kung fu grippe

  1. Making the Clackity Noise

    Buffering [Sonny Payne]

    When I was a percussionist in high school, we were responsible for keeping the jazz band, full orchestra, concert band, and marching band in time, and we did so through a haze of marijuana and hormones and passed-down stories of some guy’s uncle who saw Gene Krupa perform a 12-minute solo using every part of a high hat while eschewing the rest of the kit. And to this day, when I see videos like this, I get an urge to skip class and go make out with a bassoonist in a sound-proof practice room. After all, life is short, and lunch period is even shorter.

    Did you read that? That was swell. One hundred five words. Less than half a page.

    That’s all it took for this person (whom I’m pretty sure I’ve never met) to make my day. Now I want to follow this person or star this person or favr this person or whatever the fuck au courant verb box I need to mash on in order to see more things like that.

    Yes, I realize I am — already, again, seemingly forever — carrying on like that weird relative who always smells of gin and Starlight mints as he threatens to “set you up with a sweet Doobie Brothers mix.” I love Starlight mints, but please don’t misunderstand me.

    I genuinely enjoy looking at oversaturated pictures of coltish women I’ll never meet. I’m always game to make fun of “improperly” punctuated “signs.” And God knows I love reading (and posting) elliptical quotes from famous books I never finished reading. Stipulated.

    But, brother. Do I ever wish more people would write little stories like Buffering’s. It’s just so wonderful. You know?

    I mean, Jesus Christ, people, LOOK. We have keyboards! Literally right in front of us. Right this second.

    You have one, too, right? See it? Really look. No, look down. Down there. No, not that. That’s your enormous energy drink. No, not that either. That’s your ironic Garfield lamp.

    Okay, here: Remember last week when your phone battery croaked, but you were frantic to tell something called a Facebook wall that you were “yeah still po0opn lots since teh yuck tacoz rofl bt OTOh fuck yeah top up my side salad for xtra dollar bitch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    Remember that? Okay, good. That. That was the keyboard that you were using then. It’s the keyboard that helped make the Facebook wall get your words on it. That was the clackity noise. That was the keyboard.

    Please use that keyboard to talk about your life sometimes.

    Your real life. Not just the canned version of life on which we slap adhesive labels like happy or sad, poor or rich, employed or unemployed, “eating lunch” or “hatin’ life”, “it’s complicated” or “serial entrepreneur,” “meh” or “whatever.”

    Tear off your fucking labels.


    Tell me something that happened. Use the names of people you’d forgotten about, and say what you’d thought would happen but didn’t. Write down what part of the song was playing when you slammed the door only to realize you had to go back inside for your car keys. Can you remember when you were still little enough to hide under the kitchen sink where it smelled like ammonia and Comet and old sponges? What was the color of the clunky old car your Dad would let you help steer. What brand did he smoke?

    My Dad smoked Winstons, from a red and gold pack that never seemed to empty. Lots and lots of Winstons. And, I loved when my Dad would let me help steer the vomit-green Pontiac with the plastic seats down the maniac curves of Boomer Road. I’d sit on his lap in this giant, ridiculous automobile, with cigarette smoke swirling around our heads and out the cracked window, listening to a Reds game on WLW, laughing and steering.

    My Dad had the same name as me and he never should have smoked as much as he did. And, I swear to God, thirty-five years later, I can still see his big hands on the wheel, and still smell those Winstons, and still hear Joe Nuxhall’s call, as Pete Rose stretches another double into an impossible head-first triple, and as I type this, I’m just remembering that whenever we were pulling out of my Grandparents’ driveway, my Dad would always flip the vomit-green Pontiac’s lights on and off three times. Blink. Blink. Blink.

    That’s how we said goodbye.


    Okay, so, that’s what was in my keyboard just now. I didn’t know it was in there when I sat down to compliment Buffering on his 105 words that made me think about how I love little stories. This is why writing is fucked up and awesome and makes a 42-year-old man cry about cigarettes and Pete Rose and an ugly green car on a perfectly temperate Sunday afternoon.

    Your keyboard will have different things in it than mine does, of course. But, it’s impossible to know what’s in there until you’ve made the clackity noise for a few minutes. You think you know what’s in there. But you don’t. It’s not your brain that makes the clackity noise, it’s your fingers.

    Your brain helps you to breathe and to buy beer and to pretend to understand Kant and to use Spanish to ask the hot waitress for “mas salsa,” and, thank God, your brain is a boon companion at helping you avoid deadly attacks by bears, monsters, and SEO marketers.

    But, your brain’s a piece-of-shit writer. I know this, because mine is too. So, let me assure you that there’s no point in waiting for your brain to start making the clackity noise for you. It can’t. That’s all on you, and on me, and on each of our extant fingers.

    Weird thing is I still have to relearn this every single day. Hand to God. The only way I can tell I’m relearning this is I notice that the keyboard has been making the clackity noise for several contiguous minutes. I see that words have started to come out and sometimes they’re good and almost always they’re not and increasingly I’m not all that worried about it either way.

    I’ve learned that my job is to just sit down and start making the clackity noise. If I make the clackity noise long enough every day, the “writing” seems to take care of itself. On the other hand, if there’s no clackity noise, no writing. No little stories. The stories may be in there, alongside God knows what else, but there’s no way to know. You must make the noise.

    You can totally do this. I know you know that. I mean to say, I know you know you know that you own a fucking keyboard and understand how to use it.

    But, you do need to be reminded of what that keyboard can help you make. I need to be reminded. Everybody needs to be reminded. Just because we know it doesn’t mean we’re actually making the clackity noise happen. Far from it.

    Maybe just try it. You don’t even have to show anyone. Make the clackity noise until a little story falls out. Just a little bit and just for a little while. Just until you notice one tiny, dumb, pointless story that the keyboard wanted you to remember.

    Today, the clackity noise helped me remember my Dad. I wonder who’s in your keyboard and what brand he’s smoking.

    Anyhow. Thanks, Buffering.

    I was also in band, I enjoyed pot, and I still think Gene Krupa is the tits.

    Stage Band, 1984

    Yep. Little stories are the internet’s native and ideal art form.

    Apart from the coltish women, the email from old friends, and the low-bit WAV files of Dr. Who quotes, I think it was the little stories that got me most excited about hearing that modem start to hiss. It’s definitely what keeps me excited today.

    Little dumb stories that I never expected.

    [Pontiac photo from the insanely fun OldCarBrocures.com. 1984 Band photo from my insanely depressing high school years]