by ZZ Claybourne
Some of you will have seen the beginning bits of this on Facebook. You may skip down to N. The rest of you read each and every word and remember it well. If you find yourself in New York for the first time you will thank me. I am the NY rat whisperer.
The first batch of things my first trip to New York taught me:
a) The pigeons roost on buildings and poles as if they're Batman and Gotham needs them.
b) Furiosa would be reduced to tears if forced to drive its roads. More on this later.
c) There is more concrete in one square block of New York than in all the rest of the developed world.
d) Mofos will not, do not, and are probably barred by city charter from going to sleep.
e) It contains the Hellmouth. I haven't seen it but I feel it.
f) The cabbies have their own tonal car horn language.
g) The cabbies do not fear the Hellmouth.
h) The cabbies probably know a way to save you ten minutes on your trip to the Hellmouth.
i) There might be sperm whales living in the sewers. The city's big enough for it.
j) The Javits Center is huge. You may think it's a moon. It's no moon.
k) Milo Jetstream pulling the Hole out of a decrepit building was not fiction; you can feel their little eyes on you at all times.
l) My booth on the con floor was a stone's throw from Alex Ross's booth. Joyce Carol Oates has never been a stone's throw from Alex Ross's booth. In your face, Joyce Carol Oates.
m) "Friends" was a complete lie; there are lots of Black people in New York. Fuck you, Rachel and Chandler.
n) The rudeness of New Yorkers amazes me. A little kid, couldn't have been more than 3, looked momentarily lost on the convention floor. The way a group of NYers immediately formed a wide protective circle around him was shocking! What's worse, for the 3 seconds it took dad to locate the kid one of the protective-ring people actually CALMED AND CONSOLED the kid. The nerve of some people!
o) Cosplayers are so self-centered. I was so enthusiastic about one's outfit that she gleefully came back THE NEXT DAY specifically to share a new and different creation with me in the hopes of making my day. Which she did (as you'll see below). THE NERVE!
p) Comic geeks are so oblivious to the important stuff of the world. Overheard admonishment: "Do you wanna talk politics or do you wannt enjoy some sweet shit?" There was sweet shit everywhere. The friend proceeded to enjoy the hell out of sweet shit. SHOCKING!
q) Spotted out of the car window as we made our way away from the con on the last day: Junot Diaz. Too far away for me to roll the window down and yell his name, plus, y'know, home training. Was that the biggest geek moment the past 3 days? Yes. Yes it was. Lit Geeks for Life.
r) Whilst on the subject of things on the street: I understand the need for tourism. I understand that Game of Thrones is hot. I can see how a city might want to synergize off that. So I get that NY is going for GoT-level Walls with its trash bag mounds everywhere. But there's no need to train the rats to push their wee backs (and when I say "wee" I mean terrier-sized) against The Walls and squeak "Hodor!" as people walk past during a nice walk in the evening air after a long con day. And said terrier rats certainly don't need to dart out at the last second hitting first my shoe with considerable mass, then the foot of a companion author who happened to be wearing sandals. If the city really wants to enhance the tourist experience I'd much prefer they simply let the rats ride dragons for added flair. Just saying.
People loved the buttons. One little girl beamed so brightly getting the Afro Puffs one that the huge, perfect puff atop her head nearly ignited. And I imagine there are now more people feeling the call to save the universe one last damn time. I base this on the smiles they wore pinning that button on.
You can't be immersed in 4 days of close-quarter viral and bacterial evolution without the latest strain of Con Crud lodging in your lungs to pop up like Pennywise under a grate. I am practicaly bathing in tea, popping vitamins like an addict, got my 528 hz mega healing vibrational music going, duct-taping my robe closures lest anyone think that sucker's coming off me today, and hoping that if the Greys visit me tonight they have a hypospray or 2 full of a Bones McCoy special.
And now we come to less happy fun times.
I missed seeing Rosario Dawson.
She was in the building. I was in the building. I did not see her, she did not see me, but we both breathed. I breathed in biomatter from Rosario Dawson. I can't medically confirm that but do we really need to sully this with science? I have so little else. (Actually, know what? She might have seen me and I didn't see her. Yeah. Totally claiming that too.)
Enough heartbreak. This was a good con and an excellent experience for me, even though I'm exhausted, cultivating virulent bacteria, and in danger of nodding off so hard I could become a professional Yes man. Let me show my manners and give thanks.
