Nice Amazon Review of “Honk Honk, My Darling”

honk-frontWas just putzing around on Amazon last night and came across the following recent review of Rex Koko’s first caper. As you might imagine, it made my night. This is one of the cool things about being a writer, that someone actually “gets” what I’m striving for, that there’s a kindred spirit out there somewhere who wants desperately to visit Top Town someday. (Of course, my lonely black-hole of an ego will certainly pay too much attention to these kind of reviews.)

“The writing is detailed and the dialogue is witty, and the setting itself is really fun and original. I’ve been recommending the book to everyone I know, so I figured a review encouraging others to check it out was in order. The author definitely deserves a pat on the back, for coming up with such an entertaining concept and carrying out the delivery so well.”

So take her point. Make sure to review the books you enjoy online at places like Amazon and Goodreads, or write tweets and blogs about them. It’s how we can continue to entertain you mooks.



CIA Torture Memo and the Holidays!

nosenseofshameI read this piece last week at The Paper Machete, my favorite reading series in Chicago (weekly and free!). They gave me the option to tackle something a little more light-hearted than CIA torture and cover-up, like the war in Nigeria, but I said no way. If I don’t have the chops to find something funny in a horrendous scandal and terrible abrogation of American (not to mention human) values, then I should just hang up my quill, pour my vitriol down the sink, and start writing greeting cards.

This was greeted alternately with big laffs and stunned silence, so I think I hit my mark. Please read it all the way through.

Liberty Baptisms! Rectal feeding! Cheers!



To: all active and inactive field operatives in Southern Asia

FROM: District Director Colin Braidlowe

RE: Guidelines and suggestions for addressing recent allegations during the holidays

Hello to all you men and women on the hidden front lines of freedom. As the winter holidays begin, many of you will be taking time off and mingling with your family, friends and assorted civilians. The holidays are a welcome break from the daily grind, a time for merrymaking and random surveilling, and as I’m sure you all know from experience, denying to everyone you work for the CIA. (If you need new ideas explaining to prying busybodies what you do for a living, please download the informative PDF, “Tinker, Tailor, Import/Export Systems Engineer, Spy: A Guide to Undercover Professions.”)

When mingling with civilians, the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on our work in Afghanistan is likely to come up. When it does, please do not overreact and call the office to arrange an extradition. These are your fellow countrymen we’re talking about! Besides, just like every other office in the country, we will be short-handed around Langley! Take the time to make this an opportunity for covert education.


Some civilians will inaccurately claim the Senate Committee report describes activities that are illegal. This is an unveracity. Remember, every activity in the report was deemed legal by the DOJ of President Bush. Therefore, each activity was legal in a strictly legal sense. More importantly — and some civilians might not grasp this quickly — each complied with the law as we see it! If we are to have a government of laws, this is an important distinction. If the CIA followed every legal interpretation from every Dept. of Justice from every administration that happened along, we’d be running around with hoods over our heads, with our hands tied behind our backs in our tighty whiteys. This would distract the CIA from its mission, whatever it happens to be at the time. The law is important, certainly, but it is only one tool in freedom’s toolbox. And it doesn’t even plug in.


The following are potentially explosive words to avoid in conversation, with their recommended replacements:

The T word. Under no circumstances do agency personnel use the T word. If the NY Times can avoid using the T-word for 13 years, so can you. Our official term for these activities is enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs. Other substitutions include Truth or Dare, innocent chinwag, Hell’s 20 questions, or the power powwow.

Extended sleep deprivation, can be referred to as non-slumber parties, cramming for finals, and Rockin’ in the Free World.

Extended enforced Isolation: can be referred to as a chance to reflect, a Calgon moment, or a little “me” time.

