The Great Emoji Puzzle from “Ill Will”

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , on March 9, 2018 by Mike

ill will emojis_final-02-01If you read Dan Chaon’s “Ill Will” – which you should because it’s a fine piece of writing and suspenseful as hell – you will puzzle over many things. Great fiction challenges us, thankfully. One of the more interesting puzzles (to me) involves a series of emojis that are texted from one character to another.

What do they mean? I don’t want to spoil anything for a potential new reader so won’t get into the context of their initial (or subsequent) appearance, but there are many ways to interpret the symbols.

I could not find a good explanation online so will now offer my own theories. Mr. Chaon, please take a time out from your current project and let me know which interpretation is correct.

  1. Hey, Rusty! Your sad, crybaby, mouse of an adopted brother has a gun!
  2. Richard Gere cried when he put a gerbil up his butt and he wanted to kill the woman who sold him out.
  3. Please Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em.
  4. Modest Mouse has a killer discography.
  5. The name that can be named is not the real name, rather it’s a stage name suggested by Tao’s agent.
  6. Attention – when he was little, Dustin cried while you killed bunnies, now he’s gonna shoot your ass.
  7. Pistol Pete Maravich was overrated and likely would not start on a modern NBA team.
  8. Error message. You failed to properly save your file and the chapter about the lab rat cannot be recovered. Don’t kill yourself – all of those ideas are still in your head.
  9. This is how hip emoji-savvy people type out “watch your back.” You didn’t know that?
  10. The daily news is shocking. It will depress you. It will make you weep out of frustration. You are small and helpless. But the NRA will have the last word.



Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Posted in Gags, Music with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2018 by Mike

Ever wonder what “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” would sound like if it was modernized and reimagined as a duet between a hands-off dad and a nagging wife? And if both parts were sung by the same guy, using very low production values, shut up in a room so his kids wouldn’t find him while he sang with himself? Well, here you go!


Baby, It’s Cold Inside

I’m watching the game

(The Christmas program’s tonight)

It’s gonna be lame

(Your son has a solo tonight)

He’ll never know – just take one for the team.

(I know you’re not suggesting that I go just me.)

I’m supposed to telephone my dad

(Your excuses are pathetically sad)

I’ve got some more shopping to do

(Still shopping? That’s just like you.)

This is the worst cold I’ve ever had

(Now I’m just getting mad.)

Tomorrow I will come through.

(Tomorrow we’ll be leaving you.)


Come rub my feet.

(What planet do you come from?)

Why can’t you be sweet?

(You’re both useless and dumb.)

This is the time for a little piece on earth.

(You didn’t even come to our daughter’s birth.)

Why can’t we take a night to just chill?

(Your BS is making me ill)

This rift is an ocean wide.

(You’re the biggest thorn in my side)

I got to get away ’cause

Baby it’s cold inside.


We Are the World

Posted in Family, Music with tags , , , on November 24, 2017 by Mike

Since our kids are infatuated with the “We Are the World” phenomenon – yes, the one from 30+ years ago – we decided to record a version. We are thrilled that they know all of these singers and their respective parts.

Work Spider

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2017 by Mike
For the past few months, I’ve had company in the mostly unused shower at my workplace. I use the shower after squeezing in a run during my lunch hour, rinsing off the sweat and funk so as not to offend coworkers with my stank. In the shower, unexpectedly, there’s a spider that resides in the corner under the handicapped handrail. I’m not sure what kind of spider it is, but its thin gangly extremities are akin to those of a granddaddy longlegs. When I start the shower and step into the water, the spray off my body disturbs the spider’s web and it crawls out from under the handrail and clambers around its web, confused by the vibrations that must be coming from a thousand different locations. It doesn’t get too close and I never feel threatened by it, we just share the shower and I ponder its existence. How did a spider end up in a corporate office? Is it lonely or bored in its habitat? What does it find to eat? Does it dine on the dead skin cells of people who use the shower? Maybe there’s small prey that sustains the spider, unseen vermin that wander the tiny world that operates within and despite the bullshit meaningless white collar tasks that support the microcosm. But the spider clearly does not belong and perhaps it wonders how it got there, occupying that grimy, mildewed space in our office bathroom. Does it dream of the outdoors or is it just going day to day? I see it maybe seven or eight times during my workday rinse offs, and then one day it is gone. I step into the shower, let the spray hit my body, and wait for my little friend to appear. But it doesn’t show. I kneel down and inspect the corner of the shower where it resides, looking closely at the mildewed grout lines and around the rail, but the spider is not there. It’s body is not clogging a drain hole. It hasn’t changed locations to a drier and more suitable space near the ceiling. It’s just gone. I picture the morning it decides to leave. It crawls down from its web, steps onto the tile then the next tile, and makes the long trek across the shower to the main bathroom beyond. It waits at the bathroom door for it to open long enough to sprint out of there. It faces the Saharan expanse of carpet leading to the foyer and the main entrance to our building. Then eases under the front door and is gone, out of there. I like to think it’s lived long enough to create a new web in the nearby holly tree, munching aphids, completing its mysterious life cycle without stress or hunger. While pondering its new life and rinsing off the soap, I realize it could have – just as easily – inched across the handrail, scaled the wall, high-stepped through the shampoo bottles in the shower caddy, and is there waiting, perched on my soap, poised to jump on my face and sink its tiny sharp fangs into my quivering eyeball. I slowly, carefully, turn my head and brace for the next instant with anxious wonder, stalling the return to my desk for a few more precious moments.

Sounds I Make in Songs: The Quiz

Posted in Gags, Music with tags , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by Mike

Much has been reported about bad or misheard lyrics in popular music, but what about the weird sounds and noises that can be heard when you turn on the radio. Some of these sounds are made by the recording artist but many are generated by the listener (me) when he tries to simulate instrumental flourishes in his car.  Wonder if you can hear 10 sounds I make during songs and figure out the name of each song? Let’s try. Reply with your guesses. In a week or so I’ll post the answers.



The Air Crackles With Protest

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on February 1, 2017 by Mike


There’s a lot to protest since Trump’s inauguration and, rather than continuing to bitch on FB and Twitter, I thought I would write a real got-damn protest song. Something for the next civilization of radioactive mutants to uncover when they pore over soundfiles and try to figure out what happened. They may listen to this and say, “File 637,455,231a. Check yes for angry, and yes for impotent. Next.” I still bitch on FB and Twitter – we can’t stay silent, people.

Click for Soundcloud track




Music and Time Travel – A Night With Susto

Posted in Music, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by Mike

susto-with-fan_finalAs you get older, you move further and further away from your past selves. One of mine, as an example, is Wildman Mike. Though he still appears now and then, makes a headline, and disappears again like Bigfoot, Wildman Mike resides in the past and survives mostly in embarrassing photos and fuzzy group memories. Once in a while though, if you’re lucky, you get to reconnect with a past self and it’s like a reunion.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were invited downtown by another couple to see Susto, a band out of Charleston, SC. None of us had any idea who Susto was so I spent a good week watching YouTube videos, reading snippets, and finding out what I could about these guys prior to the show. This is what’s it’s like to discover an unknown band through social media and word of mouth – something that is new to me, a guy who entrusts our local hip radio station to keep me current. But a band doesn’t need radio. They just need a genuine presence and a unique quality that gets people talking and buying tickets.

As it turns out, susto (the word) is a Spanish term that refers to when the soul gets separated from the body, connoting something akin to a panic attack due to trauma, and is treated with the ritualistic, plant-based hallucinogen ayahuasca. Susto (the band) is a five-piece group that can rock or skirt Americana with songs that are both introspective and visceral, and their personal themes elicit personal reactions. The songs conjure the emotions every lost 20-something experienced as he wandered between reckless youth and the vague frontier of What Comes Next. Front man Justin Osborne has a southern growl and backstory that involves anthropology studies, living in Cuba, and getting ACID BOYS tattooed onto his knuckles as a means to remove the mainstream path as a viable option, forcing him to pursue music do-or-die, music as the potential Promised Land for a talented misfit with an aversion for the middle of the road.

There’s drugs, alcohol, a party on every periphery, but the festivities have a dark undercurrent and these aren’t wide-eyed wannabes writing about their first acid trip – these are the guys the next morning. Tired, reflective, the ones at a table at the Waffle House. They’ve been up all night (up for years, even) having their circuits rewired and worlds spun like a bald, dirty basketball on God’s index finger. I’m the dad at a nearby table with the wife and kids in booster seats. I can tell by their eyes where they’ve been and what they’ve seen because I’ve seen it too, maybe 25 years ago but I had the same fleeting glimpse into the other place, the place without the veils, it’s just hard to remember what was behind them all these years later.

This isn’t about a specific song or album though Susto is currently touring in support of their new CD – “& I’m Fine Today” – and the opening one-two punch of Far Out Feeling (soaring and disco-tinged) and Hard Drugs (a dreamy introspective country ride) is a thrilling combination that sets the tone. But to just know the new record is to ignore the gold stuff from their first self-titled release – Dream Girl and County Line, and all the mysterious tunes you will hear at the live show that will simultaneously pull you in and spin you around amid the other listeners undergoing a similar transformation.

These songs are transformative for everyone – they were surely transformative to write and to play, but they also do work on the listener. At least this listener – a 45 year-old existing in two chronologies at one time. Wildman Mike came to the show but behaved – he’s grown up too, maybe. We reflected on our own good times, the ones flecked with blackness, feeling and refeeling what it meant then and what it means now. The music coursed through it all, the source and destination.

In another time I would’ve been right there on the porch of the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, their renowned Charleston gathering spot, HQ, crash pad, and hub of revelry for this new generation of Merry Pranksters. Though I’m the old dude at the party, it feels good to be here. Nostalgic but nice. I raise my High Life and tell them that the good times change shape, but they do continue.

Ultimately Susto is not the condition – it’s the treatment.

The current lineup of Susto includes Justin Osborne, Corey Campbell, Jenna Desmond, Marshall Hudson, and Dries Vandenberg. A 6-song set from Audiotree will give you a preview but go see them live – they’re playing all around the US for the next few months. Visit their website here.