Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2010
From: Steven Lepic
Subject: RE: Cosby Codex 4
“At one point in the series, it was stated that Cliff served in the Navy at some point but it is suggested that he did not participate in combat. What happened during Cliff’s Navy service?”
Great question, Professor Fleming. I think the text supports the conclusion that what fills the negative space of his military service is what’s critical, i.e. the lack of combat.
One particular episode included Russell and some buddies (or was it some elderly in-laws?) exchanging war stories.
Cliff interjected his own military anecdote about fire drills aboard his ship and how dangerous they could be. I don’t fully remember how much of an implication there was regarding Cliff’s direct participation in a naval firefighting service, but that’s beside the point.
Point is, as soon as Cliff mentioned “drill” he could no longer get a word in edgewise. Russell’s face twisted itself into a sneer of contempt and malevolence, which I’ve never seen on network television.
“A drill, son?”
“Yes, a drill. But it was still very dangerous.”
“Now, was there any actual fire?”
“It was still very…”
I’m paraphrasing, but it was something to that effect.
I don’t think I have to expound on the psychological emasculation that would cause; in front of “the guys” no less!
Now, the modern standard of care involving the treatment of addictions and compulsions, respectively, goes back to Carl Jung who, by proxy, is the great grandfather of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step program.
Jung unsuccessfully dealt with a particular man who could not kick his alcohol addiction. Coming to the conclusion that treating this man was beyond his skill as a therapist, he suggested a religious conversion.
The man took that suggestion at face value and he successfully quit alcohol.
The man’s friend, also a drunkard, inquired about his sobriety. The original man answered: “I made a religious conversion.”
This friend-of-a-friend transmission happened several more times until May 1935, Bill Wilson met a surgeon in Akron, Ohio, Dr. Bob Smith, who was also an alcoholic, and passed this same message on to him. The two of them began organizing a movement, later called Alcoholics Anonymous, which eventually established groups in countries all around the globe, and brought sobriety and serenity to alcoholics of every race and nationality. 1
The morale of his historical vignette is that the modern standard of care recognizes that the program’s success hinges, not on religion per se, but the interpersonal sense of community, which such an undertaking provided i.e. a structured and social regulation of brain chemistries.
Also see the relative success of the Mormon community’s ability to maintain sobriety in a membership whose genetic heritage actually involves a relatively frequent degree of alcoholic tendencies.
But doesn’t that apply to all of us to some degree? Enough solitude can break any of us according to our own respective dispositions. What did the great primatologist Jane Goodall say about the foci of her study? “One chimp is no chimp.”
Is it any wonder that Cliff’s life is essentially non-stop triggers for binge eating, compulsive shopping, and opium ingestion?
Cliff has a father who unambiguously attempted to castrate whatever warrior spirit Cliff thought he had remaining in him.
He has sperm which bore him all females and one perceptually defective son.
The one male in his life who followed in his vocational footsteps is Elvin!
Cliff has no community of masculinity in which to propagate his own potency, competence, and affect. Instead, only the happenstance surrounding his geography and tangible qualities attracts the sycophants, which eventually push him through the fourth wall.
James Fleming responds:
Enough with this “Professor Fleming” business. We should be on a first name basis at this point.
Again, you raise wonderful points here about the Huxtable narrative and offer a wonderful, engaging and thoughtful line of reasoning. Thank you for that. Though my busy schedule precludes me from giving this piece the sort of in depth critical response it deserves, I will address some of your thoughts here.