HUGE thanks to Cerece Rennie Murphy for inviting me to be part of the Narazu crew at this wild event. Ostensibly, I was there to be all sell-y serious author person but, like the one friend pointed out to the other about his choice of conversation options, I was there for all the cool bits.
I am thoroughly bummed that schedules didn't allow for the cosmic joining of me with Cam Rob, Sam Schreiber, and the crew of the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers/Kaleidocast but that's just a muffin in the oven for the future. Write on, right on, my sci fi brethren!
Part of the reason we weren't able to connect was New York's traffic situation. Can we talk about that? Because it bears fully fleshing out. So: ON THE SUBJECT OF DRIVING. New York? Goddamn. If I could afford to buy every NY driver a flaming guitarist Doof Warrior bobble head for their dashboards I would. Respect.
Your traffic situation makes me think of images of New York that movie makers show is. Spider-Man would do nothing but slam into buildings if he actually tried swinging through the structural density of New York. Oh, and the whole thing of him dropping onto the roof a car to hitch a quick ride? HA! Rhino would have decimated Trump Tower by the time that car inched along in downtown traffic. Not saying that'd be a bad thing...
Let's stay on this general line for a minute. Pedestrians. I don't care what's coming toward them, how close it is, how big, how small, whether it has wings, or hooves that split the earth--a New York pedestrian with a green light will walk out in front of it without acknowledging it in any way. There's this unflagging assumption of pedestrians/bikers that their lawful right of way is sacrosanct. Trot across the street if the signal's about to change on them? Shee-id. A New York walker does not gauge traffic, they do not hurry across streets, and they damn well don't pause whatever they're doing on their phones for some quaint midwestern "look both ways before you cross" bullshit. Meanwhile, cars cut it so close to them that drivers can appreciate the stitching on everyone's ass pockets.
Ok, enough about traffic. The con itself? About 80 bajillion people. Cosplays of the gods. Cool comic art and figurines. Bruce Campbell glided by my table but he was so quickly ushered along by handlers there was no time to take a pic. Yes, Bruce Campbell glides. Hail to the king. I walked past Jim Steranko doodling, gave the nod to Neal Adams, got to say hi again to Sebastian Jones of Stranger Comics (if you're not familiar with DUSU or Niobe you should be), TOTALLY SPAZZED AT THE AWESOMENESS THAT IS HELALIPOP (see images below) (I'll wait)
...and got to literally swoon over how good the "Mermaid" tasted at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. Vanilla, key lime curd, and whipped cream should not do the orgasmic things they did inside my mouth. But they did. And I am glad. Better still, I got to swoon over it with the stellar writing team of CSE Cooney and Carlos Hernandez (the stellar comes first, as they are fabulous people; the writing's a bonus)!
But like any ball, it ends. I've done the mad dash back to Laguardia for the late night flight; did the tricorder/keyfob thing to locate my car in the lonely, dark hometown airport lot; drove the bleary streets thinking only of bed and more bed, and knew that today, the Monday after the con's Sunday, I would bond with my bathrobe as if we were soulmates.
I hear it calling to me now. Wear me, it says, Wear me, you weary, sexy beast, and I will carry you off to dreams of wondrous people in bright colors.
I like that.
So thank you, New York. Get some sleep. We'll feel better for it in the morning.
has no special power but at least he learned enough from multiple viewings of The Incredibles not to wear a cape to fake it. Thanks gods he's spared that particular embarrassment.
by ZZ Claybourne
When’s the last time you had fun? Not bar fun, or bungee-jumping fun (fool), or fantasizing about co-worker at lunch fun. Fun in and with what you create. I’m not saying you smile like a loon the entire time you create it, or that there’s some huge rush of relief at finishing it, but from start to finish the primary drive motivating you was how effing cool it was that you got to do The Thing? Cool to who? Cool to you!
In my teens I’d disappear into my room for hours with my journals, scribbling what I called “Captain’s Logs.” Nerd for life. It wasn’t all angsty claptrap (maybe a 60/40 split). I enjoyed filling it with observations of how weirdly comical this world was, or how disarmingly beautiful it could be to confuse us into staying here when life as pure energy was decidedly more cost effective. I enjoyed exercising the mental muscles needed to firm up my identity and make me real. By the time I graduated high school I had stacks of notebooks. Mid-college I trashed them (my first real foray into killing my darlings). By then I was more into the joy of figuring things out via short stories.
I’d gotten a word processor junior year of college. Brother machine, portable, lightweight, attractive case. I loved that sucker. Made me feel like a writer, y’know? I had visions of typing short stories in every writerly romanticized domain there is: library, book store, lunch café (note: this was before there were more coffee shops than people), quiet corner of an art museum, salon of a well-to-do yet lonely divorcee…what I’m saying is that me and that Brother traveled. When I got a receptionist position at a law firm it was right there beside me, thermal paper just waiting to burn with the froots of inspiration. I never let the writing interfere with my duties and the bosses never told me to stop, probably because of my youthful enthusiasm, probably because of the novelty of this Black college kid thinking he was gonna be a writer, and probably, I think, because they recognized something you don’t get a lot of in law offices: I was having fun. Secretaries would peek to see if I’d included them as characters; attorneys on their ways in or out would give me the “carry on” nod of approval; one of the partners even asked to read a full draft, which he genuinely liked (I know because for somebody as adept with fake praise as he was, he was schoolboy awkward in dropping kudos at the story of a little girl’s psychic link with her brother drafted into war).
I’d send the stories out, they’d get soundly rejected as they do today, and that little Brother’d keep burning words onto paper every flooping day.
Yes, I wanted my writing to take me away from things like 8 hours of attorneys and clients, a rundown house bordered on one side by the neighborhood dope dealer and the other by a tweeky neighbor constantly on the edge of losing it, and from a sense that I would never quite escape circumstances like those. I wanted my writing to do that, even though it constituted a tall order for this geeky Black kid from Detroit.
I believed I could make a grey sky blue. Nothing to do with emotional states. All about transformation. More about knowing who I was, where I was, and why what I had to do kind of created itself on a daily basis.
The Temptations. “I Can’t Get Next To You.”
"I can live forever if I so desire." Sweet hominy damn.
Fun was thinking I could make it rain whenever I wanted it to. That a song like that came out of the struggle that was/is Detroit—and by extension me--amazed me the first time I heard it. It lights up my brain to this day. People take it as a love song. I hold it as an epic sci fi tale about gods, humans, and—mixed with rhythms, harmonies, and counterpoints even seraphim are envious of—a joyful longing to put eternity inside a moment and whisk it away.
“I can build a castle from a single grain of sand… But I can’t. Get. Next. To you!”
Said to myself, “Something that magnificent came from fun, not just talent, production, and marketing.” The interplay of elements was too electric to be anything other than a team of folks saying, “Here, I am god!” And delighting in it.
So I wrote my stuff hoping to create a castle from a single grain of sand. What a challenge, what a grinning, foolish thing to do.
But I did it.
I still do.
I write to be a grinning, foolish god who knows nothing but enjoys the creative journey way more than he should. I write because it is fun to write, fun to think of What Ifs, Whys, and Why Nots. Yes, I send the books and stories out hoping millions will root them in their brains, but I readily admit the writing game for me is a pretty one-sided, selfish affair. I’m not anguishing for you, not personally suffering for the Art in caps. I’m having fun. Even when writing about stuff that isn’t fun. So maybe we define fun as the engagement of the brainpan toward communicating with both yourself before you were born and that big blob of everybody that always comes after. Fun is communion, and you know it’s said folks go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.
I’m creating stories about whales, adventurers, ghosts and gods. I get to do erotic comedy as Thor MF Jones. I get to wax existential, wax absurd, and ignore most distinctions between the two.
Creating has never been a job for me. Right now I write. I used to draw. I drew for the love of it. If writing becomes wholly about “goal,” whether it’s publication, whether it’s an award or some pre-defined space the words have to fit into, then I find I can’t do it. I can’t write focusing on audience or market. Life’s a big playground and I know you guys are out there because, essentially, you’re already a part of me. I know a lot of writers can and do engage their writing as a chore, and they could be entirely successful at that. I just have to wonder are they having any fun?
Me, I gotta make inner mischief. If I had to pack paper and pen away and head for other pastures because writing became means rather than fun I’d have a helluva garden somewhere in a quiet part of the Earth, and I don’t think the whales, ghosts, or gods would mind. They’d be like, dude’s enjoying himself, dude’s flowing. Earwigs, beetlebugs, and hard-packed soil notwithstanding, dude’s flowing.
He’s sticking seeds in the dirt.
Stuff is growing.
Let him have his fun.
has been next to you, enjoyed your company, and once wrote about you. A story though, not a song. High time you stopped thinking that song was about you.
by ZZ Claybourne
If I should lose what I think of as my mind please know that I may not be able to help you find it, so I offer this advance list to aid any in reminding me who I am.
I like long, hot baths. Music may play depending on whether it’s noisy outside or not. Or if it’s properly cloudy. Or I begin to hum. Put me in water.
I love being hugged. What a warmth and pull created by hugs! Get in there with both arms and your entire soul.
Read to me. Read me something unusual, something wickedly funny, something amazingly inventive. Read me poems and stories and Dr. Seuss.
Show me art. Show me paintings, sculptures, stained glass. Show me metal work full of spirals. Show me puppets and show me suits of armor. Show me pretty rocks and remind me what the word “juxtaposition” means.
If there’s a koi pond at hand, take me outside and let me speak to the fish. Privately.
Depending on the season, I may want to walk a bit, but only in the morning when it’s quiet. If it’s autumn and there are dry leaves, I’ll need a few moments with them.
Kiss me. That may sound strange but I like to be kissed. For propriety, let us keep my forehead and cheeks clean.
I would like to fall asleep on someone’s shoulder from time to time.
I love deep dish pizza. I know it’s trendy to want pizza so micro thin and simple one cuts one’s lip but I want to see my fork disappear into thick red sauce, a layer of cheese that could plug a hole in a bike tire, and meat. Give me my teeth from time to time so that I can enjoy meat.
I used to draw. I hope I still can. Give me paper, pencil, and several juice boxes. I might be a while.
Let me watch The Twilight Zone.
I love sweet potato pie and Rosario Dawson’s smile. I love smiles period. They’re the most illuminating thing about a person. I once fell in love with someone because she smiled at me. I hope you’ve done that too. It’s good to relate.
Please play Prince. I don’t care about hospital policy. Play Prince.
Let me sit in the shower from time to time with my back to the spray as I try to experience each individual droplet.
I do not like coffee. I like tea. I do not like bagels. I like doughnuts. I do not like smooth jazz. I like humps in my rhythm. Bumps. I do not like top 40 radio. Please never let me hear the words “lady lumps.”
There are certain people whose faces bring me joy. I won’t list them. They know. They’ll come.
Oatmeal cookies from On The Rise Bakery in Detroit. I love those. It’s run by the Capuchins, you know. Tell Br. Ray I said hi.
If it’s a cool, windy day I need to be near a window where I can see trees. Thank you.
I’m not big on naps but I love REM sleep. I imagine if it’s the future you can induce that state. Leave me there till I wake up.
I love when my feet are warm.
Conversely, I hate when my feet are cold.
Please keep my feet warm.
Soup, of almost any variety but split pea, is generally welcomed.
Babies laughing. Oh my gods, who doesn’t love the sound of babies laughing? Please let me experience babies laughing.
My favorite color used to be black but now I realize that was just a deeper deeper shade of blue. Find a deep blue robe for me and let me shuffle about.
If I’m allowed in the kitchen, I like washing dishes. I know. It’s weird. But let me do it. Not all the time. I’m not that weird. Just sometimes.
I might like jet skiing. I don’t know. I haven’t tried it.
I love beaches, clean ones where you can dig your toes into the surf line without fear of laceration. I love the sound of the waves and the motion of the water. I think they’re what infinity must be.
The scent and texture of roses remind me of making love. I hope there are bouquets in my room from time to time.
I like watching people genuinely having fun, so please don’t try to make me participate in board game night. I like to watch. Unless it’s retro night and someone has the old Dark Tower board game (a D&D type hybrid electronic/board game from the early 80s that had nothing to do with Roland or men in black). I’ll play that. I loved playing that with my brothers.
If I’m still able to write, let me ramble on and give the papers to you, where you’ll pretend to publish them even though I’ll know you won’t, but high marks to you for being kind.
On my bacon sandwich I need grape jam and a slice of cheese. My grits must have cheese. Never feed me eggs without cheese.
Use chocolate-covered almonds to calm me.
Don’t put a tie on me when you think I need to look special, it’ll only make me mad.
I’m not big on churches and religion. Take me out gardening instead.
Please clip my nose hairs, shave my face (but not too closely), and keep my head bald.
The stars. Let me see them. Let me really see them, away from lights and cities.
Let me watch thunderstorms, the more lightning the better.
My favorite superhero is Spider-Man. If you’d care to dress as him from time to time…
Gymnopédie No. 1 helps me remember how beautiful life is when we’re not hunting each other. Maybe play this every other day? If that’s not handy, Madhouse 8 will do.
I don’t like being alone the first few days of Fall. Fall should be shared with someone, someone who appreciates the value of silence. Let me sit with them.
