I woke up in a strange place

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

December 30, 2002 I am back at work, with my mind on monkeys and monkeys on my mind. I think I have figured out what I will be doing for at least part of New Year's Eve. Once there, I will have four hours to scheme a way to dodge the night watchmen and hang out in the monkey house for the rest of the night. Do you think I can do it? Perhaps you have not seen the list of martial arts I know. It has a table of contents, that's how long it is. And an index. With a handsome slipcase. All right.

Human Resources sent down a yearly evaluation form for my job performance this year. The rabbi told me to fill it out myself. I will do so. It will focus primarily on martial arts and cake.

Over the break, E. Amon alerted me to Super Gem Fighter, a video game from 1998 that involves many of the old Street Fighter 2 characters. The difference here, though, is in the special moves: Zangief, the giant Russian man, can execute a combo attack wherein he takes the other fighter out to lunch, reads a newspaper and then causes a scene at the restaurant, thereby doing damage. I am looking for screenshots of this powerful manuever in order to study it and incorporate it into my fighting repertoire.

December 26, 2002 This is the season of giving. The rabbi sent me a generously-apportioned gift card to Barnes and Noble as a holiday 'thank-you' present. (Which was quite nice, but hilarious for reasons that, for legal reasons, cannot be disclosed in writing.) I had been thinking about getting him a Martin Luther bobblehead doll as a Hanukkah present, because I thought he might enjoy that. ("Did you really think the Jews would all convert to Christianity once you implemented your reforms?" Tap the bobblehead. Luther nods. "Oh, Luther.") But Hanukkah passed, and I was on a manic streak at the time wherein I felt that the joy of basking in my fucking presence was gift enough, so I spent the money on sandwiches instead.

I had a splendid run-around in the snow on Christmas Eve. For some reason, no one else thought to go down to the lakefront after midnight during the blizzard, so I was alone in the newly-fallen snow. I had my Lomo with me and attempted to document the strange sights, but I discovered later that the aperture was set wrong, so I am not sure if any of the pictures will come out. (Lomo is tricky. I am still getting used to its ways, having previously owned only disposable cameras.) The emotional high point of the trip was walking past the empty lot where a guy in a trailer sets up to sell Christmas trees every year. Evidently assuming that there were no more sales to be made at this late point in the season, he took off, leaving seven or eight forlorn trees behind. A cartoon reindeer head overlooked them from a lightpole. The physical high point of the trip was when I stepped out on the beach and was teleported by unknown motherfuckers to the goddam moon all of a sudden. Shit! There are those who will suspect that I was hallucinating from being out in the sub-zero cold for an hour, but I have pictures, if Lomo is true.

December 24, 2002 If you are reading my web page this late on Christmas Eve, then you are my favorite person in the world. It's snowing outside and I will run around in it shortly. I tried to dream of a white Christmas and failed, dreaming instead of a sinister Little League baseball team in which every player had fangs. But there's a white Christmas anyway! Send your ninjas. I will best them in a snowball fight. Just see if I don't!

December 23, 2002 A small measure of my faith in America was restored when Trent Lott's "Black people, I love you" plan didn't save his job as Senate Majority Leader. A mere two weeks after the eruption of controversy over his series of pro-segregation remarks, Lott was removed from his post, and a replacement was quickly named:

(news) Senate Republicans unanimously elected Bill Frist on Monday to lead them in the next Congress, and began trying to shift their focus from Trent Lott's inflammatory remarks to tax cuts and the rest of President Bush agenda.

It wasn't long, though, before bad craziness returned to politics:

(news) Bill Frist still keeps a white doctor's coat in his car and has always been willing to dispense medical advice — whether during the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill or on overseas trips he makes to provide medical care to the poor. Republicans are now banking on the heart surgeon-turned-politician having the right prescription to erase the memories of the race controversy that toppled Trent Lott as Senate GOP leader and to restore the party to a course of broadening its appeal. "Frist is really your friendly neighborhood doctor. That's a big difference for the Republican Party," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said of the man Republicans picked Monday to become Senate majority leader next month.

