The Adventures of Vernon Q. Public by Eric Suhem
Subtopian Manifesto XI. by Trevor D. Richardson Well, it’s time. The world is ending in less than a month. I really thought we had more time. There was so much I wanted to do. So much I was going to see. You always tell yourself you have forever, but then, one day, without warning, all the warnings come to fruition and you realize it’s 2012, Judgment Day. I wonder what will happen? Do you think Jesus will come back? That’ll be awkward. Do you think aliens will land and tell everyone that money is a lie and usher in an age of harmony and enlightenment? And then conquer us through mind control...and lasers. Maybe we’ll go through a blackhole and come out on the other side of the universe. Dead. If reading the submissions for our 2012 Issue has taught me anything its that none of this stuff is real. That’s the verdict I’ve come away with anyway. 2012, like the Christian Rapture, like the threat of nuclear war, or any other impending disaster, there have been people who have found creative and maybe even cynical ways to earn a buck off of the fear of destruction. But what I am interested in this month is the question of why we are so fascinated with destruction. Why do we enjoy dystopia so much? What is it that we find so beautiful about the ruins of our own civilization? I couldn’t say for sure. But when you add up all of the things that our writers have analyzed in this issue you’ll see that many of these things are so old they’re practically genetic. And being that we’ve all grown up in a largely Judeo-Christian society I have to wonder if the promise of paradise after Armageddon has left us with a subconscious association between destruction and heaven. Ask anyone about a coming apocalypse, they’ll all say the same thing, “Sure, it’ll suck, but I think I would do quite well.” Somehow all of us think that a little dystopia would be good for us and so 2012, despite the fear games, has been a season of hope.
Be on the lookout for Subtopian Press’ upcoming release of
Collaborating with Angels Rob Lee’s photo-memoir
North for the Winter Redux
Early morning, a donut shop in Ukiah. I half-stumble from my room at Motel 6, hoping a large coffee will set my internal latitude and longitude back to coordinated. It helps. In the donut shop the few other customers, all buying the fried sugar-and-grease bombs, are Indians. White man gave the indigenous people booze and now, Filipinos are giving them donuts. And they don’t look well. By Eureka, the only non-whites are Mexicans, and native Americans. The farther north you go, the whiter it gets. In Port Townsend WA “you can count the black people on two hands.” And they do. In Poulsbo and on Whidbey Island, big US Navy installations, crosses were burned in the yards of mixed-race couples in 1989. This was part of my introduction to the Pacific Northwest. Orick CA, at the southern end of the Smoked Salmon trail through Klamath, past Trees of Mystery to Crescent City, is not the California of San Francisco and Marin County. But the post office gives and takes books. Someone in Orick reads. The Palm Cafe has the best peach pie ever. The waitress apologizes for being out of ice cream. “But I have whipped cream.” Okay. Outside, parked in front of the defunct movie theater, a bad-ass-looking dude in a hoodie sits in his big-tire pickup truck talking to a guy in the apartment window above the marquee. No PC or yuppie tentacle has reached up here. I think that stuff ends at Garberville.
Gold Beach OR has a small secret for travelers looking for something decent to eat. I learned this by asking a female gas station attendant where the best breakfast in town is. It’s off the highway, a right turn just before the bridge over the Rogue River. A half mile down this road is the Indian Creek Cafe, the best road breakfast place I’ve found along 101. They serve terrific fried grits with crumbled bacon and parsley, and know how to get poached eggs perfect. A real friendly local diner with excellent food. Recommended. Best and worst of Oregon: I’d say the state has best rivers anywhere if one cares for scenic beauty. I usually don’t, but driving Rt. 38 between I-5 and Reedsport, following the Umpqua River most of the way, made me change my tune. The state of Oregon, I’ve found, also has the worst, the most dismal and stupid urban traffic engineering I’’ve experienced, with the possible exception of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in Texas. WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN? Rest stop just south of Eugene. As usual, a beggar sits by the rest rooms with a cardboard sign. This guy’s said “disabled veteran.” Had the look too, definite soldier type. I gave him a box of crackers and five bucks. And I want to know, Why Isn’t the Military Taking Care of These Guys? These kids get killed and maimed to protect Mitt Romney’s investments and Rush Limbaugh’s gold-plated toilet. I want to know what happens when the spotlight goes dark and the politicians are done trotting out the crippled soldier to get the hawk-uber-patriot vote. Because The Military is Not Taking Care of These Guys. No one had to literally spit on returning Viet Nam vets. They were shit upon all the way through the process by the people who called them “heroes.” It’s a good thing I never wrote a great novel like The Grapes of Wrath. Or any novel at all. When Steinbeck started driving around with his dog and wrote about it in “Travels with Charley,” it was so pallid by comparison with his other work, I just couldn’t read it.
Up to this point, the articles in this column have concerned themselves with the past. But, to truly be “stuck on repeat,” it’s worth looking to the future as well. In the last days before we start a new year, I’d like to offer a reflective look on what makes a certain modern pastime so inseparable from the world of tomorrow. Rather than a fad or a transient toy, we have instead an evolving notion of literature, an evolving notion of how we express and experience our lives on this earth.
it’s unfurling someone’s fictional life before their eyes: “You choose the chicken-fried steak because you think it’ll remind you of your mother’s homecooking. One bite later and you’re disappointed; it’s not rubbery enough.” You, the reader, may not have a mother who makes chicken-fried steak, so you don’t feel like it pertains to you. Or, perhaps, you simply don’t like having your supposed life dictated to you, so you reject it. Such natural resistance on the part of the reader foils the use of the second person. It is so much so that it could never be more than a novelty or an interesting experiment (choose your own adventure, anyone?). Yet, there is an innate desire in us to want to be in the story, that’s why we throw fits when beloved characters die—Dang it, Whedon!—and why we nitpick a protagonist whose shortcomings keep us from projecting ourselves onto them. This clear separation between
Crucial to it all is this little thing called the second person perspective. Basically, rather than having a story told in the first person (I went to the store) or in the third (he went to the store), you become the key player (more on that later). The key distinction is that, unlike with the first or third person perspectives, you become the story or the story becomes you. This isn’t writing someone a letter and asking “How did your day go?”, 3
Rachael Johnson, a fresh voice in the Seattle w r i t i n g scene, offers her regular column,“Stuck On Re p e a t , ” which puts a unique spin on current news sto r i e s b y taking a look bac k at othe r mome nts in history wh e re the same thing we nt down. It’s true what th e y s a y, history re pe ats its e lf.
BUTTONS us and the characters protects us from what the second person threatens, which is to burden us with fictionalizing our own lives. Even this protective barrier might be breached, and when it does, it’s usually breaking the “fourth wall,” which is itself a novelty and mostly used comically. Yet it remains that we desire to take part in lives not our own. What can we do when we’re so sensitive to being invaded by narrative? As with any healthy relationship, there’s invitation, there’s accepting it, and then walking off hand-in-hand, planning the next day together.
violence, goals, and even synchronization (button pushing). It offers us satisfaction for the “perils” we face, we’re routinely and objectively rewarded for our accomplishments. How can we say no when we interact with worlds of our own creation? What was once experimental, what was so inherently limited by the written word or noninteractive image, has been made boundless through video and audio that can mirror the real world yet change at the push of a button. You can now truly be the second person, and as the second person your choices determine the fate of the world you inhabit. The game can tell you you’re a marine, or you’re an alien, but you choose your name, your face, your class. Choose between good and evil. Choose your story and live a life where you are greater than mundane modernity. As long as you see it, hear it, even feel it, and remember it, that new reality is yours.
Alas, we accepted that invitation to the tune of a multi-billion dollar industry: electronic gaming. Books and movies cannot receive our input nor are designed to accept our consent, but video games can and do. They are the next in human expression, the next state of human experience. They’re well-grounded in what we love: problem-solving, 4
I’m mad about words. Wild. Passionate. Stories swirl and dip and dance in the ballroom of my mind. Funny ones. Sad ones. The stories that make you sing and laugh and fall in love in with life. But I haven’t always been this way. In fact, I was 24-years-old when I read my first book, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and it changed my life.
Before thumbing through the final pages, I quit my job and hit the
road. Jack Kerouac spent one week hitching rides from New York to San Francisco. I spent three years living on the road—collecting stories and meeting people from all lots in life. Funny ones. Sad ones. I met old people from the American Rust Belt and young people from distant lands. I met lost poets searching for truth and love, and I met homeless veterans searching for their next hot meals and warm beds.
I listened to their stories, all of them, and swore to write them down—to tell their stories.
Residing in beatific Portland, OR, with my beloved wife, I study journalism and creative
writing at Portland Community College because I want to learn to express their stories—and the ones swirling around my mind—in breathless, impeccable fashion.
I also freelance for Portland Community College’s school newspaper, “The Bridge,” and
Subtopian Magazine. Additionally, I created my own popular blog, The Other Side, and I’m feverishly working on a memoir of heartbreaking delicacy entitled “My Life As A Young American Outlaw.”
Additionally, I’m also a professional jazz/ blues guitarist and a professional music instructor.
If you’re interested in my services as a freelance writer, music instructor, or performer, feel
free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Parham The last thing Omar Alshujery remembers seeing when the first American bombs rocked Baghdad in 2003 was a bright flash. “I saw a huge light,” Alshujery says, “Then, the earth shook.” Alshujery, then only 12, screamed as the force of the explosion slammed him against the wall. Seconds later, as the next wave of bombs raged outside the thin plaster walls that cradled Alshujery and his family, the power went out, engulfing his childhood home in darkness—a darkness that would eventually swallow his family. Despite the reports, war is not a pretty thing. It’s neither sterile nor photogenic. It’s complex and convoluted; it’s bloody and chaotic; war is a filthy, ravenous, thousand-toothed beast, and it feasted on Iraqi and American alike. Nobody knows how many lives the Iraq War claimed. The most reliable sources place the casualities somewhere between 106,000 and 1.2 million. What neither figure accounts for are the casualties of soul suffered by survivors like Alshujery. During the first stages of the invasion, he watched as the U.S. Army’s Third Division swarmed the streets of Baghdad, the ground trembling under the weight of the onslaught. “We heard the F-16s and the Humvees,” Alshujery says. “Then my uncles and grandpa cried because they knew our country was gone—destroyed.” Baghdad fell into chaos after the invasion. “Life was good before the war,” Alshujery says. “It was peaceful. We were working and doing business. Everything was good.” After the invasion, all of that changed. The streets were littered with dead bodies, and the city reeked of putrefied flesh. Suddenly, Baghdad—”God’s Gift” in translation—was the most dangerous place on earth, and Iraqi civilians were caught in the crossfire of the Americans and coalition soldiers, the thieves and bandits, and the Iraqi resistance fighters. Each day was fraught with new horrors for Alshujery and his family. 7
In 2005, American soldiers stormed their home at night, attempting to rob his family at gunpoint. When Alshujery and his relatives refused to give their money, the Americans arrested his father. One year later, when Alshujery was 16, he was kidnapped for the second time. He and his uncle, Saeed, were driving through the desert near Anbar, Iraq, when armed Iraqi bandits forced his vehicle to pull over. They were beaten, bound and tossed into the trunk of a BMW sedan. After driving for nearly half-an-hour, the gunmen stopped the car and dragged him and his uncle out of the trunk. Then, one of the gunmen aimed a pistol at Alshujery’s head, commanding him to stare at the ground. “In that moment, I had no fear,” Alshujery says. “I accepted it as it is. I was going to die.” In 2006, the final tragic straw came after the murder of his uncles and grandfather. “After discovering [my uncle] Salam’s bullet riddled body, we finally had it,” Alshujery says. “We crossed the border into Syria that night.” He lived in Syria for nearly two years before the International Organization of Migration helped Alshujery and his family relocate to the United States in 2008. “The war took everything and left us with nothing,” Alshujery says. “It destroyed our homes, our businesses and our lives.” Today, 22-year-old Alshujery shares a modest Portland apartment with his mother and his siblings. He’s studying engineering at Portland Community College, a degree he dreams of one day using by returning home to Iraq after the war and the occupation, after the violence and the bloodshed, when his country can rebuilt—brick by brick and life by life. “I look through the past, and I see pain and darkness,” Alshujery says. “I lost the stars, but I have the light, and the stars are in my heart.” pp
Omar and his brothers: 6-years-old Bilal (left) and 8-years-old Abdu (right) 8
Keep your voice down,” Paul whispers. “If she hears us, we’re dead meat!”
The year was 1989, and it was Christmas time. I know this because the new Sega Genesis had just been released. I was ten years old and, at that moment, I was absolutely certain of three things: my brother Paul was the strongest, bravest, most courageous man alive. My mother was someone to be feared and avoided at all costs, and if I didn’t own a Sega Genesis, I’d surely wither away and die—bitter, frustrated, and unfulfilled. The Sega Genesis was 16-bits and 512 colors of video gaming madness. At the time, it was revolutionary. Nearly everyone over the age of thirty remembers the first time he played a Sega because it was like nothing else that came before it. In an age of shoddy 8-bit graphics, terrible sound quality, and “lame-ass games,” the Sega Genesis brought the thrill of the arcades into the intimacy of our bedrooms. No other system came close to matching the raw processing power of the Sega, and its graphics, sound, and game quality were peerless at the time. This wasn’t our granddaddy’s Atari or our kid sister’s Nintendo. Sega wasn’t making games for tired old men or delicate little babies. They were making video games that were violent and grotesque, and I was ten years old damn it! I wanted to slash and hack and chop at the living dead. I wanted to rip the face off the world! Featuring graphic titles like Altered Beast, Shinobi, and the iconic Sonic the Hedgehog, the Sega Genesis delivered. It was as revolutionary as it was exhilarating, and I had become possessed by the fantasy of owning it. Priced at $189.99, the Genesis was a small king’s ransom for a family of five headed by an unemployed single mother. I knew the Sega was a hopeless pipe dream for a clan of bone-thin and hollow-eyed kids scraping by on government cheese, white bread, and mayonnaise. But alas, the dream of owning one took over my life. I ate, slept, and breathed in 16-bits and 512 colors. I couldn’t concentrate in school, and I stopped doing my homework. I was in love, and I was possessed; nay, I had become imprisoned by the fantasy of owning my very own console of 9
legend. The Sega Genesis was bigger than life. Even its name was biblical in proportion. The word Genesis comes from the Old Testament. Genesis is defined as “the origin,” and that’s exactly what it was for me. The Sega Genesis had become the origin of all my hopes and dreams, but it also marked my inadequacies and shortcomings too. It was a visceral connection to everything that I lacked. The Genesis was the father I didn’t have. It was the mother I could never understand. It was the childhood that poverty and bad luck had ripped away. It was the hunger pangs in the pit of my stomach, and it was the rage of watching others with everything as we went with nothing. The fantasy took over. Altered Beast began running rampant through the graveyard of my dreams. Shinobi was doing backflips through the void of my mind, and Sonic was spinning through the bedrock of my soul. With Christmas just a few short weeks away—which was of course, untold eons and countless lifetimes for a ten year-old child caught in the web of material fantasia—I snooped; I snuck, and I prowled through every nook, corner, and cranny of our home. I was searching for the one thing that might cure me of my madness—the Sega Genesis itself.
And then, one day, I found it!
No need to explain how time stopped when I discovered the Sega, all gift-wrapped and neatly tucked away, under my mother’s bed. At that moment, the universe itself could have caved in, the sun could have gone black and blotted out, and the moon could have come racing towards the earth, but I would have died blissfully ecstatic with a shit-eating grin from one ear to the other because, at long last, I had found the road to El Dorado! Its riches were beyond imagination; its riches would 10
be tainted in blood. But at that moment, I was happy and at peace. And all was right in the world. Each night I lay in bed, wide-eyed and too excited to sleep, waiting for the Sandman to steal my mother away to the land of peace and dreams, so I could sneak under her bed and snatch up the Sega Genesis, carefully unwrap it, and play it from dusk till dawn. Yes, video games are the closest thing a ten year-old child has to crack cocaine, but it’s only one small step to go from one to the other. §
“Paul. Paul, wake up,” I whisper. “Mom’s asleep. It’s time.”
During the winter of ‘89, my heroes were: undefeated heavyweight boxing champion Iron Mike Tyson, three-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, and—above all—my big brother Paul. He was eight years older than me. A small town James Dean, Paul was olive-skinned and well defined. He was tall and thin with dark hair, dark eyes, and a face carved from granite. He was bone-thin but strong and sinewy. Paul smoked and drank and dated beautiful girls and played guitar and wore a leather jacket. Even after all these years, he’s one of the few people I’ve ever met that lived life like it meant something – like it mattered. Most of us are born to live long, dull lives; we love a little, laugh a little, and slowly fade away, but a rare few are made to burn and flash and soar and “explode like roman candles in the night.” These rare few live short, powerful lives, and those that loved them spend the rest of their days chasing falling stars. Paul was one of those few blessed with a superfluity of life but cursed with a short supply of it. He was everything I wished I could have been. Strong, handsome, and fearless, Paul was a demigod in my eyes like the great heroes of the games we played. He seemed to have clawed his way from the screen into our home to defend us. He was the Roman legionnaire in Altered Beast, resurrected by the gods to defend the weak and the helpless. In those days, Paul was the only thing that saved the rest of us from our mother, and in some ways, he saved my mother from herself. When she dragged my sister by the hair up and down two flights of stairs—kicking and screaming like her life was on the line (and it was), Paul was there save her. When she smashed a two-by-four over my head, Paul was there to stop her from reaching for the knife. When her boyfriend arrived with a case of beer, a loaded twenty-two, and murder in his eyes, Paul sent him home beaten and humbled. So when I say Paul was my personal hero, it’s not for nothing. He saved all of our lives at one time or another. “Are you sure she’s sleeping?” He asks. I nod in affirmation. “Well, what the hell are you waiting for? Go get it!” Paul exclaims.
In those days, Paul lived in a filthy, eight by ten, concrete shed deep in the backyard. It was 11
built in the 1920s for tool storage. He had running electricity, a small kerosene heater, a bed, and a used Squire Stratocaster. It was cold, damp, and cramped as a coffin, and I was jealous beyond imagination. Since I discovered the Sega, each and every night began this way: I’d creep out of bed and snatch up the Sega from underneath my mother’s bed. With the prize firmly secured in my arms, I’d steal down the stairs—one perilous step at a time. The house was old, our stairs were creaky, and my mother had ears as keen as a fox, so each step was a trial in nerve and patience. Ever since she discovered some strange man creeping into our basement, she sleeps with one hand resting on her pillow and the other on the trigger of a loaded semi-automatic Glock-17. “Make lots of noise when you come up and down those steps, boys,” she’d exclaim, “unless you want a hole in your chest!” As I snuck down those stairs, I knew one wrong step could mean certain destruction. Looking back, I don’t know whether it was courage or stupidity that drove me up and down that staircase each and every night, but I went. Then again, I probably wasn’t the first boy or the last dumb enough to risk his life for video games. Nevertheless, Genesis in hand, I’d sneak out the backdoor and tiptoe through the cold and ice making my way down to the shed to wake Paul. He’d set up the T.V. in the basement, and we’d play video games from dusk till dawn. It was the closest we’d ever come to happiness. § We lived in a crumbling coal miner’s domicile in Exeter, Pennsylvania. Our home was a relic of an age passed. It held together—ugly and defiant—against the snow. It was green, the color of vomit. It was muggy and humid in the summer; it was drafty and frigid in the winter. We had bats in the attic, rats in the basement, and—when the gods were cruelest—copperheads in the window seals. During the hottest days of summer, the house stank like stale urine. The family that lived there before ours had gone mad. From the stories my mother told, an old widow and her five grandchildren resided in the house before us. When the grandmother grew too old and too frail to descend the two flights of stairs leading to the bathroom, she took to defecating in the stairwell. Apparently, her grandchildren followed suit. When we moved in the stench was so bad we had to cover our mouths and our noses to keep ourselves from retching. We had the walls knocked down and the stairs replaced, but we could never fully remove the stench of misery. We could never fully absolve the reek of decay. But it was wintertime then. The house was drafty and frigid, and this particular winter had been brutal. Paul and I huddled together in the basement next to the coal. It was dark and dank and smelled of earth and coal dust. At that time, our homes were still heated by coal. During the good winters, my mother could afford to have two tons of coals delivered to the basement. During the bad winters, we went without heat. Exeter was a town built on a dying industry—the coal industry. 12
In the early 1900’s, coal miners broke their backs digging for the black rock, and our homes were heated by the same black rock. Our home was a reflection of their lives—cold, damp, and ugly. Coal had been the source of their miseries and their livelihoods too. My father, although I did not know him then, worked his entire adult life at a coal power plant, and I took my first job at that same coal power plant. During the time he met my mother, he spent his workdays in the bowels of the plant, shoveling coal into searing furnaces. My mother spent her nights dancing topless at a “gentleman’s club” next to the plant. By the time I got to know my father, the coal had turned his lungs black and his soul even blacker. Like the coal itself, my father could ignite in an instant and burn a searing, flameless blue and red. §
“Quick turn down the T.V. before she hears us!” Paul exclaims.
