BOOK REVIEW: Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands

Sorry I Ruined Your OrgySorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Contrary to the title, this isn’t an etiquette primer on how to make amends for a poor performance at a friend’s sexual soiree. It’s a collection of absurdist flash fiction that takes its name from a its introductory story in which a man shows up to an orgy wearing a bear costume and proceeds to behave badly.

Most of these stories are under a page long and few are longer than three pages. The stories don’t make sense, and are not intended to. (If they do make sense, the author has failed.) Instead, they are designed to subvert expectations to the maximum extent possible. Subverted expectations being the foundation of humor, there will be chuckles. However, it’s not just humor. It’s about defying one’s ability to judge what’s around the next corner by resisting any temptation to observe socio-cultural conventions about what could possibly and properly come next. Like spoken word acts, these stories are meant to invoke a response in the reader by surprises of language—often jarring surprises—more than by way of meaning.

If you are the type who doesn’t take words too seriously and take to absurdity like it’s a Zen koan, you might enjoy this brief work for the tickling it gives one’s mind. If you’re the type who takes words very seriously and are prone to get bent out of shape by “inappropriate” or loose word use, you will hate it and should avoid the trauma of reading it.

I’ll elaborate on my last statement. Irreverence, impiety, and a proclivity for the shocking are a few of the characteristics that go hand-in-hand with subverting expectations and conventions. Because of this, there’s a fair amount of profanity and jarring concepts included in the mix. I’ll offer one example of such a jarring concept that’s included in the book: “rape camp.” If you’re prone to be offended by the loose use of the word “rape,” then probably the only more reprehensible phrase than “rape camp” would be “rape fiesta” (though, to be fair, in the book a rape camp is more like a concentration camp than a summer camp.)

As a litmus test of how you’ll respond to this work, imagine opening a Hallmark card and reading the following sentence as contained in this book, “Sorry your grandma died! She molested me when I was eight.” If—despite realizing that it’s so wrong—you can’t help but grin, you’ll like this book. If your impulse is to write the author hate mail, you should avoid reading it.

It should be noted that the book is not all rape, molestation, and orgies. The book mostly consists of less prurient attempts to achieve the unexpected and/or shocking.

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Picture Your Unhappiness in its Underwear

I was writing some six-words on Smith Magazine the other day. I do this now and again as an exercise to get the creative juices flowing. There are a series of themes, and I try to write in as many of them as I can in less than 20 minutes, writing in a free form, stream of consciousness style.

When I got to the category HAPPINESS the first six-word to jump to mind was: “Picture your unhappiness in its underwear.” This one drew a nice response, which began me thinking about whether this advice might have actual merit–as opposed to being a non-nonsensical statement that might at best function as a Zen koan.

As I thought about it, three legs of the stool came to mind.

1.) Have a sense of humor. Anger and sadness have a hard time taking hold if one can manage a good laugh. I’ve found that being able to dance personal tragedy into comedy has been a great coping mechanism. One does have to be conscientious about not becoming a snarky person. One risks beginning to see the world through a crap-colored lens just as a means to comic fodder (or from a martyrdom complex.)

Perhaps even if one can’t formulate humor, one can still use laughter. There’s a system called laughter yoga that is based on the belief that you can create the same range of physiological responses from “forced” laughter as one does from spontaneous laughter. It’s a sort of chuckle pranayama (breathing exercises.)  While I don’t know much about the system, I can believe that it has merit based on what I’ve read about human emotions.

2.) Lay the source of your unhappiness bare. This sounds simple enough. One must know what is making one unhappy in order to turn that frown up-side-down.

That being said, human beings have an astounding ability to attribute all negative happenings in their lives to external factors. Like politicians, we like to take responsibility for what is going right (regardless of whether we are responsible or not), and we love to place the blame for failure firmly elsewhere (even it it’s mostly our fault.) This may be an evolutionarily-hardwired coping mechanism, but it can keep one in the doldrums.  If one continually says, “He makes me so mad” or even, “His actions make me so mad,” then you’re forfeiting control over your emotional state. Jerks and bitches might be an intermediary cause of unhappiness, but ultimately one’s own perceptions and responses lead to the negative emotional state.

This is where the hard work of mind training comes into play. Instead of being swamped by negative thoughts, one has to recognize them early, find the root cause, and recognize that our desire to for things to be a certain way is ultimately what makes us unhappy. We may want people to think we are smart or beautiful, and intimations to the contrary (whether intended or not) make us fume.

Don't be an angry monkey!

Don’t be an angry monkey!

