Dear Whoever You Are (23 April – 4 May 2018)


24 April: Incel Rebellion

The freshly minted terror tactic of deliberately bumping up onto sidewalks and plowing through crowds of people is as banally ingenious as it is truly terrorizing. With each fresh copycat attack, sidewalk strollers the world over are getting ever more antsy whenever a car is spotted accelerating for no apparent reason. So it was last week when the method was again deployed to murder 10 people on a busy street in Toronto. As the news broke, we all instantly assumed this was another “Allahu Akbar” shouting ISIS devotee. Apparently not. As it turns out, the perpetrator, Alek Minassian, was just a sad and lonely young man profoundly aggrieved about his chronic inability to get laid.

Radicalized through sketchy subreddit online chat forums, like most terrorists, Minassian is an “Incel” devotee. Me neither, until now. Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate”, a so-called movement that would be more aptly named “Sefa” for “sexual failure”. It is an online community of seriously douchey men who obsess about “Chads”, males who are sexually successful solely by virtue of their God-given good looks and “Stacys”, the sexy sluts who fuck them. Incels have convinced themselves that the Stacys they covet are eternally unattainable. Why? Because Stacys will never have a flicker of sexual desire for genetically disadvantaged beta males such as themselves. That’s correct. In a staggering testament to loserishness, not to mention bald laziness, Incels have zero motivation to embark on a diet of personality self-improvement because they are possessed by the psychotic belief that bimbo Stacys will only ever be turned on by Chads with diamond-cut bodies and chiseled features. Accordingly, they are sexually doomed by genetic predetermination.

Sure, most of them are harmless self-pitying nobodies, babyishly resigned to a wholly manufactured sense of helplessness, who roam the edges of the Internet for likeminded company. However, a splinter group of the more unhinged Incels have gone so far as to liken their “movement” to Marxism, they being akin to the downtrodden proletariat and Chads to the bourgeoisie. This is why, with violent revolution on his blistered mind, Minassian posted on Facebook his allegiance to the “Incel Rebellion”*, aka the “Beta Uprising”, shortly before his deadly rampage. Curiously, none of the bitterness and rage is directed at the Chads, presumably because they too have no control over the genetic royal flush they were dealt at birth. No, in order to upend the unfair and unjust sexual status quo it is the bubble-headed Stacys, who choose to be sexual elitists, who must be eliminated. It is no coincidence that most of Minassian’s victims were women. He was aiming for them.

The “Incel Rebellion” is nothing short of a declaration of war on women. There is no political or religious basis to it. It is empty hatred. Incels are so psychotically disengaged from reality, they haven’t even taken the time to look around and observe that most men are just as much on the “losing end” of the genetic lottery they rail against as themselves. To underscore the point, here is a picture of Minassian:

Through the prism of the Marxist paradigm, the proletariat ferment understandable resentment because the minority bourgeoisie actually do, in fact, control the majority of the wealth. However, it is deluded fantasy for Incels to complain that the minority Chads have cornered the sexual market on the majority of the Stacys. Even if that were true, if the Stacys are the worthless conniving bitches they are made out to be, why would the Incels even want them? Presumably, only for sexual gratification. Because that is impossible, the only solution is to kill them. The vertiginous magnitude of the misogyny is breathtaking.

This is why some significant percentage of me wishes Minassian had been shot dead by the arresting Toronto police officer rather than being taken into custody peacefully as he was. After all, undoubtedly suddenly aware of his moral insolvency and the enormity of the brainless crime he had just committed, he pleaded with the officer to kill him before finally surrendering.

As you like and good riddance, I say.

Crush this pathetic rebellion.

Preferably by running it over…

*Inspired by a warped manifesto penned by Elliot Rodger, the “Supreme Gentleman”, prior to his 2014 killing spree in Isla Vista, California: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Isla_Vista_killings#Victims

~

25-30 April: Vive la Belgique!

I was in Belgium, Brussels and Bruges specifically, for a few days this past weekend. I know, great big YAWN, right? Wrong! I’m at quite a loss as to why this lovely little country gets the snooty cold shoulder from its larger neighbors. The French, in particular, consistently make Belgians the butt of their consistently unfunny jokes. Here are just a few reasons why Belgium is cooler than France:

Beer: There is a staggering variety of top quality beer in Belgium. When we took a boat tour of the Bruges canals (put it on your bucket list!) our guide identified one of the many pointy turreted medieval buildings as a beer museum that houses over 1,200 beers all of which are available for consumption. I could happily spend a month in that place alone. Here in France, you have a choice between Kronenbourg 1664 (which makes Bud Light seem like a rich flavor orgasm) and regular Kronenberg (which makes Kronenbourg 1664 seem like a rich flavor orgasm). Both will cost you approximately 1664.00€ for a 25 cl glass (a measly half pint) in an average Parisian brasserie. And that is only in the unlikely event one of the army of sneering waiters, loafing around smoking and chatting haughtily with one another, ever bothers to muster the energy to come over and serve you. In Belgium, you can order a 75 cl glass (that’s a whopping pint and a half, gentlemen!) for about 5-6€. It will be served to you quickly and cheerfully and you won’t need to order another one because there’s so much alcohol in it you’ll wake up the next morning in someone else’s underpants still burbling drunk.

“French” fries: As diabolically unhealthy as they are delicious, proper “frites” aren’t French at all. They are a singularly Belgian invention dating back to the 17th Century. Today, within a stone’s throw from most Belgian streets, you can buy a large cone of fresh deep-fried frites for a few euros that will come swimming in mayonnaise, ketchup or any other poutine-like sauce your imagination can concoct. Included in the price, ambulances are on standby to rush you to hospital in case your heart joyfully explodes. Here in France, if you order a “Steak-frites”, one square inch of your plate will be occupied by bleeding beef and the rest will be piled high with fingers of soggy ash-grey material that may or may not have once been potatoes. When you drop to the floor in convulsions over the 1664.00€ bill your sneering waiter has finally gotten around to flinging on your table before vanishing for another grumpy smoke break, you will die there.

Cafés: Even though their origin is neither French nor Belgian (Vienna laying claim to that honor), there are real cafés in Belgium. Contrary to popular belief, the French café crowded with hip, beret-wearing artists is a total myth. I have come across one or two in Paris after living here for over a year. But heaven help you if you want a latte. The best you’ll get here is a cappuccino that is 90% foam and 10% lukewarm espresso. After that, you could try a café crème which is 90% frothy cream and 10% lukewarm espresso. No, if you want an honest and decent hot latte, your only choice in France is, believe it or not, Starbucks. It too will cost you 1664.00€ but at least, while you vainly try and stave off the inevitable brain aneurysm over the price, you can hang out with Americans and/or their MacBook Airs. In Belgium, there are reasonably priced real cafés dotting your Google Maps app everywhere. There is one in Bruges that has about 20 different varieties of latte! When I suggested to my coffee-crazed wife that I could fuck off to the beer museum while she stayed there, she declined on the grounds we would never see each other again.

Chocolate: Personally, I could care less about chocolate but I’m aware that most people do, some to the point of religious fervor. While chocolate shops are ubiquitous throughout France, guess what they are full of? Correct. Belgian chocolate (admittedly with some top-drawer Swiss and German varieties thrown into the mix). In any case, strolling through the streets of Belgium, you are often struck by the sensation you are literally inhaling chocolatey sugar with every breath. This perpetually activates the pleasure center in the brain’s frontal cortex, releasing wave after wave of dopamine, and is one of the many explanations for why Belgians are so happy.

I figure, just on these food and drink grounds alone, I could easily rest my case. But there are other things too. For example, Brussels is a prettier city than Paris. There, I said it. Sure, it’s not as majestic and well-maintained but it’s buildings, un-levelled by war like those in Paris, are more varied, colorful, and interesting (watch out for all the ones adorned with delightful murals in homage to The Adventures of Tintin by the great Belgian cartoonist Hergé!) Its neighborhoods have a diversity and grittiness that remind me very much of my beloved Montreal. It’s multilingual and multinational, the headquarters of NATO, the de facto capital of the EU*, got real parks (i.e. where trees and plants are allowed to grow where they want) and pissing statues. Pissing statues! What more could you ask for?!

Oh, and this romantic nonsense about La Résistance during World War II? Little Belgium, with only a fraction of the population, had a significantly bigger and more effective resistance movement than France.

To French readers, if any: before you send in your death threats, let me return to food and drink once more. What I adore about living in Paris is the eating and drinking culture here. A recent study shows that the work-shy French spend far more of their time and money engaged in eating and drinking than any other country in the world (yes, that includes glutinous Italy). Everywhere, all the time, the bars, bistros, brasseries, restaurants, etc., are packed and lively and nowhere in the world has a cooler, more extensive terrasse culture where you can sit year-round courtesy of heat lamps that are installed in winter. Personally, little in life makes me happier than sitting outside on a terrasse bending the elbow and people watching. Which makes it all the more mysterious that another recent study shows that the French are the most miserable, unhappy people in Europe (yes, that includes the gloomy old former Soviet republics).

Go figure.

Or just go to Belgium if you want happiness – it’s only an hour’s train ride from Paris!

* Which is not a fucking “European Project” as insufferable, condescending Eurosceptics dub it. Projects are finite endeavors such as those handed out in 8th grade science class. Come see the EU Parliament and all the massive EU institutions in Brussels and tell me it’s a “project”. Anyway, this will be a rant for another day…

~

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (16-22 April 2018)


18 April: Is there anybody out there?

Did you get excited last February, almost to the point of sexual arousal, viewing those images streaming back after Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched and coughed into outer space his cherry-red convertible Tesla Roadster? Me too. “Starman” mannequin astronaut behind the wheel, clad in a functioning SpaceX flight suit, left arm casually slung out the window, wholly unperturbed by the staggering lonesome vastness of space all around him, dashboard screen displaying “DON’T PANIC”, an infinite playback loop blasting David Bowie’s Space Oddity into the heavens for the next several million years the car is expected to sling around the sun in a long elliptical orbit somewhere between Mars and the Asteroid Belt.

Greatest advertising gimmick and, arguably, piece of pop art of all time! GAGOAT! GPOPAOAT!

Today, SpaceX was at it again with another successful launch from Cape Canaveral. This time the payload was the refrigerator-sized Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, fondly dubbed TESS by the eggheads at MIT and NASA who are all, ahem, aTwitter about it. While TESS may sound as eye-wateringly dull as Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel of the same name*, this is some all-in 21st Century shit. TESS’s predecessor, the Kepler Space Telescope currently running out of fuel, was jaw-droppingly successful in identifying 5,000 exoplanets (those outside of our solar system) from a miniscule field of view. Now, over its 2-year mission, TESS will scrutinize an area of sky 400 times greater and is expected to identify a good 20,000 relatively nearby exoplanets within the “habitable zone”, i.e. those where liquid water can exist on the surface and are therefore ripe for life.

For fear of intoning like Carl Sagan, it’s worth remembering that the Hubble Space Telescope has identified more than 200 billion galaxies on top of our own grain-of-sand-on-the-beach Milky Way. Bearing that in mind, it is basically mathematically impossible that extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist elsewhere in the universe. It is basically mathematically impossible that a variety of extraterrestrial life significantly more advanced than ours doesn’t exist elsewhere in the universe. Why then haven’t the aliens popped by, via their local wormhole, with some fireside cautionary tales? Probably because Einstein was right: nothing can travel faster than the speed of light (a snappy 299,792,458 meters per second) and so, even if travel at that speed were possible, it would take centuries if not millennia just to discover a bit of rock with some moss growing on it. For perspective, it would take 20,000 years to travel from one side of the Milky Way to the other at the speed of light. And so, the ever-listening rows of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) radio dishes silhouetted darkly against the hard-blue California sky, like giant stoic sentinels, have so far only ever heard the ancient static buzz of space noise.

What then is the point of even sending TESS out there if the end game is to discover potentially life-supporting worlds that can never be explored? Because we are lonely, I think. At the end of the day, and despite our wretched propensity to mistreat each other upon the least provocation, all 7.6 billion of us collectively feel an impenetrable gloom and lonesomeness to think that we are “It”, adrift and alone on this boundless cosmic sea until we die and the relentless passage of time grinds into space dust everything we ever said or did. And if, against overwhelming mathematical probability, we are “It” surely our existence is proof of God. Then we really do get depressed contemplating our epic failure (or God’s, if it provides you with an emotional salve to think so).

But cheer up! Millions of years after Humankind has been eradicated by an extinction event (perhaps even the current one), it’s time in cosmic terms as fleeting as a spark’s, “Starman” will still be rocking out to David Bowie in his convertible sportscar all ready to greet the aliens on our behalf! But still, the infinite playback loop would perhaps more appropriately have been Roger Waters’ dark haunting voice pleading the inky depths: “Is there anybody out there?”**

*Full name is actually Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. Throw your opiate-based sleeping pills away. One page of this novel will put you into a deep coma you will be unhappy to wake up from three months later.

**From Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Ask your parents and/or have a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQoZsXaEZ4M

Tesla in Space

~

20 April: Show me your colon!

Also last February, I endured the misfortune of turning 50. Not long after, and still sulking about it, I had a routine checkup with my GP. She informed me, with an unmistakable glint of malice in her eye, “a man your age should strongly consider getting a colonoscopy.” Suppressing a powerful urge to get up, walk behind her desk, and slap her (especially considering she is a good 10 years older than me), I said through gritted teeth, “A what?”

“A colonoscopy. Men your age can be prone to colon cancer. A man your age should also get his prostate checked.”

“I’m surprised a witch your age hasn’t long retired from the practice of quackery,” I muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking to myself that I’m so young, I don’t even know what a colonoscopy is. Please enlighten me, doctor.”

And she did, with not a little relish in her voice. It turns out that a colonoscopy considerably broadens (or lengthens, more accurately) the meaning of taking it in the ass. The procedure involves inserting through the anus a flexible tube upon which is mounted a fiberoptic camera. This aptly named “endoscope” then slithers through the ho-hum rectum before brazenly invading all 1.5 meters of large bowel, i.e. the colon, hungrily searching for potentially precancerous polyps it is equipped to lop off with a laser knife.

“A laser knife!” I bellowed at the witch.

“Oh, and by the way,” she concluded dryly, “during the examination, air will be blown up into your bowel to smooth out its walls.”

Well, this morning, two months later, I was finally coaxed into the American Hospital here in Paris on the understanding the procedure would be performed under general anesthetic.

“Close your eyes and think nice thoughts,” said the kindly old anesthesiologist.

“You mean something other than the fact that masked guy over there is about to anally shiv me with 1.5 meters of laser-armed tubing?”

“Yes, something other than that.”

I closed my eyes and as the eruptions of false, psychedelic colors on the backs of my eyelids slowly turned to black, the last image that went through my mind was a closeup of the monstrous Xenomorph in Alien slowly opening up its double jaws and drooling acidic slime through countless rows of razor-sharp teeth.

All’s well that ends well though! After 30 minutes, I woke up in intensive care to a pleasingly endowed infirmière holding my hand and cooing “Ça va, Monsieur Aandrooo?”

“Am I?” I snarled.

“Pas de polypes! Prostate magnifique!”

“Well, thanks fuck for that.”

Less than an hour after that, I was nursing a beer in my beloved Jardin du Luxembourg, feeling grateful with the sun on my face, but still actively resenting my many friends hovering in and around their mid-thirties. To those of you reading this, if any, you can now pick yourselves up off the floor from all the laughter at my expense because I have news for you: the 15 years between the ages of 35 and 50 will evaporate quicker than winking. It’s not like that eternity between 20 and 35 where you feel so young for so long you may as well be immortal.

No, my flowers, sooner than you can possibly imagine, it will be your turn to face the beast as you confront your now undeniably wilting features each morning in the mirror… and then be asked to assume the position.

Alien monster

~

22 April: Appetite for Destruction

Nowhere is the untrammeled destruction of the environment, courtesy of reckless human activity, more soberingly apparent than in the massive plastic garbage patches found in the world’s oceans. Most notorious, the Pacific Trash Vortex that grimly roams between California and Hawaii is larger than the state of Texas, dwarfing even the size of the Tweeter-in-Chief’s ego, and growing exponentially each year.

The statistics on our plastic addiction are heart stopping:

  • 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the globe with only 14% ever recycled;
  • 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year;
  • 1 million + seabirds are killed each year from plastic entanglement and ingestion;
  • 3 billion metric tons is the estimated weight of plastic ever produced;
  • 9% is the estimated percentage of plastic ever recycled;
  • 450 years is the average time it takes for a plastic bottle to completely degrade in the ocean;
  • 2050 is the year in which it is estimated there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Perhaps with less high-fiving and back-slapping than when they stumbled upon Viagra, scientists were still immensely chuffed when they announced last week they had accidentally created a mutant enzyme (Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, if you must know) that can literally eat polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic used in the manufacturing of plastic bottles. There is cautious optimism that the discovery will revolutionize the recycling industry with even some conjecture that PET-munching bugs might be sprayed on the ocean’s plastic garbage patches to clean them up.

Pretty cool, right? Sure, but I always wonder if announcements such as these provoke us to discard what little restraints we have on our already ravenous and unsustainable consumption. Personally, I’m already feeling less guilty about my Diet Coke addiction even though this promising breakthrough is only in its infancy. We are naturally self-destructive. For example, would a smoker struggling to quit continue to bother if news broke that a serious breakthrough had been made in lung cancer treatment? Don’t we sort of need the urgency of our imminent demise to rein in our baser appetites, even if only a little?

I don’t really know. Does it really matter at the end of the day? I abandoned myself to the pleasure principle at birth and have been known to shout from the rooftops in a bacchanalian frenzy “Long live the id!”

I suppose now I could add to that “Long live Diet Coke!”

Pacific garbage patch

~

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (9-15 April 2018)


9 April 2018: Armando Iannucci’s Death of Stalin

All Russia all the time! Just kidding. I can obsess on certain things but, seeing as my attention span can be measured in fractions of seconds, this should be it for a while.

I had some apprehension about going to see this film because it is a political satire comedy based on the French bande dessinée La mort de Staline and we all know what happens when the French perennially turn their hand to comedy: you’ll get more laughs at the funeral parlor. Nevertheless, I was still keen to see one of my all-time favorites, Steve Buscemi. You don’t? Re-watch the blood orgy Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s best film bar none, and you’ll remember how much you’ve loved him ever since. As a side note, forget about figuring out how to pronounce Buscemi. A tedious debate interminably drones on about it, between the terminally bored, on the Internet* (but, of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that).

A bald-headed and bloated Buscemi delivers, creepier and toothier than ever, in his tilt portraying reformist Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s eventual successor after the absurd (but not entirely off the mark, historically) power jockeying amongst the senior leaders of the Central Committee which the movie focusses on. So does the rest of the mostly British, and accordingly quirky, cast. As another side note, if the lovably awkward dolt who plays Molotov seems familiar and you can’t place him, that’s Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. You don’t? Ask your parents and, if they give you any shit about smoking pot again, ask your grandparents. You’ll be vindicated.

I just realized this is sounding an awful lot like a movie review which was not the original intention. I was most struck, morbidly as usual, by the notably unfunny scene close to the end where a screaming and frothing at the mouth Lavrentiy Beria, as malevolently duplicitous and power-hungry in real life as Simon Russell Beale plays him, is dragged to a dreary courtyard and summarily executed with a single gunshot to the head following a kangaroo hearing led by Khrushchev. His fat corpse, splayed out on blood-drenched snow, is then doused in gasoline and set ablaze, his devastated smoldering remains contemptuously shoveled into a burning oil drum. The camera lingers for a moment on the black ashes being blown about, helter-skelter, into an angry winter sky glaring down over a bleak Russian landscape. The peculiar blend of pure terror, defiance, and resignation when confronted with the great levelling finality of imminent death, the violent reduction to nothing (with not a little shame I admit to having downloaded repeatedly the awful video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and studied the expression on his face), I’m exploring in my book.

Until then, enjoy the movie!

*Yes, I capitalize “Internet” and I don’t give a fuck.

~

11 April: This is Your Digital Life

I have been watching with curious amusement the data scandal that has engulfed Facebook these past few weeks. In case you have only just returned from being stranded on a desert island, in mid-March it surfaced that back in 2014 some personal data of as many as 87 million Facebook users was improperly (not illegally) harvested via a quiz app called “This is Your Digital Life” and shared with British firm Cambridge Analytica to create psychological profiles of U.S. and U.K. knuckleheads…er, I mean voters. Since this so-called revelation, the outrage has been so clamorous Facebook has lost $60 billion in market capitalization to date, a contrite Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to Congress for a 2-day grilling (during which he spent half his time explaining to those old geezers what Facebook actually is), and a #deletefacebook campaign was hatched that went viral.

However, unlike its recent #MeToo predecessor, are people genuinely so shocked by the “violation” of their online privacy? So far, there is no evidence that Facebook’s 2.2 billion monthly active users are shuttering their accounts en masse, Facebook’s advertisers are staying the course, and savvy investors are making easy money scooping up cheap Facebook shares that will profitably re-inflate as surely as the sun will rise. Why? Conventional analysis suggests that the public, after actively undertaking a painstaking cost-benefit analysis, lets out a collective sigh of resignation and then overwhelmingly opts to surrender personal data to advertisers in order to indirectly pay for the awesomeness of free platforms offered by the likes of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google/Gmail, YouTube, Messenger, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Reddit, Tmblr, and so on. The conclusion is that only government regulation of big bad tech can save the public from being so exploited by its own imprudent choice.

But doesn’t it go beyond that? With each click of a Facebook reaction button, you are aware that you are building a digital personality. You get a kick out of knowing how your choices and reactions to things are being tracked and monitored by powerful AI algorithms which, with each passing day, more accurately profile how cool you are through your tailored newsfeeds, suggestions for music on Spotify, TV content on Netflix, products on Amazon, etc. Even Porn Hub accurately nails your heretofore unknown predilection for watching MILF midgets engaging in interracial gangbangs. You sit back in your desk chair, surrounded by sodden Kleenexes, and are seized by the feeling that your devices, seamlessly synced with each other, know you better than some of the closest people in your life.

This is only natural considering we spend infinitely more time communicating with our devices than we do with in-the-flesh human beings. With the exception of protecting our online financial data, we don’t want digital privacy. We want digital intimacy. The nascent rise of AI-powered digital home assistants, currently led by Amazon Echo and Google Home, and virtual reality platforms, will only intensify that desire into the future. If we’re honest, we’re probably more gripped by fear at the prospect of our governments regulating our relationships with our machines than anything else. Of course, some people dispense with privacy all together, such as the alarming many who post on social media naked pictures of their toddlers, a prosecutable career-ending offence if the same images were published on the dark web. At the other end of the spectrum, my mother is deeply apprehensive about anything plugged into a power outlet, including the toaster. Even my wife half-jokes about putting tape over her laptop camera just in case beady-eyed Jeff Bezos himself is peering through it checking out what décor might better suit our home.

For myself, I will strap on my VR crash helmet as we hurtle toward the singularity and the end of humanity. In the meantime, I’ll re-watch Her* (but only after logging into Facebook and taking the quiz ‘If you were the moon and the moon was made of cheese, which cheese would you be?’)

*Starring the great Joaquín Phoenix and well worth checking out. Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4

~

15 April: Louder than Barrel Bombs

The only thing surprising about waking up yesterday morning to the news of coordinated American-led strikes on beleaguered Groznified Syria (the U.K. and France also chipping in), was that they hadn’t occurred earlier in the week upon confirmation that craven dictator, Bashar Assad, had once again deployed chemical weapons to murder his own people. Of course, the strikes had to be delayed after America’s own craven dictator, Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump, broadcast via infantile tweet #1,564,289 advance warning of incoming “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles. Didn’t Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s exhausted face this past week remind you of the figure in Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’? If I were him, I’d have disencumbered myself of the stress over my T-in-C compromising military strategy by re-watching Jeff Flake’s ‘I will not be complicit or silent’ Senate floor speech, typing up my resignation letter, tossing back a stiff drink, and sleeping like a baby until the next election.

Nevertheless, as delayed as it was, the strike was undoubtedly the right thing to do. In his televised address to the nation the T-in-C quite rightly invoked, twice, the carnage wrought by chemical weapons in World War I and the global imperative that followed banning their use. At almost the same time last year, Syria and Russia (I lied! All Russia all the time!) tested whether the new Washington administration would be as much of a pussy about the “red line” as the previous one. Their answer came in the form of 59 cruise missiles that allegedly degraded the Syrian air force by up to 20 percent. After the T-in-C recklessly tweeted his isolationist twaddle about ending American engagement in Syria three weeks ago, his “red line” resolve was again tested. This time 105 Tomahawks eventually rained down on three separate targets which have allegedly significantly degraded Syria’s chemical weapons production and stockpile.

Vladimir Putin is predictably incandescent and has characterized the strikes as an attack on Russia itself. This must make the T-in-C particularly gleeful as he is extremely anxious to smack down the growing impression that, despite all his tough guy mobsterish bluster about virtually everything, at the end of the day he is little more than Putin’s bitch. Too bad he can’t now keep his mouth shut. No, instead he is gloating “mission accomplished!” and one wonders of those two words will dog him to the same extent as they did Dubya after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Probably not, but as heroic old maverick Senator John McCain points out, as necessary as these strikes are they are not connected to any broader strategy in Syria. With this horrific civil war (and proxy war for regional and super powers) grinding into its seventh year, with no end in sight, one is urgently required.

As unlikely as it may be, if the T-in-C could pull off foreign policy wins in Syria and North Korea, he would be much better positioned to make like Don Corleone and invite Putin and Xi to the White House to kiss his rings (or his orange ass, as he sees fit).

~

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (2-8 April 2018)


3 April 2018: Denkmal

“So, how was Vienna?” asked my Dutch physiotherapist the day after my long Easter Weekend in the city.

A tough question. I explained to him that my wife and I were constantly reminded of Bonn and Berlin. It was easy to forget we were in Austria, not Germany. Little wonder that prior to German Confederation in 1871, debate raged about whether Austria should be included (Bismarck and the Prussians categorically saying “nein” to a unified Germany under Austrian Habsburg rule). In any case, I explained we were both expecting more of a baroque fairytale land with old narrow streets that you could imagine a champagne and snuff addled Mozart staggering along. I think, though, because we are living in Paris surrounded by block after block of creamy beaux-arts architectural grandeur, little else seems too impressive in comparison.

On top of that, I told him the usual blah blah about gorging on schnitzel, goulash, bratwurst, etc., while swilling Austrian beer, which also may as well have been German. Also, that I had neither seen so many horse drawn carriages in one city (I liked the little black bowler hats the drivers wore but small wonder the streets are not ankle-deep in horseshit) nor such stratospheric ceilings as found in the famous Coffee Houses. I blathered a bit about Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka at the Leopold Museum and Hunderdwasser. I admitted my ignorance about the Danube River starting in the Black Forest and draining into the Black Sea after flowing eastwards through ten countries. But what I got heated about was stumbling across the Soviet War Memorial, a 12-meter high figure of a Red Army soldier constructed by the Russians in 1945 in the Schwarzenbergplatz to commemorate the 17,000 Soviet soldiers killed in the Vienna Offensive.

I was appalled. “Why haven’t they torn that down!” I almost shouted at my wife. It’s no secret the soldiers of the Red Army, marauding under direct instruction from Stalin, committed atrocities and war crimes of such an epic nature in their rampage westwards across Europe, Reinhard Heydrich himself might have squirmed. Okay, maybe not. But still.

“It doesn’t matter. They were helping defeat the Nazis,” my wife said dryly with a resigned shrug. “There’s one in Berlin too. It’s Deutsche Schuld [German guilt].” Spluttering in disbelief, I reached for my phone and Wikipedia verified that in Berlin’s Tiergarten there is also a grand monument commemorating the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin.

“… so that’s why,” I said, as I concluded my rant to my physiotherapist two days later, “if it’s too politically volatile to dismantle these monuments, they should at least put up ones right next to them commemorating the innocent citizenry raped, tortured, and murdered by the Soviet forces who were allegedly liberating them. I understand it was deep revenge, and God knows they had reason, but do you really commemorate that shit and let it still stand?! It’s fucking 2018!”

My physiotherapist stared at me blankly and continued massaging my aching knee as if soothing a toddler who had just thrown a tantrum.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be really European. Just as I never really felt North American when I was living there. I’m so mid-Atlantically ripped in half, I may as well move to Iceland.

~

5 April 2018: How far would you go?

I wanted to believe that my left knee was getting better after the half-knee replacement 11 January. It’s not. It has been suffering painful complications and now there is a real possibility it will have to be replaced again in whole. My quality of life is deteriorating, not to mention progress on my book which is, in turn, depressing me. What I didn’t tell my physiotherapist about Vienna was how much I almost dreaded leaving the hotel to go out exploring because of the pain. As I lurched along the dimly lit Donaukanal (“Danube Canal”), through the long cold shadows, each evening to go to dinner with my wife in the Innere Stadt, wincing with each step, I honestly entertained the notion of what it must have been like to endure a death march.

I mean, I kept telling myself after each agonizing step, “don’t worry, in just a few more minutes, you’ll be sitting down in a warm cozy place, eating delicious Austrian cuisine.” Fine, delicious Austrian cuisine, which clocks in at about 4 billion calories per mouthful, is arguably more lethal than a death march, but I still shuddered at the idea of being marched across some frozen foreign hellscape to nowhere. In rags. Cold. Hungry. Injured. Marched under pain of death, or at least a beating, for so much as dawdling. Hour after hour. I wondered how long I would last, with my broken knee, before I would just collapse and be grateful for death. Hours? Days? Weeks? Then I wondered how long I would last if it wasn’t my life at stake if I didn’t keep marching. What if it was the life of someone I loved who would die if I didn’t keep going? How much further would I be able to push the limits of my endurance? Do I even have any endurance? Adrenalin? Sheer balls?

Or would I cave even faster under that pressure? What if the death march commandant said, “You can eat your schnitzel right now in a cozy little pub with a roaring fire, but friend X or family member Y will die.”

What would I do?

I hope the answer wouldn’t be: nom, nom, nom… pass the salt…

~

6 April 2018: Trade war, what is it good for?

“Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” proclaimed the Tweeter-in-Chief in a 6 March tweet. This is tantamount to a child saying, “oh, look at that boiling cauldron of water, I’m going to make believe it’s a cookie jar and go ahead and stick my hand in there.” It is well established that trade wars are never good for anyone and impossible to win. Unfortunately, The T-in-C steadfastly clings to the facile notion that trade deficits automatically mean your country is getting gang raped by its trading partners. Any pimply high school student who has taken an introductory course in economics will tell you that a trade deficit does not necessarily equal economic disadvantage. It often simply means that your trading partner needs fewer goods and services from you than you need from it. There is no inherent problem in that.

However, sometimes a trade deficit is a symptom of having entered into a “terrible deal” and there is no doubt that the U.S. has a legitimate bone to pick with China, especially in regard to China’s shameless poaching of intellectual property (i.e. technological know-how) as the price of admission to its leviathan markets. But instead of storming away from the TPP in a huff, forever threatening to replace the rolls of toilet paper in the White House with the NAFTA agreement, and lacing up the gloves for an unwinnable bout with China, why doesn’t the T-in-C establish a board of inquiry to identify, country-by-country, where trade imbalances are genuinely unfair and afterwards commence, bilaterally (as he forever bleats for), surgically re-negotiating the disadvantageous clauses in faulty and/or outdated deals?

Presumably because, as the mid-terms approach, the T-in-C’s ungovernable impulses are urging him to feed extra rations of red meat to his blue-collar, white-skinned, aging, angry-as-fuck, red-state base. Hence his renewed peal of hysteria, ludicrously demanding construction of a border wall with Mexico and rafts of so-called “protectionist” tariffs, ostensibly to protect good and pure heartland Americans from both physical and economic invasion by godless foreigners. In terms of the latter, it is already backfiring on him. This morning, he is clearly shocked that China has “unfairly” retaliated with tariffs of its own directly targeting the very base he seeks to protect, in particular the farm belt (soybeans anyone?) and manufactured products. He shouldn’t be but, with all of the irrational outrage of a spoiled brat having had his unearned cookie taken away, he is now hollering for an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese products, impending stock market implosion, alienation of long-standing allies, and economic contraction be damned.

All I can say to the T-in-C is this: get your crooked little fingers out of that cookie jar! It’s not a cookie jar! It’s a cauldron of boiling hot water, you fool! And, for Christ’s sake, stop communicating with Steve Bannon – we know that dark lunatic-whisperer still has your ear!

~

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Realization


*

As a boy I clambered and played

Angry funeral black North Sea

Wave upon uniform wave crashing

A violent, frothy attack on broken teeth rocks

*

Slipping, stumbling, and swaying – an old man grasped my arm

He said: “Careful son, you are too young to die

There is a light out there across the sea. A light that burns for you”

And vanished into the swirling mists before I could ask why

*

As a man I lost my way

Fell through a yawning darkness of moonless, starless night

Fell through ragged centuries of pain, loss, despair

No aegis; no mentor; no understanding of right

*

As I aged I remembered the mysterious old man by the sea

Where was this light that burned for me?

A shattered wreck on the shoreline, my bones were bare

The mossy, jagged cliffs stretched far away

*

About to give up, you picked me up

Took me to bed and woke me up

I murmured: “You are the one from across the sea

You are the light that burns for me”

*

And now it is like night lightning

Veiny maze across the starry sky

This love is mesmerizing

This love is spellbinding; and

*

Never take it away-

I give you my life until my dying day

*

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Finding Her


Tina and Jimmy picked their way down the shattered, long-abandoned railway line. It had become overgrown with sinewy red-veined, purple-leaved plants which coiled out from the mossy ground and feasted on the jumble of twisted iron and shards of old broken wood stretching out in front of them. It was oppressively hot, the air so thick with humidity it seemed to mute the buzzing chorus of the cicadas that drifted in from across the sub-tropical lushness of the surrounding wooded fields. The brown, hotdog-shaped heads of the tall bulrushes lining the track nodded gently as if fighting off the urge to sleep.

Tina eyed Jimmy, peripherally. It unnerved him when she stared at him, a habit which she had caught herself doing often. He was a pale, scrawny boy. At fifteen, he was two years younger than her. His head was crowned with a chaotic thicket of shoulder-length brown hair. His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his shorts, his shoulders rounded from too much time hunched in front of his computers. Semi-autistic, he was silently mouthing numbers as he walked and concentrated on what, she could only guess, was another complex algorithm he was working out. Quiet and different, he was shunned, if not bullied, by the other boys in Outpost 68 who she, on the other hand, was extremely popular with.

“Why do you hate them so much?” Jimmy had once asked her. “It’s just because you’re so pretty.”

“All they want to do is get in my pants,” she had said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

That was a fairly accurate assessment. It also explained why a lot of the other girls mistrusted her or outright hated her. Jimmy and Tina were outcast by their peers for entirely different reasons. Ironically, disinterested Jimmy was the only one to have ever gotten into Tina’s pants and that was after weeks of her gently coaxing him into them. He had looked so frightened and vulnerable the first time and pleaded with her to help him because he did not know what to do. She had always adored him for his undiluted frankness. In fact, she had grown to adore most everything about him; her troubled, dark, fearsomely brilliant savant. The fact that his autism usually prevented him from expressing his own feelings did not bother her too much. Strangely, it almost made her love him even more.

Jimmy suddenly stopped jawing his formulations and cocked his head skyward. She had already heard the subtle sound of the cloaked bomber drones soaring overhead, high up in the stratosphere, but had not wanted to interrupt him. “Hear that?” he asked anxiously, more to himself than to her. A moment later, the bulrushes appeared to snap to attention as the ground shook through the muffled thudding sound of Peacemaker Plasma Missiles. They were targeting encroaching rebel positions in the distance and left a haze of greasy smoke smeared across the blue horizon. “PPMs. They’re closing in. The Kingdom may soon fall.”

“I don’t want your doom and gloom today, Jimmy,” she said hautily, taking his hand in hers and rubbing his forearm gently with the other. “We’re going to beat these fucking mutants in the end. The perimeter will hold. It has to. We’re all that’s left of what’s human.”

“Half the population is Symbots,” muttered Jimmy, wincing. He always winced when she swore which meant he was wincing most of the time he was with her.

“Sure, but they’re almost human compared to the fucking mutants,” she said.

“We’ve talked about this before,” he said grumpily. “They may have mostly human bodies that grow and age. Okay. Fine. But their brains are computers, Tina. They are awesome biocomputers but Symbots don’t feel anything. We can program them to talk to us like humans and make stupid jokes. But that’s it. The mutants are still human enough to hate us, to go to war… to… to feel pain.”

“Whatever. Some say Symbots could be programmed to feel one day.”

“Right,” snorted Jimmy derisively, “the algorithm for a basic thought vector is insanely complex. An emotion vector is impossible. The coding. It just can’t be done.”

“I guess you’re right,” sighed Tina absently. “Ah, here it is, finally” she said as she guided Jimmy over to a small opening to a mossy path that led down, through thick steaming forest, to an arterial web of bayous. As they trudged down the path, startled creatures chirped, sniffed, hissed, and scampered as if some horrific juggernaut was approaching. A two-headed hummingbird, blown in from The Wastes beyond the perimeter, hovered in front of Tina’s face as she walked and eyed her quizzically. Brushing it aside as they reached the water’s edge, she was relieved to see the rickety old boat still tethered a few meters downstream. “I always think some asshole might have found it and taken it when we come out here,” she said, happily. “Don’t look at me like that!” she laughed as she caught him casting her a withering sidelong glance.

A few minutes later, they were paddling down the snaking bayou. The crumbling gray trunks of sticky cypress trees jutted up all around them from deep within the riverbed. Damp, misshapen leaves drooped carelessly from the maze of dangling branches, close to their heads, as if surrendering to some deep, unknowable lament. The bow of the boat sloshed quietly through the stagnant water, its surface coated in a thick film of slimy, radioactive emerald-green algae. Although cancer, and virtually all other diseases, had been eradicated over the past decades, it would still be ill-advised to swim in this water given the nature of the creatures that lurked beneath its surface. “What’s that?” asked Jimmy, abruptly, pointing to a dark patch awkwardly splayed in the hectic vegetation of the shoreline.

“Let’s check it out,” said Tina, a slight waver of nervousness in her voice as she redirected the boat. “Holy fuck!” she said breathlessly as they jumped out of the boat and approached the dead body. “It’s a soldier who… who…”

“Shot himself in the head,” said Jimmy in rapt fascination as he examined the entry and exit wounds of the bullet. The latter had blown out a grapefruit-sized hole in the left side of the soldier’s cranium. The delicate white petals of the surrounding magnolias were decorated with flecks of blood, brain tissue, and crimson-stained skull and tooth fragments. The mouth yawned open in a mess of dried black blood. Clear, gray eyes reflected the lazy wisps of cloud overhead; the face a strained mask of yearning and hopelessness. “Check the leathers and insignia. This guy was a high-ranking officer.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Wow!” exclaimed Jimmy suddenly.

“What?”

“I was wondering why they haven’t come to get him. Check it out. He’s got a really old EM Railgun that the Special Forces used to use. Look – he actually had the option to switch off the tracker. See? There’s the switch.”

“Cool!” said Tina, excitedly, wrenching the gun from the dead soldier’s hand, powering it on, and examining it intently.

“Hey!” cried Jimmy. “You can’t play with that! That’s the property of the Kingdom!?!”

“The tracker is off, Jimmy,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Just like you said. So, no one’s coming. Ah, fuck!”

“What?” asked Jimmy, craning his neck over Tina’s shoulder, his dark eyes a storm of apprehension and excitement.

“Look. There are only two bullets left. I was hoping we could blast away at some stuff but let’s just save them.”

“What? You… you’re not going to… you’re not actually going to take it are you?!”

“Fucking right I am. I’ve always wanted a gun. Just in case.”

“Just in case of what?”

“Just in case of anything, Jimmy,” she said in exasperation. “If you haven’t noticed, we don’t exactly live in a safe world.”

“Fine, but I still don’t think you can just steal the property of the Kingdom. You’re in so much trouble if you’re caught with that. You know that!”

“I’ll take my chances,” she said with determined finality as she shoved the gun down the back of her pants, and pulled her shirt over top of it. Now let’s get deeper into the woods. I want you to fuck me.”

“I don’t know if I can today,” he said, his words catching hoarsely in the back of his throat.

“What’s that matter?” she asked putting his arm around his waist.

“Ow!” he whimpered, pushing her hand away.

“Not again!” she cried as she pulled up his shirt. “Oh, my God!” she gasped as she examined the deep welts that crisscrossed his back. Oh, no! No! Fuck no! Fuck this! What did he hit you with, Jimmy“?

“I don’t know”, he said, embarrassed, large tears welling up in his eyes. “Something he pulled out of the engine of his Ranger. He couldn’t fix something that was wrong with it. I only asked him if he wanted a glass of water. He looked so hot and angry.”

“Oh, Jimmy!” She pulled his shirt up over his head, threw it to the ground, and started kissing the wounds gently, one-by-one. He moaned in pain when she tried to touch his penis through his shorts.

“What the fuck?!” she said frowning as she unbuttoned his shorts and pulled them and his underpants down. “Oh, my fucking God! What the hell did he do?!”

“He… he almost bit it off. He was just… so angry.”

“I can’t believe this shit!”

“Tina,” he said, as he focused intently on absolutely nothing over her shoulder, “he’s going to kill me. It’s just a matter of time. He said it right in front of my mother. She said nothing. I’m going to die soon.” She stared at him. Looked deep into his wild, haunted eyes and knew that this boy she loved so much truly felt he was imminently doomed. And then, as she pulled his shorts and underpants back up, she made a decision.

“Jimmy,” she said, as she placed his hand beneath her left breast. “Can you feel my heart beating?”

“Yes”.

“It beats for you. Can you feel me breathing?” she asked as she placed his other hand on her throat. “Can you feel my pulse?”

“Yes. What are you doing?”

“Can you feel this?” she asked as she moved his hand and shoved it up under her skirt where her vagina was damp.

“What are you doing? I can’t.”

“Do you believe that I love you?”

“Yes! Yes! But why are you asking me these things?!”

“I’m trying to make sure that you know that I can feel. I can feel everything. I love you and I hate your stepfather. I hate your mother even more. I feel sad. And I’m sad because you’re hurt.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, kicking grumpily at some imagined irritation on the ground.

“I’ve been lying to you.”

“What?”

“Look into my eyes,” she said taking his face in her hands. “This is who I am”.

Her eyes turned Symbot orange and glowed as numbers began racing across her suddenly dilated pupils.

Although he was shocked to the point that he felt like there were suddenly hundreds of tiny insects racing across the inside of his skull, he was not afraid and did not move. “Wow!” he almost shouted as he studied the combinations which integrated numeric values with symbols he had never seen before.

“You’re not mad at me?” she asked, tearily, her eyes blurring like amber traffic lights through the rain.

“No! No! Not at all!” he protested, clearly awestruck. “Don’t cry! I can’t see who you are if you start crying!” His dopey honesty made her cry even more and she threw her arms around him and sobbed into his shoulder “I thought you were going to hate me.”

“Why would I?” he asked. “But… I… That’s not code. It’s totally unbelievable. I mean… What is that?”

“I was part of a special project,” she said, as she pulled away to explain, her glistening eyes going back to normal.

“No! No! Don’t turn them off! I want to see! Please!” he pleaded.

“Don’t worry. I’m going to show you the whole sequence. I know your gift. I know you’ll be able to remember it. Then you’ll truly know me. Know exactly who I am on this day.”

“What do you mean, on this day?”

“The sequence is evolving every day. Growing almost organically. You don’t even remember how unemotional I was when we first met, do you? Mr. Head-in-the-Clouds!”

“Maybe a bit,” he said sullenly. “But how? Tell me how?”

“The Kingdom hadn’t authorized the project and didn’t know anything about it. It was me, two other girls and three boys. I don’t know what the science was, Jimmy. All I know is they used stem cells to stimulate thought vectors which would teach themselves more advanced vectors, including the emotion vectors you said were impossible. And, actually, you were kind of right. The experiment was mostly a failure. As we grew up, we weren’t that much different from any other Symbots. We had slightly higher functioning and our vectors did evolve a bit. But we could only copy some simple emotions – not actually feel them. Anyway, the chief engineer, his whole team, and the 6 of us kids were traveling to a faraway lab beyond Death River to try some radical treatment to jumpstart the process. Our ship never made it. We flew into a radioactive lightning shower and got hit many times. I don’t remember anything about going down or the crash. I just remember waking up, thrown from the wreck, and still strapped in my pod. When I found that everyone else was dead, something happened to me…”

“What? What?!” asked Jimmy riveted.

“I could feel my coding was changing fast. I sensed something that I didn’t understand at the time. I later learned it was sadness, pain… loss.”

“What did you do?”

“We had no tracker implants so I just walked for two days until I found a refugee camp in the Sandy Marshes. No Symbot child in rags would just show up at a refugee camp, dazed and confused, in the middle of nowhere. There was no question I was human. So, after a few months in the camp, I was adopted and ended up here.”

“Ended up here,” murmured Jimmy, his voice trailing off.

“Where I found you,” she said softly. “Do you want me to show you now? I want to.”

“Yes, I do,” he said with a tenderness in his voice that she had never heard before and, for the first time, he initiated physical contact by taking her hands in his. He stared into her eyes in anticipation as intense as raw sexual desire. And so they settled down into the dankness, oversized bullfrogs belching and splashing off out in the bayou. It took almost an hour for the entire sequence to run but it only needed four runs for Jimmy to have it fully committed to memory. “I got it,” he croaked, finally. “I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry,” he whimpered, as he buried his sweating forehead in the base of her throat.

“For what?” she asked quizzically, cupping his chin in her hand.

“I didn’t realize just how much you feel about me. I didn’t think anyone really loved me at all. What’s wrong with me, Tina?”

“You’re just different, Jimmy,” she said smiling, stroking the side of his face, and running her fingers through the mess of his hair. It was flecked with garishly colored seedpods that floated lazily through the wet air. She plucked a few of them out and flicked them away as she studied his bewildered face. “Just like me, my sweet savant.” Glancing over his shoulder, she frowned at the rapidly melting sun and the long fingers of black shadow cast by the spidery spines of the tree branches. “Fuck. We better get back. No moon tonight,” she muttered.

“I’m going to get it again,” said Jimmy bleakly. “Being this late with no Holochrome for them to reach me.”

“Fuck the Holochromes when we go out together,” she said fiercely. “Come on, let’s go.”

An hour later they were approaching Outpost 68. A kaleidoscope of flickering lights bounced off the bellies of low-lying cloud and distorted the outpost like some kind of shimmering mirage; a puddle of color splashed onto the heaving blackness of the surrounding countryside. She gripped his hand as he mouthed over and over again the code. Her code.

After clearing the checkpoint, they made their way to Jimmy’s place and stood in front in a wordless embrace. “It doesn’t bother you at all, does it?” asked Tina, breaking the silence. It was more of a statement than a question.

“What?” he asked, cocking his head.

“That you fucked a Symbot. You lost your virginity to a Symbot. That a Symbot loves you.”

“No! No… I’m… I can’t find my words,” he said in frustration, scratching the back of his neck. “I guess. I guess I’m just… I’m just lucky,” he blurted out with all of the sincere innocence of a young child.

“I am the lucky one, Jimmy,” she said, as she reached behind her, engaged the tracker on the Railgun, and scanned the doorbell. “Jimmy, look at me,” she said as the door silently slid open and Jimmy’s drunk stepfather appeared, a silhouette of twisted, seething rage. “Maybe someday, somehow, you can find a way back to me.”

“What?” he mumbled, confused, as Tina pulled out the Railgun and shot Jimmy’s stepfather clean in half, his torso flying into the vestibule in a bloody pulp, the legs left behind in the doorway twitching reflexively.

“No!” screamed Jimmy. “What are you doing?!”

“Saving you,” she said calmly as she turned the gun barrel around, put it in her mouth, and pulled the trigger.

*

12 years later

He had finally done it. She lay in front of him in the lab he had built in his apartment, her body exactly as he remembered it. The coding was done. He took her hand and held it tightly as he powered up the cells from the reactor. It took over 10 minutes but finally her eyes snapped open, at first Symbot orange and then the startling, sky-blue eyes she had been programmed with.

“What the FUCK?!” she shouted violently. “Where am I?! Who in the fuck are you?!”

“Take is easy, Tina,” he said gently. “It’s me.”

“What?!”

“It’s me. Jimmy.”

“Jimmy?” she croaked as she searched his face. “Oh, my God. It… It is you. But… but…”

“I’m twenty seven years old, Tina. It… well, it took a while.”

She sat upright on the stretcher. Lights blinked from the jumble of humming equipment crammed from floor to ceiling all around her. She held her trembling hands in front of her face. “You’re still seventeen,” he said, handing her a mirror. “I thought about aging you but I figured that would be more traumatizing than helpful for both of us.”

“God, you sound so… so grown up,” she said as she blinked at him and touched his cheek with the back of her hand. “You are all grown up. I can’t believe you found me. You found me!”

“I really wanted to see you before I go,” he said quietly.

“What do you mean, ‘go’?”

“I’m dying. No more than a month left.”

“What do you mean ‘dying’? That’s impossible!”

“To steal the technology I needed to make you, I joined a special weapons unit at the War Ministry. I was accidentally exposed to a lethal toxin. There’s no cure.”

“Oh, fuck. Oh, God. Why did you do that, Jimmy? Why did you risk your life for me?!”

“You sacrificed yours for mine,” he said matter-of-factly. “And I need to tell you something. It’s all I have thought about all these years”.

“What?” she asked, her voice quavering.

“You told me so many times that you loved me. I was so stuck in my autism and hormones and abuse. I didn’t know what I had. What was right there in front of me. I was so stupid. I never once told you but now I can. I love you, Tina. You can never understand just how much I have missed you. I was hoping you could maybe stay with me. Just until I go.”

She threw her arms around his neck exactly the way she had so many times before she died and whispered in his ear: “When you go, Jimmy, I’m coming with you.”

*

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Deep Freeze – Conclusion


Note: for readers of this blog, if any, the first 13 parts of this piece are available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/12/01/deep-freeze-consolidated-first-11-parts/.

From the leaded windows of the second floor, stiff drink in hand, I scanned the large gray-stone terrace out back of the house where the guests had been trickling in and milling around throughout the afternoon. Ben weaved nimbly through the crowd, eagerly hunting for dropped goodies. In years past, Leah had confined him to the house during the summer party but Marylyn let Ben do as he pleased and he adored her for it.

I saw Maeve Wheeler gesticulating excitedly at a platoon of over-weight, badly aging women fluttering around her as gracelessly as ostriches. Having recently undergone plastic surgery in the city, the skin of her face had been pulled back so tightly, her eyes were reduced to slits and her mouth, encircled by freshly botoxed lips, seemed permanently stretched into something in between an exaggerated smile and an agonized grimace. Behind her, it was fascinating to see Bob Darling chatting so merrily with his son, Joel, the author of the garish scar on the side of his head that the hair had never grown back over. As I stared at them, the early-evening sunlight softening like yolky dampness over the hills, a twisted overhanging branch from an injured tree began rhythmically and urgently tapping at the window. It seemed to be under the influence of some unknown force as there was not the slightest breeze. A blackbird alit at its end and, cocking its head, scrutinized me with eyes that had all the seeming of a demon’s and I felt a sudden chill.

My cell phone binged the sound of an incoming text message and I fumbled in my pocket.

Marylyn: Where are you?

Me: In the house

Marylyn: What are you doing in there?

Me: Just needed a minute

Marylyn: Well get out here – we need to start the bbq

Me: Coming – we got blackbirds

Marylyn: ???

Me: Never mind – coming out now

A little later, I was sweating like a marathon runner over the enormous barbeque with a long lineup in front of me. Rafts of sausages sizzled and crackled as I swept them back and forth across the grill, always stabbing at them, with serrated tongs. A churning plume of thick smoke belched upwards, snaking through the leaves and pine needles overhead as if desperately hunting for something unattainable before dissipating into the nothingness of air.

I had always happily hosted this party but, this year, through the inferno of heat and smoke, I could only think about hospital incinerators, receptacles for ruined and unwanted human tissue; amputated limbs and smashed foetuses. Still, I had taken immense satisfaction in serving Doug Black his fish guts sausages and watching him greedily devour them. Afterwards, he wiped his greasy hands across the faded, old denim shirt stretched across his ever-expanding pot belly and attempting to engage in conversation with a handsome young man who had recently arrived in Herring’s Jaw (for reasons unknown but I would not be at all surprised if he was running away from something like many of the rest of us who had ended up here later in life). I turned away in disgust. My attention was now focused on the prize: Claudia and Brody. They were at the back of the now-short line chatting with Marylyn who would, of course, never dream of eating before everyone else had been served.

“Hey there, doc!” Brody almost shouted, giving me an almost painful slap on the shoulder. “Awesome Q, man!”

After pondering my slapped shoulder for a moment, I looked into Brody’s eyes and smiled the most benevolent smile I could muster. “Hello, Brody,” I said, shallowly breathing to keep my voice steady and calm-sounding. “Hello there, Claudia,” I said with a nod to her, both she and Marylyn looking at me with mirth-filled eyes. “How are you both? Or should I say, ‘how are the three of you’?”

“Fantastic!” said Brody, grinning like an idiot and rubbing Claudia’s belly. “Damned hungry though! Still got any left for us there, doc?” he asked, slapping his hands and rubbing them together as Claudia giggled.

“You know what?” I said, through a tide of adrenalin. “I saved for you two, the happy couple, my latest creation. Here, try these babies and tell me they aren’t my very best yet!”

“Aw, thanks,” bleated Claudia. “That’s so sweet of you!”

“The pleasure is all mine,” I said with the deepest sincerity as I plunked two regular sausages on Marylyn’s plate.

I sank into a chair beside the barbeque, wiping my face with a napkin, as I watched the three of them wander off to a corner of the terrace which glowed blood-red under Japanese lanterns that cast dragon shadows. I was almost bored watching Brody wolf down his plate. What I was aching to see was Claudia ingest her own murdered baby and know that she was nourishing her new baby with it. However, she and Marylyn were engaged in such animated conversation, clearly about their pregnancies, as they kept pointing to and touching their bellies. Come on, come on, I thought as exasperation pricked at the inner lining of my skull. Eat!

Suddenly, to my abject horror, Leah materialized out of the crowd and walked slowly towards Claudia and Marylyn. Her skin was as white as snow and her eyes were closed as if she was gently sleeping. She wore a long yellow and red silk scarf loosely around her unnaturally bent neck. I rose to my feet and was about yell when Leah’s eyes snapped open and bored into mine. I was paralyzed where I stood, frozen and unable to speak as if I had been overcome by locked-in syndrome. She closed her eyes again and walked up behind Claudia and Marylyn. She started mouthing words into their ears. They continued talking, as if she was not there, and then, with a wave of her hand, they traded plates and started eating. Ravenously eating.

“No!!!” I screamed without a sound escaping. “Don’t Marylyn!!! Don’t!!!” Engulfed in despair, I watched aghast as Marylyn swallowed the last piece, licking her greasy lips. Leah opened her eyes once more, briefly, and released me. I ran over to Marylyn, sweat pouring down my face and took her hard by the shoulders.

“Hey! What’s the matter with you?! You’re hurting me!!!”

“Marylyn!” I shouted, shaking her. “Listen to me. Stick your fingers down your throat and throw up. Please. Do it right now. Trust me. You… you can’t eat that… our baby! Please, throw it up! Do it now! Please!”

“What the hell are you talking about?! Let go of me!!! What’s wrong with you?!”

As the guests gathered around us to see what all the commotion was about, I let go of Marylyn and I turned to Leah who was still standing there, the faintest of smiles curling at the corners of her dead mouth. “How could you?!” I screamed at her hysterically. “How could you?! I loved you but you left me!!! Why?! Why did you do that?! Why are you doing this?!” She did not answer. She just turned and, walking towards the lake, vanished into the mist.

“Who’s he talking to, I wonder?” asked Brody, nonchalantly, as if he was watching a movie.

“He’s sick,” said Marylyn, her voice thick with fear and anxiety. “Let’s try and get him inside and lie him down.”

Turning back to Marylyn, I grabbed her by the back of the neck, roughly, and bent her over. “Marylyn! You have to throw that up!” I cried as I tried to shove my own fingers down her throat. Screaming, she struggled against me for a few moments before I felt the tip of a gun barrel being pressed against my temple.

“Let her go, doc,” said the federal agent, cocking the gun, “and put your hands behind your head nice and slow.”

*

I am now confined indefinitely to a small room in a maximum-security psychiatric facility. The federal agent had, unbelievably, found the spot deep in the forest where I had cremated Claudia and Brody’s baby. He had managed to extract DNA samples, including mine from some hair follicles left behind. I was tried for first degree murder but found ‘not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder’. Most of the town had testified about me shouting incoherently at a hallucination prior to attacking Marylyn. It turned out that, just as I was being arrested, I had actually succeeded in making Marylyn throw up. Needless to say, the jurors at my trial were horrified when presented with the lab results of the contents of her stomach. Nobody believed me when I testified that Brody had drowned the baby in the Chattering Teeth under duress from Claudia. Psychiatric experts called by the prosecution all concurred that I am a narcissistic sociopath.

I have had only one visitor since I was taken into custody and she is sitting with me now, in the corner of my room, as I write this last piece of my story. Leah has been my constant companion ever since the evening of the party, watching me intently, like a wolf that has cornered its prey. This morning, after I woke up from sedation, she mouthed words into the ear of the burly orderly responsible for stripping down and removing my bedding for the day. She convinced him to leave behind a sheet. All day long, she has been staring at a ceiling fixture and whispering over and over Come out from the woods, my dearest. It is almost nighttime now and things weep in the dark; creatures that bite.

I am listening to her. Right now.

*

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment