Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #86: Lagniappe

Until posting this story, I hadn’t remembered that “to 86” means “to get rid of.”

Almost a year into my pandemic-imposed layoff, hermitting inside my sublet, constantly wearing an effluvious white terrycloth bathrobe, I received an e-mail from the HR factotum in which she, quote, “regretfully,” unquote, announced that our employer, the publishing house where I myself had factotummed (as an editor, proofreader, and content provider) for half a decade would not rehire me, da da da, “good luck” thrown in as lagniappe that simultaneously increased my desultoriness and my inclination toward continuing to download Australian (I like kangaroos) metaphysics PDFs, the more abstruse the better, as a looming challenge to start reading and/or deleting.

Copyright © 2021 by David V. Matthews

Three Unfinished Pieces

December 1, 2012

In 1974, the film critic John Simon wrote that “American movies in general, and recent ones in particular,…do not (cannot? dare not?) cope with serious, contemporary, middle-class, adult problems.” The typical American movie “deal[s] with the western frontier, the historical past, some war or other; with the criminal classes, occasionally spies, possibly even law enforcers; more rarely with the lives of famous people (rarer nowadays, when the common man is more in than ever); and now and then lovable prostitutes, impoverished blacks, or exploited Indians.” Almost “every notable American film is a genre film, a frothy little comedy, or a specialty number” that says nothing noteworthy about “middle-class living[,]” implicitly non-black or non-Indian, apparently.

Today, after decades of accelerated income inequality due to free-market fanaticism (even that alleged far-left radical Obama has drooled over the free market), corporate domination over everything (including the movies), and Republican reverence toward the rich, the American middle-class has virtually vanished, replaced by either one-percenters or the people who earn minimum wage cleaning the one-percenters’ toilets; thus, why should Hollywood bother depicting a life not too many members of the prime movie-going audience (adolescent males and adults of any age with adolescent-male mentalities) have ever experienced? Hobbits are more realistic nowadays than the breadwinner who can earn enough each month to support his or her family and have a little left over to save for retirement. Movie audiences don’t like reminders of their powerlessness, instead preferring (or convinced by media indoctrination that they prefer) blinged-out, kick-ass fantasies with plenty of blood squibs and fiery explosions. Westerns may have gone out of fashion, but period pieces, war, and crime still dominate the cinematic imagination, with occasionally the dysfunctional lives of famous people, usually well-merchandised, classic-whatever-genre singers. The “common man” has turned into a pumped-up, violent action hero cavorting in front of green screens; “lovable prostitutes” now have buff figures and can slaughter as many bad guys as the uncommon man can; “impoverished blacks” have ditched the impoverishment angle in favor of firearms and wisecracks; and “exploited Indians” have vanished, replaced by Muslim terrorists.

Simon’s preference for the “serious adult film” now seems quainter than the Constitution.

August 23, 2013 (last paragraph slightly revised February 17, 2021)

Peter Frank and Michael McKenzie. New, Used & Improved: Art for the 80’s. New York: Abbeville Press, 1987.

Anyone who wants to get rich will try doing so by making specific career or financial choices, especially during an era that venerates wealth, status, and ostentatiousness more than usual—an era such as the Reagan era, the Nineteen-Eighties, also known as the go-go Eighties, as in wake me up before you go-go walking past those homeless guys sleeping on the sidewalk.

Peter Frank and Michael McKenzie’s book New, Used & Improved: Art for the 80’s offers a glossy, well-illustrated chronicle of New York City’s hipper-than-hip art scene during that decade. However, amid all the details about painters, sculptors, photographers, graffitists, musicians, performance artists, nightclub designers, gallery owners, and “thespian andogynes[,]” the authors mostly ignore the socioeconomic influences upon that scene.

Speaking of socioeconomics: in 1987, as a striving painter who fantasized about making it big in Greenwich Village, I wanted to buy this lavishly-illustrated book about New York City’s hipoisie art scene, but as a broke college student, I couldn’t afford to do so. In 2013, as a sort-of-successful artist-slash-writer-slash-promiscuous-hyphenator, I bought this book’s original hardcover edition at Half Price Books for five dollars and ninety-five cents plus tax. If I had read this book as a young man, I might have reconsidered my career ambitions. Or maybe not.

August 9, 2018

I’ve done something you might consider lame and unhealthy. Namely, I’ve read all three hundred and ninety-nine pages of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel American Psycho. Though probably best known today for his anti-David Foster Wallace tweets, Ellis was—once upon a time during the Eighties—among the hippest, the hottest, the MTV-est of young American writers. I hadn’t read anything by Ellis since that decade, over three decades ago, when I’d visually ingested his first two novels, Less Than Zero (1985) and The Rules of Attraction (1987), tales of wealthy late-adolescent decadence that I’d thought resembled somewhat desperate, R-rated blends of Miami Vice and Nancy Reagan’s Just-Say-No propaganda, two Eighties artifacts that look pretty quaint today.

