I started 2010 like Batman¹.

From the moment my feet hit the floor on January 1, I was an organisational machine. My brain was a steel trap; oiled with printer toner and personal productivity mantras. I was ready for the most efficiently-executed year of my life. I’d spent long days (and longer nights) through the dying weeks of 2009 crunching figures and percentages, breaking my aspirations for the new year down to the tiniest possible steps – moving from general goals to specific steps and action items, from specific steps and action items to daily to-do lists, double-distilling the data so I could have it at my fingertips every second of every hour of every day. Entire tracts of pristine Brazilian rainforest sacrificed their existence for my reams of flow-charts, timetables, and resource allocation lists. Other people bought porn magazines; I pored over office supply catalogues (but I swear, I only read them for the articles). And forget fantasies of actresses and supermodels – I dreamt of label-makers and tablet computers (admittedly, I was also mentally preparing myself for the night when Parker Posey came to my house and said ‘Jesus. That’s the hottest filing cabinet setup I’ve ever seen… you sexy motherfucker.‘)²

I was idly stirring an iced tea at a sunny table of the Chateau Marmont when the ever-debonair and deadly Iron Duke Haney said something important to me.

‘Listen to that sound in the background,’ he said. And over the quiet lull of tourists and minor celebrities talking (one smiling girl made her entrance to a group a couple of tables over saying ‘Sorry! I don’t want to be that actress who’s always late!’), beyond the pristine green of the garden, I could hear the quietly intrusive buzz of someone doing yard work.

‘You’ll always remember that,’ Duke said. ‘Once you pay attention to the little things going on around you they’re with you forever; when you think of this moment, you’ll think of that sound.’

There’s a moment in San Francisco that is indelibly inscribed on my memory; proof of Duke’s point.

I was walking up Market Street; I had to leave the US the following night. The late afternoon sun was slowly setting behind Sutro Tower and I could see three lines of shadow were scored across the clouds above. It took me a second to realise the shadows were being thrown onto the sky by the tower itself, and I stood on the sidewalk and watched the sky as people on their way to wherever it was they needed to go bustled past me, oblivious.

For no reason I could think of (my meeting Duke was still some months away), I thought You should remember this.

The bad news had arrived shortly after New Year’s… or rather, it hadn’t. For a month, I’d been working on reviews of porn sites (a profession which remains the greatest ice-breaker I’ve ever had). I’d been in regular contact with my boss in Scotland throughout, volunteering to do extra work when other writers didn’t come through with the goods, taking on smaller admin jobs that he needed to get done, working late on extra jobs that came down to the wire. And then, when I sent through my first invoice… nothing.

At first, I hadn’t worried. I figured, OK, It’s Christmas, it’s New Year’s, it’s the holiday season. Of course, the wheels are going to be turning a little slowly. But after a week went past and I’d heard nothing back, I became concerned. Emails, both to my supervisor and to company headquarters, went unanswered.  International phone calls to the head office got me to a barely-intelligible answering machine and no further.

Only two words kept my spirits high – signed contract.

But that was then.

After a couple of weeks had passed and no word had been forthcoming, I realised I’d been stooged.

Not to worry
, I thought. I’ve still got plenty of time to find another job and make enough money to fulfil the terms of my visa. After all, it’s not like there’s some worldwide economic collapse, or ‘Global Financial Crisis’ waiting in the wings!

I spent the next three months burning through my savings while I searched for a job in San Francisco. I checked the want ads on and offline every morning, afternoon, and night, determined to leave no stone unturned. I applied  as a research analyst at a boutique global marketing company (that interview, in which I was invited to take off my shoes, was a strange one). I applied as the communications manager of an umbrella group of emergency services websites. I applied to be a waiter, a bookshop assistant, a freelance editor, a parking attendant, a yogi’s PA. I went to cattle-call interviews where one guy was so exhausted from searching for work he fell asleep in the waiting room (he didn’t get the gig). I stood outside a bar that was advertising for about ten positions in a line of about three hundred people (it was the first ten minutes of their second interview session that day). I got up at five for the train ride out to a bakery miles away; the family business of a friend’s partner.

