I woke up in a strange place

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

June 17, 2002 (news) For soccer-mad Mexicans, it was bad enough that their team was eliminated from the World Cup. More heartbreaking was the fact that the blow was delivered by the United States, which many Mexicans see as an arrogant, domineering neighbor. "It hurts us here," said Jose Luis Luviano, 21, punching his chest. Tears melted the Mexican flags painted on his cheeks.

I have had enough of these crocodile tears cried by sporting men who wear grief like an ascot scarf. If Jose Luis Luviano was truly sad, he would overturn a car. Now, those Russians, they cared about their soccer team. Any fool who settled for street parking in Moscow that night knows as much. Jose Luis, on the other hand, doth protest too much. Where is his new TV? What has he set on fire? Why will he not deign to participate in the most profound, authentic expressions of grief - and joy - known to our age? For fuck's sake, man, topple a motorbike and then tell me how much you liked your team. Because, otherwise, I ain't hearing it.

June 12, 2002 I am finding it hard to get anything done. There is claustrophobia in concentric circles around me: cubicle, city, culture. (I did not plan for the overabundance of 'c' words in that sentence.) I spent a long time researching grad schools in Alaska, figuring that I'd get a masters degree in whatever they're good at up there, but my research did not turn up anything that the grad schools in Alaska were good at. And work is like a sick parody of the arts, wherein talent and effort actually is rewarded with insistence for more of the same. In work, I am trying to earn the prize of being left alone. But from work, I get what I'm looking for from art; and in art, I get what I'm looking for from work. So it goes.

HAUNTED ALASKA Anchorage: The Little Karaoke Place.
Chinese weightlifters killed the owner in 1999. The owner's Ghost is seen looking out the window.


After an extensive campaign, my mother persuaded me to send a card for my great-grandmother's 90th birthday. We've never been close or even especially aware of each other, but she was still sending $10 checks as of my 23rd birthday, so, by any reasonable measure, that's worth a card for the big nine-zero. Finding a suitable one wasn't easy, though. How many birthday cards do they make for 90 year olds? There are probably all of two designs, at most, and odds are she's received both a dozen times already. In the end, I bought an age-neutral 'fun' card that had a bee on it and was fuzzy all over. I thought that might be fun to, you know, feel. So, I hope she enjoys the card. I have not yet mailed it, though, because I am stuck for something to write on the inside.

This claustrophobia fucks me up as a writer. I cannot effect any distance from myself, from my immediate thoughts. I think the reason why I've never been able to completely embrace Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy is that his inspiration was so much better than what he created from it. He felt intimidated that his girlfriend had traveled more than he had. From that, he extrapolated the intimidated by sexual experience plot, which just seemed so mundane in comparison. The only people I am ever really intimidated by are people who have traveled more than me. It's amusing, I think. But it's there. And there's this claustrophobia.

There was leftover pizza in the office kitchen this morning, from one of my favorite pizza places in the city, with pesto and other toppings. I had four pieces. Morning glory, afternoon trying to start fights with people.

Early summer crazy, y'all.

June 5, 2002 I am struggling with the early summer crazy, wherein I up and quit my job, claiming that it is the will of nature that I am free, and expect that things will work themselves out as far as money goes. Some readers will recall that I gave in to the early summer crazy in a big way last year, and it did not turn out well. There is no reason to believe that it would turn out any better this year. But the early summer crazy does not listen to reason. A sense of diplomatic immunity sets in, like the bad guys in Lethal Weapon 2. Work gets harder to do. I did not shave this morning, because I am trying to communicate to the world that I am dissatisfied.

Here is some more of the reading list. I meant to include all of the comic books in the first half, but, evidently, I forgot some of them.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up
Brian Michael Bendis, various

Whenever Marvel publishes something with 'Ultimate' in the title, it means that the story takes place early in the superhero's career, making it easier to follow for readers new to the title in question. Hence, although Spider-Man has known Wolverine, the Hulk and Iron Man since back in the day, in this book, he is meeting them for the first time. The problem with comic titles that are solely dedicated to team-ups is that nothing of any significance for either character is allowed to happen in them. The characters' editors want the important stuff to go down in the character's own book, so everyone involved has to be exactly the same at the end as they were in the beginning. Therefore, even the best team-up title stories are like the ones here: good writing, and enjoyable while you're reading them, but fairly hard to remember once you're done. Still, good reading, even if I just can't get with this new Hulk that they're pushing.

