By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
December 31, 2001
Reading this month:
My Movie Business
A post-script to The Cider House Rules, for my purposes, though he writes about a few of his other books in translation to film as well. I just like John Irving a lot. I don't think I write like he does, and I don't even like the same authors (Dickens, et al) that he does. Most writers who labor over detail try my patience, but Irving's worlds are so perfectly constructed that I never think to question why this or that has to be present. Among great writers, I think, there are some who seem to have received their one or two (rarely more) masterpieces fully-formed straight from either God or outer space (Kesey), and there are others who give you the impression that you are reading them talking to you (Vonnegut), and some - like Irving - who just seem to know everything that's worth knowing about the craft of writing, and they get on with it. They rely not on divine inspiration but on working really hard and being determined to get it done well - and, in that sense, the act of writing seems like something very nice they are doing for you as much as the creation of, you know, art. The best thing about his books, for me, is feeling assured at the beginning that the story will not to go off the rails, get lazy, wander off in whimsy or take the easy way out. Characters will be true to themselves throughout; the rules will be followed and, when the necessary time comes, neatly broken.
Anyway, this book itself is fairly minor - it's double-spaced, for one thing, and a real John Irving book is never double-spaced. He writes about his sources for The Cider House Rules and, in a gentle version of William Goldman's style, his experiences with the film adaptations of his books. Interesting if you're a fan, but not a stand-alone sort of book.
The Cider House Rules
I have read three John Irving books other than this one, and since I read each of them on a vacation, I held off reading "The Cider House Rules" until another vacation came along. It seemed like the sort of pattern that ought to be respected. ("The Imaginary Girlfriend", his very brief memoir, was the third; I read it on the first day that I tried to work after college, when the temp agency sent me to an office two hours away from where I was living at the time. I gave up an hour into the trip, late and depressed about the prospect of work, and I decided instead to install myself in a cafe, call the agency a few times and claim that I was lost until they lost interest. They seemed to feel bad for getting me lost, and there were no hard feelings.) I have grown weary of dodging plot details from the movie, though, and I figure that the holiday spirit and new employment pays suitable respect to the pattern.
The Compleat Chaucer: Now Revised For Additional Ye-Olde-ness
Still not quite ye-olde enough for my scholarly tastes. Has no one a real commitment to ye-oldness any more? Fuckers.
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
I tore right through almost everything Douglas Adams wrote in rapid sequence during my early teens. This one, for some reason, escaped my attention. I am tearing through it now, loving every moment. There's really no higher endorsement I can give it than to say it's Douglas Adams on top form:
In fact, a very similar phrase was invented to account for the sudden transition of wood, metal, plastic and concrete into an explosive condition, which was "nonlinear catastrophic structural exasperation", or to put it another way - as a junior cabinet member did on television the following night in a phrase which was to haunt him for the rest of his career - the check-in desk had just got "fundamentally fed up with being where it was."
A virtuoso performance by the writer as anything else - the book is a breathless rant by the narrator, spanning the entire 270 pages. Ah, late twentieth-century Jews who have fallen away from religion and are mired in complex sexual neuroses and their mothers. Will they never learn? It's a pretty good book, but I felt uncomfortable reading it on the train. I suspect that everyone is reading over my shoulder, especially beautiful women, who think I am reading porn and are crossing me off their list. Wait! Let me explain the context! Ah, nuts.
The Haymarket Tragedy
(See 010606 about the Haymarket affair itself.) I've read a few short histories of the incident, but this is the thousand pound gorilla on the topic. Teen years reading (and re-reading) Kurt Vonnegut set me up with a permanent interest in fiercely populist labor history 1880-1930, and the Twain I read previously put me in the mood to read about that era. This is a great book, cleanly written and impeccably researched. Anarchism, far from the tepid rebellion-for-dummies of today, was really interesting in its prime as a philosophy and movement.
Although this is a 160 pg book masquerading as a 360 pg one, it's still a nifty collection. The essays are drawn from several decades of Twain's life, but all of them share the idea of critically examining the Bible (if Adam and Eve had no concept of good and evil prior to eating the apple, how could they be punished for doing wrong, since they had no idea what wrong was?) and (particularly excellent) commonly-held notions about life in Heaven. All of essays tear the roof off the joint, as it were. Nice. The length is padded to absurd extremes by the imbecilic editors with fragments and other scraps that, while promising, don't really work out of their never-written context; and the editors include gobs and gobs of lunk-headed notes, some rather intrusive, including introductions to every piece that blithely give away many the major jokes. Avoid the intros, but if you've ever wanted to read some Twain other than the standards, this is good stuff.
December 29, 2001
If I could send myself a message through time, exactly one year in the past, here is what I would say: "This would be a good year for that trip to Antarctica that you're always talking about." What a brutal year. I did seven things right. Seven! All year! Everything else, I screwed up. Seriously. I'm not going to list all seven things I did right, although I will say that one was setting a new high score in bowling and another was remembering to bring an umbrella with me when I left for class one day back in August. Also, I got to a bus stop once right as the bus was arriving. Those are 4-6 on the list.
Anyway, is there any clearer evidence that we are living in the future than those Listerine PocketPak breath strips? God damn.
The stage is designed in the image of the modern workplace. A CHARACTER sits at a computer terminal, moping. His CO-WORKER enters.
CO-WORKER: Why are you moping?
The CO-WORKER exits.
CHARACTER: I hate that guy.
December 21, 2001
The kindness of strangers, again: I received a letter from my old credit card company, Chase Manhattan, who are not a very good credit card company but did provide the last burst of capital I needed to finish my college education. After working for a few months, I paid off the credit card and cancelled it with an immature but utterly satisfying burst of expletives over the phone. The account had been dead and gone for ten months, so I was surprised to hear from them. Inside the envelope was a check for 86 cents and a terse explanation that it was the disbursement for a settlement awarded in a lawsuit entitled "Mayamura vs. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, N.A." Evidently, Mayamura fucked Chase's shit up and scored 86 cents for me. So, in the only way I can, I would like to show my thanks by dedicating this update to Mayamura. I can buy most of a bottle of soda with this check, and you're damn skippy I will do just that.
In depositing the check unblemished, did I miss a golden opportunity to scrawl HA HA TAKE IT YOU FUCKERS in the 'Memo' section, or was my restraint tasteful?
In holy shit news, long-time readers of this webpage may remember the undertaking of an epic project a few months ago: THE CALENDAR OF ROCK. The idea behind the CALENDAR was to give classic rock stations viable themes for every month and major holiday, for as everyone knows, ZEPtember comes but once a year. A number of people helped us out with submissions and some of the more tricky entries (I am overdue in publishing a complete version), but I don't think any of us expected to be able to take down the great white whale of the calendar year: February. Seriously. What a linguistic cluster-fuck of a word. How could you possibly work classic rock into February? Ladies and gentlemen, courtesy of my friend Crawfie Ward, I give you:
FebruMARY CHAPIN CARPENTER!
Can you imagine an entire month of playlists based on Mary Chapin Carpenter? Holy shit. I don't work in an office where I have to listen to classic rock on my co-workers' desk radios, thank Mayamura.
December 18, 2001
I want to clarify my position on the firing of pandas into outer space, as I worry that it may have been misinterpreted. Please allow me to explain:
I. I do not want to see all pandas fired into outer space, just one, and perhaps a second, to keep the first one company. I would like to keep a majority of pandas here on earth;
I hope that clarifies my position.
December 15, 2001
I wanted a cookie, and there were only five minutes left until the store with no minimum charge closed, so I left my apartment and I ran, free, unbound, perfect in form and effortless in speed, alive in the cold air and the moonlight. Golden boy! Everyone I passed looked at me as though I wasn't wearing any pants.
From the outer space editorial desk: will China - which recently sent a monkey, dog, rabbit and snail into space - be sending up a panda any time soon? I think I am speaking for more than myself when I say that I'd like to see a panda sent into outer space.
Here are some more stories about homeless guys:
1. I am leaving the Rock 'n Roll McDonalds in downtown Chicago. I bought some sunflower seeds across the street for lunch, and I needed somewhere to sit and read while them. For some reason, I never work in buildings that have cafeterias. As I leave, trying to figure out where my office is from there, a homeless man asks me if I am an honest man. In all honesty, I am not an honest man. I tell nothing but lies, but they are sweet lies. Still, I think that he is looking for a specific answer here, so I shrug and say that I am. He bets me a dollar that by looking at my coat and my shoes, he can tell me how many children my father had. I have never met my father, so I am curious, but I have no way of confirming whether he's right, and the homeless guy isn't about to start giving it up for free. Anyway, I don't have a dollar.
2. I am one block away from work. A homeless man offers to shine my shoes. He explains that he doesn't have his shoe-shine kit with him right now, but he's pretty sure he could do a good job anyway. I am wearing my basketball shoes, which I bought because they were cheap, have no visible logo and were the only ones available in size 14, so they aren't really the type of shoes that you shine. I tell the homeless guy that. He assures me that he can do wonders, and he makes me guess how old his shoes are. When they turn out to be much older than my guess, they are held up as evidence of his shoe-shining prowess. I try to express my sincere belief in his abilities, but, as usual, I don't have a dollar. The homeless man says that it's okay and maybe we'll have dinner some time. I say, sure, why not.
3. I am approaching the turnstile at the train station, ready to pay my fare with a fully-charged transit card. A homeless man asks if I will give him three dollars. He is more ambitious than other homeless people, and for that I respect him. Still, I do not have three dollars. He offers me a mixtape in exchange, and assures me that it's really good. I shrug. He offers to give what he refers to as his favorite quarter if I will pay his fare to board the train. I am willing. I have not yet spent the quarter.
