SNEAKIEST GAMBIT. A rare opportunity to see some statistics on a question I've wondered
about for a long time. Thanks to Mark
Steyn, not surprisingly, there's this citation from a Dartmouth
Life expectancy in the European Union
78.7 years; life expectancy in the United States 78.06 years; life
expectancy in Albania 77.6 years; life expectancy in Libya, 76.88
years; life expectancy in Bosnia & Herzegovina, 78.17 years. Once
you get on top of childhood mortality and basic hygiene, everything
else is peripheral – margin-of-error territory... Even within the
United States, even within the Medicare system, there are regions that
offer twice as much “health care” per patient – twice as many
check-ups, pills, tests, operations – for no discernible variation in
uh, that's what I thought. Mark draws the obvious conclusion:
Indeed, the fate of the late Michael
Jackson may yet prove an
instructive lesson in the perils of too much medical attention. But
that's his choice — under our present system. You want to get
for something you're statistically unlikely to get? That's up to
you. But it's harder to discern the state's interest. A system
of universal "preventive" care will create a hugely
inflexible regime geared not to the illnesses you actually get but to
the bureaucratic processing of waiting rooms clogged with
healthy people getting annual tests for diseases they'll never get —
and none of it will impact on our health, only on our tax returns.
Not only on our tax returns.
On our lives as well. The preventive medicine creed as practiced by
government types isn't about health. It's about control. All you need
to understand about the underlying philosophy of the universal
healthcare crowd is the set of arguments surrounding motorcycle helmet
laws. Once, it was your head.
It no longer is. Now your helmet is an economic issue to your fellow
citizens. If you might damage that head so that it costs others money to
treat, they have the right to make you wear a helmet. It's their head now. You're just renting
it from the state.
That's what the emphasis on preventive medicine is designed to do.
Enable the owners of your body to document in meticulous bureaucratic
detail all the ways you're not taking care of it, so that when it does
become damaged, the owners can decide whether it's worth the expense of
fixing it. After they've decided not to fix the rented bodies of enough
malefactors, they'll get what they really want: control of everything
you do with their body -- and
your meek submission to all the
monitoring and regulation of your formerly private life 'required' to
protect their investment.
You like boycotts? Boycott the medical profession. After the age of
one, they don't have a lot to offer you that can't be handled far more
cheaply and effectively by aspirin, Rolaids, and Bengay. Some of you
have genuine need for their services and that's fine. But most of you
don't. Stay the hell away from them. No good can come of this obsession
with running to the doctor with every little ache and pain.
Life hurts. Doctors can't do a damn thing about that. And don't you
Artifact of St. Nuke, hero of The
Boomer Bible and the first king of Punk City. Also, the lead
narratist of St. Nuke & the Epissiles.
THE TRACKS OF THE SHUTEYE TRAIN. By unpopular demand, we're back
with another punk writer story, this time from the beginning of what is
called the "Mature" phase of the movement (c. 1980), when enhanced
software gave punk
bands carte blanche to do just about anything they wanted with words.
The introduction is from the book Post-Mortem
on Punk by Thomas Naughton, referenced by Lynn Wyler in this
piece. Which means it's not entirely to be trusted in its
However, the story is itself an excellent exegesis on the formal
structure of punk writing, as well as a good demonstration of the
blurred line between performance and action (some would say crime) that
characterized the punk writing esthetic.
band known as The Epissiles was originally formed as the Minutemen at
the start of the punk writing movement. When St. Nuke became lead
narratist, he renamed the band and pushed it to stardom in Punk City,
although none of its early work survives. The demands of kingship
gradually forced St. Nuke to withdraw from the band, which continued
under the leadership of Zero Daze. The Epissiles piece reproduced here
is possibly the first
completed without the participation of St. Nuke. It is also possibly
the first—or so the text claims—to be written under Release 2.0 of the
NeoMax writing software. There is not much else to distinguish the
work. It does typify the anti-‘Boomer’ vein of punk fiction as it
developed from its beginnings in Early Punk to the more elaborate
styles of High Punk, although the word ‘development’ is probably a
misnomer. The pieces of High Punk were longer and more rhetorical, but
they still do not add up to works of art.
Ready guys? Let’s try this baby on for size, put the stylizer on
overdrive, and see how great we sound.
2 One, two, three, four, GO!
3 Good day, dear readers. We are punk writers. We make stories
but do not pretend to be literary.
4 Literature is dead. We are what comes after, the graffiti that
defaces the tomb, the smears of filth that violate the sanctuary of
5 Does this offend you, dear reader? Perhaps you would be more
comfortable with a more traditional kind of prose wrought by a finer
6 Permit us to suggest the fiction of young Andrew Travis, who
writes the kind of stories you usually find in literary magazines,
stories as exquisite as porcelain miniatures, in which the music of
modern life is rendered pianissimo, largo, legato e sempre non tanto.
7 Andrew has recently had his first book published, a slender
collection of stories described by The New York Times Book Review as
‘Exquisite, transparent prose... graceful and evocative scenes...
moments of quiet brilliance connected by passages of sustained
8 If punk makes you squeamish, Six Stories may give your
aesthetic palate just the placebo it needs.
9 Yes, Andrew seems to be a writer of promise and one we will be
hearing more about, especially since he happens to be the protagonist
of this story.
10 La di da. La di nuking da. That’s the very first output by
anyone anywhere from PUNC Release 2.0, and now we can write like this
anytime we want.
11 So run for cover and bolt the door: the Epissiles can do it
We begin in New York City, where the highrise worms have bored away the
guts of the Big Apple.
2 All morning, flakes of decaying fruit flesh have been falling
in the streets like brown snow. Pedestrians tramp through its rank
slush, which clings to their shoes and stains the city’s carpets,
filling elevators, hallways and waiting rooms with the sweet and sour
smell of rot.
3 In one such elevator there is a woman who seems almost to
notice the stench. Her nose is wrinkled with what appears to be
4 Perhaps she will look at her shoes, see that the expensive
leather is rimed with a noteworthy brown substance.
5 But no—the elevator doors open at her floor, and without a
downward glance she marches into the offices of her employer, a large,
successful magazine that has catered for half a century to the
country’s most affluent and educated connoisseurs of sophisticated
6 Our elevator passenger is, in fact, the managing editor of this
magazine, and as she tracks dead apple flesh into her private office,
she is preoccupied with important thoughts about the content of a
fiftieth anniversary issue that will be read by millions of people.
7 It is a delicate undertaking this anniversary issue. Manhattan
Magazine has done more to shape the modern short story than any other
publication, living or dead, that you can think of.
8 The objective of the anniversary issue must therefore be to
achieve not boldness or innovation, but quintessence, a collection of
stories, poems, and articles which embody the principles of form and
taste that have come to be known as the Manhattan ‘Style.’
Feeling heavy, almost ponderous, under the weight of her
responsibility, the managing editor reviews the list of possible
contributors. She is convinced that the lead story, the one which will
occupy the prized niche immediately following “Town Chat,” should be
the work of a younger writer, one capable of demonstrating that
Manhattan will go on for another generation, holding fiction to the
same superlative standards which have dominated the literary horizon
for half a century.
2 For perhaps the tenth time, she opens her copy of Six Stories.
She likes the work of this Travis fellow. Yet she is concerned by one
or two of the six stories. At times, in these admittedly lesser tales,
things happen, there are definable events in the life of the
protagonist, who is not even residing in a foreign country. One of the
stories actually seems to have a structure and a plot. Cheever used to
do that sort of thing, but he is dead now, and the ‘Style’ has evolved
to an even higher standard under her leadership. Doesn’t Travis
understand this? She feels herself tiptoeing to the edge of an emotion
in the vicinity of dismay. What to do?
Inside a honeysuckle-covered cottage in Maine, Andrew Travis is
beginning the day’s work. He can’t wait to plunge into the fifth
paragraph of his current story, a compact and delicate gem inspired by
Philip Glass’s Paperweight Symphony. The main character is an elderly
woman succumbing—at glacial speed—to senility.
2 But before he can start puzzling over his next perfect
sentence, he must change the ribbon in his typewriter. The antique
Underwood is his most prized possession. To it he attributes much of
his attainment as a writer. Others in his creative writing classes at
Columbia opted recklessly for computerized word processors and laughed
at his gleaming mechanical dinosaur. But which of them has received the
laurel of a blurb in The New York Times Book Review? And which of them
is on a first name basis with the editor of Manhattan magazine?
3 Ring. Ring. Ring. Better answer it, Andrew. That should be your
call from Manhattan.
4 “Hello? Oh hi, Annabella. I’m just fine, thank you. To what do
I owe the honor of this call?”
It is two hours later, but Andrew is still not pecking keys on the big
2 He is too busy hugging himself with excitement. He can’t wait
to tell Ronald what has happened. He has been asked to write the lead
story for the Anniversary Issue. “Which anniversary issue?” he can
almost hear Ronald asking him. “The Anniversary Issue.” “O-o-o-o-h!”
And then there will be celebration, an intimate, thrilling dinner for
two—the squab with tarragon and chervil sauce, or maybe the Capon a
l’herbe... but that can wait for now.
3 Perhaps he should even wait before telling Ronald about the
assignment. There was just that one teeny-tiny hint of reservation in
Annabella’s voice. Something about “not overdoing the intimations of
plot.” What did she mean by that?
4 Suddenly fretful, he rereads the story he is working on. He
can’t find any intimations of plot. Does that mean he’s in the clear?
Or is it rather that the intimations are present in his story, in his
oeuvre, for all to see, while some gap or fissure in his talent makes
the fault invisible to him? Horrors. Well, he will stamp it out.
Ruthlessly. Andrew Travis will have none of that in his anniversary
5 He executes a fevered pencil edit. He deletes, he softens, he
renders even more opaque... then tosses the sheets of paper to the
floor. He will start over. There will be a new story. A brief slice of
6 Time to get started, Andrew.
What happens now, dear readers? Do we leave Andrew to mull and ruminate
and tap at his typing machine, holding at bay all intimations of plot
and structure? Do we attempt the impossible feat of making the interior
world of this fey little fictioner interesting? Do we aspire, after
all, to be literary?
2 Nah. Who gives a flying penwiper about the little creep? It’s
the Epissiles who matter on this page. And we’re here for blood and
guts, cause this ain’t no Manhattan magazine—it’s Punkfictionland. And
maybe we’re not allowed to bend Annabella over her desk and give it to
her from behind, but we can sure as Kain give it to Andrew instead,
from the one direction he doesn’t expect, the depths of his dead little
Look at him. He’s been writing for days. The floor of his once neat
little cottage is covered with refuse—the false starts that keep
2 You want to see? Actually, they don’t seem so bad. Like this
Rotting body at
the morgue. All that’s left of a guy named George. Did you want to meet
George? I can handle that. This is George’s hand. Shake it. Cold, ain’t
it? Not much grip. Funny how you can’t tell much about him on the slab. He’s a body on a
slab at the morgue. Clothes are in a locker, wallet’s in a brown
envelope with a watch and keys and all that stuff, and George is here
in his birthday suit under a sheet, all kind of purple and fish-eyed. You know how
fishes’ eyes look when they’re dead. White and scummy kind of. Like
George’s. So what’s up? Is
George going to paradise? Don’t think so. Not today. What’s the name of that saint? The
one at the burly gates? Hard to imagine George meeting a saint looking
like this. Fact is, he’s getting so he smells. No paradise. Something
else. How about the
too-young-to-die angle? After all, he can’t be more than about
thirty-five. He must be too young to die. How can it end like this, so sudden
and, well, disgusting like? If there was any justice, it’d’ve been
somebody else. Somebody’s got to do something
about this. Did you say
something? Good idea. The
brown envelope is in the drawer. Here’s the wallet. That’s pretty fancy
leather. Okay. I’m
embarrassed. Name’s not George—it’s Alfred. Alfred Cunningham. Here’s
his work ID. Corporation guy. And his business card! He’s—are you
listening?—Assistant Vice President, Mainframes, NeoMax Computer
Corporation. Phew! I’m
impressed. Here’s a picture
of his wife. Not bad. Little light in the chest and heavy in the hips,
but not bad. And two kids. A
boy and a girl, maybe twelve and fourteen. They look like trashholes to
me. And credit
cards. American Express—Gold Card! Visa, Master Charge, Delta Frequent
Flyer, Brooks Brothers, Exxon, Bloomingdales, Delta Crown Room... Wow!
All that credit and look at him. Wonder why he’s here. You’d think
somebody would claim him... the wife, the trashholes, some vice
president, somebody. They must of forgot. Well, Alfred’s
got to get home. It’s nearly dinner time. Every second of delay, he’s
missing his life. He’s heavy.
They’re not kidding about dead weight...
3 What’s the problem? Too lowbrow, you think? Well, here’s
O come all ye
faithless, joyless and triumphant. Bring your handbags. We’re going on
a trip. Where? To the heart of the matter,
where the beat of modern life originates. But enough of
this chit chat. The elevator is waiting. Up, up, up. High speed
travel to a highrise bedroom, in which a scene of passionate intensity
is underway. Soft carpeting
underfoot, soft moans under sheets. This must be
Evelyn and Dave, consummating their brief acquaintance with a tender
exchange of bodily fluids. If you will now
consult your prose kits, you will find some background data on Evelyn
and Dave. Evelyn makes
$32,000 a year working for an advertising agency and goes to bed on a
first date less than 46.2 percent of the time. Dave, on the
other hand, makes $48,000 a year working for a management consulting
firm and goes to bed on a first date more than 63.8 percent of the time. Tonight does not
count, however, since Evelyn and Dave just met each other about three
hours ago and are not in bed on a date but on an impulse. They are
romantics, both of them, and therefore susceptible to the warmth of
Friday night cocktails. Something about
the way the stars twinkled through the sunroof of Dave’s $21,500
Japanese sports car melted Evelyn’s resolve not to let herself get
talked into another one-night stand with another smooth talking
sonofabitch, which she suspects Dave of being, although he has been
uniformly sweet and solicitous throughout their courtship to date.
4 Is there something we’re missing? That seemed like a pretty
good start to us—snappy and fast-paced. Too explicit maybe from the sex
angle? No? Then what? And what’s the matter with this one?
You’re going to
believe this story if I have to come to your house and hogtie you to
the couch and tear your fingernails out one by one by one by one...
until you’d swear on a stack of Bibles that there really is a
one-legged circus clown named Randy Joe who decided to move to Maine
and write horror stories for a living. No, listen.
LISTEN! This is going to be a great story. You see, he used to be a
Navy SEAL, until...HEY! I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU HOW IT WAS GOING TO BE. DO
I HAVE TO COME OVER THERE WITH MY NEEDLE-NOSE PLIERS AND MAKE YOU
BELIEVE IT? DO I? That’s better. So Randy Joe
lost his leg in the navy and then he
5 What do you suppose has gotten into Andrew? It looks like he’s
lost his way a bit on this project. It’s a shame. And with the deadline
getting so close... do you think he’d like a little help from a
professional writer band? You do? Well, we’re delighted to help.
Anything for the Anniversary Issue.
2 That’s us coming through the ceiling. Sorry about the mess.
3 Now we’re in Andrew’s living room, standing next to his poor
old Underwood typewriter.
4 Andrew’s in the corner making little mewling noises and sucking
his thumb. It’s possible he finds us somewhat intimidating to look at.
Or is it just that he doesn’t approve of our writing instruments—the
candy apple red stereotypewriter, the gold flake parallaxophone, the
pink polka dotted synthesizer, the gunmetal macrophone, the ten-foot
length of lime green garden hose, the oversized copper needle valve,
the hickory handled icepick, and the pig iron sledgehammer. Well, he’ll
get used to them.
5 Time for lesson number one, Andrew. It looks to us as if what
you’re trying to write without much success is punk fiction, which is
sure to be a hit with Annabella and all the highfalutin readers of
Manhattan magazine. We applaud your daring.
6 But you can’t write a punk piece on an Underwood. Sorry.
2 That’s us writing an appropriate ending for the Underwood with
our pig iron sledge.
3 Now, as soon as Andrew stops sobbing and wetting himself, we’ll
move on to the matter of how you go about starting a good punk fiction
4 There, that’s right, Andrew. Just take slow, deep breaths, and
your aplomb will return in a trice.
5 The beginning of your piece is called the Howdy. It sets the
stage, so to speak, and tells the audience who’s in charge, and to whom
they will owe the pleasure of their fiction experience. We prefer to do
ours on the macrophone. Like so:
Time has run out on you, dear boomer. You’ve been succored into the
blindest of dark alleys. There is no
mercy here, no friendly hand to guide you, no reassuring voice to still
your dread. Here you are
only prey, and here there is no safety in numbers. Straight razors wait at every
corner to cut your throat. Holes in the pavement plunge to the abyss. The garbage cans
are full of murdered babies, and the cats that gnaw on their heads have
the rotten breath of art and radioactive eyes that suck up light and
give you cancer in the dark. There is no
turning back. The entrance has been sealed by the heap of dishonored
corpses you trampled coming in. The only way out
is forward, but at the end of the alley a wall blocks the exit. It is a
high, long, smooth, hard wall disfigured by graffiti. In short, dear
boomer, you are trapped. Trapped and soon to be hoist by punk petard. What can you,
what in the name of all you might once conceivably have held sacred, is
there for you to do? Read the writing
on the wall, one last epissile from us to you.
6 You see, Andrew? You don’t ask for the suspension of disbelief.
You just suspend it. Notice how we no longer seem to be in your living
room, but in a long dark alley instead? Do you feel that sense of being
trapped, dear Andrew? Good. Then the Howdy is complete.
7 Please stop sniveling, Andrew. We’re only here to help.
Next comes the launch of the story proper. If you want, you can
introduce characters. That’s what the stereotypewriter is for. But it’s
not absolutely necessary to have the characters enter right away.
Everyone will know who they are before you even mention them.
2 Can you guess who the main characters are going to be in this
story, Andrew? We bet you can. So that means we have some room to begin
the action more obliquely. Mayhap with a nifty solo on the
parallaxophone. Comme ci. That’s French, isn’t it, Andrew?
City lights. The terrorist stands at the center, watching. Highways bind
the city in place, chains of light tying knots to hold the rhythms in,
bend them back inside, repeat the captive pattern. Clocks and neon
signs and skyscraping lanterns blinking their slow coded translations
of continuum, the string of nights that links all lives together. And at the
center, the terrorist. In love with light, he carries his avowal across
the rooftops, his sneakered feet hurrying toward the rendezvous. The face of a
terrorist may be like any other face. Eyed, eared, nosed, and mouthed,
it hungers for sensation and relays the headlines of current events to
the brain, which forms its committees of response. The face is
unimportant, even the face of a terrorist The brain is all. Inside its
corridors and anterooms, news is discussed in tones of alarm. The war
plans, coiled and waiting, lie locked in the vault below. In the star
chamber the conferees are at odds: the situation is grave, voices are
raised, and the only consensus is of catastrophe. Driven by
catastrophe, the terrorist moves out across the city, mulling
destinations, declarations, devastations. He has been everywhere
already and a map of the city has grown across the back wall of his
mind, behind the lenses of his two-way eyes. On the map and
in the city he has been everywhere. But not always as a terrorist. Once, first, as
an observer only, he went out to hear the heartcries, city whispers,
3 Movement, Andrew, that’s the key. Get it going, keep it going,
promise death and keep the promise. Have you figured out how we’re
going to keep our promise, Andrew?