Waterboarding. Alternative terms include hydro-aversion therapy, Liberty baptisms, and the Neti pot. This is a very emotional subject. Try and deflect discussion of liberty baptisms by talking about old family vacations on the beach. If this doesn’t work, appeal to their sense of nostalgia. Remind everyone that the US Army waterboarded prisoners during the Spanish-American War and the US occupation of the Philippines. To really take control of things, stand up and emotionally declare, “If it’s good enough for Teddy Roosevelt, it’s good enough for me.”

Rectal feeding. This practice has attracted much sensational and unfortunate attention, and will continue to do so unless we reverse the flow immediately. The agency’s new narrative is easy to swallow, and we must feed it to the public in any way we can imagine. If our official narrative has cracks that are not plugged, the constant drip-drip-drip of bad news will foul the air, sap our strength and leave us with a red eye …. A black eye.

Avoid the topic of rectal feeding whenever possible. When helping in the kitchen for the big holiday meal, be careful not to bring it up. Likewise, when the turkey is being stuffed, it is not recommended that you comment, “That’s not how we did it at Baghram,” even as a joke, or that you start screaming at the turkey that you are going to kill his whole brood if he doesn’t spill everything he knows.

Actionable intelligence. You may meet critics who assert that none of the agency’s “innocent chinwags” produced any useful intelligence. These critics unfortunately do not understand the intelligence business. We firmly believe our chinwags do uncover information that is otherwise unobtainable, whether evidence for this exists or not. As CIA Director Brennan told Congress Thursday, “the cause and effect relationship between the application of those EITs and the ultimate provision of the information is unknown and unknowable.”

So turn the tables on critics and ask them why get so angry about something that is unknowable? If we cannot prove our chinwags result in reliable information, doesn’t it follow that we cannot prove other techniques provide good intelligence? What is the nature of knowledge anyway? What proof can be relied on in this imperfect world? This should get some of the philosophy majors off your back. Also, bring up Schrödinger’s cat, firmly locked in a coffin-like box.

Often you can turn accusations into a chance for humor. When someone says, “This brutality in Afghanistan makes us no better than the Nazis,” you can say, “No, it doesn’t. Heh heh. The Nazis kept better records.”

As a final reminder, the Agency is always on the lookout for bright, patriotic individuals to help protect our freedoms, as well as America’s. This latest PR problem will frankly hinder our recruiting efforts for the next several years. So when you are hanging out with your unemployed cousin, or shooting pool in your hometown tavern with your dead-end high school classmates, casually discuss the many job opportunities now available (without mentioning us by name, of course). Remember, not only were many of our Afghan interrogators completely untrained in police tactics, questioning, and even the local languages, but the designers of the interrogation program themselves also had zero experience in the basics of the field. These are the kind of success stories that should excite anyone interested in working for the agency.

Happy holidays to all. Please eat this memo.


“John McAfee” Testifies Before Congress for THE PAPER MACHETE

Last week I had the distinct honor and pleasure to perform again at THE PAPER MACHETE, which has become my favorite reading series/cabaret in Chicago. It takes place every Saturday afternoon at 3 at the legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Uptown. Christopher Piatt has been setting up some amazing shows this year — with Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, Al Madrigal, and Nora Dunn, to name a few of the bigwigs — but every week, he presents wonderful music and hilarious/scintillating readings from performers all over Chicago. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

In his “Salon in a saloon”, Christopher is interested in exploring the events of the week. You pitch him some ideas by Wednesday, he expects something killer on Saturday. The week of my appearance, the inadequacies of the ACA website was big in the news, and word had leaked that House GOP leaders had wanted to meet with software pioneer and not-at-all-a-fugitive-from-Belize John McAfee. That meeting never took place, in part because Congress wouldn’t spring for the guy’s airfare, but I decided to write what I thought would be his public testimony before the committee. I have an audio file from it, but can’t figure out how to change its format.

So, to clarify, here’s me acting like him. Enjoy.

The following is a transcript of the remarks made by John McAfee to the House Committee, if they had paid his airfare to go to DC.

