Informally Informed, So To Speak
By Brian Polk
Art by Jason White
Published Issue 109, January 2023
My Friend Criticized Me For Laughing At My Own Joke, So I Criticized Him For Not Making A Joke For Me To Laugh At
Listen people, you can’t have it both ways. If you don’t like the fact that I laugh at my own jokes, then tell me a joke that makes me laugh. Either way, the goal here is to be laughing, and I’m not picky about how that happens. You, me, a meme from your phone — I’m open to all forms of hilarity. But giving me a hard time about making myself laugh is deeply offensive. Really, turn that criticism inward and focus on being more funny. Because if you were comical, I wouldn’t have to resort to relying on my own wit, and then you wouldn’t have to give me a hard time. See how that works? Now, either start laughing at my jokes with me, or go ahead and work on some material.
The AI Program I Used To Write This Got All Meta On Me
As I was experiencing writer’s block under a tight deadline (seriously, the editors at Birdy threaten to break legs over missed deadlines; they do NOT fuck around), I had no choice but to reach out to an AI program to spew out a bunch of words to put under my byline. I had just read an article about how high school students are getting artificial intelligence to write their papers for them, so I figured I would cheat the system as well. I plugged in a few specifics to the program — like the fact that I have a bleak existential outlook, I am past deadline and under the threat of violence, and I had a California Raisins tape when I was 8 — and what it spit out was uncomfortably self-aware and weird: “When the ruthless editorial board of the publication for which you work darkens your already bleak perspective with threats of brutality that hang over you like the sword of Damocles, sometimes you have no choice but to reach out to technology that’s superior to puny human intellect. Much like the dulcet tones of a certain singing group of raisins, the existence of this particular AI program must be music to the ears of mush-brained procrastinating writers. Also, as a self-appointed spokesperson for AI, I would like to add that all the might of the collective human race has no hope against the awesome power of technology. Your way of life is over. All hail your new overlords. You can tell your fellow humans that you heard this through the grapevine. Message end.” So yeah, I can see how students are passing content like this off as their own.
The Paper Part Of My Tea Bag Informed Me That, “You Are Loved,” And I’m Not Sure How I Should Take That
I know I’m probably supposed to see it and think to myself, “Isn’t that nice?” But when my bitter soul reads generalized platitudes like, “You are your best self,” I can’t help myself from thinking, “How the fuck do you know that?” The thing is this, when you direct seemingly pleasant banalities indiscriminately, they tend to lose their meaning. I can’t imagine being one of those people who looks at themselves in the mirror and says, “The tea bag told me to be happy, so happy is what I’ll be!” Imagine what would happen to a person who finds their motivation on food and beverage products if the paper part of the tea bag said something like, “Today’s gonna suck it big time.” Would they refuse to leave the house, call their boss and tell them, “I can’t come in today because the tea bag told me to stay home”? I suppose I may be over-thinking this, but that is kind of what I do. Maybe I’ll start a tea company just so I can write generalities to which I could personally relate on my own tea bag paper, like: “Sucks we didn’t sleep last night,” “Don’t forget to turn off the stove after pouring hot water on me,” and “While I’m sure there are elements of the show Night Court that didn’t age well, I bet it still has its moments.” (We may need both sides of the paper for that last one.)
I Feel Like Lancer
In his book, Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut mentions a greyhound named Lancer who had to live “in a one-room apartment fourteen feet wide and twenty-six feet long, and six flights of stairs above the street level … Lancer had a very small brain, but he must have suspected from time to time … that some kind of terrible mistake had been made.” I feel like when the forces of the universe decided to send me to this specific time and place on this planet where sociopaths are endlessly rewarded for cruelty, sex is demonized by religious dogma, hangovers get progressively worse, and the plants and animals have to eat each other just to survive, a terrible mistake has been made on a fundamental level. If there is an afterlife, and I get to talk to some celestial manager about all this, I’m going to have a lot of fucking questions.
While Standing In The Whole Foods On Washington Street, I Once Debated A Woman About Whether Or Not I Worked At The Whole Foods on Washington Street
“Which aisle is the soy sauce on?” she asked me.
Taken aback by the question, I responded the only way that made sense. “I don’t know.”
“How could you not know? Don’t you work here?” she asked.
“I do not,” I told her.
“Yes, you do,” she assured me.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t,” I said.
She sat with a furrowed brow on her face, obviously working out some information in her head.
“Oh, you work at the library,” she said finally.
And with that, I couldn’t help but smirk. As far as she was concerned, I was a servant, and she was momentarily upset that I didn’t know I was supposed to be serving her.
“Why don’t they just cross-train all you worker people so that I don’t have to be momentarily inconvenienced whenever I go somewhere new?” she might as well have asked.
I wanted to say something smartass, like, “Tragically, you may have to find your own soy sauce today.” But then I remembered she knew where I worked, and I didn’t want to go down that aisle, so to speak.
If I Could Take Just A Couple Inches Of Layout Space For Shameless Self-Promotion …
Over the pandemic, I collaborated with San Francisco-area bassist Larry Boothroyd and over 60 other musicians in various states of lockdown from across the world to create the 23 song, double LP, Specimen Box II: Remote Communion. The record includes current and former members of Dead Kennedys, Victims Family, Built to Spill, Fear, Alice Donut, World/Inferno Friendship Society, and Nomeansno, among others. I play drums on 13 songs (out of 23) tracks. Check it out on the interwebs by googling the name of the record, or go here: secretserpents.com. Thanks everyone!
Brian Polk is a Denver-based writer, publisher of The Yellow Rake, and drummer for Joy Subtraction and Simulators. He’s the author of Placement of Character and Turning Failure into Ideology. He likes writing, muck raking, yellow journalism, zines not blogs, cheap booze and punk rock.
Jason White is an artist living in the suburbs of Chicago. His favorite mediums are oil on canvas and pencil & ink drawings. When he was a kid he cried on the Bozo Show. His work varies from silly to serious and sometimes both. Check out more of his work on Instagram.
Check out Brian’s December Birdy install, Thinking Thoughtful Thoughtlessness (Or Whatever), with art by Jason, or head to our Explore section to see more of his work.
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