Saturday, December 18, 2010

I'm Sorry Steve's Dead, But Maybe He Shouldn't Have Touched My Snapple

Interoffice Memorandum

To: All employees at Karp, MacKenzie, LLC
From: "Frank Rust" in Payroll
cc: File

I'd like to say a few words about yesterday's unfortunate occurrence. Steve was a great HR manager in many ways, and we will all miss him. It's especially sad that Sheila had to find him the way she did. I'm sure we're all hoping she will make a full recovery and come back to us in about a week, after her therapist says she's rested enough.

I know some of you blame me for what happened, and quite frankly I don't think it's fair. As you know I was not even in the office the day that Steve developed that... serious illness. None of us, myself included, knew there was a problem. And quite frankly the problem was with Steve himself. He didn't respect other people's property. All of you know this. I remember a birthday not too long ago, where a few gourmet cupcakes disappeared before we even had the party at 3:15! Steve was the HR Manager, and he should have been fully aware that the employee manual has an entire section on how to treat someone's food, clothing, and personal items.

Sure, it's not a serious theft. But it's a theft nonetheless. I have a special nutritional supplement that I put into my afternoon Diet Raspberry Snapple. It needs to incubate for 12 hours, so the Snapple is sitting there, full, in the fridge during that time. Granted. But it was CLEARLY MARKED.

Of course label didn't say, "Warning: This drink contains a highly aggressive microscopic predator which will spread a blue-green lichen-like substance throughout your body cavity within 30 minutes and cause you to die an excruciating death." But it did say "Frank's Snapple. Do not touch." I think that should have been clear enough.

No one likes it when people take something that belongs to us. There is a heavy-duty three-hole punch that keeps mysteriously migrating to the third floor, and I know I have heard people on Floor 2 grumbling about it. There have even been threats of violence! Not serious violence of course. Nothing like what happened, which -- I have to stress -- was completely unforeseen. Seeing Steve's skull erupt during the sporing phase of the thing was a shock to every one of us in this office.

I liked the guy. I really did. I had a lot of respect for his skills as a manager. And I just wished he'd asked me if he could have a drink from my Snapple. I would have been glad to go get him one from my desk. But he didn't. It was a terrible, tragic mishap.

Thank you.

Continued here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"The Haunted Vagina" and other gifts from Zombos' Closet

A couple of weeks ago, Zombos' Closet of Horror had a list of gruesome books you could buy for your boss, your mum, your sweetie... anyone with a screwed up sense of fun. Normally I blow right past these. I didn't spend more than a decade in the magazine industry to be impressed by a book list and...

And then I saw The Haunted Vagina on the list. That can't be what I think it is, I was certain. I read the tagline: "It's difficult to love a woman whose vagina is a gateway to the world of the dead." And everything I thought about literature was wrong.

The editorial review on Amazon elaborates:
In Carlton Mellick III's fourteenth bizarro novel, The Haunted Vagina... [w]e are introduced to Steve and his girlfriend Stacy, whose "haunted" vagina is a problem for their sex life. When a skeleton-like creature emerges from Stacy's vagina, the two decide to explore what may be inside of her.

It's only 100 pages long, so you might consider supplementing the gift. With drugs. But also consider the other items on Zombos' list -- an excellent pop-up book of phobias, The Who's Who of British Beheadings, and offerings about pirate sodomy, hair metal bands, murder ballads, and castration. Anyway, it's an excellent list. None of these books will be endorsed by Oprah, and some of them might be illegal where you live.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Best Horror of The Onion

I spend a great deal of time trying to explore the boundary between humor and horror. The Onion is one of my inspirations. Some of its funniest stuff is in the realm of the haunted house, the slasher, and the thing under the stairs. The video above is a wonderful example. And below I have compiled 10 pieces that stick with me.

Neverland Ranch Investigators Discover Corpse Of Real Michael Jackson
This is not really even a humor piece. It's pure horror -- The Thing taken out of its Antarctic base and set down in sunny California. But it's also very, very funny. Look at that multicolored train next to that horrible thing in the bag, and see if it doesn't make you giggle in a dark way.

Ah, Great, I Think I Got A Goddamned Monster In My Closet Again
First homework. Now this.

Serial Killer Remembers Neighbors As Quiet, Unsuspecting
A newspaper cliche becomes a nicely rendered, grim joke.

Monster Undeterred By Night-Light
Even back when you were six, you kind of knew this, didn't you?

Florida Man Beats Out Heart Disease As Nation's No. 1 Killer
"[W]arning signs of the onset of Wayne Ray Thomas, including intense anxiety, shortness of breath, sweating, and a sudden loss of power to the victim's house."

Blood... Blood Everywhere
This is a perfect Cloverfield-style screamfest boiled down to the basics.

Archaeologist Tired Of Unearthing Unspeakable Ancient Evils
You might see where that would get tiring, right? Maybe you're not Indiana Jones. Maybe you just want to get some real academic work done, and the wraiths get in the way.

Bush Begins Preparations for Nation's Final Year
Admit it. You almost thought that would happen, didn't you? And there's still time.

Dept. of Evil: "All of You Must Die"
I love the goat-headed spokesperson here.

We Accomplish Nothing By Living in Fear of Chuck Woolery
"Even as I write, I know that He Who Hosted Scrabble In The Mid-'80s will read this. He has eyes and hands everywhere. And I, for one, do not mind. I want him to know the fight he is in for."

Why Can't Humans and Hideous Pod People Work Together at this Real Estate Company?

