Very bad writing

I'm disappointed with at least half of what I write, but I publish it anyway. That's the joy of "do it yourself" — nobody tells you not to. Some of the crap I've written, though, is so crappy even I knew better than to show it to anyone. This, for example…

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Silly Dilly Willy Little Bus was a TV show, probably inspired by the "Neighborhood Trolley" scenes on Mister Rogers. It aired for several seasons, but only in my brain, and it was all about a living, breathing, somewhat sentient motorcoach that carried kids to and from school.

Episodes were acted out in my back yard, and nobody was involved except me. The main character was a bus, played by me. I also played all the kids.

In my defense, I was perhaps four years old when the pilot episode was filmed without a camera. I was still playing 'bus' when I was 9 or 10, though, which seems old to still have a 5-ton, 4-wheeled imaginary friend. 

In every episode, the kids made it safely to class, and safely home again, and the bus often sang its theme song. I can sing it even today, because the lyrics consisted only of the words, Silly Dilly Willy Little Bus, repeated a dozen times, and the tune was borrowed from from a church hymn

I especially remember the episode when instead of carrying kids, the bus had to deliver pickles to the grocery. That's where the ‘dilly’ part of the title came from.

And there was an episode "based on a true story," in which a kid wasn't feeling well, but his mother made him go to school anyway, and he barfed all over inside the bus. That episode won an imaginary Golden Globe.

It counts as writing, because I kept a few pages of notes, describing the passengers and story lines. Years later, when I was in high school, I found those notes, all written in my childish scrawl. Sentimental I’m not; I was mortified and ripped the paper to pieces.

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Poide and the Gang — This was another TV show on the same non-existent network, when I was 10-13 years old. The main character was named Poide (rhymes with annoyed), and I can’t remember his first name, but it might as well have been Doug. He was a lonely, mostly friendless kid, very much like me.

On the TV show, though, Poide had been recruited by police, and he was working as an undercover cop at his grade school and (in later seasons) junior high school. Helping him was 'the gang', a few other secret badge-totin' kids, all of them seeking justice against bullies, bastards, bad teachers, and drug dealers.

Seriously, drug dealers? 

DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) hadn't yet been invented, but anti-drug hysteria was everywhere, and we'd heard lectures about the dangers of everything from sniffing glue to shooting coke. I was a kid and I believed it, but here and now I’ll issue a complete pardon to all my classmates who were fictionally arrested by Officer Poide.

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Newcombe — Now I was grown up, not merely scribbling notes about TV shows I'd made up, but typing actual words on an actual typewriter.

So what was I writing? Oh, my, golly.

Newcombe would be a novel about intrepid officers aboard a mighty Naval ship, the USS Newcombe. Armed with nuclear weapons, it was on perpetual patrol in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for a command everyone hoped would never be issued — to launch the missiles, and begin World War III.

There were several problems in writing Newcombe, though. I’d never been in the military or set foot aboard a Naval vessel, knew nothing of nukes except that they're scary, knew nothing of how the military functions, or even which ranks outrank other ranks, and I had no real story to tell. Other than that, though, it was gonna be great.

Everything would build toward the novel’s final chapter, which would take place during a tense worldwide international showdown, something like the Cuban Missile Crisis but much scarier and more dramatic.

By then, our story would be set in the White House command center, where the President would be receiving updates and issuing orders in a busy, bustling room full of military people running around, shouting, while bells and alarms were going off, etc — all very chaotic and precarious, with the fate of the world imperiled and uncertain.

Then someone asks the President which ship should be sent to carry a secret message of peace to some key foreign dignitaries, and the President replies, “Newcombe.” Which is pronounced exactly like “Nuke ‘em,” so missiles would immediately be launched into the air and under the water, all on their way toward Moscow.

I was old enough to vote, and dumb enough to try writing an entire novel to make a bad pun. It took five chapters for me to realize I was an idiot, and nuke it all.

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Iski of Hurn— I was a big science fiction fan, but frustrated that in movies and novels, the space aliens were usually only slightly different from humans. All the aliens walked around on two legs, had two arms, usually two eyes and one nose, etc.

