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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Frightful Flashback: The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales (But Mostly Poems)

In a dark, dark mobile home, there was a dark, dark cupboard...

And in that dark, dark cupboard, there was a dark, dark shelf...

And on that dark, dark shelf, there was a goofy, rainbow-colored record player...

And in that goofy, rainbow-colored record player, there was...


I've spilled a lot of virtual ink in my numerous online missives about scary stories, particularly Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and its two sequels. But Alvin Schwartz was not the only author to produce collections of scary stories for younger audiences, and he certainly wasn't the first. Maria Leach, for example, had been doing an excellent job laying the groundwork for macabre collections to come in her compendiums of chilling folklore like Whistle in the Graveyard. And then there's this curious little number: 1970's Scholastic release The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales.
I was introduced to The Haunted House long before I ever read it. In fact, for years I didn't even know it was an actual book.
You see, at some point during my childhood, my mother bequeathed unto me the sweet vinyl pictured above, mentioning that it was a scary record she used to enjoy in her childhood. We listened to it together, and I was entranced. It was like nothing I had ever heard before: the soft, haunting voices of a man and woman alternating recitations of classic horror poetry and prose. Well, the vast majority was poetry, really, but that's how you knew this stuff was classy. The record's natural pops and snaps evoked the eerie ambiance of sitting fireside, listening to ghost stories and peering out into the darkness, wondering what lurked there watching you back. It was a brief but spellbinding experience (you don't get a lot of auditory mileage out of 7" vinyl). And now you can hear it too, thanks to the magic of Youtube!

Several years later, when I would acquire a copy of the text version of The Haunted House, I would discover that the recording barely scratches the surface of it, covering only about a third of what appears on the page. Plus the book's cover is all trippy and colorful in comparison to the album cover's admittedly fitting bleak monochrome.

The Haunted House is a mixed bag, like a goodie sack after a rigorous night of trick and/or treating. As I mentioned before, there's a plethora of poetry here, regarding topics ranging from feuding cats to still, frosty November nights to gleeful cannibalism. In one jolly limerick, a woman becomes frustrated with her inability to become a witch and commits suicide.

And naturally, there's some good old atomic age technophobia at work here:

Who know comic books were so informative in regards to nuclear weaponry? As you can see from these examples, shockingly dark gallows humor is abundant here. In the spirit of how Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark always had some humorous entries, this book never lets you forget what a hoot horror can be. I mean, what's funnier than a fatal auto accident?

A couple of these poems also received the ultimate compliment: they were quoted on Magic: The Gathering cards. Back in 1994, when Magic was more elegant and sophisticated (*SHOTS FIRED*), the cards would often quote classic literature, Bible verses, etc. to add some flavor to the denizens of the world that Wizards of the Coast were creating. Two of the cards from the Legends set just so happened to include flavor text derived from poems featured in this book. Might someone on the design team have been a big The Haunted House fan? If only we had gotten a "Cradle That Rocks by Itself" artifact (foreshadowing!).

Then again, it could just be a coincidence. I've seen Roethke's poem a few times elsewhere, and Shakespeare is, well, Shakespeare. And rightfully so; these are both exemplary works in the field of creepiness. One thing we can all agree on: the art is better on the Magic version.

One thing, though...I've seen bats, we've all seen bats, and if Roethke thinks bats have a human face, he should probably get his eyes checked, because from the sounds of it he's blind as a...well, you know.

Speaking of artwork, let's address The Haunted House's. The competent, cartoony illustrations are a far cry from Scary Stories' sanguine, betendriled nightmare visions, having more in common with In a Dark, Dark Room's youngster-friendly relative zaniness. It does, however, effectively convey a certain mood, and at times somehow manages to make a story much more creepy by its contrasting playfulness. For example, take the case of The Wreck of the Hesperus, a poem so grim and depressing that it makes Upton Sinclair's The Jungle seem like The Berenstain Bears Learn to Embrace Communism. The bleak saga of a shipwreck that claims the life of a young girl and her father because the father in question is a prideful moron is made all the more disturbing by its somewhat basic, juvenile illustration. Turns out the way to make a picture of a dead child even more disturbing is to make it kind of look like said child drew it.

Overall, the art does the job just fine. Still, there is something very of-its-time about it...for example, I can't help but hear ABBA in my head when I look at this picture:

The art above is from "The Velvet Ribbon," which is one of the most famous stories here and was wisely selected for the record.  It's a classic tale that can be found in many such collections of horror folklore, such as In A Dark, Dark Room, which I referenced earlier but have helpfully linked to my article about once again. The details between the versions are different, but the payoff is just the same: a woman's head falls off. As an added bonus, the one here continues wailing as it rolls across the floor! It's a real treat for decapitation aficionados.
The other four stories here vary in quality. There's the so-so "The Devil's Pocket," about two boys who hang out in a quarry their parents have forbidden them from approaching; the comical "The Ghost Catcher," a goofy tale of spectral deception from India; and the masterful "The Red Room," abridged from a longer story by none other than sci-fi legend H.G. Wells, which serves as an incredible exercise in extracting maximum suspense from the most basic setup: a dark, candlelit room in a spooky house. They're all breezy and fun to read, and even the weakest of them has a certain charm.

The best story here, though, is "The Cradle That Rocked by Itself." I mentioned Maria Leach earlier in the article, and I cannot overstate what an excellent job she did compiling and retelling spooky tales from all over the globe during her career. "The Cradle" is possibly my favorite of them all. It concerns a family who hears what sounds like a baby crying outside during a terrible storm. Reasoning that it must be seals or something, no one goes out into the maelstrom to investigate. Once the storm passes, the family finds a nice cradle washed up on the beach and, seemingly unable to form a connection between it and the distinctly babyesque sounds they heard during the storm, takes the cradle inside and puts their baby in it. They continue using it for more babies over the years despite the cradle's quite unusual trait of rocking itself. Rather than immediately chop it up and throw it in the fire due to an exceedingly apparent ongoing haunting, the parents hand-wave the whole thing. Their blasé attitudes become decidedly UN-blasé, however, when a visiting family member is able to somehow perceive the reason behind the inexplicable rocking...the pale, dark-haired phantom of a mourning mother has been tirelessly rocking away for all these years. Rather than celebrate the gift of a laborer that never eats, sleeps or demands pay, the family...chops up the cradle and throws it in the fire. As a final, skin-crawling memento, a baby cries from somewhere within the flames the entire time the cradle burns. Pretty unsettling stuff, and it was rightly chosen to conclude the audio version. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you never have before.

Other than that, it's just poems, poems, poems. Fortunately, editors Gladys Schwarz and Vic Crume have good taste, and selections include works from such luminaries as Langston Hughes and Robert Louis Stevenson. There are some astonishingly morbid works here, like Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe's "The Erl-King" and its depiction of a child's murder by supernatural forces, or "Dust," which describes a woman's literal journey from dust to dust as she transforms from cleanliness-obsessed housewife to open-eyed corpse covered in the sort of grime that bedeviled her living days. Then there's "Voices," which gives me the heebie-jeebies even though I can't quite put my finger on why:

Of course, there's plenty more to savor here. You got Vic Crume's superb titular poem, and a shark inviting an impressively naive flying fish to dinner, and rhymes about death that my grandparents used to recite...

