I was first introduced to David Sedaris via his humor pieces in Esquire magazine. I’ve loved his columns and stories since I was 18. The video above should show you why.
Like any antisocial latchkey kid, I went through a collectibles phase. Collectibles were the friends that you played catch with, because you certainly couldn’t ask that from your dead dad. My obsessions were the standard stuff that any 7 to 13 year old boy could love: Star Wars action figures, classic Superman comic books, bootlegs of the Necromonicon that were supposed to help you tell your dead dad you finally got a “B” in math class. But the one thing that always fascinated me in my routine trips to any flea market or antique store were the “lost” baseball cards of Diatemacia. Widely considered one of the most coveted baseball card series in the world, I could never afford a set (a loose pack of “decent condition” cards alone is valued at $2,000). But they are, in a word, unreal.
Diatemacia, in case you’ve never heard, is a lost religion that originated in the American South, sometime between 1860-1890. Not much information on it can even be found on the internet, but we can be glean a bit from the newspaper ribbon in which the cards came packaged. Founded by a wealthy denim producer, Graham Carmichael, Diatemacians believed that the world would one day come to an end, but then be reborn. On the day of rebirth, believers would be “cleansed” by the Divine Babysitter and spend eternity in paradise, contemplating and correcting the errors of mankind. Non-believers would go about their lives as if nothing had ever happened. Except that all male Non-believers would be given enhanced sexual libidos. Because Diatemacians believe that ignorance breeds ineffectiveness, they felt that people of low intelligence had a tendency to also massively reproduce. Diatemacians believe that these people should not be punished for that instinct, but they should learn how to moderate it. That’s why these new libidos will drive men to stick their dicks into literally anything it could fit into: tree knobs, mailbox slots, a hole in their shoe, phonographs, radiators, bath tub faucets, garden hoses, etc. Because God is merciful and wise, he would never make a Non-believer bring any kind of sexual assault or crime upon another Non-believer. On the contrary: around other people, a male Non-believer is no more attracted to a man or woman than he was before the world ended. However, leave him alone in a room full of lamps with no lightbulbs… be careful when you walk back in there.
From what I could gather, Diatemacians valued style and common sense. In their Holy Book of Holy, dozens of chapters are dedicated to the sacrament of a full handlebar mustache. Not to mention they seem surprisingly progressive for a niche religion, preaching that the beauty of woman was should be judged by how many employees she managed.
The baseball cards were originally marketed towards the children of faithful Diatemacians. Carmichael acknowledged that the gravitas of the faith could be easily lost on kids, so he set out to create an extension of the Holy Book of Holy for a younger audience. The cards featured the patron saints of Diatemacia, who received their sainthood at birth. From there, the Saints were groomed for their destiny as spiritual leaders of their faith. Children could spend months collecting and trading a single series of cards, all of which – when assembled together – told the story of each of the 12 Saints in full. Amongst them was Saint Irma of Birmingham who brought industry to Southern farming, and was also believed to be President Ulysses S. Grant secret night-night storyteller.
Today, the market value of these cards alone makes a single pack worth owning – that is if you can find or afford it. In a recent auction in Laos, a pack of cards from a 1933 12th series sold for $500,000. It was one of the few packs today not owned by Vincent J. Pestonschraud, the last practicing Diatemacian left in this country. Pestonschraud is the great-great grandchild of Carmichael himself, and a noted recluse. His estate can be found in a swamp ranch outside of Jacksonville, Florida. His property is rumored to not be far from the burial ground of his somewhat famous grandfather. Thousands of journalists, fans, and “wanna-be” converts have tried to reach out to Prestonschraud over the years, but he refuses to associate with a world that is doomed to fail. In a statement that his lawyer released in 1995, he famously wrote “You’ll never get my grandfather’s baseball cards, you secular basset hounds. Not for all the tea in China, or $300 – which is what all of that tea is worth. The cards will die here on my property and my corpse with them. Any of you ‘Smithsonians’ try to raid my house to take them, will be met with an unpleasant doom – far worse than what God has waiting for you.”
So apparently, I missed that it was Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday last month (thanks adulthood). Google released this sick Google Doodle of the Queen classic, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, which coincidentally taps into everything I dreamed of in pre-adolescence: 1) One day becoming a cultural icon, 2) imagining the world as an 8-bit video game, and 3) owning a large collection of full-bodied, Roman onesies.
Thanks for everything, Freddie. We miss you.
Travis Chester sat at his plastic play table, alternating between his onward stare directions: exposed brick wall, blank news paper, exposed brick wall, blank news paper, etc. etc. He fingered his favorites red crayon, his head rested on his left palm. He was waiting for his first idea. But it wasn’t coming.
Travis took a sip from his Grover monster apple juice box. He swished the natural sugars in his cheek, gulped them down. Another thirty seconds of nothing, which led him to crumble the box and throw across the room in a rage,
“Bukowski was so wrong! Drinking does nothing to make great art. Fuck him, and Dylan Thomas!”
The afternoon was turning into a great disappointment for Travis. Here he was: five years old, and he had failed to write the Great American Novel. His dreams as a fetus were quickly slipping away, and he felt powerless against the will of nature. “There is nothing more frustrating,” he would later tell his therapist – Mr. Bill, the stuffed giraffe – “than the disconnect between genius and art.” Yes, other children of his age worried about naps, but Travis was, “So fucking above it.”
Travis was your typical tortured kindergarten artist. He’d known he was genius when Mrs. Jane, his teacher, told him that his finger painting of a dog was “so pretty”. But it was of course after discovering the works of Berenstein and Goose that he knew he wanted to be a writer. But, like all good talent, he struggled. When he couldn’t write, he’d lie in his rocket bed for hours – clutching Killer, his plush T. Rex, and listening to the Raffi track, “When’s It’s Raining, I’m Sad” on his iPod. His mother would get concerned for obvious reasons, but then reminded herself that she fell in love with Travis’s father because of his “soft soul”. Hard for her to believe that 15 years ago, she saw James’s performance as a dancing tree ghost in The Wooster Group’s production of My Fair Lady, and their lives had never been the same. Travis had inherited James’s own introvert and sensitive tendencies. This revelation drove to cancel that order of Gummy Prozac she’d put in for her son, all while wistfully thinking, “He’s going to enchant some wonderful young girl one day!” For his birthday, she’d already bought him a Jackson Pollock color-by-the-numbers coloring book. Anything to encourage Travis’s creativity!
But none of that was going to help Travis now. His afternoon nap was upon him; and then, it would be snack time. And then, mommy came home from yoga, and daddy would eventually be home from his job selling ad space for New York Magazine; “If I don’t write something in the next 10 minutes, this whole afternoon is fucked.”
Travis took a deep breath. Told himself to stop freaking out. Just write. He pressed his crayon to the paper. “No judgments.” he thought. Out it flowed:
“Cat dog cookie house Flower sun 123456 fish wheel kitty meow meow tiger lion yellow”
“Oh my God,” Travis thought in a moment of clarity, “I’m brilliant.”
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman
7. Captain Picklepaws
9. Johnny Appleseed, The Otter
10. Johnny Appleseed II, The Otter Strikes Back
11. Theodore Roosevelt
15. Lady Dumerville
16. Countess Contessa of Chesapeake Bay
22. Martin Landau
23. Thomas P. Cardinalstein
24. Edgar W. Pritchettberger
26. Myron Von Thiesel Von Thiesel
27. Wayne Jarvis Beau Derek
28. Jonathan Hinklebottom
29. Patrick T. Hachachachacha
Call it a hangover from my week-long obsession with football (my fantasy teams, more or less, did terribly on Sunday – thanks for asking), but I spent my Sunday night trying to not pay attention to what was happening between the Steelers and the Colts. Instead, I caught up with The Sound of Young America and stumbled upon their last episode with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophyscist badass and director of the Hayden Planetarium here in New York. I’d seen Tyson previously on Real Time with Bill Mahr, and found myself equally blown away by his dialogue then as I was in his TSOYA interview; see the link below…
Part of what I find so engaging about him is his ability to make abstract concepts accessible, and also that he makes progressive thought actually sound like a good thing. I’m so gaga over this guy that I’ll also throw in a Q&A he did back in 2009 and how he answered the subject of the 2012 Apocalypse. Enjoy readers…
“I got my first taste when I was five. It was my parents; they were addicts, so I became an addict. Products of your environment really happen, folks. I remember the first time I tasted a Baja Supreme Gordita. It tasted like rainbows in my mouth were rolling my soul in glitter. After that first, I was able to walk away from it fine. I knew I wanted it, but I was protected from it. Cuz, y’know, I was a kid. But you get older, you strike out, and you realize that hunger never goes away. It actually gets worse – that Taco Bell hunger.
They call being addicted to Taco Bell “riding the horse train” cuz most people believe the food is made outta horse. And I guess, if that were true, then I rode every filly in that ranch. Some days were better than others. You wake up at 7 in the morning, and the first thing your brain is screaming for is cinnamon sticks. You don’t just want to eat it, you want to rub them on your face. Because you actually believe that all that stuff will take your problems away: your mammoth obesity, your shortness of breath, the complete lack of respect that people have for you because you can name the release date of Half-Life 4, but you don’t know what Libya is. But you believe and tell yourself, “I just need to eat 25 Grilled Stuffed Burritos and it’ll all even out. I get that in me, and I can go to my job at True Value and get through the day.” The worst days came when I was about 10 years in. I was a tester. That’s when they pay you to show up at the regional Taco Bell headquarters and you eat all the off-menu items they’re developing out of lab in Colorado somewhere: The Super-Cheesy Queso Bandito Chalupa, The Mega Mexican Uber-Beef Double Fried Taco, The Spicy Crackin’ Super Lime Chicken Salad drizzled in Ranchero sauce (pig fat). You don’t go there because you want to be there, you go there because things have gotten bad enough that you need to be there.
