I woke up in a strange place

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

January 28, 2002

I am very, very sick right now.

January 25, 2002

If anyone has a good manual for how to achieve no-mind on demand, please let me know. I have to work on that. It takes me way too long to achieve no-mind right now, and it has been causing some problems of late.

Ted Washington of the Chicago Bears is in the house for today's entry. Ted is great. Any fool who thinks he can run against a defensive line featuring Ted Washington has another thing coming to him. Ted's team was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend, but he's still a great guy and I wanted everyone to know about him. He has his own website. I have added it to the 'Peeps' section on the right and it will remain there until the end of the month.

Okay. Here is something that bothers me: it's great that humans can now communicate with gorillas with sign language, but no one shows any inclination to take the next step, which is to get the gorillas to act as double-agents and relay what the other animals really think of us.

It's the weekend, almost. I like the weekends. I'm not as bothered about working as I used to be, so the build-up isn't as intense as it was back in the day. The anticipation that I used to feel about those fleeting bursts of freedom now takes the abstract form of longing to live in some other part of the world and looking forward to that, as if it's a certainty, as if I'll get to live my twenties over a couple times, as if a life of some kind would be waiting for me when I arrived, some way to bring the melody and leave the static. I read an article about temperate lakes that are forming on an island near Antarctica, and I know I was supposed to bemoan global warming, but all I could think about was whether I had enough money for a down payment on some lakefront real estate. (I don't.)

I wrote a line about a "No-Mind For Dummies" book above, but I had to bury that one in the ancient tomb with the Dialecticon. Shit. There is a gang of sinister Tonight Show gag writers engaged in a vicious psychic war with me.

January 24, 2002

My attitude has been a little messed up lately. I have a nice job where I write letters, memos and essays for a rabbi. Everyone else in the office is a lay Jewish person (aside from the mailroom and me), so it's pretty rare that another rabbi is around, unless one of the guys from the city board of rabbis on the ninth floor stops by to visit. The thing is - and it's getting increasingly problematic - whenever another rabbi shows up, my eyes glaze over and I forget that I'm at work. I start thinking I'm on Pokemon, and I get curious whether my rabbi knows more about Judaism than the other rabbi does, so I try to get the rabbis to fight with each other. Today, I created a squabble between my rabbi and his friend rabbi over whether the 's' in B'shalakh should be capitalized. I need to stop doing that, but I can't help myself. My eyes go all wide and blinky.

Another problem that I am having: I keep slipping into food comas. I come home, eat dinner and, feeling full, I fall asleep. I miss most of the useful hours of the evening for social interaction. But what am I supposed to do? I have to eat. People yell at me when I forget.

Here is a play for two Ethiopians:

An ETHIOPIAN is idly kicking sand. Another ETHIOPIAN comes by.

ETHIOPIAN: Did you read "I woke up in a strange place" today?
OTHER ETHIOPIAN: Yeah. "Food coma"? Eating food makes him sleepy, and we're supposed to feel sorry for him? Holy shit, I hate that guy.
ETHIOPIAN: I'm not reading that damn page any more. It just makes me angry.
ETHIOPIAN: Hey, if you want to come by later, we're cooking our camel.
OTHER ETHIOPIAN: How are you going to get around?
ETHIOPIAN: Ah, fuck it. I said to Sue, fuck it, we never go anywhere, let's just eat the damn thing, I'm hungry.
OTHER ETHIOPIAN: Solid. Maybe we can slip into a "food coma" after we eat.
ETHIOPIAN: God, fuck that guy.

I don't really have the right to criticize, because it's been a couple years since I've been on a picket line, but it's getting kind of ridiculous how the college socialists at Loyola University, the school down the road from my apartment, only show up at the train station with petitions and protest signs when it's warm out. Sometimes, there's a long cold spell, and they get really backlogged with material for when the weather warms up again. Yesterday, they tried to protest last month's war developments, the death penalty and Enron all at once, and it didn't really work out. The complaints got tangled up in each other. It's the Voltron syndrome of political activism, I think; the strident rhyming slogans, allowed to transfer power from mechanics to pure energy, assemble into one and pin the unified blame on what effectively appears to be a singular, giant evil robot of right-wing politics.

