SUBTOPIAN MANIFESTO IV. by trevor d. richardson . “The American Revolution never ended.” At the risk of sounding self-absorbed or somehow narcisstic, I’m using my own quote here. I said that. I used it more than once in my novel American Bastards. The point of it is this: everything you think of that is right and good when you think of America, life, liberty, tolerance, opportunity, self-expression, all that stuff is not static. Not only can it be taken away, it can fade away, little bits at a time, if you don’t keep an eye out. It’s like love, long love, the kind that leads to families and houses and shared plots of ground in cemeteries. That kind of love starts out feverish, strong, and bold. It feels everlasting. And if you let yourself get used to that feeling it’s very easy to forget that you have to create new love every day. Otherwise you neglect that love only to wake up one morning and realize you’re wasting away with a stranger and don’t even recognize yourself. It’s the same with freedom. If you stop fighting that revolution, if you get caught up in the victory and fury of the moment you thought you’ve won, you will only live to see it slowly fade away. You’ll wake up, one surprising day, a patriot in a country that doesn’t exist anymore, living in a place you don’t recognize, barely able to recognize yourself. But there is hope. The American Revolution was fought and won by the citizenry, the low-men on the totem pole, the so-called little guy. And so it will be again. The vocabulary is changing, but the message is still the same. “We are the 99%.” It means we might be poor on our own, even downtrodden, but together we are mighty. It means that no ruling power has ever safeguarded the rights and comfort and desires of its subjects out of the goodness of its heart. The subjects required it of them or they took the power away and gave it to someone else. It is a dangerous gamble, one that I wouldn’t care to take alone -- for every George Washington there’s a hundred Napoleons, Hitlers, or Husseins. Men that take advantage of the needs of the many and turn it into the power of the one. But that is why the revolution is so important. That is why you never stop fighting it. It is also why we give our presidents a limited time in office. But the Subtopian world is shifty, full of tricks. In the time we’ve spent keeping our eye on the presidential ball the power backing it has been bought out by men looking to stack the deck in their own favor. They’ve paid off the dealer, rigged the game, and let the man in the limelight distract us from the truth. We’re losing The American Revolution because the rules changed without our permission. Do we fight back? How? With what? The answers are as frightening as the question, but this is the truth of our time and the inevitable destiny of our lives in Subtopia. Fight or flight, it’s time, because your back is to the wall and you’re watching your world being stolen from you, in little bits, and you’ve been trained to only think about the value of each individual piece, never seeing the whole. Think about that. We’re preconditioned to see the little pieces, but not the big picture they create when you put them all together. It’s a jigsaw puzzle, a mosaic, that only a few get to see and that’s why it is so important to stay fighting. Or is it too late? Did the Revolution end and we’re only just beginning to wake up and realize it? answer that. I don’t want to know.
Table of Contents
Static Music Reviews
Drop Tank Andrew Norman
DYSTOPIA Dystopian Fiction, the New Fairy Tale: Robotic Uprisings, Surveillance States, and Unmanned Drones Over US Soil Arthur Brand UTOPIA
Legs Led Astray Kirby Light
Road Notes Crisis of Confidence? Jeff Costello
How Can I Keep From Singing Jeff Costello
An Interview with Adam Schatz Founder of Search & Restore Trevor Richardson POETRY
REGULARS Stuck on Repeat Long-term Meme-ory Rachael Johnson
SHORT STORIES The True Unerring Secrets of Utopia Corin Reyburn REGULARS Pearls for Swine: thoughts from a mad hermit A Bodyguard of Lies Kirby Light
Movable Type Eric Lawson
Constant Elegy Daniel Hedges CRITIC’S CRITIC
A Critique of Robert Denerstein’s Review of “The Cabin in the Woods” 39 K.N.R. Jackson SERIALS 40
Dystopia Boy 0.4 Trevor Richardson
Crisis of Confidence?
Is there a crisis of confidence in the USA? Have you noticed that through the entire spectrum of the politically correct, liberal, “green,” leftish, etc., population, the simple declarative statement is disappearing? Do you listen to NPR and other “public” radio like KPFA? Do you hear the announcers and program hosts and guests and call-in people phrasing statements as questions? With a upward lilt at the end of sentences? As though they’re not sure of what they’re saying? Even though many of them are presented as authorities or experts in their fields (is the farmer outstanding in his field?)? Are people offended or somehow injured, are their feelings hurt by confident-sounding statements? Is it not all right to know what you’re talking about and speak accordingly? Do you find all this annoying? Do I? Do I hear an emphatic yes? Is it even okay to be emphatic anymore, or must we temper our views and speak in questions, lest we be regarded as strident or obnoxious? Or threaten someone’s cherished beliefs? Have you wondered whether these radio networks are reflecting this epidemic of flakiness, or are they promulgating it? Have I? Do I hear a “yes”? Do you know I’m not the first person to notice or write about this? Have you also noticed that right-wing media voices do not speak this way? That no matter how outrageous the lie or absurd the statement, they are spoken with conviction, as though they contain undeniable facts and truth? Do they know 5
something basic about human nature the liberals don’t, or won’t admit? Have you considered that this may be contributing to why the forces of the philosophical and political right, with their attendant avarice, power-seeking, and Orwellian wars are dominant? Have I? Do I hear a yes? Do you remember schoolyard bullies, and the kids who whined, “Not fair?” Are these the same people who can barely utter a sentence that doesn’t contain the phrase “in terms of?” And end half their statements with “if you will?” What is behind this? Do people think it makes them sound smart? Is it important to sound smart even when you don’t act smart? Because that’s how it is on NPR? And now, has it become fashionable or “correct” to sound unsure of yourself? Do I hear a yes? Is it a generational thing? Not really very new, and I’m just a grumpy old curmudgeon for bringing it up? (Even though I cringe when my contemporaries say “back in the day”)? And do I ask this because some good young writers like Sarah Vowell and Richard Price have acknowledged it? Vowell by speaking of it directly: “One of those people who ends every sentence like a question,” and Price, referring to it by writing dialog peppered with question marks where they are clearly inappropriate? Do I know the answers to these questions?
Jeff Costello Reviews How Can I Keep From Singing? The BALLAD of PETE SEEGER by David King Dunaway
Pete Seeger may well be the very essence of the earnest, self-serious folk singer. He seems to have built the mold. After a halfcentury of harassment by everyone from the local KKK in the small Hudson River Valley town where he lives, to the House Un-American Activities Commission in the 50’s, to J. Edgar Hoover himself, you could say Seeger has a right to be serious. He hung out and traveled with Woody Guthrie for a while, and there is a very telling photo in the book. The two of them are playing together, Pete looks all earnest and serious and Woody looks casual, relaxed, almost devil-may-care. Seeger ’s contributions to American music cannot be denied. Besides gathering folk songs in his travels, he wrote songs that became American popular standards that unlike the music of Cole Porter or the Gershwins, are simple enough to sing around the campfire. “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and so on. With the Weavers, he made Leadbelly’s “Good Night Irene” a national hit, and to this day any crowd gathered almost anywhere will sing along with it. Look up the Weavers on Youtube, listen to their “Wimoweh” and you’ll know where the Tokens got “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Later in the 60’s the Byrds recorded “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and put Ecclesiastes on AM radio. 7
But Seeger ’s idealism was stronger than the desire to be famous. He thought that getting people singing could change the world for the better. He joined the communist party, and only went to a few meetings. But it’s hounded him all his life. Still he pushed on, working for causes - unions, peace, civil rights... all the standard un-American stuff. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the early days, but Stokely Carmichael didn’t want him. What I like about this book is the parallel of his career with the doings of the fascist right, one sees there is nothing remotely new going on today. When Seeger got the cockeyed idea of building a boat and cleaning up the Hudson River he met with opposition. The damn commie was at it again and must be stopped. And though he was often disappointed at what effect he seemed to be having, the boat got built and the river started getting cleaned up. We learn slowly that results don’t come right away. Contradictions in the man Pete Seeger are laid out, and some questions go unanswered. This is probably as it should be. Other than a trivial thing or two he gets wrong about popular music of the fifties, David Dunaway has done a very good account of fascist elements in the 20th century U.S. and a man they tried, but failed, to destroy. pp
Stuck by Rachael Johnson
Setting out to write an article about internet
transmission.” (Dawkins, 1978) Derived from ancient
memes feels a bit like setting out to state the obvi-
Greek, it literally means “something imitated.” That
ous. After all, anyone reading an article in an online
is the key to internet memes, isn’t it? Endless imita-
magazine probably had to sidestep a lolcat just to get
tion which comes after an impossibly long line of
here. Memes have taken on such a symbiotic relation-
imitation. It’s what human culture is made of, from
ship with the internet. You can’t surf the web without
catch phrases, to variations on a melody, to even reli-
risking exposure, regardless of whether you logged
on to social network or check the news. As long as
the internet’s around to connect people, there will
ous human existence is that it connects people instan-
be viral videos, macro images (those pictures with
taneously. I previously mentioned that memes and
superimposed font, such as lolcats or philosoraptor),
the internet were symbiotic, and this is true, because
and message board commenters to quote them.
What sets the internet meme apart from previ-
culture and the internet drive each other, but the true
Yet, I wouldn’t be writing about a phenom-
host of the parasite that is failblog.org is not actually
enon that seems so dependent on recent technology
the website itself, but us. Indeed, far more important
if it didn’t fall under the wheel of repetition. I seek to
than modems and servers are the circuits and wiring
iterate that what drives internet memes predates even
in our brains. We infect each other with every shared
the wheel, making the phenomenon not merely a
link at a much greater rate than any Trojan or worm.
quirk of technology, but a predictable stage of human
Humor has been the primary bug of choice though
there are some outliers, because its quality of instant
gratification matches the speed of the internet. It’s
This all makes a lot more sense once you
a small matter for our hardware to receive an idea,
understand where the term “meme” comes from.
perceive the reward, and then to spit it back out with
Coined in his book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawk-
a small alteration.
ins wanted a noun that “conveys the unit of cultural 9
To notice the imitation, or mutation, just visit memegenerator.net or even the typical facebook news-
feed. There may be over twenty different versions of text splayed over the image of a toddler with his fist clenched triumphantly, but it’s always to the same effect. It’s the same joke, over and over again. Usually funny, but never something new. This occurrence of repetition despite the variations is exemplary of most of human creativity: you can paint a thousand different landscape paintings, but in the end they are all just landscape paintings.
The internet meme is not reinventing the wheel, but it is adding a spinner to the existing one. For in-
stance, in the past, to be considered properly cultured meant to be able to quote Greek plays and philosophers. Today, to be “properly” cultured, one has to know the chorus to the bed intruder song or recognize when someone is impersonating Star Wars kid. We see, we hear, we imitate, and as this is presumably a part of our DNA, this bit of history always has and always will repeat itself.
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 1978. Print.
Rachael Johnson, a fresh voice in the Seattle writing scene, offers her regular column,“Stuck On Repeat,” which puts a unique spin on current news stories by taking a look back at other moments in history where the same thing went down. It’s true what they say, history repeats itself.
most of the day.
Jane came over almost every day. She was always half inebriated and had come looking for more. Her hair was stringy and she smelled of sweet gin and fabric softener. One time I gave her my last three bucks and she sucked it up right through her eyeballs. We left her at the bus station once but she found her way back, we had no more use for her since she had quit being a prostitute. We always left a chair for her at our table but she preferred to sit on the floor. She coughed and sputtered, then stalled. Jane was the sort of female you couldn’t get close to if you tried and wouldn’t want to if you knew her. She was what we call a “viper.” When she was around, things disappeared. On one occasion an entire winery was left with nothing but empty crates. She also had the very bad habit of interrupting you with lofty-sounding ideals but never getting to the point. Ed tried locking her in the basement, which was successful for the time being. But she crawled out a year later and nothing was different except she was naked more often. I hated Jane. She told me she could turn water into wine, but she just drank it all and slept in my bed for
Sean was the handsomest man you’d ever seen. He had legs but no arms. Nobody cared though because he was an expert juggler. Sean had very few bad characteristics except for the lack of appendages and saying “um” in between every sentence. When I first met him, I was buying cigarettes at Jerry’s and he was buying cheap aluminum parts for his motor scooter. We traded and have been friends ever since. The ladies loved Sean’s eyes—one was aquamarine and the other a sort of lavender color. His skin was like alabaster, his hair like titanium. Sean never drank. I saw him drink a vodka martini once and he turned green immediately and ran off to Iowa for a week. He also never had steady relationships. I saw him go out with this one girl, her name was Todd and she was very pretty but Sean knew he was too good for her and he couldn’t hold her anyway. Now Sean works at the barber’s. He washes the mayor’s hair on Saturdays. Ed had both won and lost the Cold War. He was 11
the local authority on everything, was there when the town was founded and when it burned down seventeen times. He didn’t care that everyone he had once known had gone missing; he never liked them anyway. Ed’s wife Sallie was an 107-year-old barmaid. She had the most perky little breasts and golden blonde hair that went on for days. They could both remember when postage stamps were 9 cents. Ed went through a period in his life where he preferred boys to girls and that’s how we got to know each other. Every time I looked at him I thought of an Old West saloon, all guns and poker and whiskey you could run your car on. I used to fantasize that he owned a cathouse and that I worked for him and was his favorite. You’d think he would chew tobacco a lot and barbeque hot dogs but he was a vegetarian. I never really knew Ed. He was a permanent resident in town but he always seemed to be away on vacation.
“Didn’t you hear?” she asked me. I shifted my weight on the uncomfortable stool. “Hear what?” “Ed’s dead. He’s been dead for more than twenty years.” She grabbed a rag and started mopping up the counter. “That’s too bad.” I paid the bill and left.
Two One of my favorite things to do is go down to the laundromat when I’m sorta drunk and watch the clothes spin round and round in the dryer. Warm afternoons late in the week are best for this. The last time I was there I ran into Billy, a kid who had dropped out of grade school and was now thirty-three years old and always at the laundromat. I gave him a quarter to buy detergent because that’s what he loved. Billy’s son Jesse by Ron’s high school girlfriend Terry liked to eat it as a mid-morning snack. I was watching this one red sock go round and round when I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. It was Billy of course.
*** That night I went to the cafeteria to get a hot roast beef sandwich but it was closed. Everything in this town closes at 8 p.m. I hate that. Aliotto’s grocery was still open so I bought a banana, some very cheap beer and a spiced ham. It was too early to sleep yet, so I decided to bring the spiced ham over to Sean’s since I’m Jewish and can’t eat pork. When I got there nobody was home. I left the ham on the doorstep and a note with his name on it. When he found it I knew he’d be excited, pick it up with his toes and hop inside to feast.
“Do you have another quarter?” “What for? I just gave you one.” “The machine ate it.”
