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February, 2011:

Mason Johnson’s Nerves are the Steeliest

Tomorrow I will prove the following at SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL:

- I am better than you.

- We are all better than Harold Ray.

- Harold Ray has not graduated from middle school.

- Or clown school (he kept attacking children when they threw pies at him).

- Harold Ray is weak…

- … and can’t beat me at arm wrestling

- Over the Top is an amazing movie.

And much, much more…

Hey, Harold Ray:

suck on dese nuts.

(I’m pointing to my crotch right now.)

Louder Than A Bomb


Harold Ray’s Kin

This is in response to Harold Ray’s recent rantings (whining). To highlight the real problem with the man known as Harold Ray one must first take a close look at his kin. This is why I am taking a moment not to insult Harold Ray himself, but the men that came before him. Regardless of our words, our real worth will be shown next Tuesday at SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL?

Harold Jebb Ezekiel Ray

In 1861 the Civil War started, splitting Virginia in Two. In 1863 West Virginia became an official state in the Union. One month later, Harold Ray’s great great grand pappy Harold Jebb Ezekiel Ray, a reverend of the Quick Christ Baptist church (whose slogan was “Let Jesus Fill Ya Up With His Seed”), created West-West Virginia. An autonomous entity from both the union and the confederates, West-West Virginia went unnoticed for thirty-four whole days. Harold Jebb built his new sanctuary on two simple ideas:

* What happens between a man and a woman, or another man, or another consenting animal, or a man, woman and a consenting animal, or any combination of those options thereof, stays between, well, all involved.

* There was no need to get into any wasteful civil wars. (This is where the lack of nerves of steel come in).

Many mistake Harold Jebb as being anti-slavery, when in reality, he was just anti-African slavery; having been quoted as saying, “you get dem Canadians out there in dem fields and you whip ‘em good. See dat dher, ol’ Harold Jebb just fixed this ‘ere country’s problems.”

Harold Harold Ray (yes, his first AND middle name are both Harold)

Harold Harold Ray, Harold Ray’s grandfather, worked for sanitation during the ’40s and ’50s. His one and only job was to discard of the road-kill becoming a problem now that citizens in the small town of Old West-West Virginia had finally learned to use automobiles (it only took 30 odd years). Harold Harold’s claim to fame is keeping the road kill he discovered. After the city was tipped off to Ray dressing up dead opossums in wedding gowns… for the third time… he was fired.

In an interview he was quoted as saying, “They ain’t never proved I done nothin’ with them animals.”

When the reported asked, “Well, did you?” Ray replied, “aw, hell, wouldn’t you?”

“No,” the reporter said. “I wouldn’t.”

That Harold Ray, he’s got good genes.

See him go down next Tuesday!

Shit To Do! Shit To Do!

There’s a bunch of stuff comin’ up, some of which I’m even reading in, so hold on tight, kiddos.

There’s still some shit goin’ on in the previous STD post you should check out. So read about those too!

Sunday, February 27

Sunday Night Sex Showmageddon! The Burlington 3425 W Fullerton Ave @ 7:30 Facebook Invite

Sunday Night Sex Show is back! Come check out the hilarious side of sex. It ain’t always pretty, but it is usually funny. Feel free to read my brief review of the last one.

Readers include Rachel Blau, Mason Johnson (that’s me!), Samantha Irby, Harold Moore, and Liza Treyger. Hosted by the lovely Robyn Pennacchia with co-host Allen Makere.

So… yeah… I’m reading. So go. Honestly, I plan on just singing this for ten minutes:

Tuesday, March 1

SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL? Hungry Brain 2319 W. Belmont @ 8:30 Facebook Invite

There’s some shit goin’ on or something. All I really know is that a man named Harold Ray is addicted to horse piss. Or something.

SO YOU THINK MASON JOHNSON HAS NERVES OF STEEL (BECAUSE HE DOES)!!! Hungry Brain 2319 W. Belmont @ 8:30 Facebook Invite

Fuck yeeeaaaah, boi! This is gonna be off the hook. Come see Mairead Case with a killer graphic novel slide show. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! Also reading is Nick Demske, amazing us with his poetry. All hosted by the wonderful, likable, intelligent Kate Duva and some other guy.

