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Get down! I’m a Macaroni!

It’s been, what, three weeks in this room? Blogging? My publisher promised me that if I generated some media attention for the book, they’d let me out of here. The way things have been going, I’ll be here forever.

I’m not cool. I’ve never been cool. Maybe, at one point in school I got so uncool I actually passed through the event horizon* of uncool, becoming so uncool I was actually cool. For a brief, ironic moment back in the early nineties when irony was hip. But in the traditional sense, no, I have never been cool.

Of course, in order to blog, you have to have a healthy appreciation for your own personal greatness, right? I mean, you are imagining that on some level total strangers want to know what you’re thinking, what you’re doing, maybe even what you’re eating, wearing, and muttering to yourself.

The answers for me: Scotch, an ancient pair of khaki shorts and nothing else besides a thin film of sweat, and goddamn you all to hell over and over again.

See? Not cool. And yet I must blog. For I have a book to sell.

That’s the sad truth of it–blogging is not natural for me. I didn’t see WordPress or Blogger and think, damn, this is what I should be doing with my time. I felt an overwhelming sense of boredom and woke up in Mexico without my pants. Again. But when you’re walking that thin line between being a total gacking sellout flogging your book like the unit-shifter it is, and maintaining some of the dark integrity you still gloat over under the covers with a flashlight, you pick your battles. A blog is a marketing tool these days, just like viral videos and Alternate Reality Games, but at least it’s a marketing tool where I get to be as uncool and lame as I always am.

I mean, I’ve been uncool for so long it’s comfortable. If I landed in some lame Disney movie about an uncool guy who finds a device that makes him cool, I’d run the other way, natch. I like being uncool. It’s part of my skin. When I was a little kid, I displayed zero athletic talent and yet insisted on playing Little League baseball to the mixed horror and amusement of my neighbors. When I was a little older I actually played Dungeons & Dragons. I got good grades. I wore glasses–ridiculously oversized plastic glasses, in fact. Look:

Me.

How I did not grow up to be a darkly muttering psycho, I have no idea. The liquor helps, I think.

And now, you lucky people will be exposed to my raw and unedited internal monologue! A RIVER OF UNCOOL WASHING OVER YOU LIKE AN INCOMPREHENSIBLE WAVE! Oh, it will be ever so much fun.

*Been reading Frederick Pohl and that’s my Phrase of the Week right now

Jeff’s Ongoing Fugue of Pain: An Autobiography

Jeffs Ongoing Fugue of Pain

A History of My Life

By Jeff Somers

 

 

PART ONE: in which I eat dogs and become acquainted with Jesuit cruelty.

 

Where to start? I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey to an Irish-German family of thirteen: six brothers, five sisters, two parents. Only four survived the great bratwurst famine of 1974, two of them being my parents, who mourned the deaths of my siblings by dumping the surviving kids in private school and taking a cruise around the world. In private school my brother Yan and I learned to sing songs from The Sound of Music and tap dance, skills which have saved my life on more than one occasion. After the cruise, my parents went on an extended tour of Europe, from which they have yet to return.

As a result, Yan and I returned from the 1981 semester at school to find the house abandoned. A pack of wild, rabid dogs had broken through the screen door on the back porch and made it their home, and my poor brother Yan was mauled quite badly before I could Tap the dogs to death. I set about nursing Yan and scavenging our ancestral home for foodstuffs and potable water. It was, after all, a long summer. We survived it by eating carefully salted dog meat and drinking rainwater which had so much lead in it I went temporarily color blind in August. When Yan had regained enough of his strength, we set about repairing our ancestral home and plundering my father’s abandoned stocks of pornography. The summer passed quickly, then.

In the fall we matriculated into high school. Our parents maintained a long arm and enrolled us in St. Peter’s There But For the Grace of God Academy, which was a pseudo-religious-slash-military establishment stressing Latin and self-mutililation. We awoke one fine September day to find the ancestral home surrounded by Jesuit Commandos, who piled us into an armored truck along with several other frightened boys. Yan and I cheered our fellow kidnap victims by singing The Sound of Music (Yan’s voice indistinguishable from Julie Andrews’) and we plotted a brisk escape from the truck; but once the rear doors were thrown open Yan and I were inexplicably ratted out by our fellows. My brother and I entered St. Peter’s as prisoners, and spent our first weeks there being beaten on a daily basis by a burly priest named Father Hump, until we could speak perfect Latin, although we could no longer remember our own names.

(more…)

I’ve Got Nothing to Say, I Hope You Have a Nice Day*

Quite frankly, I’m boring as hell.

People like me should not have blogs. I have few opinions. I let my life wash over me like an incomprehensible existential nightmare. I aspire to make shit up for a living. I’m a comfortable white guy living an easy life, and there is very little about me that is controversial or thought-provoking. Unless a fleshy mid-thirties guy drinking whiskey and reading a lot of books is your idea of thought-provoking, which it shouldn’t be, especially since I forget about 95% of what I read in those books. I’m like the guy from that movie Memento, except without the angst. And the dead wife.

Good blogs, blogs that I actually heave myself off of my digital ass to read, have one of two things going for them, I think: Either they have a central point, a subject to focus on in which the blogger is at least a self-styled expert, or they have an attitude–you know, blogs that exist just to stir shit up. Either way once you get some Technorati traction you start getting traffic, and then fights break out in your comments section, and all is good in the world. Then, one glorious day, one of your posts is greeted with a comment that reads, in full, “first!” and you know you have arrived.

Sadly, I am none of these things. I am an expert in nothing–I am your classic, classic Jack of All Trades and Master of None. My bizarre attention span has led me to become vaguely acquainted with any number of skills–baseball, French, chess, computer programming, guitar–before wandering off to do something else, usually involving whiskey. I can write authoritatively about nothing that does not personally involve me, so I don’t do it, for fear of being mocked. Your mockery wounds me.

I’m also not much of a shit-stirrer, largely for the same reason. When you recognize your vast ignorance and lack of life-mastery, it undermines the confidence, which makes it difficult to flatly call other people morons. It’s too bad; angering thousands of people would do wonders for my traffic.  If anyone out there wants to be my personal shit-stirrer, posting terrible things under my name in order to drum up attention, please contact me. The pay is terrible, but I’ll buy you beers.

*Name that reference and I will send you a cookie.**

**No cookies will actually be sent.

This Writing is Making Me Thirsty

They delivered a mysterious box to the room today. Unmarked, just addressed to me.

Naturally, I stared at it suspiciously for some time before opening it–my publisher can be a cruel, inhuman organization, and there’s been an awful lot of mind games so far. The liquor bottles emptied and refilled with tea, the phone calls in the middle of the night, the deliveries from restaurants with nothing inside the foam boxes. They are trying to break me down, but I am strong. Or at least frequently drunk, which is just as good.

Of course I opened the box; I am far too weak to resist things like opening mysterious boxes. And you know what? Inside were Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of The Electric Church. Whoo hoo! They are like real books except uncorrected and unpolished. Like most of my writing, so who’s complaining?

I’ve never gotten ARCs before. My previous published book, Lifers, was published by a company so small they actually sent me a bunch of sales receipts so I could peddle the book myself when I went out to readings and such. I did get a bunch of copies for myself, of course, but nothing advanced, you know? Actually, I still have about 200 copies of Lifers in my mother’s basement. Poor Mom. Poor me. Literally–anyone want to buy a copy, cheap? I’ll sign it. Suggestively, for a little extra.

But I digress: These are my first ARCs, and it’s pretty amazing to think that this is what the actual book will look like. It’s heavier than I expected, it’s got a heft to it. I like that. I hate to admit that my own book buying often includes the tactile sensation of the book–if the cover feels rough, if the paper is brittle, if it doesn’t have a good heft to it, I am mysteriously turned off. I know that’s not supposed to be why we buy books, but it’s part of it, at least for me.

Believe it or not, folks, soon you will have to contend with my book. In actual book form. In actual stores.

In the mean time, I have so many writing projects I’m going mad. Most aren’t even paying me, which is really sad, and between the day job–which is paying me–and the zine (100,000 words a year) and the short stories (one a month come hell or high water) and the web columns on www.innerswine.com (precious few these days) and the columns in Xerography Debt and Brutarian and the sequel to The Electric Church and this damned blog, I’m spread kind of thin. I know writers who only work on one project at a time, and who sometimes take years to finish a single short story. I’ll never understand. There’s always time for revision (though with my drinking habits and tendency to step into moving traffic, maybe not) and I’d rather spend my time having fun and writing.

Oh well. In the mean time, I have to devise a way to escape from this hotel room using only the newly delivered books, the bedding, and the small number of roach traps I found under the bed. Wish me luck.

Send down a hogshead of whiskey

I suspect the hotel may be on fire. At any rate, room service doesn’t respond and I’ve been reduced to collecting rainwater outside the one window I can pry open–the gap is too narrow for me to make an escape through, though.

My whole life revolves around beverages. I’m not sure how this happened, or if this is a writer thing, since writers have been stereotyped as hopeless alcoholics whose talents run proportional to their liquor intake. All I know is that my days are loose chunks of time defined by what I’m drinking at the moment. The fact that many of these beverages are alcoholic in nature is just coincidence, don’t you think? Right? Hello?

In the morning, it’s Our God Coffee. I’d like to be one of those mysterious, intellectual writer types who drinks obscure Moroccan drinks whilst sitting on their veranda, thinking deeply, but the fact is I have the palate of a junkyard dog. Just about everything in the food and beverage world pleases me, and the subtle differences of quality people talk about elude me. I’ve never met a bottle of wine I didn’t like, and the while I can’t quite say the same thing about coffee–there is bad coffee in the world, Virginia, and I’ve had it–I am still pretty easy about coffee. The only real rule is, no Starbucks. I have nothing particularly against Starbucks as an evil corporation sucking the life out of the world, they can oppress the workers and rip off the consumer all they want. No, it’s their terrible, over-roasted coffee that offends me. That shit could be used to remove paint.Coffe Cart

So where do I get my coffee? I live near and work in Manhattan, fans, which means one thing: Coffee Carts run by Arab Men. Used to be $1 a cup for a large, now the evil of inflation has raised it to $1.25. It’s the best damn coffee in the universe, bar none.

The cart has been run by a series of Arabic men for years. They tend to work there for a few years and then disappear, without explanation. I assume there is a steady stream of family and friends coming into this country, getting jobs in the coffee cart empire, and then moving on when they’re established, but maybe it’s just the sort of job you can only take for so long before you go mad.

After coffee, nothing much happens for a very long time, and then there’s lunch. At lunch, I start working on a huge bottle of water. Now, I feel like a chump buying bottled water, I do. Water is water–at home I drink it from the tap, without any filters, and generally speaking I’m easy about the water. But any time I’ve tried to avoid buying the bottles, I’ve been frustrated, most probably by my weak brain and spineless tendencies. The water out of the tap at my office is deadly–when I did drink it for a week or so, I got sick every single day. Not sick enough to go home and call for lawyers in order to make my will, but nauseous nonetheless, and nothing makes a shitty day spent at work worse than nausea. Unless it’s suddenly realizing all that snickering talk around the water cooler is about you. So I’ve been stuck with bottled water, like a sucker.

After work, there is a beer when I get home–nothing heals like an ice cold beer, my beautiful babies. Whenever there is no beer in the icebox because of my incompetence, there are tears and recriminations, breast-beating and despair. Because I am an American, I’ve been drinking Yuengling. I completely agree with Homer Simpson, who once said of beer (well, he was actually talking about women, but he was using beer as a metaphor) “They smell good, they look good, you’d step over your own mother just to get one! But you can’t stop at one.”

Ahem. I must stop here before my wife or agent has me forcibly committed to a 12-step program.

After dinner, there’s more water. Hoboken water! Best water in the world. Of course, I’ve never been anywhere, so Hoboken water might suck for all I know. I mean, no one is pumping water out of Hoboken and bottling it, are they? Then again, from what I hear about bottled water, maybe they are.

Later, before bed, it’s a glass of good whiskey. I’d like to say that I sit and think deeply on the world’s problems while sipping some good 40-year old Scotch, but there’s only one thing true about that statement: I am sitting. The Scotch is  usually a little younger, and my thoughts generally focus on baseball scores and whatever is itching me that evening. Now you know, and you are no better for it. Maybe I should maintain a little more mystery on this site.

I don’t remember what my point was going to be. So I will simply stop typing, before making things worse. Bon soir, people!

My Inner Monologue

Some people make this blogging shit look easy, my friends, but I am not one of them.

Writing is sometimes easy for me–I’ve had both experiences. Sometimes writing is like painfully carrying words made out of solid granite up a steep incline and laying them laboriously next to each other, with paragraphs taking days and chapters taking weeks. Sometimes I rattle it off like I’m just tossing words onto a wall, where they magically stick together in wonderful ways. But blogging just doesn’t feel natural, so far.

One reason is that I can’t believe anyone wants to know what I’m thinking. I mean, how would that be possible? My inner monologue consists of baseball statistics, beer cravings, and a morass of useless trivia. No one in their right mind wants to read that, right? I can’t be wrong on this. If I’m wrong on this then I should really be on TV, earning millions from you people.

Some people make this shit look easy, though: Consider Jeff Kay, who writes The West Virginia Surf Report.  Jeff used to put out a printed zine back in The Day, and now does it blog-style, and damn if he doesn’t post funny, interesting things just about every day. I am insanely jealous. I am jealous enough to go down and burn down his house, except that would require planning. And energy. And time. Basically all the things that conspire against me on a daily basis. Normally I would hire someone else to take care of the house-burning-down stuff, but I’m a writer, you know. We have no monies.

Jeff recently got a literary agent, so we can only hope he starts delivering the printed goods again, and that maybe then he’ll stop blogging and for want of a better alternative people will start wandering here! Muhahahahaha!

Pre-order The Electric Church

Avast!

The Electric Church is available for pre-order at Amazon. I assume you are as excited by this as I am. Now, the book isn’t going to publish until September, but don’t let that stop you. Please? Pretty Please? Jeff needs liquor monies.

Peeps Who Have Published The Pantsless Wonder

I know from dirty, shameful experience that it sometimes seems like getting published is a mysterious process, involving chicken sacrifice and the black arts. Sadly, it’s a lot more mundane than that.

The Electric Church is my first experience with a large publisher, actually. My first book, Lifers, was published by a tiny company based in California, now defunct, and most of the rest of my resume is short stories and essays sold to small magazines. A lot of these were just faceless submissions–I mailed a story to a name and an address, and at some point someone sent me a nice note of acceptance an, in the best scenarios, a check. My first short story sale was for $7.50. As you can see, this is a glamorous, big-money life we’re talking here.

But a lot of my stories have been published by people I’ve actually met, god bless them. I assume, for ego purposes, that this is not because I am charming, attractive, and free with rounds bought at the local bars, but because of the searing force of my genius. Or at least so I tell myself every night before I finally pass out, bottle of Peach Schnapps in hand.

You see, I’m a Zine Publisher. A zine, in case you don’t know, is a self-produced magazine. I write a bunch of stories and essays, lay them out, print them out, and mail them to people. My zine is called The Inner Swine and I’ve been putting it out since 1995. There are two kinds of people in the world: People who hear “I put out a zine” and think hey, cool! and people who hear “I put out a zine” and think that’s the biggest waste of fucking time I’ve ever heard. That’s fine–not everyone can be cool like me. The zine world is a complicated place, littered with people who publish, people who used to publish, people who just like to read them, and people who just write for them. As a result, you get in contact with a lot of people who not only like your writing–which they were exposed to when someone handed them a tattered copy of your zine–but who might want to publish you in their zine.

Take Frank Marcopolos, for example. He used to publish a zine called The Whirligig, which was a literary fiction zine. He published 2 or 3 of my stories therein, and we met once at a reading. A very cool guy. He eventually gave up The Whirligig and moved on to other things, selling the magazine to another publisher who is working on the first issue of the reborn zine as we speak (and I’ll have a story in that one, too!). Now, zines tend to have a fairly low readership (all things being relative) but you’d be surprised–a fancy-pants literary mag based at a college sometimes is lucky to have a couple hundred readers, yet it’s got prestige. Some zines have several thousand readers, believe it or not.

The reading I met Frank at was in support of an anthology called The Urban Bizarre, edited by Nick Mamatas. Nick never put out a zine (that I know of) but loves to discuss writing and reading and such and so could be found on message boards that intersected with the subject of zines.  Nick bought two stories of mine for that anthology, and thus will always have a place in my heart. He’d also had a story or two published in The Whirligig, and that’s how we became aware of each other. See? Everything’s a little clique. All that changes is the scale of the clique.

The difference between the scrappy, photocopied publishing of zines and the polished, nationally distributed book publishing of The Electric Church isn’t as big as you’d think. Heck, I had not only national, but international distribution for The Inner Swine for a few years there. Not only could you find TIS in stores across America, you could also find it in Tower Records stores in Japan, Ireland, England, and a few other places. The main difference I can see so far is that there are more people involved, and they buy you cocktails slightly more often.

That last is a huge difference, by the way. I’m going to hook my mouth up to the corporate publishing teat for the free booze more than anything else.

I am weary now. Click on the links above and tell these people how cool they are.

This is Livin’

The heat is broken in this hotel room, and it’s about 103 degrees in here. I’ve complained to the mostly silent men who stand guard outside my door, but they don’t respond, or do anything. So, I’m blogging naked, soaking in cold water in the tub.

By lowering a note to the street on a thread worked free of the bedsheets, I convinced a street urchin to purchase a bottle of Glenmoranjie for me, and so I’ve got a nice drink balanced on the edge of the old clawtooth tub. Things are looking up.

My present living situation and my recent contemplation of my flooding house has me thinking about places I’ve lived. Plus, I was just reading Jeff Kay’s West Virginia Surf Report and one of his recent posts was about an old apartment he lived in, so I’ve been thinking about places I’ve lived. My memories are suspect in the best of times, so really all I have are impressions:

Rented house: In my sophomore year of college I rented a house with 7 friends, or 4 friends and 3 of their friends. My main memory of this place is when one of my roommates went into the bathroom one day after a big party. The rest of us were watching TV in the living room, directly below the bathroom. Suddenly, there is a horrible, inhuman noise from the upstairs bathroom, and then, in quick succession, the sound of water dripping through the ceiling, the sound of running feet on the stairs, and then my roommate, in a green robe, skidding to a halt in the room, staring comically at the ceiling, then snatching my clean towels from the rack on which they were drying and sopping up his filthy toilet runoff with them. Good times, good times.

Apartment #1: The next year two of my friends and I rented a subterranean apartment a few blocks away. The place had no windows, particle board walls, and madness in the air. How we made it out without killing each other, I’ll never know.

Apartment #2: The first place I ever rented on my own was actually not a bad place, all things considered. The upstairs neighbors weren’t so great, though. A huge, red-faced woman and her thirty or forty kids, as far as I could tell. She took her parenting very seriously, however, asking me to go to the liquor store to buy her booze when she couldn’t leave the “young ‘uns” alone by themselves.

Apartment #3: A cheap place, with floors painted brown. I once decided to take a bath and turned the water on, and then forgot all about it until my suffering downstairs neighbor came screaming up the stairs, wondering why Niagra frickin Falls was pouring into her bathroom. Good times.

Apartment #4: Shared with the future Duchess Mrs. Somers, this was a bargain-priced railroad with the worst heat ever known to man. Pluto is warmer than that apartment in the winter. Once we put a thermometer into the bathroom in January and it told us it was 43 degrees in the bathroom. WITH THE HEAT ON. We had it “fixed” many times, to no avail. They’ll likely find an Indian Burial ground underneath that place someday.

Ah, good times, good times. When I get out of this hotel, I’m going to burn it down and send the bill to my publisher.

Swamped

When we first moved into this house, a neighbor said “These houses have been here for 120 years, I think they’ll handle anything.”

Yesterday was pretty nasty, but we survived the storm here in the NYC area, although this morning we do have a foot of water in the crawlspace and a new slow leak from the roof. But at least nothing caved in, slid away, or otherwise disintegrated. Our cats are also all dry, which is the most important consideration. If you don’t have cats, you may not understand that. If you do have cats, or have experienced the joy that is a wet, unhappy cat, you may have a glimmer of the horror we just avoided.

I’m at home today, forbidden to leave my house by the governor of this great state. Well, of course I could leave the house, but when the governor gets on the horn and begs everyone to stay home, why not take a work-at-home day, stay in your jammies, and drink beer all day while answering work email? And writing a bit in-between.

I’m working on something that might be of interest to anyone interested in The Electric Church, but that’s all I can say right now. Soon the world will know the truth! SOON, MY PRETTIES.

And that’s it for today. Read a few more posts to see some of the Ultra Cool People who have occasionally been nice to Senor Jefe over the years. They all deserve your attention and Amazon purchases.