One of the few things I remember explicitly learning in high school was about what our psychology teacher called a “gestalt of expectations.” Like most ideas one remembers though only taught once, I remember it because it had a memorable story attached to it. The story goes like this: “A man is driving through the desert in the American southwest. Now, out in the southwest, gas stations can be few and far between. So the man runs out of gas, and realizes that the station he passed 20 miles back is his safest bet because–contrary to what he had thought– the next one going forward might be another 50 miles.  So he starts walking. It’s hot. He’s hungry. He’s thirsty, and only has some lukewarm water that’s getting hotter by the minute. The backs of his hands and his face are getting sunburned. He starts thinking about how the little two-pump gas station is going to gouge him. He realizes he’s desperate, and so he figures the attendant is probably going to sell him gas at $6 a gallon, a bottle of cold water for $8, and don’t forget the jerrycan at $20.  These thoughts and the heat keep making him madder and madder. Finally, he gets to the station, and the attendant comes out and say, ‘Oh my, Mister, you must have had a horrible time.’ And so the man on the verge of heat-stroke punches out the attendant, a kid who only wanted to help him out.” Once one starts attributing one’s unhappiness to external sources, one can easily mis-attribute unhappiness because one thinks one knows what is in the minds of others, when really one doesn’t.

3.) Unhappiness, like standing around in one’s underwear, is–at most–a temporary state. As Taoists have been known to suggest, one’s darkest hour is a time to rejoice, for surely it will  get better from there. The only way one can remain in a perpetually unhappy state is to carry it with one long past its time. Just like the only way that can always be rained on is if one carries around a complicated mechanism with a showerhead and tank and keeps refilling that tank so that the shower never runs out. Otherwise, the dry season will come eventually.

FLASH FICTION: Bob Newhart with a Gun

Attribution: Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Institution) Bob, Bob! Why do you want to kill me? Bob.

Attribution: Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Institution)
Bob, Bob! Why do you want to kill me? Bob.

In my dream I remember running, running away from Bob Newhart, a revolver gripped tightly in the comedic actor’s hand. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be Bob Newhart the person, or if my subconscious thought that Bob Newhart was the best actor to convey life’s dark comedy. I knew why Newhart was chasing me.  I worked in a machine shop and had a less than reliable partner who had apparently made a wild promise that our little shop could never deliver upon. It must have been important to Newhart. So I understood why Bob Newhart was mad and I accepted it. If it was me, I might be homicidal too—because I just rage that way sometimes. Still, I didn’t want to die because I was associated with a dodgy rogue. I guess that’s what the dream was about.

There was a kid with me–not my kid–at least I don’t think the dream ran that far afield. I’m willing to accept that my subconscious would see me as a machinist—a career unlike any in my bookish résumé. Furthermore, I can fathom that my subconscious imagining Bob Newhart wanting to kill me with a snub-nosed revolver—even if for something that was not my fault. However, I can’t imagine my subconscious thinking I would have a kid.

Anyway, Newhart saw us as he was maniacally driving a car toward the machine shop. We, the kid and I, were walking down the sidewalk away from the shop, having just closed up for a glorious summer afternoon in the way of slackers everywhere. I don’t know where my shady partner was, the unreliable always escape unscathed—maybe that’s what the dream was about.

I saw the murderous gleam in Newhart’s eye, and turned to run back to the shop. I grabbed the kid by the arm and tugged him in that direction—maybe I do have some paternal instinct. My plan was to get into the shop, lock the door, and call the unreliable person to come and get shot by an enraged Bob Newhart. However, in the panic of thinking that Newhart, who had done a bootlegger-180 with his car and was now driving straight for us, was going to crush us under the car, I forgot to lock the door behind us. (Or maybe there are no working locks in dreamland.) Locking the door was, after all, the one good part of the plan. (I don’t know what I had been thinking about calling the unreliable person, unreliable people never show up when you call them–they show up at 2:30am on a Sunday morning wanting to borrow $20 and a condom.)

Anyway, Newhart parked legally, but when he got out I saw the snub-nosed revolver in his hand, framed perfectly in the window in a way that can only happen in dreams. I ushered the kid around a partition wall that separated the small storefront from the shop beyond.

Newhart was walking like one of those geriatric mall-walkers, or like a man who’d drunk a 32 oz. cola and driven six hours only to get to a rest-stop restroom that was probably locked. When Newhart threw open the door, the little bell tinkled cheerfully—the bell clearly didn’t know what was about to go down. As I rounded the partition wall, pushing the kid into the darkened shop, I picked up a steel pipe. Despite the perennial advice that one should never bring a steel pipe to a gunfight, I felt a cool calm wash over me. (Maybe it was that I knew gun-toting men Newhart’s age usually shot blanks in their dreams.) Anyway, I hid in wait.

Then I woke up. I’ll never know whether Newhart shot me or whether I bludgeoned one of America’s beloved comedic elder statesmen to death with a steel pipe. Maybe both would have happened. Maybe neither. I know if I go back to sleep, the dream won’t resume. They never do. I’ll never know. Maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe that’s the point of the dream.