No way, man. Space aliens are going to be completely unlike humans, and that's what I wanted to read about. But the only way to read about them was to invent them myself, and write about them, so I did.

My aliens were from planet Hurn, and they were certainly different. Instead of legs, they rolled around on a single unicycle-like wheel, and everyone was shaped sorta like this: 

The bottom circle is the wheel that they rolled on instead of walking, and the top circle is their head, with no eyes, no nose, and no ears. Sight, smell, and sound was detected instead through their very advanced, highly sensitive skin.

Their faceless faces had short arms on each side, like ears if ears were deaf tubes with opposable thumbs at the end.

Their faces had no mouths, because instead they spoke and ate through the same orifice they pooped through, on their wheel.

Speaking through their anuses made clothes impractical, so Hurnians always went around nude.

They had three sexes, male (he), female (she), and zimmerin (ze), and needed all three to reproduce. I was especially proud of a torrid, sweaty sex scene I’d written, involving three happy Hurnians using their hyper-sensitive sense of touch.

After their three-way boinking, Hurnians slept hanging wheels-up from the ceiling, like bats. If they hadn't boinked, though, they slept on the wall, to announce their availability to potential sexmates.

Yeah, Hurnians boinked a lot. It kept me interested.

Oh, and days had ten hours, called glorfs, and weeks had five days, called wurfs.

Iski was my hero, a scientist who was trying to warn everyone that Hurn was moving out of its ordinary orbit, which would be catastrophic, causing planetary quakes, famine, pestilence, severe acne, and destroying life as they knew it.

All this was supposed to be a novel, but after writing several chapters, I decided that these characters were so flamboyantly un-human that no human would want to read about them. I hated their strange and confusing physiology, and kinda wanted their world to be destroyed, so I destroyed it myself — into the fireplace it went, but I still remember the novel’s opening line: 

As Iski rolled into the room, ze could tell by the smell that Trister didn’t believe what ze had said the wurf before.

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Payne — This was my masterpiece, a science fiction novel about Paul Payne, an ordinary young man who has a headache.

Aspirin helps, but only at first, because the headache keeps coming back, stronger. By the fifth chapter he’s at a doctor’s office, and by the tenth he’s gone through several prescriptions for painkillers. The headache is a stubborn opponent, though, and returns again and again, worse and worse.

The pain makes Paul bad company on dates, so his girlfriend dumps him. He keeps calling in sick, so he loses his job. His family is panicked, because he can barely talk to them, or anyone — the pain is too much for him.

Then the headache outgrows his brain, and begins malforming his skull. He’s admitted to a hospital, still screaming, of course. My favorite chapter was set at the admissions desk, with the hospital’s receptionist calmly asking all the ordinary questions — What allergies do you have? What's your blood type? Do you have insurance? But Paul can’t answer, he can only scream.

In the hospital, his headache still can’t be cured, and his head keeps morphing, eventually absorbing the pillow from his bed. By chapter 20 his head has also absorbed a doctor’s stethoscope and a nurse’s wig. They can’t be removed, see, because they’ve been assimilated into his body, covered by his own skin, with nerves and blood pulsing through.

Then he's transferred to a special isolation chamber at a secret sci-fi hospital in Washington DC, still with the pillow, stethoscope, and wig hanging off his head.

Is this great literature, or what?

By chapter 30, Paul is comatose, or rather, the doctors think he’s comatose, but actually he’s still conscious and in intense neverending torment. He’s unable to communicate any of that to the doctors, though, so they take him off all the pain medications, making his now-silent misery even more miserable.

An intrepid reporter finds out about Paul’s case, sneaks into the secret hospital, and breaks the news nationwide, making Paul Payne a major celebrity, though of course he doesn’t know it. The next few chapters are all in Paul’s mind, as he tries to describe what he's going through, but he can only describe it to himself, because he’s completely cut off from the world beyond his brain and his pain.

Shall I tell you the grand conclusion? Beware, spoilers ahead! 

The pain becomes so intense, so all-consuming that Payne suffers a fatal heart attack and dies. His family gives the doctors permission to talk about what had happened, so it's all over the newscasts, and the world mourns the death by headache of a man they’d never heard of while he was alive, while scientists worry that whatever disease he had might be contagious. 

Now, here’s the twist, worthy of M Night Shyamalan: Paul’s not dead.

Sure, his heart has stopped beating, and the brain scans are all flat, but his headache-infested brain has a mind of its own, driven only by pain, and that pain has become immortal. Even as our protagonist-agonist was sliced apart for the autopsy, even as his body was embalmed, even as he was lowered in his coffin into the ground, he was conscious, awake, and in worse pain than you can imagine. And his diseased brain, tasked only with reporting pain pain pain, now needs no nourishment, so the pain of Paul Payne continues, forever and ever, amen.

I had a great time writing that novel, and it’s still the only book I’ve written all the way to the end. It taught me that I am capable of writing a novel, but not a good one. Also, perhaps the subtlety of naming the character 'Payne' wasn't as subtle as I'd thought.

It was an unpleasant, unreadable rough draft, humorless and tedious, and even with a good thesaurus there are only so many words to describe pain. It was shit, and it needed at least months of rewriting and editing before it could maybe, possibly rise to being lousy.

Doing that rewrite work, though, or even looking at the manuscript from across the room, was anguish and misery I didn’t want to put myself or Paul through again. Five years of my work went into the incinerator instead, a happy ending which made the world a better place.

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After that, I thought it might be better to stay away from science fiction, and instead write about life among humans, here on this planet. That's the only thing I know even a little bit about, but I had no stories in me. Nothing to write, nothing to say.

Still had a typewriter, though, and still wanted to use it. Instead of trying to write yet another pathetic novel, I decided to write a zine about my pathetic life.



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  1. Man i was going to try to wow you with some random this day in history knowlege bomb, but after the above its all depressing today.

    Except Jon Gotti (1940), Sylvia Plath (1932) and Theodore Roosevelt (1858) was born.

    1. With great sadness I shall struggle through a mostly trivia-deprived day.

    2. Did I ever tell you about my moms costa rican best friend who was married to a man who drove for Al Capone?

    3. Not yet, but I think you're about to.

    4. Haha! So they lived not far from us. His house was surrounded by like these tall shrubs so you couldnt see the house

      "i dont need anyone seeing what im doing ova here"

      He would count money very weird, like you could tell he'd been in the life kinda thing. He had this tattoo on his arm he got when he was 15 he was an old man when i knew him in the 90s. He was originally from Chicago.

      He was married previously and had a kid but they both died said it was an "accident". He never talked about family to anyone never wanted to go back to chicago or anywhere else for that matter

      He had these "rules" for when they went out in public Always be aware of your surroundings, watch out for people who may be following you etc

      He litterally scared the crap out of me all the time. Like you know who he looked like Pauley from the sopranos. Spitting image. Like he just seemed like he would be down for a fight whenever.

    5. You are quoting a guy who knew him?

    6. No, this is all first person, me remembering a man who used toi be Al Capone’s driver and his wife was friends with my mom.

      Like i remember we had a garage sale at his house every year. This car parked at the end of the driveway, they were probably debating whether we had anything they were interested in. He grabbed a machete and rolled up his sleves and wandered down the driveway to have a "talk"

      My moms best friend met him when she arrived in america in Chicago. They got married and moved here almost immediately after.

      After he died. We found a photo album tucked behind the dresser in the bedroom of his life in chicago He drove for Al Capone when he was a teenager.

      Bunch of other wise guys i didnt recognize, but the one picture had a car in it back said (Al's new car) and next to it was a picture of al campone and Gus if that was his name standing next to him.

      Gus died about 15-20 years ago. Donated his body to science. His wife moved back to costa rica. Theres your story for today though.

    7. That qualifies as a hell of a story.

  2. I just noticed J.R. "Bob" Dobbs on the right. I know you're not a podcast guy, but there was a recent, interesting episode of the long-running "Stuff You Should Know" poscast about The Church of the SubGenius:


    I remember farting around with Bob Dobbs stickers and stuff when I was in college 25 years ago.

    1. I do all my podcast listening on the weekend, but it's added to the list, dude. Thanks!

  3. Also, I just saw your list of missing zinesters. Tom Hendricks is alive and maybe still doing Musea. His Facebook page is all his music, if I recall correctly.

