Mortimer the Porcupine and the Unapologetic Quill-Weilding


Many Splarks stories exhibit extreme optimism, uplifting stories about plucky, weird animals overcoming the odds and achieving their dreams.  Well, here’s one for you pessimists out there who are tired of goodness and determination.  Revel in some doom and gloom!   

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Mortimer the Porcupine was a very bad-tempered porcupine. Despite the fact that the world in general had never done anything reprehensible to him, he often used his quills to stab random animals and people passing by. Sometimes when the quill didn’t meet its mark, he would yank it out with his teeth and chase after the unfortunate creature, poking it mercilessly when he caught up.

He was kind of a dick, really.

You might hope for a story in which Mortimer discovered in some capricious way that being a dick couldn’t rival the joy of true love or compassion to all God’s creatures. Yes, that would be satisfying, wouldn’t it? But that would merely be conjecture based on your desperate need for an orderly, mammalian-centered universe. Animals like Mortimer preferred to face the truth: we live in a cold, harsh universe that cares as much for you as it does your local landfill. Oh, perhaps it cherishes you both equally, planning for your edification and comfort just as it does for the dump, taking satisfaction in the development and fruition of the marvelous plans it has for you both.

[You: enter life as an exceptionally gifted and oft-misunderstood child, meet your soulmate, marry in an extravagant wedding paid for by your hefty salary, bear exceptionally gifted children, become CEO of a prestigious company, retire in the Caribbean, die surrounded by loved ones, and re-emerge as an esteemed disincarnate being in a mystical realm.

The dump: lives on virgin land with excellent decomposition prospects, is tended by enthusiastic sanitation workers, smells of roses and cedarwood, births a magical carpet of daisies above the refuse once its pit is filled, and hosts a prairie dog colony that revels in this field of daisies.]

But more likely the universe just doesn’t give a crap, and in fact has no consciousness to even be aware of its extreme apathy.

Do you now understand why Mortimer was constantly out of sorts? Admit it: if you had quills, you’d be stabbing people within a 50 mile radius of your house. But since assault is illegal in the human world, you choke down a Sorrows Milkshake and brightly say, “The world is fundamentally good!” You wake up in the morning pretending you didn’t cry yourself to sleep as you pondered your insignificance. You are alone. Your dreams are nothing but random neurons firing. Love is merely a chemical process to compel you to breed children that are likely as exceptional as your average cabbage moth.

The universe did not even see fit to give you quills.

Nevertheless, you may one day strip naked, roll in a vat of paste and then carefully apply handmade quills to your body, perhaps straws you swiped from a fast food restaurant and carefully cut to pointed ends. You will then burst into the conference room of your workplace, screech incoherent profanities, and chase your boss and co-workers out into the busy street while hurling twigs, ballpoint pens, and straightened paper clips at them. When you are struck by the senior citizen van transport, you will gasp out your last breath gazing into the eyes of an unimpressed octogenarian who long ago began whapping whippersnappers with canes, exploiting everyone who was ever admonished to “respect your elders” and “let grandma do what she wants” because “when you get to be her age, the old brain doesn’t make sense of things like it used to and you just need to put up with it for a couple more hours anyway until the van picks her up again.”

You see what you did there? If you’d have just waited it out, you wouldn’t have needed quills. You could have had a cane. You could have had multiple canes, one for each hand. But you, in your impetuousness, had to shake up the natural order of things and reach blindly, madly for quill-hood.

Perhaps you will be reincarnated as a porcupine like Mortimer. If so, rest assured that the universe does not give one flying fuck about how this transformation will affect the development of this silly thing you term a “soul.” It is merely coincidence that you now have quills. Get cracking, Porky. There are some prairie dogs over there that need some dickiness in their lives, and Mortimer can’t do it all.

(Image from Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” central panel)

 

Marsupials for Your Birthday–Lyrics


Some people asked me for the lyrics for my “Marsupials for Your Birthday” song that’s available from Gestalt Digital’s “Birthday Theme Songs” site on Vibedeck.


Here you go:

Happy Birthday!

I didn’t want to get you something silly or trite
So instead I brought you things that scratch and bite
Yeah, that’s right
I brought marsupials to your party

Yeah, marsupials–let me tell you
Mostly got ’em on the continent of Australia
Though you might find some at the zoo
But lucky you!  I brought marsupials
to help celebrate your special day
here’s a bunch of weird animals without delay,
like this kangaroo with its pouchful of gin
and a wombat making merry with all of its kin
wallabies being raucous and loud
and a bettong trying to surf the crowd
marsupials raising hell at your party

here’s a couple of shrews, not sure what they’ll do
look here’s a Gilbert’s potoroo
an oppossum and a sugar glider fighting a koala bear
all trying to make a nest in your hair
a brown dorcopsis–no I didn’t make that up
is that enough to make you say, “What the fuck
is up with all of these marsupials?”

I tried to find you a thylacine
but they’re extinct so
how about some monotremes?
Like this venemous, egg-laying platypus …
I bet no one’s ever got you a platypus before!

Happy birthday!

***

I gathered some photos of all these marsupials so you can see them:

 

A. Kangaroo (image by Rileypie): This is a red kangaroo.  They’re big.  They get in boxing matches with each other sometimes.
B. Wombat (image by Stygiangloom): They’re pudgy and have big noses.
C. Wallaby (image by Benjamint444):  Smaller than kangaroos.  This one is begging for its close-up.
D. Bettong (image by robstephaustralia): Also known as a rat-kangaroo, and it lives primarily on Tasmania.
E. Marsupial Shrew, sometimes called a Mardo: Well, it’s a shrew with a pouch.
F. Gilbert’s potoroo: An endangered species.  If it shows up at your party, you should shut it in the bathroom and call a conservationist immediately.
G. Opossum (image by Cody Pope): One of the few North American marsupials (Australian versions mysteriously lack the “o” and are just “possums). A classmate of mine once discovered a family of opossums living in her closet.  They’d eaten the crotch out of all her underwear.  I’ve been suspicious of opossums ever since.
H. Sugar Glider (image by Alessandro di Grazia):  They are technically possums, and use skin flaps between their limbs to glide from tree to tree.  People keep them as pets.  Tempting…they’re super cute.
I. Koala (image by dinkum): They aren’t actually bears.  They eat eucalyptus pretty much exclusively.  In addition to their  belly pouches, they have cheek pouches, and opposable thumbs, too.
J. Brown dorcopsis: Sounds like an insult hurled by third graders, doesn’t it?  “Shut up, dorcopsis!”   This one lives on islands like those in Indonesia.
K. Thylacine (Image by Henry Burrell): Too bad this fascinating creature, also known as the Tasmanian tiger,  is extinct.  I suppose its fondness for poultry didn’t help its cause to live as nature intended. However, thylacines are a favorite subject of cryptozoologists–there are reported modern-day sightings of them.
L. Platypus (Image by Dave Watts):  It’s not a marsupial, but a monotreme.  Duck bill. Furry. Beaver-like tail. Lays eggs.  Poisonous spurs. When European explorers found a platypus and told people back home about it, everyone assumed it was a hoax because surely nature wouldn’t make something so bizarre.  So why’s it in a song about marsupials?   Because I like them, and it’s my song so I allowed it to make a guest appearance when the thylacine couldn’t show up.

(I couldn’t find image credits for all these, so just holler if one of these is yours)

Livescience has a gallery of some obnoxiously adorable marsupials, including many not mentioned in the song.

Splarks sang a song about Birthday Marsupials–wanna hear?


I sang a song, Mike Smith of Fiction 8 played some music, and it got recorded and put on Gestalt Digital’s themed compilation, Happy Birthday. It sounds vaguely like a Go-Go’s song about misbehaving marsupials crashing a birthday party, mixed with some inappropriate language.

For some reason, people can’t get enough of Marsupials Behaving Badly.  So now, marsupial lovers, you have a catchy little song about drunken kangaroos, crowd-surfing wallabies, and a venemous platypus (which is a monotreme, not a marsupial–it agreed to guest star when the thylacine could not be found).  Just what you wanted for your birthday.

For a limited time, you can download it for free if you tweet about it.  Check out this link to hear the song: http://vibedeck.com/birthdaysongs/marsupials-for-your-birthday-by-splarks-free-download

You can also hear the entire album with some other amusing (and a couple depressing) birthday-related tunes.  If you’re an indie musician, friend up with Gestalt Digital on Facebook because they do several themed compilations per year and take submissions, and their royalty and licensing terms are pretty good.  Next up is a Halloween-themed compilation.

Ah.  I will never have to sing the words “brown dorcopsis” again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rockstar Betty vs. Opposable Thumbs


Rockstar Betty was a weasel–a hardcore weasel– and she was not about to take any shit from any punk-ass bitches who got between her and stardom.  It was tough out there in a man’s world; a weasel had to work damned hard to make it to the top.  Voice lessons.  English lessons.  The endless hours of starving herself and getting her makeup done.  One particular evening when she found herself yet again spending another lonely night practicing her various poses (such as “Sexy Weasel” and “Tough Weasel” and “Thank-you-for-the-Grammy-dahling-Weasel”), her annoying younger brother poked his nose into her burrow.

“What the hell do you even do, Betty?” he asked.  “Why would anyone make you famous?  All you do is pose and try to speak English.  That’s like … a groupie or something.”

He’d said it: the G-word.  A word that implied loose morals, talentless clinging, and limited lifespan. As he wandered off, she collapsed in the corner to cry.  He was right.  None of the weasel stars in Hollywood associated with poor, backwoods types like her; she’d never be famous unless she was a groupie.

Rockstar Betty straightened with resolve.  She refused to be a groupie!  She knew she had true talent to bestow on the world–she needed only to discover it. For the next several weeks, Betty experimented with avenues to fame.  She first tried acting, thinking her voice lessons could be put to good use.  However, weasel roles in Hollywood were few, and nonexistent in Wisconsin where she lived.  Perhaps she could become a star writer, she thought.  Failure:  her paws could not grip a pen.  This unfortunate fact also excluded careers in art, fashion design, and even “Star Sushi Chef.”

Lack of opposable thumbs, she lamented.  Everything artistic and worthy of fame required hands with thumbs, not paws with claws. Betty, never the type to let a dream go unrealized, immediately pawed through her treasured copy of “The Yellow Pages” (marvelous book!  A catalogue of anyone and everyone in the whole area, and who knew what sordid tales each name contained?) She paused at the “Cosmetic Surgery” section.  Appointments were made.  Consultations were had.  Ridicule was heaped, and requests flatly denied.

“Betty, is it?” said one kindly old surgeon.  “I can appreciate your ambition, but I’m afraid I wasn’t trained in veterinary cosmetic surgery.”  He frowned and scratched his head. “Can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone who is.  There’s just not a great need for it.”

“But surely I’m not the only weasel in town who wants a hand transplant?” she exclaimed.

The old doctor shook his head.  “No, no, I’m pretty sure you are, actually.”

Betty stomped out the door.  “Ok,” she muttered under her breath, “Plastic surgery and hand transplants are out.”

This would have been a great time for a wise fairy to appear and give Betty advice on how to achieve her dreams.  But this did not happen due to Betty’s perception of reality and her belief that wise fairies didn’t exist.  Unbeknownst to her was a long line of wise fairies pounding at the door between realities, desperate to rush into her awareness and give her the wisdom she needed, but Betty’s belief system simply wouldn’t let her see them, no matter how many cartwheels they turned nor how loudly they shouted, “HELLO, YOU ARE A TALKING WEASEL, DON’T YOU THINK THAT FACT MIGHT HELP YOU?”  This opportunity passed hardcore Betty by due to her rejection of all things girly and whimsical.

Despairing, Betty did what all despondent weasels do: she went to the Weasel Bar and ordered an acorn-cap of distilled fermented prairie grass, a loathsome beverage that suited her sour mood.

“What’s wrong, Betty?” asked the bartender as he poured her drink

“I will never be creative and famous,” she sniffled.  “I have no hands, so I can’t hold a paintbrush, a microphone, chopsticks, a guitar, chopping knives, oil crayons, sewing needles, pens, chisels, or purse dogs.”

“Ah,” said the bartender.

“And the plastic surgeons all laughed at me when I asked for a hand transplant.”

“I don’t blame them,” he said.  Then, pitying the poor young weasel whose dreams had been sacrificed to a thankless demon on the alter of reality, he turned to her.

“Betty,” he said, “I’ve seen a lot of forest animals come and go through this crazy weasel bar of mine.  And you—“

She turned her eyes up to him expectantly, a gleam of hope catching the dim light.

“—ain’t nothing special, I gotta say.”

She dropped her head on to the bar with a dismal bang.

“But I think you could make something of yourself if you consider finding fame with what God gave you.”

“Paws?” she mumbled, slurping her drink.

“Well … what do weasels do best?”

“Hunt and kill.”

“That’s right.  You’re trying to be something you’re not, using skills and appendages that God didn’t give to your kind.  But hunting and killing, well, that’s something you can show the world.”

She snorted and gestured for another glass of the fiendish brew.  “No one wants to see me hunting and killing.  I’m a vegetarian, remember?”

“Yes, you are.  Now ain’t that unusual?”

(“AND YOU ARE A TALKING WEASEL!” Screeched the helpful fairies behind their dimensional veil, now wilting under the strain of their frustrated effort at career counseling.)

He bartender motioned toward the door.   “I gotta close up, kiddo, but I’m gonna give you two words: National Geographic. Look ‘em up in that big yellow book of yours.”

Betty took his advice. National Geographic, she discovered, was very interested in hunting and killing.  The managing editor had been toying with the idea of a “vegetarian slaughter” documentary, and Betty was his ideal model, he said.

“Here, dahling, let’s try this—there you are, lounging on the prairie, when you spy the slowest, fattest, most tasty mouse.”

“Oh my god, gag me,” Betty said.

“Oh yes, say that again, say it with even more disgust and vigor, like you can barely contain your vomit at the thought of its little mousy skeleton.”

“EWWW!”

“Perfect, Betty, perfect!”

Thus started Betty’s rapid rise into stardom. She could, it seemed, be famous even without hands.  Models were not required to do anything but convey “a look.”  And if she got to stalk wild onions while looking pretty, then who could ask for more?

“Finally!” grumbled the helpful fairies as they flew away from the dimensional door, headed toward the Fairy Bar for an acorn-cap of distilled rosewater.  They’d had a hard day.  “Weasels!” griped one.  “They never have the decency to realize when they’re starring in a fairy tale.”

Photo by phoneymanflickr (this is the Weasel Groupie that Rockstar Betty did not wish to be–probably a ferret, actually.  Damn ferrets)

 

 

 

 

When Pigeons Get Lawyers


Eunice the pigeon did not live a glamorous life, but unlike most of her peers, she was determined to rise above her dreary roost in the parking garage’s concrete rafters. She didn’t mind the exhaust-filled space, or even the laughable “pigeon barriers” around her nest. “What I crave,” she lamented to anyone who’d listen, which in this case was her sister Barbara, “is to create a legacy, a memoir of avian city life and one pigeon’s brave quest to rise above the grit and grime and bring beauty and song to the world.”

Unimpressed, Barbara continued pecking at the cement traffic barrier. “So you want to be a storyteller,” she yawned. “Big deal. Pigeons have a billion of ‘em. I mean, Mom and Dad never shut up about the huge cicada they caught in ’06. Everyone’s a storyteller.”

“I want to be something different! I want to be … a writer!”

Barbara squinted at her. “What’s a writer?”

“I don’t know, exactly,” admitted Eunice, fluffing her feathers. “But according to the vendors on the corner, these writers tell stories and then the stories are distributed all over the world. I think,” she frowned, “they tell a story through a particular kind of art called ‘typing.’” She gazed fiercely at her sister. “I will learn this art of typing, and I will be a writer and then all will know the hidden avian story of this city!”

Barbara, engrossed in the tiny pebble she’d dislodged from the cement, ignored her.

It was fortunate that Eunice was born in the Technological Age in which writers are not required to put pen to paper, because pigeon talons weren’t designed to grip a pen. That she could not spell nor read had not yet occurred to her. (Be kind. Pigeon brains are small, and Eunice’s was bigger than most). Stealthily observing human writers in coffee shops and libraries, she learned that “typing” involved illogically smacking the tops of “keys” on a “keyboard.” She watched the humans stare intently into space, apparently forming a complex and moving thought. Then they’d smack away at the keys, finally printing what appeared to be abstract art. Each key, she learned, created a small symbol designed to evoke some emotional response from the reader.

“It’s fascinating!” she told Barbara over a meal of rainwater and worms. “The writer creates an idea in his or her head, and through the creation of these abstract symbols, the meaning is conveyed to the reader!  It’s like alchemy, a mysterious process that perhaps not even God understands! Perhaps this is an energetic transmission? A merging of the minds? A melding of auras?”

Barbara stuffed a decapitated worm into her gullet. “What’s an aura?” she said thickly.
Eunice didn’t know, but rather than admit it, she continued. “When has art ever been logical?” she cooed aloud. “Is story telling not an art?”

And so that wintery evening, she squeezed through a half-open office window and waddled nervously to the computer, that godlike engine of creativity. Hopping from key to key, she coaxed magical symbols to emerge in whatever way pleased her. An “I” there, a Q followed by a YYF. An H here, three nines, and a P, no, a J! Then, moodily, she stared at the creation, only to erase it. It had not properly conveyed the concept she wished to express, which was:
My pigeon life is full of gray
The concrete, my feathers, the hats of heads I poop on
The clouds and smog of this cold city
I long for color and warmth
If I flew for 40 days and 40 nights, would I end up in Hawaii?
Would I wake up as a Bird of Paradise?

Finally, she arranged the letters in a way that seemed most appropriate. She gazed at her creation:

UHHeLVJ           QPG DKFKKKKKKK1198^

Was there too much white space? Did the repetition of that spiky letter fully express her sentiments? Was concluding with a ^ overkill? She would find a time to revise. In the meantime, she called the poem “Lament of a City Pigeon.”

In the harsh light of January, the truth about the world of writing emerged. Not a single publisher deigned to take her writing seriously. When a publishing house bothered to respond to her, the letters were harsh.* “We don’t have time for jokes in this office,” and “This is a serious literary magazine –please take your tasteless humor elsewhere,” or even “If you truly are a pigeon as you say, you need to get back to soiling car hoods.” Alone in her concrete rafters, she cried bitterly when the seventeenth rejection letter appeared, as it was now undeniable that her second-class status as a pigeon would keep her from ever getting respect as a writer.

Fed up with the stress of city living and the constant rejection of the literary world, she flew to visit her friend Pablo in Los Angeles. A vacation, she figured, might distract her from the pain.

“Hey Pab,” she said glumly, settling into his swanky roost above the law firm. “How goes the carrier pigeon business?”

“Oh hey Eunice,” he said, looking up from his citrus-laced martini, removing a mint sprig from his beak. “It’s going well. How’s the writing stint? Barbara said you were going to learn typing or something.” He paused as he looked at her droopy wings and dragging feet. “You look like you could use a drink.” He motioned toward the rooftop bar.

“I’m a failure,” she sighed. “I send in my deepest heartfelt writing and I know it’s good, but no one will publish the writings of a pigeon.  ”

Pablo stopped, his martini halfway to his beak. “Really?” he asked, suddenly very interested. “Is that what they said? Because you’re a pigeon?”

“Well, yes,” she said, and gave him the litany of angry anti-pigeon rejections, concluding with the dreadful “soiling car hoods” insult.

“And you saved the letters?”

“Of course,” she said. “Don’t all great writers save their rejection letters to laugh at once they’re famous?” She smiled wryly. “I should use them to line my nest. I’ll never be famous or even noteworthy.”

If Pablo had been born with lips, he would have been grinning.  “I think you’ll soon be both, dear. You see, publishers aren’t supposed to discriminate against writers due to race, age, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.”

“They’re not?”

“No, they aren’t. Oh, of course they do. But they are seldom foolish enough to say it so boldly, and in writing, as they did to you. And while discrimination against species isn’t expressly mentioned in most corporate bylaws, I think there’s a precedent. We have a very strong case, Eunice. Don’t you worry.  “Lament of a City Pigeon” will be published in the finest literary magazines imaginable.”

Pablo was right. It was. After the court case, Eunice became the first Avian Poet to grace the cover of The New Yorker, along with rave reviews of her touching, tragic poem.

And that is how pigeons learned to be litigious and crap wherever they please, how poetry magazines became incomprehensible, and why I have to write extremely carefully or risk the wrath of an interspecies advocacy group. Libel suits are real, and pigeons have eons worth of resentment over those spiky things in parking garages and high-rise windows, not to mention the fake owls in dormer windows everywhere. No matter how tempting, never ridicule Avian art.

*”But how could she read rejection letters if–” It’s called suspension of disbelief!  Start suspending!
Photo “lolduck” by Krysten_N
***

Do you suppose Eunice went on to join the crew at Splarks Hypothetical Press, pooping on the pages of  emo poetry submissions?

 

Self-Help Thursday: Sammy Hagar Tells Love to Piss Off!


I originally wasn’t going to post this “Self-Help Thursday” story about Van Halen’s vocalist Sammy Hagar because although it accurately described my childhood confusion about this song’s implied extraterrestrials, it didn’t make me laugh.  And then … turns out Little Splarks was not incorrect.  Sammy Hagar really was abducted by aliens and has publically announced it! So now I have to post this, even if it is goofy (as if I write any other kind of post on this site).  Because I was right.  Meaning no disrespect to the Red Rocker, of course–maybe it was a good experience.  Check out the song for yourself on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYXqb6x50lA
——————–

Van Halen’s “Love Walks In” was a favorite song of my childhood, but it always confused me. The song sounds like a science fiction plot with references to space travel, alien contact, and space-age fashion (eight-year-old me mistook “silver lights” for “silver legs” and envisioned Princess Leia in shiny metallic tights). But then there’s that non-sequitor of “love comes walkin’ in.” I was annoyed—why was love was ruining a perfectly good space adventure by randomly walking in and stopping the story?

To help my inner child make sense of this mess, I revisited the song in a Self-Help Thursday session.

Hello, Sammy Hagar! Welcome to my practice, where I work with rock stars just like like you. I’m so glad you’ve come to see me about these disturbances in the fabric of your reality. You seem quite disoriented and I’d like to help. How about you tell me about what’s going on?

contact
is all that it takes
to change your life, to lose your place in tim
e

So you’re feeling a bit disconnected from the world around you? I hope you will tell me more about this alternate time line you feel that you’re on. Perhaps you are living in ancient Egypt or during the Bolshevik Revolution. Many of my clients are… but we’ll get to that whenever you feel comfortable. Tell me more about this “contact” you mention.

contact
asleep or awake
coming around you may wake up to find
questions deep
within your eyes

It happens at night while you’re sleeping and during the day while you’re awake? My, how stressful for a performing rock star like you. You think you’re on stage performing to a stadium full of screaming fans, and then this mysterious “contact” happens and you realize that you’re actually asleep. Or are you awake? No wonder you’ve been a little shaky.

now more than ever
you realize

And it’s happening more frequently, you say? Oh dear. That could be a signal that your condition is deteriorating. It’s a good thing you came to get help, Sammy. After these realizations occur, what happens next?

and then you sense a change
nothin’ feels the same
all your dreams are strange
love comes walkin’ in

Love? Sammy, “love” doesn’t quite fit in with this nebulous disorientation you’ve spoken of. Help me understand this connection.

some kind of alien
waits for the opening
simply pulls a string

So when you say “love” you mean extraterrestrials. Ok, things make more sense now. Thank you for helping me to understand your code words—I appreciate your trust. What happens when the alien enters this “opening” and pulls the string?

another world
some other time
you lay your sanity on the line

Yes, I can absolutely see the troubles you’re having with sanity, what with extraterrestrials—excuse me, Love­­—pulling strings in your openings, transporting you to alternate dimensions, and causing even greater instability in your fragile mental state.

familiar faces
familiar sights
reach back, remember with all your might

Ah.  Some of my other clients have talked about this. The aliens—darn it! I’m sorry, I meant to say “Love”—erase the memory of the abduction, yet memories seep back in at inopportune times. Tell me about one of these hidden memories.

ooh, and there she stands
in a silken gown
silver lights
shinin’ down

Ok, that’s a helpful piece of information. “Love” is female and she has silver lights. Could they be from a spaceship?

Oh, sleep and dream
that’s all I crave
I travel far across the milky way

We’re definitely talking about a spaceship, then. It seems like this is an addiction for you, Sammy, and you can’t think about anything but Love and her space craft.

to my master
I’ve become a slave
’til we meet again
some other day

Sammy, let’s look very carefully at this relationship you have with Love. Love is disrupting your grip on your surroundings and causing you to become confused. Love is lying in wait to get in your openings, yanking on strings. The episodes are happening more frequently, and you feel enslaved to this desire to travel in Love’s spaceship. Is this a healthy way to live? Sammy, what would happen if the next time Love descended to whisk you away, you simply said, “Back off, Love! Take your extraterrestrial manipulations elsewhere!”

where silence speaks
as loud as war
earth returns to what it was before

Yes, silence is an excellent strategy! Demonstrate to Love that you won’t be subject to her whims anymore, and in fact, you are now so disinterested that you have nothing to say to her. Show her that you care nothing for her, and that she can leave Earth and its denizens—good, respectable denizens like you, Sammy—alone. I’m so glad you’ve come to this realization. Now our time is up, and it’s time for you to go out there and tell Love to piss off! Sammy Hagar is no one’s slave!

Lyrics to “Love Walks’ In” by Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, and Sammy Hagar.

Supermarket of the Damned


Image by Scragz

When Raymond committed suicide, he discovered that his vision of the afterlife was utterly incorrect.  He had assumed that his parents, teachers and all those assholes at his high school would attend his funeral in tears, wailing, “We totally should have been nicer to him! We are so stupid because we didn’t understand his deep, deep thoughts!” while he’d lounge in heavenly bliss, surrounded by beautiful angels and goblets of nectar, saying, “That’s right, bitches!”

Tragically, he realized his error as he sat in Hell’s placement office, stuck between a pair of Stink Demons and waiting for the spidery Hell Advisor to give him a work study job.  There was nary a goblet of nectar in sight, though there were some stale Peeps and oversweetened Kool Aid.  He avoided both, figuring that any Kool Aid in Hell was surely of the Jim Jones variety.  The spidery creature quizzed him about his work experience, which consisted of three months stocking shelves at the local Safeway Grocery.  The creature looked him up and down and said, “Yesssss … lazy.  Pretty, in a contrived sort of way. Unwilling to inconvenience himself for the sake of assisting another.  Puts forth minimum effort.  Habitually late.  Blames failures on others.  Cultivated ennui and well-versed in the art of making people feel stupid.  You’ll make a perfect stock boy in Hell, won’t you?”

And thus Raymond embarked on his career as stock boy at the Supermarket of the Damned.  He found his name on the shift schedule and was annoyed to see “Raymond: Continuous Shift, no days off.  Ever.”  When he complained about the crappy hours, the Stink Demon store manager looked genuinely pleased and chattered its unnecessarily sharp teeth at him.  “God,” grumbled Raymond.  “Why do I have to have a job?  I’m dead, right?  Like, I don’t need money for food and shelter.”

“Oh, God can’t hear you,” the Stink Demon said helpfully.  “And don’t worry, you don’t get paid.”  It cracked its whip and shouted, “Now, stock!”

The Frozen Food Aisle

“Urrrgh ….” groaned a zombie.  “Don’t you have any fresh brains?  All–arrrrrrrgh–I see here are frozen.”  The zombie’s nose fell off into the crate of cockroaches Raymond was moving.  The creature scooped it up, slowly, with what Raymond supposed was a sheepish smile, if it had lips.  

“I don’t know,” Raymond said indifferently.  Indifference was an art he had cultivated in the living world.  He tossed his carefully styled hair and went back to ignoring the customer.

“Why can’t –BRAAAAAAINS–you kids give good customer service these days?”

“What do you have, Tourette’s Syndrome or something?  I don’t know–why can’t you, like, not drop your rotting body parts in my roaches?”  He pointedly turned away, only to find the Stink Demon manager’s burning gaze focused on him.  Literally burning, thought Raymond as little blisters erupted from his skin wherever the managerial monstrosity had looked.

“Raymond!  Of course we have fresh brains!  Take a little initiative next time, why don’t you, and go find out for yourself.  I’m sorry, sir, here you are.”  From under his cloak, he shoved out two shivering miscreants, obviously newbies in Hell.  The zombie brightened, dropped twenty Hell dollars in the manager’s hand, and dragged its new purchase from the store.

“Good thing your brain isn’t fresh anymore, kid,” the Stink Demon said warningly.  “No crowbar’s gonna get through your thick skull.”

“Yeah whatever,” said Raymond.

The Cigarette Counter

Quite possibly the most disturbing area of the Supermarket of the Damned was the cigarette counter.  Raymond had first-hand experience with its evils.  He’d been working several hours and just wanted a cigarette.  He asked for a smoke break, and the Stink Demon seemed suspiciously happy to grant him one, directing him to the impressive cigarette counter.  Cartons of all types were artfully displayed, reflecting manufacturers from all over the world.  He’d gasped to see the price tag on each one listed as $0.00.  

Now he watched sourly as another Hell newbie wandered in, bleating pitifully for a nicotine fix.  “Please, I just need a cigarette.  God it’s been so awful here.  I need a smoke.”  Someone pointed her to the counter where she waited eagerly.  Raymond continued stocking the Arsenic Cotton Candy.  It almost hurt to watch.  The noob looked around the corner, sure that someone was on his or her way.  She rang the little bell, still looking hopefully at the brightly colored cartons and mentally choosing her purchase.  She waited some more, knocking on the countertop and shouting, “Hello?”  Finally the noob whirled around and saw Raymond.  “You!  Where’s the clerk?”

“There isn’t one,” he intoned, annoyed that she’d singled him out.

“What do you mean?  Why can’t you help me?”

“I can’t, ok?  I need to stock the Poison Confectionery aisle.”

“Well can’t you call a manager?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because they won’t come, ok?  This is Hell.  You can’t have cigarettes.”

The noob fumed.  “If I can’t have any, then why are they sitting there for purchase?”  Determined, she marched around the counter to snatch a pack.  Raymond averted his eyes, knowing what would happen but by this point, he kinda didn’t care.  She’d asked, hadn’t she?  He’d told her.  He saw a bright poof and heard an anguished shriek, then he chuckled as he saw that the fingers of her right hand, which she’d so boldly reached out to take the cigarettes, were now replaced with particularly long eels.

“This is the Supermarket of the Damned,” he muttered.  “You think they’re gonna let you have cigarettes?”

The Health and Beauty Aisle

Raymond grunted as he dragged the cart of “Uglifying Skin Creme” boxes into the Health and Beauty aisle.  At least there was some small amusement in this department.  He fielded all sorts of requests from irritating customers.

They wanted a hair tonic.  He directed them to the “Hair No More” bottles.

They wanted an anti-diarrheal; he would explain that the store carried only laxatives. Oddly, when someone wanted a laxative, he felt compelled to explain that the store only carried anti-diarrheals.  Both seemed to reside in alternate realities on the same shelf.

They wanted the cosmetics aisle; he showed them to the section of “You-So-Nasty” lipsticks, pressed powder, and nail polish.  Invariably, they’d protest and he’d suggest You-So-Nasty’s competitor, Ugly in a Bottle.  Some desperate souls, no doubt feeling naked without their make-up, actually purchased it.  They would come back for more the next week, noticeably more warty, wrinkly, and wearing Spring colors on complexions that demanded an Autumn palette.  “You know, you can use that nail polish on your horns,” he’d advise.  This was a trick he’d learned from the Beauty School Demons, who bought caseloads of Ugly in a Bottle.

The major annoyance in Hell was that he simply could not find the right kind of hair gel to keep his carefully tousled locks in place.  In the end, he settled for some disgusting paste made from the Lipids of the Damned.  It smelled grotesque and in the evenings he’d have to pick out whatever it was that was breeding among his follicles, but it did work.  He didn’t mind making sacrifices for fashion, really.

The Meat Aisle

You really don’t want to know about Hell’s Meat Aisle.  Raymond felt fortunate; because he had no butchering skills, he only once had to mop up when the Meat Aisle Slave was regenerating and the Demon Dogs clean-up crew were out for their morning constitutional.  He had nightmares for a few weeks afterwards, which was especially inconvenient because one does not sleep when one is in Hell, so his mental creations roamed the store, causing havoc and chasing him.  He could see that the Stink Demon was pleased when this happened, but hey, it was better than being near the cigarette counter.  

The Produce Section

Hell, he learned, was populated with locavores.  He was astounded at the number of farmers that came in each week to drop off freshly harvested livers and home-pickled uvulas.  The produce section was easy, as it was stocked with only lima beans and delicious-looking apples that tasted (as he knew from unfortunate experience) of ammonia.  Again, he’d fielded many complaints from the human contingency of hell.  “Do you have any fresh basil leaves?” someone asked.  “I want to make pesto.”

“You have a kitchen?” Raymond said, surprised.  “In Hell?”

“Yes,” explained the customer.  “I’m a chef.  I love food.  I was a little surprised, too.  I thought this Hell thing was supposed to be all about deprivation and torture.”  He laughed nervously.  “Obviously that isn’t the case!  But I need to go shopping because the kitchen is … not to my tastes.  When I open the fridge, all I see are McDonald’s leftovers.  There’s some Brie, but it expired fifteen years ago.  I discovered all the fruit is wax, too, so I was pleased to see these lovely apples you have here.  But where is the rest of your produce?”

Raymond had already lost interest.  “There isn’t any.”

“Oh come now–“

“Serious.”

“You can’t mean–“

“Yep.”

“But surely–“

“Nope.  It’s Hell.”

The chef wandered forlornly, periodically lifting apples and lima bean packets in case a stray basil leaf or pine nut lay beneath.

Raymond, who had stopped eating while alive to fit into his tight jeans, ignored him and continued dumping apples into the bin.  It didn’t matter how careless he was; they never bruised.  A demon and vampire couple entered, holding hands and mooning at each other.  “I’ll run and grab a bottle of blood, dear,” said the vampire.  “You pick up something in produce and we’ll have a romantic candlelit dinner.”

The demon smiled.  “I have the music–” (she gestured to the wailing tormented souls under her coat)–“and maybe I’ll make … hmm … lima beans with a lovely apple-ammonia sauce.”

Raymond nodded; it was a fashionable dish in Hell.  Raymond smiled.  If he couldn’t avoid inconvenience and a disgusting work environment, he could at least be fashionable.

There was, he heard, a mall in Hell…

***

You may be wondering what the hell is up with the photo.  Me too.  It showed up on Flickr creative commons when I searched for “demon.”  How could I NOT use something so ridiculous?  The rest of Scragz’s photostream is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scragz/2715702390/

Why Zebras Don’t Use iPhones


I couldn’t resist.

Adria Richards at But You’re a Girl, a great technology blog, recently wrote about how animals don’t react to stress the way humans do.  When zebras are faced with a stressful situation, such as lions at their watering hole, they leave.  They don’t hang around to, as she said, “complain to other Zebras about the lion showing up, call up more Zebras on the phone as backup or whip out their Zebra pocket knives to shank the lion.”

I, of course, thought, “But what if they did?”  And so, intrepid visitors, read on to find out what happens when zebras and iPhones mix.

It was a peaceful morning on the savanna of Dodge, and the zebras meandered down to their favorite watering hole, the one with minimal pond scum and sweet green grass. The water sparkled in the sun and the fish splashed happily … until the delightful scene darkened under the shadow of a vicious lion pride!

Cleve the Zebra was a leader and seldom left things to chance. He had resources and he knew how and when to use them. At the first sight of the lions (“flea-ridden monstrosities,” as he thought of them) immediately reached for his iPhone and spoke, allowing the auto-dial to complete the number. He relaxed slightly at the sound of his adviser’s polite, professional voice. “Chrissy!” he shouted. “There are lions at this watering hole! They could totally snap our tender bones between their powerful jaws, sucking out our marrow and leaving our skeletons to bleach in the sun! What should we do?” He nodded. “Uh huh. Uh huh. Ok, thanks.” He looked up to the herd of cowering zebras, who fixated fearfully on the felines. A lioness glanced over and flipped her tail disinterestedly, sending the group into paroxysms.

Cleve knew he had to take charge lest hysteria rule the watering hole. He stood straight and snapped, “Ok, listen! I contacted Chrissy, who is a masters-level specialist in zebra-lion relations. She suggested that we call for backup. We prepared for this, remember? Who has the contact tree?”

But while their emergency plan had seemed adequate when the Preparedness Committee had created it, zebra hooves are not especially conducive to dialing numbers on fancy phones. Without the ease of voice-dialing pre-programmed numbers, the plan fizzled. Expensive phone screens shattered and incorrect numbers were dialed. Cleve groaned as he listened to the ensuing mayhem.

“Hello, Atticus? What? No … no I don’t want to order a pizza. I’m sorry. I dialed a wrong number. But wait, did you say that anchovy pesto gorgonzola pizzas were half price today? Ok, so what’s your delivery range? Your vehicles are insured against lions, right?”

“Marion? Oh, I do apologize, I was trying to reach … I’m sorry, what? A dating service, you say, for wild and frisky savanna mammals? Hmm … not that I’d be interested in such a thing, but if I were …

“Hello?  Hello?  Hold on, I got a text–”

“Belinda, help! We have … oh, my apologies, I certainly didn’t mean to dial up the Mormon temple. Well, yes, of course I’ve heard of Jesus Christ, but— made lions lay down with lambs, you say? Really? How much does he charge for this service? If the lambs were to be replaced with zebras, would there be a substitution fee?”

Cleve tossed his phone into the pond. “Useless piece of unnecessarily expensive technology!” he grumbled. He glanced surreptitiously towards the flea-ridden monstrosities otherwise known as “lions.” They were momentarily satiated, if the piles of gazelle corpses nearby were any indicators. He sighed. Those corpses wouldn’t just walk off–they’d be littering the watering hole for ages, ruining the stylish Zen ambiance with an ill-advised gothic look. He supposed the jackals would start showing up at night soon, decorating the skeletons with black lights and bat wings. The thought made him determined to avert this crisis.

“New tactic!” he shouted.

Merv, who was Vice President of the Preparedness Committee, looked up excitedly. “Say, there’s this Jesus fellow who might be able to help. Sort of a hypnotist, I think, specializes in lions.” Excited discussion followed, but it was determined that this “Jesus” had been dead for years and that lions would probably not feel threatened by an insubstantial ghost.

“New tactic!” shouted Cleve again. But the zebras were huddled around the lone surviving iPhone, looking at personal ads on the “Savanna Hookup Love Meet” website and munching on pizza. Pizza? He noticed a young pizza delivery driver speeding away and looking nervously over his shoulder. The useless bastards! He thought. Give them some junk food and empty promises of getting laid, and look what happens.

The lions– their gluttonous food-coma wearing off– were growing increasingly interested in the noisy zebra herd. Cleve fretted. What to do? Was he the only zebra who gave a damn any more about the safety of the herd?

Suddenly, a scream rang throughout the grassland! Elwin, the reclusive zebra obsessed with survivalism and planetary doom (and the lone zebra who refused an iPhone), was charging the pride of lions. In his mouth was a sharpened stick. It was hard to make out what he was screaming, but it sounded a bit like “Gonna shank you, fascist punks!”

For a moment, the herd was distracted from their vices. They cheered— finally, a defender who would do something! But then the lions turned as one to face the charging zebra, and the scene turned horribly wrong. All members of the herd closed their eyes in horror, except for Merv, who held up the iPhone to capture the gory demise on video. “Oh of course I won’t post it online,” he muttered in response to the outraged protests of his companions. “This is for … um … science. The, uh … science of shanks.”

Defeated, the zebras simultaneously flopped down in the grass. “That’s it,” someone sighed. “They’ll pick us off one by one over the next few months and in the meantime, our watering hole will be infested by goth jackals and thrill-seekers.”

“We could come here only in the afternoons,” another zebra suggested. “You know, hang out part time and reduce our risk.” But no one thought that hanging around part time to get eaten was significantly different than their current situation.

“We could kill ourselves now,” suggested someone. Silence spread as the zebras considered this possibility. It would certainly cut short on the waiting time and pain. Rather proactive, really, Cleve mused. They could hold their heads underwater until they drowned–

Something tickled in his mind as he saw one of the lions lithely get up. What was it? Something about … being … pro … pro-something …actually doing something to effect change in the desired manner …

“I GOT IT!” he hollered. “We can run away! RUN!”

He ran a few steps before realizing that there was no thunder of hooves behind him. He turned and saw the herd sitting quietly and looking at him, puzzled, as the lions grew closer.

“Look,” he said, “we have control over this situation. We don’t have to just react helplessly to a fate we didn’t choose. We can deal with this threat right now! There are other watering holes out there, ones that don’t have lions! They might even be better than this hole!”

“Not possible,”Merv said staunchly. “Best grass here, no pond scum. And now we know it’s got pizza delivery service, too.” The rest of the zebras nodded in agreement.

“But you haven’t even seen what’s out there! NO LIONS, people! Isn’t that worth the chance? What’s the worse that can happen? We spend a few weeks at a watering hole with grass that isn’t as great?”

The zebras gazed skeptically at him, holding their pizza crusts protectively. “But we have pizza now! It would be stupid to leave.”

Cleve groaned. “No lions, people! No lions! Come on, now, run! Forget your fancy technology and your pizza and RUN!”

And as the lions finally reached the pride and descended with teeth and tawny fur upon the herd, a precious few understood what Cleve was trying to say and they got the hell out of Dodge.

The moral of the story, dear readers, as Adria informs us, is “Don’t hang around waiting to be eaten.” Think of your soul. Your nice, sweet soul. Who’s trying to eat it? And why aren’t you walking away?

Splarks Hypothetical Press: What the Writer’s Market is Really Saying


Recently I went through The Writer’s Market, the famous directory of magazines and newspapers accepting freelance submissions. It was most educational. In the event of Splarks.com ever becoming an independent small press, I will craft and save the following entry for the Writer’s Market:

SPLARKS PRESS
Email: BegForConsideration@splarks.com. We review unsolicited submissions quarterly. During these times, we crowd into our hip, overpriced loft office and feast on trendy takeout and wine from a country you probably can’t place geographically. We read your submission aloud and point out all your editing errors. If we can’t find any, we’ll make some up so that everyone else in the room will admire our sharp eye. Then we will denounce your work as loathsome tripe and invent phrases of derogatory terms to apply to your writing technique, which is unrefined, banal, and obtuse. On slower months, we go to the rooftop garden and bring an easel and charcoal pencils. We then sketch the loser that we imagine you to be, based on your horrific attempts at writing. Invariably, your portrait will resemble a crazy cat lady, a dour parking lot attendant, or creepy children’s television show host. Finally, we will build a little fire in our sink or the rooftop fire pit and ceremoniously toss in the crumpled pages of your manuscript.

Nonfiction: We love confessionals and memoirs, as they help us further determine your pathetic approach to living. We are particularly interested in your failure of a love life, high school trauma from which you have not yet recovered, parents who never loved you, and your quaint loss of religious faith. We love hearing about the Self as a Lame Stereotype, which is likely all you’re capable of writing.

Fiction: Send us genre fiction with the hero or heroine thinly-disguised as you. Please spell “heroine” wrong; it amuses us. Unlike those other literary magazines that claim to accept only the best of contemporary fiction, we take only crap since no one but we and our favored associates can write well. Go on, send us your hackneyed blathering.

Poetry: Please don’t send rhyming poetry typical of greeting cards–it’s too easy to criticize. Challenge us! Try to really touch our hearts and make us feel something. That’s always so hilarious.

Tips: Don’t query us about the status of your manuscript or ask when the next issue will be published. Please refer back to this entry for the answers, which are “We burned it in the sink, and then Pablo drunkenly puked on the ashes,” and “As nothing meets our standards for quality literature, the journal will not be published. Again.”

The Chitin Kitten vs. New York City


Sometimes I just have to amuse myself by writing a dreadful story. The urge arises spontaneously, clawing to be released to torment others.  This is why an early story of mine called “Lars the Pig with No Skin” is infamous among certain circles.  The Chitin Kitten emerged from the depths of my mind because Dave, who likes to rhyme words unnecessarily, put the words together.  Except “chitin” doesn’t actually rhyme with “kitten.”  But what do I care?

***
Main Entry: chi·tin

Pronunciation: \?k?-t?n\
Function: noun
Etymology: French chitine, from Greek chit?n
Date: circa 1839

: a horny polysaccharide (C8H13NO5)n that forms part of the hard outer integument especially of insects, arachnids, and crustaceans

Once upon a time, the Chitin Kitten reigned supreme in its feline-insectiod land.  And then came the terrible day in which the Chitin Kitten fell through a dimensional hole into New York City.  New York City was a dreadful place full of noise and loud fleshy things on two legs.  The Chitin Kitten also had flesh but its flesh was encased behind a thin but strong wall of chitinous substance.

The Chitin Kitten thought, “Perhaps this isn’t so bad.  The dominant species has no chitin and is weak and soft.  I can stomp these ‘humans’ into submission!  They will not be able to defend themselves against my exoskeleton glory!”  But the Kitten’s evil plans of world domination fell shrieking to their doom when the Kitten encountered a peculiar group of entities known as “cockroaches.”  They were full of chitin and had already laid claim to the city of New York.  They were everywhere and multiplied incessantly, skittering on tiny but indestructible legs and influencing everything with their powerful but imperceptible collective consciousness.  They were so disgusting that the Chitin Kitten leaped into the ocean and died, determined to never live in a world where such awful beings were allowed to roam free.

THE END

***

I wish Allie from Hyperbole and a Half would illustrate this.  Read her blog about the Alot and the Emo Kid.  Maybe you’ll laugh as hard as I did.  Well ok, the Emo Kid only makes a cameo, but I love his scene with the Alot.

Also, vote in the comments whether you love the Chitin Kitten, or if you want will forever pine for your lost two minutes.