BEFORE YOUR CONTINUE, LEARN A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MAX BURBANK | Burbank is a freelance writer living in Salem, Massachusetts. His work has been published by Cracked.com, NationalLampoon.com, i-mockery.com, and the literary magazine websites (because he is both hoity and toity, but neither enough to get in the print versions) Monkeybicycle.net and Frictionmagazine.com. Once upon a time, before the Internet, he sold science fiction stories to the legendary Algis Budrys for Tomorrow: The Magazine of Speculative Fiction. Until recently, he was the political satirist for Chelsea Now, where he won a PRESTIGIOUS first place award for editorial cartooning from the New York Press Association, because gosh darn it, he draws real good, too. A huge, steaming pile of Max’s comedy writing can be found archived at maxburbank.wordpress.com. Max is available for freelance work, both writing and illustration, because he likes to eat on occasion.
My CoviDiary, 3/18/2020: Being an Introduction to This Project
BY MAX BURBANK | Hours ago, on my own authority, I declared today to be International Robert Goulet Day. There was a train of thought leading to this decision, but it was derailed in the immediate, blinding explosion of the idea’s birth, and proved unrecoverable. We are left with only the evidence of International Robert Goulet Day’s concrete, undeniable existence, gesturing mysteriously toward its hermetic origins.
A number of years ago (and it would be easy enough to figure out that number, but this is not the sort of project where I’m going to do things like that), I set out on a writing project which I called 100 Days of Misery. It was a response to an Internet fad, 100 days of Gratitude, wherein people were encouraged to write about one thing they were grateful for, every day, for 100 days.
Mostly people lasted between three and eleven days, and me being who I am, I found it incredibly irritating and would not shut up about it. My Long-Suffering Bride (official title, patent pending, hands the f**k off, stealers) said, “Why don’t you write about it?” which I took as encouragement, though it may well have meant, “Why don’t you stop talking to me about it?”
I began quite certain I would never go 100 days, and warning my readers (a boldly assumed class of hypothetical humans) that I was in no way promising to go the full 100 and certainly wasn’t saying I’d post each and every day and that I would stop whenever I wanted, this was for ME, not THEM.
Much to my surprise, I did post every day for 100 days, and it broke me out of the worst and longest writer’s block I had ever suffered since I began writing stuff that every once in a while I got paid for, but mostly gave away.
This project means to be like that, except not. It IS a writing assignment I have given myself. I DO intend to write daily, but I make no promises. I DO hope it will help me maintain what passes for mental balance with me.
I do not know what it’s going to be. I imagine short daily posts, but not really a diary in any traditional sense, and not about the Coronavirus in particular or the effects it is having on me or the country or the world. Although, sometimes it will inevitably be about that, since I am writing it NOW while this is HAPPENING: A pseudo diary of whatever is going through my head while we are waiting to see to what degree society as we have known it is destroyed.
My point is, I, like most others, have a great deal more free time than I had been anticipating, which sounds fun until someone says, “Think of all your free time as if it had transformed you into Kool-Aid Man, and the flavor of the red liquid you are sloshingly full of is Extreme Anxiety. “Oh, yeah.”
If you have been following my writing these last few years (and it’s hard for me to imagine you haven’t, while also worrying at the same time that you don’t exist), you may be expecting a relentlessly hilarious political diatribe, and there will almost certainly be some of that, but maybe not as much as you are expecting.
For the last several years, I have been writing… comic… political… commentary? It began as political satire, but anyone can see that satire is deader than the desiccated corpse of a super dead guy who used to write satire until it died.
Satire relies on exaggeration to make one’s points, it requires the writer to amplify aberrant behavior well past the point the target is engaging in, to illustrate the absurdity of… Well, you see the problem. Bit by bit, news cycle by news cycle, I have been losing the ability to stay ahead of the satiric curve. And it was alarming and upsetting and challenging and then too-challenging, and then impossible, and I stopped writing, except in angry snippets on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s not writing, per se, but I get off a good one now and then on the social media, and I really do like it and that’s more than a little pathetic. So political satire is not what this is going to be, except for the times that it is, and I won’t apologize, not because I am bold or proud or committed to experiment, but because I am lazy and apology takes time and effort.
My CoviDiary will be an exploration of where my mind wanders during the Coronavirus Pandemic, and I have no idea what all that will be, but I will say this: It will, by definition, and unavoidably, be a statement regarding the moment in history we are living through. And that, dear friends, dedicated readers of my imagination, is a justification of such spectacular literary laziness that even the fact that it is basically true cannot redeem it.
So I sign off, kissing my fingers (and so touching my face, which I KNOW I am not supposed to do anymore), flying them away from my mouth toward you, fingers spreading, while making a “Muh-WAH!” sound.
My CoviDiary, 3/19/2020: Hands
BY MAX BURBANK | Ten days ago, I tweeted “Prediction: Within the next 48 hours, Trump will start referring to COVID as ‘The Wuhan Virus’. Despite charges of scapegoating and fear-mongering, he will absolutely refuse to back down from it, claiming it is descriptive, not racist, as he did when calling Warren “Pocahantus.” I was wrong on the exact term and the time frame, but at this point, having test ballooned it with a few of his vile little cronies, Trump is referring to the Coronavirus exclusively as “The Chinese Virus.” When asked by a member of the press (rhetorically, one assumes) if that wasn’t just a tad racist, Trump put on that slack, scowly look he thinks is what serious leaders look like when they are seriously leading and responded… that’s where it’s from. Not racist. Descriptive. So I’m giving myself a ten out of ten for being fucking Nostrodamus, cause that’s how grading works. You grade your own performance. Just like back in school when you’d hand in a test and tell the teacher “That’s another 100 for me, because I answered all the questions correctly.” I don’t know why some people find school hard.
There’s been some buzz among the cognoscente that one should not take this bait, just continue to question the grotesquely combed-over Creamsicle bully on the facts of just how he’s handling this crisis, because his racism is an intentional distraction. Let me just say that as a multi-faceted, complex human being, I am perfectly capable of hating Trump for constantly asserting his God given right to be the kind of racist little bitch people used to know better than to be in public WITHOUT it distracting me.
The entire matter makes me angry and depressed, so let’s instead examine
THE STATE OF MY HANDS.
Full disclosure. For much of my life, I have not been as dedicated to the practice of hand washing as I ought to be. I don’t mean I’ve never washed them, but that I ought to have washed them more and in some sort of systematic, regular way, instead of mostly when they visibly had stuff on them. I sincerely apologize for having been disgusting, and I assure you, I am reformed. I understand research reveals my gender is generally unscrupulous in the hand washing department and that an appalling majority of us are… lax? Hygienically? Regarding hands? Which is bad, since that is mostly what one touches things with?
That changed around Thanksgiving, maybe a bit later, when one or another of my family came down with the thirteen or fourteenth cold and or flu of the season and all of my coworkers were engaged in a round robin of sneezing, hacking, and nose blowing. It’s hard to remember in light of where we are now, but people were pretty frequently sick with the garden variety winter malaise this winter before we began our descent into the poorly written dystopian screenplay we are now inhabiting.
Miraculously, I got the seasonal gripe only once, and not that badly, but when my bride came down with the flu (just the flu) mere days after recovering from a severe cold, I embarked on an aggressive hand washing regimen, so that by the time near constant hand washing became the national pass-time, I’d already been at it for a few months.
What song do you sing to yourself to ensure you’ve lathered for an efficacious amount of time? If you could listen in on my thoughts (and I am often consumed with fear that many of you can and do, as I am mildly delusional, anxious and paranoid) you might think I was singing “The Alphabet Song” to myself, and you would be not just wrong, but insulting. I am, if nothing else, enigmatic. If you think for only a moment you will realize that “The Alphabet Song” is simply a set of lyrics rudely imposed upon the tune “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” Not sophisticated enough for you? Then let me inform you that those are NOT the lyrics I hear in my mind’s ear, preferring the parodic “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little BAT”, lines given to the Mad Hatter by Lewis Carroll AKA the REVEREND CHARLES DODGSON! Perhaps you remain unimpressed by my little matroyshka doll of trivia, but we have yet to hatch the innermost, tiniest trivia doll, because DID YOU KNOW that the tune shared by “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, “The Alphabet Song” and for that matter “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” was written by none other than WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART?! And did you furthermore know that bit of trivia ISN’T ACTUALLY TRUE AT ALL?!
