Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna ,tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UfOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not iSSUE ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what 5/30/00 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in SiXTY-THREE ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
Not only were you thoroughly convinced there would be no issue released this month, but you by no means expected to fine the like of myself gawking away in the editorial, did you? Of course, a small handful of gratuitous in-the-know people, commonly found in smoked windowless corners of local bars, possessed the knowledge, a prior, a posteriori, et al.
Don't hit page down, yet. Don't automatically reach other to close the window, or rm sob63.txt, or even rm sob*. No editor has died. No revolution is occurring. No factions. No raids.
Simply. Kilgore is moving. Physically. Into a new home. And I believe I just heard a small cheer from the crowd in the kitchen. More specifically, Kilgore and Nathan are relocating from their prior residences, into State of unBeing: The Apartment, newly established in a neighborhood near you, within the city limits of Austin. I believe it may actually be above ground, and may actually be contained in a building, and they may actually be finished by now. Me, being the sap I am, volunteered to perform absentee editing duties, giving Kilgore much needed nesting time.
I, of course, could have used this space and time, barring a gap, hole, loophole, or other such tears, gashes, etc. in the fabric thereof, to dwell upon myself, my afflictions, affections, and sorts -- to shine the spotlight onto myself, if you will. Fortunately, I would not dare to do such a thing, as I feel old, tired, still must read thirty pages of Federalist Papers, am approaching my mid-twenties when everyone around me possesses a bachelor's degree and I have only just begun, again. Would I dare to eat a peach? Of the fruits I purchase, peaches are a rarity -- I tend to dwell in the trees of apples and bananas, perhaps a grapefruit or orange, strawberries. I did, however, eat a can of peaches a few days ago. Sliced. Freestone. I guess that falls under the category of 'eating a peach.'
Astoundingly, barring the month January, we've succeeded to publish every month of this year. If I make any kind of comment on this, it won't ever happen again; therefore, I will respectfully withdraw that as a comment. Or, further yet, refuse to acknowledge that was ever a comment at any point in time.
We're still working on the FAQ.
We're still working on appointing others to host our site.
I'm still searching for things to type to give that extra-special somethin'-somethin' that makes Kilgore's editorials worthy to be anthologized.
It's all my fault for demanding such things. With patience, things will be solved, movement will be successful, Kilgore shall gracefully return to his perch in a month. And if we all send love, prayers, and foreign currency -- Great Experiment #19 -- his massa scriptoris will be vanquished.
From: peter riedel To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: put me on your mailing list found your zine on a weird dogpile result, think its great please send me your next issue thanks, peter riedel
[dogpile results. everyone has suddenly decided to become meta -- search engines, writers, physicists, the way you digest food. if it's not meta, it's crap. it's too bad doing a search for "weird dogpile result" comes up with absolutely nothing.]
From: markphillips To: email@example.com Hello non-friend. I don't know why, but for some reason I can only seem to be able to write when i'm not at home. There I have the computer, the internet address, and the comfort and security that comes from having one's own living space to create, compose, and choreograph. And now, I'm less than a block from my apartment at the university library and now seems to be the perfect time to write a little letter to the editor. And damn me for all my alliterating ways. NO don't damn me. Excuse me. Cause I actually have a reason for writing. Several years ago you started up this little gem SOB. I wasn't around then. I mean, I existed, but I wasn't...around the gem. Yeah. But I've been reading the zine for some time now. NOw it's been sometime. sometime. In this sometime I read this. It is read and I smile or not. I laugh or not, and am moved. But mostly not that. Most of the time I am very immoble. Or at least I am not moving. When those sometimes I am reading. Sometimes. Here is what I think, sometimes. (This is sometimes out of the sometime i've been reading SOB). I think well of your composure. That is the composure of the zine, which I believe is you. (As far as i, a reader, am concerned, you must be wholey disconnected from life as real as i know it, and are just someone who does this zine thing.) Yes. And I am glad that it hasn't changed much in the way of form. Or at least it still has the same look and feel as it always had, minus a few... constitutionals. But I write now right now, in the library of the university rather close to my living space, to hope I can help change any of this. No, that's a bad idea. Nevermind, i won't tell you anyway. Bad idea. Bad. Just keep up with this whole zine thingy and just be nice to your mother. Or, failing that, be nice to mine. If you meet her. Her name is xxxx. So just so this is a waste of space. I refuse to ask a question, or in anyway force or bother you with the need for you to respond to me. I just hope you write on the holidays. Say 'hi' to the kids for me. God bless. -markphillips post script. Yeah. Hi, it's me again. Sorry for the way I was acting back there. I've spent sometime in my room. I've thought about what i've done, and, i'd appreciate it if you didn't put my mom's name in the letter. I mean. If you publish it. thanks oh, and also. This is not one of those encoded letters either. Nothing like those bible codes. really.
[well. thanks. not that we are necessarily a gem -- perhaps we are more like a walnut, half-buried and gnawed upon. i too have problems, not only writing, but generally doing anything productive when at my own home. i sit down in front of a text editor and within four keystrokes, a browser is open and I'm attempting to determine just what the hell Woody Allen majored in at NYU -- in another twenty-seven keystrokes, I notice I have four browsers open, one containing a Woody Allen FAQ, another an IMDB page on Hal Hartley, one concerning electrostatic air filters, and another running a web-based traceroute attempting to verify my connection to be slow. needless to say, the text editor sits blankly. personifying the text editor. not implying artificial intelligence to exist before me in the form of a text editor. meanwhile. your mother no longer has a name in the above letter. i did debate this with myself for most of the past 18 hours, whether or not to leave your mother's name in the text, or to xxxx your mother's name from the text -- you made the request to xxxx your mother's name, but, of course, you made no attempt to edit your mother's name yourself. if you truly wished to not have your mother's name mentioned or printed or otherwise existing in this format, my assumption is that you would have removed it yourself. but, in a last-minute attempt at lawsuit prevention, the name was xxxx'd. and. futhermore. you should have gone ahead and plopped down your idea in text there -- though i understand, easier said than done. as for the bible code. i did find this in your letter, putting together the capitalized letters originally included: HIITAIANOECISSOBIIIIYBINOIIIIIBMIOIWISHITSOBITIAYAIOBIINNBBJOIHRSIISGYHSIIIIITN ]
Archie V. Taylor
J. Lang Wood
Welcome to the first in a potentially ongoing series of how to further complicate your life and alleviate boredom without resorting to drugs or coffee or a bad movie. In this episode, you will be shown the path necessary to spread your infected ontology to another person deeply involved with you in the name of 'love.'
The first step is realizing you will never have a decent, uncomplicated, normal, healthy relationship. The second step is then trying to negotiate the type of fucked up relationship you actually want, versus the fucked up relationship(s) you repeat. You might think your energy for changing the way you relate to people might best be used developing the healthy, happy relationship. But it's not going to happen. All you do is draw out the courtship. It's like rewriting a story over and over, developing the perfect opening paragraph. Everything falls into place neatly and perfectly. Meaning is supported by the subtext, and your elements of style and fiction all ornately intertwine with the purpose of your desire to write the story. However, it will fall to shit thereafter, and you cannot spend that much energy crafting the middle of the story, the part where your characters have nothing relevant or engrossing to say, the part of the story that just pushes things along.
Much of your relationship(s) to this point consisted more of pushing things along than the pregnant moment. And the frustration of yours, building inside each breath you draw, points to your unhappiness which triggers the behavior of yours that complicates and weakens your relationship(s). And then you begin the dance of dysfunction. And somewhere you knew how it would turn out, and what each of you would say because of the chip in your head called socialization has made all this possible and programmed your input and output.
And then the relationship ends and you further revert into the comfort of the programming and emerge ever more entrenched in your dysfunction, refining the steps to create a more fluid movement.
However, it is possible to have a moment of clarity rush upon you like the freezing glacial waters that you see in the American Beer ad and both purge and drown you. And you realize, like the American Dream, the Healthy Relationship is just not for you. Sorry, boys, it wasn't in the cards tonight. Good luck, gentlemen, next bet please. Just like being shorter than you want to be, or perhaps more prone to melanoma or halitosis, you are sometimes just fucked from the word 'go' on relationships. And it is, unfortunately, something you cannot change. Perhaps there is merit to the drool-inducing mind drugs and expensive psychotherapy, but a couple of reworked AA worksheets and a quiz from Cosmo just isn't going to cut it, and if you do opt for the hardcore rewiring, you wouldn't be dating anyone, your drugs would be, so the point is rendered moot anyway. You can change the fucked up way in which you relate to someone. And this can be rewarding. This is how...
First, identify your type. Resist the urge to be politically correct, cut the bullshit, and take stock of the people you've been involved with or obsessed with, or whatever. There is a type there. It is within human nature to categorize. And you have such a small segment of the universe to be dealing with (i.e. your exes) that you won't run into any danger of being unenlightened (i.e. postmodern) for categorizing. Not the superficial, fetish traits, such as hair color, but how this person with whom you were on emotional goofballs over orients his or her perspective to the human condition. For extra credit, you might want to try to figure out why, but it is more likely you'll solve the riddle of the sphinx than figure this one out. It is enough to know what it is you find attractive in a person.
Next, take a gentle look at your relationship. Do not wallow and resist evil nostalgia. It is the funhouse mirror of your psyche and will not help you. Instead, pick one of the moments in which you pushed things along. Not the night you took turns spitting off the top of the parking garage and laughed and danced in the sprinklers while an eighties new wave band played in your head. Just pick a moment in which you sat around and felt bad about your relationship for no reason in particular. Even if you were dumped and thought the whole thing was a bad dream and you still occasionally dial five of the seven numbers of your ex's phone number before hanging up and quote Plath to yourself, there is a moment in which you were unsatisfied with the relationship. Seize it. It might be hard, but the payoff is coming, so grin and bear it.
Now, what is it you find discomforting? Take a moment. Get a drink of water. Resist the urge to fiddle with a part of your body. Focus. Wax on, wax off. This behavior is the root of your problems. And if you think it can be pulled like a weed from your soul's garden to produce ever-lasting happiness and daisies of spiritual enlightenment, you are a sad person. It will not happen ever, ever, ever. But you can fuck with it some to perhaps produce a more pleasing effect.
You are now armed with the tools necessary to begin the fucked up relationship of your dreams. You must now find another type. This means you have to find someone you are not immediately 'drawn' to, as this is just your socialization trying to come in and take hold of the reigns. You will have to actively target someone and manipulate yourself to be attracted to someone. You have an extremely versatile coping mechanism, so give it time and soon you'll start feeling all those old feelings again. And then you might be dating, you might not. If it doesn't take, don't give up, there has to be someone out there who is perfectly not right for you. And, soon you will be in a new relationship in which your psyche will not have a fucking clue how to mess up. It, like your coping mechanism, is versatile, so in the end the relationship will have as much potential for disturbing you, plus it'll be in a new and previously unencountered way, so you have at least another brand of psychological damage to look forward to.
However, it everything doesn't fall into place in just the way you've trained, your next experience of pushing the moment will be filled with new and strange ideas and emotions. And you might find it exhilarating. And then, then, you will have found the right dysfunction for you. And you will look confidently into the mirror and say, "I know I'm fucked up, but by God it's now on my terms!"
Do I immediately become 'one of those people' if, while waiting for a class to begin on the first day -- if, during the fifteen minutes before the class starts -- if, I while away the fifteen minutes before class starts on the first day, scribbling manically?
(Is that a cliche? Or, in the least, a phrase used before, if not often. It may just be the sound of 'scribbling,' or the entire word, sounds, meaning, strokes, and all. In fact, I did first wish to write the word 'maniacally' and stopped myself, the reason for which was not immediately clear to me. I believe I did not wish to ascribe the word 'maniacally' to myself, thinking that is too much of a word used to describe the writing of an an actual Writer, as opposed to myself, a non-actual Writer. 'Maniacally' further implies some unseen ubernatural power, perhaps interpreted as divine guidance, demon possession, or, most likely, schizophrenia; for, when the psychiatric community could not devise a sufficient explanation for one's behavior, it was naturally classified under the whimsical willowy branch of schizophrenia. And now, because I chose to ramble on within parentheses for much longer than the opening sentence structure, I feel somewhat obligated to ordain the parenthetical text as an independent paragraph.)
Whether or not a paragraph can be described as 'independent' is yet another question, which I'm sure I, as well as many others previously published in this world, as well as many Others who make marks with intertextual camaraderie, would be quite more than willing to volunteer opinions about. It simply revolves around whether a paragraph can be a paragraph independent of other paragraphs. Since a paragraph is in fact a subdivision of a body of text, if the entirety of the text is composed of one paragraph, how can that text be considered a paragraph? It seems as though a paragraph can only exist as a paragraph among other paragraphs. Two paragraphs equals two paragraphs, and one paragraph equals none. This seems to be further supported by the verb form of the word 'paragraph,' meaning to divide a body of text into paragraphs. This definition implies paragraphs do not exist until the text is divided, i.e. paragraphed. And so, my conclusion is that a paragraph is unable to exist independently of other paragraphs, and is required to exist among other paragraphs to be called a paragraph. If that paragraph does not reside amongst other paragraphs, it ceases to exist as a paragraph if it once was, or, can never be called a paragraph until other paragraphs exist around it. An interesting observation can be made in the fact that one is able to take two bodies of text, two non-paragraphical bodies of text, combine them in paragraph form, and have the end result of two paragraphs. From the foundation of no paragraphs comes two, and so on.
So, I can only assume I am currently that guy. And, by chance, I just happen to be wearing a grey t-shirt upon which sits an indie band name, to cap off this guy I am. I am drinking from a Diet 7up can, however, and I am not certain how this fits into the image of the guy I am supposed to be, or apparently am. If this were a Dr. Pepper can, or even a ginseng-infused drink, it would be more obvious to the guy I apparently am. If it were that simple, as people do not wish to believe it to be. 'It' being a singular subject of the previous sentence, it does not seem to be grammatically correct to say 'it were' -- 'it was' may have been more appropriate, although a grammatical rule saying otherwise may very well exist that I am not currently conscious of. 'It were' was my own intuitive choice.
Well, of course I must be nervous. Like you said, entering the room already occupied in a detached landscape is quite necessary to keep from shaking fits, burying nerves that will surface in time, no matter what detachment you hold. Or that could be a lie, concocted by myself to tell myself, to not admit nervous issues (one must not use the word issues in another class).
This morning, by some exceedingly freaky course of handiwork, no doubt due to massive coronal ejections of the sun, I cut the side of my nose while shaving. There is no facial hair on or near the side of my nose. Why my razor was there, in that vicinity of my face, wacking away at my nose, I do not know. I apparently completely missed the reason for its travelling to that location. Nevertheless, nicked I was, bleeding in the present tense and all. I have become very conscious of this nick on my nose at this moment, as my nicked side faces the majority of the classroom. It would only make sense if the name of someone to that side was named Nick, or even more sense if the name of someone on the non-nicked side was named Nick. Unfortunately, we are not wearing name tags.
"I gave up on new poetry myself 30 years ago when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens in a hostile world."
walking on the sea shore sea surf
sand dunes sand in my shoes
salt sun sea sand in my hair
rock water mist air waves breaking
sea foam sea weed sea wreck serenity
dearth decay division disaster
when I come back to town
I feel like a robot standing in a haze
tape hiss follows me
I'm sure a daemon is eating my wiring
the chair says, "gow"
the light bulb says, "pfup"
the bed says, "let the snake coil
and the tiger bite"
a drove of binocular
observe elk eating hay
one man's belly fills
his whole car
"a big sucker"
but he's talking
about an elk
a balsam moon
when I'm near you
my sap rises
and I feel like
Hard to see
the truth. Shaggy curves
in a fuzzy country.
Realm of the densely packed.
In turn, a town with streets
that aren't on any map.
The past couple days, Mark hadn't been sleeping well. Dark circles were etched under his eyes, his puffy eyelids bloated ridiculously. His hair was a mess, strands standing in defiance of gravity. His shirt was untucked, his glasses were smudged and his breath stank just enough for you to notice. People couldn't help but stare. Mark just smiled and waved as they passed. If someone told him that he looked like hell, he took it as a compliment.
"Geez, Mark, you look like hell."
