I woke up in a strange place

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

January 31, 2003 I am sorry that this webpage has not been receiving the focus it should over the last few weeks. Free time at work was sparse for a while, and now that the rabbi is out of town, I am devoting nearly all of my spare time to strategizing methods of escape. I know that I cannot just up-and-quit without a new job to walk into, because doing that at Beelzetron landed me in crushing debt from which I may never recover. But I must go. This shit is like Hungary in 1956, either bail out now or the Communists get you and all of your stuff for the next thirty years.

My friend Kurt, who is kind in the face of absurdity and also when facing away from absurdity, wrote a flattering essay about watching B-movies with me and some friends. Every smart-ass in a movie theater wishes he had a Boswell for his Dr. Johnson.

For a brief, horrifying moment, I thought I had inadvertently made the worst mistake of my life when I discovered that the Lincoln Park Zoo had held a Zooperbowl party without my knowing it. I calmed down, though, when I realized that the party was not actually held at the zoo. What's the point, then? Bunch of jackanapes planned that thing, I'll tell you. Mike Saul kept talking about a monkey who has been making Super Bowl predictions and was 4-0 until this year, when he screwed up by picking the Raiders. I have been searching for information on the monkey's reaction, but have been unsuccessful thus far.

I have a new email address. Spammers, you can make all the overtures you like towards the penis of heiden@enteract.com, because ain't nobody there.

January 29, 2003 I sent in an application to be a journalist at The Antarctic Sun. I am blindingly, dizzyingly qualified for the position. I am so qualified that penguins crane their necks and fall over, wiggling about in awe, leaving penguin-shaped snow angels. My qualifications are heroic. They are the unknown couplet that follows Keats' "Beauty is truth and truth beauty, That is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." Lovers of purity and virtue recognize this, and they clamor for my appointment to the position. They are tired of the filth and degradation in the city, and they want me to go, to be free, to tell the truth about what goes on in Antarctica. They are encouraged by the pleasant email auto-reply that I received, and they dare to raise their hopes ever so slightly.

I am beset by liars and thieves, though, so I have my doubts.

A Soccer Ball In A Soccer Game
by Kenneth age 10

I am a soccer ball,
Being kicked around.
I also get hit,
Without being noticed.
The referee calls foul,
And somebody picks me up.
The forward kicks me into the goal,
And starts to shout like crazy.
Then I get kicked again,
But this time out of the field.
No one even sees me.
I am all alone,
Outside the field.
End of the soccer game,
I get carried,
Out of the game.
Bye bye field,
I have done my part for today.

Kenneth in San Jose California is one of the stars of the KidPub website. He muses on the changing of the seasons and the exploits of his soccer team, and he also weaves tales of intrigue. Can you solve The Mystery of the Circus Clown before the young detectives can? Possibly. But I have had it with you Sherlock Holmes motherfuckers and your endless braggadocio.

January 23, 2003 My head is cloudy with hatred for my job and the squealing, screeching idiots who work in my vicinity. I retreat to a discman whenever possible, but most of the work that I do involves writing, and most of the writing involves a creaky, quiet headset and tapes of the rabbi's rambling. ("So, write all of that into a letter about the terrorists in the Church of the Nativity", he says. "But clean it up, and make it sound friendly.")

I am supremely ill-suited to work among the religious.

Last week's curious yet inspiring penguin story, about the six penguins from Ohio who, upon introduction to their new home, talked the West Coast penguins into swimming laps all day for no apparent reason, has received pretty wide coverage: even The Daily Show had footage last night, although the writing wasn't up to their usual high standards. No one appears to have solved the mystery yet, although my brilliant detective work has revealed that the penguins' exhibit space once housed a group of squirrel monkeys, which led me to this website, where a squirrel monkey who claims to have a human mother and father makes a number of strident claims about his own availability for being messed with, and which makes me wonder about this establishment, which professes to specialize in squirrel monkey 'husbandry', or the science of getting monkeys to fuck, and how it ties in to the entire affair, especially given the first monkey's history of violence against diapers. Now read this:

(news) For her part, penguin keeper Tollini predicts things will get back to normal in February when the onset of the breeding season will hopefully lure the birds back to their burrows. "It may be a very stimulating breeding season," she said. "I think they have gotten a new lease on life by doing this."

So: are those penguins confused, or have I uncovered a bizarre scheme that defies imagination?

There should be a name for people who leave mysteries more complicated than when they find them.

January 22, 2003 My new computer arrived! I would like to thank the Chinese for their speedy work. Clearly, some nations in this world know the value of keeping me on-line and productive.