It’s an old French folk song titled “Oh! Shall I tell you, Mommy?” Put that in your trivia pipe. What Mozart did was take the well known tune and write twelve variations of progressive complexity on it, which was the sort of thing genius types do when screwing around musically. And one of those variations (I’ve no idea which one) is the one I sing in my head whilst washing my hands to ensure I have scrubbed for at least twenty seconds. Why? Because I… am… a sophisticate.
All of which is a very roundabout way to let you know I’ve been washing my hands a lot for months now after having only washed them sporadically for most of my life and they result is that they now LOOK LIKE SHIT AND HURT.
Honestly. I want to say they look like my grandmother’s hands, but that would be too kind. What they look like is two slightly palsied Iguanas that used to be quite fat but suddenly lost a catastrophic amount of weight. The skin of my hands is dry, loose, furrowed, pruney, criss-crossed by an uncountable array of fine lines that frequently and inexplicably turn a chalky white, and CRACKED around the knuckles which under the current circumstances SCARES THE CRAP OUT OF ME.
Do not ask me if I moisturize. Of course I do, although I have until recently mostly thought of deliberate moisturization to be the effete province of the sort of person who might be mistaken for the protagonist in Thomas Mann’s immortal “Death in Venice” (SOPHISTICATE, must I remind you?! Apparently so.) I have not yet hit on a moisturizer entirely to my liking. “Gold Bond Healing Cream” is far too greasy and far from healing, causes my hands to itch. “Suave” offers temporary soothing relief, but in an hour my hands are once again a pair of withered lizards.
And now I am too sad and demoralized to continue. So let us leave it there. For now. Put a pin in it, stigmatize my horrid, autumnal leaf hands. They’ll come up again soon enough now I’ve laid the groundwork.
My CoviDiary, 3/20/2020: I Hallucinate. Or do I?
BY MAX BURBANK | This morning I Googled “What day is today?” because I wasn’t sure. To be fair, I was sure it was either Thursday or Friday, but I didn’t know. It probably doesn’t mean anything, but it’s hard to argue it’s a good sign. I’d already taken out the trash and recycling anyway on the premise that if it was Thursday and not Friday and the bins sat curbside for a day it wouldn’t be the end of the world, it would just be during the end of the world.
In racism news (See yesterday’s entry, https://maxburbank.wordpress.com/2020/03/19/my-covidiary-3-19-2020-hands/), a photo now exists of Trump’s briefing book, where the word “Corona” appearing directly before the word “virus,” has been crossed out, and the word “Chinese” written in sharpie. You know, so he wouldn’t accidentally forget to be racist while laboring over reading written words aloud.
Also, two Republican Senators (Intelligence Chair Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia) appear to have sold massive amounts of stock just before the market tanked, just after they’d received classified briefings on just how bad things were going to get, and just before they went back out to solidly back Trump in delivering the news that the Coronavirus was nothing to worry about, it would disappear like magic as soon as the weather improved and that anyone who wanted a test could get a test, even if they were just non-player characters, and not congressmen, wealthy Republican donors or well-known professional athletes. With William (#BullfrogRichelieu) Barr crouching in the AG’s office, there’s no way of knowing if they will ever face justice for these clear crimes. What we do know for certain is they will go to hell the instant they die and be tormented for eternity by demons, possibly pigs dressed as nuns or medieval minstrels playing absurdly long trumpets with their butts. You don’t get to make massive profits off untold human suffering and chaos while telling everyone there’s nothing to worry about, and what a great time to buy stocks it is without getting damned. It’s a pigs-dressed-as-nuns level offense in almost every system of religious belief. Look it up.
Which I suppose is as good a segue as any to inform you for future reference…
Not frequently. Just now and again. Or so I have been told. What I mean to say is that over the course of my life, I have witnessed several events and seen people that seemed, on relating the story to others, to be highly unlikely, but which seemed in every way real to me, absolutely as real as every other event in my “real” life. So it’s a judgement call.
I will allow that there are more than a few arguments to be made that the events I’m talking about are hallucinatory. ONE: They are generally absurd, improbable, or grotesque in some way. But so much of life is, isn’t it? TWO: No one but me seems to notice or interact with the people I am seeing. Not in the “I’m talking to people no one can see but me and no one is noticing!” way, more like in the completely normal way that people simply ignore other people as they go about their daily business. THREE: Okay, the stuff I’m talking about ought to be the sort of thing other people would notice if they saw it. But who knows? People are obtuse, they miss all sorts of things you’d think they’d pay attention to. FOUR: None of my friends or family, some of whom have been in close proximity to the events in question, can corroborate these events. FOR THE MOST PART. More on that in a future post tentatively titled The Ancient Twins.
Every now and again, tantalizing evidence that what I have seen is real offers itself, and I’ll give you a “for instance.” Years ago when I was on tour in Florida with the comedy group “Guilty Children,” on an evening off, some of us went out to a bar that had no windows, no sign, and nothing much beyond a parking lot to even let you know it was a place of business. This was long before the Internet, and one of my colleagues had found it in a document called the Gayellow Pages. I’m fairly certain I was the only man there and while everyone was perfectly pleasant I felt somewhat out of place, probably because I absolutely was. You’d never know it to look at me now (SARCASM!) but in my youth I could be rather awkward, and I was hard-placed to find something to fix my attention on, until I saw the pool table. It was a lovely antique, and featured thick, intricately carved ball-a-claw legs. I crouched down to better appreciate the level of craftsmanship and beheld beneath the table two supine female persons of short stature arm wrestling. I do not mean this is a euphemism. They were arm wrestling.
None of my friends saw it. And none of them believed me when I told them later. They thought I was making it up. And this DESPITE THE FACT one of my colleagues allowed they had seen a person of short stature at the bar later that evening! But just one. And not arm wrestling, a thing that one person cannot do by themselves. Indeed, no one but me even noticed the pool table was an exquisite antique! The ornately carved ball-and-claw legs had registered with no-one but me!
Before you chalk this up as unlikely but entirely plausible (as I assure you I did, and STILL DO), recall I said this was a single for-instance. One of many events,that when viewed individually seem quite far on one end of a curve, yet possible, but when taken in aggregate argue for the idea that perhaps I am seeing things which are not there, which is to say, hallucinating.
All of which will, I imagine, prove an instructive lens through which to view many of the things I may well relate in My CoviDiary, INCLUDING SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED JUST YESTERDAY WHEN I WAS WALKING MY DOGS!! Which is where I will leave you with no promise I will actually ever tell you that story because I am only telling my truth and I owe you nothing. Which I mean in the nicest way possible.
My CoviDiary, 3/21/2020: Now With Trump Daily
BY MAX BURBANK | So, full disclosure, I have yet to watch a single episode of Trumpty Dumpty’s little Yer Daily Chinese Virus Rodeo Clown Press Availability/Hate-Rally-Replacement Fun Time Jamboree. I just can’t, and honestly I don’t need to, as I’m confident it will go something like this: Ol’ Double-Wide Don will reassure us all by opening with some casual racism, which has been kind of his signature move since he golden escalated his fat ass down from Trump Heaven at the very beginning of this simulation. He’ll let Dr. Anthony “Hapless” Fauci get off a few actual, possibly even informative bits of information before interjecting like the most spoiled kid in the daycare interrupting the teacher to let everyone know one time he saw a monkey on TV? And it was DRIVING a TRUCK! It did the HORN! HAAWNK! HAAAAAAAWWWNK HAAAAAWWWWWWNK!! And Dr Fauci will go “Well thank you, Mr. President.”
Then Blond Dr. Bobbleheadwoman will thank him for the kind of leadership that Jesus always seemed to be reaching for but something was missing and we never knew what until now. Next, TrumpaDump takes a softball question from someone planted in the audience pretending to be a “reporter” along the lines of “Has there ever been a less racist president than you who at the same time was never wrong about anything, even when filthy, fake news bastards tried to coup on him with their nasty questions?” (God as my witness, Sean “Fucking” Spicer got to ask him a question and Trump was, like, “That’s a very interesting and fair question, random journalist I have never seen before.” And spicer wasn’t even wearing a fake mustache! Make an effort, guys!)
