BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Grim Henzen Productions

Wormit the Legless Frog
Everybody's lovable green buddy crawls back from the grave on his two lanky arms, his backside grotesquely tapered much like the tadpole he once was. He haunts the parking lots of French restaurants...and in his nasal-congested voice cries out for "leggggsss!" He leaves a snotty trail behind him. He is frequently run over by cars.

Googee Monster
He chaotically throws fistfuls of cookies into his mouth, munching wildly, growling "Gooooogeeee." Sometimes you can see his razor-sharp teeth cutting into his own bloody gums. And sometimes you see human fingers jumbling in the mouth fuzz, and they're not the puppeteer's.

Clownt von Clownt
Combining the worst elements of a vampire and a clown, Clownt von Clownt's lofty domed forehead broods above the eyes and mouth painted not with grease but with the blood of the innocent. But he is tortured with immortal irony. He loads the chambers of his revolver with five blanks and one live round, playing Russian Roulette in front of the camera. "Uh-one," click. "Uh-two," click! "Uh-three...," BAM! And the pointy teeth go flying.

Big Dead Bird
His yellow feathers are fading and falling out. Patches of death-pale gooseflesh are visible everywhere. But worse: large earthworms writhe in his Big Rib Cage. His enormous eyes are always closed. He smells. Badly. The children avoid him.

This shy wooly mammoth is oh so cute...and everyone thinks he's just Big Dead Bird's imaginary friend, until he shuffles up within trunk-grabbing distance of you. His trunk is always larger than the children calculate. He teaches them how to count with each determined mash of their bones between his perfect, poisonous tusks. They never really get past three.

Burnie and Dirt
Burnie died in the apartment building fire, but now he's back from the grave along with his old pal Dirt, his old roommate, who he now carries around in a funerary urn. Dirt perpetually reminds Burnie that the fire was all his fault and that he warned him and he should have listened...when he's not otherwise whining about having to share his urn with Rubber Duckie. Together they roam the streets, forever homeless, seeking a bathtub.

Scar the Grump
There's nothing but scabrous tissue where you thought you'd see lips. He's still a grouch, but at least his nonstop complaining is less annoying, all mumbles and muffled screams behind that stretchy scab where his mouth should have been. His trashcan abode bears the placard for biomedical waste.

No one wants to tickle this stinky scab-colored creature (especially not in those nasty underarms), but that doesn't stop this monstrosity from sitting in the alleyway, tickling himself in the dark shadows, chortling with perverse glee.

This skinny blue corpse dons his grim reaper cowl and scythe. He has come back to the Street, with a lesson to teach the little ones....

Related Viewing:
Tickle Me Emo

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Mar 9, 2008 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Cold Cuts

One of the ways I entertain myself when I stand in line at the local sandwich shop chain is by watching the cold cut artists behind the counter as they prepare my meal. They arrange the order line so you can customize your sandwich as they create it, dictating what toppings and sauces you'd like to include in your meal. It makes you feel special.

But me? I'm fascinated by the open display of butchery and cold meat.

Standing behind the sneeze guard glass makes me feel like I'm in a surgical theater, watching doctors operate as they slice bread with their long knives and handle meaty tissue in their latex-covered hands. They spritz and drizzle dressing along the cut like they're cleansing an open, foot-long wound. Sometimes it's a messy affair, when the sandwich spills its contents across the counter like the mess you'd see on a coroner's table during a lunch break. But I forget all that as they wrap up the meal in paper, twisting it up tourniquet-tight, like they were saving a bleeding leg.

Those creepy latex gloves they wear. That's what sends me into this fantasy.

And they don't change them often. They don't scrub in. They don't sterilize their instruments. They might put on fresh gloves when you place your order, but they rarely change them when they pick up a dirty butcher's knife handle or press a button on a crisping oven or a microphone transmitter to the drive-thru window, or -- worst of all -- handling the cash register or all your filthy lucre before they are finished making your meal.

It's like they think the gloves are there to protect their hands, rather than the sanitation of your sandwich.

And eating all that contact residue is like -- I dunno -- like you're on the subway, licking the seats or something.

I fear raw meat and cold cuts. For more of my opinions on such culinary delights, here's an oldie from The Goreletter

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Oct 19, 2007 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

13 Furnishings You'll NEVER Find at IKEA

Mob Hit Throw Rug with Latex Backing

Knucklebone Beaded Curtain

Neck Pillow Stuffed with Ukrainian Owl Eyes

Teflon Glove for Throwing Electric Chair Switches

Paper Cup Dispenser

Bordello Mattress Liner

Swedish Pine Urinal Disc

Saw Blade Turntable Appetizer Tray

Chrome Cannibal Serving Bowl with Designer Drip Saucer

Stuffed Otter's Head Toilet Brush

Children's Storage Unit

Beechwood Rotating Whip Rack with Emergency First Aid Kit

Envelope Moistener/Spittoon

Related Reading:
The Store in Question (does not endorse these names)
The IKEA Name Generator
Where IKEA Gets the Names
The IKEA Game
How to Survive IKEA by Matthew Baldwin

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Jul 18, 2007 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Introducing MyBlade

Thank you for coming out tonight, to this momentous occasion. I'm here to introduce you to a breakthrough technology, one that will change the very way you live your life.

It's called MyBlade.

And this fantastic device is literally on the cutting edge.

MyBlade is the world's first electronic knife. You heard me right. This is no mere "electric" knife simply intended to carve your way through a tough turkey. It can do that, true, and more! But no, MyBlade is not electric. MyBlade is electronic. Inside its handle is a 3.4gHz microcomputer with 8 Gigabytes of memory and a wireless network card interfacing directly with a 16-inch stainless steel surgical-quality blade.

MyBlade will entirely change the way you slice, dice, chop and fillet.

Intrigued? Let me tell you all about it.

The "brain" of MyBlade allows any chef, camper, or craftsman to set the slicing speed at just the right level -- from a slow-saw that carves so gently it massages -- to a rapid cutting motion that puts conventional chainsaws to shame. I'm talking up to 30,000 slices per second, more than the naked eye can see, even up close.

MyBlade can either heat or cool the steel to a temperature you select -- or it can recommend just the right level of heat for what it's about to cut. Your cold cuts can truly be cold, if you like. Or you can you can treat yourself to a hot pot roast sandwich with only raw beef and a loaf of bread. MyBlade is the first cutting instrument to actually cook the very meat it slices, as it slices it!

And if you happen to somehow cut yourself or someone else, you won't need to worry about dialing 911. The wound will instantly be cauterized!

But yes, even if you still want to dial 911, it can do that for you, too. Did I mention that MyBlade is wireless? And networked? Indeed, it is always online and can easily be used as a phone, a pager, a web browser, a weather station, an emergency medication alert and an IM communication center. You can throw away your cell phone. The metal blade can receive vibrations from your voice and the handle has an earpiece you can use as either a speakerphone or a private line. You simply need to hold it correctly.

It's an amazing communication device. But MyBlade is still, ultimately, a knife. The greatest piece of cutlery ever invented. It will cut on demand or your money back.

MyBlade is entirely self-cleaning and self-oiling. MyBlade even automatically detects if its edges are dull -- and it self-sharpens while it rests in its charging bay.

MyBlade has a brain that can be voice-activated. It can be remote controlled, or operated with an internet browser from your office. Prepare your dinner while you're still at work!

Or if you like to do it yourself, you can listen to over 1000 songs while you chop, sheer...or even shave!


And that's only a small segment of what MyBlade can do. I haven't even mentioned it's main breakthrough, one only made possible by the invention of something so remarkably unique as MyBlade.

Sonic slicing. And sonic slicing will revolutionize the way you literally make cuts.

The speed of MyBlade is so fast that its subsonic frequencies literally spread the molecules around it.

We could have stopped there, but we didn't.

MyBlade also records sounds while it slices, saving unique sonic footprints that only MyBlade itself can hear. This is cutting up close -- closer than its ever been before. Press the silver button on its grip, and you can save every chop, hack, and stab you make to the copious mp3 storage drive built inside its form-fitting handle.

Cut a sandwich or cut a track -- the choice is yours. It is the first musical instrument of its kind, and butchers around the world have already begun composing some amazing new music. You can hear them -- and join them by sharing your own cuts -- online at the knife's hone page.

Did I say hone page? I meant home page. And MyBlade logs on instantly, BladeCasting to the world.

Still not sold?

Well, let me demonstrate. Here, put these MyPhones in your ears.

Now give me your arm.

Don't worry. MyBlade cauterizes. And trust me, MyBlade is faster than you'll believe.

That's right, go ahead and sing along. We're BladeCasting live.

And it's MyArm now.

Note: I was going to call MyBlade an iBlade, but someone beat me to it! See this AMAZING apple peeler with an attitude for yourself at this Mac-lover forum:

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Feb 7, 2007 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Why it Sucks to be a Cyclops

+ The giant monocle seldom looks flattering.
+ The forehead horn is completely worthless. It just gets in the way, actually.
+ The loss of depth perception makes it hard to know just where to bite when feasting on live meat.
+ No one gets it when you wink at them.
+ The eye chart at the optomotrist's office is really an "eyes chart." Not that you can read. But still.
+ The insensitive slurs from the two-eyed community ("myopic," "short-sighted," etc.) are never-ending.
+ Only Siamese twins get to look cross-eyed.
+ The giant single eyeball only assists the archer's aim.
+ The pirate's patch fools no one.
+ Cartoons have filled the children you eat with all sort of false assumptions about how you do so. (However, this can be a benefit, if you have the right Cyclopean attitude).
+ If you lose a contact, you're doomed.
+ The Encyclopedia has been replaced by the Wikipedia.

[ Thanks go out to Karissa Kilgore for inspiring this month's Blather by pointing me to the freakouts at ]

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Sep 17, 2006 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

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The Alpottoir

Take a walk down the pet food aisle, the next time you're at the supermarket. Marvel at the rows of canned meat and bags of hearty pellets -- all those wasted by-products scraped from the slaughterhouse floor and the oily sludge trellises of the fishery, all that scrapple repackaged for consumption by animals who really have no choice in the matter. This is what we've ordained to feed our domesticated beasts. It's a wonder they don't come after us with...well, tiny little torches and pitchforks.

Take a pensive moment under the fluorescent glare of the pet food aisle to contemplate the fact that you're surrounded by more dead meat than you'd find in some morgues. Try not to imagine all the chopping, carving, slicing, cubing, mashing, and grinding that went into each and every one of those perfectly stacked cans. The chow packets are as bulky as body bags. Don't be fooled: there's nothing "tender" about a "cut." There's no gourmet Navy chef at work behind the "Sea Captain's Stew" of salmon guts commingling with cow testicles in a broth of poultry gizzards. Take a whiff -- smell all that yumminess? That's the fine odor of dismemberment, dried and fortified with "more great taste!"

If cats had taste they wouldn't lick themselves clean. If dogs had taste, they wouldn't drool all over my fine carpet.

