Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Eleven Decades in Eleven Words (Defining time periods with humorous and devastating oversimplification).

1900s: Relief.
(At least it's not the 1800's!)

1910s: Horror.
(World War I; the phrase "never again" begins; a grueling decade we promise to never repeat.)

1920s: Gilded.
(The Gilded Age; We have lots of money and it will never stop!)

1930s: Depression.
(The Great Depression; We have no money and it will never stop!)

1940s: Horror 2. (We repeat the 1910's; World War 2: fascism; Nazism; Communism; Maoism; Stalinism; zionism; fundamentalism; the decade of assholes who won't stay home)

1950s: Relief 2.
(The Gilded Memory Age; the decade that seems the best because hippies weren't jaded yet and, honestly, anything was better than the 40's)

1960s: Rebellion.
(We'll show our selfish, stupid, shortsighted parents by being even more selfish, stupid and shortsighted and it will never stop!)

1970s: Compromise.
(The 60's with a day job.)

1980s: Responsibility.
(The day job without the 60's.)

1990s: Internet.
(We have the internet and all this money and it will never stop!)

2000s: Fear.
(Plane attacks; suicide bombers; economic crashes; global warming; apocalypse theories; not nearly as bad as Horror or Horror 2, but still terrifying and with a million more opportunities to see it)

Bathroom Monologue: "You write a lot. What's your secret?" -Anonymous, OR, Rules For Writing

-Buy a book on the rules of writing. Strunk & White's Elements of Style is cheap and common. Now whenever you aren't sure of a rule, look it up. Not knowing is not an excuse.

-Read more. You'll pick up the rules (and where to break them) that way. You’ll also pick up ideas. But you’re not allowed to read while you're writing. Writing is the only thing you get to do.

-A set time helps. Maybe always during lunch hour, maybe an hour after you get home from work, maybe as soon as your favorite show ends. Humans use rituals. Times for things are good.

-Phones off and/or unplugged.

-No internet, including e-mail and Twitter. There is a special place in Hell for people who pause in the middle of trying to write to e-mail someone that they can't write.

-No one else allowed in the room, provided you have the authority to kick them out.

-Word minimums are good. Maybe you start at 500 words per day. These are better than page limits because fonts deceive. Now you’ve got a time you know you’ll write and a goal when that time comes. In a month of 500-words days, you’ll have 15,000 words.

-No getting up from the chair until the word minimum is reached, unless it's been an hour and you still have to pee.

-No postponing. Diets, marriages and novels fail because people say they’ll work on them later.

-You will eventually postpone anyway, because the car is on fire, the World Trade Center was attacked or your in-laws came over unannounced. Fine. But you do not go to bed until the word minimum is reached. That's the limit of your postponement.

-Exceed your word minimum as often as possible.

-Eventually, increase your word minimum. If you can bench 1,000 words, bench 1,000. At 1,000 words a day, you’ll have 365,000 words in a year. I haven’t seen a novel published this year that was that long.

-Never decrease your word minimum.

-No days off from the schedule. If it's every weekend, it's every weekend. If it's every day, it's every day. If you take one day off, you will take others off.

-Writing anything is good. If you can do dialogue today, do dialogue. If you can write a scene that’s three chapters ahead of this one, skip ahead. Even notes for world-building count. You can leave blanks and fill them in later, so long as you’re writing something else.

-No changing the musical selection. Whatever CD is in stays in, and your alternative is to write in silence. Picking new music will distract you from the topic you're writing about.

-Similarly, no doing chores while you write. No cleaning, laundry, etc. It's great to think over your topics or plots while you do chores, but unacceptable to get up from the computer and do them when you still owe words.

-Yes, it does suck. You will edit it later. Finish it now.

-You can edit today instead of composing new material. When you edit instead of composing new material, your word minimum triples. If you write 1,000 words a day, then on an editing day you must edit 3,000 words (hopefully there will be fewer words left when you finish than there were when you started). If you don’t have any new material to edit, you can’t edit today.

-When it comes down to it, pick writing over sex. If you don't write today, you have a much greater chance of not writing tomorrow. You will always want more sex.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Joking About Dying

A guy gets home from the hospital. As he enters, his landlord asks, "What did they say?"

"I forget about you," says the guy. "Can I make jokes about dying with you?"

"No, that's not funny."

"Oh, okay," he says. "I'm fine. Everything came back negative."

He goes upstairs. The girl from across the way opens her door.

"Hey, how'd the hospital go?"

He thinks a minute.

"I forget about our last conversation. Can I make jokes about dying with you?"

"That's just disturbing. Why would you do that?"

"Sorry. I'm fine. Everything came back negative."

A minute of failed flirting later, he walks into his apartment. His roommate doesn't even look up from Call of Duty.

"What's up?" his roommate asks. The guy smiles for a minute before sitting down next to him. He knows how he can speak with his roommate.

“Knock knock,” the guy says.

“Who’s there?”

"I'm dying."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Letter from Gorosaurus

Dear Toho,

My name is Gorosaurus. I'm a giant dinosaur that once did battle with King Kong. I am most famous for destroying the Arc de Triumph in France in Destroy All Monsters. It was the highlight of my career, but also the epitome of it: Japanese and American audiences watched me trashing that French landmark simultaneously wondered who I was and what that building was.

I appreciate all the work you’ve thrown me over the years. Being that my only talent is a jumpkick, one would think I’d be done for after one movie, especially considering how badly Kong beat me up.

That’s why I’m writing. I can’t get anymore famous than I am write now with my current skill set. As it is, I’m a budget Godzilla. I look more like a t-rex than he does, leaving me more generic. I don’t have the neat spines on my back, I’m not as tall, and I can’t breathe fire. Over time I’ve noticed you granting Godzilla additional powers, like turning him into a giant magnet to mess with Mechagodzilla, or making him be able to heal from any wound with “Regenerator G.” These are insulting to science. Toho, please let me insult science too.

I don’t have to fly, though I’d like that. How about telekinesis? Maybe it’s the secret reason I can jumpkick despite having such fat legs. I haven’t seen a giant monster with telekinesis lately, and certainly a t-rex that can move things with his mind is interesting. Imagine Thai citizens fleeing in terror down the streets of Chiang Mai, only to suddenly float off the ground and fly into my mouth. You could base a whole movie around that kind of thing.

Also, I’d like to attack Thailand. Korea has a giant monster now with The Host, but us Japanese beasts are pretty isolated to islands and frozen wildernesses. Thailand could use the attention. I’m sure they’d sacrifice a few buildings to a giant monster battle in return for tourism.

Sincerely,
Gorosaurus

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Fake Craigslist Ad for an Atheologian

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER

Corporation is seeking atheologians to work in various international locations including Fiji, India and Sub-Saharan Africa. Polylinguistics are a plus, but interpreters will be provided. Corporation is not interested in amateurs or speculators; we don’t need agnosticators. We need talented people who are sure they know what God did and didn’t do.

Offering:
-Transportation and assisted movement of belongings to the site.
-Single Apartment (spacious).
-$75,000 per annum on three-year contracts.
-$250,000 life insurance policy.*

Position Requirements Include:
-People skills.
-College Semiotics and/or Symbolism degree,
or five years of field experience in these fields.
-At least ten years experience in saying what God doesn’t do.

Responsibilities Include:
-Making sure we don’t anger the Almighty
and bring down His wrath on our time-sensitive, expensive projects.
-Reporting twice daily to project managers on their potential blasphemies.
-Being sacrificed to appease the deity/deities
if you fail to warn your project managers in advance.

*Being willingly sacrificed may violate life insurance policy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Emperor Monologue

I was born into this position, Jangs. Heaven’s mandate is obvious. My flesh is that of a man, but my position is immense. It is the wall between order and atrocity. If the throne falls, the world will see anarchy, or lesser strongmen will rise in little tyrannies, or at best, the wealthy will rig up some illusion of populism. In all those cases, what is right will be lost to what is wanted. With the throne, I can mediate the warlords and the rich. They think me petty and selfish. I think them far more dangerous. To give up the throne would be to cede power from the only man I know I can trust. The only man who will always check the treasury, restrain the army and help those in disaster. To give up the throne would lead to more violence in a hundred years than the throne itself has caused in the last thousand. I have three wars at my borders, but without the throne? War upon war upon war within my borders. And in the end? No borders left. Perhaps the father who left me these three wars was corrupt, but he lies in state and I sit on the throne. I do not even know if I can trust you. How can I trust a world enough to walk away from this chance?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bathroom Monologues: My Muslim Bruthaz

[The restaurant is mostly empty. Green and red streamers are strewn about and Christmas lights are still up on the windows. SAMID sits on one side of the booth in a pink tuxedo and red Santa hat. ARYANA sits on the other side in a chainmail pantsuit and red Santa hat.]

Aryana: "Muzlims."

Samid: It’s actually moose-lahms.

Aryana: Moose-lambs?

Samid: Moose, like the animal. The second syllable is less important, but it’s kind of an ‘a’ sound, with a really soft hint of ‘h.’ Muslim. It was translated into language poorly. Muslims judge how familiar you are with their culture by how you pronounce it.

Aryana: …We spelled their name wrong?

Samid: Both syllables.

Aryana: No wonder we have bad relations with them.

Samid: And then there’s when it’s right to say Muslim or Islam…

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: A Necessary Getaway

Listen to John Wiswell's Necessary Getaway or download the MP3 here.

