IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU’RE STANDING TOO CLOSE. “Ah, good morning. Thank you, Burleigh and Hirscheute, that will be all.” The guards nodded and retreated. “Have a seat, Mr. [DELETED]. I trust my associates didn’t make your passage too uncomfortable.”

I sat, kneading my shoulders. “They could have gone a little easier with the whisks, frankly.”

“My apologies. We outsource a large percentage of our help to the Kitchen Implement Fetish Clinic in the building. Just count yourself fortunate that the oyster fork contingent has been transferred to the haiku division. I am Dr. Herk Ferblungit, T.D.S. I will serve as your orientation counselor for the first leg of your journey. I assume you brought your potential title menu?”

“Yes, of course.” I pulled out my sheet of loose-leaf, unfolded it, and passed it over. He studied carefully. “Very impressive. Practically unreadable. You will keep your posthumous scholars and archivists occupied for years trying to figure this out if you play your cards right. I trust you’ve been lacing your journals with cryptic symbols and meaningless abbreviations?” I nodded. “Good, good – and your file tells me that your incipient alcoholism and misogynistic tendencies are developing right on schedule. And you’ve already put your security deposit down on that squalid studio apartment where you intend to spend your last, miserable days, I see. Although after this project is completed, I advise you to come back here so we can discuss the possibility of interviewing women to serve as either your third wife or your personal assistant – someone who can cut off all contact to your friends and estranged family members, dispute your will and keep your biographers in a state of perpetual litigation for up to fifteen years after your tragic, lonely demise. A very popular option, I’m told. But we have lots of time for that. Well, five or six years, anyway. Let’s look over your list. Go ahead, from the top…”

“Okay, um… Tropic of Rickets.”


The Naked, the Dead, the Scantily-Clad and the Comatose.”


Love in the Time of Post-Nasal Drip.”


The Grease Fire of the Inanities.”


One Hundred Years of Solitude and Three Weeks With a Houseguest Who Snores and Refuses to Pay For His Food.”

“Impassive syllable.”

At the Molehills of Blandness, The African-American of the Narcissus, Bright Lights, Big Fucking Deal, Great Expectorations, Sense & Sinsemilla, What Price Celery?, Portnoy’s Compliant, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress But It Looks Good in Heels…”

“All right, I’ve heard enough. While you were reading your intermittently-clever litany, some of our associates from the meat-tenderizer-fondling division took the opportunity to affix our own title choice at the top of the page. It was out of your hands from the beginning.”

“I don’t understand. Why did you have me read all these titles to you when you weren’t going to use them in the first place?”

Dr. Ferblungit chuckled. “To make things easier on you. All will be clear shortly. You see, you’ve gotten yourself in deep. You signed onto something that you don’t fully understand. And now you’re trapped. You will now be required to plumb the depths of your curdled creativity on a daily basis, an act that requires a great deal of stamina, not to mention chutzpah and a certain je ne parle Francais. And if you fail to produce the requisite 1666.6666666666666666666666666667 words a day for this and the next twenty-nine days, well…” He nodded at the cop, who broke into a sneering smile and grabbed his nightstick.

Lord Calamine grinned salaciously, the turbid contours of his engorged dewlaps glistening in the twilight. Saliva dripped from his chinstrap as Gladys unhooked her neckbrace and slowly ran her thick, humid feather duster against the downy tips of her still-bloody steak. She writhed in unthinkable rapture as Lord Calamine caressed his damp, rigid cheroot. ‘Now, my dear, is the time for what the Greeks call ‘the Congress of the Malamute,’ he whispered. ‘Only they say it in Greek.’

“That’ll be sufficient, Sargeant.” Ferblungit put his hands on the table and leaned into my face. “He’s got tons of incoherent erotic fiction at his disposal and he’s not afraid to use it. So it will be in your best interest to keep the story moving forward. Even though, as I strongly suspect, all you really have at your disposal is the depleted currency of the creatively bankrupt. Fifty thousand words in thirty days about the attempt at writing fifty thousand words in thirty days, am I right?”

Tears welled in my eyes. I nodded.

“Right. Well then, I think you have a little work to do before the chapter’s through, don’t you?” He handed me the two black objects. I stared dumbly at them for a moment before the lightbulb went off over my head, which was helpful, as it provided sufficient illumination for the ascent. I put one object in each pocket, took as deep a breath as twenty years of two packs of No Exits a day allowed me, reached up and grasped the top of the paragraph with both hands. My muscles creaked as I pulled myself up. “Go on,” Ferblungit called up. “The next one should be easy. It’s a short one.”

He was right. I hoisted myself onto the seven-word shelf above me with ease. But it was thin and lacking in content, so I had to leap onto the one above it quickly before it collapsed. Up and up I went, my muscles complaining as I rappelled up and over each block of text, careful not to tear the thin characterization beneath my feet. As I ascended, ill-chosen verbs and weak wordplay cracking under me, I began to gain momentum. I skipped over one-sentence paragraphs like I was hopping over stones and used my shoes as makeshift grappling hooks to scale my wordier passages. After what seemed like hours, and was, I pulled my aching body onto the top of my first setting-establishing sentence. I gazed for a long time at my destination. With a sigh, I hooked my leg over my first line, wincing as it dug into my thigh. Why the hell did I do it in italics? I hauled myself up, wiped the sweat from my eyes, ran my clammy palms over my pantlegs, and gingerly took the first, curved object from my pocket. With the utmost care – I wouldn’t want it to fall and bean a supporting character or bisect a gerund or anything – I slid it into place at the foot of the “I” above me. I rose unsteadily to my feet, steeled myself, and pressed my hands against the far incline of the vowel above me. It was heavier than I expected, and I nearly dislocated my shoulder, but I managed to push it next to the T beside it. And now the tricky bit – I took the flat object in both hands, raised it to eye-level, and pushed with all my might until it affixed itself solidly into the gap between the two words. When I was satisfied that it wasn’t about to dislodge itself, I slid slowly unto the back of the nearest italic f, leaned back, and gazed with exhausted resignation at my handiwork.


I covered my eyes with my hand and emitted a long, rueful laugh.

Christ, man.

It’s gonna be one of those.

(11/1/09 – 1:57 PM)