Hi There. I’d like to thank the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for inviting me to speak here today. Thank you, Congressman Upton, and the other people on the committee, their security detail, their staff members, and that cute little intern hiding back there next to the flagpole. Yes, you. How old are you, dear? What? 21?

I’m tech guru John McAfee, founder of McAfee Anti-Virus software, thrill seeker, life liver. I’ve been asked for my opinion on the Obamacare website because of my name recognition. Congressman Upton tells me he sees my name every time he switches on his computer. I’ll keep my comments brief to make way for his other invited speakers, Mr. Java, Mr. Adobe, and from France, Mr. Google.

In my life I’ve started and then sold 15 different companies. It’s not easy being a tech visionary, though the drugs do help. The Obamacare website is Without a doubt the worst designed project I’ve seen since my failed online venture,

I won’t bullshit you, congressman. That’s not what I do. I’m a straight shooter and a maverick. You know I’m a maverick because I’ll say bullshit in a committee hearing, especially in front of reporters. I’m also a trickster. A Gazillionaire. A voodoo priest. A joker, a smoker….Did I say Maverick yet?

People always ask me, Did you really sleep with 10 17-year-old girls? At 67 years old? And I have to say, Yep, Yep I did.

A child can can see the Obamacare website is an unuseable mess. I know how government contracts work. I realize most of the programming was subscontracted to Canada. I have two big problems with Canada: A small tech community, and very sticky extradition laws. Believe me.

Continue reading ““John McAfee” Testifies Before Congress for THE PAPER MACHETE”

New “Paper Machete” Essay: A Bigger, Brighter Wrigley Field

Hi all. A few weeks ago, I read the following essay at one of my favorite live lit shows here in Chicago, The Paper Machete. If you have not been to this show yet — held every Saturday at the history-sodden Green Mill Lounge at 3 pm, with FREE admission, no less — then you should do yourself a favor and haul your keister over there. Great readers, great comedians, and sometimes great/always interesting musicians. The best thing since indoor plumbing (hey, the Green Mill even has THAT!)

One of the big news stories of the week had been the proposed renovation of Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood. The plans involved, among other things, more than 35000 square feet of advertising signage at the intersection of Clark and Addison Streets. I decided to get a little snarky about it. Quel surprise!


Chicagoans are used to threats. We get em all the time. Threats of random street violence. School closings. Government bankruptcy. A second term for Rahm Emanuel.

Now add to that, the threat that owner Tom Ricketts will take his Chicago Cubs out of the city – lock, stock and Marmol – if he can’t get approval to renovate the area around the park and install scads of gargantuan video screens inside Wrigley Field. As threats come, it’s about as hollow as Sammy Sosa’s bat.

He told a business luncheon crowd this week, “I’m not sure how anyone is going to stop the signs in the outfield, but if it comes to the point that we don’t have the ability to do what we need to do in our outfield, then we’re going to have to consider moving.”

Whoa, harsh! If Denzel Washington heard the word “consider”, how fast would the bad-guy corpses start piling up. That’s the kind of hard-charging, take-no-prisoners attitude that made the Cubs what they are today!

First off, where would Ricketts “consider” moving? Rosemont? How peaceful, to rebuild the Friendly Confines within a few hundred yards of the runways at O’Hare.

Maybe a bigger market, like Las Vegas? It’d be tough to build a brand new stadium in a place only slightly less mobbed-up than Rosemont.

Besides, years of negotiations have already happened, among the team, the mayor, the alderman, and the neighborhood. The only hurdle now is the rooftop owners, who worry that the new signage will block their view of games over the wall. If you can only get off on baseball voyeuristically by peeking over the wall like a guy in loose, dirty sweatpants, there’s no better place to be.

