He Had the Eyes

He had the eyes, right? That sadness. That depth of pain that rang out across all the nervous laughter, across all the incessant prattling from accent to joke and back again. That manic energy helped to contain a nonstop darkness that twisted the light and ached to be set free.

None of us will ever know where it came from or how it chose to be seen. We only saw the bits we wanted to, the parts that brought a smile or a laugh, the parts that made us roll our eyes and change the channel. “He’s doing it again.” The parts that made us think the ride was over, all the stories had been told. “Why is he always like this?” The parts that even the biggest fans grew weary of. “He is so annoying.”

He was so annoying. He took our need to be entertained and he crushed it. He was relentless with the constant need to be ON. We didn’t know. Sure, we’d heard the stories. He told them himself. Always at ease when the lights were on, when the sweat was rolling over and between the creases, the weary lines. But obviously what we thought was ON was more often OFF. He was clinging to the punchlines for salvation.

Then he turned it upside down on us. He let out bits of the shadows, let them curl up through the screen and reach into us. The person we knew as funny could also be human. He could be kind. He could be attentive. He felt what we felt because he was just like us. Life is falling upon all of us. Sometimes it’s difficult to catch your breath, to find your way, to even open your eyes.

The best humor comes from sadness, from looking at the worst and finding the best. You scramble for a spark to hold on to, to cling to, to squeeze the fire of life from with every beat of your heart. Yet sometimes it simply isn’t enough.

Sometimes you can tell. Ignore the smile. Look at the eyes.

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My Amazon Addiction – 2013

Saw a post on Gawker this weekend where someone detailed all the things they had purchased off Amazon in the past year and thought it might be an interesting experiment for me. There was a point where I was spending $40-50 every two weeks or so on books and DVDs and things that mostly went unread and unwatched as they piled up at an alarming rate.

The wife and I made a trip to IKEA (our third in the past month) so we could buy some more shelves and it finally hit me that I’m an idiot. Well, I mean, I already KNEW that, but still.

I actually stopped buying things, other than gifts and Kindle apps for the kids, sometime around Labor Day. Granted, this coincided with a necessary shift in funding towards beer for the college football season, but it also had to do with the fact that there was a stack of a dozen books on my nightstand with a quarter inch of dust accumulated on them. I’m fairly certain my 3 year-old scrawled “REDRUM” on top of them with her strawberry jelly tipped fingers.

Anyway, here’s a list of all the things I bought for myself on Amazon in 2013, with appropriately sad commentary…

JANUARY

Busy Monsters – William Giraldi
Gun Machine – Warren Ellis
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
Truth in Advertising – John Kenney

Yep…right off the bat, the unread pile of novels begins. I was so excited for each of these books, in its own right, yet haven’t managed to even crack the cover on any of them.

One Trick Rip-Off/Deep Cuts HC – Paul Pope

I’m a HUGE, like, completely GIANT-SIZED Paul Pope fan, so this was a no-brainer. However, it just sits on the shelf, unread. I’m a Pope completist to the point of spending hundreds on old posters and dealing with Mr. Pope himself to secure some things I couldn’t track down otherwise. I have a bit of Batman Year 100 preliminary artwork and the pre-press digital proofs of his Pulphope book. Hell, I even named my cat after him.

The Prince of Cats – Ron Wimberley

Speaking of cats, I heard this was a pretty cool comic book hip-hop retelling of Romeo & Juliet. Maybe one day I’ll actually read it.

I also bought the Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection on Blu-Ray, because it was on sale and also because…DIE HARD.

And I bought a book that I already owned, but this was partly Amazon misleading me in the description and partly me being lazy. Luckily, my dad was more than willing to take the copy off my hands.

FEBRUARY

The Rules of Attraction [Blu-ray]

I have this instant gratification slash nostalgia thing where I have to have something that I just watched on TV because it reminds me that I watched it at some other point in my life on TV and I need to be able to relive that experience whenever I want (even though I just relived it and I’ve never thought about reliving it prior to that…nor will I think about it again now that I own it on Blu-Ray).

