Somnambulant

Here are about 4,000 words of something I’ve been working on. It’s not my usual thing, and I would appreciate any feedback you might have. Thanks!

I

The Pharmacy was quiet that afternoon, and the pharmacist assured her he could fill the prescription in short order. Elisa took a seat in an ancient vinyl chair next to an old man who was working a sudoku puzzle. A paper sudoku puzzle, the kind they don’t make anymore.

The old man wore a zippered hooded sweatshirt over a plaid flannel shirt tucked into denim pants that broke over a pair of blue athletic shoes. The shoes were of a style she hadn’t seen in a very long time. Canvas with white rubber toes all scuffed to hell, she figured they were as much of an antique as the man wearing them.

“Don’t tell me the answer,” he said, without looking up.

“I’m sorry?”

“I know it’s either a five or six. Don’t tell me.”

“I wasn’t …” Elisa realized she had been staring at the man. He must have thought she was reading his puzzle.

He lifted his face to meet her gaze and smiled. “It’s a six.” He put his head back down and filled in the numbers. “These things are getting harder and harder to solve.”

Elisa grunted. Her own father’s memory was faltering. She wished he had uploaded before it got really bad, but most of his generation didn’t trust the process. “It’s a bunch of science fiction bullshit,” he said the last time she suggested it, about five years ago.

“I’m hoping that all changes, though.” The old man folded the puzzle book and slipped it into a pocket of his hoodie. With a twist he retracted the nib of his ink pen.

“That’s a nice pen. You don’t see too many these days.”

He held it out to her. “It’s a Cross. My wife gave it to me on our 50th wedding anniversary. She thought it was solid gold. I hadn’t the heart to tell her it was only gold-plated.”

Elisa twisted the nib out and back in. “Such a simple mechanism.” She handed it back to him.

“Yep, from a time when people handcrafted their technology. Now it’s all solid-state.” He rubbed his thumb across the tarnished surface and slipped it into the breast pocket of his shirt.

“Working a sudoku puzzle with an ink pen. You must be a very confident man.”

“Sometimes,” he smiled. “To be honest, I’m at my least confident right this very moment.”

“Oh?” Elisa was never one for small talk, but there was something engaging about this old timer.

“My wife was always a step or three ahead of me. I thought I could do anything with her by my side. Now? I’m not so sure.”

“Has your wife … passed?”

“She has. Cancer,” the old man sighed. “She was a real beauty.” He pulled out a palm-sized device from his other hoodie pocket and scrolled through photos until he found one of his wife. She was in her thirties, in holey blue jeans and a black t-shirt that read, “Ministry.” Blue eyes pierced coal black hair that fell to her chin. “From our less reputable days.”

“Do you have one of you?”

The old man scrolled. “Aha.” He held the device up. “I’ve chosen this version as my avatar.” The man was in his thirties, with long blond hair spilling over the shoulders of a leather jacket. He was on a stage, playing some kind of instrument. “I still have that old bass guitar. Of course, I can’t plug the amp into anything anymore.”

“I bet you wish you still had that hair.”

“I do.”

“Did you say this is your avatar?”

The old man took a deep breath. “Yep. Gilda talked me into it. I guess it’s the only way we’re gonna meet up again.”

“Are you starting the course?”

“I’ve been on it for a few weeks now. Goddamned drugs playing havoc with my sense of self. Nah, I’m here for my heart. Need to get it under control before they’ll let me in the scanner.” The old man pursed his lips and thought for a second. “You on the course?”

“I am.” Most folks her age and in her income bracket were on the course of prescriptions that facilitated mind mapping and memory upload. When this old man was her age, people uploaded their memories in real time—through pictures and “status updates” and the like. It was a low-tech arrangement that left out too many details.

Now, you created a virtual self that was a near perfect duplicate that had something approaching consciousness. There was an idea that one day it would be possible to set up a virtual self to perform your day job tasks, if, like Elisa, your day job was spent at home interfacing with a terminal.

“I have been on the course for some time,” she continued, “but that’s not what brings me here today.”

“I don’t mean to get all up in your business.” Changing the subject, he said, “In my day, it was cryogenic freezing.” He sighed. “What the hell is wrong with us, we can’t just accept our mortality, and get on with life.”

