Archive for Bullshit

The King of North Street: I Was Once a Gifted Athlete

By | November 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

This essay originally appeared in The Inner Swine 19(1/2), Summer 2013.

Okay, first of all, the ravages of fucking time are fucking horrible, right? Sweet Jebus on a tricycle, I once looked like this:

Proof I've looked drunk since the day I was born.

Proof I’ve looked drunk since the day I was born.

Sweet hell, I was adorable. Shut up – I was adorable. Blond, soulful eyes, the correct proportion of nose to ears, I had it going on. Today I look like the fucking Crypt Keeper. Oh, this is the normal and perfectly natural process of aging? Maybe so, but it’s still personally horrifying, and if you’ve been riding this zine ride for 20 years with me you know this is all about me being personally horrified at things. If I was the type to wear a monocle, it would be constantly popping off in shock and dismay.

Anyway, if you are only familiar with what we will refer to as Old As Hell Jeff, which is to say any version of Jeff you may have encountered after he discovered alcohol and began drinking himself to death every night, you may be surprised to learn that there was a brief time in my very early childhood when I imagined myself to be somewhat athletically gifted. Whether or not I was actually athletically gifted or if I was just the least un-gifted on a block filled with children of questionable dexterity and physical fitness remains a mystery for the ages, but when I was a kid, man, I was fast.

I know I was fast because I won races.

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Competence is Overrated

By | November 14, 2014 | 1 Comments
COMPETENT

COMPETENT

So, about 2.5 years ago my day job and I got divorced, and after the mourning period had been duly celebrated with hooch and crying jags, I launched a freelance writing career. The business plan boiled down to: Pay me any sort of legal currency and I will write anything you want, ’cause I write real good. Did I have visions of people writing me huge checks to interview glamorous people because I’m a famous author? Or, well, an author? Maybe. Did that happen? Dude, I can barely sell my own books, much less command big freelance money.

It’s been a haul. I started off writing some of the most boring shit you’ve ever heard of for ridiculously low amounts of money. Slowly, I built a client base, moved up the pay scale ladder, and today I can actually say I write for a living. Granted, “living” is a fluid term. What, you don’t supplement your diet with cardboard? Elitist.

But I digress. What’s really amazing about freelance writing, to me, is that it’s the first time in my life that I feel competent in my work.

MEMO

Back in high school someone explained the acronym MEMO to me: Minimum Effort, Maximum Output. I instantly adopted it as my life philosophy, and overnight I gained ten pounds, my grades plummeted, and I started writing all my English papers without actually reading the books. I made my way through the rest of my academic career in this way: The goal has always been to get by without doing much work, so that I would have more time and energy for the things I did want to do, like write novels or play guitar or train cats to fetch liquor for me.

As a result, I haven’t felt competent in decades, because I am always barely paying attention to things and people, including people who are, say, attempting to train me in how to do a job. I spent a lot of time in panic sweats, completely and utterly unsure how to proceed. It’s a stressful way to live, let me tell you. At least, it’s stressful when you’re not napping or playing video games while ostensibly employed.

But now, it’s remarkable: For the first time in my life I feel competent. I’m doing something for money that I actually know how to do and that I’m good at. Granted, it often involves writing product descriptions about sex toys, or pretending to be knowledgeable about things I only heard existed when the job was assigned to me, but it doesn’t matter: If there is one thing I know how to do, it’s write.

It’s a giddy feeling for an old-school incompetent such as myself. The best part? Drinking is finally officially in my job description, mainly because I wrote my job description. Huzzah!

Categories: Bullshit

America’s Next Idiot Model: I Spent a Day Wearing Scrubs

By | November 10, 2014 | 1 Comments
Yes, I was beaten several times for being too pretty.

Yes, I was beaten several times for being too pretty.

This originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 19, Issue 3/4.

So, 1:30PM on a Sunday and I’m a plastic surgeon’s office in Manhattan, wearing hospital scrubs and eating a free lunch. I’ve been here since 9AM, along with approximately six thousand other people: A photographer and his assistants, a wardrobe person, a producer, three professional models and many extras, of which I am one.

