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 02/29/2000 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in SiXTY ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
Welcome to the second leap day issue of State of unBeing. Oohs and ahhs abound.
Enough hype, already.
In case you didn't automatically jump down to the copyright and contact information upon receiving the zine, I'd like to note that my email address is officially changing to firstname.lastname@example.org ... within the next few months, my eden account will be up for renewal, and, well, that's not gonna happen. By then, I should have ye olde cable modem magick going on, and I thought I'd give you a few months to change your address books before email starts bouncing. God knows it takes me for forever to do stuff like that.
As if my erratic responses to some of your emails wasn't a clue already.
I formally apologize for being a bastard.
In other housecleaning news, we are in the process of updating the old FAQ. If you have any questions you think should be included in the FAQ, tell us. We're also looking for new SoB groupies as we haven't heard from the two present ones for some time now. Absentee groupies aren't really that much fun, so if you think you have what it takes to be an official SoB groupie, do the whole essay bit like you're trying to get a scholarship or accepted into that French Medieval lit grad program so you can defer your loans for a couple years. What does it take? Use your imagination.
I formally apologize for being a bastard.
But really. Why are you still reading the editorial? It's late, I've been looking at the computer for way too long, and I'm tired of trying to come up with witty things to say after editing 100k of text. Oh, so you think I should have written the editorial earlier? Like, before I even knew what was going into the issue?
Well, that would be a bit presumptuous of me. I mean, if I wrote, "This issue rawks" a month before I had any submissions, I would be lying to you. And I don't want to lie to you. Not as an editor, anyway... as a writer, well, that's what we do. I can say that this issue rawks (and oh, what a horrible habit of spelling that is turning into) with total honesty because I put it together. And I edited horribly mangled word documents that don't like to be in plaintext, and I had to convert strange upper-ascii characters into quotes and commas and apostrophes because people like to some strange hybrid form of html for email messages that just scream, 'Hey, Kilgore, this isn't really supposed to be superscript three character -- it's really an exclamation point|"
[note to self: if I was really witty, I would have changed that exclamation point to aforementioned screwy notation. next time, boy. next time.]
But I love it. Really. I mean, this is the sixtieth issue. I remember buying the 25th issue of The Quarterly back in 1993 and loving it and then finding out that they weren't gonna be publishing anymore cause they ran out of funding.
Here at SoB, we don't even know what funding is. Grants? Bah. Could you please define your terms? Sure, we don't always make it every month, but if you divide sixty by five, you get twelve, so just pretend that we've only been publishing for five years and we've got a perfect track record. There are some of those unnumbered issues as well, so with those in tow, we're actually doing even better.
Of course, in PR land, we're entering our seventh year of publication because that just inches us towards becoming obsolete dinosaurs. When I was young, I always wondered why the earth had longevity lines running around it. Now I know. Without those, we wouldn't have something known as petrol.
Luckily, the toaster was unplugged (mostly) when I tried to have pop tarts in the tub.
So, as we plunge headfirst (or maybe neckfirst, since this is already February) into the year of the fake millennium, all of us at the Apocalypse Culture offices look forward to providing your inbox with a glorious discourse that might actually be meaningful every now and then.
I am, however, falling farther and farther into the realms of obscurity, so we'll see how that goes. The betting pool opens at eleven sharp. Maybe I won't take the dive. It'll depend on the weather and, fer shame, fer shame, the timecube.
From: Franz Hanemann To: email@example.com Subject: halloechen auch, mailing list peace and good vibrations and actually i'm just writing to ask you if it would be possible to put my e-mail adress [you know, to get a new issue of sob when it's out there] on your mailing list, if there is one and i if can trust the faq. firstname.lastname@example.org thank's i'm actually just a little stupid german kid and i'm doing an exchange year in the us right now, in one of those rich suburbs where all the white "cool" kids think they are black and that they are growing up an a ghetto. actually i shouldn't say "all", there are also some people who play golf all day long and don't know what to do in winter. it's not that bad though. thanks for publishing sob and go on doing it. i hope you won't grow out of doing this like so many people i've met at home who did something alternative and different and offendeing and who now have commited to accept the system as it is and work in a bank, count money for other people which they never will posess, go home, have a beer, watch tv and go to bed. on the weekend there is more beer and tv and together with their pals and if they feel really bad they visit their parents drink some more. but those are only SOME peopleand not important anyways. he, if you'd like to have the sob translated into german than feel free to contact me, but why would you. thanks and irie
[we're actually updating the faq finally, and we think you should trust it vehemently. of course, after you read it, you should burn it and not discuss it so you don't become a center of pestilence... oops. wrong text there. yeah, trust the faq. the faq is your friend. especially when the new faq comes out. it's like an old friend, only different and out to get you preggers. and as for bucking the system, most of us old-timers now have real jobs within the system. but we are still plotting world domination, and those plans will not be appearing in the faq. i mean, we would publish our blueprints, but this is a text zine, dammit.]
From: William Walker Subject: New Literary E Zine Hi, My name is William Walker. I am a freshman at St. Clair Community College in Port Huron, Michigan. My English professor has encouraged our class to create an online literary journal. He cited your journal as an outstanding one to emulate. We want to attract writers both regionally and nationally. But none of us are sure about how to get writers to notice us. Can you offer any suggestions? One of my classmates noticed that your journal is listed in the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market book. Are there other ways and means of tapping into the literary marketplace. On behalf of my classmates and I, we sure would appreciate any advice that you could provide us. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule.
[you have no idea how busy my schedule is. dealing with hordes of submissions every day, hiding in public so i don't get swamped with autograph requests, hobnobbing at literary parties at posh mansions gossiping about who's saying they've obtained a recent picture of pynchon... it's a wonder i still have time to put this damn thing out. as for emulating our zine, well, we're delighted to be mentioned in academic circles, natch, but our model of circulation has been one of strictly word-of-mouth. the only advertising we've done (besides a few usenet blitzes to appropriate newsgroups) is making t-shirts. i'm still not sure how people keep finding the zine, but they do. strange altavista searches tend to bring them to the apoculpro site. we've been doing the zine the same way since 1994 -- we publish what we want, and people who are of similar minds tend to find us. it also helps if you put out quality stuff, because, as the old saying goes, people hate crap. although they seem to love literary trash. of course, if you'd like to arrange an all-expense paid trip to your college for an exclusive speaking engagement to your class, i'd be more than happy to take some time away from those formal parties and give you some bs about zine publishing for a speaker's fee. yeah, i'm a smartass, but you try hanging around a toasted harold bloom for more than thirty minutes and see if you can keep it together. actually, i've found that begging and groveling gets submissions. harass your friends for stuff, and after all that practice, you'll soon have the ego and the gumption to be a true zine editor.]
From: cthulhu To: email@example.com i want my shirt. i have wanted a shirt for a long time, now i really want a shirt. if i dont get my shirt, i'm gonna turn america into a worthless piece of capitalist crap... oh......wait, well forget the threat, just let me know how i can get a shirt, OK?
[the great tentacled face has spoken. email clockwork at firstname.lastname@example.org for a shirt. there are a few left. and we'd prefer it if you'd just go ahead and make the stars right and all that jazz. and i dunno if you're the guy to ask, but did lovecraft really have a fear of female genitalia?]
Carlton Mellick III
I Wish My Name Were Nathan
No One Important
Over the years, I've mailed off to magazine editors and publishers hundreds of manuscripts. They've each been held together with regular-sized, shiny, metal paper clips. Most were missing, however, when my works came back. Why? Where did all those little, twisted, pieces of wire go? It's a mystery to me.
Magazine staffers generally limit their manuscript activity to spilling coffee over, stomping boots upon, smudging lipstick therein, dropping foodstuffs, liquids, and various grades of motor oil onto, and, so it's claimed, poring a lens-enhanced eyeball around first pages. That's likely why my writing frequently comes back rejected -- and dirty. Also, it explains why the magazine's form turn-down letter is often loose, both in the envelope and in content. But that message could just as easily have been slipped under the submission's handy paper clip. Seldom, though, is that the case.
The post office definitely can't be made responsible for missing paper clips. Already a disproportionate amount of blame for society's ills has been leveled at these poor postal people. They shouldn't have to shoulder further condemnation. Besides, the P.O. folks are more into hoarding rubber bands.
When you really think about it, there's only one group that has any reason for hiding, destroying, or otherwise confiscating paper clips: the manufacturers of same. Conspiracy theorists, of course, will fine a way, as they always do, to blame our government.
But let's face it: if everyone was frugal and carefully reused existing paper clips, there'd hardly ever be a need for new ones. So paper clip makers, to keep their industry booming, have a vested interest in seeing their previously sold product disappear -- and fast. That's just what's been happening.
Now at this point the mystery deepens. Where are these huge mounds of used, slowly corroding, withheld paper clips? They must be accumulating somewhere. And for what? Perhaps to sell as scrap. Yet who would want to purchase a tangled heap of metal wire bent all out of shape?
Moreover, no one, to my knowledge, has ever reported viewing trainloads or truckloads of old, misshapen, rusting paper clips rumbling over our nation's few remaining railroad tracks or on our increasing ribbons of concrete highways. How come? What other way could the item in question get to its final destination?
What's more, where in the world are all these paper clip factories? I've never seen or heard of one. Have you? The only conclusion I can draw is that these operating plants are secreted from our sight so that we, the public, won't know what's going on. Ergo: we don't complain.
There could be an upside to the missing item. Presuming that it is being recycled, this may bode well for our environment. Too, this whole scheme, in which many editors and publishers must be in cahoots, could be helping our economy, thanks to the growing number of grasping paper clips we're always having to buy.
Still, just the thought of all this is irritating to me.
(Note to readers: If I'm mistaken in any of the foregoing, I humbly and sincerely apologize. But at this time, I stand by what I've expressed. Note to editors and publishers: This manuscript, you'll kindly notice, is being held together with a metal paper clip. It's mine! And I want the @#$(%^&* back! Thank you.)
I have started rolling my own cigarettes. The anti-smoking phrase "Spending good money on slow death" no longer applies to me as I now spend roughly two and one-half cents per cigarette. At this rate I'll run out of lung before I run out of spare change which brings me to my second point (although you may want to remember this anecdote as it serves as a hook through the rest of this piece. It's what we writers call a writing convention.) about having too much.
The average human has an abundance of spare parts. More lung, skin, blood, kidney than she'll ever need. Except in two crucial areas. The heart and the brain. These cells do not divide, meaning those brain cells you kill off do not replace themselves. Meaning these two cent cigarettes I am smoking (see the hook being employed here?) are permanently damaging my heart. Meaning God or Evolution or what have you should have listened to Car Talk or joined the Boy Scouts. Instead, we have things like "Your Tonsils: Aqueducts For the Bile When We Used To Eat Carrion" and "Appendix: Balloon of Death." No fucking sense whatsoever.