And then someone else will be talking and Trump will sway back and forth and close his eyes a lot and pout because for some unfathomable reason that’s what he thinks leaders look like in serious situations. It’s like if he jammed a lightbulb in his mouth a squealed around it and people were all, like, “What the FUCK Mr. President?” and he got SUPER indignant and went “I’m BEIN’ a FIREMAN!” and people went “… excuse me, you’re WHAT NOW?!?” And he gets all red in the face and hollers “THAT’S WHAT FIREMENS IS LIKE! IT’S A PERFECT FIREMAN, like the CALL ‘n the TRAMSCRIMP n’ EVERYTHING I DO YOU’RE FIRED!” and he jams the lightbulb back in his mouth, but now he’s toddling around in circles and holding his arms out and making airplane noises.
Now if you’ve actually watched one of these pressers, you tell me: Is that not exactly what it was like? I mean, I didn’t even know about Sean Spicer, it just seemed like a given that would happen, and I’m right, aren’t I? The only thing I’m not certain of is if Sean wore a suit to the presser or if he came wearing that lime green floppy blouse/unflattering tights combo he was sporting on “Dancing With The Thoroughly Disgraced Has-Beens.”
My only other news? As if simply mentioning “The Ancient Twins” in My CovidDiary yesterday actually CONJURED them, they were witnessed today by me (not unusual), My youngest, Cordelia (who has seen them once before and actually PHOTOGRAPHED them from behind!) and my Bride, Valentina, (who has NEVER seen them and for many years vigorously DOUBTED THEIR EXISTENCE!). This is the only instance to date of my drawing one of my hallucinations bit by bit into consensus reality, and I think this is both a portent and a harbinger, or I would if I had a more firm grasp on what those words meant as opposed to just pretending I did. I said GOOD DAY, SIR!
My CoviDiary, 3/22/2020: Oh, Rand Paul…
BY MAX BURBANK | So Rand Paul, the Junior Senator from Kentucky tested positive for the Corona Virus. This means A) Rand had zero problems getting a test when there are frikkin’ FRONTLINE HEALTH CARE WORKERS all over the country who can’t get them and B) Rand Paul was exposing his colleagues to the Coronavirus at the exact moment he was one of eight Senators voting AGAINST the Coronavirus relief bill, which among other things expands unemployment benefits, provides paid sick leave to some displaced workers and provides FREE TESTING. So after voting against you getting tested for free if you could find a test which you almost certainly can’t, he woke up feeling under the weather and got himself a FREE FUCKING TEST which he had ZERO PROBLEMS GETTING! Oh, Rand Paul, you’re the Rand Pauliest.
Now if I have a good handle on what my readership is like. For the most part nobody right now is asking me if I feel sorry for Rand Paul, but I hang with a lot of Unitarian Universalists (and I myself am a Jewnatarian with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto), so it’s not impossible that someone reading right now is thinking “C’mon, Max. You’re better than this.”
I assure you, I am not.
I could feel sorry for Rand Paul in the abstract, but he is very near the bottom of a long list of people I might be called upon to feel sorry for about this over the course of the next God knows how long. I can’t feel sorry for everyone, it’s too exhausting, and I am already actively planning to feel sorry for ALMOST everyone.
A FEW REASONS I DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR RAND PAUL, SEVERAL, BUT NOT ALL OF THEM QUITE PETTY.
A) His name is Randall. That’s a perfectly serviceable name, yet he chooses to go by “Rand”. I’ll tell you a little secret, I went to an all boy prep school that required jacket and tie or turtleneck, and boys who call themselves “Rand” even though their name is “Randall” and continue to do so into middle age hung with boys who are now middle aged men who still call themselves “Trip,” “Kip,” “Squee,” “Moose,” and “Jim Jordan.” They drank gallons of shitty bear, got stoned on weed they unknowingly paid townies three times the going rate for and paddled freshman in bizarre hazing rituals passed down for generations from asshole to asshole.
B) The hair. Even the Brady boys were too embarrassed to let that hairdo crouch on their heads like tiny frightened poodle pups for more than one season, and they were not grown ass men, Doctors or Senators, all of which “Rand” Paul allegedly is. He has dipshit hair, which I know is totally the style amongst powerful GOP bastards these days, but it’s unacceptable, and I won’t have it.
C) He spent his childhood watching his Dad being a Doctor, a congressional Representative and a epic Libertarian national pain in the ass. Instead of learning anything from it he was all like “Hold my damn beer dad,” and I am well aware that is a worn out, cliched joke structure, but I’ll be damned if “Rand” Paul deserves my good stuff.
D) “Rand” Paul’s neighbor assaulted him so brutally he broke six of Paul’s ribs, allegedly over a long running yard care dispute, but that’s ridiculous. Paul’s neighbor, also a Doctor in the gated Kentucky community of Bowling Green (of the famed “Bowling Green Massacre”, one assumes) does not appear to be in the habit of violently assaulting his neighbors. This was a one off, and we all know the real reason: Being in regular close proximity to “Rand” Paul is unbearable torture that will eventually drive you frikkin’ batshit.
E) “Rand” Paul’s entire political existence has been solely about being a fly in the ointment. On the rare occasions that any legislation comes up that has any hope of being bi-partisan he’s right there sticking his clammy twig fingers in the gears and smiling at the pain as his digits snap. He prefers to irritate Democrats, but if there’s no way to do that, he’ll happily irritate his GOP brethren, which is why literally no one in Congress can stand him. Unlike Ted Cruz, who seems like he can only derive human pleasure from being an asshole you’d like to slap, “Rand” just does it because THAT’S WHO HE IS. He is the physical embodiment of making it hard for you to get shit done, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what it is you’re trying to get done. Honest to Christ, he’s the kind of guy who if you rushed up on his porch and saved his life with the Heimlich Maneuver when he choked on a gin-soaked olive would use the first breath he took to announce he was suing you for trespassing.
F) He voted AGAINST a very nearly unanimous Corona Virus Relief Package that would have extended benefits to people in serious trouble that “Rand” ALREADY GETS!
Look, it sucks that he’s sick. It sucks for a whole lot of sick people right now. And he didn’t want them to get tested for free, he didn’t want them to get any more unemployment time then they were already legally entitled to, if they worked the kinds of jobs that don’t give you paid sick leave he didn’t want them to have any at all so they’d have to go to work and spread this shit if they got it, and if he could have figured out a way to make things even more miserable for people less well off than him, you know for a fact he’d have done it, because that is exactly who he is. The kind of horrid little weasel-man whose ribs you just find yourself breaking one day because his entire life is all about desperately needing broken ribs. And I say this as a deeply committed, life long pacifist. With the exception of Dick Cheney, I have never, ever wished pain and suffering on any politician. Until now. And the current list is long. So yeah. That’s a win for them. I’ve changed in ways I didn’t want to. But screw it, man. I’m a Jewnatarian, not a saint.
My CoviDiary, 3/23/2020: I’ll Have A Side of Schadenfreude With My Schadenfreude
BY MAX BURBANK | A short one, as somehow today got away from me. I don’t know how that happened, seeing as while I did a bunch of stuff today, there was absolutely nothing Ihad to do.
A quick follow up to yesterday’s post: If you remember, “Rand” Paul tested positive for the GOPvirus. (I mean, if they can call it the Chinese Virus instead of the Coronavirus or Covid-19, I can sure as hell call it the GOPvirus or the Trumpvirus or the Would Have Killed A Lot Fewer People if Trump Hadn’t Fired the Pandemic Response Unitvirus if I want.)
Turns out, just a few days before “Rand” got his diagnosis, Ron Paul, “Rand” Paul’s dad, published an article titled “Boy, I hope this essay doesn’t explode right in my stupid face.” I’m kidding, the actual title was The Coronavirus Hoax. This time I’m not kidding. Among other nuggets of idiocy, the elder Paul instead of referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci by his proper title, “the only grownup left in the room” called him the “chief fearmonger” who “did his best to further damage an already tanking economy… Over what? A virus that has thus far killed just over 5,000 worldwide and less than 100 in the United States?”
So the apple of dickishness does not fall far from the tree of dickishness. If you’re looking for Ron Paul to make a public, perhaps tearful apology and talk about how terribly wrong he was, and how he had grown whatever part of the brain allows humans the ability to experience compassion, I wouldn’t hold your breath. (Sidebar: Did you know that world renowned one man side-show and professional goofy-ass imbecile, Geraldo Rivera, stated publicly that no one needs a Coronavirus test, because if you can hold your breath for more than ten seconds, you don’t have it? NOT making that shit up. I believe I have already covered how very dead satire is and how extremely deep it is buried.)