The fact that Frist is a heart surgeon is being marketed by his party so heavily in the stead of actual convictions that we are forced to regard being a heart surgeon as his basic conviction, which casts a disturbing light on soundbites like these:

A few moments ago, my colleagues gave me a responsibility equal to that, and in some ways, many would say, even a heavier responsibility," he said. "I accepted that responsibility with a profound sense of humility very similar to placing that heart into a dying woman or a child or a man."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's understands his job in terms of ripping hearts out of living people! He tells sweet stories about where he puts the hearts, but let's face it, those hearts had to come from somewhere. 'Tis better to give than receive, or to place organs rather than harvest, he would say, but that is an amateur diversionary tactic. What about the hearts Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist keeps? What does he do with those ones? Keep them in jars? Eat them? Feed them to some dark god in his basement? It is absolutely imperative that an independent commission be formed immediately to demand accounting for the usage of each and every heart that came into Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's possession. Furthermore, mark well the convenient silence from the original owners of the hearts, none of whom were quoted in that or any other article about the vote. Each and every one of those people must be located, offered protection and asked to give sworn testimony that Senate Majority Leader Frist had permission to take their hearts. Men and women of courage must come forth now. In these troubled times, we can hardly stand to have a wanton devourer of living hearts in control of the Senate. How much longer before open, public baby-eating on Capitol Hill? How much longer?

I should write some reflections on the Christmas season. But you should arrange for sandwiches to be delivered to me by capuchin monkeys, so we'll call it even.

December 20, 2002 In my delirium, thoughts take the form of hydras. Hissing, monstrous heads lunge, feint, strike; blood rushes from my torn chest and pools into a response. Last night's fevered sleep found me wrestling with an all-Muppet version of Nelly's "Hot In Herre". How will the time-honored tradition of rewriting the racy subtleties out of hit songs for kids react to the removal of subtlety from pop culture, when sex goes from being the subtext to the text itself? It wasn't long before Grover rang forth with:

It's getting hot in here
So wear a pair of shorts

And then, I was lost.

I didn't go to work today. The rabbi is off for Israel for keg stands and blowing out subwoofers with the Talmud or whatever it is rabbis do when they're back in rabbinic party central. For my part, I rolled out of bed around noon, mumbled "ouch, my fucking head", and carried on with my day. Later this afternoon, I will pick up my new bowling ball. It was a present from my uncle Jim, a fine guy who bowls a lot and was ready for a change in his arsenal, so he gave me his gray ball. I took it in to have the holes fit for my fingers, and the guy at the pro shop asked if I wanted my initials written on it, so I said, sure, my initials are m-o-n-k-e-y, and he wrote that down on the order form. I am looking forward to bowling with it. I know it is seen as showing responsibility when you own your own house. Does the same apply to owning your own bowling ball? I am hopeful.

(news) Customs officials opened his suitcase and a bird of paradise flew out but that was nothing compared to what they found in his pants -- a pair of pygmy monkeys. Californian Robert Cusack has been sentenced to 57 days in jail for trying to smuggle the monkeys, a total of four exotic birds and 50 rare orchids into Los Angeles Airport after a trip to Thailand, officials said on Thursday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns said Cusack had been undergoing a routine inspection when he arrived last June until an official opened his suitcase. "It became non-routine when they opened his luggage and a bird of paradise took off flying in the terminal," Johns said. The agents found three more birds in his bag, tucked into nylon stockings, along with 50 orchids of a threatened species. Asked by agents if he had anything else to tell them, Cusack responded: "Yes, I've got monkeys in my pants."

For the record, the totally spurious rumor that Robert Cusack is the crazy brother of John and Joan Cusck starts right here. In any event, Robert deserves credit for going for broke with that last declaration. Sure, we all say that from time to time, but how many times do we mean it? And either pygmy monkeys are the best-behaved monkeys in the world, or this guy has truly hypnotic pants. If the U.S. Customs Agency has any decency, they will let the monkeys walk off into the sunset with the pants where they were so happy. It's warm in California. Robert can wear shorts.

Fuck! Grover's back!

December 19, 2002 I live in ridiculous times. In their wake, I try to enjoy the fact that my personal disasters are usually odd, sometimes memorably so, and rarely mundane. As they happen, though, and in the long days thereafter, I become sulky as fuck. My current disaster is that I slipped on the back stairs behind my apartment while taking out the garbage and clocked myself upside the head, leaving a bloody gash upon said head. It hurt. The head has been repaired in more or less satisfactory condition, but now I have to wear a hat whenever I am in public because there is a large bandage, and a patch of hair is gone for the stitches' sake. The hat is fine when I am outdoors, because it's much the same hat that I would be wearing anyway, but indoors, it is strange. There is no time to explain to strangers that I got clocked upside the head, so they think that I am simply some twit in a hat, and I am so much more than that. At work, of course, it's fine, because they all wear yarmulkas, and if anyone had bothered to ask, which they didn't, thanks to the precedent set by my patented imperious glare, I would have informed them that I am a humanist, and it is very important for humanists around the holiday season to wear longshoreman's caps, as some kind of solidarity populist thing, so don't fuck with my beliefs. By and large, though, I don't much want to talk about it, because I am sulky as fuck.

I think the audience of this webpage is divided evenly between those who like me and those who want me dead. I am fine! I tell you that, I am fine. Half can relax, half can clench their fists.

My stepfather, a retired literature professor, made fun of me for reading Timon of Athens. That was prior to the clocking of my head. I don't know why people have to cause trouble.

(news) Also calling for Lott to step aside yesterday was religious broadcaster Jerry Falwell. While taping the TV show "America's Black Forum," Falwell said Lott's Dec. 5 statements "were indefensible. . . . By staying on, he's compromising the president's agenda."

Likely to go unnoticed in all of the hubbub surrounding Trent Lott is this tremendously important issue: What is Jerry Falwell doing hosting a show called "America's Black Forum"? Should Jerry Falwell be acting as a spokesman for black people in America? Does having an 'in' with Jesus mean you get to up and declare yourself black? These are questions.

December 18, 2002 This morning's train was gentle. Even the raindrops outside were soft, warm. Inside the office, life went to shit, as it occasionally does.

I tried to take a day off on Monday. I had still been planning to go in to work when I awoke, but then I couldn't find my wallet, and though I had some ideas as to where it might be, it wasn't in any of the usual places, so that was too much for my delicate constitution and I called in sick. I had settled in with my cat on the couch to watch a documentary about Darryl Strawberry, and I was just starting to figure out what was up with that guy when the rabbi called. He begged and pleaded and wheezed and begged some more until, finally, I agreed to come in. Ostensibly, I was quite sick, and therefore I was rather annoyed at this brazen disrespect for my ostensible health. He is going on a string of vacations over the next month and a half, and over the weekend, he came up with a bunch of projects that he found splendidly exciting, so he wanted to get two months' worth of work done in four days this week. And the days have been just packed. I want nothing to do with it. My quiet revenge was to spend my few free moments on Monday and Tuesday updating my resume and undergoing the gut-wrenching process of writing a cover letter for a new job. Cover letters are brutal. I cannot write them. Write one I did, though, and when it emerged from the blood and fury of circumstance, it was terrifyingly brilliant and utterly mercenary. I used my lunch hour to walk it over to the library, which is where I was applying.

Today, there was a fuck-ton of cookies in the kitchen. As usual, I was the first to arrive on the scene. It was some kind of a thank-you for hard work. I thought about how hard people had been working, and I decided that they really hadn't been working very hard at all; really, only four people, tops, could be said to have worked hard, in my opinion. So I subtracted four from a fuck-ton and stashed the remainder of the cookies at my desk. I have eaten too many of them.

And now...midnight.

Timon of Motherfucking Athens, Acts Four and Five:

We open..."without the walls of Athens". That's right. Timon of Motherfucking Athens is outside of motherfucking Athens. This violent, disorienting shift provides for the reader a visceral parallel to the wrenching dislocation and betrayal experienced by Timon. If Timon of Motherfucking Athens can stop being of Athens, then what other of our most basic assumptions are counterfeit? The accursed usurers have even robbed the man of his residency. They have robbed the title of its truth. Timon, never without a strategy, comes up with the brilliant idea of taking his revenge by spending entire scenes sitting around and hurling invective at the city walls. Sun Tzu never taught his generals how to deal with such a unique plan of attack, so it's fortunate for the generals of Athens that it really isn't something they have to deal with. Timon reels off some memorable curses:

Lust and liberty
Creep in the minds and marrows of our youth,
That 'gainst the stream of virtue they may strive,
And drown themselves in riot!

Meanwhile, though, the senators of Athens, colossal boobs if ever there were, have managed to offend the charismatic Alcibades, a man with military connections and a faint acquaintance with Timon. Alcibades begins to assemble a popular revolt against the greed of the senators. Word beings to spread about the mistreatment of Timon, who capitalizes on his newfound momentum by eating dirt and continuing to curse the city. This, then, is where the play gets quite good. Apemantus, renowned for showing up at random and harassing people, comes by to visit and gets out-harassed by Timon, who then makes explicit his desire for everyone everywhere to get fucked when a pair of whores arrive with Alcibades. He offers them vast sums of gold if they will agree to give everyone in Athens venereal disease. They consider it. Alcibades tries to get a word in edgewise and mostly fails. He is on his way to sack the city and wants Timon to come along as a figurehead, but when Alcibades admits that the violent murder of everyone in the world is not part of his platform, Timon loses interest. The Poet and the Painter from Act One come by looking to make sport of Timon and pick up any gold he may have. Shakespeare uses them to grind various axes about art, writing and critics. The specific axes are lost to history, but you can tell Shakespeare is getting some pretty good digs in there.

The senators of Athens, now on the verge of being overthrown, send the First and Second Senators out to coax Timon back into the city. (You can tell they are serious because they sent the First and Second Senators, not losers like the Seventh or Twelfth Senators.) Athens, they claim, isn't the same without Timon of. Also, Alcibades is about to beat their asses, and they are hoping that Timon will be their figurehead and help them sway popular opinion on major issues like greed, nobility and being from Athens. In a typically cunning manuever, Timon viciously gets their hopes up and then lets them down, using their presence as a forum to announce his upcoming workshop on hanging oneself from a tree. As instructed, the senators leave. There is a brief scene of the senate taking the news of Timon's refusal poorly, and another brief scene of a soldier discovering the grave of the presumably deceased Timon. In the final scene, Alcibades threatens Athens with utter destruction unless everyone agrees to be nice to each other, and, faced with perhaps the shittiest ultimatum ever issued, the senators cave. Timon is missed by all.

Questions to Consider for Acts Four and Five:

1. How much did it fuck you up to have Timon not being of Athens all of a sudden? Because it fucked me up, that's for sure.
2. Timon's plan of sitting around and talking shit about Athens actually worked. What does that say about the senators?
3. Why does Alcibades bring whores with him on diplomatic visits? Do you think this suggests he will be a better or worse leader than the senators?
4. Do you think the Seventh or the Twelfth Senators would have fared any better with Timon?
5. What kind of careers could Apemantus consider now that his harassment days are done? What kind of industries have a need for his skills? Do you think he would have to systematize the randomness of his harassment in order to meet the changing demands of a competitive e-business marketplace?
6. If comic books have taught us anything, it's that nobody is dead unless you see the body, and even then it's somewhere between 40-50% that the death will stick. With that in mind, which character in this play would you most like to have on your bowling team? Why?

I hope you enjoyed this epic series on William Shakespeare's Timon of Motherfucking Athens. Let it serve as your guide for the play itself; or, better, let it serve as your guide for one of his other thirty-seven plays. Find yourself some Cymbeline, some Coriolanus, some King John. To know is to love. (Actually, Shakespeare wrote thirty-eight other plays if you're feeling Cardenio. But where's that guy from, anyway?)

December 13, 2002 (news) Throughout the 90's, as other teams prepared to move into new stadiums or threatened to leave their city if they didn't get one, the Eagles could not get out of their lease at the Vet and struggled to get financing for a new place. And the Vet fell into disrepair. On Dec. 5, 1998, at the Army-Navy game, 10 West Point cadets plunged 15 feet to the Vet turf after a railing gave way. One cadet, Kevin Galligan of Alabama, broke his neck and sprained his wrist. His dream of fighting for his country as an Army Ranger was ended that day. He's now an investment banker.

Jesus! What strange, hideous power has dominion over this place that swallows up idealistic young cadets and turns them into investment bankers? Demolish it! Scorch the earth on which it stood!

Today, we will tackle Acts Two and Three of Shakespeare's Timon of Motherfucking Athens. If you have not finished your study questions from yesterday, please do so now, because you will be completely lost when we proceed, and this is no time to have egg on your face.

