Monthly Archives: November 2011

A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A DEAD MAN

Last Halloween, I was challenged to write a scary story. So I wrote about the most horrible thing I could imagine. It’s not “creatures popping out of the dark, make you scream, run, and twist your ankle” scary. It’s horrible explicit gore. But not physical gore. It’s emotional, existential gore. It’s like a pompous French film version of Saw. It’s a story about fear. Please try to enjoy “A Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man.”

John Ludd died accidentally on October 18th, 2011.  He is survived by his parents and some friends. I guess. When reached for comment, his parents simply sighed. John Ludd had no spouse or partner to contact. He also had no children. He didn’t even have pets.

I guess it’s safe to say John Ludd is survived,  begrudgingly, by his parents and the not insubstantial amount of mold growing in his kitchen.

And, of course, his friends. If you could combine the hundreds of people John knew, taking bits and pieces of all them, they would form one or two actual close friends. I, myself, am writing this obituary because you can only play hot potato for so long before that tuber starts to cool down and you have no choice but to say yes.

Don’t get me wrong, John was a nice, fun guy. He was interesting to observe in exactly the same way a black hole is: from far enough away that you don’t risk getting sucked into the void.

But here I go.

John Ludd was a novelist. He was cooking up a great American novel in his head. But there seemed to be an unfortunate blockage between his head and his fingers because, to my knowledge, not a single word of that novel exists in the corporeal world.

John spent his final days on his smartphone playing a game called Words With Friends. Words With Friends should be called A Barely Legal Rip-Off Of Scrabble With Strangers From The Internet. Of course, that’s not quite as appealing. But then honesty never is.

John held a string of crappy office jobs. He would immerse himself in petty office politics—who got to take a longer break, whose key card allowed them to swipe into the slightly nicer bathroom, how come someone threw out his week old frozen pizza leftovers after only giving him three written warnings but no verbal warnings, and on and on.

It was almost as if he needed to cram pointless crap in his head to make sure the great novel simmering in there never had a chance to come to a full boil.

Still, John was not without his accomplishments. He once scored over 120 points in Words With Friends. Even more impressively, he did this by spelling the word “Jazz.” It must be noted, the game only provides one “Z.” So John, in a display of patience and planning rarely seen in his life, had to hold on to the high point letters of “J” and “Z” until a blank tile came up that he could transform into a second “Z.” Luckily, John immediately took a screen capture of the game or this momentous achievement in his life would be lost to the mists of time.

I knew John, as almost everyone did, as that mildly entertaining guy who hung out at the kind of depressing bar that had a really good happy hour deal on Miller High Life. I would call John a bar fly, but comparing him to a weaving darting creature like a fly would not communicate the anchor like weight with which he sat at the bar. John was a bar hippo.

John had an uncanny ability to know exactly how other people should fix their lives with absolutely no ability to apply the same ideas to his own. He would dole out advice like “remember to keep things in perspective” and “just be the best you you can be,” not to mention rhetorical winners like, “Are you afraid to be fearless?”

Sometimes, after a particularly long rant, listeners would comment, “You should write that down, you could use it for your novel.” To which John would reply, “You’re right. Another pitcher sounds like a great idea,”  and launch into yet another cheap beer infused tirade about the mysteries of the universe.

Alas, in my humble opinion, life is like a “life is like” analogy made at a bar late at night. It only makes sense to people who are drunk.

John always said he wanted to die in an interesting, flamboyant manner.  And, well, there’s no way to sugar coat it, he failed at that, too.

John died as he lived. Just fucking sitting there. There was a slow but deadly carbon monoxide leak in his apartment building. Everyone else got out as their alarms alerted them to a problem. Not only had John removed the batteries from his alarm, he had earbuds in and his iPod set to maximum volume. As far as we can tell, the last thing he heard or experienced was Led Zeppelin III. Which isn’t even a particularly good album.

John did not believe in the afterlife. Which should be a comfort to his atheist friends, I guess. And god knows, atheists could use some comfort. After all, atheists are, by definition, cheated out of the opportunity to gloat. When you die and stop existing there’s really no opportunity to say, “I told you so.”

To be perfectly honest, I used to be an atheist.  But after John died, I just can’t. I mean, the man did nothing. It’s frankly amazing that I have so much to say about someone who did so little. I want there to be an afterlife, so John can DO SOMETHING.

Screw the great American novel! Write a cookbook, a haiku, carve a dirty limerick on the back of whatever tablets god’s cooking up for us in the next century. Just make a fucking impression.

In conclusion, John Ludd was a novelist.

He had a great novel.

In his head.

He once tried to shotgun a beer out of a glass bottle.