The date of the rabbi's departure for the Ukraine draws near, and we are sniping at each other. "Some day, you will be one of the world's foremost scholars of history," he said. "So why don't you start acting like it?" "I am," I replied. "I'm refusing to perform tasks that I find ridiculous." On and on.

January 21, 2003 Someone tipped off the rabbi that I can be plied with cookies. He has begun using them to excuse all manner of atrocities, from a request to have the whole of Isaac Babel's diary photocopied to declaring that the whole of western civilization is a reaction to the Hebrew Bible. I played ball on the Babel, but could not let the last one pass. He is getting ready to head off to the Ukraine to lead a tour of sites where awful things have happened to Jewish people, and I attempted to do my part to right history's wrongs by doing a splendid job on the lecture packet for the tour. The lettering on the photocopies is crisp, even when taken from out-of-print texts in a state of disrepair, and the layout for the section title pages is firm, stately yet resonant with ancestral memory.

January 17, 2003 I have the idea in my head that repeatedly hitting 'reload' on the 'Order Status' web page will stress to the technicians that I really want my new computer and that it should be a priority for them. I tested my theory by writing a realistic play with searing dialogue in which it happens:

TECHNICIAN: No one cares about my computers.
TECHNICIAN: I make them, because I must, but I make them slowly.
OTHER TECHNICIAN: In this cold and unfeeling world, what reason is there to make a computer quickly?
TECHNICIAN: The processor will go in as soon as I have digested and subsequently shat this sandwich.
OTHER TECHNICIAN: To reiterate, then: God damn.

The MONITOR JOCKEY enters, excited.

JOCKEY: Gentlemen! Why so sluggish!
TECHNICIAN: We lack inspiration.
JOCKEY: I will give you inspiration! Guess how many times this customer hit reload on his order status page?
TECHNICIAN: A few times?
JOCKEY: Your guesses are both woefully inadequate!
TECHNICIAN: How many, then? And, bear in mind, as men who are familiar with life on the 'streets', we are not susceptible to starry-eyed fantasies designed to pacify the middle classes in this age of declining religion. We may be of the lower classes, but we have an innate response to the truth, and there is wisdom to be found in our simplicity.
JOCKEY: The answer is this: a lot! That is how many times he has checked his 'order status' page!
TECHNICIAN: Over the course of many days?
JOCKEY: He has reached the plateau of 'a lot' in this day alone!
TECHNICIAN: What manner of passion must course through his veins to fuel such intense reloading?
OTHER TECHNICIAN: Significant passion, I would say! Passion and caring of a degree that would seem to defy our previous statements about the uncaring nature of our world!
TECHNICIAN: I should make computers!
TECHNICIAN: And give up the booze!
OTHER TECHNICIAN: But is booze not an inextricable part of our milieu?
TECHNICIAN: This is a new world! We are healed of our social mores, cleansed by this passion! Let us realize our potential! Let us make computers to match this man!
OTHER TECHNICIAN: God, I retract my previous off-hand requests for damnation! And, I submit this new request: God damn!

So, because I was able to write a realistic play with searing dialogue in which it happens, I figure it will happen soon. Some may say this is irresponsible application of the scientific method, but I would respond that those people can get fucked.

Let me also say, in an unrelated matter, that I am making a very serious effort to floss every day.

January 16, 2003 I spent much of my work day at the photocopier, assembling packets of maps about pogroms. While I was there, a guy came by and said, "You sure are making a lot of copies about pogroms." I told him that I agreed that it was a lot. He stood there for a moment longer, giving me a suspicious look, and then went into the bathroom. Another guy came by a minute later and said, "Wow, 'Everything you always wanted to know about pogroms but were afraid to ask', eh?" I told him that, yes, it was. Man, you leave a few books about pogroms lying around and suddenly you're everyone's best friend.

The Powerful Creatures are the bowling team to which I belong, and, after some discussions, we decided to chronicle our current season on the web for the world to see. We are widely recognized as a young team on the verge of a profound and heroic breakthrough, and you can follow our remarkable saga by clicking on that link above.

The rabbi says I have been really great this week. I am not feeling it.

