Category Archives: Horror Stories

The television commercial from hell

Yesterday I was rolled up in a blanket watching a mildly entertaining television program when this marketing atrocity came on the air. It started off like a prescription drug commercial or something. A white, middle-aged professional walks hand in hand with his smiling eight- or nine-year-old daughter through an affluent, suburban neighborhood. She might have a backpack on. Maybe she’s got a bow in her hair. In any case it’s a pleasant father/daughter bonding stroll, perhaps to catch the school bus, UNTIL the adolescent boys in the neighborhood catch sight of this nine-year-old girl and are suddenly whipped into a sexual frenzy. They start shaking and salivating. They’re losing their GD minds over this girl. They can’t resist chasing after her—while she’s with her father, mind you—and telling her how horny they are over the picket fence line.

At this point the burrito that is my body has gone completely frozen. Is this commercial really sexualizing a young girl? But it gets worse. Through some miracle of our digital age, the girl’s body morphs into that of a labrador puppy. On a leash. Because this whole time—joke’s on us—the father has actually been walking his female puppy, not his human daughter. And the young neighborhood rapists who were harassing the father’s human daughter actually wanted to have sex with the father’s puppy, who is apparently in heat and giving off all kinds of lustful signals. Because the rapists were also dogs, all along. And then the advertising geniuses behind this blizzard of bad ideas arrive at their triumphant message: spay your pets.

I don’t know why I should object to this commercial because it hits all the notes that usually wield a positive influence on my decisions: pedophilia, bestiality, slut-shaming, and sexism. Consider the lesson learned. If I ever have a daughter I’m going to make damn sure she doesn’t walk to school wearing some revealing cardigan sweater that might provoke the carnal appetites of neighborhood males following their instincts. My little girl can’t help being sexy as hell, but I can at least put a leash on her and sew her vagina shut. That is how things work in the animal kingdom. Spay your pets, people.

A review of Want Not by Jonathan Miles

My older brother and his wife are both doctors. (I know, I know. Less about them, more about me.) This means that they receive a lot of text messages from me and M containing photos of our body parts. At 2 in the morning M will be craning around in the bathroom mirror, trying to get a good angle on his back. “Would you please send your brother a picture of this mole? I think it might be cancerous.” If one of us sprains an ankle or might need stitches, we immediately get out our iPhones and start shooting. If we didn’t do this, we might jump to conclusions that reflect our art school, not our medical school, degrees. For instance last night before bed I was concerned about a little scab on my clavicle. “Do you think I was bitten by a bat?” “Don’t be silly,” said M. “That is the mark of a king cobra.” This morning the wound looks even smaller so I guess my superior immune system fought the venom and I won’t have to text my brother.

Regrettably, filial telemedicine has its limits. Two months ago when I came down with acute pyelonephritis, I couldn’t exactly call it in. I had to go to a Brooklyn emergency room and receive intravenous fluids, painkillers, antibiotics, anti-nausea meds, a CT scan, a roommate who wouldn’t stop farting, etc. Then I had to lie there shaking uncontrollably for five hours, getting my blood pressure checked every 30 minutes, bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t just take care of this over the phone. But because I was an ER virgin, everything felt new and exciting, and though I was sick to the point where I felt sure I was going to die and be buried in Potter’s Field on Hart Island because my family physician lives so far away, I kept counting my blessings because depression is worse. (The physical and mental illness combo is the cruelest, however. With this double whammy the patient feels deathly ill while also convincing herself that all her caretakers would secretly prefer she be dead, and might in fact be trying to kill her, and that would probably be for the best.)

I originally started this post because I wanted to write about introducing scorpions before surgery, but then I went somewhere else with it, so I’m sorry. I think I really just needed to open up about my traumatic experience in the hospital.

One day I would like to reciprocate my brother and sister-in-law’s cell phone ministrations, but I’m not sure what form that would take. If they ever go on safari in Africa they could text me pictures of animals and I could help identify them. “That is a giraffe,” I could say. Or, “That is probably an elephant.” If they are ever reading The New England Journal of Medicine and don’t know what part of speech a word is, I could probably say with some certainty, “That is a noun” or “No, that seems more like a verb.” My assistance might be less dramatic than responding to a selfie with, “Yup, that’s cancer. You have two months to live.” But it’s something. I work with what I have. And right now I have a headache that mimics a hangover but is caused not by a bottle of Albarino, but by the bite of a stealthy nocturnal tarantula.

