November 20, 2007
Back in 2001, when I was doing stand-up comedy, a veteran comic gave me some great advice about how to generate new material. “Write about what disgusts you,” he said, which, at the time, included him. He’d been staying on my couch while recovering from falling off the wagon after eleven years sober; now his drug of choice seemed to be phone sex, or so said my bill. I’d had to call the phone company and get them to block pay-per-call numbers; I also asked if there were any way to get the charges removed from the bill.
“Do you state that you are the person whose name is on this account, and that you did not make these calls?” asked the female representative with whom I spoke.
“Yes, and yes,” I said.
“Did anyone living in your house make these calls?”
“Not to my knowledge,” I said, and we both knew what I was really saying — Thank god he did it behind my back, because I really did not want to hear his end of those conversations.
“Well, all right,” she said. “I’ll go ahead and erase the charges.”
I thanked her, and she continued.
“You know, half the time these men call up and tell me they didn’t make these calls, and then I play ‘em a sample of the recording they keep on file, and they hear gotta their own voice.”
“You have their voices recorded?” I asked, and she confirmed it. All the sex lines take a voice sample, she said; otherwise nobody would ever pay for their calls.
“All these men,” she said. “Bunch of horny, cheap liars.”
I shared a chuckle and a shake of the head with her, and she let me go. Then I went downstairs to the coffee shop and wrote ten minutes worth of jokes about phone sex.
Back in 1997, I started taking Zoloft, after the end of a truly terrible relationship with a manic, grinning, fraudulent husk of a man. Something about the end of the relationship, the onset of the Zoloft, and the three joints per day I was smoking, kicked me into creative overdrive. I would come home from a ten hour day at the office, light a joint, and write sheaves of poems, one right after the other. They were mostly unintelligible, but I thought they were great. I would come into the office in the morning and write one of them in dry erase marker on the white board we were supposed to use to track projects:
…You can call me Monterey Jack, for all I care –
Shit on you in Yiddish! I don’t remember how it goes…
That’s from a poem called “Sad.” I actually wrote a poem called “Sad.” That’s what happens, when you override your internal editor with drugs.
These days, I am more resigned than disgusted. And it’s been nine years since I stopped taking Zoloft, a year since I stopped smoking three joints a day. I haven’t written a joke, or a poem, in forever. I haven’t written a short story since September. It’s been almost two months that I’ve been going to my writers’ room, opening my notebook, and writing I don’t know what the fuck to write. Sitting here in front of the “new post” window, typing and erasing and calling to Bill in the next room, What should I write?
The truth the truth the truth the truth the truth the truth the truth the truth the truth the truth…