But I digress. Sometimes it's the dried foods that are the worst of all. They come in all shapes and sizes -- little formed fishies, tiny X's, teensy squares. More than "nine lives" are in them, their bodies stewed together in some giant vat to produce a brown muck that is subsequently formed and baked and bagged. All traces of life are removed and transformed into a magic "formula" that animals would never find in nature, but which pet nutritionists are more than happy to endorse. Imagine pouring milk over your breakfast cereal and spooning up a brown pellet of soggy meat. That's what you're doing to Fido every day, when you're not otherwise teasing him with a dog biscuit that's shaped an awful lot like a skinned human leg bone.

The more you think about these things, the more repulsive they become. But we don't want to think. We want to feel good about spending less on our pets than we do on our own meals, and we want to feel loved for selecting them the fanciest of feasts. But what really creeps me out is the happy little packaging that leads us to believe we're somehow making the right choices. I'm talking about all those picture perfect cats and canines, from the snarky fatcat models like Morris to those dopey-but-lovable Alpo dogs. Like famous athletes on cereal boxes, these are celebrities in the animal kingdom, right? Wrong: Morris would be dead meat in an alley fight and Lassie would get so mauled by the pack she'd single-handedly redefine the meaning of dog biscuits. Even when the animal sponsors are cutely drawn, they're kind of creepy to me. The "Meow Mix" brand logo is, essentially, a dismembered cat, it's alphabet soup of body parts formed into letters that spell the brand name. The happy-go-lucky names and slogans don't help. Like, do I really want my animal to be "Friskie"? Couldn't that get me arrested in some states?

No, there's nothing cute and cuddly about the pet food aisle -- all those perfect pet faces on the packages are utterly unnerving. Look at them, lined up in rows and columns like some animal cloned pet army -- gazing up at us, head cocked to one side with unknowable intention, licking the Pavlovian drool from their lips and baring their sharpened, pearly white teeth! It's a bad veterinarian's living nightmare.

And did you ever notice that in every pet package, the animal is smiling? Smiling! Animals do NOT smile! They don't waive hello and say "howdy-do" or "it's grrrreat!" or "hmmm...snuggle!" They snarl and champ and would bite the hand that feeds them if they weren't so preoccupied by the puzzling sound of food pouring into a ceramic dish. Seriously -- the "photoshop tricks" on the pet food packages don't fool me. I can still see that look in their little kitten and puppy dog eyes. And I recognize it. It's the same look you see on Wild Kingdom or Animal Planet, when they show lions tugging a string of bloody muscle from fresh kill. The glint of primal satisfaction from gnawing on all that gamy goodness.

Now, I know there are a lot of "alternative" pet foods that are out there -- from scientifically formulated dietary mixes to "vegetarian" snacks to chocolate covered dog biscuits. But the more that pet food becomes like human food, the more human food becomes like pet food. Most of the prefab stuff you buy at the grocer's is close enough already, thank you very much. And until Fido can pick up the tongs properly, he isn't getting any of my salad.

So I guess we have little choice but to slop it all out in a pretty little dish and leave the stinking dead meat in the open air. It sits there in a puddle in the corner like a torn carcass in the Serengeti, drawing flies. Fluffy comes and goes as she pleases, lapping at the corpse cuttings, happy that her owners have provided her with every morbid morsel.

Mange! And I mean that both ways, carnivores.

And don't even get me started on the TV commercials. Where you see puppies hopping on laps like happy little children, licking their owner's faces, I see wild animals getting a little taste of their prey before the bestial mauling and fanged carnage begins. Dogs love bones. And we are pet food. Don't forget that.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on May 10, 2006 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Bod Mod I'd Like to See

We ought to have temporary tattoos that are nonetheless permanent. Why must the art be stagnant? Especially if it's bad? We want art that we can revise and change, yet something that still sends the message that we're so committed to our art that we're willing to be surgically altered. If they can make adjustable pacemakers and prescription birth control patches these days, they ought to be able to make movable tattoos. Here's my idea: embed little colored metal pellets under the surface of the skin, so we can use a magnetic device to move them around whenever we want to. Like that children's art toy, I'd call it "Flesh-a-Sketch." Don't like that evil Ace of Spades? No need for that blow torch. Just shake your arm. It's gone.

Replaceable Fingers
I think there's much more we can do with the human hand. Particularly the fingers. I think our fingertips should be replaced with jacks that allow us to screw in and swap all sorts of prosthetic devices, right from birth. As a writer, naturally, I'd love it if I could press a secret button on my palm and click a ballpoint right out from the tip of my finger. Got a kid who likes to suck on his thumb? Give him "fingernips" instead. And we call all be really wild Freddy Kreugers with insertable blades. We could embed cell phones into our palms and literally "talk to the hand." Set it on vibrate. Imagine the possibilities!

Stomach Paperclips
You've heard of stomach stapling before, right? Same idea. Only temporary. Sometimes I like feeling so full I have to open my belt.

Mobile Airbags
When a car gets impacted, airbags inflate and save lives. Why can't we embed a similar technology in our flesh? Someone punches you -- boom -- your shirt explodes and a large pillow of air absorbs the blow. Slip on the ice -- bam -- a large buttock inflates and you land so safely you could go tubing down a mountain on your own rear end. We could all play suicide with trains and tall buildings. What a thrill! This invention would make the automobile airbag useless, so it would even save us millions.

Tongue Implants
People get all sorts of things implanted into their mouths -- braces, bridges, fillings. Why should the teeth have all the fun? Let's accessorize our mouths with extra tongues. Clone 'em, take them out of cadavers, make 'em out of's all good. Maybe get one pierced that wouldn't always get in the way; or mod them both to play mouth maracas. We could even invent a new language when we're not too busy French kissing. Wait, that wouldn't be "French" kissing anymore. But you get the idea. I'm sure you've even got some ideas of your own now.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Feb 10, 2006 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

What Bird Flu is Not

+ The Bird Flu is not the past tense of "The bird flies."
+ Avian Influenza is not to be confused with Evian Influenza.
+ People who contract Bird Flu will not necessarily grow wings and fly to heaven.
+ Big Bird Flu is not communicable to humans who aren't wearing the dorky costume.
+ Bird Flu rhymes with Absurd Goo, but it's not entirely that either.
+ You cannot transmit Avian Influenza by "flipping the bird" at someone, unless you are doing so literally with an infected canary.
+ You will not know why the caged Bird Flu sings. Wheezes, maybe.
+ The Bird did not Flu the Croup.
+ Bird Flu is no longer what you call the feathered carcass you discover clogging up your chimney.
+ Chicken Pox is not Bird Flu; it's much itchier.
+ Do not attempt to cure Bird Flu with Chicken Soup, or you're doomed.
+ God's punishment for cockfighting is not bird flu, but an impoverished social life.
+ Cat Scratch Fever is not guaranteed to prevent Bird Flu.
+ Bird Flu is not a terrorist attack on the South during the winter.
+ Bird Flu is not congenitally transmitted during infant delivery by stork.
+ No one in America died this November from Bird Flu. The recent mass decapitation of turkeys seems to have saved us. For now.

Related Link:The Daily Show: Rob Corddry's HealthScare (streaming Windows Media Format movie)

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Nov 26, 2005 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Imaginary Trivia

If one searches long enough in Salem, Massachusets, one can find fine urns filled with the ashes of witches burned at the stake. The splintery burnt timbers once found inside these urns -- called "witchpicks" -- are nearly impossible to discover, however, for at the turn of the century they were all the rage among voodoo cultists, who would stick the splinters into makeshift rag dolls hoping for bonus damage.

The first slide observed by the inventor of the microscope was smeared with his own nasal discharge. An enigmatic notation in the margin of his lab report reads: "God is cold."

Weeks before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, another plane beside the Enola Gay carried the atomic bomb to Asian shores -- but this early flight was lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Neither the B-29 bomber nor its payload have ever been discovered. One military legend suggests that they were actually sent on a supernatural mission to destroy whatever force was behind the triangle itself. Another has it that the plane was swept up into a hurricane that still swirls untracked in the Atlantic, waiting to strike American shores.

It's a little known fact that in 1883, the first iron gynecological instrument was used to torture a man.

"Fido's Follicle Folly" -- the first hangover remedy available in a dog-shaped medicine bottle -- was patented in 1812 by Georges Catostrand. This popular medicine contained one knife tip of plaque scraped from the teeth of a feral canine suspended in a pint of grain alcohol.

On the eve of his execution in 1974, Gary Bronson Davis gleefully requested "Human Head Cheese and Whore Haggis" for his last meal. It was granted.

The first flyswatter was actually a cat, swung by its tail to smash a pesky housefly.

A boy was born with six breasts in 1962. Only two of them survived.

Secret Vatican scrolls reveal that the first human baby was named neither Cain nor Able, but Cainable. He was actually a conjoined twin, before one side ate the other during a violent argument (hence the term, "cannibal").

Few realize that the invention of the handkerchief predates men's underwear.

After his beheading at the climax of the French revolution, Louis Bastarte's dismembered head is rumored to have delivered the phrase, "Sacre Bleu! I can still feel my legs!" hours after they carried it away in a bloody basket toward its burial site. Some French claim to have been kicked by the phantom legs, which they believe stick out from the head's grave site. A woman in 1911 also claimed to have been impregnated by "The Kicking Bastarte." Her baby, of course, was invisible to the naked eye. She was diagnosed with hysteria, and continued to breast feed "Little Louis" at the asylum. Psychologists could never explain the cause of her spontaneous lactation.

Enormous marbles were swallowed by ancient Romans in order to cleanse the bowel. Games involving the stones soon followed. Today we call it Bocce.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Sep 24, 2005 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.


This month a cat was born with two faces and I have to marvel over this wonderful mutation. If you've seen the photos plastered all over the internet, then you know that "Gemini" is a tabby that has two sets of eyes, noses, and mouths. The faces share a throat, however, which decreases the likelihood of two sets of hairballs on the carpet every morning, but hey, this freak of nature proves that anything is possible. After all, Gemini is able to lick itself twice as much, in an effort to get twice as clean, and therefore would swallow twice as much hair to spit up on twice as many carpets.

Cats are two-faced by nature, but this is still a pretty wild invention. I sort of wish it was a Siamese, and not a tabby, however, just for irony's sake.

Gemini isn't a genetic experiment, per se, but the offspring of what the breeder calls a "miniature cat" and a full-sized feline. Male cats have spiny genital organs -- barbs that actually hook inside the female to hold on to the squealing kitty long enough to conceive. I don't know which mate was the "minature" cat, but I'm sure the consummation was exceedingly painful. Geminis.

Hey, if I had a two-faced feline, I wouldn't call it "Gemini." What is this, the 70's? I'd probably go for something much more schizoid. Like "Tragicomedy." And I'd pet only one side of the creature, just to make that side smile and purr while the "tragedy" side just sadly scowled.

Oh, the possibilities. And I don't just mean "His and Her" water bowls. Imagine the uncanny set of double eyes, glowing green at you in the dark. Imagine the frightening shock of its stereo hiss. Imagine the unspeakable horror that rodents would experience, torsos torn asunder in the multiple mandibles of this double-mouthed mouser.

And when the dopplekitty did something bad, like claw my couch to hell (due, perhaps, to an preternatural sense of depth perception), I'd have to send Cerberus, my three-headed demon dog, out to chase it. Mayhem would ensue, but I'm sure Tragedy would win the battle.