I had a Transformers joke about a Dialecticon in there, but I killed the joke, and I buried it deep underground in an ancient tomb. May God have mercy on the soul of anyone who unearths that joke.

January 23, 2002

There have been some complaints recently that my fighting prowess is scaring white America. I thought that it might be good to use today's entry to talk about some of my faults, calming everyone down a bit. Once I started writing, though, I realized that the list could do with some nice fonts and pictures and samples of dialogue from old science fiction movies, so this webpage isn't really the place for it. Therefore, if white America would like a copy of the list, it should send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, and I will be happy to mail it to them free of charge. Okay. I am very helpful.

Here is the substance of a highly effective anti-drug PSA:

(news) The alpha male in a group of monkeys gets the best banana, doesn't have to fight--and is less likely than subordinate monkeys to use cocaine, scientists have observed. Dr. Michael Nader of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and colleagues found that animals who became dominant after moving from solitary housing to social housing showed changes in brain chesmistry that made them less likely to use drugs.

I am among those who believe that shitty PSAs are the major, hidden culprit in causing drug use among our nation's children. The only person I can speak for is myself, of course, but playing the 'alpha male' card would have totally sold a young, impressionable me on the virtues of a drug-free lifestyle. (I don't use drugs anyway, but that has more to do with the necessities of my fighting prowess than communication received from society on the point.) They could show a weak-ass beta male snorting coke and then getting his ass beat because he couldn't smell the stench of the alpha male's urine on a favored tree, for example. All they have to do is illustrate that something truly valuable, a shot at the alpha male-ship, is at stake. ("Cool" and "your life" are too abstract to have any real sway, but alpha-hood? Shit.) This idea could potentially save millions of lives, and if even half of those lives buy me a milkshake, it will have all been worth it.

Possibly the best part of that study is the fact that the lead researcher's last name was Nader, which allows the reader to imagine the yearly updates at the Nader family reunions. What have you been up to, Ralph? Ran for president, lost, wrote a book. And you, Michael? Got a bunch of monkeys hooked on crack. Well, bravo, kids. Bravo.

I have a problem with some of the graffiti in my neighborhood. On a light pole at the corner of the block that lies between my apartment and the train station, someone wrote - in clear, block letters - WELCOME 2 THE LAND OF THE DOUBLE BONE HARD NIGGAZ. Okay, fine. Good to know where I am. But there is no corresponding boundary marker for the other end of the land. I have looked quite carefully, and I cannot find the opposite border. Look, guys, one marker does not a territory make. I have no idea whether I'm on my way out or on my way into the land of the double bone hard niggaz when I walk past that light pole. For all I know, my apartment could be smack dab in the middle of the land of the double bone hard niggaz, and, as a resident, I think I ought to know that sort of thing. Do we have a national anthem? How do we feel about the cops? I have no idea. I am sick and tired of this lazy map-making. Amerigo Vespucci would never have tolerated such sloppy work. The double bone hard niggaz need to hire a qualified cartographer and set some proper borders. And that's that.

I figure they read my webpage every day, so this is a good way to communicate.

Here is a play for three women:

The WOMEN stand near an author's cubicle, talking as he is trying to work.

WOMAN: I read the sad article about the little boy.
WOMAN: I haven't read it yet.
WOMAN: I left the magazine in California.


