Tuesday, January 15, 2019

71. Milo and Meg, Brother and Sister (just the beginning)

[Note: I don't know when this will be finished. "Milo and Meg" is a new book I have begun writing, ideally ready to be released at the end of 2019. I can't promise that, though. This is just an early taste of the beginning of the story. -P.W.]

"Pothole!" Meg said.

"I know where the pothole is," said Milo, jumping across the hole in the ground.

"Okay, I won't tell you next time."

THWACK!

Milo stumbled into the second pothole and flailed awkwardly to the ground.

"Ow! Geez!"

"Nice one," Meg said, smiling her sarcastic sideways smile.

Meg was 12, a little more than a year younger than her 13-year-old brother Milo.

They were hurrying down the hill toward the street to their house.

"Come on," Meg said. "We're late. "Mom and Dad are going to be suspicious this time."

"We'll be fine," Milo said, moving with a limp, and letting out a gasp of pain as he walked.

The city of August isn't the biggest city, or the coolest city. Milo and Meg liked their hometown, though, and thought they knew August the way children know everything about the city they grow up in. This week, though, they had discovered something in the city of August that they did not understand.

They had not told anyone what they discovered.

They also wondered if they were the only ones who knew.

"Besides," Milo said, "it's never later here than it was when we went inside. No time passes."

"I know," Meg said.

"So, what are you worried about?"

Meg looked over at Milo and rolled her eyes. "I'm worried that you won't be able to keep your mouth shut."

"I won't say anything," Milo protested. "I haven't said anything ever.. Why would I spill it now?"

"This time was different," Meg said.

"I won't say anything."

"Okay."

Milo and Meg walked in silence for a moment.

Finally the hill opened up onto the street and they were almost home.

[Stay tuned during the coming year, for updates and another sneak peek or two from Milo and Meg.]
Peter Wick
January 15, 2019


Thursday, November 15, 2018

70. Amazon, Free Speech, and Sarcasm, Satire, and Mockery

First, let me start with a spoiler. This story ends well, and I am not mad at Amazon.

One morning in late October I discovered that Amazon had removed the Kindle edition of my new book, "The Past is Going to Suck." It hit me like a shock. I was disoriented at first, and did not fully believe what I was looking at. Only the paperback edition was available. The paperback edition arrives at Amazon from a different company, but the Kindle edition is published directly through Amazon itself.

I did a quick check around the world. Amazon UK still had both editions up. So did Amazon Australia, Japan, Italy. Both editions were up everywhere in the world except the U.S.

The book had been out for 2 months, and was selling at a modest but steady rate. How the hell could it be pulled down? I found myself asking.

I received cryptic vague responses saying things like, "We are investigating your issue."

I turned my thoughts to the content of the book; Jokes, often biting, harsh jokes, but JOKES about key moments in the history of the 20th century. The jokes often target political figures of the time.

Could my book have been pulled as 'offensive content?' I wondered.

I kept trying to get answers from Amazon, but I understood that they are a gigantic corporation, and the poor mid-level PR people respnding to my emails probably genuinely did not know the real answer.

I got vague references to things like a 'known issue' or a  'technical issue' (which could not explain why it was still up everywhere else in the world).

Had someone in the U.S. complained about my book because I had joked about  - well, who knows - Ronald Reagan? Teddy Roosevelt? The Republican Party as a whole?

I never received an answer to any of these questions.

Then, after 3 days, the book was back up. Just like that, no explanation, no changes, exacty as it was before, a mystery not so much solved, as simply passed by.

I was left to speculate and wonder; Did someone's complaint cause Amazon to pull it and put it through a full review? If so, I had to admit that they must have found no fault, realized that the jokes are jokes, that in the end they found no reason to keep the book from being available.

The whole experience caused me to sit and think about my book. I knew when I was writing it that I was at times going after some people's heroes. In the age of Trump, sarcasm, satire, and mockery are sometimes met with hostility. This response, though, only makes sarcasm, satire and mockery that much more important. While I limit the scope of the book to the 20th century (forcing myself NOT to take on anything happeneing today) I was aware while writing it, that we live in a time when mockery and satire are more important than ever.

