Heaven Is Just A Cliff-Jump Away

My wife Jina believes that people who kill themselves don’t get to go to heaven.  That’s awfully nice of God to punish them further by consigning their souls to hell after their lives have been just that (otherwise why would they go to the trouble of offing themselves?).  I wonder if they can tell the difference between life and death.

“Oh my God, I’m still in hell.  I thought it was supposed to end after I killed myself.  Hey Satan, could I please have a refund?”

Yesterday in church Jina forced me to stand up in front of the congregation and sing a hymn about loving Jesus with the rest of our Sunday school-teaching staff.  Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t dislove Jesus; it’s just that singing a love song to a man–and a long-dead one at that–feels wrong somehow (with a small “w”).  Maybe I’d feel different if it was to Shakespeare. I heard he was a switch-hitter so he might get a little too turned on by it if his corpse could still budge.

Next thing you know the pastor will be in cahoots with Pfizer and they’ll be passing out Viagra during the eucharist in a quixotic effort to resurrect the dead member of the Lord’s charismatic cadaver.

Sorry–I’m brain-damaged.

Anyway, when I say Jina forced me to sing along, I don’t mean she used a gun or a handheld crucifix the way you would to fend off Dracula.  She just resorted to her trusty, tried and true method of emotional blackmail, drawing me aside to say if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t get to teach the Sunday school class anymore (although I’m more of a glorified babysitter than a teacher), or guide the old men through the treacherous waters of English in the dictation after lunch from one of their ludicrous modern religious texts laden with glib tripe, or–and this was the one that broke my resistance, since I was broke–get to tutor two of my Sunday school colleagues for fifty bucks a week.

As with the last time she coerced me into parading my phony faith in front of the true believers, exposing my humiliating hypocrisy like a slimy bug lodged under a rock lifted by God Himself before He raises his sandaled foot and crushes the quivering, squinting insect, I refrained from making eye contact with anyone in the congregation, and mumbled my way through the hymn.

I was also even more out of breath than usual, thanks to being exceptionally out of shape, and to the pestiferous plague of toxic dust blown in from China that had parched my throat and stung my eyes over the past twenty-four hours.  (Mercifully, the wind blew most of it away from the time being, though it took all day and a precipitous drop of the temperature to execute the environmental exorcism.)

I belted out the treacly lyrics with all the fervor of a mummified Egyptian, exhaling tiny mushroom clouds of desert dust.

And I raised neither my eyes nor the corners of my mouth when the whole mortifying charade was over.

That didn’t stop people from congratulating me for my Elvisian performance, including the pastor himself, who had the gall to mention me by name to his rapt listeners, as Jina translated for me how he was delighted I could “rejoice” with the rest of them.

In fact, I rejoiced so much that yesterday I took twelve hundred milligrams of ibuprofen to quell the pain of prostatitis, along with a thousand milligrams of acetomenophen (fuck if I can remember how to spell it), and 300 mgs of something called doxyprofen, which is like iboprofen, only stronger.

I’ll let you know which internal organ explodes first–my stomach, kidney, prostate, brain, or heart.

Who knows?  Maybe the whole thing will happen in sync.

I’m sure that would make God smile.

And if Jina’s wrong, and he doesn’t exist, maybe I’ll finally be out of pain instead of in it–and to hell with heaven.

Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

Life is only a cliffhanger until your fingers finally give out.

Then you drop dead.

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Do You Ever Feel Your Brain Is Being Chopped Up Into Bite-Sized Bits?

Why worry about the future when you can regret the past instead?  That question is a tribute to my favorite generator of jokes, Mr. Mark Peters.  In case you haven’t caught his Twitter feed yet, Google “mark peters wordlust.” His link is the first one on the list.  Click it and feast your eyes (pardon the cliche) on the endless smorgasbord of jokes.  To date, he’s come up with over thirty thousand of them.  I don’t know how he does it.

You may be wondering about the provocative nature of the title of this post.  Welp (another Petersism–call me Captain Plagiarism), the repetitive, depressingly ridiculous nature of my life of late has cast me into a less than funky funk.  I’m suffering from a case of writer’s block the size of the former World Trade Center, God rest its rectangular soul.  (If only I could make it the same size it became on September 11th, 2001–call it the writer’s blockbuster.)

My great aunt used to say, “If you rest, you rust.”  She was right.  I’ve done both.  The only problem is that it’s hard to keep up with the frenetic pace of silly city life.  The older I get, and the longer I live here, and the longer I keep pursuing the same career and maintaining the same marriage and attending the same stupid Sunday school services, the more absurd the whole shebang becomes.

(Say, isn’t that a song?  Shebang, shebang, da dadadadadadadadada.  Music notes sold separately.)

Like many other bloggers–at least I assume some of you may share this affliction with me–I suffer from delusions of grandeur (again, I’m always happy to provide you with cliches; they’re my life blood–see?  There’s another one).  In fact, that may well be the source of the writer’s block–hey, stop flying airplanes into my tummy!  Mommy, help me dig this black box out of my belly button.

Luckily, I’ve been humbled by the sustained relative lack of attention.  And writing that just makes me feel like an ingrate.  After all, I’m lucky to have the readers I do, many of whom I respect and even envy for their many creative contributions.  (I’m looking at you, Menomama, Robert Okaji, Sweettenorbull, and Smirkpretty!)

I just wish there were a way we could get paid.  Shucks, I’ve been writing for forty years and haven’t made beans off the effort yet.  Then again, that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing it for anyway–is it?

One thing that makes it hard to write is the assault on the senses the news provides.  I’m a glutton for punishment (cliche, si vous plait), so I tend to pick at these festering wounds more than a mentally healthier person would, even though I do nothing to solve the problems engulfing the world except complain about them and hector other people to do something about them with hypocritical panache.

It’s purdy frickin’ retarded (in the figurative sense), if you ask me.

What do you do to stay sane?  Is sanity overrated?  Maybe being crazy is where it’s out.  Or else you can be retro.  That’s far out.  From where I’m sitting the future looks bleak.  Maybe because it’s filtered through what I can glimpse of my own future, replete with its seemingly unsolvable health problems and the vicious cycle of marriage’s sparky buzz saw.

Yesterday I taught three different classes in three different places, working a grand total of three and a half hours.  My commute came out to the same time.  It’s nuts.  Luckily I only have to do it once a week.  The other work days are more measured.

A couple of weeks ago my wife Jina and I joined her family for three days to celebrate the Chinese–or Lunar–New Year’s holiday, feasting shamelessly on the carcasses of lovingly prepared livestock.  I think that was after–versus before–I’d read Chris Hedges’s piece on truthdig.com about the suffering all animals prepared for food  undergo.  It’s an eloquent argument for veganism.  Cognitive dissonance enables me to carry on consuming these poor victims of the bloodthirsty economic food chain instead of renouncing meat altogether and repenting the error of my ways (if that’s the right cliche).

Finally, as a way to escape the tedium of uneventful domestic life and the loneliness of unrequited lust, I’ve been reading a lot of books lately.  Usually they fire me up to write, but for some reason the books I’ve gone for recently haven’t breathed life into the comatose Muse.  She remains supine.  I hope she’s not dead.

In fact, I was so impressed by one book in particular I wanted to review it for you.  Sadly, I proved unequal to the task.  I also didn’t want to give away too much and ruin the story.  I hate it when people do that.

The book is Dave Eggers’s The Circle.  Let me know if you need any more information about it.  I’m a slow reader, but it’s just shy of five hundred pages long and I plowed through it in four days.  Granted, a lot of the pages consisted of dialogue.  Still, it’s a page turner.

So is Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief.  And Thomas Berger’s Meeting Evil.  Max Barry’s Lexicon, not so much.  I preferred his Machine Man and Jennifer Government. 

If you prefer nonfiction, check out Jack El-Hai’s The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, or Andy Warhol:  Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

I don’t bother with movies anymore and have essentially stopped listening to music, except once in a while while hanging up laundry.  I need silence to recover from the onslaught of K-pop, Korean ballads, and K-rap (or “krap”) I hear every time I leave my apartment.

Modern Korean music is almost as bad as the unbreathable waves of yellow dust, the toxic miasma blowing in from China and Mongolia and the growing Gobi Desert that heralds the advent of spring.  This rich formula of lead, mercury, cadmium, and assorted other goodies makes a mockery of spring fever, taunting those who are willing to boldly go where no generation has gone before to risk cultivating an unholy host of malignant tumors.

Go for it, kids!

Answers to Mr. Spock Sing-Along Quiz

Here are the answers to the quiz entitled “Mister Spock Belts Out A Few Tunes,” posted earlier today:

1.  If You Could Read My Mind (“love, what a tale my thoughts could tell.”)  Gordon Lightfoot

2.  (“How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown?”) Like A Rolling Stone      Bob Dylan

3.  I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You     Hank Williams

4.  God Bless the Child (That’s Got His Own)   Billie Holiday (also covered by Blood, Sweat, and Tears)

5.  Why Don’t We Get Drunk And Screw?  (Sorry–I don’t know who sings it, but it’s a country and western song, vs. city and eastern)

6.  You Don’t Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry)  Otis Redding; Taj Mahal (not sure who wrote it)

7.  (“I hope I die before I get old.”)  My Generation    The Who

8.  You Can’t Always Get What You Want  (“but if you try some time, you just might find you’ll get what you need.”)    Rolling Stones

9.  (“Like a”) Bridge Over Troubled Water (“I will lay me down.”)  Simon and Garfunkel (also beautifully covered by Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, and–of all people–Elvis)

10.  (“If you ever change your mind about leaving, leaving me behind, oh, bring it to me, bring your sweet loving”) Bring It (“on”) Home To Me     Sam Cooke (also covered by the Animals, along with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

11.  Who’ll Stop the Rain?     Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)

So how did you do?

Mr. Spock Belts Out A Few Tunes

Do you remember Spy Magazine?  It was funny, clever, and hip.  It had a retro look.  And the people who wrote for Spy weren’t afraid to skewer those in power, including perennial prima donnas like Donald Trump and assorted insufferable celebrities.  Their motto was “No Sacred Cows.”

Unfortunately, the operation folded a long time ago, but one of their gems was a piece entitled “Name That Tune, Mr. Spock,” in which the legendary Vulcan of Star Trek fame provided his interpretation of the lyrics of well-known songs.  The concept was so engaging, I’ve decided to revive it with a few of my own Spockian takes on songs you might recognize.

To provide you with a challenge, I’ve opted to withhold the original lyrics and song titles until tomorrow’s posts.  Feel free to post your guesses in the comments section if you’d like to take a stab at it in the meantime.

As Orsino would say in the opening line of Shakespeare’s (overrated?) Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on.”

Before you start, keep in mind that in some cases the lyrics in question include not only the title, but part of the refrain as well.

1.  “In the event that you were gifted with the capability to decipher the unexposed contents of my consciousness, I guarantee you would find the narrative they entail most engaging.”

2.  “Perhaps you could convey to me the sensation produced by your solitary, anomic, anonymous state, which resembles that of a small, peripatetic mineral.”

3.  “The tenacity of my affection for your person is the ineluctable concomitant of the biological imperative to propagate the species.”

4.  “May the Judeo-Christian deity condone the juvenile human individual who has independently mastered the art of self-sufficiency.”

5.  “Please accept my invitation to imbibe intoxicating spirits and copulate in a perfunctory manner as a matter of course.”

6.  “One tends not to appreciate the indispensable crystalline liquid source of all life necessary to sustain survival until the subterranean cylindrical space where said beverage is stored is entirely deprived thereof.”

7.  “The realization of my own personal mortality is preferable to longevity in light of the latter’s undesirable attendant decrepitude.” (Note:  The words here refer to a famous line in the song rather than the title itself.)

8.  “The occasional inability to obtain one’s desires is an unfortunate by-product of human experience; however, given the application of sustained effort, one may periodically succeed in achieving the wherewithal to procure satisfactory essentials.”

9.  “In the manner of an infrastructural conduit joining two pieces of land separated by an elongated turbulent body of water, I shall assume a recumbent position in order to provide you with vital emotional support in an empathetic manner.”

10.  “In the event that you reconsider your decision to abruptly abandon the organism who is currently speaking, I would deem it agreeable if you would correspondingly return to this location with your myriad coital gifts in tow.”

11.  “Please inform me of the identity of the person capable of enforcing the cessation of the relentless precipitation in progress.”

I’ll see you tomorrow with the answers!

Kirk out.

(By the way, if you’re in need of a laugh, make sure to check out William Shatner’s rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” on You Tube.  The man clearly missed his calling.)

I Can’t Wait For Christmas

Why is Christmas called a humbug?  What the hell is a humbug, anyway?  Shouldn’t it be “buzz-bug”?  That sounds like a bug that gets you high (heads up, NASA and DARPA, which is what I call my two cats; they like catnip).  Or else some kind of secret governmental listening device.  (According to J. Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King’s favorite song was “Someone to Watch Over Me.”)

What kind of bug would hum?  I imagine a tick probably would–until you rip him out and set him on fire.  Then he’d go pop.  I’ve heard that Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (no relation to Goldie or Jessica) has the nickname Papa Thich.  Either he’s not familiar with the English term for these pesky parasites, or he has a sick sense of humor.

(These days my family doesn’t pop ticks anymore; we just drown them in alcohol.  That way they can go out with a buzz instead of a bang.)

I wonder what song a tick would hum.  Probably “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” just to be ironic.  That’s a love song Frank Sinatra sang to a tick.  He must have been a lonely guy.

A fundamentalist Christian firefly might hum Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” at least until his friends told him to shush.

The reason I can’t wait for Christmas is I’m really tired of hearing cheesy, schmaltzy Christmas songs everywhere I go.  Aren’t you?  I actually like most of the Christmas hymns my family and I used to sing together during our annual pilgrimage to the local church to do obeisance to Santa Claus.  The pastor there had bad dust mite allergies; whenever he sneezed, he’d shout, “WORSHIP!”

Korea is a heavily Christian country–I think about thirty or forty percent of the population consumes Vitamin J–for Jesus, and believe me:  a lot of them are heavy users.  And that explains why Christmas here is celebrated in a way that’s similar to–yes–Valentine’s Day.

In other words, in an act of kitschy one-upmanship, the public relations people who devise contemporary Korean culture have gone beyond all-American tackiness to make Christ’s birthday even less about Christ, and more about shopping for gifts–but not for your family, but in the name of sappy young romantic love.

Besides, why does Christ’s birthday get to be a (mainly) international holiday anyway?  I never asked for my birthday to be one.  A lot of good, decent, hardworking people have been sacrificed in the name of happy-go-lucky, indiscriminate bloodshed, but they don’t get to be the focus of so much fetishistic, commercialized attention.

I vote that since it’s 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside (and not much warmer inside), and that the sign I saw in a nearby shopping mall that said “Wishing You Warmth and Wonder in This Holiday Season” reads like a cruel joke, that we consign the following songs to the memory hole:

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and especially “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

All I want for Christmas is never to have to hear that fucking song again.

Amen, hallelujah,shalom, Allah akbar, namaste, and have a merry cockamamie Christmas.

“Oh, I Just Don’t Know Where To Begin”

For those of you who don’t recognize the quote that serves as the title of this post, it’s the opening line of Elvis Costello’s song “Accidents Will Happen,” the first song on his third album, Armed Forces.  I bought the disk on vinyl back in Belgium from a guy who actually let you play any album you wanted to buy in his shop before making your decision.  It was the four hundred and thirty fifth record I’d listened to and thought, “Yeah, this sounds pretty good.”  He gave me the nickname Goldilocks from them on, though I’m not sure why.

The joke was on me, however, as I couldn’t figure out how to insert the disk into my Walkman, so I used it as a cover to protect the spokes of the front wheel on my bicycle from the rain, not that that worked too well either.

Shortly before I left the country after living there for one year, the guy interviewed me for some right-wing newspaper he claimed to moonlight for (not that I knew it was a right-wing paper until one of the teachers at the art school I was attending as an exchange student mentioned it to me; but the teacher said the interview was surprisingly fair and balanced).  I can’t remember what he asked me or what I answered.  Please keep in mind this was nearly thirty-three years ago, a whole lifetime of Christ away.

By the way, did you know that Elvis Costello’s agent originally wanted the singer, whose real name is or was Declan McManus, to change his name to Presley Abbott?  Luckily, the young New Wave prodigy had a better idea up his guitar-playing sleeve.

Speaking of talented blokes who play the guitar, you might want to check out–or else buy, depending on whether the library you’re in carries the item–Rolling Stone magazine’s recent tribute to Canadian supersinger Neil Young, who’s just released his thirty-fifth album–at least it’s already available on YouTube, if not in stores.  I’ll have to buy a plane ticket to Belgium so I can go listen to it at that guy’s shop again if I can find the bloody place.