January 22, 2002

I would like to talk some more about how well I bowled on Sunday. It was very powerful bowling. I have never been the best bowler in any given set of games, because I have always had friends who were good bowlers, but I am a solid second round draft pick. I am a young team. Although my all-time high (150) was never in any serious danger, I did bowl a healthy 25 pins ahead of my average over three games, and I feel that I am on the verge of taking my game up to the next level. I made some mental adjustments, and now I just have to execute the game plan that the coach (in this case, my old VHS copy of The Big Lebowski) has set out for me. I can't get cocky, though. Bowling must be approached with humility, at least for now, until I move on to the Muhammad Ali phase of my bowling career, which should be fun. I want to thank the Lord for the songs the jukebox played while I was up and for the bowling ball marked AYIYIYI that I found. (In this case, 'the Lord' refers to my friend Mike Saul, bowling legend Johnny Petraglia and my old VHS copy of The Big Lebowski.) In any event, I bowled so well that I am going to buy a pair of bowling shoes. And as soon as my average hits 180, I am going to buy a bowling ball. It will have a picture of a ninja fighting with a giant cobra snake. I will probably be elected President because I will be so fucking cool.

The insane rush of ego at the end of that sentence carried over into off-screen life right after I wrote it. The rabbi came back with the second piece in a row that I'd written that was perfect on the first draft. I started crowing about it. "I'm so pretty! Can't no one touch my drafts! My drafts is gold!" Someone on the other side of my cubicle spit out what they were drinking. The rabbi told me to watch my head or he would come at me with a triple subjunctive clause. He's a great guy. I need to leave post-it notes around the cubicle to remind myself that I like this job, though. I tend to forget and instinctively begin waging war whenever I'm told to do any work.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America
Barbara Ehrenreich

We're not supposed to care about economic inequity in America any more, what with the whole war against terrorism and all, so it was rather un-American of me when I read this book instead of a nice bin Laden bio or a trenchant essay on the American Taliban and how movies and rap music have made our children into spiritual mercenaries. So it goes. This is an utterly nifty book comprised of three immersion field studies by Mrs Ehrenreich, a renowned sociologist (her work rocked the photocopy packet charts at my university). She moved to three different communities and, without making any use of her academic experience, tried to get jobs (Wal-Mart, waitressing, et al) and survive on the wages they paid. The Amazon.com reader reviews make a hilarious companion to the book (which is, itself, quite funny - I've always wondered why most sociology students are totally humorless when most sociology writers have good senses of humor), polarized and exhiliratingly predictable knee-jerk reactions from both ends of the political spectrum. The book is too smart to be a simple political screed down either line, though its conclusions at the end are, of course, discomforting. I thoroughly enjoyed it and, having experience along the same lines as she did, found it to ring completely true. I worked low-wage jobs of these types off-campus during college, and I was inevitably the only worker out of hundreds who had any college experience. I felt exactly the same way she did about the various tiny abuses, how they add up to affect your mental state, and I loved the waning security she felt in the fact that she had another life away from all of this. Most of all, I loved how useless her academic training was, because damn, was mine ever useless (which never went unmentioned by any other workers who knew about it). That part of my life feels as strange and dislocated as the rest of my life did while I was there. So, aside from being intellectually necessary and a good story, Nickel and Dimed meant something to me emotionally, and cheers for it.

Due to the unfortunate legal controversy of last week, I can no longer safely list a large portion of my post-college work history on my resume. It's all still true, at least as much as anything on a resume is ever true, but said employer would probably have less than positive things to say about me now if they were contacted. ("He'll write witheringly sarcastic things about you on his webpage. Don't hire him!") I was worried, then, about the gap in my work history, since I already have the six months of unemployment from last year (with only "Played a cop in a serial killer documentary" to explain what the hell I was doing all that time). After some consideration, I have simply decided to keep listing the old job but replace the name, like so:

Towers Productions (2001)

Professional actor in documentaries produced for the A&E Cable Networks.

Wu-Tang Clan (formerly known as Wu-Tang Killah Bees) (2000 - 01)
Marketing and Communications during the design and launch of a multi-million dollar global rebranding campaign, with duties including business/media research (on the web, in print and by phone), research library maintenance, designing internal communications (to offices nationwide), payroll and budget issues and other projects (such as travel and teleconferencing).

