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Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

[The following is an excerpt from my novel, Zip Monkey, which I plan to release in the upcoming months. Copyright 2012. Cover art by Corey Brian Sanders.]Zip Monkey Cover 2

Christina Brostrom looked out onto the grounds of the college holding a coffee cup up to her face gently, so that the steam would open her pores a bit. This was part of her ritual of drinking hot tea with Stevia, a cup of inspiration with which she greeted every morning. She knew that ritual was a foundation of wisdom. Or would be, were she ever to become wise.

On the desk next to her computer screen was a greeting card of forced congratulations from her co-workers out in the cubicle pit. Lots of “Congrats, girl!” and “I knew you could do its!” scrawled across the card to celebrate her promotion. But every laconic “Congrats” betrayed bitter envy. Christina had been in her position only a year. And now somehow she’d gotten a big promotion, seemingly for no reason. When they were saying, “Congrats,” what they really meant to say was, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

And they were right. She didn’t deserve it. She was just a pretty face who’d done it with the right guy. She remembered her mother’s joke, “With a vagina, you can go anywhere,” which wasn’t really a joke. Christina had bartered her sex appeal for a job as a Level 6 grants and contracts manager. Not too shabby.

Ralph Bliagos was nowhere to be found, of course. He had defiled her, promoted her, disappeared and left stacks and stacks of data on her desk to reconcile—enough work to last her a year. Most of it paperwork for live animal research grants that would be submitted to the National Institutes of Health (“NIH.”) Her first job, according to a memo, was to haggle with somebody from the Institute of Animal Research Studies for a $100 discount on a crate of pre-diseased mice. A hundred of the 1,400 mice were dead already when the box came in. Certainly that was worth at least two hundred dollars off, said the dean to Christina in an e-mail.

Before this, her job had been to do simple data entry, making sure the lab equipment codes matched the inventory. But increasingly, after an audit of the university and a fine from the New Jersey attorney general’s office, she found herself actually making decisions on how procedures were coded. That was way above the pay grade of a 23-year-old intern. Checks made out to the university for thousands of dollars started fluttering onto her desk. She didn’t know what to do with them. Nobody claimed them. She put them in a folder with dollar signs marked on it.

The Grants and Contracts Dept., hidden behind leafy plane trees in a white travertine campus tucked away from the road, was a huge vein of money for Mount St. Catherine’s University. While Ph.D’s elsewhere at the university lost their jobs during Congress’s sequestration, Ralph Bliagos’s department was somehow thriving, his money spigot still pumping. “How could this be?” Nobody wanted to ask that question. “Just keep growing the pie,” said the dean’s office. Ralph’s enemies raised questions, of course. Grants and contracts had an ongoing Hatfield and McCoy-style feud going on with the dicks in finance. Christina was even told she shouldn’t be seen having lunch on campus with her friend Judy who worked in the finance department.

“Wouldn’t look good,” said Bliagos. “You gossip with Judy Freeman, and it’ll get back to me. She’s waiting to find out we’re doing something wrong.”

“Well then, who should I have lunch with?”

“How about me?”

That’s how it had started.

Bliagos was 13 years older than Christina. He seemed to know a lot about a lot of different things. He’d played guitar in a band in college and knew about music publishing rights. He knew about trademark law after working as a paralegal. He even knew about dance.

“You can’t really separate Merce Cunningham from Eastern religion,” he’d said.

A year later, Christina, the former star of the Cape May High School ballet, now older and wiser, realized Ralph had pulled the Cunningham bit out of his ass. But at the time he said it, she’d been smitten. Though he was older, he had an eternal boyishness—his averred belief in the inherent goodness of all people touched Christina’s heart and parted her knees—knees weak from naivety and a 2005 arabesque accident that shattered her bones and dreams forever.