It will surprise no one that, as Act Two opens, we are still in Athens. This is a different part of Athens, though: a place where senators roam, a senatorial preserve. Americans in the audience will no doubt clench their fists, but the ancient Greeks did not rip off the idea of senators from the United States. They came up with it themselves. It turns out that Timon owes the Senator money. In fact, it turns out that Timon owes a lot of people a lot of money. Timon has a problem. When he has money, he uses it to buy presents or host dinners for his friends. He assumes that the debt will never come calling, because to him, there exists a continuum of kindness between friends, not cold record-keeping. Timon also doesn't realize how broke he is, because the Steward, his financial manager, is the quiet, sensitive type. As numerous Servants clamor for their masters' bills to be paid, Apemantus enters and hassles everyone some more. For no clear reason, he is accompanied by a Fool who, like most Shakespearean Fools, needs to shut the fuck up.

Now, given how nice Timon is to everyone, you'd think they could be patient about the debts, or even spot a brother a small loan, right? We're all friends here, right? We're all tight? Well, here comes a ten-ton surprise, because it turns out that their gratitude was all talk. Each generates a lame excuse, even Sempronius, who claims to have known Timon from back in the day. From back in the day! This, truly, is cold. The irony of the fact that these usurers have accepted gifts and valuable cash prizes from Timon and are still holding him liable for debts is not lost on the various Servants; this is rather akin to Bob Barker rigging The Price is Right so his chum can rock the Showcase Showdown and then receiving a cleaning bill for the old-person smell that Bob left in his chum's car. Timon descends into insanity with remarkable speed and efficiency, and announces his plans to hold a 'revenge' dinner for his former friends, an idea which will give anyone who has read Titus Andronicus chills. At the dinner, though, Timon just serves warm water and yells at everybody, and they leave. Great plan, Timon.

Questions to Consider for Acts Two and Three:

1. What the shit, guys?
2. If senators have, historically, been assholes, why do we have them?
3. What, exactly, was Timon looking to accomplish with his dinner plan?
4. How does Shakespeare seem to feel, in general, about usurers?
5. Should you buy things for yourself, or for other people? Illustrate your answer with examples from your own broke-ass checkbook.
6. Having been cynical about human nature from the beginning, does Apemantus now have the right to tear open his shirt, pound his chest and yell "Who's the dog now?" If so, should the Fool reply "You're the man now, dog", or should it be Timon? Discuss.

Extra Credit: Write an imaginary dialogue between Timon of Athens and the Notorious B.I.G. What might they have to talk about? Would Timon agree that mo' money does, indeed, equal mo' problems? What issues, such as "where you're from", are important to both men? If Timon is construed as West Coast, which other crazy old guy from Shakespeare's plays would be most likely to have Timon killed in a drive-by shooting?

Next: The apocalyptic conclusion of Timon of Motherfucking Athens.

December 12, 2002 I have decided to institute an exciting new serial on this webpage wherein I take readers scene-by-scene through Shakespeare's gripping and largely unknown play Timon of Athens, which hip literary scholars know as Timon of Motherfucking Athens. It is the story of Timon, who hails from Athens, and if that premise doesn't get you going, you need to check your head. It's all right there. One of Shakespeare's major problems, of course, is his poor titles; when encountering Hamlet, for example, readers have a pretty good idea who the play is about, but they have no idea where the fuck he is from. He could be from Zanzibar, for all they know. This problem is endemic in Shakespeare's canon, tarnishing otherwise fine works like Macbeth and Julius Caesar. (The best you can say for King Lear is that at least you know what the guy does for a living.) In Timon of Motherfucking Athens, though, we encounter the playwright at the height of his powers, at least as far as titles go. The man is Timon; he is of Athens. We can proceed.

In his introduction, the editor of the fine Arden edition suggests that Timon of Motherfucking Athens may be an unfinished play. Indeed, there is no record of its performance history during Shakespeare's lifetime. The structure is, at points, unsettled, and an unusually large number of the characters go un-named, with anonymous Lords and Servants throughout; also, several plot threads and potentially unifying images are left incomplete, without the typical surety of Shakespeare's touch. Nevertheless, the text and themes are unmistakably Shakespearean. It was included in the First Folio, and its source appears to be North's Plutarch, known to hip literary scholars as Pliznutarch, from which many of his other plays (like Julius Caesar) were drawn.

A note about the text, before we begin: Timon of Motherfucking Athens is the only play in the entirety of Shakespeare's canon to feature the cry, "Hold up, you sluts", and it is therefore tremendously important.

Today, we will tackle Act One. The play opens in Athens, where Timon lives. A poet, a painter, and some other characters stand around and discuss what a splendid guy Timon is. They all agree: Timon is the best. Timon enters. His pal, Ventidius, has been imprisoned. Timon does not stand for that shit; Timon bails him right out. No sooner is Ventidius sprung, though, than controversy erupts over whether Lucillius, one of Timon's servants, should be allowed to marry a posh chick he met on duty. Her father says no, but Timon, noting that the two are in love, cuts right through the class conflict by offering to supply a fat wedding purse. The dad caves. Timon, clearly, is a splendid guy. People try to thank him, but he brushes them off. He is not in it for the gratitude. Apemantus, the mouthy philosopher, shows up and harasses everybody. Timon invites him to dinner. In fact, he invites everyone to dinner. What a guy! The various lords and soldiers arrive to discover that not only is there a ton of food at this dinner...but there are women! Hot, single women! No Shakespearean sausage-fest here. A grand time is had by all, except the mouthy Apemantus, who speaks cynically of human nature and the long-term effects of gratitude.

Questions to Consider for Act One:

1. Where is Timon's house? (Hint: Think Greece.)
2. Does anyone like Timon? If so, who?
3. What the fuck is Apemantus's problem?
4. Are those who are loudest in their thanks necessarily the most thankful?
5. Given that everyone likes him so much, things are probably going to work out well for Timon, right?
6. Why is it fun when there are chicks at a party, as opposed to just a bunch of Lords and Soldiers? Discuss.

Tomorrow: Act Two of Timon of Motherfucking Athens.

December 11, 2002 There is sad news: Mary Hansen, member of the band Stereolab, died in a car accident. I have always thought well of Stereolab, and many of their lengthy compositions allowed me to slip out of the studio for a bathroom break as a late-night DJ without feeling guilty about cheating the listeners of their due musical enjoyment. Also, I never had to screen them for obscenities, and I appreciated that.

Sometimes, the only way to pay proper tribute to an artist, to truly express the life that has passed, is to quote his or her own work. In memoriam, then, Mary Hansen of Stereolab:

Bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Taaaaa Tooooo
Bong bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Bong bing bing bong
Taaaaa Tooooo
Bing bing bing bing
Bing bing bing bing
Bong bong bong bong
Bong bong bong bong
Bong oop

Rest in peace.

My cat is still sick. He isn't throwing up any more, and he has been staying away from the Christmas tree. He just lacks energy. I think he will be fine, but he is spending a lot of time moping in the closet. It may be a teen thing.

Life rockets forward, though. The competitive oral hygiene scene in Florence, South Carolina has a new big dog to wrassle. Check out the brand new website for Heiden Dental. The charismatic, piercing gaze of Dr. Marc Heiden and the languid, insinuating leer of Dr. Larry Heiden surge from the computer screen, threatening "Quality and Excellence in Service and Care" and not giving a damn who hears them do it. The implications of the qualifying quotation marks around the word "Always" in "New Patients Are 'Always' Welcome" will keep you tossing and turning all night long. With the launch of this provocative, fiercely individual website - who else has the brass balls to offer Consultations at No Charge for the whole world, including the Chinese, to see? - Heiden Dental puts the "come hither" back in oral hygiene.

Heiden Steel is still my favorite namesake company, because it is fun to read their website and pretend they are talking about me ("Modular in design and flexible in function, the Axel Laser is a state-of-the-art laser that will allow Heiden to produce faster and more efficiently...") but they have not responded to any of my entreaties for merchandise, so fuck them until further notice.

German is a funny language.

December 10, 2002 Last night, I was unnecessarily terse with a hobo who wanted to know what I was reading. Even at the time, I knew I was making a mistake. How often do you get a chance to chat with a hobo about the Jazz Age? But I wasn't much talkative, and rather absorbed in the narrative, so I brushed him off and he disembarked at the very next stop. This morning, there was some bad craziness between two hoboes on opposite sides of the train car, one of whom was babbling like a demon and the other of whom was chanting at him like a shaman.