January 15, 2003 So: my computer is gone, its lights are dark. I bought it late in the summer of 1997. It was my third computer. The first, a 1992 birthday present for me and my brother, was a Packard Bell 386DX-15 desktop. (Given that P4 is the present usual processor speed, by comparison, P1 came in place of what would have been the 586, so that contextualizes the lumbering 386, the deathless 286, and the mad bastard 8086 for you.) It's good for young people to own Packard Bells before they are doing anything of consequence with their computers, because they are forced to learn how to repair shitty equipment and come up with new crafty work-around solutions every day if they want to get their copy of Joe Montana Football up and running. (Isn't that the All-American boyhood?) Also, when said kids take their computers apart to install new equipment, nothing that they do to the Packard Bell, up to and including setting it on fire, will cause it to run noticeably worse than it did before. Managing the machine's tiny 100 megabyte hard drive turned me into a permanent miser when it comes to hard drive space, like a Depression-era child in the money-flush 50's. My last computer had 1.5 gigabytes (15 times the size of the first), and try as I may, I never managed to fill more than half of it.

My second computer was a Dell Pentium-90. I bought it before leaving for college. My shyster mother gave it to me as a gift and then, when she encountered money woes a couple months later, announced that I had agreed to pay for half of it. Well, whatever. It was a fine machine. Marvels such as the web were revealed to me on it. Two years later, I retaliated against my mother's treachery by selling her the P-90 for an inflated price in order to buy my laptop, a P-150. I had decided that it was time for me to be serious about writing, and somehow the idea got in my head that I would be a much better writer if I could write under tables and in clothes hampers and on roofs, so it became imperative to buy a mobile computer. It was terrifically exciting. I did, in fact, write on the roof from time to time.

The Packard Bell actually lasted five and a half years, although it barely worked for the last three. All it was capable of doing was printing basic text (badly) and cheating (wretchedly) against my brother in Joe Montana Football (or so he accused). The P-90 slid into its spot and was sold by my shyster brother to one of his friends a year later for an inflated price right before it crapped out, probably three and a half years after its purchase.

My laptop, then, lasted for five and a half years, although it was in continuous usage for that entire time, so it seemed much longer. It was adorned with fortune cookies and a 'Cheeky Monkey' rave flyer from England. The monkey was wearing a tie, and the implication was that you were to vote for him by dancing, or something like that. Until the launch of a vicious conspiracy by Windows 98 and internet 'interactive' advertising to denigrate my sleek machine as no longer fit for the demands of the modern world, it flew. It was a beautiful writers' computer. The keyboard was sweet and responsive, able to take the subtlest of hints, yet never resentful at panic or insistence. The screen handled the color blue in absolutely marvelous fashion. Those two things, I think, were what I loved most about the computer...

And there was also its history. As it applies to objects, historicity is curious, but also sort of dubious. It would be interesting to see the gun that was used to shoot Abraham Lincoln, but how, other than through the implicit testimony of a lengthy chain of eyewitnesses and expectation, do we know that it was the gun? Can the history of an object be a part of it? Where, in the object, can you find it? We bring history to these inanimate things that don't know enough to carry it with them. The value, at some level, comes down to being able to say, "This is the one and only." It's sentimentality, and you can't linger in that stuff.

So, perhaps my old laptop, which blinked off for the last time on Saturday, is just another gun. But I wrote on that thing. God damn, did I write with it. Every 't' and 'r' and 'm' in my plays came from that keyboard. And if the computer as a form has not yet achieved artificial intelligence like Alan Turing suggested it might, I think it does sit in a state where, even if it's not an aunt or an uncle, it's also not a toothbrush or a plank of wood. Whatever may or may not be inherent to that machine, I will miss it. Something goes on between the fingers and the keys, ineluctable, and any writer worth a damn is surprised and grateful when it does, whenever it does. Writers in the last century rarely had to abandon their typewriters. I did not wish to turn away.

My new laptop, purchased with invisible funds, will not arrive for another couple of weeks. In the meantime, I have only my work computer, which is like when they give baby monkeys a wire nipple mommy. This thing sucks. It would be nice if, after all I've given to them, the starving children of the world would take up a collection for me, in my trying hour.

But I have learned what I can and cannot expect from those guys.

January 14, 2003 My long-time computer is no more. It ceased operations on Saturday. For this, and for starving children, I mourn.

January 9, 2003 I am 'sick' today. I have a rare strain of the flu known as 'fuck all y'all'. It's pretty rough. According to my doctor, I will 'freak the fuck out' if I see anyone from my workplace environment, so it is very important for the healing process that I stay out of there.

