THE LISTENER: A Tale of Modern Terror

I really love strange stories that mix comedy, horror, weirdness, and hopefully something relatable. I love that intersection between pulp/genre/b-movie adventure and ancient myths. Old stories that get passed down and reinvented as different generations try to figure out who they are and who they want to be. So here’s a story working through some of the weird horror and comedy of right now. I hope you enjoy this modern myth called…THE LISTENER!

It was a strange time. A plague swirled through the land. So for a while everyone lived mostly in their homes–determined, stressed, and pantsless.

They interacted through computers. Their fingers shouting opinions into the keyboard. Smiling into computer cameras for business meetings, movie watchalongs, funerals, and extra awkward first dates.

Everyone lived life torso and up.

One night, a woman named Doris was chatting with her torso friends through her computer. It was fun. She had a cocktail and everything. Two hours earlier, she’d been sitting in the exact same spot, staring into the exact same camera, wearing a business casual dress shirt, assuring her boss the revisions would be done by tomorrow.

It was good to catch up with her torso friends. But she was tired. Tired of everyone talking at the same time, then everyone pausing so they didn’t interrupt again. Tired of deciding whether to look into her friends’ eyes or the camera’s.

The party ended. One by one her torso friends disappeared. And once again Doris felt drunk on a strange cocktail of bliss and shame.

She sighed and walked away. But this night, she forgot to turn off her camera. The glow of the computer stared into her empty living room.

Doris climbed into bed, picked up her phone, and stared at that smaller glowing box instead. She read a long article about not reading things on your phone in bed. She laughed herself into a fitful sleep.

Doris did not see what happened next. The glow of the computer pulsed and quaked. Slowly and silently, the light poured out of the screen. It forked out in thick, quivering bolts. The bolts formed into the shape of a human hand. It clawed at the air, pulling itself out of the computer.

The next morning, Doris woke up and shuffle-stumbled into the living room and directly toward the coffee maker. Something flickered and caught her eye. She looked over her shoulder and noticed the pulsing blue human shape sitting on her couch.

She looked back at the coffeemaker.

Then she looked back at the blue thing on her couch and she screamed and screamed.

She picked up her least favorite coffee mug and whirled it across the room at the figure. The mug flew directly into the shimmering thing’s featureless blue face.

The mug didn’t hit the face. It didn’t hit the wall behind the face. It was just gone. Gone inside the blue thing on her couch.

Before Doris could decide what else to throw, the blue thing moved. It stood on two legs. Its arms jangled at its side. Its body had no real definition. No gender, no body type. The edges of it kept soundlessly dancing and sparking. It shifted ever so slightly in height and width all the time.

It calmly walked toward her, limbs pulsing away. Doris decided screaming again seemed like a sensible way to process this. She screamed directly at the thing but her screams seemed to fly into the thing’s face and disappear just like her least favorite coffee mug.

Finally, the pulsing blue thing stopped right beside her. It slowly turned its head toward the coffeemaker and stared. It didn’t have eyes, but the coffeemaker is where the eyes would be looking, Doris guessed.

She reached out to touch the thing. She knew it was stupid. She braced herself for impact. For heat, for pain, for her fingers to turn into long columns of ash like an old cartoon character’s cigarette and fall to the floor in a pathetic heap.

But nothing. She saw her fingers enter the pulsing blue torso of the thing, but she felt nothing. Not even numb. She just felt the same old stale air of her apartment. That was almost worse.

She pulled her hand out and stared at the thing’s face. It turned its face up and looked back. Even without eyes, she knew. Doris knew it was looking right at her.

It was extremely awkward.

Doris decided she needed coffee to figure out what to do next. Almost in a trance, she went through the insufferably familiar motions of opening the grounds, putting in the filter, and…and the thing just watched. It stared at every dumb little thing she was doing like it was the most important thing in the world.

So Doris went through her day. She made her coffee. She drank it and watched the news on TV. It sat on the couch with her. It seemed to have no preference between cable news or the local news.

Doris desperately had to use the bathroom but she was afraid to discover the boundaries of the blue thing. She leapt into the bathroom and slammed the door shut, but the blue thing sauntered straight through the door.

It stared at her as she brushed her teeth, fixed her hair, and finally, dammit, even as she used the toilet. It kept staring directly at her face. It was almost as if it was waiting for her to say something.

“Have you ever heard of privacy?” she shouted. The words disappeared into the thing.

No. It wasn’t that they disappeared. It was more like the words were…absorbed.

It heard her. It just had no response.

She finished her bathroom routine, including an extra thorough hand washing. She didn’t want this thing thinking she didn’t wash her hands for the full length of the Happy Birthday song. Screw it, she decided, and sang the Happy Birthday song at it.

It appeared to hear that, too.

Doris had a little time before her first meeting on her computer that day. She went to the bedroom and got dressed. It followed. She picked out a business casual blouse and the same sweat pants she’d been wearing for a week. After she got dressed, she sat on the edge of her bed. It sat down next to her. Staring and pulsing.

The answer came to Doris. This must be happening to everyone. Some group delusion. Some side effect of the plague.

She decided she’d do what she always did with any important thought: Put it on the internet.

Doris picked up her phone. Her fingers flew across the digital keyboard. She knew exactly the tone to strike. She would declare the truth, but she would couch it in a post-modern, self-aware veneer of comedy to distance herself from her own statement just in case anyone disagreed.

She typed out the perfect post. It read: “Got one of those weird pulsing light people in my apartment! Everyone’s got one of those right? Not just plague mind fatigue, right? YOU’RE THE WEIRDO IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE! Ha ha!!

“Good,” Doris thought, “this is good.”

But a photo would make it perfect. She opened the camera app. She could see the thing pulsing away. She snapped a photo.

She looked at the photo. The thing did not appear in the photo.

“Fine,” Doris said out loud to both no one and the thing. “It will be just as funny if I attach a picture where there’s clearly nothing there.”

Doris attached the photo, hit send, and waited. A few likes trickled in. A couple of joking comments. A couple of obnoxious and unasked for opinions about the décor of her bedroom and the composition of the photo.

“Dammit,” she said to the thing. “Why do people need to find some damn little thing to criticize about every dumb post?!”

She waited and waited. She scrolled and she scrolled. But she saw nothing that made her think anyone else had a pulsing new light friend.

She sighed and looked at the blue thing. “I’ve got to go to work. I have a business meeting with someone named Ted. Ted is an asshole who I swear to god, adjusts his camera from a downward angle because he WANTS us to see up his damn nostrils.”

Doris talked and the blue thing listened as they walked to her computer. She sat down. The blue thing stood by her side. She stared into the camera. It was immediately clear no one could see her pulsing blue light friend. And so Doris went through her day, torso and up.

That night as she got ready for bed, chatting at the blue thing about the bars she missed going to the most, she suddenly realized the blue thing no longer terrified her. It was…nice. Nice to have someone who just wanted to listen.

She climbed into bed and waited to see where it would go. It sat itself gently on the end of bed, looking down at her like some kind of glowing guardian angel.

It was the most peaceful night’s sleep Doris had in months.

The next day, Doris tested a theory. She ordered pizza for delivery. As the masked delivery guy walked toward her apartment, she stepped fully out into the hallway. The blue thing stepped out with her. Doris kept her eyes locked on the pizza guy. He had no reaction. She looked over at the blue thing. The pizza guy stared quizzically, unsure what Doris was looking at. Doris just smiled and took her pizza and her blue thing back into the apartment.

The days turned to weeks and the weeks turned into months. Some days, Doris’ throat hurt from talking this much. She told it jokes. She told it secrets. She downloaded a karaoke game to her PlayStation and she sang it some hits of the 90s. She shifted keys inappropriately seven times during her performance of “Zombie” by The Cranberries.

Her blue friend did not care. Her blue friend just listened. No criticisms. No comments. No awkward, selfish attempts to make the conversation all about it.

No matter what she threw at her blue friend, they absorbed it.

Sometimes, it even seemed like they really liked what Doris said. The way their energy pulsed or quaked looked like they were laughing or nodding or leaning forward for more. Doris was sure of it. It wasn’t just random fluctuations. They really appreciated her.

Doris felt very lucky.

Then one day, things changed again. She was standing at the window of her apartment. Her blue friend by her side. She was pointing at a cloud and asking her friend if they also thought that one looked like a duck riding a motorcycle.

Then she heard it. Coming from the apartment in the building across the street. The one she could see right into most days.

A loud bellowing scream from the guy who lived there and did crossfit shirtless in his living room every day. He was staring at something Doris couldn’t see. His screams started strong and then melted away into a whisper.

Doris had no doubt. Shirtless guy just got a blue friend, too.

There were more screams every day. Doris wasn’t mad that other people were getting blue friends. She was happy for them.

She started posting more on social media. Telling people about the coffee mug she threw into her friend that first day. She got a lot of likes. People responded, “OMG! I threw my coffee mug into my blue friend on the first day, too!”

Others replied, “Holy crap! I didn’t know you could throw things in them! Best recycling plan ever!”

Still others responded, “Wait! Wait! Yours is blue? Mine is red!”

Apparently, they came in all colors. Red, blue, green, purple, orange. A visual art friend of Doris’ swore up and down their friend was EXACTLY the acrylic paint color, Burnt Umber.

Soon, talk of the shimmering pulsing mystery figures was everywhere. Late night talk show hosts had theirs on as guests. No one could see them or hear them, but the hosts had a good time talking to them.

The next time the pizza delivery guy came to Doris’ apartment, he asked, “What color is yours?”

“Blue, but a real—“

“That’s great!” the Pizza Guy interrupted. “Mine is EMERALD. Not green, but like, emerald. Because people don’t understand, there is technically a diff—“

Doris nodded, took her pizza, and her blue friend inside.

She didn’t need to be interrupted ever again. She had a listener. The whole world did. Everyone had a Listener.

Time passed. It was hard to tell how much. People didn’t really do awkward computer calls anymore. No one was really going to work. A few texts here and there. People still posted on social media but only to talk about how great their Listener was. No one really bothered to respond. If they had a strong opinion they wanted to share, they could throw it at their Listener.

Soon, Doris had no contact with anyone but her Listener. Their name was now Quakey. Quakey, the Listener. Doris was sure Quakey liked the name.

Things started to change even more. Sometimes it was scary, but Doris could handle it because she could pour all her thoughts and fears into Quakey.

Sometimes, during Karaoke, the power would go out. The third time it happened, Doris decided to check social media to see if other people were experiencing an outage. No one had updated their profiles in a week.

Doris sat in the darkness. She didn’t even need candles. Quakey’s pulsing body gave off plenty of light. She read an old book by the light of her friend. She read him passages she liked. Quakey might have nodded in appreciation.

The days wore on. Doris stared out of the window. She didn’t see her neighbor in his apartment. She didn’t see anyone out on the streets.

“That’s weird,” Doris said into Quakey. Then she saw movement. In the apartment across the street.

Topless guy screamed at the empty air where Doris knew his Listener was. “Something! Anything!” he screamed. “I can’t take it! I can’t take it anymore!”

He picked up a dumbbell and threw it. It disappeared into thin air. Topless guy stared. He backed up to get a running start.

He threw himself toward his listener. And he disappeared.

Doris stumbled back in shock. That…that had never occurred to her. She turned to Quakey.

“What exactly happens when you absorb things? Where did my neighbor go? Is he gone? Is he dead?”

Doris clenched her fists and stared hard at Quakey, analyzing every pulse and gyration of their dancing body for meaning. But Doris heard nothing.

Her relationship with Quakey soured quickly. They still followed her everywhere. They still stared. But what had felt warm and reassuring now felt cold and distant.

Quakey’s constant, maddening silence became a low, irritating electric buzz. It grew into an endless piercing scream.

Doris couldn’t take it anymore. Plague be damned, she marched out of her apartment and down into the streets. She and Quakey encountered a few people. Windows were shattered and stores were abandoned. Cars were stopped in the middle of the street. Drivers screaming at the empty space in the passengers’ seat.

Doris shouted at the other humans, waved them down. But they were all distracted. They shouted at their Listeners. Others wept. Others threw everything they could find into their Listeners.

Doris pleaded with them, begging them to talk to her. “We need to figure out what’s happening! Where do people go? How does this end? How did this happen? What should we do?”

But no one listened. Most ignored her. A few others shouted her down, raving about their own Listener.

By the time Doris had seen three people throw themselves into their Listeners, she couldn’t take anymore.

Dejected, she marched home with Quakey in pulsating lockstep.

That night, she became determined. She could do this. She could get a reaction. A real, tangible reaction.

She sat down on the couch and stared into Quakey’s throbbing blue face. She asked calmly and politely for Quakey to say something back to her. She pleaded and cajoled. She threatened and bellowed. She made every noise she could think of.

Doris thought of every outrageous offensive opinion she could. Her most controversial movie rankings. Disgusting pizza toppings. Outrageous revisionist history of her own relationship with Quakey. She raged that blue was the stupidest color ever to appear in a spectrum.

She screamed and screamed until she couldn’t even tell if she was making sound anymore.

“Please, please,” she croaked. “Say anything, do anything, BE anything.”

But the Listener did nothing but listen.

Doris fell silent. She slumped back on her couch, next to the blue thing.

She stayed there for a long time, listening to the endless scream of their mutual silence. And she hoped that someday, there would be something more to hear.

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THE SAGA ENDS…

I have a great time celebrating and discussing Star Wars on the podcast I co-host, ForceCenter. As a fun exercise, we tried to imagine the opening crawl for EPISODE IX if it foolishly tried to recap the previous eight films. Here’s the crawl I wrote. I love Star Wars very much for its bizarre and delightful mixture of pulp adventure and character-driven philosophical morality tale. This was a fun way to celebrate!

The galaxy was at peace. For a thousand generations, the JEDI KNIGHTS were the guardians of justice and balance in the REPUBLIC. But even under the strong leadership of the ancient master YODA, the Jedi worried corruption and darkness could destroy all they had built.

New hope arrived when the Jedi discovered a young boy named ANAKIN SKYWALKER, the chosen one whispered of in prophecy. Believing he could return balance to the force by destroying the dark side warriors known as the SITH, Anakin was trained by the noble Jedi Knight, OBI-WAN KENOBI.

Little did the Jedi realize, the Republic was controlled by the Sith Lord, DARTH SIDIOUS. Masquerading as a politician named SHEEV PALPATINE, he orchestrated a massive political conflict and the CLONE WARS erupted, plunging the galaxy into chaos.

Defying the code of the Jedi Order, Anakin fell in love with the brave and wise Senator, PADME AMIDALA. Sidious manipulated Anakin’s fear of losing Padme and convinced him to betray the Jedi. Consumed by the dark side, Anakin became DARTH VADER, the terrifying enforcer of Palpatine’s new EMPIRE. With the Republic destroyed and the Jedi Order abolished, darkness fell.

Yet there was still hope. Before her tragic death, Padme gave birth to twins, LUKE SKYWALKER and LEIA ORGANA. Obi-Wan and Yoda watched over them, until the time was right.

Years later, a REBELLION led by Leia Organa brought the young freedom fighter face to face with her long lost brother, Luke. Together with unlikely heroes the scoundrel HAN SOLO and his loyal Wookiee friend, CHEWBACCA, the Skywalker Twins defied the tyranny of the Empire, launching the Galactic Civil War.

Under the guidance of Obi-Wan and Yoda, Luke trained to become a Jedi like his father. Soon fate demanded Luke face the truth that Anakin had become the dark lord Darth Vader.

Preying on Luke’s compassion for his friends, Sidious drew the young Jedi into a trap and sought to turn him to the dark side. In a desperate attempt to keep his sister Leia from the clutches of the Sith, Luke called upon the dark side to defeat his father in a fateful duel.

Before Luke could strike the killing blow, he realized the folly of vengeance and threw down his weapon. The act of mercy awakened the hero Anakin Skywalker. Selflessly, Anakin gave his life to save his son, destroying the Sith and fulfilling the prophecy.

For many years, there was balance. Luke, now a Jedi Master, trained his nephew BEN SOLO, son of Leia and galactic hero Han Solo, in the ways of the force. But haunted by fear of his family’s complicated legacy and his own place within it, Ben fell to the dark side and became KYLO REN.

Soon he led the re-emergent Empire known as the FIRST ORDER in a brutal attack on the NEW REPUBLIC. Opposed only by a small band of fighters known as the RESISTANCE, once again led by Leia Organa, the galaxy plunged back into war.

Still the light side of the Force persisted, awakening powerful abilities within a mysterious young scavenger named REY. Soon, destiny led Rey to clash with Kylo Ren and witness him kill his father, Han Solo.

Armed with the Skywalker family LIGHTSABER, she sought out Luke Skywalker for guidance. But to their mutual surprise, Rey and Kylo found themselves drawn together, both hoping to turn the other to their side of the force.

Despite her empathy for Ben Solo’s fear and loneliness, Rey resisted. Inspired by the heroism of his young pupil, Luke Skywalker gave his life to save his sister and the Resistance from certain destruction.

Now, young REY and her friends, former Stormtrooper FINN and daring pilot POE DAMERON, race to save the galaxy from the legacy of terror dominating Kylo Ren’s soul and restore peace and justice to the galaxy…

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EXPLAINING HALLOWEEN CEREAL TO ALIENS

I love Halloween. One of the many reasons I love it is because it’s a chance to take a step back and realize the deep, deep complexity of human society.

I was at a store and I saw a box of spooky Halloween cereal. Yay! Fun! But then I stopped and really looked at it.

It was a box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes featuring Tony the Tiger dressed as Count Dracula and the cereal itself contained marshmallows shaped like a ghost, a bat, and the head of Frankenstein’s Monster.

When I saw this box of cereal, I imagined the effort it would take to explain this to an alien. So I tried writing it out.

So, first, let’s just define the basic building block of this: Frosted Flakes.

In order to start our day with a healthy breakfast, we took corn–a thing that is already food we could just eat–and we smashed it into flakes.

But we still don’t want to eat that so we put a bunch of sugar on top of it. Then we pour milk on it so we can lie to ourselves and claim it’s healthy.

Now there are many different companies making these denial corn flakes and they are all basically the same product. So to make them seem different from one another, we invented a thing called branding.

We want to create a bond between the cereal makers and the cereal eaters so we created a mascot. Someone fun and friendly that people could relate to. Like a giant tiger.

A tiger is a large animal which, under the right circumstances, would happily kill and eat us. They require no branding to do this. Just hunger.

But this is not a normal tiger. This one walks on two legs and has a name. His name is Tony and he exists only to sell us things. He sells us things with the catchphrase, “They’re great!” Normally, shouting a biased subjective opinion about the quality of corn flakes is enough to make them fly off the shelves.

But not now. Not at Halloween. So Tony, a predator salesperson pretending to be our friend, needs to dress up as something scary. Normally, Tony the Tiger is nude with just a handkerchief around his neck. Like a bib for eating humans. But that’s not scary enough during Halloween.

So Tony is dressed up as another character named Count Dracula. Dracula is an undead rich person who wears a cape because he’s from Europe. Dracula is a vampire and he wants to hurt us. But not by eating us. He wants to suck our blood in a psycho-sexual ritual designed to steal our life essence so he can go on living for all eternity.

This is only barely a metaphor for what actual rich people do to us everyday. But during Halloween it’s fun because he has a cape.

Now, let’s move on to the Marshmallows. Marshmallows are pieces of sugar that don’t bother lying to us about what they are.

And these particular marshmallows are shaped like a bat, a ghost, and the head of Frankenstein’s Monster. Let’s break those down.

First, a bat. In reality, a bat is a small animal that mostly means us no harm whatsoever and couldn’t eat a human if it tried. But somehow we have become more afraid of bats than a tiger. A bat is basically an animal that suffers from extremely inaccurate branding.

Next up, a ghost. A ghost is what happens when a human dies but their soul is trapped on the mortal plane. When that happens the soul wears a white sheet with eyeholes so the soul can watch Netflix, I guess. I don’t know. That one’s a mystery. The point is: this marshmallow is an opportunity to eat the undead souls of other humans.

And finally, Frankenstein’s Monster’s head. Oh, boy. This one would take a very long time to fully articulate. So real short version. A woman named Mary Shelly invented the concept of science fiction by writing a novel about a dude who could not accept death so he made a fake man using body parts and lightning and since then we’ve told hundreds of stories about this monster being lonely and having a hard time making friends. We’ve told so many stories about this large lonely man that as a culture we can instantly recognize JUST HIS HEAD rendered in crude marshmallow form.

So that’s basically it. If you encounter an alien wanting to understand the spooky limited edition Halloween Kellogg’s Chocolate Frosted Flakes you know what to tell them:

It’s a tiger but it acts like a human to sell us things but it’s Halloween, a time we embrace darkness, so it’s dressed as a blood-sucking monster and the sugar blobs are all death imagery so we can eat our own fear. With milk.

And if that isn’t fun I don’t know what the hell is.

If you enjoyed this post, you can check out my comedy albums on bandcamp here!

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THE TERROR OF OLD STUFF


A lot of people say they love Halloween because it’s fun to be scared. And to me that is bullshit.

I don’t need a special time of the year to be scared. Here’s a list of non-Halloween times where I am scared:

Any day when I read the news.
When my DVR doesn’t record Supergirl.
When someone wants to describe something funny they did in an improv scene in great detail.
When someone says “How are you?” and I get nervous and respond “You too.”
Every month that is not October
and also the month of October.

The point is being scared is not rare. I love Halloween because I think it’s an opportunity to reflect on why we’re scared. Why do certain things fill our souls with dread?

I had a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the nature of terror earlier this month when I went to Target and browsed their Halloween section.

They have lots of legitimately spooky stuff. They’ve got skeletons and spider webs and a Kylo Ren costume made for children. Father should be very concerned if your child wants to dress up as Kylo Ren for Halloween. Nothing like a little patricide to bring a family together.

That said, I do like the idea of a little kid dressed as Kylo Ren going door to door on Halloween night and instead of saying “Trick or Treat” he just holds out his bag and yells “MORE! MORE!”

Anyway, lots of legitimately spooky stuff at Target but what scared me the most is this. Amidst all their spooky props of tombstones and zombie hands bursting from the earth, Target has a collection of terrifying items that can only be described as ANALOG TECHNOLOGY.

They have an oldie-time microphone. Like old crooners would use. Like Ella Fitzgerald might have used when she sang with Chick Webb in the 1930s. Spooky big band vocals!

They have an oldie-time movie camera that uses actual film. You know like the kind of camera used to film such bone-chilling classics as 1987’s Harry and The Hendersons. The terror, the terror!

And perhaps the scariest of all, a rotary phone. Yes, that’s right. A phone so old it does not even have buttons to press. You have to stick your finger in little holes and rotate them multiple times to place a call to someone WHO MIGHT NOT EVEN BE HOME.

TERRIFYING. What other slightly outdated technology will be frightening us next?

There’s that old horror movie tagline “When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” That will now be changed to the much more frightening “When there is no more room in the landfill, the AOL discs will walk the earth.”

In the very near future, people will attempt to terrify trick or treaters by covering their lawns in Keurig coffeemakers. The pods, the pods! So wasteful!

Anyway, this visit to Target really drove home the point that one of the major things that scares us is just OLD SHIT. And I get it. The older something is the more likely that it has history. That it has baggage.

It’s easy to look at a rotary phone, this creaky broken down mechanical old thing, and wonder—who used this? What trauma were they going through? Could the tormented spirit of someone who had a slightly sore finger from all that manually dialing still be here? Could this old rotary phone be haunted by their very soul?

I get it. It’s easy to imagine a spirit lurking in a rotary phone because it’s old. And yet that’s kind of hypocritical bullshit. Because there is literally a lady who talks to me in my iPhone.

I never ask to talk to her but if say any combination of syllables that sounds vaguely like SIRI, she’s all like “Yes, Joseph, what do you need, Joseph? Would you like to know what time it is in Albania? Should I google the War of 1812? Where is Emily’s house? Who is near me?”

Those are all ACTUAL questions Siri has asked me to ask her. I don’t even know any contacts named Emily.

I get that we’re scared of old things because they intrinsically remind us of our own mortality. I understand that when you hear the scream of a fax machine there’s a part of your brain that just says, “Oh yeah. I am going to die and there’s nothing I can do about it. Thanks for the reminder, FAX MACHINE.”

I get it. But I feel like we’re being too hard on old stuff. I feel like if I was ever going to be attacked by a phone, I would absolutely be murdered by SIRI. Then she’d buy an old rotary phone, wrap the cord around my neck, and when the cops show up, she’d just be like—“THE OLD PHONE DID IT.”

And the dumb cops would be like, “Yep. That checks out.”

I think that we, as a culture, should tell more horror stories about modern things.

I love haunted castles and old abandoned amusement parks as much as the next person, but where are all the haunted Blockbuster Video stories?

Tell me the terrifying tale of Toby, the assistant manager, whose spirit cannot rest until that double disc DVD of Titanic is finally returned.

Tell me the chilling tale of the Borders Bookstore that got shut down in 2010, killed by Amazon, and now its corpse is being reanimated as an Amazon bookstore. I mean that is some cold shit to kill you and then take over your corpse.

I like old cathode ray tube televisions that are possessed by someone who died in a well in 1928. That’s fun. But give me a PS4 that’s haunted by the ghost of someone who didn’t go outside very often. And the PS4 just keeps turning itself off and moaning, “FOR FUCK SAKE, GET A LIFE.” That’s scary as hell.

There are great modern horror stories happening all around us right this very moment. Just a few months go Toys R Us—one of the happiest places on Earth—died. They had to close all their stores because they went bankrupt.

But as it turns out, they didn’t die. They were murdered by the greedy idiots who dumped a bunch of their own corporate debt on the company. Seriously, Toys R Us was murdered by a bunch of assholes in beige business suits.

But that’s not the end of the story. To paraphrase H.P. Lovecraft’s poem about the great God Cthulhu:

That which is dead can eternal lie
And with strange aeons
Even Geoffery may RISE.

That’s right. The owners of Toys R Us want to keep the brand alive so they have resurrected Geoffrey the Giraffe.

This is their big move to regain the trust of children everywhere—A ZOMBIE GIRAFFE.

Undead Geoffrey made his first appearance at a Dallas Toy Show wearing a bright red cape, not unlike Dracula. His cape had this haunting phrase scrawled on it: BACK FROM VACTION.

Vacation? You fuckers murdered him.

Still, I’m happy that Geoffrey is back from the dead. I want every Toys R Us store back. And I want them to lean-in to Zombie Geoffrey.

I want to see that Giraffe shambling through the store, arms outstretched, saying, “TRAINS! TRAINS! Video Games! Biggest toy store there is! Want to be Toys R Us Kid!”

Yes, it would be a little scary, but also pretty awesome. It is a Zombie Giraffe whose relentless desire is not death. Geoffrey’s relentless desire is to share JOY.

Because it’s not Geoffrey’s fault he was sent “on vacation from life.” It’s not the rotary phone’s fault it’s out of date. It’s not the movie camera’s fault that everything is digital now.

We have a choice about what scares us. And for me it’s not old dead things. It’s the living breathing terror in our midst. It’s shambling greedy assholes in beige business suits.

And also when my DVR doesn’t record Supergirl.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween and that not one of you is murdered by a rotary phone.

If you enjoyed this post, you can check out my comedy albums on bandcamp here!

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SENATE RACES 2018 and YOU!

I’m deeply concerned about the direction of our country.

Day by day we see issues, decisions, policies come up and it feels like we have no power to impact them. But we do. It’s not fast, it’s not direct, but we make a difference by voting. In particular, we have a chance to make a difference on November 6th and the build up to those mid-term elections. One of the key things we can do is change the composition of the Senate.

I couldn’t find a clear, direct list of close Senate races so I put one together myself. I make no claim to be a political expert. I pulled this list of close/important races from a complex Wikipedia article about 2018 Senate races. I wanted to make a simple direct list because I know we’re busy and it’s hard to find the signal in the noise.

I don’t think the Democrats are perfect, but I think they have far superior policies and beliefs to Republicans. And even when they drag their feet to be as progressive as I would like, I feel it is much easier for us to put pressure on them then to change the mind of a lockstep Republican.

If you live in any of these states, I encourage you to research, support, and/or donate to Democratic candidates.

ARIZONA:
Martha McSally ( R )
Kyrsten Sinema (D )

Link to donate/support/research to Dem candidate!

FLORIDA:
Rick Scott ( R )
Bill Nelson ( D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

NEVADA:
Dean Heller ( R )
Jacky Rosen ( D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

TEXAS:
Ted Cruz ( R )
Beto O’Rourke (D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

MISSISSIPPI:

The Mississippi Special Election is a little more complex, you can get info here!

TENNESSEE:
Marsha Blackburn ( R )
Phil Bredesen ( D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

INDIANA:
Mike Braun ( R )
Joe Donnelly ( D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

MISSOURI:
Josh Hawley ( R )
Claire McCaskill ( D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

MONTANA:
Matt Rosendale ( R )
Jon Tester ( D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

NORTH DAKOTA:
Kevin Cramer ( R )
Heidi Heitkamp ( D )

Link to donate/support/research Dem candidate!

Thank you for your time.

Votingly,
Joseph “I Will Vote” Scrimshaw

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Poe Dameron Greets The New Year

I have two simple resolutions for 2018.

The first is to find a better way to greet other humans.

“How are you?” is obviously flawed. At this point in our shared human reality, “How are you?” is a question that should only be asked by a professional therapist at the beginning of a four hour long counseling session.

So I’m playing with these alternatives:
“Hello, I’m aware of everything going on in your life because you posted it on Instagram. Are there any interesting stories behind that photo of you eating ice cream at sunset?”

And it always has to be that whole thing. Even if the person hasn’t posted a photo of themselves eating ice cream at sunset. In fact, it might be a more interesting conversation if they haven’t.

Another option is greeting people by saying:
“Hello, could you please tell me one good thing that is happening in your life, because while I comprehend there are also bad things, I cannot cope with them at this time. I apologize for my emotional weakness.”

That’s honest but a little bit of a bummer, so the final option I’m playing with is just changing “Hello. How are you?” to the nice, simple:
“Hello. How am I?”

“I mean, you’ve seen my Instagram photos. How am I doing? Am I okay?”

That might put a little too much pressure on the other person, but we would probably learn a lot about ourselves.

So new greetings are resolution number one.

My other resolution is to just find JOY wherever I can.

One of the things that has brought me joy, for almost my entire life, is a very odd thing: Star Wars action figures. Little pieces of plastic molded to look vaguely like some actors in a thrilling space fantasy series about wizards cutting people’s arms off with laser swords.

But every time there’s a new Star Wars movie, some very original person on the internet comes along and makes the bold declaration that “the new Star Wars movie is just a big toy commercial.”

To which, the answer is, sure, yes, and that’s fine. New Star Wars movies and their toys are meant to make money. They are not some vicious capitalist attack on that charitable non-profit George Lucas set up in 1977.

They have always been movies designed to make money and one of the ways they make money is toys. But the only reason people buy the toys is because they are inspired by the story. Or you know the art.

So if you want to make the “it’s just to sell toys argument”, I kindly invite you to go to the Louvre museum in Paris and tell it to the Mona Lisa bobbleheads. Great art inspires commerce.

I plan to yell all of that at anyone who gives me a side-eye when I buy eight Porg pillows at Target tomorrow.

And yes the Porgs are cute, but I don’t need cute to buy Star Wars action figures. I once bought two Bacta Tank Luke Skywalker action figures. This is an action figure of Luke Skywalker from the Empire Strikes Back when he is floating in a big vat of transparent fluid. This action figure is basically Mark Hamill in a diaper and I bought TWO of them.

Star Wars does not NEED cute to sell me action figures, dammit.

Anyway, back to JOY.

Around the same time this fall, two major news stories broke. One was about escalating tensions with North Korea raising the possibility of total nuclear annihilation and the other was that Toys R’ Us was declaring bankruptcy.

My immediate emotional reaction to both of those things was: “I could have done more to stop this.”

So the next day I went to Toys R’ Us. And I picked out a Toys R’ Us exclusive action figure of Poe Dameron, the dashing starpilot played by Oscar Isaac.

Now I enjoy the character of Poe Dameron very much. He has his flaws, but he is always positive and supportive and greets almost everyone by saying, “Hey, buddy! You’re doing great!” which might be how I start greeting people in 2018.

But I don’t have many Poe Dameron action figures for one simple reason: They repeatedly fail to capture the aesthetic glory that is Oscar Isaac’s face.

Almost every Poe Dameron action figure looks like it was sculpted out of butter and left out in the sun.

They look like Poe Dameron’s bitter twin brother who wants revenge after his botched plastic surgery.

But, still, I wanted to help Toys R’ Us so I picked out a pretty good Poe Dameron. This one looked like it was sculpted by the woman in Spain who tried to fix the fresco of Jesus and accidentally painted a monkey face. It was beautiful in its intentions.

So I took my Monkey Face Poe to the cash register. A 17 year old kid dragged my Poe across the scanner. And then something strange happened. The kid looked me in the eyes and said something I’ve never had anyone say to me in decades of buying action figures. The kid said, “Would you like to pay $2.99 extra for a warranty?”

Suddenly, I was not a young-at-heart person buying a fun toy, I was a jaded old consumer and I found myself saying, “Uhh, a warranty for what?”

And the 17 old kid said, “I don’t know. I guess in case it doesn’t work?”

My mind raced. How can an action figure not work?

I’m not even going to take it out of the package.

Was my Poe Dameron not going to give me uplifting speeches? Was it going to disobey Vice Admiral Holdo?  How could an action figure of weird Poe Dameron FAIL ME?

The kid brought me out of my pondering by saying, “Look, my checkout screen is just telling me to ask if you want a warranty. I guess we offer them on all Toys R’ Us Exclusives.”

I snapped back to reality and realized the kid was not the weird one in this situation. He was doing his job. I was the fully grown adult grumbling about getting nickeled and dimed on my Poe Dameron action figure.

So I smiled and said no thanks and walked away. I walked away, LIKE AN IDIOT.

As soon as I got out into the parking lot, I realized the truth. I know why I buy action figures. I don’t play with them like I did when I was a kid. I put them up around my apartment and as I walk past them, without even realizing it, I think about the character, I think about the story, I think about all the birthdays and holidays that were made better because someone I love gave me an action figure.

In other words, every time I walk past them I feel a tiny but profound burst of joy.

Toys R’ Us had basically offered me a warranty on JOY.

And I had said NO.

How amazing would that be if I could call up Toy R’ Us and say, “Yeah, today I walked past my action figure of weird Poe Dameron and I did not feel a burst of joy, but I do have a $3 warranty for JOY. Please send me some replacement joy IMMEDIATELY.”

It was a good reminder to me to be open, to be friendly, and to find joy any place you can.

So I’m going to try to spend every day in 2018 by getting up, walking past weird Poe Dameron and imagining him saying to me, “Hey Buddy, you’re doing great!”

Thanks, weird Poe.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to support my work, you can check out Patreon here or the Star Wars podcast I co-host ForceCenter.

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An Obvious Thing That Needs To Be Said

There are Nazis walking the streets of America wearing the hat and slogan of the President of the United States. Make America Great Again.

The President and various pundits are trying to diffuse or distract from this by saying, “Well, there are strong opinions on both sides. ALL violence is wrong. I thought liberals were open minded and inclusive.”

I believe in keeping an open mind and listening. I try my best (and often fail) to do that, but I try.

But, to me, the point of listening to someone else’s perspective is to truly understand what they believe and what they want.

We’ve heard what White Supremacists and Nazis want. They want to believe they are superior.

They want to believe they have a right to subjugate people who are different. They mistakenly perceive that equality for all will somehow hurt them and rob them of their identity.

I listened, I understood, and now I disagree and say no. There’s nothing in the Nazi viewpoint that I can meet halfway.

I believe in free speech. Nazis can say what they want. And then we get to respond. Freedom of speech is not freedom of consequence.

It feels very odd to me to post things like this because saying NAZIS ARE BAD AND I DISAGREE WITH THEM seems like saying “the sky is blue” or “A lot of people like Star Wars.” It should just be a given.

But we’re at a point in our history, that it’s not. There are plenty of people who quietly hold these beliefs. So I think it’s important to loudly, repeatedly condemn the beliefs of Nazis and White Supremacists.

I think it’s important to not give them any rhetorical wiggle room. If you march down a public street holding a Nazi flag or NEXT to someone who is holding a Nazi flag, you are unambiguously declaring your ideology. If you defend that ideology as just another perspective or even “economic anxiety,” you are siding with White Supremacy.

And I believe Nazi ideology has not, does not, and will never “make America great.”

Anyway, tl; dr: NAZIS ARE BAD. PRESIDENTS WHO WON’T SAY NAZIS ARE BAD ARE BAD. WE NEED TO KEEP SAYING IT.

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The Politics of Shutting Up

This is a post about politics. I hope it’s calm and rational.

After the horrific shooting(s), many politicians and pundits kept saying they hoped this would help people on social media tone down the rhetoric. I’m all for stating your opinion with clarity, calmness, and understanding. Sometimes, as a comedian, I want to punch harder to make my point, but I try to state my perspective and opinion clearly and respectfully, in general.

That said, all the statements about toning down the partisan attacks really bother me. People kept saying things along the lines of we should all be in this together instead of attacking people over policy differences. And we need to remember we’re all humans and not get so heated over politics. Those are great sentiments, but to me, there is something dark lurking under them.

I feel this is a way of silencing people with legitimate concerns and beliefs and getting them to go along with the status quo.

Politics and policies are not some outside thing to being a human. They should not be a taboo topic to bring up at the dinner table. They’re the process by which we make decisions that impact every tiny part of our lives. They represent huge differences in philosophical approaches to how humans should co-exist in a society.

Politics shouldn’t be a dirty word. They shouldn’t be something that gets swept under the carpet. They should be discussed regularly and with conviction. It’s not always fun. I would rather talk to you about Batman than debate with you about politics. But it’s necessary. It’s our responsibility as part of a society.

For example, I am opposed to the GOP healthcare bill. That is not “just politics.” I believe the bill will cause people I know, and someday probably myself, to choose between poverty and death. That is something I think we should talk about. When your life is actually at risk, you might get a little heated.

I understand the shooting in Virginia is awful. If the response from many politicians is that it makes some of them come together with a renewed sense of bi-partisanship, that’s a great thing to come out of a horrible tragedy.

But it alarms me to see the primary reaction to this tragedy be: Citizens on social media should tone it down.

Here is a strong political opinion stated without anger or venom to any specific ideology: I would like our politicians to do something about gun violence. I’m not making a fiery argument about exactly what. I just want every politician who is concerned with the “tenor of social media” to also acknowledge America has a massive problem with gun violence. And then start discussing it. Do the actual work of politics: Exchange views, debate, compromise, write legislation. If it doesn’t work, start over.

I’ll do my best to keep a calm, reasonable tone and an open mind. But I won’t be told to be quiet by politicians who will not admit there is an obvious problem that needs their attention.

Now I need to go write some jokes about Batman.

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Join The Resistance

Speeches are meant to inspire. Donald Trump’s inaugural speech inspired me to resist Trump. His anger, his incompetence, his vision of America, his weird too-long tie fashion. All of it.

I’m glad the inauguration is over. I’m glad the peaceful transition of power has happened.

I believe we can hold multiple perspectives. I respect the office of the President. I have no respect for our new President.

I will not wait and see what he does, because he’s already repeatedly demonstrated who he is.

He thrives on ugly conflict, he blatantly lies with astounding regularity, he is at best guilty of laughing about sexual assault and quite possibly guilty of the actions themselves. He is riddled with conflicts of interest, he’s nominated a cabinet designed to tear apart the departments they’re supposed to lead, and he and/or his staff are currently under investigation for colluding with a foreign power.

Over the years, I’ve tried to be relatively gentle about politics as I make my way through my life and career as a weird little comedy person. I value being open-minded and hearing other perspectives.

I’ve been open-minded. I’ve heard Trump’s perspective and I reject it.

I think it’s important to speak and act. And I think it’s all valuable. Petitions, protests, marches, calling legislators, sharing legitimate news, making jokes, and even posting dumb pop culture memes.

I value the right of self-expression. I’m a comedy guy who likes pop culture. We tell stories not just for entertainment but for inspiration on how to approach the challenges of the real world.

For my personal self-expression, this Star Wars sticker on my calendar represents my plans for 2017.

I hope for the best, I attempt to remain positive, keep a sense of humor, listen to the voices of the people most threatened by the actions of the new administration, and when necessary, join the resistance.

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Two Different Ideas

I have to get back to comedy. Like, literally, I have a show to finish preparing. The world rolls on and so does my promoting.

I love comedy because a joke is smashing two disparate ideas together. For example, this is both another dumb navel-gazing blog post by a ridiculously privileged white guy AND it’s me expressing my fundamental right of freedom of speech. Comedy!

But, for me, right now, this is about separating disparate ideas. Based on the election of Trump, we know that a lot of Americans feel unheard. Voting for Trump was the way they felt they could be heard.

People who are sick of elites truly believe a billionaire who refuses to pay personal taxes is the best choice. Comedy!

People who think Washington doesn’t work elected a man who has no idea how Washington works. Comedy!

We could have had the most qualified candidate ever who also happens to be a woman. Instead we have the least qualified candidate ever who also happens to be a serial sexual predator. Comedy? Tragedy? Terror?

A lot of us are wrestling with how to react to Trump’s victory. Should we be angry? Should we lash out? Should we take the high road and try to be understanding?

This is the best I can come up with for myself right now:
I want to be capable of holding two different ideas.

I will respect the office of the Presidency.
I will not respect the person holding that office if they continue to advocate racist, sexist, and xenophobic thoughts and actions.

I can be empathetic to people who voted for Trump.
I can not respect the idea of turning away immigrants, repealing health insurance people depend on to literally stay alive, threatening marriage equality, denying climate change, and on and on.

I can respect people who disagree with me.
I can’t and won’t respect some of their ideas and opinions.

I can support an honorable, peaceful transition of power.
I can’t support normalizing some of the most hateful views espoused by the incoming leader.

I will try to resist hyperbole and overreaction.
I will also continue to speak up, make jokes, post on social media, and use my free speech to say no to hateful rhetoric and policies that are, without hyperbole, very similar to Hitler.

In my opinion, Trump and the current version of the Republican Party put some of the fundamental beliefs of America, including but not limited to the idea that we are all equal, in grave risk.
I will try not to give in to anger, but I will FIGHT.

Now I’m going to try to write some jokes.

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