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Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Once And Future Tom

“That’s a damn shame,” says the detective, kicking the blogger’s foot with his hands in his pockets.  “He only had one more blog post til he could retire.”

“Same old story,” says an inexplicably superhot lab tech chickaroo, snapping gloves over her hands.  “These guys go out onto the blogosphere like it’s a playground or a daisy farm or something.  Start screwing around on the social networking sites, fall in with the wrong crowds…”

“Pretty soon their brains explode,” the detective agrees.  “They just get so…”

“Full of themselves,” the tech finishes for him, checking the blogger’s teeth for some reason, frowning in there with a flashlight.  “BLAM!  Like a beer in the freezer.”

“They never learn.  He got any ID on him?”

“Yeah,” the tech says, fishing something out of the dead blogger’s coat.  “Name’s Future Tom.”

And then the detective turns toward the camera and it turns out he’s really a bear, and he goes “ROOOAAAAAARRRRRR!!!”

Spang snaps up straight in bed, gasping and drenched in sweat.  His wife splits the air next to him with her remarkably strident flatulence, and mutters, “Christmas trees,” three times in a row, while Spang sputters and searches the room, patting himself down for his wallet or something. 

“What a terrible dream,” he says, fanning the air in front of him.  “I think I was a bear in that one.  A bear detective.”

His wife has a name, but nobody knows it.  Probably Veronica or something.  She waits five or six theatrical seconds just so he doesn’t start thinking it’s Time to Chat or anything, and then points out, “That sounds like an awesome dream, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“And Future Tom’s head had exploded from overblogging.”

“Well, as the philosphers tell us,” she mumbles to the pillow, “life is fleeting and we’re all circling the drain anyway.  He had a good run.”

“No, that was no normal dream.  I think something’s wrong, Veronica,” Spang tells her, narrowing his eyes and then turning for some reason away from her, where perhaps a camera might be if this were a movie. Then after doing that for a few solid, pointless seconds, he snags his laptop and pulls up Facebook.  Starts poking around.

“He’s not here,” he says finally.  “Future Tom’s not on Facebook.”

And Spang’s flatulent wife Veronica bolts upright, her expression gone wide-eyed and white.  “Oh.  My.  God.”

I guess Spang gets a little shut eye at that point and also loses interest in the phone, because the next thing we know, he’s over at Future Tom’s house, knocking on the front door.  Mrs. Future Tom answers wearing a flannel bathrobe, a pair of lit cigarettes hanging from her lips, a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a shotgun in the other.

“You from the bank you sumbitch?”  She mumbles.  “I’ll kill you.  I’ll kill you all.”

Spang stands there and blinks at her and she blinks back, then she closes one eye and really gets a look at him and then says, “Oh, howdy Spang.  I thought you was about six guys in suits from the credit union.  You want some biscuits and mustard?”

“No, ma’am,” Spang tells her.  “Just looking for Future Tom.  I had a horrible dream that I was a bear detective and he was like dead or something, and it was really tragically ironic because you know, he’s only got one more blog post before the year’s up.”

Mrs. Future Tom says, “How’s that now?  Yer some kind of bear?”

“No, I’m not really a bear.  That was a dream I was talking about, and now I’m talking about his blog.  You know, his blog?”

“…”

“How he puts up eight hundred words a day, and, like, blogs it.  Up on the Internet.”  Spang makes some typy-typy motions in the air in front of him.  “Facebook?  You know.”

“What with the what now?”

“All right, damn it.  Where’s your husband, ma’am?”

“I ain’t seen that motherscratcher since yesterday morning.  He’s probably off gambling away my butter-n-egg money, since that’s all he ever does.  Betting on them ponies and puppy dogs.”

“I see.”

“The puppy dogs race, mind you, they don’t fight each other.  Except Wednesdays.  Wednesday’s Dog Fight Night.”

“Sure.”

“It ain’t as bad as it sounds though.  Sometimes they let the horsies fight too, and shooooo-wwweeee.  They can fight, yes sir.  Ain’t nothing like a game of Horsie Versus Puppy Dog.”

“I see.”

“Here’s a few addresses where he might be,” she adds, and really helpfully has them written down already, which makes the scene end that much faster, really streamlines it, you know?

Spang jumps in his Ferrari, slams in the Magnum, P.I. soundtrack, and hits the gas.

Meanwhile, across the planet, the impending end of The Curse of Future Tom is ripping the fabric of society apart – turmoil in the Middle East, the shutdown of the federal government, people pointing cameras at Donald Trump and turning the sound on.  Pandemonium.  

A weeping species shakes their desperate fists at the sky and laments Why has Future Tom forsaken us?  Were the Mayans right and also off by about seventeen months or so, and also were they talking about a blog instead of the whole world for some reason?  All the pieces seem to fit.

“I don’t know,” Future Tom tells the bartender.  “I guess I just felt kind of like blowing it off today, you know?  I figured, screw it, 364 days is pretty good, no reason to showboat, right?”

The bartender is one of those old-fashioned types who wears an apron and keeps a ball bat back there and is always wiping stuff off.  He says, “You’re the boss, Apple Sauce.”

“Guess I just bit off more than I could chew, you know?  Couldn’t quite make it – close, but a man mustn’t push himself too hard, not to any ridiculous extreme.  That’s just too.  Much.  Blogging.  Eff it, right?””

“I know when I bite off too much a something,” agrees the bartender.  “I spit it out into a beer mug and give it to my cat, rinse it off good and forget about it.  I like to put my boot prints on the butt cheeks of the past, every single time I see that peckerwood.”

Glug, glug.  Future Tom smacks his lips and says, “Ahhhh.  That’s a tasty beer.  Say, Schmitty, you know where a fella could scare up a game of dice?”

And that’s when I walk in, pushing through the saloon doors, because I guess it’s sort of an Old West kind of joint for whatever reason.  Mainly cause I wanted to push through doors like that.

“Future Tom,” I tell him.  “I think it’s time you and I had another talk.”

And Future Tom stiffens in his stool – he’s always known this day would come – and then he turns and says, “You.”

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say we reach an understanding at last, Future Tom and I.  Sure there’s a brawl, and yes, it goes on for several hours, like that fight in They Live over whether or not the black dude should put the sunglasses on.  Because Me and Future Tom are pretty evenly matched – that’s the sort of Kirk Vs. Kirk fight that could go on for eternity, except we fight like girls and yelp the whole time.

Thankfully, Spang bursts in and breaks it up, and then we all take our beers out onto the patio, where we hash out our feelings and concerns.  Future Tom seems to have some kind of issue with how much work I dropped in his lap last year, whereas I am much more concerned with what a crybaby princess boy he is, and how much he always complains.

We get it worked out, and then have a good, Sensitive Eighties Man cry about it, and then we’re squaresville.  I agree to give Future Tom two weeks off, and he agrees to completely, digitally shut the hell up for the entire time.

“You can have as much whisky and books as you want,” I tell him.

“Word,” he agrees.

Then we all kind of sit there, nodding and getting a little bored.  I tell Future Tom he’s writing a book when he gets back from his hiatus, a complete novel and he’s got three months to produce a final draft, and he just shrugs.  “Okay.”

After a while Spang says, “You know, I think I would have closed with the sort of allegorical one, you know, about running?  Seems more like a statement than whatever this is.”

“Totally agree,” says Future Tom.  “You’re dumb like that sometimes, Tommy C.”

“This,” Spang gestures around us at the cowboy patio bar we’re sitting around on, with our beers.  “This is just like you don’t want to stop typing.  Like the whole thing’s over and you’re just being stubborn and clingy about it.”

“Generation X dudes were ruined by Stand By Me,” Future Tom observes.  “You guys both look like you’re going to cry.”

Then he gets up and excuses himself briskly.  “Got something in my eye.”

Well, that’s plenty of that.  “I’ll tell you who the reader is that I’m going to miss most of all.”

And I put out my forefinger and swing it around until it’s pointing out your monitor, right at you.

“You are,” I tell you – and yes, I’m talking to you.

Isn’t that nice?

All right then, party’s over.  Everybody’s welcome to crash here but stay out of my ice cream and NO PAY PER VIEW.  Old Tommy C.’s going to get some shut-eye.

Peace.  (Thump.)

 
 

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Blog Angry

Why the hell not?  I blog Angry all the time and find that lots of people can relate to it, because the world is a pretty angrifying place.  I get angry about television shows, politicians, millionaire douchebags who think they’re politicians, scientific advancements, hilarious things I get in the mail  – you name it.

And it turns out, so do other people – no matter what I decide to freak out about, there are people out there who are freaking out about it, too.

It’s like planning bank heists – if that’s something you keep thinking about, then you’re better off writing crime fiction than actually trying to pull off a real heist.  Get it out of your system.  I know that’s what I did (and you’d know that if you’d read that book over there, punk), and the cool thing about fictionally robbing banks, is you can make sure you get away with it.

Your character might not get away with it, but at least you will.  And also, you won’t have that Telltale Heart thing going on, where you feel so guilty that you eventually confess to make the voices stop.  Naw, just make your character a cool-as-ice- sociopath.  Problem solved.

Blogging angry is kind of similar – the anger isn’t going to do you any good, stewing inside you like a rich, meaty broth.  But it might actually do some good, out on the Internet as a Picture of Angry, so other people can look at it and sigh and say, “Man, I get angry about that, too.  I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

When I went off on the end of LOST, I heard from hundreds of people who told me, wow, that is exactly what I wanted to say and I didn’t know how, but I’m exactly as angry as you in exactly the same way, and thank you for helping me deal with it.  I needed that.

You’re welcome.  I’m pretty sure I needed it, too.

And right now, I’m sitting in a parking lot, where, after a really crappy four or five hours of not getting paid very well for a job gone completely sideways, I went ahead and locked my keys in my car.  Screw you Future Tom, said Two Minutes Ago Tom. 

I mean, there they are, on my seat – Hi, Keys!

And man, I was so angry that I took three deep breaths and then I very nearly and calmly picked up a brick and put out my window.    Screw you, Current Situation, Two Minutes Ago Tom was “thinking.”

Because I don’t want to alarm you, but I have stuff to do.  I know, it hardly makes sense – if that’s the case then why am I always blogging?

I don’t know, Smarty.  But you’re the one reading it, so don’t get too proud of yourself.

Anyway, I never leave my laptop in the car, not ever – which I think we can all agree would be a wise policy for my keys, as well – so anyway I had the laptop, and I had my phone.  You might say, I had two pieces of futuristic technology that would have seemed magic when I was a kid.

Yes, but that Physical Key Technology, from circa 1950.  Too bad I didn’t have that, yes indeed.  If only we had a wheelbarrow..

So I used one of the magic, futuristic devices to call the Tall Girl – Hey, you, hop up, grab the spare key off the Key Frog and get in your car.   Here’s how you get to where I am, start driving.

