Thursday, February 25, 2010
Because I'm finished with the video and I have this big foam-rubber volcano costume stashed under my steps, I'm introducing a new featurette. It's called "Volcano Men Answer Your Questions about Love, Careers, and the Annihilation of Humankind in the Subterranean Cauldron of Fate." So...you know...ask away! Volcano Men do not judge. The three juiciest questions will win a paperback copy of The Unknown Knowns. Wait, make that two...I have only two copies. But remember: if you have won anything from a Volcano Man in the past 60 days, you are not eligible for this contest.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I once knew a man whose vast reservoirs of wealth were matched only by his unrelenting loneliness. He had earned a fortune in the tacos sector, nanotechnology division, and could obtain any earthly comfort a man could want. Houses, cars, rock clubs. You say it is nothing for a man of means to purchase an airplane? Well, Rob had two.
One airplane was large, and he hosted lavish parties onboard. The second plane was small and he could fly it around inside the larger one, champagne flute in hand, while he worked the crowd. The problem was nobody came to his parties, or if they did it was only out of a sense of obligation. Poor Rob was so lonely that he considered ending his life by crashing his little airplane inside the larger one, and then crashing the larger plane into everyone who didn’t come to his parties.
The main drawback in Rob was his lousy personality. He was self-absorbed, demanding, and spoiled. When he didn’t get his way, he tore at his hair and wept like a toddler. He was also really unattractive. Short of stature, square of build, and covered in coarse body hair, Rob was a teddy bear built for discomfort.
But one day he got an idea. He hired a crew of comely flight attendants and began having sexual affairs with them, one after the other. When one of these stewardesses became pregnant, he vowed to marry her. She refused until he showed her the clause in her contract that said she would have to marry him or find her own way to the ground. The ground was about 20,000 feet below at the time. It was a cold move, but that’s how you succeed in nanotechnology tacos.
Candice gave birth to twins—a boy and a girl—who grew to be as handsome as their mother and equally cold toward their father. Candice raised the children inside her small airplane while Rob circled them, tossing handfuls of caramels to the kids. He could buy anything he wanted (nesting aircraft, caramels, children) but the love of his own family…sadly, that was beyond his means. Rob swore he would do anything it took (anything) to make his wife and children love him.
He gave the undertaking a name: “Rob Lovable.” Phase one would begin at once. For seven days and seven nights he worked in his nanotechnology lab outside Flagstaff. When at last he emerged, every fiber of his body hair had been replaced with ermine and mink.
Back onboard his jumbo jet, it was a much softer Rob who beckoned to his estranged wife. When she reluctantly landed beside him, he instructed her to stroke his chest. She refused. He insisted. She relented, making an icky face as she reached inside his shirt. But when Candice felt the buttery fur between her husband’s bosoms, the crystalline light of love filled her eyes.
Thereafter, Rob and Candice spent many a glad night together in his little airplane. At her request, he grew a long beard as cozy and elegant as a mink stole. “Look at us, children!” he wanted to shout. “Your mother and I are happy; perhaps you twins could see fit to love your old pappy as well!” But he didn’t shout this, and his children continued to dislike him. In an act of fatherly bravado, Rob leapt from the wing of his aircraft to his wife’s. There in the cockpit lay the children, daydreaming and eating caramels. Rob scooped them up into his arms, but they recoiled in terror.
“A giant rat!” screamed the girl. “An overgrown ferret!” shrieked the boy. Because, you see, Rob’s ermine body hair may have melted the heart of his loveless bride, but it freaked out his children. He tore at his fur until his body was patchy and raw. Hot, terrible tears streamed down his cheeks. But then he had another idea: Rob Lovable, phase two.
After seven days in the lab, he returned to the jumbo jet a happier man. The twins were spiraling high above. He gestured to them, and they landed, nearly running over his toes. “What do you want?” they asked, in the creepy simultaneous way twins do.
“All I want is to be loved by my own brood,” cried Rob.
“Fat chance,” replied the twins. As if on cue, Rob began to weep. The children mocked him. “Look at this guy,” they said to one another. “He looks like an emotional rodent.”
But their cruel barbs soon turned to shouts of glee, for Rob had replaced his tear ducts with nano-sized soft-serve ice cream dispensers. “Grab a cone, kids!” He raised his hands to show them how the sugar cones dropped down from steel tubes under his arms.
They all ate ice cream and laughed and hugged. They wanted sprinkles, and Rob promised to add toppings. They could come out of his nose! At last he was at peace with his children…with his family. He was lonely no more! His wife adored his ermine body hair, and his children were wowed by his ice cream tears. He wept with joy and the twins cried: “Do chocolate! Cry chocolate, daddy!”
Hearing the joyful noise of her children, Candice landed at once. “Look,” said Rob. “I can cry ice cream. The kids are loving it. Come, wife, embrace your ermine-furred husband! Have a double dip!”
But Candice remained inside her cockpit. She took a long look at her husband. Melted ice cream streamed down his face, matting his mink stole of a beard. Sugar cones stuck out of both armpits. The man she had learned to love had become a monster.
“Come children,” she cried. “Your father is gross!” Candice helped the kids aboard her little airplane. Rob watched them fly away, through the vast fuselage of the jumbo jet and out the emergency exit doors, never to return.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The paperback of The Unknown Knowns goes on sale March 2 with a little something extra for the visually inclined. My very talented wife, Margaret McCartney, illustrated a bonus comic that serves as a coda, postscript, science lesson, and excuse to show a beaver with Jack Kirby–style energy beams floating around it. Hope you like it!
Friday, February 12, 2010
I like to distinguish between enjoyable music and effective music. Between the music you actually like and the music that moves or excites you despite your better judgment. Say you're standing at the counter of a pizzeria. Not the good pizzeria, but the decent one you went to because you couldn't take the time to walk the extra three blocks to the really good one. And while you're waiting for your two grandma slices to heat up, you leaf through the professional sound-engineering magazine that is lying on the glass case above the garlic knots. There you read an obituary about a fiftysomething salesman for Sennheiser or one of those high-end microphone manufacturers. He devoted his life to the industry and was widely loved for his affable, easy manner and everyman charm, until one day his personality got weird. He was no longer affable. He was no longer everyman, or even some man. The company fired him for acting weird, only to discover two years later that the man had been suffering from an incurable disease that attacks the personality and language centers of the brain. The pretty white snow outside the pizzeria has turned overnight to black ice. You can clearly see, on the sidewalk just outside, a brassiere frozen in a drift of existentially gray snow. You reach into your pocket to find that the six dollars you've been hoarding for lunch are moist from proximity to a baggie of diaper wipes. The pizza is taking a long, long time. You are hungry and...something else. Then from that space beyond taste, from that unmediated knickknack shelf of the mind where the emotions are engaged despite ourselves, you hear a plaintive guitar and the voice of a man whose personality seems to have gone the way of the Sennheiser salesman. It is James Taylor, and the song is "Fire and Rain," and you wish you had a sword handy so that you might drive it through your head.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Starts like this:
Some people record six-minute-long prog-rock epics because they want to infuse Gilgamesh with the power of electric guitars. And others do it because their novel has just come out in paperback.When my friend Jeffrey Rotter entered a Brooklyn studio to record a song about his debut novel, The Unknown Knowns, it was for the latter reason. “I think authors are just looking for any way they can to get attention,” Rotter says. Rotter, says Obits guitarist Sohrab Habibion, “was talking about doing something musical and we thought given the nature of the story it would be really fun to do something absurd, and prog seemed like the most friendly format.”
(read the rest right about...here.)