I sent out an advance copy of my first novel to several authors, hoping they'd all be willing to read it and provide blurbs for the back cover and opening pages. Here are just a few of the responses I received:
"I wish I were still alive so I could say I'd written this book. Then again, after a moment's cogitation, the fact that I didn't is indubitably worth the price of death."
Sir William F. Buckley, Jr.
"Tom Renshaw can't write his way out of a paper bag, which is just as well as it spares the rest of us the sight of his Borgninian countenance."
"If Tom Renshaw is not a terrorist, I'll eat an entire plate of my own feces--buffet style--all day long--on national television--for free."
"If I were constitutionally capable of saying anything nice about anyone, I would say that Tom Renshaw's new novel is on par with anything written by Milton, Dante, or Cervantes. Since I'm not, I can tell you that this book is a piece of shit in a rectangular format, infinitesimally handy for a Senegalese tribesman, perhaps, building a hut for his family on the outskirts of Dakar, but not so much for anyone else."
"Ever since I was passed up for a supporting role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I've been staging a quiet rebellion against popular culture by reading lots of books besides the Big One. This fellow Tom Renshaw is a sinner who bears the mark of the beast. Please buy a copy of his book and burn it at once."
"After reading Renshaw's book, not only did I believe it heralded the death of not just literature, or even fiction, but the printed word as a whole. Nice work, Tom! Now I have to find a new job too!"
"Considering how degraded our social values have become, I wouldn't be surprised if Renshaw were awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for this new volume of tripe."
Despite all the discouraging words, I'm going to keep plugging away. After all, I've got nothing better to do besides work, and who wants to do that?
Yesterday while on my second cup of strong coffee, I sat down and scribbled away in my notebook for a few minutes. What started out as a free-writing exercise turned into a tongue-twister and finally a compact if bloviating cosmological disquisition.
Here it is, unabridged and (unless I change my mind in the course of copying it out, which I might) unedited, for your convenience, amusement, nausea, or all of the above.
(This should probably be on the Essays page rather than in Fiction, but it's too late now, since I've already started writing it and scrolled back up from below to write this as a semi-disclaimer.)
Remote Control Freak
Success is a successpool of secular suspects. Incessant effervescent convalescent adolescent, my dear incandescent crescent moon and fellow lunatic, yoo-hoo, who are you? Peek-a-boo, I see you--coup d'etat at Mardi Gras, cole slaw now against the law in Warsaw, Robert Shaw--p'shaw.
Cholesterol and volleyball, Christmas trees and wistful fleas, leaves feel less substantial than flesh, even though we're all destined for dust, from the crummiest cobweb to the most stalwart castle. None can survive the battlefield of twaddle, no matter how many times you throttle your wattle. Your needy seed can't help but breed birds to be future feathered flight school graduates, avian descendants of dinosaurs who don't need pilots or flight attendants to help them navigate the trendy skies or migrate south for the winter, much as the cold or clouds of smog might give them migraines that squeeze their beleaguered bright bird brains and make them cry out with plangent demands of the pirates plundering the planet.
No longer so amusing, most music mangles the mind, mashing memories of merrier times and replacing them with tenaciously trivial lyrics and mass-produced recycled melodies accompanied by synthesizers and dry-cleaned voices and drum machines.
Radiohead is an excellent exception, as are the Kooks and a few other groups strong and smart enough to stick to their guns, but the trajectory towards excrement is inevitable when the lowest common denominator is to dominate the market, contaminating the contemplative landscape of the crowded cranium with irrelevant sound effects that disturb the brain's effectiveness, erect barriers between and among crucial human beings, each one the cell of a living god, a mercurial manifestation of the Emancipation Proclamation, a tacit Declaration of Independence too humbled by the bumbling machinations of their misguided corporations to stand up and declare, "I am somebody!" instead of "I'm a loser" or a real nowhere man in a world with no time or place for heroes, who interfere too much with the intricate workings of the machinery that overpowers the greenery, that promises to dye the sky green and the ocean purple, after the bacteria replacing all the other aquatic life have multiplied enough to turn the briny deeps to hydrogen sulfate (sic? could be sulfide--will check n' letcha know)-- *
--not the fate you might have envisioned even for your great-grandchildren, but I'm sure the dinosaurs didn't plan on getting wiped out by an asteroid either. These things just happen in our randomly pandemonious universe. Despite the complex and inviolable laws of physics, things are complicated and chaotic enough for occasional flashes of anarchy--
unless the scientists are wrong and we're in the hands of a mad god, a berserk son of a monkey who loves to lose his temper, a maniac on angel dust who's crazy about crushing his creations in a flood of guilt--a distinct possibility if he has indeed made us in his image and is a psychopathic personality.
And after this love child of Captain Ahab and Moby-Dick has gone on a bender and gotten his jollies exhausting his options in the vast amphitheater of outer space, he can sit on a rock in space or else outside the multiverse and catch his breath, wait for the loneliness of absolute solitude to sink in after he's finished howling his lament for all he's destroyed, vigorously rub his palms together, and say out loud, either to himself or to the great goddess within whose womb he works:
"Now, then. Let's start again, shall we?"
* This forecast comes from paleontologist Peter Ward, who has written a book about it I confess I've yet to read called Under a Green Sky, although I've watched some fascinating interviews with the guy on You Tube and helped begin to curtail my colossal scientific illiteracy, a herculean task if there ever was one.
Sunday December 11, 2011
What if Narcissus had encountered his reflection in the pool in the wintertime instead of the summer? When he kissed the face he saw staring up at him from the black glass of the frozen pond, his lips would have stuck to the ice. Instead of drowning, he would have frozen to death.
Hypothermia does have its charms, however. Apparently, as the body goes into shock, it starts to feel warm, then progressively warmer until you feel as if you were burning up.
Since Narcissus clearly had a thing for himself (and no one else, the self-centered little prick) anyway, that would have meant he'd have taken all his clothes off, in spite of the gymnastic awkwardness of such an ordeal, what with his lips adhering to the frozen pool and all the whole time, which would also make indispensable cursing a challenge. He would have to either mumble or dispense most of the cascading volley of oaths in his head. And what good is swearing if you can't do it out loud? It's like listening to your favorite album with the volume turned all the way down. Of course, it would be hard for him to make out his overall reflection from that perspective, so he wouldn't be able to get further turned on by the sight of his own naked body, the muscles ripened by ample time spent working out at the mirror-less gym (a phenomenon unheard of in today's self-scrutinizing world). By this time he probably would have turned blue anyway, and close enough to death to say a final prayer to Poseidon: "Hey, could you please melt the ice, buddy, so I can get out of here? I promise never to kiss my own image again. Help!"
"No such luck, pretty boy. You're going to come back as a flower child."
When he got to Tartarus, after being issued a tent and a sleeping bag by one of Hades' lackeys, Narcissus saw someone he'd always admired for his cussedness and uncomplaining stamina under arduous conditions.
He cried out: "Sisyphus! Is that you? What an honor it is to meet you at last. May I have your autograph?"
"I'm kind of busy right now, sonny. Why don't you come back in about twelve million years? That's when I'll be on my lunch break."
Saturday December 10, 2011
The Birth of Athena
Zeus complained to the doctor, "The lunatic is in my head," unwittingly quoting the lyrics to the Pink Floyd song "Brain Damage" two thousand years before the band even existed.
The doctor said, "Let's take a look and see what we can do for you."
After a cursory examination of Zeus' head, which the patient clutched while clenching his teeth and cursing himself, since he was the King of the Olympians, the doctor said, "I think I've spotted the problem."
With that, the doctor picked up a wedge and set the narrow end against Zeus' hairline. The nurse handed him a sledgehammer.
"There we are," said the doctor, more to himself than anyone else.
The doctor lifted the tool and slammed the wide end of the wedge as hard as he could.
Zeus howled in agony.
The doctor took a step back as Zeus' skull began to split in jagged lightning-shaped branches before cracking open like a giant egg, only with the deafening, thunderous roar of an earthquake.
"It's a baby girl!" cried the doctor. "Healthy, and already full-grown as it turns out. Wearing a suit of armor on horseback, no less."
"Thanks, Doc," said Zeus. "How much do I owe you?"
Friday December 9, 2011
Wouldn't it have been funny if, after weeks of drinking raw eggs before his wintry morning run, Rocky Balboa's heart suddenly gave out from the glut of cholesterol in his arteries? How would Apollo Creed receive the news of Rocky's death?
"Rocky Balboa was a great American boxer, a hero in the strictest sense of the word, who loved punching out dangling slabs of beef and bone hacked from steer carcasses in Pauly's slaughterhouse in his spare time. He did this not to show how tough he was, but to demonstrate his distaste for the paintings of Francis Bacon. He was especially offended by the painting Bacon had done of Pope Pius, making him look like a monster from hell, just because the pope had helped out the Nazis (nice to see you at the funeral, Benedict). I mean, that might have been out of line, but he was the fricking Pope, for Christ's sake. You don't mess with the fucking Pope, I don't care how corrupt the dude is."
Friday December 2, 2011
The following excerpt is from Dick Cheney's memoir: In My Time
A lot of people blame me for shooting my good friend Harry Whittington in the face during a hunting expedition. I adore shooting quail who've had their wings clipped to make it less of a chore to annihilate them in cold blood. Nice to get out and get some fresh air while exterminating harmless birds just for the fun of it. Anyway, it's understandable that certain people might be miffed at me for blasting my friend's face with buckshot at point-blank range, but he shouldn't have crept up on me like that. Granted, he was only tapping me on the shoulder and asking for a light for his cigarette, but he spooked me. I thought he might be bin Laden. By the way, Obama deserves no credit whatsoever for the Al Qaeda leader's assassination. The whole story was faked. Bush and I got Osama back in October 2001. We snuffed him out before we even staged the war on Afghanistan. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Thought we'd better destroy Afghanistan, and Iraq while we were at it, along with Pakistan for good measure, just to be on the safe side.
Although I'm appalled by Chirac Obama's pusillanimous protections of human rights when it comes to banning waterboarding, my own personal favorite high-pressure enhanced interrogation technique, I do applaud his decision to ramp up the use of Reaper and Predator drones against civilian populations, especially in the Middle Eastern and Pakistani theaters, as well as in Somalia. His decision to do so is, in my humble view, nothing short of heroic.
Many left-wing pansies and other terrorists accuse me of having a conflict of interest in my decision to give Halliburton a no-bid contract to rebuild the freshly decimated Iraq. Nothing could be further from the truth. The billions I made from the stock I invested in Halliburton I contributed in their entirety to the Richard B. Cheney foundation, a charitable organization whose headquarters are in an undisclosed location, and whose activities are classified.
Just in case you have any ideas about not purchasing my book, allow me to say that President Obama, or Cousin Barry, as I like to call him, has implemented the technology necessary to target those who refuse to consume my autobiographical product. This could be in the form of surveillance cameras, wiretaps, and monitors to gather damning evidence to further marginalize subversive critics of whichever administration happens to be in power, along with those who pooh-pooh the Supreme Court, most notably in its noble decision to open the doors to unlimited corporate campaign donations through their wise judgment in the Citizens United case.
And in case you feel that America is not enough of a democracy for you, there's a nice bedroom waiting for you in Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray, guarded by snarling German shepherds and men with cattle prods who know how to keep their charges in line. If the Department of Homeland Security catches you singing a song in the shower, you'd better hope it's "The Star-Spangled Banner," and not "We Shall Overcome."
Shakespearean Sound Bytes
"How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world!"
"So what kind of office skills do you possess, Mr. Hamlet?"
"Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle towards my hand?"
"Dude, you're having a bad trip. It's only the remote to the TV. You just need to take a deep breath and chill."
"It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."
"Okay, no more stories for you, young man!"
"Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!"
"So, we'll see you at the party tonight, then?"
"How all occasions do inform against me And spur my dull revenge!"
"Dull? You're telling me! Actions speak louder than words, Mack! Let's get to the climax already."
"We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service--two dishes, but to one table. That's the end."
"Ahem, would you mind? I'm eating."
"Your wives, your daughters, Your matrons, and your maids could not fill up The cistern of my lust; and my desire All continent impediments would o'erbear That did oppose my will."
"So what makes you think you're qualified to lead a troupe of Girl Scouts?"
"I have given suck, and know How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this."
"It's been nice meeting you, Miss Macbeth, but I think my husband and I are really looking for a more--shall we say, 'nurturing'--babysitter."
"Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee! Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold; Thou hast no speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare with!"
"I know I must look like a mess. I just got out of plastic surgery and I have to wait three days before I can take the bandages off."
"This might be the pate of a politician, which this ass now o'erreaches; one that would circumvent God, might it not?"
"Floyd Mitchell for U. S. Senate. Nice to meet you."
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
"Then I assume you won't mind if I shoot you in the head."
"When we are born, we cry that we are come To this great stage of fools."
"Hey, that's no way to talk to your mother!"
"Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art."
"Spare change, please."
"Life's but a walking shadow, A poor player that struts and frets His hour upon the stage, And then is heard from No more."
"So tell me, Mr. Macbeth, how long have you been suffering from low self-esteem?"
Passages from Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
(The one nice thing about quoting long-dead authors is you don't have to worry about copyright restrictions. Thanks for being dead, guys! Oh, and thanks also for devoting your lives to the unwavering pursuit of great art.)
The following scene is from Chapter 96, "The Try-Works." In case it reminds you of Shakespeare, that's because Melville steeped himself in some of the bard's tragedies in the course of writing the book--not a bad way to build one's own talent.
Then again, if you meet the Buddha on the street, you're supposed to kill him. Too late, my friends. Alas, Shakespeare was already dead--Shakespeare the dude, anyway. If anyone has been outlived and/or immortalized by his own works, it's Uncle Billy Bob Shakespeare.
(For more on Buddhism, please turn to the page entitled "Life in Korea.")
Without further ado, here's that remarkable passage from Melville (bear with me, as it's a bit of a lengthy paragraph, but bears repeating in full):
"The hatch, removed from the top of the works, now afforded a wide hearth in front of them. Standing on this were the Tartarean shapes of the pagan harpooneers, always the whale-ship's stokers. With huge pronged poles they pitched hissing masses of blubber into the scalding pots, or stirred up the fires beneath, till the snaky flames darted, curling, out of the doors to catch them by the feet. The smoke rolled away in sullen heaps. To every pitch of the ship there was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all eagerness to leap into their faces. Opposite the mouth of the works, on the further side of the wide wooden hearth, was the windlass. This served for a sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched in their heads. Their tawny features, now all begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander's soul."
Does anyone write like that anymore? Does anyone even try?