SUBTOPIAN MANIFESTO II. by TRevoR RicHardsoN Peace on EaRth and GooD Will Toward Men. Isn’t ThaT our idea of UTOPIA? What doeS it MeaN to You? Have you EveR thought about It? AsK someone on the street. Ask a hundred peopLe. You’ll geT a hundreD answers... It’s a perfecT world. It’s a worLD without SiN. It’s a World without discrimination. WiTHout poverty. Without injustice, borders, war, starvation...it’s a questioN allowiNg for almost limitless aNswerS. Subtopian is builT on the notioN that we are straddliNg two possible futures. It isN’t Just that we’re unsatisFied with where we are and feel stuck. It’s that we knoW we aren’t going to be like This FoReveR. Things wiLL chaNge. For better or Worse, we’re headed toward a new dynaMic. I have alwaYs believed that our biggest setback as a civiLization has nothing to do witH morality, drive, invention, or purpoSe. In fact, humanity has these in spades. The issue is a FailuRe of ImaginatioN. We can’t quite imagine, logistically, in any real sense, what Utopia might looK like. If we couLd we coulD build it. We could get There. But thiNk abouT those hundred peopLe you intervieWed on the Street. You got pie in the sky notions of no more problems. But did you get a single well-formed description of the form of government in Utopia? What is the economic structure of a Utopian civilization? Do we have a president? A king? We don’t know. That’s the proBlem. If we kneW we’d start a RevoLutioN. We’d rebuild the woRLD. But we don’t. So we can’t. The purpose of this brief thought essay is a proposal. Perhaps the American philosophy that gave us our origin was onto something. Freedom from the bottom up. But that hasn’t beeN workinG much recently, has it? We all feel owned by larger constituents. We all fEEL the weight of the DystopiaN world pressing in like the world on the shoulders of Atlas. MayBe we’re looKinG for Utopia in the wroNg place. I see it growiNg in quiet coRners of a country or a ciTY all oveR the world. And it doesn’T happeN in a courtHousE or a SeNatE haLL. It happeNs when simpLe people aim for simpliciTy. It happeNs when rather than reaching for the stars or the top of a corporatE ladder people opt insteaD to reacH for each otheR. Utopia comes from people creatinG a new definition of the wordS we live by everydaY. How do we Do ThaT? Consider this: civilizatioN is an agreemeNt between a vasT group of people to abandon the animaL world and creatE something new for themselves. The issue with this idea is that the NaturaL world comes with Its owN ruleS, written and built into the animal long before man evolveD. How coulD people haVe createD a worLd outside of the natural worLd without writiNg their own rules? They should have, but theY didn’t. Instead, society began as a waR against nature and it has beeN ever since. The first cities were walled fortresses, constructs designed to kEEP out predator, enemy, invaDeR and the eleMeNts. These things were built from the fellinG of forests and covering oveR the earth with stone. This became man’s NeW rule. His new instinct. In the place of kill or be killed, survival of the fittesT or any other law of theJUngle, you get a drivE to simply be separate, oppositE, of all things in Nature and to destroy anything that reseMbles it in your enviRonMent. Having gone for some ten thousand years we still have yet to sit down, consider, and write any rules for civilization. Even our laws, which some might arguE were rules for civilizatioN, are little more than ruLes to prevent animaL behaviors in humanity. The scavengiNg theft of the jackal, the murderous rage of a lioN, the urGe towaRd madness when bloodlust moves through a mob of Humans like a pack of sharKs in a feeding frenzy -- we are not special, we all feel the proverbial call of the Wild and the laws are there to dissuade us. But is that really the Best we caN do? Hold back our Nature on pain of death? Cover over the earth with stone and asphalt and forget we were ever animaLs? These are the instincts breD into us by our ancestors and just as they chosE to rebel againSt the rules and instincTs of their environment Utopia will only comE when we do the Same. In order to live in one world, whether its natural or manmade, you neeD a unifier. That unifier makes the parts into a whole. The laws of Nature do that for the animals. The laws of finance and economy have evolved to the point where they do that for us. Money is the great social unifier and the fabric of civilization. It’s the closest thing to a rule we’ve yet written. It gives power to create and destroy. But it also puts a few in charge over the many. It’s for this reason that I know change will only come when we, like our ancestors, rebel against our current unifier. I submit that the urgE to look upwaRd for the AnsweRs, whetheR it’s from gods or kings, churches or governMentS, investoRs or patroNs, is an urgE as useless and outmoteD as the urGe to run on all fouRs. We aRe capabLe of choosiNg to be humaN, not just opposite from the animaLs, but truly HumaN. And that means we doN’T neeD a shepheRd or a trainer. It means we looK to one aNotheR as neighbors with a lifE of theiR own and so mucH to oFFeR. UtOPiA begiNs with the choiCE to reacH out and helP each otheR succeed in whateveR way we believe success takes Shape, to do it togetheR, and not rely on larGeR interests with theiR owN agendas. Instead, to live life witH the UnderstaNdinG that we are in thiS together and we will go FartHER fasteR as ONE then we eveR will on our own. Looking to your peeRs to help you succeeD in youR endeavoRs instead of to those with wealTH to throw around, sharing the loaD, splitting up the cost of funDinG a dream, and constructiNG a way of doiNg this that helps everyoNe involved benefit, that’s my idea of a perfecT world. FoR our part in striviNg toward UTOPIA, this Magazine exists as a means to helP peoplE succeeD in art and lifE withouT giviNg in to those Overmen temptiNg you with the fruits of theiR kingdom in exchange for worshiping at theiR feet.
Table of Contents REVIEWS
Static Music Reviews
Koan Sound Andrew Norman
REGULARS Road Notes Anything Helps Jeff Costello SHORT STORIES No Clas William Greer
REGULARS Stuck on Repeat Fierce Creatures Rachael Johnson
Oh No, Not Politics 26 Jeff Costello DYSTOPIA 28
Syphilization and Its Discotheques S.D. Vincent UTOPIA
M. Craig: Founder of Papercut Press and Author of the Narrows An Interview 32 by Trevor Richardson POETRY
REGULARS Pearls for Swine: thoughts from a mad hermit Ereaders: just more technology that could possibly launch Skynet Kirby Light 20
Jeff Johnson Andrew Norman 36 Howie Good CRITIC’S CRITIC A Critique of Roger Ebert’s Review of “Midnight in Paris” 38 Erin Deale and Trevor Richardson
SERIALS Dystopia Boy 0.2 Trevor Richardson
FIERCE CREATURES by Rachael Johnson
Let’s say for a moment one that you’re forced to move to one of the most deadly places on Earth. This country is home to a wide variety of lethal spiders, snakes, and crocodiles. For good measure, its coastal waters are also filled with poisonous jellyfish and great white sharks.
While the USGS is researching methods of containing the offensive population, history may offer a “green” solution to actually eradicating it. To start with, what do countless endangered animals— including rhinos, elephants, and marine turtles—all have in common? They, or parts of them anyway, translate to a monetary value. Putting a price tag on a non-agricultural animal may well be the quickest way to spell its doom. This is the principle behind the near extinction of the North American beaver at the height of the fur trade. Given that the pursuit for wealth could so easily eradicate an animal from such a vast and unsettled area as North America, then surely snakes, being “contained” to southern Florida as they are, could not hold out against the true top of the food chain: the homo sapien.
But every ecosystem needs a fluffy silver lining, so perhaps you bring along some bushy-tailed rabbits— after that list of diabolical habitants, it couldn’t get any worse, right? Wrong. The rabbits would be out of place in their new environment and would end up decimating the vegetation, thereby causing mass erosion and endangering some of the adorable native marsupials. The rabbits would be, in effect, a plague. This often happens when an outside species is introduced into a new place, and bringing innocuous fur balls into the same habitat as the blood-curdling funnel-web spider is no exception.
If creating a market for snake skin or posting up wanted posters sounds too gruesome, there’s always the solution that Australia has executed several times, that of dispensing a virus. And yet, the idea of allowing a python pox to spread rampantly throughout the Everglades might be a step down on the PR ladder.
If you haven’t guessed already, this country is Australia, and hordes of rabbits have been marauding its countryside for around two hundred years. (Rabbits 1999) It was not the first nor will it be the last time that environments have been wrecked by invasive species. If it comes as no surprise, then, that introducing a “harmless” animal can do so much harm to the same habitat that induces nightmares in the bravest of souls, then what is to be expected when some of those nightmares are introduced into paradise?
Sources: Fears, Darryl. “In Florida Everglades, Pythons and Anacondas Dominate Food Chain - The Washington Post.” www.washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. “North American Beaver.” Great Plains Nature Center Home Page. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.gpnc.org/beaver.htm>. “Rabbits and Their Impact.” Department of Primary Industries - Victoria, June 1999. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/pests-diseases-andweeds/pest-animals/lc0298-rabbitsand-their-impact>.
You need look no further than Florida, where pythons and anacondas were released from the cages of their pet imprisonment years ago and are now just a slither away from the top of the food chain. Animals once so common in the Everglades—raccoons, opossums, bobcats— have all been gobbled up, and even paradise’s resident bad boy the alligator can do little to resist.
---------Rachael Johnson, a fresh voice in the Seattle writing scene, offers her regular column,“Stuck On Repeat,” which puts a unique spin on current news stories by taking a look back at other moments in history where the same thing went down. It’s true what they say, history repeats itself.
According to a January 30th article from the Washington Post, officials are abiding by the adage of “can’t stop it, can only hope to contain it.” (Fears, 2012) But even containing the snakes to the Everglades still poses the problem of having snakes running amok in one of the most beautiful parks in the U.S. 19
Ereaders: just more technology that could possibly launch Skynet. Do you know who J.A. Konrath is? He wrote a series of detective thrillers (I guess that’s what you’d call them) and a couple of horror books. He is noted for his self promotion capabilities and his outspokenness against the publishing industry. He’s also an advocate for ebooks and the Amazon Kindle. Most of his writing can be found online.
Do you know who John Martin is? He’s a publisher. He sold his entire collection of first edition American novels in the seventies. John Martin made 50,000 dollars from the sale and with that he started Black Sparrow Press to publish the works of Charles Bukowski and others. John Martin (quoting someone whom he couldn’t remember, so I’m just going to say John Martin said it) said that there are three types of artists in the world: the innovator, the master, and the imitator. The innovator comes along and creates something new and presents it to the world, but
it isn’t perfect, it has rough edges. Then comes the masters, people who take what’s been presented by the innovator and make it perfect. Writer’s like Thomas Harris and Ernest Hemingway are masters. After the masters, come the imitators. These people write formulaic stories to make money or to try to get awards.
erature, or writing (In one blog post he states that plot is optional in literary fiction, not realizing that plot is essential and necessary in telling a story and is something that comes from the natural act of the telling. A story can’t exist without a plot. I believe he’s mixing up plot with conflict. Where as conflict is the tension creator for a story. It can be more subtle in literary fiction than in the genre fiction that Konrath is accustomed to, while plot—in it’s most simple form—is just the events of a story and how they relate and how they are propelled by the conflict and characters). Well, here I go off on another tangent. This article is about ereaders and ebooks.