The rooftop owners are painting themselves as the little guy in this contest. Some national reporters have even described them as a “neighborhood tradition”. Now, a real neighborhood tradition would involve a picnic table, cheap folding chairs and a cooler of beer, like it did 20 years ago, and not small corporations cramming Miller 64 and chicken wings into people either too claustrophobic to wedge into a stadium seat or too dumb to use StubHub. However, compared to all other commercial ventures in Wrigleyville — ah, Wrigleyville, that friendly northside village where the leafy country lanes stream with beer and vomit – compared with them, the rooftop owners are like Mr. Hooper on “Sesame Street”.

Continue reading “New “Paper Machete” Essay: A Bigger, Brighter Wrigley Field”

To The Victor Goes the Loving Cup of Deathless F*cking Glory

Last night saw a literary showdown of epic proportions.

At Write Club, no one is under the delusion that all the speakers are equally worthy. It’s a literary competition with winners and losers, just like life, dammit. Two writer/performers go head-to-head on opposing topics, and one combatant is declared the winner by audience applause. The winner gets to take home the Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory, as well as designate a portion of the proceeds to his/her favorite charity, while the loser must dwell in the Cathedral of Eternal Shame. This is Literature as Blood Sport.

It’s always a helluva fun time, and for those of you living in LA, Atlanta, Athens, Toronto or San Francisco, I urge you to go out and see it. Have a drink and wear a cup. It ain’t the Kiddie Pool.

Last night I competed at the birthplace of Write Club, The Hideout in Chicago. My opponent was none other than the daddy of Write Club itself, the charismatic yet loathable Ian Belknap. We argued our sides of the eternal debate of “Solid vs. Liquid”. After having won the rock-paper-scissors preliminary, I chose to go second. In arguing for “Solid”, Ian spent much of his time deriding Aquaman as the most pathetic of all superheroes. A classic gambit, to belittle the opposing side before bringing out your unassailable persuasive arguments. Only problem: his arguments were very assailable.

Which I did — assail them, that is — and walked home with bloody knuckles and the impressive piece of hardware above, as well as a small piece of the world’s adulation. Below is a quick recording of my victorious defense of the notion of “Liquid”, as well as the text of the argument. I hope you’ll agree with the audience that this is what you would necessarily call an irrefutable argument.




Think back, to the beginning of our planet. The Big Bang is old news, and our little ball of gas has cooled and condensed. For hundreds of millions of years there’s nothing to see but churning waves of a chemical sea, methane and hydrogen raining and evaporating, over and over. A primordial soup. A liquid planet. And from that funky primordial pho, shaken and stirred and shot through with lightning, emerges life.

Amino acids are cooked up first, then proteins and single-cell organisms. Then worms, jellyfish, snails as big as your head, ravaging massive sea beasties sleek as balloon animals with razor sharp teeth. Armored fish, bi-curious amphibians, blah blah animals, and ultimately Kurt Vonnegut.

For this alone, let honest rational people agree: liquids rule it over solids, for without liquids there would be no proteins, no milkshakes, no protein milkshakes. And no Kurt Vonnegut.

Like Capital-L “Life”, every one of our own biographies is written in liquid. First, two parents had to get together which, depending on the circumstances and no offense, might have needed some liquid to get started. A couple Long Island ice teas, a hot tub, the liquid sounds of the Reverend Al Green. Then, after some friction and energy spent, half a little you erupts from your father, swimming like a maniac, seeking in its damp new world the other half of you. Then a lucky zygote luxuriates for nine wet months of squishy cell division.

In liquid we form a spinal column, lose our gills and vestigial tails – (some of us) – sprout arms and legs, gain wiggly fingers, maybe endure some Mozart if the parents are trying to bake a perfect child.

What are humans anyway, but ambulatory punchbowls? In the final tally, we are 98% liquid. Plasma, bile, blood, sweat and, tears, spit and polish, piss and vinegar, the milk of human kindness.

Solids in the human body? Tumors. Kidney stones. Blood clots. Constipation. Nothing but trouble.

Continue reading “To The Victor Goes the Loving Cup of Deathless F*cking Glory”

Jailbreak! Update!

