Rust in Peace

I saw what was arguably the best iteration of Megadeth, featuring Marty Friedman and Nick Menza, in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1990s. It was a brutal, rib crushing affair. I hung onto the fence up front for 3/4 of the show, right in front of Dave Mustaine, until I absolutely couldn’t take it anymore. I was in pain for days. It was worth it.

There are two totems from that show that I have carried with me every day for almost twenty years. In my wallet, there is a guitar pick that has Nick Menza’s signature stenciled on it. He threw those out into the crowd after he had run out of drum sticks to toss. This didn’t make sense to me at the time until one of my friends pointed out how expensive drum sticks are, and how cheap picks are. For a guy who was supposed to be so fucking smart I often didn’t put two and two together until I opened my mouth and said something stupid.

The other artifact, a black plastic bottle opener keychain, was handed to me by Marty Friedman on Beale Street before the show with a “here you go.” Little aloof Bobby Talbot didn’t even know what had happened until it was over.  My friends laughed at me and told me who had just given it to me. I put it on my keychain and it has been there every day since. It has traveled the world with me. It has opened hundreds of beers. I have walked thousands of miles with it jingling along in my pocket.

This story was a part of my party repertoire for years afterwards, and I finally stopped telling it about five years ago when instead of “fucking cool!” or laughter it received cocked eyebrows and cold stares. The world had moved on.

The world moves on again, today, without Nick Menza, who collapsed and subsequently died on stage at age 51.

I never met Nick Menza. I stood 15 feet in front of him and watched him play the drums. I carried a bit of plastic that he had mass produced for fans. I enjoyed his particular era of Megadeth music.

Someone who knows more than me recently said that every time someone dies he’s a bit pissed off by fans who pour out adulation after it’s too late. A corpse can’t enjoy the thrill of having someone love them. I am guilty of this here, I admit, because I haven’t thought about Mr. Menza in months.

I am 37.5 years old. Every time I read an article or open the obituaries, my mind does the morbid math of “how long.” How old would my kids be? How many years do I have? I try to shove that aside, because for all I know it will be five minutes from now. I keep doing those push-ups. I skip McDonald’s. I check for lumps. I look for reasons. How many drugs did he do? Let me pull the blanket of excuses and blame back over myself. Let me think of Jane Little, age 87, who died on stage playing bass with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Wouldn’t that be nice. Poetic. Beautiful. Fifty more years. Push down Nick (51). Shove down Dad (58).

I cannot tell you how many slow work days I’ve spent gazing into dusty shelves considering the people I knew who went before me, into that “great unknown mystery.” I try to comfort myself with strange philosophies. Maybe consciousness is just a meat-computer status report. Perhaps it’s a trick. Life is just a bowl of cherries. Don’t take it serious. Life’s too mysterious.

You work, you save, you worry so,
but you can’t take your dough
when you go, go, go.

None of this is comforting to Nick Menza.

Here’s the deal:

My good friend Scott, who has taught me much, once suggested that thanking people is one of the things we can do to improve our life and theirs. Just thanking people. It seems simple but really, as I have begun to travel the world to see my heroes, people who entertained me or occupied my mind when it needed distraction, a thank you has never been rejected. In fact, it has almost always been received with great enthusiasm.

Not long ago, Gina and I walked by an autograph table in New Orleans and saw Edward James Olmos seated, fiddling with his smartphone. He was alone except for his handler. I walked up to his assistant and said, “Hey, can I just say hello real quick?” This isn’t always kosher at conventions.

“Sure!” she said. “Go for it.”

So I did.

I approached him (holy shit), said hello, and we shook hands. Then, I launched into a short, arm-flailing, animated speech that went something like “Oh wow, Battlestar Galactica. I wanted to tell you that it’s rare, so rare, when watching a television show, that I am so moved that I stand up, out of my seat and cheer arms raised,” at this point I raised my fists in the air, “and I wanted to thank you for that. Thank you.”

He seemed genuinely pleased. His arm was in a sling so I asked about that. He had dislocated his shoulder. I asked him if he was okay, and we had a short conversation about his arm. I wished him well. He wished me well, and that was that.

As simple as that was, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Right behind having my two kids and marrying Gina, that one is up there with winning the high school band competition at Universal Studios, Florida, when I was a teenager, or flying to London to meet Tom Baker.

I hate to give out advice because I am terrible at it, and I don’t like to draw conclusions about life because there aren’t any, but I have made it a point to tell people what they mean to me. If I can’t see them in person I write them a letter. This is my letter to Nick, post-mortem, unfortunately, because I do not see all, but I will do better.

I am sorry that you are dead, Nick Menza, but you are not forgotten. As long as I breathe there will be a bit of plastic with me that was once, briefly, yours, nestled in my wallet next to the four-leafed clover, which is taped to a playing card, that I have carried with me since I was 12.

It’s the least I can do.

Nick Menza

Oh-Oh Here She Comes

“Tell me a story, Grandpa.”

“Oh I have one for you. It’s a doozy, but you have to sit very still and make yourself as small as possible.”

“Okay,” the boy said. He squatted to the floor of the hut and scrunched himself up into a tight ball.

“I think you’re about old enough for this one,” the old man said. He winked, cleared his throat, and began.

“Once upon a time, when there were countries, the greatest one was called the United States of America. They said ‘United States’ because it was a union of states from sea to shining sea, a ‘state’ being a government. Their governments made their laws, and the One Big Government made its laws, and, well, this is the boring stuff-”

“No, go on Grandpa,” said the boy. “I want to hear this one.”

The boy lost balance and rocked around a bit before coming to a stop, still squeezed into an eerily compact little-boy-sphere.

“Okay sonny,” he said. “Don’t get too excited. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, they had laws and lawmakers and lawyers and they liked to yell all day about things, but they weren’t always the most important things. In fact, as time went on, they got sillier and sillier. For example, they would fight over where people could go to the bathroom.”

“What, like in the hut or outside?” the boy asked.

“Oh no sonny,” the old man said, “this isn’t France I’m talking about. They fought over which facility people could use. They had the holes marked, Men, Woman, sometimes Family, Unisex, and nobody agreed on who needed to go where. They didn’t have the one like we do here.”

“Wow,” the boy said, his eyes wide.