Is any of this getting through to you folks? Any of this shit scaring you? Good. Because it should. You can come back from it, but you’ve got to work. You’ve got to want it. You should be willing to learn what an apple tastes like, and that not everything has to washed down with a Mountain Dew. There’s this thing called water that’ll do the same thing and won’t cause your heart to hurt. Folks, use me as the example. I want to help you. Join me when I say, ‘God, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to stop myself from ordering a 9th Nacho Supreme.’ “
Kids, your mother and I have something to tell you. We’re getting a divorce. Now, before you begin to assume anything, we want to you both to know that it is completely your fault.
Now, we all know that – “typically” – a divorce never happens because of the kids. It’s because the parents have come to a point where they would be better off not married to each other anymore. This would also be the time to tell you that that’s a bold face lie. Parents are adults, and children are children. Adults can learn how to live with each other, despite their shortcomings. Children are social morons who are led to believe that life is a fairy tale. Truth be told: you’re mother and I would get along great if you two weren’t in the picture. We could keep the house, turn one of your rooms into a separate bedroom, turn the other room into an office or a pottery studio, and continue to share the mortgage as if we were roommates. But apparently – according to all of Mom and Dad’s friends and colleagues – that’s too “complicated” for two children to understand! So we’re stuck doing this: we’re getting a divorce so that you two can have a “healthier upbringing”.
It’s not that we don’t love you, we just don’t love you enough to act as if this isn’t a huge pain in the ass for us. You’re our kids, you deserve to know the truth. I mean: why do you think we’re raising you as atheists? It’s because there’s no such thing as bullshit in this family. When your Mom and I got together, we had it all planned out. We both were marine biologists. We were able to afford this house at 25 years old. We were going to live the perfect life. That’s why we decided to have children, because we thought it’d go great with everything else. But… the neediness. We didn’t expect that it was going to be an all-the-time kind of thing. I know right after you were born, Benjamin, we had a three-week vacation to the Bahamas all planned out. It was going to be a treat to ourselves after 9 months of dealing with the whole “pregnancy” thing. But guess what: that had to be scrapped because a newborn apparently needs to be cared for all the time. Do you know how much “non-refundable” costs?
Anyway, I should reel this back in, because I can feel myself going on a tangent. What your mother and I have decided is that enough is enough. A person can only take so much. And, given our current state of mental well-being, you two deserve better, too. That’s why neither of us have elected to take custody of you. Rather you’re going to go live with Uncle Pierre in Singapore. Singapore! Doesn’t that sound exciting! Clean streets, excellent education, corporeal punishment – so don’t even think about growing up to be some kind of smart aleck, Allison! Pierre’s already got you enrolled in summer session at The Academy of Obedient and Gifted Children so you’ll be all caught up by the time fall rolls around next year.
What, Donna? Oh right, I should have asked: do you two have any questions?
1. Being forced to listen to the entire “Gin and Tonic” era of Billy Joel’s career.
2. 100,000 socially awkward hugs.
3. Personally dressing up gila monsters to look like business people.
4. Getting stuck in a conversation with somebody who believes that Dave Matthews Band is overrated.
5. Bees who believe their stings feel like rainbow kisses.
6. That commercial for NFL Sunday Ticket where fairy Deion Sanders is delivering “the good news” to a Dallas Cowboys fan he can watch games on his Droid, and it never once occurs to him or his wife that the fairy is, in fact, Deion Sanders.
7. Passing the certification exam to become a professional shark masseuse.
8. Trying to order a lithium transmission for a 1925 Baron-X Danger cycle without having to pay the grandfathered-in “German Apology” fees.
9. Waking up at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday to spend the whole day at a cater waiter job for The National Association of Stiff Tippers.
10. 200,000 socially awkward hugs. From my boss. Who I just bumped into a karaoke bar. At 1:00 a.m. on a Sunday.
I’ve now spent an hour trying to come up with something original to write for Friday. Not much luck with anything. HOWEVER! Good news: you can expect at least 3 new pieces of writing next week, and God knows what else. In the meantime, I figured since it’s Friday, you’re most likely reading this because you are a) at work and bored, b) unemployed and waiting for Judge Joe Brown to start on TV, or c) you are some kind of blood relative of mine. Either way: you’re looking for time to kill at the end of the week. Why not spend it catching up on one of my favorite musicians, Tom Waits?
There’s not much to say about Tom that hasn’t already been said by many and more articulate people than me; all I can add is that I’ve loved his music since freshman year of high school. Bittersweet and comedic and far out, his work remains unlike anything else ever produced in the mainstream. Listening to anything he produced while on Asylum Records (all of the ’70s and early ’80s) moves me in a very special way, because it gets me thinking about my dad. I guess because he wanted to be like a character in a Tom Waits song, or maybe he actually was one – fun fact: the man did use to work as a pizza delivery man and a cab driver to make ends meet when I was a child. Anyway, here for your approval (and to curtail my rambling), I present some of my favorite Tom Waits clips off of YouTube. Enjoy. Have a good weekend. Come back on Monday – I’ll make coffee, and I promise to not ask about your husband’s foot problem.
From the film Mystery Men…
From the film Coffee and Cigarettes…