Cliff’s supposed lack of wartime combat is stated in word only. Remember that. We have no actual reason to believe that he’s not, in fact, adhering to some declaration of privacy, a sacred vow between himself and the “corporation” to never reveal the truth behind his military (or paramilitary) service; in fact, such might be understood as a post-traumatic, subconscious act of forgetting on Cliff’s part. If we position Cliff as possibly being involved in some capacity or another in the Vietnam War—perhaps with Air America or the Phoenix Project—then we have to accept the reality that he and his father fought in—or were, at the very least, involved in—two radically different wars, one which was ostensibly apocalyptic and anti-Enlightenment (and decidedly Modernistic), another which was overtly contradictory and to this day next to impossible to conceptualize and categorize, never mind properly name (and, hence, decidedly Postmondernistic). Cliff might be subjecting himself, then, to a form of psychological emasculation for the purpose of protecting some sort of intrinsic, unspoken, and perhaps barely conceptualized truth. Call it a sacrifice or call it a self-punishment. Or maybe it’s that he just can’t understand. I wonder, given his apparent post-traumatic state throughout the show, if Cliff might not be something of a figure akin to the photographer in Apocalypse Now, a man left stark-raving after taking a long, hard look into true madness and the true nature of brutality. Or maybe he’s more akin to (Mr.) Col. Kurtz, a Renaissance man, a real humanitarian, a man who looked to closely into himself and the project of the Enlightenment and realized, perhaps, who the “brutes” really were and that they, indeed, deserved extermination. Maybe Cliff got to that point and, somehow, managed to survive anyway. Can’t you just imagine a relatively young Cliff Huxtable flying out of the ‘Nam in a helicopter with James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” playing softly in his mind, his face frozen in consternation and shock, the image of Claire—his young "intended"—appearing before him, as he turns to another young soldier and says, “a child doesn’t know anything about anything…” as the “Cliff” we’ll come to know is born?
It’s interesting that you brought Jung into this discussion. Look for a post-Jungian, Hillmanian reading of Cliff’s soul’s code in a future installment.
Ultimately, and I think you’re sensing this already, I will be arguing that the Huxtable narrative is, for all of its fractures, breaks, discontinuities, traces and reflections, in essence, a postmodern, post-traumatic narrative. But more of that soon.
I worry, for you, here, Steven. You’re moving deeper and deeper up the proverbial river and further into the heart of the Huxtable narrative. You’re heading straight into the center of something dark and weird, something beyond the realm of consciousness, something outside ready understanding, something which might quickly prove maddening to you. Remember: sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted and sometimes the novelist becomes the critic. I fear that you might awaken one morning wondering, if for a second, if Cliff Huxtable is you, or if you’re Cliff Huxtable. I’ve been there, brother. I’ve been there. And if you do find yourself in such a condition, know that there are warm hands to help carry you back down the river. Those warm hands are here. They’re right here. Just call or text. Or e-mail. Or stop by. I mean it.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for thinking. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for being you. That’s all.
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2010
From: Steven Lepic
Subject: RE: James Fleming’s “Theorizing Theo Huxtable”
Professor Fleming, I’d like to first commend you on the deference to which you show the inherent mystery of the human condition. I celebrate your position that we can only struggle toward an understanding of ourselves by way of The Huxtables.
I’d like to add one ethological observation of the Huxtable narrative regarding the “bromance” of Theo and Walter, and some potentially dark logical extensions.
Every single other keystone relationship in The Cosby Show possesses one thing, which Theo’s relationship with Walter lacks almost entirely. The following relationships display this missing affectation, often in spades:• Cliff and Claire • Rudy and Kenny • Sondra and Elvin • Denise and her husband • Almost every permutation of respective child and parent
The shared anatomical brain structures of all mammals can be collectively called the limbic system (a.k.a. “mammal brain”*), or for our purposes, let’s call it “the social brain”. It’s such an evolutionarily successful aggregate of anatomy that the result is a pervasive foundation of similar external social behaviors across all social animals. Not surprisingly, the breadth of these behaviors manifest in most of the important Huxtable relationships.
One of the fundamental and pervasive phenomenons, which we do not see between Theo and Cockroach, is any appreciable social aggression. This is important, because not only is social aggression a universal phenomenon, but the degree of aggression is universally in proportion to the degree of intimacy and love shared between the parties.
The most viscous and violent displays of social aggression occur between the most intimate partners. One reason is that one party has no reason to fear unknown degrees of prowess in the other. Fight and flight are two faces on the same coin known as fear. Social aggression without the inhibitions created by fear result a high threshold for retreat, and as such, unusually severe and protracted battles.
Theo and Walter, viz. their peculiar relationship devoid of jostling for resources or status, creates more questions than answers.
Is Theo simply “wired” wrong? Is Theo’s academic dyslexia a metaphor for his social perception as well? How is it that Walter feels he benefits from this affectively anomalous friend? Why is it only in relation to Walter?
What about that which the name “Cockroach” implies? Is Walter capable of only the most primitive, insect-like, sub-cortical drives and affectations in relation to Theo?
