I woke up in a strange place

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

August 18, 2010

I enjoyed this article about the twilight world of the celebrity autograph convention circuit. When the guy who played Peter on "The Brady Bunch" says things like "I still believe in the mystery of celebrity", then you pretty much just have to nod and keep your stupid comments in your pocket.

(I'm aware that the nature of the event changed years ago, but there's a part of me that's still 14 and cannot fathom why the Soup Nazi from "Seinfeld" is at ComiCon.)

Here is a letter I have never received:

Dear clever man on the Internet,

I am directing a production of Hamlet, and I need to come up with a daring new interpretation of the play. I do not have time to alter the text, so I need something that uses all of the original words, but is still daring and new. The Shakespeare in the Park guys are doing a production of Othello that's either set in the water reclamation district or a gourmet kitchen (they haven't decided which), so they have reserved all of the modern dress in town, and the other theater is doing Macbeth set in a salsa dancing class, so there is no modern dress for me to use. As you can see, then, my options are quite limited. (Obviously, doing the play as it was written is not an option, as the other directors will laugh at me.) Please give me a daring new interpretation of Hamlet that nobody has ever done before. I will do nothing whatsoever for you in return.

A famous cutting-edge director

I am happy to oblige. Here are the five words you need:

"Hamlet is cool with it."

In this daring new interpretation, Hamlet has always liked Claudius, and is happy to see his mother get together with him. Shame about Dad, of course, but what are you going to do? The appearance of the ghost serves to reinforce the point that nothing can bring Hamlet down. Everyone enjoys his incessant gibberish; it is a nice pick-me-up, what with all of the death lately. Various of Hamlet's college friends — Horatio, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern — are summoned to the palace to enjoy Hamlet's goofy antics. (During the "to be or not to be" speech, he is making a silly monkey face and trying to decide whether his monkey impression is ready to go, or whether he should practice it some more.)

The text will support you in all of this. Actors may have to say certain lines in a sarcastic tone of voice, or wink as they speak. But people do that sort of thing.

The Murder of Gonzago is enacted in order to let Claudius know that even if he had killed the king, which everyone knows he'd never actually do, it would be fine, because Hamlet likes him that much. Hamlet is giving Claudius a thumbs up throughout all of this.

Ophelia is a cat. She is in heat and goes a bit weird as a result. Polonius is also a cat. Hamlet inadvertently knocks the window open by recklessly stabbing through the curtain, and Polonius escapes through the window. Everyone is sad about that. Ophelia gets neutered and will not stop messing around with her stitches. She must be put to sleep, and everyone is sad about that as well. But Hamlet and Laertes hold a terrifically exciting fencing exhibition, and everyone is roused from their lethargy. They share a drink.

Cat amidst the wreckage.

Fortinbras is carrying Polonius as he arrives. (Polonius was up in a tree.) The entire court is pretending to be dead in order to surprise Fortinbras, little suspecting that he has a surprise for them.

February 17, 2004


1. For reasons none of them were capable of articulating, the class placed Ireland third on their list of 'most dangerous places in the world', one spot ahead of North Korea. 2. I did a lesson on apologies as a subtle cue for Tadashi to apologize for being such a fucking dimwit. 3. Bless you Rie K., phantom student, bestower of open lessons! 4. Chisato shrieked a lot, mainly. 5. Middle-Aged Yoshie was making her electronic dictionary say 'CAT' when I walked in, giving little cause for optimism that she might be able to handle adverbs. 6. The wombats were sleeping when Naomi-O visited the zoo on her honeymoon in Australia, so she bought a souvenir wombat from the gift shop. 7. Hiroyuki thanked me profusely for teaching him how to answer business phone calls in English, although his habit of naming all of the hypothetical characters "Mr. Nonny-nonny" was a bit odd, unless he was trying to make a Shakespeare reference. 8. Masaki resumed his habitual bitching about the lack of commitment and discipline among the other members of his mini-volleyball team, all of whom are more than twenty years old than him, dropped subtle innuendoes about the amount of chocolate he received for Valentine's Day and then admitted it was all from members of his mini-volleyball team, declared his intention to be the greatest mini-volleyball player of all time, not to mention the greatest English speaker at our school, tried to get a scouting report on his competition (the other high-level students), bemoaned the absence of teenage girls in their high school uniforms from his usual lesson times, bitched about the old folks on his mini-volleyball team some more, took off his shoes, stretched, bragged about the recognition he has received in the mini-volleyball world, ran his fingers through the Cthulu hell-mouth that is his hairline, drooled a bit and slumped meekly in his chair as the bell rang and I was finally released.

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.)

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.

March 19, 2002 I hit my head on the bottom corner of my kitchen cabinet on Thursday. It hurt. There was a fairly large gash above my eyebrow, so I put a bandage over it. I was still wearing the bandage when I went to work the next day. I resolved to have a different explanation for every single person who asked about it, and I was pretty excited about the challenge. But no one asked.

There is a RabbiTech fundraising event tonight and I am afraid that I will have to work there. The rabbi and I are the only people in this office who do not work on fundraising. He gives the fundraising people ideas from time to time, and I write those ideas out for him, but for the most part, he has his own agenda, and I follow along. Since I sit among the fundraising people, though, I seem to be classified - when it's convenient - as one of them, and there was a mass email a couple weeks ago saying that all of the fundraising people have to work the event. So, I don't know. We'll see what happens. I will get nasty if I have to go. The event is a stand-up comedy show ($100 seats) by Martin Short. I don't much like Martin Short. He is Robin Williams minus "Dead Poets Society", "The Fisher King", "Good Will Hunting", the legendary early coke-fueled stand-up and improv with Jonathan Winters; when you take that away, all that's left is crafted and crusty "impressions", spitting and spluttering as a punchline and gay hairdressers. All technique, no heart. Probably a nice guy who has no idea he's inconveniencing me. I am capable of getting nasty.

After work today, I was planning to buy a big tree thing for my cats to climb on. Although they never seem to mind, I've always felt bad that they can't go outside, so I thought they might like a big thing to climb. Seems reasonable. I'd like a big thing to climb. I already know there's nothing on the ceiling, though.

I keep forgetting to update my reading list. It's been several weeks now. I will try to catch up now.

What A Carve Up!
Jonathan Coe

Ah! A great book. Thom Yorke referenced it in an interview during the OK Computer era, and it had been floating somewhere in the middle of my list ever since. The reference is slightly misleading, though. It doesn't read like the sort of book that the "character" of OK Computer would have written. The similarity is in what they both react against, the pigs, the sense of outrage that reaches a point where it can't be articulated and then spirals off into something compelling and strange (Radiohead) or hilarious (Coe). (And, with equal power, sad.) The book is about a fantastically evil family, brilliant creations all, and the downtrodden author who pursues them. It's one of those quintessentially British novels where people do horrible things to each other and the reader is trusted to understand that even though what has just happened is very funny, it is also horrible, and you should take appropriate measures with both reactions, which won't interfere with each other. (Americans don't seem to get that level of trust very often from their art.) Gobs of self-assured talent are evident and the story is endlessly inventive. Highly recommended.

Russell Banks

Terrifically long (750+ pgs) book "by" Owen Brown, son of John Brown, rabid abolitionist who led a bloody armed insurrection against slavery before the Civil War. This is one of those books that was more interesting when I wasn't reading it. The relationships - of Owen to his father, and to some of the figures surrounding his father - had all of the complexity and chaotic architecture of ones you'd recognize from real life, but I didn't have any immediate reaction to them until later, when I thought about what I'd read earlier that day or week - which isn't a bad thing, of course, but makes a massive book like this tough going. Most interesting to me (and expertly handled here) were all of the differences in abolitionist theology in pre-Civil War America and the practical, how-to details on showing up somewhere and setting up a home and livelihood. The exciting bits - the insurrection - don't arrive until 600 pages in, and many details that would have been interesting are left out for commitment to the character's limited perspective. I think, for my purposes, I would have been better off with a straight history (rather than historical fiction like this).

Antony and Cleopatra
William Shakespeare

Shakespeare dashes off another brilliant one. I have a degree in literature, which means that I've read a fuck-ton of Shakespeare in academic settings, and he still manages to surprise me. Antony and Cleopatra, two of the greatest lovers of all time, right? So, the easy move is to show them in love, at the height of their passion, etc, and you can show off how well you write romantic poetry. Shakespeare, though, introduces them when they're just past ecstasy, and they're starting to realize that they are bound to each other, and they're clawing and clinging at the same time. The academic interest is in the question of Antony's responsibility to take up his position in Rome or linger with Cleopatra, but the real interest, for me, is the morning after for the two lovers, and as the Antony contends with the younger Octavian, the feeling of age dawning, of trying to get it back. So, another great one for the Big Dog.

The Human Stain
Philip Roth

I have avoided mentioning Philip Roth and Woody Allen around the rabbi because I don't want to hear him do a routine on the whole New York Jewish Intellectuals Who Don't Practice The Religion scene. I'd give the rabbi enough credit to possibly like some Woody Allen films, although it's also quite possible that he doesn't. Either way, avoidance seems the best tactic. This is a good book. Like his previous book, I Married A Communist, this one is fueled by a profound outrage that is very mature yet no less electricifying. That one was about how politics need to leave art the fuck alone because there's so much more to art than politics, and this one is about how academic theorists need to leave humans the fuck alone because there's so much more to humans than academic labels. The phrase he uses is "the ecstasy of sanctimony", and I think anyone who's ever been victim of it will recognize it right away, so you can gauge your interest based on that.