On December 22, I read the essay below at a performance of my favorite Chicago reading series right now, The Paper Machete. Four days earlier, two inmates from Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) staged a daring escape, only the second time in its history that the building has been compromised like that. The picture to the right (credit: Associated Press and Chicago Reader) should give you a hint why. This picture actually makes it look more inviting than it is. The windows are about 6 inches wide.

The story of how the two inmates escaped is actually pretty ingenious (you can read about it here at the Chicago Tribune). For the week before Christmas, the city was wondering what was going on. Frankly, despite the fact that the inmates were considered dangerous, most people weren’t taking it very seriously. It was a welcome diversion from fiscal cliff discussions and the memory of the Newtown massacre. My daughter actually goes to school about four blocks from the MCC, but I wasn’t really worried about her safety. These guys couldn’t be dumb enough to hang around the jail, could they?

No, but they weren’t much more ambitious. The flashier inmate was captured on Dec. 21, in the apartment of an acquaintance. Now, we get word that the other inmate — the one I call “The Escapee Without a Nickname” — has been caught, too, in the vicinity of an old apartment of his. A rather disappointing ending. Their escape held such promise, but these guys never planned for Act II.

Anyway, the essay is here, below the fold. Often, the Paper Machete will post audio files of some of its performers, but for about two weeks, this hasn’t been the case.

Continue reading “Jailbreak! Update!”

Podcast Recording for “Was Jesus Married?”

For those of you out there who are “auditory learners” or want to fall asleep to my smooth-as-cocoa vocal stylings, here’s the audio recording of my essay from last week’s Paper Machete, posted by Kate Dries and the grand folks over at WBEZ.

To all my fondly remembered teachers at Catholic Central HS, I hope you take this as part of a constructive debate. You always tried to get us to think for ourselves, which may have been your undoing.

Was Jesus Married?

My contribution to the latest installment of The Paper Machete, Chicago’s live newsmagazine/reading series, which happened last Saturday:

Big news this week in the field of papyrology, that is, the study of ancient papyrus scrolls. (and when you ponder whether YOUR degree has gotten you very far, think of that.) A small piece of ancient papyrus, much smaller than a placemat from Pier One, was discovered to contain writing that could or could not shake the foundations of the Christian religion.

First, a little background. At the end of last year, a papyrus collector (and I should warn you, never get cornered at a party by a papyrus collector) brought the scrap to the Harvard Divinity school. Dr. Karen King, noted papyrologist, examined the scrap, showed it to colleagues at the secretive and exclusive Papyrus League Club, and determined that it was not a forgery. This week, Dr. King announced her findings would be published soon in US Weekly (really, the Harvard Theological Review).

The scrap, cut from a larger scroll, contained seven lines of sentence fragments. Among these were the words: “Jesus said, My wife.”

Now, I’d like to get address the elephant in the room and head straight for the Borscht Belt treatment: Jesus said, “My wife wants to take a vacation, spark up our LOVE life. Wants to go to the Dead Sea. I say, Why the Dead Sea? She says, it reminds me of our love life.”

And also: How can you tell that Jesus was married? He brings 5000 people over and then asks, “Hey, have we got any food?”

The headlines screamed the predictably sensational question, “Was Jesus married?” The expert from Harvard answered strongly that she had no idea. The sentence wasn’t complete, it had no context, the scrap had been cut from a larger papyrus we don’t have. It was written 150 years after the death of Jesus, who as you remember, was someone prone to speak a little cryptically. It could have been the start of a parable, analogy, mystical figurative allusion, or something else.

But I ask you, what’s more fun, scholarship or baseless conjecture? Then let’s get to it.

There is no clue as to the identity of the woman mentioned. Some traditions in the early Common Era have held that Jesus had a more-than-platonic relationship with Mary Magdalene, the prostitute turned disciple. This was exploited for Biblical Broadway hotness in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and for the members of the Wal-Mart Book Society in The DaVinci Code. If Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, at least she’d be travelling with him and not stuck back in Podunk-areth.