Is the relationship itself simply not as intimate as the narrative superficially implies? Is there a symbiotic (or singular?) ulterior motive to maintaining a pretense of close friendship? Is this conscious and volitional? Is Theo the victim of an interpersonal ruse for the benefit of an opportunistic insect?
We know Walter stands to inherit (not work for) his family business, and states as much with obvious satisfaction (much to the chagrin of Cliff). Is Theo the Huxtable “waste” which Cliff and Claire subconsciously wish to discard as a corpse to scavenging insects?
These are some possibilities I feel we need to face, unfortunately.
— Steven Lepic
James Fleming responds:
You offer many fine ideas here. Many of the points you raise, and crucial questions that you ask, will be addressed in some form or another in future Cosby Codex entries. You have, however, given me some further matters to consider and for that I thank you.
I will, however, respond to some of your questions here, if in a rather speculator and tentative manner. Understand, please, that these thoughts are still coming to fruition and are by no means definitive. We, sir, are now firmly within a place where the line between the critical and the speculatory can quickly become blurry. So, with that in mind, some responses:
Cliff and Claire suffer from a simple failure to communicate their needs and wants to each other. Their relationship—akin, is it not, to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (how many children does Claire have anyway?)?—is founded upon relatively uninhibited and overt sexual desire. To put it bluntly: the Huxtables do “it” and do “it” often, but do they really understand why or, moreover, can they really express their emotional and intellectual needs for such to each other readily? Moreover, there seems to be a breakdown in communication—both in terms of speech act and sexual performance (or sexual testimony)—all together between Cliff and Claire during the last three seasons of the show, during which Cliff loses every remaining bit of authority and power he has within both the family and the larger Huxtable hegemony. By the end of the final season, the Cliff and Claire dynamic seems lifted out of either Macbeth or a John Updike novel: Claire is miserable and touchy, to say the least; Cliff is beaten and left emotionally, authoritatively and intellectually impotent (this is also known, in terms of Cliff, as “The King Lear season”).
Rudy and Kenny? Kenny is abused and neglected by Rudy. While the Huxtables ostensibly seem to discourage Rudy’s abusive treatment of Kenny—after all, she goes so far to rename him “Bud” without explanation as to why he is now called "Bud"—they nevertheless implicitly tolerate her decidedly cruel and senseless treatment of Kenny. They do, though, frown upon the misogynistic gender notions of “Bud,” all of which are attributed to one of the most interesting and powerful marginal characters in the Cosby narrative: Bud’s brother (“my brother says…”), a Byronic, Don Juanesque (both in the romantic and Byronic sense) figure who probably exists only within the realm of Bud’s imagination. In fact, I wonder if Bud and Rudy’s shared ability to project fictional, invented characters into the Huxtable narrative is, indeed, the root nature of their bond. Perhaps Rudy is some sort of bizarre, postmodern textual necromancer and Bud is, indeed, her apprentice or, better said, her “budding” apprentice.
Sondra and Elvin? They are mere reflections, and through a glass just a bit darker, of Cliff and Claire. To put it simply, their marriage serves as something of an ironic reflection of Cliff and Claire’s own relationship—Elvin is a vision of what Cliff would be like if he was humorless, decidedly Caucasian looking, particularly weak spirited, and almost entirely a-sexual; Sondra represents a twisted reflection of Claire, a vision of Claire that is rather lacking in imagination, linguistic ability, her unique combination of theoretical and practical intelligence, her particular measure of supreme physical beauty, asexuality and familiar authority—in short, they are empty, un-characteristic characters; in short: they are Cliff and Claire without any degree of singularity.
Denise and her husband? I notice that you don’t even mention her husband—Martin Kendall—by name. That’s because he doesn’t matter (well, he matters simply because he doesn’t matter); he’s a characterless character. He’s in the Navy; he’s divorced; he has an obnoxious wisecracking, dancing, singing daughter; he once used a different name and masqueraded as a practical minded, pre-med student from a decidedly progressive family who briefly dated Denise. Compared to other characters in the Huxtable narrative, Marin Kendall is notable only for his lack of agency within such.
The Huxtable family dynamics—particular the relationships between Cliff, Claire and the children—will be explored in greater depth in at least two upcoming Codex entries.
