Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Take the Awful Existential Weight of the World From My Shoulders, Please!

Today someone asked me about the phrase "The Wrong Monkey," and I explained that I came up with it at a moment when my feelings were hurt because I felt that a clique was snubbing me a little bit. I meant it in the sense of, "I'll show them! I'm the wrong monkey to be snubbing! They'll be sorry!" It was completely empty bluster. I don't believe I ended up showing them anything in particular, but the name "The Wrong Monkey" stuck as an Internet handle, and later also became the name of my blog.

I explained all this, and the lady who'd asked me said that I had told the story in an amusing way, but also apologized for laughing at what she imagined to be a painful episode in my life. I didn't feel it was like that: the pain was slight, brief and long since forgotten, and I got that cool name out of it. This story was almost all upside. But what she said reminded me of some stand-up comics I've known.

I'm not a good stand-up comic. I found this out in the early 1990's when I tried to make a career out of it. Now, I can sometimes be very funny one-on-one: sometimes someone I'm talking to will be amused by what I'm saying, and I'll be able to really feel their amusement, to grab it, and spontaneously keep it going, and growing, and often get that one person laughing so hard they can't stand up any more and they're wheezing and begging me to stop.

What I didn't realize until I finally tried stand-up comedy is that a comic has to do that with an entire group of people at once. Which, for me at least, is a totally different thing. In retrospect, it seems that it shouldn't have surprised me that I can't work a room, because I can't make just anybody laugh -- it's only a few individuals, here and there, now and then. It's not something I can do whenever I want.

So anyway, I worked some comedy clubs, and bombed, and I hung out with some comedians and got to know them a little. And there's a range of personality types among them, but many of the funniest ones are just brutally downbeat offstage, horribly depressed and pessimistic. Now, I've had my battles with depression. But not like these comics. You know that episode of Seinfeldwhere George has started dating a woman who laughs a lot at the things he says, and he asks Jerry not to be funny around her, and Jerry happens to be sitting alone with her in the diner and has just finished a long spiel about how horrible and pointless life is, and she asks him what he does, and he replies, "I'm a comedian!" ? Well, that's especially funny if you know a lot of comics. Funny, because it's true. Offstage, a lot of them could give Bleak Jerry a real run for his horribly-depressed money.

One of the most memorable moments from the time when I failed to make it as a stand-up comic came when I was watching another guy on stage, a much better comic than I'll ever be, a guy who night after night felt the collective funny bone of an entire roomful of people at once and manipulated it unmercifully, made them laugh so hard that they fell out of their seats and cried, the way I can sometimes do with one person, and offstage -- oh my God! That poor guy, you don't wanna know.

The moment I remember was a few seconds into a big laugh he'd gotten. I've long since forgotten the joke he told that got that laugh going. What I remember was what he improvised to make that laugh bigger: he said, "Thank you. Thank you for laughing at my pain."

Okay, that might not seem like such a brilliant thing to say. You may have heard comics say close to the same thing several different times -- maybe exactly the same thing, word for word. Because it's an honest and succinct summing up of what a lot of comics do: bare their horrible anguish for the amusement of the general public.

Because I knew that guy a little bit, I knew how completely sincere he was being when he said that. I think that was when I realized I wasn't going to make it as a comic. Because I wanted to be that kind of comic, but I wasn't nearly unhappy enough.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Back to Nonfiction: the Daily Facepalm

(I'm under no illusion about the immense room for improvement which exists in the state of human things, but sometimes, face to face with the dingbats, with no reason in sight far and wide, I honestly wonder how anything ever gets done. How over 90% of them, those, out there, manage to hold down jobs and own cars or vans and live indoors. I guess it's my autistic-spectrum condition which makes it hard for me to understand how the world functions for most people.

Again: what follows, the non-italicized part, is real unscripted dialogue.Horrifyingly real.)


HER: The letters of Paul were written less than 50 years after the death of Jesus.

ME: No, earlier than that: they were written 50 to 60 years after Jesus' (supposed) BIRTH.

HER: All four of the gospels were written within less than 100 years, with Mark being written at about the time of the fall of the temple in 70 CE.

ME: My understand­ing was that the Gospels were all completed by AD 115. Again, that's 115 years after the BIRTH of Jesus.

(At this point, a simple "Oh yes, of course: after Jesus' BIRTH! How silly of me! Thank you, fellow Huffington Post reader!" would've sufficed. That would've worked just fine.

But NO. Sister had to get all up in a monkey's face.)


HER: How is '50 to 60 years after Jesus' (supposed) BIRTH' any 'earlier' than 'less than 50 years after the death of Jesus'?

ME: If Jesus lived to be 33 years old, then 50 years after his birth was 33 years earlier than 50 years after his death. I'm pretty sure. Does somebody want to check my math? (Anybody? Please!)

HER: Do you want to find a pin so we can argue about the number of angels dancing?

ME: No!

HER: What part of "range" don't you understand­? Why are you quibbling over something that is so totally irrelevant­? Are you sure about that pin and dancing angels invitation­? I think you would relish the event.

(Wrong again! So wrong!

She started out here correcting somebody else's Biblical dates.

I swear, I don't understand how y'all haven't blown it all to bits yet.

Not knowing is not enough to achieve stupidity. Stupidity also demands that you don't want to know. That when someone points out a mistake, you respond with hostility. She didn't just have her dates crunked up: she was correcting someone else's crunked-up dates at the time.

Sheesh.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Draft of a Novel, ch 2, pt 1

And so a protective detail was assigned to Michael, in addition to the one now protecting Giuseppe. It was thought best to separate Michael and Giuseppe for the moment. The most urgent task right now, besides protecting the two of them, was to figure out what Seraphiel wanted with Michael. For the time being Michael was being kept in a dimension not accesible to humans, with a guard of about twenty angels, most ranked higher than Michael and more powerful than him. It was a strong guard, a sign that the situation was being taken seriously. But it was also much simpler than keeping him among the billions of humans, hiding him among them like a needle in a haystack. If anyone had assumed that Michael could possibly have been important enough to the other side for them to start a full-scare war over him, then they would've hidden him among the humans, and kept moving him from place to place. Here the other side could see him and his guard quite plainly.

In such a situation some angels might have been insulted to be held in plain view, in open acknowledgment of their lowly position in the grand scheme of things. Not Michael. He had no illusions about his place in the world. Besides, he was bothered about something else right now: Ellen kept laughing at him. She had been one of the dozen who showed up in Giuseppe's kitchen when he called, she had come with Michael straight from there to here, and ever since his stuttering attack when Giuseppe said that Seraphiel was looking for him, Ellen had not stopped giggling.

Michael liked Ellen. A lot. He was heterosexually oriented, and he had had a big crush on her for about a century now, he just found her to be very, very beautiful and witty and smart and wonderful. He hadn't told her yet about his feelings, but he hadn't been in a relationship with any other female angels in the last century, either. He was taking his time.

And now here she was laughing in his face for being afraid, and mocking his stutter in front of all the other angels. "Uh-eek! Ick! Ack Ook!" she said, holding her side which apparently was starting to hurt now, because she had been laughing so hard for so long. "You sounded just like a character in an old Warner Bothers cartoon, when they start to sputter and babble in fear!" She wiped a tear from her eye. "Aw, don't be cross! It was adorable!" She stepped in close and squeezed his arm and rested her head on his chest as a few last waves of laughter came out of her. And suddenly Michael wasn't annoyed at all anymore, not in the slightest. Now he blushed and was perfectly happy, and felt that his feelings for her must be perfectly obvious to her and to anybody and everybody else who was paying the slightest bit of attention to them, and he didn't care, he wasn't the slightest bit embarrassed any more, only perfectly happy. Just as he had been at many other moments in her presence over the course of the last century.

He didn't know if she felt romantically attracted to him. But it was obvious that she liked him at least a little. She didn't have to spend nearly this much time with him. He put a hand on her back as she rested her forehead on his chest, spent from the laughter, and he kissed her on the top of her head. He had never kissed her lips. He was very happy. She seemed very happy, too. Happy to be with him? or was she just a happy, well-adjusted angel generally? He didn't know, and he wasn't worried about it. Generally speaking he wasn't worried about much when she was around.

Now, to be sure, there was this alarming business with Seraphiel. A recording angel, sent from somewhere up in the higher ranks, was there waiting to interview Michael, to open the investigation officially. He sat down across from Michael, Ellen sat down beside Michael and squeezed his hand reassuringly, the official's eyes went back and forth several times between Michael and Ellen, he looked as if he might be considering asking who she was or asking if he could speak to Michael privately.

Draft of a Novel, ch 1, pt 3

Michael took a few steps through dimensions which people can't see or feel and few people can imagine clearly, and dropped back into our three dimensions down the block from his friend Giuseppe's apartment outside of Rome. Giuseppe seemed to be at home almost all the time, his apartment was usually relatively quiet and dark, Giuseppe rarely entertained and didn't seem to mind when Michael came over, and he had a couch. When Giuseppe let him in Michael headed straight for that couch, and was asleep before Giuseppe could fetch a pillow and a blanket.

When he woke up there was a pillow under his head and a blanket over him. He felt his cheek: the stubble was gone. Giuseppe hadn't shaved him while he slept. The act of sleeping grooms angels. Michael had gone to sleep feeling grimy and unkempt; now he felt clean and neat. Besides his stubbly beard having gone away, his hair was now clean and neatly arranged, and his fingernails were shorter again.

His clothes, however, were of this Earth, and they still bore the funk of his late exhaustion. He heard Giuseppe moving dishes in the kitchen. "Can I get a change of clothes from you?" he called out.

"Of course, my friend. You know you can. You don't have to ask."

"Thank you." Michael went into Giuseppe's bedroom and began to change.

Giuseppe called out, "Just put your dirty things in the hamper, like before."

"No. I think this time I'll take them with me and throw them away in a dumpster. Trust me, I don't think you want them, they're past washing." Michael put the dirty clothes in a bundle in the hall outside the apartment door. Stretching luxuriously in Giuseppe's fresh clean clothes, he came into the kitchen and asked, "How long was I out?"

"About twelve hours."

"No."

"Yes. You arrived a couple of hours before I went to bed, and I've been up again for a while."

"Well, I feel wonderful."

And then he perceived that Giuseppe, on the other hand, did not feel well at all. Whatever the problem was, Giuseppe did not seem inclined to talk about it, or to let Michael see that he was upset. Instead he said, "I'm having coffee, will you join me?"

"No, thanks." They both were silent for a while, until Michael said, "C'mon. I can see auras. I'm empathic to a certain degree. It's my job to know when people are troubled. Are you going to tell me what's wrong, or make me spend five minutes figuring it out myself?"

Giuseppe would not meet Michael's gaze. Finally he said, "Seraphiel was here to visit me."

Angels' bodies are different from ours, they're much more durable in most ways, immensely impervious to heat and cold, for example, but an angel can still shiver from fright. Sometimes, if they're very afraid, they'll even stutter a little. "N... Nuh... nu-nu-nu... ayyehh. eh-eh-eh, " Michael said. He could feel his pulse pounding in his ears and his throat and his chest and his legs. He took a minute to calm himself, and then asked Giuseppe, "Ssss-Ssss-Seraphiel of Toledo, you mean? Seraphiel from Spain? Was here in this apartment?"

"Yes."

"But you're not at all inclined to..." As with some humans, moral relativism had spread among some angels. Michael was generally inclined to speak of the practical, concrete implications of given actions, and not to use words like "evil," which traditionally had been applied to this Seraphiel, who was named after the first Seraph and who had been causing trouble in Spain for several thousand years, was rumoured to know Satan personally, who according to some was part of the original Legion who followed Satan out of Heaven, Seraphiel who was seven feet tall and very thin and wiry and had a greasy black pointed beard and fangs, actual fangs like a vampire...

It was rumoured that Seraphiel had not slept in more than three thousand years.

Michael called out the news, and in the twinkling of an eye a dozen angels were crowded into Giuseppe's tiny kitchen. "We'll protect you, " Michael told Giuseppe. "We will guard you."

"I know you will," Giuseppe said.

There was something Giuseppe still had not said. This still did not make sense at all. As Michael had been about to say, Giuseppe was not at all inclined to the sort of thing Seraphiel had to offer: material riches and power, mostly, to be given to those humans willing to follow Satan and Seraphiel and others on their side, and to engage in treachery and violence, to fight and distress their fellow human on behalf of these disgusting, dirty angelic beasts. Giuseppe was one of those rare humans would could see angels on both sides, but he saw the Satanic ones only out of curiosity and the desire for knowledge, not because he was tempted to work for them. And so, conversely, an angel like Seraphiel would not be tempted to waste his time on Giuseppe. Finally, Michael got Giuseppe to meet his gaze. "What am I missing here?" he asked.

"Seraphiel wasn't here for me, " Giuseppe said. "He was looking for you."

Ittuh.. ittuh, Fffff... ffff... Ahhh, yahhh.... N-, nnn-, nn-, n..."

Chapter 2, Part 1

Friday, April 1, 2011

Draft of a Novel, ch 1, pt 2

"Can I ask you a few questions before you go?"

"Sure."

"What's your name?"

"Michael."

"Oh my. Are you the Archangel Michael?"

Michael laughed. "No. No, no, no. I'm quite a few ranks below the Archangels. In fact, I can't remember whether I've ever actually seen an Archangel."

"So, were you named after the Archangel?"

"Yes, I was. A lot of angels are named Michael. A lot of us are named Gabriel, and there are a lot of Raphaels und Uriels and Remiels, too."

"So, there are seven Archangels?"

"Twenty-five, at least. Sorry, I'm bad with numbers, I don't know the exact number. But it's a lot more than seven now. There were seven for a few centuries, and then more got promoted."

"How many angels are there altogether?'

"There are thousands who are based here on Earth."

"Based on Earth -- do you mean that there are others on other planets?"

"Who knows? I don't. You humans, you wonder whether there are creatures like you on other planets, and we angels, we wonder too."

"So you're not all-knowing?"

"No, no! Not even close!" Michael rubbed the stubble on his chin nervously, hoping she wasn't going to ask him any questions about God.

"But you knew about me and Joe."

"It's our job to help people out, to the best of our ability. Really, people can help each other about as well as we help people. They just, um... They just don't, sometimes. People can see that you and Joe would be a good couple. Another human could've given you a little nudge toward each other like I just did. But nobody was taking care of that, so it came down to me."

"Well, thank you very much."

"It's my pleasure, really. Always glad to be of some use."

"So, are you a Cupid?"

"No. no, just a regular all-purpose angel."

"Heh. Yeah, I thought you looked a little big for that. So, where are your wings?"

"Ah, that's a very common misconception. We don't have wings. There are creatures from other mythologies that have wings. Ancient Egyptian deities, Mesopotamian beings. People started to assume that we do too."

"You said mythologies. Do those Egyptian and Mesopotamian creatures exist?"

"I don't know. All I can tell you for sure is that I can't remember ever seeing any of them. Or any Cupids, either."

"I see."

"But speaking as a creature that's often said not to exist, I'm hesitant to jump to the conclusion that someone else is purely imaginary. If you see what I mean."

"Sure. Why jump to conclusions? So you get around pretty much like we humans do?"

"No, we have some advantages there. Do you know about Stephen Hawking?"

"British physicist, confined to a wheelchair, frequent guest-voice on 'The Simpsons'?"

"That's the guy. And you know about how he discovered wormholes?"

"But wormholes were theorized long before Hawking."

"Oh. Oh. Sounds like maybe you know more about it than I do. So, a wormhole is like a shortcut in time-space?"

"Right."

"Well, we angels have all sorts of shortcuts, compared to humans, because we travel in more than three dimensions. I'm sorry, I'm not good at physics. I don't know if this has anything to do with wormholes. But we can take a couple of steps in other dimensions, and in three-dimensional terms, we've traveled thousands of miles."

"I get the idea. Are all angels male?"

"No, about half are male, half female, like you humans."

"Do you you mate like we do?"

"No, it's a little different with us."

"Do you eat?"

"That's a little different, too. We don't have to eat. If one of us eats something, it's usually just because we're curious about how it tastes."

"Do you sleep?"

"Sometimes we do."

"It just occurs to me, I'm gabbing away at you, and you look beat. You really look like you need some rest. I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize. It's my pleasure, really. Don't think for one second that humans are the only ones who get something out of exchanges like this."

She came up to Michael and laid a hand on his, and they both sighed with pleasure at the touch. Yes, these encounters were good for the angels, too. "Okay," she said. "But get some rest now, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Chapter 1, Part 3