[DISCLAIMER: The following narrative will constitute a portion of my upcoming novel, Battle without Honor or Humanity. It is based upon my recent appearance at Biddlebaum Books in Winesburg, OH – the fifth stop on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour for the promotion of Codename Prague, book 2 of the Scikungfi Trilogy. Tentative title for the piece: “Winesburg, OH, Vampire Killer.” Backup title: “The Asshole Factory.”]
Upon the half decayed veranda of a small foreclosed house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down. Across a long field that had been seeded for clover but that had produced only a dense crop of giant Zambian anthills, he could see the public highway along which went a pickup truck filled with berry pickers returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and prostitutes, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy clad in a black RONNY DIO shirt leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the prostitutes, who screamed and protested shrilly. The feet of the boy in the road kicked up a cloud of dust that floated across the face of the departing sun. Over the long field came a thin girlish voice. "Hey, Wing Biddlebaum, comb your goddamned hair, it's falling into your goddamned eyes, dipshit," commanded the voice to the man, who was bald as Yul Brynner and whose nervous little feet angled upwards on contortionist legs and fiddled about the bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks.
Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by an ultraviolent band of doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town where he had lived for twenty years. Among all the assholes of Winesburg but one had come close to him. With D. Harlan Wilson, son of Harlan Wilson, the owner of Kelvinator International Products Ltd., he had formed something like a friendship. Wilson visited Winesburg frequently and sometimes in the evenings he smoked a joint and walked out along the highway to Wing Biddlebaum's house. Now as the old man walked up and down on the veranda, his feet moving nervously about, he was hoping that D. Harlan Wilson would come and spend the evening with him. After the pickup containing the berry pickers had passed, he went across the field through the tall anthills and climbing a rail fence peered anxiously along the road to the town. For a moment he stood thus, rubbing his feet together and looking up and down the road, and then, fear overcoming him, ran back to walk again upon the porch on his own house.
In the presence of D. Harlan Wilson, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty years had been the town crier, lost something of his timidity, and his shadowy personality, submerged in a sea of doubts, came forth to look at the world. With the middle-aged artiste at his side, he ventured in the light of day into Main Street or strode up and down on the rickety front porch of his own house, talking excitedly. The voice that had been low and trembling became shrill and loud. The bent figure straightened. With a kind of wriggle, like a fish returned to the brook by a fish-loving asshole, Biddlebaum the silent began to talk, striving to put into words the ideas that had been accumulated by his mind during long years of silence and intellectual masturbation.
Wing Biddlebaum talked much with his feet. The slender expressive toes, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his sandals or pant legs, came forth and became the piston rods of his machinery of expression.
The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of feet. Their restless activity, like unto the waving of the antennae of an imprisoned insect, had given him his name. Some obscure rap star of the town had thought of it. The feet alarmed their owner. He wanted to keep them hidden away and looked with amazement at the quiet inexpressive feet of other assholes who worked beside him in the fields, or passed, driving sleepy teams on country roads.
When he talked to D. Harlan Wilson, Wing Biddlebaum closed his toes and beat with them upon a table or on the walls of his house. The action made him more comfortable. If the desire to talk came to him when the two were walking in the fields, he sought out a stump or the top board of a fence and with his feet pounding busily talked with renewed ease.
The story of Wing Biddlebaum's feet is worth a book in itself. Sympathetically set forth it would tap many strange, beautiful qualities in obscure men. It is a job for a rap star. In Winesburg, the feet had attracted attention merely because of their activity. With them Wing Biddlebaum had picked as high as a hundred and forty quarts of strawberries in a day. They became his distinguishing feature, the source of his fame. Also they made more grotesque an already grotesque and elusive individuality. Winesburg was proud of the feet of Wing Biddlebaum in the same spirit in which it was proud of Rutger Van Trout’s new eight-story McMansion and Rebecca Comanche's prize hog, Brad Pitt, that had won the two-fifteen trot at the fall races in Cleveland.