Well, I have received more than 800 emails from outraged widows and spinsters who were deeply hurt by the Tribune's callous, spiteful 'error' yesterday. This, clearly, has been a galvanizing moment. These women have endured the loss of their husbands, or endured never having had one at all. They do not care to be mistaken for each other, and they are 'turning the other cheek' no longer. The overwhelming consensus from this tidal wave of public opinion was that the Tribune must show its sincere regret by sending me, as their representative, a sandwich, right now. If the Tribune does not comply with this reasonable offer for peace, then I cannot be held responsible for the untold thousands of widows and spinsters who may descend upon Tribune Tower. I am recommending, for simplicity's sake, that widows descend from the south and spinsters from the north, but I cannot guarantee that will be the case.

The internet is conspiring to make me believe that my home computer is too slow and must be replaced. I am having none of that, because I have no money, but the internet is insistent. As far as I am concerned, the internet owes me five dollars.

January 8, 2003 The final package arrived. My 'sick' day is imminent. Yes. It will take place tomorrow. Oh, how 'sick' I will be. I took several days off in a row around Christmas, but that does not compare to the simple joy of just not going to work when I am expected to be there. There have been too many assignments of late; moreover, I have the hours, and therefore I have the moral imperative to use them.


Published January 8, 2003

- An editorial Tuesday incorrectly described the Donna Reed character as a widow in the sequence of "It's a Wonderful Life" in which Jimmy Stewart's character sees what life would have been like without him. She should have been described as a spinster.

The Tribune regrets the errors.

Do you think an apology makes this okay, you sons of bitches? You heedless, amoral bastards. This shocking affront casts doubt on the sincerity of the Tribune's January 7 apology for running several Brenda Starr, Reporter comic strips out of order. If you're truly sorry, Tribune, knock it the fuck off! Need I invoke the spectre of an angry, undead, flesh-crazed Frank Capra? Because I fucking will.

January 7, 2003 Two of the packages that were keeping me from skipping work arrived today. Now, Barnes and Noble.com has but to fulfill the deal we reached on December 27, exchanging virtual monies from a gift card for goods, and I will be gloriously 'sick'. In response to the delay, I have written and mailed a very strongly-worded letter to Barnes and Noble.com customer service about fucking with my leisure time. Schematics for the 'sick' day are currently being drawn, with potential activities including taking advantage of low day-time rates at a bowling alley and checking the mail in my underwear.

January 6, 2003 Did you know that wombanization is synonymous with 'feminization' and does not, in fact, refer to the conversion of a person, place or thing into a wombat-like state? What a crock of shit.

I want to take a 'sick day', as I have enough hours on my timesheet to do so, but a minor problem delays me: I have gift-certificate-purchased packages arriving from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com, and if I am not here when they arrive, the rabbi will assume they are his, open them, become bewildered, and do whatever makes the least sense at that point in time. I don't care what the Torah says: that guy is no good.

(news) Chicago seems to have shrugged off the dubious title of "Murder Capital of the Nation"--with Los Angeles posting about a dozen more killings through the final days of 2002.

Yes, but it still leads the rest of the nation by a significant margin in an equally dubious category, suckers who owe me five dollars. In fact, Chicago outpaces most other metropolitan areas by such a distance - with the only significant challenge coming from Champaign-Urbana, where the per capita owe-five-dollars rate is even higher - as to make comparisons basically irrelevant. For fuck's sake, Chicago. Why must you underachieve?

January 3, 2003 BREAKING NEWS! Extensive audio testing has revealed the shocking truth: Bob Seger has not been singing "Like A Rock"...he has been singing "Like IRAQ" all along! Traitor! What can we do to combat this insidious threat? Well, the first step is for all broadcasters of conscience to cease playing that and all other Bob Seger songs immediately before any more damage is done to the innocent psyches of our children. (Think of all the things that have, in their formative years, been likened to Iraq! Hundreds, thousands of associations!) Secondly, we build internment camps for members of the Silver Bullet Band. The bassists and drummers may simply have been deceived through falsified sheet music and other standard bamboozlement techniques, but we have to assume complicity on the part of lead and rhythm guitar players, and especially that fucker who played piano on "Against the Wind".

There was a light dusting of snow outside when I left for work this morning. I think there is time and occasion left for a good old avalanche, a bring the city to a halt storm, but it doesn't seem to be in the offing. Well, there was Christmas Eve, and that was nice.

The library has not responded to any of my entreaties. Retaliatory gestures are in preparatory stages.

The Chinese made headlines again recently by reiterating their plans to launch manned space flights. They used the occasion to also announce their plans to send men to the moon and to Mars. I have long believed that government expenditures on anything other than sending men to Mars are bullshit, so I must give due respect to the Chinese for the announcement, although anonymous foreign sources, despite worldwide consensus in the rap world, choose to hate on the players and the game:

(news) "There are even more outlandish plans, like manned moon bases. They think they can put a man on the surface of Mars. Some of these are too ambitious but a lunar program could be the next step," the diplomat said.

