Saturday, July 25, 2009


Time to add another row of tabs...

So I've been accepted to the Viable Paradise writer's workshop. Been snooping around, started to exchange Twitters with a few people. Yesterday, just for shits and giggles, I decided to make a post about some of the reasons I was feeling nervous about attending. Nothing like a comprehensive list, just a self-mocking bit of humor.


There was what might reasonably be called an outpouring of empathy, sympathy, and support in response. Some people offered advice and comfort, others were glad to see that someone else felt their trepidations.

Of course you know me -- I am all about the paradoxical reaction. The message that I got from this was that my joking about my nerves? I wasn't fucking joking. I actually am terrified. I've never ever done anything like this in my life and I am gonna be vulnerable. And I don't trust vulnerable. Vulnerable gets you fucking hurt.

I've been reading blog posts by people who have been through experiences like Viable Paradise or Clarion. Yesterday I went through two particularly good ones -- here's Julia Dvorin on Viable Paradise and The Ferrett on Clarion -- and as a result my growing sense of unease came to full fruition and I plunged into the depths for a bit.

This was because some of the writing advice, particularly that in the Ferrett's piece, made me feel tremendously insecure. Lemme be honest. I've got a lot invested in my novel. I have spent four years on it so far. I've written literally hundreds -- probably well over a thousand -- pages of material that I've had to discard. I am in what we might call a financially untenable situation -- quite literally hovering on the brink of penury, and rather than focus on finding a way to make a living I have devoted the majority of my energy to the novel. (As an aside, this is a decision that is fully supported by the missus, my friends, and my family -- everyone around me is in agreement that I'm doing the right thing. I'm still scared.)

And recently I've started to feel that it's close to finished.

Well, the Ferrett wrote of how he'd been told that he relied too heavily on plot. "Silly fellow," I thought. "Such a thing could never happen to an inept plotter such as myself." And then later, he wrote about how characters needed to have goals and needed to consistantly make decisions in order to achieve those goals.

It would be at that point that my pathetic house of cards collapsed.

Shit, shit, shit. I thought about some of the criticisms I've gotten on the novel, thought about the number of people who started it and didn't just read the whole thing straight through the way they were supposed to. People who have finished it have been uniform in their praise, but a lot of people just sort of drifted...

And that was why. Because my character drifts through much of the novel.

I recently read a novel by Charlie Stross called Saturn's Children. I had to force my way through it, never really got into the thing. It was clever, it was funny, it was full of interesting details about his future society and I just didn't like it. When I was done I spend a few minutes thinking hard and I was quite pleased with myself when I figured out why.

The drama in the story was derived from the perils faced by the lead character. Physical danger. She was fighting to save her life.

And she had a shit life, with no visible redemption on the horizon. Yeah, the book has a happy ending -- but it falls flat, because that happy ending hadn't been promised to the reader.

And that dynamic is at work in my novel. It's not as bad as it is in Saturn's Children. My lead character does have friends, does have pleasures in his life -- but...

A big part of the problem is that the book is a fusion of two seemingly-incompatable genres, the confessional autobiography and adventure fiction. It has the flavor of a horror novel and I do work the fear nerve here and there, but at its heart horror derives from victimhood -- as long as characters are standing up and fighting, you've got adventure rather than horror.

Confessional autobiography is dependant on the hook of the protagonist's issues. Whining and suffering are par for the course. In my novel, the whining and suffering are the result of mental illness. Fairly heavy stuff -- agitated depression and so on. When you're depressed, whining is the sickness itself. So there's no way to write honestly about that experience without portraying some whining.

But whiny heroes are anathema in adventure fiction. So writing honestly and writing compellingly are at odds here.

The story is about the lead character's process of healing and maturation, about him going from a completely bleak existance where the thing he wants most is death and it is denied him, to a place of strength and purpose. Writing this story has changed everything from my sense of self to my relationship with the missus. It has been tremendously healthy for me. It has become the central focus of my life and I'm the better for it.

So when I realized that the lead character's miserable passivity at the start of the novel was going to drive away a lot of readers -- that it was a flaw, not a feature and that it might well have driven me-the-reader away -- it hit me on a very root level. It's not just a book, it's my fucking life. And I'd turned my life into a book that sucked.

