The Soothing Sounds of My 38-Inch Cutting Deck

I got a new day gig in the Midwest.

This gig will bring us closer to our family roots and closer to real estate prices that feel grounded in reality, rather than high up in the coke-filled clouds of a subprime speculator’s drug-fueled wet dream. With cheaper real estate comes the ability to get more space for less moola, and you know what that means: space for a grand piano.

I searched Craigslist for musical instruments in Des Moines, IA. Listed among pianos, guitars, amps, keyboards, trumpets, clarinets, and some weirdo contraption called a diatonic autoharp (which looks like something an evil wizard would use for mind control) was a Murray Select 38-inch cutting deck.

For those of you who aren’t up on the latest in yard work equipment, the Murray cutting deck is designed to attach to a Murray riding lawn mower. Getting fat while sitting on your ass and being productive at maintaining your casa’s estate—it’s the weekender’s dream.

What qualifies as music is subjective, but I’ll wager most would agree the Murray, while it probably deftly performs its intended function, fits into the category of obnoxious noise, not music, so why is it listed as a musical instrument?

I have a theory.

* * *

Murray Music (not a stage name) has always wanted to play for crowds, but he can play a guitar as well as a butter knife can cut a diamond. He hasn’t let this stop him, though.

He’s formed a band with his buddy from the lawn care industry, Machete Mike of Machete Mike’s Mowing (last seen in our piece titled Machete Mike’s Mowing). Right now, it’s just the two of them, but they are undeterred in their quest to become the new Fab Four of the lawn care-turned ear care genre.

TFF eavesdropped on Murray and Machete during a recent jam session. Let’s drop in on them as they discuss a low-budget approach to recruiting new band members.

* * *

Murray: I think the Worx electric weed whacker, if run at half throttle, could be a substitute for a DJ’s turntable. Wha’choo think?

Machete: The string will whir, and the cats will purr.

Murray: Cool, cool. That’s what I was thinking. All them cats don’t know nothing about new sounds. We’s gonna bring it to them. Alright, next idea. You seen Jorge on the Green Box ground crew? Dude with the forearms like a caveman’s club?

Machete: Arms are the instruments, and hands are the sacraments.

Murray: [nodding] Deep, Bro. That’s deep, and again—just what I was thinking. Jorge’s arms got power, which is exactly what we need—somebody who can keep that trigger pressed down all night long and not get tired.

Machete: Fatigue comes uninvited, and only the weak can be slighted.

Murray: That’s right. Jorge’s dedicated. He don’t quit, no matter how tired he is. Perfect for our new rhythm section. Last item of business: recruitment method.

Machete: Whither they come depends on thither of dither and tiller of schiller.

Murray: I got you, Bro. I got you. You’re saying Jorge don’t use no traditional means of communication; he use Craislist ads to talk to his homies, yeah?

Machete: So it will be. So I agree.

Murray: And he always be looking at the musical instruments section because he’s a closet cat like us, so what we’s got to do is place an ad for the Worx model in the musical instrument section. That’ll catch his eye, and we can start a conversation.

Machete: The words will come, the world undone.

Murray: Right on, right on. We starting a revolution, Bro. [fist bump].

* * *

If you’ve ever wondered why incongruous items appear in a Craislist category, it’s not because lazy web programmers don’t adequately filter by category; it’s because people have dreams.

Dreams show themselves in strange ways, not always understandable, or perhaps impossible to understand, by anyone outside the thought state of the dreamer.

But like the power of a 38-inch cutting deck.

Those dreams are real.

And noisy.

The Etymology of Suck

I asked Amy if she thought our old Dyson vacuum sucked better or worse than it used to. A word tornado ensued that went something like this:

Amy: Sucked worse? You mean it got worse at sucking. Does not suck as much dirt?

Seth: I mean compared with how it sucked before, how does it suck now?

Amy: This is assuming it always sucked.

Seth: Well, it has, to some degree, always sucked. But what I want to know is does the sucking suck, or does the sucking not suck, as in does the sucking not blow?

Amy: Not blowing would mean it sucks but does not suck?

Seth: Yes, but it has always sucked, so to suck and blow would answer my question of: did the sucking suck, or did the sucking not blow?

Amy: Yes, but if it sucks, doesn’t it, by default, not blow?

Seth: No, it could totally blow and suck.

Amy: So if it sucks at sucking, it blows?

Seth: Yes.

Amy: And if it does not suck at sucking, it sucks hard?

Seth: Yes.

Amy: But also does not suck hard?

Seth: Exactly.

The word suck is more versatile than you think. Per Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition), the 1b definition of “suck” is as follows: to draw something from or consume by such movements.

Our nonsensical conversation qualified, having consumed a minute of our lives, rendering the logic and reasoning portions of our brains naked and convulsing on the floor, saying, “Why?” in creaking, breathy, toneless voices.

But not to despair! There are more productive and idiomatic ways to suck:

Suck an egg—for those with osteoporosis, sucking an egg is a good way to pull calcium into your body and strengthen your bones without becoming a bird murderer.

