Tod Goldberg Starts His Day

From the lonely dust and the deadbeat winds and the torrid torpor of an unremarkable home in an Indio gated community, Tod Goldberg — the least adept and most pathetic and most quietly scorned of all Southern California writers — sat at a forlorn chair in his home office and started his day off with rage. This wasn’t principled indignation. You never saw Tod Goldberg taking a real stand or attending a protest or servicing anything other than his own fragile ego. And he certainly never wrote anything important! No, this was garden-variety narcissism: the infantile umbrage that can’t even be mollified by buying a candy bar for a braying brat while you stand in the checkout line.

Tod Goldberg didn’t believe in himself. And because kindness, empathy, and decency are impossible qualities to find within such a self-serving snake, Tod Goldberg decided that he was going to destroy someone. Ideally someone who Tod Goldberg thought could not fight back. And even if Tod Goldberg didn’t have the smarts to figure out how to murder a rando’s rep, he could still send an email to some writer claiming that he would destroy them. These emails were forwarded to other writers — including one bald writer in Brooklyn who didn’t give two fucks about Tod Goldberg, except in correcting a recent injustice and condignly replying to such defamation from a toxic asshole whom a lot of people detest (and maybe, if the bald man happened to be in a wicked frame of mind years later, celebrating Tod Goldberg’s inevitable death with a joyful pop of a champagne bottle, although Tod Goldberg was doing a remarkable job of wasting his life and such a gesture, however justified it may be, would likely be supercilious and supererogatory by the time Tod Goldberg kicked the bucket, which would hopefully be sooner rather than later — if only to put Goldberg’s incurable enmity to a permanent end). Tod especially loathed this bald man and went well out of his way to lie about him any chance he landed. Tod Goldberg’s incessant browbeating was tolerated in the Los Angeles literary world (1) because the cartoonish nature of Hollywood makes boorish deportment somehow more acceptable and (2) because most writers are introverts who live with a trenchant fear of conflict. Tod Goldberg knew this on some primordial level. He had, after all, antagonized other kids in high school and smiled at the frisson he felt as they ran away, terrified. But he carried on with these baleful shenanigans anyway. Largely because he was one of those sad despairing bastards who lacked the imagination to pass his fleeting time in any meaningful way. Largely because he was the most pathetic type of all middle-aged men: a predictable bully. He bullied Starbucks baristas while risibly claiming to be “a good and decent man.” Although Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt (a national treasure) had never uttered an unkind word to anyone and had been nothing less than generous in sustaining a major forum for writers so that they could thoughtfully discuss their work, one of Goldberg’s big “comedic staples” involved a wretchedly untrained impression of Silverblatt at book parties. This is because Tod Goldberg walks this earth with the intent of tearing people down. It was truly a wonder that the illiterate MAGA crowd had not thought to scoop Tod Goldberg up.

Tod Goldberg had nothing to offer the world other than hate and social media defamation. And, of course, his fiction, which nobody read anymore. He had caviled with Oscar Wilde on the qualities of a great mind and proclaimed himself a great wit simply because he had often used the word “fucktard” (and he still used this even after the word “retard” was long considered a belittling and insensitive epithet). The stuff of genius! He delivered incessant fast-talking monologues to his remarkably patient wife Wendy, who, unbeknownst to Tod, alleviated the great mistake of shacking up with such an unaccomplished lowlife by spending her time flirting with other men on Tinder. Dammit, he would spread gossip and still believe that he was a towering giant! The people who knew Tod tolerated him, much as one tolerates a mousy Yorkipoo whose only aspiration is to lap from the toilet water. He still cleaved to the hopeless illusion that he actually possessed talent. That he was sui generis! An essential voice! But at 51, he had little more than the sad portentous paunch of a deep-seated loser gone to seed, a man who could never comprehend physical exercise, even if you educated him at gunpoint on how to perform a crunch. Not that he had the physical strength or the body type to do more than fifty crunches at a time.

