Saturday, January 28, 2006

Day of the Fop

Reading recently about Peter Lynn's cruel and insensitive (but hilarious) childhood experiences fighting cripples and retards, I couldn't help but laugh out of recognition. Not because I ever got into a fight with a cripple or a retard, but because I've always had a deep streak of insensitivity. No, no insensitivity, exactly... more like outright cruelty. I am always willing to laugh at the idea of causing extreme pain to others.

Here's an example, even though it involves taking no action and raising no arms against the less fortunate. Back in 1996, Carl and I were both working at the Barnes & Noble in Oakbrook Terrace, IL. Anyone from that area will immediately know the kind of business fuck/self-important asshole/crotchety old bumpkin/entitled yuppie kid/stupid ignorant slut yuppiewife clientele we got at that store. Carl and I were both from a little further south of Roosevelt Road, and even though we both grew up in pretty privileged areas, neither of us was swimming in money or, really, self-respect. Especially not putting an incredible backlog of magazines out on the shelves while customers browsed around us.

So, we're working one morning, shooting the breeze and making derisive comments about the kind of magazines Barnes & Noble carries but no one buys, and suddenly I look out the front windows. Passing in front of me is some faceless business fuck; trailing behind him is his asshole, entitled, ungrateful little spawn. Judging by my own age at the time (20) I figured the kid must be about 16 or 17. He was wearing one of those L.L. Bean jackets that makes yuppies feel like they've even seen a forest, much less worked one. Grey slacks. Bright red hair in this kind of blow-dried sweep that went back in a far too meticulous fashion for a teenager out with his dad. And with his freckles and deep-set green eyes (the kind of beady eyes one usually sees in the less cuddly members of the rodent kingdom), he curls his delicate little lips and sneers at me. As if to say, "Hmph, labor; my daddy could sell your ass into slavery if I told him to do it." A full-blown, contemptuous, Bush family sneer directed not only at me, or at Carl, but at the thin societal curtain that keeps people like me from turning into the Incredible Hulk and ripping the arms off of innocent people and beating them to death with them in a blind rage.

"Don't you look at me like that, Fop-boy," I said aloud. "I rape your ass."

Carl, the only person nearby, immediately burst into laughter.

This was the best release of laughter in my entire professional life. Carl and I didn't just get the giggles; we retired to the receiving room, away from the eyes and ears of customers, and laughed our fucking asses off until it hurt to breathe. Girlish giggles, loud belly-laughs, snot-blowing snorts, guffaws that come all the way from the balls up. For the remainder of our eight-hour shift, we did the bare minimum of work while we laughed at the notion of raping that little Fop-boy, of how much pain we could inflict on him, of how much he would scream and how it would sound.

"Ooh, no! Help me!" Carl would say in a high-pitched, strangled voice, and the immediate mention of it would send us into a convulsive laughing jag that was impossible to control. I believe that, were I full of some liquid, I would have lost all control of my bladder. And that would have been pretty funny, too.

Carl and I referred to that incident for years as Fop-boy Day, probably the most fun day we ever had at that soul-crushing den of evil. Can you imagine how much two people would have to hate their jobs, the class structure, and the entire socio-economic structure that holds America together to laugh for an entire work day at the notion of raping some Fop-boy? I would imagine it's quite a lot.

God, it still makes me laugh.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Short Man Syndrome

I've been awfully sick lately. For over a month now, I've been down with a very bad cough. For a while, I was near bronchitis. The new semester started last week, on the 18th, but I missed that week (I've only got class on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester). I also missed last Tuesday; three days in a row. I e-mailed all four of my professors about this; two of them had the grace to e-mail me back, tell me they understood, and tell me what to do to catch up. When I finally went to my classes yesterday, a third professor only had to hear me talk to say he understood and wouldn't count the absences. But the fourth...

Before I get to him, I have to stress that I have been very, very sick (and still am; the cough has yet to fully go away, and the hacking and wetness of it is driving me crazy; I hate the way it echoes around the room or in public buildings, I hate the amounts of phlegm that come up with it, I hate the way my back and my abdomen hurt because of the frequency and effort of it). This isn't me cutting class idly. The diarrhea that came with it sure sucked, too. And the occasional vomiting--if you too have ever vomited so hard that some of it came out through your nose, you have my undying sympathy. For awhile, I almost became dependent on the alcoholic cough medicine I was taking--I stopped taking it yesterday and can actually feel myself craving for it as my energy flags. This has not been the best time of my life.

So, I head into my composition class for the first time yesterday, and I know I'm in trouble right away. The professor has gray hair, a neatly clipped goatee, and is about five-foot-two. He's wearing a shuit-jacket with a casual shirt and jeans underneath, and loafers (side note: is there a handbook for how to dress like a pretentious writer?). I introduce myself and apologize; he rolls his eyes and looks away, wondering just what he's going to do with me. Then he says: "Well, sit in on the class today, then come see me in my office next week and we'll discuss what we're going to do about it." I thank him as I take my seat. "Don't thank me," he says, "until I agree to let you stay."

Fuck you, I'm thinking. Apparently, he runs his class like a workshop, requiring daily writing and constant communication. Fine, that's why I decided to take the course. I sit through the class, a very patient man, not participating because I'm not supposed to. As the class is filing out, he catches me and says: "Oh, Aaron."

"I'm not happy about this, either," I say to him, my voice thin and my throat raw, trying not to cough all over him. "Believe me, I hate this." I try not to point out that I had e-mailed him, asking him to get back to me, and he hadn't even given me the courtesy of a terse reply.

He sighs in a meaningful way. "Alright, well, the syllabus is on the internet, and you can talk to Steve [another student] about what's required. Come see me in my office on Wednesday. I guess since you're enrolled in the course you can stay. But you're lucky I'm in such a good mood today."

Yeah, I'm sure my being near bronchial for the past five weeks--three of them, depressingly, on winter break--was a real inconvenience for YOU. Do I say this to his face? No, of course not. But I might just be saving it up for an explosion in his office on Wednesday; I can feel it coming already.

In my three decades on this planet, I've quietly and submissively cowered to all of the short, angry men of authority that I'm going to. I know he thinks that I'm some scared kid who's going to take his rebuke and do whatever he says. I know he's one of those diminutive men who feel like they have to make up for their genetic deficiency by proving their intellectual scrappiness and fierce wit over and over again. The man has taken the limited power that being an English professor at a third-rate state university has given him and become a miniature martinet.

I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Identity, Show Thy Face

Was it Peter Sarsgaard who hosted this weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live, or was it my friend Carl? They're so much alike, I get confused. Carl, if that was you, I'm disappointed. SNL is worse than ever; a lifeless show, slaves to format and the same tired jokes. The pirate convention sketch felt like a five year-old wrote it. And is there even a rehearsal period? The guest hosts just stand there and don't even try to hide the way they're reading the cue cards. Hey, I love Peter Sarsgaard/Carl F. Schultz and Scarlett Johansson, but they look like untalented fools just reading their cue cards and adding nothing. That Cat Fancy sketch was a technical nightmare considering it wasn't even that funny and most people haven't seen the movie they were satirizing, Shattered Glass, which Peter/Carl starred in.

Anyway, I wish I had caught you before you went out to New York. I was going to ask you to please beat Chris Parnell to death. Preferably with Andy Samberg, Tina Fey's newest "I know he's untalented, but his hair is tousled and ain't he adorable?" Fallon-alike. Oh, well. I'm still a little miffed at not getting an intro to Chloe Sevigny. I see you're dating Maggie Gyllenhaal now, though... congratulations. You can tell me; she's a freak in the sack, isn't she?

You know what's weird? Carl's father is named Peter, and so is Carl's older brother. I've only met his brother Pete a few times; I always thought he looked a little like Donald Sutherland, circa M*A*S*H and Start the Revolution Without Me. I think there is some sort of conspiracy... Pete was obviously an actor... but why? Carl, is Peter Sarsgaard your brother with a fake last name? Hm... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Robert E. Howard 1906-1936

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Ervin Howard, one of the greatest pulp authors who ever lived. He created some of the greatest characters of all time: Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Cormac Mac Art, and Solomon Kane. A lot has been written about him over the years, ranging from those who think he was a misunderstood genius to those who think he was a crazy, mother-obsessed loon. I'm not going to comment either way, as it seems adherence to any one interpretation of the man brings down the wrath of many fans and scholars who just won't agree. But we all agree that he's never had the wide audience he deserved. He is among those writers who took the pulp and made it an art form; his name deserves to be mentioned with other luminaries of the fantasy genre. Some day, we hope, his work will be taken seriously as literature. Tragically, he took his own life at the age of 30. But we still remember him today. Posted by Picasa