C&C: Do you dress up to take your kids trick-or-treating?
I dress up even when it’s not Halloween. So, yeah, definitely then. And, I guess I could use the kids as an excuse, but, I mean — it’s Halloween, right? How can somebody not dress up? Last year, or maybe the year before, I even won the CU costume contest. Had to do the (conventional) splits on-stage for it, though, which meant leg wraps for weeks afterwards. But it was worth it, and, if you’re a zombie cheerleader, you’ve got to sell it, too. And, of course the kids and me troll the neighborhoods for candy. And I usually abscond with all the Almond Joys, of course. They’ve got nuts, are just far superior to Mounds. And now they’re old enough — talking kids, not candies — to hit some of the haunted houses with me, which is great. Only bad thing there is I’ve usually blown all my money on costumery by then. My favorite part of any of it’s the eyeliners, though. Was so jealous of all the actor people in high school, how they could just wear eyeliner from rehearsal and it was okay. Out in the hackysack circle or laying under my truck, working on it, I had no excuse for eyeliner, so couldn’t walk away wearing it, and feel all serious and dramatic. Sucks. Or, sucked. Though I do recall in seventh grade getting an eye infection from letting all the girls in history class doll up my eyes like I secretly liked. That infection: completely worth it.
C&C: The zombie class you taught – did that really happen? If so HOW did you pitch it, or do you just get to make some of your own classes? (I don’t really know how that works) And were you super serious for real about the whole thing?
It was deadly serious, yep. Done it two, three times, now. Another coming up. Love it. And, didn’t really have to pitch it. The way it works is somebody higher up in the academic food chain asked if I wanted to run a lit course, and I wrote back with “Zombies?” Was that simple. The first time around, though, I didn’t know much. I mean, maybe more than the average person, but still hardly enough. Now, I know so, so much more. Just back from talking to a zombie class, even, at an alt-high school around Denver (Longview). It’s happening everywhere. The plague is here, I mean. It’s on our shelves, in our catalogues, on our shirts. We’re all the walking dead. Ad campaigns and fast food chains are making sure of it. And work. And overstimulation, the correction of which is that kind of single-mindedness we associate with the shufflers: I’m not looking at any billboards, not looking at any of you. I’m just placing one foot after the other, plugged into my earbuds so you hardly exist.
C&C: The zombies – they’re pretty much the perfect blank slate for projecting the things we hate about ourselves onto an Other and then shooting it in the head, right? Also, I’m a firm believer that popular television shows – and especially since reality shows started, those specifically – are the perfect reflection of the U.S.’s weaknesses, Americans’ feelings of shame for their behavior. Do you get caught up in any of that, or do you watch much television at all?
Have never watched a reality show, so can’t say. I mean, I even skip the part in Jeopardy where Alex asks the contestants about themselves, because I see my manufactured interest in them as a gateway to reality television. Well. I guess I once or twice did watch part of that show where they build motorcycles. I was in a hotel room, had cable, which I don’t have at home (my television is either Netflix or Hulu). But it was infuriating, the way they kept cutting away from the bike-building to have people kind of monologue about what was in their head. Trick is, I completely don’t care what’s in people’s heads. I like to write my own versions of them, and then lay them over that person, then be surprised when it’s not a perfect fit. Anyway, my plan with reality television is to hold my breath long enough for it all to pass me by. You know in Eggers’ Heartbreaking book, where he’s talking about his efforts to be on some Mtv reality show thing? That was the exact point in the book where I disengaged. I mean, in a story, I can keep up with wanting to slay the legendary unicorn or find the ‘heavy water’ that’s going to save the steampunk world, but I just can’t wrap my head around wanting to be part of reality television. Or the gameshow stuff, either—American Idol, all that. I mean, Carrie Underwood can sing, and I’m glad she’s out there singing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think that whole gameshow reality television thing’s not detrimental to our chances of making it out of this century as a species. Or, as a species with integrity, maybe worthy of crossing the void of space. However, Dead Set, man. Somebody asked me yesterday what my favorite zombie movie is, and I knee-jerked Return of the Living Dead, of course, but might have finally settled on Quarantine/[Rec]. Could I have included television, though, then Dead Set would top that list, for me. And it’s a reality television spoof, yes? Which, I’m sure I miss a lot of the nuance, as I’m not properly conditioned on reality television, but, just as a zombie story, that thing’s pure, and good, and I want more more more. So, of course, The Walking Dead. And what I’m most impressed with with it is how Kirkman isn’t making it strictly adhere to the comics. I mean, the comics rock, but they’re really improving the story for television. They’re finding those kind of dramatic throughlines which tend to only be findable with both retrospection and some group-think. I’m very satisfied. Only thing I’m worried about is that the Walking Dead story isn’t going to be at a good-enough stopping point by the time the money falls out of the zombie boom. But we’ve still got a year or two, at least, and the sellers of stuff’ll keep marketing zombies at us for a bit after that, so maybe Walking Deadcan get past the Governor, anyway. Hopefully. And, your take on zombies, how we shove our problems down their throats and then shoot their heads off, that’s what Klosterman says too, right? That plowing through your inbox on Monday morning is like mowing down a field of zombies. I think there’s something to that, yeah.
C&C: What did you doodle on your notebooks in junior high/highschool?
Trucks. Or, I should say: GM trucks. Chevy, GMC. Never Dodge or Ford, as they’ve always had rounded corners and edges, and that would take some artistic skill I completely don’t have. But Chevrolets, at least until . . . what? 1988, I think, when they dropped the body style they’d had since about 1973. I can’t draw any Chevy truck after 1987, and can’t do very well on the 1967 – 1972s either. Or, really, any make of truck before 73, they’re out of reach for me, drawing-wise. But there’s a span of years in there I can do. The Gentlemen Jims especially; I can do some half-ton long-bed action, and trim it out proper, give it some twice pipes, sometimes even an arm coming down from the open window. But, it always has to be either straight-on from the side, a kind of forced perspective where everything’s straight on, not just the centerpoint, or straight on from the back. And from the back’s my favorite, because then you can draw in the bolts on the rear-end cover, give a down-the-throat looking into the pipes, get fancy with the mudflaps, all that. I can do a truck from the front, but the results are never good. That’s not the most flattering angle for a truck. The back’s far better. You can even draw yourself drawing the truck as captured in the rearview, if you do it right. So, trucks, that’s what I was mostly drawing. I mean, band names as well, mostly Def Leppard. And in secret I used to try to draw basketballs, but I’d always mark those out fast. They’re seriously hard to draw. There’s no straight edges, and, for me, with a pencil, if there’s not a lot of straight lines, if there’s just rounded stuff all supposed to magically ‘become’ something, then game immediately over. I have no chance in that kind of arena. Oh, too, if we’re talking second grade, then, yeah, it was trucks by then, definitely — all my Hot Wheels, over and over — but it was also Battleship Yamato. I was a complete Starblazersjunkie at that age. And at this age as well. Just watched them all again with my son. If that’s not the best definition of true happiness, then I guess I don’t know what that definition might be.
C&C: You seem to be, maybe, a LITTLE bit accident prone…. Do you think this is true, or that it’s more of the law of averages at work? If you do X-thousand number of things you’re bound to end up in surgery Y number of times, or are you accident-prone?
Yeah, I think it’s just averages. I tend to jump first, look where I’m landing second. If at all. And I’m so fascinated with blades, forever. None of that adds up to zero stitches. But I am getting pretty tired of being laid up for months at a time, so am trying to be very aware of things that can hurt me, and things that I don’t think can hurt me but that can probably secretly hurt me even worse. Which, that doesn’t leave any room for things that can’t hurt me, but I’m hoping that’s the proper mindset to keep me out of the emergency room for a few weeks in a row. I mean, two, three months ago, just playing with my dog, I broke my nose, yeah? Then the doc had to set it twice, which mostly sucked. And, trying on basketball shoes two nights ago at Sports Authority (I still can’t do stairs so well, but I’m getting thoughts like I need to be playing ball again), I tweaked my knee, had to give those shoes their test-walk while limping, which I think kind of made the sales associate curious about whether I was making the proper purchase here. But, last night, in the howling stupid wind and the ridiculous snow, when my fence blew down and I had to go slam t-bars into the ground and stretch wire across all of creation to keep the world standing, I was actually able to not really hurt myself in a permanent way. My son did come up hurt, somewhat, but he’s young, tough, still has Wolverine kind of healing properties. Very unlike me. And I guess it’s a mark of getting old(-ish) that, reading the paper or a magazine, about some kid getting chewed half-up under a train, I of course flash back to all the bad-idea trains I’ve ran alongside, closed my eyes and jumped for, then held on screaming when the train chugged over some of those Stand By Me kind of trestle bridges. Or, I flash back and kind of shiver, I mean. And apologize in my head to my mom. But, also, just carrying groceries out, I’ve sliced my ankle wide open on baby food jars, had to get stitches. I was giving Boy Scouts a lesson in knife use once and just flayed my finger open, miserably deep, a scar I still carry. Second time I went skiing I came back with a skull fracture down the middle of my face. I’ve had bike wrecks that left bones pushing out through the skin, I’ve played games with bowling balls and heads, I’ve jumped from trucks that I probably should have parasailed from instead. And I guess I’ve had axe handles through my hand, I’ve had spiders lay eggs in me, have had all kinds of animals kick and bite (and pee on) me, have had way too many concussions to really remember, but none of it’s stuff I go looking for. It’s all stuff that just happens on the way.