It's all great stuff, and well worth checking out if you get the chance. You can probably find a used copy pretty cheap, or up in your grandmother's attic for free! It's a deserving addition to any library of strange and scary tomes, disco illustrations and all. The record is also a great pickup, if you can find it. Unfortunately, my copy was lost (along with the rainbow-colored record player) when my family abandoned our mobile home; it was among the many items my father promised he would go back to retrieve but never did. I eventually purchased two more copies on eBay, giving one to my mother to replace the original record (which was rightfully hers) and keeping one for myself. Both copies mysteriously disappeared, though we suspect my grandfather may have pilfered them during a period of time he was staying with my folks. He denies this fervently. In the end, perhaps that which we should fear most is not ghosts, ghouls or goblins, but rather the dread specter of kleptomania.

Until next time, I leave with with a simple image demonstrating what this book would look like had it been illustrated by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark's Stephen Gammell, just for kicks. Happy October!

For further October reading, consider Joey Marsilio's novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior. It's the grooviest! Check it out here!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Requiem for Cactus Jack

Sometimes, on an overcast day, when the sun's luminous silhouette struggles mightily to break through the murky clouds and the wind whispers its vague lullaby, I think of my friend and hope that, wherever he may be, he is happy...


With the recent success of the Pokémon Go mobile game-such a phenomenon that it has popularized that most base and shameful of activities: walking-the original 151 Pocket Monsters have reentered the popular consciousness with a vengeance. Because of this vengeful reentry, my thoughts of late have turned to my own personal experience with the Pokémon games of yore, and the untold tragedy of a fallen friend.
I first heard of these games through a 1996 issue of Nintendo Power, which at the time was quite fond of  dangling the carrot of Japanese games before ravenous American audiences that would never get to play them. How I longed for Secret of Mana 2 or RPG Maker to hit these shores! Pocket Monsters, while cool-looking, had the air of something we Americans would never see, save for a few screenshots here and there, like Fire Emblem (nope, never gonna see that, nuh-uh), so I paid it little mind.

In a way, I was right, because the game would not hit America until 1998, a relative eternity in teenager time. Yes, somehow the Game Boy had managed a nine-year run despite being a technological relic, completely outlasting the Super NES and, in its death throes, still managing to cough out one last ultramegahit. And when the time came for us Yanks to get a taste of that sweet, sweet monster nectar, Nintendo Power was once again driving the hype train, with a monthly series showing the game and its creatures in detail that somehow managed to drum up excitement for an 8-bit portable RPG in my 3-D polygon, 64-bit heart.
I put a lot of time into Pokémon. A LOT. We're talking the quantity that is scientifically known as "a buttload" of time. The game managed the awe-inspiring feat of getting me to do something other than play Magic: The Gathering, as exploring for new monsters, powering them up and battling my friends was more fun than all the ostensibly "fun-sized" candy bars in the world put together.The perpetual arms race to have the biggest and strongest Poképugilist was fast and furious and involved beating the Elite Four more times than I care to remember. And then, of course, there was "catching 'em all." When all were caught, however, there could be no doubt who ruled the roost as the biggest, baddest, cute, cuddly plush toy come to life. He was known as Mewtwo, and he reigned supreme.

Mewtwo was broken. He was a Psychic Pokémon, which was essentially the most powerful class of creatures due to some of the intended programming fail-safes against them not working (not to get too deep and nerdy about this, but for example, Psychic Pokémon were supposed to have a weakness to Ghost-types. For whatever reason, they didn't, and they basically ran roughshod over everything). The second generation of Pokémon games went to great lengths to correct this, but here, the imbalance was obvious. In addition, Mewtwo was simply stronger than anything else by his very nature, having base statistics unmatchable by any other Pokémon and capable of learning all sorts of different powerful moves. He was a god among ants, and his rule was absolute.
Now, like I said, I played a lot of Pokémon. I started with Pokémon Blue, but eventually also picked up Pokémon Red, so that I could pathetically trade Pokémon with myself and complete my Pokedex without any of that icky social interaction stuff. Beyond that, having two games meant I could run through the whole game several times, transferring my best creatures to the other cartridge and sparing their lives when the entire world reset and wiped their compatriots from existence. In this way, I managed to accumulate several of even the rarest creatures, including the aforementioned Mewtwo.

If you've ever played any of these games before, you probably know that, in terms of strength, all Pokémon are not created equal. Each creature has its own individual power level relative to others of its sort, meaning that you could have two Raticates with quite different stats despite being the same level (while still both being relatively weak, because Raticate sucks). There were ways to enhance your precious little babies' strength with vitamins and supplements, but ultimately, that disparity could never be fully overcome. Some Pokémon were simply the Charlotte Flairs of their world: genetically superior.
Speaking of professional wrestling, 1998 was a key year in the sage of the sport's storied "Monday Night Wars," wherein WCW and WWF (now WWE) were locked in a visceral waltz of doom, each side bringing out its big guns in a winner-take-all battle for ratings supremacy. Though the WWF would eventually become that winner who would therefore take all, at the time it was an underdog, and its efforts to overtake Ted Turner's juggernaut would result in television programming that absolutely enthralled a then-sixteen-year-old Joey Marsilio. So, as you can imagine, when it came time to bestow individual names upon my Pokémon, I dug pretty deep into the wrestling well. I had a Sandslash named The Rock (and yes, I realize a Geodude would have been more fitting). I had Articunos named Stone Cold and Al Snow, a Hitmonlee named after Steve Blackman (!) and a whole team of Exeggutors named after members of the band The Offspring (again, 1998). And of course, I had the exquisite burden of coming up with names for my cadre of Mewtwos. What name could possibly evoke the proper persona of this baddest of asses?
In the end, I decided to name my killer kat klone army after a wrestler whose capacity for violence and inhuman pain tolerance were already legendary: Mick Foley. Foley's gimmick was, in part, that he had several personalities, each with their own distinct look and character traits. So one of my Mewtwos was named Mankind, while a slightly weaker one with different moves was Dude Love. And then there was Cactus Jack. Cactus Jack, as a wrestler, had a fearsome reputation as a whirlwind of violence, a savage whose ungodly threshold of pain was surpassed only by his penchant for inflicting grotesque bodily harm upon his opponents. Fire, steel, baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire...nothing was too brutal for Jack. He was a killer, and the very mention of his name inspired fear. So it was with this particular Mewtwo. His stats were exceedingly high from the moment I captured him (after, fittingly enough, a grueling marathon of a battle), and I further enhanced his strength by pumping him up with as many of the game's vitamins, nutritional supplements and whatever the hell HP Up was as were allowed. When he reached his pinnacle at Level 100, one things was clear: no other Mewtwo even approached Cactus Jack's strength. He was unfairly powerful, a murder machine that mowed down all opponents, Mewtwo or otherwise. He was a blitzkrieg in purple and gray, a cruel deity whose thirst for pokéblood was insatiable. And I loved him.
As my Pokémon journey continued, Cactus Jack was always by my side. He was transferred over to the Nintendo 64's Pokémon Stadium, where he continued his path of destruction, and found his way into my copy of Pokémon Silver, mercilessly destroying everything on an entirely new continent. The horizons were endless. Surely Jack would be my ruthless companion in the many adventures to come.