Most nights, I wouldn’t even play the Genesis. We’d turn the volume all the way down, and I’d just sit back watching as Paul played it. That was enough for me, seeing the joy on Paul’s face. He got lost in Sega’s world, and so did I. It’s one of the few memories I still have left of Paul. It’s hard to imagine we’d forget the people that have meant so much to us. At the age of ten, Paul was everything I wished I could be. And yet now—now I can hardly remember his face or the sound of his voice or the color of his eyes, but I remember the thrill on his face as he played. I remember the frigid basement and the metallic taste of coal. I remember Paul battling the forces of evil and oppression in Emerald City. He handled that controller with grace and rage like his life was on the line, and it was—as I suppose it always is. I watched as he played. I watched as Sonic flipped and dashed and flew across the screen. I stared as Sonic rolled and spun and ran at supersonic speeds. As Christmas grew nearer, the days and nights began to run into one another. Each night I’d wake Paul, and we’d play all night long. We spent those winter evenings cheating the night and staving off the coming of the dawn. When morning finally arrived, we’d pretend that it never happened; it was all just a dream. The days became a foggy haze. They were something to suffer and survive—a momentary lull in the action—before the coming of the night. As time went on, the separation between fantasy and reality grew thin. It was no longer Sonic spinning through the air, but me. I ran, and I dashed; I jumped, and I flew; I busted through bedrock; I battled evil robots; I fought for freedom and justice against the evil Dr. Robotnik; I struggled for those denizens in the Emerald City who, like me, were the oppressed, the powerless, and the dispossessed; I collected the seven Chaos Emeralds, and I felt the sting of mechanical killer bees. I became lost in Sonic’s world, and Exeter ceased to exist. The black coal had been exchanged, usurped, replaced by the fires of joy and optimism. § 13
But the fruits of our victories hold within the seeds of our destruction. Each night we grew more and more careless. Each night we took less and less precautions. We became reckless, and it was inevitable that she would find us. This moment had been two weeks in the making. It was near dawn, and we had gotten sloppy. We had grown fat and careless in our success. I took less and less care each night in the re-wrapping of the Genesis, and the television volume slowly crept higher and higher. Paul had reached the final level and was preparing for the definitive battle. The fate of the free world would be decided in this final, epic showdown between Sonic and his arch nemesis: Dr. Robotnik. Paul was fighting for dignity and peace. Paul was fighting for the poor and the dispossessed. Paul was fighting for me.
It all happened so fast.
I catch a faint glimmer of movement out of the corner of my eye, and I hear a banshee’s scream. In a flash, my mother comes tearing at Paul like death. She’s raging hellfire and wielding a steal claw hammer. I remember watching as her eyes ignite. They grow large and fierce as burning coal. I remember her face—a mask of murder and rage—followed by a heavy “Whack!!!”
Then, chaos reigned.
It’s strange how the ones that defend us, in the end, fail to defend themselves. I’ll forever remember the sound of steal claw hammer slamming into flesh. There are few things like it in this world. It’s not necessarily a thud, but more like a snap. No, that’s not it. Human bones crack like falling trees.
“Crack!” Goes the sound of dying demigods. §
The history of our lives is written in our hearts. We carry with us all our love and all our sorrow, all our joy and all our pain, the people that we loved and those we disdained. And as the years fade like passing storms, there are those souls we wish to forget and those we long to remember. Paul survived the attack but was killed in an accident two years later. As I write this, he died exactly twenty-one years ago today on July 16, 1991. I left home that fall. After nearly two decades of exile, I returned to Exeter in 2010 with my wife. The house was still there, but like me, it had changed over the years. It was older and had grown beautiful by struggle and the passing of time. Paul’s shack still stood deep and alone in the backyard. It was ugly and dilapidated but ever defiant against the intrepid Pennsylvania storms. pp
As I opened the door, the sound of the guitar grabbed me by the nape of the neck, reached into
my soul, and never let go. There are few things in this world as wild, as primal, or as powerful as blues guitar. In the hands of a master musician, the guitar screeches and squeals; it cries and howls; it wails and yowls; it bawls, and it shouts. Blues guitar can reach in and rip the soul right out of your body.
Blues is an emotional art form. It’s a musical style born in the heart and sung straight from the
soul. Blues singers cover the entire range of the emotional spectrum. Capturing the full gamut of the human experience. Bluesmen sing about headache and heartbreak, lust and love, betrayal and rage, hope and happiness. But at its absolute best, the blues is about redemption. It’s a feeling that can cut you down at the knees or inspires you to stand up tall on your own two feet. And that’s what blues music was for me—the soundtrack of my redemption. In the words of Howling Wolf, “The Blues can fill you with a low down sorrow that hurt so bad, you wish you was dead, or it can make you fall in love too. “
And that’s exactly what the blues did for me. It gave me the confidence to stand tall; it con-
nected me with my people; and it helped me to sing my song and add it to the rich tapestry of black American art.
So, as I entered The River Street Jazz Club nearly ten years ago, I had no idea I was walking
into my collective past and towards my individual future.
Growing up in a litter of five, my sister and I were the only children of color. In fact, my sis-
ter was the only other black face I’d ever seen until I was in my late teens. My mother was a small, 15
lily-white woman with dark hair and big brown eyes. Sadly, she was also a spiteful and uneducated racist with a keen hatred for black music, black art, and black people. My mother had many rules of the house. One of those rules was absolutely no music—especially black music—in the home or on the car radio. On the rare occasions that I broke the rule, my mother would come stampeding into the living room and stare directly into my child eyes. Dropping her voice an octave—her breath reeking of mayonnaise and kielbasa—she’d sternly grumble, “Son, you stay away from those niggers.” Viper-tongued and dripping venom, she’d hoarsely whisper, “They’ll slit your throat and stab you in the back when you least expect it.” Then, as a final refrain—voice an octave higher—she’d add, “Now turn that god damn nigger music off and get out of my face!”
But as I walked through the rusty steal door on a Tuesday, at the age of twenty-three or twenty-
four, I was—forever—leaving it all behind.
Oddly enough, a white French-Canadian poet and American outlaw writer named Jack Kerouac
helped guide me through the prison of my past towards the freedom of my future. I was a young man and curious about everything. I’d been reading the about beat writers, and I was passionate about the whole thing. I was mad for the world and mad about life. I was crazy about art and books; I was hot about poetry and music. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” For black men in America, our history, our language, and our music are our proverbial “woods.” When I walked into a smoky, upscale juke joint in Plains, Pennsylvania called The River Street Jazz Club, I was walking into the wild. I was rediscovering a part of my people long lost in American culture.
Historically speaking, there are few social advantages to being born black in America, but
blues music is one of our rare cultural heritages. The Blues is a testament to our suffering. It’s a means of “bearing witness” to the atrocities of our origins in America. And beyond that, the Blues “bears witness” to the human soul—from the depths of greed and lust, to the peaks of love and kindness. There was, and always will be, a part of me inherently drawn to the struggles and triumphs of the oppressed –and make no mistake about it; the Blues is an art form created by the oppressed and dispossessed in America.
It was a Tuesday night—open mike night—at The River Street Jazz Club, and the joint was
mostly empty. The few patrons there were middle-aged, well dressed, upper class white men. But I didn’t mind. I wasn’t there for the crowd or even for the girls. It was curiosity that had driven me there. It was my people shouting through the weighty din of history that compelled me to go. It was fate that landed me in the audience on that very special night.
I was lucky enough to walk in on an exceptional set. Although there were only a handful of
regulars in the audience, local blues legend Clarence Spady was playing as if the devil himself had possessed him. Clarence is a small, middle-aged, dark-skinned black man from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Once hailed as “the future of the blues,” he’s also one of the “baddest guitar slingers” on the planet. His father was a legendary blues guitarist, and if it weren’t for his nasty heroin habit, the name Clarence Spady would be synonymous with the Blues. He’d be right up there with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters.
That night, the Clarence Spady Trio took us all on an eager journey through the history of the
blues. From its origins in the Mississippi Delta, he played songs like “Dust My Broom” and “Illinois Blues.” I sat there—jaw-dropped and mesmerized—as he covered uptown Chicago rhythm and blues hits like “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Spoonfull.” He even played grease-drippin’ funk classics like “Cissy Strut” and “Pick Up the Pieces” before ending the set with a faithful Hendrix rendition of “Little Wing.”
I had never seen or heard anything like it my life. His fingers flew across the guitar like a
force of nature. Truly, the man was a hurricane on six strings—pure raw and primal energy. But there was one song in particular that stayed with me over the years—a Robert Johnson cover entitled “Crossroads Blues.”
Robert Johnson is a legend—a Faustian myth in the annuals of blues history. As a young man,
Jonson would hang around the juke joints and honkey-tonks admiring established bluesmen like Son House and Charlie Patton. At that time, young Robert Johnson couldn’t play for dead. He would just sit there admiring his heroes. When the guitar found its way into Johnson’s hands, the other musicians would leave the room because Robert sounded like a yowling cat. Then one day, the story goes, Robert walked in, sat down, and mesmerized the crowd with his unearthly playing. He blew legendary players Son House and Charlie Patton off the stage. The new king of the blues had arrived, and a legend was born. But Johnson was gone almost as soon as he arrived. Dying on all fours, barking 17
and howling like a rabid dog, Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his otherworldly guitar skills.
Robert Johnson wrote “Crossroad Blues” in his early twenties. Most people think the song
is about his deal with the devil, but for me—on that evening—it took on an entirely different meaning altogether. Johnson tells the story of a lonely, frightened black man walking on a dark road late at night. He writes, “I went down to the crossroads and fell down on my knees. I went down to the crossroads and fell down on my knees.” As Clarence sang the first lines, I knew that the lonely, frightened black man was I, and I also realized that my people’s music and their history was my lonely darkened road.
The second verse begins with one of the saddest lines ever written in the blues idiom. John-
son writes, “Mmmm, the sun goin’ down, boy, dark gon’ catch me here. Oooo, eeee, boy, dark gon’ catch me here. I haven’t got no lovin’ sweet woman that love and feel my care.” It’s the same kind of lonesomeness I lived with my whole life—a profound and deep sadness permeating from the pit of my stomach to the bottom of my soul. It was the kind of loneliness that drove me from my home to The River Street Jazz Club by myself on a Tuesday night.
I wish I could tell you that “Crossroad Blues” ends happily. It doesn’t. But I can happily re-
port that my story does.
Hearing the Blues for the first time was like finding religion. I sat there alone in the club,
white-knuckled and dripping in sweat. I knew right then and there that I’d own a guitar. In fact, I knew that I’d die if I didn’t, so I called off of work the next day and scoured the local pawnshops until I found the guitar that felt just right—a well-worn, fat-bodied Yamaha acoustic. Guitar in hand, I threw two hundred and fifty dollars (rent be damned!) on to the counter and walked out of the pawnshop towards the rest of my life.
I’ve owned a handful of guitars, played hundreds of shows, and discovered countless guitarists
over the years, but there will always be an empty seat in the bar of my heart for Clarence Spady and the gifts that he gave that night: a lifetime love affair with the Blues and a visceral connection to my heritage and my people—blues people. 18
**** Keeping track of impending Armageddon could soon be aseasy as bending your elbow. Sources at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have confirmed the organization, which already oversees the famous Doomsday Clock, is preparing to unveil a uniqueline of designer Doomsday Wristwatches. “The goal is to increase public concern of how close civilization is creeping toward worldwide catastrophe,” says Maynard Allgood, a retired advertising executive hired by the BAS to help publicize the timely new accessories. “We’re hoping for a joint venture with Michael Kors and Donna Karan,” he adds. “They have expressed total agreement with the idea that being aware of growing threatssuch as nuclear war and other global calamities can also be a fashion statement.” Several months ago The Doomsday Clock was moved forward one minute to 11:55 PM, a change that Allgood believes went un-noticed by huge numbers of Americans. “We got some coverage from the major news outlets ,” he concedes, “but it went by in a heartbeat, and then all the media attention shifted to other things they consider more important, like how well Ricky Gervais did as host of the Golden Globes. I suppose some people could argue that havinghim in charge of anything brings the end of the world a bit closer, but that’s a separate issue.” All Doomsday Wristwatches will be linked by satellite radio signals to the main clock so that any changes can be seen immediately by the wearer. “When, God forbid, we get to one minute before midnight,” Allgood explains, “a tiny alarm will be activated. Then, if the nuclear missiles start flying, the alarm will sound and the final 60 seconds will begin ticking off. Hopefully the person wearing the watch will use that little window of opportunity to run for the basement or jump into a ditch.” The initial target audience for the Doomsday Wristwatch line will be women in the 18 to 35 age bracket. According to one nuclear scientist connected with the project, “We’re focusing on that demographic because young women are very style-conscious and will popularize this product, and they will also play a key role in re-starting society after the smoke clears. It all makes sense from the standpoint of marketing and survival of the species.” ****
16 12 14
For anyone that knows me, has read my work, or has come within spitting distance of me in the past fifteen years, you’ll know that I am a firm dissenter against religion in all its forms. Understand, this is not to say I am against God. While I have my own ideas, emotions, and perspective on the issue of divinity, it is my sincere opinion that the concept of divine order or an orchestrator to the universe has little to (infinitely more likely) nothing to do with religion. Religion, at its most institutionalized levels, is a system of divisiveness, hatred, judgment, and pride that is deeply ingrained in all cultures, no matter their geography or the title of their particular deities. The result is always the same, a subtle voice whispering in all of them:
but I will try to keep it brief.
“My belief says this therefore I am entitled to humiliate, berate, or outright hate you for disagreeing or not obeying.”
First of all, this is America and you can vote for whoever the hell you want to vote for. That’s what Democracy is, or used to be, or is supposed to be anyway. Second, the hubris behind this assumption is the size of freaking Gibraltar. According to this utterance, the only reason Obama got elected is because not enough Christians voted according to what I can only refer to, despite the cliché, as the “party line.” I mean, what else is politicized Christianity at this point other than a political party? Nevermind the obvious, unspoken assumption that all Christians are Republican and how offensive that is... Nevermind the assumption that no Christian would dare vote for Obama or, lest we forget, some third party candidate, the point being made by these people is not enough Christians showed up to vote at all. As if to say that they have the numbers as well as the right to run this country as they see fit, but they simply lacked the audience participation. Is anyone else as offended by this as I am? Am I not getting my point across? Who are they to assume that they have the stats to swing an election, no matter what history might have to say on the subject? With each passing generation their numbers dwindle and their hate speech against their political and spiritual opponents becomes more and more desperate. But within this Christian Shame there is no acknowledgment that they were simply outvoted fair and square. To them it’s the devil’s fault, or the laziness of their fellow believers, a shameful failure of the Lord and his, supposedly, inexorable will. There is no understanding or alloance for the possibility that America simply feels differently than their cultish, codified demands for a life well-lived in this country. No, nothing like that, it’s just that their people didn’t show up at the voting booths and that’s why we still have a liberal, black president who is going to, and I quote, “Run this country into the ground.”
The prevalence of bad behavior, particularly in America’s Christian community, is so out of control it literally makes me sick in my stomach to think about it. I am defenseless, helpless to do anything about it, yet I could not be more opposed to what happens as a result of this community of zealots. Most recently, in the past election, we had more than one devastating example of Christian hate masking itself as moral outrage. The worst, most obvious example presented itself after the elections in the form of what I would call the “Christian Shame.” It was everywhere – Facebook posts, news feeds, Christian radio networks, podcasts, and even in the GOP. Religious nuts all over were expressing their shame and disappointment in their own people for not getting Mitt Romney elected. That’s right, I’ll say it again. If you are a Christian and you didn’t vote for Romney, according to your own people, your own leaders, you failed your brethren and your Lord. How can I possibly begin to analyze everything that is wrong with this sentiment? It would take an entire book just to unpack everything I hate about this statement, 23 16
I ran across a Youtube video that featured this quote:
“America is at a crossroads between Satan’s Doom’s Day and Jesus Christ’s World Utopia.” Other videos or websites or various forms of propaganda say things regarding America’s election of Obama as a sign of the end times or even go so far as to call him the Anti-Christ. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, you couldn’t possibly find a way to explain how calling another human being the Anti-Christ is anything other than pure, unadulterated hatred. It’s just plain mean. And Christians do it all the time. But what’s worse is that kind of bile doesn’t get questioned or challenged in this community, it gets a unanimous, enthusiastic, “Amen.” Every time someone new and inspiring comes along they point their collective finger and say it’s the son of the devil. While the world moves forward, seeking harmony on the other side of war, and equal rights for all, the Christian community has yet to evolve past the point of those fear-addled pitchfork raising, torch-wielding villagers shouting, “Burn the witch.” They burn a witch on the pyre of media every day of the week and we let it slide past us without a second thought, merely shrugging in the voice and spirit of The Big Lebowski, “That’s, like, you’re opinion, man.” But I can’t abide it any longer. It is not okay behavior. Calling someone a devil or the Anti-Christ, or a witch or a false prophet, or even a sinner is hateful, in poor taste, and I would daresay even against the scripture these people claim to adhere to. The New Testament is loaded with statements against calling someone a name, verses like I John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love hist brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” Or Christ himself saying that there will be those who list their good deeds done in his name and his response, “I never knew you.” The point is simple: anyone
who M a n does y t h ianything n g s c a n hateful b e s a iin d othe f tname h e “Aof m eGod r i - is farther from God than the person they are attackcing. a n D r e a m”. I t c a n b e s a i d t h a t e v e r y time we “tweet” from our iPhones that Whatever happened to “Let he who is w e ’ r e esin x p ecast rien c i nfirst g i tstone?” first hand. On the without the
o t h e r h a n d , t h e d u d e i n “ Wa t c h m e n” The average, every day political arena of s e e m e d ist obesought t h i n k i tbywstone a s l a throwing u n c h i n g Chrisgas America tians and we all just chock it up to piety or degrenades as disco dancers. I guess it’s votion, but it isn’t. I swear to you, it has nothing desperation, and d i f fto e rdo e n with t f o rGod. e ve r It yoisn efear, . the lust for power in a community of people that are losing that power every single year. And the only feel arep athe I s u ppeople p o s e twho h e “A m ethat r i c is a na Dbad r e athing m” i n rpeople that are losing. The rest of us see progtress i c u and, l a r tto h ause t I ’ ad now l i k epoliticized t o a d d r e sword, s i n twe h esee hope. “Get Rich Without Doing Anything to
E ” t hpicture i n g . Yeaaday h … Twhen H ATAmerica o n e . A delects mit it, a r n IIt can its the power ofD yo ufirst ’ ve Atheist a l l t h opresident, u g h t a b owhen ut it… DR EAME the Christian right has dwindled to a whisper, aand b o the u t iold t . Sarguments o w hy a r eagainst p e o p homosexuality l e s t i l l t e r r i - or women’s the f i e d t o arights c t u a l or ly any d o iof t w h escores n t h e of y hage-old ave the arguments based in antiquity and outdated moral p e r f e c thave o p pgone o r t uthe n i tway y ? I ’of m the o f old c o ugods. r s e rpp eoutrage f e r r i n g t o t h e ve r y A m e r i c a n “ f r i v o l o u s l a w s u i t ”… o r a s I c a l l i t , t h e “A m e r i c a n ----L o t t e r y ”.
David Renton is a church brat by heritage only. As a man he firmly believes in I’m gonna paint a scenario for you here. the importance of skepticism, mental and I mspiritual a g i n e yoeducation u ’ r e i n l without i n e a t aindoctrination, major reis ua’ rconspiracy t a i l eand r. Yo e b uy i n g theorist s o m e t honly i n g swhere mall… the Catholic church is concerned. David l i k e a p a c k o f A A b a t t e r i e s . Yo u k i n d l y is a struggling novelist and works a day p a yjob t h ewhere m e r che h awatches n t a n d people w h e n treat t h e y retail ask if yo u ’ workers d l i k e alike b a gsecond yo u s class a y s ocitizens m e t h i nand g riloses more faith in humanity by the day. d i c u l o u s l i k e “ Ye s p l e a s e ! D o n’ t w a n n a g e t t a c k l e d o n my w a y o u t ! H a h a ! ”.
