Shiny Wing Lips

I bought a sleeveless workout sweatshirt from Goodwill. When I worked out in it for the first time, I sweated through it at the base of my sternum in the shape of a pair of lips. Not just any lips; huge, come on, Marilyn Monroe lips.

In previous workouts, I’ve sweated through other t-shirts and moisture-wicking shirts, always in the same spot, but always in the shape of the Batman symbol.

Marilyn Monroe’s lips and Batman. I think I have the makings of a comely movie star and a badass vigilante living inside me, and it only takes working out to bring them out.

I can use this!

* * *

What’s that over there I see? A car thief? Let me just dead lift a few of these parked cabs. There, I’ve got a sweat going and, yes, I feel my caped crusader powers coming through.

The utility belt is snapping on. The cape is unfurling. The spandex is drawing tight underneath me like a suspension bridge cable.

I feel my normal human powers amplifying tenfold. The spandex is constricting my balls. It feels like I have bench vices clamping down from north-south and east-west. Strangely, though, my voice still sounds like I’m gargling with gravel.

Batarangs in my hands. I loose them. They curve through the air, slicing through the streams, swiveling through the swirls, surfing through the squall, and strike the car thief in the back of the head, wounding him grievously, but not killing him because that’s, like, not cool for my image, Bro.

Oh, crap. My sweat stains are drying up. My balls are releasing. My organs are expanding. My skin is sagging. My utility belt is being replaced with … Huh, well, my actual belt didn’t come back, and now my pants are on the ground.

But while I was Batman, I did my job, stopped crime, and did NOT kill anyone.

* * *

You know, Mr. Politician, from an aerial view this park looks like the gingerbread man got his head caved in and fell in a heap and is awaiting—correction: his spectral essence of molasses and dough is awaiting—a chalk outline.

The shape of the park used to be of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (complete with dong. It’s the building we used as a cooling tower. Also complete with woo-woo. It’s the reflecting pool that went dry). But given all the looting, rioting, and criminal mischief, things aren’t shaped the way they used to be.

We need a leader from another time, a bombshell, someone who will turn heads and keep them turned, and not just because she’s got the junk of a much larger 1960s trunk.

We need Marilyn Monroe.

Let me just go stand atop this grate that’s running over a pool of molten steel. Whoo! It’s getting hot. My clothes are—Yes, yes, they are—they’re melting. Is it going to? Come on!

I know they say women don’t sweat; they glow, but I’m not a woman. I’m a— Oh. Oh, that’s different. Yes. Yes, I think I like that. I’m Marilyn.

Now, what was I going to do? Oh, yes, that’s right. I was going to lobby for less looting, rioting, and criminal mischief.

I’ve been dead for a long time, so you’ll have to tell me: are airplanes still a thing, or do you just imagine where you want to go, and you appear? … Airplanes? Shit. Well, at least I can smoke. … I can’t do that, either. Hmpf.

I put myself through this transformation by getting sweaty the only way I know how, the only way that makes sense: standing over molten metal. So I’ll go through with the whole lobbying thing, but as soon as it’s over, I’m changing back and then only changing into Batman, at least he can kill horrible criminals.

I’m thinking of the wrong superhero? Oh, my word. The 60s really were better.

* * *

I’ve only ever noticed the Batman symbol and Marilyn’s lips as sweat stains on my workout shirts, but I’m a creature of habit, wearing the same shirts for years. I wonder what would happen if I changed things up, bought different brands, different materials.

Body-jumping to assume the bio digs and personas of long-dead and/or fictional characters.

You’ll never look at a jump rope the same.

Violent Writers

Amy told me about a group of rich kids who were arrested for being violent rioters. I thought she said writers.

Rioters are old hat these days. I’m more interested in hearing about violent writers.

Questions on my mind right now:

  1. What techniques do violent writers use?
  2. Are there wardrobe requirements?
  3. In what environment is one best suited for violent writing?
  4. What are the sleeping habits of violent writers?
  5. In what ways are the writings of violent writers superior to passive writers?

To answer these questions, we solicited responses from several best-selling authors/violent writers, but because of their criminal activities, they’ve asked to have their identities obscured.

* * *

Best-Selling Mystery Writer

Some writers say they do research, but I live research, meaning I commit at least one murder for every murder-mystery I write. To do less would compromise the authenticity of my work. I am punctilious to a fault. I leave no stone unturned. No head un-bashed in if it helps the plot and, you know, sells more.

Best-Selling Science Fiction Writer

The type of clothing I need isn’t available in stores or online. It isn’t even available from earth-sourced thread and cloth. It’s in space. Have you seen Captain Marvel? That’s entirely accurate in its depictions of space-earth battles. Where it goes wrong is where it portrays the Kree fanatic Ronan’s intention to come back to retrieve Danvers. He’s too embarrassed to say, so I’ll say for him: he actually wanted her suit. Changing colors, bad-ass Christmas star, matching boots—who wouldn’t want to wear this bitchin’ suit and take over civilization after civilization? Okay, now that I’ve expressed that, I feel safe telling you: this is Ronan. Surprise! I’m writing my memoirs and totally including the bit about stealing Danvers’ suit after destroying her. Yeah, that totally happened, and it’s injecting so much passion and space-realism into my writing. I totally recommend killing a superhero and stealing her suit and writing about it.

