Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Smuttynose RIP

My cat Smuttynose, a.k.a. Smutty, Smutters, Nosey, Noser, Tigger, Fluffyface, Winkins, Scion of Evil, and Elnie’s Baby, died on Nov. 1.

Smuttynose came into my life in 2000, a birthday present from my ex-wife. We went to a local animal shelter to pick out a kitten, but we found a scared orange cream neutered male cat who winced in his cage. We brought him home and he immediately hid under the bed (as newbie cats are wont to do), but through time he showed an eagerness and friendliness towards humans. He was more dog than cat, always exploring whenever people were about.

During my separation, Smuttynose came to live with me in my shitty (former)  apartment. He stood by me, all whiskers and fluffy paws, through divorce, moving, evacuation from Hurricane Sandy and moving again.

My girlfriend Elnie fell in love with him and called him her baby. He was a well-fed, well-loved house-lion, a tiny beastie who never lashed out in anger and was a gentle creature.

He was the King of Kitties.

But even kings are not incorruptible to the crushing forces of time.

He developed diabetes, a heart murmur and early stages of kidney disease. We gave him two shots of insulin for a year and worked on lowering his blood pressure.

A month before he died, he vomited six times in one day, prompting an emergency vet visit.

Then, on Nov. 1, we noticed him limping, dragging his left front paw. I knew immediately what was happening. We’d have to say goodbye.

The vet told us he developed a blood clot. Though she recommended a follow-up with a cardiologist and an aspirin regimen, the vet’s grim prognosis was that Smuttynose had six months left. He would be living in pain, and if nothing could be done, the limb would turn gangrenous and have to be amputated. The idea of a tripod cat didn’t appeal to us, since the poor animal suffered too much already.

We decided to have him humanely put down.

I sign the papers authorizing the euthanasia as he sits on the examination table, one leg folded under He’s been through so much, a lifetime of bliss and trauma. He’s an old man, stricken with diabetes and a heart murmur.

The vet inserts the catheter as Smuttynose rests comfortably on a plaid blanket. We say our goodbyes, but are still in shock. Even when the vet inserts the first injection, the one which will stop his heart and “send him to heaven” as the aide told us, time freezes. Smuttynose’s head sinks low. His pink tongue lolls out of his mouth, his eyes wide open. Elnie and I lose it. I turn away, unable to process what’s happening.

In that one horrible transformative moment, he ceases to exist. He’s gone, leaving his still-warm body curled in a heap on the blanket. 

Smuttynose embarks on his final journey, one taking him beyond the stars to Bastet’s realm.

My first pet and four-legged child is no more, dust for the ages.

Shaken, we thank the vet and her assistants and leave silently.

Five days later we receive the cremated remains in a rosewood box adorned with a brass engraved plaque reading “NOSEY”. We also receive a card about the Rainbow Bridge, a mythical place in the afterlife where all pets go to await their owners. It was beautiful and comforting.

We bought a bouquet of flowers and delivered it to the animal hospital, thanking them for the compassion they showed during the whole agonizing ordeal.

I’d like to think Smuttynose is on the Rainbow Bridge, chasing squirrels and birds, rejuvenated and young, breathing sweet air and eternal happiness.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Muse's Visit

Late tonight, while in the doldrums of boredom, my muse manifested. She's a tough old broad, part Ruth Gordon, part General Patton. A crusty dame chomping on a cigar, eyes narrowed into a skeptic scowl as if she's heard every whiny procrastination from hack writers on why they're not writing.

Writer's block? 

She'd tell you, in a salty Brooklyn accent, gruff and candid; "Quit yer whinin' ya pantywaist! Ya think everything's easy? Get writin'!"

She's brittle, honest and pulls no punches, except when she's punching me. 

"Come on, genius!" she snaps, slapping the back of my head as I write this. "Pull those words out your ass if ya have to! Just get 'em down!"

I've missed that muse. Longing for some spark of divine brilliance to strike me, a lightning bolt from Olympus, filled with the glittery stuff capable of inspiring greatness and changing the world. 
Or in my feeble case, enabling me to compose something that doesn't suck a lamprey's anus. 

Writing is difficult, a mentally strenuous endeavor, both exhausting and unrewarding. Slinging words onto the page like a short order cook slings corned beef hash on the griddle, except writing never gave anybody indigestion. 

Sometimes I wish the fates aligned, the heavens opened up and words trickled out of my brain onto the page like a sweet summer rain dripping on an emerald field, cool and comforting. 