By contrast, American Psycho, Ellis’s third novel, examined wealthy twentysomething decadence but in such a violent, sexually-explicit way that Simon & Schuster, the original publisher, had second thoughts and backed out, causing the novel to appear instead as a Vintage Contemporaries paperback. (Another quaint artifact: Vintage Contemporaries published novels aimed at, though not necessarily about, the trendiest of trendies who might want something to read, just to relax after spending a grueling day hunting for the perfect vintage bowling shirt.) Reviewers, too, had problems with “the novel’s moronic and sadistic contents,” as Roger Rosenblatt put it in 1990 in a hyperventilating New York Times review that went on to call American Psycho “the most loathsome offering of the season” and the product of, yes, a “lame and unhealthy imagination.”

The novel’s narrator, Patrick Bateman, a twenty-six-year-old who works at a Wall Street investment house, goes into excruciating detail about fashion, furniture, electronics, male cosmetics, trendy restaurants, trendy clubs, cocaine, and other expensive consumer items of the late Eighties-slash-early Nineties (and I do mean slash, as you’ll soon see). Decades later, Bateman comes across as Aspergerian in his obsessive recounting of yuppie trappings—unfortunately Aspergerian, since he also goes into extremely excruciating detail about his torture, murder, or both, of prostitutes, workplace colleagues, children, the homeless, and—yes!—rats. At one point, rats figure prominently in a torture-murder; you may never look at a Habitrail in the same way again. (People with my autistic condition already put up with unfortunate PR due to the alleged Asperger’s of criminals such as the Sandy Hook mass murderer.) And of course, as a cheap narrative signifier of his vileness, Bateman almost constantly rents porn videotapes, as if his brutality—not to mention his racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism—didn’t already suffice. (Though in retrospect, as a better narrative signifier of vileness, he also idolizes Donald Trump.)

By the novel’s last few dozen pages, however, Bateman, through his narration, indulges in sentimentality (as in visiting his mother in the nursing home); Ellis either wimped out or wisely realized his readers needed a break from the nonstop violence and cynicism.

While I wouldn’t call this a great novel, it does serve as a valuable historical document.

Copyright © 2021 by David V. Matthews

Two Outtakes from DVM’s Latest Project

I found this image AFTER writing the second outtake.

Do you remember Mad magazine? You might have read it as a kid. Lots of kids used to read it. But I didn’t. Growing up during the Nineteen-Seventies, I read a competing humor magazine called Loony, essentially a blatant imitation. Instead of Don Martin, Mad’s Maddest Artist, they had Pete Zukko, Loony’s Looniest Loon, who drew similar comics complete with capsule-headed, floppy-toed characters and even the same type of sound effects—SKRUNCH, FLABADORP, BLIPPLADEEBLIPBLIP. Instead of Spy vs. Spy, in which one pointy-nosed secret agent would elaborately, if bloodlessly, murder another, they had Spookorama (spooks as in the slang word for spies), in which one potato-nosed secret agent would elaborately, and gorily, murder another, limbs and intestines flying toward the reader like some two-dimensional three-D movie. Instead of the Fold-In, they had the See-Through; rather than folding in the inside back cover accordion-style, you’d hold it to the light, and the outside back cover would shine through, creating a new image that would refer to some current celebrity or pop-cultural property. Et cetera. I knew Loony was pretty much a ripoff, but I didn’t care. I preferred reading it because it was also an underdog. Or because everyone else preferred Mad, and I felt like indulging in contrarianism. Or both.

A few casual Fridays ago, Zach Breen, that nose-pierced, nineteen-year-old temp in the processing department, walked up to my desk, wearing a black T-shirt with a color photo of Angela Lansbury’s disembodied head on it, above the words WRITTEN IN BLOOD, in blood-red. “Like my shirt?” he asked me.

I nodded out of politeness.

“It’s about Murder, She Wrote.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You ever watch that show?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Me too. I watch it all the time. That show fuckin’ rules, man.” Pointing at Angela Lansbury: “She’s the biggest serial killer ever.”

“What do you mean?”

She’s the one who murders someone new every week, then frames someone else for the crime.”

“Don’t the people she accuses of murder always end up confessing?”

“She’s hallucinating that they do. She’s that fuckin’ insane.”

“Maybe.”

Maybe? Come on, think about it. If your grandma, like, kept runnin’ across dead bodies everywhere she went, wouldn’t you start to get suspicious?”

“Yeah.”

Pointing at Angela Lansbury again: “Plus she’s a widow, and she prolly killed her husband, too, before the show began.”

“Yeah.”

“Though I guess if you’re an old person, killin’ people would prolly be way more exciting than, like, playin’ fuckin’ bingo. Unless you killed ’em during bingo.”

“Yeah, that would—”

“B-7. I-25. N-44 Magnum!” He turned his hand into a gun, the muzzle consisting of his forefinger and middle finger, and pretended to shoot at me. “Bang.”

Copyright © 2021 by David V. Matthews

Shakespeare, Kick in the Rear

As you get older, you can suddenly start remembering strange stuff. You can’t remember what you had for breakfast, but you can start remembering strange stuff. Strange, sad stuff. So anyways, It’s my first day of school, at a new school, fourth grade, 1971. Half a century ago. It’s recess, and I’m walking through the playground by myself, a playground that looks like the Dust Bowl from the Thirties? No grass, just bare dirt? Plus some gigantic rocks, almost like the boulders Wile E. Coyote used to try dropping on the Road Runner in those cartoons on TV? Anyways, I’m walking along by myself, getting the feel of the place, when someone kicks me in the butt, a bit hard. I turn around. The kicker, a big kid I haven’t seen before, big in all directions, probably the school bully, says, he says “Shakespeare, kick in the rear!”

Well, the best I can do thinking quickly, I say, I say “Your mom eats dick.” I have no idea what that means, pathetically enough, only that it’s bad. The bully punches me in the face. I fall on the ground. I can’t resist pissing him off more. “Your dad eats dick, too,” I say. I thought I’d really get it now. Instead, the bully laughs and says “Yeah, he does. But my mom don’t. Remember that.”

“You bet,” I say.

The bully walks away. He doesn’t bother me again. A week later, he leaves school for good, for some unspecified reason. The adults, they won’t go into detail about what happened. Adults never tell kids anything. It’s rumored—well, it’s the most popular rumor—that the bully went to juvie ’cause he beat up this three-year-old boy so bad, the boy almost died. Plus the three-year-old was retarded. Adults really hate it when you beat up the retarded. So anyways, the bully disappears, and soon everyone forgets he ever existed. Including me. Until now. I Google him, with no results. Then I call myself a retard for still caring about that loser. Then I watch some Road Runner cartoons on YouTube and really feel like a retard.

Copyright © 2021 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #85: Giant Chthonic Hairballs

Modern lesbianism: one day at Whole Foods, Meghan—that cute cashier with the pierced cheeks—flirtatiously invited me to her art opening. So the next night, I stopped by the Transmission Gallery (a former auto repair shop), where I stared at her sculptures, which resembled giant chthonic hairballs: fuzzy, tentacled, and seeping imitation blood. “Whadjoo think?” she asked, wearing a COVID mask and a flapper dress, both the same faded turquoise.

Très Disney Channel,” I replied through my beige-and-beiger-checked mask. She giggled. And walked away. Oh well. I drove home alone, vowing to continue looking for affordable, non-crummy health insurance.

Copyright © 2021 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #84: Paul Lynde Goes M-A-A-A-AD (May 12, 1979)

For the previous chapters of the Lynde Saga, see hereherehereherehere, annnnnd here. (These two sentences don’t count toward the hundred-word total.)

At eight PM, the time this TV special started airing, my band The Splats stepped onstage at Guralski’s Bar to open for Highlife. Someone in the audience immediately shouted “Faggot!” and threw a beer bottle at me. It whizzed an inch past my head.

I got M-A-A-A-AD. I charged toward him.

A minute later, I lay on the floor, hearing Guralski himself tell my bandmates “No fuckin’ way I’m payin’ you for this. Now get the fuck outta here.”

“Awww,” I said with a mouthful of blood. “Can’t we see fuckin’ Highlife at least?”

Nope. That pissed off my bandmates.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #83: Paul Lynde at the Movies (March 24, 1979)

For the previous chapters of the Lynde Saga, see here, here, here, here, and here. (These two sentences don’t count toward the hundred-word total.)

As the howling, yowling fifteen-year-old lead singer for the first (and probably worst) band I ever belonged to, The Splats, I had no idea this TV special even existed; I’d long ago stopped watching TV, which I considered, as I put it in one of my songs, “Brainwasher Supreme.” I didn’t even read my mom’s favorite magazine, TV Guide. At the time, I considered her a pathetic tube junkie, but considering my stepfather’s dalliances, not to mention his homophobic disdain toward me, who could blame her for escaping into bullshit? (Also: Perversion of the Body Snatchers? I gotta see that.)

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #82: Luvcats

Once upon a time, I supported legalizing all drugs, freeing Mumia, raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, etc. Then Trump won in 2016, and if the electorate loves someone like him, then why bother? So I stopped caring. And I started actually paying attention to my job as senior content provider for WebFresh International. Soon I made a fortune when I created that Luvcats series of e-books in which humans bang human-feline hybrids: Purrfect Lover, Gettin’ Some Tail, Grab ’em by the Pussy, etc.

Anyway, I doubt Biden will change anything. Sleazy escapism always remains in vogue.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews

Flash Fiction (a Hundred Words Exactly) #81: My First Stint

The night I turned eighteen, in 1984, I was at some party, drunkenly celebrating my newly-arrived adulthood, when I beat the crap out of some Greek (as in fraternity member) from high school because he’d said my favorite band, those heavy-metal retards Skorchin, “suck donkey dick.” Five years later, during my first stint in AA, out of a twelve-steppish desire to make amends, I visited him (he still lived in town) to apologize. “Forget about it,” he said. “I love that band now. Can you fuckin’ believe it?” I fuckin’ could. Sometimes it takes time for people to appreciate retardedness.

Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews