June 12, 2010 - June 5, 2010
. Our national know-it-all commanded the majority of the
nation's airwaves last night. Mrs. CP and I were reduced to watching
the second episode of "Drop Dead Diva.." (Not bad, all things
considered. She's sweet, though not as sweet as Penny...)
Nielsen had a different view of the proceedings:
Maybe he needs to show us his stigmata. Or stop lecturing us like he's
"all that." He isn't.
unpublished manuscript located by the indefatigable Frank
Frelinger. How much credence can we place in it? Don't know.
However, there's little sign that Frelinger can write sentences as long
as Conrad Gatz used to spin out of his Brooklyn mansion. Nobody since
Victor Hugo has had that particular, er, bent. Most interesting,
perhaps, is the brevity of the message that persuaded the great spewer
of books to hold his tongue on this particular story.
It is a rare occasion when we little people are privileged to be witnesses to justice. Most of the time, we are forced to endure the antics of celebrities with the frustrating certainty that however low or disgusting their behavior, they will pay no real penalty.
The rock superstar smuggles heroin to Canada and winds up doing free concerts for penance. The all-pro football player rapes a teenage fan and receives a suspended sentence in exchange for some term of community service. In a fit of drunken rage, the big-time writer breaks the arm of a photographer and, in return, gets his wrist slapped with a fine and a year’s probation.
Normally, we read of such outrages and wait in vain for some sign that that the official mercy reserved for the rich and famous is ever tempered with true justice. But the other night, in our very own town, the tables got turned on one of the most legendary celebrity boors.
It seems that Mr. Conrad Gatz, familiar to most of us as the self-anointed “Heavyweight Champion of American Writers,” carried his reputation for pomposity and drunken brawling into the wrong bar. It was a Tuesday night in Punk City, and Mr. Gatz (as he later told the desk sergeant) had decided to drop in at the Razor Cafe, which enjoys a strictly local notoriety at the headquarters of Philly’s “punk writers.”
Having been told about this bit of local color, Mr. Gatz reported that he was anxious to see for himself what it might consist of. He observed several performances, “sitting quietly in a corner with a drink,” and then was “assaulted by a female punk,” whose name we cannot fully reveal in these pages for reasons of decorum. P___ Pink (as we shall call her) allegedly slugged it out toe to toe with the self-ordained 'champ and successor to the title of Ernest Hemingway.' Mr. Gatz, who has been known to boast that he “never hits women because they take their revenge in the dark,” apparently hit the canvas like a ton of bricks and stayed down for the ten count.
When he staggered into the nearest precinct at one a.m. that morning, he was bleeding from a badly broken nose, whimpering about two loosened teeth, and had to sign the complaint against Ms. Pink with his left hand.
Of course, we can only imagine what really happened. But surely it is not too far-fetched to suppose that Mr. Gatz proclaimed his identity to the assembled crowd at the Razor Cafe and then proceeded to deliver his review of their work. And then—just maybe—Ms. Pink, who is probably unaware of the infinite right of the famous to be obnoxious, decided that Mr. Gatz was not up to the standards of behavior expected of guests in Punk City and took it upon herself to perform a public service by ejecting him.
When the high and mighty receive their
comeuppance from the low and downtrodden, it appears to me that we can
be excused for cheering just a little. So, with hopes that the court
will be as lenient with Ms. Pink as it has with Mr. Gatz on multiple
occasions past, I salute her for a job well done.
The September 16, 1980, edition of the Philadelphia Bulletin carried the above column by Tom Eckinger, who affects the sobriquet Man About Town.
Thus prepared to loathe and detest his quarry, Gatz was infuriated to discover that Theodore R. Mercado was affable (“call me Tod”), hospitable, and unsuspecting of the injury a jealous reporter could do him.
“So glad you could come,”
he said, greeting me with the mighty handshake of the self-made man. “What do you think?”
“It’s beyond belief,” Gatz finally sputtered, unequal to the task of framing some glib insider remark.
“Beats a sixth floor walkup,” Mercado agreed. “Let me get you a drink and introduce you to some people.
The tycoon laughed. “Gatz, you’re okay,” he announced. “Come on. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
He led me through a sequined forest of gowns, which opened before him like a zipper, so symmetrically that when the object of our search came into view, it was like the staged revelation of a vision.
“Alice Hate is a writer, Conrad,” Mercado said, his executive eyes revealing nothing now. “She’s part of a community in South Philly that uses some of my systems to write fiction.”
There followed an interminable few seconds of groping and rummaging in the back closets of Gatz’s treasury of small talk, a vain search for something unpatronizing or inoffensive to say, but the silence stretched on to its limit and broke.
“We have nothing in common,” said Alice Hate and turned completely away from me.
Mercado steered me back across the lawn, assuring me that no damage had been done. “She’s a punk writer,” he explained. “Part of a movement that’s determined to destroy the philosophical and literary foundations of the whole twentieth century. Since you’re obviously part of the literary establishment, you’re the enemy.”
With a quick coded gesture, he awakened the helicopter pilot to action. The great bent blades of the monstrous blue hummingbird snorted into motion and spun rapidly into a hurricane idle that felt capable of removing the few hairs remaining on my head. Mercado leapt into the tiny cockpit to take charge of the controls, displacing his pilot, and waved me in beside him. We were going somewhere by helicopter, just like that. Not for the first time, Gatz found himself overawed by the most extraordinary power money provides, one that is so little remarked upon and yet so intrinsic to the state of being rich that he invariably forgot it until forcibly confronted. And now, once again, he was confronted—by the incredible liberating power of money to change one’s perspective on the physical world.
