"Come back, Jim Washburn!" "Where are you, Mr. Washburn?" "Don't forsake us, Jim Washburn!"
This is the sort of mail I've been getting since I left the Weekly two years ago. Those letters went right to my heart, even if they were all from a record club where I'd let my membership lapse. Just the same, some of you might be wondering why I left and what I've been doing.
In journalism, you eventually reach a point where you start wondering what life feels like. You know those dour angels in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire who can only hover over life and record it? That's us, without the molting. You tire of waiting with a note pad for someone to say something interesting. You hunger for the hurly-burly of human commerce, the struggle of the marketplace, the tender act of stealing cinnamon toast from an old man at Coco's.
So I left the Weekly, turned my back to the wind, and noticed that the front of me didn't feel windy at all. So that's what it feels like outside.
Some folks are comfortable with their lives just the way they are—let's call them Sanguinistas—but others of us always are driven to see what's beyond that next hill. We follow a wandering star. Then we realize it's just Robert Downey Jr. driving with a Pam-filled Baggie on his head.
Out of journalism, I had a dizzying world of job choices to ponder in our dribble-down economy.
Consider this actual ad I copied out of a paper in Valencia recently: "Dog Poop Pick Up. Scoop Master, comes to your house, cleans up what your dog leaves behind, affordable, satisfaction guaranteed. 1-800-PUP POOP." Is that specialization or what? "I'm sorry, ma'am, that's cat waste. You'll have to call 1-800-CAT POOP." The best thing about the job is that at day's end, you've got a lot of dog shit to do whatever you want with.
That just goes to show you what sort of service-sector opportunities can arise when all of a nation's wealth is flowing to the top 5 percent. How about Chew Master, where you chew rich people's food for them? Or Buff Master, where you work out for them?
Fine, but I wanted a job in which I could express myself. It was William Shakespeare, after all, who wrote, "If music be the food of love, then fuck off." I've always envied the stuffed toys and oral sex you get when you're a rock star, so I decided to join a band.
I became the singer in the shoegazer band Feeble Gesture. Rodney played our single cut "Stop Tolerating Me" from the album Bleak Sunburst. Perhaps you heard it. I don't care.
Heroin destroyed that band, so I next tried to express my rage in the bugle-core band Reamer. We once played a two-hour "Reveille" that resulted in 83 cases of heat prostration and prompted a stern letter from the White House. "I'm gravely concerned," the president began, "but hung like a donkey."
After the tuba player in that group got everyone else riding the dragon, I changed my name to Big Olaf and started the Gumby Snakes. Our debut album, Snakes Work a Wah Wah, had the blues-dub hit "Ouch Is a Longer Word Than You Think," which featured the sampled voice of renascent blues legend Death Sound Humphries coughing into a Folgers can.
After that band started shooting big turkey basters of heroin, I quit, changed my name to Antonio Carlos Jim Beam, and had a sweet little lounge thing going. But my vibraphone player, Grumpy, was so far gone on H that he had veins tattooed on his arm just so he'd have something to stick a needle in.
After Grumpy turned up dead in my bougainvillea one morning, I started thinking maybe there's something to this heroin stuff and helped myself to his kit. It was all right, I guess.
I've always admired entrepreneurs, guys who could take a mere dream and turn it into acres of dung-colored housing. I have ideas, and I thought, "If I really believe in my product enough, maybe Pic 'n' Save will, too."
I started Doomed Enterprises—our company motto: "Where Job No. 1 is Job No. 2"—and secured a licensing agreement to market a new product carrying a familiar household name. It seemed like a shoo-in, but Liquid Spam meat beverage never caught on.
Next I tried marketing a line of greeting cards for these morally challenging times:
Congratulations on Your Market Stranglehold.
I'm Sorry I'm Sleeping With Your Wife.
I Am Saddened to Hear That I'm Selling You Down the River.
Then there was my line of bumper stickers for angry Christians, including:
"God Said It, I Believe It, and I'm Packed With Explosives."
"We're Sending Our Children's Inheritance to the Reverend Falwell."
And, of course, "It's in the Bible, Asshole!"
After failing again with a discount-wine warehouse called Liquor Trough, what I realized is that you've got to get in on the ground floor of an industry or you won't know where the parking structure is. Fortunately, with the global economy, you can always sell an old idea in a new arena.
So I moved to Iran for six months and made gay porn for the local market. I think my first two releases, Dicks in the Sand and Anal Jihad, could have built an audience—if they hadn't burnt the studio down and cast the rubble, and the cast, into the sea.
You know how in some of these countries, they cut your hand off if you steal and your nose off if you sneeze at the salad bar? I was a long time recovering from my gender-reassignment surgery once I got back to the states. I didn't change my gender; I just had it reassigned. I make love with my elbows now, which is one more good reason to keep them off the table at mealtimes.
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Then I tried being God for a while. It started simply enough, with me working as a cowpoke. I was riding a herd across the prairie one day when a thunderstorm spooked the cattle into a stampede. Two thousand beeves were coming my way in a trampling mood, when suddenly the Lord sent a cascade of lightning right into the front ranks, forming a smoking wall of steak to shelter me.
It seemed like an awful lot of aggravation for a job that didn't offer many perks. I'd lost my shot glass in the tumult, and I detest drinking from a bottle. So I got to thinking: God made the cattle stampede; then he killed them for stampeding. If that's what it takes to be God, I reasoned, then I'm God. I can be petty and arbitrary—why not get worshiped for it?
So I did that gig for a while, and you know what? Omniscience is really distracting. You're there trying to watch The Sopranos, and another damn sparrow falls from a branch somewhere, and then you're just latching on to what Uncle Junior's saying and some other sparrow flops over in Lapland or some-such sump hole. When you're God, it's just the whump of falling sparrows 24-7.
So I am back at the Weekly now, here to tell you that there is no place like home. The next time you start feeling like you're just a lump of coal in the diamond lane of life, remember this: If you fulfill your potential, then your potential is all used-up, isn't it?