My Weekend at Hotel Terrible

I read the reviews of the Ramada Plaza & Conference Center by Wyndham Louisville before I went there, so I knew I was in for … something. “Nasty place STAY AWAY,” one review read. On the other hand, one of my author pals said that the writing conference being held there was not to be missed, so, hoping as ever to sell some books, I went despite the abysmal reviews of the hotel.

How bad can it be, right? I’ve stayed outside lots of times. I’ve slept in freezing cold, clouds of bugs, even a flooded tent in which my tentmate feared I might drown due to partially-submerged snoring. Speaking of which, I considered packing a one man tent to set up in my Hotel Terrible room in case of bugs. I decided against it because I didn’t want the cleaning staff thinking ill of me. Besides, none of the bad reviews mentioned bugs. Well, not bedbugs anyway.

The gentleman who checked me in was professional. He informed me politely that the internet might or might not be working. Either way, he said, the internet was locked in the manager’s office. It could be reset tomorrow, maybe, but not before. I wasn’t expecting walls or a roof, so an internet problem was no trouble. After all, a lot of big-name hotels still charge for WiFi in 2018, a practice for which they are invited to go and fornicate themselves.

And really, who needs the internet anyway? Why look up reviews of local restaurants on Yelp when your in-room guide has gems like this in it?

It is my long-held contention, based on the world travel I’ve been lucky enough to do, that showers are the one thing that we, the United States of America, unquestionably do best. No, the shower experience at Hotel Terrible was not as nice as I might expect at my own house, but warm-ish water did eventually splurt onto me in a relatively predictable torrent. That’s more than I can say for most other supposedly-developed nations.

Once I completed my shower and “toweled” myself off with the handy cloth-based sandpaper supplied by Hotel Terrible, I realized it was impossible to turn the shower water off completely. It dripped for the rest of the weekend. Presumably, it drips to this day.

Mind you, rich people pay money all the time for in-home water sculptures and zen rivers and so forth. My wife occasionally listens to recordings of babbling brooks to help her fall asleep. Hotel Terrible provides you the sound of running water free of additional charge. What luck!

Hotel Terrible has a convenient entryway feature. The doors, as originally designed, require guests to unlock them with a keycard. Luckily, though, the doors are so poorly maintained none of them shut, let alone lock. The result is that if you have stuff in your hand as you approach — a weapon, e.g., or burglary supplies — you can just nudge the door aside with your murder boots and waltz right in.

To be fair, the open doors might be a feature meant to ameliorate the smell inside Hotel Terrible. Though I am a great lover of wine I must confess that my palate and sense of smell are far from the most refined. Still, I would describe the general bouquet of Hotel Terrible as a heady mixture of uncle feet, Funyuns crushed into ancient carpet, week-old jean shorts, and hastily-Febreezed mold.

In short, it smells like the horror of a 1980s family trip; the kind I was forced onto in my own childhood. Three back seats. Four kids. Unchecked aggression. In short, the smell of Hotel Terrible is one of those rare experiences that makes a person glad to be an adult, because adults, usually, are free to leave.

Saturday

My hotel information booklet still had a few pages that were clipped into its 3-ring binder. One of them mentioned that somewhere in the hotel was a coffee shop. Might they have an espresso machine? I had a few moments to kill on Saturday, so I went looking.

Hotel Terrible is big. There are two huge parallel corridors with rooms on either side and a pool in the middle. If you have the stomach for it, you can stand at the far end of Hotel Terrible and look for a long way down the corridor. If the kid on the Big Wheel in The Shining turned the corner into this corridor, the scary twins would be haunting the end of the hallway perhaps 100 yards away, thus somewhat ruining the effect.

The route I took in search of coffee brought me through the pool area, which, for reasons completely their own, the evil geniuses who designed Hotel Terrible have termed “The Tropidome.” If you uncultured clods think you can vape inside the Tropidome, you’d better think again. This is ironic because only someone who is drugged nearly to the point of percussive heart failure would want to be in there at all.

“Tropidome” is, apparently, a word that Hotel Terrible’s designers made up. Google searches for “tropidome” return links to reviews of Hotel Terrible. In their vast, reptilian imaginations, Hotel Terrible’s designers probably intended the Tropidome to be a lush green oasis in the middle of the hotel, where guests could relax among plants, take a dip in the pool, and possibly even enjoy a slice of pizza or a cold beverage. (No vaping!)

In practice, however, when one enters the Tropidome, one is hit by a blast of hot, humid air the like of which can only otherwise be found exiting a demon’s gaping maw a split second before it bites off your face. I do not exaggerate unduly about the heat in the Tropidome. It is not just sauna-hot-and-uncomfortable. It is custody-battle-inside-a-sauna-hot-and-uncomfortable. I can’t imagine what the guests whose doors open onto the Tropidome do at night other than roast in their beds. These unfortunate souls are probably the reasons why the outer doors no longer shut. They’ve damaged the exits in their blind haste to escape the Tropidome.

There are some “green” “plants” in the Tropidome, but I think they’re fake. If not, they should all be rescued. They are certainly doing whatever equates to the plant version of screaming.

Upon leaving The Tropidome I found myself in an abandoned Godfather’s Pizza. All the lights were on. The TVs were cackling and babbling to themselves on the walls. There was a bright serving counter where pizzas were certainly once handed to hungry customers. But the place was stripped of everything that would make a restaurant except the tables and chairs. All that remained of the once (probably) bustling pizza restaurant was these photos.

I believe the actor in this photo to be J. William Knoll, mentioned here in the Toledo Blade from Nov. 14 1983. The tale indirectly told in that article is of Italian Americans rising up against Godfather’s Pizza for associating their heritage with gangsters and criminals. Fortunately for Knoll, Godfather’s made an arrangement with the Italian groups and he was allowed to continue work as the Godfather. The Godfather’s website bears photos of a man I believe to be Knoll, still presenting himself as The Godfather. I kind of hope it’s him. Congrats on a long-running gig, buddy.

Godfather’s Pizza killed off a huge amount of its stores in a 1990s restructuring under the leadership of Herman Cain, who would later run for president as a Republican in the 2012 election. Cain suspended his bid for the presidency on December 3, 2011 after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. How do you think Cain’s feeling now, in 2018, watching all these Republicans get a free pass from their party on sexual misconduct? I bet he’s pissed.

One of the wading pools off to the side of the lake of bizarre that is the abandoned Godfather’s Pizza in Hotel Terrible is a small room with two ancient computers and one tiny printer. I pity the traveler who attempts to print anything in this room.

You can tell that someone has experienced some form of violent anger here because they’ve taken their anger out on one of Hotel Terrible’s terrible terminals. One can only guess at why the hotel leaves the broken machine plugged in. My guess would be that they consider it to have been inadvertently elevated into a piece of digital art. That, or they’ve left it as a warning to the other machine.

In my mind, I am a brilliant and well-respected author whose work is enjoyed the world over. This is a delusion I recommend all writers manufacture for themselves in order to survive the long years between starting their careers and anyone else noticing they’ve done so. If I had been a therapist instead, I might guess that my dissatisfaction with Hotel Terrible has a little to do with its terribleness inadvertently bringing the actual status of my career into sharp relief.

You probably won’t die if you stay at Hotel Terrible. Sure, any passing murderers will be able to roam the halls freely, but the room doors appear strong and the metal locking loop seemed in good order. The spots on the sheets were small and probably not all blood. I did not get a rash, as some other reviewers of the hotel said they did.

I was reminded, though, of what it was like to grow up in the 80s: horrible. But I was also reminded that I am now an adult, which meant I was free to leave. So, early Sunday morning, I did. And I even got some good career advice from a license plate in the parking lot as I left.

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Malcom Gladwell is Mad at Satire

PHOTO: Kris Krüg
I like Malcom Gladwell’s work because I want to feel smart without doing the work of research or analysis. Remember when he dropped that 10,000 hours knowledge bomb? People devoted their lives to that pup like it was god’s own pinned tweet. Well, old Gladdie’s gone and fired a shot at Satire. In doing so he has exited the universe of absurdity, through the Oort cloud of hubris, and is making his way into interstellar bullshit.

I’m late to this, but in his podcast, Revisionist History, (Episode 10, “The Satire Paradox” Warning: bizarre-o site design) Gladwell asserts that satire not only doesn’t solve any problems, it sometimes makes them worse.

He cites as one example Stephen Colbert’s show The Colbert Report, positing that liberals watching the show saw Colbert’s over-the-top blowhard character and thought “That’s so true! Those Fox News Pundits are so full of shit!” and conservatives thought “Hooray! That Colbert guy is owning the libs!”

Point being, if you’re a liberal comedy writer and you think you’re striking at the heart of hypocrisy, sometimes hypocrites get a laugh too. They know how full of shit they are and they’re getting away with it.

It hurts when that happens. I was invited once to participate in a “roast” of some local celebrities whom I judged to be kinda racist. I went to their show, stood up in front of their crowd, and pointed out that it was weird that in a city which is predominately non-white, not a single person of color had chosen to attend the show. I expected to bomb after that comment because I thought people would look around the room and think, “Wow, he’s right.” Instead, it got a big laugh, almost as though that group of people knew they were being kinda racist and maybe kinda liked it.

Chalk that one up to my naiveté, because, when applied to myself, I prefer “naiveté” over “dipshittery.”

People often criticize satire, and comedy of all stripes, for merely making fun of issues without proposing a solution. That’s valid criticism if you’re in couples therapy with your wife and she’ll only communicate by doing Dangerfield one-liners. But satire provides a great service to the public conversation that Gladwell is overlooking: it describes the pieces at play.

Right- and left-leaning zealots are always going to read the news. But the difference in a democracy is made not by the zealots but by the middle. By and large, The People do not like things like hypocrisy, bigotry, corruption, but in order to get them to the polling places to do something about those issues, people have to first be made aware.

My impression is that you’re more likely to get The People to read a The Onion article, to watch The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, than you are to get them to read a Reuters news piece. It’s easier to digest entertainment than unvarnished fact, and Malcom Flippin’ Gladwell should know that, given that his books, and his career, are based on simplifying stories to make them fit a narrative. I mean, come on, dude. You’re shitting on your own bailiwick!

I do not, nor should anyone, fault Gladwell for making his books interesting. That’s his job. But for him to fault comedy writers for turning reality into comedy is as useful as him yelling pop lyrics into a shitty hat.

Come on, Gladwell. You’re a good writer and a smart person who has been a journalist for a long time. Do better.

Note: Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici also jumped Gladwell for this one.

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Cryptocurrencies are Becoming the Everest of Stupid

If you know me from my mountain climbing books, you know that I try to inject a little humor into mountain climbing, which is a sport whose practitioners often take themselves too seriously. Let me be clear: you should not ever take yourself seriously, especially not when in the great outdoors. But you should respect the land to the point of religious zealotry.

Someone who was attempting to publicize their new social media and attendant cryptocurrency sent three climbers to the summit of Everest with a thumb drive they say is valued at $50,000. The men were told to leave the thumb drive there as a publicity stunt for the new crypto. A man died in the attempt. That makes me unspeakably sad, even though I never met him.

Beyond that man’s senseless passing, it bothers me that the company claims their surviving climbers “conquered” Everest. Humans no more conquer Everest than an ant conquers my driveway. I suppose to the ants the driveway might be significant, but to me it’s just a flat surface where I park ageing used cars. The ant, the driveway, and myself are all so insignificant to the Earth as to disappear from calculability. It is impossible to “conquer” something that will never, ever notice you.

Secondly, just because you say something is good–say, worth $50,000–doesn’t mean that it is. I have explained to my wife many times that my dance moves are art, but she insists upon asking me if I am having a stroke. We’re expected to understand that if the currency’s designers say it’s worth $50,000 it must be so? Guys. Are you having a stroke?

Even if the thumb drive these guys left was worth what they say it is, it costs more than $50,000 to get to the summit of Everest. You might be able to get to the summit for less money if you already have all the gear, fitness, and knowledge, but even so you’ll be gone from your home for months, which means you’ll not be earning any money. Also, like all mountaineers, you’ll be at the mercy of the weather. You might never set a foot above 4000m.

This fundamental lack of parity between what crypto people say their stuff is worth and the real world is, like, the most cryptocurrency thing ever.

A friend emailed me this morning to ask about some sort of blockchain social media thingy which claims to pay authors in a cryptocurrency that has just been invented. This is the digital equivalent of reading your work out loud in a bus station in return for Skee-ball tickets.

I don’t mean to sound like a cryptocurrency snob, but if someone was offering Bitcoin I might be able to turn that into actual money. Then again, my first question would be, “But why can’t you just pay me in actual money?”

I think the ideas behind cryptocurrency, like security and de-centralization, are good ones, but it seems now that every day someone invents a new coin and a dumb way to promote it. It makes me sad that someone died alongside this frivolity.

You know what doesn’t need promoting, ever? Value.

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I’m Your Republican Boyfriend and After a Lengthy Investigation I Have Concluded That I Did Not Make Out with Sarah

I have found no evidence that I made out with “Sarah,” if that’s even a person’s name. Perhaps there was some bad judgment, like when I accidentally took off my shirt. But bad judgment, as we all know, does not a slobbery-frantic makeout sesh make.

I went to Skylar’s party at 8:00. Sarah might have been there at that time. I don’t even know for sure. Skylar’s mom made some pieces of bread that had been cooked in eggs. Have you ever heard of that? I heard someone say it’s French.

I was looking for the bathroom, but not the bathroom on the main level. It was hot upstairs, so I lifted my shirt a bit to cool off. But because I’ve been working so hard on my upper body I actually—accidentally—pulled the shirt right up over my head. At that point, this so-called “Sarah” person—who was probably trying to rob the place, truth be told—bumped into me with her face.

At that time she was poking her tongue out because she’d just heard someone mention open relationships. She apparently hates those just like we do. Anyway, she was making a “Bleaaugh!” sound and poking her tongue out.

I know. It’s laughable that anyone thinks this whole mess could be construed as making out. But we, our fraternity, conducted an investigation anyway.

I assume you saw my tweet last night, where I, in all-caps, underlined the lack of said makeout sesh? You can’t tweet something in all caps unless it’s true. That’s a fact.

FRATERNITY COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14-HOURS LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF CANOODLING OR SMOOCHIFICATION BETWEEN THE REPUBLICAN BOYFRIEND AND SARAH THE VOLLEYBALL PLAYER

Just listen to my fraternity brothers, Brad, Cody, and The Other Brad from San Diego. They will tell you how hard they investigated. What did they find? Bupkis!

Text Brad right now and ask him. Either Brad. They both know. Cody’s out of data for this month so he might not reply. But he knows too.

There might be a second report coming from certain members of a certain sorority to which you may belong. There might even be a short video which has been posted on a social media site. This can be safely ignored now that you have all the facts. Remember: video can be easily edited to show anything at all.

I have also made a list of recommendations for you going forward, which you will receive in the coming days. Study them carefully. It’s for our relationship’s benefit which is paramount to me.

One more thing: remember that I have choir tonight which has been moved to one of the rooms in the gym after volleyball practice. I will see you tomorrow!

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MidSouthCon 36 (2018) Wrapup

I’ve been to MidSouthCon two times previously, but this was my first trip purely as a vendor. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of book sales, given that I wasn’t paneling at all, but it was Kool and the Gang.

As with every one of these we go to, we made a bunch of new friends. I wish we’d gotten to do more con stuff, but we wanted to sell books, so we had to be in the vendor hall. I stopped by the video gaming room to see if anyone was playing Rocket League but no dice. Shame.

New for this conference was the Santa vs. Krampus table runner, which I think made a big difference. It’s easier to read a big banner like that than it is to read the cover of a book, of course. It’s my unscientific impression that twice as many people stopped to check out our wares as compared with Connooga when we didn’t have the runner yet.

Here’s our setup in the vendor hall:

Our booth neighbors were Titivilus Press, who had a tabletop letterpress machine on their table. Michael and I nerded out about type, Clickspring, and printing. He also had some vintage stuff that had to be twice as old as we are. He and Tia were great fun. Check out their site here: https://titiviluspress.com/

Meghann baked a big tub of oatmeal & dark chocolate cookies which were very well received, but the phenomenon I described from Connooga was reinforced here. I don’t think a single book buyer ate a cookie, and I don’t think a single cookie eater bought a book. They’re apparently just two completely different subsections of the populace.

I watched fellow humorous scifi/fantasy Dave Schroeder (http://www.xenotechsupport.com/) across the aisle from us giving away bookmarks all weekend, though, and those seemed well received. I think we’re going to dispense with the snacks and do bookmarks next. Here’s Dave’s setup:

As you can see, Dave has some banners behind his table in addition to a couple of table runners and some nicer book stands. We’re going to get some of those things going for ourselves as well. A stand-up banner is definitely next on the list.

Meghann was Hermione on Friday:

We had a lot of fun. Of course, in addition to the con, we went into town to eat some Gus’s Fried Chicken. That was high on my priority list, even though we have a location in Atlanta now. We also got in a run at Wolf River Greenway. Last time I ran there it had just flooded and was a mess. It was nice to come back and experience it when the trails were actually passable.

We also walked down Beale St. just to say we did, but we went early so the crazies weren’t out too much yet. It’s always a charge for me to see W.C. Handy’s house on the eastern end of the Beale entertainment area. The historical markers along Beale are super interesting as well.

We had a great conversation about snakes with our Lyft driver on the way home. She has been killing snakes around her house and is annoyed that she has mice. We advocated maybe letting the snakes live so they’d eat the mice, but this advice didn’t seem to land. Sorry, snakes. We tried.

On Saturday we were back at the book sales game. As you can see here, nearly half the cookies are gone and we’re sold out of Santa vs. Krampus. I wish I had brought twice as many books.

We’ve also been advertising free high fives, which are fun. Lots of people are amused that we high five them, but again, I don’t recall a single high fiver buying a book or vice versa. Still, it’s good to be silly.

Meghann was Rey on Saturday which was very well received. She got her picture taken a bunch of times. She put a lot of time into this costume and I think people could really tell.

We had a great weekend. As I said at the top, I think with some continued refinement we will be selling more per event. We’re super charged up about the results from this one. I just wish I’d brought more Santa vs. Krampus copies. The table runner helped. Stand up banners and bookmarks are our next avenues of investment.

In the future, we can save ourselves the time and effort of bringing cookies. That’ll save me the guilt after I eat a dozen or so myself.

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Rick, Morty, Sauce, Fandom, and Fear of a Millenial Planet

Rick and Morty is an animated science fiction show on Adult Swim. It has a lot of craft to it, and enjoys a rabid fanbase as a result. It doesn’t grab me the way it seems to grab so many people, but as a writer, I want to acknowledge up front that the show has a lot of funny stuff in it.

Because it’s so popular, I have watched every episode. Even if I don’t dig it, it’s making a lot of people who like science fiction laugh. As a humorous SciFi/Fantasy author, I should try to understand why it works.

My opinion is that the show works for its audience because it takes place in a fantasy world where smart is the most important thing you can be. I can see why that would land with kids, especially college kids. They’re probably the smartest people in our culture. But “smart” is not “wise.”

I am so smart! S M R T!

Being smart feels great, especially when you’re right. But as we get older, it starts to become apparent to us that sometimes you can be smart and right and still an asshole. That’s wisdom. It sucks. But then again, here’s some more wisdom: A tv show is not required to have, or be, a moral compass. All it has to do is be interesting.

In real life Rick and Morty culture, though, being the smartest is being the best. In this article, the author condemns Rick and Morty fans for thinking they’re so smart, but also congratulates himself for really, truly understanding the show.

And if they understood the point of the show so far — that living only for yourself is destructive and selfish no matter how smart you are — they would be ashamed at how they’re acting.

Uh, point proven, I guess?

The Sauce

In the show, the main character goes on a rant about some discontinued Mulan-themed McDonald’s sauce that he likes. The show’s fanbase seized on this moment and began clamoring for McDonald’s to make the sauce. McDonald’s, sensing a marketing opportunity, announced that they would indeed make the sauce. They sent a couple of packets to select locations.

Next thing you know, hundreds of Rick and Morty fans are lined up at their local McDonald’s, screaming and abusing the employees because they didn’t get their sauce. In LA, the cops had to disperse the crowds.

Some locations saw crowds of fans scream-chanting at employees.

That’s the sort of fun time it’s only possible to have if you do not stop even for a microsecond to consider the feelings of the fellow humans dealing with your actions.

The real victim here: poor, sad, megarich megacorp McDonald’s

The main thread of the news reports of the situation appears to be that McDonald’s botched a golden marketing opportunity by not knowing the size of the Rick & Morty fanbase. The Washington Post even chose to fault McDonald’s.

Guys, I just want to remind you of a couple of things. First of all, McDonald’s is not your friend. They’re not a cool uncle who has the keys to the popsicles. They’re a megacorp whose job is to make money. If they seemed like they were fans of the thing you’re a fan of, it was for money.

It doesn’t seem to be bothering Rick and Morty fans that regardless of how much sauce is or isn’t handed out, McDonald’s is going to win here.

Being smart is not the most important thing in the world. Being caring is. Smart is recognizing your wants and needs and figuring out how to meet them. Caring is recognizing other people’s wants and needs. If smart you doesn’t get a dipping sauce it is looking for, caring you should stop smart you from screaming at someone about it.

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Columbus Has Syphilis, a sketch in “honor” of Columbus Day

This is a sketch I wrote for the Atlanta performing troupe Sketchworks. It was performed a few years ago to great acclaim. It being Columbus Day today, I thought we all might enjoy it once again.

Columbus has syphilis (PDF)

Enjoy!

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