The Saturday Morning Post #39: The Rêves, Part 17

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Double Indemnity

The ticking of the analog wind-up mantel clock had been annoying, but at least it had kept time. Ausmann had set it to his phone soon after he and Coraline had locked themselves into the panic room, and the sales rep who had set this whole place up for him had assured him that it would be accurate to within ten seconds per month, although he should never have to stay down here that long.

It also displayed day and date, and it was just one of the extra analog features that the rep, Charles, had talked Ausmann into.

He didn’t see the point, but Charles had been very convincing. “What if all of the power goes out and you use up your battery back-up as well?” he explained. “For one thing, you can’t open the door to get out, so might as well call it your tomb.”

“But if the lights go out, how do I even find the damn door?” Ausmann scoffed.

“Ah, you see my point!” Charles beamed. “So, you need to add in the fail-safe Kerosene lamps. Only two of them, but the design is so clever, it’ll knock your socks off.”

“Okay, tell me. I’ll bite.”

“Great!” Charles replied, scrolling on his tablet to bring up the sales page. “Hard-wired into the electrics with a magnet holding a pulley and striker as long as it’s powered. Lamp is pre-filled, but also vacuum-sealed so that the oil is guaranteed not to evaporate for at least forty years.”

“So how much is it?” Ausmann asked.

“Worth every penny!” Charles replied perkily. “So, the power goes. You’re in complete darkness. But… when the power goes, the magnets turn off, and the pulley drops. Two things happen. One, at the top it triggers a hammer that breaks the glass on top of the lantern which unseals the vacuum. The sudden pressure difference sucks that oil right up to wet the wick. About two seconds later, the striker hits the flint, you get a spark, and boom… Light like great-great-grandma knew it.”

“Really?” Ausmman asked.

“Really!” Charles beamed back. “I’m kind of proud of this one because my brother invented it, but at eight hundred bucks per unit installed, it’s worth it.”

“What if I have a 29 cent box of matches?” Ausmann asked.

“Only if you can find them in the dark, but then you have one hand full,” Charles replied. “If you buy two units, one for each side of the exit door, it really cuts down the cost, because the major expense is installation — so it’s nine-fifty for two.”

“And how much for three?” Ausmann asked.

“Eleven hundred,” Charles replied, adding, “But, honestly, you don’t need three. These are basically just emergency exit lights.”

“I see,” Ausmann said, impressed that Charles had discouraged a sale, so trusting him more — never realizing that this was exactly as Charles had planned. “What about these other… what did you call them?”

“Analog fail-safes,” Charles said.

“Right. That. Why do I need them?”

“Like I said,” Charles went on. Worst case scenario, you lose all contact with the outside, you have no idea whether it’s safe to leave. So… what happens if you open the door with… oh. I see you don’t have that feature.”

“What feature?” Ausmann asked.

“Well, again, if all power fails and such, well, the door model you ordered is a mechanical lock instead of magnetic. A magnetic lock would fail along with the power but it’s also not the most secure, for obvious reasons. But a mechanical lock works by physically dropping pistons into hollow cylinders bolted to the doors. You’ve seen how a door hinge works, right?”

“Uh… I guess?” Ausmann replied.

“Yeah, you know, it’s that brass thing, one side has two open cylinders, so does the other, stick ‘em both together like linking your fingers, then drop a bolt down the hole. Boom. They aren’t coming apart.”

“But a hinge is how you open a door, right?” Ausmann asked.

“Right,” Charles replied, “But if you put it on the other side, it’s also how you lock a door. Now the analog version of this one is actually cheap and simple. All it requires is that we drill a shaft under that piston on the locking side, sheer off the flat-top on the piston, and then add in a hidden slider cover that you can open with a crank on the inside.”

“I… I’m not sure what you’re describing,” Ausmann said.

“Sure,” Charles replied, again scrolling on his tablet to bring up a diagram of the thing, and it really was that simple. Drop a rod in place to lock the door, use electricity and a magnet to haul it back up into its cubby on the first floor to unlock.

Without that electromagnetic hauling capacity, then the only way to unlock the door was to create a trap door beneath the cylinder in order to drop it into a shaft below the basement and release the hinges.

The price on this one wasn’t all that ridiculous, either. Charles set it at five hundred bucks if Ausmann agreed to a steel rod with an iron cap instead of pure copper.

By this point, Ausmann was realizing that all of these extras added nothing, not when he’d already agreed to a mid-six-figure price for the entire job. So the addition of what Charles described as “Your last, best line of defense” at three grand was a no-brainer.

This was basically a set of sensors using very old-school analog methods and with likewise analog readouts in order to inform anyone in the panic room whether it was safe to come out.

The instruments would indicate whether the basement hallway was flooded or not, what the ambient temperature was, whether there was sufficient oxygen or any toxic gases, current weather conditions above ground, and whether any other human-sized creatures were lurking about upstairs or on the grounds.

“That last one is only a caution and should never be a reason for not leaving after a few days,” Charles warned Ausmann. “They could be bad guys, but those don’t like to stick around, so they’re more likely rescuers. So just exit carefully and armed, but be slow to shoot.”

Remarkably, all of this analog sensing was all done through a series of rubber hoses, copper tubes, and valves and diaphragms attached to brass and glass instruments that looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel.

Ironically, this was long before Ausmann met and hired Joshua and Simon, but the two of them would have been quite at home with this. Or pretend to be.

And when the storm and a day had passed, the room went dark and the Kerosene lamps had lit themselves, Coraline woke with a start and hurried to the door, punching in her code with no result.

Ausmann hurried over and stopped her. “Relax!” he demanded. “Stand back.” He opened the brass panel over the analog sensors and peered at the readouts — which were luminescent. Everything looked absolutely nominal and safe.

“Well, then,” he said, “Coraline, my dear, you may proceed.”

He reached down to the floor to the right of the door and turned the wheel which looked like it belonged on a submarine. After a few turns, he heard a tell-tale “thud” to the left of the door.

“There you go,” he said. “Give it a try.”

Coraline grabbed the handle, slid the heavy door to the right, and it opened. She stepped into the dark basement hallway.

Ausmann grabbed one of the Kerosene lamps — that was the other feature he had paid for. They were detachable and portable — then he followed his wife.

The hall was a mess, open to the sky, fallen timber and floorboards everywhere, and it was almost impassable. And then inspiration hit.

Well, that and something else.

He grabbed a fallen 2×4, set down the lantern, then took advantage of the lack of ceiling and his college baseball career to raise it far over his head and then crack it down on Coraline’s skull.

It only took one hit to send her to the ground, at which point he picked up the lantern, carefully set the weapon against the wound, stepped around the body, then did what he could to kick and shake some more debris on down, finding a couple of really heavy chunks to drop directly on her skull with his arms raised over his head.

He took no chances and hung around long enough to make sure that she had absolutely no pulse.

And why not? He thought. He had invested well with Charles, but he had invested better with Carl, his insurance agent, who had sold them double indemnity insurance policies, based entirely on all of the safety shit Charles and company had installed.

Meaning that if Coraline died in an accident that destroyed the house, Ausmann got twice as much. She was worth ten million to him dead under these circumstances and, frankly, she’d been worth not a lot to him for years.

So it had been a win-win, he supposed. That, and the house had been fully insured for well over its market value as well. This little storm had managed to give him both freedom and even more wealth, with which he could probably strike out on his own in order to destroy these pesky Rêves once and for all.

He briefly considered how he would eventually explain to authorities how his wife had died in the basement hallway while he had survived, then decided he didn’t need to. He’d explain that he’d been at his lab under JPL but, unfortunately, he couldn’t provide any of the logs because his work was top secret.

He could just drive there and no one would ever know otherwise. He already knew that the whole place had been evacuated because of the storm. That was one of the last texts he had gotten before he went into the panic room, and the texts that came piling in after he emerged confirmed that the place would be closed the rest of the week.

There would be no human security around his complex because it wasn’t necessary, and this had also been by Ausmann’s design. He alone could get in without leaving any fingerprints behind, as it were.

What he didn’t know, though, until he’d come above ground and walked to what was left of the garage — which wasn’t much — was that he wouldn’t be driving, because both his car and his wife’s SUV resembled a photograph taken from above with a telephoto lens — flat and dimensionless.

Also, useless.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. And Simi was full of cops, so he really had to get out without being noticed in order to establish his alibi. Fortunately, he’d been paranoid enough to have set up a complete second set of ID and a pre-paid and untraceable debit card that he had funded with cash deposits over the years. That would get him to where he needed to be without being tracked on the grid, but there was that other issue of appearance.