All dancers hurt their knees. But Christina Brostrom had somehow managed to pull her kneecap apart after momentous thigh contraction while doing the Black Swan in front of 200 provincial New Jersey ballet fans. The audience was mesmerized by the plangent screams of this shining young dancer and swept up into standing ovation as several male dancers in blue doublets with silver galloons with the strength of apes carried her out the back door to the nearest emergency room.

Christina had always been rather keyed up and anxious, dancing as fast as she could, and even her mother opined that the injury was no accident, but a cry for help. She insisted her daughter was getting back at her. Christina had avoided a proper warm up and fragged herself on purpose, said Mom, whom everything was about. Mother Marla Brostrom was a semi-famous psychoanalyst and believed there were no accidents. Everything bad that happened was an act of sublimated feelings, even a fall down the stairs or choking on a hot dog.

The adjustment from ballerina to clerical assistant was remarkably easy for Christina Brostrom. Gone was the anxious, excited ballerina whose fast-rising stardom made every day a birthday party thrown just for her. Now it was all just workaday world narcosis, interoffice birthday cards to people she’d never met, and hot pocket microwave lunches in rooms with receding slate colors. Instead of jetés and soubresauts, Christina could now pursue the drama of office gossip, hear temper tantrums through the walls and smack insolent fax machines. And there, holding on to the handle of a 2005 Honda Civic every afternoon with wolfish teeth was Ralph Bliagos. Ralph, with his round, McCartney-ish eyes, big hands and hair extensions. He seemed to know her dreams, and his adoring eyes reflected the star she’d dreamed of being. Or at least that’s what she was thinking when she went down on him in the Honda. The thrilling, fleeting, naughty affair. The sweaty, heart-beat-skipping rendezvous every night in the office where they had started somehow fucking and committing government billing fraud in no particular order.

Ralph’s the one who taught her to do it. First he showed her how to double bill for clinical trials—the university charged Medicaid and Medicare money for lab work on volunteers even though the companies sponsoring the clinical trials on the devices and drugs were already paying. It was a surefire way to rip off Uncle Sam, something Ralph had learned at a couple of research universities. He also taught Christina how to “unbundle” the lab tests, coding a bunch of blood tests separately when they should have been billed together. Apart, they were worth more money.

To Christina, it was kind of like playing Candy Crush Saga or Asteroids. “Unbundle. Duplicate. Recode.” It seemed more naughty than illegal. “Girl! You’re bad! Ha-ha!”

“It’s just us printing money,” Ralph had said. “Everybody does it. At the end of the day, who cares? We’re curing diseases.” She wanted to impress her boss, and as she separated centrifuge work, she was actually whistling.

It only slowly dawned on her that what they were doing was actually very much against the law. But she was already in it way over her head by that time. Her signatures were all over everything.

It was only in month three, long after Ralph had given her the first bladder infection, that he asked her out to a movie. He confessed then that, yes, he had been engaged to somebody for three years. But his fiancée, Dina, was an argumentative, hatchet-faced bitch troll attorney, and he insisted he was going to break it off with her. Dina didn’t understand him, he said. She didn’t listen to Rush. She didn’t like white water rafting. She didn’t know who Merce Cunningham was.

“But you,” he said to Christina. “You’re an open book. Everything is still possible and hopeful for you.” This appealed to her in part because neither statement was actually true. She, in fact, had fallen south in ways only people with the lost promise of true greatness can fall.

He had made love to her gently and sweetly the first time. His feet stuck out the open window of the Honda and he swore it didn’t hurt. Later, as they lay together naked in a dark brindled cowhide rug from Bed Bath & Beyond, he imagined them going to someplace romantic. Like Nova Scotia. Or Atlantic City. Christina was breathless. She had a dangerous love and a job she was good at. She was now a person like other people.

The morning of her surprise promotion, she crept over to the files and sorted through them. Three doctors in cardiology wanted to test a vasodilator and needed to make sure the NIH didn’t reject them again. The last time around, the government quibbled because the doctors testing the equipment held small equity shares (indirectly) in the company that made the dilator, and that would likely bias their research. Ralph turned to Christina one afternoon and asked her directly: “How would you make this problem go away?”

It was her first real executive decision: and it was something she was intensely proud of, because no one else would have ever thought of it. She simply moved the money over from another grant. She piggy-backed the vasodilator work onto a research grant for rheumatoid arthritis medication the doctors were also working on. Nobody asked questions. All the doctors knew was that the money they needed was suddenly there. “Doctors,” Ralph said, “must remain innocent.”

Christina Brostrom, the girl in the church choir, the girl who sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the girl who made Frank Rich cry when she performed in The Nutcracker at age 12, was not, after all, born to be a ballet dancer. Christina Brostrom was born to be a criminal.

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–*Woman who was kidnapped at age 5 now has her own hostage.

–*You’ll never believe where we bought these chives.

–*You’ll never believe who just recently died. And this attached photo of George Clooney means, really, you shouldn’t believe people like us when we tell you who recently died.

–*You’ll never believe it, but this carrot carved up to look like Donald Trump was once just a regular carrot.

–*These five women used to be so much older then, but they are younger than that now.

–*You should take this man’s investment advice because there is no way he was convicted of wire fraud in 2003.

–*You won’t believe who committed wire fraud, and this attached photo of George Clooney proves that you shouldn’t believe us when we tell you who committed wire fraud.

–*The shocking story behind the banality of evil.

–*Come here. There’s candy in my car.

–*Why you don’t see Shelley Winters in movies anymore.

–*Five women who surprisingly decided to be sexually harassed.

–*Being chased around the room by a naked screaming baby is pretty funny unless the baby is 6 feet tall and runs Miramax.

–*This prisoner bet he could eat 50 eggs.

–*This prisoner told his cellmate, “Nobody can eat 50 eggs!”

–*This prisoner added he could eat 50 eggs in an hour.

–*Twelve cadavers who surprisingly bared all.

–*Idiot Breitbart reader was also an idiot child.

–*Which of these former ‘Survivor’ contestants have gone feral?

–*Ten reasons Squeaky Fromme is not as lovable as she seems.

–*The 10 people at this party whom your use of irony was lost upon.

–*People who got mad and clicked this when we said the Eagles weren’t any good.

–*People who got mad and clicked this when we said Joanna Newsom wasn’t any good.

–*There’s a monster at the end of this book!

–*12 Hollywood sex scandals that ended in everyone dying and being forgotten after 80 years.

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I’m thinking of a film called “The World’s Greatest Lover” right now. A 1977 film. Written and directed by Gene Wilder. It never got a lot of love from critics, and while I understand why, it’s always been comfort food for me as a Wilder fan. Because in some ways I always saw him as a silent film star out of his time–stuck in the 1970s, when method acting and documentary realism ruled. Really, how out of place would Wilder be if you dropped him into “Metropolis” or “The General” or “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”? He was a walking special effect. His own form of commedia dell’arte. He wrote things like the fake cane scene from “Willy Wonky” himself and made simple shtick rise above silliness. Pair him with perfect expressionist film heroine Carol Kane as his wife, both dreaming bigger things while trying to stay happy together, and you still have something very poignant. Beyond that …. “Blazing Saddles,” “The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Willy Wonka” I’m with the rest of you, and am reminded how important this man was to my childhood. RIP.

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–*Ten childhood actors who now have goiters.

–*Ten stars with the most intractable liver diseases.

–*Celebs who are not afraid to munch carpet right in your face.

–*Who are the 10 biggest Noam Chomskys?

–*Bet you didn’t know these people were anti-Semites.

–*You’ll never guess what happened to this puppy that climbed into a coffer of unexploded Qassam rockets.

–*This part-time gym teacher destroys theory of evolution.

–*This woman nailed it with her letter to the compliance department about proper processes and work flow alerts.

