I woke up in a strange place

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

April 30, 2002 I bought a sandwich for lunch. It's nice when you know exactly what kind of mood you are in, and in this case, I was in the mood for a sandwich. It didn't even cost very much. I decided to eat it while walking around, so I unwrapped one end and started eating. After the fourth bite, the bottom half of the sandwich fell through the bottom of the wrapping paper and landed on the sidewalk. I stared in disbelief. A high-powered business couple walked by. The woman said, "Ooh, looks like that sucks." Yes, it did.

It felt like a cross-check from Jesus.

Now I am in a new mood, which is not so easily articulated.

(news) A local company was indicted earlier this month by a federal grand jury on charges of importing wild, underage and pregnant monkeys to the United States. LABS of Virginia, with local offices on Canon Boulevard in Oyster Point, was accused by the Fish and Wildlife Service of illegally importing the monkeys from Indonesia in four shipments through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. LABS of Virginia is run out of the same offices - and owned by many of the same people - as the Bionetics Corp., an established local research company that does work for NASA Langley Research Center.

If monkeys are in the news, I can be trusted to find out and get all worked up about it. As you may have expected, I have submitted my resume to LABS of Virginia for the position of wild monkey smuggler. I will not even have to commute for the job, since it's done through O'Hare, which is just a train ride away. I am excited about the challenge of passing off wild, underage monkeys as rambunctious children and midgets to get them through airport security. My track record speaks for itself. I am operating under the assumption that the company imports wild monkeys and then just lets them go, because its agenda is to turn Chicago into a new Bombay. Why else would they be importing monkeys?

What's really exciting about the article, though, is NASA's tangential - and unexplained - involvement with the monkey smuggling operation, and the fact that new Hubble Space Telescope pictures were released on the same day that the story broke, and if you give me a dollar I will write a nine hundred page book explaining the co-incidence, and Thomas Pynchon's lawyers will threaten a lawsuit and then offer me a deal whereby either I take Pynchon's place, assuming a shadowy mantle which has existed for thousands of years, or I get silenced and sacrificed to the godhead. Come on. One dollar.

There is a stain on my shirt from the fallen sandwich. I am trying to pass it off as "roguish".

April 29, 2002 My work situation has again become dodgy. The rabbi will be gone for two months or more, unable to walk and having various fluids pumped into him, and while he does phone in some writing assignments, I do not have what is considered a 'full' workload. At Beelzetron, I was allowed to go for 50 billable hours at a time without activity, but they must think it's bad for morale for me to be playing like that around here. So, without consulting me, the rabbi told people that I can be rented out, and the only other things that go on around here involve answering phones, typing labels and stuffing envelopes. Sorry. I have listened to way too much Public Enemy to be cool with that.

I was flipping through television channels this weekend during one of my occasional fits of not wanting to have anything to do with my computer, and some station was broadcasting an NFL Europe football game. The players looked helpless and disoriented, like modern man.

(news) A controversial computer reconstruction of a 36,000-year-old Neanderthal skull has revealed that the individual was violently bashed with some sort of tool. But the wound was not fatal and shows signs of healing, say the authors of the study who also suggest that the individual was nursed back to health. But not all anthropologists agree with [Project Leader Dr. Christopher] Zollikofer's interpretation. Tim White, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, vehemently disagrees with Zollikofer's findings. "The paper does not provide convincing evidence that this is a healed head wound," writes White in an e-mail. "Arguments of 'lesion' depth are made based on a drawing, but the conclusions are not even supported by the drawing. The Zollikofer paper is a perfect example of what I describe there—a physical anthropology driven by arm-waving, hi-tech, and headlines, rather than by critical analysis. These guys are creative but not critical," says White, adding that the bone lesion could just as easily have been caused by a bump on the head.