December 9, 2002 I find myself surrounded, in this ever-mysterious season of winter, by powerful totems. My autographed 8X10 photo of Manute Bol arrived in the mail, and I have a nice frame waiting at home for it. While searching through auction sites for a suitable bowling bag for the next bowling season, I found this, which caused me to lose consciousness; when I awoke, I found that I'd done the best two hours worth of work since I arrived, and the rabbi was mighty pleased. I remain woozy. I bought a Christmas tree this weekend, and my apartment smells of pine needles. I thought my cats might find the tree interesting. Unfortunately, the younger of the two found it interesting in an eating sort of way, and he is now quite sick. He'll be fine, though, and he is being polite about where he throws up.

In a free moment, I decided to check up on the Chinese Space Program. I have been keeping an eye on those guys for a while, but every time I look away, there are new developments:

(news) Space authorities in China point to a Shenzhou 4 flying before year's end, perhaps indicative of a launch planned for sometime this month, said Phillip Clark, head of the Molniya Space Consultancy in the United Kingdom. "With just about everything tested for the manned program, I would think that Shenzhou 4 will be pretty-much a duplicate of what is planned for the first manned mission. That is, test everything out…but the men," Clark told SPACE.com. In March, Zhang Qingwei, president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), was quoted by state-run media outlets as saying that new, more powerful launchers will boost a 20-ton permanently manned space station into orbit. "By Western and even former-Soviet standards, the Chinese manned space program is progressing at a painfully slow rate," Clark notes. "But then again, historically, the Chinese have always taken their time with programs and have taken little notice of the expectations of those observers outside China!"

Phillip Clark can talk all the space-trash he likes, but the Chinese themselves appear, by and large, to be content remaining enigmatic about their plans. They have been quite busy reserving intense domain names, and, judging by the design of the sites, some intense shit has been going down, but it has been going down in Chinese, which I do not understand, so I had to be content with raising one eyebrow at the laser-beacon CASC logo, a white-hot version of which Phillip Clark can probably expect to suddenly materialize above his bed in the near future in response to his mockery.

December 6, 2002 Today was the holiday luncheon at work, an event notable mostly for marking the terrifying, undeniable truth that I have spent an entire year of my life in this place. The volumes of sound and fury aside, I actually only spent nine months at Beelzetron; I have been working for this maniacal rabbi for more than a year now.

Everyone else has been frantically busy all week working on fundraising events, but my workload has been light, as most of the rabbi's current schemes won't kick in until January, and there hasn't been much to write, because I don't think he's especially interested in Hanukkah, compared to the other Jewish holidays. Too mainstream, perhaps. (Comparatively, I produced several novels' worth of yammering on about Yom Kippur.) He also isn't much for office functions, so he left before the lunch. I wasn't interested in the social aspects of the party, but I do regard it as something of a moral imperative to abuse the hospitality of my employers, so I attended and overate and was charmingly abusive to passersby. Then I put my phone on 'do not disturb', slipped off my shoes and took a nap in the rabbi's nice, dark office.

(news) Arms teams are welcome, Hussein says, but the Iraqi leader insists inspectors will find nothing. Hussein's measured comments and stab at statesmanship ... seemed designed in part to blunt U.S. criticism and counter Hussein's image in the West as a brutal dictator defying international opinion.

The ongoing argument about the reception of the weapons inspectors in Iraq is clearly a public-relations battle that is being waged for the American people's benefit. Not to lend a hand to an evil megalomaniac, but if Saddam wants to convince the majority of the American people that he has been welcoming the weapons inspectors, he needs to move the focus of the debate away from questions of access and weapons and towards issues such as: Did he provide chips for the weapons inspectors to snack on? Was there salsa for the weapons inspectors to dip those chips in? Was Iraq's dog playful, mixing up all of the weapons inspectors' shoes? Conversely, the Bush administration can deal a deathblow to Saddam's hopes for public opinion by disclosing that Saddam will not allow casual day for the weapons inspectors, and so forth.

December 5, 2002 You might think that Manute Bol has a hard time finding clothes, standing 7'7" as he does. But here is a picture of him wearing a pretty sweet tux. Duck, you sucker.

Q: What will you do with two thousand dollars?
A: I will use it to cover the expenses for my latest project.
Q: What is your latest project?
A: It is a series of recordings intended to discredit Led Zeppelin.
Q: How will it work?
A: I will bring hoboes in off the street and give them a jug of rum. Then, once they've warmed up, I will record them rambling over instrumental tracks from "Physical Graffiti". It will serve as a vast improvement.
Q: But the truth revealed therein is not specific to Led Zeppelin. Everyone likes it when hoboes ramble, especially when they do not have to smell the hoboes in question.
A: I have no immediate answer to that.

December 4, 2002 The recent fall of snow has brought about a welcome detente in the fierce battle between the local College Socialists and the erstwhile residents of THE LAND OF THE DOUBLE BONE HARD NIGGAZ, a half-block territory that lies between my apartment and the train station. The dispute began over display rights on a choice lightpole inside THE LAND and has escalated into full-scale passive aggression. The College Socialists, who seem to have identified the side entrance of the Morse el station in Chicago as the key to worldwide economic overhaul, hold frequent demonstrations and newspaper sales there whenever weather conditions are more or less favorable. Then, when the evening rush dies down, they plaster the area with flyers for their upcoming meetings about Israel, George W. Bush and whatever else happens to be on their minds. Lately, the possibilty of war with Iraq has ratcheted their energy to new levels, leading them to widen the geographic reach of their flyers. That, unfortunately, is where the conflict comes in. As long-time readers know, THE LAND OF THE DOUBLE BONE HARD NIGGAZ is a half-block territory where apartment windows are always open for yelling back and forth, hoods of cars are outdoor couches, and at the corner laundromat, chillin' and the occasional threat come in first whereas laundry ain't even top ten. People know they are in the LAND because they see the lightpole that proudly bears its name. The lightpole serves as a valuable community meeting-place, where residents can share information on how tough they are and who has done them wrong. Needless to say, its loyalists did not take kindly to the first College Socialists flyer that appeared there, denouncing Bush as a war criminal. Someone wrote 'FUCK Y' on it, and someone else tore off the middle, untaped half of the flyer. Amateur observers might wonder if the DOUBLE BONE HARD NIGGAZ lean rightwards in their political ideology, but I knew the answer had more to do with the fact that the flyer obscured the bejeweled crown that someone had drawn on the lightpole. The College Socialists are a plucky bunch, though, and they kept up with the flyers. Retaliation spread beyond the half-block LAND, and soon, someone was making a point of tearing through every flyer in a two-block radius. It was swift and decisive. As soon as a flyer went up, it was torn through. The Socialists offered what could be perceived as an olive branch with flyers for a seminar entitled "Why Are There More Black Men In Prison Than In College", but that did nothing to ease the anger they unleashed. The College Socialists are not much for inclement weather, so they have not been around since the first snowfall last week. We who are caught in the middle can only hope that calmer heads prevail when spring arrives.

(email) I feel obligated to notify you of a recent Manute Bol reference on the visionary interior decorating program "While You Were Out" (The Learning Channel, 5pm EST, M-F). Upon the alteration of a divan, the host remarks, "Why is it so long? It looks like Manute Bol's cot!" Although I found it a little insulting that she would assume Manute sleeps on a cot - true he has been through a few rough years, but with the Celebrety Boxing appearance and all I would hope that he could afford a specially and finely tailored bed - I was nonetheless excited by the reference and glad to see that he is getting some much-deserved exposure.

People I know have mostly grown accustomed to my endless musings about the suitability of furniture for Manute Bol (or Wilt Chamberlain, if I was trying to establish a frame of reference about how tall Manute is). It's just such an intriguing question. Beds, in particular, are a major part of Manute's inexplicable mystique. Where does a 7'7" shot-blocking giant sleep? I am only 6'3", and I didn't have a bed that fit me until I was 23. Other, less selfless tall men such as Georghe Muresan and Andre the Giant could spend their professional earnings on custom sleepware, but Manute gives all of his money to war-relief in his native Sudan, making one wonder how the poor guy ever gets a decent night's sleep. I have wondered aloud about this many times, and have been told by ex-girlfriends to stop talking about Manute Bol in bed many times, but I remain without an answer. I used to be similarly stumped about how he ever got a decent shower, but I did eventually work that one out.

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.