In the center of a very small room is a small handmade table, atop which sits a bell of the kind one holds between thumb and forefinger and gives a little jangle to set the angels alight. There is also a placard. "Only ring this bell," it says, "if you want to die." Beside this table is a chair. I sit in this chair. Someone will enter, smile, and ring the bell. Inside this brief paragraph lies the definition of why some of us should never fall in love.
Time for brutal honesty, and brutal honesty requires a lexicon out of the norm, so here it is: I've bollocksed-up every relationship I've ever been in. How? By being me. Me the arrogant prick of a high schooler bollocksing up his first shot at romance (with a flooping beautiful genius I might add; nice, asshole); me the clueless collegiate who somehow inexplicably and totally unknowingly bollocksed up a fling with said genius' best friend (bestie didn't go to our high school, totally random entanglement. Go figure); me bollocksing up with adult women who somehow managed to tolerate me for more than the length of the average Hollywood blockbuster. Hell, one of them even married me. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. Me, me, me. Not that I'm bad. Not that I'm evil. I can be charming. I genuinely care. I may not be Ryan Gosling 'Hey Girl' quality but I could probably manage one of Taye Diggs' romantic roles. For a few minutes.
I am analytical. I am not hyper emotional. Even though I'm the most honest person in the world I lie. A lot. Not like a politician or that one kid who you can't stand coming around to see your kids. My lies are to protect the continuity of the time line. See, like that. I'm critical, curious, and a bit of a pain in the precious ass. And I can't stand the notion of "people." Yes. You guessed it. A writer. Not that other people aren't pains in the ass. Certainly not that all writers--or to extend, creative minded people--bollocks things as a matter of course. Myself, though, being a practicing Noble Moron (to pilfer Harlan Ellison's excellent wordage), am steadfastly an infallible engine of romantic self-immolation. I will find that one worrying quality (or 3 or 35--I may bollocks but I'm not the sole dancer in those Burning Man festivals) about someone and douse us both in gasoline whilst striking up a rhythmic cadence using flint rocks. Burning Man is not all it's cracked up to be.
It could be that, as with lactose intolerance, some of us should simply avoid behaviors that might lead to others falling in love with us. We should perhaps come with those friendly, even-toned announcers who tell us all the mortal side effects of our giant pharmaceutical companies' cocaine-fueled sadist fantasies, i.e. whatever latest product they've lobbied through.
Warning. Do not love this person if seeking long term feelings of security and bliss. Should undue emotional attachment occur seek help immediately. In case of heartbreak know that this person was sincere but happens to be an idiot. Yes. A writer.
You get the idea.
But know what? I'm actually kind of cool with the idea of being (and this sounds harsh but it isn't) unlovable. I have run, crawled, and walked some odd roads to lead to a pounding epiphany--one nearly sacrilegious in our couples-crazed world--that I, me, this idiot who, despite not having scores of supple book groupies and Joyce Carol Oates' number on speed dial, really has nothing to complain about that he didn't create his own bloody self, I need peace more than I need love. Everybody's definition of peace is different. As far as creativity is concerned, mine requires a nearly hermit-like state of being. Detachment and silence as mental aphrodisiac.
Soft, shaven, delicate bollocks.
In other words, useless.
Yes. A writer. This one, at any rate. One whom, having seen his own ass so many times, you'd think would enjoy hindsight as fore, but no. No, he falls in love. Always does. The trick though is don't you fall in love with him.
A love bizarre.