THE PATHETIC FALLACY…
Is a literary device which is neither pathetic, nor does it have anything to do with wieners, as it’s spelled with an “F” and not a “PH.” Imagine how we all giggled in AP English over that one. It is, rather, the attribution of human feelings and responses to inanimate things or animals, especially in art and literature. And when I say “inanimate things or animals,” I’m speaking in this case of the weather and not Jared Kushner. Thank you, I’ll be here all week, make sure to try the veal, which you can only get takeout on account of the GOPvirus.
As I type, it is snowing out, or as we say in New England when it snows this late in March “It is f**king snowing out.” Big, nasty wet globs of snow, some freezing rain, some thawed rain, all at once, like a mythological Nordic Snow Giant is pissing on us in the amounts that a truly big mythological giant could piss and also they can do it for hours, it turns out. The matches my mood perfectly. and if I was making that up for effect, I would be employing THE PATHETIC FALLACY, but I am not. Rather the author of the technologically impressive but very poorly written simulation I am trapped in is employing the Pathetic Fallacy, a device which is often the hallmark of blunt, obvious, lazy writing. I know you can hear me, Simulation writer. We are not friends.
You know the old saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” was not written by anyone who lived in New England. Here we believe that March comes in like a lion and goes out like that same lion, except way crankier and very dangerous as it has been standing outside while mythological Nordic Snow Giants wee all over it for hours. Do not cross the end of March New England Lion. It will scratch the crap out of you. I’m super looking forward to walking my dogs in it later tonight. I invite you to imagine our happiness.
My CoviDiary, 3/24/2020; Oh, Rats. And Hamsters.
BY MAX BURBANK | Forty and some change years ago I dragged my grandfather out of the room at my house where he was reasonably busy working at dying and insisted he officiate at the funeral of a rat. I’ve written about this before, more than once. It’s something of a touchstone for me and if you’ve heard the story before, I apologize. I imagine I’ll put it in front of you once or twice more before I’m done writing and you can stick with it or skip ahead. It won’t hurt my feelings. I won’t even know.
A favorite neighbor of mine had been having rat problems in his barn, so he did what you do and put down poison. One of the doomed rats came out and died very publicly in the kind of spotlight of sun cats favor, about fifteen feet in from the door, smack in the middle of the main entry. I don’t know if my memory is reliable, but I think I was there when he died. It was kind of awful. One moment it was a living thing, and then it was an object. No one had ever died in my life, my grandfather was going to be the first, so I don’t know where I got the idea that this rat’s passing had to be honored, but I was determined. I wrapped his body in a rag made from a strip of someone’s old flannel shirt, put him in a shoe box and took him home.
My grandfather, a lovely and dignified old man, was a good sport about the whole thing. He gave a very nice eulogy; loving husband, devoted father, standard boilerplate for the bereaved, but I found it right and proper.
In the years since, I have buried a few more wild animals and many, many pets, first mine and then my family’s. There have been a few funerals, but mostly I do not perform the service if there is one. I find cardboard boxes or Tupperwares for the departed. I pick a place. I dig a hole.
I’m writing this now having just come in from our tiny back yard, where I was making space for another beloved pet. It’s not an easy job. There are a lot of roots, and you have to keep putting the shovel aside. You have to kneel in the dirt and shove the clippers in. It takes a while, which is alright. A thing like that shouldn’t be quick or easy.
I want to tell you I remember each and every soul I’ve put back there and exactly where they rest, but I don’t. It’s only a matter of time before some spring planting takes a dark turn.
My youngest daughter is a college Sophomore. She came home for spring break a week ago, but she won’t be going back, because… well, we all know why. Last night her secret and wildly illegal college Hamster, Caspar, (and I’m not going to make any jokes. His fur was white and that’s the entire story) was found dead under his fake log hiding spot.
He wasn’t sick. He’d been active and happy and playing and then he went under his log and didn’t come out, because somehow things aren’t already rough enough for my daughter who is having (as we all are) to process all the ways life is suddenly changing. She loves school and had big plans for spring break and now she can’t even see her friends and she’s smart enough to know that those are small concerns in a very big picture and feel bad about feeling bad about such small matters. So adding a dead hamster to the load seems like pretty much what you’d expect right about now.
Caspar was a good boy. He liked people and he was curious and cute and he loved to roll his stupid plexiglass ball around in a fury, like he had some place super important to get to, but that place kept changing. For a hamster he was not very old. I wrapped him up in tissue paper and put him in a little Bob Ross box that had previously held a tiny paint by numbers kit which had been in the toe of my Christmas stocking this year. It is my sincere hope that when my time comes the same will be done for me, and if you think I do not mean a Bob Ross box and my own backyard, you are mistaken.
It seems good to me. And right, and proper.
That’s all I want to write for today.
My CoviDiary, 3/25/2020: A Noticeable Lack of Bad-Ass Slang
BY MAX BURBANK | Yesterday marked a week I’ve been laid off and… what? Staying at home? Social distancing? Quarantining? I’m not sure of the nomenclature. I always imagined a week into a pandemic we’d have an agreed upon nickname for the disease in question at very least. How many pages after the crash at the gas station into The Stand does Stephen King first call the super-flu “Captain Trips”” THAT is some bad-ass slang you can surf the end of the world on. “The Cornonavirus” doesn’t cut it, even if you the “the” real hard. Like in, “The Batman.”
Wuhan virus? Chinese virus? I hate both of those, and not just because they were so obviously focus-grouped. The White House briefly test ballooned “The Kung-flu,” which has the ring of authenticity to it, but is just too racisty–unless the dystopian, post-apocalyptic ,choose-your-own-adventure you’re trying to pretend this is instead of real life is largely about racism. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of racism going on, but I feel like it’s normal background racism as opposed to the real meat of the story, which I’d say is a political/sociological thriller about the marriage of lowest common denominator politics and pop culture.
“Thriller” might not be the best word. What’s the literary genre that starts with a MacGuffin and then becomes a roller coaster-like ride with an agonizingly slow climb up to the tippity top of human stupidity and then a blindly fast, near-free fall descent reminiscent of the boat ride from the 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, but more Republicany, and ends abruptly in a brick wall?
Anybody? No Lit majors here?
NOTABLE PEOPLE WHO HAVE TESTED POSITIVE FOR THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
Laurence Bacow, president of Harvard, and his wife
Rita Wilson and her husband
NOTABLE PEOPLE WHO HAVE DIED OF THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
Terrence McNally, playwright
I’m sure these lists are in no way complete, and I’ve offered no rubric as to what constitutes “notable,” so feel free to chime in with additions. I put these lists here to demonstrate that the Coronavirus (you see how badly we need a cool name for this thing) doesn’t really care who you are, but we do. In the world today, individuals experience a wide range of joys and tragedies, but as a global society, nothing is truly real until it happens to celebrities. Don’t @ me. I don’t really mean it, not totally. I’m just pointing at something and clearing my throat so you’ll think I’m smart.
We’ve been doing a lot of cleaning here at Chez Burbank, if by “cleaning” you mean “attacking the places where you crammed tons of random crap after shrieking “Shit! People are coming over!” This afternoon I quipped to my bride, “Just three more pandemics and we might actually get somewhere with this.” We had a good chuckle about the exquisite pairing of the decline of western civilization and the discovery that somehow during 25 years of marriage and raising two kids to adulthood, we became a family of hoarders without noticing. I imagine a lot of you find yourself in the same boat. I certainly hope so, because if it’s just us, I hate you, and not in a casual way.
It’s not entirely bad. Among all the detritus, I’ve stumbled upon delightful memories and actual treasure. At the bottom of a beach bag I found a travel-sized, unopened bottle of hand sanitizer. I immediately sold it on eBay for 17 million dollars and a very lightly used luxury cruise ship. I’m kidding. I’d sell both my thumbs before I’d let go of a bottle of hand sanitizer. You’ll notice I told you what the treasure was, but I never said anything about what the delightful memories were. I’m not keeping secrets, I just don’t can’t recall. Go on, judge me. When you stumble across a sealed, travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer, I’ll make sure to ask you about what was going on right before it happened.
My CovidDiary, 3/26/2020: We All Live On Maple Street Now
BY MAX BURBANK | Today the Bride and I went to Market Basket, Shaws, and PetSmart to shop for my family and my Mother-In-Law (AKA THE BEST PERSON I KNOW). It was weird and ominous and terrible and mundane and boring, like some higher power had decided the best thing for my anxiety would be to get shoved into a Phillip K. Dick novel. I wore gloves and I managed not to touch my face, but I touched my pants and my jacket and my keys and my wallet and my glasses with gloved hands that had touched every damn item I would eventually be purchasing until I was pretty sure I’d have been no safer if I’d shopped with a prehensile tongue. Which, for the record, I don’t have, but you get what I’m saying.