Most of us live in a confined two-dimensional universe (two and a half maybe if we work in a Manhattan highrise) whose boundaries are so rarely exceeded that they become a condition of life rather than a mere aspect of life, and hence serve to define us. Mercado had alluded earlier to a sixth floor walkup, and Gatz had experience of his reference. The small rooms, the constantly repeated, unvarying lines of vision transform such a world into a blank wall, the exact degree of blankness determined by the length of time we have been compelled to perceive it without change. In time under such circumstances, we lose our perspective altogether. The small and mean becomes large and boundless in its importance. The same bird in the same dowdy little cage, for years, is empowered to become a symbol of our own helplessness, our own confinement, the deterioration of our native imagination and freedom.
The rich man is not so encumbered, except by deliberate premeditated choice. At a moment’s notice he can board the Concorde and flee to Paris, away from the resonating,.captivating symbols of his desk, his toadies, his toys. He can contemplate urban blight in the paradise of Jamaica. He can surmount the sixth floor walkup view of Soviet Russia with guided tours of the Kremlin and overflights of Siberia. He can dispense with an imprisoning home by having it torn down and rebuilt to face a different direction, at a different elevation, in whatever shapes and textures suit him at the moment. He can plunge through the apparently impenetrable surface of reality with a microscope, or extend his vision to the edges of the universe with a telescope that costs more than the median family income. For the hundredth time, Gatz reminded himself that this is the only real incentive for acquiring uncountable wealth, and wondered why so many tycoons of his acquaintance seemed nevertheless to exhibit all the symptoms of imprisonment in a ken whose boundaries encompassed nothing but money and power. But Mercado did not appear to be of this ilk, and Gatz found himself peering out the fishbowl window of his host’s helicopter with the emotions of a child who believes he has learned to appreciate the grownup privilege being accorded him.
We were thrashing our way noisily across the City of Philadelphia, toward a rendezvous that Mercado had shouted indecipherably at me through the racket of the blades. Our course was south southeast, flanked on the right by a spectacular chemical sunset that smeared the sky with mother of pearl clouds so intense they seemed to be vibrating. Below us lay the vast dish of the Delaware Valley and the lights and geometry of mankind’s civilizing efforts.
The descent—shrinking into the microscope slide... but not quite. Trip to the eyepiece instead? Landing on top of Society Hill Tower. Penthouse apartment. Ultimate bachelor pad or voyeur paradise? Maybe not. More like CIA.
Banks of monitors. Black and white live video of South Street-Headhouse area. How does he do this? Not saying.
Courtyard scene. Something called the Debate? Brute at a lectern, waving a hammer. Shades of Hitler? Formal combat? Is this the middle ages? What the hell. Someone goes down, doesn’t get up. Hauled away with a least a little ceremony.
Mercado grins, keeps grinning. Like he’s got a train set run by trained mice. Liking him less.
Interiors too. A big computer room. No hint of corporate in its looks. Thugs in costumes at the controls, typing, typing, typing? Punks. Punk writers.
Bars. Apartments. Doorways. Barracks? Underground chambers filled with motorcycles.
Can’t find the right metaphor for this. Sinister, scary. That brute at the lectern. Mercado watching from his penthouse, as if the ‘jousts’ are arranged for his benefit.
Activity in the motorcycle chamber. What is that? A gang? More like cavalry. Light hussars with motorized steeds. Discipline. Obedience.
All these grainy fuzzy pictures—not enough resolution in the microscope. How much time does Mercado spend watching?
Most of his free time, he says.
More screens. Mercado, not surprisingly, inside their computer, eavesdropping on their files, their writing.
The brute is writing his autobiography. Can I see it? Later maybe.
Got to see this thing closer. Like trying to feel a riot by seeing it on a TV across the alley. And Mercado isn't talking. What is he doing? Gloating maybe. He’s patronizing me. This is his fiction, his novel, played out with flesh and blood characters.
Who’s more the monster here? The brute with the hammer or Mercado? Or me?
He’ll take me there, won’t come along himself. God doesn’t walk among the peons. He’ll send a limo later—then we can talk.
I ask if there’s danger. He smiles. What do I think? He suggests a place called the Razor Cafe.
Like an infiltrator, I enter “Punk City.’ Do they know I’m coming? No one stops me. The streets small, tree-lined, everything seems only three-quarter scale, except the punks. The doorways and windows are breathing coffee fumes.
No cars in motion. The streetlights are dimmed down, some rheostat somewhere? A black shape whirs right by me before I feel it rather than see it. One of those motorcycles—silent as the video picture. God. Eerie.
Razor Cafe. Three-quarter scale ex-movie theater. Now a nightclub full of punks and coffee urns. Armed guards.
Now I get the onceover. Weird. An experience without a correlative. Don’t know what to think, hard to place myself in solid reality. Like a dream you wake up in, but everything solid, sharp, smells and tastes but the transitions are still dreamlike. Got to have a drink. Been on the wagon for months, but something has to jump start my head. I’m stalled out.
Drinks. They have them. I drink them.
What does Mercado think he’s doing? Playing with me like he plays with these punks? I’ll show the fucker...
God. Here’s the brute. A blue face. Eyes like... shit, I’m stalled... but not the eyes of some punk teenager.