We Live in Water: Stories – Jess Walter
The Miniature Wife and Other Stories – Manuel Gonzales

I decided, prior to writing my third novel, that I was going to get into short stories, little bursts of fiction that I could sate myself with while I tried to squeeze out my own scribblings. The Jess Walter book was beyond amazing (leading me to buy Beautiful Ruins…and, subsequently, not read it yet). Oh, and lest it remain unsaid, I haven’t read The Miniature Wife either.

MARCH

Imperial Bedrooms – Bret Easton Ellis
Lunar Park – Bret Easton Ellis

Obviously, seeing Rules of Attraction made me think about my past love of Ellis and how I was missing a few of his books. Of course, the reason for this is that I had outgrown his writing (both content and style). But I never let that stop me when I’m bored at work and trolling Amazon. I still haven’t read these either.

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon TPB

Read it as soon as I took it out of the box. Love me some Hawkeye.

The Shade TPB

Loved James Robinson’s Starman…or at least what I read of it. I have all 7 hardcovers, but trailed off reading them somewhere around four or five. I was very excited when this Shade project was announced. So excited, in fact, that I took this out of the box when it arrived and promptly shoved it atop my bookshelves for 10 months. I moved it last week when I put the new bookshelf together. I like to think of the dust as a protective cover, like Gorilla Glass.

Great Pacific Volume 1: Trashed! TPB
The Unwritten, Vol. 7: The Wound TPB
The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific TPB

I read two out of three. Finally stopped collecting The Unwritten after purchasing but not reading the last 5 trades. It’s a good thing Scalped ended with 10 volumes, otherwise I’d still be buying those.

Numb – Sean Farrell
Battleborn – Claire Vaye Watkins

If ever there was a book that made me hate myself for even pretending to be a writer, this is it. Simply put, it’s a beautiful, effortless collection of stories that had me alternately chuckling and cursing its uniqueness.

Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors – Andrew Shaffer

Pretty good bathroom reading. Writers are a mess.

Samsung BD-E5400 Wi-Fi Blu-ray Player (Black)

Is there any other color? I think I bought this while we were on vacation at Disney World. No idea why. Was it on sale?

APRIL

Slow month. That Disney trip really fucked with our bank account.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation – Michael Pollan

Absolutely LOVED In Defense of Food and enjoyed most of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Saw him on a speaking tour too (as well as Anthony Bourdain). I got really into food politics and cooking for a while when I was writing my first novel. Still enjoy cooking, but reading about food has fallen down my priority list. Haven’t read this one.

SUPERMAG – Jim Rugg

Street Angel is an amazing comic. Jim is a super nice guy. We met when I owned my comic book store. This book is sitting in a drawer in my nightstand, paged through but never really read.

The Rockford Files: Season One DVDs

Blame Matt Fraction. He kept comparing his early Hawkeye run to the Rockford Files. I was aware of the show from growing up in the 70s and 80s, but never really watched it. Decided to buckle down and watched the whole season in one weekend. Totally hooked.

MAY

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

People still buy CDs?

The Paleo Slow Cooker: Healthy, Gluten-free Meals the Easy Way
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons – Tom Gauld
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: A Christmas For Shacktown
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Old Castle’s Secret

Two volumes of Fantagraphics’ amazing Carl Barks Library. I bought an Uncle Scrooge volume when I was in New York in 2012 to meet with my agent. I love me some ducks.

The Rockford Files: Season Two DVDs

Yeah, that’s right…

JUNE

The History of Vegas – Jodi Angel

Another short story collection. Gave up on it about three stories in. Didn’t like the voice.

This Is Portland: The City You’ve Heard You Should Like – Alexander Barrett

My wife and I took a trip to Portland at the end of July. This cute little book actually helped us out quite a bit.

The Rockford Files: Seasons Three through Five DVDs

The ‘rents gave me an Amazon gift card for Father’s Day. These box sets are still in the original wrapping. I never finished Season Two.

JULY

Soludos Men’s Dali Shoes, Color: Charcoal, Size: 44

I bought espadrilles for the Portland trip. Comfiest shoes EVER.

Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon  – Chuck Palahniuk
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains – Chuck Klosterman

Unwritten rule: I never fly anywhere without taking at least one book of essays by a person named Chuck.

AUGUST

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe – Tim Leong
The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air DVDs
Wonder Boys DVD
Get Shorty Blu-Ray

Nostalgia, pure and simple. Dennis Farina had just passed away. The Get Shorty Blu-Ray was less than eight bucks (Unrelated to Farina, I think the Wonder Boys DVD was six).

SEPTEMBER

The Iron Giant (Special Edition) DVD
WWE: Legends of Mid-South Wrestling [Blu-ray]
WWE Presents: The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA DVD
The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling DVD

Decided I needed to do some research for Book #4. Can you tell it may have something to do with professional wrestling? My dad and I just watched the WCCW DVD on New Year’s Eve (only 3 months after buying it!). The others? Unwatched to date.

Oh, I also finally bought an HDMI cable for that “new” Blu-Ray player I got in March. I’m on top of things.

OCTOBER

Nothing! See? Beer money.

NOVEMBER

I got some birthday cash, so…

Cards Against Humanity

I have no friends, but if I did, this would be a fun game to play with them.

The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling – David Shoemaker

Excellent book about mostly dead people. “Memory/All alone in the moonlight/I can smile at the old days/I was beautiful then…”

Redken Clean Brew Extra Cleansing Shampoo for Men, 8.5 Ounce

Beer shampoo!

Motorola Moto X, Black

New smartphone!

DECEMBER

Nothing (for me personally).

And that’s that.

I’ve made a conscious effort to try to catch up on those dusty bedside books, while also reclaiming some sort of workout regimen, cooking more, caring for my three children, satisfying my wife, and (somehow, somewhere, at some time) returning to a regular writing schedule.

I figure, with enough distractions (and illegal internet downloads), I’ll stop buying everything forever!

Seven Deadly Spots on the Human Body

Here’s a weird one that I was thinking about the other day. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to watch professional wrestling together. Went to some live shows. Even had one of them spit on my shoe.

But this isn’t about that. I’ve outgrown wrestling. Seriously. I haven’t had a friend put me in a figure-four leglock in at least 24 years.

See, back in the day, USA Network used to have Sunday programming that featured a show called All American Wrestling at 11am Eastern time. And that was triumphantly followed by the totally awesome Kung Fu Theatre at noon.

Kung Fu Theatre was usually on in the background as I acted out the wrestling moves I had just seen on my dad. I do remember one or two of the movies though. There was that one with the brothers with the really long ponytails that they used as weapons. And there was one with a girl and a fan (or was that just from the videogame Yie Ar Kung Fu?).

Anyway, the movie I want to focus on featured a crazy old man who was teaching some sort of orphaned dude the secrets of Kung Fu so that he could exact revenge on the evil warlord who murdered his family. Pretty typical plot for those movies.

The cool part was the old man detailing the “Seven Deadly Spots” on the human body and showing the kid how you could immobilize someone by utilizing these body locations. I’m not sure if I remember them all correctly, but I know at least four of them are from the film. My dad and I still laugh about this list…

  1. Temple
  2. Philtrum
  3. Armpit
  4. Liver
  5. Solarplexus
  6. Groin
  7. Big Toe

Look, I can understand the temple. The skull is thinnest at that point, right? And punching someone in the philtrum can jam their nose cartilage up into their brain (urban legend?). The armpit has lymphnodes that I guess can cause a lot of pain. Maybe? A liver shot actually can lead to internal bleeding. A fist to the solarplexus is gonna knock the wind out of you. And the groin shot is a much-loved tradition of Home Video Submission Shows. Plus, it makes a man cry.

But the Big Toe? Really? What’s a punch to the toe gonna do? Make you bend over, grab your foot, and do that “heavy breathing through clenched teeth” move that you orchestrate when you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and accidentally stub your toe on the cat?

We all know that hurting the knee will just make your opponent go into that hilarious Crane pose from Karate Kid. I guess the guys from Cobra Kai should’ve aimed a bit lower to take out Daniel-san.