Cockroach is called such because he is, in a rather ironic way, akin to Kafka’s Gregor Samsa; he is the “other” in the Huxtable narrative, the one who doesn’t quite fit, the outsider, a vision of what Cliff and Claire fear most: the working class. In fact, given his expressive nature, his overt challenging of the Huxtable hegemony, and his complete outsider status, Cockroach serves as something of an ironic Gregor Samsa analogue, no? More on these points will be forthcoming (and yes, you will be cited). The true nature of Theo and Cockroach’s relationship—a relationship that is, indeed, founded upon a decided lack of aggression—is akin to the famous friendship between the English Romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, with Cockroach standing for Byron and Theo for Shelley. This point, however, will be the subject of an upcoming Codex entry. All of your questions on this topic will be answered there.
Thank you, Mr. Lepic, for your comments and your attention. Feel free, if you’d like, to “friend” me on Facebook so these matters can be discussed further. You, sir, are a scholar and a gentleman.
Date: Mon, 11 October 2010
From: Cassie da Costa
Subject: RE: James Fleming’s “Ontological Ruptures and Worlds Under Erasure: The Cosby Show As Postmodern Narrative”
Dear Mr. Fleming,
While your explanation for the mysterious series “Pilot” of The Cosby Show—in which Sondra does not exist and Heathcliff is Cliff and Theo is Teddy—is elegant and imaginative, it lacks a black woman’s intuition. You could learn a thing or two from Claire Huxtable, especially about forgetting the existence of a human being.
Clifford is most obviously the past tense of Heathcliff. When Heathcliff was refered to as Clifford in the first episode of The Cosby Show, the Huxtables were simply being ironic and prescient. The were foreshadowing the notion of an elegant transformation into a classy black family containing names that are both sophisticated and a bit ethnic.
Teddy morphed to Theo as a consequence of growing up and realizing that your current nickname lacks longevity and ethnic spice. Theo is smooth and mystical, much like the jazz music danced to by Heathcliff in subsequent episodes.
Speaking of jazz music…
This is where Sondra comes in.
If you do recall, Sondra is one of the oddly light-skinned daughters of the Huxtable family. Like Denise, Sondra has oddly half-caste or biracial, if you will, skin, while the rest of the family is fully black or dark-skinned.
Sondra is an illegitimate love child of Heathcliff.
Clifford enlivens a white patient’s womb with his seed while Claire and Heathcliff undergo a more realistic version of their marriage in the past. Said white patient gives birth to daughter. Said white patient falls back into the obscure lifestyle of a Lower East Side Manhattan woman, and stops to get OBGYN care at a Brooklyn practice. Sondra lives. Claire, still unable to accept Sondra as her own, does not include her in the first episode; she still has bridges to burn. “Pilot” is one of those bridges.
Of course, as the matriarch, when Claire burns bridges, the bridge is extinguished in the minds of all. What each family is recalling is the reinserted memory that Claire has provided, for she is a version of Big Brother, and Heathcliff is Winston, and the rest of them are spies. “Goodbye Mr. Fish” is a distractor for the less mature audiences who are unable to accept the dystopian eeriness of the reality of the pilot episode.
A noble pursuit you made, Mr. Fleming, but it is clear that this is just a matter of the word of the educated black woman being Law.
Sweet dreams of disillusionment,
Cassie da Costa
James Fleming responds:
Dear Cassie de Costa:
First, allow me to offer my thanks for your thoughtful note. Criticism—especially high-end, deluxe criticism like the Cosby Codex—is undertaken largely in the proverbial dark. It’s a lonely, demanding task. Knowing that someone, somewhere, somehow has taken an interest in these ideas does much to encourage my spirits. Also, you are most welcome for the insight I provided into the mysterious pilot of The Cosby Show. I hope that coming installments of the Cosby Codex provide you with even further critical insight.
Now, to address some of your points:
The Huxtables are not prone to irony, save for Cliff in the midst of his opium dreams of talking sandwiches and pregnant men or Olivia’s musical performances, puns and one-liners. The Huxtables, as a whole, tend to be quite literal minded people.
Referring to Cliff as “Clifford” in “Pilot” is not a matter of the Huxtables foreshadowing any sort of later character development. Remember, in “Pilot” Cliff’s office nameplate also reads “Clifford Huxtable.” “Clifford” became “Heathcliff” and “Teddy” “morphed” into “Theo” because of the ontological shift that takes place between “Pilot” and “Goodbye Mr. Fish.” I don’t see any evidence that supports your notion that such has anything to do with a growing sense of maturity or desire for a more ethnic-sounding name on Theo’s part. These changes are owed to the drastic ontological shift the Huxtable narrative undergoes between “Pilot” and “Goodbye Mr. Fish.”
Sondra and Denise’s decidedly light-skinned complexions were once of great concern to me. I even toyed with the notion that both women were either the product of an extramarital affair undertaken by either Cliff or Claire or, perhaps more reasonably, were adopted by the Huxtables. However, an African-American friend of mine, after listening to my theory that Sondra and Denise might be illegitimate or adopted due to their skin color, explained to me that a darker skinned couple of African descent might not necessarily produce a child who is of their same pigmentation. My friend promptly showed me a picture of her parents—both of whom were decidedly dark-skinned Jamaican-Americans—and made note of her own relatively light complexion in relation to them and asked me if I assumed she was of illegitimate paternity.
Further, I see no reason to assume that Cliff or Claire ever stepped outside of their marriage. In fact, I suspect that they had only taken each other as lovers.
Claire Huxtable is indeed a fascinating character—equal parts Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Madame Bovary and The Wife Bath—but you’re giving her a measure of ontological agency in the Huxtable narrative that the text simply does not support. She is the matriarch of the Huxtable clan, yes, and certainly the most cunning and intellectual of the bunch. However, until the series finale her ontological position (and perspective) relative to the Huxtable narrative is limited. Her agency is of the epistemological variety rather than the ontological. She forgets about human beings in the pilot, seemingly forgets about forgetting and doesn’t recognize drastic temporal/spatial shifts in her household because she—unlike Rudy (consciously or subconsciously) or, perhaps, Cliff (under the influence of opium)—does not possess anything in the way of a larger hetero-ontological super-consciousness.
You are entirely correct: I do indeed lack what you refer to as a black woman’s intuition (though I have to confess that I’m not sure what that concept means). I’m a Caucasian, middle class, over-educated male in his early thirties. However, I am also not an OB-GYN, litigator, parent, Brooklynite, opium addict or Hillman College graduate. Must the critic be of the same nature as his or her subject? Wayne Booth, after all, was not a novelist. Does that render moot any insight into the nature of the novel that he offered? Christopher Ricks is neither American nor a singer/songwriter. Does that render him incapable of understanding Bob Dylan? A.C. Bradley was neither an Elizabethan nor a playwright and knew largely nothing of Shakespeare’s life or circumstance. Did that preclude him from rendering a reasonable critical understanding of Hamlet?
Yours, from 10 Stigwood Ave in mind,
Date: Mon, 4 October 2010
From: John Proctor
Subject: RE: Eric Hague’s “Our Daughter Isn’t a Selfish Brat; Your Son Just Hasn’t Read Atlas Shrugged”
Dear Mr. Hague,
The revolution is imminent, and your daughter is not invited.
I want to let you know that I have indeed seen your child in the tot lot, and so has my own daughter. You are to right to apologize for your recent behavior, during which you willfully subjugated a junior toddling-class citizen to substandard playing conditions, and then engaged in verbal warfare with said citizen’s parental representative.
Neither you nor your daughter has noticed us much, as you both seem too preoccupied with your bourgeois posturing and accusations of looting by poor little Aiden and the rest of the working class upon which you and your precious Johanna rest your laurels. Which is ironic, because if you hadn’t been so preoccupied with your daughter’s grandstanding, you might have noticed that your daughter’s snack trap—the one that you left in her stroller—was about twenty Cheerios lighter.
You see, my daughter Amalia is on a mission, and snacks are the currency. Every trip we take to the tot lot, when you see her picking through other kids’ snacks, sometimes even forcibly confiscating them from the more resistant property retainers, she’s not, as I’ve heard you and other parents say, “stealing” anything. She’s simply redistributing wealth.
In our apartment my wife and I have our own bedtime routine with our daughter, and it’s not nearly as boring (or as long) as reading an Ayn Rand novel. After rehashing the ten major directives of the Communist Manifesto, we ask Amalia what she’s learned today, what relationships she’s cultivated, and how she plans on utilizing those relationships. Only after she embraces each of her stuffed animals and locks eyes with her mother and me for at least two seconds will we reward her with a bath. As you can see, her training is loving and cyclical, and she of course equates solidarity with hygiene. Finally, once in bed, we allow her to indulge in her favorite activity—counting Cheerios.
It’s just a matter of time, really. See the kids playing alongside each other, each with their own toys, in their own worlds? In only a few months they’ll be out of the “alongside” phase of play, and they’ll actually be interacting. With this of course comes co-playing, non-verbal communication, even sharing, but also—and much more importantly—organizing.
The next time you and Little Johanna are at the tot lot, take a good look around you. See the African kid with the lesbian adopted mother? He’s one of us. The little girl scribbling with chalk by herself? We’ll have a Minister of Communications as soon as she’s language-proficient. And my Amalia is already consulting the Marston quintuplets for the “heavy lifting,” if you get my drift.
Don’t think Amalia and the rest of the kids at the tot lot don’t see what’s happening. Every major fascist dictatorship in history had its underwriter. Hitler had IBM. Batista had the mafia. El jefe and Papa Doc had the US government. And Little Johanna has you. But when the revolution comes, there’ll be nothing you or Little Johanna can do about it. Fire will erupt from the foot of the kiddy slide to the highest of the three kiddy steps—the spirit of the underage textile workers who were engulfed in flames while locked to their looms—and not even the five-foot fountainhead will put it out.
And that’s when your headstrong daughter and her precious little Elmo ball are in for some serious re-education, my friend. She may consider herself invincible when it’s only scrawny little Aiden asking her politely for her ball, but what’s she going to do when the rising tide of communally-minded 18-month-olds descends upon her, forcefully separating her from that Elmo ball and designating it Property of the Tot Lot?
I hope you’re beginning to comprehend the magnitude of your grievous error in enabling your little fascist. I’m sure it won’t be easy for Little Johanna to go from Princess of the Elmo Ball to dues-paying (roughly 25% of the daily snack trap load) Tot Lot Party Member. But then, what about childhood is easy?
Date: Wed, 29 September 2010
From: Lori Callahan
Subject: RE: “It’s All Fun and Games”
It’s all fun and games thinking up funny stuff to send to McSweeney’s website, until you see the very same idea that you were pondering for submission (albeit with different predicates following the subject: “It’s all fun and games until…”) right up there on the front page.
It’s all fun and games until you realize that your cute little habit of procrastination has landed you in this sorry situation—again.
It’s all fun and games until you realize you now feel like a sad-sack sore loser because you were not quick enough out of the box with your own idea.
It’s all fun and games until the impulse of brooding and plotting revenge gets out of control.
Not feeling the fun and games right now,
— Lori Callahan
P. S. Sincere congrats to the quicker submitter. It was a good idea, wasn’t it?
Date: Mon, 26 July 2010
From: Kolina Cicero
Subject: RE: “FactCheck.org’s Coverage of Elliott Blaufuss’s 2008 Halloween Party”
A recent run-in with writer Jeff Day and his literary protagonists found me remembering one slanderous article about the last time we met (“FactCheck.org’s Coverage of Elliott Blaufuss’s 2008 Halloween Party” by Jeffrey Day). For the first time since that Halloween party in 2008, the Journalist, the Cockblocker, the Hornball and I found ourselves breathing the same air. I was thereby reminded of the Journalist’s scandalous piece, leading me to check the aforementioned article’s claims. I have some corrections to make.
As a professional fact-checker at a regional magazine, I know the first rule is to get proper names right. The Journalist confused my name with that of my best friend, Jade. It’s Kolina Cicero, you jackass. The second rule is to okay quotes with their owners. While “Sweet fucking Jesus” adds drama to the scene, it’s a quintessential saying by the Journalist himself. I was given no such opportunity to verify my words before it ran to press. Slander?
I can attest that I am Cockblocker’s ex-girlfriend, though we did not date from 2002 to 2006; the accurate years are 2004 to 2007. Last Sunday evening, when I had my run-in with that motley crew, Hornball mentioned Cockblocker’s metaphorical intrusion in his sexual advances. I shrugged; an obvious admittance the verity of that claim. Had I received the professional call asking me to confirm the fact that Cockblocker managed to jam his cock into my brain, leading me to never get into Hornball, I’d have said “Yes, it is true that I wouldn’t sleep with Hornball due to an incessant respect for my long-time friend and ex, Mr. Cockblocker.” I would have then quipped, “There is no such imprint of Cockblocker’s cock in my brain, however.”
Hornball must no longer care about the so-called metaphorical cockblock, as he spent the entirety of that Sunday evening trying to get into one certain Media Mogul’s pants. As the apparent owner of the “Sweet fucking Jesus” quote and a protagonist in Jeff Day’s account of one Halloween party in 2008, I feel an unremitting responsibility to set the records straight and to denounce the validity of Jeff Day’s claims.
Date: Tue, 1 June 2010
From: Tom Priebe
Publish poems, short stories, mystery novels in potato chip bags! Maybe you’ve done this before, but think of the possibilities. I do not mean include a piece of writing in a bag of chips, forget about the chips—the writing IS the chips. It could lead to a new form of slang due to the superb writing that would be published. Instead of saying, “man, that is the bomb!” or, “how great!” the youth would say, “holy moly Mcsweeney’s is the chips!”
Imagine a mystery novel with each short chapter published on a small piece of paper, perhaps even with pieces comprised of both one giant chip AND the entire story. The options are endless. Perhaps I will take this idea for myself and publish chip books, but I love your publication and you are already publishers. If you wish to hire me, I will gladly retire from my entry-level position at this god awful law firm and begin our chiptastic relationship. I really hope you use the idea.
Date: Thu, 13 May 2010
From: Stephen Persing
Subject: Foam Rubber Hellbeast
I have noticed that you employ a great many authors, perhaps more than you can use at any one time. May I borrow one?
I’ll give you a tip: after 2012, when the world fails to end as predicted, a wave of nihilism is going to sweep popular culture, and with it, nihilism’s version of Tin Pan Alley, punk rock. Retro punk will be big business, and I intend to clean up. All I need is an author (already published, please!) to chronicle the seamier side of my musical life.
My band will be named Foam Rubber Hellbeast, named for Grimace (or Grimus), the McDonald’s spokescritter of no definable phylum, genus or species. Fast food is to real food what punk rock is to music, so Grimace belongs to punk- that’s my reasoning. Although the band has no members except me at this point, I have already assigned roles for each one. This saves us the trouble of all that interpersonal relationship stuff, which punks never do well anyway.
Our lead singer will be named Mal(ignant). He will be able to sing seven hundred words a minute, without a single word being comprehensible. The search is on for him: I might find him squatting in the last American factory not converted into condos, or perhaps sweating and cussing inside a Grimace costume. (Please note: Grimace is a deep purple; Barney the Dinosaur is more of a magenta.) There will be a rhythm guitarist and bassist who will be so generic they won’t even have names. The drummer will do what drummers do; for clarification, please watch This is Spinal Tap. Also, we will have two ocarina players, because nothing annoys punks more than two ocarina players. I will be the lead guitarist/songwriter/Svengali, as well as “the cute one.”
Our first album, Cicero’s Sister’s Cyst, will be recorded in mono with a home-made microphone and sold on 8-track tape only. If the lyrics could be understood, they would be found to feature the gloomy outlook and cheeky humor that keeps leather-clad, skull-tattooed throngs enthralled. Reviews of the album will read thusly: “Deep caramel color, thick, lasting head and long hoppy afterburn make this perfect for cool autumn evenings.” (For contrast, I also offer a review of a microbrew, which reads, “Thrashing musical silage that gang-rapes your eardrums and leaves permanent stains on your subconscious.”)
Then we will break up. Our eventual reunion will follow a bout of dysfunctional behavior sufficient to require a new category on the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Mal’s torrid affair with Lady Gaga will make gossip columns everywhere, providing the Lady actually is a tramp. One of the ocarina players will disappear, if the fans haven’t seen to that already.
