Wednesday, December 21, 2011


            I don’t like guns. Not because they’re weapons. People need weapons. They always have. But guns make it too easy to kill. A gun depersonalizes a kill, cheapens it. Taking a life is a sacred act, a sacrament to be performed by the Warrior.
            A gun is a machine, an atrocity of artifice having nothing to do with the wholly organic act of bringing death upon another’s head. Disassemble a gun. Reduce it to its individual parts. Each of those parts is created on an assembly line – by a machine. No human touch goes into the creation of a gun, and no human touch exists between its wielder and its victim. Most people couldn’t tell you what the majority of those parts do, let alone how they act in conjunction. It’s a tragically appropriate weapon for our times. Our leaders, those who determine who is to be killed, are not warriors. They have diminished warfare to little more than terroristic destruction. They have made the men and women who follow them into battle complicit, forcing them to abandon heroism, reducing their bravery to a shadow dying as clouds blanket the sun. Honor is alien. They have transformed our fighting forces from armies of warriors to debits and credits. The nobility of a kill can’t be measured by an equation: n/t = E; n is the number killed, t, is the time elapsed, and E equals efficiency. A good kill has no business being counted in a ledger.
            How ironic that our leaders have reduced life to an unmotivated commodity while you crow louder than ever of its immeasurable value. Criminally gross inflation. Why does all life come to an end if it’s sacred? Life is finite. It’s also limiting, disempowering. The Natural Order shackles us to immutable laws. It poses us questions with perpetually elusive answers. But Death is the great unknown. It possesses infinite potential. Beyond existence is a horizon with no end. While life is a brief spark that flickers and fades into ether, Death is an inferno that burns forever. If what some have speculated is true – that what lies beyond is determined by how we meet our end – then how better to greet Death than in a blaze of glory?
            This is a disgraceful culture. People skitter about like vermin in the dark, oblivious to the plague they carry and leave behind like a trail of slime. But the plague they spread is no carbon-based organism, no microscopic parasite. It is fear. Countless ciphers, faceless throngs without substance or purpose, flailing every which way like a football bouncing around the turf, in a futile attempt to flee from the inescapable. Why should a natural, the only genuine inevitable in the world, inspire such dread? Because its nature is a mystery? You’re never more alive than when facing the source of horror; muscles tensed, teeth gritted, all extraneous thought exorcised, every superfluous feeling numbed. All is void but the need, the desire, the unquenchable thirst to vanquish your enemy. It’s as blinding a charge as grabbing a wire alive with electricity. To grasp that wire, to let the electrical charge course through you, to embrace the danger of it burning your insides, makes you a warrior.
            A man who kills with a gun is no warrior. The Warrior does not allow a machine to snuff out his enemy’s life. He does it with his own hand. He accepts the responsibility of ushering his nemesis to his fate. He exerts himself to near collapse, where every muscle is about to snap in twain. His vision is clouded by tears of exhaustion. His blade has grown fat on blood and sweat. The Warrior can barely lift it. His legs threaten to give like dead leaves in a gale. He raises his head high one last time and looks into the soul of his foe, the one who would consign him to eternity. Their eyes lock. They are more intimately entwined than lovers. Between them arcs a crackling bolt of respect, admiration, and pity. The Warrior cleaves the air with his blade and buries it in the thick flesh of his foe. The sharpened steel drinks the blood. The kinetic force of impact rushes through the spine of the weapon, into the Warrior’s clenched hands, and envelops his being in a wave of vampiric chi. A scream of anguish and release explodes from his enemy’s throat and shatters the space between the two combatants. The enemy falls silent, then falls to the ground. There is no sound in the world comparable to a body; a lifeless husk, all energy expended, soul and will scattered to the winds like ashes; crumbling to the ground. Like the Colossus of Rhodes, the Warrior towers over the fallen cadaver. He faintly notices a scent on the air. It is the wafting sweat of the universe at work, creation and destruction commingling in their swirling fractal of cosmic order. The Warrior breathes it in and looks at his hands bathed in red.
The Warrior understands: you can only grasp your full potential with blood on your hands.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Romilda Ur-Sinus placed her fingertips against her temples and rubbed deeply. She recognized her students to be, by and large, a good group of children. They all quietly sat at their desks, rocking back and forth on the balls of their feet, fidgeting with whatever was in their hands, waiting for their turn to show-and-tell. But seven-year olds, she felt, shouldn’t be so entranced by the morbid and tawdry. Why were these kids so enamored with the seedy underbelly of it all, and why were they inured to it? Hannah, her wide eyes bluer than the sky, had brought in an old copper teapot. It had been a wedding gift to her great-grandmother before the woman’s husband used it to murder an Irishman who had been stepping out with his wife. Sweet, angelically voiced Preston had displayed the shrapnel that had lodged itself into his grandfather’s armpit in Hue. Even Cody, shy but with the heart of a poet, had decided to show and tell about a video his elder step-sister had produced for P.E.T.A.
            Ms. Ur-Sinus raised her head as little freckle-faced Tela finished her presentation. “Thank you, Tela,” she said, and the ginger girl returned to her seat with her father’s World War Two-era lampshade. Ur-Sinus didn’t have the fortitude to right then instill in the girl an appreciation for the gross inhumanity of the object. Instead she turned back to the class. “Argossy?” she called. “How about you?”
            The boy, all cowlicks and coke-bottle lenses, made his way to the head of the classroom. In his hand he held the loop at the end of a red leash. Waddling behind Argossy on the other end of the leash was a shockingly tiny bald man.
            The boy and the diminutive man stood side-by-side before the files of desks. “For Show & Tell,” said Argossy, “I brought my pet midget. His name is Uncle Pappy. Uncle Pappy is not a dwarf because dwarves’ limbs are not in normal… pro… propur –” Uncle Pappy whispered into Argossy’s ear, and the boy continued, “– proportion to their bodies. He is three-feet five-inches tall, but he can become nine feet when the moon is full. Uncle Pappy is allergic to cats. His favorite color is green, but he prefers black girls. He speaks four languages and has wrought-iron kidneys. He killed a man with his… ret… retret –” Uncle Pappy again provided a helpful whisper, “– retractable pincers that shoot out of his wrists like Spider-man’s webs, but his favorite comic book is Doom Patrol. He can run twenty-five miles per hour and pass Doug Benson through his colon. He can play The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway on a comb and split an atom with his eyelids. On his home planet, midgets rule and ride hawktopuses into battle. I like Uncle Pappy because he is good and tells funny jokes. I think midgets are better pets than Muslims.”
            Ms Ur-Sinus suddenly found her fortitude. She didn’t even bother to underline her shock with a protracted stare. “Argossy, I don’t know where to begin! First, Uncle Pappy, if that’s even his real name, is a human being. You can’t keep a human being for a pet! And Uncle Pappy is not a ‘midget.’ That’s a hurtful word. He’s a ‘little person.’ Now, should I give you an itemized list of all the lies you just told? Because other than your extremely offensive last sentence, everything else you just is physically impossible!”
            Romilda Ur-Sinus’ head popped off her neck with the sudden snip of pincers.
            Uncle Pappy whipped the pincers back into his forearm like a lariat. He regarded the stunned ranks of children for a moment. He then about-faced, dropped his pants, leaned over, and pushed.
            Doug Benson’s head emerged with an audible pop. “Who’s up for a pizza party!?!”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