Friends who knew what I was going through accused me of being much too patient with Amazon. "Free speech!" one of my friends kept yelling at me. "I'll stay calm," I said. "I think this will work out in the end."

My patience, and my trust of Amazon proved right in the end.

Amazon is a gigantic corporation. They have to be careful not to allow biased hate-speech to infect their website (are you listening, Facebook?). I support their caution, and their conclusion that my book is only sarcasm, satire, and mockery, even though that mockery is sure to upset someone.

Humor is not just a shield, James Thurber once said, it is also a weapon.

We are living in a time when those of us prone to using mockery as a weapon must be bold and use it unflinchingly.

We live in uncertain times. What we say has consequences. And sometimes the most important thing to say is a joke, to mock, to poke fun. Bursting poeple's bubbles, and making people laugh in the process...if I can accomplish that, I think I'm doing alright.
-Peter Wick
November 15, 2018

Monday, October 15, 2018

#69 - The Second Avenue Extension - Part 2

After all my friends dropped out of the 2nd Ave Extension in September, I stayed on to help run the new restaraunt.

A new and even more bizarre collection of co-workers settled into my life.

Big Dave and Little Dave were a couple of strange characters in their own right. Ron, the new Manager who I became Assitant Manager to, was a fairly 'normal' guy, if we define 'normal' in the loosest way possible. Everyone, though, no matter how bizarre or strange, seemed refreshingly sane compared to Bob.

To write about Bob accurately, I have pulled an old notebook, from the time, out of my old stacks of notebooks. I want to convince you first of all that I am not making anything up about Bob. This all comes from notes I wrote down at the time.

Bob was obsessed with meeting a Princess. Literally. this was his obsession. And it wasn't just about meeting her, he had to win her heart the way a person won someone's heart in the middle-ages.

"No one WINS a girl the way they used to," Bob said to me one day.

"No," I said, "we don't really live like that any more."

"We should," Bob said.

I wasn't really sure where this conversation was going, so I tried my best to act busy and distracted, but once Bob started on a topic, he refused to let it go.

"In the old Norwegian tales," he began - I knew I would not be able to escape, so I sighed a sigh of acceptance and did my best to act interested. "A guy would walk right up to a maiden - " (a 'maiden'? I thought, really? 'a maiden'?) - "a maiden he had never even seen before, and say, 'Hey, will you marry me?' And then she would tell him to fight the troll, climb a mountain and bring back the horn of a Viking, and then they would get married."

I had to wonder if he had  his Norwegian mythology right, but I decide to let it go.

Ron, our new manager, couldn't take the craziness. Believing I was the only sane person at the restaraunt, Ron often came up to me, pulling his hair, and whispering loudly, "This place is crazy! THIS PLACE IS CRAZY!"

Big Dave and Little Dave didn't help.

Big Dave hardly ever said anything. When he did open his mouth, it was usually to let out a loud, manic laugh. That was all. He would laugh like a wild maniac for a minute, then stop laughing, and turn back to whatever food he was cooking, as if nothing had ever happened.

Ron and I would usually make brief eye contact after one of Big Dave's manic laughing fits, shake our heads, and somehow just get on with things.

I don't remember much about Little Dave, other than the avocado pit he was trying to cultivate in an empty jar. Little Dave seemed more or less normal - if by 'normal' we mean he could carry on a converation without resorting to ancient mythological attitudes - until the day he was arrested.

I never knew what he was arrested for. He just didn't show up for work one day, and somehow we found out later that he was in jail.

Bob became obsessed with Little Dave's avocado pit after the arrest, as if Little Dave had died.

Ron wanted to throw the avocado pit out one day but Bob nearly lost control of himself. "NO!" he screamed. "You can't throw out Little Dave's avocado pit!"

"Why not?" Ron asked

"It's all that's left of Little Dave!" Bob exclaimed.

"It's not Little Dave!" Ron said, trying desparately to reason with Bob. "It's an avocado pit!"

"It's Little Dave!" Bob yelled back. "IT'S LITTLE DAVE!"

