SUBTOPIAN MANIFESTO III. by TRevoR RicHardsoN Symbiotic relationships. That’s the ticket. That’s the name of the game. That’s the true calling, the inevitable destiny of our kind of utopia. In nature the term is used to refer to two organisms that find survival by feeding off of each other, cohabitating, or even occupying the same body. I think about remora fish on the bellies of sharks. The shark gobbles up a school of fish and the little remora, a hair’s breadth from a parasite, gets to live on the scraps from the mouth of the beast or the tiny bits of bacteria that grow around its gills or algae or whatever other gross things grow on a sea born predator. In return, the shark gets medical care. It’s true, the fish feeding off of the muck of its flesh literally clean away any number of potentially harmful contaminants, preventing serious infections from setting in, keeping their gills, that is, their respiratory system, clean and functional, and even going so far as to swim into their mouths and clean out their teeth. The remora is fed, the shark is healthy. Everybody wins. Symbiosis. Relationships like these are necessary in the dog eat dog reality of the wild. Our human estimation of the law of the jungle has been reductively expressed as, “Kill or be killed.” This is how we view survival of the fittest, natural selection, the food chain, the circle of life, whatever the hell you want to call it. If you aren’t killing then you’re dying. But nature can also favor cleverness. Not everything has to kill, some things learn to care for one another and find a mutually beneficial arrangement that ensures survival. When I hear these terms I can’t help thinking about how we often claim the law of the jungle still applies to civilization, especially in business. Wall Street tycoons are often depicted in film as reiterating these same old clichés. “It’s a dog eat dog world, kid. Kill or be killed.” There’s an irony here that should not be overlooked. Civilization is built on the premise that we can be better than nature, we can aspire to a less violent, less desperate way of life by taking control of our own destiny. This is what makes us human. If we’re trying to be different from the jungle then why so consistently do we base our behavior on these same animalistic principles? Moreover, we humans seem to overlook the symbiotic relationships that our less evolved cousins naturally ascribe to. Sharks on Wall Street might have their schools of yes men and interns scouring around them like remora, but what about the rest of us? Are we doomed to a life as fodder for bigger game? Are we just prey? Are we sheep as a certain deity would have us believe or can we be more? The point of this rant is that if the natural world can achieve this orchestra of equalizing relationships playing out wordlessly through time then why is it that man, supposedly the more evolved species, is in such disarray? Our self-preservation instinct is just as strong and it causes no end of grief, greed and posturing. If even a Great White Shark knows to open its jaws and not clamp down when someone is trying to help out then why are our teeth so consistently bared? In short, we have a lot to learn from nature. Our future is dependent on finding those that have something to gain by helping us. Think about that. This past century was built on industry and capitalism. The assumptions of that long standing way of life have become so engrained that we often assume without thinking that if someone works with us we must owe them money. But is it possible to form a symbiotic relationship in the realm of art, creativity, or even services exchanged? Musicians do it every day. I need a bass player, you need a drummer, let’s form an alliance. That’s all a band is, a symbiotic relationship. All I’m saying is we make that sort of arrangement common practice for more than just band mates. The artist, the writer, the actor – we should all be reaching out to our creative brethren and forming bonds that are mutually beneficial. The industrial world will tell you that these things can only be accomplished with money and you need them, you need big business if you’re going to make it. I say no. I say that if enough people pull together and pool resources then we could shun the corporate giants the same way they’re shunning you right now for not making their kind of market-ready, broadly accessible artwork. That’s what community really means. It means helping each other, but not getting into anyone’s pocket. Helping each other because in doing so you create those symbiotic relationships that web out, connect to others, and become a kind of sculpture themselves. I mean, isn’t that what civilization really is, or really ought to be? One vast, dynamic sculpture made from the lives and intersecting lives of billions.
Table of Contents REVIEWS Static Music Reviews
Crown the Liar Andrew Norman
SHORT STORIES 14 Delimited Detention Chris Stiebens REGULARS
Pearls for Swine: thoughts from a mad hermit
Road Notes A Discussion with Bruce Anderson Editor/Publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser Jeff Costello
17 The Secret of My Success Kirby Light DYSTOPIA 4
Occupy Me: A Letter to the Faux Liberal Fool 22 Julian Johnson UTOPIA
Art is Currency: Float On and Their Floating Creations 25 Trevor Richardson POETRY
HUMOR The Choice Is Yours Jeff Shaffer Question Authority Jeff Costello
REGULARS Stuck on Repeat Are We Still in the Jungle? Rachael Johnson
Kirby Light Corin Reyburn CRITIC’S CRITIC
A Critique of The New York Times Review of “The Dark Knight” 33 Trevor Richardson SERIALS Dystopia Boy 0.3 Trevor Richardson 40
America’s Last Newspaper A Discussion with Bruce Anderson Editor/Publisher of the
Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA) Boonville, California
Bruce Anderson owns and edits the AVA. Its masthead bills it as “America’s last newspaper.” The paper enjoys a modest national circulation, and is unique in that it is based in the rural community of Boonville, Mendocino County, California, but features much left-wing opinion wrapped around local sports, school board reports, profiles of local characters, and impressively detailed stories on local controversies. Anderson describes himself as “a socialist with strong, nay overwhelming, anarchist instincts.” He is called cantankerous, a troublemaker and an outright liar by various elements in Mendocino Co., most of whom have something to hide or protect. What he is, is one those pesky people who tell it like it is - and has a newspaper to tell it in. “Newspapers should have no friends.” - Joseph Pulitzer
JC: When did you acquire the Anderson Valley Advertiser? Bruce Anderson: January of 1984. Er, is this going to be a one-at-a-time interview? Ask me about my failed newspaper in Eugene, and follow that up with, “How did you evolve into the warm, wonderful human being that you are? I’m ready for the next question. Yes, I’m a Leo. JC: What were you up to, leading to purchase of the paper?
BA: I ran a group home for juvenile delinquents. It was a great success. Every one of them went on to adult lives in state and federal prisons. JC: Speaks well for institutions. Why Mendocino County? BA: The idea was that delinquents would be less delinquent under the redwoods than they were under streetlights. They were MORE delinquent under the redwoods because “There’s never any fucking thing to do around this fucking place.” In 2012 you can hook them up to Gizmo World round the clock wherever they are. JC: How would you define what the AVA is and does? BA: I think the AVA accurately reflects the total life of the Mendocino County population plus gives readers a variety of opinion more vivid than can be found anywhere in the language with any frequency. Other weekly newspapers, and even most magazines are phony and boring. Our masthead quotes have ranged from America’s Last Newspaper, which it definitely is even if by default, to War on the Palaces, Peace to the Cottages, which I had to abandon when my nephew got rich and moved into a palace. I couldn’t very well say “War on the Palaces Except For My Nephew’s Palace,” could I? I’ve also used Fanning the Flames of Discontent, or what I informally think of as MPF, or maximum piss-off factor, which I try to achieve every week in annoying the smug, the stupid, the positive thinkers, the unicorn people. JC: Okay, how pissed off do they get? BA: Beats me, but if they write in to complain I get to piss them off again with a zippo-boffo ed reply. JC: And the van damage? BA: I’m pretty sure the Earth First! assholes did that because I didn’t buy their version of the Judi Bari Bombing. Metal filings in the crank case is right outta their monkeywrench book. Lotsa death threats, with two investigated by the cops and about 30 demand letters over the years from jive lawyers threatening to sue for libel. I always printed the lawyer letter along with a reprint of the alleged libel. JC: So you tried to publish in Eugene... BA: I wanted to fail on a grander scale. Which I did fairly quickly because I was under-capitalized. I thought I could do well enough to pay the print bill etc. until my paper caught on, but.... The Eugene weather didn’t bother me but the libs did. They seemed even dumber and more pious than the ones I’d dealt with in NorCal, hissing in movie theaters and lecturing others on how to live and what to think. That kind of retro bullshit I hadn’t experienced since the early 1970s. And the town is ugly as hell with weird sprawl in all directions, which seemed a contradiction given the pure numbers of the Righteous concentrated in the place. I definitely liked having access to big time sports and I liked Eastern Oregon a whole lot. If I did the move again I’d have settled t out there somewhere o commence a weekly. And if I were a lot younger, and we were back in the days before print had been doomed, I’d try Eugene again to run the town’s chickenshit weekly right outta there. Ditto for that thing in Portland. I really disliked the guy who published the Eugene weekly and another fool who banned me from the big health food store there. The lib herd bulls, all of them affiliated with the Democratic Party,
of course, wanted me out and kept me out of a lot of stores and so on. It’s probably good that I went back to Boonville. I think I would have had trouble in Eugene if I’d stayed and I was too old to go back to jail for stupid stuff like I did when I was a kid. But the national and international track meets, minor league baseball, college football and basketball, were wonderful. JC: Regarding the behavior of liberals towards you in Eugene, when your political outlook is clearly left, can you explain the seeming contradiction? BA: A lot of it was because I’m left in the old sense of being a socialist and liberals like to think they are the left. The bad ones dominant among Democrats, and the ones dominant in Eugene, really don’t stand for much of anything beyond being acceptable to each other. You either want to change this son of a bitch or you don’t, and a lot of liberals don’t. They do right well under the present arrangements. I’m thrilled that the Occupy Movement might move them clear out of the way into the moderate wing of the Republican Party where they belong. JC: Now tell us about the Nice People. BA: The Nice People, as opposed to the nice people, are the ones who apply the words “appropriate” and “inappropriate” to everything from bad manners to mass murder. They pretend to be “totally dedicated” to whatever it’s appropriate to be dedicated to, and they can refer to themselves and their friends unblushingly as “highly evolved.” Killers, every fucking one of them. And they’re everywhere, especially around universities and other liberal institutions. JC: So how did you evolve into the warm, wonderful human being you are? BA: I give thanks to the Marine Corps where, as we always said, Every day’s a holiday, every meal a banquet, which beats hell out of Ommmmmmmmm, wouldn’t you say? JC: What war was going on when you were in? BA: No war. I was lucky to be in between Korea and Vietnam. JC: Lucky, yes. Suppose you’d gone to Vietnam. BA: I was on active duty age 17 to 19 and I woulda gone not knowing any better. I didn’t want to be a beatnik until I was twenty. JC: What do you see on the horizon for the USA? BA: For the land of my birth I see nothing but grief. The economy will continue to implode, social chaos heavy on ultra-vi with big riots coming up this summer and, uh, more fat people.pp 8
Questionby Authority Jeff Costello
The “Question Authority” bumper sticker is obsolete. Authority has been thoroughly questioned — and failed the interview. The evidence of its failure is global, as vainglorious national leaders everywhere fall, issuing denials all the way to the bottom, their narcissism and lust for power on display for everyone to see. The jig is up. And here in the good ol’ USA, anarchy has broken out, from Wall St. to small towns in practically every state. Before long, the terms anarchy and radical may be understood for what they are, rather than what the authority structure would have us believe. It’s fun seeing it happen, as everyone from Middle Eastern dictators to the clown-show debates of Republican presidential hopefuls — all the naked emperors — scramble to save their asses and salvage a shred of dignity. Even the most earnest Obama voters, lots of them, are seeing that there is no such thing as an uncompromised president. You’ve got to hand it to the Occupiers. Many have left the illusory comfort and security of houses in fictitious neighborhoods, where actual community is an unknown concept, to gather in modern-day Hoovervilles where cooperative community without the bludgeon of authority (anarchy) is necessary for survival. The operative term here is trust. Anarchy requires it. Occupiers appear to understand that. Why do we distrust others so, anyway? Because we are told to, by authority figures, hardly a trustworthy lot themselves.
