Monthly Archive: September 2011

From the Zine

The recent media frenzy from the media about Hurrican Irene that had me living in my crawlspace for three weeks with nothing but a shotgun for company reminded me of this essay, which originally appeared in The Inner Swine V0lume 14, Issue 2, June 2008.


Fearmongering in Modern Media

by Jeff Somers

Spiders! EATING YOU AS WE SPEAK!PIGS, unless you read this issue of The Inner Swine right now, immediately, you will be eaten in your sleep by hundreds of tiny orange spiders with green legs. I will tell you how to avoid this fate at a random moment in this zine—maybe page 34, maybe page 3, who can tell?—so you’d best study each page carefully.

Trust me, bubba, being eaten by spiders is no fucking way to go.

I don’t know why I never thought of this before:

  • Step 1: Order TIS Security Chief Ken West to travel the country distributing orange spiders
  • Step 2: Offer secret of avoiding horrible death in this zine
  • Step 3: ????
  • Step 4: Profit!

I should have thought of this years ago—after all, this is exactly what the nightly news programs do. They shout at you all night about something that’s going to kill you, and then smugly tell you that not only must you tune into their program to save yourself, but you must wait until later to do so. I mean, one second they’re shouting that a mysterious disease is turning people into a warm puddle of burnt-umber-colored goo, and then they’re telling you to wait 3 hours before finding out the details. Genius!


The Mystery MP3

KIDS, you may not be aware of this unless you read my zine, The Inner Swine, with more than the usual attention. Said usual attention generally being a quick glance and then a toss into the nearest garbage can. Still, it’s a story so dull, so pointless, it has to be told. Again, and then again.

Back in the pre-history days, we didn’t have MP3s or streaming music. We had the radio, and CDs, and cassettes. My god. Just thinking back to that horrible time depresses the shit out of me. Anyways, since liking a random song on the radio meant you either taped it onto a cassette, complete with commercials and DJ stepping all over the intro, or shelling out $10 for the entire CD, which more than likely contained no other songs you liked. Feh. being a cheap bastard, I taped a lot of songs off the radio. I used to keep a blank tape in the stereo so I could just jab the record button whenever something even threatened to be interesting.

So, one day back in the mid-1990s I taped a song. I have no idea when, off of what station, or where I was at the time. I scrawled one word on the tape cover: “milky?“. Record-keeping, obviously, was never one of my strong suits.

And for the next 20 years, I wondered who the hell sang that song. It plagued me. I liked it well enough to wish for a better copy – a crisp MP3, a CD track, whatever. I did Google searches on the lyrics, on “milky”, on anything else I could think of. Nothing worked.

I even posted the MP3 I’d made from the cassette on my web site and put a plea in an issue of The Inner Swine for folks to crowd source this bastard and tell me what it was. Here’s the MP3 I posted. I got plenty of responses, mostly in the vein of hey I like that song too, let me know who it is when you find out. But no one knew what it was. Apparently I’d taped it the one and only time it ever got played on the radio. Lucky me. I began to feel vaguely ridiculous putting so much effort into discovering the heritage of a mediocre grunge-lite rock song.

Then, last week, old friend Ken West sent me an email:

from: Ken West


Click on the speaker for “Milky”
Holy shit, mystery solved. Band: Cell. Album: Living Room. My life: A little more over.

Dreamers of Dreams

A story from 11/2001, unpublished. Philip K. Marks is a recurring character of mine; he also appears in the story “sift, almost invisible, through” which appeared in the MWA anthology Crimes by Moonlight, edited by Charlaine Harris.

Dreamers of Dreams

by Jeff Somers

He didn’t know what to make of it, which was usually how he knew he was onto something. Being completely mystified meant he hadn’t yet understood, that was all. Phil Marks scratched at his growing beard and watched the two men across the subway car from him. Years of watching people more or less professionally made Marks a bold observer; he evinced no shame in watching others, and made no effort to hide the fact that he was watching them.

The first one was young, a kid. No more than twenty-five, Marks figured, feeling all of his own forty-two years suddenly, and with force. He was dressed like a student: torn jeans, white T-shirt, backpack. A pair of sporty sunglasses hung from the V-neck of his shirt. His sneakers were expensive but very old and decrepit, leftovers, Marks thought, of a pre-college loan era. The second man was taller and older, dressed in a black suit, everything black, down to his painfully-shined shoes that glared in the fluorescents of the subway. Marks ran his grey eyes over the second man and imagined, with confidence, that the man’s undergarments were also black.

They didn’t know each other. Marks knew that they had entered the subway car at different stops. Having noticed the Man in Black immediately, Marks had watched him. The man had examined the population of the subway car carefully, and chosen a seat next to the kid, where they sat in silence, ignoring each other, for a few moments. Then, without warning, the older man had turned and leaned in to the kid, speaking too softly to be heard by anyone else on the train. The kid had frowned, and then leaned in to hear better.

They were still in that position. The Man in Black had a hand on the kid’s arm, lightly holding on, and his jaw moved steadily. The kid, still frowning, made no move to pull away, and seemed pretty interested in what the man had to say. Marks watched, and didn’t know what to make of it. What did a total stranger have that a kid like that would find so interesting?

At the next stop, the Man in Black stood up, nodded to the kid, and exited the train. The kid sat on the seat loosely, slumped, as if his muscles had stopped having any effect on his frame. He stared at the advertising poster across the aisle so intently Marks twisted around in his seat to look at it: an ad for English lessons. Learn English in two weeks. Immigrants welcomed.

Marks looked back at the kid and frowned. The kid appeared to be in deep, deep thought, seeing nothing in front of him, and Marks’ instincts told him there was a story about to happen. He reached into one of the pockets in his great coat and pulled out a battered notebook and a pen. Flipping the notebook open to a blank page, he quickly jotted down his impressions of the scene and a few details: Man in Black speaks earnestly to stranger. Young kid down on his luck listens intently for no good reason. Is left with lots to think about apparently. MIB: tall, thin, grey hair and all black clothing, doesn’t look crazy. Kid: also tall/thin, looks like college-age but hasn’t eaten or bought new clothes in a while. Bet everything he owns is in the torn knapsack he carries everywhere.

Marks flipped the notebook closed and stuffed it back into his coat. He figured he’d follow the kid for a bit, see what might happen.

Two stops later the kid stood up and left the train, his knapsack still on the seat. Marks stood and plucked it up, thinking it was a great excuse to talk to the kid should he choose to. Carrying the knapsack, he dived through the closing doors and looked around the platform, finding the kid almost directly across, apparently waiting for the uptown train. Marks paused, looking down at the knapsack in his hand and then up at the kid again. He studied the kid’s posture, the way he was peering intently up the tracks at the oncoming train, and had half-raised his hand in a useless gesture when the kid took a step into nothing and allowed himself to fall directly under the train’s wheels.

Someone screamed, and Marks remained frozen, one hand half-raised, his mouth half-open. He had no idea what he’d intended to do.

A crowd quickly gathered, and several people had their cell phones out to dial the police. Marks shook himself out of his stupor and quickly knelt to the floor and opened the knapsack. He didn’t expect to find a note, but he thought there might be some hint as to why the kid had committed suicide – and he knew he’d never get close to the knapsack once he turned it over to the cops.

Marks was quickly disappointed. Inside the bag there were three paperback novels, a notebook of blank paper, and a bagged lunch. Nothing else. Marks slowly zipped the bag closed and looked up. A large crowd of people obscured the spot where the kid had gone over. The train stood there, emptied and lit, as if it didn’t know what to do either.


Reading Accomplished

So, on Saturday I was invited to read a bit of Avery Cates for the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey at their monthly Face the Fiction event. It was held at Bill Skees’ excellent store The Well Read Bookstore, which is one of the coolest indy bookstores I’ve ever been in. Like last time, I read a chapter from the newest Cates book, then took questions for over an hour. It was a lively conversation.

Of course, I had to have several moments of awkwardness. First, The Duchess and I forgot that this area of New Jersey was still battling severe flooding from all the rain we’ve gotten, so our choice of highway was closed off. Using the Jesus Phone, we plotted not one, not two, but three alternate routes to the store as nature and local government conspired to prevent us from arriving.

Second, when we did arrive, the sign in the front window of the store declared I would be there at 7PM, not 8, which was also a bit awkward. But I have, in fact, read to no one at a store, so I am prepared to endure anything.

Third, the jacket I wore was, unbeknownst to me, covered in cat hair, making me look like some sort of derelict when I walked in, which explains why the owners of the store came at me with brooms, shouting “Shoo! Shoo!” when I first walked in. Finally, during the questions, The Duchess piped up about not liking the ending to The Final Evolution and someone asked her if she’d ever liked any of my endings, and there was a silence that can only be described as awkward.

All good fun.

Here’s some pics. Believe it or not, I am more or less sober in all of them, and wearing pants in most!

The Well Read Bookstore makin' me welcome Books for sale, huzzah!
Jeff attempting not to make an ass of himself. I actually was asked to sign a bunch of books, which will be worth whole dollars someday!
Jeff attempting not to make an ass of himself. I actually was asked to sign a bunch of books, which will be worth whole dollars someday!


The First Time I Ever Got Fired

(Originally published in Angry Thoreauan #27, November 2000)

I was eighteen years old and entering my Freshman year at Rutgers University and already I’d managed spectacular, if invisible, failure financially: In what was to soon become the soundtrack of my life, I found myself submerged in debt, most of it mysterious and vaguely disturbing. I usually chose to not think about it. Since at the time I was in the middle of my own personal Pax Soberia (having had a really disturbing “oh Jesus, that smell is me” revelation recently, inspiring me into my first and last foray into the nondrinking world) I approached this problem of debt with uncharacteristic sensibility, and decided to get a job. Prior to the Pax Soberia I would have spent a lot of time trying to alchemize cash out of used beer bottles and cigarette filters. Newly arrived at the University, I eschewed this standard solution in favor of a radical new one: Get a job. I figured for someone with my personal charm and adequate IQ, earning money would be easy.

Located in the middle of a formless grey cloud I can only refer to as nowhere, my campus was basically a roiling sea of tightly-packed and pressure-crushed Engineering students, and almost nothing else. It was just a big plain dotted with dorms and parking lots, and that was it. There was a Student Center, of course, which boasted video games, a pool table, a Wendys, and a Pizza Parlor. The glittering, oasis-like Student Center bravely employed and occupied about twenty of the thousands of students on a nightly basis. The rest of us had to sit in our rooms spitting at each other for entertainment, or take a six hour bus ride to the other campus, where there were bars and stores and (rumor had it) Things to Do. Or, of course, you could manufacture designer drugs out of the materials on hand (cleaning solutions, toothpaste, couch cushc ions, etc) and get stoned.

Looking back, it isn’t very surprising that my Pax Soberia didn’t last very long.

Buried in the middle of this wasteland, though, was a small grocery store which had refused to sell out to the University when the campus had been planned, leaving it the only non-University building on campus, not to mention the only other jobs on-campus. And Lo! A “Help Wanted” sign hanging in the door on that long-ago September day when I finally woke up and thought to myself, Well, I’ve been here for two weeks, might as well go to a class or get that job, or something.

I showed up and discovered that I wasn’t alone in my desire to work for the grocery store. Dozens of others were there, filling out applications for the fifty hours or so of shifts available. The owners of the store new a good deal when they saw one, and they announced that we would each be assigned a test shift, and that after the week decisions would be made as to which of us would be lucky enough to earn minimum-wage stocking shelves. I took my assigned shift and promptly forgot all about it. How hard could it be to get a job in a grocery store? I’d observed the people who worked in the grocery stores back home and had always assumed their sole recommendation for the job was their ability to show up for it every day instead of killing themselves. I could do that. For a while. Especially since I could already tell that the Pax Soberia was going to end soon; a group of us had been hoarding grape juice from the dining hall, and it was silently fermenting in my closet.

When I showed up for my test shift a few days later, one of the co-owners, a short balding man in thick glasses, greeted me warmly enough and introduced himself as Mike. Mike ran me through my responsibilities quickly: Keep the store clean, stock the shelves, and run the register. It sounded simple enough, and I was encouraged when Mike got into details and demonstrated the first third of my job: Keeping the place clean. Sweeping, dusting, litter-detail — all these things were simple and easily within my (even then) withered abilities.

Mike then tried to teach me how to stock the shelves and freezers. This was more complicated than I would have ever imagined. The sodas in the freezer, for example, were to be stocked in a specific order, in a specific way. Mike showed me twice. Mike’s way of showing me was to perform the chore very quickly, without saying a word, and then turning to me brightly and saying “See?”

Having detected absolutely no pattern to the way he’d stocked the freezer, I nodded enthusiastically and said “Sure!”

Mike stared at me. At first I figured he could smell the ripe funk of my lie, and was simply waiting for me to Do the Right Thing. Then I figured it out: he was just staring. Mike liked to stare. Over the course of the next few hours of my employment, Mike stared at me a lot.

Next, Mike showed me how to work the register. Due to Mike’s habit of staring at me, I’d come to the conclusion that he and the two women he owned the store with were telepaths, communicating mentally. Thus it didn’t surprise me when there was no system of codes or UPCs for the approximately infinite number of products the store sold. Mike cheerfully explained that I would be expected to memorize all the prices of all the items offered by the store (listed in a oft-folded typewritten and hand-corrected booklet), do the tax calculation in my head, and count out the change. Then he stared at me until my hair began to singe a little.

Mike supervised my first transaction, which went fairly smoothly. Then he slapped me on the back heartily and went into his office. I finished out my four hour shift, shook hands with the next person up, thought HAVE A NICE DAY, MIKE really hard in Mike’s general direction, and went home to check on the fermenting grape juice.

The next day, I got a call from one of the other owners asking me to stop by. Figuring that my use of the New Math at the register had netted them big profits and I was about to be offered a partnership, I stopped by later on that day. I was ushered into .their office where Mike and one of the others sat waiting. A check was handed to me, and I was informed that they appreciated me coming in for the one shift, but I hadn’t made the cut.

I was dumbfounded. I’d never been fired before. I’d never gotten a failing grade before. I felt like I was about to cry. I managed to ask what I’d done wrong, in some pathetic effort to salvage knowledge, if nothing else, from this horrible incident.

Mike leaned forward and stared at me.

“You didn’t stock the sodas correctly, Jeff. And I showed you twice.”

I floated gently out of the store like they do in Spike Lee movies, staring down at my first and last check. I was numb. Not only had I been rejected by a dumb, hole-in-the-wall grocery store, but my financial morass had suddenly gotten much, much deeper.

If nothing else, I had the end of my Pax Soberia to look forward to.

Come Heckle Me

As a reminder to all and sundry: I will be reading/talking/stumbling about cursing out in public next Saturday, if anyone finds that sort of thing entertaining:

WHAT: The SFSNNJ Face the Fiction series.

WHERE: Well Read Books, 425 Lafayette Avenue, Hawthorne, NJ 07506; 973-949-3440

WHEN: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 8PM

Come on by and bring something to throw at me. Preferably rolls of money and bottles of liquor. Whatever I can catch unbroken I can keep!