By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
February 18, 2003 I had a nice Mike Saul's Birthday on Friday. His roommates made tacos and invited people over. Saul regaled the dinner party with stories of knife fights from his smuggling days in the South China Sea. The only unpleasant moment came midway through a story about a one-armed card shark he once knew. Without explanation, Saul stopped talking, became possessive of the ground beef and grew belligerent towards anyone who asked for it. He never finished the story. In time, he released the ground beef for general consumption, but by then, the ice cream cake had been delivered. Later, we went to a bar, The Hideout, where they were celebrating some other, obscure holiday. We leaned against the wall and discussed who in the crowd would last how long in Okinawa during a full moon.
Tomorrow, the 19th, is my own birthday.
(news) Aspiring British artists are being offered the chance to head south and chill out creatively in the world's last great wilderness, Antarctica. British Antarctic Survey and the Arts Council of England are offering to take two selected artists free of charge down to the frozen continent to spend two months working during the southern hemisphere summer. Places are open to painters, poets, photographers, film-makers and writers with the condition that they produce works inspired by their experiences and underscoring the scientific significance of Antarctica. "We are trying to spread the scientific message of why Antarctica is so important," a BAS spokeswoman told Reuters. "These people might go on producing works based on their experiences on the ice for years to come," she added.
Obviously, I am raging. Why am I not British? I plan to indict some motherfuckers in the present criminal conspiracy to classify me as not being British, and I plan to hand down those indictments with a fury. I will raise that question with my family when we get together later this week for me and my brother's birthday. At first, they will think that I am joking. In the meantime, someone has to begin petitioning these people to drop the 'UK Nationals' requirement, thereby ending their obeisance to this goddam conspiracy against my peace of mind. Either that, or I need a quick green card marriage. Do they have those in the UK? Somehow, I doubt it. This is very complicated. Damn it.
I realized, while talking to a long-time reader in person for the first time at the aforementioned Hideout, the good Ms. Haffner, that I never finished the story of my retarded plant from last spring. I thought that other readers might also be wondering, so I will belatedly conclude the tale now. The Human Resources department here at RabbiCo likes to hand out presents to every employee whenever a Jewish holiday comes around. I'm generally aware of when Passover or Rosh Hashanah is on the docket, because I suddenly have triple the work load, but holidays like Shavuoth and Tu B'Shevat tend to catch me off-guard. The latter, Jewish Arbor Day, provided occasion for Human Resources to deposit a potted plant on everyone's desk. I like plants well enough, but I have never claimed to be able to take care of one, let alone one with the severe developmental disabilities that my plant turned out to have. This was a slow plant, a special ed plant. This plant could not do much on its own. To make matters worse, the rabbi hates it when Human Resources gives out gifts, so he waited until I went to the bathroom and then put his plant on my desk. We had a furious row about whether his plant was my responsibility. I lost, of course, because I have a shred of human decency. So, now I had two plants, one of which was clearly stealing light and nutrients from the other, retarded one, and the entire situation was bringing me down. The rabbi's plant got tossed in with a communal bunch of plants that I found in another part of the floor. The janitorial staff takes care of those. The ultimate fate of my own plant is somewhat harder to talk about. It was not doing well, even during a trial residency in the communal bunch. They were doing some landscaping across the street at the then-new UBS Warburg building, and I carried my plant over there. What happened next is too personal to talk about. Have you ever read or seen Of Mice and Men? Oh, poor, sad, retarded plant. Oh, poor, sad, retarded world.
February 17, 2003 Here is news, cross-referenced and investigated for you:
(last week's news) The first building ever erected on Antartica is being lost under mountains of Penguin excrement. Around 100,000 Adelie penguins live beside the hut built by Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink, the first person to land on Antarctica, in 1895. Unfortunately, their shit is at least three feet deep around the hut, and is destroying the fabric of the building. (see also.)
(this week's news) "We organized a rally (against the war) here at the US Amundsen-Scott Station, South Pole, Antarctica. We were only five rallying, probably the smallest protest in the world. Antarctica is the only continent where no wars ever happened and where all countries recognise that the only way to survive is collaboration."
The price of militarism has reached the most remote corners of the world, as a massive onslaught of penguin shit goes unattended in five peoples' desperate attempt to pull civilization back from the brink of disaster. Should the penguins be seen as engaged in symbolic protest against the war - mistakenly blaming Norwegian aggression, but you cannot expect accuracy from their critiques, they are, after all, a species that tends to fall over backwards when they try to watch planes flying overhead - or are the penguins merely naked opportunists, seizing a moment when the rest of the world is distracted to act on a long-held grudge? Do they next plan some vicious act of historical revisionism? These are questions. We read further into this Carsten Borchgrevink:
(biography) Both (Henrik Johann) Bull and Borchgrevink went on the lecture circuit in Melbourne and Sydney but could not raise enough interest to finance a second expedition. Falling on deaf ears, Borchgrevink left for England. He presented his study to the Geographical Congress in London which resulted in Dr. H. R. Mill declaring "His blunt manner and abrupt speech stirred the academic discussions with a fresh breeze of realism. No one liked Borchgrevink very much at that time, but he had a dynamic quality and a set purpose to get out again to the unknown South that struck some of us as boding well for exploration".
And the results of his expedition:
The average age of the wintering party was 27 years old. A number of measurements were taken at the start and conclusive evidence showed that the three Englishmen were, on average, taller, stronger and heavier than the Norwegians while the two Finns, although small in stature, were slim and capable of withstanding any amount of cold. Until winter arrived on May 15, various members of the party surveyed the coast of Robertson Bay and collected specimens of birds, fish, seals and penguins. Then the blizzards hit. On July 24 the huts were nearly destroyed by fire as a candle left burning in a bunk set the structure on fire. A great deal of damage occurred before the flames were extinguished. On the night of August 31, Hanson, Ellifsen and Bernacchi were nearly asphyxiated by coal fumes as they slept. Coal had been left burning in the stove and luckily Bernacchi woke up in time to throw open the door before they all died. One of the Finns fell to the bottom of a crevasse. Fortunately he had a knife with him and, by cutting toeholds in the ice, he was able to climb out to safety. Hanson, the expedition's zoologist, died on October 14.
Who would the penguins have liked among the crew? Who would have been their friend, understood then, turned them upright when they fell over? That's right: the zoologist. The suddenly dead zoologist.
The cause of his death is still a mystery. He was buried at the top of Cape Adare and Bernacchi wrote "There amidst profound silence and peace, there is nothing to disturb that eternal sleep except the flight of seabirds."
Do you have chills? If not, ask your momma if you a robot, because this shit is chilling.
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
I am a soccer ball,
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.
April 3, 2002 Here is a thought for the makers of robots: the simulation of consciousness is a fine and interesting goal, but I think that many people would be satisfied to have someone to play catch with.
I did not work today. I will not work tomorrow. I received the lowest power bill of my life today, less than half of last month's total, twenty-two percent lower than last March, when I was gone for a full week at the beginning of the month. I was unduly perplexed. I don't know what was different about my life last month. The power bill will sit around for a couple of weeks until I am tired of seeing it, and then I will pay it.
A pair of overdue book reviews:
A Death In The Family
Not the landmark storyline in Batman from 1988 wherein the Joker killed Robin, but, rather, the only novel by James Agee, who was known for his work with photographer Walker Evans on populist Dust Bowl journalism in the 1940s and his film criticism, which served as a model for the genre in that he was devoted to finding overlooked beauty and championing films of value without wallowing in intellectual self-indulgence or easy swipes at so-called Hollywood product that are, themselves, as shallow as that which they claim to critique. (Or, more succinctly, Jonathan Rosenbaum.) But let me get back to Batman for a moment. It's an interesting historical note that, although the Death of Robin storyline had a major impact upon comics for years to come and shattered sales records over the course of four issues, it really sucked. There were three good pages: one single panel with Lady Shiva early on, and two pages with Superman in the last issue. The rest were unbelievably bad, devolving to a point wherein Iran nominates Joker as its envoy to the United Nations just to irk Batman. I mean, holy shit. The novel by James Agee, on the other hand, is good. He belonged to that school of classic American writers in the first half of the last century who had a lot of talent, drank a lot, and died early. I don't agree with the editors of this volume that Agee was "basically done" with the book when he died, but it is more or less complete. It's a meticulous, careful study of the love a family feels for each other and then grief, as felt by characters of three ages. (The small boy, Rufus, especially gets me. He reminds me quite a lot of the boy from Joseph Heller's Something Happened. Man, I'm always reading these books that wreck me. Everyone else on the train reads Harry Potter.) Agee's roots in populist journalism ensure that the book is never sentimental or morbid, and the characters' voices are perfectly heard. And the essential humanism (vs. religion) at the heart of the book goes down nicely with types like me. Undeniably brilliant. Not a barrel of laughs, though.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2
Frank Miller, Lynn Varley
Not the landmark storyline involving Batman in 1986 wherein a brilliant psychological portrait of an aging hero was drawn, but, rather, the sequel to that storyline, 16 years later, and, sadly, significantly less good. There is just nothing compelling about this series, no vision, just a lot of sound and babble and flailing about for effect. By the end, it doesn't even seem as though Frank Miller can lay out a page any more. Was Klaus Janson the real talent behind The Dark Knight Returns? Well, no, probably not. But, man, has Miller ever lost the plot with this one.
I have seen some commercials for the trip to Antactica contest, and I have not yet won it, so I am now changing my strategy, which is to request that everybody signs up for the contest and just plans to have me along. You will like me. I am a real charmer when I have to be.
March 26, 2002 Some poor child is being dragged from cubicle to cubicle to greet swarming crones of its mother's acquaintance and has finally lost its shit. Oh, child. This is only the fifth floor. I remember being taken around on the circuit when I was very young, and I brought pictures with me to give to people, and I didn't think that any of the people I was introduced to were very interesting, so I gave them to strangers, who accepted them awkwardly.
I leave work early tomorrow, and then I have the rest of the week off.
There is a contest to win a trip to Antarctica, and you are instructed to stay the fuck away from it, because I am meant to go to Antarctica, I have always been meant to go to Antarctica, and if I do not have to lay down any cash to get there, so much the better. I am going to do wonders for Antarctica. I am going to bring grape flavoring and make entire square-miles into sno-cones for people and penguins alike. With luck, no one else will enter, and they will have to pick me by default. I wish an essay was required as part of the contest. No one could step to me on this topic. You may have noticed that the contest is a trip for two. The other person will be a monkey. He will wear a winter coat. Yes.
February 27, 2002
I had an idea for a good mysterious scrap of paper to be left behind by vanished settlers at a distant outpost. It will either have to be in Antarctica or outer space, since that vanished settler shit doesn't really fly in Naperville, but, okay, the settlers have been dropped off and left to put their settlement together, and the main ship heads back for supplies. It returns to check on them a year later, and they are all gone, vanished without a trace - except one scrap of paper, or perhaps one piece of writing on a wall:
we haue receivd strange and divers cookies
And then the mystery about where they got off to is never solved. Puts Roanoke to shame, I think. I received some strange cookies yesterday, so I was thinking about that.
Some people have been asking when I am going to get my monkey football team off the ground. I bought a GameCube with my income tax refund, and I bought a pair of sports games (Madden Football and FIFA Soccer) with the intention of using the Create-A-Player feature to assemble entire teams of monkeys to dominate the sports world. (I checked both of the manuals, and there is nothing in the rule book that says I can't have an orangutan playing goalie.) My plan has been carefully drawn and has a number of stages that will ensure its success. I am trying to get better at both of the games so the monkeys won't lose all the time and get discouraged. I think I am ready to move forward with the monkey soccer team first. (There are still some lingering questions about who will play what position on the football team.) I am leaning toward entering them in the English Premier League first, although I may have them beat up on the American MLS first. I'm not sure. Anyhow, leading a team of monkeys to victory in the World Cup is a much better and more satisfying goal than my previous ones regarding writing and performing, so I have reoriented my efforts in that direction.
Parents should dream of their children's disillusionment being as elegant as mine.
Here are a pair of topical linky-links: Evidently, Irvine Welsh is doing a free reading and DJ session at the Metro on Thursday. I might go to that, if I don't get too wrapped up in the monkey soccer issue. Also, I should note that the band Cornershop released a new single entitled "Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III". I haven't heard the song, but I'm humming it, if you know what I mean.
Here are a few new plays starring the ever-popular CHARACTER and his friend / enemy, INTERVIEWER:
Glaring at each other, the CHARACTER and the INTERVIEWER head in separate directions: One to the dinner buffet, and one to the ice cream machine. It is not entirely clear which is which. The CHARACTER exits, his plate full, and the INTERVIEWER is left alone onstage.
INTERVIEWER: I hate that guy.
The INTERVIEWER is consumed by his hatred. This is all ironic and shit, because he's at a buffet.
The INTERVIEWER has turned off his tape recorder. From across the table, he glares angrily at the CHARACTER.
INTERVIEWER: I am tired of talking about your penis.
The CHARACTER is slain.
III. HOT POTATO
The interview is going reasonably well to this point. The audience is tense, wondering how long the tenuous peace between the INTERVIEWER and the CHARACTER can last.
INTERVIEWER: Have you been eating enough potatoes?
The audience gasps, surprised that the INTERVIEWER's response did not incorporate the word 'motherfucker'.
INTERVIEWER: And what do you have there?
The audience erupts in cheers, finally getting the friction they came to see.
CHARACTER: Fuck you, it's stupid. Maybe you never heard of a little thing called the Irish Potato Famine.
A generation passes, and the INTERVIEWER dies of the Irish Potato Famine. Now, it is the INTERVIEWER who looks foolish, not the CHARACTER. But then, we are forced to consider that the CHARACTER is alone in a universe with a god that has a really faulty understanding of history, and suddenly, the CHARACTER seems to be the real fool. The audience considers the issues and becomes remarkably enlightened, much more so than all of the other audiences at the other plays, who come to appear moronic by comparison.
September 18, 2001
Here is one for the biography you are writing about me:
There is a story of Olivier after a particularly remarkable performance of Othello. Maggie Smith, his Desdemona, knocked on his dressing room door as she was on her way out of the theater and saw him staring at the wall, holding a tumbler of whiskey. She told him his work that night was magic. And he said, in, I suspect, tears and despair, "I know it was...and I don't know how I did it."
- William Goldman, Which Lie Did I Tell?
I am, once again, not working. No one returns my calls. Chinese hackers interrupt my cable feed with a looped four-hour documentary about microbes filmed inside the ass of an incontinent panda. I am not allowed to leave the apartment, because I have to be here to answer the phone, should the bastards call; and the bastards know this, taking the opportunity to throw a block party, one block down. I don't know what I ever did to those guys.
If I kept a list on this webpage of things that should not be thrown at my head, and I promised not to go overboard with it, would it have any influence over your behavior at all? The first item is bricks.
The job situation being what it is, I had all but signed the forms to hook up with the Raytheon Corporation and go to Antarctica, but then it occurred to me that it might be misconstrued as a response to the current political climate. So, instead, here is a scene from a play that I am writing about dinosaurs.
Lights up. DINOSAUR and OTHER DINOSAUR are in a lush forest, full of vegetation and small, exotic life forms. They are eating: silently, but comfortably aware of each other's presence. Finally, OTHER DINOSAUR looks up.
OTHER DINOSAUR: Well, that about does it for me. I'm full.
Suddenly, in the distance, there is a loud sound. The dinosaurs are startled.
OTHER DINOSAUR: What the fuck?
They die. Lights down.
Do you think it would compromise the work if I had the dinosaurs deal with social issues? I might have one of them be gay, and the other could come to terms with it. I worry that it would detract from the integrity of my main themes, though.
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.
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.