Victor Hugo: A Biography
Graham Robb

Victor Hugo liked the ladies. He also liked to write poetry, and he seems to have been more or less okay with himself, too. Hugo got to do all of the things writers want: have a lot of sex, live in comfortable wealth, get exiled in a dispute with a dictator where, later, you get to say "I told you so", become acclaimed as the greatest writer alive before you've even written your masterpiece, return to your homeland, most of which is named after you, and inspire millions of Vietnamese to worship you as a god over a century after your death. (Come on, Vietnam. Love me.) This, then, is a massive biography. In the introduction, the author makes a pretty solid case for its necessity, as well as its primacy among English-language biographies of Hugo. He covers everything without exhausting anything, which is mostly good but occasionally bad (e.g. relatively scant material on Les Miserables, which will replace the Bible in the life of any child of mine). The prose is clean, with the occasional wry sense of humor, and the text plays to the reader's intelligence, using a few references and comparisons that all of ten people worldwide might catch (myself not included). And there's some exemplary material on the sorry state of the English translations of Hugo's work. An interesting book, even simply as a historical overview of France in the 1800s.

The Secret Paris of the 30s

I have a sentimental thing going on with Brassai. (Where does one apply to be a one-name guy? I don't want to be one, but I have to wonder whether you're allowed to up and start referring to yourself by one name, or if there is an approval process.) During my Lost Weekend in London last year ('lost' in the literal sense: I spent more or less the entire weekend lost, because I was on my own, and I am a useless navigator), there was an exhibition of his work at the Hayward Gallery, and though I had to rush through because I'd spent too much time at the Goya exhibit upstairs and the museum was closing, I liked what I saw. Most of his photographs fall into two categories: stolen moments, ones that seem completely unconscious that they are being captured on film, be they couples in an embrace or the never-before photographed view at night from the alcoves of Notre Dame de Paris; and working-men, bemused that they are being photographed, giving blithe grins to the camera. This collection, accompanied by a good running essay by the photographer about his adventures while taking the photos, starts out with those two types. Inevitably, though, somewhere around the midway point, the whores come in, and once he starts on the whores, he never gets off them, so the second half is mostly Parisian whores just hanging around in various settings.

A Walking Tour of the Shambles
Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe

Limited-run book that I picked up at a book-signing that the good Mr. Gaiman did in Evanston. (Mr. Wolfe might have been there, too.) It's a guidebook to "a mythical neighborhood in Chicago that survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871". 'Mythical' means that the neighborhood doesn't exist, in the more precise sense of the verb, although they do a good job of situating it in a part of the city where it may as well exist, because no one's entirely clear what goes on over there. It's a slight volume, clearly written for fun, and best read in short bursts rather than straight through. There are a few bits that get the character of the city right on, and a few that are completely off (a 'Terribly Strange Bed'? I am the only man in Chicago who conjugates 'terrible' that way, and even I don't do it very often), and most just seem like nifty ideas that the authors had stored up and could apply to any, well, mythical neighborhood. Ultimately, it comes off as an entire book's work of background details from a Gaiman (or Wolfe) book.

All Families are Psychotic: A Novel
Douglas Coupland

The odd, terrible title notwithstanding, this is really quite a good book. For whatever reason, beginning with his last book, Miss Wyoming, Coupland went on this 'mature' bender, signalled by odd press releases referring to Miss Wyoming as his "first novel", implying that the previous books were some other, presumably lesser form of literature - a distinction whose necessity was lost on me, and which made me worry about where Coupland's head was at. Included in the move seems to have been the decision to remove his own voice from his work, which means no first-person narratives and a deliberate avoidance of characters who could be taken as author surrogates. I liked Miss Wyoming well enough, but he seems much more at ease with the "mature" imperative in this one, for whatever that's worth. There's a wide range of characters, and many of them get complex, nuanced renderings even as they cause trouble and gripe at each other. (Some do just remain background sketches, and I wouldn't be conscious of that if it weren't for the 'mature' thing.) The plot revolves around a family - not terribly dissimilar from one of the suburban Vancouver bunches of his previous books, but sped up a bit - who get wrapped up, in a sort of innocent manner, with diseases, drugs, black-market cloning and other bits of chaos, while waiting for one of their members, a flipper-baby astronaut, to blast off in Florida. The story stays grounded, never slipping into crassness, and balances genuine emotional resonance with a sense that nearly anything can happen, which makes the book hard to put down. And it's unconfined by genre, with a ballsy bit of magical realism slipping in when you least expect it. Funny, unpretentious, with some beautiful observations along the way - I liked it a lot.

Animal Man
Grant Morrison, Chas Truog

DC published a handful of titles in the latter half of the 80s that became widely acclaimed mature classics, much to their own surprise: Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing, for example, and, improbably, Animal Man, the story of a guy who can absorb the abilities of any animal that happens to be nearby. Like the previously mentioned pair of titles, the first few issues of Animal Man are odd to read in light of where the book wound up (loosely, animal rights and the existence of a benevolent god). The art is fairly plain, and the writing hasn't quite shaken off the general superhero dictum of its origin. Still, these issues hold up very well, and it adds up to a fairly great book. Grant Morrison is, at present, the most overinflated writer in comics, but this comes from an era where the parabola connecting his ambition to his ability made quite a nice shape. Highly recommended.

Long Day's Journey into Night
Eugene O'Neill

Oh, the Irish, and their whiskey, and their mothers.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72
Hunter S. Thompson

Approximately 85% serious, smart-as-fuck political writing, and 15% pure crazy. I really admire Thompson's commitment to the total derangement of the senses. I take a lot of shit for my consistently underanged senses, and, like a postcard from the North to the South Pole, I feel a kinship with the guy. (Which he probably wouldn't share. But he's a doctor of pharmacology, and I'm just some guy, so my options are limited about what I take.) Written in monthly installments as the campaign was developing, the book constitutes a strong case for the significance of the 1972 campaign to the nature of politics today. Nixon lurks in the background as a figure of pure evil, making only occasional (yet utterly perfect and memorable) appearances; the Democratic candidates were all more willing to grant press access, so there's much more material on them - and, if you're interested in the pure mechanics of a grass-roots campaign, how the primaries work, the emotions that go into the superhuman effort of selling someone to an entire country, this is great reading. There is also a running paranoid streak regarding George McGovern's press secretary that belongs on any list of the funniest shit ever. It's odd to think that the pieces were written for Rolling Stone. The candidates were all trying to court "the youth vote". What major publication, considered to be in touch with "the youth", would try to get them interested in politics with intelligent writing? Bygone era.

Batman: Dark Victory
Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale

Fucking phenomenal graphic novel; sequel to The Long Halloween, but not overly reliant on knowledge of its predecessor. There's a pretty good mystery along the way, but the main joy, for me, came from seeing the characters used so well. I mean, they made The Calendar Man cool. That is a remarkable achievement. As an old school Batman fan, I love seeing the Joker and Two-Face interact with each other. Neither character is to be fucked with under any circumstances, but for different reasons, and Loeb knows those reasons. This is the stretch, early in Batman's history, where Robin arrives and where the mobsters of Gotham become extinct, overtaken by the supervillains. I'm a huge fan of Tim Sale's art, and this is the best work he's done - there are several layouts that you have to stop and stare at. He has an immaculate understanding of the unique advantages of the comics medium, and uses it to the fullest. Towering stuff.

The Inhumans
Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee

Quite excellent graphic novel starring Marvel's Inhumans, of whom I only have foggy memories from back in the day. Jenkins, another one of the best writers in comics today, reimagines them as an entire civilization with a lush, suggestively detailed yet accessible back story. I've never liked Jae Lee's art very much, and there are a few parts of this series that I think someone else could have handled better, but it doesn't by any means ruin the story, which revolves around wariness of humans (I can relate) and problems caused by the machinations of Portugese mercenaries and evil geniuses (again, I can relate). The civilization itself is the lead character, with most of the individual Inhumans (other than the lead pair) staying in the background, and it's a great creation, with overtones of ancient Greece and the movie Metropolis. Definitely a unique piece of comics art, and worth reading.

Plays: 2
Dario Fo

Referenced by Dave Eggers in a blurb on the back of The Onion's Dispatches from the Tenth Circle collection as being "maybe" the only superior to the Onion as "the most consistently perfect and excoriating social commentary we have". That is nonsense, and should be decried as such. Dario Fo is not as funny as The Onion. In Can't Pay? Won't Pay!, included here, the social commentary sits outside the action in the form of occasional monologues that bring the play's slapstick to a grinding halt. In his later plays, although agenda and action are better integrated, the agenda still comes first and tangibly determines the form of everything that comes after. Eggers' determination to have the world know that he is down with Fo is not Fo's fault, of course. I suspect that I'd worship him if I'd been born in Italy, and that seeing Fo's travelling company perform these plays is a vital part of the charm. They all seem like they'd be a lot of fun to produce, too. So, nothing against Dario Fo. These plays are pretty good. I just want to see The Onion paid some respect as literature.

There, then, is my updated reading list. Why do I read so much? I have long accepted that people are going to try to kill me, one way or another; I simply want to make absolutely sure that their reasoning has nothing to do with me not reading enough books, just in case, because I have control over that, if nothing else. There does not seem to be much of a link. But I am not absolutely sure, so I must press on.

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.