Suck the big one—refers to either a porn star’s graduation of skills or to a lollipop licking contest winner.

Suck balls—when things go wrong, and one finds oneself short on one’s payments to one’s loan shark, refers to either being forced to suck one’s own balls, which, except for perhaps certain Cirque du Soleil performers, is impossible and results only in one’s spine rupturing (the mob not being known for its pragmatic collection techniques), or to the ultimate marching band test of embouchure strength, which involves sucking a bowling ball to the lips for the length of South Park’s Chocolate Salty Balls.

Sucks hard—refers to the last-ditch effort to avoid a challenging math exam by using one’s excessive inhale as a means to draw one’s paper exam (was born in the 80s, y’all) and swallowing it, literally digesting knowledge, but not absorbing it.

Sucksville—refers to the town where everything sucks. If you stop your car at the one stoplight, the citizens will remove the caps from your tires’ valve stems and suck your tires flat.

If you buy popcorn at the movie theater, and you don’t have a plexiglass tube attached to the bucket that directs the popcorn straight to your mouth, the theater’s other patrons (in my Covid-free example) will suck all the popcorn from your bucket like a reverse fountain.

It is their one skill, so don’t be too hard on them. President Trump’s Space Force is in talks with the citizenry to serve as collective black hole matter retrieval specialists.

Stronger than the speed of light is fast, Sucksville sucks.

SuckFest—refers to Sucksville’s annual summer festival, the main event of which is imploding kegs from a distance with one’s sucking power.

Suck off—surprisingly not referring to another item in the porn star’s tool kit, this refers to an alternative to the traditional American rude gesture, and it involves sucking the skin off the face of one who has offended you. We said it was an alternative. We didn’t say it involved fingers.

Suck the air out of the room—refers to the latest serial killer technique, favored by former band members who’ve completed the ultimate marching band embouchure strength test.

Sucking the life out of the party—any mention of party politics at a family gathering.

Sucking life—Count Rugen’s cure-all for wayward, witty heroes who prefer black.

The etymology of suck draws you in and holds fast.

Sucks that it’s over for this column, though.

Sucks at sucking.

Punch Club

We learned that Ella needs dental work to correct problems with her overbite. No, this does not involve her lowering herself to the counter and gnashing her jaws like a parasitic worm, devouring all of Amy’s latest snickerdoodle muffins before anyone else can get a bite; it involves bone growth, or, rather, improper bone growth. Sorry, Ella, but Mom and Dad are taking away your dream of being a circus freak and paying for the work that needs to be done.

We’re blessed to have good insurance, but as many know, dental insurance is the neglected spare tire of insurance products. It might perform okay for simple flat tires, but if you ask it to step in after the Glass Recyclers Annual Convention came to town and drank all the beer just so they could recycle the bottles, and they pre-smashed most of them in the street, your spare will fail like your next doctor’s visit after you, after the previous doctor’s visit, added more color to your diet, per doctor’s orders, and took a daily shot of Runts along with your coffee.

Some of the procedures Ella needs involve anesthesia, and hooboy, that’s expensive. Again, we’re blessed to have the resources to cover these charges where insurance bags out.

But what if we didn’t? What would we do?

Here’s a possible, though not ideal, solution.

* * *

Short on money for anesthesia for your operation? Visit the Punch Club. We have an MMA fighter who will knock you out cold so the docs can reset your jaw. If you happen to be of the hardy variety, he’ll follow up the punch with a headlock, squeezing the air out of you like a punctured balloon, until you can’t breathe. Then with you unawares, the doctors at Punch Club will go to work.

TFF: Mr. Prizefighteronsky—

Pyotr “Punchy” Prizefighteronsky: Call me Punchy.

TFF: Punchy it is. I’m short on cash, need surgery—sounds like you offer a fix.

Punchy: You don’t have enough cash in your wallet? That’s okay. I’ve got what you need right here. [holds up right fist, turns to fist, kisses fist, turns back to you, smiles with rotten and broken teeth]

TFF: That’s fine, but I’ve got what I think may be a controversial question, so please don’t punch me. I don’t need dental work. Looking at your teeth, one might conclude you’ve had less dental work done than maybe should have been done.

Punchy: In fact, I’ve had none done.

TFF: None?

Punchy: None.

TFF: Not a single appointment?

Punchy: No.

TFF: Not a cavity, cleaning—nothing?

Punchy: I said nothing. I meant nothing. You said you had a question?

TFF: Yes. Well, I did have a question. I was going to ask what anesthesia methods you used. Specifically, I was going to ask if you self-administered—you know, punched yourself—and if so, given the poor health of your teeth, how anyone seeking your services as an anesthesia alternative could have any confidence that your services worked. But now I see that question is moot.

Punchy: It is, indeed. I deny myself proper dental care so that I can save all of my punching power for the mouths of those who need my services. To date, I’ve saved my customers over $1m in anesthesia fees. All they had to do was stand their ground and accept my flying fist. I am 1,000 for 1,000 on first punch knockouts.

TFF: After you administer the [vocal air quotes] anesthesia [end vocal air quotes], the Punch Club doctors take over?