Interoffice Memorandum

To: All employees at Karp, MacKenzie, LLC

From: The thing that was once Frank Rust in Payroll

cc: Human Resources

Hi everybody. Now that I've survived that attempt with the hairspray and the lighter and you know I am impervious to fire, I thought we should clear things up. First, to state the obvious and just get it out there: Yes, I am not really Frank. I am a life form that inhabited that strange plant-pod with the Icelandic runes on the vase that Frank found in the supply closet while he was stealing markers for his home office. So... not to be snarky or mean about it, but I guess that's a lesson for everyone about treating office supplies with respect.

Yes, I have taken over Frank's body and integrated myself with his personality. No, Frank's not coming back. Even if you could find the extremely rare poison that could actually harm me (I'll give you a hint: It's an element that hasn't even been added to the Periodic Table yet.) Frank is already, for all intents and purposes, dead. I still get his 401k. But you'll be getting a secret Santa gift from me next Christmas (And that will be a relief to most of you who saw that godawful chia pet he gave. Since I can access his memory, I know for a fact it was a re-gift from his douche bag brother in law. That thing looks hideous to me, and I started out as a pod in a crawlspace!)

I propose a truce. Even though I am an alien, there's no reason I can't work the books at Karp Mac. I have absorbed Frank's mind, as you're aware. I've also absorbed his knowledge of Lotus Notes. You know what I haven't absorbed? His stupid FarmVille habit. His taste for that barbecue popcorn that stinks up the kitchen and spills out into the whole third floor. The way he jokes with the receptionist that always comes just shy of full-on sexual harassment. Let's not even talk about what you found on his web browser. Bottom line: I may be biased, but I think I can do a better job at being Frank than Frank could. Give it a week, and you'll agree.

Obviously you're worried that it won't end with Frank. That's why Todd tried to immolate me. I get that. I'm not mad. You're not going to find any of Todd's remains, but I didn't turn him into an unholy plant-thing -- promise. Let's just say I had a bit of a snack, and the grass median by the parking lot is going to stay green for a few months longer than it normally would. My promise is that I do have plans, but they have nothing to do with taking over a mid-sized real estate development company. (No offense, but I think bigger than that. At some point of course, you'll probably notice what has happened -- your federal government will become more efficient and bland and sort of creepy. But seriously, could that be bad?)

What won't happen is any interruption in office life here. Drinks at the Treehouse will be every Friday at 5:30, just like always. Sheila will still be griping about her kids, and Ron will still be flirting with Kendra, even though both of them denies there's something going on. Why don't you two just get a room! Kidding.

Anyway, my point is that we're still a family, and I want to be an addition to that family. And I promise not to bind myself to anyone's DNA and create an army of blasphemous walking hybrids. Not here, anyway. Now, stop trying to pour bleach down my throat and cut me with letter openers, and let's get back to work.

(FYI: You know how the zoning board in Tempe is giving us crap about the permits? Someone in that office is going to seriously wish they didn't. Call it a gift.)
Continued here.

Rod Serling's Terrible Show And What It Tells Us

Here is the text of "Pickman's Model," one of HP Lovecraft's classic stories. I love it. I think it delivers that frission you expect from Lovecraft, which comes from the realization that there is another, darker world just beyond this one. And sometimes its inhabitants pay us a visit.

Now, below is an adaptation of the story from the second season of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. You can watch it if you want, but it's awful. I think it's entertainingly bad, and certainly worth a viewing. But you've been warned.

The episode is bad for some of the obvious reasons. It's just standard mediocre TV type stuff. But what makes it truly disappointing is Pickman's paintings themselves... as well as the guy in the rubber suit at the end. And that's where Serling does us a favor. The crappiness of the show actually reveals something about horror. It shows us that there are some monsters which can never be shown.

"Pickman's Model" is structured much like Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", where a narrator is speaking to us as if we are a character engaged in a dialogue with him. It's a weird framing device, and both authors use it to make us unsure of what to believe. "Pickman's" narrator is describing his encounter with a group of paintings that were so terrifying they made him scream out loud. As readers we're incredulous. But he seems sincere and level-headed, and as he explores Pickman's studio he sees and hears things which even he admits he's unsure of. Because we're removed from the action, we feel this great tension. What the hell just happened? Poe's narrator might actually be crazy -- he comes right out and says so in the very first sentence -- and his horrifying encounter might be an auditory hallucination, or it might be some kind of supernatural phenomena.

In both cases part of the horror comes from the uncertainty of dealing with other people. We spend our lives telling each other stories, transmitting information. And each story is like a flashlight shining in a dark room. I am showing you something, but you know deep down that there's much you can't see. And of course I could be mad, or lying, or carefully shading the truth for some reason only I know. Seeing Pickman's monster is not the point. It is doubting the tale-teller, and feeling a little of the paranoia that is the background noise in every conversation you've ever had... Because while you're fumbling around in that dark room, I might just turn out the light.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Want to See Naked Pictures of Edgar Allan Poe?

Of course you do. But that's not what I have. Instead I do have the seven-page record of Poe's court martial while he was a cadet at West Point in the 1830's. Below are the pages (which I found in the National Archives -- Thanks, government bureaucrats!) Page 5 details the first charge, which is Gross Neglect of Duty. Page 7 details the second charge, Disobedience of Orders.

The US Military Academy Library Bulletin has a 70-page report on Edgar Allan Poe's army career here. And it does include a saucy, completely unsubstantiated rumor about the charges against our favorite lunatic author:

Among other specifications, he neglected to report for parades and roll calls
thirteen times between 7 and 27 January and failed to attend church and class two times after having been ordered to do so...

There is at West Point an apocryphal story that once when orders for a parade uniform were announced as "white belts and gloves under arms," Poe appeared in formation clad in those alone.

The portrait of Poe during these years is fascinating. He was talented, but erratic and arrogant. And there is even some solid evidence that Poe was lying to his fellow classmates that he was descended from Benedict Arnold. A great writer and a strange, sad little man with an unfortunate moustache.
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