Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
This story is a big favorite to a lot of people, whether they discovered it here in Empty Rooms Lonely Countries or when it premiered in GUD magazine.
With my eyes closed, I can hear the lesbians, their kisses connecting and disconnecting, their sighs rising and falling, and their fingers clicking in a liquid vacuum. And while I appreciate these sounds, I can’t help but wonder how it is I got here in this strange little apartment in Krakow with these two Polish women. I don’t even know if I have money for a taxi back to the hotel – do I still have a hotel room? – let alone the train home tonight.
Blaming myself for my current situation sounds easy enough I guess, but I’m not known for taking the easy way. Instead, I think of the cold bastards who took me out tonight, who bought most of the drinks that’s replaced my precious blood with sweet, sweet alcohol, who disappeared one by one as the evening progressed in this dark city, and I decide to blame them.
Back in January of 2005, vice-President Dick Cheney arrived in Krakow, Poland to observe the 60th commemoration of the Auschwitz-Birkenau liberation. With him, of course, were numerous secret service agents. “Mad Dogs” skips over the details on how or why I was there with the agents, but if you’ve read the other stories in the book, you can probably make the connection.
The things I remember that didn’t make the cut were hotel rooms full of guns, Polish money thrown all over the hotel room floors as if it were Monopoly money, a secret service agent nearly choking to death when he mistook bacon lard for butter, and a lot of talk about Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko’s facial poison scars.
The whole thing was 48 hours of sleepless insanity, but the story pretty much covers the one evening out, followed by the morning after. When I was finally on the train heading back to Wroclaw, I remember pulling out the yellow paper and writing the story out completely in one sitting. Outside of the statistics, which I had to look up later, this story appears as it was written on that train trip. It’s one of the few times where the story’s journey from head to paper was clean and simple.
This was right about when the horrible people from the hotel bar showed up, about eight of them, half women and men. When they entered, it seemed like their behavior at the hotel was just a dress rehearsal. They scattered as if to conquer the place with their obnoxiousness.
“Cheney would love this beer,” one of them said.
“Oh, Cheney’d love this wine,” chimed another.
“Cheney would not only love the vodka here, but bathe in it with an albino orangutan before drinking its blood to honor the Great Cthulhu.”
This one-upping seemed to slow time itself.
“Okay, okay, I get it! You’re important!” Bruce said too loudly. “Jesus, who’re these terrible people?”
“They’re the Air Force Two staff,” replied Alan.
I was so thrilled when GUD magazine agreed to publish this story a year later (I had to update some of the statistics then). I always believed in this story, and I still think it’s one of the best things I wrote. It hits all the right notes and works towards one of my usual themes (or obsessions, as Carver would say) in the story’s conclusion.
To put it in greater perspective, there were more police officers killed in the line of duty in Florida and California combined in 2004 than there have been Secret Service agents killed since the agency was created in 1865. More Secret Service agents die in one Hollywood movie than real ones do over the course of decades.
This isn’t to suggest that the job isn’t dangerous; it’s meant to clearly illustrate how cool of a gig the job really is. Most of us wish we had jobs half as interesting and twice as dangerous.
To top it all off, the men and women – at least the ones I’ve met – who do this job aren’t out there to save the world and they’re certainly not jaded about not being able to change anything. They are incredibly practical and charismatic with little to no ego. Half of the time, they’re as amazed they’re getting away with something as we are. It’s work hard and play hard, performed with serious verve and respect.
They’re reckless, sure, but mindfully so.
All this time I was expecting the Grant Morrison Justice League and I ended up with the Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis version instead.
As I said before, this is a favorite for a lot of people and out of everything I’ve written, “Mad Dogs” is the one readers have the most comments about. In fact, I received a nice email a couple of weeks ago about the story’s ending that I thought was awesome.
All right, looks like we have two more of these commentaries left. Almost to the finish line.
Next Week: “Counting Nuns”
#1 “Cowboys and Indians”
#2 “Little Conundrums”
#2.5 “Playing With the Dead”**
#3 “The Illusion of Swing”
#4 “Kicking Love’s Ass”
#5 “On Being Velma-less”
#6 “Muted Porn”
#7 “Defying Gravity”
#8 “The Fifth Ocean”
#9 “One Dead (Potted) Plant”
#10 “Remembering Drajra”
#11 “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”
#13 “Before Waking”
#15 “This is Not for You”
#16 “The Mariachi”
#18 “Paying the Tab”
#19 “Father Groove”
#20 “Geneva Street”
#21 “A Lot Like the Ones Back in High School”
#25 “Before the Viking Funeral”