010210

I had the experience of being handcuffed to a missionary of an ancient Mayan religion – you know, the ones responsible for that one movie – and while waiting to be arraigned on charges of racketeering and ghost endangerment we struck up a conversation on religion. To say that my partner”s view of religion in modern times differed from mine would be an understatement. But when things are understated, just talk louder, I say.

But Fritz – that was the missionary’s name, Fritz – he just could’t understand when I would talk louder. Oh, you might think that being of the Mayan persuasion that he would not understand American AT ALL, but that wasn’t it. He was dumb. No, not stupid, dumb. He head no tongue. I mean the dude talks with his hands, of all things. His god damned hands. I mean, waving your hands in someone”s face yelling at them, somehow that”s LESS offensive than higher decibels? Whatever.

I wanted to tell Fritz the last time I set foot in a church. It wasn’t even what you would expect, because it wasn”t one of those holy roller Tammy Faye-atoriums that are so popular…with the ladies. Now this church was old school, literally. Orthodox Greek. Yeah, I know, whaaaat? In the summer of 2006 I happened to find myself in the Agean Sea on a little island called Sifnos. How I got there is unimportant, let”s just say that I have ties to the Onassis family. Yeah, that’s right. Dutch Onassis, the reality show star, nosy. I was on the island as part of a fact finding mission for Dutch’s company, a little outfit called the Central Intelligence… oh, what was the rest of it? Oh, maybe I have said too much.

You even see that old flick L’avenntura? Yeah, this island was about like that. No big whoop. Nothing to write home about. Not like you could write home, there was only one pen on the island, and it only wrote in those backwards Greek letters. No one can read that back home, guys. There was only one road on the island that really was just a circle that went from one shop that sold blue and white ashtrays to the other shop that sold blue and white ashtrays. What was puzzling was the ashtrays in the second shop cost about ten Euros more than the first shop. I mean, if you”re a tourist and you were looking to take home a blue and white ashtray – and why wouldn”t you, they are lovely, and a great conversation piece for virtually no one, because come on, Americans who have the money to travel don”t smoke. But was this ten Euro difference some kind of Greek joke I”m just not aware of? If so, color me confused and white ashtray.

I mean, at the time, I smoked. Sure I brought American Sprits with me, because I had heard long ago how after the war they put fluoride into cigarettes in Europe, like they did with water in the U.S. This was because no one drinks water in Europe, they only drink wine. Even the old Alkies like me drink wine. What the hells bells? How does that even work? Anyway, that how they made the Europeans all faggy and docile, by putting fluoride in their ciggies. Now you know that”s why they”re all look like that. But can you blame them? Europeans started just about every war in history.

Also, they have this cigarette brand in Greece called “Peter Stuyvesant Cigarettes.” Peter Stuyvesant , that old peg-legged Dutch dope who lost New Amsterdam to the English and then went around Greenwich Village putting up crooked narrow streets and planting pear trees? What did he know about smoking? Uh, nothing. Why not name a cigarette after Gus, the field goal kicking mule? It makes as much sense.

Anyway, I didn”t want to buy an ashtray. No. I use the big ashtray. Earth. I didn’t want damned Ouzo. No, thanks, Drinkalopia, I’m driving. The world. I had to flee, some gal was trying to get me to taste her lamb, but who knows if it was really lamb, you know? I mean, it”s not like I want to eat a damned lamb, I don”t, but I would. If i knew it was a lamb and a rabbi said it was cool with him. But I’ve seen those movies, I know these island have giant spiders the size of the Guggenheim . Don’t try to deny it! That’s not lamb, we both know it. I’m on to you, Greece.

So I was trying to flee the horror, up over some hills that look like hell, pretty much, and I come to the damned coast already. Yes, this island was about as big as a New York City block, it would seem. I galloped down to the shoreline and picked up a biscuit sized rock. Not Sir Mix-A-Lot sized biscuit, but one maybe the size Ethel Kennedy would serve. I hurled the stone as to skip it across the glassy sea; it yelped out on each skip, “Freedom, sweet freedom!” I looked down at my hand. I guess some of my American washed off on the rock. Damn it. I figured I would have to finger some American gal on the island to get it back. Well, the chances of that seemed slim-to-nun. Nun. Oh, a nun.

Oh but out of the corner of my eye – not a great place to hide, despite what you have seen in the Pink Panther films – what was it but a god damned church. It looked different than American churches in that I actually wanted to go inside. Why not, dummy, i say out loud to Zues and everyone. You have eschewed every other bit of this ancient culture, you owe it to your spoiled grandchildren to torture them with this boring story about how grandpa went to some church in some country a hundred years ago.

It took me an hour to climb the jagged rocks over to the damn thing, because I am fat. And it was actually on one of those gravity hills, where it looks like you”re walking down the hill when you”re actually walking up. Ha ha, funny, Greeks! The church was blue and white, and look ad bit like an ashtray. I check the front door and of course it”s open. Once inside I’m sweating like a guy who fingered a whore in church. It was dark and smelled like your grandma”s house. Someone had left candles burning. I mean, I thought it was okay, the building was made out of lava or whatever, right? Isn”t that what they use, that soap? Still, I thought, better safe than sorry. I amble up to the alter, they place where they sacrifice beavers or Medussas or whatever. And then I remember, oh dummy, this is like in the Catholic church, where old ladies light candles for their dead husbands souls because their husbands cheated on them in the 1920s with Zelda Fitzgerald or whatever and lighting the candles gets them in to heaven if God is in a good mood. That old trick. So I didn”t blow out the candles. But I should have.

No, but I thought, now that I was here, I might as well talk to Zues or Saturn or whoever, because that’s their job and I”m and American on vacation, and if they wanted me buying their awful Peter Stuyvesant Cigarettes they’d better get their shit together and give me what I want, tut suite!

So I”m on me knees, right, telling Zues I’m sorry about using his name in vain and whatever. And I’m sorry about the abortion thing, you know? And I”m sorry about all the pills I had been swallowing that year after she left in January. And for rebounding into another crazy situation immediately, yeah that wasn’t such a great idea, now that I think about it. So I’m there, I guess praying is what you call it? And I didn”t feel any better. I felt worse, maybe. Or maybe I just want to remember it as worse, for the story. Maybe in real life, not in garbled fictional island in the steam of consciousness, I didn”t feel anything. Eh. Maybe I liked the building. Eh. Maybe I like the cooler and musty smell. Eh. Maybe I liked the silence, broken by wind, broken by silence. Maybe I liked that they weren’t blaring Black Eyed Peas like every place else on the island. These are all inconsequential maybes.

I get up and light a candle for the lunatic girl I was mixed up with. She was borderline wanting to throw herself of the Williamsburg Bridge again, if that wasn”t too much trouble. She had been texting the whole trip that she was in a bad state of mind, that New York state of mind. She just wanted someone to talk at, to file a complaint. Like what Zues and I had going for us. That”s why all the texts I ever get were at 5am Greek time. Narcissists think that everyone is in their time zone. But for all I could know, maybe Zues himself was asleep while I was lighting candles and saying prayers in that little church in the rocks in the middle of the Aegean and I was just too self-centered to know it.

FILE UNDER: TRAVEL, GREECE, MENTAL ILLNESS.

010110

The trouble with writing is that it’s hard. OH NOW YOU TELL ME. See, if I want to start off writing something about how you can’t just talk shit about people on the internet like you used to, and i start off my paragraph with the word “honestly”, I think, “oh no, you can’t use that word, that’s a Catherine Swarmy word, you can”t give up the illusion that you write a fictional character!” I say this out loud, because I have scared off anyone who will listen to me in “real life”. “Will Mrs. Swarmy sue you if you use her catch phrase? Does she own the twenty-ten copyright on a word that has been inn use since at least the 1940s??” (Try again.)

You never know, a fictional character MAY JUST turn around and sue your ass. Don’t tell me that Fred Goldman is a real human being without hat mustache! (Topical!) You would think your own fictional character would not harass you, but Catherine Swarmy harasses me constantly. Every time I look in the mirror, all I hear is “I don’t think there is a precedence for insult in the way I feel about your looks. Sheesh, honestly, Addams, Gothman, WHATever you call yourself, you redefine junkyard glamor, that”s the best I can say.”

She’s mean, but she doesn’t mean to be. She’s oblivious. She’s the best example of what I have always wanted to be as a child, and a harsh reminder of what I can turn into if I’m not careful.

Elm Street Journal started out as a zine, though I didn’t know anything about that word until years later. I was in the 8th grade and my friend Rex and I would just cut up pictures of Hitler or Reagan or Frankenstein from books we stole format he library and write up dumb captions and mean made-up gossip about classmates and photocopy the result and hand them out at school. Elm Street Journal was obviously play on Wall Street Journal, but with more serial killers. (Patrick Bateman wasn”t invented yet. THAT’S HOW FAR BACK INT HE ANCIENT PAST THIS WAS.)

Rex and I parlayed (a word I have never used) our success (a word I don”t get) the following year into Elm Street Comics, where we would write and draw made up stories about Hitler or Reagan with mean made-up gossip about classmates. I really dug doing this, because we were running out of books to steal from the library, and I thought I was going to be some kind of artist or writer or whatever and what’s a better way to get a jump on having an artist’s ego that starting when you’re really young, so you can act all condescending later on. Oh, yeah, I’ve been writing this shit since I was fourteen, yeah, I guess I’m a natural, but hey, you’re stuff is…good.”

Well, look. I ended up doing these dumb comics for years. I would not fully draw them out, but I had notebooks of scripts, of just inane back-and-forth patter with complicated plots and family trees and charts of where these characters were to end up. IT WAS THE MOST ORGANIZED I HAVE EVER BEEN.

Catherine Swarmy was the mother of one of my main characters. She started off just some stereotypical nosy mother figure you would see in movies, “why aren’t you doing this, you should be doing that, you”ll never find a husband looking like that, oh don’t listen to me, I’m just your mother.” She was not an important character at all. In fact, for many years, she didn’t even have a god damned last name. And I had another character named Catherine I had running around in the stories as well. That”s how insignificant she was.

Well it was 1993, a good six plus years after I started writing these dumb complex stories, that I had that same main character move back home to live with Catherine. For laughs, I guess. At the time I was hanging out a lot with this crazy girl I worked with at the radio station, Teyana. One night at my house she found one of my scripts and started reading out the dialogue in funny voices.

And Teyana then read Catherine in a Locust Valley Lockjaw. “Honestly, Justine, I so not see what the big deal is.” Honestly. Dragged through decades of Scotch and Pall Malls, and cotillions and gallery openings, white gloves and little black dresses, of blurred lines between Kennedys and Rockefellars and not giving too much a damn about the difference. Honestly.

And it was immediate. After I stopped laughing, I had this horrible muse in my life. I knew her. She was me. But where I was a sniveling coward who hid behind whatever he could and tossed gracelessly dulled generalities (if that”s okay with you) , she had what it took to not back down and look you in the eye and say what horrible thing needed to be said. As long as it wasn’t about her.

After moving from a simple comic book character to regular ol’ ESJ in 1995, I have always toyed with having everything Catherine Swarmy ever said or wrote in these pages an elaborate lie. It”s tempting still! She didn’t live any of this garbage, she’s locked up somewhere, she’s poor and crazy and living on the street in San Francisco and she’s telling these awful stories to a man named Winston who passes by her little hobo camp ever day to feed her leftovers. But I can’t. Even though she would gladly sue the pants off of me for stealing “her word”, honestly, I can”t do that to the old gal.

FILE UNDER: BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL WITH A LIMP WRIST