Real Dystopias

I’ve always had something of a problem with dystopian fiction. It’s just in the extreme nature of it. I get why this stuff was important half a century ago – show us the perils of where we’ll head if fascism gets in, and all of that. I understand. But these days it’s really become a style – the rugged burned out wastelands, people running around in scavenging packs, forming primitive tribal alliances. It can be done well, but it’s also spawned this whole genre of person who thinks they’d be the one on top in that scenario.

It just seems deluded to me. This fucking survivalist nutjob mindset, but not quite crazy enough to actually go off-grid and live in the woods and shit in a bucket. It’s these guys who pride themselves on owning guns and being conservative because “when the shit comes down, THEY’LL be the ones you’ll run to!” It’s the implicit thing where it’s saying you shouldn’t have certain values because things will inevitably collapse into anarchy. It’s a weird toxic strain of individualism. A convenient way to shrug off any opposing, challenging ideas.

And it’s also just like, the dystopian future’s already here. There isn’t going to be some quick collapse where we’re all left with nothing – not in America at large anyway. Or not because of reasons that aren’t natural disasters brought on by climate change. For most of us, this is already it. The gradual privatization and homogenization of various things. We’re inundated with scam calls, our information’s always at risk of being stolen. Everything more expensive, wages still stagnant, all of us just seeing a little bit worse quality of life as time goes on. But we’ll have streaming services. So that’s always good.

These conservative reactionaries won’t be leading a pack – they’ll go to work and make shit wages like the rest of us. It’s these guys who say they’re proud capitalists but don’t actually really own anything. No real power.

And work is such a grueling thing really. I read there was a post card making company in Florida that wanted people to come into work while the fucking hurricane was bearing down. This stuff is just lunacy. The CEO even just came out and said they wanted a “good end to the quarter.” Well, in THAT case I guess it’s OK that you’re a psycho. This country has such a Stockholm Syndrome thing with work. It’s not that important, a job. It’s something you do to get paid and we make it too hard to not have one.

But oh well. I’m trying to do more on the local level. Last night’s DSA meeting had a guy here talking about how to fight back against exorbitant tourist spending in Asheville. A lot of talk about how the workers are left behind while everything gets more expensive and caters to rich out of towners. I was an out of towner here not too long ago. I visited first as a tourist back in October 2020. I didn’t stay in one of the super-expensive hotels, but I did have fun cavorting about town with no responsibility. But we all have to figure out our own ways to have the responsibility, to be part of a community. That’s the longevity and shit that you really need.

And I’m taking my art more into my own hands. Selling some short stories here for whatever price people want. I don’t know who’ll read these, but I think it’s a great thing, to have this DIY way of peddling my wares. So much of what’s good doesn’t ever make it to big markets. I never liked the idea anyway. I’d still be glad to get noticed. But a lot of the best stuff is put out on smaller scales. I want to be in control of everything I do. Head over to the FREE WORKS tab and check ’em out.

It’s almost Halloween season again, so I’ll probably be watching an overload of horror stuff going forward. There’s just something great about it all – the cooler weather, the campy aesthetics, horror films full of old ghosts and rituals and zombies and shit like that. I can never get enough. I’m going to check out BLONDE on Netflix before things really get Halloweeny though. I read this great interview with the director – he really seemed to have some ideas about this. High concept stuff. I’ve heard it’s absolutely nuts. This’ll be funny later on if I end up hating it.

There’s something to that interview, though. I like a good interview. You should always try and dig as deep as you can when you’re doing one of those. No PR shit or easy softball questions – or not many of them. I always liked doing a good interview myself.

The Perfect Is The Enemy Of…

There’s a pretty agitating phrase that goes around when you talk about politics in the U.S. (maybe other places too, but I wouldn’t be an expert on any of that.) It’s when they say “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and it always seems to come up whenever a progressive doesn’t like some sort of sniveling centrist sort of compromise, something that won’t move the needle very much. Right now it’s being used to go after Bernie Sanders for not supporting this bill without a bunch of additional insane things like adding dental and hearing and vision to our health care benefits – what a crazy notion! What pie in the sky stuff! Do we want everyone to just have a GOOD QUALITY OF LIFE? Very absurd notions, I’ll say.

I’m being pithy there, but I mean, it is really just so telling about where we are. These rich assholes in the government won’t vote for basic shit like that and there’s only one guy sticking up for what should be very easy improvements to health care. Say what you want about Bernie, but he at least does care about health care and isn’t just kow-towing to the leech-like middlemen of the insurance industry.

And then we get the usual disingenuous argument of “well, there’s good stuff in there, you can’t just expect perfection.” This is said any time we ask for any improvements to things. We’re told to swallow our wants for a better world and accept the morsels. Tiny incremental improvements that, coincidentally, do not inconvenience or challenge the real power in the country, don’t make any concessions for workers or good health care. They will sometimes go even more obnoxious and compare it to “asking for unicorns” or something. To these folks, it’s really true, though. They want the system the way it is. These people are tribal team members. Not serious to debate. Politics to them is a game where they want their team to win and that’s it. Disgusting and despicable.

