I woke up in a strange place

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

November 30, 2001

The office decided to decorate for Christmas yesterday. Being a cheerful, helpful, pleasant and reasonable man, I offered to help. That stalled my database project and bought me at least a couple more hours of employment. (All I really want is to stay employed through the end of the day today. Anything else is gravy.) You could tell that the company was broke, because they didn't care when I started climbing on window ledges and balancing between the tops of cubicle walls and file cabinets to do the adventurous light threading that I had planned. They knew that if I fell and tried to claim insurance, they would only be able to laugh and shrug. So I climbed around like a Christmas monkey and made the place festive.

There are plenty of California-based venture capital firms in San Francisco and Menlo Park, but I have yet to find a single one in Compton. What the fuck?

November 29, 2001

I am now entering the tricky stretch at my current job. I've only been hired to do one project, and I need to squeeze as much time out of it as possible while still making perceptible progress. Meanwhile, I have to turn up the charm angle, hoping on a long shot that they will come to see me as essential to their own happiness and decide that, like a friendly hero pup, there's no way they could ask me to leave. And, like a reluctant werewolf, I have to struggle against turning malicious. Since I was so happy when I got the job, the normal 24 hour waiting period was delayed a bit. Yesterday, though, I caught myself listing George Wendt as the contact person for several venture capital firms. I have no idea why I did that. I don't even remember making the decision to do it.

One of the temp agencies called and asked if they could pee in my eye for ten hours on Monday. I said yes. What else could I do? I need the money.

(news) Two suitcases containing 30 pounds of dynamite were found near downtown Chicago on Sunday afternoon, spurring police to evacuate the area. There was no detonator, and the dynamite did not pose a danger, police spokesman Matthew Jackson said. "It appears it was dropped off there and had been there a while," Jackson said. Local authorities across the United States have been on heightened alert since the Sept. 11 attacks by hijacked airplanes on New York and Washington that killed several thousand people. A homeless person rummaging in the area on State Street just south of downtown found the explosives and flagged down a passing police car, Jackson said. Police bomb and arson specialists cleared the area, halted nearby Chicago Transit Authority rail lines and removed the dynamite, he said.

Homeless people have been all up in my face of late. On Sunday, I was riding one of the aforementioned halted rail lines. We were several miles away from the area with the dynamite, but they stopped the train anyway, and wouldn't even pull into the nearest station to let us off. It wasn't that cool. The pressure started getting to people after a while; one man started muttering and then yelling at people to "keep your secrets to yourself", and just after the train started moving again, he pulled the emergency doors and jumped out.

The thing I like about that article, by the way, is how it implies that the careful handling of the dynamite is a result of the September 11 attacks. It brings to mind an image of carefree times before then, when people would find sacks of dynamite and, instead of calling a bomb squad and evacuating the area, they'd make fake hot dogs with the dynamite and play pranks on each other by saying, hey, free hot dog. Those days are over. Please leave a message at the tone.

Here is the second way that homeless people have been all up in my face: I was in a gas station, buying a snack, and the bus I wanted to ride passed by. It was fucking cold outside, so I didn't want to wait for another one. I grabbed my change and sprinted after the bus, which was by then two blocks ahead of me. I chased it for another two blocks, but we were in a deserted area now and there were no passengers to slow it down; all seemed to be lost when a homeless guy spotted me from a block and a half away and decided to run out in front of the bus in order to stop it for me. I made it. As I boarded, he stepped out from in front of the bus and asked if I had any spare change. I gave him a dollar (1), and then I turned to face the furious bus driver.

I need a fucking fantastic redesign like this. My design skills are only current through 1997 or so, though.

Here is the third way that homeless people have been all up in my face: I was walking down the street by the Thorndale el stop, which is a shitty el stop but was closest to my destination, and a homeless guy was sitting on the sidewalk. He started pointing at me. You!, he said, his expression filled with delight. He grinned and shook his head. Yoooouu! I smiled and waved, having no idea what he was on about, and kept walking. Once I was past, I heard him say to no one in particular: Something's wrong with that white boy.

