Friday, October 29, 2010

Pardon My French: An Encounter With The Soup God

Late last night you were out for a walk with your faithful dog Sneaky Pierro when you ran into a guy who was so drunk he looked like he was riding a surfboard in an old Rock Hudson movie.

This was a guy, it turned out, who made a hundred fucking gallons of soup a day. And you have the nerve to ask if that's all he did? You got some fucking nerve.

All right?

Listen, shit burger, nobody makes soup like this guy. N-O-Body. There's people that drive all the way across town every single fucking day just for his tomato basil.

Don't ask him; so far as he's concerned there's nothing special about that one, but what does he know? It takes him like ten fucking minutes to put that one together. Easiest soup in the book, but the fucker's so popular he has to have it on the board every day or people have a shit fit.

He does six soups a day --five plus the tomato basil. He's the best soup guy in town, ask anybody: they'll tell you. He's the fucking soup god. He could stand right there on the sidewalk and name 100 soups, he's not shitting you. No fucking problem. You think he can't? You want to hear him name 100 fucking soups?

No, thank you. You believe the soup god. You do not want to hear him name 100 fucking soups.

If you gotta have a job, it turns out, making soup's a decent enough one. Did you ever have one of those chemistry sets when you were a little fucker? It's kind of like that. Oh, and hunting grouse? There's nothing else like it. Hunting grouse and catching bass, that's pretty much what the soup god would be doing if he wasn't making soup every fucking day.

He lives just around the corner, by the way. Just in case you didn't know that there was a soup god in the neighborhood.

People keep telling him he should open his own soup place like that guy on whatever the fuck that TV show is. But do you think he'd have any time for hunting grouse if he had his own place to run? No way, partner. The soup god will make his fucking soup, take his fucking check, and haul his ass out of there, thank you very much. If the place burns down in the middle of the night that's somebody else's fucking problem.

And then the soup god bid you good evening, curtsied to your dog, and said, "And a fine evening to you as well, my lady."

You felt foolish when you told the soup god that your dog was a "boy."

The soup god, of course, was having none of that. "No, no, no," he said, waving his hand like a drunken soup god aboard a wobbly parade float. "All dogs are ladies."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Now And Later

Right now, right this moment, you'd like nothing better than to sit staring at the splendid moon floating in a shallow cloud-saucer of milk right outside your window. There's a nice breeze, and surely memories are moving on it. You might even discover that a few of them are actually pleasant, if you could manage to shut your head down and sit still long enough to properly investigate them.

You don't have time to sit still, but you should find the time. Because you should know this: it's creeping up on you. One day in the not so distant future you'll go to sleep or fall down and you're never going to get up again.

If you're lucky, when that happens you'll end up aboard a slow boat going up some fog-swept river in light that looks like autumn dawn. It's just that there won't be any sun rising, no moon, no planet beneath your boat, no bottom to the river.

It's okay. Trust me, you'll get used to it. You'll be in a better place. Your days in front of the television will be over, but you won't even notice that. So many of the things you think you'd miss you won't even remember.

You will, though, still get little taps and touches from the place you once inhabited with so much desperation, confusion, or whatever: the feel of someone's hand touching the small of your back or brushing the hair from your forehead; a finger tracing your closed eyelids or your lips; your legs tangled up with those of another; the whisper of a familiar voice, the bark of a recognizable laugh, the sensation of your nose pressed right up against the back of a sleeping dog's ear.

Once a year, generally on a fine day in the spring, you'll be able to see clearly something or someone precious, and you'll be allowed to shed real tears for the life you left behind. It's a sort of holiday in the place you're going, and pretty much everybody learns to really look forward to it.

The rest of the time, for the most part, everything will work all right and you'll feel just fine.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Planet Of The Apes: The Return To Eden

No animals were harmed in the making of this film. All sets, props, and costumes were made of recycled materials. Everything consumed by the actors (both on and off camera) and crew was prepared using certified organic, locally-grown ingredients.

The equipment necessary for the production of this film was powered by wind and solar energy, with the exception of the motor vehicles, the majority of which consisted of the most efficient available electric or hybrid models. Unfortunately the only helicopters we could find were real helicopters, and we needed them to film the explosions.