Do you think that the Chinese space program is unprepared?! Check your head, sir:

Would-be spacefarers typically went through three to five years of training, including courses in rocket design, astronomy and communications, state media said. There was also a flight manual on board the spacecraft for emergencies, the Sichuan Daily quoted Qi Faren, Shenzhou's chief engineer, as saying. "In case there is a problem when people are on board, the astronauts can quickly flip through the book to find the reason," Qi said.

They have an instruction manual, so what's the problem? NASA is jealous they didn't think of that with Apollo 13.

The Chinese space program, which does not disclose the name of its astronauts, prefers to shroud its space program in a veil of secrecy. I worry, therefore, that I may come into conflict with the Chinese government over this web page. Such a showdown would be unfortunate for everyone involved. Perhaps an arrangement could be reached whereby I would receive a trip to Beijing, where I would play 'Clumsy American Astronaut' in a propaganda film about the superiority of the Chinese space program. Then, NASA could make a sequel propaganda film, also starring me, wherein 'Clumsy American Astronaut' overcomes his confusion and winds up being the best astronaut ever. Several rebuttal films later, the world is captivated by my portrayal of 'Clumsy American Astronaut' and resolves to set aside its differences, leading to a new era of peace for humanity. Alternately, I make off with the monkeys from both space programs, inherit an olive farm in the south of France, attempt to train the monkeys to pick olives, and come into hilarious conflict with the villagers. Either way, I think this is a good plan, and I recommend we get started as soon as possible.

January 2, 2003 It's 2003. Everything looks different, doesn't it? The sky is aflame, and there are so many more gargoyles eating peoples' faces than there used to be. In any event, I think everyone agrees that we are in the next century now, so at least that particular squabble is over and done with.

I spent a pleasant New Year's Eve at the zoo. They were open late for holiday fun. There were clever light displays, and a festive horn was included in the price of admission. The idea, as I understood it, was for us to make the animals understand somehow that it was New Year's Eve and to get them excited about a fresh start, a clean slate, a new year. The catch, though, which went carefully unmentioned by the ticket-takers, was that most of the animals were clearly accustomed to going to sleep around 5, when the zoo normally closes. Tigers, lions and armadilloes alike took what appeared to be very enjoyable naps. The only animals who really brought the noise were the penguins, who splashed, dived, turned their heads in strange directions and fell over with all of their customary magnificence. Some special mention has to go to the sea lions, though, all but one of whom boycotted the soft-rock laser light show going on above their tank by hiding well out of sight for the entire night.

There was some concern from my date that I might lose my shit when it was discovered that the great apes house was closed for construction and all of the chimps, gorillas, baboons and orangutans were off at another zoo until 2004. I did not lose my shit, which is not to say that I was entirely calm about it, and I chose to imagine all of the monkeys on a cruise together. The smaller primates were still present, fortunately, and most of them gave duly sleepy glances at the revellers while dangling from branches.

The rabbi for whom I work is grimly obsessed with including disdainful remarks about the arbitrary nature of the Gregorian calendar. Last year, he harassed everyone who wished him a Happy New Year with 'hilarious' harangues and historical background on the subject. I think he was disappointed that everyone wised up and didn't say anything to him about it this year, so he sought people out, wished them a Happy New Year and then, whether they acknowledged him or not, harangued them for regarding it as a new year. No one else in the office really knows what he and I do here, as he is more or less renting the space, so they kind of button their lips and take the 'delight' until he is done. I tried to catch him in the act whenever possible so I could tell him to knock it off, but he is a slippery bastard.

On another note, long-time readers will know that I am committed to providing around-the-clock coverage of usage of the term 'slut' in Shakespeare's plays. Let me then refer you to Act 3, Scene 3 of As You Like It, one of his better comedies, and the following exchange:

Well, I am not fair; and therefore I pray the gods make me honest.

Truly, and to cast away honesty upon a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish.

I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.

Well, praised be the gods for thy foulness! sluttishness may come hereafter.

('Foul' in this context means 'without make-up or adornment; as nature made me'.)

Today's amateur psychology poll question: is sluttishness a product of nature or nurture? What would B.F. Skinner say? If this question were to be somehow cross-referenced with the Stanford Prison Experiment, would the result be the greatest prison / education / porn movie ever filmed? (Speculate as to its ranking in a top ten list of the other great prison / education / porn movies of our times.)

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.