“Mum, what are cops for?” “To protect them that has from us that ain’t.” — dialogue from the movie, “The Secret Agent” During my period of conversations on an internet forum with a few random right wing Americans, I learned that anger was a dominant part of their personalities. And fear — an incessant worry that someone might take away their toys. Thus: Law and Order. The left wing of the American right — liberals — score not much better on this matter. In suburbs where most everyone votes for Democrats, you may not see much red, white & blue, but prominently displayed on most of the properties are signs announcing the presence of high-tech alarm systems. Let’s distinguish between authority and Authority. Back in the 80s I found a t-shirt that said Authorized, and in smaller letters, like a signature, Larry Joseph. It was a kick having this shirt because I had recently decided to write, be an “author.” And I imagined this t-shirt as lending credence to the notion. Later on, when I met Joseph, he accused me of stealing it, was annoyed that I had it, and let me know that I was not, after all, authorized. Some years later I encountered a woman who announced herself as “an author.” Well… She had or has written a few self-help books, not very good ones (if there are any good ones). They were about having and gaining confidence, but her speech seemed very forced, as though she was reading out loud from her own text. She was, in fact, not confidant at all. Never again would I refer to myself or any of my friends who wrote, as an author. We’re talking authority with the small “a” here, a relatively harmless term. To speak “with authority” on given topic. There are times someone must be in charge. The leader of a band, the captain of a ship. Their authority must be based on competence, can’t be faked. The irony is, at the capital “A” authority level, driven mostly by vanity expressed as lust for power, competence has nothing to do with it. “Who died and made you boss?” Remember that one? A joke. But is it really a joke? You’re supposed to be this, supposed to be that. Even as a child I asked who was doing the supposing. Never got a clear answer. Still waiting.
by Rachael Johnson
Are We Still in the Jungle? The question naturally depends on whether I mean “jungle”in the same way that Upton Sinclair had originally intended, or if I mean it the way that America took it. The difference is between talking about the destructive power of capitalism on the working class or about the unsanitary, underhanded processes of the meat industry. For the former, I suggest The Nation’s “Shame of Meatpacking” (September 16, 2002). For the latter, set your lunch aside and keep reading.
one. Mechanically separated beef products, on the other hand, were banned in 2004 on account of fears of mad cow disease. (“Legal Separation”)
It’s quite clear, then, that pink slime, or “lean finely textured beef” as it’s called by its producers, Beef Product Inc., is something distinct. Using the fatty trimmings left over from other cuts of meat, the bits are heated and spun to remove most of the fat. After a puff of ammonia to kill e. coli and salmonella, it’s pressed into blocks and then shipped out to According to one particular photo that has re- later be mixed into hamburger. Though it sounds cently been making the rounds on the internet and more appetizing than “bones, eyes, guts, and all”, churning people’s stomachs, the meat industry is the process still left one USDA microbiologist sayas callous as ever. The photo seems to be of a ing, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, large amount of strawberry soft serve being dis- and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a pensed into a paper board box, but the accom- form of fraudulent labeling.” In the same e-mail, panying caption explains that the “pink goop” he even called it “pink slime.” (Moss) However, it (Google that term for the exact image) is actu- was an inexpensive filler, so it’d find its way into ally “…mechanically separated chicken….Basi- school lunches and onto tables across America. cally, the entire chicken is smashed and pressed through a sieve, bones, eyes, guts, and all.” Knowing the truth about how pink slime is made, (“Legal Separation”) If this were true, it certainly and with the awareness that its ammonia levels harkens back to “They use everything about the fluctuate between either not killing the bacteria or hog except the squeal.” (The Jungle, ch. 3) Since instead causing toxicity in the meat, still doesn’t the caption also claims that this pink goop is quite reach The Jungle levels: “[T]he meat would soaked in ammonia to kill all the bacteria, it’s not be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the a stretch to see how it might be lumped togeth- shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even er with the so-called “pink slime” of beef, which when he saw one…” (ch. 14) However, the issue is famously treated with ammonia, sometimes at that the food industry doesn’t care about we eat as levels that make the product reek of it. (Moss) much as we do (rats, ammonia treated trimmings) means that we are still very much in the jungle. However, to declare the “pink” substances as translations of each other, or even to take the We are being served as little information as possiabove caption at face value, would be a mistake. ble about the foods we eat to ensure that we keep The good people at Snopes.com, a website that eating. For instance, unless you’re purchasing investigates myths and urban legends, state that fully organic beef, there’s no guarantee that you the pink goop in the photo is indeed mechanical- are not purchasing ammonia treated hamburger. ly separated poultry (MSP), meaning that a me- This is because the government agreed to claschanical technique is used to strip bones of what- sify ammonia as a processing agent rather than as ever meat tissue still clings to them. The product an ingredient at the request of Beef Products Inc. is a paste, and it usually goes into hot dogs and Given that the ammonia can cause the alkalinity chicken nuggets. However, since 2003, it has not to range wackily from 6 to 10 on the PH scale, been used in McNuggets (“25 Years of McDon- (Moss) to not require it on labels is rather unfair. ald’s…”), so you can’t go attacking them for that 12
To use an extreme example of my own creation, this is a bit like giving an orthodox Jew a steak, but not telling him that the meat glue holding it together is pork derived simply because the glue is a “bonding agent” and not an ingredient. And yes, meat glue very much exists, but it’s actually derived from Streptoverticillium mobaraense, a strain of soil bacteria. According to the French Cooking Institute’s blog, “Cooking Issues,” Transglutaminase (meat glue) is “a naturally occurring enzyme in plants, animals, and bacteria” and is “safe, natural, and easy to use.” That may well be, but the existence of meat glue, along with the idea that the entree we’re ordering may actually be several cuts of meat bonded together, is not common knowledge, making it more wool to be pulled over our eyes. The limits of common knowledge, of what we are allowed to know in regards to what we consume, are stifling. They could slip sawdust into our food without our knowing. And, well, they totally are. “Powdered cellulose,” or “minuscule pieces of wood pulp or other plant fibers” is found in ice cream, baked goods, and many processed foods. (Nassauer) The upside is that cellulose is listed in the ingredients, but the downside is that it’s even found in organic foods. It would seem, the more you know, the darker the jungle that is the grocery aisles.
Rachael Johnson, a fresh voice in the Seattle writing scene, offers her regular column,“Stuck On Repeat,” which puts a unique spin on current news stories by taking a look back at other moments in history where the same thing went down. It’s true what they say, history repeats itself.
Good luck on your next visit to the supermarket.
Sources: “25 Years of McDonald’s McNuggets.” McDonald’s Electronic Press Kit. McDonald’s, 2008. Web. 18 Mar. 2012.<http://mcdepk.com/ChickenMcNuggets2008/mediadocs/McNuggets_Timeline.pdf>. Arnold, Dave, and Nils Norén. “Cooking Issues.” Transglutaminase, Aka Meat Glue. The French Culinary Institute, 8 Oct. 2009. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.cookingissues.com/primers/transglutaminase-aka-meat-glue/>. “Legal Separation.” Snopes.com. Snopes, 31 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.snopes.com/food/prepare/msm.asp>. Moss, Michael. “Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 Mar. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all>. Nassauer, Sarah. “Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier.” Online.wsj.com. The Wall Street Journal, 4 May 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html
Fat40, my HAM radio friend, claimed last week to be enacting a plan to “wake up” America: “GMA,” he called it, like the television show. Needless to say, this rush to arms frightened any revolutionary tendencies right out of me — truly, I’m cured, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still what I’d call a “pissed-off citizen,” but I prefer to keep my “pee-on” rights for as long as I can. But back to Fat40, a guy I’ve never met in person who, in his many flat but effectual pronouncements, exhibits the cunning of a mechanical or electronic engineer. I know the type. I actually love the type. While you’re probably thinking T. Kaczynski in a cabin, neo-Ludditical leanings are far from the mind of the sophisticated anarchoteknik. My cousin—so fun to spend the summer with as kid—comes to mind, as do many Germanic figures down through history who habitually dined on potted meats, had poor hygiene and cool toys, and worked slavishly into the night in garage-labs. This fact is what scares me about Fat40: rather than overthrowing governments he, at his age, should be counting the proceeds gained from inventing a mechanical toilet-seat lifter or some other consumable. Further evidence: he is an advanced user of next generation, encrypted Automatic Link Establishment (ALE). Forget the internet, hackers and would-be smart-grid disruptors. Encrypted ALE is the drink of choice for real 14
domestic terrorists. It can connect with Sat COM reliability in the middle of a nuclear strike and can transfer to a global audience any form of data, including digital television. We’re not talking your papa’s CB slung beneath the dash of a Gran Torino, or even that Linux-driven MacBook you so smarmily hoist about in the café. We are not even talking...We are meeting… Fat40, after he said what he said and I so pusillanimously announced I’d be going off-air to upgrade some equipment, made the declaration: “See you in the flesh soon, Comrade”. I am regretfully certain he meant me. I don’t know. There could have been other operators on the call, I suppose; nevertheless, I’m writing this because today is the day he claimed that he would “come ‘round early to discuss how we’ll design GMA.” I have taken no precautions—deleted nothing, loaded nothing, communicated nothing—only wrote this missive about what I fear could be my personal wake up call. But the waiting is hard! Yet, why should I be so afraid? We are talking about a flesh-and-blood man with whom I have literally had months of conversation. We share many of the same views. We speak a similar line about government and tyranny and cronyism. Regardless, my knees tremble at the thought of seeing him face-to-face. Maybe it’s the fact that he is shadowy and unknown, an Other too far removed from the comforts and cares which concern me on
a daily basis and keep me from all but necessary human contact; or should I blame my upbringing which taught, from the time I was two, that forces of greater power (other than God) were almost always the source of oppression. I don’t know. I know only that I fear (H)im. I am tired of waiting in doors. It is half past eight in the a.m. and he has not come. I am in the front yard raking leaves from beneath the shrubbery (my own and my neighbors), as well as picking out beer bottles and empty cigarette packs from the branches which his friends so heedlessly to lodge there. The leaves smell of piss and the wrong end of winter. What am I doing? I’m really a good person. I don’t want it all to end; I’ve just needed to vent sometimes since losing my job two years ago. 8:45 a.m.: the second time the van has come around the block in fifteen minutes—an odd interval—once every seven minutes if it continues on the same schedule. But if I bolt and go inside he will know I’m afraid. Clean. I continue to clean the walkups. The dirt-beds beneath the shrubs are now identical in their cleanliness like, I imagine, twins on an operating table soon to be disjoined. Cleeeeannnn… I love clean. 9:00 a.m.: the white van has made two more passes and is now turning in my driveway. I busy myself with what could only be deemed horticultural minutiae by an onlooker (some radical I am!). A woman steps out, dressed in white. If it is Fat40, he/she must be hopped on some mighty powerful steroids to achieve the deep register exhibited on air. She is clean, stout, near to the expected age of Fat40 and waddling my way. I pause from the picking—the trash-and- leaf-free dirt exposed in all its true dirtiness—as the women stands before me. I am kneeling in what feels a worshipful attitude, with uplifted dirty hands. “Good morning,” she tonelessly says. “America,” I say to myself. By noon it has occurred to me (in spite of the injection) that immediately upon release from this place (which I can only assume is some kind of Psych Ward) that I must begin the development of my drone-killer. We are all at risk. I calculate at maximum a four year window before the sky over every major city is bladed to intolerability by police and Homeland Security drones—Od’ und leer das Meer! What will become of “free society” at that point? The fact is that I can’t and won’t abide surveillance. To this end, my personal clinician, on my second day here, made the point that the cameras installed in the rooms and halls are mere protective devices (the standard
argument). I made the counterpoint that I have witnessed but one act of violence and it was perpetrated by an orderly. He cited (with an expressiveness too dour for my liking) some recent escapes in California and a killing due to understaffing, an incident made less probable, he insists, at Southwest Behavioral Health because more eyes, albeit electronic, means greater power over day-to-day interactions. I responded by quoting Foucault: “Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.” He became silent. A good Berean, I finished with this query in hope of quickening his understanding: “And so, when the very heavens above you become a sort of Ocular Hell your living inside of—monitored, mined and indexed for every deviation by drones—in what position will you then find yourself?” We are to meet today, where we’ll see if my good counsel was to any purpose. Nevertheless, for the moment let’s return to the drone-killer I conceive of, a marvel of simplicity and guile, with the platform being a simple paintball machine gun mounted to a helicopter controlled remotely by ALE. Yes, we are back to that. It ts an allusion which makes me ponder the current doings of Fat40, and if he is aware, at all, that my wife (bless her civic-minded heart, has accomplished her duties by having me committed). Where did I go wrong? I wonder. Was it the late nights in the shop working at my “contraptions” as she called them, or conversing with Fat40 and the gang when I should have been in bed? Was it the few times I mentioned how, when still employed, my skin would crawl at the sound of police choppers circling over the campus? I loved teaching. But even the class room became tainted on the day they began digitally recording our every lecture. Such dissonance cannot be abided for long by the imaginative. The once-per-ten-week-phase turned into a nearly diurnal intimidation. Even students of the so-called “media generation” were revolted. My abiit nemine salutato was, I suppose, what forever re-mastered my pedagogical career and marital relations. Why could no one comprehend my walking out? Stricture of the human, creative spirit—it should never be abided! I wonder if Bob Summers (according to his name-tag, my so-called therapist) would willingly remit any hold he has on a private life? If I have my way, we will be talking in session today of the straitjacketing of reality entire—personal or otherwise—and whether or not he, or anyone else, should have to have their indi15
vidual world diminished by the powers that purport to be all-powerful. Imagine…No, don’t…Abyssus Abyssum invocat… Bob never showed. I asked in group for the next couple of days where he might be found and was scolded for going “off-topic.” A week passed. No meaningful human contact came my way. My wife came by only once because, according to her, she needed time to think where “all this mess” was going. I swear she smelled of sex and Skinny-Girl Margaritas. Today is Wednesday, the beginning of the second week without Bob or my wife, and I have been summoned to patient processing. A behavioral tech, whose ramen-breath is nigh to unbearable, just leaned low as group was winding down and spoke these words to me: “You’re wanted up front. Meet me in the hall when this is over.” Side by side, we trod the ten-eyed Hydra of a hall to the main office, both (for diverse reasons) with head down so as to not give off any vibes to the behavioral recognizers. I do not speak; nor do I breathe save through my sleeve, as the air has of late been weaponized. Our every step stirs the carpet-bomb of freshener recently laid down. I gasp as we reach the office. No human is present. Behind the glass, there is space occupied by three electronic presences tilting maniacally at empty cups and empty office-chairs. My escort, knowing well that I know I’m being watched, doesn’t have to tell me to stay put until the Case Manager returns. He leaves without word. Time thickens. I stand and shift, wipe my nose on my sleeve, and lean and shift and wipe again until suddenly, behind me, I hear the whoosh of mechanical doors and turn— struck curious—as towards me waddles the very presumption of what Fat40 would look in the flesh (based on video) save one, reality-altering detail: he is suited and sports a smart-badge. Rather than smile, an official grimness seams his lips as he reaches me. The foyer turns bright-to-brilliant like a production set and I, with hands outstretched, ask in tones but a few of my countrymen could detect as timorous: “Good morning?” “America,” replies the muted scrollwork in his handcuffs.