You should read Want Not by Jonathan Miles. It was good and I liked it.*

*I’ll stop doing this soon because it’s so misleading, but man do I love driving a joke into the ground.

Drunk and in Danger in Luna Park

Because I’ve been working nonstop on my miserable books, I think I’ve forgotten how to write (as opposed to revising/copying/pasting/crying/hating/etc.). It’s been a long time since I stepped away from the same two stories I’ve been trying to tell for two years and faced a blank page. Writers are supposed to write things, or at least I think a superior said that to me once in an expensive MFA program somewhere. But here are the current mental obstacles impeding my elite practice of the literary arts:

1)    Fuck writing

2)    Fuck that I’m even sitting here writing about writing. Let’s go to Coney Island instead.

Every few weeks Coney Island summons me with its don’t-go-in-the-water-if-you-have-so-much-as-a-paper-cut-or-you-will-die-from-sepsis siren call. The last time I went swimming at a beach of better repute a maxi pad brushed past my leg like a menstrual jellyfish, so the film of grease on Coney’s fair waters doesn’t tend to bother me. Something about this Brooklyn resort town resonates with me deep inside, tickling me and delighting me and stirring up all the Chlamydia I caught the last time I swam there.

I really don’t get why I like the place so much because I’m always too broke to ride the rides and I don’t eat hotdogs due to the nitrates and the freak show performers always strike me as bored out of their skulls even when those skulls are firmly fastened to their persons by the swords stuck down their throats. Coney is the kind of place where most of the girthy sunbathers are simultaneously chain smoking and drinking Pepsi. It’s the kind of beach you bring your portable television to. If you want soleil, go to the French Riviera. If you want to step in sandy dog poop, take the F train to the end of the line. For whatever reason my idea of a fanciful getaway is much more aligned with the latter.

My last visit to Coney was particularly fun. I was a touch drunk, which makes everything free because money is just pretend, so I was tossing dollar bills at the French fry vendor and quarters at the skeeball machine like I was freaking Beyonce. And then M suggested that we ride the Cyclone, the ancient wooden skeleton held together by pipe cleaners that dominates Luna Park. On all my trips to the Island, I’ve never approached this terrifying roller coaster, not necessarily because I’ve feared for my life but because it costs $8, cash that is better spent on cheap sunglasses or two ounces of beer from the boardwalk. But fortunately money was no longer an object that day. We had already lost $30 to a carnie who inveigled us with the empty box that a Macbook Pro once occupied. We had already paid $10 to watch a man squeeze his entire body through a tennis racket. What was eight more dollars to me, a rich and famous pop diva? So we bought our tickets and got in line.

[Note that I’m now switching to the present tense after all that preamble.]

And we wait and we wait. And we get sunburned while we wait. And then we’re not Next but Next After the People Who Are Next, and we are so goddamn excited. Counting down the seconds until it will be our turn. Adrenaline coursing through our veins with the pricey light beer. Making sure we have nothing valuable in our pockets that could fly out.

The four or five sleepy high school boys who operate this roller coaster of death so they can use their seasonal paychecks to buy Crackerjacks or whatever have been hustling trains through the loading area with the utmost boredom and efficiency. It makes me a little nervous that they ask all the women in any mixed gender pairings to take the far seats of the cars. This means that the Cyclone lawyers want more weight distributed on the outside of the train so it won’t topple off the tracks when going around bends. But all right, that’s fine. No one ever requests that of me at Busch Gardens, but I get it. Still feeling pretty good about my survival prospects.

The People Who Are Next wait in their coveted positions as a train pulls up with passengers in various states of heart attack. These passengers stumble from their cars, and the People Who Are Next take their sweaty places. But one car in the back is clearly off-limits for whatever reason. Maybe its safety bar is broken. Maybe it has throwup in it. Maybe if any weight, male or female, is inflicted upon it then the whole coaster will go down in flames. Whatever, it doesn’t bother me. I am Next.