The idea that Jesus was married does more than make the New Testament more saleable as a Lifetime mini-series. (You know somewhere the concept has been pitched, and a producer has said, “I like the story, but this guy Jesus, he needs to be sexed up.”) If the scrap proves to be accurate, it might shake the foundations of the Christian church as we know it, at least until the church as we know it squelches it.

(The collector who owns the scrap, by the way, has chosen to remain anonymous. He says it’s because he doesn’t want to be flooded with requests to sell it. But we all know what he’s really afraid of: Vatican ninjas!)

Continue reading “Was Jesus Married?”

As Bozo Might Say, We Now Have 3 Pulitzer “Almost Winners”

Those who follow the publishing world intently (which means basically, the people in publishing and journalism, and maybe a bookseller or two) already know that the Pulitzer prize for fiction was not awarded this year. The three-person jury passed their three nominated books to the Pulitzer board, who then failed to rally behind a single winner and opted not to give the award this year.

I like to imagine that the reason for their decision was really the fact that the whole committee had stayed up late reading Honk Honk, My Darling, and didn’t have time to plow through David Foster Wallace’s salute to the boredom in an IRS office. Such delusions keep me alive like Nick Fury and his Infinity Formula. Please don’t deny me my lifeblood!

So I spoke on the subject at the Paper Machete, my newest fave reading series in Chicago that tries to attack the big stories in the news every week. The MP3 for the performance is below. If you’d like to hear the entire show each week, you can subscribe to it at iTunes or catch individual performances at

Would You Read a Book that Was Almost a Pulitzer Winner?

Santorum’s Right: We Must Stop Our Love Affair with Snobs

The Paper Machete is a great reading series that happens every Saturday afternoon, 3 pm, at the Horseshoe in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. Last week, I was lucky enough to read a little current events piece, about what a socio-economic genius Rick Santorum is. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t really serious.) In my usual way, I take a premise and completely squeeze the life out of it, then play monkey-in-the-middle with its carcass.

Luckily, in this wired age, host Christopher Piatt took the time to record it, and now you can hear it by going to WBEZ-FM at the link below. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed all the rest of the show. If you live in Chicago, go check out The Paper Machete. Quality stuff from beginning to end, and it’s free.

Keep Your Kid Out of College, Stop a Snob in the Making!

Writer’s Corner: Productivity

So, this has been a very productive week. This raises two questions: Why? and How can it happen again?

I can figure out the why to some extent. The week of Thanksgiving (and a lot of the week before that) was a bust, work-wise. Hosting meant a lot of legwork, cleaning, and family obligations. Turkey Day itself was quite enjoyable, though we didn’t get to finish our “Treehouse of Horror” Monopoly game. And it was also sublimely enjoyable to watch Liesel sing in “Boris Godunov” again, on Wednesday night.

The rest of the week, though, was one big obligation. Certain family members were here who usually bring out the worst in me, who without knowing it cause all the bad habits of mind and character I’ve been trying to change for most of my life to crawl to the surface again. A lot of psychic energy is needed to fend off these habits, which can get very frustrating. Everyone knows the feeling of how old family roles begin to take shape again when relatives visit. Sometimes these can be laughed off, and sometimes they can’t.

Of course, this only shows you how fitting my “family role” — touchy, overly sensitive, impatient aesthete with strange tastes and dismissible opinions — must be. If I’m so touchy about being reminded that I’ve always had an unpleasant personality, well then, it must be true, right? This unavoidable, “unassailable” circular logic can make you want to punch a brick wall after a few days, so it was a relief to get it off my back. Maybe this was the kind of “slingshot” effect I needed to dig into work and produce.

I don’t recommend this type of “therapy” be used very often, but harnessing the negative energy when it does might be useful. (And any relatives who might be reading this will know, by that fact, that I’m not talking about them.)