Then, one day, some sad, shocking news arrived via Nintendo power (naturally): the generation of Pokémon games following Silver and Gold would not allow Pokémon from previous games to be imported. They were starting over fresh, with a new, more balanced stats system, and the holdovers from older installments were not allowed to come play with the new kids. Unfortunately, this fresh start would prove my exit from the series. What was the point of continuing through new adventures if I couldn't bring my old buddies and their de facto leader Cactus Jack along for the ride? And so Pokémon moved on without me. Jack lie dormant, neglected, in the Pokémon Silver cartridge that would prove his tomb.
As the years went by, and my metabolism waned and my alcohol tolerance waxed, my thoughts were consumed by things other than Pocket Monsters named after pro wrestlers and alternative rock artists. Yet somewhere along the line, I stumbled upon a disturbing bit of information: the real-time clock built into Pokémons Silver and Gold was apparently a tremendous drain on the batteries within the cartridges. As in, said batteries would die much quicker than those of other video games, taking the data on the cartridges with them on a one way trip to the inky void. Could it be true? My copies of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the NES still had working batteries, and those were much, much older than Pokémon Silver. Could the infernal clock really have drained an extra decade's worth of battery in such a short time? Warily, I set out to determine the veracity of these claims. With shaky fingers, I plugged the Pokémon Silver cartridge into my Game Boy Color and, after a few misfires, booted the game up. After passing the title screen, I was greeted with a grim sight:

There was no option to Continue. The saved game file was gone, and all the data with it. All my old friends, whom I had meticulously groomed and trained to the height of their powers. Cactus Jack, the fearsome paragon of might. All gone, lost forever like a spiderweb caught in a hurricane. It was unexpectedly crushing. Why should I feel sad for the loss of creatures that did not exist? Perhaps the time I cracked my head open on a piano as a child had something to do with my misplaced empathy. Regardless, I sorrowfully powered the Game Boy off, ruefully aware that I would never see my prized Pokémon again, at least not in this life.
The irony in all this, if irony it be, was that the clockless Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Red, despite being several years older, still have their save files intact to this day. A level 100 Poliwhirl named Supercrazy can attest to that.
Which brings us to today, and Pokémon Go. Through my hours of playing the game, I cannot help but reflect on Cactus Jack, and the fun times we had together mercilessly annihilating fools. At the time of my writing this, there is still no way to access the Legendary Pokémon within the game, Mewtwo included. Oh, we know they're coming, but how and when is a mystery. Still, I hold out hope that one day, I might be able to catch a Mewtwo in Pokémon Go. A Mewtwo so mighty that others fear its very name. And that name, of course, will be Cactus Jack. It would be nice to see my friend again.
Ah, well. At least for the time being, I have an Exeggutor named Offspring.

Joey Marsilio blathers on about other old video games in his novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, and can currently be found...ugh...walking.

Friday, July 22, 2016

My CD Collection: The Celebrity Wing

I have to show you something. Look:

Do you see that? That is an actual photo from within my living quarters. Some might say it represents a wall of obsolescence, a shrine to the preferred audio format of a bygone era, when physical copies of your music were a thing and mp3s took a full afternoon to download and were probably just virus traps. Others might say, "Wait...THREE different Kris Kross albums?"
Yes, I have a lot of CD's. And, like proctologists, there are some great ones, and there are some bad ones. But then there are the ones that defy such simple categorization, and are not so much good or bad as they are baffling and inexplicable. You will find few greater examples of this phenomenon than those contained within what I have dubbed the Celebrity Wing of Joey Marsilio's EXXtreme CD Collection. Gaze upon these works, ye Mighty, and despair! Or at least like scratch your head or something.

Hulk Hogan-Hulk Rules & "Macho Man" Randy Savage-Be A Man

These CD's are a package deal of sorts, given that they are both the work of famous professional wrestlers and the fact that Macho explicitly calls out Hogan on the scathing diss track "Be A Man." I mean explicitly in the sense that he does so without any level of obfuscation, not in the sense that the language is explicit/offensive, as the biggest potty mouth moment is probably Savage's threat to "kick [Hogan] in the butt and wash [his] mouth out with soap." Probably a good idea given some of the things that came out of his mouth on that sex tape he sued Gawker over, really. These albums are fairly internet famous, as it were, so I won't dwell on them too much. The Hulkster's album is a melange of bottom of the barrel beer commercial party rock and the kind of "rap music" that came to being in the 90's when corporate entities decided that having their mascots enthusiastically recite lazily written rhyming couplets over synths and bass was a revolutionary way to appeal to the youth of America. Savage, on the other hand, growls his way through a album of aggressively generic rap, keeping things PG while naming his songs after simple demands, such as "Get Back," "Tear It Up," "Let's Get It On" (not a Marvin Gaye cover), etc. There are two things I would like to note about these, though:

1. Both albums contain a memorial song for a fallen comrade. Savage's "Perfect Friend," in honor of Curt Hennig, is actually fairly sweet as these things go. Hogan's "Hulkster in Heaven," on the other hand, is an absurd masterpiece. Here Hulk sings about a fan of his who passed away too soon ("The world just lost another...Hulkamaniac," Hogan coos on the chorus, a lilt in his voice), managing to make the song all about himself as a gospel choir passionately invokes Heaven in the background. "I used to tear my shirt," he informs us, "but now you've torn my heart." Hogan also seems very confident that his status beyond the pearly gates is absolutely assured, though Bret Hart might disagree.
2. Speaking of absurd, the intro to Macho Man's album sets the tone for the album brilliantly. Over a Dr. Dre-esque piano and synthesizer sound bed, we hear clips of people doing just what everyone else in the world was doing at the time: talking about the Macho Man! Favorite quotes include: "Girl, he look good to be an old man. I would date him," and "He look so good! Just, um...his tight black pants, his muscles all bulgin'..." Is it just me, or is it freakin' hot in here?

Joe Pesci-Vincent Laguardia Gambini Sings Just for You

Another example of a peculiar celebrity album that has been relatively extensively covered on the internet, I actually discovered this one when my mom purchased it for my grandfather. An odd blend of Sinatra-esque crooning and the gangsta-est of gangsta rap (produced by late 90's-early 00's power producers Poke & Tone, a.k.a. Trackmasters!), Pesci's album is bizarre, crude and kind of delightful. It's a bit one note (the character Pesci inhabits on the album, the titular Gambini, likes to fornicate and whack people, but also has a soft spot for sentimental pap), and it quickly runs out of ideas (did there need to be THREE versions of "Yo Cousin Vinny" on the album, all in different languages?), but the highlights are so wacky and unique that I can't help but love it.

Deion Sanders-Prime Time

Neon Deion was a super athlete, a jock of all trades if you will, and he proved his talents extended beyond fields of sports into fields of melody with this collection of ditties. The album is exactly what it appears to be: dope mid-90s R&B jams about how awesome Sanders's life is. And you know what? I can't fault him for that. "Y U NY ME?", he asks in a song title. Why indeed. He provides us many potential root causes of this NV, be it his financial success or his impressive prowess with attractive ladies. But, lest we think that Deion was born with a silver football in his mouth, he reminds us that he came from humble beginnings and worked hard to get to where he is. "Traded library cards for credit cards..." he muses in "Must Be the Money." Although I suppose that can be taken to mean that reading is for broke losers. Anyway, D.S. was nice enough to make sure the CD insert folds out into a poster, and once I can find a suitably glorious place to pin it up, up it shall be pinned.

Traci Lords-1000 Fires

Ms. Lords achieved some infamy back in the 80's as America's most popular star of pornographic films. She then achieved even MORE infamy when it was discovered that, yikes, she had been underage in pretty much all of those films. Aside from the ripple effect of turning a not-insignificant number of people into felons instantly, this lurid bit of info obviously had an effect on Traci's career. But rather than fade into obscurity to become naught but a question on the most debauched possible version of Jeopardy!, Ms. Lords instead transitioned into becoming an actual, non-adult (well, she herself was an adult, but the films weren't) actress, with roles in films such as Cry-Baby with pre-pirate Johnny Depp, and television programs like Roseanne and Melrose Place. As if Traci hadn't already had an interesting enough career, she also released this here album, 1000 Fires. If you want to know exactly what mid-90's electronic dance music sounded like, well, here you go. That's neither praise nor condemnation; it's simply a fact. For evidence of this, consider the following: the song "Control" from 1000 Fires was featured on the soundtrack of the film Mortal Kombat, the zenith of 90's electronica-martial arts fusion. And that perfectly exemplifies exactly what the album sounds like. You practically expect it to punch you in the balls while doing the splits, then rip your spine out. Toasty! In the proud tradition of Deion Sanders, Traci also gives us a poster in her album insert. Maybe I should put them together. In fact, I think I'll do that right now. Drink it in!

Chuy Gomez-Latin Party

OK, now I realize this one is a pretty massive reach in terms of celebrity. Garrett Steel and I saw this guy perform in Vegas over a decade ago, and he sat and chatted with us for a while after his show, so I bought his CD. Chuy Gomez's fiery Latin rhythms and world-weary demeanor made us forget, if only for a moment, that he shares the same name as a Bay Area hip-hop DJ. Listening to this album conjures up memories that are as vivid as possible considering they concern a vacation I only recall in muddy bits and pieces. I do distinctly recall Garrett getting kicked in the head by a performer during Bite: The Erotic Vampire Musical, though.

Andy Dick & the bitches of the century-Andy Dick & the bitches of the century

Now look, I know we like to have fun around here, alright? Have a few laughs, crack a few jokes, eat a few 2 for $1 tacos. But you need to understand that what I am about to tell you is no joke: this album is AMAZING. I know, I know, it seems impossible. Andy Dick is fairly infamous for his substance abuse issues and erratic behavior, not his musical prowess. But when you think about it, what genius doesn't have his or her fair share of peccadilloes? I mean, is doing some lines and banging your son's girlfriend really that bad on the Chuck Berry scale of musical sins?
All that aside, the self-titled debut album from Andy and his Dicksciples is, in a word, surprising. It accomplishes the rare feat of being musical comedy album with staying power. These songs are not only funny (and odd...very, very odd), but possess a striking honesty, as the main overarching theme is Dick's struggle with addiction. Let me give you a quick rundown of the track list, with some brief commentary:

1. "Love Ninja (The Stalker Song)"-The album begins with this upbeat-sounding number with incredibly sinister lyrics. Basically, Dick serenades the girl of his dreams ("I'm not stalking you," he insists, "I'm just calling a lot."), growing increasingly unhinged as he recounts the (awful) efforts he has gone to in a futile attempt to earn her love. Darkly hilarious, and Dick's unique vocal stylings really shine on this one, his voice varying wildly in tone as he goes from tender to suspicious to apoplectic.
2. "Hole Burns"-This rockin' jam chronicles Andy's thoughts as his mind unravels over the course of a drug fueled night, starting with good times and cotton mouth and ending with the desperate realization that he'll be lucky to get ten minutes of sleep before he has to go to work, and even then, he'd be showing up as a shaky, shameful wreck. In between verses, the music suddenly turns sweet and serene as drugs seductively call out to Andy, imploring him to indulge further in that which is destroying him. A real slice of life.
3. "Striped Sunlight"-A soaring Britpop-esque number about spending time in jail after crashing his Altima into a streetlight. Andy tries to make the best of his cell-bound existence, musing, "I'm on a paid vacation behind olive walls," and recognizing that, though jail is hardly fun, it at least forces his sobriety. This bittersweet rumination gets downright majestic at points.
4. "Little Brown Ring"-A strange chanty song that would not be out of place in Tolkein's Middle-earth, if not for the fact that it's about Andy Dick's butthole. "Laughing through pursed lips" is certainly one way of putting it. The song is punctuated by bits where Andy sings about heinie holes in the voice of a grizzled old prospector. I swear I'm not making any of this up.
5. "Stephen Hawking"-Andy pretends to be Stephen Hawking, recounting a forlorn tale of disappearing friends, lost loves, and thin shoe soles. Starts off in robot voice before segueing into more traditional singing, at least as far as Dick tunes go. Probably objectively offensive, though I'm not really the best person to ask about that, but also rather pretty. Plus I just have to love the blatant absurdism of lyrics like "Look at Stephen the sky!"
6. "C**k & Balls"-This jaunty piano tune is reminiscent of early Elton John, a gentle ode to Dick's, err, genitalia. Juvenile? Perhaps, but more genuine love comes through on this track than on half the ostensibly heartfelt for-charity singles out there. Shockingly elegant.
7. "Secret Garden"-Possibly the weirdest song here, which is really saying something. It serves as an elegy to Andy's dead pet frog, as Andy mournfully hopes his care of his late slimy friend was adequate. At the end, Mr. Dick ruminates about the friends that have left his life over the years, wondering if they ever think about him. As you may have noticed, many of these songs are really quite devastating, especially for a comedy album.
8. "I'll F**k Anything that Moves"-An uptempo rocker with a self-explanatory title. Andy's not picky in terms of partners, be they toothless grannies or laundry machines.
9. "30 Days 30 Nights"-A lengthy, largely spoken-word account of Andy's numerous trips to rehab, and the awful realization that no amount of clean living can erase the fact that sober living simply bores him, his only entertainment coming in the form of frequent body cavity searches. Not the most exciting track here, but interesting nonetheless.
10. "Little Brown Ring (Remix)"-If you thought Andy Dick's b-hole song needed a techno dance remix, your prayers have been answered. Undeniably catchy. Isn't it weird that an a-hole and a b-hole are the same thing? You'd think they'd at least be ranked differently or something.

The crown atop the jittery, androgynous prince(ss) that is this album is the cover art. Pictured above, it consists of a watercolor painting by none other than Marilyn Manson (!) portraying a shirtless, joint-smoking Dick with oddly pointy nipples. How this painting stacks up to the label art on Mansinthe, Mssr. Manson's personal brand of absinthe, is your call.

Overall, the album is a truly singular work that doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Unlike some of these other albums, Andy Dick & the bitches of the century isn't a cheap cash-in on a celebrity's brand cache. For better or worse, it is a surreal journey through Andy's trials, tribulations and anus, brought to life by superb backing music and Dick's unique, expressive voice. The album simply couldn't and wouldn't ever be produced by anyone else, even a thousand monkeys with typewriters, autotune and synthesizers. Because of these elements, I feel the project as a whole transcends mere "celebrity album" status to become a great ALBUM, full stop. It's certainly better than Bruce Willis's The Return of Bruno (sadly ineligible for this list because I do not own it on CD, but rather simply as one long, single mp3). I dare say that between AD&tboftc and MTV's late "The Andy Dick Show," which incidentally really needs to be up on Netflix or something, Mr. Dick's esoteric and caustic genius really does deserve more recognition than it gets, despite the man's numerous and storied faults...up to and including being kind of a douche to my sister and me one time. That's right, I'm white knighting for Andy Dick. Open your eyes and see what this world has made me become.
That's all for today! I hope you've enjoyed this tour through the wild and woolly world of celebrity albums and the reminder that yes, once again, I am passionate about some very odd things.

Laugh if you will, but Joey Marsilio's collection of t.A.T.u. albums is the toast of the tri-state area. Also he wrote a book, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Art of Comedy Writing

Between my screeds about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and my critically acclaimed novel, people sometimes forget that I am quite an accomplished comedy writer. I mean, it takes a certain level of talent to create public access television for literal years (let's not speculate on specifically what level that is). In addition to chortle-inducing articles for this blog and my hilarious off-off-Broadway musical comedy Oh, Bridget!, I once wrote a screenplay for a sitcom pilot that my father described as "kind of funny, in places." Why am I telling you all this? Well, you see, I have recently taken it upon myself to begin another intensive comedy proyecto, and I have come to realize in the course of working on it that I could get a twofer going and turn it into a lesson for you, my loyal and enraptured audience. A real master class in comedy, if you will. Allow me to explain.
Comedy, much like open heart surgery, is quite difficult. But you know what they say: split enough chests open, and eventually somebody will survive. The important thing is to just dip your toe into the rippling waters of Lake Ha-ha and start writing. Do you think I was just born with this dazzling amount of talent and hilarity? I mean, I was, but I'm an anomaly. For most others, quality only comes after a ton of hard work, practice, and frustration scotch.
Now, this is the part where I could provide you with a laundry list of to-do's that, if followed properly, could turn you into the next Ralphie May. But your old pal Joey is a more "lead by example" type guy, and besides, I'm not going to just sit back and let your perspiration start without a little inspiration first. So instead, let me present to you, for the first time viewed by human eyes, an excerpt from the new screenplay I've been working on. It's a very cerebral, innovative sitcom idea I've been tinkering with that is shaping up to be absolutely gangbusters. The title is TGIJeff, which is pretty self-explanatory. Read on, tadpoles, and let my work be the spark that ignites your comedic flame. At the very least, it'll do better than Brokerage.


TGIJeff, Episode 1: You Can't Un-See This!

SCENE: Some type of trendy restaurant/bar/coffee shop, who cares. Background is full of attractive people chatting and smiling. Not like Hollister-level attractive, but more Sears-catalog-level. Our main characters SHERYL, YANNI and FILBERT are sitting around a table in the foreground. They're vaguely college age to early thirties. SHERYL is promiscuous and forgetful but HAWTT [!!!]. YANNI is a foreigner from somewhere foreign with an understated, foreign hotness. FILBERT is a nerd, but a hot one, in a nerdy way. All are very Hollister-level.

FILBERT: Did you guys know that's it's new comic book day? I can't wait to see what new comic books came out today!

SHERYL: I really don't understand why I continue to hang out with you.

YANNI: In my village, the only thing hanging out are the pockets in our jeans, because that is a fashionable style in my village!

Our main man JEFF enters. Very handsome, cool, charismatic dude. Magnetic. Think Mark-Paul Gosselaar. He projects total Gossesomeness.

JEFF: What's shakin', bacon?

(Applause pause)

YANNI: Hello, Jeff! In my village, when we say hello, we honk our nose and say our name! [honks nose] Yanni!

FILBERT: He knows, Yanni. You tell me that every time you see him.

YANNI: In my village we like to repeat ourselves!

SHERYL: Hey, Jeff. Sorry I couldn't make it to your rainbow party last night. I met up with a friend and we ended up...pulling an all-nighter.

YANNI: She mean she take it to the bone zone!

(SHERYL shrugs as YANNI thrusts crotch vigorously)

JEFF: TMI, guys. TMI.

FILBERT: Hey Jeff, have you read the new issue of Superman or seen the new Star Trek trailer? They're out of this world!

SHERYL: I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

JEFF: Hey Filbert, your virginity just called. It said it's a thing that still exists.

(Everyone pauses for inevitable audience hoots, hollers, applause, cackles and barks)

SHERYL: Wait a second, guys. Let me tell you about this guy I met yesterday. His name is Mike. Or Alan. Or Thomas., who can keep track.

YANNI: Hey Sheryl, in my village we have a saying for girl like you! We call her "The Village Bicycle"!

FILBERT: Because everybody gets a ride?

YANNI: No, because name of village bicycle is Sheryl!

FILBERT: So Yanni, I've been reading that weird old book you gave me last week, and I have to say, I'm really loving it. If it wasn't for new episodes of The Flash airing on The CW, I wouldn't be able to put it down.

YANNI: My grandfather give me that book! He disappear under mysterious circumstances!

SHERYL: Reading a book? What a socially awkward nerd!

JEFF: (At peak Goss) Oh, snap! Sick burn!

(Pause as audience laughs all oxygen out of their systems, then giggle-wheezes back to attention)

FILBERT: I'll have you know that some of our greatest presidents have been nerds!

SHERYL: Oh sure! Presidents of Nerd-town, more like.

YANNI: Filbert's pride has been dragged into street and publicly hanged!

FILBERT: (Sighs) At least I have my book. It never calls me names or denigrates me in order to feel better about itself. (Pauses) It's no Xbox One, though.