“Yep. And all the while people were killing each other, but not the way you think. Statistically (that means a fact that you learn by counting, by the way), maybe one out of a hundred people ever died by violence directly, but they were poisoning the water. They poisoned the land and the air. They did this, mainly, to make money, er, barter. You know, things to trade. But most of them thought they had to! That’s the real kicker. They just accepted it as the way things go that you have to drain a lake to sell the water, or dump mercury in the soil to make tools.”

“Gosh,” the boy said. He squeezed himself even tighter, his brow furrowed.

“Mhm. Greed is a wickedness inside us all, that’s for damned sure. We’re all selfish. We all want to live, but that drive does something to us when we’ve achieved all we need to. It makes us want to do more. It’s a useful tool but it also lies. It lies and tells us the barter our mother gave us was ours all along. It lies and tells us that the fortunes we were blessed with were created by our sheer will. As if we could concentrate a turnip bigger. As if we could wish a fish. And we know you can’t do that.”

“I’d like to see a fish,” said the boy. “Maybe a red fish or a blue fish. Or one with a star!”

The old man inhaled deeply through his nose and stared past the boy for half a minute. He worked his jaw as his eyes searched back and forth on the low ceiling, as if some answer lay there. He forged on.

“The earth had always given signs, which some heeded, but most didn’t. People even argued whether they had the capacity to change things at all. Some said it was inevitable, that the earth got hot on its own. Some said it was people and their smoke. Either way, it didn’t matter. No one changed anything. Or not enough did, anyway. Hell, most couldn’t. A man starving in a crumbling city can’t tell a rich man how much oil to burn. Some did yell. Most just tried to live. Like we’ve always tried to live.”

The boy was as a small boulder. His breaths were imperceptible. When was the last time he had blinked?

The old man’s throat was already dry. His heart thudded in his ears.

“I was a young man when they hired the new boss, same as the old boss. They weren’t any worse a leader than there was before, but they were bad enough, and at the worst time. People were too busy being tricked into doing nothing to do anything about it anyway.”

“What do you mean?” the boy said low, just above a whisper.

“I mean they had things to do, like in your books. There were machines in the city that did things, wonderful things. You could talk to someone on the other side of the earth. You could even carry a thing in your pocket that contained the collective knowledge of humankind! People could have used these things for great good but instead they mainly used it to show each other what they were eating, or what their children looked like, or even to tell each other to kill themselves.”

“Wow,” said the boy, his eyes wide. “Why would someone do that?”

“Oh sonny,” the old man said. “It was so much worse than that. While people were being stoned to death and chopped to pieces, people on their damned machines were too busy complaining about the exploits of their favorite rich people. Or worse yet, complaining about the Spreading.”

“The Spreading?” the boy asked.

“Yes, sonny. The Man Spreading. Apparently mankind was taking up too much room on the earth, but people weren’t concerned about that. They were concerned that when one man sits, he sits too wide. Too big. He spreads himself all over the place and no one has room to sit anywhere!”

“Is that why?” the boy said. He rocked a bit, still spherical.

“Yes,” the old man said. He smiled and nodded. “We squeeze now, the Mansqueeze, to pay homage to our ancestors. Those who lived before the great deluge. Those great idiots who wouldn’t heed the warnings. Those loud, human idiots who we cannot blame, no we cannot, because it’s our nature to complain. Our ritual is now that all men will squeeze in low huts until humanity breathes its last breath. While the women walk among us, firm and wide, so wide, wider than ever before-”

“Dad?” A familiar yet higher voice asked from outside the cloth hut.

“-so big and huge and loud and we must squeeze so small-”

The boy giggled. The roof of the hut was ripped off violently.

“Dad what are you guys doing to my couch?”

“We can’t even spread out on an empty bus!” the old man cried before bursting into peals of laughter. “Oh come on, Karen!”

“Dammit, Dad. I’m never letting you babysit again,” Karen said. She tossed the couch cushion back at her father.

“Aww!” the boy said.

The old man couldn’t stop giggling from underneath the cushion, but Karen could just make out “the matriarchy” between gasps.

Just Because

I know that I’ve been careless when I’ve gotten introspective in the past. Memories are malleable and mushy. Every time we go back to touch them we break something, or add something, and before long, if we’re not careful (and sometimes even if we are), we end up with something quite removed from what we started with.

That being said, I’m pretty sure I learned about death when Mr. Hooper died.

If you were a kid my age you grew up watching Sesame Street. You may have also watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, or reruns of Romper Room or The Electric Company, and those were good shows, but in my time, Sesame Street was the place we were always trying to get. If we happened upon one of those old metal garbage cans, Oscar was in there. Where was Sesame Street? New York City, of course. It was actually there and I imagined that if I went there and turned some corner in Hell’s Kitchen, I’d be met with friendly faces and Muppets.

Mr. Hooper ran the corner store on that fabled street. Will Lee was the actor who had played him since 1969, and he had been one of the people blacklisted as a Communist during the red scare of the 1950s. He died of a heart attack on December 7, 1982, a day after my little sister was born. Instead of sweeping his absence under the rug they hit it head on, albeit almost a year later, during an episode which aired on November 24, 1983, a day after my fifth birthday.

I don’t know if I saw it at the time, and I don’t want to squeeze the Play-Doh of my mind too hard lest I dent it even more, but I must have. I remember kids talking about it on the playground. Still, that’s not the moment that sticks with me. It may or may not have been the spark, but Cyndi Lauper was the fire.

MTV was very much a part of life in those days, just as much as YouTube or Facebook is now. We old folks tell tales of a time when videos played all day and from dusk ’til dawn and that’s the place I’m taking you, fellow traveler. Again, it cannot have been the case, but it seemed like our television was always on that channel. Of course, there were a slew of terrible music videos at the time, but there were also loads that we thought of as high art. I recall having significant emotional responses to them, as they seemed to represent important concepts, especially to a little kid. Adventure. Romance. Loss.

Sometime in 1984, my brother and sister and I were riding in the car with Mom, about right here. I do remember that, distinctly. “Time after Time” was playing on the radio and I began to feel a growing heaviness in my chest. It was an emptiness I’d never experienced before. Through hindsight goggles I clearly identify it as grief, but at the time I was afraid. Then, I looked up from the back seat and asked Mom when she was going to die.