Did he quote Swinburne at me? Did he? Fuck. And now Shakespeare? Showing off? Don’t think so. He’s so in control. In control. Who does Mercado think he’s fucking with here? This blue brute is nobody to fuck with.
Gatz is nobody to fuck with. Somebody gots to blow the lid on this scam. It’s fucking dangerous.
The Piss Pink debacle. Shit what an
asshole, Gatz. Can’t even see a book in this. Or I’m not the one to
write it. Maybe the Mercado part. I asked him if any of this punk thing
frightened him. He said, only one thing. I asked what. He said, The
The Shuteye Train?
Home again. Damn computer won't work. All
it does is flash. That damned name. The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
And a warning.
The Shuteye Train, The Shuteye Train, you’ll try and die in the Shuteye Train.
Shit, Gatz, what did you get yourself into now?
Patience. It's not just a virtue. It's a force of nature. I almost blew 200 bucks at the pinball bar, taking a few friends out the night before I left town. At the last minute, I decided to have a nice, cheap night in instead. Not that money's ever been a issue with me-- I've been called "hypersolvent"-- but I've learned in other areas of my life not to take luck for granted. Call this spontaneous sensibility.
And with what should Sascatoon [sic]-- of all places-- welcome me with [sic]? A working Attack From Mars machine. Brain-breakingly inconceivable to find such a treasure in JV America. I keep forgetting Portland doesn't have all the cool stuff in the world (If you lived there, you'd understand how forgivable this assumption is).
What more proof could one need that patience is a firehose against the universe's obstruction? The Marxists were inhumanly patient. Their patience was as alien to the other philosophies as that of the first farmers must have been to the hunter-gatherers. But it only took them about 100 years to poison Europe, and less than 150 for the infection to reach America. They tilled and retilled the fields meticulously [sic? Even we aren't sure], and now we're all choking in the weeds of their harvest.
First blood to them. But I think it's a safe bet our side knows more about farming. No way they'll beat us at our own game, if we'll only play our game. We've got to plant seeds of our own. We've got to weather the nasty winter of Obama's presidency. So we can reap a better harvest than theirs. Despite what the audio file might lead you to believe, it's not too late.
And whatever you do, do not follow my example as I fisk this AFP article to tears.
WASHINGTON — Six months into his historic presidency, Americans are beginning to show the first real signs of doubt that President Barack Obama can deliver on his promise of change.
Patience, remember. Not everyone is as smart as you. Take a deep breath. Count to ten.
A new poll out Monday suggested that amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, rising unemployment, and a ballooning deficit, the honeymoon could be waning for Obama.
"But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"
And 46 percent told the pollsters that they did not back Obama's proposals, with for the first time the numbers of people who strongly disapprove surpassing those who strongly approve.
See? America's not completely ignorant after all.
He was met by a wave of skepticism notably among his Republican critics who have accused him of aggravating the deficit with his 787-billion dollar stimulus, burdening generations to come with a huge debt.
Uh, can you "accuse" someone of a fact? He HAS aggravated the deficit. Aggravated the crap out of it, spending on a theatrical and deeply cynical gesture more than it took us to spend in two years on Iraq.
"Just the other day, one Republican senator said -- and I'm quoting him now -- 'If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.'"
Obama said Monday, "Think about that. This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses, and breaking America's economy."
You're kind of right, Mr. President. As right as you and yours can get. It's not about politics. It's about philosophy. "Cradle-to-grave coverage" is an apt term. Under the Democrat's vision, there's nothing in-between. 80 years of cradle, then a quick, cost-effective grave.
[ED.: And just when he's starting to get interesting, the pages devolve into a rambling essay detailing one of his (well, two, technically) sordid sexual encounters. I truly believe he expected us to publish it. Which is why we love Brizoni. He makes us laugh. If nothing else.]
. Conservatives are presently in danger of adopting the
schizophrenic view of Obama that lefties had of George W. Bush. In one
breath they would denounce his stupidity and in the next decry his
fascist cunning. Frequently one could hear both these mutually
exclusive characterizations issuing from the same mouth. That's
probably why Cheney ultimately became the favorite villain of the left;
he was the way to reconcile the irreconcilable. Cheney manipulated the
idiot Bush and led the neocon conspiracy behind the scenes.
Now it's easy to hear the same kind of paradoxical descriptions of Obama. He's naive, inept, inexperienced, and fumbling. Also, he's a brilliant political mind who's working a strategy far beyond what anyone else can even comprehend, which is why he's so negligent about facts and details that would obsess lesser men. Which is it? It really can't be both.
The split in views of Obama is coming to something of a head this week. Even Democrats are sensing something of a mystery:
Some conservatives have been modestly gleeful about these signs of
disarray in congress and the multiplying cracks in the president's image
of infallibility. At Hotair.com,
which features a daily "Obamateurism"
item illustrating Obama's manifold goofs, the healthcare bill is slowly
removing the seven veils hiding the president's incompetence:
Yet according to Rich
Lowry of National Review, the president's seeming
ignorance and detachment from the congressional process is proof of an
exactly opposite appraisal of Obama:
Lowry is not alone in this. Throughout the halls of right-side punditry
one can hear whispers of an emerging theory of Obama Fascism that is
being systematically put in place with the ruthless dexterity of
Machiavelli himself. This, for example, is the view being propounded by
Glenn Beck every day on the radio, so it's by no means simply an
elitist Republican notion.
But this isn't just another right-wing food fight. (Sorry. But we can't be solemn every minute of the day...) It's critically important which of these perspectives is correct, and it absolutely won't do to cite whichever one fits better with the headline of the day. We -- all of us -- really do need to understand what this guy is up to and whether he's as smart as he thinks he is or not. Why?
