I woke up in a strange place

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

July 30, 2005

It's hot again, and the three-legged cat was waiting outside my door with a bunch of things to say about it. I let the cat in and gave it some cold water. My mother says it probably has fleas, since it spends all of its time outside. I told her I think she probably has fleas and hung up. Actually, I just asked to borrow some money.

So, here's the news out of Jacksonville:

A gorilla and a chimpanzee are both recovering after a fight at the Jacksonville Zoo. They live just across the moat from each other, which is usually a good barrier, since both fear the water and neither knows how to swim. One of the largest gorillas at the zoo, a 24-year-old male named Quito, either fell into the moat or tried to cross it, and ended up on the chimps side.

Dr. Nick Kapustin is the Zoo's Veterinarian. He says, "There was an altercation and we have a chimp with Quito going into his territory and the two got aggressive with each other."

Chimps are more aggressive, but much smaller. A 150-pound chimp named Jackson went up against a more than 500-pound gorilla, named Quito, and the chimp lost.

Kapustin says, "Jackson the chimp sustained some bite wounds and lacerations and he was treated immediately."

Quito didn't have any physical wounds but apparently went underwater when he was in the mote, which left him very sick.

Kapustin says, "He likely inhaled water into his lungs. That can create some respiratory problems and that's what we're dealing with now."

Both Quiot and Jackson are recovering in their indoor habitats and both are expected to be okay.

What in the hell was the chimp thinking? That gorilla had 350 pounds on it! I guess everybody has to defend their territory, but let's face it, if some 550 pound guy showed up at the door of my apartment, I would make certain strategic concessions and perhaps devise a plan involving running away with the remote control. That's not what the chimp did, though, and fortunately his unrealistic assessment of his own fighting ability did not prove fatal. An exhaustive two-minute search of the Jacksonville Zoo website did not reveal any updates about the condition of the combatants, although apparently a bonobo had a baby last year, so that's nice.

Anthropological studies tend to focus on social interactions and hierarchies within the individual species, but I've never been able to accrue as much data as I'd like regarding what different kinds of monkeys and apes think about each other. Now, we know that when a chimp sees a gorilla, he thinks, "I can take that guy." So that's good to know. It's a start.

Obviously, I ain't got no job, and I've been playing this game called Facade over the last couple of days. It's unique in the sense that the goal is not to defeat someone or win a contest or wrangle shapes; you play a character who visits his married friends one night and observes their marriage falling apart, and then you either speed the decline or try to save the marriage. It's done in the style of a one-act play, complete with curtains. (In a nice touch, it generates a 'stageplay' based on what happened during the game.) The characters speak out loud, and you talk back to them by typing. They're meant to be able to parse complete sentences - you don't select from a set of responses, like most RPGs, and they remember what you've said before. There are a few things that come up each time (a bad trip to Italy, the decor of the living room), but otherwise, each game is intended to come out differently depending on what you do.

Well, apparently, I am the last person you want to save your marriage, because I fucking suck at it. On the few occasions that I haven't been kicked out of the apartment, one of them has declared the marriage a sham and stormed out. I'm getting nowhere with this. The best I've managed to do is get them united in being pissed off at me, which hopefully leads to, I don't know, angry denunciation sex later on. One problem is that I don't type fast enough to break into the conversation, but more than that, I'm frustrated because I can't tell what portion of the blame falls on the programming (it's a college A.I. project, not a professional venture) and what is the fault of my various emotional inadequacies. I guess I'm bringing this up in the hope that someone a little better-adjusted than I am will give it a go and let me know. 'Mark' is one of the names they offer - the characters address you by name rather a lot - so I use that one when I'm doing my best (and things inevitably fall apart at the end), and 'Gonzalo' is the name I use when I'm getting frustrated.

(A bit of web research has at least revealed that Grace will not run off with you, no matter how much you make out with her, so at least I'm not the only person who has tried that.)

July 28, 2005

I bought some apple juice and found a slice of an apple floating in it. This means that I am going to die, I thought. There are probably at least six primitive cultures in which finding an apple slice floating in your apple juice means that you are going to die. The slice crumbled slightly as I sipped from the bottle. Revulsed, I hastily jammed the cap back on and put it back in the refrigerator. I can't die now, I pleaded, silently. I'm too young and too reasonable. I went back to my computer and applied for a few jobs, but it all seemed futile, now that I knew myself to be locked in some strange mythological death spiral. Finally, I set the laptop aside and took a nap. My sleep was troubled and geometrically awkward. When I awoke, I stumbled to the refrigerator, ready to curse my fate. But the apple slice was gone. The bottle held only juice.