There will probably be a small, informal memorial service at the bar during happy hour. Maybe we’ll scratch his name on his favorite stool. And we’ll share memories.

One last memory before I go. John often talked about what he would do after his novel was published and he made a bunch of money. He described this moment as “when his ship comes in.” It always struck me as a pretty depressing turn of phrase for someone who lives in the middle of the land-locked Midwest. But in all fairness, I think a lot of us are waiting for our ships to come in.

Allow me to close by sharing my new personal motto. A motto that is, at the very least, co-written with John Ludd.

If all I intend to do with my life is wait for my ship to come in, the least I can do is move a little closer to the fucking ocean.

Thank you.

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Rock N’ Delicate Roll

Rock n’ roll is delicate. Yes, it’s powerful and sexy, but maintaining the illusion of all that sexy power is such intricate work. It’s like a little lace doily in the shape of a penis. It’s ridiculous.

In high school, I played drums in a rock n’ roll band. Like all high school rock n’ roll bands, we did it because we loved the music. And by “loved the music,” I mostly mean “wanted girls to like us.” Oddly, we chose to call our band The Flaming Twinkeez. A name that could easily win the glitter encrusted tiara and scepter at the Most Blatantly Homosexual Band Name Evaaar Pageant. We were young and stupid. I insisted on spelling it “Twinkeez” to avoid legal issues when we made it big. Even when we tried to be smart–we were stupid.

The Flaming Twinkeez’s set list was some Pink Floyd, some Led Zeppelin, some Metallica, one original song about eating chili, and almost every Guns N’ Roses song.

I loved Guns N’ Roses. They smoked and drank and had overdoses and occasionally attacked their audience members. Unlike a lot of hard rock musicians at the time, they weren’t closet classical music fans with blow-dried mullets. They actually did the horrible things they sang about doing.

I was a scrawny, angry kid who liked to write and draw and get good grades so I could stay on the honor roll and get a 50% discount from the local Domino’s Pizza owned by Jesse Ventura. I was not entirely happy with my life. I identified with Axl’s anger. His skeletal, heroin chic look bolstered my self-image. Guns N’ Roses’ music did what it should: it offered a catharsis.

Eventually, the Twinkeez broke up after our two lead guitar players had a spat about whose amp should be louder. Two lead guitarists. We were so stupid.

As I grew up, I found my catharsis in writing and performing comedy. But I continued to listen to Guns N’ Roses. It was the soundtrack to a huge chunk of my life. It was a part of our culture. It was now being played on oldie’s channels. I even bought Chinese Democracy the day it came out. I drank whiskey and listened to the whole thing and didn’t hate it.

But with all the Guns N’ Roses obsession, I never saw Axl perform live. So when the band came through Minneapolis recently, I decided to carpe the fucking diem and buy tickets.

We sat in the second row of the balcony. As evidenced by this photo my wife snapped, I was almost surprised to find myself there.

I took a look around and the snark flood gates opened. I tweeted this:

My reaction to the crowd: Welcome to the middle-aged people wearing black who smell of pot jungle, baby. #GunsNRoses

But I was wrong. Not all the douchebags were middle-aged. When I walked into the bathroom, I headed to the stall to urinate. A young douchebag yelled, “Only fags pee in stalls!” Which was odd, because he was pissing in a trough along with five other guys–wangs hanging out like some limp dicked douchebag honor guard.

I started to think the simple term douchebag would not be enough to differentiate the audience members. Perhaps I would need to construct an elaborate taxonomy of douche-things. Douche-bags, douche-heads, douche-canoes,  douche-bungalows, douche-heinekens, etc.

Two ironic hipsters sat in front of us shouting disparaging comments at the stage before anyone was even on it. They reminded me of the balcony dwelling Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, but not as cool. I thought of them as Statler and Asshat.

A man behind us sighed and said, “I got these tickets free. Axl’s not even going to show up. And I have to work tomorrow morning. In Fargo.”

An extremely friendly woman sat down next to me and said, “Hey, I’m going to try to sneak down onto the main floor. I’ll take my shirt off and wave at you, okay?”

The opening band started playing fifteen minutes late. They were boring, repetitive modern rock–like Nickleback but louder and less charming. In between songs (or it could have all been one song with breaks—who knows?) the singer would regale us with his wit. A sample:

“Whoever’s smoking that fucking green shit, I want some! If you could say one thing to your boss, I bet it would be like, ‘fuck you!’ What the fuck’s wrong with rock n’ roll, man? All these fucking rules and shit! Fuck, man, fuck. Who wants a fucking drumstick? I’ll trade you for a motherfucking pot treat!”