I thought I’d go down to El Cielo, where Sallie works, and watch the people interacting the same way they always do while I had a drink. I got there and there were only three people in the bar, including me and Sallie. She poured me a shot of bourbon with a smile and I settled in to enjoy. The man at the other end of the bar was grey-haired with a pot belly and he wore a beat-up top hat. I recognized him, he was a mechanic named Bill who had fixed my car when I had a car to fix.
“Oh. Hold on a second.” I reached into my pocket. “I only have a dime.” “That’s not enough.” Billy left to go pick up his son from school. *** Martin had been excommunicated from the town for impregnating his parakeet. He was only four feet tall, and when he spoke he whistled through his nose. Martin’s wife Emma had no parents but many aunts, all of them were named Catherine and not one of them baked. I used to go over and sit with Emma
“So how’s Ed?” I asked Sallie. She had a wistful look in her eyes. 12
when Martin wasn’t home, cause if he found me there he would chase me out with this old sickle he had. For eight months Emma had a pet pig but it was stillborn. I felt so sorry for her and sent her over a condolency basket, which Martin usurped and ate on the way to work. He had a girl on the side named Melanie, a waitress at Stu’s Diner. Emma and Melanie had gone to school together but were never friends. Emma was much younger than Melanie. Melanie also had a lisp and a teeny little cyst on the back of her left ankle. I asked Melanie on a date once but she said she didn’t date women. Tuesday afternoon and I was late as usual. I grabbed my keys and headed to the car. When I got to the sidewalk, I remembered that I had sold my car a week ago to support myself. Luckily Martin was driving by. He lives on my block and always seems to be just leaving.
“Hey, kid…got something for ya. Check out these here, a couple of ol’ jewel encrusted highball glasses—shiny and practically brand new. They were my mother’s, but Sallie says we don’t need them anymore and that they’re worth a fortune.” He stared past me at the display of ceramic cats and scratched the bridge of his nose. “So, whaddya think? Barb around?” “Barb!” I called to the back room. She didn’t come out. “Guess she’s busy,” I shrugged. Ed wandered over to the ceramic birds display. “Hey Barb, I’m hungry. Going on a break.” There was no answer from the back room. I grabbed my keys. The chime on the door rang.
“Need a lift?” Martin tossed his Camel cigarette out the window. He doesn’t smoke but he likes to hold them while he’s driving. “Sure.” I got into his old Volvo. I would have buckled up but the seatbelt was broken. “How’s Emma?”
There are some people who you know will never pay you back. Everyone in this town is like that and I’m no exception. I had to go see Sean because I owed him some money. I didn’t have any money to pay him, but I thought I’d do the right thing and at least stop by and tell him so. Jane had come over too. She was sitting naked at the piano and pounding a low D over and over.
“Don’t talk about my wife like that.” I decided not to talk about his wife. “Weather’s nice.” “Um hmm.” He made a sharp left.
“Hi!” Sean smiled and waved a spoon. “You’re just in time. I’m making margaritas.”
*** “Casey, you’re late.”
I glanced wearily at Jane.
Barb was only friendly after half a bottle of Chardonnay, but since she was my boss I did what she said and avoided her. The pawn shop was empty as usual except for that one guy in a wicker wheelchair who always comes in to ask us if we sell any thin cigars. I started polishing things with the dry cloth. The chime on the door rang.
“Hey. Sounds good.” I scratched the back of my head. “Did you hear about Martin and Emma?” He handed me a glass. “Nope.” “I’m surprised you didn’t hear something, being you live so close. They were screaming at each other
“Hi Ed.” He ambled past the rifles and grandfather clocks with a box of some sort. 13
I can’t stop thinking about you. However since my wife kicked me out, I am a little short on cash. Once I can scrounge up bus fare I will come and see you.
so loud somebody called the cops. Martin got arrested and Emma got the first migraine she’s had in two and a half years.” “Wow.” The margarita was way too salty. “Actually, I did hear something a couple of nights ago. I turned the radio up to drown it out.”
Burrmm! Jane’s head hit the piano.
“I tried to talk to Emma about it this morning at the grocery store. But she’s sensitive to light and sound.” Sean hauled Jane up by the arm and tossed her into the big chair.
I put it in my pocket. I thought about going down to the bar and showing it to Sallie, but the last time anyone tried anything with her Ed shocked them with an electric cattle prod. I didn’t want to get caught in the middle. If I saw Jesse, Billy’s son, I would give it to him. He’d outgrown his detergent-eating phase and had graduated to paper.
“This margarita’s way too salty.” “Oh. Give it here then.” Sean took the glass from me and balanced it in Jane’s limp hand. “Want a beer?” “No thanks. I’d better get going.”
Just then, who should run smack into me but Jane.
“Alright, see ya then.”
“Jane.” She was wearing a Muslim covering over her face. “Nice burqa. Don’t you think you should put some other clothes on?”
“I’ll be back next week with what I owe you.” “What do you owe me?”
‘Mumble mumble,’ she replied.
I lifted the burqa off her face. Her eyes were bloodshot but her lips were smiling.
“Oh. Well have a safe trip.” “I’ll take that beer to go though.”
‘…mumble?’ she asked. She grabbed my wrist and led me out behind Old Ted’s shack.
“Sure thing.” Just as I was leaving, Jane moaned and rolled over, spilling the salty margarita all over herself and the big chair.
I knew I would hate myself in the morning. *** Before it got completely dark outside, I stopped by Martin and Emma’s. It was a bad idea.
*** As I was walking home, I tripped over a piece of crumpled up paper. I picked it up and unfolded it. It said:
“Martin! After all these years! I expected more from the man my mother arranged for me to marry!” Emma waved her arms emphatically. “I promise this is the last time!” Martin protested.
“In our own house!” 14
“It was a mistake!” Merry Christmas,
“Making a martini with kalamata olives is a mistake. This is pure and utter betrayal.”
I tried to edge my way out the door before they spotted me, but they both glanced over as soon as I started moving.
The girl I didn’t remember so well but the Wild Turkey I did.
“Casey! Casey understands. He knows what it’s like to be married to a beautiful, passive woman.”
“I do?” “Yeah. A man’s got to have an outlet for that sort of thing.” “You’re a cow!” said Emma. “My head hurts,” said Martin. “Here, take a couple ibuprofen and shut up!” She threw the bottle at him. I left quickly before anyone could stop me. *** When I got home I tried to remember my wife. I finally succeeded after sifting through a pile of coupons and letters I never sent:
Jane and I used to go steady back in high school. It gave me a reputation for being a lame pushover though because she was always caught in the halls with her skirt up over her hips and somebody under it. She never went to class and got suspended about once a month but somehow she walked at graduation. Afterwards we went to Jane’s parents’ house for a barbeque where there was a lot of making out behind the big tree and lots of beer for Jane’s alcoholic dad. Then I didn’t see Jane for awhile, she was too busy preying on the poor and unsuspecting and I was too busy pretending to go to community college. None of it was really Jane’s fault though. They just make a few like her every year and it’s always poor bastards like me who are responsible for gathering and reassembling her whenever she malfunctions— usually about once a year during Christmas.
Happy Holidays. Things haven’t been the same since you got back from the war with your arm cut off. Sallie sends her love. She was going to wait for you but she met a nice boy from Costa Rica and hasn’t really been seen around here much lately. Sylvia keeps telling me she really missed out that night she let you slip away after the ball game. Mary and me got married at the 24-hour chapel but now she wants a divorce. Her parents said I was a lousy provider, among other things. I wish I could see you this holiday season, but Sean needs someone to go out of town with him on business. While he’s working I’ll just be at the hotel drinking Wild Turkey if I can. 15
“You’re fired.” Barb said. “What?” I looked up from the cash register where I was counting pennies. “It’s not that you don’t know how to do your job, kid. You count the change out right and I’ve never seen those trophies in the front window shine as brightly as after you’ve gone to work on them with that polishing cloth.” “Then why are you firing me?” I asked.
“I don’t like ya.” She took another swig of chardonnay from her pansy mug and disappeared into the back room.
“No problem babe. Hey, you got a cigarette?” I fumbled around in my deep pockets. “Here you go.” I tried lighting the match for him on the bottom of my shoe like Clint Eastwood but I just crushed the match. He took out his Zippo.
I dropped the remainder of the pennies into the tray and grabbed my backpack. The chime on the door rang.
“You’re perfect,” he said after his first drag.
“Perfect?” No one had ever called me that except my mother on the day I was born and she’d never called me that since. “How am I perfect?”
That evening I went to El Cielo. Everyone was buzzing secretively about the new guy in town. His name was Timothy and he was very tall, beautiful, and supposedly more wealthy than Ed’s dead uncle. Sallie said he was sharp as a tack and Martin didn’t even chase him out with the sickle when he talked to Emma about refinancing their house. I caught a glimpse of him just as he was leaving. I’d never seen such broad shoulders and shivered a little. Sean even glanced up from his club soda to wink at him.
“For my new television show. It’s gonna be a big hit and you’re perfect for it.” Timothy flicked his cigarette ash just shy of my left sneaker. “Really? I’ve never been on television.” I was excited but something in the way old Tim was standing, leaning on his left hip and grinning all Cheshire cat-like, made me nervous.
“Hey, Sallie.” I had a seat and my usual.
“Wh-What’s the show about?” I usually don’t stutter unless I’m in church.
“Heya Sugarmuffin. I heard about what happened to you at work. Real shame that is.”
“It’s called Men of the Wild. It’s about men, out there, doing what you do, what everybody does. Working, eating, sleeping...living the life.”
“It’s okay. I’m going to be a cabaret dancer.” She snorted. “You don’t have the legs for it.”
“S-sounds like a barrel of fun.”
“I talked to a guy. He said I didn’t need legs, just a good tenor.”
“It will be, old man, it really will be. Besides I heard you got fired from your old gig.”
“Oh. I guess Ron DeSilva doesn’t work down at the theatre anymore.” She stared off wistfully into the distance.
“Yeah. Barb’s a little schizo after 4 p.m.” Timothy pulled a beanie out from nowhere and tugged it down just covering his eyebrows. “I’ll see you tomorrow night at the bar then. We can discuss the details over a vodka tonic.” He stubbed his cigarette out.
“Hey Sallie?” “Yeah?” “This beer tastes watered down.”
I watched the last trails of smoke die out from the little white paper. “Yeah, see ya.”
“Times are tough kid.” ***
On the way home I bumped into the new guy by accident.
I hated the phone but tried calling up Sean anyway to tell him the news. He picked up on the fourth ring.
“Sorry about that.” I offered him a hand. 16
habit of prying.
“Hey, Sean. Guess what?”
Jane was telling Emma all about this new beauty treatment she wanted to try. They peel off the top layer of your skin and replace it with plant tissue. She said the upside was it keeps you looking young forever but the downside was it turns you green.
“Not a clue.” “I’m gonna be on a television show. You know Timothy, the new guy?”
“You want a beer or some sangria?” Emma asked me. She had gotten bored of Jane’s story and looked like she wished she would leave. I tried to picture Jane with green skin but she didn’t look any different.
“Lord Capt’n scuttlebutt?” “Huh?” “Nothing.” “He says I’d be perfect as the host of the show.” “Oh yeah? What’s it called?” “Men of the Wild.” “Right up your alley. Sounds cool bro.”
Emma poured the sangria. “I make it myself from the citrus fruits we grow in the backyard.” I’d never seen any fruits in Martin and Emma’s backyard, just that beat-up old Winnebago that didn’t run and had that queer guy Maurice living in it. “This is really good.” It tasted like sweet hell.
Emma smiled serenely and poured from the pitcher into Jane’s waiting tupperware container. In it she also kept some sliced turkey and a teddy bear.
“But hey, Case?” “Yup?”
“Don’t you hate public speaking? Remember “I’m gonna be on a television show,” I told that time in 4th grade when you gave that speech on Emma, and Jane if she was listening. the Gold Rush and your voice was all shaky the whole “So I hear. Congratulations! Martin’s proud too time, and you dropped your 3x5 cards and couldn’t and is going to buy a new camcorder.” get them back in the right order?” I could hear him making that high-pitched whistling noise through his “That sounds like a good idea. I have to go.” I teeth. thought Timothy might be at El Cielo already. I didn’t want to keep him waiting. “Do me a favor, will ya Case?” ***
“Sure.” “Don’t get too close to Lord Capt’n scuttlebutt.”
Five I dropped in on Martin and Emma before going to El Cielo like I do every Wednesday. Jane was there and Martin wasn’t. Emma said he was out feeding the goat. I knew they didn’t have a goat but don’t make a
It was only six o’clock and I thought everyone would be home eating meatloaf but they were at the bar. Sean was drinking his seltzer water and buying stronger drinks for every pretty girl and boy in the room. Ed sat in the corner, swirling his glass of Maker’s Mark in his left hand and watching Sallie flirt shamelessly with Timothy. Ed’s face was red as a beet but he couldn’t look away or move to do anything about it. Neither could I for that matter. “I guess you’re just made of gold.” Timothy 17
brought a shiny half-dollar out from behind Sallie’s ear. She giggled like a girl eighty years her junior. He flashed a megawatt smile and turned in my direction. I tried not to look but it was magnetic.
“Hey soldier,” he sauntered over. I resisted the urge to salute. Sallie stared us down with one eye and looked away with the other, a mixture of envy and pride on her face.
What happened to me 2 ½ years ago is happening again and it’s all my fault. I’ve met somebody and once again got talked into doing something I didn’t want to do. It’s like the time with that girl who wore dirty scarves and ate all those little blue-colored pills. I’m tired and suspicious. Luckily no one else has noticed as per usual. If I could just find that old map you drew me the last time this happened, things would probably be okay.
“So I hear you’re ready to be a star.” Old Tim sidled in next to me, really close. “Well I feel…what’s the word? Complacent about it.” I wanted a drink badly, but would have to go through Sallie and didn’t feel like paying eight bucks for water and a snide remark. “You’ve got one of those ‘fuck-all’ attitudes, that’s what you’ve got.” Tim downed his vodka tonic in one gulp. He drummed his perfectly manicured fingertips on the edge of the table, slowly and evenly.
Take care of yourself and my mother.
“You want to get out of this place?” he asked.
I didn’t know if he meant the bar or the town.
“Yes,” I said. ***
It was hot and late in the day, I could hear a scatter of bluebirds and the chubby redheaded woman from across the street cursing while hanging her laundry all over the fire escape. On Sunday I’m always happiest because to me it means that I’m not supposed to be doing anything, which is pretty much what I do every day. I had tried to find a clean shirt but ended up just sitting around in my apartment in my underwear eating applesauce in front of the fan. I had an instinct that I was supposed to be somewhere else, but couldn’t be bothered to think about it any further and figure out what it actually was.