Chris Stiebens is a college administrator, educator and writer raised in the rural township of Manitou, Oklahoma. He now resides in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he noncommittally practices woodworking and painting. His true passions are his beautiful wife, Mary Elizabeth, and the reading and crafting of well-rendered fiction. To read more of his work, see Issue II of Corvus at www.corvusmagazine.com for the short story ‘High Life.’ Any comments or questions about his story, ‘Delimited Detention,’ can be directed to his limited digital presence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Secret of My Success
straight. Standing in a small office and someone introduces us. Two years ago, she lays on my bed. I kiss her for the first time. I try to talk her into sleeping with me. When she leaves, it’s the last time I see her for the summer.
I stick my fingers through the blinds and open them. Snow falls outside in large flakes. The street light in front of her apartment makes the snow orange as it falls. “It’s snowing outside,” I say. “No way.” I turn and look behind me. She stands in the dark, underneath her loft bed, hernaked figure lit in blue by the small faint light on her stereo.
A month ago, I knock on the door of her new office. She gets up and walks over to me. She closes the door to the office so that the other people inside don’t hear our conversation. “What are you doing here?” She asks in a nasally voice, nose clogged from a cold. “Here,” I say, handing her the bag, “I got tired of offering so I just
Two years ago, I meet her for the first time. She stands very 17
decided to do it.” She looks in the bag. She sees the cold medicine, the microwavable soup, the orange juice, and the cookie.
can go on a walk together, if you’d like.” “Absolutely,” I say. “Okay, meet me upstairs at eight fifteen,” and she walks across the lobby and into the stairwell.
“The cookie is for comfort,” I say. “You jerk,” she says and smiles and then kicks me in the shin. She gives me a hug and says thank you. She says it in a voice that I can’t describe, but it makes me feel like I’ve done something right.
On the walk that follows we tell each other about our summers. I apologize for trying to talk her into sleeping with me. Weeks ago, we’re in the basement of her apartment building. She’s sitting on top of the running washing machine. I’m pacing and I turn and see her looking at me. Her head is tilted and she’s biting her lower lip. I smile and walk up to her. I move in to kiss her. She smiles and leans back, keeping our lips apart by less than half an inch. I put a hand on her cheek, finger tips just below her ear. I kiss her. It feels as if I’ve never kissed anyone before.
A year ago, we’re walking through the park at night. “I don’t know how I feel about you,” she says. “I can’t trust my feelings anymore. Let’s just be friends and see what happens.” We walk for three hours, just talking. Then I hold her hand and before she leaves I kiss her for the second time and to my surprise when I back away, she leans into me and we kiss again. I don’t try to talk her into sleeping with me. Later she tells me that she went home with a smile on her face.
Some time at some point, we’re walking. “I just want to be friends,” she says. “I was confused before, when I told you we’d be friends and see what happens. I just want to be friends with you.”
Two falls ago, I walk through the lobby of the hospital and I see her. She’s coming through the lobby doors. She sees me. We meet each other in the middle.
We’re rolling around on the floor of her apartment. I kiss her neck. She bites my shoulder. We kiss. Our tongues meet each other in the middle. She runs a hand through my hair. I bite her hip. I begin to pull her pants down.
“Long time no see,” I say. She looks at me in a strange way I can’t put my finger on. We stand there a moment. But just a moment. She asks, “What are you up to right now?”
“No,” she says, “we can’t.”
“I just got off work and I was going to go get dinner in the cafeteria.”
“I’m not going to do anything. I just want to pull them down as low as you’ll let me. Just tell me when to stop.”
“My lunch is in an hour,” she says. “If you want to hang around we
She smiles. I start to pull her pants down. I get them very low, 18
exposing skin of hers I’ve never seen before.
message she tells me that she is going to eat “pushy” tonight. She says she’s drunk. She says she’ll think of me the whole time. She tells me I have an old soul and beautiful eyes. She tells me she loves my belly.
“Stop,” she says. And then I kiss her at the lowest point. “Oh God, you asshole,” she laughs.
Through text message I tell her that invitations are nice. She says she’d love to but that I wouldn’t want to have sex with her while her boyfriend’s there. I tell her she’s right and to have a good night. She tells me she has a vibrator between her legs as we are speaking. She tells me it should be my hand down there. She tells me her only regret is not being with me when the time was right.
We roll around and she ends up on top of me. She playfully pouts and hits me in the chest. “I hate you.” “Why do you hate me?” “Because you’re so easy to hate.” A few weeks ago, through text message, she tells me she wants to rape me. We message. She tells me she may start dry humping everything in her office. I tell her I have a theory that her snatch tastes like cotton candy and I’d really like to test that theory. She scolds me for calling it a snatch. She says that hers is delicate, unlike a snatch. I tell her I’ll remember that for future reference. She tells me that she wants to sleep with me, but she would feel guilty if she did, because she’d be cheating and unshared expectations might ruin our friendship.
I go to sleep that night knowing that at that moment she’s being fucked by other people. Sleep comes with difficulty and when it does it provides as much solace as a tornado. We’re making love up in her loft bed. And that’s what it is, “making love.” It’s a little strange to write that. But I suppose that’s what it is. I’m inside her, for the last time that night. Her naked skin is pressed against my naked skin. I kiss her neck. I bite her ear lobe. Our lips meet. Our tongues pass back and forth. Her fingers slide up my sides. Her nails dig into me. Her quiet moans are like no moans I’ve ever heard. I know now why he sang Leonard Cohen’s song the way he did.
She opens the Valentine’s day gift and as she unwraps the things inside she keeps looking over her shoulder at me, giving me a strange look, not a bad one, but one that could possibly say: you are beautiful, you are amazing. She turns her head as I get close.
We’re walking again, as we often do. She’s holding my hand.
“I can’t,” she says. “I can’t cheat. I don’t want things between us to start like this.”
“I’m falling in love with you,” she says. “You’re one of my best friends. I respect you and I don’t ever respect anyone. I can see myself being in a relationship with you.”
Through text message she tells me she’s going to her friend’s house. Her friends are a married couple. They are swingers. Through text 19
And then she looks sad. “I want you to be different,” she says.
in the sky and the day is warm. “It feels like I’ve met you somewhere before,” I say. “It’s kind of strange.”
I’m laying naked on the floor of her apartment. She sits cross legged in front of me wearing nothing but a shirt. She eats some type of yogurt. No words are really being said. She looks at the wall and appears to be looking at something a great distance away. I place a hand on her leg and feel that sweet skin I had tasted only moments before. She looks at me.
She looks at me and smiles. She twists strands of her hair around a single finger. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way and you might think I’m crazy, but I feel the same way. I think maybe we’ve met in a past life or something.”
“He didn’t deserve this,” she says.
I look at her, stare a moment. “I don’t think you’re crazy. I think maybe you’re right.”
I sit up and give her a hug and she starts to cry. “It was a one time thing. What happened between him and I was meaningless.”
We walk down the road. The day is good. In the forest of my mind, these things are all present tense. They don’t form into memories. They’re still happening in my head, fresh. They play over and over again. The snow still falls outside her window on the first night we sleep together. Life comes without invitation or warning and I often find myself ill-equipped and unprepared for it or what it intends for me. The joy twists with the pain twists with the hurt twists with the love twists with the hope. It all rushes at me and a lack of knowledge leaves me scrambling. All of it contorts together and becomes too big, enormous, conflicting, jarring, wonderful, elating, catastrophic, surprising, threatening, comforting, and it builds to such ridiculous proportions that I just simply don’t know what the fuck to do.
She throws up her hands. “It was a one night thing. I’m never going to see him again. Is this really a big deal?” I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. I’m not sure how to act or feel. I’ve never been in this position before. I mean I feel…wounded. But, I don’t know if I should be. I’m not your boyfriend and not only am I not your boyfriend, but someone else is your ‘boyfriend.’” We walk. We talk. “I’ve never had a one night stand,” she says. “I just wanted to see what it was like. What you think really matters to me and I don’t want you to think that I’m a whore. I really care about you. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
So I do the only thing I can do.
She starts to cry. I give her a hug and I tell her I don’t think she’s a whore. And I really don’t.
I sit in awe of it all and I write a God Damn good page of prose.
A lifetime ago, before I kiss her for the first time, we’re walking down the road. The sun hangs high
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.
by Julian Johnson It’s not semantics, genius, but freight – the freight, the heft, the cargo that your illchosen words carry.
the suites and not the streets matters not to the Ivy League pimps running this ship of fools.
Occupy. The revolutionary call. The spark of the new movement. Qui, mes frères, c’est le Revolution! I felt a familiar chill as I read, heard, and smelled the new flavor of the antiquated leftist stuck-in-the-mud-uprising.
Pardon my digression for a moment, s’il vous plait, but Obama’s been singin’ Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” lately to the Stockholm syndrome afflicted lunatics who kiss the bitch’s ring, metaphorically of course. Let’s stay together, uh huh – your votes and my presidential indifference. But like the blaxploitation pimps and pimpettes, his faux-fur support is just as real. Take it to the bank, baby!
Viva Che! The Hope Merchant, aka, the Blackchurian candidate, who slavishly services
capital on both knees, sans kneepads, began to leak support from his constituency on the far left fringe. The rabble was not amused by drone strikes in Pakistan, our ally, during week one of his admin, let alone his cabinet selections in which he buck-danced and shimmied with all the manner of the Bush era.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner/ lawyer lighting up brown and black babies, women, men, done in by drone, by remote control, by committee calculus half a world away. Law, what they once taught in institutions called law schools used to require due process, accusation, arrest, trial and sentence.
Yes, let’s revolt against this atrocious leadership however late it is in the game. Let’s not only take to the streets, but take the streets. That the ‘biz-niece’ takes place in
Checks and balances were instituted in order to ensure a concept known as ‘fairness.’ Yet, many of my brown kin have abandoned all principles – if they ever had any – for skin 22
affinity. They ‘trust’ that “he know what he do”, or at least don’t care because he looks so good doing it. The fetishized faith, the idol abandon, the utter barrenness of logic or ethics is hard to swallow. They do, but I can’t.
could lead to schism or even exclusion, but it is worth raising the prospect to gauge how flexible and open this Occupy movement might be.