She laughed a little, probably a bit surprised, and told me that she wasn’t going to die for a long, long time. Not anytime soon. I calmed down shortly and my mental film reel ends there, in the fog between Tulot and the Trumann city limits.

And then, it was 1985. Back to the Future. Rambo II. Rocky IV. The Goonies. National Lampoon’s European Vacation! Another Friday the 13th film. How did we see some of these things? I’m sure it involved VHS tapes and unsupervised cable viewing, but they were all the talk of the playground. My siblings and I stayed after school at a daycare center at the end of our street. We lived at 111 North Magnolia.

I don’t want to touch this next day too much. I’m afraid my mischievous brain will create something that didn’t occur. In my research online, which only turned up old posts on a gossip forum, someone claimed it happened in March, because the pool water was greenish black and full of leaves. I remember the water, but I don’t think it was March. It must have been September.

We were in that fenced-in yard and there was a commotion across the street at the municipal pool. It’s a skate park now, and for years before that it was a raised dirt mound beside an abandoned pumphouse, but then it was a concrete pool surrounded by a high chainlink fence. The entryway was cinderblock, painted sky blue, and it too was secured. Closed. On this day, however, someone found their way in.

At some point a teacher called an ambulance and we were ushered inside. I am not sure if I saw the next part from the yard or the window, but I do remember the view. The teachers were too preoccupied to stop us from peeking. I distinctly recall a wet shirt being thrown on the ground beside a stationwagon. The shirt was striped, red and something else. Brown? My mind says long sleeved but I don’t trust it. The weather data for that day says it was 82 degrees Fahrenheit, scattered clouds, no precipitation. Was it grey, or are the skies of my memory always overcast? I’ll step away from that scene before my mind splinters that eggshell any further.

Mom took me to Thompson Funeral Home to see her, the first in a long line of bodies I would view there: great-grandparents, grandparents, friends, and my Father.

The room was dim and a woman was wailing to my right. Tina had one of those kid-sized caskets. It was a light metallic color but I’m not certain which. She was surrounded by toys. This stands out to me now, crystal clear. Little me, standing in front of that box, and her, already buried in a nest of Barbies, miscellaneous toys, a Cabbage Patch Kid. They were well-loved and I could tell that they had been played with hard. Their little faces were dirty. Hers was clean.

I want to say her hair was curly. Please let it have been curly, because that’s what I remember.

If we travel back some time before, fellow adventurer, we’ll find me standing in Mrs. Chitmon’s room, near her desk. It’s an indoor play period and Tina is there, in front of me. We’d probably just spent twenty minutes burning the knees of our jeans out on the concrete floor, a neat trick that some miscreant taught us that day. I had fancied myself a young “Weird” Al Yankovic and no person or song was safe from my parodies. So there she is, looking up at me and I sing, “Tina, tiny little Tina.” She isn’t impressed. She frowns, turns in a flash of hair, and runs away. That’s it, and we fade out. Far out.

What a day, a year, a life it is.

I have been an anxious person as long as I can remember. I was the kid waiting for the sirens to sound and the bombs to drop. Thanks, Nightly News. I was the kid who could read above his comprehension, so that while I knew all about continental drift and the ice age and the expansion of the sun, I was also terrified about volcanoes and glaciers and the sun engulfing the Earth. That bad boy is still coming, and we’ll all be here for it, right? Right?

There was a time in there, though, in the early 1980s, in the foggy grey mud of memory, when I started to realize that we won’t have to worry about crashing into continents unless we’re on a hijacked plane. I recognized that it actually may not be a long, long time.

I learned that they make caskets that will fit a kid.

I can’t tell you what that means. All I can do is tell you what it is, and as Roscoe Orman, playing Gordon, says to Big Bird in Sesame Street episode #1839, it’s “just because.”

Ten Years of Bathroom Selfies and Other Cosmological Revelations

Once upon a time, in a long string of Worst Ideas Ever, I proposed publishing a coffee table book called “Bob Talbot: Ten Years of Bathroom Selfies”. I had considered adding “and Shitty Poetry” but my good friend Scott suggested that I add “and Other Cosmological Revelations” instead.
I probably would have gone with that.

After spending far too many hours digging through the abyss of Facebook, I realized that it was an endeavor far too sad for me to withstand. It was wintertime, my worst time, and my brain was psyching me out for the fifth anniversary of my father’s death. Just looking at the “On This Day” feature was destroying me, and I felt like my life had been trashed and burned on that shithole of a website. Fucking Facebook.

The original plan was to have a page featuring a photo, a small caption identifying place and time, and a facing page with a relevant rant/poem/post from either that day or the closest convenient day.

My rules for myself for what constitutes a “bathroom selfie” were as follows:

1. The camera must be visible.
2. The photo must be of my reflection in a mirror or, barring that, some         other reflective surface.
3. I am in the photo
4. I’m taking the photo.
5. Preferably in a restroom but this is negotiable.

I stuck to this in my selection, mostly, and I’ve posted them here for your perusal, minus the years of shitty poetry and WITTY COMMENTS that I was going to add. I had two recent ones saved that I pasted here, but the rest are lost to time, like tears in rain…

I know you’re extremely disappointed by this.

Anyhoo, I decided to dump the carcass of that idea here because it’s not going anywhere else. It was something I did to occupy myself during a rough period of my life. There’s plenty of shitty poetry on Facebook that I do not care to dig up. I threw it into that pit and I’m done shit spelunking.

Feast your eyes on this.

2008 07 03 Barnes & Noble Store #2250, Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA, Planet Earth, Sol System, Mutter’s Spiral

2008 07 10

Breakroom.

2008 08 23

My razr.

10-15-2008

The only thing interesting going on is the collapse of western society which is long overdue.
I’m trying to decide whether I want to wear white football pads or black football pads after the apocalypse. Black is always in style but the white definitely has a neat 80’s look to it if you accessorize properly.

2008 12 19
St. Bernard’s Regional Hospital. Dad’s first hospitalization in late 2008.

2009 03 21

Airplane restroom, flight from Memphis to LAX, showing off some Stolen Valor from when I worked on the Manhattan Project during the big WWII. 

2009 08 10

Home, upstairs bathroom. Now I have a Samsung Blackberry knock-off.

2009 11 16

Dad’s house, guest bathroom.

09-30-2009
Hey old man with your/Silent Hill strategy guide/stop breathing on me

11-25-2009
There’s no “I” in “TEAM” but there’s one in “EAT SHIT”.

11-27-2009
I wonder how many people got stampeded to death today? The answer: NOT ENOUGH.

12-11-2009
The question is what to do with the Tooth Fairy if you are ever successful in capturing it.

12-21-2009
My bike went from a 21 speed to a 7 speed today. Oh well, I never used those lower 14 speeds anyway.

2009 11 17

Screwing around at work. 

2009 12 11

My boss’s bathroom.  That was a night.

2009 12 23

Work again. Most of these take place here.

2010 03 28

On a plane to LA.

2010 06 12

Work.

2010 07 03

More work.

2010 08 06

2010 now. I’m on a plane to Alaska. This is my old cowboy hat, which I stopped wearing because people kept calling it a fucking Fedora.

2010 08 07

Dad, at Tim Berg’s Alaskan Fishing Adventure. I’m there in the window.

2010 08 09

Store window in Anchorage, Alaska, near the starting point of the Iditarod.

2010 08 09b

In the Gulf of Alaska on the Tia Rose. Dad said “permission to come aboard, Captain?” 

2010 08 09c

The sea was angry that day, my friends.

2010 08 09d

Cabin restroom. Soldotna, Alaska.

2010 10 08

Fucking work.

2010 10 12a

Mopping overflowed urinal for 800th time.

2010 10 12b

Hrnghhhh.

2010 10 26

Fuck work.

2010 11 25

Restroom of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

2010 11 27

I had to immortalize this stupid, stupid fucking hat. I replaced the cowboy hat with an actual Fedora-esque felt hat. Definitely a step in the wrong direction. I have Fedora deep inside me. Explains a lot.

2010 12 05

Closing time at B&N.

2010 12 21

2010.

2010 12 28

One of dad’s hospital rooms.

2011 09 13

Arkansas State University. That’s my fathers Ducks Unlimited sponsor hat.

2011 09 17a

Cregeen’s Irish Pub, the summer after dad died. I barely recall taking this. 

2011 09 17b

I went home and almost fucking died. Those were great times. Wearing dad’s hats and trying to drink myself to death.

2011 11 12

A book signing at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.

2011 12 12

Arkansas State University, perhaps my last day before Graduating with a Bachelor’s in Jack Shit. “Interdisciplinary Studies”. Five years later, I still work retail.

2012 01 15

Another signing, Harding U, Searcy, Arkansas.

2012 09 19

Craighead County Fairgrounds, Jonesboro, Arkansas.

2012 10 01

Restaurant in Buffalo, New York.

2012 10 16a 2012 10 16b 2012 10 16c

Some shaving at home.

2012 12 17 2012 12 17b

Little Rock Zoo.

2012 12 25

A gift from my brother and sister-in-law. It’s my daughter’s face on Che’s head.

2012 12 29

Celebrating opening at Midnight on Black Friday.

2013 02 23

Dropped a register loading up at Harding and sliced my finger on the register paper blade.

2013 05 26 2013 08 01

Some angry bald idiot.

2013 10 17

Ex-wife’s orthodontist’s office. Jonesboro, AR.

2013 11 20

Gained 20 lbs, grew a beard, started wearing sweaters.

2013

Cregeen’s.

2014 08 21

Fucking around with the merchandise.

2014 09 28

Hotel in Puebla, Mexico, at my brother’s wedding.

someone thinks they’re Gone Girl
the truth is, they’re a Yawn Girl
the object in her meaty mitts
that she’s mistaken for a scalpel
or Chris Kyle’s sniper rifle
is a sledgehammer
an atom bomb fired point blank
laying waste to all
men, women, children held hostage
in the glow of stupid radiation
the dumbest fucking radiation
the hantavirusebolaAIDS
that she wishes was a laser
tear down the walls
I shot the Archduke
and she murdered Europe

2014 11 25 2014 11 25a 2014 11 25b

2014 12 05 2014 12 05a 2014 12 22a 2014 12 22b 2014 12 22c 2015 01 21 2015 01 25a 2015 01 25b 2015 01 25c 2015 01 25d 2015 01 25e 2015 01 29

At home, celebrating getting to see my children. There aren’t many Cora selfies because she wouldn’t stay still. I had Bea in the football hold so she pretty much had to participate.

America
Shall I compare thee
to literary dystopias
or fascist clowns of yesterday
elicit laughs and shaking heads
dismissal of the slow crush
from people who know better
after all, it ain’t that bad
America
Empire seat of the world
poor Southern men weep
as that guy from The Hangover
puts children to sleep
and dirty hands
with fat farmer tans
echo “savage”
crocodile tears and the raising of beers
to our modern Achilles
the Man With Two First Names
who slew the dusky hordes in New Orleans
(or so he said)
dented Ventura’s dimpled chin
(or so he said)
And, Justified, did work for us
(or so he said)
’til chaos or your God, etc.
sent the Marines to Rough Creek
to put down a rabid dog
America
there are heroes, still

2015 02 15 2015 02 15a 2015 02 15b

Brushing our teeth.

2015 02 25 2015 02 25a

Memaw’s house, Judd Hill, Arkansas.

2015 07 06

Lost 15 lbs. Started lifting, BRO. GONNA GET SWOLE BRO.

2015 08 07

First Great Western train from London to Cardiff.

2015 08 08

Had to include this one by Gina.

2015 08 08a

Outside the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, UK. This is a reflection off the surface of what we call the Torchwood Tower.

2015 08 23

The garage.

2015 08 25

Hell, USA. Replacing a toilet seat. This is the new one, of course. The old one covered me in piss rust.

2015 09 26Still kicking.

The Kontest

“This is my machine.”

George’s Arcade was a converted BP station situated in the parking lot between two restaurants, Big Beaver Breakfast and La Frontera.

Diane stood with her arms crossed, defiant. Of course it was her machine. Not only had she mastered the moves of every character in Mortal Kombat, but her family owned the arcade. She faced a growing crowd of elementary and middle school kids fresh out of last period.

