For what should be obvious reasons, I’ve been a little itchy to post a story, lately. And this happened the other day, which seemed like the perfect excuse to post a reprint by me. Of a Stephen King satire I published several years back in a funny horror story anthology, Exit Laughing, from Walt Hicks’ late and lamented Hellbound Books.
This isn’t exactly a story, proper. I told Walt I’d deliver a Spoof of Stephen King, and…then when I went to do it I just had no fucking idea WHAT about Stephen King you’d distill into one set of a few thousand words or less to really get some zingers in on King. I mean…there are just so many targets. This is a massive subject for nerd ribbing, clearly. And we’re just talking about a short story, and I already had one story in the book, so this one had to be really short.
I finally got a handle on it when I realized I didn’t have to make jokes at the expense of Stephen King’s fiction in the little space I had, not directly. Or at least not in the context of fiction itself that had to be readable and worthy as fiction, beyond readers just getting the jokes. I could aim at something else Stephen King writes almost as much as he writes fiction, a much smaller target, and hit everything I wanted in very few words while I was at it.
So I promised a spoof of Stephen King stories and delivered a spoof of Stephen King’s introductions to his stories instead. And so, people waiting for another 666ties story, here’s something I wrote along the way that informed the writing that became 666ties to tide you over: “The Adverbing.”
“Baby, take a look at your man
He’s a green van drivin’ man
And he’s got a master plan
Your green van drivin’
Rock ‘n’ roll man”
–Somebody from one of my other stories who may or may not turn up in this one
Introduction: Who Do You Love? (And Can You Dig It?)
I know, right: introductions to short stories, like they need them? Bradbury didn’t need them. Bloch didn’t need them. Matheson didn’t need them. Lovecraft didn’t need them, Poe didn’t need them—hell, even Ira-goddamned-Levin didn’t need them. But dig this and dig it deep: it seems to work. You all love it. An introduction may be in order.
(An introduction to the introductions—Ooo-wee bay-bee! as Frankie Ford used to say.)
I got the idea from a writer friend of mine, way back when. He was a writer much braver than me. He used to do things like write entire stores while sitting in store windows, which impressed the hell out of me, I tell you what.
Around the same time John Lennon got himself murdered by that Jesus freak, my friend died too. (Reagan refused to croak when he got shot, so never let anybody tell you that happy crappy about coming in threes) His assassin was a cranky old man who moved into his house and took over his life and still lives, I guess, off the stories my friend wrote forty years ago and a series of frivolous lawsuits that become more bizarre with each passing year.
Between the Smart Mop Top-turned-Beautiful Dreamer and my bosom chum, I can’t tell you who I miss more, but I know which one came up with this idea of writing about short stories before and after the stories and building a whole side career on it, and he was a genius, my friend was, a stone-cold Mr. Mojo Risin’ among men, and every time “Imagine” comes on one of the seventeen radio stations I own (three minutes after the hour, right after Wilson Pickett and I know you know the song, baby), I stop and think “What if?”
Wonder along with me, won’t you, friend? You are my friend, aren’t you, Constant Reader, although I think by now we’re something more than friends? May I take that liberty with you? I think I may. Move a little closer, darlin’.
What if “Imagine” had a spoken intro by Lennon, and then an afterword, too? Imagine (forgive the obvious pun, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll) this: the song comes on, but before the song you get to hear those fantastic sarcastic Liverpudlian tones telling you all about what he was thinking when he wrote the song and what other kinds of music he likes and maybe what color undershorts he’s wearing that day, as he listens to the song one last time before the record’s pressed.
He could talk about McCartney, maybe, and how he thought Paul’s new stuff was like Englebert Humperdink’s and then he’d become pensive, sentimental even. He’d choke up a little, maybe, remembering those early days, the good times. He’d drop a hint that maybe, just maybe, those good times could come again.
Then Yoko might come in with the baby and they could talk about the baby for a while and Lennon would get misty again about how much kids change things, man, and how nothing’s ever the same after you’re a kid, is it?
And then, after the song, here he comes again, the magic man, the Walrus, telling you some more about the weather and funny stories about conditions in the studio that day and asking you if you got it, if the song hit you the way he meant it to and just checking in with you to make sure you’re still listening and you still think he’s cool before you move on to the next song.
Maybe a little bit of the old “Numbah Nine…Numbah Nine…” routine. Just a little peck on the cheek before the two of you boogie one more time.
Can you dig it?
I know I can, and I’m not bigger than Jesus like John Lennon was, no way no how. I’m just bigger than McDonald’s, maybe. It’s all I ever wanted to be. I’m good with it, no matter what the snoots at the National Book Foundation may say about me. Did you know that I own my old high school? Yep. I turned it into a rock ‘n’ roll bed and breakfast. That’s what it’s called: Rock ‘N’ Roll Bed and Breakfast.
It was called Rock ‘N’ Roll High School Bed and Breakfast, but then it turned out that I didn’t write Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, I just thought I did while I was writing that damn dog book. Fuckin’ Ramones sued me, and I thought they were all dead.
Anyway, I put that Distinguished Contribution medal in the trophy case at the entrance, but it fell down behind one of Jimi’s guitars last summer and that’s where it lies, still, as far as I know. I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Just like McDonald’s.
Which I’m like. All I want to be. Just so we’re clear. Rock ‘n’ roll.
Which brings us to this final story, the last coffin nail in this cancer-ridden deck of mine. Remember back in the introduction to this book, the one before all the introductions to the individual stories (There was one, and if you skipped it, I’ll wait while you read it. I’m serious, you missed some of my best stuff, go read it now.), when I portrayed my writing career as the equivalent of that guy who used to spin plates on Ed Sullivan when I was a kid, right before Topo Gigio, can still see that three-inch Philco screen that was all Moms could afford, all that good shit? Well, this one’s not one of my literary dishes, lads and lasses, not one of the works of art I can serve up when I want to, anytime, anywhere, buddy–no, this one’s a screamer. An oldie-but-a-goodie, kiddos, straight from the bowels of the basement of the mind of yours truly on his darkest day.
Can you diiiiiiig it?
You wouldn’t be holding this book if you couldn’t, now would you, Constant Reader? We wouldn’t be dancing, you and I, you wouldn’t have your red dress on top and your boogie shoes beneath if we weren’t both copasetic with a little of the ol’ nasty, the down and dirty, yes sirree bob.
You know you want it, and I’m just the man to give it to you.
Who do you love?
A note for those of you who’ve been doing this grim watusi with me since way back when: yes, you have read this story before in the April 1985 issue of Twilight Zone Magazine, and yes, a few steps have changed since, the tempo slowed in some places, quickened in others, but you can keep up, can’t you? Times change, lives change, people change. We just dance a little different these days.
I wrote this story in the midst of a three-year bender, during which time I also directed that godawful truck movie, and you know Papa can’t dance like that no more. Some language and expressions that seem dated have been upgraded (Boogie 2.0, if you will), the titles of movies and television programs changed to modern ones and half of the characters are now gay. Also, all the kids in the story I wrote in 1984 (and all of us were waiting for Orwell’s version of that year, but it turned out to be Bowie’s, CAN YOU DIG IT) were listening to AC/DC and none of the kids listen to AC/DC anymore these days, so now all the kids in the story like ‘N Sync.
I’ve also gone ahead and added a whole new subplot about baseball. Oh, and there’s a bunch of 9/11 stuff, too. And I changed the Palestinian terrorists to anti-abortion activists from Connecticut because it’s a whole new world, boys and girls, a much scarier world than 1984 was.
But that just makes it a better world for us to boogie in, doesn’t it, baby doll?
Who do you love?
Older, faithful Constant Readers, those out there who’ve danced with Daddy all night long, will also note that the story is quite a bit longer than when it first appeared two decades ago. I was never happy with the story as published, which bears so many of the marks of Twilight Zone editor TED Klein’s red pencil that he may as well have claimed authorship.
I was young, honey pie, and only the literary equivalent of a regional chain of drive-ins, then—an A&W or Red Barn, maybe, circa 1972—and I bowed to Klein’s unyielding pressure to excise seven thousand pages of material. He said it wouldn’t fit in the magazine or ten years’ worth of the magazine. He said it was not only not a short story, but as a novel it could swallow Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, Ulysses and Moby-Dick and still have room to consume all of Proust for dessert while shitting out three or four of my own novels.
That last one stung. He hurt me.
Kiss it and make it better.
Oh, that’s good, baby. You know what I like. (Quoth the Big Bopper.)
As I said, I was young. I made concessions to those bad ol’ gods Marketability and Commercial Success and Please God, Think of the People Who Will Have to Read This. I cannot lie to you, girl: your sugar daddy sold out. I have lived with that secret shame ever since, but no more.
Now, Constant Reader, at last you can read this tale in all its many-splendored glory, as God (and I) intended, all seven thousand and twenty pages of it.
CAN YOU DIIIIIG IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT?
Last but never least, for those in my ka-tet (and you know who you are): you’ll be glad to see that over three hundred characters from my other novels and stories now make appearances in this one, some of them with clever new names and different personalities, as do my favorite characters from every movie I’ve seen and comic book I’ve read. And I mean ever, in my entire life.
Now, who do you love?
Tell me, WHO DO YOU LOVE?
“The Adverbing” originally appeared — in much shorter form and frankly so different from this version it isn’t even the same story — in Deathgrip: Exit Laughing, Hellbound Books, 2006.