Est. read time: 18 minutes. [Read time sponsored by AEH Logistics]
Hellooo Sternal Journalists!
A few things to preface this week’s thing:
I have a dear friend named Jon who was cranking through Sternal Journals a couple weeks ago to get to inbox 0 (which I appreciate, but don’t ever feel pressured to do that, Sternal Journalists. E-mail is an addiction and I don’t want to be your Sackler family).
When I said that I hoped it was a worthwhile passing of the time, he said, “Sometimes it is! You never know until you’re finished, ya know?” Great burn, but I at least very much feel that. And I think, or I hope, that is because I do like to push the boundaries of what even I think I should do with the Sternal Journal.
One week, an interview with someone who watched a movie every single day in December; another week, I totally roast Peloton. The result is sometimes there are hits and other times there are wonderful misses.
A thing I’ve been doing for most of the pandemic is a weird thing called “Morning Pages.” I just write three full pages in a notebook every morning. I have to fill the pages. It can be absolute nonsense. A lot of the time, it’s really truly nonsense. But sometimes, I write little tidbits of ideas I know I wouldn’t have written otherwise.
Many of them are joke starters or story starters or just random, good-looking sentences. I love a smoke show sentence. But very occasionally, I come up with an idea I really like during Morning Pages and it becomes something.
Kurt Vonnegut had this alter ego named Kilgore Trout. Kilgore Trout is many things, but he’s basically a shitty science fiction writer. Vonnegut regularly describes the plot of Kilgore Trout books in his (Vonnegut’s) own books, and they are often wacky and sometimes dumb. I love that Vonnegut found a way to write-without-writing hundreds of science fiction novels that were maybe fun ideas in theory, but he didn’t think would be great in practice. Or maybe he did think they would be great, he just knew he didn’t have the time to make them all great! And so he gave them to Kilgore Trout!
So, now that you know all that… earlier this week, while doing Morning Pages, I had an idea for (what felt to me like) a Kilgore Trout-esque story. Which is to say wacky, sci-fi, and maybe dumb. I kept writing a bit more every day to the point that I told myself I should finish some version of a draft of it and share it as the Sternal Journal this week because, even if it’s not good, it will at least be something different!
And as to whether it’ll be a worthwhile passing of your time, you never know until you’re finished!
Oh My Slimy Sacred Gunky God
One day, nobody agrees at quite what time, the previously nonexistent children of people who once had a romantic thing and no longer did (and importantly never even came close to having children), started popping up all over the world.
You heard that right and it is insane as it sounds. In one moment, the world was as normal as it could get away with. And in the next moment, a bunch of children who didn’t exist a few minutes ago and were never conceived or birthed or any of that messy nonsense? Well, those children just popped into being. They were all about 12 years old and fully clothed.
It was staggering, and epidemic. The global population ballooned by about 15%. For like five minutes, people were worried about how to feed and shelter these new mouths, and then there were some murmurs wherein the people in charge threw around words like “but the precedent” and “sure, ideally” and generally acknowledged that, technically, we do have the resources and means to feed and shelter way more people than are currently fed and sheltered. And while all the murmuring was going down, these new preteens were just sort of subsumed into the ranks of whatever class or societal subset they demographically most belonged to.
But the bit that caused real conundrums is that it became very quickly clear that, even though these kids popped straight outta thin air, they each genetically contained the material of a pair of people already walking around on this very world of ours. And, stupendously, every singly one of these pairs of people who had the genetic material of some brand new seemingly very human, but also twelve and kind of magical child—every single one of these pairs—had previously dated at some point.
Everyone argued about what it meant, and some people even had theories. Some people believed it was only the children of true loves. Others that it was the children of relationship failures. Most admitted that it had to be random, but there wasn’t much to say about that so it was talked about the least.
Religiously, it was a total mess. The Big 3 all rushed to their texts. This was, of course, a big fucking opportunity for those in the business and culture of faith-in-powers-that-are-beyond-comprehension.
The trick was to find scriptural something-or-other that explained why this pre-pubescent mass arrival showed that your religion had in fact been right all along with (preferably) an angle that didn't get people too existential about an apocalypse being around the corner, but (ideally) still winking a bit towards the apocalypse being down the road maybe, a few towns over, and considering a daytrip.