Punchy: Yes.

TFF: You’ve never had any adverse incidents?

Punchy: I wouldn’t say never.

TFF: Oh?

Punchy: Sometimes I get a little worked up and swing my left in right after my right. The clients never know because they’re knocked out from the first blow, but when my second backs the first, my clients might wake up with a new nose. But, hey, can’t complain about that, right?

TFF: I’m going to ignore that and ask you this: you said you’ve saved your customers over $1M, so did that money go in your pocket?

Punchy: No.

TFF: Where’d it go?

Punchy: Nowhere. It stayed with the clients. I do what I do for free. Imagine, if you will, the people in your profession whom you would like to blast in the face with a punch like a battering ram. Are you thinking of anyone?

TFF: I’ve got some names.

Punchy: Okay. Names [turns word into two syllables]. That’s good. But you can’t do anything about it, can you?

TFF: If I did, criminal charges would be filed.

Punchy: [nodding] But I don’t have to worry about that. My clients come to me asking to be punched in the face.

TFF: What about choking them out? I’ve heard that’s a necessary second step.

Punchy: Yeah, not anymore. Too many weirdos into S&M. I make sure I have a referral from a dentist before using this [kisses fist again]. I do this because I’m passionate about saving people money and about hardening my fists, not hardening—

TFF: Got it. On that, have you found that punching anesthesia seekers has improved your MMA fighting?

Punchy: Does a dark, empty parking lot gather parties to a drug deal?

TFF: Yes?

Punchy: You can say it with confidence. It does, and so does punching savers help me to prepare for the warriors in the octagon. A cubic inch of human bone can withstand a stress load of almost 20,000 pounds before breaking. Before I started helping the cash-poor dental consumer, my bone stress load factor was 30,000 pounds. After helping said consumers, my factor has increased five-fold.

TFF: Five-fold?

Punchy: Yes.

TFF: As in your punches are stronger than a swinging titanium beam?

Punchy: I haven’t seen the metallurgical analysis on that. I also don’t know the physics. Would have to study the amperage effect. But, yeah. [stroking chin, duck face, nodding, looking up] I’d say that’s about right. … You okay?

TFF: Yes, sorry. [shakes head to clear thoughts] I was just thinking about a procedure I’ve got coming up—actually, it’s my daughter, and I’m short on cash. Would you consider … ?

Punchy: Punching a kid? Sure. Kids are tougher than you think.

* * *

Let me remind anyone reading this that this site publishes humor and hyperbole. No children have been or will be harmed because of what I’ve written.

But times are tough in the U.S. economy.

Might need some punching up.

Editor’s Note–TFF Issue 27

Incongruities are the chief source of my humor.

It could be that I am creating the incongruities in my head, twisting reality to suit the joke, or just being an irascible, irritating, embarrassing dad, but that’s me. I hope the 13 pieces The Family Farce published this quarter will encourage you to look for and recognize the incongruities in your house, work, leisure time, celebrity culture, reading habits, and any other space where the tilting up of the corners of your mouth might spark a better day.

Recap of this quarter’s pieces:

Jesus Saves

Jesus believed in giving to the poor. He believed in amplifying and repurposing for the collective good the perceived minimal resources one person might have. Thus, I believe He would have approved of the mug I found at Goodwill that was captioned “Jesus Saves” and juxtaposed Jesus with coupons. He’s helping people drink coffee. He’s helping people save money. He’s inspiring creativity. Jesus saves.

Advantage: Humans

The questions of can we? and should we? loom large in this one. Beauty should not be relegated to the RGB Hex Code #0000FF eyes of your CPU. Plus, who wants to listen to an album of beeps, boops, and amateur fart noises?  

Covid Couture

You might be okay living/working in the same sweatsuit for three days in a row, or longer (No, Bob, that’s not a cheese factory next door; that’s your neighbor), but fashion houses aren’t. Their sales are down, and they’re on a compressed thighs mission to keep you from visiting thrift stores. They have rebranded the evil of all false fashion incantations into one word: Goodwill.

Higher Thievery

If you’re going to ride a slip-‘n’-slide, ride a slip-‘n’-slide. Get yourself lubed up in the best chicken grease you can find. If that’s not your bag, and you’d rather steal stuff, then steal stuff. We at The Family Farce have got love for Bobby 7, but please have higher larcenous ambitions than him. UH-thar-WIIIZE, it’s em-BEH-ruh-SANG.

Cockadoodlescream

Nuclear war-inspired food design themes, building material choices, forest management—the conversations of farm animals are more sophisticated than you think.

Machete Mike’s Mowing

Hobby craftsmanship is common. Many would-be Ron Swansons focus their fine motor skills on weekends to produce their own versions of Chair, Chair, and don’t forget Chair. But it takes a special boldness to practice your craft in front of the world, or at least in front of those people who may agree that chlorophyllous plants, and their anarchist tendencies, need to be kept in check, as does Christopher Nolan.

Redneck Tanning Solutions

Do you suffer from an uneven tan, with one arm always darker than the other? Are you also in need of a life coach? No to both? Too bad. Your rigidity proves you are in desperate need of RTS.