He headed back down to the Panic Room, realizing that the only reason the kerosene lamps had come on was that he had forgotten to switch on the battery back-ups in the first place. Once he did that, the lights came back and he headed into the bathroom.

He looked at his face in the mirror, and his long-cultivated hair, goatee and moustache, all of which would make him stick out like a sore thumb.

“No time to be sentimental,” he thought as he grabbed the clippers from the bag in the cabinet, tapped the switch to make sure they were charged, turned them off, and then pulled off the guard.

He couldn’t risk even leaving a little length, lest the skunk-stripe in his hair flag him. He took a deep breath, turned the clippers on, and then started shearing.

It took longer than he thought, and by the end of it the pile of hair on the floor was incredible. He probably could have knit an entire suit out of it. He left his eyebrows intact, but looked into the mirror to realize a few things.

One — it had been far too long since he’d seen his upper lip or chin. The former seemed way bigger than he’d remembered it, while the latter seemed smaller. And the obvious tan lines on both the top his head and the bottom of his face stood out — he’d have to do something about that.

The other thing was that his head appeared much bigger than he’d ever thought it was, and his ears were huge. He stared at his reflection, then laughed.

“Holy shit, I’m fucking Lex Luthor,” he said. “Thank god I’m not up against Superman.”

He wondered what to do about the obvious tan line, then went to his late wife’s medicine cabinet and started digging through it until he found a bottle labeled “Liquid Foundation.” He remembered that word from somewhere, although whether it was Coraline complaining about running out of it or one of his many mistresses asking him to buy them some, he could not remember.

All he knew was that it was a woman’s ultimate secret — literally the foundation upon which was built the lie of their appearance.

Well, that was how Ausmann saw it, anyway. He never saw how men like him were part of the problem that made that necessary in the first place.

But he opened the bottle, squeezed it, and started with a little smear of a kind of thick and gooey beige splat on top of his head that had a very faint and oddly greasy smell. He started to spread it around, and then continued adding foundation and spreading it around until he’d covered the top of his head, then his forehead, nose, and cheeks, finally down his face to his chin, and his neck.

To him, he wasn’t trying to do anything fancy, just hide the lack of tan. But when he was done, he realized that he had a new problem.

Everything was too uniform. He looked like a mannequin. And sure, that wouldn’t be obvious running around the streets of Simi Valley.

He wondered what to do, then he remembered something he’d heard once and had been appalled by — lots of young women were making a fortune on YouTube by doing make-up tutorials.

Well, the survivalist’s motto was “Do what you have to,” so he gave a command to his phone that he never thought he would in a million years. “Make-up tutorials.”

He was soon presented with tens of thousands of options, most of which seemed to be aimed toward creating Glamazons, male and female.

Sure, that might be the best disguise of all for Ausmann, but no way in hell he’d go there in a million years. He tried refining it by adding “that don’t make me look like a mannequin,” and the first three results that popped up looked promising.

He skipped the first two, though. Number one was a woman trying to, as she put it, “Teach you plain Janes to glow up!” Number two was a gay dude with the tag line, “I finna make you bitches fierce.”

The third, though, seemed up his alley, because there didn’t seem to be any glamor involved. They (those were the only pronouns displayed, to which Ausmann thought “Okay…”) went by the name Estar. Not Ester, or Lester, but Estar.

And looking at… them, Ausmann really wasn’t sure whether it was a man or a woman, but the lesson started out with, “Okay, you cholas and jotas, you want to butch up and go Drag King, vamanos!”

He kept watching these videos for three or four hours, and learned all kinds of tricks until he finally managed to use his wife’s make-up and Estar’s advice to turn his face into something that could kind of pass as a much younger man. The big secrets were blush and blending.

But at the same time, Estar’s video’s had been full of asides and advice from actor friends, and so Ausmann got a completely different lesson beyond “Change your face with make-up.” It was “Change your entire personality with your body.”

By the time he’d finished his face and didn’t even recognize himself in the mirror, he started hunting through his and Coraline’s emergency wardrobe closets for items that would most disguise a skinny 6’5” guy, and wound up settling on a down vest to pad out his body underneath an extra-large T-shirt. Baggy pants that allowed him to walk with his knees bent to reduce his apparent height, all of it hidden by a long overcoat which helped complete the effect.

He also stooped his shoulders and practiced not making eye-contact and mumbling. He topped his head with a baseball cap into which he had glued and sewn his own hair, although nowhere near as long as it had been and leaving out the white stripe. He burned the rest of the hair in the bathtub and rinsed down the ashes. Wow, did that make a stink.

All of this had been advice that he’d gotten online, and he was seriously considering recruiting Estar and their friends to work for the government, because he had gotten an amazing course in espionage for free, and none of these kids even knew it.

If he ran into trouble, a quick duck around a corner and he could ditch the hat and hair and padding, stand up straight, walk the other way, and not be noticed by his pursuers.

Happy with his look, Ausmann checked for any last-minute texts from work, found none, and headed up. Making sure that nobody was looking, he quickly hit the sidewalk and started walking west, checking other apps of his to see whether there was any active police chatter in the area.

Oddly enough, there wasn’t. So he kept walking, doing his best to impersonate some Gen-Z douchebag, at least until he could get to a point where he could hop a ride all the way to JPL.

* * *
Image Source: Boone County Fire Protection District in Joplin (MO), used unchanged and licensed under (CC BY 2.0).

Friday Free for all #38: Words, music, and magic

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the most disgusting sounding word in the English language?

I know that a lot of people don’t like the word “moist,” but I don’t see what the problem with it is. And it’s still a toss-up whether the disgust people feel for words in whatever language have more to do with the sound than with the concept or thing it’s describing.

One web poll, for example, ranked “lugubrious” as a disgusting sounding word, but its meaning is decidedly not. It just refers to something that looks or sounds sad or dismal.

I don’t think I have one word in particular, but I do have some nominees: phlegm, smegma, and clitoris. And no, it has nothing to do with two of them being really gross bodily secretions and one being a very important part of the female anatomy.

It’s just that the first two sound a lot like they smell, as it were, and when you can smell a word, that’s bad. Also, it wouldn’t be at all inappropriate to pronounce either one like you’re about to hock up a giant loogie. And both “hock” and “loogie” aren’t far from round out a top five list for me here.

As for “clitoris,” no matter which syllable you emphasize (c-LIT-oris? Cli-TOR-is?) it’s just got too many clicks and weak vowels in it.

Do you like classical music?

No, I don’t like classical music. I FUCKING LOVE IT! Then again, I had a rather unusual musical upbringing as a child, starting with me beginning musical lessons when I was seven years old. And, fortunately, a hell of a lot of that learning was based on music theory — i.e., the Circle of Fifths, and the relationships of chords and keys to each other.

End result: while I’ve always been okay at reading sheet music, I’ve been demon motherfucking at improvising and composing. That’s part one.

Part two: My paternal grandfather — actually, step-grandfather, but I never met my bio one, so he counts as my only real one — was a big-time audiophile, and he was constantly going off to buy lots of records. Um… “lots” in the “sold in bulk” sense, and not in the “numerous sense.”

He would get these from estate sales or thrift shops or wherever. He’d bring them home, and remove what interested him — which was anything jazz, blues, big band, etc., before the era of rock and roll.

So… he would cull his collection, and leave behind endless milk crates with tons of classic rock albums, along with anything spoken voice and anything classical. Whenever I or any of my three same-age (second) cousins (long story) would visit, we got to go through the crates and take what we wanted.

Naturally, my cousins went for the classic rock, but I really didn’t have much interest in that. Instead, I went for the spoken word, and so discovered many a comedian I otherwise might not have because they came before my time. But I also grabbed anything classical I could get my hands on.

This all happened when I was in elementary and middle school, and I had already found Beethoven and Mozart, while my music lessons had introduced me to Chopin and Debussy. And then I got to high school, and had the most wonderful music teach of all.

His name was Ken Kamp, now deceased, and he was mostly a jazzman, but I wound up in marching band, orchestra, and the jazz ensemble with him throughout my high school years. Since I was a keyboardist, I only played piano in the latter. In the first two, I was the bass drummer and percussionist, particularly timpanist.

But the most amazing thing was the music history class I took with him my first year, and he made everything come alive, because he had a knack for turning it into stories. He would cover a couple of composers with dramatized bits, play some of their stuff, and I would add “Artists to check out” to me brain list.