His liberal use of the f-word eventually caused him some problems when he told us in great confidence, “We’ve been on the road with Guns N’ Roses for a while, man, and let me say—they are fucking really nice guys.”

Really? According to the opening act, Guns N’ Roses were men who “peed in stalls.”

Blissfully, the opening act stopped playing music or speaking. I always thought opening acts were designed to raise the energy. No. They are designed to lower the bar.

About twenty minutes passed. Statler and Asshat screamed for Axl to hurry the hell up. Fargo guy considered leaving. The woman who wanted to be topless returned–thwarted in her attempt to get closer. She lit up a pity joint. I went to the bathroom again and urinated in a stall like a gay man. The convenience vending machine in the men’s room only sold three things—aspirin, ear plugs, and condoms. So many ways to dull your experience! The machine bore the slogan, “When life just can’t wait!”

I walked back into the packed, restless stadium. You could feel the confusion in the room. Why were we here? What did we even want? Was Axl going to be like he was when he was young? An ass-hole who starts his set whenever the hell he wants? Yes, yes, that’s very rock n’ roll of you, Axl, but you’re pushing fifty and some of us have to be in Fargo in a few hours. Come the fuck on, man.

Still, he didn’t show. It was like the white trash equivalent of Waiting For Godot. Statler and Asshat actually screwed around trying to take their shoes off.

I tweeted more. This time about the fact that I wasn’t even waiting to hear the real, original Guns N’ Roses:

“Soon the current members of #GunsNRoses will hit the stage! Axl! Not Slash! Guy Who Owns A Bass! Studio Drummer! Someone’s Brother-In-Law!”

Finally, an hour and a half after the opening band killed all the energy in the room, the lights lowered. All was dark save the glow from the prohibited cell phone cameras spread throughout the stadium. The room looked and smelled like a Christmas Tree made of hemp.

Suddenly, the lights blasted on, a familiar riff ripped through the speakers, and Axl bound onto stage and wailed.

In terms of a concert review, I’ll just say this: If you don’t like Guns N’ Roses, this was a terrible concert. If you do or ever did like Guns N’ Roses, it was amazing.

Axl danced. But not too much. He didn’t thrust his hips but he did a little jig that suggested he might do pelvic thrusts should the mood strike him. He jumped off things. But nothing too tall. He took his time and built up to the big screeching, bending notes. And he held them. For a long time.

One of the prohibited cell phones snapped a picture of Axl at the end of a song. The lights went out. In his youth, Axl would have jumped into the crowd and beat the hell out of the photographer. After a few seconds, Axl  said, “We’re having some technical difficulties. Thanks for your patience.” Then the lights came up and on he rocked.

The whole room seemed to wonder, “What the hell happened to him? Has he finally swapped heroin for Xanax? Does he owe the government money and just can’t afford to screw this up? Why is he being kind of awesome?”

I started to feel like a prick about my snarky tweets. I realized I had tagged them with the Guns N’ Roses hashtag. Axl could look at them. Then, I thought, “What if he reads them on stage? That would make a great story.” I felt like an even bigger prick.

There he was on stage—just working. He wasn’t trying to regain his youth. He wasn’t playing only the old songs. He was swearing here and there but nothing compared to the opening act’s carpet f-bombing. When someone threw a bra at him, he just said, “thank you,” and gently hung it on a mic stand. He was just delivering the songs to the best of his fucking ability.

Statler and Asshat were rocking and chanting. Fargo guy and not-topless pot girl sang along. So did I. The songs didn’t make me pine to be younger, they just made me remember what it felt like. I thought about who I was then and how lucky I was to be sitting next to my wife now, listening to Axl Rose screech about being a Rocket Queen. I didn’t know what the hell a Rocket Queen was back then and I don’t know now. More importantly, I don’t care. It just sounds cool.

The band played for almost three hours. After they did an encore, they came back and did another bow.  At this point, I was almost annoyed. Axl hadn’t done anything crazy. He had done very little “rock n’ roll” besides the whole performing three hours of rock n’ roll music. He was all doily and no penis.

After the whole band bowed, Axl walked back on stage. He stepped up to a mic and calmly said, “You guys were a great audience. We really appreciate your support. We hope to be back to Minneapolis real soon and we hope you’ll join us again. Thank you.”

There was a brief pause. Come on, man. Do something crazy. Read one of my tweets and threaten to kick my ass, say something crazy about the socio-political realities of democracy ever taking hold in China, punch something. At least swear, man, come on.

Then he leaned into the mic and said in a rich, deep, rock n’ roll voice, “Seriously, thank you. Thank you very fucking much. Good night!”

No, Axl, you crazy bastard, thank you. Thank you very fucking much.

