Future Harper’s Index of America
Numbers are fucked. Numbers know more about America than America knows about America. It’s like our whole existence is a string of digits some dork fantasized in his sleep and accidentally whipped into creation. Based on the evidence at hand, the state of where we’re headed only gets grosser, which maybe should be more obvious every hour than it already is.
By my calculation, here are some predictions, with a head-nod to the Harper’s Index of the Not Too Far To Come:
Average height of a newborn baby in 2060: 30”
In 2090: 0.4”
Percentage of Americans who believe “Silent Night” was written by Jesus Christ: 86
Number of wolves kept as house pets in the United States: 3,054,000
Of wolf-human hybrids born to those households: 98,000
Times John “Papa John” Schnatter will be reelected to presidential office following constitutional amendment: 107
Number of stand-ins believed to extend the life of “Papa John”: 81
Number of topping available for order on a Papa John’s pizza during his presidency: 2
Average weight of pizza consumed per week per citizen (in pounds): 9
Average weight of citizen (in new unpronounceable measurement designed to veil actual impact of a person’s weight as indicative of health): 4
Average weight of cover models of America Monthly magazine (subscription required with citizenship): .0003
Total sequels in Fast and the Furious chain filmed before the interior collapse of the moon: 39
Number of additional Biblical Commandments “discovered” chiseled onto the face of silver asteroid that will crash down and obliterate the lower half of Florida: 209
Length of Disney World Employee Memorial Wall and Hotel constructed along the border between U.S. and Mexico (in miles): 1,933
Sci-Fi Doesn’t Have to Be Dominated by Horny Bro Wizards
In a genre where supposedly Anything Goes, where the boundaries of narrative and potential reality are not only immaterial, but also intended to be shattered with pure acts of what-the-fuck, I’ve always been baffled by how 90 percent of science fiction works seem exactly the same—a glorified romance novel, unnecessarily set in a world where, like, computers can erase minds.
A LIST OF THINGS I NEVER UNDERSTOOD OR LIKED ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION
Why so much goddamn talking? The Earth is being pressed upon by black magnets piloted by a race of people made of lasers from the eyes of God, and here’s a four-page scene featuring two dudes having a conversation about who stole who’s Space Lamborghini. Dialogue is fucking stupid 90 percent of the time in the first place, but when written by someone with Asperger’s it becomes instant skimming material. Please stop.
Having a Premise
The worst thing about most science fiction is how the author gets an idea they like, and then that’s the book. Like, there’s an underwater city ruled by a blue cube that holds its citizens in eternal fear threatening to explode the glass walls that contain them if they don’t work tirelessly on building a machine gun powerful enough to kill the moon, but then people just run around trying to figure out a way to stop the cube’s cruel reign, and nothing interesting happens besides the idea on the back of the book. Call me a dick, but I don’t want one fun idea, I want 500.
Generally Shitty Writing
I imagine the thinking behind a lot of science fiction is that the ideas and conceits are so fantastic that it doesn’t matter how plain the writing is. I guess the crudity is supposed to be part of the appeal, but sometimes it’s nice to not feel like I could read one out of every 18 sentences and still get the same feel out of the book. Why can’t the language be as weird as the ideas?
What Is This Terror Before Me: A Review of the New Taco Bell Grilled Stuft Nacho
Taco Bell is more like drugs than food. It beats you open from the inside with beef and cheese and bread, and in so doing makes things seem great for a while, until your body realizes what you’ve done to it. No matter how many times I’ve eaten at Taco Bell and then immediately regretted it—sometimes with the food still in my mouth—it always seems like a great idea when I’m caught up in the moment. It’s like it’s going to save my life, and then it’s like my life isn’t worth saving.
As a man who considers himself something of a novelty food sommelier, as soon as I heard about the new Grilled Stuft Nacho I knew I would be filling myself with lard again. I’ve always thought nachos are the perfect food—they taste fucking amazing, each bite contains new and unexpected flavors, and they are nearly impossible to screw up. Nachos can be anything you want; they are your dreams.
All the Books Blake Butler Read This Year
A Day in the Strait by Emmanuel Hocquard
The Obscene Madame D by Hilda Hilst
A close friend of one of my favorites, Clarice Lispector, Hilst isn’t a far cry from the fragmentary, mutative mindset of that relation. This brief 57-page meta-monologue is stuffed to the gills with ideas of madness from a mind you actually want to see run rampant. It gushes in a somehow more intimate and raving Beckett-ian mode. I wish there were a shitload of little shattering novellas like this everywhere, available in gas stations, as a drug.
The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe
Prostitution by Pierre Guyotat
The Use of Speech by Nathalie Sarraute
The Box Man by Kobo Abe
Reflections by Mark Insingel
The Moon’s Jaw by Rauan Klassnik
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Red Doc > by Anne Carson
Three by Ann Quin
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Castle to Castle by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Taipei by Tao Lin
No disappointment after the hype for this new novel from someone whom I’ve always looked to as an icon just ahead of the curve. Taipei takes everything Tao Lin was always astounding at—intricately bizarre observations of social contexts and the moment-to-moment shades of one’s emotions—to a newly effective depth. The book holds nothing back, fusing Wallace-sized sentence structures with Tao’s masterful minimalism, while somehow managing to infuse the mutative energy of the internet in what may end up being the most open look at the inner workings of a young person in whatever social era we’re currently trapped in.
The Face of Another by Kobo Abe
Read the whole list
I Have Voluntary Tourette’s (and Am Insane)
It seems like just yesterday when Blake Butler, all doe-eyed and full of weird collections of words, began writing for us on a weekly basis. Over time, what started as a regular space for him to write about literature morphed into something bigger. During the last couple of years Blake has branched out to explore topics as diverse as the horrors and wonders of a Wendy’s Pretzel Burger to thedusty rumors of literary giants to interviews with both emerging and established authors. This is Blake’s 100th post for VICE.com, and to mark the occasion he told us he wanted to write “something more personal” than his usual fare. In that spirit, he sent us the below peek inside his brain.
I have long been a creature of habit and repetition. The more any day feels exactly like the one before it, the more comfortable I am, and the more productive I become in whatever I happen to be working on. At the same time, I hate planning. I never know what I want to do until just before I do it. Plans—even fun ones like having dinner or watching a movie with someone at the house—seem designed to disrupt my concentration. As uptight as this might make me sound, on the outside I feel I’m generally easygoing, even at times when my insides are all screaming.
This daily masking of discomfort has instilled in my person an odd habit of regular stress relief in the form what I’ve come to think of as “Voluntary Tourette’s.” In other words, I make repeating patterns of private sounds that I don’t necessarily have to make the way someone with actual Tourette’s literally can’t control, but that I perform now throughout the day with such regularity that it seems like I can’t stop, or at least haven’t stopped for over a decade. For the most part I can keep myself from doing these things in front of others, though after a few days in the same room as someone I’m on a trip with or whatever they start leaking out, slowly opening into my regular manners of conversation.
12.) No episode airs. The station says it has been postponed until next week. And next week, they say next week. On and on like that until everyone who was alive when the show began is dead.
— 13 Alternate Endings for Breaking Bad
Thirteen Alternate Endings for Breaking Bad
1.) In a psychotic break following the discovery of his dad’s true nature, Walt Jr. goes on a meth binge, buying up as much of his father’s blue product as he can get his hands on and eating it in maniacal sadness, leading to frenzy. He robs three liquor stores and spends the cash on breakfast cereal, which he rolls around on in huge piles alone and naked in his room. He breaks into cars and drives them into walls, laughing and pissing on the wreckage. He burns down his parents’ car wash and their home, followed by his Aunt Marie’s home, and his high school. The next day he is found dead inside a local Denny’s, having broken in overnight and gorged himself on raw eggs, bacon, and waffle batter in a food-fisting binge-party before doing so much meth his heart exploded. Walt, upon learning what his son has done, blows his head off in a men’s room outside Portland after his own last breakfast at Denny’s, in his son’s honor. The show concludes with Skyler spreading the ashes of her dead husband and son in the desert behind a Denny’s.
2.) An international cartel leader, played by a heavily prosthetic-enhanced Tom Cruise, shows up in town looking for Heisenberg. He follows leads to each of Walt’s major relations, shaking them down for information and then killing them in broad daylight. After reading about the string of murders in the paper, Walt comes down from his snowy hideout furiously angry and ready for vengeance, armed only with his wits. An anticlimactic showdown between Walt and Tom Cruise occurs when, as they finally come face to face, the cartel leader takes advantage of Walt’s tendency to have a long discussion before killing someone, and simply blasts him in the face. The show concludes with Tom Cruise buying a case of breakfast sausage at Costco before returning to his native land.
What I Remember from Getting an MFA in Creative Writing
There’s a long running argument about the benefits and bullshit of getting an MFA in creative writing. Some people say it turns you into a cookie-cutter fuckboy, others say it helps you get a job. After I finished undergrad and realized I wanted to write instead of joining the real world, I devoted all of my time and energy toward staying in college, which meant I’d get an MFA whether I needed one or not. In hindsight, the whole experience kind of bleeds together into a mass of time I look back on not unfondly, but I’m also curious as to what exactly I got out of spending two more years on education instead of becoming a functioning member of the American workforce. For better or worse, that time is gone. Here’s what I remember.
1. On my first day in the dorms I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and saw reflected in the mirror an older woman naked in a bathtub behind me. I’d heard the dorms at my school were haunted, having been built in like the late 1800s or something, but when I turned around she was still there. There was actually a bathtub in the public showering area. It was a co-ed bathroom, and she was sitting in it buck naked washing without the curtain closed. She loudly introduced herself as one of my classmates and said she was from Milledgeville, Georgia, home of Flannery O’Connor. It feels appropriate that my earliest memory from getting an MFA is checking out a granny’s boobs in a public toilet.
2. People said the room next to mine was famous because Bob Dylan screwed the student who lived there when he came to play the school in the 60s. Whoever was staying in it while I lived next door apparently decided to keep that spirit alive, because many nights I could hear the sex noises… or maybe that was sexual ghosts.
Three Poems from Rachel Glaser’s Moods
"God is popular"
god is popular with athletes
they think about him while they practice
but rarely will he watch with one of his eyes
he has countless eyes
a hundred eyes, more
he is all eyes, but they hurt
and he can never sleep
the ocean is okay
but boats crowd it with their wakes
god can’t help but look at every bubble
it puts a strain on his eyes to watch small things and fast things
cities, streets, fingernails
dots on a die
he prefers to watch other planets
Saturn and those ones
those are graceful
more one color
watching Rushmore be built
the Great Wall
something lengthy and accumulative
he hates fireworks
but the worst is to see a needle being strung
the little end of the string struggling to fit
his eye feels like it’s been injected with iodine
he cannot rub it
he is invisible
no one can help him
Two more poems
The burger comes in a sturdy red box with Wendy’s face stamped on it, her open-mouthed smile all made out of a single line. The box reads: “QUALITY IS OUR RECIPE,” which makes me imagine a chubby American burger chef holding up a recipe book with a picture of my burger on one page and “Ingredients: Quality” written in big font on the page beside it. I open the box and look at the baby nestled inside, waiting all alone, the weird cross-shaped X on top designed to create the illusion that the bun was freshly baked.
The food item itself smells different every time you sniff it. First, I remember walking on the beach, during those same years when I was fat and wore a big shirt because I didn’t want anyone to see my chub. If you sniff the center of the cross on top of the bun it kind of smells like the warm free bread they bring you in a basket at corporate chain restaurants like O’Charley’s or something, which is usually only good if you smash enough butter into it to make it not be bread anymore. Sniffing near the cheese reminds me of baseball for some reason; and the bacon, of course, smells like dead meat.
—I Hate Myself and Want to Die: A Review of the New Wendy’s Pretzel Burger