(FILBERT pulls out the old book. Strange characters adorn the cover, and it appears to have a binding of disturbingly fleshy appearance. He opens it and browses through the pages as the others continue to converse. Everyone looks really hot, in an attractiveness way rather than a high temperature way.)

JEFF: (Full of Goss sauce) Dayyyyy-um, Filbert, that's a huge book.

SHERYL: You know what they say: size matters!

YANNI: In my country, size is abstract concept unmeasurable by conventional means!

FILBERT: Reading this book fills me with a strange sense of euphoria. Or a strange sense of something. It's a strange sense.

SHERYL: There were some strange scents coming out of the bathroom last time you used it.

JEFF: (Just Gossin' again) Sizzle!

FILBERT: No, seriously guys, I'm starting to feel really strange, Like the words of the book are somehow...entering my mind and...bringing some strange unknowable presence with them. It's calling me...filling me...

JEFF: Sounds like one of Sheryl's dates.

YANNI: In my country we call strange unknowable presence "father"!

(FILBERT's eyes roll back into his head as he starts convulsing. Viscous purplish-black foam pours from his mouth. Guttural moans and faint screams escape his quaking lips.)

SHERYL: Looks like someone had Taco Bell for lunch.

JEFF: (Like a true Goss playa) Hey Fil, close your mouth! You're getting virgin everywhere!

YANNI: What a coincidence! In my country that is second most popular saying!

FILBERT: (Lying on the floor, tongue hanging from his mouth as foul liquids and fouler sounds spill forth) H’chtelegoth H’chtelegoth H’chtelegoth


And that's probably a good place to end it. The rest of the script I'm keeping to myself, because one, you probably can't handle all that awesomeness in one sitting, and two, you ain't paying me for it. But really, I think this excerpt does an admirable job of achieving the goal of this little lesson. Read it again (as if you needed the encouragement) and this time, really focus in the story I'm telling. One of the things you need to remember when writing comedy like this is that the plot needs to flow naturally. You can't just write a bunch of bangin' jokes without some form of structure. But if you get a solid, creative framework full of interesting, dynamic characters, and spice it up with ample portions of meaty, savory jokes, then you've got yourself a big pot of stew. Comedy stew, served with a dollop of hearty hardy-har-hars.
Hopefully this little showcase has been instructive and inspirational to you. Now go ahead and get writing, beat that funny bone with a tire iron and please share with us what nuggets of fine hilarious ore you mine from humor's earthy bowels! Here's one last joke to get you started:

Why did the chicken cross the road?
It didn't. It crossed your mom.

Joey Marsilio considers his novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior to be secondary to the masterpiece that is Oh, Bridget!, but he stills thinks you should check it out.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Get Cracking: A Cautionary Tale

As you may have noticed if you've been paying attention to my blog over the years, I have a, shall we say, staggered posting schedule. You may be tempted to chalk this up to laziness, but the narrative that I'm going with is that I'm not the type to just toss a few sentences about my lunch up online and call it a day. I want to make sure that every single one of my posts is fully realized and interesting, so I space them out and give each one a lot of thought. Quality over quantity, as it were. Trust me, I've made nearly $5 off my blog's ad revenue. Clearly I know what I'm doing.
This sort of thoughtfulness goes into my social media posts as well. To wit, the subject of the day: my Instagram. Or more specifically, a set of circumstances surrounding an Instagram post that taught me a valuable lesson using one of the most effective educational tools of them all: crushing disappointment.
Our story begins on a little avenue near my apartment that links a main street to the freeway. It's an unassuming road that I have traveled down and back again with pals and/or confidants on many occasions, without much of interest other than a smog check shop, a couple storage facilities, and a Motel 6 that I think someone got stabbed at once. There is one thing, though, that caught my attention. Someone living on that road has a four foot-tall nutcracker standing guard in in their front yard. Now, it is common knowledge that nutcrackers are generally pretty creepy, with their amphetamine eyes, gaping mouths and penchant for shattering hard objects with their jaws. Their military garb insinuates some sort of cannibalistic super solder program and no amount of Christmas ballet can cover up their wantonly destructive nature. This inherent creepiness only get ratcheted up when said nutcracker is the height of a child with a mouth big enough to crack skulls like so many filberts.
But the icing on the creep cake is what piqued my interest in this particular nutcracker. Someone had gone ahead and carved words into his forehead. Was this was the home of a retired Aldo Raine? It made no difference. It was the words themselves that mattered. Specifically, the 'cracker's wooden forehead was adorned with one simple phrase: "Bring on the nuts." And when I beheld this phrase, my eyes lit up. Inspiration shook me to the deepest recesses of my corpuscles, and I squealed with glee. I had a dynamite idea for an Instagram post.
The idea was as simple as it was ingenious. I was to take a photo of the nutcracker, making sure that the "Bring on the nuts" phrase showed up clearly on camera. Then, after choosing the optimal filter to emphasize my subject's aesthetic qualities, I would post it with the following caption:

Looks like this guy's ready for election season. #politicalhumor #nailedit

I don't think I need to tell you what an incredible, next-level Instagram post that would have been. To be frank, I fully expected it to eventually establish a precedent for awarding an individual the Nobel prize based largely on their Instagram posts. It was as slam-dunk-can't-miss-brains-exploding-out-of-the-back-of-your-skull-but-not-in-a-way-that-makes-children-cry-unless-those-tears-happen-to-be-tears-of-joy-at-the-beauty-unfolding-before-them as it gets. All that stood between me and certain rapturous acclaim was a short walk down a sidewalkless street to snap the photo. No problem.
OR WAS THERE? Here's the problem with any idea, even a great one: until it is actually acted upon, it remains just that-an idea. An intangible thing that only exists as part of a neurological process that can be altered or halted at any moment. In order to give an idea value, it has to be put into action, and in the case of an artistic idea (and the nutcracker Instagram post is unquestionably artistry with a capital ART), it must be created in order to mean anything, to bring it to life. Otherwise it's just hilarious hot air.
But hey, that's fine. I had the utmost confidence in my concept. And the execution was so simple that there was really no rush. I had important things to do, after all, like try to get a gold trophy in every single Grand Prix in Mario Kart 8. Besides, the location was so close that I could walk there from home, getting my daily exercise and exemplifying 21st century efficiency. And so the weeks flew by, as every day I would drive past the nutcracker and every day I would think about my prospective post of astounding hilarity and every day I would put it off until later. No big deal; procrastinating is one of the hallmarks of a true savant, after all. I didn't attain my coveted position of Prime Minister of the Nation of Procrastination by just sitting on my laurels. Wait no, that's exactly what I did.
Anyway, one fateful morning, I traveled down the road expecting to see my wooden friend, mentally tinkering with my planned hashtags. Was "#nailedit" too overused? If not, then what would replace it? Oh, wait, look! There was old N.C. in the distance, standing guard as always, waiting for his photo op. But today something seemed off, and as I approached closer, I laid eyes upon the true face of horror. There the nutcracker stood as usual, with one macabre difference: the top portion of his head had been chopped off and was laying on the ground beside him. Someone had pulled an O-Ren Ishii on the poor guy! And consequently, the coveted phrase that served as the basis for my earth-shattering joke was gone, uselessly residing on the lopped off chunk at the nutcracker's feet. Somewhere out there in the great beyond, the souls of millions of laughs yet to be had were snuffed out in an instant.
Instantly I chastised myself for my perpetual inaction. Though I could hardly have predicted some scoundrel scalping the subject of my japes, the fact is that I could have, and should have, taken the photo I needed some time during the many months prior wherein the nutcracker still had a complete cranium. My lethargy had screwed up a sure thing and deprived so many from the side-splitting humor I had been aiming to provide. This was far beyond mere egg on my face. This was nut on my face.
Actually, let's not go with that.
I tell you this story not to inspire pity nor sadness, and certainly not laughter. I tell you this story to just plain old INSPIRE. Inspire you, whomsoever you may be, to not take things for granted. To not simply assume that things will always remain the same. For you never know when life, perhaps in the form of a psychotic lumberjack, might snatch away the forehead you need in order to make an awesome joke online. I definitely should have known better, since at that very same home months before, I had missed the opportunity to see a haunted house that had been set up by the homeowners by putting it off until November. How was I to know they would take it down after Halloween? And don't even get me started on the falafel restaurant that closed before I got one last pita pocket of chickpea goodness from there.
But I digress. In summary, if an idea or goal is important to you, act on it before it's too late. Instead of putting it off until next year, put it off until next month! Instead of waiting until August to do something, wait until halfway through July! Reach for the stars, or at least put reaching for them in your calendar and try not to create any scheduling conflicts. Otherwise, you'll end up like me, devastated as you witness a beautiful dream reduced to whatever the evil version of fairy dust is, stuck forever in your brain as the means to bring it to life ceases to be.
Heh heh, election season. Hoo boy, that was really a good one!

ADDENDUM: After writing this post, I went out to go take a picture of the partially decapitated nutcracker to add to it, only to find that he has now been removed completely. There's probably a lesson to be learned in this, but I'm not sure what it is.

Joey Marsilio will eventually get around to providing links to his Instagram and his novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #347: The Comic Book that Got Me into Comic Books


     I spent about a decade or so of my formative years living in a mobile home park that was, at the time, known as Mobileparks West. Not to be confused with a trailer park (despite my parents frequently referring to it as such), Mobileparks West was a community of manufactured homes in which arson was strangely rampant. We eventually had to abandon our home there when we found that the interior of the walls was largely comprised of toxic mold.
     Rather than dwell on some of the sordid elements of the park, such as time I happened upon an active crime scene containing an unfortunate gentleman who was fatally shot in the head on his front porch, let me ruminate on some positive memories from those halcyon, methy days. Specifically, a formative experience that occurred in 1991 at a magical place known as First Mart. First Mart, for those who are unaware (all of you) was a little convenience store at the mouth of the mobile home park, nestled in a tiny strip mall with a handful of other local businesses such as Pizza Broker and...that's all I remember. A haircut place, maybe?
     But yes, First Mart. Truly living up to its name, First Mart was the first mart of any sort one would encounter upon exiting Mobileparks West, and also the site of an important milestone in my juvenile life: my first comic book. Well, let me rephrase that. I may, possibly, have read a comic book before that-some Gold Key Tom & Jerry deal or something along those lines-but I had never had any significant exposure to the genre most commonly associated with comics: superheroes. But one fateful afternoon, while trying to decide which cheap treats might best facilitate the early onset on diabetes, I happened to catch a glimpse of something that would change all that.

     The image was so arresting that it stopped me in my tracks. What was that horrible thing with a long, slimy tongue and huge, ragged-looking eyes? Why was he snarkily referencing Shakespeare? And was Spider-Man...dead? How could this be? I simply had to know more. Lurid, suggestive imagery had certainly held my attention at First Mart before...the poster for Child's Play 2, the VHS box art of In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro (bloodthirsty baboons were big business at the box office back then)...but this was something I could experience without parental approval or VCR access, for the low, low price of only one rumpled, Dr. Pepper-stained dollar. I grabbed it off the spinny rack like a hyena snatching up an unattended infant and rushed to the cashier to claim my bounty.
     My adventurousness was rewarded with a suspenseful tale that held my rapt attention. It unfolds with a groggy Spider-Man awakening on a beach, disoriented due to events from the previous issue (which I had never read until sometime in late 2014, incidentally). As it happens, he is stranded on a deserted island with his arch-nemesis Venom (the long-tongued creature from the cover), who has brought him there for one final life or death battle. One thing is immediately apparent: this is no mere flight of fancy, but rather Serious Business. Only one of these guys is walking away. The stakes were high, and I was hooked.
     The name of the game here is survival. Spider-Man is up against seemingly impossible odds, as Venom is essentially a more powerful version of him, who is more familiar with their current territory and who has the chameleonic ability to blend into his surroundings. Basically, it's the last act of Predator, if the Predator happened to be spouting insanely violent threats like this:

     And much like Schwarzenegger in that legendary opus, ol' Web Head soon realizes that winning a face-to-face fight is out of the question. He is, quite simple, overmatched. As he narrowly evades Venom's savage attacks and stumbles through such eerie locales as an abandoned mining village and a crumbling cemetery, Spider-Man struggles with the fact that, more than likely, he's a dead man. He'll never see a friendly face again. He'll just die, brutally, agonizingly, on this island, all alone save for his deranged murderer. It is a bleak, hopeless sentiment far removed from Tom & Jerry's zany cartoon adventures, that's for sure. Well, except for this one.
     Adding to the foreboding atmosphere are several brief asides the story takes focusing on Spider-Man's family and friends. As his wife, aunt and former lover try to go about their daily business, they find themselves consumed with dreadful thoughts regarding the whereabouts and fate of their mutual loved one, who has unexpectedly gone missing and who, frankly, is involved in a pretty hazardous line of work that more than justifies their concerns:

     These scenes really show the devastation that the superhero lifestyle can cause, really making the gravity of the situation tangible and personal. But lest you think that nine year-old me was a razor blade and noose afficianado, the story isn't all doom and gloom. These vignettes of emotional torment help pave the way for one amazing panel, one singularly incredible showcase of perfect 90's-ness:

     Aunt May's display of awe at a pre-fame Jennifer Lopez's booty gyrations on In Living Color is truly a thing of beauty. But back to the main plot here. After narrowly escaping Venom's numerous attempts to gruesomely murder and cannibalize him, Spider-Man comes to realize that his only hope of salvation lies in the most powerful muscle of all-his brain muscle. So he utilizes the tools at his disposal (a skeleton in a shallow grave and some combustible mine gas) to stage a seemingly fatal explosion, courtesy of Venom's attempt to hurl a truck at him. Ditching his clothes in order to give the feigned death that extra air of morbidity, a nude and exhausted Spider-Man manages to narrowly escape his pursuer, swimming to a cargo vessel which provides means for his return home. Back on the island, Venom gloats, his foe's demise finally putting him at peace.