But Tod Goldberg, despite the rapidly drooping fat of his hideous double chin, was a published author! An incredibly awful writer of zero distinction, but a published writer nonetheless! Tod Goldberg had told his publicists to append the label “New York Times bestselling author” to all of his books, barking this like a boorish cantor to the few small presses who would still tolerate him. But his books weren’t selling. He was a grasping midlister and he hated anyone with talent and success. He hated anyone with a voice. Oh, how he longed to be original! He did have more than eight thousand followers on Twitter as well as a blue checkmark. And this helped, at times, to briefly placate this most implacable of parvenus. Tod Goldberg had such little confidence that he relied on Twitter for validation. His wife Wendy, a woman whom he knew deep down that he didn’t deserve, would no longer tolerate his sad male tears and his puerile bitching. So he needed an outlet. He did show up each year to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to talk shit about other literary writers, particularly literary writers who were far more talented and peaceful in their lives than he was. But since Tod Goldberg was unable to distinguish between genuine and fake laughter, and because Tod Goldberg had such a pressing need to be liked (that is, when he wasn’t bullying people), he deluded himself into thinking that he was a much-needed jester. When, in fact, he was merely tolerated.

He had written a lackluster story called “The Low Desert” and had summoned the name of a man whose every orifice he wanted to violate for the deputy character. His small Johnson grew harder as he had assembled the tale with all the care of Yanni randomly banging discordant triads on a keyboard. They would accept this plodding and poorly written story. Because he was Tod Goldberg! Sure, this oafish ape had little more in his routine than sour milk and jokes that would be greeted with crickets at any open mic night. But he was a writer!

Tod Goldberg knocked on the bedroom door. His wife Wendy was there, unpacking her compact and applying shimmering butterfly eye to her face. She rolled her eyes.

“Hey, baby, let’s fuck,” said Tod with his soi-disant and not particularly inventive thuggery.

“No,” she said. She promptly left the room to go about her day, which was a better and far more productive day than Tod Goldberg’s.

Tod Goldberg wondered if he should copulate with his wife without her consent. Then he realized that this was probably not a very good idea in an age of #metoo! I mean, he had never once used the hashtag in his thousands of tweets. And there was, after all, his own reputation as a “Great Writer” to think about! And wasn’t he already raping people with his words? With his emails? With his tweets? His casual libel and spontaneous slander? Still, he had to deposit this unconsummated lust somewhere. He really wanted to fuck Matt Bell, but Bell (as much of a self-serving scumbag as Goldberg, but a far better networker) was too nimble with his gentle replies (and, Tod knew, far more of a writer than he ever could be). So he texted his equally mediocre colleague, David, at UC Riverside. Tod and David often met up for dalliances. David, who was every bit as commiserable and solipsistic and talentless as Tod, quickly drove over.

“I’d like to try something different,” said Tod.

“Oh?” replied David.

“Can you piss on me?”

“Tod, my man! I won’t just piss on you. I’ll shit on you!”

“Sounds great!”

And so Tod removed his gaudy suit — its liquid black pinstripes somehow failing to help Tod’s porcine frame in any way — and presented his ass upward for later violations. But penetration was not to occur. David had one, and only one, reason to be there. David drank two gallons of water and told Tod that he had enjoyed a very big breakfast that morning and that he was ready to drop a few deuces on his most sensitive regions.

“Open your mouth,” said David.

Tod did as he was told.

A stream of piss jetted into Tod’s mouth. A beatific parabolic arc! David’s marksmanship was excellent! He had, after all, practiced in fast food restaurant restrooms during the 1980s. Those urinals that used to exist with the green plastic dartboards planted beneath the cakes. (And, like Tod, David too had grown heavier and more dissolute and more rancid with age. Together, the two flunkees radiated the redolent aura of a small boutique with little more than long expired cheese to sell.)

“I thought you said you were going to shit on me,” said Tod.

“I lied,” said David, as he zipped up his fly. “Besides, I hate myself more than you do. I just wear it better than you.”

“I don’t think that you do,” said Tod, before further words became lumped in his throat.

David didn’t even say goodbye as he shut the door.

And so Tod remained on the floor, a naked and disgusting sight, his every pore reeking of David’s urine. But he would not shower that day. He would sit with his misery for several hours. And then he’d tear someone else a new one online. And he’d await the dreadful day when his wife would serve him with divorce papers after nobody in the literary world wanted to hear from him anymore. Tod Goldberg was incapable of changing. He was, however, quite capable of devolving. The only question was just how low he would fall.