December 9, 2001
I read the news every day, searching far and wide for stories that are overlooked or underserved by the mainstream media and require the attention of a news outlet such as this one. I read a lot of stories, good and bad. Most are filed away for reference, and a select few are used on this web page. Every once in a while, though, a story comes along that chills me to the bone. It is my responsibility as a reporter to face these grim incidents with objectivity and clarity. This, unfortunately, is one of those times. Material contained in update may not be suitable for younger readers. Parents, please be advised. (1)
MURDER IN THE MONKEY HOUSE: A SPECIAL REPORT.
Monday, December 3 was a day like any other in the primate house at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. Gorillas trumbled, orangutans lolled, bonobos wanked -- and chimps swung, leaped, played their part in the grand pageant of life. There were six chimpanzees in that primate house: two males, M'Chawi and Keo, and four females, Donna, June, Vicky and Kibali. Most of them were older apes, save M'Chawi and Kibali, who were both in the prime of their lives. M'Chawi was the resident alpha male. He lived above the rim, as it were. On that morning, like so many others, any lucky visitors in the early morning would have been delighted by the sight of the magnificent M'Chawi on the upper monkey bars.
None of those visitors could know, though, the secrets that lay within that primate house. M'Chawi's was not a democratic alpha male-ship. From the moment he arrived, he wanted to be the alpha male, and he got his wish...but at what cost? What enemies did he make along the way? Not the females, to be sure. They enjoyed his hot monkey (attention). But questions lingered...
On December 5, 2001, readers of the Chicago Sun-Times received sad news in their morning paper. I was one of those readers. It was not my morning paper; it was someone else's morning paper, and it probably passed through many hands before arriving in mine. It was my afternoon paper. Giving nary a fuck about the other stories, I headed straight for the monkey news. And what I found there shocked me.
(news) M'Chawi, a middle-aged male chimpanzee born at Lincoln Park Zoo in 1978, has died. The chimp collapsed about 11:15 a.m. Monday, during a routine morning with the exhibit's four females and the other male. "It certainly was a shock,'' said Lincoln Park Zoo primate curator Kristen Lukas.
My first reaction to the news was self-centered. That monkey could have been me, I thought. He was born in 1978. So was I. Twenty-three years old? So young...
I read a little further...and suddenly, it all came back to me.
M'Chawi had fathered several offspring, but none is now at Lincoln Park.
The remaining male chimp at Lincoln Park, named Keo, is 44.
Flash back to November 5, 2001:
It's a simple numbers game. Before M'Chawi could take over at the top, someone had to move down and make room. Keo was that someone.
It isn't easy to let go of alpha status. Clearly, Keo liked the limelight. Before M'Chawi arrived, he was alpha with a capital 'A'. Maybe it went to his head a little bit. A little too much hooting, a little too much shoulder-rolling. Being dethroned had to sting. But how much?
On July 19, a Thursday, they shut down the ape house, separated Keo and M'Chawi from the females and placed the two males together.
"We expected the worst," Lukas said, "and at first there was a little chasing and nipping, but by early afternoon, Keo was grooming M'Chawi's face with his lips."
The two seemed content and peaceful together until the following Sunday, when, during feeding time, M'Chawi attacked Keo, biting him in the butt and on a forearm with his razor-sharp canine teeth.
"There are a lot of blood vessels in the rump area, so there was a lot of blood," Barbiers said, "but the injuries weren't serious."
Now the other five chimps show their obeisance to M'Chawi daily. The four females literally bow and scrape before him, seeking his approval before they eat or seek a favor from him.
M'Chawi wasn't satisfied with being the alpha male of the chimp section. He wanted it all. He wanted to take his act on the road, and then he wanted to make his triumphant return in 2005, free of competition, and take a shot at the gorillas. M'Chawi wanted to be the number one monkey. All the pieces were in place...
But he forgot about something.
Fuck's sake! Who are they talking about there? A monkey...or Iago? Yeah, Keo did some thinking, all right. He did a lot of thinking.
Now, flash forward to the present:
But I'll tell you what I will do. I will visit the Lincoln Park Zoo this winter. You can come with me, if you want. I will head to the primate house, and I will go to where the chimpanzees are. I will find Keo strutting his stuff, and I will lock eyes with him through the glass. I want him to know that I know what he did. One guy didn't fall for it. No winning streak lasts forever, Keo. And everybody pays up some time.
December 5, 2001
Some people have been wondering why I haven't written about China's recently announced plans to land a man, presumably a China man, on the moon in 2005. To these people, I say: I don't know. I must have been doing something else.