"But, but, but," I whined to myself, "the way the tension jacks up one step at a time and by the end of the book he's not passive anymore and..." Dependence on plot over story.

"But, but, but," I whined to myself. "The start of the book is funny! The same person in my writing group that said he wouldn't want to read about a suicidal character changed his mind when he saw how funny it was!" Dependence on humor over story.

Dependence on style over story. Dependence on detail over story. Unless the character wants something and works for it, there isn't a real story!

Oh, christ, I'm fucked. I thought of all the books I loved that didn't have a real story and you know what? Didn't help me. That wasn't the kind of book I was trying to write.

"But, but, but," I said to myself. "I was totally helpless at that point in my life. I didn't have any hopes. I wasn't working toward any goals..."



Holy shit. Could it be that that I'd underestimated myself? Moi?

Well, ask the missus about that one.

I thought back and I realized that even at the worst of times -- and they were bad -- that I had still struggled with art. I had a typewriter set up on a desk in my room. I went through sketchbooks like they were floss, you just use some up every day if you don't want your teeth to rot out of your head.

I knew that I sucked, but I still showed my stuff off. And I'd go to a friend's house and find that some doodle I'd done on a notepad had been put up on the refrigerator. The artists I knew seemed to regard me as being of the tribe.

And I also realized that what I'd written in the novel was true enough to life for the traces of that ambition and that effort to be right there.

The lead character can feel hopeless -- as long as the reader knows there's hope for him.

And all of a sudden I saw how questions that some readers have had about motivation were neatly answered. And how this could be made to dovetail perfectly with the fantastic elements of the story -- how he is drawn into the other world as a direct result of his goals and decisions rather than just falling down the rabbit hole. How there were scenes already written that just needed to be tweaked to take this into account.

I'm not going to have to tear the whole structure down. I just need to go in and retrofit the foundation. It's doable -- hell, it probably isn't going to be that hard now that I understand what's what.

There are a few phrases that come up over and over again when people talk about workshops. My writing pal Allison (who's the current reader who is most prone to point out these root issues in my work -- she drives me crazy sometimes but I generally wind up coming around to her point of view) is in Nebraska going through it right now and it's an ecstatic thing for her, a real pleasure to behold.

People talk in terms of boot camp. In terms of tribe. There's a culty vibe going on here...

I'm thinking it's an initiation. A time of trial. A rite of passage. This is one of the fundamental human activities, and it's one that many of us have been denied. I've certainly felt as if I've missed out on something important. To find your purpose, hone your skills, have the elders put you to the test and force you through the rituals --

I want this. I need this. And what I went through yesterday, from smirky post to the voices of unmet friends to the pits of self-loathing and despair to a renewed sense of strength... I think that was a taste of what's in store for me. I think I've got a better idea of what I'm facing.

I can hardly wait.

And now for something completely different.

I'm not a photographer. Never took snapshots. But the last couple of years I've started using photography as part of my artistic process. Yesterday I took a shot of Amanda so as to have a quick graphic for my post. Here's what I started out with.

It took me less than five minutes to get this. Crop, convert to LAB color, add three adjustment layers -- Curves, Brightness & Contrast, and Levels -- throw down a little Unsharp Mask, and done. I even had the thrilling realization that you can adjust the opacity on Adjustment Layers, which makes them much more flexible and subtle -- I'll use that concept a lot in the future.

What I mean is, my illustration skills also work on photographs! When I start taking Digital Photography this fall, I think I'm gonna hit the ground running.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Another Atrocity From The Vault

This is Amanda. Isn't she adorable? Look at how nice and fluffy she is! But if you read the story, you'll learn that fluffy is just another word for absorbent.

Ay-yi-yi. This week has been thrown all out of loop in a good way. Dealing with the Swill release, getting a tiny bit of work and a chance to help out a friend -- these are good. But I'm feeling a little looped and neurotic and I allowed myself to spill it forth in front of the Viable Paradise squad. A swell bunch of people, or so they seem from a distance.

Anyway. Another tale of La Vida Oaf. The guy in the Monday Night group who writes police procedurals told me that it actually works as a mystery! I'll admit, I was pretty mystified at the time...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Something Awful From The Archives

Hey, all. I've been trying to post every day recently -- it seems to make a real difference in my hits, and we all know I'm a gargantuan hit whore. Well, I'm gonna be busy selling out for the next couple of days. Not my soul this time, thank goodness, just a little undercover slave labor.

But I wouldn't want to let you get bored. Why not mosey over to my other site and find out how I reacted to some lies a nutbar health publication told about the Duke? I should update this to indicate that the rumor about Wayne was untrue, but, you know? Fuck him! He's dead!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We Got Swill! Nice, Hot Swill!

Last night Rob referred to the flash fiction on the back as, "Nearly a collaboration," due to my typically heavy-handed edits. You didn't hear it from me. Go on and click the image to read it.

(or just click on the above line)

Finally. Finally!

Swill is here
and it's the best issue yet. Rob and I worked like motherfuckers on this one -- I spent a few weeks worth of ten-hour, twelve-hour days on it, and I wound up pissing Rob off by editing my story right up to the minute he pulled the layouts from my thick-fingered hands. We painstakingly fine-tuned the cover and layout based on test prints, thus removing some of the infelicities of earlier issues.

The fiction is solid -- one great story after another, even mine, he said with no trace of false modesty. And on a similarly shameless note, it is fucking gorgeous.

A certain literary luminary (who I shall not name, for if I pimped him out he'd probably use the tattered remains of my severed head as an example for those who would tempt his wrath -- but if you knew who he was you would shit green, he's on the Big Fat Anthology You Have To Buy For Your English Class level) sent me a letter last year in which he opined that the design and illustration for that issue held more content than the writing.

I would have assumed that he meant the writing sucked, but he also recommended Swill to one of the top editors in the SF/Fantasy/Horror field, so now we're being read for The Year's Best Horror.

Two artworks published in the last issue were featured in gallery shows; this issue looks twice as good. Easily. Rob told me that people he showed Swill to stopped and really looked at each illustration -- and one dude started talking about putting one of the images on a T-shirt. I'll let you know how that works out.

But of course Swill is all about the fiction. Rob and I try put together the kind of magazine a writer likes to see his work in, and it's paid off. For instance, we gots us a well-known writer this issue. One of those workers-in-the-vineyards who actually shape pop culture.

It is John Shirley, folks. John motherfucking Shirley! Cyperpunk's Patient Zero and actual punk rocker, scriptwriter of The Crow and (my beloved) Max Headroom, lyricist for Blue Oyster Cult. His short noir fiction is my favorite stuff of his, brutal, unrelenting, absolutely convincing, and filled with the core rage of someone who is seriously disappointed by the inadequacies of human nature.

Let us take a quick tour through the table of contents. If you want to see some samples of each story, go here and start clicking in the left-hand column.

You Blundering Idiot, You Fucking Failed To Kill Me Again!
John Shirley

Never send a lumbering doofus to do a paracosmic being's work!

(I just realized that if you combine the two lead characters in this story, you get me. Shirley's surrealistic and noir sides meet in order to fuck each other up. This one is hilarious -- it reminded me of Sheckley, just a little.)

Girl Like That
W.G. Kelly

They thought they had it all worked out -- but they didn't know which way the wind blew...

(A nice, tight crime story. If you remember Black Lizard Press fondly, you'll like this one.)

Mud People
Rob Pierce

You can only be underfoot for so long...

(A surrealistic parable of the personal and the political by the man with two verbs for a name.)

Holy Adam and Saint Jason
Steve Young

Family will do it to you every time.

(A surprisingly touching slice-of-underlife with a strong reportorial feel.)

My Day At The Mall With Paul Bowles And Jack Kerouac
Craig Hartglass

A word to the wise -- when trolling for girls, it never hurts to bring along some Beats!

(Last night, Rob said that every time he reread this story he still laughed out loud at all the jokes. Need I say more?)

Mackler's Last Fare
Brian Haycock

Sometimes quitting time comes a little too late...

(Lots of noir this issue. Gritty, ground-level crime done right. We worked this poor son-of-a-bitch like a government mule.)