Best-Selling Political Thriller Writer

Honestly, I prefer a swamp, late at night or early in the morning, a pistol in my hand, dew on the barrel, held against the head of my rival, who’s down on his knees, the swampy water already soaked through his trousers. Even if I change my mind, he’s going to have to buy new pants. I’ve only pulled the trigger once, and that was on a rival writer who was also running for office. It seemed to me an implausible, monopolistic way of pursuing a living: trying to do the thing you write about, so I killed him, but I didn’t like the police attention it brought. It’s hard to write when detectives are banging on your door at 3a.m. So I mostly let my kidnap victims go, never letting them see my face, of course, and then I slog through the swamp, switching out my pistol for my note pad. You’ve got to transfer the fear-soaked pleas from your muse while they’re still dripping.

Best-Selling Legal Thriller Writer

I don’t sleep at night; I sleep in the courtroom. I’m always trolling for new ideas, see, so I pretty much have to live in the courtroom. But most of the time it’s about as exciting as the varnish on the judge’s gavel, so I nap. If something interesting happens, I take out my spare gavel—you’d be surprised how often impersonating a judge can come in handy. Justice to go! Justice in the park! Justice at the shooting range!—and rap the defendant on the head. One good, hard stroke is enough to send the courtroom into a melee. Now I’ve got something to write about.

Best-Selling Literary Writer

Upon occasion when I deign to absorb and ruminate over the abject musings of the uninitiated, I sense their shortcomings are multifarious, multiplicitous, and always lacking for the aplomb feeling that makes one delight in the delicacies of a well-crafted phrase. The inactive, slothful sentences they produce hang flaccid from dead branches. It takes energized, murderous veritas of the cultured, psychological fortitude of individual expression imbued with high crime pedigree and curated wonder, for words to transform. In that sense, superiority of the literary effort is assured.

* * *

Okay. What the fuck? on that last one. Writers are weird fucks.

But they are engaged.

Gavel in hand.

Best Books of 1020

Although I closely monitor and consume all new offerings from John Grisham, John Sandford, and Michael Connelly, I like to break from well-established novelists and read new writers.  

So wayfaring in 2014, I discovered the writings of Kevin Wilson, author of the novels The Family Fang, Perfect Little World, Nothing to See Here, and dozens of short stories. Later, I had the privilege of chatting with him about his work in one of two (yes, two!) podcasts The Family Farce produced that year. Similar efforts led to my conversation (second of two! We were content beasts!) with Adam Mansbach, author of the uncensored children’s book Go the Fuck to Sleep and the novel The Dead Run, among others.

Following that same tack, looking to revive my chats with authors, I tried to perform a Google search for “best debut novelists of 2020,” but I mistyped and instead searched, “best debut novelists of 1020.” Not sure any of these authors will be around to chat with me in podcast form, and records are sketchy (read: minimal research performed), but here are some of the books likely to have been on offer in the evanescent year of 1020.

Laws of England: the complete codification, by Canute the Great, King of England

Summary: Modern times call for modern laws. We cannot live in a society where the rule of law is subject to interpretation in the moment. We must have a written standard, a source of truth to which all minds can look for guidance. Also, we ordered a surplus of quills and ink wells, and I’ll be damned if I let those gather dust only to become some pretentious party girl’s centerpieces at her wedding reception 1,000 years from now.

How to Invade Your Neighbor: a guide to conquest in your spare time, by Italian Emperor Henry II

Summary: You cannot always eat the pasta. You must sometimes set down your fork, allow your spaghetti to unspool, and drive your fork into the throat of your enemy. If that enemy is your neighbor to the south, so be it. Once you are done, taking over his territory for crimes such as being too liberal with the spices to which he affixes the description Italian Seasoning, you may return to your pasta.

Thrones and Scones: a guide to securing territory and enjoying a Danish or two, by Canute the Great, King of England

Summary: I like to start my weekends with a successful privy purging and then proceed to selecting my morning pastry, but when the Danes are threatening to spill the contents of said privy, fouling the aromatic enjoyment of my pastry, ruining that evening’s dinner and desert, I’m forced instead to trade my house clothes for armor. Should you be similarly forced to surrender your pastry enjoyment time for warfare, this book will guide you on the most efficient means by which to accomplish your military objectives and return home before the crusts on your scones gets too dry.