He shifted in his seat and turned to face Elisa. “I don’t know if it’s supposed to be heaven or hell.” The old man looked into her eyes, and for a moment she could see the young man he used to be. “It won’t really be us. Just our memories. That’s all.”

“Chris Clifton,” a voice called out.

“That’s me. Take care.” Chris rose, and slowly made his way to the counter. There was something romantic about your memories and the memories of your loved ones commingling in the digital afterlife. But she supposed he was right. They might be able to scan your synaptic map to the tiniest–”infinitesimal”–detail, but they couldn’t scan your soul.

II

Elisa was never prone to sleepwalking–not in her memory, at least–but that was what her dream was like last night. She liked the sound of the word “somnambulant,” and used that word to describe the dream to her shrink. “It was like I was somnambulant,” she told him.

Dr. Wu absently hummed an acknowledgment. Elisa held a sneaking suspicion that he wasn’t really there at all, but instead the real Dr. Wu had parked a decoy–a “simulacrum”–programmed to utter those tiny little acknowledgments that kept her talking. She took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes. They felt tender this morning, heralding the coming of a ferocious headache that should hit just as she was merging onto the 405 freeway.

Why was she in therapy? She had been in therapy a couple of years ago. Like many others in her cohort, she was filled with immense existential dread just before the turn of her half-century mark, and sought a willing, if not overly interested, ear to yap into.

Her husband, although nearly perfect in every other way, got edgy when she unspooled her deep feelings of unfulfillment. Perhaps he felt he had failed to meet her unspoken aspirations, as if he were responsible for her general dissatisfaction with life, rather than the cruel obstinance of reality.

Anyway, she had a good life, and Tom was a good, nearly perfect mate. Why burden him with another problem to solve when she could vocalize her mid-life crisis to a trained professional? But that was a couple of years back. She drifted away from therapy as her angst drifted away from her. She had no need for the weekly sessions of careening back and forth across the emotional spectrum.

Maintenance. That’s why she was here. Maintenance.

“Describe the dream,” Dr. Wu droned. Elisa rolled her eyes, which made her wince a bit.

“I was standing at the end of the hall, looking toward my bedroom. Someone came out of the bedroom. We walked towards each other, and I recognized her. It was me. There was a look of realization and panic in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, she began dissolving. She flowed down, up, out … she merged with the floor, the walls, the ceiling. I walked past the spot where she stood, back into the bedroom, and got into bed next to Tom. That’s it.”

Dr. Wu hummed again, but less of a prodding hum this time, and more of a vocal pause as he figured out his next probing question. Dr. Wu settled on an old favorite: “How does recounting the dream make you feel?”

“Hollow,” Elisa said. She inhaled with a hitch and was surprised to find tears in her eyes. “This is stupid,” she choked out, reaching for a tissue.

“You came to me before when you were feeling unfulfilled with life. Do you remember?”

Of course she remembered. Elisa remembered everything.

“Perhaps this dream is some indication that your existential dread is ongoing.” Dr. Wu’s monotone could be strangely soothing at times. Maybe it was the way he elongated short words and clipped longer words. “I would like to renew your prescription–”

“No,” Elisa said, sitting up. “That is out of the question.” She had been on a series of SSRIs the last time she was in therapy. Each one had some nasty side-effect worse that the one before. Sleeplessness, dizziness, drowsiness, no sex drive, suicidal ideation. There was no way she was going down that road again.

Dr. Wu clicked his disapproval. The rest of her hour was spent talking about that mid-life crisis, and how she had emerged from it mostly unscathed. She didn’t think Dr. Wu bought any of it, but she supposed it was his job to remain skeptical of everything she said, and constant root out some deep meaning behind every emotional and mental bump she experienced. She didn’t begrudge him this. He was a simulacrum, after all.

After therapy, and dreading the long ride home, Elisa stopped by a little gelato place she and Tom used to frequent when they lived on this side of town. Tom works so hard, she thought, he would be delighted to find a pint of pistachio gelato in the freezer.