Hate Her, Hate Her, Tribulator!
Sean Craven

You'd think an alien torture demon would have a knack for hatred. You'd be wrong...

(This was my second attempt at a short story. It's only taken fourteen drafts over six or seven years to get it right. If nothing else, it's the weirdest deal-with-the-devil story you'll ever read, I gore-un-tee.)

Swill! Tell your friends! Tell your family! A must-have for cyberpunk completists! Soon to be a valuable collectors item! A genuine art object, fit for the Louvre!

Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!

Please note that supplies are limited, as each copy is assembled by hand.

If none of the above moves you, maybe this will --

-- the missus hates my author's notes!

(Thank you, and we will now return to our regular programming.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

So How's The Novel Doing?

Another of my late-period nudes. When I first began studying drawing, I went through three consecutive semesters of life-drawing. I got to the point where I was pretty good -- I've done a number of drawings that have been mistaken for photographs and most of them came from that period.

I don't have any of those. One night when the missus and I were just friends, I brought a portfolio of my best drawings over to show to her, since she was my pal the sculptor. On the way home I waited for a bus with my portfolio leaning against the sign pole. When the bus came I went to grab it and it wasn't there.

Anyway, since then I haven't put in the sheer time necessary to do really accurate life drawings, and as a result I hated what little life drawing I did. But now I'm looking back at this stuff and, as in yesterday's piece, the keyword for me is charming. Yes, it's badly lacking in accurate anatomy and the niceties of observation. But now I think there's something really sweet about it.

This one was particularly embarrassing for me to draw because it fairly clearly shows that I found the model attractive. I've always had an easy time drawing women who didn't have a particular appeal for me, especially your lean dancer/gymnast types. I've felt as if there's something wrong about drawing a woman you find attractive...

... what a load of horseshit. I never thought Renoir or Rubens or even Frazetta were sleazebags because of the erotic content of their work -- why should I feel that way about myself? Oh, well. Growing up is hard to do.

The novel is doing quite well, actually. Right now the structure is all in place and no major changes need to be made. I'm more than halfway through the first round of pure line edits, aka draft four -- I just finished chapter twenty today. And I'm eight chapters into the second round of line edits, aka draft five.

The reason for this is that I'm powering through my last draft by myself, then submitting that to the writer's groups, then doing a further revision based on the criticisms I receive.

The Monday night group should be starting up any minute now; I can hardly wait. They'll take forty pages a week -- and I'm gonna be a sleaze and make those pages eleven-point type. I've been taking that from Al for years. Now I shall have my revenge.

The Homework Club, on the other hand, has a fifteen-page maximum. So it's pretty much one, maybe two chapters a week. Which will drive me nuts, but these guys are pros.

There's something weird happening in the Homework Club, though. It's as though we've hit some kind of critical mass and all of a sudden it seems as if all of us are moving up to the next level. I'm seeing it in the edits and the work that the others are submitting and I'm feeling it in my own writing process.

It's interesting. Up until now I've regarded the process of revision as one of perfecting the work. Now this is a subtle difference but an important one -- now I feel as if my job is to prepare the work for the reader.

For instance, I've mentioned that I try and fully experience the scenes I write in as many senses as possible, and then describe it in writing. Previously I would have worked hard to bring those visions to the page as completely as possible. Now I find myself throwing out one beautiful detail after another because they are of no use to the reader. If it doesn't help the reader get the story, it doesn't belong on the page.

It's amazing, the amount of verbiage needed to lubricate an ideas passage from thought to prose. Getting rid of those words feels great.

Up until now, my revisions have always added material -- because my problem was incompleteness. But the story of the novel is now complete. So now revision is partially a matter of trimming the excess. I'm losing one page in twenty or so. Probably a bit more than that.

And by working on more than one part of the novel at the same time, I'm finding that I can hold the whole thing in my head, which allows me to find places where information is duplicated, places where hints should be dropped, etc.

I'm also realizing that what I'm doing stems very directly from my experiences writing short fiction and scripts. I've learned techniques of compression from writing short fiction -- say what you will about my stuff, it's typically very, very conceptually dense. And scripts have taught me clarity -- when you write a script, it's part of someone's job and you're doing everyone a favor if you make it fucking difficult to misunderstand.

The result is something that is both rich in information and easy to read. Which pleases me no end.

What's really exciting is that as each chapter goes by, I think to myself, "And this is where it really kicks in." It is far from a pure action novel -- the lead character doesn't get into a fight until more than a third of the way through the book and he spends two chapters in the hospital as a result of that fight -- but the plot keeps twisting and going deeper. The excitement builds continuously.

It doesn't have a narrative arc -- it's a right triangle, straight up forty-five degrees from the base to the apex. There was a while where it was like a hammock, tight at the ends and saggy in the middle. No more; you could launch a rocket off this thing.

I go through phases of thinking it's just a hack fantasy/horror novel, but that's not true. It's focused more strongly on prose and character than anything else -- it's just that those characters live in a fantastic world. No good guys, no bad guys, just people who succeed and fail at being able to live with one another and themselves. Yeah, it has the same story bones underlying it as every other fiction -- but I think it's something that hasn't been seen before.

Despite its mainstream/literary qualities, its focus on social realism and convincing pictures of mental illness, drug use, and the life of the artist, I'm bringing in everything from After Man-style speculative evolution, surrealism, quest fantasy, comic-book superpowers, a view of the afterlife that's intended to be convincing enough to support a cult, a haunted house story, and genuinely visionary moments -- and everything latches together, flows smoothly, and makes perfect sense in context.

I'm feeling pretty proud right now. But don't worry. Give me another month or two and I'll be back to excoriating myself for my creative inadequacies.

I promise.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ten-In-One Parts Three and Four: "I'm A Very Vindictive Man."

Back when the missus was still sculpting we'd frequently share models. It wasn't perfect for me since I didn't get the one minute, two minute, five minute poses but it was a nice shared interest.

Man, I remember hating myself for this one. The model was a dancer and I'd gotten some good sketches off of her in the past, but in this one the anatomy is all funky and since I was working in watercolor I couldn't really correct my mistakes. Not capturing her beauty accurately felt like a betrayal.

Now I think it's got a little charm to it -- I like the way the bushes and the curtains mimic the motion of her body. I also like the way I handled light and color. I wonder what I'd be doing now if this kind of thing hadn't totally discouraged me from working in conventional media...

Verse Three

Whoo, boy. I'm not even sure how to start this one off -- this was one of the weirder and more uncomfortable acquaintanceships I've had. Looking back on it, I was passive in a way that now seems vaguely deranged and quite possibly amoral.

Mind you, at the time I was both in love and learning art for the first time (s?) in my life, and getting me interested in anything but my gal and areas of tone was sort of a lost cause. And I was very young.

And there was that beautiful trainwreck quality to the situation, where as my suspicions slowly built, as I heard stories and started putting things together, I realized that I was regularly chatting with someone who was as close to a comic-book villain as you could get. All he needed was a leotard and a goofy helmet and Batman would have been kicking his ass up and down the block.

So. Names and places are vague and changed not so much to protect the innocent as because I do not fucking want to get my ass sued. On the other hand, the details are so... unique that I suspect than anyone familiar with this cat will recognize him immediately -- but the guy I'm talking about was seven feet tall, bright blue, and always carried a chihuaua tucked under his right arm.

And all my evidence for misbehavior on his part comes down to rumor and circumstance -- but I still wonder if there was something I could have or should have done. It's a gray area for me, and one I feel deeply uncomfortable about. Okay? Okay.

This was when I was living with my Grandma, just before the time I wrote about in my story God's Tourists. We lived in what some would call a mobile-home retirement community and what others would call an upscale trailer park. I had a long, long bus ride to and from school every day.

This was in the wine country, in a pretty community that was a tourist destination. It was so square it was like cubical, man. After my girlfriend dumped me (I can still hear her saying "I didn't dump you," which is every bit as true as her, "I didn't make the first move." What she meant by those statements were, "I figured we'd be able to get back together even after I rejected you," and "I thought you were asleep." Motherfucking love!) I got a mohawk -- and that was enough to get my picture in the paper. It was a wedding cake of a town, and a cockroach on a wedding cake is extra-appalling.

So when I first saw Stewie, I was a little shocked. His arm and the side of his face had been badly burned at some point in his life and he wasn't the least bit shy about parading his scars around. I was waiting for the bus and he walks right up to me, cheerful and cocky, waving his three-fingered hand.

"Hello, admiral!" he said, and we were off to the races. He and I rode the same bus line and I'd run into him two or three times a week. He was one of those people who talks to strangers because they can't live without an audience. I heard about how he'd gotten burned when he was in the Navy, serving on a troop ship that had taken fire. He didn't specify a conflict, but based on his age I figured it was probably Viet Nam.

He also told me about his purpose in life. He wanted to help kids quit smoking. His miraculous, life-changing method?


Stewie claimed to be a highly skilled hypnotist, and around the third time we'd met, he offered to put me under.

"I don't smoke, dude."

"Well, I can help you with your self-esteem."

As a student of the odd corners of cognition, I was curious. And I do have some fairly ugly self-esteem issues, as we say in California. And we're on the bus. It's in public. What the hell.

So I close my eyes and he starts going through his routine. He says a few phrases about relaxing, getting heavy, getting sleepy, and he repeats them over and over. There is a quality to his tone of voice that's very different from his speaking voice -- both soothing and authoratative.

Thing is, is that I'm a terrible hypnotic subject. My mind, to be blunt, is deep, wide, complex, busy, and weird. No matter if part of me was napping like a cat in the sun, there were other sub-personalities that were going, "I don't trust this creep for a minute and I ain't taking my eyes off of him."

Every so often he'd lightly touch my shoulder to see if I was out and I'd just open my eyes and shake my head.

This frustrated him. For the rest of the time I knew him, which was a span of a couple of years, he repeatedly tried to put me under and was never able to do so. After a while, for reasons that will become clear, I was firm in my refusals to let him try. But for quite a while, I'd let him give it his best shot.
Oh, brother.

I did get a chance to see him work on someone else, though, and I have to say it was impressive. Scary impressive. Again, we were riding the bus and there was a local skateboarder who knew Stewie. Stewie offered to reinforce his anti-smoking hypnosis treatment. ("I'm giving those kids years of life for free.")

That kid was out cold in a matter of seconds. I've never seen anything like it, and I'd never read anything that led me to believe that hypnosis could be so fast and effective. It was like magic. A literal superpower. Dude's body was limp and fucking vacant.

It wasn't that long afterward that I got my first hint of the dark side. We were waiting for the bus at the park, and Stewie points across the lawn at a bunch of teenagers hanging out.

"See that punk? That little scumbag called me a child molestor. I'm no child molestor. I told him that if he wanted he could go straight to the cops and I'd ram my face into the side of a door and tell them he did it. I'd do it, too. I'm a very vindictive man."

And after that, I no longer regarded Stewie as an amusingly irritating eccentric, someone who should be cut a little extra slack. After that, I hated to be around him -- but I didn't feel as though I was in a position to judge, to condemn. I did anyway, of course, and felt guilty about it.

But at that point, what the hell was I supposed to think? And then there was the way he'd periodically raise his scarred arm to his mouth and gnaw at it -- squeak squeak squeak. His arm always had a few quarter-sized scabs on it as a result of this charming activity.

(I'll always remember the time my brother met Stewie. Stewie said something I found amusing, and I raised my hand and said, "High three!" and we slapped palms. Afterward, Duncan said, "Oh, my god. I thought you were exaggerating about him." That's the secret of my life -- there is no need for exaggeration.)

I rode the five-thirty bus most mornings in order to make my eight-thirty classes. After a while, my polite 'hello' to the bus drivers changed to, "How you doin' this morning," and after that, I wound up chatting with them on a regular basis. There were two guys who covered that route, and both of them had their Stewie the scar-eater stories.

"I thought that hypnosis stuff was bullshit," I told one. "But then I saw him do it."

"Yeah, well, I had to throw him off the bus for that one time," one guy said. "He had some kid on the back bench and I'll tell you what. That wasn't hypnosis, that was molestation."

On another occasion:

"Burned himself in the navy? What a load of bullshit. He passed out drunk on his couch when he was smoking."

Had to wonder how that related to his ardent anti-smoking campaign.

And the other had lived in an apartment complex with Stewie.

"I just don't trust that guy. He always had a stream of teenage boys coming in and out of his aparment. He got thrown out because of some kind of drama with one of them. I think he should be arrested."

I joked with them about how we'd hear about the bodies in Stewie's crawlspace in the news some day.

I wasn't entirely joking.

And yet I didn't know how to handle Stewie. I was now thoroughly creeped out by him. I wondered if there was anything to address the situation. But when push came to shove, I always just acted toward him the same way I always did, and came away from our encounters feeling shitty about myself for not knowing what to do, how to respond to the situation, and even for not being honest with Stewie.

He was always glad to see me, always ready to talk at me. Seemed to think of me as a friend. And every so often he'd ask if he could try and hypnotize me again.

That was when I started to learn how to say, 'no.'

Verse Four

This one ain't much of a story. I was working in a warehouse and I hurt my back. I had to take the bus to go to physical therapy. One day as I'm riding I notice a particularly lovely young woman coming down the aisle with a baby in her arms.

She sits next to me; I am obscurely gratified, and stare out the window so as not to stare at her. It's summer, I'm in shorts, and as I try and ignore her (We do not want to be the pigman, now do we?) I feel someone gently pluck at the hairs on my thigh.

I give it a while; it does not stop. So I casually direct my gaze from the window to my lap.

Good thing I didn't freak out. It wasn't the woman, it was the baby. I go from a combination of guilty gratification (a cute girl is behaving erotically toward me) and rage (this is a fucking violation) to a relaxed, aw-ain't-that-cute.

And then I notice that the baby has two fat cone-shaped fingers on each hand. In sideshow parlance, he's a lobsterboy. Oh, well. I give the kid a smile and look back out the window, and think to myself, "I wonder if I can get a song out of this."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ten-In-One Part Two: "Do You Believe In Morticians?"

More cheese. I've got a weakness for this kind of nonsense...

Second Verse, Worse Than The First

This happened back when Mr. Blister lived over on tenth street and we had our music studio in his basement. On the fine and sunny Friday in question, he'd been dropped at my house by his wife for logistical reasons far beyond my comprehension, so we had to walk to the studio.

On the way, I spotted an interesting figure coming down the sidewalk toward us. She has a stagger in her gait, as if she might fall over. My eyes were better then, and I was able to see two things from a distance -- first, she was wearing a turban and dark glasses. Second, I wasn't able to guess what her race was. She was pink -- but it wasn't a shade of pink I'd ever seen on a human being.

She starts the conversation while she's still half a block away, just opens her mouth up and hollers, "Boy, do you believe in morticians?"

What I want to say is, "Believe in 'em? Hell, I've seen 'em," but before I can get my words in edgewise she hollers some more.

"I saw this on the TV news! Those morticians are making love to dead bodies!"

Now that I'm closer I can see that she is a piebald African American, her skin mottled in shades of bright pink and that pinkish tan that's labeled Flesh in a box of Crayolas. Her skin weeps serum, and a thick white fluid seeps out from under her sunglasses. Burns? A skin disease? Whatever it is, it doesn't look fun. This is someone who has some serious difficulties.

When she gets to us she grabs my arm and looks up into my face. When she speaks, it's still at maximum volume, and her voice echoes down the street.

"They fucking corpses, boy! What do you think of that?"

I pat her hand and say, "You get some of that in every profession. Somebody's always gonna have a sick motive. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker..."

She lets go of me and cracks up. "Well, I just don't want that to happen to me. Think I wants to be cremated!"

The images that brought to my mind were less than attractive. A vivid imagination is sanity's second worst enemy. (Reality is number one.)

Mr. Blister and I walk on in silence for a while. He doesn't speak until it's safe to assume that the corpse-fucker lady is out of earshot.

"Holy shit," he says. "That really happened! I mean, it's not like I think you're a liar but I always figured you made that stuff up."

"Welcome to my world, man," I say. "Welcome to my world."

Up next -- Stewie the scar eater and Lobster Baby!