Then I took the other piece of futuristic technology and walked over to a bench under a tree and said to myself, I’m angry enough to throw a brick through my window, and mostly I’m angry because of how paralyzingly (literally) stupid this was.

When I was a kid, I remember writing a short paper about an old saying that didn’t make sense.  I chose “Never cry over spilled milk,” and my rationale was, if you spill milk, then you have failed at one of the simplest tasks a human being can undertake.  There are monkeys who could pour a glass of milk without spilling it, but you just screwed it up.  Get on the floor and weep while you’re cleaning that up, genius.

And of course that’s not really the point of the saying – the point is that the milk is spilled and your tears are irrelevant to that immutable fact.  Clean it up and move on.

So, kind of cool that I went from ready to arbitrarily destroy something to sitting in the weeds blogging angry about it, to gradually understanding that the stupid part is in the past.  The smart thing to do now is accept it and make use of the time that I lost, by getting that blog post up and doing it without yelling at the blogosphere about my keys – it’s not your fault, dudes.

Ah, and there’s the Tall Girl – got right in her car and drove here with no questions asked.  No problem.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Writing/blogging

 

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Run, Blogger, Run

It starts in the dead of night, not a soul around, and not even my family knows where I am as I slip out the door with a puppy dog and an old pair of shoes, and I know nothing of stretching, nothing of muscles, nothing of form.

One foot in front of the other, a leash in one hand, my footsteps echo across familiar terrain – Big Shawn and the giant rock, childraising and all that I’ve learned from it, wacky college days and surprise boxes of chickens.   

I don’t keep my knees up, I merely lean forward, let my body weight fall in front of me, lurching along to catch myself while my lungs start bitching right off the bat.

Because I’m soft and coddled.  Because I seldom make myself do the hard stuff?  Or because I do a lot that’s difficult already, and then give myself a break on what’s extraneous, and that’s what it’s always been to me, isn’t it?  A part of me that I can’t remove, yet I think of it as extra, as something that doesn’t need fed.

Because of the Curse.  Because of excuses.  Because of a dark and cluttered past trailing behind me like cinderblocks on chains scratching white chalk marks on the sidewalk, and no, it isn’t pretty, this swarm of living whispers.  It isn’t pretty and neither am I.

So I run alone in the dark, the way I always have, just me and my past and my ugliness and my delirious, demon-haunted dreams.

Every day.  Run through the silence and let the muscles itch as they rebuild themselves around the effort.  Feel the lungs as they eat the air, and they’re getting an appetite, aren’t they?  Chomp, chomp, chomp – I think they like it, Tommy C.

A few people start to agree – they wave from their porches and put up litte signs, and when they see me elsewhere in normal life, they tell me Heyyyyyy – I saw you.  I SAW you!

I point at them and click my tounge, while others pretend they don’t notice, but I see them, all right.  I see them, too  Go ahead and look away, because that’s not what I’m going to do – look at me or don’t.

Screw it.  Change up the route and run through the darkest places I know, where dead boys leer from the shadows and fear is a vapor that closes my throat, and now they begin to follow me, intrigued, while my feet grow bloody from the cracked obsidian path. 

Laugh at it.  Laugh at the blood and the pain and the things that used to scare me.  Start zigzagging around, slice my feet to ribbons – they’ll heal like everything else heals, stronger.  Like I need them to be, these things I walk the Earth upon – not much good to me if they can’t stand to bleed.

Ha!  The cinderblocks I drag around can’t heal so well.  I giggle as the hungry path devours them, grinds them to powder until it’s only chains back there, tinkling against the stones, a weight lifted, the vapor clears.  The little crowd gasps and it drowns out the silence and the sneers.

And my knees are up now – ah, so this is what Form is. 

Every day, get up and move; it’s no longer a secret.  I run into the mainstream, and shake my fists at pop culture, flickering like lightning against the rumbling purple sky.  People I don’t know yell “Yo, Tommy C!”

And I feel like Rocky.  Yes – exactly like Rocky, because they throw garbage now, too – “Stay outta my yard, ya bum!”

Into the political world with a couple of birds in the air, run through it like a bareknuckle brawl in an old Clint Eastwood movie – It’s on!  The fight, it’s on! 

Take a beating, leave a beating, like pennies at the carryout, and feel worn out but I can’t stop.  I don’t want it back, my silence, my burdens, my fears, my lonely, desperate stagnation – they would return anytime I asked.  Any time I stop.  Anytime I want them, and I don’t.

Run.  Every day, seeking the places I’m afraid to go, and then barreling there, pell mell, tumble bumble.  Seek out the Stupid and shine a light upon it, sing it a song.  Ride the absurd like a cartoon ostrich and flip off the cops as they pull alongside – you try to stop me, motherfuckers.  I’ll bet you can’t.

Who am I?  Who cares.  I run to the tops of buildings and laugh across the rooftops, and then leap into space, because I’m Batman now, if that’s who I want to be. 

Yes, and I can hear the eyeballs rolling – I sure can.  Like restless bowling balls in an old, creaky attic, they never roll quietly, and I can see their owners as I pass, sitting on their asses doing absolutely nothing, but oh, yeah – they know how to judge. 

I cropdust them old school – an old-fashioned fart cloud – and think, Sit there and judge, old friend, and notice which one of us is blasting past the other one now, and which one of us can’t smell the other one’s ass.  Notice who stagnates, and who drives his own change.  And laugh, sure, why not?  Roll your eyes and sneer from your bar stool and laugh, because you can bet your ass I’m laughing at you.

Run.  Right into the blogosphere, like a sunny park in May – they’re everywhere here, running and skipping and flying kites.  Welcome, they tell me.  Come and join us, we’re all sitting over here, spreading our toes in the Earth, and it feels nice.  You’re at home here and you belong, so have a seat and join us.

Bah, like Conan says – time enough for the Earth in the grave, and I didn’t come here to sit back down, I came here because I had to, restless from a life haunted by phantoms and lost chances and dead dogs I could have saved.  You sit here all you want, but I have to run, and that’s what I do, eating the wind and spitting out bugs and cackling like a mad man who just broke loose, and that’s what I am.

Now it’s broad daylight, my shoes soaked and scarlet, my bloody footprints steaming behind me like volcanos for smurfs, and the looks I get are all over the map.  Joy and indifference, admiration and irritation, respect and contempt, weariness and sudden, wide-eyed interest.

Who the hell is that guy?

I’m Future Tom I tell them, grinning big, and then I’m gone.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Writing/blogging

 

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Night Side

You  were a lot like me, except smarter, and more confident.  The confidence was easy to see, easy to explain – your family had a lot of money, and that’s where confidence frequently comes from, for kids.  From never being told, when something occurred to you that you wanted, no we can’t afford that.  Other people can have it, but not you. 

No,  for you, it was the other way around.

As for intelligence, just about everyone who knows your story knows that, too.  You were smarter than basically anyone you knew, too smart for your own good, maybe. 

I met you in the fifth grade.  Some kids I knew dragged me over to you and said, you got to meet this guy, and there you were, your thumbs hooked in the pockets of your weird, designer jeans for boys, wire-rimmed glasses snapped onto your plump and healthy face as if it were designed for them, your brown hair curly and windblown, your stance like a superhero.  Who has summoned me before them today?

We had so much in common, the boundaries between us were blurred in just a few months.  Puberty was just barely on the way, and for the two of us, it intended to take it’s time.  For you, it would never finish its job, and for me it would take many, many years. 

The kids around us started popping out of their clothes and talking in deeper voices, while you and I kept right on running through the woods carrying plastic He-Man swords, fighting hobgoblins and beholders and malevolent, living trees.

We used to say that we lived on the Night Side.  Our marathon games of Dungeons and Dragons, with its crazy-shaped dice and sprawling maps and little pewter statues, would last well into the morning.   

As we grew older, we took to slipping out of the house around midnight, while your mom was asleep, wandering the dark country roads for hours, prowling, laughing, dodging headlights as they came into view.  We saw a shooting star one night, about four am, as we walked down the middle of Orange Road, miles from your house, and we made a wish on it.

I don’t remember mine, and neither, I’ll bet, do you.

The Night Side was for us, we said, because we were dark and magical.  Because we were true creatures of the night, like cats or Batman.  We abhorred the world of normality because we held ourselves above us, because it was in our freakish nature, we said, but it wasn’t true.

No, we lived our lives in the darkness because we were perversely afraid of the light.  Because when we tried to do what normal kids did – sports, Frisbee, parties at Wyandott Lake – everything weird about us was starkly obvious.  We couldn’t make our mouths shut up about the dorktacular thoughts in our brains, about the dragons and the invisible laser beams, about the many-sided dice.

It’s funny to watch Napoleon Dynamite, remember parts of ourselves in characters like that, but it wasn’t funny to live through.  Out in the light, we could see exactly what everyone else could see, that nothing about us fit in to the world everyone else was celebrating. 

At the beach once, we ran afoul of a bunch of bigger kids, and they dragged our rafts out to the pylons, and we couldn’t get away.  They’d dunk us under the water so that we thought we were drowning, and all we could do was cling to the raft. 

I remember your eyes, locking grimly onto mine, as they towed us further out, and we weren’t slaying dragons then, were we my friend?  We didn’t unsheath our swords and vanquish any evil, because we weren’t really heroes, and we couldn’t really fight, not if our lives depended on it.  Out there in the sunlight, we were a couple of scrawny little sissy kids, and there was no hiding it, no weeds to duck into as the normal folks drove by in cars.

The lifeguard blew his whistle that day, and that’s all that saved us.  The bigger kids had to stop, let us get to shore, and they laughed at us like a bunch of screeching howler monkeys, treading water, pointing, like we were the creatures in the clan with the wrong color spots, creatures who were different, creatures who had to go.

We lived on the Night Side because no one could find us there, and because wrapped in the darkness, we could be whoever we wanted to be, and we used our holographic imaginations to create vibrant worlds where we were strong and brave and godlike.   And we tried our damnedest to never leave.

But the months and years dragged by like massive ships passing beneath a bridge, ponderously slow, and the changes were easy to map.  Both of us were clever, and we learned to crack people up, to get them making their howler monkey sounds with us, instead of at us.  To distract them with patterns of words and funny faces, so that they wouldn’t notice our pale skin and shallow chests, our wrongness.  Our spots.

And the school wasn’t very big.  It seems now, maybe there wasn’t room for two jesters in that particular courtyard.  That competition between us was inevitable, especially when it came to girls, because not a lot of them were into us, were they?  If we came across one who found our awkward bodies and clever wit to be something they were drawn to, well then they’d have to pick between us, wouldn’t they?  Who was it going to be?

Never is it that simple, though.  It wasn’t just about girls.  To tell the truth, I can’t remember what shims and wedges were getting pounded between us, when the teen years approached.  Suddenly we were sitting around creating elaborate worlds without swords or dragons, just worlds where the girls that we liked somehow landed beside us, became girlfriends.  We could crack them up, sure, but that’s a long way from Hey, let’s go to the spring dance, baby.

And slowly we made our inroads into social circles above us, slowly we’d gain an ally here and there, popular kids who could afford to give us a second look, talk to us for a second, and then announce with confidence and authority, this guy’s all right.  He’s funny and he’s smart.

You were a writer, too – light years ahead of me or anyone I knew.  Your stories were intricately plotted, unbelievably well-paced.  The rest of us would basically take a Saturday morning cartoon or a Star Wars subplot, and we’d change the names, call it Gongwar The Conqueror.  You were writing about telepathic detectives on board the Titanic.

Our competitiveness was all the more sad, in retrospect, because I doubt anyone else noticed it at all, that we were vying for the position of Head Dork.  The girls we were competing for certainly had no idea.  We’d carry our secret crushes around for months, managing to blurt out a few words here and there at lunch, and then imagining ourselves running into them later, at the mall, and suddenly having the suave social skills of James Bond.

It’s funny what I don’t remember.  I don’t remember what set you off, for instance, not with any clarity, and what I do remember, I’ll keep to myself, out of respect for those you left behind. 

But I can tell you this, old buddy, I’ve got two daughters the same age you were, when you ate the barrel of your dad’s gun, and they’ve been through a hell of a lot worse than you ever got. 

They’re tougher than you, is my first instinct.  They can take it, and you couldn’t.  Does that mean I won?  Because it doesn’t feel like it.

But nothing’s that simple, is it?  I have no idea what your home life was like, because I was a kid, too, and I wasn’t paying attention.  I wouldn’t have known what to look for if I was. 

What I remember is my friend Kelly, knocking on my door, her mom still out there in the car, idling in the driveway, and she was crying as she told me what you had done.    And my stepdad awkwardly walked up on us, and I told him, too, in the bluntest of terms.   He didn’t know what to say.

So Kelly and her mom drove away, and I wandered up to my room, dazed, and I picked up the telephone and did what dozens of kids did that day, out of sheer denial.  I called your telephone number, and the person who answered told me, no, you weren’t there.  And there was death in his tone of voice, the first time I ever heard it that way, an eye-watering stench of a word, unspoken but clear.

But the competition wasn’t over yet, because you’d made elaborate plans, outsmarted the cops from beyond the grave, and made sure I’d carry that bullet wound around with me, that I’d bring it to you one day, when it comes time to settle up.

No, I never got your note, despite your well-laid plans.  I’ve had it summarized to me, in very general terms, but I’ve declined every offer to actually read it, in these twenty-four years.  One thing – about the whole thing – that I could control, so I kept it.

My understanding is, it’s really a series of notes, messages to everyone you knew.  In mine, you told everyone that you’d done it because of me, that it was my fault, and that you’d told me you were going to do it, that I’d ignored you.

To be fair, the word is you said some pretty nasty things about a lot of different people, in that note, but I’m not going to go into it.  It certainly wasn’t all about me.  But I was right there on the top of the stack, wasn’t I?

It’s hard not to be astonished, by the lengths you went to, trying to get us to read that note.  You were smart enough to know that the cops, the paramedics, the counselors – they’d never give it to me, or anyone else, not just because you asked them to.   But you knew they’d look for a note, and so you printed one out and you put it right there, on the desk.

Made a copy of it on a disk, though – a big floppy disk from the eighties, and you went out into the woods behind your house, where we used to fight monsters together, and you hid it under an overhang, in a ravine we used as a cave.  You put it in a bag, and put that bag in another bag, and you closed that up in a small, metal box, and you put it out there, for one of us to find.

I think you might have made another copy – there have been dozens of versions of that story, how your note made it back to the school, but that’s the one I believe.

But the note showed up and everyone got to read what you had to say about them, your final word, everyone but me.

You stayed home from school for a day and a half, working on the note, getting the copy in place, getting the decoy printed out and displayed.  You made the title page a cartoonish joke.  Another friend of yours – a neighbor – found you there, in your chair, the rifle in your lap, your hands clamped to the arms of the chair.  He’s the one who found the note, too, days later.

The counselors arrived, and God bless ‘em, I’m sure they meant well.  I learned what to say pretty quickly, how to run them off.  And that was right about when the mean stepdad started to lay off, and the big kids at the beach, I guess they figured I’d had enough.  A lot of my problems, well – they went away when you did.

You’re kind of mysterious and dark, when your friend dies – I wonder if you knew that?  If you knew you’d be bestowing upon me the very thing we tried to invent about ourselves?  That tragedy was depth, and that depth was the cure for being a dork, that it made you alternative.   Eccentric.  Interesting.

It would be great if it were really all that shallow, if my life just turned rosy once you were gone, and we could all appreciate the irony. 

But there was a lot wrong with me after that, because what I thought was that things were exactly as they appeared, exactly as they felt, exactly as you said in your parting manifesto – that your death really was my fault.  That I really had done something on par with killing you myself.  And that I had gotten away with it, too.

They say that we live on in the memories of those we leave behind, and you certainly lived on in mine.  I dreamed about you for years, dreamed that Hell was real, and that you’d be waiting for me on the day I walked in, your unread note in one hand, your rifle in the other.  You chased me through forests, and down Orange Road in the pitch black night, and through the hallways of our school, in unbelievably slow and lurid detail, through so many nightmares I grew to abhor sleep itself.

Other dreams you’d just show up, sometimes the same plump-faced fifth grader I met long ago, sometimes the haunted preteen, his face slick with blood, and you’d simply ruin a perfectly good dream, lurking in the background, watching me.  Sitting suddenly at the end of the table.  Snatching aside a curtain, in a dream about a castle or a mansion or an elaborate play.

Sometimes you’d tell me earnestly, there’s been an incredible mistake – you had to fake your own death because you work for the government, and the dream will seem so achingly real for so long.  In the dream, the neutron star of guilt is lifted with absolute clarity.  It’s a real memory, I think, of a time when your death wasn’t the dense alien metal that my skull is made of now.

Late night television and frozen pizzas, then south campus bars and pouring shots in restaurants, I stayed on the Night Side where you left me, my friend.  I skulked around campus wrapped in hair and trenchcoats and outlandish hats, sat on my porch until the sun came up, and only went to my dreams when it was absolutely necessary.

Even now, that’s what I’m doing, my garage door up, leaning back in a chair in the dead of night, this little computer on my lap, though there’s sleep in my future now, and your visits have grown infrequent, and my feelings toward you have changed.  Still I’m always on this side of things, watching quietly while cities sleep around me.

I used to think if Hell were real, I’d have to face you one day.  In the same way people dream about meeting their grandmas in the House of the Lord, I thought I’d have to deal with you, one way or the other, on the day I walked in there, shovel over my shoulder, guilty as Hell for what I had done to you. 

I didn’t know who would be in charge that day, which of the two of us would deserve to get punished more.  Or if we’d be there together, like old times – getting towed around by bigger kids at the beach, dunked under the water, completely helpless right there in front of each other.  Forced to see it reflected with stark clarity, in each other’s eyes.

These days, I don’t think of Hell as something real I’m likely to walk into, with a shovel.  But if I did, here’s the difference:  I think of kids your age as kids, not pals. 

If I saw you tomorrow and you were looking for a fight, you wouldn’t get one.  You’d get an arm around your shoulder, and an ear to talk into. 

I wish I could have given you that when you needed it, old friend.  I truly do.

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(Note:  this was published last year and I must have taken it down when the book came out, though I’m not even sure it’s in the book now.  Anyway, someone asked about it, so here it is.)

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Then later:  Bullying and the Suicide Fantasy

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2011 in News/Commentary, Parenting/Family

 

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Facebook Overload

As you may have noticed, I am on Facebook a LOT, and yes, it is driving me crazy and no, not in a wacky or hilarious way.

It’s changing my brain.  I’m starting to think of everything I do and see and even think as a Facebook status that everyone can see, that everyone will react to.  I break a yolk on an egg I’m cooking, and I catch myself wondering who’s going to relate to it, who’s going to click “like.” 

I can’t remember what it was like to not be a part of this hive.  When I couldn’t just think of an acquaintance and then zoom a greeting or a message or a question to them, with not much more effort than thought.

And I try, too.  I try to think back to when it was possible to feel alone.  You know, that feeling at night where you stand there in your back yard or on your porch or walk along a road by yourself, and you’re the only one experience what you’re experiencing.  Everything feels a little stark and supernatural and exciting, the wind on your skin, the Moon, the night noises.

Once, it was religion and storytelling that connected us.  We’d sit around fires and tell them and pass them on, and that would be the strongest evidence we’d get that other people were just like us, that we all shared experiences, and that was the appeal of both of those things.  Not feeling alone.

When I was a kid it was movies and television and music, that’s my generation.  We only had a few channels, so we all watched the same shows, listened to the same songs.  In fact, finding a show or a song that was not so widely known, and then finding someone else who heard it or saw it and enjoyed it, too – that was a pretty good feeling.  And then we’d communicate using references to these things – a delightful feeling, when someone catches your reference without having it explained.  Thanks, Simpsons.

I remember a Roger Waters album called Radio K.A.O.S., and don’t worry, I’m not here to gush about Roger Waters and I’m not going to try to convince you it’s a great album or anything.  I’m practically tone deaf, so it truly doesn’t matter what I think about albums.  But if you ever get a chance to listen to it, you’ll get a pretty interesting picture of what it was like to really see the world as it was giving birth to the Internet.

It was all about feeling connected to everything via radio waves, and still feeling isolated and alone.  Awfully pretentious, I’m sure most people would think.  But now I’m fascinated by it, by this idea that the clunky old radio could make a man feel overwhelmed by connection, that loneliness is not only possible without solitude, it can thrive that way – that’s a catch phrase that ought to be on Facebook’s home page.

Driving from Toledo to Columbus the other night, I sort of flashed back to the way driving used to be, when you had to use a road map.  And you had to keep change with you and search for a pay phone, if you got lost. 

Do you know how hard it is to find a pay phone today?  Pretty hard, because only drug dealers need them.  A weird feeling, driving down a country road at night, and being unable to find a sense of isolation, anywhere within the experience.

It’s difficult to find a place where you aren’t connected, these days and if you hang around on Facebook long enough, it becomes difficult to imagine anything else.  Most people take a break from Facebook at that point, but that hasn’t been an option for me, not for approximately 361 days.

And I’m ready, Facebook.  I am absolutely exhausted, not just from constant writing, but from constant social and emotional exposure, from constant connection.

Because last year, I just tossed up a window right into my life, and everybody got to look into it whenever they wanted, and not every day is pretty.  Sometimes I’m funny, sometimes I’m unreasonable, sometimes I’m a petulant prick – if the window is open every day, then you get to see me at my best and at my worst and also in normal, mediocre mode.  Not always such a great idea, in retrospect.

I think I’ve lost a few friends this year, but I’ve gained or reclaimed at least a hundred, and it’s all been worth it, no doubt about it.  Not just the writing, but the tour of this modern digital world, the reconnection with all the people from my past that I thought I’d never seen again, and the new people, whom I never would have met offline.

Marathons are worth it, too, but I’ll bet you’re pretty tired of putting one foot in front of the other by the end of them.  I’ll bet you’re ready to sit down and not run, just sit and breathe and fart and eat.  And so after Friday, when I put up my 365th post and break Curse of Future Tom once and for all, please do not be surprised or offended when I log off of Facebook and stay that way for a solid two weeks.

A lot of people have told me that it’s hard to imagine a day where they can’t log on and scoop up one of my posts – that’s success right there, by the way, if you ask me.  But look at it from my perspective – I can’t imagine such a day, either.

That’s going to be possibly more of a shock than writing every day was – NOT writing, NOT connecting, NOT bantering, just Tom Turtle, retracting his head into his shell at last for a bit of old-fashioned, real world, introverted recharging.  My microphone will hit the stage floor and Blogosphere, I’ll be OUT.

But like Frosty the Snowman, I’ll be back again one day.  While I’m gone, why don’ t you guys hang around here and sell a bunch of books, maybe straighten the place up?  Or, you could work on elaborate, blog-related song-and-dance numbers and then when I walk back in, you could surprise me with them.  There is also fried chicken and cupcakes – if you’re looking for something to do just make one or both of those things and drive them on over.  It’ll be just like a blog post except you’ll be living it.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Our Unbelievably Idiotic Zero Percent Bailout

I can’t believe that it has taken me two and a half years to realize this, but did you notice that when the U.S. taxpayers bailed out the mortgage industry, we did so at zero percent interest?

That seems like a weird strategy, doesn’t it?  Especially considering that when a taxpayer needs money, and turns to a mortgage company to refinance and maybe pull out some equity, consolidate some debts – they charge us interest, don’t they?

Daily interest.  And it’s a pretty involved process – at least it is now.

It seems like what we should have said would be something more like, “Mmmm-hmm.  I see that you’re in quite a pickle, and yes, we have 245 hundred billion dollars right here and we’re happy to help.  Of course there is some paperwork involved.  An approval process – just a formality, really.”

And then we could have sat them down across the desk from us and had them fill out an application.  Get some income documentation – I mean, we learned our lesson from the big financial meltdown, right?  No more stated, no doc loans? 

Yes, so Chase and Wells Fargo – go ahead and get out your profit and loss statement, and we’ll of course need to see those going back three years.  And let me just run a credit report here, make sure you’ve been paying your bills so far.

At the time the market rate was about what?  Five and a half percent?  Okay, and that would have been for really good credit customers, but since the whole goddamn economy just collapsed beneath the applicant’s idiotic business practices, I don’t think it’s fair to say that their credit is good, do you?  No, when an industry flips over on its back like a turtle and starts mewling and screeching and pointing into its money hole with its loathsome, slimy flippers – that’s not a good credit customer, is it?

Kind of a red flag, the whole abject failure and helplessness on a global and historic scale.  We’ll have to bump your rate for that, gargantuan corporate loan applicant – dig?

And not just a little bump.  No, I think that when you are standing there over the twitching carcass of the American economy, your credit stopped being good.  In fact, you’re sort of high risk, aren’t you, Mortgage Industry?

Ah – don’t worry.  We’ll just flip you over to the non-conforming market, where there are plenty of programs at slightly elevated interest rates for gargantuan financial institutions with less-than-perfect credit. 

What we’ll do, is we’ll put you on an ARM.  You know, an adjustable rate mortgage, and don’t worry because it will be fixed for three years, and you can just refinance with the American Taxpayers at that point, if you don’t have the full amount.  You’re going to see a prepayment penalty on there, but don’t worry, we’re totally going to waive that when you come back to redo this thing.  We pinky promise.

I mean, that’s either a good, fair way to do it or it’s not, right you bunch of blood-sucking corporate pricks?  So if it’s not, then all of you go to jail.  And if it is, then congratulations on your new, 30-year loan at 10% – sorry about the high interest rate, but when you’re one day out of essentially foreclosure, well, you have to pony up a penalty, you know?

Nothing’s free, boys.  You know how it is.

So.  According to my calculations, your monthly payments should be about $1,722,200,000.00.  And admittedly, that could be wrong, since the online mortgage calculator I used did not recognize loan amounts in the hundreds of billions, because of how fundamentally nonsensical and stupid such a loan would be.   But let’s work with that – I mean, you’re the one who needs the money, right Mortgage Industry?  So let’s go ahead and use the system you designed.

That’s just principal and interest, mind you – you have taxes and insurance to worry about, because we’re going to need to file mortgages, and attach this loan to all of your gargantuan office buildings and your houses and your breast implants and your yachts – that’s what a secured loan is, after all.  Just imagine if this were a standard, non-secured loan like a credit card – you sorry ass chumps would be looking at 24.99%.

So, of your first year of monthly payments, you will have paid back American TaxPayer Mortgage Corp a total of $20,666,400,000.00 – but don’t get too excited, because interest accumulates daily, so I’m afraid that only a couple billion of that would go to principle.  The rest is interest – we have our investors to think about, the cost of doing business, etc., etc., etc. 

Don’t whine, either – you’re the one who wants the loan, Giant Mortgage Company.  Your credit problems are your own.  We’re just trying to help you within the rules of the system you designed.

Which reminds me, I would imagine there will be some closing costs, and since this would have been before the recent RESPA reforms, there really wasn’t much of a way to enforce an initial “Good Faith” Estimate, so we would just go ahead and let you know at closing what the fees were – and this was a lot of work. A lot of ins and outs to a case like this.  Our Taxpayer Loan Origination fee would be, ohhhh, about ten billion dollars, plus a processing fee of three hundred million or so.  That’s for processing.

Yep.

So, although I have read that a solid 243 billion dollars of the 245 billion in bailouts have been repaid, and although I’m of course very appreciative of that, well, it seems like you’re still at least sixty to a hundred billion short, plus there would be late fees, and what not.  In fact, by now, you guys would be in default, from not making your monthly payments on time. 

That’s why it would have been smart of us taxpayers, or of the dead-eyed criminals who represent us as long as we are prisoners to our own laziness and stupidity, to file mortgages on all of your assets.  Like that big, ass, city-sized Chase installation in South America or wherever it is, which was being built as the bailout happened, and which allowed for the outsourcing of hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

I don’t know how much we could have got for it at auction – I’m guessing not much.  But we have foreclosure assistance programs available, if you’re having trouble making your payments.  Just send us all of your financials, Giant Mortgage Banks, and we’ll have our experts see if they can work something out to keep you in your huge, corporate hives.  We know you have soulless executives to feed, and we wouldn’t want their painful death and humiliation and starvation on our hands, you know?

Seriously. We wouldn’t want that.  Heh heh heh.  Totally. 

But we didn’t do that – no one did it.  Instead we just flipped six hundred billion dollars to the Devil himself like it was twenty bucks flying across the bar at our buddy, and we said, just get us back when you get us back, dude.

Because God bless us – we’re just not very smart, and we deserve every single corporate bootprint on our sorry little apathetic asses, and plenty more, until the day we stand up and put a stop to it.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Future Tom Question Bucket: The Final Chapter

Well, it turns out that the Question Bucket works better if you form it into a Facebook status and put it up on Facebook instead of a nail outside your Headquarters, so as the Year lumbers to an end, this would be a good time to empty the bucket out, answer every last question in there.  A matter of honor, for most responsible bloggers – no loose ends.

I remember when I had a giant tree chopped down in my front yard about ten years ago, and I had the lumberjacks (I guess that’s what they’re called) just slice it up into chunks, and then I set about chopping it up with spikes and a sledge hammer and a splitting maul and an axe.

Four cords of wood, total, and it took me most of four months, and at first all the neighbors sort of laughed and cheered, then they started getting sort of alarmed, then after a while they wouldn’t look at me, then when I finished chopping it up and carried the last chunk inside, they spilled out their front doors and applauded.

The same main question there as the blog, really – Why?  And the same answer – weirdness and stubbornness and an urge to get in shape.  I was in pretty good shape when I chopped up that tree, and writing-wise, I feel pretty good right now.  That’s reason enough.

Other questions are not so personal. 

For instance, the strangest and most suspicious question in the bucket is from Rebecah, who would like to know (from me, for some reason) what kind of public health impact we can expect from peeing in the pool, and the answer is, everybody already pees in the pool, so just look around.  I would never, never get into a public pool – it’s basically pee and slobber and hydrochloric acid.  Peeing in them is being nice.

Another involves what the proper response is to people who smoke in public places where they are not supposed to be smoking.  I said, murder, but my squawking pit of Blog Attorneys disagrees.  They think, no murder, no exceptions, and anyway, the smokers are already slowly killing themselves, so there’s no reason to push.

I would use constant, alcohol-fueled profanity, and I mean put on a wife-beater tee shirt, don’t shower, and get a real snootful of gin every single day and just sit there waiting for them, and then let your mouth do the talking, nice and slurry and loud.  Every single time, my friend.  They will smoke elsewhere – and they can’t complain because they weren’t supposed to be smoking there.

Also, bear traps are not legal, but five hundred mousetraps are.  Food for thought.

My sister wants to know if I’ll drive over to my dad’s to help him look for his dog, which sure, I would have, if I hadn’t received the message at the same time as discovering that he’d found the dog, and then I got sleepy and there were cheeseburgers, etc.  Also, your friend keeps poking me on Facebook still, but neither of you ever click “like.”  Jerks.

A few have asked where Rob Braithwaite went, and that is simple – he became the modern version of a monk, and renounced all of Facebook’s digital trappings, and traveled back to the material world, where he wandered about righting wrongs and solving mysteries with his hilarious talking dog.  Good question, no many people know that, it’s kind of a hip, best-kept-secret kind of thing. 

How are book sales?  Well, they’re freaking great, thanks for asking.  I’ve received several hilarious royalties checks, and I can tell you that they are real pieces of paper, and they don’t quite say Don’t Quit Your Day Job on them, but they should.  On the other hand, they are ten trillion percent higher than last year’s royalties checks, which didn’t exist, so it’s better to think of it in percentage form.

What was up with The Prophets of Lunch?  This is a question that only people who have purchased The Curse of Future Tom ask, because that’s where the story is.  It was supposed to be a religious allegory about different, arbitrary dogmas and their predictions and requirements, and some common responses to them.  You asked, tough guy.

Well, that’s it, and I’m afraid that’s what the Question Bucket has always been about – me getting away with barely writing but still technically writing.  Being in full compliance with my own regulations. 

So by all means feel free to continue putting questions in the Bucket, as they will always come in handy down the road, and you can also be immortalized in Blog Form, which you’ll no doubt enjoy.

As for me, I am shamelessly banging out one last paragraph in order to round out eight hundred words, and then I am shamelessly going out on my deck to smile at the sky for a while.  Everybody have a safe and blogtastic weekend.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2011 in Phoning It In

 

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