But all of this is rather moot. I think a schizocat wouldn't survive very long after birth. And not just because its biology is an affront to all that is natural. No, I think the thing would surely go insane and claw itself to death. Cats can't stand their own reflection in a mirror, let alone one glued to their own cheek. The itch of hidden whiskers, tickling somewhere secret inside, alone would be madness. And I seriously doubt that one face would deign to be cleaned by the other side's spit-laden paw. No, Tragedy and Comedy would want to go their separate ways, but each would learn the hard way that nine lives simply aren't divisible by two.

Postscript: Shortly after writing this article, poor Gemini died of natural causes, with less than a month of life. Only one funeral was arranged. Double frownie: ::--((
You can still see her and read all about this freakcident here:

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Jul 17, 2005 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Excerpts from a Psycho Bird Watcher's Notebook

+ Bird seed will not grow into birds no matter how much you water it.

+ If the early bird gets the worm, then that means the lazy worms who just sleep in every day are the ones left running the show.

+ I hear that God watches over us through the eyes of little birds. I suspect God also pecks our eyes out through the beaks of little birds, too.

+ Why do birds settle for the whimsical birdhouse, when the big kahuna is often right next door? Are they "bird-brained" or just modest?

+ Birds will fly directly into large windows and brain themselves if you don't use curtains. I like to trick them by taking out the pane of glass entirely and letting them in. Then I might swoop down from above with my frying pan, or throw the cat in the air from below and see what happens.

+ Man wishes he had wings so he could fly. Bird wishes he had hands so he could drive, instead.

+ If the woodpeckers organized, we'd really be screwed.

+ Why do people panic when a bird gets free inside the house and flutters about? The house IS the cage!

+ Birds twitter and tweet at each other in some stupid sort of Morse code that has only three or four letters. This explains their curious look when they gather on phone lines.

+ If birds ate enough seed, in theory they could kill off the very plant kingdom that produces the seed in the first place. Are they aware of this?

+ Ostriches and other tall-standing birds that walk on two feet creep me out because they look too much like muppets made flesh.

+ Birds pivot and snap their heads to and fro instead of rolling their eyes. Beyond their little leathery talons and sharp little beaks, this is what truly makes them monstrous.

+ I can understand why birds fly south for winter, but I really don't get why they come back. And you'd think hunting season would give them a clue.

+ The world is the bird's toilet. They're kind of like children that way.

+ Some birds, predators like the hawk, eat other birds. They're cannibals, I suppose, but they're also just like us.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on May 4, 2005 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Mashing the Monsters

Freddy vs. Jason was just the tip of the blade. Today's horror movie audiences are going to be stabbed in the eyes again and again with new mix-and-match horror icon flicks like Alien vs. Predator or Van Helsing until the genre gets smart again.

I don't mind a good monster mash, but the stuff I'm seeing on the screen lately is more like a boxing match than a graveyard bash. These types of stories are nothing new -- in fact, they're almost a hundred years old. After the 1930s, Hollywood was smart to capitalize on the success of Universal Studios' Dracula and Frankenstein very early in the game, culminating in such campy hits as House of Dracula, or Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. Back then, too, they were smart enough to know the story was irrelevant and that the whole affair was a glorified conceit -- they typically went for the laughs rather than any pretense toward seriousness. And while it's true that today's monster mash is still nothing more than an excuse to return some famously fun monsters to the big screen, I think they're making a huge mistake by taking the "vs." in their titles way too seriously and packaging them as some sort of combat film. You get the sense watching these pictures that the special effects crew is still playing with army men when they're not programming CGI.

Hollywood movies try to maximize their profits, so they tend to blur genres together to get as many different audience personalities into the theater as possible. Every big studio production is a sort of "mash" in its own right. This explains why a movie like Van Helsing comes across as an action/mystery/adventure/horror/love story for kids (though it doesn't necessarily explain why the writing was so bad). But a real monster mash is a genre film tried and true because it appeals exclusively to a genre-savvy audience who knows these characters well.

Besides, as a film genre, horror is more than a century old and there's plenty of material out there they could put to better use than, say, the Predator, which, while a good commando flick, was merely an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle and not a famous monster horror movie by any measure. There are lots of monster mashes I'd like to see. Some of them could even make good comedy stories. For example, just off the top of my head...

Regan (The Exorcist) vs. Damien (The Omen)
It's evil against evil when the antichrist incarnate battles the rebellious demon Pazuzu. The day care center would never be the same.

Hannibal Lector vs. The Mummy
Is mummy meat too dry or is it simply cured? And how will Lector match his literary wit with a creature who speaks only in grunts and hieroglyphics?

The Hand vs. Thing Addams
An arm wrestling match unlike any you've ever seen. I can see the final shot now: one of them, popping up from out of a grave. But which one is it?

Chucky (Child's Play) vs. Fats (Magic)
Some ungodly is bound to happen when these two smart alecks are in the same room: Who's the dummy now, big boy?

Young Frankenstein Meets Dracula, Dead and Loving It
Watch good horror comedy battle bad in this opaque attempt to resurrect Mel Brooks' career.

The Green Slime vs. The Blob
Hot gelatin on gelatin action! Let's see, red plus green terror!

Norman Bates vs. Norman Bates
Watch Anthony Perkins try to slice Vince Vaughn trying to slice Anthony Perkins. Schizo slashers in the shower!

Okay, so I can only think of silly examples, but that's what monster mashes should be: silly fun. They're charming in the nostaglic way that old friends are, even if they're dripping with evil. A good monster mash reminds us of what we love about the movies of the past, not what we dig about the technologies and fixations of the present. And they're ultimately about the characters, not the big screen fireworks. Bring them back from the dead with some decency, Hollywood!

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Mar 10, 2005 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Prime Slime Puree

I heard on the news the other day that a Cleveland man is suing NBC television for $2.5 million because their program, Fear Factor, made him vomit when they showed contestants drinking a dead rat milkshake. After he puked, he was so light-headed he ran into a doorway and banged his violated head.

Obviously, this is a frivolous lawsuit. I don't need to argue how silly it is, or to go into details about how he hand-wrote the complaint (rife with errors) or how he refuses to speak about the suit "unless it is a paid-interview situation" (his words).

Clearly this guy's case will be laughed right out of court. But I don't want it to be. I want it to be taken seriously. I want them to make the jury watch the episode and decide for themselves whether or not they feel nauseous. No, better yet: I want the court to make him chug frothing rats directly from the glass blender as a test to see whether or not the jury bumps their heads on their way to the deliberation chamber. If so, give him the same amount that any contestant would get. After all, his case is as much a publicity stunt as any stunt that's performed on the show itself.

But I have to admit, on some level, I do feel sorry for the guy. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I can't stomach some of the things that pass for entertainment on "realiTV" anymore, either. Sure, I can write about people getting their guts hand-twisted in some psychopath's fists. And I even get a good laugh out of seeing someone spectacularly dismembered in a splatter movie every now and again. But when it comes to real life scatology on TV, I'm often physically repulsed.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a good dark documentary once in awhile and they often inspire me as a horror writer. In my line of work, they're research. When I started getting serious about the genre, I systematically rented every video on the "horror" shelf as a form of self-study, and I remember watching tons of "shock-docs" and pseudo snuff -- that whole "Faces of Death" genre. I even try to keep up with these things as they're released or dig deeper into the archives -- and in the past three months alone I've screened movies that only folks with stomachs as iron clad as a battleship could possibly enjoy (for the bold and curious, those would be: Sick: The Life of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (Kirby Dick, 1997), The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, 1971), Never Say Die: The Pursuit of Eternal Youth (HBO Films, 1996), and Taxidermy: The Art of Imitating Life (Eva Aridjis, 1998)). Heck, I even browse around websites like once in awhile, just to keep my chops.

I know that half of you are firing up your web browsers right now and typing in that internet address. But stick with me for a minute.

You'd assume from all that I've confessed that I would have a strong tolerance for images of grue and gristle on the TV screen. And I do. But here's the difference: a documentary is a concentrated study, usually with some point to it (one that typically goes beyond just watching people making a spectacle debasing themselves for profit). Plus, once you start the film rolling you know that you're in for a surprise or two, so you can steel yourself up for it in preparation, almost daring them to make you sweat. But on television, even so-called "extreme TV," you never expect it to actually go over the top and hit you where it hurts, do you? Due mostly to sponsorship pressure, TV has been mainstreamed to the point of banality and you can hardly expect anything to be more edgy than, say, a PG-13 cartoon.

I know what you're thinking. If those shows "got" to me, then they must be effective chillers. So why aren't I celebrating gross-out realiTV? Normally, I'd be a champion for twisted stuff, subverting the public airwaves. And I do like some of it. But today's reality shows are dumb and they make what I do as a writer look dumb by association. So I'm through with them. They're what John Skipp calls "Stupography?" -- like porno plots, their premises lack the meaning we get from well-crafted storytelling, and they make us more stupid the longer we watch them. Shows like Fear Factor are arbitrarily manufactured nonsense ("hey, let's make them eat creepy X or dive in a big vat of crawly Y!") for brain-emptied knuckleheads. It's almost like the generation who grew up watching characters get buckets of slime dumped on their heads on Nickelodeon's cult game show of the 80's "You Can't Do That on Television" have come of age...only their taste hasn't grown up at all. Watching these shows, you get the sense that the creative team behind these programs is a bunch of fraternity laddies, cooking up challenges when they're not watching a Girls Gone Wild video or surfing for BumFights online for something dehumanizing to laugh at. Stephen King's "The Running Man" was prescient. There's very little difference between the attraction of these shows and the terrorist decapitation videos we see on the nightly news.

Okay, go ahead -- go over to or -- but promise you'll come right back once the rush of juvenilia wears off.

I'm being harsh, and probably making myself sound like a defensive media wimp, but there's more behind my repulsion than just "stupography." The stuff I like to read and write and watch is art. This stuff isn't. A lot of people I know think it's quite ironic that I have a hard time stomaching "reality" shows that feature medical operations, birth procedures, and even animal rescues because what I write is far more disgusting. But you gotta remember that the stuff I write and enjoy is fiction -- it applies the imagination in artful ways. I think it's even more ironic that these same people relish such gore and grizzle under the auspices of "reality." As though reality makes it more permissible, less taboo. Please. The creepy part of gross-out game shows isn't the rats in the blender -- it's the willingness of the programmers to exploit people who are desperate for their pinch of TV fame and fortune.

And what disgusts me more, sometimes, is the commercials for dish soap or underarm deodorant that pop up right after the carnage (even though I do sometimes feel the need to clean up afterward).

My wife -- perhaps the gentlest person on the planet -- hates those exploitative gross-out shows as much as I do, but she enjoys watching reality programs on cable. Discovery Channel or Animal Planet are virtual presets on our remote and she often views educational programs like Maternity Ward or anti-cruelty shows Animal Rescue. I admire her intestinal fortitude, because, for me, sometimes, these are the stuff that screams are made of. I'll never forget the time she called me downstairs: "Mike! Come down here! You might want to see this!" I leapt from my computer, thinking there was breaking news. When I stepped into the living room, and heard Leonard Nimoy's voiceover, I thought it might be a campy episode of Star Trek or something. Instead, there on my living room screen, was close-up footage of an "orchiectomy."

Go ahead and google that one. I dare you.

I still wonder what my wife was thinking. And I'm still very, very nice to her.

Have you seen Extreme Makeover? This is the show that rearranges ugly people's faces for free. It's a two-for exploitation that way. Plastic surgery makes for the worst TV entertainment, but I admit that I do find these shows the most compelling to watch, possibly because there is still SOME artistry involved, if only the overpaid doctor's. Plus I learn some things. A face lift requires literally ripping one's face off and tugging it back like snuggling up a sock on the skull. I also learned that liposuction is NOT worth it. Doctors wield these long harpoon-like metal vacuum tubes under the flesh like they're fencing. And while they pur饠and touch鬠there's nothing quite like watching the camera pan over to show the clear jars filling up, as the lipids clot out of a plastic tube, clump by bloody clump. The end result looks like an extra large cup of pink custard you'd get at some horrible deli. I'd rather keep it inside for now, thanks.

There's a lot to be said for showing that which we should not -- or cannot -- see. One of the things I love about the horror genre is that it dares to look. It dares to probe the unknown, the unreal. I'm not afraid. But I don't want to actually hurt anybody, except, perhaps myself. That's the crux of what bothers me, I think. When it's "real" entertainment, it's not only not art, it's also an exercise in giving me pleasure (or even displeasure) at the expense of someone else's pain. Or even at the expense of all those cute little rats.

One of the many things that good horror stories remind us is that there's no giving the faces of death a face lift. You can turn the flesh into a mask all you like, but there's no covering up the truth. It's all ugly.

Even more related viewing:
Taxidermy: The Art of Imitating Life
One for the Rats

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Jan 13, 2005 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Chew On This. Please.

There's no such thing as bad breath. If there was, we'd say that some folks had "good breath," too, or maybe we'd have some sort of rating system in between, from superior or exquisite breath to satisfactory or competent breath. Nevertheless, we seem to have no lack of synonyms for the "bad" in bad breath -- words like "atrocious," "repellant," "skunky," and "hellaciously fetid" come to mind. But when it comes to breath, we ought to recognize that "bad" is really just a cultural value judgement. I'm certain that, in some colorful country somewhere, the odor of a goat's ass emanating from one's mouth is a sign of fine distinction.

Think about it. It's not the breathing that's bad. If it was, they'd make lung mints and everyone would smell of vapo-rub when they spoke. No, "bad breath" is a clever euphemism we use when we really want to say: "I believe my nose has detected evidence that something has died inside your upper gastrointestinal tract." Whether it's gum disease or something rotten that you recently ate -- or a symptom of some larger systemic failure altogether, like gangrene of the throat -- much of the unpleasantness of one's mouth odor stems from its ghostly association with death and disease. From unhealthy dental habits to simply the rotting tissues of old age, bad breath is bad because our culture likes to celebrate health -- fresh, minty life -- not death.

And death stinks. Do you really expect your last breath to be minty-fresh?

Of course, some malodorous breath stems from eating foods that are unfamiliar to the nose. You can blow pepperoni and beer in my face all you like, and I'll forgive you, but if I detect anchovies and Jägermeister, please keep your distance. If your breath is gamey but fruity, I'll raise my nose but wonder about where on earth you went for dinner. Like death, we fear the foreign, and some smells raise suspicion when they come out of some people's mouths. As if they didn't quite smell human. (We all know who the "germs that cause bad breath" really are, and why we need to kill them).

Halitosis, the commercials remind us, is the scientific name for bad breath. I want to know who Hal is and how his stinking toes got inside my mouth. But seriously, halitosis is very strange, because we often don't know we have it until someone offers us a stick of gum and insists when we decline. How is it that everyone around us is holding our noses when we speak, but we don't smell the garbage steam coming out from between our very own lips? Aren't our noses closer to the stink pit than everyone else's? It's bizarre. Some of us become fixated on this, constantly holding a cupped palm up to our mouths to try smell our own breath. Of course, usually all we can smell is the filth on our own hands, instead, and we wind up catching a cold.

Speaking of colds, I've read that "the germs that cause bad breath" are sometimes symptoms of sinus problems and the flu. Bad breath isn't exactly contagious, but it figures that if you catch a cold your breath can become as pungent as a petri dish. If you've ever deep-kissed a person with bad breath, I hope you like the flavor. (And I wonder: would you recognize your own bad breath if you gave me your cold and I blew it right back atcha?)

Policing our own breath is enforced by the media and the health industry, too. Mint is the dominant sign of purity. But I think there's something strange about our fixation with minty fresh breath. How many of us brush our teeth with peppermint toothpaste, or pop a wintergreen TicTac, or chew a stick of spearmint gum before we meet a stranger or kiss a lover? How many of us pick our teeth with mint toothpicks after dinner, just before popping an after dinner mint? And how many out of that same group are willing to eat those same plants that they so desperately put into their mouths? I've rarely seen anyone put peppermint on their pizza. Yet for some reason, the aromatic foliage of the "mentha" herb family dominates our culture's definition of "good" breath so much, that virtually the whole dental care industry is based on it. Mint has become the universal mask of the mouth's bacterial growth. And the more unnatural the flavor of the mint, the better it seems to be. We've gone so far as to invent crazy gum flavors that don't even exist in nature, with names like "Polar Ice" or "Cryst-o-Mint" or "Arctic Mint." It's as though these rare exotic mint oils were harvested from somewhere out in the frozen tundra, where man fears to tread. Eskimos and walruses apparently must have great smelling mouths. If the names aren't extreme, the products make extraordinary promises to be extremely potent. "Icebreakers" is a brand of mint gum, targeted, I guess, at socialites who like to small talk about breath for lack of any other worthy topic. But an icebreaker is also a chisel -- and while it's true that I've known some people with breath that could kill a daisy, it's never so thick as to need an awl to cut through. We need "BreathSavers," I guess, when our tongues are drowning in our own fetid bacterial stew. Sugar to the rescue! And to me, "Altoids" sound like minty little alien robots, ready to burn away halitosis with some drool-inducing ray gun. They certainly burn. And while I don't know what Clorets are really made out of -- chlorophyll or chlorine? -- they sound an awful lot like little droplets of chloroform to me. I suppose we need to knock-out our periodontal poisons before they knock out someone else with their stench.

Like Clorets, many oral medicines, in a quest not to smell too, well, "mediciney," are mint-flavored or -scented, too. From lip balm to antacids, mint is everywhere. I've heard that there are even mint-flavored condoms. So what's next? Peppermint suppositories?

In fact, my wife recently noted that the pills the vet gave us to force-feed our cats were flavored with something just like breath mints. "Why not make them salmon-flavored?" she asked, as the little tabby horkled all over her fist. "Then maybe they'd _want_ to swallow it!"

She's right -- and the same should be true of humans, too. Imagine a world where we actually associated good breath with foods we actually liked to eat. We'd swish a mouthful of "Hamburgerine" in the morning, right after we brushed with "Tartar-Fighting Steak Tartar." We'd suck on Beer-flavored Lifesavers during work, and spray our mouths with a little "Banana Split Binaca Blast" before we moved in to kiss our dates. An after dinner mint could finally be the desert it really is. Kissing would become more than just tasting each other's toothpaste selection -- it would become an exhilarating exploration of a surprising gourmet meal.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. Mint doesn't taste so bad, after all. But I challenge the dental industry to invent some sort of mint-flavored dentures that we could just permanently install in our gums and get it over with. I'm tired of getting nickel-and-dimed at the checkout stand. I want mint-flavored teeth that never rot. And I expect them to come from Antarctica.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Nov 8, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Pluck it Out

Sometimes I think eyes are the creepiest part of the human body, because they're like jellyfish that can see, right there in the middle of everybody's face...and there are TWO of them, conspiring to either attack or breed. Thank god for the nose, otherwise they might see how close they really are to each other and then it would all be over with. And thank god the nose isn't REALLY a bridge.

Of course, seeing eye-to-eye can be a problem, but I suspect eyes are actually racist and don't want to mix colors. Otherwise, doomsday.

Now I know that you're thinking they can see each other and conspire whenever you look in the mirror. But you'll notice that whenever you look in the mirror the eyes don't cross. That's because eyes are narcissistic little monsters and can't get enough of themselves in the mirror. They hate us, but we kind of make a pretty outfit for them nevertheless.

They say the eyes are the doorway to the soul. That's alien propaganda. Don't believe it for a minute.

You might think the blind are spared this abominable infestation. But the blind still have eyes in their sockets -- they're just the handicapped ones of their own kind.

Yes, you could punch them or poke them or fizzle them out with cigarettes. Yes, you could wear patches to debilitate them or gouge them out with forks. But you'd have to be able to see what you were doing and our dependency on them is all part of their sick master plan.

This is why the saving grace of humanity is the television set. It keeps the eyes placid.

At least, I tell myself that whenever that shiny glass screen starts to look like one of their kind, an open channel just waiting for a broadcast from beyond.

Nightmares or not, it's only when we sleep that we truly see.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Sep 30, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Hairy Spice

For some insane reason, last week I kept finding hair in my food. Whether at a restaurant or visiting with friends or even in my own custom-made bowl of oatmeal, there it was: a strand of human protein, resting in the potatoes or floating in the gravy. Most of the time it was brunette. Most of the time, it was short, like an eyelash or, well, something much worse.

I started to get upset. I felt cursed. Who keeps putting hair in my food? My food preparations were randomized because I was eating from different kitchens all week. And yet still I was cursed with hair condiments, sprinkled as rampantly in my dinners as cilantro appears in salsa. But hair is a far more disgusting -- yet common -- spice. "Unclean!" my dinner shouted at me. "Unclean!"

But then I realized: hair in your food is really not something to, well, pull your hair out over. For example, I have a full beard and I'm eating it all the time. Sometimes accidentally, if the tuft beneath my lip grows too long; sometimes on purpose, vacuously munching the ends the way a girl with pigtails might twirl one of them. When I was young, and I had long hair, I sometimes would chew on the long strands just because I could. I've kissed my wife's hair, and I've spit-cleaned the eyebrows of a child with the grooming habits of a monkey. It's only natural. Instinctive, even. So I think that so long as hair is growing on the body, it isn't as abject and disgusting as the strands that fall off. And into my food.

However, even those fallen locks and tresses aren't TOO grotesque, are they? Some folks keep shorn strands from their childhood or from loved ones as a keepsake. Others donate them to wig manufacturers for lukemia patients. Yet the unswept barber shop floor disturbs me quite a bit. Perhaps its the horrifying sense of dead tissue everywhere -- the mixing together of a thousand different heads of hair like so much human waste, trampled there beneath a thousand more dirty feet.

But that's still my reptilian brain talking (and reptiles, you realize, smartly have no hair!). The fact of the matter is that most of that freshly cut hair on the floor is also freshly washed and shampooed in the basins in the back of the barber's. In fact, most people are civilized enough to wash their hair at least once a day -- and many probably put more care (or care product, at least) into their curly locks than they do into soaping their skins or cleaning their nails or brushing their teeth. Yes, hair is probably the cleanest part of the body, even though it's clipped, broken, and sloughed off like fingernails (it's sister in protein).

So why the heck does it bother me so deeply when it happens to land in my food? Is it because I assume the chef is an unwashed brute? Or is it because I just don't know what sort of hair it is, and what sort of person lost it, and what sort of hygiene they had? It's often the sheer fact that the hair's origin is unknown. That little strand of protein could be a fallen nit from a nostril, a lost waxtrapper from an ugly ear canal, or the shedding from the natural filtration of some other bodily orifice. Most of our holes, after all, are hairy. As are our pets. And the rats in the pantry.

Or perhaps it goes further than simply what hair is or where it comes from. Maybe it all comes down to what it's matched with. The combination of food with hair seems taboo. How many hairy foods are there? No delicacy that I can think of off hand, but that's only because of hunters and butchers flay their game before it's prepared, not to mention the hygiene laws that make most restaurant employees wear hats and hairnets. But think about it: in the wild, as in my mother's kitchen, hair is everywhere. What kind of strange civilization do we live in where it's perfectly fine to bite into the tissue of an animal, but god help us if any of its fur is still in the meat!

In fact, hair could benefit us. It's protein after all. We might not need to floss so much. Maybe it's good roughage. I think I might like a large nest of Natural Red on my salad instead of sprouts. Sure, hair has only a micron of nutritional value, but, gee, if it can smell terrific, maybe it can taste terrific, too?

But still my gut says no, hairy food is sick, diseased, unclean, though my head knows better and it can't puzzle out the reason why we're so afraid of it. Are we worried about the potential of human hairballs? Is intestinal blockage the problem? The aftertaste of cheap conditioner?

Or is it subtly cannibalistic? I mean, if hair became a delicacy, what would stop us from turning on each other like monsters, harvesting it from each other's heads like scalpers? Nah, we'd systematize it all, tame our instincts, make it civil. Groom ourselves the way farmers rotate their crops. Barbershops would have back kitchens.

Imagine the menu. Armpitted Prunes. Bearded Clams. Ham and Wigs. Pork Chops slathered in Pubicue Sauce. Blondies. Mustache Muffins. Honey Combed Cereal. Crew Cut Steak. Hirsute snacks...oh, the possibilities. A rainbow wig of flavors!

Wait, I think I've figured out why it sickens me so. There already is hair in the esophagus...hell, all the way down the gastrointestinal tact! Cilia -- tiny little cellular hairs in their tiny little follicles that move food through the gut. There's something uncanny about them. They move on their own accord, like an inside-out caterpillar. Maybe they don't want to be pall bearers to their own kind. Maybe they don't like the competition. Yeah, that's it.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Aug 18, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Proverbs for Monsters

+ Slime never feels slimy to slime.
+ Bark all you like, the man in the moon has no ears.
+ Biting off the head silences the victim. But it is the feet that will stop them from running away.
+ Beware of things that go bump in the day.
+ Man, like monster, also has sharp teeth.
+ Those who most shun garlic, often most enjoyed it in their youth.
+ The sleep of madness brings forth humanity.
+ Wear gold jewelry. When silver is in fashion, wear even more of it.
+ Like a stake through the heart, so is the love of the clergy.
+ A man eating plant will even swallow a vegetarian, when hungry.
+ A garbled threat is but a spell cast by an illiterate witch.
+ An infant vampire bites hardest.
+ Even werewolves shave during the day.
+ It is not your tentacles, but the acid that drips from them, that frightens your prey.
+ Those who fear the sun too soon often awaken before sundown.
+ One can catch a good human with a bad hamburger.
+ Holy water stings but a neck bite is forever.
+ Nothing is more stupid than an exposed brain.
+ Fortune favors the cleaver.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Jul 2, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Grilling the Mermaid

I love women, and I enjoy fish, but for some reason I hate mermaids. They're some of the most horrifying of animal-human hybrids. I mean, they're scaly. And they smell -- well -- like fish! I don't care how good they are at singing and swimming and strategically arranging their lengthy hair, they're gross little monsters.

Yet their legend endures. We still get slurred reports from drunken sailors who spot them in the seven seas. And little kiddies everywhere believe in Ariel, the so-called “Little Mermaid” (who isn’t little enough to step on, unfortunately). But get this straight: if mermaids existed, we'd see dead ones floating belly up in the sea once in awhile. And there'd be plenty of beached mercorpses washing up on the shores or getting hauled up in tuna nets every summer.

But for a moment, let's pretend they're immortal. Let's pretend that the icon of the mermaid -- that seductive siren who is half-fish, half-woman -- is a reality. And let's pretend that she doesn't get as slimy as oily oyster guts from scooting around in the silt and sand all the damned time. Even then, I've got problems.

First off: they're always topless bombshells without any legs. You don’t have to be a feminist to see that this is clearly a male fantasy. Why? Because they can't run away.

And if they aren't male fantasies, then why are the top halves of mermaids always the human part? What if they were giant walking fish heads instead? Even the most committed of "leg men" might have difficulties with a breastless bass. Besides, the creatures really should be human on the bottom half. It makes more sense. The kick would make them better swimmers. Plus they'd actually be able to breathe, since the top is the half that has the gills. And, well, let’s just say I just think it would be more efficient for mating.

Or let's take it a step further: what if only the left half were fish and the right side human? What then, Popeye?

And even with the traditional organization of parts: Why is the lower half always a long flappy green whale’s tail? How about a half-woman, half-jellyfish, oozing weirdness beneath her lovely torso? Or half-sting ray, her bottom as flat as a flesh blanket, undulating in the waves before she covers herself up, blushing at your approach…and stings you when you make your move?

Here's another question: If I only ate their fish tails, would it still be considered cannibalism?

And, like, what's the "mer" in mermaid stand for (flop for?), anyway? It can't be that stuff the wise men brought to the baby Jesus, can it? And are mermaids really "maids"? And if so, do they do windows, or just portholes?

A mermaid in a French maid outfit, feather duster in fin. That, I'd like to see.

Okay, so we’ve established that mermaids are weird male fantasies and even weirder sex objects. So if sex is involved, how do these chicks of the sea reproduce, anyway? No, I'm not asking because I want to spawn. I'm curious how the whole species began. It's probably the usual origin story: a human and a fish mated and -- voila -- Darryl Hannah was magically born. Fine. I don't want to imagine the details, but fine. But then how does the species perpetuate after the first mutant is born? What comes after the initial bestial sin? Would a merman and a mermaid have to meet to breed? Wouldn't that be incest? Is it still incest when eggs are deposited and fertilized in their weird fishy ways? Or is the whole species sustained by all those randy sailors out there? (And if you were a mermaid, would you still love your father, knowing he was some sick kind of fish fetishist? Wouldn't that kind of swear you off the whole "man" thing, altogether? And would the other fish be repulsed by your flesh if you turned to them? Something doesn't add up for me here.)

Now I'm sure there are some fantasy fans reading this who are thinking, "What about all the other merfolk, like mermen, you sexist pig?" To them I would simply say: hey, if even the mermaids would rather be with human beings that those of their own kind, then there's really gotta be something wrong with them. Besides, without the beard and the triton in their hand, I'm not sure how you can tell if they're male anyway. For all you know, they're really transgendered merherms. Especially the ones with the well-groomed beards artfully cascading down to cover their breasts.

Whatever their sexual orientation, There's very little romance in Neptune's bachelor pad. Fish spawn and reproduce in all sorts of weird, gelid, and inhuman ways. Eggs are often fertilized externally, in a method akin to drizzling caviar with hot sauce. Speaking of which -- if there were merfolk, you can be sure that they'd eat their own young, though the delicacy wouldn't be as exotic as it is for us. No? Too abhorrent? Well, then, perhaps in merfolk culture, human embryos would be all the rage at the fancy dinners. And can you imagine the price of mermaid caviar! Or the flavor!


Give me chicken eggs instead any day. But don’t even get me started on the henmaids. Their eggs actually kick and squirm…and peck.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on May 21, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Herky Jerk

I was at the convenience store the other day and I saw a man buy ten sticks of beef jerky. I made a funny face at him. He chomped off a chunk with a violent tug. "It'z Atskinz," he said, slurring his reference to the Atkins diet. But I thought he said "rat skins." So I nodded in understanding: jerky has the taste and texture of rat skins, indeed. It's man's version of the dog biscuit. Like a fob of leather, it's something we like to teeth on. And apparently jerky is in high demand like cigarettes and candy bars, all tempting to seduce you into making an impulse purchase, right there at the point-of-sale. Who can resist? Who doesn't drool at the sight of dried and salted flesh?

I'm no vegetarian, but I have to admit I have an aversion to jerked meats. Heck, I blush just saying the words. And I probably don't need to tell you how sick "snapping into a Slim Jim" really sounds in my ears. All puns aside, I'm not even sure what jerky really is. All I know is that it's a form of "cured" meat, but even that doesn't sit right with me. Why do they call it "cured" meat, anyway? I mean, it's dead what's to cure?

Don't get me wrong: I understand the appeal of beef jerky. It's nature's convenience food, passed to us long before there ever were Seven-Elevens and Mini-Marts and roadside gift shops called "Buckskin Charlies." Beef jerky is a throwback to the frontier days, when Native Americans taught bear trappers how to cure strips of meat so they wouldn't have to take up so much space packing the whole dead cow on the back of their burro. This allowed them to eat the rotting carcass at their leisure and not have to gobble the bloated festering corpse in a panicky rush before the maggots beat them to the good bits. Salt, smoke, and sun shrunk the meat down and cooked it up like bacon. The invention of jerky was a breakthrough that turned the decomposing body into a salty bite-sized snack, handy enough to fit all your favorite bits and pieces into one small saddle bag. And why not? Eat the jerky on the way to the mine. Eat the burro when you get there. Dietary planning at its finest!

On the day jerky was invented, dead meat became fun. Like salt water taffy. Only meaty. What's more entertaining than champing down on salted animal tissue and shaking your head from side to side like a dog on a chew toy? Very little. Except doing so naked with a friend. Or something as simple as saying the word itself: "jerky." A truly snicker-worthy term if there ever was one. All its connotations are quite bizarre and unseemly. Does jerky crassly refer to the method of stripping the meat off the bone? To the ugly body motions necessary to tear off a bite? Or is jerky a term of affection, like "Petey" or "Billy" -- something you call a little jerk? Or is it simply just a term for the last (dying) action performed by the very same muscles and sinew you're chawing on?

You'd be surprised. My research tells me that "jerky" is actually a bastardization of the term "charqui" (pronounced "sharkey" in Spanish) -- not to be confused with actual shark jerky (which is pronounced "yuckie" in English) or with a certain argumentative butter substitute with a smart mouth. "Charqui" used to be cut in large strips that were dried and cured and later cut up and put into stews -- and back the days of yore it still resembled meat to some degree. Jerky probably had nutritional value of some kind then, too. But today, it's mostly all "formed" from whatever strange meat still clings to the bone after the slaughterhouse has had its way with old Besty the cow. Modern jerky is a lower level of hotdog. Nothing in nature is so perfectly shiny and cylindrical as the meat sticks I've seen at the convenience store.

