Trump in Three Monsters

Monsters are a key element of our cultural digestive system. They are abnormalities, and through that abnormality they encapsulate some unpleasant truth. The terror of the Boogeyman is that he was always inside the house, waiting to blow open the door. So it is that we create Boogeymen to substitute whatever punishment- deliberate or subconscious- the parents will enact if the child falls out of line. Sometimes an outrageous monster saunters into reality fully formed. The task then is to name them. Having so sauntered, Donald Trump has been named for many monsters, each providing a lens through which to examine him.

Late in the primaries, Alexander Burns with the New York Times began to compare Trump’s continued candidacy to a sort of zombie attacking the GOP: damaged, but unstoppable. In his Zombie Aspect, Trump springs a demographic trap the Republicans have been sliding into for years, namely the fact that the structure of their primary elections selects for untenable candidates. Like FrankenTrump, Zombie-Trump serves as an undead corpse provoking an existential crisis within the GOP.

Comparisons between Trump and Frankenstein’s monster have been numerous and high profile, including Robert Kagan at Washington Post and David Corn at Mother Jones. Most of these writers invoke the Frankenstein comparison to castigate the mainstream Republican party, whose relationship with Trump can be described as complicated at best. Trump is used as an example of the rot that has lurked in the GOP all this time. Just as Frankenstein’s monster reveals the shortcomings of his creator in gruesome spectacle, so too does Trump represent the logical conclusion of the modern Republican party’s policies of xenophobia, warmongering and predatory capitalism.

One last monstrous point of view on Trump casts him only indirectly, as it lets us see the candidate’s monstrosity through the effect he has on a personal level. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg described Chris Christie as Trump’s “Renfield,” making Trump Dracula by extension. Renfield is himself a monstrous, but piteous figure. He’s sucked into the Count’s orbit, his latent depravity leveraged to place him in the bigger monster’s service. Likewise, Trump has reduced the once-blustering Jersey Governor to fetching coffee and backing his candidacy. Perhaps Christie will have an intrusion of conscience like Renfield did; perhaps he’ll keep eating Trump’s rats.

Throughout these different versions of the monster Trump, one theme seems clear: in his aberration, Trump reveals the underlying taint of that which he is aberrant from. On a personal level, he forces acquaintances to debase themselves with the sadistic instinct of Dracula. As an “outsider” within the Republican party, he’s the voice of unfiltered racism the establishment thought they had sublimated. Perhaps what’s most haunting about Trump is how perfectly the character of the monster is suited to the medium of democracy. If the monster’s job is to reveal a truth about ourselves, how much more effectively can he work in a system where his approval is atomized and tabulated?


On Seeing Mountains for the First Time

They are huge.

They are exactly too huge. Too ancient. They wait at the edge of the city the same way the sun hangs in the sky. You could pray to a mountain all day. You could piss on it. You could carve your biography on its face, fill the etchings with molten iron, and end your life with a curse on the mountain’s mineral bones.

It would not matter.

You cannot solve a mountain. You cannot even articulate a mountain as a problem.

You can climb it, crawl around it, or pulverize it with bombs. But you cannot defeat it.

Marginalia and Social Dominance Among The Fluffiest People


I’m unnerved by the rabbit society implied among these doodles. In the image above, we see two social classes implied. The two rabbits on the right are naked, laboring, and quadrupedal. Their… master? commander? is heavily armed, standing tall with his penis-shame covered. Who appointed this rabbit-man? Is he a warlord? Has there been some military coup within an established rabbit society?

Or is he merely the first of his kind? Perhaps no other rabbits have learned the human-ways as he has. What does it say that he seems to use these powers for vengeance and domination?

Perhaps the greatest blessing of King Rabbit’s rule is that his short-sightedness will keep the rabbits from overwhelming the earth as their human predecessors have. Let’s pray the rabbit-men never learn the dark magic of cooperation.

Lee Widener’s Rock’n’Roll Head Case (review)

Lee Widener’s Rock’n’Roll Head Case is a badass adventure, sometimes mystical and often silly.

The prose is clean, unembellished and functional. There’s a lot going on in this story, and Widener wisely chooses not to let his words get in the way, instead allowing the reader a frank look at the bizarre situations he’s cooked up. More importantly, Widener’s story is always on the move. The pacing is right up there with Jingle All the Way, leaping from event to event without wasting screen-time. Characters are archetypal but outlandish, communicating most of what you need to know about them in their first few sentences on the page. The economy of story-telling is strong enough that I was surprised to learn that Lee Widener hasn’t got any screenwriting credits that I could find. Obviously we don’t want the world of books to lose a unique voice, but Widener’s high-concept yarn would translate beautifully to the screen.

The world of Rock’n’roll Head Case is warped, but familiar. While Widener populates his world with Frankensteined presidential candidates and disembodied rockstar heads, his protagonist Chaino Durante is a classic everyman. Everyone who isn’t some popped-collar trustfund larva has worked some shitty gruntslime job, even if it isn’t for a fast food joint that cooks burgers in toxic waste. Durante gets to live out the perfectly healthy fantasy of murdering one’s boss and stealing all his money, only to find out how deeply he’s gotten in over his head.

My favorite aspect of Rock’n’Roll Head Case is the merging of the monstrous, the morbid, and the divine. Widener’s Alice Cooper is equal parts Tyler Durden and Shiva, with a healthy dash of black magic. Widener’s Cooper is a smooth, spider-spewing criminal whose rhetoric hints at a deeper philosophy behind his devil-may-care attitude. Everyone in Alice’s worldview holds death inside them. We must die to become ourselves, and this state of being is both monstrous and godly.

I, Gadget (Fan-Fic)

Something old.


            A poison orange smeared against the once-sky. The bastard sun puked through the atmosphere, nourishing fruit-sized tumors on the Inside-Out Men, who howled stupid across the maze of ruin. They could be dangerous, Gadget thought. Perhaps they’d try and eat his rubber pseudoskin, or chip their teeth on his iron wrought skeleton. Or maybe they would just leave his trash-heap corpse behind unharvested; the closest these things ever got to art. Gadget sighed, converting some of the world’s last oxygen into carbon dioxide. He didn’t need to breathe- his lungs were an affectation, something he used only for talking, back when there were people left to talk to. Another one of the Inside-Out Men’s bellows ricocheted through miles of scrap and concrete, splattering flecks of mucus. They’d tear Gadget apart if they smelled him. Maybe he’d stop them. He let his eyes drift while he waited. Something caught his attention.

It was a gristle. A floppy piece of meat-ish that squirmed between the fingers of Gadget’s once-white gloves, vaguely sticky like a vending machine hand resurfacing from a couch. Gadget’s cyborg eyes regarded it carelessly, before drifting to the crumpled sign crowning the rubble from whence it came. Peabody Elementary School. “Wowzers,” Gadget muttered. He let the gristloid flutter to the ground, ending the shredded child’s last contact. He tried not to remember Penny.

When he was a young man, Gadget didn’t realize how long eternity could be. It had taken decades to capture Claw, and when they did he was a wretched thing, a crooked goblin that only half-remembered what it once had been. It died months later, almost as an after-thought. Gadget could have just waited all along. Afterwards, all he did was wait. He waited through the Chief’s surgeries. He waited for Penny’s tears to dry off of his shoes the day they put Brain down. He waited for the last of Penny’s hair to fall out, for her to stop grabbing every lost strand, for her to stop looking at him like that.

The smear on the once-sky had turned a limp purple. Gadget blinked, unaware of when it happened. The Inside Out Men had gotten closer. One had stopped to copulate clumsily with the other, but his genitals were on the wrong side of his pelvis and so he ejaculated whimpers. They wore their hearts on their sleeves, the Inside Out Men, which is how Gadget knew they’d not be leaving him alone. He didn’t know the name of the virus that had done this. He had assumed someone would tell him eventually, but they were all too busy trying to keep their lungs from slopping out their mouths. And so he stood on the wreckage of an elementary school, listening as mutants’ finger bones scraped against their exposed ribcages. Their cracked gums glistened with hunger.

Several punctured exposed organs in the scrumble up the rubble heap. They left trails of bile in the sky as they fell on their backs, their comrades laughing in choked deep tones. Gadget had a rocket launcher in his thigh, a helicopter in his skull. Neither of these interested him. The first wave dug their boneclaws into his chest, which fired sparks that lanced across their veins. They began to tug with their mutant strength, straining steel and ripping synthetic flesh. Gadget looked up at the moon. It was farther away than it had once been. It had inched away from the earth, and now seemed to be fading.

MP Johnson’s Berzerkoids (review)

I just got done reading MP Johnson’s Berzerkoids anthology, and I feel like my brain is going to crawl out of my ears to get a hot girlfriend and a hip new job, like a barista for orphaned stars or maybe a fluffer for alien pornographers. Wowzers.

Berzerkoids is high-energy and wryly zany. Its plots are largely dream-like, often feeling improvisational until the details fall into place and a fuzzy outline of the story’s logic emerges. Like a good joke or serial killing, Berzerkoids is rarely predictable, yet each piece feels inevitable in the after math.

The prose is crisp, at times even melodic. Reading Berzerkoids out loud is a delightful experience, rhythmic and percussive, like Tae Bo for your lips and glottis. At times, I’d have to re-read silently after getting sucked into Berzerkoids’ phonetic fury, consciousness disappearing in the wet bellows of my mouth.

MP Johnson’s monsters are truly beautiful, in language if not in visuals. Bodies become their own kind of vocabulary. MP Johnson warps and wields the human body like a sommelier enabling winos. Maybe deep down you’re just a sadist with a loose grasp of reality- but when you read Berzerkoids, you see everything that can really be! The people of Berzerkoids are unlovable, doomed, misbegotten and messily mutated… yet even as they’re torn to bits by the jaws of reality, there’s a sense of triumph in hearing their stories.

Occasionally, through all the anus-faced action figures and otherworldly caterpillars, real melancholy bubbles through. Most of the perspective characters in Berzerkoids are bent inside, and Johnson pulls you into their viewpoint just enough to cringe in recognition. At times Berzerkoids goes along for several pages, crafting a character so sympathetic you actually just want them to get the boy/girl and settle down somewhere nice, as if you were reading one of those boring books where people are well-adjusted and nobody gnaws off any of their own appendages. At other times you’ll find yourself rooting for the characters even while their shortcomings rage around you. “Sure, he turns small mammals inside out,” you might find yourself saying, “but I want him to be the best at turning small mammals inside out.”

Berzerkoids is a taut, cleanly articulated hellscape of hideous beasts and heinous shitbirds. More than anything- more than gore-glee, sexy eyebrows, or refined appreciation for a well-realized demon, Berzerkoids sucks you into the space between nostalgia and promise. Its characters are haunted, hungry and trembling. The past is inaccessible, the future obscure, and guts pulsate in the middle.