So it seems that I will live. I sold out the Empty Spaces movement and filled my apartment with furniture. The platonic perfection of it disturbs me. This looks like a place where a man with a job lives, except along the wall, where the books sit in semi-organized piles in lieu of a bookcase. I am not a man with a job, though. Re-training myself to sleep in a bed has proven more of a challenge than I thought it would be. I wander aimlessly between the couch and the mattress, turning the ceiling fans and air conditioning on and off as I go, fumbling for the right combination of cushion and climate to sleep until 11am in peace.

Oh, things are all right. The three-legged cat spends a lot of time hanging out at my apartment. It likes to come in and check the place out, maybe pick up a few treats while it's here. Fresh water is always good, and I bought some food for when it's hungry. It's rolling around on the carpet right now, showing me its belly and enjoying the hell out of my ceiling fan. I leave the door open when it's inside so it can take off whenever it pleases, although it certainly doesn't seem inclined at the moment. Good times, indeed.

To follow up on an issue from last week, I have a signed affidavit from actual Texans verifying the "firing two guns in the air to express happiness" thing, so if you thought I was making that up, you're wrong, actually, and you need to start taking this shit seriously. Also, I found an NPR interview with good old Howard Hong, our next president, and not only did he say that he borrowed money from his friends to buy the chimpanzee art, meaning that he is a man of vision who will risk everything for what he believes, but he also eschewed the obvious impressionist comparisons to link Congo's use of color to the Japanese ukiyo-e masters Hiroshige and Hokusai.

Furthermore, I've been seeing a lot of commercials lately, and if you believe that there is a substantive difference between the Church of Scientology and eHarmony.com, you are wrong. I registered at eHarmony.com as "Church O. Scientology" and answered every question as the actual Church of Scientology would, and when the results came back, the eHarmony.com website matched me with itself based on 29 dimensions of compatibility. This shit is scientific and you need to focus if you think otherwise. Later, when eHarmony.com discovered my deception, it sent back all of my emails and said I matched 29 dimensions of compatibility with a heartless jerk. Look, I can't be held responsible for hurt feelings caused by my journalism.

Furry cat sprawled out on my carpet, happily asleep and pawing at the air? You know I'm going to have to tackle it.

July 21, 2005

I wanted to say something about the passing of James Doohan, aka Scotty from the original Star Trek. I was lucky enough to catch an interview with George Takei on MSNBC a couple of nights ago. Obviously, it's an empirical fact that George Takei kicks ass, but even empirical facts can use a little reinforcement from time to time, and this interview did just that. Takei told stories about Doohan's lust for life and manic embrace of everything that crossed his path, and alluded to his legendary battles with William Shatner. Just imagine this, if you will - we'll set it on the bridge of the Enterprise, to give it a backdrop. The hired director stands behind the camera, helpless and mortified, as Shatner and Scotty go at each other for barely comprehensible reasons while George Takei lounges in the navigator's chair and laconically urges calm. If you were in 1968 for a day, where else would you rather be than in the other chair on that bridge? Had just one of those battles had been recorded, it would have been the single greatest episode of Star Trek, bar none. Because you know they went at it for well over an hour once they got started. Tack on a scene of Spock saying "Uh, the Klingons are firing anger rays at us" at the beginning, cram in a few commercial breaks wherever you can, and it's an automatic classic. Ideally it ends with Shatner getting pelted with Tribbles and singing.

Inadvertently, I seem to have summed up why the last two Star Trek series fucking sucked.

July 20, 2005

I made an empty box into a desk!! I have decided to start emphasizing some of my positive attributes for the benefit of hiring managers who receive my resume and head straight to Google in order to find out what I'm all about. Well, let me tell you, I emptied the books out of that box and turned it upside down like a frown, and I've got myself a desk now. My laptop is sitting on top of it and I couldn't be more pleased with how it's working out. Previous desks in my apartment have included a pillow and the floor. This box, however, combines the firmness of the floor with an even greater elevation than the pillow. It's excellent and provides a sterling example of the problem-solving capability I can bring to your office.

Wait!! This has to be casual, or the hiring managers won't believe it. They are a cagey bunch, able to see through elementary deceptions, and bless them for it. One casts an eye over the carnage of the last century and notes, sadly, that's what happens when you just go by resumes, cover letters and an interview. Do you really think the Bolsheviks would have hired Stalin if they had looked at his LiveJournal? "What? The wholesale slaughter of his political enemies is one of his Interests? And the Peasantry is conspicuously absent from his Friends list? Fuck that guy! Let's hire someone else instead." You have to check that shit out. Sometimes you post a job and you get someone who looks like a real winner, has all the skills and work experience, but then it turns out Pol Pot is in his extended network on MySpace, so kick that ass to the curb and call a fucking temp agency.

