Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More Made-Up Bob Dylan Quotes

New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer made up Bob Dylan quotes for his book Imagine:  How Creativity Works.  Apparently, he was getting creative himself.  Unfortunately, his book was non-fiction, so if he couldn't find quotes to support his argument, he should have altered his argument and not made up quotes to fit it.  Conclusions should come from evidence and not the reverse.

However, I can sympathize with Lehrer.  Making up Bob Dylan quotes is fun.  Who can resist?  Here are a few of my own.  Feel free to join in with your own in the comments section.

"Life is a journey.  Death is the destination.  Suicide is just a shortcut,"  Bob Dylan said.

"I really like midget wrestling,"  Bob Dylan said.

"I'll take the eggs and ham,"  Bob Dylan said.

"Where's the restroom?" Bob Dylan said.

"Ringo was my favorite Beatle.  He didn't smell as badly as the others," Bob Dylan said.

"Obama is like Bush Lite.  Or maybe Bush Dark.  I don't know.  It's Thursday," Bob Dylan said.

"Woody Guthrie would have done a car commercial too," Bob Dylan said.

"I haven't made a good record since 1975, yet Rolling Stone still gives my albums five star reviews.  Those people must be idiots," Bob Dylan said.

"Actually the 60s kind of sucked, man.  To tell you the truth, I kind of preferred the 80s.  I really had fun in the Traveling Wilburys," Bob Dylan said.

"One sugar, two creams," Bob Dylan said.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Deal$ Tigers Don't Like

A dollar store called Deal$ is advertising Paseo bath tissue this week in its newspaper circular.  Paseo is the brand that the World Wildlife Fund claims is sourced from rainforests in Indonesia, threatening tigers there, a fact I discovered after I bought some of their paper towels.

Perhaps this is a good sign and the dollar store got a "deal" itself on the bath tissue since so many stores don't want them (Paseo has been dropped by a number of retailers, including Kmart).  Similar to my experience, if the product is already made though, then why not use it?  Oasis Brands, the company that makes Paseo, might be dropping the brand name (they no longer list it among their brands), but they have to dispose of the remaining stock.

Whatever happens to Paseo, more significant is that the company claims to be finding a better source for its paper supply.

If so, the tigers thank them.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I Hope That Emily Giffin's Hand Feels Better!

The local newspaper has become so desperate for readers that every Sunday they drop off a free miniature edition of the paper that's basically all advertisements.  Goodness knows why I even bother to read it, but the Numbrix puzzle in Parade Magazine is fun to do.

Anyway, while looking at the Target ad from last week, I noticed they were selling autographed copies of a novel by Emily Giffin called Where We Belong.

I can't imagine how many thousands of copies that is.  Even if only one autographed copy of the book arrived at each Target (and that's unlikely as why would they advertise in the weekly ad a product they only ordered one of?), there are still almost 2,000 Target stores.

Emily Giffin had to sign a lot of books!

This promotion appears to be an attempt to get Giffin's book on the bestseller list, where even more copies will be sold as people like to read what other people are reading so they can talk about it and relate to one another.  The promotion also appears to be yet another example of how with epublishing the materiality of traditional print publishing, something often not noticed before, is highlighted.  After all, Giffin can't sign your ebook, can she?

It's interesting that we like autographed things in the first place.  I mean what do I care if an author actually touched my copy of a book?  But I do, and so do lots of others.  Perhaps it's a bit of celebrity icon worship in place of the religious relics of past ages.  Why else would people spend thousands of dollars on Marilyn Monroe's gloves?  Or, perhaps psychologically, we want to feel closer to people we admire and possessing something, even a scribble, that once belonged to one of them, makes us feel that we are connected.

It's all nonsense ultimately.  An autograph is just a stream of ink on some paper.

Fortunately, I realize that and don't get too wrapped up with autographed items.  I can't tell you how many books I had Harvey Pekar sign over the years at various readings he did, and ironically I sold all those autographed books off, so that today the only Harvey Pekar books I have were the ones I really liked and none of those were the signed ones.

I suppose that shows it's the work that matters in the end.

But it's a tough book market out there and if Giffin gets a "hand" up on it with her mass market autographs, then bully for her.

I just hope the poor thing didn't develop carpal tunnel syndrome! 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Best Superman Comic Ever Doesn't Star Superman

Over the past decade, I've been shedding my comic book collection.  I once had over thirty boxes of comics, but I dreaded moving them and dreaded something disastrous happening to them (I heard a few horror stories of flooding and whatnot over the years), so I decided to get rid of them in part of a general purge of my previous packrat ways.

Yes, I'm sort of an anti-hoarder these days.

Most of my excessive belongings I discarded fairly quickly, but with the comics I took a strange and different tack.  Since I had bought the comics monthly over a period of years or otherwise had picked up a series or set haphazardly over the years from flea markets and comic shop back issue bins, I decided that it might be fun to read each series in order in a short amount of time, which would make for a different type of reading experience.

It did.  I picked up on connections among the various issues that I didn't notice before, as well as picking up on narrative inconsistencies, which are understandable enough when a writer is crafting a serialized story over a long period of time.  I also noticed that some comics were better than I remembered while others were worse.  All in all, the project was a lot of fun. I'm near the end of it now.  I only have one box of comics, and I'm keeping those.

If civilization ever collapses, we'll need a Superman to save us, right?

One of the most interesting discoveries was how good Supreme is.

Supreme is a horrible Superman knockoff created by Rob Liefeld (if you know comics well, then I guess writing "horrible" and "created by Rob Liefeld" is a bit redundant, but not everyone who reads this is into comics).  But somehow Liefeld convinced Alan Moore (i.e., the best comics writer ever) to write the series.  Moore completely revamped the series and just made it Superman basically.  How DC, the publisher of the real Superman, didn't sue Liefeld is beyond me; perhaps they had had enough problems with Moore and didn't want to alienate him any "Moore".  In any case, the series is wonderful.  I just read a number of Superman comics, some of which were quite good, but none of them were as much fun as Supreme.

In the series, Moore basically takes all the silly 1950s and 1960s Superman stories and infuses them into modern comics (an approach Grant Morrison would emulate in his recent run on Batman--by the way, the character Billy Friday in Supreme appears to be a parody of Morrison), so along with a Supreme story, there's also the story of the comics industry, complete with homages to Golden Age comics, EC Comics, the socially conscious stories of the 1970s, the grim and gritty 1980s comics, and the ridiculousness of 1990s comics.

The series is also filled with Moore versions of Batman, The Justice League, The Legion Of Super-Heroes, and pretty much every other DC hero from the Silver Age.  Unlike Watchmen, Moore doesn't deconstruct superheroes here; he just has a good time with them.  It's lighthearted and sort of the DC equivalent to Moore's 1963, which was a homage to 1960s Marvel Comics.

Unfortunately, Supreme was never finished.  Liefeld's publishing company went bankrupt, so Moore took some of the concepts from the series and some others that he had been developing with other Liefeld characters and used them in his America's Best Comics line.  Recently, Erik Larsen came out with Supreme 63, drawing from Moore's last, unpublished script, but Moore never finished the entire storyline, so Larsen carried on after it.

That's probably a bit like going to a concert and having The Monkees play after The Beatles, but let's be grateful to Larsen for giving us one "Moore" issue of Supreme.

It's ironic that the best Superman comics I've ever read weren't actually Superman comics.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Orangutun Versus Chicken

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I bought some paper towels and felt guilty about killing tigers.  Now, the orangutans in Indonesia are upset about fried chicken.

Fortunately, I am blameless this time.

KFC, according to Greenpeace, is not.  Apparently, KFC has been getting the paper for their chicken buckets from the Indonesian rainforest, and that's been causing the habitat for orangutans to disappear, and orangutans have enough problems already.

So the orangutans don't understand why we have to eat chicken and hassle them some more.

The tigers in Indonesia are threatened as well.

They agree with us though that chicken is delicious.

They just don't understand why we have to chop down their forests to eat it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Goodbye eBay!

