Futility Enterprises

My ears are plugged with foam rubber to blot out the screams — so many screams coming in through my window, like a nightmare in daylight.

It’s only football, though. I’m not watching the Super Bowl, of course — no TV, and no interest — but the mobs of cheering sports fans reach right through the ether and slap me in the ears, over and over. Hoots and hollers and honking horns burst through the glass, from neighbors in the building and the building across the alley, and from too many bars on this block.

Judging from the volume, I’d guess the 49ers are way ahead.

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s a little after five in the afternoon as I’m typing this, and I’ve spent the day going through the mail, and writing a few letters. Yeah, I do occasionally write letters back to people. It’s a mighty rare moment though, so don’t get your hopes up. Keep those cards and letters coming, I love ‘em all — even the hate mail — but don’t expect a reply.

There’s lots more love and like mail than hate mail, so what follows is not a random sample. The angry letters are just more interesting, that's all.

We’ll start with mystery mail from Don Stevens, CPCU, of Escondido, California. No, I don’t know what CPCU stands for, but Mr Stevens sent an envelope which contained: 

• a two-page photocopied article from the Escondido Council for Self-Esteem (?)
• four pages from a book on the Shroud of Turin
• a newspaper’s review of the book A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, by Karen Armstrong
• and ten 32¢ stamps.

There wasn’t a note in the package, and only the stamps made sense. I did the math, and 10 x 32¢ = $3.20, two dimes more than the asking price for this zine, so presumably he wanted a copy. I was feeling like a stinker, though, or maybe my powers of telepathy were flickering, but instead of sending the zine I used a few of the stamps to pay for my envelope and my annoyance, and sent everything he’d sent back to him — without a note, same as his package for me.

That was a week ago. In today’s mail, Don responded with: 

• a copy of something about true love being based on your date of birth
• a photocopied letter to an astronaut (“Dear astronaut,”)
• a couple of pages from a book called Please Understand Me
• and this time, an actual note from Don Stevens, CPCU:

Hey, Pathetic. Thanks for all the great material, especially the stamps.

—Futility Enterprises

OK, Don. We battled, but you won fair and square. A copy of my zine is in the mail to you.

Killed a couple of hours of my own pathetic life reading your issue 5… Yes, the [British] government does indeed tell us which books and zines we can read and receive. EISOC, Everyone Is Doing Outrageous Sex, being the latest one to be seized and destroyed by Customs and Excise. Get this: They send you a letter saying they’re going to destroy what they’ve confiscated, unless you object. And if you object? They prosecute you! Hey, democracy; I love it too…

—Bruce at Bypass zine

Your zine is funny, and I could even tolerate your sort of hateful attitude, but your attacks on other zines makes me wonder. It’s almost like you think you can build up your own zine by ripping apart other people’s zines...

—Anne Alvarez

Anyone who thinks my zine is awful gets no argument from me. I’m puzzled when anyone pays for it, and amazed when someone pays a second time — as you did, Anne. But my habit of calling shit shit in the zine reviews certainly isn’t zine envy, or any other complicated psychological canard.

I write rotten reviews of zines I think are rotten. Simple as that. And I don't even know what reviews pissed you off — looking over the past few issues, most of my reviews seem favorable to me. Maybe they seem brutal because what most zines call “zine reviews” are just a series of puffy pats on the back for their zine buddies.

My reviews are my honest opinions, and in my opinion, not every zine ever published is worth reading. If you disagree, think I’ve been overly harsh with a particular zine, send for that zine — I dare you.

Thank you for the sample issue you sent so promptly. I enjoyed most of it but I’m offended by your ‘review’ of a movie [December 18] wherein you gloated over the deaths of several Drug Enforcement Agency officers. You said you have “a right to smoke, snort, or inject” anything you want? I’ve heard people say legalize marijuana, but are you really for legalizing everything? That’s lunacy.

Whatever you are for or against can’t be more important than the lives of innocent men and women doing their job, enforcing the law of the land. Like it or not our elected representatives have decided that certain drugs are illegal. I strongly doubt the wisdom of legalizing drugs, especially hard drugs, but if you disagree you should work within the system to have those laws changed, but to “enthusiastically clap” when policemen are shot and killed is un-American and sick…

—Phil O’Conner

Those were fictional cops, Phil. But sure, let’s do this:

I am generally a good citizen — haven’t killed anyone, don’t do much shoplifting, etc — but on my shelf is a small quantity of marijuana. I don’t imbibe very often but it’s nice to know it’s there if I’m bored on the weekend, and I torched up while reading your letter. Why that should bother you, or President Clinton, why anyone on Earth but me should give a damn, I dunno.

So you're right, I support the legalization of all drugs, but no, I’m not working within the system to have the laws changed. The system’s sole purpose is to grind dissent to nothingness, so I prefer keeping my distance from the beast.

DEA narcs have a job to do, yes. Their job is to find me, arrest me, and incarcerate me, so I can rot in prison and be raped daily for the rest of my life. That’s their sworn duty, the career they’ve chosen, and they’re not my heroes. What they do for a living is deny people their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, but I’m un-American for opposing that? Bite me.

From Pathetic Life #8
Sunday, January 29, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Addendum, 2021: The final score of Super Bowl MCMXCV was San Francisco 49, San Diego 26. Yay.

Pathetic Life 

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  1. Maryjane was almost as illegal as heroin in most states when you wrote this, and was as illegal everywhere when John Mayall recorded his classic, "The Laws Must Change". Mayall, even as a young man seemed a little like an Old Testament prophet to me, as he gathered a few disciples around him, although I've not read the Old Testament for several decades and have forgotten whether prophets have disciples or whether they are reserved for sons of God who are really God after a quick change in the phone booth. Please don't stop to diagram that sentence; it's a good sentence but not worth diagraming.

    I remember hearing Mayall and buying a record or two. My goodness, as early as the 60s he was turning out guys like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, Jon Mark, Johnny Almond, and so many others. The University of Mayall fueled BritRock for decades.

    So, relevant to your post, here is Mr. Mayall with Johnny Almond, Jon Mark and Stephen Thompson with a live performance of "The Laws Must Change." Mayall's harmonica playing is hot but the link isn't.



    1. Well, ya done it again — sent me on an hour-long voyage across the internet, to become better acquainted with Mr Mayall, who is happily still alive and singing.

      Here's your link again, all heated up.

      Do you at all remember The Music Scene, the TV show your clip came from? Hosted by David Steinberg of all people! It was 45 minutes weekly of pop and country music, and sadly I only watched during the commercials, because Laugh-In was on another channel at the same time...

    2. [John has tried to post this comment, but it won't post. I have also tried to post this comment, as johnthebasket and as TEST, but it won't post. Now I'm going to try posting it as me, fingers crossed. If it works, what follows is actually by johnthebasket.]


      As you will know, Washington became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, beating Colorado by four days. That December evening, I visited my old friend and smoking buddy Dave (Dave's not here, man) and we lit a joint. I took something like three hits, because the stuff around now is qualitatively different than the sweepings we smoked in the sixties, but I noticed that it had been years since I lit up. I've gotten stoned a few times since, but not many.

      When I was a young man, if you'd told me marijuana was going to become legal in my lifetime I wouldn't have believed you and I would have predicted that I'd be smoking nightly. But I grew old and a little infirm. In 2012 I was only 62, certainly not old, but I was mostly disinterested in being high and more focused on forming coherent sentences, which might be harder to do when I was high.

      I've heard very little talk about the difference between '60s/'70s weed and the potent stuff that you can buy for a few bucks today at the shop down the street, but the difference is substantial. I wouldn't even consider driving on current weed, but obviously many people do. I suppose that as slowly as the world changes, our heads change more slowly.

      I'm certainly not the guy I was in 1968, but the world done got a new outfit, and, like Lillian Hellman, I will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions. I'm at best an average thinker, but at 71 I need all of my synapses firing to write even this drivel. Other people are free and welcome to cloud their brains. I'm afraid I need mine working optimally to simulate a whole person.

      Oddly though, when you wrote something that rang my '60s bell, I could hear the sweet, high tones of John Mayall in my cluttered cranium: "The laws must change someday, but it's going to take some time." And I could hear the boys in the band, in perfect pitch and time enhancing and punctuating his delivery across the smokey treble clef of time. —John

    3. I do not remember The Music Scene and I love David Steinberg. He got the Smothers Brothers kicked off the air and I love him anyway, or maybe because. He was easily the funniest guy on TV. "Go on through; go on through."


    4. I have almost no awareness David Steinberg. He was a comedian, I think, and I'm too tuckered to goggle it tonight, sorry.

      From childhood, I was always a fan of the Smothers Brothers, but my recollection is that they were fired by CBS for being too political. Was Steinberg involved?

    5. Yes sir. He posed as a priest, or a fancy minister and gave a series of sermons that managed to piss off people of nearly all religions. They were hilarious. A number of affiliates bleeped his sermons, then bleeped the entire show, and the Smothers Brothers were soon cancelled. I don't know whether any of David's sermons survived to be on YouTube and I'm busy for a few hours so I'll check later. CBS, rather than defend their talent, sent a big Fuck You to the first amendment and put a big dent in the Smothers Brothers' career. I will always love the Smothers Brothers and Steinberg for having the balls to risk a shitload of income and their careers for telling the truth about organized religion. Should God exist, she surely has a sense of humor, otherwise why Trump. CBS doesn't.


    6. By the way, my parents loved the Smothers Brothers. It was about the only TV show we watched together as a family. I think their records were the only ones my parents bought for themselves in the '60s and '70s. I miss them every day (both my parents and the Smothers Brothers).


    7. I've been listening to some old Steinberg this morning. No sermons per se, but a nice bit on Moses. Dude was funny. Carl Gottlieb explains a bit about Steinberg and the Smothers.

    8. The Smothers Brothers were still funny, as of ten years ago.

    9. Yeah, but Dick has gone through bankruptcy and lost much of what he had when they were rolling. Now they're playing and singing for money rather than seeking targets they can piss off. There are worse reasons to play and sing, but few come to mind.


  2. >We’ll start with mystery mail from Don Stevens, CPCU, of Escondido, California.

    I am 100% certain I remember this lunatic from the zine days. He had distinctive handwriting. There's a certain style of handwriting that lunatics have. It's hard to describe, but I know it when I see it. He had it.

    1. It's surprising what we do and don't remember about that time, and I'm glad you're still here to patch and replaster the memory holes.

      Maybe Mr Stevens will pop up in later pages of Pathetic Life, but the story I told is all I remember about him. Don't think I ever heard from him again.

      I thought he was an "artsy idiot," someone who had to make a creative statement in everything he did, but yeah, maybe he was a lunatic. Only a loon would sign ordinary correspondence with CPCU, which I now think stands for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter. Apparently, he was an insurance salesman.

    2. For some reason, I remember him as an old kook. Ten years older than you are now. I might have had a little more correspondence with him than you did, which would be unusual. Not sure why I remember him.

    3. He left a memory, though, all these years later. An accomplishment.


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