He moved north at the first opportunity. Way north. He cut all ties, even to his mother, which was the hardest on him. He was a mama's boy. His hair went white from all the stress, including his beard. He took that as a sign to change his appearance and began dressing in pants as soon as they were invented. He spent so long in sedentary hiding that he put on tremendous weight, face filling out, giving him rosy cheeks in the snowy environment. He stayed in doors as much as possible, but always came out around his birthday. It was too lonely, even with the elves that had found him and made camps all around his house. They fashioned him thick boots and gloves that comforted his scarred extremities so much he took up carpentry again, making little wooden toys. The gregarious wee folk did so much for his spirits that he reached out to a similar-sized people - children. He only went out on his birthday, but brought a sack of the toys with him for those boys and girls who had the right attitude. There were always more gifts to give, too, as the elves copied his work and began production for every good child. And associating with children turned out to actually help, for in his old life he had been an average-sized Jew, but to children he was a giant. So his new identity was a rosy-cheeked and plump man with gifts and white hair. Even though he only went south on his birthday, no one made the connection. He was safe. No one down there ever guessed that Santa Claus was an alias.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Ten Clues of Christmas

This idea was thought up in the bathroom even if I didn't write it there. The following appears on the inside of the card to my brother’s Christmas present. He loves to figure out what the present is without unwrapping it. While the clues are tailored to his tastes (he loved the book from which the first quotation comes, likes The Doors and is a stand-up comic), I think that the ten clues are so broad that a lot of people could play this guessing game. Without googling or otherwise cheating, I invite anyone to read the ten clues below and figure out what David Wiswell is getting for Christmas (or got for Christmas, depending when you’re reading).

Clue 1: Who wrote the following quote?

“The following decision I make with all the legal impact and support of a signed testament: I wish this memoir to be published only when _ _ _ _ _ _ is no longer alive.
Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick.”

Clue 2: The omitted word in the quotation of Clue 1 is an infamous name.

Clue 3: This present was written by the author of Clue 1’s quote. This is what came next.

Clue 4: The title of this present is two words long.

Clue 5: The first word of the title could describe this piece of paper, or dawn, or someone who is very sick.

Clue 6: The first word of the title is the third word in one of stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan’s albums.

Clue 7: The second word of the title is the third word in the title of a song by The Doors.

Clue 8: The Doors song referred to in Clue 7 has the following lyric:

“You know that it would be untrue,
You know that I would be a _ _ _ _.”

Clue 9: The omitted word in the quotation of Clue 8 rhymes with the second word in the title of this present.

Clue 10: The first and second words in the title of the present have the same number of letters.

Bathroom Monologue: Accident Proof

He was a truck driver because most accidents happened near home. He figured driving cross-country would make him impervious to car crashes. There were wrecks on the freeway, but maybe all those drivers had houses nearby. Like, under overpasses or something. Maybe they lived in their cars. That was a dangerous gamble to our trucker – living in your car meant spending your life near where you were likely to have an accident. He never slept in the cab, even when he was between apartments. He’d sleep on a park bench or in a rest stop stall, parking the truck eleven miles away. It was a long walk, but necessary. He couldn’t risk an accident.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Case of Rock V. Scissors

What if the rock isn't big enough to break the scissors? It's hard. Probably a piece of obsidian. The scissors can make a few little scratches, but they can't cut it. Then it's a stalemate. If he throws down scissors and you throw down rock, you shouldn't automatically win. The first person to say what kind of rock you threw should qualify the contest; Mr. Scissors could claim you threw down some talc with fine lines of cleavage, at which point you're doomed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Norman's Inflatable Tacos

Every look. Every lick. Every desire. We see all of it! You know you want it, so just give in. Just give us your money and we'll let you have another taste. So big it can’t be legal. So big your arteries will want better glasses. But wait, they inflate! The beef keeps rising and the cheese won’t cool down. You don’t want it to stop! You can’t take your lips off this culinary disaster, the corn meal gash with a side of Mexican flavor.

Norman's Inflatable Tacos.

You can't hide it! You can't deny it! Buy three today, or we’re coming to your house!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bathroom Monologues: The Winning Goddess

The same woman won every year. She was a goddess, which would be an unfair advantage in a district with a lower average income. Not on Park Street, though. Here she was simply more imaginative. Being a harvest goddess, her wreath grew out of the door, alive and natural. Verdant bushes sprang up with the first snow, bearing bright red fruits to give her lawn that Christmas color decor. Her snowmen farmed their own raisins and carrots, and were such snappy dressers that they got her top points every year. Clouds of fireflies descended on her roof and windows, their glowing hinds blinking in perfect synchronicity, giving her energy-efficient Christmas lights. On Sundays, they spelled out the scores of the biggest games. Nobody could compete with her manger, either. With a snap of her fingers she had every necessary animal walking out of the bushes and taking its place. Where she got a newborn every year was up to speculation. How it survived out the cold for a week as various judges came by? Now that was a miracle.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Worst of Men

You say you would count me amongst the best of men and I tell you I would not. I am far from the most handsome or the smartest. Not the quickest thinking, not the wisest, and I certainly do not know the most about anything. I am of mediocre height and far from the best weight, putting me at distinctly sub-best build. If there is a best of men, then I am amongst the worst looking in a bathing suit, and must rank somewhere in the bottom ten of aptitudes for tanning. When everyone is heading in the same direction on the same sidewalk, I fall behind. I cannot lift the most weight and despite considerable exposure to pain, I am not the best at handling it. I am praised as a good listener yet spend the bulk of my time thinking about other things I’d rather be doing than listen to her cry about her boyfriend. I am a terrible boyfriend. I get bored, sex takes too long and the emotional games played at dinner should not be more complicated than chess. I am not the best at chess. I cannot think of a single thing at which I excel other than seeing that I am a pretty sub-best person.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Tug on that Cape

The best part of being a superhero happened Saturday morning. He wished he didn’t feel that way, but it was true.

On Tuesday he caught a train as it was derailing. A couple of people broke their arms. There were no fatalities. He signed more autographs for the stranded commuters than there were bruises.

On Wednesday he airlifted an iceberg to the southern Sahara. The governments assured him this would help irrigation, or at least give the locals clean drinking water for a few weeks.

He spent Thursday and Friday traveling through space to correct the trajectory of two satellites headed out of the solar system. It would have been lifetimes to build and send new ones, but now all that work was saved and new photos were beamed to earth, showing the cosmos from an angle never before seen. He took a minute to look from that angle himself, in person, before heading back to earth.

The best part was Saturday morning and he couldn’t help himself. He woke up and his costume was missing from the clothesline. His wife was still asleep, facedown on her pillow and snoring happily.

He padded to the living room and found his cape stretched over two chairbacks, forming a tent. His one son wore the pants of his costume like giant sleeves, and his one daughter wore the shirt like a flowing dress that ran over her little feet. She was drooling on his insignia. They were both transfixed with morning cartoons.

Maybe, if he were more profound, some other time of the week would have been the best. He wasn’t, though.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Head-Organ’s Import

Listen to John Wiswell's The Head-Organ's Import or download the MP3 here.

Phillipus snorted deeply and spat yellow filth into the urn. His henchmen grimaced. The master had been doing this a lot lately.

“Sir,” broached the left henchman. “We’ve been meaning to ask you about that urn.”

“Had it banged out by a bronze smith a month ago. Used scrap metal from a fallen soldier’s helmet.”

The henchmen continued grimacing. Phillipus cleared his throat.

“A fallen Trojan soldier. Not ours.”

He swished his tongue about his mouth. Clearing his throat like that had loosened more phlegm, so he spat it into the urn. The right henchman looked inside. It was a third of the way full with crusty head-filth.

“Sir,” the left henchman tried broaching again. “We’ve been meaning to ask you about what you’re doing with the urn.”

“You mean collecting my head bile?” Phillipus beamed. “It’s going to make me invincible.”

The right henchman backed away from the urn. “How would it accomplish that? It does not seem that vicacious a fluid.”

Phillipus stepped up onto the chariot, looking down at his two faithful servants. He prodded the right one in the bicep.

“If I spear you there, you’ll be hurt, but you’ll likely survive the battle. And if I spear you there,” he toed at the left henchman’s thigh, “then you might be crippled, but you’ll likely live a while longer. Yes?”

His henchmen nodded, as it was a big part of what they were paid to do.

“Well if I take my spear,” Phillipus gestured to the lances lashed to one side of the chariot, then jabbed with an imaginary skewer into his left man’s left eye, “and I jab you in the head, you fall down dead every time. Short of Apollo holding you up himself, you die. Yes?”

His henchmen nodded.

“There’s only one organ in the head. It’s a mucus-secreting thing the philosophers discovered. It’s all that takes up the skull, as opposed to the dozens of things in the belly.” He gestured around his armored abdomen. “All those organs and its peril barely equals that of being speared in the one head-organ.”

The right henchmen offered, “If you’re worried about your head, sir, we can have a new helmet fashioned. But I must say, your current one has a terrifying plumage.”

“No matter how sturdy, it can still fall off.” Phillipus kicked the urn. “I made this from the helmet of a fallen Trojan. The helmet fell first. Stabbing him in the ear made me realize the value of the mucus-secreting organ. It’s the big vital thing. If all it does is secrete this stuff, then this urn is full of the secret of life. This must be the juice that animates man. It puts blood to shame.”

The left henchman rubbed his hands together, working this over. “Are you going to make a helmet from your head-organ’s cream?”

Phillipus waved the henchman off like a fly. There had been many flies lately.

“It’s too brittle once it dries. If this material is metal, it’s a weak kind. No, I’m going to eat it. Consume what vital juices the head-organ dispenses until I am full of its vitality. Then I won’t even need armor anymore. I will be made invincible by my own mortal ambrosia, the product of my own mind.”

The master beamed again, showing all his yellowed teeth. He remained in a heroic pose for an awkward few minutes, allowing his henchmen to bask in his brilliance. He only broke from it to cough into the urn some more, then inquired about recipes for soup.

Brave Phillipus supped long and survived the next day’s battle. Sadly, it was not by invulnerability in combat with Troy. He survived because he spent the day in bed with a sickness in one of his abdominal organs.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Ma Newer's Television Set ®

Ma Newer's Television Set ® is an entertainment experience like no other. You can plug it into standard definition, high definition, BluRay or your computer, but you cannot plug it into the wall. Ma Newer’s is the world's first totally Green television, all power for the set is generated in the three wheels, placed stylishly about the screen. These are similar in design to the exercise wheels placed in mouse cages, but no mere rodents could power this home theatre experience. Instead each wheel comes with a three-year-old child. Any mother can attest that a three-year-old on a little sugar runs like no other power source on earth. The children come pre-installed, pre-gagged and pre-bound to their wheels. You never have to worry about them. A small charge is reserved at the core of the set, such that if any of the wheels slows even a little, a shock travels through the ProdSystem ™ and into the nape of the neck of the lazy brat. Years of patent-protected testing methods have verified the Ma Newer's power source to be 99.9% percent effective, making her power source so reliable and entertaining, you may not even watch the TV.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Ways to create a haunted car

-If a zombie bit Kit from Knight Rider.