Fellow travelers and transients commiserated, all of us coming to grips with the collapse of our hopes and dreams, of our lives. ‘This is so fucked,’ another Australian, another writer, said to me. ‘This is so fucked. I can’t believe I have to go back home. I’ve already booked my ticket. What are you going to do?’

‘Keep looking,’ I said. ‘Something has to turn up. So… You got any leads?’

News came from Australia about entire departments getting retrenched, their 9-5 lifestyles king-hit by the economy, forcing them back into the market along with their co-workers. While I stood and spoke to my competition at bartending interviews, we swapped horror stories.

Did you hear about the bar job with one vacancy for two night’s work a week, where two hundred people turned up to interview?

Let me tell you about my friend with a PhD – he’s bussing at Red Lobster now.

Oh, man, I remember that Craigslist’s ad. Yeah, they took it down after half an hour because of the number of responses.

I ran on the treadmill at 24 Hour Fitness (not that I needed the exercise. There wasn’t a bar for miles that I hadn’t walked into with a copy of my resume) and watched the news reports about how Obama was going to fix everything with a click of his fingers. I wanted to believe that more than anyone who actually voted for him.

Eventually, I came to terms with the truth. It was time to go. I had to choose to do so rather than void my visa – conditional as it was on earning above a certain amount in a year – and risk being barred from ever returning.

Kayak.com and United Airlines took me back to Australia. Misery welled up in me as I selected my flight and hit ‘Confirm.’ There was no part of me of that said Yes, this is the right thing to do. Instead, I simply thought I fucking hate this.

And then it was time to say goodbye.

I’ve been blessed with a good memory, but even in the clarity of remembrance, certain moments stand out.

Walking down 18th and seeing a guy, crying, shaking his hands at the sky and screaming ‘Like every day of my goddamn life!’ to his wheelchair-bound friend, while dozens of tiny chocolate Easter Eggs flew out of his pockets and cascaded on the sidewalk. The sight seemed to only make him more distressed, and he started stamping them flat, deaf to condolences.

The three impeccably-dressed drag queens who stopped me in the Castro to say hello, and then cooed and squealed when Australian-tinged vowels fell from my mouth. As I said goodbye, I heard one of them call ‘Goodbye, Hugh Jack-maaaaan!’ and the other two burst into delighted laughter.

Sitting in a cafe in Haight-Ashbury while it was still cold and dark outside, a bunch of early-morning-shift cops our only company, waiting to catch the first bus home.

The political roller disco where Zoe warned me about Ron’s outfit, and I walked out of the taqueria to find all six foot four of him crammed into a skin-tight Julio Iglesias t-shirt and the shortest shorts I’ve seen outside of a Jessica Simpson video clip (the same outfit he was in later that night at the hospital emergency room, where we took another friend after she came down badly off her roller skates).

Opening the door one night to meet the guy one of my housemates had been having an affair with looking unimpressed, claiming that she’d stolen his car (he couldn’t tell the cops because then his wife would find out). He later described me to her as ‘the kind of guy who understood,’ whatever the hell that means.

A late-night, street-corner poetry slam with Laura from England. A burner party with Lexie from France where we snuck in rum to fill coconuts with, aided and abetted by Epiphany the ticket girl. Freezing cold with Sydney from Switzerland and Buffy the cosplay artiste (who’d won me over with her single-use catchphrase of ‘Not today, Mavis!’) while we tried flagging people down to donate money to starving children.

Obama’s inauguration, Christmas, New Year’s Eve.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

Clarion Alley.

The Mission. The Castro. Noe Valley. Japantown.

This was the place I’d flown 7, 416 miles to get to. This was listening to the Freestylers on the way to get my morning coffee at Urban Bread, and the Dandy Warhols on the way back. This was season 2 of 30 Rock, season 3 of Dexter, season 6 of The L Word.  This was The Wrestler, The Yes Man, He’s Just Not That Into You.