Also! I will be giving a presentation. Yes, a presentation. On nerves of the steely sort, why I got ‘em and Harold Ray don’t.

Wednesday, March 2

The Encyclopedia Show: Video Games Vittum Theatre 1012 N. Noble St @ 7:30

Yay! It’s that time of the month again! No, not that time, it’s Encyclopedia Show time. Go see Robbie and Shanny and their cast of miscreants embarrass fact and human knowledge. If you don’t know what ES is, check out my review of the last one.

Performers include Cameron McGill, Diana Lawrence, Rachel McKibbens, Shelley Geiszler, Liz Mason, Tim Baltz, and Aimee Le.

Jacob Knabb Brings News

On Tuesday Harold Ray, host of SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL, and I are going head to head. Be sure to attend so you can see me wipe the floor with him. Words, harsh words at that, have already been exchanged. Below you can read Harold Ray’s most recent, incoherent message, delivered by his questionably faithful servant, Jacob Knabb…

As Harold Ray’s representative, I am tasked with issuing the following statement, addressed to “you tell that bastard Mason Johnson & his sycophantic minions[...]“:

“Most folks don’t know how to really get a thing clean. I mean, spic and span. Well, man, I tell you the secret is spit. Spit is God’s lube. I ain’t sure what all you may know about spit, but there’s a few things to bear in mind. A man can use spit for other things besides cleanin’ but he has to be careful about what he eats. Don’t want to spit shine things with onions on the breath. Much less a ramp. No that ain’t no good. Won’t stand up no better than it’ll roll down hill. And I don’t even need to go into what might happen if you got Copenhagen on your breath. That ain’t no way to live. It’s like I was tellin’ these folks at the Moose Lodge last month before that no-count son of a bitch Mason Johnson started makin’ accusations that is rooted in his poor attitude. It’s about seein’ people livin’. That’s the thing. Ain’t no poetry in standin’ up and restorin’ some sense of order to a thing. A thing has its own order. And a man can’t force his own personal order onto a thing. And it don’t mean that I’m some kind of bully or that I ain’t tolerant of other opinions. Hell, you can spit-shine any old words and folks’ll buy ‘em. But at what cost? I’ll tell you, folks, it’s at the cost of real livin’. That’s the cost. And it’s a steep price for a person to pay. That’s what I like about this here city they call Chicago. If I sing a song then I sing it. I don’t just dribble spit. But I want to warn you. I could tell in that boy’s eyes that he would come again and be itchin’ for trouble. That sawed-off motherfucker Johnson will be there next Tuesday at my live variety show SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL? I just know it. And we done had a thundersnow scare everyone last month outta comin’ to hear me sing. And everything cracked and it all thinned out like spit in a river. You just can’t expose yourself that way when folks are tryin’ to show you themselves livin’. There ain’t no poetry in exposure. There ain’t but a little bit of poetry in livin’. And we are tasked by our lord to beat life to a pulp in order to wrench whatever poetry we can from that fucker. But I’ll tell you what, ladies and gentlemen, that thought don’t scare me not one whit. I’m spitting piss and vinegar. Sterile, man. Clean. I got nerves of steel, fucker. Question is, Mason Johnson, do you?”


Shit to do!

The Moth StorySlam is tomorrow at Martyrs’. Check it out! I think I’m gonna sign up to tell a story. While I do not know what story I’m going to tell, I can guarantee it’ll be at least mediocre.

Saturday, February 26

Two readings on Saturday! Choose wisely, friends. I have a buddy’s birthday party to attend (hi, Tom!) in the suburbs (lame), so I can’t go to either. If I used emoticons, this is where I’d put a frowny face. Still, who doesn’t love birthday cake?

West Side School for the Desperate Reading 3608 w. Wrightwood @ 7:00 pm

Some of the coolest poets and storytellers around recently moved into a space in Logan Square that they plan on using for, well, readings and shows and such. Ain’t that exciting? This is their first endeavor in the new space, so go cheer ‘em on.

They have Zachary Green and Evan Collins doin’ their thang, so go watch them! There will also be an OPEN MIC, so go show off how cool you are.

To prove that those West Side School for whatchyamacallits are cool, here’s a picture of two of their finest members, Nate and Kevin:

NEUTRON BOMB: Punk Rock Reading 400 S. Wells St. @ 7:00

Punk rock? Reading? Fuck, I’m sad I’m gonna miss this. Go watch readings from Nicolette Kittinger, Adam Drent, Al Scorch, and Douglas Ward, with music provided by 97-Shiki.

All fine performers. I can honestly say, Adam is one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever heard read. If you go, say I sent you, Adam’s liable to tell many tall tales about our time together. In Venice. Shirtless.

Hey! A poster:

Sunday, February 27

3rd Annual Windy City Story Slam All-City Championships 1572 N. Milwaukee @ 8:00

The intense Windy City Story Slam is back! The readers this time around are goin’ for the gold. Feel free to find out all about ‘em in this awesome metromix article.

Storytellers competing for the gold are Nicolette Kittinger, Frankie Migacz, Fred Burkhart, Gint Aras, and Maggie Ritchie, who is out of the damn country so her story will actually be told by Noelle Hufnagel.

This will also include all star featured readers Tony Fitzpatrick and Joe Meno.

Monday, February 28


Awwwwww hells yeah. For those of you who don’t know, Buddy Wakefield is one of the finest slam poets on this here Earth. Go watch him read, I beg you. This is being put on by Columbia College Chicago’s finest literary groups, Silver Tongue and Verbatim, so send them a thank you letter or something.

Before Buddy goes on, watch Silver Tongue and Verbatim face off in a literary death match. In Silver Tongue’s corner watch Dan Shapiro and Abby Sheaffer destroy, yes, DESTROY, Verbatim’s Nate Olison and Nick Narbutas. Now, Nate and Nick are wonderful artists, but what they don’t understand is that Dan and Abby are vicious beasts who will destroy anything in their way. Vicious.

I’m not biased.

Here’s an awesome poem from Buddy:

And here’s the poster:

Piss Fanatics Presents: Sup, Bro

Come to the first ever Piss Fanatics reading! Here’s a placeholder poster until the real one’s done.

Dil Pickle Club Has Soul by Daniel Shapiro

I was visiting my parents a few weeks ago. My Dad was looking for his favorite movie, “Gaily, Gaily”, on the new Netflix streaming service. Unfortunately, they had it. He was trying to convince me to watch it. “Your grandparents used to hang out with the writers of the movie at the Dil Pickle Club.” I remembered the facebook invitation that I had recently received.

“I was invited to the Dil Pickle Club!”

The Dil Pickle Club was a bar located in an alley during the early part of the twentieth century. This new Dil Pickle Club I was invited to is a reading series and more that honors the original’s legacy by keeping things laid back and intelligent.

I was definitely going. Not just to have a good time, but to somehow honor the legacy of my grandparents who I have never met. They’re still alive. They just want nothing to do with me. Joke. They died before I was born. I know them from stories, writings, and photographs. My grandmother was really hot.  No joke.

So we showed up to the Hideout, which is a groovy bar with an awesome, little stage area. The sign told us to go around back. There we  were met by a guy dressed as a 20’s gangster and holding a prop tommy gun. He checked our IDs. When he checked my youthful looking friends ID, he said, “The picture looks just like you.” I thought that was funny. So we entered through the alley like the original Dil Pickle Club. Nice touch.

Before the show an infomercial played on the screen onstage. It was for swords. It consisted of a portly man with a mustache chopping random objects (pigs, garbage cans full of water) with various swords. It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. (Ed. Note, he speaks of Cold Steel.)

A slam poet named George Decelles started the show. Her poem was well written and emotional. Pop culture writer Jenny Benevento was the next presenter. She gave a slide show presentation on Precious Moments figurines and their inventor. What started out as a snarky and funny piece about a ranch and church in Missouri dedicated to the cute, big-eyed, angelic, child-like figurines became a solemn piece on how people find love and deal with death. As the band that played between acts (Honey and the Buffalo) stated, it was a tough act to follow.

Next up was poet and painter Ned Broderick. His painting were hung around the room. His artwork blew away the audience. His poems were so moving that no one clapped after the first one. The words were raw and powerful like the paintings.

Before intermission the stunning mathematician Emily Reihl explained an algorithm she invented to pair up couples. I’m no good at math, and I was a little drunk, so it made little sense, but I liked it.

Sayward Schoonmaker did a piece on how she likes things that swoon and swell. In it she quoted a Frank Zappa song, so she’s awesome in my book. The last act was Richard Lindberg.  He’s a local historian. He kept us all entertained with his tales of Mid-Western serial killers, and his thick, Chicago accent.

After the show there was great soul music spun by the Windy City Soul Club. They mostly spun tracks I’d never heard before plus “Soul Finger” which I can’t hear enough.

It was one of the best readings I’d ever been to. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a sub zero Thursday night.

Notes from Mason:

Dan failed to mention how much he danced, which was a lot. That guy got his groove on in a way that made grown women sigh and grown men curse his name. Here’s a picture, albeit blurry, of happy Dan wearing a hat he stole from a police officer while riding the high that is soul music.
And here’s a pic of me, Dan and some young lady we found in the alleyway out back.
(photo by Jacob Knabb)
Needless to say, we had fun. Thanks for writing this up, Dan!

Louder Than A Bomb: A Good Scam

It’s easy to form a factory-made explanation of what Louder Than A Bomb is: a youth poetry slam where young men and women come from all reaches of Chicago to compete against one another while championing the spoken and written word and, most importantly, making connections and creating relationships. It starts February 19th, by the way.

Not so bad, a little wordy, but it does the job.

There’s a lot that can easily go unsaid about what a poetry slam is and isn’t though, about what it can and can’t do. This is something festival director Robb Q. Telfer addresses in his recent TimeOut Chicago article.

It’s a good article. Go read it. Here’s a couple things Robbie said that resonate with me.

“From the start, it’s vital that we acknowledge that any slam poetry competition is at best a fun game, at worst a farce…”

“… Slam becomes a farce if a poet ever takes the competition too seriously, so we try to be straight with youth about this from the beginning.”

Robbie’s point here is much larger in the piece itself, so please, go read it, but this notion of competition resonates in my brain. As a kid, which wasn’t long ago, I was bad at everything. Literally. Everything. Sports, I was awful. Academics, I couldn’t handle it. Concepts like Louder Than A Bomb scare me because they take something I love, words, and add a competitive aspect to it. This is something that, if done wrong, would have had a lot of potential to hurt me as a teenager; something that would have made me want to just hide in my bedroom and inside of myself even more than usual. LTAB doesn’t do it wrong though, they do it right. Thankfully, Robbie is very straight about how unimportant the competitive aspect of LTAB is. This makes me very happy.

Competition is something that seeps into readings on occasion, and I loath it. Not entirely, mind you. As an artist I think competition helps improve oneself. I want to be able to look at a peer, say to myself, wow, that story is great, and then go out determined to write something better. And, if I’m successful, I would hope that other writer does the same. I want to be better in the hopes that it makes my peers better too. Negative competition doesn’t only happen in slams though, this can happen in readings where there isn’t even a technical competitive aspect to it. Sometimes people like to whip out their (metaphorical) dicks and see whose is bigger. They want to be top dog at whatever bar, pub, coffee shop – whatever – they read at every month.

All I can say to that is that I don’t want to win, or be top dog, or whatever it is I might accomplish by having a bigger literary dick. I don’t want the competitive aspect to outweigh my love for the community.

But as long as slams and readings stay, as Robbie puts it, a fun game, then I’d say everything’s kosher.

Moving back to the article itself, Robbie isn’t afraid to speak the things the rest of us will only allow ourselves to think. Calling out Chicago for the inequalities we’re afraid to speak about, for whatever reason, “Exploitation in Chicago is inescapable, and I often find myself telling our youth of color that their lives are just going to be harder than others’, and though we can help, in the end they need to teach themselves the things they’ll need to know to survive.”

To put it simply, because I’m one of those people who feels completely inadequate when it comes to speaking about the trials and tribulations of youth in Chicago, Louder Than A Bomb is much more than a competition. Simple as that. Please please please go read Robbie’s article.

Apologies to the reader for quoting the article. I know they don’t like that.