A team of conflict resolution and anger management counselors was on set at all times to insure that no egos were bruised, feelings hurt, grudges nursed, or instances of arrogant transgression committed. The director of the film --who had a prior reputation as mercurial, erratic, and frequently abusive-- behaved at all times like a perfect professional and a gentleman.

The screenplay, though fundamentally flawed, was treated with absolute respect and fidelity to its author's every word and intention.

If money was squandered (and it was), it was squandered in exclusively virtuous ways. For example: a guild of artisans from a Vermont craft collective was flown in to create all of the costumes from recycled hemp. The dyes used to provide the vibrant (or, in the early apocalyptic sections of the film, muted) hues of these costumes were prepared using natural materials acquired while foraging in various wooded areas no more than 45 miles from the site of production.

The robots were created from scrap materials by underprivileged children at a local magnet school.

An A-list actor and Academy Award nominee was dismissed early in the production for repeatedly bringing a can of Red Bull to the set and refusing to use the composting outhouse installed behind his yurt.

Smoking was strictly prohibited.

We are proud to claim that what you are about to see is the greenest film in Hollywood history. It is our hope that in seeking to reduce the carbon footprint of what has historically been a profligate industry we are also, as individuals, reducing our collective karmic footprint.

We hope you enjoy the film.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Oral History Of The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics: Part One

Brad Zellar: I remember we were watching the Opening Ceremonies and I turned to Ralph Meers and said, "So now everybody has to come up with some version of the Flying Guy? I mean how many versions of the Flying Guy can there possibly be?" And then there were people with lights all over their bodies.

Ralph Meers: Mr. Zellar just kept saying, "Good God!" Several times I encouraged him to turn off the television.

Brad Zellar: It was painful listening to Bob Costas and his flunkies trying desperately to provide color commentary on all that monkey business. I actually felt sorry for them and kept imagining them smashing their heads with clipboards and saying a lot of things that included versions of the word "fuck" during commercial breaks for Chicken McNuggets. I actually thought I might die when they trotted out the bearded, beret-wearing "slam poet" "discovered on YouTube." I doubt that anyone will ever forget --or perhaps remember-- his rambling poetic tribute to Canada, delivered with the obligatory hand flourishes and awkward sort of Tai Chi movements. He was a beefy Canuck, so I don't think it's unfair to say that he wasn't particularly graceful.

Ralph Meers: Mr. Zellar was increasingly agitated, so I would occasionally leave the room. But then he would inevitably bellow and summon me back. He would shout things like, "Oh, my God, get in here, Meers, now there are a bunch of ragamuffins doing some sort of clog dance in logging boots!" At one point I ate a grapefruit. Mr. Zellar mentioned that he was not "a grapefruit sort of guy."

Brad Zellar: Some white guy got up there and said, "Tonight the longest domestic torch relay in human history arrives in this stadium, inspiring the kind of magic and awe that touches millions of hearts all over the world and causes dreams and imaginations to soar." Something awful like that. Then there were displays of aboriginal people in various native costumes. Then, as always, the French geezer had the final word, babbling in virtually unintelligible English, and then fucking k.d. lang sang "Hallelujah." and I wanted to throw something at her. Something heavy.

Ralph Meers: A lot of the female mogul skiers were cute as a button, and I observed that many of the speed skaters looked like eccentric old gentlemen in age-inappropriate clothing out for a brisk stroll. It also occurred to me that one didn't tend to see so many spectacular wipeouts in the summer olympics.

Brad Zellar: I'm prepared to swear that I saw a female Russian figure skater hock a big loogey while being spun around in the air by her partner, a fellow who was wearing a costume that suggested a bluebird that had been ravaged by a fighting cock.

Ralph Meers: At one point Mr. Zellar inquired, "Who the hell are these paunchy geezers, Meers?" To which I replied, "That, sir, is Rascal Flatts." "That or they?" Zellar asked. "That," I said.

Brad Zellar: It remains my opinion that the ice dancers are murderers of the Olympic spirit. There is no gulag harsh enough for them, nor for the buffoons who design their costumes and choreograph their routines. No man should have to watch a rousing game of ice hockey and then sit through a half dozen ice dancing routines.