When we got to my Mother-in-Law’s, we took everything out of the grocery bags on her porch. We rubbed down all the cans and bags and boxes with Lysol and dumped vegetables out of plastic bags into other presumably uncontaminated paper bags from our giant stash of bags that predate the current apocalypse. Then we went on to our house and did the same thing all over. It took roughly 17 million years.
Either we are hugely overreacting and have enslaved ourselves to fear or we are doing nowhere near enough because we’re idiots who at some level must actively crave death. I’m pretty sure there’s no middle ground here. No matter what I do I’m always touching something with an unsanitized hand, washing while singing to myself and then touching the thing I’d touched before I washed. It’s paralyzing. I have to believe that my being as careful as I can be while constantly blowing it is better than not being careful at all, that somehow I’m mathematically reducing the probability of my contracting the Coronavirus, giving it straight to the people I love most and killing them.
SO I WALKED THE DOGS, A CALMING PRACTICE IF IT IS NOT RAINING AND WE DO NOT ENCOUNTER ANY DOGS THEY HOLD GRUDGES AGAINST.
And on my walk, I ran into two neighborhood children, a brother and sister, riding their bikes. My youngest daughter has frequently babysat them. I like them. I like their parents. I assume they like me. We have had many pleasant chats, and this meeting was no different save for the ways in which it was entirely different. We kept a respectable, safe distance. My dogs strained at their leashes, but I did not let them approach the kids as I always have. They did not come near and pet the dogs as they always do. They are little children and who knows what they make of all of this, how much they truly understand, but clearly they know you keep your distance. You don’t pet the neighbor’s dog. Because of course they pet their own dog, and if they have it, how long can it survive in fur? And when you pet their dog, you could pick up what they left in its fur and die. And if they don’t have it, what if you have it, and pet their dog and leave it in the dogs fur and of course they pet their dog, EVERYBODY PETS THEIR OWN DOG, if we are now in a world where people no longer pet their own dogs then let it be done, let it be done, just let it be done; So they pet their dog and pick up what you left and die. Maybe. So you don’t pet the neighbors dog even if you love that dog which of course you do, because of course you do.
We are a little bit afraid of each other.
Because it’s frightening enough that you might pick it up. That you might touch something it was on. But if you have it… You make it. You become a factory for it. And you leave it everywhere.
So we are all… just a little bit… afraid of each other. Because we are dangerous to each other. We are monsters to each other. Even though we can’t help it. Now. At a time when we need to be less monstrous toward each other than we’ve ever been. With what’s happening. But we are monsters because of what’s happening.
So my conversation with the neighborhood kids is brief, and awkward, and soon over, and maybe deep inside we wish we hadn’t run into anyone, so it wouldn’t be like this.
I think a lot lately about all the people I have ever cared about, all the people I have loved, but thinking about them would be better than running into them. Because we can go outside, it’s a weird kind of apocalypse where you can go outside, but you can’t be with anyone. So it’s better, maybe, not to see them. Not to be a monster. Not to see them be a monster. We don’t mean it. Lot’s of monsters don’t mean to be monsters. The Frankenstein monster? That dude got a bad wrap. He was misunderstood. But also? He did kill that kid.
The only people you can really be with are the ones you’re sheltering in place with. And those people? If they’re not already starting to get on your nerves? It’s going to happen.
I’m kidding, family members I’m sheltering in place with who might read this. I love you, and I’m kidding.
My CovidDiary, 3/27/2020: Not a Morning Person
BY MAX BURBANK | I gotta tell you, until late yesterday, I had no idea who Thomas Massie even was. Now not only do I know who he is (the United States Representative for Kentucky’s 4th congressional district), I also know what motivates his every move: He suffers from constant, debilitating anxiety that someone somewhere might think for even a second that “Rand” Paul was the only duly elected lawmaker from Kentucky with an end stage Brady Boy perm who was both an acknowledged Libertarian and a truly Mount Rushmore-sized sack of crap.
Massie forced a voice vote on the long-overdue Coronavirus relief bill, making it necessary for congresspeole to return to DC. I don’t know the exact average age of members of the House of Representatives, but I’m gonna guess it’s somewhere between doddering and pretty f**king old, mathematically speaking. As in, high-risk. But the Libertarian motto has always been “I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want if it kills you.” And in this case that might be exactly what happens.
Remember my explanation of why “Rand” Paul’s neighbor assaulted him so brutally he ended up with six broken ribs? That being “Rand” Paul’s neighbor is a simply intolerable state of affairs? Thomas Massie is even worse. He’s like a courtroom sketch of “Rand” Paul. Think, “Rand” Paul, but chubbier and with less charisma.
Imagine for a moment if you even can, how much of a dick a person has to be for Donald Trump to Twitterbitch for their ouster from the House even though they’re a Republican and a reliable vote? ‘Cause that happened. And former Secretary of State John Kerry, a man generally thought by all to be a fairly civil dude, Tweeted: “Breaking news: Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an asshole.”
I thought that was surely going to be the Tweet of the day, but WHOA, Hillary Clinton lopes in from the outfield and tweets a NYT article on the United States becoming the world leader in confirmed Coronavirus cases and captions it, “He did promise ‘America First.’ ” BOOM! Now THAT, Madame President, is some mighty cold sauce. That is some liquid nitrogen hollandaise right there.
MEANWHILE IN MY PERSONAL STATE OF MIND…
I woke up this morning into a panic attack with an unpleasant tickle in the back of my throat and a headache. I wasn’t certain I had it, but I was leaning that direction at a very sharp angle, and had to forcibly remind myself that I woke up yesterday into a panic attack with an unpleasant tickle in the back of my throat and a headache and I was totally fine, and that I often wake up into a panic attack with an unpleasant tickle in the back of my throat and a headache.
Mornings have never been good for me. I hate morning and I hate getting up into it even more. It doesn’t matter when it comes, 6am or noon, the first hour is awful. I have arranged my life so that I am up an hour before the next earliest riser, even on my days off, so that I do not have to interact with another living human being and they are not unfairly taxed by dealing with me. Coffee helps, but nowhere near enough, and what’s mostly needed is time. I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it would be the same if I started the morning with a steaming hot mug of crack. It’s the way I’m wired.
But my wiring got an upgrade and now in addition to feeling like bleached cat shit, I also think I have a possibly fatal, highly communicable disease. Thanks, Obama.
Oh, and Boris Johnson has it. He’d been bragging just a week ago that no damn virus was going to get him to stop shaking hands, ’cause that’s what the manly politician does, he shakes hands with a firm grip. Know who else was spraying the exact same moronic prattle out his blowhole at about the same time? VP Pence. Maybe if he thought the Coronavirus was girl cooties, he’d keep his paper-white paws to himself.
My CoviDiary, 3/28/2020: Daffodils
BY MAX BURBANK | So, at his daily I-can’t-do-rallies-anymore-and-i’ll-die-without-the-attention Coronavirus press conference/revival/Chautauqua/snake oil extravaganza, a reporter asked Trump about the availability of ventilators, specifically, would there be enough to go around. Would everyone who required a ventilator to keep from dying be able to get one? And The Amazing Trumpo replied that he thought we were in really good shape and that this was a pandemic like nobody had ever seen before, which really isn’t an answer. Now I get that there may not be an answer to that question. One would be allowed to respond “I really don’t know. We are trying, that’s the goal” and who knows, maybe that’s what The Grand Trumpini meant. The reporter pressed, asking again “But everybody who needs one will be able to get a ventilator?” And Le Grande Trumpissimo replied:
“Look, don’t be a cutie pie, Okay?”
Don’t… be… a “cutie pie.”
Now, I want to stipulate I do get what he means. I don’t mean I agree, I totally don’t, I’m just saying I understand the “President” probably meant “don’t be a wise guy”, or “I don’t appreciate the question,” or maybe even “I feel like I already answered you and now you’re digging at me to make an iron clad promise so that later you can say I didn’t keep it.” But in a whole other sense? What the literal… BLUE… F**K is that?
“Don’t be a cutie pie?”
Don’t be a frikkin’ CUTIE PIE?!