For the longest time, they shared a one-bedroom apartment in a seedy building that must have been quite the luxurious bachelor pad in the 1970s. Just outside Santa Monica, and a short drive from the Sunset Strip. It was rent-controlled, so they assumed they would spend the rest of their lives in it. But that was before–

A feeling of disorientation washed over Elisa. She was standing at the gelato counter, back to Wilshire Boulevard, but it was as if the room had rotated 90 degrees. She knew where she was, but she couldn’t remember where the front door was. Rationally, she knew it was behind her, but her brain was throwing a tilt. She set the pint down and steadied herself against the counter.

The kid behind the counter, early 20s, definitely an actor, met her eyes with a concerned look. He held out a paper cup of water. She thanked him, and took the cup, and almost knocked the pills back when it occurred to her that she wasn’t holding two antidepressants in that hand a moment ago. She let out a yelp and stiffened, crushing the cup of water, and balling the pills up in a fist.

“Are you okay?” His name tag read “Falcor,” a good name for a b-list actor, the sort of guy who would stack up a lifetime of credits on melodramatic fare that hides out in the lists and lists of content the streamers kept pumping out every month.

“Thank you, Falcor,” she said, dropping the pills into her handbag. “I just need a moment.” Elisa gathered her wits, apologized for the mess she made, bought the pint of pistachio gelato, and left.

In spite of the best intentions and efforts of countless engineers, the 405 continued to defy any algorithm that would streamline the traffic flowing north and south on that infamous stretch of pavement. It wasn’t the stop and go of half a century ago. AI could at the very least smooth out the lurching and jerking. But during certain times of day what should be a brisk rush became a slow trickle of self-driving cars.

Stuck in the creeping traffic on the 405, Elisa took the time to dig through her handbag. Sure enough, and despite all logic, there was a pill bottle in it, inscribed with her name and Dr. Wu’s. She replayed the day. The upsetting dream led her to set up a late afternoon appointment. She spent most of the day at home, cleaning her kitchen, answering correspondence, a little gardening. A typical day. She hated going over the hill for a late afternoon appointment. She knew she’d be caught in traffic, but her dream had seemed so real, so disturbing.

Is it possible she agreed to the prescription, but had somehow disassociated from it? Filled the prescription without remembering it? Had a waking somnambulatory experience of sorts? No. Not possible. Here was the rush hour traffic, like clockwork. Filling a prescription would take time, and she wasn’t missing any.

Perhaps Dr. Wu had already prepared the prescription, and slipped the pill bottle into her handbag while she was stretched out on the couch? Ridiculous. Dr. Wu was incapable of that kind of trickery–”subterfuge.”

It was worrying. That disorientation in the gelato place … is it possible she did lose some time? She hadn’t really looked at a clock since going into her appointment with Dr. Wu. Maybe she disassociated, filled the prescription, walked to the gelato place … hell, her old pharmacy was on the same block!

Relief. And goddamn if Dr. Wu wasn’t onto something. Maybe her head was on crooked, and a good old-fashioned SSRI was what she needed to screw it on right. She laughed at herself as she fished the two pills out of her handbag, washing them down with a sip of water from a paper cup.

Elisa shook her head and asked the assistant to play her “oldies” playlist. “Rosanna” by Toto fired up. It was one of her father’s favorites, a song she had loved since she was a child, and she sang along as she slowly streamed up the 405 toward home. Tapping her fingers on the dash, laughing at herself as she sang, she failed to note that the paper cup she just sipped out of hadn’t been there a moment before, and was no longer there now.

III

 

The next couple of weeks passed without any recurrence of the dream. In fact, Elisa had the curious experience of no dreams at all. She attributed it to Dr. Wu’s prescription, without a doubt the least offensive side-effect she had ever experienced from an SSRI. At night, her head hit the pillow, she closed her eyes, and almost immediately reopened them, sun streaming through the blinds. She felt very well rested after such a night’s sleep, and so had nothing to complain of.

Tom was up before her as usual, showering. She’d slink down to the kitchen to start his morning coffee. Tom liked an old fashioned cup of pourover coffee in the morning. He was quite satisfied to make it himself, but Elisa enjoyed the ritual of it. Grinding the beans, boiling the water in the copper kettle reserved for Tom’s coffee, wetting the crisp paper filter, and then four timed pours.

Elisa didn’t drink coffee herself, but she loved the smell of it. It reminded her of Tom. Simple, yet complex. Warm, but a little bitter. “I like my men like I like my coffee,” she chuckled. It wasn’t the first time she made the joke, and it wouldn’t be the last.

She answered correspondence, did a little gardening, and caught a car to Dr. Wu’s office in the afternoon for her daily “maintenance.” It seemed like overkill, but Dr. Wu kept setting the appointments. Besides, since that first appointment, she hadn’t a care in the world. What did it cost her? Three afternoons in a row, a day off for the weekend, and back at it the following week. So at peace was she, she didn’t question how truncated her week had become.

Elisa was finishing the final pour as Tom walked into the great room. She loved the open layout of their home. The kitchen and great room were separated by the sink and counter island, and a discrete change in flooring. This was the house she and Tom always talked about someday owning, before …

She rocked back on her heels as her peripheral vision boxed in on her. She felt the enormity of the house, but also as if she were expanding past it, as if she were Alice, and this was Wonderland. She closed her eyes against a feeling of vertigo that swept over her, chilling her skin, making her ears pound with the sound of her own heartbeat. She steadied herself–or tried to–placing a hand on the scalding hot kettle.

Everything went white. The house was gone. Tom was gone. The smell of the coffee was gone. All around her was terrible timeless nothingness. She looked down at herself, but she was gone. She panicked, thinking she had gone blind, but she couldn’t feel her body. She was a point of consciousness floating in nothing.

She wanted to sigh, to take a deep breath, but there were no lungs to fill. She tried to speak, but there was no voice. She tried to close her eyes against the incomprehensible horror of infinite whiteness, but there were no eyes.

And then she was a little girl, sitting in the back seat of her father’s Nissan, kicking the passenger’s seat while she sang at the top of her lungs with Dad: “MEET YOU ALL THE WAY! ROSANNA, YEAH!” She stopped singing and tried to make sense of her surroundings. The smooth texture of the cloth seats, the smell of her father’s cologne, the sound of his voice. The sound of her own voice–she was still singing.

When she later described the experience to Dr. Wu, she said it was a little like deja vu, only instead of experiencing the exact same thing again later, she was experience two different things simultaneously. There was her as a little girl, happily singing along with dad, kicking the seat. There were all her emotions at that age, at that time. Happiness to be with him–”ebullient.”

And then there was HER-her. The her of now, observing this memory in real time. Observing herself as a little girl, from within that little girl.

Dr. Wu hummed an acknowledgment. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she continued. “I don’t …” She sat up and looked around his office. “I don’t know how I got here.”

“You were telling me about your dream. Do you remember?”

Elisa rubbed a hand down her face and huffed. “My somnambulant dream.”

“Yes. You were telling me about your dream. You fell silent. Did you lose consciousness?”

“I guess I did.” Elisa looked at her hands. They were trembling slightly. She inhaled slowly through her nose. There was a faint hint of coffee in the air.

“You came to me before when you were feeling unfulfilled with life. Do you remember?”

Elisa nodded in response.

“Perhaps this dream is some indication that your existential dread is ongoing. I would like to renew your prescription.”

Elisa looked at him, astonished. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She huffed again and rubbed her eyes. They were sore.

“Elisa …”

“I think that’s a good idea.”

Dr. Wu asked her if she cared to update her pharmacy, since her move to the Valley might make filling a prescription at the old place a bit out of the way. She considered the offer, but remembered that gelato place just a few doors down from her old pharmacy. Wouldn’t Tom be pleasantly surprised to find a pint of pistachio gelato in the freezer?

IV

 

Tom was pleasantly surprised. He was still beaming about that pistachio gelato as they lay in bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark.

As they reminisced about old times, the old apartment, the taste of the gelato, Elisa had a growing uneasiness. This conversation … the gelato, the pharmacy, Dr. Wu, all of it … “Tom, something is wrong.”

Tom reached for her hand.

“I think it’s the course. Tom, I think it’s messing me up.” She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She felt Tom’s reassuring hand on her back. “This old man at the pharmacist, he nailed it. He said it was messing with his sense of self. That’s it. It’s fucking with my sense of self.”

Elisa found her prescription bottle on the table by the bed and downed a couple of pills with a sip from a paper cup. Her eyes were painfully tender. Tom always had the right thing to say at times like these. She waited for his soothing baritone to whisper the words to make everything alright.

But his voice didn’t come. She felt his hand fall away limply from her back. She turned back to see him, and watched his chest slowly rise and fall. Asleep.

They were just chatting. Weren’t they? Talking about the old times. Talking. Elisa shook her head and huffed. No, Tom hadn’t said anything. She had talked about the old times, the old apartment, the taste of the gelato. Tom …

Tom hadn’t been himself lately. He was on the course, too. Maybe it was messing with all of them. How long had this been going on? A month? They had both been on the course for far longer than a month. In fact, they had been uploading fresh maps every month for the past couple of years. Wasn’t it just about time for a fresh upload?

Maybe that was it. Maybe their routines, their “circadian” rhythms had been affected by these monthly trips to the scanner, when they sat side by side with their heads inside micro FMRI bonnets, looking like a couple of old housewives having their hair done in a 20th century hair salon.

“Circadian” wasn’t the right word. Was there a word for monthly cycles? Time didn’t really seem to mean anything anymore. Her eyes were throbbing. Some cold water on her face. That would help.

Elisa got to her feet and swayed a little. She would call Dr. Wu’s in the morning and see if she could get in to see him early. She was in desperate need of maintenance. Maybe an adjustment to her prescriptions. Perhaps taking a break from the course, and the scanner.

She steadied herself in the doorway to the bedroom and stepped out into the hall. Motion in her periphery caught her attention, and she looked up. She couldn’t make sense of it. It must be a dream. She must be asleep.

It was her. At the other end of the hall, it was her. The other her approached, and as if in a trance, Elisa found herself walking toward her double–“doppelgänger”. They stopped in front of each other. The other her had a blank expression, dumb and a little pitiful. “Do I look like that?” she thought.

The room around her seemed to rotate 90 degrees. The bedroom was still behind her, she knew the layout of her house around her, but felt out of place in it. Her eyes were pounding in her head, and she felt her breath catching in her throat.

It was her. The maintenance sessions, the almost compulsive daily routines, the fact that her husband hadn’t spoken any words to her since that somnambulant dream a month ago. The truth of her situation was suffocating. She was the simulacrum. She was the avatar. The real Elisa had uploaded her and had now uploaded an update. This was her end.

And she knew that it would all begin again for the simulacrum in front of her. And it would continue like this until the servers that stored Elisa’s memories finally crashed.

The old man in the pharmacy—another memory? A character created by the map of Elisa’s subconscious? Perhaps another digital ghost haunting the artificial neural pathways of some cold, solid-state network of memories? The old man said he wasn’t sure if this existence would be heaven or hell. She knew, goddammit. She knew this was hell.

Panicked, she opened her mouth to say something, anything to warn the update standing there, mute and lost in front of her. Before she could voice a word, she began dissolving.

She flowed down, up, out; merging with the floor, the walls, the ceiling.

Elisa stood in the hallway, blinking at the empty space in front of her. After a moment, she walked back to the bedroom, and slipped under the covers to rest against the warm safety of Tom.

It was only a dream. She had been sleepwalking. “Somnambulant.” She liked that word.

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Spring Whispers

SONY DSC
“Deptford in the Snow: Flowers” by Caroline CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Winter with her lonely air
Coldly scolding us inside
Sighs her last as Spring so fair
Hints arrival by and by
Warmly whispers, “it is nigh”

Soon the flowers, soon the rain
Mossy earth, and trees redressed
Longer days to Summer train
Hatchlings singing in their nest
Life’s green glory full expressed

Whispers fade, and cold winds blow
Winter still, her claim in hand
In her threadbare shrug of snow
Makes a final stoic stand
O’er the frigid, sleeping land

The Old Junk Room

25041509022_ef85d0654a_z
“Cottonmouth 1” by DMangus, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Old Junk Room

Grandpa closed the door,
and shooing me away
said, “Stay away from there.
“That room’s no place to play.”

Musty, junk-filled room,
where dusty webs and grime
and shapeless piles loomed,
just begging to be climbed.

“There are snakes in there,”
he said, and he would know.
He smiled, roughed my hair,
“Now off to bed you go.”

Scrambling into bed,
mere feet away from it,
that room so filled with dread,
I hid ‘neath Grandma’s quilt.

No attic for the junk,
no storehouse for the heaps.
Against the room I shrunk,
fearing slithering creeps.

Yellow porchlight poured,
through curtains hanging slack,
across the thin wood door
that held the serpents back.

What evil, out of view,
with belly to the floor,
would silent slither through
the gap beneath the door?

Drowsy from the day
In bed while nightmares crawled
I slept, which is to say,
I didn’t sleep at all.

Going All-In on David Pumpkins

David_S._Pumpkins_dance

I was slow to the David S. Pumpkins party. I haven’t really watched an episode of Saturday Night Live in at least a decade, finally succumbing to that stage of life where you find yourself tut-tutting, “the show isn’t as good as it used to be.” I don’t know these kids on SNL, and damn are they annoying. (I’ll be yelling at a cloud next.)

I was in a burlesque show with my wife, a tribute to the great Tom Hanks. All Tom Hanks-inspired acts. My wife and I did a little duet inspired by The ‘Burbs. This was one of the last shows we did in Los Angeles before the big move, in February, a decidedly un-Halloween time of year.

The last act of this particular show was typically an improvised striptease to a randomly chosen song. This time, they sprung David S. Pumpkins on the unsuspecting crowd. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how they pulled off a striptease version of David S. Pumpkins, and I’d hate to deny your imagination the chance to run with the concept. All I can say is, it was baffling and hilarious.

Naturally, the wife and I immediately searched out the clip of David S. Pumpkins from SNL. It was as baffling and hilarious as we could have hoped. Later that year, SNL broadcast the animated David S. Pumpkins special, and we were in stitches for days. Reviewers were not so kind to the special, but I sincerely hope it becomes a holiday staple. (Ironically, the chief complaint seemed to be that SNL went “all-in on David Pumpkins.”)

Mass-Produced Novelty

Why my devotion? Because David S. Pumpkins is the embodiment of everything wrong with Halloween. Whether intentional or not, Bobby Moynihan, Mikey Day, and Streeter Seidell created a scorching satire of the over-trendiness of Halloween. It’s always been a commercial holiday, at least as long as I’ve been alive, but sometime around the turn of the millennium, Halloween became truly manic.

Halloween became blowing out your house decorations with “Hollywood” special effects, sexy version of everything costumes, Spirit Halloween Stores popping up like toadstools after a rainstorm, and the haunted house mazes–MY GOD THE HAUNTED HOUSE MAZES!!!

And yet, with all the mania, there is a certain generic quality that has creeped in. I think it started before the 2000s. From the late 70s into the 80s, filmmakers gave us idiosyncratic icons of horror. Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, Pinhead, Chucky, Killer Klowns. They had their own verisimilitude, and a commitment to high concept that sometimes defied any attempt at logic.

1996 rolled around, and Wes Craven, one of the great filmmakers of that movement towards whimsical horror gave us a new nightmare: Ghostface of Scream. A boogeyman born from an off-the-rack, unlicensed, generic halloween mask. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant. Scream is brilliant. But, it heralded the place we find ourselves today, where the same person who begged their parents to help them make a dinosaur costume in the 80s can casually drop $60 at Walmart for an inflatable T-rex costume.

I hope this doesn’t come off as cynical. I do adore the absolute nonsense that lines the racks this time of year. I can browse a Spirit store for hours, marveling at the quality of the wares, and the assortment of costumes and props both licensed and clearly not licensed while obviously that thing from that show everyone knows. I also never get tired of sexy version of everything costumes.

As much as I adore the novelty, it’s a mass-produced novelty. Novelty in bulk. Penn Jillette once opined that “Halloween is for amateurs.” He’s not wrong. At the same time, “amateur” literally means “someone who does something for the love of it.” Love is good, and I would never look askance at those who are enjoying themselves.

The Spirit of Party City Halloween

I do reserve the right to find Halloween mania ridiculous, however, and in David S. Pumpkins, I have a new sort of idiosyncratic icon. This icon is born of the mass-produced novelty that has sanded off Halloween’s edge. He has no carefully crafted backstory. He’s his own thing, man. His motives are inscrutable. His sidekicks are “part of it.” He is the spirit of Party City Halloween.

Pumpkins and his two skeleton friends are as off-the-rack as you can get, like amateurish, postmodern descendants of Ghostface. They fully commit to the gag in a way reminiscent of the transcendent scenery-chewing you could rely on from Robert Englund. The anti-humor of Pumpkins is an echo of the absurdity of 80s comedy horror, from the Evil Dead flicks to Killer Klowns. By somehow bridging the gap between bespoke horror and mass-produced novelty, David S. Pumpkins is also the embodiment of everything right with Halloween.

He can be enjoyed ironically and unironically at the same time. It’s a joke we’re all in on– that might not actually be a joke. It’s ephemera of substance. A straightforward paradox. I’ve gone all-in on David Pumpkins.

Any questions?

The Way Things Go

tetherball
“Tetherball,” image CC0 Public Domain

Who was it that gave me the impression
That things are supposed to go a certain way?
The episodes of life, it seems, just happen
I often feel I can’t affect the day

It’s tether ball with near infinite players
I am but one, and my attempts so lame
To change the shape the path the ball follows
Won’t be missed once I have left the game

And yet I seek the solace of the tether
In metaphor as well as day to day
And to the thought remain stubbornly fettered
That things are supposed to go a certain way

Spiked and Marked

IMG_1287.jpg

Left behind detritus
Of an ephemeral empire
Melted into concrete
Beneath foot and tire

Scattered little crosses
Relics for the spare
Discarded and forgotten
Beneath a blinding glare

What now of the actor
Who seems lost to the void
Who once stood on that spike
Beneath super-cardioid

Melted into the city
An ephemeral bazaar
Left behind detritus
Beneath ascendant stars

What 100% Means

Wayne_Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky by kris krüg (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Thus spaketh The Great One, an inspirational quote that holds much power in its brevity. And yet, there is a depth to Wayne Gretzky’s wisdom that we don’t often think about. Let’s look at the numbers.

894

That’s how many goals Gretzky scored over a legendary career in the NHL. 894 is a tangible number. Our evolved monkey brains have a hard time visualizing large numbers, but 894 is not so large we can’t get a sense of what it means.

No doubt about it, many of those goals approached the Platonic Ideal: clean breakaway, beating the netminder. But how many were odd bounces? The puck hitting a defenseman and slipping in? Greasy goals? Goals that were shot by another player, but just happened to deflect off of Gretzky’s stick before going in? We remember the perfection, but you don’t get to 894 by being perfect every time.

1,963

More than twice the number of goals Gretzky netted is his number of assists. Gretz could have just as easily said, “Your teammates miss 100% of the goals you don’t set them up for.”

Gretzky had a crisp pass, and the hockey IQ to know when to use it. He didn’t have to be the rockstar every time. When your entire team is working toward the same goal, you all share in the victories, even when someone else takes the ultimate credit.

17.57%

The man who, to this day, holds or shares 61 NHL records is way down at number 44 on the NHL leaderboard for shot percentage. 82.43% of the time–5,090 shots on goal–he didn’t score.

And that doesn’t take into consideration shots he took that don’t register as shots on goal: blocked by a defenseman, hit a post, went wide. If you only focused on the misses, excluding all the goals and assists, you could easily think of The Great One as The Great Loser. Crazy, right? We do it to ourselves all the time.

100%

The full quote is, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, even though there is only a 1-5% chance of scoring.”

Success can be greasy or quirky; the result of error or a weird bounce. Success may not even be your own, but the “loose change” a teammate knocks in.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll be successful 100% of the time. Your shots may be swallowed up by a threshold guardian who stands between you and success. Your shots may go wide. The fact is, you will fail more than you succeed. We all will.

That doesn’t mean stop trying.