J.A. Konrath is an imitator. He writes cliche, unoriginal genre fiction. But I’m not here to bash on Konrath. My issue (and the topic of this article) comes from within the text of his blog “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” and the fact that it basically praises ebook publishing, touting it as the next generalized step in where writing is going. I’ve been following his blog off and on for about a year now. And I have to say that his blog has a false title. It has little to do with publishing and more to do with his one man embargo against publishers. He states that ereaders and ebooks will take over the world, turning all fiction digital, becoming like music or movies. In his blog he often praises the merits of self publishing with ebooks, encouraging writers to publish ebooks instead of through a regular publishing house. His two primary arguments are the number of ereaders sold as well as all the money he’s made. From his blog it’s painfully clear that the only thing he seems to care about is money and apparently taking down book publishers. In his blog he often falls back to childish name calling and occasionally makes statements that imply that he really doesn’t know anything about storytelling, lit-
Konrath says that ereaders are going to take over the world and that’s how we’re going to be delivered our fiction. Well for everyone’s sake I hope not. Here are some thoughts on this new medium by which we’re being delivered writing (We’ll call it the top twenty reasons why ebooks won’t take over the world). Each one is written from a certain perspective, consumer and writer, spiritual, philosophical, physical, and other perspectives. 1. Ereaders are impersonal. They’re just hunks of plastic. They’re cold machines. Books are not machines. They’re organic. Books over time acquire personalities, broken spines, smells, dog eared pages, stains, and a vast assortment of other things. Everyone tends to want to know how my paper back books get so damaged. It’s because I usually take the book I’m reading everywhere. They 21
a constant companion. If it were a kindle, I’d worry too damn much about damaging it.
mental about an ereader or ebook. My grandfather gave me a stack of books that were blackened and singed from a fire. They were my grandmothers. My grandmother died in that fire. I never got a chance to meet her. The books were something that was important to her. Something she wanted to hang on to. I hang on to them now. Those books are some of the few things that keep me connected to that person. Ereaders are more cold technology.
2. No one will ever be famous for an ebook. Unless it’s for how many ebooks you’ve sold. 3. Ebooks aren’t tangible. For all the money you spend on ebooks, the only thing you end up owning is an ereader. When you hold a book, from a practical standpoint, you know you’ve gotten something for your money. ebooks are just digital text. They’re not real. 4. You can’t donate an Ebook. I once had to take a nursing assistant class to get my CNA license and keep my job. The nursing home where I did my clinicals had a library in it with shelves and shelves of donated books. 5. Regular books, unlike ereaders, are great decoration. They’re aesthetically pleasing. I used to live in this place and when my roommate brought people over they’d comment on my books. My roommate was a little amazed by the fact that so many women would see my books on the shelves and then want to sit and talk to me about books.
8. Books, unlike ereaders, allow people openings to start a conversation. One time, in high school, my girlfriend gave me the book A Million Tiny Pieces to hold onto while she went to class. I went to my class and sat it on my desk with my text books. Suddenly and unexpectedly a very cute girl whom I had never talked to and had never talked to me said, “Hey, are you reading that? What do you think of it?” Sadly I told her I wasn’t reading it and that I was holding it for my girlfriend. But that never would have happened had it been an ereader, with it’s indescript little black case. Also, I can only stop so many people and ask them what they think of their nook or kindle or whatever.
6. There’s no life to ebooks. Ever been walking through a book store and you saw that one book that was sitting there on the shelf. It just seemed out of place. That book for me was The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. If somebody hadn’t left it sitting on the shelf in the horror section, I never would have found it, started reading it, bought it, finished reading it, and enjoyed it so much. 7. No sane person will feel senti22
9. It’s a slippery slope. Ever see the movie Demolition Man? In it Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone put on these helmet things that create a virtual simulation of them having sex. Sly is horrified and Sandra explains that society started doing this to prevent the spread of disease. Well, books are pretty sacred to lots of people, once they all become digital there aren’t many other hurdles before everything
is digital. It’ll only be a matter of time before we’re putting on weird helmets and goggles to have sex…wait, I do that already.
15. No one will die for an ebook. Okay, that’s a stretch. It’s the ideas in a book that people die for as well as the ideals that they represent (the bible is a blatant example I can think of— people have died for that right? I know they’ve certainly killed for it). So I guess you can say that number fifteen is actually: ereaders or ebooks will never be the figure pieces that represent human beliefs. Unless that belief is the belief in money. Or something to that effect.
10. Notes. You can’t write love letters in the empty spaces of an ebook. 11. Laziness. I’ve been told that having an ereader is more convienent than carrying a book…Come on are you really that fucking lazy? 12. Logic. The Necronomicon, bound in human flesh and inked in blood; Reader pocket edition PRS-350, made by Sony utilizing electronic paper display created by E Ink Corporation…I’ll let you decide which sounds more evil.
16. No support system for quality. With an ebook a writer can publish straight to the people. There are no middle men to pay and if that writer writes something well then s/he can likely sell it. But anyone can e-publish. There is no filter. With a publishing house there are a great number of people who try their hardest to make a book all it can be. Editors, agents, and those amazing wonderful people known as copy editors (copy editors correct your punctuation—from what I understand—and other little tid bits of the English language that some of us struggle with…like myself for instance). These are people who look at manuscripts all the time, who dedicate themselves to making a book all it can be. In the end a writer is the last judge of the writing, but it’s a good thing to have professionals sitting back going “hey, that’s a cliche and should be changed” or “this sounds too much like your last book” or “the tension sags here.” With an ebook, you don’t get that. It’s straight from the writer to the reader. And yes, there are online book reviews and things you can read about ebooks dis-
13. Theft. No one on planet earth will ever steal my copy of Bloody Mary but they may steal a couple hundred dollar ereader. 14. Ereaders and ebooks will just simply never trump a real book. Konrath insists that books will go the way of the dodo bird. They’ll become like music and movies, turning into digital media formats and downloaded. Well that just simply won’t happen. VHS tapes are gone as are cassette tapes. DVDs are going out and CDs. But what’s the best way to listen to music? A concert. What’s the best way to watch a movie? A movie theater. And both of those are still around. So what’s the best way to receive a story?...well by someone telling it would be the answer to the line of reasoning I’ve set up here. But I’m going to go with a book. They’re still cheaper than ereaders and you can check them out at the library. You can’t check out an ereader. 23
cerning their quality, but there’s no guarantees on that. The same can be said for print books, but at least there’s something more than nothing. Just imagine a world with out Maxwell Perkins.
how you want to get your writing published (the first way is by writing something original that you’re proud of enough to get excited about). Self publishing an ebook isn’t respectable. Sure with ebooks you do a lot of your own advertising and self promotion and that could be respectable, but if you got your own printing press and printed your own books, you still do all your own advertising and self promoting. But you’d also give someone something besides the bare bones.
17. If all books are published in digital format for ereaders then the scenario in Farenhight 451 becomes much easier to accomplish. Why use flamethrowers when pushing a delete key is so much easier. Some may say that this is a completely paranoid delusion and that this will never occur. To them I would say just look at history for proof. There’s Nazi book burnings, the cultural revolution in China, just a few years ago some churches were burning Harry Potter books, and just this year a bill was proposed to give the government more reign over the internet and what is put on there. (copyright laws. Love em? hate em? What are you gunna do with em?). Come on get with the program, Governments are there to control people.
19. Ereaders and ebooks aren’t sexy. They aren’t. 20. And finally. The most ardent point I need to make is that Ebooks aren’t books. An ereader or an ebook is as much of a book as a dildo is a cock. And if you’re wondering, no, the irony that this article opposing digital publishing is published in an online literary magazine isn’t lost on me. If you want to publish an ebook, more power to you. I don’t necessarily think they’re bad or what Amazon is doing is erroneous; I just don’t think this format will take over how we read.
18. Publishing an Ebook isn’t respectable. It’s not. I don’t care who you are. If I write a book it better be its own entity. It better have only my name on it and it better have its own shelf space. Do you know why? Because I love what I write and if it’s going to get respect from anyone that respect has to start with me. It’s the same concept behind managing your personal appearance. If I don’t care enough about myself to make me look presentable then why should other people care. The second best way to do this is by choosing where and
Opinions can change, there may come a day when I myself publish an ebook. You never know what may happen and getting a better deal is never a bad thing. It seems that ebooks have the possibility of doing that. On top of this, I’m also not that good of a writer and everyone should have a last resort. 24
Kirby Light is the fictional creation and pen name of Anthropologist, Entrepreneur, and prolific writer Artimus B. Gon. Kirby Light is both the hero and villian of his own story and many others. Heâ€™s been telling stories all his life but has been writing for only ten years. Only recently has he started seeing success, mainly with poetry, and you can find his writing in the most obscure of places. His hobbies include learning about auto mechanics, fighting Goliath, and Euthenasia.
by S. D. Vincent The American Psyche is deeply conflicted, not least because of the self-consciousness with which it labored to compose its own creation myth— there were disparate ideas of liberty clamoring for attention within the Protestant roost; and in counterpoint to our limitless drive and innovation we must therefore brood upon the suspicion that we are spiritual foundlings, paid by God to wield the Devil’s hoe. But this profound insecurity remains buried, and so we have Tocqueville’s observation that the American believes fervently that everything can be explained—what cannot is denied outright. Precious little has pierced this vacuum-packed industrial-strength somnambulism. America as an Empire of Denial is psychologically maintained by the vigilant amputation of what it deems to be other than or alien to itself—oddly as if this were an invasive pathogen; meanwhile it bombards itself with toxins secreted from the very dynamos of its own purity. Historian Perry Miller noted the astonishing psychological deed of transmuting the largest material conquest known to man into an “immense exertion of the spirit;” and with the late nineteenth century sense of determinism arcing along the psychic nerve, America flushed prodigal in its talent for welding God’s insistence upon the necessity of the AngloSaxon civilizing mission to the sheer technical inevitability of an overseas empire. The unseemly details of trau-
ma and dislocation would liquefy at the dew point of national prosperity. During the decade of the Great War, leaders in business and industry began to grasp the necessity of a massproduced American psyche in order to consume the products of industrial excess, because only such a change in consciousness would complete the circuit of efficiency for which the Progressive Era pined. Modern public relations, led by thinkers like Edward Bernays, set out to “purify” society by purging it of its roiling and fathomless ethnic opacities, its resinous communitarian interdependence, which stuck in the machinery of corporate ambitions. The business plan for a corporate/consumer ethos was so radical in its dissolution of tradition and custom that the vanguard of these admen saw themselves as the authentic revolutionists of the day, and must have imagined the corpus of modern advertizing as a national epic—as the great epic poem of modernism. By intelligent design, these mandarins bid to unmint the coin of political freedom by recasting social unrest as the unquenched desire to consume the new spectrum of mass-produced goods. Fear was the secret weapon in this campaign to quell the dissonance of a burgeoning industrial giant, and so the ads burrowed tenaciously inside the individual, to expose and then magnify the innermost, personal fears—from shame and guilt—like fears of bodily odor. 28
Thus modern advertizing fell upon the American Psyche, invoking a peculiar and disorienting isolation, so that one could even begin to speak of a “subatomic” individual—a stranger to himself—for whom the vulnerability to organic decomposition (bodily odor) would suggest a pathological threat from an external source, always immanent, but alas, unnecessary: from now on redemption would be sought through mass consumption alone; the corporation offering something more effective than political action—with its bouquet of garlic and liquor—which left one unwashed, and in any case without prospects for career advancement. Already for a generation industrial prosperity and expansion had been widely interpreted as the beneficence of God to the mission of the WASP, and religion’s cosmological standoff was steeping in the cup of national politics and economics when it suddenly yielded potent brews like the Red Scare and Reefer Madness. Like advertizing, these campaigns promoted a thoroughly modern kind of corruption, or contagion, based as much upon a sinister aroma in the discoveries of Pasteur as upon the psychology of the masses. The industrialized Protestant Mind sensed that the emerging ethos was predicated less upon the maintenance of old-fashioned law and order than upon the creation of a new kind of Order, relentlessly besieged by hitherto undetected pathogens— all at once obscenity had acquired a broader band. There is a disconcerting analogy between the appearance of the national security state and the image of the immunologist bent over a microscope; that the microscope might in fact be a looking glass, in which the American Psyche failed to recognize itself—whether from the disfigurements of wartime repression, consumer ads, or from the haunting new cacophony of voices in the ether—such fancy did not detain the nation’s power elite, who saw only external battles to define the soul of America. While successful as small skirmishes, these campaigns ultimately lacked the unifying principle that would cut through all racial, political and economic boundaries; booty would be the Standardized American Psyche.