But this teenage girl a few people down from me is also Next. And after the high school boys gruffly lower and lock all the safety bars and the train starts to shoot quickly down the tracks, this teenage girl who is Next leaps into the empty, off-limits car in the back. She does not understand why any solitary car would remain empty on its journey through the pits of hell. She does not understand why she can’t just ride the Cyclone now instead of with her natural community, the new and improved People Who Are Next. She does not understand why she can’t just sit quietly atop the safety bar permanently locked down at the tail end of the train and enjoy a little spin at 60mph, 85 feet above the pavement, around harrowing loops that look and feel like 90-degree angles. She does not understand that a safety bar is supposed to be in your lap, not under your butt.

The train is now speeding toward the loading area exit where it will immediately drop 20 feet and then throw its entire being into trying to buck people off. And this teenage girl is just riding in the nethermost car as if she’s in Cinderella’s carriage or the Popemobile or something and not about to lose her life.

We all start screaming. The high school boys are now wide awake and wishing they’d gotten summer jobs at Arby’s instead. One guy who looks as if he might be a veteran Cyclone operator because he’s over the age of sixteen shouts things like “Fuck!” and “Retarded!” and sprints to a tall metal pole on the far end of the tracks which I gather is the universal roller coaster brake. He seizes this pole and yanks on it with all his hotdog-fueled might. With a lot of screeching, the train gradually slows to a stop. Then the teenage girl nonchalantly climbs out of her car and rejoins the new and improved People Who Are Next, who are still too shocked and dazed to tell her that she’s been banished from their number for life.

M and I think the crisis is over. We search the teenage girl’s face for some indication that she’s recently had a lobotomy. And then, while everyone is still distracted by this near-calamity, another full train comes barreling into the Cyclone loading area. And naturally it rams into the back of the braked train, giving passengers whiplash on both ends of the collision.

Fortunately the car that would have suffered the most from being rear-ended is now empty of its teenage stowaway, but overall the atmosphere is chaos and confusion and the high school boys seem utterly astounded that no one has been maimed or killed on this fine June day. But the boys don’t have time to gather their wits about them because the Cyclone is committed to its infernal schedule and before anyone in the first train has a chance to escape or call a chiropractor about the pain in his or her neck, the cars start moving again and the accident victims quickly disappear in a violent jerk around the corner. Back in the loading area, looking like people who’ve just survived a Great White feeding frenzy, the passengers in the rear-ending train bound from their cars, women first. I look at M in horror. We are Next.

Everyone is depressed, but not everyone has squirrel rabies

A couple days ago M and I were walking through Riverside Park at sunset trying to work up an appetite for dinner because not an hour beforehand we’d eaten Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for lunch, as grownups do. Pretty soon we discovered a city squirrel on our heels. Feeling proud of ourselves for attracting [I have rabies] such an exotic creature, we began coaxing it closer to us with terms of endearment and fake food. The squirrel [Rabies is what I have] inched close enough to M’s outstretched, empty hand [Rabies what] to realize he was being faked out, then he scampered away. “Damn,” said M. “Do you [Rabid rabid raps a lot] have any food in your purse?”

“Yeah right,” I said, insulted that M would assume I’m some kind of snack hoarder [It’s time to bite everything]. I reached into my bag to indicate that it was empty save for my wallet and great literature, and like some kind of witch I pulled out a packet of Chick Fil A granola [Heads off chickens] I’d been hoarding for a week. Never has a more ideal squirrel food [Blood] materialized [Blood] out of nowhere [Blood]. And so began our quest to feed a squirrel [I’ll come in the dead of night like a vampire bat] from our hands.

You know how Emerson said if the stars only appeared one night every thousand years or whatever [I’ll suck the blood from the stars], everyone would freak out because they’re so beautiful? Well city squirrels are actually really cute. Their adorable little faces [Eat the eyeballs first]. Their soft fur for petting [Clot with pink saliva]. Their teenie tiny paws that press down on your hand while the teeth crunch granola [Foam at the mouth]. I love them so much.