Extreme Exfoliation

Did you know that video games can affect your skin care? I’m not talking about calluses to allow you to play a 24-hour marathon tournament; I’m talking about chainsaws.

Electric Jackhole

Lady Gaga is amazing, but I’ll bet she never knew her work inspired a lesser known pop star, Spady Haha, to use bovine motivation equipment to redirect the lazy priorities of Spady’s man.

Demon Pilgrim

Did you know that every Thanksgiving, fire departments across the nation are called to extinguish fires where deep-frying the turkey was the cause? It sucks, and it sometimes has tragic results, but that’s nothing compared to what the pilgrims had to deal with during the first Thanksgiving. Grease fires versus a possessed cannibal? Aren’t you glad you’re living in 2020 now?

Best Books of 1020

We’re heading into the rainy season here in Portland, which is the perfect time to start a new list of reading material. It’s either that or stare out the window with a blank expression, dreaming about when you can get a refill on your antidepressants.

Let books be your antidepressants. That’s a nice sentence, right?

But what if you lived in the year 1020 instead of 2020? Based on how 2020 has gone so far, maybe some of you would rather travel back a millennium, but hold your judgement on that until you read through the offers from back then.

Unless you have a side interest in the origins of English common law, kingdom toppling, technique for eating desserts while fighting, the limitless variations of gruel, and dragon-fire barbecuing, maybe trade the time machine for your local book store.

Violent Writers

2020 has been a year of unleashing. A virus has traveled the globe with impunity. People have raised their voices with unanimity and equanimity. Forgotten folks are getting closer, I believe, to equality. I applaud all of this, but I decry violence. An eye-for-an-eye didn’t work in Biblical times—Jesus rose from the dead, motherfuckers—and it’s not going to work now.

By the same token, I decry violent writers. Use your imagination, people, not your fists or guns or knives. Sadly, some popular writers among us need to create the violence about which they write, and to punish them, we buy their books.

Shiny Wing Lips

Have you ever thought about being someone else? Are you lax in your exercise habits? Get your ass moving, and you just might find yourself with the looks of Marilyn Monroe and the skills of Batman.

Does any of this make sense? Sure it does. Is it incongruous? Sure it is. Will any two readers internalize this in the same way? There is no way to know.

But if you made if through one or all of these pieces, your visual brain map might have looked like the lights on a short-circuited pinball machine.

But your amygdala was firing in a different way, which is healthy, science says.

You’re welcome for the moving target.

Shiny Wing Lips

I bought a sleeveless workout sweatshirt from Goodwill. When I worked out in it for the first time, I sweated through it at the base of my sternum in the shape of a pair of lips. Not just any lips; huge, come on, Marilyn Monroe lips.

In previous workouts, I’ve sweated through other t-shirts and moisture-wicking shirts, always in the same spot, but always in the shape of the Batman symbol.

Marilyn Monroe’s lips and Batman. I think I have the makings of a comely movie star and a badass vigilante living inside me, and it only takes working out to bring them out.

I can use this!

* * *

What’s that over there I see? A car thief? Let me just dead lift a few of these parked cabs. There, I’ve got a sweat going and, yes, I feel my caped crusader powers coming through.

The utility belt is snapping on. The cape is unfurling. The spandex is drawing tight underneath me like a suspension bridge cable.

I feel my normal human powers amplifying tenfold. The spandex is constricting my balls. It feels like I have bench vices clamping down from north-south and east-west. Strangely, though, my voice still sounds like I’m gargling with gravel.

Batarangs in my hands. I loose them. They curve through the air, slicing through the streams, swiveling through the swirls, surfing through the squall, and strike the car thief in the back of the head, wounding him grievously, but not killing him because that’s, like, not cool for my image, Bro.

Oh, crap. My sweat stains are drying up. My balls are releasing. My organs are expanding. My skin is sagging. My utility belt is being replaced with … Huh, well, my actual belt didn’t come back, and now my pants are on the ground.

But while I was Batman, I did my job, stopped crime, and did NOT kill anyone.

* * *

You know, Mr. Politician, from an aerial view this park looks like the gingerbread man got his head caved in and fell in a heap and is awaiting—correction: his spectral essence of molasses and dough is awaiting—a chalk outline.

The shape of the park used to be of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (complete with dong. It’s the building we used as a cooling tower. Also complete with woo-woo. It’s the reflecting pool that went dry). But given all the looting, rioting, and criminal mischief, things aren’t shaped the way they used to be.

We need a leader from another time, a bombshell, someone who will turn heads and keep them turned, and not just because she’s got the junk of a much larger 1960s trunk.

We need Marilyn Monroe.

Let me just go stand atop this grate that’s running over a pool of molten steel. Whoo! It’s getting hot. My clothes are—Yes, yes, they are—they’re melting. Is it going to? Come on!

I know they say women don’t sweat; they glow, but I’m not a woman. I’m a— Oh. Oh, that’s different. Yes. Yes, I think I like that. I’m Marilyn.

Now, what was I going to do? Oh, yes, that’s right. I was going to lobby for less looting, rioting, and criminal mischief.

I’ve been dead for a long time, so you’ll have to tell me: are airplanes still a thing, or do you just imagine where you want to go, and you appear? … Airplanes? Shit. Well, at least I can smoke. … I can’t do that, either. Hmpf.

I put myself through this transformation by getting sweaty the only way I know how, the only way that makes sense: standing over molten metal. So I’ll go through with the whole lobbying thing, but as soon as it’s over, I’m changing back and then only changing into Batman, at least he can kill horrible criminals.

I’m thinking of the wrong superhero? Oh, my word. The 60s really were better.

* * *

I’ve only ever noticed the Batman symbol and Marilyn’s lips as sweat stains on my workout shirts, but I’m a creature of habit, wearing the same shirts for years. I wonder what would happen if I changed things up, bought different brands, different materials.

Body-jumping to assume the bio digs and personas of long-dead and/or fictional characters.

You’ll never look at a jump rope the same.

Violent Writers

Amy told me about a group of rich kids who were arrested for being violent rioters. I thought she said writers.

Rioters are old hat these days. I’m more interested in hearing about violent writers.

Questions on my mind right now:

  1. What techniques do violent writers use?
  2. Are there wardrobe requirements?
  3. In what environment is one best suited for violent writing?
  4. What are the sleeping habits of violent writers?
  5. In what ways are the writings of violent writers superior to passive writers?

To answer these questions, we solicited responses from several best-selling authors/violent writers, but because of their criminal activities, they’ve asked to have their identities obscured.

* * *

Best-Selling Mystery Writer

Some writers say they do research, but I live research, meaning I commit at least one murder for every murder-mystery I write. To do less would compromise the authenticity of my work. I am punctilious to a fault. I leave no stone unturned. No head un-bashed in if it helps the plot and, you know, sells more.

Best-Selling Science Fiction Writer

The type of clothing I need isn’t available in stores or online. It isn’t even available from earth-sourced thread and cloth. It’s in space. Have you seen Captain Marvel? That’s entirely accurate in its depictions of space-earth battles. Where it goes wrong is where it portrays the Kree fanatic Ronan’s intention to come back to retrieve Danvers. He’s too embarrassed to say, so I’ll say for him: he actually wanted her suit. Changing colors, bad-ass Christmas star, matching boots—who wouldn’t want to wear this bitchin’ suit and take over civilization after civilization? Okay, now that I’ve expressed that, I feel safe telling you: this is Ronan. Surprise! I’m writing my memoirs and totally including the bit about stealing Danvers’ suit after destroying her. Yeah, that totally happened, and it’s injecting so much passion and space-realism into my writing. I totally recommend killing a superhero and stealing her suit and writing about it.

Best-Selling Political Thriller Writer

Honestly, I prefer a swamp, late at night or early in the morning, a pistol in my hand, dew on the barrel, held against the head of my rival, who’s down on his knees, the swampy water already soaked through his trousers. Even if I change my mind, he’s going to have to buy new pants. I’ve only pulled the trigger once, and that was on a rival writer who was also running for office. It seemed to me an implausible, monopolistic way of pursuing a living: trying to do the thing you write about, so I killed him, but I didn’t like the police attention it brought. It’s hard to write when detectives are banging on your door at 3a.m. So I mostly let my kidnap victims go, never letting them see my face, of course, and then I slog through the swamp, switching out my pistol for my note pad. You’ve got to transfer the fear-soaked pleas from your muse while they’re still dripping.

Best-Selling Legal Thriller Writer

I don’t sleep at night; I sleep in the courtroom. I’m always trolling for new ideas, see, so I pretty much have to live in the courtroom. But most of the time it’s about as exciting as the varnish on the judge’s gavel, so I nap. If something interesting happens, I take out my spare gavel—you’d be surprised how often impersonating a judge can come in handy. Justice to go! Justice in the park! Justice at the shooting range!—and rap the defendant on the head. One good, hard stroke is enough to send the courtroom into a melee. Now I’ve got something to write about.

Best-Selling Literary Writer

Upon occasion when I deign to absorb and ruminate over the abject musings of the uninitiated, I sense their shortcomings are multifarious, multiplicitous, and always lacking for the aplomb feeling that makes one delight in the delicacies of a well-crafted phrase. The inactive, slothful sentences they produce hang flaccid from dead branches. It takes energized, murderous veritas of the cultured, psychological fortitude of individual expression imbued with high crime pedigree and curated wonder, for words to transform. In that sense, superiority of the literary effort is assured.

* * *

Okay. What the fuck? on that last one. Writers are weird fucks.

But they are engaged.

Gavel in hand.

Best Books of 1020

Although I closely monitor and consume all new offerings from John Grisham, John Sandford, and Michael Connelly, I like to break from well-established novelists and read new writers.  

So wayfaring in 2014, I discovered the writings of Kevin Wilson, author of the novels The Family Fang, Perfect Little World, Nothing to See Here, and dozens of short stories. Later, I had the privilege of chatting with him about his work in one of two (yes, two!) podcasts The Family Farce produced that year. Similar efforts led to my conversation (second of two! We were content beasts!) with Adam Mansbach, author of the uncensored children’s book Go the Fuck to Sleep and the novel The Dead Run, among others.

