Archive for Bullshit

Baby Levon Rocks On at The DOT

By | December 22, 2014 | 0 Comments
But it really did happen.

But it really did happen.

Friendos, this originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 4, Issue 1, March 1998. That’s a long time ago. This is an absolutely true tale of what I experienced after my car was towed in New York back in The Day.

The fucking New York City Police towed my car the day after Christmas and I travelled to 38th street and 12th avenue to pay $150.00 to get it back. I wasn’t happy to be paying $150.00, but I wasn’t in full-postal mode because it was just after Christmas and I was resigned to the perpetual screwing the universe was handing out to me on a daily basis anyway. Once you get resigned to the screwing, as any prison bitch will tell you, it really stops bothering you. That’s pretty much the definition of resigned anyway.

So I wandered into the tiny, unwindowed, bunker-like DOT office on December 26th and immediately read and comprehended a big 3X6 poster on the opposite wall which explained the proper way to collect your car. It read:

1. REMOVE PANTS

2. BEND OVER AND PLACE PALMS FLAT AGAINST WALL

3. WHEN WE ARE SATISFIED WE WILL LET YOU KNOW

4. BE POLITE! IMPOLITE BASTARDS WILL BE CHASTISED WITH MORE SCREWING.

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Categories: Bullshit, The Inner Swine

New Inner Swine

By | December 8, 2014 | 0 Comments

cov203-4sizSo, it’s been six months, and that means it’s time for a new issue of that thing you don’t read, my zine The Inner Swine. Volume 20, Issue 3/4 (Winter 2014) is out; I pushed it to Amazon and B&N, and I also posted the whole issue to Ello because why the fuck not. I mean, I literally have no idea what to do with Ello – no idea – so I figured why not do something stupid like post 65,000 words to it in poorly formatted HTML? Since I also have no idea what to do with my zombie-zine since I killed the print version.

So I did. Go read it for free, you filthy animals. It contains an entire unpublished novel of mine, BTW.

For those of you who prefer a bit more sanity, you can pay a dollar for the slightly-better formatting of the

Kindle

and the

Nook.

And as is traditional, I now take a moment to reflect on the insanity that was making approximately 1,500 copies of this zine on the office photocopier back in the day.

Categories: Bullshit, The Inner Swine

Salvage

By | December 1, 2014 | 3 Comments
This is the face of doom.

This is the face of doom.

I don’t know about y’all, but I have a problem with leaving things unfinished. Since turning in We Are Not Good People to my publisher, I’ve completed one novel (which I showed around to folks who all shrugged and evinced zero enthusiasm for) and since then I’ve started about four projects that more or less went nowhere, if you consider significant amounts of words to be “nowhere.” I’m not a big one for word counts, but it is a useful stat when discussing incomplete novels, so let’s say I have about 4 projects that got to be about 25,000 words or so and then petered out.

Usually this is because they lose that indescribable “buzz” that a living, breathing book has, at least for me. When a story is thriving, working on it is like picking up a live wire. I can feel that buzzing energy every time I put words to paper or screen. When that buzz is lost, I usually tinker for a while and eventually give up trying to make it move again. It’s like riding an elephant that suddenly keels over. For a while you’re bounding along going whoooooo and filled with adrenaline. Then you’re trapped under a ton of dead elephant and nothing you do, including stuffing dynamite under it and lighting a fuse, gets it moving again.

But, I hate to waste all those words. That means turning that dead elephant into a Frankenstein-monster via one of the following strategies:

  1. The Capper: Writing a brief ending of sorts that ties up your loose ends without much revision (“… and then the plane crashed. The end.”) and calling it a job … done.
  2. The Extraction: Taking some portion of the work that can stand alone as a short story with minimal revision and discarding the rest.
  3. The Combo: Realizing that some other unfinished monstrosity is similar in theme and combining the two into one much longer, less satisfying, but in some sense “finished” work.

None of these are ideal, but I will admit that #2 has worked pretty well from time to time. The thing is, I hate unfinished projects. I hate the waste, and sometimes in those 25,000 words there are 10,000 I think are pretty good, so I want them out there someday. So I’m often willing to roll up my sleeves, do some meatball surgery, and call what I end up with a success. Which, sometimes, it is.

Now I’m working on a new idea and I’m getting towards that point where the elephant either suddenly and quite surprisingly spread its Dumbo ears and takes flight, or staggers over dead, trapping me beneath its rotting carcass. I’ll keep you posted.

Categories: Bullshit, Writing

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 | 3 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?

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