[7/21/2022 UPDATE: Tod Goldberg is a worthless son of a bitch who now believes that he can drink his vile sociopathic qualities away. (Does he have any decent aspects to his personality? I think not.) There have been many backchannel emails tonight. Apparently I’m not the only one who Tod Goldberg has abused. Goldberg has harassed me, on and off, since 2009. Thirteen years. Tod Goldberg will soon discover that he made a huge mistake libeling and defaming the wrong man.]

Bullies (FYE #6)

Bullying is the most common form of violence in America and often carries into adulthood. Every day, more than 160,000 students stay home from school because they fear being bullied. This week, we discuss bullying at length. Poet Shane Koyczan uncovers the dark beginnings of “To This Day,” a poem abut bullying that went unexpectedly viral. We talk with Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones, to learn more about the bullying phenomenon. Dr. William Copeland reveals how bullying’s long-term effects extend into adulthood and discusses an unprecedented study that followed 1,420 kids from North Carolina for twenty years. Distinguished author James Lasdun tells us how a relentless student cyberstalked him and refuses to stop to this very day. And we find out how an innocent girl with progeria was relentlessly tortured by cyberbullies who reviled her for no good reason at all.


As if Broken Bones Hurt More

Shane Koyczan read his poem, “To This Day,” over a video that was animated by volunteers. The video became a YouTube sensation, racking up five million views in a week. But before Koyczan had poetry, there was the daily hell at school in which he was singled out for being different. Now that the bully’s reach has extended beyond the classroom, Koyczan discusses how conversation and compassion are invaluable tools against the hate and meanness. (Beginning to 5:46)


More Than Sticks and Stones

Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones and senior editor at Slate, reveals how Swedish psychologist Dan Olweus has developed an anti-bullying program in place within many of America’s schools right now. But how can kids stick up for themselves? And what of school principals who believe that putting the bully and the victim in the same room to talk out the problem? And with so many other national problems, why should we care about bullying? (5:46 to 12:10)


The Long-Term Effects of Bullying

In late February, JAMA Psychiatry published a report revealing how the long-term effects of bullying stretched into adulthood. In an unprecedented undertaking, 1,420 kids from Western North Carolina were asked about bullying at various points in their life over a twenty-year period by a group of psychologists. For subjects who had been bullied in school, depression and anxiety continued into their twenties. We talked to Dr. William Copeland, the lead researcher, to learn what this means for those who past, present, and future children. (12:10 to 25:02)


On Being Cyberstalked

James Lasdun is a heralded poet, a celebrated novelist, and a distinguished and generous teacher of creative writing. But when a former student started sending him emails, Lasdun’s quiet life turned into a nightmare. His new memoir, Give Me Everything You Have, chronicles the ongoing horror. (25:02 to 53:24)


The Princess and the Trolls

Adalia Rose is a five-year-old girl suffering from progeria. She lives in a modest apartment with her single mother. But Adelia’s harmless videos became a dark magnet for trolls. We chat with Camille Dodero, who wrote a lengthy investigative piece for Gawker, about why the trolls found the prospect of picking on an innocent girl so funny and reveal how high-profile cyberbullying feeds into another American sickness. (53:24 to end)

Loops for this program were provided by The Psychotropic Circle and Martin Minor. Follow Your Ears Theme (licensed) by Mark Allaway.

Follow Your Ears #6: Bullies (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Catherine Chung

Catherine Chung appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #442. She is most recently the author of Forgotten Country.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if he left his car keys in Korea.