“Lights, Camera, Action!” Timothy wore a beret and shiny, expensive-looking shoes. He yelled through a plastic tube, and there was a very bright light that I couldn’t avoid no matter which way I looked. “I’m a dirty thief and a liar, a bum and a slacker with wings for feet. Welcome to the show, Men of the Wild!” I said into the little microphone pinned to my shirt collar. Timothy picked up his plastic tube. “Good… good! Now Casey, don’t bend your head down towards the microphone when you talk—that baby will pick up whatever you say for twenty feet around ya, okay?”
I wondered what Jane was doing. *** Everyone thinks Jane is a bad person but I know the truth. She just thinks about stuff differently than
I nodded vigorously and adjusted my shirt collar. 18
the rest of us do and comes to peculiar conclusions, conclusions which seem wrong when compared to the opinion of the majority. I had no way of knowing what she would say or do next, and because of this I couldn’t get away from her. She was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, with a disproportionate body, eyes too huge for her face and some of the nastiest habits I’d ever had the displeasure of encountering. Jane walks like a blind old black man and talks out of the side of her mouth in mumbles, either so that no one can understand her or else she’s just unaware that she’s talking aloud.
are the ones I can’t remember. Jane once said that the only thing she ever got from me was a good excuse to give complete strangers bloody noses. Like everything she said I didn’t know whether to take this as a compliment or an insult. But I was feeling bored and a little low so I decided to pay her a visit. Luckily I saw Martin in front of the meat buying a pork hock. “Have you seen Jane?” He was putting the hock in his cart and nearly dropped it.
I knew it was over between me and Jane before it ever began. Knew she was just using me and didn’t care because she couldn’t help it really. She gave as much as she got just like everyone else. She slept little and ate sporadically, both in amounts and frequency, and she genuinely cared about everyone in the whole world but for whatever reason would never do a damn thing about it. She lived on the train and walked along the highway, had pets that died after a week and relatives who had jumped out of windows. She’d never seen a gun and brandished a box knife whenever the mood struck. She was the only one I could ever see myself with and I hated her so much for never letting me in and telling me what was what. Not that she could have made any sense, mumbling out of the side of her mouth while balancing her tup-
“Oh yeah, sure. She’s been staying over at our house. Didn’t you know that?” “No, I guess not. How long has she been over for?” “Six years.” He picked up a small carton of kosher salt and a large jar of gherkin pickles. “Oh. I tried calling her.” “Her phone is broken.” Soy milk and eight cans of Hormel’s beef stew. “She threw it at our goat.” Every so often Jane tells me that I should try and find a normal girlfriend, that if I was looking to her to fulfill some white-picket fence dream of mine then I was barking up the wrong tree. I told her she kept giving me false hope by allowing me to see her from time to time. She informed me that she only called me up when she wanted something which wasn’t available at Phil’s Liquor and 24-hr Pharmacy. I had a normal girlfriend once but it ended in divorce, and I’d say bankruptcy but that had always been the case more or less.
perware full of sangria and all. *** The supermarket was empty at 5 p.m. that day except for the drunks who were inside cause it was too cold outside. They were always staring at the beer and the cheese. I thought I’d buy a present for Jane or maybe Timothy so I stared at the cheese too. I selected some Farmer’s cheese and a bottle of Prosecco—it’s like champagne, but better because the one at this market is always on sale. I also bought some napkins and some plastic cups that were shaped like champagne flutes. And some band-aids and first aid cream because I had slipped on the pavement last night, skinning my elbow after drinking a couple of old Tim’s vodka tonics. The best nights I’ve ever had
“Jane.” I found her two minutes later in the baking aisle, considering a bag of shelled pistachios. “I hear pistachio nutmeats are especially ripe this time of year.” She put them back on the shelf and scrutinized some candied walnuts next. I could tell she wasn’t in the mood to talk to me. She had never been that 19
cast off on the briefest of flights, only to hit the pavement seconds later.
interested in nuts before, or anything the grocery store had to offer for that matter except for cheap wine and these large grapefruits that were really bitter. It occurred to me that while I was standing there contemplating this she had swiftly relocated and was no longer in my line of sight.
Jane amazed me because flat on the pavement she didn’t care. She’d been run over by a car once, tire marks running perfectly straight along the length of her body. Then she just got up and walked right over to El Cielo, ordered some bourbon and stuck her face in it. She was no better or worse for the incident. If I had the guts I could have been something like that.
I wondered what old Tim was doing right about now.
That afternoon I found myself sifting through the dumpster outside, I was sure I’d lost a ten dollar bill in there and there was no way on God’s green earth that I was going to let the trash lady run off with it, who knows what she’s acquired in all her long years of collecting other people’s things. During my search amongst empty TV dinner containers, batteries and beer cans, I was surprised and delighted to find a present-shaped box sitting on top of the pile, tied with a turquoise ribbon and with a note attached. The note said:
I was jolted out of a sound sleep by the phone ringing. It was still dark outside. “Casey. It’s Barb.” “Hello,” I mumbled. “Listen, I need your help down at the shop. How soon can you get over here?” “I thought you fired me?” “Yeah well business is slow and the rent was due. So can you get down here or not?”
I glanced at the clock on the microwave which showed the wrong time. “I have to be at work in 45 minutes.” I was lying. We weren’t shooting any of Men of the Wild till after sunset.
After the tragic passing of my wife, I keep thinking back to the days when we were in the war together. We didn’t have many friends then. But the air smelled fresh and neither of us had showered in several weeks. These thoughts return to me when I lay awake at night, they say smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. The further down the bottle of vodka I get the more clear things become. I must see you again, before it’s too late and one of us is cremated. Until then, take this as a memento of our time together.
“You always were a bit of a flake, Case. Smart enough I guess, but useless all the same.” She hung up but it didn’t make me feel bad. I had to get ready for work. *** No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to get out of this town. It was like a stray dog that I kept feeding despite never having been very fond of it. Like Jane it gave me very little, but just enough so that I could not get up the strength to go out and find something equally unappealing. My eyes shone with deviance and one spark of dimwitted genius but my limbs and my heart had been folded into paper airplanes and
Love, Tim I was situationally confused and morally disturbed, but I opened the package anyway. Inside was 20
“Sure is hot today,” Martin said. It was raining.
an old photo of Tim and this guy dressed in these green wartime uniforms, an awful smelling but soft cat-o’-nine-tails, and a can of BBQ Pringles. In the morning, I was mildly aware of a large, yet unassuming figure looming over me while I hovered on the edge of sleep in my futon. When I opened my eyes, whoever or whatever it had been was gone. I had kept the box with the turquoise ribbon pressed between my knees while I slept. I sat up and looked down. The Pringles had been broken into, only two whole chips and a few crumbs remained. I brushed some off the photograph and examined it closely through sleep-blurry eyes. Old Tim had one arm around Maurice’s shoulders and the other in old Maurice’s pocket. Maurice was smoking a cigar with one hand and scratching his chest with the other. I ate the remains of the Pringles, stashed the cat-o’-nine-tails in one of the kitchen drawers and put the photo in my pocket. It was time to find clean clothes and drink some coffee next door before I made my way to work.
“That’s right. Don’t forget to bring your umbrella.” Emma started doing the tap dance from Singin’ in the Rain. “I don’t have an umbrella. Cats are used to this weather though.” I said, putting my jug in the sink. “Thanks for the coffee Emma.” “Anytime. Toodles!” I wondered idly when Emma had regressed back to the 1950s. But I was late and there were places I had to be. *** “Those trophies sure look nice, kid.” Barb drank Sauvignon Blanc from a mug with dancing alligators on it. “Thanks.” I shook the dust from the dry cloth and folded it. The chime on the door rang. “Excuse me, darlin’,” the old man in the wicker wheelchair who came by every day rolled into the store, “but do you have any thin cigars?” “I’m sorry sir,” I picked up the dry cloth again and dusted something that was already clean. “But we just sold the last one.”
“Casey. I’ve got to go to the store today. We’re down to the last of the freeze-dried.” Emma busied herself with housewifely things while I picked at the skin around my fingernails. “I’ve heard that contrary to popular belief, caffeine is very good for your health. It boosts your immune system and strengthens your muscles. It makes your brain cells bigger and adds pizzazz to your vocal chords.”
“That’s a real shame.” He whistled through his nose and wheeled over to the shelves in the back, admiring a set of jewel-encrusted highball glasses. “Can’t get a decent smoke anywhere in this town no more.” A squeak and another nose-whistle and the chime on the door rang.
I touched my throat self-consciously, remembering humiliating nights of drunken karaoke. Martin came into the living room. Jane was at his heels, following him on her belly. She had a glittery pink scarf tied around her waist and some kind of flesh-colored powder in her hair. She looked nymph-like and decrepit but her eyes were wide open and smiling. I thought she winked at me but then I realized she’d gotten some powder in her eye. Martin handed her a towel and a sweater.
*** I woke up sometime around 9:30 p.m. feeling queer and vague, so I went down to this local divey strip joint called Cat’s Cradle to get moderately drunk and have a look at some long, well-shaped legs. My own pair only came out on the annual Grand Opening 21
celebration of Colonel Sanders’ fine chain of fast food establishments. At Cat’s there was a fake redhead, sad eyes and full lips, wearing a leopard and pleather costume and giving Martin a lap dance as he shoved 22cent notes in anything elastic on her that could hold it. We pretended we didn’t see each other. I snuck out on the tab for my overpriced drink and went to wander the streets for awhile.
when I’d seen old Tim and Jane at El Cielo doing those acrobatics. I couldn’t help thinking about her past professions and his current one. Something was fishy, and I needed one of El Cielo’s flat old watereddown beers badly. Jane was in a tizzy cause I had broken her ego by saying that nowadays she was unattractive and disproportionately overweight. Nobody really wanted her except for me and I didn’t even want her, I just felt obligated and hadn’t seen better in Jane once said that I used to be different. She awhile. Once, I had stopped being obsessed with her said that I had been more ambitious back when she for exactly five and a half months, and then I saw her first met me. I told her yes but that was back when she sleeping at a bus stop with a stuffed cow and a bottle was Disco Dinero’s only go-go girl and I was their of Jim Beam under her arm and fell all over again. only customer. She had been a beauty then, malnourBut by the time I’d made up my mind to go over to ished and her skin always looked a little dry but her her, she’d rolled off of the bench and down the street figure had been good, her lips had been painted ruby all the way to the adjacent town’s ‘Red Light District red and she had sparkling, color-changing, shapeand Shelter for Wayward Youth’. shifting eyes. The first week, Disco kicked me out every night at 1:31 am for never paying, but he stopped after awhile since there was nobody else there and the business was going under anyway. We both liked to sit there sad and drunk, watching Jane attempt to twirl around the pole as we gulped down this foul tasting, bright yellow devil’s piss called Pernod. I was on the set of the show, Men of the Wild. Old Tim informed me that my brain didn’t work like Later that night, what should I find but old Tim other people’s so I would have to speak a little faster and Jane curled up in a little corner booth at El Cielo, and a little louder for the audience. I spoke louder but sipping dirty martinis and sitting so close together the faster part was difficult. that old Tim was practically in her lap and Jane was practically upside-down under the table. There’s no “This is your host, Lord Byron, and you’re place in this town that does or doesn’t serve alcoholic watching the fascinating hit new series, Men of the beverages that I can stand to be in for more than 45 Wild! Next week, join us again for an exercise in paminutes. tience and fertility with our guest, Madame Barbarello. Until then, stay wild and watch out for prrrrey… *** and predators! Good night!”
My old-fashioned heart placed in my thoroughly modern town didn’t do much for me other than give me good taste in melodramatic country tunes. According to Jane, I liked to feel bad most of the time. She said it was because I thought that it made the sweet sweeter, and that I was wrong, it just made everything suck worse. I told her I had a mashed-up cocoa bean, mud and lynched-youth patty once, best thing I ever tasted. I had calmed down quite a bit since last week 22
Jane came out of the bushes dressed in mud and leaves. A stray arrow came by and shot her through the stomach. She pulled it right on out and slithered away. “Hey there, Case my boy.” Old Tim had slid the old arm around the old shoulder. “Good work today. Say, why don’t you come on home with me and I’ll show you how the other half lives, eh? I’ve got a great bottle of 18-year-old single malt scotch that I’ve
been dying to break open. I think that now is just the occasion.”
I went home that night feeling not quite like myself. The booze had gotten to me, among other things. Walking down the opposite side of the street I saw Martin with an older lady, she was in her seventies I think, or maybe eighties. I had never seen her before.
I didn’t know what the occasion was and I didn’t know what an 18-year-old single malt was either, but I’d never been to old Tim’s place before, and besides I had nothing else better to do. ***
“Good eve, Sugar.” She tipped her derby to me.
“You sure got some kind of dead and useless talent that one doesn’t see anymore nowadays. Reminds me of the old vaudeville greats…Keaton, Chaplin, Shakespeare…you know that almost gives me an idea. What do you think about really getting our hands dirty in this reality TV show business? It’s hot right now and you’re one helluva host. We could call it The Next Vaudeville Star. Bring back the old days, you know? It would appeal to all ages. Each week there’d be an elimination and the loser would leave the stage in a variety of classic stunts—trap door in the floor, dragged off by a cane, stunned by a laser, hung by a rope…”
“Nice to meet you Ma’am.” She poured some Tanqueray into her hat and offered it to me. I’d already had too much but didn’t want to seem rude. “Nice night out, isn’t it m’boy?” Martin had adopted a phony Southern accent. “Yes it is, even the cows are quiet tonight.” Somewhere in my woozy head I knew something was missing. I realized it was Martin’s wife. “They certainly are. Perfect night for a stroll out on the town with your baby.” Martin kissed her. I tried not to look but it was like watching those clowns when they start rolling out of a circus car and more and more of them just keep on coming.
He handed me a high drink in a low-ball. It stung the back of my eyes a little but I didn’t want to appear unmanly. I downed it in one gulp and choked very quietly.
“Well, I’d better be getting home. Good night.” I downed the rest of the hat gin and stumbled down the road to wherever it was I lived.
“I’m frustrated by the apathy of today’s youth and geriatrics. They’ve got no manners, respect, or testicles. You’ve got at least one of those, son. Just what this country needs right now.” Old Tim was sitting very, very close to me and had somehow downed half the bottle of 18-year-old single malt in less than three minutes.
I didn’t want to pry. ***
“I’m frustrated too.” I said. I didn’t know by what exactly but it seemed like the right thing to say. Old Tim’s head disappeared somewhere behind the sofa cushions. As usual I didn’t ask any questions. I reached for the bottle of scotch and drank it up while Tim went down.
When I got home that night I started to think about how nobody I knew was ever honest except for once in a very brief while. Take old Tim for example. I trusted him because he spoke well and had just the right amount of beard. But really, I didn’t know anything about him, and the angle at which he jutted his hip out when he stood made him look suspicious. And the people in this town…I’ve known them forever, yet somehow it seems like we’re all strangers. I remembered how when I was eighteen I had really wanted to move, and I almost did it, too. But then I got the job at the pawn shop and I think I’ve been working there
only people with extraneous antennae satellite cable dishes get, all the cast and crew and I are very excited. Martin, Emma and Melanie send their love, Sallie and Ed send their condolences. Billy and his kid Jesse send this box of Tide and three-and-a-half pairs of dirty crew socks. We all hope you are as well as you can be and that the city brings you exactly one-third of what you dreamed of.
for fifty years. And now I’m on old Tim’s show, Men of the Wild or The Next Vaudeville Star or whatever. After the hat gin I felt like I was about to stumble onto something really important—it hovered somewhere around the upper-left corner of my mind—but I fell asleep before I could move it to a place where I would remember it. When I woke up I was so hungry I couldn’t think of anything else but cheese. I guess that must happen to everyone from time to time.
Farewell and kisses,
I placed the letter in my green plastic keepsake box on top of the cat-o’-nine-tails, Ed’s fountain pen, a potholder Emma had crocheted for me and Barb’s engagement ring. It was 2 p.m. so I got out of bed and put a cup of water in the microwave to heat for coffee. Some of the memories faded along with sleep and I knew that in time I would hardly remember the place I grew up in. The chime on the microwave rang.
“Sunset’s beautiful this time of year.” Jane gazed at me with her one eye that didn’t go lazy after 5 p.m. I looked past the top of her head with a glimmer of sadness and a whole lot of resignation. It was the first time I had heard her speak. “It is nice,” I said. “But it’s also the time of day when the frogs start croaking, and I inherited my father’s fear of frogs when I was thirteen. Especially the tiny ones that end up in your coffee cup sometimes.”
The sun set behind the mountains in the far East. The frogs were either mating or cheering at a football game. I looked to my left. Jane was gone. Corin Reyburn lives in Santa Monica, California,
and has had pieces published in Free Focus, Sili-
I woke up in Little New Rock. It was dark outside and the air smelled of sweet fabric softener. There was a letter on the floor next to my trundle bed:
con Valley Debug, Clutching at Straws, Quantum Muse, and M-BRANE SF.
I hope this letter finds you well. Sean, Jane and I are sorry you couldn’t be at our wedding. I guess your life in Little New Rock is working out for you just as fine as it did while you were here. ‘Men of the Wild’ has been picked up by a network that 24
A bodyguard of lies. I ended up getting the summer internship at the hospital.
I remember my interview for the internship at the hospital. It happened right after I graduated high school. My intent was to go into the healthcare field and then work as I went to college to become a doctor. I got decent grades in high school and knew that with the right amount of hard work I could pull it off. The internship was only available to students from low income families within the school district. I grew up poor (which is another story entirely) and although I had just graduated I still qualified.
Every one in high school said going into the health care field was a good decision. They said it was an expanding field that paid well. My summer internship at the hospital consisted of boring menial tasks like file organizing. Much of the time I sat around reading. But management liked me and I ended up getting a job stocking supplies. The job was easy, I could work by myself and if I got good enough at it Iâ€™d have extra time 25
during the day to get homework done. The day I started my orientation for this job is also the same day I started going to Clark College. I remember walking into the education center at what is now Peace Health Southwest Washington thinking, you’re doing well, don’t fuck this up, you got two years at Clark and then it’s off to a new school and a new job. Five years later and I finally graduated from a two year school. Six years later and I’m still working at the hospital. I gave up on going to college, I graduated, but there was no longer an up. My college experience consisted of poor teachers, financial aid problems, and required classes I had little or no interest in. The teacher in the last English class I took, and one of the few people I met there worth keeping in touch with, put it very simply. He said, “This is all just jumping through other people’s hoops to get what you want.” And it was just that. I now work as a Certified Nurses Assistant in the intensive care units of Peace Health Southwest Washington Medical Center. I work twelve hour shifts. I’ve been doing it for two years now. “Hey, can you come in here and empty this foley out for me?” one of the nurses asked me one day as I walked by her patients room. I stopped and felt the muscles of my back tighten. I walked back into the patient’s room and got a canister to empty the catheter into. I got down on one knee, at the end of the bed. I pulled the little hose out of it’s holder on the bag and I loosened the metal clasp and the urine started to pour from the tube into the canister. And as I’m watching the yellow urine fill this plastic container with numbers up the side, I begin
to think. This is what five years of college has come down to, all my hard work, emptying piss into a plastic cup. Most people in the ICU are there for entirely preventable reasons: gang members getting shot or stabbed; drunk drivers; people who eat themselves to weigh six hundred pounds and now they can’t get out of bed; or vegetables. Most people are from some kind of care home. The average weight of an ICU patient is somewhere between 255 to 285 which means for every ninety pound old woman we have there is a four hundred pound person there to even out the scales. At my job I’ve gotten shit on me, blood on me, piss on me, vomit on me, various black and green and yellow and brown and all manners of human bodily fluids that I didn’t even know our bodies could produce. At the end of my work week I’m too tired to stay awake passed eight-thirty at night. And I’m only twenty-five. You may tell me to quit my job and find something else. Well, there is nothing else. The hospital is a bureaucracy and it does provide a moderate pay and benefits and a tiny bit of security. So you may ask why I am complaining. Because I feel tricked. In high school, during my last year, they told us to take the path less traveled. They said to blaze your own trail. And then in the same breath they said to go to college, the beaten path. No one ever said to follow your passions or to pursue the thing that you would do for free. They said if you want to be a writer go to college and get a degree in English. 26
They never said just do it. They never said be consumed by it, read every thing you can on the subject, do it until not doing it hurts. They never said give up every thing to do it, friends, family, travel, money, women, or just simple comfort. They never said follow your passions. They said go to college. My parents said to go to college. My father said, “Don’t be like your mother and I, go to school and get an education.” Hemingway said that college only serves to quantify its failures. Go to college to get a good job and a comfortable life. The other day I was talking to a nurse and I asked her why she became a nurse. She said that she did it because she couldn’t do anything else and that most days she feels like she is about to have a nervous breakdown. No one really seems like they enjoy their job where I work. Go to college.
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
Do you ever get the feeling that no one knows anything and that maybe they all just go with the safe answer? Went to college. Got a degree. Can’t do much with my degree. Now I kneel on a floor in a hospital room and empty urine into a plastic container. If only someone had come up to me and said follow your passions. I wouldn’t have wasted so much time jumping through other people’s hoops in an attempt to get things I didn’t know I didn’t want. pp
Innocent” on the Kindle store.
Always Leading Me Astray Kirby Light Although I’m sure the primary audience for Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell likely isn’t men, I enjoyed it. Legs Get Led Astray is a charming little book. Published by Future Tense Books, it’s the first book written by Chloe Caldwell. It’s a modest collection of essays that are really just non-fiction stories. Twenty-four in all, they are presented in sections that are pretty short and make for perfect reading for those who might not have a lot of time to sit. Were I a sentimental writer with a love of overly ripe prose I would say: It’s a dramatic series of sparkling and dark stories of a young girl yearning for experience and learning to make in the world during the confusing roving decade just after high school. Were I a cynical writer, I would say: It’s the story of a girl and her vagina.
future tense books Many of the stories are humorous, some sad, occasionally poignant. And when they are poignant, they are very good. With a decent variety of prosaic style, the words never get dull, even when the content feels a bit repetitive here and there.
But I am neither of these, so in short, I’ll say: it’s a pretty good read. The theme here is love. To get academic: it’s an examination of love in many of its various facets: parental love, romantic love, love of friendship, and love of a city.
Many of the stories, such as “Penis Game,” will leave the reader wondering where the story is going. You’ll keep reading just to find out what the point is (and I mean this in a good way, like solving a mystery or riddle to gain some type of wisdom). Many of the essays, like “Yes to Carrots” and “Shit You Say,” get partially poetic with fragmented images, thoughts, and emotions to tell their stories, stories that might be novels within themselves were they handled by other, more long winded, writers.
New York comes through in this book quite a bit. It would be easy for someone to say that in some ways this is a love letter to New York. Most of the stories take place in the city and when they don’t they are often referring back to it. The story “Underground” is my favorite essay involving the city. It utilizes the city as a literary device to move the story from A to Z. “Underground,” incidentally, also ends the best. 28
reviews Some of the ideas and stories here have, in other ways, been presented by other writers in the past. There’s lots of drugs, despair, sex, and broken relationships. Some of the subject matter is reminiscent of writers such as Bukowski and Burroughs (both of which are mentioned in the book, the former multiple times). This somewhat gives way to that “heard it before” feeling. However, the female sensibilities provided by the writer, and unique writing style, make these ideas fresh and far superior than they would have been were this book written by the contemporary male. It would be an entirely different book, one likely not worth reading, were this written by a dude. As a whole, this creature comes together very well, starting with an essay about who the author is, an essay called “barney,” and ending with an essay called “True Love,” which serves as a pretty fine final summation of the emotional intent the book and the stories set out to produce. And the middle parts? Well, they hold you like your first real love did. To bottom line it: Legs Get Led Astray is a good book, despite the fact that every great once in a while you’ll get that “I’ve heard this before” feeling. Needless to say, it’s worth getting led astray here.
K i r b y L i g h t , o u r r e s i d e n t M a d H e r m i t , a l s o r e v i e w s b o o k s ? A m a z i n g . I n c i d e n t a l l y, t h i s book he bought with his own money is available through all online retailers, in stores, a n d , m o s t n o t a b l y p e r h a p s , c a n b e f o u n d a t R e a d i n g F r e n z y i n P o r t l a n d , O r e g o n , a r eally cool, highly selective independent bookstore that stocks hard to find literature, runs a g a l l e r y s p a c e , a n d h o s t s l i t e r a r y e v e n t s t h r o u g h o u t t h e y e a r. S o , i f y o u ’ r e i n t h e a r e a , you should support a unique bookstore and a great book. www.chloecaldwell.com www.readingfrenzy.com
THE NEW FAIRY TALES: Robotic Uprising, Surveillance States, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Over American Soil A Thought Essay by Arthur Brand If you think about it, we’ve been afraid of robots taking over the world long before the possibility of robots was even on the horizon. It’s kind of a unique scenario, it isn’t like the myths and fables and fairy tales of bygone years that would hold the imaginations of children for ransom at every bump and scrape in the night. Those were things evolved out of a primal fear, taking the shape of things we are instinctively afraid of -- scaled beasts with claws, fire breathing monsters, stuff that can do physical harm exaggerated by the stories of drunken uncles and long shadows outside your window. But the fear of technology is something else entirely. It is a fear of ourselves, what we can and will create. Fear of the natural world inspired the stories of witches and werewolves, dragons, and ogres. These come from a land of dreams influenced by the predator-prey fight or flight dynamic common to all life forms, but the fear of artificial life rising up is a singularly human paranoia. As humans, we develop technology and simultaneously fear it will be our undoing. Since the days of Isaac Asimov, when the first robot yarns were being woven, we’ve imagined what it would be like if they evolved beyond us, if history turned against us and we lived to serve the machines instead of the other way around. It’s an
interesting fear, but one as understandable and easily substantiated as the fear of nuclear war, global warming, or fascist dictatorship. We really are our own worst enemy. We can see the future and all its darkness, but we do nothing to prevent it. We tell ourselves that it won’t happen in our lifetime, the next generation will be better than we were and therefore more equipped to handle these issues. The shortsightedness of our lifestyles, institutions, politicians, and economic infrastructure enable a “get while the getting is good” mentality that only serves to pad the bed of an ailing patient rather than look for a cure. We make choices based on personal financial gain, victory in a short-term political arena, or temporary patches on deep-seeded problems just to make ourselves look good for the news, the review board, or the next election. We live in a world of the self where motivations are selfish. And, like the fear of economic disintegration, political infighting, or nuclear war, the fear of technology is just one more button we keep pressing despite the insecurity. We press that button, again and again, because the risk of losing ourselves is outweighed by the promise of heightened security, faster downloads, clearer picture, better weapons, or any number of advantages over the global competition. 30
say, “Well, yeah, remember those robot airplanes you’ve all gotten so used to? Well, the terrorists are getting really scary so we’ve decided to outfit our drone aircraft with artillery, just in case one of our cameras runs into a combat situation.”
The point of this rant has to do with a choice made by our legislators this past February. Congress passed a law that not only allows for the flight of unmanned aerial drones over private US airspace, but even puts pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration to make way for UAVs by September 2015. In other words, FAA, this is happening, whether you like it or not, and here’s how long you have to make it happen. However, 2015 is the hard deadline for the whole project. May 2013, just one year from now, is the approximate goal for the approval and open flight of the lightweight (55 lbs. or less) class of drone aircraft. That means that this time next year your cities can be scanned from the skies, unbeknownst to you and your family, by automated cameras on wings. The law is passed, the day is coming. Our government has the right, the lawful privilege, to fly robots over the citizenry. I won’t get into concerns of privacy, constitutionality, or the sheer Big Brother overtones of such an idea. I won’t because I, like many people I know, am no longer surprised by the way basic rights and liberties are treated as malleable concepts bending to the will of a privileged few. The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the American ethic in general, have become flexible concerns, elastic to the point of snapping, in the hands of money driven opportunists with no vision for where these choices might take us in the future.
How long is it until they outfit the things with their own intelligence, taking the human factor out of the equation entirely? How long after that until the machines realize we’re all irrelevant and the earth would be more peaceful without our presence? Then what? The launch of Skynet? The rise of the machines? The Matrix? These stories seem silly or far-fetched, but they are based in a legitimate fear. Just as Little Red Riding Hood is based in a fear of strangers snatching our children, or the Bogeyman in your closet is your brain telling you no home is really safe, these narratives are based in true fears, new concerns, of course, but a growing instinct reflecting the modern world. The fear of the dark is not superstition, there are horrible things out there, and it’s worse if you can’t see them. But how much worse is it when you can see what’s happening but have no power to change things? Dystopian fiction has caught on as a new fad for the same reason that the ancient fables of monsters and magic have resonated with people for generations. It speaks to a fear in all of us, and watching heroes triumph over those fears gives us hope. Robots uprising, fascist governments controlling the people, technology turning on its creators, the invention turned monster – these are not new stories, just new vocabulary. In the end, it’s all Frankenstein, all over again. You try to have too much power, too much control, and it comes back to bite you in the ass. Period. We all know this. We all feel it. And it’s for this reason that dystopian tales are the new morality fables. pp
Is it foolish to picture this as one more step toward a fascist state? Is it paranoia to feel like flying robots taking pictures of my house just looks like a glimpse of the future depicted in The Terminator? Maybe I’ve read too much sci-fi, or maybe, as implied by its literary synonym, the “speculative” nature of science fiction is just one of the last true platforms to voice concerns about where the powers that be are taking us. They say “don’t be afraid” they’re harmless, it is just a security measure to keep America safe. Next year, five years from now, ten years, whenever it may be, they’ll 31
TR: Search and Restore. The name implies action, so why don’t you start off by telling us a little about what you do.