In their continuing quest to crush the American economy (you might think that hyperbolic, but with politicians you have to watch what they do, not what they say--"create jobs", "invest in business", "reinvent the economy", blah blah blah--you'll be surprised at the gulf between the two), the U.S. Congress now wants to create an Internet sales tax.  This idea has been floating around for years, but with the economy still limping along and government expenditures still rising (apparently, the idea that they should stop spending above their income doesn't occur to them), the dimwits in Congress, with some cheerleading from big corporations such as Wal-Mart, have decided that if they just tax out of state Internet sales, everything will be all right.

Thus, we have H.R. 3179.

If this idea makes sense to you, then you're freaking crazy.  I sell my novels online.  I dutifully collect sales tax for the state of Ohio for any I sell to people in Ohio.  The paperwork is a pain, but as a patriotic Buckeye, I do it.  Now the sponsors of the new Internet sales tax bill want me to do the same for every state and municipality that has a sales tax.

All 9,000 or so of them. 

Forget it.  I don't sell enough novels to make it worth my time to deal with that much paperwork, plus all the business license fees (Ohio's was $25 when I paid it).

And, I suspect, that's what the lobbyists behind the bill's sponsors want.  They want people like me to give up and sell exclusively through large, corporate middlemen such as Amazon.Com, if I sell at all.

There's some talk about having a small business exemption for businesses such as mine which don't make a lot of money, but some in Congress don't even want that.  They want me and Amazon to be treated exactly the same.

Um, I'm not a huge corporation.  I'm just an individual.

If the bill passes and there's no small business exemption, then say goodbye to eBay and any other place where sellers can sell directly to buyers.  If you're a consumer, then you can also say goodbye to lower prices and more choices online.  The big corporations behind this push are looking to eliminate their competition; don't believe the nonsense they spout about fairness and how brick and mortar retailers are suffering just because they have to charge sales tax (um, b&m retailers also offer a product that's available right then, without having to wait for it to arrive in the mail--nobody's arguing that online retailers are suffering because I can't instantly teleport a copy of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus to a customer, but believe me I'm suffering).

In addition, states such as Ohio already have a "use tax" that taxes out of state catalog or Internet purchases already, so the law isn't needed.  States just need to get their acts together and collect use taxes.  As usual, the government would rather someone else, in this case me, do it for them.

And this idea is based on the assumption that one thinks the government should be taxing every little economic transaction between people in the first place; there are other ways of collecting taxes.  Sales taxes are regressive taxes; they affect the poor more than they do the rich.  The poor don't vote in as high as numbers as wealthier individuals do so no wonder that both Democrats and Republicans seem to be enthusiastic about this new tax bill.      

Netchoice and some others are fighting the legislation.  I wish them luck; I'll also contact my rep.  I hope that you do the same.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Song: "Nootie's Got The Phat Nugz"

I was inspired to write this song after reading the article "The New Dealers" by Tony D'Souza in Mother Jones.  Originally, I spelled "Phat Nugz" "Fat Nugs" but Crazy Carl convinced me that the cool kids wouldn't spell it that way.  I'm not a fan of drugs, so this song is a bit of an oddity for me, but it was fun writing some stoner rock.  I suppose if the government started legalizing this stuff and taxing it we could pay down the national debt and stop adding to it in a fruitless attempt at drug prohibition.  As Bill Hicks once noted, if you're fighting a war and losing to the other side who are all high on drugs, then it's time to surrender.  The MP3 recording can be found here.  I play guitar and accordion on it.  I also sing and smack a tea tray with a drum stick.  Really, this stuff is much more fun and cheaper than therapy.  The lyrics are below.  It's the same deal as always.  If you like a song, then feel free to cover it if you're in a band or whatnot.  I love to hear covers of my songs, so please let me know about your version.  If you start making money, then send me a check/we can work out a deal.  Similarly, if you want to use a song for your Youtube video or whatnot, then just let me know.  It's usually fine by me unless it's a commercial product or whatnot.  Find out first though.  Write me at wredfright ATATAT yahoo DOTT com.

I had been unemployed for a really long time
When I got offered a job but it was a crime
My friend asked me if I would drive his van
Load it with pot and drive east--that was the plan

'Cause Nootie's got the fat nugs
I don't even do drugs
But Nootie's got the fat nugs
That are going to make me feel all right

Out West, medical marijuana crushed the market
But back East, there was still the chance of a narc hit
As more people got high, the more the prices got higher
I could make a lot of money and then retire

And I feel all right
I feel all right
Hey!  Is that guy looking at me?
Hey!  That guy's looking at me!

On the highway, I'm a nervous wreck
If the cops stop me, it'll be my neck
But I keep on driving and when I need to relax
I just think of all the money on which I pay no tax

Written May 2012
Recorded July 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blog Love Omega Glee Book Trailer

I have no idea why people make trailers for books, but they do nowadays.  So, why not?  Here's the one I made for Blog Love Omega Glee.

If the embedded video doesn't display, you can find the trailer here on Youtube.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Project Vote Smart's Vote Easy

Project Vote Smart continues to endear itself to me. Their latest innovation is Vote Easy, which allows a voter to answer some questions in order to see which federal candidates best match her or his views.  I took the presidential election quiz and, not surprisingly, Gary Johnson came the closest to my views with a 67% match.  Barack Obama had the least bond to me with 45%, though Mitt Romney was close to him with only a 47% match to my views.

The tool isn't perfect (the quiz only focuses on a few major issues), but it's fairly nifty.  Think of it as Internet dating for politicians, a voter's version of Match.Com or whatnot!   

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Song: "Secret Origin"

Inspired by the secret origins of superheroes, the speaker in this song decides to start over again but not tell anyone about it, except, of course, the listener of the song.  On the recording, it's just me on guitar and vocals and smacking a chair for the beat.  It slows down and speeds up, but if you come to this blog, you probably aren't the type of person who wants your music Auto-Tuned anyway.  Lyrics are below and you can download the MP3 here.  It's the same deal as always.  If you like a song, then feel free to cover it if you're in a band or whatnot.  I love to hear covers of my songs, so please let me know about your version.  If you start making money, then send me a check/we can work out a deal.  Similarly, if you want to use a song for your Youtube video or whatnot, then just let me know.  It's usually fine by me unless it's a commercial product or whatnot.  Find out first though.  Write me at wredfright ATATAT yahoo DOTT com.
I've never had a dying alien give me a magic ring

I've never been splashed by chemicals and struck by lightning

I've never had my world explode and my parents send me away

So don't tell anybody but I'm starting over today

Starting over today

Starting over today

I'm starting over

It's my

Secret Origin

I've never been bitten by a radioactive spider and had survivor's guilt

I've never had my heart beat only because of the armor I've built

I've never saved a boy's life and been caught in the explosion of the gamma ray

And if I want to dress up like a bat then I will dress up like a bat

And if I want to dress like a cat then I will dress like a cat

And if I want to wear a Robin Hood hat then I will wear a Robin Hood hat

And if I want to dress like that

Yes that

Then I will dress like that

I've never been the subject of a secret government experiment

I've never developed mutant powers and had to wonder where all my friends went

I've never had my mother get so lonely that she sculpted me out of clay

I'm starting over today

Written January 2012
Recorded July 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Sheila" by Mark Sonnenfeld

wears a one-piece
bathing suit
under a security
guard uniform
in place of underwear

Mark Sonnenfeld is a prolific poet and publisher of Marymark Press.  "Sheila" was originally published as part of the 2012 Give-Out Sheet Series.  Contact him at 45-08 Old Millstone Drive, East Windsor, NJ 08520 USA.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Blog Love Omega Glee Now Available For The Kindle!

My novel Blog Love Omega Glee is now available for the Kindle.  You don't need an actual Kindle either, as the Kindle app should work for you to read it on a computer, a cell phone, or a tablet.  Right now, Amazon's selling the book for $5, and it's free to borrow if you're an Amazon Prime member since it's part of the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program (at least for the next ninety days), which is a pretty good deal for a mammoth novel (230,000 words or so).