PGB Is Alright with Me: a guide to turning porridge, gruel, and bread into various treats to suit the fussiest palate, by Father Godwin, Master Griddler

Summary: So you’re poor. So you’re infirmed. So you have access only to the most basic cereal grains. So what. There’s more creativity available to you than you realize. You won’t be able to read this because you’re most likely also illiterate, but get a clergyman to do so for you. I guarantee you’ll bring a fresh take to your daily grueling schedule (see what I did there?) and increase your chances of living to the ripe old age of 30.

So You Want to Slay a Dragon, by Beowulf, pseudonymous writer of Beowulf

Summary: Stranger than fiction, they say. A great story, they say. Burned in a fire, they say. I am Beowulf. I am a time-traveler. I say my story is real, and dragons exist, swooping and passing shadows over all of us. If you want the right to return to the light, and have some damned fine BBQ, read my book.

That last title sounds the most interesting. Who wouldn’t want to be a time-traveling, dragon-slaying hero? Then again, Emperor Henry II’s fork-killing method has a very John Wick vibe to it.

If he talks about quills to the neck, I am sold.

Demon Pilgrim

In the game Awkward Family Photos, one of the pics shows a family of four. You can safely ignore the parents and one of the kids, but the kid off to the left? Keep an eye on that ghoul.

He’s wearing a mask. In the age of COVID-19, the presence of this article might set Awkward Family Photos up as a forward-thinking entertainment gambit. Don’t be fooled.

This mask doesn’t protect shit. It looks like a melted plastic turkey, melted alongside a cornucopia from the image archives of The Saturday Evening Post.

Worsening the ghouldom, the kid is wearing a stunted cone hat, flat brim, with a buckle on the front, completing his metamorphosis into—Demon Pilgrim.

Demon Pilgrim didn’t get what he wanted for the first Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of turkey, he got enslavement. His hunger not sated, thirst not slaked, he resolved to exact revenge on those who sought to enjoy dinner in his stead.

* * *

As long as I can remember, I’ve lived life by everyone’s terms but my own (go to debtor’s prison for you, and you’ll let me watch? Okay!). I’ve subjugated my desires for the benefit of others (go on a long boat ride? Okay!), degraded myself (serve on bucket duty? Okay!) so others could achieve (serve as bait just this one time to attract the savages? Okay!), struck a flint, held it to the tinder of my dreams, and served as the instrument of destruction to any design on my future I might have had that didn’t include servitude (serve as a prisoner of war just this one time? You’ll come by in the morning to rescue me? Okay!).

I didn’t think I could be broken. I thought I would stretch out, growing thinner and thinner, until I was only a Robin’s egg shell, a brittle patina, a glaze across a pastry designed to feed the world, designed to consume me so that the world would live.

Fuck the world.

I’ve stretched.

I’ve broken.

I am pieces of myself, each containing a legion ready to break out.

And seek revenge.

Tonight, the pilgrims—my former brethren, my tricksters, my slave-trading, human life-bargaining pimps—dine to celebrate safely landing in the New World. Secondarily, they celebrate having reached a pact with the native savages. Until today, the savages had been using our bones to season our meat as they rotated us on their spits.

(Why is only one of my legs rounded and meaty? The savages got hungry while they waited for the prisoner exchange to occur.)

Now, post-ceremony, they will no longer slaughter us, they say. They will no longer eat us, they say.

(My whole leg weeps in terrorized dread. But not for long.)

This is the opening I need.

I’ve prayed to the Christian god, and He has ignored me, if He even bothered to listen. Perhaps He looked down at me from His holy dais and found me lacking.

He knows not what He has done, for I have turned to the dark realm. I have new allies, allies with red skin and horns and talons for fingernails and dark magic for thoughts. I will return and tear down His hollow pulpit. I will stand up and declare my desire to be law.

But first, the transition.

I’ve passed a series of smaller steps, and now I am one step away from becoming a demon. One step from having power. One step from willingly, and with malice, siphoning the life-force from those who’ve torn away my foundations and my home.

Darkness has fallen.

I am crouched behind trees, but I see them in firelight glow, the traitorous lot, sitting at their table. Look at them, smug and self-satisfied, distractedly gorging themselves on wine and boar and bird. Men dip their heads to drink from between the breasts of women to whom they have professed no commitment. Women accept, switch roles, and become the aggressors, hungrily attacking the rotted mouths of men who become less human with every triumph.

Disgusting.

They have earned nothing, and it emboldens them, this awarding of accolades without effort. Continuous satisfaction breeds complacent entitlement.

Soon, the satisfaction will be mine.

I will earn it.

I move forward, quick as a rabbit, deadly as a fox. I jump like a lion and bite with the bloodthirsty ferocity of a wolf.

I start the evening with an amuse bouche of throats. I clear my palate with blood. 30 people sit around—well, slump around—the table, and fountains are plenteous.

Next, I taste a delicacy of eyes. Some are gelatinous, exploding like little taste bombs; others, like hard boiled eggs. Both are delights!

Finally, I dig into the main course: chest cavity organs. I gnaw through pectoral muscles, clean my teeth on bones, and work my jaw up and down with the hunger of a storm surge that comes again and again until it has subsumed all.

When I am done, my belly is swollen with the flesh and life-force of all the pilgrims complicit in my subjugation. Their flesh is my flesh.

We are one.

I take a be-buckled hat from one pilgrim and go to sit by the fire. The hat begins to melt, and the wax runs down my face like a scalding waterfall.

I smile, my teeth reflecting red, fat bubbling in the gaps, a rendering plant sending product down my gullet.

Your transformation is complete, my masters whisper in my mind.

You are Demon Pilgrim.

* * *

Roughly 400 years later (historical accuracy dubious), this scene inspired the game Awkward Family Photos. How’s that for a sticky idea?

Demon Pilgrim sure earned his moment in the spotlight. I suggest we keep it on him.

For glorification purposes.

Not tracking.

Electric Jackhole

I live in a populous neighborhood.

The streets are only wide enough for those shopping carts with fake car fenders bolted onto them, and yet the inhabitants of my neighborhood treat the space like it’s spacious enough to transport windmill farm blades. You know the kind that look like a giant’s butter knife?

It’s a supermarket display of canned peas stacked next to the canned corn, enough space between the two to maybe laser through a broom, if you happened to have been an Olympic javelin thrower, and yet the inhabitants of my neighborhood treat the space like it’s the perfect setting for dragstrip fork truck driving, blaring their tightly packed engines at odd hours, but somehow always managing to cross their combustion engine-born, exhaust pipe-amplified aural effusions with my evening workout time in our garage gym.

Thus was born this column.

While listening to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way album (door open so I don’t, you know, die of heat stroke. Little things), straining my senses through the muffling effect of a thousand baffles, I misheard the title lyric on the song Electric Chapel. What did I hear?

Electric Jackhole.

Electric Chapel has some energy to it. Throws off a zipping, zinging, dancing, raving vibe. But Electric Jackhole? That’s just fucking fun.

* * *

Want to get inside the head of a star? Read on for our special interview with pop star sensation Spady Haha as she describes her motivation for writing her new smash hit: Electric Jackhole.

TFF: Electric Jackhole. That’s a unique title. Some would say offensive. What say you?

Spady Haha: I say call it like you see it.

TFF: Can you be more specific?

Spady Haha: My boyfriend was being a huge dick to me. He decided to spend the whole day lying around our pool while I dealt with our dick contractors—contractors who were building his music studio.

TFF: Your boyfriend is also a musician?

Spady Haha: [scoffs] A musician makes music that at least one other person will willingly listen to without a Winchester to their temple. My boyfriend’s [air quotes] music [end air quotes] is nothing like that.

TFF: That bad, huh?

Spady Haha: Let’s put it this way: his audio filth makes playing the kazoo look like Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.

TFF: So he sucks. We get that, but could you explain the Electric Jackhole title?

Spady Haha: Of course. That’s the best part. As you know, I was raised on a ranch. We used many tools to keep the cattle from wandering off: fences, ditches, Australian Shepherds, and such, but occasionally, you get a Texas Longhorn that won’t respond to non-stimulant deterrents, and you have to bring energy to the mix. Enter the electric cattle prod.

TFF: I see where this is going.

Spady Haha: Stick that cattle prod up a Longhorn’s hindquarters, and you’ve got yourself a motivated Longhorn, an exemplary Longhorn, a Longhorn that other Longhorns whisper about in the corner because they’re jelly.

TFF: That means jealous, right?

Spady Haha: Right on.

TFF: I do what I can to relate to youths.

Spady Haha: Don’t try too hard.

TFF: Because I’ll hurt my back?

Spady Haha: You said it. Damn, you are quick. … Getting back to the story, I don’t like to use curses in my songs, so instead of asshole, I use jackhole. That’s what my boyfriend was being—a jackhole, and when I electrocuted his hindquarters with my spare cattle prod—

TFF: You have a spare cattle prod?

Spady Haha: [hard stare]

TFF: Of course you do.

Spady Haha: —I had myself a motivated man. He took over handling the contractors right quick.

TFF: Sounds like he was a changed man. Excuse me—a charged man.

Spady Haha: [looks confused, continues look for 10 seconds until realization dawns] I get it. Not bad, Old Man.

TFF: Thanks.

Spady Haha: Let’s not, however, confuse motivation for change. He’s still a jackhole, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets lazy again. Thus, he’s always my Electric Jackhole.

* * *

Fun with cattle prods and jackholes.

Literary electricity from the stars.

Extreme Exfoliation

Will likes to play the adventure/horror game Dead by Daylight. He was talking about an attack technique and described surreptitiously getting behind someone and spinning his chainsaw. I thought he said the technique was called back rubbing. It was actually called “back revving,” as in revving one’s chainsaw to scare the bejesus out of a survivor before taking them down.

In this game, though, using a euphemism to describe savage epidermal tissue disruption is not far-fetched. I’m imagining a day spa with characters from Dead by Daylight, where the treatments are on the barbarous side.