How I wound up here is unimportant. Suffice to say I didn’t seek out a one-day career as a model, it was thrust upon me. By The Duchess. Need I say more? Probably, but I won’t.

Hurry Up: Wait

I will say this: Modeling, even the half-assed form of it I engaged in wherein I was basically a warm body needed for background shots, a piece of human staging and decoration, is fucking hard work. Obviously not “hard work” in the sense of, say, working in a mine or sewing shoes for Nike in some unventilated Chinese factory, but hard enough for a pudgy boy like myself, used to frequent marinating in liquor and lots of nap time.

First of all: The waiting. You have to show up on time, natch, but then there is a lot of sitting around while they get their shit together or work with other people. So I sat there all morning writing. Not a bad deal, if you’re getting paid – sit around and work on a novel, go home with a check.

But if anyone out there has ever had to put in some serious waiting, you know it’s actually hard work. Reality distorts around you. You begin eating everything in sight. You watch the battery drain on your laptop in despair. After after being somewhat productive for a few hours, you find you just can’t work any more and goddamn you just want the photographer to call your name and ask you to do something. Anything. This is how people are lured into pornography. They hire you to ?model’ and make you sit around for hours and hours until you snap and when they say “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if you took off your top?” you think God yes ANYTHING to relieve the boredom and six weeks later you’re starring with Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons 2: Electric Boogaloo and weeping in public toilets.

But I digress.

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Why I Miss Complete Games

By | October 30, 2014 | 2 Comments
Weak.

Weak.

WARNING: This post is about baseball.

All right, baseball. It’s the one sport I ever paid attention to, the one sport I ever tried to play (and failed disastrously at), and the one sport I still occasionally watch. My interest in baseball has waned a bit over the years, thanks to drug scandals and simply finding other things to occupy my time, but I still have some affection for the sport, and still like to scan the boxscores and watch the World Series. The reason for my lingering interest: Stats.

Stats are why so many of us soft white men of a certain age (SWMCAs) love baseball: It’s a slow-paced game you can keep up with, yes, but it’s true joys are statistics: Mounds of them. So many and so well defined that math-based card games have been created around it. I love the statistics of baseball. And one reason I love them so much is because they span the ages: You might argue whether pitchers in 1930 threw harder or softer or had more or less action on their breaking balls, but home runs are home runs, and statistics allow me to view baseball through a comprehensible lens of data.

Now, we’ve suffered some changes in baseball. I was too young to care about the designated hitter, and baseball’s been more or less the same through most of my life. And I’m not one to mourn natural evolutions in the game, either – times change. Strategies change. The way the game is played changes. That’s fine.

And yet, I miss complete games.

A complete game, in case you’re uninterested and unfamiliar with baseball and yet are still reading this, perhaps because you simply love everything I write, no matter the subject, is when a the pitcher who starts the game (that is, throws the first pitch) also finishes the game. It is usually, but not always, the winning pitcher who completes a game.

Even back in The Day, not every game got completed, and relievers have played an increasing role in modern baseball as managers figured out that it’s better to bring in some rested fireballer in the 8th inning than let their exhausted started squirt out a few beach balls for the batter to smack into the stands. It all makes sense, but I miss complete games. When I was a kid, starting pitchers still completed about 40% of all games. It wasn’t crazy for a starting pitcher to complete 20 games in a year.

Today? It’s not unusual for a starting pitcher to have zero complete games. Entire teams have less than 10 between all the starters.

Again, it makes sense. I don’t deny that. But I like complete games, for a simple reason: Baseball, for me, has always been about individual achievement. I like stats because it shows me what this particular player did. A starting pitcher with a lot of complete games is a great pitcher, because they controlled the whole game and came out a winner. Without that stat, everything else feels soft: Low ERAs? They didn’t have to battle through the ninth with a dead arm. High strikeout-to-innings pitched ratios? They had a lot more rest and threw a lot fewer innings. Without complete games, the rest feels cheaper.

On the other hand, thank goodness there are no statistics for authors to be judged against! Like book sales … or lack thereof. Excuse me. I have something in my eye.

Categories: Bullshit

Why I’ll Never Be an Actor

By | October 27, 2014 | 3 Comments
A face for radio!

A face for radio!

So, the other day I was recorded reading a brief excerpt of We Are Not Good People for The Author’s Corner, a public radio program. When I was initially approached for this, I was excited, of course, and also pretty confident. I’ve done a fair share of readings, after all, and I think I have a good sense of what works in a reading and how to read my own work so it’s a little entertaining. I’m fairly confident in my voice; while I don’t think it’s some sort of Saruman-like instrument, people don’t run screaming when I start to read some fiction. Or, more commonly, when I stand up in a tavern and begin to recite The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from memory, as I am wont to do.

As usual, life noticed me being cocky and confident, and decided that Somers boy needs to be taught a lesson.

First, the first twelve or so excerpts from the book I submitted were rejected. We only had about a minute to work with, so the excerpt had to do a lot of work: Be entertaining, be coherent, have an arc and a point, not be too gory or profanity-laden (that last one, from a book written by me and involving blood magic, was a doozy). Finding the ideal piece to read was a struggle, and just when I thought we’d failed, I hit on the perfect excerpt: The very beginning of the book.

Triumph! We were both happy with that choice. So I sailed into the offices of my redoubtable lit agent and met the producer of the show. He unpacked his equipment and created a mini-studio in an unused office, and we started working on a very brief introduction. This was harder than expected, too, but we finally nailed it down and I commenced reading. And discovered I could never be an actor.

Which I guess I knew.

Take after take, the producer gave notes. Good notes, really. Smart notes. And while I always considered myself at least modestly facile with performance — see my leading man-caliber performances as part of Two Men Have Words, for instance — even I knew that I wasn’t really nailing it. I knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted it to sound, and yet when I read it I would lose the thread of what I was hearing in my head and it would be … not so good.

Actors, I imagine, have to go through something like that. Being told their performance was just not … quite right, do it again. And then that the version they gave five minutes ago was 98% right, but this most recent one was only 60%. And then you finally nail one bit that was problematic, and feel great, only to hear that there are 15 more things to tweak. It’s exhausting. It didn’t exactly make me think that actors deserve the tens of millions of dollars they get for their films, but it drifted me a little closer to that conclusion.

In the end, I got it right. For about eighty total seconds of audio we worked for an hour and a half. It’s probably the longest I’ve gone without a drink in years.

Wednesday is Guitar Day

By | October 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Epiphone Les Paul CustomI sometimes ponder how history will remember my musical compositions, often coming up with the disturbing-on-many-levels conclusion that the answer is “better than your fiction.”

Harrumph.

Here, songs:

Song663
Song664
Song665
Song667
Song668
Song670
Song671

You’re welcome.

The usual disclaimer: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I cannot do anything about the general quality of the mix, as I am incompetent.

Categories: Bullshit

Poorly Scheduled Film Analysis: TED

By | September 29, 2014 | 0 Comments
Ted Actually Happened

Ted Actually Happened

So, this essay is going to be about the film Ted, directed by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame and co-written by him as well, starring Marky Mark and Mila Kunis. You may have seen it two years ago when this essay might have had some cultural relevance.

Anyhoo, I was thinking about this movie again for reasons impossible to explain. It’s not a terrible movie. Like all of MacFarlane’s work, it has flashes of quick wit and even brilliance muddied up with poop jokes and a frenetic over-reliance on the flashback. Still, all in all I enjoyed it. Except something has always bugged me about Ted. Something’s always been a bit off. Can you put your finger on it?

The titular Ted in this movie is an enchanted teddy bear who magically comes to life. But he completely, totally, absolutely does not need to be.

The Courage of Your (Writing) Convictions

Let’s consider this. No, seriously, let’s. There is absolutely no story reason that Ted has to be a magical teddy bear. None. Let’s play a thought experiment: Imagine watching this movie, and Ted is replaced by a CGI Benny Hill. Everything except some minor dialog would be exactly the same: Marky Mark and Ted become friends as children, Ted has some brief fame (for a reason other than being a magical teddy bear, of course – stay with me here), and Marky Mark’s girlfriend is fed up with their immaturity and lack of focus.

Every single plot point and scene still works with Benny Hill instead of a teddy bear. Every. Single. Plot point. Even the kidnapping at the end makes sense if we assume that Giovanni Ribisi’s character is just insane. Which, since he’s being played by the always-disturbing Giovanni Ribisi, we assume he is. Heck, even the one liners and jokes generally wouldn’t have to change, or not change much.

So why is Ted a teddy bear? Why bother when the movie’s really a buddy film about two friends finally taking the plunge into independent adulthood? I can only speculate, but I think he maybe didn’t trust his material.

I’ve done that: Dressed up a story as something else because I didn’t think I had anything funny or exciting to say. Turned a detective story into a SF story, a love story into a horror story, all because I thought I needed a lot of scares and flashing lights to keep people’s attention. I can’t say that Seth MacFarlane did that. Maybe he had a meeting with your typical Hollywood Producer:

MacFarlane: I have this idea for a coming-of-age comedy starring Marky Mark.

Producer: I am so stoned right now you appear to be a magical talking teddy bear.

MacFarlane: Okay … uh, it’s really warm and witty with my trademark –

Producer: This briefcase is filled with cocaine and cash. You can have it all if you make a movie about a talking toy bear. Otherwise I will dedicate my life to destroying you professionally.

MacFarlane: … SOLD!

You know it’s possible. In fact, I am now 100% certain this is exactly how Ted – and several other recent Hollywood films – came to be. My only question is, why won’t someone with a suitcase filled with cocaine and cash show up and force me to make films from my books?

Brooklyn Book Festival

By | September 25, 2014 | 1 Comments
October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014

When people live in New Jersey, the borough of Brooklyn is viewed with much anxiety and excitement, because it’s relatively unexplored by we Jerseyans. Myths and legends abound, but there’s is precious little actual information. We hear tales of men with outrageous facial hair and people amassing small fortunes via Air BnB, but when you go there it’s pretty much just like every other urban area. When I was given the opportunity to spend an hour signing We Are Not Good People at the Mystery Writers of America‘s table at the Brooklyn Book Festival recently, I agreed because so far wishing very hard hasn’t resulted in anyone paying attention to my book, and because I am always looking for ways to defy the various restraining orders that bookstores have on me.

It was a sultry day. So sultry I almost swooned several times, and had to be resuscitated by my friends Ken West and Sean Ferrell, who showed up demanding I pay them monies I owed them, then stuck around on orders from The Duchess, who feared I would slip away without supervision to the nearest bar.

Ken offers me a quarter for my book while Sean laughs uproariously, delighted at my humiliation.

Ken offers me a quarter for my book while Sean laughs uproariously, delighted at my humiliation.

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It’s a Neighbor Affair

By | September 18, 2014 | 2 Comments
Hi, we just opened a Clown College next door.

Hi, we just opened a Clown College next door.

Ah, other people. You mysterious, dreadful beings. From afar, I can appreciate your beauty and the exotic ways of your mating rituals and territorial pissings. Up close, I usually at least have the sensation of an open doorway behind me so I can make a fast getaway by shouting “Look!” and just running really fast.

But then, sometimes, you live next door to me.

Now, to be clear, almost all of my neighbors in my life have been good people. Polite, respectful, and if a little strange around the edges well I’m sure some misguided folks think the same about me, even though I am kept in a lab in Switzerland next to the International Prototype Kilogram as the Standard Person. But just because my neighbors have by and large been totally fine to live near doesn’t mean I don’t watch them carefully at all times, looking for signs of Weird.

Because it’s there.

Now, I’ve always had a healthy distrust of other people, a distrust that grows stronger the nearer they are to me and sprouts into full-blown paranoia when they’re within my Sphere of Influence, so to speak, but since I started working from home a few years ago I’ve had the opportunity to just sit here and sip whiskey … uh, I mean, work really hard in case my wife is reading this … and observe my neighborhood at my leisure. I’ve seen fights break out over parking spaces. I’ve seen people having sex with the windows open. I’ve seen one neighbor mysteriously deliver a gallon of milk to another once or twice a month. I’ve witnessed public lovers’ quarrels and I’ve overheard entire conversations about home renovations.

Once, a group of neighbors gathered under my window and sang songs to me in soft, angelic voices, but to be honest I was halfway through a bottle of Scotch that turned out, upon closer examination the next day, to be a bottle of really old cough syrup that had turned from ruby red to brown, so that one might have been imagined.

I’ve become a sort of Groundhog Day Godling of my block. I know all and see all. I know when you’re having work done, and I know when you shop for groceries. Also what you consider the word groceries to be, which is often a surprising and not very comforting grouping of innovations. I know when you leave in the morning (unless its super early, in which case I assume there is a insomniac godling doing my job at night, glowing softly, like the moon) and I know when you get home at night.

Come to think of it, maybe I’m the weird neighbor in this scenario.

If so, it’s not on purpose. My desk just happens to be next to a window.

Naturally, all of these observations will end up in books and stories under changed names and sometimes genders and ethnicities, usually long after I’ve completely forgotten the original moments I witnessed. My memory is a feeble thing, and everything I’ve seen recently will swirl into an imprecise haze, allowing me to take your humiliations and churn them into stories. It’s what I do.

Categories: Bullshit, Writing

Going Carless

By | September 15, 2014 | 3 Comments

518487_89017606Growing up, I had what I imagine was a fairly typical Western middle-class relationship with the automobile: Indifference at first, followed by an adolescent lust. When I purchased my first car – a 1978 Chevy Nova for $1 – it was an amazing moment: The whole world was open to me. A year or two later I took that beater cross-country, and it suffered catastrophic problems in the Black Hills and I barely limped home.

After that, I experienced the phenomenon of Car Envy; I was carless, and I would walk the streets and study everyone else’s cars and wish I could afford to buy a new one. Or knew how to steal one. Cars filled my thoughts. I felt trapped and constrained.

I did eventually buy another car (not as cool as Laverne, the Nova, who had style) and later got rid of it when I merged everything with The Duchess. Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and our car got flooded and towed away …  and we simply never replaced it.

We live in a walkable town, with plenty of public transportation and access to New York City, so we’re kind of ideally positioned to not have a car. There are plenty of places in the world where not having a car would be impossible. And our circumstances could change at any moment and require us to buy a car, since the world today is designed for car travel. So this isn’t a statement about how awful cars are and how everyone should go carless.

That said, it’s been pretty nice. No parking woes. No insurance and maintenance costs. Any time we’ve rented a car to go somewhere, there is a fifteen-second period of “Wow, driving is hella fun!” followed by sitting at a stop sign for ten minutes and then crawling another four blocks followed by inching our way along an access ramp followed by oh holy hell someone shoot me in the head. In other words, every time we rent a car it reminds us how awful driving in this area really is.

What’s really interesting are the disbelieving reactions we get. Even people who live in this town and know what it’s like always give us what scientists call The Fisheye when we tell them we not only don’t own a car, we have no desire or plans to purchase a new one. It’s like we just announced we’re communists and that we’re keeping our cats not as pets but as a food source. Granted, it’s a bit unusual to not have a car these days, but the awkwardness the revelation inspires is a little off-putting.

Then again, I sit at my office window in the early evenings and watch people literally fight over parking spaces, and I feel this smug sense of peace settle over me. Plus there’s the fact that when I irritate and irritate my neighbors with my pantsless antics, they can’t slash my tires.

Categories: Bullshit

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