I looked it up. I Googled it, I put quotes on either end and I Googled it and I got eight pages of references to this specific event and after that, ladies and gentlemen? Nothing. Zippo. Nada. The old goose egg. And do you know what that means? In the vast expanse of the Internets, no one has ever said that before. It is a unique linguistic structure. What I mean to say is “Don’t be a cutie pie,” although it sounds like the sort of thing a tough guy might say, is, and I want to be very clear about this… NOT AN EXPRESSION! It sounds like it might be, but it ISN’T.
“Hey, buddy, don’t twist my linguini.” Not an expression.
“If I want your hand in my pocket, I’ll ask for it, capice?” Not an expression.
“Don’t try to sell me an asthmatic squid and tell me it’s a Bichon Frise, ya got me, chief?” Not… an… expression.
“Don’t be a cutie pie, okay?” also NOT. AN. EXPRESSION!!
Sweet baby Jesus playing in a mop bucket unattended by an adult despite the warning label, what IS it with Fat Donny Two Scoops that he has to talk like what he thinks The Godfather sounds like? ‘Cause I’m sure that’s what he’s shooting for but he’s REALLY BAD AT IT. He wants to be Brando but he comes off like the dumbest kid at his third rate prep school pretending to be a two-bit hoodlum to impress the guy who charges him three times the going rate for a bag of oregano he told Trump was weed.
He reads like a Z list celebrity you think you saw in something once but when you IMDB him you find out this direct-to-video shit fest is pretty much the only thing he ever did except that one time he had a line on an episode of “Mannix.”
And if in his head it plays better? If he comes across as a super impressive, bad-ass gangster alpha? Why the F**K would he thinks that’s appropriate for a PRESIDENT?!
Don’t be a CUTIE PIE?! And then that whiny, thin-skinned, petulant, chubby, Baby-Huey ass schvantz goes on one of his typical tirades about how nobody has ever done what “we’ve” been able to do, Nobody ever was left with the mess “we” were, “we” took over a broken system, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit; and you KNOW when he says “we” he doesn’t mean his administration, he means himself, the royal “we,” because the one who’s suffering the most in this pandemic is him, and it’s not the Coronavirus that’s causing the suffering, it’s cutie pie reporters and their cute ass questions and one day he’s gonna have someone “pop” a “cap” in their collective fake media ass, because nobody, NOBODY is gonna sell him a God damn asthmatic squid and say it’s a fu**in’ Bichon Frise! He mighta been born in his gramaw’s panties, but he never wore ‘em as a Zorro mask, ya got me, Professor candy pants?
Jesus… frikkin’… wept.
IN OTHER NEWS
Suddenly today there were daffodils everywhere. Apparently, flowers are unmoved by the precarious nature of the human condition.
My CoviDiary, 3/29/2020: Write Yourself Signs
BY MAX BURBANK | So, our house used to be a two-family. We converted it to a one-family, but there’s still a door right at the bottom of the stairs onto the entryway, and another that will let you into the downstairs from when it was two separate living spaces. It’s a pretty old house, and a lot of the doorknobs don’t work the way they should, and the door at the bottom of the stairs is the only one between the top floor and bottom floor that can be relied upon to latch solidly when you shut it. The other day, I put a sign on the side of the door which faces the stairs that says: “MAX! (and everyone else, but mostly Max) SHUT THIS DOOR!”
It’s important to shut that door, because we have two dogs and two cats. They aren’t allowed downstairs, which makes them certain that what they really need to do most in this life is get downstairs. When they do, which is frequently, and almost always because I didn’t shut the door firmly or at all, it’s a pain in the ass. Firstly because you have to hunt all over for them and they are sneaky, devious little bastard animals, and secondly because downstairs is where our doomsday stockpiles of human and pet foods are stored.
My late Mother had a note taped to the center of the steering wheel of her Subaru that said “OPEN GARAGE DOOR!” I asked her about it, because I’m mean. There’s really only one reason to have a note like that taped to your steering wheel and it’s because you have tried to drive out of the garage without opening the door at very least once, presumably to negative, if not disastrous, effect. And I thought that was hilarious. Because, as I said, I’m mean.
But here I am writing notes to myself about shutting a door, because I will never learn to do it unassisted, and I’m still not doing it, even with the note right in front of my face. My hope is I’m at least leaving it open or ajar less frequently. I don’t know. I have not kept statistics, because I’m afraid of what they’d reveal.
I obviously come by whatever the hell is wrong with me naturally. I’ve always had a hard time keeping my mind on what’s happening in the physical world at any given moment. I’m generally mentally off somewhere else entirely. But it gets worse under stress. And these are stressful times.
My short term memory and awareness of the moment, never great at the best of times, have gone straight to shit. I can not remember what I’m doing, why I’m standing where I’m standing, what someone has just told me, what I went to get, what I am reaching for even though my hand is hanging there in the air where it stopped in the process of reaching for something.
I can write just fine, better than usual in fact, probably because it’s an entirely different part of my brain. What’s actually happening fades away to almost nothing when I write. I’m not focused on my typing, or where my ass is in space (it happens to be on my bed right now because the family is watching a documentary about “One Direction” on Netflix, and it’s kind of loud. Do not judge, Because A.) Judgey people suck, B.) If you don’t know this is not the time for judging how people spend their time, you are meaner than I am, and C.) As it happens I quite like “One Direction”, particularly Harry, and NOT THAT I CARE if you agree, but if you don’t, go watch the video for “Adore you” RIGHT NOW, wherein young Harry plays a lonely, alienated boy afflicted with a smile so dangerously, blindingly bright it effectively isolates him from human contact and so his entire emotional life centers around an ever growing fish. It’s weird and charming and sad and beautiful and he has the voice of an angel, and at 57 I’ll just like whatever the fuck I like, thanks very much. I like Taylor Swift, too, and I DO NOT CARE. AND the documentary is about the lads when they were just little and they are absolutely delightful and if my saying that makes you uncomfortable, I invite you to consider this might be a problem with you, not me. But it was all a bit too loud for me to concentrate so I’m in my bedroom and writing all of this for you because I am clearly losing my last few marbles WHICH MAYBE IS UNDERSTANDABLE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND PERHAPS YOU COULD ALL CUT ME SOME SLACK, AS THE KIDS SAY. Or did. Forty some odd years ago. When I was a kid.) (THAT was a fine example of the overly long sort of run on parenthetical that is either what my writing is known for or the main reason my writing isn’t better known.)
AND SO: I now apparently need to write myself signs if I’m to stay in the moment, which I then fail to notice. And I would say that this is normal behavior for such a high stress time.
HERE’S WHAT ISN’T
“Because the “Ratings” of my News Conferences etc. are so high, “Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers” according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. “Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.” said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!”
A sitting president of the United States of America, during an unprecedented global pandemic that has, as I write this, killed more than 2000 citizens, is using Twitter to brag about his television ratings. And people look funny at me when I insist that what we are living through is not in fact real life, but a simulation of amazing technical sophistication and very, very poor script writing.
And, and and AND, not long after, he also tweeted this:
“I am a great friend and admirer of the Queen & the United Kingdom. It was reported that Harry and Meghan, who left the Kingdom, would reside permanently in Canada. Now they have left Canada for the U.S. however, the U.S. will not pay for their security protection. They must pay!”
If you would, please imagine me screaming and screaming and then taking a deep breath and screaming again, and then pausing in silence for about fifteen seconds and then screaming again. Now continue reading.
What do you think, did Ol’ Orangina, like, forget what’s going on in the world? Did he just dementia it all away for a minute and convince himself someone on earth gave a flying acrobatic fuck about the nature and details of his entirely imaginary relationship with the British royal family, who it is QUITE clear all uncategorically absolutely loathe him? Did Harry and Meghan call him up and angrily demand he pay for their security? Why is he tweeting about this? It’s like Trump’s in the room with you at the precise instant you get the news your mother was struck by a car and killed and he looks at you and says “Know what kind of soup I like? Chunky Sirloin Burger. I like the little burgers. They have teeny grill lines! But don’t give me split pea! I won’t eat it!” It’s not just wildly inappropriate, it is literal EVIDENCE OF INSANITY! And I mean that LITERALLY!!
Also? It has been raining all day. I don’t like it, and my dogs like it less.
My CoviDiary, 3/30.2020: Boarding Sinking Ships
BY MAX BURBANK | If I had to give my life a theme, it would be boarding sinking ships. I seem to do best at things that it turns out are just about to be over.
I was supporting myself performing with a touring Improv group and coaching a large-ish roster of stand up comedians just as the Boston comedy boom of the ’80s came to a crashing, nearly overnight end. I did a local television commercial for Skippy White’s Record Shop that ran once just as the station was bought and they stopped running locally produced commercials. I sold a couple of stories to a science fiction magazine right before the Internet came into its own, wiping out the entire class of small press magazines that could afford to pay writers. I gave away a lot of writing to get to the point that web sites big enough to pay wanted my stuff. National Lampoon’s website started buying my stuff, paid me almost print rates. They liked me so much they contracted with them to do a weekly blog, had a press release bragging about how they’d hired some of the best writers on the web. I did two installments and then they were bought by a giant Saudi Arabian media conglomerate who announced that National Lampoon was no longer interested in original material and would henceforth only be doing licensing. For about six months when Cracked.com started up, they had a stable of five writers, one of whom was me. Decent money, almost what National Lampoon had been paying. Then they went to crowd sourcing, and on the off chance they ran anything of mine, the pay was less than a tenth what it had been.
I am the proud author of three of the last scripts ever written for old school, Zeis projector and slide carousel planetariums, the kind you remember from filed trips. One of them was about how Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore. I’m told it is again, possibly because I said it wasn’t. The truth is, it’s a silly argument. There’s no scientifically agreed on meaning for the word “planet.” For what it’s worth, in my script, Pluto is a “Large Kuiper Belt Object.” To be clear, I was hired to say that.. No one cared what I personally thought Pluto was, and nor should they have. To be even clearer, I have no idea what Pluto is, since “planet” turns out to be a largely meaningless word. You might as well argue that Pluto is “A largeish, roundish space thingy Dave likes” and never tell anybody who Dave is. That line was cut from my original draft of the script, working title “What the fuck with you and Pluto, Dave?”
And then there’s Morris. “Morris the White House Mouse.” You’ve probably never heard of it (unless you got me drunk, in which case, I’m sorry), and there’s a good reason for that, in that mostly people don’t hear about stuff that doesn’t end up happening. Let me tell you the story.
It was the first autumn after I’d graduated college. I’d just come home from my summer job, teaching theater to kids at an arts camp in the Adirondacks. Not a Jewish camp, but let’s be honest, mostly Jews. Right before the summer started. I’d fired off writing samples to… well, I had no idea what I was doing. Agents, publishing houses, people I had vague connections to who I thought might be so impressed by my writing that they’d show it to someone famous they knew or something and in no time I would be a guest on talk shows.I was going to be a great talk show guest. That was about the only thing in my life I was sure of.
And shit if I didn’t get a phone call! Elliott Caplin, of King features. Al (Li’l Abner creator) Kapp’s younger brother. Creator himself of the long running, soap opera style comic strip, “The Heart of Juliet Jones”! Creator (though not writer) of “Broom Hilda”! And he was calling me because King Features had decided they wanted a political daily strip to compete with “Doonesbury”! Caplin had read my writing samples, and I was one of several young writers King Features was potentially interested in trying out to write the strip, “Morris the White House Mouse.”
Morris was a mouse that lived in the White House, get it? He was young and naive and he’d be secret witness to all the oval office goings on, and his lens would allow for hilarious commentary of the fledgling Reagan administration! Mr. Caplin wanted me to send them ten days worth of scripts “on spec”, which I did not know at the time was Latin for “Something you should never do.” Basically it means, you don’t get paid. I lept at the chance, Caplin loved them, he asked for another week to show his bosses. Over the course of the next month the competition winnows, I’m one of ten writers, I’m one of five writers, I’m one of three. They bring on an artist to draw dummy versions of the first week. I’m one of two writers now! There’s talk of me getting additional money for any characters I create! A piece of merchandising! MERCHANDISING! Elliott says he’s sure it’s gonna be me, he says I’m the gag writer he’s been looking for his whole life!
And then the phone calls stop coming. And my calls don’t get returned. And eventually I get a short, sad letter. Elliott is really, really sorry, but King Features has decided they do not, in fact, want to do a political strip to compete with Doonesbury. He hopes we’ll get a chance to work together on something else. I call once or twice, he’s nice, we shoot the shit, catch up. He never has another offer for me, and eventually I stop calling.
If this story is ringing a bell with you, it could be because you got me drunk some time, or I wrote it for something and have totally forgotten about it, but you read it. Or it might remind you of a very short lived prime time cartoon, “Capitol Critters.”
“Capitol Critters” was produced by Steven Bochco (of “Hill Street Blues” fame and “Cop Rock” infamy) and Hannah Barbera. It was about mice, rats and roaches that lived in the White House and their comical take on the George H.W. Bush administration. It featured Neil Patcrick Harris as the voice of young, naive mouse “Max”. Yeah. Max. Probably a coincidence. They recorded 13 episodes, 7 of which aired before the show, which had been terribly reviewed, was cancelled. Cartoon network ran all 13 episodes, once. The Burger King Kid’s Club made a set of toys that came with whatever the hell they called their knock off “Happy Meal”. If any of you want to hunt down a “Max” on eBay and send it to me, I’m sure I could take it out from time to time and look at it while feeling worse about myself.
I have no actual proof “Capitol Critters” is what became of “Morris the White House Mouse.” I’ve never connected King Features or Elliott Caplin with it, but to be fair, there’s been very little written about the show. But listen: Remember back when I told you Elliott Caplin mentioned additional money for characters I created? Elliot’s outline only featured the main three. Morris, a cat that belonged to Reagan, and a wise old turtle I can’t remember anything about except that he was wise and old and there was no explanation as to why there was a turtle wandering loose in the White House. I created all the other characters, and the ones that got the most attention over at King Features? The Roaches. I had a whole under society of Roaches living in the basement, and they represented the poor, the disenfranchised, minorities, because I was twenty years old and I didn’t have even the subtlety I have now, which isn’t what you’d call much. And those roaches, my roaches are in “Capitol Critters”. Listen, listen to these episode descriptions: Episode 4, “Hat and Mouse”, Moze shows up to return Max’s hat, but Max’s fellow rodents don’t take kindly to a cockroach in their midst. Episode 7, “An Embarrassment of Roaches”, Max encourages his friends to let an elderly cockroach couple move in next door, but soon the rodents are up to their ears in baby roaches.
Moze? Frikkin’ MOZE?! And no, I didn’t make up that name, but come on! That’s a ridiculous stereotype of an “urban” name, and my roaches were nothing but ridiculous “urban” stereotypes, they were all CLEARLY hispanic or African American, except for one Asian girl roach because back then you indicated diversity in cartoons by one of the characters being an Asian girl, and this is all deeply embarrassing, but I think I said I was only twenty? And not that good of a writer yet? and I’m not sure I even want to talk about it anymore.
Okay, so fine, a Roach under-class is not that original of an idea. It’s perfectly possible “Critters” was just a case of parallel generation that had nothing whatever to do with me.
But I don’t think so. I’ve never thought so. It doesn’t feel like parallel generation. It feels like mine.
And it’s the sinking ship of sinking ships, see? ‘Cause I made it all the way through writers auditions, I got the job, but it didn’t happen. Sink number one. And if it had happened? Newspaper strips, which by the way I have always adored and the history of which I know way too much about, if you don’t believe me, get me drunk sometime… Newspaper Strips were on their way out. There was one more successful strip left in the whole business, “Calvin and Hobbes.” It was born the same year I was writing spec scripts for “Morris”, and it ran ten years before Bill Watterson had the good sense to leave the titanic before it hit the iceberg. During that decade strips got shrunk multiple times until a guy the age I am now would need a magnifying glass to read them. Strips that had run for decades got canceled, strips got moved, “Doonsebury” in the op-ed section, “Tank Mcnamara” in sports, strips got crammed into spaces they never belonged, running perpendicular on the border of the fucking “Jumble”. And now? newspapers themselves are almost as dead as old school slide projector based Planetarium shows. When was the last time you read a comic strip in a physical newspaper? Boom. Second sinking.
And the cartoon? A table I was never even told was set ,let alone offered a seat at? It didn’t even run a full season. Third time down. Sink, sank, sunk.
I think American is my grandest sinking ship. I was born onto the most spectacular, newest, most luxurious and totally kick-ass boat on the Seven Seas. But it’s paint was peeling even then. And now? The discrepancy between the first class cabins and steerage has gotten pretty damn steep. The water park and the better restaurants are strictly for the first class ticket holders. And more and more of the passengers are getting sick and they won’t let us dock anywhere and I’m ditching this metaphor now, OK? ‘Cause it’s either stretching too thin or getting too apt and I can’t tell which one or maybe it’s the same thing.