I parked like an asshole a few days ago and I haven't had any reason to move my car since. I feel sort of bad about it. It's not intruding on any neighboring spaces, but it definitely tests the diagonal limits and brings disorder to the area. Everyone else has jobs, so they move their cars more often. My car sticks out of the crowd because it's still rocking the Illinois Lincoln plates. I don't know what the laws are in Texas about switching your registration. I'll get to it, eventually. Did you know that everyone in Texas carries two guns with them at all times, and whenever they get excited, they jump from foot to foot and fire the guns in the air? It's true! Before I came here, I thought that was just a cartoonish stereotype. I was in H.E.B. last week and I saw that ice cream was on sale. Sweet, I thought. I'll buy some. I reached into the freezer and an old lady, adjusting her glasses, asked me if the ice cream was on sale. I said, yeah, it's two for $5. And then she started cheering and shooting guns in the air! I took cover behind my shopping cart as chunks of the ceiling rained down upon us. The manager came over and looked angry. He greeted the old lady by name, and then he turned to me. "Look," he said. "I reckon we're offering a square deal on this here ice cream." I told him I thought they were offering a very square deal, and that's why I was buying two. "Well, you look like you're about to shit a horned toad," he said. "Most reasonable folks'd let a few bullets fly for a deal like this." I assured him that I hadn't meant any offense, and that I didn't have any guns, or I certainly would have fired some right then and there. He was shocked to hear that I didn't have any guns and asked me how people in other states communicate their excitement. The old lady said she felt sorry for me and gave me one of her guns. "Go right ahead," she said. "I've got a basement full of them." I thanked her and left the store.

My concern, though, is that I'll have a job interview and the hiring manager will offer me the job but when I don't start firing guns in the air, the hiring manager will assume I don't want it and withdraw the offer. I'm going to have to see if my neighbor will loan me some, should I actually get a job interview. (Hopefully, the clever strategies employed in this entry have made that more likely.)

July 14, 2005

Perhaps the most frightening thing about moving so far from Chicago was the realization, while watching television around 2 AM last night, that if I get into trouble, Peter Francis Geraci is not going to come and bail my ass out. In my moment of fear, he appeared to me in a vision. "I'm attorney Peter Francis Geraci, and you're on your fucking own now," I could hear him intone, his thick, dead eyes pummeling the camera lens as he spoke. "If you've been injured in a recent accident or you need to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy, don't come running to the law office of Peter Francis Geraci, with over twenty-five years of experience, dickface." I shuddered as the vision dissolved. What if I do need a lawyer? Where, other than the spine of the phone book and commercials at 2 AM, do you find them? I am going to have to stay on the straight and narrow until I work out some of these issues.

Because of my recent move from Chicago to Austin and the complicated process of cramming shit into my car in such a way for said shit not to obscure the windows, I've been long overdue in reporting this exciting follow-up to a story previously covered on this webpage:

Chimp's paintings outsell Warhol, Renoir
12:24 PM CDT on Monday, June 20, 2005

Associated Press

LONDON - Monkey business proved to be lucrative Monday when paintings by Congo the chimpanzee sold at auction for more than $25,000.

The three abstract, tempera paintings were auctioned at Bonhams in London alongside works by impressionist master Renoir and pop art provocateur Andy Warhol.

But while Warhol's and Renoir's work didn't sell, bidders lavished attention on Congo's paintings.

An American bidder named Howard Hong, who described himself as an "enthusiast of modern and contemporary painting," purchased the lot of paintings for $26,352, including a buyer's premium.

The sale price surpassed predictions that priced the paintings between $1,000-$1,500.

Initially, I had hoped that "Howard Hong" was some kind of complicated anagram for "I'm giving at least one of these to Heiden", but it appears increasingly likely that he is planning to keep them for himself. Fair enough, they certainly were expensive paintings, and beyond my credit limit, which helps absolve me of some of my guilt over not putting in a bid. I've now moved on to hoping that Howard Hong intends to run for President some day, because from all the available evidence, he would do a great job.

I guess I'm settling in okay. I still don't have any furniture other than the office chair out on the porch, but I made a point of sitting on that for a few minutes today so I don't forget how. It's quiet around here. There is a three-legged cat who lives in the area. I don't know if he's stray or if his owner lets him roam, but let's face it, the list of things that are cooler than a three-legged cat who doesn't even care that he only has three legs is a pretty damn short list, and basically none of those things are even native to North America, so this cat is awesome. I keep some food handy for whenever he's hanging out by my front door. He's not always hungry, but he's always got some kind of trouble on his mind, and he's always ready to talk about it.

July 11, 2005

Every day is like camping when you're unemployed and you have no furniture. My comforter is spread out like a sleeping bag on the living room floor, carefully positioned underneath the ceiling fan, and there are two pillows within a three-foot radius of it at any given moment. I sleep there, serene and untroubled by the heat. I'm concerned that I might develop a complex about the bedroom, which I haven't used. I put the alarm clock in there to stake my claim, but there hasn't been a reason to wake up yet. I could drag the comforter in there to sleep at night, but then I'd be sprawled out on bare carpet when I watched television in the living room by the light of day, and that seems uncivilized.

(YO, the alarm clock represents the Spanish flag, in case my metaphors are too DANGEROUS for you!! And civilization is a Ronco showroom!!)

I saw an ad on craigslist about some office chairs that you could go and pick up for free, so I kicked my car into action and headed over to the driveway in question. Sadly, though, I failed to fit any of the nice ones into my two-door Civic. I guess I overestimated how much it can hold. I mean, until recently, I had basically everything I own crammed into it. Books, mostly, and some incoherent t-shirts. A television, a laptop. Some stuffed monkeys, some Russian military gear. An autographed picture of Manute Bol. And I can't fit an office chair in there? I'm about to roll up on the space-time continuum with some what discount outlet sold you that internal logic?! type shit. Anyway, I did manage to squeeze a rolling chair into the front seat. I brought it into the living room, but it was ruining the feng shui, so I put it out on the porch. It has kind of a 1970s home office feel, the chair does, and now the porch does, too, by extension. But inside, the camping trip continues. Except when I'm thirsty, I can get some root beer out of the refrigerator, which you can't do when you're camping, unless you brought a cooler, but electricity is a kind of ice that never melts, nature boy!! Holla back now!!

Everything is going well. My rent is paid until August, and there is a pool within twenty feet of my front door. I'm paying for an internet connection, too. This is the first time I've paid for an internet connection since I was in Japan, and since everything ran through the yakuza in that neighborhood, who knows if we were even paying for it, or if it even was the internet. At my last apartment, my upstairs neighbor was letting me use his wireless network. I baked him some cookies, and later I bought him a case of High Life. Does that count as paying for it? (YO, High Life represents the champagne of beers, in case my metaphors are still too DANGEROUS for you!! Or at least that's what the packaging said. I don't know. I've never tried it.) Anyway, if there's one thing I fucking love, it's paying bills, so that's working out, too.

I guess I'm already leaving my mark on this apartment, because there appears to be a brown spot on the carpet over where I was sprawled out on the floor earlier, eating chocolate ice cream. I'm going to start eating well tomorrow. Today has been a shameful day in nutritional terms, dominated as it has been by cookies, ice cream and, for reasons that are still unclear, two pickles. The food in Austin is amazing, though. The worst thing I've eaten so far, a soggy eggplant sandwich, would have been cause for a triumphal march in Chicago. It occurs to me now that I can't remember if any of my friends in Chicago cooked for me this year. In case they did, let me say that I was not including your cooking in that generalization, because when you cooked for me, it was in a city called love. See? Nobody's offended! Are you amazed by what I can do with words? God, sometimes I sure am. I have ironclad strategies to mask my emotional inadequacies, in print at least.

Tomorrow I will start making phone calls to ask people why they have ignored the friendly cover letters I sent them in response to their job postings. I realize that my resume doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean, I wrote it - heck, I lived it. But I feel like it has character, and it's all true, so that has to count for something. Nobody will hire me, though, that much is clear. I've moved on from my old theory, which held that my first employer, Beelzetron, was maintaining a blacklist, and every company in the United States was abiding by it - especially with the names that were in bold, at the top, in an eye-catching font, like mine surely was - Comic Sans MS?! Doris, somebody got a coffee ring on my tie!! My new theory is much more complex than that. So, as it turns out, purely by accident, there's some kind of a Da Vinci code in my resume, and I can't see it because I haven't read that book, but all of the hiring managers eat that shit up, so they see it right away, and the code says, STARVE THE BEAST. That is what is causing all of these problems. I will find a way to get paid, though. I always do.

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.