To have the book included in KDP Select, I had to pull the pay what you want .epub and .pdf versions of the novel (as well as the serialized blog version).  Publishing the novel that way was a fun experiment, and the novel got around a bit.  I was happy to see that readers liked it (for example, someone named Amy rated it four stars out of five and wrote "Quite refreshing to read something different, honestly. Best read in small bites, like a blog. Great read for an election year." on GoodReads).  However, most readers seem to be conditioned to buy through bookstores rather than directly from authors.  Coming out of the zine community, I'm used to the opposite, but if I want readers, then I have to go to where they are, and where they are is Amazon.Com.

So, previously, anyone who wanted to read the novel on the Kindle was stuck with the pdf version (which wasn't ideally suited to the device) or had to pay Amazon a tiny fee to convert the file from the .epub format.  I revamped the .epub file to make it better suited for Kindle, and, from the previews I've seen, the conversion to the Kindle format went fine.  For the next ninety days, the novel is only available from Amazon.  If you're a Nook owner or whatnot, then please let me know.  If I hear from enough of you, then I'll drop the exclusive deal and make the novel available through more ebookstores.  So far, Amazon's been pretty nice to work with though.  Check out my little author page.

I still have no plans to publish the book in print, but if you're a publisher and want to make an offer, then get in touch.  If you're a reviewer and want a review copy of the novel, then please get in touch as well.  And, if you're a reader, then have I got a novel for you!  Step right up!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Wred Fright Rises

Sorry, I couldn't resist the Batman movie pun for the title of this post. It fits though. It's been quite some time since I wrote some songs, but I started doing so again in January. When I first had my website, Wred Fright's Funhouse, in 1999, I released an MP3 single a month and kept that going for a couple of years. I continued that tradition when I first started WredFright.Com, though I often posted older recordings in addition to tracks by bands I was in at that time.  When The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus came out in book form, I got too busy to play music, so I stopped posting music for a few years.  I always missed doing so though, so this year I made sure to make time to play music.  As a result, I'm happy to start posting music online again as well.  Look for the occasional song popping up here on the blog.  They'll just be lo-fi demos, but you might enjoy them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

SanFran PanHand Sort Of Sonnet

The sort of dodgy blogs and ezines I like to publish in seem to be dropping like convictions in the midst of a political campaign (despite my scruffy preferences, I definitely have to start writing for a better class of publications.  This kind of stuff doesn't happen to New Yorker writers). The latest casualty is Xploited, which was a fun zine out of San Francisco.  Its publisher, Kathleen, used to run issues devoted to a single theme such as public restrooms (the article about the odd coin-operated portapotties in SF was my fav).  I wrote a poem for the homeless issue called "SanFran PanHand Sort Of Sonnet".  That issue never came out in print, but Kathleen put together a webzine.  Now it appears that's gone too.  She also apparently found my poem impossible to top since she refused any subsequent poetry submissions (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it).  Anyway, here's what I wrote about the poem in 2009, with the poem following:

"Last year I visited San Francisco for the first time. I liked the city but was stunned by the number of homeless people on the streets. I've never seen so many people begging and sleeping on the street, and I've been to many cities and seen this sad situation before; I've just never seen it on such a scale. The experience sparked a poem, 'SanFran PanHand Sort-Of-Sonnet,' which San Francisco zine Xploited has published in their new issue (#3 for those keeping track on their scorecards out there), which has a homeless theme. You can find the poem here."

From my hotel on Geary I turned right
Intent on exploring a new city
And the Tenderloin was a sight to see
Gangs of homeless people by day and night

Bottles in brown paperbags on the street
Dirty bodies, worn clothes, a sniff of piss
Some slept, some leaned, and some gave off a hiss
Digging through the trash for a tasty treat

On to downtown, at least one on each block
One had a guitar, another a cat
Hands out, spare change, a sign, a line of scat
Some were missing a leg, others a sock

Though the hills of San Francisco are steep
And climbing them made me ache gasping breath
In Cleveland the homeless can freeze to death
So if I crap out, to SanFran I'll creep

Though to be homeless anyplace is crime
PanHand overwhelmed I spared not a dime

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What I Did On My Summer Vacation In Hell

MessageAll.Ca, where this story was originally published, seems to have disappeared, so I'm rerunning this story here.  One advantage of print over online publishing is that stories don't vanish overnight, I suppose.  Given the time of year and the heat currently in the United States, it fits in well anyway though.  Here's what I wrote about the story last fall:  "My zine pal from Canada, Justin Chatwin, occasionally takes time out from running for parliament to run a cool blog called Message All. Recently, he asked me if I had any writing to share, and I dug around in the archives and found an unpublished short story. I had originally written it in 2001, but then September 11th happened and the world changed . . . er . . . maybe not. Actually I'm not sure how the little story ended up an orphan or why it wasn't published before. There's a good chance someone asked me for a story for their zine or something and then as often happens the zine never got published and by that point I had forgotten about the story. I stumbled across it a couple of years ago and liked it. Readers of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus will recognize the plot of the story since it covers events also referenced in the novel. That's likely why the story never appeared before. It was written prior to the novel, but since the story covered similar events and the novel was published in 2002 in zine form, I shelved the story. It stands on its own though, which is why I offered it to Justin. I'm happy to see it finally be published. It's been waiting, enduring a decade of hibernation in my computer. When the story was initially posted on MessageAll, there were a couple of typos (the title was missing 'Vacation' and the last line 'hell'), but I expect Justin will take care of them. If you've noticed the weather getting nippy, then warm up with 'What I Did On My Summer Vacation In Hell'!"

The skunks were the least of my worries. In fact, I kinda liked them. The stench they left outside the house was better than the stench my roommates left inside the house. Besides, I only had to worry about the skunks when I stumbled home drunk from the bars at night. It was the stuff that drove me from the house and to the bars that worried me more. No doubt, it was a summer of hell that would have even impressed Rimbaud in its absurdity. In fact, it felt as if I had left the normal plane of reality to vacation in Hell. It got so bad that I started to love work because when I was at work at least I wasn't home in Hell.

It began with the squirrels. Kent, Ohio is famous for its black squirrels, which an enterprising groundskeeper had brought back from Canada in the 1960s and set free on the grounds of Kent State University. Today, those furry tree-living rodents ran the town like the mafia. And now they were muscling into the house where I lived like a protection racket out of the oldest Cosa Nostra playbook. They scampered in the walls, in the ceiling, always out of sight, but never out of hearing range. They chewed on the bathtub, chattering like chickens early in the morning. They chewed through the phone line twice and did the same for the waterpipe, flooding the crawlspace underneath the house. They were also slowly chewing the house to pieces (that it was made out of cheap plastic being a glorified doublewide trailer no doubt accelerated their efforts). This caused one roommate to move out after he had a dream that he was taking a shower and stepped on a squirrel in the bathtub. The next day I returned to find the electricity turned off and the roommate gone and a hastily scrawled note half-chewed by squirrels that read “Call electric company by noon or the power goes off. I took it out of my name. Remember how we had to buy that old refrigerator together when we moved in because our landlords were too cheap to supply one? Well, it's all yours now. Have a good summer. Love, Mike. P.S./ There's a dead squirrel in the freezer.”

I took the squirrel out of the freezer by its frozen fluffy tail and threw it in the backyard. Then, we (that would be me and the remaining roommate, Jeremiah, and Gretchen, his everpresent girlfriend, who attached to him like a Siamese twin and who both liked to pretend I didn’t exist even when we were a foot away from one another) managed to stave off making up the rent of the AWOL roommate from the landlord, but in return we had to accept the landlord's brother-in-law, who had recently moved up from West Virginia, as our new roommate. I wasn't happy about it, but I agreed to the deal in order not to shell out more rent in order to live in what had become a squirrel nest, and I guess the twins did the same or figured they’d just pretend the brother-in-law didn’t exist too so it wouldn't make much difference to them anyway.

However, in addition to foisting relatives upon us, the landlord declared a jihad against the squirrels, apparently because they were now nibbling on his pocketbook by driving out tenants. He began nightly sitting on our roof with a bb gun and picking off squirrels in the surrounding trees. His children joined in and would roam the backyard molesting anything living including those of us living in the house. “Mister, if the bluejay that we tortured dies, could you bury him?” one of them asked me, then shot at me with a bb.

The landlord also used muskrat traps and crippled squirrels by the armful. The carnage was awful. Eventually the landlord triumphed and squirrels avoided the house by a one-block radius.

