by David Lamble
Coming this week to the Roxie Theater, two Wisconsin straight boys, seeking elegant digs in the lower Haight in the mid-80s, discover a dirty little secret world. In the new Aussie-produced doc Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, "Eddie Lee Sausage" and "Mitchell D." describe their pilgrimage to the lower depths of 237 Steiner St.
"We're making our way from the sort of nice neighborhood where we were staying and I'm going, 'Oh, wow, we might live in one of these cool old buildings.' And then we pulled up, and there's this totally ramshackle shithole of a place."
"Yeah, when we first saw the place, it was this gaudy pink color: what does this remind us of? I don't remember who coined it, but we came up with the Pepto-Bismol Palace, after the classic antacid, anti-diarrhea medicine."
"The absentee landlord, Nancy Lee, stepped out of the apartment, turned and said, 'One more thing, next-door neighbors, sometime little bit loud.'"
No sooner do Eddie and Mitch, with their 80s hair and faux innocence, settle into the Palace than Eddie starts hearing strange noises emanating through the paper-thin walls: his first audio encounters with Peter J. Haskett and Raymond Huffman, the odd-couple neighbors who kept screaming in Eddie's sleep, "Shut up, little man," and that all-purpose standby "cocksucker," as every possible form of speech. Efforts to have a dialogue on decibels and dirty words find Eddie confronting Huffman.
"There was this Cro-Magnon-looking kind of guy, who had the neck mussels of a newborn. 'Goddamn it, you guys have been screaming for days. I'm trying to get some sleep, you need to shut the fuck up!' Ray replied, 'Listen, you skinny cocksucker, shut your fucking mouth and go back to bed. I was a killer before you were born, and I'll be a killer after you're dead.'" Eddie then describes noticing a human skull nestled in the window next to the door, and suddenly realizing "that I'm in way over my head." Once the nervous little rabbit returns to the safety of his hutch, he decides to wake his still-sound-asleep roommate to the reality of their situation. The boys start taping their neighbors, complete with an improvised boom mike plugged into their stereo.
The resulting dozens of hours of audiocassettes were first shared as party favors. Eventually, the tapes went viral, and in the early-90s world of underground tape-swappers, Shut Up Little Man! became a sensation, and the raw clay for an avalanche of hipper-than-thou comic books and radio monologues. The doc is essentially a summation of a pre-Internet kind of phenomenon whereby Haskett and Huffman become the setup and punch lines for an ongoing hipster cultural joke that they're unaware of, and from which they profited not.
It's impossible to ascertain who these men really were, how their obviously twisted relationship had evolved, or who they were harming aside from themselves. Shut Up Little Man!, which is more than modestly entertaining, raises all kinds of red flags for us genuine "cocksuckers." These range from the depths of the closet to the usefulness of the term "self-hating homosexual," to the need to confront so-called hip commentators about their condescending attitudes, often derived from half-digested bits of American religiosity.
Growing up the ward of a Victorian-raised British dad whose favorite expletive was, "Jesus fucking Christ on a goddamn fucking cross," I've come to realize just how bizarre it is to be culturally abducted. It wasn't until I reached the church of the Castro Theatre and the cinema liberation theology of Bruce Beresford and Martin Scorsese that I was able to emerge from the shame of coming from a background that was a lot more representative of real life than the hipster crowd would admit.
Years ago, I and thousands of aspiring hipsters fell asleep to the radio ministry of Jean Shepherd, now mostly remembered as the screenwriter/narrator of Bob Clark's cult hit A Christmas Story. Shepherd's nightly radio short stories usually began with the line "I'm this kid, see," and went on to describe a Holman, Indiana childhood starring a dad, "the old man," who swore like a sailor at every possible opportunity, but whose pratfalls were not meant to be the object of self-satisfied, smug derision, but rather a humanely comic object lesson in our shared absurdity. As Shepherd wisely noted, "3,000 years from now, we'll all be forgotten."