After thirty minutes of vigorous effort, I earned the trust of an adolescent squirrel in a tree. He followed the trail of Chick Fil A cereal directly into my palm–who wouldn’t?–and began [I’ll eat you then you can eat me and we can all be the same] chewing ecstatically. It was perhaps the best moment of my life. And then a dog [Sink my teeth into your skin] walked by. The squirrel dropped the granola in its mouth and clamped down on my finger instead. The Disney cartoon I’d been inhabiting [I’m not naturally aggressive I just want to eat everybody] suddenly turned into a remake of Cujo and I was shaking a filthy, rabid rodent off my hand before it could inflict me with its poison.

M and I both felt a little sheepish afterward. M lit a cigarette. We texted my mom. Had I gotten the tetanus shot she’d told me to get when my nephew was born? No. Karma. We left the park in a hurry. Googled “squirrel rabies.” So far I think I’m okay [Cow blood tastes the best], but I’m monitoring my emotional responses more ardently than usual. Now if I feel especially misanthropic or ferocious, I have to wonder.

The most telling part about this story [Last night I killed four subway rats with my bare hands] is that the night after the squirrel attacked my finger, I dreamed about an animal biting the same digit. Except in the dream incident, my subconscious saw fit to transform the squirrel into a bald eagle.

Let’s talk more science, okay

Because I went to art school, I understand how science works. When I’m zipping around Brooklyn trying to find a communal apartment so I can regress to my twenties and I walk into a duplex where a potential roommate is cooking up some body wax on the stove top because he’s about to strip off all his chest hair in order to make more money go-go dancing, I immediately recognize the chemical processes involved. And I make hypotheses.

But also there are real scientists out there doing awesome experiments like “What Would Happen if We Created a Mouse Utopia?” and “Maybe Lead Poisoning Is Responsible for Juvenile Delinquency Let’s Check That Out,” so I discard all my own research (“Do I Have Heartburn? Is This What Heartburn Feels Like?”) and just concentrate on supplementing their findings.

1) The mouse utopia/dystopia. Move a colony of mice into a “heaven” of your own manufacture and watch them breed until they refuse to breed further because they’re so depressed by overpopulation. Watch them have total meltdowns because they can’t find meaningful social roles. Watch them join OkCupid. Watch them fill scores of composition books with their jaded musings. Watch them wither and die. Watch me preside over their ornate burial services because mice are so funny and cute.

2) The lead poisoning hypothesis. Take inner-city living conditions that are already miserable and unforgiving and add neurological toxins. Watch how your children turn out. Watch how they’re hobbled by poverty, prejudice, and coordinates before they even have a chance to sample Earth’s full range of venom. Watch how they turn to a life of crime because the lead has deteriorated the myelin in their brains. Watch me chug this Big Gulp full of vintage gasoline because both of these theories are so discouraging.

On the surface the two studies have little in common–one is about mice and one is about crime–but popular science drives readers to make grandiose conclusions about the demise of humanity so we can feel smarter when we’re mingling by the cheese table at parties. Both studies want to prove (confirmation bias) that there are good reasons we’re falling apart. There are too many mice in the cage! There are too many toxic fumes in the baby’s crib! I am secretly a dolphin! Root vegetables cause blindness! Hirsute go-go dancers make twice as many tips! [It is frustrating when I can’t be serious for five goddamn minutes. My fellow scientists are trying to get me moved to another laboratory.]

And the lead poisoning article is somewhat problematic, as you might imagine. It’s just too elegant and its conclusions too costly to taxpayers. But who would dare question the study on rodent/human malaise, wherein:

Lone females retreated to isolated nesting boxes on penthouse levels. Other males, a group Calhoun termed “the beautiful ones,” never sought sex and never fought—they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection.

And who, for that matter, would dare stop me from building my own rat castle, where the walls are painted in Pb(CH2CH3)4 compounds and I’ve isolated for variables such as some rats having a bigger “babe quotient” than other rats? And what about if I put a pea under every rat mattress and then the experiment was also a fairy tale? And what if we are all going to die alone and dystopic anyway so ultimately this study proves nothing? And what about that time I got kind of drunk and tried to do science? What about that? I can’t wait to replicate these results tomorrow night and the next. Sleep well, rat kingdom. Don’t eat my face.

Mrs. DeLillo Spends 12 Hours Inside a Super Walmart

(Start of a pastiche of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Don DeLillo’s White Noise)

It was a few minutes before 7am, and Mrs. DeLillo was fingering the Floral Satin V-Kini underpants that comprised a three-pack in the Intimate Apparel department of her local Super Walmart. The cardboard packaging denoted the underpants as panties, a word that Mr. and Mrs. DeLillo had always avoided on principle in their erotic situations. Mrs. DeLillo had to decide between this floral array and a four-pack of Fruit of the Loom Women’s Stretch Cotton Hipster Panties styled in “Rmnce Boqt,” also predominantly floral, also rolledback, pricewise. She placed the cotton underpants in her metal shopping trolley. Value bundle, she thought. Even though the four garments resembled boyfriend panties more than hipster panties, Mrs. DeLillo felt certain that Don would appreciate them. Tonight they were inaugurating their newly renovated basement fallout shelter with a cocktail party, and Don would be horny afterward, as he always was after shaking hands with a fallout shelterful of random friends and acquaintances.

Mrs. DeLillo had been shopping at the Super Walmart since before dawn and she had already eaten her way through half a cinema-sized bag of Twizzlers, which she had every intention of paying for. The overhead intercom personality came to life again, as it had at regular intervals since Mrs. DeLillo began her shopping expedition:

Attention Walmart shoppers. The current Value of the Hour is Wonder Bread Bite-Size Sandwich Slices in White and Brown. Everyone needs a pile of miniature sandwiches in their naked and vulnerable hands. Spend your day at Walmart, where we save people money so they can live better lives. Stay tuned for the next Value of the Hour.

Mrs. DeLillo couldn’t remember where she had originally entered the store from outside. There were no windows to orient her in space-time. The exits could be anywhere. In the Sporting Goods department she rested her spine on an oversized exercise ball. In Beauty/Hair Care Mrs. DeLillo selected a dozen new hair elastics and a banana clip, then turned all her attention toward growing a tumor in her left breast.

Mrs. DeLillo’s friend Maria would be meeting her soon. Mrs. DeLillo watched for her near the smiley face sticker greeter, who always seemed to have the saddest life in the world. If Mrs. DeLillo followed that smiley face sticker greeter home and shadowed his domestic life for 24 hours, she was convinced she’d die instantaneously of depression. Spontaneous death from sadness and dread was a thing Don thought about a lot.

Mrs. DeLillo watched one of her hairs fall out of her scalp and float away on invisible molecules of McDonald’s French fry grease, finally settling under a bottom shelf of cereal, the generic kind. How long would her single hair reside there? What would become of this organic matter in the midst of so much synthetic packaging? The grayish strand looked dirty and out of place on the linoleum. Suddenly all of Mrs. DeLillo’s living cells felt estranged from this environment. She was not even alive. She was dead matter suffocating twice-over inside a plastic bag. This sensation happened at home as well, especially in the bedroom when she felt herself asphyxiating on Don’s swollen member.

Maria saw her friend Mrs. DeLillo before she herself was seen. Mrs. DeLillo was leaning over her shopping cart, pinching the boyleg holes of a pair of floral underpants. Tonight Maria would attend the grand opening of the DeLillo fallout shelter. She was bringing Lay’s Ruffled Potato Chips even though Mrs. DeLillo had insisted the party was casual and that she should bring nothing but herself. Maria vaguely hoped that everyone would commit suicide at the party, that it wouldn’t be a dry run for disaster after all…

Frightening egocentric thought to pass the time before bed

In 13 months and change this blog will be a public record of who I was in my late 20s. There is a reason most of my favorite writers don’t maintain blogs. If only my existing blog posts could become wiser with age, like my mind is planning to do in its early 30s, just as soon as it quits goofing around.