           You may or may not be aware that one of my favorite pastimes is to expound on my ever-growing hatred of the human race. What I call “hatred” does not take the form of the typical, everyday, someone-just-cut-me-off, “Man, fuck people,” animosity. I truly, deeply despise what was once a species full of potential, a species that once upon a time actually stood a realistic chance of evolving into 2001’s semi-divine Star Child, but pissed it all away, allowing the corrupt and venal to rule because the responsibility of power was too great a burden when there were so many toys to play with. So why do I insist on acting the Good Samaritan when the opportunity arises? Like tonight? I’m writing this at 2 AM on October 22, 2011. This just happened.
            I had been writing at my usual haunt and was on the way home just past midnight. I was driving down a road I had been down countless times previously. Suddenly the penumbra of my right headlight caught a hot pink shirt along the side of the road. Inside it was a young woman erratically waving her arms over her head trying to flag down someone, anyone for help. I drove past her, but the look on her face stuck with me. It wasn’t just a look of desperation or panic. It was genuine fear. In the light from my headlamps for just one second, it was nonetheless apparent. I stopped, turned the car around, and drove back a few yards as the young woman hurried to the car.
            I lowered the window as she approached. “Are you okay?” I asked.
            Her voice cracking, she said, “No,” before she exploded into a fit of crying. “My boyfriend, he hit me and knocked me to the ground! He threw a rock at me! I’ve already been to the hospital today! He stabbed me in the arm!” She showed me the fresh dressings on her forearm and the hospital bracelet still wrapped around her wrist as tears carved their way down her face.
            I opened the door. “Get in.”
            That makes me sound way more pimp than I actually was.
            I turned the car around and started back down the street as I heard the guy start shouting from down the street.
            The young woman kept crying in the car, looking through the back window to make sure her boyfriend wasn’t following us, and repeatedly apologizing. I told her, “It’s okay. You don’t have to apologize.” She carried on through the wailing, “He has everything! My wallet, my phone, my money!” Her hands shook like wall hangings in an earthquake.
            “Is there anyone you can call?” I asked.
            “I don’t know the numbers! They’re in my phone!”
            “How about your parents?”
            “They’re in Delaware!”
            It was a brief moment, but this was when I first had the thought, Why did I do this?
            She repeated the story of her abuse in slightly more detail, periodically calming herself enough for me to discern how her voice naturally sounded, only to fall back into hysterics as she recounted the next physical blow. “Oh God, what am I gonna do?” she cried.
            “Okay,” I said. “Let’s just get you away from here and we’ll figure out what you’re going to do.”
            After a few miles I pulled into a well-lit Wawa parking lot. After allowing the young woman – her name was Savannah; I saw it on the hospital bracelet – time to compose herself, I said, “Why don’t you call your parents? You can use my phone. I’m sure they’ll come get you.”
            “But they only have one car and my dad works nights.”
            I suggested, “Well, why don’t you call and maybe we can figure out something.”
            She nodded her head and, sniffling through the tears, said, “Okay, yeah.”
            I dialed the number for her and gave her the phone. Her mother answered. Based on Savannah’s end of the conversation her mother was aware of everything up to where I came in. I couldn’t understand everything the mother said through the phone, but I did make out, “So?” and “What do you want me to do?” As a result of this exemplary display of motherly concern, I wasn’t surprised when Savannah said, “Okay. I’ll call Jessica and see if I can go there.”
            She hung up and said, “I’m going to call my friend. She lives here in Jersey.”
            “Okay. Do you need me to dial for you?”
            “No, it’s okay,” she said.
            As she started dialing, I thought, Didn’t she not remember any of her friends’ numbers because they were all in her phone? Well she’s composed herself a little now, I argued. Maybe she’s thinking more clearly.
            I was turning this discrepancy over in my head when Savannah said, “Hello?” into the phone with an air of confusion. “Who is this?” she asked once, then again. An indiscernible male voice on the other end of the line mumbled something, and the girl said, “It’s Savannah. Who’s this?” There was a little more mumbling across the connection, then silence. Savannah hung up. “I don’t know who that was,” she said.
            I took my phone back and started talking to her. Apparently Savannah, all of twenty-four, moved out of her parents’ house in Delaware in favor of an apartment in Jersey because she wanted to be closer to her boyfriend, a forty-eight year-old proprietor of a strip club. She then gave up her apartment to move in with him, even though Savannah’s friend Jessica is this guy’s daughter and hates him because he’s an abusive piece of shit.
            I was surprised these two had never played William Tell.
            I ran into Wawa to buy her something to drink, taking my phone with me. On the way back to the car my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, so it was likely for the damsel in distress. I answered it to hear a male voice decked from head to toe in Ed Hardy say, “Listen, bro, she stole my wallet and I got your license number, so expect the cops pretty soon. Put her on.”
            “Really?” I said, as I stopped and scanned my license plate. “What is it?’
            “Put Savannah on, bro.”
            A quick aside: don’t call me, “bro.”
            I opened the door and said to Savannah, “It’s him. How did he get my number?”
            She looked shocked. “What?”
            “It’s him. How does he know my number?”
            The girl was silent. She stared at the phone in my hand, slack-jawed while the Douche Who Called Wolf shouted through the phone before finally hanging up.
            “How could he get my number?” I asked again.
            “I-I-I dunno,” she stammered.
            I checked the call history. “He called from the number you called a few minutes ago – Jessica’s number.”
            I showed her the call history. “This is my phone. I think I called my phone by mistake.”
            My sympathy was melting away fast, and aggression was seeping in. How do you accidentally dial your own phone? Which is now in your abusive boyfriend’s hands? No wonder you’re in this predicament, you dullard. Yeah, that’s right – predicament. You don’t even deserve that many syllables.
            She couldn’t remember Jessica’s number. I even typed her name into Facebook in the hope of finding her account and contact information by her photo. Savannah shook her head in defeat after looking at the pictures for a total of nine seconds.
            “What does she look like?” I asked.
            “I dunno. She’s always half-naked in her pictures.”
            Well, maybe give it a cursory glance, kid? Who knows? Maybe it’ll be her Women’s Christian Temperance Union yearbook photo instead? What the hell was wrong with this broad?
            I suggested that I just drive her Jessica’s. “Under the circumstances I think she’d understand you just showing up.”
            She thought for a moment, then said, “Yeah, okay.”
            “Where does she live?”
            “Well, she lives right down the street from my boyfriend.”
            Okay. Denmark now officially reeked of Philadelphia and beer farts.
            “Are you sure you want to go there? I asked.
            Translation: Are you fucking kidding me!?!
            She was sure, so I pulled out of Wawa and started back to where I had found her. “There’s a street you turn down just before his house,” she said, “so we don’t pass him.”
            “Thank you again so much for… I don’t even know your name. I’m Savannah.”
            Hi. I’m Tundra. Nice to meet you.
            The lights in her friend’s house were already on as I pulled up to the curb. I offered to go to the door with her.
            “No, that’s okay.”
            “I don’t like letting you go up by yourself.”
            “No. Just I-I-I don’t wanna, I don’t want her to think, like, she’s, it’s bad enough between her and her dad and, like, I don’t – she doesn’t – it’s not gonna help her knowing and – and, like – like, I don’t wanna drag you into the drama. You know?”
            Yeah. I know.
            “But I’m just gonna run to the door, and when she answers, I’ll come back and let you know it’s okay.”
            “Alright. If that’s what you want to do.”
            She hugged me and thanked me again. Then she got out of the car and ran to the back door where I couldn’t see her.
            I waited about three minutes before I drove away.
            Now I’m sitting at my computer, trying to parcel through the disparate pieces of this puzzle. On the surface everything seemed on the up-and-up, but as the hour unfolded, pieces here and there began to bend and fray at the joints. Sitting in my car at the curb I convinced myself that Savannah and this guy were running a scam on me, that he was a Mamet-character come to life and she was his girl Friday. Savannah’s “mother” could have been anyone. Seconds after she had decided to call her friend, she misdialed and called the guy she was running from. And when all else had failed, she had me bring her right back to the beginning.
            But sitting here, turning over the equation in my head, I can’t see the grift. What was the bait I was supposed to have taken? What was I supposed to have done, and what were they planning on taking from me? I can’t help but think, What if I’m wrong? I’ve never been in her position. I have no idea how I would comport myself. I can’t guarantee that I would make my subsequent decisions in the most rational manner possible. What if her boyfriend was waiting in that house for her and is kicking the shit out of her as I write this? What if I wrongly suspected Savannah because I had grown impatient with her lack of rationality, that the growing inconvenience I had brought upon myself was polluting any urge I had toward kindness and empathy? And why am I worrying about this anyway? I thought I hated people. If Savannah’s stupid enough to get mixed up with an asshole like that, she deserves whatever she gets. Except… what if I don’t believe that? Has all my fatalism been little more than cheap plastic armor? Am I really as hackneyed and typical as that? Have I just been seeing myself reflected in the imperfections of others? Is that what I really hate?
            I’ll be watching the local news for the next week to see if Savannah turns up dead. But I actually hold out hope that it all worked out in the end. Not because of a deep-seated belief in my noble intentions or a shift in the polarity of my overall outlook on life, but because ten minutes after I pulled away from Jessica’s house, I received the following text from the boyfriend:
“By the way she has herpes and now ur Im with for stealing my wallet…”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


            Being a fan of Kevin Smith is often like being his friend. We like what he does, but we also like him. We have a deep investment in him as a human being we don’t have in other filmmakers or podcasters. His openness with us, how much he brings us into his heart, is a key part of why we have remained loyal to him for so many years. In the past Kevin has even referred to his overall career as “the conversation.” It’s apropos because friendships often feel like epic, multi-part conversations that continue through the years. We first met Kevin through CLERKS, and with each of his projects the friendship has grown, the conversation has taken on more nuance and become more interesting.
            But have you ever had a friendship that has spanned many years? It’s a friendship that’s always made you laugh, put a smile on your face, made you feel good about yourself and made the tough moments in life a little more bearable? Then one day, your friend confides in you? They let the shield of pride or machismo or whatever drop and you suddenly see a side of your friend you never knew was there? A side that not only makes you re-evaluate your friend but also makes you excited to get to know them all over again?
            That’s RED STATE.
            Everything Kevin has said about RED STATE is true. But there’s so much more to it that he’s never touched on, and it relates directly to “the conversation.” All of Kevin’s previous movies have taken an honest, believable look at whatever issues each has explored. Each one of them has embodied a positive, optimistic perspective that maintains a strong faith in the inherent decency of people. That aspect of Kevin’s point of view is still present in RED STATE, but suddenly the conversation has grown more complicated. The conversation gets real. Kevin has opened up as he never has before. Yes, he shares his views with us on a daily basis, but he is not an ideologue. He is a normal human being wrestling with the same conflicting emotions that pull us all in opposite directions every day. It’s fitting that RED STATE has been released in these increasingly nihilistic times. Do we live by our principles to our last breath or do the ends justify corrupting ourselves? Should we offer forgiveness or indulge our rage? We are all emotional creatures who miraculously possess the capacity for reason. By which measure should we govern our lives? And if the goal is to balance the two, how do we do so?
Every character in RED STATE has to answer those questions through the course of the movie. But fictional characters are lucky. Their lives end when the credits roll. Ours continue on for who knows how long with no answers in sight. The good news is, hopefully, we get to ponder those questions in the company of intelligent, compassionate friends. Kevin Smith is one of those friends and, as RED STATE proves, he’ll always keep the conversation lively and memorable. 


            “Hello, everyone.! Welcome to week three of pre-season football. I’m Stu Isore, with me is Pigg Vittles. Today’s game is sure to be a good one as Philadelphia takes on New England. Both franchises made some bold, exciting moves in the off-season and expectations are sky high for both teams.
            “But before we get to the on-field action, it’s come to our attention that nobody really cares about the pre-season. The games have no impact on the standings and, if you remember from last week’s slew of pre-season games, Washington actually beat Indianapolis. So, clearly these games don’t tell us anything. Therefore, in the interest of entertainment, we’re now to going to switch over to footage of a crackhead taunting a polar bear. For Pigg Vittles and everyone here, I’m Stu Isore. See you next time!”

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


10) George R.R. Martin
            I’ve only read one work of George R.R. Martin’s, a work that isn’t even complete. But having read just the first four books of his mammoth undertaking of epic fantasy, A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m prepared to say that Martin is one of the most accomplished fiction writers on the planet. With his ongoing saga, he has out-Tolkiened the man himself. Not only has he fashioned a world with a history and culture vast and complex as Middle-Earth’s, but Martin’s characters and sense of story structure are infinitely superior to Tolkien’s. This is who you read if you want your fantasy to be adult in every sense of the word.
            Start with: A Game of Thrones, 1996
            Then try: A Clash of Kings, 1998

9) James Ellroy
            If the English language has an intrinsic gender, James Ellroy has ensured that it is a male. The Demon Dog uses words like they’re jabs and hooks, sentences like head-butts, paragraphs that are swift kicks in the cajones, and characters that move with the animalistic single-mindedness of a pack of wolves. He throws these ingredients into a heady brew and what he serves up are stories of crime and redemption that explode in a mushroom-shaped plume in the sky over White Sands. Even if his style is so bare-knuckled it turns you off, you can’t deny it: Ellroy has balls!
            Start with: L.A. Confidential, 1990
            Then try: The Black Dahlia, 1987

8) Raymond Chandler
            Chandler wrote almost exclusively about his most famous creation, archetypical private eye Philip Marlowe. Chandler wrote in style that is now synonymous with hard-boiled fiction in general. But read a little closer and his artistry becomes easy to identify. Chandler brought a poetry to his lean and mean prose that cut right to the bone of the existential conundrum of human life, what makes people live as darkly as they do and what makes a decent man like Marlowe stand eyeball-to-eyeball against the darkness and refuse the turn away from it. But that will only occur to you after you’ve absorbed the dynamite story Chandler laid out for you.
            Start with: The Big Sleep, 1939
            Then try: The Lady in the Lake, 1943

7) David Mitchell
            I grow green with envy whenever I meet someone who is experiencing the work of David Mitchell for the first time. Born in Britain but having lived and traveled wide and far around the globe, his writing reflects his status as a genuine citizen of the world. A postmodernist in the best sense of the word Mitchell blends and twists genres and styles with stunning alacrity. But despite his prosaic pyrotechnics, Mitchell never forgets that his first job is to tell a story. With indelible characters and ingenious plotting he does this better than most writers twenty years his senior.
            Start with: Cloud Atlas, 2004
            Then try: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, 2010

6) H.P. Lovecraft
            Bottom line: H.P. Lovecraft was the greatest short story writer who ever lived. Every practitioner and fan of horror and suspense, whether they want to admit it or not, owes their undying allegiance to Lovecraft’s legacy. Yes, the more of him you read you recognize the archetypes he returned to time and again. Yes, he expressed certain socio-political views we find hard to stomach today. But the man understood fear, where it comes from and how to tap into a reader’s. In his relatively brief career, Lovecraft wrote stories that not only can turn the night dark and stormy eighty years later, but keep you reading them over and over.
            Start with: “The Call of Cthulu”, 1926
            Then try: “The Colour Out of Space”, 1927

5) William Shakespeare
            Yes, I read Shakespeare for fun. And so can you! I understand that the poetry is daunting at first. But if you can find your own Rosetta Stone into the text, his stories and characters are as enthralling and comprehensible as anybody’s. Shakespeare shared the point of view of the common man. He possibly did more to destroy the concept of the Divine Right of Kings than anyone by showing just how fallible and human the divine can be. Use that as your entryway into the plays and, I assure you, you will find stories that are more rich, colorful, daring, and entertaining than ninety-nine percent of anything else you could pull of the shelves.
            Start with: Macbeth, 1606
            Then try: Othello, 1603

4) Thomas Pynchon
            He’s one of the most divisive writers in the history of literature, truly love-him-or-hate-him. Check out Amazon’s reviews if you don’t believe me. The vehement dismissal is understandable. Pynchon is discursive, difficult, vague, and he breaks every rule you learn in Writing 101. And yet, I absolute love him. Like Philip K. Dick, Pynchon broke through with the emergence of the counterculture due, in large part, to his liberal depictions of recreational drug use and his embrace of the intrinsic incomprehensibility of the world around us. But Pynchon takes it a step further and frees the writer – and reader – with adherence to a deceptively simple maxim: in a world where the rules are unknowable, maybe there are no rules.
            Start with: Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973
            Then try: Mason & Dixon, 1997

3) Alan Moore
            Try reading Alan Moore, a man committed to practicing the craft and realizing the magic of sequential art, and tell me he is not every bit complex, intellectual, and entertaining as any novelist you could read. Like a mad seamstress he weaves together seemingly unrelated threads of both narrative and theme until you are looking at a tapestry, one that is immediately pleasing but requires distance and deep thought before it can be fully appreciated. Possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of a wide array of interests that have nothing to do with costumed crime-fighting, Alan Moore uses the comics medium as the perfect vehicle to tell any story his frighteningly fertile imagination can conjure.
            Start with: Batman – The Killing Joke, 1988
            Then try: Watchmen, 1987

2) Isaac Asimov
            The depth and breadth of Asimov’s interests and respective acumen is staggering. He is the only writer to have at least one book represented in, save one, each section of the Dewey Decimal System. Whether writing his iconic science fiction, hard science, or history, Asimov wrote in a clear and simple voice that sucks you in and makes even the most esoteric minutiae palatable to any reader. All that minutiae makes the worlds he brings to life, be they hundreds of years in the past or many millennia in the future, completely believable and totally absorbing. He was an honest-to-science genius who never lost sight of the joy of learning, a joy he never neglected to instill in his readers.
            Start with: I, Robot, 1950
            Then try; The Caves of Steel, 1951

1) Kurt Vonnegut
            I don’t know how to start explaining why Kurt Vonnegut is the greatest. His writing is so simple and straightforward, he makes it look too easy. Which, of course, means it’s deceptively difficult to pull off. And he pulled it off in masterpiece after masterpiece. I consider even his less celebrated novels, like Slapstick and Galapagos, to be masterpieces. Vonnegut was heartbreaking, funny, whimsical, suspenseful, and silly; and you never knew which side he was going to show with each turn of the page. But it was his empathy with people and his understanding of the slings and arrows of an average life that keeps him resonant with each successive generation of readers. Read him when you’re feeling down. You’ll feel he wrote the book only for you. Kurt Vonnegut once said that he considered Mark Twain to be “an American saint.” I would say the same of Kurt Vonnegut.
            Start with: Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969
            Then try: Deadeye Dick, 1982

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


            Okay, here we go…

20) Joseph J. Ellis
            The Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College is the perfect jumping-off point for anyone who would like to better acquaint themselves with the founding of the United States. Ellis uses scrupulous attention to detail and a strict adherence to certifiable evidence as he chronicles the most important and most criminally mythologized chapter of American history. He educates, he enlightens, but above all Ellis understands that history is a story and is meant be told – and examined – with the infectious gusto of a born raconteur.
            Start with: American Creation, 2007
            Then try: Founding Brothers, 2000

19) Cornell Woolrich
            Just read a bit about his tragic, claustrophobic life, and you’ll never have trouble understanding how Woolrich cemented his reputation as a paragon of hard-boiled fiction. His prose is every bit razor-sharp and haunting as you would want in noir literature. But what separates Woolrich from the rest of the pack is his empathy with evil. He appreciates where our intrinsic wickedness stems from and brings the reader perilously close to the heart of the flame. It’s almost mind-boggling that Hollywood has chosen to plunder his works over and over again. But good look finding his books – most of them are out of print.
            Start with: I Married a Dead Man, 1948
            Then try: Rendezvous in Black, 1948

18) Haruki Murakami
            There’s a reason he has such a large and passionate following here in America. Murakami reflects an Eastern point of view refracted through a prism of Western storytelling. He embodies the best that the Baby Boomers bring to their art: a pronounced streak of empathy and humanism and a keen awareness of the history of media on the culture at large. In one mad, seamless patchwork of genres and styles after another, Murakami personifies the potential of contemporary pop art and storytelling prowess so assured, it crosses all human boundaries and touches anyone and everyone.
            Start with: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, 2006
            Then try; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, 1985

17) Kurt Busiek
            Don’t let your prejudices poison you against the possibility that a guy who writes comics can craft rich, moving stories with startlingly nuanced characters. Over his thirty-year career of writing for every company, large and small, in the comic book industry, Busiek has written some of the definitive stories of the icons of the medium. But his crowning achievement is his own title, Astro City. In a world where superheroes are commonplace and often mundane as baristas and mailmen, Busiek weaves an ingenious tapestry of tales about super-humans – with the emphasis being on human.
            Start with: Astro City – Life in the City, 1997
            Then try; Astro City – Confession, 1998

16) Neil Gaiman
            Speaking of comic book writers, here’s one of the best in their long, glorious history. But make no mistake, Neil Gaiman has proven himself equally masterful at writing scintillating, unique novels, short stories, and poetry. After all these years, however, The Sandman remains the greatest testament to his ability. Through the overarching mythology, the larger storylines, and the standalone issues; Gaiman provides us with an (pun alert!) endless and endlessly entertaining collection about the importance of change and an infectious celebration of the joy of stories and storytelling.
            Start with: The Sandman – Fables and Reflections, 1993
            Then try: The Sandman – Season of Mists, 1991

15) Jim Thompson
            It’s fitting that he admired Dostoevsky. Amongst the writers of dark, deep hard-boiled fiction, Jim Thompson went the darkest and deepest. Pick up one of his books and you’ll soon find yourself trapped in a labyrinth where the walls are made of the ugliest, basest aspects of the human condition. Continue through the maze and you’ll find at its center what could very well be the fundamental source of man’s imperfections. It also doesn’t hurt that he populates his books with fascinating characters, dialogue fired from a Howitzer, and stories so tightly constructed they’re likely to choke you. Need more proof? Kubrick hired him to write two of his best movies: The Killing and Paths of Glory.
            Start with: Pop. 1280, 1964
            Then try: The Killer Inside Me, 1952

14) Arthur C. Clarke
            And here’s another writer Kubrick regarded highly enough to collaborate with. Clarke is the perfect example of the science fiction writer who places equal emphasis on the science and the fiction. He never sublimates the craft of writing to the cosmetics of aliens and spaceships. He is a grade-A storyteller who uses his very formidable talents to intelligently pontificate on the ramifications of extraterrestrial contact on the evolution of the human race. That Clarke is able to successfully dramatize its absolute beneficence is indicative of his unique point of view and his standing as one of the giants of the sci-fi genre.
            Start with: Childhood’s End, 1953
            Then try: Imperial Earth, 1975

13) Philip Roth
            Honestly, there are a few examples in Roth’s bibliography where he forgot to tell a story, where he overwrote and neglected his job. But over the course of a fifty-plus year career in which you average a novel every eighteen months –  a career, by the way, in which you’ve won practically every major writing award a writer can win (often more than once), it’s bound to happen. But pick up one of Roth’s books at random and you’re likely to find yourself ensconced in a story populated by wonderfully complicated people, stunning insights into what it means to be American, and some of the most beautifully wrought prose you’ll ever read.
            Start with: Portnoy’s Complaint, 1969
            Then try: The Plot Against America, 2004

12) Sherman Alexie
            You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more harrowing representation of the plight of the Americanized alien than in the pages of a story by Sherman Alexie. The Spokane/Coeur d’Alene writer has written a handful of novels, but he is, in my opinion, the best writer of short stories working today. His collections contain a wide array of parables; some moving, some terrifying, and some funny. But all of them are stories of people trapped in a world dedicated to their gradual, agonizing annihilation, stories that are far from fictitious to American Indians like Alexie.
            Start with: The Toughest Indian in the World, 2000
            Then try: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, 1993

11) Philip K. Dick
            I want my PKD! Not surprisingly, his popularity crested with the rise of the counterculture movement. He was equally critical of and sympathetic to recreational drug use. He filtered the growing concerns of the modern world through the lens of science fiction and, through it, saw the future. Possessing a seemingly boundless imagination, Dick crafted one startlingly original tale after another in which, as we often do, he tried to not only answer the question, “Why are we here?” but the further question, “Are we even here to begin with?”
            Start with: Ubik, 1969
            Then try: Counter-Clock World, 1967

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


            Rubicon, written by historian and novelist Tom Holland, recounts the events of the last century of the Roman Republic, illustrating the mercurial and violent transition from a republic to an empire. Holland deftly navigates the intricacies of the historical record as he passionately dramatizes the key events of the period: the tribunates of the Gracchi brothers, the tug of war between Marius and Sulla, and the arcs of the First and Second Triumvirates. He creates vivid, fully humanized personifications of the players in this seminal human drama, from the big names of Sulla, Cicero, and Caesar to the tertiary characters of Caelius and Domitius Ahenobarbus. Holland writes with a novelist’s ear, constructing impassioned, imaginatively-worded sentences from a specific point of view. He knows what story he’s telling and does so with a scholar’s focus and storyteller’s energy. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable historical read.
            So why don’t I like it?
            Holland is writing history, not historical fiction. But, as a historian, he makes several intellectual leaps that, coming from a historian, I find unforgivable. Holland’s thesis is that the Republic was a state of freedom and inherently good, while the Empire was a state of slavery and inherently bad. That assessment is a miscarriage of scholarship. From its inception the laws of the Roman Republic were heavily slanted in favor of the patrician elite at the expense of the plebeian majority of the population. Yes, they had elections for a representative government. But Holland ignores the fact that Julius Caesar did not invent bribery. If he had done his job as a scholar, he would have noted that one of the reasons Caesar was so hated by his fellow patricians was his arrogant and unapologetic flaunting of his bribery when it should have remained on the down low. And if the Empire is inherently bad, then how does he reconcile that with the re-establishment of the rule of law and economic stability of Vespasian? Or the even-handed, fair-minded governance of Trajan? Holland also takes the primary sources at face value without considering the fact that the historians of ancient Rome were culled from the ranks of the nobility and often did not represent the feelings and opinions of the general populace. His failure to do so results in highly dubious motivations being attributed to figures they may not apply to.
            Holland commits these crimes against historical reportage in the pursuit of securing a contemporary moral conviction against an ancient people with mores and a collection of values that are completely incompatible with ours. It’s a galling mistake to apply our morality to a people who are as alien to us as visitors from another planet. But that’s what Holland does. In doing so he crafts a marvelously involving narrative that falters under the weight of close scholarly scrutiny.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


            All names have been changed to protect the innocent. It’s not their fault I couldn’t close the deal.

            Over the years I’ve had my share of romantic entanglements. Some of those entanglements have given rise to a decent story or two, and someday those stories may inspire me to put pen to paper and share them with you. But the best stories – the funniest, the most entertaining – are about the missed opportunities. And those are legion! Let me share with you one of my favorite missed opportunities. Come with me, if you will. Let me be your sherpa up Blue Balls Mountain. Watch and learn how a certified Grand Master cockblocks himself.
            When I was sixteen I somehow found myself ensconced within that strange, mercurial clique known as The Popular Kids, which always struck me as a misnomer since the majority of kids outside that clique hated the lot of them. I’m still not sure how I ended up within their circle, and I’m mystified by how long I stayed in it. Their initial appeal was certainly obvious. The boys were confident, the girls were pretty, and they always had a lot of fun. I would sit with the guys at their table in the cafeteria. I would listen to them castigate one another in the most infectiously deplorable terms, impugn each other’s manhood, ridicule the income of another’s parents. The girls would sit two tables back and the boys would try to catch a peek up their skirts from the reflection in their watches. The girls would come up to me at my locker and lean against my neighbor’s with the most comely posture. They would laugh at my uninspired, spineless attempts at humor with enthusiastic sincerity. When one of them would ask me to drive them home after school, I would readily agree. Once in the car, focusing on the music selection was all I could do to prevent myself from pitching a painfully obvious tent from behind the wheel.
The irony was that I had gravitated to them in the hope of gaining some self-confidence. Oh, they like me and they’re cool, so I must be cool. I was part of their crew for a year, and for that whole year I wore my paranoia like a Castilian panoply. I expected to be found out at any moment, to be exposed as a fraud and a thief. I was like a low-level wiseguy who had betrayed the family and now, surrounded by them all, didn’t know if he was going to be kissed or killed. I expected Jason Barracus to turn into Robert De Niro and send me down an alley to pick up some dresses. Did I ever make a move on one of the girls? No way. How much did I contribute to the boys’ back-and-forth? Take your hand and touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. That much.
One night I attended a party at Mark Maloney’s house set deep in the Byzantine arbor of Medford. I was at a disadvantage before I had even arrived. I knew kids would be drinking with a capital “D,” but my father was driving me and he would be picking me up at the end of the night. You see, my testicles had yet to descend and I did not want to be on the receiving end of his wrath when he picked up his inebriated son. So, upon arrival, I promptly grabbed a Budweiser, cracked it open, and proceeded to nurse that bastard for the better part of four hours.
I made two observations over the course of those four hours. One, lukewarm Bud tastes like Satan’s piss. Two, I had no business being there. There were boys holding themselves upside-down over a keg of beer and they had hoses in their mouths. Greg Bateman was sitting on the edge of a pool table and Tori Moore was sitting next to him and she was smiling at him and laughing and hanging on his every word and he was talking to her like a big jerk. There were three girls huddled in a corner of the basement sharing a marijuana joint and they were giggling in a crazy creepy way and it smelled weird. Jason Barracus was sitting on some milk crates with a case of beer at his feet and he was drinking one and everyone was sitting around him and Bobbi May kept sitting on Jason’s lap until he grabbed her privates and she would hop off and laugh and walk away, then she would come back and sit on his lap again and laugh and spill her beer on herself and laugh again and then Jason would grab her again and…
After a while, I had taken enough laps around the basement to wear a groove into the floor. Just as I had to come to the conclusion that there was nothing for me at this party, Leigh Mara wobbled up to me.
Leigh Mara was tall and thin, possessed an acerbic sense of humor and a body made to turn priests off kids. She was one of those girls every boy wanted – you know the ones. I was certainly no exception. We had been friendly up to that point, hung out within the company of others a few times. I had always been respectful and gentlemanly toward her in the hope that, Maybe she’ll see I’m a nice guy and she’ll like me. Granted I had applied my modus operandi to every girl I had hoped to attract, but that didn’t make it any less sincere. Or anemic.
And now, on this night, for whatever reason, Leigh Mara, her most recent beer clutched in one hand, stumbled to within six inches of me. Her taut upper body, all the more enticing with the Nineties midriff, waved like a drunken flag. Her hair danced as her head loped from side to side. Her lips thinned to an out-of-focus smile. She leaned into my face and implored, “Tony, hook up with me.”
Just so we’re all clear, I’ll reiterate that in more prosaic terminology: Leigh Mara invited me to make out with her.
Many of you reading this may never have had the pleasure of experiencing the phenomenon of a beautiful woman unambiguously hitting on you. I assure you, I understand. You hear in your head the airy refrain of, “If only…” as if tragically intoned by a Gregorian choir. A wistful sigh is escaping your body. If you tried, you could even squeeze out a tear or two. I’ve been there, folks. But on this night, the dream came true. The opportunity to live out my own little PG-13 Penthouse Letter opened her arms to me. All I had to do was reach out and embrace her.
Of course I didn’t.
“Why not?” you’re screaming. Because this is how sixteen year-old Tony Petracci’s mind processed this information: I know what’s going to happen. I’ll say yes and go to take her hand and lead her to someplace private. She’ll pull away, start laughing like a hyena, and go tell everybody, “He actually thought he could hook up with me!” The house will fill with malevolent snickering. People will approach me under a pretense of sympathy and turn it into backhanded mockery. I’ll become the Punchline That Wouldn’t Die.
Hey, how many of you understood at sixteen that no one is paying attention to you?
I politely said with utmost compassion, “You’re drunk, Leigh. You don’t want to do that.” She staggered off, but five minutes later she shambled up to me again. “Toooooonyyyyyyy, hook up with meeeeeeee!” She literally begged me. And I refused again!
She didn’t try a third time.
In retrospect it’s not surprising that, within a few months of this incident, a Tony-is-gay rumor started swirling about the school.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that my life would have been totally different had I hooked up with Leigh Mara. This isn’t Mr. Destiny. I look at this bit of self-mortification as little more than an entertaining story about a missed opportunity. But it was a missed opportunity of my own creation, and it makes me consider the scores of other people who have allowed their own heads to get in the way of achieving some modicum of happiness, however fleeting and shallow it may be. So many of those people are quality human beings whose negative self-images, from wherever they may spring, prevent them from fulfilling their potential. The greater irony is that so many success stories who think highly of themselves are irredeemable wastes of oxygen who contribute nothing of value to the world.
Christ! No wonder people thought I was gay.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


