Monthly Archives: November 2019

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” Nat King Cole crooned out of the car radio.

Bob Smith angrily snapped it off. Snow was falling on the Long Island Expressway, traffic was thick, and he was distracted enough. He had received a phone call at the office from his wife.

Dear, I want to warn you-“she had said.

“About what? Did Mark’s bus get in all right?”

“Yes, dear, that’s what I’m calling about. He…he looks a lot different than he did at the beginning of the semester. And I don’t think you’re going to like it, and I think you need to prepare yourself for a little surprise.”

“Oh, for pity’s sake, Mary, I’m a grown man. I can handle it.”

“Bob, remember your blood pressure. That’s all I ask.”

He remembered it now, and unclenched his fingers from the steering wheel. What had his idiot son done? He knew he should have forced the boy to get a haircut at Thanksgiving.

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One sunny morning when I was in high school, lying in bed, I thought of a band name.

I don’t know why. I did not have a band to name. “My next band name” jokes were not a thing thirty years ago. It just came to me.

I started with “Pope Pius XII.” Regardlesss of one’s opinion of ol’ Pacelli, you have admit it’s an extremely impressive moniker. Then I added “The Dead Methodists,” because you have the Dead Kennedys and the Dead Milkmen and because Methodists don’t get thought of much unless you are one.

Pope Pius XII & The Dead Methodists. A name that needed something done with it.

So from that day I used at in various projects. When I was writing funny letters to my cousin at summer camp. When I needed to carry out assignments in Computer class, like writing up a “word processing document” and printing on the dot-matrix printer.

But I haven’t thought of it recently, until a dear friend of mine sent me a picture he’d drawn of the band back in the old days. I had forgotten about this picture. I hate forgetting thing.

The classic lineup of PPXII&TDM (the acronym is not all that much shorter than the actual name) was as follows:

  • Me, on drums (I cannot actually play the drums): In this picture I am the one strung up on cables in the upper left. I don’t know why I’m strung up on cable, but I like it.
  • Anthraxus M. Jones, lead vocals: A interstellar rogue fleeing charges of fraud, wire fraud, medical fraud, insurance fraud, securities fraud, perjury, barratry, vexatious litigation, police impersonation, and over three thousand separate jaywalking tickets, Anthraxus crash landed on Earth and joined the band as a way of laying low until the heat was off.
  • Gar “Gar the Barbarian” Dwyer, bass: In addition to being a monster bass player, Gar also channeled (channeling was a very big thing in the late 80s) the spirit of a 10000-year-old barbarian warrior. Fans loved his habit of going into a mid-set berserker range and chopping the head off the nearest roadie.
  • Ronald Reagan, keyboards: Bored to tears in his post-1988 retirement, Ronnie joined the band to get the hell out of the house. Nancy would come backstage and scream at us, horrified at all the mass snorting of Kool-aid.


  • Yog-Sothoth on guitar.

PPXII&TDM soon garnered a massive following. Our first album, Pope Pius XII & The Dead Methodists’ Greatest Hits, produced a Top 10 hit single: “Inhale,Exhale,Inhale,Exhale,” with guest vocalist Darth Vader.

There was more PPXII&TDM lore, quite a bit more. It’s all in boxes up in the attic, and I don’t know where. I just wanted to share the picture, and the name.

Y’know, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that it occurred to me that, should the name ever enter the general consciousness, some people would find it offensive.

Thirty years ago today, the boundary between East and West Germany popped like a soap bubble. Something that had seemed fixed, an unsolvable problem, simply ended. This was one element of the ongoing collapse of the Soviet Bloc, the relatively peaceful end of a major system of world totalitarianism.

I was 16 at the time. It was a wondrous thing for a young person to watch, still the best geopolitical event I’ve ever witnessed. To see people power in action was to get a sense of hope, of the possibility inherent in the human spirit if it can just seize the moment.

It didn’t make everything wonderful forever. In the world as it is, there is no such thing as happily ever after. But it did make things better. If they got bad again, it doesn’t change that. That moment of liberation was real. If it happened once, it can happen again.

As I am constantly harping on about, we live in an Unprecedented Era. There are no models in human history for what we should do with our amazing knowledge and technology. We as a species are making it up as we go along. It’s only natural that sometimes everything looks bleak, as it did in the Thirties and the Seventies, because we don’t know where to go. Horrible things happen along the way. But so far we have managed to find a new path each time. H.G. Wells, on his deathbed, was sure, for very rational reasons, that humanity was doomed. But he was wrong. May he keep being wrong.

We have to cherish the good moments. We have to keep the memory and not let it degrade, to give us hope for the next one, to be sustained from victory through confusion to victory again.

Frankly, I’m beginning to think the very idea of awards is obsolete, what with climate change and the way the Nikkei’s been acting lately. But if massive, Maoist-prairie-fire-like grassroots movements should arise and demand I be recognized, who am I to demure? The awards for which I am this year eligible are:

  • “Best of Boston,” Sidewalk Busker Drumming On Plastic Bucket category
  • GG Allin Memorial Blood Poisoning Prize
  • 2019 Toledo, Ohio Reading Society “Keeping the ‘Lit’ in ‘Literary'” Award

And my eligible works are as follows:

  • Finnegan’s Wake ‘n Bake, Sty Books: The marriage between James Joyce and stoner humor that we all secretly craved.
  • “Like Tears Down One’s Face Flowed the Wadi On the Hillside,” The New Yorker, 4/35/19 issue: The tale of a rebellious young Somaliland woman who disdains the groom chosen by her father in favor of a qat grower from an enemy subclan. Wacky hijinks ensue in this lighthearted, life-affirming romantic comedy.
  • “(#&*@{,” Asimov’s Science Fiction, March issue. The first ever story in the magazine’s history to be composed entirely of punctuation marks

As Messrs. Bartles and Jaymes did in a previous era, I thank you for your support.

At the Museum of Science today, found myself thinking in astonishment once more:

Multicellular life as we know it has only existed during the Phanerozoic eon, about the last half-billion years.

Which is only one-ninth of the age of the Earth.

Which is expected to remain habitable for at least another 500 million years.

Which means there’s time enough for the whole process–from the trilobites right up to us–to happen again.