I refer to it as a bloody place not in a figurative sense, but because there was a grisly murder there when the owner finally snapped and beheaded a persnickety American customer who kept insisting on playing every album in the store from start to finish without ever buying anything, with the exception of one Elvis Costello album, along with the Police’s Ghost In The Machine.  

“Take that, Goldilocks!” said the man as he deftly wielded the black vinyl disk and lopped off the customer’s head, neatly cleaving his neck in twain without leaving a mark.

(Sting, by the way, who used to be the lead singer of the Police, even though he’d prefer that his fans bought his solo albums now instead of all that old “rubbish,” despite the quality of the band’s material far surpassing his solo work, was born Gordon Sumner, although his agent originally wanted to dub him Bite.)

Which reminds me, the mosquitos are still up to their same old tricks, biting my wrists in my sleep.  I wish they were hairier (my wrists, not the mosquitos), like Robin Williams’ or Jon Stewart’s, to defend them against these insatiable winged menaces.  (How do they stay so thin?  What’s their secret?)  Recently I met a man from Singapore who told me he once nearly died from a dengue fever-enhanced mosquito bite.  I wonder if the mosquitos have any idea how dangerous their sophomoric antics are.  Maybe if they did, they’d finally stop.  If only Doctor Dolittle were here, he’d know what to do. . .

I have a before and after picture of my friend Russ, who scarfs down vast Achillean shields of pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with snack time.  As you can probably guess, he has a few problems with girth control.  When his wife wants to hug him, all she has to do is stand spread-eagled Michael Brown post-police shootingwise, or like Jesus on the cross (Yesterday I first saw the photo of Brown on the pavement with the paint outlining his murdered body and found it one of the most chilling images I’d seen in a long time; it was cynically predictable that the cop who shot him would get off.  Good luck enjoying your life if you’re a black man living in the United States.  The police might make it tough for you, to say the least.  Author James Cone has written a book called The Cross And The Lynching Tree, which equates Jesus’ sacrifice with the unearned murders of far too many black people living in the United States.  You’ve probably heard that there are also now more African American men in prison in that country than were enslaved before the Civil War.)

Anyway, I showed Russ’s wife a picture of her husband from back when he was in high school and skinny as a mosquito and asked her, “Can you believe how thin he used to be?”

“That’s preposterous!” she said.

I’m not sure if she realized that her reply contained a pun, but nature works in strange ways.

Incidentally, when I was a kid I used to misinterpret the lyrics of a lot of the songs I heard on the radio.  For example, Billy Preston had a song called “Will It Go Round In Circles?”  But I thought he was saying “Willie Go Round In Circles.”  Had I grown up in Britain instead of the U.S., I would have snickered at such a witticism.  A willie-go-round could be another name for a circle jerk, or else an obsolete ride at some now-forbidden Roman carnival.

Finally, I apologize for not writing anything in so long.  I have no excuse apart from having been horribly depressed and paralyzed by a seemingly endless midlife crisis.  (Elmer Fudd, flustered about being unable to better help his wife manage their newborn triplets, who were despite their gender the spitting image of their dad, exclaimed, “I’m having a midwife kwysis!”)

Now that I’m half a century old, fat, balding, marginally employed, and trapped in a dull, childless marriage that seems to just keep going round in circles like the rodential thoughts jogging along the gerbil wheel inside my head, I feel more inconsequential than ever.

And even though I may have been to the mountaintop not far from where I live in an effort to shake off the jelly investing my resentful skeleton, I sometimes succumb to the urge to buy an ice cream cone when I get to the top, which totally defeats the purpose and makes my misanthropic responses to all the annoyingly young and happy couples infesting the perpetually populated tourist attraction all the more pathetic, not to mention unreasonable, ineffective, and irrelevant.

But hey, at least I’m not Bill Cosby.

Courtney

In Memory of Kurt Cobain

You paid a man to rub me out

and said it was a suicide.

Enough people believed your take–

the press, police, your growing

avalanche of fans–that you could

get away with murder,

along with millions of dollars

I didn’t care for anyway

and the rights to all my songs.

No surprise that you should

share a birthday with O.J.

You said later in an interview

you wished you’d never married me.

I’d say the feeling was mutual

if I weren’t speechless

from twenty years of being dead.

I guess my understated revenge,

a grudging substitute for justice,

is that you’re already a has-been;

losing all that glamor must feel

worse than life in the slammer.

No wonder you chose to call

your first album with Hole

Live Through This.

At least one of us did.