Author: Catherine Chung

Subjects Discussed: How Forgotten Country emerged from multiple stories, finding inspiration from disappearance, mysterious ghost monks that couldn’t float their way into the narrative, getting to know a character’s family by telling other stories, bad fictional boyfriends, Korean American identity as seen through reflection, character depth that springs from an aesthetic, how Chung keeps her characters separate from her identity, drawing from emotional experience, the difficulties of finding details in grief, losing your parents, giving additional details to personal experience, loneliness expressed as a dialogue between author and characters, growing up in the Midwest, “Chinaman Costumes,” racist products sold at chain stores, being surprised by people speaking against injustice, first-generation Korean Americans and second-generation Korean Americans, being bullied while growing up, being pushed into a brick wall, how schools used to react to bullying, dwelling on childhood incidents, moving around a lot as a kid, not being accepted, changing perceptions of bullying over the past few decades, grief as a way of understanding cultural identity, “From the Ruins,” whether any city or location can offer true respite, escaping to Leipzig, poorly buried corpses during the Korean War, animal-based mythology, how the subconscious fits personal anecdotes into fiction, unanticipated symbols which emerge in life, paying attention to things that seems like signs, the burdens of an analytical subconscious, finding the mathematical precision within sentences, Chung’s math background, the messier process of half-formed thoughts, the difficulties of not knowing, whether or not block is productive, obsessively circling a problem, Csikszentmihalyi and flow, using the least amount of words possible in a sentence, being concerned with a readership, how style is shaped through unexpected means, abuse and ambiguity, the creative showdown between God Cathy and Janie’s Voice, the troublesome results of divine creative intervention, and control in fiction and in life.


Correspondent: I know that Forgotten Country emerged from a number of different stories that you were working on at the same time. You have, of course, this idea of the boy falling out the window, which is at the very beginning. The mysterious hermit girl who crops up later in this book. And then you also have this story that was inspired by your father’s sister, who disappeared when you were a child. It’s really interesting to me that, first of all, these stories fused their way together into a novel and that, secondly, this came before this massive family unity of complicated relationships. So I’m curious, first and foremost, if you could describe how these stories came together in novel form and how you were able to fuse them together, and whether you needed some of these orbiting asteroids to circle around and become the planetary family unit.

Chung: Yeah. Well, you make it sounds as if I did it so intentionally.

Correspondent: (laughs) No, it never is intentional, of course. But I’m wondering how the connections came about.

Chung: Yeah. I think that they came about after a lot of time. There’s one character telling all these separate stories. And that’s what linked them. I didn’t really know what they were doing with each other or how they were related. There are other stories that were also in this book that eventually dropped out.

Correspondent: Oh really? Like what?

Chung: So there was a flying ghost monk.

Correspondent: Really?

Chung: Yeah. He was eradicated fairly early on. But he was totally in there and for a long time, he was carrying a great deal of weight in terms of just the number of pages.

Correspondent: That’s quite a feat, given that he was a ghost.

Chung: Yeah. He was a ghost. He was on a trek to find his lost daughter. And that was one of those stories I realized in my mind was related to the other three stories, right? Because all those stories are about loss and about trying to find what’s been lost once you’ve moved on. It’s almost impossible to do that. But in terms of the narrative arc, he didn’t work. And part of the reason he didn’t work was because the main narrator really was Janie, who was the protagonist and the narrator of the novel. Because he was carrying on his own story and I thought, “Well.”

Correspondent: You can’t very well have him being narrated by Janie.

Chung: Yeah. And in my mind, he was related. But in terms of the book, he didn’t fit.

Correspondent: So how then did the family come about if Janie was the narrator for these three stories?

Chung: Ah! Because she’s totally preoccupied by her family.

Correspondent: Oh, I see. In the act of telling these other stories, you got to know her family.

Chung: Yeah! That’s exactly right. These are the stories that I was really interested in. But the other stories that she was also interested in, I had to create a character who could tell these stories. But I think that she was interested in these stories because of the light they shed on her own experience. And as she told these stories, she’s sort of a secretive, hard-to-get-to-know person. So these were the stories that she wanted to tell. But then there were these underlying stories of her own life that came to play as she was telling them.

Correspondent: And allowed you to work out the connections with the sister, with the aunt, and so forth. Well, this leads me to wonder, did you have the competitive relationship between the sisters in place before the father-daughter relationship? Which of those came first?

Chung: Which of those came first? I think that the father-daughter relationship came first. Hannah’s disappearance came first.

Correspondent: Of course.

Chung: It was the absolute first thing to happen. But their competitive nature came as I was discovering why Hannah would leave and why it would be difficult to find her. I discovered what their issues were.

Correspondent: It’s interesting that competitiveness would come from disappearance. (laughs)

Chung: Yeah! And I think that the competitiveness also arose not early on in the novel — but I think Janie gets jealous with all the attention that’s focused on Hannah while she’s missing.

Correspondent: You were mentioning ghosts earlier. We’re talking about disappearance.

Chung: Yeah.

Correspondent: I’m wondering if subtraction might in fact be the way for you to pinpoint what a story or what, in this case a novel is all about.

Chung: That’s a really interesting point. I think that a lot of what I’m interested in and a lot of what I focus on is what’s missing or what’s longed for. Or what’s gone.

Correspondent: Were there any instances when you were writing this where you simply had too much and you had to remove an element? I mean, we were talking earlier…

Chung: Like a flying ghost monk.

Correspondent: Like a flying ghost. Or a character perhaps. Or some angle that just didn’t allow you to get that emotional precision that I think is there throughout the book.

Chung: Yeah. I was thinking the other day just about how many pages I removed. And I would say the book is about 300 pages, but I think I must have deleted at least six or seven hundred. Probably more like a thousand as I was going through the drafts. So entire storylines fell out. Like the flying ghost monk. There was a character. Janie’s love interest also ended up getting cut out.

Correspondent: Oh, I see.

Chung: And so as I went…

Correspondent: Is this the guy in college? Or just another love interest?

Chung: No, it was another love interest.

Correspondent: Oh! Another love interest!

Chung: There was another.

Correspondent: What was he like?

Chung: What was he like? Well, you know, I think he wasn’t all that interesting. Which is why I took him out. He wasn’t really holding his weight. I realized it wasn’t about him.

Correspondent: Well, I also wanted to ask about Hannah. The thing that’s fascinating to me about her is that she almost seems like a reflection of Janie. I mean, I think specifically about the scene in the hotel elevator, where Hannah follows her in and is essentially tailing her and mimicking her. And then you also have Hannah, which is a palindrome.

Chung: Yeah.

Correspondent: But also you observe of her at another point in the book, “how strangers, even adult men, would pause in the street to look at her, and how easily she held their attention.” So she’s also, on the other hand, resistant to Korean food. Which leads me to also wonder if her reflective nature came to mimic the idea of America or an American identity mimicking the original Korean identity that Janie has. And I’m wondering if you could talk about if Hannah came from almost a reflective pool from dwelling on Janie like this.

Chung: That’s such an interesting question, and one I haven’t heard yet. But I think that’s exactly it. Or at least that’s the source or the core of Janie’s resentment to Hannah. I think that because Hannah not only reflects Janie, but also gets to do some of the things that Janie doesn’t get to, but would like to, Janie feels that that’s been taken from her. That she only gets to be a certain kind of person because Hannah has already taken this other part of her. This reflection, exactly as you’re saying, is reflecting some part of her that is also slightly different. And so Janie is very competitive and jealous about that. But I also think that that link that you made to how her Americanness is a reflection of how her Koreanness could be a reflection is also very interesting. Because of the ways in which people change or mimic each other or come to copy an idea of what they should be. So, yeah, those were things that were with me the whole time that I was writing this book. And I just think that it’s really cool that you picked up on that.

Correspondent: But when you considered Hannah, did she first come to you as this aesthetic person? And did you need to flesh her out by this reflective thing we’re talking about? By imbuing in her some sense of her being looked at by other people? By people who were not, in fact, Janie?

Chung: Maybe. And I think that the thing that I kept getting caught on with this question is that I have often thought of both Janie and Hannah as reflections of parts of myself as well.

Correspondent: Yes. Of course. They’re your secret sisters. (laughs)

Chung: Yeah! Who live inside my head. But I was interested in Hannah as the object of attention, right? As a kind of reflection. And I think part of Hannah’s problem is that it’s hard for her to — and Janie’s problem as well — it’s for them to think of themselves, or they get tripped up on the way that they’re being looked at by other people. And it’s hard when you see yourself as a reflection. Because then what are you?

The Bat Segundo Show #442: Catherine Chung (Download MP3)

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