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Now Out: WHO AM I? WHY AM I HERE?: A Northwest Noir Road Novel
Jan 12th, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

who am i cover

As promised for a few weeks now, here’s our big fiction project.

It’s the ERRATICA FICTION series.

Each short, enthralling book has different characters and settings, but similar themes: the meaning and weirdness of humanity in these United States, told with wry humor and precision prose.

Our already-published story THE MYRTLE OF VENUS is the first volume.

The second is out now: WHO AM I? WHY AM I HERE?

It’s the mysterious tale of an ordinary, clean-cut teenage boy, who learns he has the power to bring about the end of the world.

He ends up on the run from one group that wants his powers and then another.

His only ally is a world-weary girl/woman who seems to know more about him and his destiny than he does.

You can get it in tangible paperback form or the popular “ebook” format.

There will be at least three more ERRATICA FICTION volumes over the next year—two more short novels and a story collection.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 7/23/13
Jul 22nd, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

city of seattle via slog.thestranger.com

  • You know that big palatial boulevard the politicians have promised to turn Seattle’s central waterfront into? It now looks like it could become something else. Like, a highway with as many lanes as the viaduct (or more!), only side by side and on ground level. (Via my ex-housemate Fnarf.)
  • The Feds want to crack down on The Art Institutes. They charge the chain of for-profit art schools (including a major Seattle branch) with…

…fraudulently collecting $11 billion in government aid by recruiting low-income students for the purpose of collecting student aid money. Whistleblowers claim that students graduate loaded with debt and without the means to pay off the loans, which are then paid for with taxpayer dollars.

  • UW scientists recorded, then time-compressed, the sounds made by an Alaska volcano just before it blew.
  • Congrats to the local makers of the Carter Family graphic bio-novel for winning (er, co-winning) a major industry award.
  • Nice to see Seattle Weekly regaining some of its old form, even if that includes its old cranky-baby-boomer bashing of the Stranger and youth culture.
  • As expected, the living members of Nirvana played at McCartney’s Safeco Field show.
  • Alas, it’s illegal to ride down Capitol Hill streets in an office chair.
  • MillerCoors wants the Feds to investigate the Wall St. bigshots’ manipulations of aluminum prices.
  • Do you know the difference between North and South Carolina? Nike didn’t.
  • Why can’t Third World people speak for themselves on the “global stage,” instead of questionable, self-appointed spokespeople such as (the highly corporate-connected) Bono?
  • R.I.P. Helen Thomas, first lady of the White House press corps and the textbook example of a “tough dame” who speaks her mind and never gives up.
  • While (or because) nobody was looking, Yahoo quietly shut down the pioneering search engine AltaVista.
  • Business Insider posted a promo spot for a Milwaukee TV newscast circa 1980. Frenetic stock music! Jump cuts! Reporters in the field! Huge “mini” cams held by muscular cameramen! Typewriters! That’s infotainment.
  • Do you or someone you know listen to too much Coast to Coast AM? Still? Then follow this handy conspiracy theory flow chart.

the reason stick at blogspot

THE LAST REINVENTION
Mar 8th, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

A COUPLE WEEKS BACK, I span a little fictional yarn about a certain Demographic Debbie, the perfect little upscale consumer. She’d fallen into a rut, too emotionally repressed to effectively supervise her employees at RNI Business Technologies. She’d turned for advice to her new friend Janis, who suggested a fashion makeover.

The first makeover put Debbie in retro-’80s garb and made her feel just like her former teenage self, all jumpy and insecure. Janis then put Debbie in black clothes and black hair, making Debbie look like a 37-year-old punk rocker (in other words, just like Janis).

For a while, that worked great. Debbie found hitherto-unknown reserves of strength, guts, cattiness. She charged her way through business meetings. She bullied clients, and rode over her board of directors like trained circus animals. In the office she was brassy, sassy, crude and rude. All the women wanted to be her; all the men wanted to get the hell out of her way.

At home, Debbie’s kids soon knew better than to incur her wrath, and became the sweetest little angels. Debbie’s husband learned the joys of total sexual submission.

But before long, Debbie’s new personality started to morph. She started becoming addicted to her own inner brat. She began to dismiss her colleagues’ opinions, to assert herself dictatorially.

The final blow came early enough. RNI had gotten off to a good start as an online wholesale-supply and business-products brokerage. The board was prepared to approve new advertising money. The ad agency hired by Debbie’s prissy old self made a respectable, if stolid presentation to her new self based on a respectable, if stolid promotional premise–that RNI can help businesses hold their costs down during nervous times. The new Debbie wanted nothing to do with such a wimpy message. She nearly lunged at the agency reps, demanding something harder-louder-stronger. Enough of that weak “cost containment” language! We’ve gotta tell executives that if they use our services they can fire lots of their own people! Have the new tagline be ‘Dump A Guy With RNI.’ Or ‘RNI: Your Firing Button.’

Word of her outburst quickly got to the board, which called her into an “informal” meeting at a local cocktail lounge. One member at a time, they scolded her in no uncertain terms that her revised ad campaign had gone too far. Her tactics had gone too far. She had gone too far.

She took it bad. Really bad.

She snarled and hissed at the board members. She started throwing their drinks in their faces. She got thrown out of the bar and her job.

When Janis was told about this, she quietly grinned. The punk-rock way, Janis tried to reassure an emotionally shattered Debbie at the local coffeeshop, isn’t about mere egotism or random violence. It’s got principles and morals.

Debbie hesitantly, shakingly asked Janis to teach her these principles and morals. Janis promised to do even more, to get Debbie her job back, if she wanted it.

Debbie, totally broken, submitted to Janis totally.

Last I heard, Debbie’d started working at the coffeehouse (serving her former underlings from the office next door). She’d traded in her minivan for a beater station wagon. She’d started volunteering as a chaperone at all-ages concerts. She’d consigned her old business wardrobe and donated the proceeds to the Books for Prisoners Program.

Her kids and husband eventually accepted this as her final new self, because she was the happiest she’d ever been.

NEXT: Another piece of our forthcoming Seattle photo book.

ELSEWHERE:

THE LOOK OF PRIMAL FEAR
Feb 21st, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

A COUPLE WEEKS BACK OR SO, I told you about a fashion makeover with some odd consequences. I didn’t tell you all the consequences, however.

It seems that when Demographic Debbie, the perfect embodiment of the white upscale-professional archetype, let her new friend Janis dress her in those retro-’80s clothes so popular these days, Debbie’s personality regressed to its former teenage state. Without her self-suppressions of adulthood, without her tightly-held facade of hyper-bland conformity, Debbie reverted to the look of primal fear she’d displayed all through high school.

She went around her home and her office sulking, head lowered, arms clutching her briefcase to her chest as if it were a Pee-Chee. When she talked, it was always either fast and nervous or slow and almost stuttering. When she drove her car, it was with the sputtering and speeding-to-the-light of a new driver trying to prove she wasn’t scared. When she spoke to authority figures (her company’s board of directors), she rambled incoherently as if she were trying desperately to think up a lie to tell to her school principal.

Among her female subordinates at RNI Business Technologies (formerly RevolutioNet Inc.), she was chatty and palsy-walsy and gossipy. With the men, she displayed a thin veneer of stoic indifference, above a slightly-thicker layer of attempted seductive allure, on top of a base emotion of total hormonal confusion.

Debbie’s children instantly interpreted her new look and attitude as a pathetic attempt to become their “friend.” They shunned her like last year’s toy fad.