FREEZE! Allow me to break this down
f o r ya : Yo u ’ ve a l r e a dy PA I D f o r a T I N Y
Game Over in 2012 dystopia
Have you guys heard about this?
Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona, at precisely 11:11 AM on the 21st. Yeah...
http://www.1111invitation2012. info/1111Invitation2012/Welcome.html There’s this guy, Peter A. Gerston, esq. (that’s actually what it says on his site, I didn’t know people still used “esquire,” not since Bill and Ted, anyway), a lawyer out of Arizona who has fought the CIA on Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and defends the rights of UFO eyewitnesses, and he believes, no joke, that the world is a computer program. We’re all in The Matrix and we are all in danger. He believes that our entire existene is an extraterrestrial program and we are nearing the program’s completion. On the winter solstice, December 21st, 2012, at 11:11 AM the program will end. Gerston believes that we are moving into a location in space relative to the center of the galaxy which will allow for unique opportunities to interact or even escape from the program. The location of our planet at 12/21/12 11:11 AM is what he calls a “cosmic coordinate” and the coordinate will open up portals in certain locations on the earth that are known hotspots for “vortexes.” That’s interdimensional vortexes, not tornadoes or whatever. In order to save everyone in this reality, that is, in the computer program, from imminent destruction at the end of the program he plans to escape through one of these portals. His plan for doing that? Jumping from
The idea is that a portal will open up and he will pass through it as he falls from Bell Rock. How this is supposed to prevent the ending of the program and save us from destruction is unclear, but that’s the plan. Gerston came to this conclusion by experiencing what he calls the “11:11 Phenomenon,” a moment of disorientation he and others like him claim to feel when noticing that time on digital time pieces. He describes a gut feeling that it means something and has even said that he perceives the double eleven in other places and moments around the world, such as pillars, skyscrapers, or even an image of a satellite in orbit around the earth. He makes reference to the 9/11 event, the Twin Towers obviously being an “eleven,” and he even makes some mention of the time on 9/11 being 11:11, but I’m not really sure what that’s all about. After seeing “Eleven-Eleven” everywhere for a number of years he began to obsessively research the topic after 9/11 and this brought him to the 2012 mysticism which he, naturally, worked into his theory. In one of his videos, he states that one of his sources for research declared that 2012 would be a significant astrological and spiritual event PRIOR to knowing anything about the Mayan calendar stuff. How do you like that? The ignorance of a source being used as evidence that 2012 means something. 25 16
Mr. Leap of Faith dystopia
M a n y t h i n g s c a n b e s a i d o f t h e “A m e r i c a n D r e a m”. I t c a n b e s a i d t h a t e v e r y
time we “tweet” from our iPhones that
we’re experiencing it first hand. On the o t h e r h a n d , t h e d u d e i n “ Wa t c h m e n”
seemed to think it was launching gas
Moreover, the reference material he sites for this kooky plan ranges from books about UFOs to the “Weird America” series of travel books and their edition, “Weird Arizona.” He makes claims to an ancient crystal city that one resided on the site of Bell Rock and how this makes it a hotspot for those vortexes, saying, “Bell Rock is a vortex,” as if it is always in a state of some kind of flux, just waiting to go active and open up some portals. The long and short of it is this: the Mayan people, knowing that they were in an extraterrestrial computer simulation that would end on December 21st, 2012 at 11:11 AM sent out their warning that worked its way into the collective unconscious. As a kind of early warning system for those that must be present at the event at Bell Rock people begin to intuitively notice the 11:11 symbol in their environment. Peter Gerston uses this as a call to action, an invitation, to attend the Bell Rock event on the 21st because, clearly, “we have something in common.” I guess the thing you have in common is that you looked at the clocked at the same time or something. I don’t know. But the larger issue here is that this kind of whacko behavior is just the kind of thing that has made the earth a shithole since the beginning of time. Whether you’re talking about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Massacre at Jonestown, the Waco Fire and the Branch Davideans, or the Heaven’s Gate assholes the result is always the same. Spiritual promises and the desire for a religious
grenades as disco dancers. I guess it’s
d i f f e r e n t f o r e ve r yo n e . experience prey on the gullible, steal from the weak, and turn the desperate toward violence. Whether Iyou’re s u p plooking o s e t hfor e aliens, “A m e rholy i c a nlight, D r eJesus a m”Christ i n p aorr Santa Claus it is all the same thing, you aren’t really ticular that I’d like to address in the living in this world, you’re living for another, and it’s “only G e ta R ich W t h o ubefore t D o you i n g and A n everyone y t h i n g tlike o matter ofitime E a r tell n I yourselves t ” t h i n g . it’s Ye aa hgood …TH ATtoojump n e . Aoff dm you idea ofiat i t , fucking forg hthe yo u ’ vemountain all thou t asake b o uoft your i t … Dbeliefs. REAMED
a b o u t i t . S o w hy a r e p e o p l e s t i l l t e r r i I can only hope that people will see this lunatic for fwhat i e d he t oreally a c t uisa land ly d o join i t whim h e nin this h elemming y h a v e walk the not off p e rthe f e cedge t o pofpBell o r t uRock. n i t y ?ToI ’hear m ohim f c otell u r it, s ehe’s regone far enough in this world, he will be 70 when this f e r r i n g t o t h e ve r y A m e r i c a n “ f r i v o l o u s all goes down and doesn’t see that he has much to lose l a w s u i t ”… o r a s I c a l l i t , t h e “A m e r i c a n if he “happens” to be wrong and dies on impact at the L o t t e rof y ”.the mountain. But he is so sure he’s right bottom he is willing to make that jump. Since he started this campaign for the salvation of the world last year he I’m gonna paint a scenario for you here. has gone on to be called “Mr. Leap of Faith,” but to be Imore m a gaccurate, i n e yo uthis ’ r ewriter i n l isays n e athey t a ought m a j oto r be r e -calling Check Early,” thim a i l “Mr. e r. Yo u ’ r eOut b uy i n g sthis o mpromises e t h i n g to s mbea one ll… of inuthe l i kthe e amost p a cwitnessed k o f A Acases b a t tof e rsuicide i e s . Yo k imodern ndly world and I just have to wonder where the ethics of pay the merchant and when they ask if something like this line up. Is it okay to let this guy yo u ’ d Isl iitk eokay a btoa gwatch? yo u sIsa yit his som e t h i n gright r i - to jump? religious go d i cthrough u l o u s with l i k ethis? “ Ye sI mean, p l e a sthat’s e ! Dwhat o n’ t we’re w a n really na talking about here, in the end, is this weirdo’s religion g e t t a c k l e d o n my w a y o u t ! H a h a ! ”. and his desire to cross over into the next plain of exisF R E E ZLike E! A l l o walready, m e t oI just b r ehope a k the h idoesn’t s d o w take n tence. I said f o r many ya : Yo u ’him. ve a l r e a dy PA I D f o r a T I N Y too with
It’s December, 2012, and that must mean that the world will come to an end in a few short weeks. Best get your ducks in a row, your affairs in order, make peace with your Maker, say ten Hail Marys and kiss your ass good bye. I mean, right? That’s what they’re saying, right? Is anybody out there actually worried? Let me rephrase. Is any normal person out there that isn’t a survivalist, MRE stockpiling, bunker digging, leather-vest wearing, right wing nut job actually worried? Probably not. I’m about as worried about this as I was about Mitt Romney being our next president. The possibility of it taking place never even entered into my mind. It was so clearly stupid. And so is this. Let me dispel a few rumors while I have your attention. Though you might have seen your share of documentaries on the topic of 2012, maybe you’ve even read a book or two, or seen some special on the History Channel that was probably hosted by Dan Akroyd, you actually know very little about the real 2012 because you are getting your facts from people who not only really want the 2012 hype to go viral so they can sell more books, but in large part actually want their theories TO HAPPEN. Think about that for a second and we’ll move on. There is a strong desire in our culture for destruction. Maybe it comes from our Judeo-Christian roots and the promise of paradise that comes after Armageddon. Maybe we all just really hate the system and want it demolished even if it means the deaths of millions. I don’t know, but the fact is most people, when they think about zombies or tidal waves or power failure or the death of America will actually tell you they’re okay with the idea. They’ll even say they think they could do quite well in Dystopia. These people are probably idiots, or the aforementioned leather-vest clad psychos living in their storm cellars with a thousand cans of SPAM. Or both. Here’s the truth. This is what actually happened. The Mayans are an ancient and mysterious race, they accomplished things from their primitive corner of Central America that are still dazzling and befuddling modern day science guys. They also mysteriously disappeared a few thousand years ago and nobody knows why. For those of you keeping score, if you want to get famous and have lots of people talk about you or write books about you for, like, forever, die mysteriously, tragically, or abruptly. People can’t get enough of that shit. The same thing that makes Marilyn Monroe or James Dean some people’s favorite Hollywood icons is what makes these little science guys in love with Mayan culture. It also has given us an inflamed sense of their importance and/or bad-assery. Which also kind of goes for James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, River Phoenix, Heather Ledger, Elvis Presley and all those other guys that died in such a way as to warrant candlelight vigils and Hollywood biopics. Yes, I just compared the fame of the Mayans to Heath Ledger overdosing on pills. What are you gonna do about it? I’m writing this article, not you. This is my show. So, with that idea in mind, the understanding that mysterious disappearances and tragic, premature death lights up a 27
name in the pages of history, let’s move forward. These ancient Heath Ledgers (that’s what I’m gonna call them from now on or, at least, until I get bored of it) weren’t just the civilization that up and vanished. They also made several pretty kick ass calendars that science really likes. One of them, the Long Count Calendar, has accurately predicated celestial events going back through time millions of years and has also proven accurate in predicting space action long after the demise of the Ancient Heather Ledgers. It portrays things like Halley’s Comet moving through the Milky Way every 75ish years and other cool stuff like that. The Long Count Calendar is not only old and awesome, it is also more accurate than the calendar system most of the world uses today. But here’s the thing, it isn’t a calendar like you think of a calendar. It doesn’t come in a little booklet that you pin to your cubicle and flip pages through as time passes. You don’t throw it out when the calendar is over and you don’t need to buy a new one every year. The Long Count Calendar is cyclical, not only is it circular in its design, it is also meant to restart at the end of each cycle and begin anew. Its cycle began, roughly, on August 13th, 3114 BC (okay, maybe not “roughly,” maybe “stupidly accurately” would have been a better choice of words.). It ends on December 21st, 2012 – a period of 5,126 years. Ignorant people, probably in bunkers and leather-vests, see that the calendar ends in 2012 and, vaguely grasping the all-encompassing history of this fivethousand year long calendar, interpret this ending to mean the end of everything: space, comets, time, history, people... everything. This is wrong. The truth is simple. The Mayans looked into the stars and understood something. Every 26,000 years the earth, the sun and the Milky Way itself are all in direct alignment. At the end of this alignment their giant Space Clock starts over again. Our solar system travels around the galaxy, in the same way earth travels around the sun, and we won’t be back to the beginning for another twenty-six millennia. The only thing the Mayan calendar predicts is the end of a cycle in our galaxy and the beginning of another one. So here’s the case in point. Add it all together, the mysterious disappearance of a culture, Ancient Heath Ledger Syndrome, the fan following, the cultish exaggeration of the truth over the course of five-thousand years, the guys that are promoting doomsayer fiction disguised as documentaries or bad Hollywood just to earn a buck, and a galactic-sized misunderstanding of how the cyclical calendar works and you get, at the end of this complex equation, the origin of the 2012 “End of the World” Theory. If you don’t believe that the 2012 hype isn’t just that then consider that the real origin of this idea came from a book called The Maya which was published in 1966 in which the author attributes apocalyptic punishment of the wicked coming to pass at the end of the “baktun” (cycle of the calendar) and the Long Count Calendar reaches completion. However, the concept of God punishing the wicked is a Christian concept that comes from the book of Revelation and had no real place in Mayan lore. The whole thing was drummed up to sell books. This kind of thing happens all the time. If you need further convincing, do a little research into End Times literature, books that predict the return of Christ or the coming Armageddon, the Left Behind series, or anything that claims to have decoded the Bible and found when the real “Rapture” is taking place. These things always sell crazy amounts by trafficking fear and the novelty of destruction. People eat that shit up. 28
Lets all take a minute to think about how silly that really is. Then lets move on to some of the things people have since decided to believe will happen in 2012 as the Mayans “predicted.” #1 Polar Shift: Santa’s gonna be pissed because after 2012 the North Pole won’t be the North Pole no more. Yep, one abounding theory is that when the earth and sun and galaxy and everything is all in alignment then the earth will experience an intense planetary shift that will result in the north and south poles relocating to some other position on the globe, resulting in natural disasters, tidal insanity, and probably some dude in Wisconsin discovering compasses now point to his back yard (according to that 2012 movie with John Cusack anyway). The Science: The surface of the earth is always moving, it’s just on a scale that can only be measured in geology and is not noticeable in our short lifespan. Today we know this is the result of the movements of tectonic plates, which exist beneath the earth’s surface between the crust and the magma layer and serve as a kind of framework for the planet. The occasional earthquake, tsunami, or volcanic eruption are made possible by collisions between these plates. If the earth were to experience intense gravitational and magnetic disruption, in theory, it could effect these plates and realign our poles. Everything in the universe gives off energy, gravity being the most prominent, but not the only thing. In the hullabaloo of the sun and the earth aligning with the center of our galaxy some science guys have theorized that the intense magnetic storm of such an event would literally change the alignment and magnetic resonance of the planet earth. In other words, shit’s gonna get crazy. There is some evidence (albeit pretty thin) to support this idea that indicates it has happened before and that the next event will take place later this month. But I don’t think it will. Here’s why... The Probability: This one is simple. When people are quoting ideas about polar shifts they are quoting a hypothesis that predates the discovery of tectonic plates. It was once believed that the crust of the earth was like a skin sitting over a lake of magma. This image allows for the possibility of that entire skin shifting like a bad toupee, resulting in the abrupt relocation of our magnetic poles. If the land were to suddenly move a thousand miles in one earthquake then yeah, the north pole would be somewhere else, however, this is not possible because we have these plates between us and the molten layer which prevents this from happening. The Science (amended): The alternate outlook on the polar shift theory has to do less with the crust moving and the poles staying fixed and more to do with the inclination of the planet. The magnetic poles, according to Einstein, get their magnetism from the earth spinning at an uneven degree. It does not sit level, but at a slant. This slant creates stresses at either end of the degree of rotation, like a wobbling top. The most active portion of the top are at the top and bottom. According to this theory, the balance is rather weak and could be easily disturbed which would result in the inclination of the earth changing, either by returning to a level angle or further enhancing the slant. Either would result in the location of the magnetic poles moving and would further result in planet wide climactic drama. The probability of this other idea: The only real issue with this argument has to do with the likelihood of a magnetic storm caused by our solar system encountering something in the galaxy. There is very little to suggest that there is anything strong enough that could actually do that except for a supernova or black hole, something like that. Which we’ll get to in a minute... #2 Super-Volcano No, it’s not a superhero. Although, I’d see that movie, (side note: if Hollywood is not destroyed in 21 days, must send letter and/or film treatment for “Super Volcano”). A super volcano is a massive volcano, normally made up of several 29
volcanoes sort of joining forces and becoming one giant Voltron of a volcano, sort of like that cluster of zits that turned into that one really painful kind when you used to play sports. Only, big enough to send up a cloud of ash and pain and hate that would blot out the sun. So, pretty much exactly like junior high. Apparently, like thousands of years ago or something, a big super volcano went up and caused the last ice age, killed off most of the plants and animals, eradicated a few species forever, and almost made humanity go extinct. Further apparently, there are several of these mothers around the globe just begging to get poked with a stick and start the next ice age and there are those that think the stars aligning in 2012 and all that magnetic stuff and gravity and whatever will be all it takes to wake the beast. The Science: A supervolcano is just what it sounds like. It’s a volcano with an eruption thousands of times larger than a regular volcano. Basically, magma builds under the surface for an extended amount of time growing into a pool but not breaking through. Pressure builds and builds, sometimes for centuries, and when it finally does come through its pretty much on nuclear war level proportions. They also form at converging points between tectonic plates under the earth’s crust or in locations that have a lot of volcanic activity already such as the one in Yellowstone. Whenever one of these babies goes up its enough to blot out the sun, change weather patterns for, like, forever, and threaten species-wide extinction. Pretty much, the end of the world. Scientists estimate the Earth experiences a supervolcano eruption about every 50,000 years. This means that once every 50,000 years the earth is thrown into a volcanic winter of ash that blots out the sky and kills all the food and little animals and pretty much just makes everything suck. The Probability: Be afraid. This one is kind of hard to argue. I mean, the last known, that is, the most recent supervolcano eruption was 74,000 years ago. It isn’t hard math. If you figure we get one every fifty millenia or so then it looks like we’re only...let’s see...um...carry the nine...adjust for wind velocity...stall for time...pause for dramatic effect...yeah, 24,000 years overdue. It’s funny, in the Pacific Northwest people are always talking about how we’re twelve years overdue for this big earthquake that happens every 300 years or so, like eleven years is a lot. But it looks like the supervolcano has that earthquake beat by, oh...23, 988 years. #3 Galactic Superwave This is also called a “Galactic Core Explosion.” Yes, that does sound like something from Star Wars. I was thinking the same thing. The idea here is that every few eons the core of a galaxy releases energy, sort of like the aforementioned supervolcano, and that energy remains active for a good million years or so. This wave of energy is believed to have swept through our galaxy, carrying with it a load of space debris and comet dust, as recently as the end of the last ice age, possibly even contributing to its end. There are those who believe that the Mayans, given their moxie with space stuff, were predicting another Galactic Core Explosion at the end of 2012. The Science: While doing research for this article I ran across a little website that has all the decoration and design of a conspiracy theorist website on the Illuminati. Overlooking that, www.etheric.com had a lot of interesting info on a man named Paul LaViolette. Dr. LaViolette was the first to propose the idea of a galaxy core building and releasing energy. His dissertation describes “spherical volleys” emanating from the center and expanding outward. He later added to the idea by suggesting that it happened on a fairly regular scale and had contributed to the end of multiple planet-wide ice ages as well as ending a few million species here and there over time. This was further verified when, according to the site, “Glaciologists discovered beryllium-10 isotope peaks in ice age polar ice. These indicated that the cosmic ray flux on the Earth became very high on several occasions during the last ice age, confirming Dr. LaViolette’s theory that Galactic superwaves have repeatedly passed through our solar system in geologically recent times.” 30
In other words, based on all the space dust stirred up by the explosion that were found in the glaciers, it looks pretty plausible that our galaxy likes to explode every now and then. The Probability: Unfortunately, the framing of this argument is flawed. It is based on the idea that our solar system moves through the center of the galaxy every 26,000 years and encounters the center, or “plane” of our galaxy every 13,000 years. It is at this point that we are supposed to encounter these explosions. However, despite the research and the evidence and all the stuff, the suggestion of these experts is that these explosions are pretty infrequent, like every thirty million years infrequent, and the last known one was only about 13,000 years ago. So, in all probability, somebody dug up some interesting research and decided to assign it to this 2012 fear campaign. I’d say this one isn’t super likely. #4 Black Hole An alternate interpretation of the galactic core idea is that, rather than an occasionally exploding center with dust and fire and all that, there is an inactive black hole. The thing about the center of the Milky Way is nobody can really see it so there is a lot of room for guessing and imagination. The center is comprised mainly of dust, the same dust that is supposed to get pushed outward from the aforementioned explosion theory, and it’s darn near impossible to get a clear look. However, there are those who suggest that the real reason we can’t see the center of the galaxy is because there is a black hole there that is sucking up all the light or something. I guess it’s hard to see if the light is being sucked into an eternal vacuum. Go figure. Pretty much all the 2012 theories come down to this idea of a solstice alignment. The earth, sun, and something else in the galaxy are supposed to line up and that is supposed to cause some sort of chaos. The details change depending on who you are reading or talking to, but the idea is the same, we pass through some forbidden corner of the galaxy and something will explode or collapse or pull or push or suck or blow, or whatever. In terms of the black hole theory, which was one prevailing theory up until recently, the idea is that our alignment with the blackhole at the center of the galaxy will cause some nasty stuff to happen, possibly even something as terrifying as that supervolcano losing its head, earthquakes, tsunamis, polar shift, the zombie apocalypse or, god forbid, a magnetic storm in the sun that knocks out the power to your iPhone. The Science: In 2008 a group of astronomers confirmed the existence of a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy by tracking the movements of 28 stars in and around its center. Basically, by confirming the point at which the stars were no longer visible (because, again, black holes eat light) they were able to confirm the location and presence of a black hole. The Probability: The possibility that, in 2012, our planet will experience cataclysm due to the black hole’s proximity to earth is bunk. See, we’re all trained by sci-fi television and movies and stuff to think “black hole” equals “slow, inevitable, life-sucking death.” In truth, the implications of discovering a black hole at the center of our galaxy inspired a revolution of ideas about how a galaxy is formed and how it works from day to day. According to the BBC, Dr. Robert Massey, in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, said, “A galaxy forms around a blackhole in the way that a pearl forms around grit.” In other words, a black hole is not a destructive, terrifying presence at the center of a galaxy, but a necessary part of its anatomy and origin. Furthermore, a black hole, even at its largest, does not have a powerful enough gravitational pull to effect anything that isn’t extremely close to it, and lucky for us, we’re just not. Despite the fact that our alignment with the center of the galaxy is actually not even accurate, there is nothing to suggest that such an alignment would do diddly squat. The gravitational pull and the distance from the black hole are just too great, no matter what kind of alignment you’re talking about. In other words, this black hole is our friend, we wouldn’t have a galaxy without it and you don’t need to worry about tsunamis or your iPhone battery. #5 Global Warming You’ve heard it all before. The earth is getting hotter and the ice caps are going to melt and it’s all supposed to be really 31
bad or something. Some say that the cataclysm of a sudden shift in ocean currents and the disappearance of the ice caps would result in, ironically, a long winter somehow caused by global warming...this idea is weird. Others just think the flood will rise and swallow our cities and the atmosphere will approach, shall we say, tropical temperatures or possibly even hotter. The case I have been trying to make with all of this is a simple one. The hype of 2012 gets everybody to come out of the woodwork to try to popularize their own personal crusades. The global warming people say global warming will happen this December 21st. The volcano guys say Yellowstone will explode. Pseudo scientists and starryeyed astronomers say it will be something to do with astronomy. The point is, because 2012 is a famous idea, everybody wants to ride the coattails of the trend to make their own ideas famous along the way. The Science: Yes, the earth is getting hotter. Some say it is part of a cycle, that every few centuries the planet gets warm and then cools again. Others say that the temperatures rising are the result of gases caused by human pollution and the decaying structure of our atmosphere, ozone layer, and other stuff like that. I think if anyone honestly thought about it they’d say that it makes sense that stuff is getting shitty because we treat the planet like shit. That’s all I have to say about the science of global warming. Look out your window. The climate is changing. New York City just got flooded and the deep south is getting blizzards on the regular. Climate change is going down so scientific arguments kind of seem lame at this point. The idea of global warming in 2012 goes back to the idea of us encountering magnetic disturbances when passing near the galactic plane and/or galactic center. I think we’ve pretty well covered that this is not actually a true thing, but just so we’re clear, the black hole is too far away, the idea of running into the galactic plane has been proven to happen only once every thirty million years, and there won’t be any polar shift. However, the scientific hypothesis is, if this stuff happened, that the oceanic currents would shift in response to magnetism in the universe which effects tidal flows and thus results in hot water going where cold water should go and then stuff warms up really fast. That’s basically the idea here, I’m tired of explaining shit. The Probability: Let’s get real here. Everything we know about global warming indicates that it is a slow process, that it is happening and has been happening for a long time and will only continue to happen for the foreseeable future with or without us. That’s right. Even if we stopped all carbon emissions all indications are that there would still be some global warming for a long time coming. It’s like that old analogy of throwing a rock in the pond and making the ripples, it will be some time before the metaphorical waters of our atmosphere are quiet again. That said, are we really supposed to believe that everything is just going to melt and explode like flipping a switch? The clock goes “Ding, it’s December 21st” and everything just melts on queue? I say bull shit to this idea. Period. End of discussion. So, in conclusion, everybody’s ideas are dumb. I could have just as easily written about the ideas of aliens landing on the White House lawn or the return of Jesus Christ, and truthfully, these are no more or less likely than a black hole sucking up our planet or earth passing through the plane of the Milky Way and getting bombarded by space fire. It’s all a lot of nonsense based on hype to try to sell books. That’s it. Have a great Christmas. Except for that Super Volcano thing. That could totally happen. But, yeah, have a good Christmas. pp -----
Ty l e r F i s k is an art student at PSU and an amate ur juggle r. He lik e s his d o g a n d wi sh e s he could carry on Gonzo J ournalism but also k nows it probably d ie d wi t h T h o mpson. H e likes art b ut doe sn’t lik e talk ing about it. He hasn’t d o n e m uch as a w rite r y e t, so this will be short. 32
UTOpia It se e m s t h e r e are about as many id e a s a b o u t 2 0 1 2 a s there are people on Earth. F or a s m a n y of those people saying the w o r l d w i l l e n d there are just as many, if n o t m o r e , s a y ing that December 21st, 2012 w i ll b r i n g a b out an awakening, a time of ren e w a l , o r a n ew beginning. B ut wha t d o e s t h a t m e a n? Seriously. When people s ay t h a t k i n d o f thing w hat are they a ct u a l l y t a l k i n g about? Most of the time y o u j u s t h e a r vague “new-agey” sounding l i n g o l i k e “ I t will mean the coming of a n e w e r a ” o r s omething like that.