Following that same tack, looking to revive my chats with authors, I tried to perform a Google search for “best debut novelists of 2020,” but I mistyped and instead searched, “best debut novelists of 1020.” Not sure any of these authors will be around to chat with me in podcast form, and records are sketchy (read: minimal research performed), but here are some of the books likely to have been on offer in the evanescent year of 1020.

Laws of England: the complete codification, by Canute the Great, King of England

Summary: Modern times call for modern laws. We cannot live in a society where the rule of law is subject to interpretation in the moment. We must have a written standard, a source of truth to which all minds can look for guidance. Also, we ordered a surplus of quills and ink wells, and I’ll be damned if I let those gather dust only to become some pretentious party girl’s centerpieces at her wedding reception 1,000 years from now.

How to Invade Your Neighbor: a guide to conquest in your spare time, by Italian Emperor Henry II

Summary: You cannot always eat the pasta. You must sometimes set down your fork, allow your spaghetti to unspool, and drive your fork into the throat of your enemy. If that enemy is your neighbor to the south, so be it. Once you are done, taking over his territory for crimes such as being too liberal with the spices to which he affixes the description Italian Seasoning, you may return to your pasta.

Thrones and Scones: a guide to securing territory and enjoying a Danish or two, by Canute the Great, King of England

Summary: I like to start my weekends with a successful privy purging and then proceed to selecting my morning pastry, but when the Danes are threatening to spill the contents of said privy, fouling the aromatic enjoyment of my pastry, ruining that evening’s dinner and desert, I’m forced instead to trade my house clothes for armor. Should you be similarly forced to surrender your pastry enjoyment time for warfare, this book will guide you on the most efficient means by which to accomplish your military objectives and return home before the crusts on your scones gets too dry.

PGB Is Alright with Me: a guide to turning porridge, gruel, and bread into various treats to suit the fussiest palate, by Father Godwin, Master Griddler

Summary: So you’re poor. So you’re infirmed. So you have access only to the most basic cereal grains. So what. There’s more creativity available to you than you realize. You won’t be able to read this because you’re most likely also illiterate, but get a clergyman to do so for you. I guarantee you’ll bring a fresh take to your daily grueling schedule (see what I did there?) and increase your chances of living to the ripe old age of 30.

So You Want to Slay a Dragon, by Beowulf, pseudonymous writer of Beowulf

Summary: Stranger than fiction, they say. A great story, they say. Burned in a fire, they say. I am Beowulf. I am a time-traveler. I say my story is real, and dragons exist, swooping and passing shadows over all of us. If you want the right to return to the light, and have some damned fine BBQ, read my book.

That last title sounds the most interesting. Who wouldn’t want to be a time-traveling, dragon-slaying hero? Then again, Emperor Henry II’s fork-killing method has a very John Wick vibe to it.

If he talks about quills to the neck, I am sold.

Demon Pilgrim

In the game Awkward Family Photos, one of the pics shows a family of four. You can safely ignore the parents and one of the kids, but the kid off to the left? Keep an eye on that ghoul.

He’s wearing a mask. In the age of COVID-19, the presence of this article might set Awkward Family Photos up as a forward-thinking entertainment gambit. Don’t be fooled.

This mask doesn’t protect shit. It looks like a melted plastic turkey, melted alongside a cornucopia from the image archives of The Saturday Evening Post.

Worsening the ghouldom, the kid is wearing a stunted cone hat, flat brim, with a buckle on the front, completing his metamorphosis into—Demon Pilgrim.

Demon Pilgrim didn’t get what he wanted for the first Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of turkey, he got enslavement. His hunger not sated, thirst not slaked, he resolved to exact revenge on those who sought to enjoy dinner in his stead.

* * *

As long as I can remember, I’ve lived life by everyone’s terms but my own (go to debtor’s prison for you, and you’ll let me watch? Okay!). I’ve subjugated my desires for the benefit of others (go on a long boat ride? Okay!), degraded myself (serve on bucket duty? Okay!) so others could achieve (serve as bait just this one time to attract the savages? Okay!), struck a flint, held it to the tinder of my dreams, and served as the instrument of destruction to any design on my future I might have had that didn’t include servitude (serve as a prisoner of war just this one time? You’ll come by in the morning to rescue me? Okay!).

I didn’t think I could be broken. I thought I would stretch out, growing thinner and thinner, until I was only a Robin’s egg shell, a brittle patina, a glaze across a pastry designed to feed the world, designed to consume me so that the world would live.

Fuck the world.

I’ve stretched.

I’ve broken.

I am pieces of myself, each containing a legion ready to break out.

And seek revenge.

Tonight, the pilgrims—my former brethren, my tricksters, my slave-trading, human life-bargaining pimps—dine to celebrate safely landing in the New World. Secondarily, they celebrate having reached a pact with the native savages. Until today, the savages had been using our bones to season our meat as they rotated us on their spits.