The Big Toe. Protect it or die.

As a brief aside, if anyone knows the name of the movie I’m talking about, PLEASE let me know. I’ve been looking online but can’t find anything.

Flashing Back to Innocence.

When I was probably 12 or so, I got a television for my bedroom.

I know that isn’t a HUGE revelation for today’s prepubescent cell phone holders, but back in the day, that was a BIG deal.

My grandmother got one of those original video cameras…y’know, the kind you practically needed to hoist on your shoulder and hold with two hands just to get a fuzzy shot of your dog pissing on your slippers? Well, she let me borrow it for a while and I was able to rent videos for my viewing pleasure.

Around the time I was 14 or 15, the local 7-11 started a video rental aisle (Not too long after this, the local 7-11 ceased to be. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.).

I don’t really have any revelation to make here. Just wanted to give a preamble for one of those “writing exercise” lists that I spoke about a while back.

So, without further ado, here’s my list of Movies I Remember Renting From My Local 7-11 When I Was A Teenager:

Hiding Out

Can’t Buy Me Love

Chopping Mall

Class of Nuke ‘Em High

Fraternity Vacation

C.H.U.D.

Dead Ringers

Action Jackson

The Principal

Surf Nazis Must Die

Summer School

Hamburger…The Motion Picture

Stewardess School

Private Resort

Rappin’

Johnny Be Good

A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon

Evidently, my formative years were buffeted by horrible scripts, awful acting and unbelievable amounts of cheese. Perhaps that explains my current level of cynicism. Or my fascination with pop culture.

Never Mind, Hitler.

Regarding that last post: I apologize for getting all emo. Turns out the situation isn’t as dire as it seemed. I’ll be getting unemployment after all. In fact, I may be able to live at the expense of the state for up to a year!

So…now I can go back to talking about homophobic beauty pageant contestants, Earth Day and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and, in some sort of bizarre double-meme ironic twist, this:

I Once Got Busy In A Burger King Bathroom.

Fame, as they say, is fleeting. And yet, infamy (which is like fame’s evil eyepatch-wearing soap opera twin) is forever. Our society’s constant drive for immediate satisfaction does not excuse failure easily. Slip up and you will be trampled by the endless herds of sheep trying desperately to grasp the mythical golden ring.

My wife and I were talking about my career the other day, which easily led us to the topic of failure. Funny how the conversation just naturally turned that way, isn’t it? Anyhoo, I was telling her how I didn’t understand what happens to people who spend their entire adult lives in one specific career, then get caught beating their kids or embezzling from the charity they work for or publicly cheating on their wives or whatever. I mean, those people don’t get a second chance. Once there’s a photo of you being led out of your office in handcuffs, the job search becomes infinitely more difficult.

Then I started thinking about the redemption allowed of certain celebrities. We humans, as a people, have a deeply rooted desire to help other humans. However, that desire only extends to people who we see as better than ourselves. The people who provide our entertainment and who we live vicariously through are afforded a certain level of immortality when it comes to failure. People are inherently forgiving. They’re also inherently stupid.

Look, how else can you explain the fact that sane women still attend Michael Jackson concerts and pass out from over-stimulation when he takes the stage? Why does Britney Spears still have a career. And, even though it’s been long rumored that Richard Gere may have enjoyed an occasional rodent in his rectum, the fact is that he’s still a respected actor, activist and father.

Here’s what I’ve figured out: there are two types of famous people. First, there are the people who achieved fame through their work. Whether they were artists or actors, celebrated authors or captains of industry, their fame was accumulated over time and with a genuine sense of accomplishment and a definable amount of talent. Think of Tom Hanks or Ron Howard or Stephen King. Even if you aren’t a fan of these folks, you have to admit that they are famous because they worked hard to earn that fame.