Ron looked at me, defeated. He threw his hands in the air and walked away.

One morning Bob came to work very excited. "I met a girl last night," he said.

"Really?"

"Yes, a Princess. A real Princess!"

I was curious to hear more, not because I thought he was telling the truth, but because I wanted to be entertained.

"She's a Princess of some small country somehwere. I don't rmember where. But I'm going to marry her."

"Marry her!" I said. "Really!?"

"Just as soon as I find out what my quest is going to be."

"Your quest," I said.

"Yes, I haven't spoken to her yet, but I know we will get married. I'll just have to fight a dragon, or kill the Evil Lord. Oh, this is great!"

He went off to tell Ron about his good fortune, while I turned to the sound of Big Dave laughing maniacally.

Moments later I heard Ron yell from the office, "Get out of here, you crazy fuck!" Apparently he was less open to the entertainment value of Bob's stories than I was.

The end of Bob's tenure at the restaraunt came a few days later.

Bob had failed to win the heart of his new Maiden, or worse, maybe he had never even been given a quest to win her heart with.

He began moping and dragging around the restaraunt barely doing any work at all.

Then one mornng he came to work an hour late. He was stumbling, acting a little bit drunk at 10 in the morning. He didn't say anything for a while. He put on an apron and leaned against the counter, staring blankly. He just stayed that way, staring blankly for 30 minutes. Ron and I shook our heads, the way we often did, accepting the absurdity of the monent, while continuing to do whatever work needed to be done.

After 30 minutes of silent staring, Bob, took his apron off, put on his coat, and left.

"Where are you going?" Ron asked.

"I'm leaving," was all he said.

Two days went by, and Bob did not show up for work at all.

Knowing he lived just a couple blocks away, Ron decided to go out looking for him. He found him in the neighborhood, sitting on a bench, starring up at the treetops.

Ron slowly walked up to him and said, "Bob, you have to come to work."

Bob did not look at Ron. He continued starring up at the trees. "No," said, "I don't think I should work right now."

"But you've got to come to work," Ron said.

Reluctantly, Bob came with Ron. As he entered the restaraunt, he looked around, shook his head, and said, "No, I can't work here anymore. No more work for me. No more drinking either. That's all there is to it. I gotta get outta here." and he turned around and left for the last time.

Ron watched him go and shook his head.

Big Dave let out a particularly loud and manic laugh.

"This whole goddam restaraunt is crazy," Ron said. "the whole goddam restaurant is fucking CRAZY!"

-Peter Wick
October 15, 2018


Friday, September 14, 2018

#68 The 2nd Avenue Extension - part 1

I'm not quit sure what made me think of it, or why the memory popped into my head. I was just walking down the street, letting random thoughts percolate, when the memory of the 2nd Avenue Extension stood up and planted itself in my mind.

It was the 1980's, and the dad of one of our....(were we a band? No, more than that - a gang? No, less than that - a marauding fraternity of creative and irreverent teenagers? Yes, that)...decided to go into the restaurant business. Surprisingly, he hired the bunch of us to spend the Summer remodeling the trash-heap of an abandoned restaurant he had just purchased.

Here is the Cast of Characters; Myself, 19 years old, experienced at being hired (and quickly quitting) restaurant jobs; Smitty, singer ('yeller,' more accurately) of the band Mr. Epp and The Calculations (look it up); Darren (to be fair, the person I call 'Darren' is still alive and kicking, but under a different identity, and I can only hope that the context of the story allows for the use of 'Darren'); Todd, Darren's brother, and bass player for Epp (Darren, who taught me how to be a drummer, became the band's drummer after I briefly was); Paul Morey, Darren and Todd's dad, and the owner of this whole misguided venture; Mark Arm (look up the band Mudhoney); Craig Joyce (quiet, soft spoken, but the one friend we all felt was truly brilliant); Tom Wolf (not the famous writer); along with girlfriends, hangers-on, and other occasional helpers.

Mr. Morey was a sucessful hair stylist with his own salon in the heart of Seattle's Pioneer Square.

One day, out of the blue, he announced that he was opening a restaurant.

More shockingly, he told us that we were all hired, as a group (a mistake, and we all knew it), to spend the summer remodeling, so the place could open in September.

Then he made the announcement that should have instantly doomed the whole enterprise. "Peter is giong to be the Manager."

I liked this idea, or, my ego did, but the rest of the group unanimously voiced their disapproval.

"The decision has been made," Mr. Morey said. "Peter is in charge."

To this day, I have no idea how any 'remodeling' was actually accomplished. I do not remember doing any actual work.

My entire memory from this Summer centers around destruction and breaking things.

We would show up for 'work,' as a group, at any random time of day, look at the 'to do' list Mr. Morey had for us, and then do absolutely nothing. Usually we would go downstairs to the dark, dank basement of the place and start breaking things.

I clearly remember one day when we spent a good two hours throwing weirdly shaped light bulbs at a brick wall, because we could not get over the funny sound they made when they popped.

Somehow, by the end of Summer, the restaurant had miraculously actually become remodeled. It was some sort of hocus pocus that had happened. Maybe Mr. Morey secretly brought in actual contractors to finish the job.

The restaurant opened on time in September. How? It was a true miracle.

And, true to his word, Mr. Morey made me Manager. All my friends quit, though. They were all going back to classes for the Fall, and had no interest in working in an actual restaurant...or they had no interest in working in a place where I was the boss.

My tenure as Manager didn't last long. I didn't know what I was doing. I couldn't be othered to count money. It didn't take long for Mr. Morey to recognize my lack of experience, and he quickly hired someone else, demoting me to Assistant Manager.

The restaurant seemed to function great for a while, and I worked there for the next several months.

Those next several months, though, saw a whole new cast of characters; Ron the Manager, Big Dave, Little Dave, and Bob...

Bob...is the reason The 2nd Avenue Extension will have a Part 2...

Stay tuned for Part 2 in October...
-Peter Wick
September 14, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

#67 - Final Sneak Peek - The Past is Going to Suck

NOTE: Peter Wick's book, The Past is Going to Suck - A Time Travelers Guide: The 20th Century, will be published August 24, 2018. Check this space in the final weeks before, for updates about pre-orders

The 1950's

The 1950's were either the most absurd period in the history of humankind, or THE BEST OF TIMES, to be revered and honored forever.

Let's break things down to make it easier to keep track.

The 1950's brought:

-The Korean War

-The Eisenhower Presidency

-Joe McCarthy

-Elvis Presley

-James Dean

-The Beat Generation

-Rosa Parks

-Television

-New coast to coast freeways

-A booming economy

-The Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

All seasoned by the eternal daily threat of complete and total nuclear annihilation.

Where would you like to visit?

How about starting at a drive-in diner for some milk shakes. Then try a drive-in movie, to make out in the back seat of yor car with your 'main squeeze.' Then practice some "Duck and Cover" to survive the coming nuclear apocalypse under your desk

Very funny! Come on, people! this did NOT originally happen! Some sick practical joke played on the 20th century by time travelers...

[Be sure to check back for pre-order announcements - and look for the book to be available everywhere August 24, 2018.]
-Peter Wick
July 14, 2018

Friday, June 15, 2018

#66 Two Truths and a Lie - World Cup edition

It's 5:30 in the morning here in Los Angeles, and Ururguay and Egypt are scoreless in the first half. Of course, by the time you read this, the game will be old news.

Once every four years, life more or less stops for the World Cup. Okay, yes, we all still have to make a living and pay rent, so, annoyingly, people strill expect us to get some actual work done, but it's all secondary to what is going on in Russia over the next month.

It also means that there is only one thing I have any interest in writing about..

I have been trying to decide whether to write about that one time when I tried out for Seattle Sounders. It was several years ago, before they were in MLS. It's a true story, though. I've written about it before, but not here on Simple Displeasures, and the old post is not available anywhere right now. I think I'll save that for another time, though. What I really want to write about today, is that one time I tried - as a forward - to get past a World Cup winning defender.

About ten years ago, when I had begun a five-year stretch splitting my time betwen Seattle and L.A., I played for about four months with an amateur L.A. team named Westside Rovers. We played in a very competitive league. The league had teams with the odd retired ex-professional in their lineup. A few of the teams in this league were incredible. We, on the other hand, were sort of the 'Bad News Bears' of the league. We had some good players, but we were disorganized and haphazard.

One Saturday afternoon we lined up across from a team named Hollywood United.

With a name like that you might expect that they were damn good. It didn't take long for us to go down a goal. They were running circles aorund us.

I was a forward, tasked with finding a way through the Hollywood United defense.

The bald guy in their defensive line...that guy looked familiar to me. He seemed to know every move I wanted to make... BEFORE I made it.

That face....I recognized that face. Where had I seen this guy before?

I needed to stay focused on the game at hand, but I was distracted.

As the game wore on we fell further and further behind - three goals, four goals.

We managed a single goal of our own, thanks to a penalty kick.

Then finally it hit me!

This bald guy! This seemingly telepathic defender who knew my every move....this was Frank Leboeuf!

Frank Leboeuf had raised the World Cup trophy ten years earlier, as a teammate of Zinedine Zidane's  on the France National team.

I became a little star struck.

We lost the game...BADLY!

But I left with some sort of new bragging rights.

I never broke through to goal, but I felt okay about it. That guy won the World Cup. I should never have scored against him anyway. I mean, that would have gone against some sort of unwritten world order.

Since then I have occasionally found myself playing the game, "Two truths and a lie," with friends. I always include, as one of my 'truths' the comment that I have played with and against professional soccer players.

Everyone thinks it's a lie.

It's true.

I didn't accomplish anything going up against Frank Lebeouf, but I was out there on the field against him.

Pretty cool!

Oh, and Uruguay won the early morning game.

But this World Cup is still young. Many more early mornings to come!
Peter Wick
June 15, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

#65 - Make Infectious Diseases Great Again!

The festering collection of petty ten-year-old impulses that is our President often complains that 'No one is treated worse' by the press than he is.

His press coverage is 'ninety-three percent negative,' he tweets, citing a Harvard study.

Kellyanne Conway, on one of her many visits to CNN recently, used this comaplaint to avoid answering a question about - uh, no one remembers what the actual question was, because she is such a Jedi mind-master. "Coverage of this President is overhwelmingly negative," she said, weirdly seeming to suggest that this is somehow unfair.

I watched her say it. Then I waited for the punchline.

No punchline came.

So I looked at the TV screen and said out loud, "...AND?..."

First, please do not judge me for talking to CNN the way my dad used to yell at Referees when watching basketball on TV....I mean, we live in troubling times...

I just couldn't put my finger on what everyone was missing here.

Then it hit me.

President Trump complaining about negative press coverage is like the Ebola virus complaining about bad press.

It's like the Stomach Flu complaining about bad press. We never focus on the POSITIVE things Stomach Flu does...you know...like...weight loss...

"I lost 30 pounds, thanks to Stomach Flu...I mean, between the constant vomiting, and the diarrhea, I had no trouble reaching my target weight. I just slimmed right down!"

We could make lists comparing things Trump is doing to the country alongside a list of things infectious diseases do to a person's body, and see how the two lists match up.

Let's start with a list of things Trump is doing:
-Using racist dog-whistle language
-Selling out the environment to the highest corporate bidder
-Separating babies from their poor, desparate immigrant parents
-Appointing incompetent, corrupt Cabinet officials
-Insulting - via tweet - anyone and everyone who disagrees with him
-Abusing his constitutionally-limited powers
-Lying
-Lying
-Did I mention lying?

You know what, my opinion of infectious diseases is geting better and better by the minute. Stomach Flu has its good side.

Ebola Virus has been getting a bad rap!

The idea that Trump is a 'victim' of bad press, is like totalling your parents car in a drunken after-party car race, and then complaining about how unfair it is that your parents grounded you for a week.

If you don't want negative press, maybe don't be a petty little child.

MAKE INFECTIOUS DISEASES GREAT AGAIN!
-Peter Wick
May 14, 2018