"Nice metaphor, Shakespeare. Maybe ya ought to stand in a coffee house and read this out loud to a bunch of hipsters," the muse said. "Maudlin jackass!"

Her bony fingers remove the cigar from her mouth and she blows a jet of smoke at my face. Coughing, I wave the noxious cloud away. 

"What's the big idea?"

"Can't a lady have a smoke? Helps me to relax," she says, her voice like gravel mixed with Scotch and poured into an asthmatic's trachea. "Ya wouldn't begrudge me a little relaxation, would ya? I got a busy schedule."

"You haven't exactly inspired me, muse. What are you busy doing?"

"Muse stuff. I attend muse conferences where we dish about struggling artists and writers. Most of 'em are effeminate art school students praying for miracles," the muse said, chortling. "Others are waiting for their big break." 

"Have you talked about me?"

The muse took another draw on her stogie.

"It's always about you, isn't it? Ya always mope and bitch about your plight, your struggle with words," the muse said, flicking cigar ashes on the floor. "What an ego. Self-absorbed instead of drinking in the world around ya."

"That doesn't answer my question."

She made a face which resembled a carburetor and a dead monkfish. 

"Of course I talked about ya," she admitted. "How could I not? So much kvetching and griping. 'Muse, I need help writing', or 'Muse, please give me a good idea.' Well I can't give you ideas, can I? That's not how this whole megillah works."

"Look, you're a muse. Muses inspire artists, writers, musicians in the creative arts. You're where ideas come from."

"Wrong again, boychick! Think of me as a subliminal advertisement playing underneath some movie. You don't really see or hear me consciously, but I'm there. Whispering. Suggesting. Imparting kernels of brilliance."

"Well? Impart. I'm as dry as the Sahara here."

"Not so fast! Ya cramp my style!," the muse said, and peered over my shoulder at my laptop. Her etherial eyes scanned the words on the screen, and she emitted a low growl.

"That's it? That's all ya got?"

Flustered, I put my head in my hands, a hunched, dismal failure. 

"It's a decent start," she said, taking a puff of the cigar. "Maybe we can punch up this bad boy a little."

"It's good? Right? That's what you said. It's good?"

"Relax, Lord Byron. I said it was a decent start. Maybe you should try reading more, absorbing everything like a literary sponge slurping up words. Devour it. Engorge yourself on stories. Slake your appetite on prose and poetry," she said. 

"Reading has escaped me. I've been spending all my time working my day job. My nose is rarely in a book."

"That's the problem, isn't it? Day job. Journalism. What a waste of good talent. Interviewing nudnik politicians and scribbling editorials about, what, exactly?"

"Local issues like the economy, jobs, development."

"Boring! If I wanted to go to sleep, I'd swallow an Ambien," the muse said, and leaned her bony back against the wall. Her gown, a gossamer cloth woven by celestial beings and garnished with unicorn piss  and leprechaun shit flowed around her. 

"I saw what you wrote about my clothes just now," the muse observed, scrunching her face. "Wiseass."

"Thing is, I need my profession. It pays the bills and allows me to write...something, at least."

Folding her arms, the muse paused in thought. 

"I get it, pal," she said at last. "Ya don't wanna be a schlemiel. You're doing the responsible thing. But be forewarned, scribbler. Never let your day job kill the writer ya wanna be. Make sacrifices, only make the right ones. It's important you get yer ass movin' and get writin'."

"That's what I'm trying to do," I confessed. "Only the writer's block..."

"What have I said about writer's block?" the muse said, rolling her eyes. "It doesn't exist. Might as well be dancing the two-step with Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Easter Bunny."

Returning to my laptop, I attempted to resurrect these words, typing as thought came to me, ripping sentences into being from the dismal ether and constructing something fresh and new. 

Writing is hard. It's a turbulent, exhausting exercise in futility. Yet it can be rewarding. When everything clicks and words flow like a mighty monsoon. 

"Again with the weather metaphors," the muse's shrill voice echoed through the room. "Lose the bullshit, Balzac. It makes ya look freakin' ridiculous." 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Realized journalism has done serious damage to my writing. For years, it's been a struggle to recapture a poetic essence of expression.

At 23, I devoured dreams and spilled them onto the page, dribbling like a Jackson Pollock painting. A beautiful arrangement of words.

But as I grew older and more cynical and jaded, that beauty faded. Reality hasn't been kind, and I paid for it.

My writing's been uneven, stilted. Trouble concentrating and keeping focused on creating beauty.

Reporting is about getting it down fast, not creating beauty. It is why I'm frustrated. Journalism is ruining my ability to really write.