Ralph Meers: While we were watching the snow boarders Mr. Zellar declared, "There is nothing I can do about it, Meers, I am highly suggestible." And then he dispatched me to McDonald's to fetch some Chicken McNuggets.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And Yet

Still. All the things that word can mean. Motionless. Stationary. Remaining in the same position or attitude. Quiescent. Habitually silent or taciturn. Subdued, soft; not loud. Making no sound. Having an unruffled surface (of water). Free from commotion. Unattended by wind; gentle; quiet (of weather). Not sparkling or effervescent (of beverages). A single image (of photographs).

Dead before birth. Inanimate.

Constant, continued until now, continuing.

A calm.

(Is the word somehow etymologically related to steal? And what of one of the oldest definitions, the noun connoting the apparatus used to distill liquor?)

Also: to subdue, allay, relieve (verbs). To stop the movement or activity of. To appease. To lull, soothe, cause to cease from weeping. To silence.

Without change, interruption, or cessation; continually, constantly, invariably, always. Indicating a continuance of a previous action or condition. In a further degree. Notwithstanding. Yet. As ever.

Are these various and seemingly contradictory definitions somehow related?

And yet. Even so. All the same.

Still.

Now as previously. Up to this time.

Paralyzed. Unmoving. Stuck. Etc.

Constant: yes. Always: yes. Without change or cessation: yes. Remaining in the same position and attitude: unquestionably yes. But calm? No. Free from commotion? No, ma'am. Appeased or soothed? No and no.

Always, yes, always, as ever, notwithstanding, all the same: Yes. Yet: still. Even so: yes. Even so: still.

But still. Still and all. Stillborn. Still life. Be still my heart.

And yet, all the same, even so: Yes. Always. Still.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Where There's A Road There's A Way

I was driving across Michigan's Upper Peninsula and do you think if my life depended on it I could find a decent fucking Indian restaurant? Did these people seriously believe a man could live on nothing but smoked fish and fudge?

Up the road from Manistique was a town called M'Alyce, and I wondered if Paul Weller had stumbled through this space at some point or if there was another such place in the world. Somewhere in the rear view mirror: the World's Largest Soup Kettle and a redhead who wore a sailor's hat well past the age where it was cute to wear a sailor's hat. A redhead who could swill Pabst Blue Ribbon like no woman I'd ever met, and who drove a beat-to-shit Nova with a bumper sticker that read: "Keep Moving Until You Fit Or You Stop Moving."

One night this woman --who was way too old for such monkey business-- showed up at my motel room with a couple cans of Krylon and said we were going to tag the living fuck out of Escanaba. It didn't quite work out that way.

"I've thought about this my whole life," she said, and then I watched her spray paint "Your Satisfaction Is No Concern Of Mine" on the cinder blocks of the Tidy Wash. I took this as a message pitch, and so took the paint can from her and tossed it in the blue plastic barrel out front.

I like a woman I don't know a damn thing about, but only to a point. That point came when we were driving around one night after I'd bought her a steak dinner and she directed me to pull off at a pay phone. I sat on the hood while she dialed a number and said, "Now what the fuck?"

There was a pause on her end, and then she said, "You know as well as I do that there's a goddamn world of difference between 'shot himself' and 'got shot,' so which is it?'" That was it right there. Weird is good. Weird can be fun. I don't like spooky, though, and I told her as much later as I packed my car.

I would not grow old gracefully. That much seemed certain, and was all I really seemed to be able to grasp of my fate, if in fact that's not too dramatic a word for what I was driving blindly into.

Every story has a 'then what?' and I suppose a truly satisfying story has a number of 'then what?'s to keep the reader moving along.

There is, unfortunately, only one 'then what?' left to this story, and it is this: My mother was dead, and she had a house in Ohio --and a shitload of shit-- that needed to be dealt with. I'd been procrastinating. It had taken me almost two months to make my way from Sioux City to the U.P. I would, I'd decided, finally knuckle under and head to my mother's, would get the matter taken care of once and for all. Who knew? I thought. Maybe I'd end up living for a time in the tiny house in which I'd grown up. Maybe after all the years I'd been gone there was finally something there for me.