One class I remember in particular was when he covered Hector Berlioz, mostly known for the Symphonie fantastique, but who actually wrote the definitive book on orchestration, and he did it by picking the minds of students at a particular music academy.

To this day, I remember him acting out the supposed scenario in the school cafeteria. “So he found the best player of a particular instrument, like, say, the oboe. And he sat them down and said, ‘Okay… what are your high and low notes, and what keys work for you, and if you finger it like this, is that easier than that?’”

Anyway… that march through the classics really influenced me as a composer, and gave me tons of favorites. My top ten? Beethoven, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Copland, Orff, Holst, Williams, Elfman. (Yes, the last two do write classical music.)

If you ever want to have the most emotional experience of your life, go see (when it’s possible again) a full orchestral and choral performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Stay for it all, then strap in for the fourth movement.

When it hits the finale, if you don’t explode into tears of pure joy, then you have no soul.

What’s the closest thing to magic that actually exists?

I subscribe to Clarke’s Third Law, named for science fiction Arthur C. Clarke, which states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

So… that thing in your pocket that you can surf the internet on, send messages to people around the world, watch videos, make phone calls, and so on? Yeah, take that back to 1970 with some sort of time-link still connected to now, and you would make people’s heads explode with your witchcraft.

Of course, nowadays, a lot of people take the magic for granted and don’t even realize that without Einstein, their GPS would not work. Why? Because, relativity. Meaning that the GPS satellite up above the Earth experiencing slightly less gravity also experiences time in a slightly different way.

Meaning that in order to do the very precise calculations that won’t dump your ass in a canyon whenever you try to drive to CostCo require very refined adjustments to account for the different inertial frames of reference experienced by the satellite, your cell phone, and the nearest transmission towers.

Sure, the differences are in milliseconds or less, but they can translate into huge differences in spatial difference on Earth. If you’re off by one degree, depending on latitude, you could be off by tens of miles. Even an error of a second of latitude or longitude could put you off by dozens of feet.

But if you want real magic, then you have to dive into the big and the small — astrophysics and quantum physics.

Caveat: this is only magic if you don’t understand it. I’ve kind of been a fan forever, so I guess that makes me amateur wizard.

Anyway… astrophysics has taken us to the Moon and all of the planets in our Solar System, even sending two probes out. Meanwhile, it has also sent our eyes across the local group and the universe, with which we have learned so much — like discovering thousands of exoplanets, learning tons about black holes, gauging the true age of the universe, and even possibly discovering evidence of universes before it.

Quantum physics has run in the other direction, and proven that it does not get along with large-scale classical physics — yet. But it has taught us a bit about what everything is made of, and how weird reality gets at very tiny scales — and how tiny those scales are compared to everything else.

Just take a look at this amazing video from Morn1415, whom I encourage all of you to follow, because he does amazing stuff, indistinguishable from magic.

But, honestly, to me, the real magic was (and someday again may be) the look of love and admiration given to me by any of the dogs who I’ve ever been lucky enough to have as a companion.  Note that I will never say “dogs I’ve owned,” because I never owned them. They just decided to let me share my life with them.

And that was always the real magic.

The horror, the horror…

With Halloween around the corner, it’s supposed to be time for horror films, but I’m not a big fan of the genre, especially not those of the “gore porn” variety. Saw and  Hostel and their ilk can fuck right off. But… there’s one classic that combines Vincent Price, Shakespeare, and a bit of gore in something that elevates it above the rest. Of course, it was made in the 70’s, so it had a lot of class.

I am not a fan of horror movies, at least not in their modern incarnations. Of course, a lot of classic horror — like every version of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, etc., actually isn’t modern horror. Neither are more recent examples, like Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen, Alien, The Shining, John Carpenter’s The Thing, or Prince of Darkness.

It’s suspense. Those films were about the lurking potential danger of the monster. And even if in some cases the beast would lash out and kill, it was more about the group dealing with it in an intelligent way, and reacting emotionally to what was going on.

Once the genre started up in slasher mode, with each film trying to out-gore itself while including all of the tropes, I noped out. When we finally hit full-on torture porn in the naughts, I refused to watch any of them anymore. [Warning on that link: While the content is good, the author does terrible violence to proper use of the apostrophe. The horror!]

Still, there are two films that could be counted as somewhere in the zone between slasher and torture that I still consider favorites because there’s just something different about them. One of them you’ve probably heard of: David Fincher’s Se7en, and the fact that a particular uncredited actor in the film turned out to be a predatory monster in real life just adds to it. But again, this film isn’t about the murders. It’s about the journey the two detectives take in trying to catch the killer.

It’s the psychological manipulation that John Doe uses to drive David Mills to do exactly what he’s supposed to do that gives the film its zing. That, and theming the murders on a very well-known trope, the seven deadly sins. It’s intelligent horror not done as a mindless slasher film or an over-the-top splatter-fest. So, again, more suspense.

You’ve probably never heard of the other film, which is a Vincent Price vehicle called Theatre of Blood, but it is a classic, and it shares a lot with the much later Se7en. (Theatre came out in 1973.) In it, Price plays the serial killer with an agenda.

He’s a Shakespearean actor whose style is probably too classically old-school for the era. A quick search showed that the productions of the time at the Royal Shakespeare company favored modern dress and abstract sets. Their 1970s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona looks like a swinger’s pool party, and other productions of the time were equally anachronistic.

Of course, one could argue that Shakespeare should only ever be done in modern dress because that’s what the Bard did in his own time, but, frankly, it’s a lot of fun to have the period costumes with the language.

But I do digress.

In Theatre of Blood, Price’s character, Richard Lionheart, is bitter because a London critic’s society did not give him their best actor of the year award. He comes to their after-party to confront them and claim what he thinks should be his, but they mock him mercilessly. It’s his humiliation that drives his desire for revenge, and the method he uses is… priceless, pardon the pun.

He knocks off the critics one by one following the murders and deaths in the previous season of Shakespeare plays he starred in, and he exploits his knowledge of the critics’ quirks and weaknesses to do it. Being the consummate actor, Lionheart dresses for the roles, sometimes going full-on traditional, as when re-creating moments from Troilus and Cressida, Richard III, or The Merchant of Venice, or going modern dress for Julius Caesar, Cymbeline, Othello, Henry VI, Titus Andronicus, and a failed attempt at Romeo & Juliet. He goes full-on Richard Lionheart for the King Lear inspired finale, though.

Basically, it’s horror done with class and elan and, while there are some gory moments, the film doesn’t dwell on them or make them overly graphic. It’s more about a very clever killer we root for and yet, ultimately, a slightly more clever hero. That, and the fact that Lionheart’s victims tend to be major assholes in their own right.

Price is a standout, ably abetted by (pre-Dame) Diana Rigg as his dutiful daughter, and backed up by an amazing cast of British actors of the era. The film is a comedic gem, and if you’re a horror fan, theatre nerd of any stripe, but particularly if you’re a huge Shakespeare nut, this one is worth finding and then inviting a bunch of like-minded folk over for a viewing.

A little cure for the Monday Blues

As might be obvious from some of my posts, I do have a day job — in the field of Medicare insurance — and from October 15 to December 7 every year, it’s the annual enrollment period, or what we like to refer to as our tax season.

So… I’ve been working seven days a week, plus overtime most days, and it’s not going to let up for a while, and this can have an effect on keeping up with the regular publishing schedule.

Don’t worry — The Saturday Morning Post installments of The Rêves are written and scheduled well into March, and the Friday Free-for-All questions are actually easy to do because they’re prompted.

But I might be doing more recycling or shorter mid-week posts up to Thanksgiving, at which point I’ll have a special treat as I bring back a month-long feature from last year’s holidays.

Meanwhile, I wanted to give a shout-out and a plug to an incredibly talented young actor, comedian, singer, writer, dancer, improviser, Disney park super-fan, and all-around swell guy I know: Zach Timson.

Some of you might even know him from a little online thing called the Who Was? Show. (In that clip, he shows up briefly as Henry VIII.)

Anyway, I’m fortunate enough to know him IRL through ComedySportz, and his talent, despite his youth, never ceases to blow me away. Here’s just one sample.

His big ambition is to one day be a cast member on SNL, and if it’s still around, I have no doubt that he would be if he makes the right connections. If you liked the clip above, do yourself a favor and go browse around his other videos.