Another thing I have started doing is taking karate. But not just any karate. This is the karate of Elvis Aaron Presley, king of the city where for the last five years I have become a man. Memphis. And now I can enter the riding horse stance just like the King and perform the groin claw technique just like the King, and I have also lost a little weight (unlike that fat bastard drug addict). So I am now getting rid of some of my body's natural excess at the expense of some of the non-renewable (fat for heart and brains). But this is the society in which we live. A tight ass and a clean cock and the Subway diet.
This summer I return home. The land of steers and queers. If you have yet to live outside of Texas for an extended period of time let me tell you this -- Texas has the worst rap of any state (except for Mississippi, but they pretty much sealed their fate in the 1860s and have yet to back down. You have to give them props for their recalcitrance, though...) and so leaving the backwoods of Memphis for the lampooned soil of my motherland, I cannot help but think somehow I'm starting the misadventure of a lifetime. But then again, with all these spare parts I'm carrying, I probably have the pluck to make it through.
Back to the spare parts. Evolution, by its very nature, is an unfinished task. And so these useless parts and nonrenewable resources are physical proof for an unfinished design. Why do we have more than we need in some areas and less than we need in others. Answer: We're working our way up from the protozoa from which we sprang to the godhead we shall become. And rolling cigarettes is biding time. Another thing I do in an imperfect life. Like moving to Texas. Pulling up whatever adult roots I planted here and moving into the mysterious void characterized by more capital punishments than any other mysterious void and more per capita pickup truck purchases.
Texas is not a tobacco-friendly state. Texas seems to have some notion of the nonrenewable resources and promotes sin-free living in a conservative but ultimately progressive environment. (Truthfully, are there any other environments?) There is even room for the likes of me in Texas, except during normal business hours, in which the conservative men and women earning a decent wage and living sin-free are permitted to limit their ontology a little more, close their nonrenewable minds and shift their uneasiness about being cogs in the capitalist machine into their lust for fast food, served fast.
So now here is where I sit and roll another cigarette and try to sort out the question that has been appearing in and out of mind like a sign in a quickly moving car, brief glimpses and then gone for a stretch: What in the hell have I been doing for the last five years? Surely I have to have something to show for all this absence. Coming home with empty pockets, well young man, you have a lot of explaining to do. There is/was the education. But it's not a stellar education. I don't have much to show for it except that I can spot a modernist paradigm from fifty paces and I think I have a vague understanding of Shakespeare's Othello from a feminist critical viewpoint. But what did I do? In the end, nothing comes to mind. I suppose I evolved, but I couldn't really help doing that. Add to the unfinished task an ever operating existence. Always in motion, always incomplete. Foucault's Pendulum. Tick, tick, tick...
"Your momma is so fat, she has smaller fat women orbiting her." This is no doubt the answer I will give to that question "So what did you do in Memphis?" I know now that I will not be able to give the answer I want -- I didn't do what I set out to do. And, for a while, I think I could fool myself into thinking I didn't even try, and that if I had tried I would have surely done it, but that isn't the truth. The truth is, I did try, but somewhere along the way I messed up. And now I go back to the point of origin incomplete.
I think about Lacan's "Mirror Stage" in which the infant separates itself from the rest of the world by initiating desire. I separated myself from Texas through desire, but I became complacent, and while Lacan would say lack of desire means gaining the universe, this is not the case. Though apathy is the dead horse beaten with the remnants of Kurt's shattered Strat Mustang, it can still have its salient moments when used in a moment of truth. I had my goal, but I didn't care. I wasn't hungry. I had my spare parts and I convinced myself (or was convinced) that they were all I needed. The row of trees forming a ladder to heaven and my Daisy were no longer present. I rested on my laurels, then I became a working stiff, cursed to deceiving myself so I could sleep at night. Or so I thought.
Because you see, I now roll my own cigarettes (it's great how this shit works itself out, isn't it?). I am an active participant again. And so when I set wheel past that state line in Texarkana, I will not be defeated, my pigtail will mean something again and I can enter a bullfight and, as long as I am not sloppy, I can win. I've bided time long enough and something, you can call it Evolution, is pushing me forward. I've hit the cosmic snooze button long enough. Now I get my ass up, take a shit, and go about my business. Dump the wasted spare parts, utilize the nonrenewable resources, and try again. So what did I do? I failed. But I guess evolving is not such a bad thing, and I think the salt in my wounds from this returning home a ghost might just be enough to tighten down the screws, try, and make something out of all of this. Will it be great? Probably not, but what the fuck are you doing right now that's so great, big boy?
August 21th, 1999
I wonder where he is. Why he did not call even though he must have known she was going. What he was doing in that dusty town. Why? I wonder.
My books are piled up on the desk in my tiny room. The scholarship's biggest perk is the allowance for a single room. No one else in here. A lock on the door, silence preserved.
I keep coming back to that. Alone. Very alone. The scholarship took me hundreds of miles away to a little room in a big building in a bigger city. Away from my parents, most everyone I grew up with. Well, there are people from my high school coming to this university. But I don't really know them, so it doesn't count.
My parents left this morning. My mother thinks I will hate it here, that I will come running home after a semester or a year. She wanted me to stay with them, to go to the hometown college. She couldn't understand how terribly I wanted to get away from that.
Not that it was a bad place to live, or a bad school, or that my parents are awful. Just that I felt like I might drown in the dust out there. That if I didn't get away from there I might never do it, that I might never escape the years holding me down. That I might never have the chance to have the life I want.
I've got the radio on. It's a good song. I hope the radio stations here play real music and not twenty four hours of Buddy Holly and Lyle Lovett and Selena. There's a college station, so there's hope.
I feel quite alive. There was an immense relief when I made the decision. I am free of everything behind me. All my life, I've been waiting to start over, somewhere else.
August 24th, 1999
Tomorrow my classes start. I'm up too late, wondering.
I'm writing more, now that I have my computer. It's nice. I can't tell if it is getting better. I have more time to read too. Anything I can find. I'm reading so many newspapers and all kinds of stuff online. When my mom called, she was angry when I told her I spent my money on a computer. She's convinced it's going to destroy my grades and my mind. That I must be up all night looking at horrors.
September 3rd, 1999
Sometimes I dread the walk so much I go twenty minutes early to my classes so I won't have to push past all the girls and boys. They have the same t-shirts and the same sandals. It's strange and irritating. They are the people I hoped to run away from. My first disappointment. They let the fools into the university too.
I got a letter from J. today. He sends emails too sometimes, but this was a real paper letter. His chaotic handwriting and those odd little drawings in the edges. I didn't wait for the elevator. I ran up the stairs and almost into a girl in the hall.
I feel a bit foolish now, thinking about it. Why was I so excited? He studies philosophy or something in the desert now. Three pages, mostly written, some doodles and a page covered in cutout words and heavy black ink. It is curiously beautiful. Like a map. I wonder if he is reading and listening to that CD and going insane again.
He is taking art classes and government and what sounds like a classical philosophy class. Something that involves lots of writing and arguing at least. J. seems happy and sad at the same time. He doesn't really say that though.
September 5th, 1999
My mother called today. She sounded disappointed when I told her that I was fine, that everything was just great. She quizzed me on my classes, asked if I had friends. I think I must have lied to her. I don't remember what I said.
The only class I speak in is my Speaking class. And French sometimes. It's basic French, but I already know the little things we're going over now. I don't speak to the other people much at all. It just seems easier to stay quiet.
The dorm isn't so terrible. My room is small, but I have it to myself. No one can criticize the things on the wall or what's playing on the stereo. The floor is grey polished rock -- concrete, I think. I have this morbid fear that I might fall out of the bed and crack my skull open, or that I will fall. I'm sleeping curled up next to the wall. But I do like it. It's cool.
I hate sharing the showers though. I am horribly conscious of my body in there, amongst the other girls from the floor. I try to go at odd times when no one else is there.
Tomorrow I need to mail my letter to J. I haven't written a letter in ages. Not since I wrote to my grandparents from camp. It feels odd. I started over at least four times, and finally recopied the entire thing in better handwriting. Not that it matters what my writing looks like, but I wanted to make sure it's perfectly legible when he gets it. I want him to write again.
I have a notebook of his from high school that he left one time. It's full of physics notes and random words and notes and poetry. I don't know why I've kept it. I worry about him, but I can't quite figure out why.
We are too far away to stay on the phone at night. It is the only thing I really miss from high school, from those years. The tense companionship of the theater and debate teams, those mornings and lunches and afternoons in the drama hall. Nights when we gathered to rehearse and play. Nights in J.'s car, or C.'s maniac driving, late night diners and coffee, driving like mad through the back roads. There was something that went on and on in those nights, so that I never felt like the moment would end. It is the only thing I would ever go back to.
Though we were closest on the phone, or in some strange awkward place. He used to call late at night. We talked about things, just normal things. Sometimes, it would go further. Into the long hours of midnight, we talked about the pains and the quiet sadness we both felt sometimes. There were moments when I wanted to cry out, some feeling I could not explain or speak aloud. I wonder if we ever could have talked like that face to face. I wonder what it was like for him. I miss seeing him.
North American society is thought to be one of the most open-minded in the history of the world. This is an illusion.
Due to a large and culturally varied population, both social and political views span a vast spectrum, making society, as a whole, seem more accepting. But, behind this false front, each sub-culture, each individual, has their own impervious beliefs, and each is intolerant of anyone who steps outside of them. Basically all that has been accomplished is the dividing of the population into separate boxes of conformist close-mindedness.
Evidence of this is rampant: hate crimes, assassinations, oppression, racism, war. Everyone is locked into a box that stunts their mind and refuses to let them see things from different angles, from someone else's point of view. This happens every time a person or group of people is allowed to consider themselves right and someone else wrong, completely and without reservation.
Even those who consider themselves and are considered by others as being free thinkers are not, really. Those who refuse to bend to the will of the authorities, those who shun government, religion, and society have, in trying to avoid boxes, created and fallen into a box of their own -- the box of the rebel, the anarchist, the atheist or the hermit. In refuting these things, they have closed their minds to the possibility that there might actually be a rightful authority, a system that works, a true god or an acceptable community.
So the facts stand, irrefutable and seemingly impossible to change. Can a person really consider the truth of something without having his or her own pre-conceived ideas and beliefs intrude upon the final answer? Up to this date the evidence states an obvious no, and it will take a much better person than I to attempt to change that.
It may be shocking for many to know that, in this progressive country in this progressive era, a young woman will spend the next thirty years of her life in prison for exerting her reproductive rights.
For such a woman is Tina Marie "Tee Ree" Cornelius, who in April struck a blow for freedom here in rural Williamson County, Texas. Now twenty-three, this brave young woman struck out against her family and against convention in support of rights denied young women in this nation. For while those perfect Platonic guardians of the Supreme Court who strike down unconstitutional laws like the wrath of God recognize that even minors are guaranteed the unwritten right to abortions, even in this day and age a woman cannot kill her existing children without risking life imprisonment -- or, in Texas, the death penalty.