Utopia n ide a ls hold up unde r sc r u tin y ? First up, I think the Mayans get a l i t t l e too much credit. In all of the stuff I ’ v e r e a d a bout this Long Count Ca le nd a r b u s iness I have seen very little to indi c a t e any particular message, doom or p a r a d i s e , a nd it te nds to just be a jumping o ff p o in t for people to spout their own theo r i e s . However, there is a long heritage o f U F O ideology and it very often will spi n b a c k a r ound to this Ma ya n thing. I r e me mber this little “museum” in Roswe l l , N e w Mexico. It’s called something lik e t h e UFO Museum, I can’t really reme m b e r t h e name actually. It doesn’t matter. I n t h e museum they have this replica of a w a l l from some Mayan ruins and it has t h i s guy, a king or something, sitting i n s i d e what has been construed to be a ro c k e t . There’s all this writing, like picto g r a p h s or hie r oglyphic s or wha te ve r, a nd s o me of them look a lot like flying sauc e r s o r othe r bits of te c hnology we know a b o u t toda y. Pe ople e ve r ywhe r e f r om Ro s w e ll to “Ancient Aliens” have interpre t e d t h i s wa ll to me a n tha t a Ma ya n king w a s v isite d by a lie ns a nd wa s give n the k n o w ledge to build his own rocket to th e s t a r s . Based on this wall, he somehow b u i l t t h e thing and flew away, never to be s e e n again. If he did try to build a roc k e t , it’s likely he just went a mile or s o a n d crashed and burned up and was ne v e r s e e n again, but that’s neither here nor t h e r e . The point, or should I say, the que s t i o n is, were the Mayans visited by ali e n s a n d , if so, is it possible tha t we c a n inte r p r e t their calendar to be a sort of coun t d o w n to the ir r e tur n? Sur e . I me a n, if y o u c a n make the leap that the Mayans we r e a n advanced civilization that reached t h e i r he ight of te c hnology thr ough a lie n v is itation the n, ye s, it is e a sy to ma ke t h e le a p that the calendar heralds the retur n o f the se a lie ns. I t will a lso be e a sy to ma k e up any number of excuses when th e s e aliens don’t show up on the 21st. M a y b e they were waiting to be reunited w i t h t h e
T h e i n t e r e s t i ng thing about the 2012 trend i s t h a t i t c r o ss es a lot of ideologies, phil o s o p h i e s , a n d even sciences. It ap plies to M a y a n C a l e n dar, duh...everybody knows t hat. Bu t t h a t date, 12/21/12, is also the w i n t e r s o l s t i c e this year which brin gs in b o th a s t r o n o my and astrology. And that do e sn ’t e v e n begin to touch on the r e ligi o u s a n g l e i n this thing, but more on tha t l a t e r. A l m o st a n y c ulture that has had a knowled g e o f t h e st a rs has their ow n idea or myt h ol o g y a b o u t the approaching date. But w h a t s e e m s t o be a common trend in all of t hem i s t h a t o ne thing is ending w hile a no t he r t h i n g b egins. To the Mayans it was t h e e n d o f a 2 6,000 year long cycle around o u r g a l a x y, t h e end of their Long Count C a l e n d a r, a n d the beginning of the next cy c l e . To t h e astrologers it is the e nd of t h e A g e o f P i sces and the beginning of the A g e o f A q u a r ius. To astronomers we are e n d i n g o u r t i me in one part of space and m o v i n g i n t o a nother sector as our solar s y st e m m o v e s through the Milky Way. To C h r i st i a n s i t i s the end of all the w a iting a n d , a c c o r d i n g to some, finally time for t h e S e c o n d C oming of Christ, the end of t h i s w o r l d a n d the beginning of the next. I s u p p o s e , a l l opinions and bias aside, I find it B u t l e t ’s w a l k through these one at a time . S h o u l d n ’t t a k e long, really. How do these 35
utopia M ay a n s a n d , u pon discovering their disa pp e a r a n c e a f e w thousand years ago, they s h r u g g e d t h e whole thing off and went a b o u t t h e i r a l ien business. See. I just m a d e u p a n e xcuse, it was just that easy. I d i d n ’t e v e n have to think about it. But m y e x c u s e b r ings me to my issue with this i d e a . I f t h e i dea was to give the Mayans a p u s h t o w a r d a more advanced society w h a t w e n t w r ong? Why didn’t these little d u d e s h a n g a r ound to make sure their i n ve s t m e n t w as paying off? Where did t h e M a y a n s g o, some say they were wiped o u t b y m o s q u itoes, others say they were t a k e n a w a y i n a space ship. If it’s the s p a c e s h i p t h i ng then I don’t see why they w o u l d n e e d t o come back in 2012, I mean, t h e y a l r e a d y got their Mayans, right? If i t ’s m o sq u i t o e s then, as I said befor e , why di d n ’t t h e a l i ens protect their investme nt? N o m a t t e r h o w I look at this thing it just get s m o r e r i d i culous. T he point is, des p i t e t h e p o t e ntial awesomeness of aliens s h o w i n g u p r i ght before Christmas, I don’t t hi n k t h i s i s how w e reach U topia.
I thought this was kind of weird. L i k e , how do the stars govern computer s ? A n d isn’t it kind of weird to say that th e t o p i c of “mankind” has been appearing a l o t la te ly? Just sa ying. Anywa y, my one a rgume nt with th is s ta n dpoint is the idea that an astrologic a l f o r c e gove r ning mode r niz a tion a nd me n ta l d ise a se s would some how br ing a bout a n a g e of e nlighte nme nt. I me a n, a ll of t h e s tu ff on this list, in theory, can be take n a s a good thing (except for mental dise a s e s ) but I can’t overlook the point that t h e s e ideas have come up more and mor e “ i n t h e la st f e w c e ntur ie s.” I n the la st f ew c e n tur ie s we ha ve wa tc he d mode r niz a ti o n a n d industrialization take us to the bri n k o f destruction. The Ozone layer is s h o t , t h e economy we have built our lives a r o u n d i s c r umbling, we a r e he a vily r e lia nt o n e ne rgy but c a n’t f ind a sa f e , e ff ic ie n t e nergy source which leads to wars a n d m o r e economic strife, and our country, i n t h e name of “democracy” has butted i t s n o s e into the business of almost every n a t i o n on this e a r th ma king us some thing b etween planet Earth’s high school p r i n c i p a l and those riot police that show up w i t h he lme ts a nd shie lds. Thoma s Je ffe r s o n took issue with the goa l of industr ia liz in g Ame r ic a . He sa w this c ountr y a s a p e a c eful place where people could farm , w o r k , and live out their lives with their f a m i l i e s away from the persecution of tyra n n i c a l government. He thought industria l i z i n g would lead to the death of everyth i n g tha t Ame r ic a wa s suppose d to r e pr e s e n t and would eventually mean our do w n f a l l . Looking a t the sta te of our f or e ign r e lations, our civil rights, the way we v i e w our leadership, and the increased d e s i r e for change even if it comes at the h a n d s of Ma ya n a lie ns or r e volution, I ’ d s a y industrialization has had some prett y n a s t y side effects. No, I’d have to say t h a t i f mor e of this is wha t Aqua r ius ha s to o ffer then this too shall not be the s o u r c e
S o, h o w a b o u t all this A ge of A quar ius t a l k ? I d i d s o me quick, albeit slightly l a z y, r e s e a r c h into this Age of Aquarius t h i n g b e c a u s e about all I knew about it w as i t w a s t h i s song that plays on cla ss i c r o c k r a d i o and usually makes me want t o c h a n g e t h e station. I found this article b y s o m e g u y named Jimmy Barlow who c l a i m s t o k n o w what he’s talking about. In i t h e w r i t e s: “ Wh e n t h e r e is a shift in age, mank ind is a ff e c t e d . A q uarius governs electricity, fl i g h t , d e m o c r acy, computers, freedom, m od e r n i z a t i o n, hum anitarianism , re be ls an d r e b e l l i o n , nervous disorders, astr olo g y, a n d m e n tal diseases. Because these co n c e p t s h a v e appeared and elevated in t he l a st f e w c enturies, including no nc onform i t y, p h i l a nthropy, veracity, persev e r a n c e , i r r e s olution, and mankind, it is bel ie v e d t h a t the coming of the A ge of A q u a r i u s i s n earing.” 36
utopia o f U t o p i a . M y only hope is that, if there i s a n y m e r i t t o these ideas, w e get a he f ty d o s e o f p e r s e verance, nonconformity, and r e b e l l i o n a n d a little less of the already t oo r a m p a n t mental illness and industr y. L e t ’s m o v e o n. Jesus is dead and won’t b e r e t u r n i n g i n 2012. Okay, that’s out of t h e w a y. L e t ’s move on. Oh, wait, no... I d o h a v e m o r e on that topic. Christ says i n t h e N e w Testam ent that no m an knows t h e d a t e o f h i s return, only God knows. H e s a y s , a b o u t himself, the supposed Son o f G o d , “ E v e n I don’t know.” So, yeah, i f a l l t h i s J e s us stuff turned out to be real a n d I ’ m j u s t barking up the wrong tree I c a n s t i l l s a y, quantifiably, that he won’t be r e t u r n i n g o n the 21st. It’s simple , r ea l l y, i f n o o n e knows the date then I find i t i n c r e d i b l y u nlikely that the Mayans pr ed i c t e d i t s e v e ral centuries before his birth. F u r t h e r m o r e , every time some crank comes ou t w i t h a b o ok declaring he has de c ip h e r e d t h e s c riptures and knows the date o f C h r i s t ’s r e turn it always turns out to be b o l l o c k s a nd/or a publicity stunt. Furt her- f u r t h e r m o re, if no one really is supp o s e d t o k n o w then isn’t it possible that e v e r y t i m e s o mebody says they figured it o u t G o d i s j u st delaying the arrival time? Wo u l d n ’t i t b e funny if that was the whole r e a s o n w h y i t ’s taken two-thousand years f o r C h r i s t t o r eturn? Because nobody w o u l d s h u t t h e hell up, butt out, and wait l i k e g o o d d i s ciples? And finally, I take hu g e i ssu e w i th the fact that no C hrist i an e v e r h a s b een able to hope for Utop i a w i t h o u t f i rst thrilling at the notion of w o r l d w i d e d e struction. Within their own m yt h o l o g y t h e re m ust first come A rma ge dd o n a n d t h a t means war, famine, plague, dea t h , h a t e , r a pe, murder, beheading s, l i es, f a l se p r o p hets, the devil on ear th... p r e t t y m u c h t he worst stuff imaginable. D o e s a n y o n e else take issue with the fact t h a t a r e l i g i o n that not only claims to love e v e r y o n e , b u t is also required by its own p r e c e p t s t o l o ve everyone, is so bla tantly j on e si n g f o r sk ull fucking m urder? I t ir ks
me , tha t’s a ll. The point is, no Ut o p ia is going to come out of the return of C h r i s t , no matter what people tell you, be c a u s e the believers don’t care about this w o r l d , they care about getting golden cro w n s a n d angel blow jobs in heaven or some t h i n g . I’d say that is the issue I take with p r e t t y much all religion. They live for d y i n g , not for living. And, also, they liv e f o r those angel blow jobs. In some fo r m o r other, all religion is pretty much h o p i n g f or a nge l blow jobs. Moving on... f or r e a l this time ... Astronomy doesn’t have a whole l o t t o sa y on the topic of Utopia or the co ming ne w c osmic c yc le . I ha ve a c tu a lly r e a d a lot tha t sugge sts nothing sig n if icant is happening in the stars at a l l o n the 21st. Apart from the fact that i t i s the winte r solstic e the r e r e a lly isn ’t mu c h to talk about. I even read one site t h a t sa id things we r e a c tua lly a lot mo r e inte r e sting, a str onomy- wise , this pa s t s u mmer. The skies are kinda dead rig h t n o w. This leads me to my final note. A l l o f this 2012 talk is fun and interestin g , b u t ultima te ly hollow. I t doe sn’t me an a n ything because the original evidenc e i t w a s ba se d on wa s misinte r pr e te d a nd ex a g g e ra te d, e ithe r thr ough ignor a nc e or b y d esign, on the part of hundreds, may b e e v e n thousands of people. The only wa y w e a r e going to r e a c h a tr ue a ge of e n lig h te nment and an ultimate Utopia is by looking to each other instead of to our leadership, our gods, or the stars. pp ----Trip Markham believes that ar t w i l l save the world faster than scie n c e . Art is the true he ritage of any c iv ilization and outlasts the scien t i f i c achievments of any ancient cu l t u re . He is a student of art and liter a t u re at the Univ e rsity of Te x as . 37
Anyone Can Be Spartacus Hughes a very bored and disinterested look on my face and mostly that’s because I am both of these things—both at work and in life). But anyhow, they ask me if I will be happy when it’s over and I say sure. I don’t ever state my real opinion. Well, that’s not entirely true, sometimes I do state it and when I do the follow up question from the audience is “you don’t really believe that, do you?” To which I usually reply with “no, of course not.” Why the paper tiger syndrome to my opinion? Well, every one has a difference of opinion and that’s just a fact of life and most people must tolerate the different opinions but if an opinion is too different it becomes
Maybe I’m a homicidal maniac. Maybe there’s a screw loose upstairs, enough is certainly rolling around in my noggin. Yes, I get incredibly angry at times and walk around in a terrible haze of utter disgust and rage, but these things happen. I’m not a generally happy person, it could easily be said. But really, who is? During the political season, lots of people sit around talking about our lovely little country and the various problems it has. Most people at my work asked me if I voted and I tell them I didn’t, which I didn’t. Some ask me if I’m going to be happy when it’s over and I say I’m not sure (generally at work I walk around with 38
subversive and that is often not tolerated. Insane asylums were made for metal illness and a subversive opinion can easily be categorized as a symptom. But what is metal illness?
like sanity). So, I would like to state my opinion as simply as possible without using any fallacious words. How do you fix society and create a better world for every one?...
Isn’t it really just a different point of view, like a camera with a different lens?
Legalize murder. I’ll just bullet point my main arguments.
So what is my “subversive” opinion? Well, first let me tell you about a friend of mine. My friend says she’s a communist and libertarian, communist in the sense of a socialist revolution for a moneyless, classless society, where the means of production are owned collectively by the “people” and libertarian for a small central government. I’ve heard a lot about the different forms of government and most people in the world would fall under some labeling, most likely capitalism, because that’s how much of the world works and you’re either in the club or you starve (by the way capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production emphasizing wage labor, profit, and capital accumulation—amongst other things…if you were wondering).
1. A lot of people will have to die for the world to be a better place. It’s just that simple, there are way too many of us. There’s something like seven and a half billion people on the planet. 2. dissolve actual government. What do we need a government for when we can kill and take what we want and kill those who wrong us. 3. The weak would die. No longer would you have five hundred pound people rolling around on scooters and such, as an example. 4. Money becomes useless. Why pay for something when I can kill and take it.
So I guess my own ideals, if it must be given a name, would be anarchy, although that doesn’t describe what I think at all and I certainly don’t enjoy the connotations that come with the word. I don’t mean anarchy in the sense of “no central government” or simply “lawlessness,” as there really are laws that we must abide by, just not laws created by men.
5. Law become useless. How can a government enforce law when it’s people can decapitate it’s politicians and the people who enforce such laws. 6. Only through negative actions and events can redemption be found.