Unfortunately one pest had been replaced by another as the landlords had decided to sell the house, apparently realizing that the next thunderstorm would probably wash it away since the squirrels had hallowed out the walls and ceiling. Soon, hordes of prospective house buyers and realtors descended upon the house at all hours. They always claimed they’d call before they’d come but they never did. Instead, they’d call but never show up. And when they did show up, I became nostalgic for the squirrels. At least the squirrels never forced me out of the shower to explain where the cable outlets were.

It was about this time, that the landlord’s brother-in-law, Ziggy, moved in. I took him for another realtor until he announced his residency by having loud sex in the middle of the night. I awoke from a deep sleep and, of course, from the sounds of it, was jealous. The next morning Ziggy and his male lover came into the kitchen while I was eating cereal and introduced themselves, and I wasn’t jealous anymore. I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of loud sex but when I wasn’t getting any my baser nature always made me a bit envious. However, I found that loud gay sex was pure enjoyment since, being straight, I felt no jealousy. It soon became a nightly soundtrack as a steady stream of gay lovers entered the house. The roommate I feared would be a redneck turned out to be a pleasant if slightly egocentric gay club kid who partied all night and worked all day. He was a great roommate because he was almost never there.

Until he got sick.

Then Ziggy was around day and night, mostly lying in the living room, groaning and hallucinating while watching bad television situation comedies loudly. He also started bleeding profusely from his gums and the bathroom I shared with him would resemble the operating room of an army hospital in a war zone after he flossed his teeth. Now I consider myself fairly non-homophobic, but even I started worrying about Aids when I would look at the blood streaked bathroom mirror and remember the stream of nightly anonymous sex partners.

I brushed my teeth at the kitchen sink from then on.

Oh, bugger off, you know you would too.

Ziggy eventually got better but the stench from his 72-hour delirium in the living room pervaded the house for the rest of our stay. Ziggy himself smelled great, always wearing a pleasant cologne. He soon returned to clubbing, leaving me with the Stench, which seemed to have become a fourth roommate in the house (that is if you didn’t count Gretchen, which I didn’t since she and Jeremiah appeared to be surgically attached so I regarded them as a single entity). No amount of open windows and air fresheners could drive the Stench out. And it too liked to watch bad television loudly.

Fortunately for them, the landlords had already sold the house by the time the Stench moved in or I doubt anyone with a nose would have even looked at it, let alone consider purchasing it. Even the "For Sale" sign in the front lawn leaned over as if it were gagging from the smell. The Stench had even spurred me to cough up some more money each month by just giving up on roommates altogether and renting a pad by myself.

Some things, such as sanity, are worth paying a bit more for.

For a second, as I prepared to move, it seemed as if my summer in Hell might be ending. I hadn’t been sprayed by the skunks once on my return from the bars and I had even made an agreement with the new owner of the house to sell the refrigerator to her since she was hard-up getting a divorce and needed any appliances she could get cheap.

Ah, but that brief period of calm was just the devil allowing my buttocks to cool so I'd scream that much louder when he jammed his heated pitchfork between them again.

Three days before I was about to move I casually mentioned to Ziggy that I was glad I didn’t have to move the fridge and he said, “Oh, didn’t she tell you? Someone bought her a new fridge as a present--you have to take this one with you.”

I had suspected that I hadn't checked out of the Hotel Hades yet, and the fridge was of course the cherry on top of the devilish sundae. I sprang into operation, defrosting and cleaning the fridge. First, I tried to sell it. I placed an ad in the newspaper the next day. A Chinese woman and her paranoid American boyfriend showed up and they apparently suspected that $50 for a fridge was too good to be true. The boyfriend inspected it like a fine diamond and told me they’d have to think about it and then they’d call me.

They, of course, never called.

Neither did anybody else. Scratch selling the fridge. Now I tried to give it away. I would have called the Chinese woman but in their paranoia they had declined to give me their phone number.

Ah, well, their loss. Somebody would be happy to get a free fridge, right? The Stench nodded in agreement while watching Three’s Company.

I called the local social services charity. They gladly would take it but they had no way to pick it up and it wouldn’t fit in my car so it seemed that was a dead end. Next I called an used appliance store to see if they wanted it. Nope, they had more fridges than they could handle. I called the electric company which ran a refrigerator recycling program. Nope, that program was discontinued a year ago, they told me. The Stench chuckled and asked me what I was going to do.

I told him I was going to do what I always did and go to the bar.

So I went to the bar, cleverly avoiding the skunks by climbing over a fence into the neighbor’s yard, and hatched a plan over a beer. I avoided the skunks again on the way home by swinging from tree to tree and landing on the roof of the house as the black squirrels used to do during their reign of terror and Ziggy on his way to the clubs helped me get the fridge into the front yard. I took off the door so none of the neighborhood kids would suffocate and threw it and the shelves and bolts and drawers into my car, and the next day, I drove to U-Haul and rented an appliance dolly. I drove down to the social services agency and parked. I got the appliance dolly and walked the mile or so to the old house. I had moved all of my other stuff out already and only the lonely fridge standing in the front yard was left. There were some sleeping skunks cradled in the freezer department but I got the Stench to came outside and make them run away. As I strapped the fridge to the dolly and looked at the house in the background, I got nostalgic for the times at the the old house, even the bad times like the time Jeremiah and Gretchen had moved their dogs into their room causing Mike to break out in allergic hives and me to step on dogshit indoors.

After that memory, I quickly threw my nostalgia in the trash, wiped a tear away, bid adieu to the Stench who went inside to catch a rerun of One Day At A Time, and started pushing and pulling the dolly and fridge to the social services agency. It was a long mile and my arms felt like they were going to fall off by the end. People would stop their cars and point at me. Pedestrians laughed and told me “That’s not something you see every day.”

Of course, no one offered to help.

The social services people were grateful though when I got there. Once they gave me CPR for my heart attack from overexertion, I got the shelves and drawers and other parts from my car and put the refrigerator back together. Some poor person could use it they said. That made me feel good and almost made the whole ordeal and the summer vacation in hell worth it. I went back to my new pad and passed out on the bed. It smelled good, the bathroom was nonbloody, and there were no skunks to avoid to get inside. I felt sure the summer of hell was over.

Then I heard the buzzing.

I looked up. In the frame of the window of my bedroom was a wasps nest. Hundreds of wasps moved, and flew and buzzed, separated from me only by a thin pane of glass.

I almost ran screaming from the new house, but the summer of hell had toughened me. Instead, I phoned the old house. The Stench said he would be glad to help. He came over and within a half-hour the wasps had taken down their nest and flown away. I hadn’t even known that wasps had a sense of smell.

We celebrated by watching What’s Happening at top volume then I kicked him the hell out and had a heavenly autumn.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Should I Be Worried?

My credit union sent out a newsletter.  In it, mortgage principal is spelled as "principle."  Now, this is an easy mistake to make.  Not only would the spellchecker portion of a word processing program not catch it since "principle" and "principal" are both words in the spellchecker dictionary and spellchecker only looks for misspellings and not the use of a wrong word, but also the way our brains organize language seems to be partly based on sound so these type of homophone errors occur even to those of us who know the difference and shouldn't make them. We've probably all done something similar (for example, have you ever written "to" when you meant to write "two"?), so let he or she without linguistic sin throw the first comma splice, eh?

Still, it's a credit union.  Even if it's no big deal (I still understood what they were writing about), the error doesn't inspire confidence.  They're loaning "principal" out; one would hope they'd know how to spell it.  I'd offer to do some freelance proofreading for the credit union (clearly, they need the help), but, in my experience, people don't typically respond with job offers when you point out that they're incompetent.  I just hope they're better with math than they are with language.

Ultimately, I suppose it's the "principle" of the thing that makes it sew . . . er . . . so disturbing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mermaids Or Just The Imagination Of Drunk Sailors?

I've run a few comics related posts, including Grant Schreiber's fun short story, this week in honor of Comic-Con in San Diego.  Since San Diego is also home to a large number of military personnel, especially from the Navy, I wanted to reassure them that, despite what they may have seen early in the morning and late in the drinking, there are no mermaids.  You probably just saw some cosplayer dressed up as Lori Lemaris.

Besides, everyone knows that humans who live under the sea look like Aquaman.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Alan Moore's Revenge On DC Comics?

It is interesting to note that DC's longest running comic book (aside from Mad Magazine, which started at EC Comics and DC bought later) is Hellblazer, starring a character created by Alan Moore, who has had, of course, a number of disagreements with the company, to put it mildly.  Though DC restarted all its comics last year with new number 1s, Hellblazer dodged the revamp bullet since it is currently under the Vertigo imprint.  The series, launched in 1988 (at least as marked by the official publication date, which means it probably ended up on the stands in late 1987), is closing in on its 300th monthly issue.  So DC's inadvertent standard bearer is no longer Superman, but instead a working class English magician who consorts with demons, smokes constantly, drinks excessively, swears fulsomely, and has a reputation for screwing people over?

One would think The Magus had planned it that way.

Still, it's a fun horror series.  It's had its ups and downs over the years, but the early stories by Jamie Delano were quite great, and the series has featured good work over the years by Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, Paul Jenkins, Sean Phillips, Warren Ellis, Mike Carey, Leonardo Manco, and some others.  Currently, it's a bit hit or miss under Peter Milligan, and I'm wondering if it'll make it long past issue 300, but for now it's the flagship of  the company.

Alan Moore probably gets a chuckle from that.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Rare Goods For The Savvy Collector" by Grant Schreiber

It was December 12, 2012, and Brad Binder had had enough.  One too many times he had gone into the Savvy Collector and stared at the back wall of high priced comics in envy and dread.  All those comics he had once owned for their cover price--some only fifteen cents!--and now they were selling for thirty, forty, fifty dollars and more.  It made him sick to his stomach.   One too many times he had mentioned to the morons that worked the counter he had those comics to their utter disinterest, the stupid punks.

Now on that fateful day, 12-12-12,  Brad was filled with the possibility of a wish come true.  While the country was apparently eager to play lotto numbers,  Brad would make a wish.   And to give that wish an extra push, he would make it when his digital watch read 12:12 as well.  And to make sure the wish was pushed into reality,  he would do it twice.  A wish in the morning and again at night.  And he would wish with all his might.

The wish wasn’t for money.  It wasn’t really.  Wishing for money contained its own bad juju that could sour things.  All that Brad wished for was a change of heart in his mother.  He wished that in 1979 his mother changed her mind and didn’t toss out his comics.   He wished for his old comic book collection back into existence.  He wished the grinning jackals at Savvy Collector would pay him the respect he was due for having the luck to be born at a time when picking up the Fantastic Four number 50 for fifteen cents was really just another sign of how awesome and cool and clever Brad really was.

That night,  Brad dreamed about his childhood collection.  He remembered how he had saved his money and bought comics down at the Rexall drug store.   He recalled the twinge of anxiety when comics jumped from fifteen to twenty cents.  And again when comics become twenty-five cents.  But the anxiety faded as he showed off his collection to those goons at Savvy Collector and they looked at him as if worshiping.
Brad woke feeling at peace.  He smiled.  He knew his wish had come true because he could remember his mom at the last moment letting him keep his comics if he could pass math.  And that threat was enough.  He studied harder and passed his math class and kept that wonderful collection.

Brad got out of bed, shaking with excitement.  He got around to bagging and boarding his collection in around 1986, he recalled.  And he kept this collection in his closet.  Of course.  Where else?

Brad stood at his closet for a  moment.  Only five long boxes? Hadn’t it been bigger?  But then when comics hit thirty cents and then thirty-five cents,  he quit collecting.   But that didn’t matter.  Five long boxes of Silver Age gold was waiting to be looked at again.  He pulled the first long box out and placed it on the floor.  Feeling giddy,  Brad opened a box and pulled out a comic at random.

Fantastic Four issue 117.  Nothing really special.  He had forgotten that he wrote his name on the cover for whatever reason.  Maybe because he had taken it to school.  The cover was hardly in great shape, even if he hadn’t scrawled on it.  He slid it back and went through the box more slowly.   There were some good issues in there.  But he hadn’t really recalled how until now that he didn’t treat his comics with the reverence they deserved.   On several of the Fantastic Four issues, he had blackened out the Invisible Girl’s eyes for whatever reason.  He dug on.  None of the comics in his collection were high grade.  The covers were chipped and folded.  He had cut out the Vulture out of a Spider-Man cover and on the big ticket issue of Spider-Man 121, he had given Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson  mustaches.
What had he been thinking? Didn’t he know this was a pivotal issue worth several hundred dollars in mint condition?  But still … it had to be worth something.  He got up uneasily and went to his book case.  Where was the price guide?   His book on collectible toys was there, and ones on stamps and rare coins and cereal boxes and placemats.  Placemats?  What the hell was this?  Brad took the book out and put it back on the shelf numbly.   Something had gone horribly wrong.

Brad looked dumbly at the five long boxes and went to take a cold shower.  It was no dream.   His collection of comics was there.  But of course it was.  Why wouldn't it be?  It just made him sick that he hadn't taken  good care of them.  Still, there had to be some worth.  Carefully he took out each comic book and started an inventory,  taking note of each defect and cursing himself on how many of the flaws were done by his own hand.

The task took hours.  Three times he had to stop, almost sobbing over his own stupidity.   Hadn't his mom warned him about being careless with his possessions  over and over again?  Why didn't he listen?   Nonetheless,  he had catalogued all two thousand comic books,  his hand stiff with pain,  his body shot through with exhaustion and the day totally blown.   But come tomorrow, with his list in hand, he would see who ruled and who drooled at the Savvy Collector.

It was a terrible night's sleep his hand felt cramped and legs were sore and in his dreams his feet hurt as if being squeezed in too tight shoes.   He woke up feeling blurry and beaten.   But his pain was proof of his labors and five long boxes of slightly damaged, but still valuable, comics were there waiting for rediscovery.
The Savvy Collector was a long walk or a short bus ride, depending on weather and luck with the buses,  but Brad needed the walk to prepare his speech when he showed those guys behind the counter his list of  comics.  The Savvy Collector looked odd to Brad as he walked towards it.  The window display was just weirdness.  He didn't know what to think, so he ignored it and walked on in.
Brad looked around confused.   There were those two guys behind the counter as usual.  There was that weird stain on the floor that looked a little like a cartoon version of Henry Kissinger and that same old paper and mold smell.  But the store was totally different.  All the  comic books were gone.

Brad moved forward, his legs stiff  and barely responding to what his mind was telling him.

Placemats from diners were on the wall behind the counter.   They were arranged more or less in alphabetical order and went from standard rectangles to ovals.  Placemats from all sorts of cheap roadside restaurants seemed to be the main selling point to Savvy Collector.  What had happened?

"Comic books?"  Brad croaked out.  "What happened to the comic books?"

The guys behind the counter exchanged a glance.  "There's not really a market for comic books," one said.  "No one really cares."

Brad felt himself redden.  "That's not true.  Action Comics number one sold for over a million dollars."  He was trying to think of another big priced comic book but couldn't.

"Action Comics number one might get you a hundred dollars, if it's in mint," said one of the guys behind the counter.  "It had a huge print run.  They aren't that hard to find."

"Yeah, we have three or four copies here," said the other guy behind the counter.  "I think they're priced  around fifty, maybe less.  Did you want one?"
Brad stood his ground.  "But comic books are worth a lot of money.  They're rare."

One of the guys behind the counter couldn't suppress a laugh.  The other one said, "I'd hardly call them rare.  The readership has declined from the 1950s, but that doesn't make them rare.  I bet every mother on the planet saved her kids' comic books for whatever reason.  There's a couple comics with historic low print runs, but you can pretty much find every single comic book that's ever been made if you really wanted to."

Brad stood in mute horror.  Of course, of course of course.  Mom saved everything.  He was the one who was going to throw out his comic books in some stupid teenage rage, but she stopped him and later on went out and bought the very long boxes that now stored them.  Mom still had the baseball cars and Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids and all that crap.  She never tossed anything out.  No one had a mom who ever did.  Everything was a childhood keepsake.  Every goddamn thing.

"The real items worth looking for are paper placemats," the guy behind the counter continued.  "There's actually a fair amount of art and thought in these things, and restaurants would get them special just for their location."
"An Atlanta Georgia Stuckey's placemat from 1946 with the World Series word search recently sold for a million dollars.  One of the very first word searches published, and everybody tossed those out."

"Rarity is what makes a thing a collectable. Comic books have always been a mass produced, common thing that no one really collects those at all.  They might save them,  like National Geographic and Life magazines,  but there's really no market for them."

"There's Reader's Digest," the other guy behind the counter suggested.

"Oh, yeah, Reader's Digest, nobody saved those.  Who knew?"
Brad wasn't really paying attention anymore.  His worthless comics and his worthless list just made him wish that his mom had let him take those placemats on those horrible summer vacation drives across country.   While he wouldn't have had the 1946 Stuckey's World Series placemat,  he was pretty sure he could have had a decent collection of Big Boy placements from the '60s if only his mom hadn't been such a packrat and kept all that other garbage.

This story was originally published in Judas Goat Quarterly 54.  Grant Schreiber publishes one of the best zines in America.  Subscribe for a year's worth of issues (four) for $10 by writing him at 4422 N. Racine Ave., #3S, Chicago, IL 60640 USA.    

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Kids Are All Right

It's rare I pick up a zine these days (reading thousands of them will do that to you), but I spotted one at the CD/Game Exchange in Cleveland Heights, Ohio USA that intrigued me enough to pick it up.  Perhaps it was the garish orange paper or the catchy title ("Floyd Is Dead") or the price (free), but I actually read this one, and it was a fun read.  It seems to be produced by a high school student into punk rock (Sam).  It has record reviews in it, a story about putting a hole in a household wall, a concert review, a story about visiting Los Angeles, and an article about a rare underground film called Him in which the main character is sexually obsessed with Jesus Christ.  All in all, there wasn't much to the zine, but it was still rather charming.  It's nice to see that young people in the age of Facebook and blogs still find the zine medium appealing.  From the mentions of Cometbus inside, I suspect that venerable zine is what might have inspired Sam to produce his own.  Or maybe the classics never go completely out of fashion.  If you're interested, then give him a holler at floydisdead (ATATAT) aol (DOTT) com.

Happy International Zine Month!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Candidates Running Unopposed Is A Bad Idea

In 2002, I showed up to vote in the local Democratic primary and found that there was no one to vote for. Perhaps I should have done some more thorough research beforehand (I was new to the area and just thought I had to be missing something when I did try to dig up information on the candidates and found nothing) and skipped the trip to the polls. In any case, in the fall, Republican Bob Ney ran unopposed and won another term in Congress.

A few years later, he was in jail on corruption charges.

In 2012, Republicans found themselves in a similar situation.  No one's running against Marcia Fudge in the fall, meaning she could vote for herself and win reelection to Congress.

Let's hope Fudge, unlike Ney, doesn't prove Lord Acton right that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  So far, Fudge seems to be all right, but Ney also seemed that way (albeit given the usual quality of Republicans of that time).  For example, he was one of the few Republicans to vote against the Patriot Act.

What's baffling is that any candidate runs unopposed.  Can't other parties find anyone, and I mean anyone, to run?

Hey, I'd run against Fudge, and I'm not even a Republican.  I wouldn't campaign or waste my own money and time otherwise, but at least I'd be a name on a ballot.  Can't these parties even find someone to do that?  Run a homeless person if one musts.  The person would probably appreciate the rubber chicken dinners at political events and would likely have plenty of time to campaign.  And, if in a fluke, the homeless person won, well, then Congress would certainly get a very different perspective from that of all the millionaires running around in the Capitol.

One reason the Democrats had such electoral success in 2006 and 2008 was that Howard Dean, the head of the party at that time, had a philosophy of running everywhere, even in the elections he was told no Democrat had a chance.  It was called the Fifty State Strategy.  Democrats seemed to abandon Dean's strategy and, not surprisingly, lost a lot in 2010.  If they're smart, they'll reembrace it this year, though some political types still think it's a waste of money competing in what they view as noncompetitive races.

But guess what?  The only way a candidate doesn't have a chance is if he or she doesn't run.

Even more locally than Congress, my little city is all in a tizzy because the local school district (shared with a larger, neighboring city) will be closing the only elementary school in the city.  But last fall, two candidates ran unopposed for the Board of Education.  Both were from the larger city.  Based on my attendance at a candidate forum, I thought both candidates were sensible enough.

I still didn't vote for them though as they were going to win anyway.  Why waste time coloring in an oval then?  I'm always amazed that as many as 124,372 people will vote for a candidate who will win anyway.

Perhaps if both candidates had competition from candidates in my city, then they might not be voting for closing the local elementary school since they would have had to pander to voters in my city in order to win (Who knows though?  The one board member from my city voted for the plan and two also from the larger city voted against it).

The "takeaway", as people love to say nowadays, is that if only one candidate runs for a public office, then don't expect democracy.

For that, it takes at least two.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fan Fiction Goes Mainstream

I've always found fan fiction fascinating, not enough to actually read much of it nor write it, but I like the idea of fans being so into a character or fictional universe that they want to tell their own stories about Star Trek, Superman, Harry Potter, or whatever.

And "whatever" is the word for it.  If a cultural construct has any level of popularity, then you can bet you'll find some fan fiction about it.  Always thought professional wrestlers Rowdy Roddy Piper and Ric Flair should have had a gay love affair?  There's a story for you.  Sad that Douglas Adams is deceased and can't keep expanding The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy trilogy?  Here's 537 stories for you.  And it goes on and on into the infinity of imagination.

It's certainly easy to make fun of fan fiction between all the wish fulfillment and bad grammar found in much of it, but, despite the detractors, it seems to have become more respectable as of late.  Perhaps this is due to the extraordinary success of the 50 Shades book series, which began as Twilight fanfic.

Apparently, now "real" publishers are engaging in fan fiction themselves.  Thus, we have the DC Comics release Before Watchmen, comics featuring the characters created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons for Watchmen, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comic books of all time.

Moore and Gibbons are nowhere to be found in these new Watchmen comics, and Moore has objected to them (Gibbons seems content to perhaps just make some extra money).  A vigorous debate over the ethics of the new Watchmen comics has been going on among comics creators and fans with people arguing that the new comics are fine since the Watchmen characters are based on old Charlton comics characters (funny then that DC didn't just put out another Blue Beetle comic instead), Moore does the same thing with his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics (as far as I can tell, no author, most of whom are long dead anyway, has complained about Moore's use of her or his character), and that DC owns the characters anyway (actually, Moore and Gibbons got cheated and only Moore's decision not to bother suing likely allows DC to get away with the Watchmen prequels).

All in all, if it's Watchmen and not by Moore and Gibbons, then it's fan fiction, albeit corporate fan fiction which doesn't even have the charm of a fan's enthusiasm. I guess ultimately one would call it a cash grab before the comics industry goes more or less completely bellyup (according to a Superman comic I have from 1968, the average issue of Superman sold 649,300 copies a month; in 2012, the latest issue sold 59,081 copies--you can plot out the rest of the trajectory yourself).  I loved Watchmen, but I won't be reading these comics.

If I want to read more Watchmen, then FanFiction.Net has 925 stories available.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The People's Republic Of Cleveland Heights

The good liberals in Cleveland Heights, Ohio USA are no doubt upset over Arizona's show me your papers immigration law being upheld by the Supreme Court.  One had even traveled to Arizona a couple of years ago to protest the law.  The complaints against the law usually center around the fear that it leads to racial profiling and just plain isn't fair.  As President Obama stated, "No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like."

Perhaps the president should look to Cleveland Heights next and lecture his supporters on the Cleveland Heights City Council (based on the way they spoke at their candidate forum last fall, which I attended, I presume they are all Democrats).  After an incident at a Coventry street fair last summer, the city council enacted a curfew on youth in a few districts in the city.  A group of youths in the city have pointed out that this is discrimination.

It is.  There's no minimum age for the Bill Of Rights and the freedoms it protects such as assembly and speech.  On the level of practicality though, cities can often get away with nonsense such as this since kids can't vote so they're easy for politicians to pick on.  By the time those same kids can vote, curfews don't affect them anymore so they typically don't care about the issue.

As a result, an African-American youth (there's a racial dynamic at play in the curfew's enactment, and perhaps its enforcement as well) on Coventry has to show the police identification to prove that he or she is eighteen so that he or she can walk down a public street at 6:01 p.m., and the good liberals of Cleveland Heights don't seem to care.

Perhaps they're too worried about fighting discrimination in Arizona to notice what they're doing themselves.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"How The Owners Of A Society Play With Their Property" by William Blum

The Supreme Court of the United States has just upheld the constitutionality of President Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Liberals as well as many progressives are very pleased, regarding this as a victory for the left.

Under the new law, people can benefit in one way or another depending on the following factors:

Their age; whether their income is at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level; whether their parents have a health plan; whether they use tobacco; what state they live in; whether they have a pre-existing medical condition; whether they qualify to buy health insurance through newly-created market places known as "exchanges"; and numerous other criteria ... They can obtain medical insurance in a "competitive insurance market" (emphasis on the "competitive"); they can perhaps qualify for various other kinds of credits and tax relief if they meet certain criteria ... The authors of the Act state that it will save thousands of dollars in drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries by closing a coverage gap called the "donut hole" ... They tell us that "It keeps insurance companies honest by setting clear rules that rein in the worst insurance industry abuses."

That's a sample of how health care looks in the United States of America in the 21st century, with a complexity that will keep a small army of lawyers busy for years to come. Ninety miles away, in the Republic of Cuba, it looks a bit different. If you feel sick you go to a doctor. You're automatically qualified to receive any medical care that's available and thought to be suitable. The doctor treats you to the best of his or her ability. The insurance companies play no role. There are no insurance companies. You don't pay anything. You go home.

The Affordable Care Act will undoubtedly serve as a disincentive to the movement for single-payer national health insurance, setting the movement back for years. The Affordable Care Act was undoubtedly designed for that purpose.

This article originally appeared in The Anti-Empire Report on 3 July 2012.  William Blum is the author of several books, including Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

An Interview With Author Crazy Carl Robinson

I've known Crazy Carl Robinson for a long time, and we're good friends.  We met when we both went to graduate school at Kent State in the 1990s (where he impressed me with various pranks such as by giving me a copy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated in the middle of an otherwise ultraserious Women in the Renaissance seminar).  His writing impressed me as well, and I published it in my drinkdrankdrunk zine.  Eventually, that road led us to both publishing novels with the Underground Literary Alliance, which we promoted by going on a book reading tour in 2007.  His ULA Press novel is Fat On The Vine, and its two sequels are Dead In The Head and My Parents' Medicine, which are excerpted in the collection Bloodreal.  He told me that he has a new book coming out, so I investigated further with this interview (and his answers are left in the traditional Crazy Carl style). 

1) What's this new book?

i actually have short stories coming out in two 2012 anthologies.....my story, "chasing the american dream: a chubby fan(atic) recalls his favorite professional wrestlers," will appear in "the facts of life, family ties and the real world: everything i know about myself i learned from television" from lexington books.....the article basically examines the pro wrestler as role model for overweight kids......my second story, "the brown washcloth," means exactly what you think it means and appears in victor thorn's new anthology, "outlaw rebels" from sisyphus press.....it's a bit risqué, but i'm sure clevelanders would enjoy the sections which celebrate punk rockers like dee dee ramone and g.g. allin as well as graphic novelists like r crumb and harvey pekar (although i'm not quite sure how pekar would feel about being sandwiched between george lincoln rockwell and ed gein)......i'd also like to think that i introduced victor to artists like ivan brunetti, julian beck and sam peckinpah ......whatever the fuck victor thorn is, he's certainly an american original....like all our friends' blogs regurgitate the same partisan crap whereas victor appears to be challenging the censor (and you know i like that)

2) Another combination of the literary and political was the Underground Literary Alliance. Recently, you got namechecked again in the essay/hatchet job about the group republished in Tom Bissell's collection Magic Hours. What did you think of Bissell's essay and of your experience with the group?

brother, you think i'm vain enough to pay $14 for a book that makes fun of my name once?---yeah, i think we all are....truthfully, i had no idea who tom bissell was in 2003 and i still have no idea in 2012......i tried to read the other essays in "magic hours," but all i really remember is a fairly dry article on "the big bang theory".....if that's what it takes to be a hipster in 2012, then tom bissell beat all of us by about 2 episodes.....as for the ula, i have quite a few rockstar memories, including our 2007 book tour.....my mama dresses me kinda preppy and much like the kent punk rockers, the ula never judged me.....they listened to what i had to say and treated me with the same respect that they treated you.....i know a lot of people in the past were intimidated by king wenclas, but if you had a beer with him in the tavern, I think you might become friends.....jeff potter might be the coolest dad in the world and has built an entire fantasy land for his kids in their backyard----and instead of posting pix of his cat sleeping or generic rants about stopping the tea party on facebook, he celebrates the lives/careers of meaningful artists like ed sanders and doc watson......tom bissell said in that article that the "crazy" in my name implied concealment and aggression, but if he had actually read my shit he would have realized that i just needed to get laid

3) Along those same lines, I had a conversation with you recently in which you said that too many people today were wrapped up in politics when they could be doing something more interesting.  What did you mean by that?

victor thorn (and mr crowley) would say: do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.....ultimately, if your favorite thing in the world is discussing politics, then i'm not gonna take that away from you.....me, i wanna get laid, be under-the-influence, eat, sleep, listen to music and play with dogs.....and i could break out old smack about the weather wanting you to vote for obama or about consulting the youngstown book of socialism before (not) buying your panties at target, but the truth is: we're all capitalists and the only "fact" that's relevant is who cut the check that sanctioned your truth....we have to ask ourselves that question whether we're watching fox news or cnn---whether the blog is endorsed by victor thorn or alan miller....wred fright, do you remember when we argued about whether antigone-the-cat would prefer another cat as a companion and you pulled that (human) book off the shelf as proof that you were right?---that was the big cat lobby, man....i was drunk though and needed a ride home.....more-to-the-point, the only thing that's real is what happens when i take a shit.....my friend susan lowers a person's "i.q. points" when we're driving and we see a house with columns and i have to say that i do the same when someone forwards me a partisan website as proof that they're right.....that ohio state professor didn't conduct his/her experiment for the love of humankind----he/she did it for money and fame....and as soon as i determine that the article i'm reading has a non author's shit-in-the-toilet agenda, i stop reading.....everything else is lemming ridiculousness

4) Speaking of ridiculousness, why is it 2012 and I still don't have Dead In The Head or My Parents' Medicine on my bookshelf?  Is there any hope of the followup novels to Fat On The Vine being published in their entirety?

the short/quick answer is that kids don't read anymore----they look at pictures instead.....i'd say that "dead in the head" has disappeared into the mist....i recycled parts of it for "bloodreal" (2010) and other parts will be included in "my parents' medicine".....if i'm being honest, "dead in the head" was the weakest of my planned trilogy.....i'm not much of an editor, but i've discovered that the 27th paragraph about what color panties my (fictional) students are wearing is pretty similar to the 1st...."my parents' medicine" is actually good-to-go....i got mad at someone last summer and edited it down so that the format is comparable to "bloodreal"---nice rationale, yeah?.....the art professor at my school offered to turn me on to one of her friends in madison whose a publisher, but i haven't contacted him yet.....perhaps your reader knows someone?

5) That's too bad about Dead In The Head.  I really liked it and thought it was even better than Fat On The Vine.  We actually have more than one reader on the blog, so maybe somebody can hook you up with a publisher (use the comments section, folks).  With ebooks and the Web, self-publishing is easier than ever as well.  The final question is the traditional one:  Anything else that you want to tell the world?

all the young corporate douches have an e-signature in 2012 that is designed to announce to the internet that they have retained their creativity as well as their souls.....i don't have one, but if i did, it would be 1 of 2.....the first is an old chestnut: if you're gonna drink and drive, don't forget your car....the second quote belongs to paul goodman: "in america you can say anything you want----as long as it doesn't have any effect".....cheers!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Indian Fever! Be A Believer!

While some people sing in the shower, I listen to the radio while I shave, specifically a battery-operated Snoopy and Woodstock transistor radio that I somehow ended up with, which, lacking any other use for it, ended up in the bathroom.  Usually I listen to WJCU, a good local college radio station.  This is mainly because:  a)  it's the first station that comes up when the radio is turned on since the radio starts at the bottom of the dial, or, for you Replacements fans out there, the "Left of the Dial" (it's a cheapo radio--one pushes a scan button to change the station and that's the only way to change the station) and b) the automated system on at the hour I'm shaving seems to often play classic college radio nuggets by artists such as XTC and Elvis Costello then, which reminds me of my own college radio days in the 1980s, thus I have little incentive to press the scan button.

Lately though, I turn the radio on and get some sort of CIA-devised psychological torture.  The radio plays "Indian Fever", a song from the 1980s or something that promoted the Cleveland Indians baseball team; "Come On Cavs" a funky 1970s song promoting the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team; and "My Town" by Michael Stanley Band, an ode to Cleveland, Ohio USA by the town's Bruce Springsteenesque meat and potatoes 1970s/1980s bar band.

And nothing else.

It's just those three songs again and again and again.

One day it was nothing but "Indian Fever".

Now the songs are charming in and of themselves.  But they don't stand up to repeated listening.

They do stand up to getting in your head all day though, and I have enough problems as is that I don't also need to be walking around mumbling "Indian fever!  Be a believer!" and frightening passerbys.

Apparently what's going on is the launch of a new Cleveland radio station, which is still getting its act together so they're passing the time broadcasting these three songs.

When they branch out, I might continue to tune in.  Until then, I'll be hitting the scan button to get to WJCU.

I don't want to come down with "Indian Fever".

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Tale Of Two Bands

In honor of Independence Day, I wanted to listen to some American music yesterday.  I settled on The Junk Monkeys, a rocking band from Detroit, Michigan USA circa 1980s/1990s, particularly from the era where the 80s turned into the 90s.  This got me thinking about the band and wondering why they weren't more successful.  They were labelmates with the Goo Goo Dolls on Metal Blade/Warner Brothers.  Playing more punk/garage rock than heavy metal, both bands were sort of odd fits for a label that more often signed bands such as Slayer.  But why did the Goo Goo Dolls go on to become multiplatinum superstars while the Monkeys have their records out of print and don't even rate a Wikipedia page?  I saw both acts at Cedar's in Youngstown, Ohio USA and both acts were great and rocking (yes, there once was a time when the Dolls were rocking--check out Hold Me Up for proof).  Were the Goos better-looking?  More willing to make bland pop/sell out?  Did they work harder?

Beats me.  Both bands seemed to tour pretty hard and deserved to be successful.  Alas, only one was in the commercial sense (aesthetically, both were pretty successful; check out any of the Monkeys' records for a rocking good time--I'm fond of Five Star Fling myself).  Fortunately, the Monkeys are still playing, but only around Detroit.  Maybe the Dolls should take their old labelmates out on tour as an opening act, but I suspect the ferocious rock of the Monkeys would frighten the average current Goo Goo Dolls fan.

If you want to experience some Monkeys, then you can hear "Sad Letters" on YouTube.  The clip looks to be a bootleg, but at this point I suspect the Monkeys don't care.  They're probably happy that people still want to listen to them.  Maybe in the same alternative universe where Al Gore took the presidency in 2000, the Monkeys are a charttopping rock band.

I bet that's a nice place to live.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Good News And The Bad News Are The Same On The 4th Of July

According to a recent poll, 70% of Americans agree with the Declaration Of Independence that "Governments derive their only just powers from the consent of the governed".  That's up from 66% last year, so that's the good news.  The bad news is, of course, that only 70% of Americans agree with the Declaration Of Independence.  Perhaps the other 30% are apathetic or would have preferred remaining a British colony. In any case, I wish even the Tories among us a Happy 4th Of July!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

YIP!: News Of The Weird

The Internet might be the world's greatest newsstand in terms of all the information available, but it's hard sorting through everything to get to the good stuff.  Fortunately, Chuck Shepherd is there to help us along with News Of The Weird.  Where else could I in one handy place read about a woman firing the woman who donated her kidney to her, a mob war over pizza averted by a sitdown at Panera, a duel in Seattle by dogwalkers armed with pooperscoopers, and more, much glorious more?  Nowhere else.  That's why I'm on the NOTW email list, and each week's edition guarantees at least one outloud laugh.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hope You're Doing Well!

When I peer mentored new international graduate students at Kent State, they often were puzzled by many aspects of American English, but the greeting ritual known as "How are you?" seemed to particularly baffle them.

The literal meaning of the question didn't puzzle students; it was how Americans utilized it.  Some Americans didn't wait for an answer, confusing the students, while other Americans reacted strangely when international students started to provide a detailed answer to the question, letting students know that some conversational norm had been violated.

Though most Americans know the ritual (usually something like "Hi, how are you?", "I'm fine.  How are you?", and "I'm all right, thanks."), it is odd if one thinks about it.  Linguists would describe the ritual as phatic communication, an empty type of talk that we do to keep communication means open for when we do have something worth saying.  Why it takes the form of a question and answer is beyond me (though I'm sure some American Studies scholar has an answer that will bring in democracy, the pioneer spirit, and jazz or something).  Why ask how someone is if one doesn't really care or want to really hear the answer?  Anything outside of "well" or whatnot tends to be regarded as a violation of the little ritual, unless the conversation partners really know one another well (say, spouses), in which case, an answer such as "fine" might be viewed as too minimalistic a report.

I tend to just say hello for a phatic greeting, but if someone asks me how I am I perform the ritual. 

Lately though I've noticed a related phenomenon, primarily in writing and not speech.  In an email, people seem to skip the "how are you?" ritual.  It seems to be replaced by a line, often near the end of the message, along the lines of "Hope you're doing well." 

This is interesting because rather than ask someone how he or she is, the writer skips the issue entirely and just lets the reader know that he or she cares (even if, like in many "how are you" exchanges, he or she doesn't).  It also provides a clue to relationships between parties.  Aside from a newcomer to American English, a classic tipoff that someone doesn't like you is when you ask "How are you?" and the person answers but doesn't return the question.  This is probably unconscious, but as psycholinguist (in the sense that he's a psychologist interested in language, and not in the sense that he's a crazy linguist) James Pennebaker likes to point out, much meaning can reside under seemingly the most insignificant word choices such as pronouns.  Therefore, the "hope" line might be regarded as an invitation not to further communicate. Perhaps the writer really hopes not so much that you're doing well, but that he or she will not hear from you again.  This line seems to especially pop up when an email conversation could be generated, but the writer of the email is too busy to pursue it beyond an initial response but still wants to seem polite.  Thus, the lines of communication are kept open in the phatic sense, but in a realistic sense they are being closed.  It certainly is more polite than not replying to a message at all.

But maybe I am reading too much into it.  In any case, dear reader, I hope that you are doing well. 


Sunday, July 1, 2012

YIP!: Hero Comics 2012

Every year, Hero Initiative publishes a benefit comic book, and every year I buy it even though it's usually not very good, being filled with castoff and quickie stories from a hodgepodge of  comics creators.

Why do I buy it then?

It's for a good cause.  Hero helps out comics creators in trouble, often older folks.  Since most comics creators are freelancers, they seldom have health care insurance, so many of them get devastated financially when they have a serious health issue.  Sometimes though, the comics folks are just hard-up and out of work.  The current benefit comic showcases the stories of Tom Ziuko, Russ Heath, Alan Kupperburg, and Robert Washington, names all familiar to me from decades of comics reading.  I found Heath's story to be the most ironic.  In it, he notes how Roy Lichtenstein sold a painting based on a comics panel drawn by Heath for $4 million dollars, while Heath got nothing.  He currently is 84 years old and survives on Social Security.  Thankfully, Hero has helped him out when he's needed it.

Sometimes even superheroes need to be rescued.