The Adventures of Vernon Q. Public by Eric Suhem
Be on the lookout for Subtopian Press’ upcoming release of
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Soup from the Air: 1989
Runaway Moral Train
Trevor D. Richardson
Stuck on Repeat
Notes on How to Write
Be Careful Near Machinery
Page Three Utopia Holy Smokes
The Book of Jacob Lewis
Building a New Subtopian:
Pearls for Swine
Notes from the Team on
Making a Newspaper
Lyrics from the Songs of “Dystopia Boy” the
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Soup from the Air: 1989
It was my first return visit to the S a u s a l i t o w a t e r f r o n t f r o m P o r t To w n s e n d , Wa s h i n g t o n , a f t e r I h a d g o n e t h e r e a t a f r i e n d ’s i n v i t a t i o n t o p l a y a t t h e c o f f e e h o u s e s h e w a s r u n n i n g b e h i n d t h e To w n Ta v e r n , i n t h e s a m e b u i l d i n g . The Tavern was the town’s last remaining relic of 60’s counterculture (as opposed to New Age uber-sensitivity and political correctness), frequented by artists, would-be poets, boat bums and various kinds of characters and degenerates that frequented Sausalito in the early 70’s and turned up regularly in R. Crumb comics. Upstairs in the four-story Victorian brick structure, artist studios and flophouse crash pads shared space with a thriving drug trade. The owner was eventually busted for cultivation of marijuana and opium poppies and the bar was sold. I had driven south to Marin to attend a wake for John Stephens, a semi-legendary musician, writer, raconteur and survivor of the North Beach beat scene, who had become a good friend and personal mentor in my early days at Waldo Point. While in Sausalito I stayed on a tugboat boat in Galilee Harbor, not long before the Loma Prieta earthquake collapsed the Napa Street Pier. Galilee was about to throw a big party to celebrate purchase of the property at the foot of Napa St. It would be a big shebang, with some two or three hundred guests. Who would have to be fed. I had a minor reputation as a decent cook and was engaged to make the soup course for the dinner. It would be Canellini bean soup and I got to work on it that morning in the StarTide. By 3 o’clock I had a seven-gallon stainless steel pot full of cannellini beans, chicken stock, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme and parsley, and white wine, almost ready to go. Drawn 1
out of the boat by a distraction I can’t even remember, I stayed
Ethan Loses His Friend Again:to find my day’s work burned, ruined, too long and returned inedible. From His Diary
After a few moments of panic, I knew what had to be done. I1940s drove to Gate 6 to enlist the aid of Joni Oaktree, the only culinary miracle worker I’ve ever known. “Joni, I need soup for 300 people by five o’clock.” She gathered up a few items from galley and said, He wantsher a life of simple joys“Let’s go.” We boarded the big houseboat StarTide and went to work.
free of the spectator sport of politics,
Like John embrace Stephens, Larry Moyer, Shel Silverstein, and Alan perhaps the scout’s
Watts Joni was a veteran of 50’s and early 60’s beat culture
we knew who of a brotherhood came to liveofatinnocents. the Sausalito Waterfront. She was also a
and fourth or fifth generation San Francisco And I hadveteran changedchef since theawar. Italian whose family name was Zappetini. She fed kings and bums with equal aplomb.
Joni’s basic cooking philosophy was, “If you can’t think of anything to make for dinner, start chopping garlic and everything else will fall into place.” This, she did. She Now he was good with men rummaged around the small bag of food items she had brought and women, hisher heart notand in ransacked it. from boat, the StarTide’s galley for anything interesting. As her idea took shape, she sent me to the store for For me sex is all frustration. shrimp. When I returned she was chopping parsley (“The flatBoth of usleaf hate campkind, and drag Italian please.”) and had five gallons of something thatmost smelled wonderful and Chinese. She quickly sautéed the giggles, but the lies. shrimp, dumped them in the pot and said, “And there you have 1960s it.” “It” was a sweet-and-sour soup that rivaled anything you could
He had kept findmy in manuscript, Chinatown. Which for Joni, was no big deal or surprise
except had made it from practically nothing, in a short (bad poems in hisshe desk amount of time, with zero advance notice.
kindly returned by a succeeding editor)
Joni Oaktree a sentiment still alive. died of lung cancer in 2002, but not before being
featured on a PBS documentary about the beat crowd that frequented the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco. Like her cooking, she is now out of this world. 2012 2
BE CAREFUL NEAR well-oiled machine, after all? Machines make our lives easier, they save us time, they increase efficiency and have made humanity the dominant species on the Earth.
Yo u k n o w w h a t t h e y s a y a b o u t society becoming a machine? What could be more “Stuck on Repeat” than the decades long repetition of this old expression? Ever since the days of the Luddites, when the workers cast their wooden shoes into the gears of the machines to preserve their simpler way of life, there has been a note of the D y s t o p i a n t o i n d u s t r y.
But machines are one thing when used as tools in our daily lives, they become quite another thing when they take over those lives, changing, even controlling who we are. This social refrain, this repeated chorus throughout our h i s t o r y, h a s b e e n u t t e r e d t h r o u g h the Great Depression, the days of the Beats, the Protest
But why do we fear it so m u c h ? W h a t ’s s o w r o n g w i t h mechanizing? Why should we fear society becoming a 33
Rachael Johnson, the founder and writer of this particular regular feature in Subtopian, has moved on to new challenges and has, to use a familiar comic book expression, hung up the cowl. But the mission continues and the search for a replacement will likely be long, difficult, and bittersweet. Her insight was as keen as her journalistic sense for story and it seems to me that if she were here writing today she would have something important to say about the recent shootings. I guess, like so many heroes hanging up the cape, the responsibility falls to the next in line, the one nearest by, someone fighting the fight beside them. The cowl goes to me until we can find a suitable replacement.
MACHINERY Movement, the Civil Rights Era, the days of the hippies, the ages of Punk, Grunge, and our recent move toward independent art. In all that time, the references to being “a cog in the machine,” or “fighting the machine,” have remained, more or less, unchanged.
turned it off. It consumes in order to create. A machine, put s i m p l y, i s d a n g e r o u s . The declaration of our revolutionary and fringe thinkers to fear the machine is an expanded declaration of the mother telling her child to be w a r y o f t h e s t o v e b e c a u s e i t ’s h o t . Wa t c h o u t f o r m a c h i n e s , they’ll steamroll you without thought, remorse, or notice.
We f e a r a m e c h a n i c a l s o c i e t y because it is unthinking, u n m o v i n g a n d , u l t i m a t e l y, inhuman. A machine doesn’t know to stop the wheels turning when you put your hand in it. It stays hot long after you’ve
But it gets worse than that. The machine society would 44
regulars have room for only the parts necessary to keep it functioning. Everything else is just spare parts, either waiting to be slotted in when a part goes bad o r j u s t i n t h e w a y. T h i s c a l l s t o mind a lot of things. Like the fact that unemployment is so high, or the increase in people who are jaded by the system and want to find a way to live and w o r k o u t s i d e o f i t . M a y b e t h a t ’s what the drive to become an artist or self-employed or some such thing really is: an escape from the clockwork, not for any idealist reason but because you know the clock doesn’t need you. What if the people dreaming of being musicians and writers and painters and all that other stuff were just hoping to find a way to survive without relying on that mindless, merciless machine? The clock doesn’t value the personality of its parts, only the job that they do. The point is, we’re all expendable and there are too many of us. The only solution is to expand the machine, create more moving parts so that we can use all the nuts and bolts and gears we have lying around.
to implement them. It all, as usual, comes down to economics. The trouble with using more moving parts is more things can b r e a k d o w n . I n t e r e s t i n g l y, t h e history of our industry and our society have mirrored each other since pretty much the beginning. Each time a new product has been created or designed in this country the folks looking to increase profit have immediately set to finding ways to make them breakable to ensure repeat business. The earliest models of automobiles were sturdy enough to last a lifetime. Now you’re lucky to get ten years out of them, for example. In the same way we have been adding more and more pieces to the clockwork of our nation since the beginning. I’m not talking about “workers,” I’m talking about the fact that everything in America and even the world has been brought in on a massive economic system that did not used to be necessary to maintain life. In the old days, people would j u s t g r o w, w o r k , c r e a t e , s e l l o r trade. There was no need for business licenses, stock trading, or global import-exports, but t h e m a c h i n e i s g r o w i n g . We ’ r e binding it all together, creating a massive network of trade worthy companies. The goal for everything now is incorporation. We a r e n ’ t o u t t h e r e t o j u s t s t a r t a business for ourselves and e a r n a l i v i n g . We ’ r e l o o k i n g
Can’t you hear the voice of the p o l i t i c i a n s s h o u t i n g , “ We n e e d to create more jobs!” The machine is being expanded, not because it has more to do or because the design has been improved or empowered, but simply because we were wasting materials and needed 5
regulars engine that our industrial era has been seeking since the beginning. This seems doubtful b e c a u s e , u l t i m a t e l y, h u m a n i t y and machines will always be opposites. Humanity embraces i n d i v i d u a l i t y, f r e e t h i n k i n g , spirit, inspiration and passion. The machine is thoughtless. It is lifeless. It exists purely for the sake of fulfilling its function. A society that became a perfect engine would be as dangerous and inhuman as the society that was an unstable, runaway train that grew power, expanded its size, and consumed more fuel exponentially by the y e a r. T h e y a r e b o t h w r o n g , b o t h full of potential hopelessness.
to grow that business, defeat o t h e r s , e x p a n d , m e rg e , c o n q u e r. In other words, add more moving parts. And then we wonder why things feel like they’re breaking d o w n . We ’ v e b u i l t a c l o c k w i t h seven billion pieces the size of a planet and what little left over parts we do have are lying at the bottom of the clocktower, gathering dust, forgotten or dejected by the pieces at work. S o h e r e ’s t h e c a s e i n p o i n t : The system we live in, globalization, a function for all of the people in it, the mechanical nature of it all, has worked itself into our way of thinking so much that we no longer see a way out. The growth of the machine seems as automated now as a machine itself. When people say they want the machine to stop we feel like we are helpless to resist it, i t ’s a s i f t h e m a c h i n e i s r u n n i n g i t s e l f n o w. We b l a m e “ t h e m , ” or “the man,” or the president, every bit as much of a faceless figure or idea as “the man.”