James Baldwin once suggested that the apogee of our technological achievement is the ability to annihilate creation. Indeed technology makes a queer fig leaf; for the splitting of the atom was an initiation into the secrets of nature, a cogent rumination upon the gamut of physical existence. The awe and reverence for the Bomb were merely the genuflections offered before the reorganization of society, based upon total, “biblical” knowledge of matter. An intimacy with the worst atrocities had been vouchsafed us, and technology was midwife in this process. We recast our idols in the Nevada desert, striking a new covenant with our God: in exchange for unprecedented power and convenience, it was written that we, as a culture, must peruse the entire bibliography of evil, no matter how anciently unclean; and we must persist in our lesson, this catechism of matter, until it be committed to genetic memory—the hallelujahs can be heard tumbling out of North Carolina and Ohio to this day. Only by this subterranean detour through an unmapped labyrinth could the children of implacable determinism manage to declare, with unflinching, corn-fed confidence: we are free. The weight of the bargain –call it the postwar bargain—must have been crushing; yet somewhere deep in the nation’s psyche there occurred a combination of costbenefit analysis and theological leap of faith; and up through the obfuscations of cigar smoke and algorithms rose the conviction that we were all in on the side of fluoride, and planned obsolescence—even as a few storefront, movie-set Main Streets swayed in the prairie wind—and just like that the moment was gone. The subsequent radiation of denial would herd millions into the fall-out shelter of the American suburb, and it is there, at a spiritual cul de sac, that the American seeks to come clean from history like a new Virgin Birth…
The postwar bargain recalibrated our concepts of freedom and democracy to mesh with the ineluctable purposes of an industrial world power. Cold War policy makers relied upon the foil of an adversary more ubiquitous than a clutch of dispossessed, olive-skinned
anarchists; they sought, with unconscious intent, to distill an elusive Standardized American Psyche from the confrontation with a lethal and sinister giant, equal in strength but opposite in values—identity through contrast. The Soviet Union was the penultimate shadow-state of America, its malevolent ascension eerily coeval with the standardization of American values. But what exactly were our values in the modern industrial age? Uh, see the Soviet Union over there? Well it’s the opposite of that. The secret ingredient in this sudden soufflé of Cold War was a fear, not merely of bodily odor, but one of biblical proportions: the fear of nuclear incineration; hence the metaphysical edge to the 1950s, a dread-soaked culture awash in the impasto of the unconscious—the tailfins of the Chrysler one of the few clues to the menace circling below (how much of the product of industrial waste was employed in cloaking the stench of animal fear?). There was fear of the Bomb; fear of mutant aliens tampering with your mind; and fear of the snarling collectivist awaiting activation behind your neighbor’s sniveling grill—and don’t forget the fear of begetting a child with an off-thegrid imagination. Indeed the suburb became a greenhouse for modern dread, hybridizing the garden-variety fears of being different with the biblical fear of nuclear annihilation, to yield the hothouse flower of conspicuous consumption; this not only politicized, but also “religiousized” the objects rolling off America’s production lines. Indeed these objects—endlessly replicated, endlessly consumed—became a fetish in the original sense of the word; a charged object able to assuage the complex anxieties of the day. And so it happened that the modern corporation, having left the subatomic individual to squat upon his sole postwar possession—his existential anus—offered its own inane excesses and wastes to deliver this creature from his obsessive fear of bodily odor. For the postwar suburb espouses the uncompromising metaphysical proposition that one can live free from one’s penumbra of bodily odor; after all, when the toilet’s flushed the turd vanishes.
Yet into this swirling vacuum disappears the combustible mixture of low stink and the sublime of an incendiary messenger pursuing a buried dialogue with the Self, at which the American is most prolix. Possibly the commode is the secret wishing-well of the suburb, into which we cast our specie of courage and humility, and all the doubloons of our finest impulses. Don’t be fooled though by the debasing materialism of American society; the urban clouds that throttle us are the very incense of Christianity, albeit a Corporate Christianity retooled and offered at the end of a conveyor belt—the kind of religion an American can really get his head around: as gutted and factual as a year-end sales report. This is the religion of the so-called militaryindustrial complex, crouching before us like a sand-blasted Sphinx; never mind that its high priests started deserting their temples in the 1970s. With American values retroactively emanating from the stone at Mt. Rushmore, we had finally made a company man out of God: the corporate takeover—or makeover—of religion. From now on only a daily regimen of American values—and lots of dairy for strong teeth and bones (don’t forget the fluoride)—would tip the balance in the war between good and evil.
From a historical angle the 1950s bomb shelter appears as a museum of furtive hope. It seems a quaint, almost childish votive—the shelter—with its rows of canned goods, neatly stacked. Yet here the seeds of an open and vital Golden Age—a world without fear!—could germinate (through eons, if necessary) in the generous bosom of the Earth. Laden with provisions, hermetically sealed against the upper world, it is actually a spaceship buried deep in the American Psyche; a spaceship for inner, not outer space. Its timeless mission remains the annulment of the postwar bargain, the cynical and synthetic contortions of which lay coiled in the slogan “In God We Trust.” In this sense the bomb shelter is an authentic atelier of American counterculture, a nursery for dissonance that invokes an “archaic revival” in all children of generous imagination.
Its creed might be that there exists a spiritual voltage between the sublime and the perverse; none better than the American to dream such dreams. Proust once remarked that more than vice, it is innocence that disturbs us; an insight culled from the wine cellar of the European Mind. Of course, nuance is never long for the saddle on the American palette; we prefer the fortified wine of unalloyed convictions, with a finish of transitive action. So let it here be said that in the Empire of Denial innocence is to be expunged wherever it appears, hydra-headed; never mind that the online predator has roiled our obsession with it—the lady doth protest too much, me thinks. The arch perversity is our opacity unto ourselves— we settle for counterfeit heroes, bogus communities, anachronous ideals, spurious sentimentalities, well-oiled indignations—we give fealty to a God who pimps for Big Business—thus we took our postwar catechisms to heart; and for the reserves of psychic energy needed to maintain this overwrought cult of inauthenticity we burned the fat of sensibility, which had taken centuries of humanism to acquire, leaving us with a cloying banality we nonetheless celebrate volubly in our militant circusries. And even if a marinade of pornography attaches to us permanently in our entertainments and our public dialogue, it is not socially or politically pungent, but sweetened with a commercialism that keeps us ever circling through the drive-through of our stunted sensorium, more venal than voluptuous.
niture as possible to digital we must sample the complete compendium of the American Psyche—a technological update of the postwar bargain—so how can we expect to turn this entity into a turnstile, 24-7, for ads, music, gossip (the ultimate conflation of freedom and free enterprise) without the puzzling anomalies, and unfathomable violence slipping through; thus the online predator, with his engorged profile, appears Sphinx-like before us to represent that there’s a lot of noise in the signal of our outrage.
If the postwar bargain fused American Values in the glow of radioactive relief, how better explain our obsession with innocence and its protection than as a result of the autointoxication of denial: once upon a time we kept the pedophile in the pantry, and those were the halcyon days. But was it a time of innocence or is our glad-handing of the past a perverse form of nostalgia? In any case today we feel the pedophile to be too much with us—he’s a “close talker.” As the analog world dims to black we ought to remember that in order to transfer as much of our analog fur31
S.D. Vincent enjoys singing pirate songs while unloading trucks at his day job; sometimes defiantly, sometimes with a deep, sweet ache, but always in the hope that, with just the right intonation, just the right proportion of precision and recklessness, one day the pariah will recognize himself in the looking-glass of the saint.
by Trevor Richardson MC: Papercut Press began with The Narrows. After researching self-publishing and independent publishing, it became clear that if I wanted The Narrows to be taken seriously by booksellers and reviewers, I’d have to first start a publishing house to put out the book. Papercut Press was founded in February of 2011, and The Narrows came out that September.
The great thing about traveling is you meet a lot of really cool, really talented people. Granted, you also meet a lot of creepers, twitchers, drug fiends, meth heads, beggars, liars, thieves, and cops. That said, the girl I interviewed for this issue thankfully falls under the first category. While I was on the road last summer, promoting American Bastards, I met M. Craig at a gig in New York City and had the chance to spend a couple of days getting to know her and the crew she runs with. Even in that short time I found her to be ambitious, insightful, funny, and kind. For a city known for high-speed, raging yellow cabs, and self-serving opportunists an arsenal of traits like these is a rare thing. M. Craig is one of those rare writers that doesn’t wait around for permission from the lords of publishing, but strikes out on her own instead. We talked recently about her publishing company, her experiences, and her plans for the future. This is what she had to say:
TR: The Papercut Press website has this great quote that we at Subtopian could not agree with more, “Transparency is cool and necessary if we’re ever going to stick it to corporate, big business whatever.” When people talk about sticking it to corporate America what they really mean is giving power back to ordinary folks and sort of revealing the man behind the curtain. What would you say you are doing to empower the little guy?