The politicians are trying to pass something, but I think at this point we all see how futile it is when the something they want has so little of real progress. I guess if I had to choose, I’d rather this bill go forward than a Republican one making it legal to slap puppies in the face. But that’s not a real choice and it’s not something to be proud of. The Democrats want to pass stuff to keep their clout and keep the system the way it is mostly. Maybe little adjustments. Is that the best we can hope for? I think Bernie and anyone else who identifies as progressive ought to keep doing it this way. Obstruct them and sink everything until we fucking get healthcare and more of a piece of the pie in this country.

I guess it’s all just going back to my larger political philosophy. I’ve been much less concerned for some time now about what they’re doing in DC. It’s worth it to know, but I don’t really attach as much significance to it now. Real political change isn’t going to come from these people. I’ll be glad to back progressive challengers, but until we get a lot more of them up there, it’s just not the be-all end-all to care about the Hill too much. I think a lot of those people are soulless careerists and they aren’t willing to really do anything about the actual powers in this country, the corporatists, the billionaires. But yeah, I guess I’m just expecting perfection!

Art/Money

I’ve been thinking about art and how the pay works. There was some talk about pirating works recently on Twitter. And then that spiraled into another discussion about how streaming and whatnot affects artists. I’m not in a band, but I do travel for comedy. I am at what you’d call a somewhat lower level – no one is demanding that I headline or anything, and I’m just one guy sending out avails to bookers like everybody else. Both bands and comedy involve a lot of slumming it. Lots of nights driving to and from places. The money isn’t great, as you’d expect from bar shows doing it out of passion – dingy Irish pubs, cheap beers, cool out of the way spaces like book shows and art galleries. That’s the stuff; it’s not corporate gigs and it shouldn’t be. I once said I made enough money doing comedy to survive in the specific lifestyle portrayed in the 50s book MIDNIGHT COWBOY, where most of the characters are homeless drifters. I stand by that and it hasn’t changed.

It’s funny how it works – I’d really like to be able to go travel and do comedy way more. I’m at least good enough to get booked consistently now. But the gas prices don’t care about that. It might be going down a little now. $4.49 for gas seeming like a bargain – what a world. It’s still just not worth it to go and drive more than a few hours. Even driving two hours, while doable, I’m losing money. It’s more out of passion and playing a long game – if I travel enough and get seen enough, I can build momentum. Or that’s what I tell myself. But with the insane gas prices and everything else being so fucking expensive, I just had to start really calculating things. I’m pretty awful at math, but it seems like I just have to be way more choosy about where I go. It’s a cost benefit thing. Then again, since I started this piece, gas prices are mildly down at like $4 a gallon now. We live in the lap of luxury.

And this isn’t a new thing I just invented or thought of. Any artists or bands will tell you it’s a fucking criminal thing, the pay and all of that. We’re out there making a go of it and if we don’t have rich parents to help us live in LA or NY and get the right connections, we’re all pretty indie for the most part. For comedy you can do the cruise ships or the corporate gigs, but really, not everybody’s cut out for that. Not everybody really wants to do the board room lunchtime gigs where everyone’s eating gas station tuna sandwiches and apples and drinking Cokes in the middle of the day. A buddy of mine said you do those shows to do the comedy you really want to do later. I can respect that.

Read a NYT piece recently about Janeane Garofalo, whose work I’m not familiar with. It basically went into her strident devotion to being “alt.” Back in the 90s that was all the rage. It spilled over into the early ’00s when I was finally becoming culturally conscious in small and weird ways – I remember loving all the weird movies I could find, getting into heavy metal, all this stuff; I was really into that sense of finding something “other.” It’s a very pure instinct.

The Garofalo article makes mention of how she would never even repeat bits that did too well – “anything that was successful, she didn’t want to do.” I love that. There’s something in it, a spunk, that really speaks to me, because it’s sort of the essence of comedy to me. The going-out-on-a-limb. The adventurousness. I do repeat bits that work, as do a lot of comics, but that Garofalo anecdote really spoke to me about what the most exciting part of it is, which is the failing. When you come up with a good bit and throw it out in the void of a crowd at a mic, not knowing whether there’ll be any return. Especially for more long-winded or complicated bits. That’s what I like about doing this. I think it should be valid just to like doing something to do it. The Mike Birbiglia movie DON’T THINK TWICE was about that.

But everyone needs art in their lives. And as a whole it does have an industry. Just taking a cursory glance at the statistics for Florida’s arts and culture economy:

“The industry generated $166.3 billion of economic activity and $63.8 billion by the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations. This economic activity supports 4.6 million full-time jobs and generates $49.4 billion in resident household income. The arts and culture industry also generates $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments—a yield well beyond their collective $5 billion in arts allocations.”

Quite a hefty thing. The report ends up saying the arts have a ripple sort of effect on everything else. You go out to the arts and then you pay for parking, dinner, a bunch of stuff. But there’s also a wide gulf there because there’s so many artists out there, and the big respectable money isn’t funneled in every direction equally. Then they cut the arts funding for schools and kids. Spotify will cut peoples’ comedy albums off their service and hoard all their money for a bodybuilding anti-vaxxer. There’s not a lot of equity going around. Never has been.

And it just goes into another thing I just read yesterday – this Carmen Maria Machado piece about why it’s OK for artists to not rush into the business side of things. It talks a lot about how sometimes really good art takes a while to marinate. But the rush is understandable because, again, we all need the money and we want to try and climb that ladder and open doors. I always thought this too. Why rush? Why promote a product that isn’t really as good as it could be yet? Of course, now we have to contend with the burning Earth. How much time do we really have left? Who knows?

But it’d be nice if we could all just have the time and license to do whatever we want more often.

Nothing I’m saying here is going to change anything. It probably comes off as a lot of bitching. But I think about this stuff a lot.

A Weird Comedy Adventure Chronicle – 7/22/22

Amanda and Steve met me at the Hickory Tavern. She wanted us all to meet at the Olde Hickory Taproom – a different place, we both realized too late. But the Hickory Tavern was closer to the venue we were doing this mic at, so they came to meet me there. We were informed pretty soon that the kitchen was closed temporarily, which was a weird way of putting it. Pretty soon it became apparent there was something horribly wrong going on in the kitchen. Nobody’s food was coming out quick at all. A line of angry customers, like a mob, formed at the counter waiting for to-go orders. Did most of the kitchen staff walk off the job? Was it like an old Stephen King story where a normal appliance came to life and started killing everyone?

We never found out. There was no food around really so we just went to the show at Fyreside Taproom – another place with a sort of similar name to Hickory Tavern and Olde Hickory Taproom. I saw another similarly-named bar when I was leaving. This fucking town isn’t big on the creativity. Another comic got confused too. I got pretzels at the venue which I ate out of a paper bowl while navigating the giant crowd and listening to comedy. Never say I shy away from fine dining when I go on the road.

The place was completely packed, wall to wall, nowhere to sit at all really. This whole huge fucking crowd was out for the open mic, maybe thinking it was some sort of pro, polished show? No idea. There was also a sign on the door saying the whole bar was closing the next day and moving to a new location. Maybe that was something to do with it. There was something funny about that, doing what we did tonight as the venue was preparing to shut down forever.

The sets were mostly pretty muted – the comedy was fine but the crowd was sort of just staring at us like we were zoo exhibits and sort of passively taking it in. Just another thing to do. Could’ve easily been watching commercials or a fish tank or something. They were fine; I’m glad they stayed, even if their comedy tastes were different from mine. The first 20-minute spot of the night was an older guy than me, this country sort of comic – he did very well. I thought it was funny that he had this very typical Southern classic dude sort of vibe, some jokes that you might expect that hit well with this crowd, mixed in with COVID-conscious stuff about masks and how the pandemic wasn’t over. Good to have variety. Good to not stereotype.

I did terribly. I liked how I delivered my material, and just to be clear it was an open mic and I was just trying new shit out. The crowd did not like it. I mostly got silence and bewildered stares. I was doing a lot of weird material with no buffer or softening the blow like I’d do in a feature set in a room like this. I share this because the bomb stories are relatable. I like the failure stories. Comedy isn’t all pretty. I just like getting out there and doing it, and sometimes it goes this way. I’d be suspicious of anyone who told you I was wrong about that.

Amanda went up immediately after me and did not mince any words. Pitch-black comedy, and glorious for it. No filter. I thought she was fucking brilliant. Some crowd members walked but she just leaned into it the same way I’d leaned into my awkward silence for my set. There’s all kinds of comedy and there’s room for all of it. Steve and I liked it and I hope she keeps doing it more after her hiatus. Book her if you can.

I valued the bomb. I’m not writing this to puff myself up, shit on the crowd or make fun of the mic or host. It was just me doing a set that failed to connect in any meaningful way beyond some scattered chuckles. That’s how it goes. I feel like unless you’re at some huge inflated level, the sets will vary and a lot of them will be very tough to break through. And it’s interesting to me. You learn things when the set does not go well. And you’re reminded that you’re just part of a huge world of people just doing art out there. I had fun for what it was.

When I was leaving, I had to piss but couldn’t find a gas station or anything open. I was right outside of Hickory on 321 going west. There was one gas station that was closed and another that didn’t have a bathroom. The McDonalds across the street was functionally closed except for drive-thru. Whole stretch of road with open establishments but no bathrooms. Just amazing to me really. Same thing with the earlier issue with the restaurant kitchen.

None of this was the fault of the workers – it’s just how dilapidated society is. We made a society that runs on ruthless moneymaking. A cold thing, brutal and harsh. Nothing matters but that and it’s a train running away from you if you miss it. They had to fire everyone during the pandemic and now it’s all just sort of held together with rubber bands. No space for basic needs anymore. Shame. Got to look out for your communities. It’s really quite sad how some things are these days. The individualism is suffocating and awful. It should be better. There should be some other way. I don’t know what it is.

But anyway, mostly it was about the comedy. I’m trying to book more shows. Maybe I’ll do it eventually. It was good to have another out of town adventure that didn’t go catastrophically.

Breakthrough

I haven’t had anything published in about a year and a half or maybe two years. I’d made this site, originally, to be a vehicle to promote my stuff, but then I didn’t get anything published for a long time, which just made this whole site look like another weak vanity project. More words pretending to be important. I never like that stuff. I could’ve just kept a journal.

But I kept going here and there because I’m just too stubborn. I wanted the record in public.

Well it seems to be going good again now, the wait prevailing. My book LAZARUS & THE DESERT MURDERS will be published sometime soon through DLG. It’s a sprawling Western – a neo-Western I guess the term would be. I was heavily into BLOOD MERIDIAN at the time and this story just came pouring out. It’s also to do with my allergy Flonase drug addiction (the stuff can fuck you up and I did enough of it to land in the hospital with a killer nosebleed). I didn’t intend that – I just wanted to do a grizzled, gnarly neo-Western. But reading it back after the insane flurry of the original draft, it’s about as blunt as anything ever was. It doesn’t really make sense to describe it like that, but I think people will enjoy it. I feel like a real fucking creative again. There was a period of time there where I felt pretty out in the weeds and disconnected from it all.

My other story CAREER MAN will be coming out with them too soon. That one is from the same period as this book and I was doing some really good work then. I’ve been asked a few times now to add more words. I don’t know how much more I can add without diluting the core of this story. But then again I do find new inspiration and it’s easy to write this story. It’s a part of me now.

I’ve got some other works in progress that I don’t know where they’re going. One of them I’m trying to make a long piece, a BONNIE & CLYDE-esque crime epic. I’m not sure if it’s good yet. I just sort of keep hacking away at it. This has been a challenge and I may have bit off more than I could chew, but that’s the exciting part of doing art. Reading Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor always gets me in a mood to write, shows me how it’s really done. There’s a certain finesse to it where it becomes more than just words. I really value that.

I’ve been reading Bob Odenkirk’s COMEDY, COMEDY, COMEDY, DRAMA memoir for the past few days. Really just devouring this thing. I have good memories already of reading it at the hotel bar of this wedding I was just at. Odenkirk writes a lot about how he’s a comedy snob and something of an elitist. I don’t think those are bad qualities so long as you’re not being a dick to anybody else. He talks about how he wants comedy to be challenging and different and weird – a pure original vision. He compares his outlook for sketch to how Bill Hicks was with stand-up. I think I got the same outlook too. If I’ll get anywhere remains to be seen, but I dig the impulse to want something great out of art.

He talks about taking risks and having specific goals in mind, even niche ones, for a piece of work. Refreshing compared to the comedy “gurus” online whose advice boils down to “make sure your stuff appeals to the widest mainstream audience or else it sucks.” And there’s a genuine love for the craft in here. It’s not comedy as a hedge against some culture war. There’s a lot of discourse about “woke” comedy now that I can’t identify with. It’s a very narrow view. “Punching up, punching down, that’s too woke, you’re not woke enough.” Very narrow thing really. I just like the spirit of creation. I like how jokes can take on infinite forms. Chimera things you can’t define, but which have the possibility to be the best thing you’ve heard all week, to open up those brain chemicals that make you laugh. That’s the stuff of life! Worrying about anti-woke stuff or doing everything through a lens of angry reactionary stuff seems such a sad way to live.

But then again comedy’s always going to be dancing and parrying with the ills and foibles of the world. I guess it’s inescapable that these things happen.

I don’t have any comedy bookings right now. I hope it changes, but I did need the break. I’m coming down from a long winded run of traveling for some other stuff. There was a wedding for a friend of mine. I hadn’t done a wedding in so damn long, but there was something really contagious about the happiness of it all. If you care about somebody that much and it’s mutual, you better celebrate the shit out of it. I feel like that’s all we can do is just find ways to enjoy life. It’s a form of rebellion. Maybe I’ll write more about all of this later.

The Great American Road Trip Pt. 2

I had one good day at the beginning of this last road trip where it seemed like everything was going to go off without a hitch. I did a show for a little crowd at this chilled out Charlotte sports pub, ate some fish, read a little. Then I was on the road again. It was going alright for a while, but pretty soon there was a sense of dread. Why had my car tires been doing this weird stop-start thing for a few seconds? It was probably nothing. I’d been stuck in a deluge of awful goddamn rain the previous day, and figured that had jammed up the car a little, that it’d wash out as I drove. Pretty soon I was too tired to drive. The first two hotels I tried were total pieces of shit, with awful cracked up parking lots and the veneer of places you would only stay for a good story. But they were sold out. On this Memorial Day weekend I couldn’t even get a room in the middle of bumfuck SC.

Finally I found an Econo Lodge – and for under a hundred bucks at that. Crazy. I slept pretty well and did a bit of writing that night.

In the morning I drove for a few more hours. Bright cloudless summer day on a holiday weekend and we were in lockstep. My tires were still being a little bit odd. I stopped finally after about two or three hours in Walterboro, where I got some snacks and a bottle of water. Sat there for 10 minutes in the parking lot to take a break. The plan was to stop again in St. Augustine. It all seemed like it would be alright. Then the car stopped in the middle of traffic as I was trying to leave and the car horns started coming. I restarted the car and managed to get it to the parking lot of a strip mall with a sushi place, a clothing store, a KFC, a Walmart and this random sports bar type of place.

For the next few hours on this holiday weekend I tried to call every auto place in the area to find somebody to help. Of course they all were gone pretty much, even at like 11 a.m. on a Friday. The blacktop was scorching and the sun was relentless. I don’t understand white supremacists at all if they’ve ever had to stand in the sun like this. It’s very clear what the truth really is – I got scorched like a fucking lobster out there.

Finally I got a tow truck guy to drive me and the defunct car, which was suffering from a transmission failure, all the way down to Savannah. I was redoing the whole plot of PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, except with no trains. I was determined to get to Florida. I had some shows to do, and a bachelor party to get to. At a hotel in Savannah on Memorial Day weekend, I drank beers on the roof lobby and then sipped a tiny rum bottle as I was watching GOODFELLAS – Ray Liotta had just passed. Usually I’d be out with the nightlife. This night I had no energy for anything. Completely drained. I woke up and took a plane back to Orlando.

I was able to rent a car to get to Tallahassee on the 31st to do shows with my friend Erick Lutz. We stayed in a weird hotel that was something like a labyrinth, with about three distinct parts that appeared to be upstairs and downstairs areas, even though the parking lot was a continuous downward slant. It appeared to be some sort of place for people to stay long term – there were families in the pool, cooking on grills, all kinds of stuff. The room was small and the WiFi didn’t work. There wasn’t even anybody in the lobby past 11, so if we’d gotten there too late we would’ve been fucked.

And the coffee shop where we camped out before the second show, it was swelteringly hot, with seemingly no air conditioning. Erick dabbed at his head with ice cubes from his drink and I was sweating on my computer trying to work. That whole day I was also on the phone with three different people trying to get my car moved to a transmission shop. I told the AAMCO to use their towing guy, thinking the AAA guy I called had not showed up. The AAMCO guy called me, irate, at 7 pm, saying the car was gone. I rested in satisfaction knowing that the transmission was broken, so no one could’ve stolen it at all, and it must have been taken by the AAA guy after all (It had been.)

The comedy shows went off like gangbusters. The crowds were fun and we got the satisfaction of being traveling bards in a foreign land. There’s a sort of recklessness, in a good way, you get when you’re performing somewhere nobody knows you. It elevates you and the material becomes fun because you know they’ve never heard it. The stage makes you forget all the car troubles and weird tribulations of the trip. One show was at this arcade bar place and at that show there was a woman who heckled everyone. Earlier in the night she’d made a weird crack at the bar on how she couldn’t come see the show because she’s blind. Erick is blind and took this as an opportunity to riff on it all.

The second show was at a place I’d done before, Bird’s Aphrodesiac Oyster Shack. Small crowd but they were into it. It’s one of these places with a bunch of old memorabilia and posters covering every inch of the wall, so I know those places will be good for me. Now I’ve had two great shows there. I felt like it went well. Erick did great too – he did some wild stuff on stage that the crowds ate up. Just first rate comedy. It’s good to have a bit of camaraderie and teamwork in all this mess.

I did some other shows – one of them a clean show at Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Theater. I wasn’t told it’d be clean before the show, so I had to do some mental calculations. I was pretty sure a bunch of tourists wouldn’t want to hear about allergy drug addictions or traffic crashes or animal suicide. I’m usually not into having to do this, but it did go off without a hitch and the crowd was fun, probably not even caring so much about the content as the venue did. Erick put this one on, and he really got a great crowd out of those tourists. The other show was a contest which I lost, held at one of these fancy breweries where you pour your own beer from a big wall panel of selections. I had a fun set though.

Then came the bachelor party in Miami, a sprawling three-day adventure of swanky clubs and all kinds of stuff. Lots of swimming. I drank vodka at one club and chatted with a girl who was from Asheville. Way down in Miami just two Asheville residents. That place is probably as touristy as anywhere now. But I like it. The party was for Colin and it was just a few of us, but it was a good time and we lived it up. At one point we were lounging in a rooftop pool owned by Pharrell Williams, the sun murderous, but there were so many beautiful people around and none of them seemed to care. Miami is a place where everyone there is the most perfect physically beautiful people you’ve ever seen in your life. Like you can barely even imagine them returning to work in a random car dealership or insurance office or fast food place. They’re like aliens.

I finally got the car fixed on June 17th. I took another plane out, then had a two-hour layover and numerous delays. Drove through the worst thunderstorm in at least a few weeks. I’m home now and hoping not to fly anymore for a while.

Otherwise… here’s some stuff I’ve been enjoying.

WATCHING – CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is a gloriously dark, twisty piece of film, fraught with meaning, crackling with its own dark ingenuity at every turn. Cronenberg returns in fine form. MAD GOD on Shudder, by visual artist Phil Tippett, is this trippy, violent haze of creative stop motion puppets and animation. Best looking thing of the year. I’m endlessly fucking fascinated.

LISTENING – The new Jack White album I finally got on CD and the lyrics make more sense when reading ’em. Also the band Crass. A brilliant anarchic punk act. They really live their shit, they believed every word. They were the real deal. And Nuclear Death has been intriguing me. This takes everything just so far out and the lyrics are masterworks of just utter depravity and filth. I can’t get enough. I want stuff with that artistic intent.

Road Trip Prelude

I’ve been back in Asheville for a month now and it’s just gone by like wildfire. I’m gonna leave again pretty soon. This time for longer.

My trip back from Houston was a bedraggled mess in which I got COVID and had to work as well as drive 900 miles northeast. I didn’t get hit by the COVID too hard, but it was a pretty ghastly few days. The sun beat down like an unforgiving cruelty, the snacks and water from the gas stations all sucked. I did like the music. And I stayed in a Quality Inn in north Alabama that was surprisingly nice and got to watch a bunch of stuff and finally fucking relax. I almost didn’t care that the country’s rampant inflation and economic insanity made me pay $159 for that. That much money for a hotel right off the highway. What a time to be alive.

The following week and a half of COVID isolation was a blur. I barely remember the separation between the days. It was as though I stepped through a time warp and came out the other side.

Had a brief online dating fling. Didn’t take. I feel like all of my relationships are either toxic as fuck or some kind of penpal-esque thing where it’s awesome conversation but no romantic attraction or even mild flirting. It’s tough out there.

Comedy is good. Had a great set the other week as the first show of my run for the beginning of summer. You chase the high of the laughs, and there’s an inner satisfaction in pulling off an execution of a set really well. I did a podcast the other night with some guys here in town. Fun time. I really feel like I am getting into the vibe of Asheville. It’s a good thing for me; I am drinking less, comparatively anyway, and I feel more at peace with things. Florida always had too much chaos for it and I fed off that, and it led to a lot of negative interactions with people, and I was not very happy a lot of the time. I hope I can move on and keep doing well here. There’s just places you fit into better, and maybe this is one of them for me.

But I am about to leave again for Florida for a few weeks, for comedy, seeing old friends, a bachelor party and Key West. More soon. I’d be happy just hanging around here longer. I feel I am cultivating something and there’s something to be said for a humble life. But I also do want the adventure stories. It’s just a shame I have to drive all this way on fucking Memorial Day weekend, a day I swore I’d never drive on again after the horrific traffic jam in Florida exactly a year ago. Memorial Day weekend and all these holidays are pure bloat and nonsense. It’s better to stay inside if you can. Or at least off the fucking highway.

Then of course there have been the myriad political situations. This atrocious shooting. Like, we’re all just powerless, so you get the same things every time, a lot of people who are grieving with nothing to do but post on social media about it. It becomes numbing and it’s good to take a break. The whole situation is so pitch-black awful. It’s nihilistic in the ceaseless violence. The country is mired in a toxic mix of gun worship, a kind of religious thing, along with a lot of paranoia. Then add in the fact that there’s no safety net and the government, both parties of it, have primarily served to enrich the rich and protect property and capital, with the cops their arm of that. And so you get this stew of white supremacy, hate, rampant violent paranoia.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think anyone really does. Banning guns would maybe be nice, but I don’t really know how you’d enforce that, especially not when the police seem to be either on the side of the shooter or completely ineffectual.

So instead we get this thing where the country wants you to have the baby no matter what, but wait, there’s no guarantee he won’t get shot in a school shooting.

You can find all manner of similar points everywhere. I’m aware I’m saying nothing new. But writing’s the universal constant. We can be united in our ideas here.

Arcs Of History

People will talk about the long arc of time and history bending toward justice, and maybe it does. But as some protesters today pointed out, that doesn’t just happen by itself – it isn’t some kind of magical wand waving. It requires the work of people on the ground.

And that’s really what I see all the time now. I mean sure, talk about echo chambers, cultivated algorithms, and what have you – but in issues like this abortion ban, there are so many people who are vehemently and vitally opposed. That’s what I see all over. Any time I go out to protest, I see these huge throngs of people of all kinds, all of them from whatever walks of life and all opposed to fascism and right-wing control and the impeding of progress.

It’s a difficult thing because the power is all concentrated at the top, at least in a legal sense. There’s an unelected Supreme Court that can just wake up and do whatever they want with basic human rights like abortion. The politicians increasingly have less and less reason to listen to us on the ground unless we’re lobbyists handing them checks. So it can feel helpless. But I really don’t think it is. Seeing the people who come out to these protests, it’s clear we don’t need to have any fealty to these people. We need to work toward change and sometimes that change will involve just doing things on the ground, being there for one another when that fucking feckless, soulless boot of the state is not there to do anything for us. Whatever happens, I think there will be likeminded folks who are doing good work. This isn’t to say that we have to be unrealistically sunny. But I do find positivity in those people who are dedicated to human rights. And I think there’s a sizable portion of those out there.

I think about exactly how to change anything really. Like being a left political type of person, thinking in that way, that means that you’ve going out there on a limb and saying things need to be radically different. You’re not some kind of defender of a fucking status quo. You’re thinking of things as a great possibility for the future. Of course to some this makes you a spoilsport. You’re not in lockstep with some corporate flunky, so you must be sour grapes for their message.

But those people aren’t really serious folks. Change will come from those on the ground who are moving humanity forward – those in office are pretty often ineffectual or clowns, people with no real integrity. It’s a goofy worthless show. We have to look out for each other. I’ve wondered a lot if change is even possible, and how to achieve it at all, as so much of the time it feels like we’re not doing enough. But it comes in drips and drops, and any little action is still helping to move things along.

I was in the middle of writing this yesterday when the shooting in Buffalo happened. Horrific. A racist Nazi scumbag came into this Black neighborhood and just murdered people. Out for groceries, and this happens. Atrocious – the worst thing that could happen. There’s a growing movement of this kind of rabid, organized hate. You can see it in the movement to legislate trans people, to regulate women. It’s all sort of connected. Society is changing and there’s a reactionary movement that doesn’t want it to, and they come sometimes with guns. This is what we’re fighting against.

The Great American Road Trip Part I

The metal fest in Houston, Hell’s Heroes, was a whirlwind. You realize how little you’ve stood on your feet this long in the past two years of the pandemic. Lots of bands I knew since high school and I was seeing them live for the first time. I met Mike Scalzi from my favorite band Slough Feg briefly. My thing with meeting people whose art I like is that I don’t really need to have some prolonged conversation or even a picture really – I like their art and also just don’t want to bother them. That’s all it needs to be. There doesn’t have to be a breaking-down of any walls per se. But I did have to tell him how much I liked his band. That much I had to do.

The whole thing was a pure bonanza. Energy everywhere. So many people in denim and black band shirts. It was essentially the metal version of a comic convention. That’s really what makes life worth living, the nerdy stuff, the niches. It’s what we do to blow off steam and what gives us joy in the drudgery of the work and the politics. Metal music is its own whole ecosystem and breeds passion. The thrill of finding new bands. The blood pumping energy and aggression. Lets off the steam. There’s nothing like a good old 80s heavy metal album. There’s a joy to it. I bought an obscure live album from the 80s from some South American guy who had a whole table of this stuff, some of it I had never even heard of. Chatted with a guy I didn’t even know just because we’re part of an online community about it. This is all a whole universe that large pockets of the world will never know shit about. But to these people here, and to me as well – it was just what we wanted.

I drove out of Houston in the morning after that. It was Sunday and a clear, balmy day. Winter’s gone. I sipped coffee and listened to Mitch Hedberg and some music for a few hours. When I crossed into Louisiana, the clouds started rolling in, a great storm over the swamp and the Gulf coast, violent torrents of rain, sheets of gray, dismal and wild. Pretty tense. But it makes you feel alive. Not quite summer yet, but that was a classic southern summer storm.

Louisiana is a place I can’t really figure out. Not totally – I’m in this hotel in the French Quarter and I had to work through most of it, robbing me of the chance to really explore and get a sense of it better. I like these close-packed buildings and houses, all old wood and seemingly just people’s houses mixed in with random neighborhood bars and restaurants, a real sense of community, stuff to do just sort of there without any kind of adornment, seeming to pop out at you like from a fog, making you feel like you discovered some place cool.

At one bar, the bartender was taking care of a moth they’d found. A sort of community project. Some asshole threw a hard object at it and hit the wall – it went right by my head. He got rightfully reamed out by the bartender. They got the moth delicately, returned it to the outside. You don’t get this kind of stuff by staying at your house. Interesting pockets of life. Good community.

It’s a different side of this place than I first saw when I passed through earlier in the week. That was downtown. It was a few glitzy shining Vegas-esque clubs and restaurants across from pure grungy urban oblivion, the homeless sitting across the street from all this luxury and the big hotels down the street. That’s not a thing that just happens here. It’s the great malaise of our age. The unfairness and the disparity. That is the big evil of the times and maybe of all times – the wealth-hoarders. That’s the real enemy. It’s no different than in Orlando where homeless people are on every corner of downtown next to rich law firms and consultancies and steakhouses and that gigantic fucking convention center, or Asheville’s downtown where you can get $40 seafood or go to an art museum while drug addicts are being chased out of the park by cops. That’s what we have to be united against, the disparity.

I did comedy at a cool little dive bar last night. Lots of women or feminine comics there – like four or five in a row at the beginning of the mic. It’s good to see all sorts doing this. One of them was in a wheelchair and delivered a brilliant set. I think my own set went alright. I’m working on some new things here and there. More personal stuff. Trying to open up all pores of my creativity. I’m writing this now, even, because I’ve reached the end of most of my fiction projects and don’t have any strong new ideas.

After work I found my way into this old 24-hour dive bar pictured above. It was a cool place, just this classic fucking dive. There are maybe more fashionable places, but there’s nothing like a low-key, unpretentious dive with pool tables, metal walls, a clientele just built in who can relax there.

The drive back’s going to be long. Lots of more stretches of green, of dilapidated gas stations and barren stretches of fucking nothing, and it’s interesting and tiresome in fits and starts. I feel like I’m putting it off by writing this. I’ll be back home soon.

The Rest Of Our Lives

The pandemic’s not over – there seems to be the undercurrent of this virus that will continue indefinitely or for some time longer, anyway. I think about it often, how there wasn’t much for us to do about this after a while. Wear the masks, get your shots. That’s all we could do. I think movies gave us all a main-character syndrome where it’s like we began to think going back to regular life during this was some sort of betrayal, like we didn’t care about the virus or something, like there was something more important we should’ve done. But much of all of this was completely out of our hands. There was nothing for the common people in previous pandemics to do either – there was no time where people weren’t just going about their lives. It just keeps going. This isn’t to defend any bad behavior or downplaying of the pandemic. But I just don’t know what else to do about it at this point.

It really feels like this year is kind of a waking-up after a two-year-long haze of sorts. Like there was a lot of stuff I just wasn’t dealing with at all for most of the past two years – like the pandemic just gave me this excuse not to focus on the long-term goals in life. I don’t know how much longer I can use the bizarre allergy-drug addiction period of 2020 as an excuse anymore, though. I think it’s already just about spent.

I think that’s been the biggest thing fucking with my head lately. That and the impending months of activities hanging over my head – big anticipation.

Ultimately I feel like I have to start thinking about the future more. Building a good life and whatnot. I don’t know what that means. I just know I spent a shitload of time alone writing and reading. And that’s fine by me. But it’s good to have a real community and a richness to life in whatever capacity. I wasn’t finding it for a long time. My friends are scattered everywhere. A lot of the communication is through text now. That might sound like I’m complaining. I think it’s an alright life. I think I’ve chosen solid people to surround myself with overall.

***

I’ve been on the road for days. Going to Houston to do some comedy and see the Hell’s Heroes festival, full of all these bands I’ve liked since high school for fuck’s sake. It was a long dreary haze of the driving. A mass stretch of churches and Dollar Generals, long empty plains, gas stations, cars driving erratic, one incident of a Fed Ex truck that looked to have had a bomb go off inside it off on the shoulder of the road – a burnt out wreck that delayed traffic for a bit. This is such a big country. It’s unfathomable how huge it really is. The great vastness of it.

I spent some time in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I must’ve been tired in New Orleans, because the whole place gave me a slightly off-kilter energy, and the disparity between the massive shimmering lights of the theater and the grungy abandoned buildings and various homeless destitute folks I saw on the streets, in the exact same area of town, both of these things. But this kind of thing happens everywhere. We have to do what we can to help and alleviate it all. The government won’t help very much. You have to do solidarity, mutual aid, etc. That’s power.

I want to go back to New Orleans soon and give it another go. See what there is to learn. Baton Rouge was peaceful. I couldn’t figure out the energy of Louisiana yet. That interested me. The food was good.

Texas seems like its own whole universe. You could just drive and drive here and there’s still more of it. I did comedy at The Secret Group last night, a big warehouse-like building with a rooftop patio, flashing red club lights, a bunch of various rooms all for comedy. They directed me back to a black wall along a desolate street with red flashing letters advertising THE BOX above a black door blended into the wall. Lynchian – a strange passage for sure. I’ve been doing comedy with only the one hearing aid for a while. That, plus the bright stagelights, made it like doing comedy in a vacuum. You soldier through these things. You just do it with confidence and hope you’re getting the message across. Any hesitation and they will sense it. You have to be impeccable and above the crowd onstage – something beyond human. Then you go in the green room and get a complimentary 4/20 joint as payment.

Trying to get beer after and I learn they stop selling alcohol at midnight in Houston. I got to a gas station at 11:55. The guy working wouldn’t let me in the building at all. He tapped his hand on his own phone which, somehow, said it was 11:59 when mine said it was four minutes earlier. Baffling. Don’t be such a stickler for the rules. Fortunately I nabbed a six-pack at one closer to my hotel, thankfully run by a guy who wasn’t such a rule-minded individual. You find ways.