–*Ten metacarpals most easily smashed with a claw hammer.

–*Ten richest celebs who weren’t rich enough to tip me 20%.

–*How many languages can Bibi Netanyahu say “Go fuck yourself” in?

–*The 100 hottest pictures of people who are purportedly Selena Gomez.

–*You’ll never guess what countries you can buy a child in right now.

–*Ten celebrities surprisingly small enough to put in a trunk.

–*These shocking facts will shock you shocking shock.

–*Carrie Fisher insulted nerf herders. This nerf herder destroys her.

–*Five things you’re doing wrong right now.

–*This woman put a tomato in the refrigerator. The tomato destroys her.

–*Make your credit card do what your pancreas no longer can.

–*Ten celebrity hairstyles we hope to see on a YouTube puppy in the next 10 minutes.

–*Ten shocking GPS coordinates of women breastfeeding their babies in public right now.

–*These people took sides in the Israel-Palestinian debate. Watch what happens to their cars.

–*This person made a movie when she was 5. We destroy her.

–*You’ll never believe whose endoscopy footage this is.

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photo_12044_20100201I just had this ready to go in case I won the Oscar tonight in the best original screenplay category, even though I was not nominated:

Well, this sure is a surprise. No, please you don’t have to stand up for this. I am in the bosom of my peers, and right now we are all winners. Of course, all of you are of the highest caliber in your fields. Ben Affleck, you are a double threat. Triple if I note how many babies you have. Ha ha. Just kidding with you there. Jessica Chastain, you have come out of nowhere in the last few years like a hurricane and just blown off our windows and doors and roofs and foundations. You were the moral center behind Zero Dark Thirty and who wouldn’t torture those bastards to get Bin Laden? I would. There are times when a self-righteous meltdown is totally justified both onscreen and off.

Jennifer Lawrence, or if I may, J. Law, I think you’re only 15 or something and here you are beating out Meryl Streep for awards. Scripture says,  “A child shall lead them,” but I think it also says a child will hand their asses to them on Oscar night. (No offense, Isaiah 11:6.)

I’ve been pretty fortunate to have worked on my script for so long when it was in the development stages with somebody who knows Steven Spielberg. This was a labor of love you gave me this Oscar for, and though I sit before you now, gleaming trophy in hand, most of the gleaming I’ve done over the last few years was born of the tanks of sweat coming down my glistening forehead and neck as I struggled over this thing I called “Piece of shit” maybe 1,200 times. The original draft is covered with blood and stomach acid.

When I first broached the idea for the screenplay with my agent (who is not at CAA, by the way), he said that my idea was more than a downer. It was also truly hostile. I had to ride that compliment for three more years alone as I worked through draft after draft and honed the script that you all know now to be a story of a man caught between extremes. My film was about the audacity of the human spirit in a world where everybody is a scorpion capable of fucking his own face. A world where people who called you their best friends and toasted you at your wedding one day could turn around the next and divorce you like an ax-handle turd and tell people you were on lithium for two years in the 90s.

I know that you are all, my peers, on the same page with me tonight when I talk about the kind of integrity I mean. Tommy Lee Jones. Ang Lee. Adele. All of you people of great sensitivity know. You who record human emotions like a photographic plate burns at the kiss of sunlight. You, my peers. Jack Nicholson. Helen Hunt. Daniel Day-Lewis. You who like me also likely know how loathsome it is to even be touched by other people when you have to brush by them in a supermarket. We who have the tender emotions of artists carry them like open wounds and yet must constantly suffer these indignities and miseries and beclown ourselves for people who are not fit to eat after us at Denny’s.

When you tripped after receiving your award, J Law, you said, “Aww shucks, you’re just giving me a standing ovation because I tripped.” When we both know what you wanted to say: “You all want to kill me. I can smell the hate from up here.” Sometimes I feel as an artist that the only safe place I have is up here on this stage with this award, yet tomorrow I will have to walk the streets alone among savages and dogs. Jennifer, you and I are safe up here. But for how long? For … how …  long?

Ben Affleck said when earning his producing award for Argo that you can’t hold grudges when you’re in Hollywood. How right he was. You must not ever show people all the horrible grudges you hold. You must instead hold them in until they make you sick with ague-y tendons and malignant formations in your pancreas. You must turn those grudges instead into fantasy on paper–specifically the fantasy of watching your enemies die in horrendous pain and bloodshed while suffering the beatings, fistings, garrotings and other degradations of Salo. You must put these fantasies on paper, waiting like a crouching tiger until the day you can make them real. Yes, right on the money, Ben Affleck. Believe me, frere, I know exactly how you feel after your Oscar snub, the pain like a fresco of freshly painted coral sticking to the insides of your stomach muscles. Yes, no grudges. Wink!

So yes, Academy, now I thank you. I thank you vile pigs for the validation that can no longer nourish me because it is too late in coming and can only sustain me the way eating pieces of notebook paper sustains an anemic. Yes, Academy, please honor me now and pretend that it is the sum of pain and humiliation and tawdry nights of loveless intercourse with streetwalkers. This is my valediction. Ang Lee says namaste, but I say kiss my boots you worms. All of you bow down and feel the sole of it on your neck and then watch me stick your patronizing Oscar up your effete Range Rover driving asses! I take your love and hand it back to you as abuse! How do you like that? Fuck this award! Fuck it!

Also, I’d like to thank Harvey Weinstein and Sid Sheinberg.

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Secularists have continued to argue that the motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. paper currency violates the First Amendment’s clause prohibiting the establishment of religion. What are some of the other mottoes that have been considered.

–*U pluribus unum

–*Spiritual but not religious

–*Money talks

–*Because we say so

–*Shazam!

–*Boo-yah!

–*Everybody dance, now!

–*Nothing gold can stay

–*Backed by gold … not!

–*Backed by fuck you

–*All law is founded in violence

–*Redeemable for five ski ball tickets

–*Existence precedes essence

–*For use as legal tender and artificial currency deflation by China

–*Your mama

–*Love means never having to say you’re sorry

–*Liberty, fraternity … let’s stop with two

–*You like me, you really really like me

–*I never promised you a rose garden

–*Only the strongest survive

–*Remember the Alamo

–*No regrets

–*Seize the day

–*Fished you in! Get the net!

–*Take me to the place you cry.

–*Put this where your heart used to be.

–*Amen and pass the ammunition.

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What are we telling ourselves every day to stay positive?

–*If I try very hard, I know the pre-diabetic in me can shine through.

–*Don’t be the person who gives in to liquor and drugs. Be the person who sells liquor and drugs to some other dumb ass.

–*It’s not my business what other people think of me and my suspended driver’s license.

–*I should relax and enjoy the things I already have, namely, this bag of aluminum cans.

–*If you stay straight and fly right, you can get from South 98th Street to North 98th Street with no problem. All you need is a city with a decent grid system.

–*My failures make me who I am. What’s important is that the cops don’t find the fingerprints that make me who I am.

–*If you compare yourself with everybody, you’ll always come up short. Try comparing yourself only to those with terminal diseases, and you’ll definitely shine by comparison.

–*Yes I can think myself out of a wet paper bag, thank you very much!

–*Someday I’ll be back on top and I’ll spit on all you losers. … And I say that with only good feelings in my heart.

–*I can beat this Tourette’s cock sucking monkey fucker.

–*It’s not my fault my hedge fund went under, it’s the god damn mark-to-market accounting rules that did me in.

–*If I’m so dumb, how come my subspecies wiped out the Neanderthals?

–*There’s no manual for how to be a human being. … But there are several critical pamphlets that we could read to watch our enormous sodium intake.

–*We’re all the same in God’s eyes. … Actually, scratch that. That’s a real motivation killer.

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