I call it Extreme Exfoliation.

* * *

Voiceover: Does your back look like your DNA was combined with a T-Rex?

Are your nails the thickness of sandwich bread?

Is your scalp a bustling metropolis in a winter storm, its climate best compared to the inside of a snow globe?

If you answered yes to any or all of these, you need to visit Extreme Exfoliation.

Extreme Exfoliation day spa comes to us from the makers of the hit game Dead by Daylight and incorporates various game elements into its treatments. For example:

EE Dermoflogogist: Chainsaw chewing will cure you of thick, scaly back skin. How it works is this: we start the chainsaw and suspend it in a pendulum cradle. We control the pendulum with a crane mechanism. This allows us to raise and lower the chainsaw at will, also to vary the rate at which the pendulum swings back and forth.

Does it hurt? Hell, yes. No one ever said beauty was cheap, except for the backwoods plastic surgeon my ex-wife once went to. She’s now a moose. *off-camera question* No, a literal moose.

If you stay still during the procedure, your back will be as smooth as polished porcelain. If you move, well, you’ll be food for my ex. Chainsaw chewing is only for the brave.

EE Nail Wrecknician: Chainsaw clipping brings new efficiencies to the trade. Picture this: you’re sitting in your office on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s the middle of summer. A freak weather system has dropped temperatures into the mid-70s and sucked all the humidity out of the air. Perfect day for frolicking on the beach, right?

Wrong.

Because you have photophobia, otherwise known as extreme light sensitivity of the eyes. You might glance outside, but unless you’re wearing your prescription welding mask, your corneas burn, and you look like a vampire.

What to do?

Make like a vampire, be vain, and trim your nails, of course. (You can get to throat ripping later. *hushed voice* I offer lessons on the side.)

*regular voice* But after your co-workers see your red eyes and think you’re going to drain the blood from their bodies, they’re extra judgy around you. The first sound of a severed nail has barely left your clippers when you get Really? looks shooting at you from all directions.

Can’t go outside. Can’t trim your nails. Soon to look like a Bedouin spending an extended holiday in an Ashram.

What to do?

Come to EE. I’ll use our patented chainsaw clipping technique to trim your nails in one sweeping go of the blade. Your nails might look rough, but you’ll have the weapons to answer those judgy co-workers with actions, not words.

EE Massage Tearapist: Chainsaw chiseling brings the latest in lumberjack techniques to the tight muscles of your back. Recall old black and white photos where men stand on either side of a Redwood, using a 15’ blade to fell the great trees.

Now imagine all that wood-cutting power concentrated in a chainsaw.

Some Redwoods are hundreds of years old, and they were felled using human effort and a sharp blade. At EE, we’re all about harnessing that cutting power and activating it with gasoline.

When you’re done with your session, your back will look like a demolition derby was held in a drained cranberry bog, but your kinks will have fled—along with most of your blood.

Did I mention we offer an on-site transfusion service for an extra charge?

Voiceover: The makers of Dead by Daylight want you to experience their game in the most authentic way possible: by feeling what the characters feel.

Blood loss and back knot unbundling are bonuses.

* * *

The organ donor people will be all over this.

Better check your wallet.

Redneck Tanning Solutions

While Amy and I were driving to Costco to get flowers, I said I wanted to live half the year in the US and half in the UK. She asked why. I said so I could tan both of my arms evenly while I drive.

My chest is so white that if I take my shirt off outside, whatever neighborhood I’m standing in automatically gets the carbon footprint reduction seal of approval, no longer needing to paint their roofs white to reflect the evils of free energy.

The only way I tan is by association with something else I’m doing. Since I’ve considered arm size and food enjoyment more important than leanness and culinary austerity, my waist has increased in circumference these last couple years, meaning shirtless running is out.

It’s not that I think I’m fat. My mid-section is like a tall, thin barrel fresh from the coopers, not one sitting in the backwoods of Kentucky storing 200-year-old moonshine and a dead body. Still, I’ve done some widening of the freeway.

While this may be good for diaphragmatic wall-checking of whoever got into the Starbucks line in front of me and, speaking through three layers of mask and face shield and holding an NFL-worthy stiff-arm pose to either side of her body, has just remembered she spent 20 years in a convent taking a vow of silence and cannot speak louder than the mites killed from the gush of hot water into her cup, it does nothing for believing I can fit through a turnstile without expelling enough air to disrupt the vacuum of space.

Thus, it also does nothing for my uneven tan, so back to my original thesis statement. Who has ever said they want to travel internationally because they want an even redneck farmer’s tan? I may be the first.

I think I’ve hit on something: Redneck Tanning Solutions (RTS), where the only rules are listen up and wear a short-sleeved shirt.

Women, listen to me. Has your man ever come in from yard work complaining of neck pain? If so, he was probably holding the trimmer handle with his left hand and pulling the trigger with his right. Or if he was a lefty, the opposite configuration.