           The Monopoly Mobile sped through the tunnel of reflective metal and rivers of light. The tunnel wound around deposits of shale and coiled upward in a wide helix through layers of stratum. From behind the wheel Dubious Lee cursed himself for opting for the winding road rather than the more timely lift. The Monopoly Mobile exploded through the doors of an abandoned warehouse (obviously) and raced to meet Simple Country Lawyer. Dubious Lee braked with a sudden squeal and jumped out the car at Twelfth & Hamilton.
            Simple Country Lawyer stood over the limp and twisted body of the Toddler. The boy’s head had been replaced with a steaming mound of gray-green necrotic tissue. The corpse twitched slightly as the Lawyer said, “You disappoint me, Lee. Being as economically minded as you are, I’d have figured you for the vehicular-lift sort.”
            “Silence! I’m finishing this!”
            “Shucks, son. That there’s easier than a post pattern in a – ”
            “FUCK FOOTBALL!!!”
            Simple Country Lawyer’s arrogantly gregarious smile disappeared. “I beg your pardon, but I believe you just uttered fighting words at me.”
            “Indeed they are. NOW!!!
            Three streaks of light burst from the Monopoly Mobile and landed as Dubious Lee called the roll.
            “Metalhead!” Guitar strings crackling with electricity snaked from her fingertips and waves of distortion snarled from her feet.
            “Titmouse!” His mutated member grew several feet and gnashed its sharp bucked teeth with a furious hiss.
            “Alfobet Soope!” He danced an endzone celebration with increasing speed, then halted with a sudden prominence of energy.
            Dubious Lee stood before his team, lapping at the fountain of anticipatory delight, savoring his nemesis’s impending defeat, bathing in his own venom. “Lawyer,” he called, “I’ll say this but once: this – ends – now!”
            “Reckon I agree with you, Lee.” Simple Country Lawyer let fly a loud puncturing whistle. Four shapes suddenly fell from the sky. They landed behind Simple Country Lawyer and rose to their feet as their leader and benefactor introduced them.
            “Meet Bloody Belle – spoiled Georgia Peach turned cannibalistic ninja.”
            Clad in her crimson shozoku and twirling her kama, Bloody Belle said, “I’ll never go hungry again.”
            “Big Block –  left for dead in a Nascar crash, now a cybernetic killing machine that runs nines.”
            Big Block’s chest-set cylinders raced as he balled up his iron fists and his mullet pulsed with violent energy.
            “Boo Bradley – poltergeist and former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.”
            Craning the long neck of the bone-white marble dragon he now possessed, Boo Bradley cried, “Wight Power!”
            “And finally, Boy.”
            The slump-shouldered middle-aged black man said, “I’m the custodian.”
            The two lines of superpowered assholes stared at one another coldly. Dubious Lee’s eyes darted from Simple Country Lawyer to one or another of his lackeys and back again. He knew the planarian had outmaneuvered him once again. He resigned himself to the inevitable just as the Lawyer said, “You know something else, Lee? Of the two of us, whose team is more alliterative?”
            Dubious Lee and Simple Country Lawyer screamed at the same time: “DESTROY THEM!!!”

            The battle hadn’t lasted long. Alfobet Soope had immediately charged Boo Bradley, who quickly clasped the wide receiver in his marble jaws and tore him in half. Titmouse had launched his retractable rat-penis at Bloody Belle. She had caught it in her mouth, eaten her way down the shaft to the mammary molester and promptly cleaved him in twain. Metalhead had whipped her finger-strings at Big Block like lariats, but the iron goliath caught them, extended his mullet into a mane and launched from it a wide blast of power, reducing Metalhead to a molten lump.
            Big Block and Bloody Belle held the defeated Dubious Lee at his arms, binding his arms behind his back, slumped to his knees amid the human flotsam spackled across the intersection.
            Only his petrified rage prevented Dubious Lee from collapsing into tears. He would never acquiesce to living in a world that loved and embraced the treacherous parasite that was Simple Country Lawyer. He would never stop hating him, never stop trying to purge the earth of its cancer. He lifted his head as the single-celled advocate approached him. His eyes screamed hosannas of hate, and the Lawyer, meeting his eyes, actually froze. Dubious Lee spoke through clenched teeth, “Do not believe this is over, Simple Country Lawyer. You may have won today, but one tomorrow you will meet the very same justice you have long inveigled. You will watch everything you have stolen fall through your fingers like the finest sands. Your influence will count for naught. Your power will dissipate. You will be left impotent and despised. And as you fall to your knees, as supplicated as I am now, a shadow will cross your face. You will raise your head, lift your eyes, and see me. And finally you will meet your end, lost in the dyspathetic clutches of Dubious Lee.”
            Simple Country Lawyer regarded his enemy silently.
            “No I won’t.”
            Simple Country Lawyer shot Dubious Lee in the head.
            Boy grumbled as he withdrew his retractable tachyon-powered mop and set to work. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011


            The air over downtown Madsen, New Jersey buzzed with calamity. The intersection of Twelfth Street and Hamilton Avenue shook under the panicked stampede of civilians. People of every make and model surged every which way, filling the urban corridor with echoing screams. Businessmen body-checked fathers into mothers. Parents wielded their children like war hammers, clubbing strangers out of their way. Neurotics curled into fetal shells and were kicked down the street like black and blue tumbleweeds. Drunken pugilists put up their dukes and wanted at ‘em. Closet cases screamed their long-hidden sexual predilections into the sky. The socially awkward grabbed random women and tried to have sex with them. A bearded lunatic brandishing a placard adorned with Bible verses rushed into the crowd and shouted apocalyptic predictions. He was quickly trampled. Tires screeched and brakes whined as cars slammed into skyscrapers, collapsed into twisted heaps of metal, and launched fleeing pedestrians into the air. Street lamps toppled to the ground. Garbage cans soared through panes of glass. A spell of bedlam had descended over the street.
            At the storm’s eye was the Toddler, his lollipop held aloft, openly inquiring how many licks it would take to reach the center.
            Half a mile beneath the street Dubious Lee, flanked by his villainous coterie, reveled in the disaster unfurling on his massive view-screen. Titmouse, Metalhead, and Alfobet Soope stood behind the ringleader, periodically glancing at the view-screen, engaged in their ongoing debate of the utmost importance: “Some guy took a picture of it in 1986. You can see it has dark hair,” said Metalhead.
            “Look, man,” countered Alfobet Soope, “I know ‘bout yetis and I know ‘bout evolution. Yeti’s not gonna survive in the snow ‘less it got a pelt for camouflage.”
            “There’s photographic evidence!”
            “Fuck outta here! Those pics are doctored. Every artist’s rendition shows it with white fur.”
            “You’re both way off,” argued Titmouse. “It’s all about Mothman!”
            Dubious Lee ignored the ridiculous badinage; he watched the anarchic carnage unspool. He stood like personified marble, unflinching and unperturbed. He waited patiently for the arrival of his bete noire, the single-celled shyster who cured the disease that never existed. Leland DuBois had done nothing originally startling. He hadn’t committed a single atrocity countless others hadn’t as well. His sin had been arrogance, making little effort to hide his professional transgressions. He knew that. He had made himself an obvious target. Simple Country Lawyer had been merely the first to hit the bullseye. And now he was a hero? Dubious Lee would not abide the duplicitous irony of it all. His lips curled with epicurean anticipation.
            Twelfth & Hamilton was littered with debris and bodies. The only sign of life stood at its center. The Toddler’s cherubic face was a beacon of innocence without expectation. He waited for the arrival of his victim.
            “You best have one whopper of a explanation of this hullabaloo here,” came a voice from behind the Toddler.
            “He’s here!” hissed Dubious Lee, his mouth jerked into a carnivorous rictus.
            The Toddler beamed ravenously as he turned to face the litigious planarian. “Why?”
            “‘Cause if you’re missing one,” said Simple Country Lawyer, “you’re in more trouble than a head coach in Oakland.”
            Dubious Lee clenched his fists greedily. “Yes, answer him, Lawyer! Talk your way out of this!”
            The Lawyer stood silent, regarding the inquisitive little child of the corn like a suddenly manifested sty. His argumentative hackles were rising with each repeated syllable from the Toddler’s mouth. He could feel himself being drawn by the Toddler’s psionic tractor beam, inching toward his semantic web.
            He cocked his head (or whatever you would call it) to one side, folded his hands (or whatever they were) together and calmly said, “Well, that there question’s got more moving parts than a Rube Goldberg cotton gin. What you’re asking begs the further inquiry of where do our values come from at all,”
            Dubious Lee jerked back. “What is he doing?”
            Simple Country Lawyer continued, “Some have argued that our values – morality, ethics, what have you – are merely our more highly developed human minds’ attempt to rationalize the irrational instincts of the vestigial lower brains from whence we arose.”
            “What is he doing?!” cried Dubious Lee.
            “I think he’s being a lawyer,” said Metalhead.
            “Impossible! You can’t be a lawyer with a toddler, let alone that one!”
            “Apparently he can,” said Titmouse.
            Simple Country Lawyer continued, “‘Course that all begs the question: is evolution real. Now, granted, the theory’s got holes to fit a bobcat’s litter. But that don’t mean it’s not so.”
            “Keep it to yourself, son,” he answered dismissively. “But if it ain’t so, does the answer reside in the unprovable ether of an omnipotent super-whoever, pulling and yanking all our strings like a puppeteer on draft day? If fatalism is the answer, then the identity of that deity becomes the question. Which faith is the correct one? Or perhaps none of them are, and we all are blind birds flying through a hurricane.”
            The Toddler’s lip quivered nervously. “W-Why?”
            “Never interrupt a planarian pontificating, boy.”
            Alfobet Soope said to his grimacing leader, “Man, y’all fucked up.”
            “This is horseshit!” bellowed Dubious Lee and turned on his heel. “To the Monopoly Mobile – NOW!!!”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


            The Honorable Moses Olpian cleaned his glasses as he addressed the prosecuting attorney. “Your next witness?”
            The Assistant District Attorney, a tall wispy man, stood with pedagogical poise and said, “No more witnesses at this time, Your Honor. Prosecution reserves the right to call rebuttal witnesses should the need arise.”
            “Thank you, Mr. Waterston.” Judge Olpian turned to the opposite side of the bench. “Call your first witness, Mr. Lawyer.”
            Behind the defense table sat Jeffrey Three-Kinds-of-Cheese Dibble. The pepper-nosed toe-headed young man sat hunched over the table, wringing his hands under his ashen face. On trial for First-Degree Murder, he watched with glassy heavy-lidded eyes as his attorney, a simple country lawyer, rose calmly from his chair. Ensconced in a sharp bone-white Tom Wolfe, the six-foot tall planarian addressed the court. “Y’Honor, the Defense calls the Contrarian to the stand.”
            The doors to the courtroom swung inward with a flourish of cinematic contrivance. The Contrarian made his way down the aisle, his two jaws pugnaciously thrust forward. One jaw belonged to the head of Aziz al-Ibrahin, the other to the head of Shecky Rapaport.
            Waterston leapt out of his chair, nearly knocking it to the ground. “Objection!”
            “Now let me guess here, Y’Honor,” Simple Country Lawyer interjected. Stepping forward (or whatever worm-like single-celled organisms did when they ambulated) he said, “Mr. Waterston here intends to cite Branscum vs. Kundulini and argue against multiple sentiences taking the stand simultaneous-like. Am I right, Mr. Waterston? Is that the nub?”
            “Actually I was going to cite Paskind vs. Opperman, Your Honor, but Branscum works too.”
            “Well then, Y’Honor, I’d like to gently remind Mr. Waterston that in Weintraub vs. Florida the Appellate Court rules multiple sentiences admissible when sharing a corporeal form.”
            Waterston turned to Olpian. “Your Honor, Weintraub specifically applies to cases of shared possession of a single body. The Contrarian is two individual heads surgically grafted onto one body.”
            “Mr. Waterston’s acumen of precedent is more impressive than a catfish with a football; certainly, Y’Honor. But I seem to recall a certain case addressing just this type of razzmatazz. Monahan vs. Snacks I believe it was.”
            “Your Honor, Monahan was a civil suit. This is a criminal trial. It has no bearing on this case.”
            No one in the courtroom noticed Simple Country Lawyer’s eyes victoriously narrow. “Well I may just have to reconsider the praise I’ve heaped here upon the Assistant District Attorney. Surely you remember, Mr. Waterston, Monahan vs. Snack’s journey to the highest court in the land? Why, it was Rancid Bevallaqua himself who authored the opinion. Therein the Chief Justice established that no witness could be prohibited from testifying based on a pre-existing medical condition for which the witness in question is not responsible. The Contrarian’s current bi-cephalic state constitutes a pre-existing medical condition; I believe you will agree. And even a concussed simpleton knows it was the nefarious Doctor Ratline who amalgamated Messers Rapaport and al-Ibrahin into one The Contrarian. Y’Honor, if this here poor dual-headed abomination doesn’t fall under the precedent of Monahan, then I’ll be a chickenhawk with a empty backfield.”
            “Your Honor, this is a mockery of judicial protocol.”
            Judge Olpian nodded. “I agree,” he said. “But it carries weight in the eyes of the law. Objection overruled. You may take the stand, Mr. Contrarian.”
            Waterston clenched his teeth and returned to his seat as the Contrarian crossed the well and stepped into the witness box. A court officer stood before him and presented the Bible. “Place your left hand on the Bible please,” instructed the officer.
            Everyone in the courtroom leaned toward the stand, straining to hear the muted exchange between the Contrarian’s two heads. “Just do it already.”
            “It’s not the Quran.”
            “It doesn’t matter.”
            “It does!”
            “Jesus! Stop being so hidebound.”
            “I am not swearing on that book.”
            “I’ll swear. You just have to touch it.”
            “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
            Judge Olpian brought down his gavel with a reverberant bang. “Mr. Contrarian!”
            The Jewish head turned to the judge. “Sorry, Your Honor.” It turned to its Muslim counterpart and whispered harshly, “Do it!” The Muslim head sighed and looked away with a twisted mask of revulsion. The Contrarian, his left hand on the Bible, took the oath.
            Simple Country Lawyer took to his feet. “Mr. Contrarian, what is your full name?”
            “Isaac She – ”
            “He was talking to me.”
            “No he wasn’t. And we agreed I would do the talking.”
            “Yes he was and we never agreed to such a thing.”
            “Fine. We’ll take turns.”
            “Fine. Go.”
            Simple Country Lawyer smiled. “Very good.” Now, speaking to the Mooslim head of y’all, where were you at sundown on the twenty-second of March?”
            “I was in my apartment.”
            “And what were you engaged in at that point?” Simple Country Lawyer continued.
            “Well half of me was dutifully praying to Mecca, while the other half of me was masturbating to Roadhouse.”
            Simple Country Lawyer continued, “When you pray to Mecca from inside your apartment, where exactly do you pray?”
            “Whenever possible I pray eastward from the center of my living room.”
            The defense planarian asked, “And is that the spot from which you prayed at sundown on the twenty-second of March?”
            “Yes. We have a sixty-three inch LCD screen in there, so everybody was happy.”
            Shecky's head cut in, “Okay. You don’t have to keep harping on it.”
            “The Jew eats pork!”
            “I’m Reform! We don’t care about that!”
            Simple Country Lawyer plunged ahead. “Leaving aside the more erotic endowments of the Kelly Lynch oeuvre,” he said, “is there a window in that there room standing between you and Mecca?”
            “And when you look out the window,” Lawyer continued, “what do you see?”
            “The office building for Activists & Jugglers Notary.”
            Simple Country Lawyer turned to address the jury. “The same building where the murder was committed.” Turning back to the witness, he said, “Now… what floor of the Notary does that window parallel?”
            Rapaport’s head lulled with disinterest to the side while al-Ibrahin’s head said, “It’s actually just between the sixth and seventh floors.”
            Turning once again to the jury the defense attorney repeated, “Between the sixth and seventh floors,” laying it on thick as biscuits and gravy. “Now, Mr. Contrarian, could you please tell the court what you witnessed at sundown on the twenty-second of March?”
            “I was praying with my eyes closed, reciting the Maghrib. As soon as I finished, I opened my eyes and saw a golf club slash the air in the office across the street from my apartment. I got up, ignoring his pleas to let him finish, went to my window, looked down into the office, and saw the defendant standing over a broken putter covered in blood and the body of the murder victim.”
            The jury and those in the gallery gasped audibly. “I sure do love when they do that,” Simple Country Lawyer said to no one in particular. He then addressed the Contrarian’s Jewish head and asked, “Do you agree with that testimony, Mr. Contrarian?”
            “No I emphatically do not!”
            The courtroom gasped again and Simple Country Lawyer shuddered with a delighted squeal. “With what in particular do you disagree?”
            “First of all, I was watching Warm Summer Rain. Kelly Lynch only gets naked once in Roadhouse. Second, it was just a flash of light we saw.”
            Al-Ibrahim's head contradicted, “You were pre-occupied. How do you know?”
            “It’s called peripheral vision. And I was finished by that point – I just needed to clean up. And when we got to the window, it wasn’t the defendant we saw. It was some guy who looked like Shia LaBouef.”
            "He did not."
            “He does look like Shia LaBouef!”
            “No he doesn’t. He looks like Dave Eggers.”
            “Are you blind?”
            The two heads were now turned to directly face one another. “And it wasn’t a golf club. It was one of those metal braces you screw into your wall when you’re putting up cheap shelves.”
            “Those metal braces don’t have putter heads on them.”
            “It wasn’t a putter!”
            “Yes it was!”
            The Contrarian’s hands tried to grab each other while his two heads lunged at one another, each trying to sink their teeth into the other’s face. Waterston jumped up. “Your Honor, the witness has just contradicted himself. He should be excused and his testimony stricken.”
            Simple Country Lawyer stepped forward proudly, grinning from would-be ear to would-be ear. “Y’Honor, I’ll be hogtied to Barry Sanders if McKay vs. Sturgeon doesn’t explicitly state when a witness allowed under Monahan vs. Snacks contradicts himself on the stand and the discrepancy in his testimony is caused directly by said witness’s multiple sentiences, a mistrial must be declared.”
            The courtroom was nonplussed by the sudden spring of the trap. Waterston’s eyes widened in furious anxiety. “Your Honor, you can’t allow this!”
Judge Olpian inhaled through his nose past his face as it calcified with anger. “I’ll render my ruling on this after I’ve studied the cases for myself. Mr. Lawyer, you can’t begin to comprehend how much Contempt of Court I’m going to hold you in if your reading of precedent has even the smallest loophole. We’ll reconvene tomorrow morning at ten o’ clock.”
The judge banged his gavel. Everyone stood until Olpian was out of the courtroom. Simple Country Lawyer turned to Waterston and said, “Being a lawyer’s not as easy as playing one on the TV, is it?”
Waterston opened his mouth to respond, but stopped as he heard a loud sudden sound.
Simple Country Lawyer peered down at his belt buckle. The steel pig blinked yellow and emitted an obnoxious snort of warning. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said gentlemanly. “Looks like I’m needed.”