Small, bespectacled Bernard was next to her, visibly quaking. The kids called him Nards, a nickname that began as an insult and had eventually lost its power out of repetition. Now it was a strange term of endearment. “Get her, Nards,” someone said, low.

“It’s not fair,” Nards said. “You don’t even have to pay. We’d all be that good if we had the key and we could just keep sticking in the same quarter.”

“Key or not,” Diane replied, “I’m this good because I work at it and I beat all of your asses. I should hit you for real.” She raised her fist and the crowd backed up a step, forming a half circle around them.

“I’ve been practicing as well,” said Nards. “I have a setup at home. Me and the guys chipped in, didn’t we guys?” He looked around for support, his arms raised. “We’ve been playing all weekend and I’m obviously the best.”

“Everybody knows that Nintendo isn’t the same,” said Diane. “It doesn’t even have a joystick. You’ll get wrecked in the tournament.”

“I’d wreck you,” he said, practically panting, “if you’d just give me the chance!”

“You don’t have any money,” she said. “You and your dirty friends spent it all on shitty Nintendo games and this is the real deal. I can play all I want but you need quarters and I don’t see any.”

Nards looked down, his eyes welling. Dozens of sneaker-clad feet shuffled around him. “He can win. I’m telling you he can win,” said a girl, softly, behind him.

“Shut the fuck up, Liz,” said Diane. “You’re not coming to my tournament party if you don’t keep your goddamned mouth shut.”

“Holy shit,” drifted up from the back of the crowd. The kids were accustomed to regular playground banter but now they were in the wild frontier of verbal conflict.

No one had noticed the bell jingling atop the swinging glass door behind the kids. The crowd began to part as someone made their way through. Their heads tilted down towards a boy hefting a backpack that looked as if it might weigh as much as he did. He struggled, each step thudding, until he reached the players’ territory in front of the machine and let the pack drop to the floor with a jangle.

“Donnie,” said Diane, as if stating a fact.

Donnie looked up, grinning through a smear of chocolate. “I’m here to pway,” he said. He couldn’t have been five years old. He wasn’t even in school yet but here he was, unsupervised, with a bag full of his daddy’s money.

“Fuck off Donnie,” Diane said. “You don’t know shit about Mortal Kombat and you’re going to get machine all sticky.”

“I can pway,” he said, grinning impossibly. Was he unhinging his jaw? “I can pway. I can pway aww day.”

Donnie unzipped the bag and revealed what must have been upwards of $500 in quarters. The still-growing audience collectively gasped.

“He can play,” voices arose from behind him. It was a chant. “He can play. He can play!”

“Okay, okay,” Diane said. “Fuck. Fine. Someone get him a stool. And wipe your goddamned hands, Donnie.”

The children were used to following orders from Diane. She practically ran the place. They were vaguely aware of a wiry fellow smoking a cigar behind the glass display case full of wacky wall walkers and parachute men, but no one paid him any mind anymore. It was rumored he’d beat every level of Pac Man back in ’83, but there was a dwindling number of kids who even knew what that was.

Step stool fetched and hands wiped, Donnie took his place to Diane’s right. “This will be a piece of cake,” she said aloud for the benefit of the crowd.

She smiled.

Donnie selected a character, seemingly at random, and they began.

Diane’s hands flew in a flurry of special moves. She landed hit after hit and, within seconds, Donnie was down.

She laughed, a cackle that sent chills down spines. “Hope you have another huge sack of cash, Donnie Dumpo!”

Round Two began. Donnie flailed, wildly. Beads of sweat dotted his brow.

He was hitting her.

“Shit,” she said, breathing heavily. “Stop playing wrong YOU’RE PLAYING WRONG.”

She tried combo after combo and produced nothing. Donnie landed a hit. Hit. Hit. Hit.

Then she was down.

“Fuck you, Donnie. Fuck you,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’m done fucking around.”

Round Three. Fight.

Diane was tense, livid. Heavy breaths shot out through her nostrils.

“You can’t. You won’t,” she said, punctuating each jerk of her joystick and button mash with a declaration. “You can’t!”

Donnie flopped, jumping up and down on the stool in time with his character on screen. He was mad. Whirling. Winning.

“NO. FUCK,” Diane cried as her power bar lowered. For every hit she landed he returned another, and then another. She couldn’t discern a pattern. He was pure chaos, a random number generator made flesh.

Then she was down, both Diane and her character. Somehow Donnie had fumbled into a Fatality sequence, which had just begun, and Diane was on the floor doing something when the screen went dark.

She stood up and brandished a thick, black electrical cable.

Moans of disappointment filtered through the room.

“Fuck you guys,” she said. “That’s right,” she yelled after them as the crowd began to break up. “Fuck you. I earned this. This is my arcade! I’m going to the tournament. Me! Me!”

Donnie had already dragged his bag over to plug quarters into Street Fighter II. Liz hung back, hands clasped, and Nards, inexplicably, was still standing beside the Mortal Kombat machine.

“Uh, Diane,” he said, his chin down. “Uh, can I go to the tournament party with you? I can carry your bag.”

“Eat shit, Nards.” she said. “I’m taking Liz.”

Liz smiled.


Part two of The Kontest is here.

Message in a Bottle

I’m glad that Josh Duggar is an Arkansan so I have a good, relevant example to throw out there when people start complaining about restroom access. I’m 37 and I’ve never seen anyone’s dick in a restroom. Then again, maybe I haven’t been hanging out in the right ones.

I had stopped looking at Facebook for a couple of months because just reading about things like this gets exhausting. Everyone complains, then everyone complains about complaining, and my only recourse is to zoom out on the map settings of this game we call life and try to take a Southparkian third side. That’s a losing battle, though, because there’s always some fucker trying to metajetpack past you into the stratosphere of opinions and everything becomes dick waving (pussy waving?) one-upmanship. One-upwomanship? One-uppersonship!

It’s also shitty to suggest that other people shouldn’t have different opinions. I know that I know nothing and all that jazz. I’m attempting to stick to things I know something about instead of reading a headline and suddenly becoming a Ph.D. student in whatever I want. Rainn Wilson calls that being a “wikidiot”. He’s right about that.

That being said, I’m going to stop being the cool guy who tells everyone that online isn’t real. Of course it’s real. If everyone had built giant steampunk vacuum tubes and sat around firing missives at each other 150 years ago it would have been just as real. It definitely is tunnel vision, though. It’s a horse with blinders on, and the people driving have great interest in what you’re going to buy.

There was a time when I thought that I could be some kind of left-wing political commentator but it’s just not funny. It’s inane. If you want a bunch of smug fuckers to read your posts and masturbate over them, it’s definitely possible, but you’ll soon be sucked into the hellhole of meme creation and distribution, countermemes, metamemes, triple-reverse meta ironic memes, until you find yourself writing for Salon or submitting free content to HuffPo and wondering what happened to your life. Oh, nothing happened, because you probably still work at Starbucks.

I really hope I’m not working retail when the new $20 bills come out.

It’s pretty weird that some white women are getting all fucked up over being called a “Becky”. This is another thing I wouldn’t even know about if not for Facebook. The rage machine is real, yo. Facebook is a fucking crab bucket. You can throw a bunch of crabs in a bucket and they won’t escape because they’re too busy pulling each other down. You can throw a bunch of underemployed college graduates into social media networks…

AND I WILL POST THIS ON FACEBOOK, because that’s where everyone is. My only recourse at this point is to attempt to sit on the edge of the abyss and throw in stones, or messages in a bottle, and see what flies back out. Some Lovecraftian horror will probably grab my leg and drag me into the darkness. It’s okay. I’ll climb out again.

It’s hard to have 40,000 photos on a site, ten years, thousands upon thousands of posts, and not see quitting as burning the library of Alexandria. I’m not that important to you, but I am to myself. You are the only person you have, really, so think about erasing YOUR internet history, especially when you’ve spent thousands of hours chronicling, for better or worse, what you ARE. What you were.

Hell, looking back, I hate most of it.

Maybe we weren’t meant to diarrhea shit every thought all over the planet. What’s the point? There have been moments in my life over the past two years when I felt like I needed to barf out some hellish screed and I just couldn’t. Either there was no audience, or it was something I couldn’t talk about publicly, so I stewed. I ruminated. I fucking pushed it down sometimes and others I dealt with it. I felt… relief. I had stopped asking random strangers for answers. I had realized that there are none.

So this is the metascreed about all those screeds. This is the thought outside the universe, from the place I’m always trying to reach. The place outside opinions.

I think I can get along with just about anyone now because I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve realized that we’re all swamp apes fucking about, buggering on, ramming into things and exploding. Dropping dead like flies. It’s a goddamned war zone!

That’s the thing that keeps me kind when I want to be cruel. I know something hurt everyone. I’m not the messiah here. I’m such a stupid dickhead (I’m probably still the worst), but when I look at where I started it seems like I’ve flown a million miles in an angle somewhat approaching the right direction.

The big test is not staring at this and waiting for red numbers to pop up. The big test is letting this dump sit on the pasture and get hard.
The biggest test is not looking back to see if the chickens show up to peck it apart.

We’re all being blown to bits but that’s okay. My daughter picked a yellow flower for me, and I don’t know that I’d ever looked, really looked, at a dandelion up close. There’s a lot going on in there. You may have to remove your glasses, or put them on, depending on who you are.

I’m good at uplifting. Sometimes. Sometimes sometimes is all we have.

Petunia Hatches a Why

Part one is here.
Part two is here.


Petunia flopped face down, jellylike, still pulsing in the aftermath of innumerable orgasms. Innumerable to her, at least. It had actually been 37.

“Gah, I’m dying,” she croaked, as a rivulet of saliva escaped the corner of her mouth.

“Nonsense,” said the Inspector from the other side of the room. He was already gathering his boots, a gesture that would have signaled, if Petunia hadn’t been too preoccupied to notice, that he definitely wasn’t planning to stay the night. “Those are just the aftereffects of the Thrustening.”

Petunia was drowning in a puddle of miscellaneous bodily fluids. She grasped for purchase on the slick vinyl surface of her waterbed but found none. She floundered for a moment and collapsed, defeated.

The Inspector pulled up his trousers and looked on in amusement while he buttoned them at a leisurely pace.

“Well,” he began, businesslike, “it’s time I popped off in search of my destiny. I must say, it has been a pleasure -”

“Mffff!” Petunia heaved into her plastic prison. “Hfffmmffhh!”

“How can I leave?” the Inspector repeated back. Fortunately for her, his phone booth telepathically translated any form of communication he encountered and delivered the result directly to the language centers of his brain. This included Drownish. “By stepping into this phone box,” he answered, matter-of-factly. “My entire life has been spent in preparation for this moment. The droid drills. holo-edging. I’m a lean mean thrusting machine and I have a galaxy to fuck.”

“Hrgnrfgggbbbb!” Petunia bubbled.

“You won’t become pregnant.” He had stopped gathering his things and faced her, wielding his Aural Lens as if he had suddenly required protection. “It’s not possible.”

“Hrfnn?” she fizzed.

“No, you don’t understand. You would be able to tell because the implantation is immediate and violent,” he preached, punctuating each key word with a shake of his Aural Lens. “It is no matter. While we’re obviously physically compatible, our genotypes are too dissimilar to -”

Petunia began to quiver, which was not unnatural for a body asphyxiating in an aquamattress valley of spooge. However, her limbs began to contort from her torso outward, each joint fixed at a right angle to the previous one, until she resembled a flesh pretzel.

“Oh no,” the Inspector said, deadpan, his even tone betrayed by his dilated pupils. “This is most improbable.”

He raised his knee high and thrust the heel of his boot into the mildewed trampoline of death Petunia called a bed, springing her from the awkward rubber tomb. Her face detached from the surface with an audible smack and she gasped, raspy and raw as air exploded into her lungs. She landed, still twisted but unharmed, in what looked to be three weeks worth of dirty clothes piled between her bed and the wall.

“Gaahhhh!” She wheezed, panting. “My hero,” she said, not too distressed to be sarcastic.

The Inspector marched towards her. His lens whirred and shined as he ran it over the length of her body and stared into it deeply.

“Great Bordok’s arse!” he cried. He took a step back, stumbled over at least four pairs of mismatched Chucks, and danced, marionette-like, until he found his footing. He pointed at her. “You? You! Did you know? Did you know that you’re half…” he paused, unsure of how to categorize this new specimen, “half Space Princess!?”

“Does this mean I’m having a baby?” Petunia asked. She was surprisingly chipper for a person who had been suffocating in love leavings not two minutes prior. “It all happened so fast! Is it going to pop out in a minute, like Aliens? Are my arms and legs going to stay like this?”

“Stop asking me questions!” shouted the Inspector. “You have to let me think. Now, let’s see.” He paced the room, this time deftly navigating Petunia’s wardrobe detritus. “No, you won’t stay twisted like that,” he began. “The process should end any minute now. Yes, you are pregnant. Regrettably, inexplicably pregnant, but you are pregnant, and NO, it’s not going to pop out. It won’t pop out for, well…” he paused and looked up as he completed a mental calculation, “a thousand of your years.”

“A thousand!?” she cried. “I won’t live for a thousand years! How will I have my space baby? I’ll be a mummy.” She began to weep, bitterly. “A mummy mommy!”

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” said the Inspector, “which I do.”

He extended his lens-free right hand to Petunia and adopted a false baritone. “Come with me if you want to live.”

She narrowed her eyes and frowned.

He laughed. “I’ve always wanted to say that. But seriously, come fly the horny skies with me. We’ll figure this thing out together, you and I. Thrusting through space and time, like Darmok and Jalad!”

“Nothing you say makes sense,” Petunia answered as a smile crept along her still-encrusted face.

“That’s okay, baby,” he replied with swagger. He snapped his fingers and the doors of the phone box flew open. “Nothing has to make sense when you fuck like a champion.”

The Inspector swept Petunia, still naked and pretzeled, into his arms, and strode through the doors of the phone box. A Moog-like warble fit for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer filled the air, and the box became transparent. It disappeared with a crack of thunder and a magnetic pulse, which yanked every thumbtack out of Petunia’s bedroom walls. Dozens of posters and magazine pages shuffled to the floor in a rain of paper rock stars.

There was silence then. It was the sweet stillness of night, except for a goddamned mockingbird that wouldn’t shut the fuck up, be-bopping his hell-crooning from the tree outside Petunia’s bedroom window. Why isn’t it legal to murder you, you warbling, sleep-destroying, flea-ridden sack of crap? Why do babies die of cancer but, still, you live? What sort of nightmare, sewage-flooded, stranded Carnival Cruise Line universe is this?


Click here for the next adventure.

Inspector Why and the Shroud of the Swamp Thwacker

Part one is here.


The Inspector leaned back against the heavily scuffed headboard of Petunia’s waterbed and lifted his Aural Lens to his mouth. He appeared to suck on the stem, briefly, before exhaling a cloud of wispy, white vapor.

Petunia, who had been basking in his glory, looked up, incredulous.

“Is that magic magnifying glass of yours also some sort of bong?”

“Uh, no,” he said with singsongy sarcasm. “It doubles as a vape pen. It’s what all the cool kids are doing in the future.”

“Huh.” Petunia digested this for a moment. “Is it better for your lungs or something?” she asked as she twirled her fingers through her freshly mussed bed head which, if phrenologically divined by a soothsaying cosmetologist, would have revealed the winding, epic tale of the greatest fuck ever delivered this side of Arcturus in no less than twelve distinct volumes.

“Pfft! Of course not,” said the Inspector. “It kills people in 1/10th the time! Just wait until the Great Suffocation of 2018 hits and everyone goes back to smoking unfiltered Camels.”

He noticed Petunia’s worried, cowlike gaze. “Oh. It can’t harm me,” he assured her. “I’m a Prince of Space.”

“The Space Prince?” she said as a smile crept across her face. Petunia might have been a solid D+ student but even she appreciated the gravity of the situation, considering alien royalty had just smashed her IUD with his intergalactic scepter and left a dwindling deposit of cosmos custard lingering in her lady hole. She stared, her face fixed and determined, as if she were trying to psychically bore through the posters of bushy haired men with bulging codpieces on the adjacent wall. She imagined herself donning a crown of constellations and swimming in hulking hoards of intergalactic loot.

“Not the Space Prince,” the Inspector replied, “a Prince of Space. More specifically, the heir to the throne of your particular galaxy, which, by the way, is known to our people as Mummer’s Bung. I’ve traveled here to reclaim the throne from my cousin, the dastardly Magister. I was raised by my uncle, the Prince Regent, after my parents were brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. My cousin and I spent many Standard Time Units together, hidden away on his father’s Pube Farm. On the evening of my seventh birthday, which was a week after my cousin’s, as luck would have it, the Regent sat me down by the plasma hearth and shocked me with the tale of how he had found the King and Queen asslocked by an Anal Vortex Manipulator. The Queen’s last breath, before she was rent asunder by a gravity wave that pulled her inside-out through the King’s asshole and vice-versa, was spent imploring him to ‘find Tad’, which was a reference to her nickname for me, her ‘little Tadpole’.”

“Oh how sad. How sweet,” Petunia cooed, frowning. After a beat she popped a smile and exclaimed, “There’s nothing little about Tad now!” while bobbing her head from side to side.

The Inspector paused and narrowed his eyes as if considering something, then seemed to think better of it. He blinked, gave his head a quick shake, and continued.

“My uncle rushed to my nursery just in time to see a man in a purple biosuit attempting to override the fail safe on an Autocircumciser. They struggled briefly until the assassin’s faceplate flipped open to reveal a visage so familiar that my uncle found himself frozen in terror. The villain fled in the confusion and my uncle ran to my crib and swept me aside just before the Autocircumciser reached critical mass and blasted a hole through the mattress and the floor beneath.

“So, I lived on the Pube Farm with my cousin and learned to stump-back Swamp Thwackers. As I began to develop into the devastatingly sultry specimen of manhood you see bulging before you, my cousin grew jealous that I, not he, would inherit the galaxy after I had graduated from Turgid Academy and experienced the Thrustening. He was ashamed that his father, who had become my friend and trusted adviser, would so willingly relinquish power to the son of a King who had been crushed to death by a butt singularity.