-Drive the car off a cliff midway through a cross-country road trip. Then go rent another car and drive it the rest of the way. Unfinished business and betrayal usually creates ghosts.

-Play DVD’s of Christine, The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye and other stuff on the on-board TV. Maybe it’ll get the idea from them. If it doesn’t turn into a ghost car immediately following the receipt of all those digital ghost movies, betray the GPS in some horrible way and leave it for dead, preferably at the bottom of a well.

-An infection-style zombie dies and bleeds in a gas station, its blood dripping through the grates and into the gas reserve. You then make the terrible mistake of gassing up with unleaded.

-After a racecar wrecks so badly that only the engine is left functional, take that engine and stick it in a brand new car.

-Take your mom’s bed sheets and drape them over the car. Cut two eyeholes for the windshield wipers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Mental Pun

“You can’t even pick what’s for dinner?” Cheryl shrieked. “Steak or chicken? Pick!”

She pointed to the steak and chicken, both frozen, both thawing on the counter.

He shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s it!”

She shoved both plates aside and pulled jars from under the counter. From them she drew fistfuls of synapses and neurons, throwing them in his face. He tried to catch some in his hands, but raising his hands only Cheryl angrier. She jumped an entire jar of dendrites over his head.

Breathing raggedly, she yelled, “Make up your mind!”

Cheryl stormed out. He looked down at the armload of brain bits in his arms and thought she was being unusually abstract today.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: What would you do if a man advanced on you with a sword?

What would you do if a man advanced on you with a sword? A rapier with a bronze basket hilt. The man is a little scruffy and is wearing an embossed doubler, but what he looks like doesn’t really matter. The sword does. It will get to you four feet sooner than he will.

It’s a narrow hallway. One door far behind you, and one door to your right. Both are closed.

Do you try to dart through the nearer door?

What if it’s locked? You’ll look like quite the fool.

But if you fall back, you will only prolong the chase. He can run as quickly as you, so the rapier will meet you in the same time anyway. And what if you make it through the door at the end of the hall? You’re on the fifth floor. He’ll chase you about the room for a moment and cut you down, or you can jump to your death and your mother will have to clean you off the pavement. At least if you perish here the janitor will have to deal with your remains.

I guess you could charge him. The rapier is up, pointed at your chest. If you avoid the tip, he won’t have room to swing and we’ll be inside punching range. Perhaps you can tackle him through the door that’s behind him. That door wasn’t even an option before.

He’s taller than you, but you’re broader. You’re more massive. Your tackle should mean more. It’s a cliché to jump the armed man, but wouldn’t it be better to live a cliché than to be cleaned up by your mother?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BOBS, or, ____

BOBS, or, “But when we look around us at the state of literacy – and in particular at all those signs for “BOBS’ MOTORS”….” –Lynn Truss, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”

But Carmen couldn’t wait, not with that sign in the window. Her mother was an English teacher, damn it. She told Samuel that she’d pay and stormed into the gas station. She saw the clerk and was fixing him with her stare before she was even at the counter.

“I want to speak to the owner,” she said.

“I’m one of them,” he said, taking off his hat. “What can I do for you?”

“You’re Bob, then?” she said, glancing at the “BOBS’ MOTORS” sign in the window.

He nodded and shrugged at the same time.

“Like I said, I’m one of them.”

“One of them?” She gawked. “How illiterate are you?”

Another man came in from the back, this one taller, his overalls stained with oil.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Bob answered. “I think the lady wants to speak to us about literacy.”

The other man rubbed his hands on his overalls and looked at Carmen.

“There’s a rack of paperbacks by the door if that’s what you’re after.”

“No,” Carmen said, almost stamping her foot. “The sign on your store is incorrectly punctuated. If the store belongs to Bob,” she pointed at the man behind the counter, “then the apostrophe goes before the ‘s,’ not after.”

“Well, yeah,” said the guy in overalls. “But it doesn’t. It belongs all of us Bobs.”

Carmen took a moment on this.

“You’re Bob?”

“Yeah. Bob McClane.” He gestured to the Bob behind the counter. “That’s Bobby Green. His dad’s Bobby Green Sr. I’ve got a cousin, Bob Jaffey. All four of us have a stake in the place.”

“In Bobs’ Motors?” she asked, regretting having not let her husband come in to pay.

“Yeah,” said both Bobs.

She looked down into her purse.

“Twenty dollars of unleaded, please.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: How do you pronounce “Tatopolus?”

“Hello, Mr. Tatopolus?”

“It’s pronounced ‘Ta-ta-pa-loose,’ but this is him. What can I do for you?”

“This is Sherry from Carp Publishers. I’m Mizzy’s secretary. This is concerning the photograph you sent up for the dust jacket.”

“I thought they got my good side.”

“To be sure: you sent a photo of you with a cat on your lap?”

“Yeah, that’s my mother’s. I take care of it on the weekends. Beautiful tabby, isn’t she?”

“Are you aware that this has been photoshopped?”

“How so?”

“There’s a large cartoon word bubble over your head that makes you say, “I hate cats.””

“That sounds like me. I hate cats.”

“And you’re stroking one in the photo.”

“Yes. Is there a problem?”

“You don’t see something odd there?”

“Not really. I hate cats.”

“You realize your book is about pet owners, Mr. Tatapolous?”

“Uh-huh. I did a bang-up job, too.”

“We can’t cut the word bubble out because it’s in the middle of your photo. Mizzy was wondering if you could send another.”

“What would you like the caption to be?”

“If it could just be you, that would be great.”

“Okay. I’ll surprise you. Thanks for the call, Sherry!”

“Hold on—”

But he’d already hung up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Soda Castle

Listen to the audio edition or download the MP3 of John Wiswell's Soda Castle here.

It began as two cans. Well, it had to begin with one, but who remembers when they put down that first soda can? Derek reached over after finishing his third Green Tea Ginger Ale that week, intending to put it down next to the keyboard. There were already two there, side by side. So you see? He didn’t, and wanting to get back to his term paper, he put it on top of the left can.

That’s how it began.

He was out of bags, and so didn’t bother collecting for recycling that week. He was on a deadline and had never written a twenty-page paper before, and so paid attention to little else. The uncaffeinated soda was a comfort as he plowed through Kant and Hegel. Plus it was on sale. So there was a fourth can Tuesday afternoon.

A fifth followed him home from lunch the next day.

A sixth and seventh as he worked after evening classes, tooling the bibliography. God, did he hate MLA format.

All these cans wound up on his desk, like his unconscious was hiding them just left of his keyboard, just out of sight. He didn’t even check how many there were until there were clearly too many. Hadn’t there only been two when he’d looked over there a few days ago? Now there was a castle of soda cans. They ran the length of his computer tower, blocking out the left speaker. One can, then two stacked up, then one, then two, like battlements. They were nice cans, too, brass-colored tops with light green sides, giving the battlements the color of a fantasy palace. The wall of cans grew taller near the front of the computer, reaching to four cans in height, blocking out the power button. He hadn’t had any cause to turn it off lately, what with the paper. It was still weird that he'd unconsciously built up the wall that way.

Derek examined his castle for far too long. His alarm clock went off eventually, letting him know it had been another all-nighter. Mostly work, with a diversion for soda castles.

Shortly after sitting back down the sun rose through his window, right behind the monitor. Behind the wall of cans. The glare hurt his eyes, so he finished the next soda and placed it atop a battlement. It was just the right height to block out the sun. It was his very own recyclable tower of Babel.

“In your face, day star,” he muttered. Then he returned to Hume’s theories on causation, written thickly enough that Derek didn’t quite get it, yet he felt it strongly disapproved of the sort of man who would insult the sun from behind soda cans.

He showered. He did laundry. He went to class. He researched the stupid final paper. He did everything a good student should, except tear that wall down. Soda residue left sticky circles on his desk, cementing the bottom cans in place. Higher cans also adhered to each other, such that when somebody slammed a door in the hall, they lurched but did not topple.

The castle kept growing, making a one-can-tall row underneath his monitor before expanding to the virgin territory of the right side of his desk. Aluminum civilization exploded to three-can heights in this region within days of the settlers' arrival. Soon there was no room and he had to keep his library books on the floor. A little unnecessarily rational voice in his head thanked God his girlfriend was a Social Psychology major and was too busy with off-campus research to stop by and see this.

On date night he took her out for Chinese. He had green tea with his low mein. It was not the same, and he wound up drinking water instead.

When he reached a difficult part in the paper, he chewed the bumps under his lower lip and looked at the cans. He didn’t even read them, and would be surprised if someone pointed out how many fonts were used between the back and front labels. They’d ceased to be cans a long time ago.

He got silly with them. When Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason became completely impenetrable to him, he tried resting his new spare cans at angles. The towers were so tall that he could begin to build an arch over the top of his flatscreen monitor. He rested the first two at slight slants, one on the right tower, one on the left. It took a minute to balance them, but they stayed in place.

That success tempted him too much. He drank four more cans in that sitting, even though he wasn’t thirsty and was getting a little sick of the sweet stuff. He'd drink some water before sun-up, he promised.

Derek pushed the four new cans into an arch shape that would fill the gap and form a bridge over the monitor. He couldn’t just lay one at a time, but if the gap was filled all at once, architecture and physics should have allowed the whole thing to support itself. The medieval people did this all the time.

Perhaps they did, but not with soda cans, and not at 1:00 AM. His arch of cans collapsed, taking with them two dozen of their intricately placed brethren. One not entirely empty can sloshed over his keyboard and splashed the monitor. Stale, sticky soda trickled down a screen he could not afford to replace, dripping onto old assigned reading packets that had until now been hidden under his great wall.