C&C: Can you just tell me what happened in the events surrounding that fateful Boy Scouts meeting/demonstration on knife safety??
I was telling them that old thing about ‘point the knife away from yourself, always,’ no matter what, and, to show them how it was foolproof, I angled my blade away and ran it down the long side of a piece of construction paper — we were in some Sunday school room of a Baptist church — only, since my hand was at the end of that piece of paper, I of course sliced right into the top of my left middle finger. Didn’t hit the bone, quite (which I’ve done, with my thumb, so know that scrapey feeling well), but did go deep and ugly. But I covered it in a flash, too, even though they all saw it happen. Then I wrapped it in a clump of paper towels and tried to keep teaching stuff — non-knife-stuff. Except, every time I’d raise my left hand, blood would slip down my arm, into my sleeve. And then it kept dripping all over the Sunday school room, on the counters, the supplies, so finally I got somebody else to cover, slipped down to the bathroom, tried to freeze the cut with cold tapwater. Which didn’t come close to working. Nothing did. By the time I came back I had scotch tape and more paper towels, but was bleeding through all that. Didn’t get infected, though, so, you know. There’s that. I don’t think anybody learned anything about knife safety that day, though. Least of all me. And that troop didn’t learn anything about knife safety from their next teacher, either. He wound up on the news, for stabbing somebody. He was a pretty good guy, just, you know, had to stab somebody, one day.
C&C: When I asked your birthday you mentioned you shared it with Robert E. Howard. Does your birthday feel a little more special, being connected with the Conan-creator? Like it’s an important day anyway?
I wish I’d known it when I was first discovering Conan, then it might be more special. I mean, it still rocks, and makes me secretly think I’m his reincarnation, except of course I can’t write like him, and can only dream of making somebody like Conan up. But we are from the same part of the country. I know his Hyperborea. It’s bleak, and the wind blows a lot, and you can see your enemies coming from a long ways off.
C&C: If you picked your soundtrack, say, just 5 songs, to your actual life so far, what 5 songs would you pick? AND, from the other side, if you could pick 5 songs for your soundtrack to what your life ideally would have been like, what would THOSE 5 songs be?
Wow. This is something I’ve never even once thought about. Five favorites, sure, but five that could serve as my soundtrack? Man. I’d say Don Williams’ “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” I guess. Which isn’t the Waylon Dukes one. I identify with so many of the turns of that song. Like, every one. And Meat Loaf, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” Just because of that high school . . . I don’t know: desperation? But a kind that’s freeing, somehow. It’s as real as anything I know, and is maybe what I’m made from. Then Alabama’s “The Boy.” Now that I’m a dad, I know that story from both sides, but forever and ever, I just knew it from the kids’ angle. And that was more than enough. Twice more. And, everybody would say this, but I’ll say it too: Springsteen, “The River.” Every line of that’s like something I’m remembering, that he just happens to be saying. And, last, I’m thinking probably Mulehead’s “Baby Brother.” Either that or Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley’s “Brotherly Love.” But they’re kind of the same song, too.
And, ‘five from the ideal version of me,’ man. I mean, I’m pretty happy with the five I’ve got. I guess, I don’t know — Mac Davis on “Hard to be Humble,” say. I’ve always dug the attitude of that one, and the fun. And Waylon with “Gemini Twin.” I always wanted there to be another side of me. To be complicated like that. To be unpredictable. And Bob Seger, “Against the Wind,” because, when it’s all said and done, I think that’s what you want to be able to say about yourself. But it’s important to be the guy from Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” too. If Reverend Smith punches you in the nose, you’re doing something right, right? And maybe . . . I know: “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” Deniece Williams, from Footloose. Because, even in my ideal version, I think I’m always still broke. Don’t really understand any other way to try to be.
C&C: You obviously collect t-shirts, either on purpose or accidentally – what t-shirt are you wearing?
Right now it’s a City Light t-shirt, though earlier today — this is my dress shirt, to talk to that zombie class — it was a five-dollar Walmart shirt. Walmart and Target are my go-to places for clothes, really. Well, western wear places for pants, but this is a shirts question. And of course all the used stores for shirts. That way you can get them already broke in. Problem is, sometimes a girl’s worn them, and sat with her knees up under it so it’s all stretched out. Anyway, the other day I thought I needed to save room in my closet so I cut the sleeves off about half of my shirts. But, I don’t know. I have a lot more rags, now, but I’m not sure I have more room. But, yeah, t-shirts, they’re intrinsically good, I think. They’re like a tattoo you can change when it’s not really ‘you’ anymore. Also just blank t-shirts can rock. I was so sad when Walmart quit carrying this three-pack of my all-time favorite shirt. And now I can’t find it anywhere. I have one left only — well, two if you count the trashed one. And the one I have, it’s got a hole at the neck already, from where I clip my pen in. So love it, though. It’s got the one pocket, is kind of mottled grey so it doesn’t show ketchup or dog hair too much: perfect. Probably my favorite of all my shirts is this Waylon one I have, though. It matches my Waylon buckle and Waylon keychain, but I try not to wear them all at once. Figure it might overload somebody, if they see me in just the right light. Or, I say it’s my favorite, but I guess I’ve also got a box of real favorites. Just, all of them are now too delicate to wear anymore. Sucks. One of them you can’t really even tell it’s a shirt so much anymore. I stole it from my girlfriend (now my wife) probably twenty-two years ago, I guess. Then there’s a Mickey Mouse shirt I think I also stole from her. Stolen shirts are always the best, right? Just pick it up off somebody’s floor and slip into it, and, man, you can tell right away. It’s like Arthur pulling that sword from that stone. You know this is it, that you and this shirt, you’re going all the way, are going to drive holes in the night, are going to be together for days at a time, one of you spilling Dr. Pepper, one of you sopping it up. Pretty much I try just to wear black or dark grey shirts, for obvious reasons — am I talking too much about t-shirts here? — but, when they start getting all those nicks in them like shirts do, especially if you’re welding or cutting, or just working (especially fencing), one trick I’ve found is, if you have to go out later but don’t want to look like your shirt has holes all in it, you can cut little squares of electric tape. But, don’t put them on the shirt. Shirts are insulted by those kind of make-do bandaids, will shrug them off almost instantly. And anyway, it messes the hang of the fabric up. However, you can put those little squares all over your body, lined up with the holes, and just not move too much. Only bad thing might be, late that night, stumbling in, peeling out of your shirt, you’ll be scared for a moment. All these little black splotches on you. Like, Where have you been? What have you been doing? Is this a technovirus like from Batman Beyond or Scooby’s Cyberchase? Luckily, nope. But tell your heart that.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets?
My wallet, this old biker wallet I’ve had for so many years I don’t even remember when it’s from. It’s cheap, all the fake leather cracking, the blue underneath showing, and has been attached to so many versions of the same chain. And it’s not a real Harley wallet, either, but a Jack Daniels one. I’d forgot that. It used to have that patch on it, though, except that patch would always make it hard to stuff in my pocket, so it had to go. And, okay, I’m lying: just actually looked at it, and I don’t know what I’m talking about with a ‘Jack Daniels wallet.’ This is Harley, OEM. And that’s my left rear pocket. Left front: nothing. Ever. Well, every once in a while chapstick, but I suck at carrying chapstick. Right rear: nothing either. Ever. Sometimes a folded piece of paper with something I really need on it, but it always goes through the washer, so all I get are flecks of white. And, right front’s my Spyderco Police model. Used to be Spyder-edged, but now’s ground down to just plain, as keeping that serration sharp’s a serious chore. Especially when, if you’ve got that aggressive of a serration, you kind of want to cut everything. And, no keys in my pockets because I’ve lost too many sets of keys, learned back in high school that the only way to go is to clip them to my beltloop. And, maybe I should mention I’m not wearing Levi’s 517s or 501s right now, like usual — and only — but some stained old Carhartts. Because it’s ridiculous snowy today, and I thought I was going to be walking through a lot of it, so needed some pants I could do that in. Nothing against all my Levi’s, but Carhartt’s are, finally, tougher. Even if the first pair of them I put on this morning finally had too many holes to try to teach in, or from. These ones now, though: just oil and grease and bloodstains. Oh, wait, just checked: I do have something in my right front pocket. Can’t believe it: my cell phone. Can’t carry it anywhere else. And, it’s not that it and my knife are in the same pocket, as is always the case with my jeans, it’s that Carhartts have this cool little skinny pocket at your thigh on the right side. Two of them, really. Love those pockets. No clue what they’re for. Knives, I think. My cell will fit in one of them, but it’s hopeless trying to extract it. And, that’s the story of my pockets. For today. Wish I’d known this question was coming, I’d have baked a cake.