“De-Colonize!” Voila! We said it. We want to bring your attention to the fact that our Malcolm said that in a revopeople, colored people, have lution, “you don’t do any had a different experience singin’ you’re too busy that your verbiage doesn’t swingin’.” But here we are take into account. We say this back in the streets, while not to diminish but to EXthe suites, the congressioPAND the possibilities of this nal gallery, the judge’s cham- movement. We feel strongly bers remain in the sway of that you are missing/overlookblue veined, bloodless devils ing vital experiential data with murder and money on their that we have bled out and minds. learned from. We are the black keys to your white; in order Is it time to ‘Occupy’ empty to play harmonically, you’ve space, like the Nazis occugot to hear this. pied Poland, Czech, Austria, “We have already ‘branded’ the France, et al No, no, no word Occupy.” But branding that’s not what we mean, even cannot have liberation on its though that’s what we said. puny mind. It has, instead, Well, what did you mean? Bethe idea of profiting from or cause it doesn’t feel so difcapitalizing on the word someferent from my brown colonized where down the road. No wonder we can’t get our heads together. The greatest enemy we face is the internalized one, the mind that has not been cleansed of the master’s theories and concepts and ideas. One might be able to use the master’s tools, but they better know the difference between masterspeak and libratory-speak. There’s a lot of cleansing, de-colonizing, a lot ‘Ism cleansing that needs perspective. I feel colonized, to happen, obviously, bemarginalized on every street cause why else would we be in corner in ‘White Heaven’ aka, the streets rather than the Portland, OR. But you don’t suites?! hear me, tho! Occupy, the word is inexact, These words have and will nebulous, made for clarififall on deaf ears. The Occucation, but the white heroes py movement when stripped of in charge will hear none of its new age rhetoric is just it. Let us try some new words more white, top-down, diverthat, oh by the way, include sionary inaction masquerading our colored experience in the as action. The great Pattrice conversation of oppression and Jones, who you have probexclusion. We know that this ably never heard of, wrote an 23
amazing article several years ago entitled “‘Let’s Put on a Show!’ Spectacle versus Reality in the US Peace Movement” in which she accused the US Left of spectacle, throwing toothless marches that garnered ‘attention’ and ‘demonstrated’ public concern about war and peace and policy which resulted in exactly nothing. Meanwhile, the wars have gone on, innocents have died and the war criminals who “occupied/occupy” those positions of power are still Charles-incharge, walking free. That’s no movement at all. Some may call it semantics, this debate about what to call the movement. But it’s not about a name, it’s about the container. It’s about the umbrel-
overlords and underdogs, but to replace the overlords with themselves, that they may preside over a benevolent, velvet dictatorship is no movement worthy of the name.
la that includes and turning that umbrella into a tent that holds ALL of us. Lip service is always paid to the same tired concepts, but in order to make them real, movements must BEND!! They must not only be open to challenge, they must welcome challenge, accommodate challenge, institute the changes wrought from and through that challenge.
fying production. That’s the movement that I want to join. I want to join that movement that joins me, that occupies and exemplifies me and my tribe – that wouldn’t have it any other way. We aren’t there yet, but maybe, one day maybe. Until then…
Occupying parks is theater, threatens squirrels, but does not threaten power or power centers. The response to the “de-colonize” challenge left me certain my reticence was well considered. The last thing I want to do is “occupy” space for nonsensical reasons. Where is the power? Where is the machine? Where are the levers and gears that Mario Savio exhorted us to handle in order that the machinery stop its death dealing, that they be converted to need satis-
Occupy me! - - -
A REAL movement must mature from spectator and spectacle, to participatory and revolutionary. Real revolution includes and welcomes. Faux revolution is what we have right now: white, narrow minded thorns that fence out brown, black, red, yellow analysis. Analysis that seeks not to overthrow a system of
Julian Johnson is “Mr. In-Betweentoo white for black people and too black for white people.” A border crosser. A tennis playa instigator. Passionate provocateur. High yella fellow from Dark Country, aka, Washington, DC. Anais Nin devotee; serious Francophile. Writer (‘thefreeslave.com’), filmmaker (“On A Heavenly Track”). 24
Every time the American corporation’s
But what about this question of barter-
stock plummets you’ll hear these same talking ing? When you talk about bartering you’re talkpoints crop up again and again. It happened in ing about the earliest form of economy. Some the 70s during the big oil crisis. It happened
might call that going backwards, but is it pos-
in the 30s during the Great Depression.
sible that we have been closer to utopia in our
happening now in the midst of the crisis of the past than we expect to be in our future? Does 99% and the ongoing ambiguity of recession. the old adage about the fork in the road ring “Is the American dollar a dying animal?” Or true? If we are on the wrong road then backing “Is gold no longer a reliable basis for an econ-
up to where we made the wrong turn would not
omy?” But the line I really mean to talk about be backing up at all, it would be progress. today is the often mentioned, rarely followed
That is the question Subtopian has been
up on, “We should all just go back to the barter
built upon and it is at the heart of today’s study
of utopia. You pick up stories here and there
You say that, but would you really go about places that are willing to trade. There’s
for it? Would you exchange your sixty hours a little restaurant in the South of France that of graphic design work for two twenty pound
takes paintings in exchange for food, for ex-
sacks of grain? What is the exchange rate on ample. Or, in the case of Portland, Oregon, you a kilowatt hour in ceramic pots? Economy has can find any number of locally owned businessbeen a tricky mistress all the way back to the es willing to trade your stock for theirs. But days of wampum and in that time we’ve gone one company in particular strikes me as unique, from gold to paper notes to electronic fund intriguing, and well worth mentioning. transfers -- who knows what will come next?
At 46th and Hawthorne in Southeast
utopia Portland there is a little space called Float On. to take a good hard look into the way in which They offer sensory deprivation tank, or float Float On founders Graham Talley, Ashkahn Jahtank, services to a broad spectrum of clients
romi, Quinn Zepeda, and Christopher Messer
ranging from those that approach it as a form of conduct their business. From the moment they therapy for back pain, headaches, or other ail-
opened their doors they began a volunteer pro-
ments on up to the more industrious psychedel-
gram, an art program, and a bartering system
ic expeditionaries looking for some place be-
to ensure that floating would be accessible to
tween meditation and sublime vision. In fact, anyone no matter their situation. Many of their at almost any given moment in Float On you
volunteers have gone on to be paid employees
can find yourself sitting between some guy that and regular fixtures of the space and most, if not will talk your ear off about his jam band and a all, of the artwork that gives Float On its charm lady that can only get through her work week came from bartering artists. Another early stage by floating.
The room is misty, humid, and in Float On’s development was something they
people sit there at varying stages of conscious-
refer to as “Float Creations” which began with
ness and dampness, simultaneously together an art outreach program and grew from there. and alone with their thoughts. It’s a fascinat-
The arts program was created as a means
ing space run by a team of pals who you would to help artists float at discounted rates or even swear had no idea they were actually at work for free. This arrangement is what first put the and the friendly atmosphere radiates out of the float space on my radar. As the founder of Subbright colors of the room and the smorgasbord topian I am always saying that the future of art of assorted artwork adorning every wall.
is in finding ways to benefit from helping other
people find success rather than just looking out
But I am not writing this to analyze float-
ing and I am not here to add my name to the for ourselves. In this instance, both sides gain growing list of critics and journalists that have something even if money doesn’t necessarily applied their quills to the topic of Float On. A re-
enter the equation. Artists get to float and they
cent write up in The Portland Mercury outclassed get to showcase their work. Float On gets word and outgunned this meek penman with the quote, of mouth advertising, a friendly reputation, a “It’s like a blowjob for your whole body.” If that
loyal following and a ton of cool art. Every-
doesn’t pique your interest then nothing I have to body wins. say about floating possibly will.
In a manner that seems to be character-
So, the real reason we are here, folks, is istic of Graham and his team, something that 26
utopia started as a simple enough idea soon evolved passersby and then immediately forgotten on into something much bigger.
Float On gave the way to the train. But in Float On things are
150 Portland artists the opportunity to enjoy different, your art matters. Your hard work has two free floats in exchange for completing a a direct pay off and you even have a chance to work of art after their second float. The work, stand and get noticed. What started as a means which was to be completed within the follow-
to a free float ends with your stuff in a kind of
ing month, surpassed expectations and came gallery on Hawthorne Boulevard with dozens with such exciting back stories, narratives, and of people in and out every day. Maybe for most experiences that it was compiled into an art of the world art is just something you do for book entitled “Artwork from the Void,” which fun or even create in the hope of exchanging Float On self-published this past August and is
for hard currency, but in Float On and the few
available on Amazon.com. To top it all off, the places out there like it, art is currency. work is currently being showcased around the
country at other float tank centers.
something that comes from the top down. There
will never be a utopian system of government.
As if that weren’t enough, a Music Pro-
Subtopian maintains that utopia is not
gram soon followed and has since yielded three Utopia is what happens when people stop lookCDs of music which are currently in the mas-
ing up for the answers and decide to look around
tering stage and they have even launched a chef instead. It’s that moment when you look on eiprogram that is accepting applications. Yet all ther side of you and see that your friend on the of these things are still part of “Float Creations”
right has a camera and your friend on the left
and, as the title suggests, thought of as art in dreams of acting some day and then you look its various forms. To the Float On all creations at yourself and remember that script. Then you have their own intrinsic value and can be traded just put it together and make something happen or bartered for outside of common economy.
not only for yourself but for the three of you.
When I think about the meaning and It was a moment not terribly different from this
potential outcomes of Float Creations I think that led to the creation of Float On and they about walking the streets of New York City. In
continue the tradition every day by valuing the
Central Park or any random side street there are diversity of their clientele and treating any and always people sitting at makeshift booths try-
everything people have to offer as though it has
ing to sell their creations and getting snubbed its own worth rather than just a worth that can left and right or, perhaps worse, admired by the be exchanged in dollars and cents. 27
talking about doing things in a new way. They
When we talk about building a better
world we are told that the biggest challenge to are establishing their own system, assembling week to week their own infrastructure. Where
creating utopia is figuring out how we’re go-
ing to implement it into daily life. There is so the powers that be will spend listless years anamuch established infrastructure for the world lyzing and debating the cost-benefit ratios of as we know it that it seems almost unimagi-
changing the world from one system to another,
nable to ever change anything.
Float On and their tribe have swept in, built a
We often know what needs to be done – company and a following, and established their
break down the culture of mass-consumerism, own value system in less than two years. get off foreign oil, go green, love thy neigh-
What else is there to say besides that? I
bor…whatever the message, the answer is al-
don’t know which way the pendulum will swing
ways the same. It’s hard. We need oil, don’t in the future, utopia or dystopia, I don’t know we? We like buying things. But my neighbor much at all to tell the truth, but I do know that when Float On gets their Writer Program off
is such a jerk. And all the blah, blah, blah of daily life.
But places like Float On give me and running I’ll be looking their way. pp
hope because they are doing more than just
To learn more about Float On check out www.floathq.com You can also follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floathq Or visit the float space at 4530 SE Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland, Oregon
Or Something… Kirby Light
I’ve heard many a would be martyr Say that they wish to make the world A better place. A cliché statement Born from naïveté and youth. I walk through Pioneer Square A protest is taking place And almost twenty people Are holding signs saying 24 hour starvation protest For some injustice in Tibet. Christ starved for thirty days Ghandi almost starved for just as long. And I run into Ghandi At the corner of MLK Blv and Killingsworth “S’up little G? How’s it hangin?” I say to him. He’s laying on the concrete, Blood pouring out of the bullet holes In his chest. He tries to speak, but It’s garbled. “Hey, you got to speak up if you want to be heard.” I lean in closer. He coughs up blood on my jacket. “Fuck man,” I shout and push him away. 29
He whispers, “An eye for an eye makes us all blind.” And from somewhere or nowhere beyond him another Voice whispers, “We are already blind.” I look to see where the whisper came from but there Is only the empty street and the wind. “See you little G,” I say and step over him. I turn And look over my shoulder. Ghandi peeks at me from the pavement. “Be seeing you,” he says weakly, In his Indian accent. He raises a finger, pointing it at Me, thumb going up and dropping like the hammer On a gun. I walk down the road. Someone is yelling at someone From a car. The sound of traffic has Drown out the sounds of the day. Sirens call somewhere in the distance. I have heard many would be martyrs Say that they want to make the world a Better place. But wasn’t it perfect before mankind Trod on this plain. Up the road I run into Einstien He waits for a bus. “Hey, Al,” I say. “Where you headin?” “Out of this place. I must be free from here.” “Why?” “Why? Because this place is dead. The women are promiscuious and The men aren’t men, nor do they Treat the women like a man should. The air is thick and dirty. The ground Is decayed. Everything has a dollar sign.” “Damn Al,” I say, “That’s a pretty fucking Concise answer.” “There is no quiet. There is no solitude. Imagination is useless and all of science Is used for the benefit of people’s wallets.” “I suppose that’s true. I came to that conclusion Before I left college, remember?” 30
“Love doesn’t exist except in movies. Nothing Has magic or wonder here anymore. Sex Is on every street corner. People drug themselves Up instead of facing things” “Welp,” I say slapping my knee. “I gots to get Goin, Al. Nice chatting with you.” I walk on down the road. “And no one listens anymore,” I hear Al say As I travel down the sidewalk. His bus comes and he climbs aboard, Still listing the reasons for his departure. Somewhere someone is doing something cruel To another. Somewhere something of real value Say a virtue or love or integrity or faith Is being given up for a dollar. Somewhere love is dying, crushed In exchange for something someone Thinks has value. Or something like that… As I continue, I think about Einstien. Our friendship hasn’t been the same since I gave Up science for the written word. A loss I regret. I remember a thing he once said, before I left college, something That goes like this: “The release of the atom Power has changed everything Except our way of thinking… The solution to this problem Lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I Should have become a Watchmaker.” And it is in these words On the edges of My sweetest nightmare That I know Only when man’s heart Ceases to beat Will the world be a Better Place. 31
Cassius Corin Reyburn 20,000 leagues under my bed there is a worm His name is Cassius He is a traitor and he is in hiding I feed him cracker crumbs and pieces of my dead skin In return he gives me Precious gemstones he finds down there and translucent little fish Slightly larger than a grain of rice When I am sleeping he puts thoughts in my head From the past and from the future When he shows me I am always afraid Like scattered microbes across a dusty plain collected into one large and human-like form Black and bright with reflection The Son sets over me in shadow, following my every move
The Critic’s Critic
Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” A Critique by Trevor Richardson of
Manohla Dargis’ New York Times Review “Showdown in Gotham: July 18, 2008”
Big comic book nut talking here, so be warned. I’ve been a fan of superheroes since before I can even remember. There’s an arsenal of embarrassing images of me in a Superman cape stockpiled in my mother’s photo albums waiting to be pulled out and wielded should I get out of line. I love the whole world created around these characters, the stark lines, the contrasting colors, the grim undertones of a world skirting evil and the desperate multitudes craving good yet too weak to enforce it without the few to lead and protect. I love it. That said I don’t love the comic book inspired movies. You’re probably thinking, sure, great, this again, but my reasons are not the same as the geek out purists that will reference issue and date of a comic book to prove deviation from timeline, canon or character. I’m not like that. I just think that comic books have a special place in history and see them as a truly original American art form. As such they hold a kind of nobility for me. So when you take all that history and all that metaphor and meaning and you drag it through the wide road of consumer media, special effects, blockbuster franchising, and all that other crap that everybody almost unanimously feels is bringing down the quality of American cinema, I get anxious. You can see the dollar signs flashing Tex Avery style in the eyes of every movie maker in the country when they green light a new superhero franchise. These stories have it all, flashing lights, explosions, combat, flight, car chases, gun battles, you name it. So it stands to reason that it can easily get turned into a big spectacle American weekend flick and make a mint. Sure it does. But what really gets my gourd is the way these characters that have always meant so much to me are now being used as part of this system that so many of us view as negative. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I just never imagined fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way” to mean “poster child for commercialism.” I guess I just like them better as books.
warner bros. pictures
Well, that rant aside, I’ve decided to take the heightened anticipation of the third and final Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight “movie to get a few things off my chest. Everybody knows that “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero movie ever made, right? It’s the most accurate, most innovative comic inspired interpretation thus far, the one that changed the rules, the one that everyone is going to mimic from now on. At least, that seems to be the general consensus out there. I’m not here to say one way or another if that actually is the case. I’m not even here to say it’s a bad movie. It’s kind of cool, I guess, even if Bale’s Batman voice sounds a little bit like Duff Man with laryngitis on Viagra. And even if the speeches can get a little contrived, especially when talking about what kind of hero we need, want or deserve, or about the overall failings of humanity. But that aside, sure, they’re kind of cool. My claim, however, is that Batman is not the best comic movie ever made because it is not a comic book movie at all, despite what the critics and filmmakers would have you think. 33
The Critic’s Critic Here’s a quote from The New York Times review of the movie, “In its grim intensity, ‘The Dark Knight’ can feel closer to David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ than Tim Burton’s playfully gothic ‘Batman,’ which means it’s also closer to Bob Kane’s original comic and Frank Miller’s 1986 reinterpretation.”
Batman isn’t really Batman. He’s Bruce Wayne, sure, and he has the suit and the car, sure, but he will never deal with the resurrected insanity of Ra’s Al Ghul and the Lazarus Pits or battle Killer Croc or a dozen other crazy examples I could list like the aforementioned geek out douche bag I’m trying really hard not to sound like. Put simply, this Batman will never occupy the same universe as the world DC Comics has been creating for decades and that means that this doesn’t really honor Bob Kane’s vision at all, does it? He doesn’t live in Bob Kane’s world. He lives in a stylized spy flick with a side of martial arts movie topped off with a decent portion of gritty crime drama tied up with a black bow.
Closer to Bob Kane’s original comic, he says. I say no. Not a comic at all, not a superhero movie at all. Stew on that for a minute, I’ll be right back. Gonna refill the ol’ coffee cup… Okay, I’m back. Still there? What do you think? You must be thinking, what the hell, man? Of course it’s a comic book movie, it’s freakin’ BATMAN! You’re right, of course, it is freakin’ Batman, but it also isn’t. It’s a distilled version of Batman. It’s been filtered. The filmmakers have removed almost all elements of the sci-fi/fantasy elements that make comic books “super.”
This is just the hybrid love child of James Bond, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, “Taxi Driver,” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Cool, interesting, weird, yes, all of the above, but not the Batman some of us grew up knowing and loving. There, I said it. The only reason you think this is the best comic book movie ever made is because they didn’t make one at all and thereThis Batman will never fight Clayface. This Batman fore they don’t have to deal with the same challenges as will never join Superman and the Justice League. The the upcoming “Avengers” movie or the hopefully notuniverse he lives in doesn’t allow for the existence terrible Spiderman reboot. Those will probably be horof extraterrestrial life, much less the Man of Steel, rible movies that still make the fat cats in Hollywood a the Green Lantern, or an invasion from someone like Doomsday. The only part of the critic’s statement I will lot of money, but at least they’ll actually be super. pp agree with is that it feels more like Fincher’s “Zodiac.” Read the full movie review at: That’s exactly my point, and while I do very much appreciate the choice in tone and style I very much don’t appreciate the lack of fantasy allowed for in this overtly h t t p : / / m o v i e s . n y t i m e s . c o m / 2 0 0 8 / 0 7 / 1 8 / movies/18knig.html?pagewanted=all realistic take. The fun of comics is that they offer the possibility for so much more than real life. This one ------doesn’t. I’m just saying. What “The Dark Knight” really comes down to is a magic trick, a clever gambit, a sleight of hand gag where we are all so busy looking This article by The Subtopian Magazine’s founder, at the gritty style of the cinematography or the edgy Trevor Richardson, and Assistant Editor Erin Deale is an invitation to performances or the borderline Scorsese-esque script that we don’t actually see what they just did to us. everyone to review the big movie critic’s that you disagreed with someWhile you were admiring Heath Ledger’s Joker you missed what happened behind the curtain. This Joker has lost the backdrop of chemical genius that would later allow him to hold Gotham in the grip of panic with a toxin that makes you laugh yourself to death. This Joker will never squirt acid from a clown flower on his lapel while gassing Gotham with smiles. This Joker is cool, but he’s not really Joker. Just like this
where along the way.
Visit www.subtopian.com/the-critics-critic for more information.
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 12:03 PM There’s a break room every one hundred yards on the compound. They treat us all right for being a government gig. It’s just tech and donuts and coffee and more tech for almost a square mile across twenty eight floors. The power bill must look like the gross national product of Uganda every month. Can’t help it, just every now and then, from time to time, making the association between when the Watcher Program launched in 2005 and when the economy began to tank. Anyway, inside there are a few rows of the typical cafeteria style tables, those plastic and metal jobs that look like an Uber Utilitarian spin on the classic picnic table. There are some vending machines with corporate sodas on the front and a few with the glass front and the bags of chips and candy bars and crappy triangle sandwiches sitting inside a black metal coil. Letters and numbers all down the front. Today, with the crash and the backup lights and all, is an exception. The room is normally too bright, fluorescent tube lamps flood the space with blue-white light that makes it impossible to doze or nap. There’s a radio at the far end and a flat screen television that no one uses because it only plays news channels. They call it research, watching the news – clever way to keep us on task and on the job even while on break. Even if we all know the news is just a staged hoax meant to wrangle the hearts and minds of the public through fear and posturing, but no need to go into that. The radio has become far more popular in recent years. Time moves backwards sometimes, like a pendulum swinging in the opinions and interests of the people. Something is popular one day and yesterday’s news the next. The radio made its comeback after the federal government pulled funding for public broadcasting stations. A lot of radio stations went under, some even longstanding staples of a community. Not long after, legislation opened the door for other smaller stations to broadcast. Reduced regulation and fewer stations clogging the airways made it possible for a few buddies to hang an antenna and broadcast their opinions from the comfort of their garage. It wasn’t long before the new world of local, private news was flowering in the community radio sector. As is always the case, certain forces caught wind and new regulations followed. It gets to the point where you’re told anyone can 41
serials own and operate a radio station, but the corporations have the legal right to purchase the frequencies – they own the airwaves. The private sector starts leasing broadcasting rights from private companies. The anarchists have a field day, they say it was planned all along, a steady course toward “corporatizing” the free news media. Then the rebels come in. It must’ve been ‘round about the late twenty-teens, I don’t know, maybe it was more like 2020, when pirate radio squads start hacking the frequencies and broadcasting from mobile headquarters. It gets harder and harder to find them, and the outlaw fanfare of their stance makes their ratings soar over the Top 40 mash-up stations and fake news broadcasts of corporate America. Their ratings plummet, the pirate radio stations soar. That’s America. Like a young woman falling for the bad boy. As part of our surveillance we spend a lot of our time listening to radio chatter to see what people are thinking and talking about. Right now it’s tuned to a man that has become the veritable king of the pirate disc jockies. He broadcasts somewhere around Portland, Oregon, and goes by the handle “Howling Murphy,” but that’s all we’ve been able to learn about him. No one’s even seen his face. He has, to say the least, become a bit of an online celebrity via his internet podcasts. Tracking IDCs only led to a web of satellite bounced signals finally falling on a made up company that was licensed to sell novelty candy in the shapes of sex organs. Incidentally, Portland for the better part of this century has been a haven and a launching pad for outlaws, rebels, contrarians and do-it-yourselfers. They’ve all but seceded from the union by now. The once and former flash-in-the-pan “Buy Local” hipster trend grew. They bought local, turned more and more within, and over time have pretty much abandoned the exterior system. Many have followed suit, living out their destinies, both fiscal and frivolous, with the veritable walls up. A city-state unto itself. That’s the condition of America today. Howling Murphy loves it. He says it’s the shining proof of American feudalism. We’re city-states with our own masters living to serve the King Corporation, “America, Inc.” Theatrical bull shit – propaganda and posturing on both sides if you ask me. There’s a few G.I. Joe lookalikes gathered around the radio, eating junk food and drinking coffee. I greet them all warmly. One Joe asks, “Yeah, hey, Anders. So how’s your back42
serials ground check going? It must be pretty serious, Wilkes has started assigning people from Tracking Division to hunt down some of the key players in your story so far. A surprising amount of nothing so far.” “An expensive nothing,” says another Joe, “Accounting is going to have a field day with the amount of dough spent on helicopters and manpower already wasted to bring this Joe Vagrant in. Every known address has been a dead end. Empty buildings, rent paid on hollow rooms, hollowed out husks. It’s like he’s playing a shell game with us and we’re losing.” “Apt analogy,” I say, “Since you usually throw away a lot of green on a shell game. How are things going with the crash, gentlemen? Any idea what caused it?” One of the Joes says, “Yeah, it’s clearly a virus, but we’re damned if we can find the source code imbedded in RITA’s software. It’s like a ghost just walking around pushing buttons and pulling plugs.” “Too weird,” I shrug, “So you decided to take a break and listen to old Howling Murphy, eh? Can’t say I blame you, that old radio is probably our only ears to the outside world right now, ain’t it?” “You said it,” says another Joe, “We were wondering if the virus has spread enough to reach the attention of the outside world, you know? So far nothing.” Gardner says, “So, listen, I wanted to ask you…” “Shh…listen, I want to hear this,” I say, pointing to the radio and stepping over to the coffee pot quietly. I pour myself a cup and pull up a piece of bench seat next to the other guys. Howling Murphy is ranting, as usual: The government used to just be funded by corporations, huge conglomerates that wanted this politician or that politician in their pocket would offer them the devil’s deal at the crossroads. We fund your campaign and you’re our bitch. Plain and simple. This went on for decades, right, folks? And we all thought that was bad, but where are we now? In those days the shady deals and gerrymandering of a few vast corporate powers were on a par with organized crime lords, mafiosos, mob bosses, whatever you want to call ‘em, paying off the police to get them to look the other way or, in some cases, help ‘em out. But at least they were still answering to somebody. Not like today. What are we today? There was a time when I would have sworn the worst thing this country ever did was grant corporations ‘personhood’ and all the rights and privileges allotted to an individual that 43
serials go with that dreaded word. Personhood. It was decades ago now, and we all said it was the beginning of the end, and we was right. We granted the power of privacy, protection of individual rights by the law, and the power to sue as a unit to an entity that can outlive all of us. A man dies and that’s it, he’s dead. A man in a corporation, however, is just a part of a larger whole. He’s one cell in the body of that Corporate ‘Person.’ We created immortal beings with the legal right and authority to make all the same choices, take all the same liberties and enjoy all the same favors of our blessed Constitution. Worse yet, if an individual has a beef with a corporation, and assuming they can even manage to bring that beef to the courts, their lawsuit can just be labored over for years until that individual ages out and dies from natural causes. Then, the entity, the Corporate Person, can simply shrug the issue off and continue on about their merry little way. This single issue, I thought, was the worst it could ever get. But then what happened, folks? In the name of capitalism, free market, and the right to choose, in the name of our forefathers themselves, our Supreme Court overturned our protection from monopolies. Now a corporation can own and control everything. And, constitutionally, if they were able to finagle that kind of power then they have simply earned the right to enjoy it. It isn’t shady or unlawful, it’s just superior business practices. It goes back to the early days of Christianity, and don’t tell me that us having a right wing, Christian evangelical, former pastor for a president isn’t a connection here, because it is. So listen up. In the early days of Christianity, people weren’t allowed to borrow money. It was considered a sin to go into debt. But then a man named John Calvin came along and proposed a new idea. He called it “the Elect,” and the elect were the people that God has pre-selected to experience salvation from their sins. Since before they were born, God knew who he would save and who he would not. This means most of us are all fodder for hell, ladies and gentlemen, but a few diamonds in the rough would be picked out of the muck. And a new problem arose. How do we know who is elected and who is damned? How can I be sure I’m one of them, and if I’m not one, then what is the use in going to church, in trying to be holy? “Anders?” “Shh.” 44
serials Now stick with me, folks, because there is a point here. The pope, after much prayer and deliberation, makes a declaration. The Elect can be spotted based on who prospers and who does not. Those that prosper are clearly in the Lord’s favor. Those that do not simply are not. Period. End of discussion. So, what does that mean for the practical world of finance, business and survival? Mr. Pope overturns the stance of God’s church against borrowing and debt. As if overnight, the church has decided that if you can borrow ten gold coins and turn them into a hundred then you must be one of God’s Elect. And the days of high finance, money changing, stock exchanges, corporate powers and the greedy, rich-power elite began. The source of the Capitalist’s avarice did not begin with cities of decadence, prostitution, the seven deadly sins or Las Vegas. Capitalism, the free market, and the pursuit of wealth was not built on the smoldering foundations of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was founded on the paramount desire for salvation. If I can earn a buck then that means I must be in possession of the Lord’s favor. Yet in the same breath, men like our fair President McKinley will tell you that you can’t buy your way into heaven. Nonsense, my friends. All of it. Now, the real silver bullet here is this: we have a radical Christian leader who has systematically broken down barriers between church and state as well as barriers between corporations and regulation. He has made it possible for the new Corporate Person to ascend to the heights of wealth, power and control as if, in the voice of that old Pope so long ago, to grant the Corporate Person the opportunity to prove to the heavens that they are elected, preselected, for salvation. And where has it gotten us? The rights of the individual are gone. This president is in his fourth term. Corporations are the new American nobility, proven with time to have noble blood measured by their ability to earn a profit despite increasing economic depression. And whom do these Corporate Lords serve? Who is their king? The highest Corporate power of all, America herself. Our country has become a monopolizing corporate force that encompasses all other persons within her logo: the American flag. “Hey, Anders.” “Shut up, will ya? This is interesting.” And the figurehead leading the charge? The president of our company, the CEO of America Incorporated? None other than our God-fearing, Theocrat, President Donald McKinley. So what 45
serials do we do, folks? What can we do? We are living in a fully formed Corporatocracy with a Theological kicker. We saw the warning signs and did nothing. It is most likely far too late. The people should have acted sooner to protect their Democracy because it is gone, replaced instead by a state of Neo-Feudalism, with the corporate powers as our feudal, noble lords and us as the peasants, taxed to death, and living only to serve the Kingdom. I’m open to suggestions, folks. The phones are open. Call in with your opinions, call in with your concerns, toll free… “Well,” I shrug, turning to Gardner, “That was interesting. I already finished my coffee, wanna warm up your cup?” Gardner nods, looking somehow dismayed, probably because he’s just itching to ask me whatever that question of his was that was so damned important. We head back over to the coffee pot and he looks ready to burst. I hear the garbled voice of some cell phone user calling in to Howling Murphy. She says, “I just want to say that if a corporation is an individual then how is it they’re getting away with paying no taxes?” I pour some coffee into Gardner’s mug and my mind wanders at the sight of the steam. Coffee is weird. Brown bean water. Burned brown bean water. Amazing how many things we take for granted. Like, how did we get here? How did we reach a point where boiling water and pouring it over crunched up beans was an essential human function? How did this happen? Objectivity is a big part of my life, so it stands to reason that I ask myself these questions from time to time. Not much point really, except coffee’s weird. The caller on the radio says, “If I dodge my taxes and run scams and take advantage of loopholes and phony write-offs I get audited and possibly do jail time.” I hand Gardner his warmed up cup of coffee and he thanks me absentmindedly. Pouring mine and I remember hearing tell of a monkey or a weasel or something in South America that eats this particular kind of coffee cherry and shits out the pit. That’s what they call the coffee bean when it’s still on the plant. It’s a cherry with the bean inside instead of a pit. Radio Caller shouts, “I say we treat a corporation like a person, investigate, punish, audit and arrest the ‘persons’ 46
serials that aren’t doing what is required of the rest of us persons, or should I say peasants?” Anyway, this critter eats the cherry and as its digestive tract works on the fruit the bean inside absorbs all the enzymes and flavors and chemicals and properties from the thing’s guts and it comes out good enough for rich yuppie assholes to pay like a zillion dollars a bean or something. And that’s where I come in wondering how we got here. How somebody thought to try that or why we thought it was good. The caller says, “Let’s do that and see how long the corporations want to be considered people after that, right?” “Hey, Gardner,” I ask, “Who said that famous line, what was it? ‘Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.’ Do you know who said that?” “You’re a pretty weird, guy, Anders. Did you know that?” he sips his coffee and smiles into the steam, “I mean, you aren’t exactly making a good case for this implant business. You seem loopy as a senile clown half the time. What I mean is this is a place for hard cases, serious thinkers trying to catch serious bad guys, and you’re talking about the insides of dogs.” “Just a tangent, sorry,” I shrug, “So what’s eating at you, buddy boy?” “I didn’t mean to bother you or anything, sir,” Gardner replies, “It’s just… it’s weird, right? Having somebody put tech in your head and all.” “Yeah, it’s weird, but in all my thirty years here I never heard of anything going wrong.” “Not ever?” he asks, not even trying to mask his obvious surprise. “Well, there was this one guy a few years back, hell, maybe fifteen years ago by now… fella by the name of White. Weird guy. Walked around grinning about everything like he just loved life or was stoned or had a hard on for computers, I don’t know. The sort that you might think of when somebody throws out that cornball hackneyed line about bein’ high on life, you know? Of course you know. Who doesn’t know that saying? It’s a common phrase. Anyway, old White always was a little off, but one day he just went totally off grid. He planted a virus, hacked some key systems and just disappeared.” “What happened? I mean, he just vanished, even with all this tech?” 47
serials “Yeah, I mean, you hear tell of a hack here or a system crashing there, something weird, ghosts in the machine they call it, sometimes some superstitious monkey on a keyboard will say ‘Maybe it’s White.’ But nobody ever really believes it. It’s sort of shop talk, you know, jokes or make believe to keep the day interesting. Ask around, you’ll hear a few guys that got their theories about how today’s mess is White’s doing.” “You knew him?” I sip my coffee and just kind of shrug, “Nah, not much, I don’t know. We’d talk now and again. I can remember him getting creepy toward the end there. He’d let a few things slip now and then, like, how he’s feeling for a mark or something he heard was making a lot of sense.” “How do you let something like that slip?” Gardner asks, looking over his shoulder sort of nervous, like someone may be watching. Someone’s always watching. “You don’t per se, I guess. It’s all in how someone asks a question. Like, ‘Anders, you ever feel yourself starting to care for a mark?’ Or, ‘Anders, you ever get a case where some of the shit you hear kinda makes sense to you?’ That sort of thing. I don’t know, kid, folks got a way of tipping their hand if you’re looking for it. He started talking a lot about how he didn’t think people were really free, how he felt like the work station was a window into what’s really happening out there. Last time I ever saw him he said something I ain’t ever likely to forget.” I pause for a sip of coffee. Or maybe to just increase dramatic effect. “Well, Anders, c’mon…well, what’d he say?” the kid’s about to explode and it’s been like six seconds, “What’d White say?” “You know, you really are a gem of temperance and patience. Someday you’ll be sainted as a man of great willpower and dedication. If I weren’t already dead by then I might even wear the inevitable silver charms. St. Gardner, the Patron Saint of Patient Dialogue.” “Shut up, old man, tell me what he said.” “White said,” I take another sip just to piss the kid off, “He said, ‘Sometimes I think that people used to make money, but somewhere along the way it started making us.’” Gardner whistles low and looks at the wall. He nods a bit and says, “How do you do it?” “Do what, kid?” “How do you keep the dissenters and the liberals and the 48
serials protestors out of your head? How do you keep all the shit the world has to say against us from getting in so you start believing it?” “I don’t know, man, you just do. You make a choice.” “Sounds like White couldn’t make that choice.” “Yeah,” I shrug, “And look how he turned out. He’s still at the top of our most wanted list. He’s a ghoul, a regular bogeyman with the Watchers, and he’s still on the run, wherever he is. But don’t worry, son, you’ll be all right. Just keep your head about you.” “I guess. A lot of responsibility though. Kind of scares me.” “Just remember, the men upstairs picked you. They must’ve seen something there or you’d still be analyzing fact sheets or crunching numbers or getting coffee or whatever the fuck you did at the CIA.” Gardner thanks me and leaves with his warm cup. I sit a minute longer. The voice of Howling Murphy cuts out and is replaced by the monotones of a stuffy, probably borderline elderly, white man. The new voice says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.” There’s applause and then the scratchy, quavering tones of our president. “Thank you,” he says, “I have called you all here to deliver a message of hope. My time in this office has been one of blessing and growth for this country. We have survived a worldwide depression together. We have fought back many enemies, foreign and domestic, and we have won many battles. Our Lord above is clearly on our side. We are his chosen children. “I am not here to make any announcements, or to declare any emergencies. I simply want to stand before you here today, on the anniversary of one of our greatest tragedies, and tell every American to remember that we are called to a higher purpose. We must remember to walk the narrow path, to hold ourselves to a loftier standard of morality, ethics and righteousness. “In the past we have had enemies that have hated us for our liberal ways and our debauchery. Our carelessness and lack of responsibility gave others cause to hate us, to call us infidel, and heathen. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, once said in the Good Book that if you cause another to sin you are responsible for that sin. I wish to remind all Americans that though we have been attacked and persecuted and threatened, 49
serials we have a share in the responsibility for the sins enacted against us. We caused that hate by being immoral and God almost turned his back on us. Remember this with solemnity and grace, do not hate, love your enemy, and use that grace to make sure that we do not give the world any more cause or ammunition to use against us in what is and has always been, Earth’s longest Holy War. The history books might say differently, but we all know this war never ended. Remember to stay the course, love thy neighbor, and God Bless America.”
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 12:22 PM I sit back down at my desk and for just a second I see something that couldn’t be real, something impossible. The screensaver had kicked in, the Watcher logo, the all-seeing eye in the triangle, that thing on the back of a one dollar bill. It’s everywhere, on our uniforms and stationary, everything. It’s my screensaver – golden, spinning, refracting light as it rotates. Only just as I sit down it twists and as the eye comes into view it winks at me, then spins again and goes back to normal. Damn peculiar. Shrugging it off I get back to manning the controls. I’m jumping through time now. The images on the screen fly by like scenery on a fast moving bullet train. I’m not blinking, trying to absorb as much as I can. I keep tapping the key to move the feed forward. It’s like scanning a radio for stations. Eventually something triggers and you stop. He’s daydreaming in church. He’s chasing girls on the playground. It’s 2018. He’s in another fight. Here he is running the streets with some other boys, smashing glass bottles and throwing rocks through the windows of abandoned buildings. A cop chases them. 2019. Joe must be about eight now. Here he is riding his bike to a nearby convenience store on the border of the Blackfoot Reservation. As if on a dare he grabs a stack of skin mags and bolts for the door. Riding like a bat out of hell now. The decrepit old storeowner chases halfheartedly and stops, heading back inside to his phone. Joe rides through trees and underbrush to a wooden fort barely three inches off the ground. Whether he knows it or not, he’s crossed into Blackfoot territory. A nearby camera for tracking deer movements gives me eyes on the scene. I 50
serials switch over to a camera hidden in a portable television from some company I never heard of before. The boys have the TV set on a shelf on the back wall. Inside are some older boys with their feet up on a makeshift table that used to be a cable spool. They’re smoking cigarettes and playing cards. “I got them, guys,” Joe yells, bursting in through the little wood door, “Look, I did it.” “Not bad, kid. Maybe you can be in the gang after all,” says the biggest one glibly. “Lemme see,” says another, wiping snot on the back of his bare wrist. The kid grabs one and flips through to the centerfold with a smile on his face. It’s a woman behind chicken wire. She’s prying apart the metal and staring aggressively through the hole at the camera. Her breasts are pressed into the mesh like dough flirting with the edge of a cookie cutter. Joe catches a glimpse of the back of the centerfold. On the opposite side is a woman with her back to the camera, bent over a desk in nothing but a red tie. Everything is showing and I think about candy boxes in the shape of hearts. I mean, a human heart really looks more like a potato or an obscure, possibly extinct deep sea jelly fish if you keep the veins in the equation. But when we talk about hearts we’re talking about love. Not anatomy. Funny that the whole symbol of affection, devotion and constancy looks more like a woman’s sweet parts pressed up against a glass plate with a camera on the other side and less like the core, blood pumping center of a man. Joe’s eyes linger but fall away bashfully. “What’s wrong, kid?” asks the ringleader, “Don’t tell me your mama’s holy rolling bull shit still sticks in your head all the way out here? Nobody’s looking. This ain’t church and Mama’s back at the trailer watching the news.” “I know, it’s just… it just makes me feel funny. Like something bad’s gonna happen.” “Joe,” the big kid sits up, letting his feet drop to the floor, and says, “I want you to look at the girl. Look at her, Joe. Don’t she look good? Or are you still too small to get it? You know what a boner is, Joe?” The other kids laugh eagerly and a couple others grab a magazine and flip through with greedy eyes. Their future-felon-leader says, “Well, Joe?” Looking at his face you can tell he knows it has to do with his penis. His posture changes like he feels naked. He 51
serials says, “N-n-no, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Is it like a chicken bone or something?” The group breaks into near hysterics at this and one boy even falls on the ground, slapping the floor in a fit of overacting. The big kid says through laughs of his own, “No, Joe, it ain’t like a chicken bone, but I’m betting if you got one it ain’t gonna be much more than that.” More laughter and the boy says, “You got any pubes yet, Joe?” Joe mouths the word “pews” and his mind is filled once again with thoughts of God, damnation, fire from heaven and Martian invasion. He shakes his head and says, “I shouldn’t be here. This was wrong. I wanna go home now.” He turns to leave and two other boys grab him. The big kid says, “Joe, Joe, Joe…we just got here. Why don’t you want to play with us?” Walking up behind him, he pulls his pants down around his ankles and says, “Yep, what I thought. Still bald as a baby.” Two boys hold Joe tightly, one on each arm, keeping him from running away. Their leader has this sick look of pleasure, a look of mutant power, like he knows that he can get this group of kids to do anything for him and he knows he can do anything he wants to this little naked, crying thing. That right now, he’s in charge, god or the devil of this moment in time. It’s this form of backward power that has motivated some of the most cripplingly ugly pages of human history, the darkest murders, the most brutal torture, the urge to hold a man down in a prison shower with your buddies and plug into him until he bleeds. All of that, it’s all over this kid’s expression like a someday mug shot. And then there’s something under that, same as that day when Joe’s mother unloaded on him with a slap to the face. It’s a look of release, the enjoyment that comes from an opportunity to dump out all of your pain and hate and bottled up frustration onto another weaker human being. Joe is crying, his lips are moving frantically, mouthing silent words. The big kid says, “What the hell?” He leans in close, “What’s that? Speak up, you freak. Won’t you share your thoughts with the whole class?” Joe is praying. He sobs, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. Forgive me, Lord, for disobeying. Forgive me for making my mommy look bad and for – ” “Shut up with that!” the big kid slaps Joe across the face 52
serials and yells, “Christ, you really are a freak, aren’t you?” Joe is still crying, but he is silent. “Good,” says the kid, “Now, I wonder…can you get a boner yet? I got mine about your age, always wondered if I was special.” “Nathan,” the big kid asks, pointing to a boy across the room from him, “When’d you get your first boner?” Nathan hesitates and it occurs to me that he may not have had one yet. He says, “Last summer, Anthony. At camp. Traci Parker.” A few kids whistle like horny construction workers and Joe is just standing there, bare-assed and crying. Some other kid says he used to get them when he had to go pee real bad and some others nod. One boy in the corner is being real quiet and they all notice him at once. “Lee” asks the big kid, apparently named Anthony, “What about you?” Lee looks at Joe, terrified and unsure, then back at Anthony. Anthony says, “You know, I’m thinking you ain’t got any pubes neither. What do you think, boys?” The boys laugh and jeer. “Into the box?” Anthony asks. They all cheer, “The box, the box!” Anthony slides a wooden chest out from behind some old junk and newspapers. Beneath the chest is a wobbly trap door without a hinge, it’s basically just a lid he pulls out of the floorboards that leads down into a dark hole. Some of the kids grab this Lee kid and rip his trousers off over his shoes, he thrashes and screams, but they overpower him. Ringleader Anthony gestures down the hole, a cocky sideways grin on his face, and his drooling cronies force Joe and Lee inside together. The last thing to go in are Joe’s feet as the kids wrestle with his jeans until they come off over his shoes the same as Lee’s. The lid is shut and Anthony slides the heavy chest back over the trapdoor, sitting on top with an air of pride. He stomps his foot on the floor with the ball of his heel loudly and says, “Well, you two, ain’t nobody comin’ out til one of you gets his first hard-on. This is a club for men only. No boys allowed.” You can hear them inside yelling and sobbing. Little fists beat against the inside of the trapdoor. Everyone laughs hungrily. Slightly older and I’d say they were getting off on this. I feel sick, ashamed to even look at it. 53
serials Time passes slow and I hit fast-forward. No way to be sure what’s happening inside, but the room goes still for a beat as if the older boys are talking things over. The box is opened and I let the feed play. Crawling out, teary-eyed and red in the face, Joe and Lee come out naked from the waist down, their little pants rumpled nearby on the floor. Anthony shouts, “How ‘bout it, boys? Any action? Lee, you little slut, did you suck on his baby pecker? You did, didn’t you? What’s the word, turds? Still soft like a boiled weiner?” This fucking kid actually grabs Joe by the genitals. Joe sobs and his knees buckle in fear. Anthony says, “What I thought. I was special. You two are both as flaccid as a couple geezers. You ain’t in the club then.” He slaps Joe’s bare rear and shoves him toward the door with his foot. Lee and Joe grab their clothes and run. Joe is on his bike in a second, doesn’t even bother to put his pants on. He just pedals like the devil is on his back. The deer cam catches Lee outside the fort trying to get his legs into the trousers with his shoes still on and a couple of the boys jump on him, laughing and kicking. Joe rides for the edge of the woods, wiping tears the whole way. He’s eight years old. I keep thinking that. He’s eight years old and already been through more hell than most are likely to meet in a lifetime. I feel this horrible weight on my chest. Somebody with this childhood must be seriously fucked up. He’d be capable of anything. The light of the forest meeting a city road is up ahead and Joe seems hopeful, even relieved. I switch to a street lamp camera with an aerial view and actually feel the breath stop up in my lungs. It’s an Indian girl on a pink bicycle with tassels. She has shiny black hair and a summer tan. The girl can’t be more than a year older than Joe, if that. Their bikes collide, front tire with front tire, and Joe is ejected, bare-assed, through the air and onto the pavement. He hits the ground with a thud and for a moment time stops. The only sign of life is the slowly revolving back tire of the girl’s bike. Then she sits up and swears. “Son of a…Fuck!” She sees Joe’s naked rump first and looks scared, surprised and then immediately bursts out laughing. “Um…did you know you was naked?” Joe sits up, rubbing his head and wipes a small stream of blood from his lip. His eyes are muddy with tears and his 54
serials knees are scraped up miserably. The girl immediately stops laughing and moves closer to him, “Hey, um…listen, I mean…hey, are you all right? You don’t look so good.” Joe tries to hold back tears, but a small sob jumps out anyway. He looks angry for letting it get out and watches the air above him as if he can see the little bastard flying away with his pride in its claws. Sitting up with his scraped knees to his chest he sighs and lets his head fall forward, hiding behind his legs for comfort. Joe sort of whimpers, “Some big kids got me. They asked me if I had any pews and threw me under a pirate treasure chest.” “Excuse me?” the little girl asks. “What? What do you want? It’s just like I told you, okay!” “All right, all right, I thought you might be crazy or something. I heard about this from my daddy, he’s a real smart guy you know, he says sometimes people become Looney Tunes and they wind up with their pants on their heads screaming at things that ain’t there. “You Looney Tunes? I think you might be Looney Tunes.” “The word is ‘lunatic,’” Joe says from behind his knees, “And no, I just…some big kids were just really mean to me, that’s all.” “You got a home or something?” “Yeah, but I can’t go home like this, momma will preach at me.” “I got a momma too, well, a step momma, but I know what you mean. You come home with me and we’ll get you cleaned up before your momma can preach, okay?” “Okay,” Joe says quietly. “You should put your pants on though, case there’s people mowing the grass or something,” the girl says with a laugh. Joe doesn’t say anything. He just pulls his pants on over his shoes and starts walking his slightly bent bicycle, limping slightly. The girl says, “My name is Audrey Adele Lamb. What’s yours?” “Joe.” “Just Joe?” “Joe Blake.” The girl nods, pushing her bike, her nods amplified by the lean of her tiny body. Audrey smiles and says, “You ain’t from the reservation, are you? I thought so. You talk dif55
serials ferent. Look a little different too. I’m from the reservation. I ain’t s’posed to be here. Daddy says to watch out for you people. Says you think we’re all running bare assed and screaming to high heaven so I guess it’s kinda weird that I met you with your pants off. You sure you ain’t Looney Tunes? Daddy says all you people are.” Joe says, “I wasn’t supposed to be on your land. There’s some boys that hang out up there and I was trying to, well… I guess it don’t matter much now.” They reach Audrey’s home and it’s a trailer not much different from Joe’s. Trees all around, a satellite dish in the front lawn, clothesline, and a miniature windmill decorate the exterior. Inside is more faux wood paneling, pictures of the family, signs of wreckage caused by a pet or a really insane baby, and toys like mad. Audrey says, “I’m an only child on my daddy’s side. Stepmom came with a whole litter of Hellians though. You got any brothers or sisters, Joe?” “Nope, just Dr. John and Mr. Smiles.” “Who’re they, dogs?” Joe looks surprised, “No, one’s my mom’s mean boyfriend. The other’s my best friend.” “Your best friend ain’t a dog? Seems funny to me.” “Yeah, well… he’s invisible.” “Oh, one of those,” Audrey nods knowingly, “I had me one of them when I was a kid. Outgrew her. She was dumb. I guess she was dumb ‘cause I was dumb.” “Mr. Smiles ain’t dumb!” Joe almost yells. “Okay, okay, Jesus,” Audrey says, holding up her hands, “Take it easy. I ain’t even met the guy, how’m I s’posed to know his IQ? What do you say we get you cleaned up?” “Thank you,” Joe sighs, his head falling awkwardly into his hands. She’s in the bathroom clanging around for supplies and Joe whispers, “I don’t know why I mentioned you either. I got nervous, okay? What do I say to her? What?” There’s a little pause, Joe sighs and says, “Some help you were.” Audrey comes back in with some peroxide and cotton swabs. She says, “I seen my mom do this a hundred times before I was five. My real mom. Not my step. Real mom’s dead though, but she still managed to teach me about peroxide. Isn’t that neat?” “Um…yeah,” says Joe, stupidly. 56
serials Okay, Joe, you’re gonna have to take your pants
“Neat. off again.” “What? Why?” Joe panics. “It’s okay, just your pants, you can keep your undies on. I just need your knees.” Joe nods and slides his jeans down below the dirty blood stains on his knees and shins. He looks away nervously and Audrey tries her best to console him. She says this won’t hurt a bit, but we all know that’s never the truth. Her mom taught her well. Audrey does her best to distract the boy as she swabs dirt and gore away from his skin. She asks, “So, Joe, you in school?” “Yeah, I go to school. Do Indians go to school?” “You crazy or something? Everybody goes to school. My teachers are all white though, it’s weird, and they talk about God a lot. They say they want to save me, but I never seen any danger. I wonder if there’s a fire when they talk sometimes. Do you think there’s a fire?” “They do, anyway,” Joe shrugs. I actually laugh at this, not a lot, but a little one jumps out. Not bad for an eight year old kid. The school on the reservation is some sort of Christian organization, likely a mission to bring God to the heathens on our soil. Something inherently rude and assuming guiled behind the posture of good intentions. I mean, I’m a man of faith in my own jaded way, but I still feel a splinter of pride when someone sticks it to those assholes, even if it’s just a kid with a smirk and a good shrug. Joe asks, “What’s it like being an Indian?” Audrey smiles and says, “It’s the only thing I know. Kinda silly question, you know? What’s it like being the only thing you’ve ever been? One thing, there’s more stories than I bet you get. The old men tell stories about Napio, the Creator. It’s funny. They call him Old Man. The stories are usually about how Old Man went around making whatever he felt like making. They talk about how he made us, how he sent animal spirits to visit the first people to teach them how to live. The elders call this ‘the power of dreams.’ We learn the power of dreams from our spirit guides and that is how we live. It’s different from the stories the white ladies tell us at school about a mean God that punishes when he doesn’t get his way. That’s what it’s like being Blackfoot. I think it’s like being closer to things than your Looney Tunes white world.” 57
serials Joe nods, seeming to be trying to distract himself from the girl scrubbing at his scrapes, “When I was smaller they used to make us sleep in the middle of the day. They told us to bring a towel from home and that was supposed to be our beds. Isn’t that weird? It was like when you swim at the river and then you lay on your towel in the sun. Only we were inside and the lights were off. They would also make us sit around and drink Florida treatments.” Audrey flinches and looks at him with daggers, “Excuse me?” “What?” “Did you seriously just say ‘Florida treatments?’” “Yeah, that’s what they said, ‘Florida treatments.’ You didn’t do those? They were like these little cups with toothpaste water in them that you swooshed around in your mouth and spit into a sink. It was weird, though. My teacher, Mrs. Blevins, she had this little cart with cups and things on it and a tiny sink that didn’t attach to any pipes or anything, it was just her cart. It was like at the dentist or something. I don’t know.” “It’s not Florida, Joe. It’s called fluoride.” “Fluoride?” Joe asks, “Are you sure? I don’t think that sounds like a word. I’m pretty sure they said Florida. I think it’s where the toothpaste water comes from.” “Joe, read your toothpaste when you get home, it says fluoride right on the label.” “I guess so…it’s not important. The point is Mrs. Blevins would say it was time for our treatments and we’d have to sit in a big circle and she’d walk around with little cups of minty water that you weren’t allowed to swallow. It’d be on this little yellow tray like at the Burger King, only if Burger King had minty waters instead of soda pop and hamburgers.” “You’re a weird kid, Joe, you know that?” “Mr. Smiles tells me that too,” he giggles, “So does Dr. John, and my mom…and Mrs. Blevins, my teacher Mrs. Acheson in first grade, my teacher Mr. Hamm…” “Okay, Joe, you can pull your pants up. Now let’s take a look at that lip.” “Okay, Audrey,” Joe smiles, “Thanks a million.” Audrey laughs, shaking her head, “All right, whatever. You talk like an old man sometimes. Are you aware of this?” Joe stands, pulling up his jeans and sits back down, staring at her intently, waiting for Audrey’s friendly medical aid. She shrugs and leans in close to dab away the blood on 58
serials his mouth. Her breathing is heavy. She seems nervous. “Do Indian kids have to do show and tell, Audrey?” “What do you mean,” she asks. “Well, Mrs. Blevins used to make us bring something from home to show the class. You know, Show and Tell, you show something and tell about it, get it?” “Yeah, we do that. I hate it.” “Me too!” Joe yells, right into her face, excited and dumb like most boys his age. He adds, “I didn’t understand, it was like…you want me to what? You want to see something from my house? Why?” Audrey laughs, “You want me to show you my house? That’s hilarious.” “Yeah, you know what I mean? Like, we aren’t friends really. We just have to go to school together. Why do they want to see a piece of my house? Why does Mrs. Blevins need to know if I have a pet gecko or if my pillowcase has Spiderman on it or if I have toy guns?” Audrey adds, “I like you, Joe. You think like me. I never did it. I would just sit there. One time they made me or I was gonna get in trouble. That was the worst. I was forced to share. What if I didn’t want them to know about me? What if I only want my friends to see my G.I. Joe dolls?” “You have G.I. Joe dolls? Lucky…” Smiling, Audrey continues, “So…what I did – you wanna know what I did? What I did was I took a flower from the front of the school and brought it in. I made up a bull shit story about how it was my favorite kind of flower and it grew by my house.” Joe shoots Audrey this surprised glance, his expression changing as if he sees her in a different way now or something. It occurs to me that she just swore. He seems captivated by her. A little girl who says “bull shit.” There’s a little pause where they both look at each other funny for a long few seconds and abruptly press their lips together really hard, and don’t really do much else. It looks like kisses in old Hollywood movies where the man just holds a woman’s face against his for a minute. It’s funny. They both blush and Joe says, “I’m sorry…I just… I – you’re really pretty and…” “Joe, don’t make it weird. Your mouth tastes like dirt anyway. Here, I’ll make it easier for you.” Audrey kisses him again and shrugs like she’s saying, “See, now it’s a thing. Now it’s something we do.” 59
serials Joe laughs and says, “Thanks for fixing me.” “I only fixed what I could, Joe. You’re a mess. You should probably get home before your mother really has something to preach about, right? But first, maybe wash your face. You look like you’ve been in a fight.” Joe obeys immediately. He runs to the kitchen sink and scrubs vigorously, despite an obvious amount of pain. He wipes his face on a wad of paper towels and turns for the door. Joe thanks her again and turns the knob, but pauses. He says, “Audrey, can I see you again?” “You’d better,” she smiles, “You wouldn’t be much of a friend if you didn’t see me again. And you owe me. I cleaned your blood and gave you a dirty kiss. The next one had better be more fun for me.” Joe smiles dumbly and shouts, “Okay, Audrey. It will be. I promise.” He slams the door behind him and immediately looks nervous as he gets on his bike. His eyes seem to be realizing the pressure he has put on himself. He looks like he’s feeling the responsibility of entertaining this strange girl he barely knows. And already, I think, he’s on his way to becoming a man. Or at least an angst-ridden adolescent. He’s worried about pleasing a girl – like so many of his sex that came before him. Joe says, “What do you think? I know, right? Weird. What do we do now? I don’t know how to have fun with a girl.”
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders 09/06/30 :: 12:40 PM Later that night, when shadows have crept into corners and swollen like mushrooms in the rain, when light is swallowed up by tree branches and animal sounds, and secret bogeymen wait in closets around America Joe sat in his bed and smiled. His thoughts were on Audrey and the fresh feelings that go with a child’s crush – the racing heart, the warm flushing of skin, and the way he felt funny like he had to pee when he thought about her. Everything was new. Everything was her. For her. From her. He sat with his hands behind his head and dreamed with his eyes wide open. But I could see it happening in the darkening room, the moonlight peaking in the square of his window and flagging to a long crescendo. His thoughts slowly faded from Love’s ela60
serials tion, defying gravity, dirt kisses and the way her fingernails were painted pink but chipped with grime underneath. They were replaced by a dark place. A boy crying and something mean. He remembers how he had been compelled to pray, standing naked from the waist down in front of those boys. More than the humiliation, the sexual assault, the fear or the helplessness, it is this one shame which must rise up in his throat like a sob. His pants were pulled down and he prayed, as if his mother was right there, reading her Scriptures, and Boyfriend John had been waiting with his paddle ready to drive the Lord into him through pain and recriminations. And then he cries. He cries heavy, gasping sobs into his pillow. He weeps the tears of a man who had held back all of the pain and frustration and bottled desire of an entire life and then just let it all tear out of him at a funeral or a lover’s bedside or alone in the dark with a fifth of Jack and a cigarette. But it tears out of an eight year old boy, just as big, just as heavy and powerful and shockingly masculine, only amplified by his age, magnified in the way that kid tears always are – uninhibited, no posturing, all blown bigger by his lack of understanding or experience with those kinds of emotions, and the terrific size of his loneliness. There is so much pain in him and he has no one to share it with. No one to look to for council or direction. There is only his mother and the threat of being called a sinner or a slut or a queer or a thief. He can’t say anything. He has to be silent about what happened. This thought only amplifies his tears, his remorse, and his alienation. He weeps as if trying to expel some poison from his body, like a wild cat vomiting out a poisoned barn rat in order to survive. Watching him on that camera in his Spartan little room I know his tears are about survival. This is a boy who feels everything immensely and has no means of expression. My first estimates were correct. A boy like that grows into a man that is capable of anything. Despite a strong sense of attachment, I have to remind myself, realistically, that this subject is dangerous. Joe doesn’t see Audrey for two days. He paces his room. He stays indoors often, likely afraid or embarrassed to wander out. His mother doesn’t notice, seeming content with any behavior as long as the noise is kept to a dull roar. Joe hides, there’s no doubt about that, either from his shame and those other boys, or from the growing pressure of a second date and the promise to make the next visit enjoyable for Au61
serials drey. The sound of Dr. John booming in the front door stops Joe in the center of his room. He listens with wide eyes and teeth gnawing at his bottom lip. The booming voice of the only male authority figure he’s ever known is talking about some disruption at the hospital. They brought in some new kid. John says, “Christ, you won’t believe this, Viv. They found him standing on the railing of that bridge over Cutbank Creek. That’s miles! We don’t know how he got out there, but apparently the police had been looking for him all night. Family called in a missing kid and all that. But Jesus, eight years old and trying to jump into a river, what does that to a kid?” The sound of Vivian’s voice breaks through the door, shrill and nasty, “The world’s going to hell, John. These kids, they all know it. They’re not who they’re supposed to be. They can sense that they ain’t growing up right, the world ain’t right. Even our little Joe.” “The cops grabbed him,” John continues, “Brought him to us. The kid went ape shit. First he sits there, practically catatonic for hours. Then we bring him into the lunch room with the other boys, one of the attendees is trying to get him to eat some Jell-O or something when the kid grabs a fork and sticks it in the attendee’s hand.” “Who was it?” Vivian asks. “What?” John says, caught off guard, “What do you – ?” “Which attendee got stabbed in the hand?” “Does it matter? Jesus, Viv, I’m trying to tell you – um… Carol, it was Carol.” Vivian’s voice gets an overtone of greed and she says, “Good, the bitch wouldn’t let me have chocolate milk for Joey when he was in the hospital. Serves her right.” “Whatever,” John says, “Look, that’s not everything. The kid grabbed the butter knife before we knew what happened. He turned around to the kid at the table behind him and stabbed him in the shoulder, repeatedly, until we – ” “How many times?” “What? How many times? Are you serious, Vivian? Three times. He stabbed the kid in the shoulder and back three times before somebody was on him. The kid’s fine, by the way, he’ll need a lot of stitches and some hard recovery, but nothing vital was hit.” “My God, John, who is this kid?” 62
serials “His name is Lee Greene. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to him with all the commotion, but my guess is he just experienced something profoundly traumatic. He had bruises all over his body, a split lip, injuries I’d say were at least a couple days old. We got him in lockdown right now and Child Services are looking in on the parents for possible abuse charges. We’ll see what happens.” Joe flops down in the carpet. His head falls into his hands. He’s clearly torn, scared even. If he doesn’t speak up then Lee and his parents could be in real trouble. If he says anything then his mother will know where he was and what he did. Joe sits there, trembling, trying to figure out the right thing to do with the limited experience of a third grader. He does what anyone his age in his situation might do. Pops open the window, climbs out and bails. I’m tracking him through the camera records. A streetlight on the town’s main drag shows him speeding away on his bicycle. Now it’s a highway traffic camera near the edge of the reservation. A security camera at a gas station just before the turn off to an Indian casino. He’s running to Audrey. You don’t often get a real clear look at people when following them at a distance like this. The past few minutes he’s really just been a shape on a bike racing through back roads and residential streets. It isn’t until he screeches up to Audrey’s house and bangs on her door that I see his face. I cut to her television camera in the trailer living room. The knock is booming loud for such a small fist. Audrey looks frightened, but jumps to the door in spite of the scare. “Christ! Who the hell is there, anyway?” she yells out through the door. “Audrey, it’s me,” Joe yells back. “Oh, Me? Why didn’t you say so? By all means, come on in, Me.” She grabs a footstool, stands on her tiptoes, looks through the peephole and says, “Joe?” The next few seconds are a fumble of sound and movement as she fiddles with the multiple deadbolts and chains to get the fake wood door open. Joe is standing there, drenched in sweat, his face red from tears and exertion and panic. Audrey pops her hip, leaning cocky and says, “This is the second time I’ve seen you and the second time you’ve had tears and mud and shit all over your face. I’m starting to think 63
serials maybe that’s just how your face looks.” Joe pushes his way in and almost shouts, “Is anyone here? Are we alone?” “Um…yeah, the parentals are at work ‘til six, the little imps are at day care,” Audrey says awkwardly, “What’s up? Are we eloping?” Ignoring this, Joe says, “They got him, oh, Jesus, Audrey, they got him. And now they’re going after his mom and dad too. It’s all my fault. I never should’ve done it. That place, it’s evil, Audrey. It’s a bad place.” “Oh, this makes sense now,” Audrey shrugs, turning her back to Joe, “You’re insane – all the stuff from the other day, not seeing you for two, no talk, no nothing, now this…it all makes perfect sense. You really are Looney Tunes.” Joe takes a long breath and explains to her everything that happened that day in the woods at that creepy little rape fort. He says, “You gotta promise, Audrey. Promise me you won’t ever tell anybody. You can’t tell anyone, okay?” “What’s to tell? You got locked up in a box. I don’t even think you know what happened in there. But if you want a promise, you got it. I’ll never breathe a word of it.” “Good,” Joe smiles for the first time, looking a little less worked up and says again, “Good, that’s good.” “You really are a mess of a kid, Joe.” “I know, I’m an oddball.” “Oddball?” Audrey laughs, “Yeah, you don’t even know how weird you are. People don’t say ‘oddball’ anymore.” Joe turns to look at the television. Looks right at me through the screen. From the smoke alarm camera on Screen 5 I can see it’s a show with explosions, fire and motorcycles. Possibly The Road Warrior, but it’s hard to be sure. There’s a long silence between them, punctuated only by the sounds of war, gunfire, bombs and screaming. Finally, Joe sucks in a fast breath of air as if waking from a nightmare and says, “Audrey? Will you help me with something?” “Anything, Joe, what do you need?” “I want to burn it down.”
to be continued in dystopia boy 0.3>>
We are not Utopia or Dystopia...yet. In this issue we feature an interview with Bruce Anderson from the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a writeu...
Published on Apr 4, 2012
We are not Utopia or Dystopia...yet. In this issue we feature an interview with Bruce Anderson from the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a writeu...