Once upon a time, last century, there was a website called mikethepod.com. Then, after thirteen years, it was suddenly no more. Recently I remembered that the rest of the world’s population does not in fact reside within my stunted noggin, and has no idea why. So I suppose an explanation is in order.
The short form is, I had a bad few years.
When I tell you I joke about killing myself, I mean it. If I was at all serious I would’ve offed myself a long time ago. Life is all about how you handle tough times, and what you learn from them. I draw cartoons for a quasi-living, so I forget that on a daily basis. But remember: I kid. I kid to kill the pain. That’s what kidding’s for.
In 2008, after three years subsumed in production, I finished animating and editing John’s Arm: Armageddon. To say that I was burned out is an astronomical understatement. The only way to enter a project like that is loaded with white-hot hubris, and by the time of the screening, I was so brain-dead I could hardly introduce myself. I started the endeavor in 2005, with the loving support of a fiance and a tony loft studio she provided to create in, where my father and I built a pair of recording booths. By 2010 all of that would be gone.
This is why it means so much when I hear that my movie made someone laugh. It reminds me of all the great times we had putting it together.
In 2009, my long-time relationship with the woman who helped produce my movie came to an end. No grown man with a brain that I’ve encountered since then has failed to empathize. Anyone that has attempted or maintained a creative relationship with someone they love can tell you that it’s the same as throwing gasoline on a raging bonfire. The heat is more intense than anyone can take, and nothing remains in the end but the evidence of the burn.
I spent 2010 getting back on my feet, and not without a lot of help. Continuing to promote the movie, while important, wasn’t easy; aside from the break-up, several of the voices were provided by my good friend Phil, who was killed in a car accident in 2009. Still, I really wanted to show the movie to my Dad, who lived in New Jersey, 800 miles away.
And then just before the end of 2010 my Dad died.
Lots of dads die. The thing is, my dad had to go back to a hospital because of extreme pain following spinal surgery, and the hospital pretty much killed him.
There’s this magical “get out of malpractice suits free” thing called the MRSA virus. Hospitals, particularly the one that killed my Dad, are crawling with it. If you happen to die from it, oops, tough luck, too bad. Oh, you’ve got dependents and people who care about you? Well, this is what’s called a “life lesson”. You should’ve read the fine print.
This knowledge has caused in me an aversion to hospitals so extreme, that I almost died last fall from an abscess tooth, and almost literally had to be dragged into one. Ask around for people who’ve had surgery, and you’ll get enough horror stories to fill a Stephen King anthology. I found out my sister had to go in for surgery at some point, and my room spun. It terrifies me to even consider the process.
By mid-April 2011 I was still grieving for my Dad, who was the strongest supporter of my work, as well as my beloved Dad. In the common hallway of my apartment building, there was a weird commotion that went on long enough to bother me. I opened the door to see what in the hell was going on. I lived in a safe enough building to do that sort of thing. So I thought.
According to the police report, a man out of his mind “on bath salts” pushed his way into my apartment, whereupon I insisted that he leave. Fisticuffs ensued, which continued long enough for me to sustain “30 to 50 blows” to the head. During all this I was wearing glasses, which finally entered my face when I was thrown to the floor. Blind, with my cheek hanging open, I crawled to the kitchen and grabbed a knife from a drawer. I placed it at my assailant’s throat, and informed him that I would kill him if he did not exit. In my blindness, I pressed the wrong edge to flesh. My assailant, in his madness, exhorted me to cut him. I repeated the threat; he repeated his reply. I stabbed him. Repeatedly. This produced a different effect than expected.
As the intruder ran berserk throughout my dinky apartment, squirting blood and hurling boxes (I always have boxes) of my belongings, I called 911. When police arrived, my assailant fought them as well. Despite this he was subdued and arrested. As I navigate a swirl of queasy head trauma, the cops tell me I should have just killed him. EMTs tape my face up and scatter when they learn I have no insurance. Sometime after the police report is filed I fell asleep amongst the blood-splashed detritus. This is not something you should do after a head injury, but when you’re alone, angry and exhausted, it happens anyway.
Getting any monetary recompense was a battle. Even though my building’s policy was that I pay for renters’ insurance every month, they paid a fraction of the value of my stuff that was destroyed. My desk and chair were wrecked and spattered with blood. The custom-built computer upon which I created the movie now had an enormous hole in its side, courtesy of my attacker’s boot. An original Trypticon I’ve had since childhood was busted. You tell me- is the price of at least that not more than a few hundred bucks? I haven’t even told you about the Watchmen script from the unmade Terry Gilliam version, which is now stained with crazy-man blood (tainted with who knows what). Good thing it wasn’t my Fisher King script, right? Among other things, that was a gift from Dad.
I was now a pariah in my apartment complex. On top of this, I could hardly work, gripped with physical and emotional agony. Predictably, I was evicted, along with my hamster Philo (not his fault). Someone I had considered enough of a friend that I cast him in my movie invited me to take a room in his house. I was desperate and accepted, and with the help of another friend, moved everything I own in the world into a tiny room. This done, I began to get my act together.
Rather, that’s what I would have done, if this person whom I thought was my friend hadn’t begun screaming at me the very first night I stayed there. Just streams of abuse, about some imagined thing or another. This continued every few nights until he actually threatened me with a beating (and this while I was holding a little hamster). I went into survival mode, looking for somewhere else, anywhere else I could go. My so-called friend had become another full-blown meth-head asshole. Kids, the reason people plead with you never to touch meth is because it turns you into a person who is truly better off dead, and no one wants to bother saving them. Even a nun would let you die. Because you’re worse than scum; you’re stupid.
So for me, 2011 was subsumed in dealing with this idiot ex-friend’s actions. I had finally gone to a real friend, luckily locating him at El Myr, where I figured he might be. In one hand, I had my bare essentials in a garbage bag; an Ovo capsule containing a worried Philo was cradled in the other. I told him I had nowhere to go, as Philo was fed tortilla chips and cooed over by fetching ladies. My friend let me crash on his floor, while Philo moved in atop the fridge and became a sort of obscure local mascot. Eventually I was able to move in proper. At some point I even got my stuff back, although my ex-friends managed to destroy some of it, notably a pair of beloved fezzes. If that’s what it took to be rid of those assholes, it was worth it.*
[*This turned out to be incorrect. The fezzes were not damaged. I apologize for and retract the accusation.]
But all this confusion and trauma claimed one crucial victim- my website disappeared.
All this time wasted just trying to live, just trying to find a place to live, and no one could contact me for the most part. I was barely able to hang on to the cartoon gig I’ve had since 1998, which was my entire income, and not nearly enough. On top of all the anguish and hurt I was feeling, my link to the world for the past thirteen years was gone. I challenge you- no, I defy you, to create something and then, after nurturing it for thirteen years, lose it. Tell me the pain isn’t akin to the loss of a child. I double-dog dare you.
At first it was all about bringing the site back. Then it was all about getting a computer again. Then it was all about working out how to afford internet. And a phone.
And then it was 2012.
I’d only just brought Ceaseless Fables of Beyonding current again, and I was squeezing out a Bands I Useta Like here and there, though not without incredible difficulty. I was more miserable and depressed than usual. But I knew who my friends were, and they were helping me out a great deal. That’s why I got defensive when the World’s Biggest Scumbag wouldn’t leave the property in May 2013.
I’d encountered the World’s Biggest Scumbag many times before, unfortunately. Almost every single one of my friends in Atlanta has been ripped off by the WBS. Despite his Indian heritage, the WBS is astoundingly stupid; the only stupid one of that descent I’ve ever known. He is boldly larcenous, literally stealing things when you turn your back on him. We all know he robbed our house in the past, when my friend was in the hospital, almost dying (not from the hospital). Every girl the WBS has dated, he has battered. When he fucks up enough in Atlanta, he goes to North Carolina and pulls the same thing. Most of this I learned from a public defender after I’d been in jail for a month. And it wasn’t even half of what he’d done.
You see, my house is a smorgasbord of good people who repeatedly give second chances. Please refer back to the circumstances in which I came to live in this house for example. And the WBS is one of those inhuman turds, those despicable slimes that lie with each outward breath, and with no effort. I’ve known a handful of pathological lying fucks in my life, but nothing like this. This is a person, and I use the term loosely, who wouldn’t even learn from prison rape. The WBS sees good people as suckers to be manipulated for his own ends.
So one hot May afternoon the WBS decides to try to enter the house, SCREAMING that my friend owes him money. My friend is involved in a local temple, and openly lives the teachings of that temple. He did not owe the WBS any money. The WBS continued screaming, SCREAMING, smacking doors and windows, telling my friend to come out, saying that he wasn’t afraid of “his boyfriend” (directed at me), bluffing that he was calling the cops, etc. This went on for about ten minutes. My friend, who is not easily upset, was upset. I went to the door to tell the WBS to leave the premises.
He knocked, and when I opened the door, he was cowering around the side of the house. “I’m recording you!” he cried. In a loud voice, so as to finally alert the lazy-ass neighbors who must be goddamn deaf or something, I told him to leave. He said no. I told him again. He said no. This went on and on. His shrieking at an apex, he charged me to get on the porch. I physically made it clear to him that he had made a huge mistake. I’m guessing from the outcome he hadn’t really been recording me.
Those of you who believe “innocent until proven guilty” have never run a lying scumbag off your own property. At 40 years old, for the first time in my life, I was arrested and handcuffed. I turned 41 in Fulton County Jail, almost like the song goes. If my friends (the ones I was RIGHT to put in my movie) hadn’t gotten info about the WBS to a public defender, I might still be there today, instead of just for 48 days. If you’re the sensitive type, look up Fulton County Jail. Now imagine spending a month and a half there. All because someone has no sense, no soul, and no qualms about lying to police. Every time they get arrested. Which, as it happens, is about every year.
The last year has been a blur. I cannot understate how incarceration fucks with your head. If I hadn’t the ability to draw literally anything another inmate could suggest, thus demonstrating my value, it would certainly have killed me. Jail gives you flashbacks just like war. It took months for me to even reach borderline-functional. Eventually I worked it out a little in comic form, and the BIUL special began to take shape. Again I am confronted with the yin and yang. Transcending these emotional terrors allows me to grow in my work. To move forward.
When I set up the Bands I Useta Like site, I was awed at how much more whole I felt. When your teeth are smashed from fighting, and you’re using the same glued-together glasses that sliced open your face like a kiwi, feeling whole is a precious thing. You need the bad to truly appreciate the good. The key is finding the balance, as in all things.
So that’s what happened.