Derek couldn’t reach out to stop it, nor sit down and gawk. He could only stand and witness it, for a minute.

He looked out the window, half-expecting the sun to rise and taunt him. It had been a couple of weeks since he'd really seen the sun.

A minute later he went to the bathroom for paper towels. He turned his keyboard upside down to dry out while he mopped up the desk and wiped the monitor. He stacked the cans on the floor, but paid no attention to the order they were stacked in.

Then he drank some water and tried to tie up his paper as quickly as possible.

He turned it in the next day. It was bad, but it was done, and he cited a lot, which would ensure a passing grade. After dropping off the paper, he took four bags full of cans to the local grocery store. He recycled all of them, pocketing the state deposit. It was almost ten dollars. Ten dollars he would not spend until he was home on Christmas break, when he would begin building anew.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Steak the Vampires

“Here’s the deal,” Coach said as he heaped even more steak on Tim’s plate. It was pink, barely rare. The blood congealed with the juice of the spinach and lentils on the other side of the plate.

Tim looked at Josh. Josh just shrugged, took his plate and reached for the pepper grinder.

“You know how you’ve been saying the new janitor acts weird? How Susan and some other girls seem all drained and you thought it was vampires, and I told you to quit that shit?”

“Yeah,” Tim replied. He really didn’t want to get yelled at about that again, and couldn’t figure out what this had to do with a steak dinner.

“You know all that stuff about vampires? Bite you on the neck? Turn into bats? Crazy made-up shit?

“Yeah.”

“Well they’re real. They’re real and they’ll be coming tonight.” Coach rubbed his greasy hands together, then slopped the remainder of the steak onto his own plate. He cut it up as he spoke. “They’re coming in mass and they’re coming for you. Every kid on the team is going to be screwed. You’re the healthiest blood bags walking the streets.”

He gestured at Tim’s plate with the carving knife.

“Eat. You got to. It’s the plan I’ve got.”

Tim had a dozen objections, and none cared to voice themselves when his gym teacher was pointing a carving knife at him. He took a bite of his steak and grimaced.

“We’re going to steak them.”

“Stake them?” Josh asked from around a mouthful of meat. He didn’t seem to care. His parents never let him eat like this.

“Steak. E-A-K,” Coach enunciated slowly. “Vampires are magic, right? Well magic is weak as shit against iron. You read any old book and you see: iron stops witches’ spells and cages demons. So when they come, if they get you, they’re going to get a mouthful of iron-rich blood. Beef’s full of iron. So are those veggies. Shame I couldn’t get you some liver, but regardless, you’ll knock them right on their asses.”

Coach shrugged and contorted his face apologetically, then shoveled steak into his mouth.

Tim licked his lips, looking at Coach. He wondered if, in case vampires were actually coming, a History or Chemistry teacher would have come up with the same plan.

Josh handed him the pepper grinder.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: New Twitter Committee Law

Due to Twitter going over capacity so frequently, the Twitter Committee is implementing an "adult swim"-style posting policy for the following hours. For the listed hours only specified topics may be tweeted about. Thank you for your 140-character compliance.

11:00-Lunchbreak - Post funny things you found on the internet this morning
1:00-1:59 PM - Conservatives complaining about people who disagree with them
2:00-2:59 PM - Liberals complaining about people who disagree with them
3:00-3:15 PM – People of other political parties complaining about those who disagree with them
3:30-3:40 PM - Chatter about whatever thing Google invented/patented/bought/ruined today
4:00-4:59 (Friday Only) - Buzz about the movie you can't wait to see tonight, AKA "The New Moon Hour"
5:30-6:30 PM - Complain about your day (misc. topics)
6:31-6:59 PM - Apologize for and/or delete tweets once you realize your boss/lover/grandmom could have read them
8:01-9:05 PM - Chatter about whatever is on television where you are
8:01-9:05 AM - Chatter about whatever is on television on the other side of the world; always confusing to you, but we have to be fair

All other topics are free to be discussed at any non-claimed times. This excludes any and all conversations that could be described by the hashtag #whentwitterwasdown. Any discussions that could have such a label are permanently forbidden under the penalty of having your spacebar taken away.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Moving Dangerously Close to Web Comic Territory

Geoff poured cleanser into the toilet, then stepped back. His job was done. It wasn’t his bathroom.

“All I’m saying is that it can’t be that hard to move to where the food is,” Rick said as he moved in with the scrubber. He looked grimmer about the stain around the rim than thousands starving somewhere else.

Geoff leaned against the sink. “They aren’t growing enough food to begin with, a quarter of the continent is a spreading desert, and several of their countries are ravaged by strongmen and corrupt governments. It’s not a matter of moving to a nicer house.”

Rick scrubbed a little harder, grimacing as the foam sloshed around.

“Well then they should reform their government.”

“Their governments don’t care. They aren’t listening to homeless minorities. Is that really so surprising to you?”

“That’s avoidance. It’s cowardly avoiding--yugh!” Some toilet foam splashed against Rick’s jeans and he jumped back, almost toppling into the bathtub. He quickly rubbed at the wet spot with paper towels, then groaned like he was going to throw up, and ran from the room to change.

“Yeah.” Geoff looked into the toilet. It looked foamy enough for him. He dropped the lid and flushed the suds. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: To Disappear

The detective slowed down on his third lap around the crime scene. He milled around the one pane of broken glass. The window was double-paned, yet only the interior one was broken. No one had gone through here, so why break it? How was this connected to Gina Gosling’s disappearance?

"Disappear is such a strange word," he murmured to himself. The officers hung back from him, not wanting to disturb him if this was one of his fugues. Those fugues were known to solve cases, whatever fugues were.

"When you examine it, disappear is bizarre. I like to think about the way we put words together, to see what they really mean. To disappear isn't to vanish. Vanishing is to vanish. To disappear isn't even to no longer appear. That would be unappearing, something that doesn't happen, which is why we don't use that word. Un- and dis- are different prefixes. To be uninterested and disinterested are different things. To be uninterested is to simply not be interested. To be disinterested is to actively remove your interests – you willfully take no side. To disappear is not to vanish or unappear. Vanishing is the middleground between an appearance and a disappearance. To disappear is to forcefully no longer appear.”

“This can’t really solve cases,” said one junior officer, walking to the door. “Let’s go interview a witness or something.”

The detective didn’t seem to notice, but the junior’s senior did. His mustache twitched as he reproached him.

“Don’t disrespect, punk. He’s solved more homicides than you ever will.”

“Yeah. But I’ve probably looked up more things in the dictionary.”

“Good way to stay sane,” the detective said, eyes still a little misty, but clearly speaking at them. “Good way to stay sane and useless.”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: This came dangerously close to being a true story

Bags of them. Some white, some pink, and every one was the size of a baby's fist. She tossed several in the air so that they could rain over her. She'd had many things in her life, but never such treasure. She hugged them to her chest, and they squished. Other customers gawked, but they could be damned. This was her moment of epiphany. There were giant marshmallows, and all was finally right in Heaven!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

An Alternate Abstinence Argument

"Hey kids. You don’t know me because I’m not famous. I’m overweight, my fashion sense is dreadful and my beard is unkempt. I bring this all up because I fuck. Almost everyone I know fucks, and I don’t know many cool people. Fucking isn’t cool. It never has been and it never will be. It’s jamming an extra finger of meat inside a pink hole. Ignore premature ejaculation, rape, syphilis, chlamydia, HIV and the anxiety over whether your period is late for the next month – fucking is downright uncool because of who does it. Your mom fucks. She fucked to have you. Think about that the next time you’re swapping smut stories. Think about your mom moaning your dad’s name. Yeah. Fucking. Fun, but uncool."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Balrog Looms

Joel and Elijah knew they were in trouble even before they left for the bathroom. New kids can sense trouble like that. There’s being an awkward new kid at an empty table, and then there’s being an awkward new kid at an empty table with your brother while all the boys at all the surrounding tables stared and glared at your kippah.

Elijah fiddled with his. At this school, they were probably only used to the Pope covering his head. The two boys couldn’t even eat with all those eyes on them.

“Can we go to the bathroom?” Elijah asked.

Joel looked disgusted. “Together?”

Elijah looked warily around the cafeteria. Some kids had gone back to their mac and cheese, but others still stared, including a giant of a boy at the jock table. He loomed like a golem, or like Tolkien’s Balrog, a giant monster floating behind an army of goblins.

“I don’t want to go anywhere around here alone.”

“Fine,” Joel relented. He didn’t want to be here either.

They got up together, putting their uneaten kosher meals back into carefully sectioned plastic containers Mom made them reuse.

The air was different in the hall. The lack of staring made it easier to breathe, and talk. They went straight for the bathrooms, flanking each other.

“Mizdayen baha--” Joel began, but Elijah stopped him.

“Speak English. We need to practice it better to fit in.”

Joel scoffed. “This is stupid. I told Mom that a Catholic school was--”

This time Elijah didn’t have to stop him. The cafeteria doors did. They were several yards behind and made no noise, but the boys could sense them opening. Joel looked back. Young jocks billowed out, looking around. One spied them and elbowed a comrade. Then they were headed to the bathroom too.

Elijah went straight for the bathroom. That had been the plan a minute ago, and in his panic he didn’t think to change it. Joel grabbed at his sleeve, looking back and seeing that the Catholic boys saw that they were clearly going in. Elijah went in anyway, and so Joel went after him, holding onto that sleeve.

They went for the last stall, and Joel actually followed Elijah inside.

“Shouldn’t we…?” Elijah tried to ask. When words failed, he pointed at the lock on the door. Joel inhaled quickly, then reached out.

The stall door swung open. Three boys stood in the opening, blocking the light from the window. In the moment, they seemed much bigger than Elijah. Joel didn’t know what to say.

“Hey, occupied!” Elijah cried out, trying to stand in front of his brother.

“What are you fags doing?” asked the middle of the three boys. He had dirty blonde hair, the same school uniform as his friends, and the same sickly smile.

“He your boyfriend?” taunted the one on the right. He reached in. For what, Joel had no idea. Elijah pushed the hand away from them, but that only invited more hands into the stall.

“Fuckers think you’re tough?” said the one on the right.

“I’ll show you tough,” said the middle boy, shoving Elijah so hard that he knocked into Joel and Joel fell onto the toilet. The boys laughed.

A huskier voice poked through their laughter.

"What they fuck are you doing with these newbies?"

The Balrog came around, standing directly behind the middle boy. He was a head taller than any of them and, this close, seemed equally fat and muscular to Joel.

The boy on the left laughed.

"They're Jews."

The Balrog looked down. He also wore their Catholic uniform, and to boot wore a rosary over the jacket. Then he looked back up at the bully with an expression that the rosary didn't matter right now.

"So?"

Middle boy sounded indignant. "So they fucking killed Jesus!"

The Balrog stuck his tongue in his cheek. Why licking the inside of his mouth was intimidating, Joel couldn’t say. He could have peed himself, though, when that boy looked at him.

"Were you guys alive when Jesus was born?"

Joel couldn’t answer. He couldn’t say anything right now.

So Elijah did. "No.”

The Balrog nodded. “Ever met Jesus?”

“No.”

"You kill anybody?” He paused, and so did everyone else in their stall party. Then he added, “Ever?"

Elijah shook his head sternly.

"No."

The Balrog looked down at the middle boy.

"Looks like they didn't kill Jesus. Why don't you go fuck off for a while?"

Joel moved his lips, but words were not in his service today. The three jock boys flowed like one stream of water, out of the stall, and then out of the bathroom.

With room in the stall, Elijah stepped away from his brother. He smoothed out his clothes, looking like he was going to address the giant.

"Thanks."

It seemed like words weren’t much in his service, either.

"Not a problem. It's a habit I picked up from God. Act scary as shit, for good motives." The Balrog held out a hand to shake Elijah’s. “I’m Noah.”

“I’m Elijah.”

He reached to shake Noah’s hand, but Noah withdrew it. Elijah froze.

Noah looked from Elijah to Joel, then around the stall.

“You wash that hand and then I’ll shake it.” He grinned, apparently thinking this was hilarious or cool or both. He jerked his head and took a step towards the bathroom door. “Come eat at my table. I’ll introduce you to some people.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Rice Allergy

Rice hated that cat. They heard him swearing at it every time he went down stairs to feed it. He kicked gravel at it when it came near him on the driveway and insulted his sister’s choice of pets. They said he really loved it, deep down, somewhere. One time his sister thought she’d caught him petting the cat with a blanket wrapped around his hand, but he denied it later.

He had wicked allergies. Rice was cursed with asthma so severe he couldn’t run or live in a room that wasn’t vacuumed daily. A dozen things could trigger harsh attacks, but the worst was cat dander. The normal person had a cat dander allergy index of 70, at which point they would have almost no irritation if a cat fell asleep on them. Rice had a cat dander allergy index of 1620. His index sounded like a year in modern history. If he lingered even for sixty seconds after giving the cat its food he became so violently sick and remained congested for a week.

He said that didn’t figure into the feud. It only meant the thing was forced to live in the basement, which was fine with him if it had to live at all. No, he simply loathed that loaf. Hated that it didn’t contribute to the household finances and was always meowing for attention. It’s food cost more than his did. If no one else was home and it cried for food, he’d whip open the door and kick at it. Then he’d go get its supper.

Cat dander was just one allergy, though. And allergies were just one of his problems. He was made from frail stuff. In his twenties the doctors found cysts in his lungs. They grew no matter what chemicals he was bombarded with.

Until that morning, he didn’t know that doctors actually told you that you had a month left to live. He’d thought TV made that up.

His sister rushed home when she got his message. She found his shoes by the door. Strangely, she found his socks a few feet later.

He wasn’t in his room, nor in the kitchen. Going downstairs, she saw his jacket cast over a chair, along with some bags from the pharmacy. A trail of Benadryl bottles lay leading to the basement door. There was another tossed on the steps leading down to the basement. Like all the others, it was empty.

The light was on. She called his name, but he didn’t answer. The cat meowed instead. It didn’t come to her like it normally did.

Rice lay on the basement floor, limbs splayed akimbo. His feet were bare and his eyes were open, but didn’t move in response to her presence. The cat lay on his chest, licking his chin.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Ultimatum in the South

We’re leaving at 3:00 AM. That’s the earliest time when multiple flights start leaving, and it has to be multiple flights. Then they won’t know what city you’re departing for. It could be Cuba, Peru, Haiti or Costa Rica for all they know. We’re taking one with a ten-minute stopover in Brazil, except we’re not getting onto that connecting flight. We’re going to walk into the first bathroom we find in Sao Paulo-Gaurulhos International and change costumes – clothes, shoes, ditch the fake beards and pull a second, smaller set of luggage out of these big ones. We’ll stuff the old things in the trash, then spend twenty minutes in the back of a café, until flights north start up. As soon as we hit Texas, we take a taxi into a city and we disappear. I’ve got our tickets for 3:00 AM here, and the fake passports. There will be no I.D. or money trail to follow, and once we hit the ground they won’t know where to look. The U.S. is developed, but Middle America is an abyss. It’s either this, my man, or Interpol gets you at 5:00. You know what they did to the others. What do you say?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Morning Scrubber

Hey Cheryl, this is Marcus. Calling at about... oh, 6:49. I know that's past Bank of America’s business hours but I just figured I'd leave a message. You set up a PayPal account for me a while ago. I just checked on it on bankofamerica.com at about, oh, 6:48. I used to have fifty-nine dollars and forty-one cents in there, which I've earned off fiction sales and all the times my grandma hits the PayPal donate button under the guise of an adoring teen fan. God love her. Well, it seems I don't have fifty-nine dollars and forty-one cents anymore on account of something called a "Monthly Maintenance Fee" that was fourteen dollars. Now I don't know what kind of maintenance program Bank of America runs, but I'm assuming there's a janitor who comes in every morning and cleans the money by hand. At the percentage of my money he costs, I'm assuming he keeps the money in pennies and cleanses them thoroughly. I'm envisioning a guy with a little toothbrush and special cleanser scrubbing any potential grime out of the nooks of all the zeroes on all my pennies. Sometimes I get change that was minted years ago but looks shiny and new – I’m assuming that’s his work. If you could, let him know I appreciate it when he comes in tomorrow. Also, if you could, please lay him off. I know it's a bad economy and jobs are scarce, but I'm willing to let you keep my money in dollar bills instead of so many high-maintenance pennies. He’ll understand since he’s apparently devoted his life to pennies and won’t want to see them circulated, even if they are circulated to purchase penny-cleanser. Also, unless he’s already used my fourteen dollars to buy new cleanser, please make him give it back. Thanks!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Zine Works

Dale's cell vibrated on the desk, scampering over the surface like the plastic was coming to life in little bursts. He set his teeth and vengefully finished the paragraph, taking not just enough time to get back on track, but more than enough to get the wording to his standard. Finally he hit the period button with a little too much force, and picked up the phone.

"Hello?" he said, sounding unnecessarily annoyed.

"Dale!" The voice on the phone screeched. "Dale! I'm trapped in a magazine!"

"Fred?"

"In a magazine! No idea how!"

"It's okay, Fred. Calm down." He rubbed the bridge of his nose. This should not have been logically acceptable to him, but they both did a lot of drugs. "Look around yourself. What magazine are you in?"

"There are a lot of words, and a huge picture."

"What's the picture of?"

"I think it's a woman. Or an armoire. It's abstract."

"That could be any magazine. What about the words? What are they writing about?"

"Mostly ads. I think part of it's a story. Really short."

"Fiction is dying in print."

"I'm trapped in a magazine! Help!"

"Is there anything else in there?"

"Uh. A cartoon?"

"A cartoon?"

"Black and white. It's a lion on a cell phone."

"Is the caption ironic?"

"No duh it is!"

"Is it ironic but not funny at all?"

"How'd you know?"

"I just resubscribed to The New Yorker. I think you're on my coffee table. I'll get you in a minute."

Dale switched his cell off and looked at the monitor. He read the paragraph to himself a couple of times. Fred could wait – he knew better than to read Dale’s stuff without asking.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Petri Dish Sister

I'm sorry, she's never heard of your home country. My sister has all the culture of a Petri dish. That is to say, she's entirely made up of culture, but doesn't know what it is and has no idea there are others outside her circle of plastic. She's also like a Petri dish in that her culture's rather disgusting and probably bad for you: top seventeen things you didn’t know your lover wanted; reality television about real wives and desert islands. But she's got a heart of gold. You won't find one of those in a Petri dish. She means well. When she says what you just ordered is gross, she’s not insulting five hundred years of your country’s culinary culture. She’s just worried for your health.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Analysis of the Hagakure

I find no greater meditation on what kills a man than in the Hagakure, an Asian instruction manual to the samurai. It is for the disciplined and the sociopathic alone, yet provides insight into everyone’s mortality in our social world. Consider:

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords,”

While medicine has improved since the Hagakure was first written, it is important to note that none of these are certain killers. People survive getting pegged in archery range accidents every day. E.R.’s routinely save gunshot victims. And if a gun isn’t a certain killer, then neither is the sword it rendered obsolete.

The Hagakure continues:

“being carried away by surging waves,”

Undertoes are more dangerous than swords, but people still survive being dragged out to sea.

“being thrown into the midst of a great fire,”

In 2000, a man in Pennsylvania charged into a burning house after hearing the cries of children. He rescued them from the second floor, but half his body was covered in second degrees burns from sheltering them from the flames. He died in 2007 of drug overdose. Fire, even a great one, is not a certain killer.

“being struck by lightning,”

The heavenly killer, yet there are people who survive lightning strikes. The main danger is the current travelling left and reaching your heart. In 2009 a young British couple were struck by lightning while holding hands. Both survived.