Writers weave a tapestry of beauty and truth. They make you glad you're alive. Journalism is a bitter seed, a ruinous path leading nowhere.

They say journalism is the first draft of history. Who want to publish a first draft? First drafts always suck.

So I'll strive to become a better writer, even if it costs me my sanity. So it goes. Thanks for reading my rant. Good night.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book of the Bunny

It's 1994. CompuServe connects humanity, a network beholden to subscribers chattering about politics, pop culture and fetish porn. Truly the Internet's darkest days. Amid this cesspool of text and Netscape Navigator's crude pixels, CompuServe subscribers engaged in pernicious flame wars and mundane conversation in a multitude of forums.

So 24-year-old me stumbled upon the religion forum and discovered the Church of the Bunny, a cyber-religion by a group of people tired of religious fundamentalism. A nice man named Rich Coleman from Virginia assumed the mantle of Pope Rich, the church's creator. If you "joined" the Church of the Bunny, you were given a regal title and addressed as such. I started out as Father Eric, but was "promoted" to Lt. Jr. Grade Pope Eric. Not too shabby.

So what did the Church of the Bunny actually do? Pretty much anything. The whole idea was to have fun according to the Bunny, a gigantic rabbit and the church's fluffy, cuddly deity. Church members engaged in silly banter, chatted and griped about their daily lives, and generally were just awesome to each other.

In the vein of the Church of the SubGenius, I created an official Church of the Bunny logo and newsletter. I designed and printed out the newsletter on my computer, photocopied and distributed it throughout the country, to the ten or so members who requested it. I published a few issues before tackling the biggest project, the Church of the Bunny's bible. Organized religions must have their own tracts and scriptures, written teachings available to the unwashed masses. Why can't the Church of the Bunny get a taste of proselytizing bliss?

The Book of the Bunny (as this most holy hopping tome is called) began as a few CompuServe posts, organized like the bible with chapters and verses. Somewhere it morphed into a printed book complete with illustrations and a dogmatic treatise of rules and regulations. I printed out one solitary copy, stuffed it in a box and forgot about it.

Years passed. I had moved away from my childhood home, gotten married, then divorced, then rented an old apartment. All my worldly possessions jammed into one small room I called the "junk room". While rifling through these boxes, I made a miraculous discovery. Crammed at the bottom of a cardboard box, underneath a stack of old bills and weepy, angsty poetry, was the elusive Book of the Bunny and the newsletters! They hadn't been pulped to nothingness as I once thought. They survived the move! Praise the Bunny!

Perusing these writings, has left me with a few impressions:
1. Apparently I was very talented, funny and energetic.
2. I also was a decent cartoonist.
3. The people on that CompuServe forum long ago appreciated my twisted sense of humor.

Where am I going with all of this?

Time is the great equalizer. The older I get, the more nostalgic I feel. Even though CompuServe, the Church of the Bunny and the goofy kid I used to be no longer exist, having this antiquated document reminds me of that bygone age. It was the first time I conversed via Internet with people who lived across the country. We shaped and crafted this bizarre and silly thing, this funny religion based around bunnies, napping and snacking. A shot of innocence during an innocent age.

2014 makes it 20 years since the Church of the Bunny became a thing. Two decades have passed. As such, it's incumbent upon me to celebrate the Book of the Bunny's sanctified existence. I scanned the whole megillah and am offering it to the world. Read the divinely-inspired madness from the Church of the Bunny. Uncover lost wisdom of the Book of Bunesis, thrill to the Bunny reproduction manual, and sing to a selection of church hymns. The book also has an official Church of the Bunny membership card and papal indulgence for those times temptation beckons.

BE FOREWARNED! This is a HUGE file. At 93.7 MB, it takes up scads o' space, so be aware before downloading. Also, the quality of the book is pretty amateurish. Hey, I was 24, with limited resources. I proofread it the best I could, but spelling and grammatical mistakes are bound to pop up.

That's about it. I'm making this PDF available to share the book's rediscovery 20 years later. I've also included some of the original CompuServe posts to provide a glimpse of what the Church of the Bunny was like, from the rugged men and women in the trenches who lived it.

If anybody from the Church of the Bunny is reading this, thank you. All of you. Though you might not remember me, you left an indelible impact on my life, and forced me to create this wonderfully ridiculous book.

Peace out.

Book of the Bunny

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Old T-Shirt Collection

Rummaging through my parent's house, I discovered a few tattered T-shirts from a bygone era (the 1990s). Yes, I like wearing comfortable cotton T-shirts. Always have. Yet with the passing years, tastes as well as styles inevitably change. What a young, lusty rake finds desirable and fashionable, the middle aged man ridicules, tosses his head heavenward and barks "What ever was I thinking?"