MC: Part of the purpose of Papercut Press is to find new writers and help them to share their work, whether it’s through inviting an author to particiTR: So how about we start with a little back- pate in one of our events or through publishing ground on Papercut Press for the folks at home. their writing. Personally, I hope to live the man32
tra that with enough help and belief in yourself, anything is possible. If I could write and publish and sell my own book, so can anyone else. It’s kind of like the American Dream, but without the goal of a picket fence and a ton of money-- in the end it’s just about having the chance to be heard.
make funky jewelry or hats or anything really and sell it all online. What’s changing is that we don’t have a few people deciding what everyone should buy and like. Books that resonate with people will be tweeted about or posted on Facebook walls or put on blogs or recommended by word of mouth, so that recognition comes from a lot of ordinary TR: The chance to be heard. You said it. It really people saying that something is good, and that will seems like you have to go around the system if you become just as valid as a few “important” people want to get your start, doesn’t it? So I’m always or experts saying the same thing. It feels like anyinterested in hearing about how the Internet is ef- thing’s possible for publishing right now. And that’s fecting publishing, positively or negatively. People the exciting thing: it’s a great time to experiment. talk about the Internet destroying the publishing industry but it often seems like it’s just threatening TR: The question I am always asking myself about traditional publishing companies. The equalizing Subtopian is, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes I force of the Internet is making everyone able to do wonder why I started this project when there are almore, reach more people. What role do new tech- ready thousands of small lit zines out there. I know nologies play in Papercut? Would this project be my answer, but what is yours? Why Papercut Press? possible without the technology we have available? MC: Because I love writing and I don’t like folMC: When it comes to small publishing and self- lowing other people’s rules. When you, or you promotion, the internet makes everything way eas- and a few of your friends, have complete control ier. I’ve reached people through Twitter that I nev- over something, you have so much more room er would have met otherwise. The Internet brings to be creative and try new ways of writing or an opportunity of chance encounters, of pleasant publishing or distributing. The whole process besurprises. But it wasn’t necessary for me to publish comes a work of art, rather than just the words. The Narrows in the way I did. I found my editor through a friend, and my designer would hang out TR: Would you encourage other young, struggling at the coffee shop where I wrote. Those two people authors to start a company in order to make it? were the most indispensable to the whole process of creating The Narrows, and I didn’t use the Inter- MC: It really depends on the author. Taking this net at all to find them. That said, I do live in Brook- route requires a lot of blind faith in yourself and lyn, where there’s a high concentration of creative your ideas, a lot of support from your friends and types. It was due to pure luck that I found them. family, and a whole lot of time. As much as I love When it comes to distribution especially, the Inter- writing, I also love running a business and colnet is necessary. Some bookstores won’t accept a laborating with people. I can’t wait until Paperbook unless they can order it through a big corpo- cut Press starts putting out other people’s work. rate distributor, and we’ve decided not to use any If self-publishing is the route a writer chooses to distributors, so the Internet helps a lot with sales. take, then starting a business first will definitely be worth it in the end. You’ll have more control over TR: Based on your experience so far, what do you your work and how it’s produced. But some writsee happening in the future of publishing? Are the ers might be better off submitting to small presses, rules changing? if they’re not the type of person who likes to do the logistical planning and fiscal side of things. MC: The change I see happening in publishing mirrors a lot of change that’s already happened in TR: One thing that impresses me about you other industries -- blogs and websites have changed is that you are, first and foremost, an author. the way we get news, a musician can put a band to- Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your gether and record an album and make it available novel, The Narrows, and what inspired you to to anyone with an Internet connection, artisans can take control of your fate by starting Papercut. 33
it’s really hard. I’m sending out e-mails to try to get the book reviewed and talking to as many people as I can about it. Papercut Press is starting some event and reading series in New York, so hopefully as Papercut gets more well-known, so will The Narrows. I think the best thing I can do as a writer is to get out as much as possible--do readings, plan events, go to other people’s events, and keep your fingers crossed that it’ll all add up.
MC: That’s true-- I have taken on the role of publisher much more than I’d ever expected to, but my calling in life is to be a writer. I’ve been writing for fun since I was eleven. I would just make up stories, always long novelish ones that I usually never finished. The Narrows was at first a continuation of that habit, but then it also became a way for me to explore some issues I’d been dealing with for a while: a growing sense of cynicism about being able to change the world for the better, embracing my own sexuality, learning to love myself. When it comes down to it, The Narrows is about being different and seeing the beauty in being different. I was working on the manuscript through my last year of college and three months before I graduated I decided, fuck it, I’m going to work at a bike shop, I’m going to be a writer and I’m going to start a publishing house and put this thing out myself. I didn’t know exactly how I’d make it work, but I knew I could figure it out, and I knew I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else, so I went for it.
TR: Self-Publishing often has a slightly negative connotation, as if these books were less “real” than those published by Penguin or Bantam, you know? Do you see this old attitude changing and, if so, what can we do to help make that change?
TR: Well, having gone for it, what is it like being a published author?
MC: That’s true, and it’s something that I come up against quite a bit. We try to refer to The Narrows as “independently published” because of that negative connotation, and because technically that’s what it is. It has an ISBN number and it’s published by Papercut Press, which I happen to own. But what really makes a self-published book different is the quality of the product. The Narrows looks, feels, and reads like any other book put out by a small press. I’ve had bookstores tell me that they don’t usually carry self-published books, but they sell mine because it doesn’t look like the other self-published works that come in. Also, there have been a lot of success stories lately about writers who have self-published only on an e-book platform. All of those writers hired editors before they published their manuscripts. As more self-published works are recognized for their quality (whether it’s quality literature or quality entertainment), we’ll have less of a stigma against this method of publishing.
MC: I’m finding that people take me more seriously now as a writer, I get called a writer more often. And whenever I’m sitting and staring at a blank page and feeling frustrated I can look over at my bookshelf and think, “Well, at least I did that.” Those are the two best things. It’s also nerve wracking in some ways. I have this really personal story that I’ve poured two years of my life into, and now it’s out there for anyone to read and judge. But I try not to think about that too much. TR: Exactly how I feel about American Bastards. Someone should have warned us. I constantly have people that know me say it’s hard to read because they can’t read it without picturing me. Maybe it’s a little cliche, but I can’t help but resent the book a little now. Hopefully the same doesn’t happen to you. Anyway, why don’t you tell us what you’re doing to help promote The Narrows. Lots of aspiring writers think about the day their book is in print and don’t even realize that that’s just the beginning.
TR: What is next on the horizon for M. Craig and Papercut Press?
MC: I’m working on the sequel for The Narrows-it’s a trilogy, so I have two more books to go--as well as writing some short fiction for some upcoming Papercut Press projects. I’m working with a solid team of three other people to incorporate Papercut as a small business with shared ownership. We’re putting together a smut zine that’s coming out this summer, have a couple of short story compilations MC: Promoting The Narrows is a job in and of it- that we’re talking about publishing, and we’re lookself, on top of the writing I usually do. It’s hard, ing for manuscripts to publish. As a press, we want to 34
Here’s what people are saying about The Narrows:
host and promote events just as much as we publish works, so we’re in talks with a local bookshop called Bluestockings to do a Nerd Grrl series at their space. TR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“The Narrows is a queer cycling steampunk tour de force!”
MC: Just that it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. If we’re going to come up with a new, more accessible, more fair way of creating and distributing literature or any form of art, then we have to support each other. And because so many people are already doing that, it really is possible to figure out your own way of doing things and just make it happen. TR: Thanks,, I couldn’t agree more. Community and a shared approach to art is how we are all going to make it. It’s how we are going to change things and it’s what Subtopian is trying to be all about. We wish you and Papercut Press all the luck in the world and hope we can talk to you again real soon.
- M. Schnuer
“The Narrows takes you to a fantasy land which soon consumes you and you start reevaluating your own surroundings for the magic within your own dwellings. As you follow Sim’s adventure, The Narrows’ mysteries and enchantments reveal them self to you and you will find yourself wishing you too could heat up your coffee with magical spells and foam your latte milk with dragons breath and you can even find cycling more enchanting (if that was even possible!)”
To find out more about Papercut Press visit their website:
www.thepcpress.com Also check out M. Craig’s book, The Narrows, at
- Amazon Review
The Critic’s Critic
Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”
A Critique by Erin Deale and Trevor Richardson of
Roger Ebert’s Review “Midnight in Paris: May 25, 2011”
I’m quoting from Roger Ebert’s review of “Midnight in Paris” here so let’s dive right in, “Owen Wilson is a key to the movie’s appeal. He makes Gil so sincere, so enthusiastic, about his hero worship of the giants of the 1920s. He can’t believe he’s meeting these people, and they are so nice to him — although at the time, of course, they didn’t yet think of themselves as legends; they ran into ambitious young writers like Gil night after night in Miss Stein’s salon.” Having read a lot of reviews and watched this movie with a critical eye, I’m honing in on this quote because I would say Owen Wilson is the biggest downfall of Woody Allen’s latest offering. Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t that I have a problem with Owen Wilson himself, as a matter of fact, all the way back to “Bottlerocket” I’ve been rooting for the guy. And I do hate saying this since it is one of the few movies he’s been in lately that actually had some legs. However, his weird Southern boy accent and his choice in the delivery of nearly every “Oh my God, you’re (insert random Jazz Age Artist here)” heightens the absurdity and cliché of the entire film exponentially. Just when you’re about to settle into the story another unexpected character falls in your lap and there’s Wilson with that comedic, boyish tone in his voice enhancing the unbelievable quality of the tale ad nauseam.
the downright silly tone in his voice during almost any line. The point, beyond just not caring for the artistic choices of Owen Wilson, is that he is not a great stand in for Woody as many would suggest. Woody’s fast talking, neurotic, self-deprecating and borderline OCD persona doesn’t come through Wilson even once. Moreover, the entire storyline is supposed to build to the epiphany of Gil in which he discovers that the past is just someone else’s present and so few are ever satisfied with their present. But the moment in which that is realized is soured by the comedic tone that Wilson carries throughout, he doesn’t present the emotion or attitude of this grand discovery any differently than he portrays his excitement to sit down at a café table with Salvador Dali. In the end he comes off flat and in a movie that is meant to be about believing the present is a less desirable mockery of a golden, bygone age, Wilson is rarely down on his day and age. If it weren’t for the almost exhausting, over the top, caricature Rachel McAdams plays as the bitchy, status-driven fiancée we’d have very little contrast between how Gil feels about now compared to how he feels about then.
Again, from Roger Ebert, “Gil is of course the Woody character (there’s almost always one in an Allen film), and his fantasy is an enchanted wish-fulfillment.” This is another element that’s turned up in the majority of critic reviews I’ve perused in doing the research for this piece. I saw the movie and nowhere in it could I imagine Woody Allen himself grinning like an idiot and saying, “I just can’t believe it, you’re Ernest Hemingway. This. Is. Crazy.” Or whatever it is he says throughout the story. Keep in mind it’s really hard to fully encapsulate this problem with Wilson’s delivery in text when so much of the issue comes from 38
The Critic’s Critic But I don’t wish to hang up the disappointment of the entire movie on just one actor. I will admit that some moments, at least on the page, have their charm, but they’re often ruined by the people bringing them to life. However, most of the script left me cold. The movie has a lot going on with all of the figures from the 20s careening about. But very few of them come off like whole people and instead feel like trite mockups of the real individuals they represent. So many scenes run like wax museums animated by the limited characterization of the placards at their feet sizing up the figure in a few base sentences for the viewing public.
babbling idiot on the city bus. Hemingway drones on about being a man in slow, controlled, pointless sentences that seem to suggest he’s better than everyone around him and writing is only possible if you have a penis, and a large one at that. Fitzgerald is led around like a patsy by his clown of a wife. Picasso is a raving lunatic that offers nothing of consequence to the story. T.S. Eliot shows up just to inflate the list of unlikely characters and says very little. And I could go on. The point is, for the winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, I’m sad to say that the entire movie is only kept cohesive in the overall triteness of the plot and clichéd predictability of the people in it.
Speaking of the audience’s experience of these halfformed icons, Ebert says, ”They would be those familiar with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and the artists who frequented Stein’s famous salon: Picasso, Dali, Cole Porter, Man Ray, Luis Bunuel and, yes, ‘Tom Eliot.’ Allen assumes some familiarity with their generation, and some moviegoers will be mystified, because cultural literacy is not often required at the movies anymore. Others will be as charmed as I was. Zelda is playfully daffy, Scott is in love with her and doomed by his love, and Hemingway speaks always in formal sentences of great masculine portent.”
In the end and keeping with the season (it being so recently Oscar time again) I would say that this serves to prove, perhaps once and for all, that the awards game is rigged. Selections seem to be based more on who pays their dues, who kisses the right ass, and who cozies up to Hollywood with the easiest, most comfortable work. I didn’t mean for this review to end up so harsh, but there it is, my take on Ebert’s disappointing review of a disappointing film from a disappointing selection of films this go-round at the Oscars. Ebert finishes his review by saying, “I’m wearying of movies that are for “everybody” — which means, nobody in particular. “Midnight in Paris” is for me, in particular, and that’s just fine with moi.”
This explanation almost feels like Ebert is pulling his punches to avoid detracting from the positive declaration of his overall review. It’s such a brief notation in the bulk of his review I couldn’t help wondering if he was avoiding any analysis of Allen’s menagerie of artists because the truth is, a large cross section of them do little more than offer up dialogue that feels like the Spark Notes of their own lives. But Hemingway, with Ebert’s “formal sentences of great masculine portent,” could be described more accurately as speaking entirely in quotes from his own fiction. He comes off like a walking, talking Bartlett’s quote book of himself and it’s irritating.
I beg to differ. His stance that the movie challenges you to know and learn about cultural history is false. There is no lesson here, nothing of substance is offered up by the faces populating this retrospective circus. And the movie, in that it is a feel good, happy ending, romantic comedy with the conventional ups and predictable downs is a film hiding its mass appeal behind an all-star cast of dead people. Read the full review taken from Roger Ebert at
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20110524/REVIEWS/110529987 ---------
Without beating the proverbial dead horse, I’ll just sum up by saying that Woody Allen’s renditions of these characters all have just one thing to offer and it is generally the one cliché thing they’re most known for. Salvador Dali talks exclusively about the image of the rhinoceros often represented in his work and comes off like a simple minded hack, one of the lost members of the Three Stooges, or some kind of
This article by The Subtopian Magazine’s founder, Trevor Richardson, and Assistant Editor Erin Deale is an invitation to everyone to review the big movie critic’s that you disagreed with somewhere along the way. Visit www.subtopian.com/the-critics-critic f or more information. 39
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 9:23 AM August, 2014. Joe is three now. He’s talking and already seems to exude a sort of intelligence and independence unusual for his age. The woman looks more tired than before and says, “Joey Baby, come here please. Don’t make me get up.” Joseph waddles over to his mother and looks up at her, the expression on his face is one of love with a side of curiosity. “Joey, will you please be a doll and bring your mother a drink from the fridge?” The toddler makes a face but obeys. He leaves the room, reappearing a moment later with a brown bottle that appears to be some kind of cheap beer. The woman snatches the drink without a word and cracks it open on the coffee table. Joey sits down at her feet and joins her in watching the television. They sit, staring at me as I stare back at them through the screen. Ghosts of whoever they are now, figures from the past, unable to perform for the camera, unable to act sweet or happy as people do in home videos. This is the raw feed. The truth of their lives. A mother getting drunk in a recliner. Her toddler son watching. He speaks up, breaking the silence and the hypnotizing prattle of the commercial break, and his mother flinches, “Mommy, am I like Jesus?” The woman looks down at him with a fire behind her eyes, likely wanting to slap the blasphemy out of his mouth, but she contains it and asks, “What do you mean, sweetheart?” “Jesus only had a mommy. I only have a mommy. So am I like Jesus?” She sighs, clearly relieved that her three year old doesn’t have a Messiah complex, delusions of grandeur or a desire to walk on water. She’ll have at least another ten years before this behavior manifests as it does in all adolescents sooner or later. There is, however, a spark of disappointment. Perhaps she entertains notions about her baby boy turning her tap water into cheap boxed wine. The dreams of what might have been. I can’t help but be amazed and impressed by the strange computing power of a child’s mind. They have their own kind of logic. Normally false, but always easy to understand, easy to follow. Always sweet, and full of truth. The kind of truth 41
serials that is exposed in too sweet a manner for us to resent, but so simply that it can scald to the bone. After a beat, the woman replies, “No, baby, your father just isn’t here. He was a big important man, working for the government, but one day he just didn’t come back.” “Did he go away like my goldfish?” Joseph asks. “He might have, Joey, I’m afraid I never knew. We just have to go on without him.” The boy’s eyes alight with visions of his father going down in a fighter jet over a foreign land or being held captive in a prison camp in some jungle terrain or dying at sea in a torpedo explosion followed by fire and smoke and finally only twilight. He sighs and says, “Okay, Mommy.” On television they’re watching a network broadcast of Independence Day. The mother tells her son that it won’t be like that. She says, “These things always show people getting out by sheer ingenuity. But when they come, it won’t be like that. The only weapon we have is prayer. And God won’t save us. Why should he? Why should God bless America? Listen, Joey, we’re living in godless times. Outside of these walls there are heathens who say he doesn’t even exist. If aliens do come to destroy us it’ll be the people that let this nation go straight to hell that’ll be to blame. They’re the ones that’ll be at fault when God lets us burn.” The kid’s face changes from a tragic admiration of an absent father to a sort of confounded terror. His face projects the fear of superior firepower descending through the clouds and wiping out cities, helpless soldiers eradicated by beams of light, and buildings big as mountains vanishing like ash on the wind. He shudders and says, “Okay, Mommy.” I cut the feed. The Watcher program selects people with a good eye for detail. Despite the impressive compound and the wall-to-wall tech this gig isn’t an exact science. They give us all of these high-falutent surveillance gizmos and all, but there’s still the issue of what footage to study and what to disregard. By now I’m a thirty year veteran and have developed a pretty keen eye for when to jump ahead, how far to go, and the all-important ability to back up when something important has been missed. I’m sort of just skimming right now, developing a profile of the kid that will become the man I have to consider a threat. One of the Joes stops by my cubicle to say hello. I think his name is Samuels. Or Swanson. Simpson. Something with an 42
serials S. Smith maybe. He’s taller than me, but he’s got the same strong features and upright posture as every other reanimated cigarette ad stalking the aisles in this tech heap. S. says, “Hey, Anders, heard you had some excitement? Some bongo player figured out the game and got the boss all in a twist.” “Yeah, you could say that,” I reply glibly. “So, what’s the score? You doing the background or just running a scam to get out of doing cleanup on the big crash?” “Yeah, guy, I’m doing the background,” I tell him, “Nothing too interesting yet. His mom’s an alcoholic and a real bundle of joy. She mopes around in this ratty pink robe all day and watches alien flicks with her kid talking about the wrath of God. She’s probably got him scared eight ways to Sunday, but what the hell? What else are parents for, right?” S. laughs and says, “You’re all right, Anders. The Shrink. You’ll get it straight and then we’ll all know what’s what. I just dread the day when you turn your cameras on one of us, Christ, we’re all a fucking mess. Anyway, whatever, I’m getting a cup, you want some?” “Got some right here, thanks.” He’s gone. Right, now back to business. on the screen, Joseph and the mother are watching a rebroadcast of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The old one that was really about Communism or whatever. Not the crappy remake. She tells Joseph that the movie is really about demon possession. Moving forward through days, weeks, little bits of time in order to avoid missing any life-altering memories, and all I see is a lot of TV watching and not getting dressed till noon. I wonder what the woman does for money. She’s always around. Now they’ve rented a VHS copy of The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1942, that 2007 monstrosity doesn’t even count as a picture. She tells the kid that it’s really an allegory about the second coming of Christ. I’m surprised she knows the word “allegory.” Mother says, “Just like this, after the second coming people will be afraid to go out in the streets. There will be fear, paranoia, a quiet over the town…” Blah, blah, something about a tribulation period during or maybe after Armageddon where evil runs America, blah, blah, blah. She says something about how some idiots think we might be in the Tribulation Period right now and not even know it. But that’s impossible because she’s still here and it won’t happen until after the Rapture. 43
serials Whack job. Hollywood nonsense. Too much science fiction. I hit fast-forward. Another day or two goes by. During a commercial break from War of the Worlds – it’s the crappy newer one with Tom Cruise and that little Teletubby looking kid, whatever her name was, not the sixties one that was all right and almost like the book – the mother mutes the program and says, “Joey Baby, I want you to listen to Mommy.” She pats her lap and her son dutifully hops up and tunes in with the eagerness of a child not yet set in his own mind. The mother starts talking while putting on a thick coating of raspberry colored lipstick and smacking for punctuation. “You know I love you, right, baby?” Joseph nods aggressively while his mother puckers her lips and pops them to even out the first coating. She smiles and continues, “I want you to know that the reason I tell you these things about God and the end of the world and the AntiChrist…” “And the beheadings!” Joseph yells, interrupting. “…and the beheadings,” his mother nods, not missing a beat, “And the sun going red, and the good people being taken up to heaven by Jesus… the reason I tell you all of that is because I love you so much and I want you to be there with me. I don’t know what it will be like when God does destroy the world, but I want you to know that I am ready for it. I am ready because I have Jesus in my heart and that means when he destroys the world I will go to heaven and all the bad people will be punished. The way I see it, the sooner the better, this world needs to be destroyed because it is so messed up and so sad and so greedy. Baby, I just want you to be there with me. That’s why I tell you these things, so you can know the truth – so you can understand. That way, you can get Jesus in your heart too and we can go to heaven together when the end comes. Okay, Joey Baby?” “Okay, Mommy,” Joseph smiles and kisses her on the cheek. “Joe,” she asks, grabbing him gently by the wrist, “Do you understand?” “Yeah, I understand, Mom,” he replies, “When God blows up the world with his death rays the good people will get Beam Me Up Scottied and we can live forever in the sky.” His mother laughs snidely and says, “Close enough. Look, it’s back on!” She unmutes the television and I cut the feed.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30:: 10:06 AM I type a new date. It’s a day of significance and definition in the country’s collective unconscious and vital for the understanding of any individual, particularly of a certain age. It was a day where the metal at our nation’s heart was superheated and formed into something new. Like raw iron becoming a kettle. Steel becoming a sword. This day changed us in the same way a death in the family is life-altering for a young child. It warps you to the point of snapping, wears you brittle and then hardens you. Like so many other childhood traumas, it forms that first layer around your heart, beginning development of the shell of adulthood. But this day, more than any one death for any one kid, was multiplied by the millions that made up our whole. I hit enter and watch the day unfold in that tiny trailer park living room, so far from Washington DC. I remember how it a ll went down. For the better part of a year the frustration and chatter about the new laws had built into a powder keg. Talk shows, radio broadcasts, news analysts, all of them were on one topic: the disintegration of the Bill of Rights. Through the threat of internet criminals, jihadist attackers, the dying economy and the energy crisis, the government had been tightening its grip on the national throat. We all knew it, but there wasn’t anything to be done. The law was on their side. There was talk of uprisings, even civil war, everyone had someone to blame. The left turned on the right, the right blamed the left, the Christians blamed the Muslims, the Muslims blamed the Christians. It was the gays. It was the blacks. It was all their fault. The mafia did it. Wall Street is to blame. This law, that law. They started the tumble. The Patriot Act finished us. George W. Bush. Ralph Nader. Bill Clinton. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. It’s all them bleeding heart liberals’ faults. It’s all those neo-Nazi conservatives that are to blame. One fish, two fish, red fish, Jew fish. And then it happened. The term “protest rally” had been stricken from the national vocabulary for reasons of selfpreservation and fear of reprisals. Since the attack on Arizona State Senator Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 the media had begun pointing out the militant undertones in certain campaigns. Sarah Palin had launched a campaign using a sniper’s 45
serials crosshairs symbol targeting her liberal opposition. When the lunatic attacker fired on that same opposition the media went into its typical frenzy. The Watchers looked on, taking in the noise, separating the threats from the hot air. But since that time politicians and protesters alike had to take serious care not to use words that sounded like a call to arms. By 2013 you couldn’t pay a politician to reference Occupy Wall Street anymore, the word “occupy” sounded too much like military strategy. No one said protest anymore. Instead it was a rally for peace or resolution. The date is September 11, 2016 of all things. It’s a rally for peace planned by some higher ups in the Christian church and attended by the White House top brass as a call to rethink the national direction and simultaneously commemorate the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Fifteen years later. Never forget. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. Joe and his mother are watching television, as usual. It’s a marathon of alien invasion movies. A commercial breaks. The mother is holding her son in her lap and starts flipping channels aimlessly. Her eyes have the canceled look of a catatonic mental patient. Her hand taps the channel up button at rhythmic, precise intervals. It is early morning in Montana. The sun has barely rubbed the sleep from its eyes. She has her morning brew on the nearby coffee table that still steams silently, unlike its cold or molding counterparts in the assorted mugs nearby. I take a moment to notice the details. The warm coffee is in a mug from a truck stop in Omaha. Nearest that is a Planet Hollywood mug from Orlando. There’s a souvenir mug from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. One from Branson, Missouri. Another from a Love’s gas station in Mobile. There are others, obscured by the clutter of these in the foreground along with old plates, silverware, husks of bread and aluminum cans. The only other visible item on the table is a beer cozy that reads, in psychedelic lettering, “Don’t Sweat the Petty Things,” and on the other side, “Don’t Pet the Sweaty Things.” The feed interrupts a morning program with “Wake Up” in its title. The overacting hosts are talking about trimming fat and feeling younger. Then it cuts to the announcement. This just in. We interrupt this program. Breaking news. There’s the first live footage, that explosion of red and black. The concussive blast of windows blowing out of several floors. Bursts of flame and shrapnel. Terror. Drama in the streets. Death by fire and collision and smoke. That one replayed video of a civilian on the streets, wailing into his camcorder as 46
serials he watches it all unfold. In the middle of a speech about America’s need to return to God there’s an explosion. It flash burns the closest camera. The first footage of the carnage is a man in a suit with white hair quoting 1 Chronicles 7:14 something about God making us a new nation if we repent and then a white flash of light and static. We see people screaming, running, and mayhem. The stage with the preachers and politicians sharing the floor equally, a symbol of peace and a new beginning, is leveled. There’s nothing but a cloud of ash and a riot of fear. It isn’t until later, much later, when it is determined that the building immediately behind the stage was deliberately imploded, burying the peace rally and the prayer and the church folk and the politicians in burning rubble. It’s a negative of a nuclear mushroom cloud, inverted in its lack of color and the direction of motion, but equally devastating. Joseph’s mother stands up and cries out to her ceiling, begging God for mercy, for forgiveness and grace. The child in her lap falls to the floor with a hard slap, but he does not cry. He just gasps for air and stares somberly at the screen. His mother looks obscene. Jumping and crossing herself and crying out with hands raised. Her aging body parts bounce and sag under that dirty pink bathrobe. She gyrates on her carpet floor, sobbing and praying. She seems overjoyed and terrified, heartbroken and relieved. She says she’s ready. Take me home, Lord. Give ‘em what they deserve. She asks why it’s happened. Then she asks why now and not sooner. She seems to ask me for answers as she stares into the camera hidden in her television. But my eyes are on the boy. Joseph has crawled under the coffee table and hides between outdated magazines and old cracker boxes. He watches the television, taking in the sight of the billowing smoke, the bodies sprawled around a toppled camera, still recording. Corpses scattered like wedding day rice. Tears stream down his face. The sounds of his mother make him flinch each time as if he fears he might be struck or thrown at any moment. His mouth is moving but I can’t make out what he’s saying. I turn a knob and enlarge the footage. His lips keep moving. There’s the same rhythm and mania and weirdness which had just possessed his mother as she flicked through television channels. I zoom right up on his mouth and try to read his lips, but the words run together in one long chain. It looks like “hither.” Maybe “here there.” Then another boom from the television and he screams. Jo47
serials seph cowers down behind his arms, toppling the old trash and bottles and mugs on the tabletop above him. On screen, as if from nowhere, an anti-aircraft caliber missile is fired from a nearby window, Lee Harvey Oswald style with a side of rocket launcher. The explosion hems in the riot, catching the parishioners of the event in a billowing explosion of concrete gray and black. The small boy tenses his hands into fists and wails a mournful coyote howl of shock and rage and raw fear. The sounds coming from that little body, it’s more like pain, like what you might expect if a stranger were twisting his arm in public or some drunken sot relative were putting cigarettes out on his back as punishment. Tears and snot and spit gush from his face and he looks up at his mother with the dirt blackened smear unique to only the most deeply perturbed children and the oldest, sickest nursing home patients. Through the smear he screams, “They’re here!” He rushes to his feet, toppling the coffee table and the complex mosaic of its contents. Joseph runs to his room and slams the door. After a little beat, I find a new camera in his Disney alarm clock. He has blocked his door with a secondhand racecar bed and scribbles furiously on his walls, still crying angrily. Joseph rushes around the room with the intensity of a midget Pollack on pep pills. His scrawlings depict lithe Martian attack vessels blasting buildings into nothingness. People burning and twisting like clay. Fire reflected in eyes that are long and black as river stone. Heat rays focused to a point like sunlight through a magnifying glass draw long scars across city streets. It’s all wreckage and death and tears, the way kids draw tears as single blue comets arching out of a face, always in sets of three. The mother bangs at the door viciously, calling out to her son, trying to explain. She says, “It’s okay, sweetie. It wasn’t the aliens. It was the wrath of God. He is punishing us for being a sinful nation. He’s sent our enemies to scorn us for allowing the evils of drugs and sex and the gays. Do you understand? Joey? Let Mommy in, she’ll explain it. There are no Martians, baby, the Bible says God created the heaven and the earth, only one. There’s no one but us. What you saw was just his punishment for letting people kill babies and fornicate and take the Lord’s name in vain in movies. It’s just like I’ve told you all your life, baby.” But he doesn’t listen. Joseph just keeps scribbling his pictures and crying. 48
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 10:27 AM I jump forward. Now there’s a man in the house. He’s a tall, dark-skinned man in a tweed jacket. Despite his height, he has a bloated midsection and the thick neck of someone who once took great pride in his body but has since let it fall into disrepair. There’s long black hair down the middle of his back and a wiry Charles Bronson style moustache. The mother says something about how he might be able to do something. She says, “I just don’t know what to do with him anymore.” Their interactions imply that he must be a doctor of some kind, maybe a teacher. The mother calls him John. He calls her Vivian. An apparent association, possible friendship or relationship. I won’t bother investigating. The focus is the boy. It appears she called him up when her son would not respond. The door is open now and John moves the bed back where it belongs. Joseph is knocked out of his trance by the sound of the bed dragging across the floor. At the sight of John he drops his crayons and leaps onto the bed bashfully. The room itself is a tapestry of childlike fears and Jungian archetypes. It’s the kind of horrors waiting in every closet around the world, lurking under beds, or hiding behind eyelids on nights haunted by bad dreams and fever. In the handwriting of a three year old, the words “They’re Here” are scribbled in crayon repeatedly. The kid’s fingertips are chafed and bleeding from overwork. John sits beside Joseph on the racecar bed, but the boy is lying flat on his belly. His face is buried in a Spiderman pillow, his back to both of the grownups. They try to console him. John says, “Joe, what happened today was a horrible tragedy. You are right to be upset. Will you look at me?” He grabs Joseph by the shoulder and gently pulls him to face them. John says, “Look at me. I want to tell you something important, okay?” The boy sits up, but he doesn’t make eye contact. John says, “I know it hurts. It might even hurt you more than the rest of us because you are so young. You’ve never seen anything like this before. But I want you to know I am proud of you. Do you hear me?” Joseph looks at him weakly, curling his fingers into his 49
serials palms as if to hide them. He says, “What? How can you? But, what I did – Mommy says it is wrong. I didn’t mean to do it.” The mother, Vivian, says, “Joey, we don’t care about that. We just want you to be all right, okay, doll?” John continues, “I want you to know I am proud of you for being so upset. I know that must sound very strange, especially coming from a grownup, but you need to understand something. Most of the people in the world do not feel things very deeply. When they are sad it is only just so, and when they are happy it is only just so. Do you know what that means?” “Like when you only put your feet in the pool, but don’t get to swim, Mr. John?” “Exactly, Joe. Very good. But you, when you feel something, you go all the way in. Right into the deep end. Yeah? I’m proud of you for that. Only special people feel their feelings with more than just their feet.” Joseph looks up and smiles a little, almost laughing. The evidence of understanding beams from his young face like a floodlight. After a few awkward stammers and a giggle, he finally says, “I get that. Thanks, Mr. John. I really am sorry that I drew on the walls though.” “It’s okay, Joe. What do you say you lay your head back down and take a little nap?” “But the sun is out, we only just got started.” Vivian says, “I know, Joey, but you’ve had a rough morning. Try to sleep, yeah?” “Okay, Mommy,” Joseph says, and scuffles around, roughly making his way under the covers. He smiles faintly, possibly even a fake smile for the benefit of the adults, and lays his head back down on the Spiderman pillow. Vivian and John close the door behind them. They sit down on the sofa and Vivian immediately begins straightening the coffee table mess. The mother says, “I just don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into sometimes. He’s such a sensitive child I feel like I can barely move without sparking something. He’s too smart for his own good and it’s just the two of us. I feel like he would be better off with someone else. Like he’s supposed to be someone else’s kid.” John takes her by the hands as if to stop her from fussing with the spilled mugs and beer cans. He says, “I look at that boy and I know he is every inch your son, Vivian. You both feel pain very deeply. You both are capable of great love. Besides, Joseph has your same eyes. Those same big brown eyes usually reserved for infant deer and Disney forest animals.” 50
serials Vivian laughs sincerely – the first time I have seen her do that. Then she, not surprisingly, plants a passionate kiss on the man and he instantly stands her up, turns her around and opens up her bathrobe, pressing her into the fake wood panel walls. I cut the feed.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 11:01 AM Back in his room, Joseph tosses and turns with a vengeance. His little face is twisted and slick with a cold sweat. His mind is likely filled with visions of alien invasion and God’s retribution for our sins. Fire and brimstone raining down from flying saucers. Moses firing rocket launchers from a sixth story window. Little gray men with black eyes sending plagues of locusts and frogs and killing the first born sons of Egypt. Joseph is a first born son. In his frustrated sleep he looks so confused, more than that, he seems scared to death. He sits up with a start, his big brown eyes wide open. But he doesn’t scream. He doesn’t make a sound. Joseph just looks around at the crazy drawings and lets his head fall into his pudgy little hands. It seems too much for him, as if he had hoped to wake up and find it was all a bad dream. He crawls out of bed, rubbing his eyes and opens his door quietly. Seemingly unsure if he is allowed to come out or not, but doing it anyway. “No, Joe,” I mutter to myself, as if I can change the inevitable outcome. Joseph walks into the living room and there’s his mother on her knees in the stained, crummy living room carpet. She’s naked under the open bath robe and much of her body is obscured from the camera by John’s own bloated back side. His tweed jacket has been tossed hurriedly onto the floor, but he’s still wearing a blue plaid button up and his trousers are down around his ankles, revealing thick legs with little hair and larger than normal knees. Vivian, with her hair still halfway up in pink rollers, moves her head back and forth with the same practiced, dazed rhythm of her channel surfing while her unrolled curls bounce in tandem with the loose body parts of herself and her companion. Joseph walks into the room and freezes, going two shades 51
serials whiter than normal and putting his hands over his own genitals in confusion or embarrassment or panic. The boy winces and almost screams, “No! You’ll bring them here! What you said!” John flinches, unaware of his surroundings for half a beat, but snapped out of it by the child charging at him in a fury of emotion. Joseph is holding a beer bottle and manages to connect it with the half-naked man’s hip bone before his mother can stand. The man grabs Joseph by the throat and hurls him across the room, colliding with a framed reprint of a portrait of Christ and landing face down on the trailer floor. The man mutters something about almost being able to come and pulls his trousers up hurriedly. Vivian studies John’s hip as he fumbles to get himself into the pants and buckle his belt. She keeps fussing with him in the same way she fussed with the coffee table mess and he pushes her aside roughly. Her back connects with the wall and she slides downward in shock. It’s only after she has fallen into a sitting position on the sofa and closed her robe that she thinks to check on her unconscious son. The mother scoops him up into her arms and pets his hair across his forehead. Her hands run through an accumulation of blood above his right temple and she screams. She shakes him but he doesn’t respond. The mother, with panic in her eyes at the sight of her son’s blood under her manicured nails, yells, “Do something! He’s barely breathing and he won’t wake up! What did you do? What did you do, you son of a bitch!” John is already on the phone, having dialed the number to some sort of emergency service. His voice is authoritative as he speaks to the person on the other end and he tells them to hurry. Vivian is still crying and screaming in the background and he waves a hand impatiently as if to tell her to shut up and relax. He covers the receiver and says, calmly, “I’m taking care of it, woman. Now get ahold of yourself.” Vivian whimpers, “My God, John. What did you do? What will we tell them?” I cut the feed and jump to a later date, fast-forwarding through the arrival of a medical team and the local authorities. Fast-forward through the testimony of the man in question as police play into his hands. Fast-forward through the mother silently, passively going along with the man’s story. Her just narrowly dodging charges of abuse, neglect and endangerment regarding her young son. Joseph takes the blame for the domestic disturbance. He 52
serials is taken away to a center for troubled youth where he is treated for his injuries and held like a criminal. John took charge of the situation. Turns out he’s a doctor after all, a child psychologist at the same hospital. When his cohorts arrive, a mall cop caliber brute squad in blue uniforms and fake consoling tones, they take the boy away, escorting the ambulance like they’ve just captured one of those Columbine kids, or Timothy McVey or Osama Bin Laden. Small town police, anything to feel like you’re batting for the big leagues. It is a marked betrayal after the almost touching scene on the racecar bed with the Spiderman pillow and the talk about swimming pool emotions, but John blames everything on Joseph. John was clever. To hear him tell it Joseph was so troubled by the tragedy of that morning that he lost control of his young mind. The emotional outburst, likened by the doctor to a kind of childhood nervous breakdown, resulted in Joseph making the manic drawings, barricading himself in his room and finally culminated in an attack on his own mother. Joseph’s alleged attack ended with the mother’s living room furniture being toppled, mainly her coffee table, her back being bruised in a fall, Dr. John himself being injured by a beer bottle and himself, admittedly a bit roughly, being forced to take violent action to dissuade the out of control child. Ironically, he is left in charge of cleaning up a mess which he himself created. I find myself wondering why he brought in the midget police, why he didn’t simply cover it up or say the boy fell while playing outside or slap a Band-Aid on the kid’s head and continue to pork his mother. It seems strange. But it has the effect of asserting a bizarre sort of dominance over Vivian. The hospital itself is a kind of day care center imitation of prison asylums for the criminally insane, and it’s run with a kind of unsettling loyalty to the man in charge. Everyone there, the guards, the activity directors, the nurses, answer to the attending physician, their own beloved Dr. John Boles. I jump through time, watching the events of Joseph’s childhood playing out like a silent movie at high speeds. Here he is in a little white cell watching television. Here he is medicated and isolated, doted upon by aging nurses and never once given the opportunity to share his side. You can see everyone tiptoe around him, afraid another jarring might send him spiraling over the edge, scrawling ambiguous messages in crayon, doodling sci-fi monsters, or brandishing beverage containers against the hospital staff. Right now on the hospital television the new president is being sworn in. Don53
serials ald McKinley, formerly the Secretary of the Treasury, now the first in the line of succession. Donald McKinley, the last man standing after all the politicos and parishioners went splat. Joe seems oddly interested in the proceedings, albeit slightly busy with his doodles. Time passes for Joe, hours, days, a week. He only sees the boyfriend, Dr. John and the nurses. His mother is convinced it would be best to stay out of the way and let her son get better. The truth is Dr. John has her scared that her arrival will send her boy off the deep end, screaming about sex and aliens and tarnishing her holier than thou reputation. In Joe’s hospital room now, an overhead camera shows drawings sprawled all around the little boy on his oversized bed. With his brow furrowed sternly, his jaw set with a look of determination and focus, he works diligently on a new drawing, and then another, and another. They all depict a tall thin man with dark hair. He stands beside a boy, likely Joe, and they’re smiling. Dr. Boyfriend steps in solemnly. John asks, “What’s that you’re working on so hard, Joseph?” Joe ignores him, leaning in closer to his drawing instead, the tip of his tongue sticks slightly out of the right side of his mouth. “The old silent treatment, eh? I can play that game.” John sits down across from him and stares, not making a sound or blinking. Joe looks up nervously. John is still staring, emotionless. His stoic mug is freezing the boy out on Screen 2. On Screen 3 I can see Joe starting to get a little twitchy. He’s doing his best to ignore the man, focus on his drawing, but it’s getting tough. “What?” he finally yells, throwing down the paper and crayons. “I knew I’d get you,” John laughs, “No hard feelings? Joe, I just want us to be friends. Do you think we can be friends? Start over? We got off on the wrong foot, didn’t we?” Screen 3 is Joe’s face, twisted with confusion. Either angered or mystified by how you can be friends with a grown up, especially one that just threw your face into a wall with all his brute strength, or else mixed up by the man’s choice of words. “Not having it, Joe? I’m sorry to hear that. I thought I’d give it a try.” “It’s not that – it’s just…well, Mr. John,” Joe sighs, “Which is the wrong foot? Is it like shoes? Momma says I put 54
serials my shoes on the wrong feet sometimes.” Joe looks down at his feet. His young eyes full of other adages and concepts adults use around children that only serve to frustrate and mislead. Children have literal minds without a factual, experiential basis. That’s where you get their beautiful childlike logic. Talk of evil twins, one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave or getting off on the wrong foot leaves the literal mind of the child wondering which foot is evil, which one is dead, or which one is in error. John laughs, “I only meant that I wish we could start over. I regret what happened today and I want to try to start fresh and be friends with you, Joseph.” Joe nods, “I see,” he picks up one of the drawings and says, “This is Mr. Smiles. I think he wants me to give you another chance.” John looks at the drawing and says, “He’s certainly a happy fellow, eh, Joe? Is he an invisible friend of yours?” “Yessir, he helps me.” “I like that. I had an invisible friend when I was your age. His name was Taiwan.” Joe laughs at the name and starts drawing again. I’m interrupted by a voice behind me. Familiar but unwelcome. My section supervisor, Mr. Wilkes. Not Boss Man, an underling, but still someone above my pay grade. Everybody has one of these ass clowns. The kind of boss you’re not quite scared of enough to keep you from talking bad about him as soon as his back’s turned. He’s the guy that’s just close enough to you in age, stature, or rank that you feel you shouldn’t have to respect him, maybe you even resent him, but you still put on the polite face ‘cause that’s your job. “Anders,” Wilkes says, “I want you to meet Gardner. The newbie. Just got called up from – what was that little Podunk operation you were working for before this, Gardner?” “The CIA,” says the greenhorn next to him, a child, barely learned how to shave, “I was an intelligence analyst, among other things.” “I’m sure the ‘other things’ will be much more interesting than analysis,” Wilkes grunts, ribbing the kid roughly and laughing alone. He composes himself and turns to me, “So listen, Anders, I want you to take this kid under your wing for a bit. Just show him the ropes, you know, give him a few pointers. Have him help you out on this hacker gig. Play Robin to your Batman. I’m putting him in the block right next to you. It’s about time we filled that empty spot since old Majors re55
serials tired. Besides, we can’t have you getting spoiled, thinking you got the neighborhood all to yourself now can we?” I feel heat rush to my face but try to pass it off like I appreciate his humor. I nod politely to the little brat I’ve been saddled with and give some bland affirmative that sends Wilkes on his way.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 11:34 AM “So, kid, big shoes to fill coming in behind Majors, you up for it?” “It’s Gardner, sir, call me Gardner. And if you want to know the truth, no, I don’t plan on filling anyone’s shoes. New blood shouldn’t have to. We’re the changers. Without the greenhorns to follow up behind all the retired Majors of the world things wouldn’t evolve. That’s the best advantage to death I ever heard, anyway. So, with your permission, enough of my soapboxing, let’s get to work, shall we?” “Well, all right then,” I nod, turning to my console, “I can respect that, kid. Gotta say, if you weren’t such a puissant, I’d be half relieved you were straight with me instead of kissing ass like all these other sycophants.” The kid laughs and I start giving him the nickel tour of the system. I’ve done this so many times I feel like my hands and mouth are driving while I’m asleep in the passenger seat. There’s a lot of nodding, a lot of “that’s all there is to it” talk. The kid asks, “So let me ask you something, I’m told your specialty is reviewing the background, in its entirety, of a given subject. What’s the point? Wouldn’t it take a lifetime to review someone else’s life?” “I see they haven’t told you about the big catch yet,” I reply. “Um…no, I guess not. What big catch is that, Anders?” I take a good long swig of cold coffee, wait a tick and turn from the console, making eye contact with the newbie for the first time in almost forty-five minutes. “C’mon, stow it with the theatrics, old man, what catch?” Gardner whines. “Gardner, right now you’re just probationary. You’ve been tapped because someone at corporate thinks you have potential or you wouldn’t even know any of this existed. When you become a full-fledged Watcher you get the implants.” 56
serials “Whoa, implants? What the hell?” “I thought the same thing when they launched the project and started calling for volunteers. They go in surgically. The idea was to synthetically improve the human brain. A network of microprocessors are added surgically, one at the optic nerve, another in the nerve center that processes sound, and a third in the part of the old gray matter that stores memory. That’s the big one. We call it the Thought Chip. It’s a sort of redundant port for storing extra memory while simultaneously processing huge amounts of data at rapid speeds and broadcasting the information to corporate wirelessly. We don’t write reports anymore. There’s no need for writing bulk emails to your coworkers or preparing presentations. Everything we learn, everything we think and come to understand in a given day, is sent into the network for storage, analysis and potential activity.” “Activity – you mean arrests, raids, black ops, shit like that?” “Some, but it’s not too necessary these days. We’ve gotten so we can spot a threat long before they warrant assassination or any of that Tom Clancy shit.” “So all of you guys here, you’ve all had your brains cut open so you could upload your work week into what did you call it – the system?” “RITA, she’s called RITA. And yes, that’s the idea, Ace. Don’t worry. It’s become a lot more sophisticated since the Thought Chip Program first started more than twenty years ago. We haven’t had a death in almost six months.” “Holy shit, are you freaking kidding me?” I laugh a little into my coffee mug, nodding, and say, “Yeah, I am. It’s harmless, and the advantages make it worth all the trepidation and weird sci-fi overtones.” “So you seriously just scan through someone’s life? Like right now I hear you’re on a case, some Joe guy who thinks he’s got us figured out. You’re just flying through it, making subconscious connections, learning, associating, psychoanalyzing and that type of shit all at high speeds? That’s insane.” “You’re right,” I say, “It is, but that’s the gig, buddy boy, take it or leave it. I’ve been wearing my Thought Chip for twenty-five years, I’ve gone through thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of lifetimes, watching, learning, and, I like to believe, preventing a lot of potential catastrophes. My work has led to the arrests of potential suicide bombers, domestic terrorists, lone gunmen assassins, bank system hack57
serials ers – the works. It’s a weird job, but someone’s gotta do it. They tried automating the system, but nothing could account for the human factor. A computer can be programmed to listen for red flags, keywords, phrases, tangible variables, but it takes a man to watch someone go through those troubled adolescent years, developing insecurities, frustrations, and misguided beliefs that could later motivate terror.” “So, they finally found the job a computer couldn’t do better than a person, so they turned people into computers. I don’t know…” “Give it time, kid. You’ll learn. When you see the folks around you processing terabytes of hard data in minutes, even seconds, just by keeping their eyes open, you’ll see the value.” “So, we really are watchers. You just hit a button, the video plays at a heightened speed and you just absorb it through your eyes?” “That’s it in a nutshell, yeah,” I shrug, “We get a sense of what’s useful and what’s not. When dealing with what’s not we ratchet up the feed so fast only the subconscious is collecting. We fast-forward, if you will. Sometimes you can skip through entire years without blinking, but still see visions of your subject in grade school that night in your dreams. Pretty wild.” “Yeah, pretty wild,” Gardner mumbles. “Listen, Gardner, don’t feel pressured. There’s plenty of jobs here that don’t require the Thought Chip. I’m sure you’ll spend today mainly reviewing instructional videos, you know, protocol, safety, your new stock options within the company – that stuff. I’ll be here if you need me, of course.” Gardner seems troubled. Mildly haunted. He thanks me and wanders over to his new work station where we have a Driver’s Ed quality safety video he’ll be watching for the next hour to “Introduce him to his new life as a Watcher.” I send a desk-to-desk intranet text to my section supervisor, letting him know the boy’s ready. Good and scared. Good and intrigued. Right where they want him.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 11:47 AM I pivot in my chair, turning to face the wall of television monitors. Each one is trained on a section of Joe’s young life. Him at school. Playing with friends. Watching cartoons. Going to church. Flying by like city blocks on a high speed subway train, I watch the subliminal montage of a mildly tragic, mildly frustrated young life off the grid in a kind of poverty only outweighed by the nearby denizens of America’s backwater reservation system. Darkness, flashing lights, followed by the brief screaming clarity of the next station platform, a tiny theatrical stage – same play as the one before it shows on a loop, just different characters, all of them waiting on the train. And it’s gone before it even registers. Watching a life on film – it’s like that. The way an express train to uptown Manhattan can feel like a light show of cast shadows, flashbulbs and tiny windows in the darkness and then there’s always that one face that sticks out. You’ve already passed that other station platform before you’ve seen it, but when your brain catches up you can see that face so clearly. Maybe she’s the prettiest girl you ever saw, and she just sticks out from the rest of the yokels waiting on their ride home. But it’s burned into your retinas like a fire tattoo, and you can’t shake it. You think about running to the back of the train, just to catch another glimpse. You want to jump from the car and run to her. Only it’s too late, she’s long gone and maybe, you can’t be sure, maybe you never even saw her at all. That’s what being a Watcher is all about. You fly through a life, reporting your findings subliminally to RITA for further study. It’s only seconds after your brainwaves have already been carried away wirelessly that you notice that face or that moment. Something makes you want to stop the train. That’s when you zoom in and watch real close. That’s when you figure out who it is you’re really looking at. He’s in a kindergarten class, forced nap time. He has a crush on a girl with long black hair. He doesn’t even understand why, but he wants to sleep beside her. Another boy squeezes between them and Joe spends naptime punching the kid in the shadows of the classroom. They fight, side by side, on their backs. Here he is at arts and crafts time, given finger paint in 59
serials bright primary hues, but he wants to paint a landscape. He instinctively mixes the colors, blue and red for purple, green and red making a dark mush of brown. It’s a mountain range, a tranquil lake that he sees at night when he closes his eyes. Plato proposed that there was a world with a perfect tree, a perfect lake, river, mountain, woman, man or bird. He said everything else, everything in this world, was a copy of those perfect forms and everything is striving toward their perfection. For a child like Joe, when his eyes are closed, he sees only one tree, one mountain range, and he paints it. He’s five years old, and art, for him, has already become a glimpse of the Almighty. At home now and he’s showing the mother his painting from class. She stares at it, unimpressed from behind cigarette smoke and a coffee mug of something that makes her wince when she swallows. Joe seems to want her to hang his picture up, but she just sets it down and says, “That’s nice, dear.” Joe looks at her for a minute, waiting, and I can’t help feeling a little angry. The woman stares into space, a snide look on her face that amplifies the wrinkles in her jowls. Her son says, “Don’t you like it, mommy? Mr. Smiles helped me make it.” Vivian groans and her hand drops to her side, “Again with this, Joe? When are you going to outgrow this Mr. Smiles game? It’s getting boring.” “I don’t know, mom, I like him. He’s not a game. He helps me with things. Mr. Smiles makes me feel better. When I made my picture he was there and he said I was doing a good job. It made me feel nice about my picture, you know? And when I felt nice, for just a second, I got this idea to put red in my blue…see here? It made my mountain turn purple.” “That’s nice, dear. I just wish you wouldn’t always bring up this Mr. Smiles character. It isn’t good to pretend. We need to live in the real world.” I cut the feed. Hit fast-forward. Images flash by on the screen. He’s fighting. Bloodied a boy’s nose. He’s climbing a tree. He’s started a fire. He’s looking under a girl’s skirt or bringing a frog to show and tell or falling asleep during Sunday School Bible study. He’s hiding behind a playground fixture, showing his genitals to the girl with long hair, she’s letting him touch hers, they’re giggling stupidly. Kids learning about sex the way they always do – clumsily, awkwardly, and long before the speeches of their guardians. They seem scared, even so young they know this would be seen as wrong, but they’re doing it anyway. 60
serials They don’t get caught and I feel relieved. Not sure why. This is an odd case. Something has me rooting for my subject. Damn peculiar. Summer, 2017. He’s in church with his mother, fidgeting restlessly, drawing pictures on the visitor cards they stock in the backs of the pews for new faces. The preacher is talking about Moses parting the Red Sea. He’s saying we get it wrong. Moses didn’t part the Red Sea, God did. Moses was just the instrument, he raised his hands and God worked through him. Joe draws a picture of Moses holding up an alien bazooka, blasting the Red Sea in half like a hot knife through butter. The mother slaps his hand, takes away the visitor card and the little too-short pencil without the eraser characteristic of churches around America, and forces him to fold his hands in his lap. He looks angry. Now he’s at school. September. First grade. He has to pee, but the teacher doesn’t believe him. Joe stands up during a lesson on vowel sounds, walks to her desk, opens his fly and lets her rip, right into a drawer filled with, among other things, the teacher’s lunch. Kid’s laughing. Girl’s scream. Principal’s office. Writing sentences now. I will only pee in the toilet where it belongs. I will only pee in the toilet where it belongs. I will only pee in the toilet where it belongs. I will only – one hundred times. The look on his face says it was worth it. Now it’s a parentteacher conference. Now he’s back home with mom and boyfriend John. She slaps him as hard as she can across his face. As she rears back for another blow I pause the feed. There’s this expression on her face that I want to study. On Screen 3 she’s there, her eyes are two pyres, burning for hate, judgment, sanctification, division, lust, greed, and self-importance. Her mouth is almost a smile, but it isn’t, she’s biting into her bottom lip, distorting the shape just enough to create a crooked grimace of enjoyment and release. The entire expression has a sort of push and pull gravity to it, like a long drag off a great cigarette. You can see her pulling in pleasure, peace, power, and adrenaline, while simultaneously exhaling frustration, rage, sadness, failure, heartbreak and the meaninglessness of her own existence. And she’s letting all of that out on her six year old son’s face. I press play. Vivian says, “I’ve told you, time and time again, there is 61
serials to behave. What am I going to do with on me, they’re my failure as a mother. wrong, and I won’t have you making of our neighbors, our church and our
a right and a wrong way you? Your sins reflect When you do wrong, I do me do wrong in the eyes Lord.” She hits him again and he’s crying, pleading for her to stop. “I won’t stop, not until you’ve learned your lesson. John, if you would.” John crosses the living room in two large steps and holds Joe from behind, one hand on each shoulder. Vivian gets her Bible and begins reading passages. Then it gets weird. John pulls down Joe’s pants, right in the middle of the room. There’s an antique boat oar on the wall, decorated in feathers, looks like something you’d buy at a Stucky’s off I-40 outside of Flagstaff. He holds the boy by the neck with one hand, steps back and swats his bare ass with the oar in tandem with the ending of each verse of Scripture. He’s crying now. Nodding. It’s as if he acknowledges that they’re right. That he deserves this. The man over him tells him to ask God for forgiveness. To say he’s sorry for making his mother look bad. For being a disrespectful brat. Joe prays. His little hands are folded traditionally and he prays for forgiveness. I’ve seen enough. I cut the feed. From over the cubicle wall I hear Gardner’s newbie voice. He’s barely a decibel above a hoarse whisper, “Hey, Anders,” he says, “Got a minute?” “You can just talk to me, kid, this ain’t Auschwitz.” “What’s Ow Shoowits?” “Nevermind. What’s up?” The greenhorn peeks around the wall, standing awkwardly behind some of the tech. He shifts his weight meekly and says, “Just wondering. This Thought Chip business has got me all mixed up. I just wondered…you know – ” “Has anybody’s wiring ever fried their brain and made them go ape shit on their wives with a shovel or left them drooling on a park bench smiling at the pigeons? That kind of thing?” “Yeah, I mean, you know, I guess so.” “Not in at least three months.” “Fuck you,” the kid laughs. “Okay, seriously, kid… not in like five months.” “Fuck you, Anders. Forget I asked.” He turns to leave and I whistle through my teeth to get his attention. Weird thing to do. I am getting old. That’s 62
serials something my granddad used to do right before he’d call me “sport” or noogie my skull. I used to think things like calling a kid “champ” or knuckling a skull or whistling to get somebody’s attention were generational behaviors. Like they were cool when these guys were young and now they just seem like old guy habits, but it ain’t the truth. Truth is, you get to a certain age and find yourself growing into certain routines. You want to move less, think more, watch and listen instead of talk or dance or fuck. It isn’t that you have lost your fire or given up on life, not usually anyway, it’s just that your interests change. Your values become less about sensations and more about experiences. You slow down. And somewhere along the way you realize you’re at a lake feeding breadcrumbs to ducks or you’re whistling at the new kid at work when he’s storming off in a huff. My coffee mug is empty. “C’mon, kid, let’s warm up our cups and I’ll see if I can’t answer a couple questions.”
To be continued in issue 3.
dystopia boy 0.3...