    I know you don't have Facebook - I'll point him in this direction

    1. Appreciated! I sent him a note months ago, but probably to a dead email address.

    2. PS. Thanks again. I've heard from Tom, and he's a mystery solved. He has multiple web addresses, and I wasn't looking at the right one.

  4. And one more thing : I am also in contact via Facebook with Heath Row and Michael Jackman. Not sure how much you ever interacted with them, but I can point them here also if you're interested.

    1. They both worked on Zine World, I think, but I haven't been in touch with either gentleman in ages.

      Also, I can never keep Heath Row and Chip Rowe from commingling in my mind.

  5. I like the "Payne" story, but you're right that the name is too much. It would be difficult reading as a novel, but it soudns like a banger of a movie, maybe directed by Wes Craven.

    1. He'd make it better, but I don't think even Wes Craven could make it good.

  6. The kid stuff is cute, and Some of the rest sounds hilariously horrible. I guess even a good writer has bad days.

    A question? You once told me about Riot Grrrl in Space, and I thought/still think it sounds great. Have you written any more of that?

    1. Nope. I've given it more thought, and I do think it's a killer idea, but I'm not sure I'm the guy who could do it justice.

      You want to write it?

    2. There's an off-and-on discussion about semi-retired zinesters in this neighborhood. You probably ran into Jeff Kay back in the day and more recently. He's not in hiding, although he has erected a $48 per annum paywall around much of his content and gone from daily blog updates to monthly. He is a talented writer who discovered that there's not much money in writing, so he switched to a podcast where there is money but little art. Come to think of it, Little Art would be a good name for his producer.

      Anyway, Doug, thanks for staying semi-broke and sticking with the truth as you know it.

      Me, I'm riding in my taxi, taking tips
      And getting stoned.


    3. Motherfucker, I hate losing my memory. Of course the salient verb is "flying" which is the nexus of the subplot. Bertrand Russell was writing sensible philosophy when he was 96. At 71, I can't remember simple verses from days gone by. I think I'd better just read here and avoid writing memories that will already be lost like tears in the rain.


    4. I rarely pay for anything on-line, but I understand the need.

      Jeff Kay is on my list of quality old-time zinesters, but I know where he is and click his page once monthly, so he's not among the mysteries in the sidebar.

      Also, I heard from Tom Hendricks a few days ago, so he's a mystery solved and a name removed from the milk carton.

      Promise, I won't ask to see anyone's ID, but are you someone I used to know?

    5. I consider myself "internet acquaintances" with Jeff Kay. I believe he is working on a second book. His weekly podcast is often VERY funny, but he has a bad habit of repeatig things. Not telling a story twice, months apart, but immediately saying the thing he JUST SAID. It's a minor quibble.

      I imagine he got into trouble because of his "Nancy and Nostrils" stories, so I have heard almost no mention of those particular relatives in ages. If there are archives of his blogs, though, there's a treasure trove of hilarity there.

      I don't do his patreon, but I think it only walls off one podcast a week - he does one free, and one paid.

    6. Nope, I know you only by reputation all these years ago. I read your zine, and Mark Maynard speaks of you with reverence, so when you rejoined what we used to call the Free World, I started reading you again and have enjoyed your stuff. Then I commented and you were nice enough to reply.

      So just think of the only guy who could play James Bond (best movie: From Russia With Love; best book: Casino Royale) saying, "basket . . . johnthe basket." Call me Ishmael if you must, but my birth name is John. I'll answer to Johnny if you're a pretty girl, but that hasn't happened in a couple of decades.

      A brother-in-law called me JohnTheBaptist and his 2-year-old son didn't know what a Baptist was, so johnthebasket became my shibboleth by accident if you get my Hebrew meaning. The toddler is now nearing 40 as I'm racing past 70, but johnthebasket is still my shibboleth, used only for special occasions like your very nice site.

      Oddly, I've never explained the derivation to anybody else, and you didn't ask. Call me John. My parents did.


    7. I didn't ask, but that doesn't mean I wasn't interested. It's a charming origin story, better than mine certainly, and ain't it bizarre how toddlers become 40-somethings...

      Most of the people I think of as friends, like Mark Maynard, are people I've never even met.


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