Oh. Did I mention that he is one of the most amazing voice impressionists I have ever heard? If he doesn’t make it on SNL, he could still be the Rich Little, Billy Crystal, (insert famous impressionist here) of his generation.

I was fortunate, in the days before the lockdown, to meet a wide range of people via ComedySportz, from our College League on up to senior members of the company and those I played with in Rec League.

But the most important thing it taught me was that you should never discount someone’s ability to teach you just because of outer appearances like age (lack of or too much), physical ability or disability, or experience or ability in actually doing improv.

That last one might seem paradoxical, but sometimes it takes seeing something done… I don’t want to say “wrong,” so maybe I’ll just say “not well,” in order to make you understand how to do it better.

I certainly learned that one in trying to help beginning writers improve their work over many years. The ones who taught me the most were, again paradoxically, the ones who seemed to learn the least from me.

Of course, when a master of their craft walks into the room and starts teaching, it’s obvious in a second, and I have also learned over the years from many brilliant mentors, like the late Jerry Fey, who guided me from being a novice writer to a produced and award-winning playwright in a very prestigious regional theatre, or Rick Steadman, who got me into and then made me reasonably good at improv.

Which is the long way around of saying that Zach — and all of his teammates on the college league — have taught me a lot (as mentors) about doing improv, how to be funny, how to relax and just have fun on stage. But if I’d ever looked at any of them and thought, “Yeah, they’re just kids. What do they know?” I never would have learned a thing.

Listen always to the generations above and below yours. The elders have experience, while the youth have passion. Unite the two of those in yourself, and oh, the places you’ll go.

Image courtesy of Pixy#Org via CC0 1.0 license.

Sunday Nibble #40: A short guide to knowing your shit #4

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This one inevitably occurs when you’re in public. Perhaps you’re in line at the mall, or at a party, or grocery shopping. Even more likely, you’re at a formal event, like a wedding or funeral.

It starts small. Just that sudden little gassy feeling, only it’s not an impending burp. Well, in a sense it is, but let’s call it an Australian Belch — it wants to happen down under. The only problem, of course, is that there are a lot of people around, so you can’t slip one out and you can’t slip out of the room. Why, what would people think if you abruptly left your pew (or a P.U.) and ran down the aisle while Auntie Lou is eulogizing your late Grandpa John in glowing terms?

So you try to hold it in, but the more you do the more insistent it becomes. You may even experience the phenomenon of feeling gas bubbles in your intestines pop, which just makes the need to toot your horn even more pressing. All you can do is clench and suffer through it until the time is right.

Eventually, you finish checking out, or they finishing checking out your grandfather, and you’re able to make your way to a safe place to play a few bars of “Fart and Soul.” You’re not even going to try to find a bathroom, you’re just going to liberate the Methane Menace into the open air, perhaps on the fly. Maybe you duck into an alcove off of the church lobby, or one of those side corridors in the mall. You might even just call “Blast off” as soon as you’re outside the market and you have the cover of noise and a breeze.

All right, captain. You’re all clear, so it’s time to announce, “Engage,” and open the shuttle bay doors. You give that fart permission to launch with an encouraging nudge, and it’s finally free to fly away.

Then you realize with a sinking feeling that this shuttle was carrying a full cargo which did not make it into the open air. You’ve now experienced the exact opposite of The Phantom because you have just crapped your pants.

Meet The Traitor

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #38: The Rêves, Part 16

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Another garden

It obviously wasn’t a work or school day for anyone after the storm, although the internet was still up at the house, so Brenda and Jonah retired to their respective home offices to check in and see what was going on.

Meanwhile, Esme took Samuel and Malia on a tour of the front and back yards respectively to figure out what had been lost and damaged.

Brenda got the news almost immediately via a county bulletin: All Metro lines were closed, buses and at-grade trains due to extensive flooding, and the entire subway system due to even worse flooding. Drivers, station workers, and the like were put on furlough with full emergency pay until further notice.

Meanwhile, people like Brenda were only expected to keep tabs of their email, and consider themselves on-call.

That wonderful delusion ended ten minutes after she logged on that afternoon, when she got a text from Rita.

“URGENT!” it said. “Call me ASAP, away from earshot.”

“Damn,” Brenda said as she grabbed her cell and headed outside and down the street. At least they hadn’t gotten any flooding up here on top of the hill.

After she’d walked a block, she dialed Rita, who picked up immediately. “Hit me,” she said.

“Remember that project I mentioned? The one we wanted you to run?”

“Yeah, don’t remind me,” Brenda said. “What?”

“Well, somebody seems to think they got it on good authority that this little, um… weather anomaly is a direct result of the entities that they wanted to task you all with hunting down.”

“Oh, hell no,” Brenda said, but Rita continued.

“Plus, missy, it’s been booted up to state level. Direct report to the Governor hisself, and they are considering creating a state cabinet position for it right now.”

“Look, I have no idea what caused that storm, okay?” Brenda said. “You’re asking the wrong person.”

“Right. You still haven’t come through with your two little steam-punk boys — ”

“Rita, they are grown-ass men. Don’t talk about them like that.”

“Are you sassing me?”

“If that’s some kind of boss to employee threat, you really shouldn’t make it in the same breath that you’re offering me a job that will bounce me five hundred steps above your ass, should you?” Brenda replied. There was a long pause.

“Lordie,” Rita finally said, “You damn well better take this one, girl. It could see you as governor in four years.”

“I don’t want to be the governor,” Brenda snapped back. “I don’t want to save the world. I just want to enjoy the career I’ve got, be the best mother I can to my kids, and keep my family together and happy. Understand?”

“Understood. But last I heard, when weird supernatural forces were out to destroy the world with apocalyptic storms, the best way to keep a family together and happy was to go out and defeat that shit. And you and your team — and yes, I mean those gay boys — are the ones to do it. Do you understand?”

“I don’t even know where to — ”

“Stop,” Rita said. “I just emailed you their address. And, tell you what. I’ll forget your sass and all that if you don’t take the position, but I would very much appreciate it if you could get both of them on a Zoom call with me within, oh, say… forty-eight hours.”

“What?” Brenda shot back. “You don’t have their email or number?”

“Oddly enough,” Rita replied, “No.”

“And the city is flooded and shut down,” Brenda reminded her, “So how the hell am I supposed to get to them?”

“If you figure that one out,” Rita replied, “I’ll knock you up three paygrades.”

She hung up and Brenda restrained herself from tossing her phone into the street, but not from shouting, “Bitch!”

“Bren?”

That’s when she turned to see that Esme and the kids were in the front yard, probably not close enough to have heard the conversation, but close enough to have heard the aftermath.

“Oh, hi, Mom!” she said. “Didn’t see you there. How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Esme replied. “And you? Don’t answer. Kids, go inside and write down all the stuff we found wrecked. Your parents will need to know.”

Samuel and Malia nodded and ran inside. Esme walked out into the street to Brenda.

“Spill that tea?” she said.

“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied, “How can an offer come along that is just so unbelievably incredible and yet totally fucked up at the same time?”

Esme just laughed. “Dear, that is the kind of thing that happens all the time. Let’s take a little walk, see what’s up with the neighborhood, and discuss it, okay?”

Brenda just nodded. Esme held her daughter’s arm as they started a long, slow stroll through the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Jonah had found out that it was going to be business as usual, albeit remotely until streets were cleared. He was suddenly strangely grateful for everything they had learned during the plague, which hadn’t stopped any of his company’s construction projects at all while sending all of the designers and draftspeople off to work from home, which had actually become mostly the norm since then.

He pulled up a current design for low-income housing his firm was working on to be built on the west side. Nothing fancy, just a wood-frame block of flats, designed to accommodate a lot of families and rent cheap, something the developers were only willing to do with a heavy government handout, of course.

Every time Jonah heard one of these fat cats privately bitch about being forced to “put up welfare queens and their broods,” as they would say when they thought he wasn’t in ear-shot, the more he just wanted to punch them out, but he restrained his anger.

The biggest welfare queens were these same rich bitches who lobbied to get their property taxes cut to practically nothing, get gigantic subsidies on utilities, publicly complained about “illegals” while using nothing but undocumented immigrants on their construction crews — paying them way below what union workers would have gotten — and quite often grabbed up choice pieces of land via eminent domain, never mind that it was already covered with apartments with people who couldn’t afford to move anywhere else in the city when they got evicted.

“Motherfuckers,” Jonah often muttered under his breath. His firm had tried to do it different, but it was so difficult being in a profession that had to deal with the City Council and County Board of Supervisors, who were all some of the most corrupt people Jonah had ever met.