This week, I managed to rewrite about 9000 words, mix a huge podcast and record another. And yesterday I wrote a complete story for my upcoming project, Tea Party Fairy Tales, in one sitting. Oh, and winning the Book of the Year from the Chicago Writers Association also put a little wind in my sails. I think it also helped that materials I’ve been waiting for from other people started to arrive, so I got the feeling of deadlines needing to be met. (This might be the No. 1 hurdle to get over when self-employed. Deadlines can get very flexible, especially if I want to avoid a crowd at the grocery store, so the extra effort that could go into meeting them gets diverted. I’ve tried everything in the book to get deadlines to stick, but it gets harder and harder.)

Now the tougher question: How to keep it going? Hard to say. My work habits don’t change much between fertile and fallow periods. My ass is still in the chair 5 hours a day. Creation, reflection, promotion, household maintenance and screwing off in various degrees fill the day. This week a sense of urgency was calling me, with the literal feeling of grabbing me by the nose and pulling me forward. It’s the closest thing I have to feeling “inspired.” She’s a fickle bitch, that muse of mine. I don’t like to rely on inspiration. I’m more the type of guy who wants to get something good done a little bit every day. Sometimes that little bit never comes, and all the devilish voices of doubt start coming from the corners of the room. Then, sometimes writing comes in a burst, along with promotion ideas, organizational breakthroughs, and other tag-alongs, flotsam and debris. Time stretches out, and everything seems doable.

Is it a question of my basic disposition? A passing mood? Is it the standard for every writer but Stephen King, and doesn’t even bear looking at?

I really don’t know. I think all I can do is treat the work and progress this week like molten glass, something that forces urgency to be made into something bigger, something further, something useful. Maybe the load of unfinished work will quicken my mind next week and not drag me down into despair. (I don’t believe in Hemingway’s bromide of stopping short of completion at the end of the day, to leave “something in the well” for the next session. Never got me anything except a lot of unfinished paragraphs.) And maybe the looming work break at Christmastime (with the promise of more interaction with blood relatives) will light a fire under me too.

My Expertiousness, Part I

A couple weeks ago, I got an email out of the blue from an ABC News reporter who wanted to talk about L. Frank Baum and the myths that surround The Wizard of OZ. (A couple years ago, I wrote a review for a new bio of Baum.) We talked for a long time, very fun, and then she included me in her article like I was a professorial, talking-head type of guy. The article can be found here.

Little known fact: Baum called his landscape “OZ” because that was the serving size he required for his sinsemilla. And the Lion was meant to refer to Haile Salassie, the “Lion of Judah”, even though he was only 8 years old at the time.

Don’t believe me? Try that little trick with the movie and “Dark Side of the Moon.” Properly baked, of course.

January Lassitude

Freezing mornings. Long stretches of silence. Ice-covered streets. This is a time of year I love. It’s also the time of year I go a little stir-crazy in my basement and start to think that I’ve got to get some kind of job.

Teaching. Editing. Stacking shelves. Anything seems good. Anything that will get me out into the world and interacting with people. Anything where someone is expecting me to show up.

I know. It’s not like I live on a ranch in Manitoba. I’m not drinking at 10 and eying the shotgun. And it sounds a little snobby to say that I think I need a job to mingle. I realize I’m very fortunate to still be able to live off my earnings. I know most writers would kill to have the time I have to scribble. But there it is.

Except this year feels a little different. The yearning to show up and be needed someplace is a little less acute. The cause of this might be that I’m the househusband now, and I’m doing most of the cooking, washing and chauffeuring of offspring. I’ve got a part-time job to keep me busy, and the family needs me because I’m keeping things on an even keel for everyone. Without me, there’d be a lot more frozen dinners and general screaming about where to find clean underwear.

Maybe my mind is also finally used to the fact that I go through this every January. I’ll bug friends for contacts and make phone calls and almost seriously consider interviewing for a teaching job. But now I realize that my reasons for doing so are half-assed and temporary. When March comes around, I’ll feel less constrained and a little more alive.