City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America
Donald Miller

Pretty damn good history of Chicago from the first arrival of Europeans in the region to the end of the World's Fair in 1893, taking the city from nothing to insane mudhole to its peak. The author puts a great deal of effort into his descriptions - the surreally disgusting slums, the ludicrous difficulty of making the land in Chicago practical for building and living - and the effort fits together quite nicely with his style of constructing history through well-chosen anecdotes about the common people involved. (Or, proletarian in a useful way. There's a tendency in some populist histories to reject the Great Man Theory of history, wherein history is understood as being moved exclusively by the actions of a few famous people, so thoroughly that it becomes willfully blind to the inescapably major impact of said few famous people.) The focus of the book is on the nuts and bolts of the simple fact of how Chicago was built at each stage of its development, and he gets that across very well. He also does a pretty good job of identifying the major figures (businessmen like George Pullman, architects like Louis Sullivan) and giving them full portraits without stopping the narrative momentum cold. There are a handful of slow patches, but that's to be expected in a history this size, and they're not many. Highly recommended if you're interested in the topic. The only weakness would be the uninspired selection of photographs.

Something Like an Autobiography
Akira Kurosawa

Wonderful! I like Akira Kurosawa's films quite a bit, but this book is worth reading even if you've never seen one. Unlike the standard artist autobiography, Kurosawa ends right before the point in his life where he becomes famous worldwide for Rashomon. Instead, the book is divided between two lovingly and brilliantly re-created halves: his childhood growing up in Meiji Japan, as the country made the transition (in a very short amount of time) from the feudal samurai era to the modern one, and then the story of the fledgling Japanese film industry, trying to stay afloat and find purpose, identity, etc. There are several incredibly funny bits, and even some eyes-water-over poignant ones, all written without apparent ego or calculation. He had an incredible memory for details and brief anecdotes that give a sense of the entire situation. Highly recommended.

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto

Having written one of my theses in this field - deconstructionist film criticism - I feel qualified to say that it is not necessarily bad to state that the intention of your book is "to problematize dominant interpretive frameworks", as long as the phrase "for me to poop on" follows in quick succession. Sadly, no one told Yoshimoto. His joyless book is now being pooped on.

January 1, 2002

Q: "Ode to a Metal Band Sticker, Seen on a Highway Tollbooth Change Dish" is one of your most poignant works.
A: Well, they used a really intense font on the sticker, and I felt I had to match that intensity.
Q: The artistic process...
A: There were skulls, too.
Q: The happenstance, the world's minutae, do they play a vital part in your artistic process?
A: Hey, I was just amazed that someone decided to call their band "Fuckbucket".

-- from Marc Heiden: The Berlin Interviews, pg 274.

William Shakespeare

Fucking brilliant, and absolutely one of his best. Why isn't this one better known? It seems to have had a spotty performance history, I suppose. There's no clear sympathetic figure, but it's not as though Shakespeare's tragedies usually have a crowd favorite, and the lead character in this is charismatic as hell. It is the Rome of Julius Caesar, but it is the infected world of Macbeth. Coriolanus himself is a masterful creation, just a shade below Macbeth in the ranks of characters driven sick and desperate by their own pride and ambition. The supporting cast is one of Shakespeare's tightest - (almost) no extraneous clowns and such - and one of his best, especially the adversary, who seems to have every bit the complexity and life of the lead, and Coriolanus's mother, about whom companion volumes to the Hamlet ones could be written. The plot is simple, clean and jaw-dropping until the very end. I could direct a production of this play that would make hundreds of thousands of dollars and garner national attention if someone would give me the money and resources. I mean, just in case you had said money and resources and were wondering what to do with them.

October 31, 2001

Reading this month:

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?
Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Avon Oeming

My friend came over and looked at my bookshelves; upon seeing that I'd never read this, he pissed all over my graphic novels and beat the crap out me when I asked him to stop. I don't know why I have such mean friends. This is a good book that fills the void left by Kurt Busiek's Astro City rather nicely, with art that falls between Bruce Timm's Batman and a manga flavor.

William Shakespeare

Obviously, Shakespeare is a friend of mine. I am a fan of his much-maligned later plays; even at the very end of his career, he never stopped pushing himself to try new things. Cymbeline's plot may have more ins and outs than anything he ever wrote. It's sort of a history play, about a king of ancient Britain who defied the Romans, but it also works as a fantasy, like The Tempest, and there are a couple of lines when the inevitably parted lovers are united that are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The god Jupiter makes a surprise appearance, unannounced in the cast list, and Doctor Cornelius will make you stand up and cheer when he slyly double-crosses the double-crosser. Scholars place it either before or after The Winter's Tale, but it reminds me more of a dry run for the magical aura that was perfectly realized in The Tempest than The Winter's Tale, which I'd place alongside Pericles in terms of raw, unpolished emotional impact (showing the author's advanced age and undeniable soul). Though Cymbeline is static at times on the page, it's easy to imagine it rocking the house in performance. Anyhow, the guy can fucking write, so get off his back.

Irvine Welsh

Ah. The man's back on top form. He's one of my favorite writers, so I lack even more perspective than usual, but I liked this one a lot. His last book, Filth, was a virtuoso performance, almost physically affecting in its brutality, but also something I'd never read again; only the last third of Ecstasy rated great. You can tell from the start of this one, though, that Welsh is back in the zone. Being one of his books, the title serves as assurance that the bonds of friendship will be revealed to be as strong as glue and glue itself will probably be sniffed. Nice. The characters are fully inhabited, and his narrative voice remains committed to them and the strong choices he makes; stories criss-cross over decades, and the principals of Trainspotting even make brief and welcome reappearances. The ultimate impact doesn't rate with the aforementioned, but there's still something genuine about it that's all its own.

