Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Thanksgiving File

Meanwhile, in a small office in the West Wing, a young intern notices a manila folder that has slid unnoticed behind a bookcase. He opens it and scans the content, his eyes widening as he reads.

It is a soul-sickening history of a twisted pair: Their early abuse at the hands of the farmer's sadistic son, who liked to creep up and throw breadcrumbs into their pen, adding tauntingly, "These will be in your butt one day ..." Early drug use leading to dealing to support their habit. The coke overdose of the pig in barn 3, which was never tied to them even though everybody knew. Random, senseless eye-peckings. A home invasion that went bad when the family returned unexpectedly -- 2 killed, many poops left on a nice area rug, the good silver taken. And then, the kidnapping of the congressman's daughter and the ransom exchange that turned ugly when the dye-pack in the sack of corn went off early. The young FBI agent who'll never come home to his family. His wife who wakes screaming from dreams of the sounds of gobbling outside the bedroom door.

The intern closes the file, stumbling toward the door, throwing in open and startling the Secret Service agent and the prostitute in the next room. "Wait!" the agent commands, swiping the pair of underpants from his face and fumbling for his service weapon, but the intern knows he can't wait. There is no time. A couple of decent passport forgeries and the two could be anywhere by now. Manila. Beirut. He came to the White House to serve his country, and today he will, even if it costs him his life. He has to tell POTUS the truth: He pardoned the wrong turkeys.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Giving Tree Redux

And one day the boy came back, and the tree was so happy she could barely speak.

"Come, boy, come climb my trunk and have fun again!" she whispered. 

"I am too old and sad to have fun," said the boy. "The world is not fun. I need a boat, to sail far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"

"A boat?" said the tree. She didn't know what to say. Only that morning there had been news of wildfires, and drought, and starvation, and beheadings, and mass extinctions, and a bunch of walruses with no ice left in the ocean for resting had come ashore in one giant tusky bawling mass.

"Were you saying something?" asked the boy, checking his stock listings on his smartphone. "Yeah, a boat. My life isn't all sunshine and butterflies and bears scratching their backs on me, like yours."

And the tree looked at him a long time. Then she sighed. "I wish I had not given you all my branches," she said. "Because now I cannot beat you violently with them like you deserve, you whiny little dickhead."

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Legend of Pumpkin Spice

"Tell me a story, mommy," the baby pumpkin whispered as he bounced into bed and pulled up the covers. "A scary one!"

"Are you sure you want a scary story, honey?"

"YESSSSS. Really scary!" he cried.

"OK, Gourdy, but then you have to go to sleep," said Momma Pumpkin, tucking him in. "Once upon a time, we Pumpkin-kind started rubbing ourselves with a Sacred Spice Blend to protect us and make us tasty so that People wouldn't notice that we're actually kinda slimy and starchy. We wore the Spice, and People loved us and planted us and made us into sacred pies to celebrate their Day of Gratitude. Everyone was happy. But then there was a Marketer, who saw that there was all this leftover Pumpkin Spice that wasn't making anyone any money, and so he started telling People to put Pumpkin Spice into everything!"

"EVERYTHING?" Gourdy said, his eyes wide.

"Yes! First it was just coffee and Yankee candles. Then, as time passed, they started putting it in beer, and then into Oreo cookies and potato chips and pizza and skin cream."

"What happened then, Mommy?"

"Well, soon there was no protective Spice left for us Pumpkins. And our flesh began to rot away and people noticed we were actually kinda gross and mealy, and then the beer and the coffee and the cereal and the bratwurst and the shampoo, who were all sick of smelling and tasting like Pumpkin Spice, got really angry and came out through the night and gathered around all the Pumpkin patches and got ready to come in through the vines and smear themselves all over us and force us to taste like them. They're outside the patch right now ... can you hear them whispering?"

"I can! I can hear them, Mommy!" Gourdy cried out in terror, diving beneath the covers. "I don't wanna taste like a shampoo!" 

And Momma Pumpkin realized she had made the story too scary again, and felt terrible, and began to try to comfort Gourdy and remind him it was all just a story, but then she felt the vines shift all around and heard the chant -- taste like us taste like us. She felt the cold, sharp edge of a Pringle against her skin and she realized that they had finally come.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Advice to Fidgety Children Who Ate Their Dinner Quickly And Now Have Been Told to Just Sit There Quietly Even Though it is SO Boooooring

Little kids, let me give you some advice: When you're at dinner and you wolf your food in 2 minutes and want to leave the table and go back to fun, important things like tree-climbing and LEGO and worm inspection, and your parents won't let you and tell you to be polite and wait for everyone else to finish: DO NOT LISTEN. 

On days when I have one meeting up against a conference call overlapping another meeting at the same time as another meeting, the ability I developed in childhood to open my mouth, insert half a pound of salad and swallow it in a giant lump like an anaconda, is all that keeps me from wasting away into a floppy pile of dial-in codes, shifting organizational paradigms, and pasty, cubicle-wan skin. 

Your parents don't want that! They love you. They don't want you to starve. So if they ever tell you not to wolf your food, it's probably because ... and I know this will be hard to hear ... they're not really your parents. They are replicants who have stolen your real parents and have them tied up somewhere dark, where your mother is weeping quietly and whispering, "God, I just hope he eats quickly and runs out to play, before they take advantage of his lack of fidgeting to drain him of his organs and fluids!" And your Dad will feel the same way, but he won't say it, because they will have already drained him. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Word the Internet Needs

It has come to my attention that many of us who are active on the Internet sometimes need a quick, one-word response to express the idea, "I see your point, and you are correct on some level, but you have expressed this in such a condescending/ smarmy/ mean way that, while I may accept your point once my shame response has faded, right now all I can do is marvel at what a creep you're being." *

The old saw "If you can't find anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" has morphed into "If you can't find anything nice to say, comment online." And it seems to be getting worse. Almost daily, I see situations where a person smugly/aggressively corrects someone's spelling or grammar just to show off; uses a condescending phrase like, "You're too smart to believe THAT" in an online argument; or otherwise throws knowledge around in such a way that the end result is not clarity/compassion/deeper understanding on the part of the person they're lecturing, but shame and resentment. It would be nice to see less of it, and so I think we should use this word to identify it. Perhaps the bullies can gradually be shamed into extinction? (Yeah, probably not).