God damn, that is the craftiest shit I have heard in a long time. A monkey, dog, rabbit and snails all in the same spaceship? Just imagine the questions that will be answered when the results of that mission become public. Did the monkey pet the dog? Did the rabbit and the snails band together against the monkey? What the fuck happened up there, Sun Laiyan? Why won't you talk about Shenzhou II? Holy shit. As an expert on monkeys, outer space and wily schemes - the world's foremost authority on that particular cross-indexing, some say - if I had to hazard a guess, I would guess that the snails were implanted with miniaturized brains from the Khans, Genghis and Kublai and some of the other Khans that real fans are into, and it was the monkey's job to stow the snails away on the moon, where they will lie in wait for people to arrive. (They can hide from radiation in their shells until they become accustomed to it.) Before they left, the barbarian snails probably beat the crap out of the rabbit and took it with them to the moon, where they impaled it on the American flag at Tranquility Base with a poorly-translated message about the fighter plane collision from earlier this year as an ominous gesture. Meanwhile, the dog chased its own tail. Everyone sends dogs into space. The Chinese didn't want to be rude.
That's just a guess, of course. But, let's be honest, I'm right.
Scientist Liang does not lack for confidence. And that's good. You need confidence in the 21st century. I can only assume that the Chinese character for "tearing open (scientist Liang's) shirt and beating (scientist Liang's) chest" proved too difficult to translate, so they left it out, idiomatic meanings being what they are.
I have many friends who are scientists, and I heartily recommend that they refer to their work as prophecies. I have to imagine it's a morale booster. Try it. I'm warning you, though, my prophecy will come true.
Here is something useful: Jenny, a correspondent in Westmont, sent a link to an MP3 of David Sedaris reading his essay "You Can't Kill The Rooster", which is definitely the essay I would most like to hear him read. Nice. How useful is the world wide web? Fucking useful, I'd say.
Also, if anyone needs an MP3 of the Super Bowl Shuffle, let me know. I will take care of that.
Adds McKinney, blithely: "It's good for the children to be reminded what the basic building blocks of French farce are."
December 4, 2001
I will stop throwing my socks at the TV during Buy To Support America commercials just as soon as I see a few fucking Hire To Support America ones.
It wasn't easy, but I managed to squeeze a fourth day out of last week's job. They even went so far as to cut my paycheck on Thursday, assuming that I'd be done that day. The project was large enough that I'd have to have been working pretty continuously since I arrived to have finished it in three days, and obviously I hadn't been, so I wasn't being entirely shifty, just mostly; I couldn't tell whether there was any resentment or annoyance at my continued presence, but lack of sleep and an early-morning binge on the free soda gave my paranoia what it needed to turn the whole experience into yet another Vietnam. In any event, I was paid for it, so that was nice. And now I'm unemployed again.
Here is an observation: there are plenty of California-based venture capital firms in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Menlo Park, but after four days of research, I did not find a single one in Compton. Perhaps a major part of why they say pimping ain't easy is the simple fact that pimps do not have access to the startup cash they need to establish a solid economic foundation for their bidness.
If you happen to know any pimps, please ask them about that for me.
Having free time and a high-speed web connection at work, I put together an Amazon.com wish list. I've never really pimped my webpage like this before, but I've seen other webpages do it, and anyway I've only ever ordered an Orson Welles book and a Monkees DVD from Amazon and I was getting kind of tired of the bizarre recommendations their system was giving me. So, if you would like to send me prizes, you can just go there, and pick which one you think I should have, and click! It's never been easier. Fuckin' e-commerce. Stay off my lawn.
I have been meaning to pass this page along since it was sent to me a couple weeks ago by Arden, a correspondent in Urbana: an index of voice actors from The Transformers. I've found that sort of thing worthy of study ever since the earth-shattering day in high school when I discovered that Grandpa Huxtable from The Cosby Show did like half the voices on Thundercats. And once I realized the degree to which Casey Kasem had managed to infiltrate my pre-adolescent consciousness through his unholy pact with Hanna Barbera, I knew that vigilance must be kept.
So, George Harrison died. I'm not even going to try to articulate what the Beatles mean to me, because, come on, it's just a webpage. But I'm still fairly miserable about it. George wrote "Something", which is what I've always thought love wound sound like if I ever fell in love, and I heard a drunk man doing a sentimental karaoke version on Saturday night, which didn't bother me at all; George also wrote the All Things Must Pass album, which is fucking magnificent, and that was played during intermissions at the ImprovOlympic, which was a nice touch. It's odd, the things that make you feel your age: not birthdays, not graduations or jobs or owning things, but unscheduled events over which you have no control, like hearing about an old friend's wedding through the grapevine, or the passing of a Beatle. In a small sense, every Beatle fan is now a relic from a bygone era when there were three of them. I feel older, and I miss knowing that George Harrison was out there. But, as I understood it, the message was always to mourn briefly and live deeply...
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.