I hate formulaic stuff with a passion. I hate knowing where you're going before the engine has even warmed up, why you're going there, and how you plan to get there. It's disrespectful to me and puts you, the creator, in a bad light, you having done the math and decided your product belonged to the lowest common denominator. I'm not saying there's no skill involved in generating formulaic stuff. There are people the world over who've made excellent careers in the fabulous field of regurgitainment, folks for whom saying "They're very good at what they do, but what they do is not very good" applies. Throw 10 Hollywood blockbusters in the air and you'll know what I'm talking about. But where's the respect? Where's the stuff you'll remember 10 years from now? 20? Big Trouble in Little China. Buckaroo Banzai. The Host. Attack the Block. Citizen Kane. Yes, I'm showing my geek streak. These movies had sparks of creativity way beyond paint-by-numbers. We won't go into the politics of what killed that spark (time traveling Reagan) but around the latter eighties a golden ratio of bullshit, spectacle, idolatry, and laziness was found, and every creative genre driven by the word has been following it since. I think writers have forgotten just how powerful they are. The word. In the beginning is always the word. How to break the spell of somnambulism? Well for one thing, time Merlin stopped staring at Morgana's tits. Formulaic wares are fascinated with adolescence. We now have a culture engineered to be non-taxing to a 14 year-old male brain. Even when directed at 35-50 year olds. And fascination with women as objects rather than creative drivers is a prime integer in the formulaic plan. Right now in 2016 we are still debating the merits of women authors, directors, composers, thespians, and onward. Even what should be a non-issue as the issue of equal pay is still an issue because it throws off the efficacy of the formula. Oh, and just to be utter bastards let's add in ethnicity, sexual orientation, country of origin, and whether one views the excellent combination of chicken & waffles as obscene or not...and see what the formula does with that!
It fucking implodes. That is, it does when the mathematician is 14 years old.
Real mathematicians--and they're out there in huge numbers, believe you me--know how to carry the one. ~~~
next, we talk about love. maybe.
At times things will happen that cause a body to go, "See! This is precisely why..." and sputter sputter, fume fume, reasons reasons, dammit or praise in an effort to convey that one either loves this place (Earth) or is done with it. Never sure which.
Maybe we can figure it out.
Purple Rain Is Nothing Without Hands Swaying In The Air (or: How I learned to stop exercising my mind so much and appreciate your body)
For expediency let's divide the general populace into 2 camps. Those who love Show & Tell and those who hate it. Those who love it, let's call "artists." Artists are necessary because those who hate Show & Tell nonetheless need markers and signs and guides just as much as anyone. They just can't be bothered with quibbly, uncomfortable, excavating action. So we can safely say there is no one more hard core than a poet, for poets pull flesh straight from the bone. Fiction writers such as myself fiddle with an inflamed tooth or will peel back a scab (unless you're Toni Morrison--bow down, mofos of unworthiness--in which case you're flaying straight to the atomic level with a calligraphic whip), but it takes a poet to taste what it is to be human and tongue that taste into real mouth; to reveal the truth that pain is often beautiful, which is the truth from which we most often run.
I'm not a poet though. At the height of my abilities, when I'm cooking with charcoal and the smoke is rising sweet and slow, I hope for my own particular hybrid of the two: fiction informed by the poet's bravery. See, if they're Showing & Telling you pain it's not 'cause they made it up. They're not as big liars as we fiction writers. It's because they've lived it. Came through it. Autopsied the hell out of it. Sewed it back up. Showed it the sun. Presented it to you. Died a little more for the day.
Damn if that isn’t something to strive for. As writers we try to hit the sweet spot with our words in the same fashion as a relay runner depositing the baton. It’s got to hit the right spot for the next runner to flow and take off; for the reader to take hold of our ephemera and run. You see the cheat here don’t you? We’re not the artists. We do the pass off. If we do it right we’re not showing or telling you anything. It’s all sleight of hand suggestions. You’re the artist. We’re holding our knees and breathing deeply, energized at sight of you taking that book/concerto/album/movie and tearing ass to complete the run. Damn, you guys can move. You might hate Show & Tell yourselves, but creativity would suck if not for the expertise you guys show at PE. Salud.
EIGHT MILLION SPEC SCRIPTS TO EARTH!
Eight million dollar Super Bowl commercial. A-list stars, 3D-level effects work, three minutes long and, for the first time ever, a real boob shot. Not an android boob. Full warm nipple. Every American on the planet tuned into that commercial--
“Ma, get in here, they’re showing it!”
