Saturday, October 30, 2010

Van Winkle's Micro Graphic Novel Mash-up Thingy

The part of my being "asleep" in this experiment that is most difficult for me is avoiding all news of cultural and artistic activities. This means I don't get to hear about or see new movies or listen to new music or read novels just released.

I don't have the talent or the budget to plug the gap by making my own movie. Even with all the help a computer program might offer, I'd be hopeless at composing a song, much less accompanying it with instruments, synthetic or real. But you know what? (I say to myself), I can write.

That's how it occurred to me that if I can't read someone else's new novel headed for the bestseller list, I still can my write my own and read that. So that's what I did. Just now. I wrote a novel in 15 minutes.

That comes out to a little over a minute per chapter. Whew. I almost broke a sweat.

After that I sent the manuscript to my publisher (me) and here's what he wrote back in an email:

"You know, V.W., this is different. It's sort of a literary mash-up where your writing collides with the latest CB2 catalog and we end up with a new 'mix'. It's postmodern, satirical, and quirky. I like that. Even better it's kind of dark and the themes are decidedly mature. (It would be really marketable if it had some vampires or zombies, but I suppose one can't have everything.) So what I think we ought to do is bring it out in time for Halloween."

Thus today I present my micro-mashup graphic novel in 14 easy chapters. Just in time for trick or treating pleasure.

  * * *  * * * * ** * * * * *
      The Marriage Goths     
   A Series of Unfortunate  
              Decor Decisions      
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Chapter One

The trouble began in the fall as the days grew shorter. Frankly, Penelope suspected Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Her husband of ten years, Amadeus, was behaving oddly, starting with how he’d graffitied the patriotic image of the Father of Our Country so it resembled Cyndi Lauper circa 1985 before anyone thought Cyndi was gay, then they did think Cydni was gay, but really Cyndi wasn't, she just supports LGBT rights (it was all so confusing!).

But to return to President Can Not Tell a Lie...

Was Amadeus trying to send a message? It seemed unthinkable, but Penelope had to consider the possibility. Amadeus might somehow (gasp) be unhappy with their life, their lovely home. Could that be what this art gone errant was all about?

Chapter 2

“You think I’m self-medicating?” Amadeus laughed, his voice strained and cruel like a hyena’s. Or a meerkat's. They were having Helga and Augustus and a few friends over in early October to celebrate Anne Rice’s birthday and everyone noticed. Amadeus didn’t touch the microbrew and imbibed only the straight grain alcohol filtered through a flask.

"Like drinking premium siphoned from the tank of an Aston Martin," Amadeus grinned.

Chapter 3

Penelope thought, as always, that revamping the home environment was the key to improving one’s life. She spent an entire Friday morning and half her Visa line of credit brightening the living room as well as planting a subtle visual hint about the mood she hoped Amadeus would soon start to cultivate.

But she wasn’t joking.

If things didn’t change soon, this marriage was going to end up in the worst place of all— a lawyer’s office with (shudder) wood paneling on the walls.

Chapter 4

As a shadow fell over their life together, one as dark as a poorly illuminated entryway or walk-in closet, Penelope sat rigid like a gardenia about to wilt, listening to Amadeus speak incessantly about a Black Bird. He was tormented by this idea of the Black Bird, whatever that was.

One evening, before Penelope could stop him, Amadeus found her parents' old vinyl copy of The White Album stored out in the garage. He smashed it with a ball peen hammer. He wouldn't settle down until Penelope removed the awful Sarah McLachlan cover version download on her Zune, which she did post-haste weeping in the dead of night as she did so.

Chapter 5

"I swear it’s following me everywhere," Amadeus  told Penelope as they sat in the study, arguing about whose turn it was to tilt the books the other way on the shelves. "Well, all I know," Penelope said, "is I can't see a thing. This Black Bird of yours sounds like a psychotic projection, plain and and simple."

Amadeus grunted in reply, tossed some more sunflower seeds onto the carpet as Penelope helplessly looked on and realized she would have to schedule the Molly Maids to come in before Tuesday.

Chapter 6

Nothing changed. Only Amadeus could see Black Bird. That was the problem. It even infiltrated his most private arena, his desk where he wrote notes of condolence to relatives of strangers whose names he obtained from the newspaper obituary column. He used pinpoint sharp pencils and crafted his thoughts in a combination of Latin and pidgin English (i dai pinis Deus vobiscum), interrupting himself repeatedly to play with his replica medieval thumb screw torture device.

He was starting to suspect the worst. Black Bird wanted to peck out and devour his liver as if it were nothing more than a morsel of Genoa salami or a bit of (perish the thought) Kraft lo-fat string cheese.

Chapter 7

One day Penelope came home from shopping downtown and there they were. Little people's children’s coffins.

“Amadeus!” she barked, dropping her parcels right there in the floor, the glass balls shattering about her in a colorful shining spray of turquoise and lavender shards. “What does this mean? When will this curtain of gloom that has come over you go away?”

Amadeus yawned and asked Penelope if she’d seen his keepsake Samurai sword they had obtained on holiday last year in Saporo. He was sure he had had it not that long ago. It was when Helga and Augustus Hampton dropped by for a spot of sushi and Amadeus had personally sliced the 200 lb. ahi for everyone.

“What do you want it for?” Penelope asked.

“Oh, never mind,” Amadeus said cryptically. “There’s more than one way to skin a black cat. Or bird.”

Chapter 8

When Amadeus insisted on occupying the black chair at all meals, Penelope shrewdly observed, “I think this could be another one of your cries for help.” He responded by asking her to pass the bok choy and digging his toes deeper into the carpet and singing off-key his own version of "The Monster Mash."

Chapter 9

For the first time Penelope became afraid. It was the fuse attached to Amadeus’s bedside lamp that did it. At midnight a call was made to the Bomb Squad. "This is absurd," Amadeus shouted. "It isn't even set to go off until next month," and he stormed out of the house.

Before the men put on their Kevlar body armor suits, Penelope served them a not too serious Malbec and vegan goldfish crackers after which they settled down to do their thing. Watching across the room, she found the tall one all cool and suave, like one of the soldiers in The Hurt Locker. Was this what it had come to? Fantasizing about the quadriceps of a City Employee? Did this mean the Dark Mood and the Black Bird and "The Monster Mash" had won, that her marriage was finally over? Replaced by a man who was massively adept with wire cutters?

Chapter 10

"It’s not what it looks like," was all Amadeus would say of the new floor lamp he brought home. As for the coil of rope in the Lowe’s bag in the trunk of the car he said he was thinking of taking up sailing, although Penelope knew that he didn't have a nautical or salty dog bone in his body. In fact, back in the days  they were dating he had taken her to Hyannis Port and shown quite a contempt for the ocean, staying off the beach and confessing to her in a coffee shop far from the shore that he'd never read Moby Dick and had no plans to ever eat oysters unless it was an emergency.

Amadeus had always been so determined in his likes and dislikes, how could she not fall in love with him right then and there? He reminded her of a Kennedy. Or was it Ronald Reagan? Yes, Reagan. The Gipper was the one who had liked horses, not sailboats. And those jelly beans! A splash of irreverent color, they had looked great in a glass jar in the middle of the presidential conference table. And all the Soviets had to counter it were those silly wooden nesting dolls. Little wonder they lost the Cold War or whatever it was.

Chapter 11

Just before Halloween there was a bit of hope for a clearing of the air when Amadeus, somewhat bizarrely, suggested they hang Christmas lights early. He invited over Helga and Augustus who had proven with the sushi debacle that they were always up for anything. Amadeus stood close by, a bottle of Sparkling Schnapps in hand, and supervised the decoration of the holiday step ladder.

Penelope sighed. She was happy for Amadeus’ sudden cheeriness but deeply disturbed by this sudden turn for the worse in the décor. She had had other plans for that step ladder, the only thing she'd ever purchased from Restoration Hardware that, well, actually was hardware. She had envisioned a festive pre-May Pole that would simultaneously celebrate the birthday of novelist Philip Roth and the arrival of the Vernal Equinox. She hoped her former friends didn't damage the rungs and that those weren't (ugh!)giant non-Fair Trade peppermints they were hanging alongside the lights and ornaments.

Chapter 12

Desperate to try something, anything to lift Amadeus’s spirits, Penelope violated the Immigration Law and the IRS code by hiring for $1/hour the Little Red Elf Men (illegals all)  to create a festive, uplifting atmosphere at the anniversary party she threw for herself and Amadeus on October 31.

Amadeus remained silent, however, sucking on the lemons in the water pitcher and refusing to join Penelope in cheerful palaver about the good old days when they had gone shopping for their first piece of furniture made from reclaimed wood, argued over the merits of a chandelier made of polymer antlers, or even that time they stayed in the suite in Barcelona and Amadeus was so fascinated by the chrome and Lucite hair dryer that hung on the wall in the bathroom.

"You kept saying that if a person used it they might get electrocuted. Do you remember?" Penelope pressed. Amadeus just kept picking silently at his vegan slider accented with hearts of dandelion.

She could not tell if these memories warmed his cold soul or not. The Little Red Elf Men likewise kept their counsel and never budged, but of course, they couldn't even speak English except for a bit of pidgin.

Chapter 13

As the party ended, Amadeus unveiled his surprise for Penelope—fifteen miniature sarcophagi of deceased family members and high school classmates killed in car wrecks, fetchingly displayed on the wall with memorial flowers.

Penelope exploded, but not literally (she had called the Bomb Squad again the day previous).

"I can’t live anymore with this constant morbidness. Did I get married in a black wedding dress? Do I listen to Metallica? Do I even like Anne Rice or Interview With a Vampire or was it just Tom Cruise without his shirt on that did it for me? (I'm talking about the movie, of course.) I mean, seriously, Amadeus, do you even know who I am anymore? Or is it just about you? Just tell me, has every day become like Halloween for you!"

There was a long silence... Somewhere in the distance a bird shrieked, sounding just like a wilted dandelion.

Chapter 14

"As a mater of fact, yes," Amadeus replied to Penelope. "For me every day is Halloween."

And then he sat down at his black place setting and bid Penelope do the same and there was that fierce look in his eye she had not seen in such a very long time. It was at that moment she realized. Her love lived to die and by dying  he lived. But the key here was he would continue to live! So maybe if they got a brighter couch or something to balance the color palette this relationship might still work out.

It was then she raised her glass of Petite Syrah and said, "Well, then Happy Halloween, dear!"

And Amadeus said, "I have one more little surprise for you, but please promise me."


"You won't call the Bomb Squad this time."

She promised and she never thought about The Hurt Locker again, except to remain very happy for Kathryn Bigelow because it was about time a woman came out on top at the Academy Awards and she had so admired that pearl gray Yves Saint Laurent gown with lace bodice she wore and it would be very surprising if Ms. Bigelow didn't also have excellent taste in interior design, like the lovely objects Amadeus was handing her. So odd, so unique. Astro-balls from CB2. So both of us.

- V.W.

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