     I just sat there for a moment after I finished reading the comic, the experience leaving me wondering if I was perhaps suffering from awesomeness poisoning. Then I went back and read it again, and again, really savoring every panel of something I loved far more than I had ever expected. And with that, the fuse was lit. I went back to First Mart to get every Spider-Man comic they had, and my fascination just grew from there. My interest in Spider-Man begat my interest in the X-Men, which begat my interest in Ghost Rider and Darkhawk and so and and so forth, like a really dorky book of Genesis. Within months I was reading all sorts of comics, some of which were great and some of which were...not so much.

     And while NFL SuperPro was the comics equivalent of CTE, it was in the minority, and I was soon salivating over each new issue of Wizard magazine to find out which new superpowered spectacles were on the horizon. A whole new world had opened up before me comprised of cheap paper, not quite enough different colors and RAPTUROUS ADVENTURE.
     I'd be purchasing funny books from First Mart for years to come, even into puberty, when I was buying sexy Gen 13 comics there.

     Ah, the mid-90s. But no comic, no matter how butt-cheeky the cover, would ever quite have the impact that Amazing Spider-Man #347 had on me. It started my love affair with superheroes, and cemented ol' Spidey as my undisputed favorite. There's no question that the titular hero's sardonic attitude and life of endless misfortune would have a huge influence on the development of my own Henry Garrison years later. All this from the same place where I used to buy Bazooka bubble gum with change I'd found hidden in the couch cushions. So hey, thanks, First Mart. For this comic book, for the legacy it has created, for the expansion of my own imagination that it inspired, and also for the numerous Pizza Rolls.

Joey Marsilio suggests you check out the superpowered adventures present in his own novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, although there's no lung-eating or Fly Girls to speak of.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Yelp Review of Popeye's: An Excerpt

I have spent the last few weeks tirelessly laboring on a thorough Yelp review for a local Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen. I feel my work is important enough that I would like to share it with my blog readers as well. However, since I know my readers are busy people, I've cut away all the fluff and excerpted the most salient material here. I apologize if some of you find this intensely disturbing.

I should have known I was in for a rough time when I pull into the Popeye's parking lot. There are no parking spots within easy walking distance except for a single space directly in front of the restaurant. Now, normally this would be ideal, but the space is clearly marked "20 Minute Parking." So great, now I'm in a race against time! Asking me to divine the future and somehow predict how long I'm going to be at Popeye's is a fool's errand, so right from the beginning I'm acutely aware of the fact that I'm going to have to rush my meal and watch the clock the whole time. If only this were the end of my troubles.
I go in and walk slowly towards the counter, trying to avoid eye contact with any employee who might inquire as to my culinary desires before I'm fully ready to order. I notice that they have one of those menus with a constantly shifting video screen in the middle. The problem is, all of the restaurant's current specials are displayed on that screen and that screen alone, one at a time. I have to stand there like a buffoon, watching the screens cycle through, hoping to get enough information from my glimpse at each special to not have to watch the whole cycle again. The cashier stares at me, smiling, undoubtedly mocking my perceived ineptitude.
Finally, out of a combination of resignation and time-limit-induced panic, I decide to order the spicy garlic fried shrimp combo. I am told that the shrimp are being prepared fresh, and that the wait will be a few minutes longer than I may be expecting. It is at this point that my psyche begins to unravel. I'm already desperately pushing against a 20 minute limit, and now my order is going to take even longer to receive because the cook doesn't already have the necessary components pre-prepared and sitting around? Unacceptable. At least I'm not the poor fool who orders the limited-time spicy wings and is told they are going to take "seven or eight minutes." Have I died and gone to Europe?
As I wait a seeming eternity for my food to arrive, I do what any civilized person would do in my situation: I pull out my phone and browse the Information Superhighway. Or, that is, I attempt to. Apparently this particular Popeye's is the one single point in the entire United States that I can't even get 3G to work. I'm standing there, watching the little blue bar at the top of the screen inch forward at a glacial place while my screen stares back, blank and dumb, as if shrugging at me. To add insult to injury, my phone indicates that I am connected to someone's wi-fi, but there is absolutely no evidence of this in my phone's performance. It just sits, impotently trying to load something far beyond its suddenly limited capacities. Rage boils within my guts, filling me with a kind of noxious hate gas and motivating me to shatter my phone against the eyesore orange wall.
Fortunately, my food arrives, narrowly preventing this act of wanton destruction. Sweaty and manic, I carry the basket of shrimp, fries and biscuit, with a serving of dill tartar sauce on the side, on a harried quest to find my seat. Which is when the next wave of disappointment hits me.
There are no booths available! Well, there's one, but it's kind of dirty and there is a napkin on it. The napkin appears to be unused, but that doesn't matter. The booth is still unfit for even the lowest life form to sit at. My choices, then, are limited to a smattering of tiny tables furnished with wooden chairs. And here I thought this was the year 2016! The very idea that I could walk into an eatery and not be guaranteed the luxurious cushion of a booth would seem ludicrous if I wasn't experiencing it in real time. I choke back tears as I sit at a table. Glare from the window threatens to blind me.
The next thing threatening to blind me is my fury, as I come to a most unpleasant realization: my food is too hot! I can barely take a tiny bite of french fry without my mouth's soft tissue being scalded. So not only have I had to to wait eons for this food, but it arrives at a temperature beyond edibility! My mind flashes back to that green-painted time warning inches away from my vehicle. My situation has gone from repugnant to downright inhumane.
Lacking anything else to do but wait for my food to cool to a level within the range of oral tolerance, I make one last pathetic, fruitless effort to load a webpage on my phone. My failure is as dismaying as it is expected. So THEN, with no other option aside from sitting and waiting, I start to think about my life. The lack of fulfillment, the financial woes, the macabre mystery of death, whose early onset is all but assured by my devouring of this fried food. An emptiness yawns in the chasms of my withered heart, the shimmering crispy breading on my shrimp winkingly mocking me. All decisions that I have ever made have led me to this. I lament years spent toiling in futility, lost forever to the sands of time.
The food itself is delicious. Perfectly cooked and seasoned.
As I crumple up my oily used napkins, I wish that I could somehow spit my sorrow inside them as well, to be deposited in a trash receptacle and emptied by a civic employee that is probably much happier than me. I mournfully head to the parking lot, where a horrifying thought bursts into my weary brain. Short of breath, I check my watch.
I have been inside the restaurant for 23 minutes. So on top of everything I have just endured, Popeye's has also made a scofflaw out of me. Decades of faithful adherence to the law, washed down the drain like so much lukewarm sweet tea.
So the next time you think that you know real suffering...the next time you allow your "first world problems" to lead you into dark and desperate places...remember my plight at Popeye's, and recognize what torment truly is.
I am currently accepting donations in the form of currency and/or fried food.

Joey Marsilio will also accept donations, in a complex and roundabout sort of way, in the form of purchases of his book, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, a la carte or in packs of ten.