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Bullshit Time

There’s a theater event in the Twin Cities called THIRST. It’s an evening of four short one-act plays performed in a bar. The only writing guideline is this: the scene has to be set in a bar. Audience members eat and drink and every ten minutes or so a little bit of theater suddenly starts happening at a nearby table. It’s not nearly as frightening as it sounds. This is a monologue I wrote for THIRST a few years back. Have a drink, enjoy, and try not to be frightened by BULLSHIT TIME.

Excuse me! Excuse me! May I have everyone’s attention for just a moment?

Hi. My name is Evelyn and I am a single woman. I’ve been coming to this bar every night for the last week trying to meet that special someone.  I’ve had dozens of blow-my-brains-out-boring conversations with individual men. And I just don’t have time for it tonight. I still have to go to the gym, grab a burrito at Chipotle, and watch at least four hours of television so I’ll have something interesting to dream about when I get my four hours of actual REM sleep before I get up and go back to work.

So basically, I need to save time by hitting on every man in this bar at once. And the ladies who are open to experimenting. I just want a life partner—I’m not picky. As far as I’m concerned a spouse is like a library card or a liberal arts degree–probably wouldn’t actually use one much but I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t have one.

Sooo, about me. I’m adventurous. Obviously. I am an excellent multi-tasker. I can do almost anything I set my mind to and bitch about it at the exact same time. I don’t cook. I’d throw my refrigerator out but that would just be another part of the kitchen floor I’d have to clean. I like to laugh. Sometimes I feed my cat a saucer full of milk and Jameson and then film her trying to play bat the string. I’m not a bitch about it. I don’t post it on YouTube or anything.

What else? I work for an office furniture company. I’m in charge of designing office clocks. I like to think that’s my contribution to bringing the different demographics of the USA together: no matter who you are, how you vote, or where you live—chances are you’ve stared at a clock I’ve made and cursed it for not moving faster.

It’s fair to say I have some issues with the concept of time. I call bullshit on time. Not even time itself, really, but all our bullshit rationalizations.

Time isn’t a friend that accompanies us on our journey. Time is an annoying little jerk poking you in the back. Time is that cliché where you’re driving a car and there’s an obnoxious kid in the back going, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” That’s what time feels like until you turn thirty or forty and suddenly that little shit in the back seat isn’t saying, “Are we there yet?”  She’s saying, “You passed it! You passed it! You passed it!”

And there’s no turning around. You can’t whip a shitty on the highway of life. You miss the exit and you’re screwed. You will never use the bathroom at that particular McDonald’s. You just have to wait for the next one. Even though all the McDonald’s kind of look the same, you’ll never know if that was THE ONE.

Not that I’m comparing men to McDonald’s. Sure, men can make you happy and fat and take years off your life, but they are inferior to McDonald’s in one significant way: they do not change their menu or policies based on social or economic pressures. I’m not sure if that made sense.

I don’t mean to be maudlin. I don’t care about getting old. Crow’s feet, love handles, cankles, turkey neck, the golden arches–you name the insulting term for the natural progression of the female body–and I couldn’t care less if it’s happening to me. I just don’t want to get old without having all the stuff I want.

Which leads to the obvious question of what I want.

I want companionship. I want to have sex with a man, then wake up and be happy he’s there instead of wishing I had an ejector button for the right side of my mattress. I want someone who won’t be offended if I accidentally drop the f-bomb during our wedding vows. I want someone to come with me to the emergency vet when my cat’s liver inevitably fails. I want someone who will lie to me and tell me it had nothing to do with the Jameson. And then laugh at his own bullshit.

I want a man who will give me a baby. Literally. Like he’d step out for a pack of smokes and he’d come back and say, “Honey, I decided to pick up some pizza rolls for dinner and I adopted this baby so you don’t have to deal with all that pregnancy crap.”

I want a man who understands that I want the destination without all the damn travel.

Sooo, that’s me. I guess if you could make it through my little presentation and you still want to date me, I’d probably say yes. I’d take you back to my place to meet the cat. I’d tell you to pick out the best of the James Bond films to watch on Blu-Ray and see if you get it right. We’d make sure we can order a pizza without debating the toppings like it was a nuclear disarmament treaty.

There would be no sex that first night. At least not with you.

If everything went really well, I’d pick a fight with you over money just to make sure that’s not going to be a problem. And after that, a hug. A nice warm make-up hug. Because no one ever got gonorrhea from a hug.

So, in closing, thanks for your time. Best of luck with your journeys and if you think I might be the right destination for you, just do what the television tells you to when you’re drunk at 3 AM. Don’t wait! Call now! Supplies are limited and time is running out.

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