In this nation it is recognized that women have the right of reproductive freedom. They can choose whether or not to have a child, not only before they have sex, but afterwards. It's a fairly simple matter, and while horrible consequences occasionally arise -- she may so damage her womb that she will never be able to have children, among other dangers -- usually it is fairly safe and relatively painless for a mother to knock off her unborn child. However, the state has imposed the arbitrary and artificial barrier of birth on this freedom. Unlike the enlightened folk of ancient Rome, in our own time parents are denied the natural right to kill their own born offspring. For young Tee Ree does not deny that one day in April of 1999 she tossed her kids off a cliff into Brushy Creek near the small town (pop. some 600) of Hutto.
Such a suggestion of legalizing the murder of young children may be shocking to some, but in a culture such as ours it is hardly so. As any good supporter of choice will tell you, a woman should not be burdened with children she does not want, even if adoption is an option. Tee Ree obviously did not want these children, at least not when she threw them off the cliff. (She's since changed her mind and claims to be haunted by the ghosts of her children, but that is of little concern to us.)
It has to be remembered that birth is really an artificial legal barrier. Why shouldn't a woman be allowed to brain her kids, especially when they're three and under? It is commonly children who can live outside the womb who are believed to be exempt from abortion, as though the division were that simple. In "partial birth abortion" a child usually less than a month from birth is brought out of the mother through induced labor in order to cut open his or her head and suck out his or her brain. My own sister was born a month premature, and it's quite likely that these children could live just like her. But legally they can still be aborted, so why should children recently born not be allowed to be killed?
Putting it another way, what child can really live outside of the womb on his or her own anyway? Certainly not a three-year-old and a two-year-old, like poor Tee Ree's kids; they were purely reliant on the mother. As such they were an unnecessary burden on a mother who didn't want to give her children away, and therefore logically should be covered under abortion laws. By this reasoning, moreover, I propose a reexamination of Susan Smith's case as well. After all, if those kids -- one three years, the other fourteen months -- could really live outside the womb, they would have swum to shore. On the other hand, if these children cannot live alone outside the womb, why should Tee Ree, Susan Smith, and others be burdened with unnecessarily having to raise them or go through the expense and inconvenience of the adoptive process?
It should even be questioned how self aware these children were. They were certainly more self-aware than children in the womb, but as anyone who has tried to carry on an extended conversation with a two-year-old or even a three-year-old knows, they simply do not think like grown humans. Developmental psychologists have explained how the vista of human thought opens up as the brain and mind develop, and if, as is argued in the case of pre-born children, those who are not entirely self-aware and aware of their environment are not truly human, how are we to know that these two children were entirely human? Of course for those who support euthanasia this argument is particularly relevant.
Giving mothers this three-year grace period may actually cut down on the number of abortions. After all, this gives the mother the chance to get to know her child and decide whether or not she wants to bump him or her off. And of course, by the same token, why should a mother be forced to make a decision which will affect her entire lifetime in the space of her pregnancy?
Now after considering the fact that these post-birth abortions may be legal within the same reasoning as modern pre-birth abortion laws, one should ask whether or not Tee Ree had sufficient reason to carry out this post-birth abortion. This of course is also within the same reasoning which soothes the conscience of many such women who contract pre-birth abortion procedures. Certainly she did.
These children would have had a hard life, even if they had the benefit of a loving grandmother and extended family. Again, it is a solid value of our nation that, in this richest of the world's nations, one who is poor materially has to be miserable. Tee Ree is obviously miserable, and was before she tossed her kids off the cliff. A drug addict, she has been everything from an auto mechanic in training to a topless dancer. And in Austin this is such a recognized fact that tax dollars are used to pay for the abortions of poor (usually African-American) women. Think of the tax dollars which would be saved if, rather than expensive abortions, women simply waited for their children to be naturally born, and then had them put to sleep through lethal injection. This no doubt would also be more painless for the child than having his or her brains sucked out.
With the jailing of Tee Ree and other women like her, America is eroding the freedoms that so many Americans take for granted. Every American must question herself or himself what kind of an America we can have in which mothers are denied the unwritten Constitutional right to kill their own children, born or unborn. For it is only when America comes to the realization that there is no difference between a born and an unborn child that Americans will finally redeem themselves for the crimes of the past.
It has been interesting recently to see terrorism once more dominating the American press, as it did twenty years ago. The situation has greatly changed. The world's states realize this, and seek to reevaluate terrorism and their relation to it. What is left of the world's supporters of freedom should reevaluate their positions, too, especially here in the United States where petite-bourgeois squeamishness and moralizing concealment of laziness have caused an almost pathological opposition to any direct action that doesn't restrict itself to workshops, pamphleteering, and violent assaults on the non-politically correct -- provided it doesn't interfere with one's television watching. This article is an attempt at an explanation of the motives behind terrorism, and how the recourse to terrorist acts can be justified.
For the purposes of this article, terrorism shall be defined simply as the use of force or threat of force to influence individuals' behavior, for an ideological goal. Some omissions will be noted. For one, there is no mention of terrorism being an act used by the weaker force. While stronger forces have less excuse for using terrorism, as it is not always the least damaging course, stronger forces can and do engage in terrorism. It is the very nature of the state; fear of repercussions cause one to obey arbitrary laws and regulations, to pay taxes and obeisance to the ruling class. There is also no mention of morals; while Anarchism, for example, is notorious for its "moralizing," terrorism as an act is not necessarily moral. Nor is it necessarily "political," in the sense generally used. It is necessarily "ideological," in the sense that it must have a motive. Random acts of violence can inspire terror, and can alter behavior, but such activities are not terrorist acts, at least insofar as this article is concerned. Finally, there is no mention of a state. Terrorism may be engaged in by states, or by non-state parties. It cannot be engaged in against a state, for a state is not an independently existing entity whose behavior can be altered. Individuals exist, and individuals have behavior. The behavior of a state is not an independent behavior, but the collective behavior of its leaders and followers. Those leaders and followers may be the subjects of terrorism, and these effects may be observed in the aggregate, which is sometimes to say the state.
It has been a prejudice of political philosophy for centuries that the nation-state is viewed as the highest aspect of freedom. This has been accepted uncritically by some. I do not accept that assertion, and I reject the claim that the state has an autonomous existence independent of those persons who make up said state. This is a tangent, however, and I simply state my position to make the above comments comprehensible.
So, to the issue: Why does an individual or a group of individuals engage in terrorism? I shall be addressing four motives.
1. Target Elimination
One justification for terrorism, and one that most everyone can understand, is the elimination of targets. That is to say, an individual or group of individuals is identified as an enemy to the individuals within or the aims of a group, and selected for elimination. This can take the form of the assassination or neutralizing of an individual political or ideological leader or the targeting of a target group, or it can refer to the elimination or neutralization of a specific object for practical reasons. For example, one may see the RAF action in Germany last decade where an empty prison was destroyed not merely as a symbolic action but as a direct attack on an object of repression.
The motivations behind this action are undeniable. Sound practical gains can be made, especially in the context of an unconventional or conventional war, by the elimination of specific objects and members of the enemy forces. Some would dispute whether a specific target is legitimate or useful, but nonetheless accept the reasoning behind it as self-evident.
One argument against this reasoning is put forward by the uncritical state-worshipers who object only the state -- in the form of the army or the courts or the rule of law and so on -- has the "right" to eliminate things which states don't care for. As I have previously stated, I deny the state any such transcendent, mystical reality. When the state eliminates people and things, it is done by and for individual persons, and for their individual and group interests. While the state has not the exclusive right to such behavior -- if anyone accepts the state has a right to engage in this form of behavior, he can hardly accept that the behavior is prima facia unacceptable -- I would argue that the state has less right than others to do so, for the state is an ideological shield set up to protect persons from the blame for their activities.
This was the preferred form of "terrorism" engaged in by the Anarchists of the late nineteenth century who made "terrorist" a synonym for "Anarchist" in many people's minds. Unable -- within their views of the world -- to strike at the system, they chose to strike at those individuals they considered to be at the back of the system's evils. This was particularly prevalent in Russia, but the assassin of President McKinley has been labeled an "Anarchist," and others did engage in this action. When this motive is the exclusive one for this behavior, we see a flaw in some Anarchist thinking, particularly in the thinking of the individualistic anarchists. These Anarchists, seeking to put their preformed views of moral right and wrong over the world in which they had found themselves, sought to place individual blame on individual criminals. In their unformed political worldviews, they failed or refused to see both the fact of collective responsibility and the necessity to view class warfare as class warfare, or at least as class conflict. Very little can be achieved by those who seek to make the world their courtrooms, whether they seek to execute those they find guilty or simply to build resentment towards them. A well developed sense of the world as a platform for struggle will result in much more effective actions.
This motive is not, in the sense of this paper's definition, terrorism. That is to say, when this motive is seen as the exclusive one, said action is an act of war, not of terror. These considerations should be taken into account in order to find a target that is useful and not manifestly unjust. It is not, however, sufficient for the label "terrorism," as these actions are not intended to alter behavior. At most, they may be seen as attempts to end behavior by certain targets. While often called "terrorist" by the media and other forces engaged in the conservation of the status quo, it fails to meet the definition presented above.
As a brief sidenote, one may examine why the media and government insist on describing some actions that fit plainly in this definition as "terrorism," rather than the act of war such actions plainly are. This is because the media and the government -- being conservative carriers of the ideology of the status quo -- do not want to see these actions as legitimate acts of war, nor to legitimize the actors. The people, spoon-fed the ideology of their masters and propagandists, become unable to see these actions as non-terrorist, or even to wonder if or why they are so labeled. Since the knee-jerk reaction "terrorism equals bad" is so deeply programmed into the minds of the people, any act so described triggers the "that bad" reaction in the mind of the individual. Especially in the case of non-state actors, to which states have it in their vested interest to deny the right to engage in warfare, statist propagandists refuse to call their actions anything other than terrorism.
Another way to state the above: Those who believe in the state as the highest earthly good allow only to states the "right" to engage in warfare of any kind, including that warfare which is collective self-defense. (The state arrogates to itself the "right" of collective self-defense in all forms, which is why statists do not allow community policing any more than community self-defense, and why statists seek to limit or eliminate the militia movement here in the United States.) In an effort to deny public support for those non-state entities engaged in collective self-defense, the propagandists -- the media and the government -- never describe entities that are not accepted as legitimate states as if they had rights extended to states. (Watch to see if the government of Afghanistan, not accepted as legitimate by Washington, is ever described as such -- or only in such linguistic absurdities as "Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia.")
But, as stated, while this motive may be an associated motive with an act of terrorism, such acts ought not be called terrorism which have only this as their motive. For motives that can be described as terrorism, one much continue to search.
1a. Target Acquisition
A flipside of this motive could be seen in the acquisition of targets, the actions by which a unit seeks to capture money, weapons, or other supplies needed for the perpetuation of the revolution. For the revolutionary, such activity is an act of self-defense. This economic system is engineered to kill through starvation those who do not adhere to its principles, let alone those who act against the interests of the system itself. These actions are necessary not only for the purposes of capturing goods not readily available -- such as military-grade weapons -- but for the simple purpose of providing the revolutionary with enough to eat.
