I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

September 30, 2001

Reading this month:

Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast
Patrick McGilligan

A giant book about the director of Metropolis and M, among many others.

The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays
Tom Stoppard

All of Tom Stoppard's plays - at least, those of which I am aware - are great or very good plays for theatrical purposes, but some are significantly better on the page than others. Travesties and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead can be fully embraced in any form; Arcadia and The Real Inspector Hound are very good on the page, but tangibly lack a vital something that they are capable of possessing onstage; and some, like Dirty Linen and Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, aren't much fun when read and really need the stage to be appreciated. That's not a fault with his writing, by any means; more of a compliment to his trickiness with language patterns and crafty staging, and anyway plays exist to be played, first and foremost. But it should be noted. This collection features two good-on-pagers (Inspector Hound and After Magritte) and a back half that I liked well enough to want to see onstage but which fall into that last category. Of course, maybe I was just scatter minded when I read them and that entire half-assed thesis above is bullshit. I'm completely willing to accept the possibility.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon

Pretty good. I never managed to fully embrace this book, but I did enjoy it. It's quite schizophrenic, quality-wise. Wonderfully bold plot and character choices sit alongside startlingly banal ones, and the feel is alternately lush and brittle. Given that the author comes from the You Should Take Writing Classes In College mob, the narrative voice was surprisingly clumsy and inconsistent (sometimes omniscient, sometimes limiting itself to "sources"). The author certainly has the comic book milieu down, and treats it with the kind of respect for the medium that comic book kids like myself love; he knows the period inside and out, conveys it vividly and weaves his characters into reality extremely well, and the superheroes that his characters create are perfectly suited to the period. (Naming the main hero The Escapist daringly treads a fine line between painfully obvious metaphor and, well, exactly the sort of comic book hero that might have existed then.) I loved that, stricken by grief, the main character winds up precisely where I'd wind up in the same situation. I also loved the use of magic and Houdini, both of which are very central to the book, and I feel rather pleased with myself for having read a Houdini bio by coincidence a few weeks ago. And I'm always up for giving Dr Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent a good kicking. Still, I wasn't satisfied at the end of the book, and I do feel I should be hesitant about recommending a 600+ page book if I wasn't feeling it at the end.

The Human Comedy
William Saroyan

Completely pleasant, run through with some beautiful idiosyncracies and observations. This would be a good book for high school English classes: like most of the standard reading list, there are some awkwardly obvious sections that teachers would inevitably seize upon - thereby alienating most of the class - and the parts that make the book worth reading lie between, as ever unmentioned in the syllabus, graceful like an accident.

Staging in Shakespeare's Theaters
Andrew Gurr and Mariko Ichikawa

The topic makes me giggle and clap my hands like a baby monkey with a brand new red balloon, but, sadly, this particular book runs a dead heat with my VCR owner's manual for passion and compelling prose. There is some very interesting and insightful material - most importantly, the very direct effect that the specific stages used had upon Shakespeare's writing - but there are also some lengthy sections wherein narrative head is lodged firmly up textual arse. A shame.

American Gods
Neil Gaiman

Ah, I don't have the heart to get into it. There is so much here that's truly wonderful, gorgeous, written like no author other than Neil Gaiman could possibly have written, that I felt honestly crushed when it turned into double-crosses, surprise revelations and who tricked who. It genuinely managed to be about belief and gods for a while, in the truest sense of the word "about", and it finished by being about warmed-over Hollywood spy plots. Maybe I'd have liked it more if I hadn't read Sandman (where, incidentally, the main theme of this book was first introduced). There were double-crosses and tricks at the end of that, too, but the marvel was how, revealed as ultimately inconsequential, they described perfectly the inevitability of the series' conclusion and suggested something transcendent; here, they just ring as hollow intrigue and add up to something sadly underwhelming. I love Neil Gaiman's writing so much, but this one broke my heart.

September 24, 2001

More revolutions in the modern theater:

INTERVIEWER: Tell me about your problems.
CHARACTER: Well, I can't find a job, so I'm always broke. That's irritating. I haven't had a meaningful relationship in ages. And I've got a spear through my chest.
INTERVIEWER: Let's talk about the spear for a moment.
CHARACTER: It is sharp, and wooden. It has a colorful tassel at the end. It is well and truly stuck. It hurts.
INTERVIEWER: That was a good description. Now, let's move from problems to solutions. The key to accomplishing goals is having a strong, clear set of priorities. Which of your problems would you like to solve first?
CHARACTER: The job one.
CHARACTER: Well, I figure that if I got a job, I could save up some money, and then I could pay to have the spear dealt with, at a hospital or something.
INTERVIEWER: You stupid fuck.
INTERVIEWER: You have to get the spear problem solved first, shithead. Until you do that, you can't get a job in a building with revolving doors.
CHARACTER: I didn't think about that.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, well, think about this.

The INTERVIEWER throws a spear at the CHARACTER. It is a direct hit.



The INTERVIEWER thinks for a moment and then decides to retrieve his spear. He tries to pull it out of the CHARACTER. He cannot, because it is stuck. An expression crosses his face which suggests that he has finally understood that it is he who is the shithead.

Lights down.

Here is what I consider to be good news: on Friday, via my answering machine, I was offered a part in "Helter Skelter: The Charles Manson Story", a documentary that will premiere on the History Channel early next year. The director evidently got his hands on my audition for the Casino documentary (010818) and saw something that he liked (my brown suit, perhaps). The shoot is in the middle of October. I don't know who I'm playing yet (1 Gerald Ford 2 Squeaky Fromme 3 Roman Polanski 4 Paul McCartney 5 cult member #4) and I don't know where the shoot is, but it will probably be the creepiest shit and I am very excited about it.

I want to spend more time writing for this webpage, but my current temp job - which runs through the end of this week - has me on eleven hour soul crushing shifts that are located nowhere near a computer or anything that makes me happy whatsoever. So, now is a bad time, but there will be better times ahead, because I'm sure as shit not going to re-up on this one. I'd like to get another Beelzetron-style desk plus computer minus work job (except not at Beelzetron), because I'd like to get back into this, but prospects for this week are not good.

There are probably people who read this now who weren't reading back in the day, so I will explain the reference: Beelzetron is where I worked right out of college, one year ago. It's in the archives. Crazy! What was it like to have money? I never wrote about that aspect of the job, so I have forgotten.

September 18, 2001

Here is one for the biography you are writing about me:

There is a story of Olivier after a particularly remarkable performance of Othello. Maggie Smith, his Desdemona, knocked on his dressing room door as she was on her way out of the theater and saw him staring at the wall, holding a tumbler of whiskey. She told him his work that night was magic. And he said, in, I suspect, tears and despair, "I know it was...and I don't know how I did it."

- William Goldman, Which Lie Did I Tell?

I am, once again, not working. No one returns my calls. Chinese hackers interrupt my cable feed with a looped four-hour documentary about microbes filmed inside the ass of an incontinent panda. I am not allowed to leave the apartment, because I have to be here to answer the phone, should the bastards call; and the bastards know this, taking the opportunity to throw a block party, one block down. I don't know what I ever did to those guys.

If I kept a list on this webpage of things that should not be thrown at my head, and I promised not to go overboard with it, would it have any influence over your behavior at all? The first item is bricks.

The job situation being what it is, I had all but signed the forms to hook up with the Raytheon Corporation and go to Antarctica, but then it occurred to me that it might be misconstrued as a response to the current political climate. So, instead, here is a scene from a play that I am writing about dinosaurs.

Lights up. DINOSAUR and OTHER DINOSAUR are in a lush forest, full of vegetation and small, exotic life forms. They are eating: silently, but comfortably aware of each other's presence. Finally, OTHER DINOSAUR looks up.

OTHER DINOSAUR: Well, that about does it for me. I'm full.
DINOSAUR: God, this is great. Just walk up and eat the trees.

Suddenly, in the distance, there is a loud sound. The dinosaurs are startled.

OTHER DINOSAUR: What the fuck?
DINOSAUR: That was weird.
OTHER DINOSAUR: God damn it.
OTHER DINOSAUR: It was a big fucking meteor.
DINOSAUR: You mean...
DINOSAUR: Cock suck piss ass.
OTHER DINOSAUR: Motherfucking anal wart shit shit shit.
DINOSAUR: God damn ass fuck cock.
OTHER DINOSAUR: Shit ass motherfucker.
DINOSAUR: Holy crap fuck.
OTHER DINOSAUR: Crap ass shit fuck.
DINOSAUR: Well, that fucking sucks.

They die. Lights down.

Do you think it would compromise the work if I had the dinosaurs deal with social issues? I might have one of them be gay, and the other could come to terms with it. I worry that it would detract from the integrity of my main themes, though.

September 16, 2001

I nearly slept through the evacuation. On the day that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, I was late for work, as usual. I was in the middle of a two-week temp assignment at a telecom joint in the Sears Tower. I was having fun. There was free soda and food for the employees, there was no direct supervision, and there were free pinball machines. You can guess, then, how I spent my time. The company laid off a full third of its employees on the day before I started, and one of my favorite pastimes was keeping track of the euphemisms that the remaining employees used to refer to the ones who were gone: the funniest were the people who would meaningfully intone "Yes, he was affected by the layoffs" - presumably, themselves unaffected and resolute - and the creepiest were the people who, with a tentative giggle, would refer to the former employees as "the departed...(giggle) the deceased." They'd always look up for confirmation that I liked the joke. Their heads would arch slightly forward as if representative of their entire venture into risky comedy, their sly metaphorical link between death and unemployment. (I could keep going, but to deconstruct the expression further would constitute brutality.) They'd look at me for confirmation that I liked the joke. What do you want me to say?

I was half-asleep as I entered the building. I remember noticing that the lobby was unusually chaotic, and I remember thinking that these (several hundred) people must be a high-strung tour group or something. In the chaos, I managed to slip past the security guards and make my way to the elevators, somehow oblivious to the fact that I was the only person headed into the building. Once upstairs, I took a roundabout way to my work area - hoping to avoid detection - and, once there, scattered a bunch of papers to make it look as though I'd been working for at least a half-hour. (It was 8:35am.) Then I went back into tardy ninja mode and, still undetected, hid in the executive lounge with a newspaper and a soda. I didn't see a single person on my way, and I chalked that up to exceptional ninja work.

At one point in the blur of that morning, it was being treated as a certainty that the fourth plane - the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania - was headed for the Sears Tower. It made sense at the time; it's the tallest building in the United States, one of the best-known, and architecturally vulnerable in all the same ways as the WTC. There's currently no reason to believe that it was a target, of course, but at the time, the building's management had been informed that they were the third target by someone sufficiently high-ranking as to have them treating it as a fact. I wasn't aware of any of that. As I gradually awoke in this strange place, it finally occurred to me to wonder why there was absolutely no one around. I had some good patter worked up for explaining my presence in the executive lounge, should anyone have asked. I may never have found out that the building had been evacuated - and, honestly, had I not been told, I would probably have just dozed off there for a few hours - had some goofball executive not come racing back into the building for his briefcase.

So that's where I was.

I feel uncomfortably conscious of how badly I wanted that day off from work. I needed the money and couldn't justify calling in sick, but I was tired and I had a lot of writing that I wanted to do. I spent most of the train ride to work scheming for ways to get the day off. That sticks in my head a lot. On the way out of the building, I saw one of the Partnering With Change packets that I'd helped to assemble the day before. I cut two of my fingers while doing it, and I wound up bleeding on the backs of all of the stress worksheets.

On my way home, I stopped at the grocery store to buy milk, bread and veggie burgers. While there, I decided to canvas the delivery guys for their opinions on the day's events. Three out of three felt that immediate military action was called for; one said that "we" should "kill all the bastards", and another added that "we" should "go over there and level the place".

What do you want me to say?

I saw three old ladies playing poker at a bus stop on Thursday. On Friday, I received my first paycheck in four months. On Saturday, a mute man of Arabic descent tried frantically to tell me in sign language that he (point to self) would (point to wood paneling in the train car) fight (machine gun) but (point to butt) he wasn't allowed (shrug) but he (point to self) hated (finger across throat) Osama (trace letters in the air with finger) very much (finger across throat again). The homeless guy behind me kept yelling Hell yeah!, but the mute man wasn't interested in him. He wanted my understanding. I didn't want him to feel like he had to hate to be accepted by me, but I didn't want him to be afraid. I didn't know what to say. I went blank.

September 6, 2001

I am working as a temp right now. The guy who stands at the crime scene, shakes his head and says "Now that it's got a taste for human flesh, it won't be long before that thing kills again" had a bunch of personal days saved up and decided to go out of town this week, so I'm filling in. The money is okay.

September 3, 2001

Relations between the hiring directors of America and I have reached an all-time low. Why do they hate me so? I am a reasonable man. I have book learning. I do not stab people. What more could you ask from someone? I bet, if challenged, I could find as many as three people who think that I am basically all right. Why, then, do hiring directors send me cakes with "I hate you" written in the frosting, and then have the cakes be made of dead birds, and then have someone sneak into my apartment at night and steal the evidence so I can't show anyone? What am I doing wrong? Why can't I find a job?

Beelzetron blacklisted me. I worked for them for nine months or so, bitching memorably about the experience on this webpage, and they may have found out by now; or, perhaps, they're just angry that I left. I would not put it past the bastards to keep a list of people they hate and demand that companies for whom they do consulting work not hire anyone on the list. The only hole in this theory is that I haven't applied for jobs in any places that would have any use for a consulting company, but there are only six or seven companies in the entire world, really, and if they send word down through all of their subsidiaries, that would explain it.

They can smell apathy. I have no professional goals. All I want is to earn enough money to pay the rent and not to have to deal with other people while doing it. I think jobs, careers and offices are terrible. Can they sense this? Do they find it, for some reason, unattractive in a prospective employee?

God wants me to be unemployed for some damn reason. This is my mom's theory. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because my car stopped working on my first day of unemployment, so if God wants me to go somewhere, how am I supposed to get there? Hitch-hike? Shit, God, didn't you see the news report about how unsafe that is? No, I don't rate this theory at all.

They are all Hitler, and they are offended that I do not criticize Jewish people in my cover letters. This was my leading theory for a while, but then I remembered that I have a friend who recently graduated and started working in human resources, and I don't know how all the Hitlers would have let her slip by without noticing that she was not Hitler.

Someone is intercepting my resumes and writing "FAG" all over them. This is the most promising theory right now. I have thought about devising some sort of code for the resumes and sending the cipher to the hiring directors in a separate package, but I am afraid that the spy will intercept the cipher as well and rewrite it so that the code translates to "FAG". I am still working on how to ensure the second package's safety.

My body is too bootylicious for them. It's caused problems in the past, so I never rule it out as a possibility.

September 1, 2001

I haven't had a case of the hiccups in like fifteen years. Am I some kind of super-man?

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.