Archives for December 2010

“We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen.”

This Christmas, the pope is thinking about evil.

Ricky Gervais does not believe in God.

And now we know just why:

“But anyway, there I was happily drawing my hero [Jesus] when my big brother Bob asked, ‘Why do you believe in God?’ Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. ‘Bob,’ she said in a tone that I knew meant, ‘Shut up.’ Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said.

Oh…hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist.

Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution -– a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us –- with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.”

The odd thing is that evolution should produce a believing animal at all. Or one that is unhappy even when every felt need is met.

Monday Morning At The Mini-Mart

Here’s my submission in response to JOB’s call for fiction. This story was published about five years ago in the now defunct literary magazine Letter X.

One Monday morning I walked into the food mart of a nearby garage and gas station, carrying an opened container of canola oil margarine. The reason for this must remain somewhat obscure, as an absolutely truthful account of anything must remain an impossible ideal … and yet an account must be given, and if other versions should be rendered later – added, collected, sworn to, whatever – we should all bear in mind that to the first version must always go some special acknowledgement or preference. Perhaps “deference” is not too strong a word.

‘Why,’ one might ask, ‘must these reasons remain obscure?’

‘Because,’ I would respond, ‘explanations are overrated.’

‘But you’re the one who started this little story,’ one might protest.

‘And now you have interrupted it,’ I would then be forced to interject.

‘But what about the other…’ one might try to add, before trailing off into a hollow whisper …

At any rate, I can say with near total certainty that I was holding the lid onto the tub with my two thumbs rather than sealing it shut. Perhaps I was looking for jam, but I emphasize that earlier I had left the lid at least partially open. I say all this to point out that my original intentions were certainly pure. And they remain, at least in their essentials, honest. I also realize that one might possibly assume that the lid just hadn’t been fastened to the tub by an overzealous machine on a speedy conveyer belt. Some of those plastic lids can be fairly tricky affairs, I must admit. I myself have some difficulty with the second largest of my own Simple Snap locking plastic containers. But, I hasten to add, not once have I had the least bit of difficulty with one of those margarine containers. Not once. Not the brand I buy.

So there I was, standing in front of the cooling shelves, or whatever they’re called. You know the kind I’m kind I’m referring to here: slightly refrigerated and yet open. What I mean to say is, without a door. So that something could just fall in there, as it were; dropped perhaps, by someone distracted by one of the many beer advertisements on display, or even just looking over at the register to see how long the line is. But not before noticing with some dismay that there were no other tubs of butter substitute to be had. It was at this point, standing by the open refrigerator bin, that I realized I’d left something at home. Possibly it was a question of whether or not I had enough jam. Or maybe my own refrigerator door had been left ajar. Maybe it was a pot of water boiling on the stove, I really don’t remember. What I did not do was lose my nerve, because I most certainly was not stealing.

I ran out the door, jumped into my car, and drove off to check on the amount of jam remaining, or turn off the stove, or whatever it was that needed taking care of. I might have though about having my toast without butter substitute, but no, damn it, I’d already paid and I intended to have that toast exactly the way I like it. When I’d finished I drove straight back to the garage in only slightly less haste than I’d driven off in moments before. I specifically remember stopping once at a traffic light. I specifically remember looking away from that traffic light to search around the interior of my car. At that moment I wasn’t exactly sure why I did this, but I did. Then, in a flash of insight not unlike those dreams in which one realizes one has walked onto the playground without any pants on, I remembered it all too clearly. I’d left it, dropped it actually, right where I was standing, leaving it amidst the cold cuts and the wine and whatever provisions they always keep in those open refrigerator bins. And since I’d already observed that no other tubs were available, there was but one simple question with which I confronted myself: Would it still be there when I returned?

When I got back to the gas station I parked my car in front of the unlit garage, dark and mysterious as any cave on a deserted island. I paused outside the door before going in, looking through the glass wall at the man behind the cash register, who for the moment was busy with a short line of customers.

And how short was that line?

Well, it was much shorter, actually. Very much shorter indeed.

Rather than explain why I’d come to retrieve a tub of margarine I’d left in his cooling bin I decided I would just dart in and grab it – assuming it was still there – and dart out again while he was helping the next person in line. I went in, I looked down, it was still there. Just as I’d dropped it, with that lid raised and slightly off kilter on one side. I grabbed it, turned to leave, and made straight for the door. The store seemed much more crowded at this point. The door closed behind me, the bells were still ringing in my ears, and then again I looked under the lid to check for contents I already knew were missing. My mistake was in glancing back into the store after I’d made it outside. I looked to see if I’d been noticed, looked back at the man at the register, and then discovered that I certainly had been noticed. He glared back at me with a face that expressed both confusion and anger, and then mouthed the words ‘Get back in here!’ I did. Once inside the door I held onto the tub of margarine with both hands and explained that I’d simply retrieved this tub that I’d accidentally dropped there just a few minutes earlier.

‘How do I know it’s yours?’ he asked, or rather said, pointedly. ‘We have that same brand.’

‘Indeed you do.’ I said, ‘I’ve bought some here many times before, but not this one. Or what I mean is, not this time. It still has fork marks in it.’

This last, desperate, defiant remark despite my deepest shame. And I was ready to show those marks, if circumstances required, and circumstances certainly did require, and already I had taken off the lid and was extending the tub with an outstretched arm when he then made it clear that there was no need for a display, no need for any further discussion at all, and there I was, still holding the tub out at arm’s length as he averted his eyes, even closed them, turning his head slightly, turning it towards the refrigerator bin, and then, then I knew that I had to put my margarine back.

I stood there knowing I’d lost and yet not knowing what to do next. I couldn’t bring myself to return the tub. It was patently ridiculous to leave an open container of butter substitute from which one full third of the contents had already been forked onto someone’s morning toast. There could be crumbs inside. There most certainly were crumbs inside. What would the next customer think? And no, there is no guarantee that next customer would be me. Possibly? Yes. Probably? Maybe. Certainly? Absolutely not.

By this time I’d gotten the attention of the rest of the people there – a couple of customers and a few employees, one beefy garage attendant in particular, wearing a blue muslin jacket and rolling his shoulders over a broom. I didn’t know what to do, I was stuck, and I felt the warm flush of tears rising inside me like a vase under a fast flowing faucet. I realized only then that the clerk wanted me to pay for the tub, and this I simply would not do. I started crying. Whether or not those tears were in the end forced I cannot say, but it is clear to me even now that they were abundantly available. They made not the least little impression on the man behind the counter. The mechanic in blue obviously thought I was being ridiculous, and grinned at me wildly as I slowly walked the margarine back over to the open bin.

I stacked the container on top of some cold cuts. Disease-ridden, most likely. But with that lid merely placed. Not fastened. No one else should suffer what I have suffered.

I turned back towards the people in the mini-mart. Tears of hot shame were still streaming down my cheeks as I faced them, for I wanted them to see me, no longer ashamed of my shame, as if abject weakness might somehow prove victorious in the end. It did not. The clerk, believing his word was truly final, was implacable as ever, already assisting the next customer in line, already heedless of any presence of mine. After glancing over at me once or twice as I stood by the door, the mechanic went back to his simple chore, shuffling his steps as he swept the floor.

I stood there sobbing while everybody looked away.

I stood by the door, and one by one they shuffled past me: a pack of cigarettes was stuffed into a shirt pocket, a candy bar was freed from its wrapper, and a wallet was slipped into a back pocket, accompanied by a dismissive shake of the head. Nobody understood. Everybody left.

Leaving me.

Dept. of Belated Introductions

So the other day we had a couple of posts by one J.B. Toner, without so much as a by-your-leave or a couple of ten-spots on the dresser. This is entirely the fault of the management, which is a fancy way of saying me, since I’ve known the guy ever since he sent me a bunch of his poetry and his novella The Bent World (which eventually mushroomed into the full-blown Bent Universe) lo these many years ago. It was a careening little book, and included some scenes which have stayed with me ever after. Here is one of the reviews of The Bent Universe from Amazon:

“This is a fun and deeply probing read. Toner challenges you in ways you never thought possible, while teaching you the finer points of whiskey and vulgarity. It had me laughing, crying, and asking for more when it was all over.”

Hoo! Welcome aboard!

It’s a Book!

I wrote a (very short) review!

Tron: Legacy gets the capsule treatment.

Is It an App or Is It a Book?

“Blurring the line between apps and books.” Hmm…. House of Words, the app? The Korrektiv [Press?] App Store? The wheels do turn.

Poets, Fictionists, Start Your Engines…!

This story has got legs….

Just no head or arms….

Up Next, the Media Burp That Was Three Mile Island…

I remember growing up with Ed Asner being invited to speak at journalism schools because as Lou Grant he was considered an expert on journalism. We’ve become a vicarious nation – but sometimes The Truth, as Chaucer said of murder, will out…

Erin’s day in court gets its own day in court…

And speaking of cinematic fantasies, bonus! Take it away, Mr. Tucker…

The Pannacotta Incident

Mario watched Luigi, the head chef of “Al Dolci Funghi,” place the plate in front of him. Holding his three fingers together and kissing them to Luigi as tears of joy welled in his eyes, Mario took his handgun from the holster slung under his left arm and, wiping the tears from his cheeks, shot Luigi with lethal accuracy – once in the left eye and once in the right.
He hated pannacotta but hated even more the fact that Luigi had been fucking his wife for the last month. Soon after discovering this fact, rather than confronting his wife, Mario had a little conversation with her about his favorite desserts….
“I’d say my reservations were confirmed, Luigi,” Mario said, dropping the plate on Luigi’s eyeless face as he walked past his corpse for the exit.

Speaking of Fiction

I just came across this Twitterer from Texas who tweets “very short stories” i.e. 140 characters or less. VeryShortStory. Here’s a sample:

I stabbed the pencil into the robot’s eye and rolled over. The pleasure-bot had done it’s job, but I didn’t want it watching me sleep.

Worth taking a look at.

Guest Post from J.B. Toner: LIFE IS AN RPG


No, not a rocket-propelled grenade. A role-playing game. And don’t worry—I don’t mean that society forces us to wear masks, or that nobody understands our inner children, or anything that would rightly cause you to shake me by the lapels. I mean, literally, an RPG. Like Dungeons & Dragons, or the Legend of Zelda. Please, allow me to explain.

Everyone has noticed that when our fair Lord walked among us, He constantly spoke in metaphors. “The Kingdom of Heaven may be likened to. . .” Part of the reason, of course, is that Heaven is beyond our present comprehension—the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard. But I believe another part of the reason is simply that, here on earth, literally everything is a metaphor for literally everything else. Birds are a metaphor for music, and vice versa. Moonlight is a metaphor for love, and vice versa. A quiet death offered to Christ in peace, is a metaphor for the charge of the Light Brigade—and vice versa. Christ is Christ, but He’s also you and every person you’ll meet today. One of the reasons we’re driven to write so much poetry is that each thing is itself (A is always A); but it also represents everything else, and that’s too confusing to be expressed except through poetry.

So, life is an RPG. I bring this up because it comes to my attention that people are bored sometimes. This is madness. Life on earth is very often sorrowful or harrowing, but it’s never boring. Consider the fact that you voluntarily play RPGs for fun, in order to be entertained. Well: we know that our daily lives are holy, that God walks among the pots and pans; but I call your attention, sir or madam, to the fact that our daily lives are also tremendously entertaining if we simply perceive that we ourselves are heroes.

We have clear missions to unlock. You’ve graduated high school? Ding! You went up a level. College? Ding! Up a level. (Note that the challenges get successively harder, just like in the game.) Put your children through school without them running away to the circus? Ding! Each day we have optional side quests. Give five bucks or your sandwich to the homeless guy. Ching: you’ve gained XP (or grace points, as I like to call them). Read some G.K. Chesterton. Ching: +2 bonus to your Wisdom rating. We get quest items. New pair of glasses? Bloop: new item in inventory. New watch? Bloop: new item in inventory.

We take these things for granted because we’ve grown up around them and we see them all the time. But imagine if we could really step from total non-existence into the life that we have right now. Who needs elves and goblins? We live on a giant rock hurtling through space, where waters fall from the sky and billions of people live lives that are all pretty much the same and yet somehow, super-rationally, are at the same time all wildly different. Just breathing is a crazy adventure. Where does all this air come from? Well—it’s part of the campaign setting. So take a new look at the world around us. Shake up your 20-sided dice and get ready for some random monster encounters. God put you here to be a hero, and it’s time to start your day.

Guest Post from J.B. Toner: DEATH


The wage of sin, the price of Adam’s fall–
All right, I’ve sinned, you reading this have sinned,
We’ll pay our debt, blood, suffering, and all:
Our souls to God, our bodies to the wind.
Death follows life, so be it, life will end,
But Christ, dear Christ, the doctors kill our young,
The doctors, doctors, murder, cut, and rend,
Before our children ever see the sun.
They move, they feed, they kick, they sleep and dream,
They live, they live, they live within the womb–
They cannot beg for life, they cannot scream,
And so we leave them to their birthless doom;
But how unfair and sorrowful it seems
To lay the sinless in a sinful tomb.

Today in Porn, Playboy’s Tron Pron Edition

Le Sigh. This is all over the Internet this morning.

Mark Shea throws some link love our way!

Elegy for Venantius

It is my late brother in law Venantius’ feast day today.

Elegy for Venantius

Darkness came early to October’s light,
The hour we woke to pray your coming home
With your soul intact, translated by night.

Sisters, he loved you so, and saw to it.
His tavern heart lit by late lantern’s flame,
Darkness came early to October’s light.

Brother, he was more a brother than what
His sad absence declared; he gave a good damn
With his soul intact, translated through night.

Papa, his labor would never say straight out
The back work that cleared our dark paths; all the same
Darkness came early to October’s light.

Mama, dead before him, his spine is not right;
Take your son, his quiet presence passing time
With a soul intact, translated from night.

You died, brother, without sense to come out
Of the rain. Dry out and sleep now. You’re home
With your soul intact. Translated as night,
Darkness came early to October’s light.

We sat by firelight, speech smudged by many beers
That July evening your sister married.
You watched sparks mingle with summer stars
Mined out of forest darkness and carried

On your quiet thoughts, embers floating up
To the toad-sung woods inside your head.
Then I shut up, knew not to interrupt
The croaking darkness to which you had fled.

But what you heard could not brook what I didn’t:
You would see your last autumn burn through trees,
It’s earthly light too early, too resplendent
With bitter smoke and flagrant obsequies.

Our souls intact, translated to night,
Darkness came early to October’s light.
– 1999

A Good Response to the New Yorker…

Today in Porn, Just One More Edition.

That’s it. I promise. At least until 2011.

The rock band The Police relased the album Outlandos d’Amour in 1978. “Be My Girl – Sally” was the record’s penultimate track, a spoken-word piece about a man’s discovery of sexual fulfilment via an inflatable doll. The only sung parts came at the beginning and end, lead singer Sting’s icy tenor tripping merrily over the words:

Won’t you be my girl
Won’t you be my girl
Won’t you be my, be my, be my girl
Won’t you be my girl
Won’t you be my girl
Won’t you be my, be my, be my girl

These romantic pleadings sharply countered the attitude of the narrator, who wanted “somewhere to place affection,” but who “didn’t want a wife.” It was very neatly done, and catchy enough that when the creators of the world’s most realistic love doll started looking for a name, BeMyGirl was not long in coming to mind.

The name was the easy part; everything before had been the fruit of hard work. As they noted in their website, BeMyGirl’s creators had used Hollywood-caliber special-effects technology in creating their love dolls, and had spared no effort or expense. Superstrong, ultra-flexible silicone had been used for the flesh; PVC and steel joints made up the skeleton. The creators had even developed specialized silicones where BeMyGirl had required them: a cured, leak-proof gel for the breasts; and a softer, stretchier, gently textured version for the vaginal and anal cavities.

They were conscious of the astonishing particularity which men gave to their fantasies, and they sought to attend to the possible variations of every pertinent detail. The dolls were available in six body types, ranging from petite (5’1”, 90 pounds, 34A-22-34) to voluptuous (5’10”, 120 pounds 38DD-26-36), with stops at athletic (34B) and breast-enhanced (34E) dancer in between. Customers could choose from ten heads, ten wigs, five skin tones, six eye colors, four shades of eye shadow, four shades and three thicknesses of eyeliner, six shades of lipstick, five shades of nail color, and three shades and three styles (shaved, trimmed, natural) of pubic hair. Vaginal, anal, and oral entries were standard on all dolls.

The result was nothing short of remarkable. The website enumerated BeMyGirl’s virtues: elastic, heat resistant, water resistant, stain resistant, durable, lifelike with a realistic feel, odorless and flavorless, flexible, sexy and pleasurable, safe, convenient, relaxing and comforting, and affordable. This last was naturally a relative term – at nearly six thousand dollars (plus $450 shipping), BeMyGirl was not the sort of love doll you picked on a whim up at your local adult toy store. She was a lifetime investment, a long-term onsite sex partner. Financial plans had to be made – could you afford her? Would you have to save up? (BMG, Inc. did not accept credit cards) And would she be worth it?

That was the real trouble, deciding if her affections were worth the expense. What if you got her home and discovered that the sex was bad? You wouldn’t buy a car before taking it for a test drive, and like a car, BeMyGirl was non-returnable. You could read enthusiastic letters from satisfied customers on the website, but of course they would say she was the best they ever had – they would never admit they had paid over six thousand dollars for bad sex. The creators had sought to solve the problem by offering a BeMyGirl torso – waist, hips, ass, vaginal and anal entries – for fifteen hundred dollars. If you later purchased a full-body BeMyGirl, you got a five hundred dollar discount. But it was still a hefy initial outlay, and the part was not the whole, not by a long shot.

Business was good, but it could be better – of that, the creators were certain. They had gotten good press; reporters, despite all their rhapsodizing about the comparative joys of “real” sex, could be counted on to fondle a breast and insert an investigative finger here and there, usually with positive results. What they needed, however, was a test facility, a place where the people who might be interested in actually purchasing BeMyGirl could try her out, get to know her, fall in love. What they needed was BMG Suites.

Compared to the production facility, getting the Suites started had been a nightmare. There had been zoning troubles (“No, no. There will be beds, but it’s not going to be a hotel.”) and troubles with the business license (“You’re planning on charging people a hundred bucks a pop to do what?”). And despite their financial success to date, there had even been troubles in securing the small business loan:
“Frankly, we’re not sure anyone’s going to buy what you’re selling. If a person was willing to spend a hundred dollars for sex, wouldn’t they pursue the, ahem, real thing?”

“But don’t you see? Paying for the real thing is illegal. We’re trying to attract potential BeMyGirl customers. Our research shows these aren’t the kind of people who are comfortable breaking the law. They’re not transgressors; they’re not that bold. They tend to be very private about these sorts of things; they value discretion. BeMyGirl is nothing if not discreet, and one-hundred percent legal to boot.”

“But if they value discretion, why would they venture out to your establishment at all?”

“Have you even looked at our business plan? Our blueprints? They drive out to a standard unmarked tilt-up in the middle of North County Industrial Parkland. Odds are, no one will even see them arrive, and even if they did, there’s no hint of anything shameful. They pull into a garage with an automatic opener; no one sees them leave their car. We schedule appointments so they don’t run into anybody else coming or going. Sure, we videotape them for security purposes, but we don’t make a big deal about it – most guys won’t even know we’re there. Half an hour later, they drive away, and nobody’s the wiser.”

As it happened, the Suites were a bigger hit than they had ever imagined possible. Apparently, a lot of guys were interested enough to cough up the hundred bucks per visit, but not ready to commit to the full six grand. Maybe they were hung up on the idea of having a love doll around the house – what if Mom came over? Maybe they liked the variety that the Suites provided there were six rooms, each featuring a different body type. Maybe they didn’t want to admit to themselves that they were willing to drop six thousand dollars for simulated sex – no doubt piecemeal, it didn’t seem to hurt as much. Or maybe they just couldn’t afford it; not accepting credit cards for BeMyGirl purchases was turning out to be a stroke of genius.

They did, however accept credit cards for the Suites. Everything was handled via the Internet, rather like an online travel agency. You entered your destination (i.e., Room 3) and desired date and time, selected from the available options, booked your reservation and entered your credit card. An electronic receipt was then automatically sent to your email address; it gave directions to the Suites and outlined BMG, Inc’s policies and procedures. Among the legal disclaimers – BMG, Inc. was not responsible if you somehow injured yourself during your session, though they did perform a thorough cleaning and sterilization between each customer’s visit – there was a clause that stated, in effect, “You break it, you buy it.” This was necessary because it turned out that some of the boys could get more than a little rough – nothing drives like a rental.

Business was booming. They added more garage space, scheduling appointments at staggered times so that the discreet could still maintain the illusion of solitude. They hired a security guard to watch the monitors in an effort defuse “situtations” before any damage was done. They installed computers in the Suites, so that happy customers could request “overtime.” Overtime was any time beyond the standard half-hour appointment, and could be requested as long as nobody was being kept waiting. (Overtime ran on a meter, and at half again the initial rate, but a lot of guys didn’t seem to mind.) And in an effort to reach out beyond the browsers who entered “love doll” into their search engines, they started advertising. That was how they found Francis.