Buppies, B-Boys, Baps & Bohos: Notes on Post-Soul Black Culture
Nelson George

A laser-smart series of essays tracing black culture, both on the art itself and its interplay with mainstream America, originally written for The Village Voice and a few other NYC outlets. Some are about pop culture subjects that are now dated beyond irrelevance, but most are well-written enough to be interesting as historical objects if nothing else. There also a few exceptional ones drawn directly from the author's life. The vast majority of the essays are from 1992 or earlier, though, with a handful of new ones (which also happen to be the best in the book) to mark the revised 2001 edition.

Motherless Brooklyn
Jonathan Lethem

For a time, while working as a museum security guard, what I read was determined primarily by the size of the book. If it fit into the blazer's inside pocket and could therefore be smuggled into the gallery during my shift, it received consideration. One day during winter break, I worked a nine hour shift all by myself in basement, in the pre-Colombian and Egyptian galleries. Being a museum in a college town while the students were away, I think there were literally no visitors for the entire day, so I wound up reading an entire book from start to finish: Jonathan Lethem's As She Climbed Across The Table, a wacky yet tender story of love among grad student physicists. My last decent relationship was with a biochemist grad student who had dumped me a couple weeks prior, so I kept nodding my head as I read and saying, yep, it's like that, science girls are crazy. I hadn't heard anything about the book before reading it, but it fit in the coat, so I bought it and wound up liking it a lot, the randomness of the discovery casting a glow around the entire thing.

Now Lethem is part of the McSweeney's posse, and he has this book out. The main character has Tourette's syndrome, and it is creating a problem for me in that I have only known one guy with Tourette's, a sensitive feminist metalhead, and he is a spectacularly poor match with the character that I think I am supposed to be envisioning, yet as my primary reference point for Tourette's, he's all I've got. I've found that if I make an active effort to visualize a guy in a fedora, I can think of the character as him instead of the metalhead, but then the character has to be wearing a fedora at all times.

Anyway, I like Lethem's writing, and this book. It's not of the towering monumental brilliance variety, but it reminds me of something that the nicest guy you know might have written and poured his heart into, with deserved props awarded for inventiveness and character (more than, say, story).

Me Talk Pretty One Day
David Sedaris

I like to keep track of the books that I see being read on the train, and this one has definitely been a favorite over the last couple months, rating behind only the perennial Ayn Rand / Harry Potter / "Poisonwood Bible" crowd. It's been on my list of books to read for a while. My friend James speaks only in David Sedaris quotes and Eminem lyrics, so I felt like I'd read it already. (There is absolutely nothing true in that last sentence, but I enjoyed typing it.) I was afraid that the glut of glowing reviews from everyoneeverywhere was going to turn me off to it, but any apprehension I had was completely disarmed once I started reading. It's a collection of essays about the author's life, with the first half forming an autobiography of sorts (though the stories were originally written for different publications) and the second half describing the author's current life as an expatriate in France. Breezy, quite funny, a total pleasure to read. I liked it a lot. It has a lot of badly translated language material, which always cracks me up. I rarely make a noise while laughing unless I tell myself to, but I made noise without thinking while laughing at many bits of this book, for whatever that's worth.

Hieronymous Bosch
Walter S. Gibson

Kind of a sucky book on the fantastic Mr Bosch. Most of the reproductions are in black and white and either cropped or miniscule (or both), so it's basically worthless from a visual standpoint. The central argument in Bosch scholarship is over the source for the artist's imagery, which can draw the phrase "whoa, that's fucked up" from the lips of the most stoic and sober of men. Some treat Bosch as a surrealist 400 years ahead of his time; others attempt to link the images to corners of obscure Christian cults from the Middle Ages, always a good time; and others, like Gibson, play it straight and try to get what they need from the mainstream Church and artistic contemporaries. This author rejects Freudian analysis of Bosch with the hilariously flawed reasoning that since Freud's theory of the unconscious hadn't yet been articulated, it cannot be applied to people of the era. (Because humanity didn't have an unconscious until Freud decided they did?) I don't rate the unconscious as a primary source either, but when you've got a piece of flawed reasoning like that in the first few pages, the rest of the essay is probably a lost cause. (Stodgy academics get nervous about having to diversify and demand that the subject conform to their area of expertise.) I'm still waiting for one of these so-called experts to explain the shrouded tiny duck-bill nosed demon monk who pops up in Bosch's larger works, anyway. Scariest damn thing I've ever seen on a canvas.

Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast
Patrick McGilligan

A giant book about the director of Metropolis and M, among many others; his first American film, Fury, is also a favorite of mine, and you can't beat that Dr. Mabuse, the original sinister web guy. The central thesis of this book is that Lang was bat-shit crazy. This is one of those books (like Donald Spoto's book on Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius) that makes such a strong case for its subject's lunacy that you're left wondering how the guy ever got a film made in the first place without getting thrown off a building. Ah! But such good films. This is a brick-sized book with mountains of research, probably the best single book if you're interested in the director but overload for a casual reader. The story of Lang's deadly game of cat and mouse with Goebbels and subsequent flight from Nazi Germany does make for some brilliant drama, even if the author suspects it was mostly invented. I'd like to write a Shadow of the Vampire type film based on it. Oh! And Fritz Lang had a wooden monkey named Peter that he kept with him for the last fifty years of his life, from Vienna to Berlin to Paris to Hollywood, and he liked to talk to the monkey and give the monkey a book to read whenever he was reading something. I knew there was some subtle emotional connection that I was making to his films. That explains it!

September 30, 2001

Reading this month:

Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast
Patrick McGilligan

A giant book about the director of Metropolis and M, among many others.

The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays
Tom Stoppard

All of Tom Stoppard's plays - at least, those of which I am aware - are great or very good plays for theatrical purposes, but some are significantly better on the page than others. Travesties and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead can be fully embraced in any form; Arcadia and The Real Inspector Hound are very good on the page, but tangibly lack a vital something that they are capable of possessing onstage; and some, like Dirty Linen and Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, aren't much fun when read and really need the stage to be appreciated. That's not a fault with his writing, by any means; more of a compliment to his trickiness with language patterns and crafty staging, and anyway plays exist to be played, first and foremost. But it should be noted. This collection features two good-on-pagers (Inspector Hound and After Magritte) and a back half that I liked well enough to want to see onstage but which fall into that last category. Of course, maybe I was just scatter minded when I read them and that entire half-assed thesis above is bullshit. I'm completely willing to accept the possibility.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon

Pretty good. I never managed to fully embrace this book, but I did enjoy it. It's quite schizophrenic, quality-wise. Wonderfully bold plot and character choices sit alongside startlingly banal ones, and the feel is alternately lush and brittle. Given that the author comes from the You Should Take Writing Classes In College mob, the narrative voice was surprisingly clumsy and inconsistent (sometimes omniscient, sometimes limiting itself to "sources"). The author certainly has the comic book milieu down, and treats it with the kind of respect for the medium that comic book kids like myself love; he knows the period inside and out, conveys it vividly and weaves his characters into reality extremely well, and the superheroes that his characters create are perfectly suited to the period. (Naming the main hero The Escapist daringly treads a fine line between painfully obvious metaphor and, well, exactly the sort of comic book hero that might have existed then.) I loved that, stricken by grief, the main character winds up precisely where I'd wind up in the same situation. I also loved the use of magic and Houdini, both of which are very central to the book, and I feel rather pleased with myself for having read a Houdini bio by coincidence a few weeks ago. And I'm always up for giving Dr Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent a good kicking. Still, I wasn't satisfied at the end of the book, and I do feel I should be hesitant about recommending a 600+ page book if I wasn't feeling it at the end.

The Human Comedy
William Saroyan

Completely pleasant, run through with some beautiful idiosyncracies and observations. This would be a good book for high school English classes: like most of the standard reading list, there are some awkwardly obvious sections that teachers would inevitably seize upon - thereby alienating most of the class - and the parts that make the book worth reading lie between, as ever unmentioned in the syllabus, graceful like an accident.

Staging in Shakespeare's Theaters
Andrew Gurr and Mariko Ichikawa

The topic makes me giggle and clap my hands like a baby monkey with a brand new red balloon, but, sadly, this particular book runs a dead heat with my VCR owner's manual for passion and compelling prose. There is some very interesting and insightful material - most importantly, the very direct effect that the specific stages used had upon Shakespeare's writing - but there are also some lengthy sections wherein narrative head is lodged firmly up textual arse. A shame.

American Gods
Neil Gaiman

Ah, I don't have the heart to get into it. There is so much here that's truly wonderful, gorgeous, written like no author other than Neil Gaiman could possibly have written, that I felt honestly crushed when it turned into double-crosses, surprise revelations and who tricked who. It genuinely managed to be about belief and gods for a while, in the truest sense of the word "about", and it finished by being about warmed-over Hollywood spy plots. Maybe I'd have liked it more if I hadn't read Sandman (where, incidentally, the main theme of this book was first introduced). There were double-crosses and tricks at the end of that, too, but the marvel was how, revealed as ultimately inconsequential, they described perfectly the inevitability of the series' conclusion and suggested something transcendent; here, they just ring as hollow intrigue and add up to something sadly underwhelming. I love Neil Gaiman's writing so much, but this one broke my heart.

August 31, 2001

Since there's not much else going on, I would like to take this opportunity to make a retraction: every single usage of the letter 'o' on this webpage dating back to March should have included an umlaut (those two dots above the vowel). Please go back and make the change. Then re-read the pages. They should all be much better now.

I cannot stress enough that one of the Soggy Bottom Boys directed the movie O, the forthcoming high school basketball adaptation of Shakespeare's play Othello. If you don't believe me, check for yourself.

I can't decide if I'm more single, unemployed or tricky. The great thing about me is that I am nothing in moderation.

In response to my recent job application, the aquarium sent me a letter telling me to suck beluga whale cock. I found their command of marine anatomy and basic physics to be fairly questionable, especially given that they're supposed to be experts and all. Of course, that wasn't exactly how they phrased the rejection, but having the phrase "whale cock" on this webpage when the search engines come through should put me right behind Yahoo and Amazon.com on the charts. In a related (true) search engine story, photo page 16 is the third most popular piece of HTML on the entire whatjailislike.com domain (behind the index pages for Hesterman and here). Take a quick look. Can you guess why? These words: photos + shit-eating. Oh, man. (1) Fucking Shakespeare never had to wonder how people were going to hypertext archive his work. I am censored by the depravity of my fellow man.

(1) Couldn't they have chosen "god + fuckers" as their search engine query? Boy, that would be intriguing. I'm going to go try that right now. Probably get a bunch of shitty nu-metal band lyrics pages or something.

August 18, 2001

Only one update last week. So, where was I: I was at a casino, up by the craps tables, pretending to be a cowboy mobster. Oh, you say, nodding. Yep, that's pretty much how I imagined you spend your time. And then you walk away. I shrug and mumble that there's more to the story, but you have already caught the train and left town. I turn and talk to cats for a while.

The History Channel, that bedrock of basic cable that bravely dares to document The Forgotten War, World War 2, are doing a True Crime series scheduled for broadcast early next year to break up the monotony of all the Hitler stuff. Serpico is in there, and so is Manson. They decided to do one on the real-life events behind the book and movie Casino, and since everyone who would have anything to say on the topic other than the book's author Nick Pileggi is either dead or won't talk because they're in the mob, the production company decided to do a lot of re-enactment footage to show underneath Pileggi's narration. Now, you may think that every major production involving Jewish gambling mobsters has my number on speed-dial, but they don't; I had to audition for the part. I slicked back my hair, put on a suit and headed downtown.

A brief note about suits: I have worn a suit on only two occasions. Once, to a wedding; the second time, to the audition. When I graduated from college, my mother bought me two suits without asking. I wore the brown one to the audition. I figured that mobsters might like brown. I wear the suits so rarely because I am a dedicated t-shirt and regular pants kind of guy. I don't trust anyone whose value system takes off points for wearing comfortable, low-cost clothes.

I didn't think I would be cast. I have no professional experience, I showed up late, I am way too young and my left leg was shaking uncontrollably during the audition. I don't know why. More than three weeks later, though, I got a phone call from the casting director saying that they had the greenlight and wanted me for the film. I played coy. She said there would be free food. I danced like a fool.

The film was shot in three places: the cornfields of Manhattan, Illinois, which didn't quite turn out like the original Manhattan; Las Vegas, for exteriors; and a major real estate baron's riverboat casino, which is one of those shady operations where it's permanently docked and only technically a boat (land-based casinos are illegal for everyone except Indians, I think, outside of Vegas and Atlantic City). At the casino, the first half of the shoot was in a steakhouse. That was where the opulent scenes of mobsters eating and making decisions took place. The second half was in the casino itself, up with the hardened gamblers.

You may have heard that acting is hard, because actors have to wake up early. Well, that is true. I had to wake up at 6AM. It was hard. Once I arrived on the set, I put on my suit. I brought a few other outfits, but they liked my snappy suit and had me wear it for the entire shoot. Once I was dressed, I headed for the food. There was a fruit plate, bagels, muffins, mountains of donuts, orange juice, bottled water and a single Diet Pepsi. I ate until I was content. There were three leads - the Robert DeNiro part, the Joe Pesci part and the Sharon Stone part - and four people, like me, who divvied up the other acting parts. (A few more more arrived in the afternoon.) The leads were usually busy running back and forth, though the Joe Pesci character had less to do than the other two. When not on camera or standing in, the rest of us spent our time sitting around and having what I immediately knew - even though I've never been on a film set before - were Actors Conversations. Professional actors are fine one on one, but every conversation with three or more devolves into stand-up comedy, desperate attempts to make each other laugh. It's extremely irritating. After lunch there was a political discussion, which was even worse. Several people who talked to me later assumed that I was really smart because I had looked disinterested and said little during the discussion. (No, I'm just poorly socialized.) There was my character's wife, a grizzled vet who had just worked on the upcoming Tom Hanks / Sam Mendes movie The Road to Perdition; there was a guy whose voice was like David Schwimmer sharpened into a knife and plunged into your heart, who flirted laboriously with every woman he met and whose cheerfulness turned into anger as the day grew late and he realized that only his torso had been visible in any of his scenes; there was a Steve Martin lookalike, a nice guy whose bleached hair blinded everyone who saw it; and there was another girl, who seemed very confused about everything that was happening and kept retreating to her Collected Works of William Shakespeare. She was auditioning for Othello the next day. I explained the exclamation "Zounds!" to her.