This was my house and my housemates, and the way Laurel and I had unthinkingly worked out our daily greeting of an almost-shouted, cheery hello followed by exasperated gasps of ‘Fuckin’ Laurel’, ‘Fuckin’ Simon’, and a long, drawn-out sigh. This was all the people I’d known for months and years over the internet that I was meeting for the first time. This was all the people I met in cafes, at the gym, at parties and bars. This was all of their stories, that I shared, however briefly, just as they shared mine.

This was home.

And finally, this was closing my eyes as the plane to Sydney lifted off from the runway at SFO into the darkness of the night and thinking What happens now?

JC: We’re all very well aware that every newspaper, magazine, blog and website is seemingly required to list their 10 or 15, or whatever number of “best books” of the year. I guess this is kind of like that, but somewhat more amorphous. I don’t know if these are the best, and I’m not asking the guys for a specific number (hell, they don’t even have to be from 2009 – we’re rule-breakers here), but here are a few of the books I’m particularly glad to have read this year, that may or may not have been mentioned here on the blog.

  • In The Valley Of The Kings by Terrence Holt – Intriguing and taut, Holt’s stories reveal him as a master. The stories in this collection are sophisticated and quietly twisted. Haunting and Poe-like.
  • The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno – This was the first of JM’s books that I’ve read, though he’s been on the wish list for quite some time. As enjoyable as promised, if a story about a slowly disintegrating family can be enjoyable.
  • Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead – Olmstead continues to echo McCarthy in this story of cavalryman Napoleon Childs, leader of a party of horsemen hunting Pancho Villa. Ambushed, tortured, and forced to come to a reckoning about the path of his life and the inevitability of death, Napoleon plays the soldier philosopher. RO’s writing is brutal and lyrical.
  • All The Living by C.E.Morgan – A lean, deceptively simple novel about a couple attempting to run a farm in Kentucky. A timeless air invades this book – it could be set in the 30’s or the 90’s. Subtly theological and almost ballad-like, I’ve thought about this book quite a few times since my initial reading. Highly recommended.

JR: It wasn’t about new books; certainly there have been hundreds, if not thousands that I should have read. I was sent a manuscript for a debut that will turn a lot of heads this summer called Mr. Peanut, by Adam Ross. It’s an arresting piece of writing, combining cinematic genres, pulp mysteries, and insane details, with a strong whiff of the suburban discomfort found in the world of Raymond Carver. This brings me to the Carver Bio, which I touted to my accounts in September and got a lot of “yeah-yeah’s” in response, now look at it. 2009 was a year for me to discover John Cheever and John Updike, writers from a different time, legends, one who passed away, and the other whose life was documented in a lengthy biography. I realized that Cheever and his short stories spoke to me as a man, husband, father, in the same way the Don Draper spoke to me for thirteen weeks during the third season of Mad Men. That this life I’m living is not a fairy tale, as we are made to believe as teenagers, marriage is hard, life is harder, and the human experience is weird and constantly evolving, changing, disappointing, and thrilling. John Updike taught me things about being a writer; subtlety, voice, character, and point of view. All of this has helped me with my own writing, and in a way, Updike’s different characters spoke to my subconscious, where all men, husbands and fathers are riddled with self doubt, insecurity and wonder. I suppose all of this is to say that, through reading these old chestnuts I learned something about myself.

JE: We’re steeped in a lot of contemporary fiction around here, but we all do our best to mix in some dead guys. Here’s a couple things by dead guys I revisited this year that I didn’t blog about:

The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Everybody ought to at least dabble in Emerson’s essays on self-reliance, character, history, heroism, nature, and whatever else Emerson wants to spout about. The guy is as American as monster trucks—maybe even more! I make it a point to re-visit them every couple of years, and maybe tackle a new one. Here’s a little something from RWE’s essay on the intellect I happened upon recenlty, which I think I’ll tape above my desk for every time I’m lost in the early stages of a novel:

“All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it to the end, it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.”

True that.

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley: Just about any writer is fundamentally Shakespearean or Dickensian in their approach to character. Faulkner: Shakespearean. Twain: Dickensian. Shakespeare is concerned with big characters exerting their influence on the world, Dickens with small characters upon whom the world is exerting its influence. Exley is decidedly Dickensian. His characters are small people operating in a big world.

While Exley’s voice is at times as ribald as Bukowski (I’m reminded of the singular, almost sacrosanct respect reserved by Mr. Blue for the mysterious and daunting possibility of cunnilingus), Exley’s insights into the squalid business of alcoholism, mental illness, and abject failure, are far more nuanced, distilled, and textured than anything from the imagination Bukowski. For anyone who liked our coverage of Patrick DeWitt’s Ablutions, or Joshua Mohr’s Some Things That Meant the World to Me, do yourself a favor, and read A Fan’s Notes.

And finally, here’s some stuff I read this year online, by people very much alive:

The Nervous Breakdown.com: Our friend Brad Listi has built a wonderful online venue for both up-and-comers, and established writers—one of the best, frankly, this 3 guy has ever seen. All year long I’ve read short fiction and narrative non-fiction, and yes, even a little poetry, at TNB. Some of my favorites this year came from Ben Loory, D.R. Haney, Greg Olear, Irene Zion (and her daughter Lenore), Alexander Chee, Erika Rae, Zara Potts, Rich Ferguson, our own 3 guy Jason Rice. If you’re not familiar with any of these names, you will be. And if if you haven’t browsed TNB 3.0, by all means do. Communities like TNB, along with Richard Nash’s forthcoming Cursor, are a big part of the future of publishing.

DH: I. I’m finishing up a reading of Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room by the wonderful Other Press as 2009 closes out. It turns out to be the most satisfactory novel that I’ve read this year. It’s a wonder if a book can substitute serious diversion for the utter crap of pop culture and catch a sea change in my feelings.

The Glass Room is historical fiction. We’re in 1920’S – 30’s about-to-be-carved-up Czechoslovakia. An extraordinary modern house has been built by a German architect for the Landauers, who own and run Central Europe’s leading car company.

The house, built into the side of a hill, is “upside down”. The main floor is down the hill and down some curved stairs from the entry floor. It features an expanse of plate glass. The view becomes the room.

Chrome columns and white walls animate the space. In a bold touch of luxury in all this spartan coolness, there’s an onyx wall. When its veiny texture catches the light just right, it gives off reflected tree and maze-like patterns like an early Mondrian.

The room is the novel’s touch of allegory: a lens of rational coolness, of the scientific can-do spirit, of modern style detachment from prejudice and the politics of rage.

Would you want to live in such a room? Could you? When the Landauer’s move into their now world-famous, contemporary home, the lens has something to look at. And it’s not something rational and orderly. Messy human lives are laid out for you by the voice of the authorial third person narrator, a voice that’s a kind of analogue to the egg-like glasraum.

Mawer’s voice has become a centering paradigm for me. It displays a compassionate neutrality that carefully spins out a tale, making you long to turn to the next page. It’s quietly sympathetic…detached. Balanced. It’s unshaken by the traumatic events that it relates.

Watch as a lapidary fearfulness engulfs the characters while he who tells the tale remains as clear-minded as the light in the glass room. How much it means to be rational! How little it means! What a writer’s writer!

II. Contre Emerson: I love Montaigne. Emerson preaches. Montaigne never. Perhaps all essayists in democracies end up as preachers. Perhaps Montaigne, the citizen of a much more authoritarian society, didn’t dare. But I don’t think he wanted to.

I love Montaigne for saying if you lived through your day, that’s enough. Never mind this American cult of the piling up of tasks.

That’s not to say that Montaigne wasn’t active. He just wasn’t busy. He served as mayor of his town for awhile and did well. He stayed in good standing with the Catholic church and with the King, who esteemed his service, at a time of civil and religious wars. He got on with these absolutist authorities and still managed to be himself.

MM had a library of about 400 books. I have more than ten times that many. But he used his books ten times better than I have used mine.

Montaigne invented a literary form, the modern essay. It was the fashion in his time to show that you could quote ancient authorities. And Montaigne does this by pulling references out of his 400 books.

I’m elated he does this. I’ve heard some wonderful old stories in his essays. I got the feeling that MM got bored with this practice from time to time. But it was the fashion, his readers expected it. So he did it. It’s the courtier culture in him, I suppose. The desire to be gracious and to please. Not a bad thing. Try to find that in art or with your friends over a beer.

It moves me that although MM documented his temperament in his essays, his reactions to his world, it’s 16th century gossip (still interesting) and even his digestion, when it comes time for him to die, that takes place offstage.

This was the year that I read the Complete Essays of Montaigne in the Donald Frame translation. Having completed the whole compendious volume, I’ve started it all over again. Montaigne is my friend. In his writing is his voice. To read him is to talk to him. It’s the art of individuality without egotism. Such a pleasure to take.

III. An example of compassionate neutrality in the writer’s voice (Mawer) and individuality in writing without egotism (Montaigne). That’s what I’m taking into my reading and writing next year. But JC gave the Guys three shots each in this post.

In late 2009, I joined the Center for Fiction.

If you invented this founding story, it would sound like the premise for a Matthew Pearl mystery. An old fashioned private library, the kind you joined by subscription in the 19th century, the kind of place where Bartleby the Scrivener might have been a member, ekes out a musty existence in the 20th century and evolves into the Center for Fiction in the 21st.

The Center still functions as a library, collecting fiction and sheltering its readers in a classic old world reading room. It hosts talks by writers and discussion groups. It even provides low cost space for writers who need a quiet getaway in order to do their jobs. In every way, it is dedicated to the art of fiction.

So dust off those cobwebs and tell those old bookworms to watch what they’re biting. The Center for Fiction’s website also recently became cool.

I decided to do something different this December 31st. For as long as I’ve been celebrating New Year’s Eves, I’ve been greeting the subsequent morning with blurry eyes, a hangover that proves impervious to all the bacon and coffee I can throw at it, and a sullen and increasingly loud resentment of sunshine.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been some very good New Year’s Eves in there; the problem is usually the reverse. Some of my particular favourites have been spent working in clubs, because there’s nothing quite like the combination of free alcohol, double time pay, and a crowd of a couple thousand people, all secure in the knowledge that no matter what happens, they don’t have to go to work the next day, to spell out a good time.

But, after the train wreck that was 2009, it was time to switch up my style. Not only did I swear to myself I wasn’t going to wake up hungover on New Year’s Day, I also decided it was time to use the fresh start that everyone talks about as just that: a fresh start. After some lengthy discussions with the incomparable Zara Potts, I worked out just what I was going to do.

For a couple of days prior to NYE, I’d been writing down everything I was done with. Personal demons and demonic persons, mental confusions and spiritual contusions, grim frustrations and grimmer situations… everything got named and nailed down onto scraps of paper; mugshots of the things I wanted to change. I stuffed them all into a cardboard box and sat it on my desk – from time to time I would eye it off uneasily, half-expecting the unpleasantness defined inside to stage some kind of Dillinger-esque break-out as I added to the collection.

At sunset on New Year’s Eve, I took the box outside, placed it on a concrete slab so there would be no last-minute fire outbreak (although I would have grudgingly acknowledged the irony of such a well-placed final fuck you from 2009, and half-expecting one, I placed a bucket of water nearby), and put a box of matches to it. Of course, as I lit the matches, they flared up in a burst of sulphur and singed my fingers. Couldn’t resist one last bite out of me, could you, assholes? I thought, and dropped the matches into the box¹.

It burned sullenly, at first. The flames flickered around the thin cardboard edges of the box, catching in parts, then sputtering out with the job only just begun. The papers at the top were left singed and charred and rimmed in glowing lines of ember, giving the impression that everything had burned, but I refused to fall for that ruse.

Sorry, guys, I thought. There’s no escape. Not this time. Not for you.

Remembering the basic physics of fire (Dear Mr. Strohfeldt. Thank you for being such a wonderful high school science teacher. I remain truly sorry about the time I filled your classroom with the smell of deodorant. It was horseplay gone wrong, and nothing personal), I flipped the box and lit it from underneath, where the flames could suck in oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere and burn upwards.This time the fire caught rapidly; hungrily it ate through the stacked papers, long tongues of red and orange and yellow flicking across the undersides of notes crowded with the things I longed to erase. And I stood and watched every last piece of paper burn to ash until finally everything, box included, had been consumed.

Let me tell you, that’s a satisfying sensation.

Minutes after the fire was done, the clouds opened up into thunder and lightning and rain. And I drove to my friend Dean’s house to ring in the new year.

I got home the next morning at five, and sober², with an hour to wait until dawn and the second half of my plan.

Minutes before six, with the first sunrise of the new year starting to move up from behind the horizon, I took the second box, the one in which I’d stored my notes of all the things I wanted for myself, my family, and my friends in 2010, and tied the fifteen helium balloons I’d bought for just that purpose to it. I walked out to my back yard, found the clearest space I could, and, at sunrise, released them.

It was overcast and breezily cool, and I was worried the wind might carry the balloons into the higher branches of one of the surrounding trees (which would have been an undeniably bad omen). But the wind died just as the clock hit 6:01, the time of the rising sun. At first the balloons broke ranks and split away from each other, jostling for direction, but they quickly moved back into a cohesive unit that looked, to my fatigued eyes, as if it was moving with definitive purpose into the air.

And I stood and watched my colourful balloons and the box of my hopes and dreams rise swiftly up to the moody grey sky. In a few seconds, they were a tiny dot far up and away towards the clouds.

That’s right, 2010, I thought. You and me, baby.

So with a clean slate, a request list for the year to come, and 365 days that I’m really looking forward to, I have only this left to say:

Happy New Year.

¹ sadly, the box³ neither screamed nor did any gibbering phantoms fly out, as I was kind of hoping.

² mostly

³ yes, I lifted the phrase ‘Box Full of Evil’ from Mike Mignola. I apologise for nothing.

2009 is almost gone.  I feel like I made it through this year the same way I got through high school, which is to say I skipped most of it and barely squeaked by the rest.   One of the greatest perks to writing as frequently as I do is that there is always a record of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
I rolled into this year as unobtrusively as I possibly could, falling asleep on my brother’s couch an hour or so before midnight.  “If I’m quiet maybe ’09 won’t notice me”, I told myself, and for the most part it didn’t.  I spent January in the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced, -21 in Indianapolis.  Negative.  Twenty-one.  At that temperature even your soul freezes.
That probably explains why I was so sick a week or so later in New Orleans.  Instead of wrought iron and beignets and the banks of the Mississippi, I spent my time there huddled in the Ambassador Hotel hiding from fever induced nightmares.  That didn’t stop Wild Bill Dykes and Sam Demaris from dragging me to Vic’s for a glass or two of James.  I went straight from there to the Oklahoma foothills for a few nights of nothing but wilderness and fire.
There was a very blurry weekend in Shreveport somewhere around that part of the year, too.  I remember Justin Foster not wearing pants for most of it.  Sam and I stole a tree.  We also almost fought Elmo and Cookie Monster.  Wait, maybe that was last year.  This year we beat up a midget.  In our defense, he said he was in the UFC, which prompted the response, “Not unless Arianna Celeste writes a number on your chest and holds you over her head between rounds.”
I spent most of my May hopping around the Middle East with Don Barnhart and Bryan Bruner, which is not the place to visit during the summer.  I got to bake in the Qatari sun and walk the streets of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.  It was nice to find out that Saudi was so much different than I had thought it would be.  I got to soak for a few unplanned off days in a lagoon attached to a luxury hotel in Bahrain.  It was an oasis by every definition of the word and a very welcome respite from the hot desert sun.
While on that side of the world I got demolished in a game of soccer by Djiboutian children, met too many amazing people to name, played with wild cheetahs, and watched Christian Slater rescue a Marine girl from being attacked by one.  A cheetah, not a Djiboutian kid.
Somewhere in that same time period a German woman decided to go skinny dipping with polar bears at the Berlin Zoo.  I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.  We were soon inundated with more attacks from the animal world, this time in the form of the Pig AIDS.  Swine flu.  H1N1.  People wore masks and we all watched as the death toll rose on national television.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that it was a pointless thing to be afraid of.  “Save your fear,” we told ourselves, “there are underwear bombers coming in December.”
The King of Pop died right in front of all of us this year, too.  Sam was in Seattle when it happened, and managed to sleep through the news.  As long as I can remember, he has had one line in his show that takes a crack at Michael.  He called me that night to tell me he did the line on stage and was booed by the entire crowd.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“He’s dead!” yelled someone in the crowd, to which Sam replied, “No he’s not.  He just looks like that.”
Here’s hoping nobody dies while you’re hungover in 2010, Sam.
I was almost arrested in Dallas on my birthday until the cop admitted that some friends of mine had set me up.  He laughed as he took the handcuffs off, and I resisted the urge to kick my friends in the head.  It wasn’t the only time I would find myself in a cop car this year.  Back in Indianapolis, Billy D. Washington and I recruited a ride to our hotel from Indy’s most eccentric police officer.  After tazing himself a few times in the leg, he invited us into the cruiser.   What should have been a ten minute drive took forty minutes, reaching a conclusion only after I managed to pinpoint our location on my phone’s GPS.  To this day I’m not certain we didn’t get a ride from a guy that had just recently stolen a cop car.  Billy and I laughed until we cried, making that one of the most memorable weeks of the year.
I got to climb a bit in the Rockies this year as well.  There was a lot on my mind this summer and nothing clears it like thin mountain air and thousand foot falls.  Charlie Moreno and I watched a Gay Pride parade, a Mexicans for Jesus rally, and a Free Iran protest all take place in downtown Denver within a block of each other.  We watched street musicians and crazy people for a few hours before heading back to the Springs.  I was introduced to K’naan on the drive back, which only made the trip that much more worth it.
In July I got to briefly see my friends Kevin and Pete, who I see far too rarely.  I also got share some of the finest Irish whiskeys in the world this year with BC and Mike Flores.
Fall was spent in Canada, riding trains across Ontario, and drinking Alexander Keith’s with a slew of new Canadian friends.  For a comedian, the stage at Absolute Comedy in Ottawa is as close to heaven on Earth as one can possibly get.  It is to comedy what Nirvana is to both Buddhists and grunge fans.  I was also given the grand tour of Toronto by Jeff Schouela.  If you have to spend a few weeks in Canada with anyone, you could do far worse than Jeff.
On top of all of that, I lost my two best friends.  Tiger Woods fell from his perch at the top of the sports worlds.  I saw snow in Houston.  A family pimped their kid out with a childish balloon hoax.  I fell out of touch with my favorite person on this planet.  Billy Mays and Farrah Fawcett and Patrick Swayze and David Carradine and Jim Carroll died.  I made a stupid bet with my friend Titus.  I saw my friend Rachel turn orange.  I met new people and reconnected with some old friends.
And with all of that said, I managed to accomplish absolutely nothing.  I somehow managed to end the year precisely where I began it: in front of this desk, staring at this screen, drinking coffee.
Here’s to 2010.  I don’t know anything about it yet, but like most wild animals, it probably won’t bite you if you don’t look it in the eye.  I was a little passive this past year however, so I may very well pick a fight with this one on purpose.  It might kick my ass the way ’07 and ’08 did, but I also might find a way to tame it.
Good or bad, it’s pretty much upon us.

This isn’t actually a post from Melbourne. I’m writing it from a sparse and ambiently-lit hotel room in Christchurch. So that little ‘Melbourne, Australia’ tagline is a lie.

But that’s 2009 for you.

Dear 2009,

Fuck you. And fuck the horse you rode in on.

There’s less than a month to go until you’re gone, 2009, and let me tell you, I’m really looking forward to your inevitable demise.

Maybe you think I’m being unkind. Maybe you think I’m being unfair. Maybe you think I’m letting my emotions get the better of me. Well, frankly, I don’t care what you think any more. Not. One. Bit.

I had such high, high hopes for us, 2009. You kicked off at 12:00:01 on January 1 (2009) and things were already looking up. I had a new job, a new country, new friends – I had just about a new everything. Finally, I thought. Finally, everything’s gonna work out for ol’ Simon. 2009, you’re the year for me! You’ll treat me right, I’ll treat you right – I think at long last, I’ve found a year I can trust. Together, we’ll grow. Together, we’ll laugh. Sure, we’ll argue from time to time, but it will only be over silly misunderstandings, and once we’ve got it all sorted out, we’ll laugh again. We’ll go for long walks in the country, we’ll stay up late at hip and arty downtown coffee houses, we’ll watch The Sopranos together and have conversations that ripple between seriously discussing the very human monsters that dwell within us all and laughing over the quote ‘Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this!’

We were going to do so much laughing, 2009. Oh, and don’t get me started on the sex! When we first met, you were wild, and mysterious, and promisingly flexible, and I thought that maybe – just maybe – you were the year that had it all.

But no.

During your tenure the Global Financial Crisis went from push to shove to hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-shovel. Sarah Palin became a best-selling author.Transformers 2 came out.

At this juncture, 2009, I’d like to teach you a saying. A saying that has become near and dear to my heart, that has become a mantra – a creed, if you will – that I hope and pray I am man enough to live by.

There’s no need to be a dick about it.

Never quite got the hang of that one, did you, guy?

Look, I know, I’m not perfect. Believe it or not, there have been times when I, too, have been a dick about things. I can’t say I’ve handled everything that’s happened throughout the last 339 days as well as I could have. All I can say is, I always did my very, very best to make sure people understand how attractive I am.

But you, 2009. You made promises, and then you broke them. Sure, you delivered a little. At first. You tantalised, and you teased. And then you snatched it all away and then some. In a way that felt kind of like you telling me you were going to give me a million dollars, giving me the first hundred, and then eating my pet cat¹.

And as I stood, shocked and slack-jawed in the well-appointed kitchen of my imagination, watching you pick your teeth, I summoned the courage to ask: where’s my million dollars?

You mumbled something vague about the cheque being in the mail, then said you felt we needed to take some space. On your way past me, you asked ‘We cool?’ and put up your hand for a high five.

I’m not quite sure when the high five of hope left my heart, 2009. But somewhere in there, it did. I think it was the morning I woke to find you drunk and naked, face down on my couch, moaning about Jagermeister and leaving my car in a bad neighbourhood.

Subsequently I found you had relieved yourself in my dishwasher.

Which isn’t to say you were a total write-off. There were some real high points in there (Hey. TNB. Consider this a shout-out). Even the low points have helped me face things that are probably better off faced.

But really, you probably could have come through with some more on the win front, 2009. And I’m also kinda sick of growing as a person through hardships and confrontational experiences. If personal growth has to be on the menu, then, for the love of God, just make Deepak Chopra fall out of the sky and land on my house.

I feel owed. More so than usual, I mean. Yes, I’ll admit, I suffocated you a little. Yes, I could have made fewer loud references to how much I enjoyed 2003. Yes, I tried to shank you one time.

But that, and you, will all soon be in the past.

So here’s the deal. In 2010, I will happily bear my share of the load. I will face my fears, exorcise my demons, and return my friend Dean’s DVDs. I will happily humble myself at the feet of the people I have treated badly and beg for their forgiveness (OK, I don’t mean I’ll be happy as I do it, because then they might mistake the smile on my face for insincerity, and they’d get upset, and it would turn into a whole thing, and it would probably be a bad scene).

What I ask for in return – your end of the deal – will be simple. All I ask for is millions and millions of dollars. And I’ll handle the rest.


¹ Oh, right, that’s not just a metaphor. You killed my pet cat, 2009.²

² You know who else eats pet cats, and is much better than you? The Alien Life Form from Planet Melmac. That’s right, 2009. I preferred goddamn ALF to you in your entirety.