Our second record, Plauditorium, will suffer from the inevitable sophomore slump. “Biodegradable, but not quickly enough,” Rolling Stone will report. Weekly Reader’s review will use words like “purulent.” We will handle the slump badly, our lives becoming a mélange of glitz and dirt worthy of a Marilyn Minter painting. Then we will break up. Mal will become born again and take up writing hymns. I had initially scripted a drug-fuelled suicide, but none of the applicants so far has been willing. Punks are such divas.
I would appreciate it if you could recommend an author (best-seller list quality preferred) who could do justice, or mete out justice, to this slice of rock-n-roll life. I can offer bad music, bad drugs and lots of "baditude"™ as well as the author’s choice of diseased groupies. The story will write itself; if I wasn’t so busy writing songs, I’d do it. Also, if you’d be interested in publishing the book, I can arrange that on very reasonable terms.
Hope to hear from you soon,
Date: Wed, 17 Feb 2010
To: Joshua Tyree, c/o McSweeney’s
From: David Glenister
Subject: Re: Joshua Tyree’s “On the Implausibility of the Death Star’s Trash Compactor”
Wonderful article on the Death Star’s trash compactor. Might I put a few things forward…
I reckon that the trash compactor is used mainly to squash the bits of foam and boxes and supporting struts that the “Build your own Death Star” mail-order kit came in. Kind of like when you buy a model airplane that has all the bits in a plastic frame that you twist the components out of.
And as for squashing, I expect that the idea is to make the trash as small as possible, and then inject a cheap resin (maybe minced horses or Wookies) to coagulate the parts, then eject it out forcefully out into space. It is okay for a Star Destroyer to eject trash out into space, but not a Death Star because the chaff of the un-squashed un-coagulated bits would just fall back onto the hull of the Death Star due to it’s significant gravitational force. If that happened, then you’d need a poor sod with a broom to clean it all up, kind of like in the opening credits of Red Dwarf. Except that he is painting. Eject one big coagulated lump of trash into space with enough force and it will achieve ‘escape velocity’.
The vents lead up to the prison area on the Death Star. How unpleasant it would be for incarcerated individuals to be subject to the awful smells of the trash compactor wafting up through the vents. Some kind of psychological tactic.
Date: Tue, 5 Jan 2010
From: April “Pants” Wooten
Subject: Response to John Moe’s “Thirty-Nine Questions for Charlie Daniels” piece
Okay, I’m afraid that I must take exception to this piece.
First of all, Johnny clearly wins the fiddle contest, because, as my friend Chris once said, “the Devil’s song is a better jam, but Johnny’s song is way technically superior.” (Yes, musicians really do use the word “jam” to describe music, without even a hint of irony). Also, because this music features Charlie Daniels playing a representation of Johnny’s song, and we’re told that Johnny is “the best there’s ever been,” we can probably assume that Johnny would play his own song even better than Charlie Daniels does. Even if we grant the fact that Johnny might be boasting, and might not actually be the best fiddle player who’s ever lived, the implication is that he’s still pretty darn good, and at least good enough to beat the Devil handily. As far as the Devilish “feedback” the author mentions, as well as the band of demons, we must remember once again that it’s still just Charlie Daniels playing a representation of the Devil’s song, and due to the constraints of human instruments and the fact that they are unlikely to be able to convey the sound of the infernal music enjoyed by an immortal being, we can probably assume that the version played by Charlie Daniels was not very representative of the source music (and so not a good representation to use for judging the quality of the Devil’s “jam.”) In fact, the Devil’s music could have been vastly worse than Johnny’s, for all we know. Due to all of the above facts, I postulate that Charlie’s song was so technically challenging and played so swiftly that even the Devil was impressed enough to admit defeat in the face of Johnny’s vastly superior musical (and compositional) abilities.
Additionally, I would like to point out that this IS Charlie Daniels’s story, and therefore, lacking any overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we must take at face value the assertions that Charlie Daniels makes about his protagonist and the skills of said protagonist. If there were any indication of irony or sarcasm in Charlie Daniels’s tone, we might have to draw far different conclusions about this contest and its eventual winner, but as there is absolutely no evidence of this, we must take Daniels’s story at face value. If the author of this piece wants a story in which the Devil is the winner, then he can write his own damn iconic country song. But hijacking someone else’s story and claiming that the outcome is “falsified” in some way, without any evidence at all to support his claims, is both ridiculous and childish.
John Moe responds:
Your name is “Pants”?
— John Moe