Capitalism, Socialism, Libertarianism, and Anarchy are just meaningless words connected to meaningless ideas and arbitrary laws meant to subvert the only law that really applies, which is natural law (I’m referring to survival of the fittest and all that jazz ol Darwin wrote about and not the idea that morality is a function of human nature, as morality is subjective—
7. Some might think that this type of idea would create a dystopian landscape, but aren’t we already in a dystopian landscape? Doesn’t murder and rape and robbery happen every day thousands of times a day? 8. Returns a sense of power to indi39
reviews vidual people. Our police force and judicial system create a society of apathy and victimization. Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to murder the drunk driver who crippled your son rather than watch him get a sentence to jail, one day possibly to get out. After all, your son is going to be in that chair forever.
tions, because within the hunter-gatherer sense of the world is pretty useless.Sometimes things get so messy you just have to throw it all away and start over and there are just plainly so many worlthless people in the world, all just fat wastes of life plodding down the sidewalks. Completely worthless. There is no sanctity to human life.
9. It’s okay to kill. If my country has taught me anything it’s that violence is the answer, execute them in the chair or sent the troops over to stomp on their country.
Just look at what people do to themselves and each other. We already live in a dystopian world. If I remember my theology correctly we once lived in Eden and that wasn’t good enough. So we took more and got the boot, sort of speak. Would anyone really know that they lived in paradise or hell were they in it?
10. If murder were legalized then there would be no frivolous bullshit. Why pay for tags on my car when I can take out anyone who tries to make me?
Legalize murder, it’ll make the world a better place. You can’t change the world by changing the government or passing laws, it’s impossible. If people have a right to life, don’t I have a right to take it? I’m just tired of seeing what people do to each other and to themselves. Every one has a chance ever day to take someone’s life better, but they don’t take it. I know I don’t. I can’t even make my own life better let alone someone elses. pp
11. Talking about government or trying to change the laws, being about of some type of political ideology is pointless. The problem with government does not lay in the processes which it presents but in the hearts of men and the people who run it. Government is just a tool and the one’s wielding it will use it for better or for worse. There is no deficient form of government, just flawed people. So why not legalize murder, maybe then the population will deplete to such a number that there will be enough space for a man to government himself, decreasing the reach of the bureaucracy we all live in, each day taken as it comes, each situation judge while in it, rather than abiding by a set of arbitrary rules meant to dictate the outcome of each individual situation as if they are all the same?
----Despite popular misconception, Kirby Light isn’t real. He’s an illusion. He’s been published in various online and offline magazines and you can find his ebooks “Cheap Thrills and Night Terrors” and “No Solace for the Innocent” on the Kindle store.
A subversive idea, without a doubt, it’s an idea meant to dissolve our institu40
405 The 405 freeway is slowing my fucking roll yet again It’s almost as if this stretch of highway mocks me It enjoys mocking the hell out of me It lives to mock my ass It stays up late at night just thinking of new and torturous ways of getting under my sunburned skin There are other ways of getting from San Fernando to the foggy shores of sunset unlimited Long Beach But damned if there’s a shorter route But damned if the Redline doesn’t lazily zigzag But damned if anyone is ever carpooling when you need it All I want is a simple cross-town jaunt without drama But semis must always block my entire world view But poseurs must always rattle my teeth with bass But I lose cell phone reception approaching Mulholland But I have no sexy co-pilot to give me road head when the nightly asphalt ballet reaches intermission 13 41
My daily mission statement is a glitched download when I truly pine for a warm vinyl headphone buzz The highway itself only runs for seventy-odd miles 405 should stand for four or five miles an hour In fact, I might as well get out and start walking I am trying to leave town but I’m stuck on the fucking 405 Satellite city names taunt me from crisp green signs Maybe I can make tomorrow’s Dodger game if I get super motivated and leave the West side at midnight Maybe the new exhibits at the MOCA will still be standing before Roddy McDowell leads an ape revolt Maybe I can make it to any number of open mics where fellow poets are breathing painful joy confessions freshly carved into their sacred tombstone journals Where’s the hipster Moses to part the hunks of metal and silence the yuppies belching into status symbol Blue-tooth’s? Where’s my roadside triple-shot coffee injection booth? Where’s the goddamn on-demand refueling plane? I did pay for a premium gas card, did I not? I did suffer twenty years of schooling like a good boy I never went to county jail like a good boy I never took what wasn’t mine like a good boy Well, being a good boy is dead to me now I want to be a bad ass motherfucking biker I want to snake my way through traffic like I snake my way through a favorite deli menu That is until I see the twisted wreck of the motorcycle that was crushed asunder, and the lanky, leather-clad rider, who was some latter day aging Adonis, now lays broken and discarded like human road kill 42 14
On second thought, I don’t like motorcycles I don’t like feeling vulnerable I don’t like the constant paranoia I don’t like knowing that every single rider has a devil-may-care attitude until some jackass tosses a milkshake out the window in the dark I am trying to rationalize but it’s impossible on the fucking 405 A sassy soul sister has been pulled over by Johnny Law His mirrored sunglasses imply he is a stone-cold dick She is explaining herself She is exhausted from the heat She is tired of being ignored and railroaded The cop wrote her ticket before he even left his cruiser The cop wins every time because he knows that it’s his word against hers in a biased, short-sighted court system I roll down my window I suck in a mouthful of hot air I unleash the whiteness full volume: You can’t fight city hall! (Not without an ace up your longest sleeve) You can’t fight city hall! (Not without panhandling for the bureaucrats) You can’t fight city hall! (Not without knowing your rights in advance) You can’t fight city hall! (But you can learn all the legal loopholes)
I throw my soda can and nail him between the shoulders He forgets about his cornered prey and runs to his car The girl regains her rhythm and beats a hasty retreat For all his shrieking sirens, the cop is going nowhere The indifferent 405 won’t give him access of any kind One little victory is all you need sometimes in the face of commuting amongst the dredges of slap-happy humanity Pop culture vulture billboards eye-hump me into submission: Goings-on at the Getty! Shindigs at the Skirball! Moto-psycho nightmare rock and roll swindles! Hip-hop transcendental slam poetry hippie wanderlust! Boiling down brass-tax politics! Building up to economic breakdowns! Heartbroken beatnik exclusions fueling green energy! I want to scream but the traffic shambles forward and the smog chokes any attempt at vocal sloganeering Human beings are creatures of inherited habits; Still stealing the blues from black troubadours Still overreaching for the soil of the natives Still underwhelmed by third-world famine Still cruising the highway around the El Toro interchange I want to process but car horns have merged into an unrelenting cacophony of idiots proclaiming their Idiocracy “Quinceanera! Quinceanera!” cheer four lovely Latinas on their way to a weekend cookout party extravaganza I am happy for the birthday girl I am happy someone is celebrating something today 44
I am happy that three times five equals more than mere math Yet I can think of fifteen different reasons why I am not happy with the sum of my life’s equations Distant headlights cast shadowy reflections across my soul’s filthy convex windshield 4 of 4 Ghosts of dreamers litter the pre-dawn interstate as I try to keep my engine running towards whatever diversions offer cheap whiskey kicks Concrete and pavement connect millions to flesh and blood relatives, friends, junkies, saints and sinners as Morlock workers power the city of Eloi’s wanton whims I am trying to get home but I’m stuck on the fucking 405 Bleached blond beach bums blast bump and grind but my radio only plays the “pay the bills” moldy oldies I write verse on crumpled food wrappers and forgotten receipts because living on the go leads to thinking on the go In fact, my mind races with abandon during stalled traffic I am coasting on empty and I’m stuck on the fucking 405 I have fused with the car seat to become something different that what I was originally designed to be I am now forever entrenched, traversing this stretch of highway
because it gets me to familiar haunts Too bad everyone else has the exact same idea Ideas float hither and thither in the ether, entangled tonight in a lover’s quarrel knot Love is always strained in Los Angeles l
We all want love on our own terms, at our leisure We all want love to be here, then to leave us alone We all want love until we can want it no more We all want love to ensnare us, unaware, unknowing, unforced, unrelenting, at our most vulnerable But we are a culture that no longer abides waiting Love cannot find me tonight because she’s stranded somewhere out on the fucking 405 -----
Eric Lawson is the author of two chapbooks of poetry; Lady, Control Your Cats and Now With More Ewoks. He has written two comedic collections Jackassery as well as Medusa Coils: 20 Twsited Monologues. His work has appeared in the Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug anthology (Tebot Bach), Falling Star Magazine, The Houston Literary Review, Word Catalyst, Maintenant, Dash Literary Journal, and Poetic Diversity
The Critic’s Critic
Cloud Atlas: As Many Opinions as There Were Storylines by Arthur Brand
nebula of self-importance around Cloud Atlas ...” --Liam Lacey Globe and Mail
First of all, I wish more of you people would clue in and realize that we want more movie reviews, that we’ll take them from just about anyone, and that for some weird reason nobody has even tried. It therefore falls to me, every month, to think of something to write about because I’m the big movie guy around here or something. Didn’t do much this month, but I did see Cloud Atlas and I think that, more than reviewing any one critic, what I really want to do is share something interesting that kind of involves a whole bunch of critics. The premise of this “column” for lack of a better descriptive term is that there is no right or wrong answer to movies, that it’s entirely subjective, and you really don’t need to bother with listening to critics at all. In fact, it’s kind of a dumb occupation. Nothing in my recent memory has made that more clear than Cloud Atlas and its subsequent reviews.
I think you get the point. It seemed that every other review was contradicting the one above it. One says it’s boring, the other says it’s the most engaging thing ever. One says the story is romantic, the next says the romance flounders and can’t make up for the brooding tone. It goes on and on like this. One says its ambition makes it good no matter what its failings. The next says its overly ambitious. One says the visuals make it worthwhile, the next says the visuals get in the way of the story. Do you ever feel like maybe these guys just all get in a room, brainstorm every possible point of view on a movie, and then draw lots to see who gets to say what? I know I do. Well, it seems pretty clear that Cloud Atlas was as divisive as it was ambitious, which is to say that it is a movie that tells six different stories with six different tones and styles and manages to still make sense. My only critique, personally, is that the story is named for a musical composition “The Cloud Atlas Sextet” which is supposed to have in its melodies and progressions a message about how our lives and choices echo through time and effect those that follow. Unfortunately, the song we actually hear is bleak and forgettable and we never hear all of it. I would have liked to have seen the composer, Frobisher, coming up with different arcs to his composition as things occur in the lives of the other characters throughout time. It reminded me of The Hours, where Virginia Woolf was getting ideas for her stories as they happened to the other ancillary characters. However, The Hours pulled it off better. In the end, the best thing about this movie was the makeup. They basically get six performances out of six actors, much like old stage plays where the same three or four people portrayed a whole array of characters. That alone was a feat to make this Oscarworthy, for the makeup and effects work if not for more. It’s easy to criticize something that tries to do this much, it gives you so many threads to pull at, but in the end, I’d say I enjoyed it. It’s worth watching. If for no other reason, it’s an opportunity to have a fun debate with your friends.
I think I’ll begin by just listing out some of the highlights I found on RottenTomatoes.com. It really is a remarkable thing, seeing all of this together. You should check it out for yourself. “For all the spectacular settings and visionary designs, Cloud Atlas left me feeling disconnected.” --Peter Travers Rolling Stone Magazine “If there was ever a movie that truly engaged the viewer, Cloud Atlas is it.” --Kofi Outlaw Screen Rant “The result is maddening, exasperating, occasionally exhilarating -- and mostly boring.” --Peter Rainer Christian Science Monitor “A stunning romantic-philosophical spectacle with a spectacular cast. Sadly, an undeserving box office flop in the U.S.” --Fr. Chris Carpenter Movie Dearest “Felicitous moments can’t break through the dark 47
Miranda Everest White was losing her hair, the last and perhaps final straw in a long list of things she had lost since she checked in. Small clumps in handfuls, brittle and bent. She’d had kinked red ringlets when she was seven, at sixteen a razor-sharp chin length straight cut with bangs, at fortythree the first of her amber strands turned grey. Spring had turned to summer and summer to a steady fall. Now it was winter and Jell-o pudding would be served at 6 pm. Her room at Generiatric Springs Resort was covered in photos of people and places she didn’t remember. Sometimes she thought they weren’t of her friends and family at all, just the default décor of the rooms on this particular floor, part of the spotted grey-green walls, the power-save lighting and aluminum furniture. Miranda spent three-fifths of her day here and all of her nights. The rest of her time was spent in either the Dining Hall or the Rec Room or the Washup Room, shuttled back and forth between them by conveyor belt pathways designated by strips of blue-light indicators, the required mode of transportation whether you were capable of walking on your own or not. Each resident of the Resort repeated a single phrase over and over. Miranda’s phrase was, I was too strange for anyone to love me. That was her story. She told it to new residents, old residents, visitors if there ever were any. Others told their phrases to her in turn. I lost my true love in the great cataclysm on Upper Terra. My parents always loved my sister more than me. My dog is the smartest 48
dog to have ever lived—has an I.Q. of 160. My son is coming to pick me up tomorrow. On Sundays Miranda went to Beta House for treatment. Each time she left the facility, it felt like she came back missing something. Sometimes a memory, sometimes an earring, sometimes five pounds. A few weeks ago she was pretty sure her tonsils had been taken out, though she’d never complained of any problem with them. She entered and exited Beta House without any recollection of what had happened inside and didn’t think to ask. These were professionals, after all, and she didn’t want to sound ignorant. But then there were the dreams. Torsos of perfect feminine figures made from suctioned belly fat. Skin peeled up to reveal sections of muscle braided across an individ’s ribcage—three times as strong. Proportional perfection lined up in boxes like Mattel dolls, no flaws detected except for one very noticeable one—they were missing their eyes. At night Miranda smoothed PuraSoothe balm on pickled skin, watched re-runs on the redscreen she’d seen ten times before, and tried not to think about the dreams. Each time she figured that if she thought about good things before bedtime—places she’d been, songs she liked, people she’d never met who she thought were beautiful—that they wouldn’t happen again. But in the morning, those faint menacing phantoms vied to cling to her failing memory as she tried to drown them out with the routine duties of the day. When her hair began to fall out, she decided she’d had enough. She was old enough to be in a Resort but not that old, still capable of travelling on her own, she figured. Miranda packed a bag and planned to check out of Generiatric Springs Resort. She wasn’t quite sure where she would go; she had a vague notion of a Northern colony known for its density of plastic trees and varietals of Gummy Tummies only found outside of Generik. A green toothbrush, twelve pairs of socks. A 3D river rock hologram on an onyx pedestal with the little silver on/off switch, her favorite trinket, a remnant artifact of Upper Terra given to her by a thin man she was fond of but had never known well. Mass-manufactured sweaters, handfuls of tacky jewelry and her tablet loaded up with travel guides and maps to all the nearby accessible colonies. At 3:45 pm, the intercom in her room alerted her that it was time for treatment. “White, Miranda. Please report to Beta House. White, Miranda. Please report to Beta House within the next fifteen minutes.” The voice ceased with a static crackle. One more treatment, she thought. I will need a tune-up for the journey. They must be helping me, it’s their job. Even though I can’t quite recall what it is they do, I know that I feel lighter when I leave. She reported to Beta House at 3:57 pm. A black latex-clad nurse with a sallow face and too much lipstick greeted her. “Come on in, Mrs. White. We’ll be with you in just a moment.” “It’s Miss White,” Miranda corrected. “Please have a seat. We’re just finishing up with the current patient.” The sallow nurse clicked away on her high heels. Miranda sat nervously in the aluminum chair. She hated waiting. She tried several sitting positions—leaning forward, leaning back, legs crossed, head resting on her arm—but couldn’t seem to get comfortable. Her insides felt sore, her feet heavy, and her voice at full
volume was barely above a whisper. “We’re ready for you, Mrs. White,” the nurse said. Miranda entered Room 3A and had a seat on the slick paper-lined steel examination table. A large selection of tools, gadgets, and supplies she didn’t understand were locked behind glass cases, lining the wall to her right, floor to ceiling. Miranda managed to scoot herself onto the edge of the table. The doctor came in. The table automatically adjusted to the optimum height level for him to conduct his examination. The doctor studied her chart, a scrawl of black numbers and ominous words on a thin plastic sheet. “Miss White, I see you’re making good progress.” The doctor smiled a Ken doll grin, the brightness of his teeth, his white latex bodysuit and pressed-poly labcoat reflecting a nearly blinding, sickening radiance in the harsh fluorescent lights and metal surfaces. “So good, in fact, that after today, I don’t think you’ll have to come in and see me anymore.” “That’s wonderful news. I don’t think I will either,” Miranda said, thinking of her upcoming trip. Doctor took out a long needle, gleaming, sterilized, full of nighty-bye med juice. He rubbed her arm slowly as his voice turned to a sing-song lullaby. “Don’t you worry now. After today’s treatment, you won’t feel any more pain.” Miranda closed her eyes and dreamed of river rocks, pine trees, smiling, brown-haired children and men in movies. She took one last deep breath, and the air, scented with artificial lemon, turned to crystal clear oxygen. She heard drums and low strings, key of B minor. Her body with its missing parts was made whole again—the new one—the old one would have its remaining working elements recycled into experimental mods O.C.R.A. 17 and VolMuteExt 2.3.0. The doctor grinned a tight-lipped smile as he watched Miranda fall into deep sleep. He spoke into his blue-wire headset. “I’ve got more parts ready for you. Old, but barely used, in great working condition. This time we’ll get it right. The next step in innovation is just a shot away.”
Corin Reyburn enjoys single malt scotch and the use of unconventional instruments in rock n’ roll music, sometimes together, and is working on a speculative fiction novel about underground waste. Corin currently resides in Los Angeles, where sunsets take place indoors on 4.4 trillion-color screens, and has had work appear in Clutching at Straws, Quantum Muse, and MBRANE-SF. Reyburn works as a freelance web designer when the thought that one might need to earn some money strikes. More work can be found at infrastratos.wordpress.com.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders #11Hey1F :: 00030866 PM
From The Informer: News from the People’s Republic of Southeast Portland: “Wall If By Land” An Article by Audrey Lamb
The resistance was swift and exact. Leadership fell into place as if it had been planned ahead of time. First McKinley sends in National Guard and FEMA troopers to blockade Portland proper. All of Portland. The claim was that the city had become a breeding ground for terrorism and terrorist sympathizers and the enemy had to be rooted out. The words of past presidents and dictatorial leaders came to mind. “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists.” Road blocks of barbed wired, 2x4s and armed soldiers were at every road out of town. Power was cut and resources were limited. But the people of Southeast Portland had already grown accustomed to living with little and the citizens of the outer rim and across our many bridges soon moved inward, huddling together near Tent City for warmth, both physical and communal. After it was clear that the embargo of the city was not going to end, more than two weeks without power or supplies, the people grew uneasy. It was then that a few came forward with ideas for how to fight back. The seed had been planted by what had become unanimously referred to as “the enemy,” our former leaders and compatriots in the American way. Like a flower fallen on dry ground blossoming without nourishment or nurturing, the resistance grew stronger each day it went without running water or light. And then they struck. The first attack was on a cargo truck carrying supplies to the soldiers. The attacks to follow were on weak points in the embargo wall, punching holes in their armor to sneak out the weakest of the population, the frail, the young, or the dying. It soon became clear that the resources of the enemy were not as limitless as they appeared. The defenses would spring a leak and each time a detail was sent to seal it up a new one or three or five would appear elsewhere. The resistance grew confident in the knowledge that no one could watch the perimeter of an entire town. In a matter of weeks an underground railroad of couriers, supply runners, and soldiers were traveling in and out of the city, following sewer lines or sneaking out entire task forces on boats hauling trash up and down the Willamette River. 77
A network was assembling, the men were organizing, and the question on everybody’s lips was the same, “How long until the inevitable conflict?” A powder keg was brewing in Portland and the match was finally lit today on the empty pavement of Interstate 84. The people had grown tired of resisting in silence. Covert attacks were not enough. The men and women of the now United Peoples of Portland, loaded for bear, headed out in their respective vehicles and moved like a convoy of rust and wheels to meet the man in charge of the Portland blockade, General Graham Buckner, a decorated war veteran who had already been responsible for one significant death since the first signs of resistance, that of internet journalist Melinda Voice. The plan was solid. Gain the high ground in secret while the troops were distracted by the convoy. Sources say that the initial phase of the plan went over with flying colors. The general and his men turned to face the swarm of metal and humanity moving their way like soldier ants. The convoy, though loaded for bear, arrived at the blockade wall waving white flags. The idea was to parlay for a peaceful end to the conflict. At the wall, the resistance leaders had a simple message, “This can go the easy way or the hard way. Call this off before there is more killing.” General Buckner looked around him as the resistance soldiers made their presence known from the outer walls and overpasses of the silent highway, the high ground was taken and the federal troops were at a clear disadvantage. But a chill ran through the crowd when the general smiled. A rumble in the air stopped time and in a matter of seconds the men were looking up, firing their weapons, or ducking for cover. An Apache helicopter, unmarked and painted black, swept in like a tornado – without warning and with almost as much destructive power. The resistance fighters on the high ground made the choice to fire on the men below, at the chopper above, or to simply retreat. In a hailstorm of fire, bullets, smoke and screams the resistance was torn down, but not before the federal soldiers suffered heavy losses. This was our Shot Heard Round the World. Our Lexington. Our Concord. Our Boston Massacre. And everyone was now looking our way. The Revolution had begun. An amateur photographer was on the scene and the images of the massacre were made public through underground internet sites, shut down by government agencies, but not before they would pop up on another site on another IP Address in another part of the country. The pictures cycled around, the rumors and outrage growing. It wasn’t long before other cities were fighting back against local troops, before other towns were blockaded as terrorist hot spots. There was no other word for what was happening. There IS no other word for what is happening. Rebellion.
On Screen 4, Audrey checks the mail at Hollywood Bungalow. The television mutters in the background as Cedric and Naomi letterpress the new issue of The Informer. The pages speak of government corruption, the end of Democracy, rumors of civil war, and the subtle increases in corporate power. The news shows footage of violent uprisings against police across the country. The National Guard attacks resistance fighters in Alabama. Next there’s amateur video of citizens ambushing military freight from the bayous and lakes of the Louisiana back country. The war had started, only it was an odd marriage of right wing gun nuts defending radical protesters against the right wing gun nuts in Washington. The ideological poles were shifting. Formerly conservative southerners were turning to liberal ideals in the face of corporate tyranny while the conservatives in power became more brutal in their resolve to maintain the status quo. The news jumps to footage of bikers, truck drivers and construction workers fighting shoulder to shoulder against troops or shooting down UAVs buzzing silently overhead.
“Can you believe this shit?” Cedric yells from his office.
“I know, right?” Naomi yells back, stacking papers sloppily.
Behind their conversation, the television cuts to a clip of the president giving a speech. Cedric says, “Have you seen Austin, Texas? It looks like German-occupied France.” McKinley, mid-speech, says, “…only through the grace of God can man become good. Evil must not be allowed to roam free any longer. The Portland bombing and the violence embroiling the country as we speak is further proof of man’s corruptible nature.” Naomi says, “We’ve got photographs linking to the site of a new barricade east of LA, separating us from the entertainment tycoons. Seattle to San Diego is just one big wall to prevent an escape by sea. Between that and the borders of Canada and Mexico under military guard they’ve effectively turned America into one big prison.” McKinley says, “I have declared a state of emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has allocated troops to enforce a national curfew on every major city. Local police in smaller towns are being called upon to do the same. The words ‘martial law’ and ‘Democracy’ have never made good bed fellows, but these desperate times have left us with little choice. We must defend our homeland...” Cedric steps out of his office and says, “Just got word. Congress is demanding more cutbacks on the war overseas. Apparently they can’t afford it anymore, but McKinley offered his private fortune to cover the deficit.” Naomi says, “You know what this means, right? McKinley just bought the military and set up FEMA as his jailers.” 79
Audrey walks in, mouth hanging open, and says, “My God, I can’t believe it. The twisted son of a bitch really did it…”
“Did what?” Naomi asks.
“I have a new identity. Joe Vagrant made me a new person.”
“Messianic undertones aside,” Cedric smirks, “what exactly does that mean?” Audrey says, “It means exactly that– new social security number, new driver’s license, new name. I’m Audrey Blake now.” Cedric whistles low, “Lee Vagabond ain’t kidding. How the hell does Joe do the crazy things he does?” “I don’t know, but I love him for it. Joe’s hacker baptism makes me feel a little less like there’s a hairy griffin on my back waiting to bite my head off if I twitch wrong.” Naomi laughs, “There’s an image. You’re weird. I think he’s rubbed off on you.”
“Who, she asks, who... Joe Vagrant, silly. You’re starting to talk like him.” On Screen 6, Joe and Beardo sit together in a dive diner over key lime pie and black coffee. It’s over a month since leaving Portland. Smoke lingers around the ceiling like the Passover Ghost. Outside, the Gremlin has been replaced by a VW bus, the 80s model, not the cool retro kind that every hippie wishes he had. After the Badlands caper they figured it was time to trade vehicles in case their plates were flagged. Which they were. Beardo got them a straight swap with a construction buddy in Moab. Their show was more packed than ever. No flyers, no announcements, they just spread the word through the friendships made while performing, road bonds sealed with poverty and affection – their own musical Underground Railroad. The news, the cops, they’re always a day behind. Lee, appearing from the back and sitting with a grunt, says, “Okay, the arrangements have been made. Your guy really came through, Joe.” “Not me. White Whale,” Joe says, “Our guardian angel ever since the Voice got popped.” “Yeah, well,” Lee shrugs, “The money’s secure. All our royalties, album sales, everything automated and online was moved to several offshore accounts. It’s time we start fighting fire with fire. The Enemy has hidden money overseas and dodged taxes for decades. Now no one can take away what we’ve earned. We’re making our own world. Our own rules.” 80
“And?” Joe asks, “What about the other thing.”
“What other thing?” Beardo asks, suddenly feeling out of the loop.
“Half our royalties are going to Hollywood Bungalow to fund The Informer.” Joe opens a small Altoids box, pops three mints simultaneously, and leans back like he’s going downhill on a roller coaster. He says, “I’m going in, boys. Don’t mind me.” Lee says, “I also set them up as our beneficiaries in case anything happens to us.” Beardo says, “Damn, it’s that serious? I’ll remember us in my prayers from now on.”
“That’s America, boys. Yeah, it’s that serious.”
They sit in silence and then, with little warning, Joe half-shouts, “Oh, Jesus, God, I can see it all. They’re using the internet to watch us, all of us, they build personality profiles based on our searches, our emails, what we put on our social networking sites, our resumés... they’re tracking us up there, man.”
“Up there?” Beardo says.
“Don’t ask,” Lee shrugs. Turning to Joe he pats his hand and says, “Joe, will you stop dropping acid and come down off of that street lamp?” “Street lamp? Am I on a street lamp again? I swear this looks like a diner if Nickelodeon did the interior decorating and who the hell are all these people?”
“That wasn’t very nice,” Beardo says, grinning under his beard.
“Probably not, but it was funny.”
They drop some cash and a big tip and move to the VW with their heads down. Three steps out the door Joe says, “My God, are we there yet? I feel like we’ve been walking forever already.”
Lee and Beardo laugh and say, “Two more hours.”
Back in the van, Joe says, “We should be able to keep on this highway and hit Colorado by morning. I know a guy in Durango that can set us up with a gig and a place to stay. He runs this art commune down there, recording equipment, studio space, that kind of thing. We’ll have to go in under an assumed name, you know? Reveal ourselves once we’re on stage. Keep it quiet for a little while.”
“That’s cool, man. I understand your boy needs to protect himself,” Lee 81
says, “Plausible deniability. We can go in as the Last Minute Dukes, the way we did in Tulsa last month. We could use certain band names as code so the promoters can say they didn’t know better, yeah?” Beardo says, “Lee, goddammit, stop encouraging him. Joe, you know we’re in South Dakota, right?” “What? No, we can’t be in South Dakota. I got priors, man, I have to stay at least fifty feet away from South Dakota or I’m in violation of my parole.” “Joe, shut up and go to sleep, you’re killing us,” Lee says with his eyes closed, slumped down in the passenger seat.
“Fine, but only because I want to.”
After driving silently for about half an hour, Lee says, “Beardo, I don’t wanna trouble Joe with this, but, between you and me, it’s getting harder and harder to line up gigs. Our record sales are through the roof, but no one wants to book us for obvious reasons. I hate it, but it may be time to pack it in. I mean, these shows are our only way of helping people, we bring crowds to venues, share our earnings with the poor... without that, hell, we’re just another internet band raking in dough from digital downloads.” Lee falls asleep and I fast-forward to him jumping awake in his chair abruptly. Beardo asks if he’s all right and Lee shrugs his shoulders saying, “Bad dream. Saw Joe getting dragged away screaming by police. I got clubbed over the head. They shot him right in front of me. I took a gun and got one on his knees – put a bullet in the back of his head. It felt so real, like somehow I know I really would do something like that for him, you know?” “You care about him a lot, don’t you? You guys are tighter than most brothers. I can see why fan forums are always buzzing with questions of a romance.” “Shut up, we ain’t queer. Besides, Joe’s head over heels for Audrey. Always has been. He’s never even noticed another girl.”
“He’s a strange guy, your friend. Not too sure about him sometimes.”
“You know what kind of guy he is? When we were kids I used to have to look after my Autistic cousin. I mean all the time – day, night, everything. It got so I didn’t have a life or nothing. One summer I had some cash and really wanted to take a road trip down to California. But I couldn’t get away...”
“On account of the cousin, sure.”
“My aunt, the lady that looked after me, she said I could go if I found someone to watch Johnny but after a week of asking around I was coming up empty. The plan was for me and Joe to go together, see? But old Joe, what he did was he told me I should just go, that he’d stay behind and look after the kid. And he did. For two straight weeks he watched that kid just so I could 82
see the ocean.”
“That turd sleeping in our back seat did that for you?”
“Yessir, it might be hard to imagine now, but Joe’s always been there for me. And I’ll always be there for him. We owe each other. He’s going through a rough patch, there’s things happening to his mind we don’t understand. But he’s still good. And that’s all that matters. It ain’t who’s cool, or what you have in common, or chemistry, money, or smarts, in the end there’s only two kinds of people.”
“Those who think there’s two kinds of people and those who don’t?”
“Heh, Tom Robbins, nice. No! I’m saying there’s just good or bad. That’s it. And bad ain’t the same as evil. Understand? Bad is just like the guy that walks through the subway platform without trying to make his shoulders skinny so he don’t knock people down or people that cut you off on the road and then slow down just ‘cause they wanna be ahead of you. Bad is just lazy and good means you work.”
“What’s evil then?”
“Evil is what you get when the good quit trying and go bad, it needs bad people to thrive because no one has to create it, it’s just there all the time, all’s you gotta do is nothing and it expands like a crack in your windshield.”
I cut the feed.
Back in Portland, Audrey has gathered some of the more serious artist types from the People’s Republic and has begun working to coordinate efforts creatively and politically with The Informer. They start publishing fiction along with a spotlight on a different visual artist every week, interviews, and tons more. They distribute online and put an artist’s spin on the state of things today. When word got out that the People’s Republic was becoming more and more of an art commune, under the focused direction of a friend of the Johnny High-Fives, the site went viral overnight. It looked like they might pull it off, uniting people through creation rather than destruction, hope rather than fear. Writing for The Informer, Audrey goes on to say, “Orwell had it right, only now, today, our hope isn’t in the proles, it’s with the artists, the DIY-ers, the self-made people rising up from the muck of the 99% to create their own market like an oasis in the desert of America where they can live and thrive.” Joe checks in with Cedric by phone and finds himself doing an impromptu interview for The Informer’s music blog. Cedric asks, “So, Joe, you’re out there, boldly going where no other band would dare try to play and the people love you for it. But we want to know what you’re seeing out there? What’s it like?”
Joe says, “More and more people are looking your way. The Tent City 83
concept is being cloned around the country. Any place that’s too expensive to survive as lower middle class Americans or college grads that can’t get work on account of living in a prison state or the elderly that have their pensions cut and can’t find a job, they all start pulling together and building microcommunities. Their resources become more and more communal, you know? They’re relying on each other instead of cash. What cash they have, to hear them tell it, is getting taxed right out of them to fund our many wars while our leaders do nothing for the suffering of their own people. Me and Lee were in Lubbock last week playing a gig and I met this older guy by the name of Nathaniel. He goes by Nate and works as an organic farmer. He started growing to feed his family and maybe earn a little green, only now everything Nate grows is seized by the government. Everything.” “I’ve heard about this,” Cedric says, “When the west became a prison it effectively became a work farm from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. Any resources generated belong to the state.” “And people are complying, mainly because they want to get to the other side and the only way to do that is to work and prove your ‘faith bears fruit’ as the ELECT people describe it. More and more it looks like the old caste days you read about in India and whatnot, you know?” “Yes,” Cedric replies, “the lower castes were told that if they worked hard in their given station they would earn rewards that would be repaid to them in the next life, allowing for rebirth one level up the ladder. It was, in effect, just crowd control, making sure the rich stayed rich and the poor stayed working.” “Well, here we go again, right?” Joe says, “But they’re the lawmakers, they’re the writers of our history. To hear Nate tell it, they’re trying to control the food source to keep us under control. See this corporation, CGA, the Christian General Assembly, bought up all the land and all the farms in Nate’s area saying it will be used to minister to the poor and the hungry, but they’re letting people like Nate stay on and work it. Got me?”
“Sounds like sharecropping in the days after Emancipation.”
“It kind of is, but instead of freed slaves paying white landowners, we’re all paying up to corporations that turn around and fund our leadership. That’s just one example, but people are taking what little they have left and they’re sharing it. You know how they say humanity’s at its best just after a tragedy? Remember how it was after that religious rally bombing? People united in the rebuilding, they united in their hearts...” “They united so much McKinley fed them God and ended separation of church and state.” “Point taken,” Joe says, “But my point is still valid. What I’m trying to say is there’s a different kind of catastrophe out there and it isn’t bombings or war, it’s just the destructive wave of economy. The rich keep taking more 84
and instead of fighting each other, people are coming together in order to survive.”
“You know what that sounds like, Joe?”
“It sounds like the days leading up to the French Revolution.”
“Viva le Resistance? Maybe in theory. But in person it looks more like feudalism. Everyone lives in more and more concentrated areas, forming communes, villages, and paying out their entire income to corporate nobility.” “Neo-feudalism,” Cedric says, “you may be onto something. The worst cases of feudalism have always had a religious backing asserting that God ordained them to be in charge. And now look at us, a former pastor for a president, leading his flock to the edge of a cliff.”
“And on over.”
Two hours after The Informer posts this interview the site gets shut down. In that time there were over a million hits. The message had been sent. The damage was done.
I cut to Joe’s Thought Chip playback.
He’s in a funhouse maze. It’s eerie, disjointed and haunting like a bad trip. The walls move like liquid. Colors change at random. There’s the voice of a cackling clown that may or may not be Mark Hammill’s Joker. Every time Joe passes a mirror he sees himself at a different age, a different monster standing behind him like a totem of fear – aliens, hell fire, the damning finger of God, rejection from the woman of your dreams, an Orwellian military force storming streets in a phalanx of boots and riot shields waving the campaign flags that read: Vote McKinley King of America. Joe opens a door and it’s the white room, the room where he was implanted – his abduction narrative. Only there’s still this fun house vibe, magic mirrors are spaced at odd intervals around the clean room and a circus sign with a light up arrow pointing to the table reads, “Have a seat and discover the mysteries of the universe.” Joe gulps and lies down. The mirrors become computer monitors streaming line after line of tech code. He’s accessing something, I can’t tell what. I slow down the feed and can translate enough code to make out a few stray words, “Warehouse...5.15...Omaha...2:30...” They’re going to Omaha. I’m already digging through the records to find the footage. Joe, still on the table, looks away from the monitors and locks eyes with Mr. Smiles. He says, “Joe, they’re getting close. They’re waiting for you. Get 85
off the interstate. Now.” A voice breaks into Joe’s dream that says, “Hey, you awake?” Joe is back in the VW, groggy and rubbing his eyes violently. He says, “Yeah, what’s up? My turn to drive?” “We’re coming up on a town. Think we’re safe to pull off for some grub?” Lee asks, seeming nervous behind the wheel.
“I said, you hungry? We’re almost to civilization.”
Joe shakes his head, “No. Warning bells. Something. Gotta get outta here. They’ll be on us in less than seven miles. We gotta get back on the dead highways.”
Dead Highways. I don’t know this term. I access vernacular via RITA’s subsystem dictionary and type, “Dead Highways.” There’s a number of definitions but the most likely seems to be number three: Federal and state governments pull funding for rural roads in 2021, by 2024 the only government funded roads are major interstates, the “infrastructure” of the American shipping system. City roads are owned by local government and many larger metropolises accept corporate sponsorship (see roads: Los Angeles, New York). Thoroughfares without ownership, policing, funding, or maintenance are dubbed “dead roads” by the populace. Joe, breaking into my train of thought like a burglar, sings, “I was just a lad nearly twenty-two.” I can only assume the crime rate skyrockets on these dead roads, but it’s a no-brainer for anyone fleeing the law.
“Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you.”
On Screen 3 the VW flicks on the blinker. Lee exits without thought or question. He’s learned to trust Joe’s weird tips and instincts even if he doesn’t understand them.
“And now I’m lost, too late to pray.”
The quiet side street leads into a grove of trees. Beyond it they see a road block with red and blue flashing lights and the whole big, bad, theatrical production.
“Lord, I think I’m lost on the Lost Highway.”
They breathe a shared sigh of relief and Lee shakes his head, troubled. 86
I’m ignoring you. I’m ignoring you, la, la, la...
“I don’t know how you do it,” Lee says, “But I’m glad you do.”
Phantom Joe is howling a foot from my ear, “You’ll curse the day you started roaming that Lost Highway.” Thank God no one can hear this but me. When my Thought Chip record gets reviewed there’s going to be some serious explaining to do.
Meanwhile, back in the VW, Joe says, “He asleep?”
“Yeah, out like a dragon.”
“I did it again, Lee. This time it was a fun house and that table. I sat in it.”
“You did what?”
“Yeah, I laid down and saw the whole internet like a country from way up high. The thing is… it’s divided up into lots of smaller countries. We’re only living in one small part of it and everything else is used by Them.”
“Yeah, working for the government. We think the internet makes us free, gives us a world of possibilities, but the thing is, it’s still a cage. We’re hemmed into one manageable corner of it just as sure as Audrey was caged up in that camp. But I got under the wall. I sent a message to anyone able to receive it.”
“More hackers? This again?”
“Yeah, I said we needed to take this techie war to the next level. We need to unite. You’ll never guess where I hid the message. It’s on Their side of the internet, waiting to alert anyone on our side that makes it through. It tells them to be in Omaha in two days. Think we can swing a show?”
“We can always swing a show.”
So Joe has been using the band and their never-ending tour as a cover to seek out hackers. And with very little luck it sounds like. He’s resorted to dream hacking the whole internet just to find them. How’d I miss this? Omaha again, it’s always Omaha. I cut the feed. Now it’s tomorrow. Audrey has arranged a communal flea market for every artist and wannabe craftsman in Tent City. With McKinley’s newest talking point equating non-taxpayers to his “economic terrorists” Tent City never needed cash more. No money for the tax man means “goodbye, People’s Republic.” But the attraction of such places to the wealthy and privileged outside the city inspires a sort of tourism boom and they manage to get by, even with the government occupation lingering at the edges of every street. 87
Audrey gets patted on the back as a visionary, a savior of what Lee likes to call “Thunderdome.” Cedric sells his magazine. Audrey has handmade jewelry and clothing for sale. It’s put together from what someone else might consider trash or junk – old watch parts, washers, keys, springs, cogs or sparkplugs reshaped into necklace charms and bracelets. Abandoned tent walls, recycled garments, and car interior get repurposed as dresses, shirts or pants.
The upper crust tourist clientele eat it up.
Naomi sells chandeliers and lamps made from discarded bottles. Her little booth also features a lot of intricate oil paintings depicting the female form. It looks like she used herself as the model. The one nearest my camera shows a woman sprawled nude over a man, their arms extended vertically overhead, their fingers intertwined passionately. His legs go straight down, hers out at diagonals. The bed is round and their shapes, portrayed from above, make a perfect peace sign. In other corners of the market there’s organic produce, handmade blades, mosaic furniture, dream catchers, hemp necklaces, ceramics, or the occasional self-published literature printed by Cedric and his team. It looks like they might do it. Audrey flops down beside Cedric, sweating in that way that only women can, making her tanned skin shine like gold in a river. It’s that weird way a woman can sweat from overwork and come away looking like a perfume ad, whereas Cedric, only one chair over, looks like the “before” in a before and after photo. He says, “You impress me. Artists are usually a solitary bunch, but you pulled them together in a way I haven’t seen before. You knew that if everybody came together to help each other they’d end up helping themselves too.” “Yeah, well, I can’t take credit. It’s something Joe and Lee have been saying for years. We learned it from the Book of Acts. The way the early church people pooled their wealth in order to survive. There’s actually a lot of socialistic concepts in the New Testament, it’s funny how we glaze over things like that nowadays, focusing instead on the rewards in heaven, the crowns awarded to the righteous or the streets of gold. When you look at the Christian description of the afterlife it really just looks like the capitalist’s wet dream.” Cedric laughs, “When you put it that way it’s no big mystery why our fair president has made ‘bringing America back to God’ the core of his administration.” “It’s not just heaven, either. Take tithing, the whole concept trains us to be comfortable with paying out a portion of our salary to institutions, once you’ve caved to the church it’s an easy step up to government.”
“Or both in one, the beast with two heads we’re rapidly evolving into.” 88
“Anyway, what are we gonna do about our site getting shut down?”
“First up, never underestimate the power of print. Archaic as the letterpress might be, it’s one thing they can’t take from us. It’s hands on power that can’t be censored or deleted with a push of a button. But I’ve been thinking of going another route. Radio.”
“Can we do that?” she asks.
“We can do anything, we’re poor.”
Audrey laughs, slapping her thigh aggressively, an oddly masculine gesture for her tiny feminine frame. She says, “Like a bunch of rolling stones. When you ain’t got nothing you got nothing to lose.” “We’d broadcast at minimal wattage and still reach a lot of people because so few frequencies are in use. I mean, that’s the way it works, the more power behind the signal the more you trump other people on that same signal. But with so many stations down it has to be pretty easy to pirate a broadcast, you know? Sure the corporations own the airwaves and you’re supposed to pay for airtime and blah, blah, blah, but how hard could it be?”
“You want to hack the airwaves and broadcast our message?”
“Yeah, is that so crazy?”
“It’s totally crazy, but that’s why it’ll work.”
“So you like the idea then?”
“You kidding? I love it,” Audrey smiles, patting Cedric on the knee, “How long do you think we’ll last before they jam our signal?” “A day, maybe two. At least until they start looking for us. Portland and the outlying areas have dozens of abandoned towers. We’d just go from one to the next, broadcasting at different frequencies along the way. If the heat gets too much for us we go to the next town, just stay on the air.” Audrey asks, “And what about me and Naomi? Can we keep up the art troupe – creating, writing, all that? It really is helping. Not everything has to be political.” “Yes, keep that up too, mainly because everything shouldn’t be political. If we aren’t creating a vision of a better world then why bother complaining about a bad one?” I cut the feed and make some notes. A few keystrokes and I’m back on Joe. He’s having another dream. 400 miles outside of Omaha in body, but his mind, right now, is walking into a noir looking little dream town, black and white, rain falling in long white lines. Little yellow boxes narrate his movements: 89
He says, “You got a message for me?”
The bartender replies, “What? Why would I… and you are?”
The little man looks behind his counter and pulls out a small leatherbound book. He opens it up, flips a few pages and let’s out this sort of “ahha” noise, then says, “Well, I’ll be damned. It says right here, ‘Stranger from out of town,’ that must be you.”
“Well? You gonna give it to me or drool all over it?”
“Apologies, sir,” the bartender says. He pours a glass of whiskey and says, “Here, on the house for your trouble.”
The stranger downs it in one gulp and reads his message:
We’ll be there. Watch for jockeys. 90
Joe shoots awake in the back seat and says, “Lee, I got it.”
“They’re gonna be there.”
“Who… what are you talking about?” Beardo asks.
“Oh, don’t encourage him,” Lee sighs.
“I made contact with the hacker underground. They’re coming. They told me the signs to watch for and everything. My long search is finally ending and it’ll happen in Omaha.”
Beardo turns to Lee and says, “You do realize he’s insane, don’t you?”
“I do, yes, but I can’t help it, I love the poor bastard. See, Joe has had it in his head for years that his dead father…”
“He’s not dead!”
“His absentee, never before seen father wants him to find the men behind the Hack War.” “You think your Ghost Dad wants you to find a bunch of domestic terrorists, the most wanted criminals since the jihadis? You must be crazy.” “Oh, it gets better,” Lee says, “He’s been sending out messages for more than two years, hoping somebody would find him at one of our shows. He’s even got his hopes up a few times, one of them being the day we met you in Wyoming. You came right up to us out of the crowd. I think poor Joe here was convinced you were one of them.” “I’m still not convinced he ain’t,” Joe says from the back of the VW, “He could be a sleeper agent, making sure we’re worthy of meeting his leadership.” “Shut up, Joe. When Joe sent out that wave of emails for the Badlands show I think he was secretly hoping somebody imbedded in the crowd might be a hacker.” “They probably were!” Joe shouts, “And they would have met me too if it weren’t for those FEMA assholes or whatever they were showing up. Had to be FEMA, they’ve just been prepared, waiting in the ranks, fully equipped to take over and run their own shadow government and now… ZANG! We’re their bitches. Their real task, on the books, is maintaining the country in the event of system wide failure. I’m betting it’s them pushing this country to the brink. It’s them that shot Melinda.” “Whatever, Joe, your conspiracies aren’t as fresh as you think. Anyway, Beardo, now we’re going to Omaha to meet another dismal failure that’s supposed to be the secret infrastructure behind it all.” 91
“Hey, I’m not crazy. Somebody’s out there punching holes in the government’s internet security, breaking down the censorship and shit. I know it ain’t me. Is it you, Beardo?”
“I’m no hacker.”
“Yeah, yeah, you just keep telling us that, your secret’s safe – for now…”
“Joe, how much drugs are you on right now?”
“Scale of 1 to 10? Some.”
I fast-forward. On Screen 2, the Johnny High-Fives, disguised as Secret Squirrel and the Morocco Moles, are playing a set outside of Omaha, Nebraska. Lee sings, “Gather ye round, you Corporate Huns, I’ll show you the doom of your future sons…” Joe stares anxiously into the crowd, searching for his hacker and rolling a marching drum beat on his snare. Beardo plucks along steadily, that sort of train rolling bass line that doesn’t change, is easily overlooked, but unites the sounds together without even getting detected. He’s up there doing the bass player dance, that one they all do. Stiff as a board with a hinge at the hips, legs locked, torso going back and forth, back and forth. Lee sings eerily, slowly, “And as the bodies heap up by the tons I’ll watch as your wax stone building runs down through the street on the people it shuns and I see America burning like hell-born nuns…” I scan the field through the digital record, but there’s nothing, no evidence of an army of hackers waiting to be called up by their tech-brained leader. They hit the chorus and the music doubles in tempo and feels like a hard run, Lee suddenly wailing, “You Marks of the Beast, you Myth Pilgrim Feast, a swinging axe should be yours at the least. Just slam down the blade til your plans have all ceased. Let me tell you one truth, you’re the Mark of the Beast, but you think you’re God’s second coming in the East…” RITA’s facial recognition software doesn’t queue up any serious red flags in the crowd. There’s some draft dodgers, a few dozen college dropouts, a sea of liberal arts students from nearby schools, a handful of aspiring indie journalists, and a hell of a lot of cameras, but no wanted hackers or serious criminal records. It seems strange. After a kind of intense, industrial sort of bridge the tempo drops back down and Joe’s drumming is like a sledgehammer on a kettle, slow and steady, calling to mind imagery of the machines that built the world they’re protesting. The guitar is shrill, fed through some kind of distortion that feels like welding equipment on the ears, but somehow stays musical. And Beardo’s still doing the bass player dance.
Lee grumbles, “Listen in close, Wall Street Conquistadors, you’re 92
spreading like vapor up through people’s floors, you’re moving en masse under the cracks of our doors and grabbing our children to work in your stores, feeding the needy to make them your whores but you need to remember the grave you’re digging is yours.” Slowing now, almost like a dead march to the gallows, all three of them stomp their feet to the beat of Joe’s drum and the guitar gently plucks somber as Lee sings, “You Marks of the Beast, you Myth Peace Talk Feast, a swinging noose should be yours at the least. Just slam down the trap door till your kicking has ceased. Let me tell you the truth, you’re the Mark of the Beast, for trying to sell War and own Peace.” Joe slams the sticks flat on the snare – a metallic note of finality and you can almost see the door open and the faceless villain twitching at the end of the rope. There’s a hush in the song, hanging like the hum after a bomb, that electric silence, then Lee picks up the melody again, as quietly as possible, and sings like a street busking troubadour, alone, “So follow me down, you Corporate Huns, I’ll teach you the fury of my future sons and as the death sentences mass by the tons I’ll watch the sure fate of he who runs down through the street past the people he shuns and I dream of my world turning its back on your guns.” The crowd goes ape shit as the song fades out and the lights go with it. I cut the feed.
Here they are loading the van.
“…yeah, but are we doing any good?” Beardo asks, tossing in a few cymbals noisily, “Are we making a difference or just capitalizing on a bad situation?” “Who cares?” Lee says, “I mean that’s America, right? If we ever get caught and they try to say we’re communists or terrorists or jihadis or whatever we can at least say, no sir, we’re hardcore capitalists, look at how we lived.” “Not so sure that’s a good thing, guys,” Joe shrugs, “I mean, somehow I’m bettin’ keep your friends close and your enemies closer doesn’t mean turning into them. Remember our Bible, ‘Be careful hunting monsters, lest you become one yourself, for when you stare into the Abyss, the Abyss also stares into you.’”
“Is that from Batman?” Beardo asks.
“No, dummy. It’s Nietzsche.”
Lee says, “Will you two stop fisting each other over there and help me get this amp in the van? Anyway, sorry your hacker convention didn’t work out, Joe. Maybe something happened that spooked ‘em. You know, like they saw all the cameras or something.” 93
“Yeah, another letdown, I’m about ready to give up. This is what? Number fourteen? I keep sending out beacons but no one’s picking them up. Kind of makes me feel like that guy waterskiing and he goes down, you know, out there, just way out there, all alone in the water with his little orange flag up in the air waiting for the boat to…” He stops. They have company. Two guys, a short fat one and a tall thin one. They look like Abbott and Costello Meets the Kentucky Derby. The fat guy has a chin goatee and a buzzed haircut while the guy beside him sports long, mangy dreadlocks and a full beard like a Rasta Jesus. They’re standing there like a couple idiots in brightly colored jockey uniforms complete with the crop whip and shiny boots. The tall one, approximately in his mid-twenties, says, “Sorry, guy, we totally missed the show – been driving around forever already.” The short one, fortyish, says, “Yeah, we had a hell of a time finding jockey uniforms for rent. Did you know Omaha was practically out of business? I mean the whole place. We drove around forever looking for a costume shop.” Joe says, “Why’d you guys tell me to watch for jockeys if you didn’t have the costumes?” Tall guy says, “Trip here’s always pushing for jockey getup, don’t know why, but after three years of running scams and hiding our identities I couldn’t really tell him no, could I?” “Oh, no, how could you? I mean, that would make too much sense,” Lee says, turning his back casually, sticking his tongue out and flashing a thumbs-down sign at Joe. Beardo cuts in, “Hold up, you’re telling me this is for real, like for real for real? You guys got Joe’s message?”
“Um, yeah, didn’t you?” the tall guy asks.
Beardo and Lee break into a fit of laughter, slapping each other’s shoulders and feigning like they’re about to fall over. Beardo howls, “Oh, this is priceless. This is your hacker army, Joe? AVENGERS ASSEMBLE! These guys are going to topple the evil empire? Seriously? Two guys, fucking Laurel and Hardy, are gonna change the world.” Trip, the short fat guy, says, “You don’t actually mean you thought there’d be more of us, do you?” Joe shrugs, “Well, yeah, I’ve been trying for years to unite the whole army. I mean, it’s all over the news, the president’s always talking about the hackers destroying America’s economy and how they’re…”
“Wait, you heard it on the news?” Trip says. 94
“And you believed it?”
Now all four of them are laughing and Joe stands there looking frustrated and just stammers, “I had my reasons. You guys are seriously all there is?” “We’re all we know about,” the tall guy says, “There’s one more, but he’s nuts.” Joe asks, “But all this talk on the news, the Hack War, the president making tech protests a federal offense, it’s all been going on since I was a kid. You’re telling me…”
“Fake,” tall guy says.
“Totally drummed up,” Trip cuts in, “Well, maybe not totally. There could’ve been a time, before us, when hackers really were fighting back enough to get the last president scared, but he’s gone now and so are the people he was fighting. Hell, most hackers nowadays are either dead, locked away God knows where, or got religion.”
“What’s religion got to do with it?” Beardo asks, a little defensive.
Lee sings, “‘What’s religion got to do, got to do, got to do with it?’ Remember in the gospels where Jesus says you’re not supposed to oppose your kings? Like God put them there and who are you to question God? Don’t challenge authority, obey. Built right into the fabric of every major religion is some system that enables the powerful to keep their strength. Why do you think me and Joe chucked faith and became rebels?” “I just figured your pastor diddled you as kids or something, that’s the usual story.” Joe makes like he wants to rush Beardo but Lee stops him and says, “Easy, he’s right. That is the usual story.” The tall guy says, “Call me Rash. And no jokes about my name. It looks like maybe you boys been on the road together too long, am I right? Emotions running hot, nerves a little thin? Maybe we can freshen up the party. Where we going?”
“What?” Lee asks.
“Well, you got us here,” Rash says, “What do you want?”
“Yeah, Joe,” Lee says, “What do you want?”
Joe hesitates, everything on his face says he hasn’t thought about it and there’s no Mr. Smiles to tell him the next step – after all this time he clams up now. Maybe he’s disappointed in the turn out or, given this new information, he doesn’t have a use for Joe after all. 95
“Proof,” Joe says, “We need proof. It’s obvious they aren’t really afraid of us, if anything they need the hackers, right? But what if we had proof that the war was a lie? The propaganda shifted, first the jihadists and the hackers were two threats to America, then they became one and the same. Now it’s pretty much you’re a conservative, Christian, right wing militant crank or you’re a techno terrorist. But what if we could prove the lie? There is no Hack War, no real reason to be afraid.” “Built on a lie…” Lee says, “That’s America, the tapestry unravels. But how do ya do it?” Trip says, “We go south. The church’s corporate headquarters, the CGA, is in Dallas and everything indicates the power’s shifting their way. Rash and I found records, money trails, not enough to implicate, sure, but enough to imply… The CGA is funding FEMA. McKinley bought himself an army.”
“Why would a church group want to buy an army?” Lee asks.
“Think about it. This country is a mission field and now it has a captive audience. It’s like the Spanish coming to America and enslaving the Indians. First they round them up, then they preach, teach them English... if the goal is conversion, even by force, then of course they’d want an occupying army. And their headquarters is like a guard tower...”
“Focus, Trip,” Rash cuts in, “You’re over-explaining again.”
“Right, sorry. I do that… something to do with how much information my weird brain is processing, you know? Like, when I was a kid…”
“Right. The trail indicates that, as federal funding wavers, President McKinley is offering more money to maintain the system. His own personal fortune gets him pretty far, but where he can’t keep up or pull the weight that’s where the church comes in. See, they’ve been funding relief efforts to feed America’s hungry and homeless which empowered them to buy out huge agricultural firms, even major crop industries, R&D companies, you name it. In feeding America the church corporate now owns most of the food source.” “What my esteemed colleague is trying to say,” Rash says, “and what he’s painfully left out is your so-called elected officials have been required to be men of faith, by law, for over ten years, part of being men of faith is tithing. So, ten percent of government income is being funneled into church corporate which is then going on to purchase, fund or even invest in whatever it wants. In other words, the government works for them now, we don’t like to think about it and we ain’t supposed to say it, but the government has been privatized since you guys were probably still in grade school. But because the same people own the media nobody talks about it. In other words, we need to go to Dallas and turn over some stones.” 96
“You boys feel like a road trip?” Lee says, suddenly energized, the joke of Joe’s search disappearing behind at least one true conspiracy theory. Rash says, “Hoped you’d say that. We caught a bus here from Chicago and weren’t much looking forward to the trip back.” Joe says, “Well, this ain’t gonna be any more comfortable, but at least it’ll be interesting.” I hit fast-forward. They head south down Highway 71, a dead road pockmarked with potholes and sinkholes and road kill on the way to Arkansas. They sleep that night in their van, halfway between Kansas City and Little Rock, parked safely at an abandoned factory surrounded by overgrown trees. Cigarette smoke accents their voices as they talk into the night, wondering what the day will bring, drinking beers and talking about friends back in Portland – hoping they are safe. Beardo says, “Maybe I’m the only one thinking this so I’m just gonna throw it out there, feel free to throw it right back. Dallas? Texas? Isn’t part of the deal that we have to stay away from big cities with a lot of cameras and cops and corporate interests and folks looking for us?” “Wait, you mean you don’t know?” Lee laughs, “My God, this is amazing, finally some political nugget we know that you don’t. You’ve been rubbing my nose in it forever let me just kinda waft this in… bask in it for a minute...” “The DFW Metroplex is going under,” Joe cuts in, “Dallas is still holding its own, but Fort Worth is a ghost town and the outlying commuter towns are pretty much abandoned. I’ve seen the footage. It looks like a zombie movie or something.” “All right, so we go,” Beardo shrugs, “We still need a cover story. Do we have a gig out there or are we just driving into enemy territory, last known hackers on earth in tow, without a plan or cover?”
Rash says, “Oh, sweet of you to say, but yeah, we both have records, it’s true.”
Lee says, “Got a line on a gig out in Coppell. There’s an abandoned kiddie park right off I-35 that’s become a sort of refugee camp for people out on their asses after the DFW collapse. The leader of the place is this guy named Dick Benton, he’s kind of a shyster but he’s sympathetic to our plight. We met him last year in Rockwell at his bar, remember?”
“Oh, yeah, he was… no,” Joe says, dropping his head, “I don’t remember.”
“Yeah, well, now he’s in this hobo camp and in less than six months he’s practically running the whole damn place like some kind of mafia don or some shit.” Beardo says, “Okay, okay. I trust your instincts, guys. We do the Coppell show. What’s the expected turnout and this’ll have to be a codename gig.” 97
Trip says, “Hang on, hang on. Codename gig? What’s a codename gig? Rash, how come we never get codenames? These guys are doing serious spy shit and you got me in a jockey costume. Which, by the way, I’m not getting that deposit back on because, obviously, they’re stolen…” Joe interrupts, “We use fake band names. It’s something we’ve done more and more over the years. Lots of people out there are looking to arrest the boys from the Johnny High-Fives for more reasons than we care to count.” “Yeah,” Lee laughs, “You remember that time when we impersonated Mormon missionaries so we could get into that Provo gig?” “I remember you going home with a little blonde thing that wanted to give you a zillion brainwashed babies.” “Dude, Mormon girls are hot, that must be how they get so many seemingly intelligent people to fall for that bogus religion. Too bad the government bought em out, what is the temple now like a bank or something?”
“It’s a federal reserve,” Rash says.
“Yeah,” Joe says, dripping something on his tongue with a medicine dropper, “but I have it on good authority they’re not storing gold, they’re hoarding food for the end times.” Beardo interrupts, “Guys, can we get on task please? Can I assume you’ve lined up the codename with Benton?” Lee grunts, almost choking on his beer, and says, “Oh, yeah, that’s all prearranged. We go in as Multiverse Bank Account. This is a new crowd for us and we’re pretty close to a main road so the scene should be pretty hopping. We’ll probably bring in some good cash on this one.” Joe says, “Cool, great, let’s do it. Now, if you boys will excuse me, I’m about to trip balls and talk to the ghost of my father.” Slowly, in the way common to all late night discussion, voices drop out one by one until a single thinker realizes his audience is gone. Then silence falls, sleep moves in like a hunter and they give in to darkness without a fight.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders #9eRRSEPT :: 00J0E30879PM Screen 3 has the Johnny High Fives playing the little arcade park in Coppell, Texas. Lee starts plucking a light riff and sings, calmly, a little sad, “I felt the Holy Ghost in the back seat of your old Jeep and you swore you felt him too,” Joe plays softly on drums, more snare heavy than usual, but a light tap, barely anything. “But these kinds of feelings can be so misleading and Jesus put it best when he spread his arms and said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do…’” The tempo is slow, syncopated, but building in the way that seems to be their signature.
“‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do…’”
Lee’s guitar and Joe’s drumbeat synchronize.
“But before you go you picked up some of my bad habits, started feeling lonesome and you started smoking…” Joe adds cymbals and a little variation in the beat as Lee hits a pedal, looping the guitar. With his hands free he starts pumping heavy notes on a keyboard.
“…and I’m glad that you did ‘cause I wanna see you die.”
There’s an instrumental bridge where the keys loop and Lee starts up on guitar again.
He sings, “Yeah, I’m glad that you did, so can I get you a light?”
Music ramps up. An instrumental bridge passes back and forth between drums and keys. The notes diversify, melodies blend behind new melodies and the sound rapidly becomes almost chaotic – doubling in tempo.
Lee sings, “Did you find yourself hiding in those places undiscovered?”
Joe echoes the words, louder and slower.
“Did you lose yourself when you saw just what you thought you wanted?”
…thought you wanted?
“Did you find yourself waking in the arms of yet another?”
…of yet another? 99
“Did you lose yourself when you found out just what they had to offer?”
…just what they had to offer?
They carry on like this, repeating the phrases, as if looped themselves, over and over, until the song dies out, keys first, bass, then drums, until it is the lone strings of the guitar, like the last red wisps in a cooling ember. Then the song ends. I cut to Audrey running another little art bazaar on the streets of South East Portland. People seem happy. The atmosphere is warm and communal. But behind that, broadcasting from portable tech in a white, unmarked van, a man howls like a wolf and my gut drops to my knees. The man in the van, Cedric Stewart, says, “This here’s Howling Murphy, broadcasting on the pirate radio waves, piggybacked on the frequencies of corporate America. “Oooowwwowowowooowww! How’s everybody doing out there in Dystopia today? Me too, me too… terrible. Well, for those of you that just can’t get enough, here’s one from them Robin Hoods of folk-punk, The Johnny HighFives. This is a rare bootleg of the title track off their second record, Corporate Hun. Enjoy some radio-illegal America and bite my ass, Uncle Sam.” I cut the feed and wipe my forehead, not so much from sweating as a general social tic to signify a state of befuddlement. How could I, we, the Watchers have missed this? Howling Murphy, a friend of the Johnny HighFives. How have we missed them for all this time unless someone was covering their tracks?
Someone covering their tracks.
White. The only way Murphy could ever get so big is if White protected him.
The clock says I have less than twenty minutes till my meeting with Wilkes. I need to pick up the pace. I fast track through as much data as I can. On the monitors I watch the show in Coppell transpire at top speed. Something changes in the crowd. A man is screaming insults and hurls a beer bottle. It narrowly misses Joe’s head. People scream at the man, others take up the call against the Johnny High-Fives, saying they’re going to bring trouble to their camp. They aren’t wanted. The show promoter, Benton, begs everyone to stay calm, his show circling the drain in front of him. Then sirens chime in from the background, red lights light up the side streets leading to the park and the crowd goes ape shit. Some attack the people protesting the band, some attack each other, while still others make for the boys on stage with a vengeance. They grab what gear they can, shouldering guitars and grabbing most of Joe’s drum kit, leaving behind a kick pedal and a few cymbals along with all their mics. Rash and Trip get the amps and everyone books it to the van like they’re running from a zombie hoard. The police, distracted by the riot, narrowly miss the boys as they peal out and book it for east Dallas and their real reason for being there. Everyone 100
screams and swears while Joe cackles like a bandit and jumps up and down in the back of the van. Trip says, “Are we sure about this, guys? I mean, we’re heading into the lion’s den on a hunch when we just barely dodged the police.” Joe says, “No! No, no, no, we have to go. We have to. This is what it’s all been about. They don’t want us to know things. It’s Project Bluebook all over again, man. They want to cover it up. They’ll hide behind anything. Government, churches, faith healers, Doberman Pinschers, it don’t matter.”
“What’s he talking about?” Rash asks.
“Them, man, The They, you know? Them. The ones behind it all. The manufacturers of Armageddon. The ones constructing it like LEGOS for Christ’s sake. They’re hiding something and this is where it is, right here, now, we gotta go.” “Okay, we go,” Lee says, “But what are you looking for, what do you expect to find?”
“Evidence, man. You know, the evidence.”
“Joe…” Beardo says, a note of skepticism in his voice, “C’mon, buddy.”
“No, this has been their plan all along, crowd control, hearts and minds, capturing resources, curbing education, funneling us like livestock into the slaughterhouse of economy. It’s got to stop.” I ramp up the feed and skip through the van meandering through the eerily empty Dallas highways. They roll up on a skyscraper made from mostly black-tinted glass, not tall as far as skyscrapers go, but tall in comparison with the rest of the skyline. Rash and Trip get out first.
Trip says, “Any thoughts on how we get in?”
“One second,” Joe grunts, dropping some clear solution into his eyes with an antique glass medicine dropper, “Gotta fuel up if this is gonna work. Okay, good to go.” “What was that?” Beardo asks, “Did you just dose yourself through the eyeballs?” “Nothing, don’t worry about it,” Joe says, twitching a little and shaking it off, “Woo, okay, get pumped. You two park on that side lot and wait. Me and the boys got this covered, just be ready for us if we gotta make a quick getaway.”
Rash says, “You do have a plan, right?”
“Course I do. Go in, find the computer and get the stuff.”
Lee swears under his breath and drives off in the band van. 101
I can see Joe’s reality on the monitor through his Thought Chip record. At first everything digitizes like an old video game. In the real world he wobbles awkwardly and his accomplices steady him. He says, “Lee doesn’t believe me, but maybe you boys will. I have a connection to Them. They put something in my head, see? When I’m tripping I can peel away the veil, see what’s really there. It’s how we’re gonna get in.” Rash starts to say, “I’m not so sure…” but Joe interrupts, “Shh – no, don’t give up on me now, Rash. Not after all we’ve been through. Help me Obi-Rash Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” Rash and Trip shake their heads and follow Joe up the concrete steps to the building. The tension is palpable. The uncertainty of the two men paints their faces like graffiti. On the monitor, Joe’s Thought Chip is a mess the narrative of his semiconscious state plays out like a warning addressed directly to me. The screen is matte colors scrolling by like a tunnel level in an old Nintendo game. Whether he moves or not, the background keeps pulling him forward, a light at the end drawing him in. All around him in the purples and greens of the tunnel walls are doors, hatchways, opening and closing as dark figures throw glowing fruit at his feet. In reality, he’s dodging invisible enemies, dramatically dancing his way to the front door of CGA Headquarters.
The Thought Chip Record says:
If you can hear this then you are too close. Objects in mirror are cooler than they appear. I know what you are. Can see you in your hatches and doors, your traps opening like robot mouths laughing and spewing the fruit of your backward faith like bullets. Come follow me. That’s what you say. But you are neither cold nor hot and I will vomit you out of my mouth. The hatches have eyes. Can see that now. Eyes looking at us, need to stay out of their light. Want to hit me with fruit. Make me a bat in their belfry. Fruit bats in hatches, that’s it.
On Screen One Joe whispers, “They’re cameras! Do you see them?”
“See what?” Rash asks, “This place looks deserted.”
They move into the lobby and see a guard at a desk just beyond the entryway. Joe says, “It’s cool, boys, I got this.”
The Thought Chip Record says:
Hickory, dickory, dock, the wolf is in the flock. The wolf went down and looked around and now there ain’t no flock. I’m a wolf in the flock. A wolf in the fold. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. And Jesus said you are the sheep and I am the shepherd. And Jesus said This Do Unto Me. And Jesus said even greater things than these will you do. 102
On the Monitor Joe’s Thought Chip self waits for a nearby hatch to open in the tunnel wall. It opens and he dives in after the dark figure. At this same moment, on Screen One, Joe presses his body against the lobby wall and a fire alarm goes off down a nearby hallway. The guard leaves to investigate.
“I’m supposed to believe you did that?” Rash asks.
“Yeah, I’m in their brainwaves, man. Wriggling around.”
Thought Chip Record:
I am you and you are me and we’re all one together. I’m in your nervous system. Can see electrodes of your thoughts racing by – doom speeding taxicabs raging against their own time crunch. See your thoughts, if they can be called thoughts. Digitized impulses. Blips. Ones and zeros. Part of me now. Can turn you off or turn you on with a touch. Riding an electron now, cruising to your hard drive. The Thought Chip monitor shows Joe in a tube like a waterslide, belly down on the back of a river of silvery light. The tube drops straight down and he lands head first on a black platform. In the real world Joe falls, face first, as they sneak past the guard station. Trip picks him up saying, “What is it, Joe? You okay?”
“Fine, I’m fine. It’s the Firewall.”
On the Monitor Joe floats as if held up by invisible hands. In front of him is a wall of fire. He says it again, “The Fire Wall.” The Thought Chip says, “I have been tested by fire and come forth pure as gold.” He steps forward, eyes closed, and steps into the flames. Slow, but steady, Joe pushes through the wall of fire. On the other side of the pyre, the room is a floor to ceiling switchboard. Cables snake up from the ground and dangle overhead like hanging moss. Joe, true to his own self-aggrandizement, stands in the center of the room covered in gold head to toe. Steam tendrils pour upward from his shoulders and he is still, stoic, taking it all in. On Screen One, the boys have made it as far as an elevator, dodging cameras along the way. Joe suddenly breaks into a convulsive fit and for a moment I think it’s one of his seizures. Then I realize he’s shaking himself out like a wet dog and on the Monitor the layer of gold shakes loose like dust. He moves to the center of the room and starts rearranging wires, plugging them into random slots. Joe, still being dragged along by Rash and Trip, mutters, “Just need to find the right…”
Rash says, “Joe, we need to know what floor. We’re trusting you here, man.”
“I just need the right one. Just need the right line and we’ll be in.” 103
“Joe,” Trip says, a pained tone through clenched teeth, “Now would be better.” “There,” he says, laughing dumbly, “Basement. Servers. Sublevel. Easier access there.”
Rash hits B and the elevator hums downward.
Joe’s subconscious plugs wires wildly, awkwardly, swearing and getting tangled up like an insane Muppet. He says, “Almost got it. Black goes there. Blue here. If I don’t…” The elevator doors open on Screen One. There’s a short steel hallway that leads to a steel door and a keypad. Joe mutters, “Won’t be much point… awful short trip…”
“You’re a short Trip,” Rash says, ribbing Trip.
Joe says, “Got it, 31794.”
Rash mutters, “How could you possibly…?”
“Just do it,” Trip yells, punching in the numbers himself.
The door opens. Inside are six tall, black, monolithic server towers grouped together like a Roman temple. Rash and Trip make for the computer terminal as Joe steps confidently to the servers themselves, hand out like he’s taming a lion.
Rash, in a hoarse whisper, almost shouts, “What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s cool,” Joe says, “See… I was abducted by aliens when I was just a little, little kid.” “What?! What the hell’s he talking about, Trip? What’re you talking about?” “They put their instruments in my head so They could read my thoughts. My brainwaves get broadcasted on the WIFI so they can track my evolution. But I found out, I know the truth… figured out how to do more than just send memories.”
“Rash, we need to focus on this,” Trip says, “Forget him, he’s probably nuts.”
“Yeah, but he…he knew the code to the door. And he set off the fire alarm, how did he do that, huh, Trip? Hey, Joe, how’d you do that?” “I’m trying to tell you I can broadcast my will via wireless. I found a door through my subconscious, even right now I’m working. My little head self is tugging on wires and… oh, shit! Christ, no, no, no…” On the monitor, the Thought Chip shows Joe getting bombarded by alien soldiers cutting in through the walls with laser torches. He’s punching, 104
kicking, throwing them into one another, twisting necks, but they just keep coming. Joe tells Rash, “Christ, Rash, I hit a security protocol, they’re all over me… everywhere.” Falling to the ground, Joe’s eyes roll into the back of his head and he looks dead, a hair’s breadth from a seizure. “Stay with me, Joe. Stay with me,” Rash scoops him up like a wounded animal and Trip jumps into the hot seat at the terminal. Rash says, “C’mon, kid, I want to hear about those implants, tell me more.” Trip says, “You’re buying this now? You? I’m supposed to be the gullible one.”
“Shut up, will ya?”
“Just saying, hacking with a thought is one thing, but aliens? Seriously?”
Rash says, “Joe, come back. I need you to tell me about the aliens, man. I want the truth.”
“You can’t handle the truth,” Joe says, winking.
Thought Joe swings one of the little gray bastards around by the ankles, crashing its oversized head into the others like a mace. It finally splits open like a slimy green melon and the aliens topple backward. Joe pushes through the hole in the wall, chasing after them. They scatter like insects, letting out shrill cries of pain and fear, a pile of dead or unconscious invaders heaped around Joe’s ankles like a war photo.
He says, “I’m in.”
Joe, in Rash’s arm, echoes the words.
“He’s in,” Rash tells Trip.
“Me too,” Trip says, “The walls just came down, don’t know what I did.”
“Don’t you get it?” Rash says, “You didn’t do it, he did it. Look at him.”
Trip shakes his head as his eyes scan through line after line of decoded text.
The Thought Chip Record screams:
All a lie. Big hoax. Fool for believing. They’re the Christ machine. The Apocalypse Factory. They used us to invent Jesus the way they used us to invent athletes and movie stars. Been a part of it too long. All a part of it. Building our demise with labor forced on us by scare tactics of credit scores, tax men, caste system promise of a better future for yourself and your children – promise of God in dollar bills, promise of dollar bills in God. All one thing. We’re all electrons in the atomic number of America. All part of the machine. Cogs in a clock. Wheels on the bus. Round 105
and round. Up and down, up and down. Turn that frown into a clown. What kind of clown am I? Thought I was getting somewhere. Had such high hopes. But they own both sides of the coin. They own good and evil. Own empire and resistance. Created everything. Crisis and solution. Broken heart and the promise. Trip says, “Rash, if I’m reading this right then we’ve only just scratched the surface. There’re records here indicating that this headquarters, this building and dozens of others just like it, have been hacking massive institutions for more than two decades. It was deeply imbedded, hidden deep within the server, but I found it.”
“He found it.”
“Whatever, I’m reading it.”
“They own rules of game… we all had to play their way,” Joe mutters, sweating, shaking. Trip says, “All the hacks the president used to perpetuate his war on anarchy, the ones we figured were just a big lie for political posturing…”
“Yeah?” Rash says.
“They weren’t a big lie, but they weren’t anarchist hacks either. They were done right here. McKinley owns this building. He owns the biggest faith organization in the world and he’s been using their resources to systematically hack the infrastructure of America. The money he stole gets laundered through the church and put into his pockets.” “That same money he’s donating to the Federal government to fund the overseas war on terror? The money he’s used to buy his own private army to control the country, fly unmanned drones over our heads and lock us up in our own homes?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Can you print this or something? This is huge.”
Joe shoots awake, screaming, “No! They’re here! They know we’re here, we gotta get out. Gotta get out now!”
“Joe, we can’t…” Rash says, “We need this evidence…”
“Something’s been activated. Their invisible ships will be on us in minutes. The server turned against me. Locked me out. It’s deleting itself.”
“Fuck, he’s right!” Trip shouts, “No, no, no…it’s going, it’s all going away.”
His screen goes black. Joe jumps to his feet and runs for the door 106
screaming, “Once all the data’s been deleted this building will be demolished from orbit!” They break for the elevator, the doors slide closed slowly, they’re shouting for the thing to hurry up the whole way. They hit the main floor, run through the lobby. The watch guard is back at his desk and he shouts, chasing after them. Joe says, “Sorry, my good man, food was good but the service was lousy. You’re getting a negative review on Yelp forthwith.” They make it out the front door, running toward the van. When they round the corner to the side parking lot they’re met with flashing red lights, squad cars, SWAT vans – the whole big, bad theatrical production. Lee and Beardo are lowered into separate vehicles, stoic looks on their faces. Lee and Joe lock eyes and Lee winks. He mouths the word, “Go.” Joe turns suddenly, like a flip switching on in his head, and puts his right foot into the chubby guard’s gut as he turns the corner behind them. The man loses his wind and hits the ground, gasping for air. Joe grabs the mass of keys jangling on his belt and runs in the opposite direction. He’s tapping the automatic lock button for the company security vehicle, listening for a car alarm beep. They find a blue and white Ford Prius with yellow siren lights and pile in without a word. Behind the wheel, Joe calmly, slowly turns the car out of the parking lot and onto the frontage road, trying to seem inconspicuous and doing a damn good job of it. Just when it looks like he might pull it off he slams on the brakes and says, “I can’t do it. We have to go back. I can’t leave him like this. It’s the fort all over again, man, it’s the fort, you know? I mean, you know? I can’t do it.” “What are you talking about, dude?” Rash asks, “Seriously, what are you doing?” “No time!” Joe throws the Prius into reverse and tears off toward the flash of the police cars and Lee. One of the squad cars flashes on its lights and blasts its siren. It races around the side of the building in obvious pursuit. Rash and Trip, swearing and punching the walls and seats, melodramatically beg Joe to get them out of there until, as if from nowhere, Joe’s warnings of death from above prove true. The building explodes in a torrent of smoke, red fire, and black glass, before finally collapsing entirely in a pillar of gray dust like an inverted mushroom cloud engulfing the squad car and sending the stolen Prius squealing sideways on the frontage road. Inside, as if the Prius was suddenly overtaken by a mud-gray blizzard, everyone sits in silence, the windows darkened by ash.
“You guys okay?” Rash asks, breaking the silence. 107
He flicks on the windshield wipers, letting orange-brown light flood in through the glass, and gasps at the sight of Joe convulsing in the driver’s seat, his jaw clenched to the brink of tearing in half. Joe’s eyes, glossy yellow underneath red webs of broken blood vessels, look like two pickled eggs. The light dims and shines at odd intervals as the ash covers over the glass and the wiper blades push it aside again and again. The slow motion flashing of fire light only enhances the panic of Joe’s convulsions, like a strobe in the creepiest night club ever. Rash shakes Joe repeatedly, yelling for him to snap out of it, but Trip stops him saying, “Don’t, don’t, you could hurt him. He needs to just ride it out.” Pulling him gruffly out of the driver’s seat, Rash pushes him into the back with Trip and takes the wheel. He throws it into drive and uses the ash and shock of the demolished church headquarters to mask their escape. Joe mumbles in the back seat, “Gotta outlast ‘em. Make ‘em know I ain’t worth the trouble. Stay invisible.” It seems like only seconds later when Screen 3 picks up footage of the Prius screaming down Interstate 20, west out of town. On the monitor Joe sits in his white room, the same old abduction narrative. He’s just sitting cross legged on the operating table, his face in his hands. Mumbling incoherently, he seems to be ignoring the room full of glass-eyed aliens standing motionless around him, pressed to the walls. And then there’s the voice.
“Come home, Joe. Come home to me.”
He looks up and it’s Mr. Smiles, gazing down lovingly, a hand on his shoulder.
Mr. Smiles says, “You know what you need to do. So do it.”
“I need to save Lee. Can you help me?”
“I don’t have a lot of time, son. Come back to me, to the place that kept you safe. I’ll wait for you there. Together we’ll find your friend.” Joe’s voice screams in the Thought Chip Record: Lee! Fuck, fuck, fuck! FuckfuckfuckFUCKfuckfuck… I’ll find you, I swear I will. His eyes shoot open in the back seat of the Prius and Trip flinches. Joe shouts, “They’re here, they’re here, they’re here…” “We know, Joe,” Rash says, his brow furrowed into a stone cut sculpture of grace under pressure, “Everything you said. It all came true. They tried to drop a building on our heads because we got too close. They fired on us from orbit. They put that shit in your head. I believe you now.” “We both do,” Trip says, “Everything you told us was the truth. I can’t believe it, all of it’s been the truth all this time and the government is in on it.” 108
Joe sighs, letting his head fall back on the seat, “Thank you, thank you, you don’t know what it means to hear that.” “One thing, kid,” Rash says, lighting a spliff and cracking the window, “They put that shit in your head but we’re gonna use it. We gotta use it against ‘em.”
“Take us north,” Joe says, “I’m going home.”
“Running home?” Trip asks, “After everything that’s happened?”
“Don’t worry, I have a plan,” Joe replies calmly, lighting a cigarette with a match. “They faked the Hack War and made this country tear itself apart from the inside. Now we’re gonna give them the real thing.”
“Start the Hack War for real?” Rash says, “Fuckin-A. Now you’re talkin.”
To be continued in Dystopia Boy 1.2 >>
It's our Doomsday Edition. 2012! We have work analyzing the theories behind the 2012 fad and a special spotlight on writer Brian Parham....
Published on Dec 1, 2012
It's our Doomsday Edition. 2012! We have work analyzing the theories behind the 2012 fad and a special spotlight on writer Brian Parham....