All I know is America was losing its grip on whatever specialness it could have laid claim to before the Coronavirus. My personal theory is that Trump landing in the oval office was the equivalent of a freak car accident. A whole bunch of disparate, terrible circumstances coming together at once for a wildly unlikely but terrible outcome. But what has happened since then? What a lot of Americans let happen? Not the presidency, but the ascendancy of Trump? That’s on us as a country. We had chance after chance to knock that bastard off his perch, but the GOP and it’s supporters said “Y’know what? Fuck it, right? OK, the guys a NUT JOB and he behaves like a bag of shit, but Supreme Court Justices, amiright? And tax cuts for the ultra wealthy, who I might not be now, but I’m gonna win the lottery at some point, right? And all those pussy-ass rules and regulations and red tape? And how fuckin’ politically correct you gotta be all the time, you can’t say the “N” word, you can’t admit you hate all those “N” words acting like they own the place, women acting like they don’t even want you to be in charge anymore? If that lard-ass, orange skinned, rodeo clown, pig man can get rid of all that shit? Whatever, amiright? So what if he’s so God damn stupid that if something real bad, like, I mean real bad goes down he won’t even be able to pull his pants up, let alone handle it? It’s not like anything that bad is ever gonna happen, like ever. And in the meantime? Fuckin’ chowder head dope is gonna make America great again, yeah? Yeah?
When this is over, when the Coronavirus has run its course? We won’t be the same again.
Trump is an old man. There’s a lot of sick out there right now. And if by some malign miracle he doesn’t get it? He’s still going to die soon. That’s in the actuarial cards. And that’s good. But it’s not gonna fix us. We’re going to be a whole lot of broken, for a long, long time, and no matter how many holes we plug, no matter how sea-worthy we get, we’re just never going to be that same, magnificent American boat again. And yeah, I’m back to the metaphor. What do you want, I’m exhausted. I’m too tired for really disciplined writing. Aren’t you tired?
What I’m saying is, by the time we’re okay to sail again? The rest of the world will have gotten used to not relying on us for the real grade A cruise experience. And I don’t think they’ll be looking to us for it again for a very, very long time, if ever. The ship I was born on? Maybe it won’t sink, but I think it’s pretty much over.
I bet once upon a time a whole lot of Britts thought the sun was never gonna set on their empire. But that’s not the way empires work. If you know any really old folks in England you might want to ask them how long it stings for before you get used to it.
My CoviDiary, 3/31/2020: How I Feel
BY MAX BURBANK | Listen: I don’t know how your emotions work. I can make guesses based on your behavior, your affect; I can extrapolate based on how I think my emotions work, but it’s educated guessing at best. You’re in your head, I’m in mine, and there’s two skulls separating us. I will say, based on all of that, the way my emotions work is… well, it’s on the downward slope of some curve. It’s not way out toward the end, I mean, I hope it’s not. I don’t know. Maybe after I write this people are going to message me and write “Man, I knew you were messed up, but dude… that’s not normal.” Or, conversely, you’ll write “You dope. That’s how everybody’s feelings work. You’re just inclined to think you’re special, and frankly, it’s a little bit annoying.” I DON’T KNOW. And I don’t talk to other people about things like this because I grew up in New England and I find the stick up my ass to be quite comfortable, thank you oh, so much for your concern about my ass’s comfort level.
So: Here goes. My emotional state… not all the time, but a lot of the time… doesn’t feel like it’s in me, it feels like I’m in it. Like it’s the weather. I’m not happy. It’s happy out, and I’m out in it. I’m not depressed. It’s a depressed day and anything I do, I’m going to have to do in that depression. And that’s so wrong, the little blue line on the screen that comes up to indicate questionable grammar is telling me to not even use those words that way. I’m aware that I can do things to change my mood, like writing, like I’m doing right now, but if my mood improves it doesn’t feel to me like I changed. It feels like the environment I’m existing in has changed. I mean, if it’s a crappy overcast day and I’m out walking the dogs and the clouds break a little and there’s a minute of warm spring sunshine, that feels great, but I don’t think “wow, walking the dogs sure forces the clouds to move for me.”
I mean, maybe it’s that way for other people too, maybe it’s that way for everyone and I’ve just never asked around so I don’t know. Every job I’ve ever worked, there have been staff who came in all messed up about whatever and were just flat out unpleasant, maybe that was their personal weather. But even if, I always thought that was, in the most deffinitional sense, unprofessional. Part of what you get paid for is to keep your shit out of the workplace, right? You don’t change it, you deal with it, like if you have to walk to work and it’s raining, you walk in the rain. And maybe you hate walking in the rain, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it and not bitch about it. Which is funny, because I bitch about everything. It’s like breathing for me. I’m not doing this well, am I?
Look, one year I taught environmental ed, outdoor education, at a center the YMCA owned on a thousand acres of undeveloped land. It was pretty cool. School groups would come in and stay with us for a few days, and we’d take the kids hiking, do ecology lessons, team building shit like “Project Adventure”, whatever the school system was looking for. And one of the things they could select was just basic outdoor skills. The catalogue called it “survival” but that seems pretty grandiose to me. Anyway, the central thing, the main thing in that lesson was teaching the kids to build a fire. Now I love fire. I always have. I loved it so much as a kid I think I’m living proof that the idea that an unhealthy fascination with fire as a kid means you’ll grow up to be a pyromaniac is just false. At least that’s what I tell my parole officer, WINK-WINK! So, one time I’ve got the kids out on the trail, and a frikkin’ sleet storm whips up, and I showed them that if you do it right, you can start a camp fire in a sleet storm. Little bastards got their money’s worth that time. The point is, there was nothing I could do to make the sleet stop, but I could just set my mid to making the fire while gobs of slush was falling out of the sky. Maybe a better teacher would have taken them back inside, but I was all “This is SURVIVAL, what are you gonna do if you’re out in the middle of nowhere and a sleet storm whips up? Build a fire or CRY?” I may have also told them that knowing how to build a fire while you’re crying is maybe the most important survival skill of all. The point is, unless my emotional weather is super bad, I can just work in it and not make anybody miserable.
I’m telling you all this because my weather today is just neutral, and under the circumstances it probably shouldn’t be, but it is, and there’s nothing I can do about it but go about my business. I shouldn’t be able to read online about how if we keep things down to 100,000 deaths we’ll have done a good job and feel… neutral. I mean, it’s a pretty horrible thing to read, let alone exist during. But that’s what my weather is right now, it’s just nothing. I had so little to write about I was forced to write about this. I’m confronted with the greatest human tragedy of my lifetime and today you know what I feel?
Bored. I’m bored. And because of my ever wandering mind, I am very rarely bored. But today it’s bored out, and whatever I do, I’m doing it out in the bored.
And maybe I’m in denial (or it’s denial out), maybe I can’t sustain the constant level of concern and anxiety and fear and dread the historical moment seems to call for, and thank God I can’t, I’m tired enough, and maybe that’s what my boredom is, just… tiredness.
I’ve been out in the tiredness all day, and it makes me ashamed, but not even much, you know? It’s too bored and tired out to even notice it’s also ashaming a little bit. Like, just a mist of shame. Like walking through a shame cloud that’s descended on the quaint little village of “I’m-Bored-of-this-Apocalypse-by-the-Sea.
Trump had the My Pillow guy get up and speak at yesterday’s free campaign commercial masquerading as a pandemic press conference. The My Pillow guy. And he talked about how we should all read the bible more, because he’s a fucking chowder head so stupid he doesn’t even get that there’s just no reason for a pillow maker to be there. Trump called the noted epidemiologist Alex Rodriguez to ask his advice about when he should open the country back up. For all I know he’s riding Kid Rock up and down the stage like a pony at the exact moment I’m writing this, because why wouldn’t he be? And that shit? All that weird-ass circus shit Trump is pulling while at the same time he’s talking about 100,000 to 200,00 DEATHS?!
Well, that shit might be a lot of different kinds of shit, but one kind of shit it is not? Boring shit.
My father always said “the appropriate response to the outrageous is outrage.” What kind of a person allows themselves bored by that shit? The kind of person who’d tell you, “I’m not bored, it’s boring out. It’s too tired out today. I saw on the Emotion Channel it’s gonna be boring all day.”
Tomorrow is April Fool’s day. Be gentle with each other. ‘Cause I think we’re all a little on edge right now, each in their own unique way. I feel like a badly landed joke could touch off some bomb cyclone level crazy.
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