I don’t know what the solution is, I never have. The only thing I can say is what we’ve been saying for decades. Stuck on repeat, muttering in song circles and poetry slams, that when the machine becomes so big, so heartless, that you can’t stomach it that the only thing left to do is to jam up the gears, block them with your body if you have to, or throw your wooden shoes into the gears.
When these people that wish to break down the machine speak of it the conversation inevitably turns toward the end of the world -- in other words, the machine is going so fast by now our only hope is for it to fly apart.
“Damn the man.” pp
Our only other hope is that the machine will stabilize, that we will find the perfect 6
HOLY SMOKES The Book of Jacob Lewis Henry David Thoreau stood on the foot of my bed and said, “You have to go into the woods and don’t come back until God has spoken.” It was weird. He was really there. Right there in front of me, he even lit a fire by rubbing two pencils together. I know I shouldn’t have been talking with him because he died like a million years before I was even born or something, but still, there he was. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had just made myself a nice little cannabis-LSD 25 cocktail before bed. Maybe it’s just as simple as the fact that I’m bat shit crazy. Still, Thoreau told me to go out to the woods for a spiritual experience and that is what I’m doing. When I woke up the next morning everything was back in order, no fire in my bed sheets and no Thoreau staring me down with that weird neck beard. One thing though, I still don’t understand this, I had Sharpie marker written all over my left arm. It was some kind of a list, sort of a shopping list, and it looked something like this: 1) Tent 2) Grub 3) Borrow flashlight and lantern from Dad 4) Get sleeping bag back from Tom 5) Matches 6) Compass 7) Parka 8) Hiking boots 9) Weed, acid, booze from Sal 10) Carton, one box, Camel, Turkish Gold It was scrawled all over my arm with mismatched handwriting and the wrong letters in all caps. The thing spiraled all over my forearm like one of those tribal arm band things you see on bikers, jocks, douche bags, posers and yuppies trying to impress chicks. Anyway, I obeyed the list. I mean, it’s not every day you get mystical somnambulistic Sharpie marker lists from on high telling you exactly what you need for a journey. Most of that stuff was in my garage anyway, and some of it was already in the trunk of my car. I didn’t tell anyone I was going -- Just Sal. His door was always open. 7
“Hey, Sal, I need a favor.” Sal was stretched out on his bed reading an issue of Barely Legal that was about ten thousand years old or something. I know this because he’s always reading it when I come over and I’ve looked at the date on the cover. It’s pretty old. Anyway, I think he is like in love with this girl on page 12. He always tells me that if he finds her he knows exactly what he’d do with her. Well, right when I walk in he shoots up in bed real fast like I’m his mom and I just caught him greasing the silk worm or something. “Page 12, Sal?” “You’re goddamn right, Mitch. I swear to God, if I ever find this girl I’ll take her south to Guatemala and show her jungle trails that will expand her mind and plants that would tell her what God tastes like. We’ll hike euphoria and then I’ll take her out to Canton, TX, where I know this sweet little bass diner and then it’s straight home to Ma and Pa. Serious, bro, a girl like that, you have to get ‘em crooked and then get ‘em straight.” “Sal,” I said, “the favor?” He laughs and fakes knocking himself on the head, “Oh, shit, right...what’s up?” “I’m leaving town for a while and I want to stock up.” “You mean the bare necessities or do you mean the necessities.” “C’mon, Sal, you’ve been my guy for a long time. You know what I mean, let’s just say I’m not talking Baloo the Bear here, all right?” “Good enough for me, well, I guess I’ll need the particulars. Is this a Get Out of Jail Free sort of leaving town, a I Just Can’t Take the Bullshit Anymore kind of leaving town, or is it a I Need to See Something Real if I’m Going to Get Married, Make Babies, Work Hard and Die Peacefully sort of getting out?” “Um, shit, Sal,” I mumble, “last night Henry David Thoreau stood on the edge of my mattress, lit a fire and told me to go to the woods and not come back until I heard from God.” “Dude, really? That’s sweet,” Sal rustled around in his big oak pirate chest full of tricks and says, “Well, I’d say you’re in luck, we have a special this week on customers who have been visited by the dead in the spirit of Jacob Marley and Ebeneezer Scrooge. I’ll give you this vial of purest, firelicked juice from the vaginal canal of the divine goddess herself, gold inlaid LSD 25 for free if you will take this brick of weed off of my hands for a grand.” “What makes you think I got a grand?” Without missing a beat he just shrugs, “The fact that you live with your parents and work Medicaid.” 8
“What can I say?” I reply, “You got me pegged. Besides, the job is pretty sweet. You can get your hands on all kinds of good shit from those old farts in need of a favor. All right, fuck it, let’s see what you got.” At the bottom of this goofy looking pirate chest is a brick of dried grass about the size of those bricks used to build the pyramids of Egypt for Christ’s sake. All that and he only wanted a grand. “What’s up, Sal? We’re friends, but not this good of friends.” “Well, it so happens that I came into this little lady here for a steal, but my parole officer has gotten wind of the shit I’ve been pullin’ behind his back. It looks like I’m about due for the proverbial cell toss any day now. And, seein’ as how you’re headed out for the mountains and all, I thought you could get it out of my hair about as good as anybody.” I handed him the dough and we had a bargain, I took the vial and the brick, tossed them in my bag and made for the door. The last thing Sal said before I closed his door and left him with the Girl on Page 12 was, “Hey, listen, if you hear from the Almighty tell him to look me up, I have an itemized list of questions and demands I’d like to run by him and you’re about as close to a direct line as I’ll ever get. I don’t talk to priests, something about pedophilia just turns me off to trusting them as objective beacons of his benevolent good will and wisdom.” “You’re a freak, you know that?” I said, “I’ll see you soon.” Hopping in my car streaked me down across a few highways and through a few hours before I landed like an A-Bomb on this cheesy little Motel 6 out by Flagstaff. After a shower and some embarassing low rate cable television porn I found myself at the moment where I began inspecting my room for signs of previous occupants. Not likely to find anything at all I slid open a drawer and discovered this tattered, slimy looking red leather bound Gideon Bible that was all alone in there except for the company of an outdated coupon for pizza delivery. I thought of Thoreau and felt like this could be a sign. And there it was, written in red ink on the inside of the front cover, “I’m not coming down until I hear from God himself. No more guesswork and no more forced interpretations from old men in ties shouting down at me from pulpits. I want to get my information directly from the source. No more middle men, no more journalistic bias.” That was that, the Bible, this exact Bible was coming with me. I like to think that the person who wrote that note was a guy like me. Drug binged and crazy, tired of the hired nonsense, the elected bull shit, and the abuse of a deity for personal gain. I imagined him sitting on this same bed, cracking open the Gideon Bible and scrawling its pages irreverently, sacreligously, in his ink -forever leaving his mark on this particular copy of God’s say in the matter. This Bible was number 11 on my list of supplies. I was going to read this thing cover to cover until I found an answer. Page by page in search of a twinkle of approval from on high. Genesis, Chapter 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That night I read through God’s first work week and his first day off. I skimmed through the Garden of Eden and the birth of woman, molded from Adam’s rib. That same handwriting, the notation in red, said, “Woman was created from man’s side, not from his head and not from his foot 9
-- not to be his ruler nor trampled under his boot.” And then I wonder if the notation came from a woman, maybe a Feminist...no, not a Feminist, she would have said woman came before man, or came from Adam’s skull or that Adam came from her vadge or some shit. Anyway, I thought of the note coming from a dainty, quiet librarian type who was on the road looking for her Adam and spent the night alone in this shabby discount motel off of I-40. That girl, the one who believed man and woman were intended to be equals, who desecrated the Word with her ink, I fell in love with her. Then I read on. I read through man’s sin and the flooding of the planet, I read about Abraham and Isaac going up to the mountain. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son to him and Abraham was all for it, no questions asked. He practically had the knife on the kid’s throat, but God stopped old Father Abraham because of his faithfulness, and said he no longer demanded the sacrifice. Still, none of this was any help or comfort, it pretty much just makes me think of that Bob Dylan song Highway 61 and then I fall asleep. That following morning brought no sign of Ghosts of Literary Past nor Hollow Man tubes funneling down to the question of why we are here or who put us on this weird chess board. It did bring a vast, asphalt burning highway stretch toward the Rockies. These woods, these chiseled chocolate sculptures of America’s divide between East and West, New York and L.A., tomorrow, today, whatever, these were where I would meet God. The Notation says, “I’m not coming down until I hear from God himself. No more guesswork and no more forced interpretations from old men in ties shouting down at me from pulpits. I want to get my information directly from the source. No more middle men, no more journalistic bias.” Maybe the Notation is an economist who knows the value of buying your car factory direct and figures the same goes for the Almighty. Maybe he’s a disgruntled political analyst who’s tired of watching the latent opinions of his peers influence the flavor of news as it falls on the ears of America’s general population -- a man who can’t help but notice that the same stigma applies to churches and the Alpha-Omega orators of God’s design, intentions, purpose, craft, will, desire and, above all, commandments. Maybe the Notation was a true Gideon, these tired little men who believe they truly can make the world a better place by dropping Bibles in hotel rooms for guys like me to pick up and scrounge for parts. He might have run low on his crates of the Good Book bought in bulk to save a slight percentage of overhead costs, but still felt the keen desire to leave the word of his savior at that one dreary motel on that corner of I-40 all but forgotten by America. The Gideon might have left his own personal Bible, all of his hours of study, blood, sweat, tears, glory, discovery and failure for a dumb stoner prick like me to find and learn from. The Gideon gave me his Bible. I ran the great risk of reading while I drove, but it doesn’t matter much, these roads are so straight and so dismally vacant I could just brace the pedal tie off the wheel for a nap and still be okay. I’ve now read through all of Genesis and seen God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, place Joseph on the throne of Egypt following the betrayal of his brothers over that gay technicolor bathrobe and read through the geneaologies of too many people to matter. So and So begat What’s His Name who begat greed, demise, sex, lies and pagan altar worship. There’s more backstabbing and fornication in the Bible than daytime soap operas. It was somewhere before Denver when I finally pulled off of the Interstate and did everything I could to get lost. Taking random turns I found myself on the tiniest trickle of a gravel dirt road and 10
when that road came to a high hill I parked my car. The hill dropped off, straight vertical, down into a small gulley. It was the perfect spot with ancient trees whispering their view of history to each other and inviting me to play along. Building a little fire was nowhere near the challenge that I expected and I was immediately aware of how much there is to this country that still, thankfully, remains untouched. I can’t speak for all of it, but that view was definitely God’s country. The Exodus and Leviticus drop away by firelight like candlewax and still no word from the Lord. No word from Thoreau and no sign of spiritual awareness, not even in those old evergreens. I start to feel an ache for some kind of sensation, if I can’t get it in my heart I can at least get in my bloodstream. Digging around in my bag I suddenly shout, “Jesus Christ! No, no, no, no, I can’t believe this!” The Notation in Leviticus says, “What does this mean?” I say, “I’ll tell you what it means! I left my rolling paper at home, it’s sitting in the garage right where I picked up the flashlight -- Jesus! Now what?” The Notation says, “Now is the hour of our Lord.” “Shut up.” Leviticus was an awful bore and when I got to Numbers it dragged like so many begats, begottens and begettings. Geneaologies, don’t these goddamn ancient writers know that geneaologies do not make for great literature? The Notation says, “This is here for a reason.” Then I feel tempted. An anxiety fuels itself on another kind of lust, one that I feel in my lungs instead of my balls. I can taste a long, perfectly rolled joint bouncing lazily on my lips. I ache for it and feel humiliated at the same time, like a kid jonesin’ for the girl two rows up in the middle of the church service. All he really wants to do is flip her skirt up in the baptistry and show her his idea of a cleansing flood. He just wants to show her God, but he knows it’s a sin. The Notation still reads, “This is here for a reason.” “I’ll say,” and I tear out a page of Numbers where someone was begetting with his wife so he could have a son. I broke away a little corner of the brick and dabbled it into the frustratingly pointless remarks of who’s procreating with who in the Biblical Age. I rolled the Book of Numbers into a tightly packed tube and lit it with a strike anywhere match. Then I felt the voice of God burning in my lungs and my blood feels instantly lighter. The Word of God billowed blue off of my lips and I waited for Thoreau. By the time I had smoked my way into the New Testament I was higher than Jesus and his Star in the East. The Three Wise Men themselves could have strolled into my campsite and offered me 11
gold, frankincense and murrh and I wouldn’t have been able to do much more than offer them a toke. I know I definitely fell asleep at some point and I woke up the next morning with a headache and a desire to eat warm scrambled eggs. Only I only had junk food with me so I ate a Pop Tart and lit up some more of my Bible. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” I always hated this one and I smoked it down keeping in mind all of the little bastards who liked to play church like they used to play house or cops and robbers. Every phony who thought by quoting those few lines that they were somehow connected with the overwhelming divinity that sparked life into the vastness of space. It was a pleasure to burn. *** On the mountain I smoke my Bible roll in the spirt of the Sermon on the Mount and the Transfiguration. And behold, I see before me the mutant gloworm form of Jesus Christ standing solemn with the halos of Moses and Elijah. I say, “Hello, boys, nice of you to drop by. Pull up a rock and share a toke. The scriptures are especially eye-opening tonight.” Jesus asks, “Where are you at, brother? Hmm...Judges. Too harsh for my tastes, I always enjoyed the Book of Amos, myself. Nothing goes down quite like a rant about religious fundamentalism.” I flip to Amos chapter five and read verse 21, “I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.” The Notation says, “Word!” Tearing out the page, I roll one and pass it to Jesus with a polite nod. He drags it down and breathes out blue mountain mist saying, “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.” He passes it to Elijah who smokes up and adds, “Nothing goes down smoother than the lesser prophets.” Moses says, “Did you guys ever wonder how much prophecy was just drug addled rambling? I mean, the Greek oracle of Apollo ate marijuana leaves to commune with the gods.” I start rolling a backup doobie with “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Her temple was built on top of a natural gas main,” he continues, “She stayed stoned twenty-four seven from the fumes. And I don’t mean stoned the way they stoned Steven the Martyr.” Elijah explodes a spitty laugh and adds, “’Behold! I see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God!’ Man, that guy really knew how to agitate an already bloodthirsty mob.” 12
Jesus says, “Yeah, but the kid here might not get the joke. At least not all the way.” “What?” I ask, still rolling. Moses explains, “In Jewish tradition the right hand is the hand of strength in battle and authority. The left is reserved for wiping your ass. Those damn Pharisees must’ve thought Steven was saying old Jesus here was mightier than God the father.” “And, God himself, was sitting at Christ’s left.” “That joker,” Jesus shakes his head “Steven allocated the old man to my ass hand.” I laugh and ask if anyone wants a beer. “Sure,” Jesus says. “None for me, thanks,” Elijah replies, “I’m trying to watch the calories.” Moses tokes on the sex drive munerations of Solomon and his thousand women. Choking out smoke and passing to Elijah he grunts, “Yeah...I’d love one. I haven’t had a beer in a few millenia. We had manna from heaven and water from rocks in the desert, but beer was in short supply. I crack a few open and watch the sun haze behind the mountain pass. Jesus inhales “the wages of sin” and the Beatitudes. Moses blows smoke rings with the Golden rule. Elijah smokes down a passage from his own history. The chariot of fire and his disciple, Elisha, calling down she-bears to mawl a pack of belligerent brats. He says, “Damn, that was a good one. Those little turds came out of the woodwork shouting ‘Go on up, you bald head,’ as I strolled peacefully toward the mountain to pray. But, hey man, God had my back that day. Praise the Lord. He gave it to ‘em good.” I add, “Yeah, I guess God really is serious about that ‘respect your elders’ bit.” After time passes between bottles, caps, lighters, joints, and miracle drops of liquid, the moon rising silent over the trees, I finally dig down and ask the hard questions. “Listen, guys,” I say, “It’s time I address the issue at hand. You should know why I’ve brought you here.” Elijah nods, “Fire away, kid.” “All right, I want to know why we need God. Don’t bull shit me with the dated arguments about the question of his existence. I am wondering why every culture since the dawn of time has conceived of divinity in some measure.” 13
Jesus says, “You’re wondering why people invented religion at all. If we assume, for the moment, that God does not exist, then why is it that people even dreamed him up?” “Well, yeah,” I say, “I guess so. I mean, yeah, that’s it.” Moses tilts back on a beer and replies, “Have you ever considered the possibility that the search for God is the driving force behind human accomplishment?” “What do you mean? I mean, how is that an answer to the question? Science has advanced radically in recent decades and it has done it without religious ideology.” “Has it?” Elijah asks. Jesus breathes in a rolled scrap of Ecclesiastes and his voice comes out like a croak, “Yeah, is it really possible to avoid religious ideology? The majority of secular thinkers are approaching the universe through an attempt to debunk the God Theory. Can’t you see that whether you’re proving or disproving a theory that you are still motivated by it?” “So you’re saying that by trying to abolish God we still participate in the myth of him?” “Yes,” Elijah replies, “Like Bob Dylan says, ‘Everybody’s gotta serve someone.’ You can’t abolish religion. You only convert to a new faith. In my day it was Yahweh versus Baal idol worship. Today it’s faith versus science. Science is the new religion.” “But how does that answer my question?” I ask, “I mean, you know, I asked why we have God to begin with, not anything to do with the fact that he is inescapable no matter your motivation. You can do better than that, guys.” Jesus shrugs, “You might as well ask why people gaze at the stars or created mathematics or sailed the high seas. It’s in your nature to explore, chart and conquer. God was early man’s answer to the forces he perceived as mysterious or inexplicable.” “Right,” I reply, “but why? Why do we automatically jump to magical thinking?” “It’s natural, kid,” Elijah says, “it’s what you do from the moment you can talk, you have to learn how to reason practically, but you naturally create far fetched, fantastic explanations for the world around you. Like kids thinking clouds are marshmallows or the moon is cheese.” “Or God is up above us throwing down lightning,” I add, “I get it.” Moses stands up and paces around for a second, grunting through his beard, “The question is not ‘God or No God,’ it’s ‘What is God?’ Is he really this vengeful judge people have used for thousands of years as a form of crowd control and manipulation or is he something else?” Elijah says, “Hey man, consider that the most radical advances in early science were made by men who moonlighted as theologians. Newton, Bacon, Cornelius, Galileo, Pascal, even Einstein said the more he studied the universe the more he believed in a higher power. These were all men 14
