A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Saturday, July 28, 2012


I knew a guy who couldn't stop smiling. Seriously. He couldn't not smile. It's like his lips were permanently twisted upward in this sort-a-grin. It made everyone think that he was laughing about something, or just being nice. Everyone liked him because, well, how could you not like someone who was smiling all the time? There was something wrong with him.

His name was Otha and we met for the first time at the Foxhead. I'd just finished playing a show at the Mill and wandered over with W and Z. They started playing a game of pool and then this guy in slacks and a button-up, black shirt walked over to me saying that he'd seen the show and liked it.

"So, you're Pete Doherty," he said.

"I'm not that Pete Doherty," I snapped. Fuck that guy.

"I didn't think you were," he said. That's when I noticed he was smiling. He probably was smiling before I noticed, too, but I didn't notice. So, maybe he wasn't. I'll never know, just like pretty much everything else.

"I'm Otha."

"What the hell kind of name is Otha?"

"It's my name."

Then I smiled. "Catch-22," I said and didn't expect him to get the joke, but maybe he did because, well, he was still smiling. Then S walked up to me.

"I didn't know you were in town?" S said. He was wearing his tattered old brown leather jacket and looked ill.

"You never know I'm in town!" I said. And it's true, he never does.

"Because you're never in town," he muttered.

"If you just checked the damn website..."

"Or you could just fucking call me."

"Should I call you every time?" S is needy. He misses people. I sometimes think that he doesn't realize the world works without him.

"It'd be nice and infrequent. You're never in town. Did you just play a show?"

"Yeah, at the Mill."

"What's your band's name now?"

"Johnnie Licking Omar."

"You're serious?" Then he noticed Otha. I chuckled when he took a step back. "Oh, hi," he said.

S invited us back to the house around the corner. There was a party, he said, and it would be fun. So, after the drink, we all walked over, across the street, through Dirty John's parking lot and to the house on the corner. Otha followed. I wasn't surprised and, since S didn't object, didn't mind.

"So, what do you do?" Otha asked S.

"What do I do?" S asked, looking at him strangely. He was always doing that, looking at people strangely. "I breathe? I walk? I'm a student. I don't do much. What do you do?"

"I'm a traveler."

"A traveler?"

"I'm a travel writer."

That got S's attention. "A travel writer. What are you doing in Iowa City?" he asked.

"You repeat people a lot. And I'm just passing through."

"That's why everyone's in Iowa," S muttered. "But, seriously."

"I'm crashing with a friend. This is supposed to be a great party school and I wanted to see it."

The party was a gathering of about ten of S's friends. There was pizza baking in the oven and we walked in just as Waking Life was winding down. I knew some of the people there, they were acquaintances, people that I would talk to on the street. The place looked like every Iowa City apartment I had ever seen: old, off-white plaster, filled with character and scars from previous student crashers.

After the movie finished we all got drinks from the kitchen, PBR, and went out to the iron fire escape to smoke. All ten of us. S wondered what would happen if it fell and I asked him what would happen? Two of S's friends were conversing in French. They were majoring and had just returned from a year abroad. Otha joined in the conversation and I lost them for a while.

A few minutes later, one of the French majors switched over to English. "What's that phrase in French for the desire to jump off a cliff when you're standing at the edge?"

"L'appel du vide," said the other. "I love that they have a phrase for that."

"The French are all drama queens," Otha said.

The first French major turned to him, "Oh, you're English is excellent."

"Well, I'm glad," he said. "because that's my first language."

"But, you're French," said the second.

"No, I'm American."

"You're fucking with us," said the second. "You just talked about going to school in Lyon."

"I did. But I'm American."

"You're accent is great," continued the second, "but you don't have to pretend."

"No, seriously, I'm American. Look, I have a driver's license."

They argued for about ten minutes until finally the two French majors agreed that he must be American. The party lasted for hours after that. We talked about music and hipsters, all of them agreeing that, no, they couldn't be hipsters.

At the end of the night, as everyone was leaving, Otha and I walked down the stairs together. "Hey," he said over his shoulder, "you need a keyboardist?"

"What?" I said.

"For Johnnie Licking Omar?"

"Yeah, sure. But aren't you leaving town, like, tomorrow?"

"Nah, I'm staying for a bit."

He was still smiling like he was just remembering a joke. "So," I said. "Are you really American?"

"No. And I'm not French either." He waved and walked off. And that's how Otha joined the band.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Colleagues, Acquaintances Suspect Mark Zuckerberg Is Masked Vigilante

[A tribute to the Onion.]

Palo Alto – Mayor Patrick Burt reiterated his standing order for the immediate arrest of the local masked vigilante known popularly as "the Faceless." Some see this as an election-time political move to better position himself to win the hardliner vote.

Since 2004, the Faceless, has been fighting crime on the streets of the once anarchic Palo Alto to the vexation of elected officials. All attempts to enforce arrest the vigilante have been unsuccessful for close to six years.  Though no public accusations have been made, many residents believe that the Faceless is none other than the CEO and founder of Facebook, multi-millionaire playboy Mark Zuckerberg.

To residents of Palo Alto, the city was, until quite recently, a den of fear and violence.  By day, the city was just another dirty American urban area filled with abandoned and burned-out shells of buildings and suffering from a weak government's inability to maintain law and order.  At night, Palo Alto was a war zone.  The under-equipped, woefully under-staffed Palo Alto police force used to have the highest mortality rate in the country.  Fire fights, arson, car jacking, rape, murder and burglary were all common up until six years ago.

In 2004, residents reported seeing a man who "moved like a ninja and swore like a pirate," dressed in a white, featureless outfit, intervening in crimes as they took place.  Arrests skyrocketed as bludgeoned would-be offenders were found on the steps of the police station bound and gagged with incriminating evidence on their persons.  The appearance of the vigilante, who local papers christened the Faceless, coincided with Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg's relocation to Palo Alto.

"He loves Palo Alto, no matter how much of a dump and a haven to miscreants it is," fellow founder and share holder, Dustin Masowitz said.  "When we first moved here, we saw this guy get mugged right outside our house.  He took it really badly and wouldn’t stop muttering about somebody who raised him getting shot and how it was all his fault."  Mr. Masowitz seemed to lose himself in silent contemplation for a moment and then continued, "But he couldn't be the Faceless.  I mean, you saw The Social Network.  He's a sociopath. I know the guy."

Indeed a great deal of public disgust has been directed at Mr. Zuckerberg in the wake of the blockbuster The Social Network, which critics are calling a "defining film" of the millennial generation.  Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer said, "You could tell it really hurt him, to be villainized like that."

"But, you know, it's funny," said Sandberg, "I was walking by his office late one night a few years ago and I thought I heard him say on the phone, 'Mr. Mezrich, I want you to write a book.'  After that movie came out I saw him on the street looking at one of the posters and I could have sworn I heard him say something like, 'This is my burden' and then he started quoting The Iliad." She added, "He does that, sometimes."

Acquaintances of Mr. Zuckerberg have reported similar strange incidents and capricious behavior.  Many say he is a skilled martial artist and frequently makes pilgrimages to JapanChina and Tibet to receive training, but he always publicly dismisses these excursions as business trips.  Though his affairs with super models and actresses are famous, Mr. Maskovitz said he has often heard Mr. Zuckerberg longingly whispering "Diaspora," the name of a local super-villainess.

Eduardo Saverin, another of Facebook's co-founders, said in an interview that he believes he that Mr. Zuckerberg never sleeps, though "He naps through board meetings, he never seems to go home except when he's throwing some party."

Friends have said that as much as Mr. Zuckerberg is dedicated to Facebook, he has a passionate, though muted obsession with justice.  His library is filled with Greek and Latin classics, in addition to comic books, Sir Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe and social philosophy.

Most peculiar of all is Mr. Zuckerberg's tendency to disappear suddenly when the ":(" beacon flashes in the sky.

"I was sitting in his office late talking to him about the ConnectU lawsuit," Mr. Saverin said, "and I looked away for a moment.  When I looked back he was gone.  The window was open, but his office is ten stories up…"

The beacon,  popularly known as "the frowny face," is mounted on the Palo Alto police station.  Chief of police Dennis Burns, who has often been accused of being lax in his efforts to arrest the vigilante, has refused to comment on the Faceless or the beacon.

Attempts to reach Mr. Zuckerberg for an interview were unsuccessful. This reporter went to the Zuckerberg mansion, a sprawling, gaudy estate, and was told by Zuckerberg's English butler that the owner was at a tennis tournament. After leaving the grounds, night fell and the "frowny face" could be seen against the cloudy sky. This reporter saw a blurry, faceless figure leap across the rooftops, going toward the city.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


When asked after the incident, both Seth Lax and Marian Kolchek said that they knew someone was going to get shot that day. Neither of them knew each other before July 12th, 2012. In fact, they only met five minutes before they stood on the Hennepin Avenue bridge with two guns pointed at them.

Lax doesn't believe in fate or luck or premonitions or anything with the slightest twinge of the supernatural. "There's nothing that isn't in this world," Lax said. He is well read and has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) where he wrote his thesis on George Berkeley. He is a semi-truck driver for a big box store chain and on the hours, days, and months he spends on the road he listens to books on tape.

On July 12th, a Thursday, he wasn't listening to a book on tape, but instead to an album his girlfriend had given him for his birthday. It was The Black Keys' Brothers, which he didn't much care for. It was loud enough, anyway, with a good blues rhythm that made sixty miles an hour pass in a hazy beat.

He was tired. He hadn't been able to sleep the night before. "St. Louis," he said, "something about St. Louis makes it so I can't sleep. I always end up in that city over night."

Lax has never spent more than eight hours in St. Louis. He has never felt compelled to see the town. To him, it's just a delivery destination or an interstate hub, but never a place to see. Small college towns are more his style, places just big enough for character and with very little traffic that deserved the name.

Like every other St. Louis night, Lax hadn't slept well. He hadn't been sleeping well for weeks and so the work was particularly grueling. At thirty-nine, he was beginning to wonder if he'd crossed that barrier from a young man into that just sort of "man" area -- he said this in a fake, British accent, imitating a sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Maybe it was time to move on. You couldn't do this forever.

July 12th was the day the heatwave almost broke. The entire country boiled for weeks, far earlier than these things are supposed to happen. Some blamed global warming, or El Nino, but mostly global warming. The second majority, those that didn't believe in that global warming, liberal bullshit, said, "It's [here]. Just wait a few hours and it will change."

Change it did. A sunny morning gave way to a cloudy, lukewarmth that looked like rain. Those with allergies cringed and coughed, cried, and sought refuge. Lax doesn't suffer form allergies. He suffers life. And he'd had an argument in St. Louis with the motel clerk that morning.

There was no coffee in the dispenser in the cramped lobby that looked so much like every motel lobby Lax had ever seen. He had long since grown used to feeling like he'd been here before. "Life on the road is deja vu," he said.

But there was no coffee. He told the clerk, a skinny woman in her forties whose whole body seemed to be supported on the crutch of her arm planted on the counter.

"So?" she said. She did not look bored, tired, or disinterested. It could have been an act, Lax thought, but it seemed like she genuinely didn't know what to do with the problem with which she was presented.

"Could you refill it?" he asked.

"We're out of coffee," she said.

"Yes, I know. That's why I want you to refill it."

"No. I mean, we don't have any more grounds. We have no grounds to stand on," she said.

That's when Lax decided she was playing games with him and it was too early for this and he had to be on the road and before she said something else he wanted to get the hell out of there. So he put his room key on the counter and said, "Checking out," and turned to leave.

"What's the room number?" she asked him.

"Two-oh-six," Lax said, reaching for the door.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

"There is no room 206."

Lax turned around. "I assure you, that's the room I was in."

"What's your name. We'll figure it out," said the woman, turning to the computer.

"I've already paid."

"What's your name?"

"Seth Lax."

"Are you sure?"

Lax stared at her. She looked up from her computer. "Are you sure?" she asked again. When he didn't respond, she said, "Because no Seth Lax checked in last night."

There was a copy of Kafka's collected short stories sitting on the counter, heavily ear-marked. Lax sighed deeply. He hated English graduates, especially bored ones.

"Lady," said Lax. "I know that you hate your job and probably your life, too, but that's just rude." He then turned, walked out the door, and drove to Minneapolis.

Marian Stanczyk believes in nothing but luck. Fate, too. In fact, he said, "I give everything the benefit of the doubt. We know nothing. Who are you to say that you are where you are when you are because of choices. Nobody chooses anything."

Five years ago, Stanczyk made his own Tarot deck. This was the culmination of several years' obsession that started with a lucky silver half dollar then progressed to dice, cards, astrology, and finally a fixation on Tarot. He carries the deck with him everywhere, even now, and consults it for most major decisions. Multiple major decisions happen every day.

"It's embarrassing, I know," Stanczyk confessed. "As I understand it, the way I treat it is sort of like functioning alcoholism. Most people didn't even know that I carry a deck of cards around with me everywhere until the journalists got a hold of that. It sounds so much more interesting in a newspaper. Really, I just go off somewhere private, read the cards, interpret, and then go back to what I was doing."

Interpretation is Stanczyk's life and calling. He went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison for his BA in history and followed this trajectory to receive his PhD from the Tulane University. His specialty was American occultism. But, he had a problem: he hated teaching and so, at that time thirty, he decided that he needed to change life paths in the only environment he knew: academia. He got his law degree from University of Iowa and set out looking for work. And didn't find any. On July 12th, Stanczyk wondered what the hell he was doing working as an assistant store manager at Barnes and Noble and where exactly debt is supposed to go.

That day, though, he had an interview. He was on his way across the Hennepin Avenue bridge and he was just barely on time. It bothered him, though, that tomorrow was Friday the 13th and no matter how well this interview went, tomorrow was going to hurt. That much was certain, to an extent. There was always room for doubt, Stanczyk knew, and he could be wrong. It didn't help, this bad feeling, this foreboding, this sense of impending doom. Just because his doom sense was never wrong didn't mean that bloodshed and tragedy was certain, but it always seemed to happen that way.

Then, traffic stopped.

Up ahead, two seconds earlier, going the same way across the bridge, someone cut Lax off. It happens all the time. In rush hour traffic, it was to be expected. But this one just felt wrong. A BMW, new, white, brilliant even in the overcast gloom, pulled right out in front of his rig.

"Like he didn't see me, or didn't care," Lax said later. "Don't people realize how dangerous those trucks are? There was no danger of me running him over, I had enough time to stop. But that stupidity... It occurred to me that a person like that just doesn't understand the world around him and I could just run him over. And that's when I got out of the truck."

So, Lax applied the brake, killed the engine, got out of his rig, and leaned against the truck, leaving one lane free to crawl around him. At first, people drove by, giving him a curious look.  Finally, Stanczyk, got out of his car and walked up to Lax.

"Can I help you?" Stanczyk  asked.

Lax shook his head. "No. I'm good."

"Is your truck stalled?"


"Is there something wrong with it?"

With sudden inspiration, Lax said, "It's not my truck."

This gave Stanczyk pause. Finally he said, "Then where's the driver?"

"No idea."

"Would you please move? I have to go to an interview."

"There's another lane."

A young woman dressed in a blue suit walked up to Stanczyk and Lax. Her name is Yvette Ray and she was on her way out of town for a long over-due and well deserved vacation, she told the police later. She was twenty-six and was doing fairly well for herself already as an accountant. She said, "Can I help you?"

"This is familiar," Lax mused.

"Is there something wrong?" Ray said, looking back and forth between Stanczyk and Lax. She seemed to by trying to strike a combative, non-confrontational tone.

"The driver won't move the truck," said Stanczyk.

"Why won't you move the truck?" asked Ray.

"It's not my truck. I'll be happy to tell the driver to move the truck as soon as he arrives," said Lax. He was beginning to enjoy himself.

That was when Stanczyk said he had an epiphany. He felt like he was in some sort of trance, staring at this man, this guy with his hands clasped behind his back, leaning against the truck with one foot propped up, grinning serenely. It was the upside down Hanged Man.

"You're the reason everything in my life has gone wrong," said Stanczyk.

That got Lax's attention. "That's a bit harsh. And fatalistic."

"No, I'm not angry with you," Stanczyk said, waving his hands. "I'm very glad to have met you. You see, I can't get ahead. Metaphorically and, in this case, literally. I've got an interview and now I'm late, so that door is now closed, but it's not really my fault, because you stopped on this bridge right ahead of me out of dumb luck. It's fate."

"That's contradictory," Lax said.

"Yes, I'm sorry, I'm having an epiphany right now and articulation is difficult," said Stanczyk.

"Take your time."

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Ray shouted.

"We're having a conversation," said Lax.

"Please stay out of this," Stanczyk said, and then turned back to Lax. "I can see that you've had a rotten day and that you are clearly the driver of this truck. Independently, you stopping in the middle of the road would have just been an article in the newspaper. But you had to stop in front of me, because that's the way the world works. I'm sorry for dragging you into this."

"No, no, it's all right," Lax said. Great, he thought, another English major. But at least he was better than Ray screaming a few feet away. "But what if you'd been ahead of me? Then you would have just gotten to your interview on time."

"But I couldn't have been ahead of you, that's the point," Stanczyk said excitedly. "And you know that's true, too, or you wouldn't be standing here right now denying that that's your truck. You can't get ahead either."

Lax opened his mouth to say something and realized that this was actually a good point.

A mob had formed. Several people, including Ray, began shouting, then screaming, "Get in the truck!"

"No," Lax called to the crowd. He looked back at Stanczyk and he found himself saying, "It's just... St. Louis..."

"Yeah, fuck that city," Stanczyk agreed. "But that's just a metaphor. Don't you realize that both of us have clearly been pushed over the edge by forces we cannot control? We are without agency. We are--"

"Fuck you both!" screamed Ray. She then pulled out her Beretta, which she never leaves home without, for situations not exactly like this. She was one of 103,000 Minnesotans registered to carry a concealed weapon, but one of the few who exercises her right on a daily bases for "personal protection."

"You never know what situation you might find yourself in," Ray confided to a friend days earlier.

The mob surrounding her immediately fled.

Lax looked at Stanczyk who wearily gestured toward Ray, "You see what I mean?"

"Freeze!" someone yelled from behind them. Both Lax and Stanczyk whirled around to see a gray haired, uniformed policeman pointing a gun at them. This was Rudolph Plame and he was just twelve months from retirement, and counting, and this was exactly the situation he had been praying not to find himself in.

Lax and Stanczyk looked back and forth, from Ray to the Plame. They raised their hands slowly. Plame and Ray stood their grounds.

"This is probably going to be a funny story in five or ten years," Lax called out. "It's not going to end well, but I don't think anyone's going to die. I mean, who wants that? Life goes on, right?"

Lax looked up at the sky and shouted, "But, I'm not getting back in the goddamn truck!"

Saturday, July 7, 2012


AB's car had broken down, again. In fact, everyone's car had broken down. In the final couple weeks at my job, every single person in the office, except our boss, at one time lost the use of their vehicles for one reason or another.

Luckily, TC was still at the office working after hours, Everyone did there. We walked in to the cinder block building and sat down in the cool air. TC consulted his watch. "Where do you need to go?"

"To my place. It's in the Irish Channel," AB said.

"Oh, that's great. I have to be Uptown, so I can just drop you guys off and go right to the meeting," TC started to shut down his computer and gather up his manila files and plastic binders.

"Do you have to meet a client?" I asked.

"No," T said. He bowed his head sheepishly. "Happy hour."

We went to his car and I sat in the passenger's seat and AB in the back. Inside, before we opened the windows, it was an oven. How did people in Louisiana survive before air conditioning? All the old pictures of politicians and gentlemen, ladies, business people with their layers of wool and elaborate fabrics smothering them, temperatures rising to unbearable levels to generations raised in shorts and central AC.

People, they say down there, have figured out ways of escaping the heat. The high ceilings are one method. All the heat rises so that your surrounded by relatively cool air. Shade, too. You learn how to find shade in the South. Nothing much gets done. Everyone admits defeat for a few months and waits until October, when the oysters are good.


Pulling out of the drive and onto the long road leading from the Parish back to Orleans, Judge Perez, TC asked me about my plans.

"Don't have any right now, really. I'm applying for jobs and waiting to hear back from Tulane. If they give me a job, I'll stay. If they don't, I'm going back north." This is more or less what I told everyone verbatim in the second to last week I spent in New Orleans.

"I hope you get it," TC said.

"So do I," AB said.

We talked about job prospects and whether we would stay in New Orleans or not. Both AB and TC intended to stay another year. TC wasn't sure if he'd stay where he was, but AB wanted to find a case management job, which is what she'd gone to school to do in the first place.


"What if you can't find a job?" TC asked. "Do you have a back-up plan? Can you stay with family?"

"I can," I said. "I mean, I want a job and an apartment and it makes me nervous that I haven't found anything yet."

"That's good, though," TC said. "You're lucky. I know some people who don't even have that. They live pay check to pay check and some of them are even helping their parents out. If someone can't come up with a couple hundred dollars that month, then everyone's screwed."

"Yeah, I am lucky," I said.

"We all never really know how lucky we are," said AB, looking out the window at a two story building with a partially collapsed roof and vines growing out between the slats in faded and peeling shutters.

"I won't starve and I won't be homeless," I said. "That's more than a lot of people have."


Sitting in IB's living room with CS one night talking about jobs, CS said, "I tried and I'm still trying to find case management work, but I just can't find anything. No one calls me back. I have experience. I even had a master's degree. And I work on projects and volunteer all the time. It occurred to me the other day that I'm lucky to be a petty cab driver..."


TC asked me if I'd do AmeriCorps again.

"Not if I can help it," I said. "I like the program. It's great for service and supporting good nonprofits that need the help. But I want something more stable. And where I'm actually earning money."

"I hear you," TC said. "I think I could do this another year, but after that I'll move on to something else."

AB said, "I may, I may not. I haven't decided."

"I promised myself," I said. We were on the I-10 elevated interstate driving through the 7th Ward and curving in to follow the unseen river toward Uptown. "That I would spend my twenties going from one to two year obligations from one to the next. But I'm already sick of that. I want stability and I think I'm ready for it."

"You have to do what's good for you," said TC.

"But, isn't it arrogant?" I asked. "What privilege I have that I feel like I can choose to get a stable, salaried position and move wherever I want to? And can I really? That's what I've been told my whole life. That it's just a matter of trying."


"Last summer," said AB, "I applied for everything I could and eventually just needed a job. So I applied for waitressing and bartending jobs figuring that I could at least get that, but I couldn't. And, I mean, I have experience. I've worked as a waitress and a bartender for years and nobody even called me back. There are no jobs out there. None."


"I miss working in a coffee shop, actually," I said, "But I don't feel like I can go back to that if I ever want to get out it."

"I know," said TC, "It was great being able to leave work at work."

"And the tips," AB said. "And people are made to feel that not wanting more than that isn't right. That what they want isn't worthy."

"Yeah," said TC. "I mean, my grand father worked every day of his life from the age of eighteen. He got married and had kids at nineteen and got a house and that was enough for him. I sometimes wonder why that isn't enough for me."

"Maybe it was enough for him. But that shouldn't mean that you need to live the same way."


TC pulled up to AB's house. "Good talk," TC said. "Good talk, you guys. Have a good night."