Debbie’s husband initially got off on the fantasy-come-true of legal “underage” sex. But within days he tired of her constant fumbling, her constant feigned shock at the sight of his body, her screeching fake-orgasm moans, and her constantly asking him if he really did like her.

The only person who really got along with the new Debbie was Janis’s own teenage daughter Anais, who at last had an adult she could tell everything to who wasn’t her mom.

Debbie was sufficiently self-aware (indeed, that was her biggest obsessive trait) to know she had to change. In a heart-to-heart with her at the local coffee shop, Janis insisted that Debbie’s previous moderation-to-the-extreme personality was nothing to go back to.

Debbie, Janis deduced, needed to become the emotionally fully progressed post-adolescent she’d obviously never been.

But how?, Debbie asked.

As Janis explained, the best way to quickly mature a giggly-nervous teenage girl was to put her through a humiliating first sexual experience, preferably leading to a pregnancy scare. But Debbie had already had two husbands and three kids, so that wouldn’t work. Even if Debbie’s emotional self was situated to react with abject fear, Janis surmised, her body knew it’d be nothing she hadn’t already survived.

No, Janis concluded, Debbie would need a different instant-aging scheme.

Exactly one week later, Debbie had become a new woman. A newer new woman.

She strutted on the streets with a new-found confidence. She stared life in the eye and made it blink. Business clients were intimidated into signing contracts on her exact terms. Employees respected and adored her. Her kids did whatever she told. Her husband dragged himself into work every morning, spent from the night before.

In her car, Debbie kept the stereo cranked up to the total-immersion compilation tape of punk-rock classics Janis had prescribed for her. With every two-chord repitition, every shout of X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage Up Yours,” Debbie felt more confident, more in tune with her inner vengeful brat.

From their usual post at the coffee shop’s back table, Janis and her daughter Anais watched the new punkified Debbie hold her head up high, stand perfectly still in her all-black office suit and stiletto heels, and calmly yet assuredly demand her favorite beverge from the barista. It was Anais who noticed the first faint slivers of ash-blonde roots growing from Debbie’s jet-black dyed hair, and asked Janis how long Debbie would stay this way before she mutated into something hideous and dysfunctional.

We’ll just have to wait and see, an assuring Janis told her kid. Anais’s face lit up with the impatient anticipation of an all-new freak show, coming soon to a theater near her.

NEXT: Does the “Northwest Lifestyle” personality type even exist?

ELSEWHERE:

MADE TOO FAR OVER
Feb 8th, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

WHEN WE LAST LEFT our lovable fictional gang at the promising Internet startup company RevolutioNet, control of the firm had just been usurped by Demographic Debbie, the perfect urban-white American adult female.

In her first month in charge, Debbie’s already proved herself valuable to the company’s backers. As the perfect target-market consumer, Debbie knew what her fellow perfect target-market consumers (in her case, small-to-medium-business owners) wanted. And as someone who looked good in a dress-for-success suit, she’s successfully schmoozed her way into trial deals with many of the businesses needed for the firm’s new focus as a business-to-business supply brokerage.

But as the leader of a staff of computer geeks and young Web hotshots, her day-spa looks and ever-so-moderate demeanor left much to be desired. That was all fine for her investor-bosses, who enjoyed her image of “adult supervision,” showing the world that this was no hopeless dot-com venture but Serious Business run by Serious People.

Her employees, though, didn’t like to be treated as rude schoolchildren in need of a strict schoolmarm’s discipline. They (especially the programming staff) began to chafe under her ever-tighter grip on expense accounts, departmental budgets, working hours, even in-office music (official order: nothing weirder than Enya).

Debbie may have been a priss, but she was an attentive priss. She knew any staff insurrection (especially by Pratt, the headstrong chief programmer who’d hand-tooled most of the website’s code) would be disastrous at this stage in the company’s halting start. She knew she had to change, to reach out to the young and/or hip among her charges.

That’s why she came, albriet reluctantly, to the little coffeehouse near the office, where many young and/or hip people congregated. It was hard, mighty hard, for her to admit needing help in anything; and she certainly wasn’t going to let a man hear it. So she asked Kirsten, the sullen barista; Janis, the 41-year-old punk rock mom; and Flies-With-Eagles, the New Age shaman. As they sat around the big table in the back of the coffeehouse after hours, she asked them to help her loosen up, lighten up, and wisen up, at least among the staff in the office.

Flies-With-Eagles said Debbie needed to confront and release her fears–fears of failure, of vulnerability, of being fully human.

A more pragmatic Kirsten said Debbie had to trash the beige pantsuits, the M.A.C. cosmetics, and the horrendously conventional short brown hair.

A patient Janis waited her turn, then said both the other women had their points. Debbie, Janis quietly proclaimed, needed to shed both her old way of looking and her old way of thinking. In short, she needed a makeover, and pronto. What’s more, Janis proclaimed herself just the one who could make Debbie over right; to make her look and feel younger, less inhibited, more alive and attuned to the world around her.

At least that was the idea. The result, I must confess, didn’t quite work out that way.

Oh, Debbie looked years younger all right. Between the Krazy Kolor hair dye (with clashing-color extensions), the neo-1979 platform shoes, the Alexis Carrington handbag, and the vintage Generra unisex pattern tops, Debbie looked, and felt, just like she had as a teenager.

And it was just at the time she looked at herself in the ladies’-room mirror in the coffeehouse, in this garb with this hairdo, that she suddenly remembered what a miserable teenager she’d been.

Instead of freeing her from her repressions, her new look unleashed everything she’d spent her adult life working so hard to repress.

The first words she told Janis: “Is my ass too big? I don’t just mean in this outfit, I mean is it too big in general? Am I EVER going to get boobs? You don’t see any zits, do you? Do you think I’d look better with those collagen puffy lips? What CAN I ever do to stop looking so fat?”

Kirsten and Flies-With-Eagles both rolled their eyes in dismay.

Janis, however, couldn’t have been happier. Another successful case, she thought, of a soulless yuppie turned into a real person.

A real unhappy, obsessive person, but a real person nonetheless.

NEXT: Real life among the dot-com decommissioned.

ELSEWHERE:

  • In the world of movie cliches, “Time will stand still when when the hero is in the presence of a company logo….”
A DOT-COM CHRISTMAS CAROL, PART 3
Dec 27th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

(IN OUR FIRST AND SECOND EXCITING CHAPTERS, would-be Internet mogul Benny Bucks has ordered his staff to work on Christmas, telling them they should be proud to give up a bleeding-heart holiday and devote themselves to their (his) goal of getting the site online in time for the bowl-game commercials he’s bought. A programming-nerd named Pratt refused, citing an ill son who needed him. Benny threatened to fire Pratt if he didn’t show up. Later, passed out in front of his home PC, he dreamed of his executive chairman warning him about his anti-Christmas attitude. That was followed by another vision, in which the Spirit of Christmas Past (who looked like the damsel in distress from the original Donkey Kong video game) reminded Benny of his past holidays, which had also been marred by the same hostile attitude.)

BENNY NOW OPENS HIS EYES and stands up to find himself within a hyperrealistic virtual-reality environment, complete with the occasional digital display flaws and breakups.

The Spirit of Christmas Present, now materializing and approaching him, is a Playstation-quality digitized version of Kirsten, the sullen barista from the coffeehouse next to Benny’s dot-com office. Her hair is a solid-color object instead of the real Kirsten’s tangle of streaks and spit ends, but otherwise she’s just the same, from her pasty face to her stooped posture to her too-big butt.

Well, Benny thinks to himself, that’s sure no Lara Croft.