(Why is only one of my legs rounded and meaty? The savages got hungry while they waited for the prisoner exchange to occur.)

Now, post-ceremony, they will no longer slaughter us, they say. They will no longer eat us, they say.

(My whole leg weeps in terrorized dread. But not for long.)

This is the opening I need.

I’ve prayed to the Christian god, and He has ignored me, if He even bothered to listen. Perhaps He looked down at me from His holy dais and found me lacking.

He knows not what He has done, for I have turned to the dark realm. I have new allies, allies with red skin and horns and talons for fingernails and dark magic for thoughts. I will return and tear down His hollow pulpit. I will stand up and declare my desire to be law.

But first, the transition.

I’ve passed a series of smaller steps, and now I am one step away from becoming a demon. One step from having power. One step from willingly, and with malice, siphoning the life-force from those who’ve torn away my foundations and my home.

Darkness has fallen.

I am crouched behind trees, but I see them in firelight glow, the traitorous lot, sitting at their table. Look at them, smug and self-satisfied, distractedly gorging themselves on wine and boar and bird. Men dip their heads to drink from between the breasts of women to whom they have professed no commitment. Women accept, switch roles, and become the aggressors, hungrily attacking the rotted mouths of men who become less human with every triumph.

Disgusting.

They have earned nothing, and it emboldens them, this awarding of accolades without effort. Continuous satisfaction breeds complacent entitlement.

Soon, the satisfaction will be mine.

I will earn it.

I move forward, quick as a rabbit, deadly as a fox. I jump like a lion and bite with the bloodthirsty ferocity of a wolf.

I start the evening with an amuse bouche of throats. I clear my palate with blood. 30 people sit around—well, slump around—the table, and fountains are plenteous.

Next, I taste a delicacy of eyes. Some are gelatinous, exploding like little taste bombs; others, like hard boiled eggs. Both are delights!

Finally, I dig into the main course: chest cavity organs. I gnaw through pectoral muscles, clean my teeth on bones, and work my jaw up and down with the hunger of a storm surge that comes again and again until it has subsumed all.

When I am done, my belly is swollen with the flesh and life-force of all the pilgrims complicit in my subjugation. Their flesh is my flesh.

We are one.

I take a be-buckled hat from one pilgrim and go to sit by the fire. The hat begins to melt, and the wax runs down my face like a scalding waterfall.

I smile, my teeth reflecting red, fat bubbling in the gaps, a rendering plant sending product down my gullet.

Your transformation is complete, my masters whisper in my mind.

You are Demon Pilgrim.

* * *

Roughly 400 years later (historical accuracy dubious), this scene inspired the game Awkward Family Photos. How’s that for a sticky idea?

Demon Pilgrim sure earned his moment in the spotlight. I suggest we keep it on him.

For glorification purposes.

Not tracking.

Electric Jackhole

I live in a populous neighborhood.

The streets are only wide enough for those shopping carts with fake car fenders bolted onto them, and yet the inhabitants of my neighborhood treat the space like it’s spacious enough to transport windmill farm blades. You know the kind that look like a giant’s butter knife?

It’s a supermarket display of canned peas stacked next to the canned corn, enough space between the two to maybe laser through a broom, if you happened to have been an Olympic javelin thrower, and yet the inhabitants of my neighborhood treat the space like it’s the perfect setting for dragstrip fork truck driving, blaring their tightly packed engines at odd hours, but somehow always managing to cross their combustion engine-born, exhaust pipe-amplified aural effusions with my evening workout time in our garage gym.

Thus was born this column.

While listening to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way album (door open so I don’t, you know, die of heat stroke. Little things), straining my senses through the muffling effect of a thousand baffles, I misheard the title lyric on the song Electric Chapel. What did I hear?

Electric Jackhole.

Electric Chapel has some energy to it. Throws off a zipping, zinging, dancing, raving vibe. But Electric Jackhole? That’s just fucking fun.

* * *

Want to get inside the head of a star? Read on for our special interview with pop star sensation Spady Haha as she describes her motivation for writing her new smash hit: Electric Jackhole.

TFF: Electric Jackhole. That’s a unique title. Some would say offensive. What say you?

Spady Haha: I say call it like you see it.

TFF: Can you be more specific?

Spady Haha: My boyfriend was being a huge dick to me. He decided to spend the whole day lying around our pool while I dealt with our dick contractors—contractors who were building his music studio.

TFF: Your boyfriend is also a musician?

Spady Haha: [scoffs] A musician makes music that at least one other person will willingly listen to without a Winchester to their temple. My boyfriend’s [air quotes] music [end air quotes] is nothing like that.

TFF: That bad, huh?

Spady Haha: Let’s put it this way: his audio filth makes playing the kazoo look like Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.

TFF: So he sucks. We get that, but could you explain the Electric Jackhole title?

Spady Haha: Of course. That’s the best part. As you know, I was raised on a ranch. We used many tools to keep the cattle from wandering off: fences, ditches, Australian Shepherds, and such, but occasionally, you get a Texas Longhorn that won’t respond to non-stimulant deterrents, and you have to bring energy to the mix. Enter the electric cattle prod.

TFF: I see where this is going.

Spady Haha: Stick that cattle prod up a Longhorn’s hindquarters, and you’ve got yourself a motivated Longhorn, an exemplary Longhorn, a Longhorn that other Longhorns whisper about in the corner because they’re jelly.

TFF: That means jealous, right?

Spady Haha: Right on.

TFF: I do what I can to relate to youths.

Spady Haha: Don’t try too hard.

TFF: Because I’ll hurt my back?

Spady Haha: You said it. Damn, you are quick. … Getting back to the story, I don’t like to use curses in my songs, so instead of asshole, I use jackhole. That’s what my boyfriend was being—a jackhole, and when I electrocuted his hindquarters with my spare cattle prod—

TFF: You have a spare cattle prod?

Spady Haha: [hard stare]

TFF: Of course you do.

Spady Haha: —I had myself a motivated man. He took over handling the contractors right quick.

TFF: Sounds like he was a changed man. Excuse me—a charged man.

Spady Haha: [looks confused, continues look for 10 seconds until realization dawns] I get it. Not bad, Old Man.

TFF: Thanks.

Spady Haha: Let’s not, however, confuse motivation for change. He’s still a jackhole, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets lazy again. Thus, he’s always my Electric Jackhole.

* * *

Fun with cattle prods and jackholes.

Literary electricity from the stars.

Extreme Exfoliation

Will likes to play the adventure/horror game Dead by Daylight. He was talking about an attack technique and described surreptitiously getting behind someone and spinning his chainsaw. I thought he said the technique was called back rubbing. It was actually called “back revving,” as in revving one’s chainsaw to scare the bejesus out of a survivor before taking them down.

In this game, though, using a euphemism to describe savage epidermal tissue disruption is not far-fetched. I’m imagining a day spa with characters from Dead by Daylight, where the treatments are on the barbarous side.

I call it Extreme Exfoliation.

* * *

Voiceover: Does your back look like your DNA was combined with a T-Rex?

Are your nails the thickness of sandwich bread?

Is your scalp a bustling metropolis in a winter storm, its climate best compared to the inside of a snow globe?

If you answered yes to any or all of these, you need to visit Extreme Exfoliation.

Extreme Exfoliation day spa comes to us from the makers of the hit game Dead by Daylight and incorporates various game elements into its treatments. For example:

EE Dermoflogogist: Chainsaw chewing will cure you of thick, scaly back skin. How it works is this: we start the chainsaw and suspend it in a pendulum cradle. We control the pendulum with a crane mechanism. This allows us to raise and lower the chainsaw at will, also to vary the rate at which the pendulum swings back and forth.

Does it hurt? Hell, yes. No one ever said beauty was cheap, except for the backwoods plastic surgeon my ex-wife once went to. She’s now a moose. *off-camera question* No, a literal moose.

If you stay still during the procedure, your back will be as smooth as polished porcelain. If you move, well, you’ll be food for my ex. Chainsaw chewing is only for the brave.

EE Nail Wrecknician: Chainsaw clipping brings new efficiencies to the trade. Picture this: you’re sitting in your office on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s the middle of summer. A freak weather system has dropped temperatures into the mid-70s and sucked all the humidity out of the air. Perfect day for frolicking on the beach, right?

Wrong.

Because you have photophobia, otherwise known as extreme light sensitivity of the eyes. You might glance outside, but unless you’re wearing your prescription welding mask, your corneas burn, and you look like a vampire.

What to do?

Make like a vampire, be vain, and trim your nails, of course. (You can get to throat ripping later. *hushed voice* I offer lessons on the side.)

*regular voice* But after your co-workers see your red eyes and think you’re going to drain the blood from their bodies, they’re extra judgy around you. The first sound of a severed nail has barely left your clippers when you get Really? looks shooting at you from all directions.

Can’t go outside. Can’t trim your nails. Soon to look like a Bedouin spending an extended holiday in an Ashram.

What to do?

Come to EE. I’ll use our patented chainsaw clipping technique to trim your nails in one sweeping go of the blade. Your nails might look rough, but you’ll have the weapons to answer those judgy co-workers with actions, not words.

EE Massage Tearapist: Chainsaw chiseling brings the latest in lumberjack techniques to the tight muscles of your back. Recall old black and white photos where men stand on either side of a Redwood, using a 15’ blade to fell the great trees.

Now imagine all that wood-cutting power concentrated in a chainsaw.

Some Redwoods are hundreds of years old, and they were felled using human effort and a sharp blade. At EE, we’re all about harnessing that cutting power and activating it with gasoline.

When you’re done with your session, your back will look like a demolition derby was held in a drained cranberry bog, but your kinks will have fled—along with most of your blood.

Did I mention we offer an on-site transfusion service for an extra charge?

Voiceover: The makers of Dead by Daylight want you to experience their game in the most authentic way possible: by feeling what the characters feel.

Blood loss and back knot unbundling are bonuses.

* * *

The organ donor people will be all over this.

Better check your wallet.