Ah, Santa Monica. The Big Monica. It's a beach town; you may have seen it going kablooie in Emmerich's latest silver screen shit-pile. On the Tuesday in question, it was the kind of town that made you wish you weren't chained to your desk, by way of a dead-end job writing copy for some online gag outfit and a penchant for the bottle that emptied your pockets as quickly as the bottle emptied your stomach. If you're me, that is.
Name's Swaim. I'm an alcoholic that can't hold his liquor, and if you thought
that was funny, you're going to love the one about go fuck yourself.But back to Santa. And also, Monica. It was aptly named: beautiful, magical, but with a sleazy side, like Santa Clause boning Monica from Friends, and maybe they're using handcuffs or whips or something. I filed the mental image away for later translation into an acoustic guitar ballad.Yes, the ol' S&M...it stretched out before me, glass buildings and cresting waves shining in black and white, all film noir-ishly. It was my town. I was me, there, in the town.But the town had not been kind, of late. Neither had The Town, which I'd found engaging, but ultimately a letdown considering the talent involved. I was broke, drunk, thus vomiting constantly, and spent my days holed up in my office when there was perfectly good beach-tail going to waste. I recoiled from the thought, and took another stroll down memory lane, a belt of rye my tour guide.Like a cassette tape worn thin, my brain cast itself by habit back to better days, Agents of Cracked days. I'm not sure if that's how cassettes work, so the simile might not hold, but you get the point. I missed the show. I missed
It had been weeks since the finale, and all I had to keep me going these days was the grueling drudgery of Does Not Compute and whatever After Hours schlock we squirted out when Dan needed extra scratch to keep the loan sharks at bay. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd made out with a guy in a hot air balloon (it had been recently, but right after a concussion, so it was hazy).My reverie burst like so much diseased appendix when Jack, the aforementioned gag outfit's Editor-in-Chief, barged into the office."Michael?" He asked. I gave him my customary once over. To be frank and also an asshole, he looked as dumb and ugly as you could feasibly expect someone to be described as looking in a column like this."That's what it says on my door," I quipped, surreptitiously vomiting down the sleeve of my awesome trench coat."No, it doesn't. It says 'Emergency Exit,' because this is a fire escape that you refuse to leave."
"Maybe I changed my name to Emergency Exit, fuckface, you ever think of that?" I didn't say that, but I said it in my head so hard it
felt like I said it, so I put it in quotes."Look," Jack said after about forty seconds of silence, "Dan's going to be in New Jersey this week, so we need someone to fill in for him on the blog. Are you interested?"Typical. Another dame with another problem to drop at my feet and scuff my wingtips. I gave Jack my customary follow-up once-over-again, although it was more like a half-over-again since I focused entirely on the gams, where fewer of his horrible parents' ugly genes had managed to conspire. Today, they sported a saddle-split dress so tight some would have considered them men's slacks. The outfit made it clear those stems went all the way up; I just wasn't keen to know what to.It was almost time for Jack to talk again, and one more blast of that voice was going to explode my head like a Gallagherized melon, so I went into haggle mode. "I'll need fifty greenbacks a day, an expense account, and a company car.""I'll pay you your normal salary, which is considerably higher. And I'm leaving now.""Well, if you're going to sweeten the deal," I said, "don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out." I let the vomit in my sleeve trickle into my wastebasket as if to say "in your face," then took another swig of rye to wash the taste out. The taste of the conversation with Jack, not the vomit. BOOM."Have something by Friday," said Jack the he-dame, and split like an unwary honeydew at a Gallagher show. Like a tape worn thin, that reminded me of my earlier Gallagher metaphor, and in turn everything that's happened up to this point in the story, which seemed odd.
Then, without any warning except the preceding nonsense, the room started spinning, and it was going at a clip that made it clear it had places to be, one of them being the winner's circle of the Kentucky Derby. The shades of forgotten flames, ghosts of past loves, and spirits of girls I had banged but didn't recall the names of swam in front of my eyes, brought back from beyond the grave, or in most cases, not.
What's happening to me?
I lurched around my office, seeking some kind of exit. I needed to get out, get help. All I could see was a door cryptically labeled "tixE ycnegremE," which I ignored both violently and forever. I felt a sickening wrenching sensation in my gut, like I'd eaten a sick wrench, but not the one I always feel right before vomiting. This was something new. Something different. You have to figure out what's happening to you, you think.Wait, "you?" Why are you saying "you?" Wait, are you...you? Oh, shit, Michael, not only have you transitioned from past tense to present, you've changed from a first-person to second-person narrator!Turn to page 2 to continue.
After taking a moment to absorb this shocking and intangible philosophical abstraction, you try to retrace your steps. What could have caused this? Then it hits you:
The rye! You vomit violently. Then it hits you, but in the sense that you come to a realization: The rye!Taking the pint glass of rye very carefully from your inside coat pocket, you notice the tell-tale of powdered sediment at the bottom. For the fiftieth time that day, you regret not buying a new flask. Before you can regret it for the fifty-first time, you collapse under the weight of the drug, struggling to maintain your grip on reality. Someone has hooked the sun to a dimmer switch and is spinning it wildly.
As you slide into a drug-fueled stupor of hallucination and full-body shakes, the last cogent part of your brain finally recognizes the nasty tang of the pill playing a pick-up game of basketball with your consciousness. It's acrid and thick, the smoke from a trash fire caught in the waxed tips of a bushy mustache.
Jack, you think, that bastard. It was one thing to slip a man a Mickey, but to slip your own writer a Brockway? The drug had been outlawed in all of the good states for years now.
You need to find out what Jack's up to. But first, you need to get these drugs out of your system, or at the very least party hard enough that they don't go to waste. And above all else, you've still got a column to write.Right now, you're cheekbone-deep in a puddle of sick, and the good news is you're lying on your side, most likely because your legs seem to have swapped brains buddy comedy-style, and they're not quite sure what to make of these strange new leg-bodies.
"Fuck you, legs," you encourage, but to no avail. You, Michael Swaim, who've made a career out of standing in various places, cannot now stand of your own accord. You're filled with the drunken rage and frustration of a thousand whiskey-dicked sophomores. Luckily, just then, a rainbow-feathered emurangutan appears."Are you a drug-induced hallucination?" you ask it."No," it says in every language to ever be spoken in the universe, all at once."Oh, okay."The creature scoops you off of the floor with its muscular orangutan arms and places you gently onto its curved emu-esque neck. It sprints forward, into a wormhole of pulsating light, and you wonder idly if rainbow-bird is a good eating meat. "Well," it quacks, picking lice from your hair, "where to?" That's when you notice the strange buttons embedded in its back.
To get stuck in a time loop, or continue being stuck in one, reload this page.
I gained speed, going faster and faster until everything was as blurry as Amy Winehouse is dead and a drug addict. When I finally slowed, my surroundings had given way to a bleak hellscape. Looking down, I realized that I was now riding a broken and sagging mare, and that my first-person P.O.V., at least for the moment, had returned.
"Oy," I said, pulling back on the reins and bringing the poor creature to a stop next to a gray stream. As it bent to drink, another horse approached and watered next to mine. It bore a rider, as slumped and weary-looking as the hero of the eponymous
Shane, which is probably the best western in the "glorified crime" subgenre, and really laid the groundwork for the darker stuff like Unforgiven. Perhaps sensing my deep knowledge of film and music, the rider looked up, sun catching her big, wet eyes. She was beautiful, the kind of indie kitten that looked just down-to-earth enough to take home for Passover, but just fragile enough to need the comforting touch of an older gentleman on cold post-apocalyptic nights. "You may," I said, and she seemed to regain her strength, as had my horse after all of that yummy gray stream-water. She got off her horse and onto mine, settling in behind me with her arms around my waist and her underboob in full effect. "My name's Adze," she said, "like the medieval planing tool?" "I'm aware of the Adze" I said dryly.
You jam your fisty hand onto the button marked "MS," and immediately hear mechanical whirring inside the body of the beast beneath you."This isn't a sex thing, right?" you ask, already mentally preparing for either answer. Instead, the emurangutan stops abruptly in front of a door. The door is totally nondescript, the dictionary definition of the word "door" made manifest. The door is boring as shit.You sigh loudly, as if to say "hey, let's put a movie on, something." Your steed remains in place. The ethereal lights around you seem to focus on the doorway.Ignoring them, you nudge the bird with your heels. Nothing happens."So what, I go in the door?"The thing appears to no longer want to talk to you. Also, it now has the face of Ronald Reagan, so you decide to go ahead and scramble for the fucking door like a maniac. Finding that your legs work just fine under the dead-eyed gaze of the Gipper, you put hand to knob, make like a junior high handjob, and twist...
Back on the other side of the door, you find the tunnel of holy light and unearthly hybrid creature-monster have been replaced by a Staples employee lounge. A man you instinctively know as "Herbie" quietly eats egg salad in the corner. Realizing you have no lunch of your own and are insanely high, you decide to buy every single item in the vending machine with your foot. SMASH! Glass rains onto the linoleum, along with a paltry assortment of packaged snacks. Herbie takes no notice, other than to pack his soiled napkin into a lunchbox and go back to stocking printer paper on the sales floor. Herbie is very professional, and his break has ended.Squatting to inspect the snack packets, you see that they all bear strange markings.
As soon as you do the thing you just did, you hear the whistling cry of an eerie wind, like a dog that is scared and with good lung capacity. A shadow blacker than night and colder than night falls over you, chilling your heart to the heart-core. You know, the cockles. Your mouth is filled with the taste of yogurt-covered raisins and death. "Who-who's there?" you ask, feeling that this would be an appropriate thing to ask at this point. Your only answer is the howl of the wind, and then the howl of a wolf, and then the howl of a lighting bolt striking. In the sudden light, you see that you've been transported into a castle keep, ancient and moss-lined. You're allergic to moss, so this is only getting scarier for you. A voice wafts out of a dark hallway and forces itself into your ear-hole, lubed with a spooky echo. "Whooo intruuudes upon these saaacred chaaambers?"
"My name's Michael. I'm trying to write a column for my boss, but I can't because of the drugs my boss gave me," you say, but with stuttering, because of the fright. "I seeeee," comes the voice, "caaall me Aaadolf Hiiitlerrr." Oh no! It's then that you realize the castle you've apparated into is none other than that of the FÃ¼hrer himself! With a clack of boots clacking, Hitler steps into the room. He's got on his signature stovepipe hat with the swastika, so there's no mistaking it's him. You sneeze because of the moss. "Gesuuundheit," he says. He
would say that.
"But wait a minute, isn't Hitler dead?" you say, but with snot, because of the sneezing. "Oh, I'm not
that Adolf Hitler," he says, echo fading like so much ghosts. "I'm Hitler69. I comment on the columns, and I hate you. I just wanted you to know that. I've haunted this castle for centuries, just waiting around on the off-chance that a drug-induced time warp would transport you here. You are shit. There; that was my unfinished business...
Cody." TWIST NUMBER 2! In case you are keeping track. "Wait, so are you the ghost of a commenter, or a ghost that comments on the site?" you ask. "I mean, 'centuries?' I've only been writing for the site for a few years." "Fuuuuuck yoouuuuuu," he says, echo returning, but now it's because there are a million of him, and each of them has echoes.
"Why?" you scream/sneeze, "I'm funny! I write funny jokes!" "Weeeee doooooon't caaaaaaaare" says the buncha ghosts, and they dog-pile on you so frighteningly you only barely escape. But you do. They're chasing you down the hallway, melding together into a big wave of unforgiving, logic-immune, commenting ghosts crashing together like an ocean wave, or the wave of blood in
The Shining, or something else entirely science can't yet imagine. Just as you are about to be swallowed up by the ghostwave, which is also the name of your band, the emurangutan returns, running alongside you at an incredible pace, which I guess means you are going at an incredible pace too.
How about that? "Come," says your fine feathered frienemy, "there is much else to see, and here is but the chatter of the insensible surf against the unyielding shelf." "You said it, Rufus! Let's skeeeeeeee-daddle!" you say, immediately regretting it and thinking of something way better. But it's too late. You appreciatively pat the rainbowed flanks of the animal, which is now called Rufus it seems, but that's only mentioned on this page so feel free to forget it.
Swinging a leg up, you are soon back in the rainbow saddle, which is the name of a very good Ghostwave achoustic ballad.
You hop off the bird-thing, and the ground kindly reminds you of how little your legs work and what it feels like to try and dig a hole with your face. Spitting blood and chipped teeth, you kick wildly at the only creature that's shown you an ounce of kindness since this madness began. The bird-ape weeps a single sapphire tear, flaps its iridescent wings, and monkey-paws down the fire escape. Congratulations, you're even a prick when you're high. YOU LOSE. I don't even feel like finishing. Fuck you.
With a supreme effort, you drag your mutinous body to the edge of the escape and peer down at the two-story abyss below. The chemicals coursing through your every cell tell you that you're looking at a beautiful swimming pool full of chicks with drinks and self-esteem problems, but you know the grim truth: all that's down there are the office dumpsters, and the chicks you're imagining are probably just homeless people in bikinis. You make peace with the only God
you've ever believed in - God - and list forward. But as you fall, your vision begins to change. Where once there was a pool, there's now a shimmering portal. Where once there were homeless chicks, there's now just more of the portal I mentioned.
As you fall towards the magic hole in reality, you realize there's something odd about the light pulsing from the other side. Something...jewy. Yeah, that's it; everything's getting real jewy in here all of a sudden. But hey, who are you to kvetch?
Tired of this madcap drugstravaganza, and very possibly this column, you decide to settle into the reassuringly stable life of a Staples employee. The months pass in relative calm.Though you manage the back-to-school section with ruthless Machiavellian tactics, Herbie continues to beat you out for Employee of the Month time and again.
Finally, distraught, you make a deal with a spooky witch you know to curse him in such a way that he does less well at his Staples job.Herbie's ensuing fuckups at work ultimately lead to his dismissal from the Staples family, and he's found dead a week later, wrists slit in a bathtub full of floating "Easy" buttons. Overcome with remorse, you demand the witch set things right. Enraged by your questioning of her methodology, she raises her witch-wand with a flourish and blasts you with a spooky spell!
You die. You are dead. There's no link back to your previous place, because you've made a choice that can't be un-made (without hitting the back button on your browser). Blind monks burn your corpse on a moonless night next to an abattoir, so God can neither smell nor see the disgrace you've brought on your people. Also the column didn't get done, so I guess you're fired. And you're me? God, this was a confusing mess.THE END. YOU LOSE THIS GAME AND LIFE.
I bucked my horse with the fury of a thousand dreidels, sending Adze tumbling into the dirt. "Hey!" she screamed, clearly attracted to me because of my resemblances to her father. It's kind of sad, really, but I'm used to it by now.She said some other stuff, but I was already galloping away, farklempt in the knowledge that I'd brought a mitzvah upon this shikseh. And a mohel with shpilkes mishpocheh in the plotz-shmendrik, no less!YOU HAVE SUCCUMBED TO THE PURE EROTIC ALLURE OF YIDDISH. THE END.
We didn't do it for the recognition, Adze and I. Save the entire universe and all of the babies in it, I mean. No, we did it because we just couldn't feel right having sex unless we had. So we did it, by walking around and talking to people until eventually discovering the solution. After that, it was as simple as applying the solution to the obstacle we'd faced in the first place!
As for our personal differences, hey, we got some counseling, I bought a Porsche, we got over it, I returned the Porsche, no big whoop. And now the universe's babies were safe, and we were free to frolic like it was prom night and we'd both had one too many Manischewitz-and-champagnes. I couldn't complain. Adze stroked my grizzled chin. We lay in a post-coital glow, listening to Velvet Underground records in the lean-to we'd set up as a summer vacation home for when the radiation levels were high in the East. "So, that's anal," I said. "I'm not going to lie; not that great." "Wow," Adze said. "Wow, sorry. I'm sorry that wasn't great for you. Sticking your penis painfully into my butt; I'm sorry that wasn't as awesome as you'd hoped." God, she was so funny and into me.
We got tons of recognition, as well, which I should have mentioned. Before all was said and done with the universe-saving, Facebook had been converted into a religion centered around my updates. Lying there with Adze, I made a mental note to post something about how the anal hadn't been that good. Yes, I thought, my people would sleep well to know that. It would bring them a measure of peace in these troubled times. I had reached the peak of accomplishment, allure, power and influence, and my followers could take me anywhere I wanted to go. All I had to do was will it.
Where was I? Oh, that's right, passed out in a little spot the locals like to call Puddle Of Vomit, population: chunks. Of course, that was far from the worst P.O.V. I'd become acquainted with recently. Pulling my head back together like the pieces of an errant post-Gallagher cantaloupe, I found the spinning and insensible darkness had given way to a more moderate set of symptoms: intense pain and screaming. So I grooved on that for a while, then finally decided to go and wash the sun-caked vomit off of my face when the tremors died down enough to allow for locomotion. I strode into my private bathroom to find the medicine cabinet already open. Bad sign.
Great, I thought, Now I need to do an inventory to find out what drugs I took while insane on drugs. A quick rummage revealed that I had indeed partaken while I was under, but thankfully nothing some hair of the dog and an hour on the phone with my ex wouldn't knock right outta me.
God, the ex. I went through a quick anger-management routine just to keep from punching myself in the part of the head that had come up with the thought. I fished for the crumpled pack of cigs in my coat pocket. It's funny, with all these saccharine-sweet romance movies out there, they never show the reality: a guy punching himself in the head to drive the hateful bitch from his mind, but loving every second of it. I guess there are some things you just can't understand until life's kicked your ass a little. I made a quick hand motion, and the cigarette pack did that cool thing where one of them comes halfway out.
Wait a minute, I thought, I don't know how to do that thing. After a few more moments staring at the pack in my hand, it further occurred to me that I was trying to quit. Was I? Did I even smoke? I mean, angel dust, sure, but cigarettes?
Absent-mindedly, I swung the medicine cabinet shut and turned on the water to wash the puke off my mug, and also my face (some had dripped onto a mug in the sink). But before I could get to the puke, I realized I'd have to clean that shocked expression off, not to mention those age-lines, those sunken eyes, that hard-set jaw and that skin thickened from the ass-buttishness of life. A surge of pride filled me. After what seemed like an eternity of confusion and uncertainty, at least one thing was clear to me now: who I was. I was
John Fucking Cheese, God Dammit, and I didn't smoke anymore! I called the cigarette a faggot and punched its little exposed head clean off. It was later, while I was burning the corpse of my vanquished enemy and inhaling the heady fumes of its death-pyre, that Jack came in. He was carrying a plate of meatloaf and a phone book. "Oh, hey, you're awake." "Yeah," I said, "and you're still ugly." "There's vomit on your face."
Dammit, knew I forgot something. "Don't worry boss, I think I've finally cracked it." "Cracked what? Your psyche?" "The column. I'm just about to start writing it." "What the hell are you talking about?" "The column you asked me to write. The guest column for Dan." "That was six weeks ago! You've been out here convulsing and jabbering for a month and a half. We actually had to build a robot to host Does Not Compute. I come out here twice a week to knock you out with a phone book and force pre-chewed meatloaf down your throat." "But...but, I'm John fucking Cheese, and-" "No, you're not! You're Michael Swaim, and this is a building fire escape!" "You" I shouted in a rush of remembrance, "the drink! You slipped me a Brockway!" "That's not a thing," said Jack. "I'm almost positive you're just crazy. I mean, every time I come out here you think you're a different columnist. One time you were hissing and meowing and had cut your dick off. I think you were trying to be Christina."
I'll admit, it was a hard pill to swallow. Could it really have been my own mental problems all along, like some kind of groundbreaking Christopher Nolan movie? I took a long moment to soak it all in. Here we were, Jack and I. The two of us made an unlikely pair...he, the transgendered uggo comedy editor, and me, a faux-dick with no dick and a head full of other folks' minds on one wild merry-go-round ride. Despite myself, I had to crack a sly smile. "Wow," Jack said, "that really wasn't the reaction I expected to the dick thing. Anyway, I'm pretty sure it's still here somewhere; we told janitorial not to come near you." I couldn't even hear him. I was already inches-deep in my new column. It would be proud, and just, and about all things true and right in the world. Split personalities or not, this was one job I wasn't going to leave undone. "Boss, I need a day. Just one more day, and you'll have your guest column, I swear it." "I don't care. Dan's been back for a month. No one cares. If you write something, we'll run it, I guess. Anyway, I should go. I'm really not supposed to talk to you for this long." "Why? Is my brain thing contagious?" "Nope, just a New Years' resolution. Thanks for reminding me why we don't let you write for the site any more. And hey, when you get a chance, can you head down to the parking garage? You've been blocking me in since July. I would have had you towed, but your car is a tent with your family living in it." With that, and several seconds of him opening the door and walking out, he was gone. But I didn't mind; I knew he had a site to run. I, on the other hand...I had a column to write. And what's more, it was going to be a column with narrative, with a real story you could sink your teeth into. Although if you think about it, maybe narrative is just the brain's way of justifying the seemingly random actions we take every day. Maybe a story is nothing but a bit of human programming designed to impart the illusion that life has shape and meaning, rather than simply beginning and ending with few real clues along the way.
I was sure it was the kind of larger-context analysis and deep insight that would elevate my column to the status of "insta-classic," like a classic book, say
War and Peace, or John Dies At The End, available for purchase on Amazon and at all fine booksellers.I felt the old familiar warmth run through my veins. "Get ready world," I said, "David Wong is on the case."