A Fictional Critique of Identity Politics
by Joel Forrester
- Four Legs in the Morning
“Prior to Pandora, women didn’t menstruate and childbirth was a doddle.”—H.B.Real, D.D.
The cat had everything going for him. He ruled a thriving metropolis. He’d attained late middle age but wore it lightly. He’d outlived two wives who had in any case both proved barren. And if he had as yet no heir, no way of imagining himself into a future he’d never see, this one knot might soon be undone, he believed, setting great store by this latest wife, Jocasta, barely nubile when they wed. Thus it was with an air of confidence-seeking-confirmation that Laius awaited the words of the oracle. As we know, he could not have been more wrong.
“You don’t know how lucky you are, man.” “You mean: now.”
“The past includes the present.”
“Don’t trip poetic with me, Sibyl. The matter is too important. Plain speaking, please.” “Overwhelms the present!”
“Sibyl: I would establish my continuity with the life process. …There! When greatness reveals its motive, even the Gods will honor the act with honesty. I rule; at least within my own extensive bailiwick. And I’ve countenance in overplus!”
“You can neither learn to live with your fate nor change it.” “How?”
“That you will die.”
“A fate I share with all but the Immortals.” “The particulars will undo you.”
“Seek not to know. But there will be no glory in it.”
“Say more. You have my attention.”
“I have nothing, not even that. I am perfumed with Olympian purpose and breathe no meaner air.”
“Aw, get to the point! Your boss Apollo knows full well that I bow to no man in His propitiation: I keep my accounts in order; you can check: nobody welshes. …And it’s not as if I am claiming the truth as my desert; merely that I am man enough to face it. So: will I have my wish?”
“A son!! …But you play to my suspicions. Why ought I not to be the happiest man on earth?”
“Your son’s destiny will dwarf thine own.”
“This were no occasion for sorrow! You are formal and familiar at once. Out with it, Crone!”
“Your son will take your life.”
“Ever in metaphor: you have no other tongue, Sibyl. He will supplant me, you mean; finish what I have begun, take over the reins; surpass me in the eyes of his contemporaries, perhaps even in those of generations unborn: I’ll allow that!”
“He will kill you.”
“No. No, this must not be. This…were no fate but a frivolous whim, a God’s caprice; it may be blotted from the books as easily as entered. Or it ain’t Laius of Thebes whose son will slay him but some mythic king, an imagined being, the stuff of legend, not one specific man, not me.”
“And he will fuck Jocasta.”
At these words, Laius gave it up. Con artists who conned themselves first: that’s what these seers were, all they were. You may defy augury; personal courage inevitably demands it of us, at times in service of a higher destiny. You may alter expectations; this were known simply as living. But trying to get one of the Gods’ hermeneutrices to change her story was a mug’s game, as unavailing as the human attempt to quell human rumor, once loosed, or anything else Laius considered as having “a life of its own”, which is to say: in play beyond Laius’s immediate sphere of influence, his realm.
Others who tell this tale aver that, upon hearing the words “fuck Jocasta”, the king draws his sword…an act immediately productive of such unendurable Scrutiny—as if the scorn of the entire Pantheon were concentrated upon him—that Laius falls prey to the crippling delusion that it is his exposed, erect member he is holding, not his blade. Shamed, he shrinks.
In either case, it takes ten hours of drink-induced slumber to retake his amour propre. But, thus propped, the king takes prompt action to deny reality what he has heard as prophecy; reminding himself that he is, after all, in power hereabouts: He quarantines Jocasta—forbidding access to his member; by extension, so to speak, this taboo will apply to any future wives; conception declared inconceivable. Steeling himself to existence without issue, he will be cruelly decisive by day, a ruthless cord-cutter, while babying himself at night; some would say: appropriating the entire life-process, hamming up a hamartia not truly his: conflating ego with fatidic hubris.
His recently beloved bitch, as he persists in thinking of lissome Jo, he installs in a fortified Paradise (he is not without fellow-feeling, would not be deemed a monster) replete with fun drugs, a stocked fridge, and a mess of dvd’s, soporific comedies mostly. How could any but a paranoid suspect that one such would rally Jocasta, inspire her? But it does. Specifically, an episode from the lives of Laurel and Hardy in which the latter’s floozie is somewhat similarly barricaded in a bedroom and outright refuses to be thus contained, her compulsive efforts crowned with a glorious bursting forth. Jocasta, unable to match her model in physical prowess, uses guile, suborning a guard to surveil Laius when at his evening’s compensatory debauch and report back in detail. Each night’s alike: hours of guzzling, followed by the rite of Onan, then oblivion.
And, late one eventual night, the guard (offered a private princedom in Tarentum) insinuates Jocasta onto the royal futon just at the moment blind-drunk Laius has succeeded in getting it up. Flaubert to the contrary (not to more than mention Joyce), one can not see into the mind of a character, only speculate upon when he is thinking. Imagine with me, then, the possibility that the subject of the king’s successful pud-raising phantasy had been no other than Jocasta herself! Wouldn’t that be ineffably sad? If so—and why not?—, when he found his dream-date come to life, so to speak, who could blame the ego-ridden royal for assuming that he’d achieved hypostatic union, if not with The Lamb, then with what all since Adam have considered the next best thing?!? Wizard!!
But perhaps Laius knew no such triumph, taking his explosive ejaculation as the mere (and merely literal) climax of a peculiarly realistic jacking-off; and if he didn’t know the
difference, it isn’t really sad at all, is it?; sleep may have supervened before any reflection; and if the experience left Laius no happier, he was, in any case, no wiser.
Yes, it had all been over in a flash; and Jocasta got little out of it save the realization of her design (wrong way round, Bob Dylan: there’s no failure like success). She stole away to her rooms; got her bought-keeper to mock up the barricade; and began a happy three-quarter-year vigil.
So who blew the whistle? The Greeks are blithe on this point, ellide to the punishment that earned Oedipus his moniker (“Sorefoot” or “Swollenfoot”). It would be easy to picture the bribed guard turning weasel after pressing Jo on Tarentum and being told to “Keep it in your pants.” Or the more classic scene where the ne’er-too-successfully-sequestered-one comes secretly to term and then bursts forth—more like Hardy’s jade (Babe’s babe?), this time—, infant- in-arms, chancing that Laius’s heart will melt at the sight of the little beggar, his spin ‘n’ image.
But I, who have eyes to end this story early, prefer the notion that Laius go soft on his own, prematurely, perhaps under the heady intoxication of the conception-night recalled. He thinks it only a solo phantasy, mind, but it was so good that it bravens the man, stiffens him against all prophecy. Part of him, the best of him!, turns tender.
No inner battle is easily won; fear has its claims as identical with all knowing; consider our verb to apprehend (we fear the crook and nab him at one and the same time). But, after months of back ‘n’ forth, Laius summons himself: he cannot live without her or at least not without it. And there is painful evidence that he is fast becoming a lush, his night invading his day.
And so, for many reasons, he betakes himself to Jo’s sequestered rooms, stout with the readiness to declare, as only kings stupidly can do, all is forgotten, return to me tonight. Reinstatement: the royal prerogative.
Only to get the shock of his life when he unlocks the bedchamber of his putative beloved and finds her twice-herself, out to there, poor cow.
“Pourquoi? Is it…mine?” “It is,” all reason.
It’s daytime and Laius has, unbeknownst to himself, been practicing for this moment each business-day of his adult life.
“Let it be born!” he roars to our friend the guard. “Then expose it to the hillsides!!” A gleaming malice lights his businessman’s eye: “Oh, yes: and pierce its feet….”
Yes, I’ll end this phantasy early, I’ll put it to bed. E’en though that leaves its maker looking somewhat like Laius, doesn’t it?
All-purpose moral: Don’t let that stop you!
Thus endeth the first road: a praequel?
- Two Legs at Noon
“’Whoever said the Sphinx had a secret?’ she wondered; and at this wonderful thought she was lifted into realms of abstract speculation, and was saved.”—Ronald Firbank
Ed found himself at the tail-end of his Wanderjahr. He considered that he’d saved the best for last. Indeed, whenever the fabric of that patchy twelve-month wore thin, he’d say to self: ‘In time, I’ll get to Thebes. There, I’ll have no further need to make things happen…but only to choose from among the many life-games in progress all about me!’
How many times had that self-contradictory thought seemed the saving grace of his desultory year away!? Days and days on the road…and one nasty brush with the Law to show for it: a moment, granted, but one best forgotten, as he thought.
Ed had been adopted and with a veil drawn over the circumstances, as so often. The otherwise childless couple had loved the boy with an intensity approaching despair…; ‘Or masked-pity’, as he sometimes reflected, ‘as if they know more than they say.’ (This grim, unwelcome thought would recur as he rambled from one shut-eye scene to the next.)
He’d graduated the gym like a good boy, immediately started packing his duds for walk- about, and had had to endure overwrought interruptions from both fosters.
Mom had pleaded with him to enroll in the Royal Academy; “That way, you can continue to live in Corinth.” To stay at home, she meant. It held little appeal; she’d had her eye upon him for all but the first days of his life, as he imagined; and it was precisely that field of vision that he’d strive to outdistance. His walking had become compulsive. ‘It’s bad enough’—another recurrent road-thought—‘that I can always imagine what she would say, were she here!’ At their parting, her arguments had grown threadbare: “The Academy is free, of course; and there would be no question of rent or board, Ed.” He’d smiled at this, the appeal to the purse, keeping his back to her while bagging his second-best sandals: the fosters had always provided; that had never been an issue.
Dad’s offer had had at least had the capacity to tempt. Ed would be dispatched to a hinterland village in fealty to his father’s domain. “You’d soon become, for all intents and purposes, its governor.” To be gifted with Power; no visible strings attached. In other words, he would be set at cultivating the illusion of independence; or, in terms of internal effect: the art of self-deception. This were learning that in one man might educe miracles, encourage a Diabolical indifference in a second and, in a third, be the very drug necessary to shrink personality to the mere servant of habit. To Ed it meant none of these. To him it meant death and death is ever- tempting.
Not that illusion itself spelled death to this odd boy; rather, simply, that the normal illusion, that of independent living (i.e., that nothing should itself be happening) might only be embraced at the expense of who he was. No, Ed’s ruling illusion was of another order altogether. Read and see.
The boy had a curiosity that short-circuited reason and instinct alike. No, it was not the periodically-fashionable curiosity about origins. He knew himself to be a foundling but suffered no identity-flutter or –clutter in pondering the fact. Nor was Ed of that sort who yearn for the not- yet: the probabilitarians skeptically looking for the right horse to back or the possibilitarians innocently into something better than they currently see.
Ed was, per contra, that rarest bird: he who is curious about the present—intrigued and irritated by it, tasked by it, into it, wishing it the whole story. So firm was he in this that issues of individual destiny touched him not at all. Another in his shoes, having had to stir up trouble seemingly every day (in service of provoking his own involvement) would have blamed his time, his country, his country’s culture, his own character, his appearance, his parents. Ed placed blame but on none of these, the usual markers of fate. Ed blamed the Powers responsible for the passage of time itself! ‘Why can’t I be awake to my entire life at once? Or live through some one event that summarizes the whole?’, his guiding question since childhood. The usual tripartite temporal division he abominated; ‘twas anathema to Ed. Yes, he had erred in thinking that, once on his own, he could exist in something of an eternal engrossment, punctuated only by appetite. Not just his fosters, not just the Corinthian locals (‘All in liege to my dad,’ as he once excused them), but the traversible-world-entire seemed populated with entities confusing being with possession, believing they “had” time (or didn’t), taking yesterday to be irretrievably over and done with and tomorrow yet to be born. Meaning: all this were so, beyond human awareness of it.
In agreeing to this system of convenient lies, all he met on the road ‘must be serving the Gods the way the locals did my dad’—hence, again, off the hook. But Ed felt himself beholden to no one and so felt free to denounce the trio of temporal impostors whenever and wherever he felt their pinch. And never more strongly than when he knew himself the instigator necessary for an event to take place. Existence, he held, should itself imply the eventual; as Thelonious Monk would eventually put it: “Everything’s happening, all the time.” Would that it were! Weary after a year of daily trouble-making, it’s pathetically hard to blame Ed for looking forward to the place where he needn’t play prime mover. Looking forward…though he must have known that act a betrayal. (Leading Dr.Real to comment: “On a formal level, a self-betrayal is a mere proof-by- identity: the character announcing himself.”) This contradictory ability to know and not to recognize: this, not his overweening pride (although a facilitating agent, surely) constituted Ed’s hamartia, the Dramatic tip-off to his inevitable downfall.
But there is much grace ‘fore the fall in the tale of Ed: his future takes its time catching up with him. Admirers of the lad’s futilitarian perspective (an adj I happily crib from Dave Sewelson) will view this as poetic justice in the jolliest sense. The Gods, always hip to novelty, took in Ed’s unconscious watchword (“Ignore all you know.”) and granted him time. Rope to hang himself, you’ll say; but I disagree. The Gods allowed Ed’s way to be, early on, a path of glory; or, at least, a p.r.-man’s dream. And he does not die of his willed ignorance, as we know. Since the issue is, at its root, epistemological, the man with self-recognition forced upon him will realize in a flash that answering this curse in the worst way involves blindness not death. Ed’s childhood dream will be reified: he will awake to his totality at once, the Gods will allow him the moment of his life, but he will wake into darkness: a condign punishment for what I, at least, hold a noble flaw.
All this runs ‘way ahead. Were you reading Tristram Shandy, the wacky eponym would claim that all this talk about the hero’s future was helpful in providing temporal cover for the protag to arrive at his next event.
But so he has! Ed was now on the bleak outskirts of Thebes. As said, he more or less found himself there, his sore feet surely in need of rest.
His last bit of roading he’d passed attempting again to suppress last weekend’s dust-up with The Law. And here he was, three days after, thinking about it yet, even as he clocked that seedy roadhouse, hard by the faded paint that read WELCOME TO THEBES. …At least, Ed
thought it was The Law he’d tangled with, wriggled away from. Something capital oh Official, certainly, some local satrap, a bully in Power; somewhat like his fosters.
‘No,’ Ed prompted himself, ‘that’s less than just. My fosters were decent. Power itself were the bully.’
Even this vigorous encounter had left Ed feeling himself its maker; hence, had not satisfied his principles; hence, was committed to his store of ignorance, fit to be forgot. Odd and a pity that it kept recurring to mind.
He’d shouldered an old fool into a ditch, that’s all that had happened; all right, a fancy old fool, the central figure in what looked like a hunting party or, okay, maybe even a pilgrimage. A truly Dramatic backdrop: a place where three roads met. Ed’d refused to acknowledge the local droit du seigneur; meaning nothing openly sexual, in this case, but a right-of-way claim, as when Robin met Little John. Ed hadn’t backed down. And when Fancy Pants, royally pissed off, raised his staff (or scepter?), Ed got in under his guard and pushed him out of the way. All right, it looked like the dude fell pretty hard; immediately, his retinue had got down in the ditch with him, gathered about him, clucking and tsk-ing. ‘So, let them look after ‘m.’ Ed walked on.
But he couldn’t shake the moment. ‘Perhaps,’ as he thought, ‘because I didn’t stick around, it sticks to me now….’ Well, but here was Thebes, at last, and all manner of urges worked to crowd out the attenuated narrative; but only after one last loop: he’d pushed the old codger with a wholly inappropriate fury; Ed would never have allowed himself to be cudgeled off the road; all right, but that didn’t explain his sudden rage, his instant outrage. ‘So meaningless,’ Ed thought, as he stared unseeing at the weatherbeaten façade of the roadhouse. …But, eventually aware that he was trying to educe evident meaning from apparent meaninglessness, Ed gave it up and felt, instead: wary, peckish, parched, and, somehow, randy. Many of these needs were soon met.
He entered the public house, one large room, really. A bartender signalled him to a deal table in an unoccupied corner. Grub, grog, and an end to trudging succeeded in enveloping Ed in a dull stupor that might have, ere long, declined into actual slumber. Yes, Ed might have slept where he sat…in fact, his whole upper torso was in the process of completing the droop his eyelids had initiated and his head and neck continued, when a coherent gaseous force found its way under his beak (a mere inch from the table, at this point) and up into his nostrils. It were a miraculous compound of freshness and decay and it set him bolt upright. Eyes suddenly wide, Ed found his gaze dead set at a crux or crotch from which quim or quiff emanated the bracing aroma.
What were the coordinates of this natural ester or, if that seem crude, its references? Oh, for the most part, the usuals: sweat, funk, fish (muskelunge?), may apples, faded scent; but there was an alternating current, if such may be said of smells, and this second whiff was pure, clean, and sweet. (Had the smell been a sound, it might be portmanteau’d as a “quimper”.) All told, a delirious pong, worthy of God or monster.
Its possessor was all contrivance; but if so, her own artificer had not stinted to provide full contradictory magnificence. If the creature were, in fact, young, she was of that breed said to be “born old”. (Modern Times, when movies reigned, brought forth one such beauty in Jeanne Moreau.) If, as seems more likely, she’d knocked around a while, she wore with good grace the air of promise forever associated with those just getting their feet wet. Ed was smitten. Here was temporal madness on a scale that matched his dreams! He lifted his eyes unto her hills.
How was she outfitted or clad?; tattered finery, of course, cheap beaded finery. She stood forthrightly before him, her quoniam a hair’s breadth from the table, her arms akimbo. Her hair was loose about her, in the gloom a dirty gold (see below). Her lower person was sinuous, as if in
a subtle, coiled vibration. When her upper body and arms joined the dance, Ed submitted to Mesmer: the woman made much of a Persian shawl, maneuvering it to cloak a profile, to reveal a nipple; all at once, the garment wildly billowing, as if to suggest Seraphic wings. And if her smile were traditionally feline, her staring eye favored the avian. But Ed did not blow hot ‘n’ cold; he knew about the embrace of extremes. He rose. He fell.
And this were one of those happy falls, like that of Adam (in that the latter paved the way for Mister J, which wacky Augustinian doctrine Joyce burlesques when he calls our noble foreflusher the “felix culprit”). Let me liberate that parenthetical matter! Ed found hisselves entangled with the oddest bird/cat combo, equally raptor and rapturous victim: the Mercy Seat (as Joyce’s shade attend me) and the Catbird Seat; found self in bondage to her opposites: the way he liked it!
Without words she lead him to her bed. By the hand? Yes, by that. Up two flights to an attic whence the harps and lutes of the saloon did not penetrate. Ed had been too stunned to hear them, anyway; I too.
In the words of Little Anna Mayshun, a stop-action avatar of Doctor Real, “To combine is Divine,” and Ed soon lost himself in the nameless roadhouse whore. In ruthless close-up, her face was pockmarked with ancient acne the way a practice target is riddled with bullet holes. Her sphincter muscles played a practiced tune on Ed’s member. …’Twas she who broke the spell herself; not in any lull neither, no, but in full floodtide; leaving the honeyed strokes unaltered, never once falling out of time, she was of a sudden at his ear, her voice insinuation itself, the next thing to interiority:
“I hope we may talk as we fuck.”
“Talk?” It came out crudely, riding a puff of breath.
“It will do you no disservice,” she whispered: “It sustains the process. You’d not settle for the horizontal version of a knee-trembler. Not you!”
“And for me,” she continued, “talking works to strike a balance between jubilation and shame. Many a whore’s a closet Gnostic. One does not make love to employment such as mine, or I would at my peril. Eh bien, I talk to forget the present. If an unconscious part of me be thrilled or threatened, I can live with that; I can rise above that. My muse is Logorrhea: She is the third that slithereth between us as we fuck. With her aid, we may countermand the present.”
Ed found his voice: “The present is all that interests me. I’d live all my life at once.” “Then we are at odds,” she answered. “But it makes no odds: it’s my m.o.”
Ed let another grunt.
“You see, Fellow, I’ve fucked every man in this town. All have endured my voice, my questions.”
Ed felt his left hand trace an involuntary, interrogative caress.
“My questions?” the whore responded. “We aren’t there yet…. Yes, boys hereabouts who know me only by reputation—“
“By odor,” Ed croaked.
“By odor,” she affirmed, “—have scored my likeness into their desks, daubed it onto the walls of their latrines, titling me The Queryer or, more cruelly, The Talking Pussy, articulate at both ends. …Yes, screwed every manjack of ‘em, save the priests.”
Ed gave way, submitted; the prankquean was correct: he didn’t want this fuck to end, any time soon. He’d play along; if this weren’t a “moment”, what-the-fuck was? “You are, I take it,” he said, “an unbeliever.”
This almost tossed the quean off her pace. She bucked and swayed two rubato bars before answering. “Would that I were!” she cawed, a tempo; then her voice dropped again to its whisper: “No, I am cursed to be the most vibrant believer in all Thebes: I am at its edge, as if part of its definition, posted to face all that lies without, while succoring those within. As such, the priests fear me…. Calumniators! Unworthy rivals! I, whom they’d defame, am more ancient than they; and younger. They know not purpose; do they believe at all, I wonder?; ‘though they purpose to rid Thebes of me! …They claim the young men of this town come away from my company all at once bereft of belief, that I gather it all to myself, like Pound’s gold against the gloom.”
Ed had begun to gasp for breath. “And…. And is it,” he mustered, “is it so?”
“If believed!!” she answered, voice rising again; then, pianissimo: “It were closer to say that my curse upon the young is to make men of them. For men are living disappointment, every one.”
Subsiding into her transpeciality, the whore fell silent. Peace descended, amity and comity. Ed retook his breathing. The two entered an ineffable sweetness, dissolving both their bodies. It were a violence to interfere, to interrupt; I’ll forbear. But the quean could not:
“Do I satisfy you?”, an unwelcome whisper resumed. Silently, Ed pleaded for its silence. In vain: “You see?: you too begin to weasel into grown manhood. No, I’d not stop talking. Again, Human: part of me must not be here, that the whole of me may be.”
Ed was irked to the quick by the renewed prattle. “I’d take your talking as proof positive that you are here,” he said.
“An indication, merely. And your belief in my presence touches me not at all. …Ah, we are rushing now toward orgasm.”
“An affirmation, surely,” he said sourly.
“A nullity,” she answered, “but one to the whorls and eddies of which I am inexorably drawn. Let’s talk our way through it!”
“And if I refuse, you prating demon?!”
“T’would call into question thine own presence here, my young lord. Character without dialogue?: that dog mos’ def’ won’t hunt! …Or do you imagine, somehow, that you’ve not wandered into a fictional frame of reference??: the truer question.”
Ed writhed in exasperation.
“All you say is questionable!!”, shooting out of him like premature jissom. And, in sorry fact, his body matched the word with the deed. Shocked, he remained within, quickly shriveling. The whore, sudden mistress of all she surmised, allowed this. When next she addressed him, she did so more warmly; with, in fact, a sister’s sad tenderness. She spoke not to Ed’s ear but face to face.
“Allow me to summarize…. Enter my mind as well as the body and you will be free of me. All before you have lain one flesh with me but left my mind inviolate. They carry me with them; I ride their backs. For them, I am the ghost of appetite. For you as well, an you cannot answer me.”
Ed summoned himself; this was what a flash-forward to Route 3 will call “the nut- cuttin’”. “I’m game,” he said.
“Then withdraw,” she stipulated, “that there be no confusion. …Thanks!” Suddenly astraddle, she loomed over him, her weight on her own rigid arms. “And now: take my question within thee.”
Ed concentrated on a face tenderness made wildly beautiful; on a mouth that grinned at him, he who’d popped off ‘way before he’d meant to. And he was called upon here to be the man that others weren’t? How likely? Then the mouth began to speak, in a new voice both calm and sad: “What critter walks upon four legs when it wakes; on two under the noonday sun; and on three when the moon rises?”
Ed answered with an answering sadness, “I do.”
No previous lover or client had known the answer. Hearing it spoken aloud, spoken outside her head, devastated the roadhouse whore; it transfixed her in the present. “How? How?” she pleaded; her elbows collapsed; her nails dug keenly into his ribs, ten questions.
But Ed didn’t know how he knew. You and I, we know that his entire being provided the answer: his way, his ruling illusion (literally glossable as: “Life: the Day”), otherwise so self- evidently useless. It had come through in the clutch, responsible in several senses, saving Ed’s onions through its inhuman perspective on human existence. In that one moment, Ed had stood-in for all of us. One does, after all, crawl as a tot, go upright for the balance of his clock, and totter with a cane in decrepitude; but the rest of us don’t think in those terms, preferring to fumble through a blind, willingly blind, sequentiality, one damned “now” after another! Just what is the normal mind, the rationalizing mind, blind to? To death, of course. Ed’s odd perspective may not have otherwise had much going for it, missing everything obvious, but it unriddled one human quandary: how to keep one’s own inevitable death squarely before him, how to resist the everyday denial of death, how not to break faith with it. Ed had that together and it saved the day.
…Or, more honestly, death saved the day.
The quean rolled off, lay back supine, and quietly died of shame.
Thebes knew her no more. For a while, other males would seek her when they entered their young cock-hood, but she’d gone missing after that night. She was off the game, out of The Life. Ed had, unbeknownst to himself, rid Thebes of a venerable rite of passage.
And, in forcing its youth to “get serious” about gymnasium grapplings (i.e., high school crushes) if they wanted sex, Ed earned instant, miraculous backing from the priests and other morbid elders ever avid to promote rightwing phantasies of “family values”.
To sew it up, these worthies introduced Ed to the recently-widowed local queen, a woman of such youthful mien that she seemed but a generation distant from our teenaged protag. They make a toothsome couple, all agreed; he’ll soon become her consort. The scribes and pharisees delighted in this likelihood, having a Jesus they could control, this time round. Ed was not a real hero, then, but a hero of public relations. This weren’t the brave deserving the fair; this was a scratched backster scratching yours, a payoff for services rendered, an adjunct to an ad campaign meant to puff the local Power structure.
And did Ed go along with all this? But yes, evidently, as you’ve ne’er yet heard the story told any other way. Mock Macht?; not Ed, not he. But why not?
The reason is not far to seek. It lies, again, in Ed’s willed ignorance of the obvious. And when—after a heartbreakingly happy decade with comely Jocasta (kids, too!)—the hideous truth demanded his eyes from him, ol’ sorefoot was only joining the rest of us in our mutual blindness.
Does this seem less than mythic, seem a decidedly downbeat ending? Well, that’s the way it is in the putatively “real” world, Pal, the world of done-deals and special favors, of clubhouse politics and parlor hanky-panky.
As the compassionate Lord Buckley—may his voices ne’er be stilled!—put in the mouth of the Sweet Precious Hip Ghan: “I hope I didn’t…bring you down!”
III Three Legs in the Evening
“(T)he more strictly we are watched, the better we behave.”—Jeremy Bentham
What’s the story?, you ask. (You, whom I adore.)
Here it is in brief bold strokes. As we’re told, the mayor of New York died in the September 11th catastrophe; yes, Ed’s immediate predecessor had been somewhere in that third tower, the one which would collapse in sympathy with the ones struck by the planes. Romance locates him among the leapers. A whole cottage industry sprouted up, bent on analysis of the video record of those who leapt to their death; the mayor was only one of a host of Celebrities who perished that way, that day…if indeed he did. Death to the Unknown! The New York Post published a front page still of blurred shapes falling, under the headline “Spot the Mayor?”; but that image was soon shown to have been appropriated (or “sampled”) from a mid-60s painting by Juan Genoves; this wee bit of truth, when it came out, made everyone feel better. It was similarly comforting to have the White House offer the posthumous finding that the mayor was a spy.
Speaking of spying, let me wander blithely from the dead to the living, ever an impassible trip-back-in-time. (Philosophical circles were set spinning by the brutal relevance of an anonymous essay, published in last April’s MIND, entitled “Perception as Espionage”; okay, to the rest of us it’s functionally-obvious; but, remember: them dudes, them ‘demic dudes, is always a step slow.) To employ a somewhat elderly expression, Ed had definitely been “a live one”! A newly-appointed Federal prosecutor, he was posted to New York, it was widely assumed, because of his solid outsider credentials. New York had long felt itself its own country; September 11th brought it briefly into the family of former colonies; but old habits die hard. Hence, both Ed’s olive skin and his pronounced limp were wonderfully-reassuring virtual tokens of integrity based on the suffering of his people (i.e., his identity groups). Ed was a spy of a highly qualified sort, in both senses; read and see….
We are all of us under cover when conceived; some doubly so, cloth as well as flesh. Congenital spies like Ed are simply kept that way. The author and his wife are familiar with a nut whose cover story is that he has a cover story…in the far reaches of which, he was recruited by MI5 from an orphanage in Christchurch. But Ed was the real deal. He was conceived of a sperm donor; carried to term by a surrogate mother; and was groomed from birth a classic Assassin—a literal one, I mean, a latter-day disciple of Hassan-I-Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain. (Several of those 9/11 leapers were thought to have been performing un hommage to Hassan; this is probably post hoc hokum; but an even wilder theory holds that some few of the suicides were paid agents of Hassan’s shade, programmed to leap; as calculated, the act simply caught on among others. Humans will believe the damnedest things!; the Process relies on the fact that belief is, in essence, an irrational act; agreed?) Automatic obedience was made part-and-
parcel of Ed’s toilet training. Most likely, our protag was home-schooled, although one enticing rumor has him attending Baxter Elementary in Chinatown; this strains credulity although it’s just possible he might have passed for Latino in an otherwise Han- dominated setting. (Perhaps emotional moments in his later oratorical career might usefully be scanned for lapses into Pidgin?, i.e., what his straight bio claimed as “speaking in tongues”.) A bit after, he learned to get by on memory, rather than reading; actually to read as little as possible; to dissemble, to seem to read, when politic. (This skill became increasingly unimportant as the act it burlesqued itself ebbed in perceived social importance.) Most significantly, he developed a superhuman capacity for dynamic forgetfulness. Nothing mattered ever save his current purpose. Introduced to concentrated t.h.c. derivatives at kidhood, Ed was taught to use getting high as a way of getting into whomever he was supposed to be, at the moment. Even as an imago— inevitably cast as a brune Adonis with a marked limp—, Ed had the practiced ability literally to forget all his earlier life-scripts.
This ability was tested with mildly differing assignments. Although programmed as a deep mole, Ed was not himself privy to his closing role for a good three-decades- and-change; his Handlers, one imagines, had to be sure of their man. For example, in the years before coming to The City, he’d found himself in the temporary employ of the CIA (a jumped-up, “official” spy outfit, left largely in the dark), leading trigger-happy mujahadeen against the Soviet puppet government in Afganland; but he took no part in the Taliban powergrab, stealing strategically offstage. Somewhat earlier, he was set at running guns and drugs, operating through Colombia’s A.R.E.N.A, then asked to walk away from the swollen profit. Similarly, to fight heroically as a loyalty-neutral soldier of fortune (in a sense, the purest of businessmen) in both Angola and Somalia, only to spurn the glory as well as the pickin’s. And—most tellingly, most recently—to receive real-life enlightenment at the hands of the most realized soul money could buy, in fact to be saved…only to have it all—even this most beautiful of human states—willingly willed away without a trace…in time for Ed’s next briefing, his next life.
Yes, the eventual Federal prosecutor for New York had no clue, for example, that he had once posed, in adolescence, as one of the 17 princes of the Grand-Wazir-for- Construction of the Head Dude of the House of Saud (…the Near East has ever been the Land of OF). Or that that self-same period yielded the world his first known birth-alias: Osama bin Laden. No…memory and amnesia were the hammer and anvil of Ed’s personality—a proper son of Hassan-I-Sabbah was he! All his lives were informed by the iconic Hassanism: “Death to the Unknown!”
…Permit me to keep Ed’s end—and its game—cloaked for the moment. Short of that, there is much to reveal. For example, what was the point of his ultimate penultimate assignment, of his next-to-next-to-last Dramatic task, the Fed Attorney tourney? It is simply told: he was posted to New York to provide diversion. Through his apparent actions and actual presence, he was to assure and reassure the public that its government was moving against the Five (crime) Families, pedigreed predators upon The City, their mythic wings enfolding corrupt pols, union heads, and cabaret entertainers; their talons dug firmly into the unsanitation, insecurity, “building”, money-scrubbing, and toxic waste industries. These organized parasites had been at it for such a long time that their grim follies traditionally educed little from a New Yorker beyond shrug, sigh, or shudder. Perhaps the body-politic had lain with this sickness so long as to become comfortable
with it; but also many found cryptic solace in the fact that, despite a ton of sublit horseshit about loyalty and omerta, these villains were always people who could be bought, when it came right down to it, good capitalists. But in al Kaeda, America had itself, all at once, a believing enemy; and that put our franchised McGovernment at its wits’ end. And, ‘way out there, an idea was generated. Who knows who hatched the dumb-bunny scheme—proconsul or gunsel, ex-con or neo-con—but somehow (out of Washington?, direct from Handler Central?, from my own lame brain?) crept the approved plan of publicizing the Five Families into an immediate threat (to the “Environment”: a contemporary hook) while simultaneously glamorizing their drab doings on a pop teevee soap opera; next, to send in a “real-life” knight to do dubious battle with the “real-life” Five. Or, in reality, with the weakest by far of the Five, a North-Jersey disfunction already infiltrated by a former CIA operative whose idea of deep cover was to marry the author’s older sister. Att Ed got the op to rat out his pals, successfully suppressing the government connection into the bargain. Ancient doddering fools with old injuries prominently displayed in court went to live in Attica and Dannemora (despite their scapegoat bleats: “But we’re Republicans, fer crissake!”); New York felt easier about itself, amnestic about “terrorism”, and proud of its new gunslinger; the story temporarily succeeded in succeeding the blatant Federal powergrab, post-9/11, as a focus for popular fear and excitement; the other Four Families felt confirmed in their status and continued business-as-usual. No riddle!, eh?: Ed had won this three-legged race! Yes, everyone was happy with the man…and especially pleased were his Handlers, or they ought to have been: seldom has diversion so winningly proved the true path, won the day so stirringly! Gossip’s Power-outpost, The Post’s Page Six, intro’d our protag to his destined mate, the late mayor’s early widow, youthful Jo-Anne Castle, “a Celeb in her own right” as the paper/arbiter was swift to determine. (The leaper and she had had a “white” marriage, productive of residuals but not of offspring.) And who would dispute that it was the height of career-consciousness that had Jo-Anne keep her own name (i.e., her stage name), all along?, as if waiting, with stellar patience, for her richly-deserved fate to whorl its way out—a primetime reality sitcom, say (“Who’ll Wed the Widow?”), or a commercial product named for her (“Jo-Anne—the first name in re-oderants”). Power to the Process!!
Back up!, one is commanded: a Federal spook in a minor crime family? The reader will be excused her disbelief: it is, after all, not her world these pages would limn. But, trust me, there was an imaginary time and place, My Intimate, in which private espionage stood fair to take the place of living!; in which the US government was best understood as a multinational corporation, one of several—and the ONLY one allowed to be seen in public; when all in public life were known to be in the pay of
someone somewhere, the only public debate centering on the identities of the puppetmasters and their interrelations with each other. Interactive Television (“reality’s” successor) was largely given over to this hot topic, its dramas—immediately suggestive of The Track—coming to be known by the retronym “horse operas” (as in: who’s backing whom?) Hystorians of the near-present, nearly always women, traced this state of affairs to the loss-of-faith, among the American people, in the integrity of baseball record-keeping. Other professional sports, more insecure about their value as entertainment, relied on “home cooking” (i.e., referee judgments biased toward the locals) to win crowds; baseball per contra proudly relied on its ongoing records, agonizingly scrutinized and contrasted, their meanings constantly debated. All that changed when it became clear that the game’s noblest stats were suddenly under siege by a biologically-enhanced vanguard of athlete/martyrs. True Existentialists—in the Beat 50s use of the term: those willing utterly to give up on the future, for the sake of the “now”—, these heroes busted records in wildly bulked-up bodies which themselves went bust after a pitifully-few years. (Others who must raven on the moment for a living were deeply envious. Temporary grandeur in a syringe? Every soloing jazz musician I knew was thinking: “Where can I get me some of that?”) Baseball’s high muckamucks were in a momentary quandary: deeply committed, as they were, to the enabling process, yet unable or unwilling to alter their public posture as anti-drug Republican Christians. Baseball fans solved that one for them! Speaking with one voice, the fans’ mantra became, “Let ‘em die…young, celebrated, and wealthy!”; and the suits followed suit, distributing performance-enhancing drugs generally, an automatic perk of making the Big Show. (To true believers in the Market, this illustrated the sacrament of Adjustment.) Rationalization-artists were hired to make the case that granting universal enhancement would “level the playing field”. It didn’t, of course, as was implicit in a new official category of on-field excellence, to be placed alongside the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie- of-the-Year awards: the Best Accommodation to the Use of Drugs (supplanting as redundant the Comeback Player of the Year). As Barry Bonds put it bluntly: “We’re entertainers.” This view—inimical to spontaneity—was accepted as gospel and few seemed to notice what was lost in this acceptance (faith is a phenomenon of the air and its loss may go unremarked): it turned out that the reduction of the National Pastime to a dumb Power-game like any other would work deeply on the minds of Americans, causing a loss of faith in many another sacrosanct area: straggling was discovered in the steady march toward ever-more-convenient living (some even coming to mistrust our saviour, the machine); people started to ask: who runs it?, even of their own families. Oh, the judiciary had long been assumed, with principled exceptions, to be vigorously on the take, ever since the Supremes delivered a tainted electoral victory to Bush the Younger: but corruption in government comes and goes; when even games don’t play by the rules, people give up. This, amalgamated with the new ease with which being caught on camera was treated—the new legitimacy of recording reality for any or no purpose— fostered acquiescence to unlimited espionage. Watched, everybody had to watch it. “Spontaneity” was nowhere to be seen. Power to the Process!
Hey there, Li’l Reader!! Jim Arledge, here. Aw, you wouldn’t couldn’t know me but I’m intrudin’ so as to fill ya in on a bit o’ backgrounding yer narrator seems too busy to do, hisself. I get to butt in, cuz I’m reppin’ Necessity—you’ll meet up with me briefly when I impersonate one o’ them Norns, on down the plot. In Life—in the narrator’s, I mean—, I was a Maoist from Lake Charles, Looziana. I showed him a few things, back in the days when we both believed change was imminent. Latterly, as you might say, I’m naught but an avatar. I’m lost to brother Joel on a personal level. But I try ‘n’ help him out, time-to-time. I believe that he, as an ecrivain, takes way too much for granted. How would you know, for example, about the arcane recruitin’ practices o’ Hassan-I- Sabbah? That that sucker’d snatch a man out of his bed, drug ‘m cold, then have him wake up in a Potemkin-Village Paradise? One of Hassan’s boys, got up lak an Ol’ Testament angel, would tell the poor sap that he’d croaked during the night, but…”Welcome to the Hereafter, Bubba!” The Boss’d let ‘m dawdle there a coupla weeks or so. Let ‘m have—repeatedly—the experience of waking up with ever-lessening fear ‘n’ sayin’ to his sorry self: “Yup. Still here. Still dead. Still in Heaven!” As you might imagine, there was a surfeit of Omar’s famed trio of indulgences; especially, Thou: Hassan understood the utility of keeping a stable of intimates among his sex toys, egg on what Sigmund called the “talkin’ cure”. All this kept in nice soft focus via a regular diet of fine Lebanese hash, epitome of an eponym, eh? …Until the day, a-course. The day when the recruitee awakes, stone-cold sober under an unforgiving noonday sun, all-too-alive, sorry, ‘n’ buried to the neck in sand. Before him on a shaded throne sits a silent Hassan-I-Sabbah or some actor done-up that way. Behind the recruitee’s head crouch two of Hassan’s houris, one an intimate, the other a lover. He cannot turn his noggin far enough t’see either one. They fill his ears with promises: a relatively speedy return to Paradise, graduation to the NATURAL STATE (i.e., eternal orgasm), ascension to the Godhead, a steady gig. With but one condition, Pardner. Let Hassan here write yer program. Do what the Master say do. From now on, got it?; but only until ya lay yer burden down: we’re only talkin’ about yer tiny time on earth, anyway. ‘N’ were you really makin’ yer own choices heretofore? …And if that don’t make him wanna sign up, right there—or soon as he gits his hands outa the sand—, the angel pops in again, stands between Mister Talkin’ Head and the Hassan figger. The angel don’t say nuthin’, neither. He jus’ shows the recruitee his sweetly curvin’ double-edged steel, lays the flat o’ the blade along his cheek. No need to prick, slash, or gash—the sand-buried trembler knows how sharp it is. And if the recruitee be unearthly dull or, more ordinarily, his wits be scattered to the wind, the intimate will whisper the obvious (whilst the lover lick his other ear): You may surrender your capacity for choice to Hassan-I-Sabbah or you may choose instant oblivion. Tertiam non datur. …You put yerself in that boy/s sandals, Bubba? How ‘bout yer species at large??
Jo-Anne Castle, true to hype, had long lain in the public eye. Unrelated by blood to the female of the same name who’d played horizontal ragtime on the Lawrence Welk Show, back in the auto-hypnotic 50s, she’d carefully allowed her own identity to become confused with that worthy’s, well-aware of the name’s half-remembered aura of spiritual boredom and unquestioned parental authority; without this maneuvering, would she have remained just another lissome (if bosomy) bottle-blonde? Perhaps…and perhaps she even tweaked her birth-alias a tad, rendering a resemblance into a reflection…although I have found no evidence to support a rumor that chased its own tail round the retro world of the New York jazz community to the effect that Jo-Anne was in fact an ancient accident or by-blow of the renowned 50s bop guitarist Barney Kessel, despite the tantalizing correspondence in facial feature and all that. (I ought, probably, to have taken that up with Ty, right? Well, I did!) Rumor and surveillance are mutually facilitating and their unholy congress, under the prurient eye of Market Fundamentalism (an aspect of the Process), are rather naturally productive of blackmail. Hence the prodigious value of those legendary snaps of Jo-Anne as a young teen (or “sub-deb”, to cite an arcane vocab that also included a pre-ironic use of the phrase “coming out”). I’ve not seen these but have heard tell that the young ‘un sports a Streisandic beak, soon to be whittled, via Gepetto-an Rhinoplasty, to a WASPy wisp known in the trade as a “diamond point”. … Now, by and large, your author smiles benevolently on most human attempts to blur racial identity. In an era when general human bloodlust never has long to wait ere it’s slaked, which process gets rationalized before during and after the fact by making reference to perceived resemblances and distinctions, who’d blame a bloke for toning down his ethnicity, eh? Indeed, were contemporary Jesus to remount his high horse, he might well offer: “Blessed are they who pass. For, being neither one thing nor another, they are in a unique sense alive.” While we definites do each other in? And so, ordinarily, I’d have no reason to voice my suspicion that the woman the world knew as Jo-Anne Castle was Jewish and hid the fact. After all, I don’t know, one way or t’other. Again, I never even saw those effin’ snaps. I only bring it up because of its consequences to the imaginary world in question and because…she knew. Oh yes, she knew.
Am I saying that even a life-actress on as high a level as Jo-Anne Castle might have a private life? I am. Even she?, who was among the first in New York to recognize Celebrity as a career choice, plain and simple; she?, glammed-out clockwork recipient of the sympathy vote—the young widow of a plausibly heroic hubby—; she?, who’d long reigned a Princess-of-The-City. Yes. And it was her hamartia; was, in fact, the characteristic post-Modern tragic flaw, the latest instance of a basic human narrative poking through the weave of wised-up contemporary life. We know, in retrospect, that it was this unwholesome counter-Dramatic drive that had sent her to the Rego Park clinic, sometime in the early 70s, had led her to accept its Special Offer.
Ty was an American pioneer, a would-be trannie whose botched operation (so- called “genital reassignment surgery”) had rendered him a hermaphrodite, of sorts. This had proved a profoundly mixed blessing, never simply a pain. There were even sterling moments, now increasingly lost to memory, when all his parts were fully functional, when he felt like—to cite the envious William Burroughs—“the only complete man in the industry”. Temporarily riding high, basking in the notoriety of fellow geschwester Christine Jorgensen, Ty gave an extensive exclusive to the SoHo Weekly News, some time in the self-same misfortunate early 70s, fashioning a handsome life utterly out of whole-cloth. This, for the longest time, was Ty’s one occasion in the sun, his one public triumph. Foretelling to beat the band, he came on like the seer of seers!
Not privy to Ty’s pharmacopeia, I cannot begin to guess at the salad of uppers ‘n’ downers the roly-poly creature employed, in those days, to make it from wake-up to conk-out; but he must have been tripping on a heavy-duty hebephrenic, all through that interview, as the sheer number of crossed story lines he emitted will stagger the retrospective imagination!; it did mine, anyway. What else is one to make of all this talk about stumbling across a brace of mating snakes! Where?, I wonder: in the tatty Reptile Room of the Central Park Zoo? And not just the once, mind you, but a second time too!; the first encounter inspiring Ty’s forays into femme-dom, the second putting paid to all that. And then, to explain the very same effect, he offered another duad or doodad, one only marginally more credible: in the lockerroom of his Junior High gym, he’d gazed briefly but tellingly upon the outsize member of an upperclassman, one Harold “Skip” Crane, had apprehended that ordinary manhood was forever beyond him, and straightaway set his considerable play-acting skills at establishing an opposite direction; only, some few years hence, to come upon a naked sun bather, not at all pleased at her discovery, whose unmistakable womanhood would, clearly, brook no merely behavioural imitation. One quote from the chatty interview (headline: SEER STRICTLY FOR THE BIRDS) still rattles through my brain: “So you see, Robb, in order to stand up for myself, to be a man, I had to become a woman.” This other-directedness in self- fulfillment utterly flummoxed interviewer Robb…and understandably: only the week before, interviewing himself, Robb had speculated that his (Robb’s) royal gayness had arisen from looking at himself (in the mirror) at an unenumerated “early age”; which process hadn’t to do many handsprings to turn into looking for himself, out in the world. The context may be queer but that routine is as straight as they come. Ty was altogether stranger.
How strange? When Robb had coaxingly inquired about the consequences of that infamous operation (halted in media res after the surgeon regarded his work and lost heart), Ty answered, not without pride, “Well, I have periods. You know: the curse.”
“No!” Robb exclaimed. “That’s brilliant!! …Or are you putting me on?” “Well,” Ty admitted, “I mean: I still bleed, down there, from time to time.” Robb: Oh.
[Readers could picture the interviewer’s face momentarily falling]
Ty: I’ll probably never completely heal. Robb: Oh.
Ty: But our species itself—seen in the kindest light—is an orphaned girl encountering, with no helpful explanation handy, her first period.
Ty’s burst of high nonsense (projected ontogeny?) was followed by an equally unlikely attempt to lighten the suddenly somber mood of the interview: unbidden, he broke into the seldom sung third verse of “Joy to the World”:
“’Far as the Curse is found! “’Far as the Curse is found!
“’Far a-as! Far a-a-as the Curse..is..found!’” Strange?
As a second example—a tale from Ty’s teenage years…and one he actually shared with me—there was the matter of what his High School guidance counsellor had termed the boy’s “emotional blindness”. This worthy, a Doctor Floy Penn, wrote Ty’s foster parents, three weird sisters who supported their menage with a novelty act, The Humming Pussies of Harlem. Dr. Penn’s note—in which a call for mutual handwringing warred with a smug superiority—warned that their young ward’s personality seemed “devoid of respect for his species, not to mention our natural subcategories”. She meant by this, I think, that Ty didn’t regard being human as that big a deal, nor the ability to micturate while standing. It was certainly the case that young Ty felt no more comfortable around his own kind than he did, for example, in their absence…but some would class this premature wisdom. And if he was held indifferent to the feelings of others—and he was and he was!—, he never ever felt the need to rationalize, that great facilitator of the normal sinning process. And I imagine the unadorned Jesus would have dug the fact that Ty was every bit as indifferent to himself as he was to his fellows. And, lastly, this blindness became transformed into second-sight any time Ty found himself in the company…of birds.
The animals who’ve made their deals with the humans he disparaged. But, though a bird may be bribed, the avian element is itself wholly other: we can’t bring ‘em down to earth (save when we do). Humans use them as images of soaring freedom but they don’t need us. Amongst themselves, birds are adroit at making common cause, their instant formations mocking the humans’ inability to travel far without collision or crawl. How under Heaven do they slip the word to one another? …For that matter, how did the SoHo Weekly News come to learn of Ty’s ornithomancy? “Is it true you talk to birds?” pert Robb had asked, impertinently. “No,” Ty’d honestly answered: “I listen.” A gift, this?; or a punishment?; or, as one grave commentator thought, a compensation?
Ty was also, in his own way, a working-class hero. And he had no time for America, for the grandeur of hype. Many another, in Ty’s circs, might have looked at his varied oddity as a possible angle, a way into The Market, that cryptic force which doth require of each of us his price, assign to each his labor. …Ty’s proud faggot side found this attitude in the worst possible taste, had an aesthetic aversion to the concept of exchange-value. As a consequence, before during and after his programmed moment of public recognition, he could predictably be found working a dead-end phys-labor gig, of the sort used by 50s Beats (to keep the wolf away; to lose excess nervous-energy; to provide contrast with the “head” one got from pot) and, fifty years on, by a “liberal”
immigration policy: “Let ‘em in! They’ll take the jobs no American would touch.” Ty embraced this bull work and, for years, would have been hard put to say just why. He was not unreflective; but whenever he bobbed for answers in that particular barrel, he kept coming up with negatives: because it doesn’t exploit my singularity, because it doesn’t help unduly the detested land of my accidental birth, because, because…. Ty knew these “minus numbers” (his term) to be heading away from meaning, never toward it. Later, in the 80s, yoga came into his life; and, while assuming a three-point headstand in Hatha II class at the IYI, he realized he’d simply developed a yoga of work, that’s all.
Where, more precisely, had Ty amplified this attitude, where honed his blunt dearth of commercial skills? Leider, the one notion he’d picked up from his High School German class was that of the Wanderjahr; and, after graduating (i.e., receiving his certificate of attendance), Ty embarked on a self-subsidized succession of them. At first, he resided in a furnished room near Maverick Square in East Boston and toiled where Manpower Inc. sent him, largely to workplaces that exist (trillingly?) beyond the liberal imagination: a Clorox bleach-bottling plant in Life Street; the Hood Hot-foam factory (where he did learn to carry a mattress on his head); a garbage-incineration silo. In San Francisco, he distributed fliers in suburbia, was taken from neighborhood to neighborhood with a cramped gang of his peers aboard a flatbed truck which began and ended its day behind an SRO hotel in the Tenderloin; lodging and continental breakfast automatically deducted from wages. On returning to the Metropolitan area, he found employment cleaning out the refrigerators of somewhat-recently abandoned apartments (with overnights given a blind eye); for a time, he also served as weekend laundryman at the Animal Medical Center, the world’s largest pet hospital.
All this—and yet none of it!—would prepare Ty for his foredestined niche in the field of security, post-Mod America’s true growth-industry. Who knew?; who could have known (save the Norns) that Ty would fetch up at the Jack Smith Memorial Infertility Clinic in Rego Park?, functioning as its private cop, its Sperm Guard?
The Jack Smith? There are currently afloat any number of erroneous myths about its titling. Most popular among arty post-Mods, of course, has it named for the clever beanpole best remembered as Mary Forrester’s collaborator in “I Was A Mekas Collaborator” (aka “The Secret of Uncle Fishhook’s Cave”), a three-dee radio play that blended Sinbad the Sailor with Ibsen’s “Ghosts”. Keepers of this flame have no trouble with the fact that the referent of their would-be eponym was still alive when the clinic was founded; the use of the term “memorial” was ironic, they aver. (One of those uncanny cases in which something may be said to exist…only if it doesn’t exist.) In no need of a cant term are the 50s teevee nuts who assume the clinic to have been named for Sgt. Joe Friday’s butch partner in the original “Dragnet” (so much more satisfying than the 60s version, which paired a twerp with a twerp). Alas, it falls to me to correct these harmless folk: it was Sgt. Frank Smith, not Jack. Well, but the most arcane of all are
those who’d nominate a radical critic for a one-time American Marxist paper, the “Guardian” (nee, the “National Guardian”); this is probably the most fitting of the three mistaken candidates, as “Jack Smith” was doubtlessly the critic’s nom de guerre. Of course, the appropriate is merely the truth’s raiment, never the naked chap himself. But those who plump for the critic probably aimed truer than they knew; because the Infertility Clinic at Rego Park had also taken on an assumed name, might justly be classed among the self-adopted.
Here is how. Of the co-founders of the clinic—whom I dare not name in these pages (all too aware, as I am, of that latter day Constitutional Amendment: “Suits against States of Mind”)—, one was an experimental geneticist, late of Luzon, thwarted as she attempted to take the Next Big Step, and the other was an old-time cut-rate abortionist from Hoboken who was made to feel uncomfortable with his field’s new (temporary) legality; in point of fact, his work life was taken from him! The two had an infrangible bond: both were obsessed with the unborn; the abortionist termed all the previe fetuses he’d terminated “Jack Smith”, anonymity softened with a nickname. On hearing this, the geneticist said she “could relate”: “I too have watched generation cease with me,” and, forthwith, thought of her failed chem experiments as Jacks from the same deck.
Cynics, were they? Nearer to the point lay the cracked witticism that mastered ‘em “the Syndics of Whole-Cloth Hall”. These two were simply—and only slightly—out of tune with their time: the music of the 70s celebrated the body, attained to Greater Mindlessness, cultural impoliteness (Low Punk), and the reassertion of Style (High Punk): all no more than a reaction to the chancy wildness which was the best of its temporal neighbor to the Left of the timeline. Not yet had Habit imposed its cloaked dominion; not yet did uninterrupted money-grubbing present itself as honorable conduct. Yes, if doctors X and Y were crabby and resentful, it were only because they both knew they’d lived too soon, both had been crossed in their careers at a point just before career itself began to assert itself as the echt-American tao; both were bitter in the way special to prophets: from the mountaintop, they saw the future but knew they’d not make it there, themselves. But—again akin to the Mosaic attitude—they moved might and main to facilitate that future. Oh yes. They were just…crabby about it.
Their whole operation was dedicated to servicing those hard-charging American females who’d choose the integrity of their worklife—i.e., its continuity—over either the kept-womanhood of trad wedlock (sex traded for security: the legalized prostitution that dare not speak its name) or the massive dislocations by means of which stop-‘n’-go parenthood effectively cripples the ability to get anywhere in the trades, business, or the arts. Brutally punished by this noble choice, denied the opportunity to get “deeper into life” (as Harrison Butterworth called the arrival of offspring), surely these young—and aging!—braves (no squaws in this tribe!) should have had somewhere to look for appropriate compensation: a payment in kind if not in kin. Look to us, said X and Y; look no further.
How would it work? Typically, the careerist would appear at the Jack Smith under cover of nightfall; deep-pocketed clients were regularly limo’d between condo or co-op and clinic. Eggs were harvested, fertilized by guaranteed Celebrity sperm (generalized, anonymous pedigree available upon neurotic demand), and deposited within a host placenta. Those host carriers (HCs) were themselves career gals of a highly specified sort; well-compensated (what creep would call it hush money?), even to al
dente health insurance, many of these under-class women found the moxie to resist the siren song of welfare dependency, thanks to periodic nine-month shifts working for the Smithies! (The less principled worked things both ways, of course; but even this strategy displays a healthy, contemporary adaptation to career, it says here.)
How, further? After the bearer brought the issue to term, it was surgically extricated and transferred, without either brachial or visual contact (these being matters of some delicacy) to a second Clinic employee…for nurturing. Some weaning and early rearing were accomplished on-site, but most issuaries were then designated for extraordinary rendition. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were either exposed to the hillsides of the thriving supranational Market for early human lifeforms…or, in some few cases, selected for that utterly novel alternative to living (forming the basis of the narrative you are currently translating into personal terms) known to insiders as “progressive adaptation”. Best seen as a parody of a currently unpopular theory about what the (imaginary) biological Stage Manager is supposedly up to, this were a process (often accepted as the first inhuman human faith) that held situations or contexts as prior to the human entities that act within them. Twas a belief-system which held that belief itself might be withheld from early human development without collateral damage; put nastily: that an actor might be trained from birth. (Skinner is sometimes cited as a spiritual ancestor; but I don’t see it, his “air crib” notwithstanding.) Such a being, it was believed, could be positioned as the man of any given moment, a protean facilitator, a progressive adaptor. In other words: what’s really going on for everything (or not), but summarized (or parodied) in one human unit: ontogeny precapitulating philogeny: a Prog. (It was quite the feather in the Jack Smith’s cap: being chosen to birth-manage a Prog. Power to the Process!)
Oh yes, I know what you want to know. Assuming “intelligence” to be used strictly in the pop-military sense, Who makes this unnatural selection?, Who’s the Designer (or Interior Decorator) behind all this? Was this part of the Process we all worship, these days?; or a jumped-up crypto-opposition? And if probability and not coincidence rule the roost, my Reader will only have her suspicions confirmed when she learn that behind this specific “intelligent design” lay the same-old same-old: those in Power working to keep Power, to keep life a struggle for Power, to keep life the same: Death to the Unknown! In fact, those who’d side with (perhaps even identify with) Barry Bonds…might with some justice drag your truly himself before the bar: am I not spreading self-regarding lies through my effort to impose upon ordinary chaos a coherent narrative? Am I not, also and merely, an entertainer?
I’d deny that, of course; reminding the Reader of the ill-treatment afforded denial in our “positive”-thinking, group-confessional era. And perhaps my Reader has not lost her faith…. Neither was rough-hewn X—nor the brighter, more febrile Y—hung up on this and kindred questions: both happily sold fertilized eggs to the Powers-that-be (if you accept the strange, look-at-me world I’d limn) or to Your Author (if you insist). Distribution, both to the Market and to the Power-mad, was achieved quietly, nay, inaudibly; even the operative gerund, bio-vending, is little more than a whisper, d’accord?
So, for the woman who cannot bear to bear, the Jack Smith was a godsend. And if one furious client, feeling abused by X’s vigorous pre-screening routine (“May we trust yiz to keep yer trap shut?”, e.g.), turned turk, telling the few who’d listen or care, “It’s
fucking Career-ueber-Alles to these people!”, many more emabraced the Clinic’s official slogan: NO VACATIONS! (I’m proud to say it was I—my character, I mean—who suggested the inscription above the entry portal: “The pram in the vestibule is the enemy of art.”—Wyndham Lewis; Y found this ostentatious, however, and effaced it. …All right, yes, there are two of us. I consider your choice a wise one: going with my voice, I mean; my character is arty, supercilious, odd. But, should you wish to switch over, my holo-identity will be yours to assume; I’ve long-since placed the access code in the public domain.)
…I happily use this platform (thy attention) to quash the daft rumors, latterly so rife in some domains, to the effect that the Clinic’s doings offered little beyond an occulted form of revenge, secretly enjoyed by its founders. Imagine! While my (officially blessed) research has turned up the fact that X’s medical credential was, yes, in veterinary science…well, after all, so was Himmler’s! We are, all of us, animals, Reader! (Or was Himmler’s in agronomy? Well, we’re all vegetables, too!) X was not a society depilatationist “with a sideline in abortion”, as one of my rivals has rushed into print. No, as a registered Gyno-rational Caregiver, X was, originally, as qualified an extra-legal extinctionary as many another; he’d learned his backstreet craft from a contemporary master, toiling under Dolly Sinatra. His career got crossed when its process went legit; he lacked the shingle, that’s all; is it not laughably unfair when experience—your only true teacher!—counts for nought!?!
And I have found absolutely no basis for the wild surmise that Y left the Philippines under a legal cloud, that her lab-dabbling with dengue led to a deadly local outbreak. Oh, well, that cloud did exist, yes, but it had more to do with those unnecessary scare-headlines distorting the forthright young geneticist’s public musing that Richard Speck’s violence against Filipina nurses might stem from a strictly hereditary root: “one of Our Own / Lets Monster / Off the Hook”, “Born to Raze Helices?”, etc., obviously the yellowest of journalism! Sadly, anti-science prejudice met Y’s every effort at inter-species breeding; “Genetically,” as she told one local rag, “I’d throw caution to the winds!”: an incautious statement for which the parochial mores of post-colonial Luzon made her pay dearly.
No, your author much prefers to view the two, the Smith’s smiths, in a far kinder light: thwarted they were and bitter with it, but I proclaim that their efforts for Others became a living image of what they themselves were denied. Has the Reader herself accomplished more than this?
How, furthest? The Jack Smith never forgot a paying client; the aftercare program for its egg-women (EWs or Eggies) might well take your breath away! Photographs (which the Reader may envision as the static ancestors of our holopix) of the newborn were followed by bulletins about significant developments in the life…and more pictures, of course: all, it may go without saying, thoroughly fictional; or (better!) real, but referring to wholly other offspring, color-coding an important consideration. Ever-more-temporally-spaced event-statements would ensue. “You’ll want to know how (s)he’s doing. And you will!!”, as the brochure gushed. …I know: I wrote that brochure…as well as the fictional biographies sent to the Eggies. Yes, I was for a number of years employed by the Jack Smith as a faux-bio writer and clerical dogsbody. Collecting the photos for posting to the EWs fell to me; that wasn’t difficult: often, the host carriers had their own, traditionally-derived, offspring; already compromised to
secrecy, these HCs were all-too-willing to sell off their ensuing genetic imagery. I’d also interview ‘em, get ‘em to talk about their children’s lives, endeavor to harvest telling detail which I’d use to “truth up” my tales for the Eggies.
If either my visual or literary fictions aroused suspicion, it was never voiced or, at least, never got back to me. In fact, I would like to believe I brought calm or, if not that, complacency…to many an EW’s troubled breast. The verisimilitude of my “lives” was doubtless helped along by my use of facts, albeit those belonging to the HCs’ straight- hatched progeny; the stories possessed truth-value (everything is true for someone, somewhere, sometimes) and they worked to console, I believe: we picture facts to ourselves. (Then too I was not above planting a few facts from the young lives of the “actual” eggs; oh yes, we tracked these too. It was this seemingly harmless practice which proved my undoing.)
In truth, I will always be grateful for that bio-writing gig at the Jack Smith. I was fresh out of journalism school in the Midwest and was trained for little beyond composing obits and covering the monthly meeting of the Lions Club. I knew would-be ballet dancers who gyrated in bottomless clubs, knew I had struck an analogous bargain. This caused no internal disquiet: I was a would-be lit guy and this were a real-life lit gig! I saw straightaway that the Jack Smith also provided a lode of otherwise-inaccesible “material” and I meant to mine it! Gestation was necessary, of course; I’d wait years for the matter I’d amassed to become meaningful….to you, for example. (In fact, I admit ((with difficulty)) that my work-gig had become my career. …Maybe, now, though….) Oh, I’m under no illusions…that anyone had to “catch up” with my mind-style, for instance. Events have rendered my observations important, it’s none of my doing. (Why else would scholars pore over the writings of Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl?) In fact, my insider knowledge has become invaluable, my publisher avers. How else would I know about the Clinic’s Special Offer and its fateful attraction for Jo-Anne Castle? How else be privy to the secret Sperm Donor files? Where else make the acquaintance of Ty the pseudo-hermaphrodite, keeper of those files? How otherwise be prepared immediately to recognize, as only Ty and I did, that primarily tragic figure?, our proto-protag here, Ur– doomed Ed?
Howdy! Arledge in yer face again. Doubting that even the erudite Reader has bothered opening the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. So: its narrative hook has Wall Street Jews cornering markets while Commie Jews organize the proles; then both sides sell out their respective constituencies, work together to suppress all opposition, and install King David on the Throne o’ the World.
The initial sickness in Ed’s soul: when did it set in? Not right away, oh no. True, he’d never been left in the one role quite this long, not that he could recall…not that he could recall those other Prog-roles either, of course. Maybe he’d come to the end of what the straight nuts term the “Jungian individuation” process; and this…was simply and finally who he was? After his public matching with the still dishy Ms. Castle, Page Six’s “Willowy Widow”, he’d seemed simply to have “fallen into” the mayor’s chair, as if by Divine right. Indeed, Ed’s hazy perception of his counter-ascendency was not wide of the mark, as he was not voted into office, nor even appointed, but had achieved it “by acclamation”, which is akin to conception by parthenogenesis. Out-of-Power grousers claimed the American public had been conditioned by such hanky panky by Bush Junior’s “immaculate deception” (as Dr. Real called the rigged election of the first year of the final Christian Millenium); but the truer historical parallel is the official imposition of private citizen Nelson Rockefeller as vice president after Nixon quit.
Maybe all the fulsome praise had kept him in that pleasant haze. For months, all that was incumbent upon Ed was to appear “mayoral” at photo ops, to inflect properly his lines when fed by the TelePrompTer, hurriedly to get uncanny/canny at resisting behind- the-scenes dissipation (all is scenery; spies are everywhere), little else. Maybe his crisis of identity was slow in gathering because of his trouble recognizing that he found his relationship with the erstwhile Ms. Castle disturbingly real. The counter-Socratic dictum of his kind—“Don’t know thyself!”—had let him down, big-time.
This may require some explication. Ed, as an advanced progressive adaptor, was in the life-habit of identifying reality (beyond Nabokovian quotation) with public event. Indeed, earlier incarnations had not denied him relationship, but twas inevitably with a fellow life-actor (if never a true equal, never a female Prog) and so all relational occasions—yes, yes, including sex—were determinately public; but which I do not mean the events took place before others, but rather: when life-actors hook up, they are themselves “others”, i.e., their own audience. Jo-Anne—soon his wife (the State Supreme Court had voted, as one man, to allow the Mayor to officiate at his own wedding)—was, as implied, the reigning life-actress of her day. How eerie, then, and how new, that Ed should begin to feel a “second” reality, as he put it tentatively to himself; in fact, even his rare reflections he was accustomed to experiencing as inner theater; whereas, this new though felt different, unitary, “his” in some odd, unmodulated sense. Yet this “second” reality was occasioned and reinforced by his…well, his “scene” with Jo-Anne. He felt drawn to her, somehow, beyond their dual lives as designated characters. These were novel feelings for Ed—unheard of in a Prog!—and they tranced him, oh, for the longest time!
For Jo-Anne, however, life with Ed soon proved perplexing. It had begun well enough….
She’d been highly pleased with their pairing, had expected (and got) the flattery and flutter associated with welcoming youthful ardor into well-toned middle age; and she could imagine no higher ratification of her advanced life-actorship than to have been mated with a Prog! Hard not to be in awe, she knew; but her own ego had risen to the occasion and she greeted Ed as a peer, right, right from the start, treated him with none of the deference new money is oft expected to show inherited wealth.
All the sustained excitement had proved helpful in modifying her troubling addiction to those ever-more-sporadic reports from the Rego Park clinic; she’d kept every
last letter; and, as their frequency and the specificity of their content diminished, her daily re-reading became all the more anguished, the product itself all the more dear.
Diminished specificity?: it was by design, of course; after five years, say, the missives I’d pen to the Eggies could have been descriptive of…just anybody. X told me he considered this policy proof of the Clinic’s compassion toward its largely well-to-do clientele: “Make the shit more-‘n’-more boring, Forrester; help the broad forget about it, right?; after a while, they see the envelope with our mark on it, toss it right in the trash!; or write back: ‘No more effin’ updates!’ That happens—and it does—I feel like I’m doin’ the Lord’s work!” Of course, any believing Behaviorist might argue that it’s the intermittent reinforcement that really hooks the sucker. I’m not sure of that and, anyway, I suspect what gratified X was actually the notion that people who had already forked over their money did not have to be serviced in perpetuity.
In the event, Jo-Anne had been red-flagged as an Eggie who had not paid upfront; after the intake-interview had recorded that her step-parents were “sometime proprietors of a Lower East Side candy story”, she’d been offered the Special Offer, which allowed the young ambitionary to pay over time. Did X or Y recognize in Jo-Anne a petit- bourgeois Thatcher-in-the-rough?; highly doubtful…but both possessed the anti-Commie intuition that selfish people may emerge from all the social classes, that it was simply prudent to keep the bite on those without immediate scratch. So for Jo-Anne—and for others similarly flagged—I was assigned to include a discreetly-folded remittance envelope in the bio packet. And it was in this connection that Jo-Anne had proved herself unique: of the many seduced by the Special Offer, she was surely the one Eggie who actually overpaid her debt to the Jack Smith! “Who gives a fuck why?” asked X, rhetorically; but I always wondered about it. Could she actually have believed that lie I’d weave into the cover-letter to the effect that “Money in the envelope goes directly into a Special Account we’ve set up…to help your Young One, later on down in life: an account with his/her name on it!”? Well…the seriousness with which Jo-Anne would answer the well-known events-to-come, her Tragic Response (as amazed pundits would have pegged it, had they known) indicates to me now that, yes, she did believe my blatant lie, taking it as an article of faith; that her overpayments were, in fact, part and parcel of what had led her to the Jack Smith in the first place: the pursuit of gaining literal purchase on a private life…the stepdaughter of shopkeepers?: maybe class does play a part here!
What is not in question is the despair and joy with which the woman greeted my fulsome bulletins about her “little girl”. I know about this, because she’d inevitably write me back…not that she knew my name or even my job-title; but all letters came to me. These began to lose their desperate zeal just after Ed was interposed onto her life-trip; their number dwindled to a trickle, then dried up altogether. What was going on?
(At this point, my character’s knowledge shrugs its honest young shoulders and your ancient author, an omniscient phony, must needs take over. Or you can view the changed perspective as my character extravagantly improvising on what he does know.)
True, Jo-Anne had all at once no need daily to pore over my foxed reports. Somehow, what they’d held for her was satisfied by Ed’s presence. Satisfied?; nay, fulfilled. And, since hidden privacy had long been the life-actress’s vice, her guilty hidden bit, she wised up to what was happening long before Ed did: she was letting him in on her secret, they were fucking on that level; it were a first for both of them and it
cloaked deeper truths, deeper difference, in an intimacy used by lovers from time immemorial to mask what might lead to their exile from Paradise. (Your author is well aware of the role in which this interpretation casts him.)
Does this touch the Reader? Does she find it heart-wringing that so far from obliterating Ms. Castle’s hush-hush addiction to privacy, union with Ed had succeeded in raising the easily scratched itch to a grand passion, and that she had also succeeded in communicating this suffering to a being whose entire life (or lives) would seem to be proof against it?
More importantly, at least to the story, what did Jo-Anne feel when all this sank in? I’d love to report that, like MaMaLuJo’s Mary, our heroine kept these things in her heart and pondered ‘em. But no; more an Old Testament lass, she reveled in the “success” angle: she’d infected a Prog! Little did she know that this strong identification with the Creator was, in reality, her lodestone, what drew Ed inexorably to her. “Not since Eve, such a conquest!” she’d tell herself, ego riding sidesaddle. (Eve, ever a Daddy’s girl.)
What unhorsed it?, Jo-Anne’s ego, I mean. Ed still had strong, moment-to- moment temptation to fall back into fulltime Prog pre-programming. This spoke to the superficial in her as well, worse luck. Maybe this was all out of their hands; maybe it related to their brain implants; who knew? (Well, presumably the Weird Sisters, Ty’s Nornish foster-folk: they who make it their business never to be on the set when needed—thusto encourage human curiosity and indy responsibility?) The jinxed lovers would be grooving on their secret when, out of nowhere, Ed would suddenly flash-focus on what would be expected of him, were he real. This was unbearably exciting; at least to humans it is and Jo-Anne fell for it, every time. But it left her perplexed. After every physical climax—and she came to be profoundly disappointed with anything less moving—, she felt herself, at once, in the heroic embrace of the Unknown (capitalized for its divine Distinction from a known world) and in the slimy grip of the overly familiar. This sat ill with our heroine, little-death bringing less tristesse than mixed metaphor! After coition, Ed would immediately leap off the cliff of waking life and effect a perfect swan dive into what his Handlers termed the “Corrective Unconscious”, a subterranean realm where all error is emended to resemble the true; its ruler is Dis, who was cast in(to) his role as a punishment for gifting humankind with “reason”. (Must I be clear?: I believe the capacity for drawing distinctions stems from a recognition of death: the ultimate distinction.) But while Ed was breaching his Erebusy tides—he’d wake with an excuse for everything, all alibi!—, Jo-Anne was wriggling, just short of writhing…in short: on the hook, all nettled and pissed. Physically sated, oh yes, she was in every other sense intensely, yearningly incomplete. For most of our kind, the future—a happy illusion!—will rush in to fill that gap when it yawns its ghastly greeting. But Jo-Anne, as a disciplined life-actor, didn’t believe in the existence of a future (dismissing it as memory’s designer-wallpaper), so its varied personifications couldn’t run their soporific con games on her, no, not on her. No, but that meant: she’d musts needs be immersed in life through unity with this young lover and when he withdrew, he took the future with him, that’s all. Fucking with Ed, her disbelief didn’t matter: the future believed in her…. ‘What an odd thought,’ she mused, unamused; ‘but only odd after the fact: in the act, I achieve privacy through a form of openness.’ But afterward —no getting away from it!—she felt like a symbol bereft of its referent: an odder thought!, and no Drama-dreams
(inevitably of wielding temporal power) could succor her; she knew, she’d tried ‘em, they availed her nothing. She felt her soul a leaden thing. …Of course, Jo-Anne had no idea how lucky she was: what could be more unimaginably fortunate than being only temporarily alive? A future Drama-critic will comment that Ms. Castle’s brown study was actually protective coloration…because what would really wake her up (i.e., engage her attention) would ask her “life” in return, as we’ll see.
In any case, at or near the absolute nadir of one such plexed despair, her own words began to work for her. Out of a blue nowhere, she knew what to do and it had her tremble in a wholly new way. Roughly, she woke her lover. She explained (I paraphrase): the two of them must counter the symbolic character of programmed lives with a living symbol of their secret. Those who fashion melodies do this all the time (see Victor Zuckerkandl); but neither of these our stalwarts was talented in this way. No, for her symbol, Jo-Anne Castle fell back on everything prior to her life-script. She and he— and only he would do—would decide (and proceed!) to conceived a child in the traditional way; in so doing, they could bring to being what neither was capable of, on her own!
“A trad kid?” Ed mumbled. “Okay, Babe, I’m game…”; and stumbled back to sleep, where, in time but at last, he was joined by his beloved.
Surprisingly, it was a snap to gain the approval of Ed’s Handlers. Cortical implants permitted a form of direct messaging, somewhat like a pro quarterback asking for and getting his orders from the bench (as Junior from the odious Cheney in the first Gore debate). But these were prayers that were always answered!, if seldom so “positively”:
‘Sure,’ in essence said the Powers, ‘we’ll make an effin’ moment out of it!—the conception night (good oppo for comic interruptions, there), the gestation (visual contrast with other pregnant moms—elephant, kangaroo rat); ‘n’ the delivery!!: it’s a natch for public spectacle: bloody, raw, plenty of doctors runnin’ around, the element of risk— Mom ‘n’ the brat might both croak, right? You two hold tight; we’ll ship over a box of edible micro-cams: the rubes’ll wanna trip on every nano-tick of the run-up. Then, come the day, we’ll conduct the birthing someplace really special: I’m thinkin’…go classy: like the Show World Museum or Carnegie Hall! Hawk wold-tickets for side money. Bring in clones of famous croakers to beef up the pre-‘n’-post op: Che, Kildare, William Carlos Williams, Mengele, Doolittle, Peristalsis, Fell, Rex Morgan, Feelgood: knights of the op table? Bit-time City audience—swells in primate gear ‘n’ plenty of palp-candy—, plus satellite hook-up to the world: we’ll let ‘em feel just what you do, Jo-Anne!, down to the last contraction; you can even fake it: we’ll supply the pain for the folks at home. ‘N’ Ed: we’ll have their partners pacing, right along with you!, put the whole calamity on offer! Celebrity childbirth!! Yeah, you two do your business, we’ll get on it from our end, right away!’
(That was only a translation, of course; the Voice in Ed’s mind was Ed’s own, in Jo-Anne’s her own; the crude talker above is, alas, your untruly.)
Jo-Anne’s intuition seemingly won the day! Of course, it were only a delaying action, but it proved such a successful one that the couple coupled with planned abandon, undergoing the process an approved second time, then a third: trunk-to-tail in time, like an elephant parade or, reduced to reality, like hypnotised American Catholics deigning to fuck once every nine months. This latter image was, in fact, the politically utile public perception in some Parochial quarters. In the event, of course, Ed and Jo-Anne sought out each other’s bodies as often as time permitted, finding there as nowhere else: solitude, privacy, and silence. For Ed, union with Jo-Anne elegantly balanced the hyperpublic character his role demanded. She become his priority; that was even the telling term that would at times flash onto his mind screen, whilst he was off playing mayor: ‘Jo-Anne is my priority!’ (The stoned irony of this locution, taken literally, is meant to stun the sensitive reader; nicht Wahr?, Reader?) So much Dramatic complacency was purchased by the couple’s serial intimacy that Ed had to watch himself that he didn’t suddenly and broadly smile or laugh outright during wholly inappropriate public moments—state funerals, hospital visits to crips and hero cops—; privacy (in the form of recognized incongruity) invading the current role-of-his-life! This were but a small caution: Ed’s inner devils, hitherto unknown to him and never all that bothersome, were now utterly put at bay, thanks to his beloved “priority”. The sickness in his soul went skulking into remission.
And if neither he nor she could go the final natural mile and play real-life parent to the three little strangers, the Reader ought not to blame them or think them monstrous: there are some defining acts and attitudes that are simply and finally beyond the emotional reach of life-actors, no matter how grammatical their programming, no, simply anathema. (That quacks diagnosed each of the succeeding three as “autistic” may well be the sort of coincidence that ruins verisimilitude in serious fiction…but it is no more than that!)
For Jo-Anne, this respite, this unplanned 5-year-plan, constituted the time of her life! She was never less than amazed at the ease with which her lover could now read her mind; he knew or seemed to know that reproduction had achieved its vast conjuring trick: at last, something beyond circumstantial evidence worked to prove her existence, she felt temporarily free of her literary antecedents, free of me. Ed did not complete her: she was complete. And yet this had everything to do with who he was, somehow. And so her mind turned to him, often and lovingly. In his periodic absence, she found herself doting on her mate’s physical detailing, as if increase of appetite could feed on itself. For example, his imperfection, his limp, became dear to her. Cut off, as she finally was, from her quondam need daily to wallow in the faux-momhood offered by the Smith missives, she was stone deaf to the echo emanating from what I once wrote to her. Post-coition had
evolved into a happy, mindless time for both. And, during one such moment, Jo questioned Ed, caressingly, about that limp. “I don’t know,” he admitted, unused to reflection. “It may be a genetic signature written in to help me come off a noble sufferer; you know: like JFK’s bad back. It may even be an hommage to Tamerlane, wouldn’t put it past ‘em!” “Oh wow!!” said Jo-Anne. So far from the truth, the two of them….
The truth was inexpressibly funkier. Of all those birthed at the Jack Smith, Ed was the one non-McDuff. He’d proved a modified breech-baby, feet splayed over the cunning buttocks; lodged he were, firmly up his surrogate bearer’s snatch. A second of two efforts with admittedly less-than-world-class forceps had succeeded in bringing Ed forth into what we hilariously term “the world”. This satisfied the adult parties concerned—mockmom and mockdoc. Getting the deed done more than made up for that messy first forceptic Shandean thrust, which, finding purchase impossible, had accomplished only the painful lancing of the poor li’l bugger’s left achilles. Enter, shrieking. How could a future Prog be so maltreated? But I ask the question merely rhetorically: we all know about the shameful fin de siecle decline-in-quality in all the trades!
I must now draw an impenetrable curtain across the lives of our two stars. We’ll move on quickly, let the better part of Ed’s term lapse (during which, as we know, Jo- Anne came thrice to term, herself). We obscure this period because its public evidence is well-enough known (the five-hour food riots, the untenanted condo mausolea, the surprise outbreak of beri-beri, the outlawing of public education); because our protags found themselves ineffably happy (and no one is that interested in other people’s bliss), and because it is the least I can do…do for them, I mean: for their memory.
How had they put it to him?, you’ll wonder. Ed wondered too; he only knew he’d awakened, one hallelujah morning, in the echoes of an upward-reaching musical phrase or riff (technically, a succession of perfect fourths) that had provided the leitmotiv of an operatic night at the Corrective Uncon; its words: “We like you for the part!!” He ran it by Jo-Anne, who was appalled. “But you’re already in a role. Christ, I hope they don’t mean a new one…;” the possibility staggered her, shook her world violently. ‘I knew this day would dawn,’ she thought, keenly bitter. ‘New part for the all-mighty Prog. Widowhood reruns for me. Shit.’
She needn’t have worried or not about that. The message Ed’s Handlers had fed him, so far from conditioning our man for acceptance of another blind change, was meant rather to prepare him for an unwonted (and, in fact, final) sameness, a prolongation. Percolating through the State Legislature was a bill mandating that Ed be declared Mayor-for-life: an act later much studied as an early pure example of presentable post- electoral democracy (an emerging system in which the elected work to undermine the legitimacy of election itself by promoting nostalgia for individual personality: “Represent yourself!”, its catchy slogan). There was no foreseeable opposition to the bill,
as the Legislature was largely comprised of hidden members of the infinitely-bribable Albanian Mafia, “the last great gang”, as Hollywood sentimentalized the quondam Tiranads. And, sure enough, Albany enacted the procedural oddity within days of Ed’s unsettling dream. One Post commentator (folksy, Volkisch) found it all very life- affirming: “Who sez White People—leastways, White Muslims—ain’t willing to delegate Power to a suitable Darktown Strutter?, let him boss his own tribe, long as he follow orders?!” (And, as the soberer Drama critic from The Times reminded: “All Albany has done is to elaborate the process which put the man in office in the first place!”, continuity the great placater.)
Alas, even if for nugatory reasons, Ed’s dream and Jo-Anne’s consequent anxiety occasioned the first rude hint that their hard-won bliss might prove less than eternal. If only Jo had chilled for a minute, trusting to the Process—to her programming, fer chrissake!—, she would, in a matter of days, have surely recognized in Albany’s act an unconscious interpretation of the dream and all would have rocked on as usual. But no, she passed those days in worry, pissing them away. At length, naturally indifferent to her natural children, ignorant of the comfort they might have brought her, Jo sought solace in her virtual “daughter”: the wretched woman unearthed her old vice, her letters from me.
This would have been bad enough; indeed it was, as Jo’s new jitters were immediately caught by a newly-nervous Ed: the one-mindedness their lovemaking had forged working fatidically against them. In fact, although they were both too unreflective to notice it, the solitude had begun to evaporate from their coupling. Then bad got worse. Poring over one of my earliest bio-bulletins, Jo came across an ensample of the little embedded facts (data from an actual egg: ab ovum) which I’d use, you’ll recall, to conjure verisimilitude. Jo’s little girl, I’d explained, was oh-so-slightly lame, owing to having been dropped by her care-giver, a spastic and hence blameless, although she might have told us!, I bitched, adding that the mortified woman was soon to resign her gig at the Jack Smith, saving all of us the pain of an official investigation (…in the immediate wake of the dropping, X had assigned her to light desk duties, I further reassured). Did Jo-Anne see all this for the horseshit that it was? Probably not, but what matters is the plangent registration on her consciousness that her first child’s left foot was damaged. ‘Just like Ed’s.’ This bothered, obscurely, and it was precisely the obscurity that bothered her. For the very first time in life, Jo-Anne dimly suspected that her strength—that rigorous-practiced refusal to look within—might somehow prove her weakness. She also “knew” (dimly to suspect, in the paranoid sense) she must obscure this obscurity from her lover. This withholding something of herself from Ed crippled the mindless glee that had been their mindstyle.
Did these developments come to a head? Did they ever!
Albany’s announcement of the seeming permanence of his position (and hence his role) affected Ed strangely. As implied, Jo-Anne’s uncertainty evoked a similar doubt from her mate: an act of pure sympathy, otherwise baseless. ‘This is who I am,’ he found himself repeating: each time with less conviction or as if speaking of another. He was in one such identity funk when word got through that he was wanted at what the pop press continued to call Ground Zero. Years—believe it or not!—after Osama’s masterstroke, the City had finally come up with a memorial to the leapers and the other deads. Ed de-stuporized, downed a clutch of uppers, and lit out from the Mansion (the crass klaxon of his predecessor’s predecessor ((Koch)) having been replaced by the
similarly unignorable electronic cooing of “Careful…. Careful…!”). En route, six bodyguards got aboard, each in standard-issue mayoral garb and matching Ed-mask. The limo’s arrival was greeted with a deafening synthesis of Purcell’s “Come All Ye Sons of Art”, Ives’ “Robert Browning Overture”, and “96 Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians: a standard military formula for drowning out any unwelcome welcome.
The memorial consisted of two tasteful tombstones, each clearing a modest 20 feet, polished granite semi-megaliths possessing phallic hints both of rapa nui and of Lovecraft’s antic Antarctic pre-human phantasies. What appeared at a distance to be representation of the Trade Tower storying (with its fateful windows) was revealed, up close, to be the names of the heroic leapers carven in braille to facilitate public feel-up (satisfying a social duty) and to offer the rune effect (ditto the aesthetic duty). Stretched between the liths was a ribbon of reinforced black plastic, such that the presentation as a whole, when faced dead-on, resembled a giant staple; faced obliquely (allowing for lateral foreshortening), the letter pi.
Authority is established by making people wait and Ed’s Handlers were strict about his never showing up on time for “public” (i.e., randomly populated) events. In this case, all he missed was the bottom-of-the-bill opening act, which emerged, from the Post’s sketchy account I read next day, as barely memorable: in keeping with the memorial’s miniature-railroad vibe, a tiny robot on loan from the Pentagon—more arthropodal than humanoid, be it noted—was set to scuttling across the ribbon and back again, across and back, across and back. Confused onlookers were not to learn (until they read the Post’s account) that a holo-projector was meant to bounce the moving image of the daring acrobat Philippe Petite off the robot’s tiny trunk, the City hoping to program a little nostalgia for individual feats of vacant bravado. Would the hologram have achieved this effect? No one could know, as some hapless roadie brought a power cord that, alas, just didn’t measure up, leaving the projector uselessly juiceless. (The ‘bot ran on batteries, the crowd on photosynthesis and on the ghost of willpower.) The next few acts were similarly marginal in interest: a Judeo-Christian skit about the Tower of Babel (its limp last line, “And that’s why we all speak English today!”), a wooden ventriloquist with a human dummy, yet another tedious re-enactment of the Punk Experience (as the first self-aware Dramatic movement, all its sets and props were saved, alas), that sort of thing. Ed made studiedly reactive sounds and gestures; all the Ed look-alikes did, as well.
Then came the Rockettes. Ed remembered later thinking at the time, ‘They always stop the show.’ Reader, they did. They formed a tight semi-circle around the knotty gaggle of Eds (domestic short-hairs, all) and, facing outward, facing the crowd, began to gyrate such that, if watching from above, one might have fancied he saw a fright-wig writhing on clustered billiard balls. The chorus line then turned turtle and regarded the Eds and, when each Rock picked him out, the Ed of Eds (as in the famous pseudo-domestic photo of Hitler in which eyes of all ages swim to him). The Mayor of New York having been securely fixed, the Rocks began to chant:
On your watch. On your watch. On your watch.
First Token Minority Rockette
On your watch…all air-space has been compromised by a Plethora of private fliers, collision the norm. The Internet Hums along but all non-virtual roads have fallen into terminal disrepair. Public transportation has been banned as a security risk. We stay home. We become a land of islands.
Second Token Minority Rockette
On your watch…recognition has lost half its meaning, is only understood in its public sense.
Chorus On your watch. On your watch.
On your watch…the disrespect into which silence has fallen seriously endangers the future of music.
On your watch…weather has gone wild.
On your watch.
First and Second T.M.R. Community is available to all; as is Dramatic isolation.
Our labor is no longer alienated. We know we are all actors now or have learned to be. Yet we are disconsolate.
Third and Fourth T.M.R.
Our lives are purpose-driven. What each of us does is imaginatively representative of who she is. Each being identifies with herself, succumbs to doubt only for its mild thrill: a sentimental pleasure. Yet we are disconsolate.
We believe. Yet we are disconsolate.
Ancient Wardrobe Mistress (and Ur-Rockette) We care about none of this.
That is the point.
You were our sometime hero: why we turn to you now.
Can you at least tell us what oppresses us?, what has cursed us. Why we care so little about the death all around us.
We are…together. Why does it not seem to matter?
Tell us. Tell us what you see! Tell us.
The grim incantation was followed by the snappy lock-step choreography the world has come to expect from this crew. Then the show broke up and the crowd—the thin side of sparse, at all events—dispersed. The Ed-apers went off in pointedly differing directions. Actual Ed staggered into his limo, his mind, for the moment, well and truly blown. He buzzed down his tinted window and wailed: “I don’t know what’s going on or why! Not me! Ask somebody else! Not me!”; and buzzed back up, sat back all buzzy. Who had bought off the Rocks? What Paleo-Commie had programmed these dickless chicks with that Tory/Bolshie song ‘n’ dance? Who knew? Or cared? Ed didn’t: face value was more than enough to make the dude temporarily lose face.
But shame, as you might imagine, was antithetical to the high-Prog’s software. Halfway home, he was readying the next scene; its soundbyte or zinger had already formed itself by the time his driver was forced to shoo a passel of demonstrators out of the mansion driveway. This were a demo prompted by the very thing so successfully used to sell Ed to the masses: his and his mate’s self-evident bliss. “You’re the Mayor? Act like the Mayor!” read one sign. “We’re not happy. Who cares about you?”, another. (As implied above, the five years that spelt connubial delirium for our protags had proved all too deleterious for their subjects.) A third said simply: “I don’t get the joke.” …But, if anything, these sentiments only underscored Ed’s certainly about the rightness of his prepared line. He ignored the pickets with all the aplomb of a Skinnerian in the presence of the Absolutely Inappropriate. (Power to the Process!!)
Ed bounded goofily up Gracie’s steps. The doors were already open. His wife stood just inside, looking worn, quietly angry, sleeplorn, anxious: many things, none happy.
“Jo-Anne! Jo-Anne!” he fairly shouted into her face. “Check it out, Baby! I’m onto what’s happening, what it’s about! You know our fights ‘n’ fear ‘n’ that?—all the recent shit?: well, it’s cool! Listen, it’s cool!”
Eliciting no response, Ed pressed on. “We’re just having a marital crisis at the fucking same time as a full-blown societal crisis!” he crowed. “The same fucking time!, you dig? What the Handlers had in mind. We’re just in-step, that’s all! We’re still chic, so everything’s cool!!”
Ed’s manic enthusiasm for “the present” (the only moment any actor ever knows) was not destined to outlive this interview with Jo-Anne. Hollow-eyed after a week’s sleeplessness, she stared at him morosely, cinched her flame-pink kimono more tightly about her, then turned and walked off without a word.
Brought the cat clean down.
I hold this event to be important because it occasioned Ed’s first reflective thought in life. Left at a loose end, left momentarily on his own, his happy message (unheard?, anyway unacknowledged) still bounding around the vestibule, Ed, somewhat crushed, caught himself thinking: ‘Who is this entity, this being, that her reactions so effectively dominate my emotional state? What is she?”
Alas for Ed, the query was firmly rhetorical. His highly-artificial intelligence, an internal spy network, automagically funneled it into his Junk Mailbox from which, if he failed to click on it within three days, it would be peremptorily deleted. Alas, yes, but not for us: if not for the tie binding our two protags (enabling them to act in concert; to anticipate each other’s moves; when permitted, to read the other’s mind) and if not for Ed’s stiff ignorance of it, you and I, becalmed, would be left up Spite Creek without a story. And we’re always in it for the story, are we not? Power to the Process!
And, even for Ed, although the content of what he’d asked him self was duly lost, a pernicious integration—in Prog terms—had begun to corrupt his deepest programming. The asking sufficed. You see, once reflection is dropped into the mental pool, its ripples may well reach all the way to shore. And indeed twas scarcely a month later, during an extended bout of mirror-gazing (a Handler-approved Yoga for Progs: “Try to make your image disappear. Chant repetitively: ‘Death to the Unknown. Death to the Unknown.’”), so far from the irenic vacancy this exercise was meant to promote, Ed found himself pondering one of the messages his driveway pickets had forced upon him, eight paragraphs above: ‘”You’re the Mayor? Act like the Mayor!”’ Through strenuous effort, he recalled the high-handed illegitimate nature of his rise to Power. And, all at once, a startling challenge popped into his mind: ‘What would happen,’ he thought, ‘if I actually tried to be who I am…?’ (I could have told him: everything happens twice in our backward era: first as farce, later as tragedy. Guard—as Dr.Real calls Him—always lets us get our giggle in, first. But who would listen to me? Even I don’t listen to me.)
Of course, attempting to hold his idea in his head for more than a few seconds proved ‘way beyond the Prog’s talent, will-to-power negating willpower, as usual. The thought evaporated forthwith, leaving Ed with the feeling that he’d been wrestling an angel or daemon and had thrown him off…or, if nothing that specific, at least with a spurious sense of accomplishment, ego the diadem of ignorance.
Time for another time-out (what Behaviorists stoutly refuse to acknowledge as punishment). Call it a virtuality check. It must be manifestly clear by now that the world found in these leaves differs from Thine own. In the former, for example, Behaviorism is the one old-Modern psychology left standing (did it bribe its way into the present?; I capitalize it as it partaketh of the Process). In the latter, for example, Ed Koch’s successor as mayor was not an unnamed, martyred leaper but a tennis-playing Chocolate Dandy; and his successor was no one like our Ed but an ever-immature Catholic schoolboy with a lifelong unconscious vendetta against all who dared to freak out while he had his post- graduate nose in property law (and who was himself succeeded by a whig billionaire).
And as my Reader is a clever minx, she was already worked out the major systemic distinction between world and hers/yours: whereas in both worlds Modernity is “history” (i.e., eclipsed, toast, so over), only mine has witnessed the tin-horn triumph of Dramatic Consciousness. Your world’s yet mired in passe Mod-talk, creakily referring to its human components, if at all, as “citizens”; I speak honestly of actors. As the Rocks chorused, late last chapter, my people are “together”, worse luck.
Of course, there are correspondances between the two worlds. I am myself a background figure in both, similarly insignificant (if notably more active in the imaginary sphere). More of a colossus, with one foot firmly planted on one continent and the other on the other…is Barry Bonds, Hollow-Fame-bound Barry Bonds.
On a day long before the vents recounted here, back when Bonds was a spindly, pre-steroidal Pirate, he proved himself a budding Action-Dramatist; proved it to my satisfaction, at least.
I was watching a late-80s Mets/Bucs game on the tube while, for some forgotten reason, listening to its radio commentary. My team trailed by a deuce with two out in the last of the 8th. Our vaunted hitters had looked sickly all day. But somehow we got two men on and that brought up our second-string catcher Barry Lyons who, the “book” claimed, had pop when he got his pitch. Well, apparently he got it…because Lyons proceeded to swat one out of the park! Bonds had raced back—well, he would, wouldn’t he?—and, at the wall, had leaped improbably high, his torso twisting as he did so (an unheimlich maneuver)…only to come down slump-shouldered, head hung, a portrait of defeat. As the crowd ran mad and Lyons broke into his unwonted home-run trot (no hotdog he but a proud, modest hero-of-the-moment), Bonds, keeping his back to the diamond, beckoned to the Corsairs’ center-gardener, a character in his own right yclept Andy Van Slyke. Standing profile now, his face seen to be wearing a rueful mien, Bonds, employing an arm gesture replete with Ruthian echoes, directed Van Slyke’s attention to a point beyond the wall, a point e’er which Lyons’s ball had apparently sailed, pointed to that point. Andy peered and, in sad accord, shook his head solemnly.
…Then the two men turned and jogged back towards the infield and, ultimately, the visitors’ dugout, keeping their heads down as they did so, the camera catching them in a quiet, collegial converse. For Lyons’s home run was itself only apparent; in reality, he’d made the third out of the inning: Barry Bonds, whilst he leapt, had snared the pellet after
all, but had preferred to keep that fact to himself, only moments later letting Van Slyke in on the secret, including him in the big-Dee Drama.
Quite the coup, it succeeded in deke-ing the other principal actors, including the umps; and a local audience of 30 thousand; and countless watchers on the tube; and at least one set of radio broadcasters; and even perhaps both benches; and me. Along with the wormwood and gall, I remember what else I felt: ‘This guy knows what he’s doing!’ I was none too sure what that was but I was sure of the fact.
I still am. In a sparkling, not-unMilesian improvisation, Bonds realized he could both pull off a stellar athletic coup and make any number of people feel like fools at one and the same time!, Drama and action wedded: the true alchemical mating. Why this brilliant sorehead should need to concoct a revenge play I leave to the lad’s biographer… or to Bonds hisselves: it’s never too late for enlightenment. Surliness can clear up like outgrown acne, once one gets over himself.
A half-inning after, the Mets’ principal play-by-play man—an elderly, increasingly-befuddled former Marine—remained sweetly in the in the dark: “I still don’t get it, Eddie. Why didn’t Bonds…take credit for that great catch?” His partner (who’d called the homer then had to re-call it)(and whose exasperated tone matched exactly that in my own exasperated head)(and I suspect anyone who witnessed this scene was left talking to himself!) answered: “Oh, he took credit for it, Murph. He took credit for it, all right.” …Or is this re-enactment only my own lame little revenge play?
…At the risk of coming over all Kinbotic, I must say that I hope my Reader rather enjoyed this note.
Of course, in a deep sense, the difference between “real” worlds (those “claws” another salute to Vlad the Implier) and imagined worlds is itself imaginary. As you have seen, my crowd-scene actors—my extras—, although portrayed as “together”, purpose- driven, their actions archaic, their hearts open to Destiny, repped by a chorus awready!… seem familiarly lost. (Oh, well, you’ve only just met them; they seem so to me who has lived with ‘em longer.) Despite the permeation of Dramatic Consciousness
—or, do you agree?, with Its reinforcing connivance—those extras are still stuck seeking answers outside themselves, nay, beyond that: looking for someone to tell them what to do. Hence, they differ from your citizens not at all. In fact, my world displays the apotheosis of Pound’s wet-dream of hierarchical authority, static ecstasy, vast chains-of- fools all vibrating in sympathy: what had the great poet / great teacher fawningly refer to an armed creep as “The Boss”. So I can’t claim any real difference between your Mods and my Rockers: actual change is beyond both. With actual change what you and I and everyone stand in need of, what the future asks of our species before it be allowed in: a form of i.d.
Some will argue—at times, I among them!—that the struggle for the liberation of our kind can definitely be imagined taking place within a Dramatic context. I believe all
that hinges on whether humans truly desire to continue or not. In these pages, I’m endeavoring to fashion a world in which this desire is either muted, occulted, or is outright absent. Faced with the fact that being-alive provides in itself no solace, my crowd of actors, my mob, believes itself cursed: discomfort magnified by belief in Destiny. You would think, you might hope, such believers would immediately seek out what embers of human desire yet exist, huddle close, and blow upon them. Rather than that, they seek out a “Boss” they know to be an avatar of civic corruption, in order to have their own lassitude satisfied. Ed does not disappoint, giving the crowd the brush-off. The Post publicized the events, both the French leave Ed gave the Rockettes and his side- stepping the Gracie demo. “Ed’s Clueless” ran one banner headline; “He’s No Seer”, another; “’Not Me!’”, a third. Did these my brethren learn from their official rebuff?
Of course not. Pleased, on some level, with their disappointment with Ed’s predictable vacuity, literal thousands (mostly Post-readers, granted) next sought disappointment at a vastly higher level, praying to the Internet to correlate “curse”, what they believed they had, with “seer”, what they believed they needed. It may be what they really needed was truly to summon themselves…or, failing that, to identify what Henry Korn called “a prophet who predicts the Past”; instead, in their anguish, they agreed with the Postie pundit who claimed “We must find someone who can see for us!”, seeking what Henry Korn called “nostalgia for the future”. Alas to report, Ed went on-line himself and got the same answer everyone else got. Seer and curse: there was, in all virtuality, but one exact match….
But Ty had long since burnt his bridges. The desperate extras who located, scanned, and printed out that SoHo Weekly News interview…were crushed to see no further reference to this mystic intersexual. Whither the bird-brain? What had he/she gone on to do?, this hizzenherm metafizzocrat. Standard Internet research brought out very little; e.g., no one from his high school class remembered him (typical aversive learning?); his senior Log picture the sole remaining image: and it was doubtful, wasn’t it?, that the dude still wore his hair in an Aphro. …In fact, I who knew him could have spoken to that point, had anyone asked: by the time we toiled together under X and Y at the Jack Smith, Ty’s tonsure had already passed through Thomas Hardy and Ed Wynn and was well on its way to Clarabelle.
Our Ed had the edge over the myriad others who’d found their way to Ty, only to find him an orphan of time. Yes, the Prog protag’s close-reading (always painful for a memory-freak!) of the SWN story had netted him that fleeting mention of Ty’s bizarre fosters, those three weird sisters. Casual eyes would glissade over the reference; but it rang for Ed the clearest and most Pavlovian of bells. For, although a Prog’s brain is regularly laved of all data relative to preevie i.d.’s, the Guiding Matrix (a process of the Process)—one plannedly-mad jumble of principles, dogma, and lore, never ever committed to paper—lurked always just beneath the surface of consciousness, begging to be visited. As I’ve implied, the mainline of the Matrix flowed from Hassan-I-Sabbah; and Hassan was said to have said: “The fatidic is prior to Being and forever triune.” Even Deity is subservient to the Fates. The Greek Pantheon learned this to its cost. Odin lost an eye in order to put the idea in perspective. The Infidel was certainly hip to it:
what better explains the cruel (if temporary) triumph of Athanasian Christianity?:, as men imitated the structure and function of the prior force and assigned it to their tinhorn godhead, plundering and blundering blindly (a tip of the Hatlo hat to Walt “Clyde” Frazier!) in the name of the “Holy Trinity”. Ed did not think of Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis: he had no antique backstory about him; nor were Snorri’s Norns known unto him; nor even MacBeth’s toilin’ bubblers. But he didn’t need these elderly ensamples, these arch archetypes. Not when he had today’s Post open in front of him; not when the popular human-interest column “Where Are They Now?” just happened to be dealing with the current pass of that well-known, heroic trio of yesteryear—headliners at Show World back when Times Square was an authentic (if authentically sleazy) proto-Dramatic environment—, a triad known as the Humming Pussies of Harlem!?! Where were they now? Well, according to the ever-reliable Post—the logo of which (“The content of these pages is reliably founded on rumour.”) spoke the simple truth—, the trio had hurriedly decamped during the realty boom of the early Aughts, when Harlem’s brownstoned blocks became the burgherhood of choice. The three, croaking crones by now, had fetched up in the yet-unreconstituted South Bronx, Ed read, having been allowed to doss down in the boiler room of a paint store on a windswept, derelict block, a store which featured a brief, listless “shape-up” from 6:30 to 7, then stayed closed all day. (In a proper shape-up, energetic generalists and luckless men of a given trade gather in hopes of being contracted as day-laborers; whereas, the proprietors in question here simply went through the motions while a clutch of staggerers shared an early-morning bottle: my Reader must needs imagine why.)
What were they now? The article went into that too and in sniggering detail. The three had been bombshells typifying the official beauty of their time and place, late-Mod America, and, as such, refused to surrender to duration, so, by the time the Post re- publicized ‘em, their vaunted glam-pans were reduced to putrid masks, once-thrusting boobs to withered dugs, as the reporter reported. About their vaginas which, heavily amplified, were once wont to belt out “Joy to the World” in world-of-Coke harmony, he passed over in silence, the Post being your prototype “family publication” (i.e., tits only), celebrating all manner of violence while relegating sex to, variously, the condemnatory, the titillating, or the self-suggestive. The Pussies had been none of these; as implied, they were weird. They’d lain on the Show World stage rather like spiders, with legs splayed and knees up, their rumps elevated by pink plush cushions, their jewels blatantly on display…but not really, as sight lines were inevitably blocked by the outsize, old-fangled Naumann microphones parked in front of each. The Post, although not pussyfooting round the name of their act, described the three as “one-time Broadway entertainers”; that they were, that they were.
The Reader must be warned that I am about to probe a delicate area. Ed’s finding the Post article coyly laid out next his mayoral laptop—the Humming Pussies once more on display, as it were—constitutes a highly disturbing coincidence. Disturbing, because: How can I expect any sane leser to believe such a creaky and obvious plot device? It just “happened” to be there. Sure it did. Coincidence never works in fiction for the same reason magic never works in a film: we have already committed our belief to the medium involved; to be asked to accept the incredible within that medium…breaks the charm. Yea, rightly is coincidence in fiction cited as evidence of authorial lassitude. Those who would blur the ancient distinction and live fictive existences in real-time
would do well to remember the deadly banality of all that “happens to happen”. Does it blaspheme to say “In an indolent moment, Guard created coincidence”? Is my own Reader herself a life- actor?
But the situation herein is different. You see, Ed had no difficulty believing coincidence. No mere life-actor—as, for example, his wife was—, he knew his self to be a wholly fictional construct. His world was all he pretended to be the case. (The rest of us may have a problem with coincidence because we assume ourselves to be “real”.) Not that Ed was aware of his author (one never is); but that he had an author he doubted not at all. He lived, such as he did, by following a series of clues and cues strewn about his perceptual environment. (History has some precedent: when an upstart emir found a dagger under his pillow, he could bet the oasis that one of his closest aides or wives was loyal only to Hassan. Which one, though?)
Time to go.
Jo had caught the odd, committed look on Ed’s face and stopped him on his way out the door. “You’ve an errant shoelace,” she said; “allow me.”
“All right.” Was this a token of détente, Ed wondered, a thaw in our recent replay of the Cold War?
She stooped and fussed while Ed re-groomed his upper body. They parted without goodbyes.
Half an hour after, Ed’s limo was streaking toward the South Bronx, hell-for- leather. How did he know which building on what street played host to these original spinsters? The answer is both simple and paranoid: assuming immediately that the Post article was an authorial plant, eyes only, he re-scanned it, this time for verbal and numerical tip-offs; and for a Prog, a cypher of this nature is child’s play. The relevant data popped out like melody from random cacophony. …But you won’t get specifics from me, Sweet Reader, not while the crones still huddle near their meager hearth; find ‘em on your own!
Ed had no need to have his driver drop him the trad triad of blocks shy of his goal. No he wanted this to look like a drug buy: everyone, from crack-mad locals to eyes-in- the-sky, would understand that. And, to be on the safest side, he had a ‘droid at the wheel; so there was no occasion to rehearse that hoary noir cliché with the passenger leaning forward as he exits, whispering “Wait for me,” no, a ‘droid would always wait, was always awaiting further instructions. Ed understood this; ‘I’m little different,’ he mused as he viewed the paint store which was wreathed in chains like Isaac Hayes at his most manifest, his most obscure; and bore a Depression-era sign over much of its boarded-over front window, a sign reading “NOT TO-DAY”. The Post had the old girls in a boiler room, so resourceful Ed sought and found one of those echt-New Yorkish street-level horizontal Dutch-door sets, happily (i.e., plannedly) unfettered and wrenched the doors apart, exposing a greasy clump of stairsteps, trailing into gloom. Not for the first time, our leading man, an unbeliever, prayed to be visited by fear. …Unanswered, he trod purposefully down the steps, sending all manner of invisibles scurrying for safety. Traversing with care an object-littered cellar, he felt his way toward the self-evidently
sole local heat source. As publicized, the boiler had its own room and Ed threw open the weighty metal door without bothering to knock: he knew he was expected.
“You start to think in chapters, yet, Son?” called out a cold, flat, Bayou voice, only gesturally female.
Ed could descry three vague shapes, lit only intermittently by a flicker in the window of the furnace. He had the right to remain silent (we all do) and did.
“We wondered,” came a second voice, this one bewraying a Jamaican timbre. “Thought you might come looking, ‘round about Chapter Six, say.”
“’Course, what we think,” came a flutey, flirty third, “tends to come to pass. So we three needs must watch our words, qualify everything; proper dames of academe, we.”
“Yes, all right, then,” Madame Two conceded: “We though it possible we’d see you earlier. I cannot claim we thought it likely,” passing her hearing aid to Madame One. Had I been at Ed’s ear, just then, I’d have suggested, “Tell them you’re disappointed that they seem to be dealing in probability rather than necessity. …But Ed, of course, subscribed to that neo-Deist notion, popular among Progs, that “God” (i.e., one’s author) set things up and then split, leaving a bread-crumb trail of scattered clues, suggesting, when finally doped-out, the best next step toward fulfilling the purpose for which one was brought to being. (I’ll let you know now, parenthetically, that Ed’s hamartia lay in confusing his Handlers, mere minor Deities, with Yours Truly.) Ed imagined he knew why he was there and cut directly to the point: “Back when you three were toothsome babes,” he said, well-aware that one may always flatter Fate, “you reared a son. And whereas once his insanity and general jumble would have vied for pride-of- place in keeping his fellow humans at a menageried distance, those selfsame qualities
require of him now a leading role.”
Voice #1: You pretend to speak for your species. Ed said, “All life-writers do.”
Voice #2: Ballocks! You couldn’t forge your own signature. Speak for yourself. Ed (under the gun): Okay. I need to speak with your son.
Voice #3: ‘Need’! That’s a hot one, Eddie!
[#3 slips her lorgnette to #2]
#2: You’ve no idea what you need, in point of fact.
Ed (ever willing to abase himself to get the goods): No, you’re right, of course.
My presence here suggests an ignorance of personal necessity, not its opposite.
#1: Hold hard, Big Fella. Back up the van. What in tarnation had you refer to yourself as a “life-writer”?
Ed: Well, within each incarnation, a Prog is free to—
#2: —to spin his wheels?
#3: —to chase his own tail? Yeah, we know.
#1: That’s howazcome we’re gonna tell you what you want to hear…anyways, show you what you want to see.
Ed (shocked out of his sub-servant come-on): What!?! Why?
#3: ‘Cause it don’ matter none. You’ll find yer way to the way it’s gotta be—
#1: —with or without you know where you’re going. True for everybody.
Ed: Well, as you know, I’m not wholly human. I’m not bound by “truth”. It’s not in my wiring. How it is.
#3: That don’t matter neither.
#2: Because all we three mean by “truth” is: the way things happened to turn out.
#3: We be past-masters of the past, the mistresses of hindsight.
#2: The Golden Hind!!
#1 (taking the lorgnette): Got ‘er in my sights, Bubba!
Ed: You mean: you’ve already been through this; you know how it will turn out.
#1: Try again, Pardner.
Ed: All right…. You’re not really here but are somehow projecting yourselves from some point in the future?
Ed: Then, level with me!!, will you? I can’t take you literally: what about your infamous ability to cut a man down?, how would you do that, dealing only with the past?
#2: “Do” it? We reflect it, merely. Ed: Yoicks!!!
#1: Okay, okay. We’re only teasin’.
#2: After the manner of all things fatidic.
#3: Shimmer, glimmer, flash, fade.
Ed: Your truth, then; your way: as it was, as it were. May a Prog be entrusted with it?
#1: You charm us!
#2: The truth is…that we three are here but you are not. We dwell in neither the future nor in its sacred opposite, but in the interstice—
#3: —the entr’acte—
#1,2,3: TIME OUT!!
#1: Y’see: We are here, the Reader’s here…’n’ y’all’re not. [#1 extracts her choppers; hands them to #3]
Ed: But the Handlers themselves have trained me to see my being as a character aware of itself, a conscious being of an unclassed sort, The Moment my moment.
#1: Yeah, well, ya been lied to, Bubba. There ain’t any one truth, but there’s a passle of lies! …Pay attention:
#1,2,3: You are a memory.
#2: Try to remember that. Ed: Yes, but—
#3: Remember it, Boy, ‘n’ see where that leads you. Ed: But—
#1,2,3: We have said too much.
[Choppers, lorgnette, and hearing aid in an eye-defying rapid-shuffle]
Ed: But, if I’m not here, where am I? And if I’m only a memory, whose memory
#1: At last, yer askin’ something sensible, Son! …You’re the rememberer.
#2: And where are ye?; you’re in the next scene, of course. Same chapter, but… the next scene.
#3: In the process of remembering this one, an incomplete reconstruction, lemme add. You hip to ginkgo biloba?
Ed (belligerently): And where is this “next scene”?
#1,2,3: Close your eyes.
#2: Summon us no more.
#3: Believe nothing we have said.
#1: Nothin’ is necessary. No one thang.
One thing a Prog knows how to do is follow orders. Ed shrouded his peepers and proceeded to waste time in a time-honored way: by counting. He got up to two thousand four hundred fifty three. Ed felt comfortable in this idiotic practice (the new morology?), comfortable in the self-imposed darkness, even as he felt the boiler’s head withdrawn and something of a wind take its place; no matter: momentum was building; this counting could have gone on endlessly…when a raucous “CAW! CAW!”, right next his ears, brought our hero to his senses (and the Reader out of this rumdum, random idyll): a large crow had hove up in front of Ed’s face. Ed was startled to find himself outside; even that wind, he’d tacitly assumed, had been artificially produced: how remarkable that it should turn out to be “real”! His surprise-opened eyes watched the crow flap away and land on the stone lintel of a grubby, three-story non-descript, from which perch it cawed again, drawing Ed’s attention thither.
The scene had definitely shifted. Ed took stock: a blank moment followed by a re-positioning: shiftiness of this sort was not unknown to the Prog. Typically, it signalled the onset of a new role. Ed didn’t mind periodic identity crises; in fact, they served to affirm his fictionality, ‘from which cometh my strength’, he mused. Was he still Ed? He thought so but wasn’t sure. Yes, generalized recent memories were yet intact: he was mayor of New York; he was a bullet-headed dude; he was at odds with his wife; he’d gone to the South Bronx to see the Humming Pussies, late of Harlem…. That last bit, though: why had he done it? He couldn’t remember. It had to have been on some purpose: all Prog behavior is goal-oriented, the better to exploit any given moment; ‘”Others may enter moments only through submission to Process whereas I represent Process—even as it represents itself.”’ …Ed mumbled the Prog boilerplate to himself. It did not serve to calm him. Something was wrong…. Purpose! That was it!: he felt purposeless. But how could that be “it”?; that had to be the opposite of “it”!! …If only there were a local mirror somewhere, some plate glass, a coherent puddle; at least, then, he could see if he recognized himself: as Ed, that is. I’m Ed, he heard himself say, after the manner of a mantra.
Ed could not have known that the true shift was one of perspective; nor that Yours Unruly turned out to be both behind and within it. What I stood literally within…was the Jack Smith Memorial Infertility Clinic, which, in a parallel sense, Ed stood without. Yes,
all change requires sacrifice (one of the few righteous rites, I feel) and before temporarily giving up my classified position as omnish tale-bearer, I willed Ed’s reappearance in Rego Park, bunting the runner over, to use a homely analogy. (Appropriate, perhaps, to Bonds’ Ned Buntline.)
Where am I, more specifically? I’m standing at the third floor window, next my buddy Ty who is clearly unhappy, is actually muttering baleful if indistinct imprecations against the presence of the streamlined, well-heeled dude who’s popped up outside our workplace. (My awareness has shrunk from omnish to nebbish, can’t tell mayor from minor.) We’re smoking Luckies and staring out the window; behind us lie the idle accoutrements of an operating room.
“You know him, Ty, this dude?”
“My moms hipped me that he’d show up,” the faux-herm groused. “Show up twice, as fucking usual.”
“First as farce, you mean?”
“Right,” Ty agreed. “This is just a try-on. …Look at him: he doesn’t know why he’s here! I’m certainly not obliged to tell this guy anything he doesn’t need to know, right? Not on me to fucking advance the script, flip to the final page!”
“You say so, Ty. I don’t know what this is about.”
“Count yourself fortunate,” with evident bitterness. “One likes to regard all knowing as ultimately helpful. But in this case…. Say, listen, Joel,” said my friend with more of his usual zest: “neither plot nor Process would be served by my confronting this idiochthonic creep, not this time, him as purposeless as he is. I see him, I’ll have to talk; you know me: a right prating knave.”
“The lie lies not within thee.”
“’N’ that’d mean curtains for all of us. But I can lay out, right? I can stroll while you solo. Yeah, would you be willing to do down and deal with the audience, Joel?, the audient, I mean.”
“Again, I don’t—“
“Yeah, I know. You don’t know and he don’t know: be a true meetin’ o’ the minds, of the mindless.”
“Okay, what if he asks to see you?” “I’m not here…’n’ I won’t be.”
“Tell me something, Ty: many times, you’ve talked about the weird sisters who reared you. But I didn’t know you maintained contact with ‘em. How’d they get the word to you about this guy showing up? That a trade secret?”
“Metaphysical carrier pigeon. …Go on down, Joel. Dude’s getting all fidgety.” Surgeries were on the top floor of the Jack Smith, business offices on the second,
and intake at ground level. As I stepped downstairs, mulling Ty’s stubborn and, as it seemed, superstitious reluctance, I was forcibly reminded of an earlier moment, pathetic in both the strong and weak senses of the word….
It was Thelonious Monk’s valedictory performance, held at Carnegie Hall. Monk had retired from active playing, had lain in bed the last few years, contemplating, as he told one visitor, imaginary impulses, electrical in character, which he apprehended as positioned at ever-varying distances (often intimate; as often, oceanic) from his own being. This study, self-evidently a full-time job, had been punctuated by a brief but incandescent turn at Lincoln Center; that afternoon, he’d seemed to care about naught
save expressing this sense of time through music. But the months before the Carnegie do had watched the growth in Monk of an idea at once unacceptable and undeniable: simply put, that his music lacked resonance; that it stirred not the human heart; that it was heard without being felt; that it was scheduled to perish before he would, indeed that it had.
Prodded by those who loved him to honor the Carnegie date, he placed conditions reflecting the idea’s growing dominance. Told that all any audience wished from him was as much solo piano as he could muster, Monk outright refused to believe it, insisted on assembling a ragtag quintet which featured: a kindly, feeble tenor; a trumpet incapable of a fluid phrase; an adequate bass (and the worse for that, since untouched by Monk’s time, even in its immediate presence)…and his own son, a future arts bureaucrat, on drums. In the event, everyone was given equal—and often interminable—solo space: the tenor, at least, was hip enough to look periodically embarrassed. It didn’t take long for the situation to sink in. All over the packed house, people chatted when Monk wasn’t playing (and he strolled under most of the solos), shut up when he was; but it made no difference.
A few days afterward, the Baroness Pannonica, Monk’s great friend, re-enacted what it was like, trying to get Monk back on stage for an encore.
[In the wings; subjective stage right] Nica: They want you, Thelonious, only you.
Monk (scoffing): Not me, not really.
Nica (exasperated): Then why are they out there, Thel-OH-nious?
Monk (reflective): Hard to say. Some, for something weird, mebbe; the High Priest shit? Some oldsters out of habit? Collectors of all kinds? Critics after a final impression?
Toot: Plenty of kids out there, Daddy.
Monk: Kids? Oh…brush up against a legend, I expect. Be able to say they was here, later on down in life? Best guess….
Toot (pushing him on stage): Get out there, Daddy! Nica (imperious): Now, Thelonious!!
Monk (against the mighty applause): All right, all right. But this ain’t about me.
Monk was right, of course; he was only taking the long view. Or, put another way: refusing the singularity of the moment in favor of the truth of the typical outcome: a reasonable, tripped-out obstinacy.
I was far less certain about Ty’s. But we were chums; I trusted him; and so it was almost as Ty’s champion that I tucked away my predictable preoccupation with avatars, opened out the Clinic door, and strode toward the imposing stranger (who looked like he was “played” by some as-yet unsynthesized Gollywood he-man).
“I’m Joel Forrester,” I said, hand extended. “The name means nothing to me,” hand ignored.
“Well, I wouldn’t think it would,” I acknowledged, hand withdrawn.
“Don’t you recognize the mayor of your own city?” A stricken look crossed the stranger’s face. “Or maybe it’s too late to ask that question?”
“I won’t pretend to know what you mean by that,” I admitted. “But it probably wouldn’t matter, your timing: I’m not into local politics.”
“Hmm…. Are you prepared to hold converse with a Prog?”
“Got me there, Pal. Sounds to me as if you’re after some sort of password, ‘fore you can speak freely,” I conjectured. “But I’m afraid my only code is the English language at large.”
“Do you rep the Handlers on this plane?”
“Listen: all I ‘rep’, to some limited extent, is the Jack Smith Memorial Infertility Clinic. I’m their staff writer,” I offered, “so in theory I could speak for them, I guess, although it would be my debut in the role.”
“You know about roles?! Now we’re getting somewhere. Purpose is flowing back into me; I’m pre-membering now. The Fates must have put me off my game. Why? And put me here. But where’s here?”
“Rego Park. But, listen, Mister—“
“No, wait! Is the herm, or whatever he is, here?, the trannie who sang about curses?, the seer?”
“Could I get you to believe that I am he?” I asked. “No.”
“It was worth a try,” I said, shrugging. “Whenever journalists or grad students sought out B.Traven in Mexico City, they always encountered the same dubious apology: ‘I am his manservant. [A deep salaam] Alas, the Master’s away on a long journey.’”
“’From whose bourne’…” “Exactly.”
“You’d rehearse that?” “Reverse it, rather.”
“I begin to think, Sirrah, that you are, after all, not truly central to the narrative, not key.”
“No,” I rushed to agree. “I’m merely arty. Pretentious. Diverting?”
“Yes, I suspect you know as little as you profess to. …Maybe Jo will have a handle on this. Would the Fates send me on a fool’s errand?”
“And who’s Joe?”
“Right. …Now, where’s my limo?, my ‘droid? Christ!!”
“Dunno, Pal. But if you’re looking to get back downtown—you being the mayor ‘n’ all—I’d suggest your walking back up this street, take a left at the boulevard but cross over, first, or you[‘ll be stuck; then walk three blocks left ‘n’ you’ll see an R ‘n’ V subway stop, right there by the Rego’s Roost.”
“Hmmm.” Votre face.
‘And off he goes without a word of gratitude! Look at that: dude’s a mite gimpy,’ I mused, watching the oddly-hobbled stranger limp away. ‘Friend Ty certainly knows some oddballs. Sounded like he was talking to himself, half the time. As if he thought he was dreaming, indicative not subjunctive, and that I was merely one of his own oneiric critters and, as such, unworthy of the politeness due a fellow being. …Of course, I’m talking to myself right now! It’s well that no one’s listening. …Or is it just madly possible that someone is?’
Some rhetorical questions actually have answers. In this case, the answer was: Jo-Anne Castle…and she was fit to be tied! Not that Ed’s mate was somehow aware of my character’s final reflection. (Yes, I’m back in the narrative saddle again; I’m far more comfortable, up here!) But she’d heard every line of dialogue leading up to that inner bit. How?, you rightly wonder. Again, I’d remind that the would-be mythic universe under scrutiny here often asks contrast with my Sweet Reader’s own. Thine, for example, could never be justly shown as happily approving private espionage; the minatory tale of Peeping Tom, born out of the Lady Godiva saga, can still serve to frighten and correct. Whereas, in my sphere, the universal practice of spying is considered, variously: an accepted check on private misconduct, a primary source of personal information, a highly-serviceable motivational instrument, an indispensable means of gauging how one is judged by others (always a wake-up call) and—in an age which identifies performance with Divine intent—an ecclesiastical practice, an utile paean to St. Jeremy. Briefly put, ere Ed had left his wife’s side, she’d planted a bug in the pant-cuff of his left (limping) leg.
What she’d heard had appalled her. What the fuck was fucking Ed doing outside the Smith Clinic? The Clinic was her secret, the basis of her distinction…from him, for example. …She’d almost given up on the bug: reception had gone from humdrum traffic noises to odd and utter silence; owing to, I believe, an ecstatic static surrounding the three crones, but Jo wouldn’t know about that, would she? It was, somehow, an active silence and it held her attention even as it worked to defeat her purposes. Then, all at once, loud and clear: Ed’s strident voice in a confusing colloquy with some joker claiming to work at the Smith. Its “staff writer”?; what would such a person do? Ed was, typically, trying to lord it over him; and the Smithie was clever, playing dumb, or, rather, playing smarty; and Ed, typically, couldn’t see through it. Who was this Ty the guy was protecting? A “seer”? The whole thing creeped her out and she couldn’t yet say why. Perhaps she should make her own hadj to the Jack Smith, see this “writer”. She’d only physically been there all of thrice in life and not for years. Where exactly was it? But that was simple: Jo asked her computer and it told her. The situation itself was less than simple. Was someone trying to involve Ed in her business?; what Smith-business other than hers would Ed have? Was blackmail mixed up in this? Her recent relations with the Clinic had been strictly epistolary, via private post…. Their “staff writer”…. Yes, it was time for a personal visit!
Jo-Anne is not to be blamed for jumping to the possibility of blackmail. It was, in her world, the primary non-religious use of surveillance; a “capitalist tool”, indeed!
My character, for his part, was happily aboil as he tore back into the Clinic in search of.…his friend, yes, and a few answers, a background sketch. As promised, Ty
was nowhere about. What would Joel have asked (if I may briefly lapse into subjective objectivity)? He thought he’d handled Ty’s nemesis adroitly, giving away nothing; ‘But what have I to conceal?’ he’d wondered as he popped his head into the outer office; no Ty. Joel was no stranger to delusions of grandeur: despite long years at the Jack Smith, he’d felt himself possessor of several ideas, both helpful and original, of which the world would learn once he got round to getting them suitably sheathed in comprehensible prose; ‘So, was this guy outside just a grandeur-nut, like me, or actually, somehow, mayor of the town?’
“You seem preoccupied, Joel,” was Y’s abrupt assessment, after nearly being shouldered into the fire-extinguisher/ax-under-glass display outside the rest rooms.
“Oh, excuse me, Doctor,” Joel murmured. “I’m just looking for Ty.” “Well, he’s not in the ladies’ loo, if it crossed your mind to nip in there.”
“Thanks, Doc,” he said and opened the door of its opposite. But, finding therein only the routinely disturbing spectacle of X pissing in the sink while employing his free hand to adjust a sparse comb-over, Joel withdrew, taking his questions into, respectively: the private waiting room (“No client may be made known to another,” in X’s stilted dictum), the interview cubicles, and the staff lounge; mounting the stairs to Floor Two, he checked out the executive offices, the security station (Ty’s nominal headquarters), the records section, and his own modular area (the rolling walls of which expanded and contracted the space as Joel fell into temporary favor or disfavor with the brass); again, no Ty. ‘What other questions will I ask him?’ Joel asked himself as he betook himself up the final flight.
He thought about his parley with the “mayor”…. Who were these “handlers”?
What is a “prog”? Who’s Joe? What’s the tie-in with Ty’s mothers?
Finding no sign of his friend in the surgeries, Joel walked slowly back downstairs and, consumed by curiosity, sat down at his own desk, popped his laptop. He’d see what the Interminable Net could tell him about “progs” and “handlers”. Then, he’d steal next door and learn what the Clinic’s own records could tell him about their keeper, about Ty….
Ed was not recognized on the V train; nor on the downtown #6, to which he switched at the Broadway/Lafayette stop. Mayors don’t ride the subways, unless the act be heavily publicized as a thing in itself. On the other hand, many strapholders noted his resemblance to Limpin’ Ed—which struck no one as unusual, since Celebs exist to be imitated, as we know. The scourge of authorial coincidence had kept mirrored reflection out of eyes’ reach the entire trip. His i.d. remained cursedly unconfirmed. So it was with well-honed anticipation that Ed, flashing the requisite plastic, strode past the security points flanking his private entrance to City Hall, danced into and through his inner office, and locked himself in the executive jakes.
The first image the washroom mirror held for him was one quite well-known to fans of Surrealism—sampled from Magritte, specifically—, although the full effect will be offered us, not Ed: we get a rear view of Ed’s streamlined tonsure and, in the Zenonian mirror, the selfsame presentation; Ed saw only the back of his head. An ordinary, of course, would have assumed with reason that he had lost his, somewhere
along the way; but the advanced Prog understood that direct communication with his Handlers was what was up. Not that Ed wasn’t nettled not to have his i.d.-doubt summarily cleared up; but any possible snit was offered absolutely no time to form, as the mirrored head turned, almost immediately, to face him. Ed felt an unimpeded rush of gratitude at seeing that he remained, well, himself…at least for the moment. Then the image spoke: “Death to the Unknown!”
“Power to the Process!” Ed answered.
“We’ve taken your form, Ed, to bring you news of your next assignment, your penultimate, actually.”
Ed said, “In performing it, do I get to keep this incarnation?” Ed’s Image: Yes, yes—but why would you care about that?
Ed: Well, it’s odd, I know; but I feel a stray sense of unfinished business about this character.
Image: So there is, so there is. We’ve kept you on a long leash, you must admit; plenty of time to wither and dither—and that served Process purposes, of course; and you were never programmed with the capability of committing what Burroughs called “the crime of independent action”: what we parody here.
Ed: Independent of my image, you mean. Image: Just so.
Ed: Well, lay it on me, Ed…if I may komme am dutzen mit dir?
Image: You may, if you’re comfortable with that. …Okay, here’s the picture: there’s going to be a staged terrorist shootfest in Yankee Stadium, next week. Either the mascots who shoot tee-shirts into the crowd will seem to use real ammo or the security guards who ring the field at the game’s conclusion will open fire; there are details to work out. Anyway, immediate blame will fall on the Mohammedans in our midst; in fact, competing Islamist groups will instantly take credit for the attack. ‘Most everyone’ll assume it’s one or t’other…’cept for those whose beliefs will demand that they blame the JDL, dig?
Ed: Can I prevent this?
Image: No. What you will do, though, is collar the perps within hours of the act. It’ll restore your hero status…soon to become tres important, Ed, from illusion to elision; soon to be crucial.
Ed: What’s really going on? Image: I don’t follow.
Ed: Yes, you do, Ed. This “staged” shooting: what’s behind it?
Image: “Behind it”? Nothing, my poor Proggie! Power exists for its own sake— hence its appeal to the ego: they are kindred spirits.
Ed: But…pointless death?
Image: Not at all. [Shrugs] Just that it’s time, past time!, for a new focus on the natural sovereignty of fear—in a happier mood, you’d mark the double-meaning in that phrase…. The event is programmed for October 12: a step up, you dig, from the last Dramatic disaster; catchy in its own way: “Ten twelve!” And, in a sense, it is an improvement: the shooters will be actors, of course, but so will those who “die” in quotes. Not only more efficient, this, but principled in its way: we’re an invisible agency, granted, but we do provide real jobs for actors. …Puts me in mind of Marianne Moore’s definition of poetry.
Ed: So what’s my “ultimate” task, Ed?, something similarly unreal?
Image: Oh, a big-time public address. Nothing to concern yourself with, not
Ed: I don’t know, man. I am as yet less than satisfied with “nothing” as a way-
shape, a life-pattern, a belief, a cause.
Image: Then aroint thee! And enlist in the pop demo that just fetched up outside your own office building. Nay, thou could’st lead such a parade! Those folk are also unsatisfied with what they are told is going on. All unaware, they are most basically looking for someone to blame. You could offer ‘em blame-at-first-sight! Believe me, Ed, if you went out there and pinned everything on the Allah-freaks, you’d rock!! …Or the Jews: a less contemporary, more classic blaming—still a heap o’ power in that pouch!
Ed: Even if it isn’t the case, any of it?
Image: Oh, most particularly so. Belief requireth the virtual absence of evidence…or at least its invisibility. Be ye not troubled, Proggo: the purposes of the Process are beyond you…but they are benign. Go to us, go to your Handlers, if you seek respect for what avails; for what facilitates change; for what is beautiful, noble, and liberating: for fiction of all splendid sorts!
Ed: Yes and where do I go to learn the inconvenient truth, the inaesthetic truth, the belief-repelling truth, the enslaving truth, the unbearable truth, the mean truth, the loser’s truth?
Image: But you’ve been there! And you gave up because you couldn’t recognize your own purpose in experiencing it.
Ed: “Been there”? Where?
Image: Gave up and went home. Blew off your brush with the innermost figure. Ed: You mean…: that bullshit-artist in Rego Park, covering for the trannie?,
Traven’s maven?, that mountebank out of R.Firbank?
Image: Well, his character, an undercover author named Joel. …Ed: those people outside your building: what they feel is cursed.
Ed: As do I.
Image: And they’re fixated on what Joel was protecting, on Ty the bird-reader. We fed ‘em the clue, through you; they gave it a proper gander ‘n’ came up with Ty. He’s their savious-of-the-moment…and will remain so until he proves too human for human scrutiny.
Ed: Okay, so?
Image: So you know something they don’t: you know where Ty is. Necessity dumped you there…even if you ducked out. Yeah, why not go be their hero, Ed!? You don’t get it and neither do they. But Ty does. And you know where to find him. C’mon, man, we know you’ve had the impulse: you were a phony hero, heretofore. Now you’re offered the chance to become a real phony hero.
Ed: I’ll…. Let me see what Jo thinks.
Yes, and not before time, the primacy of the Prog’s scene with his somewhat estranged mate…asserted itself. But Jo-Anne was nowhere to be found. Her attendants
at Gracie (all Celebs have a core group assigned basically to watch their charges at all times) declared her unattended, whinnied and whined that she had split ultrahurriedly, scorning retinue, intent-memo, and tracking sensor. Iras, Jo’s chief att-woman, was yet in mid-whine/mid-whinnie when Ed quietly put down the phone and made to peer, Robbe-Grillet-fashion, through the slats of the venetian blind guarding his office window. The Handlers’ manifestation hadn’t lied about one thing: there was true ferment on the grounds of City Hall, spilling onto the streets and sidewalks adjacent to it. Thousands had gathered; spontaneously self-summoned?; doubtful, but who knew? Pickets?; yes, if illegible. But, like every top exec in his world, Ed had field glasses in his top drawer. He drew them out and returned to the window. The clarified messages, read off the signs and pennants, horrified him: “Why go on? Any reasons out there?”, “Who is responsible?”, “Where’s Ty?”, “Seek Ye the Seer?”, “We don’t think!” (this last an unwittingly witty borrowing from Stan Laurel’s “A Chump at Oxford”), and, worst?, “Are we forever curst with Ed?”
Progs are nought if not decisive and, before I could have completed this sentence, Ed was out in the crowd, throwing in his lot with that lot, with their projections of innocence, their professions of curiosity. His professional imitators formed a phalanx about him, in accord with their training.
“I don’t know what I am here!”, Ed’s opening salvo, met with huzzahs. “But I know where to find Ty.” Unexpected, this voiced-claim brought down pure delirious bedlam that lasted minutes, causing Ed’s third statement (“Follow me…to Broadway… we’ll take the subway, the R.”) to pass unheard…although it was obeyed, in an instance of that strange ability of believing crowds to act in concert to express a will its components have surrendered. (As well as a remarkably functional example of what ballplayers call “leading by example”…by which is always meant being incapable of leading any other way.)
Ed and hundreds of others poured into the inaccurately-named City Hall station of the R train, clogging the platform, heads abobble, signs tossed aside, jollily jostling one another; happy, most of ‘em, for the first time in months!: purposeless on purpose: the psychic end of ends, aim of aims. Surprisingly??—I leave it to you, Reader—, when, after the yawn of several aeons, the R deigned to trundle up, more than several in the huge crowd felt entitled to some hastily organized cruelty: the group-following-Ed-to- find-Ty must be permitted to hang, so, toward that end, any straphangers on other trips, including both those on the train when it arrived at City Hall and those waiting on subsequent uptown platforms, were, respectively, kicked off and kept off.
While this Soul Train made its redoubtable way to Rego Park (a straight shot: why Eidetic Ed had opted for the Broadway line), your narrow (two D) narrator was sitting in the Jack Smith’s Records Section, hacking into all I could find about Ty. The result mesmerized me. (The Reader has already heard—and swallowed?—my account of it.) I was so utterly into Ty—as a virtual, informational entity—that his sudden, physical appearance beside me seemed the next thing to natural. Not frightening, but…insanely sensible.
Joel (not that narrow, actually; weedy; thin-shouldered; with an incipient beerbelly): So, Ty, as Sperm Guard, you know who’s mated with whom—in real time, I mean, not in my consoling phantasies.
Ty: Aye, Matey, that I do. But what is your self-conceived interest in all this?, I’m bound to ask.
Joel: The story.
Ty: Ah. I have it all within me, yes. And your wish…?
Joel: To bring out my own corrupted version, to put words in the mouths of its characters, riff on its themes.
Ty (with chubby heartiness): My wish as well!, my wish for you, aye ee.
Joel: I’ve pieced out a bit of it, in discourse with your virtual persona. I went there—here!—only because I couldn’t track down you yourself. Where have you been, anyway?
Ty: Offstage, spilling the beans to one of the principals, a client of yours, Joel: Jo-Anne Castle, the former and current First Lady of the City. …She took it ill, as I knew she would. But I prattle mindlessly when directly confronted, as you know. [Reflective] For me, the truth is less a defense—let along anything virtuous!—than a temporizing device, serves to help me through the moment.
Joel: Jo-Anne!, one of my favorite Eggies. I enjoyed misleading her for ages!, and she seemed to respond to it for a long time, twenty-years-and-change. …But what’s her connection with that jasper you had me beard, out front?
Ty: That’s up to you to puzzle out. Or to re-imagine.
Joel: Fair enough. But what did you say that upset her? What did you tell her? Ty: The identity of her donor.
Joel: Crikey! X and Y will roast your inner organs, they find out. You’ve violated the prime directive, my man.
Ty: She accused me—actually, you!—of blackmail. Joel: What?!?
Ty: So I had to show her that blackmail had no part in the story. It hasn’t, you know. And, in order to get that across, I had to present the actual crux of the narrative.
…What characters consider “privileged” or “classified” information seldom impresses an interpreter like me, let alone an actual author.
Joel: These “Handlers” sound like authors, Ty, life-authors. Your files make constant reference to them. What’s your take on ‘em?
Ty: They don’t send me, Joel, if that’s what you mean. Nor do I quake before them. They manipulate through impersonation. I cannot bring myself to capitalize their pronouns, you will have noticed. Their one access to the belief channels is the human fear of death. And your true freak is proof against that, respecting only the thing itself, never its vestments: boredom, shame, morbidity, expectation, decay, the norm. Yes, Joel, your freak is inevitably a normal failure, so its boogies daunt not his freedom to act, haunt not his dreams.
Joel: But who are they? …Keep feeding me, Ty!
Ty: Oh, the handmaidens—the grubby, disreputable handmaidens—of Power. Their names change with the context: what they are good at, that and spooking yer slaves to the norm. Here—and in thy hip but hapless novello?—, they are the Handlers. Elsewhere: the gods or God or Power Personified; among narrowly-political paranoids:
the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and other shadowy servants of control; among interpersonal paranoids, early authority action-figures loom large, parents, especially dead parents, so the norm-serf needn’t fear any contradiction between his neurotic, self-made memories and the actual beings they improvise on; among wage-slaves, the Boss: you get the picture, Joel. But to the extent reality welcomes these chimeras, it is only as record- keepers. All they do is gather info, write scripts, then try to get people to believe them.
…My descent from Necessity means that I needn’t take those self-entitling entities all that seriously. They exist—beyond human projection—only within the story, dig?
Joel: Ty, I’m in awe of thee.
Ty: You ought not to be. Necessity has never been capable, in itself, of ridding itself of Power. Our species must feel the need to change; then, something might happen: a coincidence of how it is with how it has to be. Short of that—and it depends on a desire to live that I see in scant supply, both in our world and in your Reader’s—, I am left interpreting the shenanigans of these auto-annointed Authorities, windbags really, blown into shape by human belief.
Joel: But now, out of what I glean from the records, these Handlers have their own programmed creatures among the humans, embodiment of their collective will.
Ty: Only here. Only in these pages. And it’s Divine Incarnation, Joel, that’s all: nothing humans haven’t seen before.
Joel: Wait; I’m in over my head. …Or do you mean the pages I’ll write? Ty: Insh’allah.
Joel: Okay, but these…Progs? We’re complicit in their manufacture, Ty; I mean, the Clinic is. We’re the suppliers.
Ty: I want the story told. You want a theme to match your vast pretension.
Action is mere detailing.
Joel: We facilitate a creepy process.
Ty: Human response to it is all that counts. It’s the one area of outcome I cannot forsee; it’s around Necessity’s bend. But if you’re talking about human integrity, yours and mine: mine’s in my honesty. I am capable of a world of inhuman acts.
Joel: And my integrity?
Ty (wearily sighing): Oh, in your imagination, if anywhere. …Nor should you imagine that your version of the story will help the humans to change. That’s up to them…and ought to be!
Joel: But I’m human. You too.
Ty: We are not…representative. You inhabit but two dimensions…in your self- rendering, I mean. And I, five.
Joel: The fifth being…?
Ty: Recognition…in the private sense. Humans won’t get to that until they tire of the public variety. That will come, if it does, with the rejection of Power-worship. The existence of Progs in the human population—stepping forthrightly into roles usually reserved for those who’ve sold their souls for Power—simply serves to force the issue, believe me.
Joel: But you’re not rooting for your own kind to come through in the clutch??
Ty: Indeed, I am not. All outcome, any result…can thrill the likes of me, reality my sustenance!
Joel: So: is that what I faced, outside the Clinic: a Prog?
Ty: “City Hall has flipped…and swung to a drunken zoo. And you cats out there in Wig City: dig me hard!”
Ty (as if unhearing): It has to do with the relationship of authority to self-image: the sorceress Circe held out her mirror to Ulysses’ men and asked each: “Whom do you see?” Their grand answers allowed her, the higher authority, to transform ‘em into pigs; or, we’d say, have ‘em see themselves as pigs. When Ulysses was asked the same question, he said he saw “only a man”. He was on his own time and so shielded against the lure—all tempting is sorcery!—of identification. To be on one’s own time is to accept the relative immanence of this own death. Unprotected by—undeluded by—a time-serving identification with the authority of others: this choice—always a choice!— is the birth of narrative, of story. Your tale, Joel, will be just another mirror. But if humans don’t perceive the thing removed from life, the thing made image, then they won’t recognize it out in life. All choice is a species of belief. When they choose to believe what they see—as having its own life beyond their perception —they will be ready for time beyond sequence, ready for change. Courage…comes and goes; it may not be depended on. Without choice, there is only pure-reflection, only programming; no coincidental memory, only habit. …Yes, he was a Prog, your Little John, Joel; and he is the Handlers’ fall-guy, like Adam before him.
Joel: Who’s his Daddy?
Ty: The late mayor, that renowned leaper-of-faith, once of the defenstrated of 9/11. Ed’s father was a spy for the Other Side: he had to die.
Joel: What “other side”?
Ty: The Big Lie is always an appeal to the ego. Hizzoner was told—back in the 70s, before he’d taken Jo-Anne whitely to wife—that he’d been chosen to donate as part of the occult reincarnation of an old SS program promoting selectively-bred superiority, mini-Himmlers magnanimously coughing up their seed to suitably nazified Maedchen. He thought he was contributing to a genetic upgrade. But several other American egomaniacs were similarly goosed. It wasn’t difficult. Always use flattery on a spy: all he has is his identity!
Joel: So the old mayor’s offspring was conceived right here at the Clinic?
Ty: He was. His surrogate/carrier was a drug-addled, declasse one-time debutante-WASP, a typical X-hire. But his egg-donor was an ambitious career girl…and Jewish into the bargain, which may have provided our Prog the Semitic features that served him so well when the Handlers insinuated him into the House of Saud.
Joel: I read mention of that. And why is he the fall-guy?
Ty: He’s been asked to pin the tail on the Arabs, in order to satisfy the blame-lust of the emotionally-lost sectors of the populace. …The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is always referred to as “a forgery”; that’s too easy!! The mistake is to dismiss The Protocols as an elaboration of the behaviour of Jews…instead of grasping the larger analogy. A cabal exists, yes, but we are all in on it! Humanity is a self-defeating species which regularly finds itself satisfied if only a tiny fraction of its membership lives lives of fulfillment; which sanctions sweetheart deals between capital and labor, toward that end; which betrays itself whenever it’s given the chance to change. A forgery…only in its blessed sense: as artifice.
Joel: Wait! This Prog: you mean to say Jo-Anne Castle was his egg-mother? She: “the former and current first lady of the City”? …But that would mean…. …And you acquainted Jo-Anne with these facts?
Ty: I denied her nothing. At first, she wouldn’t believe me. Then I brought up her beloved Prog’s pronounced limp and the penny dropped. …You, Joel, are apparently responsible for her recognizing that telling little datum. That her unknown child was said to be lame in the self-same way her love was…: unlike Progs, Joel, life-actors are incapable of believing in coincidence: script is Scripture.
Joel: And you say she took it ill. Was she overcome by horror?
Ty: Be real, Joel! Jo-Anne came here in a mad scramble, all right, but not after the truth. She was in a state of wild doubt about the utility of her cover story. She was looking to hold on to her gig, that’s all. She got more than she bargained for. …Now she knows that her character’s position won’t outlast the story: helpful knowledge!; but not without its worm. …Two things had kept Jo-Anne in the dark, by the way: your telling her her kid was a girl—that lie died hard!—; and the fact that she knew her first hubby— the leaping mayor?—to have been a thorough-going closet-case, hard to imagine as anyone’s sire. That’s what twisted her: the way her will played slave to her fate. She saw that what she’d held irreducibly her own…still danced to another’s tune. Realizing she’d once been married to the actual father of her child: that’s what undid her, not the antique horror.
Joel: Her cover story….
Ty: …was real, yes. …Learning that you’ve fucked your offspring?: we all do that in dreams. Love is never horrible, Joel; although it may dwindle to nothing or cloy into parody when it feels imposed. The Handlers would not allow Jo-Anne even her secrets; every private thought pushed the plot. …As I say: now she knows.
Joel: Where did the woman go?
Ty: Oh, briefly back to Gracie, I imagine; dead-set on committing a life-actor’s version of Selbstmord: auto-Celebricide. …The case is breaking!, as the tecs would have it. You and I, for another example, will be both be canned by X and Y before the day is out, I for indiscretion, thou for excess of its opposite, for not dreaming up this tale and telling it years ago, when it might just have helped.
Joel: Oh, wow…. What am I going to do for health insurance?
Ty: Wake up, my friend! Lose your day-gig, you’ll find yourself forced to write this up: a sudden matter of survival! …But let’s let our colloquy do The Hiatus, cha cha cha, shall we?; because the wild stirring and striving that’s about to shatter your concentration, Joel, heralds the approach of the Prog and his bullyboys.
[The promised bruit arrives]
Joel: He’s back?
Ty: And attended. Ed and his mob are united by the illusion of living under a
Joel: As to the crowd, I can see it, assuming ‘em to be a contemporary cross-
section: their lives are satisfied but meaningless. What’s Ed’s curse?
Ty: As he sees it?: to see the world revealed as a system of signs. Random patterns—the arrangement of socks in a clothes hamper, of dust-motes in a sunbeam; the
angle and wrinkle of a garbage bag’s green plastic, poking through the snow—: they tell him everything, lay bare the meaning. He believes his self to be trapped in an existence in which the map is all it refers to. For the rest of us, even for me, meaning is mercurial—unanswerable in its moment but a cheap conjuring trick if we’d have it repeated. Whereas, Ed possesses meaning-on-demand; so life, for him, is less than real.
…Find a way, Joel, to let your fiction ask its Reader: will reality suffice for thee?
Joel: Do all Progs come to this?, as spies to the i.d. crack-up and norms to death by boredom?
Ty: And freaks to ecstasy? No, Ed’s unique, Joel. I believe it the result of losing himself, temporarily, in love. What happens when a character forsakes his audience for a fellow thesp? After all, it isn’t generally acknowledged that Sgt. Preston of the Yukon was commenting on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus when he ended every episode with: “King [“Arf! Arf!”], this Case is closed!”
Joel: By coincidence, you mean? Ty: However else?
Joel: Only you know the truth, Ty!
Ty: Well…. The truth availeth nothing in a world ruled by prejudice. As opposed to what he imagines it to be, Ed’s true curse will be the world’s eventual admiration. It will long outlive him. His rage at the Handlers will be seen as liberating him, the poor wretch. Just now, he’s on the warpath, bent to the wacky task of living out his role as a storied fall-guy. Mirabile dictu, he’ll be portrayed as suddenly able to feel whatever he does feel, not his programmed emotions, not what’s a propos. As if to prove to future Drama critics, “You see? The Handlers were not without compassion!” …As if suffering a man to suffer proved any such thing! As with Jo-Anne and her encounter with “truth”: the shame is that there is no shame.
Joel: Wait. “Portrayed” by whom, Ty? Not by me!!
Ty: Hm. That’s as may be. From my standpoint, you are…self-deceived, Joel.
…But here’s your protag, right time, looking like he won’t take yes for an answer.
Joel: You riddle me, Ty. I hope we can go into these matters again. Meantime… listen, man, why don’t we play this the way we did, the last time: I’ll go out and confuse the cat and you skedaddle. I can keep the facts from him…and you know you can’t. …If I’m truly fired off this gig, I might as well go out with a bang. If you’re right, I’ve naught but a fictional life to lose.
Ty: No…but no. This is what your former-Maoist mentor would deem “the nut- cutting”. In order to be free to live elsewhere—in other fictions and in human hearts—I must face this being with his truth. Twas premature, before; so I sent you out: a living image of authorial immaturity. This time: it’s time. But stand behind me with ears open, Yul. You’ll have your Horationic number required of you, soon enough. …As for me, I’ll interpret as we go along: my gig!
And, with that, Ty made graceful haste to waddle down the stairs and out the door, stopping at the small flagged porch. I followed carefully, noticing the absence of all the other Smithies. Odds were, X had ushered ‘em all into the sub-basement bunker.
The Prog—Ed—stepped out of the crowd and advanced toward us. Behind him strode a half-dozen look-alikes.
“I am he whom you seek,” said Ty.
“I think not,” Ed snapped. “I want that rascal behind you: B.Traven!”
“No. I’m Ty,” said Ty and arched an eyebrow a la Nimoy. “Must I show you my dual genitalia?”
Crude Voice from the Crowd: It might ‘stablish yer bona fides, Pal!
[Leering Crowd laughter]
Ed: No need of that. [Bellowing] We’re here today to know two things: what’s this all about?, and, how do we get beyond it?
[Sustained, stormy applause] Ty: It’s about you. And you don’t.
Ed: Don’t what? Ty: Get beyond it.
Ed (grimly): Say more, Seer.
Second Crude Crowd Voice: Yeah, don’t be so oblique, Birdbrain. What’s this have to do with the Mayor? I thought it was all down to the Eh-rabs, our curse.
Ty: It has somewhat to do with them…but has everything to do with him. [Nods
Ed: Why? What am I to you?
Ty: Jo-Anne Castle’s connubial partner, for one; her hubby, her hatband. Ed: Well?
Ty: And her son. Ed: What??
Crowd (as one): HER WHAT!!!???
[Vast Crowd hubbub, lasting minutes] Sophist/Heckler (audible but invisible): Actually, on reflection, I rather like this
possibility. It…distinguishes us!
Second CCV: Yeah, it’s startin’ to grow on me, as well…. ‘Slike we’re extras in some famous horror flick.
First CCV: Anything that fucking happens to other people is okay!, you know: if it’s exciting.
Ed: HOLD EVERYTHING!!! [To Ty] This is just some Handler horseshit, right? Diversion, deflection, digression…deception?
Ty: It is the case. You know absolutely nothing about your own origins, why pretend? If I am wrong, tell these people—these followers of yours—where you were born.
[Brief reign of silence]
Ty: It was right inside this building, Ed. And the egg was donated by your future
Ed (with less than conviction): Impossible. Ty: Nothing is, you know.
First CCV: Forget about Ed! What about us??? That’s why we’re here. Second CCV: Yeah, this’s all eyewash.
Sophist/Heckler (visible now and resembling Mssrs. Peeprs and Peabody): In fact, there’s precedent for this half-cut twaddle: your wacky Koran states that Solomon himself spoke with birds.
Crowd (picks up on this riff and chants): GUANO! GUANO! GUANO!
Ty (to Joel): All staged, I imagine, to reinforce Carlyle’s dingbat “great man” theory of history. Can’t let ordinaries see themselves as the movers….
Joel (to Ty): Ty, are any of these characters on the “other side”?
Ed (looks at Ty, his resolve wavering; then turns to face Crowd): Listen, People.
It could be true. I…don’t know where I’m coming from.
Second CCV: Join the club!
First CCV: Again: why we’re here!!
Ed: No, I mean: the voices in my head have told me to tell you to blame all our ills on the Islamists. And—
Second CCV: —Aye! The one in mine agrees. S/H: D’accord.
Ed: But I am different. I am not self-haunted, as you are. Crowd (instantly pissed): What?!?
First CCV: Bleedin’ ee-jit!
Ed: No, I am told my whys and wherefores by entities of pure Power. Power uses blame, exploits blame. Blame provides temporal satisfaction, it addicts the soul while representing it. Power is the grubby human substitute for ecstasy. I know: your problem is my life portrayed.
Ty (to the Crowd): Listen to him. Listen and change. Take heed whilst the Reality Fit be on him, whilst he believe what he says.
Ed (turning back to Ty): Help thou my unbelief, Seer. Of late, I’ve had megalomaniac dreams in which I alone am responsible for 9/11, I, never Islam, however interpreted.
Ty (to Joel): Pay attention.
Second CCV: We don’t need another phony plea for sympathy. First CCV: Yeah, we need someone to pin this on!
Ty (to Ed): Usually, the dreams of a Prog are the waking, naked needs of his programming. [To Joel] Perhaps an enlightened clothier might ship the Handlers— notably vain entities!—a dozen monogrammed Nessus shirts from Bloomies? [To Ed] But these recent—recently decent!—dreams of thine…mirror all you’ve striven to forget. Love allowed the leak. …Alas, you ARE responsible, Mister Mayor: you were the genetic original on which the Osama-construct was based; in fact, you bore the name, back in your long-forgotten teens. …Don’t try to call any of this to mind: it’s gone, locked out of your day-brain.
Ed (incredulous): I…Osama-bin-Ladin? You’ve lost me, Seer.
Ty: But your Handlers never did. And when it came time to move you to the next of your many identities, they took your image and aged it.
Ed: And so the Osama who signed off on the massacre on 9/11 was…?, is…?
Ty: A hologram, yes; or, more precisely, a holofilm. But I beg you to look at it negatively: the construction could not exist without you.
Second CCV: Jesus wept! Our own fuckin’ Mayor!!
[Assorted additional obloquy is directed at Ed]
Ed (facing the Crowd): Didn’t you hear him? I didn’t do it. It was my image!
Ty: Versions of that alibi echo unanswered down the long corridors of time. No one believes that one.
Ed (still to the crowd): Come to your senses, People! Don’t blame me; blame those who grammared me. Blame the Handlers!
[There issues, out of Ed, a stream of what some critics hold to be pre-Chuppie Pidgin, stunning all but Ty]
Ty: Turn turtle, Senor Moment; already you forget yourself. [Ed does so] If you’d throw off your own responsibility, drop it in the laps of the Handlers, you’ve learned your own lesson only partially. The Handlers are interested in human life continuing: Power requires its agents. I concede them this: they are not akin to the closet suicidals who typically steer the American ship of state. And they are practical economists: there are, simply, too many humans for the planet they inhabit—too many, at least, for a life-style each would deem decent. A righteous plague would serve, of course: it did, the last time; but the Handlers operate out of a more imaginative playbook. Strict decimation is what’s wanted and, to that end, they’ve gained control over both the beastliest of the Wahabists and the most bone-headed of the b’on-agains. These otherwise-distinct rumdums are united in the certainty that their species deserves chastisement, nay, a thorough purging, a winnowing to a remnant. They needn’t even be set at each other; both work to erode indy consciousness and personal courage. [To Joel:] See what I mean about the Protocols? [To Ed:] Useful idiocy!
Ed: And you, Seer, do you approve of this stagecraft horror?, orchestrated fear- amping?
Ty: I am indifferent. I interpret. All reality sustaineth me. Sorry.
Ed: Well, I’m not indifferent! [Turns to the Crows] Listen up!! I trust this trannie about as far as I could heave him. And I know one thing: these Handlers he’s on about?: it’s they who form the true focus of our rage! Heed me!: I know for a fact that they’ve cooked up a second 9/11, a mock-massacre at Yankee Stadium.
Ed (frustrated at the Crowd’s discontent with him): Yeah! No one dies. But you’re not supposed to know that. That’s why I’m telling you.
S/H: So…they’re puppet-masters, these “Handlers”. They stage entertainments. First CCV: Sounds like they’re showmen, that’s all.
Ed (his support crumbling): No! The point is: they want me to use the incident as a rallying cry against the Allah-freaks. And the Allah-freaks have naught to do with it, not this time anyway.
Second CCV: You would say that, Osama! Ty (to Ed): You’re losin’ ‘em, Pal.
Ed (to Ty): And you’re not helping!
Ty (sighs; then): Oh, I can blunt the Crowd’s prejudice, never doubt it. But…it will stick you on a further hook, one on which you’ve long been destined to writhe.
Ed (taking heart): Then stick me, Seer. I had rather know the worst than connive at the empowerment of a lie. [Aside:] …Am I, at last, acting like the mayor? Perhaps, I’m the acting mayor! [To Ty:] Well?
Ty: I believe you. Although you’re probably just reflective enough to know that a Prog is congenitally incapable of holding to a principle, once he finds himself in the next act.
Ed: Ruefully conceded.
Second CCV: Hey, what’re you two birds chirpin’ about? Let us in on it!
Ty: Yes, this is for everyone…. Your mayor is both more and less than the man behind September Eleventh, more and less than his mother’s husband. But this he is: He is his own stepson.
S/H: Hmm…. How do you work that out?
Ty: The sperm that fertilized the egg that became the man was drawn from his mother’s former husband, your late mayor; they form a genetic match.
Second CCV: That’s beyond me, Mate.
Ty: But this won’t be: Ed’s wife and mother—possessess of the egg wherein the ingested mayoral sperm was spent—, the being known to you all as Jo-Anne Castle, is indisputably Jewish. We have her records on file inside. This rises to importance because—
First CCV: Osama bin Ladin’s a Jew? Second CCV: Osama’s a bleedin’ Jew??
Ty: Exactly. [To Joel:] Observe incipient hebetude.
[The Crowd is suddenly composed of sub-dudes, at sixes & sevens]
Ed (immediately belligerent): No!! It’s all a crock!! Listen: this is no coincidence…or everything’s a coincidence! We have no reason to trust this guy. He is himself one of the Handlers, I don’t doubt.
Ty (wearily): No, I merely interpret their antics, Ed, their interface with the humans, although I am both messenger and message. And, believe me, as pure creatures of Power, your Handlers accomplish nothing that humans don’t themselves desire. You Progs represent human desire; you mirror it, yes, but you don’t yourselves feel it. Your father would not have died without your indirect participation—a Celebrity slain by an image. You felt nothing because he wasn’t known to you. And what is the Prog attitude toward the Unknown, Ed? We both know it to be soaked into your deepest programming…. Or am I wrong?
Ed (still vying for the Crowd): Why should we believe him? All this stuff about me: doesn’t it strain credulity? Let him prove it!
Ty: Well, Ed, there’s the matter of your pronounced limp…. Ed (turns back, unwillingly, to Ty; then snaps) What about it??
Ty: That’s in our files, too, you know. You must have thought about it, yourself, from time to time: perhaps a designed flaw, the planned error in the Persian weave?
Ed: Well, I….
Ty (to Joel): How ironic ‘n’ irenic that Ed should be i.d.’d by the very thing that endeared him to the lame-in-spirit. [To Ed:] …Well, forget the romance, Mister Mayor. It happened here, here at the Clinic: you got lamed by a clumsy delivery, that’s all: an unhappy transition from one world to the next; no precepts involved; forceps, rather.
Ed (regrouping; to the Crowd): No! It’s all lies. Forget this guy! Join with me…and Jo-Anne…and we’ll take on the Handlers together! Stand with us!!
Ty (triste): Forget Jo-Anne, Ed. Jo-Anne is lost to you.
Ed: What!?! …More lies! All lies!! S/H: Wait! Regard!!
First CCV: Yeah, lookit that, wouldja!
[All eyes on Ty, the crotch of whose cream harem pants display a slow-spreading wine-dark stain]
Second CCV: It’s an effin’ stigmata!!
S/H: Believe him!! Believe him who bleeds! Crowd-at-large: Believe him! Believe him!
First CCV: What about Osama? What about the traitor? Second CCV: Get the traitor!
Crowd: Get him! Get him!
The crowd surged forward. Ed leapt balletically off the porch (having inherited
J.W. Booth’s result, he had no need to replicate his accident) and lost himself in the swarm. His imitators, following their training, scattered in all directions, a few offering themselves as targets for a pummeling. Ed made his way—silently, cunningly—to Rego’s Roost, where the author allowed him to catch an immediate R train; once aboard, he rode back to Manhattan unassailed, unaccosted, indeed incognito, as he was held to be, once again, only an imitator. At Times Square, he switched for the crosstown shuttle, then hopped the uptown #6.
Ty and I stood silently on the porch, watched the crowd bubble and fume, then fall to a simmer; and, eventually, disengage from itself, breaking into dispirited twos and threes, and, finally, into many sad trails of ones.
I turned to my friend. His blood had dried, I noted. “I don’t know, Ty,” I began. “I pored over Jo-Anne’s file. I didn’t see any record there proving her Jewish. Read about some rumor, about the nose-bobbing, about some before-‘n’-after snaps. But that’s hardly the same thing.”
“That’s because there is no record,” Ty answered, continuing to stare out at the milling stragglers.
“I’ll be gob-smacked!: you were BLUFFING!!” I crowed. “To mind-fuck the crowd; to ridicule its prejudice, its need to blame, its fear of spontaneity, fear of being who they were, where they were; to quell its hatred; to waylay its ability to shirk responsibility; and to allow Ed a get-away while impaling him on the tines of the story: a master-bluff!!!”
“A lie,” Ty said simply. “And for one such as I, intention doesn’t enter in. I lied…and that ends my career as a seer. Maybe now I can keep secrets, like everyone else. …Oh, well, I was thinking of getting into a new profession anyway…maybe dry wall? …Hmmm: we end here; say goodbye to me, Joel. And wish your Reader well, on my behalf. She’s a peach!”
“Goodbye, Ty,” I said. And I tender his valedictory greeting to Thee, my Intimate. (And, yea, even to mine own character.)
Ain’t no riddle: humankind is yet a male-identified species—a three-legged race. May it change, Bubba!
Ed had so much to work out with Jo-Anne; to plan, yes—they had a resistance to organize!—; and, of course, so much to ponder together, to wonder over; but, prior to all that, they must give themselves over to working out all that stood between them. Ed was sure they could have a knife-fight with Ockham’s razor and come away having pared their scene to the bone, leaving only what linked them. Of course, he, Ed, would be generous; why, he’d be the soul of generosity!, making concessions to beat the band! Ed was giddy with all the concessions he meant to make.
With a loon’s light heart, the Prog skipped up the path to Gracie Mansion. There was a light on in her bedroom; the curtains were parted; he caught movement behind them. So much for that fat trannie’s nasty finding that Jo-Anne was “lost” to him!! “Lost”, indeed. The world would soon see how much could be founded on love alone!
Riffing on these ideas, Ed let his hands unconsciously negotiate the coded locks and his legs carry him up the stairs, three at a time. He tossed open Jo-Anne’s bedroom door.
There she stood, wearing the delightfully familiar hot-pink kimono, her back to him, gazing in a mirror, hairbrush in hand.
Ed’s heart overflowed. “Jo-Anne,” he said, in tones of unparalleled tenderness. Deliberately, the woman turned to face him. “Death to the Unknown,” she said. “I—“
“No, you’re quite right: I’m no Jo-Anne. Although I’m certainly a good fit, aren’t I?, a close match?”
This was undeniable. She twirled prettily, flashing a seraphic smile, to illustrate the effect. Ed’s tongue stayed tied.
…Eventually, he said, “Where’s Jo-Anne?”
The woman assumed a mask of sympathy, nay, of compassion. (A model of grace, she laid the hairbrush on a random, local surface.) Ed writhed in agony, recognizing in this mask a level of artificiality commensurate with his own. He turned from her and hid his face.
“You needn’t underplay, Comrade Actor,” the woman said. “Your feigned weakness is hard to swallow. And we are our own audience, you and I.”
“At every plotted point, as truly Prog and you are. My form was cloned from a single strand of your late wife’s flowing tonsure. I was just pretending communion with the source when you walked in. …As to who I was, I’m proud to say I don’t remember!”
“’Late’ wife? Jo-Anne’s dead?”
“For all intents and purposes. She was a Celeb even before your mating elevated her. And she was always a life-actor. She has dropped character: left her role behind
and shriveled into impromptu anonymity. Guess she’ll find out if she’s any good at improvising dialogue…. Jo-Anne’s point?, as I take it: where there is no privacy, publicity is meaningless. Poor cow! Hers is a death of sorts, yes. I find it personally repugnant. The Handlers have had their eye on her for quite a while. They ascribe your pretended weakening to her so-called “love”. I’ve been waiting in the wings for some time now. Someone has to be Jo-Anne Castle! …You’ll find the transition seamless: I’ve studied the tapes both of your love-making and of your subtle, intimate transfer of data. …If I were you, Ed—and, in a sense, perhaps, I shall be!—, I’d relax into this change. You are not long for the world: I bring you news of your ultimate assignment.”
Ed turned slowly. “More about Jo-Anne,” he stammered.
“Jo-Anne” (sighs): It’s tiresome how palsied you would appear. …All right, I met her. She was packing when I arrived on the set. She didn’t seem at all surprised at my installation. In fact, she betrayed a bit of bitterness: wondered if you’d even notice the difference. I liked her!
Ed: I’ll find her.
“J-A”: It’s funny you should say that! In the Disney version of this story— already being cast, by the way—, you surrender your own Celebrity, you seek out Jo- Anne in the thicket of her hard-won anonymity and you two pledge to do—gag me!—“private life” together…against the closing credits. Music swells and out.
Ed: You mean…when I imagine I’m following my desire—
“J-A”: —the result will inevitably be gestural, rising to the representative, never the personal. …Come, now: these things are functionally-obvious to a Prog! That you have allowed yourself to lose sight of them…does nothing to diminish their ability to define you. …Haven’t you ever dreamed you were buried in sand, up to the neck; then given the choice of instant death or glorious obedience?
Ed: How do you—?
“J-A”: —know about that? Because it actually happened. To me, too. …In a sense, to everybody. …Cheer up, Ed!: it’s the end of the world, that’s all. After your next assignment, no more action, no more lines, no more scenes: effectively, no more Ed. Creatures like us?: we are whom we impersonate. And you’ll soon be asked to bid your host a good goodnight. As you must remember, this is to be done with disciplined grace, relying on the Handlers’ noble practice of dispatching their Progs, their Progeny, in moments redolent of human heroism, of antique bravery. …So which will it be, Ed? Are you game to hear your assignment? Or would you prefer to make love, first? I’d plump for the latter course: it will help you remember to forget.
Ed: What about the phony Yankee-Stadium slaughter?
“J-A”: Well, we both know you blew the cover on that one! It’ll likely be recycled as an instant urban legend. …By the way, tomorrow’s Post will feature total, expanded coverage of the rally at the Jack Smith. Their editorial will hope wistfully that you were high on drugs at the time; everybody would be tolerant of that: all you contemporaries have spoken to the masses in dreams, spoken and been spurned. Like L.Boom in Nighttown, you’ll be ‘trayed as acting out the dreams of the species—typical shaman ‘haviour and fit for a mayor.
Ed: You’re saying I have no choice. “J-A”: You never did. We don’t.
Ed (morosely): All right. Let’s have it. What would they have me do?
“J-A”: Quite certain you shouldn’t lose yourself, first? It will be familiar and exotic, I promise: the very coordinates of engrossing sex! …And, either way, you’ll never know what you missed.
“J-A” (crisply): Very well, then. …As you’ve heard, it concerns a big-time speaking engagement.
“J-A”: Our Handlers, strictly for the benefit of the species they serve, plan to stage the first in a hopefully-ongoing series of Die-ins, conceiving it as a Graduation Ceremony and, as such, to be held at Madison Square Garden. You’ll be the keynote speaker and you’ll lead the way, be the first to top himself. Officially, that is: one may always count on enthusiasts trying to get there first.
Ed: You’re not joking.
“J-A”: It will be publicized by word of mouth: all it will need! The slogans are not without punch: “Take ultimate possession!”, “Own your own death!”, “Will it!”, “Have the last say!”: all playing off the empowerment angle, right? My own fave, “Creative suicide!!”: flattering the inner artist? …So, are you on board, Ed? You’ll have no pretended personal objections, will you? I mean: otherwise, you’ll be left scriptless and, as I’ve said, even your scriptlessness will be scripted, has been scripted, will be in post-production before you know it. Social qualms? You know the humans could use fewer of themselves…since everyone hews to such a lofty standard of living, these days. This way, the race will be rid of all those who aren’t really into living. They who are indifferent about life may leave it…and heroically, magnanimously; leaving those who desire to live and are, on that basis, capable of change; leaving, also, those who are afraid to die…and the Handlers know just how to organize that motivation.
Ed: Oh, yes, they are past masters at manipulation through fear.
“J-A”: ED!! Retake your Prog image! Recognize in this final gig Hassan-I- Sabbah’s promise of Paradise post-Modernized to a speedy, painless end among the like- minded. Love-making in the aisles will be encouraged. One will have to be there not to be there! …Oh, and I’m to be the new mayor: the hardest heart could not deny it to me; me, a soon-to-be-twice-widowed heroine.
Ed: The Seer was right: the way lies not in blame. I get it. But if I compel myself not to blame the Handlers, yet I need not follow their fucking dictates!
“J-A”: Needn’t you?
The day was fair and the sun warm. Ed sat on a decayed bench in a busy pedestrian strip between traffic lanes near the 72nd Street subway station. A wino dozed, to his immediate right (L.Carroll’s Red King, responsible for all?); to his left, two Latino ninos fidgeted wildly while their mother spoke either to God or into an invisible portable. Directly before him, a throw-back junkie couple, gender unknown, argued noisily and for Dramatic effect. (It may have been lost on them that they and their brethren were precursors of contemporary society; it’s equally likely that this was all they knew.) Just
out of eyeshot, competing boomboxes boomed. A commercial blimp, sloganizing the virtues of current and coming wars, oozed overhead. Detritus from assorted quick-grub outlets gave off vaguely rotting vapors. Somewhere nearby, a disconsolate dog braided little yips with drawn-out moans. Small chatty crowds came and went in waves. It was the first time in Ed’s life that he had ever been alone.
It was pulling teeth for him, this independent thinking; it was difficult and clumsy. He felt, he thought, like a baby playing at blocks; ‘…but of an immature species with inarticulate hands, unopposed thumbs?’
Oh, his destiny was clear enough. He was an assassin, had always been that; his memory of the numberless deaths he’d wrought was, each time, wrested from him, that he might be spared the terminal lassitude, the ineluctable indifference, that is the known by-product of breaking the human contract. He’d been programmed to enjoy himself: Hassan’s afterlife built into each succeeding role. Except this one, except this one, except this one. And just how had it differed?, asked this man of himself, he who remembered nothing. ‘It can only be,’ he hazarded, ‘that—as Ed—I have yet to kill. If this be my only purpose, little wonder I have been mired in the purposeless!’
Now, all that was to change, he reckoned. ‘I am an assassin meant to assassinate myself…and to inspire others to the same end, to disappearance. And tonight. Tonight…’
What would he do?, that was the question; what would he do were he not he but another?
But he knew. The words of the Pussies came to him: “You are a memory.” He was! He would violate his orders, his programming, by continuing to live. And his Handlers would feel this failure keenly, feel the failure as their own; might ask: were the humans proving too obdurately independent?; and: would even pure plastic rot in time? ‘Because that is me all over,’ Ed thought: ‘the purest plastic. And yet, immersed in cyclical process all my days, even I begin to ripen.’
No, Ed would not disappear but—like the magus each of us is, once she come to call her own shorts—will the world to disappear! …How to do that, though? Ed was momentarily stumped. What a time to suffer a clouding of the imagination!
Then it came to him: ‘I’m a would-be literary character: I simply have to take my words literally.’ And, with that, Ed blinded himself, putting his eyes to sleep.
Q: In what way was this act accomplished?
A: After the manner of his mythic forebear, Ed used his own hands. You’ll recall that physical courage is prodigious in a Prog.
The scene Ed no longer saw took no notice of his blinding. If anything, all that local blood may have intensified the mom’s raving, her kids’ squabbling, and the sot’s snoring.
…Time for the rest of us to wake up.
Ed ascended to the Garden’s miraculous catbird seat by means of ostentatiously- visible guy wires: as if his “flight” were a joke everyone was in on. (In its decadent
((i.e., parenthetical and generalized)) final-form, irony is ever-attendant upon death.) Actually, attendees at the Die-In were given a choice: to see Ed where he was or to activate his holo image—afloat, three feet away: a camera-obscura effect, he’d appear more “real” because more highly concentrated. This was achieved by pressing Button Two on the two-button panel with which each seat was outfitted. Dyslexics, the impatient, and the fumble-fingered—any of whom might have pressed Button One— received, for their efforts, a “happy ending”, as the Post put it, next day, in a nomenclatural borrowing from the soft-core brothel. One thing undeniable about these “early risers” (another Postian trope) was their instant absence…. Their quondam neighbors concentrated on Ed. He had cleaned himself up only gesturally. The blacked- out eyes lent his face a deep sincerity, a familiar agony: half-Laocoon, half-racoon.
“He’s been through a lot,” one man commented.
“He will lead us past this,” said a woman with a caring, carrying voice.
“I want him to tell me it’s all right to die,” an elder resembling Your mother murmured to herself.
…It took all of one sentence for the Handlers to realize that their man had turned his coat. One sentence…and they cut off his audio. What had he uttered?: oh, a sentence issuing not from his life-script; nor even representative of any one being save himself.
All he’d told himself, that afternoon—once resolve had formed—was: make no plan, say only what comes to mind; placing his trust, his life, in the hands of sponteneity, embracing coincidence as the felicity that had facilitated his brief but very human love. And if he were only unequally in love—as he was—, what could be more sadly real than that?!, more revelatory of the splendor of life’s literal losers? (And if this love has been shrouded from Your eyes, Reader, believe please that Your belief in it means the World to Ed…and the World, to him, means nothing.) Ill-lettered Ed would not have known that he’d come close to rehearsing an old Gnostic prayer when he’d said what he’d said; or that he’d stood under the charm of all those who know just what they have lost.
All Ed said was, “I want to live…disgraced and great.”
The rest was silence. Whatever Ed said afterward is known only to him. In that sense, may he be said to have freed himself?: Your call. Rumor persists that that one audible sentence sent several suddenly-spine-stiffened pro-verts shambling to the exits. That’s as may be. Exceptions prove rules. The whelming majority saw in the mute protests of this blind impotent politico an image of futility; eventually, a figure of fun. (Might a lip-reader have caught, once again, some stray Pidgin? Unknown.) And so, when, moments later, his visual image was duly blotted, a shout of self-congratulatory approval went up. It rang through the Garden, meeting itself in waves. Ed had not been believed and the crowd, sensing the Power of its impending collective death, felt it had had a hand in cancelling this last reminder of the hopelessness of hope. As one, men and women settled in, mildly anticipating a comfortable last-evening’s entertainment. Button One awaited.
Did our protag grope his way out of that inner darkness into the outer darkness? Can You?
There you have it; that’s the story. And how would you have it otherwise? That the species be offered a true chance to evolve, requiring only courage, silence, and cunning? That the special case under observation here win the day, inspiring into being a vast tribe of blind wanderers? That Holyrood rule reality’s roost, love wink all-out, and our nictitating characters come to life as the World reverts to science fiction? That spontaneity, against all odds, emerge out of its opposite?
No. “’Slike milk when it clabbers, Bubba: it don’t come back,” to quote Jim Arledge.
Tragedy, we’re told, requires a conviction of the inevitable. But the tragedy here—as Ty’d put it—is that there is no tragedy. Only disappointment? Nothing had to happen, not the way it did. Marx though the common elements of things-opposed were capable of bringing forth the constantly unexpected. Jesus urged that we remind ourselves always of the level of consciousness on which the intent and the deed are one. We let Jesus down. We let Marx down, big time! But the likes of me is easily pleased! I’m not disappointed: the world in these pages refers only to itself. It “borrowed” from Your world when it dropped tempo; it went rubato, from time to time, that’s all.
Take it from me! And who am I? I am, behind other masks, the Recording Angel…with no prejudice against the unimportant. I know whereof I speak; because Ty was right: I am of the Handlers; am, in fact, the Handler of Handlers (here, at least). I could, for a last example, conduct after-life interviews with the characters, with even mine own character. I prefer not to. I am only real through your belief. But I would rest now. I dodder, as with a cane. Please disbelieve me!
Who else? I grew up in an era which embraced “nuclear parity” and banned horror comics. But I read one anyway, coming upon it under the mattress my dad and I shared on one of our fishing trips. The cover story (“The Finger”) dealt with attempts to capture and subdue an intrusive, interdimensional appendage which had poked through into our reality. Local human and other animal life melted away at its touch (leaving buildings and cartoon cells intact: a flash-forward to Vietnam?). The real horror is reserved for the ending, the last panel of which serves both to elaborate and to undermine the narration that has guided the story. The “finger” has seemingly withdrawn and the humans are exultant! “But he’ll be back,” runs the narration. “I know. Because, you see, I am…the Hand.”
But it’s true: I am the Hand.
And I could care less! Or: I couldn’t care less! Oh, you humans with your contradictory equivalents!! Well…I’ve given myself away, haven’t I?
Sleep now. Absorb these my lies. Tomorrow we shall set about to repopulate the race. Tomorrow we shall father-forth and lead our own wild kind beyond change. I promise.
New York—August 2007