who made radical discoveries about the laws of the universe by trying to find where and what God is. Through them we learned that the earth is round, it revolves around the sun, the earth is not the center of the universe, gravity binds it all together, velocity dilates an object’s size, shape and experience of time...the speed of light is a constant, nothing can accelerate beyond that speed, wormholes, blackholes, calculus, Pythagorean geometry, the list goes on and on and on and on...” Jesus almost shouts, “Dude, chill...we get it. Science is cool and it’s grown because of people trying to explain the nature of God and the universe and blah, blah, blah. You made your point.” Elijah mumbles, “Fine, all I meant was, what’s so bad? The search for God leads to enlightened discovery...what’s so wrong with that...excuse me...” I nod like mad and jump in before anyone can draw a breath and get to soap boxing again, “Okay, I’ll grant you all that, but how can you reconcile that theory against the fact that religious institutions have always acted to limit scientific discovery. Churches work to keep people uneducated, not illuminated. Galileo was called a heretic for his beliefs, the church killed Cornelius, the pious Byzantine Emperor, Constantine, declared the schools of philosophy closed for fear that thining people would decided God did not exist, the church fought to maintain that the earth was the center of the universe, they fought against Johan Gutenberg to prevent his printing press from getting the Bible into the hands of the common -- fearing an educated populace would usurp their power or cut into their tithe prophets or God knows what else...do I really need to go on?” Jesus laughs, “You are absolutely right, you left out the fact that they killed me. But what have religious institutions ever had to do with God? In every instance you mentioned, the church was shown to be immeasurably wrong. Religious groups have always shown themselves to exist for political control over spiritual enlightenment.” Moses says, “Napoleon Bonaparte said, ‘Religion exists to keep the poor from killing the rich.’” “Right,” I reply, “Exactly, that’s pretty much a universal truth, no matter what religious borders you’re standing in or crossing. Not just Christianity, take Hinduism and the Karma initiative. They promise that if you work hard within your social caste that you’ll come back in the next life a notch up on the social ladder. What it really boils down to is assurring the rulers that the lower class will work had and avoid revolution for fear of coming back as a cow patty.” Jesus laughs loudly and drags hard on his own crucifixion. He says, “here’s what your problem boils down to...you can’t find a way to reconcile the truth of God from the lies of his followers. Given enough time any religious power will evolve into fascism. David Karesh started out as a devout follower of his faith, inside of ten years he was stockpiling weapons in his church and the congregation became a militant compound that went down in flames. Your problem, kid, is that you can’t let yourself believe in God without feeling like you’re allowing yourself to believe in the sex abuse crises of the Catholic Church, the money grubbing of televangelists, the corruptibility of church politics, the high-praised ignorance of souther fundamentalism and the tampering of generations of information controllers editing the Bible for their own uses. It’s hit a point now where you can’t even try to know me with any certainty due to all the times I’ve been rewritten and recycled. You mentioned Constantine. His sotry is the proverbial double-edged sword.” 15
I roll Mark chapter four and light up, Jesus says, “Constantine’s rule was responsible for the spread of Christianity across the globe more than any of the apostles combined. The problem, however, is that he spread his form of Christianity, the national religion of Rome, in the same way Nebuccadnezzar spread his pagan religion across Babylon. Constantine made his religion law, enforced by his army and punishable by death. He made that decision based on political necessity, not faith. Rome was on the brink of Holy War. It had thousands of cults and sects all fighting to be right. It soon became clear that one religion was the only way to prevent a civil war. he gathered the Council of Nicea to form the new religion. It was at this moment in history that I changed form who I was to who they wanted me to be. The Egyptian resurrection cults in Rome needed a risen savior. The polytheistic rumblings of Roman mythology needed one God to unite their own gods which had been fighting amongst themselves for centuries. They modeled my God after Zeus and all the lesser gods combined, insomuch as he wasth full culmination of their gods into one divine being. The virgin birth was necessary due to the pagan worship of astrology and the passage of seasonal solstices. Christian holidays are all rewritten versions of pagan rituals. Easter was a pagan holiday dedicated to the goddess Eostre. New Year’s was a holiday dedicated to Bacchus. And Christmas, December 25th, is a holiday based on the birth dates of hundreds of gods including Dionysus, Bacchus and Horace. It was based in astrology, not history.” “Yeah,” I reply, “I know. I saw that movie, I heard the facts. On December 25th the sun rises in line with the Eastern star of the constellation Virgo and the three stars of Orion’s belt. Those three stars have always been known as the Three Kings. THey line up with Virgo’s star as if following it toward the sun. Change “sun” to “son” and you get the story of your birth. Three kings following the Eastern start toward the birth of the son. Or the sun rise. Add to that the fact that Bethlehem means “House of Bread” and Virgo’s portion of the sky is referred to as the House of Bread becauses she is depicted with a shaft of wheat in her hand, plus the fact that Virgo is called “The Virgin” and you get the son is born in Bethlehem to a virgin.” “Right,” Jesus replies, smiling stoned with his eyes half shut, “My point is, the Jesus you’ve been taught to worship does not exist. Suffice it to say, I never came to create a new religion, I came to abolish religion forever, but things haven’t worked out that way.” Moses slures, “And to deliver longwinded diatribes. You talk a lot, dude.” Elijah, laughing, adds, “Do you know why we’re remembered above all the rest of God’s followers? It’s because we served a God that we knew personally. Not because we were devout members of Judaism or Christianity. Those words were created after our deaths to apply to the pious. god does not want titles, he wants sons and daughters, lovers and friends.” “Here, here! Moses grunts, raising his bottle. And like that, as soon as they arrived, they were gone. I smoke alone as stars salt the night sky. Now a rustling of branches catches my eye and a naked Chinese man steps out of the under brush. “Are you okay?” I ask. “I-I’m not sure,” he says, “How did I get here and why am I speaking English?” “I think I might have brought you here,” I reply, “Who are you?” 16
“I’ve had many names and have been known in many forms,” he replies, scratching and picking a thorn from his crotch, “but you would probably know me as Lao Tzu.” “The Lao Tzu that wrote the Tao Te Ching?” “The same,” he replies with a bow. He sits gingerly on a boulder and reaches for Moses’ smoldering joint. Breathing in skillfully, Lao Tzu says, “this tastes like Deuteronomy.” “No, Leviticus,” I reply, “but their flavors often taste the same to me too. It’s a lot of do’s and don’ts.” Lao Tzu shrugs and rests his leg across his left knee, effectively shielding his junk from his spliff embers and crumbling ashes. I say, “So, you just missed Jesus and his pals.” “Jesus?” he asks, gazing at me from over curling white smoke, “That so? Which one?” “Funny you should ask, that was sort of the topic of discussion. I think I met the original, but I’m not too sure.” Lao Tzu says, “Jesus, like Confucius, Socrates, Dionysus, Bacchus, Horace, Buddha and Abraham Lincoln has suffered for generations from those who would make him intio what they needed him to be, rather than what he already was.” “That’s why you wrote your book.” Smoking “Thou shalt not steal,” Lao Tzu replies, “Yes sir, see, the point of the Tao was not to make another religion, but to free consciousness enough to approach god honestly. The Tao is a way of thinking, not a new version of god. The Tao means letting go, not inflicting control. It is liberal removal of labels, rather than the feudal, legalistic arrangement of rules, diction and categories.” “So, you don’t think it matters what god you worship?” “To label God as one thing or another is to destroy his infinite nature. You’re struggling because your heart knows you can’t discuss or think about God without destroying him, but your mind wants to break him down into discernible portions. You cannot add finite to the infinite, you can only add infinity to the finite. As your Beatles say, “Let it be.” Truly worshipping God means letting go, shutting up and listening. To empty out your literal mind and open it up to mysticism and divinity. You can’t be useful to God if you’re constantly trying to explain him.” “But why do we have to be useful to God at all?” I ask. “Simple, God only exists in a universe with open eyes. You westerners suffer in your pursuit of God because you expect him to give you a clearly defined to do list, like a supervisor at work. 17
What you don’t realize is that the true God is not concerned with the events of human interaction. God wnats you to live inwardly, to find the natural heart of things, the spiritual lotus, flowering in your inner being. It’s much simpler, and thus much more difficult. You see, you Christians think that quieting your mind will let you hear God’s orders, what you don’t understand is that God’s only real order is to just quiet your mind. You don’t even realize that the Tao exists in your own Bible. Your proverbs say, “Be still and know that I am God.” John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Jesus said die to yourself. That is the true Tao.” “Shut up and listen, is it really that simple?” I ask, dragging my joint and watching orange curls swallow up Paul saying, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” Lao Tzu nods solemnly, “Yes, it is. God wants us to be mystical beings, not physical workers, but religion constantly applies his vast beauty to mere earthly toil.” “Wow,” I reply, “there’s so much I can learn from you, man.” “You can’t learn anything from me that you don’t already know.” “What is that? Some kind of ancient Chinese proverb?” “No, it’s just me reminding you that I’m a figment of your drug trip. I am not your teacher or your prophet. I am a chemical in your brain. I’m you. But, while we’re on the subject, keep in mind that people always make the mistake of thinking we need leaders to tell them what to do when the answers are already within.” “But...” “I’m gonna go,” he cuts me off mid-sentence and rises, disappearing stark ass naked back into the woods with Moses’ joint and my last beer. A storm rumbles overhead and I climb into my tent to dodge the coming rain. Sitting here, inside my sleeping bag, inside my tent, I think about how much we use ideas to insulate us from having to face who and what we really are. I think about how many things we put in front of just living pure and letting go. Christ has been rewritten more times than James Bond and the religion he represents has disappeared to the point that its own pursuit of God breaks the very commandments they try to uphold. Bibles, crosses, and even faith itself have become idols before God. All I want to do is sit here, ride out the wave and shut the fuck up. pp ----Jacob Lewis really did smoke some pages out of a Bible once. Only, he wasn’t on a mountain or in a desert or anything cool like that. He was sixteen out back of a Presbyterian church in Oklahoma. And it wasn’t his idea. Still, it gave him the idea for this story. Jacob wants to write books for a living, but knows no one will ever pay him to do it. So he writes short stories. Thanks for reading Jacob’s first published story. 18
Buil d i n g a Ne w Subtopi a n : Notes from the Team on Making a Newspaper
We’re doing things a little differently this issue, while there is a great deal to write about and discuss (and we will get to all that we can) the real focus is our “remodel” of sorts. The Subtopian is going to print, first as a monthly newspaper and, with luck, bimonthly as time goes on. Being located in Portland we see an opportunity to become a new kind of paper that could do well here, there are those that talk news, but it is either local, purely factual, or grossly sarcastic. We want a Gonzo flare to our paper, the voice of the writer sharing his paper, the voice of the writer sharing his or her perspective on what is happening. While our main distribution will begin here in Portland we want to write with everone in mind, everyone out there, as our main concern is the future, not just our city or even our nation. We want to bring the power of the novel to the importance of the daily news, to take a sharp look at what’s happening and what it means. So here’s the deal: The Subtopian was created to be a magazine run by writers, for literary types, with the potential to uncover new ways of dealing with publishing. To that end, we’re counting on a lot of our fanbase being writers and we want to extend an invitation to write news for us. We get hundreds of short story submissions every day and, while we intend to go on publishing what is suitable, very little of it is useable for us. Most people submitting don’t appear to get what we’re all about. So if you do, if you really do think you get us or have a vision for somewhere you’d like us to go, we want to hear from you. This is not only a call for more “Subtopian” submissions -- news stories with a literary bent on the topic of Dystopia and Utopia -- this is us offering talented young writers the opportunity to get involved on a more regular basis, get your foot in the door, so to speak. It would be volunteering at first, but in time, if your contributions grow into something we count on then it could become something more. We’re trying something new and there are no guarantees as a lot of what we do is somewhat of an experiment, but we are really interested, above all, in empowering the writer and helping newcomers to build careers.
We have room for help from almost any kind of talent -- starting a paper is a lot of hard work 19
-- so if you’re not a writer but have other abilities you may still find a home here. Also, style is encouraged, we’re looking to have some memorable work to come out with some edge and speak on current affairs.
Here’s what we want: • • • • • • •
Witty reviews on music, TV, film and more. R egular contributions to “The Critic’s Critic” I nsightful stories about Utopia and what it looks like. D aring pieces about a coming Dystopia. S tory spotlights on upcoming artists who are doing something “Subtopian.” A nything, any story, that challenges us to think about “what it all means.” R egular installments from any writer with a specific perspective on what makes a Utopia or a Dystopia, if you don’t know what we mean by this, just check out David Renton’s consistent input on the topic of religion and its poisonous effect on the world at large.
Humor, wit, and satire are highly encouraged. Look at past stories from Subtopian to get inspired. We’re looking for that person that can give us 5 reasons the American Dream is Fucked while making us laugh to keep from crying. We want the list of movie plots that are coming true and how that means the robots are coming and only Arnold can save us. We’re looking to build characters, personas, out of our contributors, to inspire people to not just follow Subtopian, but to follow a specific one of you that speaks to them in some way. The paper, to our way of thinking, is just a vehicle for the promotion of the many dozens of collaborators involved. And we want you. More important than even that, we feel that releasing a regular, top notch document in a tangible print will go a long way toward legitimizing the paper itself and the people contributing. You’ll be able to receive contributor’s copies as one of our writers, we’ll be able to sell ad space, to mail out editions, put them in coffee shops and on street corners, and just generally make this thing totally bad ass and “more real.” It’s kind of strange that the same people that are liberally minded and want to preserve nature and save the forests will often not recognize your publication as somehow legitimate if it isn’t in paper format. Ironic, to say the least, but something we understand and wish to accomodate. So, in the coming weeks, be on the lookout for our Kickstarter campaign to create this new experiment in the newspaper world and, most definitely, get in touch if you think you have something to share with us. To that end, we want to spend the next few pages getting a little bit more specific on what kinds of things we’re looking for. We figure we can do this because, if you’re interested you’ll read on and get into all the details and if you’re not you’ll skip ahead regardless. So, let’s cut to the chase...
We’ve deliberated long and late into the night on this topic. On the one hand, it seems challenging to
make music reviews in any way “Subtopian.” However, no counterculture newspaper could ever be complete without music. That is the simpler argument and, in the end, the winner. Occam’s Razor triumphs again.
Subtopian would be open to one-time reviews, regular contributors, even band announcements or album
covers. Anything to raise awareness on cool, new music. The real gold, however, would be that rare writer that could extract the literary elements from a work of music, turning them toward that big question of what the album might mean or represent.
For a time, we did have a regular music writer, but he has since moved on to other projects and it would
be great if someone with that particular knack for finding cool new stuff wanted to write for us. The writer that could take a look at the musical quality of a record (old or new) while simultaneously remarking on what the message of the songs has to say about the world at large would be a god send for us and could pretty much be guaranteed a place in the fold.
Send queries or concepts to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Critic’s Critic
MOVIE REVIEWS & the CRITIC’S CRITIC: A big part of the goal of The Subtopian is empowering the individual against that perceived wall of institutionalized thinking in this nation. With “The Critic’s Critic” we have tried to bring that philosophy to the movies. A lot of the time people are frustrated by the community of professional movie critics and their tendency to review cinema in a way that doesn’t seem to support the feelings of the people at large. Perhaps they enjoy being contrary as it is easier to write criticism than it is to write praise, or perhaps that same contrarian approach has a way of stirring up controversy and, therefore, ratings. The other alternative is that they are simply out of touch and look at things in a way that we don’t. Either way, the Critic’s Critic is about liberating public opinion from the professionals by offering a platform to voice a difference of opinion. We always need more writers for this project. Apart from the Critic’s Critic we would be open to a more traditional movie review if, that is, it somehow sussed out the subtopian philosophies or implications of the work. This could be done in a number of ways, ranging from how an idea in the story could be a sign of what a better future world might look like to how the darkness of the tale may be prophetic of a coming darkness. But, even simpler than that, Subtopian is about being in-between darkness and light, and there is a note of the Subtopian in everything. Simply finding those movies that reflect what it is like trying to live in today’s world, struggling with money, morality, politics, love or feeling trapped... any of that could be shaped into a very Subtopian movie review. Remember, in all of this, we’re looking for insight, challenging thoughts, and well written prose -- not just the standard reporting of facts. Critic’s Critic pieces can be shared through our online submissions manager 22
The real bread and butter of Subtopian is our journalistic approach to Utopia and Dystopia. Getting submissions in these areas is incredibly difficult as they need to be timely and reliable. What we are looking to attempt, in the spirit of our experiment in literatury and publishing, we would like to assemble a list of prospective writers into a place on our site, a kind of bulletin board, where story ideas might get posted and accepted for future editions of The Subtopian. This is still a fresh idea, but anyone who may be intterested in becoming a part of this should send an email with the subject â€œBulletin Boardâ€? and some info about themselves: writing samples, background, interests, that kind of thing. Email email@example.com
Recently I was in France for my honeymoon. It so happened that I was on my way out of town as all of the rioting broke out over the gay marriage issue. If you didn’t hear, in response to France passing legislation to legalize gay marriage some 150,000 people came out to protest the issue. Left wing and right wing groups came to blows in the middle of Paris, attacking, vandalising, throwing lit road flares, and just generally being real dicks about things until the police had to send in the troops. Things escalated rapidly and nearly three hundred arrests were made in response to the violence. At first I was getting a lot of my information second hand, hearing remarks in passing crowds like, “We missed the tear gas by ‘that much.’” Or things of that nature.
that it has become (or always has been). “We’re all wired into a survival trip now,” said Hunter S. Thompson, and he was sure right. What he meant was people were just looking to make it through, to get by, that the pursuit of enlightenment of the sixties was over, but what I want to look at is the “wired” part. We’re all wired. If you haven’t guessed by now, the theme of this issue is the old sentiment about “the machine.” We expand our society through the pursuit of science, technology and industry. The study and implementation of mechanization in all its forms. However, what I want to talk about is the fact that, no matter how advanced the machine we’re building might be, the raw materials we’re using to build it are corrupted.
Now, I have to admit to being takenaback by this. Oftentimes I assume the troubles of my nation are not necessarily the troubles of the world, and France, Paris in particular, always seemed so sophisticated, modern and forward thinking. To have something like this happen, so close to me, was a light bulb moment. People are screwed up everywhere you go. It isn’t just America.
All of us, each person, is a part of the machine and all of us, at some level, has been corrupted by flawed thinking, backward tradition, and judgment. We’re weak ingredients to an exponentially complex machine and we wonder why things always stay the same.
But that’s as far as the good news goes.
We are still looking at the rights of people to live and love through the scope of ancient dogmatic beliefs and defending that outlook with the name of “God,” whichever one it might be. We never ask ourselves if what we’re doing is hateful or wrong. But more than that, no one ever says it plainly:
I’m often reminded by something Isaac Asimov said, that the trouble with the world is that our technology was advancing faster than our wisdom. I first heard the sentiment spoken by Mr. Spock on Star Trek, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, our grasp of science expands daily, but our grasp of what to do with that science is still hampered by centuries of religious dogma, racial prejudice, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and arrogance. There is very little point in intellectual expansion if we lack the emotional and spiritual depth to deal with new information. It all gets filtered through the same crap that has made us who we are and made the world the mess
Even if God is real and even if the attitude of raw, blind hate toward a community of people that have a different lifestyle than that of one of his “followers” is endorsed by Him we have to ask ourselves one simple question. What if God is wrong? Our culture is a locomotive. We stoke the fires to keep it burning, we replace parts as they break down, and we move rapidly ahead 27
at all costs. But we are on rails, the machine cannot steer, it has no mind, it is simply stuck following the track laid down by its makers generations ago. What’s worse, we’ve been running for so long at such high speeds that systems are failing right and left. The breaks are out, the engine is boiling over, and we are flying along, out of control and unaware. We’ve been running like this for so long that the engineers and conductors of our locomotive society think this is how things are supposed to be, they’ve forgotten how to ask if things are working properly at all.
We are a runaway train and it’s time to stop. It is time, in the words of Spock and Asimov, to refocus and place a higher importance on advancing wisdom even more than science. We can go on building fancier tools to reinforce the position and habits of those would go on hating. Or we can change ourselves, our outlook, the rails of our culture, into something better, something broader and more open minded and let people live as they choose to live without the domination, oppression and hate of gods or the people that claim to serve them. If this kind of deep seated resentment and hatred can be found even at the heart of as cosmopolitan a place as Paris then it can be found everywhere. The trouble isn’t with gay marriage, it isn’t immigration, it isn’t the economy or the environment or drugs. It’s us. Pure and simple. We, like the gods we claim to serve, are wrong, stuck in the past, and chasing our tails around the moral tracks of our history like a runaway train without a driver.
The rail lines of morality and faith are in place and we are just racing along, following them without question, choice or concern. And we are about to fly apart. But more than just breaking down, burning up or flying off the rails there is a much more practical concern, a simpler one even. We are going in circles. Sure we’re building up more speed every year. Sure we’re adding new technology to the train as we go. Sure, we feel like this is progress. But, we’re still on the same rails we’ve always been on, passing the same stations going in circles around the countryside year after year and not getting anywhere.
We need to tear up the tracks, even at the risk of derailing the train. We need to lay new track, go to new places, and not be afraid to leave the old ones behind. I don’t mind saying it, even at the risk of recriminations from heaven above. If hating gays is the will of God then God is wrong.
Trevor D. Richardson is the author of American Bastards and the upcoming novel Dystopia Boy. He is the founder and editor of The Subtopian Magazine and a firm believer in the possibility of Utopia and the power of human invention.
Still, I feel this is not the case. I feel this is just what people too comfortable in the dining car of their moral train want to go on thinking because it’s easy and it doesn’t require them to move from where they are seated, smoking their big cigars and toasting their fortunes, security and certainty.
Creativity is the answer and Trevor wants to find more creative people to fill the community that is Subtopian.
notes on how to write Follow this simple recipe: Step One: Read the news, watching out for anything that seems fishy, keeping a sharp eye out for instances resembling Terminatorâ€™s Skynet, Big Brother, the Matrix, Brave New World, incrased corporate power or Monsanto. Step Two: Analyze all potential outcomes, implications and inevitabilities of said story, imagining where it will lead if the events are followed through to their ultimate, logical conclusion. Step Three: Make references to Terminator, Big Brother or Monsanto. Also, quote Henry Rollins or Hunter S. Thompson, and pack all of these components into a cylinder. Step Four: Add nitroglycerin. Step Five: Shake well. 29
dystopian journalism Step Six: Allow time for fact, meaning and suspicion to mix, boil and stew into a fine solvent. Step Seven: Soak a thin rope or cord in blending of kerosene, satire, cigarette ash, and wisdom. Step Eight: Add fuse to cylinder. Step Nine: Place cylinder on book shelf with 1984, Brave New World, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Terminator DVD. Add Monsanto pamphlet. Step Ten: Strike match. Step Eleven: Light story. FINAL STEP: send results to Subtopian. 30 30
David Renton &
notes on how to write Utopian jouralism 3214
UTOpia I’d like to share a thought and it’s going to seem
But here’s my thought. Here’s my sign of
as far from Utopian as they get.
Utopia. Through all of that pain and suffering I see a flicker of hope. We’re waking up from
People are struggling, not just with finances and
something. Or, to put it more appropriately.
personal drama and which bills to pay, but with
The machine that holds us captive is breaking
something bigger, something fundamental, and it
down. One part at a time, one person at a time,
is evidenced by the need for distractions, purpose
our minds are resisting. We’re still in the denial
and healing in this nation. People are medicated
phase, not seeing the problem while trying to
more and more all the time, they get drunk to
drown away the symptoms, but an awakening is
wash away their problems, they’re surrounded by
there. This profound sense that the way we’re
noise and stimuli every minute of the day. Why?
living is wrong has the gears grinding, wearing down, breaking apart.
Answer: we’re sick at heart, we don’t know why we are, we just feel that we are. So we pop that
To me, this is a sign of a potential upheaval, a
pill, we drink that drink, we go to that party, turn
dramatic change that does not come from violent
on that show and on and on and on for all our
revolution, Apocalypse, or natural disaster. No
Dystopia necessary to change this world. It’s coming from within the people, our own hearts,
our own minds, are wearing under the strain and we’re just this close to realizing that something
The profound, inescapable sense of being cogs in
has to give.
the machine leaves us feeling empty, unimportant and lost. We are prisoners in our own culture
Despite the sadness of seeing people hurting or
and we know it. But what’s more, the machine
trying desperately, even pitifully not to hurt, there
is wearing us out. We’re breaking down and we
is one uplifting take away from this fact: people
have to self-repair in any way possible, so we try
are feeling something way down deep.
to bind ourselves back together with self-help books and anti-depressants, we try to lube up the
And that is the first sign of a revolution of the
works with booze and socialising. Just anything
to go a little longer. My Utopia for this issue is simple, if there is any Every commercial is a pill these days. Anti-
hope for us it’s in the gear that has a headache
depressants, natural male enhancements, Viagra,
because it knows it’s part of an ugly machine and
Ambien... help sleeping, help fucking, help eating
without gaining weight. It’s endless. It’s endless because we’re broken.
Here’s to the broken gears. pp
Hereâ€™s what you do: If you want to write Utopian journalism you just need three things: 1) A story that shows people breaking societal norms -- look for creative thinking, initiative, selflessness, advances in science that will improve the world, or anything that reminds you of Star Trek. 2) An angle on the story that fleshes out the potentials for where this story might take us if followed to its natural conclusion. In other words, â€œWhat would the world be like if we all did this?â€? 3) The ability to write out the entire failure and potential and grace and corruption and pain and hope and love and fear and need and want and every other thing span the thousands of years that make up the history of civilization and focus all of that energy into a sardonic, witty, uplifting, humorous and daring bit of prose that wraps up in two pages, takes the reader to the depths of truth, your own soul, and theirs all done on a deadline.
Apar tment 402 I stood in my bathroom; my tooth brush in my mouth, staring up at the hand sized black spot on the ceiling. I reached up and touched it with my fingers, slightly damp and smelling rather foul like a dead animal. I decided to take the problem to my superintendent.
first apartment at the bottom of the stairs, in my building. I went down and knocked on his door. No answer came with the first knock. On the second, I knocked louder. “He’s outta town for the next few days.” I looked behind me. Mrs. Swanson stood at the mail boxes, thumbing through her mail.
The superintendent, Lloyd, lived in the 35 33
“His mother passed away,” she said. “So he’s going to be upstate until next week.”
for yourself.” He stepped back and opened the door wider for me.
“Oh,” I said scratching my head. “Thank you.”
I peered through the doorway and saw a cluttered hall leading into what should have been the living room. I shrugged. “Okay.”
Mrs. Swanson went up the stairs, saying nothing more.
He led me into his apartment. The lay out of each apartment was the same, but this man’s apartment seemed warp, likely from all of the things in it. The hallway leading to the living room was a narrow passage with stacks and stacks of old news papers lining each side, some of the piles reaching up to my shoulder. The kitchen nook had many dirty dishes on the counter and in the sink, interspersed with what appeared to be antique tools, books, and stuffed animals. The living room had been equally filled with strange items; marionettes; a shelf of old radios; newspapers; a phonograph; a pile of wood; rusted toolboxes; magazines the looked like they came right of the 40’s; piles and piles of things I couldn’t name and didn’t have much time to observe. The lights in the apartment were also strangely dim and the air smelt old and slightly rotten, stale but accosting, and the window had news papers taped across them, covering them up.
The door to apartment 402 opened. I had never seen the man who stood in front of me in the building before. He stood at maybe six-one, mid-forties, stubbled chin, with salt and pepper hair parted at the side. He had dark blue eyes and the expression he wore said: “Who is bothering me?” “Hi, I’m Joe Clark. I live in the apartment just below you,” I said. The man stared at me and then raised his eyebrows. “And?” “I, uh, I have a spot on the ceiling of my bathroom. I was wondering if maybe you had something running, or leaking that could have possibly soaked through the floor.”
“This way,” the man said motioning with his hand.
The man shook his head. “No, nothing leaking or running,” he said in what I recognized as a Russian accent.
We walked down the hall to the bathroom. The man opened the door and switched on the light.
“Are you sure? Maybe you have a leak under your bathroom sink that you don’t know about.”
If there had been a leak in the bathroom, I didn’t see it. The bathroom had been more or less been a trash heap. Brown crust and mildew lined the sink and shower. The garbage can over flowed onto the floor.
The man stared at me a moment. “Well, if you are so concerned, come in and see 36
pencil becoming more feverish. “It’ll be in, Leonard. You can count on it.”
The mirror was spattered and spotted with water. The man motioned with his hand. “No leak,” he said, glaring at me.
The New York air bit with a winter chill. I turned my back to the wind, blocking it from hitting Cheryl. She wore her long brown jacket and her white scarf made of alpaca fur. I reached up and straightened the scarf.
“Clearly,” I said deadpan and nodding. At that moment I looked away from the bathroom and in the light that came from it, I saw the opening at the end of the hall. Most of the apartments in the building had the same layout. Only the apartments on the ground floor were different, but this apartment, room 402, had an extra room, where as in mine, there was only a wall. I gazed into the darkness, something inside reflected light, just slightly, but the rest was pitch black.
“No, I can’t go. I have to go home and try to finish the article.” “Are you sure?” “Yeah. I really need to get it done. Are you taking the subway home?”
I tried to make out what the object was when the man stepped in front of me. “If you are satisfied, I will show you out.” He reached behind himself and pulled the door to the extra room closed, slamming it.
“No, Dale and Susan are going to give me a ride home.”
“I hope so, we can’t put it off until the next issue again. We really need it in this one or it’s nixed.”
That night I dreamt I was walking through the city. Snow fell with ferocity. I walked past a dark alleyway and somewhere a woman screamed from within. I saw silhouettes fighting at the other end. I ran down the alley, moving around piles of full garbage bags, some piles as high as fifteen feet. It seemed I moved forever into the darkness yet the alley way grew longer and longer. I came to where I had seen the figures, there against one of the buildings sat a dumpster, and from behind the dumpster stuck the naked blood spattered legs of a woman. They twitched and jerked hard and I heard a sloppy crunching noise.
I sighed and nodded, the tapping of my
“Hello?” I said.
I sat at my desk, in my office, when Leonard came up. “How’s the article coming along, Joe?” He asked me. I turned around in my chair and tapped my pencil on my knee. “Good, I should have it in for this issue.”
37 37 35
The crunching noise ceased and I heard deep and heavy breathing. Slowly yet suddenly a head peeked up from behind the dumpster. I stepped backwards. The skin on the face was a grey green. Where a nose should have been was just a smooth patch of flesh. The eyes were dark black hollows, no white, no iris. The mouth had no lips and contained small sharp teeth, blood smeared across the mouth, chin, and cheeks.
Lloyd and I stood in apartment 402. The room was empty and clean, with white walls and new carpet. “I swear, a Russian guy was living here a week ago.” “Sorry, Joe,” Lloyd said. “I’m the superintendent and I can tell you that there’s no Russian guy living in the building. And no one has lived in this apartment for a year now.”
I took a step back. He stared at me, gazed, his pure black eyes burning a hole in my brain. Then I woke up.
“A year?” Lloyd nodded. Lloyd and I stood in my bathroom, looking up at the ceiling.
I shook my head, baffled, and glanced around the apartment. I looked down the hall and there at the end, where the dark room had been, was just a wall, no doorway, no opening, just a plain white wall.
“I swear, there was a black stain up there,” I said. “Well,” Lloyd shrugged. “There isn’t one now.” I scratched my head. “It was there. Maybe it dried or something.” Lloyd nodded his head. “That’s possible. There could still be a leak.”
“Ghost?” Cheryl finished her coffee and set her cup on the table.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, judging by how the guy upstairs keeps his apartment.”
“What else could it be? Unless I’m going nuts.”
Lloyd furrowed his brow and tilted his head at me. “What guy?”
Cheryl looked around the coffee shop. “I think you’re just stressed, babe.”
“The man in room 402.”
“Maybe.” I tapped my fingers on the table.
“No one lives there.” “Have you gotten your article done?” 38 37
“No, I’m still getting information together. I have…” I shook my head.
Cheryl stirred. I nudge her again and repeated myself. She rolled over and picked up her phone. She looked at the screen a moment, turned it off and set it back on the nightstand.
“It’s okay, Joe,” Cheryl said putting her hand on mine. “Once you get the article done, you’ll start feeling better. It’ll seem like it never happened.”
“Who was sending you a text at this hour?” I asked.
I nodded. “No one important.” Cheryl looked at her wrist watch. “Well, I have to get back to work.” She picked up her purse from the floor. “I’ll see you tonight?”
Cheryl fell back asleep and I lay in bed, awake, no longer just thinking about the apartment above me.
“Yeah.” I nodded. She stood to leave. “Hey,” I said. “Have you given anymore thought to what we talked about?”
I stood in the newspaper archives, the dim light above creating a halo around me. I held the old newspaper in my hand, astonished. There on page four was a picture of the Russian man I talked to not more than two weeks before. I read the accompanying article. The article stated that Mr. Reznik murdered four women and is believed to have kidnapped a fifth but the body hasn’t been found. The article went on to further explain that Mr. Reznik claimed the building needed to be fed and this was the reason for the murders.
Cheryl hesitated, looking down at me. She sighed and sat. “Yes. I have.” She rubbed the strap of her purse with her thumb, gazing at it. “I’m still unsure. It’s a very big step. I don’t know if I’m ready to move in with anyone yet. I just need more time.”
That night Cheryl and I lay in my bed, me on my back with my arm around her, her nestled in the crook of it. I couldn’t sleep. I laid there staring up at the ceiling, contemplating the apartment above, when Cheryl’s phone went off, the screen coming on and dimly lighting the room. I looked over at the clock and it told me the time was two AM. Cheryl’s phone went off a second time, the familiar jingle of her receiving a text message.
I held the newspaper in my hand, just gazing at the picture of the man. The date on the newspaper was 1954. “Joe are you down here?” I heard Judy say from the top of the stairs. I folded the newspaper and put it under my arm. “Yeah, I’m down here.”
“Your cell phone is going off,” I said, gently jostling her.
“Leonard is looking for you. I think he needs to talk to you about your article.” 39 39 35
in the shape of a man, but not quite. My vision blurred when I looked directly at it. The shadow came at me. I ran towards the front door of the apartment, the door slamming shut as I got to it. I grabbed the doorknob and jerked and twisted it, but it wouldn’t open.
I sighed heavily and walked toward the stairs.
I lay in my bed, unable to sleep again. The dark in my bedroom drown out by the New York lights seeping in through my blinds. Cheryl was suppose to come over on this evening but told me she had to go to bed early because she had a meeting with some business clients in the morning. I wondered if perhaps it were a lie, when I heard the foot steps. At first I wasn’t quite sure if I had actually heard them, because it sounded as if they came from the apartment above me. Then I heard them again, this time only louder, like stomping. I sat up in my bed and continued to listen. Sounds of muffled conversation came through the ceiling at me. I got up and put my pants on and I walked through my apartment and out. The hall and stairwell sat quietly in the building. I went upstairs. I walked up to the door of apartment 402 and placed my ear against it. No noise came through, but I listened and when I stepped away the door cracked open, the hinges creaking.
The shadow clutched me by the arm, immeasurable strength pulling me back down the hall, back through the living room, back toward the bathroom. I struggled violently, throwing fists at the blurred shadow, but never making contact. I saw the end of the hall, the dark room returned to where it had been before, dark dark black and devouring me as the shadow pulled me closer and closer to it.
I awoke in Cheryl’s bed and sat on the edge. Cheryl stood at her closet, picking out her clothes for the day. I watched her, then let my eyes wonder around the room, when I noticed something on the floor. It sat slightly under the dresser. I reached down and picked it up and turned in over in my fingers. It was an unopened condom, a brand I had never used before.
I stood and stared for a moment, my heart pounding in my chest. The air calm and quiet, I slowly pushed open the door. From the doorway I could see that the apartment was empty, looking as it did when I was there last. I walked inside, to the living room and stood there, listening. Silence permeated the stillness of the space.
“What’s that?” Cheryl asked. I looked over at her, clenched a fist around the condom, and placed my hand at my side. “Nothing, just some garbage.” Cheryl raised an eyebrow at me. “Okay.”
“Hey,” I heard someone whisper.
“You know I love you, don’t you?”
I turned towards the hall leading to the back bedroom and bathroom. There in the dark stood a tall lanky shadow, something
“Yeah. I love you too.”
“I’m sorry, Joe,” Leonard said over the phone. “We’re not going to be able to use the article. You’ve taken too long on it.”
I kicked away the chunks of drywall, revealing the hidden room in apartment 402. I set the hammer down on the carpet and took out my flashlight. I switched in on.
“I understand. That’s a very reasonable decision.”
Boxes piled in the room. Stale air came at me, air from another age that stank of dust and decay. I searched the room with my flashlight until the beam hit the back corner and reflected on something, a necklace, attached to a neck.
“And,” Leonard began, pausing a moment and breathing. “I’m also going to have to let you go.” “What do you mean?” “Your work has gotten sloppy over the last few months. It’s not what it used to be and with this last delay on such a big subject I think it would be best just for you to go your own way at this point.”
I stepped in, around the boxes, until I stood above the woman. Her skin had become leather over the years, tight against her bones, her hair thin stringy and white, eye sockets dry and hollow. I let the light fall down on her. I tilted my head and smiled.
I held the phone to my ear, silently breathing. “Are you there, Joe?” I gazed out the window, snow began to fall in the city.
“It’s okay, no one is going to catch us,” I said. Cheryl and Dale walked to her apartment building. They stood on the stoop outside, snow falling around them. I took a step forward, slightly out of my hiding spot in the alley across the street. Cheryl stood on her tip toes, wrapping her arms around Dale, and kissing him on the lips. It was a long slow kiss. I turned around and walked down the alley.
“No, I don’t want to,” Cheryl said. I pushed open the door to apartment 402. “It’ll only take a second and then we’ll go. I promise.” Cheryl sighed. “Fine.” She shook her head and we entered the apartment. I shut the door behind us. We walked down the hall into the living room. I stood there a moment. Cheryl walked up next to me, her arms crossed, a sour expression on her face. 41 41 35
“What’s so special about this place?”
“Well,” I said. “Look down that hall.”
I came down the stairs, carrying another box out to my car. I passed by Lloyd and the couple as they ascended.
Cheryl turned. She furrowed her brow. “What is it?”
“It’s got a great view of the park on the south side of the building,” Lloyd told the couple.
“That’s what I wanted to show you.” I took a step down the hall. “Come on.”
“Don’t forget to feed it.”
She stood there, lips down turned, gazing at me.
The couple and Lloyd turned around. I stood on the landing looking up at the three. “What did you say?” the woman asked.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Come on.” She hesitantly walked down the hall. We stepped up to the opening of the hidden room. While she looked in I reached over and closed the bathroom door, hiding the supplies I had bought to replace the wall. I switched on my flashlight and shown it around the hidden room.
I smiled. “It’s a lovely building. You’ll really like it here.” pp
“It’s just a room of boxes.” “Look closer.” I said, shining the light to the back, where the woman was.
Despite popular misconception, Kirby Light isn’t real. He’s an illusion. He’s been published in various online and offline magazines and you can find his ebooks “Cheap Thrills and Night Terrors” and “No Solace for the Innocent” on the Kindle store
“Oh, my God,” Cheryl said putting a hand over her mouth. And as she gaped at the sight I picked up the hammer from the floor and raised it into the air.
Lloyd came up the stairs, leading a man and a woman behind him, a couple. They looked young to me. They looked clean and very happy, the type of people strangers would say were good people. Lloyd told them about the amenities that apartment 42 37
Lyrics from the songs of “Dystopia Boy” the upcoming novel from Subtopian Press
Gather ye round, you Corporate Huns I’ll show you the death of your future sons And as the bodies heap up by the tons I’ll watch as your wax stone building runs down through the street on the people it shuns and I see America burning like hell-born nuns…
You Marks of the Beast you Myth Pilgrim Feast A swinging axe should be yours at the least 43 13
Just slam down the blade til your plans have all ceased. Let me tell you one truth, you’re the Mark of the Beast, but you think you’re God’s second coming in the East…
Listen in close, Wall Street Conquistadors, you’re spreading like vapor up through people’s floors, you’re moving en masse under the cracks of our doors and grabbing our children to work in your stores, feeding the needy to make them your whores but you need to remember the grave you’re digging is yours.
You Marks of the Beast, you Myth Peace Talk Feast, a swinging noose should be yours at the least Just slam down the trap door till your kicking has ceased. Let me tell you the truth, you’re the Mark of the Beast, for trying to sell War and own Peace.
So follow me down, you Corporate Huns, I’ll teach you the fury of my future sons and as the death sentences heap up by the tons I’ll watch the sure fate of he who runs down through the street past the people he shuns and I dream of my world turning its back on your guns.
Protest Nation I see a blue dolphin drinking blood through her blowhole, a man with a robot lung shoveling Carolina coal. His engine chugs, ears shoot a black smoke spurt. A meteor shower launches outta the Nevada desert. The Miner serves the Angel of Death for a pension to buy off his fear Those meteors have screaming faces burning outta the atmosphere.
That’s America, Home of the Working Class Junkie, Drinking His Constitutional Roofie.
I see a Protest March fighting the Power, another Protest March fighting for Power. I see a Protest Rally fighting against everything, another Rally fighting for everything. I see Plato saying the want for rights will be our end, vote a Democratic King to guard us and every knee shall bend.
And I know this ain’t America, it’s the Home of the Working Class Junkie, Chugging Down his Bipartisan Roofie.
I can see modern Gestapo breaking down doors. I watch the Big One shaking red white and blue into our floors. Oil slick oceans cover kids trying to fight the insanity. Modern Beats and Baby Bohemians sing songs for a peaceful humanity. Teen dreamers arm themselves with art against doom squads Their Washington fathers say itâ€™s time to stop sparing their rods.
And I know this is America. Homeland of the Republic Rights Junkies. And the Corporate Tycoon Groupies.
Protest Nation, Protest Nation, Protest Nationâ€Ś Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord, His feet were bound with shackles when the Apes of Wrath were bored. We hath prayed and cried for mercy which our countrymen ignored. This War keeps marching on.
Dystopia Boy is the story of a rock band, The Johnny HighFives, witnessing the death of America from the road. These are some of their songs. Dystopia Boy, by Trevor D. Richardson, will be released in the summer of 2013 by Subtopian Press.
David Renton wanted me to tell you that he hopes you don’t try to write for us. He’s happy doing it all himself.
This isn’t exactly accurate, but it almost is.
We would like to add some new regulars to our ragtag little team to help fill out our upcoming newspaper. All ideas are welcome and will be considered. We even want little things to help dress things up to look nice. Stuff like more comic strips or maybe some kind of a “Subtopian Horoscope.” Not even sure what that would look like, but we’d love to see one.
You’ve probably never seen a magazine do an issue like this. We’re not begging per se. Kinda, but not really... we are trying to be open, transparent, accessible and friendly. We’re a bunch of writers working together, we have fun, we’re from all different parts of the country, and we want you to get involved.
Thanks for reading...er, writing?
Published on Jun 1, 2013
"The Machine." That's the theme of this issue. With work from Arthur Brand, David Renton, Trevor D. Richardson, and newcomer Jacob Lewis, we...