The second group of famous people belongs primarily to the newer generations. Their fame has been accumulated through internet shenanigans, staged events, reality television and pure irony. While they may have exhibited some modicum of talent at one point or another in their lives, the general population recognizes them more for their recognition alone. Sadly, this segment of the famous has become a rather unwieldy list populated by the likes of Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, Steve-O, Lindsay Lohan, P. Diddy, Kim Kardashian, and the entire cast of The Hills. If you’re “famous” for stapling your balls to your leg and appearing on a televised dance contest, the longevity of your “career” doesn’t look very rosy.

Through extensive scientific research (or ten minutes of random thoughts while waliing the dog this morning), I have determined that subjects from Group 1 can easily move to Group 2, but the vice versa is nearly impossible.

Take, for instance, the comeback of one John Travolta. He had been a rather popular television actor in the late 1970s. He appeared in a few relative hit movies. And he was featured on the covers of various teen-themed magazines. To put it bluntly, Travolta was “the tits.” One movie about aerobics and a couple baby voiceover flicks and his career was in the tank. When Tarantino resurrected Mr. Travolta, his performance was well-met with cheers and kudos.It didn’t hurt that he was kind of fat and didn’t try too hard (see also: Val Kilmer’s guest spot on Entourage).

But then he decided to go all “follow conspiracy theory as a religion” and “dress in uniform and fly my own jumbo jets” and “appear in any role that lets me grow a creepy goatee” and pretty soon he was relegated to Group 2…the rubbernecker side of fame. Others who have fallen into this irredeemable pit of bad choices and overexposure: Madonna, Tom Cruise and the Backstreet Boys.

Like I said, making the jump from Group 2 to Group 1 is nigh improbable. As far as I can remember, no cast member from any season of The Real World has gone on to win an Oscar. Or an Emmy. Or a Tony. Or the lottery. Or a court case. Or even a free scoop at Baskin-Robbins.

I’d put together a detailed analysis of Group 2 to try to explain their fame, but I really can’t stand thinking about those people for any length of time. Bad fashion sense and vocorder sampling shouldn’t be substitutes for humility and integrity, Kanye. All I’ll say is that paparazzi are like vultures…they start circling when they sense the end. And it doesn’t really help matters when you call them up and tell them where you’re going to be doing your grocery shopping that day.

As faithful readers are aware, two of my favorite actors working today are Paul Rudd and Sam Rockwell. How often do either of them show up in the tabloids? Either they have horrible publicists who don’t own calendars or phones, or they let their work speak for them. Both gentlemen have eked out respectable careers that will keep them gainfully employed for years to come. And both men are humble and funny.

Now that I think about it, almost every comic actor working today is absent from the daily barrage of celeb newsploitation. Seth Rogen is not out clubbing all night. Steve Carell has not been arrested for cocaine trafficking. Will Ferrell isn’t beating up prostitutes. Neil Patrick Harris (another miracle comeback whose new bulletproof status even has him widely accepted as a gay man) does not throw furniture out of hotel windows on a regular basis. The only reason Jim Carrey gets media attention is because he’s dating a former Playboy model/trainwreck. Hell, even the boisterous Robin Williams could only get a few TMZ.com mentions in the face of total heart failure!

Maybe if there were more naturally funny people in the entertainment business, then we wouldn’t need all the Group 2 people that we laugh at for other reasons.

But alas, where would we be as a leading nation without the pure earnestness and pathos (and raging STDs) of Rock of Love Bus?

You Are Here. (Sort Of).

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. CNN posted a story today about the abundance of “film tours” sweeping the world. Evidently, tourism is booming in those areas where famous films and television shows were shot. Tours are being conducted in locations where things such as The Sound of Music, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, and Lord of the Rings were framed. Lord of the Rings?!? That movie didn’t even take place in reality! Jeez, at least the rest of them were based in actual spots like New York City, Jersey and Naziland.

And what’s up with the lack of love for House Party 2?

One particular woman, who took the New Zealand-based LOTR tour, had an interesting reaction after stopping in the sheep meadow that served as the FAKE backdrop for the FAKE town of FAKE little creatures caught up in a FAKE war to save a FAKE world. In her own words:

“I just stood there and cried. It was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here,’ ” Maro said. “I loved the movie so much, and to actually be there where they filmed that, it overwhelmed me.”