“During our senior year at academy he started referring to himself as ‘the Magister’, and he hatched his master plan: to travel back in time and kill my parents before I was ever conceived, which, if successful, would have put my uncle and, subsequently, himself in line to inherit the throne. Luckily, for me, he’d never paid attention in Quantum Chromatography Lab and, as a result, incorrectly measured the coolant pH in his Overthruster’s Flux Capacitor. What an oaf! He arrived shortly AFTER my birth instead and ended up being the actual murderer of my parents. It was the first and last original thing he ever did. My uncle was always suspicious about his strange ‘twin’ but he didn’t figure out that the doppleganger was his own son until it was too late. The Prince Regent was a strong, honest man, but when it came to wits he was all cock and no cunning.”

Petunia looked on, agape, as if she had just witnessed a train wreck, or had at least read about one in a few shitty, overlong paragraphs of science fiction exposition.

“I have so many questions,” She said. “Like, why pubes, and what’s a ‘stump-back’?”

“Well,” he began, “the aluminum-based pubic hair of the Eridanian Swamp Thwacker is the best natural insulation a spacefarer will come across without stooping to business with the Talaxian Corporation-State. Plus, it just sounds kinky. As for stump-backing,” he said, throwing her a wink and a knowing glance, “I can demonstrate but it will require a stump and a willing participant.”

Something stirred beneath the comforter.

“And the thrusting, I mean, ‘the Thrustening’?” she inquired, expectantly.

“Oh, we just did that,” said the Inspector as he nodded towards the growing duvet tent between his legs, “but it’s about to happen again.”


Part three is here.

Inspector Why

Petunia awoke to a warbling sound not unlike the first five seconds of Cars by Gary Numan, before the drums kick in, which is something she would be familiar with because it was the eighties.

She wasn’t sure if it was the result of too many long nights of whippets and Headbanger’s Ball, but she could have sworn that she saw a red telephone booth, the British kind, materializing at the foot of her bed. Before she had a chance to scream, the booth became solid and out bounded what appeared to be a man wielding a magnifying glass that emitted an ethereal glow. He was also insanely hot. I mean, the room temperature rose at least twenty degrees but he was also very attractive. Like Bowie hot without the gay vibe.

He gesticulated towards her, glaring intensely. “Are you harboring Nemanorian terrorists?” he growled, spitting through his teeth. He was wild, and maybe even sexier than Bon Jovi without the girly hair.

Petunia stared, speechless. She wasn’t used to talking unless it was about boys, gum, or MTV, but he did look like a boy from MTV… a smokin’ one at that! Her mind groaned as dusty cogs broke loose from years of hairspray rust, and she lurched into action.

“Uh hey, got any gum?”

“Gum!?” the man ejaculated. I mean seriously he was yelling but he also shuddered and it looked as if he might have jizzed his pants, like Jimmy Eversworth in Mandy’s car after Junior Prom. “How can you think about chewing at a time like this? The Nemanorians are tiny and they could be anywhere… in fact, my Aural Lens seems to be detecting their presence right… THERE!”

The guy with the sexy voice like Bruce Springsteen, but not so cro-magnon, swept his glowing magnifying glass towards Petunia’s pretty pink panties.

“They’ve landed in an environment conducive to their survival. Dark, dank, musky…”, he trailed off, panting.

“There’s nothing in there but my IUD!” Petunia cried.

“Precisely!” shouted the man, now wide-eyed and dripping with perspiration. “The Nemanorians are notorious for posing as OBGYNs. By the way, let me introduce myself.” He extended a hand. “I am the Inspector.”

“Uh,” Petunia cringed as she hesitatingly extended her arm towards the Inspector, “Nice to meet you, I guess.”

“Good. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…”, the Inspector said as he grabbed her hand and pulled her against his strong, heaving chest. She sensed that he was powerful, like Hulk Hogan, but not all greasy and gross and shit. “I have to travel inside you so we can stop the Nemanorians from completing the Skank Eruptor, which would transform your naughty bits into a world shattering tachyon beam.”

“How are you going to do that?” Petunia smacked. “You got some kind of shrink ray in that phone booth of yours?”

“No,” the Inspector smiled as he raised an eyebrow. “I’m going to smash it with my cock.”


Part two is here.

YOUR TEENAGER IS A BETTER WRITER THAN YOU

I’m not sure what’s worse than working in a bookstore full of books by celebrities who didn’t achieve their initial notoriety through wordsmithery. Perhaps it’s working in a bookstore full of books by people with YouTube channels, or selling books full of what seems to be Eighth Grade Level poetry right out of the lining of someone’s Trapper Keeper. We actually sell the fuck out of all of these, which is great, on one hand, because I get to keep paying my mortgage. On the other hand, people actually attend universities to do this shit and I’m not sure why anymore when all you need to do is either a) be Gwyneth Paltrow or b) a quirky teenager on YouTube. So start doing those and you’re set. Go get ’em, Gwyn.

I’m not gearing up to launch into a defense of why publishers used to be gatekeepers of content because look: the Internet is fantastic, and I’m totally a fan of this new Socialism Media Network we have going here where the masses have taken control of the means of production…

Oh wait, they haven’t. Everything is still owned by the same fat dudes with monocles and top hats. The thing that has changed is the submission form to fame, which used to include lots of writing on actual paper and mailing of large manuscripts to the correct people at the proper times, and now consists of farting something out into the digital ether and hoping that it tickles someone’s fancy.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of traditional pathways to getting noticed, but there are also a growing number of ways to produce little Brain Doritos and ship them all over the earth. Fifty Shades of Grey has been translated into 52 languages. Some guy or gal working on their doctorate in English is slicing their wrists open right now and one of our best sellers is Twilight fan fiction with the names changed.

So, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I’m going to start a series loosely based on Doctor Who about a time travelling dude in a box that shows up in women’s rooms at night and stares at them until they inexplicably have sex which won’t be a crime because he will be an extremely attractive vampire billionaire time-travelling space wizard.

I’ll remember you all when I’m hanging out with Jennifer Lawrence. “I wonder what the poor people with college degrees are doing right now?” I’ll wonder out loud, and she’ll do that giggle-snort she does and reply, “Making my fucking coffee.”