Such is the laughable saga of my former T-shirts, those breezy garments I donned on college campuses during my carefree halcyon days. 

Being a journalist and chronicler of mankind's folly, I pulled a few of these stinkers out, photographed and converted them into pixels for your amusement. 

Steal yourself, gentle reader, for the images contained hereafter are embarrassing and shocking, even to a jaded 21st century audience. 

Keep in mind as you peruse these pathetic photos: I wore these during a particular phase of my life - my early twenties - when my exposure to the wider world was severely limited. My weltanschauung still in its embryonic stages, a paltry adolescent instead of the fully-formed, self-acualized studmuffin I am today. 

One of the tamest shirts I owned, a simple Armenian flag with a descriptor for the uninitiated. Armenia's national colors are red, blue and orange. The red symbolizes the blood of the martyrs, the blue the sky and the orange the land of the Armenian nation. At least that's what I tell the rubes who inquired about the shirt. Moving on...

Back in the early 1990s, The Simpsons were all the rage. So anything with Bart Simpson on it became topical, a nod to contemporary pop culture and the zeitgeist of our time. There's officially licensed Simpsons products and there's this unfortunate drek. Bart Simpson is supposed to be Armenia, while that Apu-looking dude is Turkey. "Eat my vardigs, man!" is akin to Bart's oft-abused catchphrase "Eat my shorts, man!"Vardigs is Armenian for underwear. Just what I want on my clothing; references only a fraction of the population understands. I don't think I ever wore this T-shirt. I mean, who would? Armenia beating Turkey at anything is laughable and pathetic. Bart Simpson looks pissed off. He's winning the race! Even when he's winning and beating his ancestral foe, he's still flashing a hateful, glowering stare. I know the Armenian genocide happened a century ago, but ultra-nationalistic shit like this is moronic. If you wear this T-shirt, you're telling the world you like combining cartoons with Third World genocide. I don't get the point of this shirt.


Ralph Waldo Emerson. Transcendentalist philosopher, poet and intellectual heavyweight. Man of faith, words and ideas. Maybe this is why he's naked and striking a pose a la Rodin's The Thinker. Maybe he's wondering where he put his clothes. Or maybe he's embarrassed to be depicted on a T-shirt naked in the woods. Sit on a tree stump, get a splinter in your ass. Negates your "Nature" essay, doesn't it? One thing's for sure; I wasn't getting any girls with this T-shirt. Don't get me wrong: as a conversation starter, it's brilliant. As a pussy magnet, it's horrible. Women tend not to talk to you when you have naked poets on your shirt. In hindsight, this was a poor fashion choice. Moving on...

I attended Harvard University in the summer of 1993 as part of a summer studies program. Took an expository writing class. Soaked up the collegiate ivy league atmosphere almost as much as this T-shirt soaked up my armpit sweat. I wore the hell out of this shirt, even when I returned home. Studying at Harvard, even if it was one solitary class, was a rewarding and enlightening experience. I'm grateful my parents shelled out the cash for me to attend, almost as much as I'm grateful for this T-shirt.

We end not with a T-shirt, but a sweatshirt. Feeling bitterly cold in this godless, pitiful universe? Warm up with French existentialist philosopher and political activist Jean-Paul Sartre. Yes, the man who wrote "Hell is other people" will keep you toasty warm as Hell in this sweatshirt. In my early twenties, I read a lot of philosophy and fancied myself an intellectual. So naturally, I wanted my wardrobe to reflect these burgeoning heady pursuits. 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Secrets of Aetherium

For the past few months, I've been writing Secrets of Aetherium, the Weird Science sourcebook for Ravaged Earth.

Secrets of Aetherium is unlike anything else I've written. Focusing specifically on scientific developments in the early 20th Century after mankind discovers the Martian Metal known as Aetherium, the book chronicles technological developments as they might have been. Creating alternate history is fun, if not challenging. You have to plan where your altered timeline deviates from the actual one, and develop any after-effects caused by monkeying around with history.

What would have happened if, after the War of the Worlds, the world's governments found an extraterrestrial element capable of almost miraculous feats? Our technological development would rocket lightyears ahead. Coupled with the futuristic vision of early 20th Century dreamers (when futurism wasn't a whimsical fantasy of anticipating ahead), technology would bequeath the 1930s orbital rockets, rayguns and levitating cars.

Dieselpunk, in all its oily, rivet-covered glory, would be ours.

This is the world of Ravaged Earth; a grimy, yet optimistic world of dashing sky pirates in massive airships, jetpacks and clunky robots, all anchored by the sensibilities of the 1930s.

Secrets of Aetherium will explore the social and ethical ramifications of exploiting the New Science. As scientists and inventors push the boundaries of what can be done, how far is too far? With these boundless vistas ahead, where mankind is limited only by imagination and resources, what's stopping a megalomaniac from creating death rays or a squadron of killer robots?

The answer is, the heroes.

Though I don't like discussing specifics of a product while in development, I can say Secrets of Aetherium will contain everything you need to play a pulpy scientist and inventor. Plumb the depths of Aetherium in your own private lab, or join the Institute for Modern Scientific Research, a consortium of like-minded, altruistic gadgeteers. Be one of three new races (Hybrid-Martian, Robot or Super Simian). Select from new Edges and Hindrances, vehicles and over 40 Weird Science gadgets and gizmos. The book also has rules for constructing robots and rocket ships, and a Plot-Point campaign.

Needless to say, it's an abundant amount of material to create and edit. My ultimate goal is to have the book completely written before summer's end, say in August. Most likely, writing will be placed on a temporary hiatus while I move in late July. Once I finally settle into my new digs, I'll continue working on Secrets of Aetherium.

Other Ravaged Earth news: I completed work on four one-sheet adventures which are winging their way through the editing process. There's also a New York City guidebook and Ravaged Tale also going through edits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Faustian Pact

Hunched over my laptop staring at the blinking cursor on the blank page. The whiteness on the glowing screen taunts me, an incessant "neener-neener" of a schoolyard bully. Will my words matter to anyone? Is writing just a cosmic joke, a colossal time suck, a delusion I've persisted under for 20 years?

Will I be anything but a rank amateur in a bloody clown circus of amateurs, sniffing the big top for peanuts and stepping in mountains of elephant shit? Can I finally cast off these shackles of anonymity and find sweet success?

Are my words making others happy? Am I fulfilled and complete?

Just as I extricate a large block of text with a swift movement of the cursor, flicking pixels on the screen like an axe murderer dismantling torsos in a Jacuzzi, a chilly wind blew through the room.

The unmistakable aroma of brimstone hit my nostrils and I spun around in my chair.

A gaunt gentleman in a Victorian frock and tophat stands behind me, stroking his tightly cropped and oiled goatee. Flashing me a Cheshire cat grin, the man introduces himself, his voice oily like a tin of sardines.

"Greetings, mortal. I am Mephistopheles. Some call me by other names. Beelzebub. Lucifer. Prince of Lies. Satan. The Great Deceiver. You can call me Blaine."

"Get the fuck out of my house, Blaine," I said, pointing at the door.

"Is that any way to treat a guest?" Blaine said, and sat on a nearby chair, first pushing a pile of books from the chair to the floor, where they crashed in a great heap. "Have writer's block, do you? Can't get those stubborn words from your beloved brainpan?"

"Seriously, I'm calling the cops if you don't leave."

"Ah, the writer's temperament. Frustrated because your inability to release those brilliant word nuggets onto the page, eh?" Blaine said, producing a red silk handkerchief from his vest pocket and dabbing his lips. "It's positively infernal, isn't it?"

"I'm dialing 9-1-1," I said, reaching for the phone.

Before I knew it the iPhone transformed into a block of Bavarian chocolate an started melting in the stifling humidity.

"What the hell?"

"Exactly!" Blaine said, tittering like a foppish dandy. "Hell is full of surprises, you know."

"Where's my fucking phone, Blaine?"

"You don't need to get the authorities involved. I can make your wildest dreams and desires come true," Blaine said.

"So you're some kind of Victorian gay rent boy? Sorry, Blaine, I don't swing that way. I jut want to finish writing my story. Peddle your forbidden love candy somewhere else, ya freak."

Blaine wrinkled his brow.

"That's no way to treat a guest. I'm here because you need my help. You're a writer, but self-doubt and self-loathing plagues you. Nothing you try seems to work. None of your stories connects. You squeeze the trigger, but the bullets don't fire. You're not hitting your targets. Am I correct?"

"What's it to you?" I said. "How did you get in here, anyway?"

"I can assist your writing career. I can make people love your work. The ideas will flow under my tutelage. Let me guide you. Why be a miserable hack when I can nourish your budding talents? Don't you want to be one of the most successful writers who's ever lived?"

For a solid minute, I sat in silence, thinking about Blaine's offer. Does he really possess the ability to lift me from my torpor and jumpstart my career?

Then it dawned on me.

"You're a literary agent, aren't you, Blaine?"

Blaine looked offended.

"No, I'm not."

"You are. You're totally a literary agent. Or maybe one of those con artists who trick writers into paying for a writing seminar and then dispense trite advice on preparing manuscripts and query letters," I said.

"All you have to do is sign this contract, pledging your immortal soul to me in exchange for success. You'll be prolific and witty. Your books will sell like hotcakes. You'll ride the gravy train to Beverly Hills and beyond."

"I'll bet there's a fee. There's always a fee with you people. Or a membership. I'll have to buy a membership to your writing club, right? Maybe you're from a self-publishing business, ready to hook a few egotistical suckers."

"No! There are no seminars, no dues. No weekend writing getaways at a hotel in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Just sign your name in blood and that's it," Blaine said, rising to his cloven feet. He waved the contract at me, a brittle document with lavish, flowing script. "I'm the devil! All I want is your soul in exchange for something paltry and temporary you crave. That's it!"

"So what's in it for me?"

"Fame. Prosperity. A horde of loyal readers. I can give you an audience hanging on your every word. Your name will be on books from now until forever."

I thought about it.

"Fuck you. I'm calling the cops," I said, and moved towards the door.

Blaine stamped his foot and a thunder clap sounded, shaking the house.

"Deny me this, son of man, and you'll be forced to slog indefinitely. Your words will be ignored, your name forfeit. Madness and insecurity will hound you for the rest of your days," Blaine said, his eyes glowing red.

"You're trespassing, Blaine. Fuck off," I said.

Blaine dissolved in a wisp of foul mist which smelled like rattlesnake farts and roadkill skunk guts. The gibbering moron was finally gone.

I sat back down at the computer and stared at the blank screen. Something brilliant was on the verge of being created, a future masterpiece ready to be born, yet the stubborn words would not come.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Letter to a Future Tyrant

Dear Sir, Madam, or Sentient Computer Overlord,

Congratulations! Though guile, hard work or insidious machinations, you’ve managed to wield undisputed, absolute power.

Most likely you ascended by convincing people of your flawless abilities or maniac vision. You might have used your charisma or physical force to murder thousands or millions of people you marginalized or demonized. Despite how you achieved the position of world dictator, I feel it incumbent to write and warn you of the eventual ramifications of your meddling.

I’m speaking from a framework of the late 20th century to early 21st century, and don’t know what your world looks like or how it operates. I’m assuming if humanity didn’t unleash nuclear hellfire, that there is a functioning society in your time, and that it operates much as ours did; people are born, have childhoods, fall in love, work, have children, get old and die. In my time, we even had moments of reflection called prayer, where we’d thank the great wizard in the sky we called God. Assuming religion isn’t abolished or outlawed in the future, I’d like to think people in your time still gather peacefully and pray.

One problem from my time hinged upon these prayers. People began praying for everything, and to not pray meant you were some sort of secular humanist or subversive. As they did in the past, politicians began summoning God for protection against people who thought differently. People turned against each other, persecuting those who sought reason and understanding through science and logic.

We became too obsessed with material culture, with acquiring things. We cloistered our minds against any new ideas, fearing them like a child fears an imaginary closet monster. People became isolated, partisan politics dominated and strength determined by who had the most guns and money.

In short, we were intellectually bankrupt, and extinguishing the flame of knowledge usually leads to social decay and disorder.

These conditions probably fermented your rise to power.

Despite our technology and over 7,000 years of human civilization, we comfortably descended into a new Dark Ages, one where humanity contentedly pushed buttons while ignoring each other. We stopped dreaming. We failed to look forward. We turned our backs on everything history taught us, on the valuable lessons of our ancestors.

Maybe you capitalized on this weakness to further divide us. Using Machiavellian tactics you crafted a world where you became the savior, the guardian of tomorrow. You became the sky wizard, promising prosperity while shackling everyone in chains.

Here’s the thing about humanity maybe you’ve realized. Humans are hopeful. We naturally desire a better situation, and no matter how bleak things get, we fight to maker things better.

Even though you terrorize a population into submission, your reign won’t last a thousand years. Emperors, kings and dictators throughout history always die, and their crazed, debauched reigns always crash and burn, whether through revolution, war or social change. History does not stand still, and neither do people. Time will eventually wash away your misdeeds and you’ll be regarded as a ridiculous nightmare as Hitler is to us.

There have always been people like you throughout history. Delusional, egotistical sociopaths who claim God is on your side. You view your fellow man as chattel, and through slavery, war or some other goofy excuse, you murdered, raped and sold millions to slake your insane appetite. Empires are always lubricated by the blood of the weak.

Yet even the most powerful leaders are often felled by their own delusions.

You failed to calculate that no matter how repressive your rule, there will always be those who resent you. In trying to bend humanity, you break them.

You become the schoolyard bully.

Everybody hates bullies.

One day, your frightened subjects, who spent years quivering in terror at your very footfalls will cease being afraid.

The tide will turn against you. The flood of resentment will eventually topple you and like every megalomaniac in history, you’ll ask yourself how this could’ve happened.

You’ll be exposed as a sham, a charlatan and a thug. The reality you fashioned out of force and might will implode.

You failed to grasp a few universal truths: Kindness works. Compassion is necessary. Compromise is essential.

Treat people with dignity, no matter their ages or genders, or whether they’re straight, gay, in a wheelchair, overweight or mentally ill. It’s okay if you don’t agree with them, but all people have basic human rights, even if they believe in a sky wizard or not, or even if their skin color is different from yours.

Freedom should be embraced and the marketplace of ideas must flourish. Diversity is not just some politically correct buzzword; it could spell the difference between a content populace and one enslaved.

The United States in my time is a democratic republic slowly transforming into a plutocratic oligarchy. The gulf between rich and poor is growing wider. Corporations and the moneyed classes are gobbling up everything, and sowing an atmosphere of paranoia. We’re teetering on the edge of the abyss, peering at the bottomless pit of your reality.

One need only review history to grasp at how power has been misused and abused over the centuries. Empires rose and fell and at one rare junction, men plotted to seize power for themselves, for the people. This began a brief experiment called the United States of America, which proved too fragile and succumbed to hubris and greed. 

Where does that leave you, oh munificent leader perched upon a throne of human skulls? 

In charge of puppet world, a sycophant's paradise. 

Obey or perish. 

So enjoy what precious little time you have left. Eventually, time will bury you. Worm food rotting in a box. Forever dead. The grave your ultimate reward. Despite all of your rapacious ambitions, your reign will eventually fade, your name forgotten. 

I write you this message from the past not to cajole or torment, but to enlighten and persuade. A man's deeds are how he's remembered, how he forges his legacy. What we do now could shape the world for years to come, even if it's trivial and small, such as a kind word or unselfish gesture. 

Make your legacy matter. Choose love over hatred, courage over fear. See good in yourself and others. It might be too late for the rulers of my age, who are obsessed with superstition and blinded by ignorance. We'd rather drown public discourse by shouting instead of patently listening. As your days unfold torturing and impaling your subjects for not genuflecting when you walk past them or setting people of fire for not bidding you a good morning, heed my words.

Don't be a dick. 

Your several cloned offspring will one day thank you for not unleashing the mutated hounds upon humanity and razing the Neutral Zone all because you were cranky after your nap. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why I Quit Standup

WARNING: The following essay contains strong language/adult content and may cause heart palpitations, nervous fidgeting, restlessness, unbridled outrage and/or uncomfortable silence.

My comedic saga began in 2006 with a newspaper advertisement encouraging amateurs to attend a six-week standup comedy class. I’ve always wanted to try standup comedy, believing it my destiny to make drunken strangers laugh. Ever since I recited Bill Cosby’s Wonderfulness album to my fellow 7th graders in the school cafeteria, comedy flowed in my blood.

Or so I thought.

The first time I tried standup was in 1991 at Glassboro State College on student talent night. I did it twice, and both five-minute sets were complete trainwrecks. I didn’t actually get booed, but the hostility was palpable. If you’ve never been heckled, you’ve never truly performed standup.

Having put those early uncomfortable experiences 20 years behind me, I was ready to try again, because,
A.     I was a complete masochist, and
B.     I was a gullible idiot who hadn’t the slightest notion of what I was getting into.

Two standup comics taught the class, which attracted some pretty frightening people. If you think the bus stop at 2 a.m. is a freak show, take an amateur comedy class. Lunatic central. A school teacher who did a bit about his whiny Colombian girlfriend, a pizza shop worker with five kids who joked about Nintendo games, a construction worker with an obnoxious obsession for celebrities, and an ex-professional wrestler whose colorful euphemism for penis was “rancid piss dispenser.”

We slogged through the course and eventually performed in front of audiences. They videotaped our sets. I have yet to watch mine, because I’m not into disaster porn.

After the class, a few of us formed a comedy troupe and struck out on our own, driving to shitty bars and clubs for a few minutes on stage. 

Comedians are damaged. Irretrievably psychologically wounded outsiders who crave attention and praise. A balancing act of ego and insecurity teetering on the brink of self-destruction. I would be a natural fit.

Plummeting down the rabbit hole into the comedian’s warped universe, I had no inkling of what awaited me.

Comedy, like anything worth pursuing, is hard work.

In time, you learn to craft a unique set, a series of jokes and bits wholly yours. The routine should say something about your exclusive experiences and impressions of the world. But in assembling this elusive set, you must tap into the powerful Zen-like notion of humor. Learn what is funny and work it like a blacksmith forges iron, fashioning it into a sophisticated bit, filigrees of hilarity, ornamentation of chuckles.

The hardest thing about standup is actually doing it. Hauling your ass on stage after butterflies fluttering in your stomach, the flop sweats, the anxiousness and anticipation. When the emcee calls your name and the audience throws you polite applause.

Then you’re in the spotlight, blinded, trying to discern the shuffling shapes in the darkness.
You grab that microphone and must make a choice. Will I bomb or will I kill?

You launch into your bit, stumble, recover, and the seconds tick by like an eternity. Yet you weather it all. The hecklers. The pauses. Forgetting details and backtracking. Staring nervously at your set list. It looked easy on TV, but they’re professional standup comics. George Carlin. Bill Hicks. Louie CK, Patton Oswalt. Ricky Gervais. All of them faced terrible audiences, dodgy club owners, and anonymity.

Yet they persevered. For them, it was the thrill of killing.

Killing is good. I killed twice, and the satisfaction, the approbation from the audience’s applause, carried me through the weekend. Euphoria. A blissful high. There’s nothing in the world like creating something and having strangers enjoy it.

Our travels continued, and we clamored for more stage time. When you start out, you play the most atrocious dives. I performed standup at a bowling alley, a bar, a Moose lodge, a coffee shop and a strip club. Nothing but class.

I had a really bad set at the Comedy Cabaret in northeast Philadelphia. I have it all on tape. Schindler’s List was funnier by comparison.

My worst set ever was performed at a Salem County country club in February. The audience consisted of my girlfriend, two comics, the event promoter and the promoter’s family. All I remember from that night (besides the inherent urge to slash my wrists) was the promoter doing ten minutes on receiving an enema from his wife. And I thought Lenny Bruce was a revolutionary comedic talent.

When you’re starting out, humor is scatological, crude and childish. Through time you learn subtleness and sensibility and aren’t so gratuitously vulgar. You can be funny without wallowing in the muck. Unfortunately, the muck was where I felt most comfortable because, 
A. I was a masochist, and
B. I was an idiot.

Here’s an example of one of my earliest jokes:
“You know how they say eating Chinese food makes you hungry and hour later? Does eating out a Chinese woman make you horny an hour later?”

Somebody actually left the room after I told that joke. Comedy club in Atlantic City, I told that joke and a white-bearded man in a red shirt left the room. Afterwards a fellow comic told me I had just walked Santa Claus.

So why did I leave the promising and lucrative world of standup comedy? The old adage timing is everything applied to my personal life. At the time, I was embroiled in a messy divorce and wasn’t connecting with people while onstage. You could only do so many ex-wife jokes before it becomes tiresome. Like listening to an ancient record that keeps skipping, hissing and popping. After a while, its not music. It’s a cacophony of shit.

I grew jaded of the routine, of scribbling observations and punch lines in a notebook, of traveling to backwoods bars, of the futile circlejerk rotation of opening, closing, emceeing. Southern New Jersey isn’t New York or Los Angeles. The audience for the brand of comedy I wanted to pursue, a more sardonic and intellectual variety, wasn’t here.

Writing is my one true passion. Words are always on the periphery, lurking nearby. Comedy is something I do because I feel silly or am comfortable enough. Yet writing is what I was put on Earth to do, not make dick jokes to a rowdy crowd. I’d rather be the sage on the page than the fool on stage.

So I fled the open mics, the smoke-filled clubs, the late nights driving to and from gigs. Somewhere in that ridiculous blur I had fun. Met some nice people and some assholes. Had my time on stage and performed a flawless ten-minute set. Performing in public frightens most people, and I did it. In a way I conquered a fear and learned a bit about the world while making an ass of myself.

That’s what life is, when you get down to it.

We’re all up on a stage, exposed, naked and vulnerable. Eyes upon us. Nowhere to run. You just have to plow through it the best you can. Maybe you’ll get heckled, maybe applauded.

But you never know until you try. So get on the stage.