Right now, I’m not so productive. The writing projects I’m in the midst of feel like long slogs with no real roadmap or purpose. Piles of bookkeeping and paperwork clutter up the office like carcasses that need to be disposed of (especially now that I’ve got my e-books up and I have to start acting like a PR person, accountant and publisher). And around early afternoon, I start to think like a domestic engineer and get my June Cleaver on.

But it doesn’t seem too bad this year. I’ve got a feeling productivity will come, if I just keep pushing, and in the end, I won’t have shortchanged anyone who would hire me with my distractable frame of mind and self-centered habits.

As American as the Disgruntled Loner

Been reading so much for the past few days on the shooting in Tucson, way too much. A little bit has been about the actual incident, but most of it is about trying to figure out if anyone besides the shooter is to blame. What caused him to do it? Talk radio? Mein Kampf? Mental illness? Smoking pot (Thanks, David Frum, for never ignoring the truly ridiculous)?

I’m hoping it makes people consider what kind of America they want to live in. Of course, I thought about that after the Oklahoma City Bombing, and after 9/11, that it might cause some soul-searching. I was wrong, or maybe I didn’t like the answer. Maybe the Price of Freedom (speech, guns, or from responsibility) is worth the price of a dead nine-yr-old, a federal judge, and some retirees. For some people, it probably is, but it’s time for everyone to come clean about it.

Come on, America — we KNOW ourselves. We know our neighbors and our second cousins. Do we really think that everyone here has evolved enough to resist being driven crazy by all this violent blather?

I’m glad Sarah Palin finally commented on the shooting, and not surprised that she acted defensively, meanly, lashing out against her critics instead of showing a little humanity and humility. Can you imagine what goes on in that head? Nine people dead, and still, it’s all about her. And to describe a media-manufactured “blood libel”? Good God, how ignorant. “Blood libel” — does anyone with more than a high school education vet her comments? I don’t know if I’m more repulsed by her ignorance or her narcissism, but the end result is the same. She’s shown herself to be incapable of responding to a crisis in any kind of useful way.

Of course, I don’t blame Palin for the shooting — she’s just the visible coiffed head of the GOP right now. She also happens to use violent rhetoric and images constantly, and loves showing off how poorly she can handle a hunting rifle. The whole conservative movement is to blame, for not calling out the elements within it that wave the bloody shirt and scream about revolution. I don’t blame the “Tea Partiers”–I blame SOME of the Tea Partiers who, in their rage that the country will soon have a non-white majority, wave their guns around and scream about taking their country back by force, “blood of tyrants watering the tree of liberty” and all that bullying crap. I’m glad that Rep. Clyburn from South Carolina pointed out the rhetorical calls for violence reminds him of the civil rights era, and how hot tempers and manipulative speeches can contribute to getting people killed.

Or as the guy at Driftglass said, It’s not just one of them, it’s ALL of them.

While there’s a bunch of renewed talk about gun control now, it will come to zilch. I doubt there will be even the slightest tightening of Arizona’s laws, about which I know nothing. We’ve been told giving up any gun rights will lead to tyranny, so now we’ll have to deal with the tyranny of fear.

What I would hope is that the massacre might start a conversation about mental illness and how we try and ignore it. We still don’t know if the shooter had had any type of treatment for what was happening to him, but we know for certain that nobody was surprised by his actions. His outbursts and his violent nihilism was obvious to everyone in his life, apparently. Was there any attempt to treat him? I read one story that half the people in his home county had had their treatments for mental illness discontinued this year. It’s not the common cold — you can’t tell people to “tough it out” and get on with their lives.

Ever since deinstitutionalism in the 1980s, we’ve all seen people wandering the streets who should be getting some psychiatric care. Do they all become assassins? Thankfully no, but the way we treat them as disposable is a reflection of how we value life in this country. We shouldn’t be surprised when someone acts savagely, when we treat so many people as less-than-human.