--then it went dark. Tak Brazton shot a plasma hole in his TV and answered the phone on the first ring.
“Pandora event, Brazton,” the man with the English accent and fist permanently up his ass said. “What’s your situation?”
“Having sex and watching TV. Just blasted the TV.”
“Then I suggest the other hole and your ass in gear two seconds afterward.”
Brazton shifted to quarterback position. “Hauling ass.” He clicked off.
“That’s so tacky, Braz,” said Miranda, his London liaison. “And the TV? Grow the hell up.”
“You kill the rhythm when you talk, Panda. Shit just got real. Gonna need you to focus.”
Tak Brazton interrupted two things for sex: the Super Bowl was one. America was next. Fortunately he was in Britain.
“Somebody want to tell me in proper English why the hell I ran over seven brains with tails on my way here?”
“The en route briefing—”
“The en route briefing was shit. Where’d they drop in first?”
“Son of a bitch.” Super Bowl Sunday. Son of a bitch. Brazton pulled his shit together.
Just then a tight lab coat escorted a pair of breasts into Pidsby’s office. Lenore Tidsby, the only woman who’d ever made Tak Brazton cry in bed. Twice. She slapped her father’s desk with a stack of papers then swept a lock of red hair back in formation. “Sir.”
“Everybody knows that’s your father, Lenore,” said Tak.
“Shut the hell up, Brazton. Sir, these things are dropping fast. Every continent.”
“Not like the T was fooling anybody,” said Brazton.
“Shut the hell up, Brazton. No one’s done any calculations, sir, but at the rate these are falling the entire planet will be infested in two days.”
“Dammit!” said Major Pidsby.
“Dammit all,” breathed Tak.
“All the way to hell,” nodded Lenore. She slapped a second stack of papers no one had seen her holding. “Nothing is killing them fast enough.” She leaned on the desk, eyes steely. She had promised herself she’d never speak these words again, not after what happened last time, what happened between her and Rex Sadim, the man who had driven her to Tak’s arms after Tak had had to behead him for trying to take a bite out of her arm, that brilliant man who had become what he’d become for science. She leaned forward even more. Tak glanced down her blouse. “We need zombies.”
Pidsby glanced nervously between his daughter and Tak. “Do you think that’s…wise?”
“Yes, father,” she said, dropping the pretense in this desperate hour, “I loved a zombie. I loved him in all the ways a woman can love.” She cupped herself through the labcoat. “I gave him these and more, and …and yes, I will love again.”
“And you, Tak?” asked Pidsby.
Tak cupped his crotch. “I loved him like a brother,” he said vehemently. He leaned forward too, his crotch against Pidsby’s desk, oak to walnut, a promise traveling the length of his length to the very foundations of the Scientific Paramilitary Inquiry & Tactics division of T.A.K.E, of which he was on loan from the United States. “I’m behind Lenore one hundred percent. I’ll love her the same.”
Pidsby clenched his jaw. He stood. He leaned. His desk wasn’t that large. Tak and Lenore moved back a bit.
Eye to eye he said the words that would, by whatever gods were available and listening, be those which saved mankind. “With you behind her, we’ll make sure these things get their full comeuppance. Godspeed, Agent Brazton.”
“We keep the zombies in cold storage,” she said as they raced to the elevator. Tak stabbed the button. Hard. Lenore swept a lock of red hair back in place. Hard.
“Rex bit three other people before he ever got around to attacking me.”
“Damn the secrets of lovers!”
“What about us, Tak? Are there any secrets between us?”
The elevator was slow. This could potentially be their last mission. “I’m not really circumcised, I just have hella foreskin control.” She deserved to know.
Her eyes softened. “Thank you.”
They waited quietly for the elevator.
The elevator came. They raced to the zombies.
The zombies were fricking hideous, and smelled, being mostly thawed. It would have to do. “Wrap them to go,” Lenore Tidsby, the fabulous scientist no man had yet tamed told the young science whiz in the wheelchair who had never learned to express his true yearning for an unbound life in any way outside of dissecting something. She felt sorry for him. Victoria in R&D had said she’d go down on him if he’d only asked.
