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SUBTOPIAN MANIFESTO VII. by trevor d. richardson Subtopian is not just an observation about our current status between two possible outcomes. We’re more than just straddling Utopia and Dystopia. It is also about the desire to steer things toward a brighter future. I don’t want to be the reporter putting a camera on the end of the world but doing nothing to change things. I don’t want to be those paparazzie assholes at Princess Di’s car accident, you know? I want to make things better. build a better present.

Not just for my children, for me.

Right now.

Fuck the future, I want to

But I always say that the first step to creating Utopia is envisioning it. If you can’t see the plans then you can’t build the city. Most of us have no idea what Utopia looks like, we just imagine it as a better place than here. It’s for this reason, the fact that it is only an ideal in our imaginations, that Utopia will always remain a dream for most of us. Dystopia is easier. We can all imagine the world gone to hell. But what about paradise? The only thing I’ve ever known for sure is that there is no Utopian government. The first thing required is for people to evolve to something better than what they are right now. I know this much. And the only way to do that is to change our values at a fundamental level. I think we all know that. We know we’re living wrong. Our lifestyles are a system of self-indulgence and rejection of the needs of others and we all feel, in a profound sense, that if the world is going to improve we need to change the way we live. But it’s hard because everything is so easy right now, it’s easier to stay on this track than to find a new one. And maybe, in some bizarre way, that’s another reason why Dystopia is easier to envision. I think there are those of us that sincerely hope that Dystopia will come, that an Apocalypse will sweep through America and wipe the slate clean for us. However, don’t you see the inherent laziness in that idea? Sure, the idea of famine, plague, or war erasing the built in strictures and corruption of our society is appealing, but isn’t it kind of unfair to expect some all powerful force, or some natural disaster, or some invasion to take care of the nest of lies and evil we’ve gotten ourselves into? I think we dream of Dystopia because it is a fairy tale that might save us from the revolution that is necessary to improve our world. Revolution is hard. Protesting, fighting, forcing change, these things take effort. IT’s so much more convenient to sit back, watch the game and wait for the end. It’s easier to imagine yourself in some apocalyptic future as some kind of zombie busting bad ass fighting to rebuild a better, more peaceful civilization. But the truth is far from that, and it is always more simple. If you are lazy and unmoving in life now, when there are no challenges, you’ll most likely be lazy and immovable when the big change comes. You’ll resist it or you won’t respond in time, and what in God’s name makes you think you’ll survive a zombie invasion? My point is simple. You can’t wait for the system to destroy itself if you’re hoping for Utopia. In truth, Dystopia is a set back, it’s just that much more to overcome. If the world crumbled to its knees tomorrow then we would all be working to rebuild to the point we are at right now. We wouldn’t rebuild some dreamlike agrarian society. We’d just waste a ton of time and get back to the tv, fast food and sex. If change is going to come it has to come from Subtopia and move upward. Otherwise we’re in the negative. Otherwise, we’re lost. It has to happen now. Right now. The end of civilization isn’t the beginning of a new world of possibilities, it is a hellish nightmare that tears us back to the wild and the brutality in men’s hearts. If we have any chance of finding a peaceful, more elegant society it is now, while things are still decently civil. Think about it.


REVIEWS

Table of Contents

Static Music Reviews

Albums to Watch for this Month Andrew Norman

1

REGULARS Road Notes Crackpot Pt. 1 Jeff Costello

3

Directing Democracy: I’ll Take Door Number Three 38 Trevor Richardson SERIALS

5

Part Three of Collaborating with Angels 41 Rob Lee

Stuck on Repeat Dark Nights Rachael Johnson

SHORT STORIES Dossier Seth Johnson

7

POETRY

Three Poems Andrew Norman

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STORIES Subterran Presents...

You Have to Make a Little Hell Before You Get to Heaven a thought essay 34 David Renton UTOPIA

REGULARS

Red Light Green Light Hotel Fairy Tale Corin Reyburn

26

CRITIC’S CRITIC Comicbookmovie.com’s Review of “The Dark Knight” 83 David Renton PLUS! The Portland Mercury’s Review of “The Amazing Spider-Man” 85 Arthur Brand

STORIES Tumbleweeds Pt. 1 Katie Wilson

STORIES 28

Steep to Dream: The first five chapters of Kirby Light’s novel about ordinary nightmares 87 Kirby Light

REGULARS

SERIALS

Pearls for Swine: thoughts from a mad hermit Bombardment Kirby Light

DYSTOPIA

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97

Dystopia Boy 0.6 Trevor Richardson


reviews

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reviews

2


regulars

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regulars

staff writer

dark nights

Everyone deals with tragedy differently, though an

personally know any one of the deceased or injured,

empathic “why?” must be nigh universal. It is often

so my ability to memorialize them is limited. So, I

the missing piece to an excruciating puzzle: Why did

will turn to the one avenue that I can: I’ll remember a

the shooter do this? Why is my loved one gone? Why

story.

do things like this happen? Eric Harris, the Columbine mastermind, was a psychopath (Cullen), Seung-Hui

Once, long ago, there was a boy who went to see a

Cho was mentally ill (Friedman), but Anders Behring

film of a masked hero with his parents. Afterward, in

Breivik, who took 77 lives in Norway, is unlikely to

the night of a dark alley, the family of three encoun-

be declared insane by experts (Associated Press). The

tered a mugger. The telling varies, but I believe it was

fact that a sane man can carry out such horrifying ac-

a mugger, a man who used violence to get what he

tions is unsettling, to be sure, but crucial to recognize.

wanted. The father sought to protect his family, but

It remains to be seen, if it ever will be, if James Holm-

both he and his wife were shot. The mugger ran off,

es is a mentally disturbed individual, or if he is a man

not wanting to be caught. The boy was left alone with

acting in full conscience, a man of intentional evil.

the bodies of his dead parents.

Regardless of which Holmes is, the internet is awash

To say that the boy was scarred would be an under-

in cries for the death penalty, tighter gun controls,

statement. At too young an age, he had looked horror

better parenting, etc. But, most commenters and

and evil in the face, while pain and grief ate away in-

Facebook philosophers aren’t experts in those things,

side him. Driven by these forces, he resolved to return

and neither am I. No, I don’t want to examine policy,

the fear to those who would cause further pain. He

or pontificate on the impracticality of setting up high

donned a mask, just like the masked hero he had seen

grade security measures at public locations. I do not

with his parents on the big screen. 5


regulars It wasn’t always easy playing the hero, for the man saw time and again that morality became as ambiguous in the dark of night as anything else. This continuing trial lent itself to the intrigue and mystique of the man, drawing others to learn of his story. Eventually,

Rachael Johnson, a fresh voice in the Seattle writing

he had movies of his own, and children would attend them with their parents.

scene, offers her regular column,“Stuck On Repeat,” which puts a unique spin on current news stories by

When it came time for the world to witness the close of the man’s legacy on the big screen, something of

taking a look back at other moments in history where

the man’s crusade suddenly became real. A villain, with hair dyed like a clown, opened fire on innocents,

the same thing went down. It’s true what they say, his-

not for money, as it was from the man’s own story, but

tory repeats itself.

for something else entirely. That something else was the question that had haunted our hero in the darkest moments of his life. When he had asked “Why?”, his guardian and confidant answered, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Sources: Associated Press. “Experts: Norway Mass Killer Anders Behring Breivik Likely Not Insane despite Committing Deadly Bomb-and-shooting Rampage.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 July 2012. Cullen, Dave. “At Last We Know Why the Columbine Killers Did It.” Slate.com. Slate Magazine, 20 Apr. 2004. Web. 24 July 2012. Friedman, Emily. “Va. Tech Shooter Seung-Hui Cho’s Mental Health Records Released.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 19 Aug. 2009. Web. 24 July 2012.

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--Seth Johnson teaches various English classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, does a bit of freelance sports writing, dabbles in sports talk radio, and spends his summers working on oil rigs in south Texas. His stories have been published in The Southwestern Review, Infective Ink, and Pink-Eye Lemonade. His story, “Henchman,” will be featured in an upcoming issue of Isotropic Fiction. Links to some of Seth’s previous work: http://pinkeyelemonade.com/Johnson.html http://infectiveink.com/?tag=seth-johnson

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poetry

u

On “The Room in New York” by Edward Hopper Andrew Norman That night as he tracked his investments, following arrows that always pointed the wrong way-

well, how could he have known? My father, who kept his life in rows neater than newsprint

was undone by the silence in the red of a woman’s dress.

13 23


poetry

Cardboard

Andrew Norman

She should burn through my cardboard chest, blacken the space between my paper lungs that flicker and catch.

I’ll swallow driftwood even though it splinters in my concrete gums and begins to warm my rotting ribs.

I’ll swallow driftwood, and maybe the smoke will find its way out of my throat closed like an envelope or at least to my fingertips to trail ash onto this page.

24 14


Church

Andrew Norman I’ve only learned to land a prayer beneath the alder cathedral-canopy

this past year, where the Bluegill and Pumpkinseed congregate behind

milfoil thick as church doors.

25


She was a lie. A fucking fairy tale I told

ers. An overweight salesman in the midst of a

myself. Long, brown hair and green eyes.

divorce. An aging, gel-haired playboy hitting

Little black kitten heels and an A-line dress

on a former high school prom queen, now a

that Audrey Hepburn might have worn. She

receptionist at plastic surgery clinic. Fami-

worked in a Parisian café. She read William

lies back from day tours on dirty buses, men

Burroughs and both liked and understood it.

with receding hairlines checking their phones

She’d had three lovers in the past, all art-

every ten seconds.

ists, but she’d been celibate for the last two years. Because she was waiting for me.

Everyone here was selling something, except

The hotel was packed to the brim with los-

for her.

26


reo. Disappointment would eat away at her Spotless beige floors and red-fringed lamps

flawless complexion, leaving wrinkles and a

like an old west whorehouse plunked down in

permanent frown.

the middle of a dentist’s office, dimly lit in the corners and brightly lit in the center. Di-

I didn’t approach her that night, or on any

nosaur furniture that had seen its days—black

other during my stay at the Blue Light Red

and tan and peeling. They charged far too

Room on Main and 32nd. I went out drinking

much to stay here—for the location instead of

instead. After three beers she’s a witch, after

the amenities, right in the heart of the city.

six beers she’s perfect again. After ten beers

She sat in a corner chair in the lobby—black

she’s long gone and I’m a door-to-door sales-

snake print upholstery, high-backed—while

man with a receding hairline.

I went through a million opening lines in I wish I’d made my mistakes with her instead

my head, rejecting them all. I didn’t want to speak. I was hoping she would see it in my

---

eyes. That I was lonely too. That I was the same. That I wouldn’t promise her the moon

Corin Reyburn enjoys single malt scotch and

and then deliver her a house with a 3-car

the use of unconventional instruments in

garage, 2.5 kids, and Saturday nights at Olive

rock n’ roll music, sometimes together, and is

Garden.

working on a speculative fiction novel about underground waste. Corin currently resides in Los Angeles, where sunsets take place

I wanted her to see that I wasn’t like all the

indoors on 4.4 trillion-color screens, and

rest. But really, I knew better. I was like all

has had work appear in Clutching at Straws, Quantum Muse, and MBRANE-SF. Reyburn

the rest, and so was she. The brilliant sparkle

works as a freelance web designer when the

in her green eyes would dim, and she would

thought that one might need to earn some

become bitter, bruised by broken dreams.

money strikes. More work can be found at infrastratos.wordpress.com.

She would resent me for being merely a man instead of her gods from the screen and ste27


Darleen and I have traveled the US highways since 1990. Never owned a vehicle, never stole a bike. We keep our distance from the world because it never liked the smell of us. It never liked our questions or our answers. In Houston they called us tumbleweeds. The bars were full of men younger than us who’d grimace at my bare sweaty belly and turn their cowboy-hatted heads back to the game. You could spell your name in the grime on my back. Others have. In Chicago they called us graffiti. They figured we were part of the New Movement. They kept calling it that, on the signs in the windows, on the little shredded strips racing along the bottom of the 5:00 news. I’d watch it in the sports bars and people would point to the screen. They’d say, “Hey Bill, you heard of that? Bunch of slimy tramps.” Then Bill would fall silent and nod his head a little behind him at the slimy tramping carpetbaggers sharing a sandwich. Over at me, sitting there with Darleen. Sometimes the other man, the one across from Bill, he’d move past the fifth beer and not care that we were listening. It was never the same man, but they’d all say the same thing. We never even knew we were newsworthy, but they kept spitting at us. Kept getting too close to our faces. “Hey Johnny,” I remember one cool afternoon in the Bronx the day the Yankees won the World Series. “Come over here!” I was sitting in a neon lit diner with Darleen, who chewed on fries without looking up. The game had ended and the parties raged strong, like storms tearing up the South coast. “This tough guy wants to duke it out!” He hadn’t been watching the game so much as he had been watching me. I made him shift in his seat. Sitting there, eating, not uttering a peep to anybody, I was asking for it. Just begging. I could see it in his eyes the minute we sat down, that whatever this New Movement was, whoever began it, it didn’t matter—he was going to end it, starting with me. “You think you’re so special, tough guy?” It was all an accident. I had caught his eye and he slinked off that barstool and zigzagged over to me. His gray suit bulged at the gut and the bald top of his head glistened with pink dew. His yellow tie was wet and the closer he got the more I smelled mango. Then strawberry. “You’re so goddamned special, you and all your hopped-up junkie shooters and whores!” He swung for my cheek in slow motion, mumbling, losing his balance, toppling onto Darleen and squishing her against the window. Now that, that had never happened before. Men would go for me, I’d always be too fast and we’d get away. But nobody ever went for Darleen. Nobody even talked to her. This was it, the moment they’d all been waiting for, when the hopped-up junkie shooter stood up for his whore, when he grabbed a drunken ape by the collar and heaved him up off the chair and onto the ground. I lost the last little string of patience I always saw as my badge. I threw it onto that wet wooden floor and let go. His cheekbone cracked when my tarred knuckles jammed into it. That was for Darleen. I got up off him, digging my callused toes into his stained sweaty shirt where it was tightest. He howled and lurched, tucking in his knees like a child. That was for the New Movement, whatever the hell it was. Darleen was waiting by the door. She left the fries on the table. I could’ve left then, but no, there was one more thing. I took him by the mango tie and 28


put his slack chin next to mine. His little gray stubble caught my beard. “Next time,” I said, “you pretend you didn’t see me.” I pushed the tie down and his porky head hit the wood with a muffled crack. The diner was too loud and dark to let thirty seconds of squabble interrupt any celebration. It could’ve been any other day of the year that I met my match with the law. They would’ve hauled me off to the slammer for a scene like that. This one day, this little minute, that’s when I had my chance, and I took it. Darleen and I caught a bus five minutes later that took us to Memphis. We watched the clouds through that little window, the heat baking dust onto our pillows when we’d sleep. We watched the cars pass us and the kids inside waved, their bright blonde hair whipping onto their cheeks and back into the air again. We needed to find open lands and call ourselves tumbleweeds again. It was time to roll around like crinkled up balls, finding home within rather than where we’d blow. Darleen was sleeping on her little ragged pillow, the corners of her old lips pressed on the hot single-paned dust. Every time I took my sleep at the window seat that searing glass would fry my cracked lips like an egg in a hot skillet, so I gave it to Darleen on every bus. I watched the baggy creature breathe, in, out, clutching her carpetbag, the cars rolling past her without her knowing, leaving waves unreturned. She had at least three decades on me, maybe four. I never asked her age because she never tacked a date onto anything. Every story started with “Once,” and the cold facts blew into the wind unnoticed and undesired. I don’t remember how she and I met, only that she started joining me in one of two years that stuck with me, 1990. That’s when my wife left me. Judy had ambition, a Stanford grad who waited till year three of our marriage to say I was too wild. Too crazy, she said. Said I should go off and live like the wolf I was becoming. So I did. “Mind if I…” a withered man came up and pushed past my knee, pointing his ticket towards Darleen’s seat. He was clean cut, slight, little white hairs still clinging to the sides of his head. The plaid shirt he wore tucked into his chocolate twill pants was sky blue and he had fastened a bolo tie around the collar. We had made it to Nashville and the sun burned the leather bus seat onto my bare back like squealing bacon. “Darleen,” I said, nudging her feeble shoulders. She was fragile, like a little paper crane with salty, pinned-back hair and a bright quilted skirt that grazed her dry wrinkled calves. “Darleen,” I said, “this fool wants your seat.” “Buzz off,” she mumbled, nestling back into the pillow like an annoyed cat and touching her scrunched lips again to the window. “Sleeping.” That old buzzard just kept looking at me, like I was going to tell Darleen to leave. “Look, man,” I patted Darleen on the knee of her long embroidered skirt, “this one ain’t going nowhere. You’re gonna have to find another spot.” He looked around at the full bus and swallowed, his wrinkled little adam’s apple bobbing as he turned back to me. “Sir…” he leaning forward, inching his twill pants leg further past my knee. “Whoa,” I said, rising from the leather that ripped my sweaty back. I put a finger to the oblong turquoise pendent on his bolo tie. “You listen good, bub. She. Ain’t. Movin’.” The middle-aged couple in front of us turned their heads halfway, just towards the isle, and so did the teenage girls across from us. Nobody would look me in the eyes. I was used to that. That old man squeaked again. No words, just a feeble little cry, his eyes resting again on Darleen. “Hey.” This was the last straw. “Buddy. You. Don’t. Look at her.” 29


dystopia

You Have to Make a Little Hell

Before You Get to Heaven

a thought essay by David Renton

A lot happened this month in Dystopia. Mitt Romney insulted London and the Olympics, showing himself to be an insensitive elitist while simultaneously embarrassing himself, his country, and England. Corporations like Toys ‘R’ Us and Wal-Mart are still raking in regularly massive profits while paying peanuts to their employees who work second or third jobs or live on Welfare. Everybody is up in arms because Chik-fil-A funds anti-gay causes and PACs, but the right wing agenda is not limited to the chicken people. Carl’s Jr. has been funding anti-abortion movements, Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan is a devout Catholic and uses his company to fund projects like Operation Rescue, Right to Life, Priests for Life and the Committee to End State-Funded Abortion in Michigan, and the list goes on for numerous companies across the country. The point is, this is nothing new. Corporations are often corrupt and they often use their wealth to fund their own private agendas. But why be surprised? After all they’re “people,” right? In other religious bigotry news, in the wake of the tragedy at Aurora, the so-called “Batman Shooting,” more people than I care to list came out and blamed the event on something related to religion, sin, or even evolution. Texas Representative Louis Gohmert said that

the killings happened because America turned its back on God. According to the Alternet.com: During a radio interview on the Heritage Foundation’s “Istook Live!” show, Gohmert was asked why he believes such senseless acts of violence take place. Gohmert responded by talking about the weakening of Christian values in the country. “You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place,” Gohmert said. But that’s just the beginning. Mike Huckabee, a former candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential election, actually had the audacity to say the following: “Ultimately, we don’t have a crime problem or a gun problem – or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. And since we ordered God out of our schools and communities, the military and public conversations, you know, we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.” In other words, it’s our own damn fault for not loving God more. As if Christian history is so 30 23


dystopia

wrong, but unhealthy. Without a god, if we really unanimously rejected the notion, we would not know truth, we would be philosophers, questioners of reality, skeptics, and maybe even dreamers, but it is difficult to be bigots when you have only questions and no delusions of truth.

pristinely free of violence, murder, and sin (I’ll refer you to the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Crusades, but that’s just the tip of the iceburg). Evangelical pastor Jerry Newcombe even goes so far as to blame the victims. To hear him tell it, the gunmen was the hand of God punishing them and they are, in his words, “going to a terrible place.” So, here’s a nice little cross section of that famed Christian love. God killed your family, they deserved it, and they’re burning in hell. He might as well should have ended with “Oh, yeah, and fuck you.” But Christians don’t use those kinds of words. But this is just one example of the dozens, even hundreds, of bigoted, biased, and insensitive remarks about a dark day in American history, a day that shouldn’t have happened, and is further enhanced by happening so close in time and geography to the attacks at Columbine.

Then there is the conversion issue. Religious people, like those political surveyors that call to get you to vote their way, or telemarketers that want you to drop your cable company and try theirs, are pushing through coercion, empty promises, and emotional arguments to mind fuck you into joining their team. I’ve been to church, I’ve watched them count the numbers, the worldwide statistics for who loves Jesus versus who loves Mohammed or Jehovah. They literally compare the numbers like an executive meeting in a corporation and say, “We need to step up our game, we aren’t doing well enough.” And as twisted, as vulgar and warped as that is, it’s further compounded by the myth that God wants them to be acting in this ridiculous way.

Still, the story goes on. Pastor Rick Warren, one of those guys you see in those churches the size of malls talking about how loving God can get you all your magical wishes, said that when you tell people they are evolved from animals they will act like it.

There are not enough pages in the world for me to express how offensive I find the entire notion of “evangelism.” That’s what they call it, by the way, it’s a verb meaning preaching the gospel to people to get them to love God. Youth are encouraged to do it by knocking on doors like vacuum salesmen. People from all walks of life, old and young, in the church are encouraged to find ways to fit God into their conversations every day so people will know that they are a follower and will some day ask them about “salvation.” This stuff is real and I find it disgusting. We’ve taken the dream of a higher being full of love and compassion and warped him into a hybridization of a political party and a cheap commercial product.

Which makes sense, because animals are always stalking up and down theaters with assault rifles, body armor, and tear gas. Do you ever just wonder what the world would look like if everyone was an atheist? My view from Dystopia this month: religion sucks and it is the source of more pain than peace. Religion empowers people to feel self-important in so many different ways. They feel they know the truth which inspires them to feel entitled to judge others against that truth. This is not only

Finally, overlooking issues of hypocrisy, self-delusion, or even just simply misinterpreting your 31


own sacred texts, there is the hot button issue of judgment. Now, I’m not talking about quietly hating people for being stupid like I do. I’m not even talking about looking at someone and knowing they are on crack. I’m talking about seeing a lifestyle that runs contrary to your own personal dogma and interpreting that as somehow giving you the right to protest with picket signs at the funeral of a fallen soldier. I’m talking about harassing young girls outside of a Planned Parenthood, or bombing abortion clinics, or burning the Koran. Religion engenders a culture of hate. You want to see a dystopian future, that’s it. A world overrun by bigots slaughtering and imprisoning anyone that is different. I am about to lose some of you here, but I feel this needs to be said. You tell me how the mentality of “all Jews must die,” or “all black people are beneath me” is any different from “you’re all sinners and you will be punished.” There is no difference at all. It is this attitude of drawing a line and saying you are one way and everyone else is another and therefore wrong. It is this mentality of othering that has inspired some of the darkest pages in human history -- slavery, the Holocaust, the slaughtering of the Indians… when you look at it this way they really aren’t any different than the aforementioned Crusades, Witch Trials or Inquisition. It all comes down to that moment where you tell yourself these people aren’t human, they’re just… pick a word. Indians. Blacks. Jews. Sinners. Gentiles. Animals. Women. It all comes down to a way of thinking that allows you to see someone as inferior and once you do that you can do anything to that person. My point is, religion is a source of more turmoil and destruction in the world than it is of hope. When we think of jihadists what are we thinking of? Religion. When we think of the abortion issue what comes up? Religion. The division between the left and the right in America is what? Largely religious. It goes on and on.

But you want to know something else that’s really funny? Our abuse of the planet, of nature and the animals is also largely religious. There was a time where North America was inhabited by a different people, they were scattered in many places with many tribal names, but they all had a religion that shared one common point of view: the land is the source of life and should be treasured, protected and guarded. But the religion of the invading Europeans said differently. It tells of a man and a woman placed in a garden by their maker. He tells them that they are the guardians and keepers of the animals. And somehow, despite the peaceful nature of those scriptures, people then and people today are still interpreting that to mean one thing: the world is yours to do with as you please. Am I going too far? No, I’m not. I sincerely believe that the dark side of religion plays a part in all of today’s problems. Environmental issues, issues of war or hatred, issues of bigotry and intolerance, the suffering of homosexuals, the suffering of animals, the plight of minorities, all can be traced back to a corrupt faith. But I’ll do you one better. Greed, the capitalist drive to get more and hoard more, can be traced back to religion. There was a time in the early Catholic church when the Pope did not allow the borrowing of money. It was literally a sin to go into debt. But one day a man named John Calvin expressed an idea called “predestination.” He said that God already knew who was picked to be saved and who was going to hell. The people God picked for salvation were called “elect.” Suddenly the Pope had a question to answer, how do you know if you’re one of the elect? The decision came down that God’s elect would prosper in life and the damned would struggle. So the law of borrowing money was overturned. The Pope says you can go into debt now, and if you turn it into a fortune then God loves you, if 15 32


you end up poor and destitute owing your bookie then you’re going to hell. In this moment two things happened. First, a culture of money trading, borrowing, greed and corruption was born – it was only a matter of time before people figured out how to make money by seeing that the money borrowed could never be repaid and the age of the tycoon began. Second, an association between wealth and spiritual favor was born. The capitalist urge to succeed began from a desire to get to heaven and in that time it has evolved to the point where no one even remembers that moment, but we all still feel it, we all still want to be prosperous and know that if we aren’t then we will suffer terribly.

There are examples like this all throughout history from multiple religions and they are all just as damaging and just as flawed. The point then is simple. Whether you are talking about greed, bigotry, violence, hatred, judgment, ignorance, division, racism or sexism there is always a religious core to the issue. Religion is a destructive force that preys on the weak, empowers the rude, and adds fuel to the fire of people’s impulse to control one another. It creates castes, classes, denominations, dividing lines and arbitrary law that have split this world into so many factions that we are left with one of two choices: stop or be destroyed. pp

Even if we don’t understand why, my point is the roots of this cultural craving date back to a religious pronouncement. But it isn’t just Christianity, the origins of karma in ancient Hinduism had more to do with crowd control than morality or spirituality. By requiring people to work hard in their station of birth with the promise of rebirth in a higher caste in the next life you effectively ensure a devoted poor, working class. So, again, it’s a dichotomy of money and faith.

Sources: Seltzer, Sarah. “The 6 Most Offensive Things Said in the Wake of the Aurora Shooting.” Alternet. 24 July 2012. Web. 28 July 2012.

D a v i d R enton is a church brat by he ritage only. As a man he firmly bel i e v e s i n the im portance of ske ptic ism, me ntal and spiritual e duc ation witho u t i n d octrination, and is a c onspirac y the orist only whe re the Catholic c h u rc h is concerned. D avid is a struggling nov e list and work s a day jo b w h e re h e watches people trea t retail workers like second class citizens a n d loses more faith in humanity by the day.

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UTOpia

Directing Democracy: I’ll Take Door Number Three... by Trevor Richardson

You know why we all think the founding fathers were better at Democracy than we are? Because they were. Democracy, for them, was a revolution. It was a heretical notion, an incendiary ideal that warred against the status quo. In the beginning, Democracy was not an inalienable right. Rough men with ironclad conviction had to declare it as such and they fought to earn it. For them it was a privilege you bleed and die to protect. But today, for all of us, for generations now, it’s been a birthright. Like so much in our society, like electricity or running water, it has become a luxury we take for granted and even expect to always have around. In this way our Democracy has more in common with the old monarchies than it does with the dream of the revolutionaries behind the Boston Tea Party or the Declaration of Independence. In our laziness we have become more like old King George than General George Washington. And that is something we should seriously think about.

I trying to present a call to arms. My point is that none of us are really prepared to fight for our Democracy in the way that our forefathers had to.

It’s beyond ironic, it’s tragic. Forget every MTV “Vote Now” commercial. Screw Bono. And to hell with every old person who ever gave you crap because you’re young and probably don’t vote. All of that stuff, even at its height, the most pristine ideal these things represent, is still a shade of what Democracy was in the beginning. The past generations that are so proud of their participation in voting, the corporate movements to try to rally the youth, would have you believe that standing in line for the ballot boxes puts you on the same level as Nathan Hale’s “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Do you see how insignificant our issues are when you put it in perspective? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-voting, nor am

That’s the Declaration of Independence. If you can’t track the meaning through the flowery language then let me just break it down for you. If you find yourself under the heel of a government that rules absolutely, without regard for its people, their wishes, or their needs then it is your responsibility to stand up and change that. Let me run it by you again, from the text of our origin, the sacred scriptures of the American faith, we hear a single voice saying it is your right, it is your duty, to throw off such government.

As we watch the dream of a free republic rot from the inside, destroying itself through fear and greed, we all feel sick and morally outraged, but we do nothing to stop. I include myself in this. I don’t fight for anything and I don’t lead any revolution for change even if I know I should.

Consider this: “But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

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Now, let’s just break this down even further. This poetic fuck you was directed at one thing and one thing only. The King of England, the ruler of the col-


utopia onies, was taxing the people while basically ignoring everything else about them. To put it in simple economic terms, they were paying for a service that they weren’t receiving so they decided to fire him. That’s pretty much “no taxation without representation” in a nutshell. But what about us? Where are we today? I often feel taxed but not represented, but I am also underpaid and overcharged on every commodity required to maintain a life in this country, I am watched everywhere I go, overregulated and under supported, drowning in signs, limits, zones, and districts. I have no authority over an obviously corruptible system of law enforcement despite the fact that they are there to serve me. Our civil liberties have been reduced to a shade of their former glory. Money is the real power in Washington, not the needs of the majority. I am an American and that means I am underappreciated and overworked, I am outsourced by the bosses, outnumbered by the minority, outweighed by lightweights and outshined by dull men with the authority of stocks, bonds and corporate funding. I am an American and that means I’m tired. It doesn’t matter what the politics are, it doesn’t matter what the legislation said, it doesn’t matter what the deficit is, none of it matters except for this: Americans have been displeased by their government for decades and feel impotent, ill-equipped, and unable to do a damn thing about it. We feel reduced under absolute despotism, but we also feel unable to stand up and demand change because our options are frighteningly limited. For those that cry out for change we perceive only two options. Protest or revolt, and they both suck.

This is the situation, as I see it. The Problem with Protesting: I’m mad, I want to protest. What do I do? Well, we can go walk up and down the street together. Or, wait, let’s go stand around in the same spot for a really long time…

to be heard or noticed. You sit. You fast. You stop. We need action, not a stance through inaction. That has been the fatal flaw of every movement since the beginning. Everything we’ve ever done or ever tried to do has still been playing from a position of weakness. It all comes down to begging. We do radical things to get the attention of our rulers in the hope that they will listen and grant us our requests. The trouble is, our rulers care less and less each year, we are too easy to ignore. We can protest till we’re blue in the face, but the work of our Senators and Congressmen will go on, unimpeded and unchanging. The flaw in the protest plan is the builtin stopping point. You rally, gathering in one place, make your demonstration and wait for something to happen, but nothing ever does. A protestor employs the same tactics as the bum on the street with his cardboard sign, the sign gets more and more dramatic, more drastic, day by day, but he is still standing there hoping someone with more than him will toss him a bone. The Problem with Rebellion: We live in a time where any serious resistance could just be ruled terrorism and we’ll disappear the way of so many Communists in the 50s or witches in Salem circa 1692. We’re not just held captive by a flawed economic structure or an immovable t wo-party political system, we’re imprisoned by our own vocabulary, our own talking points. If someone today stood up and said it was time to overturn the system, start over in the name and spirit of John Adams, the media terms would come down on him like a ton of bricks. Anarchist. Revolutionary. TERRORIST. Violence doesn’t work because the second you take up arms against your corrupt rulers, even if you are in the right, you put yourself in the same fraternity as the terrorists that bombed the World Trade Center or school shooters or that Batman guy or Timothy McVey and the Oklahoma City Bombing. See my point? We truly are hindered by our own vocabulary, our own history. In this day and age it would be nearly

Sit-in, bed-in, marching, occupying, hunger strike, labor strike… do you ever feel like protesting is just boldly going right up to the edge and stopping? You stand outside the building and wait 35


utopia impossible to rally a sizeable following because any movement you start can be destroyed in the media with a few emotionally charged phrases.

That is why I launched this magazine with an article about Directing Democracy. It embodies everything that Subtopian dreams about. I’m saying that if there is any hope for a brighter future it is in the hands of the people, not the elected officials ruling the people. Call it anarchism, call it radical, heretical, call it beans and franks, call it whatever the hell you want, but I truly believe that the days of representative government are waning. The system has too many flaws and we are reaching an awakening that allows for countrywide communication via new technology while simultaneously losing faith in the few we have put in place to lead us. That is what Subtopia is, we are balancing between two possible outcomes, a new age in America for hope and prosperity, or a time of upheaval, betrayal, war and doubt. It will be one or the other, and this in-between time, this odious balancing act will not last much longer. Things will change, for better or worse. My vision of what “better” would look like actually looks a hell of a lot like what Directing Democracy is already doing.

The impulse is to storm the halls of Washington and say, “You aren’t hearing us, we are not being represented.” According to our own Declaration of Independence a little revolution is in order. But how? What would it look like? Short of an actual militant occupation of the House of Representatives, and I’m talking going right in and taking a stand, I have no idea. Except, there is still one fatal flaw, one glaring issue the people that make that claim unanimously overlook. If you stormed the Senate and had them all looking at you, what would be your demands? I’ve heard vague notions of rebuilding the system or diminishing corporate power, but seriously, in a practical, pragmatic and logical voice, what would you suggest we do? No idea, huh? And there we find the built-in stopping point for a violent revolution. We might take Congress, but we wouldn’t know what to do with it. So where does that leave us? Peaceful protest isn’t working anymore. A violent movement would be quelled before it even got off the ground. So, based on our only perceivable options, things seem pretty bleak. No revolution through peace or war seems rather final.