Two Tigers Circle In The Night

Taken at the Budapest Zoo

Taken at the Budapest Zoo

Two tigers circle in the night.
Neither eager to be first in fight.
Bellies low, they scrape the ground.
Each step pads without a sound.

One false step brings the pounce
of each fearsome muscled ounce.
They twist and writhe and snap,
each jaw a toothy, steely trap.

In the end one slinks away.
Both live on to later days.
A test upon the jungle floor
and each cat knows the final score.

MICRO-FICTION: Julia Doesn’t Know How Lucky She Is

IMG_2555“Have you completed your mission? The Council grows impatient,” The thought occurred in Safrom’s mind as if he had a split personality rather than an angry disembodied consciousness in his head.

“No, we were very close to planting it last night, but the cat came in squawking and making racket. It woke her up just before we could get it set. Those damn cats will be the death of me.  The preceding night we managed to keep one out all night, but the other slept on the subject maintaining constant vigilance,”  Safrom said aloud as he paced around the sterile white space of his station.

“The subject travels, why don’t you just do it then?” The thought formed.

“Believe me, I would love to, and we make great efforts to do so. But it is not as easy to track a person through thought-space as it is in the physical world. If we can ever get the damn implant installed, that will, of course, change immediately. Most of the time she is not gone long enough for us to find her, and on the few occasions she has been, or we’ve been lucky, she hasn’t slept deeply.”


“RRRrrrarr-eeeow …  RRRARRrrr-eeeow… RRArrra-eeeow,” the noise came from floor level.

Julia pushed herself upright groggily and swept a shock of black hair out of her face. She stared at the gray cat illuminated by a shaft of streetlamp glow that slanted in through her bedroom window, and said, “Really! You’re really waking me up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night?”

The cat stopped its bellowing and sat back on its haunches, looking at Julia indifferently. Then the shorthair trotted out of the room and down the hall.

Julia lay back down melting into a down pillow and drifted back to sleep while wondering what made her cat do that. What makes a cat that has been fed and is never let out at night, repetitively caterwaul until its owner wakes up, and then it just goes back to its indifferent self?


Julia yawned aloud. “Excuse me. My cat woke me up in the middle of the night three times for no apparent reason.”

“Does it do that a lot?” Erma asked.

“It comes in waves, but, it seems to have it down to a science. It always seems to do it when I’m in the deepest sleep, usually in the middle of a weird dream.” Julia elaborated.

“What was your dream about?” Erma asked.

“Ah, you know, it was a dream. It didn’t make much sense. I was being chased?

“Being chased by whom?”

“I don’t know. I never see them, but it always feels as though they are just about to catch me.”

“Maybe the cat is doing you a favor.”  Erma said in a completely somber tone.

“Yeah, right, maybe.” Julia replied with a grin. She assumed Erma was joking, although there was nothing in the older woman’s expression to indicate that she might be.

Erma changed the subject, “So how is your research coming?”

Julia shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed as of late. I keep pulling up new material, but, as I do analysis, I don’t seem to be converging on an explanation.”

“It’ll come, you’ve just got to keep at it, and never up. If you never give up, a solution will always present itself.” Erma said with a smile.

“I suppose.”

“You know the thing about cats is…” Erma began.

“What’s that?” Julia inquired.

“Aww, never mind.” Erma said.

Evangelists Meet Max Their Match

BING-BONG.

Without even looking up from his computer, Max knew it was church people. They came around trying to sell him a religion now and again. No one sold aluminum siding, encyclopedias, or ice cream door-to-door anymore. Evangelic proselytizers were the last bastion of door-to-door salesmanship. The sect varied; the approach did not. They were the only ones who ever disturbed his peace.  Well, the only ones who didn’t use the phone.

He went to the door. It was a zaftig woman and a clean-cut young man–both dressed in funeral-like attire.

“Hello!” the pair said with practiced exuberance.

“Hello,” Max parroted with a decided lack of exuberance. Then he added, “May I help you?”

Max didn’t feel like being helpful, but there was the off-chance that it was  a couple of his neighbors who were just looking to borrow a cup of sugar so they could bake cookies for whatever wake they were attending. If so, he’d help them out, but as far as he knew such a request hadn’t happened since 1955. Then he saw their name tags, and not the paper kind. These were black plastic bordered in gold with white letters.

“We’d like to talk to ya ‘bout the Bible,” the woman said.

“Unless it’s the racy bits, I don’t think you’ll hold my interest,” Max said.

“Excuse me?”

“Never mind.”

“Have you ‘cepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” the woman asked. The young man was silent, apparently just there in case the woman knocked on the door of a Jeffery Dahmer-type.

Max was distracted by the words “personal lord”, and how odd the phrase seemed. Can I get my Messiah in Mocha with a burgundy robe?

After an awkward pause, he said,  “No, I’m an atheologist.”

They gave a coordinated grimace as if he’d dropped a deuce at their feet. “You’re an atheist?”

“No. I said atheologist. An atheist is one who does not believe in God. I believe in God. I just don’t believe in religion.”

“You cain’t have Gawd without religion.” The woman said.

“I beg to differ.”

“How’d ya know Gawd, elsewise?” The woman continued.

Max swept his hand outward in a gesture meant to draw the pair’s attention to the flowering dogwood in his front yard and the sky beyond. Their forehead creases indicated that they were both perplexed. The meaning of his gesture was lost on them.

“You cain’t know Gawd without religion,” the woman repeated, as if Max just hadn’t heard her the first time and if she said it more emphatically he would get it.

“You can repeat a gratuitous assertion ad infinitum, and it will remain an assertion,” Max said.

Neither evangelist gave any indication that they understood what Max was saying.

He sighed, stepped out onto the porch with them, and said, “Look. First, let’s ask what God gives us.” He leaned out under the eaves to look at an azure sky feathered by white wisps of cirrus clouds. This time they followed his gesturing arm and looked out with him at the bounty of nature. “Now, let’s consider what religion offers us. May I?”  He said as he reached for the thin little magazine that they had prepared to leave with him.

Max was taking a risk. He couldn’t know exactly what it the magazine would contain, but he’d seen enough of them to make an educated guess. There it was, right on the cover. He didn’t even have to flip through in search of it. The cover artwork was a dark sketch of a treeless city with brooding clouds drifting at the tops of buildings. The buildings were in ruins, and there were human-shaped lumps on the ground –meant to be either corpses or homeless people. It was a story about the fall of man or the coming apocalypse or some doom upon whose cusp humanity sits.

“Here we have it. Religion doesn’t show us beauty. It wants me to be afraid. It wants to scare me. It wants carnage and chaos to be my lodestar. It shows me horrors so that it can be my life-preserver. It wants to be my life-preserver so that I’ll substitute its will and wisdom for my own. It wants me to believe its leaders are infallible so that I’ll feel good about giving up control. It wants me to behave as its people behave. Most insidiously, it wants me to hate the people who it hates… This is why I don’t believe in religion. Thank you for your time,” Max said as he handed the Doomsday Gazette back to the woman and walked back into his house, leaving the two slack-jawed proselytizers in his wake.

POEM: Twisted Time

Six months a year
the river flows
away from the sea.
Entropy’s fall?

No.

The fits and starts
of progress are
not rooted in
twisted time.

Here,
blacksmiths exist.
The hammer bounces
on the anvil

Tap-Tap-CLANG
Tap-Tap-CLANG

Ordered repetition,
until the steel begins
to bend and twist
and flex and tear.
It tears like taffy,
taffy glowing orange.

Tap-Tap-CLANG
Tap-Tap-CLANG

What is time for
that glowing rod?
The fire makes
its molecules
race and feud.

The hammer spreads
time into an eternity

of

Tap-Tap-CLANG
Tap-Tap-CLANG

Taken in Hungary in 2008

Taken in Hungary in 2008

TODAY’S RANT: The War on Rhyming Verse

A fine Hungarian poet who Wrote with and without rhyme

A fine Hungarian poet who Wrote with and without rhyme

it’s my cross, my curse
this rhyme in my verse
rhymers aren’t taken seriously
and are berated furiously

“Oh, your poem is so cutsie,
like little baby bootsies.”
call it banal or call it niche
but “cutsie?”, please!, step off bitch

just because my verse ain’t free
don’t act like I’m a perp to slavery
I spare my words the sting of the rod
they’ve never tasted a cattle prod

I’ve never waterboarded my “ands” or “buts”
or kicked a pronoun square in the nuts
I don’t whip my adjectives to get ’em in line
I stand waiting patiently holding a sign

Why steer my words like some stern brigadier?
because it scratches an itch somewhere in my ear
I know my rhymes sometimes lack cachet
because they’re little too Ogden Nash-ay
but from the hilltops I sing
like that guy Rodney King
hear the words of my song
“Can’t the poets all just get along!”

Who Am I?

“I” am a collection of cells.
some  expressly invited by “my” genes
others are interlopers,  “my” guts their cross-town bus
but these interlopers defend “me”  daily
fending off worse marauders
thankfully
so “I” let them stay inside “me”
“my” greatest shame? “I” am a slave owner.
the  mitochondria in “my” cells  are trapped and  forced to serve “me”
all this begs one fundamental question,
am “I” really just a “me?”
or  a  whole society?

If “my” parts
needn’t be fully integrated
where do “I” end and “you” begin?
can “I” say that “I” have been everywhere?
well, everywhere on this tiny, spherical-ish speck of galactic dust?