Jonas in the belly of a whale, not a teenage girl

I have a lot of things on my plate, including a trip to ALASKA tomorrow. Not that my Xanax will prevent a plane crash. Did someone say Xanax? I know it’s the night before, but maybe I should get a head start on the drugs. We’re talking about the same cross-country travel plans that I tried to coordinate via railroad, but it turns out Amtrak doesn’t go to Juneau. You would think that expressing my fears about flying in a blog post would be therapeutic, but no. I only imagine CNN picking up the story about a young blogger dying in a tragic plane crash shortly after predicting said plane crash online. She must be some kind of clairvoyant, says CNN, with flattering photo. I only have one thing keeping me motivated: whales. They’re waiting for me. And they have way more to be worried about than I do. But look at them, fearless, still whaling it up. God, I just want to feed them and caress them and dock on them. If they can travel to Alaska, so must I. If only their journey involved Detroit airport, Seattle airport, TCBY, Cinnabon, Sbarro’s, Us Magazine, a tiny bottle of vodka, then they might understand. I will be fine. Seriously, don’t worry about me. Unless you’re selling sedatives, in which case meet me at the Richmond airport at noon.

I am experiencing the usual emotions: excitement, terror

Tomorrow we fly to the land that gave us Junot Diaz, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Julia Alvarez. At least they have all written about the Dominican Republic. Everything I know about the world south of the border I have learned from novels. I’m expecting a lot of old, winged men falling from the sky and that sort of thing. I’m also expecting a Lost-type scenario, or more probably, death by plane crash. But before death, pina colada!

I will not be blogging about my trip, but here are some literary links to tide you over until my plane lands softly, angelically on Virginia tarmac next week:

The Times writes about how the Times broke Wallace Stegner’s heart.

Colin Robertson of the London Review of Books weighs in on the publishing crisis. (Thanks to MW for the link.)

Trailer for the movie adaptation of Larry Doyle’s I Love You Beth Cooper starring Hayden Panettiere as Beth Cooper.

Zadie Smith writes about race, being both genuine and multiple, language, and Obama in the New York Review of Books. (Thanks to AP for the link.)

Also, these jerks stole my gig, restaurant servers are conspiratorial about dessert, and the most bizarre experiments of all time.

Failed improv and other notable neuroses

Last night I had a nightmare that I was one of two leading actresses in an improvised play and all my friends came to see it but I couldn’t think of any funny lines and every time I spoke it was with a different unconvincing accent. No one returned to the theater after intermission, but the dream still woke me up in a cold sweat.

I think I experienced this nightmare because I watched Reno 911 earlier in the evening and those actors always knock me out with their improv skills. They don’t make me cringe like I usually do when people try too hard to say zany things off the cuff. For instance John C. Reilly routinely makes me feel uncomfortable when he acts in comedies. Every time I see him in a comedy I want to reach into the TV, pluck him out, cuddle him to my bosom, change the channel to a depressing period piece, and then put him back where he belongs. All with the help of my Wonkavision.

But this Reilly business reminds me of a website I recently discovered: I Am Neurotic. Here folks can dredge up the weirder thoughts and feelings that reside in their subconscious minds and post them on the internet for all to see. It’s a time-honored recipe for building a popular blog and then earning a book deal (HarperStudio, 2009).

If I drive up to this light late at night, when I know I can easily make the right on the red, I feel bad for the light making the effort to turn green, so I wait for the light to turn green before I go.

I do this with crosswalks. I imagine that if I push the crosswalk button and then walk across the street before the white light specifies that it’s okay, a driver will later be held up when the light turns for no one and he will think, “That bitch must have already crossed.” But that isn’t exactly neurotic because road rage is very real.

And then there’s this clown:

I don’t wash my hands every time after going to the bathroom because I don’t want to aggravate my dry skin too much. But I want everyone to think I’ve washed my hands so after I flush I turn on the faucet and let the water run for people to hear. I want it to be believable though, so I mime washing my hands to make sure I let the water run for exactly how long it would take me to really do it.

Hey person, you are gross and everyone knows it. Your ruse is a failure because there are hidden cameras in the bathroom and they also caught you pooping. And your whole office knows that you’re addicted to porn and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fan fiction. Now stop soiling my internet with your dirty stories.

We hate you.