Finally, it will do wonders for me if you allow me to wander. Just let me think I’m wandering even though your watchful eye will never lose sight of me. I might believe the world is still infinite and surprising; here’s hoping a bit of that part of me remains. Let me remember adventure.
may lose his socks but he'll be damned if he loses his towel as well.
by ZZ Claybourne
I used to have a big fro. Even bigger when ma pressed it out. Looked like a dandelion puff as a kid. Now (if I don’t shave my head) I’ve got a figure 8 mown by Smurfs at the crown and forehead. If I bend over at night and light hits it people panic at large cat’s eyes.
But geezerville doesn’t start with losing it.
Geezerville starts with getting it.
The new growth. Hair loss is no big deal till you realize you’re not losing it, it’s just sucking back through the scalp and coming out somewhere else, apparently going through bleach by-products because it comes out white. Bleach or fear, but as it seems to happen mostly at night when I’m dreaming about Pam Grier’s loofah, I lean toward the internal bleach theory. The gray hairs in my nose I was cool with till they started looking like an albino caterpillar cowering in there. But what immediately got me and pushed me on my grown-up tricycle ride toward Geezerville were the damned hairs coming out my ears. Why in the hell am I growing antlers out my ears?! There is no physiological reason for a virile man to grow hairs not only sticking out of but standing proudly upon the upper edges of his ears. None whatsoever. They serve no purpose beyond letting people know this is an old fuck. Nobody needs to know that I’m an old fuck till I’m an old fuck…which I’m not! My long-term memory might be Windows but my short-term memory is still a Mac. I’m "mature." I clearly remember not having hairs coming out of my ears.
I clearly remember not needing the morning ritual of clipping thick gray nose hairs. There were never wild eyebrow strands that grew four inches and left welts on my face in the wind. I didn’t need to do foot stretches before stepping out of bed for fear of breaking my heel bone.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was virile. Really.
There was a short-lived TV show a few years back called “Men of A Certain Age.” I never actually watched it. There’s enough happening in life that I don’t need extra things depressing me. I recorded it when it came on though, thinking I’d get some sense of community, that the Club of the Aged would welcome me in its understanding arms. Then I said no, I am not old. Which was not denial. Hell, the gray hairs are all over my face. The pudge is stuck tighter than superglue. I might be on the road to Geezerville…but I ain’t the mayor of the city yet. The certain age I’m at doesn’t jibe with what’s happening to my body. I’m wearing bifocals, ma! One day I could see up close; the next day I was squinting. Let me put ??? here ‘cause that ain’t right! Caterpillars up my nose, antlers out my ears, and now I’m Mr. Magoo?! Practically overnight?!! I. Say. Thee. Nay.
Am I that cliché of the guy the hot chicks call “sir”? I have no interest in vapid 20-somethings, but what if Susan Sarandon calls me? Am I supposed to interact with her as a peer rather than the young dude fawning over her hotness? And what about crotchety-ness? I was always crotchety but I was young with my crotch. The Road to Geezerville hardens crotch; makes it annoying rather than endearing. Young crotch, endearing; old crotch, not so much.
As a tangent, sex—while it could mean muscle spasms, buttcheek locks or other errant cramps—never meant worrying about throwing a back out.
…Big… honking… sigh…
I’m on the Road to Geezerville without warning and apparently without brakes. What is it they say about aging gracefully? They never say it with albino caterpillars nestled in their nostrils.
Of that I’m for damn sure.
Snip ‘em, curl ‘em, pluck ‘em, manage ‘em in the eyes of the lord gawd above. What else is there to do?
The lesson, my friends: work with what you’ve got. No off ramps on the road to Geezerville. The best you can hope for is a helluva view to help pass the time in a rather pleasing fashion. Trick your tricycle out with red and blue streamers and flame decals. Me, when I spin out I might tumble Arte Johnson style (wiki “Laugh In” you young fucks) but I’m still--here, today, now—moving along, and I’m still cool.
Maybe my caterpillars will turn into bee-yootiful butterflies.
Zig Zag Claybourne
knows that a grown man writing under the name "Zig Zag" is problematic in a nation of vapes and medicinal dispensaries but his literal silverback status inures him to such concerns, you young fucks.
He is currently working on book 2 of The Brothers Jetstream but, y'know, there's always time to trot out a piddling blog, innit? Not like getting a NOVEL out requires discipline, right? No, let him just keep clipping the nose hairs, I'm sure that's how Joyce Carol Oates managed her 85 books.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY