SUBTOPIAN MANIFESTO VII. by trevor d. richardson I do have a vision for Utopia. I’m not just blowing smoke here. This magazine isn’t just some vague, hipster, trendy attempt at playing word games with the fate of civilization just to gain a few readers. Okay, it is that, but it isn’t just that. The truth is, I see Utopia every time someone stands up and says no to the status quo. I see Utopia in every act of civil disobedience, in every street artist posting his vision and going rogue, in guerilla marketing, in small businesses, and in every sentiment that has the underlying current of “The system is wrong, so I will make my own system.” The reason I have little belief in a coming Utopia, at least any time soon, is because those willing and able to take the kind of initiative Utopia requires are few and far between. Most of us are content to live, work, sleep, eat fast food and watch television. Most of us are actually uncomfortable with the thought of having to create a resistance through self-reliance. And for this reason, when the pendulum does sway out of this inbetween time, I fear we’ll see it swing toward darkness instead of the hopeful alternative. For anyone that has been following this magazine for more than a few issues, you have likely seen a trend in the stories we cover for “Utopia.” We cover stories about people uniting against corporate or government corruption, grassroots movements, artists cooperating to discover broader resources, or people that have started some kind of organization to help create the change they want to see in the world. I see a potential future in which people look to institutions less and less for whatever it is they need to survive. They look to each other, their neighborhoods, families, communities and even themselves. I see governing forces taking an increasingly behind-the-scenes approach, regulating less, dictating never, and, perhaps someday, being gone altogether. I see people giving to one another, not because it is Christmas time or it’s tax deductible, but because they are in close proximity to someone in need. But above all, I see a future where Americans, and even the world at large, stop asking governing bodies for the change they need and, instead, simply create it. If you want to eat food that is free of pesticides then grow it in your own backyard. If you want to see cars with lower emissions or that run on alternative fuels then invest the money and build one, the technology is there, you’re just waiting for it to be built into the infrastructure, but consider that you are the infrastructure. If you are looking for better education for your children then find the time each day to teach them something they are not learning at school. The idea is simple: Reagan had it wrong. No, that’s not right, that’s not what I want to say. Reagan had it backwards. It isn’t trickle down economics. It’s from the bottom up. It’s the water cycle, the climate causes water to change form, to react to the atmosphere, vaporize and rise up, and then do you get rain. It is the same with us. The climate has shifted and it is time for us to change form, to phase from one kind of citizen into another, and to bring the rain that this nation needs. I’m talking about culture from the bottom up, economy from the bottom up, ethics, morality, literature, intellect, and spirit from the bottom pushing its way up through the mainstream consciousness and wiping it clean like a storm. How would I describe Utopia?
Easy, “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.”
The Business of Business
Labor Day 2012 John Stephens on the rich person’s view of the poor:
“They just can’t understand what a terrible burden it is to have money.”
I’m a semi-regular at a restaurant/cafe in Sausalito. It’s convenient, the food’s not bad and someone else cooks and does the dishes for a change. All it takes is money and I don’t have much but sometimes I just don’t care. Today I went in while my clothes washed in the laundromat next door. Treated myself to pie and ice cream. The owner, recognizing me from the time I was mistakenly overcharged - he had apologized profusely - came over with the usual banalities. How are you, how’s it going, nice to see you... He oversees the place, doesn’t appear to do much of anything.
I finished my food and since no bill was forthcoming, I walked over to the owner and tried to pay him. He gave a blank look and said there must be a bill somewhere. A smiling waitress came over and ignoring the boss, said “What did you have?” I told her and she took my money as the owner faded into the kitchen somewhere, still looking miserable. I pay eight dollars for pie and ice cream to keep him that way. 1
Meanwhile, the employees mostly look pretty darn happy. That waitress is always smiling and either loves her job or knows something very deep and profound that I don’t. The waiters, mostly Mexican or Central American, talk to each other in Spanish and to the customers in perfect English. Is this easy mastery of a second language what frightens our dwindling white population so much when they push for laws making English the “official language” of the United States?”
Front page of the Marin Independent Journal, top story heading? “Business.” Article about a woman who coaches women entrepreneurs. I’m getting to where I want to spit when I hear the term because as far as I’m concerned it means Greedy Business Person - Hustler - In Training. I’ve mentioned here before, the birth of Starbucks, a group of Seattle people with money trying to decide what sort of business to start. Isn’t that odd? No brilliant idea, no inspiration other than the impetus to turn money into more money. “What Seattle needs is a gourmet coffee shop,” suggested a woman I knew later as a real estate shark. And there it was. From “entrepreneurial spirit” to overbearing global corporation in what? 25 years? Thirty?
In old movies, when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland needed to raise money, they said “Let’s put on a show!” And they sang and danced and people paid a quarter or whatever for the experience. Today, poor Mickey and Judy would have to say, “Let’s start a business.” And then think of something to package and sell. We do of course need more products on the shelves.
Do the Spanish-speaking waiters and cooks in the restaurant dream and conspire to open their own establishments and become the miserable, stressed-out owners? I don’t know, but it is after all the American Dream, is it not?
Our Metropolis do you know that have installed “anti-suicide nets”? On the flip-side, suicide is such a real occurrence that when 150 workers threatened to leap from the roof of their plant on account of poor conditions, the powers that be had to listen and take steps toward improving them. (Moore)
We’ve seen the lines before for books, video games, and theatrical releases. But this time? It was for the “biggest thing to happen to the iPhone since the iPhone” (Apple’s own slogan). That’d be the iPhone 5, by the way. With the fastest, thinnest, and lightest model ever, could this be the dawn of a new era? Yet for something that heralds the world of tomorrow, it had to have been manufactured yesterday by human hands.
As for the working conditions, that’s a little harder to pin down when a popular news source like “This American Life” retracts its story. (Glass, Ira) However, it seems certain that the hours are long, the weekends are short, and the pay barely covers the expenses of living in the worker’s dormitory. Add on top of that the monotony of an assembly plant, and you’re bound to feel like a lifeless cog in an enormous machine. Who could have imagined such an existence for human beings?
Or, more specifically, by Chinese hands, and plenty of them. You may recall the recent delay in production on account of a riot involving some 2,000 workers in Taiyuan. That’s quite the number, but the factory itself totals roughly 79,000, and that’s just one of many factories belonging to the Foxconn Technology Group. Under that banner, there are over a million Chinese workers in total who are assembling the electronics most of us in the U.S. can’t go a day without. Even if you aren’t an Apple enthusiast, they still manufacture for Sony, Nintendo, HP, and so on, so there’re no innocents in this court. (NBC)
Well, Fritz Lang, for one. In his 1927 film Metropolis, Lang brings forth the worst realities of the industrial revolution on a scale that could only be captured on the silver screen. That is, until now, fourteen years before his sci fi masterpiece takes place.
Assuming you aren’t allergic to current events, you can probably see the larger puzzle that this recent riot is just a piece of. There was a different riot involving 100 in a Chengdu plant several months ago, and there have been well-publicized fatal accidents and suicides for the last several years. When your numbers encompass so many, those things are bound to happen statistically, but how many cities or places of employment
The film portrays a literal “upper” class, where wealth is seated atop towers and the Workers’ City is hidden from view under layers of smog and industry. The workers shuffle along like automatons in a state of constant exhaustion and put the silence in this silent film. With Foxconn’s workers spending their waking hours between the factory or their dormitory an ocean 3
regulars away from Apple’s wealthy top executives, the similarities really can’t be missed.
der to understand its role in the individual, much like taking a look at a large painting before trying to discern its miniature. What eventually follows is Plato’s famed republic ruled by philosopher kings.
In the film, the workers take their place to pull the levers in the right sequence so that the technologically advanced upper city continues to run smoothly. As for our modern world, wouldn’t it fall apart if suddenly there were no new shipments of electronics? Even work-related explosions are a commonality. In the film, this is to demonstrate how disposable the proletariat is to the ruling class. The only thing holding this back from a perfect translation to our reality is that dead workers tend to be bad for business.
In book II of Plato’s work, the gang of philosophers takes the interesting approach of constructing an imaginary society in which to observe. Before stating that their society is “matured and perfect,” they are sure to include the hirelings: “another class of servants, who are intellectually hardly on the level of companionship; still they have plenty of bodily strength for labor.” Whereas Socrates wants to see justice or its antithesis arise out of their creating a society, I want to argue that it’s only necessary to look at the society we have. We need only to not lose sight of the finishing touches of Socrates’s own imaginary one: the laborers.
Funny, isn’t it, how business sense seems to reign over ethics? Such is the prevailing wisdom behind sweat shops, mass-produced meat, and the sex trade. Though they’re rather universally acknowledged evils, they continue to make big bucks. The problem, as if it could defined in the singular, may lie closer to home than you’d like to think. So before you go on an anti-corporate tirade or head off into the wild like an ignoramus, it’s worth it to reflect on some old-school philosophy: namely, Socrates as told through Plato.
To connect the dots which I sought to place in this article, it’s vital to look at how we conduct business and how we treat our workers in order to evaluate our civilization. Fritz Lang knew this, and anyone reading the headlines regarding Foxconn or other industrial ramifications feels this in their gut. However, the clincher is that these are symptoms of a society of people, or individuals. So, yes, big business has its evils, but this is because evil lies in the individual. Socrates knew this, and you, as a consumer, must know this as well.
The dialogues of The Republic start with an unsurprisingly significant question: what is justice? After many paragraphs of wading through the political, cultural, and personal implications of the virtue, Socrates has the bright idea to try to understand it in a society in or-
Works cited: Glass, Ira. “Retracting ‘Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.’” WBEZ Chicago, 16 Mar. 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. Moore, Malcom. “’Mass Suicide’ Protest at Apple Manufacturer Foxconn Factory.” Telegraph.co.uk. The Telegraph, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. NBC News. “Dozens Injured as up to 2,000 Workers Brawl at Foxconn Dorm in China.”Msnbc.com. Msnbc Digital Network, 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49145374/ns/world_news-asia_pacific/>.
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.
Julie is throwing The Bee Gees’ Horizontal onto the lawn as I park and finish disinfecting the car for the night. It lands on a pile of clothes, jewelry, and pictures. Incidentally, it was always my least favorite album of theirs; ironically, it was the first one she ever gave me. As I walk to the house, she glances up at me like a rat being caught in adultery.
dinner in the microwave and then sit on the sofa, taking off my shoes and cracking open a beer. “When did you start tonight?” I say.
In the living room, she is bent over another box of records, rummaging for more shit. Her plants are tied together in a box beside the empty suitcases, and I want to smash a vase against her. She takes another record out of the box and walks toward the window.
She covers her face and breathes heavily.
“About an hour ago.”
“I’m leaving this time. For real. It’s too much,” she says, handing me her wedding ring. I keep my palm closed and let it drop and dent the floor. Its echo interrupts us.
“Whoa. What the hell is that?” She holds up the copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends that I bought her the day after our second date, on a hot summer night like tonight. We were walking off the effects of wine and chicken and passed a record store that had it in the window. She gasped and squeezed my arm. I surprised her with it at her parents’ house the next day. She was wearing the same purple dress she wore at our senior prom.
“Well why aren’t you packed then?” “I’m sorting through it.” She picks up a teddy bear and becomes a statue. “Where is he?” I yawn. The microwave beeps and I ignore it.
I shake my head. She sniffles and turns back around to toss the fucker out of the window. I put a TV 9
“At a sleepover. The Todds.”
Across the room, a stack of literature is spread
out on the floor. Sam is discretely pissing on her copy of Othello, and I chuckle. “You know a lot about those, don’t you, Jules?”
“I’m calling my lawyer first thing tomorrow and making sure you don’t get one goddamned cent from me.” I finish my beer and smash it on the table. “Let Mr. Rushinski take care of you.”
Outside, fireworks go off, and I remember what day it is. “Maybe I’ll go join them and celebrate, too. What do you think?”
I climb over her and up the steps. She follows for a bit before falling into herself. I slam the bedroom door so loudly that she screams. For a moment, I stand behind it and listen for her next move. Truth be told, my eyes are usually more bloodshot than hers these days. So far, I’ve flipped out at and subsequently lost six clients. My boss says I’m starting to become a threat to the business. I tell him that that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Now she’s throwing VHS tapes and bed linens through the window.
“Do you still have it?” She says.
“Have what, dear?”
“You know what, Adam.”
Above our bed, I study the painting she made for our first anniversary. It was based on a sketch she did of me before we’d even met, back when we were just secret admirers suffering through class a few rows apart. I must’ve written a dozen songs about her back then. I never worked up the courage to sing them.
I take out the red Trojan wrapper that I’ve contemplated all week. I imitate gagging as I put it against my nose and inhale. Julie scoffs. Sam eats one of the discarded tissues by her feet. “Still smells like the two of you. And in our car, too. Doesn’t Mr. Rushinski have an office or SUV you could’ve used?”
I pull the door open so hard that it dents the wall. “Sweetie?” “Yes, Adam?” I can hear hope in her voice. “Be a doll and turn out the hallway light. It’s shining through the keyhole and cheating me of sleep.”
She sucks her lips inward and nods, knowing she can’t win this one. Not tonight. “You might as well start bringing that stuff back in,” I say. “We both know where this isn’t going.” Outside, Dan Rothenberg is jogging again. He sees his son only on the third weekend of every month now. With supervision. “Miranda brainwashed him. She lied during the whole battle,” he told me months ago. A few days later was his first attempted. I still feel a shiver when I hear sirens. Ever since he was released from the hospital, he wears turtlenecks and long sleeved collared shirts exclusively. And sunglasses. He says running helps. We barely see him anymore. I’m afraid to ask why. Our family portrait from last Christmas rests on top of a suitcase. Julie notices Dan and then approaches me with her arms out, her expression identical to how it was before we kissed at our wedding. For a moment, I feel like I’m suffocating. My knees go soft. I back away and smack her. She cowers to the floor. Sam snarls at me.
Jordan recently received his MFA in fiction and he currently teaches at several colleges. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Bookends Review, an online literary/multimedia journal. Outside of that, he writes about music for Delusions of Adequacy, Examiner, Sea of Tranquility, and Popmatters. He also records his own progressive rock/metal under the pseudonym of Neglected Spoon. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at The Lit Pub, Bong is Bard, FictionBrigade, Connotation Press, Used Furniture Review, Emerge Literary Journal, The Rusty Nail, and Eunoia Review. During his free time, he likes to yell at strangers about how much Genesis sucked in the 1980s.
“I’m sorry, Adam. Really, I—“ 10 12
M ad a m e I c h i b a n Marie C lairevoyant knows w h a t a l l m e n d esire. In the prime of her life b y d a y s h e s l e p t, and by night she would s nake o u t a n d g rasp a w illing victim in he r c l a w s . W h e n i t was over, his body was left e m p t y a n d u s e d , and she had a new piece o f a r t w o r k t o a dd to her collection. Now, c r y p t k e e p e r- o l d by any calculations, but a g o rg e o u s a r t i f i cial love machine by means o f s e l f - s u rg e r y, she instructs other young w o m e n s u c h a s myself in the art of dubious, d ead l y, i n si d i o u s seduction. I, Cry st a l C a r a van, am a resident at I c hiba n M ari e Cl a i r e v o yant’s S oulkiller S cho ol— I . M . C . S . S . — l i c ensed and certified. Madame s a i d I w a s a p r i me candidate—I’m blonde,
and I was willing to have all my o rg a n s soaked once a month in ethanol th e n stitched back into me. Sometimes M a d a m e Cla ir e voya nt doe s the surge r y he r s e lf . O the r time s she sle e ps in a hype r ba r ic c o ff in , while artificially-living vines she k e e p s a s assistants tangle inside and out, to u c h i n g you in your most pr iva te pla c e s a n d r idding you of a ny impur itie s. We a r e p u r ified by fire and intrusion 40x ove r, u n t i l we spa r kle a nd shine like ma nuf a c tu r e d dia monds. At night we go out. 11pm. Lipglos s , la cque r, f a lse e ye la she s, c olla ge n silic o n e a n d f a ke te a r s. Glitte r on our skin a nd c a me r a s in our c or r e c tive e ye we a r, 4- in c h h e e l le a the r boots a nd we ’ r e r e a dy. We g o d o w n 12
t o o n e o f t h e N ightC hapels in the Blue L i g h t D i s t r ict. Madame watches us on t h e b i g s c r e en from the safety of her art de c o l i v i n g room —plush red leath e r f urni t u r e , c o l o urful geometric chandeliers, an d d i sc a r d e d tissue from the oper at i o n s — s t i t c hed together like carnations an d b u n c h e d in black & w hite vas e s. To n i g h t I ’ m here as a m entor, chape r oni n g a n e w r ecruit named Megin. She’s no t t o o s m a rt, but she has big brown do e e y e s , l o ng, wavy black hair and a pe r f e c t b o d y. She’s short, but her white hi g h - h e e l p a tent boots, thigh-high, c r eat e t h e i l l u sion of height. Megin’s pa inted l i k e a g y p sy acid queen H ello Kitty do l l a n d h e r dress is so tight. I’m in a s t e e l g r e y b odysuit custom-designed for m e . I t c a t c h es the light in just the right w a y w h e n I move. M e g i n a n d I are on the run and we’re l o o k i n g . L o oking to find a man with a s t a s h o f c r e dits big enough for the both of u s a n d s mart enough to know we’ll ne v e r w a n t h im for love. L ife at I c hiba n M a r i e Clairevoyant’s Soulkiller S c h o o l i s a full-time job and we want a r e s p i t e . I ’ ve had this idea for years. W h e n Me g i n came along a few w ee ks a g o , I k n e w I could get her to come with m e . C o u l d s ee it in her big doe eyes. I t o l d h e r t h a t Madame had eaten so ma ny s o u l s t h a t s he was beginning to cave in on h e r s e l f , and if we didn’t escape soon w e ’ d b e c o l lateral dam age. Sh e a g r e e d , having turned up here only f o r w a n t o f other options. We sea led it w i t h a p i n k y swear, a kiss and a 12-pack of c a n d y i n j ections. Girls need a partner in crime.
We wa it outside the NightCha pe l, w a tc hing for disappointed people leavin g . They’re easy to spot, even in the d a r k . They stare at the ground a few fee t a h e a d of them, thoughts a thousand mile s a w a y. The y gr ip the ir opposite e lbows, s q u e e zing in the ir own body he a t to ke e p o u t the c old of our ha r sh subte r r a ne a n c limate. They walk with short, quick s t e p s , ma king the m diff ic ult to c a tc h up w ith some time s. Megin points out two men leaving t h e club and I shake my head. They m a y have exited empty-handed, but I c a n t e l l they’re snobs and done for the nig h t , off home to the ir be stse lle r books a n d their Chardonnay. They don’t care f o r gir ls like us. But tha t’s a lr ight; it’s n o t long before we spot our target. He ’s t a l l , walks alone, and wears an expensi v e waistcoat. His eyes say he’s disap p o i n t e d by what he saw in there, and now h e j u s t wishe s f or some thing pr e tty a nd in te re ste d. In two steps I’m at his side with M e g i n at my shoulder. He glances up, an d I s e e the a ttr a c tion in his e ye s mixe d with s u spic ion. I put my hand on his shoulder, me e t h i s gaze, and smile like a cheshire. “D o you ha ve a light? ” He off e r s me a b lu e electric flame. I take a long drag o f t h e thin Black Rose inhalers that Mad a m e smoke s. I t ta ste s like br a nd na me c e le br ity c ologne a nd r oot be e r. “ You look like you c ould use some c o mpany.” Megin’s on his right now. “ We could too.” She threads her pale, p a i n t e d
h a n d s a r o u nd his arm. “ I t ’s b e e n a long, lonely night,” I tell him. He chuckles. H e l i g h t s a cigarette of his own. “Let’s w a l k t h e n , ” he says. M e g i n t e l l s him about an art school she w a n t s t o g o to. S he talks about Isla ndG e t a w a y, a distant colony w here indiv i d s c a n g o on holiday for 14 day s— t h e y c h a n n el in direct sunlight from t h e s u r f a c e , she says. I ask him what h e l i k e s t o watch on the redscreen; he sa y s h e l i k es N uF ranc dram as and those w i l d l i f e h i s tory shows, about creatures a l l e x t i n c t now. A f t e r a l o n g walk through the cold night w e r e a c h h i s automoto, and wait for h i m t o r e a c h a decision. Who will sit in f r o n t ? M e g in’s giggling at a story he’s t e l l i n g a b o ut a workmate, so I think it’ll b e h e r.
low, he ’ ll be ba c k a ga in, tr olling th e NightChapels that are full of peop l e l i k e us. Like us, but not as well-practi c e d . Ma da me ha s ta ught us tha t a r tif ic i a l c o nne c tion is a n a r t f or m. A man only wants one thing, Mad a m e says. By day he sleeps, and by nig h t h e dreams of us. Megin and I are on t h e r u n and we’re looking. We didn’t get h i m this time, but we’ll get him soon. We ’ l l show him our f a lse e motion, we ’ ll te ll him what he wants to hear. Then w e ’ l l use him up, spit him out and take h i s mone y. We we r e tr a ine d a t I c hiba n M arie Clairevoyant’s Soulkiller Scho o l . We just need that one big job, and the n w e can quit, we tell ourselves. One m o r e and that’ll be it. It’s the story we t e l l our se lve s a bout the ne a r f utur e .
- - -
Corin Reyburn enjoys single malt scotch and
“ We l l g i r l s, I’m flattered by the atte nt i o n , b u t I ’ m exhausted and I’ve got to g e t u p e a r l y tomorrow. Maybe I’l l see y o u a r o u n d here tomorrow night?”
the use of unconventional instruments in rock n’ roll music, sometimes together, and is working on a speculative fiction novel about underground waste. Corin currently resides in Los
“ O h , w e m i ght be around,” I say. I w i n k , M e g i n squeezes his hand, the n we d i sa p p e a r b a ck into the dark, becoming a g a i n a f a n t asy promise of sw eet pla st i c b e a u t y a nd bought attention, stories p e o p l e t e l l themselves about the near f u t u r e . I i m agine that cynicism keeps h i m f r o m t a king us home—he’s obvio u sl y i n t e r e sted, but he know s w h a t we a r e , a n d m a ybe he’s had enough of our t y p e f o r t o night. When his reserves run
Angeles, where sunsets take place indoors on 4.4 trillion-color screens, and has had work appear in Clutching at Straws, Quantum Muse, and MBRANE-SF. Reyburn works as a freelance web designer when the thought that one might need to earn some money strikes. More work can be found at infrastratos.wordpress.com.
16 12 14
M a n y t h i n g s c a n b e s a i d o f t h e “A m e r i -
PA I D f o r a T I N Y i t e m , ye s ? Yo u H AV E
time we “tweet” from our iPhones that
yo u j u s t p u t t h e i t e m a n d r e c e i p t i n
c a n D r e a m”. I t c a n b e s a i d t h a t e ve r y we’re experiencing it first hand. On
t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e d u d e i n “ Wa t c h -
m e n” s e e m e d t o t h i n k i t w a s l a u n c h i n g gas grenades as disco dancers. I guess i t ’ s d i f f e r e n t f o r e ve r yo n e .
I s u p p o s e t h e “A m e r i c a n D r e a m” i n
particular that I’d like to address in
t h e “ G e t R i c h W i t h o u t D o i n g A ny t h i n g t o E a r n I t ” t h i n g . Ye a h … T H AT o n e .
A d m i t i t , y o u ’ ve a l l t h o u g h t a b o u t i t …
D R E A M E D a b o u t i t . S o w hy a r e p e o p l e
yo u r R E C E I P T, c o r r e c t ? S o w hy d o n’ t
YO U R P O C K E T ? ! O h t h a t ’ s r i g h t ! S i l l y m e . Yo u “ d o n’ t w a n n a g e t t a c k l e d ”.
FREEZE! Gonna break it down again:
Yo u ’ r e a t a m u t l i - b i l l i o n d o l l a r r e t a i l e r that makes more in one day than you m a k e i n a ye a r… b y a L O T… a n d y o u ’ r e
a f r a i d o f b e i n g p hy s i c a l ly a s s a u l t e d … W RO N G F U L LY ? ! F R E E Z E ! L e t ’ s b r e a k
t h i s d o w n o n e m o r e t i m e : … yo u k n o w w h a t … s c r e w i t . Tw o w o r d s s u m i t u p w e l l e n o u g h “ C H A” a n d “ C H I N G ”.
s t i l l t e r r i f i e d t o a c t u a l ly d o i t w h e n
I ’ ve b e e n t h e g uy b e h i n d t h e c o u n t e r
o f c o u r s e r e f e r r i n g t o t h e ve r y A m e r i -
my e ye s s o m u c h i t h u r t s I ’ ve r e a l i z e d
they have the perfect opportunity? I’m c a n “ f r i v o l o u s l a w s u i t ”… o r a s I c a l l i t , t h e “A m e r i c a n L o t t e r y ”.
I ’ m g o n n a p a i n t a s c e n a r i o f o r yo u
h e r e . I m a g i n e yo u ’ r e i n l i n e a t a m a -
j o r r e t a i l e r. Yo u ’ r e b uy i n g s o m e t h i n g
s m a l l … l i k e a p a c k o f A A b a t t e r i e s . Yo u kindly pay the merchant and when
t h e y a s k i f y o u ’ d l i k e a b a g yo u s a y
s o m e t h i n g r i d i c u l o u s l i k e “ Ye s p l e a s e ! D o n’ t w a n n a g e t t a c k l e d o n my w a y o u t ! H a h a ! ”. F R E E Z E ! A l l o w m e t o
b r e a k t h i s d o w n f o r ya : Yo u ’ ve a l r e a dy
f o r a f e w ye a r s n o w a n d a f t e r r o l l i n g
something. People are more afraid of
social embarrassment by being beeped a t t h a n t h e y a r e o f b e i n g “ t a c k l e d ”.
H o n e s t ly… w h a t m e g a - c o r p o r a t i o n i s stupid enough to let their security
g u a r d s TA C K L E a p e r s o n w h o b e e p s
going through a door? What these emb a r r a s s e d i d i o t s d o n’ t r e a l i z e i s t h a t
on the off chance they DO get tackled o n t h e w a y o u t t h e d o o r, t h e y ’ d m o r e or less be set for life.
My kids are gonna be knee deep in
plastic bags by the time they can walk… a l l s o s o m e m o r o n c a n a vo i d t h e s o c i a l embarrassment of being beeped at on
the way out of a department store that d o e s n’ t e v e n c a r e … A N D w i l l p a y yo u
h a n d s o m e l y f o r yo u r p o o r b r u i s e d k n e e
if it comes to that. Either grow a spine
and stop worrying about what strangers think of you or get rich off the store’s
Adam Peterson is a self-made
mistake. And PLEASE…stop asking for
man who has studied at the
p l a s t i c b a g s f o r i t e m s s m a l l e r t h a n yo u r
University of Life for the
last 29 years. He has already earned his degree at being a bachelor and is working toward a career in the evolution of the
T h i s b r i e f c o m m e n t a r y i s b a s e d e n t i r e ly
human species. Mr. Peterson is
o n t h e v i e w s a n d o p i n i o n s o f t h e a u t h o r.
Nothing I say can or will be used against
an accomplished expander of
me to make me look ridiculous and other bad stuff. This submission is intended to be entertaining while drawing attention
t o s o c i a l s t i g m a s t h a t p r e ve n t t h e h u m a n species from moving in the right direction. The author has many opinions on
many topics and this may be the first of m a n y. P l e a s e e n j o y.
Professional Commentarian and Opener of Minds.
minds and enjoys pushing the buttons of the politically narrow-minded
Recen t l y, w h i l e fishing for uplifting, posit i v e s t o r i e s a b o ut the state of affairs in A m e r i c a n D e m ocracy, I ran across a little web si t e c a l l e d N obodyforPresident.org. T h e d o m a i n n a me pretty much gives it all a w a y, b u t w e ’ l l go into this anyway. It tells t h e st o r y o f a f ew people in San Francisco r i g h t a t t h e e v e of our bicentennial who cam e t o a si m p le conclusion: m ore and mor e p eop l e a r e n o t v oting because there is nob o d y t h e y w a n t to vote for. It isn’t laziness o r l a c k o f i n t e r est or apathy, it is a lack of s u p p o r t f o r t h e candidates presented.
tions,’ I like that.” I mean, it seem s k i n d of true, right? For those of us tha t d o s t i l l vote don’t we always have the sen s e t h a t we ’ r e just se le c ting the le sse r of t w o e v ils . Campaign posters should just say, “ Vo t e f or Me : the be st you c a n hope f or. ” T h e n I thought, I wonde r who this Wa vy G r a v y is , othe r tha n a c lown de pic te d in the p h o to a t the c e nte r of the pa ge . So, I look e d it u p . His we bsite ( wa vygr a vy.ne t) de sc r ib e s h im as an activist, an entertainer, a pe a c e f u l pr ote ste r, a nd one of the ma jor a r ms in th e organization of the Woodstock Fe s t i v a l i n 1969. His bio even shares a mome n t w h e r e he got on stage and proclaimed, “ W h a t we have in mind is breakfast in be d f o r 400,000! ” He onc e sa id, “ I a m a n a c tivist clown and former frozen desse r t . ” T h a t last bit is in reference to his inspi r a t i o n o f a flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream . Yo u really should check out the websit e , f o r the bio if nothing e lse , it’s f ull of w o n d e rful quotes about Wavy Gravy like o n e f r o m Pa ul Kr a ssne r who c a lle d him “ th e ille g itima te son of Ha r po Ma r x a nd Moth e r Teresa.”
Acco r d i n g t o t h e site: O n D e c e m b e r 8 , 19 7 5 , I sp o ke with Wa v y G ra vy a t the United State Caf e o n H aig h t S tree t in San Fr a n c i s c o , a b o u t v o te r ap at hy. I p o i n t e d t o s tatistics sh o w i n g peo p l e w e r e no t reg isterin g to vot e a n d a p p r o xi ma te l y fi fty (50 ) per c e n t o f t h e pe o p l e w h o cou l d vote wer e n o t s h o w i n g up at the p olls. Wa v y responded, " Yo u m ean Nobody is winning the Pr e s i d e n t i al ele c tio ns?"
While it is truth that he is an activ i s t a n d a political persona, he is also a tra d i t i o n a l c lown who e nte r ta ins a t c hildr e n’s p a r tie s , we a r s the c ostume , blows bubble s , ju g g le s , magic tricks and jokes. But behin d t h e c lown, the hippie , a nd the ic e c r e a m f lavor, there is a man with a sincere p a s s i o n to effect positive change and who , n e a r a s I can tell, seems to see the power o f s a t i r e and parody in getting people’s atte n t i o n . He has been involved in the forma t i o n o f multiple orga niz a tions suc h a s Camp Winnarainbow, the Hog Farm and the S e v a Founda tion, a nd wa s, a ppa r e ntly, th e “ o ff icial clown” for the Grateful Dead .
T h a t q u e s t ion became the spark t h a t i g n i t e d th e B i rth d a y Par t y ' s "N o b o dy fo r P re si de n t Cam p a i g n . " Wa v y Gravy b e ca me "No b o d y ' s F o ol ," C u rtis S p an gler, b e c a m e "N o b o d y's C ampa i gn Man a g e r, " a n d th e res t is h is t ory! W h i l e r e a d i n g t he backstory of this idea I h a d a f e w t h o ughts all at the same time. F i r s t , I t h o u g h t about that old Spaghetti We s t e r n “ M y N ame is Nobody,” but that has n o t h i n g t o d o with our topic of discussion. N e x t I t h o u g h t , “Hey, that’s a great line, ‘Nob o d y i s w i n n ing the P residential e le c-
The long and short here is he seem s l i k e a pretty neat guy and to top it all off , h e g o t 21
utopia t h e n a m e f o r h i s clown alter ego from B.B. K i n g b a c k w h e n he was still Hugh Nanton Rom n e y w o r k i ng at the Texas Internationa l Pop Festival.
Above” on a ballot and effectively p u s h e d out the candidates in the race? Wo u l d i t be c ha os? Or, possibly, c ould it r e s u lt in the one thing people hope for and n e v e r see happening: the opportunity fo r a T h i r d Pa r ty Ca ndida te to a c tua lly be r e c o g n iz e d .
B u t t h a t ’s e n o u gh background, look up m o r e , i t ’s w o r t h it. He has a Wikipedia p age, u se t h a t or something. T he point is, t h i s c l o w n a c t i vist and his buddies had a revela t i o n . Wa v y G ravy said the line , “ Nob o d y i s w i n n i n g the Presidential elec tions,” a n d t h e y t h o u g ht that we ought to have the o p t i o n t o e l e c t Nobody. In other words, we s ho u l d b e a b l e to say, as a nation, tha t we d o n ’t s u p p o r t a ny of the candidates and we wou l d l i k e t o c a st our vote against bo th of t h em. I n e v e n s impler terms, as N obodyf orP r e s i d e n t . c o m puts it, we should be able to v o t e “ N o n e o f t he A bove.”
What if this campaign for Nobody w a s the se c r e t to c ha nging the e ntir e p o litic a l a r e na ? W ha t if tha t tipping point w e ’ v e a ll been looking for to break down th e p o w e r vacuum of the Republican and De m o c r a t i c Pa r tie s c ould be a c hie ve d by simp ly r e a rranging the options on our ballot s l i p s ? Would you want that? Would you p u s h f o r tha t a s a c itiz e n? The reason I ask is simple. Anoth e r g r e a t tidbit on the Nobody for Presiden t w e b s i t e ha s to do with how quic kly c e r ta in a me n dme nts we r e r a tif ie d:
Th e N o b o d y f o r President m ovement is a cal l t o g o v e r n ment to reform the traditiona l b al l o t . O n t h e surface this idea seems kind o f l i k e a j o k e , not to be taken seriously, and I ’ m p r e t t y sure I even saw this ide a in t h at R i c h a r d P r yor m ovie B rew ster ’s Mill i o n s, b u t l e t ’s r eally think about this f or a m i n u t e h e r e . I mean, even in the Richard P ry o r m o v i e , t h e campaign for “N one of the Abo v e ” w o u n d up rooting out corruption a n d r e s u l t i n g i n a completely fresh election. T h e r e w e r e t h r ee candidates, two cor rupt i n c u m b e n t s a n d then Brewster who was only d o i n g i t b e c a u se he w anted to blow a bunc h o f m o n e y o n a phony campaign (don’t ask w h y, t h i s i s a b out None of the Above , it i s n ’t a B r e w s t e r ’s Millions movie review. S e e t h e m o v i e ) . After his campaign scores h i m a m a j o r i t y in the election he bows out and p r e t t y m u c h screw s up the w hole pr oc e s s . T h e r e s u lt, people literally voted for Nob o d y a n d t h e campaigns started fre sh w i t h l e s s c o r r u pt bureaucrats. Do you ever w i s h w e c o u l d pull something like th at? W h a t i f i t w a s common practice? What if a m a j o r i t y o f c itizens marked “None of the
The 26th amendment (grant i n g t h e right to vote for 18 year-old s ) t o o k only 3 month s & 8 d ays to be r a t i f ied ! Wh y? Simp le! Th e p eop le de manded it. That was in 1971... b e f o r e computers, e-mail, cellphon e s , e t c . Of th e 27 amend ments to the C o n stitution, seven (7) took 1 y e a r o r less to bec ome th e law of th e la n d... all bec au se of p u blic p res s u r e. Public pressure. That’s the real ti c k e t . I f you want it you have to demand it . Wi t h one voic e , a nd ke e p de ma nding it u n til y o u ge t it. Pe r iod. I don’t have much else to say bey o n d t h a t . I want to share some of the info th e s i t e expresses, just to get you thinking . B u t , to sum it all up, I love this idea b e c a u s e i t gives some power back. As it stan d s n o w, we are basically choosing between t h e o l d rock and hard place. It doesn’t m a t t e r i f w e like the guys or not, we just pic k th e le s s e r 22
o f t w o e v i l s a n d hope for the best, knowing ( 2) Change re quire m e nt s f or Pres ide nt : f u l l w e l l n o t h i ng will change. Maybe this c o u l d c h a n g e t hings, if people got behind it. ( a ) Extr e me ly ha r d c ivil se rv ic e e x a m. M a y b e i t ’s t i m e to stop listening to the suits and st a r t l i st e n ing to the clow ns. (b) Top scores compete in "Pr e z olympic s." C o n g re ssi o nal R eform A ct of 2011 1 . No Te n u r e / N o P ension. A C ongressma n col l e c t s a sa l a r y w hile in office and r ecei v e s n o p a y when they are out of off ic e . 2 . Co n g r e ss ( p ast, present & future) p a r tic ip at es i n S o c i a l S ecurity. A l l fu n d s i n t h e Congressional retirement f u n d m o v e t o t he Social Security system i m m e d i a t e l y. A ll future funds flow in to the S o ci a l S e c u r i t y system , and C ongress pa rt i c i p a t e s w i t h t he American people. I t may n o t b e u se d f o r any other purpose. 3 . Co n g r e ss c a n purchase their ow n r e tir em ent p l a n , j u st as all A mericans do. 4 . Co n g r e ss w i ll no longer vote themse lve s a p ay r a i se . C o n gressional pay w ill rise by t h e l o w e r o f CP I or 3%.
(c) Top 10 winners become c a ndida te s.
( d) Ele c tion winne r be c omes Pr e side nt.
( e ) Ge ts de vic e impla nte d in th e ir br a in tha t e xplode s if the y t e ll a lie .
( 3) Hire a Ribbon Cut t e r f or Pre s ide nt .
( a ) Sa ve d mone y pa ys off natio n a l de bt.
( 4) De c lare e le c t ion day a holida y. ( a ) Voting r e c e ipt r e quir e d f or pa y. ( 5) Tie e le c t ion par t ic ipat ion t o j ur y dut y ( a ) Those who don't vote go on ju r y r o lls .
5 . Co n g r e ss l o ses their current health c a r e s y s t e m a n d p a r ticipates in the same health care sy st e m a s the A merican people. A r t h u r B r a n d d o e s n ’t w a n t y o u t o
6 . C o n g r e s s m u st equally abide by all laws t h ey i m p o se o n the A merican people.
know anything about him. He believes
7 . All c o n t r a c t s w ith past and present Cong r e s s m e n a r e v oid effective 1/1/12. The Am er i c a n p e o p le did not m ake this contr a c t wi t h Co n g r e ssm en. C ongressmen m ade a ll t h es e c o n t r a c t s for themselves.
people as individuals and has zero faith in the power of people in large groups. He is suspicious often, angry always, and dumbfounded regu-
Al t er n a t i v e s f o r P resident
l a r l y.
(1 ) P u t " N o n e of the A bove" on vot e r b a l l o t s.
He dreams of a free America
a n d h a s n ’t s e e n i t i n h i s l i f e t i m e . 23
Apples and Where They Fall went to Blockbuster and the guy behind the counter went on for nearly five minutes about how I didn’t resemble the pink video game character.
My full name is Kirby Lamont Light Jr. I’m named after my father. He’s named after a street in Houston Texas. Why anyone would give their child this name I have no idea. It’s a hard name to have. It may be the reason why I don’t usually like meeting people. I introduce myself and usually the first thing I here about are references to vacuum cleaners or video games or even Kirby Puckett. Once at a game store I got Jack Kirby.
Once when I did a reading and a lady there said I had a great name when I introduced myself and I had a professor in college who said I had a writer’s name. I’ve been asked why I don’t change my name and at this point it’s a badge of honor, albeit an albatross at the same time.
People some times get elaborate with this. I 24
There is that old question, what is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. But that’s roses. A name is an important thing. It’s everything. The thing that precedes you from the very day you are born.
also get my ambition from my father and that dreamer sort of quality that seems to be rare amongst people for my age. But despite my father having these two decent qualities he never really became anything worthwhile. He spends his days now sitting in front of the TV and the extent of his conversations are about shows he’s watched and the food he’s eaten that day or week or month.
I am named after my father. Incidentally my grandfather (my father’s father) is named after his father and he never named any of his sons after himself. I believed he wanted to distance himself from his father. I’ve been told stories about my great grandfather, how he would drink and beat his wife and son.
I remember my childhood, for the most part to be lonely. My father being in the military we got shipped around a lot. I never
That’s pretty much my father in a nutshell. Yeah, it’s one of those stories. Daddy drank and beat mommy and the kids. Take it or leave, it’s my story and that’s what it is. My grandfather had the right idea of not naming any of his children after himself. My father apparently wasn’t as smart. My mother wanted to name me Kevin (incidentally that name means ‘the kind one’) but despite this I ended up with the name I have (Kirby means village with a church). It’s been a burden to me all my life. So much time being mixed up with my father, over the phone, with the mail, when he and I started to go to college the school consistently got us mixed up when
had many friends and never had them for very long. Much of that time I remember a continued sense of unease. My father and mother always screaming and fighting about money or this or that. Details. Little do I remember. It’s a slip shod of memories. My first memory is of my father. Well, that’s not true. My first memory is of a little boy in a red and white striped shirt, pushing me down on a playground. I cried and ran. The only reason I remember this is because it’s tied to my second memory, my father sitting at the dinning room table, the room dark, the only light coming from the light above the kitchen stove, a soft blue light that only lit
it came to paper work, which caused many headaches.
half my father’s face. He leaned forward on his knees, resting his elbows on them. He brought his face very close to mine.
I presume my father wanted a copy of himself, that’s the reason for the name. Of course he’s the furthest thing from what I want to become. Although there are similarities. I don’t handle people too well and my temper sometimes gets the better of me. I have trouble staying organized and a weight problem and a pervasive stubbornness, bad qualities for sure. There are others. Incidentally I
I could have been maybe three or four or so, no older, because I remember that Rachel was still wearing diapers. My father sitting in the dark, pushed me down onto the floor. “Stand up,” he said. And I did. And he pushed me down again. 25
reviews “Stand up.”
down and ripped that belt off again.
I don’t remember crying. But I remember my father telling me to hit him. He said he wouldn’t stop until I hit him. I think he said I needed to learn how to defend myself, or maybe that is a thought I conjured up somewhere in the passing years. Either way, he pushed me down again and again. Finally he said that if I wanted him to stop I would have to hit him or take a beating, or spanking. In my head I hear the word beating, which I took and I walked into my room, crying and went
He held my hands behind my back once, holding me down on the living room coffee table and made use of the belt. There are more spats to the face than I can count, random ones, ones I can’t even what I did to get them. Many times he had done strange and cruel things, like when he had been trying to fix my hair for me and pulled too hard and I stepped back, onto the dog, making it screech. He got angry and grabbed me by the cheeks, shaking my face and head, him growling through his grit-
ted teeth. He pushed me back against the wall. When I was sixteen he grabbed me by the hair and slammed my head against the floor of the kitchen. There have been more things like that, but I think that’s enough on that subject.
And that was my childhood. My father had a belt, ironically it was custom made and had his (and incidentally my) name on it and he used to scream whenever Rachel or I did something ‘wrong.’ And he would tear that belt off, biting on his lower lip, screaming through gritted teeth. He held the leather belt in his hands and would fold it in half then snap it. He would take us by the wrist and lift us up off the floor. Sometime we ran or sometimes just hit the floor and curl up in a ball. But most of the time he took one of
Growing up our lives had turned into a mad house. Four o’clock my father came home from work. In my teen years I fled to my bedroom. I left out any door I could and avoided him at all costs. At any point when I was a child he could get angry for any reason, bust into the room and yell or throw things or rip that belt off. When I first moved out of my parents house I still got that feeling, late at
us by the wrist and lift us up off the ground, he hold the belt in the other hand and proceed to beat us. Not a gentle beating either. Rugs have been beaten with a gentler touch. I wonder if this is how I dislocated my arm twice when I was a child. I don’t remember it. I’m told it happened, but there are five different stories as to how my arm was dislocated. Who knows?
night, that at any moment someone would come busting through the door, screaming. I still get that feeling now. It’s not a good thing to grow up under a constant strain and fear that at any moment violence would thrust itself upon you. In my teen years the beatings came less and less. But my father talked more and more, more yelling. He would lecture me for hours and I’d have to hear about how much of a fuck up I was. Once he told me that for some-
I remember when I was six and he chased me across the yard in Baycliff and pushed me 26
one who thought he was so smart I certainly didn’t have any common sense. Talking to him became pointless, anything that I said would just be responded to with venom. He sat in the living room once, biting his nails and spitting the nails out onto the floor. I asked him not to do that and he simply said “fuck you.” I was thirteen at the time, maybe. Not talking to him made life easier, less reason for him to say anything back. My father had lots of lovely sayings that I remember distinctly. “You’re white, so act like it” or “I am lord and master of this house and you’ll do what I tell you.” He would love to tell us about the house hold finances and he would go out of his way to let my sister, mother, and I know that we didn’t own anything. That everything we had he bought and was actually his. Once he pulled everything out of my bedroom, leaving only a mattress in there.
Now my father is an old man, very fat and spends his days sitting in front of the television. The house is a dump, he doesn’t own it. For a while he watched those Storage Wars shows on TV, where people go and bid on storage lockers that have been abandoned or gone unpaid for for too long. After seeing the show he started bidding on lockers here in Vancouver and now the house is filled with other people’s garbage, can’t hardly walk through the house. The garage has become a giant storage unit. My father is the furthest thing from what I want to be. I ignore him most of the time now. He’ll try to talk to me and I’ll just act like I didn’t hear him. I speak to him on a need to speak basis. He hands out what money he has, if my sister and I need it. But that’s about all he’s really good for and if you’re only good at handing out money, well, you’re not much good for anything at all. Maybe that’s a hard thing for someone to understand, but that’s the way it is. I learned when I was younger that it was just better to ignore him, the less interaction the better. I just decided to become invisible to make life easier and surprisingly enough it’s been that way ever since. It gets me through every one of my days.
I grew up under a very critical eye. Every thing I did was basically ridiculed, criticized, and judged. I spent much of my childhood constantly being told I need to worry about what I did and how other people saw me. Never did he let it slide how important a first impression was. The man more or less, never had anything nice to say. Granted he had something to say about everything. Man has never done anything other than talk. Endlessly over and over he talks, about everything but he never has anything interesting to say. His mouth is like a waterfall, never shuts up. He can’t even walk through a room without making some type of noise, just gibberish sometimes, well more than sometimes.
Vae Victus Like most people of my generation, of the male variety especially, I had been raised on video games. The first game I ever played had been Bart Versus the World, then it was Super 27
reviews Mario Bros. 3 (a game I still enjoy playing). And one of the few good memories I have of my father is when he would take me to the Galleria in Houston Texas and we would play T2: Judgment Day. You know the arcade machine I’m talking about, the one with the two guns and the recording of Arnold telling you to reload. I could have been five or six and I’d stand on a chair shouting at the machine every time I took something out. My first console had been the Super Nintendo and from there I gained a range of favorite old school games (some of which I still own). For the most part I’ve shrugged off games, sold most of my collection both in an attempt to grow up and to make some extra money (I’m broke—writing don’t pay much). I still hold onto some of my older games (every year I still bust out Maximum Carnage and give that a play through— fuck, that games the reason I read comic books).
idiot move of discussing video games to a female—I get eye rolls and sighs). But some video games have better stories than most books I’ve read. Red Dead Redemption had been the most recent game I’ve played that really blew me away with it’s story. It had themes and motifs and character developments that I never expected from such a game (the themes involved change as well as the idea of nature over nurture—this was brought out in every aspect of the game—truly stunning). Other notable games from this generation are the Max Payne games (great noir genre pieces) and the Alan Wake game (main character’s a writer and it references writing and authors a good deal). The first game I ever played that I might consider art (that dastardly word that should be avoided at all times) had been Silent Hill 2. The first four games in the series were really great (fuck the movies). But Silent Hill 2 had a theme and was tremendously subtle in the way it presented the story and the supernatural aspects of the game (it’s really better than any horror movie I’ve ever seen—excluding the original House on Haunted Hill). I had to research the game just to understand the subtle details of what had been happening. Every monster in the game represented some aspect of the main character, from sexual frustration to guilt. Maria and Pyramid Head each played a roll in the psychological damage of James Sunderland. Not only that, but there had been the theme of murder (James, Eddie, and Angela are all murderers). It’s a damn good game. SH 1 is also good and are both 3 and 4 (every thing after that is crap, western made garbage that borrows too much from the shitty films).
As I grew up I refined my tastes a bit, got a Playstation and watched games evolve. I found I liked more of the single player games with good stories. I don’t play too many games these days. I don’t understand the Call of Duty stuff (although I do UNDERSTAND Nazi Zombies—I believe every one does) but I keep a few of the old stuff, mostly my Playstation games and NES and SNES stuff (I also have a large Castlevania collection of games—almost all of them—that span across many platforms and even languages). But the stuff I’m hardest pressed to get rid of are the games with the stories I like. You can find stories in a variety of areas, but for some reason video games are looked down on (every once in a while I make the 28
Square Soft brought out some good story based games back in the day, the likes of Final Fantasy six and seven (with their awe inspiring steam punk influences—and you know you were sad when Aerith died, admit it) and the Chrono games and by God Vagrant Story (Vagrant Story ruled the school). Then there is Metal Gear Solid. With it’s well crafted stories and cinematic presentation it’s a master piece. Solid Snake is one of the most well developed characters you’ll find, be it in movies, books, or anywhere else. Metal Gear Solid two has a decent story, but it goes over my head some,
man named Kain is murdered and then resurrected by the necromancer Mortanius (happening years after the guardian of balance is murdered). Kain is resurrected as a vampire and is charged with the task of killing all of the guardians for the nine pillars, thus restoring the world to normal. So throughout the game Kain travels all over Nosgoth completing this task. Towards the end of the game Kain comes to a point where he can go no further as the path is blocked by a war and the soldiers of a warlord named Nemisis. So at this point Kain must seek out the time
concepts such as information and population control and liberty and freedom still make me shake my head.
streamer, Moebius to go back in time and kill the Nemisis so that the path will be unblocked and he can continue his quest. The time streamer sends Kain back to a time when the warlord was known as the good king William the Just. so Kain kills William with a weapon he received from the time streamer called the Soul Reaver. Well William also has the Soul Reaver in the past and when Kain kills him with it it causes a time paradox and when Kain returns he finds that as a result of killing William when he was known as William the Just all the of the humans have hunted down and killed all the vampires. Kain returns just in time to witness the execution of the last remaining vampire (other than himself). Kain learns that the whole events of the story were actually a plot concocted by the time streamer and the necromancer to destroy the nine pillars and free the elder god from his prison. Kain of course defeats the time streamer and the necromancer, after which he learns he is the last guardian, he became the new guardian of balance after the previous one was murdered and to restore the world to the way it was he must kill himself. But at the end of the game Kain refuses the sacrifice and in-
Another game from those early days of games that boggles me still when I try to explain it is the game Legacy of Kain Blood Omen. Trying to explain that game to anyone just gives me a big headache, but it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever seen in a game. It has to do with time travel, vampires, wizards, time paradoxes, elder gods, themes of destiny versus free will, and a multitude of other things. Let me try to explain the story of Blood Omen: So the world of Nosgoth is held up by these nine pillars, each pillar represents a different thing (like one is the pillar of the mind, one is of conflict, one is of balance, and so on and so forth) and each pillar is represented by a human guardian. Well at the onset of the game the guardian of balance is murdered. Now the guardian of balance happens to be the lover of the guardian of the mind and this causes the mind of the mind to go insane, thus corrupting the other pillars and sending the world into chaos. When this happens a noble-
stead decides to rule Nosgoth in it’s decay as the last remaining vampire and thus the most powerful entity on the planet.
me to deny video games influence on it, most notably the game Silent Hill 4 The Room. In the game Henry Townsend is trapped in room 302 (room 302 happened to be the working That is a lot to explain and I’m not even sure title of the game) and at one point in the game if I got it all right, but that’s the gist of it, he breaks down a wall revealing a hidden what I remember of it that is. I got a head room in his popular apartment.misconception, The main character of Despite Kirby ache writing all of that you know. The later my story also breaks down a wall in a hidden Light isn’t real. He’s an illusion. He’s Legacy of Kain games introduce Raziel and room of an apartment (where he later hides the been in The various online and the relationship between the two characters is body of published his girlfriend). girlfriend’s name pretty interesting (Raziel does every thing for incidentally Cheryl, which the can namefind of offline ismagazines and isyou unselfish reasons and yet every thing turns the little girl from Silent Hill one. Although his ebooks “Cheap Thrills and Night out wrong from his actions whereas Kain much of the story is derived from my personal Terrors” and “No Solace for the Innodoes everything for selfish reasons and it ben- experience the influence of these games is themore Kindle efits everyone). there—tocent” some on extent than store. I would like it to be. But it was a good story and I enjoyed There are a lot of games out there with some writing it. amazing stories and games seem to be looked down on as just child’s play and I suppose for So maybe at this stage in the article you’re the most part they are. wondering what the point is, why I spent so much time mumbling about video games and But not always. Video games have influenced if you read this far you probably play video my life way too much (I notice I play RPGs games yourself and I don’t really need to tell the way I live life—sometimes I just have to you any of this. But if you don’t play video drop every thing and spent some time leveling games and you’ve read this far, well, good up, work on a degree or project or get a new news for you, this article has nothing to do item like a car—you know, shit like that). with video games. Not a damn thing. What But another way they have influenced me is in my storytelling. I recently submitted a short story called Apartment 402 to a magazine. It’s a horror story about a man who finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him and decides to kill her, but there are supernatural aspects to it, leaving the open ended question of whether he was insane or if his apartment building was haunted (it’s the lingering questions left by a horror story that make it memorable by the way). I enjoyed writing this story and when I had finished it was hard for
I’ve been really writing about is story. Story is what makes up everything, from our movies, to our books, religions, video games, comic books, heroes, legends, and who each of us is individually. Just think of all those stories you tell to your friends and the people you meet every day. Don’t knock something just because it’s a comic book or a video game. A good story is a good story. And good story is where you find it. pp 31
spotlight on kirby light As Subtopian moves toward the small
activities, but doesn’t stick to anything
press world we have decided to help
long enough to call it a hobby.
our Mad Hermit, Kirby Light, to get his collection of short stories and poems,
He worked for a year and a half on the
Some Kind of Monster, off the ground.
art and literary magazine Phoenix and
As part of that endeavor we are trying
has been published in the 2007, 2008
something new, a more in-depth look
and 2010 editions of the magazine. He
at the writer himself and, hopefully,
also has participated in the 1000 words
the first of many “writer spotlights” to
series PDX and won second place for
the Hawkins/ Galivan award for fiction at Clark College. He’s been published
Kirby Light has always told stories and
in the September and October issues of
been told stories, from his grandmoth-
Down in the Dirt Magazine for 2011, as
er telling him about the man with the
well as Taproot Magazine, Chantarelle’s
golden are to his parents reading him
Notebook, From the Depths, Stepping
Dr. Seuss books. He loves a good story,
Stone Magazine, Faultlines Poetry, and
whether it’s written or filmed or some-
Foliate Oak Online. Two of his poems
one just telling a ghost story around a
are also featured in two poetry collec-
tions, with other writers, called 100
Words and Bleeding Heart Cadaver. He
He’s originally from Houston Texas, but
will also be published in future issues of
has lived in many places, including St.
Advocate, Nomad’s Choir, and Long Sto-
Louis, Virgin, and Kodiak Alaska, the
ry Short. He’s been writing the Pearls
place he considers his home.
for Swine column for Subtopian maga-
zine since it began in February 2012.
He goes through periods of moral bu-
limia, long periods of clean living and
In 2012 he self published two old manu-
hard work followed by periods of excess
scripts as ebooks on Amazons Kindle
and debauchery. He loves to travel and
store, “No Solace for the Innocent” and
write and read. He enjoys taking up new
“Cheap Thrills and Night Terrors.” The 32
Former being a fictionalized account
tages and good points. Of course he doesn’t
of his last summer living on Kodiak
believe that. He hasn’t had the easiest life
Island and the latter being the book
but never likes to talk about it in person or
equivalent of an exploitation film, it’s
write about it unless it serves a purpose in
main selling points being sex and vio-
a story or has something he wants to reveal
lence. He strongly recommends that no
to the reader either about themselves or the
one ever buy either of these books, as
world in general. He doesn’t talk about it
they are pretty bad. He published them
because he feels his problems are no differ-
to see the processes of the ebook and
ent than the problems of others and doesn’t
to just do something with stories that
want to be one of those people who always
were just “laying around.” Sometimes
seems down on themselves and their circum-
he gives them away as free promotions.
stances, even though he really is and does
and doesn’t see that most of the time (Hell,
Kirby Light, incidentally, is also writ-
his situation really isn’t even that bad). Of
ing this bio. He likes writing it be-
course most people don’t realize that he re-
cause he gets to write it in the third
ally likes it. He’s one of those people. He’d
person. Sometimes when he’s in a rut
rather be miserable and write about it than
or feels terrible, he talks and thinks
in the third person, because he feels
it necessary to distance himself from
He’s either a really complex bastard or just
himself. He’s like that. He spends too
a mess of a human being, probably the latter
much time thinking about himself. The
more than the former.
only time he doesn’t think about him-
self is when a fantastic woman is in his
If Kirby Light were a character in a ficti-
life—which none are at the moment—
tious story he’d either be an Antihero or a
then he spends time thinking about her.
Byronic hero. He’d be the guy that other
He loves romance—not the written kind
characters would describe as an ‘asshole
but the kind that’s created when two
with a heart of gold.’ Of course as he writes
people are pulled towards one anoth-
that he thinks to himself, “my God, what
er—he is also very sentimental at his
kind of narcissistic dick claims in the third
core, which he considers a personality
person to have a heart of gold?”
flaw but has been told it has its advan33
A story my mother told me My mother used to work at a veterinarianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s office as a janitor. During his lunch the vet there would go and get really stoned, then he would come back to work. Sometimes he would perform surgeries, there would be nicked arteries, skewered livers, and poor stitches. Now this was the seventies and in Houston Texas. Time and place seem to have bearing. Although I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t really know. But one day a woman came in with a pregnant dog, 13 34
a chow, or lab, or collie, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t remember. She wanted the dog spayed. So the Vet preformed the surgery Then he took the unborn puppies and threw them in the trash. This was a story my mother told me. I think thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a lesson in it somewhere.
Some Kind of Monster one day I was out driving, it was one of those hot days where your clothes stick to you even though your windows rolled down, the sun was setting. The sky was gold and this song came on the radio. For some reason it made me think of this girl, someone I hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t thought about in quite a while. When I first met her we were drunk, in my bathroom with the door closed, her sitting on the sink, and me standing 35 14
between her very nice thighs with my hands on her fishnet stockings, talking. I thought that I should bend down and kiss her, but before I could she looked up at me with these sad eyes and this nineteen year old girl told me that she had been getting black out drunk all week and that she always felt like a child. She asked me how she could raise her three year old daughter being like that. Well, I had no answer. I don’t think I said anything at all. Instead of kissing her I backed away, taking my hands off of her fishnet stockings and very nice thighs. We left the bathroom and went out onto my balcony where I put my jacket on her and zipped it up then we split a cigarette. My friend took her to bed that night. Sobriety came with the dawn. And I thought about this as I drove Not having thought about her since that night I thought about this as I walked into my house As I wrote this poem And when I’m done writing this poem I won’t think about her again. 36
Time and all its heart aches I tried to buy wine and Avocados at five-thirty in the morning, but they couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sell alcohol until six. So I bought wine and avocados at six in the morning. I buy avocados because they taste good Sliced and put on tuna fish sandwiches. I bought wine and avocados at six in the morning. The avocados are the dinky Small American ones. Have you seen them in other countries? Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re the size of foot balls. I bought wine and avocados at six in the morning. I bought the avocados because I was hungry and wanted a tuna fish sandwich with avocados on it. I bought the wine because an old love has a new man. 37
God must surely chuckle every day
and husbands or wives,
bleeding even more days together. They go on like that for a while. I finish my cigarette, put it out, Wipe the ashes from my scrubs.
a crow top of lot the hospital. As I There’s walk across theon parking out.of the hospital. I canHe’s hearthe theonly crowbird on top smoke a cigarette He’sIcawing. him up there. Thenand he watch flies off. sundisappears is coming up. The The cawing somewhere down the road. But there are clouds and it’s cold. Peoplesomething like laughter. It sounded dressed in scrubs flow into the hospital and people
dressed in scrubs flow out of the hospital as time eases towards the end of night shift and the start of day shift.
I thought about the one Some of the people are a little fearful in the black and pink bikini that they may lose their jobs, and the one others having been there too long in the tie dye bikini to think their jobs could be lost. who’s eyes were hidden behind sun glasses for the full ten minutes I knew her. They about come the in with cigarettes I thought one at work and coffee and pills, withand the books curly black hair prepared and nice ass. to bleed more about days together I thought the one and then leave I should have when giventhey flowers to. I thought the one they’llabout go home to their TVs I missed at the bar and the andone kids I wish I had talked to at the party. 38
I thought about the one with brown eyes that would twirl her hair around a finger when she talked to me. I thought about the one that went to bed with my friend the other night.
I thought about the one that I kissed on a couch. I thought about warm skin and legs and fading faces covered by hair. Little noises in the dark and the curving of spines, soft lights on lips and the taste of ear lobes. Sweat, endless seas of sweat that smelt like the rain and felt just as refreshing. And after my finest moment I was alone in my shower again. Just me and God and the terrifying fact that my whole life is nothing but wasted love and wasted time. 39
The Critic’s Critic
The Death of Horror A Rant by Arthur Brand
It’s Halloween, again, and that means I will be looking for something cool and creepy to watch and not succeeding at it. When was the last time you saw something that’s meant to be scary that didn’t suck? Maybe never, maybe... it makes me sad, go away, don’t bother me. I just want to see something that encapsulates everything you want to experience when you’re actually out there on Halloween. Nobody messes with the ghosts and ghouls and dripping candles anymore, you know? I mean, you see them in shops selling stuff around Halloween time, but you don’t see it in movies. I just want to watch something that brings together the whole spirit of the holiday. I mean, all that silly, cool, creepy, fun stuff you hear in the songs like “Monster Mash” or whatever. Edward Gorey, the Addams Family, you know what I mean, don’t you?
I know, except for one thing: I want to see someone revisit the gothic sconces of Vincent Price and Universal monster flicks, but with today’s capacity for visually stunning cinema. I’m left in a strange place. I love the silly little subculture created by characters like Dr. Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, Dracula and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I love how they have this look and feel, the tones and music that bring to mind steampunk lab equipment, cobwebs, and haunted castles, and the cackling villains that have become cliche. I miss when horror was fun. Today’s horror is cheap, overly produced, forgettable the moemnt the movie is over, disposable as all get out, and, worse than anything, completely devoid of the kind of personality that could create its own subculture with the kind of staying power the old monster movies had.
It just isn’t out there. Everything people like these days, it’s like it’s either straight up gross which, for the record, isn’t scary it’s gross, or it’s like disturbing. You know, like makes you uncomfortable, squirming in your chair, disturbed. I’m talking like “The Hills Have Eyes” or “House of 1,000 Corpses” things that are about us getting off on the voyeuristic, possibly even misanthropic pleasure of watching other human beings being throttled in terrible ways. I’m reminded of that movie Videodrome, how it was making a statement about the evolution of televised entertainment going into darker and darker places as we became desensitized and what this says about us as a society. We’re still Romans watching live murder in the coliseum, only now the coliseum is in our living rooms, in front of our children, a fixture of family meals.Think about that. I’m not making any judgments here, I’m just saying that sometimes I hesitate to get on board with the kind of stories whose only major selling point is how graphically and creatively someone can get their balls flayed open and fed to hungry pigs.
Come to think of it, it’s a lot like music. Old music had character, and that character has lasted for decades. Most music now is equally overproduced, disposable, and forgotten the second you turn off the radio or finish your workout at the gym. We’ve become a society of temporary pleasures with no longlasting significance and, for this reason, we’ve become a society that is both gourging itself on pleasure and starved for it at the same time. We can’t get enough because it doesn’t stay with us. It’s like trying to live your life on a diet of Chinese food. It tastes pretty good, you can’t get enough of it, and it even leaves you feeling stuffed to the gills to the point of mieserable, but an hour later you’re hungry again, ready for more, and feeling like you can’t get enough. We need a hearty meal in the world of culture. Something that isn’t about cheap thrills, forced character development, hollow messages, or box office cliches. We need what the old days had, the kind of character that could fill your belly and last a lifetime. pp
Another recent trend in horror is this attempt at realism in storytelling. It started with Blair Witch and has gone on with stories like Paranormal Activity, all of which are terrible, not because they don’t look super fantastic given that they’re meant to be “found footage” films, but because the stories are boring, the acting sucks, the scares are cheap, and they’re just generally not that fun to watch. But mostly, they’re not scary so there.
Arthur Brand doesn’t want you to know anything about him. He believes strongly in the power of people as individuals and has zero faith in the power of people in large groups. He is suspicious often, angry always, and dumbfounded regularly. He dreams of a free America and hasn’t seen it in his lifetime.
Where am I going with this? I’m not even sure that 41
The Critic’s Critic
in the spirit of Halloween, Critiques an Original Review of Bela Legosi’s
From The New York Times, Published February 13, 1931:
Count Dracula, Bram Stoker’s human vampire, who has chilled the spines of book readers and playgoers, is now to be seen at the Roxy in a talking film directed by Tod Browning, who delights in such bloodcurdling stories. It is a production that evidently had the desired effect upon many in the audience yesterday afternoon, for there was a general outburst of applause when Dr. Van Helsing produced a little cross that caused the dreaded Dracula to fling his cloak over his head and make himself scarce.
But Dracula’s evil work is not ended until Dr. Van Helsing hammers a stake through the Count’s heart as he lies in his native earth in a box.
so thoroughly terrified that they would sooner do his bidding that pay heed to those who have their welfare at heart. Martin, the keeper in the sanitarium in which an unfortunate individual named Renfield is under supervision, fires at the big bat with a shot gun, but, of course, misses.
Mr. Browning is fortunate in having the leading rôle in this eerie work, Bela Lugosi, who played the same part on the stage when it was presented here in October, 1927. What with Mr. Browning’s imaginative direction and Mr. Lugosi’s makeup and weird gestures, this picture succeeds to some extent in its grand guignol intentions.
To enhance the supernatural effect of this film there is a fog in many of the scenes. The first glimpses are of ordinary humans, but so soon as Renfield goes to the Transylvania castle of the Count, who lives on for centuries by his vampirish actions, there are bony hands protruding from boxes, rats and other animals fleeing, and corridors that are thick with cobwebs and here and there a hungry spider.
As the scenes flash by there are all sorts of queer noises, such as the cries of wolves and the hooting of owls, not to say anything of the screams of Dracula’s feminine victims, who are found with twin red marks on their white throats.
Most of the excitement takes place in Carfax Abbey and other places in England, the Count having traveled there to accomplish his bloodthirsty intentions. To start the grim work he causes all the ship’s crew to go insane and commit suicide, but his subsequent activities
The Count is able to change himself into a vampire that flies in through the window and in this guise he is supposed to be able to talk to his victims, who are either driven insane or are 43
The Critic’s Critic are not as fruitful as he anticipates.
To say he isn’t scary is a gross understatement, he is like a retarded pervert lurking the dusty halls of the castle he’s squatting in, parading around like a tranquilized cat in heat, and only getting away with it because of the ineptitude of the people he is surrounded by. I mean, the movie starts with the character Renfield taking a midnight carriage ride up a terrifying mountain road despite the warnings of God knows how many villagers and just sort of bumbling around with this “golly gee” attitude you normally only see in The Andy Griffith Show. And to make matters worse, the guy driving the death wagon to Castle Von Over the Top is Dracula himself, the grand master vampire that can’t even afford a carriage driver. Oh no, instead he wraps his head in a knit scarf, dons a fedora and does the chore himself. So the first time you see the head vampire he is working a servant’s job and has instantly been established as a hack without minions, followers, money or the ability to woo...oh, I don’t know, a lowly carriage driver into, let’s say, a little carriage driving.
Helen Chandler gives an excellent performance as one of the girls who is attacked by the “undead” Count. David Manners contributes good work. Dwight Frye does fairly well as Renfield. Herbert Bunston is a most convincing personality. Charles Gerrard affords a few laughs as Martin. This picture can at least boast of being the best of the many mystery films. Bram Stoker’s Human Vampire. DRACULA, with Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade, Charles Gerrard, Joan Standing, Moon Carroll and Josephine Velez, based on Bram Stoker’s novel, directed by Tod Browning; overture, “Rhapsody in Blue”; Movietone news real: “Hello, New York!” with Santry and Norton and others, including Leonide Masine and the Roxyettes. At the Roxy.
And speaking of Renfield, let’s move on to my next bone to pick. The review says, Dwight Fry does “fairly well as Renfield.” When I watched this I actually took the time to point out that the only guy pulling off even a modicum of creepy was Renfield. Sure he goes too far from time to time, but nothing compared to Dracula’s Mick Jagger strut across the room at the sight of Renfield’s blood. Furthermore, Renfield does accomplish a few moments of pure unease. When they find the madman leering out from the hold of the ghost ship, his mouth locked in an icy grin that could rival the Joker, and just sort of seething between laughter and mouth breathing, it was the first time since the movie started that I was actually engaged. He is also the only character with any, and I mean ANY personality. Van Helsing is stiff as a board and dull as a post, Mina is such a cliched damsel she might as well be a doll, Harker is neither tough guy nor pretty boy yet trying to pull off both (perhaps proving once and for all that analogy about chasing two rabbits at the same time) and everyone else is either a caricature or an empty shell. But Renfield goes from being the bumbling business man to the desperate mad man with delusions of vampirism to the contrite sinner and ultimately to the damned antihero that gives his life to save the girl. And what does the critic say? He does fairly well.
First things first, this review is a terrible read. I’m really taken with how far we’ve come as moviegoers and movie critics alike. It reads like a high school newspaper review of the town play. I don’t even want to talk about it. Phrases like “Dracula’s evil work is not ended” and “his vampirish actions” would just not fly in today’s world. But the other thing that stands out to me is the vocabulary. Dracula “is able to change himself into a vampire that flies in through the window,” not a “bat” a “vampire,” the world at this point in time was so new to vampire culture that the the language wasn’t even being used correctly yet. Dracula IS a vampire, he doesn’t change into one. He changes into a bat in this movie, and they allude to him becoming a wolf, though you don’t really see it. I mean, even the term “human vampire” sounds dated, redundant, and wrong. Anyway, these issues aside, there are a few things in this review that I want to hone in on. For one, this was Bela Legosi’s signature role, the one we all know him for and the one he is heralded for around the world throughout time, but if you watch it, like really watch it, it’s awful. His movements are comical, like a parody of what a child thinks creepy must look like, his speech is broken, drawn out, slow and dull, and his facial expressions are grotesque to the point of pornographic.
Moving on, this praise of the director’s ability is way off. I can’t help but wonder about old conspiracy theories regarding the politics of Hollywood, that people will praise you if they know your work and rake you over the coals if they don’t, that it’s all about who you know... well, Tod Browning was already known and 43
The Critic’s Critic nobody takes the time to even analyze the story telling ability of this director, editor, script or final cut. Despite the trouble in translating the vocabulary or writing style into what someone might choose to write today, there is an evident positive tone to the review. Browning “delights” in telling such stories, the movie “succeeds” to get the desired effect, and all the other statements to the positive indicate a support for Browning’s work, but what about the huge leaps in plot, logic, and even time? The overlong scene introducing Renfield finishes with him passing out, evidently from the wine he takes from the Count, though it is not addressed directly and then it cuts to a stormy sea, a text graphic explaining the location of the ship that stays on screen for way too long, and then the sight of the dead crew and a raving Renfield in the belly of the ship being discovered by authorities. Apparently we are meant to infer that the wine not only knocked Renfield out but also made him Dracula’s dedicated, insane little manservant. You might deduce, based on other vampire stories, that the wine had some of the vampire’s blood and this had the effect of brainwashing Renfield, but it is not stated and, as I mentioned before, since vampires were clearly new enough to audiences that the reviewer couldn’t even get the lingo right, I think it’s safe to say people would have been confused in 1931. There are lots of issues like this throughout the movie, and it does have a general feeling of being rushed all throughout, while simultaneously feeling like it’s on for three hours because every little movement takes an act of Congress to complete (I just mean everything takes way too goddamn long) but the worst, the absolute worst, is at the finale. Dracula has Mina, the love interest of Harker, who charges in with Van Helsing to save the day. Dracula knows he’s caught, and covers his face with his cape all ghoulish and ridiculous and sort of runs off. The next scene is the cellar of Carfax Abbey and Dracula is just randomly in his coffin. I had to yell at the television at this point, like, why did he do that? I mean, seriously? He had two men, armed with hammers and stakes, literally standing five feet away going “There he is, let’s get him!” And he goes downstairs to take a nap?! Well, that’s what happened. The vampire murder happens off camera to the tune of hammering and a pathetic whimper, all very anti-climactic, while Mina, in the process of becoming a vampire, is sort of set free with a wimpy little gasp. THE END. Role credits. No exaggeration, that’s the movie. That’s the great, classic, vampire masterpiece that set the stage for horror for the rest of history or whatever people say about it. No style, no fanfare, and no sense of reality, story, or even reason. It was awful. Sorry, guys, sorry if I’m stepping on toes here.
When I set out to write this review and revisit this movie that I hadn’t seen since childhood it was my hope that I could praise it to high heaven and turn the glory of the past and the early days of Hollywood against the dross being turned out today and, as a side note, hopefully get to bash Twilight one more time for good measure. But, sadly, I can do none of this, my dream of ushering in a Happy Halloween, revisiting the noir excellence of the thirties, and watching a master like Bela Legosi at work were crushed under the weight of a truly horrible film. I would say that it, at least, has the redeeming value of being the movie that started the horror movie genre and all that kind of crap people usually say about Dracula but those people seem to forget about Nosferatu which predates it by nearly a decade and, in a lot of ways, still has more going on than this, a movie that feels, at best, like a student film out of a freshman year college course (no offense to film school). Finally, for the sake of my palate, fresh starts, and my Halloween, I’m going to watch Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the only other movie in which Bela Legosi portrayed Dracula and, believe it or not, about a thousand times better, not just because it’s still shockingly funny, but because it actually has the good sense to know how to tell a story, pace a scene, edit a plot together, frame a shot, and, my God, not hone in on one expression or movement for too long. Getting back to Dracula, I have a fun assignment for you. Watch Manos the Hands of Fate (worst movie ever made) and then watch Legosi’s Dracula. Tell me it’s not hilariously similar, there are wives in white dresses, overlong shots of a hand gesturing toward someone, entire conversations held off camera, and extreme closeups of unnatural gazes in both films but, hilariously enough, one is highly regarded as a masterpiece of horror while the other was recently riffed to pieces by the boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Funny ol’ world, ain’t it? Read the original review at: http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=950DE7D 61F3AEE32A25750C1A9649C946094D6CF ---Trevor Richardson is the author of American Bastards and the founder of the Subtopian Magazine. He continues to extend an invitation to any and all readers and writers to critique the critics.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders #113SEPT1F :: 0003697 PM Hospital. Light over the bed. Why do they always put those right in your face when they know you’re on something or coming down? I wake up like there’s a flying saucer landing on my head. Some shadowy figure blocks the light and my eyes refocus on Gardner’s stupid face. “Jesus, Gardner, you trying to give me a heart attack? What are you doing here?” “Thought I’d better check on you, see if you’re foaming at the mouth or seizing on the floor, talking in tongues, that kind of thing.”
“Yeah? What’s the verdict?”
“Did you sleep through the night? Don’t tell me… is it still happening? What else did you see? Come on, give me the goods.”
“I don’t know, Gardner. It’s like the weirdest dream ever. Some of it didn’t seem real. The weirdest part, I think, is this Joe character seems to have someone haunting his brain and…”
“Mr. Smiles, yeah?”
“Right, I told you about that. Well, he has Mr. Smiles in his head and it makes him seem pretty nuts, but then I have him in my head so you guys must think I’m as nuts as he is. The parallel is a little too close for comfort.”
“Kind of makes you wonder, don’t it?”
Gardner picks up one of those little plastic containers for pills and kind of turns it upside down absentmindedly. He says, “Like, maybe this Joe guy has a Thought Chip that’s acting up same as yours. Wouldn’t that be wild?” “Not a chance, Gardner. The Thought Chip was never tested on civilians. It’s simply used by the Watcher Program.” “I see. So how ya feeling? You were out again for a good long while. The doc is on her way up to look in on you.”
I tell him about Joe becoming a teen preacher just to impress a girl. The 47
love triangle and the silence. Audrey leaving. Johnny dying. The return of Dr. John Boles and the subsequent flight. I remember them racing down the highway to the tune of “Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead. Their first gig was a show in Idaho at a bowling alley. It was prom night and the local high school kids really got into the sounds. Their song, “They Live,” caused a stir. The show was so successful the owner invited them back to play the following night. They lived like musicians in the early jazz days, following leads and tips, getting offered jobs, living out of a suitcase. The Gremlin was their home. Their possessions were a few scraps of clothing, Joe’s drum kit, some amps, microphones, Lee’s Gibson acoustic, a Fender Telecaster, one iPod, Lee’s old busted up laptop, and a box of matches. Whatever money they got paid went back into the gas tank or food. Sometimes they didn’t make any money and would get stranded in whatever town. Usually in the southwest for some reason. When that happened they worked odd jobs, manual labor found on street corners like migrant workers did before they were outlawed. One day they’re working out in cotton fields, picking by hand to save the owners the cost of equipment and fuel. That night they play with bloody, blistered fingers in a small bar to a full house mostly comprised of field hands. They work construction, renovation, painting or digging ditches, anything that pays and is temporary. Here they’re working as pollinators in a greenhouse outside of Tucson. Now they’re driving a load of honey bees in white boxes out from Lawrence, Kansas. The poor had become insects and the rich the queen of the hive. A few days, a week go by, and they get back on the road looking for the next gig. There were no delusions about getting rich or famous, no desire for anything more than what they had. They were young, free, and already jaded in the way of the American Dream. Career happiness, long term security, buying a house, earning a degree, to their eyes these things were not helping anyone that had spent their life pursuing them, so why bother? They struck out on their own, breaking tradition with the hammer of their collective will. The Johnny High-Fives sang songs about asking questions, doing things for yourself, challenging assumption, or loving so desperately you destroy it. Lyrics like, “I sent you floating on a raft of flame, a funeral bed burning with a Norseman’s shame,” encapsulated their failed love, their fear of Death and the weight of its inevitability, or the poetry that comes from a strong look at the past. In “Dystopia Boy,” a future single, they scream, with punk animosity, words like, “Faster than a speeding cop car, more powerful than a preacher’s motive, able to leap backward to a simpler age… it’s Dystopia Boy!”
The song sends the message that if we are going to survive as a culture, if 48
we have any hope at all, it’s in what Lee liked to refer to as a “progressive return to the past.” Another song “Neil Armstrong’s Pipe,” says, “One small step for man, one giant leap backward for the good of mankind.” “I know these songs,” Gardner says, interrupting me mid-sentence, “You’re talking about the Johnny High-Fives. Your subject is that Joe Vagrant? I thought it was a coincidence or a copycat. The Johnny High-Fives were like the soundtrack to my life until they got mixed up in all that terrorism hoopla. I loved that band. I mean, if it hadn’t been for that Badlands fiasco my life might have turned out really different.” “Yeah? I never heard them before now. I wasn’t entirely sure it was even real, you know? Except for a brief footnote in a file I read on Tuesday – Christ, that was Tuesday… What day is it, kid?” “It’s Friday. Man, I can’t believe you’ve been investigating the Johnny High-Fives this whole time. That’s insane. I mean, they were huge in the counterculture scene. A lot of these underground magazines started calling them the biggest band to never have a label. They just made it old school, pulling favors and roaming around. Every record they ever put out was recorded by some amateur in a basement or a budding record studio that could barely make the rent. All of the guys they worked with went on to success in the recording industry, but the boys always kept all the rights to their stuff, never signed anything. They’re fucking legendary, man. Lee and Joe had this philosophy, ‘Why help make big companies bigger when you can get the same thing from the little guy and actually help someone accomplish their dream?’”
“Lee said that in an interview with Subtopian Magazine in 2024,” I add.
“Yeah, you saw that in there too? Jesus. Well, that quote kind of went on to become his mantra or whatever you call it. Unlike so many big label bands that claimed to be, they weren’t so much anti-corporate as they were pro-independent business. Their work existed to empower the struggling artist or the family owned coffee shop working just to keep its head above water. Even after they got famous they wouldn’t play big shows. They played tiny spots that got the venues enough cash in one night to stay open for a year.” “‘When did a free country start to mean free enterprise? Who sold Democracy out for a golden calf we got to idolize?’” I quote some song I can barely remember through the dream fog, “Is that something?” “It’s a lyric of theirs, yeah,” Gardner says, practically on the edge of his seat, “It’s from this song, ‘Sex in the Cockpit.’” “Okay, kid, so you’re a fan, I get it. If you’re so into this philosophy why are you here? Why a Watcher? Why not an artist, or a writer, or a farmer, like so 49
many of those kooks west of the Mississippi?” “Isn’t it obvious? I was a soldier. Did two tours listening to the High-Fives in Iraq, Iran, Korea, Libya, everywhere, but when I got back I saw this Badlands thing and tuned out. My special forces training ran me through a number of weird posts til eventually I wound up here. I just want to do my duty for America. That was the appeal to their music in the first place, you know? One way or the other, Lee Vagabond and Joe Vagrant were patriotic Americans, albeit subversive ones, but to a certain type of person they’re heroes.”
“Except now they’re being investigated as techno terrorists.”
“Yeah, but that’s not my war. My war has a real body count, real bullets. That’s what I’m looking to prevent. This Hack War business is just a lot of numbers flying back and forth, not my area. I came here to catch bombers and assassins, not political protesters.” I lean back in my bed, suddenly exhausted, and say, “Gardner, you don’t get to pick what you investigate and what you don’t. If you want to be part of the action you have to work your way up to the EIS Division.”
“What’s EIS Division?”
“Eye in the Sky. It’s the code name for our strike team. We don’t just watch people and take notes. I mean, I do, yeah, and you do for now whether you like it or not. But the other part of the Watcher Program is using all of these eyes we have out there to hunt people down. You think it was hard to run from the law twenty years ago? How do you think it is now where every street lamp and traffic light is a camera? We have satellites that can zoom in on a mouse in a basement and track a fart with thermal imaging, for Christ’s sake.” “Yeah, that’s where I want to be, but I guess I gotta pay my dues, work my way up with this grunt work in the meantime.” “Don’t knock it, kid. Without us reviewing all the red flags, doing the history, the background checks, and the filing the EIS boys wouldn’t know who to aim their missiles at.”
“Fair enough. Guess that means I gotta take the chip.”
He lets out a long sigh and slides back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose as if frustrated or tired. He says, “So it seems like we worked all the bugs out of the system just fine in your absence. While you were napping with your imaginary boyfriend we’ve been making good headway on Audrey Lamb.”
“Why Audrey Lamb?” 50
Gardner asks, “It’s damn impossible to find your boy is why. We don’t even know where to look. He’s been a shade for the past five years and straight up invisible for the last ten months. So we ran down our only other lead. The most recent hit we could get on her was a pay stub to a truck driver in Nebraska name of Audrey O’Doule, turns out it’s our girl, but that was nearly two months ago. Still, can you believe that shit? She’s way too hot to be a truck driver. Should’ve stuck with her previous job.”
“We tracked her down through a network of assumed names. She was living in Portland for a while...”
“Dammit, Gardner, just tell me what her job was.”
“I want to just blurt out stripper, but for a girl like Audrey Lamb you gotta say ‘exotic dancer.’ It’s a respect thing.” Big Joe appears, my own Mr. Smiles, standing right in front of me. He says, “Yeah, mad respect. You wanna hit him or should I?” I ignore him and say, “So, where’s the pretty lady doctor? I’m ready for my physical.”
“I don’t know, I thought she was right behind me,” Gardner says.
I wish I was right behind her.
“Anders,” Big Joe gasps, “You dirty old man! I’m shocked at you. Okay, not really – but the lovely Dr. Swanson will be here in five, four, three…” The door bursts open and it’s Section Supervisor Wilkes followed closely by Dr. Swanson, who looks to be either pissed off or ready to cry.
She shouts, “I’m serious, Mr. Wilkes, I must protest. This man isn’t…”
“How are we today, Anders?” Wilkes asks, “Fine, fine, glad to hear it. Listen, we need you. The damage has spread up and down the Eastern Seaboard, they got this video now that’s calling the Dallas bombing an inside job and it’s playing at every commercial break on every channel. We need your unusual insight into this case.”
“Oh, Emmett, you wouldn’t?” Joe cries in a put-on Scarlet O’Hara accent.
“Mr. Anders,” Dr. Swanson says, “I strongly advise against this given the events of the past forty-eight hours. We have no way of knowing what might happen – you could suffer brain damage, experience another seizure, or slip into a permanent coma. The truth is…” 51
“The truth is,” Wilkes says, “we have no idea what will happen and we can’t let the unknown keep us from acting. We need to find the source of these incursions and put a stop to it before any serious damage is done.” Gardner stands looking ready for a fight, but I grab his wrist pulling myself up to a sitting position. Everyone looks at me. It’s weird.
“What,” I groan, “What has been happening out there?”
“It started with access to classified files from the entire intelligence community. Just as we feared, networking the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the Watcher Program together had its advantages, but it gave them a doorway through us into everything.”
“What did they get?” I ask.
“That’s just it,” Wilkes says, “Nothing vital near as we can tell. Financial records, wages, pensions, all the usual hacker targets were untouched. We can’t find anything they took on the wars overseas, nothing that even vaguely resembles fodder for these conspiracy nuts. We know where they looked, but we don’t know what they stole.”
“Well, where’d they look then?”
“Diplomatic records. Corporate accounts. Conversations between the president and the cabinet, the president and the first lady, the president and ambassadors – you get the picture.” Phantom Joe is practically on my lap now, in the bed next to me, whispering in my ear, “WikiLeaks, anyone? Ring any bells? Or, maybe you’ll remember the drama that circled Reagan with that ‘why don’t we just bomb everyone and get it over with?’ faux pas when he didn’t realize the cameras were still rolling? Obama calling that guy a jackass? What’s said in secret is more powerful than any missile.” “What’s said in secret is more powerful than any missile,” I repeat aloud, “They’re not looking for money or war strategies or military budgets. They’re looking for proof of guilt, evidence of their claim that our president is a criminal.” Wilkes nods and says, “We suspect as much, yes, but that’s only the beginning. This morning they used the Network to back hack traffic lights, utilities, shipping manifests for every major port from New York to Miami, and Christ knows what else. We’ve had an upstart in collisions in parts of Manhattan, Washington DC, Langley, and, oddly enough, Charleston, North Carolina.”
“Not that odd, it’s the president’s hometown, and the location of his child52
hood church, to which he still donates generously. The others are no surprise, the seats of finance, government, and US intelligence. This is classic anarchism.” Wilkes says, “They’ve totally screwed up the import-exports up and down the coast, easily definable as an attack on the American economy.”
“Define ‘screwed up,’” I say.
“Six-hundred crates of condoms rerouted to the Vatican, kitchen appliances to some place in Africa that’s never even seen a light bulb, birth control to China – you get the picture,” Gardner says, trying to conceal a grin. “That’s just them clearing their throats,” I say, “The big finish is still on the way. I’ll obviously have to help out.”
I climb out of bed awkwardly and the doctor says, “Emmett, no…”
But she stops herself. My decision is made. I kick everybody out and change back into my clothes. It’s weird. So much has happened this doesn’t even feel like my body anymore. The coarse grain of the cloth dragging across my skin feels as foreign as the first time I woke up as Joe Blake. Now my own body feels like the alien as I pull my decrepit form into the gray jumpsuit. Gray jumpsuit. A man with a smile standing in a gray jumpsuit. Mr. Smiles said he was his father. Gray jumpsuit. He was always smiling, everywhere he went. The kind of guy you’d describe as “high on life.” “I need a computer,” I say, pushing my head out into the hallway abruptly, “Now.” Gardner pulls us into the parking lot. We’re all loaded up in the standard black SUV, but he drives. I think he just needs to feel like he’s doing something. So much of this is over his head. It’s only his fourth day here. I have to keep telling myself that. I follow him quietly through the long, arduous tunnel of security checks and redundant protocols. Elevators, metal detectors, more elevators, more metal detectors, keycards, fingerprint scan, retinal scan…day in, day out, for thirty fucking years. This has been my life. But it doesn’t feel like my life anymore. Wilkes briefs me on what’s been happening. He says we got EIS all over this Audrey Lamb, but it’s the same as every address we turned up on Joe Vagrant. Empty rooms, paid for on time every month, but no furniture. It’s a shell game. They figured out how to live entirely off the grid. She lives in her truck. It’s the only explanation.
Wilkes says, “You’re our best profiler, you’re the guy that knows how to go 53
back in time and figure out why they do what they do, figure out where they’re going before they get there. You tell me what’s going on here. How is it that we can bug the entire country, but we can’t find two pipsqueaks with our entire fucking operation?” “You won’t,” I say, “They’re listening to Joe now. He’s been bred for this. Trained from childhood to think like we do.”
“What the hell does that mean, Anders?” Gardner asks.
I ignore him and step off the elevator onto my floor. I need my computer. My space. Wilkes says, “We got Watchers all over this thing now. They’re scouring the records for any sighting of Joe Vagrant or Audrey Lamb. The weird thing is we’re turning up husks of past investigations. We have records of the deletions but nothing else. I think this has happened before, maybe more than once. Somehow, we don’t get it either, any time an investigation gets started on your boy it gets its legs cut out from under it and promptly deleted. All we have to go on is this Lamb girl or whatever her other half dozen names were...” Gardner lists, “Audrey Dylan, Audrey Morrison, Audrey Armstrong, Audrey Blake...”
“Stop,” I say, “Audrey Blake?”
“What is it, Anders?” Wilkes asks, “You got something?”
“Blake. Blake is the real last name of Joe Vagrant. He changed it after he left home. The smart money is on Audrey Lamb living as Audrey Blake in her private life, these other names are red herrings. See, when they were kids they had a little make believe wedding and they’ve been dancing around it ever since. Forget everything else, focus on this, the others are all last names of musicians, obviously, but Blake, that’s gotta be the last name of her favorite.”
“Joe Vagrant,” Wilkes nods, “Good work, Emmett.”
I sit down at my console ready to test my theory. I pull up the search engine for RITA’s files. Ignore the voices around me shouting for answers, for explanations. How could I have missed this? All this time, all these glimpses. He was staring me right in the face. Same way he stared Joe in the face. We both missed it. How do we keep making the same mistakes? Each other’s mistakes. We both saw the same man and overlooked the answer. We both got into each other’s head at one time or another. I lived his life and he… “He lived yours,” Joe says, crouching like Spiderman on my desk and grinning. 54
“Shut up,” I mutter underneath my breath.
I pull up my personnel file and match it to the record of Joe Blake’s abduction from the hospital. They match. The night he was stolen was the same night I got my Thought Chip.
“Is that really how you want to word that, old man?” Joe asks.
“Mr. Wilkes,” I say, “The reason you can’t find Joe Vagrant is because he knows everything about us. Everything. He knows about the cameras, he knows about the records, the databases, even the…” Joe says, “Oh, it’s so exciting, I can hardly stand it. Just say it, Anders, spit it out.”
“The what?” Wilkes asks, “He knows about what?”
“As I said before, sir. Joe Vagrant, Joe Blake, whatever you want to call him, you won’t find him because he’s been groomed for this. He knows how to avoid you. He knows because he’s like us. Joe Vagrant has a Thought Chip.” Gardner shouts, “I knew it,” hands in the air in celebration, but immediately withdrawn sheepishly, “Sorry, sir, I only meant… I had my suspicions.” Wilkes shakes his head, “Anders, that’s preposterous, we’d never allow that kind of technology out into the public. The financial risk alone makes it impossible.”
“I know, sir, that’s why I had to be sure, but look at the dates.”
I point to the screen and read, “August, 22, 2019, the date I got my Thought Chip, the date Joe was abducted by aliens. Somehow we went online at the same time and the malfunction leading to my hospitalization happened because our two chips are like brothers.” Wilkes asks, “‘Your two chips,’ un-fucking-believable. It makes sense actually. We track every chip that comes online and when. If Joe’s chip were activated at the wrong moment we would have detected him and tracked him down, instead someone knew how to mask his broadcast behind yours like a submarine hiding from sonar inside someone else’s signal.” “He said it himself,” I say to no one in particular, “one minute he was in the hospital, the next he was in a field. He sees it in his dreams every night. A white room, figures in strange uniforms, oblong heads, glassy eyes – Joe’s aliens were men in hazmat suits working in a clean environment to prevent contaminating the Thought Chip. Joe Blake was implanted.”
“If you’re right then we’re looking at an inside job. How sure are you?” 55
Wilkes asks, looking at the data from over my chair.
“Pretty sure, I can’t prove it, but…”
“Damn right, you can’t,” Joe says, still grinning – my own Mr. Smiles.
I nod, “But I’m pretty sure. I’m sure because of this.”
A few keystrokes and I pull up the file on Agent White, our monster under the bed, and Gardner whistles low as he watches the name appear in the search bar. Gardner says, “I get it, what you said. He was always walking around grinning like an idiot, right?” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Wilkes almost shouts. I ask Wilkes how many of us came here under assumed names, former CIA, former NSA, Special Ops. How many of us were reported killed or missing in action just so we could become the men we had to be in order to do the job? How many of us here really know the men we’re working with at all? I bring up the employee file for Agent White. It’s the same face. The same mug shot. Him standing there in the Watcher uniform, the gray jumpsuit. I cross-reference that with the picture on Joe’s mantle, the smiling man in the jumpsuit, fighter jet behind him. I put Agent White’s face on Screen 1. Mr. Blake’s photo on Screen 2.
Gardner says, “Holy shit, it’s Mr. Blake. Joe’s dad. He’s Mr. Smiles.”
What did his mom say? Your daddy was a big important man working for the government. Daddy went away, I don’t know where, we’re just going to have to do our best without him.
“Yeah, kid, White is Mr. Smiles.”
“Who the hell is Mr. Smiles?” Wilkes shrieks, “Will somebody please tell me what’s going on here?” “Easy, sir,” Gardner says, “Mr. Smiles was Joe Blake’s childhood imaginary friend. According to Agent Anders, the kid, Joe, was able to learn things from him, things that a normal kid couldn’t have known.” “Moreover, sir,” I add, “Mr. Smiles was the one training Joe for this war. His entire life he’s been trained to see conspiracies, shadow governments, and cover ups. And if I’m right.”
“You are,” says Joe, still watching me like a carrion bird crouched on my 56
desk. “If I’m right and he has a Thought Chip it’s also enabled him to absorb vast amounts of information, it’s enabled him to learn impossible amounts of skills and apply them for his own benefit. Mr. Wilkes, White must have done this. The day he left, when he uploaded that virus, it was all to cover his tracks, to do the one thing nobody could have expected.”
Wilkes says, “He stole a Thought Chip unit.”
“To insert it into his own son,” Gardner nods.
“But why?” Wilkes asks, “And why wait so long? He went AWOL way before you were given your chip. That must mean he had the microchips and just waited.” “I don’t know, sir. The only thing that makes sense is that he didn’t have access yet. That he had to make preparations, find equipment, a safe place to work.” Or wait for me to come online. What if he wanted me specifically? What if he just waited? Kept waiting? I did dig in my heels on getting the implant, probably why I feel for Gardner… “A life of processing paperwork as other Watchers pass you by didn’t appeal?” Joe asks, “That’s why you’re still a desk jockey working for a team of bosses half your age. You fell behind without your chip.” I ignore him and say, “We don’t really know anything about him, do we? Where he’s been hiding, what he’s done. I can only guess that he wasn’t ready yet, that he had some plan that we’re only just now getting a glimpse of.” “How could we have missed this?” Gardner asks, “I mean, aren’t there background checks, protocols? What the hell, guys?” “His files were redacted,” I tell him, “All the way back to Joe’s birth certificate. I don’t even know if the man’s name was Blake or if that is the mother’s maiden name. Whoever recruited White before us went a long way to erase his past.” “Spirit of cooperation, my ass,” Wilkes grunts, “Those NSA creeps couldn’t cooperate with a fucking parking ticket. Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do. Gardner, you’re going to get with the research boys and pour over records. I want to know about any discrepancies from the weeks leading up to White’s desertion. Find me anything on whatever material he might have stolen, got me? I’m talking quantity, make, model, imprinting – there’s been a lot of Thought Chip designs in the past thirty years, I want to know the serial number on every 57
chip that went missing.”
“You think you can track him that way, sir?” I ask.
“We’re damn sure gonna try.”
“Would somebody care to fill me in?” Gardner asks.
“Every Thought Chip is tracked,” I say, “we know which one is in which guy’s head at what time, it’s part of what allows us to sort out who’s uploading what into RITA’s memory. It also allows us to track our agents in the field, got it?” “And you think if you can find the one that went missing you can put a homing beacon on Joe Vagrant’s head. Yeah, I got it. Bad ass.” Wilkes says, “We got the EIS boys all over trying to run down our guys. But what we really need is a tip on where to start looking. Everything we got has come up empty. I know you aren’t a hundred percent, Anders, but I need you here pouring over the rest of the record. Find me a base of operations – find me where they’re hiding.”
I say, “Yes, sir,” and swivel around back to my console.
Everybody kind of scatters. On his way out, Wilkes says, “We’re meeting in the conference room in two hours. I’ll expect a presentation then.”
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders #QC9SEPT1Z :: 0002:27PM01 Screen 4 is a Johnny High-Fives shows. I let it play just to have something to listen to as I scan through time. Lee sings, “The city’s bubbling light bulbs down under the waves as the Old Man on the life boat steers crooked and paves wobbled sinking foot paths and tells me it saves on road tar and diamonds and moonlight shoes…” January 2027. Right now, on Screen 2, I’m watching the Johnny High-Fives play a gig in San Francisco that gets cut short by a thunderstorm, heat lightning and power failure. Lee’s voice, behind it all on Screen 4, keeps singing, “And every time this boat rocks I’m puking the blues. It’s the Noah’s Ark Coast Guard and the Sun and the Moon are nearby playing blitz chess on the far side of the room…” February. On Screen 3 they’re driving cross-country through Oklahoma. Riding parallel to a farm field they watch a tornado drop out of nowhere, scoop up a tractor and drop it through an old barn. Lee remarks about how the weather is almost reversing, tornados are usually for summer.
Old Man sails above the city looking for sinners to save…
April 2027. Screen 5 is Lee Vagabond with a bunch of groupie chicks. The water’s filled by prince and prisoner, king and knave…June. The sky is up, the town is down, and our sea road is all-new…Screen 6 he’s snorting coke off a girl’s chest.
But every time we rock and roll I’m puking the blues…
I can see everything.
With Lee’s apparent bowing out of the Audrey chase he seems freed up to dive headlong into women, drugs and other clichés. Joe smokes like a chimney, drinks heavily, has his own kind of wild abandon, but I never see him touch a woman. July 5th, 2027. Joe is sixteen. They’re doing a radio interview with Melinda Voice. July 17th, it’s another interview with an indie journalist out of Seattle. July 30th, they’re playing what looks like a hobo encampment in Eugene, Oregon. On another screen I’m scanning internet reviews of their album “Corporate Hun.” On another I’m tracking cars with Johnny High-Fives bumper stickers. 59
Screen 8 is critic feedback and on Screen 9 I’m reviewing lyrics. Like so many of the singer-songwriter duos of the past, a definitive style is evident from both parties. Lee’s stuff has a tendency toward preaching – topical songs with a message, protest-driven stances, and a look at the hypocrisy he sees as prevalent in America. Joe’s stuff is more fluid, dreamlike, vaguely ethereal. His lyrics describe seeing the future and the past transfigured on a mountaintop as glowing prophets, or the Apocalypse happening right now in little moments that don’t get widely reported, he sings about the miracle of perception and the atrocities that can go unnoticed when those perceptions are tilted toward wealth, prestige, romance, lust or even dreams. Joe’s songs describe lost ghosts, buffalo men bringing messages in dreams, or roads to freedom obscured by rivers, buildings or walls. His song “Ghosts in the Machine,” says, “Parking garage, city street, architecture, supermarket meat, with the right eyes it’s all the inside of a computer. Grids and lines, bids and lies, the ordered chaos, from the right hilltop it’s all the inside of a computer.” Then the chorus. Ghosts in the Machine, Ghosts in the Machine. Everybody. All of us. We’re all Ghosts in the Machine. Put it all together on one album and they start to seem part of a larger idea, but that could just be the way the mind makes unconscious connections. The only thing I know for certain is I’m getting nowhere. “Tick, tock, Clarice,” Joe says in his best Hannibal Lector accent. He appears again beside my computer, this time leaning on the back of my chair like he’s Wilkes, “Or maybe you can just tell the boss you did your best.”
“Go away, you’re going to get me into trouble,” I say.
“Shut up, nobody knows I’m here but you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you had a Thought Chip? All this time, you’ve just been running around in my head, letting me believe you were a glitch or a malfunction, some kind of coincidental personality disorder. It wasn’t any of that. You’ve figured out how to broadcast intent through the wireless. You aren’t just uploading memory like the rest of us, you’re uploading your consciousness, how?”
“You’re so cute when you’re angry,” Joe says, grinning.
Grinning just like his old man.
“That’s right, my old man,” he says, “That’s the answer to everything. Why are you wasting your time on my stupid band when you know White is still out there?” 60
“Our fucking bogeyman,” I grunt, “I can’t believe, after all this time, one of these messes actually turned out to be his.” “How do you know they all haven’t been?” he asks, “Every glitch? Every hiccup? Every ghost in the machine.”
Ghosts in the Machine. We’re all just Ghosts in the Machine.
“Maybe you’ve been wrong all this time. Maybe the superstitious ass holes that see White at every turn were right. Maybe making a bogey man out of him was just good common sense. Ever think of that?” I turn back to my computer. I’m ignoring you. I’m ignoring you. You aren’t here. La, la, la. I’m ignoring you. On Screen One. Anders. It’s Joe Vagrant pummeling his drums, his hands moving so fast they look like two blurs, his face stern, sweat flying everywhere. Anders, Anders. Lee sings aggressively into the microphone. The audience is a mixture of college types and dirty street goons. Anders, Anders, come in, Anders. Why the street types? I’m ignoring you, kid, I’m ignoring you, la, la, la. I’m on a deadline. That’s four shows now where they’ve been at some kind of bum camp, steel barrels burning God knows what in the background, lean-tos, old men, women, working girls, and then there’s these co-ed looking kids cheering and dancing. It doesn’t make sense.
“What Would Jesus Do? Right, Anders?” Joe says.
I’m ignoring you.
“He went to the wrong side of town preaching to hookers and thieves. He welcomed the alienated, the disenfranchised. Tax collectors, lepers, paralytics. Why did he do that?” “Because he knew the love of God wasn’t reserved for the rich, healthy or pure. He said these people were the ones that needed to hear the gospel the most so he wasn’t afraid to go to them to share God’s love.” “That’s the Sunday School answer,” Joe says, “Did you ever figure that maybe it was just the only gig he could get? The people in charge, the bureaucrats, the theocrats, the Pharisees, the Romans, everybody wanted him dead for what he was doing. Maybe slumming with prostitutes and lepers was the only play available to him.”
“Shut up, kid. What do you know about it, anyway?”
“More than you, I’ll bet. Remember how I grew up? I read that book cover to cover more times than I care to admit. I mean, where do you think Lee and I got the idea?” 61
“You knew people were after you,” I say, “You two were runaways, minors. You didn’t even have a license, but I’m sure you drove that Gremlin plenty. So you played secret shows and you said they were for the benefit of the homeless, the downtrodden.” On Screen 5 I see Lee and Joe divvying up the spoils of one of their concerts, handing out the money evenly throughout the camp, keeping only enough to get them on to the next town. They must have seemed like heroes. No wonder they got so popular. Joe says, “Does it matter if we had an ulterior motive? If we were just trying to stay hidden and accomplish our dream at the same time? Is there anything wrong with finding a way to benefit others and yourself simultaneously? Why should it have to be one or the other? Why is it greed or selflessness? Why can’t we just have a system that helps everyone equally?” “I can’t decide which you sound more like,” I say, “A socialist or Lee Vagabond.” “You’re the agent on the case, you tell me.” On Screen 1 Lee is speaking between songs. It’s night, a light misting rain falls over the crowd. They’re playing a show under the overpass of an unused bit of highway. Fires make the stage lights. Lee says, “The truth is, we are not the 99%, not yet. We’re a field of decimal points. We won’t be the 99 percenters until we unite together. Everyone here is creative. Everyone here has a goal or a message. The High-Fives are all about finding ways to help you all succeed through pursuing your own dream. Got me? We succeed by helping you, and you guys doing the same for each other, that’s the only way art is going to win.”
The crowd cheers.
He says, “It’s time to redefine the way we make art, the way we think of success. Instead of every artist for himself, we should all realize that we’re stronger together. We play gigs with local bands because they need the hype and we need the crowd. We both benefit, yeah? We record with beginners, only beginners, because they need the work and we don’t want to help corporate labels. That’s our future, through helping each other we can help ourselves, that’s what the 99% should really be about.” A file on Screen 6 catches my attention. I drag it over to the main console and turn up the audio. Lee and Joe are rolling quietly through what looks to be Omaha, Nebraska. The streets are filled with trash. The businesses are boarded up or dark in the windows. And the town itself looks to be covered with a thin 62
layer of yellow dust, as if drying up from lack of use. Rolling into town they saw fields of dry crops, killed off by rising temperatures and lack of funding to get water to the ground. The streets are no different.
Lee says, “We’re seeing this more and more. Have you noticed it?”
“Yeah,” Joe says, “It’s like towns are dying everywhere we go. Look at this shit. There’s so many buildings available for lease the whole street looks like a zombie movie. That gas station has been closed so long it still says it’s $5.89 a gallon. Remember when gas was only $5.89 a gallon? Seems like a zillion years ago.” “Hard to believe this is where Audrey moved to have a better future,” Lee muses, “You think she’s even here anymore?” “The address she emailed us is supposed to be at the end of this drag, a left turn and then residential stuff. Here, hang a left.” But there’s nothing. Some of the houses look like they’ve been abandoned for years. Others are covered in junk, have multiple cars in the driveway, or a dozen people on the front porch, the sure signs of families moving in together, sharing a roof, sharing the bills. There’s a black kid, barely big enough to walk, standing naked and crying on the front porch of a blue house. Everyone stares at the boys as they drive through. Like lions, resting in the shade, while safari tourists wheel by in their off road vehicles. Out of place. Foreign. “She ain’t here, man,” Lee says, “We missed her. We took too long getting here.” “We can’t have missed her, not again. This is their third house in this town. Why do they keep moving?” “Ain’t it obvious?” Lee asks, “The town is dying, they keep moving either because the neighborhoods are going to hell or because they need something cheaper. This time I’m betting they left for good. Let’s get out of here. We got a show downtown in forty minutes.”
I cut the feed.
Joe says, “Here. You should see this one next.”
A video pops up on my screen without me typing anything.
“How did you?”
“Just watch,” he says.
On the screen I see Joe. He’s in a sleeping bag, stretched out under the 63
stars, they look to be somewhere in Southern Nevada, but this video is not in RITA’s network. I don’t even know if it’s actually real. Lee is asleep. A campfire is slowly dying. In the moonlight Joe says, “What do you mean, ‘I could hack it in my sleep?’” “Just that, the part of your mind that you access in dreams is the secret to everything that’s been happening. They have eyes in your mind, watching you, but they never thought about what could happen if someone started watching back. Explore your mind and you find doorways to other rooms.”
“You mean other files?”
“Yes, Joe, I mean other files. Go to sleep. Once inside, you can go anywhere.” Joe closes his eyes. The screen jumps to another place. It’s the white room. The men in the clean suits, Joe’s aliens, are working on implanting his Thought Chip. He’s screaming in fear, begging for help. Then, something different, instead of aliens or Dr. Boles standing over him, it’s Mr. Smiles. He points to a bright red door and releases Joe’s restraints. Joe bolts for the door, his aliens immediately giving chase. Diving through the door lands him somewhere else, the lighting changes so fast it takes me a second to adjust. He’s standing in the middle of this Old West looking town wearing this cowboy getup. In the distance are yellow hills, a sky filled with dust, and an old steam train screaming by like a fire-breathing dragon. Cowboy Joe looks around, trying to get the lay of the land. He flinches when a cloud, big as a smoke signal, appears over his head like a balloon. When he look up it has words in it, hazy, but black and bold. The words say, “Where the hell am I?” The bubble changes and it says, “My thoughts? I’m in a freaking comic book.” There’s a lawman of some kind standing against a wobbly wood beam. Much like the lawman, the beam looks tired and warped from holding up a big awning outside a flat, squatty little building. He has a white cloud over his head that says, “I’m so goddam bored.”
Joe strolls up to him and says, “Excuse me, sir, what is this place?”
The cloud turns into a white bubble that says, “What’re you drunk or something, boy? This here’s Old Town. Everything here’s down right old as a church, bettin’ you must be old too if yer here.”
Joe says, “I ain’t that old. This is a dream, right?” 64
“How’s that?” asks the Sheriff’s speech bubble, “What’s wrong with you? Your words are invisible. I can’t see what you’re saying to me. What are you? Some kind of freak or something? Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
Joe says, “This ain’t real. I’m supposed to be looking for something.”
The Sheriff’s bubble says, “Look at yerself, son, yer standing on yer own two feet! Whaddaya mean this ain’t real? You must be one of them weirdos.” “Forget it,” Joe shrugs, “You’re just an extra in this stupid story. You can’t help me.” “Don’t look now, boyo,” the Sheriff’s speech balloon shouts, “But we got company.”
“Company? Do people really say that? ‘We got company.’”
He ignores Joe and says, “It’s them Roswell Boys back for revenge.”
The Sheriff tosses Joe a rifle and ducks behind some barrels. Joe finds a spot behind a horse trough and the Sheriff’s bubble shouts, “Yeah, buddy. We plugged a couple of them last Tuesday when they was spying on us from Telegraph Mountain. They came crashing down the hill and me and the others dragged ‘em away hopin’ to cover it all up. But I guess there’s no way to ever cover anything up for real. It all gets found out sooner or later.” The Roswell Boys ride in like a dirt twister, hollering and firing rifles and revolvers into the air. The sound cracks like a whip of lightning. Joe’s Thought Chip screams, “This ain’t my fight, I gotta get outta here. I gotta get outta here now!” and it appears over his head in the bubble cloud. He yells to the Sheriff, “Sheriff, you and your boys can do what you like, but this ain’t my fight. I got my own problems.” A sound like a horse fly on fire zips past Joe’s ear and I see a jagged yellow flash of light that reads, PHOOM! Sheriff’s cloud says, “Too bad, son. You in it now. It’s your fight or your grave!” The Roswell boys wear a uniform red bandana over their faces, their clothes are dirty, their horses look tired, but the men themselves are small, frail and grayish like they’re beleaguered by some unholy plague. Their eyes are swollen black the size of eggplants and their heads look huge even under their tattered cowboy hats. The Roswell Boys are little gray aliens in cowpoke garb and they’re waving silver revolvers that fire red light. It’s all too ridiculous. Joe’s thought bubble says, “Now I know I’m dreaming.” 65
Mr. Smiles whispers in Joe’s Thought Chip, “Now own it, kid. Find the door.” Joe fires back and makes a shot so exact it’s practically poetic. His thought bubble says, “I have to find the power of dreams. I have to find the door.” Firing wildly into the storm of hooves and leather and steel, Joe sees a red door just past the saloon. He makes a break for it firing three shots off in succession. A couple alien cowboys tumble backward off their steeds. Running through the chaos of horses, bullets, hooves and black eyes, the clamor of noises, the explosion of jagged comic book sound effect bubbles, Joe pushes toward the door. The air lights up with color like that old Adam West Batman show. Bang, Boom, Pow. Out of ammo now, but almost to the door, one of the Roswell Boys rides in and draws down on Joe in the middle of the street. Joe flips his rifle around, swinging it like a club and connecting full force with the alien’s face. The thing’s lips split wide and green goo flies out sideways, bubbling like battery acid. The alien, all cowboy’d up, slaps the dusty road like a sack of grain. He’s out cold but Joe gets his pistol and fires into the crowd.
The Roswell Boys scatter like roaches and the town cheers.
The Sheriff’s speech bubble says, “I’ll be damned, son. Your fight or not, you owned it.”
Joe opens the red door and crosses through triumphantly.
I turn to Joe Vagrant on my right and say, “This is how you learned. What you did for me when I was…”
“When you were out like a light? Yeah, Mr. Smiles taught me. Just watch.”
It’s a desert highway. Still in his cowboy get up, Joe whistles low and says, “This is it, my Sundance, my vision. This is the road. Have I finally learned the power of dreams?” A white wolf runs toward him down the center line of the highway. It stops a few yards off and sits patiently with its back straight and proper, staring Joe down. Joe says, “It was you? You’re the wolf from my vision?” The wolf shows a row of ivory white teeth that morphs into a grin like the Cheshire cat. The grin becomes more and more human until Joe is standing in front of Mr. Smiles. Joe has changed too, he looks like his old self again, shaggy hair, dirty, wrinkled clothes. Mr. Smiles is there and he says, “Bout time you fig66
ured it out. It’s always been me. There were times when I really thought you’d never get here, but you finally made it. This is the center, your brain’s crossroads. From here you can go anywhere. What do you want, Joe? Name it.”
“Seriously? My driver’s license would be nice,” Joe says.
“Spoken like a true sixteen year old. That’s easy, kid. Here, get in,” Mr. Smiles whistles with his fingers and a red’61 Impala convertible wheels in, screeching to a halt.
Mr. Smiles says, “You drive,” and climbs into the passenger seat.
He says, “See, Joe, your mind has its own rules. What would be impossible for you in your waking state becomes as easy as lucid dreaming in here. Remember what I taught you about Carl Jung? The brain thinks in archetypes, symbols. Those symbols are what you navigate through to find your way into the Network. Your brain is a computer, your thoughts are the Operating System and everybody’s operating system is unique. Yours, for obvious reasons, works like a highway – take a left here, hop on the interstate, floor it, just like that, good – in here you can speed up or slam on the brakes and you’ll effect the download. A highway is a perfect analogy for cyberspace. It’s all numbers, grids – your brain works like a map. So does the Network. Every place has an address you need to get to, see? On your right is Domino’s Pizza, on your left is the eBay store.”
“We’re in the Internet?” Joe asks.
“Righty-o, my boy,” Mr. Smiles says, “Or, maybe the Internet is in you, it all gets fairly Meta if you unpack it, best we don’t. Watch your steering, kid, you got a little lane travel going there. Anyway, yeah, via the Network we can access the whole of the Internet.”
“It’s Their system,” he says ominously, “We’re just pirating the WIFI. As I was saying, your brain is perfectly suited to this work because you think in roadways, the whole internet is cyber highways connecting to destinations. Next stop, the Department of Motor Vehicles.” They hang a right onto a well-traveled road and stop in the parking lot of a building that looks like a solid white brick, no windows or visible doors. Joe follows his father. In a different context this could be the memory of any sixteenyear-old going to the DMV with dad. Mr. Smiles opens a previously non-existent door and they go in. Inside are dozens of figures standing around in black suits or white dresses, their posture looking heavy, tired, almost like sleepwalkers, but when they get 67
closer Joe flinches. They have no faces, just blank skin like department store dummies. Behind the nearest open counter is one of Joe’s big-eyed Martians. Mr. Smiles tells him to go ahead, not to be afraid. Joe asks for a license and the Martian clerk nods silently, tapping the keyboard rhythmically. A few moments pass in silence until finally there is a print-out and the Martian says, “Your license will be mailed to this address within two weeks.” The address is a post office in Portland, Oregon, and Joe looks at Mr. Smiles, baffled. I can’t get past the weirdness. His father, present through some strange glitch in a brain implant is showing Joe how to drive, showing him how to make a fake ID by hacking the DMV database with his Thought Chip. Only he doesn’t say Thought Chip, I don’t know why. He lets the kid believe he’s doing this because of alien shit. The whole ruse has Joe believing that every system of government, every agency, every agent, is an alien insurgent. Seems weird. “It was weird,” Joe Vagrant says, still beside me, “See, he figured it would be easier to get me through to the Network by tapping into those Jungian fears, you know? The stuff really imprinted on my brain. He let me use those as a way of greasing the gears to get internet access.”
“Internet access – with your brain?”
“Yeah, why not? You guys are piped into every website under the sun, right? You watch everything. You have an entire floor dedicated to monitoring social networking sites alone, right? Ever since the Occupy Movement got thousands of people to rally via Facebook, or the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, you guys have watched these sites like proverbial hawks. And don’t even get me started on how many people on the Facebook payroll can be linked directly back to the Department of Defense. It’s all one conspiracy, man, and you’re in it.” Hologram Joe takes the time to wipe his hologram nose and continues, “Anyway, if my brain is piped into the network and the network is piped into the internet then… well, let’s just say it just comes down to being able to navigate my own brain. Remember that quote about the unexamined life? Well, in this case, the examined life let me access your Network and just walk right into the DMV database. But that was just the beginning.” “The beginning? That’s what you did to us on Tuesday. It wasn’t a virus, it was you.”
“Guilty as charged,” he grins, “Somebody give this man a cookie.”
Joe cuts the feed and says, “You’ll want to pick things up about right here. I’m seventeen now. We’ve been on the road two years, playing bum gigs and abandoned buildings, recording with small time newbies, playing house shows with new bands that needed a boost to get started. We couldn’t have known it 68
at the time, but doing things that way set us directly apart from the forces in the world our fan base deemed evil. It’s the whole reason we made it because, let’s face it, our music was only just okay.”
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 12/34/5678 :: 9:10:1112 PM Joe blinks and a flagged video appears in my queue. I click on it. It shows Joe and Lee driving cross-country from Omaha to Portland. They’ve been playing gigs the whole way. Lee says, “What was that freaking Replicant chick at the library talking to you about for so long, man?” “Ha, Replicant, good one. She really did look like what’s her name in Bladerunner. The one Harrison Ford liked, not the hot one with the weird makeup.” “Yeah, I know what I meant. I’m the one that just said it, dumb ass. What was she saying to you though?” “The internet is full of stories about us,” Joe says, “Word is spreading, I guess. It’s getting so that people already know where we’re gonna be before we even get there and apparently, according to the Replicant, there’s some kind of blog tracking us like we’re the only news story out there or something. You know like the weatherman tracking Santa on Christmas Eve? They tell people in certain towns to watch out for us.”
“Nice,” Lee grunts, lighting a cigarette.
The Joe in my head, standing like an apparition in the middle of my cubicle, says, “I’m sure you guys had dozens of Watchers all over any website or tweet or blog or blurb about us. But despite our fame going viral I was insistent, Mr. Smiles was insistent, we had to stay off the grid. We were runaways, maybe Lee was a legal adult now, but I was still a minor and he was transporting me.”
“How did people find you if your shows were secret?” 69
“It was the old band name gag. We never actually advertised as the Johnny High-Fives, people just knew it was us. We’d put the word out that some band called Donkey Punch Militia was playing at this abandoned warehouse or that Ma Rainey’s Quadruple Bypass was playing at that house show. It was all word of mouth, but it worked.” “Like the old days,” I say, “‘You guys going to Joe and Lee’s show?’ Like that?”
“Yeah, just like that.”
Right now, on Screen 3, the boys have stopped off for two days in Wyoming to do some temp work as bricklayers and stayed at another hobo encampment when they needed to sleep – “You really don’t get it, do you?” Joe asks, “Those aren’t bum camps, it’s just how people live now. You’re ridiculous, old man. Do they really regulate what even you Watchers are able to see? Well, I saw it happen. Businesses close up. Houses get foreclosed. Most of America is on the streets now. Entire families live in lean-tos and tarp camps. The dad’s go out to get work the same way illegal immigrants used to, standing on the same corners, trying for the same jobs – why do you think we finally cracked down and ran the illegals out on a rail? The job demand sent everyone down a class. College educated start working in retail stores and coffee shops, so the retail guys start working construction, the construction guys start working where the Mexicans and shit used to and so the competition between Americans and illegals finally got serious. That’s when we closed the border once and for all. All for the economy. We turned the middle class into the lower class just so the One-Percenters could stay filthy rich.”
“Impossible,” I say, “I would have known.”
“You don’t know shit, Anders. You only see what they let you see. They have knowledge spread piecemeal across this entire complex so nobody knows it all. Some guy on another floor knows about the homelessness, but he doesn’t know about the internment camps, some other guy knows about the camps but doesn’t know that the Super Bowl has been rigged since the nineties. I’m piped into everything, I see it all. “Right now your EIS boys just broke into another one of our hollow houses and they’re pissed. On the tenth floor another Watcher is spying on people in bathrooms, watching out for drug smuggling. Someone else is reading status updates on Facebook. On level 3 a Watcher just called the goon squad on some suspicious activity that might be a terrorist explosive. One of your satellites is scanning my last known location for heat signatures since you told them I’ve been known to hide underground. 70
“I know and see more than you, Anders. And I say there’s no middle class anymore. There’s just the kings on Wall Street and the peasants in the dirt. The only way out is to pay your thousands to the corporate-owned university and graduate up to the East Coast cities if you’re one of the lucky few.”
I’m ignoring you. I’m ignoring you. La, la, la…
On the screen, they’re wrapping up a show at an abandoned church in Nowhere, Wyoming. From what I gather, the building was a place of worship until it couldn’t pay the property taxes. Now it’s a squatter’s paradise and a party site for dregs, minors and boozers. Lee thanks the crowd for being there and they cheer and beg for an encore. They come back. Joe takes his seat at the drums. Lee starts a tranquil riff on his guitar. He sings in low tones, quiet but slowly building, “I see a blue dolphin drinking blood through her blowhole, a man with a robot lung shoveling Carolina coal.” Joe plays a steady rhythm, softly rolling on his snare like a death march, the sound gets louder, heavier, as Lee sings, “His engine chugs, ears shoot a black smoke spurt. A meteor shower launches outta the Nevada desert.” In the audience there’s a man in his early thirties, densely bearded, brow heavy under a trucker cap, in the attire of a logger or certain hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. RITA’s facial recognition software identifies him as William McBride, also called Bill McBride, also called Beardo: drifter, ex-pastor, born in Round Rock, Texas, $42,537 in debt, draft dodger, etc. McBride moves to the front of the crowd and Joe notices him. Paranoia and suspicion paint an expression that says McBride is a patsy assassin from some spy flick moving through the crowd to put .38 caliber bullets in him. He keeps playing despite the sensation. Lee sings, “The Miner serves the Angel of Death for a pension to buy off his fear while those meteors have screaming faces burning outta the atmosphere. That’s America, Home of the Working Class Junkie, Drinking His Constitutional Roofie.” Girls squeal when Lee smiles into his microphone. McBride stands patiently, casually bobbing his head to the music, trying to enjoy himself, but he is a man preoccupied. “I see a Protest March fighting the Power, another Protest March fighting for Power. I see a Protest Rally fighting against everything, another Rally fighting for everything.” 71
Joe says, “This was my first political song. It still seems kind of abstract, but you can maybe see how some of the stuff I was absorbing through my dream hacks was permeating into my writing.”
“Dream hacks? Is that what we’re calling them now?”
Lee sings, “I see Plato saying the want for rights will be our end, vote a Democratic King to guard us and every knee shall bend. And I know this ain’t America, it’s the Home of the Working Class Junkie, Chugging Down his Bipartisan Roofie.” In the crowd, McBride is listening with his eyes closed. A man in a green hoodie takes a small cover charge at the church door but nobody seems to care. They all feel like they’re part of something. The song continues, “I can see modern Gestapo breaking down doors. I watch the Big One shaking red white and blue into our floors. Oil slick oceans cover kids trying to fight the insanity. Modern Beats and Baby Bohemians sing songs for a peaceful humanity. Teen dreamers arm themselves with art against doom squads while their Washington fathers say it’s time to stop sparing their rods.” The sounds crescendo to an almost explosive tempo, but not quite explosive, it’s a powder keg, a fire cracker with a lit fuse, spinning around on the concrete just as the fire enters the housing. Lee and Joe sing in unison, “And I know this is America. Homeland of the Republic Rights Junkies. And the Corporate Tycoon Groupies.” Then everything finally blows up and they scream, both of them together, at the top of their lungs, a kind of fury rarely heard in music to the melody of an gospel hymn, “Protest Nation, Protest Nation, Protest Nation… Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord, His feet were bound with shackles when the Apes of Wrath were bored. We hath prayed and cried for mercy which our countrymen ignored. This War keeps marching on.” The crowd cheers. Lee and Joe leave the stage but are met at the landing by the man with the beard, McBride. He says, “Hey, sorry to bother you guys, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor.” “Depends on what it is,” Joe says, “We don’t sign autographs. We don’t feel it’s right, glorifying one person over another.” “No, no, it’s nothing like that,” the man replies, “I just, I heard you were heading west. I was wondering if you would take me with you. Just as far as Portland. I’ve been trying to get out there for a while but I haven’t been able to get the money together. I have a little, you know, I could help with gas and 72
“What’s your name, man?” Lee asks, “We can’t be debating about whether to take you on if we don’t even know your name.” “All the kids used to call me Mr. Bill, but most of my friends call me Beardo.”
“Kids, what kids?” Lee asks, suddenly suspicious.
“Before this place went under,” Beardo replies, “I was the youth pastor here.”
“That right?” Joe says, “And now you’re, what? A construction worker?”
“When the jobs are there, yeah. Mostly I just stick around here and try to minister to the people that keep washing up on our doorstep, you know?” “Sure you can leave all that behind, Beardo?” Lee asks, “I mean I know how important ministry is to you Christian types.”
“Christian types?” Beardo asks, “You aren’t?”
“Christians?” Joe says, “No, not for a long time. Is that so shocking?”
“Yeah, a little,” he says, “Ever since McKinley took office everybody’s a Christian. It’s like people are afraid to say they’re anything else, he has the country so worked up most people seem to think that if you aren’t a Christian you’re a terrorist. Makes it tough, you know? For the ones that really believe.” Joe says, “Yeah, well, we’ve seen too much that made us ask the hard questions, but as long as you aren’t going to try to save us or guilt trip us or whatever then we won’t have a problem.” “I’ll just say this and leave you to it,” Beardo says, “I’ve always felt that the only enemy to your faith is yourself. It’s you that wavers in the face of adversity. It’s you that’s to blame not whatever it is that you’ve seen. But for me, nothing I see could change the way I feel. Like C.S. Lewis said, ‘I believe in God the same way I believe in the sun. Not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’” Lee shoots back, “And what did Voltaire say? ‘It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.’” Joe, my Joe, the one haunting my cubicle, says, “Always talking in references. It’s par for the course when you’re a serious Christian. It got so Lee and I were so used to thinking that way we started talking in references to other things, video games, movie quotes, secular philosophers, and even the occasional Bible 73
verse that stuck with us.”
On the screen, Lee says, “Yeah, and like Bob Dylan said, ‘Everybody’s gotta serve somebody.’” “Seems pretty preachy to me, Lee,” Joe says, nudging his buddy with an elbow, “What do you think?” “Guys,” Beardo says, “That’s the last you’ll hear from me on the subject. I’ve always felt that spirituality was the most personal thing in the universe, who am I to interfere with that without permission?” Joe’s expression changes completely. The voice of Audrey echoes those words in his Thought Chip and I hear them, clear as I hear Joe standing beside me. On the screen, Joe smiles and says, “I like him. I’ll even make you a deal, Beardo – be our roadie and you can keep your money, you probably need it more than we do anyway.”
They shake and Beardo starts immediately on loading up their equipment.
I hit fast-forward, zipping through miles of highway, changes in terrain, gas stops, rest stops, pit stops, food, fuel, coffee, cigarettes and all the blah, blah, blah of a life on the road. Here they are laughing when Lee quotes Thompson, “We’re looking for the American Dream.” Here they laugh when they almost get pulled over and Joe shouts, “No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks for noticing.” Yeah, killer boots, man. Dumb and Dumber. Their dialogue is almost entirely quotes from pop culture or bullshit philosophy at that certain hour of the night when everyone thinks their words carry life-altering weight. Long hours carry them across the rolling rocky blue of western Idaho and Joe quotes Hendrix, “Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me.” It’s from “If Six was Nine,” Lee returns with another lyric, “I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to…” “They’re hoping my kind will drop and die,” Beardo says, “But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high. See? I know stuff too. That’s my favorite Hendrix line ever, matter of fact.” On a roadside in the desert hills of eastern Washington Joe and Lee lean against their old Gremlin in near hysterics from exhaustion – that pseudo drugaddled euphoria that comes from sleep deprivation. Beardo yells from the driver’s seat, “Will you two hurry up? If it weren’t for all these smoke breaks and piss breaks and coffee breaks we could’ve been there by now.”
Lee sighs and says, “I’m glad you smoke, Joe.” 74
Joe nods, as if he understands the camaraderie of sharing a cigarette with a friend at just the right time or the sense of community and karma and the air of primitive sacrament built into the whole ritual and how hard it would be on the road with just him and Beardo and–
Lee blurts out, interrupting Joe’s thought, “‘Cause I wanna see you die!”
The hysterics set in again. Joe falls to his knees laughing, breaking his cigarette on the gravel of the roadside, Lee punches his own thighs. Beardo, in the car, says, “Guys? What the hell? Come on, day’s a-wastin.”
They load up and I move forward.
In this next scene our leading men are speeding down I-5 toward southeast Portland.
Lee says, “Why here, Joe? What’s so important?”
“I just need to check on something, that’s all.”
“The address?” I ask, “You needed to know if it was real.”
Joe Vagrant nods.
On Screen 4 I watch as the little Gremlin maneuvers its way onto the exit for Burnside and heads toward 39th Avenue, making a right. Beardo, on Screen 3, tells them to follow this to Hawthorne Boulevard. The heart of what has become known as the People’s Republic of Southeast Portland and its capitol, Tent City. That’s not a joke. They really call it that. There’s no official boundary or fence line on the screen, not yet anyway, but you can tell when they’ve entered the People’s territory. Tents everywhere. Makeshift villages constructed out of tarpaulins and cardboard and spare lumber. Shredded rubber tires hold down walls of canvas, preventing them from blowing away in the wind. In some places walls of tires and concrete rubble form dividing walls between sectors for living, growing food, trading, and so on. There are little homemade booths like you might see at one of those old trade shows at state fairs or maybe a street festival for arts and crafts. Only these booths are a mixture of artists peddling their wares, people offering services on bike repair or even welding, tailors that repair old garments, and even people doing nothing more than letterpress printing of pamphlets on issues in America, Portland or the People’s Republic. The whole thing started in Mount Tabor Park at the top of Hawthorne Boulevard and quickly grew out into the street from there, taking over abandoned businesses, side streets, sidewalks and rooftops. The boys wheel in as far as they can and finally park when the road narrows to the point of only allowing for bike travel or pedestrians. They pass a 75
young man typing impromptu poetry for passersby, accepting donations, of course. They pass a man playing a cello like it’s an electric guitar. Someone else is rapping about the economy. An older couple streaks by on antique bicycles, laughing. Beardo says, “It’s just what I expected. This is the New America. Everyone barters here, see? There’s no cash, no bank accounts, nothing like that. I read online how they all think they know the way things are headed. As the money dries up and businesses go under, the bigger companies are there to pick up the slack. More and more industries are being absorbed into fewer corporations. We’re headed toward total monopoly. In response, this entire town within a town has gone backwards in time. Exchanging food for services and services for food.”
“How did they get everyone to agree to this?” Joe asks.
“Nobody agreed to anything. This is the only way these people know how to survive and, like it or not, I’m one of them now. It’s the only way I’m going to make it. The police tried to drive them off but they’re shorthanded these days from all the budget cuts, they ultimately decided to let them have this chunk of town rather than face total anarchy. People from all over the country have been making their way out here bit by bit. The People’s Republic takes anyone in, you just have to be willing to abandon certain luxuries or you aren’t welcome.”
“Like cars?” Lee grunts, “I’m worried about my baby, Joe.”
“It’s fine, Lee,” Joe laughs, “Nobody here gives a shit about our crappy car and our crappy equipment. ‘When you ain’t got nothin you got nothin to lose.’” Beardo calls out to the kid at the typewriter, “Hey, brother, ask you a question?”
“Sure,” the kid says, “Got a dollar?”
Beardo puts a dollar in the kid’s jar and says, “I’m looking for a man that would have showed up here about four or five months ago.” “Well, which is it? Four months or five? Lotsa people in and outta here,” the kid says. “Five then, he’s tall, black guy, dreadlocks down the middle of his back, probably woulda had a lot of books with him, but not much else.” “I think I seen a guy like that,” the kid says, “I think he’d been in a fight. Some guys somewhere out by Killingsworth jumped him for his bag and then roughed him up but good when it was just full of books. He fought ‘em off enough to keep his books though, so that’s cool, I guess.” 76
“That sounds like the guy I’m looking for,” Beardo says, “Where is he?”
“He ain’t here no more.”
Beardo sighs, looks around dejectedly, and puts another dollar in the kid’s
“Hollywood District, it’s the very edge of our territory, way outside of Tent City,” the kid says, “He holed up in this warehouse that used to be a print shop or something. Not sure where exactly, but I know it’s got a big mural you can’t miss. Call it Hollywood Bungalow, like that Doors song, get it?”
Beardo thanks the kid and the boys all start heading back to the Gremlin.
“So, Beardo,” Joe says, “You know where I can find 7th and Taylor? There’s a post office there I need to pay a visit.” “Yeah, I’ll show you,” Beardo says, “I need to mail a letter I’ve been carrying around for weeks, anyhow. The mail back home quit running months ago.”
“What do you mean the mail quit running?” Lee asks, dumbfounded.
“Yeah, haven’t you heard? ‘Austerity measures,’ the new political catch phrase. It means the money wells are drying up so they have to make some cutbacks. Anyway, it started about two months ago. The federal government pulled funding for postal services in rural areas. People had to start traveling to bigger cities to get their mail. Most people just stopped using mail altogether, but not everybody has that luxury, you know? My parents live in South Texas, totally off the grid, no email, no phones. Mail is all they got. Anyway, I’ve been having a hell of a time finding a working post office.” Lee gets behind the wheel of the Gremlin and Beardo takes the passenger seat to play navigator. Joe hops in back and leans on the front seat so he can hear. Beardo says, “Yeah, rural roads were the next to go, anything smaller than a state highway is no longer being maintained. I’ve heard tell of people mixing their own concrete out of sand and ground up bits of old buildings just to repair potholes in front of their homes. You guys didn’t hear about this stuff? I guess you must miss out on a lot being on the road all the time, yeah? I mean, ever since National Public Radio got cancelled you can’t really get honest news reports, I mean, you know, the corporations own all the major news channels. They can censor information wherever they want. The internet is being regulated under the new terrorist acts, everyone is afraid to talk about what’s really going on. Nowadays you gotta break a law to get some truth.”
Lee says, “Yeah, I think the last time we heard any real news was back in 77
Omaha. Caught a local signal, couple brothers were pirate broadcasting out of their basement, talking about the new tax increases President McKinley just launched.” “‘Just until the recession ends,’” Joe quotes, “They kept saying that. Like the taxes are there just to boost the economy ‘til we’re outta this slump.” “Man, you boys are behind,” Beardo says, “Those taxes were ratified three months ago. Americans are now paying thirty cents on every dollar to a stimulus tax. There were protests in Washington, but they didn’t end so well. Arrests and injuries, I’ve heard rumors that some of them haven’t made it back. There’s talk of illegal prisons, a new Guantanamo Bay somewhere on US soil. It’s all going to hell. People are saying the financial terrorist law is being used to arrest protesters as enemies of the state. And that doesn’t even cover the wars overseas.” “You think the money is running out because we just keep starting new wars before we finish the old ones?” Lee asks. “That’s gotta be only one small part of it,” Beardo replies, “the truth is, no one really knows where the money’s going, you know? Except, to make a few people richer, and, I don’t know, keep all of the bases we have around the world up and running.” “Fucking bases, if you look at a map of our military bases worldwide it looks like a game of Risk or some goddamn thing. That’s America, right, Joe?” They get to the post office and Beardo practically runs to mail his letter. Joe goes to a separate window, secretly, and asks if there is anything for him behind the counter. The little Hispanic man running the place seems surprised, no more than Joe, and hands him a manila envelope. Joe opens it violently as Lee pulls him aside, away from Beardo still at the window with the clerk, and says, “What is it, Joe?”
“My driver’s license,” Joe says, “Just like in the dream.”
“This is too weird. What do you think it means?”
“What else could it mean? Mr. Smiles is real. He helped me get this. I don’t understand how yet, but I suspect it has something to do with the aliens.” Lee looks around nervously and says, “Just silence the alien shit, will ya? No telling who’s listening, just waiting to cart you off for delusional behavior. I worry about you, Joe Kid, I mean, we look after each other, right?”
“Then keep this stuff between us until we know what’s going on.” 78
“That ain’t all, Lee. Look, legal name changes. For both of us.”
“How the fuck did you swing that?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t legal.”
The boys load up in the Gremlin and Lee says, “So, Beardo, how about this friend you’re after? Care to let us in on the caper?” Beardo says, “He’s just an old friend. We worked some build jobs together and he started living at the church with me and the others. One day he up and vanished. Just left a note how he came out here looking for his daughter and I never saw him again. It’s been months.” “Lot of that going around,” Joe says, “We had a friend move off to Omaha and we never found her again either.” Lee adds, “Yeah, to hear you tell it, it’s like the entire infrastructure has fractured. There’s no communication, email still works but nobody can afford a computer and if they do they can’t afford internet access. Used to, you could just go to a library or a coffee shop, but most of the libraries are gone now and the ones that are still hanging on are getting paid for by local donations and shit...” Joe cuts in, “Plus, we ran into some places out east where they’re charging you by the minute to use WIFI in coffee shops. There’s practically no such thing as internet cafes anymore.” “That’s happening more and more,” Beardo nods, “It’s scary, ain’t it? Don’t know when, but America quit looking like America one day.” “‘No single snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible,’” Lee says with a shrug.
“Sounds like a Neil Diamond lyric,” Beardo grunts.
“No, it’s Voltaire.”
“Of course it is. You really like Voltaire, don’t you?”
“He’s part of my Bible.”
“So the Hollywood District,” Lee asks, “That outside the weird Mad Max City?”
“Yeah, ‘Beyond Thunderdome,’” Beardo laughs.
Joe says, “So how does a boy from Texas working in Wyoming wind up 79
knowing Portland so well?”
“Growing up, we always moved around a lot when. Dad worked out of Bowie Air Force Base in Shreveport for a while, but he got discharged for a psychiatric break. After that he got a good job as a construction foreman, but that dried up when the recession hit. He started taking dock worker jobs anywhere he could get them and that took us to Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Seattle and eventually here.” “Then you know where to find Hollywood,” Lee says, “I’m totally lost. These roads are like the Winchester Mystery House or something.”
“Hang a left up here.”
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders Date00000 :: Time0003PM773 Gardner whistles from the other side of the wall, “Hey, how you holding up, Anders?” “Not too bad,” I say, “Head still hurts like a pretty boy in prison, but I’ll manage.” “Something weird. You’ll want to check this out. I was going through the records like Wilkes said when I somehow triggered a video on Audrey Lamb.”
I come around the terminal wall and say, “Whaddaya got, kid?”
“I mean, we know she’s mixed up in this somehow, but why would she appear when I was going over tech manifests, you know?”
“You think the virus is coming back?” I ask.
“Maybe, but it would be a different M.O. for this virus, before it was blocking me from getting to Audrey and now it’s showing me footage of her life? Anyway, check it out. It ain’t much, I’m sure, but you said to show you anything interesting. This is interesting.”
On Gardner’s screen there’s this mob of people out in front of a Planned Parenthood in what looks like Omaha. There’s picket signs with the usual misspellings and they all say something about the institution’s general ungodliness and its need to be destroyed. According to other fact sheets, newspaper articles and paused news feed on the screen, this is right about the time the President had called for the immediate shut down of such facilities referring to them as “cesspools of decadence and enablers of the worst kind of irresponsibility.” The crowd of protesters out front is the usual breed of right wing hate mongers and band wagon voters looking for something, anything, to spit on. Closer to the road are people standing still as mannequins with red duct tape over their mouths. On the tape in Sharpie marker is the word “Life” – by now a trite and cliché performance statement about the aborted fetus’ inability to speak for itself or beg for its own survival. Across the street is a different crowd. They’re shouting things about the woman’s right to choose, the need for birth control and contraceptives for poor families that can’t get them elsewhere, and more abstract enunciations about how this used to be a free country. 81
Apparently in charge, despite her youth, is Audrey Lamb. She looks to be about seventeen here, possibly only months or even weeks before the boys came through town looking for her. A line of young people stands on the curb with broad squares of red duct tape over their genitals. On the red squares is the word, “Life.” Audrey has a megaphone and is leading a chant, “My Body, My Choice.” The crowds on both sides of the street are bordering on frenzy. Audrey’s parents arrive to talk her down. They look terrified. Her father puts a hand on her shoulder and pulls away almost violently. Her mother says she’s proud of her, but begs her to stop before something terrible happens. And then it does. Police in riot gear with National Guard reinforcements storm in with shields and pepper spray and batons. They grab protesters, young and old alike, but only from Audrey’s side of the street. They sit people down on the curb forcing them into a line and one of the officers walks along the line spraying mace into their faces like he’s watering a garden. Then they start loading people into an armored van. Among those arrested are Audrey and both of her parents, despite their attempts to explain that they were only there for their little girl. The aggression escalates after Audrey is put into the police van. The old “cut off the head and the body will die” mentality doesn’t seem to apply. The protesters, angered by a seventeen year old girl being taken away like some kind of jihadist, attack the police despite a lack of weapons and the National Guard boys fire tear gas into the mob.
Gardner cuts the feed and looks up at me.
“Well?” he asks, “What do you think?”
“And you have no idea where she was taken?”
“No, sir. No arrest records.”
“Figures. Well, I’ll get into this on my end – see what I can turn up. You should let Wilkes know about the glitch.” Back at my cubicle now. Joe is there and he says, “I know what you’re thinking.”
“Shut up, kid. You don’t know shit.”
“You’re thinking that this doesn’t seem right and it scares you because you’re not supposed to think things like that. You’re not supposed to feel empathy for your subjects.” “I’m thinking that if I had a daughter screaming in public with duct tape on her cooch I’d want to drag her off myself.” 82
I dial up the feed and it’s Joe, Lee and Beardo knocking on the steel door of the Hollywood Bungalow. Beardo enters the room first and immediately recognizes a middle-aged black man with long dreadlocks, gold rimmed glasses and a sweater vest. He runs to the man, calling him brother, and pulls him into a big bear hug. The boys seem surprised at first and then amused. Beardo turns to the boys and introduces the man as Cedric Stewart. “Cedric,” Beardo says, “is the one I told you about. He came out here to find his baby girl who lived out here with her mother until... well, any luck with that yet, Professor?” “Yes and no,” Cedric replies, pushing his glasses up higher on his nose, “We got a line on where they were taken, but we have no real way of helping them. I’ve settled for falling back on what I know best and have started publishing pamphlets and a weekly newsletter for the People’s Republic. Uncovering the truth, professing what is going unsaid.”
“What you know best?” Joe asks.
Beardo says, “Cedric was a professor of English before the money ran out. But now you’re what? Some kind of counterculture voice of the people?” “I didn’t set out to be, I’ve just been reporting on what we’ve uncovered in the search for my Naomi. There’s an illegal internment camp out in the Badlands. We actually found it through an anonymous hacker connection, calls himself the White Whale, somebody that occasionally breaks through certain security firewalls and leaks whatever he can find. It so happened that this time he leaked a location. We’ve all done our homework here and it seems most likely that this is where she was taken.”
White Whale. White?
Would he really be that meticulous? Leaving nothing to chance? Mr. Smiles is reaching out to the extras and walk-ons of Joe’s life, directing him face to face and covertly to go where he wants him to go.
“What makes you so sure this is where Naomi is being held?” Beardo asks.
“The White Whale sent us these,” Cedric indicates a pile of enlarged photos spread across a wobbly, wooden table. “These images were taken off of a security camera so the quality is a little fuzzy. We’ve had some difficulty confirming if it is really Naomi or not, but I feel sure even without the photo.”
Joe looks at a few of the pictures and says, “Lee, it’s her.”
“Her?” Cedric asks, “How could you know what…” 83
“Not her, like Naomi her, her, Audrey.”
“What?” Lee almost shouts, grabbing the picture.
Joe points to someone that appears to be shouting in the upper left quadrant of the photo. The picture is a cell, packed full of people like you sometimes see in human trafficking cases. Only this isn’t trafficking, it’s a prison, a grossly overloaded prison by the look of it. “Audrey, as in the girl you missed in Omaha?” Beardo asks, “How’s she mixed up in all this? I thought she was just some kid.” “That’s what I’m going to find out,” Joe says, “Tell me everything you know, Professor.” Cedric says, “They picked Naomi up at a downtown protest. She already must have had flags on her record for other encounters with the police and I feel sure they must have ruled her a threat. And that kind of threat gets sent off to this camp in the Badlands. For months there’ve been rumors of places like this all over rural America, but this is the first one we’ve been able to confirm. The President is running his own McCarthyist campaign. A political protester with as little as a Best Buy card and he calls ‘em hackers. Hacker translates to ‘economic terrorist’ which pretty much translates the same way ‘Communist’ would have translated in the 1950s.”
“So it’s a witch hunt?” Lee says, “And what are you doing about it again?”
“Raising awareness,” Cedric says, “It’s our hope that what grows in the shadows will wither in the light of day.”
“And what’s stopping us from just going and getting her out?” Lee asks.
“Not much, I guess, just an unknown number of armed soldiers and the President of the United States of America – who is this kid, anyway, William? He walks in here and immediately assumes we got our thumbs up our asses...” Beardo says, “He’s Lee Vagabond. Lead singer of the Johnny High-Fives. Probably the closest thing to famous this room’s ever gonna meet. And I’d watch it, you just told these two their childhood princess is being held for terrorism.” Joe says, “None of that matters. Focus. What matters here is we have an illegal prison camp on American soil and people need to know.” “It’s not illegal,” Beardo cuts in, “It may be unconstitutional, it may even be Un-American, but it ain’t illegal. Don’t you guys know anything? These laws date back years, they’ve been there since the Bush administration, a lot of them have gone unused but they’re still available, lying in wait. In 2011, Congress 84
passed laws allowing the seizure of American citizens suspected of being involved in terrorism. And that’s not white collar country club jail time we’re talking either. It’s military tribunal, no trial, no due process – you’re just gone. All it takes is the word ‘terrorist’ and they can nab you. Next came legislation allowing those drone airplanes to fly over American soil. No longer just used for enemies, now they can use them on us. I never saw one, but that doesn’t mean they ain’t out there. The laws say they’re allowed.” Joe replies, “Well that’s all nice and terrifying, but the point is that for me and my books that camp is illegal. This isn’t the first time American citizens have been rounded up like cattle. It happened after Pearl Harbor when the government was suddenly afraid of the Japanese and gathered up every slant-eyed citizen it could find, Jap, Chinese, Korean or Down Syndrome baby. If Audrey is really in that place then we need to get her out sooner rather than later. Cedric, I love that you fired up the old letterpress to get people’s attention with the printed word – old school, I like that. But the truth is people don’t listen to that stuff anymore. We need something with a little punch. Something to really get people’s attention.”
“What are you suggesting, Joe?” Lee asks, seeming a little irritated.
“We do what we’ve been doing. What do you always say? ‘If anything’s going to save us it’s rock and roll.’ Yeah?”
Lee grins, lights a cigarette, and says, “I love it.”
I cut the feed.
“Love what?” I ask Phantom Joe.
Leaning on my chair again, he says, “Lee and I had one unique weapon. A grass roots following. We just had to put the word out. If you build it, they will come. Got me?”
“Where else, dummy? The Badlands for our own kind of Woodstock.”
To be continued in Dystopia Boy 0.9 >>