One should emphasize that this jockeying was, for the most part, only happening in the clerical subconscious, what with instinct for self-preservation being, after all, something that—higher power believer or not—we can all agree is pure magic.
But then outside the Big 3, there was a lot of legitimate claim to the new heir of major religion. There were about 45 total that numbered in the say tens of thousands of adherents (9,999 or fewer adherents and you’re kind of still just a cult. Sorry, sweetcheeks.)
38 of the 45 fell into the flash in the pan varietal. They were robust, but too focused on The Event itself. Many were just failures of branding, the most outlandish of which was the actually-truly-for-real named The Worshippers of the 12-Year-Olds’ Coming. To this day, it’s still unclear how many joined that one as a bit.
But generally speaking, the ideologies that acted as if humanity had been on their own, deically speaking, until some one or thing decided to zap us a bunch of unwanted hypotheticals-turned-humans, just did not have the staying power after a week or two of daily sermons.
It was the ones that folded this into a more holistic way of thinking, recognizing that only religions whose ideologies expanded both directions in history did well… who did well.
And then the theories about simulations and aliens fucking with us not only did surprisingly well, but seemed to even more surprisingly have the greatest outcome on morale. As it turns out, a whole lot of people having a simultaneous forced revelation that there is a difference between things they can control and things they cannot, is a really good thing for relations of all sort.
Knowledge of the difference between things he could control and the things he could not was precisely what Jim Jammeson needed on the day all those snotty kids showed up.
(They were, by the way, literally snotty. Whatever bastardization of physics or sorcery had brought the onslaught of little shits, it seemed to include both a heavy running of the nose and some sort of cosmic chute perhaps that was covered in nose run-iness.
Some people theorized that, with about a billion kids showing up, maybe they had all shlooped down the same extramundane waterslide to get there, and were therefore sliding through each others’ mucus into sweet being.
And while getting to the bottom of that particular mystery was almost bottom on the list of mysteries associated with the whole Event thing, there was plenty of fascination. One popular podcast called “And What Even To Say of the Snot” dedicated over 230 episodes to the topic, about four of which were quite good.
Proving this theory would have required some Patient 0 or Initial Sniffler, and nobody ever found it. DNA tests on the snot confirmed nothing except that it was indeed snot, which led to the very unfortunate collapse of a very briefly popular religion attempt, Prophets of the Sacred Mystery of the Gunk.)
So Jim Jammeson. You would get it almost immediately if you met him, but just understand that this was a guy who really truly needed to get a hold on that which he did not have a hold on.
Here’s an example very small in scope, but most precisely representative of his particular brand of soft awfulness:
Jim Jammeson; whose initials were J and J, and whose last name Jammeson (pronounced JAM-muh-son),included two M’s, which therefore was not spelled or pronounced like the much more common Jameson (JAY-muh-son); would introduce himself like this:
“Jim Jammeson! Two J’s, Two M’s!” And then he would laugh like an asshole who thinks he just made not just any joke, but a joke so sharp that it would grant him access to any social circle, or any person’s heart or favor or whatever other provably scarce currencies people produce within themselves. And when nobody else laughed with him (they never did), he would raise his eyebrows in haughty disapproval, then say, “And how many M’s or J’s do you have?”
This was aggressively so many things: an aggressively bad joke; an aggressively forward introduction (Really. Imagine a world where everyone from a barista to a parking lot attendant to Jennifer Fucking Lopez is having such a bright-eyed, cheery day that they are ready to receive such an introduction at every moment of the day. That is the world Jim Jammeson is aggressively delusional enough to think he lives in.); and finally, so aggressively confusing, seeing as there are actually three M’s in his whole name, which is what we're counting if you count both J’s, which he does.
When this discrepancy in the number of M’s is pointed out to him, he always says the same thing: “I think the turn of phrase I’m making is pretty clear.”
To which the person asking typically blinks silently, as if to say, “Well… is it? Because I just asked you to clarify. And also I don’t even know if that counts as a ‘turn of phrase,’ and Almighty Lord, Prophet of the Sacred Gunk (that religion had stuck around ironically once disproven), how long am I going to have to stay in this conversation?”
One such blinker (before the time of the Sacred Gunk) was Louretta Sckuczhnei (SKOOSH-nee) who was one of seventeen people unlucky enough to have ever gone on a first date with Jim Jammeson, more worriedly one of four to go on a second date, and tragically one of only one to ever go on a third.
The first date was not her fault. A friend of a friend set it up.
The second date, she blamed her parents for “Louretta” and just anthropo-lexicological shit luck for “Sckuczhnei.” If you don’t have a weird name, you don’t know and you never will; but there’s a camaraderie between the Merlvins and Staciiis of the world; between the havers of monosyllabic first and last names and the possessors of long cabooses of consonants where someone swears there should be a vowel. Like any camaraderie, it’s quality is totally dependent on the comrades, and the shenanigans you get into with them. In this case, the comrade was Jim Jammeson. The shenanigan was Louretta Sckuczhnei agreeing to a third date.
And that was her own damn fault.
But that was also a long time time ago.
Now, it was about twenty-five months after Louretta’s first date with Jim Jammeson; twenty-two months after the last time she saw him; and three months after all these damn twelve-year-olds showed up; specifically the one who apparently, because of course, I mean are you fucking kidding me, but apparently one of these twelve-year-olds genetically belongs to her and Jim.
Louretta was sitting at the airport, and even though the kid was supposed to be here in two minutes and Jim was supposed to be here an hour ago, she wasn’t upset. Her feelings transcended upset. But she was also glad to spend just a little more time away from, not even him, but his damn personali—
“Ha!” Dammit, there he was.
“Louretta, it’s great to see you what a weird time I mean can you believe the world we’re in right now I read about five articles this weekend I wanted to talk to you about I know this whole thing is weird but I’m glad we can talk about the articles also”
And, horror upon horror and then stuffed into another horror, Jim pulled out a small box.
Louretta froze alllll the way down to her toes, because she had heard of this. She does not know a single person who is in such a bind as she is in terms of this whole 12 Year Old thing dictating what specific person she’s going to have to spend a fair amount of time around or in conversation with, because she does not know a single person who is now attached in any way to Jim Jammeson. But she had heard of people kind of freaking out when thrown together by fate and snot and getting married because of this whole mess.
“Jesus fuckin christ my god oh my god oh slimy sacred gunky god do not let Jim Jammeson propose marriage to me right now,” is what she said inside.
Outside, she said, “Oh, Jim. Please tell me this isn’t a Valentine’s day thing or anything. We don’t have to—“
“Valentine’s day? Ha! Louretta! We must have never spent a February together. But you know I’m way more a President’s Day guy!”
And with that, he opened the small box to reveal a pair of clay earrings that really very impressively for how small of a thing they were, resembled full-color busts of the 28th president of the United States.
“Woodrow Wilson,” Jim gushed through his awful grin. “You know why he’s my favorite, don’t you?”
Unfortunately, Louretta had spend just enough time with him or was just an attentive enough casual dater to know exactly why.
“Woodrow! Wilson! Two W’s! Three O’s!”
Oh my slimy sacred gunky god.
(Book) The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead. Just started reading this and I like it a lot. Speaking of smoke show sentences: “Given obscenity’s remarkable gallop into conversational speech, colorful epithets are to be expected in Lila Mae’s address to the two strangers lurking about her apartment.”
(Movie) Tenet. Buncha goddamn fun.
(Podcast) The Test Kitchen. Bumping from last time! Still great!
(App) Clubhouse. Not actually a recommendation as they seem to maybe do some icky privacy stuff and it seems like it might be a net bad for the world even without that, but I’m fascinated by it. Eager to hear people’s experiences if they’ve given it a go.
And that’s all friends! Hope it was worthwhile, but if it wasn’t, hope you’re at least closer to inbox 0!
P.S. Did you know you can like and comment on Substack posts? Only one or two Sternal Journalists do it right now, so it looks way lamer than it could. If you’re in a hurry, get the hell outta here. But if you have a second, leave a comment if you enjoyed! Or talk some shit!