“But,” he wanted to caution Lenore, which was all he said because she slapped the hell out of him.
“This is a global extinction Pandora level event, Potter. You load them in the truck and then call your mum. It may be your last chance.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He wheeled around to Tak. “Agent Braz—”
Tak slapped the hell out of him. “Man up. You carrying a weapon?”
Tak slapped the hell out of him. “Here. First name ‘Last,’ last name ‘Resort.’ You understand me?”
The young man fumbled his glasses from his chin to his eyes. “Yes, sir,” he said through tears.
Tak felt a lump in his throat. This boy would never see a nipple on a Super Bowl commercial, then Tak mentally slapped himself. By damn’s early light, he’d make sure one way or another that that wouldn’t come to pass. Tak bent and hugged him tightly. “You live, dammit. You understand me? No matter what happens, we will come back. We will find you.”
“I’ll be right here.”
Tak man-hugged him again. “God-dammit!”
“Ladies?” said Lenore Tidsby. “We’ve got a world to save.”
“So what, we just let ‘em bite people? There’s only three of ‘em.”
A brain sprang through the air via its coiled prehensile tail and landed on the back of a woman screaming her way through a tangle of wrecked cars and dead bodies. Pincers at the stem held the spongy grey mass wobbling but firm so the tail could wrap around her throat and suck her neural juices.
“Watch it!” said Lenore.
“You almost hit the man screaming ‘What do they want?!’”
“Dumbasses! In America we wouldn’t be running in the middle of the street where there’s a shit ton of alien brains with tails.” He shouted at the window: “How about you go the hell indoors and close the windows where shit can’t get you, asshole!” Two brains blindsided the man; he went down flailing.
“Dump the zombies,” Lenore said abruptly. Thirty minutes in the car with him. Thirty minutes of him yelling at windows and snapping at her about his aggressive over-driving.
“Just stop and dump the zombies! I am so—just dump them. Please.”
“Doesn’t make you more of a woman to parrot me.” Tak pulled over. “Not more at all.” His finger hovered over the release button on the armored transport. Shit suddenly got real.
He searched Lenore’s face. “Is this ethical?”
“It’s the financial district. CEOs would be out for their lunch meetings. Their natural ravenous natures should work in our favor. Zombieism will spread quickest here.” That lock of hair had fallen again. Tak reached to tuck it. She intercepted his hand and put his fingers in her mouth, one brief, motivating suck and tongue stroke, then dropped the hand to his lap. “Future generations will forgive—”
Tak kissed her, kissed her hard. She grabbed his button finger. “Do it.” They both pressed.
Six weeks later: “How the fuck are we fighting aliens and zombies now?! What the hell!” said the man on the street racing past the reporter and her sword-wielding camera crew.
“Dammit, Tak!” shouted Major Pidsby.
“It made sense at the time,” said Tak Brazton on the phone from his bunker in Honolulu. “Zombies are slow, they can be contained. Those little brain suckers were skittering around pretty quick.”
“We’re going to have to go nuclear.”
They went nuclear.
“Shit, fuck!” Pidsby said from his bunker. “Giant goddamn brain zombies with tails!”
“Yeah, that sucks. Honolulu’s nice though. Zombies ate the brain aliens, we rounded all the zombies up, tossed ‘em in the ocean, sharks ate the zombies, we got zombie sharks, but who gives a damn, they’re sharks. All they do is eat anyway.”
But Pidsby fell heavily silent. Then silent a moment longer. Too long. Tak braced himself for it. “They got Lenore,” he said, the fist up his ass twisting painfully. “She’s…she’s thirty feet tall with a tail coming out of her skull and a ravenous hunger straight from hell! Part of her is still Lenore. She’s managed to evade capture.”
“Pidsby,” said Tak, pulling his favorite weapons belt from among others on the rack. “You’ve got to learn to get to the meat of things faster. I’m on my way.”