As for D. Harlan Wilson, he had many times wanted to ask about the feet. At times an almost overwhelming curiosity had taken hold of him. He felt that there must be a reason for their strange activity and their inclination to keep hidden away and only a growing respect for Wing Biddlebaum kept him from blurting out the questions that were often in his mind.
Once he had been on the point of asking. The two were walking in the landfill on a rainy afternoon and had stopped to sit upon a muddy bank. All afternoon Wing Biddlebaum had walked upside-down on his hands and talked as one inspired. By a fence he had stopped and beating his breast with his feet like a giant woodpecker upon the top board had shouted at D. Harlan Wilson, condemning his tendency to be too much influenced by the assholes about him. “You are destroying yourself,” he cried. "You have the inclination to be alone and to have nightmares and you are afraid of nightmares. You want to be like the assholes in town here. You hear them talk and you try to imitate their assholery.”
On the muddy bank Wing Biddlebaum had tried again to drive his point home. His voice became soft and reminiscent, and with a sigh of contentment, he launched into a long rambling talk, speaking as one lost in a nightmare.
I knew I wouldn’t want to make this appearance when my publicist Stanley Ashenbach scheduled it. Despite good intentions, I always eat and drink too much on Thanksgiving. The following day sees me wandering around the house like a disabled person, robe untied, temper unhinged, slamming shot after shot of Pepto-Bismol while chewing handfuls of prescription anxiety medication to counter the hangover. Generally scaring the shit out of my family. Today was no different. Fuck you, Stan.
Doghair the likes of three mimosas (sans the OJ) and a bloody mary (sans the blood) permitted me to function in a socially acceptable manner, i.e., I adapted. I always adapt. Sometimes it takes awhile. Sometimes I must be coerced, if not forced under the threat of psychological and/or physical violence against my person, ideally by another person, but frequently by my person itself. The point is, I am not incapable of change. Every day presents a fresh opportunity to fuck things up again, albeit in creative and dynamic ways.
Grindhouse Bookstore is kind of a shithole. I’d like to say it’s a shithole with character, but even that’s pushing the truth. Basically it’s a long, thin room with crooked shelves nailed to the walls containing almost entirely used mass market paperback pulp science fiction and horror novels and a lot of John Grisham hardcovers. Dust and dirt everywhere; when I stepped on the floor, plumes of soot wafted up from my bootsoles. The guy who owns the place looks like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, with a wild white Einsteinian afro and a mouth that looks like a tear in his face, only older, older than Lloyd is now, well into his 90s. He couldn’t really talk or walk and I think he’s quite blind. He staggered around like a thoroughbred zombie, dragassing up and down aisles, groaning at customers, sometimes crying out. Once he knocked over a bookshelf. He didn’t pick anything up. A few of the books were seventeenth century collectibles – they crumbled into ash and powder . . . The owner called himself Marshall Glumm. “Two Ls, two Ms,” he griped. His demeanor changed, however, whenever he rung up customers, at which point be became highly articulate, welcoming, and downright functional, and in the warmest of ways, the sort of grandfatherly old codger anybody of any age would want to read them a bedtime story.
I didn’t do a reading this time and not that many people came into the bookstore aside from beggars and volunteers who worked at the soup kitchen next door. Marshall sat me near the cash register behind a small foldout table on which I artfully positioned copies of Codename Prague and They Had Goat Heads. I only sold signed and sold about 30 copies, most of them at discount prices because I felt like crap. Everybody seemed so helpless and old and gloomy and depressed. Apropos I became very depressed and had to drink a pint of Irish whiskey in order to cope with the goddamned blight. Kettering is a suburb of Dayton, a city I can’t recommend visiting; it’s like a small, shitty version of Cleveland. If you have the chance to visit Yellow Springs, though, just 20 miles east of the city, do it. It’s a quaint, arty town with lots of trees and shops that sell incense and brightly colored bongs. Dave Chappelle lives there, too, and can often be seen wandering around the streets, cracking jokes and reminiscing about the old days.