For those of you that missed the first article, here’s a little update from the Directing Democracy website:

See, it’s easy to get angry, it’s easy to rage against the machine, but when you get right to that moment of essentially usurping the throne of America what happens afterward? We still have highways to fund, an economy to support, civil servants to pay and a military sinking into debt. Do you just cancel all of that stuff? Does anyone see my point? The only real way to make a stab at a true revolution is to go beyond that stopping point we’re talking about. You can’t just remove a government any more than you can just occupy Wall Street and expect something to happen. You have to do. You have to take action and that means knowing what the next step is. I don’t think there is any one person that has the answer. But with all of us together, self-governing, pooling intellectual and physical resources, maybe we can figure it out. I’m not talking about complaining to the government. I’m talking about being the government and telling them, in a detailed, manageable report, precisely what we want. 36

Directing Democracy is an experiment in open sourced government. Pulling from the collective intelligence of Americans online, participants will decide, shape and craft a piece of legislation. Using a specially designed forum, the community will determine an issue, discuss the specifics, and write a bill. The community then elects three representatives to carry their bill from shore to shore, listening, learning and shaping the final piece of legislation. On September 10th, when Congress returns from their summer vacation, the bill’s representatives will hand deliver the legislation to each of our 435 congresspeople. The entire process will be filmed for a feature length documentary to premier in the spring of 2013. The bill will be written by the participants of


utopia Directing Democracy. Those who get involved via their specially designed forum will be a part of an ongoing process to handcraft the proposal for Congress. Once the initial proposal is drafted, delegates will be chosen to take the bill around the country for people’s support, input, and involvement. These delegates will be chosen based on video submissions to the Directing Democracy website. According to the site: The representatives will not only be the focus of the film, but the final editors, researchers, and investigators of our Bill. Producers will select nine video submissions from potential Representatives.

cause the country was too big for Connecticut to talk to Maryland. Today New York can talk to California and there isn’t even a satellite delay. So, the second variable is how technology has made the need for representatives greatly diminished. It is actually physically possible to represent ourselves. So add it up, frustrated citizenry demanding a change in the system plus an age of digital communication equals a third option where we once only had two. This experiment in Democracy offers a new door to walk through as a nation. We aren’t protesting things we don’t like and we aren’t destroying those that stand in our way. We are truly, finally, self-governing in the way this country was intended. The technology has united us enough as a people where it is finally possible to write our own destiny together. The point is we don’t need representatives the way we used to any more than we really need an electoral college. We can make the change by literally writing it. Period.

Because the current structure of our policy operates politically, we will use the existing political terminology as a way to mimic the current reality of America’s governance. The submission of three self-identified Conservatives, Independents, and Liberals will be selected by producers for the community’s final vote.

My point is this, despite my youthful naïveté and my personal dread that this movement will simply go unnoticed by the populace and the politicos, I truly believe that this is a movement capable of action rather than inaction. They’re not standing in the street and waiting. They’re not breaking down the door and demanding. They’re organizing, knocking, coming in politely and reverently, and offering up the change they want in person. My point, guys, is this is new and not to be ignored.

So, if you haven’t already figured out where I’m going with this, I see Directing Democracy as a system that wisely takes advantage of what is already out there. They’re using both the good and the bad for the benefit of a solid endeavor. People are tired, fed up, and ready for a new plan. That’s the first variable in our equation. The second is the presence of the Visit www.directingdemocracy.com for more internet, computers, global communications networks, satellites, and electronic banking. These technologies information on how to get involved. pp have made the world smaller in so many ways. In the beginning, we needed representatives to talk for us be--Trevor Richardson is the author of American Bastards and the founder of The Subtopian Magazine. His second novel, Dystopia Boy, is currently under review for publication, but his real focus, his main passion, is seeing the people and philosophies behind Subtopian flourish. Trevor wants to know you, he isn’t some inaccessible editor/writer, he is just a dude and he wants to hear your ideas. Email him at trevor@americanbastards. com with questions, event ideas, dreams or pumpkin pie recipes. 37


Bombardment write about growing up in poverty (when your parents can’t afford toilet paper and you have to resort to ripping pages out of the phone book, you know your fucked in life).

Here it is, another issue, another article. And this month there is the complete absence of anything whiny or selfindulgent for me to write about. I mean if I looked hard enough I’m sure I could find something in my life that would make for a half decent column for this issue. I could write about my father and my childhood. I could write about the fact that my mother has MS, my grandmother is likely about to die, and they just found that my uncle has cancer and the docs are going to take one of his kidneys. I’m also still trying to figure out this thing that happened between this girl I know and myself, still reeling from that whole situation. Or I could even

But of course I think I need a break from myself, writing wise. Although I am my favorite subject (I mean fuck this article has started with me talking about myself) I’ve been thinking about much larger issues. I write a monthly column where I more or less have free reign over what I say. You’d think I would use this forum to express something more meaningful and forward moving to society than whining 38


about my troubles. So I guess for this issue that’s what I’ve been thinking about doing. I’ve been contemplating issues. It’s another election year, the economy is in the fucking toilet, people leave college these days with huge amounts of debt and no possible job prospects, and Justin Beiber is more popular than ever. You know I’ve been thinking about the real issues troubling this country.

Yeah, these situations have come up before and yeah, people have said more or less similar things, but I sat wondering the other day about revolution. Revolution is a strange thing. I started thinking about revolution the other day when I was talking to someone about all those occupy protests that had been going on (well, they were talking and I pretended to listen). The people seem to want revolution, extreme economic and social change—does that sound right to you? (Do they even still do those occupy protests anymore? I really haven’t heard about them in a while to be honest). Off topic, sorry. Here’s the reason that there will not be revolution by protesting. Protesting doesn’t work. Period. It didn’t work in the sixties and it ain’t going to work now. The sixties fucked this country. War is not the answer. Violence is not the answer. I’m sure every one has heard at least one of those two phrases. Well, has it ever occurred to anyone that violence is the answer? Has it ever crossed anyone’s mind at all that if we were all allowed to go out and just take what we want and kill mercilessly that it might just make the world a better place?

And I’ve come to a very good conclusion about some of these things… There is absolutely, positively nothing I can say that hasn’t been already said about shit like this in the past. It’s all the same old moldy bread. Our elections are a joke, they got to be rigged. This year we get two choices: a rich untrustworthy asshole who will likely screw us over and take our money or a man who has already proven himself to be politically impotent (he passed a healthcare bill, which the mass populace hates and he raised the price of my cigarettes, which means I’m paying more to get cancer, thanks). The economy sucks because we elected a redneck into the white house who went blazing into poor countries thinking he was some sort of cowboy (nuking them would have been much cheaper and more time efficient— granted that’s if you believe that they didn’t know where that Bin Laden guy was the whole time). Not only did this fuck our economy but our politicians have been selling this country out from under us since NAFTA. This was all according to plan. College is for people who will only maintain the status quo. And Justin Beiber is just like all the other mediocre fucks that came before him, promoting mediocrity and lower the standards of our society, like all other pop stars before him (and yes, I just quoted Bill Hicks).

“Kirby, that’s insane. How could you suggest such a thing?” Well, many reasons I suppose. But the main one I’ll use here is “when has violence not been able to get the job done?” Revolution? Get up and do something, don’t talk about it, just act. A little less conversation, a little more action. Don’t get picket sighs and sit in groups or walk down street or starve yourself. Take action. I’m not saying go out and kill someone, I’m saying stop talking about change and enact change through assertive proactive action, rather 39


reviews than the passive action of group protest (or article writing for that matter).

Sorry, that was a short tangent.

Here is a truth about revolution. Revolutions are paid for with blood. Unless you’re willing to take these fucker ’s lives, they aren’t going to give you shit. If you don’t believe me, look at anything deemed a revolution. They have always been wrought with violence and often it is a violent act that really triggers revolution. Just look at this country’s history. The Civil Rights Movement for instance, that really didn’t truly turn into a revolution until the murder of Emit Till. Or you could look at the American Revolution. That started with the Boston Massacre (some could argue that the Civil Rights Movement and the American Revolution had started long before these two events, but let’s face it, it ain’t a revolution until people die).

Despite popular misconception, Kirby Light isn’t real. He’s an illusion. He’s been published in various online and offline magazines and you can find his

Some will steadfastly disagree with me when they read this, I know. They’ve had that whole ‘violence bad’ thing pushed into their heads for years, like the rest of us. Some will most likely shrug off my argument by saying I’m young, trying to disregard my argument based on anything other than the merits of the argument itself.

ebooks “Cheap Thrills and Night Terrors” and “No Solace for the Innocent” on the Kindle store.

But I don’t need to prove myself right. I am correct simply by the nature of the way things work. Violence is the answer. It always has been. Docile, obedient, and stupid is how every government has wanted its people. I’m certainly not advocating anyone go out and commit acts of violence, by no means to that. I’m just sayin, if you want change or utopia, a lot of people are going to have to die first.

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The Critic’s Critic

David Renton Reviews

Comicbookmovie.com’s Review of The Dark Knight Rises by Neobaggins I’m writing this to take issue with the Dark Knight Trilogy as the greatest comic book franchise ever. Neobaggins put it this way, “All in all, I was disappointed. Disappointed I couldn’t land those IMAX tickets for the midnight show. It’s an awesome [comic book movie] in the series of the greatest [comic book movies] and the best [comic book movie] trilogy.” I’m going to be the blasphemer here and just say it: I don’t really like Christian Bale’s Batman and this isn’t the greatest comic book movie ever. (A pause for the gasps to dull down) There, I said it, we can move on. But seriously, let’s just take a minute here and think. Everybody hates the raspy voice thing. Everybody, don’t deny it, even if these Dark Knight movies are your most favorite thing you know the raspy voice sucks. It’s like the Ewoks in Star Wars. You can love those movies, you still know those little bears totally suck, dude. Okay, but it’s not just the voice, man. I mean, it is, but it goes beyond just sound. That voice is so obviously difficult for Bale to maintain that he has to constrict and contort his vocal chords, throat, and lips into such bizarre places that his mouth is borderline pornographic. And his mouth is the only part of his face you can see! Seriously. This isn’t just when he’s yelling at some bad guy or whatever. This is all the time. He’s just talking about the plan with Commissioner Gordon and his tongue’s all wagging around and his lips are curling up on both sides and there’s spit…it’s bad, man, that’s all I’m saying.

warner bros. pictures

safe to say that the Batsuit is as functional a piece of equipment as an Army guy’s Kevlar. It isn’t just for show, the suit is a tool. Now, as a tool, doesn’t it seem a little silly that he’s globbing on all that black eye makeup whenever he suits up? I’m serious. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but any other Batman movie and I seriously don’t think about the eye makeup. It’s just part of the costume for the movie, Bruce Wayne isn’t supposed to actually have on eye shadow and I can prove it. Remember in Batman Returns how they show the eye makeup then they cut away and when they cut back it’s gone, just in time for him to remove the mask to reveal a perfectly makeup free face and kiss Michelle Pfeiffer? This says that the makeup isn’t really there, it’s just there for the movie to make the mask look right, but he isn’t actually wearing it in the story. Get me? Probably not. Okay. Well, I’m just trying to say that the uber-realism of the Nolan Batman makes me feel like Bruce Wayne is actually putting on black eye shadow every time he fights crime and this seems silly. I mean, when you see him fighting Bane in the middle of Gotham and it’s so damn bright that you can see the sun glinting off of his grease paint it’s like, “Whoa, Bruce Wayne seriously put on some Halloween makeup and went to town on some bad guys.” To me, this amplifies the strangeness of what he is doing and ultimately amplifies the strangeness of Batman by

But it’s worse than that. It’s the costume. See, the old Batman movies don’t get judged as harshly because there was a level of silliness to the outfit and even the man inside of it. They kind of get off the hook for a lot of the stupidity (plastic nipples, Schumacher, really?), but Bale’s Batman is so serious, so gritty, and so grounded in reality that even the costume has a number of practical applications. It is literally the source of his power and goes way beyond a guy putting on a suit to scare people. It makes him bullet proof, able to blend into the shadows, and fly! This Batman freakin’ flies, dude. So, go with me on this, I think it’s 83


The Critic’s Critic putting him in such a reality-based setting, a fatal flaw of the franchise.

last conversation between Gordon and Batman in the first movie? I do. He says, “What about escalation? We buy bullet proof vests they buy armor piercing rounds.” Batman escalates the whole game to the point of costumes, theatricality, high-tech prototype weapons, and loads of property damage. And what happens? Some guy tops him by destroying the city with the same exact technology the hero uses to try to stop crime. Does anyone else feel like Batman might not be a little bit responsible here? It’s his bomb, his tanks, his guns (wait, guns? Batman doesn’t use guns) it’s all him. I’m not sure what I think the solution for Gotham would have been, but I’m pretty sure all Batman really did was make everything a whole hell of a lot worse. Just saying.

Next, the shape of the mask looks really weird. You don’t really notice it when he’s flying around in the shadows, but, as I said, this newest Bat-flick has him in broad daylight almost every time you see him. You get a lot of chances to really analyze that costume. The mask is narrow at the top and wedges out around the jaw, the lines look extremely odd as it approaches the aforementioned weird mouth of the raspy, prowrestler pro-smoker impersonator. All around, I can’t stand the look of Batman’s entire head, and this is amplified by the spitty mouth and dumb voice. Next, the cape doesn’t look like it belongs on the costume. It’s this thin little blanket, a cotton looking material on this sleek black body armor. It has the effect of looking like a bed sheet draped over a jet black sports car. Not cool. Now you can make the case that this is just how it has to be because the cape is that memory cloth that makes him able to fly and whatnot. Except for one thing, they didn’t have to design it to be totally lame looking. On top of that, you don’t see any flying in this movie at all so it kind of doesn’t matter. In fact, come to think of it, you see very little in the Dark Knight either. The bat cape is really only truly awesome in Batman Begins, a movie most people seem to have forgotten about.

Now, let’s look at the story itself. It’s full of madcap plotlines that are so heavy-handed, so full of expositional rants repeating, again and again, the same themes that it literally becomes boring. I’m not just talking about “he’s the hero we need, not the hero we deserve” or whatever. I’m talking about all the tons of times somebody’s talking about being a symbol, or someone is talking about being from hell or from the darkness or how this is a reckoning or something needs to be purged. I’m talking about all the times somebody is going to sit around talking about their childhood and how this makes them want to become something scary or tough. Seriously, throughout the whole franchise you get dozens from Bruce Wayne, several from Liam Neeson, at least two from Alfred, three from the Joker, at least one from every love interest, two contradicting storylines from both Bane and Talia in this movie and there are tons more. Plus, go back and watch for this, every single movie has the big climactic explosion it builds to. Batman Begins has the train with the fog machine gizmo rushing toward Wayne Tower, Dark Knight has the bomb on the boat thing, and Rises has the bomb on the truck situation. In every single one of these you have some random character repeating, over and over, some derivative of the line that’s explaining to the audience what is going on with the doomsday device counting down on top of them. Begins has some old guy going, “The pressure is building in the water thingies and it’s gonna blow,” and Dark Knight has the prison dude on the boat just saying over and over, “Shit ain’t goin’ down like this, you can try to press that button to the bomb that the Joker put there and we learned about five minutes ago but keep hearing about over my dead body, you gotta come through me sukkah,” and then Rises has the Talia character (among others) being like “Oh, no, he’s trying to get the bomb back to the device that will conveniently deactivate it and you have to stop him.” Then something happens and she’ll

Let’s review: Mouth/jaw: only visible part of the actor, looks weird because of the things said actor has to do to be able to lisp out his gravelly death metal vocals. Mask: poor lines only amplify aforementioned actor’s weird mouth and jaw. Cape: looks like a child’s blanket and/or costume cape purchased at Target. Now that I have that out of the way, you’ll understand why I can safely say I just don’t really like this Batman. On top of the design, however, I have to take further issue with the flawed ambition of removing the comic whimsy from the Batman universe. By placing him in a realistic, crime-drama inspired atmosphere, a world in which a man really could become the Batman, it only subjects the entire thing to more criticism, not less. The more real the world you put your character in, the more you take the comic out of the comic movie, the more ridiculous the idea of a superhero becomes. He winds up looking one of two ways: psychopath or moron in a costume. I don’t care what the movies say, Batman is a bad idea. Remember the 84


The Critic’s Critic

Arthur Brand critiques

say “No, drive straight, because I need to explain this bomb situation again, see…the thing is, he’s trying to get it to the device that will conveniently deactivate it and we have to stop him.”

“Introducing...Spider-Man!” by Erik Henriksen

Am I a jerk? Am I nitpicking? Dude, probably, I do that. But seriously, I just feel like this isn’t the perfect cinematic masterpiece everyone makes it out to be. I think Nolan does a really good job of trying to hide the fact that you’re all watching a Batman movie. The reason everyone likes these things even if they don’t like superheroes is because you don’t really watch a superhero movie. You watch a movie about cops, social decadence, crooks, bank robberies, bombs, politics, anarchy and ninjas and every now and then you catch a glimpse of a Bat Signal. It’s like they turn it on just to say, “Hey, don’t forget. This is Batman, not the Sopranos.”

A Review for The Portland Mercury June 28, 2012 “Jesus Christ and Spider-Man: Perhaps the only two fictional characters whose origin story everybody knows.” That’s the beginning to the critique of The Amazing Spider-Man in The Portland Mercury. I picked this critique to review because it is an obvious example of the number one negative point I have heard people make about the newest Spidey incarnation. Everybody complains about the origin story. First of all, I think it is a little short-sighted to assume that everybody knows the origin of Spider-Man. Not everybody does. That’s just a fact. In truth, the only origin as familiar as Jesus Christ is Superman, a story not only as well-known but oddly similar. But Spidey is not as familiar in the details as Superman and there really are people out there that don’t know how he came into being.

I’ve never seen the Sopranos, but you get my point. So, once more, let’s review: Heavy handed conversations and plotlines that are meant to force emotion and sympathy. Long-winded expositional dialogue. Expositional shrieks at climactic moments to enforce plot devices as if the audience is too dumb to keep up. And, most importantly, a disloyalty to the character and the traditions of decades that nobody seems upset to see getting cut out and spit on. The Batman I grew up with would never hang up the cowl for eight years, no matter what. Bane, the comic book Bane, is the guy that breaks Batman, but he fights his way back overcoming a broken spine and a broken spirit, but this Batman is already broken before this Bane imposter came along and that changes the whole dynamic. This Batman is weak.

However, let’s pretend I concede that point (which I don’t). Let’s pretend that everybody knows everything about Spider-Man. That doesn’t automatically override the necessity to begin at the beginning. Even if everybody did know there is still one thing we ought to consider. The origin story serves an important function and if you leave it out then it opens the door to a lot of problems. See, the reason people such as our esteemed Mr. Henriksen are saying we don’t need another origin for Spider-Man is because we just had a movie not ten years ago. The idea being that the movie and the story are still fresh in our minds. On the surface this argument seems logical, except for one small problem. Have you considered that THE LAST MOVIE

But most of all. That fucking voice sucks, dude. I can’t look the other way on this. Read more at http://www.comicbookmovie.com/news/ ?a=64767#U1jQzfmDuX8pVJKL.99 pp

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The Critic’s Critic Spider-Man actor to follow in the timeline of the last one. Like sliding in a new Aunt Viv when the other lady on Fresh Prince got pregnant and wanted to be a mom. Or the way the Batman franchise replaced Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal, or how they kept giving us new Bruce Waynes prior to the Batman Begins reboot. The point is the origin story is the only way to give us a fully realized clean slate so, if you really hate it so much, you can at minimum acknowledge it as a necessary evil. Now, my last point is that this isn’t the “same old origin story,” the writers were building a fresh background in which Peter didn’t just get his powers from a random accident in which a spider got dosed with radiation or whatever. The spiders were created by his father and his family friend, Doctor Connors, this is a new idea that breaks away from the traditional storyline and serves to offer a more dynamic and even less serendipitous approach to the circumstances of Spider-Man’s origin. That makes it a unique idea and well worth reshooting. So, to put it succinctly, the origin story is as important to our new connection to this version of SpiderMan as a first date is to that new relationship you sony pictures USA hope will last. In other words, you’re wrong mister movie critic. It had to be this way and it was, for IS STILL FRESH IN OUR MINDS? It is precisely this filmgoer, a welcome experience and a great ride. because we are trying to do a reboot on Spider-Man This Spider-Man had a sense of humor, the witty with a new actor that we need the origin story to be banter in the clutch of combat, and the all-important rehashed. You can’t reboot from the middle, you web shooters which serve to enhance our appreciareboot from the beginning. The only way to establish tion of Peter’s genius, add a level of chaos to the Andrew Garfield as our new Spider-Man and backaction because they can malfunction, run out of fluid log the memory of Tobey Maguire is to put him in as or not work underwater (which we witness in the every day average Peter Parker and walk him through film) plus they’re way less gross than the Sam Raimi the transformation. We aren’t going through this idea of jizzing webbing out of your hands. Oh, yeah, process because we forgot how Spidey got his powand with all that in mind, we wouldn’t have gotten ers, we’re going through it because we need to see the web shooters back without redoing the origin. So Andrew Garfield become our new Spider-Man. there. Here’s why that’s important. Whether we knew it or not going in, even if throughout the entire movie we were telling ourselves “This is a reboot, not another sequel following Spider-Man 3,” we wouldn’t get the emotional palate cleanse of recreating SpiderMan fresh. It would just feel like we slid in a new

Read the full review here: http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/introducing-spider-man/Content?oid=6401009 pp

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Steep to Dream:

The first five chapters of Kirby Light’s novel about ordinary nightmares 1 Maybe thirty children attended my fifth grade class. We all sat in groups of four, desks pushed together in little clusters, facing each other. We kept the desks clean and the insides neatly arranged. The room was very organized. Rulers, crayons, markers, poster paper, construction paper, and other assorted items that have slipped through the cracks in my memory were stacked and lined up on the counter by the window or stored in the cabinets at the back of the room. We hung our coats neatly to the side, on hooks fashioned into the walls. We hung our backpacks there also. Our teacher made sure of this. He would kick backpacks and coats around that students left on the floor. “Who’s is this?” he’d ask. “You need to come and pick this up.” Sometimes, on bad days, he would sweep all the papers off the top of a kid’s messy desk and make that kid clean it up in front of the class. He’d say, “You think you’re going to make it in life being disorganized like this?” And Leanne looked up and saw the dark Cowboy standing in the doorway of the farmhouse. His eyes caused spiked ice to form down her backside. He gazed at her with colorless eyes and she knew that this was not a pleasant visitor passing through the prairie. Next to the chalk board hung a poster covered in packets. In each little packet sat four colored slips. The first color was blue, the second was green, the third was orange, and the last was red. If a child misbehaved, let’s say he left his coat on the floor, or he talked when the teacher was talking, or was loud, or didn’t do his homework, or did something the teacher didn’t care for in general, the child had to go up to the board and change the card. Green was a warning, orange meant the child had to stand in the corner; sometimes they’d stand there for a long time, almost completely ignored and forgotten by the teacher. Red meant the child had to stay behind after school, for what? I never found out. “In life there are rules,” he’d say. “It’s best you learned now how to follow them.” The classroom was very white and bare of things you might find in other fifth grade classes, posters, student art projects, those long strips of paper that had the alphabet in cursive printed on them. “What do you want?” Leanne asked. “Take out your math homework,” my teacher said one day, as he had done many times before. The cowboy smiled, sneered, crookedly. His teeth were yellow and brown. He stepped forward and his jacket moved, revealing the axe. Nine year old Joe saw the man out of the corner of his eye, heard his mother scream and the loud thud as the cowboy brought down the axe on her. Joe thought to run to his mother but instead turned and slid under the bed as she screamed and another loud thump sounded from the falling axe. 87


Our teacher had heavy wrinkles on his forehead and no smile lines. Everyone got into their desks and took out the math worksheets they had received the day before. I didn’t. I sat at my desk writing a little story on a single sheet of paper. In the story a traveler in the Wild West slaughters a homesteader family. I sat at my desk writing down the details of the traveler. He stood, tall and dark, with grey stringy hair. He had skin like leather, made that way from hours in the prairie sun. I called him the Skeleton Cowboy and he was thinner than thin, hardly there at all. He peered out from under his beaten cowboy hat with a cold gaze. He wore just tattered pants and a long tattered jacket. He wore a necklace laced with teeth. The cowboy used an axe to kill the family. With each blow he slung streams of blood over the bare wood of the farmhouse, a dark crooked grin across his face. “Take out your math homework,” my teacher repeated. Joe’s mother stopped screaming. Only the sound of the falling axe remained. “Momma!” Joe heard his brother say. Joe heard his older brother’s footsteps. Then a loud crash and more thuds and cracks and grunts from the cowboy as he worked the axe. The sound reminded Joe of when his father killed and butchered one of the pigs the previous fall. I wrote on and on. The story was just a child’s story, bad, but good in a way, for me as I wrote it. A creature born of late night horror and western movies I watched after my parents went to bed. In writing the story, it was as if I had found some strange room in my house that no one knew of and it became like my own little exit off to the side. I could smell the prairie, could see the man in the tattered clothes, feel the coldness of his gaze, and know the fear of the boy under the bed as that was also the fear I sometimes felt when my father was angry. The sound of the axe ended and Joe lay under the bed, frozen with fear. He worked up the courage to look. He leaned over a little and peered through the doorway of the bedroom. The room beyond was red. Of his mother, Joe saw only her outstretched arm, the white sleeve of her dress stained with blood. Across the room near the front door the Cowboy knelt over Joe’s brother. The cowboy had his back to Joe and was fiddling with his brother’s head. Joe could see his brother’s forehead peek around the Cowboy’s shoulder and wiggle. Joe looked to the front door. He climbed out from under the bed and ran. He heard the Cowboy yell: “Goddamnit!” and then something else. But little Joe was running quickly into the night and thought not of listening, only of fleeing. The teacher said my name. After my name he said, “take out your math homework.” He had said my name with emphasis and punctuation, but I hadn’t heard him. I sat writing. People shuffled papers about and sat their homework in front of them. I wrote that the boy in the story reached the river and felt the cool mist coming from it. I wrote that he raised a fist into the air. Just at the moment where the boy vowed revenge against the killer, my teacher came over. He grabbed the sheet of paper I was writing the story on and jerked it away. My pencil made a long black scar across it. I looked up at him. “You’re wasting your time,” he said, “take out your homework.” He crumpled up my story and threw it in the trash.

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2 Then, fourteen years later, I caught the reflection of myself in the large dark windows of a bar. In the reflection a cigarette hung from my mouth, strands of my hair had come unfurled from my pony tail. My gut poked over my belt. My beard needed to be trimmed. I stood there, drunk, staring, holding the flame of a lighter halfway up to the cigarette. For a split second, in my drunken haze, I wondered if this was going to be the rest of my life. “Hey,” someone shouted. “You kissed my girl!” I turned from my thoughts. A tall guy stood at the entrance of the bar, glaring at me. He was about six four and his chest probably measured two good feet across. His arms resembled logs and they were covered in thick black hair. A Darwin short image flashed in my head. He marched over to me, passing Elliot, Brent, and Charlie. “You kissed my girl!” the guy shouted again. “Yeah I did,” I said, my unlit cigarette falling from my mouth to the ground, “got a hold of one of her big floppy titties too.” Still too angry about being laid off and Holly not talking to me and too drunk to be scared, I continued talking. I simply needed to blow off steam. “She tasted like butt hole, man,” I lied. “I can’t believe you would hump a dime store cunt like that,” I shouted. After saying it, I tried to recall at what point in time I started using my father’s words. “I need to smoke a cigarette just to get her taste,” I began to say as he reared back and then smashed a fist into my face. Charlie, Elliot, and Brent stood there as I hit the ground behind me. I brought my hand up to my mouth. I pulled it away red. I felt the blood flow over my chin and down my neck. “You hit like an old fuckin woman, dude,” I said. The guy swore and then kicked me repeatedly in the side. He got on top of me and brought his fist down on my head several times. I remember thinking that this guy smelled like beer and stale sweat. Strange, the things you think when you’re drunk and angry. This man’s rage reminded me of when my father and I would fight in my teen years. I got my legs under the guy and flipped him over. I kneed him in the crotch twice and punched him in the face. I’m sure he ended up with a black eye. We rolled around on the sidewalk for a few minutes. My blood streaked across his white shirt. He got back on top and punched me three more times before I lay limp and he stood. “If I see you in this bar again I’m going to rip you in half,” the guy said and then stomped away. I laid there for a moment. The clouds that hung in the night sky were orange from the light pollution of the city. They seemed like rusted clouds to me. The girl had smelt like peaches and tasted like rum. Elliot, Charlie, and Brent came over. Charlie kneeled down and helped me sit up. “Jesus, man,” Charlie said, “are you alright?” I brought a hand up to my face. My left eye swelled. “I’m going to have a black eye,” I said. “I hope it goes away before my job interview.” “Sorry, man,” Elliot said. “It all happened so fast. I was a little too stunned to step in. Wanna go in there and go a second round? We’ll be right behind you.” I shook my head. “It’s cool. This’ll give me something good to write about later,” I said. I looked up at Elliot and winked at him with my good eye but it probably just looked like I was blinking. “Besides,” I said, raising my hand. “I got his wallet. Let’s head up to Shanahan’s. Next 89


rounds on him.” I dropped the wallet. I looked at it lying on the concrete between my legs and again I wondered if this was going to be the rest of my life. I wondered if my father had also pondered this same thing about his life when he was my age. After that, I passed out.

3 “Mr. Dempsey,” the circus man said, “I’m giving this opportunity to you because you are different.” The circus man strolled a few feet in front of Shane. He twirled his cane around with his fingers. As they walked, Shane took in the sight of the back stage circus area. A midget in clown make up juggled bowling pins off to their left. To their right, a man held up a sick with a flame at the end; he blew something into it and a fire ball exploded into the air. A gorilla and a bearded lady sat playing cards. Shane scrunched up his shoulders and rubbed his left elbow with his right hand, “Mr. Devinski,” Shane began. The circus man looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Please, call me Dib,” he said. My alarm clock rang. I rolled over and turned it off. I climbed out of bed and walked to my bathroom. I turned on the shower. As I waited for the water to get hotter I brushed my teeth. I rinsed with Listerine. I trimmed my beard. I clipped my nose hairs. I tried to think and prepare my mind for the interview. “Dib, I still don’t understand,” Shane said. The two men walked around a post holding up the tent. A large muscular man with green scales for skin went walking passed. He smiled at Shane. His mouth contained two rows of sharp pointed teeth. “You’re different,” Dib said. “You are just a vagabond, like us traveling circus folk, and yet special. The world has tried to make you bitter and yet you are not. So I am giving you this opportunity to change your life in exchange for a little something.” The two men walked outside, through an opening in the tent. Just passed the opening, were crates and a horse. A naked woman with a bald head and horns sat on one of the crates. A man stood talking with her. He had an eye in the middle of his forehead and smooth patches of skin where the hollows for his eyes should have been. “How do you know that? We only just met,” Shane said. I got in the shower. I soaped up. I washed the cracks and crevices. I washed my hair, pulling out the tangles. I washed my feet. I got out of the shower, toweled myself down. I got under my sink and took out my Tinactin. I sprayed my feet, getting between my toes. I sat while they dried. Dib turned around and began to walk backwards. He spun his cane, bringing it to rest against his shoulder as if he were holding an umbrella. “I’m the ringleader of a traveling circus,” Dib said. He lifted his hand. With a flick of the wrist he suddenly held a deck of cards. He fanned them out. They were all aces. With another flick of his wrist all the cards disappeared. “I’ve learned many things in my travels, including how to see the lives of men and what’s in their souls. You could say I know a lot about souls.” The two headed towards a circus wagon. It had windows and stairs at the back, leading up to a door. A man walked by. From the waist up the man was a man. From the waist down he had fur. 90


His legs bent backwards and ended in hooves. “I don’t know what I have that you may want for something as big as you’re offering. That is if you can do it,” Shane said. “I’m not going to have to give you my soul, am I?” Dib laughed. He went up the stairs and opened the door on the back of the wagon. “Oh course you won’t have to sell me your soul,” he said. “At least not yet.” Dib smiled. Shane frowned. Dib saw this. “Jesus boy,” Dib said. “I’m only kidding.” I put on deodorant and splashed on some cologne, keeping it light so as not to smell too strongly. I put on my best button up shirt, thought about wearing a tie but decided against it. I put on khaki pants and my boots. I decided against putting my hair in a pony tail and instead combed out as much of the curls as possible. I turned to my clock and saw I had a good hour before my interview. I sat down at my desk and switched on my computer. I opened up Microsoft word and started to write a story. I hesitated, looked at my clock again and then decided it was a bad time to start something. I got my keys and my portfolio together and left for my interview. The two men entered the wagon, Shane stepped in behind Dib. The strong smell of formaldehyde hit Shane immediately. He wretched. The door of the wagon shut behind him, leaving them in complete darkness. Shane’s heart beat began to thunder in his ears. He opened his mouth to say something but before he could, Shane heard Dib snap his fingers. Candles lit in the room. The darkness vanished. Stunned, Shane stood with his mouth open. “Who are you?” He finally asked.

4 “I’m Patricia Langston. It’s nice to meet you,” Patricia said shaking my hand, “please, take a seat.” The office was very small, almost like a walk in closet. A table, her desk and a file cabinet filled the room. Pictures of young kids and middle aged people at a baseball game, a couple of certificates of recommendation, and horse magnets hung on the file cabinet. Papers lay scattered on top of the desk and several tiny statues of frogs sat on the window seal. The frogs smiled at me. I pulled a chair out from under the table. Dib took off his coat, which was purple with long tails.. He hung it on a standing coat rack. Dib took off his top hat and hung it from the rack also. Under the coat, Dib wore a crimson red vest, a white dress shirt and black pants. “I’m a magician,” he said, “a magician; a traveler; a student; a business man, a business man above all else.” Dib walked to the back of the wagon and sat behind a bureau. “I’m also a humanitarian.” The candles that magically came lit sat in a line across the front of the desk. There were thirteen of them. Melted wax had flowed down them and over the edge of the desk, cooling and hardening again, resembling stalagmites. The flickering lights of the candles lit Dib from underneath, casting a large ominous shadow on the wall behind him. “So,” Patricia said, “I see that you’re just coming from the ER.” “Yes, I’m one of the lay offs,” I said. “You’ve worked here at the hospital for four years.” “Yes, I really hope I get to work here even longer,” I said and smiled my best shiteating grin. 91


“Well, that’s a nice sentiment,” she said, “now, you’ve applied for multiple Lift Tech positions. Which are you more interested in, day shift or night shift?” “Well, night shift, but I’m willing to work days.” “That’s good. Now,” she said, motioning slowly with her hands, “this is a new role we’re implementing in the hospital. We created it to help replace the CNAs we had to lay off in the critical care units.” “What do you want from me?” Shane asked. “Room and board,” Dib said. Shane raised an eyebrow. He opened his mouth and got out the word “I” before the circus man interrupted him. “I know you don’t have any place to live at the moment, but you will,” Dib said. He lifted his hand into the air and flicked his wrist. A small glass vial appeared between Dib’s thumb and forefinger. It contained a purple liquid. Dib set the vial on the desk and drew his hand away. “With this you will have what you desire, wealth, prestige, a good career, respect, a wife, children. And all I ask for in return is room and board for some of my performers when we come through town.” Patricia was a short squat woman. She wore thick glasses, had a poodle hairdo, fish lips, and old wrinkled jowls that hung off her face. They wiggled while she talked and she very much talked while motioning with her hands. She put too much emphasis on the last word of every sentence. “Most of the CNAs were rehired to fill the other lift tech roles,” Patricia said, “but there are still two positions left. Now I know that you don’t have a lot of experience in patient care and working in a critical care unit can sometimes be a bit hectic.” “Uh huh,” “Also, if we hired you, you would have to deal with bedridden people on breathing machines, assisting with stocking, and getting blood.” “Uh huh,” “It’s a demanding job that you’d be going into. All of the other lift techs are former CNAs so they know a little bit about what to do to help assist a nurse and you don’t have a CNA or have ever worked in patient care so you would be the only one without a CNA.” “Yeah,” “Do you think you have what it takes to work in a critical care unit?” “Oh yes,” I said, “I see it as a chance to gain new experiences in the health care field and broaden my horizons, so to speak.” Again I displayed my best shit eating grin. “If this potion can bestow wealth and power and all the other things you say,” Shane said, “why don’t you take it?” “Because, I am a performer and perform simply to entertain the crowd,” Dib said. “So are all of my performers. They do not desire money.” “A few of them looked unsavory.” “They are all good people. Wonderful people,” Dib said, thrusting a finger into the air. Then his features became downturned. He frowned. “They suffered a terrible loss recently. One of the Siamese twins passed away. Everyone’s taking it pretty hard, the surviving twin especially. He walks with such a terrible limp now.” Dib remained quiet for a moment. He shook his head. “Well, I don’t know,” Shane said. “I’m still not sure I get it.” “We are traveling performers, Shane,” Dib said, gesturing with his hands. “We travel. Some of my performers were born to the circus. They have never known the domestic American life style. They should know this. They should see what a real family is. Know a loving home, if only for a short while. Have good shelter, a warm fire, a home cooked meal. I offer these things to you, 92


Shane, as long as you give it to them when we come through.” “The only thing I’m really concerned about is your appearance,” Patricia said. “My appearance?” “Yes,” she said looking at my hair. “I don’t really care about your tattoos, there doesn’t seemed to be anything offensive about them. It’s really your hair. It seems a little long and unkempt.” Shane didn’t answer. He looked down at the floor. “We spend only a week in each town. At the end of this year we go to Europe. There’s a good chance you won’t see us for a while. You’ll have plenty of time to get your life settled.” Dib turned putting his hands together, palm to palm, resembling a duck bill. He curled his fingers. A scroll unrolled between his hands as he pulled them apart. “You’d have to sign a contract,” Dib said. “Give my performers room and board for the duration of our stay in the town you live in, when we pass through. Deny them room and board and you will have to give back everything you gained.” “Why do I need to sign a contract? I thought this was something you wanted to do for them to make their lives better.” Shane said. “Like I said earlier, I’m a business man above all else.” Dib laid the contract on the desk and smiled. The smile seemed jagged to Shane. “I don’t know,” he said. Dib’s face became placid. A moment of silence passed. “Perhaps I’ve made a mistake,” he said. “I can see you’re not interested.” Dib began to roll up the scroll. “No, I’m interested,” Shane said, putting up a hand. “I just…need assurance. How can this thing do what you say?” Dib smiled and reached a hand across the desk. He turned his palm up. Shane noticed the nails on his hand. They were long. Shane thought they looked almost claw like. Suddenly an orb of light appeared in Dibs palm. It shined a dim orange light, not like sun light, but like fire light. It felt warm. It felt haunting. “Don’t wo—” I almost said: don’t women have long hair here? Instead I said: “I try to look professional. Whenever I work I make sure to pull it back into a pony tail,” and I flashed that well practiced smile. “Well, we’ll have to see about that,” Patricia said. “Working the position you’ll have to understand that you’ll be an integral part of the health care team. There are no small players. You’ll be very important.” In the orb Shane saw himself. He directed many people. He wore a suit. “In the year of our lord, 1915, all these things could be yours,” Dib whispered. Shane saw himself reading a newspaper in a fine café in Paris. He saw himself being followed by men waiting for his words. “Don’t you want a good life?” Dib whispered. “We have a very good health care package,” Patricia said, “which I’m sure you already know about but I’m obligated to inform you again. You’ll get medical, dental, and vision. And you’ll be able to apply for tuition reimbursement. Are you intending on going to college?” I nodded my head. “I already am in college. I go to Clark,” I said. In the orb Shane saw an empire crafted by his hands. He saw money, a large house. “Do you want to be a poor nothing forever?” Dib whispered. The whispers lingered in the air, repeating in Shane’s ears. Patricia looked through the papers on her desk. I looked some more around her office. Some photos sat on top of the file cabinet. Very young girls 93


smiled widely in the photos, one had braces and the other had pig tails. Another photo was a very old wedding photo. It was of Patricia in a wedding dress, much younger and more slender, and a man in a tux who stood tall and handsome. In the orb Shane saw himself well fed and growing fat and jolly. He saw himself hunting by horse back with his sons. The room around the orb disappeared. Dib whispered, “You don’t want to end up like your father, do you?” The photo was aged, not black and white anymore but an off color, something like cream and rust. In the photo Patricia stood bending forward a bit, smiling very wide and bright. She held a bouquet of flowers in her hands. The man had his arm wrapped around her and smiled just as wide as she did. They walked forward and at the same time stood frozen. In the orb, Shane saw himself sleeping with many young women. He saw himself marrying a beautiful woman with long red hair and soft cheeks. “Don’t you want to be adored by women? Don’t you want to be loved?” Shane felt the warmth of the fire. He gazed into the orb, not under any spell other than his own desires, and he was hypnotized. The photo reminded me of Sarah. It reminded me of a card she gave me once, out of the blue. The cover of the card was a black and white photo of two little kids, maybe four and five, a boy and a girl. The girl wore a little white dress with a little white veil. The boy wore a black jacket that was too big and a tie that was too big. The girl was leaning over and kissing the boy in the way that little kids do. I sat in the car holding this card one night, eons ago, with rain falling on the windshield, Sarah sitting in the seat next to me, smiling and watching. I opened it and the only thing on the inside was a note in Sarah’s handwriting. It read: I can hardly wait… “Are you alright?” Patricia asked me. I turned my attention to her. “Huh? I’m fine,” I said, “Why do you ask?” “You looked pained there for a moment.” I looked at her blankly. I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. “Oh, I think I ate some bad fish last night,” I said, “It’s fighting me now I guess.” I glanced back at the wedding photo on the file cabinet, then back at Patricia. Dib closed his hand, again flicking his wrist. A large quill appeared between his fingers, the tip dripping with red ink. Shane reached out and took it.

5

“Just go talk to her,” I said. Elliot shook his head. “No, I’m on a losing streak.” ���And you’re going to be on that losing streak until you start winning,” I said, taking a drag off my cigarette. “And that’s not going to happen until you start moving again.” The girl stood on the other side of the patio. She laughed at a joke someone some one had made. I couldn’t hear the laugh over the fifteen people partying between her and me. As she laughed she stepped back and put a hand up to her mouth. “Why don’t you go talk to her?” Elliot asked me. 94


“I already had her last week,” I said. “Fuck you.” It’s true. I did her in the back of her daddy’s car while he watched and video taped it.” Elliot shook his head. A dubsteb remix of La Roux’s bullet proof came through the sliding glass door of the patio. I turned and looked. In the kitchen, where most normal people may put a kitchen table, Charlie stood at his DJ stand, spinning records on his turntables. Two hip high speakers sat on both sides of him. He wore his black suit and Aviator sunglasses. His Mohawk stayed perfectly spiked as he bounced to the beat. Maybe twenty people danced in the kitchen of the house. Fog floated through the crowd. Green, red, and blue beams of light spun around them. We charged five dollars a head. “At least the gas bill will get paid this month,” I said, taking a drink of my beer. “What?” Elliot shouted at me. I turned to him. “I said, go talk to her.” “Oh,” he replied, deadpan. “Come on Elliot, live a little. Look at her, how can you NOT go talk to her,” I said taking another swig of my beer. “Look at all that long black hair she has. Look at the way she smiles. She has great tits. And I haven’t seen her from behind but judging by her hips I’m guessing her ass ain’t bad either.” I took the last swig of my beer and threw the bottle into the grass behind me. I tried for a moment to calculate how many beers I had drunk but couldn’t. I figured I at least needed three hands to keep track. “I don’t even know what I would say.” “Say ‘hi, I’m Elliot. I haven’t seen you here before’,” I said. “Then what?” “Then improvise.” I furrowed my brow. “Jesus, you want me to fuck her for you too?” “Fuck you,” Elliot said. We stood there a moment in silence. The sliding glass door opened. The music became unmuffled and loud as people drunkenly stepped out onto the patio. Someone slid the door shut, slamming it hard against the frame. I felt bad about the last comment I had made. I tried to figure out something to say to Elliot that sounded less degrading, perhaps encouraging. But I didn’t need it. “By the way,” Elliot said, “congratulations on getting the job.” “Thanks,” I said. “Are you worried?” “About what?” I took a drag off my cigarette. “About starting a new job. Is there anything that worries you? It’s going to be different from stocking supplies in a storeroom.” “I’m not worried,” I said, “I can handle it. The only real thing that concerns me is having time to write. There’s not going to be a lot of time between this new job and school.” “You can do it.” “With any luck.” I looked back across the patio. The girl stood there talking to her friend. She lifted up her shirt a little, pulled the edge of her pants down, showing her friend a tattoo on her hip. “Elliot,” I said. “You need to go talk to her.” “I need to?” he asked raising his eyebrows. “Okay, here’s how you tackle any problem in life and how you get women, Elliot,” I said. “First, you need to visualize, then you need to realize, then you need to actualize. You have to first 95


visualize your goals, which is doin the nasty with the hottie. Then you need to realize, formulate a plan on how to get there. Then you need to actualize, follow the necessary check points in your plan to getting there.” I smiled and threw my hands up as if to say ‘ta-da.’ Elliot looked at me sideways. “Who are you quoting?” Elliot asked. “Harvey Pekar.” The song Gold Dust began to play. “I love this track,” I said and started dancing to it, out of beat, snapping my fingers and bouncing from left to right. Elliot stood and appeared to be deep in thought. “Is that your grand plan for getting women?” “No, writing is my grand plan for getting women.” “Getting women doesn’t sound like a very good reason for writing.” “It’s not my reason for writing. I will become a great writer, freeing myself from a work a day life. I will live a wealthy life of leisure on a beach. Women will come to me simply as a consequence of this.” “What if it doesn’t work out?” Elliot asked. “What if what doesn’t work out?” “Becoming a writer.” “It’ll work out,” I said. “It has too. Writing is the only thing I do for the right reason. And when you do something for the right reason, it always works out.” Elliot stared at the parties, again appearing to be deep in thought. “What is your reason for wanting to be a writer?” I danced and contemplated the question. The party drifted away and I could see a white sand beach. I stood on a porch looking out at a tropical ocean, a drink in my hand, enjoying the breeze. On the beach walked a woman with a tanned slender body. She wore a bikini and one of those cloth wraps around her hips. This time she had blonde hair, other times red, sometimes black, sometimes brunette, sometimes curled, sometimes straight, sometimes short or long. She was always faceless. I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s the only thing I do well,” I said. Elliot furrowed his brow and pushed his mouth to one side of his face. “That doesn’t sound like a very good reason either.” He took out a cigarette and lit it. “What if it doesn’t work out?” He asked, exhaling smoke. “What if you keep having to do what you’re doing now for the rest of your life?” “It’ll work out,” I said. “Yeah, but what if it doesn’t.” I stopped dancing. I looked across the patio at the girl. She took a drink of beer from a bottle a guy offered her. Upon a longer look she seemed something strange, blighted almost, like a nice shirt you were too afraid to wear because you knew it would acquire a bad stain. I thought about Elliot’s question. And in the thinking an image came into my mind. I was twelve, standing in the dim living room of my parents house. My father lounged in his recliner. He sat in the dark just staring up at the ceiling. “Life is long, son,” he said. “Life is so long.” The girl took out a cigarette and lit it. “It’ll work out,” I told Elliot. “But…” “I said it will.” Elliot leaned back a little. He said nothing in return. 96


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Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders #113SEPT1F :: 0003043 PM

We all take turns praying and start to go our separate ways. Lee sits there, kind of hanging behind, plucking around on his guitar. I start to ask Audrey if she wants to hang out, if maybe she wants to take a walk or something, but Brother Beau rolls up in his Jeep Cherokee covered in mud and calls her over. He’s been giving her rides back and forth to her house because her dad works a second job and her stepmom is stuck with all the kids. He’s really supportive of what we’re doing and really wants Audrey to be a part of it, I think. When Brother Beau gets out of his car everybody’s glad to see him and kind of mobs him like he’s a celebrity. But I feel bad. Audrey’s going home and I barely spent any time with her. I just sort of sit there, next to Lee, and he says, “Here, you look like you need it more than me.”

He hands me the guitar.

Lee says, “Play something.”

“Okay,” I shrug, kind of holding the guitar awkwardly. I feel shy, even exposed somehow, like he’s asking me to show him my wang or something. I don’t feel like being creative. I feel like being bummed. I never get to see Audrey as much as these other people, as much as Lee. They have more classes together. Their houses are in the same neighborhood. He even started teaching her guitar. It’s not fair. The only reason I came out tonight, the only reason I gave that sermon, was to be near her, to try to impress her. He just spent the afternoon with her, giving her guitar lessons, and here he is handing me the same damn guitar.

“What should I play?” I ask him.

“C’mon, man,” Lee smiles, “Don’t make it weird, just play something. Whatever comes to mind. It’s just us, a couple bros in the Lord. Remember what Brother Beau said? It doesn’t matter how we sound when we worship, just worship. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” 98


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Mr. Smiles, in my head, says, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Not really sure why, but something comes over me. A memory from what feels like a zillion years ago or something. I start plucking strings, trying to find the feel of it. My first song. The first one I ever wrote, during music time at the hospital. I remember thinking how music makes me feel like I’m going to different sorts of places. Sometimes I’m on the moon with Pink Floyd or I’m on a train with Johnny Cash or I’m fighting in an alley with The Ramones. Music is like dreaming. You can go anywhere. When I wrote this song I was sure it was bad, but it’s the only thing coming to mind. I start picking out notes and they move like voices chattering in a room, sounds bouncing into each other, it’s barely music, but it is, it’s the melodic tones of the roar of a thousand human voices becoming one chaotic sound. That’s the way the song makes me feel. It’s these words I heard in a bad dream once. I sing, “You call this free? Only 19.95! This is a limited, one time offer. This is the chance of a lifetime. This is the way the world ends. Not with a…Big Bang that created the Universe. This is not America…No! All we are saying…is this real life? Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Joey Come Over. Over. Ovary. Ivory. Hickory, dickory, Doc, the wolf is in the flock…the wolf went down, and looked around, and now there ain’t no flock.” Then I just kind of strum hard a couple times and shrug, “Well, I guess that’s it. I never wrote any more than that.” Lee smiles and says, “That was great, man. I mean, some of the lyrics are kind of forced, but you’re really onto something there. I like the style, you sing weird. I like it. It’s like somewhere between one of them Indian chants and a more punk rock Springsteen. Kind of nasty, but good. Where’d you get those lyrics, man?”

“I dreamt them.”

“Freakin’ awesome. I’m so jealous that you can do that. Wanna ride around for a bit? Brother Beau offered to take 99


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Johnny home tonight and I just ain’t really in a hurry to head home, you know? I’m getting really sick of being her, whatever you call it, indentured servant.” “That sucks, man. But I get it,” I tell him, “My mom’s getting worse too. Ever since she split up with her boyfriend all she does is sit at home and drink and watch television and it’s like she always wants me around. I mean always. Sometimes it makes me feel weird. Like she’s…”

“Sublimating?”

“Yeah, sublimating. That’s Nietzsche, right? Anyway, yeah, like she’s using me to fill the role of her boyfriend. Like she wants me to give her all that same attention and stuff. It’s kind of uncomfortable. But I know what you mean, she lets me out for prayer group stuff. I get these free passes when it’s church stuff and I sort of milk ‘em for all I can. Just ride around on my bike and think, pray, talk to the sky. Listen to the trees. You know?”

“I know, bro,” Lee says, kind of sad sounding.

There’s this long, almost awkward silence and he just laughs, hopping to his feet with his guitar and shouting, “Ain’t we a pair? Two lonely nomads ready to go anywhere but home.” He starts strumming and sings, “Lee and Joe went up the row to fetch a tub of freedom, Lee fell down into the Pound and Joe came out to greet ‘im.” The Other Voice says, “Good times. He was such an amateur in those days. Like the best amateurs of his kind, he thought everything he did was gold.” We get in Lee’s beater ‘78 Gremlin. The doors creak and slam closed like an old refrigerator or something and he starts it up on the third try. Lee says, “So you know that Daniel kid from youth group?” “Yeah, what’s his name, Daniel Wakefield? up?”

Wakely?

“Could be Daniel Wake Up With Morningwood for all I 100

Wake


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care.”

“Daniel Wake Comes After the Funeral.”

“His mom’s funeral,” Lee grunts, “Anyway, whatever, the point is I don’t like him. More and more I don’t really like any of ‘em. I just like you and Audrey, it’s the only reason I keep going. Well, anyway, this kid keeps bugging me at school, even at group tonight. He says stuff about how he can tell I don’t mean it anymore. He told me I was backsliding into hell, said I just play the songs because I like to be on stage. It’s getting worse and worse. Like he’s just following me around, literally, almost yelling in my ear like he thinks that’s going to save me.”

“Isn’t that what this is all about?”

“This?” Lee asks.

“This. Church. The meetings outside of church. All of it. Aren’t we trying to do things differently because we don’t like the way it usually is? It’s all just yelling in people’s ears, right? So it’s no surprise that this Daniel kid is doing just that. I mean, he seems to be one of the more gung ho members of the youth group. Not to say he’s the most righteous or any of that kind of crap. I just mean, he seems the most committed to presenting himself in that certain light, right?”