It is possible this word will have extra-web uses as well, but given that the Internet often seems to turn even nice people into boorish, aggressive yellers, I think its primary use will be online. If you find yourself needing it often IRL, get some new friends to hang out with and stop letting your Grandma treat you that way. 

The word is "Douché." Yes, smartypantses, it is a portmanteau. Please only deploy it on the truly deserving.  (You may have to use it on me when appropriate. I fear I am not immune from The New Cruelty.)

* Note: This word is not for cases where someone uses a stupid, racist, sexist, illogical, non-factual argument. It should be used solely to respond to someone who is largely or at least partly correct, but is being a real snakewad about it. (No offense to snakes, or wads.)

Here are some usage examples.

Betty: [posts a picture of dinner she cooked] Look what I made! It's my first attempt at stroganoff. 
Rachel: It looks like a pile of dog vomit with mushrooms.
Betty: Oh ... Well ... Douché. 

Reporter: [posts story she had a 2-hour turnaround time on, already unhappy that it's not her best work]: Here is my story about kittens.
Reporter: Douché. 

Steve: John, our friendship just means so much to me. I really think your a great person.
John: You mean "you're." 
Steve: Douché.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wheel, Fire

One dark night back in the Stone Age, two Stone Age bros were slowly rolling the big stone wheel they'd made and they saw a woman walking alone, and they hooted salaciously at her to indicate they had invented this wheel and she should have sex with them. She thought their stone wheel was kinda cool and also there were lots of creepy animal screamy sounds out in the dark, so she went back to their cave and had sex with them because it was better than being eaten by tigers. Thousands of years later, the story survives, and stupid dudes are still cruising around in the dark hooting salaciously at every woman they see, just in case it's a lady who will be really impressed by a wheel. They've even upped the ante -- now they have FOUR wheels, baby, hubba hubba. 

Oddly, very few dudes today remember another piece of history -- the time when a nice German lady, Mrs. Fiedler, who was tired of being hooted at salaciously when she herded the goats home at night, tired of how even an activity as unsexual as tending goats could have an unwanted sexuality pressed upon it by passing yahoos, said to her husband Richard, "May I borrow that flamethrower you invented, dear?" And he said of course. So Mrs. Fiedler strapped on her husband's prototype, and next time she was buzzed by a jeep full of horny beer-hall lederhosers, Mrs. Fiedler lit up their jeep with a rope of fire, and the goats all stood around it watching it glow in the Bavarian darkness, the flames reflecting in their weird goat eyes.

Strange and sad how some pieces of history inform our decisions even today, where other ones get forgotten. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Whitman at Armory Square, Revisited

For a long time I've wanted to do sound and visuals projects with some of my old poems. This weekend I got a chance to start learning how, thanks to Radio Boot Camp. I went up to New York with colleagues in order to get a first taste of how we might start incorporating audio elements into our reporting, getting to use what I learned for personal projects is a nice side benefit.

I'm excited about the possibilities on multiple fronts, but the first thing I thought I'd try out was working with this odd Whitman poem I wrote some years back, one in which two voices (and two stories) are cut into each other forming a new, more difficult story. Linebreak published and did a marvelous job with the recording, but I always wanted to hear what would happen if this poem was done in layers, in rounds like old folk songs, with the two threads of death and life not coming one after the other but woven so closely they can scarcely be separated. 

That was part of what I was trying to get at in this poem: an intermingling of the threads of Whitman: his boisterous voice and sexuality with the anguish of the Civil War, the intermingling (and eventual effacement) of Whitman's voice with the voices of the soldiers he nursed, an act of mercy that was at once generous and destructive. 

I moved some lines around in the recording, as I found that following the interspersed voices was more difficult without the visual cues that the page provides, but maybe I can get someone with a dramatically different voice than mine to record with me at some point. 

Whitman at Armory Square

People came to him—in the streets, in the alleys.

              Always, his appetite had been huge, his capacity for
Flesh clung to him like sunlight coats wheat fields.
             Taking others into himself. Now he had them
Knowing its home, its resting place, its canvas.
             By the hundreds, boys and men brought in
They would greet him with kisses. Friends wrote
             On stretchers: shredded arms, exposed brain matter;
Of how beautiful he was bathing, of his proud form;
             Some saved by an hour with the saw. On their lips,
How it moved and flexed; they lost, within his sight,
            A whimper for Christ or mother, sometimes
All shame. And he in turn would tongue
            Bloodied spittle. Most surgeries were amputations.
Their bodies onto leaves of paper, spilling
            The pus was drawn into roll on roll of cotton.
Rivers of ink through the soft belly of evening,
            His work was to cleanse, to comfort these ruins
Touching, exquisitely, himself and those nearby
            Dying in the wake of the cut: dysentery, infection.
Until his seed splashed onto the page in long lines,
            Many simply wished to dictate a letter home.
Nothing like any poetry that had been seen before
            He would write the words they could no longer form
A psalm drawn from dirt and kernel,
            With their hands. His own tongue curled up and dropped,
From sweat and wood smoke, from the root.
            A shriveling sinew in a filthy pile of gauze.