“being shaken to death by a great earthquake,”

San Francisco alone has shown us earthquakes are not necessarily fatal.

“falling from thousand-foot cliffs,”

In fact, people have survived falling out of airplanes. Any height is dangerous, but not necessarily lethal. Like lightning, it has to do with how the impact travels through the body.

“dying of disease”

At one time the flu or a fever seemed certain death. Today we are fighting back HIV and cancer.

“or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master.”

Which brings us to that last. Suicide means to kill oneself. To do anything other than kill yourself is not suicide; just a suicide attempt. So seppuku is the only thing on this list that will certainly kill a man. He may survive bullets, flashfoods and lightning, but he cannot survive himself.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: His Name is Victor

Listen to the audio version or download the MP3 of "His Name is Victor" here.


No one suspected anything of Victor. That was part of the witch’s curse: he couldn’t even say what he was. His powers were gone and he was forced to take a lowly position. He came every day precisely at the minute of his shift, took off his cloak and put on the blue smock and nametag. How it mocked him with its exclamation points.

“HELLO! MY NAME IS VICTOR!”

To this store he was just another checkout counter jerk. Just another man sweeping up refuse and waiting for “break time.”

“Break time.” Once break time had meant breaking the laws of nature! It had meant subverting minds and conjuring demons from beyond. It had meant breaking time itself, in his bare and unholy hands.

Now "break time" meant eating store-brand granola and watching funny Youtube videos on the manager’s computer. Some were admittedly clever, even to his venerable wit. When his sorcery returned and he unleashed the hounds of inferno upon the earth, he would make certain those content providers were spared.

He would not bend. He wore the cloak and ankh, no matter how unfashionable his neighbors thought it was. That was the embarrassment. But that witch would pay, for the Pharmacy section had an amazing array of chemicals. Belladonna in stomach medicine, wolfsbane in pain relievers – he’d never admit it, but there was a thrill to stirring Tylenol into his cauldron's brew. It was so wrong. And soon that woman who had wronged him would be brought to justice, because of his unending vengeance, and because of every day low prices.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: New Goddess in Town

More than forty people showed up for the house warming party. So much coffee was consumed that Ted had to run back over to his place to pick some more. When Cybil, their new neighbor, started collecting cups, he got up to take an armload as well. He was never comfortable in big roundtable discussions and they were gabbing about the Emmies anyway.

Cybil carried the tray of cups with a veritable bounce in her step. She had more energy than any middle-aged lady Ted had ever met.

“I’m so excited to start on Monday,” she chirped as they entered the kitchen. “I worked in claims ages ago. It’s second nature to me.”

“Where did you do that?”

“Oh, Greece. Didn’t your wife tell you? I spent almost my whole life over there.” She set down the tray and beamed. It took up her whole face, and despite her age, only the faintest crows feet appeared around her eyes, like she’d never made an expression before today. “Please thank her so much for helping throw this party. I wanted to start off right in this town.”

He waved her off. “It’s no bother, really.”

She shook her head until he looked her in the eye. “Really, it is. I’ve moved so many times and people always get the wrong impression about me. I’m a goddess, you see, and though I’ve done nothing to earn it, my name has such a bad reputation that I had to have it changed. ‘Cybil’ is a family joke.”

Ted leaned against the sink, eyeing her. She seemed nice and all, but a goddess? Maybe she was a New Ager.

“A goddess? Really?”

She shrugged with a little smile, then turned into an owl. She flew up to the counter and pecked at some peach cobbler.

Ted wasn’t sure, but that did seem like a thing in the realm of gods to do.

“Okay then,” he said, putting his plate down. “That shouldn’t be a problem. There’s the occasional bigot, but this is a city of many religions. I live next to a Baptist church, and for goodness sake, I was raised Scientologist.”

She turned back into a woman, in the same blouse and skirt. The plate of peach cobbler was now in one hand instead of on the counter.

“You’re a good man, Ted Jefferson. I’m a great judge of people, so that should mean a lot to you.”

Ted nodded plaintively and arranged the cups next to the sink.

“Thanks. But you didn’t mention your name. What’s a name so bad that a goddess would abandon it? Not that I have anything against Cybil.”

“You wouldn’t,” she said around half a mouthful of cobbler. She blushed, then swallowed it and finished. “You have an Aunt Cybil.”

“You are good,” he said. He was uncertain if he did it out of intimidation or kindness, but he began rinsing coffee cups.

She beamed again, those eerily faint crows feet reappearing. “It’s a thing. But even if I didn’t know, I’d bet you didn’t have an Aunt Nemesis.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Lesser White Shark

Known in some circles as the “okay white shark” or the “pretty good and slightly beige shark,” the Lesser White Shark is a bitter creature. Evolution gave the Great White a cast-iron digestive system and jaws so powerful that people name novels after them. In contrast, the Lesser White Shark is the only beast in the sea that requires a retainer for its painful overbite. Because evolution is kind of jerk, it did not give these sharks the intelligence to build retainers. Only incredibly compassionate human environmentalists dare make retainers for the sharks, and these environmentalists are dwindling in number since the Lesser White Sharks immediately use their corrected chewing to eat their human allies. These environmentalists are not extinct solely because the Lesser White Shark is simply that piss-poor a predator. After eating their fill of environmentalists, this breed tends to congregate near the surface, some few hundred yards away from a Great White, and complain. It is also the only shark that has evolved the desire to complain, though again, since evolution is kind of a jerk, it has not evolved a method of expressing this. The sharks will circle each other, presumably snarking bout the Great White’s ego and love life, until one of them gets hungry or their moms call.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Wereman

“Wereman, sir. I am a wereman. For most of my days and nights I am a North American grey wolf with a nice coat and a decently attractive mate, though I suspect the alpha male is going to fight me for her soon.

“It is only during the full moon that I shed fur and the four-legged lifestyle, and am stricken with this form. Balancing on two legs is only the start of the problem. Suddenly being snaggletoothed matters to me. I’ve got to find not only clothes, but fashionable ones. I’m self-conscious about how I speak, about what strangers think of me and who will win the upcoming elections. It’s no wonder that I have a drinking problem every full moon. I can’t wait to morph back and lose this blasted reasoning lobe you humans carry around and spend so much time on.

“You’ve got all the instincts but none of the fun. The females are just as bad. Human females do not appreciate you sniffing their tails, at least not until you've done foreplay, and I can't wrap my mind around that ritual in just one night a month.

“Being a werewolf sounds dreadful. To only escape this purgatory of self-criticism and human society for the four-legged life during full moons would drive a man mad – not from the people he mauled, but from desperately wanting not to change back with dawn.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Ultrasound Reasoning

I don’t know what’s wrong with my kidneys. Woke up in the middle of the night once in November with excruciating pain that left me vomiting and spasming on the bathroom floor. The next day I was fine.

Then on Christmas night it came back, out of nowhere, like Santa had left it for a present. Vomited so badly it somehow got in the tub and on the wall five feet behind me. The next day? My insides were stable again.

It came back again for two nights in January, then three in February, if you count the leap year day. In March, as though to celebrate my birthday, it hit ten consecutive nights. It had no relationship to what I ate and it was nothing like kidney stones or renal diseases the doctor knew about. He sent me down to imaging for a picture of my insides. Not an x-ray, but an ultrasound.

I should have known.

Sure, I’m a man, but I’ve always hated children. They’re insidious nine-month infections. My belly didn’t swelled up like a pregnancy, but there’s only one thing you use an ultrasound for. All the inflammation, all the pressure on my belly – the little bastard must be kicking. Maybe Brazilian barbecue was a bad idea. I eat really fast sometimes. Maybe I ate a whole life form and it’s growing in there. Maybe it’s got a cottage in the shade of my liver. Either that, or alien abductions. They’re always trying to do weird things to humans. All I know is that when the ultrasound comes back, if this is a kid, I’m hitting the gym. I’ll be ready when the bastard pops out. He’ll be in for the fight of his life on his birthday.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Spider Ruins Man

He was bitten by a radioactive spider. Unfortunately, due to the radiation, the spider grew to gigantic proportions. The bite took off his entire upper torso. His poor aunt and uncle had to bury just his legs and belt buckle, once they had a mortician and exterminator go over his remains. You know, to make him classy and check for radioactive egg sacs. Just terrible. No idea why the story is so misrepresented in the press.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Natural Man

“A question is only a question for so long as it remains unanswered to the satisfaction of the thinker. Then it becomes a beginner, or often, the first line of an annoying lecture. This is the nature of man, for whenever he figures something out to his satisfaction he will assume it is universally correct and go about annoying, berating and eventually killing his fellow man to illustrate his correctness. The nature of man can only be subverted by one power: the nature of woman. This can subvert with amazing efficiency, draining bank accounts and taking up unreasonable amounts of spare time. You will not kill anybody over your certainties tonight if she expects you home by 3:00. The nature of woman has kept the nature of man on its leash, and that is why homosexuality scares so many people.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: “If it didn’t happen, it can’t happen.” –Some dude on Lost, on time travel

Listen to the audio version of "If it didn't happen, it can't happen," or download the MP3 here.



They knew how to alter the flow of energy and even speed particles faster than light. A mass inside the tube would travel so quickly that it would appear outside before it even reached the tube’s end. The math guys went nuts over it. Soon the president declared we’d have a man in the past in the next ten years.

But nobody showed up in the past, as far as the people of the present could tell. A monkey was sent back but never found. Figuring a monkey appearing somewhere wouldn’t make enough historical impact that they’d know about it today, the association sent a lone man back next. Then they waited ten minutes and checked the history books and Google, but there was no trace of a time traveling man.

He sure wasn’t here – the science guys checked for his particles, and not one bit of his matter existed in our time anymore. Hopefully it existed in the past, though the math guys kept their eyes on the future in case our brave time-traveler popped in there. Until that indeterminate future came, they prepared their apologies to his wife and figured out who else they could blame. And until that time, they had theories on when and where their chrononaut was.

The first theory was that he’d simply traveled too far back in time and been eaten by a pterodactyl. The math guys questioned this given that their battery power was, theoretically, barely capable of propelling a mass a few hours. A weekend at the best (and most Heisenbergian).

