A familiar sight during my childhood: my old man in his shirtsleeves, slumped over the kitchen table at night, beer bottle in hand, complaining to Mom about his day, specifically about the employees at the department store he manages, about the customers who try to rob him blind, about how no one appreciates what he does, much less deserves it—complaining in that tone, equal parts grandiose and self-pitying, that makes me grind my teeth into nubs as I lie on the living-room carpet, in the adjoining room, watching TV. I’ve just turned twelve. Mom, of course, sits next to him, not saying a word. His performance goes on so long, I imagine visual clichés from those old movies she loves: hands twirling around on clocks, pages flying off the calendar.
Finally, the usual crescendo of his complaining arrives. He asserts he’s done everything he could, and what more can he do?
“Killing yourself would help,” I mutter, softly enough for my parents not to hear; otherwise, either of them, or both of them, would have leaped up, run into the living room, and commenced their usual disciplinary method of beating me in a whirlwind of slaps, punches, and kicks. I’ve never said anything like that about my old man before. For a few moments, I feel guilty. “Ha ha, how fuckin’ embarrassing, right?” I say seven years later when relating this anecdote to my fellow soldiers in the jungle in Vietnam, causing them to go into detail about the butt-kickings they’d endured as children. Laughs all around, drawing us closer together.
Copyright © 2021 by David V. Matthews
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.”
“You ever watch that show?”
“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? Come on, think about it. If your grandma, like, kept runnin’ across dead bodies everywhere she went, wouldn’t you start to get suspicious?”
Pointing at Angela Lansbury again: “Plus she’s a widow, and she prolly killed her husband, too, before the show began.”
“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
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
During a break from work today, I read another great article on my favorite pop-cultural website, Detritus Valley—an article titled “Dickety-Dee-Pressing” and written by Jordan Bicks, the woman who runs the site all by herself, and on whom I have a slight crush, despite (or maybe because of) having never met her or seen her photo. She dee-scribes about how in 1992, the restaurant chain Rax (FAST FOOD WITH STYLE, its signs said), wanting to appeal to adults, introduced a cartoon spokesperson named Mr. Delicious: a balding, bespectacled, bow-tied, black-and-white white guy—a real schlub, in other words. I’d never heard of him until reading this article, though I’d eaten dinner there once during that time, when I was ten, with my parents and siblings, on vacation one July in Aurora, Ohio, after our family had spent the day at the now-dee-funct and super-cheesy amusement park, Geauga Lake; from what I can remember, Rax, or at least that particular one, didn’t display much style but did feature a salad bar so large, it had its own zip code, though I think I ate just a roast beef sandwich instead, having adopted my family’s meat-centric diet, though I would somewhat insufferably embrace vegetarianism not long after, more out of rebelliousness than out of any genuine concern for non-human creatures; that dietary choice would last maybe two months. (Actually, it didn’t really last at all, since from the first day I kept sneaking chicken nuggets and fish sticks.)
So anyway, the article links to actual TV and radio commercials featuring Mr. Delicious, and I agree with Jordan when she contends that “these links (and Candy Crush) more than justify the existence of digital computer technology.” Referring to himself in the third person, calling himself Mr. D (also printed on the briefcase he carried everywhere), he would praise Rax’s “adult-sized delectables for only ninety-nine cents” while morosely talking about adult topics such as “being a little overextended” because “perhaps the Rax executives aren’t paying him enough to compromise his integrity”; suffering from a hangover due to “two for one night at the Rusty Anchor”, thus forcing him to “avoid the wrath of Mrs. Delicious”; getting expensive therapy that kept his “hostility all locked up” but just barely, I would say; undergoing “rather delicate surgery” of an unspecified nature; and “still trying to recover from that bout with midlife crisis in ’89” that had involved “custom-designed hair weaves” and “that vacation he took to Bora Bora with those two young”—pause—“friends that left Mr. Delicious feeling empty and unfulfilled”. I wonder if Mrs. Delicious had accompanied him.
Each ad would end with his catchphrase, “Dickety-Dee.” Why the hell not?
As Jordan put it in her article, “Hey, Madison Avenue: if you want an ad campaign to succeed, maybe, just maybe, it shouldn’t make viewers want to slit their wrists.” Needless to say, Mr. Delicious flopped bigtime, and Rax soon declared bankruptcy. Ha ha, just more media crap to provide ironic amusement for sophisticates.
But really pay attention to the ads, and you’ll soon learn that, unlike actual schlubs, advertising executives can have their midlife crises in public, so to speak, and presumably get paid a fortune for it. And you can bet aging, bitter white guys wrote those ads. Either that, or young, clueless white guys, maybe super-ironic Gen-Xers, wrote them. Or both types of white guys did. Whoever did, they maybe inadvertently reminded us that immaturity rules, until it abdicates its throne, and you realize that whatever your race or gender or sexual orientation or need for corrective lenses, time will eventually Dickety-Dee you—a banal thought, everyone grows old, though first-hand experience makes that thought seem far more intellectually substantial, not that you necessarily need decades of experience, as I’ve had, to understand anything; I like to imagine Jordan’s in her late twenties or early thirties but has the maturity, insight, and knowledge of an ancient sage.
Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews
His COVID unemployment having run out, no jobs available anywhere, desperate to continue paying his exorbitant expenses (perhaps he shouldn’t’ve moved to such an expensive place as Brooklyn, but he couldn’t resist the siren call of coolness), he installed a live streaming webcam in his bathroom and charged viewers a hundred bucks an hour to watch him sit naked in his bathtub, a bathtub filled with cooked oats (“Gluten-free,” he proudly told everyone watching), and read War and Peace aloud in its entirety. He got to page forty-seven before calling it a day. As it turned out, not enough people love idiotic Internet stunts, at least not enough to earn him the money he needed. So the next day, he urinated and defecated into the oatmeal, then sat in it naked, clamped his nose shut with a clothespin, and continued reading that novel aloud, reaching page ninety-seven, attracting more views but still not enough. The day after that, once again naked and nose-clothespinned, his copy of War and Peace nowhere in sight, he urinated and defecated into the oatmeal, sat in it, scooped up a heaping spoonful of the resulting mixture, lifted the spoon an inch from his mouth, faced the camera, said “Down the hatch!”, shoved the spoon into his mouth, chewed, swallowed, vomited copiously into the tub, scooped up a heaping spoonful of the new mixture, lifted—
For years afterward, footage of what the snarksters would call The Gourmet Feast would remain an Internet staple, the vomiting scene getting memed to refer to something the current president has said or done; or to the most recent best-picture Oscar winner; or to some particularly outspoken feminist; or to the idea of considering a particular race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation deserving of civil rights. In a sense, the Gourmet, as he would slightly-buzzedly put it to hot young guys at the bar, had lived through his own Vietnam, 9/11, and pandemic combined and now knew he could survive any calamity, either one he has caused himself or one brought about by “those darn haters.”
Copyright © 2020 by David V. Matthews
(revised on September 7, 2020)
During the height of the COVID-19 quarantine, when the economy had shut down, causing my directing gigs to evaporate, I spent hours sitting at my laptop, watching something called Zooping, or Zoom pooping. One of my Facebook friends, Tod Perrin, a professional listicle writer living in Brooklyn, had created Zooping, basing it (according to his Vice interview) upon “The Suffering Channel,” a novella from a writer I’ve never read, bandana boy himself, the hipster god (except among the hashtag MeToo crowd—more power to them), David Foster Wallace. (I haven’t even pretended to read any fiction since that Foundations of American Literature class my sophomore year of college, the less said about that pretentious, brain-numbing class, the better.)
Anyway, Zooping involved people worldwide, sheltering in place in their houses or apartments or trailer homes, competing against each other on that video-conferencing app Zoom, trying within a five-minute time limit to create the largest and most artistic bowel movements on the porch, in the cat’s litter box, in a breadcrumb-style trail around the house—anywhere except in the toilet, even a transparent one. We viewers had to see the finished product emerge unobstructed (as in Wallace’s novella, apparently); then we would vote on-line for our favorite dumps (firmness counted—no diarrhea, please), the winners moving on to the next round. No prizes of any sort—just fourteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds of Internet fame. The wimps running this competition (wimps relatively speaking, considering the biological function shown) forbade political content, meaning, as their Facebook page put it, you couldn’t “let loose” onto, say, the American flag or the Confederate flag, the latter flag specifically banned anyway under the “no hate speech or hate symbols” stipulation, which must have disappointed certain of the trailer-home residents. You couldn’t indulge in sacrilege, either, goddammit. Nor could you give yourself, or let someone else give you, an enema on- or off-screen. You could use laxatives, though many viewers (including me) considered those the equivalent of performance-enhancing drugs and thus a form of cheating. Even stuffed full of Ex-Lax (or not), some Zoopers would choke during those five minutes, resulting in, at best, a few rabbit droppings. But the very best Zoopers—oh, the wondrous sculptures they would bring forth unto the world, modern-art delights more accessible than the (metaphorical) crap you see in museums.
The championship game, Zooper Bowl I, pitted Russ Fenley, thirty-two, a self-described “metalhead for life, yeeeahhh” from Newark, versus Samantha Bates, twenty-nine, a Kansas City native who called herself “the girl next door—to the nuthouse, hee hee hee.” Russ, after his trademark grunts and groans, accompanied by his trademark contorted facial expressions that I thought made him look more intelligent or at least slightly less vacant, produced something he titled Soft Serve Mountain, right onto the floor, in the middle of his somewhat barren living room. (You could see tumbleweed-sized dustballs in one corner, not that my domicile, an apartment on the outskirts of the outskirts, would win any interior-design awards.) By contrast, crouching above the pink-to-the-nth-degree rug in her bathroom, Samantha looked almost peaceful as she silently crafted an untitled piece, beige and thin, about a foot-and-a-half long, resembling a spiral, speckled with corn (as befitted her Midwestern status).
She won in a close vote, 14,697-14,612. Russ could have demanded a recount but didn’t; even he must have recognized the aesthetic brilliance of her creation. “I’d like to thank my butthole, without which I wouldn’t have come this far,” she remarked on Zoom afterwards. “You can say ‘butthole,’ right? Well, I just did.”
Weeks later, most Net-heads have no doubt long forgotten her, and Russ, and Zooping in general. But not I. Now that I’ve started directing again, I’ve vowed to keep the irreverence of the Zoopers in mind, having fun, appealing to the non-snobbish, not that all this will eradicate racism or sexism or economic injustice, of course. Nothing can eradicate anything, I guess, though I would think that, considering my snobbish and reasonably comfortable background. Hashtag FauxPoor.
Copyright © 2020 by David V. Mattthews
June 25, 2020 (revised July 11-12, 2020)
Yo, incels: I know why the worst Chads nab the hottest Stacys. Years ago, those Chads started feigning Chaddishness. They pretended they’d lost their virginity during grade school; they pretended their sexual conquests totaled in the quadruple-digits; they pretended they didn’t have crushing student-loan debt. And eventually, the fake Chads turned into real ones. Stacys drool over male confidence, real or not, the best way to distract themselves from worrying about climate catastrophe (or about Black Lives Matter, depending upon the Stacys’ politics).
Sex can both enlighten and pacify you; thus, dicks with chicks epitomize purple haze: a red-pill/blue-pill combo.
Copyright © 2019 by David V. Matthews
Vomiting prodigiously into the azaleas before the appalled guests that sweltering June night, in the backyard of Eric and Caroline McCafferty’s Cape Cod-style mansion, during the Joe Biden fundraising dinner (five thousand a plate, a hundred grand raised), Wayne Pellis (Caroline’s younger brother, thirty-one, unemployed, uninvited, unsober) wondered if raccoons or wolves or other animals from the overlooking hills would lap up the regurgitation, or if Caroline would have one of the Latino (or Latinx?) servants hose off the flowers, which had appeared last year in some magazine called Manor Illustrated (no doubt a purveyor of socialist propaganda, Wayne thought).
Copyright © 2019 by David V. Matthews