Of course, you can get organic jerky made of 100% USDA Grade A beef, hand-twisted and custom-jerked by some unknown farmer in Muskogee who probably doesn't wash his hands very well. You can flavor it up in exotic smokes and rub it down with mystical spices. You can jerk exotic animals, too, from koalas to kangaroos. But no matter how pure the meat, no matter how cute the critter, it's still just a glorified dog treat when all is said and done.

Sure, jerky has its benefits. It's high in protein. It's preserved so well you can take it camping or hunting with ease. You can store it in your survival shelter for eons. One dead cow can feed a family of twelve without the modern convenience of a refrigerator for months and months. It's a miracle food! It's even been sent with astronauts to the moon and back. Sounds as neato as Tang, right?

Not to me. For one thing, lots of crazy things have protein in them -- from parrot parts to pavement puke. Protein alone is not reason enough to eat jerky. And the very idea of jerky in space is a scary science-fiction story waiting to happen. What sort of message would it send the aliens who discover it? I can imagine a capsule coming back from the stars, with strips of astronaut jerky dangling inside. And a message from the stars: send more.

Which raises the question: Is man-jerky Atkins-approved? Only Jeffrey Dahmer knows. The serial killer experimented with preserving techniques and used to snack on his cannibal candy between meals. I know he was crazy, and he ate a lot of people in any number of taboo ways, but I also know the man-eater wasn't exactly fat when they arrested him. He looked rather fit, actually. Lean, even. Low on carbs, for sure. Mmm.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Apr 6, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Geezer Gore

I was scanning the horror DVDs at the video store the other day, and after awhile, all the covers began to look the same to me. I worry that the horror film industry is falling for the same packaging mistakes that horror novels made in the 1980s: back then, every book was black with a skeleton on the cover. And it virtually killed the industry. Apparently such book buyers don't pay attention to author names, see all those skeletons on the covers and think they "already own that one."

Nowadays almost every video case on the shelf has a fanged clown-like creature on it, wielding some sort of blade. Or otherwise there's a cluster shot of spoiled teenagers, posing in I-deserve-to-die-but-I-dare-you-to-kill-me poses. If only they would stand so close together in one group during the films -- they'd be much easier for the slasher to take out in one shot.

Maybe I'm getting old, but this trend for teenage victims is getting staler than syndicated reruns of Saved by the Bell (...who probably shouldn't be. Saved that is.)

Once something's successful, the marketplace tries to clone it, banking on a "sure thing" -- but the only "sure thing" that will happen is that the marketplace will bleed the concept dry, wringing every last drop it can out of its carcass. But I think I've come up with a solution to this problem. It's quite simple, really. Let's stop killing pretty boys and snotty cheerleaders. Let's start killing the old folks, instead.

That's right. I'm proposing a new subgenre: geezer gore.

Now, I know that this sounds terribly crass and ageist, but if that's true, then the filmmakers and screenwriters who perpetually cast seventeen-year-olds in the role of "decapitated bully" or "virgin warrior" are worse. They kill the same characters time after time. It's getting old, but the characters aren't. And I think they should be.

Why just kill the blondes? I want to see gray hairs in my gray matter. I'm tired of seeing kids chased around the college campus or the summer camp. I want to see blood spraying down the hallways of nursing homes and axes chopping up the card tables at bridge. I want to see flying nose hoses and hear lots of rattling bedpans. Instead of watching a supple rump trying to shimmy out of a bathroom window, I want to see the weak and ill, crawling across blood-soaked tile in open surgery gowns and sagging adult diapers.

And I want their murders to be just as ironically apt as they are in all the slasher movies. And I'm not just talking about the obvious forms of brutality, like caning. I want to see some old lady pinned down by her own walker and tortured with vicious intravenous bottles. I want to see a possessed pair of dentures taking huge bites out of old man Charley. I want to see longevity freaks in their warm-up suits and headbands choking on fistfuls of Geritol. And they'd make good villains, too. I want to see geriatric killers wielding amped-up heart attack paddles. Sexagenarian slashers with crazy coupon scissors. Viagra vampires.

Some movies kill off the parents or grandparents of the teenage cast, and while that seems like a step in the right direction, it's actually tokenism. Far more kids die than their parents in the slasher genre, even though there are twice as many progenitors than offspring. This is obviously a way to appease the rebellious kids in the audience, who wish their parents would just die already. But of course, these are supposed to be R-rated movies were talking about -- films which ostensibly are only for the adults in the first place. So let's raise the bar a generation and kill the grandparents already, okay?

Sure, horror already has its fill of scary old people. Wicked witches are rarely under twenty-five. The crazy man down the block is usually a crazy OLD man. And what's a vampire if nothing but a very, very old person? The fact is that most Hollywood movie characters over marriage age are more predictable and stereotypical than "ditzy blondes" -- and I know they can be used more creatively in the genre. Yet -- probably because they don't look sexy enough -- Hollywood runs screaming from actors over sixty. But I know damned well that the elderly can act. If memory serves, Kirk Douglas performed his final film by blinking Morse code from an Iron Lung or something. But seriously: I love films with older actors in them. The adaptation of Peter Straub's Ghost Story has one of the best middle aged casts ever -- in fact, it's probably the best example of what I'd like to see more of: old timers, shaking frail in their boots, or battling to the death. But I have to turn to other genres to find more stories like them. Cocoon is one of my all time favorite SF films, and I'm not just saying that because I like to see John Wayne Gacy play the role of Alien Leader. I mean, I even loved the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton vehicle, Something's Gotta Give -- a romantic comedy about two people in their seventies who see each other naked and then fall in love. Believe me, such full frontal (and rear) nudity would horrify any sixteen year old, any day. So why aren't we seeing this in the horror films? Where's all the geezer gore?

Now I beg of you -- don't send me hate mail. I'm no spring chicken and I'm probably older than 75% of the people reading this. I might not be middle aged, but I count myself among the, well, aged. Aged enough to have seen decade after decade of horror films. And very little has changed since John Carpenter's Halloween set the slasher genre in motion: these flicks keep killing off the same dumb kids who think they're immortal. That's the whole plot of Final Destination, for example. And though the actors keep changing, this little lesson just gets really stale after awhile and the genre loses its audiences as they grow up. I mean, sure, those kids really do deserve it when they're force fed a skateboard or bashed over the head with a stereo -- and I must admit that I do get a vicarious thrill out of watching the evisceration of pubescent children. It warms the cockles of my dark heart to witness the skewering of kids with hunting weapons and drill presses. But the problem is the perpetual Hollywood assumption that the only true audience for a good horror movie is an eighteen year old nerd who wants to see the people he or she hates in high school vicariously get creamed. Where do horror fans go when they grow out of this market segment? To television, to watch Elderly Fear Factor? Please.

If they're smart, they turn to the video shelf. To the classics, when kiddies in films meant something. Back in the 70s, when ratings sort of meant something, all the great adult horror films were really good. Think about how kids were represented back then: as demonic (Exorcist) or the embodiment of the devil himself (The Omen); as mutants (It's Alive), psychotic vampires (Martin), and murderous hormonal freaks (Carrie). The video vaults hold some of the greatest horror films ever produced, but I worry that all this direct-to-video crap is going to dilute the choices. Nowadays Rosemary's Baby sits right next to I Know Who You Did Last Summer Camp. Kids used to be creepy freakazoids in the horror movies, but now they're the whole damned cast and the slasher is usually some divorcee mother who's had too much Starbucks. I know our society can produce better garbage than this garbage. But the problem is that the rise of the DVD market means that these teen flicks are crowding the market, representing the whole genre to the next generation. And while it's true that horror has always reveled in teen exploitation, there's a kitsch value in those black and white schlockers, like I Was a Teenaged Dismembered Hand or The Thing from Outta My Toy Box. There's no kitsch whatsoever in the films on the DVD shelves today, like Spearing Brittany or American Die. Just bad jokes and way too many pretty people.

Sure, it's sad when a stunt BMX biker gets his head chopped off by a ceiling fan, because he never got to live past twenty and pay taxes. But it's freaking tragic when an eighty year old survives three wars, living a long life of honor and dignity, only to have her lungs yanked inside out through her tracheotomy hole by a maniac ex-smoker. Tragic, I tell you. And messy.

I have a dream. I see new titles high up in the marquee. Grammassacre. Satanic Sexagenarians from Mars. Whippersnappers. Haunted House of Infirmary. Attack of the Elderleeches. Werewolves in Wheelchairs. Retiree Resurrection. The Exlaxorcist. Leatherface II: The True Story.

Let's quit clowning around with the youth in some perverse playland. (That goes for you, too, Mr. Jackson). Let's inject more originality into our stories. Let's allow the genre to age with grace. Horror cinema is far too young to die such a silly death. The actual audience members who sat in the theaters of the original horror blockbusters from the 1930s -- Dracula and Frankenstein -- are a population that's rapidly dwindling. Let's do it for them, before it's too late.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Feb 26, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Oddly Chilling Thoughts

+ There's something beautiful about a snowman when it melts. I think it's the way the black button eyeballs sink in and blow smoke from their sockets while the pyre at its feet crackles and spits as the flame of vengeance climbs up the hitching post. Or maybe it's just the song we sing as Frosty burns.

+ Snow is a blanket. Ice is sheet. Winter is the earth's deathbed...and you gleefully ride your sled across it, blasphemer!

+ Freezers preserve meat. Thus, I believe hungry space aliens with a technology beyond our imaginations are responsible for the winter chill.

+ They say time and time again to never eat yellow snow. But I think it's the red snow you have to worry about.

+ Why do they call frozen body tissue "frostbite"? It's true that exposure to the cold produces pain, but frost has no teeth. In fact, it's the body that gets frosty, no? So I propose we call it "frostleg" or "icehand" or something even more appropriate, like "Body Pop" or "Iced Me." If you're upper palate freezes, then fine: frostbite.

+ The early symptom of impending frostbite is called "frostnip." The early symptom of impending frostbite on your nipples is called "cruel irony."

+ I don't believe in the Abominable Snowman. But I pretend to, just so I can say the word "abominable" without necessarily sounding like some character from a really melodramatic Victorian novel.

+ I don't trust the people who sing "Winter Wonderland." Snow is something that buries us and we have to dig ourselves out of it, like dirt. I think "Inter Wonderland" is much more appropriate. ("Slain dead thing, are you list'nin'? Blood on snow, is a glistnin'...")

+ I learned in science class that the best way to save someone from hypothermia is to strip and snuggle nude with them. I vaguely recall some point about the "body heat" being better than a blanket or a shot of cocoa. This explains why men die from hypothermia three times as often as women do in the US.

+ Why is a "fight" the only sport we've managed to invent for snowballs? And why is boxing a summer event, but snowball fighting not a winter event at the Olympics? And if snowballs are so innocent, why don't we have city-to-city snowball hurtling battles, using gigantic catapults, instead of wars?

+ If you dream of white Christmases and sing "let it snow" every season, I challenge you to spend your next holiday up on the North Pole. See if Santa bothers to offer you shelter. You'll change your tune pretty fast, I think.

+ Have you ever heard the term "chilblain"? The dictionary says it refers to the itchy and painful swelling of flesh that occurs when your hands and feet are overexposed to the cold. But it makes me want to suspend naked magician David Blain in a glass box from that snow-covered elm in my backyard right now.

+ Cryogenics sounds sad to me. But don't be sad, Mr. Icy Corpse...there's hope for you yet.

+ Avalanche is a great word. Its onomatopoeia is horrific. The very syllables bring to mind a Frenchman tumbling down a mountainside, until he meets his demise in a crunching vortex of snow and rock and ice: "Ahhhh...vahhh...laaaaaaaa...uNNCHHH!"

+ Sick torture idea #238: A murderer buries someone alive beneath a ton of snow, and then starts melting it rapidly with a blow torch so that by the time the victim starts asphyxiating, the melted water trickles down and floods their space just as they see light through the slush and begin to think they might break free. They drown, seeing their salvation through the gauzy snow. Or if they do manage to break free, well, there's always the blow torch.

+ If you can see your breath, you're still alive. But once your eyeballs crack like ice cubes, you're probably a lost cause, no matter how much steam you aspire.

+ Icicles are the roof's revenge.

+ Brains float in cranial fluid. Fluids freeze solid. Draw your own conclusions.

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Jan 19, 2004 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Out on a Limb

Amputation frightens me just as much as the next person, but there is one component of losing an appendage that I think would be interesting to experience: the "phantom limb" sensation. The feeling that the arm or leg or other appendage is still present, still attached, still moving, long after it's been dismembered. Some call it "stump hallucination" -- which sounds sorta dirty to me -- and also like some sort of psychedelic forest mushroom. The phrase "Phantom Limb" sounds so much better. It's almost as cool as the name for an underground comic superhero or a punk band.

80% of all amputees report phantom limb sensation. I don't mean to insult any of my differently-abled readers by pouring salt on old wounds with this topic, but I must say that in some ways you've got it lucky if you're missing an arm and a leg yet still feel its presence. Because you can do whatever you want to with it and no one will be the wiser.

With a phantom arm, I'd pick my nose in public whenever it itched. I wouldn't need to wipe it off. And that's only the beginning. I'd flip off rude clerks and obnoxious co-workers, giving them the phantom finger while smiling and nodding to their faces. I'd shoplift behind my back while talking to the department store clerk. I'd freak out everybody in arm wrestling matches at the local saloon. And if I had a phantom leg, well, I'd kick people who deserved it like crazy.

I'm no perv, but I can't promise that I wouldn't be curious enough to give a few people a little phantom feel up, either. No hard feelings, right?

And, of course, it goes without saying that it would be EXTRA cool to shake phantom hands with a fellow amputee. We could high five when no one was looking or phantom thumb wrestle. Or even a fist fight. Anything goes with my amputated ghost buddies.

I've heard that the brain doesn't die right away when the head is chopped off -- and that some people's final vision is their headless torsos. But I want to know: do decapitated people have phantom head? I'm not so sure two heads are better than one -- wouldn't that be kind of schizophrenic for awhile there?

I apologize for being so glib. Phantom limbs aren't always as fun as I make them sound. There's a serious condition known as "phantom limb pain" which is quite horrific. Image feeling like your hand had a nail driven through it -- and no one could do anything about it, because it wasn't really there, not physically anyway. Just that zinging, pain, dismembered yet attached, present yet not physical in a way that anyone could help you. People with this condition have been driven to suicide. (Probably twice: after slashing their phantom wrists doesn't work).

Doctors haven't quite figured out what causes sensation in missing body parts. Some say that phantom limb is wishful thinking -- a phantasy so powerful it manifests itself as "real" in the patient's brain. But this has been discredited -- how many phantom bitch-slaps are you willing to take after claiming that 80% of all amputees are psychotic? Instead, most doctors see the nervous system as the cause. Some claim it's related to the nerve endings in the stump, which "tingle" after the trauma and therefore create "stump hallucination" -- a sensation which reaches ghost-like out of the stump and the brain, literally, "fills in the blanks." Another explanation focuses on the brain itself, which has a hardwired map for controlling body parts, and continues to rely on this map even after the limb is gone. It's sort of like using a map from 1982 to drive around modern day Russia. You're bound to end up in Transylvania. This can also lead to some wire-crossing. Some phantom limb patients actually feel a tickle on their cheek when their phantom limb acts up. Others have even claimed to experience orgasms in their missing limbs! (See the "wishful thinking" theory above).

But maybe all this phantom limb business is not so scientific after all. Legend has it that Lord Nelson felt pain in his phantom limb -- the sensation of fingers digging into the arm he lost after an attack on Santa Cruz de Tenerife -- and claimed that this was "direct evidence for the existence of the soul." If an arm can "exist" after it's been removed, why not the whole body after it has been destroyed? Sounds logical, right? But also frightening: I want to know who was digging their nails into his phantom sleeve. And I truly hope our souls aren't really the same shape of our bodies, like some ghost out of a bad cartoon. I'd like to think my soul is much more amorphous and gelatinous than that. More like a floating jellyfish or something, stingers and all. You heard me right: I want to be a phantom Man o War, floating in the air you breathe!

But I digress. I have to say that, soul or not, I don't really believe all that much in phantom limb. Because if it were true, all the other things that we're separated from would still haunt us in very weird ways. We'd all still feel tethered to our mothers through phantom umbilical cords or surrounded by strange bags of phantom placentas. Mothers would feel phantom children curling in their wombs, growing larger and larger, all the way into their nineties. In fact, there would be phantom wombs for hysterectomy patients, not to mention the ghosts of an innumerable amount of surgical procedures: phantom tonsils, phantom biopsies, phantom wisdom teeth, phantom Siamese twins, phantom foreskin, phantom liposuction fat, and on and on and on. Not to mention phantom fingernails and beards and nose hair and all the other things we snip away day after day without a second thought.

How long is my phantom nose hair, anyway? And does this explain why I trip over my phantom feet for no apparent reason sometimes? If only I was a jellyfish, with my phantom pseudopods, I wouldn't have these problems.

[Recommended reading (and source for some of the above, including that orgasm in the limb business): Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee. (NY: William and Morrow, 1998). Much more information and pleasure reading at Dr. Ramachandran's home page ]

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Posted by Michael A. Arnzen on Dec 20, 2003 | Permalink | Go to Main Blog Page

BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Holiday X

The most popular article from last year's Goreletter was "Holiday X" -- an essay on the X in Xmas -- and since it's that, um, "most wonderful time of the year" once again, I thought I'd reprint that article here (while I work on the December issue's "Blather" column). To read "Holiday X" click below or go directly to the archived copy of vol 1.4.

Holiday X
by Michael A. Arnzen

I love Xmas. Not the holiday, per se.
The abbreviation. Any abbreviation that
uses the letter X gets my nod of
approval. I marvel at the Chinese
Puzzle of the road sign that reads
"Deer Xing." I muse over the strange
aversion to E in words like "Xtra." I
adore the arachnid-like contraction of
"tickets" into "tix." And I still sublimely
wonder, after all these years, what
XXX really stands for, and how my
loved ones can still sign a letter XXX
and OOO with a straight face.

From quixotic to quincunx, I love the
enigmatic X. Especially when it's near
a Q. It's nature's expectorant.

But I'm no dupe: I won't stand for brand
names that commercialize my letter X.
I won't buy anyone Microsoft's "X-box"
for Xmas, for Xample. And I won't rent
that Vin Diesel action film called XXX,
either, no matter how hard they try to
convince me that "action" film is a
euphemism for porn.

The sporting world misunderstands the
X. The XFL is a case in point. And until
the dictionary includes the word
"athletiX," can we please give Xtreme
sports like Dental Floss Bungie
Jumping a rest? For one thing, the
letter X is not playing a game with us.
It's serious business. For another, all
these "Xtreme sports" were dreamed
up by the editorial board of some
snowboarding magazine…which I
imagine to be comprised of Beavis,
Spicoli, Wayne Campbell, and both the
actors from Dude, Where's My Car?
(with Keeanu Reeves acting as editor-
in-chief, naturally). These guys couldn't
even count to X in the Roman Numeral

Maybe it's just the times we're living in.
Generation X is selling eXtacy to
Generation Y. I don't know what that
means, but I think it's very strange, and
I wish Gen Y would stick to their own
letter and sniff Yte out instead. The
world is chewing up way too many
precious resources on glowstiX as it is.

I might complain about the way our
culture capitalizes on the letter X, but I
do make Xceptions for worX of art. I
haven't read much XJ Kennedy, but I'm
sure he's a damned good poet. Spike
Lee's "X" was a wonderful movie.
"Heard It On The X" is a decent ZZ
Top song (though they chose the
wrong letter…ZZ means "sleep" to
me!). The X-Men were great comiX.
And The X-Files on FoX weren't so
bad, either.

Putting "The" in front of "X" is
dangerous business. X is a scary
letter. And the "The" makes everything
a little scarier than it already is. It
makes everything sound like The End.

X is a good name for a baby. Or any
fictional character. There are
characters named M and a Q in the
James Bond films, but why no X?
(Don't tell me that Drax from
Moonraker has already taken that
letter… Drax is the name of a bug
repellent, for crying out loud!) So if
you're thinking about raising a baby,
call it X and be sure to turn it into some
sort of insane villain with a facial scar.

Or a businessperson. Executive
Officers are called XOs. I'd like to have
a kid, name him or her X (depending,
of course, on the X chromosome) and
then train it to become XO X. How do I
accomplish this? I'm not sure, but I
think a football play chart is involved.

Which brings me back to Xmas. What
if the X in Xmas were used in other
words featuring Christ? I'm a Xian. I
was blessed at my Xening. As a
follower of Xianity, I worship X because
X died for my sins. Now Jesus X
almighty, will you pull over at that
TeXaco and ask for directions?

Or what might our shorthand for Christ
mean if we put it in other X words?
Would children still hammer so
annoyingly if it were called a
christylophone? Would adults still fear
the radiation of a Christ-ray, or would
they toss their lead vests assunder?
Would Marvin Gaye still need
sechristual healing? Perhaps.

I suspect the X in Xmas doesn't mean
"Christ" at all -- it probably signifies a
cross, instead (as I'm sure the logo for
any Christian death metal band will
indicate). That's why illiterates sign
contracts with them. I doubt Jesus
staked that claim in Texas.

You see, X has always been a sign of
our laziness with the English language.
Americans are good at taking
shortcuts. Texas is a great place
because it's so huge -- almost the size
of Alaxka -- but it also sounds an awful
lot like shorthand for something that
was probably much much longer in the
original Aztec (like Texasloucuhlan or

The Aztecs were the most comfortable
with the letter X. That's what makes
them cool. The X -- and all that beating
heart removal business. If it wasn't for
that space between "Merry" and
"Xmas" we might have some holiday
that sounded like an Aztec city:
"Merixmas." And we'd probably put a
little more heart into family get

So Merry Xmas to you. And while you
snort egg nog from a snifter, please
figure out how we might take short cuts
on the other holidays with long words
in them. Valentine's Day? HapE Vals.
Halloween? Just "trix." Thanksgiving?
Good Eats. The rest? Etc.

"Holiday X" originally appeared in The Goreletter 1.4 (6 Dec 2002)

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BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Meat Overboard!

I'm considering burial at sea. And I don't mean having my ashes scattered in the Hudson like so much pollution. I want to be tossed overboard like an unwelcome stowaway or dropped over a waterfall like, well, like a suicide, only I'd already be dead. What I'm saying is simple: I want to make a splash.

If I'm present in the body at all after death, I think it would be a much better way to go. I'd get to take a vacation of sorts, rather than be locked up in a Houdini box for eternity. I'd get to snorkel without the worries of all that nerdy snorkeling gear. And if I dissolved, well, that's so much better than decomposition. My body would liquefy and my cells would spread across the world and even evaporate into the air. It's so much better than land burial, where you sort of just rot in your casing, and -- if you're lucky -- ooze through the coffin cracks into the soil, and -- if you're even luckier -- eventually climb your way up through the tree roots toward the air. But if you are interred at sea, you might become a foul skin that floats on the water, like a tourist bobbing comfortably on one of those pool lounge chairs.

I mean, aren't our bodies something like 98% water, anyway? We're more like Michelob Ultra than the Guinness we think we are.

Oh, okay, I looked it up. It's more like 60%. So Miller Genuine Draft, then.

But back to my point: Why feed the garden, when our ancestry of oceans and rivers and lakes awaits? Why do we bury the dead like a dog buries its bone? You might think it's all about the stink, and you'd have a point. But submersion not only covers up the foul odor of death, but also saves you the sweaty armpits of the digging, so it's twice as nose-friendly. Unless you're hauling a particularly flabby body overboard. Then you might have sweat and, well, gas, to deal with. But contrary to the belief that fat floats, weight sinks, and water swallows the stink.

Would you bury the dead in mud to honor them? Do you always lock the people you respect most up in a box without any food or deodorant and toss them in a filthy hole? I don't want to be replaced with a symbolic chunk of stone. Even if you made a statue out of me, you'd be talking about, essentially, a concrete doll, and I'd much rather be an action figure with kung-fu grip. But seriously: if we really wanted to memorialize the dead with statues and stones, why not invent some sort of embalming fluid that actually petrified the corpse, so we could keep it in our living rooms or barbecue pits for posterity? Why don't we start mummifying ourselves in high tech ways? I'd much rather be dipped in high gloss resin. Of course, the problem then would be my never-changing fashion statement. Unless a family member played dress-up with my cadaver in the same ritual fashion as others renew graveyard flowers. Out of love and respect.

And yet even if my dream of corpse resin never comes true, I'd still rather dissolve than be perpetually frozen in time, trapped behind a veil of plastic, watching the world change around me as seasons come and go, without ever being able to say "I told you so."

Now, I know there are other options. But cremation just isn't as creamy as it sounds. And I could donate my body to science, but I wouldn't be able to write it off on my 1040 the next year, no matter how inevitable death and taxes are supposed to be.

So water it is.* I will dissolve myself of this world. Water is as quick-actin' as Tinactin. And it prevents dead foot fungus just as well, too.

There's no easier method to return from the dead, either. Nothing recycles like water. Look in your drink and tell me I'm wrong.

* Disclaimer: Don't hold me to this, Mr. Lawyer. I'm still waiting for my patent on that body resin idea to come through. And as far as burial goes, well, to be honest, it really all depends upon the real estate, doesn't it?

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BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Arnzen's Halloween Fantasies

+ I will show up at the neighbor's doorstep dressed as Old Gepetto, the marionette maker. I'll have a white beard and square eyeglasses and I'll smoke a corn cob pipe. And I'll have one kid's body impaled on each hand. One I will dress in a Pinocchio costume, the other one I won't, but no one will be able to tell the difference, since it's Halloween! Woo-hoo!

+ When the late night teens come trouncing to my door, I'll say "Finally!" as I open it in a huff. When the kids reach into my large candy bowl and pull out the fistful of maggots that were squirming inside the Snickers bar wrappers, I will shrug and say "It's not MY fault. I've been waiting for you to come all year! Now make sure you take it ALL this time...."

+ Wearing my devil's costume, I will lurk behind clusters of kiddies at the neighbor's door, acting as if I was their chaperone. When the homeowner shuts the door I will chase the children with my pitchfork and then later return to my initial location when the next unsupervised group arrives for candy. I will do this same routine at the same house time and again until they realize that the devil is waiting at their doorstep and they refuse to answer the door anymore.

+ The pumpkins by my door will not only be human heads spray-painted orange, they will also be clean shaven, gutted, and reshaped into Michael Jackson's various looks over the years. I'm talking real Jacko Lanterns. And I will enjoy smashing them in the streets the following day.

+ I will dress up like a dentist and wield my portable drill as I go trick-or-treating for molars. When people open their door and see me drilling into the mouth of little Frankenstein I'll grin at them with perfect teeth and say "Keep 'em coming, People!" and drag the struggling monsters away. The only one I might spare is the Tooth Fairy. But not if she's not doing her job.

+ While attending the local Haunted House amusement, I will break away from my group and hide in an unsuspecting corner overnight. I won't scare the customers; I will simply record their screams with my portable cassette deck. When the first worker comes to open shop the following day, I will be waiting behind the door, one hand pressing PLAY, the other unsheathing my survival knife. Houses can be haunted by daylight, too, dammit.

+ I have planned the very best parlor games for my Halloween party. We will go bobbing for Adam's apples and play pin the tail on the kids sewn up in the donkey costume. And I bake the best Plumpkid Pie, too.

+ I will creep up on every video rental clerk in town, donning my Michael Meyer's mask and machete. When they turn and seem me leering at them, they'll jump and then I'll ask: "Got Halloween Part 10"? If they look it up on their computers and then make a puzzled face and say "No, I don't think that one's out yet," I will turn to the surveillance cameras and say, "It is now!" and lop their heads off. If they make a face at me and say "There >is< no Part 10, dude," I will nod and spare them for knowing their job. But I reserve the right to take a finger or two off, depending on how much attitude they give me.

+ When I answer the door and the kids sing "Trick or treat/smell my feet/give me something good to eat" I will obey. I will drop right down on my knees, inhaling the odor of their dirty little feet with the wanton abandon of the pump fetishist, crying "Eat me, me!"

+ At the hospital on Halloween night, I will go door to door in the coma war dressed as the Grim Reaper. When security comes down the hall to arrest me, I will take the poisons I carry with me and fall into a coma myself. I'll have already stitched the scythe and robe right into my very own flesh, so they won't be able to remove them. I'll have burned my face back to a skeletal sneer and my hands will be stripped of all flesh. It won't be so easy to get rid of old Grim. Seeing my comatose form will give every fatally ill person hope. Hell, my trick might even save them.

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BLATHER: Blather. Wince. Repeat.

The Sickth Sense

[Haley Joel Osment: "I see dead

They say there are just five senses, but
that's not true. There are six: sight,
sound, smell, touch, taste, and seeing
dead people.

But wait: isn't seeing still seeing, even
if it's seeing what nobody else can
see? And why couldn't Bruce Willis
apply his own five senses and realize
he was a ghost when he couldn't see,
hear, smell, taste or touch himself?
Wouldn't that be a form of blindness,
rather than seeing?

Okay, it's only a movie (The Sixth
Sense, 1999). And I should say that I
really enjoy all stories about psychic
phenomena to some degree. But I'm
pretty skeptical of real world ESP.
Folks who claim to have some "power"
that the rest of us don't have seem oh
so 15th century.

As a teacher, I've encountered
students who claim to be psychic who
still raise their hands and ask
questions or who still somehow
manage to fail final exams. Uncanny!

I do believe in intuition and I recognize
that some folks are more tuned into
their senses than others. But if there
were a sixth sense, everyone would
know about it and there would be no
debating whatsoever. There would be
schools in refining it. The government
would have a branch of ESP warriors
that would put Phillip K. Dick novels to
shame. And the sense would already
be widely exploited by pornographers,
prostitutes, and movie moguls, whose
business it is to turn human sensations
into cheap thrills for profit.

[Horny Joel Osment: "I see >sexy<

Also, given the likelihood of handicaps
in any given population, we would have
our share of notorious blind seers, deaf
hearers, noseless smellers, tasteless
tasters and insensitive feelers. Do you
know any? Do they have their own 900

"Sensing" is a matter of interpretation.
Have you ever eaten a meal that
tasted like cardboard to you and like
manna to someone else? Same thing
goes with any sixth sense. One
person's ghost is another person's
imaginary friend. This is how working
psychics make their bread and butter:
on uncertainty and the degree to which
phenomena are open to interpretation.

While I will agree that there is always
more than meets the eye and that the
human sensorium only gives us a
partial view of "reality," psychic
phenomena usually isn't some scary
power, but a wish-fulfillment. I guess
this is obvious. Maybe you even
>knew< that I was going to say that....

Nevertheless, there >are< two
psychological definitions of a sixth
sense that I accept: proprioception
and synesthesia.

"Proprioception" is actually discussed
in the poetry textbook I use in my
classes, as an example of the "sixth
sense." It's actually scientific.
Proprioception is a sort of peripheral
"vision" of the body. It's all about body
orientation; a sense of balance and
movement that you don't always
consciously recognize or respond to.
It's the autonomic sense, the one
responsible for "feeling" things like, say
the knucklebones popping in your
fingers or the muscles tightening in
their sleeves of flesh. Proprioception is
what state troopers test when they
make drunks close their eyes and
touch their nose with their fingers.

Think of phantom limb phenomena --
that sensation we all get after we lose
our leg in a freak boating accident.
We've all been there. We feel our legs
moving even when they're no longer
attached at the hip! That's
proprioception at work.

Or how about when your arm "falls
asleep" as if it had a mind of its own? It
buzzes like crazy, sure, but did you
ever stop to consider all those
nightmares that sleeping arm has
about barbells and immunization
shots? Proprioception again. You can't
pronounce it but you've got it.

Some scientists claim the sixth sense
is not so much an "extra" sense as it is
a combination of what we already
have: a "synesthesia." Like anesthesia
(which means a lack of sensation) this
refers to an anomalous brain disorder
where the lobes gets their wires
crossed and the senses seemingly
synthesize, or fuse together. You smell
numbers. Rock songs taste like
barbecue sandwiches. You can
actually feel your lover's voice in your
eardrum, gentle as a fleshy cotton

Wait. That's the sickth sense.

[Staley Joke Osment: "I hear dead
people...and they're groaning!"]

In any case, these extra sensory
perceptions are really what fiction
writers and poets are after: ways of
describing unreal phenomena that both
feel as natural as the muscles under
your skin and yet also bring your
senses to life in a new way. You don't
need six of them to experience it.
Writers use metaphoric language,
"synthesizing" sensory adjectives with
nouns they don't rightfully belong with,
like "sharp cheese" or "bitter memory."
The sixth sense, whether it exists as a
mental power or not, is always already
housed in the imagination. And the
imagination often doesn't need to
make >any< sense at all.

[Scaley Joe Osmental: "I see living
dead people. And they taste like

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