I can speak convincingly about having done all of those things, so that'll get me through the interview, and I have to imagine that the Wu-Tang HR department does not respond quickly to reference checks, so the employer will give up and just hire me based on whatever other contacts I provide. Jim Jarmusch said that when he was working with the RZA on the soundtrack of "Ghost Dog", he had to wait on dark street corners in strange neighborhoods at 2AM until an unmarked van came by to pick him up, with a hooded RZA waiting in the back. And, seriously, I have known a few Human Resources people, and I have yet to meet one that would be up for that.

"Always with the ninjas," my friend JC said, shaking his head.

January 21, 2002

I will now tell you an asinine story about reunion between a man and an object. The first thing you need to understand is that ice cream was on sale. It tends to be on sale more often during the winter, because fools ain't buying it like they do during the warm months. It was purchased. Okay. Then he falls asleep. He ate two or three bites and then he dozed off in front of a film, inviting couch, lengthy work week. He eats ice cream with a fork. Why? He is, in many of the small ways, if few of the large ones, a ninja. Where was it written that ninjas eat ice cream with forks? Shut up. It makes sense, if you think about it. Anyway, the fork is gone. The ice cream melted, because it's nine hours later, and he's still passed out on the couch. He awakes. Goes to work, late. Okay. Bucket of cream was returned to the fridge to regain its 'ice' aspect. When he comes home, he turns his attention to other foodstuffs. And the next day, and the next. Many other days. The dishes are done, even, and all the other forks washed - and re-dirtied by other foodstuffs. Finally, he returns to the ice cream. The 'ice' aspect has come to the forefront. It is flavored, soft ice. Not as good. Over four sittings, it is eaten. On the third sitting, the tip of the long-lost fork appears. Holy shit. He remembers that fork. It would be great to put that fork back in circulation. Tired of being obliged to use spoons. Yes. Then, on Sunday: I have an appetite. Open the freezer, pull out the carton. Take off the lid. I can see the fork. I am so close. Heart of a champion. One more bite. YES. Hello fork, my old friend. I've come to eat with you again.

He never came right out and said it, but I always had the impression that it was in the fine print of the dream of Martin Luther King Jr that I not have to work on his birthday, especially after having bowled as well as I did the night before said birthday. Oh, society. So far behind.

Something Happened
Joseph Heller

The narrator of Something Happened almost doubtlessly worked on Martin Luther King Jr Day. I have often wondered what jobs in my strata were like before T1 connections at every desk, and this book answered my questions. (Sex, a bit, but otherwise, the familiar fear and loathing.) I think it's fair to say that a great book should have some manner of palpable effect on the reader, usually emotional or intellectual, but this bastard belongs to a rare few whose most immediate effect is physical. It beats the crap out of you. Every page is compelling, but it takes a ton of endurance to make it through, because the effect is so brutal - I kept on because I was amazed that a book could have so powerful an effect, even if the effect was far from uplifting, and also because of the private, solitary, raw thrill that, however painful the experience, there was no bullshit whatever. I mean, this book is defined by having no bullshit at all. And it's valuable because it has the capacity to surprise even the least sentimental readers (I'd count myself) with how much bullshit there is in the world, and what it does to our lives. I learned more than I thought possible about being a parent; I learned how terrified I should be about ever becoming one. I learned new ways to be sad. (My little boy is having difficulties is probably the most harrowing stretch of pages I have ever read.) The book is so well-written that it's hard to imagine it having been created in anything other than a single session, straight through, 500 pages, at the typewriter, arriving perfectly formed. (But, of course, it wasn't.) Oprah Winfrey said that Jonathan Franzen "must not have a single thought left in his head after writing The Corrections." I thought that was kind of a neat compliment. I'd say the same about this book, but it took Heller (author of Catch-22) thirteen years to write it, and that's a lot of time to store up thoughts. So there you go. Before I read it, Something Happened was defined in my mind by my friend Kurt arriving at a restaurant to meet me and another friend, clutching a tattered copy. And that still sums it up for me. It's a brutal book, but it's also the kind of book that you clutch, even as it falls into tatters.

January 12, 2002

I have had to make certain modifications to the archives for legal reasons. I've been trying to figure out if that is the first thing I have done "for legal reasons", and, if so, if that represents a milestone of sorts. I am not sure. Buy me a milkshake just in case.

Anyway, I am hopeful that I will be able to continue operating this webpage. There remains a chance that I will have to shut it down, though, in which case you should look for the sequel webpage, Yo! Hold Up, Darnell! opening soon thereafter.

January 10, 2002

After serious consideration, I have settled upon a resolution for this year. My plan is to win the Comeback Motherfucker of the Year Award. All but seven votes will go to me, which will be a record for margin of victory. I will accept the award, and I will place it in the arms of the gorilla I received for Christmas. The doubters will say, "Damn." I will sip a milkshake.

Until then, though, I am legally required to be sad. And so it goes. I'm working, so I won't have to try so hard. I have a job. I write long essays and letters for a rabbi. He's a great guy. He gives me notes, and I try to make them into something. Frequently, I construct entire paragraphs that I find completely incomprehensible. The job, while interesting, is having a serious effect on how I react to language. I can form sparkling passages of prose without knowing what any of it means. I think that's how James Joyce happened. So I have to watch out for that.

In the morning, I find it hard to wake up until I know I am supposed to have left. I spend a lot of time listening to "The Lindbergh Suite" from The Royal Tenenbaums. I have been doing well as far as eating potatoes goes. I don't think Cornel West should get fucked, like the old guys behind me on the train did. I dress better than I used to. My hair cooperates. I don't have any money, but I will. I am not sure if I enjoy any of the goals I have set out for myself. Writing is still the only thing that lets me relax, and I am still terrified every time I think about doing it, because I am scared that I will discover I'm not any good at it any more. I drink mostly water. I still don't get enough sleep at night, and I stay up late wishing I did. I still like the rattling noises that my radiators make. I have found new and vivid reasons to find every member of my family disturbing. I want to go somewhere, but I can't. I wish I was still in college, not because being a student was easier, but because I think now I'd actually enjoy the classes I took. I still don't enjoy talking about myself very much. I am still in exile. They still haven't fixed my apartment's buzzer. I don't have much going on these days.

The rabbi thinks I am very smart and likes me very much, but he gives me a lot of shit for not having any religion. I hum "Welcome to the Terrordome" whenever he gets on my nerves.

So, we in Chicago are robbed of snow. If I wanted a mild winter, I'd live in fucking Florida. I do not want a mild winter. I want snow all over everything, several feet of it, so deep I can't see anything except streetlights and my front door. I want to fall into snowdrifts at night.

RabbiCo offered me health insurance along with my paychecks, which was nice. That kicks in at the start of March. God damn. I am an intellectual mercenary.

Arden, who would be expected to respond if I were to call out, "Where my dawgs at?", sent along the valuable information that Dave Thomas was a Freemason. The good news is that his Freemasonry makes it somewhat more likely that his intentions regarding the preservation of the Frosty - if, in fact, he did have any intentions - will be respected, because the Freemasons get their way. The bad news is that his Freemasonry also makes it somewhat more likely that his head will, in fact, be grafted to a giant lizard body. And, for some reason, I feel certain that a giant lizard Dave Thomas would come with a biological imperative to wreck all my stuff.

Next time I do not have enough money for a Frosty, I am going to go into a Wendy's, hold out my hands, palms open, and ask, "Will nobody help the widow's son?" If he was a Freemason, that should get me a free Frosty.

Dispatches From the Tenth Circle
The Onion

A worthy successor to the monumental Our Dumb Century. Although this one is another hits collection, it follows Our Dumb Century in using crafty design to fill every available bit of space with content, and excellent content it is. For me, having a new Onion collection at hand doubles the length of any given trip to the bathroom, but that's okay. I am that much better a person for the time spent.

Incidentally, it is a dream of mine for Our Dumb Century to assume its rightful place as a school textbook by the time I have children.

January 9, 2002

My only concern regarding the recent death of Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy's chain of fast food restaurants, is that perhaps he was the only defender of their Frosty milkshakes, which are the only decent milkshakes available at any of the major fast food chains in the United States; perhaps evil, sullen forces are preparing to exercise synergy and change the formula, now that his traditionalist ways are out of the way. I doubt it, because he seemed like a bit of a dickhead, but, nevertheless, I fear.

It occurs to me now that, as far as his death goes, I should also be afraid that someone will graft his head to a giant lizard body and send it after me. Okay. I am nervous about that.

One homeless man called me 'Phillip' today, and another one called me 'Billy'. What? On separate occasions, three different senile priests have called me 'John'.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1
Frank Miller, Lynn Varley

Pretty good. One has to temper their expectations with the fact that the original The Dark Knight Returns is, inevitably, overrated. It's great, but it has to bear the weight (along with Watchmen) of being endlessly referenced as evidence that Comic Books Are Serious Literature Now. The reason it blew me away as a kid was that it was very clear that a rogue force had seized control of these icons, known only from Underoos and movies, and he was using them for something new and dangerous. That was exciting. The fact that it could be done had implications about the power of being a writer that I recognized even then. He made Batman kick the crap out of Superman. God damn! Now, 16 years later, the sequel arrives. Whereas the original intimated a history but ultimately stood alone, this feels like the first issue of an ongoing series. Like most comic books (but unlike the original), it uses continuity with its predecessor as a shortcut for necessary character bits. It's also less subtle than the original, which is to say that it has no subtlety at all. Few comic books are, but the basic element of subtlety was one of the things that impressed everyone about the original so much. The original was taut storytelling with masterful pacing, and this is all immediate gratification; you get the amazing climax of the last issue of the original all over again in a few pages at the end of this first issue, except reversed in a manner that keeps making me think of Rocky II. Mostly, the characters just don't seem especially iconic. In the original, Superman represented issues of compromise, civic duty, things that you could recognize from newspapers and moral debates anywhere; that's why he did what he did. In this, his actions along those lines are explained away by the fact that he is under the control of a super-villain. Something like that brings up a nagging feeling that maybe the author didn't understand or doesn't remember what the whole point of the original was.

Still, it's pretty good for what it is, and it has potential to get better. Miller is working with more characters here, and, like Alan Moore, he is one of the few writers in comics who has the ability to say something about the characters as icons, not as the lead character in this particular incarnation in this continuity in the 132nd issue of the second series, so on and so forth. The art is pretty good, showing some (though perhaps not as many as I'd like) of the marvelous solid blocks and light-and-dark contrast of his Sin City panels. If nothing else, it promises to be a pretty good comic book series, and if that's all it is after a couple issues, then that's all I'll be expecting.

January 1, 2002

Q: "Ode to a Metal Band Sticker, Seen on a Highway Tollbooth Change Dish" is one of your most poignant works.
A: Well, they used a really intense font on the sticker, and I felt I had to match that intensity.
Q: The artistic process...
A: There were skulls, too.
Q: The happenstance, the world's minutae, do they play a vital part in your artistic process?
A: Hey, I was just amazed that someone decided to call their band "Fuckbucket".

-- from Marc Heiden: The Berlin Interviews, pg 274.

William Shakespeare

Fucking brilliant, and absolutely one of his best. Why isn't this one better known? It seems to have had a spotty performance history, I suppose. There's no clear sympathetic figure, but it's not as though Shakespeare's tragedies usually have a crowd favorite, and the lead character in this is charismatic as hell. It is the Rome of Julius Caesar, but it is the infected world of Macbeth. Coriolanus himself is a masterful creation, just a shade below Macbeth in the ranks of characters driven sick and desperate by their own pride and ambition. The supporting cast is one of Shakespeare's tightest - (almost) no extraneous clowns and such - and one of his best, especially the adversary, who seems to have every bit the complexity and life of the lead, and Coriolanus's mother, about whom companion volumes to the Hamlet ones could be written. The plot is simple, clean and jaw-dropping until the very end. I could direct a production of this play that would make hundreds of thousands of dollars and garner national attention if someone would give me the money and resources. I mean, just in case you had said money and resources and were wondering what to do with them.

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.