The actions which seek to capture money in particular are called "Expropriations" or "Exprops," for these are actions which seek to expropriate the expropriators. They seek a more just distribution of wealth by taking from those reactionary elements who use their wealth as a drag on the development of the human race, and giving to the revolutionary elements who seek the human race's transformation.
2. Increase the price of operations
I like to think of this as the "argument from capitalism," as it can be put in such classically capitalistic terms. Persons act in ways they consider right. For a capitalist, by which I mean someone who buys into the capitalist ideology, "right" is largely indistinguishable from "profitable." Much of the terrorism engaged in today is engaged in for the purposes of making undesired behavior too "expensive" to engage in. Sometimes this is done in material terms. If the costs of repairing the damage done by terrorists or the cost of security against terrorists is too expensive as a cost of production, this behavior will no longer be profitable, and will no longer be engaged in. If the cost of the fine or the experience of the prison time -- or the experience of being chopped up into little pieces by the government's hired guns -- for dodging income taxes is too expensive, the taxes will be paid. Another cost of production, of course, is added with assassination. If the cost of production is death, few capitalists will engage in said business.
I will take my examples for this section from the current terrorism engaged in against the abortionists here in the United States and Canada. On the low end of the scale, pro-life protesters seek to increase the expense of providing the service of killing babies. In the legal field, this is engaged in by such things as legislation. As one can see from the drug trade, laws will not keep anyone from providing a product should the profit be great enough. Illegalization, however, greatly increases the cost of production, and so makes it more difficult to afford a product. In the case of abortionists, where the "externality" of addiction is absent -- I can imagine no way even Madison Avenue can addict people to abortions -- the costs of illegal abortions would likely reduce the prevalence of them, perhaps even to the pre-sixties level now that other conditions have mitigated the damage of the "free love" movement.
In the extralegal field, we can approach something falling into the field of what we might properly call terrorism. Peaceful protests can agitate for change, but cannot achieve anything in and of themselves. They do not increase the cost of production in any real sense. A bus boycott may change the behavior of one capitalist, briefly, but will not effect systemic change. Just as Martin Luther King, Jr., would not have achieved much without those willing to engage in more than moralizing and peaceful protesting, just as strikebreakers need fear little from a union movement that only engages in sanctioned, peaceful striking, so too those providing the service of killing babies need fear little from those who merely mill around and tell people it is wrong. Sidewalk counseling and belligerent protesting may have some effect as a means of reducing the client base for this service, but in terms of terrorism, this is again an almost negligible effect. The fact it has some effect, however, may be seen by the fact those who make money off the killing of children seek to bring to bear the force of the state -- the privileges of use of force arrogated by the ruling elites for themselves, and conceded to by the people with all the passivity of a medieval surf to his feudal lord -- against the pro-life movement.
The assassination of those engaging in the killings thus is a means of making the provision of this service infinitely expensive for the individual abortionist. A man will die for his family. He will die for his country, or for his freedom. There are those willing to die for their wallets, but those are not men.
And so, let us apply this reasoning to a concrete example. A couple of years ago, an abortionist was assassinated, and another man was killed. This man was, indeed, a policeman, and all the "The Tsar loves his people" elements were brought into play. A policeman is sacrosanct for the petty-bourgeois. The police keep the rabble from getting his wealth, and he even pretends the police protect him from the bourgeoisie. In this case, indeed, because of the abuses done on American democracy, his killing could be seen as an attack on the people, a public servant killed by those who oppose legislation embodying the people's will. This would force the people as a whole to evaluate if this cost were worth it.
Having gone over the basic story, as reported by the media, this seems a very poor example for my position.
Unsurprisingly, however, the media lied.
By day, this man was a policeman. He was not killed in the line of duty however. He was killed while moonlighting as a hired gun for the abortionist. The people did bear some responsibility for the killing; the state had failed to pay him enough to make it unprofitable to stop bullets for babykillers. But it was not an attack on the people, or even on the state. It was an action that showed this particular man was willing to accept the risk of death as an acceptable cost of engaging in the job of protecting abortionists.
By applying the logic of this article: Presumably, this man felt the risk of being killed was negligible. So in his calculus, it seemed worthwhile to make some money as a hired thug. If the risk of being killed in this line of business had been, say, fifty percent, it is questionable whether this abortionist could have found a bullet catcher desperate enough for the money, and this policeman would be alive today.
And then, the abortionist would have been forced to catch his own bullets, and factor lead into his means of production.
It should be observed here that this is not the law of Socialism or the law of terrorism. This is the logical extension of the principles of Capitalism. This is the law of the ruling class stripped of the petit-bourgeois sentimentality with which the ruling class seeks to keep the people in line.
Everything has a cost. The costs of production will be passed on to someone. In devastating the rainforests in order to increase profit, the costs of production are paid by native peoples and by our biosphere -- costs are socialized onto all peoples, or at least all our children. In overexploiting labor, in lengthening working days and increasing working intensity, the costs of production are inordinately paid by the producers. Profits -- the profit of the ruling class -- are increased at the expense of the literal lives of the worker. In less unusual circumstances, profit is maximized by the increase of price to the highest level possible. The profit is paid by the consumer, again for the benefit of the ruling class.
Environmental laws shift the costs of production back onto those who produce the pollution, and hence benefit from the pollution. The people can increase the laws to make pollution unprofitable. This is the check provided in the system of ideal electoral democracy. Labor laws reduce exploitation, and add fines -- additional costs of production -- on to those who seek to benefit financially through this abuse of the people. This is another democratic check, and again exists only in an ideal democracy.
Similarly, this use of terrorism applies these same relations of production to increase the costs of oppression. To deny the people the right to this activity is tantamount to confessing the laws of capitalism to be unjust, to accepting that a thinking human cannot look to the economy alone, to the economy for the sake of the economy; or the irrational fetishisation of electoral democracy.
3. Attitude adjustment
The next justification is the classic justification, and the only one in this article that can, in isolation, be called "terrorist": Adjustment of social attitudes.
No thinking person can dispute that terrorism is an effective tool for the manipulation of social attitudes. This is not to say there are no disputes: Whether these attitudes can be controlled once set in motion, for example, or what may be the moral ramifications of this behavior. But the claim "Terrorist activity has the potential to alter society's views" is unquestionable.
In theory, merely altering the views of one person can be terroristic, but the reader will notice an emphasis on "social" attitudes. This is a pragmatic call; altering one person's actions will tend to have a marginal effect on any social, political or economic struggle. This brings into stark relief the need to effectively select one's target.
If the target is one person, the terror may be minor. One may make one police chief or one judge fear the repercussions of his actions through his own personal safety. Being so individual-oriented, this can only be for short-term, specific purposes.
One may make a higher up individual -- a president, for example -- fear for his political or personal lifespan through actions against the populace. If it seems easier to depose the leader than wait out the attacks, this indirect targeting can be effective. This tactic is no more "wrong" than targeting enemy soldiers rather than enemy military or political leaders, all else being equal. Both sets of individuals are individually relatively "innocent," but work for the furtherance of the enemy's war machine.
Terrorism is more effective when viewed in terms of groups, however. Assassination of policemen makes the class of all policemen hesitant about their jobs; to be effective, it must make policemen sufficiently fearful that retention and recruitment suffer.
Targeting traitors and squealers -- and who can fault that, especially in a wartime scenario? -- makes such repugnant behavior less desirable, both for traitors and, more importantly, for potential traitors.
Targeting civilian populations -- the unconventional version of the all too conventional total war -- can free people of their complacency, and hopefully make them realize violence is the natural child of a culture of death, a culture of injustice.
Because terrorism works on attitudes, effective communication becomes necessary. Here lies one of the ironies of many states' policies toward terrorism. Many states refuse to negotiate, much less publicize the terrorists' demands. The media -- sharing class interests with the state -- likewise glosses over oppression, exploitation, genocide, ecocide as not "newsworthy." (After all, the ruling class does such things every day.) Alternative media only goes so far, especially considering such things as that such publications, even when dissemination is possible, are typically only read by the already sympathetic; communication from guerrilla and commando to legitimate, aboveground publishers is problematic, at best; etc. Dreams of a "People's Broadcasting Network" or of seizing the means of media production are relatively utopian at this point. So actions have to become bigger and bigger, with higher and higher body counts -- or at least arrest lists -- merely to remain newsworthy. The mainstream media still will try to squelch the message, but some few will wonder why.
In days past, terrorists could engage in symbolic acts. Today, the people -- having forgotten that what makes a person human is their symbolic mind -- have had their humanity crushed to the point that most will ask, "Why? It was only symbolic," while reaching for the remote.
This difficulty in communication shows another reason why the terrorist -- at least initially -- must use as simple a message as possible. Books are good for those who read and for those who think. Slogans are really all that can be managed in a protest march culture. The terrorist must needs to work in an even simpler medium: Terror. The smartest among the people can decompress that message into a, "Something is not right; I should find out what." Even the most mediocre of minds can grasp, "Fear. Me not feel good."
And so, one arrives at the so-called "politics of tension." The message is scripted by the police, in the very nature of the state. The terrorist merely draws out the statue already present in the rock, and by working along with the nature of their society, they emulate the simplest possible message. The terrorist acts against the state, and dissolves into the people. The state, unable to find the terrorist among the people, but unable for political and economic reasons to merely kill everyone, is trapped in its internal contradictions. Actions taken against the people indiscriminately cause more revolutionaries to rise from the blood of the martyrs, and the cycle continues. The terrorist does not create the cycle of violence. The terrorist does not even set it in motion. Rather, the terrorist plays into the violence inherent in the system and brings it to a crisis point so it can be opposed. An unnoticed cancer will kill slowly; a noticed cancer may be cut out, but only through purging pain, expiatory suffering.
This is attitude adjustment writ large. Playing on the entire canvas of the society and the state, the terrorist may set in motion the true liberation of his people.
It should be noted in closing that terrorism cannot win many wars. Terrorism can achieve tactical battles by removing enemies from the field, and can lay the groundwork for victory, but in either case, the victory must be consolidated. One form of war can arguably be won in this manner, this being the purely defensive war of attrition, whereby a people make occupation too expensive for an oppressor nation. In this case, the attitude adjustment within the occupying nation -- so called "Bringing the war home" -- can sap the will to continue the invasion. Arguably, too, this victory would need to be consolidated after having driven the enemy from the field. In general, the attitudinal pressures applied by terrorist activity must be viewed as tactical weapons, not as a strategy for ultimate victory.
4. Transformation of the people
This final motive is that most defensible to a truly ideological Anarchist. Direct action of all forms, from strikes and agitation to the coming revolution, transforms the people. The reasoning behind this statement has been long explained. Taking action sets up positive inertia. Small victories motivate to greater victories. Victories overcome the sense of powerlessness suffered by the oppressed peoples. Freedom given as a gift by the oppressors to a psychologically unfree people cannot be enjoyed as freedom by those persons. And so on. Struggle for the sake of struggle is how we form ourselves from sacks of corruption into true humans.
But, most of all, liberation is a choice. A person who refuses to choose for freedom cannot be free; a person who chooses for freedom can be. Terrorism is a true way of choosing for freedom, as an action that puts one's efforts on the line to a degree many of the complacent members of our society cannot imagine.
"In the East poets are sometimes thrown in prison -- a sort of compliment, since it suggests the author has done something at least as real as theft or rape or revolution. Here poets are allowed to publish anything at all -- a sort of punishment in effect, prison without walls, without echoes, without palpable existence -- shadow-realm of print, or of abstract thought -- world without risk or eros."
It is snowing at Cortez. It is dark at midnight. It will be snowing in Cortez tomorrow. The sheep are drinking snow water, towards each other.
I like to eat seafood best. What do you like to eat? I like hot cauliflower and tic tacs too. Where should I put our couch?
Move as a player of a game of skill of luck. Completed games? Is there really such a thing? Mastering the game is a godsend to both teacher and student. Foundations need to be broad, deep, solid.
How many chapters are in this game? 1. Life and Death, 2. Safe and Secure, 3. Accessories.
Let's use items and pictures. Let's cut large loin steaks, guaranteed to be delicious. Let's buy accessories... let's buy more.
I know you're tired, but we must move on. We should go to the store and rent a movie. Do you like movies that were made in Japan? Can I eat cocktail shrimp off your breasts?
Two white eyes against two white stones. So are they dead? The single white stone divides the enclosure of two white eyes. In this game.
Let's talk about being punk. Let's see how many tattoos I can eat. Can I eat your Waldo? Let's drink a martini and scotch. Let's shave ourselves bald.
I like to play games and so do you. I've played the best games in Cortez. We should go there sometime soon, once it snows.
Let's create a dialogue. Let's drink whiskey for breakfast. Let's grill the state of Alaska, surrounded territory. Let's see if potato chips understand.
I am thinking of you. Who are you thinking of? Let's think about paper birds eating seeds, eating beans, eating a cake. Let's renovate.
(only one hundred moves left)
Let's move faster.
We have these three cards left: five white prisoners, social connections, and liberty.
What is that (over there)? Coming toward us? Individual or choral? What kind of disease do you think it is? Is it fatal?
Let's make some seafood together. But let's hurry, the game is close to being over. Let's try to comprehend the things we'll leave behind.
Our five white prisoners grew up and went away, stayed away. The social connections went bad. We forgot how to use liberty. There is nothing but sheep left at Cortez.
Let's consider a unified group. Translate the following Mexican Clan. I am a Salt Clan. What does that mean to you?
Let's read and then play the game more. But first, pull on your knitted cap. Then let's spend eight days in Phoenix. That will be nice.
I am born. I was born. At that time in the past. I arrived, left. At the hospital/clinic. You were there. It will soon become (future). You will be gone. It was fatal. It will be final.
But now, let's cook some Alaskan Snow Crab and prawns. Make sure the grill is hot before you start grilling. Use only gas and electric grills. You want a smokier flavor? We can do it before the future comes... if we hurry.
(seventeen moves left)
The shot opens on an old, wet, dirty brownstone wall, with the glistening slime and puddles reflecting the ambient light of a city night. The camera pivots as a man walks into the shot. Both move left, he slightly faster, and both reach the alley's mouth simultaneously. He catches, and listens, and both approach the alley.
Both, drawn on by the quiet, whimpering, begging cries of a girl child.
We watch his back run down the alley, but, once again, our camera moves faster, so we beat him to the end in jarring, running motion. Another back, covered by earth-toned, dirty clothes. A tall, if not large, masculine back, which we see only briefly as he spins, coat splayed. We see the side of his torso as he spins out of view, to face the man we'd seen earlier. We lose sight of the two of them, because we are caught up in contemplation of the sight his motion has unveiled.
Exposed, a girl so small -- 11? 12? -- who seems somehow too high up, as if he had lifted her against the wall and she had forgotten to fall. In cinematic simultaneity, pretended objectivity, the shot is framed to show her from knees to hair. Someone watching the film would fail to experience how this sight has affected our consciousness.
Dusty knees, contrasted against less dirty thighs, show the former cut of a skirt that may also once have been grey or green, torn almost cleanly off one side. Her full-bodied, terrified panting catches up to us barely above her waist, and there is an illusion of her breath all around us, warm, as we drift up to the torn bodice and the deep, uncertain gasps held under almost-exposed breasts. We see shoulders, arms to the edge of the shot, clutching tight, almost seeming to grow into the wall.
A trembling chin; quivering, open, pale lips; eyes with an expression too complex to make out, flat or deep, as the sound of struggle calls us to pan out again, and she almost slips -- motionless but for the rising and falling of her breathing -- into the background. The sound rises, and we realize we'd listened to her breathing so intently we'd forgotten to hear anything else, lost to the other sounds around us.
We can make out no details of the taller man. He seems as bland as her engrimed dress, and moves quickly, if stiffly. The smaller runs up, yells at him. The taller man seems confused, struggling more with himself than the newcomer; runs away. The scuffle is a mere few frames filled with agitated newcomer blustering at another figure, too big to fit in the shot, subjectively headless. A shove; a stumble; a bounce off the wall; a slippery run down the alley. The newcomer turns to examine his spoils.
The oddities of adrenaline now fill the shot. He is still high, but past peak. He turns to her with a post-trauma slouch, as if his person passes the situation before his extremities, his agitated limbs not hearing his brain's call to lay down arms. We zoom into a shot of heads on shoulders. She looks over, dully and slowly, with an expression that seems yet complex -- too algae-covered to be readily understood. He returns her look. Her lips part, her head tilts, he opens his mouth, inhales gently, as if to speak, and takes in with a choking gasp a tendril, a root of some kind, vomited between her placid lips where her tongue should have been. She penetrates his lips, deep into his throat, and we watch him froth pinkly, gurgling, wide-eyed. He seems to shrivel, to melt inside his skin. His limp form slides off a bloodied vine, lubricated with phlegm and blood, landing with a thump below camera.
Almost in shock ourselves, a swift shift in focus brings us from the space formerly inhabited by his oozing lips to the space occupied by her now ruddy cheeks, deep red lips, beatific smile, as placid as ever. The camera pans downward, as if trying objectively to undo our former subjective exploration -- lips, breasts, belly, thighs -- panning back far enough to slide onto a blank-faced young man, dripping his last on the flagstones. Zoom in -- harder, harder -- to a red trickle, flowing from lips to between the stones, taken in greedily by the already damp earth.
The sharp focus on his lifeblood shifts, with supernatural clarity, along the pavement, to the wall. We see, horrified, that our intuition was correct. She is suspended in mid-air. Her feet do not touch the ground. Or, rather, from the bottoms of her pink, babyish soles -- dusty in the same manner as her knees -- run more vines, down the wall and into the refuse of the alley. A tracking shot, following rustlings beneath the rubbish, wondering how far she goes, until coming to a faceless man, tall, earth-toned, almost a scarecrow, dragged stiffly down the alley along a vine running to his feet.
Took my car in for an oil change this morning. Got up really early, too (around eight) to avoid long lines as well. As it turns out, I live close to a Jiffy Lube and I could see it was beckoning to serve me seconds after hitting the road.
I looked up the oil type my owner's manual recommended and left it to the attendants from there, but not without first looking at the beautifully blue sky and being happy to be outside in it. Then I went into the lobby and waited. In the lobby there was a man who looked like George Orwell, although I have no idea what that would look like. I guess he just had that indefinable quality about him that tipped me off. That, and his shirt that said, "The world ended sixteen years ago."
"You enjoy 1984?" I asked him, surprised at myself for actually talking to a stranger in public.
"No, I hated it. I really did," he muttered, his mouth working itself into a frown that revealed he had forgotten he was wearing the shirt and was probably embarrassed to have been reminded.
"Sorry," I said, and added, "Distopias are passe' anyway."
"Just what are distopias?" he asked, eyebrows raised in annoyance.
"You know, the term for a future society conceived to have gone terribly wrong, like in 1984."
"Oh," he said. "I think you have me confused. My shirt doesn't refer to the book. That was when my mother was born."
"Aaah," I remarked in that affable way that tries to gloss over social errors, but here, it kind of sounded strange since it turned into a question at the end. This question: "Don't you mean 'died'?"
"I didn't mean 'born' exactly either, I figure. 'Reborn'. You know, that religious conversion thing."
"Aaah," I remarked in that affable way that tries to dismiss the entire thread of conversation. I didn't want to hear about any of it. The man didn't approve of his mother's faith, and probably had none of his own, and I had learned not to get into these kinds of debates while waiting for oil changes -- they tended to last longer than fifteen minutes, and then everyone was all out of words for the rest of the time.
"I know what you're thinking," he muttered. I glanced over at him, casually sizing up his body language: arms crossed over his chest, slouching, legs pinioned into the carpet, propping up his corpse. He smiled. "That's a good one, there, with 'corpse'."
"Whoa, you meant that literally?" I gawked, panicking to shield my thoughts from further theft.
"No, I was just reading over your shoulder."
"Oh." I pulled my left leg up and propped my notebook on the opposite side, so Orwell couldn't read it.
"You were gonna brand me a religious bigot, right, for disapproving of momma's conversion. Not so. It's fine by me. I was happy for her, as a matter of fact. She, however, took it too seriously and joined a cult. We never saw her alive again."
I grimaced and bowed my head. "Cults can be dangerous, I guess. My own mother warns me against them. At Thanksgiving she begged my sister and me never to join a cult." I met his eyes. "Even, she said, if we started it ourselves. I asked her that. My brother said you should definitely never join your own cult, and --"
"You're not taking my loss seriously, are you, son? Her group was massacred by the government, in a disaster similar to that in Waco."
"Really?" I asked. I hadn't heard of such a thing.
"It wasn't exactly the same. The ATF didn't exist yet, for instance. And there wasn't a fire." He paused, finger on his lip. "Actually, there was no raid either. Come to think of it, the cult disbanded on its own friendly terms and its members joined mainstream society afterwards."
"There was a massacre, you say?" I pointed out.
"Yeah, absolutely. The theater critic from the Washington Post said their '85 Easter play stank."
Rimshot, anyone? Wait, did I say "rimjob"?
The oil jockey stepped in and said, "Mr. Orwell, your rimjob is done."
He jumped up in shock and put his hands to his head. "That was fast! What great service! I didn't feel a thing!"
The oil jockey walked behind the register and started pressing buttons. "Oh, you will," he jibed, "once you pay the bill, and go out there and drive on some rough roads. Funny how some people don't notice driving on a flat tire."
"I couldn't believe it when you pointed it out. I thought it was the potholes near the curb."
Mr. Orwell left the lobby, and I lost my train of thought. I closed the notebook.'
Desperate for some entertainment, I synthesized a conversation in a notebook, which, like Mr. Orwell, is also a mental construct -- I wrote it directly on the computer. The oil change was real once, a real memory at least, I think, but the day was different and the lines were longer. Not the conversation but the one with the cars in it. I heard no conversation, besides a talkative woman filling the air with a soliloquy about a missing checkbook, explaining why she was resorting to plastic to pay. The people all around me sat in silence and did not look at each other. No one would admit that I was writing down, at that very moment:
I pretended to drop my pen, stepped forward, and swiped the lady's checkbook. The television burst suddenly into a commercial break advertising traveler's checks: "Whether lost, stolen, or misplaced, don't leave home without them!" Then, interestingly, came a commercial about Traveller's Chex: "Stays crunchy in milk! Not recommended for use in aircraft."
The television was on in the corner, which provided a suitable distraction for everyone. I was watching it too. Currently playing was a show called "Popular Mechanics for Kids." I envisioned something along the line of socket wrench product placements, but it wasn't crass at all, except for the segment where a boy is taught how to bodyguard a girl who has a stalker problem, as she leaves a plane and enters a limo. I believe the segment casted children as if they were adults, as is common on kid's shows, but cognitive dissonance set in when I saw there were two stalkers: a boy and a man in his forties. I assumed the director assumed viewers would mentally substitute adults for the children, and a real adult stalker for the adult actor, but I was caught between following along and substituting an elderly stalker for the adult stalker, or seeing the situation literally, with child celebrities hunted by disturbed adults.
No one else seemed to notice this strange disparity. Of course, no one was talking at all in the first place, so their thoughts were shielded from my attention. I had closed my notebook and put it away, so I had nothing else to say. I soon stopped paying attention altogether.
all I ask is that you stay with me till the end.
fast food on the way home.
maybe they don't know the JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT. but, in the dark underbelly, all that culture wouldn't mean much, it wouldn't mean shit, it would be shit with no toilet paper, defenseless, helpless on the ground, all teeth broken on earthly rocks. they may be ignorant, but they sure as hell aren't weak. these tough bastards behind the counter at McDonald's could kick my ass, any of them, all of them, it wouldn't matter.
not all of them. the young ones haven't seen enough, don't know where it's at, where it's been, where it's hiding. never been fired for sleeping with the boss, the wife, the co-worker, for beating on a customer after leaving the building. they're still civilized, don't have the toughness of the animal, the toughness of showing the teeth, of not being afraid to use them. they don't know what it's like to die slowly, every day, to die of that slow bullet that doesn't tear a hole through the flesh but comes by like a bayonet, that comes by day after day, leaving the intestines hanging out for the other animals to grasp at, lunge for, gnaw on. THAT death coming by every day is what they don't know. they still doubt themselves, not knowing that doubt will let the other animals tear them apart. but they are young, and soon they will learn. and if they don't, well, no one is under contract to save them. or the world for that matter.
the animal behind the counter gives me my stuff. the young -- they don't know yet, so life is good: let them watch the stupid box, live the spectorial life, live the non-life. all the shit that serves the needs and fears of the subaltern. I'm not saying it's all shit, just that much of it is. it could be otherwise. maybe. I am out the door. then, for some reason, a spark of originality, almost poetic -- a definition of history: a violent dress on the floor of a brothel, blood stained with people never as strong as their ideas.
so I've got my stuff, walking down the street. the young one behind the counter, too young but not that young. it would be good and strong and warm, fit together the way it is supposed to fit together. I could go back. maybe underneath that McDonald's shirt and polyester pants is a Mercedes, a GOD-DAMN FIGHTER JET, the truth, with the TRUTH and SOUL and SPIRIT just something about the BODY, nothing else. or maybe under that polyester and pre-shrunk cotton is a shy and precocious 17 year-old, working because mom and dad think she needs the discipline, needs to save a little money for college. I could go back. I don't. with my stuff, in the crowd, one with the crowd. almost. got to get home. Soren K. was right: the crowd is untruth, even if every one of us individually have the truth, when we're put together you get untruth. the crowd = untruth. but none of us have the truth. we can't get it either, even as individuals, and THAT is where he was wrong. the individual = untruth. the animals with their shopping bags don't have it, the pan-handlers don't have it. the pan-handlers don't have anything else for that matter either, just unemployment and chronic mental illnesses, or drugs and booze and addiction and other bums to kill the lonely hours with. they need something, we all do. the shopping bag animals have sacerdotes offering absolution, the stupid box, shrinks giving Valium, Prozac, Xanax, or Elavil. truth: even if the animals did find it, have it, whatever it is, it would be too much, we couldn't understand it. we aren't meant to have it, and it is an unplayful, anti-life assumption to think otherwise. or maybe not.
home: phone messages, emails, bills, this is how they kill, this is the bayonet right here, they get you even when you're alone. the bills are paid-the rent, MasterCard, phone, electric-are no longer NOW DUE. two messages saved, the rest garbaged, deleted, pushed into the file cabinet of forgetfulness. I am living THAT death.
let me finish this yarn. or at least head in that direction. I see a 12 POINT, BOLD NUMBER 4 in your future. stay with me here, just a little longer, stay seated next to me in this shitty little tavern. the Revolution, the Trial, the Tower, the Parable of the Law-however you want to name it, it is nothing we should ask for. the betrayal would follow, and those who would join you want to own Mobil and Ride you like a Horse as much as they want to burn it down and outlaw the practice. raped in the ass while your wife or husband, mother or father, is fucked in the mouth-that's the Revolution, the Tower, whatever. the streets running with blood, children running down the streets, rats on the bodies, people eating the rats-that's what I see in that line of thinking. as you buy me a beer, walk over to the box and play MACK THE KNIFE one more time, I get pissed off academic on your ass. you come back, buy me a burger, and then IT happens:
THESIS ONE -- The nightmarish world. Technology gifted with the possibility of eliminating toil and misery is starved or misused. The lights of science are extinguished in ignorance, and the victories in the arts and letters are bought only with a loss of character and integrity. At the same time that a deeper understanding of the world is won through brute creativity and ingenuity, people enslave one another, their wealth existing alongside degrading poverty. Progress endows material forces with intellectual life only to simultaneously stultifying human life into nothing but its animalistic functions.
THESIS TWO -- Revolt is a possibility. But because you are new in this world, you feel disconnected and alienated. And you are convinced that revolt in the name of freedom understood in the absolute sense of the word ends in murder and tyranny exercised against one's fellow citizens. In the nightmare world, revolt against injustice ends in terrorism directed against individual freedom. In the nightmare world, revolt in the name of absolute freedom and absolute justice is a perversion of a measure of justice and a measure of freedom. In the arrogation to the self the privileges of the gods there is no recognizable limit to the freedom to destroy and conquer.
you cut in and say: "I see a politics here -- Nemesis holding up Sisyphus as a REMINDER to Prometheus to not turn into Robespierre. OR. I'd rather eat at McDonald's." some guy in the back says we're full of shit. you reach for your steel, but then stop. no reason to get worked up. the barkeep asks us to keep it down.
THESIS THREE -- The demand for total unity springs from the deep-rooted need that life be meaningful. And this demand is expressed and finds its locus in the metaphysical desire for order and coherence, i.e., only within a complete, definitive ordering does the cosmic drama in terms of which we live out our lives possess ultimate significance. (i.e., more than madness and graves, epitaphs and worms).thus allowing the metaphysical hunger to be satisfied.
you say you got to get home. we part ways, and as I leave I say: "Rooted in the earth, the dignity of humanity is under attack from ideology, society, history. tragically, the metaphysical needs work bitterly against our experiential, communal needs. thanks for the beer and burger."
now walking alone, you realize you don't have an umbrella. and there is a highway ahead, filled with hungry cars. SHIT. and then, on an earth filled with cruelty, an impetuous, inexorably incomprehensible rain falls, comes down quickly, a canvas of water pushing everything downward into the earth, spiral after crying spiral becoming one with the soil, opening it up, revealing a rich blackness without bottom. you grow dizzy looking at it, transfixed, impaled by the spirals and the bottomless blackness of the earth. the absurdity of the world standing before you: a moment ago everything was dry, and now there is only a vast downward spiral ready to consume and devour violently your life. revulsion and nausea, the awakening, anti-contiguous, not strictly causal: the totality of the world and your lack of a home within it. a desire to walk into the moving traffic swells. no pain, only absolute annihilation.
Then a voice resonates.
a hatred as old as the world behind your thoughts: what is tragic is not the horrors, which can be easily catalogued and occur everyday, but the supremely beautiful achievements, those events and words that define what we are capable of. why? because even these will be forgotten or erased. or never recorded at all. and even if they are recorded, never forgotten, etched into memory like a fossil, they serve, because of their looking down on all other human endeavors, only as reminders of the last stage of human evolution: the historical period of near absolute ugliness. despite my dislike of it, suffering exists, and I can't escape from it. the pavement asks you to step forward.
and from behind, the dead century, a little push on the back, saying: yes, life seeks to preserve itself -- but it also seeks to perish. it is a multiplicity of chthonic forces pulling in opposite directions, in all directions. and for you it pulls downward like a spiral into the earth. with that, and with matchless clarity, you understand the manic, monstrous logic of amphetamine capitalism: natural disasters are construction booms, good times for carpet and steel salesmen. on the front page of the local paper, in color, a fireman saves a little girl; on the back, in the truth of black and white, a listing of the profit margins. in between are the advertisements/editorials. the idols of a culture revealed: Christ and Martin Luther King, Jr. were successful businessmen. and as with Socialist Realism, Capitalist Television ends in spiritless automatons: urge and denial, stimulus and repression. and living? -- a phenomenon of absolute decay, individual idiocies multiplied seven times seven, seven times seventy. thus the world teaches: there is nothing to be taught.
again, the dead century speaks: the earth gapes open, waiting for you. its history is your history: the exploitation of class by class, the wax and wane of species, children eating funnel cakes at fairs, ladies giving themselves to gentlemen, millions of pictures of Mao staring downward, crushing those who dare to peer upward. field slaves and house slaves, temples to the gods, indentured servants and retail clerks, and clouds moving across the sky, cities rising from the sea. and a bird with a broken wing, helpless in the middle of the sidewalk -- humanity tortures and torments it until it dies. everything is reduced to history -- music and love, painting and sculpture, drama and poetry, nature and beauty -- do no exist. and the dead die quite quickly, faster than one might suppose, and a totality of fools never understood that the cards were marked -- propaganda ministers supplied all the spiritual nourishment they could eat, and then a little more to make sure they were truly full. the rest is mere detail; in summary, sacerdotes and humanist circles, insulated by income and country estates, medals and existential emptiness, forgot that the toilet was open, and so the closet door was never closed. no one wanted to get their hands shitty: the definition of an intellectual and moral vacuum. when all is said and done, and the bitter water of death approaches, the pocket mirror of consciousness is a useless tool. the world wounds, and then it kills. an ancient hatred, a hatred as old as Job himself: earth to earth, dust to dust-return to it, return to the cancerous womb as if you had never been born.
but you like to live, and it feels good, so you press the little button, the flashing hand- slash-person thing turns to walk, and you are safe. after you get home. mail, phone, bathroom, change clothes, whatever. then you get on-line, order an umbrella. you don't want to get caught in the rain again. you like it, being alive that is. and these are nothing but the notes of your private death struggle as you sit waiting for your umbrella to arrive.
She tried to close the distance between them, but Hank continued to move from ring toss to Ferris wheel to bumper cars. He despised carnivals. Every year the city's vermin would crawl out of the woodwork with their hockey hair, Led Zeppelin T-shirts, scornful wives or girlfriends, and a litter of hateful kids.
After building up enough angst, he strolled down to the neighborhood bar. She was sitting at his favorite stool.
"Your kids are sitting in an unfurnished room, shivering," she said.
She's so fat that it's difficult to take her seriously, he thought. Her dishwater hair was plagued with large, white flakes. She wore a huge, flowered hippie thing that looked more like a shower curtain than a dress. He remembered reading about a 300-pound woman from Baltimore who had an 80-pound tumor, the size of a soccer ball, removed from her ovaries. He stared at this woman whom he'd sworn to love and to cherish. Maybe that's her problem.
The bartender was a junk pusher of the worst kind -- legal. He placed another scotch in front of the big woman and watched as she mixed it with a thick, unfriendly finger.
"Ain't going to do you any good running away from me," she turned and caught him in her witch stare. "My lawyer knows where to find you. And the cops too."
"No," he almost whispered. "I don't suppose it would."
"You don't even own a car."
"So why don't you just give me what I need, and I'll finish this drink and get out of your face."
He got up from his stool and walked over to the jukebox. He was disappointed to see that Patsy Cline had been replaced with the latest Garth Brooks, some rock and roll cornball disc. He tapped a quarter against the machine as he examined the selections. He needed something to fit the moment, something to put him down and keep him down. He needed one jukebox hymn to both save and damn him. He walked away without playing anything.
"I keep telling myself I'll never set foot in this dump again," she drunkenly blurted, as Hank returned.
"I knew you'd show up sooner or later."
They had met in this dive. She arrived at the bar with a friend of his. She had moved from Jackson with her parents and didn't know anyone in town. She was big boned back then but not hefty. She was exuberant, loud and very flirty. She told Hank that he looked like Jack Kerouac. His friend must have put her up to it. He later found that she didn't even know Kerouac's work. Or even that he was a writer. Hank smiled at the thought. He remembers getting drunk. They danced. They kissed -- sloppy drunken tongues. She moved into his apartment that weekend. Seems like three lifetimes ago.
The bartender slid another scotch in front of her before she finished the most recent. She had the urge to slam one, but a sideways glance made her think better of it. Instead, she poured one into the other and pushed the empty glass toward her hustler behind the bar.
"You're still good looking," she said without looking at Hank. "But not much of a man. Not when you move from job to job and neglect to support your own children."
"One thing about being jobless," he said, "you never really pay much attention to the weather."
"Still the poet-philosopher, huh?"
The sullen man got up to leave.
"Where you going?" she asked.
"I don't know. Just going, I guess."
"When are you going to send me a check? I'll go to the friend of the court again if I have to."
Hank was silent. He stared blankly at her, struggling to recall ten moments of happiness he might have shared with this woman.
"I used to have these spontaneous blackout spells when I was a kid," he said. "I never passed out or anything. I just sort of blanked out, like I wasn't in the room, or the house, or the universe. It was a state of non-being -- of nothingness I guess. It used to scare the hell out of me. It's how I imagined death. Now I wish I could remember how to do it. Maybe it was auto-Zen or something?"
"Why are you always saying things that don't make sense to anybody but you?"
"I always meant to tell you how I didn't fit the mold of the perfect husband."
She laughed. "You sure know how to make a girl smile."
"Sometimes lies are the best defense," he said.
"Sounds like bullshit."
She decided to slam the drink anyway. Easy courage.
"Will you walk me home?"
They walked back to her apartment in silence. Once inside, she unzipped his pants and took him in her mouth. His hands moved over her head. He couldn't remember the last time he changed his underwear.
In the dark, both smoked quietly.
"This doesn't get you off the hook, you know."
He blew smoke through his nose and half smiled. A small reprieve then.
She entered the kitchen and turned on a light. He watched her sluggish form moving through flickering florescent. It blurred his vision. He squinted as she bent over to grab a diet coke out of the fridge and thought for a moment that she had gained another ten pounds on the walk to the kitchen. She was the largest woman he had ever made love to. Hank continued to stare at her intently. Despite her size, he had never known a more beautiful woman, including the prom queen he dated in high school.
"Why don't you have any stretch marks," he asked, stepping up behind her to pinch her enormous ass. She lurched suddenly, nearly dropping the coke in her hands.
"Why do you ask such stupid fucking questions?"
Then she felt self-conscious about the coke in her hand and set it back in the refrigerator. She backed up against the electric stove and without looking up, asked him to leave.
He laughed, almost to himself. He didn't mean to. Awkward always struck Hank as funny. He walked into the living room, slipped on his boots and overcoat, and closed the door behind him with an almost imperceptible click.
He was on the sidewalk again, shuffling along to another bar, alone, stopping once to look at the light in her apartment above the storefront, towards the cars coming and going out of town, towards the lemon-colored tents of the carnival hung like sagging flesh over their poles. There was just scarcely enough truth in all of this to remind him of home.
This time, he parks his car at the intersection of 19th Street and San Antonio, at his intuition the likeliest free spot to take without having to parallel park. A McDonald's restaurant sits at this end of his trip, one of six closely packed eateries and gas stations packed around the busy intersection at Guadalupe. One's choice is usually determined by the direction one is driving, or, for pedestrians, one's willingness to attempt to cross. (McDonald's manager: "He eats here occasionally, by himself. I think that's really sad. No one should eat by themself in such a happy place like this. We're here for families and lovers. None of our Happy Meals come with loneliness.")
At the rear of the Catholic church and parochial school next to the restaurant he tries to pet the stray cats. They always run away from him. ("The human is large and gangly and frightens us with his sudden appearance. His hand swings down at us from the sky and he caterwauls as if looking for a mate. We greet him with a hiss and run away.") Further up the street he walks by the bushes and plants lining the west wall, nervously looking into them as they rustle and shiver in the wind. ("Forensics says the victim was kneeling down here, between the two tall shrubs, trying to shoot up. As it was drizzling, his foot slipped on this flat rock here, and while trying to regain balance, he stabbed himself in the brain, above the right ear.") ("You can see me in your third eye.")
As he passes the basketball court and comes to Newman Hall, he glances into the perennially empty first-level parking garage ("I don't know what he's talking about. We're quite full up all day long. Does this guy ever catch the sunlight?") and at the sign threatening that those without a permit will be towed. The drops of water from the condensing unit under the staircase echo vacantly and he imperceptibly quickens his pace.
Coming into the clearing of the 20th street intersection, the new halogen floodlight mounted in the parking lot of the Hillel Center startles him, and he burrows his eyebrows and squints to regain his clarity of vision while waiting for any cars to pass before crossing the street. ("We need the light for safety in the parking lot. Anyone outside that area is free to abide in their own outflowing darkness upon the earth.")
He usually glances at the neon signs surrounding the corner entrance of the Dobie Mall, but gains no information from that glance; the neon surrounds a placard proclaiming the logos of the various franchises serving at the food court, where he never eats, and they are too far away to make out from this distance anyway. He's not a student at the University, but he knows those who have been and are. He looks young and carries a backpack and would easily be mistaken for a student ("... but don't be fooled. He is an impostor. If you see the suspect, please call....").
The telephone lines running along the sidewalk on the next block are adorned with years-old children's sneakers, tied together by the laces. ("Single blue shoes seek feet. No pedophiles.") In front of the Hillel Center are three or four parked cars which have not moved in months. One white boat has five or six flyers under the windshield and more littering the curb near the leaves trapped under the tires ("I am a symbol of stagnation"). He thinks about letting the air out of the tires but notices someone is playing the guitar behind a car on the other side of the road. He catches a glimpse of his face as he bows down over his instrument and continues plucking.
Continuing along, (the impostor) pauses at the edge of the small circular driveway behind the neighboring Baptist church and peers behind him to see if anyone is about to drive up. He has only seen a car parked here once, but is eternally cautious. He glances at the sign ("Next Sunday: FEAR AND LOVING") and tries to have a heartfelt experience of the logos behind the words, a shoddy substitute for not attending services. The Episcopal church across 21st street also has a sign, but he usually forgets to read it. It is usually a generic weekly schedule, and he knows the churches are not communicating with each other through their signs. He wishes they would. If they talked to each other, he would have the chance to politely bend forward and scurry across the street between them, apologizing for interrupting. The Baptist church might snort and say, "Yes, excuse you," and the Episcopal church might say, "Certainly, young one, come visit sometime," and crank up the rock music streaming from a strange extension in the back. That corner of the building appeared to be a service entrance, with a metal grated door and venting near the ceiling provided by a disc-shaped pattern of missing bricks. He wondered sometimes if the extension housed a smelter -- if he could open the door and suddenly be immersed in a sea of hissing steam and fire, to see the youth pastor playing down the fire-and-brimstone description of hell, pointing to that smelter and saying, "That's not hell, kids; hell is other people. Rock on."
The endless procession of churches appears to end, as he turns right and heads up 21st Street. Taking care to look both ways for whoever may be utilizing the alley with reckless abandon, he crosses to find a block of businesses -- a typing service (tiny office, IBM Selectrics), a bagel factory (large metal vat o'erflowing with steam), a potato hut (inside and outside seating, second story view barely visible behind the stone wall along the descending sidewalk) -- and lo and behold, rounding the corner, the large black letters proclaiming that the building is the Church of Scientology. The Church apparently shares space with several businesses, and also practices selective adaptation to blend in with its surroundings: one of the pane glass walls around the entrance is painted with a colorful shining cross. ("L. Ron, it looks like both a business and a church! I hope you aren't sending the wrong message.")
He knows he's on the Drag now, suddenly finding the pedestrian traffic much denser, this particular area inhabited by the homeless and not-so-homeless teenagers affectionately called "drag rats" or "drag worms." ("Everybody loves them, they just don't love to give up their change.") He feels strangely drawn, yet repelled; apprehensive, but trusting -- a mixed bag of emotions left over from an extended adolescent fantasy. He gives the dogs a wide berth.
Finding his destination at the Metro coffeehouse, he walks in through the glass door ("WE HAVE NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS", a cheery note announces, which only seems to increase the chance of vandalism in the boy's room) and finds the air shrieking with the pained sounds of terrible music. He theorizes that this mood music is at least an unconscious attempt at crowd control by the hair-beslicked swingster behind the counter. The speakers conveniently drown out the second-story smoking section, keeping its tenants aggravated and willing to leave, while the relative peace and comfort downstairs set the perfect mood for the smooth talker to wow the ladies. Purr, pussy, purr. ("I'll act friendly if it's a chick I wanna fuck.")
This isn't going to work. The impostor walks past the counter with an air of the temporary, trying to express by his demeanor the intent to take a quick look for his friends before deciding to order. Unfortunately for him, he knows they aren't present. He tells himself that the crass music and arrogant staff overshadow any chance to enjoy his stay. He does not stop his feet. At the top of the stairs he stands on tiptoes and pretends to survey the patrons, immediately returning down, not glancing at the employee, not smiling, turning further inside himself -- to scavenge.
Glass and blood are all around her. The ground they share is barren and desolate, the sky gray and cold. She can tell that a terrible war has taken place. She has been watching her companion for a long time. It was early in the morning when she arrived; the companion was already there. Now the noonday sun is high above them. When she arrived her companion had these words for her: "The sun does not shine here. There is no longer a sun."
She replied: "You cannot deny the sun by pointing to yourself, and you cannot deny yourself by pointing to the sun."
Her companion has not spoken to her since she uttered those words. As she watches him, he chants to himself, over and over, endlessly, monotonously: "...zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit."
She does not know what the words mean. She looks behind herself -- there is an ocean behind her, an infinite ocean, and it nauseates her. Germaine grows weary of the nausea. She looks behind her companion; before that she had only stared at him.
Behind her companion lie the remains of a great bridge. The bridge has been burned. She does not understand this bridge -- she does not understand this burned bridge. A bridge is a transitional device -- it is a structure that provides passage over a grave danger. But this bridge could not possibly go anywhere: on the other side of this bridge land has ceased to exist -- there is no other side. The great bridge cannot be imagined or conceived; symbols cannot capture or represent it. Though it is of this earth -- it is a philosophy of the future -- it is the madness of a god mocked. The great bridge is not a knowledge, discipline, technique, desire or belief -- it has no end and no approach. In denying nothing, it enforces rather than limits interpretation. It cannot be read or indexed. It signifies nothing and has no relation to anything. With no historical breath, its multiplicity is unbounded. The great bridge -- it is an anti-project.
An infinite coldness emanates from everything associated with the bridge. It fills her with fear. It swells up within her. Her temples throb. She makes the pain go away by imagining that the remains of the bridge do not exist. She imagines that the project of the bridge does not exist. But the cold stays with her. The infinite cold of the bridge is not rooted in thought alone.
Her companion is still repeating, over and over, the same words: "...zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt."
Finally she says: "I do not know that language. Tell me what the words mean."
With sharp eyes that stare through her, her companion replies: "I speak all languages. In your language the words are `condemned to be free.' The meaning of these words, it is universal."
She is quiet. Then she asks: "What do I call you? What is your name? What has happened here?"
The companion is silent. Then he speaks: "There has been a terrible war. The ground we stand on is dead; it has been razed and can no longer give birth. At its core it is rotten. I am a survivor. The rest have gone underground -- they dig day and night, but they will never reach bottom. They seek outside themselves; but what they seek can be found only through the bridge."
"The bridge is coldness. I wish it did not exist."
"You are like those that went underground."
She is silent for a moment. She shivers, and then she says: "I am not like those that went underground." Then she continues: "But I am cold. Tell me a story. It will warm me."
Her companion replies: "I have no more stories. This glass that you see spread out before me, this glass that covers the barren ground we stand on -- this was my greatest story. I illuminated a dead sun -- I started a terrible war; it was the preface to the great bridge. But the others, they did not understand, they went underground -- and before they left they destroyed the great bridge I had begun work on. I was still alive -- but I could not fight back; it was not until my death that I was truly born. Because of this, no longer am I a storyteller -- no one reads with proximity: they were not ready for my stories -- my storytelling was a vast geography -- mountains, valleys, chasms, a series of scriptures unto itself-my stories demanded close attention; because of this, the lack of close readers, no longer will I teach the meaning of existence." He stops for a moment; then he continues: "I was born only after I died; but it was not a reward, it was, and remains, a punishment of the gods: I will never sleep, never will I have rest. Immortality is a punishment, not a reward."
"Tell me the meaning of this bridge. Where will it go?"
The companion speaks loudly: "The two lines-you are sick with them. You are not ready for the meaning of the bridge. Your gift of silence can only be a gift that takes -- you know no other logic. There is a great storm coming. I can see and hear it. Leave me alone in order that I might prepare for this storm." Then he begins repeating over and over: "...zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit verurteilt, zur Freiheit." She steps close to him and says: "But I am cold. And I am in a foreign land. If there is a storm coming, then I will need something to keep me warm. You are stronger than I. You see and hear what cannot be seen or heard, what does not yet exist. If you are truly strong, then you will not leave me in the cold."
"You must first answer one question. Thoughts are only signs, the words of a body never allowed to speak for itself. From where do your thoughts come?"
"From the depths of an infinite cold that is my spirit."
"You are wrong: my vision is not as clear as you think it is -- or maybe your vision is stronger than you think. Friend, you speak your truth; now I speak my truth. I myself do not understand the great bridge you ask about. The riddle of its secret is that it is a future bridge -- a bridge not to but against -- yet I know not what this means. This is why I have not attempted to rebuild the great bridge. It is too dangerous. Nonetheless, my new friend, you have spoken your truth; in gratitude, I give you a gift. It is a gift that does not take. It is not my story; this is the story of another, the story of one who is yet to be born. But it will warm you. I tell you The Story of the Clock."
The companion tells her the story; when he finishes, there is only silence. And then he speaks again: "I must leave you. If you wish to leave, then you must do so alone. I cannot help you. If you wish to leave, do not turn away from the bridge. One leaves this barren land only by solving the problem of the great bridge."
As he leaves he tries to give her a timepiece. "It chimes every hour on the hour. If you choose to count the strokes, do not miscount them -- they are the strokes of your being."
She replies: "Friend, keep your time-piece. The terrain of my journey is not bound by the time told by your clock. I am my own time. I will remain always a great dancer, a bright-cheeked child of innocence who cries havoc, a child whose inner strength knows no bounds. I am a center that holds. I am my own center. Living beyond the shadow of your dead sun, I have yet to die. And because of this I greet each day with an igneous desire comparable only to the fingers of an over-anxious lover. I listened closely to The Story of the Clock. Proximity was my gift. Now you must return to me only as a gift, only if you have a gift that does not take. Come back to me only when you neither burrow into the earth like a mole nor fight against the sky like an impotent god. Though you are not an infinite alpinist, a will to nothingness, your descent is always an offense. Your aerial coldness is only a no-saying, your lack of mortality an eternal no-acting."
There is silence. And then she is alone. A cold rain starts to fall. A great storm is on the horizon.
May the grace of God be with you forever and ever.
"Amen," she whispered, rubbing her eyes with her hands and falling into a prone position on the floor from the kneeling stance she had maintained for the past fourteen hours. Her brother had been in a car accident two days ago and was now comatose in the ICU at Brackenridge. The doctors said his chances of pulling through were slim, and she didn't know how to help but pray. Now, her muscles were numb, and, not being able to feel, all she could do was think. She realized this was how her brother must be, dead to the world and trapped inside his head. "This is what hell is," she slowly mouthed, waiting.
Old rabbinical commentary states that the saddest person in the Bible is Methuselah, because he lived to be 985 years old, and that is all the Bible has to say about him. Methuselah was the first caretaker of the entropy garden.
"So why did you stop going to church?"
"I stopped believing in God. Seemed kinda pointless after that."
"And what brought on your disbelief?"
"Doubt. Simple doubt."
"But that's what church is for: to conquer your doubt by reinforcing your faith."
"Church only amplified my doubt by discussing God. He went from being ineffable to a bunch of disparate attributes that had to somehow be reconciled in an illogical fashion to be consistent. I've already got enough of that just by being alive."
She sang a love ballad in Japanese, and my inability to comprehend her words magnified her beauty.
Universalists are looked down upon by fundamentalists as liberal goody two-shoes because they believe that everybody gets to go to heaven. It's a nice sentiment, really: no worrying about belong to the right religion or adhering to the correct creeds and dogma; no need to get into the faces of unbelievers and threaten them with damnation of they don't join your club; and no reason to live life except to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. It sounds a lot like utopia, but it does raise an intriguing question. Is there no escape from heaven?
In the epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim survives the great flood by building a boat and is bestowed immortality by the Gods. Noah's reward in the Bible is a rainbow and a covenant from God never to destroy the world again. Noah promptly got smashed because he knew the human race was still a bunch of unrighteous bastards.
The sex of God steams in warm springs in the recesses of the wilderness.
"If there was a button that would destroy the world, would you push it?"
"You are truly awful."
"It's better than watching the world languish in agony."
Little Jackie asked for a cigarette on her tenth birthday, horrifying her parents. "The air has no taste," she said. "I want to be able to taste the breath that feeds me."
The angel bled evil from the open wound in its chest. Drops landed in obsidian dollops on the leaves in the tree where it was perched, withering the foliage with crinkling noises. It's easy to kill angels if you have a high-power rifle, a keen eye, and the inclination to wipe out anything without free will.
He was waiting for the bus to arrive, and the temperature was near freezing. The man kept trying to zip up his jacket, but each time he grabbed the zipper, a horrible cough would overtake him, involuntarily pulling the zipper further down. After about five attempts, he gave up and took the jacket off. He did not cough.
I keep hearing people say that there is scientific evidence that the soul exists because when the body expires, it weighs a minute amount less that when it was alive. This, they argue, is the soul escaping from its shell to heaven. True, God did animate Adam by infusing within him the breath of life in Genesis, but if the soul can be physically measured, is its value related to its size? I have more gastrointestinal fluids than soul.
"You place too much blame on yourself."
"I am the best scapegoat I know."
"But everything that happens to you isn't your fault."
"Is this one of your 'I am the smooth pebble in a raging stream' lead-ins?"
"Right now, your riverbed is only caked mud."
They are all strangers in close proximity, circling one another in declining orbits.
She walks slowly in the maze of cubicles, Elizabethan hair falling down between her shoulder blades. Coworkers hustle by her with papers in hand, but she does not change her pace nor become perturbed. Her work will wait because she knows the secret of time, and you can almost see it right before she closes her eyes when she clocks in.
Cribbed notes gleamed from the planned obsolescence of human beings betray the myth of logocentrisim at the heart of western civilization, removing not only the central tenets of society but the need for them as well. Where do we go from here? The maw of chaos, with its toothless grin of randomness/hidden order, is open to greet all.
He looks at himself in the mirror, studying the growing number of wrinkles on his face. The lighting fixture in the bathroom ceiling flickers occasionally, creating a brief strobing effect, and the man scratches absentmindedly underneath his left eye as he watches himself. "We are always on the verge of being wrong," he mutters.
--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) 1999 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 <email@example.com>. 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--