May 4, 2008

“If We Only Reach One Person, Then It Was All Worthwhile”


By way of background, when we were attending the University of Wisconsin in the mid-eighties, my old pal Grinch and I formed something we called the Nihilist Worker’s Party. If anyone asked, it was a philosophically-motivated aesthetic terrorist outfit. More than anything else, really, it was just a cheap excuse for the two of us to pull childish stunts in public under the rubric of an “organization.” The Moonies did it, so why not us?

            Anyway, a few mornings ago, I received a note from a friend in Pennsylvania, who forwarded along a “blog entry” (I feel dirty just typing that) he’d stumbled across. I know nothing about the author; all I know is that it was posted a few years back, and recounts the one year he spent at UW.

            (Apart from minor grammatical corrections and editorial commentary, this is as it appeared):


      I observed approximately one interesting thing in Madison during that year: the Nihilist Workers Party.

      Strolling to class in the morning, I would occasionally see a poster on a bulletin board of a dog fucking a woman and it would say “Bruce Springsteen,” or a picture of dead fetuses with the caption of “Happy Valentines Day.” The posters were all very crude looking, Kinko’s cut-and-paste Xerox affairs. At the bottom was always “Nihilist Workers Party” in a courier font. I wasn’t sure what to think. I vaguely appreciated Bruce Springsteen’s name juxtaposed with bestiality. It really upset all my friends who were generally rich and wore tie-dyed shirts. Most other sensible people dismissed NWP as simply juvenile. Since I was a total mess in general, I decided to embrace this new unpopular thing that allowed me to ruin my friends' acid trips by referencing strong sickening visuals contrasted with distasteful social behavior.

      This novel social strategy yielded many, many nights alone.

      Then one day the school newspapers each received a press release from the Nihilist Workers Party vowing they would burn a litter of puppies on the steps of the student union in protest of the real people dying in Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc. Their point was nobody cared about real (albeit foreign and poor) people getting killed, but everybody and their mother would throw a hissy-fit over a few dead puppies. So they were going to burn a litter of puppies to prove how fucked up everyone’s thinking was. The guy even signed his name: [Here he inserts a misspelling of Grinch’s name—JK]

      And what a hissy-fit they threw. [Grinch] studied philosophy and had no intention of killing or burning anything. He even explained this on television, in letters to the editor, etc. But that didn’t stop him from being stalked, threatened and eventually run out of town by an educated university population that had no sense of irony, humor or perspective. It was even picked up nationally in the Associated Press.

      That spring I quit school to return to Fargo to play in a band. I made crude Xerox posters and wrote violent haikus. One of the posters challenged a local blues guitarist to a fistfight. [Grinch], thank you.


            In some ways, his memory of those days was much more acute than my own, in others, just as fuzzy. I don’t remember the Valentine’s Day poster, for one. And in the aftermath of the puppy fiasco, he doesn’t mention Grinch’s arrest on trumped-up weapons charges. In any case, I thought it was pretty goddamn funny, so I forwarded the (ahem) “blog entry” along to Grinch, figuring he’d be interested, too, in seeing what kind of lasting legacy we’d created by simply trying to stave off the boredom for another twenty minutes.

            Here’s what he thought:


      Is there a more pathetic and wretched soul in this vale of tears of ours than he who would deign to write a fan letter to the Nihilist Worker’s Party?

      Nay I say, Nay!

      Like I always said, in a certain abstract sense, the Nihilist Workers Party, and the Pain Amplifiers too, for that matter, were constantly striving to open, if you will, new conceptual doors for our audience. If you were enough of a chump to actually go through those doors, well then you were well and truly fucked.

      [And I might add, not just truly fucked, but smacked in the back of the head with a brick as well—JK]

      Personally, I don’t even rank the puppy burning among the top ten of obnoxious stunts performed in Madison. As far as I am concerned, it was a mere brainfart caused by some bad drugs that you sent me. I look back more fondly on the time I got my hands on a kitschy Catholic kind of three-foot-tall hollow plastic statue of a kneeling Jesus. This plastic Jesus had his hands folded right about at his crotch. I was inspired to drill a hole there. I experimented with a few mixtures and devices, but I found that a 50/50 mixture of water and cheap shaving cream in a bicycle water bottle worked best. I donned a grubby trench coat and went out on State Street at night. I put the tip of the water bottle through the Jesus crotch-hole, and held onto the water bottle from inside the statue. As soon as I encountered a group of collegiate asswipes, I would exclaim with the best Southern drawl that I could muster “ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE COMING OF THE LORD JESUS?” I’d give them a second or two to ponder the question, then I’d squeeze down HARD, and spray them all over. Nobody ever did what I would do in the situation, for example, say something along the lines of “You fucking creep asshole!” and then punch the assailant in the skull. Nope, everybody ran in a panic from the jism of Jesus.

      One thing about the puppy burning: at the time I thought that everyone would realize that I was bullshitting them within a few short hours, and that the whole kerfuffle would blow over quickly. I was wrong. The puppy burning really marks the last time that I ever tried to explain myself to others. If these pompous halfwits with their smug PC bumper stickers on their cars were in any way capable of comprehending half of what I had to say, well then they wouldn’t be pompous halfwits with smug PC bumper stickers on their cars anymore. Just as I will not attempt to explain what I am thinking to a stray dog that happens into my path, why should I attempt the same with people? It is simple. If they are snarling and acting threatening, and you don’t have a weapon at hand, you say a few soothing words and back off slowly. If you do have a weapon handy, you thrash them over the head with it as hard as you can.

      Sometimes, when I am reading in a public place, I get some truly annoying unsolicited questions: “Whatcha reading?” “What’s the book about?” Well lately, more often than not, it is a rant by a Reformation (or Counter-Reformation) theologian: Erasmus, Luther, and especially Thomas More. I have no time for contemporary fiction. If you are not ready, willing and able to burn your ideological opponents alive, then I say sit down, shut the fuck up, and stop boring us. So, to those who interrupt my studies and ask about what I am reading, I want to reply in a gentle, soothing voice “This is a grown-up book, all about grown-up things. If you like, maybe when you’re bigger, I could read some of the easier parts to you.”


            Then, recounting a recent (and unplanned) return visit to Madison, he writes:


      I had an epiphany.

      I will freely acknowledge that when I lived in Madison, I was completely barking mad. It was on this recent visit that I realized that this place, this sick, self-righteous, head up its own ass place was 100% responsible for driving me insane.

      I suppose that there is a place for everyone in this world, and if you are an herb tea drinking, Toyota Prius driving, voted for Nader in 2000, hairy-legged self-righteous old dyke, that place is Madison.

      Jim, there are places where I have resided in which I felt that, with every moment there, I was slowly losing my will to go on living (e.g., Miami Beach in 1983). Not so in Madison. I realize that, were some unhappy accident to force me to reside there again, I would lose my will to suffer others to go on living.


            And that, in a way, helps explain why Grinch and I have remained friends to this day.

            Okay, I admit it—more than anything else, this was just a cheap way of getting someone else to write my column while I’m finishing something else. But if you keep your mouth shut about it, so will I.


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