Saturday, December 6, 2008

Twelve Simple Rules for Leading a Consequence-Free Life

-Get rid of those fingerprints! They're like carrying ten little snitches with you everywhere.

-Nod and smile, until you get to a position of sufficient power. Then frown and shake your head.

-In any group of five people or more, never speak the same language as more than two of them. Failures to communicate are failures to be responsible!

-Diversify your greed! Gastric bypass surgery is easy to obtain when you're rich.

-Cultivate two signatures: a legible one and an illegible one. Use the illegible signature for any documents of consequence. When you inevitably need to get out of one, claim it's a fraud and present documents with your legible signature as proof.

-Having non-powerful friends with no influence is like having an umbrella that can't keep you out of jail.

-If you're a woman, cry publicly whenever things don't go your way. If you're a man, punch walls and mutter to yourself in the same situations. If you do this enough times, people will make sure things go your way!

-When arguing, it doesn't matter if you're right, it only matters if you're loudest.

-No one ever went broke by arranging matters so that someone else always pays.

-Be known for being brilliant yet unpredictable! This allows you to walk away from anything (artworks, political careers, relationships, pets) whenever you're bored with it, while looking like you're following your passions.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Aldred Up a Tree

There's a frame of reference that would be useful to have here, Aldred imagines. Its absence is leaving perception a jumbled mess, like a Cornell box that has been given a good shake. He has a few facts to deal with:

He is up a tree, a gnarled and ancient affair.

He's holding on to a branch for dear life, but this seems to be unnecessary, as the afghan is still wrapped around him, now transformed into a sort of sling. The knotted ends are on top of the branch, and Aldred hangs beneath.

He is currently facing the sky. It's bright blue and calming, and part of him wants to relax and leave well enough alone. But another part of him can't resist a turn of the head to see what the whole situation is.

The branch sticks out over a cliff.

It appears to be a long way down.

It is morning and it is cold.

He pulls himself to the side a bit and looks down at the foot of the tree. Mercury and an old man (oh yes, Kliet, that was his name) are there. Mercury is wearing a bright red cloche hat with an ostrich feather pin. The hat and pin don't really go together, making her head a smaller jumble within the jumble.

Kliet is holding a large yellowing map of the continental United States, mounted on plywood.

Mercury has an old fashioned cheerleader's bullhorn to her mouth, and is slowly overpronouncing the names of American cities through it. Her accent is the sort that only comes from elocution classes at a young ladies finishing school. A disreputable one.


Aldred takes his hands away from the branch and rubs his face. A wind comes up and he starts to swing gently. Aldred glances at the knot. It looks solid and reassuring. He lets his arms flop back and now hangs in the sling, staring up into the sky.


There's something infuriating about that.


That's slightly better. The wind picks up and he begins to swing with more vigor. He resists the urge to wrap his arms tightly around the branch, ignores the screaming voice in his head, and concentrates on the sky, willing his eyes to stay open and take in the blue when all they want to do is clamp shut.


Oh for heaven's sake...


"FEEEEEEEENIIIIIIIIIIICKS-Yes, dear?" She gestures to Kliet, who adjusts the angle of the map.

"That's very irritating."


"You naming cities that aren't on that map."


"Really, it is."

"No dear, it isn't. It's annoying, not irritating. FEEERRRRRAAAAHHNKFOOOOOOHRT."

"The difference being?"

"Irritants just happen. Annoyances are there on purpose."

"I wasn't aware of that-"


"-particular distinction."

"Well, that's something for you to think about then, isn't it dear? But I wouldn't spend too much energy on it as-"

The sling swings to the right and he feels a sickening lurch. His eyes snap to the knot, the twists and turns of which are now in motion. Rapid motion. Aldred grabs the branch with his arms and as much of his legs as his gut will allow. The afghan falls away, and he hears Kliet mutter something about cavalier treatment of family heirlooms.


Aldred begins to inch his way down the branch, towards the trunk. He hasn't gotten very far when a definitive cracking noise tells him what the immediate future is going to hold. The branch is still partly connected to the trunk, and Aldred's weight causes it to swing in rather than simply fall off. The far end of the branch arcs towards the foot of the tree, carrying Aldred with it, gaining speed like a wrecking ball. At the last second Aldred lets go. The forward momentum hurtles him towards Kliet who seems to be expecting this. He takes a quick step to the side and swats Aldred with the mapboard, deflecting him into a conveniently placed (if dew dampened) haystack.

Aldred closes his eyes, and, though partially winded, breathes in as much of the smell of damp hay as he can. He is greedy for it, in love with all things that stay near to the ground. The impact has driven him halfway towards the center of the stack, and for a moment he considers burrowing in. Instead he pulls himself out and collapses onto the ground, his back resting against the hay. Mercury wanders over and points the bullhorn down at him. He can see up it, all the way to her pursed lips. He thinks he reads some satisfaction on them. They slowly part and one last name comes rolling down the cone of the bullhorn.


Aldred considers.

"That's not even a city."

"Does that annoy you?"

He shrugs.

"Right," says Mercury. "I think we've made a fair bit of progress here this morning."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Reichstag Follies is Real?

So somebody got here in the past week or two by doing a Google search for "Reichstag Follies", which lead them to this old entry. The odd thing is now Citysearch is showing results for performances of something called "The Reichstag Follies" at some place called Cinema Classics in NYC, throughout October and into November. I can't find any references to this title on the IMDB or elsewhere, just these Citysearch listings and my old post. Any of my NYC peeps faimiliar with this Cinema Classics place? I'm a little worried that parts of my brain are dripping into the real world.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Books for Buddhist Players

Getting A Piece is Every Step

Zen Flesh, Zen Boning

Living Buddha, Living Hefner

The Tibetan Book of the Laid

Be Here Now, With a Girl

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Successful Lies I Have Told

"I'm sick of productions of Waiting for Godot where they cut out the car chase."

"I don't know how all that blackberry jam got in your car."

"During the summer I'm the substitute mayor of a small Ukrainian village. So of course I can officiate at your wedding."

"LASIK gave me x-ray vision. But I only use it for good."

"I used to work as a house painter, but I quit when it got too commercial."

"A childhood injury rendered me incapable of giving change to the homeless."

"Reading is a wonderful town and I wish I still lived there. I especially miss all the outlet malls and Klan rallies."

"I love it when you talk about bacon."

"Of course I know what an ostinado is. Asshole."

"I wrote that book you're reading."

"I haven't really cared about anything since 1992."

"I don't know how all that blackberry jam got in your safety deposit box."

"I'm late because my chemo appointment ran over."

"See that building over there? It's made of Lego."

"I know the guy who invented silicone bakeware."

"I'm scared of clouds, especially the pretty ones."

"I was born with my bones on the outside."

"I was the voice of the dog puppet. The puppeteer was Colin Farrell."

"I collect pictures of abandoned drug stores."

"I don't know how all that blackberry jam got in your mouth while you were sleeping."

"I lived in a storage unit in Metuchen for eight years."

"Here's how you make a real Mojito: take three ounces of Triple Sec, muddle it with shredded carrot and serve at slightly above room temperature by warming it with your hands. That thing you're claiming is a Mojito? Real Cubans call that a Batista."

"Carol Channing died."

"This blog updates 4-7 times a week."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two Named Women Participating in Our Culture

The other day I went to a political rally in Elmire Park. I was unclear as to what it was for exactly, but I felt the need to engage with the democratic process. I was surprised to see Nancy and Andrea there. At first I thought they'd had the same impulse, but when they mounted the speakers' platform, I realized they were there in a more active capacity.

Andrea spoke first.

"My friends...Jesus, 'my friends,' how can I say that? Calling someone 'friend' is a big deal. There's like what, eight hundred of you here? Maybe a thousand. I know almost none of you, and the ones I do know aren't exactly friends of mine. They know why. Oh boy, do they ever know.

"I'll start over. My strangers: we live in a time of great upheaval. That means shit is fucked up. Way fucked up. It's all broken and scattered. It reminds me of the trash in our awful streets. That trash is evidence that something is going on, but you ever tried to put it together into a coherent picture? I have. I've spent whole afternoons dong it. What I'll do is pick up a bottle, a glass one, and some newspapers. Then I'll wrap the newspapers around the bottle, good and tight. When I've got that done, I look for the dirtiest part of the sidewalk. then I roll the bottle down that patch of sidewalk, pushing hard. I do this for about a block. It's a hard thing to do, because people will stare at me or call me crazy or try to mess with me. A lot of the time I end up getting into a fight and have to use the bottle as a weapon. Usually if that happens I have to get a new bottle and start over. I have to do this five, six, seven times some times. Often there's a hold up, because glass bottles are getting harder to find these days. But I keep it up, because this stuff is important.

"Anyway, when it works out right I get to roll that bottle all down the block. At the end I'm left with two types of evidence. I'm no egghead, but I know it's good to have more than one kind of evidence if you're investigating shit. The first type of evidence is the crap that's been pushed in front of the bottle. Usually this is what you'd call 'powder based,' because there's usually a nice sized heap of powder and bits by the end, all mixed together. Some of this stuff in the powder is pretty identifiable: grit, dust, ash, bits of dried tar from the road. But there's other stuff in there too, stuff that just confuses me. Like the purple stuff. You guys know about that?"

She paused, looking out at the crowd. She wiped one of her large arms across her forehead, joining the individual beads that had been sitting there into an even film. The pause went on, and Andrea started to look frustrated.

"Okay, I guess not. That wasn't a rhetorical type question by the way: I was really hoping that somebody here might know what this purple stuff is, because I think it's probably important. It's usually a good ten percent of the 'powder based' evidence, and it freaks me out that I can't identify it. It's this really dark shade of purple. The bits are usually no bigger than a match head, but sometimes they're as big as a pea. One time I found one that was the size of my thumbnail. I've got it here in my pocket, if anyone wants to have a look later. I thought maybe it was gum at first, but it's kinda more like stone, and it's got little holes in it.

"My point is, something's going on.

"The other type of evidence is all the liquids picked up by the newspaper. I know you're thinking 'Gross! Liquids!', and yeah, you're right. Pretty gross. There's always spit, there's always piss, there's always something sticky, and there's always something that smells really rank. And of course it all mixes together, into one thing, so I can't look at the individual liquids. But let me tell you something: that blend of liquids means something. Because the thing is, liquids evaporate, right? So even if these things are separated out on the sidewalk, they eventually get up in the air and blend together. I'm pretty sure that's how it works. Do you see what I'm saying? This is in the air we breathe. You can't tell me that's not bad. Or at least important. It's gotta be doing something.

"So, in summary: something's going on and I've got evidence. Uh, thanks."

Andrea left the platform to a smattering of applause. Later, I saw her talking to a couple of old black guys in matching pork pie hats. She had her hand out in front of her, so I assumed she was showing them the purple thing. One of the guys was nodding really slowly. The other was shaking his head. Andrea looked irritated.

After a few more speakers it was Nancy's turn.

"Hello," she said. "It may be of interest to you to know that not far from here, in this very park, when I was a child, I used to come and feed the ducks in the pond. Around the age of fourteen I stopped. I don't know why. Then I went away for a bit. Then I came back. When I came back I was a different person. I think now I might be the kind of person who feeds ducks as an adult."

Here she started rummaging in her handbag, eventually producing a surprisingly large bag of breadcrumbs.

"Today I intend to find out. Thank you."

No one applauded as she left the platform, but there was a murmur in the crowd that lasted a surprisingly long time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Recent Acquisitions II

A silent 8mm film of Orson Welles sitting on the toilet and drinking scotch. Possibly filmed by Peter Bogdanovich.

A stack of loose pages, apparently from an old dictionary, stapled together at the top right corner. Not in any discernible order. All entries for adjectives have been crossed out with a ballpoint pen.

A wooden box full of yellow and white glass marbles. Weighs approximately 60 pounds.

A poster for a regional theater production of Equus. "MATINÉES CONTAIN NO NUDITY" printed across the bottom in large red letters.

A pair of ceramic clogs, painted with flowers. I believe these were meant to be sculpture, but there's evidence that the previous owner wore them at least once (see below).

A "set" of four mismatched antique wagon wheels.

A red enameled gooseneck lamp with some very faded Pac-Man stickers affixed to the base.

A mostly empty photo album. A few Polaroids are stuck in haphazardly: a blurry shot of Mount Rushmore, A blurry shot of a man's arm featuring a heart tattoo with an indecipherable name in the middle, and a blurry shot of a woman in a flowing blue dress who appears to be wearing the clogs mentioned above.

Some WWII era blackout curtains. The bottoms are weighed down with what appear to be hand-stitched sachets of lead shot. Most of them are leaking; a few are completely empty.

A printer's job case, filled with a nearly unreadable Gothic typeface. Appears to have never been used.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Aldred and Enforced Hospitality

There's something ludicrous about a rocking chair, thinks Aldred. They're meant to be so cozy and homey and relaxing, but the reality doesn't measure up. They creak in a way that refuses to take a proper rhythm. They require far too much effort and attention to keep rocking, distracting you from fully devoting your attention to woolgathering. The ones with arms (as is the case with the model he's currently stuck in) are never built with the portly gentleman in mind. Worst of all the wicker seats are puritanical in their lack of cushiness and have a tendency to poke one. Intimately.

He's been here for six hours now, waiting for Mercury to return with the promised drop of something restorative. Rogue bits of wicker have firmly embedded themselves in his person. He's almost too distracted to worry about infection, or becoming permanently affixed to the rocker, but manages to devote a small part of his mind to this idle fretting. Mostly he's wondering what's become of Mercury. It wouldn't be the first time she's been gone longer than expected (her disappearance for the entirety of 1998 springs to mind), but she usually has the graciousness to not leave him bound with an afghan to an infernal device while she's off and about. He hopes that nothing has happened to her.

The door creaks open and a quaint and ancient man comes hobbling in, holding a trembling tray in his hands. He gives Aldred a carefully composed quizzical look that doesn't quite hide the fact that he knows, if not exactly what's going on, enough to not be as innocent as he's pretending.

"Ah, Mr. Aldred?"


"Miss Mercury called. On the telephone. Says she's been unavoidably detained. At the, uh, antique mall. Looking at antiques." The man gestures with the tray. "She said I should maybe bring you something. Said you were indisposed. Stuck in the room. Resting."

He looks over the afghan, lets a little more of his wry amusement slip out.



"Not too warm? I hope?"

"Yes, fine."

"Rocker treating you alright?"

"It's lovely."

"Great. It's a terrific old chair. Handcrafted."

"It shows."

"It's for sale. If you're interested."

"I'll have to get back to you on that."

"Just say the word. We can come to a price easily."

"I'm sure. You'll excuse me, Mister-?"


"Mr. Kliet, but as Mercury mentioned I am feeling under the weather and I'm afraid I don't have the strength to discuss this wonderful chair."

"That's real Belgian wicker-"

"Not. One. Second. More."

Kliet can see that he's pushed the doddering a shade too far. Aldred notices the tray has stopped trembling, is in fact now deadly still.

"Right you are. Well, there's coffee here for you. And some cookies too. They're from an old family recipe. The wife-"

Aldred looks a polite amount of poison at him.

"Okay, okay. Cripes, can't an old fella have any fun?"

"Have your fun when you total up her bill."

Kliet snorts as he lays the tray across the arms of the rocker. He carefully untucks just enough of the Afghan to free up Aldred's right arm, leaving the rest of Mercury's sigil or combat origami or whatever it is in place. His movements are deft and professional: Aldred doubts Mercury had to tell him what to do. Crafty old bastard.

Aldred reaches for the mug of coffee, spilling a bit as the rocker follows his shifting bulk. He gulps a good half of it down. It's strong and hot and perfect, the definition of perfect in this case including a generous portion of very good rum. He can feel it working immediately, blotting out the accumulated irritation of the last six hours and making a dent in the enervation that led him to this point in the first place.

"That's...very good coffee."

"She said to give you the good stuff. Said you'd be needing it. Said it was an apology of sorts. Said she won't be back for a bit longer. Said probably not until tomorrow morning. Said-"

"Said 'keep him tied up'?"

"Said that too."

Aldred sighs, but he can't find it in himself to get too angry at Kliet, who is certainly going to follow her instructions to the letter. He knows how persuasive Mercury can be. Confining him to a chair for a day will hardly by the worst thing she's ever put him through. And the rum is very, very good indeed. "Breaking the embargo" good. Maybe even "smuggled out of Fidel's private stock" good. Raoul's, anyway.

"It seems a pity to mix this with coffee."

"It does indeed sir."

"And to drink it alone."

Kliet gives him yet another complex look. He has quite a repertoire.

"Well, I imagine there's no harm in a friendly drink or three with one of our guests. I imagine."

Kliet leaves the room. Aldred hopes he'll be back soon. He doesn't begrudge the man his calculating suspicions, but really, he has no intention of trying to escape. He's just terribly, terribly bored.

When Mercury returns the next morning she's greeted by a very hungover Mr. Kliet. Aldred's snores come rolling down the stairs and play about the room like drunken puppies. They don't cause the pictures to rattle on the walls, but it's a near thing.

"my god," she says. "This is going to cost me a fortune, isn't it?"

Kliet nods, then winces.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Desperate to Get Into Prog

Run from the nightmare dwelling thing of fear
That drips with dread and creeps so near
To perch on your shoulder on its feculent rear
And speak the unspeakable into your ear.


The thunder of the morning
Was the new age boldly dawning
While the giants were still yawning
In their castle down below.


The alphabet of sorrow
Wrote the story of tomorrow
And the ghouls down in the barrow
Gnawed the bones of Mia Farrow.


Across the singing galaxies
The stars crowned a new king
To challenge mankind's fallacies
And stroll on Saturn's rings.


A million bright green changes were brought forth by Father Time
To push the evolution of the primordial slime.
But devilish Death was waiting by the ocean with a scythe
To fight his endless battle with the living host of life.


Earth turns in flagrant beauty
From cold to tropical and back.
Each man will do his duty
To keep the sun from turning black.


The swordsman swings his weeping blade
Through the tears of Guinevere
Each one a diamond in the glade
Of Arthur's horned and cheated fear.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bored in Dreamland

Hopefully, by the time you read this I'll have been found. I seem to have gotten lost in a dream, and I have to say it is not at all what I expected. For a start, it's terribly dull. I always assumed that being lost in a dream would be an exciting and vibrant experience, if at times a little harrowing. Turns out it's a bit like having an anxiety attack and being very sleepy at the same time. I imagine it might be like spending too much time in a country where you don't know the social mores and eventually get tired and frustrated from constantly doing the wrong thing because you simply have no concept of what the right thing is, or could possibly be.

That's not to say there aren't some nice things about it. I can summon up a talking penguin anytime I want, for instance. Unfortunately the only thing it wants to talk about is how disappointed it is that I never went to grad school. Which I guess means the penguin is a manifestation of my father. Except my father is here already. In fact, there's several little clones of him milling about, and all they want to talk about is fish and how frightened they are of polar bears. Which suggests that my father is just a manifestation of a flock of penguins. This is precisely the sort of thing that I don't know how to properly react to. It's pissing me off. I get enough of this in real life.

Then the other night I had a lovely dinner with Gurdjieff and Mamie Van Doren. But again, it was terribly frustrating. Gurdjieff's English is dreadful, and he overcompensates for this by bugging his eyes out a lot and gesticulating wildly with a forkful of spaghetti Bolognese. It's unhelpful and messy. Then I managed to derail things entirely by asking Mamie what it was like to be dead. Turns out she isn't. This cast quite a pall over the proceedings. Gurdjieff told me "you verra bad man," and then they both ignored me for the rest of the meal, carrying on a completely unintelligible conversation between themselves. I would have made my excuses and left, but it took me hours to figure out how to get out of the insanely complicated chair I was sitting in. There were straps and buckles involved.

After that, I tried to keep to myself. I couldn't find much to do, so I ended up spending a lot of time napping. Except of course that would just put me back in the dream world. It was a bit like walking out of the front door of your house and finding yourself back in the hallway, in that it was equal parts fascinating and irritating. I suppose if I was a mathematician or a psychologist I would have something insightful to say about this sort of folding of reality, but I'm just a schlub with a BA, so all I could come up with was "Whoa, that's kinda trippy." The penguin was terribly disappointed.

I tried all the touristy things one does in dreamland. You know, the classics: flying, going to class naked, being chased by an unknown assailant, being the president and starting a nuclear war. The usual stuff. It was all fun, but rather unsatisfying, like I was just doing the things so I could cross them off the list. Oh and consequence-free sex with whoever I wanted turned out to be a disaster. Like anybody would, I tried it with myself first and apparently my technique is really lacking. I thought that I knew what I like, but when I caught myself checking my watch, well, it was emasculating to say the least. I lost the taste for experimenting after that.

Eventually I decided to concentrate on asserting normalcy. Perhaps I could escape by turning the dream world into the real world. I created a passing simulation of my house and office, and tried to follow the same routine I do in the waking world. I'd get up in the morning after lying in bed pretending to be asleep for what I judged to be eight hours or so. Then I'd make myself a cup of coffee and feed the cats. This took a long time as the house was populated by every cat I'd ever owned or wanted to own. Then I'd have a shower, get dressed, kiss my wife, explain to the penguin why an MFA wasn't for me, and head out to work.

Work was always a blur. I mean, literally. I couldn't get it to come into focus at all. Vague walls, ill defined cubes, shadowy co-workers who made sounds like papers rustling and keyboards clacking at the bottom of a well when they spoke...None of it resembled reality in the least. Well, maybe it resembled my reality, but now that I was paying attention to it, it certainly didn't resemble real reality. I managed to keep this up for what felt like a few days, but the passing of time kept slipping away from me. I suppose a few months must have actually gone by, because I eventually ended up having a midyear review with my shadow boss. Overall, my performance had been "rustleclickrustlerustle ," but I needed to concentrate more on "clackclickrustleclack" if I ever expected to make "clickityshufflerustleclack." I promised to do better, and then let the whole thing evaporate into thin air.

And now I stand on a flat white plane that stretches to infinity in all directions, a white, perfectly hemispherical sky overhead. If you happen to see a place like this in your dreams, please do stop by and see if I'm still there. I'd love for someone to lead me out of this boring place, or at least explain to the penguin why an MBA isn't the guarantee of success it used to be.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Private Moment with Mountford

There are tears all down the front of his dirty undershirt, because as is often the case Mountford is upset. There are also tears down the front of his dirty undershirt, because he believes in getting as much wear as possible out of a garment. The tears leave wet and salty spots and release a strange animal scent from the fabric. The tears allow a surprising number of hairs to poke through, and expose sad patches of sallow skin.

He cares on some level of course, for he knows that a man who has made an enemy of...well, everybody, is never truly alone. There's a terrible risk of exposure, that some cunning paparazzo with a telephoto lens will capture those deep underarm stains when Mountford stretches his apish arms above his head while standing in front of the french doors; that this man who never leaves his palatial estate without a hat will be caught showing his true colors (a sort of sickening yellow). True, said paparazzo would be swiftly and fatally dealt with, but if even one person saw such a thing the damage to Mountford's psyche would be incalculable.

Perhaps he courts this exposure and subsequent pain as a masochistic act. Or perhaps he is simply tired and wants to unwind in a horrible t-shirt and boxers. As a sort of human being and a kind of American, doesn't he have the right to his slovenly leisure? Isn't that what we all aspire to? Stained undergarments and threatened dignity?

Mountford limps over to his favorite recliner. The hamstring injury he suffered in Singapore has been playing him up again. For the thousandth time he curses the aim of his doublecrossed business partner, feels the spiky durian slam into his back and send him tumbling over a second floor balcony at the Raffles. Fifteen years later he still can't eat the damn things though he has several crates flown in at great expense during the season. It's a point of pride.

The recliner receives his slight body. His bony ass nearly pierces the well worn seat. His fingers reflexively scratch the armrests, pulling up flecks of cheap and cracking leather. It's something of a miracle that there's any left to scratch away, but Mountford has always had an instinct for pulling the meat from a carcass.

The tears have stopped flowing now, and the ones that made it to the horrible undershirt have begun to dry already. The upsetting thing has passed from his mind so quickly that he is having difficulty remembering what it was. He's almost certain it had something to do with money, but all he remembers now is the petulant rage, the deep but transient sense of loss that comes with losing .0000001% of his fortune.

He reaches for the television remote and begins to flick through channels, pausing at any black and white image, trying to turn it into a rerun of Sergeant Bilko with the sheer force of his will. It was his favorite program, and airings were once plentiful. Now it never seems to be on. A newly hired assistant once suggested he watch Top Cat instead, claiming it was the same thing but "better, because it has cartoon cats instead of that weird guy with the fake glasses." Mountford attempted to drown him in the bidet, only pulling back at the last minute because the paperwork involved with an accidental death of this sort was more trouble than the deep satisfaction would be worth.

But again today Phil Silvers remains elusive. A fantasy begins to form in Mountford's head. He goes into broadcasting, creating a cable network that resembles the UHF channels of his youth: F Troop, Bowling for Dollars, a sea captain who hosts an afternoon cartoon show on the weekdays and a monster movie double feature on Saturday, a farm report every morning, a prayer at sign off, and of course his beloved Bilko. It would be a relic from the past brought lovingly back to life in the present age. it would be his cultural legacy.

For a moment it shines before him like a tawdry and pathetic jewel. Then it winks out, Mountford's interest having abruptly ended when he realizes that most likely there would be no money in it. He's through with labors of love. Labors of avarice are so much more rewarding.

He continues to flick through the channels for another twenty minutes, but finds nothing worthy of his attention. Eventually he dozes off, awaking an hour later with a stiff neck and a foul taste in his mouth. He rises and lopes upstairs, where a very fine suit awaits his attention. Enough of this lollygagging.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things I No Longer Do

-Fry Daddy Roulette: Like Russian roulette, but involving your hand and six Fry Daddies, only one of which is plugged in. The main reason I'm now left handed.

-My hilarious Jonathan Richman imitation. Turns out it's not that funny.

-Write the scenarios for Hungarian porn films. You can only see the note "NEEDS MORE SYMBOLISM" so many times before you begin to question whether these Magyar bastards get where you're coming from artistically.

-Sneak into Philip Roth photo shoots and shout "Come on, love! Give us a smile!"

-Take banjo lessons. I was good, but I was only in it for the aesthetics and not the music, and that's just not genuine, no matter how good you look in overalls.

-Drink any clear liquid without first asking the person offering it what it is.

-Send care packages to Matthew Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces. They were addressed to YOU, Matthew. Your damn sister can find her own supply of homemade gorp.

-Rescue non-fly insects from the twists of fly paper hanging off our porch. I had to face the fact that my OCD was not an excuse to play God. Insect God, anyway.

-End my signature with "Esq." Apparently even if I had completed the course and become a Notary, I still wouldn't have had the right. Madness.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Aldred Comes Out of the Fog

The darkness is overpowering. He imagines it as a layer of moss growing between his brain and his skull. He ignored it for too long, and now the space between the soft and the hard is packed tight, and he is blind. Coherent thoughts and sensations that once moved freely between the inside and the outside now burrow halfway through the mossy darkness before being stilled, stopped and suffocated.

"What are you thinking about? Hmm?"

He wishes he knew.

"Oy, Aldred. Oy! Yo! Hello? Hello?"

Fingers snap beneath his nose. The sound comes to him through the olfactory center, synesthetically hitting his brain as the mixed smells of vinegar and burning moss. The smell overpowers the darkness, lightly, but enough that thoughts and sensations begin to move again.

The needy face of a small dog.
A sunny morning in Crete.
A heap of green oranges and orange bell peppers.
Mountford, in a tattered undershirt, yelling something about "foul cologne-drinking Portuguese ruffians."

"Oh lord, I remember that! They completely ruined his bootlegging operation and flipped him to the Guardia into the bargain. He was furious. He ran out and bought an atlas, an expensive one too, just to rip out the page with Lisbon on it to wipe his ass with. Appallingly childish gesture that, but that's Mountford all over, isn't it?"

It's a woman's voice, a voice he should know.

"I saw him recently," Aldred mutters. He is blinking, trying to see anything other than grayness, but his eyes are apparently a few minutes behind his nose and ears.


"It didn't end well."

"It usually doesn't." He can see a bit of motion in the gray now, and her voice seems to be coming from there. "Frankly, I don't know why you continue to have anything to do with him. Or he you for that matter. You're both terribly terribly bad for each other, and you're both terribly terribly aware of that fact. Yet you persist in getting in each other's way."

There is shape now to the movement.

"Couple of latent homosexuals if you ask me."

There is now sharp outline to the shape.

"You ought to let him tup you and have done."

There is now color within the outline.

"Or you him, whichever. All I'm saying is that it would do the universe a world of good —or maybe just the world a universe of good— if you boys would give in and get your silly repressed lusts out of your systems."

There is now a gray haired woman in her mid-fifties in the outline. She wears a smart tweed suit, a muted green check affair. She has the air of someone who has practiced at being clever long enough that it has become a near substitute for wisdom. A lit cigarillo is in her hand, an affectation designed purely to distract people by getting them to ask themselves the question "Where on earth does one even buy cigarillos in this day and age?"

"Did you say 'tup'?"

"I'm afraid I did."

"You do know it's the 21st century, right? Has been for a while?"

"I realize you're coming out of a bit of a fog and might feel a touch grumpy, but try not to be too much of a smartass, dear."

"Sorry, I don't know where my manners are. Hello Mercury."

"Hello Aldred."

"Pardon the cliché, but where am I?"

"Would you believe Bucharest?"

"I would not."

"Good. We're in Bethlehem."

"The Jesus town or the steel town?"

"The latter. You were found wandering around downtown Philadelphia, waving a reindeer antler in a threatening manner and shouting something about geometry. Spheres, I believe."

"Oh dear."

"Mmm. Luckily, I happened to be in town, attempting to clear my own head with a bit of history."

"What, the Liberty Bell and all that?"

"Don't knock it. Lots of strength to be drawn from an object like that, if one knows how to approach it sensibly. At any rate, I found you and instantly knew that you needed to be taken someplace quiet yet industrial."

"That's a very specific thing to know instantly."

"You're quite easy to diagnose dear. Oh, and I was already planning on coming out this way for some antiquing anyway. So things had lined up nicely. They often do."

Aldred is finally able to make sense of the room. It appears to be the sort of oppressively tasteful space that she has always favored. Probably a bed and breakfast, probably owned by an old married couple, probably banal and deadening and far too cozy. He's never understood why she favors places like this, but he can't deny that she draws a certain energy from them. Her witchery has always been a clandestine thing, disguised with tweeds and doilies. Aldred finds it baffling, but he's respected it ever since he saw her garrote a man four times her size with an eyeglass chain.

He tries to stand, and the room lurches sickeningly, gray pouring back into his field of vision. She grasps his shoulders and pushes him back down into what turns out to be a rocking chair.

"No dear, I don't think you should get up just yet." She tosses an afghan over him, binding him down with a series of sinister tucks and folds. "You stay right there. I'll just go and see if they've got something pleasant yet medicinal for you. Tomorrow we'll see about getting you back in...alignment, shall we say?"

Aldred smiles vaguely and watches her leave the room. As soon as the door closes he struggles against the afghan, but it's no use, he's bound tight to the rocker. He tries to resign himself to his fate, but the last time Mercury used the word "alignment" at him it resulted in a three month physical and metaphysical training course and a near psychotic breakdown. He'll have to start planning an escape soon , but for now there's nothing to do but let the accursed cosiness cover him and try to mend.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Movies I Have Hallucinated

Stabbing the Day Away: The Louisa May Alcott Story (Nutmeg): A heartwarming family oriented biopic about the author of Little Women and her lifelong secret passion for murdering transients.

Reichstag Follies of 1933 (Peyote): It was sort of like Triumph of the Will, but it had W.C. Fields, a very blond kickline, and several songs by Eddie Cantor. An extremely wooden comedy sketch featuring Der Führer and Olsen and Johnson was a particular lowlight (seriously, what''s funny about him saying "Vas ist dis HELLZAPOPPIN'?" over and over again?). The ghost of Keith Moon told me this was his favorite film, but he was pretty high when he said it.

Muppet VALIS (Mescaline): That special Jim Henson magic brought to bear on Philip K. Dick's thinly fictionalized account of his Gnostic experience/psychotic break. The scene where a beam of divine pink light pierces Kermit's forehead and fills him with cosmic knowledge is beautiful, though somewhat marred by the fact that you can totally see the top of the puppeteer's —sorry, muppeteer's— head for most of the shot.

Cleveland, Cleveland, Cleveland (LSD): 40 hour film consisting entirely of shots of helicopters flying over "The Forest City" and dumping buckets of brightly colored sand on it.

Jackie Chan Hits You in the Face With A Hammer While Laughing Hysterically (DMT): I think this was in 3D. Or maybe I hallucinated Jackie Chan actually stopping by and hitting me in the face with a hammer, instead of just hallucinating a movie about it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

On the Counting of Legs

The strangest thing came out of the woods a few weeks back. The thing was kind of hard to focus on but we all agreed that it had long dirty white fur and an odd number of legs (though no one could agree on whether it was seven, nine or eleven). It limped into the town square and squatted there, just howling and whistling and clicking. Carl thought it sounded like someone swinging a burlap sack full of bobolinks over their head. Larry wanted to know precisely how Carl knew what that sounded like. Carl turned red and started to stutter. This of course led to Esmeralda rushing to his side and checking his temperature, supposedly because she's a medical professional. Now, none of us thinks that being a transcriptionist qualifies you to practice medicine, but none of us wants to point that out either. The last person to try to tell the truth to Esmeralda was Kathy Torkbeck, and none of us wanted to be stabbed in the throat with a ballpoint pen and then be left lying on a rented trundle bed in the middle of the High School gymnasium.

Poor Kathy. She only came here because she wanted a taste of small town living. One of these days we really ought to finish carving that gravestone, but nobody really knew how old she was and anyway, it's not like she gets a lot of visitors. Wish we'd spelt her name right though; but when the only stone carver for miles around is a mental deficient from Montreal "Torkbeck" is going to come out "Torquebecq." That's just the way things go.

Can't say what she expected life in a small town to be like, but we speculated that she was thinking "like a city, but smaller." She tried to settle in, but there were plenty of signs that she was going to have trouble. Her tendency to get mail from places more than fifty miles away was a problem. The way she cried when she found out the only readily available sweetener was birch syrup didn't sit well with anybody. She blew her social standing with her refusal to accept the mayor's gift of a hand stitched gingham anklet. And of course the way she cozied up to Carl pretty much painted a target on her back. Or on her throat.

Carl himself always appeared ambivalent about the attention he got from Kathy, but this may have been out of regard for Esmeralda, if not fear of her. Nobody liked to talk about it, but we knew that Carl was missing his right pinky because he once forgot to say good morning to her; and his left because he later joked about it being a "lover's spat". Don't recall him ever making a joke about anything after that, though that may have been because his stutter came in around the same time. He really had only himself to blame: he knew that Esmeralda regarded him as her property, but in a pure and uncarnal way, like how you own a fridge or a timeshare. If you're going to acquiesce to having that kind of role in life, you need to be awful careful how you joke about it. You should certainly never use the word "lover." It was a hard learned lesson for Carl, but sometimes those are the best. That stutter makes him damn hard to understand sometimes though.

Anyway, Kathy's tendency to smile at Carl was basically a criminal act if you understood how things work around here. The fact that she didn't understand simply compounded the criminality of it all; and while none of us condone murder, nobody wanted to bring in Esmeralda for doing something that was her natural right. We do all wish she'd been a little more discreet about it —and it's downright tasteless the way she wears the cap from that pen on a lanyard round her neck— but decorum and the law don't always go hand in hand.

When you saw the genuine tenderness she had for Carl in moments like this, where she stroked and slapped and pinched and scratched his cheeks while he sputtered and turned redder and redder, you knew everything was going right. A big dumb thing like Carl needs to be controlled and kept on the right path. No telling what he'd do otherwise, though you can imagine it might involve burlap and bobolinks. He's unwholesome at heart and if his life needs to be bounded by a woman who's more ministering wolverine than ministering angel, well then so be it.

Carl eventually calmed down and we all turned our attention back to the thing. It had stopped making that racket and was lying on its side. There was no sign of it breathing, though maybe breathing wasn't a quality possessed by this kind of thing. Anyway, it's been there for five weeks now and doesn't appear to be rotting. Funny how it's been perfectly motionless this whole time and we still can't agree on how many legs it has.

It's a mystery all right.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two Named Women Not Talking About a Man

Nancy and Andrea are standing in an open field, surrounded by barrels. It is a beautiful, slightly breezy day. Perhaps it is April. Perhaps it is not.

Nancy has been looking at the sky, the ground, the scrubby trees. Occasionally she wanders over to one of the barrels and has a look inside. She would like to be seen as one who is interested in the world around her. In actual fact, she is simply trying to avoid talking to Andrea.

Andrea has noticed this.

“They’re all empty you know,” she says as she stares at Nancy, who returns her gaze for a split second.

“No,” says Nancy, “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, use the past tense okay?” Andrea stretches her meaty arms above her head, turns said head to the side, yawns, spits, and lowers her arms. “I’ve been watching you. I’ve been watching you, and I know for a fact that you have looked in every single one of those barrels. So in the past you didn’t know that. But now, here in the present, you know.”

Nancy adjusts her thick glasses, a move that’s all about the comforting feeling of a bakelite bridge sliding up a greasy nose and not at all about seeing. She glances at Andrea, considers –for a moment– trying to stare her down, and then looks away again.

“You make a very precise point. If an aggressive one.”

“Aggressive?” Andrea takes a few steps towards Nancy. Her big arms are a bad match for her petite frame, giving her the appearance of some sort of gorilla/ballerina chimera. “Are you calling me aggressive?” She steps closer still, sticks her head out like a turtle, her nose nearly touching Nancy’s barely existent chin. “What exactly do you find aggressive about me ?”

“Well,” says Nancy, surprised that in this moment of personal invasion, this moment of undeniable attack, that an unexpected calm is seeping into her “well, I think it might have something to do with the fact that you felt the need to correct me about something that is really none of your business.”

She gives Andrea’s shoulder what would appear to an outsider to be a gentle shove. Andrea falls over, quietly thudding into the ground, landing between two barrels. Nancy looks down at her.

“I’m sorry, was that aggressive?”

Andrea glowers up at her and doesn’t say a word.

This piece was written so that I would have something in my portfolio that passes the Bechdel Test.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Abandoned Hobbies

-Making my own glass using sand and matches

-RC frog racing

-Collecting cheese labels (I actually loved the hobby, but couldn’t hack the politics)

-Learning to stutter in Turkish

-Knitting phonebook cosies

-Constructing tiny villages out of acorns (basically just turning acorns upside down on a plate covered with glue)

-Amateur phone sex

-Moonlighting cosplay and reenactment (got sick of always having to be Allyce Beasely)

-Falling down the great staircases of the world

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Horrible Popcorn With the Madonna of Conflagration

I open the door to a huge black bag, encircled by the arms of the Madonna of Conflagration.

"This is..."

"Fifteen pounds of caramel corn."

"In a trash bag."

"Technically it's called a 'yard bag', if that makes you feel any better."

"It doesn't. Do you know what outgassing is?"

"Yes. It's something that assholes spend far too much time worrying about when they could be eating caramel corn. Now are we going to the park or what?"

Of course we go. I can't say no to her. I don't want to say no to her. It's usually to my advantage to say yes to her (eventually, anyway). Though maybe not this particular time. She's been in a mood for weeks now. The year is drifting into autumn, and the Madonna of Conflagration always takes the end of summer hard, and has for as long as I've known her. When we've settled in at the park, an uncomfortable bench beneath us, the huge black bag of sickly sweet popcorn shared on our laps, I ask her why this is.

"God man, I don't know. Maybe it's hormonal. Maybe it's something to do with astrology. Maybe I don't like the cold. Maybe I hate football. Maybe I don't like school buses. Maybe it's that Seasonal Affective Disorder thing. Maybe I'm clumsy and I don't look forward to icy sidewalks. Maybe the smell of burning leaves sets off my allergies. Maybe I hate that fucking parade with the balloons, even though I end up watching the whole fucking thing, usually while getting drunk alone."

"I've offered to watch it with you."

"It's important that I'm alone for that one. It's like a ritual."


"Aw, come on-"

"No, seriously, it's fine. It's fine. Go on."

I shovel handfuls of the terrible popcorn into my mouth while I wait for her to continue.

"Look, forget about that. This thing, this summer thing, I don't know okay? It's just weather right? I'm an intelligent person. I've made some tragically stupid moves in my life, but I'm not, like, inherently stupid right?"

"Of course not."

"Right. I just...Shit, I just, I have a lot of regrets okay? And mostly, for the most part, right, that's fine and everything because everybody does. Everybody. I mean you do, right?"

"Some. Sure."

"You've got caramel all over your face by the way. Where did you learn to eat? Could we bring up the tone here a little, please?" Like a low budget magician she pulls a wet nap out of the air. She hands me the unopened packet then looks away, as if I were about to do something terribly private.

"So yeah, most of the time it's fine. And sometimes it's not. And that's how it goes. And around this's bad."

I'm shocked to see a few tears roll down her cheek, and even more shocked when they stop almost immediately. She still isn't looking at me.

"It's really really bad. And that's all I want to say and all I want you to know. Okay?"

"I...yeah, okay."


"Right. I'm lemony fresh now by the way."

"Oh thank god." She looks back at me. "Yeah, very presentable." She looks away again.

We sit there for a while, saying nothing as the sun goes down (so early now), and the dusk comes in. I have no idea if this is what she wanted or not, or if I screwed up. Eventually she stands up, slinging the bag over her shoulder.

"You look like Santa Claus."

She smiles.

"Come on. I'll buy you a drink and we'll talk about what the hell I'm gonna do with the rest of this popcorn."

I stand up. On a whim I link arms with her. It's some kind of statement I suppose, though I couldn't tell you precisely what it means. Anyway, she accepts it gladly, and we walk out of the park, in step and looking downright jaunty. Something has readjusted itself, some equilibrium has been regained. Neither of us knows what it is precisely, but we take a great deal of comfort from it. There's a lot of things we share that could be described that way.

I poke the bag with my free hand.

"Where did you get that crap anyway?"

She shakes her head and puts a finger to her lips.

"It's a secret."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Portraits of Statisticians: Ostilio Ricci

"Hey, hey Ostilio!"


"Like, what's your deal man?"

"My deal is that I roll with The Footnote Posse, man."

"The Footnote Posse?"

"The Footnote Posse."

"Man, what's The Footnote Posse?"

"It's a gang for all the great people of history who have become overshadowed by a 'more important' associate or are just remembered for some damn thing that got nothing to do with what they were doing, if you follow."

"I guess. Flesh it out a little."

Well, take me: you know what my role in history is? 'Galileo's Mentor.' That's it. Not 'brilliant natural philosopher' and 'fearless scientist possessed of unbounded imagination.' The best I get is 'had a pretty good eye for fresh talent.' What the fuck is that? It makes me sound like a goddamn guidance counselor."

"That does suck. So who else is in the Footnote Posse?"

"Let's see: there's literary dudes like Max Brod, who's basically only known as 'the guy who didn't burn Kafka'; and Cyril Kornbluth who 'wrote some books with Frederick Pohl.' Politicians like American president William Henry Harrison-"

'The shortest serving president, the one who died after 31 days?"

"That's him. What else can you tell me about WHH?"

"Man, not a damn thing."

"That is EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Taft's here too, on account of people only remembering that he was a fatass.Who else? George Lazenby, Joseph Priestley, Rosalind Franklin, Jack Lescoulie-"


"He hosted the Tonight Show between Steve Allen and Jack Parr."

"So he's like a footnote to a footnote?"

"Hey you watch your mouth about Jack Parr!"

"Sorry man, but like, all anybody knows about Jack Parr is that he hosted before JC."

"Yeah, I guess. Hey speaking of JC we got Mithras and Simon Magus rolling with us."

"I meant Johnny Carson."

"I know you did man, it was an association of ideas. Like how rolling reminds me of logs and that reminds me that Jim Messina is with us."

"Who? Wait, Logs, logs...The other guy from Loggins and Messina?"

"You got it."

"Motherfucker I am done talking to you."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Tattoos

Right bicep: A pigeon peeking over the edge of a bucket. It holds an envelope in its beak.

Inside left forearm: A mayonnaise jar full of fireflies.

Back of neck: A plot summary for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, including spoilers for the ending.

Across back: group portrait of the Marx Brothers, including Gummo.

On right knee: A crude sketch of a boulder, imperfectly remembered from a series of recurring dreams I had in the late 90s.

Down left calf: A section of PVC pipe, slavishly copied from an illustration in an industrial catalog.

Right ankle: Eeyore (Disney). I lost a bet.

Over my heart: a British soldier's helmet, circa WWI, upside down. The helmet has been filled with soil, and a daffodil has been planted in it. The helmet rests on the steps leading up to the Lincoln memorial. A little girl in a gingham dress sits next to it, a single tear rolling down her cheek. I have no memory of getting this one.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


A pair of pickaxes, crossed like legs, is sitting abandoned on the living room floor. They are completely out of place, and the incongruity is making the whole room vibrate. Reality is looking like a loose film. If there was sound here, it would be helplessly garbled and an affront to the ears. It's a small mercy that the room is deadly silent. Still, it's impossible to focus on the white walls. It's known they'll stop moving at the lightest touch, but something makes this a blasphemy beyond compare. This is felt not known, a revealed knowledge that it would be a supreme ingratitude to ignore. There is ritual in this vibratory reaction: something in this room is worshiping something else in this room. This is no longer a space to be inhabited. Perhaps it's no longer truly a space at all, but rather the sacred given form, a demonstration of energy becoming matter. That it resembles a room for people to live in is mere coincidence.

The head of the topmost pickaxe is caked with dirt. The dirt is bone dry and cracking in places. Flecks of mica are embedded in it. They are catching the light, twinkling from the vibrations, making the head of the pickaxe into a stellar map of an unknown sky. In some places the cracks and flecks are working together to show the lines of new constellations. New to the viewer anyway. The lines and points are ancient, though perhaps still waiting to be named. It is unclear whether this is a right of discovery to be taken, or a celestial favor to be granted. However, it is clear that determining which is the case is not to be taken lightly.

The handle of the topmost pickaxe is worn from use. Strange piebald patches give evidence that the handle has been painted and repainted, varnished and revarnished, stripped and sanded, over and over again. The lines of the handle are no longer straight. Palms and gripping fingers have created curved indentations, suggesting that this is a tool with a very specific balance point. It must have been held exactly the same way for decades upon decades. Perhaps inheritance of the tool was determined by the shape of the beneficiary's hands rather than a more traditional accident of birth, so that the grip could be preserved and enhanced.

The bottommost pickaxe is immaculate and has clearly never been used. head and handle both shine. In fact, the head appears to have been chromed, an extravagance that suggests that not only has this tool never been used, but perhaps also that it is never meant to be used. The handle is glossy and black. It is impossible to determine if this is paint, black varnish, or if the handle is naturally made of a black wood that has been polished exactingly. Blurry reflections of the room can be seen in it, merging with the woodgrain. It's possible to imagine that a simulacrum of the room exists within the handle, inhabiting a lathe turned wooden universe that will remain forever unreachable.

The vibrations continue and build in intensity. Items fall off the shelves lining the walls, falling noiselessly to the carpeted floor. The vibrations grow and grow, until the point is reached where the room is no loner identifiable as such. All that can be determined is that something that may be room-shaped is in violent motion. It's individual features can no longer be distinguished. This continues for a period that may last minutes or may last years. Eventually though, the vibrations begin to recede, slowly dropping to their original intensity, and then continuing to slow even beyond that frequency.

When the vibrations cease entirely, the pickaxes are still there. however, they have switched positions, the unused axe on top, the worn one underneath. As the light begins to fade in the room, the distant sound of a single pair of booted feet approaching can just be heard.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Recent Acquisitions

A small stone statuette, depicting either a man shaped like a key or a key with feet.

Twenty yards of velvet, brushed against the nap and sprayed with a fixative.

A rubber mallet with a handle that was broken and badly repaired with electrician's tape.

A Philco television set, circa 1954, filled with goldfish bones.

Five taxidermic shrews, posed in a standing ring around a cup filled with very sharp red pencils.

A scrapbook full of clippings about Egyptian railway disasters. Marginalia in what appears to be Armenian.

A long playing record of hog calls, badly scratched.

An oil painting of a woman in a hoop skirt being menaced by a water spaniel.

A ten gallon glass jar. Empty, but smells of cucumbers and cinnamon.

A complete set of National Professional Soccer League cards from 1986, in uncut sheets (one per team).

A gold pocket watch, partially dipped in what appears to be creosote.

A bag of flaky black powder, certified to be the decomposed remains of a nitrate stock print of London After Midnight.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Aldred and the Pond

Aldred can't decide if it's somehow respectful or utterly tasteless that they've turned the bomb crater into a koi pond. Given, it's the perfect shape and saves the effort of digging a separate hole, but still. He's been feeling superstitious for a few weeks now, actively trying to avoid bad omens or anything that could conceivably turn into one. For an imaginative person like Aldred this is a difficult proposition. The day before he left America he passed a pile of new phone books that had been left outside a condemned apartment building, apparently in error. They were already fading and warping, the plastic wrap proving ineffective at keeping out light or moisture. Aldred's scrying mind was compelled to read signs of a fractured future, perhaps involving an injury to the leg (his?) before he forced himself to look away. It didn't help matters that he almost immediately afterwards barked his shins on a badly placed planter. In his experience it isn't usually this simple to connect the dots.

He's finding it irritating that the unseen is proving rather visible lately. Besides the perilous situations it ends up putting him in, it's boring. And cheap. Aldred wants to be teased by the universe, led on with tantalizing glimpses from behind a twitching veil, lifted up by spikes of intuition and buffeted by the unexpected, caressed by tendrils of mystery while he tumbles through that which is sensed and that which is known in other ways...

Good lord, he's getting an erection. That's no way to behave at a garden party, even in one of the more decadent corners of Montenegro. Ill-advised as it may be, he'd best focus his attention on the pond.

The crater is a relic of WWII. There's some debate as to which side brought it into the world, but the Countess prefers to blame Mussolini. Aldred pictures the dictator striding into the garden, kneeling on the lawn, and cracking the earth with his proud and powerful head. More conventional munitions were probably responsible in reality. The perfect circle of the pond makes the image hard to shake though: he keeps seeing Il Duce's giant skull displacing the earth, over and over. The pond water pours from his eyes and koi spawn drips from his mouth, growing to full size carp before hitting the surface. They swim off in tightly organized schools, the aquatic equivalent of the fascist ideal: opulent and regimented and fast, so fast.

It's hardly fair to the koi to indict them with the man's ideology like this, but fairness isn't at the top of Aldred's mind at the moment. All in all, he's not thrilled to be here. The estate, the garden, the pond, his hosts: it's not the atmosphere he wants and needs at the moment. It's all too 20th century. While he's currently terrified of omens, he's also obsessed with the future. It's an untenable position, but it's one he can't come to grips with in a place so mired in the past. he was hoping to find a forward flow to grab onto, here in one of the world's newest republics. Instead it's imported titles, gossip about who did what for Milošević, and wreckage from the 1940s. His disappointment is in turn making him feel childish and paternalistic. He's being an ungracious guest and an ugly American.

He decides to concentrate on the fish. There's a couple dozen of them. They're beautiful as they swim around, but they keep breaking his contemplation, by coming to the surface flapping their lips and making him think of Mussolini again. Two dozen bald dictators, declaiming from the pond, urging him to go faster, go forward. They want him to march into the 20th century, modernizing everything he touches. It's a completely irrational responsibility to place on one man. At any rate their notion of modernity is already hopelessly antiquated: Aldred hears them burbling about tail fins and six lane highways and the need for long distance air travel. History has passed these fish by and they don't even know it. They don't even to know what year it is. He wants to pity them, but he finds himself getting angry instead.

When the Countess wanders down to receive his compliments on the pond, she's rather surprised to find Aldred hopping up and down, shouting about the dead ends represented by futurism and fascism, and occasionally giving the finger to her koi. She thinks he's rather crossed the line from colorful to garish. Once Aldred calms down, he'll agree with her, but by then he'll be back in the states, boldly walking under ladders and daring black cats to cross his path. Omens be damned: he wants the future now.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Product Testimonials

Back when I was famous —before the accident forced me into retirement and obscurity, living out my days in a rundown villa on Mauritius, where my nightmares are eternally haunted by flocks of skeletal dodos that are only kept from stalking into my waking life through liberal application of the vile local rum— I was often invited to lend my face and words to endorse products for a nominal fee. I thought you might enjoy these examples from my scrap book. Perhaps they'll remind you of a simpler time, when men shaved only their faces and women wore tennis shoes only if forced to at gunpoint.

Bon Ami Cleanser: It redefines harsh. Don't let the fluffy little chick on the label fool you: Bon Ami is serious business. I've used it to polish the very flesh off any man who slights me, not stopping until his bones are glowing white under the noonday sun. It works great on Formica as well.

Goodyear Tires: The culmination of the industrial spirit. No tire is more finely made. No round object is rounder. I don't need an automobile to drive: I just need four of these and my iron will.

Lucky Strike Cigarettes: People often ask me (their voices trembling) to what I credit my enormous strength and Herculean endurance. My answer is always the same: every morning I start the day with a bowl of crushed Lucky Strikes, swimming in warm buttermilk. They provide me with the essential nicotine and tar I need to stride through the day, crushing my enemies and grinding their legacies to powder while their widows look on, gasping with fear and arousal.

Tootsie Rolls: A single Tootsie Roll held firmly under the tongue has seen me through treks across the full length of the Gobi desert on several occasions. To bring any other sustenance would be an act of pure effeminacy.

Hanes Underpants: Putting a pair on is like being ravished by a depraved Danish courtesan made of the finest combed cotton.

The Zondervan Publishing House Edition of Today's New International Version of the Bible: A manly and robust translation that has often been of great solace to me. I only regret their decision to print the words of Christ in red, as they tend to disappear in the bloody haze so often before my eyes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Memo From Mountford

To: Humanity

In re yours of 27 April 20--, a Hymn to the sun and a rising feeling of the spirit, like a child's balloon going up up up from the surface of the earth...

Well, I hardly know where to begin. There's certainly an expansiveness that you all desire...that we all desire, I should say. Far be it from me to set myself apart from humanity. Some of my fondest desires are human. At least I think they're human. You tell me: when they're obscenely biological; when they drip with blood and spit and semen; when they crack bones and burst organs; when they set the nerves to shrieking and the skin to peeling; when they pith infants and liquefy the elderly; when they're sick and shameful: those are human desires, aren't they?

Surely we're not talking about something merely animal?

But where was I? Oh yes: a hymn to the sun. I still hardly know where to begin. The surface of the earth is yours. Nearly two million miles to desire. Yes yes yes two thirds of that is under water, but really, you've got submarines and Dutchmen. It's only a matter of time before the whole thing is available to you somehow. I have full confidence in your industry. I only wish you felt the same way. When I get a whiff of this horrific sun worship, this retrograde Egyptian perversion, this simple ingratitude to millenia of sophisticated and supplanting theologies —spiritual and material— I weep for you. I also feel whithering contempt for you, but that's hardly what you need to hear right now, is it?

Pardon, I meant: ours, we've, us, our, us. Of course I did. Because I'm one of you.

Your notes on that morning caused a special pain which I hope never to feel again. Such sickening notes, the sound of centuries of enlightenment stripping away from your consciousness, and sung out with such unanimity. You were like pigs, grunt grunt grunting for your slops, your beady little eyes all pointing in the same direction, your drippy hairy snouts inhaling and exhaling as one. My eardrums bled, I assure you, as I heard your piggy little chorus greet the sun. I'm amazed you didn't roll over and offer up your porky bellies, the only kind of future you seem to have any sophistication about.

Excuse me, one of us. Us.

You should know: I wasn't the only one offended that day. Do you know who else found your hymn disgusting? Who else found it an aesthetic crime beyond compare? Who else shuddered and felt sickened? Who else considered winking out of existence, rather than be racked by one more torturous second of your wetbrained crooning? No?

I'll give you a hint: you're orbiting it right now.

No, sorry, that's probably still too hard, so I'll just tell you it was the sun itself, shall I? Yes that's probably for the best.

I wouldn't say your hymn fell on deaf ears exactly, though they were nearly deafened by the time you finished. But honestly, the sun is billions of years old. There's nothing acceptable you can do for the sun. Avert your eyes, cover your skin, and stay inside as much as you can. That's what you can do for the sun. Don't assault it with off-key caterwauling. Don't blast it with orisons trite and pathetic. The sun is worthy of worship, but worship from you is a dishonor, that in some small measure diminishes the holiness of any thing it falls upon. Your worship causes solar flares and sunspots. Your worship is a blasphemy of the thing it worships. Your worship is a desecration. Your worship is an ugly thing smearing itself across the sun's beauty. Melanoma and the greenhouse effect are just punishments for your kind of worship.

In short, the sun hates you. As do I. But you need to understand the difference: the sun's hate for you is pure. My hate is a kind of love. While you wounded both of us that day, I still believe in your ultimate redemption. The sun would like nothing better than to burn you off the surface of the earth, but don't worry, I've had a word with it. You're safe for now. There's no need to thank me; indeed, I'd much rather you didn't. Just remember to avert your eyes when I pass, bow your heads, and stay out of my way. If it helps, think of me as a little piece of the sun that walks among you.

Yours in service,


[For immediate distribution. Translate as necessary, but I want a copy in every set of filthy paws by the end of the week, whether they can read it or not. Tell them it's a magick talisman or their new passport or a lottery ticket, I don't care. If they just hold the words, maybe some of them will rub off.]

Monday, July 7, 2008

More Books I Have Not Bought (Yet)

Secret Kneeshakes of the Amputee Masons!

Faking Leukemia for Fun and Sympathy

101 Haiku About Canning and Pickling

Blind Bulgarian Minefield Tap Dancers and Other Horrors of War

Plant a Seed and Watch It Die: A Memoir of Teaching the Hopeless

The Sweaty Man's Guide to Home Wiring

Why I am Still a Zoroastrian

A Timed History of Briefs

How To Kiss A Clown (No Tongues Edition)

What It Might Have Been Like to be Friends With Ian Curtis: a novel

The Collectors' Guide to Damaged Goods

I Before E Except After the Reichstag Fire: A History of the Real Grammar Nazis

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Life on Earth With The Madonna of Conflagration

The phone call was brief.

"I need you to come down here, like right now. Five minutes ago even."

"Where's down here?"

"The roof of the Bentley Building. Just hurry. I promise you're going to totally shit yourself."

You can usually trust The Madonna of Conflagration when she makes this kind of call. We originally met when she ran into the bar I was having a nervous breakdown in and asked if anybody wanted to see a duck being rescued from a barrel of molasses. I was the only person to follow her, and to this day I don't know if it's because I was worried about the duck, thought the whole thing sounded hilarious, or was intrigued at the prospect of seeing a real live barrel marked MOLASSES.

Another time I was at work. She walked in, wearing a trench coat and shades, sidled up to my desk and leaned over, whispering:

"You have got to get out of this morgue and follow me down to the park, because you will totally, totally not believe this shit that I have found."

Then she tried to glide out like the femme fatale in a spy movie, but it was basically her usual full on forward charge, just on tiptoe this time. Still, the whole thing was intriguing, so I cleared the decks as quickly as possible and went downtown. I found her by one of the huge half-dead trees that dot the city park.

"This hole in the trunk here? Stick your head in it, and look down. No, do not give me 'Dubious Look Number 7', do not ask me any questions, just do it."

So I did, and it was indeed totally worth it. The hole was about three feet up the trunk of the tree. Said trunk was completely filled with macadamia nuts up to the level of the hole. They were in the shell, which I had never seen so I had to ask her what they were.

"Do you have any idea how these got here?" I asked.

"No, but I have a theory."

She looked around.

"Hawaiian squirrels. Gotta be Hawaiian squirrels. Like,they've come back to the mainland, right? Probably floated back over in discarded SPAM cans. And they've brought their possessions with them."

I e-mailed her an article later that day that said there are no squirrels in Hawaii. She didn't talk to me for a month. Even after things defrosted, I got the impression that I was not to bring up the tree and its strange cargo ever again.

So while it was six in the morning on a Sunday, I figured the odds were pretty good that she had something worth seeing. I threw on some clothes, staggered out into the street, somehow found the subway and headed downtown. I arrived at the Bentley Building ten minutes later. She was standing outside, doing everything she could to keep from jumping up and down and failing miserably. When she saw me she grabbed my hand and started dragging me through the revolving doors to the lobby.

"Come on come on come on come on come come on GOD you are sooo slow..."

She hurled me into the nearest upward bound elevator, jumped in after me, and literally punched the button for the top floor.

"This better be good."

"This is better than good," she said, while shaking her smarting hand. "It's like, better than better than good. I don't know if you can even call this 'the best thing ever.' That would insult it."

"That's pretty good."

"Dude, are you even listening to me? Shit, I think I messed up my hand. Anyway, you will remember this morning for the rest of your life, and if you don't get excited, like, immediately, there's something wrong with you. Okay?"

So I spent the rest of the elevator ride trying to get myself excited, while she nursed her hand and watched the number lights climb, counting off the floors under her breath. We were both fairly ramped up by the time we reached the top floor. When the doors opened she shot out and galloped towards the stairs for the roof garden. I followed, and we emerged into a misty morning, in a little patch of pastoral heaven thirty floors above the city. She pulled me down a raked path, her head swinging from left to right. She stopped abruptly when she found what she was looking for and pointed down at a patch of petunias.

"There there there look look look!"

I squatted down, trying to figure out what the hell I was looking for. It took a minute before my eyes found about a dozen snails, mingling with the stems. They were in a heap but paired off within it, each couple wrapping their necks around each other while strange tendrils flowed from snail to snail.

"No way."

I looked up at the Madonna of Conflagration. She had a radiant grin on her face.

"Yup." She leaned down to whisper in my ear.

"They're fucking."

Bonus- Here is a short video of snails fucking.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Pocket Diary of a Gentleman

I'm a sucker for estate sales, but I usually can't afford much: a loose volume from a worm-eaten edition of Ruskin's works, a brass shoe horn, maybe a warped andiron if the stars are right. Most recently, I scored a damp cedar chest full of amusingly stained linen. Imagine my surprise when I found a gentleman's pocket diary wrapped in a completely ruined antimacassar that rather failed in the "anti-" department. It appears to be from the early to mid 19th century, and to have belonged to a man of means and taste. A sample page follows:

6AM: Awoken from terrifying dream of Irish Catholics setting up camp in the west garden. The beasts had used the topiary as support posts for their laundry lines.

7AM: Stomach issues continue, but managed to choke down a small portion of live elver in milk as prescribed. I find myself troubled by the morality of it all.

8:30AM: Perused my backlog of Sir Jasper's Journal of Effete Concerns. Horrified to discover that the diameter of the pearl in my stick pin was 1/128th of an inch out of step with fashion.

11AM: Sodomy and badminton. Weather continues fine.

1PM: Enervated. Only able to suck the dampness from an oyster shell for luncheon.

2PM: Assignation with Hungarian prostitute. At least her procuress claims that provenance: I fear I detect a distinct note of Kentucky around her vowels. Nevertheless, the coupling was excellent, formidable and restorative.

3PM: Interminable musical salon at Wenderton manor. Why they think their walleyed daughter's mastery of the tuba is something to celebrate remains a mystery.

5PM: Free time: tied ascot, practiced harpsichord, studied pornographic French lithographs, flagellated self

7PM: Finally feeling hale, so planned to dine on medallions of fawn in a black currant sauce. Just as I was being served, a doe and her (remaining?) fawns contrived to spoil things by wandering across the lawn. Blasted things. Had the curtains drawn, but proper dinner could no longer be faced. More elver instead.

8PM: Went to Turkish baths for steam treatment and personal irrigation, only to be informed the boiler had exploded that afternoon and all the clinical tubing was out being "vulcanized" or some such thing. Infuriating.

8:30PM: Returned home. Required four snifters of brandy to soothe irritation.

10PM: Updated diary, retired.

2AM: Disturbed by nightmare of being tied to a stake and pelted with handfuls of elver by the "Hungarian" prostitute riding on the back of a fawn. Interesting that her accent was pure Magyar as she screamed the most obscene insults at me. Apparently honesty only exists in our dreams. Awoke aroused.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Portraits of Statisticians: Sir George Biddell Airy

In the secret chamber under the Royal Observatory Sir George Biddell Airy sits in the lotus position and draws the world's energy into his body. He's been there for three days now, desperately trying to summon the angel. His joints ache, his mind is screaming, his soul is cracking from the strain, and he has nothing to show for it. Where is the blasted angel, the one bigger than the earth, the one with the holy flaming sword, the one that will settle this wretched problem of the meridian?

The year is 1884 and US President Chester A. Arthur has threatened the very fabric of time and space by requesting the International Meridian Conference: a meeting to establish once and for all where the Prime Meridian would lie for all the nations of the globe. Scientists of the Brotherhood of Deep and Ancient Knowledge were horrified. Arthur, the fool, thought that an official designation was simply a practical matter. His tiny politician's brain thought the plethora of national primes was a problem. He simply couldn't comprehend that these "arbitrary" lines kept the laws of the universe bound to the earth. He couldn't know that switching out these distributed bindings for a single line was no small matter. If the process wasn't handled correctly the earth would fly off its axis, either inwards towards the sun and burning or outwards to the stars and freezing. Why couldn't he leave well enough alone? Small-minded men like President Arthur were always meddling in things they didn't understand, and who had to clean up the mess? The Brothers, that's who.

Not for the first time the members of BDAK found themselves regretting that they took the secret part of "secret society" more seriously than others. Clowns like the Masons, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati: how secret were they? Everyone had heard of them and could name a couple of famous members. BDAK, on the other hand, was totally obscure, and in consequence had never successfully recruited the rich or famous or powerful. The occasional great man was approached, but invariably found joining some backwater secret society hardly worth his time, even when they promised to reveal the real secrets of the universe. Dr. Johnson had flatly refused the invitation, saying "Bee-dack? Bee-dack be damned, sir; I have better things to do with my time and good name than throw them on some bonfire of obscure iniquity and watch their ashes mount to the sky."

It still stung.

At any rate, there was a distinct lack of political pull in the organization, so infiltrating the conference and bending it to their will was pretty much out. It was then that Sir George Airy's name came up. The statistician had retired from the position of Astronomer Royal a few years before, but he still had a certain amount of critical access. Sir George had never made much of a splash as a Brother. He had never been much of a help at the rituals and was famous for nodding off during the longer incantations.

True, he had a sure hand when it came to drawing a circle of blood around an ancient stone altar, and he certainly knew a thing or two about the true nature of planets, having picked up some techniques for orbital weirding from the unearthly John Couch Adams, techniques that were previously (and strangely) unknown to the Brotherhood. Still, he wouldn't be anyone's first choice for a working as great as the establishment of a single binding meridian that could serve the same function as the many it would replace. But even in retirement he could come and go from the Greenwich Observatory whenever he pleased. This was useful, as President Arthur's wretched little conference had settled on Greenwich as the site of the new prime from all the other arbitrary possibilities, and the working would be most effective and easiest to perform from that location.

Airy's passion for the Greenwich meridian would also be of benefit. As the maps changed, and as world belief in the primacy of Greenwich grew, it would take a conduit who believed in the value of the meridian to focus that belief into the tower of thought energy that would reach out into the heavens and draw the attention of the angel. Summoned correctly, the angel would descend to the human realm and inscribe the new meridian on the sphere of the earth, using the point of his flaming sword to write out all the names of God around the ring, raising the power of the binding by orders upon orders of magnitude and keeping reality in place.

It seemed like a heavy load to place on the 83 year old shoulders of a man they regarded as competent at best. What they didn't know was that Sir George had been preparing for this moment for over thirty years. He had marked out the Greenwich meridian himself in 1851, supposedly as a way of showing the scientific establishment he was the Royal Astronomer and he meant business, but really as a way of increasing his standing in BDAK. He'd even gone the extra mile and done a couple of crude bindings to give the Greenwich line a little extra shine. The Brothers had nodded and said "yes, that's nice George," which in turn rankled, as it was never "Sir George". But over the next few decades, he clung to his belief in the meridian and nurtured it, noting that year by year more maps and charts were marking Greenwich as degree zero. When Arthur's pathetic little showboating conference had been called, Airy had already known the likely conclusion.

When the Brothers came calling cap in hand, tugging their forelocks and using his title, he was more amused than disgusted. He made a great show of his age and infirmity, doubted he still had the acuity needed to do the simplest of charms, let alone a complex working. Oh, but he would try, and he simply hoped that for all their sakes the world plunged into the sun when he failed, as burning would be the quicker death. The Brothers went away with ashen faces while Sir George chuckled to himself.

Later, as his efforts spilled over into a fourth day, he wondered if he hadn't bitten off more than he could chew after all. He was starving down here in this dank chamber. By his estimates the work should have taken no more than two days. Had he merely miscalculated, or was something worse happening? Perhaps his belief wasn't strong enough after all. Perhaps his stewardship of the meridian over the years hadn't been enough, or had been of the wrong quality, or some other factor had escaped his notice. Perhaps the Brothers had been right about him after all...

And then suddenly something clicked over and a segment of his beloved Greenwich Meridian stood before him. It was an obsidian band arcing through the ceiling and the floor of the chamber. Everything else he had ever seen in his life looked unreal compared to it. Sir George reached out to touch the line and found it to be warm like flesh. A mad urge to throw his arms around it seized him. When he did, the line almost immediately began to move. As they passed through the ceiling, Sir George knew he was sharing in the undeniable quality of the meridian, that the earth was the mere geographical abstraction, the line and its creator the physical reality.

He rode his line through the next four timeless days. Eventually his consciousness merged with the meridian, and the motion stopped or at least appeared to, as he was present at every point along the prime. It was beautiful, but it was too much for one man to merge with for long. When it came time to disengage from the meridian and return to his earthly body he felt not sadness, but the deepest satisfaction of his long career. It was a satisfaction both wise and smug. Smug because as he had moved around the world he was sure of one thing: he had seen no angel. The work was his and his alone.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Aldred Overreacts

It started as a desperate bid for a bit of novelty, and now Aldred is afraid things have rather snowballed. He's got nothing to blame but his own tendency to overreact to tedium. It's a character flaw that has laid him low before, even almost gotten him killed on occasion. More than once he's woken up in the hospital, a disapproving nurse looming over him like some hideously misshapen medical monument, waiting only for the merest flutter of his eyelid to launch into a speech that inevitably began with "Well! I don't know what you thought you were doing, but you're very lucky to be alive..." He would nod, sigh, and if at all possible fall back into a coma for a few days (an imperfect ability that when it worked proved to be invaluable, and was really the only worthwhile thing he learned during a wasted couple of months in Tibet).

Aldred has a nasty feeling that he's on that track again. He had been stuck out in one of the more uninteresting middles of nowhere for weeks now. He had thought he needed a bit of solitude to clear his head and soul. On reflection, he should have gone in the opposite direction. He should have found the noisiest, foulest smelling, most garish urban center going, crammed his brain and guts with the strongest stimulants he could lay hands on, and just had a complete sensory blow out. Even if it was like that time in Macao when he ended up blind for three days and deaf for four, it would have been better than this, this...this place. That's all it was. You couldn't even call it a "dull place" or a "featureless place". One couldn't attach a descriptor to its surface: they simply didn't stick. It was a place, and nothing but a place.

The place was killing him. It was flattening him, sucking the third dimension out of him using some kind of vampiric geometry. The place was trying to kill him with blandness. It wanted to leach the pigment out of him not just until he went white, but until he went transparent. It wanted to suppress his personality, apparently by pasting over it with some sort of cosmic layer of blah. The place was out to blank him. The place was out to erase him. The place wanted to rub him out.

It was also making him a touch paranoid, but that was incidental.

He stood against this attack for a few weeks (trying to prove something, he was no longer sure what), until one morning he simply cracked. Anyone standing outside of his rented (and boring) cottage that dawn would have seen the door fly open, and a determined Aldred launch himself through the opening, wearing nothing but a determined look and a kimono embroidered with dragons. He marched to the highest point for miles, a shriveled mound that dreamt of one day being mistaken for a hillock. He jumped up and down on this for the better part of an hour, all the while chanting "I deny you, I deny you, I deny you, I deny you", until his ankles began to hurt. He then proceeded into the town, shooting the evilest of evil looks at anyone he happened to pass. At a used car lot he selected the least reliable looking salesman, pulled three thousand dollars from inside the kimono, and said "Give me something that will break down inside of five hundred miles, but will last long enough to get me out of this damned place."

Four hundred and sixty miles later, he finds himself eating an ice cream cone and standing next to the smoking ruin of a 1994 Geo Metro, in the square of what appears to be a very nice little town. The kimono is making him stick out a bit, but that was a matter easily fixed. The important thing was that he was finally getting a bit of stimulation. The ice cream was the sort of bland chocolate favored by children and was perfect. The square was a vortex of civic pride, centered on an equestrian statue of someone who had probably committed unspeakable atrocities and was therefore terribly patriotic. Aldred wasn't quite sure he liked what all of this meant, but he was relieved that it meant something.

He strolls as nonchalantly as a big man in a small kimono can, ducking into the first menswear shop he can find. He emerges soon after, clad in a blue seersucker suit and yes, a genuine straw boater. He's delighted to be in a place where such outlandish gear allows a body to blend in. Apparently he's wound up in 1890 somehow, the wrecked Metro the only thing that gives it all the lie. It's a perfect place to be before the Fourth of July, so utterly false. He'll stay for what he's certain will be excellent municipal fireworks. Why not? He's earned it.