Monday, January 30, 2012

CHRISTOPHER CARRION LIVES! A review of ABARAT: ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT

It’s hard to write really good children’s books, mostly because a lot of people don’t realize that such books have to have a really, really dark side to them. J.K. Rowling understood this, and as a result the Catholic Church has put her on their Shit List. Clive Barker is another writer who gets this concept. Once upon a time, he said one of his favorite books is PETER PAN, mostly because young Pete happens to be a murderous little bastard, which is the general mindset of children when you think about it. They’re walking ids, waiting for age and influence to add conscience to their chemistry.



The one truly annoying thing about Barker’s kids’ series, ABARAT, is that it takes soooo fucking long for a new volume to come out. Years pass between books, and it’s hard to remember exactly what happened in the previous installment. Harry Potter didn’t have this problem because his adventures came out approximately annually.


But Barker is worth the wait. For the most part, his adult work is much better. He is allowed to work through the really dark complexities of the human (or, in many cases, inhuman) condition. When he’s writing for the kiddies, he’s got to play it relatively nice (for instance, his author’s bio makes no mention of his lover of many years, David Armstrong). Still, he doesn’t take it too easy on the little fellas. There is plenty of nastiness to find in these pages.


Candy Quakenbush of Chickentown accidentally found her way to the Abarat, an ocean world where there are 25 islands, one for each hour of the day, and an extra one, years ago. She’s been through many adventures and has gained many allies (and quite a few villains to boot). This time, she has a number of difficulties to deal with, mostly to do with Mater Motley, a vicious witch with a cloak of dolls filled with the souls of her vanquished enemies. The old hag wants to bring darkness to a world where the sun always shines regardless of the hour. She calls this Absolute Midnight, and it is a tribute to the wishes of those she serves, those who live behind the stars. She intends to fill this world with her stitchlings, ragged mud creatures worthy of their scrotum-shrinking name, who will then murder her enemies. “A knife for every heart,” she intones darkly.


Poor Candy also has to deal with Boa, who is a very different kind of villainess. You see, we learned last time around that the Abaratians of old hid Boa, a witch in her own right, inside Candy’s brain, where she lived for all of Candy’s life. Candy never noticed and always thought that Boa was actually herself. Yet now Boa wants out, and while Candy is happy to oblige, she’s deathly afraid that she’s going to lose a part of herself in the process.


And then there’s Christopher Carrion, perhaps Barker’s greatest villain. Thought to be dead at the conclusion of the previous book, we find him washed up on a beach of rotting flesh, where he somehow still lives. At his most powerful, he was the Prince of Midnight, a ghastly gaunt man with a glass neck collar, in which swam the diaphanous nightmares that eventually saved his life. He has a horribly scarred mouth because when he was a child, he had the nerve to utter the word “love.” As a result, Mater Motley, his grandmother, sewed his mouth shut. We found out last time that he was once in love with Boa, which explained his obsession with Candy in the first book. Now that he’s been resurrected, and Candy no longer has Boa in her, he feels nothing but sorrow for our protagonist. You see, the reason he’s such a good villain is because he doesn’t want to be, but he’s too scared to not be his grandmother’s servant. Near the end of the book, he says to Candy that he wishes she’d gone back to the Hereafter (earth) when he’d told her to, because now he has to kill her. He is easily the most sorrowful character in the series, and even though he has done many terrible things, a reader can’t help but feel sorry for him. Even Candy herself admits this later in the third volume.


It takes a while for Barker to get into the swing of this story. There are a few false starts throughout the first quarter of the book, which weakens this volume a bit. However, even if the narrative falters at times, the true star of this book, as with the others, is his artwork. The paintings are the reason it takes him so long to get each volume complete, but he takes such care with them the wait is worth it. Think about some of the darkest images you’ve ever seen in a children’s book, and multiply them by a hundred, and that’s what you get here. Barker’s not playing around; he’s out to give your kids nightmares as frightening as those that float around Christopher Carrion’s face.

Even if you feel like giving up in the beginning, don’t. The ending is completely worth it. Although he chickens out when it comes to killing one of the main (and most beloved) characters, the rest of it is mindblowingly awesome. To most of Candy’s companions, it’s heartbreaking, but to Candy and Malingo and Gazza . . . it’s a new world of gods and monsters! A new world full of potential and possibilities! Yes, there is a fourth book on the way, and a fifth after that, and it might take a half-decade before we get to come back to the Abarat, but anyone under its spell already knows they’ll be willing and eager to buy the next volume.


ABARAT: ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT
Written and painted by Clive Barker
Published by Harper
569 pages
$24.99

Friday, January 27, 2012

EVERYONE'S GOT ONE #14: COMEDY CENTRAL CAN SUCK MY DICK

I think we can all agree on one thing: comedy should know no boundaries. Therefore, things that are supposed to make you laugh should never be censored. As Mark Twain once said, “Censorship is like being told I cannot have a steak because a baby cannot chew it.”



HBO, Showtime, and the like are pretty good about putting funny shit out there without telling the purveyors that they can’t cross a certain line. And yet . . . on cable, there is a channel that exists solely to make us laugh. Why else would it be called Comedy Central? Is there any likelihood that one day they’ll start showcasing THE EXORCIST? Or SCHINDLER’S LIST? No, but getting CLERKS or HALF-BAKED or BLACK DYNAMITE is pretty much on the table.


The problem is, Comedy Central censors the shit out of movies like THE BIG LEBOWSKI, movies that rely on crude humor and foul language to get the laugh across. Not only that, but they also censor politically incorrect language. Racism and homophobia exist, folks. To pretend they don’t is kind of ridiculous. However, to lampoon such despicable proponents of such viewpoints, sometimes it’s necessary to use their language.


For example, Michael Richards calling a bunch of black people “niggers” isn’t funny. However, the blind white supremacist who doesn’t know he’s black and therefore calls a bunch of wiggers “niggers” on CHAPPELLE’S SHOW, well, that’s pretty fucking hilarious.


[To be fair, Comedy Central did allow their own Trey Parker and Matt Stone to take the piss out of them in an episode of SOUTH PARK in which it is revealed that only gay people can say “faggot” on TV, and everyone else has to be censored. But every once in a while, there is an exception to the rule. Chappelle did indeed get to say the dreaded n-word quite a bit.]


Speaking of exceptions to the rule, many of you might point out that late at night on weekends, Comedy Central shows uncensored material. This is merely a cop-out. You mean I have to wait until after midnight on two days of the week to get to the good shit? Fuck your empty gesture. If they had the courage of their convictions, they’d let Jon Stewart say “fuck” on THE DAILY SHOW.


So . . . suck my dick, Comedy Central. If I want to see Bill Hicks do REVELATIONS, I have the DVD. If I want the good shit, I’ll seek it out on my own and watch Patrice O’Neal do ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, or George Carlin do LIFE IS WORTH LOSING, or Richard Pryor doing BICENTENNIAL NIGGER. I’ll find out for myself what Sam Kinison means by comparing Dr. Ruth’s pussy to a grilled cheese sandwich, or what Chris Rock is describing when he’s talking about a dick in a glass case.


And I’ll go you one further. Not a lot of people know this, but when you see one of those Comedy Central stand-up specials, those audiences are papered. For those who don’t know, papering an audience is the practice of filling up empty seats, even if it means letting people in for free. This is done, usually, for critic night, to show important critics who are reviewing the show that yes, this is a show a lot of people are interested in seeing.


What’s the problem with that? A comedian doesn’t get the proper audience, that’s what. Every stand-up performer is different, and they gather a different group of fans. Sure, there’s overlap, but when a comedian draws an audience, those people are there specifically to see him or her in action.


The people who paper an audience are there just because the show’s for free. Perhaps they’ve just been invited to see a Louis CK show for free. They’ve never heard of the guy. In fact, their idea of stand-up comedy is Carrot Top and Gallagher. What do you think is going to happen?


Well, in a perfect world, the audience member would have his or her eyes suddenly be opened to a brand new world of humor, much better than the crap they’re used to. But the more likely scenario is that they don’t laugh. It’s not their cup of tea. As a result, the show doesn’t go quite so well.


Stand-up is a different kind of entertainment. It’s interactive. A performer has to feel out the crowd and then calculate, right there on the spot, the material that will get them laughing. It’s fucking hard work, and an unentertained audience is the kiss of death.


Anyway, am I off base on this one? Should I just stop complaining and be grateful for the two or three hours of good shit they air every weekend? Tell me what you think in the comments below.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

COOL SHIT 1-26-12

THE WALKING DEAD #93: We’re still in kind of a lull, as this is just the beginning of a new storyline, but it seems like things are going to heat up really fast. Just when you start thinking Rick is turning a new leaf, that he’s finally going to be less psycho than he’s been for the past 70-ish issues, he pulls some paranoid violence out of his ass and quite possibly fucks up any chance of getting civilization up and running again. It’s slowly starting to dawn on me that no matter how fucked up things get, Rick and his crew might actually be the villains of this book. What a horrifying concept!




TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IN DISGUISE #1: The sister book to MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE starts out with Cybertron in a horrible mess. Prowl has left the Decepticons in charge of keeping the peace, and to control them, he’s installed a device in all of them. If they misbehave, he can make their heads explode. Of course, them being Decepticons, they take their duties too far and essentially become stormtroopers. In the meantime, Bumblebee is stuck between his duties, making things work with the Decepticons, and trying to bring the expat Transformers into the fold. Things are clearly not working, especially since most people think he murdered Rodimus Prime and hundreds of others for political reasons. He does not help matters by using Prowl’s device to blow up a Decepticon’s head. And with Ratbat in the middle of it all, being his usual politician self, one suspects Bumblebee’s attempts at leadership will be run right off the rails.



ANGEL AND FAITH #6: This book has been good, but not great . . . until now. In this issue, through a flashback, we get to see some of Giles’s past, about his training to become a Watcher. It’s kind of interesting, because very few fans have probably considered the trials he had to go through to become the man he was before Angel cruelly murdered him at the end of season 8 of BUFFY. It’s very easy to see how he became Ripper during his teenage years. In addition to this, we finally get to meet Faith’s father (which should turn out pretty interesting), and Drusilla is back . . . and sane?!



AMERICAN VAMPIRE #23: DUDE! SKINNER SWEET LIVES! I now have a reason to continue reading this book! It’s odd, seeing as how it looked pretty obvious that he’d died in World War II, but here he is, in the ‘Fifties, being pursued by Travis, whose parents he’d killed. Travis is actually a pretty interesting character in his own right. After witnessing the deaths of his parents and growing up in a loony bin, he’s made a life out of hunting vampires . . . and biting them back. Even though he’s got a gun that shoots wooden bullets (in lieu of carrying stakes), he has a set of fangs he wears so he can actually bite offending vampires. How quirky is that?! This is quickly becoming my favorite story arc of this entire series.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A PERFECT GENTLEMAN: A whiskey review of Old Thompson


You’ve heard of Old Fitzgerald, Old Overholt, Old Grand-Dad, Old Forrester, and even Old Crow. Prepare yourself for a real gentleman: Old Thompson. It’s the customary 80-proof for whiskey, but you’d hardly know it has any alcohol content, it is that smooth. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste fruity or anything. It is definitely booze, but it practically has no bite to it.



The label has this to say about its quality: “The whiskeys in this finer tasting American blend were produced with extreme care by expertly skilled craftsmen before blending with finest quality natural spirits.” That’s a lot of words to say absolutely nothing, by the way. In case you didn’t know this was blended whiskey, they say it three times on the bottle. However, this seems to be saying that they mixed whiskey with spirits . . . which are the same thing. To top it all off, it says in big bold letters at the bottom of the label: PREMIUM.


So like all real gentlemen, it’s pretentious as all fuck. The label betrays no real age, although it does have kind of an old fashioned style to it. Perhaps it’s been kicking around since the ‘Fifties, when men were men and booze was booze.


Despite the posturing, though, it’s cheap. Real cheap, as far as bourbon goes. When you get down to it, it’s whiskey for people who might not like the taste of whiskey. It’s not candy, but it’ll fuck you up if you let it. Why not give it a whirl?

Friday, January 20, 2012

FORGOTTEN COMIC BOOKS #3: SCARAB

It happened during the infancy of Vertigo. THE SANDMAN was far from over. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon were wowing people on HELLBLAZER. ANIMAL MAN, DOOM PATROL, and SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN were still going. Joe R. Lansdale’s reimagining of JONAH HEX had just ended. PREACHER and TRANSMETROPOLITAN weren’t even twinkles in their creators’ eyes yet. Exciting things were happening in the world of comics.



And a little book, an 8-issue miniseries by the name of SCARAB, flew under everyone’s radar and was quickly forgotten. Not by me, though.


How to describe SCARAB? Imagine if John Constantine was a superhero, and that’s about as close as you can get. Scot Eaton’s mind-blowing artwork reminds one of the way things used to be during Delano’s run on HELLBLAZER, or Moore’s run on SWAMP THING. It really changes the way a reader reads a comic book.


The story? It comes from a little-known British writer, John Smith, who had only been known to Americans at the time from a fill-in story on HELLBLAZER. I wish he’d gotten a few more issues in on Vertigo’s flagship book, though, he was that good.


SCARAB concerns itself with Louis Sendak, an old man who used to be a Golden Age DC superhero (although he has no official DC history; this is his first appearance) called Scarab. He is the guardian of a doorway in his house that leads to the Labyrinth, a place where William S. Burroughs and Lewis Carroll would have been at home, brain-fucking each other for eternity. Decades ago, his wife Eleanor disappeared into the Labyrinth, and he’s been looking for her ever since. However, in his old age, he’s given up, and he no longer wears the mantle of the Scarab. All of this changes when the Sicari, a ghastly creature from a long line of assassin sorcerers, seeks to find his home in the Labyrinth, but first he must find it.


As a result of this struggle, Louis is brutally attacked by the Sicari, who then rushes into the Labyrinth. Louis drags his broken and bloody body to the Scarabaeus, the device that transforms him into the Scarab, and healed, he chases the Sicari down just in time to save Eleanor from dying at the assassin’s hands, but not in time to save her spirit.


Now, the old man stands vigil over the youthful body of his wife, who still breathes, but her spirit is lost in the Net, a world of orgasmic power that not even Timothy Leary on his biggest LSD binge could describe. I can’t pile enough accolades on Eaton’s artwork. He does things that the human mind wasn’t meant to envision.


The same holds true for Smith’s storytelling. When relating Eleanor’s power-surge through the Net, he hits the proper stream-of-consciousness beat. He does even better when describing Louis’s dilemma. What can he do to save his wife? What can he do to save himself?


With a little help from the Phantom Stranger, he figures out a way to transform his weak and elderly body into what it once was in his prime. He also becomes the Scarab more often, fighting villains that would have Batman shitting out his entire digestive system. I think even Superman would have a difficult time getting his mind around this stuff. Constantine could handle it. Swamp Thing, too. But none of the superheroes could.


Take, for example, the 2-issue arc, “Moveable Feasts.” In this little tale, all of the men in a little North Carolina town named Whitehaven get involved in a self-castration cult before drowning themselves in the ocean. The women are left behind, impregnated by nothing less than the great god Pan, even little old ladies who couldn’t conceive and little girls years before their first menstruation. The only man left behind, a guy who broke his leg and was therefore stuck in the hospital, is a raving drunk, angry that he missed his chance at honoring Pan by cutting off his dick and drowning himself. Oh, and after a vicious struggle, Pan raped him, too. Yes, he was impregnated, as well.


Or how about the garden in “Paradise Defiled?” People who have lost all hope on earth can sometimes wander into a torture garden, where a fallen angel sculpts their bodies into infernal works of art.


And should I even mention “The Scream over Hiroshima?” I will, if only to say that 50,000 people dying all at once in the blink of an eye will undoubtedly taint the spiritual world . . . .


Stuart Moore, the editor of this book, stated that SCARAB was an experiment of sorts. Vertigo is a horrific place to be . . . but it also falls under the DCU. Is it possible to have a superhero book in their Vertigo line?


This was his answer. John Smith’s deviant, insane ramblings combined with Scot Eaton’s rip-your-soul-out-an-inch-at-a-time artwork. They planned for eight issues, and if there was enough of an interest in Louis Sendak’s world, then there would have been more.


Sadly, while reader response was good, there simply weren’t enough readers. SCARAB disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. You won’t find a trade collection of this anywhere, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find the single issues.


It’s worth it, if you do. No comics experience should be without it. You’ll look at what comics are capable of with new eyes, I guarantee it. Besides, you want to know what happens when Louis finally finds Eleanor’s spirit. You want to see the joining that happens. You want to see how this mind-fuck of a book ends.


Don’t let SCARAB fall by the wayside.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

COOL SHIT 1-19-12


COBRA COMMAND: COBRA #9: All in all, it’s kind of an ordinary issue, but near the middle, we get our first glimpse of how ruthless and evil the new Cobra Commander is. Holy shit, is he a bastard! He’s such a fuck that he scares Major Bludd, and that’s no small thing. I think things are going to get ugly really fast in this new phase of the G.I. Joe universe.




FABLES #113: Truth be told, I’ve been getting kind of bored with this book of late. Ever since they put the Adversary behind them, it’s been going down hill. There were a few cool moments, but for the most part, I think this one’s losing me a little. Yet this issue gives us something different and cool. Willingham gives us four stories of the good ol’ days, none of them related to events now . . . well, except the second one. The reason the Adversary couldn’t attack Fabletown in the past? We find out in this issue. It’s a very cool idea (with an appropriate mundane ending). The only lame one in the bunch, though, is the fourth story, which is pretty stupid. The two stories about the turtle are cool, but it’s that second tale that really kicks ass.



HELLBLAZER #287: All right, so John Constantine goes to hell. Again. So what? A good question. On this tour of hell, everyone’s favorite blue-collar mage sees a few familiar faces. Remember when Constantine used to be tormented by the ghosts of his dead friends? We get to see a return to those good ol’ days with this one. Best part: THE RETURN OF THE FIRST OF THE FALLEN! Yes! Unsurprisingly, Ennis’s run on this book is my favorite, and it’s good to see a few characters from back then again.



CROSSED: PSYCHOPATH #7: Welp, it looks like another Crossed story arc comes to an end. Harold finally reveals himself to his victim for what he really is, and things get really fucking ugly. David Lapham is a nasty bastard, and no one makes it out of this issue whole. And what Amanda does to save herself from Harold? It looks like it belongs in a SAW movie. No shit.



And if this bounty of Cool Shit isn’t enough to make me happy, check out this advertisement from the back of the latest CROSSED. To quote a great man, “I have an erection.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

IT'LL FUCK YOU UP: A whiskey review of FIGHTING COCK

The first thing that catches your attention is the bottle. A picture of a rooster, ready for battle, flashes out at you, and the words FIGHTING COCK blaze out of the label. There’s no two ways about it: this whiskey is out to kick your ass.



And it helps that it’s 103 proof. It’s good to note that so many bourbons are upgrading from a mere 80 proof to anywhere from 90 to 103. Some even have the balls to go higher (like Old Granddad), but Fighting Cock remains at a respectable 103.


The taste is smooth at first, almost identical to Wild Turkey 101. They could be fraternal twins, they’re that close. Yet . . . the after taste comes back to give you a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the head. There is no doubt about it, this whiskey comes with a devilish bite.


There is no background story on the bottle, so it can only be assumed that the Fighting Cock Distillery didn’t start making this batch until recently. It says it’s aged six years, which is a hell of a lot better than most cheap shit out there. (You can get a fifth of this demon juice for $17.99.)


Don’t toy with this stuff. If you’re going to get fucked up, fine, this is your bird. But be careful. It has a habit of sneaking up on you long after you thought you’d defeated it. As the name suggests, this is a fightin’ whiskey. Do not turn your back on it.

Enjoy at your own risk.

Friday, January 13, 2012

EVERYONE'S GOT ONE #13: JUST STOP CARING

Everyone’s a little bit guilty of this one, even me. You read a news story about something ridiculous a celebrity has done, and awestruck, you start complaining to someone else about how utterly stupid so-and-so is. It sometimes gets to the point when you start wondering why someone is so famous.



Here’s the answer: because you care. It’s an ugly truth, and I hate to admit it, but these people are famous because we make them famous, all because of their occupation. Maybe their job isn’t quite as frivolous as it seems at first—entertainment is actually pretty important—but when it comes right down to it, the paparazzi exist because of you. Because they know that if you see a picture of Merryl Streep with her fat hanging out, or Clint Eastwood with varicose veins, you’ll buy whatever rag you happened upon in the check out aisle at your local grocery store. Or if you’re watching TV, you’ll tune in whenever some airhead host with a fake smile and even faker personality says, “Guess what celebrity recently went out for a night on the town . . . without her underwear on!”


But when it comes down to it, why are we so interested in these fuckers? They’re just doing their job, pretending to be other people. Why is that so fascinating? Take James Spader, for instance. He’s not above admitting that he sometimes takes a role just for the paycheck. That’s his explanation for taking part in STARGATE. If these guys are merely collecting money, just like you and me at our day jobs, why should we care?


Perhaps it was, at first, a way to live vicariously. So that’s how Joan Bennett spends her time. Isn’t Rita Hayworth’s dress so opulent? And what about Errol Flynn? Isn’t he just a dashing young man? The common man has always been interested in what high living looks like.


But things are different now. We seek out celebrity disasters. We want to see Shia LaBeouf get in a drunken fight with someone. We want to hear what Mel Gibson’s going to say next. And we want to know what Nick Nolte’s done this time. And that guy who played the loveably kooky guy on SEINFELD said what?! Taking this into consideration, perhaps we want to see the high and mighty come crashing down to a level lower than our own, because we, the pure salt of the earth, would never get in a drunken confrontation. We’d never threaten to burn a former lover’s house down while demanding a blowjob from them. We’d never get caught driving by the cops after giving ourselves a dose of the date rape drug. And we certainly wouldn’t be caught calling anybody a "nigger" in public (that’s just for when we’re among “safe company”).


We also seek out porn featuring the daughters of rich men. How else can we explain the fame of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian? These names meant nothing to us until they showed off their poor fellatio skills.  But yes, even if you're related to someone important and as a result are stunningly rich, we want to see your holes filled with cock to be reassured that even the high and mighty have sex.


To everyone who cares about this shit (and sometimes, this includes me), here’s my advice: stop. If you stop caring, these people will no longer dominate your attention. A supply is only provided so long as there is demand. Business 101.


Some of you might be reluctant to break your addiction to famous people, so let me help you out. No matter how much you want to believe it, these people are not the same as us. Hollywood is a place of desperate identity. These people work very, very hard to get you to believe they are people that they’re not, even when they’re not acting on screen.


Take, for example, Rock Hudson. He was a leading man, a man of action, a hero of the silver screen. That was the cover story. In real life, he was crazy for cock. He wanted dick dick dick dick dick dick dick dick DICK (how many dicks is that, Tarentino?). There is absolutely nothing wrong with this attitude. If all you want on your menu is a smorgasbord of penises, more power to you. But poor Rock couldn’t let ANYONE know about it. Why? Because people don’t accept you as a leading man if you’re gay. So instead of being free to be who you want to be, you have to lie. You have to seek out male prostitutes behind everyone’s back. You have to spend nights in cheap motels, pursuing what you actually want out of life.


How about Cary Grant? How many of you knew he was into LSD? A fucking lot of it? But he couldn’t let on because he wanted to continue being the object of Middle America’s affection.


And speaking of Errol Flynn, did you know that his body was a cesspool of sexually transmitted diseases? But no one wants to know about that. They want their image of him preserved.


I’m not going to rattle off a long list of Hollywood folks and their secret pleasures. You can find out for yourself why Tom Cruise can never admit to the world what everyone else knows in their hearts. If this is your thing, read James Ellroy. He knows EVERYTHING about Hollywood, on the QT and very hush-hush. (More recommended reading: the classic expose of celebrities, HOLLYWOOD BABYLON, and Clive Barker’s COLDHEART CANYON, and any issue of CELEBRITY SKIN.)


What I’m getting at is this: the people you worship and follow through the pages of tabloids and between commercials on TMZ and E! are pathetic beyond measure. They can never let the world know who they really are. They have their stories, and they have to stick to them in order to continue receiving your adulation.


The argument can be made that a lot of ordinary people experience the same thing, that we all have secrets we don’t want other people to find out about. Once upon a time, that might have been true, but if you seriously believe this, perhaps you haven’t met the Internet yet. The star of everything online is YOU. There is tons of you splattered all over the digital scene. Social networks have made it possible for you to notify everyone you know about your every move. Your phone will even check you into locations on Facebook. We know when you pick your nose, take a shit, eat too much McDonald’s, and fuck a fat chick. We know because you tell us.


And then, after it all, like some kind of coda, you’ll tell us with a sad-but-not-really FML, as if that absolves you of all your dirty inclinations.


No. I don’t feel sorry for celebrities who want their privacy restored. This is part of the deal, and they knew that going in. And I don’t feel sorry for people who live secret lives to preserve an image of integrity. But I do implore you to give up your habit. Stop following the movements of these people. They’re not worthy of your attention. Let them do their jobs. Leave ‘em the fuck alone, and they’ll stop gracing your news shows with stupid stories.


In the interest of full disclosure, though (and I do indeed live an open-book lifestyle, as many of you are painfully aware), I should mention that I do feel sorry for one celebrity: Tony Danza. You’ve all seen that picture of him after a skateboard he was riding slipped out from under him. The cameraman caught him at the perfect, most painful moment. You can see real anguish on his face. Sure, you guys can laugh and make WHO’S THE BOSS? jokes, but I can’t make fun of that kind of genuine pain. He looked like he was going to cry, for pity’s sake.


But fuck him, otherwise. What do you think? Am I off base? Should these people be worshipped as idols? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

COOL SHIT 1-12-12

THE TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #1: Holy shit, am I the only one excited about the new direction in the Transformers universe? IDW brought the Autobot vs. Decepticon war to an end. They got rid of Megatron. Optimus Prime died in a very unusual way (I won’t say anything about that in case you don’t know, but shame on you for not knowing). And now all the non-Autobot and non-Decepticon Transformer has returned to Cybertron, demanding preferred status because they had no part in the civil war. What’s going to happen from there? IDW split the franchise into two titles: this one and ROBOTS IN DISGUISE. I predict the other one will be about the political struggle to return peace to Cybertron with Bumblebee, Prowl, and Ironhide being stuck with this unfortunate task. This one, however, will probably be more fun. Rodimus Prime has gotten a bug up his ass about the ancestors of the Transformers, the Knights of Cybertron. He believes they’re out there somewhere, and if he can find them in this vast universe, perhaps they can save Cybertron. I envision a lot of adventures, possibly a few of them swashbuckling, especially considering the warning from the future that arrives on Cybertron just after Rodimus sets off on his journey. What warning is that? Read the book, fucker! The only gripe I have is the art. After the wonderful things this book accomplished with the Chaos storyline, I was hoping for better. All of the characters look somehow . . . wispy. Don’t worry, though. The story more than makes up for it. Good times ahead, folks. Now’s the time to hop on board.




THE STAND: THE NIGHT HAS COME #6: Here we are, after four long years of the retelling of Stephen King’s finest novel, in my opinion. Once again, the folks over at Marvel have done an excellent job of adapting King’s words with glorious art. This is the perfect epilogue to everything that’s happened. As the story finally finishes up at Hemingford Home with Stu and Frannie and little Peter as they head east back to Maine, there is truly some satisfaction to be found in these comic books. And of course, there’s the part titled “The Circle Closes.” If you read the novel, you know what I’m talking about. You know who Russell Faraday is. You know how wheels always come back around to where they began . . . . It’s too late to jump on board for this one, but there are still the trades. Get on that, you fool!

Monday, January 9, 2012

ARE YOU THERE, SATAN? IT'S ME, MADISON: A review of DAMNED


That’s how every chapter of Chuck Palahniuk’s new masterpiece begins. Madison, more commonly known as Maddy, is the fat thirteen-year-old daughter of two Hollywood bigwigs, but due to an overdose of marijuana (at least, that’s the story at first), she is now dead. She wakes up in a dingy cage in Hell, where the currency is candy and all of the sperm, shit, and fingernail clippings from earth drain off to form awful "natural" bodies.



The cover copy describes this book as Dante’s INFERNO by way of THE BREAKFAST CLUB. True enough, except they forgot to add, “as written by Judy Blume.” The genius in DAMNED is Palahniuk’s depiction of Hell, from the Dandruff Desert to the Swamp of Partial-birth Abortions.  It is just about the grossest place you can imagine. Even worse, when you get damned, you have to spend the rest of eternity doing one of two things: either you do Internet porn forever or you become a telemarketer who calls the living solely when they’re having dinner.


Not to say Palahniuk has nothing to offer about the land of the living. In flashbacks, we learn about Maddy’s life of privilege, about her “former beatniks, former hippies, former Rastas, former anarchists” parents, everything from how her mom likes to fuck with the maids in their homes across the world by locking them into bathrooms via remote access to how her dad insists on living a nudist lifestyle in order to make sure she doesn’t grow up to become a pervert. A reader must wonder, is this the way Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie live their lives?


The novel isn’t without its flaws. For instance, for a book about the afterlife, an awful lot of it is about Maddy when she was alive. When she was abandoned at a Swiss boarding school over Christmas break (not that her parents would ever celebrate Christmas). When she tried seducing her adopted brother, Goran. When she learned about a horrible thing called the French kissing game. It’s all very interesting stuff, but most of a novel shouldn’t be told in flashback. (Pay attention, Anne Rice.)


Also, the beginning of the book is kind of hard to get through. There’s a lot of rambling from Maddy with very little actually going on in the story. It picks up after the first few chapters, but that’s no way to start a novel, no matter how brief the chapters may be. Readers unfamiliar with Palahniuk’s work might not slog through it to get to the good stuff.


And lastly, when things finally start happening, big things (like Maddy facing off against Hitler, Caligula, and other historic figures, including Baal), tend to get skimmed over, almost as if they’re incidental.


In anyone else’s hands, DAMNED would have failed. But Palahniuk knows what he’s doing, and he pulls it off with flair and style. The scene where Maddy and her punk friend, Archer, face off against the demon, Psezpolnica, is worth the price of admission alone.


DAMNED
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Doubleday
247 pages
$24.95

Friday, January 6, 2012

THE DUI DIARY: Chapter 25

Hello. My name is John Bruni, and I have been charged with a misdemeanor DUI. But you already know that, if you’ve gotten this far in the DUI Diary. You also know that I’ve been getting bored with all the court dates, but on this day, November 22 in the Year of Our Lord 2011, I never expected this ordeal to end. I knew I’d be going to trial this time (because they scheduled me for 1:30 in the afternoon). But a conclusion to my fight for freedom? I’d just gotten so used to continuances that I figured I’d be back in court in a month or two for more crap.



Holy shit, was I wrong! It’s all over. Done. No need to go back to court.


Welcome to the final installment. Buckle your seat belt. Ready?


Since I was practically out of time off at work, I put in for a half day, and to make sure I made it to court on time, I asked to come in early. I was out by noon, which gave me just enough time to grab my suit and drive out to Wheaton. Parking was much easier than usual, but I figured that’s because all the people who wanted to plea guilty showed up in the mornings. Afternoons were for the few of us who wanted to fight the Man.


I made it to the courtroom only to find it bare except for the bailiff, one of the prosecutors, and a young man who sat in the back, reading files. Probably a clerk or something. No people watching for me today. That was all right. I was getting bored, anyway.


I sat down to read. (DAVE BARRY HITS BELOW THE BELTWAY, an excellent volume of political humor that I highly recommend.) Soon, Don made his appearance, as did the other prosecutor. They settled in and started talking about another case the prosecutor was working. Apparently, he was a naughty boy on that case and “got his hand caught in the till,” according to my lawyer. The prosecutor denied it, but he did not deny his horrible job on the case. He said it all smiles, even as Don ridiculed him so hard I had to wonder if the prosecutor had feelings at all. His smile didn’t even seem strained. Did he really take the results of his cases so nonchalantly?


The arresting officer showed up and took his seat where the jury would usually sit. He arrived silently and spoke to no one. As the attorneys all talked, I felt an odd kinship with the officer. Jokes were flying about our heads like birds, and neither one of us felt like it was our place to laugh. We were excluded from this little club, but we didn’t dare meet each others eyes. That would be too weird. Besides, he was the enemy.


At one point, Don said he respected the prosecutor and his 2-1 conviction rate. “I’d rather go up against anyone else but you,” Don said, and I felt my asshole pucker up in horror. I was going up against the best prosecutor in the county. Fuuuuuuuuck.


The judge made his appearance, and we got down to business. The officer was called to the stand, and Don started hammering away at him. There were a lot of objections from the prosecution, and the judge sustained them all. Not good, friends and neighbors. Not good at all.

There was one in particular that scared the shit out of me, and I don’t even understand it. The best I can say is that it was all in the way Don asked a question. The prosecution objected, and his reason puzzled Don. He’d never heard of the notion before. Wait, really? The judge then explained it, and Don said that he knew it under another name. He’d learned it at law school ages ago, but he’d never seen it used in an actual trial. I felt something dark rumbling in my guts, and my hands went cold and clammy. I suddenly had to take a piss really bad.


Don revised himself and went back to hammering mercilessly at the arresting officer. He tried every which way to catch the officer in a lie, like he had several court sessions ago. At one point, he asked the officer a question, and the officer blinked, his mouth agape. It was like he was a robot, and someone had hit his off switch. When Don asked the question again, the officer came back to himself, apologized, and went back to correct his own testimony. It was such an odd moment that when the officer had left, the prosecutor said, “When he froze like that, it freaked me out. Then, when he explained, I couldn’t help but think about how honest he was.”


“That’s probably what got us all in this situation,” Don replied.


Anyway, after the prosecution got their chance at the officer (a short line of questions, of which the answers were very disheartening; after hearing them, I thought I was fucked for sure), he was dismissed but told to wait outside and talk to no one about his testimony.


We took a break, during which Don asked me if I was ready to take the stand and tell my side of the story. I said yes. I thought back to when this all had started, and I remembered chomping at the bit for this opportunity. Yet at the same time, I felt kind of doubtful. The night had been so long ago that I wondered if maybe I’d forgotten some of the details. I couldn’t go home and read back over the DUI Diary to refresh my memory.


Luckily, Don thought of that, and he started asking me informal questions. At first it felt like a short conversation to make sure we were on the same page. After a few questions, I started suspecting that he was testing me to see my reactions. I thought I’d done an excellent job, but when we were ready to begin again, he said, “I’m not going to have you testify. I think we did a good job with the officer, and I don’t want to put that at risk.”


Wait, we did a good job with the officer? I got the distinct impression we’d gotten our asses kicked. And what did I say to make him think we shouldn’t put me on the stand? I remembered thinking that the officer got some of the details wrong (he merely misunderstood me; when I told him I’d come from a karaoke contest my friend was DJing, he assumed I’d been at a house party, and when I’d told him I’d won a beer, he thought I’d won the karaoke contest), and I thought it would only be proper to correct him.


But . . . where the fuck did I get my law degree? Exactly. When I hired Don, I decided to trust in him the whole way. Now we found ourselves nearing the end. Why bail now? Don’s in charge here. Let him do everything.

We went back in, and the prosecutor said a few words about why they should put the hammer down on me. Judging from everything he said, I was a dirty criminal who should get his comeuppance. He was certain I’d been trashed beyond all reason, and that I’d been operating a vehicle at the time, thereby making me guilty as sin. Holy Jesus, after all he said about me, I almost believed it. Once again, I thought I was absolutely fucked.


Then, Don got his chance to speak, and I wish to fuck I had the transcript of what he said. Patrick Henry’s got nothing on my lawyer. Don’s speech was so impassioned that it sounded like he should have been standing before an ancient Roman senate while delivering it. He breathed fire and shot death rays from his eyes. Most importantly, he brought up the 4th Amendment, and how we can’t have an exception to it. He said that I had been seized by the Lisle PD. He said that what happened to me shouldn’t happen to any citizen. My God, it was one of the most beautiful orations I’d ever heard. Better than Marc Antony’s funeral speech in JULIUS CAESAR.


And then, the judge gave the prosecutor another chance to talk. He used his time to call bullshit on Don, but he didn’t bring up anything new. There is one thing worth mentioning: he said during his first speech that since we challenged the roadblock, the burden of proof fell to the defense to prove that it had been faulty. This set Don off, about how every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof always, without question, falls upon the prosecution. (One of the neat little features of our legal system. Before the U.S., all defendants were considered guilty until proven innocent, and the burden of proof was on the defense.) The prosecutor took some of his time to reiterate that the defense had to prove the roadblock was illegal.


But none of that was the issue. It was what happened to me during the roadblock. It involved the violation of my 4th Amendment rights as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.


The judge had a few things to think about, so he called another break. I got up to go to the bathroom. Goddam, my hands were freezing cold. They warmed up due to their proximity to the urinal as I took a piss, but it wasn’t enough. They were cold and clammy when I got back to the courtroom.


“Wait outside,” Don said to me. Then, he smirked and said, “I’m getting ready to tell some dirty jokes.”


I laughed and went outside, wondering what they were talking about in there. Were they discussing me, as they had the officer when he was dismissed?


Soon, Don called me in, and just as I sat down, the judge called the attorneys into his chambers. I waited, twiddling my thumbs. My hands left foggy marks on the table. The bailiff looked up at the ceiling, perhaps counting all the marks up there. He didn’t seem to be too interested in talking to me. Oh well.


Don emerged from the judge’s chambers and stood on the other side of the table from me. He leaned in close and whispered to me, “How would you like to be finished with this today?”


“Um . . . I would love that.” Of course.


“The judge has heard all of the evidence. I think we’re ready to go to trial.”


Wait, go to trial? I thought this was my trial. What the fuck was all that testimony about?


“It could go either way,” Don said. “But if you want, we can get this trial done today.”


“Yes. Absolutely.”


Don took his seat next to me. “I think he’s going to say not guilty, anyway.”


Have we been watching the same court case? It seemed to me like we were getting our asses handed to us, but maybe, just maybe . . . .


While the judge was gone, Don took the opportunity to tell a joke to break up the solemnity of the situation. “There are these two eight-year-olds, Jimmy and Sally, and they’ve fallen in love. Jimmy goes to Sally’s father and says, ‘I’m in love with Sally, and I’ve come to you to ask for her hand in marriage.’ Sally’s dad thinks this is kind of cute, so he plays along with it. ‘I don’t know, Jimmy. I mean, where would you guys live?’ ‘Sally’s got a pretty big twin bed, so I guess we could stay in her bedroom.’ ‘Well, okay. But how are you going to get by? How will you earn a living?’ ‘Well, Sally gets her five dollars a week for allowance, and I get three dollars. Between us, I think we can buy our own cereal.’ Sally’s dad laughs and says, ‘Well, what happens if you have kids?’ And Jimmy says, ‘We’ve been lucky so far.’”


The judge came back, and we were all called up to the bench, me included. The judge then told us that he was ready for this to go to a bench trial. He turned to me and asked me for my name. I said, “John Bruni.” How old am I? “33.” What’s my highest level of education? “I graduated from Elmhurst College with a bachelor’s degree.” In what? “The arts. English and Philosophy.” I resisted the urge to add my go-to joke: “Two things guaranteed to get me nowhere in the world.” He then went into a whole bunch of legalese that I barely understood, but I got it enough to answer yes every time he asked me if I understood.


“Do you have anything to add?” Ferguson asked the prosecution. Nope. “Have you?” he asked Don. Nope. Then, without thinking about it again, the judge continued to say that he believed that my 4th Amendment rights had been violated, and that there is a big reasonable doubt as to my guilt as a drunk driver. “I find not guilty,” he said in an indifferent tone of voice. “Case closed.” And he handed my file over to the clerk.


Not guilty? NOT GUILTY? HOLY FUCKING SHIT! AFTER ALL THIS TIME, AFTER ALL THIS EFFORT, AFTER ALL THIS MONEY, IT ALL WORKED OUT?


I couldn’t believe it. In the beginning, before I had any experience in the legal process, I thought I’d walk a road of bones. I’d stomp the terra. I’d beat the system like a goddam gong. Then, as things got deeper, I couldn’t help but feel doomed. And now, after all the trials and tribulations, I’d come out the other end intact and free.


My immediate impulse was to turn to the prosecutor and tell him to suck it, punctuated by a middle finger. Then, I remembered where I was and reined myself in. Besides, it didn’t look like the prosecutor cared whether or not he’d won this case. He was still as nonchalant as ever. He walked out of the courtroom with the other prosecutor laughing and joking, as if he hadn’t just lost.


I walked out with Don, who was all smiles and congratulations. I shook his hand and thanked him profusely. Hell, I couldn’t thank him enough. If I’d been found guilty, I’d be up to my ass in debt (as it is now, I’m at least knee-deep), as I would have to pay a $2,500 fine as well as court costs, in addition to having to pay thousands of dollars for DUI classes, not to mention the victims panel and the possibility of community service and up to 1 year in prison. Man, I’ve got two jobs, and I still can’t afford to pay that much money or lose that much time.


(Although a part of me was kind of sad that I didn’t have to go through all that stuff. Imagine what the DUI Diary would be like if I could report on the victims panel and the DUI classes. I’m not sorry about missing jail, though. You’ll just have to watch OZ again. Or the first half of the third season of MY NAME IS EARL, although I suspect OZ is closer to the truth.)


And now, I’m free. I don’t have to pay a dime (aside from everything I’ve paid to Don), and I never have to go back to court.


On the way out, Don shook my hand one last time and advised me to not drink and drive. And he was gone . . . .


So here we are at the end of the Diary, and I’m sure you want to know what I’ve learned from this experience. Well, there are a few things, as listed below.


--First and foremost, I could never be a lawyer. These guys are so sharp, it’s incredible. They have to multitask in their heads, and if they fuck up, there’s someone’s freedom at stake. I’ve watched Don read from reports and listen to the prosecution at the same time, and he was always on top of things. He never had to think about what he was going to say. When the judge turned to him for something, he was ready at the drop of a hat with a rapid-fire, staccato answer, loaded down with legalese and precedence. I don’t have the mental fortitude for that stuff.


--Never EVER get caught drunk driving again. Though I was found not guilty, my penalty would still be pretty high next time around. (Five year suspension of driving privileges, in case you were wondering. One year of depending on other people for rides was bad enough.)


--Anybody who thinks they can defend themselves in court is a fool. They’ve watched too many movies, where everything is simplified to the common denominator. You have to have an incredible memory for legal precedence. You have to be quick on the draw. You can’t afford to hum and haw when you’re supposed to be talking. Don’t defend yourself and don’t go with a PD. Always, always, always hire your own lawyer. Trust me, he knows better than you do, and he will be worth every fucking penny.


--Last and not least, ALWAYS ROLL THE DICE. What the fuck did I have to lose? I had everything to gain. There is always a chance that everything will work out. If you never roll the dice, you’ll never win. It’s a lesson I’ve taken from my personal hero, Hunter S. Thompson. Don’t just give in. Fight the Man. Fight the Man at all times, in every way you can.


I’ve been saving this bottle of the Glenlivet (the 15 year stuff) for a long time. To give you an idea of how long, my mother stole shots from this bottle, and she’s been dead for almost a year and a half. I saved this bottle for just this occasion. It would either help me celebrate my victory or help me wallow in my defeat. I’m glad it’s the former. Scotch has never tasted so glorious. As I type this sentence with one hand, I down the remainder of my final glass.


Ahhhhhh.


You know the song, “I Fought the Law?” The Dead Kennedys once did a cover of it, except in their version, they say, “I fought the law, and I won,” rather than “I fought the law, and the law won.” I hummed this song coming out of the courthouse. But here’s the thing. In the DK version, the narrator won because at the end of the song, he revealed himself to be a police officer. “I am the law, so I won.”


Well, I fought the law, and I won. And I’m not a cop, either. I’m an American citizen, just like you. Joe Average can win, I tell you.


Remember: roll the dice.


The Fourth Amendment:  The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

THE DUI DIARY: Chapter Twenty-Four

I never thought I’d say it, but court is getting really, really boring. It used to be the best people-watching I could get (aside from maybe hanging out at Wal-Mart). Now it’s business as usual. Even watching the judge bully kids is getting old. Absolutely nothing of note happened.



Until I was called, that is. When I got to the bench, Don and Ferguson were talking about something that had apparently happened in my absence. Not surprising because I missed a court date due to hospitalization. After a moment, I realized that it had also happened in my LAWYER’s absence. Had he missed my court date, too? Longtime readers will recall it has happened once before.


No, Don was there to notify the court that I was in the hospital. However, someone fucked up when it came to getting me a new court date. I was actually scheduled to show up last Friday . . . and no one thought to tell either me or Don. In fact, Don was on vacation in Vegas at the time, and when I was called on Friday, no one was there on my behalf. Luckily, Steve was there for another case, so the judge talked with him instead.


The problem: the judge decided, in my absence and Don’s, to deny the motion to suppress the officer’s testimony. Which means the trial continues as previously planned. Even the judge admitted such a decision seems kind of shady, but what’s done is done.


Here’s the thing: no one mentioned this, but we were all thinking it. The guy who fucked up the scheduling was the judge himself. He just wrote it down wrong on his fucking calendar. Nobody was going to call him on it because no one wanted to piss him off.


Fine. I’ll jump through some more hoops. I return in a couple of months to continue my trial. Hopefully by then court will get more interesting.


TO BE CONCLUDED ON FRIDAY!