4 That’s right! With more action!
He heard the crying, and the moaning, and the praying, and the
screaming, Until his ears
grew full of empty noise, And his heart
turned black with anger. Thus was the
terrorist born, An embryo formed
in the outer world of desperate prisoners’ cries, Then squeezed
full-grown through sound canals, Into the ready
room of mind. He speaks:
“There is no voice of light in all the din, and the power lords are
telling lies, with lights for sale that beam the dark to every church
and home. It’s time to
quench the light that lies, And punish the
thieving power lords.”
5 We’re getting excited, Andrew. We’re in the city, and we’re
closing in. Your story’s going to be great.
6 But now we change the gears again, and get ready for the Splat.
The Splat? Well, that’s where we keep our promise to the reader. The
Once upon a time there was a power lord named Annabella, Who held in her hands a broken
light that scattered lines of darkness everywhere. She was proud of
the light and the dark it shed, for she thought the darkness was light. That’s why the
Epissiles paid her a visit, In her office in
3 Why are you squirming like that, Andrew? Hold still. This will
only hurt for a second.
"Who are you?" cried Annabella. "Why are you here, and what do you
want?" "We’re here to
kill you," the Epissiles said, "for crimes against the light." "What the hell
are you talking about?" Annabella was irate. No one talks to managing
editors like that. "This," said the
Epissiles and pulled from a bag the head of a promising young writer.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!" screamed Annabella. "Wait," said the
Epissiles. "We want to show you what’s inside this head you prized so
much." And as Annabella
stood glazed in shock, the Epissiles attached their ten foot length of
lime green garden hose to the oversized copper needle valve they’d
jammed inside Andrew’s icepick-penetrated skull, and then they sprayed
one last Epissile, in bright red blood, on the wall of Manhattan style:
Punks to their Unlit Pals:
Time has run
out on you, dear authors. You’ve written yourselves into the blindest
of dark alleys. There is no
mercy here, no friendly hand to guide you, no reassuring voice to still
your dread. Here you are
only random idiosyncratics, and here there is no meaning or salvation. The children
of your unbelief are dying to catch you alone. They
needed you to dream some dreams, but you painted walls instead. When
they catch you, and they will, they’ll give you cancer in the dark. Literature
is dead. That’s why your garbage reeks of murdered babies, and why the
stench of art is even worse, and why your lives are worthless wastes of
the ink and paper you have spoiled. There is no
turning back. The entrance has been sealed by you. The only way
out is forward, but you threw away your map, your compass, and all the
stars that show the way. You’re
extinct and don’t know it. Your writing’s a joke, and the future will
laugh you to hell. One more
And SPLAT goes Annabella.
4 Is that what you had in mind for the anniversary issue, Andrew?
7 Happy Anniversary.
Once Upon a Time...
right. We hold a grudge for a long, loooong time.
Even though we're mostly taller than Charles Bronson
Whenever I come to this blog I get the
incredible urge to watch "Mothman Prophecies" or "Once Upon A Time In
The West" ... SOMETIMES "White Chicks" ... but not usually. MAYBE
"Richie Rich" ... nahhh, my mistake. Just go with the first two to be
Have to admit it's an honor to be associated with Once Upon a Time in the West. Read
all the user
comments at IMDB.com because we're only going to reproduce one:
favorite, and mine too
There are few movies that can combine great directing, acting, music,
cinematography, and writing into one movie, but this one does. There
are no weak points. Every scene is a piece of art. I know of no other
film that affects the senses as this one. Henry Fonda said this was his
favorite film and role. It's easy to see why. He created 1 of the great
"bad guy" roles in history. In a side note, Leone wanted to put brown
contacts in Fonda's eyes ("who ever saw a villain with blue eyes",
Leone said), but Fonda wouldn't have it, and the effect is magic in the
famous Leone close-ups. Bronson, Cardinale, and Robards are equally
powerful, all have great lines and the camera loves them. Speaking of
cameras, the visuals are stunning. There is nothing fancy about this
movie. Raw power is what you see and feel. Simply the best western if
not film ever made.
We hadn't actually seen the Mothman
Prophecies, but a look at the trailer convinced us that it's
pretty much like a normal day at the office for Instapunk.
So we're frequently confused. Sooorry.
The White Chicks thing was
harder to figure until we came across this
appreciation at IMDB.com:
This movie makes fun of everyone--
black, white, rich, poor, dorks, cool people... no one is safe.
yeah, it looks exactly like this around here every day. Is that a problem?
Don't get the Richie Rich
thing, though. I'm turning 57 in two days -- skipping 56 for religious
reasons -- and I haven't looked like Macauley Culkin for, well, half a
century. I don't look like Charles Bronson, either. But I'm taller. And
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
An InstaPunk Public
CAN YELL CONTINUOUSLY. I've always been fascinated by the boiling
frog phenomenon that seems to describe the reaction of otherwise normal
people when they're caught in the midst of a time of cataclysmic
political retrogression. While The Terror was rounding up
counterrevolutionaries in France, while Stalin was rounding up
counterrevolutionaries in Russia, while Hitler was rounding up Jews in
the Reich.... Ordinary folks must have known at some level that the
bonds of civilization were dissolving, but they still had to go to work
everyday, and matters of shocking moment somehow became the stuff of
petty gossip -- and dare I say 'punditry' -- rather than a shrieking
call to action. When the unthinkable becomes routine, what becomes of
the person whose whole soul is screaming in outrage? My guess is that
the constant sight of what his neighbors and fellow countrymen simply will not see either gradually
inures him to all varieties of disaster OR he becomes convinced that he
himself has lost his mind.
That's how I've come to regard the Obama administration. The
unthinkable is now routine. Every new day brings us a new outrage
against the constitution, the separation of powers, national security,
the free enterprise system, and the 200-plus years of individual
liberty and personal responsibility that made this the greatest,
freest, and most prosperous nation on earth. Even the people who are
nominally on our side are sitting placidly in the simmering media pot
on the stove, acting and talking as if major crimes against our
heritage and values were mere political maneuvers to be parsed like
chess gambits or poker hands.
you're being slowly boiled to death.
It's not true that all this is politics as usual. The hard thing to
remember. Our country is being
hijacked and dismantled. If you know that in your heart of hearts, you
have NOT lost your mind. Things CAN go way south in a hell of a hurry,
irretrievably so. But no one can be hysterically overwrought all the
time. It's too exhausting. What's important is that no matter how
everyone else is coping, you
retain some access to the underlying reality, so that when all around
you are acting deaf, dumb, and blind to the unfolding ruination, you
have somewhere to go.
That's what this page is. When that Crisis Moment hits, just look up
the word Emergency in the InstaPunk search function and press the damn
button up top. What you find will remind you of the stark reality
everyone but you insists on forgetting today.
Persevere, my friends. You are not alone. Even when it feels like you
. The punk piece that began it all. They wrote like bands,
on computers, with custom input devices that fed into a central
processor which made a narrative of it all. In the case of the Shuteye
Train, it was said that they were merely documenting crimes already
committed -- a kind of computer-compiled confession. Nobody knows what
really happened. Just that South Street in Philadelphia suddenly became
a place to be feared in 1980 or thereabouts. The moment the worm
turned. Even the Pagans
stopped going there. Ancient history with no continuing relevance? Sure.
Did they exist? We're kind of sort of betting they did. What is
fiction, after all, but writing that doesn't claim to be history, only
Hear we come, the Shuteye Train, ranting and writing and all for you.
We knew a guy.
2 He was like you, a regular type guy, and we knew him since like
the time he first got his head together and started doing his own thing.
3 Back then he was in college in the days when coke was like this
sugary ripoff made by this giant corporate fascist oppressor.
4 He thought his father was a pig. So was his mother. In fact she
threw this like fit when Steve stayed over Christmas vacation in his
own room with his girlfriend Marjorie.
5 His name was Steve.
6 He started college as a political science major but in
sophomore year he switched to black studies, he was into civil rites
and the Revolution and had these ideals and everything.
7 Shammadamma. We’re the Shuteye Train, coming at you.
Steve learned a lot in black studies.
2 Like he learned history was all lies and the US was like this
really corrupt evil totalitarian state with these policies of genocide
in Southeast Asia and the inner cities.
3 Steve really freaked when he like found out what was going
down, so his roommate got he and Marjorie into the party and they all
worked night and day for the Revolution.
One night Steve dropped some acid and Marjorie and him were talking
about the Revolution until Steve got off and Marjorie was saying like
how everything had to be destroyed, the government and everything,
before social justice could, you know, happen.
2 And Steve started having these really heavy thoughts about what
all Marjorie was saying just as he started to get off.
3 There was this Doors album on and he started getting like
really tuned in to the heaviness of the Revolution and the heaviness of
the music all at the same time and pretty soon it was like he could
really see the music coming right out of the speakers and the music
like was the Revolution just starting to happen and it was beautiful.
4 When he concentrated Steve could stretch his arms right across
the room and feel the music wrap around his fingers and crawl all over
his body, like the Revolution was pulling him in and making him a part
of it and all.
5 It was like really blowing his mind and then it pulled him
right out of the room and down into the street and into this latenight
store where it like told him to get some cans of spraypaint.
6 Marjorie went with him and she couldn’t hear the music but she
was getting this like contact high and she could see the way the Doors
were, you know, swirling all around Steve, making him knock things off
the shelf, so she got into it herself and pushed over this giant
cardboard TV announcer who was advertising some kind of detergent on
the shelf next to him.
7 The store manager was this real pig and he calls the cops, so
the Doors music like pulled them out of the store and told Steve to
spraypaint like all the college walls that didn’t have ivy on them.
8 They spraypainted all the slogans they could think of and all
the ones the Doors told Steve to paint and later Steve’s old man
wouldn’t go bail and he had to write his term paper on ‘Modern Slavery’
in jail, which was really far out and got an A-minus.
9 Shammadamma, we’re the Shuteye Train, punk writer band from the
land of Kain.
So Steve and Marjorie went to Woodstock nation and it was really
beautiful, you know?
2 They borrowed this old van and drove to Woodstock and got stuck
in a field but it didn’t matter, people gave them dope and they drank
wine and got off on the music, it was like really incredible because
there was this love all around and Steve made it with this chick from
Skidmore and Marjorie thought the whole thing was beautiful and she
took off all her clothes and went wading and didn’t get embarrassed at
all like she usually was about how she was a little overweight, and she
even made it later with this enormous ugly fat guy.
3 But he had a beautiful soul and was into Country Joe and the
Fish like you wouldn’t believe.
4 Steve didn’t even mind, he had dropped some really wild
mescaline and it was like he was this fat guy and he could even feel
the tattoo of an eagle this guy had on his arm which flapped its wings
to the music of Country Joe.
5 It rained but they didn’t care and later they couldn’t get the
van unstuck but they didn’t care about that either, so they hitched a
ride back to Boston, only they wound up not going to Boston right off
but staying for a while with these really beautiful people who had this
farm in New Hampshire.
6 Even the ducks got stoned. Shammadamma.
But then there was like Altamont and Kent State and Steve got into
graduate school with his deferment and Marjorie got knocked up.
2 Steve’s old man had already cut him off except for tuition, so
Marjorie had to split for Philadelphia and have the kid at her sister’s
3 She named it Peaceflower.
4 And then Steve and her like started to grow apart because
Marjorie was kind of, you know, standing still, and couldn’t see how
the Revolution had bummed out, and how if you wanted to reform the
system you had to do it from like inside, with your caring and ideals
5 There was this really bad scene the time Marjorie came up from
Philadelphia to visit, and like her sister was getting ready to throw
her out in the street if she didn’t get a job, and Steve couldn’t make
her see like how his father had finally decided to pay Steve’s way
through law school, which Steve had just gotten into, only he wouldn’t
if Steve turned up with this kid, which how could he be sure was, you
know, really his?
6 They were in this nice restaurant in Boston with white
tablecloths and all, and the waiter had like sneered when Marjorie
ordered strawberry wine, and she wouldn’t eat the ratatouille because
she got so uptight.
7 She really freaked when Steve let slip about the kid and, you
know, whose it was and all, and she started to cry and said how she
really loved Steve in the deepest possible way and there was only ever
that fat guy at Woodstock, which was different and wasn’t her idea
8 But how could Steve be, you know, sure, and anyway there was
law school and he was only going so he could reform the system from
within like they’d talked about, and couldn’t she see how it was, but
Marjorie only cried into her ratatouille and left the next day.
9 Shammadamma, the Shuteye Train, burning through the boomer
Steve’s mom and dad came to his law school graduation.
2 He introduced them to Sara. She was president of the Women’s
Law Alliance and Steve’s current female companion.
3 They all went out to dinner and Sara and Steve’s folks didn’t
hit it off very well.
4 Sara asked Steve’s dad how many women had been in his class at
medical school and got into a huff when Steve’s dad said not many,
they’d had to chase nurses instead.
5 Then Sara asked Steve’s mom how she could stand not having been
allowed to accomplish anything with her life.
7 Steve’s mom said you can talk to me that way when you’ve raised
three sons and made a good home for your family like I have.
8 Sara sniffed and ate a cracker, and later when he was alone
with his parents Steve explained how hard it was for women who wanted
careers in a chauvinist society and how you had to understand if they
seemed a little aggressive sometimes.
9 They forgave Sara and him the next day when he stood there in
his robes and got his law degree, and told him how proud they were that
he had made the law review and gotten such a good job in Philadelphia.
10 Shammadamma, the Shuteye Train, making tracks and planning
Steve worked real hard for the firm, long days and nights of endless
pressure and toil.
2 He wondered for a long time how he stood it and what good was
an expensive car and an apartment in Society Hill if you never got to
enjoy them, but after he broke up with Sara, who was, after all, far
too militant and humorless to be a good companion for Steve, he found
out that Philadelphia was an entertaining city.
3 He read up on astrology and took up racketball and learned to
disco, and the women of Philadelphia loved him.
4 But he played around only in moderation and kept his nose
pretty firmly to the grindstone, and it was no surprise when he got
invited to join an exclusive golf club that Elizabeth’s father was a
big wheel in.
5 On the sixteenth green one Sunday not long after that, he met
some of the senior partners of the firm and a few months later he was
promoted to associate partner, which made him laugh a little to himself
because he felt like some kind of impostor, because he was really like
the same guy he had always been, only maybe more laid back and not
quite so idealistic, and wouldn’t it be funny if like everyone else was
really an impostor too, like walking around disguised in three-piece
suits and expensive golf clubs?
One day soon after Steve had finished his first big case, Elizabeth
said maybe it was time they got married, shammadamma, and Steve had
this big decision to make.
2 He thought and thought, and thought finally that maybe a
father-in-law and a wife might be the thing to do, the next step to
3 So they set a date in June and Elizabeth moved out of the
apartment for awhile to keep the older friends and relatives from
getting upset, and Steve played golf with Elizabeth’s father, and
Elizabeth and her mother shopped like mad, and engraved invitations
went out in the mail and brought back hundreds of wedding presents and
then hundreds of wedding guests, who filled the ivy-covered church so
that Elizabeth and Steve could get properly married and live happily
So they stood at the altar and the priest got ready to say the words
and behind them in the church all their friends were smiling and
looking forward to the reception, and Steve thought how everything was
going to work out just right, and life was really okay, you know?
2 And the organist finished the processional and then the doors
of the church swung open with a tremendous crash.
3 Naturally Steve turned around to look, because who on earth
could be coming in so late?
Shammadamma, the Shuteye Train.
2 We write with guns.
And some of the women screamed, and Steve couldn’t believe what was
happening, like who were these people and what did they want?
2 Shammadamma, pullatrigga. Shammadamma, shootabooma.
And Steve tried to, you know, get away when he saw what was coming
down, tried to run for his life, but it was way too late and where was
there for him to go anyway?
2 Shammadamma, BLAMMADAMMA. BLAMMADAMMA BLAMMADAMMA BLAMMADAMMA
We knew a guy, a regular type guy, but he died on his wedding day.
That last line is kind of an inversion. What they really meant was
.. We're inordinately proud of our
commenters here. (Yes, Penny, you'll be here someday too. Give us a
graphic idea to work with...) Other sites
worry about screening out disgusting language and threats. We worry
only about getting outshone by our readers. Which is happening a lot
lately. Today, it's Taylor, who
apparently didn't like our 'Emergency Button.' Here's what he had to say.
The boiled frog comparison is good as
far as it goes, but there's a
difference from our current predicament: The frog gets boiled slowly
because the frog doesn't comprehend what's happening.
us on the other hand, at some level many if not most people in this
country know exactly what is being done to them. They don't do anything
about it because they just can't comprehend how this state of affairs
came to pass, and they aren't sure what if anything they can do.
societal mesmerization that's going on as Hope-a-Dope and the donks do
to this country what that Egyptian Airlines co-pilot did a few years
ago -- purposefully point the plane's nose straight down into the drink
and accelerate -- comes from this human characteristic of shock and
disbelief ("The pilot's not supposed to do that, is he?") overcoming
the survival instinct.
When confronted by something
seemingly too incredible to be "real," the human mind tends to either
lock up or to look for escape via rationalizations.
"Brain lock" is why two-thirds to three quarters of American soldiers
and marines who experienced Japanese "banzai" charges or Chinese "human
wave" attacks never fired their weapons. They just stared
disbelievingly at the mass of humanity rushing at them. These were men
who had been trained to fight, and who knew when they went to the front
line that an encounter with the enemy was at least possible if not
probable; yet they still froze when the time came.
does that say for the American People today, the vast majority of whom
have undergone no mental preparation for what's coming?
A "This isn't happening" reaction occurs when, for example, an airport
security screener on 9/11 encounters an Arab foreigner with no bags to
check, a one-way ticket and whose face looks like pathological hatred
incarnate: everything about the guy screams "hijacker," but the
screener's sense of disbelief allows his feel-good politically correct
indoctrination to take over.
Bottom line, Hope-a-Dope and
the donks are like a Komodo Dragon: if it bites you, you don't die
right away. Rather, it lets you run around pumping the venom through
your system while it follows and waits for the effects to kick in. When
you collapse onto the ground, it moves in to polish you off.
we haven't yet felt the full effects of the poison that the donks have
injected into this country since last November, so it's still easy to
fall into a sense of disbelief, denial and false hope.
By the time we begin to feel the
symptoms, it'll be too late.
late to save the Republic. The venom is numbing us even as I write
this, but most people are either too mesmerized or too ensconced in
denial to fight it.
What I am more concerned with is what
will rise from the ashes.
uh, me too. What he said.
[I hate to spoil Taylor's malignant mood, but 30-some years ago I
met a Korean who was a reporter at the Boston Herald Tribune. He'd been
an intelligence officer for the South
Korean army in that war. He described interrogation tactics he'd
personally conducted -- without the least regret -- having to do with
water and the bitterly cold Korean winters... things about water
turning to ice, human noses, and not breathing, and watching men die and such... Forget that.
He was a cold cold man. But he told me that what frightened the Koreans
about the United States, truly and utterly terrified them, north and
south alike, was the marine determination to leave no man behind. "We could not
understand that," he told me over a game of pool in otherwise civilized
surroundings. "It did not make sense to us. It filled us with fear. We
could not defeat that." He didn't defeat it. He became an American
citizen. And I kicked his ass at 8-ball..]
So here comes Billy Oblivion, another veteran commenter. Weighing in on
the same subject, responding to Taylor:
I have never learned to throw the first
Perhaps the more you know the more you
New Model Army, "Believe It"
spent a good bit of the last 25 years involved in the study of
violence. I'm not very good at it compared to the professionals--the
Special Ops types, MMA fighters etc. but I think I have at least an
Which is the problem.
a large degree violence--at least effective violence--is almost the
antithesis of violence (from one perspective, from another a different
argument is made).