The second theory pointed out that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Very angry scientists pointed out that they knew that, and remained very angry until a high school SciFi nerd continued explaining that as the earth was moving around the sun, if someone were to travel to the same spot twelve hours ago, he would find himself floating in the middle of space, not in Florida.

Telescopes were alerted to look for the floating frozen remains of the brave chrononaut. Observatories did more business for a couple weeks. No remains were spied.

A third theory soon emerged and hung over the heads of celebrities hoping to purchase time travel vacations. This one was called “The H.G. Wells Principle.” This one was also posed by a guy far too young to be anything but annoying to tenured professors. He posited that for the present to exist at all, the past could not be disturbed from how it transpired. Obviously the world that created the time machine could not exist if you went back and killed all of the math guys’ parents or prevented pivotal events like a World War I. But not only couldn’t you prevent Archduke Ferdinand from being shot - you couldn’t prevent the wheels on his car from turning. It wasn’t just that you couldn’t do something that prevented you from going back there – it was that you couldn’t change anything about it because it had already happened exactly that way. If it didn’t happen, then it couldn’t happen, which meant a time traveler couldn’t bend a blade of grass or disturb a particle of dirt. He couldn’t dispel the air around his body when he materialized, nor breathe it in, nor fall to the ground and disturb dirt particles as he suffocated. His body could not exist in past space. On the Wells Principle you couldn’t alter the past, and by being in the past at all you would alter it in some infinitesimal way – which meant if you traveled to the past, you’d have to cease to be.

A large sum of money has been offered to anyone who can mathematically disprove the third theory. Much of that money comes from the chrononaut’s wife.

Pai Guan visits Stories That Lift

"Pai Guan Saw Little" is up at Stories That Lift today. The tale is an updated version of one of the older Bathroom Monologues, following a blind boy who wants to travel the world. You can read it here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Trolley Fallacy

There’s a popular philosophical dilemma about trolleys. It’s popular, and not only amongst trolley drivers, who get so little publicity to them that I assume they’re thrilled for the attention. My apologies to those trolley matrons, but the dilemma is actually bunk.

It begins on trolley tracks. You’re standing there, waiting for the trolley. It comes screaming down the tracks. The people on board are waving frantically and hopping off. The driver is fighting with the controls, but the thing is sparking and he clearly can’t regain control.

A ways down the tracks are two construction workers. They have jackhammers and noise-blocking earmuffs on. They are at work and don’t see the trolley. There is no way you can get to warn them before the trolley runs them off. At this speed, it’s certain they’ll be killed or paralyzed.

You’re on the platform. The only other person around is a vastly obese man. If you push him onto the tracks, the trolley will slow and stop before it hits the two men. If you do that, though, he’s almost certain to be killed or paralyzed.

This is the dilemma. Do you shove him onto the tracks, murdering one man to save two? Or do you stand still and let the two men die without directly killing someone yourself? Is the direct murder of one man worse than allowing two to die in eyeshot? Is inactivity worse than activity here?

But the dilemma is bunk, at least one it comes to me. You see: I’m obese.

I can jump on the tracks, killing or crippling myself, and sparing three lives all at once. In a rare twist of fate, being fat actually lends me ethical weight. I’m unsurprised that philosophers have ignored my rotund brethren in this fallacy of a dilemma. The overweight are so often pushed… aside.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: One Day in Chatham, Kent

They reappeared one day on the street outside No. 2 Ordnance Terrace in Chatham, Kent. They reappeared at just the right moment that the six-year-old Charlie Dickens was playing with a doll by the road.

Jules stepped out from the time machine and grinned.

“Hey there, Charlie.” He waved, and when the boy shied back, he waved again. “Don’t worry. I’m a big fan of yours. You could say I’ve got some great expectations for you.”

They boy said little, watching him. He didn’t seem to mind.

“Is that your home?” he asked, pointing to No. 2.

“Yes, sir.”

“So austere. That sure is a bleak house.”

“Jules, come on!” his partner called from the time machine. “You’re wasting time.”

“Who’s that?” asked the boy.

“Him?” Jules grinned. “Oh, you could call him our mutual friend.”

“Jules, seriously! We are not wasting time fuel so you can drop puns.”

Jules straightened and looked at the once and future literary magnate. “Alright, Charlie. You play nice now. Maybe I’ll come back some December and we’ll sing a Christmas carol.”

“Jules, get the fuck back in the time machine!”

Jules climbed back in laughing to himself. His partner pulled a lever and the carriage disappeared - like David Copperfield.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Knock on Wood

Knocking on wood is nice, but the savvy individual knocks more than once. One tap ought to provide a certain unit of luck, often demarcated by the politically incorrect term “rabbit’s toe.” But you need an entire rabbit’s foot of luck to get anything done. Normal people knock twice to assure the pine that they have knocked and not merely bumped into it with their hand, yet this equates only two rabbit’s toes – not a full foot by lupine standards. Savvy individuals will knock three or four times, since no one really knows how many toes the little fuzzy bastards have. One civilization developed a machine to knock wood for them, assuming perpetual luck units would be gathered. Unfortunately this is a lot like thinking your car is exercising for you, and the wood-knocking devices wound up the lucky ones. All life on the planet went extinct, and now the battery-powered tappers dominate the planet. One would have expected them to die out when the batteries ran dry, but somehow they’re all still going.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Islamic Gorgon

She fussed with the shawl, but one or two snakes poked out regardless of what she did. They got so uncomfortable under there.

“But it’s better than the alternative,” she told the little dryad boy sitting next to her. “I’m not a very religious woman, but the head covering attracted me. Far fewer cases of petrifaction this way.”

“Oh,” said the little dryad boy. “But aren’t they mean to girls?”

“Stereotypes are dangerous at your age.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. Honestly, I’ve had more trouble with monster hunters than fundamentalists. In both cases, though, my stoning beats theirs.”

The boy couldn’t tell because of the shawl, but he thought she winked. Then the train started.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Notice: John Away For Surgery, Donation Drive Begins

Dear Readers,

This will be the only post on my health. I am not going to pester my readers. I will respond to private e-mails when possible, though shortly I will be in the hospital, and I expect to be out of commission for a while following surgery.

On November 20th I am scheduled for necessary surgery to remove my gallbladder due to gallstones. The stones worsened all year, leading to frequent attacks that lasted twelve hours and included excruciating pain in my back, abdomen and spine. Often the attack only “ended” when I passed out. Longtime readers know that I struggle with a neuromuscular syndrome. These gallbladder attacks exacerbate that syndrome, such that I am bedridden for as long as a week after one. You can imagine how agonizing they got when these attacks happened every two days.

While I do not have an exact figure, estimates for the surgery run as high as $10,000. I’m paying with my life savings, but $10,000 is simply out of my means. Today there is a Pledgie donation button in the upper right hand corner of the site. If you want to help, this is how you can do it. Pledgie is a secure service that accepts PayPal and credit cards. The donation goal is set at $5,000, the amount I lack. Any and all donations will help with the surgery. I've worked with the hospital to negotiate a break and have been offered a discount, potentially as high as 25%, but only if I pay in full and within a month of the surgery.

Some will naturally ask why I am uninsured. Remember the neuromuscular syndrome I mentioned? I’ve had it since 1993. This has caused two related problems: I can’t work regularly because of it, and it so gravely affects my health that the only insurance policies available to me are both out of my means and would cover almost nothing I need done. Useful health insurance simply became unattainable. The result has been almost a decade of not being able to see a doctor more than once a year no matter what was wrong. There’s more to that story, but this post is not about sympathy or a history of health problems.

I do not expect my readers to pick up even a tenth of this bill. It’s my bill for my problem. But as I said before: if you want to help, this is how. Feel free to link to this post and/or use the Pledgie button wherever you like.

I will take the button down in a few weeks. It is not a permanent part of this site.

I will respond to any comments or e-mails as soon as I can. Naturally I will be out commission around the time of the surgery.

The Bathroom Monologues will continue. One went up at 9:00 AM this morning. I have queued sixty stories into the system so that even if I’m bedridden for an exorbitant amount of time, something will still go up every day well into January. I’m trying very hard to suppress a joke about dying on the operating table and still posting monologues into the New Year right now.

Thank you for reading.

Cheers,
John Wiswell

Bathroom Monologue: On Lex Luthor

"Joker's gay for Batman? Why? Just because he keeps chasing him? That’s proof of nothing. You want gay? Lex Luthor.

"This guy is only attracted to women related to Superman, be it his reporter girlfriend or the blonde wearing his logo and a skirt. Apparently Lex is smart enough to cure cancer in a weekend, but instead he spends all his life and cash stalking an alien with underwear outside his pants. Maybe that was a turn-on for him.

"Think about when Superman died. He was dead for like a month. A month. Lex stole the alien's DNA, combined it with his own, and made an illegitimate super-baby. Half him, half Supes. Some kind of Super...man. Anyway, Conner Kent: Wikipedia that crap. Lex filled the hole in his heart with their unnatural love child.

"Through the decades this guy went from a scientist to a millionaire to a billionaire to the President of the United States, pulling his hair out, begging Supes, 'Look down here! Look at me! I have a magic ring that gives me powers like yours, so now we can be together!'

"The Joker is a nutbar in a city of nutbars. Lex Luthor? Now there's your designated hitter. He’s probably had a crush on Kal-El since they were kids in Smallville."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: "Is football any better than dogfighting?" -Malcolm Gladwell from Oct. 19 New Yorker

a) The goal of a dogfight is for one dog to hurt the other. The goal of a U.S. football game is for a human to carry the ball over there. A dog might possibly carry the ball over there, but one has yet to make an NFL starting line.

b) Related to a), American Football is played by human beings, who possess a degree of intelligence and sentience such that they can consciously consent to play.

c) Also related to a), more people die installing toasters than die in the NFL and U.S. collegiate leagues. The same cannot be said of the toaster-people-to-dogfighting-dogs ratio.

d) The NFL and U.S. collegiate leagues are stringently governed for the safety of their players and every game has medical staff on hand.

e) If a player appears injured, the game is not stopped by a gunshot so that the player’s owner can drag him to his car and euthanize him. Rather the game pauses, and if the player is indeed injured, he is helped off the field and examined by medical professionals.

f) The dogs in a dogfight do not wear several pounds of state-of-the-art protective gear including helmets that could stop a machete.

g) In American Football, a player that purposefully injures another can be penalized or thrown out of the game. In a curious relation to e), this player is also not dragged to his owner’s car and euthanized.

h) The loser of the first football game of the season still has to play at least fifteen more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Fuel for Greatness, OR, "How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness" -Joshua Shenk in "Lincoln's Melancholy"

Listen to the audio version or download the MP3 of this week's Bathroom Monologue here.

The gnome was puzzled as soon as he departed the esophagus. His fellow gnomes were shoveling what looked like solid sadness into great ovens that burned around the president's stomach.

A slightly taller than average gnome approached him with a clipboard.

"You one of the new men?"

"Sir, yes, sir." The new gnome straightened his posture. "Reporting for duty in service of my country, sir."

"Good, good," said the superior gnome. "Fetch a shovel and get to burning that depression."

"Sir, is it constitutional to damage the emotions of the commander in chief, sir?"

The superior gnome frowned over his clipboard.

"That's why we're here, private."

"Sir, I read that depression was the cause of his greatness, sir."

"No, no. The fuel." The superior gnome came closer. "It's the fuel of his greatness. And what do you do with fuel?"

The new gnome kept his eyes forward.

"Sir, store it in something safe, sir?"

"You're a cute one. What do you do with gasoline? Burn it. What do you do with coal? Burn it."

"Sir, so what you're saying is..."

"What I'm saying is that if we want this president to get anything done we've got to find all his depression and set it on fire. Now come on. He's got to emancipate the slaves and win the biggest war this country's ever seen! It's going to take a lot of depression."

"And cause it, I'd assume.” And then he remembered to add, “Sir!"

The superior gnome pointed to the nearest oven, which billowed with a smoky melancholy.

"That is not our problem! Now fetch a shovel or start cleaning the stoves. The grease that builds up in there is figuratively and literally bad for morale."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Drop Off Signal

Theodore sat near the elevator and bathroom on the third floor for fifteen minutes. For all fifteen he pretended to read from red composition book. “William Tell” was the name on the cover.

Sixteen minutes in, an old man in a brown blazer exited the elevator. He paused for a moment, looking at Theodore’s book, then came over.

“Is this seat taken?” Brown Blazer asked, tapping the seat to William’s right. Every seat in the row was empty.

“Slow day,” replied TheoWilliam.

Brown Blazer sat down next to him.

“That is a nice book. Do they come in blue?”

“The pens do.”

“Okay,” said Brown Blazer. He sat there for two more minutes, looking at his watch. The band was brown.

After the two minutes, he rose, tapped his left hip pocket, and went to the bathroom. A minute later he emerged, tapped his left pocket again, and departed for the elevator.

Theodore pursed his lips. He was tempted to go check the bathroom, but H.Q. had said the contact would wear a tan a blazer. Better to be safe and maintain his cover.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Alternative Arthurian Lore Story Ideas

-Couples counseling for Arthur and Guinevere (Morgana as therapist?).

-Buddy comedy with Sir Dagonet and Sir Pelleas, as the latter tries to prove he really is married to the chick in the lake.

-Merlin pulls the sword from the stone by accident, and tries to glue it back in the same night as a dinner party.

-Random knight (Galahad? Gawain?) enters beheading contest against an immortal.

-Lancelot carves Jesus's name into a cup from the mess hall so his buddy won't invade the Middle East.

-Anna, Arthur’s childhood friend who we swear is totally not a Mary Sue, puts on young Arthur’s helmet and subs for him when the once and future king gets stage fright following pulling the sword from the anvil. She’s headstrong and so much smarter than those dumb old knights.

-The Black Knight sucker punches Arthur and claims the throne; follow his Clint Eastwood-like grizzled and angry reign.

-The Black Knight sucker punches Arthur and claims the throne; follow his liberal B.S. fantasy reign where he’s so much more progressive than Feudalists (Oscar guaranteed with this role!).

-Janitors of the Round Table, a trashy insider tell-all book from the perspective of people who cooked and cleaned in Camelot

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: You didn’t have to elope.

You didn’t have to elope. Okay, your mother never would have given her blessing to you marrying a… one of them. But I would have. You’re my boy. You would have made the decision no matter what I said – that’s obvious because you ran off and got married without asking me! And if you had to do it that weekend, fine. But if you called, I would have come. I would have been on the first plane to be there. I would have gone to your Bachelor Party. I would have paid for dinner after the reception. I will spend the rest of my life wishing I could have been there for this. And I’m not angry at you. You’re a married man now, and you’re going to have a lot more problems than some over the hill guy from the middle class being mad at you. I’m telling you this because I want you to call me. When you buy a house. When she gets pregnant. When my first grandchild is born. I don’t know what I ever did to make you think you couldn’t call me or shouldn’t tell me, but please: call. I will be on that first flight to see my grandson take his first steps or graduate third grade. Just call.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Livetweeting the Second Coming

For the next hour I will be LiveTweeting from the second coming of Christ. #tweetus

He brought doughnuts! #tweetus

Comes out to Queen. “It’s A Miracle.” Naturally. #tweetus

Be good to each other. Help the homeless. Usual stuff. #tweetus

Has a special guest? #tweetus

I think it's Gandhi. Can He bring back a Hindu? #tweetus

Police are here. Jesus is talking to them. #tweetus

We didn't have a permit for public assembly? Oh come on. #tweetus

How can He get a permit when He was dead until 4:00 PM? #tweetus

He asks everybody to leave peacefully. "Leave unto Caesar..." Awesome sense of humor. #tweetus

Says he'll see us all next year. Some of us sooner. He winked at me. That was disconcerting. #tweetus

Everyone seems pretty happy. Not what He used to be, but you knew what you'd get. #tweetus

By LiveTweeting, are you admitting all your other tweets are dead inside? #tweetus

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Dubba

One thing I’m introducing into the English language is “the dubba.” We see it all the time, especially on clever television, but have yet to assign it a word. I’m naming it for an imaginary friend I used to have who broke into such monologues until I couldn’t stand him anymore and stopped believing in him. The dubba is a rhetorical mechanism made of two parts.

The first part of the dubba is a monologue, typically underlined by some degree of emotion. It may be coldly disapproving, openly threatening, or even jubilant. It usually responds to a situation in the plot or an argument someone has set forth, most typically shredding a pretense. This only works in artistic mediums where the other character isn’t a conscious person who would never put up with this crap. It is incredibly entertaining to many people, such as myself, as we’d really enjoy it if it worked in real life.

For instance: “"Hey. If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, fore-fleshing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is.”

The second part of the dubba is a pithy non sequitur. Upon destroying someone’s argument against abortion or insulting his employer at length, the speaker of the dubba then compliments the target’s hat or tells her to have a nice day. This mechanism is amusing, particularly in dramatic exchanges, as it allows a degree of release for the audience, letting them know that the telling-off is over and they can applaud.

For instance: “Hallelujah. Holy shit. Where's the Tylenol?"

The dubba cannot be a mere monologue. Yes, the above monologue from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is hilarious, but it’s funnier that it tailspins and Chevy Chase is suddenly not asking to destroy his boss, but would like a mildly comforting drug instead.

The second part of the dubba is just as important, dismissing the original topic, and often dismissing the other party. Being so short, the non sequitur breaks from the monologue to establish that this issue is closed. Normally the speaker of the dubba will exit right after it. The movie continues but this particular issue in it is pretty much over.

Dubbas can be found throughout television, in shows like Columbo where the detective will talk for very long about one thing, convince himself the killer is innocent, then say, “One more thing,” changing the topic radically and implying he’s caught them with this other bit of evidence. Here the thing that is “over” is any shred of the killer getting away with murder. Dubbas are a hallmark of Aaron Sorkin’s writing and appear in his films like American President and throughout his TV shows like the West Wing, including a presidential dubba in the pilot episode. Sorkin is a pathological monologuer, and the dubba is unavoidable to those of us who find monologues appearing in all our stories. They allow a break of laughter, a shift of mood, and even a sweeping close to a charged scene. They remove some of the sting from the monologue that can often make the fiction seem more righteous than its characters, something that most of us would like to avoid. If language had natural selection, the dubba would be a new species of monologue that evolved a pincer with which to cut its own umbilical chord. That’s why we can’t stop writing them. They’ve out-evolved our writing habits, and that means they may soon devour us.

Now please give me the Tylenol.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: In Defense of Snake Oil Salesmen

Listen to the audio version of "In Defense of Snake Oil Salesmen" or download the MP3 here.

I don’t know what everyone has against me. I am a snake oil salesman. If your snake gets dry, you oil it. My product has an obvious use, as a dry snake gets rashes, a snake with rashes gets irritable, and irritable snakes bite.

Look at any happy pet python. They glisten. And what do you think is glistening? Whale sperm? Marmalade? No! It’s snake oil. You apply the proper amount, the python gets a healthy sheen and doesn’t strangle you to death while you’re asleep.

So you see, my product has an obvious use. I charge reasonable prices. What? You say that’s overpriced? The bigotry against snake oil salesmen is atrocious in this country. Look here. I import my wares all the way from Ireland. Naturally it’s more expensive than the next man’s brand because of shipping and handling costs. This is quality stuff, for Ireland is home to the world’s healthiest serpents. Now you’re thinking Ireland doesn’t have any serpents at all on account of St. Patrick, but that’s untrue. Ireland has plenty of snakes. You simply never hear them because they’re so well oiled they don’t make any noise or trouble. It’s the world’s healthiest snake ecosystem, and I am selling you its lubricant at pennies over the wholesale cost. You can’t deny me that much profit, can you? I have many mouths to feed, and scales to grease.
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