Getting screen time was a constant competition in which posture, placement and countless other intangibles were vital to winning. The director would come by, scan our posse and pick who she wanted for the current shot. I had an unfair advantage, being as charming as I am; I wound up with the most screen time after the leads (although you never know what will happen during editing). Because of how the shot-to-shot casting worked, character continuity was a little strange. (Odds are, though, that no viewers will notice.) I wasn't assigned a name, so I named my character Tony Cosenza. (1) I wound up playing an amalgam of the pit boss, the incompetent cowboy, the Asian businessman who wins a lot of money and then blows it all, and a maitre'd. Since there was no sound, we improvised all of our dialogue; in one scene, I sold my wife into prostitution to pay off my debts to the Robert DeNiro character. The Joe Pesci character did an amazing monologue about a hallucinatory set of nipples. Lip readers will love this film. I also did a lot of stand-in work for the DeNiro character, who went through upwards of forty outfits in one day. His character smoked a lot but the actor himself didn't, so he used these cabbage-weed cigarettes that smell dead-on like marijuana. They did some shooting in a house, and he had to use real cigarettes there because the residents didn't want their kids thinking that they'd been smoking pot.

Film acting, for simple roles, is extremely easy. You just figure out what you feel about whatever is happening in that shot and feel it for however long it takes, usually for no more than one or two different motions, because then they'll set up for a different angle. For complex roles, of course, it would be hard to keep track of your character's evolution, but for me, it was all "Hmm. I think he'd feel bad about getting fired. Okay, I'll look like I feel bad." I was in one scene at the blackjack table where I got pretty worked up; the dealer (a real employee) gave me several thousand dollars worth of chips, and the director told me to bet heavily. They wanted several takes, though, and I kept needing refills from the dealer because I lost so much. Had that been real money, I'd have lost over a hundred thousand dollars. Crazy. I was dizzy by the end of it because my character kept going to such heights of agony and ecstasy. The dealer confessed to me that he never gambles ("except when I take the Dan Ryan (expressway)"). He was getting irritated by the end because I kept forgetting which color chips were supposed to be stacked on top of which other colors.

Since the casino was technically a riverboat, all of the craps tables came equipped with lifesavers, and due to Coast Guard regulations one of the employees had been designated "Captain", although I didn't meet him.

As for the people who were actually there to gamble, the retirees arrived earliest and petered out by the afternoon; crowds of grim-faced Asians arrived in the early afternoon, but kept exclusively to the poker tables; the afternoon and evening belonged to locals who looked like they should not be spending their meager paychecks from their industrial jobs at this casino but were doing it anyway. Most of them dressed up a little for their day out, but one drunk guy who kept yelling at the actresses wore only a wife-beater and shorts. The employees were a tense and moody lot. The production company was shooting there for free, the people in charge figuring that the advertising was payment enough, but once we were out of the unoccupied steakhouse and in the casino, tensions ran high. Actors were not allowed behind the card tables for any reason whatsoever; as a result, they had to use actual employees as the dealers. The employees claimed that if any playing cards went missing, the whole building would be locked down and everyone strip-searched. During the afternoon, the Joe Pesci character and I had a long inactive period and we hung out behind the camera, happily ridiculing everything within sight. (2) At one point, the casino supervisor came over to talk to the director. His face went from red to purple as he passed, and his bottom lip seemed to suddenly double in size. Four chips were missing, he said, and he started talking about lawsuits. The director took him aside, and I didn't get to hear how she handled it. The last scene of the shoot involved the DeNiro character firing my character, though, and the supervisor got in on the act, laughing and telling me I was fired whenever I saw him. I guess he calmed down.

The production crew was amazing - tight, fast, clear, concise, relaxed under pressure. I think the documentary will probably be very good. Word on the set had it airing in January. I will, of course, raise the roof when I hear more. I'll have only thirty seconds of screen time if I'm lucky, but boy! It was fun.

While I was getting dressed in the bathroom at a sushi bar across the way, the PA played a muzak version of "Gangster's Paradise". I thought that was nice.

(1) In-joke. Sorry.
(2) Some people think that I am hard to talk to. That's not true. If you want to make friends with me, walk up to me and start ridiculing everything in sight. "So how about these fuckin' guys, eh?" It works every time; I smile and join right in.

August 10, 2001

There used to be a handicapped parking spot right in front of my building, but the signs designating it as such have been removed, and anyone can park there. It doesn't change much; I don't remember ever seeing a car with a handicapped permit in the spot, just shady characters hoping the cops wouldn't catch them. I call those guys "handi-shammers", or I would, if I had reason to make reference to them.

Here are two paragraphs about yelling while watching moving pictures:

First, let me say that if you want to go see Monty Python and The Holy Grail while it's being re-released in theatres, you go and do that. It's your right. You are smart, and it is funny, so you should get together. If people start calling out the lines, turn around and tell those people to shut up. Those people have never seen the film outside of their mother's basement, and you can beat those people up, so lay down the law as soon as they start and enjoy the film. Monty Python are brilliant, but most of their fans are not; do not let them ruin it for you, though, because they are weak, and they can be crushed by you. Take back the Python!

A major part of the modern unemployment experience is time spent sitting in front of the television, arguing with images of people who cannot hear you. (1) One series of images that has been on my mind lately is a commercial that promotes the Visa credit card. The commercial begins with the interaction between a mother and her very young child. She is a stay-at-home mother, evidently, because the story opens with a montage series that follows her through an entire day. The events in the montage are intended to be humorously frustrating for the mother: the child causes a mess while shopping at the grocery store, for example, and spits its food back up at her after it is fed. It has not been an easy day for the mother. We are led to understand that she does not significantly interact with people other than her infant child, for when her husband returns home from work, she is only able to speak to him in the cooing "babytalk" vernacular. Victim of her own feminine infirmities, she is helpless and must be saved by her husband, the provider. Fortunately, as can be extrapolated from the mother's ability to stay home all day with her child, the family dwells in economic privilege; through use of the Visa card and The Internet, the husband brings his weak-willed wife down from her hysterical state by ordering tickets for a showing of "Romeo and Juliet". We follow the husband and the wife to the theatre, where it is confirmed that Visa and the husband have saved the day and the woman can now speak in an adult manner. The commercial attempts to provide a humorous punchline: in contrast to her "stupid babytalk" earlier, the wife, now removed from her domestic context, says something "incredibly smart". We are supposed to be impressed by her sudden intelligence: "Wonderful use of iambic pentameter", she says, because only "incredibly smart" people would know what iambic pentameter is and be able to say something so insightful while watching a play. Yeah. She must be really smart to compliment the usage of iambic pentameter in a production of "Romeo and Juliet", by William fucking Shakespeare, who wrote all of his goddam plays in iambic pentameter, you posh cow. "Wonderful use of iambic pentameter." As opposed to all those times when Shakespeare messed it up? Wow, that's some horribly misused iambic pentameter, Shakespeare. Yep, the weak-willed woman can be smart too, except it doesn't work, because that's a fucking stupid thing to say. Fools! I yell at the commercial, and I throw things at the innocent screen, but nothing ever changes.

(1) This does not work as well with books.

January 21, 1999 classes began for me today. the rest of the campus began theirs yesterday. that's how much of a badass I am. looks like a peachy keen semester. I have a neat-looking Shakespeare class early in the morning. the professor asked the class about the relative virtues of seeing Shakespeare performed versus reading the text, whether one was inherently superior to the other. After listening to a few answers, I raised my hand and announced cheerfully that "I don't think actors can be trusted. I mean, they're always trying to pull something. You have to read the play first so that you can figure out what their agenda is." This, like every single other joke I have ever made in any class anywhere at any point in my life, was met with confused silence and finally the professor changed the subject to his lengthy background as an actor. so the class is off to a more or less typical start. should be as fun as...well, other classes have been.

all of that is irrelevant right now, though. I've known about what I'm about to announce for a few days, but I didn't want to mention it in the last update because it was already full of stuff. I wanted this to have a column to itself, the echoing sweep that it deserves.

Scott Adsit left Second City. I had the good fortune to witness one of his last performances, and it was an exceptional one - the cast was in preparations for a new revue, and though the overall presentation was as sloppy as previews would be expected to be, Scott singlehandedly carried the show. He filled the silences with more manic energy than I'd ever seen him perform with. A few days later, he was gone. I could rhapsodize for pages about the brilliant dynamo that is Scott Adsit, but instead I'd like to do it in song. It originally appeared in a play that I finished writing with Rory Leahy the very day that Scott left Second City. When I first wrote it, it was for Charlton Heston, but he doesn't matter anymore. so, with no apologies to Elton John, I present for you:

A Flower in Any Soil '98 (b)

Verse 1:
Goodbye, Willy Licious, may you rave on in our hearts
You were the old bluesman who wrought genius from the lost and found
A moment later a monk, the Weasel, young Hemingway or someone new
Now your crusade moves on to Hollywood and nationwide television too.

Chorus: (repeat after every verse)
And it seems to me that you would be
a flower in any soil.
Never fading with the house lights when the improv set comes to a close
And your voice will always echo even if you've now settled for a mere writing job
The sound died down before your manic glory ever will.

Verse 2:
Truth and innovation your art, cowardly yuppies and frat boys on spring break quaked in the dark
At the towering brilliance of our mentor and creative patriarch.
And even though boring people tried to put predictable words in your mouth
You continued to define "cutting-edge" with your every breath.

Verse 3:
Goodbye crazed Saturn salesman, bringing them into the family whether they liked it or not.
Goodbye Mr. Grissom, IQ of a raccoon and struggling with the roundy-roundy tupperware.
You were the force that mocked convetionality, shitty improv suggestions, and blandness masquerading as art.
Goodbye Scott Adsit, from an audience lost without your inspiration.

(Final line)
We will miss your rendition of the American Dream for the rest of our theatergoing days.

see, I'm all emotional now, so I'm going to leave it there. check out the updates throughout the rest of the site.
additional massive respect to Junior Wells and Carl Perkins, two very cool people who died in the last couple of days.
and a hearty "fuck you!" to el nino, who I blame for all this shit.

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.