Brian was Mark's co-worker, the product development manager of Illuminated Corp. Mark was part of the creative team. Mark liked Brian, not enough to be an actual friend to him, but enough to buy him a card when his birthday came, or he had a baby, or some similar tragedy. Mark wasn't sure what he would do if a real tragedy happened to Brian. A family member dying, or something like that. For awhile, Mark entertained the notion of buying Brian a card for those occasions as well, some sort of perverse Hallmark job that said: "I'm sorry that your beloved so-and-so is dead, but at least it ain't you (Ha ha! Just kidding)." Mark had noticed the trend towards trivializing such events with tawdry humor, and he wondered exactly how long the grief industry had before it too crumbled to Shoebox Greetings. Mark gave it two weeks, and resolved to call Shoebox Greetings personally after he had drafted up a few card ideas (Idea #1: So your mom's dead... at least we won't joke about sleeping with her anymore! (That job is for the worms!) Ha ha! Just kidding!). When something bad happens to a co-worker like Brian, the last thing Mark wanted to do was actually talk to him. Mark quietly thanked the greeting card industry for giving him an escape.
"Do you have the reports ready?"
"Hmmm... Yeah, I'll have them for you this afternoon."
One thing that always struck Mark as funny was Brian's appearance. He often wore a finely starched shirt, dark brown khakis with a permanent crease just so, black socks, and brown penny loafers. His brownish-blond hair was cut close to his head on the sides, allowing easy access to his glasses, which were constantly moving to and from his head. He did this so that when he stared at you with his coal gray-blue eyes, it looked like he cared. When he rested his glasses on his face, he would look at you over them, his brow wrinkled slightly, so that it seemed that he was listening inquisitively. He often crossed his legs when he sat, making sure that his pants were straight. He was a professional, in that he stood out, but only in the excess in which he fit in. He was so perfectly normal looking that it wasn't normal. He reminded Mark of the alter-egos superheroes often had in the comics.
"Good. See you around, Mark." A look of concern briefly crossed his face, as if Brian were saying, "you really don't look well, but it's not my place, either as friend or superior, to tell you to go home, so I won't. This time." Then he disappeared down the hall, maybe to check on another worker, maybe to go stop evil wherever it lurks. Mark wasn't sure; you could never tell by the way Brian walked.
Mark let his head fall on his desk. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to close his eyes and let his sub-conscious take him away from his desk, his job, his coworkers, his 401k plan. But he couldn't, for there was work to be done. And he was the sucker they had gotten to do it.
As he rested his head on the carpal tunnel pad in front of his keyboard, Mark thought of a better world, one far, far away from Illuminated Corp. and its many subsidiaries (which, according to this morning's paper, now includes 12 newspapers, a cat food company, a gelatin brand, and a glue factory). He needed a day off. He didn't want to look at the Parson account again. Ever. It gave him shivers just thinking about it. Don't those bastards realize that not every spot has to include a talking dog? Mark groaned. He knew, as soon as he turned on his computer, there would be an e-mail from Parson's, saying they should meet. Mark knew that he would have to accept, knew that he would get nothing done, and knew that he still was not going to put a talking dog in the commercial, no matter how many all-expense-paid lunches they bought him.
All Mark had to do was turn on his computer, and the rest of his day was ruined.
So he didn't. He got up, went out the door of his office, down the hall to his Boss's cubicle. He glanced over the wall, and saw his boss was currently enthralled in a game of Solitaire. Mr. Dodgson, his boss, was often engaged in such pursuits. It never bothered Mark much; he had spent many hours in similar circumstances. But it was good to keep up appearances. He knocked on the wall, making sure not to look until Mr. Dodgson had had enough time to close the program.
"Yes? Oh, Hi, Mark."
"Mr. Dodgson? Can I get the day off?"
Mark was surprised. Usually he had to point out his excess vacation days and his stalled status multiple times before Mr. Dodgson would relent. Maybe this was a trick?
"Yeah, no problem. You need to think up new ideas for the Parson account anyway. Seems they want a talking dog, can you fit that in?" Mark nodded. He had no intention of thinking anywhere near the Parson account. "And, frankly Mark, you look like Hell."
"Thanks, Mr. Dodgson." Mark went down the hall, back to his office.
As he reached to turn off the light, he thought of something. What if his boss was preparing to fire him? What if they really don't need him here? He still could work, he could find a way to work in the talking dog, couldn't he?
Mark let his hand turn off the switch. Fuck it. Let the bastards figure it out themselves.
Mark sat at the corner table at McNasty's Diner, staring at the scratched black formica, letting his mind go completely blank. Someone with a butter knife and a large amount of time had meticulously scratched "I love ME" in to the table. Mark concentrated fiercely on those words, trying to find the meaning behind them. It was a puzzle. Was the writer plainly in love with, say, a Megan Erickson? Was he being self-aware and egotistical in a blast of irony? Maybe he had a fondness for Maine? Mark didn't know. When was David going to get here? The waitress came over to his table.
"You wanna 'nother coffee, ya bastard?" She said as she stared dumbly at the table.
"Yes, thank you." Mark pushed his coffee mug over to her. McNasty's was a strange place. Next to the server's podium, instead of the usual "Please wait to be seated," was a sign that read: "Find it yourself, ya moron!" McNasty's was created by an old, eccentric Irish immigrant named Roddy, who had gone on record repeatedly in many TV spots, advertisements and radio ads in saying that "If you ain't insulted, we ain't doin' our job!" Mark loved the place; he usually came down here two or three times a week. He especially liked moments like today; his waitress was obviously having a bad day, her hair was a mess, and there were streaks where her mascara had been. But, she was going through the motions anyway. Mark always received a perverse satisfaction from watching the staff struggle to be cheerful and insulting, when other stuff was obviously on their minds. She had used the same insult three times now.
"Here ya go, ya bastard." Four. She plunked the mug, now full of coffee, down on the table. She looked at him accusingly.
"You gonna order, or what?" She said, a hand on her hip.
"No, I'm still waiting." He said.
"Loser." She said, and walked away. She must be feeling better.
Mark picked up a sugar packet and looked at it distractedly. It had a picture of a tiny sailboat on the front, with tiny people relaxing on it. On the back it had some sailboat facts. Mark failed to see the connection between sugar and sailing. He opened the packet and poured it into his coffee. The distributor was a subsidiary of Illuminated Corp.
David entered the restaurant, and Mark waved him over. David waved back and came over to the table, stopping the waitress on the way to order a Coke. He sat down.
"How's it going?" He said.
"Fine, fine." Mark said, not sure what to say. He hated small talk, and so did David. Yet, somehow, it was unavoidable. He was about to say something to this effect when the waitress came back and put a glass of Sprite in front of David.
David turned and leveled his eyes at her. "I ordered a Coke."
She smiled, savoring the moment. "Well, get it yourself." She snapped.
David shrugged and got up, leaving the glass on the table. The waitress stared as he made his way into the kitchen. "Huh." She said.
Mark laughed. That was why he liked David. David was a freelancer, working at home in his spare time, researching articles, doing graphic design, and other large tasks that no company wanted to do themselves. He dressed conventionally, but that was where it ended. David took great pride in his ability to weird others out, without actually breaking any laws. Once he jumped on a table and started singing from "Hair: the musical," all because the guy next to him looked a little like Treat Williams. David viewed it as an art, Mark guessed. He leaned back and took another sip of his coffee. The waitress turned her attention to him.
"You know, you look like Hell." She said.
"Thanks." He said.
She turned back to the kitchen, where David was coming out carrying a Coke in a large mug with a lime, along with a hamburger and fries.
"It was just sitting on the shelf, so I thought, might as well." He explained. "It didn't look like anybody was going to take it." The waitress glared at him as she went to have the kitchen make another hamburger.
David shrugged and took a large bite of the hamburger. "So," he said between chews, "what's new with you?"
Mark took a deep breath. "All right, fuck small talk." He said. David looked surprised, then started to laugh. Mark grew insistent. "No, really, listen. I don't want to say 'Oh, nothing much' ever again. It really bugs the hell out of me."
"Don't say 'Oh, nothing much' ever again."
Mark sighed, "I know, I know. But... listen. I... I... "
"You have a day job." David completed his sentence.
Mark looked baffled. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"It's got everything to do with why I should be concerned that we're sitting in McNasty's Diner at 11:30 AM on a Tuesday."
Mark sighed again. "Look, I can't deal with work right now. My job just plain sucks. If I have to do one more ad with that idiotic talking dog... "
The waitress had overhead them, and turned suddenly. "You do the talking dog ads? For real? I love those ads! They are fucking hil-ARious!" She prattled on and on. Mark couldn't tell if she was mocking him or not. He awkwardly thanked her and tried to shoo her away. When she finally left David was laughing into his Coke. Mark smiled sheepishly.
"Like I was saying, my job sucks. I'm thinking of quitting."
"What? Why?" David raised his eyebrows.
"What do you mean, why? My job sucks."
"Of course you're job sucks. Everybody's job sucks. That's why it's called a job."
Mark sighed again. "You don't understand." He said. He knew he had to think of an example. He gazed levelly at David. "I'm in an office, and my boss has a cubicle."
"I'm in an office and my boss is in a cubicle."
"So that's what I mean. My job sucks. Listen, there's something pretty fucked up when it's company policy to give people with higher-ups low status things. The policy behind it is something like 'we don't want you feeling inferior to your superiors.' Which is complete gibberish. Why are they our superiors in the first place? All I know is that I'm scared that I'll be promoted someday, and then I won't have a door. Why would you want to reward someone's hard work by demoting them? That's like... like... "
"Like coming to a restaurant to be insulted." The waitress was back, her gum snapping harshly under her tongue. "Order or die."
Mark glanced up at her, grinning softly. "I'll just take the check." He said.
The waitress' eyes went wide. She tore their check off of her notepad in one quick motion, socked Mark in the gut with the other hand, and stuffed the check into his open mouth as he wheezed from the hit. She then walked off, dusting her hands against her apron.
David looked philosophical. "Y'know, one of these days, I'm going to be fed up with the service here."
Mark nodded agreement as he struggled to regain his breath. "What do you think?" He said.
"About her? I think she likes you. Kinda cute, too."
Mark shook his head. "No, about my job."
"Oh, that. Quit your fucking whining. Do the ads with the talking dog. Get promoted, get a cubicle. Date someone, marry him or her and make or adopt lots of babies. Whatever. Be happy. At least you have a chance at happiness. Don't fuck it up because you might lose a door."
Mark looked at the check, and picked out a suitable credit card from his wallet. He looked at David. "You know? You may be right."
First, understand that this occurred in an inner city neighborhood in the mid-Sixties, where there was no pretense of having money, or status, or vying for possessions. These were simple people -- they went to work everyday, had children, raised them to the best of their ability, and occasionally dressed up and went to the neighborhood bars of Chicago to get loaded and have a laugh. There were no untoward dealings in these families. They were not drug-dealers -- or insider traders -- there might be a tendency toward alcoholism, but the family structures were so tight, that the co-dependence was integrated into the family system and worked pretty well for all. That was how it was -- I make no judgement upon it.
The brothers Lesaukas were born two years apart -- which made me realize, at an early age, that one should not have two sons that close together. The two were very competitive. In games, in sports, the two competed madly. It was sometimes a spectacle for the rest of us neighborhood kids, and punches were often thrown. The older, Allen, was a great hulk of a boy who terrorized his younger brother mercilessly. The younger, Philip, was more of average build, but he too took great joy in besting, antagonizing, and needling his older brother. It looked like hatred to the rest of us, but perhaps, it was not. Who can tell in the world of male psychology?
None of this was anything but painful for me to watch, as I have always been a peace-loving person who never quite understood all the hostility and strife in the world. But that's another story. The present story really begins when I turned fifteen. It was in the summer, right after my first year in high school. Philip the Younger was exactly my age -- we had often shared a schoolroom together -- and I sat on the front stoop trading stories about high school with him. He went to a different school than I did now -- a boy's school -- so the differences in culture and experience were vast, and it was as if we were talking about different planets. Allen, the elder brother, sauntered by, saw his sibling there, and stopped to chat with us. I'm not quite sure what happened after that.
Oh, I had known Allen for years before that, watched him play ball with the older kids of the neighborhood -- but now, I was a slim, blooming high school girl. Maybe, along the way, I had noticed his broad shoulders, the expanse of this chest as he removed his shirt at basketball, the way he tossed his long, straight mane of hair out of his eyes, and maybe I had flirted a bit -- as well as I knew how at the time -- with this fine, studly seventeen-year-old. Oh, he was a piece of work, was Allen the Elder. But he had never taken me the least bit seriously. The most he had ever done was tousle my hair affectionately as he got up from the steps to go on his merry way to more high-spirited, teenage pursuits. This time was different. He was all over me -- eye-to-eye and shoulder-to-shoulder. And for some reason, Philip took to not liking it. The banter got more heated, and Philip gave him a push in the chest that rocked Allen back on his heels. After that, all hell seemed to break loose.
Philip and Allen were there in the street throwing punches as I watched from my doorway. It was so odd -- like a dream -- and horrible. And as they scuffled there, I couldn't understand what they were fighting about. Surely, it wasn't me. There seemed no sense in fighting over me -- who was so slight and unimportant, and who really didn't know what she was doing or where she was going in the world. My mind couldn't wrap around two boys fighting over someone as nothing as me. Yet, there they were. And it occurred to me, that's what they were really doing, fighting over me, but it was not really over me -- it was their two egos having it out, and I was just a trigger. An excuse to fight about other things. There was no feeling of triumph at having them fight over me, no feeling of sexual power -- just a cold, mute impotence. This wasn't about me, had nothing to do with me, and yet, I had caused something terrible to happen here. And I didn't know how to stop it.
I saw Philip's head snap back in a punch, and I screamed, "Leave him alone!"
Allen looked at me, and Philip held the blood that was now streaming from his nose.
A few more words were said -- I don't know what -- and Philip trudged away, up the block, while Allen came closer to tell me Philip was alright and that he hadn't really hurt him.
A short while after that, I became Allen's girl, and spend the next few months keeping him off me, while at the same time enjoying the broad-shouldered strength of him in innocent ways -- as was the custom back then.
Years later -- many, many years later -- the same thing happened. I stood talking amicably with a male friend, and another man came up and suddenly said something verbally hostile to him. There was a fierce, testosterone-ridden exchange that paralyzed me with that same cold, mute impotence I had felt years ago. I felt like I had disappeared. That there was no person watching this exchange -- only a vagina -- a pussy. I had somehow been reduced to a body-part. And still, I didn't know what to do to stop it -- didn't like being the trigger of it -- and didn't want to be there to hear it. But maybe I handled it better this time. I began talking feverishly to the more aggressive one to get his mind off his aggression, and hastily made a retreat, giving an affectionate good-bye to the one who was attacked. I count them both still my friends -- I hope. But I never want to feel that cold, mute impotence again. It puts something so ugly into the world -- taps into something so darkly primitive -- that I never want to feel it again.
Fred Burk chewed on a pencil as he stared gloomily at the blank accident report on his desk. The whole business was getting to him. For two hours he had stared at the blank paper while three pencils turned to shredded wood under his teeth, but he couldn't come up with an explanation that would make sense on the report and satisfy the insurance company. There was something about the accident that he didn't understand, and he had to make some sense of it himself before he could write the final report.
He had been over it a hundred times, but he still couldn't get it straight in his head how such things could happen to a sane man. What made Jake do the stupid thing he did? On the surface it appeared to be nothing more than a mental lapse, but he couldn't accept this as the full explanation. As he say there stubbornly chewing a pencil, feelings of morbid gloom took possession of his mind.
That afternoon when he had come to work, the heat in the machine shop had been almost unbearable. Since there was no air conditioning, open windows were the only source of air circulation, and with so many noisy machines running at once, the smell and smoke from burning oil had spread throughout the shop. As machine shop foreman on the second shift, Fred had been trying all summer to get maintenance to install exhaust fans, and the first one had finally been installed that day. With all the noise the machines made, Fred hadn't noticed the men abandoning their jobs to gather near the newly installed fan at the back of the shop. He had been showing the new man how to set up the punch press, concentrating on training him right, when someone had tapped him on the shoulder, and he had to hit the stop button, wiped his hands on a shop towel, and threw it down in annoyance.
"What do you want?" he snapped.
"Something important, Fred," Otis Gilman said, stepping quickly back away from Fred. "You know I wouldn't interrupt you if it wasn't important."
"Now that you have, what is it?"
"There's been an accident," Otis said.
When Fred glanced to the back of the shop and saw the group of men gathered in front of the exhaust fan, he suspected the worst and forgot his annoyance.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Jake Farmer cut off a finger in the fan," Otis answered.
With Otis Gilman trotting at his side, he hurried to the back of the shop where the men had gathered, and they separated and let him through to where Jake Farmer stood in front of the fan, holding one hand with the other, staring at the bloody stub where his finger had been with a look of amazement on his face, as if he couldn't believe his finger was gone.
"You men go on back to work," Fred snapped. "I'll take care of this." Then he turned his full attention to the injured man. "What happened, Jake?" he asked.
"I cut off my finger, Fred," Jake answered in a voice filled with wonder.
When he thrust the bloody stub at him, Fred drew back, unable to check himself. His stomach lurched at the sight of the mangled red flesh, and he quickly turned his eyes away to keep from puking. "I can see that, Jake, but how did it happen?" he asked.
"You know how hot it gets in here," Jake began.
Fred nodded. His fight to get something done about the heat in the machine shop had gone on for more than five years. This summer, like all the others in the past that he could remember, it had been hot, hotter, and unbearable. Although he had finally succeeded in getting maintenance to install the one exhaust fan, they had failed to install a guard over the blade.
"I got hot and came back here to cool off for a minute," Jake continued, turning to face the fan. "The air felt good, and as I stood here cooling off, I got to watching the blade. I don't know what made me do it. The blade was spinning so fast that I couldn't tell whether it was moving or not, and it kept making this whirling sound. Maybe it hypnotized me. Do you think that could be it, Fred? Do you think the fan hypnotized me?"
"I don't know, Jake," Fred answered. "You tell me."
Jake shook his head in bewilderment. "I don't know what made me do it. I was standing here like this." He took a position in front of the fan to show what he meant. "And I got to watching the blade, trying to tell if it was turning. Maybe a voice spoke to me or something. Anyway, the next thing I knew I was doing like this." Jake jabbed at the fan with a finger of his uninjured hand. There was a metallic clang and the fan whirred on. When he jerked his hand back, the first finger of this hand now matched the other.
Fred turned away in disgust, fighting sudden nausea. When he heard a snicker, he turned hard eyes on Otis Gilman who had not gone back to work with the other men.
"I can't help it, Fred," Otis said, trying to apologize.
"Take the damned fool back to the dispensary," he said and turned and walked away.
That had been more than two hours ago. Now Fred Burk sat at his desk with the blank accident report in front of him trying to figure it out. He could understand how the first accident had occurred -- the curiosity about the blade and wondering if it was turning, the hypnotic effect of the whirring sound, and then a sudden mental lapse -- but what caused Jake to stick his other finger into the whirring blade as if he were possessed?
The next day, although he wasn't satisfied with his explanation, Fred sent the accident report to the front office, knowing the insurance company would want more details before paying off the claim. During the days that followed, as the news of the accident spread through the factory, stranger stopped him and asked for all the gory details. At first this didn't bother him, but as time went on, he began to have nightmares, and a feeling of morbidity set in. Before the week was out, he felt certain that half the people in the plant had stopped him at one time or another to ask how Jake had cut both fingers off. He finally reached the point where the mere mentioning of the horrible accident upset him. Since he was no closer to a logical explanation than he had been when he was filling out the report, Fred became noticeably more irritated with the people who stopped him and cut them short with his answers. As time wore on, he found himself drawn to the fan where he would stand in the wash of cool air for long periods of time, listening to the whirring sound while the blade tried to hypnotize him and sometimes almost succeeded. The whole gruesome business was driving him crazy.
When he got to work on Friday, he found an insurance investigator waiting for him in the office. Feeling relieved that once the interview was out of the way he could stop thinking about the horrible affair, he hoped the investigator, with his expert knowledge of accidents, could shed light on what had happened, and gladly went over the story four or five times in answer to the other's questions.
"Yes, sir. I know Jake shouldn't have left his work station to go back to the fan, but it was hotter than blue blazes in here that afternoon."
"Yes, sir. I know the fan shouldn't have been in use before the guard was installed, but it was once of those things that maintenance always puts off until later."
At last, the investigator ran out of questions. Thankful that the horrible affair was finally coming to an end, Fred got wearily to his feet and led the way to the back of the shop where the accident had occurred. The fan greeted them with a loud whirring sound as it sucked the hot air over its invisible blade. A wire bracket had been mounted across the front and a red cloth tied to the bracket twirled around and around in the swift moving air current.
"Still no guard, I see," remarked the investigator.
"Maintenance is supposed to install one tomorrow," Fred replied.
The investigator studied the fan from different directions. Once or twice he stopped and cocked his head to one side as if he were listening to something. Finally he came and stood by Fred.
"The danger is quite obvious," he said, gazing at the exhaust fan. "Under the circumstances I can see how a man could get his hand too close to the blade and accidentally cut off his finger." He turned his head to look at Fred. "But two separate fingers in two separate accidents, both involving the same man and both involving the same fan -- I find that difficult to understand, don't you, Mr. Burk? Would you care to take another stab at an explanation?"
Fred winced. During the interview, he had grown weary of the investigator. So far he had contributed nothing that he hadn't figured out himself. If he was ever going to find the answer, he would have discovered it without his expert knowledge. Taking his eyes from the other man, he looked at the fan. The whirring suddenly seemed so much louder in his head. He watched the red cloth twirl in the air current, but he couldn't see the spinning blade.
"I don't know what made him do the fool thing he did," Fred said, shaking his head from side to side. "I've tried to explain it to myself a thousand times or more, but it doesn't make any sense."
The investigator opened his pad and started writing. "If you'll show me what happened as you remember as you remember it, maybe between the two of us we can piece together a reasonable explanation."
"I was standing about where you are as I talked to Jake," Fred began. "I remember him saying two or three time, 'I don't know what made me do it.' At the time it didn't mean anything. Maybe it still doesn't. Anyway, after he said, 'I don't know what made me do it' two or three times, he stepped in front of the fan like this to show me."
Fred took a position in front of the fan as Jake had done as he stared at it, trying to pick up the spinning blade. Then suddenly the whirring sound became the only sound inside his head. When he raised his hands as Jake had done, the whirring sound changed in some subtle way, and its hypnotic effect became overpowering. At that moment something took possession of his mind. He had to know if the blade was moving. He couldn't stop himself from jabbing with his finger.
The sudden sound of the metallic clang freed him from the trance. When he looked at his hand, the first finger was missing.
"I see," the investigator said and wrote on his pad again.
Fighting the sudden weakness that came over him, Fred turned to the other man. "I don't think you see at all," he said in irritation.
"Come, come, Mr. Burk! Clearly it was nothing more than a mental lapse, the hypnotic effect from looking at the blade. You might go so far as to call it momentary hypnosis."
"You're wrong," Fred said, determined to make a point. "It wasn't anything like that, but some force inside the fan that possessed my mind for a moment."
The investigator suppressed a smile. "The devil made me do it isn't an acceptable explanation for accidents anymore."
Sudden anger gave Fred strength to fight the nausea. "I'm not talking about the devil so listen carefully. You'll have to try and explain both Jake's accident and my accident to your boss, and he'll ask you to bring him back here so he can understand it better."
"I do hope your maintenance people will have the good sense to put a guard over the blade by then."
"For your sake I hope so too, but I don't think it will matter very much," Fred said. He motioned to Otis Gilman who had come over to listen when he saw the two men by the fan.
"What won't matter?" the investigator asked, as if he had finally taken an interest in what Fred had to say.
"The guard," Fred answered. He leaned on Otis and dragged him around where he could face the fan and talked slowly. How could he make the dumb bastard understand that whirring sound was like a seductive voice enticing him to jab his finger into the spinning blade? The man already thought him to be crazy, and perhaps he was. "You'll come here with your boss, and you'll stand here to demonstrate, and like it or not you'll lose a finger like this."
He intended to jab with the invisible finger, but he was intent on showing the other that there was more to it then a mere accident. Besides this, the whirring sound in his mind was just too great, and somehow the signal went down the wrong arm. When he jabbed weakly with the first finger of his uninjured hand there was a metallic clang and the fan whirred on.
The investigator's eyes went suddenly wide with horror. "Tell me you're joking, Mr. Burk!" he cried. "Please tell me you're joking."
While Otis held him, Fred raised both hands, and a glow of madness lit his eyes as he stared at the two invisible fingers. "You heard something yourself. I saw the way you cocked your head to listen to the fan."
The investigator took an involuntary step backwards as a look of horror spread over his face. "God help me!" he cried. Then fled in terror.
A fiendish grin curled Fred's lips as he leaned on Otis. "You'll never escape from it!" he yelled at the fleeing investigator and then his voice rang out with hideous laughter.
The device fit snuggly into Ned's outer ear canal. It was a microscopic, flesh tone implant, thereby making it undetectable to the eye. Professor Gonzales had created it specifically for the configurations in Ned's right ear. He specialized in such customized inventions. His fees were great, and the work took time, but most of his clients agreed that it was well worth it. The success rate hovered around ninety nine percent.
Henrietta sat in the passenger seat. She was blowing bubbles with one of those dime store kits. She dipped the pink, plastic ring in the orange bottle and raised it to her lips, blowing ever so gently into the center of the circle, the transparent sheet of liquid expanding until it reached a bulbous state, then breaking from the ring, a diaphanous sphere floating above the dash board.
"Look at that one," she said. "It's bigger."
"Yes," Ned said. "It is bigger."
The bubble popped and Henrietta said, "Poof!"
The top of the green, vinyl dash was cracked from the sun. Dingy foam protruded from several slender tears. When she grew weary of the bubbles, Henrietta dropped the ring into the orange bottle, screwed the white cap on, then placed the kit on the floorboard. Then she took off her shoes and propped her feet atop the strips of exposed foam. They were traveling a poorly paved road and every time Ned failed to negotiate the many potholes and undulations, Henrietta's feet would shift slightly to the left or right, agitating the dash stuffing, tearing particles loose, mildewed yellow ashes circulating in the cabin.
"Please don't put your feet up there. The damn thing is already falling apart. it just makes it worse."
Henrietta dropped her feet to the floor, picked up the kit, shook it, removed the cap, dipped the ring, and blew a bubble at Ned's ear. The bubble crawled through space, then, just as it was about to make contact, it popped.
Henrietta giggled and said, "Poof!"
"Would you stop with the goddamned bubbles! Jesus Christ Henrietta!"
It was dark when they finally reached the long, gravel driveway that led to Gonzales' house. Ned turned off the rutted road and traversed the rocky strip, braking before numerous pools of stagnant water, the car sinking, then rising, the motion of a bucking bull. Despite his efforts, they jerked up and down violently, their trunks lunging forward with each mud hole.
"This is fun," Henrietta said.
Ned didn't respond. After a good five minute battle, they were coasting on a smoother section of packed dirt that surrounded the old, white farmhouse. Ned shoved the car in park and got out.
"I want you to wait here," he said. "I won't be long."
"Let me come."
"No, you can't come in. I thought you understood that. It'll just take a few minutes then I'll be back and we'll be on our way."
"But I don't want to sit out here."
"Henrietta, please don't make this difficult. I'll be right back."
Ned closed the door and walked to the house.
Gonzales and Ned sat at a table in the kitchen, a mug of steaming coffee in front of each of them. The counters were cluttered with circuit boards, wires, springs, electronic gizmos of every description imaginable. Gonzales, a severely wrinkled, humpbacked man in his late sixties, raised the coffee to his white beard and maneuvered the rim to his concealed mouth. Somewhere in there, thought Ned, is a pair of lips.
"Let me see if I understand you," Gonzales said. "She's totally changed her vocabulary since our last meeting making the original trigger words useless."
"She doesn't even use them anymore. She's like a different person now. It's almost like she knows."
"I know it is, but she's still here. She's sitting in my car out there right now. She hasn't used a single trigger word since I received the implant. You've got to enter new ones. Is that possible?"
"Yes, it's a fairly simple procedure. Do you have a tape?"
Ned pulled a miniature cassette recorder out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Gonzales. The old man pressed rewind and they waited.
--Ooooh, look at that one Ned. Mama bubble with baby bubble. She's nursing her young...poof...
"Turn the damn thing off!"
Gonzales pressed the stop button and stared at his distressed client. Ned was running his hands through his hair, gazing into the empty mug before him.
"It's the strangest thing," Gonzales said. "A woman of her education, her intelligence. She's totally fascinated with these...these...bubbles."
"I don't understand it. It's all she cares about now. She hasn't read a book since the implant. She just sits around all day blowing bubbles and staring at them. Poof this and poof that. And I thought she was driving me crazy before."
"But you still want her gone?"
Ned raised his head and peered at Gonzales.
"More than ever."
"Then give me a few minutes. I'll reprogram the implant with her new vocabulary. That'll do the trick."
"I have a question."
"What if she reverts back to her old self?"
"Not a problem. The implant will retain the original trigger words. I'm not erasing anything, just adding to the existing program."
They were in the basement laboratory. While Gonzales worked in the corner, Ned slid a demo tape into the VCR. A man was walking with a woman in a field. They stopped, stared into each other's eyes and kissed. Then they resumed their blissful, country stroll. They came upon a pond filled with ducks. The couple seemed mesmerized by their pastoral surroundings.
"I told you there were ducks out here," the man said.
"Talk to them," the man said. "Give them your best quack."
"You like my quack don't you."
"It's funny. Do it."
The woman rolled her eyes and grinned.
"Here goes," she said. "Quack...quack...quack!"
Then the red laser beam sliced out of the man's ear, penetrating the woman's temple. She fell to the ground, her body convulsing, quivering like an epileptic. The man stood above her and watched. In a matter of seconds, the tremors ceased. She was dead.
"You're a genius, Gonzales," Ned said. "I still can't get over it."
Gonzales looked up from his work and smiled.
"It is rather clever isn't it."
They'd been on the road for about half an hour. Henrietta hadn't uttered a single word.
"Look, I told you I was sorry," Ned said. "We ran into a problem. I didn't know it was going to take so long. These things happen."
He looked at her, but she just stared through the windshield, refusing to acknowledge his existence.
"Be that way."
Henrietta remained paralyzed for another ten minutes, then she reached down between her feet and picked up the bubble kit. She started shaking it. Ned watched her out of the corner if his eye. Her long, slender fingers slowly unscrewed the cap, then pulled the dip stick out. She eased the ring to her pursed lips and tantalizingly exhaled into the chemical bull's eyes. The glistening bubble hovered between them as Ned's heart raced out of control. Henrietta looked at him and smiled.
She said: "Hola senor Ned!"
I don't know how long it's been since that self-righteous slave driver kicked me out of heaven. Probably hundreds of years, but I've lost count. I can remember the good old days, when Mastema took care of me after my exile. He was a great master. It used to be, "Azazel, why don't you go out with Abaddon and cause a war?" or "Azazel, feel free to lock people out of their houses while Sammael stirs up a monsoon." Ever since I got Einstein to figure out the atom bomb, though, it's all been boring, menial tasks. (That's right; I didn't get Hitler, despite the rumors; he was evil all by himself). He starting giving me garbage like, "Azazel, go make old Mrs. Bumble's daughter steal her Social Security checks and burn them," and "Why don't you make little Bobby Jones push his sister down a flight of stairs?" It was pathetic, and I was beginning to get sick of it.
Last week, though, he pulled the last straw. He wanted me to possess the four year old son of a banker, so that he could rip up the paperwork from his father's most profitable account. It wasn't even fun, and it turned out that the banker had backup copies of the files on his computer. I was absolutely appalled that the Master would have me do something so inane. Just who in hell did he think he is? When I got back to the Inferno, I told him, "I'm sick of all these lousy jobs you keep sending me on. The most damage I've caused in twenty years was a neck injury from a hit-and-run car accident, and the guy lived. He lived! Do you know how embarrassing that is?!" He looked down at me with that condescending look he gives all of his demons when he's displeased.
"I see. What would you like me to do about this?" he inquired.
"I want more action, more chaos; I want it to be like old times -- mass destruction and all that good stuff."
"I hope you know, Azazel, I'm held liable for everything that you do at my command. There's only so much that I can pull before my enemies will attack me from the sky palace. Evil's just not as popular as it used to be. Right now, with the meager army I've got, I can't afford to face a frontal attack; my kingdom would collapse in a fortnight."
"In that case, I don't need your command anymore. I want action; I want mass murderers and terrorists. I want the overthrow of governments; I want anarchy. I can't make it happen by possessing teenagers and making them torture small animals. I need freedom."
"Freedom from my command means freedom from my protection, Azazel. Are you sure that's what you want?"
And with that word still fresh in my mouth, I was cast onto Earth.
It's bright out, and very warm. All of a sudden, I feel average -- very average. I reach into the jeans pockets of the man in whom I've landed. Coins, useless receipts, pocket lint -- there's a wallet. I've got a few dollars, no credit cards, and a Massachusetts State ID card. I am Mr. Adam O'Hara, brown hair, green eyes, 5'10" tall, born July 18, 1970. At least the ID gives me an idea of where I am.
I walk up the street; I'm in Harvard Square, judging by the name on the train station next to me. I've been here before; then again, I've been almost everywhere in the world at some point or another. I walk up the street to a park (the Cambridge Common, I think) and sit on a bench there, trying to assess my situation and figure out my next move. I'm here to destroy. The thought keeps running through my head. That is my purpose, isn't it? A stray-looking cat walks toward me and brushes up against my leg. I kick the lowly furball away, and as I do so, I notice the holes in my worn-down shoes.
I'll never get anything done in a body like this. I need someone powerful, someone with money, someone who can at least afford decent shoes.
A homeless man looks over at me and the cat that I just kicked. He's tall, tired-looking, probably about 40 years old. He's carrying a shopping cart with all his belongings in it, his whole life it seems, and he's got an old dog with him. "Charlie, are you okay?" he asks, apparently directing his question toward the cat. The feline walks toward him, and he picks it up in both arms and pets it.
"You bastard! Why the hell did you kick my cat?! He didn't do anything to you!" the bum screams at me, just quietly enough that he doesn't attract attention from passersby.
"Shut up, old man," I say in an emotionless, almost monotone voice. "It's just a damn cat."
"He's my damn cat, and I care about him a lot," he says in a more calm tone than the one he used before. "Come on, Blue," he says to his dog, "let's go." He puts the cat up on top of the items in the cart and pushes it down the street, his dog following him.
I stand up and walk back toward the train station, half-intentionally bumping into every other person I walk past. These people are all as useless as I am right now, I think. I feel almost hopeless, except that I know I can get out of this situation.
I enter the station and buy a token with Adam O'Hara's money. An inbound train is arriving downstairs, and I quicken my pace a little to catch it. Maybe someone in Kendall Square will be more useful than this loser.
The train gets to Kendall Square a few minutes later, and I walk out of the station and toward the Marriott. As I cross the street, a police car comes to a screeching halt to avoid hitting me. The cop gets out of his car and stomps angrily toward me.
"What the hell are you thinking?" he shouts.
"Doesn't a pedestrian always have the right of way?" I contemptuously ask him. This could be my opportunity, I think.
"In a crosswalk, yes -- not out in the middle of the street during a green light. I could've been on my way to an emergency."
"But you obviously weren't, if you have enough time to stand here and badger me about crossing the street. Is this what the city of Cambridge pays you to do? I know that the crime rate in Cambridge isn't exactly something to be proud of, and your job is to help keep it low. Is that what you are doing here? Are you trying to rid the world of us evil street-crossing demons." If only he knew, I think. I can see the rage building in his eyes. My feeling of hopelessness vanishes.
"That's it. Put your hands behind your back. You're coming with me," he says, as if his word is the be-all and end-all of everything.
"Oh yeah? What for?"
"Harassment of an officer of the law."
"And what if I do this, rather than let you arrest me." I spit in his face and begin to swing my fist toward him, but he
it, and I twist the man's arm behind him, causing him to fall on the ground. I wipe the spit from my face with my other hand. This is going to be fun, I think. People start to notice the scene, but I motion with my hand for them to leave, and they do.
I take the pepper spray from my belt and squirt the man's eyes with it, a lot of it. He begins to whimper like an injured animal, so I cover his mouth with my hand and keep spraying -- mostly in his eyes and up his nose. I even get some in his ears. His body eventually falls limp, apparently passed out from the pain. I drag him out onto the street about 20 feet in front of my cruiser. I start the car and back up just enough so that I can gain some good speed by the time I reach where he is.
I see the man, Mr. Adam O'Hara, start to move, but all he can do is lift his head up a few inches. He can't see anything with the pepper spray still in his eyes. I floor the accelerator. The speedometer only reaches 30 miles per hour before I hear his head crunch under my passenger-side tires, but I gain speed as I continue up the street.
Without stopping or even slowing down, I hit seven pedestrians before I broadside another car at an intersection. The driver stumbles out. "Who in hell taught you to drive?! You could've killed me, you know that?!"
"Oh, I know that," I say as I draw my gun from its holster and release the safety. "I know that damn well."
Five cruisers peel up and block the street off completely as I shoot the man, execution-style. "Put the weapon on the ground and put your hands behind your head!" one officer shouts. All of the cops are pointing their guns at me. I drop mine on the ground and casually put my hands on top of my head.
"Get on your knees!" the same officer shouts. I kneel promptly, a complacent smile on my face. He approaches me slowly, with his gun still aimed at me. By his uniform I can tell that he's a Lieutenant, my so-called superior.
He leans over and grabs one of my hands to cuff me, but stops. "Zimmerman?" he asks. "Why did you do that? What the hell happened to you?"
I reach over with my other hand and pick up my gun (he should've realized that I only dropped it six feet away from myself), his hand still
the other hand. I let go of the hand, however, so that I can draw and fire at him before he gets the chance to do the same to me. I unload three rounds into his chest. Blood soaks his blue uniform and splashes my white one as he stops breathing. I drop my gun and pretend to be upset as the other officers disarm and come toward me.
"I wish I didn't have to do that," I say in a solemn tone. "I really wish I didn't have to do that."
"It was either you or him," one officer says, and the rest nod in agreement. "You had no choice."
Lowering my head, I suppress a chuckle. "I guess I didn't."
When I return to the police station, the other Lieutenant on duty offers to take over for me so that I can take the rest of the day to recover. Apparently, people think that killing is a very exhausting exercise. I accept his offer and check out at about 6 o'clock.
I change out of my uniform and walk out of the police station, continuing up the street until I reach a small convenience store on a corner. I go inside and ask the cashier for a pack of Camels and a lighter. He puts them on the counter, and I pick them up and begin to walk away.
"Sir, you have to pay for that," he calls to me in an almost authoritarian tone.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot." Assuming that I have money with me, I reach into my back pocket for my wallet. I find it, pull it out, and toss a five dollar bill onto the counter.
"I need fifty-one more cents," the cashier demands. I grab another dollar and nearly throw it at him.
"Keep the damn change," I growl as I leave, stuffing the smokes and lighter into the front pockets of my pants. I take my wallet out again and look, out of sheer curiosity, at the name on the driver's license -- Sullivan, Arthur J. Lieutenant Sullivan -- it almost sounds like an alias.
About a half-mile further up the street I reach a gas station. I ask to borrow a gas can, but the attendant tells me that he has none to borrow, and that I must buy one to use it. I give him the money for the can, and enough for a few gallons of gas.
I stand at the pump, holding the can up and filling it. The attendant yells, "Sir! You can't do that! You have to have the gas can on the ground while you fill it!"
I slam the can down on the ground and finish pumping. The street lights start to come on as I walk away from the station and back to the store where I bought the cigarettes. Instead of going inside this time, I stand at the side of the building, put my gas can behind me, and light up a smoke.
A group of four people walks into the store. I look around to make sure that no one else can see me. With the smoldering cigarette still hanging from my mouth, I kick the door open and pour the gasoline out all over the floor, careful not to get it on my feet.
"What are you doing?!" the cashier shrieks. I throw the empty gas can at him and step back from the door.
"Good night!" I exclaim as I grab the half-smoked cigarette from my mouth and fling it into the store. The entire place bursts into flames, and I contentedly stroll away, grinning as wide as the Cheshire Cat from Wonderland. The people inside scream loudly for about a minute, then all falls silent, except for the crackling of burning wood in the store, and the cackling of my infernal soul in the Lieutenant's body.
I take the train back to Harvard Square, only to find that someone is speaking over a PA system to a good-sized crowd of people. He talks like a politician, and a smart one. He presents solutions to problems, but he doesn't promise to solve the problems himself. No one will be able to say that he breaks promises, because he doesn't make any.
"Who is that?" I ask someone from the crowd.
The person gives me a look of disappointment, almost disdain. "You're not from here, are you?"
"Not really. No."
"That's the governor," he informs me as he returns his ears to the governor's voice.
I stick around until the governor is about to leave. He walks along the sides of the crowd, giving the customary politician handshakes. People ask him questions, ask him for help, hope that he'll respond. His hand
my hand. I say goodbye to my audience, but they won't stop asking me questions. All that I can hear is "I want I want I want" and "I need I need I need" and "When are you planning to do this?" and "How are you going to do this?" and "Are you going to have to raise taxes?" I just want to scream at them to leave me the hell alone, to go away, but there are too many of them. I am under their scrutinous eyes at all times, and there isn't anything I can do to stop them.
I keep walking, though, in the hopes that they'll leave, but they don't. Instead, they follow me like a shadow. Only when I reach the Cambridge Common does the bothersome mob finally give up. I can't do this. I just can't. Trying to achieve power is like pulling on an endless rope that gets thicker as it gets pulled. It's not only pointless, but it's counterproductive.
I sit down on a bench, the same bench on which Adam O'Hara sat this morning. Now, though, the sun is out of view. I don't know which is worse -- not being able to kill and destroy or always having to answer to someone. Perhaps the latter is one of my major reasons for being so destructive. I put my head in my hands in confusion, and as I do so, a cat comes over and rubs against my leg. It's Charlie, the homeless man's cat.
"Charlie? Come here, Charlie!" the homeless man with the shopping cart calls. He's got a bowl of cat food and a bowl of water set on the ground. I scurry over to him, anxious to eat, and he gently pets my head as I devour my dinner.
Granted: it hurts to breathe, I appear godless and lost, it is early evening, the fifteenth of November, I think, and it is raining, and I sweat, tremble, and cry, guilt fills me, and because I rarely sleep, my sanity is dubious at best, and I vacillate between delirium and strict rationality, and I hallucinate, suffer from persistent and compelling delusions, live in constant fear of annihilation and am even more afraid of immortality, am hollow-cheeked with sunken eyes, believe in magic numbers and dangerous numerals relating to mystical, cultic, religious efflorescence and thus speak of matters discredited long ago, and I adhere to contradictory, random, and obscure rules and elaborate rationales, find secret meanings, concealed semantic content, hidden within the syntactical creases of newspaper articles, ceaselessly shadow-box with self-created fictions, and I live an anonymous life in an anonymous world in the kitchen cupboard-a sort of burrow, or maybe a glass prison, protecting me from the constant hum of international commerce enveloped by urban landscapes enlaced in networks of obscenely endless, pointless, and uninterruptible circulation with no human purpose-in a small flat owned by a woman, Catherine Marie, whom I love but could never tell so because I believe my feelings cannot be accurately transliterated from the silent lexicon of the spirit into that of the ear, and I am too eristic, I shoot rubber bands at a world that swings an aluminum baseball bat, which leads to innumerable troubles, smashed teeth and a bloody mouth and spirit, and after ten years of research for my still unwritten biography of Oskar Sogol, I no longer know the time of the day apart from the movements of the sun and stars and seasons because all the clocks of the world have been unplugged.
Yet it doesn't matter, none of it matters, because it's not very important: I have known for some time that human clock time was arbitrary, that the real clock of history, of my history, of everyone's history, of everything's history, was digital, and the true movement of time thus imperceptible and barren, a chronological net of stillborn moments of isolated instaneity and irreparable inanity. And more and more, I am unable to think, see, or hear clearly, to breathe and live, to reflect upon and grasp the world, to reach a consensus with others and the physical environs that I am embedded in and which makes demands of its own. But I've learned that that is merely a matter of equanimity, of policing my own thoughts, of refusing to let others police me, of refusing to become what others would like to make of me. Yet it must also be said that I prefer the moments of insanity, that the pocket mirror of consciousness is often a useless tool: rational thought, instrumental reason, where everything has a meaning and nothing is a good in itself, enforces a limit on one's relationship to the cosmos. The straightjacket of instrumental reason results in simpler and simpler levels of thinking. I prefer hermetic linguistic isolation, a plenum of private meanings, to the untruth of banal, everyday existence.
Tonight, emanating from the deep well of ancient instinct, as if propelled by a thousand silent, incubus voices, on the narrow surface of an earth filled with incorrigible cruelty where the downpour never ceases, with the pitter-patter of rain everywhere, lightening strikes and the whole earth rumbles and bellows and opens its mouth and flashes the whiteness of its maxilla, which looks like the maw of hell, and there is a vague sense of standing at the edge of an abyss, and from the kitchen cupboard, between the canned goods-soups, broths, vegetables-and various baking pans of varying shapes and sizes and colors, where I live and do the research for my biography of Oskar Sogol, my sole retreat from, and defense against, a world of simulacra without originals, where I sit slightly cramped, of course, but in glorious isolation, I can hear someone whispering, over and over, in a sweet and sexy tone capable of conquering through consent and the vague promise of pleasure rather than brute force and coercion: "It's time to play charades, charades, charades, charades, it's time to play charades, everyone gather round, it's time to play charades, everyone quiet down, it's time for charades, charades, charades..." There was a time when I would have come out of the ground to hear that voice, or maybe I am merely nostalgic for a past which never was, but now it stings like a slow fire burning intensely and I wish it would stop. No one else can hear the voice. Nonetheless, the costumed, masked crowd in Catherine Marie's flat plays charades, charade after charade after charade, unaware they are doing so.
Outside it is raining, as it has been all day. Inside the air is thick with music and smoke, liquor and laughter. They move about, talk loudly, put their heads closely together, kiss, light cigarettes, wave them around, pose for pictures. As the night wears on they will loose their anxious, self-conscientious mannerisms in playful, carnivalesque contortions and coy copulations involving prehensile privy parts. All of it, it is too much-and even here, in the kitchen cupboard, it is difficult to escape.
Standing before a mirror perpendicular to a glass window nearly six feet and ten feet long that overlooks a foaming, violent sea, a young woman is dressed as a Siamese cat and wears black stockings. Her hair is black and curly, her lips thin. Her waist is taut and her hands rest humbly at her side. Her large, green eyes are fascinated by the reflection in the mirror. Her deep sexuality reminds me of all that is transgression and fear and displacement: crime, the guillotine, asphyxiation and suffocation, penal systems, discipline masked as freedom, courts of law, civil war, penitence and contrition, atonement and confession. Repentance. She is Jewish and I am not but I would convert to marry-Catherine Marie. The reflection is abominable: like copulation, it increases the number of people in the room. But she is beautiful, and opulent truth of her presence convinces me that eternity has nothing to do with the future. Her smile could grow flowers from stone. She leaves me wordless, my speech carved, useless, babbling, and broken.
Catherine Marie has picked up a baby bottle full of milk. She drinks from it, her neck muscles flexing and tightening as she swallows. She turns away from the mirror, moves into the crowd, begins pantomiming, mystifies everyone present, eventually stops, steps toward the window overlooking the sea, which is far beneath her, a sheer drop, and on all sides, as far as the four corners of the horizon densely stretch, the incomprehensible, eternal rain is omnipresent, with the sky and sea, and dim, cloud-covered sun, magnifying it.
Catherine Marie, as I sit watching her from the cupboard (the door is open), is now standing in front of window. The crowd moves toward her and down upon the sea: a wave rises in the distance, grows and approaches, changes form, shape, and color, folds inward, breaks, vanishes in a splash of mist and foam, begins anew, stops, suspends the trajectory of gazes focused on it, guarantees itself as ultimate horizon, and remains motionless and frozen as Catherine Marie says, "Look at the indentation in the brow." With a warm simplicity, she points to where the wave has split in half, like two wings, one stretching to the right and the other the left, revealing a negative tip of divergence, a knot of opposing forces in contradictory unity. "Notice," she says, "how the point of distinction will be obliterated as soon as the wave begins moving again." The wave unfreezes, and another, stronger wave, emerges, overtakes it, and resolves the knot by shattering it. "There is much to be learned here." she continues. "The inexhaustible beauty of the wave is that it is never a closed whole; rather, it consists in a collection of events, any of which can change the whole. Think of the wave as a synecdoche for a biography of life itself: events are not arranged in a chronological order but correspond to a purely personal architectonic structure. Thus the reading of the meaning of the wave, like life..." Aware that no one is listening, she stops. Without acknowledging her the crowd drifts back to its original position, and the young woman, with her long, elongated, white, almost pale, bony fingers, returns to her work on the canopy. I close the cupboard door, stuff cotton into my ears, light the lantern Catherine Marie gave me so I wouldn't ruin my eyes trying to read in the dark, and return to my work.
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 2000 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 2000 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: World Wide Web http://www.apoculpro.org irc the #unbeing channel on UnderNet Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The SoB distribution list may also be joined by sending email to Kilgore Trout. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--