Methinks anthropologist Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, protests too much. Seems he's raising quite the hullabaloo to sell the press on a bump to the head. What, exactly, scares him about this dead neanderthal? Does Tim White have an alibi for where he was during the Châtelperronian period? I'll lay a bet right now that all the razzmatazz is cover for the fact that Tim White is capable of using tools, just like the one that took an innocent neanderthal to his end, and he'd like to keep that a secret.

Ah, I never even managed to get that sinister monkey at the zoo convicted (011209), and I never figured out who the Monkey Man in India was (0105). I am a shitty detective. Tell me you love me.

I was happy that Wilco chose those two buildings for the cover of their latest album, because, growing up in Chicago, those particular buildings represented a certain state of mind for me, and based on the contents of the album, it is nice to know that someone else feels the same.

I stayed home all night on Friday because I felt like I hadn't been spending enough time with my cats. Man, I'll tell you about punk rock.

It rained on Saturday.

April 24, 2002 And now, I will attempt to prove that I am for real. Pegleg is still in the hospital and is a bit woozy, but he's recovered to the point where he can generate work for me to do. He got bored pretty quickly in the hospital. I like to imagine him watching "The Price Is Right" like everyone else does while they're in the hospital, but no, he's probably reading the Torah and yukking it up with other rabbis on the phone. So I have work to do.


It is called "Manute Bol Goes To Heaven". I do not think that anyone understands the vast amount of feeling there is for Manute. People are worried about him. They have heard reports that he is in trouble and he is sad now, and this distresses them. They remember how he was very tall, and how it was comical when the Washington Bullets had him stand alongside Muggsy Bogues, the shortest NBA player. They miss him. I am aware of this because I wrote an article about Manute (010725) a few months ago, and several people are referred to my webpage by search engines every week, trying to find out what the big guy is up to these days. I suspect that everyone thinks that they are the only one who remembers the powerful 7'7" shot-blocking machine known as Manute Bol, and perhaps they feel silly for caring about him as much as they do, because they don't realize that everyone else feels the same. Since I can't really do anything to help Manute out of his current predicament, which is really a bad one, I thought that the next best thing would be to write a story where he goes to heaven, which would make people feel better. Unfortunately, since I have to spend time in an office in order to earn money, I will probably never finish the poem. To all potential sugar mommies of the world, then, this is what I say to you:



Manute Bol was then flown
To the sky, where angels dwell
And even a man such as Manute
Seven feet, seven inches
Able to dunk without much effort
Had never been so high
Above the clouds.


Where am I?


But in the heaven,
As in the earth,
Idle minds form
Their devices.


I am the best player
In this heaven'ly basketball league
My team defeats the others
By controlling the offensive glass.
I cannot permit this man entry
He will block all of my shots.


And so, mere seconds
Before Manute arrived
Treachery sprang
Fully-formed from
The head of a saint.


I will lower these pearly gates
I will set their height so low
That Manute will bump his head
When he tries to enter.
Then, he will be stuck
Hanging around outside.




And so his head
Did bump.


This gate is too small.


There is nothing I can do
Divine providence
Has set it such.


Ah, nuts.


Manute did turn
Dejected, away
A man without a home.
He missed Sudan
He missed the NBA
He even missed the USBL.
And so he walked
Through hill and valley
And the surroundings
Became gray.


Now, where am I?


There is a place
Between the extremes
Of punishment
And reward.
It is a place
Of no joy
Only ennui
For the lost souls
Which reside therein.
It is called purgatory.


We who perished in life
Before becoming baptized
Live in this place
Neither here nor there
According to Catholic doctrine.
Our lot is a frustrating one
We are eleven in number
When we play basketball
We are all too short
To provide interior defense
We are much better suited to
Playing point guard.
We always lose
In the afterlife basketball league
Because none of us can rebound
Or block shots.


But even in such a place
We are never abandoned
By the divine, which resides
In the best of all men


Hi, guys. I'm lost.


But thou art wearing
Basketball shoes




Nay, Manute
Thou art not lost
Thou art found!