There was nothing for me in Lorain, Ohio. There had never been anything for me in Loraine, Ohio. My mother's last hand of Solitaire was still laid out on the TV tray in the living room. Her bed was unmade. There was a refrigerator full of items that had long since become reeking science projects. Every clock in the place told a different time, and every one of them was lying.

Long story short: People hear gunshots and they call the police. I can't blame anyone. Gunshots in the middle of the night are startling. If you hear them, you're supposed to call the police.

I was just blowing off steam, I guess, talking to myself so people would hear me. Shooting out lights and reflective surfaces, trying to obliterate any sort of personal revelation. I felt like being in the dark. I didn't want to be confronted with any more images of myself, even as I fully intended to leave the photographs alone. Those were something else, something else, some other time when the light didn't feel like such a hostile interrogation. Still, I inadvertently ended up shooting up a few of those as well, and taking out a handful of other things --trinkets, I suppose you could call them-- that had a bit too much painful resonance.

It got out of control in a goddamn hurry, I'll admit that much, and it was a noisy, disruptive business, a textbook example of disturbing the peace.

So, yeah, the police were called. The police came. It was the middle of the night, and in the middle of the night when gunshots are involved you aren't going to get just one cruiser pulling up to the house. No, you're gonna have cop cars lined up all the way down the block, sirens flashing, radios squawking, and officers crawling around and crouched behind car doors with their own guns drawn. A sorry incident right out of Cops, to be sure. The sort of dust-up that wasn't going to go away for a long time.

Right away, looking out at that scene, I knew I was in deep shit. I knew there was a good chance I was going to get my face shot off. I knew that neighborhood would never again be home. I knew I needed a lawyer. These were the thoughts --or at least some of the thoughts-- that went through my head. Short term or long term, this was going to be a tough mess to get out of.

I put the gun down, went to the door, and stepped out onto the porch with my hands up, just like you're supposed to do. They weren't going to give me a chance to explain just then, I knew that. They were going to come rushing at me, all of them at once, yelling at the top of their lungs and swinging their night sticks, and they were going to stomp my ass and truss me up like a hog while the neighbors watched from their sidewalks and living rooms. And, sure enough, that's exactly the way it went down.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fort Snelling, 1971, And Beyond

Drunk, he could float, an oblivious spectacle. Gentle, wouldn't hurt a fly. People observed as much all the time. But so, so sad he didn't even know that it wasn't in fact the world he was feeling.

He could dream on his feet, standing still or moving. Giant turtles, ancient, crawling again and again from out of the surf in his drowned brain. He didn't know where that came from, but they had been coming ashore for a long, long time.

Turtles. Maybe it was something he'd looked at in a picture book at the library when he was waiting for it to stop raining, or shaking off the cold of another January night spent floating.

He trembled and thought he was being shaken in a pair of giant hands. A single dice. Die. An endless, impossible series of ones.

Often the things he spoke aloud would be remarked upon by complete strangers long after the fact: "Even the trees are unmanageable." That was one thing someone remembered years later. It was no random or idle thought, however. The world he wobbled through was divided by only one straight line in his mind; on one side was a sign that said "Unmanageable," on the other a fading but otherwise similar sign with the word "Manageable."

It was a sort of straight line, anyway, even as a teeming, disorderly city of hallucinations jostled up against the border, permanently exiled from the increasingly desolate and dying town across the way. A hamlet, he would think in the moments when he could still recall such words. A hamlet of the manageable things.

These things were quiet things, generally still and inordinately simple. He couldn't even really name them anymore, but he knew them by their ease. The hands of the woman at the Salvation Army who cut his hair. The dogs who spoke the mute, imploring language of his eyes. The sound of the night and the world retreating. Damp grass against his cheek. Once upon a time.

He depended on the kindness of strangers, and took it on unrecognized faith that the world was full of kind strangers. He had never begged, but he had been fed. He had also, of course, been beaten.

He could no longer remember if he had ever driven a car. He could no longer remember the sound of his mother's voice, or what sort of shoes his father had worn before he wore none. Things broke, of that he was certain. Tears had been shed, some of them surely his own.

He was a little boy. Somebody put a tiny flag in his hand and he waved it and waved it and waved it.