Kirsten immediately stops and stares in his eyes, using that you-male-chauvanist-pig scowl Benny’s seen countless times on countless women. Kirsten reminds Benny that, as a figure in his dream, she knows everything he’s thinking–and he hasn’t exactly been thinking in a peace-and-goodwill groove these days, has he?

She sulkingly leads him past a desolate VR landscape of volcanoes, ice storms, and desert sands. Kirsten monotonically tells Benny these are the landscapes of his heart–forlorn vistas devoid of compassion, where nothing can grow and no one can thrive. Benny doesn’t pay attention; he’s too rapt by an asteroid falling in the far background and exploding in a thousand cool colors.

Eventually, Kirsten and Benny hike into a valley oasis of evergreen trees and babbling brooks. This, Kirsten says with just a slight uplift in her voice, is what Benny’s heart could be, if he would only let the spirit of love inside.

Benny snorts that Kirsten isn’t usually a big glowing ray of sunshine herself. Kirsten half-patiently replies that she knows her own imperfections all too well, but she’s working to improve herself. And so can he; it’s not too late.

Before Benny can think up a defensive comeback, Kirsten leads him into a clearing in the forest. There, standing before him are three life-size QuickTime 360-degree tableaux, side by side like dinosaur-museum dioramas.

The first still-image scene shows (a more realistic depiction of) Kirsten, along with her fellow coffeehouse denizens, celebrating Christmas at the cafe with cheer and togetherness, a spirit only enhanced by their varying degrees of hip cynicism. Regulars and employees are sharing homemade fruit wine and sugar cookies made in the shapes of Mary and Jesus, playing Pictionary, dancing and laughing.

There’s Janis and Anais, the mother and teenage-daughter punk rockers, singing in unison. (The VR Kirsten tells Benny it’s a speedcore rendition of “O Holy Night.”)

There’s Flies-With-Eagles, the self-proclaimed Indian shaman lady, re-spiking her special egg nog from a plastic flask of Monarch Rum.

There’s a spindly boy Benny’s never seen before, whispering something (apparently naughty) in the QuickTime Kirsten’s ear.

The VR Kirsten asks if Benny can imagine what the QuickTime Kirsten and her friends in the panoramic still image are laughing at. Benny says it’s got to be him; he knows they all hate his guts. The VR Kirsten says she hates to disappoint Benny, but his name hasn’t even come up all evening. The world, despite his ever-louder assertions to the contrary, does not revolve entirely around him.

Before Benny can properly phrase an obscene response, the VR Kirsten calmly tells him they’re sharing a joke they’d learned from Pratt, who’d learned it from his son. Why did everybody think the baby Jesus was divine?, Kirsten repeats. Because when you’re born in a barn full of animals, your own poop seems to like the breath of the angels. Benny actually manages a small but perceptible smile, even a very faint chuckle.

The VR Kirsten next calls his attention to the second image. In this picture, Pratt the programmer’s afflicted son is struggling to cope with tree-trimming, smiling through his struggles to stand up straight and control his motor skills.

Apparently, the VR Kirsten coolly explains, the four-year-old has a congenital disease for which there’s a new, potential treatment; but it’s expensive and considered “experimental,” so the cheap HMO used by RevolutioNet won’t cover it.

Benny starts to mumble something about social Darwinism and the need to weed out the weak so the strong can grow to their full potential.

But the frozen image of the boy, in an early stage of stumbling while reaching for a tree ornament, causes Benny to stop in mid-sentence. The child seems to have just become aware in the previous split-second that his weary legs are going to fail him. But his face is filled not with fear or dread but a peaceful smile; as if he were a skateboarder approaching a sidewalk wipeout with fatalistic yet adventurous glee. Benny, in response, begins to slightly relax his stiff stance, to lower his shoulders and open his eyes and lower his jaw.

But when Kirsten looks straight at Benny, he promptly freezes up rather than display any sign of weakness.

Benny knows Kirsten wants to see him get all soft and mushy. So he holds his best poker face when Kirsten points to the third and last tableau.

In this image, the woman Benny had jilted for not being trophy-wife material is having a happy, wholesome, unpretentious holiday dinner with her new community-college-teacher boyfriend. Their apartment kitchen is small; their semi-formal attire and tablecloth are mall-chain-store plain; their wine is a cheap supermarket brand. But, as far as can be seen, they are satisfied with themselves and their condition.

The VR Kirsten explains the woman’s winsome, uptilted expression as a brief pause to wonder what would’ve happened if Benny had stayed with her. Kirsten tells Benny the ex-fiancee is imagining where he is now, whether he’s happy, whether he’s found someone new, whether he’s ever found peace or at least a refuge from whatever demons keep driving him.

You did everything you could to make her hate you, Kirsten tells Benny. But she still cares about you anyway. What do you think of that, bad boy?

Benny holds back a half a tear. He struggles to compose himself. After about fifteen seconds he succeeds in regaining his hardened compsure. He mumbles something about small people with small minds and small ambitions, living out their small existences.

The VR Kirsten scoldingly tells him he’ll need the ultimate lesson now.

Kirsten and the other virtual-reality images surrounding Benny break up into static and, one polygon at a time, disappear. Benny finds himself alone in a cold, dark, silent, infinite space.

For probably the first time in his life, he is truly afraid.

TOMORROW: The thrilling conclusion.

REMEMBER: It’s time to compile the highly awaited MISCmedia In/Out List for 2001. Make your nominations to clark@speakeasy.org or on our handy MISCtalk discussion boards.

ELSEWHERE:

A DOT-COM CHRISTMAS CAROL, PART 2
Dec 26th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

(IN OUR FIRST EXCITING CHAPTER, would-be Internet mogul Benny Bucks has ordered his staff to work on Christmas, telling them they should be proud to give up a bleeding-heart holiday and devote themselves to their (his) goal of getting the site online in time for the bowl-game commercials he’s bought. A programming-nerd named Pratt refused, citing an ill son who needed him. Benny threatened to fire Pratt if he didn’t show up. Later, he passed out in front of his home PC, whilst attempting to conspire against his executive chairman. He either awakened or dreamed that he awakened, to find his flat-screen PC monitor filled with a streaming-video image of Demographic Debbie’s face, in all its blow-dry glory.)

At 18 frames per second, Debbie’s M.A.C.-lipsticked mouth asserts she knows he’s trying to do away with her position as his investor-appointed supervisor, and that he won’t get away with it. As she says this, her expression subtly shifts from a menacing scowl to something Benny finds much more threatening, a confident smile of the most disgustingly perky type. Benny remembers again just how much he hates Debbie.

Debbie’s upscale-target-market face tells him she wishes she could be there in person to rescind his work-on-Christmas order, but she had an unbreakable week-long commitment to her family.

She then asks, in her deceptively bubbly voice, if he knows what commitment is, or if he remembers what it’s like to care about anyone besides himself.

Benny yells at the screen, telling Debbie she’s nothing but an old-economy relic who doesn’t understand the rules of the new economy. Soon, dynamic revolutionary change agents like himself will secure their rightful place as the leaders of the emerging order. Once that happens, meddling bitches like her and useless beggars like Pratt will get what’s due them, which is a big fat nothing.

A totally unaffected Debbie declines to comment on his outburst. Instead, she smilingly warns Benny of three spirits who will visit him later this night; visitors who might show him a thing or two about the meaning of Christmas.

Benny pooh-poohs it all, calls Debbie a vicious cunt, and turns off the monitor.

Everything around him suddenly goes black. The air around him changes to a cool, dry, steady whirl, as if an unseen rotary fan was somewhere maintaining the environment of this unseen space.

Suddenly, the space lights up. Cheesy synth versions of “Frosty the Snowman” and other old kiddie Christmas songs begin to play from somewhere. Benny finds himself in a primitive ’80s video game world of solid-color shapes and jerky motions.

Soon, the Spirit of Christmas Past (who looks a lot like the damsel in distress from the original Donkey Kong arcade game) appears to lead him on through a maze of bright, lo-res walls beneath a black sky/ceiling.

In the center of the maze, a Sony Trinitron TV with an old top-loading VCR shows scenes from Benny’s prior Christmases.

He sees himself at age 10, pouting and moaning that he only got a Daewoo boom box instead of a real Sony.

The Spirit of Christmas Past points out how happy the other children in the room are, laughing and playing together and sharing their love while the young Benny’s sulking off by himself. The present-day Benny scoffs that he’d always found scenes of cheap sentimentality to be demeaning, and admits he’d always been anxious to get back to his video games.

The scene on the VCR skips ahead to age 14, in which Benny’s seen pouting and moaning that he only got a Fred Meyer ski jacket instead of a real Hilfiger.

At age 17, he’s seen pouting and moaning that he only got a used Plymouth sedan instead of a new, fire-engine-red Elantra. The present-day Benny defends his younger self to his lo-res video escort. I deserved a vehicle of quality; I had an image to protect; if those cheapskate parents cared for me, they’d have recognized that wealth comes to those who show they already have it.

Finally at age 23, Benny’s seen throwing back the Casio sports watch (not even a fucking Seiko, let alone a Rolex!) offered by the fiancee who’d worked for four years to support his MBA schooling.

While watching this scene, Christmas Past reminds him (in a cartoon-princessy voice) how he left the fiancee that day and never came back. Benny defensively says the woman wasn’t trophy-wife material; for one thing, she didn’t know how to act polite yet deferential at networking parties. Christmas Past tsk-tsks him, prissily saying it looks like he’ll need another lesson.

Benny lunges to turn off the VCR when he hears a crudely synthesized roar from high above him. He looks up to see Donkey Kong throwing a wooden barrel down at him. He spins and falls on his back. Everything goes dark as the familiar “Game Over” music plays through his head.

TOMORROW: The terror continues.

REMEMBER: It’s time to compile the highly awaited MISCmedia In/Out List for 2001. Make your nominations to clark@speakeasy.org or on our handy MISCtalk discussion boards.

ELSEWHERE:

A DOT-COM CHRISTMAS CAROL, PART 1
Dec 22nd, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

BENNY BUCKS, THE WANNABE DOT-COM MAGNATE, is working late as usual in the offices of his Internet company RevolutioNet. He’s giving a speech to his 17 employees in the conference room, some of whom are noticably antsy about still being on the premises after seven p.m. on Christmas Eve.

It’s one of the moments he lives for. An opportunity to rally the troops to his side, to lure the stragglers and naysayers with the sheer power of his presence, to solidly reunite the vanguard of his revolution.

Just what that revolution’s supposed to be has changed at least twice in RevolutioNet’s eleven-month existence. As of the company’s most recent reorganization, it’s now going to offer an online brokerage and database site for business-to-business contracting and services. (Fortunately, the TV commercials he’s already paid for simply promote the company’s brand image as “America’s Next Revolution,” without mentioning any products or services.)

The latest reorg meant his site-development and IT staffs had to restart almost from scratch. But Benny can take dishing out that kind of work. He works harder and longer than anyone in the office, as he always tells everyone. Of course, he has every reason to.

Even with the company’s recent turmoil (an emergency cash influx from investors, who made him cede significant control to an executive chairman), he still knows in all certainty how he’s going to push RevolutioNet toward its pot of gold, the IPO that will set him up for life–muscle and elbow grease and a lot of hard motivating.

Which brings him to this latest moment of assertion.

Standing his six-foot-four frame upright and proud, he first thanks his staff for having worked so hard this year, especially after the reorg and the latest delay in the site launch.

He adds that the site still has to be online in time for the bowl-game commercials he’s already bought. Therefore, he’s asking his staff to all come to work the following day, for the usual 12 or more hours. He’s confident everyone will enthusiastically agree, because the ongoing Internet revolution their work represents matters far more than any petty personal interest.

Most enthusiastically agree. Some grumble under their breath but say nothing.

Only Pratt, the semi-obese and unkemply-bearded head progammer, demures out loud. He whines something about a young son who hasn’t been well lately and is just out of the hospital and has been looking forward to a real Christmas at home.

Benny roars out a denunciation and an ultimatum. Christmas, he bellows from within his tieless $300 Barney’s shirt, is a decadent holiday for the little people, for the welfare cases and space cases and sentimentalisic losers. RevolutioNet needs forward-looking people who will give their total devotion to the cause of revolutionizing the very foundations of human society.

Anyone who doesn’t come to the office on December twenty-fifth, he proclaims, need not enter on December twenty-sixth or any day thereafter.

That was a tough one to have to tell ’em, Benny shouts into his cell phone upon leaving the office an hour later. But I had to. You’ve gotta impose discipline on these cattle, I tell ya Charlie. Or else they’ll just wander around the pasture and chew on their own half-digested food all day.

On his way to his car, he passes by the little independent coffee shop next to the office. Through the window, he sees the shop’s staff and some of the regular customers putting up cheap kitschy decorations, probably for an in-house holiday party. Benny couldn’t care less about these petty people and their petty entertainment; but he decides he needs more caffeine for the long night’s work ahead.

But once inside, while the ever-inefficient help struggles to fulfill his order, he gets into a time-wasting chat with one of the regulars–a New Agey hippie-dippie lady who calls herself Flies-With-Eagles; even though from Benny’s viewpoint (as he tells his cell phone, even in her presence), she looks like the only Indians her pasty-white skin has ever met are the faces on her cigarette packs.

She offers him a cup of her special egg nog. She tells him if you drink even a little of it, you’ll get whatever you want for Christmas. If you drink enough of it, you’ll get what you really need for Christmas.

All Benny can tell for sure is it’s got rum in it, and he never turns down a free drink. Or a couple, or so.

Around his third or fourth or whatever, while the cafe’s PA plays a compilation tape of novelty Christmas songs (“Merry Christmas in the NFL,” “I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas,” the Singing Dogs’ “Jingle Bells”), Benny can notice Flies-With-Eagles smiling at him, with that smug annoying grin he’s seen umpteen times on hippie-dippie types who are SO sure they’re in touch with the universe and he isn’t. Benny takes that matronly grin as his cue to get the hell outta there, which he does (remembering to take his to-go coffee and his change).

As he leaves, he shouts into his cell about the egg nog. For something from that mediocre coffeehouse, it was surprisingly good. The right amount of booze, and a weird but oddly appealing flavor set. Probably some of those weirdo health-food-store herbs and shit. He sets the phone down just long enough to climb into his (actually, the company’s) Mercedes SUV, remove the fraudulant handicapped-parking card from inside the windshield, and speed off into the night.

Much later that evening, Benny’s at the PC in his loft-condo home, poring over contract documents. He’s searching for a way to get out from under the investors who’ve asserted greater control over his company. The search is long and the documents dull, and the several special egg nogs Benny’s had aren’t exactly keeping him alert.

He begins to pass out in his Dania leather chair; his mind racing with thoughts of his dream–to run his company his way, toward that triumphant IPO–and of all the goddamned meddlers interfering with that dream. Ambitionless toadstools like Pratt; goody-two-shoeses like little Demographic Debbie, the annoyingly yuppie-perky executive chairman imposed on him by his investors.

He fades away obsessing that there must be something he could do to be rid of her.

Yes. To be rid of everyone and everything that stood in his way, that would be the greatest present he could get. Even greater than a genuine Rolex.

On that thought, he crosses over into Dreamland. Just then, a cold gust bursts through the room. The power goes out and back on. Benny opens his eyes to see a scowling face staring from his flat-screen PC monitor.

It’s a streaming video of his boss and enemy, Demographic Debbie, in all her blow-dried, day-spa-tanned glory.

NO COLUMN MONDAY, BUT ON TUESDAY: Some more of this.

REMEMBER: It’s time to compile the highly awaited MISCmedia In/Out List for 2001. Make your nominations to clark@speakeasy.org or on our handy MISCtalk discussion boards.

ELSEWHERE:

A DOT-COM CHRISTMAS CAROL, PART 4
Dec 19th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

(WHEN WE LAST LEFT BENNY BUCKS, the wannabe dot-com magnate was in the the worst nightmare of his life. It all started when he told the employees of his company RevolutioNet that they all had, and should want, to work on Christmas. His head programmer, an aging computer geek named Pratt, said he had an ill boy to take care of and couldn’t come to work that day. Benny stormed back and threatened to fire anybody who didn’t work on 12/25.

Afterwards, Benny dreamed that a Spirit of Christmas Past had showed him how his own childhood holidays had all been ruined by his selfish attitudes. Next, a Spirit of Christmas Present showed him how everybody he knows was having a happy holiday, or was at least trying to, while he remained trapped in his self-made prison of attitude and hate. Just as he began to feel the first stirrings of long-repressed emotions, he was abandoned into a dark, silent space, alone with his thoughts and what little conscience he might have had.)

THE DARKENED, INFINITE SPACE surrounding Benny slowly lightens after about an hour, to appear as the Sky Church auditorium at the Experience Music Project.

He’s standing at the front of the otherwise empty stage, with spotlights on him slowly growing in intensity. To his left and right, he sees high-definition video images projected on the curved rear wall. On the screen to his left, a succession of images from old TV cartoon Christmas specials. On the screen to his right, a fast time-lapse skyline shot with day quickly turning to night and back again. On the digital-surround sound system, an unseen DJ is mixing ambient-techno versions of passages from Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem.

At this point Benny vaguely remembers an old story, one he’d never bothered to read because it was neither science fiction nor Ayn Rand. He deduces that a Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come will show up, and he hopes it’ll look like that cute goth-teen Angel of Death from the Sandman comic books.

Instead, it turns out to be a mute, black-robed version of Anais, the slightly pudgy punk-rock teanager who hangs out at the coffeehouse with her pudgier punk-rock mom.

Anais moves like a sprightly girl trying hard to be ritually solemn as she leads him through the wall in back of the stage and into a swirling, flawless sea of light and color, the visualized Cyberspace straight out of a William Gibson novel.

Benny floats, free from gravity or any known means of propulsion. It takes a moment’s getting used to but Benny begins to enjoy the carefreeness, the total lack of pressure or force–until he lands with a thud on a damp lawn on a dreary, drizzly afternoon.

Anais floats gently down to earth. She notices Benny, while dazed and shaken, still manages to look up her robe. She seems not to mind. As soon as she touches ground, she stands him up, dusts him off, grabs his arm, and drags him over a short hill.

There, they find themselves at a cemetery, overlooking the funeral of Pratt’s young son. The family and mourners exceed two hundred, overflowing the little corner of the cemetery and rising up the small hillside.

A nationally known political leader stands up to give the eulogy. He mentions how the son might have been saved if his condition had been treated early enough, but that had become impossible when Benny’s company’s HMO canceled his coverage. He mentions how the son’s case had become a global cause celebre that finally led to the introduction of universal health care in the U.S.

The speaker asks the Vice President of the United States to stand and take acknowledgment for helping this get passed. Benny’s not at all surprised, but still disturbed, to see a middle-aged version of his old corporate rival, Demographic Debbie, rise and wave and grin her perfectly perky grin to the admiring throng.

The audience applauds when the speaker proclaims how one boy’s courage, and one family’s perserverence, has changed the world.

Benny’s moved, at least a little, by the stirring speech. Then he talks out loud (nobody but Anais can see or hear him, of course) that the power of one person to change the world was what his company, RevolutioNet, had all been about.

As Anais stares at him silently, Benny concedes that the one person whose power he’d always had in mind was himself, and the changes to the world he’d had in mind were to draw more money and power his way. But I had the idea right at least, didn’t I? Shouldn’t that count for at least something? SHOULDN’T IT?

The still-silent, deadpan Anais turns and walks away. Benny follows her across the cemetery grounds. The drizzle turns to rain, then stops. The clouds clear to show the sun far lower in the sky. The air turns bitterly cold. It is now winter.

Anais stops in a forlorn part of the cemetery. A damp, shivering Benny spies an open grave, in front of a gravestone with his own name. A minister rushes through a perfunctory speech. The pallbearers (all in cemetery grounds-crew uniforms) stare at their wristwatches and listen to personal stereos. There’s only one mourner; a veiled female of indeterminate age.

So, a newy-somber Benny tells Anais, that’s supposed to be what happens to me, huh? I don’t become rich and powerful, admired and feared. Instead, I die unloved, unmourned, and unnoticed. Except by her. Who is she? You’ve got to tell me.

Please.

Anais nods her head, and with her right hand beckons him to follow her again. They walk into a small group of trees and through a brick wall into a modestly-sized, but adequately decorated apartment. Only the exterior-facing wall is brick; the others are regular wallboard.

The woman from the funeral enters and removes her veiled hat. It’s the ex-fiancee Benny had jilted so long before. She greets her college-professor husband and a couple of well-behaved children. She tells them how sad Benny’s funeral had been. She wonders out loud if Benny ever could have turned his life around, to embrace life and love rather than caring only for money and himself. Maybe, she says, there had been such a time once.

Benny’s eyes wander. A mortgage notice on a rolltop desk identifies the building as a moderate-income unit maintained by a cooperative society. Then Benny notices something familiar about the brick wall. The pattern of the bricks reminds him of somewhere.

Then he sees holes in the mortar. Holes he remembers having drilled himself.

It hits him–this affordable-housing unit was remodeled from the former loft offices of Benny’s long-kaput company.

Benny screams himself awake.

He comes to a realization, an epiphany, a Big Idea. He has to change his life, to make sure that the future he saw never happens.

Specifically, he decides he has to work even harder to make sure that his company survives, that little people like his ex-fiancee never get to upstage him, and the bleeding-heart liberals and the welfare statists will be thwarted from ever coming back to power.

In other words, Christmas is not only still canceled at the office, but so is New Year’s.

His all-points email memo lists the amount of time (10 minutes tops) that can be taken off at midnight for a champagne toast in the conference room (with any beverages and party favors to be purchased by the employees themselves).

After sending that email, Benny searches websites for a special treat he’s giving himself, from company funds he’s recently discovered he still has access to. He’s going to spend New Year’s on a private island off Costa Rica, with the best cigars, alcohol, and women money can buy.

Christmas, Benny thinks, is a holiday for losers.

But New Year’s. Now that’s his kind of holiday. No religious crap; just partying–and resolutions.

Benny’s already resolved to be even more revolutionary in 2001 than he’s been in 2000.

OPTIONAL EPILOGUE: In an alternate version of this tale, Pratt the programmer and the other RevolutioNet employees receive a merry Christmas after all. They arrive at the office, only to find an email printout taped to the locked front door. The company’s executive chairman Deborah Grafton (Demographic Debbie’s real name) has rescinded the work-on-Christmas order and, with support of the investors’ committee, has suspended Benjamin Buchan (Benny Bucks’s real name) from all corporate duties pending further review. In another part of the city, Benny can be seen pouting and moaning as the lease company comes out to repossess his company-leased Mercedes SUV.

TOMORROW: At last, the highly awaited MISCmedia In/Out List for 2001.

ELSEWHERE:

THE COMEUPPANCE OF BENNY BUCKS (ALMOST)
Dec 13th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

on our fictional alter-egos, hotheaded entrepreneur and self-styled “revolutionary” Benny Bucks was still scrambling to maintain control of his startup company RevolutioNet.

It hasn’t been easy on Benny; but nothing really is. His last ex-therapist told him he treats everything from business to freeway commutes as a holy war between himself and the infidels.

His therapists generally last as long as his girlfriends, for the same reason. He leaves them as soon as they say something he doesn’t want to hear. These days, though, there are a lot of people telling him things he doesn’t want to hear, and he can’t get rid of them easily.

Lord knows he’s tried. But nobody he’s talked to (or, more accurately, shrieked at) will lend him the money to oust his current investors, who’ve imposed a new management above him.

Another thing his last ex-therapist said was that Benny needed to do better at delegating authority. Benny fired the therapist before she could also warn him about ceding authority.

The result: Benny and his new boss Debbie try to spend as little time in the same room as possible. When one’s in the office, the other’s holding court with a laptop and cell phone at the nearby coffeehouse.

Kirsten, the sullen barista, has already given Debbie a nickname. “Demographic Debbie,” in Kirsten’s eyes, is the personal embodiment of a certain standard of perfection held by advertisers and politicians. She’s barely 30 but well within the top 15 income percentile.

Debbie dresses professionally, in neutral colors. Her hair is always precisely in place. Her tan hose is always runless; her mid-heel shoes are always scuffless. Her laptop’s wallpaper image is a snapshot of her posing in a tasteful smile with one ex-college-jock husband, two cherubic young sons (one in a soccer jersey), and an angelic preschool daughter.

Debbie’s always pert and polite to Kirsten, in the manner of a matron trained from childhood to be “respectful” to the servants. Debbie always apologizes for not having exact change, always states her drink requests with perfect elucidation, and always buses her table afterwards.

Debbie’s being so totally perfect only makes Kirsten secretly hate her more. Sure, Benny Bucks is a major annoyance, but at least he’s got a (misplaced) passion for life.

Today, Debbie’s perkily chatting away on her cell. She’s efficiently parceling out instructions concerning the new accounting system she’s imposing on the company, over Benny’s dead body as usual. She confidently tells her aural correspondent that she’ll have the first new numbers within the week. She’ll have a recommended plan of action within the month. She’ll know whether the company’s salvagable within the quarter.

Enter Benny, striding in aggressively, lost in his own cell talk. He’s ranting at the top of his voice about how this prissy broad’s out to ruin him and everything he’s created. She had the nerve, he complains, to slash his salary, cancel his company-leased personal SUV, and require her own approval on any future company purchases.

Why, that bitch even dared to tell him, HIM, that he had no idea how to run a company. The bitch is on his list for a good taking-out and soon, Benny screams. She’s due for a takedown, a huge takedown–

He’s still in mid-sentence when he finally notices Debbie seated at the back table, holding her cell phone up to capture Benny’s every word.

The sparks, as they say, fly.

Debbie, calmly and sternly (and while remaining seated), accuses Benny of being a pompous hustler who can no longer expect to cover up his stupidity and incompetence by merely out-shouting his underlings and insulting those he depends upon.

Benny, loudly and leeringly, accuses Debbie of being a cunt and a whore, of trying to impose outdated old-economy rules on a new-economy company that needs to move fast and cut the crap, and again of being a cunt and a whore.

As they posture and pout and barb and keep their cell phones on, Kirsten silently makes her own prediction: Debbie and Benny will be laid within the week, living together within the month, and split up within the quarter.

TOMORROW: Intelligent black people on TV–it’s something you have to pay extra for.

REMEMBER: It’s time to compile the highly awaited MISCmedia In/Out List for 2001. Make your nominations to clark@speakeasy.org or on our handy MISCtalk discussion boards.

IN OTHER NEWS: MS temps settle the lawsuit.

IN OTHER OTHER NEWS: When you get fired after three decades as a professional “Beauty,” the result isn’t pretty.

IN OTHER OTHER OTHER NEWS: After the partisan governor, the partisan secretary of state, and the partisan state legislature, it all came down to the partisan high court.

ELSEWHERE:

NERD NOSTALGIA
Dec 6th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

WHEN LAST WE LOOKED IN on our new batch of fictional alter egos, Benny Bucks was scrambling to keep control of his start-up Internet company, RevolutioNet.

RevolutioNet’s various PR documents and mission statements proclaim it’s “nothing less than the singular force that will shatter all previous paradigms,” “providing scalable, fully integrated technology solutions,” and “empowering the individual toward greater success in the age of the New Economy.”

Its business-magazine ads (a TV campaign has been in the works, depending on closing the second round of funding) depict various historical “revolutionaries,” from public-domain portraits of Isaac Newton and Gutenburg up to newly-staged photographs of generic ’60s radicals and ’80s punk rockers. (Benny wanted to add shots of Bob Dylan and James Brown, before his attorneys told him he’d need permission.) The ad copy announced “Yesterday’s Revolution” above each of these images, and “Today’s Revolution” above RevolutioNet’s logo.

None of the ads mention what RevolutioNet wants to sell, who it wants to sell to, or how its product would revolutionize anyone’s life. Benny’s original idea was to spend money on brand awareness prior to launching any product.

This shtick also gave Benny a chance to change his entire product strategy, twice. Originally, he was going to offer an online shopping site; then a search engine covering other online shopping sites.

Now, he’s listened to the CNBC pundits and switched from a business-to-consumer scheme to a business-to-business scheme. Now, RevolutioNet is to be a portal site for the vendors of business-related products and services–office supplies, accounting services, domain-name registrations, and the like.

Every time Benny changes his business plan, Pratt has to throw out most of what he’s done and start over. Pratt’s the chief software architect at RevolutioNet. He is, or was, one of the best code-wranglers in the business. Now he’s working 60 to 80 hours a week on routine database hacking.

Pratt and Benny have come to a healthy mutual loathing.

Pratt is trapped with Benny by massive salary deferments in the form of pre-IPO stock options, whose value peaked eight months ago and continue to dwindle.

Benny is trapped with Pratt by miles of code written in Pratt’s own customized jargon of Linux, and which only Pratt can keep tweaked and debugged. (Benny’s tried to have Windows NT programmers work the code; every one of them gave up in disgust.)

Of course, Pratt’s currently trying to explain to a newly-hired underling in the coffeehouse next to RevolutioNet’s office. A great piece of code is like a great work of art. You can’t take a house painter and expect him to fool around with a Rembrandt without turning it to crap.

The kid programmer (a man-aged boy, all scrawny muscles and booth-tanned skin and loud “casual office” clothes) isn’t getting it.

It’s not art, he says; it’s just a job, a piece of a business. As long as it works well enough, why bother with anything else?

Pratt shakes his head almost violently. His double-chinned beard continues to move for one second after he stops. Pratt adjusts his glasses, takes a deep breath and a sip from his coffee, and continues.

There was a time, Pratt half-condescendingly lectures, when programming was a matter of pride. When guys like me worked and pondered and rewrote every line by hand; all to fit the most functionality into limited memory, limited storage, limited processor speed, and limited bandwidth.

We wrote a line of code to be like a line of music. It said what it had to say, did what it had to do, simply and elegantly. A complete routine, a good one, was like a song. It fit a whole universe of possibilities into a few hundred K or less.

You don’t have to be so stingy with space today, but the same principles apply.

Software, when it’s done right, isn’t just some quick piece of grunt work done to changing whims and impossible schedules of some business hustler who doesn’t even know how to read a line of C-Plus-Plus.

It’s a masterpiece of logical progression and systematic construction, with every routine working in concert and with nothing extraneous or superfluous.

The kid stares at Pratt’s pot belly for a second and then blankly says, So?

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to the Japanese threat?

ELSEWHERE:

DISCONNECTING THE DOTS
Nov 28th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

BENNY KNOWS THEY ALL HATE HIM.

He knows that pity-potted barista down at the coffee shop next to his office is calling him Benny Bucks and thinking he doesn’t notice.

He knows his own programming staff, especially that geezer-at-35 Pratt, is plotting against him in any manner of ways. For one thing, he’s almost certain they made him the model for an anonymously-created “Whack-A-Boss” game, upload to a website connected on some secret hidden link from his own company’s site.

He knows his neighbors would like to run him out of town if they could find a legal way to do so. Especially that pathetic old hippie in the building who, Benny knows, is plotting to take him to court over his eviction/redevelopment plans.

Benny takes all these hatreds very seriously.

The way he figured it, the more archaic whiners like those people feared him, the more he was on the right path. The path of the rebel–indeed, the path of the true revolutionary.

Like the Founding Fathers, like Susan B. Anthony, like Martin Luther King, like the Beatles, Benny was (to his own belief) a courageous destroyer of old ways and old paradigms. A great spirit, always encountering opposition from mediocre minds.

Benny pitied the small people, with their small minds, who could only react to with jealousy and reactionary spite to the inevitability of the future, of the revolution. Of the new world being created all around him, at the speed of the Net. A world in which there would be no boundaries to success, no impediments to empowerment, no meddling labor laws or interfering government regulators stopping him from doing any damn thing he wanted whever he damn well wanted to.

And what he wants to do right now is to get his coffee order done right for once, while he’s waiting on hold to get his company’s third round of financing cleared. (He can’t figure how anybody ever got business done before cell phones with three-way conference calling and four levels of call waiting.)

He doesn’t need more than two eyes to see everyone in the coffee shop staring him down. He’s already gotten the lectures and the catcalls about public phone use. As if conducting one’s own business had become politically incorrect.

Just look at them. Whining weaklings who couldn’t put a good deal together if they had to. Just to startle them out of their puritanical ways, Benny decides he’s going to yell into his phone even louder.

Besides, the exciting part’s just starting.

The final terms of the deal.

Seventeen million now, he shouts to his attorney; thirty-three million upon the meeting of certain performance milestones. Yeah yeah, he says; be sure to tell the venture-capital guys that he’s bound to be losing at least a little less money by this time next year.

Barry laughs his usual haughty horse-laugh. Then Benny goes silent. Because he was the only person who could hear himself talk in the coffee shop, the entire place is now mute.

This lasts a good thirty seconds.

Then–What are you telling me?

WHAT…

are YOU…

telling ME!!

He slams himself up, then sits back down. He spills his lidded drink.

I SAID they could bring in consultants. NEVER did I EVER tell you you could tell them they could bring in their own management! And NOOO, I DON’T want a FUCKING SEVERANCE PACKAGE from MY own company! You can tell them to take their…

Benny comes out of his mindspace just long enough to realize everyone in the coffee shop is still looking at him. Only they’re not staring him down. They’re watching him like an audience. The little people must think it’s funny to see him facing only the mere potential end of everything.

He storms out one long obscenity; half-aimed at the attorney on the other end of his wireless connection, half at the humans in the same meatspace room; then storms out with a look of half made-up bluster, half real fear.

What he doesn’t realize is the other people in the coffee shop weren’t laughing at him, not even silently.

They were pitying him.

Something he’d hate even more.

TOMORROW: Heralding one of electronic music’s pioneers.

NEWSPAPER STRIKE WATCH: Crossword fans who missed Merl Reagle’s Sunday puzzle (bumped from the Seattle Scab Times for space) can find it online at this link, courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer (which runs it one week later than the Times has done, which means the puzzle you didn’t see on 11/26 will go online on 12/3).

ELSEWHERE:

POKER FACE
Nov 21st, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

WE RETURN TODAY to our fictional little local indie coffeeshop, where Kirsten the sullen barista is starting her shift and facing a dilemma.

In most customer-service workplaces, she would have had to be perky and upbeat even when she felt the complete opposite. (In fact, she came to this coffeeshop specifically because it was the first place she went to while job-seeking that didn’t have a sign outside saying “Now Hiring Smiling Faces.”)

But today, she’s happy. Happy in spirit, mind, and almost every inch of her body except her stiff lower back.

Yes, Kirsten got laid last night. More importantly, she managed for the first time this year to get laid without waking up hating either the guy or herself. No self-incriminating thoughts flow through her mind. No hangover pierces her skull.

She doesn’t know if she’s ever going to see the guy again (it was one of those happenstance meetings of complicated and unrepeatable circumstances). She does know that she doesn’t want to ruin her momentary good feelings by having to intellectualize them, to turn them into verbal left-brain junk like a bad review of great music.

Which is what she’d have to do if she had to discuss the night to any of her regular customers. Especially the ever-nosy mother and daughter punks, Janis and Anais, who always show up after Anais gets out of school and who always want to know everything about Kirsten’s life.

So, today Kirsten has resolved to look, talk, walk, otherwise behave like the comfortably depressed woman she usually is, instead of the giddy-in-love post-teenager she currently is. To keep a poker face, she puns to herself, after poking a really cute guy.

For most of her shift, it works. At least, if anyone notices any difference, they don’t tell her. She shuffles instead of skips. She keeps her shoulders hunched. She darts her face aside and avoids eye contact just like usual.

But the big test, she knows, will come at 3:47, when Janis and Anais show up. She perfectly goes through her expected mope-along routine whilst serving them. It works perfectly. Janis and Anais sip their respective drinks, munch on their respective pastries, chat their normal chat about Anais’s homework and Janis’s bullying bosses and which girls in Anais’s school are probably into bulimia, apparently not taking any more notice of Kirsten than usual.

Kirsten’s about to silently sigh relief as Janis and Anais leave the cafe. Just outside, Anais asks if she can go back and get a cookie to go. Janis nods yes, as Kirsten watches from inside the front window.

Anais’s heavily mascarad eyes light up as she approaches the counter. Before she’s finished grabbing the giant sugar cookie and dropping the cash on the counter, she grinningly reveals that she and her mom could both tell Kirsten was acting too deliberately normal. Then Anais goes into the kind of girls’-locker-room gossip spiel Kirsten always hated as a teenager.

Who is he how tall is he how “big” is he does he have a car did you come did you have to suck him how did you meet where did you do it are you going to see him again?

It’s over; the subterfuge is lost. Kirsten instantly relaxes herself from the full-body tension she’s been walking with all day. But the instant after Kirsten realizes the game is over, she also realizes she’d used the game as an extension of her previous night’s experiences. Now her sex-adventure really is in the past.

For the first time all day, Kirsten becomes actually despondent. Her put-on blank stare dissolves into a real blank stare.

TOMORROW: The big newspaper strike.

ELSEWHERE:

DRIPS
Nov 13th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

ONE MONTH AGO, we posted a list of potential characters for a proposed little fictional corner of the site.

Due to your underwhelming response, we (the characters and I) have spent a lot of time in behind-the-scenes retooling of the whole concept.

Herewith, the pilot episode of our ongoing commentary-with-character:

THE SCENE OPENS in our quasi-friendly local coffee shop with Kirsten the sullen barista complaining about the recent election results to anyone who’ll listen and everyone who won’t.

“No matter which jerk ends up on top, we’re just gonna get four more years of the same old corporate crap,” she says while “mistakenly” preparing a decaf beverage for a customer from the dot-com office next door. “Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to vote.”

“But you don’t vote,” interjects Janis, Kirsten’s middle-aged punk friend. “Every year you say the same thing, that there’s never been a politician worthy of your attention. Migawd Kirsten, it’s just picking a guy for public office. You’re not fucking him.”

“Yeah, but they’re fucking us.”

“Still, Kirsten, you’ve gotta admit this time’s been a lot of fun. It’s out of control! The world’s only fuckin’ superpower, with nobody in real control!

The dot-commer, whom Kirsten has nicknamed Benny Bucks, takes his drink, triple-checks to make sure the lid’s really on, and heads off in his $300 shoes, his facelifted eyebrows buried in the stock pages, mumbling his hopes for a post-election market bounce. As soon as the door closes, Kirsten suggests aloud that Benny Bucks “probably voted for Bush.”

Janis quickly adds in, “But I bet he wished the race wasn’t so close so he could have voted for his real heroes, the Libertarians. You know, the guys who think big business still doesn’t have enough power.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about any of that,” Kirsten interjects. “Whoever the new guy is is gonna do everything to make politics even more corporate than it already is. He’ll say we’ve gotta make sure this messy democracy thing doesn’t get this crazy ever again, so we’ve gotta have more big money in campaigns, more central control, stop those pesky third parties…”

Janis bellows back, “But it’s so much more fun this way. I mean, look at it. The future course of all life on Earth depends on the margin of a few hundred people in fuckin’ Florida! The guy who plays Goofy! Some old couple running a little Bible theme park. Maybe some alligator poachers and drug runners and old Jewish widows and Castro-haters and gay boys in Miami and lap-dancers in Tampa and retired circus freaks. Sweetie Kirsten, this is what America’s supposed to be all about!”

Janis then says she knows she and Kirsten would love to spend the rest of the day enjoying one another’s misery, but there’s a big day going on outside the warm confines of the coffee shop. Janis’s daughter Anais is desiging her costume today for her very first unsanctioned anti-Thanksgiving pageant in school.

Anais, Janis relates, can’t decide whether to be one of the generous Indians or one of the ungrateful, genocidal Pilgrims.

“The eternal dilemma,” Kirsten mutters aloud. “Whether to

figuratively absorb a half-millennium of victimhood for one’s own, or to parade one’s descent from the Oppressor Race like the proverbial scarlet letter.”

“Kirsten,” Janis says as she rises and gathers her slightly-cracking leather jacket, “you could make heaven itself sound like a miserable experience. That’s what I like about you.”

As usual, Kirsten doesn’t know whether to feel complimented or insulted. So she just responds with a polite stare.

TOMORROW: Why people write book reviews; why people read book reviews.

ELSEWHERE:

ALTER-EGO MANIA
Oct 13th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

SOME OF THE GREAT COLUMNISTS in the art form’s long history have used fictional alter egos to liven up their regular output and to give a different spin on the events of the day.

The legendary Mike Royko sometimes spoke through the identity of a hardboiled Chicago bartender named Slats Grobnik (or something like that).

Don Marquis occasionally submitted columns in all lower-case lettering, which he claimed had been typed by “archy,” a cockroach with the mind of a reincarnated human. (Archy, as Marquis claimed it, typed by jumping on the typewriter keys, so he only could manage lower-case letters.)

Flann O’Brien, as we’ve previously mentioned, essentially wrote his entire Irish Times column in a pseudonymous persona, Myles na gCopaleen.

Never one to let a good writing shtick go unstolen, I’ve been pondering adding one or more imaginary guest voices take over the online column every now and then. (This is not to be confused with the real guest voices who show up here now and then.) (It’s also not to be confused with the phenomenon of “hearing voices” from inside one’s own head, something I must assure you I don’t do.)

Here are the nominees for a new Kolumn Kharacter:

  • Kirsten, the sullen barista. She hates her job, her apartment, her town, her parents, her boyfriend, her body, other women’s bodies, and earthly existence in general. Her only joy in life is deliberately mixing up the coffee orders of the obnoxious rich bastards from the dot-com office next door.
  • Derek, the 55-year-old record collector. Longs to return to a bygone analog world in which Clapton was God and working-stiff guys like himself still had a chance to make it. Can barely maneuver his 235-pound frame around his LP- and memorabilia-laden apartment.
  • Janis and Anais, the mother-and-daughter punks. Mom has taught her precious girl how to do everything–how to go to high school with a hangover, how to dye one’s own pubic hair, how to fall off a skateboard without serious injury, how to out-party any man, how to play the “power chord,” how to adapt “I’m A Little Teapot” into a defiant hardcore anthem.
  • Eudora Flies-With-Eagles Schwartz, the new age shaman. Claims to be descended from a different Indian nation every month. Has never been to a reservation or powwow, but knows all the secrets of the Way of the Warrior (and will share some of them with you for a modest fee).
  • Freddy, the fetishist. If it hurts, if it embarrasses, he likes it. Believes women exist to serve men by punishing them.
  • Demographic Debbie. The perfect representation of the upscale target market. A career, a house, a minivan, a husband, an ex-husband, two-point-five children (the “point-five” kid lives half the year with the ex-husband). Lives to shop; loves romantic getaways and fashionable restaurants; is devoutly middle-of-the-road politically; has never held an extreme voice or idea since high school. Favorite color: Beige.
  • Riot Rosie and Radical Randy. They know exactly what’s wrong with the world and won’t stop telling you–it’s the wasteful lifestyles of people other than themselves, and the fascistic hypocrisies of all governments that outlaw pot and legalize meat. Their only moments of self-doubt arise when they realize their failure to fully meet their own stratospheric standards of behavior.
  • Pratt, the programmer. Doesn’t know much about dating or grooming or healthy eating, but knows tons about Linux coding, Star Wars, multi-player networked games, Japanese candy, and why the Internet used to be so much better before the tall guys in suits took it over.
  • Benny Bucks, the poor little rich man. A tall guy in a suit, forever complaining about how hard it is to make ends meet on $235,000 a year. The government and the PC thought police are always meddling in his life. Why just last week, the Forest Service wanted him to pay a fine for merely executing his God-given right to go off-roading in a sensitive area. And that sullen barista next door to his office never gets his order right.

Based on your responses, via email and at our MISCtalk discussion boards, one or perhaps more of these witty phantoms will make a full-length column appearance soon.

MONDAY: Awaiting the big Hollywood strike.

ELSEWHERE:

  • New stadia like Safeco Field“appeal to fans’ nostalgia the way Pottery Barn plays on urban consumers’ kitschy rural yearnings: by delivering a pristine, expensive simulacrum of something that, historically, was neither….”
  • Can’t conceive kids? Blame hubby’s old disposable diapers (found by Fark)….
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