To be intellectual is to pause in
thought, to consider actions and their consequences.
sitting in a bar having a quiet drink. Jack and Coke, Jack on the rocks,
or just Jack in a glass. A pretty girl sits down next to you. It's
movement, and perfume. You glance over. Her companion notices and takes
offense. (Cliche' yes, but I'm taking this somewhere). He starts down
the road to fisticuffs; at what point do you stop responding like a
civilized man? At what point do you grab that fucking long neck the guy
next to you just finished and brain the meathead with it?
don't. You wait for him to move first, because you hung up the leather
and the Doc Martens a decade ago and you've got a job to get to Monday
morning and a mortage or at least a car payment and a wife and if you
show up with stitches and a black eye and explain that you've got to go
to court for negligent homicide you're going to miss a few car payments
and it'll get repo'd and there goes that credit rating you spent the
better part of a decade repairing after that expensive private college
you paid for mostly out of your own pocket with grants and loans and a
tour in the Marine Corps.
So smile and apologize for looking at his
lady, and you hope that this mollifies him and you finish your drink
and you move on.
There are two types of fights. Duels, and
are two dandies, or two drunks slugging it out for honor. Both know
it's coming, and both know when. No surprises, no positional advantage,
no maneuver warfare. This is pure strength and stamina and endurance
and pain tolerance. The harder, faster, stronger guy wins, unless the
other guy gets lucky.
No one with any sense gets in a
duel. No one. Ever. Unless it really is about something that you'd
rather die than break the rules over.
is for sports and card games. There is no cheating in a real fight
(i.e., outside the ring), there is only winning and dying. And court, so
don't cheat too much.
Amubushes. Most fights are
ambushes and you ALWAYS want to be the ambushers. You set the
claymores, you position your machine guns and your supporting artillery.
Even if it's just a buddy with a pool
the problem still is pulling the trigger. Intellectuals think; we think
of ripples spreading out from the rock we're about to hit this guy in
the back of the head with.
A meth head doesn't think,
she swings. Wildly, with crazy strength and hepatitis and possibly AIDs
and those wicked fucking fingernails that haven't been cut in a dog's
age, but are torn and ragged.
You knew it was coming,
but you never saw the place where the Reasonable Man the Prosecution was
going to call as a witness would have struck first, so you're behind
the power curve as she's clawing your f'ing eyes out.
you sit there in your recliner with a glass of Makers Mark in hand and
contemplate that fine looking woman in the harbor of the million story
city. A bit green with age, things ain't like they were when she started
And you fear for the country that she is
welcoming people to. You fear in your gut, you fear in your head
because you can see those ripples and you've read history and you've
read psychology and sociology and etc.
And you try to explain to people that we
need to stop this we need to stop spending our children's and grandchildren's money.
need to stop supporting bad farming practices. We need to stop
supporting bad breeding practices. Bad schooling, bad politics.
need to stand up and be responsible, we need to pay our own way, we need
to help the less fortunate, but not by buying them a concrete block
shack at a thousand dollars a brick.
But they call you a
fear monger as they complain about the snail darter and global warming
and drink their shade grown coffee and talk about how capitalism needs
the firm hand of government over the invisible hand of Smith.
And just *when* do you pull that trigger?
Just when do you start the ambush?
Are YOU willing to give up your house,
and your car, and your credit rating?
And how do you unscrew a pregnant lady
Rome wasn't burned in a day, but Pompeii
Entropy means lots of things. What it
mostly tells us is that if you don't keep adding energy to a system it
only people adding energy to our system are the people who think the
system should be able to give back more than you put in.
of course, the only people who are willing to muster serious opposition
are those like Limbaugh, Hannity and Gingrinch.. And Palin, and Reagan,
who are outliers. At least Reagan was. Palin, we'll see.
But the problem is what to do.
Duels are stupid, but ambushes, well
you'd BETTER hit so damn hard and so damn fast and so damn accurate
that you don't lose.
November 80 Marines in Afghanistan got ambushed by about 250 Taliban.
Odds were over 3 to 1. On the Taliban's home turf. The Ts were well
supplied--this wasn't a hit and run, they were prepared and going for a
In Marine terms this was a "fair fight".
they extracted their peeps from the kill zone, the marines, as they are
wont to do, aggressed into the ambush and proceeded to kill 1/5th of
their opposition WITHOUT A SINGLE MARINE FATALITY.
One Marine--the Designated Hitter for the
unit--fired his rifle IIRC 22 times. He got 22 hits.
even ambushes--when you're well prepared and have what appear to be
overwhelming odds--don't always work. Especially when the other side
has some pipe hitting mother fuckers.
Which is to say that
you have to be willing to hit hard, and hit first, but you gotta watch
out for the ripples, but if you're watching the ripples you know too
How do you get the killer instinct and
the intellectual understanding without becoming a sociopath?
Which may sort of explain our leaders and
All right. I get it. You don't have to hit the button.
You can ventilate here.
InstaPunk is interested in
what you have to say.
This one from Geojitsu, who I'm reliably informed is a marine of
IP’s “button” tactic isn’t fooling
me. It’s simply his way of looking for a few good men–and I think he
found a pair in Taylor and Billy Oblivion.>
To Taylor, two quibbles about your excellent post. First, you assert
that as the result of brain lock, “two-thirds to three quarters of
American soldiers and marines who experienced Japanese banzai charges
or Chinese human wave attacks never fired their weapons.” There are a
number of ways to attack that position, but I’ll go with six:
Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Peleliu, Saipan, and Tarawa. None of
these hell holes would have been taken if 75% of the Marines in the
rifle platoons had frozen under fire. No way. I refer you to what I
believe is the finest battle memoir ever written. “With the Old Breed:
At Peleliu and Okinawa” by E. B. Sledge.>
Second, you say “most people in this country know exactly what is
being done to them.” I say [about] half know what is being done to
them. And that would be the people who voted AGAINST putting fascist
thugs into the White House and Congress.>
The problem is not cowardice, it’s ignorance. Decades of collectivist
thought has reached critical mass, and we are now reaping the whirlwind.>
And finally, to Billy’s question “How do you get the killer instinct
and the intellectual understanding without becoming a sociopath?” I'd
say BRASS, the acronym every Marine recruit learns before ever hitting
the rifle range. “Breath-Relax-Aim-Slack-Squeeze.”>
Thank you, gentlemen. Keep'em coming.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Playing the Palin
had his Wilderness Years. So should she.
As everyone here should know, I like Sarah Palin, but I'm dismayed by
the amount of fire and brimstone that's surging through the
rightosphere in the aftermath of her very odd announcement. You can get
a snapshot of said F&B at HotAir, in a 'Green Room' post
that quotes extensively from Ace of Spades. Just a snippet of Ace's
...I do think I am taking off the week.
You guys only seem to want
to talk about Sarah Palin and furthermore you only want to hear the
same thing — she’s running, this is a great move, she’s now perfectly
poised for the race, etc.
It’s nonsense. And I hardly need to blog
about it, because you all
seem to know the words to the song. So you don’t need me as part of the
chorus. You can sing the same words well enough without me.
I am really tired of this relentless
nonsense and occasional
nastiness whenever someone is believed to have departed from the
conservativey correct line.
If people really are going
this nuts about it, they need to stop. Nobody really knows anything, so
everyone's speculating. Why is that the case? Because she hasn't
explained anything. Which is hardly a sound foundation on which to base
a national campaign for the presidency in the next election. Which
leads me to conclude that if she's really running, she's a fool and
should give up her plans at once. And if she's not running, for either
the presidency or the senate, all we can do is wait and see what she
has in mind.
But I can tell you what I hope
she has in mind. I hope she stays away from public office at least through 2012. I hope she
spends her time in the interim reading books and otherwise educating
herself about matters of public policy she still knows little about
beyond Alaska. She also has an opportunity to accept speaking
engagements and earn enough money to put her family on a sound
financial footing. If she wishes to remain somewhat in the public eye,
she can also ally herself with the Tea Party movement and its
trans-party calls for reduced spending, reduced taxes, and reduced
government interference in our lives. Those folks don't seem to like
officials presently serving in office, bless their hearts. And Palin
can turn a desultory rally of 500 into a fired-up crowd of 5,000.
If she takes this tack, she also won't waste much of her time
campaigning for professional politicians in order to win official
Republican backing she is unlikely to get until they come hat in hand
to her, years down the road.
Quitting her elected responsibilities before her term was complete
(regardless of how valid the private and personal reasons for it) makes
her an anti-establishment figure for a long time to come. Given enough
time, she could work that to her advantage. But not in the short term.
That's why the professional pundits are busily writing her off. A
traditional political career of dues-paying followed by big-party
endorsement is out of the question now. Any political career still
available to her will have to be nontraditional, unique, and
transformational -- of her in fact
as well as in the media image of her. That will not happen in three
years. If it even seems to, it's a recipe for disaster. She'll lose.
And if she doesn't, she won't be ready.
She's young. That's a huge advantage. Now she must learn to be
patient and learn period.
If you like her too, quit scolding those who are being critical now.
To a significant extent, they are right. If they're writing her off
altogether, only Palin can prove them wrong. And she'll need a lot more
than two or three years to do that. Fortunately, she has more than two or three years.
She has twenty or thirty.
. Now, we're waiting. One celebrity death every day
Today it's McNamara.
This won't be a long post. Just a grim prediction. When people start to
die in increased numbers, it
means something big is about to happen. Something big and bad.
Something a lot of people don't want to be a part of. Meaning they'd rather be dead. Something about
Collective Unconscious* I just hope I'm not one of them.
is going to rain down hell on all of us. Some of us don't want to wait
for it. Some of us are willing to fight to survive it. I hope I'm one
of the latter. Which are you?
*My creation story, the one I believe, lies in the field of
potentialities between Hawking's possibly nonexistent (because always
-- Zeno's Arrow-like -- infinitely approaching the unreachable limit)
Big Bang and Roger Penrose's quantum mind. There is a space in that
conceptual interval which leaves room for all presently conceived
possibilities and innumerable ones we can't conceive of. It may allow
for all kinds of relationships that science cannot presently
comprehend, including a universe in which ideas, art, poetry, symbols
and allegories -- and Jung's synchronicity -- interact seamlessly with
the physics we keep trying to reduce to (mere) math. In this context,
there might be a place for humanity's many metaphorical creation myths
and its curiously parallel religious convictions to be something more
than fairy tales, fallacies, jokes, proofs of mankind's talent for
self-delusion, and catalysts for your contempt. The continuously
unfolding and infinitely reinterpretable story of Christ's sacrifice on
the cross may -- may, I say
-- actually be of a piece with the universe itself. These are
conceptions which have the potential to expand minds and deepen the
most minute aspects of human experience -- without consigning us all to
fanaticism or irrational denial.
Death is stalking us. Thank you, Obama.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
response to the Iran uprisings, the Honduran crisis, the Russian invasion of Georgia, North Korean
saber rattling, and for that matter
the Reverend Jeremiah Wright situation. Mystery computer indeed.
This isn't an ideological post. Never mind that I almost always
disagree with Obama's policies and positions. This time I'm talking
about something more basic: his ability to respond to surprising and
changing circumstances. I think he is seriously deficient in this vital
Great executives, great leaders of the military and of matters of
state, tend to be men who excel at making decisions in the absence of
complete information. They have a gut instinct for judging the odds and
placing their bets when all around them are uncertain, conflicted, or
in disagreement with one another. It's not that they're shallow thinkers per se. It's
that they automatically perceive the dangers of too much deep thinking
when situations are in danger of tipping into chaos or disaster.
They're prepared to be wrong. It's not that they're necessarily rash,
either. Rather, they recognize those times when delay is more perilous
and costly than a calculated risk that goes awry. Because they'll be on
the job to deal with those consequences too.
Consider, for example, that very few great generals are remembered as
intellectual giants, able to comprehend all the complications of all
the variables in play at a given moment in time. I'm sure military
historians know of more, but I can think of only two: Napoleon and
MacArthur. Interestingly, both of them experienced dramatic instances
of what I'm calling "the blinking cursor" phenomenon, when for no
apparent reason they both shut down completely for critical hours at
the height of a military emergency. Napoleon sat down on a log at
Waterloo and did nothing for hours while the tide of battle turned
irretrievably against him, though it's possible he could have saved the
day if he had acted. MacArthur had a similar shutdown for eight hours after Pearl
Harbor, issuing no orders to protect the Clark Field air resources
whose subsequent destruction was probably as damaging as the ships lost at
Pearl. According to eyewitnesses, he was seemingly paralyzed out of
action during this interval. Like Bonaparte, he was betrayed by an all-encompassing intellect that suddenly couldn't wrap itself around the enormity of the variables in motion.
For Napoleon and MacArthur, of course, these were anomalies. For Obama
it has become an all too familiar pattern. When bumptious reality
conflicts with his ordered conception of reality, he becomes suddenly
inarticulate, repetitive, almost stuck.
The blinking cursor effect to a fare thee well. It seems to
happen to him on matters both great and small. An unexpected question
invariably releases the torrent of "uhs" with which we're all so
familiar. Initially, like a lot of you probably, I chalked that up to the
fact that he wasn't quite as good an extemporaneous speaker as he was
an orator-cum-teleprompter. Even his friends noticed.
I hoped it wasn't the case, but I did remember that we had identified
this phenomenon as serious in Shuteye Nation's Y2K AmerianGlossary, half a decade at
least before Obama rose to prominence. The Glossary defined it thus:
know. 2) An
interesting but incorrect alternate definition is contained in the
entry penned by the
Nutz Station Journal columnist known as The
The blinking cursor of
human speech, often a
screen lockup and the imminent need to reboot.
In other words, "uh" is not just a verbal tic; it's an indication of a
state of mind. Which means we don't have to hear it every time to know
that it's present. Like all those "Present" votes in the Illinois
legislature. And the indeterminate official statements that have
clarified absolutely nothing for the American people or the world in
the early stages of the Russian-Georgia Crisis, the Iran Crisis, the
North Korean Crisis, and now the Honduran Crisis.
In computer terms, the blinking cursor is a passive non-response to an
instruction the CPU, for whatever reason, can't comprehend or process.
I'm thinking this is pretty close to an accurate description of what's
happening in Obama's head when events defy his own intentions, plans,
and worldview. The Iranian people got in the way of his plan to
negotiate with Ahmadinejad. The reality did not compute and he was
unable to process it. The Honduran semi-coup does not compute with his
plans to charm the world by negotiating equably with Chavez and the
Castro brothers. Does not compute.
But it better compute. This is a world in which serious and unexpected
events happen all the time. Like an airline pilot who is paid not for
all the routine flights but for the moments of sheer terror that
require instant action, the President of the United States is paid at
least as much for his responses to catastrophe as he is for the policies
he soberly noodles out with his experts.
If Obama can't make decisions when things go differently than he
expects, we're all in a ton of trouble. Republicans and Democrats alike.
The old Boomer Bible Forum folks are checking in, here and in emails,
so I'm responding to their requests for more explanation of the
archaeological dig that turned up "proof" of the punk writer movement.
It's hotly contested to this day, but there are multiple manuscripts
that argue for the existence of the movement that produced The Boomer Bible and much else.
Here's an excerpt from just one:
Punk City Paradox
Punk City, born of Kain, and
all its wings, will fail,
Falling toward Eden, widout a sound, in the mutement
Of allathings what never were, nor will be,
The undecoming of the inpossible, what may not be,
Nor would be, all gulpated by the intrails of the Raven...
- Excerpt from CKT MS No. 616
There are no photographs in the
Cream King Trove. In their place are paintings, unschooled mockeries of
works by the great masters of every age. The three large classrooms
containing the relics of “Early Punk” include the most outrageous of
these, cartoonish parodies of twentieth century masterpieces. There are
stacks of them. Hopper’s Nighthawks at the Diner transmogrified to
Philadelphia’s South Street, where punks with pancaked faces and
black-rimmed eyes hunch over coffee at The Rattery, perusing Cliff
Notes of MacBeth, Pride and Prejudice, and Portnoy’s Complaint.
Picasso’s Three Musicians, renamed The Shuteye Train, rendered in
hallucinogenic reds, blues and greens, with a fourth incongruous figure
wedged into the tableau as if cut and pasted from the painter’s earlier
Sapinaire’s portrait of Verrone,
redone in blacks and blues as a Tarot card of The Boss, which may
represent the first king of Punk City—if we can trust the intuition
which seeks to reassemble its cubist fragments into a real human face.
But it is difficult to trust one’s intuition about punk artifacts, and
the more so with this painting, because it may be the only surviving
image of the punk ‘demortal’ known as St. Nuke.
He is the central enigma of the
Philadelphia punk phenomenon. If it existed, and if he existed, St.
Nuke is the key to unlocking its secrets. He runs through all the
punks’ abundant and wildly contradictory histories of themselves. He is
by turns a god, a mythic king, a dueling Renaissance dilettante, a
maniacal tyrant, a passionate lover, a self-destructive rock star, a
dogmatically puritanical pagan priest, an inspired spiritual and
artistic leader, a satanic villain. The blurred and fragmented visage
which stares at us from his maybe portrait is a visual analogy rather
than a resolution of the ambiguities. St. Nuke’s essence, whatever it
is or was, has been concealed from us by the filters of the punks’
borrowed styles of painting and writing. And so we yearn for just one
photograph, one single cracked and fading Polaroid of a real human
being to put with the name of St. Nuke. For even the matter of his
human-being-ness remains somehow an unsafe assumption.
But why does it matter? To what
end has this distinguished old classroom building at Eberhard College
in rural Pennsylvania been converted to an archaeological museum and
laboratory? Outside, the college’s smooth lawns are perfumed with dew
and bright with the cut-grass green of spring. Inside, the dry remains
of a bizarre urban subculture lie dead in labeled plastic bags awaiting
the revivification of understanding. Students scarcely older than were
the vanished punks at their height scurry like coroner’s clerks among
the lab tables, inspecting microscopic clues as if in search of an
exact cause of death to write on the certificate. But there are no
certificates, not of death or birth. The questions that consume these
students and their professors are much more basic: What is this stuff?
Who made it? Where did they come from? Where did they go? And why, in
all the world, is this assemblage of junk the only evidence that
anything out of the ordinary happened on Philadelphia’s South Street
two decades ago?
No one disputes that there were
punks on South Street. Like New York, Philadelphia had its own
contingent of the rock-and-roll rebels who, according to music
historian Tricia Henry, “broke all the rules and declared war on all
previously existing musical trends and rules of social behavior.” In
the late 1970s, South Street was the logical place for such a community
to congregate. And if casual witnesses are to be believed, congregate
they did. Half a dozen punk nightclubs sprang up along the rat-infested
street whose roots are sunk in Philadelphia’s colonial era, and Yuppies
now gray at the temples recall that black-garbed punks came out at
night to roam the tree-lined stretch of asphalt that merged with the
circus atmosphere of historic Headhouse Square. There were the usual
Sex Pistol lookalikes, minor league versions of Wendy O. Williams, and
endless variations on the costumes and makeup of The Rocky Horror
Picture Show (which in those days reigned at South Street’s TLA theater
in midnight shows all weekend long). Those with strong sensory memories
claim that bass chords rippled underfoot along the brick sidewalks,
shivering the tired mortar of bars, punk clothing shops, and
second-hand musical equipment stores. The only trouble is, the punks of
the Cream King Trove were not musicians but writers, and their
histories claim that they ruled South Street—owned it, guarded it, and
fought wars to keep outsiders out. This does not square with the
recollections of most.
Yet the evidence of the Trove is
physical, substantial, at times incredible, but undeniably present and
provocative. The inventory records list 643 items of (nonmusical)
computer equipment of a configuration claimed by no current
manufacturer; 13,262 computer disks of unique physical design and data
format; 1,159 weapons, including 454 bullwhips and 502 ‘swords’
fashioned mostly from extra-long screwdrivers, many showing trace
amounts of human blood; 3,844 items of clothing, including combat coats
armor-plated with green plastic circuit boards, blood-soaked gloves,
and welded steel helmets evocative of bronze-age designs, as well as
female apparel ranging from the frankly erotic to combat-scarred
Amazonian; 108 paintings; 921 paper manuscript scrolls, most of them
eaten by mold and mildew from the outside in, so that there are many
beginnings but maddeningly few endings; 16 issues of a newspaper called
The Punk City Shriek (sans photographs); five decks of well-worn tarot
cards, each of unique design and nomenclature; 126 broken sheetrock
panels covered with hand-painted script in a punk-pidgin dialect called
The Tung; one Egyptian-style sarcophagus (empty); four plaster murals
adorned with brilliantly colored hieroglyphics; 88 ‘band’ flags or
pennons; and more than 200 isolated artifacts, including such items as
a five pound sledge, a lock of hair, an eyepatch, a small vial of
elaborately cut crystal, and what can only be described as a
full-combat motorcycle featuring a computerized sonic ‘silencer.’
Confronted by such a mass of
unexplained relics, one seeks a focus, a recognizable starting point.
The one the punks nominate again and again in their writings is of
unexpectedly childlike origin, encrusted in layers of riddle and myth.
The Shuteye Train
The painting hangs over Lynn
Wyler’s desk behind a protective slab of glass.
“It’s the only one,” she
explains, “the only image we have on canvas of the Shuteye Train.”
She gazes at it with an almost
devotional raptness, her head tilted slightly upwards as if to receive
a blessing or rebuke. A lovely young woman dressed in a prim wool
jumper, she seems an unlikely candidate for obsession. Yet that is a
word she has become comfortable with.
“Maybe it’s because I remember
hearing it as a child,” she says, breaking her connection with the
painting to smile at her own intensity. “The name is from a nursery
rhyme, you know. My mother used to read it to me. I was all tucked in
and safe, and her voice was so warm and soft.” Lynn’s voice remembers
her mother’s and she recites from memory:
blue where bloom the stars
And the Mother moon looks down
To land of Fay—
Oh, the sights that we shall see there!
Come, my little one, with me there—
Tis a goodly train of cars—
“All aboard for Shut-Eye Town!”
She breaks off, blushing. “I
can’t get it out of my head anymore,” she confesses. “I am obsessed. Until a month ago I
was engaged to be married. But my fiancé got fed up. ‘You care
more about the Shuteye Train than you do me,’ he said. And when I
realized he was right, he saw it in my face and broke off it off. So
here I am, the hostage of four cubist-looking guys who, according to
all official accounts, never existed.”
She pauses, then goes on in a
lowered voice. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this but I do dream about
them. They don’t look like the painting, but I still know it’s them,
four figures in black coats. I see them pass through an intersection,
no cars, no pedestrians, just them headed somewhere at night, and I run
after them as hard as I can. But when I get to the corner and turn it,
She laughs at the suggestion that
she is suffering from a classic anxiety dream. “Of course,” she says.
“The obvious explanation. The problem is, there isn’t anything about
this whole phenomenon that yields to obvious explanations. I think
maybe that’s what this is all trying to tell us. Forget the obvious
explanations. They may work everywhere else, but not here, not on South
“Look,” she says, slipping into
pedagogical persona. “Everybody in this building is a scholar or
technical expert of some kind. We have all been imbued with the
scientific method. We have been taught the discipline of logic and the
perspective of absolute objectivity. And now here we sit, surrounded by
this mountain of stuff—manuscripts, computer equipment, weapons,
clothing, artwork, sacred relics—the archaeological remains of a fully
developed subculture that simply cannot have existed. But does logic
make this painting disappear, does it empty this building? No.
Somewhere in all this stuff there's a fact, a reality, maybe even a
truth of some kind. But everywhere we go to look for it we find filters
in the way, like deliberate screens put there to keep us from seeing
what happened. Because something did happen. There isn’t anybody
working on this project who doesn’t believe that something happened,
whether they admit it or not. And personally, I don’t think we’re going
to make any headway at all until we admit the fact that we all do
believe it happened, in spite of the evidence.”
She holds up a stack of
photocopied manuscripts. “And whatever it is that happened, it starts
here, with the Shuteye Train. It’s one of the few points on which all
the materials agree. The first verse of the Punk Testament says, “At
the beginning there was the Shuteye Train.’ Every other punk account
keeps saying the same thing in different ways.”
She reads from the top of her
Town did Shuteye Train
A nightmare children’s home ensee:
Where Fish the secret symbol reigned
O’er boomers destified for Kain
Deep in a quantum sea.
car that snores along on bloody tracks,
The tired pullman that drones our song on bloody
Gave tongue to all our hammered dreams of morning.
I return to the day a week or so
before when I first arrived on South Street, where I had come in search
of an entity known as the Shuteye Train, rumors of which had circulated
as far north as my home in Boston... The Shuteye Train, it was said,
wrote vicious stories live on stage, then went out and made them come
true. I heard that they were maniacs, that they were murderers, that
they lived in hiding, somewhere between half a step and a step and a
half ahead of the law.
Lynn Wyler stops to clear her
throat and observes, “There’s more, of course. A lot more. And these
are just the fragmentary manuscripts we found in the Trove. When—if—our
computer jocks crack the code on the disks, there are bound to be
thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of pages we know nothing about
How, then, does she go about her
work? Is anything known for sure, and what has she concluded about the
She is more than willing to talk,
to explain, to speculate, but she will not lay claim to knowledge.
“We are given their names. Loco
Dantes is their leader. You’ll find evidence of that in The Boomer
Bible. The other three are Pig Millions, Reedy Weeks, and Joe Kay.
These are obviously symbolic, selected names, but then so are all the
other names in Punk City. Eliot Naughton declares in his preface to The
Boomer Bible that the Philadelphia Police knew of an organization, or
something, called the Shuteye Train. That’s intriguing because the
Naughton preface is otherwise adamant in its dismissal of the value and
reality of the punk writer phenomenon. But Naughton died in 1995 and we
don’t know where he got his information. I should tell you this is a
touchy subject with me.
“Eliot Naughton had a brother,
Thomas, also a professor of literature, at Princeton I think, who
inherited whatever records Eliot left behind. He’s recently
published a book of his own on the subject—An Autopsy of Punk Authors
or some such condescending title—and it’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever
read. The book contains some real information. But it’s fundamentally
untrue in that it purports to know all kinds of things that are no more
than patronizing guesswork. He’s managed to beg, borrow, or steal a
handful of punk pieces—many of them tiny fragments of larger
works—which he presumes to analyze and explain as if he had read the
entire manuscript. His selections are not representative of the scope
and variety of punk writing, and his introductions to individual pieces
are nothing more than preemptive dismissals
"Worse than that, the book is
just plain terrible, a thudding academic bore. It’s as if he
deliberately wrote it to be unreadable. He’s got it so larded with
pompous nonsense and sententious academic prose that it’s impossible
not to think Naughton’s real purpose is to sabotage the publishing
prospects of everyone working on this project. I’d like to jam the
ridiculous crap he made up about Loco Dantes and the Shuteye Train
right down his lying throat. And what really steams me is that he’s
obviously got a mole in here feeding him some of our material, which is
not supposed to be freely available, and artifacts, which are never
supposed to leave here for any reason. Which means he knows it’s not a
simple-minded, easily dismissed phenomenon. But his book treats it as
an accepted reality that’s just not very interesting when a real
scholar takes the time to concoct enough dismissive lies and
misrepresentations about it. I’d love to know who’s pushing his buttons
on this, and I’d love to read some of his files, but if I ever meet him
I’ll probably light into him so hard I won’t get to find out anything.
Oh well, that’s off the subject. I won’t bore you with any more on that
“What it boils down to is,
there’s not much to go on except what we already have here. Nobody I’ve
talked to in the Philly PD will even acknowledge the existence of the
Shuteye Train. So that leaves us with the records in the Trove, except
for Frank Frelinger, of course, the last person to claim an encounter
with them, which was described in the second preface to The Boomer
“I interviewed Frelinger and came
away with the sense that he had a hidden agenda of his own. He was
keenly interested in why I was questioning him, and he seemed to have
learned more than I’d have thought possible about the Trove research
effort. I don’t assign any particular weight to his contention that
he’s had contact with the Shuteye Train, but I don’t necessarily regard
him as a liar either. It could well be that he’s just a journalist who
fell into a story he can’t get away from.
“That’s nothing new,
though. The prose passage I read you was supposedly written by Boz
Baker, the famous ‘new journalist’ of the sixties and seventies. He
died during the period when the punk phenomenon was presumably still
underway, and critics familiar with his work have told me they believe
the Trove fragment attributed to him is his writing. So he may be a
credible witness, but all we have of his account is a few pages, he’s
not available for questioning, obviously, and he never claims in the
material we possess to have seen the Shuteye Train in person.
Apocryphally, Boz Baker became obsessed with Alice Hate, the de facto
queen of Punk City, and lost interest in everyone and everything else.
For my purposes he turns out to be ancillary material. Still, he’s
another ‘real world’ witness to the supposed ‘unreal world’ of Punk
“Which leaves me to look for the
Shuteye Train in other ways. In the Trove, we have only a hanful of
fragments attributed to their authorship. We have numerous references
them in punk history—that is, what purports to be history but more
closely resembles mythology because of its apparent preference for
semiotics over facts. And we have an overall pattern of punk
iconography that seems to originate with the Shuteye Train and
continues to proliferate, most notably on the Internet. That’s the
angle I’m pursuing now.
But what of the story, she is
asked. Isn’t there a real human story to find amidst the tales of an
undying punk writer band called the Shuteye Train?
She laughs, peals of genuine
merriment. “Certainly there’s a story. There are many stories.
Every story line you could imagine is in there. At least, that’s my
bet. But if you’re looking for a single line, an epic Punk City story,
if you will, you have to be tolerant of contradictions and confusion.
You wind up having to back your way out of all the conflicting detail
accounts to the point where everything blurs, to the point of myth
really, and then you get a community coming of age story that goes
some-thing like this—
“In the late 1970s, maybe 1978,
there’s a kind of second-string punk rock community living on South
Street. It’s just an imitation, really, of what’s happening in new York
and London. But these aren’t the punks of the Cream King Trove. The
punks that go on to leave us all this are the losers and hangers-on of
South Street., the ones who can’t even get into one of the rock bands.
The Boomer Bible speaks of ‘the lowest of the low’ and it seems apt
here. The punk writers speak of themselves at this stage as being
‘noth-ing’ in the truest sense of the word.
“But then some kind of crisis
comes to South Street. Symbolically at least, it comes in the form of a
biker gang which takes over the drug territory of which the community
is a geographical part. The bikers run roughshod over the punks. There
are beatings, rapes, murders, a campaign of intimidation and terror.
“Now the police will tell you that this never
happened, that there was never any overt biker presence on South Street
at this time. That’s why I refer to a symbolic event. The important
thing about it is that it represents some kind of ultimate ordeal, a
crucible that wreaks a transformation. That’s where the Shuteye Train
“You see, there is a moment in
there somewhere that we can’t find. We can’t find it but it has to be
there. A moment of inspiration or rebirth that alters the context,
invisibly perhaps but profoundly. The underlying nature of the
circumstances acquires a radically different identity. What had been
nothing but a sordid vignette of drug abuse and aimless youth becomes,
in the blink of an eye, a heroic and even sacred quest for meaning,
redemption, and salvation. Imagine watching a movie about gang-bangers
in an L.A. barrio and then somewhere in the middle of the first act you
realize you’re watching the Iliad instead—a full-blown literal
dramatization with Greeks and Trojans in crested helmets—and you have
no recollection of the transition. That’s the scale of context change
I’m talking about, and it’s the same kind of change. That’s why it’s
also the key to whatever happened on South Street in the late
seventies. In the punk accounts, this change is represented in terms of
dramatic physical conflict.
“The hostility between punks and
bikers erupts suddenly into war. Not a skirmish, but a war. All
accounts use the word. Something has made the South Streeters resist. A
mysterious ‘it’ has intervened and empowered the punks. Even though the
challenge they face is terrifying. Here, let me read to you from the
fragment we call the Gypsy manuscript:
It is an effort, even now, to
recall this time, an eternity of fear and blood and death that made
each night into an abyss. I watched or heard it all unfold outside my
window, deep inside the hell of South Street, where the bikes rolled in
at midnight and out again before dawn. In between my memories are
splintered and painful as shattered bone. The gang had a leader, a man
with a hammer, who withstood every assault like a cliff. He appeared
one night in December when it seemed the punks were at last growing
stronger than the bikers.... It was then that the Duke spoke, in a loud
hoarse voice. “I be ready to settle this thing for good right now. One
on one. The best you got against me.”
There is a low, thrilling power
in Lynn’s voice as she utters the words of “the Duke.” It is obvious
that she can see the scene unfolding in her mind’s eyes. More of her
dreams, one wonders? But she resumes her exposition in a normal
“To me, the important part of
this passage is, ‘memories... splintered and painful as shattered
bone.’ It’s my theory that this is the key to the beginning. It won’t
come together for us because it’s not together for them, either. It’s
like some terrible wound that can’t heal—a wound that may have elevated
them but which has also bequeathed them a permanent legacy of pain.
They come back to this moment of their history again and again and
again because they want to perceive, directly if they can, the origin
of this incredible, ennobling and agonizing gift. But no matter how
many times and ways they tell the story of their beginnings, they can’t
quite get back to the real origin. There is a point at which the
physics of punk reality crumbles into jagged mismatched shards of
quasi-remembrance. And interestingly to me at least, this ‘shattered’
effect is strikingly present at the very climax of the war event, just
where you’d expect a purely mythological structure to enforce some
“You can see the problem most
clearly in the confusion of identities that runs through this episode.
For example, the Gypsy manuscript is the only eyewitness account we’ve
found so far of the pivotal showdown between the punks and the bikers.
The way he tells it, the Duke turns his challenge into a ritual that is
repeated every night: ‘The best you got against me.’ An invitation to
single combat that sounds straight out of the middle ages. When he’s
finally taken up on his challenge, who is it that comes forward to
But as everyone looked one to
another, searching for the source of the voice, four masked men dressed
in black stepped out of the ECCE doorway and crossed the street through
the snow, silent as wraiths.
“The Shuteye Train,” Lynn
explains. “’Four masked men dressed in black’ is absolutely standard
iconography for the Shuteye Train. It just can’t be anyone else. And so
it’s Loco Dantes of the Shuteye Train who engages in combat with the
Duke, and it’s Loco Dantes who ‘stuck an icepick in the monster’s ear,
deep into his murderous brain.’
The Duke dropped to his knees, a
look of astonishment wiping the menace from his face, and then he
pitched forward, blood pouring from his ear onto the white blanket of
“And then, bang!” Lynn continues,
“Just like that, according to Gypsy, the war is finished and the ‘punk
writer’ phenomenon takes over. The coming of age that is the rest of
the punk story has been initiated, and it has acquired the momentum
that will push it forward through the remainder of the history. Thus,
it is the beginning which is most important to all subsequent punk
When you look at this beginning
for the purpose of explaining the primacy of the Shuteye Train, the
Gypsy account of the duel between Loco Dantes and the Duke serves as a
fascinating clue to their symbolic identity. For this is the precise
moment at which the punks cease to be nothing, when they become victors
instead of losers and are enabled to manage their own destinies.
“That’s not how most of the punk
writings we’ve found describe this episode. Despite Gypsy’s account—and
Gypsy is an important figure, we believe, who went on to become a power
in Punk City—it is St. Nuke who is given credit for killing the Duke.
The book of Angels in the Punk Testament says, ‘Whereupon St. Nuke
planted an icepick in his ear, all the way to the handle, which slew
the one called the Duke, before he hit the ground.’ The physical
details are the same, but the identity of the protagonist is changed.
While the Shuteye Train waits mysteriously and implacably down the
street, the king figure plays the vital role.”
Which version takes precedence
with Lynn Wyler? “Neither,” she responds. “Gypsy’s is the eyewitness
account, but this does not mean that his version carries more weight
than the book of Angels, which is, after all, the document purporting
to contain the collective memory of Punk City. One could take the
obvious cheap shot and say that it’s the ‘official’ version, the one
that’s politically correct in a community writing effort being managed
by the hero of the story, but that, to my mind, is an unnecessarily
cynical explanation of the discrepancy. I think there’s a sense in
which they work best together.
“Gypsy never says that the slayer
of the Duke is Loco Dantes. He has used literary language that makes
the Shuteye Train unmistakably present at the scene, just as Angels
uses scriptural language to do the same thing. Both could be saying,
‘It’s as if the Shuteye Train were there in person, ensuring that the
punks would prevail. The outcome is the same in both versions, as is
the clear implication that the decisive factor is this invincible
presence that resides in no single person, including the king.”
Lynn Wyler smiles. “There are
those in Agley Hall who will tell you that questions about the Shuteye
Train pale beside the questions about St. Nuke. I acknowledge that
perspective, but I don’t want to dwell on it. I’ll just point out that
if the punk writer movement occurred, St. Nuke will be confirmed as an
historical personage, a living breathing human being who led his people
to a fairly notable accomplishment. This cannot be said of the Shuteye
Train. There is every chance that they were, in the context of Punk
City, the personification of an article of faith, not a physical but a
metaphysical presence of extraordinary gravity and authority. If that’s
the case, then it will be impossible to understand anything about the
punk writers without understanding how and why they came to
believe so fiercely in the Shuteye Train.”
She smiles again, this time at
the suggestion that she already has her own answers to such questions.
“Provisional answers,” she concedes. “Theirs, I believe, is the power
of untraceable memory, the authority of a reference that seems to
predate any meaning to which it refers. Like me, some one or ones in
Punk City had heard a nursery rhyme in childhood and developed a series
of implied associations—of comfort, meaning, and significantly, of
journeying—which were triggered into mental and emotional reality by
the identity crisis arising from adolescent drug addiction. The result
was a subconscious but exceptionally powerful return to the innocence
and belief of earliest childhood, which—if any of us could manage
it—would indeed seem like a rebirth. The courage to fight back comes
from seeming flight into a fantasy realm where reality itself is
diminished in intensity and immediacy.”
Does this mean that the Shuteye
Train should be understood as a kind of mass delusion, or worse than
that, as a mass hallucination of childish figments of the imagination?
And doesn’t such an explanation reduce the ‘epic’ punk story to a cheap
allegory, like some Hollywood western? The Duke is drugs. The Shuteye
Train is dreams. And when they face each other down at high noon, the
good dreams outdraw the evil drugs?
Lynn seems taken aback for a
moment, then recovers her composure. “That’s not how I think of it,”
she says. “I’m inclined to the idea that the Shuteye Train begins as an
accepted symbol without a deterministic meaning, but as the punks grow
in knowledge and experience, the preexisting symbol is used to embody
the value system that has been developed along the way. In this sense,
it’s a microcosm of the human relationship to the notion of divinity.
The image of God appears first and accrues successive layers of
metaphysical identity which reflect the minds of the believers as they
learn more about themselves and the universe.”
But is the Shuteye Train
nonetheless real? Time, it seems, for a very pointed question: Does
Lynn Wyler believe in God? She blushes at the question, crosses her
arms, glances toward the door. “What I believe,” she says slowly and
distinctly, “is that we are all waiting for the code on the Trove disks
to be broken. And while we wait, we are hoping for a miracle—recovery
of the lost testament of the punks. The Apunkrypha. I will cheerfully
change any or all of my pet theories if The Apunkrypha shows me a new
way to understand it all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back