Interview with Angus Morning

(Reprinted with permission from The Atlantic Monthly, September 2002)

It was a hell of a trek finding the place. I stood on the corner of 4th and San Jacinto, luggage in hand, asking each pedestrian that strolled by if they knew how to get to a street called South Congress. Most of them just ignored me. Some told me to get a job. Others tried to figure out what I was ranting about and then gave me change.

There was a Congress Street, but no South Congress, and Congress didn’t run north and south according to the compass in my wristwatch.

I could see the people laying out this city in my head. It only took one strapping engineer and his passive aggressive assistant. The engineer decided where the streets would go and got all of the attention from comely architecture wenches at fancy Texas nation-building parties (“Fiddle-dee-dee, I just adore a French cornice”), while his assistant stayed up late into the night – alone -- growing sour and malevolent on the light from rendered whale fat and the smoke from gritty Kentucky tobacco and trying to name everything. It wasn’t long before the assistant began to take petty, subversive revenge. Later they were both hanged. The story probably became a folk song that would only irritate me if I heard it.

Finally, I decided to call a cab. Enough local color.

I tipped the cabbie with my street corner earnings. 1050 South Congress wasn’t very far at all, actually, and I almost felt foolish. I rang the doorbell on a quaint ranch house and prepared myself for…well…for ANYTHING. This was Texas. This was where the crazy people who weren’t pretty and plastic enough for California ended up. The state to which society’s disgruntled rejects were bounced like Pong pixels after finding an ocean barring their way further west. These perpetual drifters either formed huge multinational corporations and tried to sell their sunshine back across the grim, Middle American wasteland – like Hollywood and Walt Disney – or they came to Texas to sit in a rocking chair with a shotgun and tell the smiles and candycanes to move along. This was surely some sort of tumbleweed, sassafras purgatory. And Austin was its capital.

Mr. Morning was expecting me, and I took that as a welcome sign. He met me with a tray of refreshments and a warm towel. He was a tall, husky man who seemed uncomfortable in the rumpled suit he wore. I told him to relax and he just smiled and offered me a beer. I took a little cucumber sandwich instead. Then he showed me the sheaf of death threats he had received. He was collecting them and making a collage in his entryway. Suddenly I was the nervous one.

“It’ll be nice to get some good publicity for once,” he said, “You don’t know what it’s like to live here. You can’t say nothing without it being something. Most people don’t say anything at all.”

I asked him where the best place to do an interview was and he led me into his backyard. We sat at a stainless steel picnic table underneath a great heaving Magnolia tree. The backyard was otherwise ordinary, except where an ordinary person would have a birdbath, he had a Mayor McCheese and a pair of Fryguys, the kind you would find at a McDonaldland Playground. I stared at them. He noticed.

“You know why they all suck up to Ronald? In the commercials?”

“No. Why?”

“Because he could eat them. Except for Ronald, all the McDonald’s characters are edible. Even that damn bird will one day be McNuggets.”

“What about the hamburglar?”

I turned on my tape recorder.

Morning: All shoplifters will be prosecuted. And eaten. So what do you want to ask me first?

Me: Um, why don’t you just…uh…tell me why exactly you are interesting, and then we’ll go from there. I’ll probably want to ask you a whole bunch of stupid questions. Just tell me the whole story first.

Morning: I mean, don’t you know all that already?

Me: No, see…the gimmick is that I am this really cranky and contentious bastard who they send out to interview people who are either flashes in the pan as far as the national interest is concerned, or just nuts. The joke is, though, I really am a cranky and contentious bastard. So I refuse to do any research. I just go where they send me.

Morning: Huh. I thought this was going to be something else.

Me: Nope, that’s what this is.

Morning: Well, that’s fine by me. There’s not much to it, anyway. Which am I though? Unimportant or nuts?

Me: Can’t tell yet. Although, the insane usually make better finger food.

Morning: So you’ve never heard of the National Day of Morning then?

Me: No…I don’t think so. It sounds familiar, but it also sounds like something I would ordinarily ignore.

Morning: Well, that’s what all of this is about. I’m Morning, you see.

Me: Oh, morning! Not mourning…with a u…

Morning: No, no. Morning.

Me: Fascinating. So what’s the deal?

Morning: It’s a long story, I guess. It all started when I decided to violate my rule.

Me: Rule?

Morning: Yeah, I’ve always had this rule: never work for anybody unless you can tell they are obviously doing something evil. It’s never let me down.

Me: Why is that your rule?

Morning: Obvious evil is the only real good. See, everybody’s doing evil things all damn day. But the more a person has to hide it, the more dangerous they are. Churches and social workers really give me the crispy shits. In the time it takes the real professionals to tell you hello and howdy, they’ve already clapped on the chains and taken your wallet.

Me: Seems like a hard rule to follow.

Morning: Nah. I mainly try to work for immigrants who are pretty sure they are breaking the law, but aren’t sure how. Maybe they aren’t paying enough taxes. Maybe they are trying to squeeze two dollars out of me by not paying me weekend overtime. Something venial. I see what they are doing, so they are safe. Extremely lazy people are the best. Evil is always vigorous.

Me: So what happened?

Morning: Well, I got burned. See, I was working for this guy Cooper Sweeney. He had a fireworks stand past the city limits that was only open two weeks a year: New Year’s and the Fourth of July. Anyway, one day I’m sitting there, minding my own ass, when police sirens go off and twenty government ninjas raid the place. Holy shit, right? It turns out they are trying to crack down on illegitimate fireworks dealers, because terrorists have been importing ricin in Mexican firecrackers or something. Well, Cooper certainly isn’t a terrorist, but he also doesn’t have a license. Anyway, to make a long story short, I end up testifying against him to save my own skin, and I still land myself probation. All of my friends are sitting there saying: “See, I told you so. Time to get a real job.”

Me: So you did.

Morning: So I did. I worked a connection, like everybody else. I decided to be legitimate. My buddy Milky got me a job working in a McDonald’s factory uptown. We made McPlayground rides. Tubes, and little seahorses on springs. Jiggly hamburger cages. It was a real bullshit job, and it was a lot of hard work. Even just getting there was a pain in the ass. I’m not stupid, right, but I don’t like to drive. So I’m late a lot because I have to take the bus, and when you finally get to work, you can’t even talk to anybody next to you because that slows down your productivity. That’s like, a whole day’s worth of silence. I try anyway, but nobody has anything interesting to say. Yeah, work sucks. Yeah, life sucks. Hey, you know where I can buy some weed? Hey, you know the one about the wetback who climbs a tree to Heaven? Anyway, I start to get in trouble pretty much daily. My supervisor is this arrogant ITT Tech asshole with this little dopy mustache. Like Stalin except curly. I start calling him Josef, but he never gets the reference. He’s that dumb. I start fighting back, you see, out of sheer boredom. You get a fifteen minute break every four hours, but you are strongly “encouraged” not to take it. Nobody else does, for instance. I take mine. Oooo. Big deal, right? But this is bad news. Other people start taking their break, too. Josef realizes he has seriously fucked up by hiring me, but he has no good reason to kick me out, and he’s afraid of just arbitrarily canning me because I’m smarter than he is, and he suspects I may know a lawyer. So he just tries to muscle me out. But I’m an even bigger threat than that. I start unionizing.

Me: You can unionize in Texas? I thought Texas was practically Guam.

Morning: Sure, you always have the right to form a union. But they also have the right to fire you and hire scabs if you strike. You can do whatever you want, but so can they. It can get pretty ugly. Especially since they have all the money and guns. I organize slowdowns and little demonstrations to scare them with solidarity. One time I get the whole factory to take a 20 minute break, for instance. They have to blow an airhorn to tell us all to go back to work. It’s awesome. Then Josef starts cheating. He starts firing other people, since he can’t get to me. What a dick! There are some people who still won’t talk to me because of it.

Me: So then what happened?

Morning: Then I start to go a little crazy. In my head, I declare war on this guy Josef and his whole damn factory. I stop caring about casualties. I’m a single dude, you know? What do I care? So I start to get creative.

That’s when I invented the National Day of Morning. It was supposed to be this really elaborate strike, you see. Nobody would show up to work because of this fake, dubious holiday. It’s a holiday I’d been thinking about for years – drawing up in my head -- and I thought I would put it to use for a noble cause. A holiday that sounds patriotic, but is mainly neutral. A celebration of morning, and all of its glory. Pancakes. Not getting out of your robe. Sitting around and talking with your family about whatever crazy crap is in the newspaper. Ultimate laziness. Ultimate good. Like a Sunday without guilt or church. Morning all day long. See, when I was a kid, my favorite meal was always “breakfast for dinner.” I never enjoyed breakfast at breakfast time, but I always got a kick out of it being the last meal of the day. Why not make a holiday out that? There are stupider holidays. Holidays built around shit that wastes the day off completely. Holidays that don’t make you feel good at all. Easter, for instance. I would rather go to work than celebrate Easter. I wanted a holiday that wasn’t given to people by the state or religion, and was about something everybody could enjoy. No presents and no traditions. Sleeping in and doing nothing. Actively, and now…for a good cause.

Me: Did it…hmmm…accomplish its task?

Morning: Hell no. I missed a day of work, and then got fired. Maybe two other people stayed home that day, too. I cooked them eggs. But I learned later that they took a sick day at the last minute. They got scared. It was a giant, whopping failure. Best thing that ever could have happened to Josef – that itchy little prick. Who knows what damage I might have done if I had stuck around? Still. National Day of Morning. Harmless. Forgettable. I learned my lesson though: if you can’t tell how they are evil, they are evil all the way. Clean through the center, like burnt steak.

Me: So why am I interviewing you then? I mean, it sounds like a good idea and all…

Morning: Well, the crazy thing was, college kids really got a kick out of it. I made a bunch of flyers for the factory, but how they got a hold of one, I’ll never know. There were some college kids working there, but they were so stoned most of the time that I never really felt like talking to them. And then all of a sudden my face is on the local news! Disgruntled activist responsible for college walkout. Let me tell you something, I am not an activist. And I am not disgruntled. I am pretty cheery most of the time, really. It wasn’t supposed to be a political thing. I hate politics.

Me: Uh-huh.

Morning: I think it was the timing. It’s all this terrorism crap. I guess college kids thought I was satirizing all of the false solemnity of September 11th bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for satirizing the overblown hysterics of World Trade center-related idiocy. 100 times as many people die from suicide as from terrorist attacks every year, and you don’t see any war on depression. Ha. I’d love that. The National Guard mobilized to give senior citizens hugs and to listen adamantly to the concerns of teenagers facing the stark realities of a dismal, hateful world. But making a bold political statement wasn’t my intention. I just really like mornings. I really, really like mornings. And I hate work. I really, really hate work. The best part of a three-day weekend isn’t the three days of weekend…it’s the four days of work.

Me: I believe you. You hate work. But give me details. Why is there a collage of death threats in your foyer?

Morning: Well, so there I am on the news, right? Local Man Trivializes Patriotic Death. Earnest, mindless college students are brushing the dreadlocks out of their eyes to tell cameramen about debt relief at the World Bank while wearing National Day of Morning t-shirts. This is Texas, buddy. If there is one segment of the population that is roundly despised around here, it is college students. They are whiny, unemployed bitches who just sit around learning things. Mostly learning about how you suck, whoever you are. Anybody responsible for college kids being on the news is bound to get death threats. And that’s me, right now. I think it’s probably the same people that just send them to everybody. Maybe some church organizes death-threat writing, and everybody in the congregation has to write the craziest thing they can with a crayon in their left hand. To let off a little crazy steam.

Me: So do you regret the whole thing? Is that what this is about?

Morning: Not really. I’m all for it taking off. But I want it to be understood correctly. It isn’t about anything except morning. Mainly, I just want people to have a new holiday. Maybe there could be a National Day of Afternoon and a National Day of Evening, too. A National Day of Night. But those are for other people. I’m Morning and that’s what I represent. I want people to feel good about squandering a day for its own sake. Not using a day, but enjoying it. Maybe it will become a habit. How many people eat really bitchin’ biscuits and gravy anymore? How many people know what they’re missing?

Me: You know, I can’t stand mornings. They make me feel antsy and I want the morning to end as soon as possible so I can get on with the rest of the day. To me, a National Day of Morning sounds like hell.

Morning: And that’s precisely why we need one. So we can remember how to spend them. Pop tarts and CNN while stuffing yourself into starchy work clothes: that’s most people’s morning. Pretty soon the robe itself will be a bygone artifact of a forgotten culture. Good morning will be entirely lost as something you say or have. I must fight this. WE must fight this. For mornings. God made them wonderful so you could wake up to something, you know, inspiring. Someday he’ll smite us all for needing six cups of coffee and seven different TV torsos to shepherd us through his masterpiece without paying any attention.

Me: Holidays need traditions to thrive. And consumer backing. Even Memorial Day has its liquor concession. You’ll have to cave somewhere.

Morning: Just because it’s inevitable doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m sure breakfast cereal companies will take my idea and create some sort of magical cereal unicorn that comes in the night and fills all the pots and pans in your house with toys and oatmeal. But as long as I’m alive, the National Day of Morning will be a rejection of that. It will be about not doing things. Not buying things. Spending zero dollars. Spending the maximum amount of time doing whatever it is you’d rather be doing while you are at work. Fucking. Playing with your kids. Chunking eggs at federal buildings. Whatever.

Me: Sounds good to me. I hate holidays. Maybe its time for a holiday that leaves its celebration up to you.

Morning: Exactly. A Rorschach blot that closes down the banks and gives you an excuse to screw your employer out of a paid day. If we don’t agitate for more holidays, we’ll just keep losing them. It’s our job to be adversarial about these sorts of things. There ought to be somebody lobbying for a new paid holiday every cycle. Why not?

Me: Fair enough. It’s both crazy AND sort of stupid, but you’ve convinced me. I don’t like Easter either. Pastel makes me nauseous. I had an older brother who used to hold me down and make me eat synthetic Easter grass.

Morning: That’s terrible.

Me: When is this National Day of Morning, by the way? What day?

Morning: October first. A binary palindrome. The occult and mystical significance is surely obvious. That’s when the weather starts to change around here, too. When the sun stops being a slick go-getter and starts getting grandfatherly.

Me: Stay safe. And good luck. It’s tough being a political martyr, but it will pass.

Morning: Yeah. Thanks. I just wanted to get everybody out of a day of work, and look where it’s got me. Thanks for the interview. Maybe my tale will give you a funny little article.

Me: Maybe.

Angus Morning took his own life in January of 2003, after six months of unemployment and a second failed marriage. His ex-wife Fiona claims he never recovered from efforts of the Federal Holiday Commission to discredit his story regarding the origins of his Day, linking him to underground political protest and launching several civil lawsuits on behalf of the victims of 9 / 11. His holiday lives on.


1 comment:

the herb said...

Can't waste too much time here because I always get ignored. Great article, loved the city engineer and his passive aggressive assistant stuff. Loved the pretty/plastic people who can't make it in Cali go to Texas line too.

Article sorta fades at the end, but still a good solid A, perhaps an A+. I have many many more comments, but you need to get back to me at herbie at herboverstreet.com first.