I watched a program about the silver mines. It's important to remember the contributions that men with fucking huge sideburns made to our country.

(1) Which, factoring in the rest-of-world to me exchange rate, is approximately $67 in my currency.

November 28, 2001

I am so broke that it is, actually, kind of funny. I spend money on three things: train rides, cat food and bowling. I asked my accountant, and that's what he said to do. I couldn't afford a real accountant, so I hired Walter from my VHS copy of The Big Lebowski. It's working out okay. It's fun to go through my receipts at the end of the month and say, yep, bowling, bowling, cat food, bowling, transit card, cat food, bowling.

I am in a nice stretch at the moment, though, employed under the table and off the tax record for a nearly dead dot-com. They are nice people. They needed someone to sit at a computer and be left alone, and I am highly regarded in that industry, so a friend referred them to me and it's working out just fine. It's great to cut the temp agencies out of the equation. It makes me feel more like a migrant worker.

I want to talk for a moment about sombreros, which are occasionally worn by migrant workers in warm climates. I'm not sure which of my memories is the earliest, but this one is at least in the top ten: I was three years old, and my mother, her boyfriend and I were eating in a Mexican restaurant. Our salsa was served in an upside down sombrero and, needless to say, we cleaned that fucker out, because, like me, my mother (who was then younger than I am now) never had any money and therefore the impulse to hit the pre-meal chips and salsa like a ton of bricks became something of a proud family tradition. The sombrero, then, was empty, and for some reason the waiter never took it away. I asked my mom's boyfriend if he was going to take the sombrero. I had cleaned it with my napkin, so he needn't fear getting salsa in his hair, and it had clearly been presented to him by the waiter. He said no. I grew insistent. He ignored me. That was the crystalline moment: I had a feeling of utter disgust for this shithead who wouldn't claim his rightful sombrero. Did he lack the courage? Did he disrespect the sombrero? Fuck that guy, I felt, though not in those words. And my mother eventually came to the same conclusion, though probably not for the same reasons.

November 27, 2001

Reading this month:

Conversations With Wilder
Cameron Crowe, Billy Wilder

Ah! Great. Billy Wilder has, I think, made more of the greatest films of all time than any other director; he's also made more perfectly realized films than anyone else. Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot; perfect in every respect, including leaving you with a lingering sense of something greater. The Apartment in particular has to score higher on the dead fucking brilliant to current awareness ratio than any other Hollywood film of the last 50 years. Even if he wasn't such a great director, though, this book would be interesting for the fact that Wilder was 93 years old when it was written; the details along the way of his still-active lifestyle and his sharp mind make the book worth reading by themselves. I mean, 93 years old. Shit. (96 now, I think.) Cameron Crowe is, of course, himself a director (Say Anything, Almost Famous) and my favorite bits of the book are Wilder's running check-ups on the progress of Crowe's work (he was writing Almost Famous at the time). The film analysis itself and set anecdotes are laser-sharp; Wilder's memory and delivery were in nearly top form. (93!) For all its flaws (some of Crowe's questions are a bit heavy-handed, straying occasionally toward the James Lipton-esque), this is possibly my favorite book ever written about film.

The Castle
Franz Kafka

In my favorite parts of this book, when K. is out exploring the town around the Castle, the people he meets remind me of characters from RPG video games (particularly older ones) when their momentary relevance to the quest is past or when you're just not supposed to be in that part of the game yet, but you're there anyway; they begin to blur as you look closer at them than the game designers meant for you to look, and as their complete inability to process what you are doing becomes increasingly apparent, a note of inarticulate menace enters their speech. Kafka stays on his home ground for a lot of this book - twelve page speeches on bureaucratic madness are in no short supply - but if you like the old guy, this is vintage Franz. Orson Welles wanted to film this instead of The Trial, saying that this one was funnier. In The Trial, Josef K.'s behavior was constricted by his being a sort of Everyman, but K. here is himself a bit of a shithead, and that opens up new possibilities, since the joke in so many of Kafka's characters is how they shift back and forth from shitheads to perfectly reasonable people and you never know which they will be at any given moment, and sometimes they are reasonable shitheads, and that's just crazy. I recommend the version linked above for the translation, but check out one of the other versions when you're done. All of them are based on the same unfinished manuscript, because this one doesn't include Kafka's editor Max Brod's brief note on Kafka's planned (and utterly perfect) ending.

How To Be Good
Nick Hornby

His most mature book and, unfortunately, his least fun. Nick Hornby's books always seem like anthropological studies as much as novels. His lead characters fit neatly into a very clearly defined lifestyle, and he gives it a good exploring. The subject here is way further from my own experience than any of his others - I am, definitively, not a female doctor in my mid-40s with two children and a dead marriage - but, to whatever degree I'd be qualified to have an opinion, it seemed like an honest, true and nuanced portrayal. And there are a lot of brilliantly funny stretches on a par with his other books. But there's also this insufferable streak of Maturity in the book's form that comes to uncomfortably parallel one of the lead characters (around whose insufferable righteousness the book revolves). It seems as though the author felt obliged to make the book unsatisfying in many respects because that's the Mature thing to do, and that attitude irritates me. So, I wouldn't say I disliked it, but I wouldn't enthusiastically press this one on friends like I did his last two.

Rodin: Sculpture & Drawings
Catherine Lampert

Rodin is a friend of mine. Whenever either of us has nothing else to do, we sit on the curb in front of the 7-11 on the Rue du Bac and we drink cheap wine, harassing anyone who walks by, making Victor Hugo jokes. Sooner or later, the drunken conversation turns to how much I like his sculpture and how much he likes my sketch comedy, and we vow to do some sort of project together, because the rest of these fuckers just don't get it. Then Rodin gets it into his head that I am trying to wheedle Camille Claudel's phone number out of him, which of course I am, and one of us winds up throwing the other through the window of the 7-11. We trash the place. As we lay among the cheese doodles, exhausted, waiting for the cops to come, we vow to do it again some time.

A Scanner Darkly
Phillip K. Dick

Holy shit, this book rules. I'd read one of his later books, VALIS, and liked it; and, of course, Dick wrote the basis for Blade Runner. But A Scanner Darkly is the biz-omb. It occupies a beautiful middle ground between Hunter S Thompson's tales of perfectly reasonable paranoiacs and Kurt Vonnegut's wounded, sad yet unbreakable humanism. It begins with an investigation into those damn bugs that wind up all over people sometimes, and, though it strives to make no moral judgment, it ends with an author's note: "This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did." It's unflinchingly honest, maniacally funny and sad. Instantly one of my favorite novels.

The Map That Changed the World
Simon Winchester

A biography of William Smith, considered by the author to be the father of modern geology. It begins with a lengthy discussion of the entry of scientific reasoning into a faith-dominated world, segues into some lengthy hardcore geology, and ends with betrayal and intrigue. Having no real interest in geology was a serious obstacle to enjoying this book, but the story is well told and there are lots of great side anecdotes (such as the tale of the first man to get run over by a train) along the way that made it worth the effort.

November 23, 2001

For the love of God, please turn off your webcams before you go to bed, everybody.

Or at least give advance notice that you're switching the focus of your webpage from progressive news to porn. Damn.

November 22, 2001

I do not have any late fees at the video store. It is a fragile balance, but it has held, for now.

For now.

November 16, 2001

At times, I get the feeling that pharmaceutical commercials - the ones where hazy images of people and puppies at play in sunny green fields are soundtracked by warm-voiced announcers calmly listing the profoundly awful things that could happen if you used the product, such as impotence and abdominal pain, prohibited by law from telling you why you would want to use it in the first place - will be remembered as the great art of this era. But then, I want the Sanford and Son theme song played at my funeral, so what do I know? (1)

I have worked, and I have sat around. I earned enough to pay my credit card bill, so cheers for that, even if it's not quite my rent. I did another round on Judge Mathis, meaning that at least two full weeks of the show will feature me in the background, working very hard to portray an audience member. I watched some audience members to prepare for the role. They remain a mystery to me.

I may sound like fun, but I'm not. All I ever do is sleep and get conspired against. You'd get bored of me very quickly.

The shoot for "Helter Skelter" happened on several cold days a few weeks ago. I portrayed Officer Richard Burbridge, who arrived as backup for Officers Wisenhunt and DeRosa at the Sharon Tate murder scene. If you have a copy of the book, by Vincent Bugliosi (who narrated the documentary), you can find good old Burbridge in the index. The book has a lot of photos, and the actors and actresses on hand were all dead ringers for their real-life counterparts. There were no photos of ol' Burbridge, though, so I can only wonder if I did him justice. There was one day of shooting at an abandoned police station on the northwest side of Chicago. It was closed in 1995, but the police didn't as much move as they up and left; there were enough vintage items sitting around, like arrest records and prostitution reports, that everyone on the shoot felt compelled to sneak a look inside the drawers marked "cash and valuables". The producers only had two guns on hand that day, so poor Burbridge got stuck with a walkie-talkie instead. I made the best of it. The battle for screen time was a little frustrating; DeRosa was a fat older guy who actually looked like a cop, so they had him front and center, and Wisenhunt looked like Ray Liotta, so they ate that shit right up and let him wrangle the crazy murderous hippie chicks. All I had to offer was the ability to look terrified on demand. The production assistants were also short on badges, and DeRosa was cunning enough to snatch up one for his chest and one for his hat, so the director felt insecure about showing my and Wisenhunt's heads, because we looked poor in comparison, having badges only on our chests.

In the book, the key scene for Burbridge occurs early on: once the murder scene has been secured, the other two cops leave and Burbridge stays among the dead to wait for detectives and forensics. That, for me, was the Burbridge apocalypse, and you can guess how I felt when I heard that they weren't going to shoot that scene. The shoot for the Tate Ranch was in Joliet, running continuously from 5pm to 1pm the next day. The house was rented from a grandmotherly old lady who was probably in her mid-seventies, and every room was frozen in immaculate 60's decor; the old lady stayed on set for the entire time, snapping pictures of the actors whenever she got the chance. I developed a bit of an attitude problem when I realized that they weren't going to paint all over her walls in blood. That, for me, was pretty key. There was only a neat, tidy "PIG" on one of the outside doors. "God", said the actor playing Tex Watson, one of the murderers. "You're pretty pissed off about that, aren't you?"

There are certain subtle differences in October weather between California and Joliet, Illinois; specifically, it is sunny in the morning in both places, but in only one is it warm. We were not in that one, but we were supposed to act as though we were. We were dressed for 85 degrees, and it was 40. I can't speak for anyone else (save the female murder victims, and I swear I wasn't looking for it, but trust me, they were only wearing thin nighties and it was pretty had not to notice), but my nipples were rock fucking hard. It was cold. Our major scenes involved the approach to the house and securing the area. I felt that Burbridge was probably a take charge kind of guy and the other two were probably pusses, so I took the lead on the approach, and therefore it was me who hit the slippery patch first, fell down and tore open my left hand on the rocks. I'd broken my finger the day before and wasn't wearing the splint (for purposes of realism), so I bled and suffered and it fucking hurt and I missed a key sequence while I was getting bandaged by the frantic PAs and the kindly old lady. Everyone was very nice to me afterward and treated me like a hero for returning to the shoot, but they still didn't film Burbridge's apocalypse. Fuckers. Bugliosi (or, as I call him, the Boog) is going to be furious when he finds out.

The old woman who owned the house had a hobby: she liked to go to celebrity golf tournaments and get the famous people to take pictures with her. She was exceptionally good at it; her basement was covered wall to wall with several thousand color 8X10 photographs. She had every American president going back to Gerald Ford; she had athletes (John Elway, Roger Clemens, Dr. J, Mike Ditka); she had movie stars (two Samuel L. Jacksons, a withered Joe Pesci, a Jack Lemmon with obit attached); literally thousands. All of the actors spent their spare time scouring the walls, trying to find bizarre ones. There was a new Bob Hope annually over the course of a few decades. You could see the awareness go with every passing year. The best part, though - and, inexplicably, my foremost memory from the entire experience - was the Wall of Shame. There were only two pictures there, side by side: the old woman with OJ Simpson, and the old woman with Bill Clinton. Nice.

My finger is feeling better.

(1) And I know it's not going to be. Damn it. I have no qualms about haunting you fucking people until that shit gets played.

November 9, 2001

I asked a magic eight ball if using crack would be considered more socially acceptable in years to come, because I had a dream that suggested it might. The magic eight ball told me to ask again later.

I signed up to play in a fantasy basketball league with a bunch of guys from Iceland. The Internet is great like that. The league is run by Ingvar, whose team name suggests that he is a homeboy of the American rapper DMX. I'm playing under the assumption that, if I win, I get to be from Iceland. Ingvar didn't come right out and say it, but I think it was implied.

On the writing page, there are several new short plays. They were written for the sketch comedy show that I did last month, and now they are on the Internet, no longer subject to fuck-up actors who can't remember their lines and don't seem to understand that the lines were written that way for a reason. I know that if you were in one of my plays, you would be very good at it. These other people, I don't know what their problem is. I am a reasonable man, and still there is all this trouble. My mother and I got into a bit of a row over whether it would be funny for me to use a 6-month old nude picture of myself in lieu of a headshot for the program. She wouldn't release the picture. You could see my baby butt and everything. Damn it. Anyway, I hope you like the plays.

These are the surreal miseries. I keep seeing ghosts when I go running by the lake late at night, and the ghosts are frequently feeding pigeons, but I cannot tell if the pigeons themselves are ghosts or if they are real birds that just happen to be there. Can ghosts feed real pigeons, or must the pigeons necessarily be pigeon ghosts? Do the pigeons eat ghost food, thinking that it will be tasty? If the pigeons are ghosts, what kind of intense shit went down involving a pigeon for the pigeon to have left its spirit behind on this earth? God help us all if the pigeon ghosts are seeking some kind of retribution.

Despite being fully registered at three temp agencies (and having contacts at two more), I have only worked for one day out of the last two weeks, and that was as a Photogenic Young Man in the audience at the Judge Mathis syndicated television show. When you looked around at the other audience members, you could kind of see why the producers wanted reasonable young men like myself around for the shots where audience members were visible. Most of the cases sounded like the various arguments that took place during my family's holiday gatherings when I was younger. I kept waiting for the mashed potatoes. Instead, I received minimum wage under the table. The shows with me will begin to air in three weeks or so.

One of the newer temp agencies made me take a Conscience Test along with the standard battery of Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. The answers ran the standard five point range of Strongly Disagree, Disagree, In Between, Agree, and Strongly Agree. The questions featured hot topics of our day such as whether it is okay to steal from work "because everyone does it" and whether it is okay to "slack off a little when the boss isn't around". The test's cagey psychological maneuvering was impressive, to be sure. I wound up coming in as an Amoral Motherfucker. So, if any offices come calling for an amoral motherfucker temp, I've got that market cornered.

I would like to apologize in advance to any amoral motherfuckers who lose their jobs and get replaced with cheap temp labor like me. Wait a minute. No.

Here is a baby picture where I am clothed.

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.