You know the worst part about that statement? SHE KNEW IT WASN’T REAL! She wasn’t some delusional stalker-like fan who fancied herself a denizen of Middle Earth. She wasn’t a tripping-balls Tom Hanks roaming the drainage tunnels under the city in a desperate attempt to survive a live-action role-playing quest. She knew it was a FAKE movie…and she still cried about it! WTF?

No one wants to deal with reality anymore. They’d rather go stand out on the same French hillside that Matt Damon stood on as he pretended to kill Clive Owen while filming The Bourne Identity. Yes, imagining yourself as a world-class assassin is much more therapeutic than dealing with the loss of your job, your failed marriage and the fact that both your house and your retirement fund lost 40% of their value in the past couple months. Go get ’em, James Bond!

Sadly (and somewhat expectedly), this glimmer of a get-rich-quick scheme quickly rooted itself in my head and I started plotting out a famous tour of my own. That’s right, everyone is invited to join me on the deadbeatJONES tour! Line forms to the left. For the low, low price of just $39.95, you’ll embark on a 3-hour personal tour with ME! Your tour includes a brown bag lunch (a $4 value!), a limited edition souvenir (whatever I happen to have in my pocket at the time!) and stops at such illustrious locations as:

  1. The railroad tracks that run behind my parents’ house where I spent many days plotting how to make the train wreck by placing pennies, dead rabbits, large tree branches and pretty much anything else I could carry onto the tracks. These same infamous railroad tracks were the very ones I traveled down to reach the bar I served at after losing my license in an ill-advised DUI arrest. BONUS: We may even drive past the underground government parking garage I was arrested emerging from after snapping out of my blackout and confusedly wondering where I was and how that cassette got in my car’s tape deck.
  2. The different girls’ houses I used to ride past on my bike when I was a kid, because I was too much of a pussy to actually try talking to the girls I had crushes on. Some things never change…they just get creepier.
  3. The yard I passed out in after I threw up all over myself at my friends’ pool party. We mixed grain alcohol with Kool-Aid in a five gallon drum and drank it all in Big Gulp cups. I remember my friend Jeff coming out to check on me as I laid in the wet grass. He asked me if I was okay and, once I assured him I was, he pointed, laughed and ran away. Good times, what I can remember of them. Pretty sure I woke up wearing my friend’s Metallica shirt too. Rock on!
  4. That one place I worked at that used to be an Educational Toy store (I was a cashier) and then became an Italian restaurant (I was a bartender). It’s an adult video store now, which means it holds no memories for me really. I just want to stop in and see what’s on sale.
  5. The high school I attended where I got punched in the face at least once a year.
  6. The community baseball field where I lost my virginity in the front seat of a Toyota Corolla. She was a Catholic school girl and a year older than me. She gave me a condom she had picked up during Spring Break down in Ocean City, Maryland. Supposedly, it had little duck footprints on it, but I couldn’t see them through the tears of pure terror and embarrassment that were streaming down my face. Those were the longest 87 seconds of my life. When we were done, I tossed the used condom out the window as we drove away. A year later, I drove past that same field and saw they had built a chain link fence around the whole complex, complete with locked gates. Sinners.
  7. If it’s still light out, we’ll drive across the bridge into the city and simulate that one time I had to go pick up my dad from work in his own minivan while I was completely stoned. Paranoia will destroy you.
  8. And we’ll wrap the tour with a visit to my wife’s old apartment. This is the place I hid from my parents for a year, playing Resident Evil on the PlayStation and watching WCW Monday Nitro, before packing everything up (including the wife and her giant dog) and heading to Vegas to begin what has now become my failing career in advertising. You can blame her for domesticating me, for bearing my children, for putting up with me stumbling home at 6am covered in beer and $400 in the hole after falling asleep at a strip club, and for keeping our heads above water financially. Kudos, Little Miss Perfect!

Until someone can create a tour that simulates real American honesty like that, real hardscrabble life experience with all its faults and foibles, I’ll hold on to my money (what little of it I have left). Of course, I’ll be first in line for The Matrix tour. How much ass would that kick?