This also means he was standing at a constant angle to the sun, baking the lower part of one arm to a fine apple fritter crisp. This stiff head and neck mean reduced or no swiveling, and a head that doesn’t swivel means a wife that doesn’t giggle.

RTS to the rescue.

A trained RTS specialist will stand in your yard, verbally chastise you, and make rude gestures, if necessary, to remind you to switch hand positions, alter your orientation to the sun, leave you with no neck pain, and ensure your head swivels as easily as an oiled barstool.

Have you ever been afraid to go on the Ferris wheel? Per RTS, did you know that if you sit on the far right of a seat, then the far left, and alternate this every day throughout the summer, you’ll cure your fear? Totally true. Seriously. Look it up. … No, seriously. I’d like to see the research.

Do you have a fear of flying? Follow the same RTS rubric. Pick a seat on the right side of the plane, then the left. Oh, and make sure it’s a sunny day whenever you fly, and pull up the window shade and stick your arm right up against the plexiglass. Your fear will be as ancient as Nany Pelosi is a comedienne.

Finally, are you xenophobic? Do you understand why you feel this way? If not, and if you’d like to be cured of this illogical, inorganic, life-leeching condition, make sure you listen to RTS and take your right-side and left-side planes to the UK and drive along the Thames. Then take your right-side and left-side planes back to the US and drive along the Mississippi.

During all four preceding activities, what have I not mentioned? Tanning. I’ve just given you the keys to an amazing neck swivel with infinite fun-time applications, the cure to fear of heights on carny death traps, the cure to fear of flying, and the cure to a life devoid of enriching world culture.

Oh, and a kick-ass tan.

From the elbows down.

Machete Mike’s Mowing

I see the grass, and it sees me. Today will be the challenge of challenges. Shoots will attempt to break free from uniformity, to diverge from inclusion in a level, collective cut. They will blame gorge winds. They will blame exhaust gusts. They will blame worm farts.

But their deflections will stop short of action because but I have the blade of bombasticity. I have the knife of numbskull ne’er-do-well narcissism. I slice deeply with the cut of conformity.

Beware all of those who use fossil fuels to do the work of the ancients, for I am Machete Mike, and I will bring a straight swipe of flashing edge across your uneven reaches above the line of the mean. I will bring cultivated curation. I will cut you for your own good.

* * *

Pivoting from overwrought openers, we were on our way back from the North Portland Costco, and we saw a guy on the side of the road trimming the grass around his roadside stand with a machete. You read right. He was at times down on his hands and knees, other times scooting around on his ass, painstakingly trimming each section like a barber using a straight razor. What prompted his dedication to hand-crafted lawn care?

Let’s ask Machete Mike.

* * *

TFF: Hello, Sir. We see you have an interesting technique for trimming the foliage around your stand. Care to tell us how you came across this method?

Machete Mike: I see you have an errant follicle on your face. *a huge machete sings out of a scabbard with a SKRRRIIING*

TFF: I’m traditional in that regard, so I think I’ll stick with my Schick and foam shaving cream, thanks.

Machete Mike: *brandishes the machete for a moment, swiveling it to catch his and our reflection on its blade like a revolving door that can’t decide if it wants to go clockwise or counterclockwise* You’ll regret that choice, letting the growth go where it will, but I’m willing to let you learn.

TFF: Back to our question.

Machete Mike: Question?

TFF: About how you came to use a machete to trim the growth around your stand?

Machete Mike: I was chosen, plucked from my bed as a boy,carried across the ocean, and set down in an ashram atop mountains in the Far East. From there, I started my training.

TFF: This sounds a lot like the early plot of Batman Begins.

Machete Mike: Ah, so you know the life story stealer Christopher Nolan’s work, yes?

TFF: You’re saying Christopher Nolan stole your life story?

Machete Mike: As the blade flies.

TFF: And used it to create a new chapter in the Batman franchise?

Machete Mike: The sword will swoosh.

TFF: A franchise that’s been around since the 1930s?

Machete Mike: The hilt also seeks to bury.

TFF: If I may offer you a compliment, you don’t look any older than your early 40s.

Machete Mike: The scallions know not the end game of sautéing when the cleaver sets to its dicing.

TFF: Two things: 1) unless you’re a time-traveler or you have a fantastic skin care regimen, you wouldn’t have been born for another 40-some-odd years after the creation of Batman, making it impossible for Christopher Nolan, or any other writer who ever added a chapter to the franchise, to steal your life story; 2) I must remind you: you haven’t answered my original question.

Machete Mike: Lawns are the drapes that have fallen over the earth, their spines curving and fitting themselves with amoral topographical adhesion.

TFF: Topographical what?!

Machete Mike: It means grass and weeds and flowers grow wherever the fuck they want. They have basic instincts. They commit original sins of wandering without permission. Thus, they deserve a trimming using an original weapon: the machete. I don’t just do the ground around my stand; I also do lawns—about one per month. It takes that long for my back to recover.