I was 19 at the time we began to build a reputation for connecting younger audiences with the music, a mission we still stay true to, despite my fear of getting older having coming true.
AS: We’re a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to bringing together the artists & audiences of the new jazz & improvised music community through creative presentation. Boom! We organize concerts throughout the city as well as the Winter Jazzfest and Undead Music Festival. Our most personal enterprise is SearchAndRestore.com, the most dynamic point of discovery for the scene, featuring hundreds of videos we shot of performances throughout 2011, with artist pages for every musician in every video, connecting them together, outlining the incredible collaboration that permeates the scene.
TR: What do you guys do to find new musicians to cover? How do you select them from all the thousands of talented people out there in cyberspace? AS: We start from the folks we know and work outward. Every day I discover someone new because they’re playing with someone who I do know and love. I also get emailed often by artists looking to get more exposure, and I listen to absolutely everything, so if something strikes me, eventually we find a way to work with them. I also have a dedicated crew of volunteers who keep their ears pealed, everything gets heard.
TR: So, in addition to the nonprofit, you’re a jazz man yourself, with several other bands going at once. I’m always interested in learning about things people do to get their name out there in the world. Did self-promotion play a factor in starting up Search and Restore or was this its own thing?
TR: Based on your experience, what do you see in the future of jazz and improvisational music? AS: Influences are increasing and sounds are becoming more and more varied, while a shared energy is still being maintained. It’s less than ever about things sounding the same, and more about them something interesting and personal. That’s not going to change, and the people making great music now are going to keep making great music, and those coming up after them will learn from it and do the same. It’s a broad answer, but I’m definitely not qualified to say anything more than that. At the core, I’m just a fan.
AS: For me, I can only put on the promoter hat if I genuinely love and believe in what I’m doing. So in that way, it was easy from the beginning. I started throwing double bills at the Knitting Factory, putting together shows that I would have flipped out over if I was just an audience member, and did my best to spread the word and attract like-minded folks to come lose their minds. Since 32
utopia TR: From my perspective, one of the best advantages to an idea like Search and Restore is you have taken the vastness of the internet and created a refined search engine for a very particular interest. However, I am curious if you run the risk of losing people in all of the names as Search and Restore grows. Is there any way for an artist to stand out in your ranks and get noticed?
mediately. Build a board of smart people who respect you but aren’t afraid to question you either. I feel pretty positive about diving in not knowing much. I had lunch with a lot of different folks who worked in non-profits before we really got going on the official level, and I tried my best to learn from everyone’s successes and mistakes. One thing to know, which I learned quickly, is that as a brand new non-profit, you’re ineligible for almost every grant. Many of the major grants require 2 to 3 years of financial history, and really want to see some proof that you know what you’re doing with money, that you can accomplish something with a budget. Our solution was a crazy Kickstarter campaign that raised $75,000 and allowed us to prove ourselves grant free, and build the website. Crowd funding may be the greatest invention for new non-profits. It isn’t sustainable to only fundraise that way, but it’s a ballsy way to start.
AS: We still have ways to go on developing the site design to be really interactive with all the media we’ve got connected within it. We’re working on a much more intuitive homepage that features different artists, and has a blog component, basically more windows into the world we’re depicting. In the end though, it really is built for people to get lost in, to dive in head first and check out anything to see if they like it. If they don’t, they can try someone else, but if they do, they can keep clicking through associated people and potentially end up with a list of 20 new artists to go see live.
TR: What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle Search and Restore has faced?
TR: What does it take to get involved as one of your artists?
AS: That’s a hard one. I think our biggest challenge is working with the word Jazz. It’s a polarizing word, it’s never the only descriptor we use but I always feel it’s an important one to include. But because what we do can’t be boiled down to a single word, the growing challenge is marketing. How do we take a FEELING that this music gives us, and market that, rather than just market one big artist. Because we don’t have that, we don’t have any big stars, or hit singles. Just an amazing spontaneous energy and incredibly high level of creative skill.
AS: Well, it’s not as if we have a roster. We’re not an agency, we’re somewhat editorial but it definitely dances around the line. Because as a presenter, we definitely align ourselves with artists we love and work with repeatedly, but that also has to do with the drawing power of the artist with an audience. As for the website, we make artist pages for the artists we film, so it’s a mix between us reaching out to folks and other artists approaching us. But right now we’re in search of a lot more funding so we can document a bigger chunk of the scene, at this point even though there’s a huge quantity of artists represented, it’s largely people we already know or have worked with before, since we’re going off of a few years of presenting and getting psyched on a whole slew of players, creators, composers.
TR: I love finding projects that were created by people that started out in the same boat as the people they are catering to, whether it’s a publishing company started by writers or a gallery started by artists or, in your case, a nonprofit for musicians started by a guy that knows what it’s like out there. What aspects of being a musician would you say influenced the concept for Search and Restore?
TR: In taking Search and Restore the nonprofit route was there anything you wish you knew ahead of time? Any advice for like-minded beginners?
AS: I felt that the business side of things needed someone who really understood and was sympathetic to the artistic side. It sort of is an ongoing
AS: Keep your receipts. Hire an accountant im33
guarantee that there’s not a bone in my body that would think of taking advantage of the artists. There’s a rich history of artists getting fucked over, so there’s a lot of delicate skin to work with, and me being an artist can help get around some of that tip toeing. TR: As enthusiastic as I am about this idea I’m most impressed by the sheer volume of projects you’re involved in. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the different bands you’re involved with and where people can check them out? AS: Hooo boy!
LANDLADY is a six piece adventure pop group, I sing and play farfisa organ, 2 drummers, massive. http://landlady.bandcamp.com FATHER FIGURES is my 5 piece zombie jazz collective, 75% improvised 25% composed.
Check out what
Search & Restore
ZONGO JUNCTION 12 piece afrobeat dance party.
has going on at their website:
w w w. s e a rc h a n d re s t o re . c o m
BLAST OFF!!! Improvised melodic mayhem. http://blastoff.bandcamp.com
Wa t c h P e r f o r m a n c e s
THE SHOE INS is a 9 piece psychedelic soul band.
Find Concert Dates,
Ve n u e s , A r t i s t s ,
TR: Do you have anything in the works that we can look forward to?
and Other Exciting
U p c o m i n g P ro j e t s
TR: Ha! That’s as good an ending as any. Thanks so much, Adam, and best of luck with everything. 34
u MOVABLE TYPE Eric Lawson I am seriously fucked up tonight Let me clarify it as much as possible Not from being top-shelf-wasted either My innards are an emotional wasteland I am a living, breathing, over-thinking, problem-solving, planet-revolving, mess of a human being My knuckles are bloody from punching my keyboard into submission yet again Why do I abuse my typewriter so badly? Why doesnâ€™t it ever stand up for itself? Something tells me that on some level, maybe it likes the abuse How fucked up is that? I must be a sociopath I must be bi-polar with a sexy side of Touretteâ€™s 35
I must need professional help because they charge for my per scripted cure Can you feel my essence through the page? Can you tell an actual person wrote these lines? Can you hear the tension in my voice as I edit this shit to hell and back with a whiskey chaser? As my fingers fly, the typing seems to help on some wack, primitive level Maybe it’s a self-induced trance Like the pressure it takes to push the keys, I need the pressure of the outside world to live Do I live to survive this daily drama bullshit or am I an earnest scribbler, on a mission? I yearn to be the Johannes Guttenberg of my own movable type fantasy scenario That’s the fantasy; brutal honesty indicates I’m just a manimal, painting symbols in caves Fuck! Where’s my goddamn Easy button? I want life to make sense from time to time I just want some answers I can hold on to Answers that lead to questions are suspect My words are bloody from enduring life and the keys are smeared with brainstorms Why does my conscience abuse me so badly? Why don’t I ever stand up for myself? I am a scheming, day-dreaming, over-indulging, maelstrom-spewing, landlocked-eschewing, word-slinging motherfucker My innards are an emotional wasteland Not from being top-shelf-wasted either Let me clarify it as much as possible I am seriously fucked up tonight 36
Constant Elegy Daniel Hedges Four Questions in a Prose Poem When we die, will we spawn the metaphysical to infinity? Will we return unto our homes as salmon, or choose the right words when in matters? Will our return resemble a reverse migration to an origin of strength? Will time deliver our final equalization payment?
Constant Elegy In the reviews, they spoke of how the words ‘evoked space’, and how the imagery ‘lit up the sky’ with an ‘axe of courage’. It was spoken as if the prose meant anything to anyone. No one mentioned how the ‘voice’ tethered on a semantic totem of constant elegy.
No Reason at All Out amidst the orchard of choice, we dabble in requiems and font styles. We concentrate our thoughts until they become aluminum charms in semantic worlds, word-worlds away. We point to repetition as a charismatic device and alouette to the Mid-West for no reason at all. The grammarian sticklers puruse the catalogue of noise for new rituals of austere Julep and make is possible for agrammarian humanimals to rise up in ironic rapture.
Disco Balls and Semantics While we concede that disco balls have hundreds of facets (there is no standard) the great semantic conundrum has a panoply of facets that makes physics look like snakes and ladders.
This Epochâ€™s Zeitgeist Neo-ClichĂŠ-Hipsters form neo-sermons to exhibit righteous progress in a context of this epochâ€™s zeitgeist. Lemon juice dissolved in distilled mineral water a reasonable drug to carry this mentation forth.
The Critic’s Critic
K.N.R. Jackson Critiques “The Cabin in the Woods” A Review by Robert Denerstein Published April 13, 2012 for MovieHabit.com It’s the classic horror film formula: a group of attractive twenty-somethings take off for a fun-filled weekend at a lake cabin where everything seems a bit eerie, but they throw caution to the wind because they’re young, and hey, what could happen? Murder, that’s what. Audience goers just love to see beautiful college kids get hacked to pieces (perhaps to soothe the pain of the now unfulfilled dreams held so dear at that age), and filmmakers just love to film it. Enter: The Cabin in the Woods. A twist on the redundant story structure surprises and delights the public and critics alike,and yet, Robert Denerstein of MovieHabit.com is unconvinced. While Denerstein recognizes movie’s success and unique finale, he claims the film provides only “a certain kind of smart-alecky cleverness about movies and not much else.” The fact that the film flat out refuses to take itself too seriously is what makes the movie great. Concocted by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods is chock full of tongue-in-cheek situations allowing for predictable plot points on top of witty banter. To claim the movie is only accessible to “giddy fanboys” (as Denerstein did) is as naïve and short sighted as the characters expecting to have a totally normal weekend at this deserted and mysterious cabin in the middle of nowhere.
To expect to be scared by an obviously satirical representation of horror is silly, and to not find the humor in the clichéd situations is, well, sad (I’m looking at you, Denerstein). How Denerstein talks down to those who will enjoy the film is even sadder: “Know, though,that some viewers will regard the movie’s finale as surprising and enjoyably preposterous.” Frankly I find Denerstein’s attitude toward a uniquely executed film that, in the end, doesn’t really belong to any specific genre preposterous. While the film spends much of the time winking at the audience in horror movie fashion, it also allows for several surprises (providing the viewer isn’t exposed to too many spoilers). All the audience needs to know is that The Cabin in the Woods accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: provide a horror film plot with hilarious dialogue finished off by a conspiracy theory twist. pp
The Cabin in the Woods is for anyone who has seen a horror film, or even a trailer for one, and especially for those who are bored with the genre. It can be comforting to expect the samestory played out again and again, but the beauty of The Cabin in the Woods is how it combines the familiar structure with a real analysis of why we fear what we do, and particularly why someone would intentionally sic actual manifestations of these fears on unsuspecting young adults.
Check out Denerstein’s full review at: http://www.moviehabit.com/review.php?story=cab_dm12 39
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 12:56 PM
“Remind me again why we’re doing this?”
Audrey is yelling after Joe from a short distance behind. They’re pedaling slowly up a long, unpaved hill. Joe has a small red tank of lawnmower fuel balanced on his handlebars. Audrey has a look of doubt weighing on her forehead. Joe shouts back, “It’s for Lee. I owe him this much, that’s all I know. I want him to know that this place won’t hurt anyone else again.” There’s some huffing up the hill, not saying a word, and when they reach the top Joe just says, “It’s like the stories about God destroying something because it’s evil.”
“Shouldn’t we let God decide something like that, Joe?”
He hesitates, momentarily losing his conviction, thinking it over and in a way inspired by her challenge – perhaps confronted for the first time with what life could be like with a smart girl with her own kind of moxie willing to stand up on her toes and say you’re wrong. Joe shrugs, “Mrs. Blevins says we’re all God’s instruments, he works through us.” Now they’re at the fort. I see them wheeling up through that little deer cam which apparently has something to do with a study of the migration habits of white-tailed deer. The door creaks and I cut to the camera in the portable television. Inside is the pile of magazines, newspapers, junk and playing cards. Joe stops in his tracks at the sight of the skin rag sitting open and face down on the table like a dead bird. It’s rumpled all to hell and I’d dare say even a little damp. He shudders and pours the gas over the table. He pours it onto the newspapers and bits of old junk. Audrey waits by the door, watching him coolly as he makes a wet line around the perimeter of the structure like he’s drawing the floor plan with an incendiary Etch-a-Sketch. There’s a little pause, a break in the momentum, when Joe looks at the trapdoor, “the box,” and freezes. Audrey says, “Do it, Joe. Don’t let it scare you.” Joe forces himself to open up the lid and dumps in the contents of the gas can until it’s nearly empty, saving just enough to make a trail out the door. He walks backwards, painting the way out like some kind of hellish Hansel and Gretel reshoot. Audrey asks, “So, how much do you know about gas?”
“Almost nothing,” Joe laughs. 41
serials “I mean, when we light these matches, what’s going to happen? Can the air catch fire if it smells like gas? What if you have some on you?”
“That’s why I needed you here, Audrey.”
“What do you mean?”
“If I get on fire you gotta put me out.”
Audrey laughs nervously and says, “You really know how to treat a lady.” Joe fumbles with a matchbook in his pocket and says, “I saw this on The Usual Suspects. You ever seen that movie? This guy at the beginning is dying, it’s kind of scary. But he holds a match up to the whole packet and sets it on fire…like this.” The match strikes. The sound of it triggers an image in my brain. Old Joe Vagrant. He’s in his crummy hideout where this all began. He strikes a match. His face lit up orange, then he turns and he talks to me. The system goes haywire. But it was a match. Not many people use matches anymore. They use Zippos or Bic lighters. More reliable. I make a mental note: subject may associate matches and cigarettes with an arsonist experience from his childhood. The striking of a match could be a talismanic representation of destroying adversaries, standing up for justice, or feeling in control in an out of control situation. The match may be a security blanket or defense mechanism. This implies that the experience is one he holds onto and experiences repeatedly as a fresh memory with each striking of a match. To Joe Vagrant the act of smoking is a ritual that puts him in touch with the violence of his youth. It’s the ceremonial burnt offering to the god of the self. The smell of gasoline on your skin, the destruction of your enemy by fire, lighting a match recalls the feeling of your lungs expanding with something poisonous, something that isn’t just normal air. In the presence of the fire his skin pulled tight on his face. His lungs tingled and burned. His nostrils breathed in the wrath of Perdition. And every time he ignites a match he breathes all of those sensations in through the funnel cloud ember of a cigarette. The monitor shows the eight year old boy smiling his relief and taking the girl’s hand gently, his skin blackened by smoke and tar. He stares down the glowing eye of the beast, silent and still for a time, then nods with finality. On Screen 5 there’s the first person shot of the inferno, like watching Hell through a Viewfinder. The walls melt down and curl up simultaneously. Fire licks up the papers and furniture and corner mold. The camera behind the tiny television screen begins to haze brown and skew like a bad trip. The screen warps from the heat and the smoke blackens out the view like a storm. Joe turns to her and says, “So, what about just like a movie or something next time?” 42
serials Audrey laughs and then there’s an explosion, possibly the pressurized glass of the portable television blowing out. They both flinch and pull each other in for a frightened hug. Then there’s the voice. I know it instantly. Anthony, from behind, says, “Well, well, well, isn’t this just the cutest thing you ever saw? Two lovebirds hugging it out by the fire. Get ‘em, boys!” They don’t waste any time. Anthony’s gang rushes them in a semi-circle, but Joe is fast, he’s on his bike in a single motion. The adrenaline in his brain evens out his thinking, slows time to a drawl, and he knows not to waste time with Audrey’s bike. She’s pulled onto his handlebars and they race away together down the big hill toward town. But it’s not over that easily. Smoke spreads through the forest. The fire spreads to the trees and the gang is behind them, howling through the smoke like werewolves. They follow on bikes of their own and Joe pedals hard to get Audrey safely away. He hits the bottom of the hill fast and ramps up, airborne, onto the paved street. Audrey is screaming, crying. And then, it happened fast, even for me. There’s sirens, red light, the smoke billows out of the tree line. The gang of boys gives chase. Their howls blend into the blast of fire engine horns and police car warrior yawps. The emergency workers couldn’t have expected kids. The kids couldn’t have expected a squad car. They collide. It’s almost the exact same spot where Joe crashed into Audrey. Only this is much worse. Joe is knocked unconscious instantly. To him it would have been flashing lights and then darkness. Nothing more. Just as fast as flicking a light switch. To me, there was much more. The kids on the bike hit the side of a cop car as it screeches to a halt in front of the forest, blocking the road to street traffic so the fire trucks could get through. Audrey is almost crushed between the door and the frame of the bike while Joe sails over her, face first into the doorframe. In the commotion officers grab Anthony and his gang as they hit the bottom of the hill. There’s doors slamming. Kids pushed into the back seat as if under arrest. I can see Audrey, unconscious, as her arm falls at an odd angle, broken just below the elbow. It looks like a clear cut case of wrangle ‘em all up and sort it out later. And then it happens. I watch through the aerial view of a street lamp camera as they put Audrey in one ambulance headed to the reservation hospital and Joe in another destined for the higher octane white people emergency room. She’s on a stretcher when she comes to. She sees Joe and starts calling after him. Screaming she’s sorry. Asking if he’s dead. Crying. Screaming. Calling his name. Reaching out her hands. It’s all too much. It looks like that scene in E.T. when the alien dies or whatever. You know, that part where the alien is all white like a 43
serials powdered donut and the kid’s crying his eyes out ‘cause he thinks his alien pal just croaked. Then the science guys with the gumball machine masks come in to cart the little squashy alien away to some special hospital for dead powdered sugar monkeys from space. The whole time though the kid’s just screaming his head off.
This was just like that.
Gardner is back. “This sucks.”
I cut the feed.
He leans on my circuit board stupidly and says,
“I know. That intro film is pretty much the worst video ever to be spliced together by a bunch of retarded apes in the whole long sad history of worst videos ever to be spliced together by a bunch of retarded apes.”
“I’m just saying you’re right. It sucks. They play videos to new hires at factory plants that are better than that thing. You know, the ones that have stereotypical Mexican workers in hard hats and an abundance of safety gear demonstrating how to bend with your ass out when picking up a six inch box so you don’t hurt your back?”
“Um…yeah…but,” Gardner begins.
“For years now I’ve been trying to get them to have a topless model run through all of the technical jargon. At least we’d watch the damn thing that way, right?” “Anders, I mean this sucks,” he gestures around the compound, “The place is in shambles, we can’t access the Internet or external cameras or resources. We can’t hunt down your hacker guy. And on top of that, I’m faced with the decision about whether or not to let the US government put microchips in my brain if I ever want to be able to get a real position at this techno petting zoo. Plus, while trying to work out the toughest decision of my entire life I have to sit through the worst video ever spliced together by a bunch of retarded white collar apes in their short sleeve button ups and clip on ties.”
“Now you’re talking,” I laugh, patting the kid on the knee.
“So what’s up with your hippie kid?
“Hippie kid ain’t a hippie yet,” I confused, malcontent eight year old who a girl’s arm and is about to wake up in years ago when he went ballistic on his
Got anything good?” say, “He’s still just a frustrated, just started a forest fire, broke the same hospital he was in five mom’s boyfriend.”
“Sounds like a real charmer.”
“Best part is, the guy he went ballistic on, the mother’s boyfriend, he’s the guy in charge of the hospital. He’s really gonna spray this kid with the whole load this time around.” 44
serials “Did you just make an off color cum shot facial reference in regard to an eight year old boy? Christ, Anders, does everyone here have the sense of humor of a frat dude, or a thirteen year old football player?” “Um…yeah, Gardner, we kinda do. Kinda have to. I mean, we spend twelve to eighteen hours a day underground. What do you think’s gonna happen?” He shrugs, “Fair enough, I guess… well, I just thought I’d let you know that I got through that crappy Welcome to the Team video. What do you want me to do now?” “I am interested in this little puppy love trailer park chippie of his. Why don’t you take some time exploring RITA, get a feel for the system, and do a little record digging for information on a girl named Audrey Lamb. I’ve done some preliminary digging. Born October 13, 2011 in Something Hospital on the Niitsitaapi Reservation in Montana.”
“Sure, thing, boss, I’ll have you a file in no time.”
Gardner practically skips back to his console.
I turn my attention back to Joe.
He wakes up in the same ward of the hospital from when he was three. The look on his face says he thinks it’s that same day all over again. Like the past five years have been a dream and he’s been in this mechanical bull of a bed asleep all that time. His expression softens some when he realizes this is stupid, but twists again when the memory of the accident floods back on him. There’s no one around and he’s muttering to himself. I crank up the volume so high I can hear static, that dull rush of air sound when you’re magnifying silence to a level well beyond normal. I just have to hear what he’s saying. Joe’s hands are over his ears and he whispers, “I know, I know. What do you mean it was stupid? It was your idea. I just hope Audrey’s okay. I know! I’m sorry, I mean… I know. I know I shouldn’t have brought her. I was just scared. I needed help from someone I could see. Of course I trust you… you’re my best friend.” The door opens with a clang like the twist a knob to bring the sound back down suited to a man that still has a few more cranked too loud, relatives shout hellos, dreaded, “Eh? What’s that?”
Hindenburg just went up and I to a normal, reasonable pitch good years before everything gets ear horns, hearing aids or the
Well, maybe not too many years if I keep cranking up my speakers.
Gardner “psst’s” at me from behind the cubicle wall, “Hey, Anders, you okay? What the hell was that?” “Nothing,” I say in a hoarse whisper, matching his tone for some reason, “Just trying to bring a little rock to the work place, kid. Go back to work.” 45
serials On the screen I watch Joe’s life at high speed. I fill in some of the pieces as I go. It looks like, in this story, all shit flows toward Joe Blake. He’s the proverbial bottom of the hill. The family of Lee Greene brings charges against the entire delinquent gang. Only their focus isn’t Anthony Whitetree, that’s his name, by the way, Whitetree, anyway, their focus isn’t on him, it’s on Joe, the eightyear-old, as the ringleader. Was that? I think my mouse icon just turned into Elmo from Sesame Street. Can’t be. Lee is stricken. Silent. His family pleads, shakes, slaps, cries and begs until he finally breathes one word: Joe. He groans it. Breaks down in a fit of sobs and tremors and finally makes a harsh U-turn back to Catatonic Town. It’s therefore inferred that whatever happened is Joe’s fault. Anthony Whitetree, the sure-to-be future felon, sees his chance and takes it. “It was all Joe Blake, we followed him from the beginning. it was a game, your honor.”
The twelve-year-old sociopath describes the scene in detail stripping off of the kid’s clothing, locking him up in a hole in ground, all of it. Only in this version Joe led, they followed, made Lee get in the box with him. Joe took his own clothes off, Lee and played “Who’s Wang is it, Anyway?” while the others just nocently.
– the the and he stripped waited in-
“Honest, sir, I didn’t know it was bad.”
To hear Anthony tell it, Joe burned the fort to hide the evidence.
But the fire spread. It consumed forty-two acres of protected land before it was contained. For this, Joe gets the full brunt of the law. Five years in juvenile detention. Five years under the warped glare of Dr. John. Audrey is prevented from testifying. Her parents, wishing to put the mess behind them and move on, I’m sure, keep her out of the papers and out of the courts. The psychotic outbursts of one destitute white trash troublemaker, even a half-breed white trash troublemaker, are not worth the risk of a young Native American girl’s already disadvantaged future. For the next few months Joe lives in relative peace, locked away with chronics, meth babies, violent cases, and youth criminals. His reputation for pyrotechnics gets him a wide berth, some intrigue, and a sort of outlaw revere. His time is spent doodling, daydreaming, and talking to Dr. John about Mr. Smiles. Occasionally he has to fight. Once he gets stabbed in the belly with a blade too small to do any real damage. Then comes the day when Anthony gets remanded back to the custody of the hospital for vandalism, assault on a police officer and resisting ar46
serials rest. The timestamp on the video says 03/14/20. Anthony strolls in, muscle-bound attendees on either side, looks around with a grin as if scanning the room for someone, sets eyes on Joe, his face twisting into an expression not far off from a camouflaged serpent, and sneers, “Hiya, pal. Miss me?”
Joe goes white.
In the cold glare of his nemesis, Joe’s crayons and papers seem embarrassingly infantile. His hands scramble to look busy doing something else, anything else. He pretends not to notice Anthony. Says nothing. Shrinks into his own chest as if to hide. This sets the stage for their time together at the hospital, a time that goes on longer than seems fair. Fights break out over time, but eventually things settle into a routine, until the storm gets blowing again when the word circulates through the yard that “the suicide kid” started talking again. Three weeks later Lee arrives in Joe and Anthony’s ward. After the dust settles from this newest arrival Anthony tries to get Lee to talk. Lee just stares at him, silent, either vacant or defiant, or both. The exchange ends with Anthony saying something aggressive and grabbing Lee by the balls. Despite the fact that Anthony’s antagonistic behavior toward Lee led to an all-out violent attack from the boy, followed promptly by a dramatic regression, despite Anthony tipping his hand to the masters of his cage, showing himself to be a sadistic, aggressive and deceptive little imp, no one puts it together. No one questions the events as Anthony described them. The Marley’s Ghost style moans of a nine-year-old mentally invalid suicidal is enough to incriminate Joe without so much as an afterthought. No one looks to review Joe’s side of the story. Quite the opposite, in fact, Joe is blamed for Anthony’s behavior. Joe is responsible for warping him so dramatically that he lashed out at a fellow victim. Dr. John’s appraisal of the situation: at the site of Lee, Anthony was faced with a living reminder of the pain and humiliation caused him by Joe Blake. He, rather thoughtlessly, lashed out at Lee as a response to those negative emotions. Again, Joe gets blamed. As previously stated, if there is a hill that shit rolls down, Joe is at the bottom of it. Side note: It is difficult to prove given the evidence thus far, but upon review I suspect that Dr. John may have worked against Joe rather than for him in the matter of Lee Greene and the fire. Perhaps his motivation was to solidify his cover story from the last incident or to simply enjoy the comforts of an empty house and a carefree, albeit slovenly out of shape, girlfriend. Suspicions notwithstanding, Dr. John does succeed in keeping Vivian away from the hospital save only a few exceptions. Acting instead as arbiter, the courier of messages between mother and son, and, incidentally, the sole filter for any and all information either receives about the other 47
serials it’s no surprise that in not too long a time the communication dwindles like an ember cooling outside the fire, shrinking from orange to red, then to gray, and finally going out altogether. Sipping my coffee a pang of disgust floods across my face, my throat, my gut, either in reaction to the stale, cold brown liquid in my cup or to the disgraceful treatment of this weird kid. Tough to say. I fast forward through days and months that all look too much alike. Violent, medicated, sterile, white, itinerant – now it’s time to go outside for pre-scheduled exercise, now it’s remedial academics, prescribed arts and crafts. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.
Everything the same.
Kids with buzz cuts in gray fatigues like some morbid child army. Or Nazi internment camp for child repeat offenders in the Fuhrer’s Sixth Reich.
He lives under a constantly watchful eye. He pees with someone in the room. He eats when he’s told to eat. He tucks in his shirt. There’s a guard that singles him out as his visual aid for discipline, verbal abuse, belittling, and just a general “this could be you” to the other kids – likely a prejudicial response to Joe’s mixed heritage. He makes him run laps for not wiping his feet on an exterior floor mat before entering the mess hall. He insults his mother, makes him do push-ups for tripping during drills, and even, on multiple occasions, tells Joe he has a little dick in front of the other kids. The usual bull shit behavior from a former drill sergeant who one day found himself in charge of a complex populated by a disenfranchised, discarded and otherwise abandoned group of miscreants.
Sons bastardized by their choices or lack of choices.
Joe takes it all silently. lives like a soldier. Army.
He says, “Yes, sir.” Marines.
And “No, sir.”
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 1:37 PM Gardner lets out this long droning noise from the other side of the console wall that sounds like his brain just froze or something. It ain’t quite an “um,” but it’s like that. Then he just says, “Um, yeah… Anders, you may want to take a look at this. Something hinky.”
Never thought that word would resurface in popular vernacular.
I groan out of my comfortable chair to the sound of Gardner’s voice panicking, disembodied behind the tech, “You said the virus was contained to outside surveillance, right? Just internet and live feed stuff.”
Rounding the corner I say, “Yeah, that’s right.
“At first I thought it was just a practical joke or something. You know, new guy and all, but it started the second I accessed information on Audrey Lamb.” I lean on the back of his chair and watch his monitors. He hits “Q” and the screen shows Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard saying, “Dammit, Q, get off my ship!” Reaching over the kid’s shoulder I hit “Q” again, just to test it. Same thing.
“Dammit, Q, get off my ship!”
Can’t help but laugh a little.
Gardner says, “Well?
“A bit of a Trekkie myself.
What do you make of it?” Can’t say I hate it.”
I immediately know we can’t fix this. nonsense.
Every keystroke is bringing up
Gardner says, “It’s as if each button has disassociated from its usual function.” “Cool it with the vocabulary, Commander Data,” I rib him a little, “You can just as easily say shit’s fucked up.” “Well, it is,” Gardner laughs, “I swear I didn’t do this. I can’t handle people thinking I got onto some porn site my first day on the job, please don’t think that I …” “Kid, cool it, will ya? You’re making me crazy. Now let’s see here… type ‘T’ you get what looks like an emoticon for boobs.”
“Or Bart Simpson’s eyes, tough to really make out much of a differ49
serials ence,” Gardner shrugs, “Hey, is that show still on?” “Not sure, I got rid of my television when I got this job, for obvious reasons.” “Yeah, I hear you. TV People.”
I keep thinking about that movie Poltergeist, the
“They’re heeeeere,” I laugh again, feeling nostalgic, “And at the end they get a hotel room and push their television out onto the balcony. Classic. Anyway, if The Simpsons was still on it’d probably be in its fiftieth year or something.”
“Might just be in syndication,” he shrugs, “Oh yeah, watch this.”
He types the “Escape” key and the screen says, “Never.”
“Weird, right?” Gardner asks.
“This might be the stupidest computer virus I’ve ever seen.”
“Look at this one though,” he types “Enter” and the screen says, “Me. Oh, oh, oh, that’s the spot. Oh.” “That happens every time I hit that key, sir. Took me a minute to figure that one out. ‘Enter. Me.’ Get it? Enter me.”
“Yeah, I get it.
Typing into a word processor now. The letter “U” brings up what I think is the symbol of the Empire from Star Wars. And “S” gets us a picture of a moustache.
My phone rings and I run to answer it.
It’s Boss Man on the other end. He says, “Anders, I just tried to access some info on our man and I got a naked woman bouncing on a trampoline. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but do you know what this is about?” Yessir, this new kid you saddled me with accessed pornography his first day on the job. “Yessir,” I reply, “I think it has something to do with this virus. It’s encrypting any information regarding the subjects of this case that it doesn’t want us to see.”
“It ‘wants,’ Anders?
You shitting me?
How can a virus want?”
“I don’t know, sir, it’s just an inference based on what’s taking place.” “Get it fixed, I got calls coming in from Watchers all over the compound. One guy just tried to access the system mainframe to run a diagnostic and got the musical score for Bohemian Rhapsody, all of Bohemian Rhapsody.” 50
He hangs up.
Back with Gardner now and he says, “How can we fix the system if our tools for interacting with it have gone bonkers?”
Who is this kid?
He says, “When I hit Control, Alt, Delete the screen jumps to an animation of Mario nude from the waist down shaking his hips so his stuff flaps…”
“I get the picture.”
“Of course the only way out of the animation glitch is to hit Enter which brings us back to ‘Oh, oh, oh, that’s the spot.’ Some guy came by when you were on the phone complaining that when he pressed ‘CTRL+F’ he got the lyrics to a Weird Al Yankovic song.” An impulse fires in my brain and I ask, “Oh, yeah? Which song? mean, um… have you tried shutting down your console and rebooting?”
“That was the first thing I did before I called you over. I think it actually made things worse, if that’s possible. I think everyone has tried that at least once, some guy named Samuels came by to check on me but I had already rebooted. Seems like the only way to stop this is to shut down the whole system and restart from there.” “You mean lights, computers, servers, everything? The whole compound?” I whistle low, just like the old codger that I am, we really do settle into old man behaviors over time. “Christ, hope it doesn’t come to that,” I say, “That’s half a day of time wasted to bring this whole facility down and back up again.” My desk phone rings again only this time it’s that exact “Boing” sound from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons or whatever. That one that goes, “Boyyoy-yoy-yoing.” Run back to the desk. “Hello?”
Answer with a slightly out of breath,
“Anders, ain’t you at your desk?”
“Sorry, sir, I was helping Gardner with some stuff.”
“Some stuff? You know, Anders, for an old fuck you have the laziest way of talking. Your generation might be the weirdest senior citizens of all time. The first to grow old from a childhood of Nintendo and Ninja Turtles.” Can’t argue with that. Little prick. He ain’t that much younger than me. With a note of sarcasm about as subtle as a trebuchet launching flaming turds over a castle wall I ask, “Sir, did you forget something or did 51
serials you just miss me with an overwhelming passion? You just called to hear my voice? It’s okay, sir. I love you too, but what will the others think? I can’t hide our love any longer.” “Fuck you, Anders. Things are getting out of hand here. I just got a call saying somebody tried to power down their rig and the power button didn’t even work. They just got the sound of what I think might have been the Joker laughing.”
“Like from Batman?
“Does it matter?”
Mark Hammill, Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger?”
“No, not really. Hey, did you know Tim Curry was the Joker before Mark Hammill? You know, on that cartoon show from the nineties. He had the gig first but they let him go because he was too scary.”
“Anders, will you stay on task?”
“Sorry, sir, I think our only option might be a full system purge.”
“A whole shut down?” he says, “Christ, it’ll mean a lot of lost time, but we don’t have much choice, do we? I mean, nobody but you is really getting any work done anyway. It almost seems like the virus has singled you out for some reason. Which brings me to my next question. Thought I’d check your progress with the history stuff before we lose the rest of the work day. How’s it going? Anything?” “Not much yet, sir. I have some interesting theories formulating, I tried to get Gardner on what I think might be a relevant future associate but the virus froze him out. There’s some intriguing Anti-Christian potential relating to his upbringing, some violence and juvenile detention stuff. A fire.”
“The usual stuff?”
“Pretty much. Sir? Is there any chance that the system reboot might result in us losing some vital data? I mean, what do we do if the virus eats up everything relating to our case? You know I hate an unfinished profile. Does horrors on my immaculate work ethic.”
Mostly just my curiosity.
“Everything’s backed up on redundant ports at Langley and NSA headquarters. We network all our resources together now, remember? Spirit of cooperation and all that.”
“Um…sir, does that mean… what I mean is has anyone talked to Langley?”
“We can’t get a line out,” there’s a pause and a sound that might be him dropping his phone and scrambling to pick it back up again, “Holy Jesus, Anders… do you really think?” 52
serials I nod into the receiver and immediately realize how stupid that is, a foolish old habit from the days of talking to girls on the phone in my youth. “I do think, sir,” I say finally, “I think we might have given this thing a back door into every intelligence database in America. We just didn’t see it coming. There could be a fart joke traveling along the hardline to Washington or Virginia or the goddamn Pentagon right now.” “Swear to Christ, if the Director of the CIA is getting wieners and boobs when he’s trying to email his granddaughter – it’ll be my ass, I’m sure of it.”
If there is a God, it’ll mean that.
I nod again stupidly and say, “He caught us all by surprise, sir. there anything I can do to help?”
Why do I do it?
Voluntarily put myself in line to be his pack mule?
He clears his throat gruffly into the phone and says, “Tell me where to find the son of a bitch. Do your job.” “I’m trying, sir. I’ve already checked into it. His trail goes cold as of five years ago. All we have is the history, maybe find a pattern there. Somewhere he might go.” Boss Man says, “I want you to take a company portable computer. I’m releasing everyone to go home ‘til this mess gets straightened out. But I need you to keep working.” “Telecommute the WATCHER program? Sir, no disrespect, but without an internet connection to access RITA how can I –” “Damned Internet, sometimes I wonder who’s really running who. All right, can you just download enough files to get through the night?”
How can you get this job and still be so dim?
“Sorry, sir, at the rate we process I don’t think a laptop can handle the sheer amount of data required. Besides, that doesn’t exactly help us with the issue of losing the pertinent files.” I’m really just trying to get a night off, some free time like the rest of the Joes. I mean, what’s he had them doing all day, anyway? Listening to Howling Murphy on the radio and calling it research? “Anders, I have a wild idea. Now don’t go quoting protocol on this, I mean, I wrote the damn protocol myself, but what if we try a Memory Dump?”
“I know, I know, but I think we have to risk it. database…” 53
We’ve got our entire
Going Looney Tunes.
“…turning into porno, chewing gum and comic books, we need to try to salvage what we can. If this kid’s file digitizes into the computer version of silly string we’re boned. We’ll never catch him. Anders, I think we need this. I don’t want to order you, but I will if – ” “No, no, sir, it’s fine. away.”
I’ll make the necessary preparations right
“Get Gardner to help you, he needs to learn all he can at this point.”
Might not be a job here tomorrow is what he’s saying.
“A fucking Dump,” I sigh, setting the phone down slowly.
“What’s a Dump?” Gardner asks, appearing behind me. I turn around, surprised, and say, “It’s like, you know how a sports car can go zero to three hundred in six seconds, but nobody ever gets to do it? Some might wonder what the point is of owning something that can do all that if you’re only allowed to drive 70. Hell, I’d be one of them. The Dump is the Thought Chip version of flooring it. Only instead of going 300 mph you’re downloading a controlled burst of data directly into your brain using the Thought Chip as a conduit. It’s a bit technical, but some rudimentary equipment is used to bypass the typical safeguards in the microchip programming and send the data on a current directly into the brain’s nervous system.”
“Is that safe?” he asks.
“Not really, but it’s been done successfully. There’s just not enough space in a Thought Chip to download an entire life in one burst, usually it’s broadcasted out over time, stored into RITA’s servers and deleted to make room for the next flow of information. The chip has limits, but the brain has enough storage capacity for a hundred lifetimes. Every time new memories are created, when new knowledge develops, the brain just folds in on itself and creates a new wrinkle. It basically reformats the hardware to compliment the changes. Like the Lotus flower of the mind, the first chakra in Hindu mythology, with infinite petals flowering out and out forever, the brain just folds in on itself continuously, making room for the future. “Anyway, the Memory Dump is just taking advantage of evolution. There’s just a little techno garnish sprinkled over the traditional recipe to add a little flavor. Our brains are really just too good for what we use them for – the rest of our physical bodies could never last long enough to live up to the storage and computational potential of the human brain.” I give Gardner the rundown on the procedure and he seems more freaked out than ever. Here I was thinking he’d pretty much maxed out his level of panic with the first day jitters, news of getting micro-implants surgically installed in his gray matter, a full systems crash and an exhibitionist Ma54
serials rio flapping his Italian sausage and doing the twist, but here he is looking twice as uptight and ready to bail. Poor bastard, if he only knew the whole truth he’d probably strap a bomb to his chest and take us all out while singing the National Anthem. Sorry, Lord, I didn’t mean that. I never did get very good at watching what I think. Never know who’s listening. Well, actually…
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 2:26 PM
There’s a popular image in certain genre fiction – sci-fi, horror, that sort of thing – where somebody gets their cranium strapped into some kind of ridiculous contraption that looks like a brace for a spinal injury victim after he fell two stories from some scaffolding onto his head and gets his jaw wired shut and a piece of leather strapped around his head with bars running down to his shoulders to keep shit in place and – lost my train of thought again. Anyway, the sci-fi thing, the guy gets strapped into some head rig with wires and conduits and cables running into a machine. Some vaguely cliché mad scientist guy in a white lab coat and rubber gloves and goggles is either going to fry the dude’s brain or give him some kind of super powers. It’s always very experimental. Well, I’m ashamed to admit, this is just like that. Only steampunk me in and keep them series of
the cables are running into a computer rather than some kind of superconductor with a lightning storm overhead. Gardner straps he has to put these Clockwork Orange style clamps on my eyes to open for the entire download. He goes to my computer and taps a commands as I call them out.
“Um, sir?” he asks, “What’s this gonna do to your brain if I input a keystroke that somehow turns out to be the Superman symbol or a thumbnail picture of a dildo instead of the proper function?”
The word is “lunatic.”
Laughing a little nervously I just say, “My computer hasn’t been affected yet, so keep your fingers crossed and just do it.” The Nike Generation talking here. Just do it.
The “Be Like Mike” Generation.
“Thisiscrazythisiscrazythisiscrazy,” Gardner chants before he hits the keys and says, “Okay, done.” First thing I notice is a voice doing a perfect imitation of a Timber wolf crying at the moon. It’s Howling Murphy. Some jackass is listening to Howling Murphy instead of packing in for the big shutdown. 55
serials The monitor in front of me fills with images from Joe’s life – video footage, diagrams, text reports, cartoons, comic pages, bar graphs, statistics, mathematical computations… ramping up, faster, faster, faster… President Obama, nuclear missile strike, a protest march in Madison, Wisconsin, a blip from a music video... faster, faster, faster until – white light. Just white. As if from a thousand miles off, Howling Murphy says, “The President gave us a speech today bridled with more of the Christian vernacular that has become typical of his administration, moreover, for this radio pirate, it called to mind images of a bombing at a faith rally in Washington DC or the fall of the Christian General Assembly headquarters in Dallas last year.” My brain focuses on a single point in the center of the light. The point is hazy gray, but expanding the longer I stare into it. It’s either a swirling double helix or a load bar for a particularly slow, possibly dial-up download. Then I realize that it’s both. It’s a helix and a load bar and this is perfectly natural and understandable to me. Why shouldn’t an object be more than one thing at a time? Who says definition has to be limited to one interpretation or perspective? Everything is everything. The radio man, echoing like a voice in a can, says, “What has since become a rallying cry for our country’s return to God, these events have been the biggest call to arms for some and the most divisive for others since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The president’s speech was a gentle reminder to the citizenry to stay the course, remain good, moral upstanding drones in the service of America, Inc. and don’t forget to vote McKinley next election year.” Of course, it’s so clear now. It’s a swirling double helix, a DNA strand, expanding slowly like a green load bar and there’s that little page flying from the left of the screen to the right, that icon of the file at the end, and the page landing in it over and over again forever. The top of the screen says 14%. Another disembodied voice, vaguely familiar says, “What’s it feel like, Anders?”
And now there’s a fish in the white mix of things. He’s behind the double helix, but he also is the helix. Or, at least, the helix is him. And now I know that the DNA is for some aquatic, deep sea life form, not human at all. Howling Murphy imitates a sloppy fart sound into the microphone, or what another, older man might refer to as a “raspberry.” He continues, “Sorry, folks, not buying it. Who was it that said the only reason religion exists is to keep the poor from killing the rich?”
Napoleon Bonaparte. 56
serials 39% and counting. The little page flies over the fish, in it or over it. Hard to say.
Within you. Without You. George Harrison. I. Me. Mine. Imemineimemine. I. Me. Mine. Oh, shit. This is weird. 53%. Haven’t felt anything like this since college. Why do all of George Harrison’s songs have weird repetitive wordplay? I Me Mine. Within You Without You. Sun, sun, sun, here it comes. Me, myself, and I.
I said to myself, “Self, you’re cracking up.”
Something is beginning. The room feels lighter, as if a bright white filter has been laid over everything like a fog. A vaguely familiar voice is saying something about a word that sounds important. He keeps saying it, “Democracy.” Only. Words are hard. I’m not forgetting. It’s like I just don’t know as many right now.
The fish swims into view, a cast shadow in the white light. In focus now and it’s not a fish at all. It’s a half dozen people carrying effigysized mask and puppet pieces like a Chinese New Year Dragon. Except it’s a fish.
The year of the fish?
The voice says, “Somewhere down the line we mistook a free market for a free country.”
The year of the cod, year of the ha-74%-libut, year of the red snapper.
I can see little dark-skinned feet, bare, sticking out of the bottom. But they’re still a double helix. And they’re also a load screen. The fish looks at me and asks if I am feeling all right. Is this a dream? 81%. They’re everything and nothing all at once. Somehow I can process this. Somehow it makes sense. Yet, somehow, I know there is no reality at all. Nothing is real. Nothing is real. John Lennon.
I’m flat on my back now. Only, I know I’m also sitting in my work chair with some guy, what was his name? Some young guy standing behind me.
The voice says, “Somehow we started to mistake Capitalism for Democracy.”
A head looks down over mine, out of focus, but oddly shaped. The white of the screen has expanded to the point of fully obscuring my cubicle. It’s a hospital of some kind. Possibly a clean room for a scientific experiment. No, it’s a space ship. I know it now. The head is too large to be human. The eyes are glassy and oblong. I’m being restrained, bound to some kind of medical table for surgeries or…Christ, the probings. The 57
serials big-headed figure is working near my head, but I can’t feel anything, it’s hard to tell what it’s doing to me. It’s all white. The walls, the ceiling, even the alien doing fuck knows what to my head. Must be wearing some kind of alien clean suit. It’s the only explanation. Alien clean suit. A voice says, “World War III already happened. The end isn’t near, it’s done past. They didn’t decimate us with nuclear fire. They just demolished everything we were through luxury, avarice, convenience and want. We were our own fire, burning ourselves with our desire for more wealth and more comfort.” I’m screaming now, but it isn’t my voice. It’s somehow shriller, more panicked. Two more white figures come and hold me down. Wrenching pain rips through my skull like a soldering iron on raw nerve endings. My eyes dart side to side. White hands. Sterile walls. Straps. A bed. Needle. Everything fades to gray, to shadows of alien silhouettes, and finally to true black. Darkness.
Cold on my back.
My left ankle feels tickly.
Everything feels bigger.
Strange. I feel in tune, like I’ve been off a step my whole life and somebody came along and refocused me. I actually feel this kid’s body, feel his sense of awe. Hear his thoughts. It’s all a jumble. Not sure which words are mine and which are his.
Sounds are more…soundier.
That was definitely him.
Sights are more…sighty.
A yellow grass spider is inching across my left foot. Moonlight hits it just right. It looks like it’s made out of wax. Grass is wet. Morning dew, that’s what teacher says. The ground gets wet in the early morning from condemnation. I’m not wearing any pants. I’m wearing one of those silly half-shirts you have to wear at the doctor’ fs or the nurses won’t act like you’re really there. My head hurts. My eye and my nose. It feels like there’s a zipper on my head, a little one. Was that real?
Panic floods in like a chemical wave. Not zipper.
I was just abducted.
It’s all real, I know it now.
Next is a flood of choices without thought, or thought without weighing a decision. It is pure response, animal instinct, but based on foolish assumptions and child logic. They will be coming for me again. They always do. They always come back once they’ve taken you. The memories accelerate now. I feel more myself again, the images dull slightly and the haze of my work station pushes through the vision, like a projected image painted ghostly over the face of a man in the path of its light. A voice says, “In any war it always comes down to who controls the land, the food source, and hearts and minds. They have all of it now, what ownership didn’t get them the fun and ease of technology filled in. Where 58
serials technology fails God is there to pick up the slack.” I’m running through a grassy field. Stark ass naked from the waist down. Again. How does this keep happening to me? First the box and now this. No pants, box. Box, no pants. It’s trouble. They’ll be coming for me. First the law and now Them. I need to hide. Need to go underground. And I know just the place. It’s strange. I know I’m me, but I also know I’m a nine year old boy, running barefoot through wet grass and dunking my ankles into summer puddles, mud, slippery stones and catching bare skin on briars and thorns. It’s not a dream. It’s some kind of a sensory download. I know everything, but at the same time, I have no idea where we’re going or why. But then I see it, ahead of me like a villain’s fortress in a children’s story. It’s bent inward, jagged and skeletal, blackened like an ancient fossil, or those skeletons you see in tar pits from dinosaur books. Reaching up to the charred trees, coffin edges and collapsed corners like gargoyle shoulders, looming in the night. I’m terrified. My heart races, but I feel I can be safe here, at least for tonight.
It’s Anthony’s burned out fort.
I push my way in through the fallen framework of the door, careful not to upset the balancing act of the walls and ceiling and broken down foundation. I find the hole, but the trapdoor lid is gone. Still, it’s a good place to hide. I can only hope that their sensors and instruments can’t pick me up if I’m underground. Crawling into the hole, so recently a place of terror and confinement, now my sanctuary, I feel like I’m going down into my own grave, but it’s all backwards – I’m doing it to stay alive, not because I’m dead. It’s all a jumble of words and emotions in my head. The nine year old boy in here lacks the vocabulary to process all of these sensations and ideas. Still, in not too long a time I am balled up in the burned out dirt and falling fast asleep.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/0@/30 :: XX:XX PM It’s a dark room, black as night, black as crow feathers, and I’m floating in voices. It’s machine gun fast, garbled and shrill, maybe hundreds of whispers, maybe even thousands. It sounds like mean water it’s going so fast. I can pick up stray words here and there. A deep, bellow says, “Whosoever drinketh my blood and eateth my flesh…”
Another voice, high and girlish says, “New York, New York.”
It strings together like music. You call this free? Only 19.95! This is the way the world ends. Not with a…Big Bang that created the Universe. This is not America…No! All we are saying…is this real life? Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Joey Come Over. Over. Ovary. Ivory. Hickory, dickory, Doc, the wolf is in the flock…the wolf went down, and looked around, and now there ain’t no flock. A voice is screaming. And it occurs to me, that’s the way I scream. I only heard it once or twice in my life, but that’s my scream. There’s hands on me and a laughing, robotic voice says, “We got his eyes.” Then it hits me. got my eyes.
It ain’t dark.
They have me and They
Voices sing. Chant. When I was a little bitty baby my Mama rocked me in this cradle but now we’re farther from the cradle than the grave. We’re watching and laughing and craving everything outside of Plato’s cave. A hillbilly sounding chucker grunts, “And what’s that, boy? your nose. I got your eyes! Hoo-wee!”
There’s another voice now, familiar, but I can’t name it, he howls like a coyote and says, “We have to wonder what our place in history will be. Where will this corrupted Democracy be remembered? What will future historians label us as?” I’m not in my hole. I’m somewhere else. I’m an old man. Then it all comes rushing back like the first pounding surge of a hangover. I’m in the work chair, strapped down, and the Memory Dump has stopped working. Tough to say how much of that really happened and what was just a kid’s bad dream. There must be some kind of malfunction. I was seeing things as Joe. That’s not normal. I only downloaded any and all video feed pertaining to Joe Blake so logically I should be seeing him at a distance, as if through a lens. It was strange though, I saw through his eyes. The playback was clear, then foggy, then just gone altogether. It’s like those dreams where sometimes you’re you and everything is happening to you and it’s all very real, but then there’s those dreams 60
serials where you are above it, omnipresent, looking down or moving through the events like a cameraman on a movie, wandering through the action with a steady cam and honing in on faces for the close-up. In that kind of dream you see yourself there, but you are outside of your body. A spectator. The howling man shouts, “Maybe history isn’t a series of random events, folks. Maybe it is, and always has been, leading up to something.” My vision starts to blur, then saturate. Things take on a harsh outline, like art in a comic book. The sound of things starts to kind of rattle pan around the room like an engine in bad need of a tune-up but you keep driving it because you’re in the middle of the desert and there’s nothing around for miles. The howling voice says, “If we were to assume that there were ple, fundamentalists, out there that truly believed the end of the was coming in the way that we’ve been trained to believe the Bible will, could we also assume that they might be working hard to make come sooner rather than later?”
peoworld says it that end
The room gets darker and damper and I know things are starting to arrange themselves. I’m going within now. I’m finding Joe. The howler says, “Has it ever occurred to you that we don’t need a God or a devil in order to experience Armageddon? It just takes the right people to believe – would a synthetic Apocalypse still count as fulfillment of prophecy?” I’m in the hole now, naked, muddy, and cold, my head resting on the wadded up pillow of my medical gown. A spotlight of sunshine beams down on me and pounds my eyes, more effective than any alarm clock. It’s just after dawn. I’ve been here for two days, hiding out, drinking water off of leaves. Staying invisible to Their sensors. A howling voice in the hole says, “We might be heading toward a manmade Armageddon. Bring about the end and maybe force the second coming. That’s the whiplash effect of belief.” I sit up the result of police sirens mind fog. No and stare out
and feel a sharp pain and a constricting pressure on my neck, sleeping practically on my head all night long. The sound of in the distance snaps me immediately out of the early morning longer bleary-eyed, I pull myself up to the edge of the hole warily.
The familiar voice of someone I can’t quite put my finger on echoes from behind me in the mud, “We’re heading toward the end, folks. And we’re being pushed there by the same people we look to for help. No salvation is on the way, only damnation in the name of heaven. They want the world to end.” A helicopter passes overhead, on its way to the white people hospital. Sounds like a fire truck now. First police, now fire. Then there’s this unmanned drone that buzzes overhead. They’re all out today. Everybody’s 61
serials searching for me.
I crawl out of the Box and head out into the forest.
They want me back. Gonna put me back in their box. This was just a test. They put something in me. Tracking device maybe or mind control devices. They sent me out to see how well it works and now they want me back for study. Can’t let them get me. Can’t go back. Now they’ve got the law on their side too, using the police and the firemen and the hospital choppers and the robot airplanes to hunt me down. Couldn’t find me with their ships so they brought in the government. Government’s always working with them, everybody knows that. My hiding spot musta worked good if they couldn’t find me themselves. Should stay here again tonight, but I need some supplies. Gotta outlast ‘em. Make ‘em know I ain’t worth the trouble. Stay invisible. I’m at the burned up doorway now. I can still hear that voice in the hole. He says we’re being lied to. Says we’re all peasants serving the masters. We sold out Democracy. We don’t deserve it anymore, not if we ain’t willing to fight for it. I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. But he seems pretty serious. I remember there’s a shed of some kind not far from here, something the park ranger guys use to store stuff. Figure I’ll break in and see if there’s anything I can wear. It’s down the hill a ways, but not too far. I break in and find some forest cop stuff inside, put on some fishing waders and a safety vest. Aluminum foil. Good for wrapping my head and guarding against their scans. I put a hard hat over that. Find some goggles, not sure why, but I wear them. Inside an old coffee can is a pack of smokes. I take those and some matches. A few granola bars for food. Back at the hole and I light one up in celebration. It ain’t like it’s my first one or anything. I know it’s bad for you and stuff, but so is that hospital and so are them kids and so’s everything else in life. I smoked a few here and there with the big kids whenever I could get away. It’s fun. It feels good and I didn’t cough or nothing. Big kids said I was a natural and that made me feel happy. So now I’m just sitting here smoking and waiting and relaxing. That voice is good and gone now and things seem pretty quiet. I don’t hear any sirens or anything even. Ain’t much else to do so I start to fall back asleep with a yawn. I remember Audrey telling me how sometimes the old men on the reservation tell stories about how the Creator, Old Man, went around making stuff or how he made some people out of clay and taught them how to live. Old Man taught them to listen to their dreams, and Audrey’s people say that the first people survived because they knew the power of their dreams. They listened down inside themselves to hear the spirits. The spirits would come to them in the shapes of animals and would answer you when you were in trouble. I’m in trouble and I think about dreaming. I need to know the power of dreams. I will sleep. 62
serials I don’t think much of it, but when I say good night to Mr. Smiles a voice says good night back to me. I sit up for a moment, look around, but there’s nothing there. Only my imagination. Then there’s darkness, shadows. Sleep. Now I’m in that big city when They blew up those buildings and crushed those church people. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I’m there and those ships blast the buildings. Dust clouds and people screaming. Everybody covered in gray, looking the same as everybody else. Looking gray and evil like the aliens. But I’m there, which is weird because I was just a little kid when it all happened. And there’s something inside of me that makes me not able to control myself. The people, all covered in gray dust, they’re like zombies, their eyes all blank and staring. They turn toward the water and start walking, really slow, like robots, and I follow them. I don’t want to, but I am, I can’t help it. The ships overhead are zapping buildings and people are jumping out of the windows to try to get away. And we just keep walking to the river as the ships smite the city for its sins. I see Mr. Smiles but he’s too far away. waving for me to follow him, but I can’t, I’m I need to find the spirits. Mr. Smiles can’t it animal to show me how to get out of here.
I can’t get to him. He’s stuck following the others. help me now. I need my spirI ignore Mr. Smiles.
I can see it ahead of me, a big long line like at lunchtime in the cafeteria. Everybody’s just walking into the river, one by one, jumping in like – what did that mean guard call us? Lemmings. He said we was like lemmings in a line. We’re all like that. Lemmings walking into the river. Drowning ourselves while the city burns up. I keep getting closer and closer, I want to stop, but I can’t stop. They did something to me. It’s why I woke up in that field naked with a zipper on my head and my face hurting. They made me into a lemming. Then I jump in. The water is black and I swallow it, first into my stomach, then into my nose and mouth, burning like when you choke at the pool. And I just sink. I want to swim, but my arms won’t let me. I just sink. And at the bottom of the river there’s a little square hole and it’s pulling me in like a drain. Above me the water is lighting up orange and green from their explosions and death rays. Then I go in the hole and I’m gone.
to be continued in Dystopia Boy 0.5 >> 63