He had often considered running for office, but then wondered if the mere process of campaigning and getting elected turned out to be a deal with the devil, so he decided to do what he could from the inside, and last night’s storm suddenly threw a red flag in front of his face as he looked at the plans for the Sepulveda Arms Apartments.

On paper — at least in words — they looked amazing. It was a series of eight six-story buildings, arranged on three acres, with three buildings fronting their long sides on the north-south streets, and three fronting their short sides along the east-west side streets, a city block in front and a half block on the sides. The building sized gap in the middle was intended to create urban park land, with a swimming pool, community areas, and so on.

But… translate those words on paper to plans on a blueprint that an architect could read, and Jonah suddenly saw how this would not do at all.

First off, it violated the two golden rules of L.A. construction that had been learned through many earthquakes: “Thou shalt not build between four and eight stories, for such heights doth shake most mightily.”

The other rule: “Thou shalt not build the car stables beneath such housings, lest they fall into the ground even more mightily.”

In other words, four to eight story buildings with underground parking were the absolute worst things you could possibly build in L.A., especially for residential property.

But there was more, and again the storm had armed Jonah perfectly for it. If the flooding and winds and everything else were a harbinger of things to come because of climate change, a place like Sepulveda Arms would blow over in a New York minute.

They were designed for a temperate climate with little rain or wind and no thunderstorms, and he noticed that the bid used the cheapest of materials for the walls, windows, and doors. Anything resembling a mere tropical storm would take the façade off of the place in a second, not to mention flood the garages beneath.

He marked up all of his issues on the digital blueprints, wrote out his concerns, then sent it back to the design committee.

Meanwhile, Esme and Brenda had walked for a while in silence before Esme finally said, “My rose garden is gone.”

“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied. “I’m so sorry.”

“So are the children’s herb and vegetable garden.”

“Oh no. Are they okay?”

“Yes,” Esme said. “I talked to them, and we all agreed. Flowers and vegetables and herbs will grow wherever you plant them, and if they get torn up in one place, you can always take them to another.”

“I don’t want to move my garden,” Brenda replied. “My roots are here. My family.”

“Why would you have to move?” Esme asked.

“Rita is hinting that they’re going to offer me a state job. One with a much higher profile.”

“And a lot more money, I hope,” Esme added.

“It’s not always about money, Mom,” she said. “Although Rita did hint at that. But I don’t want to move to Sacramento. Sure, it’s the state capital, but it’s a provincial little shithole.”

“Well, they can’t move the capital to L.A. But why would you have to move, anyway?”

“I’d expect that my office would be there.”

“You know offices don’t mean a thing anymore,” Esme explained. “You just need a place to be on those rare occasions when you have to go up there in person. Make your deal right, and those could be as rare as you wanted.”

“I suppose,” Brenda answered. “And maybe I’m just over-reacting. I mean, Rita did say ‘considering,’ not ‘offering.’”

“Your boss with Metro?”

“Right.”

“So why is she offering you a state job when she’s county?”

“She’s not, Mom. She’s just the messenger.”

“I didn’t even know the state had anything like the Metro. Oh — is it high-speed rail?” Esme asked.

“No. Actually, it’s about what caused the storm.”

Esme stopped walking and looked at Brenda with an expression of happy shock. She covered her mouth and stared for a beat. Then, “Oh my lord, dear. You mean figuring out what caused it?”

“We know what caused it. This has to do with keeping it from happening again.

“That is amazing news, actually,” Esme gushed. “Moving from working the subways to saving the environment? How can you say no?”

“It’s not exactly saving the — ”

“Brenda, if you don’t take a job like that where you can directly save the planet, then I will kick your ass. Understand?”

Brenda just sighed. This hadn’t turned out very helpful. “Let’s go home, Mom,” she said. “The kids are probably starving.”

“Lord knows, I am,” Esme answered with a laugh, but Brenda suddenly wasn’t in the mood.

* * *

Anabel v Jezebel

The usual collection of Class II old school stars had gathered again — this time quite openly at Hollywood Forever, and they brought a few more folk along with them. Naturally, Bette held court as Bette was wont to do, but for some reason decided to go full-on Baby Jane Hudson mode today.

“So now you see what those goddamn faeries want to do to us,” she bellowed in fine form.

“You shouldn’t call them that,” Marilyn intoned, in her more demure character from Bus Stop.

“It’s what they call themselves, you stupid slut,” Bette shot back. “Las hadas. That is literally ‘the faeries’ in Spanish. And their full name for themselves is the savage faeries — ”

“More like just the wild faeries,” someone called out. It was Ritchie Valens, who technically hadn’t been invited, but unfortunately was technically qualified, since he was Class III.

“Who the hell let that beaner in?” a voice called out, and everyone turned to see that it was Harold Lloyd, then turned as another voice boomed out.

“Unfucking cool, asshole,” a voice called out and while most of the old school crew didn’t recognize him, they still recognized that he was one of them.

“And who might you be?” Lloyd asked.

“A musician, like Ritchie here,” he replied. “He’s never heard of me either, but he certainly had an influence on me and my band. My name is Johnny Ramone,” he said. “I’m buried right over there, and I will not tolerate any second class racist fuckheads spouting that shit off, no matter who they thought they were when they were alive. ¿Comprende?”

“Don’t you know who I am?” the pasty-faced spirit demanded.

“Yeah,” Johnny replied. “Same as me. You are fucking dead and, honestly, the number of living people who remember you is going to shrink really rapidly really fast, so don’t get cocky.”

“I don’t appreciate your language, young man,” Lloyd spat back.

“And I don’t appreciate you being a hateful cunt trapped in your generation.”

Lloyd just stared at the young apparition with the woman’s hair and leather jacket, then sank back down. Meanwhile, Bette felt total admiration and Rudolph felt total lust.

“You were saying?” Johnny turned to Bette and she suddenly morphed into her character from Jezebel, red dress and all.

“What I was saying,” she continued, “Is that there is a plot against us, and it’s led by those people who still have direct connections to the living world. You know the ones. Class I. Hah! Little people, never famous, only remembered by their families. And they have put themselves in league with the… what did you call them, Mr. Valens?”

“Las hadas selvajes,” Ritchie replied.

“Right, that. The ones who died without even anyone remembering them, and who were scattered to the four winds and… look what they managed to do. This storm? This scourge that swept the city? That was them, and it was fully backed by the Class I Rêves… traitors… like Anabel.”

This got the crowd grumbling even as it kept growing, and some of the newest members who were Class III — famous but remembered by loved ones as well — started to pop up.

It was starting to feel like an Oscar “In Memoriam” reel, actually, but maybe that was encouraging.

“So what do we do?” Bette called out. “How do we stop it?” she demanded, but the crowd just looked back at her blankly.

Finally, Marilyn piped up, doing her shtick from All About Eve, in which she was a mere bit player in a Bette Davis tour de force. “We have to ally with the ones who keep us here,” she intoned breathily.

“Exactly!” Bette agreed.

“The living humans,” Marilyn continued.

“Amen!” Bette shouted, and the crowd assented.

They really didn’t need to take an official vote, but it was decided. Anabel and any of her allies — all of the Hadas, all Class I, and any traitorous Class III’s — were now considered enemies. This put the Class III’s who were present in the awkward situation of throwing their lot in with the Class II’s right now, or fleeing without being attacked.

But before any of them could make a decision, a stream of black mist came flying into the meeting and manifested itself as a woman. Well, at least the top half of one, everything below her waist hovering above the ground on a column of black smoke.

“Trust humans?” she scoffed loudly. “Really? This is what they did to me when I was alive. But that’s nothing compared to what they tried to do to me afterwards.”

“W-w-who are you?” Jimmy asked, back as George Bailey.

“She’s The Black Dahlia,” Johnny explained. “Infamous murder case in the 1940s… but aren’t you buried in the Bay Area?”

“Only my body,” she replied. “But the memories — ”

The crowd erupted in sudden jeers and Johnny approached her. “Yeah, don’t bring that up with this bunch, okay?” He explained. “They don’t like being reminded of… things.”

“Aren’t you one of them?” she asked.

“Yes and no,” he replied. “I’ve barely been here twenty years, so I’m Class III. Why should we not trust the humans?”

“Because they want to enslave us, trap us, and maybe even destroy us.”

A lot of the gathered Class IIIs let out a unanimous horse-laugh on that comment, Ritchie and Johnny notable among the exceptions. Bette stepped forward.

“Oh, really now, child? You think that? No, I think you’re confusing your sad fate at human hands with reality. None of us would still be around if humans did not remember us. Hell, you wouldn’t even be able to manifest so far from your grave without human memory. See how that works?”

This brought a murmur of confusion from a lot of the group.

“What?” Bette replied. “You never paid attention to the rules? We’re here because humans remember us. Those jealous Class I bitches who were never famous want to destroy us. How hard is that to understand?”

“I saw the creation of your kind in this city,” a voice boomed out. “And I realized that it would bring the downfall of humanity, because a lot of undeserving people would become really rich and way too fast.”

There was a murmur among the crowd and then a split as a bunch of them parted like the Red Sea before Moses, looking terrified. Anabel marched through the clearing and to the center, standing to face Bette, who glared back, defiant.

“Now… what were you saying, you bitch?” Anabel continued.

“I worked for my fame,” Bette hissed at her. “Oh, that’s right. I had fame.”

“I had fortune,” Anabel replied. “And I worked for that. A lot harder than you did. Well, because I didn’t do most of my work on my back.”

Bette rushed for her, but Anabel easily held her back without even touching her. “I don’t think you see the problem, Miss Davis. Yes, you’re here because the humans remember you. That is the only reason you are here. And yet, they are the ones who decided to try to wipe us all out. So how can you be on their side?”

“Why are you lying and saying they want to wipe us out?” Bette demanded.

“Because they tried to do it to me, and a few others. Haven’t you noticed any of your Class gone missing in the last couple of months?”

“We don’t exactly take roll here,” Bette replied haughtily.

“Maybe you should,” Anabel spat back before turning to the crowd. “It’s war all right,” she announced. “But I am not the enemy, and neither are the Hadas. The enemy are the humans who don’t want us to be remembered, who don’t want us around, and want all of us, but especially Class II, to vanish forever.”

There was a huge murmur from the crowd as Anabel continued.

“The storm?” she said. “That was definitely the Hadas. But it was not aimed at any of us. It was aimed at the humans, as a warning. Maybe they’ll heed it, but I doubt that they will. But if you want to save our kind, then don’t listen to people who are only famous for being famous. Listen to those of us actually in the struggle.”

A double rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky in the distance, with Anabel perfectly centered beneath it and the crowd gasped.

“I’m leaving now and gathering more members for my army. If you want to join me, rest assured that you can follow me out of here with the full protection of the Hadas, and not a single Class II can touch you. Of course, if you’re Class II, you’re also welcome to join. It’s time to fight or die… again.”

Anabel turned and marched out, all eyes watching her, then turning back to Bette, then to each other. There was a moment of confusion and chatter, and then large clumps of the Class III crowd turned and followed Anabel.

Bette bristled. “You’re making a huge mistake!” she shouted out, but she could sense she’d lost a lot of them. Then, some Class II’s started to leave. She was livid, and took on the guise of one of her least known roles, Madame Sin, a direct-to-TV thriller in which she played a possibly Chinese super-villain who actually won.

“You can run but you can’t escape!” she warned them. They didn’t listen.

* * *

Friday Free for all #37: Creepy tattoos

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What do you think of tattoos? Do you have any?

I don’t have any serious objections to tattoos, to a point. I think they can be a beautiful expression of some facet of a person’s personality. But… they do completely turn me off when they become too extreme, like if someone has full sleeves on both arms, or either or both sides of their torso are heavily covered.

Anything from the neck up, forget it, especially on the face, and the worst aesthetic violence that can be done to a nice ass is to bury it in ink.

I don’t currently have any tattoos, but only because I could never decide what to get, although I have ideas, which I’ve written about here before.

Out of everyone I’ve ever been in a long-term relationship with, only one of them had tattoos — a side effect of dating nice Jewish boys, who don’t get tattoos. But the tattooed one was a stylist from Australia whose mother came from Malta and father came from Lithuania. They met on the boat over while leaving Europe for Australia, and the rest was history.

He actually spoke Maltese, which is fascinating because it’s the only Semitic language written with the Latin alphabet — which is the one you’re reading this article in.

Anyway, he did have a lot of tattoos when I met him and we started dating, and more continued to appear during our relationship. That had nothing to do with why we ended it, though, but it’s another thing I’ve noticed about people who seem to pass a certain “tattoo limit.”

They just keep going, like it’s become an addiction, sometime with extreme results, as in the case of Rock Genest who came to a tragic but not tattoo-related end.

Of course, there’s always someone who goes further, and in this case Genest was very much outdone in the extreme tattoo and body mod department by the likes of Paul “The Enigma” Lawrence.

Then there’s always Sylvain Helaine who made the news recently because he was almost totally inked (or maybe totally, they don’t put those pictures in the paper), and so lost his job as a kindergarten teacher because one kid got scared.

Oh, don’t worry. He’s still teaching first grade up. The French are practical, not heartless.

What behaviors make you think a person is creepy?

I’m sorry if it makes me seem judgmental, but extreme body make-overs, like the above-cited Enigma, do make me think that a person is creepy, or at least not making the best life choices.

And that includes all of the extreme bod-mod freaks, like Jocelyn Wildenstein, who was infamous for having a long series of plastic surgeries to make her look like a cat, with questionable results.

In her divorce in 1999, she received $2.5 billion in a settlement, plus $100 million per year for the next 13 years but, in a brilliant turn, the judge prohibited her from spending any of that money on more plastic surgery.

She did sell the house in New York for $13 million, presumably to finance her surgeries and yet, somehow, she managed to go bankrupt in 2018, just six years after the gravy train stopped at the last station. She turned 80 this year, so who knows what she looks like at this point.

I bring up the details of her life only because they do illustrate the point: there’s a lot of  creepy of the cringe variety going on here, and you can see it in other cases, like the couple who spent over $300K on plastic surgery in order to look like Barbie and Ken. No fairytale wedding and Malibu Beach House for them, though

Eventually, they broke up, reportedly because “Barbie” dyed her blonde hair brunette and “Ken” didn’t like it. Sadly, “Ken,” aka Quentin Dehar, committed suicide in February 2020 at the age of 27. (The only links about it online in English seem to be badly machine-translated from the French press, since he was a TV host there but not really well-known elsewhere.)

By the way, Quentin wasn’t the only adult human wanting to transform himself into Ken. There were at least two more.

But all of this is just small beans compared to the ultimate in creepy, and that is trying to force yourself sexually on someone who isn’t interested, or in a situation where they wouldn’t expect it — a “pastime” that seems to be engaged in by almost exclusively men.

Oh, not completely exclusively, but women do make up a very small percentage of exhibitionists, who are people who derive sexual gratification by exposing themselves to others.

In some cases, they even masturbate, often in public places hoping to get caught, which elevates the creepy factor up another level. Finishing in public (and on a public place) notches up the creepy again, and if a guy ladles out his bone gravy in a public restroom or on a public sidewalk or anywhere else with that P word in it and doesn’t clean it up, he wins the king creepy award in this category.

Of course, there are worse things. The best defense against some guy exposing himself is to joint point at his junk and laugh, then walk away. But there are other creepy people who go further.

The stereotype of construction workers hooting at women on the street exists for a reason. Sure, it probably almost never happens now, but it used to be a common thing.

And there’s still the phenomenon, which many of my female friends have complained about, of complete strangers (guess the gender) making comments to them like, “Looking good,” or “You should smile,” or a suggestive “Well, hello.”

One of the funniest instant responses to that which I ever saw was in the long ago days before COVID, when I was walking into a 7-Eleven behind a woman who got to the door before me. Some guy standing outside made some comment of the “looking good” variety, and without missing a beat or pausing at all, she flipped him of and walked inside.

I couldn’t help but laugh. The creep deserved it.

See, if you don’t know the woman there’s no reason at all to engage her unless maybe you’re in the elevator asking her what floor she’s going to. The one exception might go something like this:

“Hey, that is a really nice (blouse/hat/scarf/perfume) you’re wearing, and my (girlfriend/wife/side piece) would love that. Where did you get it?” The caveat, of course, is that you’re actually asking so you can get it for your SO, you get the information, thank her and leave.

Incidentally, this kind of creepy is not exclusive to straight men. Gay men do it all the time, particularly much older ones creeping on twinks. This one is particularly prevalent online, with inappropriate comments galore any time some young attractive guy posts a photo, suggestive or not, anywhere that older gay men hang out.

Of course, I’d guess that the majority of those people commenting would not be so bold as to say the same things in person, but a good rule of thumb there is that unless it’s an outright, “Hey look at me naked and tell me I’m hot” kind of posting forum, if you wouldn’t walk up to them and say it to their face, then hold your horses and don’t be so damn thirsty online.

Same rule applies to the straight boys and the bi boys.

Obviously, the next level of creepy after comments is unwelcome physical touch, and the rule here is this: Outside of shaking hands upon introductions or hugs between friends who’ve established this as the norm (both of which may not exist post-COVID), if you’re not married to it, dating it, fucking it, or paying to fuck it, hands off. Period.

Of course, medical professionals and parents/family members get obvious exceptions, although none of that touching should be in any way sexual, and the only one who should be penetrating any orifice should be doing it for strictly diagnostic reasons.

Unless you’re fucking your doctor, of course, in which case that’s already been covered.

But… getting too close physically, and doing things like putting your hand on a shoulder, or even hovering over someone — particularly if you’re of higher status in the hierarchy than the person you’re doing it to — is creepy.

It’s what women in business have had to put up with for decades, and it could be as subtle as a boss leaning over their shoulder to use their mouse to click something onscreen for them or as blatant as blocking the breakroom door, or doing the old lean on the wall while facing them and standing too close.

Outside of the business environment, this involves a lot of tits and asses getting groped and, again, it’s more of a bad-actor dude thing than it is a straight guy thing. When I was a young party twink and went out to the clubs, I had my ass grabbed without invitation more than a few times.

Of course, I was too young and naïve to see it as assault and, probably due to self-esteem issues, took it as a compliment instead in that awkward “any attention is good attention even it it’s creepy-rapey, right?”

See, back in the day, I did not think that I was at all attractive, but when I recently ran across some pictures of me in my mid-late 20s, the thing that most struck me was, “Jesus Christ, I was fucking hot.”

Shit. If only someone had told me that back then. But that gets into the whole irony factor — in bars and clubs, people won’t approach people they think are hot because they fear rejection. So I should have been the one hitting on people instead of just standing in the corner being shy.

On the other hand, due to that whole self-esteem thing, if anyone who decided to talk to me was half-way attractive, I’d wind up going home with them. Yeah, I was a slut.

Then again, I suppose I dodged another creepy bullet, which is people who “know” they’re hot, and tell you. (Note: They might not necessarily be.)

That’s because these are also the same asshats who will wind up trying to or succeeding at raping you, whether of the outright assault, roofie in the drink, or ignoring your No’s if the two of you go home together variety.

Rape and sexual assault are the creepiest things of all, with the act being committed against an adult human being at Level C, but only because doing it against an adolescent minor is Level B, and doing it to a pre-pubescent child or younger is Level A.

Note that evilness on that scale is in ascending order. The lower the letter, the hotter the hell the perp should burn in. Not that Level C shouldn’t be hot enough to melt the Sun.

Moral of the story: There is a place and time for you to get jiggy with yourself or with someone else, although if you engage in any of the behaviors noted here, you don’t deserve any sexy time with anything that isn’t a Fleshlight or Fleshjack. (You can google those yourself because both pages are totally NSFW. Option one is the straight dude version, and option two is the gay one.)

Oh, right. I almost forgot. The one behavior creepier than anything above is knowingly and willingly voting for Donald Trump on November 3rd. That action alone will go to the lowest circle of Hell available.

Talky Tuesday: Compound interest?

Like several other languages, English uses compound words to create new concepts by sticking two other words together. This can actually be done in one of three ways: open compounds, which are separate words (hang glider); hyphenated compounds, which are what it says on the tin (life-size); and closed compounds, which happen when the words are fused together (superstar).

The latter shouldn’t be confused with a portmanteau word, which is one word shoved into another. That is, the separate words merge to form one that doesn’t contain a complete version of either. A famous example is smog, which comes from smoke and fog.

These kinds of words are named for a portmanteau, which is a large suitcase or trunk that opens into two equal parts, as opposed to a regular suitcase, which pretty much has a shallow lid and a deep storage area. Fun fact: portmanteau is itself a portmanteau, derived from the French words porter, “to carry”, and manteau, “mantle.” They’re very common in English, but not today’s subject, although you can find lists of them online.

Another thing that compound words are generally not is agglutinative, although that depends upon what you’re agglutinating. Broadly speaking, an agglutinative language is considered a “synthetic language,” but that does not mean made up. In this case, synthetic refers to synthesis, which is the creation of a whole from various parts.

English can show agglutinative propensities in word pairs like teach and teacher. The former is a verb, the latter is a noun describing a person who does the verb. Farm, farmer; game, gamer; preach, preacher; account, accountant; debut, debutante; and so on. These are all agglutinative words in English, short and simple, but they really aren’t an essential or sole feature of how words are built in the language.

A good example of simple agglutinatives are the classical versions of the Semitic languages Hebrew and Arabic, which both work in similar ways. They start with a simple word root, and then add prefixes, suffixes, and infixes to change the meaning, basically building a root outward into various concepts. (The modern versions are apparently more analytical, less agglutinative.)

Complicated agglutinative languages will pile on the prefixes and suffixes until a speaker winds up with a ridiculously long word that expresses a concept in great detail, but which a lot of other languages would have achieved through separate words and parts of speech.

What analytical and inflected languages do is build meaning through things like articles, nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, interjections, and interrogatives. A language spoken (at them) loudly and — wow! — what?

If you really want to go hog-wild with an agglutinative language, then check out Turkish. It’s a hot mess, but that probably explains why Recep Erdoğan is always so cranky.

But let’s get back to those compound words, because they are also a feature of Spanish and German, which both do them in very different ways, not only from each other, but from English.

English compound words tend to just go for it, jam the words together, and done. Examples: Airport, baseball, windfall, extraordinary, worldwide, sailboat, stockbroker, etc.

Spanish compound words are a little more practical, since they tend to pretty much describe what the thing does, which English compounds don’t always do. Also, they tend to be masculine words regardless of the second half so that, for example, the word for umbrella is masculine despite the second half of the word being feminine (and plural): el paraguas.

Other great examples in Spanish: abrelatas, can opener, literally open cans; autopista, highway/freeway, literally automobile trail; bienvenido, welcome, literally the same in Spanish; cumpleaños, birthday, literally complete years; horasextra, overtime, literally extra hours; lavaplatos, dishwasher (the machine) and also literally washes dishes; matamoscas, fly swatter, literally kills flies.

I think that gives you a good general idea, and you can find lists online as well. But when it comes to the granddaddy of ridiculous compounds that give agglutinative languages a run for their money, look no farther than German.

English may rarely stick three words together to make one compound, but that seems to be our limit. The Germans? Well, they do seem to have a knack for sticking words together to describe things they couldn’t be arsed to come up with single words for, like literally calling gloves hand shoes (die Handschuhe.) I don’t think we get quite that lazy in English.

But the Germans transcend that. Are three words a compound limit for them? Oh hell noes. They’ll go on shoving words together all day long to express a specific concept. I guess the idea of sentences is too much for them.

I kid! A big chunk of my ancestry is German — well, at least the quarter that came down from my paternal grandfather  — and it is the third language, besides Spanish and English, that I have actually studied beyond a passing interest. But, c’mon. Some of their compound words are ridiculous.

Here’s a good one, made up of no less than eight separate words: rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. A literal word-for-word translation into English is “beef meat labeling monitoring tasks transfer law.”

The Week made a great compilation of ten of the worst offenders, but I have to share a couple of them here.

Hey, this one is only three words! Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften, legal protection insurance companies, as in companies that will indemnify your ass against lawsuits.

Again, only four little words but one huge result: Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän. It literally means Danube steamship company captain, and wouldn’t you hate to have to shoehorn that word into your resume? But let us take a moment to look at the unfortunate word in there, and you know exactly which one I mean: dampfschiffahrts. Dampf means steam, and that should be pretty obvious after two seconds of realizing that it’s similar to the English word damp. Likewise, schiff for ship should be a no-brainer.

This leaves us with fahrts and no, it does not mean what you think it does. It comes from the German word fahren, to drive, and tends to wind up in anything involving a vehicle or journey. For that other word referring to the gas driven out of your ass, you want to use der Furz. And yes, it’s a masculine noun, because of course it is.

What? We all know that women never fart. It just isn’t done.

And, finally, there’s another four word jam slam: Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister. It refers to the master of chimney sweeps in a district, but breaks down to district (bezirks) chimney (schornstein) sweep (feger) and master (meister).

Momentous Monday: Ending canine prejudice

There’s a reason that I call this site The Word Whisperer. That’s because prior to starting it, I worked for a decade for the Dog Whisperer, and for a good part of that I was Senior Editor and Head Writer on his website, as well as keeper of the corporate voice and (sssh, don’t tell!) the ghostwriter for all of his online articles and a lot of his media interviews.

So, in other words, I was deeply into all things dog, and one of the subjects that he was passionate about and which I crusaded for was the plight of the pit bull. As in by the early 2000s, they had become one of the most maligned and misunderstood breeds in the country.

They were banned everywhere, simply based on perception, and especially the misconception that “pit bull” is a breed of dog. It’s not. It’s a type of dog, comprising at least four distinct breeds.

But for those of us who are pit bull fans because, face it, they are sweet dogs, there was a recent victory as the city of Denver voted to overturn their pit bull ban originally imposed in 1989. No mean feat, considering that the anti-pit bull crowd turned out to argue against it but, trust me, I’ve had experience with them, and they are an emotional bunch who won’t let facts get in the way.

What they like to ignore is that any dog can be dangerous and that unknown breeds of dogs involved in incidents are often reported as pit bulls, especially if they’re over a certain size. They also ignore the fact that dogs can sense when a human is anxious or uneasy around them, and this can actually lead to attacks. So… the people who fear pit bulls act fearful around all dogs, and bad things are going to happen.

This was a question I dealt with in one of my more popular articles on Cesar’s site, which I’m now going to plagiarize and paraphrase from, because I can. (Bastards scrubbed all of the bylines recently, but that’s a long story I’m not going to go into until TMZ is writing me a big-ass check.)

The question I asked: How did pit bulls get such a bad rap?

Would it surprise you to learn that pit bulls used to be America’s darlings? Before the mid-80s, stories of pit bull attacks are practically non-existent. As noted, there is also confusion over exactly which breed of dog is a pit bull — American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire terrier and, at times, the bulldog. This confusion seems to have dogged the breed from the beginning, as there is some disagreement over the origin of pit bulls.

In one theory, pit bulls began during antiquity as the so-called molossus, a now-extinct breed that was used by the Greeks as shepherds and guard dogs. In times of war, they marched off to battle with their humans. Eventually, so the theory goes, the Molossus made it to early Britain, where it became known as the mastiff. In the first century CE, Rome discovered the breed after defeating the Britons, and the dogs spread all over the empire. For the next four hundred years, they were used as war dogs, and intermixed with various local breeds all over the European continent, becoming the forerunners of the modern pit bull.

A competing theory places the origin of the pit bull in England at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, when butchers would use large, Mastiff-type dogs as “bullenbeissers,” which translates as “bull biter.” Trained to latch onto a bull’s nose and not let go until the animal was subdued, these dogs were the only way that humans could regain control when a bull became agitated. Unfortunately, this practical if dubious use eventually led to the “sport” of bull-baiting, where dogs were put in a pit with an intentionally riled-up bull and spectators placed bets on which dog would hold on the longest, or bring the bull down. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but this is also the origin of the terms “pit bull dog” and “bulldog.”

Still not a specific breed, the bullenbeissers were bred with terriers, combining their intelligence with the strength of the mastiffs. As bull-baiting came to be banned in the 19th century, dog fighting became popular as an underground and quasi-illegal activity in the UK. British immigrants to the U.S. at that time brought dog fighting, as well as their dogs, to the New World. However, as the breed spread to Americans and Americans spread across the continent, pit bulls began to be put to their original use, as general purpose herding and working dogs. Because of their fighting history, though, the American Kennel Club would not recognize the breed until 1936, although they defined it as a Staffordshire terrier, distinct from the American pit bull terrier.

Far from being considered a killing machine on legs, pit bulls seem to be an American favorite in the early half of the century — indeed, during World War I, the country itself is personified as a pit bull on army recruitment posters, and several pit bulls go on to become famous in the American military. Referring to an athlete as a pit bull is a very common sports metaphor through the 1930s, and it is meant as the highest compliment. There is also a famous racehorse in the late 1930s named Pit Bull, as well as a number of pit bull stars of early motion pictures. Frequently, pit bulls are associated with children, as in the Our Gang comedies, as well as with Buster Brown, both in short films and as the corporate mascot for a shoe company. The famous RCA Victor image of a dog and a gramophone also featured a pit bull terrier.

All of that pit bull love went away by the mid-80s, and by New Year’s Day 1986, over thirty communities are considering breed specific legislation and bans on pit bulls. What changed?

For one thing, despite being illegal in all fifty states, dog fighting made a comeback in the 80s, and the pit bull is the dog of choice. It is also the preferred guard dog for drug dealers and gangs, with a hugely publicized attack in 1987 in which a pit bull guarding a marijuana crop in California mauls and kills a two-and-a-half year-old boy.

By the summer of that year, every single proposed ban has become law, but not necessarily with the support of animal professionals. Kent Salazar, head of Albuquerque’s animal control division, commented at the time of their proposed ban on pit bulls that he didn’t think a ban on pit bulls was necessary, saying, “We have all the means to protect people with clauses about vicious dogs.” He also noted that, a few years previously, Doberman pinschers were the target of such bans. His words went unheeded, and Tijeras, New Mexico, just outside of Albuquerque, passes the toughest pit bull ban of the time, allowing animal control officers to seize and destroy them on sight without compensation to the owner.

The various pit bull breed bans are decried by animal control officials as “the most concentrated legal assault on a pit bull they can recall,” as well as “canine racism.” The Houston Chronicle quotes unnamed officials as placing the blame for the problem squarely on humans. “(M)any of the pit bull attacks are due to a skyrocketing number of poorly bred and badly trained dogs raised by backyard breeders, who are trying to cash in on the pit bull’s growing reputation as a cheap, but deadly effective guard dog, particularly in urban areas.”

Nearly thirty-five years after the beginning of this anti-pit bull hysteria, the tide seems to be turning a little bit, but every step forward is followed by a step back. Even as Florida is attempting to overturn all breed-specific legislation, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin is considering imposing a new ban. Yet it only takes a brief look at the history of pit bulls to realize that the dogs are not the problem; the humans who misuse them are. For over a hundred years, holding the owners personally responsible was enough to prevent attacks, and the breed was perceived as very child-friendly. With outreach and education, it may be possible to restore that image and rehabilitate the pit bull’s reputation, restoring an iconic American dog to its rightful place among mankind’s best friends.

Maybe Denver will be a first step back toward the direction of sanity and a reminder: It’s never the dog’s fault. It’s always the human’s.

Photo: The author being viciously mauled by the Dog Whisperer’s pit bull Junior. © 2017 Jon Bastian.

 

Sunday Nibble #39: A short guide to knowing your shit #3

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This one can come on just as strongly as Chocolate Rain and it may even come with sudden cramps. All you know is you’d better get to the facilities stat. You think you have barely enough time before the howitzer fires as you settle onto the pot, brace yourself, and then… nothing.

Okay, maybe a little assistance is required, so you bear down to try to exorcise the demon hiding in your rectum. There’s more rumbling and gurgling and maybe another cramp, so you give it another hard push and then it all comes out for what seems like an hour.

What’s most noticeable about this one is that while you don’t feel anything, you hear a lot. Your butt is now a thundercloud hovering over the upper Mid-West during the worst storm of the season and, while you don’t have lightning shooting out of your rosebud, it sure as heck sounds like you do. The windows rattle and you might even knock a picture or two off of the wall. Your pets have long since gone into hiding, and pity any roommates or loved ones who are in the same building. Did they hear you? Oh yes, they most certainly did and, by now, they can probably also smell you.

“This is going to be a full can of Febreze job,” you think to yourself as your butt-tuba continues to play its solo in your personal Symphony Number Two, First Movement. Perhaps, sloth-like, you won’t even have to poop for a whole week after this one.

At least the sounds on the inside have stopped and so has the cramping, but since this is a full symphony, there are still a few movements to go, broken only by the brief silences between them.

Then, finally, the clouds part and the Sun returns. You can’t wait to see exactly what monstrosity just used your heinie for some base-jumping. So you look in the bowl and there’s nothing. Zilch. Zip. Nada. This movement was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

You expected so much but, alas, ‘twas but a fart.

This is known as The Phantom

* * *
Read the next installment.