“You don’t want to kill me, Lenore,” said Tak, his weapon trained dead-center on her forehead. He’d known where she would go: the hillside where he’d first spotted her and Rex having outdoor sex when Rex was supposed to have been on a recon mission regarding mysterious sightings of fog people. After twenty minutes of watching them he’d wandered off to clear his mind and had come upon a rather large cave. They had apparently found it too. Condom wrappers and SPIT TAKE paraphernalia littered the interior.
The red hair was patchy and matted, a piece of lab coat obscured one nipple, but other than that she was naked and, honestly, none too shabby. A prehensile, alien, spine-tail thingy moved about her neck and shoulders like the proverbial snake whispering secrets. She stank to high hell and lord knew what she’d been eating, but despite that she was still thirty foot, sexy, irradiated Lenore zombie. He noticed her bush had grown considerably into a sharp V that looked almost like a loincloth. And not every odor coming off of her was death and funk.
He took a step back.
She, a hesitant step forward, brow furrowed in deep and painful thought.
Damn but she looked like Nigella Lawson thirty feet tall and dipped in tit sauce. But she was so primitive and not herself.
Tak dug that.
“Let me help you.”
Then a pterodactyl flew down and carried him off.
“WTF?! That’s how you’re ending this?” said Shapiro Headstein, zombie agent extraordinaire.
“So you’re saying as a zombie-American writer that’s not authentic enough?” said the zombie with the cotton tee and salmon colored slacks. “I should have had some random zombie grab him from behind a tree saying ‘Brains’? Seriously, you tell me.”
“I’m just saying.”
“This is not a historical piece, Shap. Yes, the brain aliens came down and we ate the heads and gained—no, re-gained, our joi de vivre, but that story’s been told to death.”
“How about we do a sex scene, end it on a romantic note? Beauty and the beast, King Kong.”
“That’s where I was going with the pterodactyl!”
“Where the fuck’s a pterodactyl come from in a movie about alien brains versus zombies, Mortie?!”
“Fine, she screws him, uses him like a dildo, movie ends…or is it? Dah dah dummm, she could be pregnant!”
“Mortie, there’s a reason your career is in the shits. It’s got nothing to do with you being a zombie.”
Mortie sighed through his chest hole, which billowed his cotton tee out a bit. “I’m glad you told me that.”
“No, I’m glad. I can go back to writing zombie porn, I’m ok with that. People still remember ‘The Undead Like Dick.’”
“That’s a classic, Mortie. Fifty Shades breakthrough for the zombie set.”
“My heart’s always been in film though, Shap.” Mortie snorted. “Hell, my hearts barely in me now, huh? Parchment paper chest, that sucker’s always threatening to fall out. Gotta keep oiled and moistened, you know?”
“I know.” Shapiro stood to usher Mortie toward the door. “Sleep on it, Mortie. Ha, yeah, I know,” he said, heading Mortie’s joke off, “zombies don’t sleep.”
“We’re nothing but idea factorys, twenty-four seven. I’ll work on it but I still want you to send this out as spec. I got a million of ‘em.”
“Go home, Mortie.”
“What if I get Tak deep in giant poon. Have an interior of him thinking ‘It’s not a dick, it’s a massive clit,’ and he’s working frantically to bring her to climax. Thirty minutes later he’s tired and near fainting…”
“That sounds perfect Mortie, that’s just what we need.”
“Don’t patronize, Shap.”
Mortie left Shap’s office-slash-home. That’s how Shap described it to people. “My office-slash-home.”
Fifty years ago, when the zombies and the Tau Cetans had their battle royal, everybody was yay zombies, yeah, go go, eat aliens… but that star faded. Folks were looking for fresh blood, but zombies had, what, one, two good stories in ‘em? Pretty soon he’d have to start dodging Mortie’s calls. Better to just lodge a machete in his skull. Shap took a sip of Tom Collins and pulled his vintage samurai sword down while trying to remember the last place he’d left his sharpener.
Pterodactyl! Sweet Jesus, what was the entertainment world coming to?
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY