Times New Keeferton Keef shows no signs of lethality or psychosis



My left optic nerve and surrounding, 2017.

My right optic nerve and surrounding, 2017.

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I Miss My Friend Bill

I miss my friend Bill. I am so sad that he has left this world, and I am so sad that the world doesn't get to have him in it anymore.

Bill was sweet. Bill was kind. Bill was extremely helpful. Bill was intensely funny. Bill was brilliant, and knowledgeable, and deeply sardonic, and gleefully dark, and fun. He had far-ranging, eclectic, and obscure taste in music, and he was always excited to share it and talk about it and make it.

He was a constant creative partner. From the old radio show, to zines, to art, to music, to short stories, he was always excited and delighted to take part in any number of ridiculous things.

We had so much fun over the years. I loved him so much.

Bill in bunny suit, 2009.

[CHAT LOG, March 31, 2009]
Keef: Let's rent a bunny suit and I'll take pictures of you for many hours on Thursday doing strange things.
Bill: haha. word. I'll wear a bunny suit for you.
Bill: what's the suit look like?
Keef: no clue. they have several "bunny" suits.
Bill: we're talking full body with a bunny head, right? Not "bunny suit" like the Christmas Story?
Bill: one of those is infinitely cooler than the other
Keef: correct, full suit and mask over the head
Bill: sweet
Keef: which will be uncomfortable and hot and awful
Keef: especially if you have to run, which i may ask of you.
Bill: no one said art was comfortable.
Bill: I'd have a fuck of a time saying no to this, dude.
Keef: ahahahaha saying no to what?
Bill: wearing a bunny suit for art.

We rented that suit, and took pictures; and, when it became apparent that we wouldn't get everything done in one day, I went ahead and bought the suit (it was cheap), and then we just kept doing photo shoots, resulting in one of the creative endeavors which I am most proud of having finished in my life.

There's no way in the world I could've done it without him.

Last year, Barb and Bill took Rosie on an outing to to some restaurant or other. Later, Bill posted this photo of himself and Rosie:

I beamed with pride. I was so happy for him. I was so happy for Rosie. I was so happy that they were close.

He loved doing bedtime with her. It often didn't work very well in terms of bedtime-- they'd be reading books and singing songs and she'd never get tired enough to go to sleep. I wish I'd kept some of that baby monitor audio of him singing to her. "Pancho and Lefty," or some esoteric Randy Newman thing, or the Eagles. A lot of old country music. Sometimes she'd wordlessly sing along.

I joked with him: "You're going to be the fun uncle she can call when she needs to get bailed out of jail."

He laughed.

Now, when I walk around the house, wherever I go, whatever I see, I remember Bill and Rosie doing something in that spot.

Posted up in front of the little chalkboard, scribbling together.

Bill pushing her really fast in her little cart down the lane that runs through the kitchen, her legs lifted up, with an enormous grin, squealing laughter.

In her miniature "kitchen" in the back room, demanding that he "sit!" and pulling on her miniature potholder to make him cookies (which were "really, really hot!").

Sitting at the back table, drawing together in a sketchpad.

Every single place I look, there's a memory of Bill and Rosie.

I treasure them all.

In 2001, I took classes at the Iowa City public access television station, and started working on making short films. One of the very first things I wanted to do was to go out to the Coralville dam. There's a spillway out there that's basically an enormous gray concrete plain, a third of a mile on a side. I wanted to film someone running from the opposite corner, so they'd be extremely tiny for a very long time, and then come into view and zoom by in a flash.

"Hey, Bill," I said. "How would you feel about running naked toward a camera for a third of a mile?"

He laughed. "That is hilarious," he said.

The first take went well, but I wanted to do a second one. He gave me a dirty look, but jogged all the way back out to the far corner and started running back. As he was about halfway back, an official Department of Natural Resources jeep crested the hill behind us, and he started yelling, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," out of breath, zooming past the camera and diving into the back of the car.

Bill, nude and running in the distance, 2002.

Here is a photo of the filming that my father took. (Yes, my father was there. He always really liked Bill, and Bill always really liked him.) That's Mike taking photos, me manning the videocamera, and, of course, Bill, nude and running, in the distance.

I maintain a list of every concert I can remember attending. A month ago, after a Facebook meme about concerts made the rounds, Bill messaged me:

"I'm now going through your show list to see which ones I went to with you, or which ones I remember... I'm leaving off Bassturd & Buglies performances and SXSW parties, because I've been to too many of them to be accurate or remember. 94 that I'm sure about. Realistically? definitely over 100. That's 17 years of show going. This was the first one: Sep. 21, 2000 - Gabe's, Iowa City - Alto Heceta / Joan of Arc / Jets to Brazil."

One hundred shows-- and that's a very conservative estimate-- out of five hundred total. One out of every five concerts I've ever attended during my lifetime, Bill attended with me. The most recent was Uglyfest, which was both a Buglies and SXSW show; before that, it was Drab Majesty, in February. They're a post-New-Wave band, playing that sad 80s synth sound, which was not Bill's cup of tea at all.

But I asked him if he wanted to go, and he was happy to go with me. He was almost always happy to go with me. And vice versa.

In 2000, I was going to live in a house near campus with my friend Mike. We each had a room in a three-room apartment, and needed a third.

"We should get my friend Bill to move in with us," he said.

"Who is this guy?"

"A friend from back home. He's in a band, the Corporate Donuts. He goes by 'Bill Donuts.' He'd be great."

I shrugged, and asked, "Yeah, but man, is he cool?"

The fact that I even asked that question is hilarious to me now.

Bill ended up living in the dorms, but he immediately became part of our tight group. I found an old blog he wrote about the first time we met. Here is that:

"I want to share the first memory I have of Keef. I was sitting in the apartment he and Mike shared in Iowa City on my first night in Iowa City, in August of 2000. Keef was out with Irving at the time. Suddenly, while we were watching Kids In The Hall episodes Mike had taped, Keef burst through the door with a gigantic sack full of frozen meats and tossed one to Mike, and another to their room mate of two weeks, Bob. He was talking sort of like Charlton Heston and Santa Claus and very excited about the gigantic sack of frozen meats. Then he hugged me. It was love at first sight."

I had forgotten about that completely. I'm so glad he remembered. I'm so sad about all the other things he remembered which have now been lost.

Just a handful of days before he passed away, Bill and I took Rosie to a park to play on the swings and the slides. Swings are her favorite. She's a two-year-old, and just reaching that point where she mimics and repeats things. As we got out of the car to walk to the park, Bill turned to her and said, "Come on, dude!" She ran after him and grabbed his hand, and they walked toward the playground.

As they got closer to the swings, she started running ahead, pulling him behind her. "Come on, dude!" she yelled. "Come on, dude!"

"Thanks, Bill," I said. "Thanks a lot for teaching her to sound like an episode of Full House."

He laughed and laughed and laughed. "Come on, dude!"

Bill and Rosie, May 21, 2017.

Last weekend, after Bill's funeral, Rosie wanted to show me something she'd set up in her little dollhouse. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along. "Come on, dude!"

I teared up, but did so gladly.

Bill gave this to me on my birthday last year. It's a magnificent encapsulation of him: his generosity, his creativity, his humor.

I am so glad to have known him.

I am so sad that he is gone.

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Profiles in Degeneracy

Bill and I recently knocked down a bunch of wasps' nests around my house, and I posted the following to social media:

Some folks laughed, and the rest had no idea what I was talking about. I got a few questions about it, and I realized that I never really talked about this in public, or at least not widely, so here it is. It's a very strange story.

In late May of 2010, I was in the now-defunct Austin location of the now-defunct Domy Books, which was run by my old Houston friend Russell. Domy was an amazing place, half art-gallery, half art-bookstore. I fell in love with the Houston location when we lived in Houston, and then was delighted when they opened another store in Austin. They had all the best zines, all the best art-books, all the best local and crazy art. It was great. The Austin location has been subsumed by Farewell Books, which continues the tradition, and still does amazing things.

But now I'm getting sidetracked.

Russell had told me that there were some great new zines, and I'm a giant 'zine nerd (obviously). I was flipping through them, and pulled out some great stuff. Give Up had put out a new 'zine, and King-Cat had put one out since I'd last been there, and I was piling up a small stack. Then something strange and unexplained happened.

I've had a small handful of genuinely supernatural or inexplicable things happen to me. I saw a man when I was six in Albuquerque who had to be dead, and yet he was walking through a vacant lot. The eyes of a bust in Davenport in 1987 briefly flashed red. I had an important dream in 2012 that came true (and, more importantly, gave me time to prepare).

In May of 2010, in Domy Books, I flipped through the box of 'zines. I got to the end. I saw the empty end of the box. Then, there was a strange flash, and the smell of ozone, and I got an electric shock in the knuckles of my right hand (the hand touching the box). Then, a small book appeared out of nowhere in the previously-empty spot in the box.

Profiles in Degeneracy Auction Catalog, Summer 2010.

At this time, I'd already been subscribed to a Hollywood memorabilia auction catalog, so I knew exactly what it was-- a small-run book, advertising the particular lots that would be auctioned off at a future date, usually accompanied by photos and short descriptions. Except instead of autographs, props, and movie posters, this auction catalog was full of memorabilia of an entirely different kind-- gruesome, horrifying, disturbing, titillating. The title was apt-- these were accoutrements to some of the most degenerate events, actions, and people I'd ever seen.

So, of course, I was intrigued. I asked Russell about it, and he said he'd never seen it before, and it wasn't anything Domy was selling. So I took it home with me without paying for it.

Once I got home, I discovered something even more bizarre. The memorabilia had titles, descriptions, and photographs regarding people, places and things I was familiar with-- but in an entirely different context. This auction catalog had appeared wholesale from an alternate dimension. In the world where this auction catalog was created, Dan Quayle was not the 44th Vice President of the United States, but a serial-killing taxidermist from Indianapolis (taxidermied raccoon with human teeth and hands sourced from his victims, estimated value $85,000). Ray Kroc was still the founder of McDonald's, but in this dimension he was also accomplice to Ed Gein, who contributed to the initial McDonald's franchise cookbook, before they were both arrested and executed in Milwaukee in 1974. (One of ten extant copies of that cookbook, est. value $300,000.) John Wayne Gacy was still John Wayne Gacy (Pogo the Clown Painting, $2800.)

And Wolf Blitzer... well I'll just share the relevant two-page spread with you.

Warning for the upcoming material, in case in wasn't clear already: this is Not Safe For Work.

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The 1970s Electric Company adaptation of Spider-Man, "Spidey Super Stories," was originally envisioned very differently. PBS had pressured the Children's Television Workshop for more "crossover" programming, which was intended to appeal to children while incorporating popular adult interests.

In the winter of 1973, they filmed the first episode of "Spider-Man's Finnegans Wake." In addition to Spider-Man, it featured Morgan Freeman's "Easy Reader" character as a sort of Mysterio-By-Proxy / Finnegan, already dead but constantly in view. The episode began with Spider-Man reciting a variation on the first line of the Joyce novel:

Zoinks, gang! A way a lone a last a loved a long the Hudson river, past the Port Authority, from swerve of Brooklyn to bend of The Bronx, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Central Park and Environs!

In test screenings, both children and adults disliked it with a fierce and unbridled passion, with 75% of child viewers stating unprompted that they "fucking hate[d] Spider-Man now," and one adult viewer tearing up his pocket copy of Ulysses and wiping his own bottom with it.

* A similar attempt was made in the 1980s to cross "Fantastic Four" over with "Gravity's Rainbow," but John Byrne's failure to grasp the source material led to an opening splash page with the Human Torch just flying over the iconic New York City skyline, shrieking the entire time. Jim Shooter wisely killed the story, but The Thing's new catchphrase, "It's Postmodernin' Time," persisted for three issues in 1984.

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There once was a woman named Andrea whose family kept four chickens in a small coop in their backyard. Andrea's wife Stephanie had convinced the family that keeping chickens was a good idea, and it had been good, by and large. The eggs were delicious, and the children loved watching the birds peck and scratch.

The family took turns feeding and watering the chickens, spreading diatomaceous earth to keep the smell down, and replacing the straw. Andrea hated taking her turn with the chickens: their beady eyes, so vacant and yet so expectant; their sharp claws, ever scratching at the dirt; the pungent tang of their droppings. She always tried to trade chores with the other members of the family. Most of the time she was able to avoid chicken duty, but not always, and so it was that one morning her alarm clock went off before the sun came up and she had to rise for chicken-tending.

Andrea sighed and went out into the dewy dark backyard to feed and water the chickens and gather eggs. She put the eggs (only two this morning) into her little basket and squatted down to fill the chickens' water. As she was bent down, Doris-- a beautiful black-and-white Barred Plymouth Rock hen-- hopped up onto the shoulder of her purple robe.

"Bok buk bugok," said Doris.

"Agh shit," said Andrea, and quickly stood up. Doris came up with her, and shifted her head to look Andrea right in the eye.

"Bok," said the chicken.

"Uh, hello, Doris," said Andrea. She regarded the chicken on her shoulder, and Doris regarded her right back.

Slowly, Andrea reached into her robe pocket and pulled out her phone. She opened the camera and lifted it up, taking a few selfies in quick succession, while thinking about potential captions for the internet. Tough-guy face for the first one, maybe with the caption "Who you callin' chicken?" For the second, Doris looked kind of sad, so Andrea grinned big; "The Egg-ony and the Egg-stasy." For the third, Andrea licked her lips and stared wide-eyed at Doris. Caption: "My Dinner With Andrea." She could look at the selfies again inside, and post the best one. As she slipped the phone back into her robe pocket, Doris darted forward and buried her entire head in Andrea's ear.

Andrea screamed and fell backwards into the straw. Doris scrabbled for purchase and maintained a grip on the robe, but let out a startled "BUK BOK BUGOK!" The clucking echoed, unbearably loud, inside Andrea's head. Immediately, a horrible burning and itching started; Doris pecked around inside Andrea's cranium, and little neck feathers brushed maddeningly against Andrea's inner ear. Doris, in all the thrashing, yanked down the collar of the robe and buried a set of talons into Andrea's bare shoulder. Andrea screamed again and reached up and around, wrapping her hands around the bird's neck and midsection, lifting it away.

The head stayed put, and Doris' body stopped short. "BUK BUGOK," Doris hollered into Andrea's head, and shat all over the robe. Andrea closed her eyes and tried not to panic. If she freaked out and yanked too hard, she could kill the chicken, and then she'd have a dead hen wedged headfirst in her ear. Worst of all, if she pulled hard enough, the chicken head might actually detach, tick-like, and remain buried, dripping its own thick blood down Andrea's neck.

The other three birds watched calmly from the yard.

Andrea reached up with the arm closest to Doris and held the bird's body down tight against her shoulder, preventing further clawing and scrabbling. With the other hand, she reached up and followed the chicken's neck as far as she could, until she hit her own ear. The entire skull was inside her head. The clucking continued unabated. Andrea carefully folded her fingers over the top of the chicken's neck and pressed the meat of her thumb against her temple, applying gentle but steady pressure out and away.

After thirty seconds of itching and crowing, there was a loud popping sound, almost exactly like squeezed bubblewrap, and Doris' head came loose. Andrea threw the chicken onto the ground, where it looked at her with an expression as close to surprise as a chicken's face can muster. Doris' head was caked with viscous yellow earwax.

Immediately, Andrea decided that she could tell no one. She wiped Doris' head off with a paper towel as best she could and went about her business. She brought in the eggs. She put the robe, bloody and spattered with Doris droppings, into the washer. She showered, spending a lot of extra time with a Q-Tip, and pulled out three large feathers and five small ones. She deleted all of the chicken-selfies. She vomited and got dressed; got the children up, fed, and clothed; dropped them off at school, and went to work.

While listening to a PowerPoint presentation that morning, Andrea heard a single muted cluck. She yelped and shoved her chair back from the table, scuffling backwards and drawing glances. After coming to her senses, she played it off as an insect crawling up her ankle. She tried to resume learning about the benefits of a particular bookkeeping software, but her mind was elsewhere.

The clucks kept coming, each one slightly different; there were long pauses between them at first, but the intervals grew shorter and shorter until they rang through her head every few seconds. Andrea left work at noon. The closer she got to her home, the louder they became, until she found herself in the backyard staring at Doris.

"What did you do to me, Doris?"

The chicken looked at her, then pecked at the ground.

"How do I stop this, Doris?" asked Andrea.

"Bugok," said Doris, and the sound echoed like a fart in a cathedral, resonating and filling Andrea's entire awareness. She fell to her knees.

Something needed to be done. As soon as she could stand, Andrea got a hatchet out of the shed. She carried Doris, seemingly-unconcerned, over to a stump, and braced her with one hand. With the other, she quickly brought down the blade. Doris' head flopped onto the grass, and her thin little legs kicked and flailed in the air. The clucking in Andrea's head stopped immediately.

"Oh, thank goodness," said Andrea. She couldn't bring herself to pluck Doris-- just the thought of eating her caused an awful bout of heartburn-- so she gently placed the corpse in the garbage on the curb, and went inside for a bubble bath and two bottles of wine. She was pretty well recovered by the time Stephanie and the kids came home. No one had yet noticed Doris' absence.

Andrea couldn't even look at the beef in the fridge, and so she and Stephanie made vegetarian dinner: quinoa and lentils in spicy red sauce, with broccoli on the side. The family watched an animated movie, by the end of which Andrea felt almost normal (despite finding a feather in her hair). The kids went to bed. Shortly thereafter, Andrea and Stephanie did too.

Andrea half-woke in a sweat at two-thirty in the morning. The bottoms of her feet itched and burned red-hot, as though she'd walked through poison ivy barefoot. Under the covers, she reached down and scratched, her long nails digging at her soles, trying to find some relief but not wanting to enter full wakefulness. God, it felt good. She scratched and scratched, the relief intensely satisfying, until her fingers slid under the calloused flesh of her soles and touched the dozens of scaly chicken feet beneath.

Illustrations by the lovely and talented Bill Latham. Special thanks to Grace C. R. and DW Fitzgerald, and their bizarre dreams.