“I’m with you.”

“So it stands to reason that somebody trying to be the best in this particular scene is going to take all of the lessons literally, even extremely.” “Yeah, Joe, I think you’re right. him?”

But how can I stop

I kind of shrug and say, “Gotta beat him at his own game, I guess. Use the Bible against him somehow. The most obvious reference would just be that plank in the eye stuff.” “Who are you to point out the splinter in your brother’s eye when you yourself have a plank in your own eye? That stuff?” 101


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“Right. I remember reading that in one version of the New Testament that said ‘log’ instead of ‘plank,’ it was way funnier.” Lee kind of halfway laughs and says, “Never heard anyone accuse the Bible of being funny. You gotta be the first.” “Come on, man, it’s hilarious in some parts. The specifics they go into when at other times they don’t go into any detail at all. Stuff about people plummeting off of city walls and bursting open and dogs eating their entrails and dragging them away. Or that guy Ehud stabbing that fat king and the dude’s belly swallowing up the whole sword, it says it even takes the hilt.”

“Seems vaguely sexual if you ask me,” Lee says.

“The whole book is full of vague sexual innuendo and blatant screwing and rape and all kinds of crap. It’s the weirdest book ever. But weirder than all of that is the way we don’t get taught those parts. We just glaze over that stuff in order to keep the pristine, moral allure of the book intact for new disciples, church ladies and Sunday School kids.”

“Word!” Lee shouts.

I say, “Lee? right?”

You know how I don’t sleep too good,

“Yeah, we’ve talked about that. something, yeah?”

You have bad dreams or

“Sort of. I see weird things. I was thinking the other day, during prayer group I sometimes get these really great ideas and they make a lot of sense. Well, when we were sitting there all quiet and praying and stuff this thing pops in my head, like I’ve gotten used to having a doctor judging me ‘cause that’s kind of how I grew up, you know?” “Can’t blame you for that, man, but it’s no different than how everybody else is used to having a parent judge them. Nothing wrong with it.” “Right, except I think I’ve been looking for doctors my whole life. When I left the hospital that first time, when 102


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I was just a little, little kid, the doctor was there at home waiting for me. He was there growing up. He was there when I got locked up for the fire. Then I get out and I think I start looking for doctors elsewhere. Like I’m looking for them at church, in our pastor, Brother Beau, in our youth group, maybe even in God himself.” Lee kind of laughs, not like he’s making fun, but that sort of laugh you get when something dawns on you, the way a thing can just suddenly make the most perfect sense you ever heard and you have to laugh. He says, “Wow, man, when you explain it like that it all fits. The relationship to God and church must be the same as your relationship to Dr. Boles and the hospital. He was God over your life for all those years, judging you, evaluating your progress, digging into your head. Your future depended on how he saw you, right?” “Yeah, I mean, if he didn’t like what he was hearing he could just keep me in the hospital longer. I was totally at his mercy. He would tell me I was in control of my own mind, that I was free, that he was just my friend and wanted to help. But I wasn’t free. I had no control. I had to do exactly what he said or I would be a prisoner forever. And when I think about Dr. John that way I realize it’s the same with God. They talk about free will, but we don’t really have a choice to be good, you know? It’s obey or burn in hell.” Lee nods and drums on his knees like he’s trying to figure out what he wants to say. “Dude,” he finally blurts out, “It’s like that David Bazan song, or is it Pedro the Lion? Whatever. That song where he says, ‘Jesus only lets me do what’s been done before.’”

“And where is David Bazan now?

Not at church.”

Lee whistles, “Is that Daniel kid right? losing my faith?”

Am I really

I say, “The harder question is ‘Is that progress or is that a failure?’ I mean, we talked about how the sermons are all about the same stuff…” 103


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“And how we want more,” Lee adds, “How we want to go deeper, really meet God, not just study him.” “Well, the deeper I go the more I realize it’s kind of shallow. I can’t find any more, it’s just a lot of rules, morality, and stories. If he’s an infinite God why is it so hard to find anything new? We always said we were on a search for truth, together, you me and Audrey, but what if our search for truth is taking us away from church? Would that be moving toward truth or away from it?” “Ain’t that a pisser?” Lee says, “So where you going with this? What does it have to do with your dreams and how you can’t sleep?” “Oh, right, yeah…sorry. Well, what I was going to say is that my dreams have changed. Every time I find a new doctor I get slightly new imagery. It used to be mostly alien invasion and the stuff with the Box I’ve told you about. Now it’s more fire and brimstone, heavenly damnation, the judgment throne of the Lord. Audrey’s been teaching me stuff about Blackfoot heritage and stuff. She says I should know more about my Indian side or whatever. What’s been interesting is the way all Blackfoot believe. It isn’t about doctrine, moral codes, theological figureheads in the sky or where your soul is located. It’s just about living a certain way. Communing with your surroundings, respecting life in order to receive life.”

“Be still and know that I am God?” Lee says.

I say, “The other night it all came together. First there’s this pure white light, the kind that would just melt your eyes right out only it doesn’t hurt because you have no eyes. You’re dead. I’m dead. Every one of us is long gone. I’m standing before God in white light. I can feel the Gates swinging open and closed behind me. Accepting and rejecting God’s creations. Just like a factory assembly line. Quality Control with Saint Peter as foreman.” I tell Lee how I start to see things swirling in front of me. Visions from my life. Memories. Some of them are good, most of them not so good. After every good memory, a good deed or someone I helped God would commend me, but when the bad times rolled around I got this sort of booming, 104


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“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” For a long time I stay silent and simply watch, listen, and take God’s verbal beating. I tell Lee that somewhere between a glimpse of masturbation and some lie I told to get out of going to school God asks again. This time I had an answer. I said, “Lord, you of all people should know that a life is a whole work, breaking it into segments is not fair. See, I evolved into the person I am now over the course of time. In that time there have been good decisions and bad ones, but all of them were important and all of them were necessary. If it were not for the mistakes I made then I never would have grown into the person that was able to help those people you were just praising me for, like the way I helped Lee. If I had done the right thing instead of the wrong thing at that one important crossing then my life would have taken a completely different direction. I might never have met the people I helped. Without the wrong turn I never would have passed those that needed me on the road. You have to take the bad with the good because separating the two makes them both meaningless. Without the sins there would have been no beauty. Lord, I feel no shame.” “That’s brilliant, man,” Lee replies, “I think you’ve hit a big nail on the head for me. For a while now, I’ve been having a really hard time sorting something out – this issue with perfection. See, I’d like to still consider myself a Christian. I mean most people in this country would say that, it’s practically the law now, right? We have a Christian president, the laws are changing to favor faith instead of stifle it. What do they say about the bombing at the prayer rally? Never forget? Most people would say they’re Christian but I really want to mean it. But there are still some things that don’t sit well.” He laughs to himself for a second and then adds, “The other day Audrey and I were sitting together at lunch, I don’t know where you were, maybe you skipped out or something, anyway she gets her Bible out and sort of starts flipping through it. She lands on this verse that says, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.’ Audrey shuts the Book and says, ‘Well, that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the 105


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answer.’ And I say, ‘Hey, everybody, we’ve figured out the Bible, all of it. We have it. Be perfect as God is perfect. That’s not so hard, right?’ “But that’s the point, isn’t it?” Lee continues, “We’re hung up on attaining perfection. Somehow our pursuit of perfection has replaced our search for God. You have your issues with the church. Well I have some of my own. What did you call it? A crutch? You said you see a built in crutch in the church. Everyone uses old ideas, traditions, and scriptures to hobble along on the illusion of perfection, but we’re not perfect. You know that. And I think that the essential failure of churches and churchgoers is that they try to convince the world that they are. Show me a church that embraces its imperfection, that admits to the world it’s a congregation of sinners rather than saints. We have this God we describe with so many good words, well show me a church that cries out to him in the hope and knowledge that he will help us carry the load. Isn’t that more like it? Just announce to everything in existence, ‘I’m fucked up and the only thing that gives me hope is in trusting that God will help me with that.’” “That God will see the beauty in it all,” I finish for him. “Exactly, forcing the illusion of perfection when none is really there, that’s the biggest crutch of all. I made my mind up, just now, right here, that I’m done with it. It’s time for a change. The whole world needs a change.”

“This town needs an enema,” I say with a laugh.

“Jack Nicholson’s Joker, yeah?” Lee says.

“Yeah, great line, by the way.”

Lee clear his throat like he’s changing the subject or something and says, “So, you’re going to laugh at me, man, but in the way of making change I think we should do something that every other middle class white kid does when he wants to make a difference or…” “You want to start a band?” I cut in, “Like, a real band, not just playing Jesus songs for the fogeys and the geeks.” 106


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“Is that dumb?” he asks awkwardly, that tone coming back through, like I’m his big brother and he needs my approval or something. “Not dumb. How do you think I knew you were going to say that? I’ve been thinking the same thing.” We ride back to Lee’s place. He says he wants to start working on some stuff right away. I worry about what Mom will say, but I don’t say anything. I feel embarrassed for some reason. He’s excited, I can tell by how fast he’s driving. We get to Lee’s house and Johnny is there. He’s watching NASCAR and drinking a Pepsi at the dining room table. He says, “Joe! Hey, it’s Joe. High five, Joe.” I give him five and say, “A little late for NASCAR, ain’t it, Johnny?” “C’mon,” Lee says, “He has it on DVR. It’s the first race Rick Manning ever won. He watches it all the time. You know Johnny’s mad for Rick Manning, ain’t you, pal?” “No sir, Lee, not Johnny. ning in my whole life.”

I never been mad at Rick Man-

We go to Lee’s room and start fiddling around on guitars and talking about band names. But band names are hard. Maybe harder than songs. We must go through about a million of them. It’s all like free association or something. Word salad. I say a word, Lee says a word. We put them together. Then we say, “Nope, not it.”

Meth lab.

Spatula.

Ballet.

Meth Lab Ballet.

Clam hands.

Nope.

Spatula Clam Hands.

Not it.

In the way things always do with guys our age the conversation turns more and more infantile until we’re just shouting Poop Mouth Gutter Vomit – Chicken Chokers – Grandma’s Finger – Tuna Stink Reunion – Booger – Booty – Boobs. Lee says, “Let’s just parody some other band’s name. ‘Good artists steal,’ right? That’s America.”

Stereo Noggin.

Blueday.

The Spinning Rocks. 107

Then


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we’re right back to infantile with Stinky Butt Poop Heads and Dumpster Babies and Doo Doo Wee Wee. Naming a band is hard. Makes me wonder how anyone ever manages to name a kid. The feed jumps forward. It’s the school lunchroom. We just got out of Health class. Me, Lee, and Audrey sit around a circular lunch table, laughing and talking about anatomy.

The Other Voice says, “The Three Amigos.”

Lee says, “All I’m saying is baby stuff is kind of disgusting. We’ve all heard the comparisons to parasites and alien organisms growing in the body, but that video really rammed the point home for me. I mean, green and red juices exploding out of you know where. Not only that, but stuff tears, people lose control of their bowels.” “Okay, okay,” Audrey says, “You win. It’s gross. I’m just saying that it’s a miracle. Doesn’t have to mean it isn’t gross. I mean, look at the miracles in the Bible, some pretty gross stuff goes down, yeah?” “Point taken,” I say, “but I’m just not so sure I think it’s a miracle. I mean, it’s so studied and broken down and quantifiable at this point that I think it’s lost some of the magic. I mean, that’s the drawback to science, isn’t it? We lose some of that childhood awe when things are easily explained with cellular mitosis, chromosomes or Fallopian tubes.”

“Gross,” Lee grunts.

Audrey says, “There was a time when native people were so mystified by the woman’s ability to produce a child and so closely connected to nature and its ability to produce life that they came to think of the planet as a woman giving birth to every new day. The belief in woman as the source of life gave my people an appreciation for the world, for nature, and for women, inspiring them to live in harmony with their surroundings. But the belief in a God that was above the earth, a sky God that was a man, separated us from that appreciation, it made us believe that the important things were above this earth, that this place was some108


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thing to rise above allowing us to see the planet, nature, and women as commodities to be exchanged, used up or even destroyed at our whim.”

Lee says, “I gotta say that’s an awesome point.”

I say, “So what are you trying to say, Audrey?”

“My point is you’re right, Joe, the disappearance of miracles has less to do with fewer acts of God and more to do with our ability to explain things scientifically, or our inability to see things as magical. Maybe there aren’t any miracles, maybe there never were, maybe miracles are just the superstitious ramblings of primitive people with no grasp on how the universe works, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t lost something.” Lee says, “Like Johnny. a child.”

The ability to see things like

I say, “But still, lots of things are gross. baby stuff. Eating is gross.”

Not just

“Yeah, like eating meat and stuff? That’s pretty gross. Biting down on a hunk of dead animal, eating flesh, tearing it off of bones like a zombie or a scavenger bird.” “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean just eating anything is gross. The act of eating anything is gross. And I can prove it. There’s one easy, quantifiable proof that eating is a gross thing to do.”

“Poop,” Audrey laughs.

“Well, yeah, duh,” I say, grinning, “But you could make a case that poop just means digestion is gross. I mean eating.” “Oh, c’mon, Joe. Eating is awesome,” Lee says, biting into what’s left of his lunchroom pizza, that weird kind that comes in a square instead of a circle. “No, food is awesome,” I say, “Eating is nasty. I was trying to get to a point here, you’re distracting me.”

“Quantifiable proof,” Lee says.

“Right.

So let’s take a five hundred dollar a plate 109


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meal prepared by the finest sous chef in New York City. This restaurant is the height of gourmet cuisine, located in downtown New York, the hub of the world, right?”

“Right.”

“Now, let’s take that meal, that beautiful, delicious food, and let’s feed it to a five year old kid who promptly spits it onto his plate. He’s barely chewed it, guys, but it was in his mouth and spit back onto the plate. Do you want to eat it?” “Well, no,” Audrey says, “but, I mean, come on, it’s been in a kid’s mouth.” “Okay, fine, let’s change it up then,” I say, “Let’s take that same meal and put it in your mouth. You chewed it up and then had a cough and the bite landed right back on your plate. Does it look delicious? Do you want to put it back in your mouth?” “Ugh, no,” Audrey says, wrinkling her nose up so there’s those cute little lines girls get when they’re freaked out, “No, I don’t. Geez, you’re right. Eating is gross.”

“It’s so gross!”

“It’s disgusting. Why is that? Why is that food so gross to me right now? It was in my mouth five seconds ago, it’s the exact same food I was going to swallow and enjoy, but the simple act of taking it out makes it like vomit or…”

“Poop,” Lee laughs.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the state rests,” I chuckle, sitting back in my chair. Audrey won’t let it go. She says, “I mean, when I think about it, it’s like, if I took some meat loaf and chewed it up and put it back on a plate and let the spit dry out, then if I warmed it up and served it to a guy in a blindfold side by side with a different, fresh piece of meat loaf, he wouldn’t be able to tell which was which. So, logically, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But the second I told that guy…” “That guy is me,” Lee says, raising his hand with a grin. 110


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“The second I told Lee he just ate my ABC meatloaf, chewed up and spit out and nuked in a microwave he’d…” “He’d be pissed,” Lee says, putting his hand down dramatically. “Eating is gross,” Audrey sighs, “What is that? Not only can you not survive without killing something, but like, survival in general is just kind of nasty.” The memory totally cuts short. I’m somewhere else now. I can feel things changing faster and faster. I think about lucid dreaming, the way they say you can figure out that you’re dreaming and even change the dream into whatever you want. As things start to move faster it feels like a dream. I remember I’m me. I’m an old man, not a kid. I’m just stuck reliving his life for some reason. Some reason I can’t remember. We’ve skipped class. We’re in Lee’s crappy Gremlin and it’s pouring down rain. I remember thinking, I remember Joe thinking it was out of season for rain. The storm was too big for the time of year. He thought about how ‘78 was the last year AMC made the Gremlin and how they were out of class earlier than they were supposed to be. Everything felt out of time and it made him feel perfect. The feed jumps again. It’s another Bible study with a big turn out, I spoke, and then Audrey got a lift home with Brother Beau. Another jump. The feed is picking up. working on some songs.

Lee and I are

Jump. We’re playing a gig, just the two of us, at a little coffee shop in town. The place is maxed out by kids from our prayer group and people that just know us from the news stories. Lee says, “Hey, we’re Eco Wizard, but for this next song we’ll be playing as Election Year Rubber Mask Medallions. On that last song we were Donald Rumsfeld’s Glasses. Change is time and time is money and money makes change…that’s America.”

Jump again.

We probably could have a pretty big following except we 111


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can never agree on a name. We just keep changing it. Everybody just says, “You gonna go see Joe and Lee tonight?” Jump. Lee got in a fight with Daniel today. The guy hounded him in the lunchroom, called him phony, said he was a backslider. It got pretty bad. Lee really let him have it. He hasn’t been the same since it happened. It wasn’t like our other fights. He’s struggling. I’m having questions of my own. It’s hard. Brother Beau can tell. Audrey and Lee are still doing guitar lessons together and I feel jealous. It leaves me out. I need something to bring us together, something to make her my own again. Lee has feelings for her, I know it. He won’t do anything because of me but it’s still all too weird. It isn’t until I find this hokey novelty dream catcher in some old junk at home that I start thinking. I’m half Native American. Audrey is Blackfoot. I haven’t learned the power of dreams through the Holy Spirit. No amount of prayer or repenting or begging for help or forgiveness has cleared my head to see through to what these dreams are trying to say to me. I need to get to the source. The Blackfoot know all about the power of dreams. It’s in their creation myth. I’ll need some books. Jump again. Lee is giving Audrey guitar lessons until tonight then we have band practice. I’m at the one place nobody will ever think to look. The Box. That burned out scar in the forest where I once hid from aliens. I take my books out there to study. I learn all I can as fast as I can. Jump. I read “The Myth of the Lost Children,” a story where kids make fun of the chief’s child and he moves camp, abandoning them all to teach a lesson. Jump. The Myth of Old Man and Red Fox. Jump. The pikuni was a trap used to capture and kill buffalo, it was normally a hole dug in the ground that the hunters would chase them into. Jump. The dream world connects us with the spirit world. It is a place where our ancestors and the spirits of nature can speak to us. There are stories of ghost dogs, buffalo vengeance, or punishing children for disobeying. There’s the myth of the 112


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ghosts and the lost things where the braves meet their ancestors and are given sacred objects. Jump. Old Man, Napio, gave us dreams to help us survive. So we could learn. The power of dreams is the wisdom that comes to us in our sleep from the spirits. Jump. Mr. Smiles is here now and he starts talking about the stories. He says, “There is one story, the story of Poia and the Sky-People.”

“Tell it to me,” I say.

“Feather Woman falls in love with the Morning Star while gazing up at the night sky from a meadow,” he begins, “Morning Star comes down to tell her he loves her too and he gives her a yellow feather and a juniper branch and tells her to close her eyes. He takes her away to the Sky Country and when she opens her eyes she is standing in front of the Lodge of the Sun and the Moon. “Feather Woman and Morning Star were married and soon gave birth to a son, Star Boy. In time, Feather Woman grew bored and was given work to do in the Sky Country, digging roots for the lodge. But the Moon warned her that great trouble would come if she were to dig up the Great Turnip which grew near the resting place of the Spider Man.” Really? skeptical.

Spider Man?

I can’t help feeling slightly

Mr. Smiles says, “Feather Woman’s curiosity soon became too much for her and she asked two large birds to help her move the turnip. When the Great Turnip came loose, Feather Woman saw down through the hole to a Blackfoot village and her mother and father working the land. They had moved on, no one seemed to miss her, and she grew homesick and wept. “Rolling the Great Turnip back over the hole, Feather Woman returned to the Lodge with Star Boy. When he saw her, Morning Star asked if she had been disobedient and dug the Great Turnip that grew near the home of the Spider Man. After a time, Feather Woman finally nodded and admitted that she had done so.”

The story goes on and Mr. Smiles says, “Morning Star was 113


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stricken with grief and did not speak to Feather Woman for the rest of the evening. The next day he took his wife to the Spider Man and rolled away the Great Turnip revealing the hole which leads to the Blackfoot Village. The Spider Man built a long, silvery web from the hole to the village and Feather Woman was made to climb down it with Star Boy.” “Seems familiar,” I tell him, “Like the Garden of Eden all over again.” “To the people on the ground,” Mr. Smiles says, “the silvery web looked like a shooting star falling from the sky. When Feather Woman was found by her mother and father she was welcomed home. Many months passed and then Feather Woman was visited by Morning Star who told her she could never return to the Sky Country because of her disobedience. “Stricken with guilt and regret, Feather Woman soon died from her unhappiness. Star Boy lived with his grandparents but was mistreated all his life and called Poia which means “scar face” because of a scar on his face. When his earthly grandparents passed away he set out to find his way back to his homeland and his father. Poia traveled far and wide, searching for a way back to the Sky Country. He traveled over mountains and through deserts for many days until he finally arrived at the edge of the land and the place that is the beginning of the great ocean where the Sun goes to rest. There he stopped and began to pray. Poia fasted and prayed for three days, standing in the light of the sun, begging to be brought home.” Smiling more than usual, Mr. Smiles reaches out to put a hand on my shoulder and then pulls away because he’s a hologram or whatever. He says, “At last Poia saw a pathway to the Sun made from light and he followed it. He found his way to the foot of the Lodge and fell asleep. When he was discovered he was nearly put to death as a trespasser but soon the Sun recognized Poia as Star Boy, his grandson, and welcomed him home. He taught him many things, including the Sun Dance, and told Poia that if the Blackfoot People would honor him once a year by doing the Sun Dance then the suffering in the world caused by Feather Woman would end.

“Poia returned home by walking on the Milky Way to teach 114


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his people the Sun Dance. In time he found a wife, the daughter of the chief, who had once rejected him, and they lived a long, happy life. When their lives were done they were taken into the Sky Country for their great work and they became stars and Poia rises each night beside his father, Morning Star.”

“Are all native myths so sci-fi?” I ask.

Mr. Smiles says, “It’s true, there are often Star People and Sky People.” “A lot of people going into the sky and looking down on the earth,” I say, “Do you think there’s some truth to it? Like, maybe they were visited by the same aliens that took me? Maybe that’s why they wanted me, you know? Because I’m like Poia, I’m part Blackfoot.” “I wouldn’t be surprised to find you were part Star Boy either,” Mr. Smiles says, “But enough of that now, you need to stay alert. They’ll be here soon.”

“They?” I ask.

“Don’t you know you’re sleeping? time,” he says.

Have been for some

It’s the white room now. Big headed figures in white work on me. Glassy eyes. Damn. I fell asleep. This isn’t real. This isn’t real. They’re digging around in my head. Only things are different. I’m not really me. I’m watching them work on me, on Joe, from a distance. I’m me again. That’s right. I’m an old man. My name is Anders. Something strange. One of them is Dr. Boles. Dr. John. Dr. Boyfriend. He pulls away a mask and it’s him. It’s totally him, all sweaty on his cheeks and in his moustache. I see Joe. Joe is here with me. Big Joe. The grown up from that video today, or yesterday, or a thousand years ago. Whenever it was. He’s in the room with me and the aliens and Dr. John. He says, “It’s time for you to wake up, Anders.” There’s a sound like a bowling ball crashing through the pins only loud like a train wrecking through a line of early seventies model LTD sedans. Iron and welded frames 115


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and weight and steel and felt seating and light up dashboard fixtures exploding like glass under the weight of the train, one by one, crashing aside in a line. The dream just explodes into shrapnel.

And just like that, my eyes are open.

My eyes.

Mine.

The room is bright as the sun, the way you think of heaven as bright, and then there’s this face over mine. A young man, blonde with a slight growth of beard on his chin like he missed a shave or two. He seems familiar, and definitely concerned.

“You okay, boss?

You been out of it for quite a while.”

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Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders #113SEPT1F :: 0003043 PM

It’s Gardner. I’m in a white room, bright as a camera flash, and for a second I feel panic welling up in my throat like bile. It isn’t my panic though, it’s Joe’s. I feel the same fear he does for that nightly dream of the white room and the aliens and the tests. But I shake it off. I’m me again. I’m awake. This is real life. Gardner says, “You been out since the Memory Dump. I knew that was a bad idea. Some of the guys caught wind of what happened and said what you’d figure they’d say. It’s White’s revenge. He deleted your brain or some goddamn thing.”

“How long was I out?”

“Well, it’s Thursday night so about 56 hours. We moved you here after the first hour ticked by and you were still a zombie. The base was shutting down around us and we had to do something. The doctors said you were going to be fine, you were breathing on your own and stuff, you know? Said it was like you were just stuck dreaming.” “I was,” I say, “Somehow the Memory Dump – I wasn’t just stuck scanning facts or video feed in that trance. I was living Joe Vagrant’s life. I saw it all. His nightmares. His trouble as a kid. Childhood sweetheart. How he met his best friend. I saw so much, not sure if I’ll ever process all of it. All’s I know is I heard a voice tell me to wake up so I did.”

Gardner says, “It was me, sir.

No, it was Joe.

“Thanks, kid.

Just now.”

Thanks for being here,” I say.

There’s the clang of a door opening up and a voice like sunshine says, “I hear you’re awake, Mr. Anders.” A pretty lady doctor leans over me with a smile. She’s holding one of those metal medical clipboards and has her 117


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hair pulled back in a lazy, she kind of looks like that Man, whatever her name was, cy? I know I’m getting old comic books.

blonde blonde before when I

ponytail. Looking at her girlfriend from SpiderMary Jane. Shelly? Stacan’t even remember my

Lady Doctor pushes a pair of wire frame glasses up on her little nose and says, “I’m Dr. Swanson. I’ve been reviewing your case.” Sitting up, trying to feign politeness, I say, “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Swanson. The Man with Two Brains, at your service.”

Dr. Swanson smiles and says, “Steve Martin, yeah?”

“Good catch.”

“Well, odd as it may sound. There’s nothing physically wrong with you. I’ve conferred with some of the other doctors and we all feel that, now that you have woken up, the crisis is likely behind you. Your brain just needed a chance to process all of the information. Still, color me cautious, but I want to do some scans of your head and I’d like to keep you one more night for observation. If I’m satisfied with what I see I think we’re going to release you back into the wild tomorrow. How would you feel about that?” “I don’t know, I mean, I haven’t had to fend for myself for a long time. The wild? Sounds like hard work, ma’am. My claws ain’t too sharp these days.” She chuckles politely and just says, “I only mean that you’ll be free to go. Unless you have had any further developments I should know about. Is there anything you want to tell me?” “You mean other than the fact that I got a techno terrorist’s childhood downloaded into my brain? Other than the fact that, even now, it’s all I see when I shut my eyes?” “Yes. stuff.”

That’s what I mean.

“Memory stuff?

Other than the memory

Glad to see at least one of you needle 118


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probing pencil necks can lighten up and talk human when necessary.” “When necessary,” she smiles, “my programming allows for me to mimic the behavior of organic life forms.” “Well, in that case, no. There’s nothing I need to report other than the memory stuff. I feel fine. Better than fine even.” “Very good to hear, Mr. Anders,” she says, “Would you mind hopping into this wheelchair for me? We’re going to take a little trip to the MRI machine.” I do as she says and as she steers me gently into the cliché tope colored halls I look up and say, “Hey, Doc, did you know the Australian Aborigines sleep sixty percent of their lives? They believe the real world is the dream world and this world is just a necessary evil. Dreaming is where they live. Did you know that to the Blackfoot Indians the dream world is our way of tapping into eternity?”

“No, I didn’t know that.

Where’d you learn that?”

“I don’t know, I just picked it up somewhere, I guess.”

“I see,” she says, “Could it be something you picked up from Joe Blake?” “Um…maybe? The kid is kind of a hound for random factoids. Wouldn’t that be something, eh? If I was suddenly a wiz at trivia because of this fiasco?” “Very optimistic. For my part, I’ll just settle for no permanent brain damage. Here we are, Mr. Anders. Can you hop up on the bench for me?”

“You say hop a lot, have you noticed this?”

“I guess I do. I used to be a pediatrician. I guess I learned my bedside manner from dealing with kids, probably makes me a touch patronizing to you older patients.” She pauses like she just bit her tongue or something and then she says, “I didn’t mean you’re old, I just meant – I mean, you know. What I meant was you are…”

“I’m older than a little kid that wants a lollipop after 119


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his checkup. Don’t worry, Doc. You’re still young. When you get to be my age you stop worrying about whether or not people think you’re old. You embrace your reality. Then you realize that most of the stuff holding you back all your life was just that: stuff. Things like vanity or numbers or prestige or wealth kind of just start to look like words. More things seem fake, but the things that still seem real get a lot sweeter. It’s a good trade off. I wouldn’t trade places with you in a million years. Except maybe to know what it feels like to have a lady body. And only if it were temporary.” Dr. Swanson blushes and says, “You make it sound kind of romantic. Aging, I mean. I’ve never heard it put quite like that. Okay, lie back.”

“So soon, Doc?

We only just met.”

She blushes more and tries to act mad, “I meant lie back on the bench so I can put you in this contraption and take a look at your perverted brain.” I do as she asks, acting more stiff than I really am, and say, “Well, when you put it so eloquently how can I resist?” She puts this plastic frame over my face and tells me I’ll have to be real still. I tell her I understand and she hits a button. There’s the dull hum of a motor and the sudden jerk of the bench rolling me into the open porthole mouth of the machine. I feel like a canned ham on a grocery store conveyor belt. My face slides under the rim of the opening and everything is a dirty kind of white. A light clicks on and Dr. Swanson’s voice comes in on a speaker. The doc says, “Okay, Mr. Anders, I’ll warn you, this will take quite some time and it’s going to get loud. Remember to do your very best to keep still. Whatever position you’re in when the machine starts is where you need to stay, so get comfortable. I’d recommend shutting your eyes, it will help you relax and I won’t have to deal with you blinking and throwing off my machine.”

“Blinking can do that?

Really?”

“I guess you’ll never know, will you? 120

Is the mad doc-


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tor pulling my leg or dead serious? The patient’s quandary. Okay, Mr. Anders, you’re on the air.” The sound of metal on metal, like the inside of a cement truck drum or an air compressor or maybe a paint mixer, kicks into high gear and my first impulse is to put my hands over my ears, but they just hit the inside wall of this God forsaken plastic tube and then I remember to sit still. I close my eyes, try to tune out the noise – try to tune everything out. And then I find it. I find this neat organization, this perfect rhythm hidden in the percussion of the clang of the machine. I listen to that rhythm and it isn’t noise anymore. It’s relaxing. Mesmerizing. I feel hypnotized. Maybe I’ll sleep. Note from Section Supervisor Wilkes: Director Price, I feel it incumbent upon me to point out that the following sequence of events was barely discernible in the Thought Chip record. The system’s translation from the synaptic to a readable file was either somehow corrupted or Subject Anders experienced an intense incoherence in these moments. Regardless, I have done my best to translate them into a logical record, but some assumptions had to be made in the transitions of the following moments. Midnight. Ramble. Coffee. Lake. Moonlight. I’m on the break of a waterfall. There’s magic in my soup. Robert E. Lee is waving me on. Audrey Hepburn kisses my cheek. We go under. The door opens. White room. Gray figures around a bed. It’s me. I look at me. I look back. Robert E. Lee and Audrey Hepburn pull me on and we’re here now. It’s music under the seats. I stomp my feet. Lee sings. Everyone waves their hands in the air. God is in the room. So many faces. God is in the room. We called and he picked up this time. The prayers don’t go to voicemail. Audrey is here and she weeps. She sees God too. We’re all together. The three of us. Audrey is here on stage with us and she sings like the silk voice of an angel in black. My eyes talk to their tears too. So many faces. Proud. Pew. Pulpit. Prayer. Promise. Passover…a fortune teller says, “Your mother is also here. She has been with us. Spinning in our circus too. She’s been here much longer than the fire child.” 121


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I see them, but I don’t get to say anything. Just when they notice me, just as I am about to call out and wave, when I open my mouth, a different voice comes out. The voice says, “Wake up, Mr. Anders. We’re all done here.” Sitting up, I rub the sleep from my eyes and see the pretty, pale form of Dr. Swanson standing over me. She smiles and says, “My, my, we really are getting a lot of rest today, aren’t we? Well, time to come back to the land of the living.” She helps me to my feet and I get back into the wheelchair. She rolls me back to my bed and says, “There were some weird anomalies, but your scans were negative for any damage in the way of clots or bruising or hemorrhages of any kind. It looks like whatever this is it’s a tech issue rather than a medical issue.”

“What anomalies were there, Doc?”

“Nothing to worry about, Mr. Anders.”

“If it’s nothing to worry about then there’s no reason not to tell me, right?” I say. “Okay, well, yesterday, while you were still unconscious, we did a PET scan. The readings were all strong and healthy, right where they should be for a man your age. However, you see this line?” She holds up her clipboard, there’s a print out that points to a few wavy lines. One red and one blue. She says she had been concerned that the MRI might reveal something to explain the readings, that this is, in a way, good news. It means the problem is my Thought Chip. “See, that blue line is you. Nice and strong, good rhythm for the state you were in when I took the readings. But this red line is erratic, almost like it was fighting the test. I don’t really know how to say this, Mr. Anders, but it reads like a second set of brain waves – one calm and in control, the other panicked and struggling to survive. I can only conclude that it is your Thought Chip malfunctioning.”

“But the Thought Chip shouldn’t be putting out that kind 122


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of signature.

It wasn’t designed to do that, Dr. Swanson.”

“I’m aware of that. But there it is. It’s the most logical explanation. It would seem that somehow, through some strange set of circumstances, your Thought Chip has literally developed a mind of its own. I would guess that in the act of downloading these files on your subject the Thought Chip somehow adopted parts of his personality, effectively simulating his consciousness inside your head. It may have something to do with the combination of the Thought Chip tech, this strange virus at headquarters, and the removal of safety firewalls in order to enable the Memory Dump. Still, that’s a bit out of my pay grade since I’m just a simple company doctor.”

“Well, what do we do?

Am I in any danger?”

“The chip is a self-cleaning system, I hope in time it will work through these bugs.” “So let me get this straight, Doc. You’re saying the virus got into my head and somehow gave me a second personality?” “A kind of synthetic multiple personality disorder, yes,” she nods, nervously.

“And you think that’s all hunky-dory?

A voice in my head, familiar, like out of a dream says, “Looks like you really screwed the pooch now, old man.” What was that? familiar like…

It’s this voice, grown up but young, and

“The Other Voice?” it asks.

Dr. Swanson says, “Not at all, Mr. Anders. As I said, we’ll keep watch over you tonight and see what transpires. We’ll do another scan tomorrow and see if the chip has restored itself.” The Other Voice says, “C’mon, just because you’re going nuts don’t mean we can’t have a little fun. Talk to me.”

Dr. Swanson squeezes my forearm and says goodbye.

“Hello?

Hello?

Can you read me?” The Other Voice 123


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booms.

“Are-are you…Are you, Mr. Smiles?” I ask.

The voice shouts, “Survey says!” and makes a buzzer sound, loud and obnoxious, “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s the wrong answer, but thank you for playing. We would have accepted ‘My conscience, God, or Harvey the Giant Invisible Bunny Rabbit.’”

“Shut up, just shut up, will ya?”

The voice sings, more like hum-scats, the theme song to Hawaii 5-0. The Other Voice screams in my head. I’m screaming in my head. I tap the call button like an addict and the doctor runs back in.

“What is it, Emmett?

What happened?” she asks.

“Oh, no you don’t,” the Other Voice says.

Dr. Swanson screams and for a second I don’t know why. There’s just the voice singing in my head and – my body tenses like I’m being electrocuted. My back practically breaks in half and I feel her hands on my face. She tells me it’ll all be over soon. I’m shaking all over. I hear nurses burst into the room and the doctor says, “He’s seizing.”

My mind goes white.

Not sure where it’s coming from, but there’s music. Something blasting Tom Waits lyrics. Don’t go down. To Fannin Street. Don’t go down. My vision blurs. I’m spinning. Spiraling down a drain. I’m a bug caught in a bathtub and somebody’s pulled the plug. I’m spinning, sinking into darkness. You’ll be lost and never found.

Don’t go down.

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Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 03/70/90 :: ToOLatE12.9PM

It’s my house. My home on the base. The Watcher compound is a converted military base from the fifties. When the money started running out the government started recycling old complexes. We wound up here. The Watchers live in bunker housing that used to hold officers and their families. Down a street filled with more of our patented brand of sameness, more illusory equality, there’s a long row of gray homes with the exact same driveway, exact black SUVs all pulling in and parking almost in unison. You can almost hear the classical music playing, synchronizing the whole choreography. An image from that sequence in Edward Scissorhands comes to mind, that part where all the men are heading off to work from Suburbia at the same time, all the housewives waving goodbye. I don’t have much inside. Bare essentials: refrigerator, stove, computer, books. I have a big stereo system from the sixties hooked into a record player and some speakers. It’s all old tech that I’ve inspected for cameras and listening devices. Sometimes I think about getting rid of everything and just having the old timey radio and my records. Sometimes. The sad thing is it’s my old video game emulator that keeps this computer in the house. I think about what my life would look like without Zelda and the Land of Hyrule or a magic leaf that turns you into a flying raccoon Italian man or Materia or first person perspectives on a shotgun that can blow a zombie in half. When these games first came out I’m sure nobody figured that the kids would be pushing sixty some day and still farting around with those same silly controllers. Someday my hands will give out from arthritis but until then I just have to be one of those weird old guys that grew up playing Mortal Kombat and couldn’t shake the habit. You hear stories about old guys and their “back in my day” talk. My generation ain’t any different, you just reach a certain age where you stop advancing, you settle 125


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into your ways, and you become convinced that what you did for fun when you were a child is the best things ever were. You start forgetting the bad stuff and your memory becomes a sieve that can only hold onto the pieces of granule memories big and good and colorful enough to last. One day the world of your youth is paradise. You realize you had the best TV shows, the best cartoons, the coolest actors, the best movies, the best games and sports and stories and adventures. And everything from this new generation is all gone to hell. It’s been this way for centuries, maybe forever, but it’s weird to be an old man and yet still in touch with something that is grossly considered to be a child’s pastime. Anyway, those boys in Japan or whatever probably weren’t thinking about a guy like me when those first game boxes came out. My father used to talk about how the height of television was The Rockford Files and Happy Days. Here I am continuing the tradition. I still think The Animaniacs is the funniest thing ever devised by man, and there’s a million snot nosed eight year olds out there right now to tell me I’m old and dumb.

Why am I here?

The Other Voice says, “Ah, home shit home.”

“Joe?” I ask, looking up as if to speak to the Other Voice, the way we look for God in the clouds or the stars. The Other Voice says, “Christ, ‘bout time you figured it out, old man.” And there’s Joe, standing in front of me like some kind of Ghost of Christmas Past. Only he’s not a kid, he’s big, grown up, he’s the man from the camera feed talking right at me, the techno terrorist that launched the weirdest computer virus ever. He’s the face on the screen that started all of this yesterday or ten years ago or five minutes ago. Whatever it was. “Time kinda weird for you in here, eh?” says Joe Vagrant. I say, “Ya think? There’s more layers and story tenses in here than a freaking episode of Lost. What is this, a flash forward within a flashback during a dream? Even J.J. 126


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Abrams would be pulling his hair out at this one.”

“Man, I ain’t no flash forward.

I’m here.”

“Doc Swanson says you’re a hardware glitch, nothing more.”

“You aren’t dreaming me up, Anders, I swear.”

“That’s just what a hallucination would say.”

“I’m here to help you. Been trying to get through from the jump but you’ve been blocking me.” “Help me? How are you supposed to help me?” I say, “I’m in this because of you.”

“For starters,” Joe says, “Look at yourself.”

I look down and see my hands first. My tired, old, decrepit antique video game playing man hands. I’m not a kid anymore. I’m me. Somehow I’m me. But I’m still lost in the feed. Still dreaming in the Memory Dump. But at least I’m myself again.

“You did this?” I say.

“Yeah, man, I can do anything in here. you learn to go with it.”

So can you, if

“How do I go with it?”

“I don’t know if I can tell you that, Mr. Anders. But you went to college, right? Maybe you can improvise.” “Joe, would you mind telling me exactly what’s going on, in plain English?”

“Sure,” he says, “it’s why I’m here.”

“I was just thinking, why are you here? you reading my mind?”

Hey, wait.

Are

“No,” he says, “Well, yes. No. I don’t know. It’s weird, man. I mean, we’re in your mind. So, you know, I guess me being here is technically what you might call mind reading, but you can’t really read a mind. The language of the brain is not English or Spanish. It’s electricity, it’s sensory data, you just have one part of your brain that 127


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converts the data into a language. It’s like an operating system for a computer. The computer doesn’t think in English, it’s ones and zeros, yeah? Yeah. But your operating system converts the data into something a tech illiterate porn surfer from Des Moines can interface with. Anyway, the point is, we aren’t really in your mind per se. We’re in your operating system, got me?” “Nope. But it’s cool. So, what happens now, Joe? got a captive audience here.”

You

He says, “Now… well, there’s got to be one around here somewhere. You’re a gamer type, right? Your brain is probably organized into levels, upgrades, dungeons, that kind of thing. We just need a…”

“How’d you know I liked video games?”

“I told you, I’ve been here all along. I’ve been watching you. You just haven’t been letting me in. Pretty weird though, isn’t it?” “Yeah, I mean, you’ve been a voice in my head in addition to what? Three others?” “No, I mean, it’s pretty weird, being like ninety and still playing Mario Bros.” “No weirder than being a hobby junky that thinks he was abducted by aliens from heaven, I’d wager. What’s with that?” “Hey,” Joe spins around, pointing a finger in my face, “That was a long time ago and there is a perfectly rational explanation.” “Oh, yeah? What’s that. orange? Area 51?”

Government conspiracy?

Agent

“Well, yeah, of course, but… here we go.”

He opens my bathroom door, only I don’t see any sign of my shamefully dirty commode. On the other side of the door it’s night time. We walk through the door and my house is gone. There’s woods all around and a sky lit up bright with too many stars. Nearby is a house and we sneak up quietly through the blackness of the trees toward a driveway. The 128


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driveway is at the top of a long hill and on the pavement, lit up an almost glowing blue in the moonlight, there’s these three silhouettes lying on their backs, staring up at the sky. Joe says, “I know, cheesy, right? pid.”

We were so young and stu-

“That’s you?” I say. “Yeah, one of them, I’m not a three-headed circus geek if that’s what you’re asking. That’s me, Lee and Audrey. The Three fucking Amigos.” He moves a little closer and says, “I remember this. on.”

Come

I follow him onto the driveway and we walk right up to the kids lying out in the starlight. A few meteors streak across the sky and they make the standard “oohs” and “awws” in response. We’re practically standing over them now and they don’t seem to notice us. Joe crouches down over the trio like a forensic investigator on a crime scene, his hands resting on his knees dramatically. He points at Audrey, sitting in between the two boys, and says, “Note the arrangement of the bodies, three heads touching, two connected by the one in the middle, the eyes are glowing with starlight and meteor fire, their faces reflecting the same emotions stirred by the cosmos since the dawn of time. There couldn’t be a better visual metaphor for our relationship together. Their position even implies a triangle, doesn’t it? Two hormonal boys flaying out in opposing directions at forty-five degree angles from their goddess in between. Both in love with her, but also in love with each other.” “In love?” I ask, glancing from the teenagers to the shower of light overhead. “I loved Lee. Not like I wanted to share a sleeping bag or anything, but he was the first best friend I ever had. Lee was like an extension of my body. He brought out all of my best quirks, flaws, and creativity. And I was that for him. We were like two atoms in one molecule, hydrogen and oxygen. Both explosive alone, but the source of everything when we 129


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came together. God, he really loved her, you know? I loved her longer, but I sometimes wonder if he loved her more.” Without seeming to think or notice, Joe’s body sort of shifts toward Lee and he stares down at him lovingly and full of rage at the same time. Like a disappointed father. He says, “My God, I can’t believe how young he is. It’s easy to forget, you know? When you’re with someone for so long you don’t notice the changes, they happen so gradually, and the stresses of everything that’s out ahead of this kid do take their toll. He burns hot and bright, just like those meteors overhead. God, this place really is our life together. Connected to Audrey, silently agreeing that neither will have her for fear of losing the other as we watch the sky burn above us, we think and pray and wonder about the truth of God and the possibility of a better future. Soon to burn up all of that youthful passion just as fast as those streaks of light.” The meteor shower ramps up and the sky gets noticeably brighter. Kid Joe says, “So the more I read about native mythology the more I see similarities between them, and even with other religions. You know that the Hopi believe a man in white will return on a white horse signifying the coming of a new era? Sound familiar? Revelations, anyone? Then there’s like all this stuff…oh, wow, that was a good one. Did you guys see that?” “We saw it,” Lee says, smiling in the dark. Joe says, “How many people from native cultures talk about the star people or star beings? Do you ever wonder? What if there really were aliens and they inspired the world’s religions?” “Is this Stargate talk again?” Lee asks. “What’s Stargate?” Audrey asks. “What’s Stargate?” Joe shrieks, “Jesus, Audrey… No, forget about Stargate, I’m being serious. What if everything we are has been directed by a more evolved species trying to mold us in their image and that’s where we get the idea of creation and god? What if there really were star people and 130


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what if they’re still here? Slowly taking over as we get more and more advanced. What if that’s why things are so screwed up and no one seems able to stop it?” “Okay, Joe,” Lee says, “You’re going off on your conspiracies again. Next it’ll be how Hitler was really an alien or how MLK was shot for mucking up the alien’s plans.” “First of all, Hitler wasn’t an alien, he was just working for them and second, Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t shot until he started defending worker rights and encouraging people to go on strikes and gum up the works of basic civil infrastructure. Nobody cared that he was standing up for Civil Rights it was when he started trying to change the class system, rearrange the power dynamic, that they shot him. It was almost immediately after he gave that speech announcing that the true discrimination wasn’t white vs. black but rich vs. poor. Then, BANG!” Audrey sighs, interrupting Joe’s rant and just says, “I love that you have your own ideas, Joe, and that you aren’t afraid to take risks. So maybe if I say this you guys won’t freak out on me like the others would. It’s just, I don’t know, guys. I’m starting to have a hard time. I love the youth group, I love the church and you two, of course, but I’m starting to wonder. Like, does it ever strike you as weird? Knocking on people’s doors to invite them to go to heaven with you? Cornering people, accusing them of sinning, guilting them into a spiritual or emotional reaction? It’s scare tactics, emotional blackmail, marketing campaigns. I mean tee shirts and bumper stickers and billboards spreading the Gospel like a new sports drink or aftershave?” “Like it’s a commercial product. shrugs.

That’s America,” Lee

Audrey goes, “Yeah. Like, if God is everything we say he is then why do we use such cheap methods to promote him?” Joe, Kid Joe, says, “I know what you mean. No offense to Brother Beau, I owe him a lot, you know, but the Witnessing Targets were kind of where I had to draw the line.” “Witness Targets?” I ask, turning to Vagrant. 131


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He looks at himself, his younger self, and says, “Yeah, Brother Beau gives us all these bullseyes on laminated paper and a roll of yellow stickers. He says, ‘I want you to think of five people you know that are not going to heaven. Five people you want to get saved before the year is out. Each week, when we meet, you’re going to look at these targets and see if you can get them to the bullseye: salvation.’ He tells us how each ring represents where they are as people or ‘souls’ as he’d sometimes put it. One is like they’re against God, one is they’re questioning, another is they’re thinking about it, the closer ring is you’ve prayed with them and then, finally, they ask Jesus into their heart.” Kid Joe says, “It creeped me out. It was like guys making sales calls at those centers with the head sets and all. You know, they have their script and boxes they check off on a form clipped to a clipboard. I don’t know. It made me feel like I was doing telemarketing for Jesus.” Lee laughs and shouts, “Word!” Audrey says, “Guys, I feel like we’re getting it wrong. I just feel like spirituality is the most personal thing in the world, like we’re not giving it the respect it deserves.” “Spirituality is the most personal thing in the world,” Big Joe repeats, “I can’t tell you what this quote meant to me, Anders. Right here, I fall more in love with her than I ever was before. A woman, beautiful, smart and warm, that could guide me through life, challenging me with thoughts like maybe a person’s soul is their own damn business. She stopped being the girl down the street to me and became a woman in my eyes, the love of my life.” “But, I don’t get it,” I say, “Your whole relationship was based on the church. You go to youth group together, you lead revivals and prayer meetings and cell groups.” “Fucking cell groups,” The Vagrant says under his breath, “the militancy of the Christian church in America is so thinly veiled it’s ready to come ripping up through its own vocabulary.” 132


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“Blasphemy, Joe. This whole scene here, that’s all it is. It’s blasphemy. It’s our responsibility, God given, to counsel the world and bring it to salvation.” “You know what it is, Anders. The origin of Superman. How many movies, television programs and comics were there reinterpreting the origin of Superman and how many times did people say, ‘Enough is enough, we know how the story begins, give us a new story. Give us a movie without an origin story and that crummy little ship,’ but the people in charge, fucking Hollywood, they never gave us enough credit. They thought we needed to see the story told and retold again and again ad nauseam. But we know, Anders. We know. So keep it to yourself.” “But it says so in the Bible,” I say, “You have to go out into the world and preach the good news. President McKinley has all but made it an American Law. We are a Christian nation and that’s what Christians do.” “If I really thought you meant that do you think I’d be in your head right now?” “Whatever, kid, I’m just trying to make a point. Like, how is it that you could fall more in love with Audrey when she said something contrary to Christian doctrine when all this time you’ve been following her like a puppy on a leash of faith?” “It doesn’t matter, Anders. The point is she said something true. Truth is more important than dogma, and they’re rarely the same thing. What Audrey just said is true and it cut to the bone. It went so deep, it was like I never felt that way before, not from anything anybody ever said. Audrey said the first true thing I think I ever heard. Got me? How could I not love her for something like that?” I shake my head, looking down at the row of kids at my feet as they stare up at the sky, and say, “It just seems weird that you could flip your stance so easily after all this time in church.” Joe Vagrant looks up at the sky, mimicking the expression and gaze of his younger self, and sort of mutters, “It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fast. Challenging faith is the 133


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hardest thing anyone could ever have to do, Anders. Faith, by its very nature, forms the foundation for your reality. You see everything by it, you make all of your assumptions, hopes – your whole identity becomes ‘believer.’ Moving away from faith is more than just risking the fires of Hell. It’s deconstructing the self and being left with nothing but questions to fill the void that was once occupied by truth, certainty, and comfort. “Abandoning faith takes the biggest leap of faith imaginable. You don’t want to hear me bad mouth your religion – well, I won’t hear you diminish what we all went through. Our desire for truth, our search for the face of God, took us deeper into the Word than most people ever go. And what we found wasn’t an earth shattering revelation, no realization of any kind, we just found emptiness. We’re just starting to feel it here, alone under this meteor storm, but it goes on. It grows. There’s a moment, I’m sure we’ll see it, where we realize we’ve hit the bottom of the well. There aren’t any answers for us in the book. We have to look elsewhere. Our search for divinity ultimately takes us away from religion altogether. Oh shit – we have to go…” “What?

What’s the matter?” I say.

Vagrant walks away up the driveway, heading for the house. And then it happens. Lightning, not just small strikes either, big orbs of orange light in the sky like the kind they get in the South where electricity combines with humidity and the sky lights up white as day and deep purple. It explodes over the Montana horizon so foreign to the kids they scream and cover their heads. They don’t get storms like this in Montana. There’s not enough humidity, it isn’t hot enough. This is the beginning. A screaming sign of a big climate change taking hold. Big Joe, at the top of the hill now, says, “It was only the beginning. We started getting hail in July, snow storms in August, ninety degree days in the middle of January. Everything was all in a circle, just like us, just like the way we felt.” I catch up with him at the top of the driveway and he says, “C’mon, there’s nothing for us here. We have to find the next door.” 134


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The Subtopian Magazine Issue Seven