By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
October 31, 2001
Reading this month:
Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?
My friend came over and looked at my bookshelves; upon seeing that I'd never read this, he pissed all over my graphic novels and beat the crap out me when I asked him to stop. I don't know why I have such mean friends. This is a good book that fills the void left by Kurt Busiek's Astro City rather nicely, with art that falls between Bruce Timm's Batman and a manga flavor.
Obviously, Shakespeare is a friend of mine. I am a fan of his much-maligned later plays; even at the very end of his career, he never stopped pushing himself to try new things. Cymbeline's plot may have more ins and outs than anything he ever wrote. It's sort of a history play, about a king of ancient Britain who defied the Romans, but it also works as a fantasy, like The Tempest, and there are a couple of lines when the inevitably parted lovers are united that are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The god Jupiter makes a surprise appearance, unannounced in the cast list, and Doctor Cornelius will make you stand up and cheer when he slyly double-crosses the double-crosser. Scholars place it either before or after The Winter's Tale, but it reminds me more of a dry run for the magical aura that was perfectly realized in The Tempest than The Winter's Tale, which I'd place alongside Pericles in terms of raw, unpolished emotional impact (showing the author's advanced age and undeniable soul). Though Cymbeline is static at times on the page, it's easy to imagine it rocking the house in performance. Anyhow, the guy can fucking write, so get off his back.
Ah. The man's back on top form. He's one of my favorite writers, so I lack even more perspective than usual, but I liked this one a lot. His last book, Filth, was a virtuoso performance, almost physically affecting in its brutality, but also something I'd never read again; only the last third of Ecstasy rated great. You can tell from the start of this one, though, that Welsh is back in the zone. Being one of his books, the title serves as assurance that the bonds of friendship will be revealed to be as strong as glue and glue itself will probably be sniffed. Nice. The characters are fully inhabited, and his narrative voice remains committed to them and the strong choices he makes; stories criss-cross over decades, and the principals of Trainspotting even make brief and welcome reappearances. The ultimate impact doesn't rate with the aforementioned, but there's still something genuine about it that's all its own.
A laser-smart series of essays tracing black culture, both on the art itself and its interplay with mainstream America, originally written for The Village Voice and a few other NYC outlets. Some are about pop culture subjects that are now dated beyond irrelevance, but most are well-written enough to be interesting as historical objects if nothing else. There also a few exceptional ones drawn directly from the author's life. The vast majority of the essays are from 1992 or earlier, though, with a handful of new ones (which also happen to be the best in the book) to mark the revised 2001 edition.
For a time, while working as a museum security guard, what I read was determined primarily by the size of the book. If it fit into the blazer's inside pocket and could therefore be smuggled into the gallery during my shift, it received consideration. One day during winter break, I worked a nine hour shift all by myself in basement, in the pre-Colombian and Egyptian galleries. Being a museum in a college town while the students were away, I think there were literally no visitors for the entire day, so I wound up reading an entire book from start to finish: Jonathan Lethem's As She Climbed Across The Table, a wacky yet tender story of love among grad student physicists. My last decent relationship was with a biochemist grad student who had dumped me a couple weeks prior, so I kept nodding my head as I read and saying, yep, it's like that, science girls are crazy. I hadn't heard anything about the book before reading it, but it fit in the coat, so I bought it and wound up liking it a lot, the randomness of the discovery casting a glow around the entire thing.
Now Lethem is part of the McSweeney's posse, and he has this book out. The main character has Tourette's syndrome, and it is creating a problem for me in that I have only known one guy with Tourette's, a sensitive feminist metalhead, and he is a spectacularly poor match with the character that I think I am supposed to be envisioning, yet as my primary reference point for Tourette's, he's all I've got. I've found that if I make an active effort to visualize a guy in a fedora, I can think of the character as him instead of the metalhead, but then the character has to be wearing a fedora at all times.
Anyway, I like Lethem's writing, and this book. It's not of the towering monumental brilliance variety, but it reminds me of something that the nicest guy you know might have written and poured his heart into, with deserved props awarded for inventiveness and character (more than, say, story).
Me Talk Pretty One Day
I like to keep track of the books that I see being read on the train, and this one has definitely been a favorite over the last couple months, rating behind only the perennial Ayn Rand / Harry Potter / "Poisonwood Bible" crowd. It's been on my list of books to read for a while. My friend James speaks only in David Sedaris quotes and Eminem lyrics, so I felt like I'd read it already. (There is absolutely nothing true in that last sentence, but I enjoyed typing it.) I was afraid that the glut of glowing reviews from everyoneeverywhere was going to turn me off to it, but any apprehension I had was completely disarmed once I started reading. It's a collection of essays about the author's life, with the first half forming an autobiography of sorts (though the stories were originally written for different publications) and the second half describing the author's current life as an expatriate in France. Breezy, quite funny, a total pleasure to read. I liked it a lot. It has a lot of badly translated language material, which always cracks me up. I rarely make a noise while laughing unless I tell myself to, but I made noise without thinking while laughing at many bits of this book, for whatever that's worth.
Kind of a sucky book on the fantastic Mr Bosch. Most of the reproductions are in black and white and either cropped or miniscule (or both), so it's basically worthless from a visual standpoint. The central argument in Bosch scholarship is over the source for the artist's imagery, which can draw the phrase "whoa, that's fucked up" from the lips of the most stoic and sober of men. Some treat Bosch as a surrealist 400 years ahead of his time; others attempt to link the images to corners of obscure Christian cults from the Middle Ages, always a good time; and others, like Gibson, play it straight and try to get what they need from the mainstream Church and artistic contemporaries. This author rejects Freudian analysis of Bosch with the hilariously flawed reasoning that since Freud's theory of the unconscious hadn't yet been articulated, it cannot be applied to people of the era. (Because humanity didn't have an unconscious until Freud decided they did?) I don't rate the unconscious as a primary source either, but when you've got a piece of flawed reasoning like that in the first few pages, the rest of the essay is probably a lost cause. (Stodgy academics get nervous about having to diversify and demand that the subject conform to their area of expertise.) I'm still waiting for one of these so-called experts to explain the shrouded tiny duck-bill nosed demon monk who pops up in Bosch's larger works, anyway. Scariest damn thing I've ever seen on a canvas.
Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast
A giant book about the director of Metropolis and M, among many others; his first American film, Fury, is also a favorite of mine, and you can't beat that Dr. Mabuse, the original sinister web guy. The central thesis of this book is that Lang was bat-shit crazy. This is one of those books (like Donald Spoto's book on Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius) that makes such a strong case for its subject's lunacy that you're left wondering how the guy ever got a film made in the first place without getting thrown off a building. Ah! But such good films. This is a brick-sized book with mountains of research, probably the best single book if you're interested in the director but overload for a casual reader. The story of Lang's deadly game of cat and mouse with Goebbels and subsequent flight from Nazi Germany does make for some brilliant drama, even if the author suspects it was mostly invented. I'd like to write a Shadow of the Vampire type film based on it. Oh! And Fritz Lang had a wooden monkey named Peter that he kept with him for the last fifty years of his life, from Vienna to Berlin to Paris to Hollywood, and he liked to talk to the monkey and give the monkey a book to read whenever he was reading something. I knew there was some subtle emotional connection that I was making to his films. That explains it!
I read something about 2AM being the devil's midnight, so I headed down to the lake to see if I could find anything spooky under the radiant white full moon. During the middle few months of the year, the beach is a family friendly fun zone; in the fall and the winter, though, it gets back to the important business of looking like the surface of the moon. The park district has a big bulldozer that they use to build a large ridge of sand between the sidewalk and the water in order to stress the point that people are not supposed to go down by the water. You can kind of tell from looking at the tracks that they just like to drive the thing around, though, and they're probably not too worked up about the access thing. I outsmarted that sand ridge in no time flat. My spooky finds included a spooky dish scrubber - but no dishes!, a spooky plastic fork - way far away from the scrubber!, a spooky empty bottle of wine - where did the wine go? did a ghost drink it?, and a spooky hubcap. Once upon a time, the devil enchanted lost souls on All Hallows Eve; now, he just leaves his shit lying around.
Tomorrow, I will be appearing in the studio audience for the taping of several episodes of the syndicated daytime television series Judge Mathis. I find strange and ridiculous ways to make money.
October 22, 2001
I have no computer access at work and no window in range of my desk; therefore, the only stimuli that comes my way are the ringing phones and the conversations of co-workers. Having nothing else to do, then, I decided to write a play using only things that people in the office said to each other. As an added stipulation, no consecutive lines from within the same conversation were allowed, and the lines could not be re-arranged. (They appear here in the chronological order that they were spoken, over the course of two hours.) It starts out slowly, but stick with it.
(The setting is a laboratory. A, a brave and noble scientist, and B, a melancholic and remorseful scientist, are taking a break.)
A: I'm going to get that cup of coffee now. Is that okay?
(The nefarious C enters, menacing B.)
C: I'm taking this lease stuff right here.
(B gives a muffled shriek. Lights down. A and B are onstage.)
A: What did you do to your finger?
(Lights down. C and B are onstage.)
C: Slap him upside the head.
C: I need it now.
(Lights down. A and B are onstage.)
A: Would you like to stay in this building?
(Lights down. B and JOHN CHESNA, a derelict, are onstage.)
JOHN: I'm looking at these pretty women...
(Lights. A and B are onstage.)
A: I have a new list.
(JOHN is revealed.)
JOHN: You shouldn't hurt the one you love.
(C enters, cackling nefariously.)
C: You didn't even miss me, did you?
(UNCLE HAPPENIN' emerges. He is everything that his name implies.)
C: It's just the easiest way.
(A dies. B answers the phone.)
B: Someone just called. It's the entire grain floor.
(UNCLE HAPPENIN' and JOHN CHESNA turn on C.)
C: No!...stalled at the tollbooth.
B: I can go any time.
(JOHN CHESNA and UNCLE HAPPENIN', momentarily sated, exit.)
B: Come back! Come...back.
You had to figure, in an exercise like that, a diarrhea monster (Uncle Happenin') would get involved at some point.
October 20, 2001
I am getting tired of writing about all of the people who are trying to kill me, but it seems like that's all that's going on any more. Here is a story from work: I am temp-ing at the property management office that runs the Chicago Board of Trade. As usual, my duties mostly involve screwing around. (I don't have a web-connected computer, though, which sucks.) The woman who sits in front of me normally opens the mail for the office, but in light of the recent anthrax mail scares, she has been ever-so-slyly shifting the task into my hands. I accept the mail and look down to start working; then I peek up and catch a fleeting, satisfied, thought-to-be-secret grin on her face. Clearly, it was her tactical genius that earned her the Mom Of The Year coffee mug.
Two characters are role-playing in a wood-paneled family basement on a Saturday night. One, a young boy named Terry, is the GAME MASTER; the other, an elder demon named CTHULU, is his only friend.
GAME MASTER: Cthulu, you realize you have a minus 7000 against all charm rolls.
CTHULU rolls a pair of ten-sided dice. The GAME MASTER takes note of the result.
GAME MASTER: The elf resists your advances.
I should write a feature-length script about those two.
I wish I had enough money to buy airline tickets. I have no qualms about flying in airplanes or going overseas right now, and tickets are so cheap. They will probably be expensive again by the time I regain financial stability in mid-2002, though. Still, were a superhero to be created that was based on me, he would be The Man Without Qualms, because he would not have any of those, and people would notice, and make comments about it, and buy him a milkshake.
October 19, 2001
I am under constant assault.
Certain parties who are probably terrorists have requested more details about how I broke my finger, most likely because they want to try for themselves. Fuck off, certain parties. I am on to your games. I have grown tired of telling people the real reason it broke (football) and the party line is now that Mike Saul got drunk and belligerent one day and beat the crap out of me.
October 17, 2001
I would like to seize upon one of the major issues of our day and speak briefly about terrorists. I have not ruled them out as the guilty parties in the breaking of my finger this weekend, however air-tight their alibi may be. They called in a threat to one of the subway stops on my route this morning, providing me with an excuse for why I was late to the temp job I was going to be late to anyway, but in general, they seem to have switched their modus operandi from bombs to the postal system. They have been sending letters with the biochemical weapon anthrax enclosed to unsuspecting targets throughout the country. When people open the mail, they fall victim to the deadly poison. Because I feel that I should stay alive, I will no longer be opening any mail from the terrorists. I will now strenuously check the return address field of every envelope that I receive, and if the envelope is from the terrorists, I will throw it away. That is the way it has to be. I want to apologize to all the perfectly reasonable terrorists for whom this will be an inconvenience, as well to as all of the people with the vaguely Greek last name Theterrorists, but I must take precautions. This also means that I will not be paying my terrorist bill each month, which may wind up hurting my credit rating, although now that I think about it, why was I paying that bill in the first place? I mean, I know what the phone bill and the power bill do, but what's that one? Hey. You fucking guys.
Last weekend, I set a new all-time high score in bowling: 150. And I did it for America! I try to help out where I can.
October 11, 2001
When I am old and my friends begin to pass on, I am going to give them Viking funerals. I figure I owe everyone that much.
Wednesday October 10, 2001 @ the Harold Washington Library, Chicago:
INTERVIEWER: How did you feel about the attacks on September 11?
Sunday was an eventful day. I have a pleasant routine on Sundays: I wake up late for class at the ImprovOlympic, rush over there, improvise for a while, join my friends in the middle of their football watching day and eat whatever is left of the bean dip, and then we run around and yell at each other when the game is over; later, I go home, sleepy and full of stomach, optimistic that some sort of job will commence on Monday. This last Sunday, however, was different. United States military action against Afghanistan began, for example. Bombs were dropped. Also, the landlord finally turned on the heat in my apartment. It was very cold for several days, and I had to wear multiple sweaters whenever inside. Were these events linked? The night before, I had noticed that someone taped "Afghanistan" to my mailbox. I peeled it off and went on my way, not realizing until the next day that the label was part of a plot by the bastards to fool the government into thinking that my apartment was Afghanistan. The army had been trying to freeze the Taliban out, but once the label was gone, they realized that Afghanistan is actually very far away, not in my apartment, so they switched to Plan B for their reprisals. That is the best explanation I can come up with for Sunday.
I have not been linking to many things of late and have thus risked being decommissioned, so let me resolve that:
We have new entries for the CALENDAR OF ROCK:
Van HALEN-tine's Day (Valentine's Day)
Some may consider this behavior madness, but if you are a person of decent musical taste who is forced to listen to classic rock all day long, you do what you have to do to survive.
October 6, 2001
Baby, won't you be my Tet Offensive?
I have been trying to make a point of bowling more often. I believe that bowling is a very important survival skill; as a member of an early human society, though the hunters and gatherers would get all the press, I would be a bowler. I would tell the gatherers to see what they could do about gathering me up a big soft pretzel, and I would go about the work of bowling. I am, admittedly, not a very good bowler. I get rattled easily: whenever a baby shows up, I'm useless. And people are always bringing babies to bowling alleys. What the fuck? That doesn't make any sense. I have found a new bowling alley to call home, the Diversey River Bowl in Chicago, so that's nice. No one brings babies in there. They turn the lights down low and play ludicrous rock hits. That's all I ask.
I bowled poorly during this last time out. The tribe would be pissed at me. I would shake my head and say, who can quote The Big Lebowski as well as I can? Can you, Grog? No, you can not. Grog would shut the fuck up, because he'd realize that I had him there. And I would get back to the business of bowling.
Filming on "Helter Skelter: the Charles Manson Story" takes place over the next two weeks. I will be playing the police officer who stumbles into the crime scene and then later takes a bold position against multiple homicides while interrogating suspects at the police station. I am being fitted for a real uniform, and I have to go study some real police officers. Presumably, they behave differently than I do, so I have to figure out what those differences are and incorporate them into my behavior. I have decided to make my character gay and French. I haven't told the director yet, because he probably won't realize that the film needs wacky comic relief until he actually starts filming it and realizes it's all blood and murder and how are you going to sell that in Kansas City? Also, my character used to be a hairdresser before he joined the force. And he likes to paint. And he's actually Fidel Castro in disguise. The director will be so pleased with all the thought I have put into my character. I will shrug and say, well, that's what I do. I am an actor.
The first few sentences of that paragraph are true, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. And I'm getting paid for the film! Fat cash on a per-day basis, and free meals to boot. Fortunately, nobody told them that I will do more or less anything for a free meal. I appreciate everybody keeping quiet about that.
I have a perfect feedback rating at Half.com, and it occurred to me to wonder why my enemies have not managed to sabotage that yet. My enemies manage to ruin everything else - as I mentioned before, they like to intercept my resume when I apply for jobs and write "FAG" all over it before sending it along - so why have they had no success in their attacks on my e-commerce bidness? The answer is quite simple: fortunately, Half.com rates sellers in numerical form. My enemies buy things from me and keep hitting the 'F' key when they are asked to rate my services, but the system only takes numbers, so they get stuck and curse my name. Again, I appreciate everybody keeping quiet about that.
October 5, 2001
Oof! What a month.
I have a bad habit of turning everything into my own personal Vietnam. Unemployment has become my own personal Vietnam, as was employment before it, and college before that, which is not to mention most of my summer vacations. Whenever I forget to update this webpage for any long period of time, it usually winds up becoming my own personal Vietnam as well. Keeping track of them really wears me out.
Mostly, I have been sitting around. I worked for a couple weeks as a security guard at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and that sucked. Worse than that, it sucked in twelve hour shifts, and at a low rate of pay. The owners of the building felt that it might be a target for terrorist activity, so they called the temp agency and asked for college educated security guards to make a show of how much they cared about safety. One of my co-workers had been yanked out of a job in desktop publishing to be there. On the first day of any given temp job, I am generally cooperative and can be relied upon to get the work done well and on time. By the second day, though, I turn actively malicious. I can't help myself. It used to take as long as an entire week for me to start trying to destroy everything around me, but now it's less than 24 hours. In this case, I was supposed to be checking the IDs of everyone who wanted to enter the building and calling up to their offices to make sure they were supposed to have access. By the second day of the job, I started "remembering" people from some mythical "before" and waving them past without checking; by the fourth day, whenever I was the only guard on duty, I just asked entrants if they were the Mad Bomber and waved them past if they said no. The people usually laughed and assumed that the security guard had a sense of humor, which is of course untrue, as I have never told a joke, ever. I firmly believe that the Mad Bomber's system of ethics would require him to admit to being the Mad Bomber if I asked. As a veteran of many deadly games of cat and mouse, I feel qualified to say that.
I am working on a project, and you are invited to help:
While bowling last week, one of my friends, who is forced to listen to classic rock all day at work, noted that ZEPtember was almost over. ROCKtober, however, was just about to begin. It occurred to me then that every month on the calendar should have a classic rock equivalent, because the monsters of rock are the closest thing we have to Roman emperors, and as the designated bloated empire of the present era, America must impose its crap upon everything. Here, then, is what we have so far:
So, if you have submissions, let me know.
It occurred to me, while walking in the rain, that I have no idea where my umbrella came from. I figure it originated with an eight year old Taiwanese boy, but I am completely lost on the stages between, as I have never owned an umbrella of my own until now and I do not know how I came to own this one. So let me just say, if you are reading this webpage and you have been angry all this time that I showed no apparent gratitude for your gift, thank you for the umbrella. It kept the raindrops from my head.
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.
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.
January 2012, December 2011, January 2011, September 2010, August 2010, June 2010, March 2010, October 2009, February 2009, January 2009, September 2008, August 2008, March 2008, February 2008, October 2007, July 2007, June 2007, January 2007, September 2006, July 2006, June 2006, January 2006, December 2005, September 2005, August 2005, July 2005, June 2005, May 2005, March 2005, February 2005, January 2005, December 2004, October 2004, July 2004, June 2004, May 2004, April 2004, February 2004, January 2004, December 2003, November 2003, October 2003, September 2003, August 2003, July 2003, June 2003, May 2003, April 2003, March 2003, February 2003, January 2003, December 2002, November 2002, October 2002, September 2002, August 2002, July 2002, June 2002, May 2002, April 2002, March 2002, February 2002, January 2002, December 2001, November 2001, October 2001, September 2001, August 2001, July 2001, December 1999, November 1999, October 1999, May 1999, February 1999, January 1999, December 1998, November 1998, October 1998, June 1998, May 1998, April 1998, March 1998, February 1998, December 1997, November 1997, October 1997, September 1997, and the uncategorised wilderness of the Beelzetron era: 010622 - 010619, 010615 - 010611, 010608 - 010604, 010601 - 010529, 010525 - 010521, 010518 - 010514, 010511 - 010507, 010504 - 010430, 010427 - 010423, 010420 - 010416, 010413 - 010409, 010406 - 010402, 010330 - 010326, 010323 - 010319, 010316 - 010312, 010309 - 010307, 019223 - 010219, 010216 - 010212, 010209 - 010205, 010202 - 010109, 010126 - 010122, 010119 - 010115, 010112 - 010108, 010105 - 010102, 001229 - 001224, 001222 - 001218, 001215 - 001211, 001208 - 001204, 001201 - 001124, 001124 - 001120, 001117 - 001113, 001110 - 001106, 001103 - 001030, 001027 - 001023, 001020 - 001016, 001013 - 001010, 001006 - 000927.
Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.