TFF: Machete Mike’s Mowing?

Machete Mike: How did you know?

TFF: Lucky guess. … Rolling back a beat, your last answer made a weird kind of sense, but one last follow-up question: if it takes you a month to cut one lawn, how can you achieve uniformity? Wouldn’t the earliest cut blades have regrown by the time you got to the end?

Machete Mike: That’s two questions, but I will indulge. I first developed my ability to scare followers of the chlorophyll cult when I watched mountain goats in the Far East tearing the shit out of mountainside foliage.

TFF: Oh, for Christ’s sake. You’re saying grass and weeds and wildflowers have feelings? Feelings you can manipulate?

Machete Mike: Anthropomorphism spawns in sun eaters.

TFF: *cutting gesture to camera crew* We’re done here. This guy’s bats.

Machete Mike: Anarchists are full up in the sea anemones.

TFF: *turns back as walking away from interview set* That’s a carnivorous sea animal, dumbass.

Machete Mike: That feeds off the sun. Thus, it is fated to the same end as its green counterparts on land.

TFF: *shouting from the street* They eat crabs, dumbshit, not sun!

Machete Mike: Crabs of the sun walk sideways to bow to the glowing orb.

TFF: *on phone* Yeah, are you the guys in white coats? Good. We’ve got one of yours down here on NE Sandy Boulevard. *listening* Yep, yep, he’s raving mad and he has a machete. *listening* You’ve got ninja swords? Do you, too, subjugate plants? *listening* Just hedges? Makes total sense.

* * *

Scaring your lawn into submission with the righteous blade of a machete avenging Christopher Nolan’s theft of your origin story—the latest in yard maintenance techniques.

Cockadoodlescream

We rented a cabin in Days Creek, Oregon for a long weekend. The owners run a working farm on the property: Pachamama Farms.

Among the animals roaming about are chickens; roosters; geese; red meat pigs (this is a thing); a snow white Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog names Zeus, demeanor indicating he seems okay with having been left out of Dogs Playing Poker; two English Bullmastiffs named Apollo and Athena, coloring like worn baseball gloves, expressions indicating they are still sore about having been left out of Dogs Playing Poker, demeanors as sweet as candy; and finally a bird of unknown species whose call I can only describe as being goosed (sorry, actual geese).

Sitting on the porch outside our cabin in the morning, blue sky overhead, temperature in the 50s, gazing across the gravel drive, past the weathered wood of the towers on either side of the wrought iron gate inlaid with a wagon wheel design, down an embankment populated with pigs and lichen-covered trees not quite camouflaging the odd powerline, toward a creek lined with mint leaves, the smell clearing my sinuses, listening to alternating cockadoodledoos and EEEYAAAWs, I wonder what the rooster and goosed bird are conversing about.

These seem likely candidates:

* * *

On breakfast food:

Rooster: Do you think the guests will figure out the sausages made from Oinky and Squealy were fashioned after the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945?

Goosed: Why should that MATTER? They are DELICIOUS. A SKINNY sausage link isn’t a REAL sausage link.

On the storm door:

Rooster: When the storm door closes, it sounds like a firework exploding.

Goosed: That’s what you GET when you replace GLASS with metal MESH.

Rooster: Makes sense. But don’t you wish sometimes the owners would use normal building materials instead of trying to customize everything?

Goosed: NO. I don’t know much about GLASS, but I’ve heard being UNDER it is a BAD thing, so being BEHIND it can’t be much better.

On dead trees:

Rooster: What are your thoughts on the dead trees lying about on the property?

Goosed: I THINK it’s great the owners have BROUGHT in the guy with the portable SAWmill to make USE of the wood.

Rooster: Blades spook me.

Goosed: Why? What DO those have to DO with us?

Rooster: Agh, forget it. Just rumors.

On uneven roads:

Rooster: Most of the roads in this county are in good condition, but some of them need work.

Goosed: Agreed. Some of them RIPPLE up and down in PERPETUAL humps, the SOLID white line INDICATING the SIDE of the lane terminus LOOKING like a ribbon SET into wrist-trilled MOTION.

Rooster: Wow, Goosed, that was poetic.

Goosed: Thanks, ROOSTER, but the WORD you’re looking for isn’t POETIC; it’s LITERARY.

Rooster: [sarcastic voice] Gee, thanks for correcting me in the middle of receiving a compliment.

Goosed: AnyTIME. AnyTHING I can DO to help.

On banded light and dark lines from shadows on the road:

Rooster: What do you think it means when you’re driving on a road; it’s about midday; you’ve just come from Plaikni Falls out by Crater Lake; and you see those lines of light reaching through the trees and bending over the road, and stacked on top of these are shadow lines, and this pattern continues for miles down the straight road all the way to the volcanic ash Pinnacles?

Goosed: If you HAD an MFA in CREATIVE writing, I would say it MEANT you were EXERCISING your craft.

Rooster: And if I don’t have an MFA.

Goosed: You’re a POSER.

Rooster: [speaking into a radio] Yes, farmer, the sightlines are good. Take the shot.

* * *

On that metal mesh storm door, I look around quickly whenever it closes, suspicious that the neighborhood demolitions amateurs from back home in Portland—who feel the need to test the explosive capabilities of their fireworks cache throughout the year (Yup, this one works. Yup, this one works. …)—have followed us into the Southern Oregon back country, seeking a canyon with better reverberation properties than found in suburbia.

Then I realize it’s another example of a minor sound interrupting silence. Even the canine Greek gods observe vows of it. The canyon’s mission is to promote silence and reflection.

Rooster and Goosed—they’ve got some stuff to work out.

As for me, I’m at PEACE.

Higher Thievery

An article from the QC Times described a thief who had been arrested for robbing the Dollar Tree. If you’re going to rob a store, why the Dollar Tree?

Your resale value for Dollar Tree stolen merchandise is crap. If all the merchandise had been sold, and the proceeds were sitting in one register, you still wouldn’t have enough to buy a decent used car.

We think this thief (Bobby 7, previously seen in our June 29, 2019 column Little Meth Lab on the Back 40) needed to aspire to higher thievery, but let’s hear from Bobby 7.

Exclusively from the Scott County Jail:

* * *

TFF: When we last spoke, you were getting your meth business off the ground. Now you’ve been arrested for petty theft. What happened?

Bobby 7: I still don’t think of m’self as the pohlitical tahp, but when that meth legalization bill come down from that there legeeslayuture, I knewd I had to i’volve m’self. But, u’forchoonately, so did all m’ cohmpatriots, m’ buddies. Well, they were’d m’ buddies. Ah gees wud ‘m trying t’ say is, we done flooded the markeet, so we’d had to think of other ways to make money.

TFF: And those other ways didn’t involve getting a job in a legitimate business? Maybe a retail worker or fast food?

Bobby 7: Y’seen how much sugar they put in them there cuhandy bars? Y’seen how much sugar they put in them there ahce cuhream bars? Y’seen how much sugar they put in them there sohdee pops, and evun in the brayd and buns of the sandweeches at them there fast food stohres? Call me a criminal. It’s criminal what thay’re doing. Too much sugar. Rot yer face way faster than meth. So t’ answer y’r queshun, I don’t feel raht allying m’self with them there corpohrate cohrupters. Bobby 7 got to remain induhpendent.

TFF: We can understand wanting to remain independent. This is why we exist as a humor magazine—to find different ways of approaching topics, hyperbolically so, if necessary, turning them inside out, and finding humor in unusual places. However, there’s something called risk versus reward that we honor.

Bobby 7: Ah see. Yer sayin’ I ain’t put enuf thought into m’ actions. I went off, what’s the phuhrase? Half-cocked. You know, I’d always thought that meant I ‘adn’t uhchieved a full eerekshun, and ah disuhpouted my lady friend.

TFF: Actually, the phrase means you’ve insufficiently primed a weapon, like a handgun, for firing, so when you try to use it, it misfires.

Bobby 7: Ah dohn’t see the difference. Same result: yuh load don’t blowd, and yer mad o’ sad o’ both. Anyway, you wohnted to knowd why I payked the Dollar Tree. I payked it b’cause nobahdy aylse had payked it. Wid all o’ m’ buddies saturaytin’ the meth market, even wid it bein’ legal, the price done pluhmeeted, so I fig’red, prices o’ cheap itums would be on the rise raht quick. U’forchoonately, it dayn’t ‘appen that way. Guess I needs to take me suhm ecohnahmics claysses.

TFF: Just want to make sure I’m hearing this correctly. Because of the meth legalization bill, you found an excessive number of your buddies entering the legal market, yes?

Bobby 7: Thay’d be cohrect.

TFF: And this excessive number of entrants produced a market saturation of product, an oversupply situation, which caused a marked drop in prices, yes?

Bobby 7: Yays. Them market forsays be suhm powerfool forsays.

TFF: Got it. Finally, you thought that since formerly high prices were dropping, that portended a precipitous rise in formerly low prices, yes?

Bobby 7: What’s “portaynded”? Like you was givin’ money to the poor? Tendin’ to ‘em?

TFF: Sorry. Poor word choice. We meant you thought high prices dropping meant low prices would soon rise, yes?

Bobby 7: Ah see. Yays. That’s what I thawd right then, but it dohn’ work that way, uh gayss.

TFF: Thank you, Bobby 7. Insightful as always.

Bobby 7: For shore. If ah may?

TFF: Please.

Bobby 7: Ah would lahk to uhspire t’ higher thievuhree, lahk with bags o’ dimuhnds ‘n’ stuff, but the econahmics is hard. I gots me some stuff t’ lahrn.

* * *

Higher learning for higher thievery.

Bobby 7 has a growth mindset.