Does Manute Bol lead the team of babies to victory over St. Peter's team in the afterlife basketball league, thus redeeming their souls? All I'm saying is, oops, I have to write some goddam memo about rabbis now.

April 23, 2002 And now, I will attempt to win back your love. These departures, they are not my fault. They are the fault of military action in the Middle East. I am not saying that an increased workload for me is worse than, say, people dying, or even people starving or getting sick or having their homes blown up, all of those things are absolutely worse than a lot of work for me to do, but, all the same, I would like it to be taken into consideration by the powers that be in Israel and elsewhere that I did not sign on for this, this was not part of the agreement when I took the job, and if you do not make peace, I will quit, just as soon as I find another job, because I'm not doing that unemployment shit again.

(news) Powell talked for about 45 minutes in the meeting with Arafat and sent a "very clear message,'' said the official, "that the bombing had to stop.'' Powell stressed the point throughout the meeting, the official said. Little progress was made. The Palestinians served their guests chocolate cake, which was brought by the Norwegian ambassador a few days ago and saved so they could serve it with a bit of coffee.

I noticed that bit of news last week buried deep in a page five Sun-Times article. Now, of course, the Powell mission is over and failed. But how can the Palestinians' sincerity be doubted when they put all that effort into making sure that, even though they weren't being allowed out of their headquarters, there would be dessert when the visitors arrived? They even risked pissing off the Norwegians by claiming to be full and not in the mood for cake (or however else they explained not eating any of the cake while the Norwegians were around). The chocolate cake, for me, is the smoking gun of the peace process.

Sometimes, on major issues, I just get determined to have a viewpoint that no one else does.

The rabbi had surgery on his leg last night, leaving me with less work to do and, more importantly, the excuse that I've been waiting for to start calling him 'Pegleg'. I figure he'll love it.

I've been meaning to head over to the Mies In America exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art and start fights with people. Just walk up to someone and say, "Less sure is more, huh?", and if they agree, give them a nice cockpunch.

Here are some more of the books I have been reading:

The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell

Camp-dogg's famous comparative study of myths from a vast array of pre-modern civilizations and their relation to Freud, Jung and the collective unconscious. I can't take Freud seriously, and I think the book is at its weakest when it leans heavily on him to explain the development of ancient religious myths. There's also a labored, fawning explanation of Buddhism that stops the book's momentum cold, and a streak of new-agey All-God yammering. But, for the most part, it's a pretty good book. The prose is fine, and it provides a nifty cross-sectional introduction of ancient myths other than the Greco-Roman hits. In my experience, knowing those sorts of things comes in handy during the strangest times. Campbell's outline of the quest of the hero (and its variations) is also useful. Whether it's an ancient script that exists in the collective unconscious of humanity or not, it does serve as a guide to the bare mechanics of a number of stories that have resonated with readers / listeners for thousands of years, and it's handy to play with or play off while writing something of your own, either for dramatic or comedic effect.

Three to See the King
Magnus Mills

Bearing in mind that I thought his first two books were brilliant - does two equal a bias? - I thought this one was screaming genius. I laughed out loud on the train, a deep sense of tranquility came over me while reading, etc. Magnus Mills is a bus driver in England. His stories feel like the result of a lot of time spent on public transportation at off hours. (That may be too wrapped up in how I feel about a lifetime of public transportation to mean something to anyone else, though.) His narrators are completely reasonable people who accept their world and think in one sentence at a time about it, but wind up surrounded by other people, who are not reasonable, and wind up drawn into strange versions of hell, which is far funnier in practice than it perhaps sounds here.

I wrote an essay on metaphors, and how teachers never tell you that the whole point of using a metaphor is that a reader is not supposed to catch you at it, but it got boring at the end, so I deleted it. The point was that Magnus Mills does great things with metaphors: the Incredibly Obvious Metaphor that's funny because of the air of smug cleverness that hangs around the practice of metaphors, and the Insufficient Materials Metaphor, where you use something ridiculously simple, like a darts game, to suggest something immense, like communism or the Bible. And by the end, you realize that none of the metaphors fit exactly, that this is its own full, odd and unique thing, and you smile, or at least I did.

Jim Jarmusch: Interviews

The films of Jim Jarmusch are great. As this collection demonstrates, he is occasionally interviewed by pretentious bastards, but not always. You may have heard his name and associated it in a vague way with static, boring Important Films By Men Who Have Seen Many European Films And Hollywood Won't Show Them, The Bastards. But don't. His films are crazy, funny, smart. They are about and for wild men. "Down By Law" is amongst the greatest shit ever. The very invocation of Ghost Dog's name speaks volumes. Yes, see the movies. This book is okay.

Sweet Thursday
John Steinbeck

Sequel to Cannery Row, which would go on the same list of Greatest Shit Ever as "Down By Law". This one is a single straight-line narrative, more or less, which puts a restriction on the number of characters that can be involved and the schemes they can hatch, and it doesn't have the Fell Straight From Heaven, Perfectly-Formed air that "Cannery Row" did for me, but it's still pretty great. A few characters are gone, and the rest have aged, and no one is as sure of himself as they used to be. It's incredibly funny, full of brilliantly observed characters and dedicated ultimately to beauty and love and all that good stuff, humanist at its core in that it tells an honest, unsentimental story about how people can live together and care for each other without religion or politics ever coming into it.

I've always been confused about why Steinbeck used those clumsy metaphors in "The Grapes of Wrath", because his other writing really suggests that he'd know better.

Also, I have read a whole lot of Spider-man in preparation for the upcoming film.

April 10, 2002 In case you are wondering what stance I am in, I am in the Unbreakable Monkey stance. I'm not the sort of guy who will tell any yahoo off the street what stance he is in, but I figure you've earned the right to know.

The reason that this entry is so late is that I was trying to write about having had the greatest lunch break of my entire life a couple days ago, and despite my best efforts, I was sounding like a crazy man. I will come back to that story some other time.

Lately, I've been forgetting to take lunch most days. I have a lot of work to do, but I can get it all done during normal business hours. The problem is that I bring a lot of non-work work to work with me, and I get behind on it. "Shit! I have to figure out who was really behind the XYZ Affair by 2!" So on and so forth.

Here is some of the shit that I pull: On my way back to my desk from the store around the corner, with a champion lunch of mixed nuts and RC cola in tow, I pretended to be mute so I didn't have to talk to a woman in the elevator about the weather. The weather is fine, it's just that I am a bit of a shithead. I pointed to my throat and did some cockamamie sign language for her. It was fun. Shithead. A contributing factor to the reason I had RC cola with me is that my favorite soda, Dr. Pepper, has finally crossed the line with their ad campaigns, and, as a man of conscience, I cannot support them any longer, because I want to leave a better world behind for the children, who seem nice.

I thought about cooking mac 'n cheese in the kosher-only microwave, but I'm not in that bad of a mood. Some day, though, I'm going to get all Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God on them, and make sleazy popcorn in there. Today, though, nobody has made trouble for me.

If you promise to publish it, I will seriously rewrite the entirety of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God to feature my threats about the kosher microwave, and the Jonathan Edwards estate will just have to grind their teeth, because that shit is out of copyright.

The rabbi is great pals with a number of Catholic priests. They hang out all the time. I like reading stories on other peoples' webpages about when they take their dogs out to play in the park, and their dogs meet up with other dogs who are their friends. That's kind of how I feel about the rabbi hanging out with the priests. I can't make a bit of sense of what any of them are saying when they get together, but it's nice to see them in their element. The rabbi's friends are all kind of down lately about the current wave of pedophilia charges against the priesthood, and he's been trying to come up with ways to cheer them up lately, such as writing letters to the editor of the local newspapers about how the Chicago priests are good guys, so on and so forth, but he's already done one of those, so he's looking for new ways, and he has these complicated ideas about helping Christian Israeli citizens, but I think it would be much easier and fun to send his friends Inspirational Sport Statues, and if I have the courage, or if I happen to be drunk, I will tell him that.

Many customers have requested these statues depicting children other than Caucasian and playing other sports; we have expressed these requests to manufacturers and importers. When and if other statues are available, CatholicShopper.com will carry them.

Afro Jesus bowling MOTHERFUCKERS!

The possibility of a basketball game involving members of the P.B.A. Hall of Fame was raised in a recent email discussion, and, as I am sure you now know all too well, since I have introduced the idea to you in this paragraph, it boggles the fucking mind. Does Johnny Petraglia have hops? If so, are they mad? My money is on "Yes, but more in a The Madness of King George sort of way than a World B. Free or a Darryl Dawkins one." Not a lot of my money is on it, though. You should never turn your back on a man who has rolled a perfect game, because that is hard to do, and god knows what kind of stances that guy can get into.

April 3, 2002 Here is a thought for the makers of robots: the simulation of consciousness is a fine and interesting goal, but I think that many people would be satisfied to have someone to play catch with.

I did not work today. I will not work tomorrow. I received the lowest power bill of my life today, less than half of last month's total, twenty-two percent lower than last March, when I was gone for a full week at the beginning of the month. I was unduly perplexed. I don't know what was different about my life last month. The power bill will sit around for a couple of weeks until I am tired of seeing it, and then I will pay it.

A pair of overdue book reviews:

A Death In The Family
James Agee

Not the landmark storyline in Batman from 1988 wherein the Joker killed Robin, but, rather, the only novel by James Agee, who was known for his work with photographer Walker Evans on populist Dust Bowl journalism in the 1940s and his film criticism, which served as a model for the genre in that he was devoted to finding overlooked beauty and championing films of value without wallowing in intellectual self-indulgence or easy swipes at so-called Hollywood product that are, themselves, as shallow as that which they claim to critique. (Or, more succinctly, Jonathan Rosenbaum.) But let me get back to Batman for a moment. It's an interesting historical note that, although the Death of Robin storyline had a major impact upon comics for years to come and shattered sales records over the course of four issues, it really sucked. There were three good pages: one single panel with Lady Shiva early on, and two pages with Superman in the last issue. The rest were unbelievably bad, devolving to a point wherein Iran nominates Joker as its envoy to the United Nations just to irk Batman. I mean, holy shit. The novel by James Agee, on the other hand, is good. He belonged to that school of classic American writers in the first half of the last century who had a lot of talent, drank a lot, and died early. I don't agree with the editors of this volume that Agee was "basically done" with the book when he died, but it is more or less complete. It's a meticulous, careful study of the love a family feels for each other and then grief, as felt by characters of three ages. (The small boy, Rufus, especially gets me. He reminds me quite a lot of the boy from Joseph Heller's Something Happened. Man, I'm always reading these books that wreck me. Everyone else on the train reads Harry Potter.) Agee's roots in populist journalism ensure that the book is never sentimental or morbid, and the characters' voices are perfectly heard. And the essential humanism (vs. religion) at the heart of the book goes down nicely with types like me. Undeniably brilliant. Not a barrel of laughs, though.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2
Frank Miller, Lynn Varley

Not the landmark storyline involving Batman in 1986 wherein a brilliant psychological portrait of an aging hero was drawn, but, rather, the sequel to that storyline, 16 years later, and, sadly, significantly less good. There is just nothing compelling about this series, no vision, just a lot of sound and babble and flailing about for effect. By the end, it doesn't even seem as though Frank Miller can lay out a page any more. Was Klaus Janson the real talent behind The Dark Knight Returns? Well, no, probably not. But, man, has Miller ever lost the plot with this one.

I have seen some commercials for the trip to Antactica contest, and I have not yet won it, so I am now changing my strategy, which is to request that everybody signs up for the contest and just plans to have me along. You will like me. I am a real charmer when I have to be.

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.


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.