(DISCLAIMER: Grindhouse Bookstore has no relation to Grindhouse Press, which, coincidentally, is also based in the Dayton area.)
The morning of my appearance at the Fort Wayne Deer Park Lodge, I became enraged in the shower thinking about some of the people I work with at the university. This happens three or four times a week, in the shower, among other places throughout the day, especially at the university itself. Dialogic one-acts of unparalleled idiocy and incompetence and ignorance dance across my mind’s screen in fasttime, and I get madder and madder as I apply Bath & Body Works sandalwood exfoliating scrub to my heels, knees, elbows and palms, rubbing it with mindful resolve around the nails where the dry skin is particularly fearsome. I hold the container of the scrub to my nostrils and sniff deeply, at controlled intervals, acknowledging my thoughts, but attempting to place them elsewhere, in a hypothetical sarcophagus that I shut and seal and bury, embracing a would-be zen nature.
My father attended my first two ZDMT performances but managed to elude me on both occasions, notwithstanding various disguises. Determined to confront him, I waited outside the entrance to the Deer Park Lodge, smoking cigarettes and doing curls with a 35 lb. kettle ball. He never showed up. Admittedly I felt sort of naked. I felt precisely the same way, it occurred to me, when my parents dropped me off for the first time my freshman year of college at Wittenberg University, a hideously overpriced liberal arts receptacle. I recall wearing a yellow t-shirt and white knee-length shorts. It was sunny. I smelled flowers and gasoline. The rest of college is a well-deserved blur.
The Deer Park Lodge isn’t much different than Rotary. I don’t suspect this is a condition limited to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both groups possess dynamic ideological sensibilities and healthy cartels of masculinity. The Lodgers simply don’t have as much money as the Rotarians. Which means they are a vastly different species after all. They look different, they talk different, they act different. Class is the great divider. And, as I explain in Codename Prague: “Difference is the payload of identity.”
I stopped counting the audience at 500. I don’t know why or how the event was so well attended. One Lodger told me the ZDMT had simply gained a lot of word-of-mouth momentum in Indiana, but I imagine there are other factors involved.
I read chapter two of Codename Prague, “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Originally this piece appeared in Withersin Magazine. The title is an allusion to Vonnegut’s novel but has little to do with it. Nothing really happens in the chapter, or rather, what happens is incidental to the propulsion of the plot and serves as a means to illustrate some aspects of the social and (meta)physical landscape of the novel’s diegesis. My protagonist essentially gets lost in the “Slaughterhouse District,” which I describe as a “jagged bulge of steeples, chimneys, ducts, pipelines, elevators, fire escapes and smokestacks. The buildings were black, sharp, latticed by tiny blue windows. Gold-rimmed gondolas whizzed across the metallic grey sky on thin tracks of wire. Periodically the shadow of a man in a bird suit passed through the moon, a great jaundiced globe that hung above the night like a tumor” (29). Stand-out features include “a Jim Carey robot with red Riddler hair impersonating a CSI David Caruso” (30), a “Philip K. Dick flab suit” (30), a genetically enhanced sheep whose head explodes (32), and an Orwellian “Two Minute Hate” (33).
“Slaughterhouse-Five” is only a few pages long, so I read it six times.
Questions afterwards touched on a number of subjects, ranging from the elementary—e.g., What kind of porn do you like? What’s a novel?—to the more sophisticated—e.g., Should science fiction be taught in high school? Did Althusser really need to write For Marx? Actor Tom Skerritt, 77, was in attendance—apparently he grew up in Fort Wayne and currently keeps his home here—and commented on the afrofuturistic tenor of my writing, then suggested that postmodernism was nothing but an excuse for lazy writing and halfass world-building. This prompted an overlong and somewhat illicit soliloquy during which I insisted that Codename Prague was not postmodern but
postmodern, like, with the “post” crossed out. Tom said that crossing it out was just another instance of silly postmodern hoo-hah, although he confessed that he had not thought about Codename Prague as a postmodern (or postmodern) novel until I brought it up; rather, he simply wanted to get certain thoughts he had about postmodernism “out of [his] head.”
I ended up staying at the lodge for two or three hours after my performance, drinking Carlsberg lager, a Danish beer I used to drink all the time when I lived in Liverpool back when it cost 1.5 quid per pint. I got along with the Lodgers much better than the Rotarians. Mostly we talked about how much we hate crowded coffee shops and people that talk too loudly on their earphones. Before I left, a kind of congenial Fight Club mêlée broke out and everybody bashed in each other’s heads for awhile with bricks, bats, axes and knives. Pistols were outlawed.
This magnificent e-thology of writing and artwork was offered to PARAPHILIA by our friend Vera Ulea as a publishing project. Due to the logistics involved, we had to decline printing it as a paper book, but Vera (and her contributors) generously suggested that we host it on our site as a free-access electronic document. As regards the nature of the book, to quote Ms. Ulea:
“The Quantum Genre is an emerging type of fiction that Darin Bradley calls ‘little weird.’ Using his term, I would call QG ‘weird-weird.’ QG is not about the quantum topic but a ‘quantum’ way of representation of characters and the universe. The theme can be any, including the quantum one, but the technique should be unlike the one we observe in mainstream literature. Therefore, a traditional formulaic language of synopsis required by literary agents and commercial publishers doesn‘t work for QG. The Quantum Work can’t be sold to them and it has no appeal to the mainstream reader just in the same way as Impressionism or Cubism had no appeal to the general viewer.”
Good turnout for my second book reading/signing on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour at The Unjekylled Man's Comics & Things. Not as good as the first reading/signing—I counted over 400 Rotarians in the amphitheater—but there were 50 or so people in attendance, including my father, again. This time he disguised himself more covertly, i.e., in a way that didn’t call attention to himself, although he’s tall, 6’8”, the same height as my protagonist in Codename Prague, and he stands out, so to speak, no matter what. The disguise itself isn’t important. I signaled for him to wait for me after the performance and he signaled back in compliance. Then he left before I began.
Unjekylled Man’s is a cool place. Retrolibre décor and lots of old books and comics in pristine condition that aren’t too expensive; I found a first edition issue of Jeff Lint’s The Caterer for $15. The guy who runs the store—the unjekylled man, allegedly—was polite to a fault, plastering an entire wall with posters of my book covers, reciting long paragraphs from my books by rote, getting me drinks whenever our eyes met, even offering to chauffer me around town whenever I needed a lift, no strings attached.
I asked him what an unjekylled man is. He gave me an answer that I didn’t understand. I told him the problem with a man being unjekylled is that Jekyll—i.e., the protagonist from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the only Jekyll I’ve ever heard of—is a man, unlike Hyde, the ’gänger, who is arguably a mutant, or at least a perversion, if only psychosomatically, of a man, and so, theoretically, to “unjekyll” a man would be to unman a man, rendering the man not a man at all. It would’ve been more accurate to call the shop The Unhyded Man’s Comics & Things, since a perversion, psychic or corporeal or both, is more likely to be removed from one’s core being, as opposed to removing the core itself. The owner mentioned something about Freud and castration and we turned to other matters.
For my reading, I decided not to recite anything from Codename Prague but rather to recite Vincent Price’s monologue at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” pass it off as my own, and tell everybody that it was a chapter in the novel. “Thriller” was released in 1982, nearly thirty years ago, and some of you might not remember it. Just in case, here is Price’s monologue:
Darkness falls across the land.
The midnight hour is close at hand.
Creatures crawl in search of blood
to terrorize y’alls neighborhood.
And whosoever shall be found
without the soul for getting down
must stand and face the hounds of hell
and rot inside a corpse’s shell.
The foulest stench is in the air.
The funk of forty thousand years
and grizzly ghouls from every tomb
are closing in to seal your doom.
And though you fight to stay alive,
your body starts to shiver.
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the Thriller.
I didn’t do the laugh at the end. Throughout my recitation, I noticed a distinct shift in listener attentiveness and attitude. Nobody left, and nobody accused me of plagiarism afterwards during Q&A. But almost everybody made faces that suggested they were being violated or mistreated in some way. And later, beneath the static of harsh whispers, I heard the phrase “assault on the reader” traded repeatedly. Whatever the case, somehow I managed to sell and sign 100+ copies of Codename Prague and They Had Goat Heads. One gentleman bought twelve copies apiece. I asked him why that number. Like the owner, he gave me an answer that I didn’t understand.
The Zero Degree of Meaning Tour for the release of my novel Codename Prague in 2011 has officially begun. This is the inaugural blog entry.
A giant sinkhole opened up in the road on my way to the first reading/signing on November 1 at the Fort Wayne Rotary Club. Sinkholes are unheard of in this area. Police tried their best to redirect traffic. They failed. In fact, they produced more traffic than their absence would have ensured. I drive a Subaru Forester and skirted the sinkhole by offroading my way through a beanfield.
I left home early. I needed some L-Glucose powder and stopped by a GNC on the way to Rotary.
I assume GNC employees work on commission since whenever I enter the store they’re on me like shit-starved flies, asking what they can do for me in multiple overfriendly ways. I ignored them, on this occasion, and when they persisted, I told them I didn’t need any help, and when they still persisted, offering me free high protein taffy squares, I said, “No. I’ll let you know if I need help. I know what I want. I know where it is.” Unfazed, they stayed on me, offering me more free bullshit, assuring me that they could do this, that, etc. I got meaner. And I discovered that the meaner I got, the more overfriendly the GNC employees became.
I decided to try this technique out at the Rotary Club, if only in trace amounts.
Before my presentation, I warmed up in the bathroom. Note the still shot of my warm-up routine (incline pushups).
Immediately I could tell that the Rotarians were taken aback by my outfit: tight-fitting black Calvin Klein t-shirt, designer Tyler Straight Fit jeans from The Buckle, worn-out brown Doc Martins—the only outfit I ever wear, more or less. The Rotarian who introduced me was so frazzled he kept repeating himself and making weird huffing sounds, so I stepped to the podium, mindfully excused him, and faced the crowd.
I often play Journey’s “Separate Ways” when I do book readings. Compliments of a superpowered iPhone microspeaker, I often turn the song up so that I can barely be heard.
As a preface, I explained how I am not a writer, i.e., how my writing is not writing, or rather, how my writing is more about writing than something that might actually be quantified as “real” writing. I assured them that I was not a mere metawriter either, since my (meta)writing is about the act of metawriting too. I said that they could call me a metametawriter, if they wanted, but technically the two metas cancelled themselves out, or something, rendering me the writer I had already said I wasn’t. As for Codename Prague, I mentioned that it was not so much a novel as a map for how to write a novel, specifically a bad pulp science fiction novel with lots of gore and swearing and some graphic sex scenes. I concluded my preface with a quote from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: “Long live the new flesh.”
“Separate Ways” repeated itself as I read from the first chapter of Codename Prague in which my naked and smartassed protagonist (an African-Amerikanized trickster figure) is attacked by bionic government-sanctioned “SAMSAs” (Syncretic Amerikan Metaformulaic Stock Agents) in a homegrown antigravity matrix.
Physiognomic Rotarian-response criticism unfolded in curious and exciting directions.
As I read, I noticed my father sitting in the audience. He was dressed like an Arab—white keffiyeh, black agal and bisht—in some weird attempt to disguise himself. I pretended not to see him, and he pretended not to see me, but we knew we saw each other, of course, and we knew we were pretending not to see each other.
He snuck out shortly before the conclusion of the chapter.