If the "subversive genius" theory is incorrect, we run the risk of outsmarting ourselves in the ways we choose to oppose him. For example, a lot of Republicans in congress seem openly intimidated by the president's constant tone and pose of implacable superiority. If they understood that he's a highly fallible human being, they might fight a lot harder in all the battles to come.
If the "inept amateur" theory is wrong, we run the risk of seriously underestimating the threat to our country and the constitution. While we content ourselves with lampooning his string of protocol missteps and endless apologies to America's enemies, he could be executing a plan that will be unstoppable before we detect its outlines. If he's that clever, everything we're doing now has been anticipated and is playing directly into his hands.
Another conservative, Byron York, thinks he sees a significant and growing vulnerability in the Obama plan for constitutional conquest:
York and Lowry are two of the leading lights of the conservative
braintrust. They need to get this sorted out. Their differences
intersect way out in the future, sometime around 2012, but those
differences are mightily significant.
If Lowry is right, Obama doesn't care about the huge political hit he is about to take if he actually succeeds in his quest for a healthcare bill. His "restructuring" of the nation is more important than the plunge in the polls he will experience when another bill read in full by no member of congress locks every American into a government monopoly of the largest sector of the economy. Why wouldn't he care? Because he's the equivalent of a mole-suicide-bomber who would rather complete his destruction of the American economy and constitution than be reelected? Because he fully intends such an utter breakdown of the American and dependent global capitalist system that he will be able to declare martial law a la Hitler and become the Hugo Chavez of the world's most powerful nation? Or because he has such infinite faith in the structural changes he's making in the electorate via billions of dollars of ACORN funding that he can rig any future election, no matter how badly the polls go against him? If any of these scenarios are accurate, we need to know.
If York is right, the President of the United States is actually out of his right mind. He is so obsessed with his own sense of himself that he is unable to see how rapidly his support is evaporating, how feckless he has been in pursuing a foreign policy that is "anything but Bush" and a domestic policy that is "anything but Clinton." In the first case, he kowtows to everyone in the vain belief that he will gain influence by not being the hated American cowboy, and in the second by abdicating every particular to congress in the vain belief that they will sustain his reckless and contemptuous schedule because the legislative nightmare they pass will be their own.
So. Is he Chavez? Or is he merely a smoother Jimmy Carter?
For what it's worth, here's my own opinion. I come down pretty firmly on the side of ineptitude. Yes, he has marxist dreams which linger unchallenged from his youth and extremely flawed education. (Any Fortune 500 hiring boss gets to look at a college transcript of courses taken; we don't get to see this for the president of the f___ing United States. My bet is, he's never taken a course in micro- or macro-economics and probably nothing in the way of history. His many gaffes on basic historical topics confirm this to me beyond doubt.) He may have utopian dreams about redistribution of wealth. But he has no sense of actual consequences. His whole life has been a proof that there are no consequences. They can always be mitigated or overcome by sallying up to that microphone and knocking'em dead with sonorous platitudes.
And, yes, he's a skillful enough politician to know that if he doesn't pass the biggest ticket items on his agenda soon, the polls will sag and the Democrats in congress will start fighting for their own lives. But he's also enough of a narcissist to find it impossible to believe that even a devastated economy and a frightened public won't rally to him when he starts to campaign against the dimwit Republicans who will run against him in 2012. Which is to say that he's delusional. That's why he's so incredibly fearless about lying on so many public stages, blithely assuring us that what he said a year ago isn't at all different from the exact opposite statements he's making today.
Most critically, most importantly, most indispensably for everyone to realize, his real Achilles heel is that he's lazy. Lazy in the way that people who have never really worked for a living invariably are. All his life, he has shown up and things have happened around him, for him, under him, invisibly to him, making up in innumerable subtle ways for all the onerous tasks he was always too self-important and self-absorbed and, yes, too unutterably lazy to do for himself. Other people have always taken care of the details, while he shows up to take the credit in a well modulated voice. That's why he can't be bothered to write (autobiographer and Harvard Law Review editor he) the bill that will fundamentally alter the American economy forever and why he can't even be bothered to read it. Someone else is supposed to handle it all while he coos from his telepromptered podium and jets off to another glamorous photo op with his newly haute couture wife. Getting his hands dirty isn't his job.
HE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND THAT THIS ISN'T HOW LIFE IS.
He's not a Grand Architect. He's an ideologue to be sure, but not one who has ever had to push past the platitudes to the heavy lifting.
We have elected as the President of the United States a speechwriter. One imbued with grand ideas and a grand sense of the unassailable morality of his grievances, his biases, his own sense of entitlement, his own imperviousness to the criticism of lesser mortals. But he doesn't know a damned thing about hard work. Which means he doesn't understand the immediacy of the personal responsibility when your own so-called leadership causes the shit to not only hit the fan but obliterate it entirely.
He may have in mind something like what Lowry is frightened of. But he is no Napoleon and no Hitler. (Both of them were soldiers, survivors, veterans of the kind of real physical danger that makes consequences vividly immediate.) He is a precocious pampered boy with the accidentally imposing voice of a grownup man (think of a slicker Ted Baxter). He's not a thinker, not a scholar, not a doer, and not a leader. He's afiirmative action on an ultimate, tragic scale. He may be an incredibly dangerous and careless vandal. But Machiavelli he ain't. We CAN defeat him by opposing him tooth and claw. One thing he's never encountered in his whole coddled life.
My opinion. Now you decide. What you decide is important. And you can't have it both ways.
UPDATE: Thanks to Ed Morrissey at Hotair.com for the link. It's also time for me to admit they've done a better job than any other blog site of tracking the absurdities of the healthcare bill and debate. I have my differences with Allah and Ed, but they're both fair-minded men. Now, if I could only tempt Allah into a formal debate on the subject of atheism, I'd be a happy camper. (Relatively speaking, while the world is crumbling around us...)
Reality check, folks. We had a 'call
to arms' post and a 'what
to do' post.
No response (Apoth excepted). Fine. Here's what I suggest for all the
fatalists in our audience.
Get ready to die in the Obama Eugenics Initiative (a.k.a. Healthcare Reform). It's not so hard. Death comes to everybody, after all, with no exemptions. The best way to handle the oncoming end of life is to behave in a properly artistic and even cinematic way. Defeat and personal annihilation can be a kind of triumph if you approach it with the right esthetic. The best way is to become French. We suggest becoming Jean Seberg (yes, even you putative males). She loved death in such an incredibly cool way:
The sad fact is, though, that not all of us can be French. Some of us
have to find other inspirations. That's why Hollywood was so kind as to
make the PSA movie called "On the Beach.." It will show you
innumerable ways not to survive the Obama presidency while doing
absolutely nothing worthwhile. Cool.
Just remember the words of the poet:
You'll be fine. Death doesn't hurt. It's just the blissful end of
feeling so f___ing sorry for yourself.
. We've mentioned Boz
Baker before. He was the 'new journalist' who dared to
infiltrate Punk City in 1980. He's reputedly the author of Zack.
It's far more likely that he's the author of this:
RRRRRRRRRRooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!! Omigod, I’m thinking, feeling this Harley noise under my all too soft and thoroughly unprepared butt, I’m going to die, right here on South Street, before I get word one of this Great American Cultural Movement on paper. Screeeeeech!!!! Oh Jesus! Did I say Cultural Movement? Did I even think it? No, this is nothing less than cultural war, and that’s kultural with a K, the way almost everything’s spelled with a K by the punk bands of Philadelphia. K for kayo and K for kill and, now that I mention it, K for kamikaze, like this feeling I’m having right now on the back of a deathbound chopper that’s being piloted by an honest to God madman who calls himself Johnny Dodge. And then we’re perpendicular to the ground and the Harley wheel is pawing the air — I’m staring straight ahead at a baby blue heaven that has preempted my horizon and all thoughts of such minutiae as the connotative difference between cultural with a c and kultural with a k — and Johnny is wailing like a banshee above me, a frozen mountain climber dangling from a chrome precipice of handlebars, my hands clawing and digging into his almost nonexistent gut, and I have this sudden instantaneous revelation, lasting no more than the split second of motionlessness at the apogee of our wheelie, of what this punk thing is all about and why I haven’t been able to get the hang of it till now.
But maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Folding the motorcycle back into the vivid niche it occupies in my braincase, 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. Not that I believed all — or more accurately, what little — I had heard. Rumors have a way of becoming stretched and diffused the farther they get from their source, and who in his right mind would believe that the first big assault on the literary establishment in Lord only knows how long would be launched by a handful of semi-literate, semi-human semi-conductor fiends who dressed like punk rockers and behaved like Hell’s Angels. I, for one, didn’t, but I was interested in the environment that could give rise to such a story and perhaps a little hopeful that there was at least a kernel of truth in all the talk, particularly with regard to the Shuteye Train, a name which had figured prominently in the trickle of lies and whispers that came my way.
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. So one dull Friday, I put on my old leather jacket, flew down to Philadelphia, and took a cab from the airport to South Street.
I emerge on the corner of Sixth and South at six minutes past six. It’s raining, it’s late in August, the street smells of boiled macadam — so empty of cars and people that it seems less a thoroughfare than a greasy gray mirror of urban decline. Squatting along its edges, the buildings of South Street are arrangements of tired old brick, restrained only by habit from dissolving into their own reflections.
The lurid signs of the bars and eateries — across the street “The Slaughtered Pig” spills its intestines in hot pink bas relief — don’t relieve the decrepitude but accentuate it, like orange hair on a crone.
Fatigue steals over me. I’m getting bald and fat and the leather jacket of my youth has become a dank corset around my paunch. Why did I undertake this wild goose chase? So what if there are punk writers in Philadelphia? How can it possibly matter?
Two teenage girls strut by me, chewing gum, giving me the onceover. SNAP! SNAP! SNAP! Their jaws close on juicyfruit with the sound of gunfire, and it seems impossible that any renaissance of literature could come from the young people of Ameria. Cheap perfume, and they’re wearing jeans so tight there’s not the slightest chance they could ever sit down at a keyboard to begin the reshaping of our perceptions and philosophies.
But over my head there’s a denture-gray theater marquee that spells “Razor Cafe” in mostly unbroken letters, and lured by the promise of “LIVEGRIND: ALICE HATE & THE FETAL CIRCUS,” I give five dollars to the glowering shrike in whiteface behind the ticket window.
“You’re early,” he berates me. “Show starts at eight.”
What the hell would I do till then? “Can’t I go in now?”
“Now is the only time that matters,” he replies, showing me the yellow stumps of his teeth. “Go on in.”
I pass through swinging doors that still wear a bleached advertisement for Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels.”
The lobby is deserted but for two caped figures wearing fiberglass helmets designed in the Bronze Age. The nosepieces are long and scarred, the eyes separate bubbles of dark plastic. I can feel rather than see them scanning my flabby midriff for weapons.
They mumble at one another. I hear a rustle of cape, the hiss of hidden steel.
I hold out my ticket and am waved through by a gauntleted hand. Is it just my imagination or was that glove armored with shards of green circuit board? I don’t dare look back.
More swinging doors. Beginning to wonder what I’ve let myself in for, I take a deep breath and make my entrance into the social headquarters of Punk City, the only place I’ve ever been where the reality surpassed the rumors.
The Razor Cafe had once been a movie theater, and the floor sloped dramatically downward from doors to proscenium. The rows of seats had been replaced by tables — punk dinner theater, if you will — but it was the table legs not the floor which had been altered to accommodate the change. Meticulously cut to keep the surface level, the legs were firmly secured to the floorboards by brackets and screws. By contrast, the uncut legs of the chairs leaned intently toward the stage. Even more unsettling, many of the chairs were occupied by dogs.
Big dogs, little dogs, not a purebred among them, but it seemed that a majority of them turned and examined me when I arrived. I had a quick sense of intelligent scrutiny, and then they turned away. I wasn’t as interesting as what was happening on stage.
There, two punks dressed all in black were connecting computer CRTs, processor boxes, and keyboards with reels of cable. The dogs found it more fascinating than I did, but here I thought was an opportunity to start my research.
I made my way down the aisle, which had been preserved even to the flowered carpet, and tried to ignore the low growls of disapproval in the audience.
The bigger of the two roadies (as I thought of them) was turned roughly in my direction and it was to him I spoke.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can you tell me if one of the bands that’s performing tonight will be the Shuteye Train?”
Both punks stopped what they were doing and faced me.
“Whatsit?” the big one asked with an edge in his voice.
“The Shuteye Train,” I repeated.
Silence. They looked at each other then back at me.
“I’d like to meet them. Interview them.”
There must have been a signal. But I never saw it. The next thing I knew, about twelve snarling dogs had their teeth sunk into various parts of my clothing, and something large, heavy and hard came down on top of my skull.
The lights flashed once inside my brain and went out.
Now the lights are too bright. My head aches. My arms are tied. So this is what it’s like to be shanghaied.
“How would you like your throat cut, boomer?”
Suddenly I’m puzzling mightily over a question that has acquired in the space of a watch tick a transcendent importance in my perspective on life.
Knock of knees, Saharification of mouth, a freezing whiteness of vision. How did I come to be no more than a tissue of too too vincible flesh wrapped around a hundred mile an hour heart?
“I asked you a question. I’m waiting for the answer.”
My inquisitor is young and blond and presumably human inside the jet black brahma skin that hides his vitals, although the finger he holds against my neck is made of blue-white steel, the same exact color I notice — for I am in a noticing mood — of the unwarm irises of his eyes.
“I’m Boz Baker, the writer.”
Who said that? Certainly not I, I of the hammering heart and cold, choking throat. An offensive remark, a preposterous remark to make to such an animal. WHO SAID THAT GODDAMMIT? THIS IS NOT TIME FOR COMEDY. BOZ BAKER’S LIFE IS ON THE LINE HERE!
Is that a smile? Please, God, let that be a friendly smile, not just some pre-homicidal twitch of oscular nerves. I’ll do anything. I’ll donate all my royalties to charity. I’ll save the whales in person. I’ll —
“We’re writers too.”
Is that so? How wonderful, how absolutely fantastic, how very pleased I am to meet them, fellow practitioners of the world’s loneliest and noblest profession...
A tidal wave of ingratiating drivel I am powerless to withhold drenches the room. We are all of us drowning in my terrified effusions of bonhomie, and I have a brief bright vision of tomorrow’s headline — YOUNGSTERS FAWNED TO DEATH BY YELLOW WRITER — while the knife gloriously folds itself up and slides away into its lair. Deprived of its immediate source of inspiration, my mouth mercifully ceases its yammering and gulps, fishlike, at the glass of water proffered by my erstwhile executioner.
With my head clears of both pain and fear, I realize that the chair I’m tied to is close to the same location in the theater where the lights went out on me. Oddly, the dogs have been banished from the room, replaced by an increasing number of ‘roadies’ who are performing intricate operations on stagelights, computer cables, and banks of CRTs. A punk stoops behind my chair to untie the ropes, and introductions are being exchanged among the five of us now seated at the table.
“My name is Johnny Dodge,” says the blond terrorist who has scared five years off the lifespan of my heart. “And these are the other members of the 440s, my band... Header McCoy... and the Pack brothers... Sixpack and Fastpack.”
With my hands free, I shake theirs enthusiastically, smile idiotically.
“I apologize,” says Johnny Dodge, “for any discomfort we have caused you.” Although his accent is American and somehow rural, he speaks English like a foreigner, as though he had learned every word he used in a textbook. “It is exceedingly perilous for visitors in Punk City to ask questions about and demand interviews with the Shuteye Train. If I were you, I would refrain from doing so again. There are many of us who believe it’s safer to attack at once than wait for an ambush.”
Yes, yes, yes, yes, absolutely. More drivel from Boz, more relaxing body language from the 440s, who seem sympathetic to the whim which has brought me to South Street in search of a story to write. I feel as if uncontroversial pleasantries are called for, but I have no idea what they might consist of.
Johnny Dodge comes to the rescue. Without a knife in his hand, he is engaging, even charming. His hair is the color of irradiated wheat, but with the exception of this and his outlandish attire, he seems less punk than hick, as if he had wandered from some remote farmland into an alien lifestyle that had captured him by its sheer differentness.
“I’m from Jersey,” he says by way of explaining his pacific disposition. “I’d sooner talk than fight, unless I don’t like someone’s manner enough to exchange words with them. Violence can be final and fatal. To me it’s the last option, not the first.
The other 440s agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. It transpires that the entire band is from New Jersey, although not all from the same locale. Johnny is from a small town in the barrens called Pineville. The Pack brothers are from Camden — no word on whether they were christened ‘Six’ and ‘Fast’ by their mother — and header McCoy is from Cape May. When I confide that I once had an aunt who summered there, he rubs his mohawk speculatively and decides that any aunt of mine would probably have been too classy to have known his folks.
But what about all this, I find myself wondering. No expert on punk, I had nevertheless felt fairly sure about classifying it as an urban phenomenon, an unnatural outgrowth of the tight, mean world of the city. I had spent a month or two in Philadelphia, some years ago, and it was that experience which had given me a context in which to view punk writing a (possibly) credible cultural occurrence. I remembered the brick and black wastes of West Philadelphia, where middle-class educational aspirations collided with the asphalt taste of ghetto anger and deprivation: there had been a pinball parlor next door to the theater that showed foreign films, and it was an absurdist reality that as sidewalk critics made their points about Bergman and Wertmuller after the late show, their mental gymnastics were mocked and mimicked by the DING-A-LING-A-LING-A-LING-A-LING of pinballs scoring pointless points for the truly lost, who lacked the means to measure the enormity of their despair. This was the image that had come to me when I first heard of St. Nuke and the other razor-toting leatherboys who called themselves punk writers. Punks, I had thought, might be the voices of these voiceless undefended masses, and in their prose we might come to feel the texture of concrete walls, the rage of a city’s imprisoned soul.
Now, talking with Johnny Dodge & the 440s, I knew that I was wrong, and at one and the same time I felt guilt for having formed such preconceptions and resentment at Johnny for having trampled my vanity by invalidating them.
“We must be going,” said Johnny, standing up without ceremony. “Got to set up for the show.”
“Great to meet you,” I told him, hoping I’d said nothing to offend.
Johnny extended his hand, and I shook it gratefully.
“If you’re going to be here for a few days, maybe we’ll meet again,” he told me.
“That’s be great. Great!”
As he walked away toward the stage, Header McCoy lingered, appearing slightly uncertain in the absence of his leader, but at last he sat down again and leaned toward me to speak in a whisper.
“Be careful, Mr. Baker,” he said. “Johnny Dodge is the best and the kindest of us. But don’t be fooled. If anyone but him had walked in while you were laid out on the floor, you might be dead by now. Punk City does not take kindly to reporters and other people who ask questions. You are Johnny’s guest now, which is the best possible luck for you. Everyone will treat you politely for that reason, but you must be still be careful not to make enemies through careless words or actions. You may order alcohol at the bar, but do not offer it to anyone who is not already drinking. Members of bands do not drink, and it is a terrible insult to imply that they might. And do not mention the Shuteye Train again, to anyone, because it is not just impolite but highly dangerous to do so. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I told him while my mind was telling me no, no, no. It was becoming clear that I understood nothing. Nothing but the clear and irrefutable fact that — despite any and all risks — Boz Baker was going to need some drinks to get through the remainder of this evening.
It is hours later, and despite Header’s prim warning, the booze is flowing through the Razor Cafe like water. The filthy floor is awash with spilled beer, wine, and liquor. The tables are all filled, a Hallowe'en checkerboard of punks and daring ‘straights’ who have come to drink in the spectacle. I have acquired a new tablemate, Jonathan Pus, who as editor of the Punk City Shriek and self-styled critic of punk writing has volunteered to fill me in on the particulars of what I’m seeing. Jonathan is hard to place. Inside his green hatchet-head hairdo and under his corpse white makeup, there is evidently a brain, capable of perceiving with more precision and objectivity than I might have expected. But his speech is larded with punk lingo and grammatical atrocities that contrast peculiarly with his effeminate manner.
“It’s like this on Tuesday and Friday nights,” he lisps between sips of iced coffee. “The boomers, they been coming here since spring, and Willie, who owns the joint, worked a deal with the bands to charge admission and split the graves. Mosty, it’s a live-and-let-live situation that helps us with the BB, but there’s tork situations sometimes too. Once some boomer couple came in dressed like punks, trying to, you know, get in for free, and Slash Frazzle splashed the zeezer good.”
“What about the other nights?” I ask.
“Word gets around,” replies Jonathan with a smile that shows gray and black teeth rotting in his gums. “The boomers, they learn not to come around except on the right nights.”
I would ask why they come at all, but I’m not sure Jonathan would like the question. Too, I already have a sense of what the answer might be. There is a beat here, a pounding sense of excitement, the suspicion that anything at all might happen and probably has or will, and even the coziest of the upper middle class professionals seated here and there about the Razor Cafe must experience the call of the wild on occasion. The way Jonathan talks about the bands creates the strong impression that the best of the punks may actually possess that ‘star’ quality which, from time immemorial, has transformed the lowest of dives into the most exalted pinnacles of entertainment.
And I know that I will be learning more very shortly, because the show is about to begin. A scabrous emcee has mounted the stage and is hectoring the “boomers” in the audience with practiced style. “You wanna die tonight?” he shrieks, licking his blackened lips. “You think we aren’t gonna git you some of these nights, you dumb zeezers? Well maybe not tonight. But we’re warning you... some night you’ll wish you never came, never did anything so blind bone stupid as coming to the Razor Cafe to see — “ and his voice suddenly jumped a full octave and a double-digit span of decibels, “ — JOHNNY DODGE & THE 440S... RIPP STARR & THE CELEBRITIES... AND ALICE HATE & THE FETAL CIRCUS!!!”
And now the Razor Cafe is rocked by screams, whistles, stomping feet, and a mounting crescendo of anticipation that tightens my groin and squeezes a sharp flat smile onto my lips. I feel in my knotted intestines that I am in it now for real. Boz Baker has come to Punkfictionland and just maybe will never be quite the same again.
Gulping my drink (a hideous looking margarita with a jeering, oversized umbrella protruding from the beer mug in which drink is served at the Razor Cafe), I roll my increasingly soft focus eyes toward the stage, where my pal Johnny Dodge has just been announced. The black burlap curtain rises, and there he is, a shocking presence which pierces my entrails from more than fifty feet away. His clothes are the same, his hair is the same, and even his grin bears some slight resemblance to the one he flashed at me. But otherwise, this is a different Johnny Dodge. This one is all predator, an attacking animal unconstrained by such archaisms as tenderness, tolerance, or mercy. He leans into the crowd, his eyes glittering with opaque fury, and launches into a story, inside the caterwauling of recorded engine roars.
“I want to say one thing,” he begins, and his voice is as dry as the rasp of a snake.
And then the 440s chime in behind him, a hoarse collective croak. “Lay some rubber, get away. 440s go, boomers stay.”
“I just want to say one thing,” Johnny repeats. “ Some night you’ll be out walking...” and I realize that there is a new undercurrent to the sound, a synchronized whisper of which every punk in the audience is a part, a human echo chamber for Johnny Dodge which makes of his voice a sea, a deep gray sea whose breakers intend to break you against the shore. I am convinced there is no recording technology on earth which could capture or reproduce such a timbre — sharp and hard as obsidian, soft and surrounding as a drowning wave.
Among the punks, only Jonathan Pus is a nonparticipant in the performance. He is giving me a running commentary on the essentials of punk writer performances. There is computer hardware galore, big black processor boxes with cable-connected keyboards and CRTs, as well as mysterious hybrid devices that though equipped with keyboards and screens, embody the erotic shapes and knock-your-eye-out colors of heavy-metal Stratocasters. Somewhere amid the intertwining yards of cable, there is a potent sound system doling out the guttural revs of an old-fashioned big-bore V-8. And next to Johnny, standing tall on the stage apron, is a giant screen that flashes chilling color images in jagged counterpoint to the words of the story. A photo of Johnny’s 440 appears and reappears in such nanosecond brevity that it has the force of a dream, which can scarcely be remembered but for its terrifying emotional impact.
“...and you’ll be standing there, all alone in the dark,” comes the promise of Johnny Dodge, “not knowing why 440 cubes are firing right at you. But why won’t matter. Not at all.”
Jonathan is explaining that this story has become a kind of standard, composed long months ago, and that Johnny and his boys are merely performing tonight, not engaging in the true punk excitement known as the livegrind, in which the band members write their stories in real time, pouring words at high speed into the processors that edit and collate them into a single stark stream of prose for display on the tube and simultaneous delivery by the lead narratist. It is only during the livegrind, Jonathan says, that one can appreciate the power and appeal of punk input devices such as the “ax” or parallaxophone, the “mace” or macrophone, and the “gun” or stereotypewriter. To satisfy an audience of boomers, though, the mere performance is enough, a way to make some quick “graves” that can be reinvested in new gear and gocode.
“Lay some rubber, make your play,” scream Johnny’s backups, “440s go, boomers pay.”
“And I only got one thing to say,” sneers Johnny, and for all my racing heartbeats, I wonder if this is true. Johnny’s story is a death threat, no more, no less, and it is not the words but the feeling that hammers its message home. It may well be that punk writing is a farce, a recycled stew of hostile punk music lyrics, but the passion that propels it from heart to keyboard to audience is as real as the trembling of my hands, which no amount of liquid anesthetic can calm.
Not that I don’t give it my best shot. Into the wee hours of the night, Boz quaffs and imbibes and chug-a-lugs as much of the 90-proof courage as he can summon to the table, and the remaining acts on the bill become a red, screaming blur. Johnny Dodge flips the bird to the audience and disappears, only to be replaced by a vision armored in the name Alice Hate. Too drunk to follow the lines, Boz hangs across the table with open mouth, feeling the physical assault of lyrics created by what has to be the most beautiful punk writer in the world.
Swimming in booze, my brain succumbs to the emotional magnifying glass of alcohol, and I know that I am in love. No, not love but LUST, in full Roman capitals, the kind that tents the toga and drags you from your eating couch across the marble floor, panting and drooling and dying for just one chance to JUMP HER BONES IN FRONT OF ALL THESE PEOPLE ‘CAUSE AFTER ALL WHO GIVES A SINGLE SOLITARY DAMN WHEN SHE IS SO THOROUGHLY THERE BEFORE YOU. And they don’t make them like this anymore, or at least I thought they didn’t, this kind of perfect erotic symphony of down, dirty, and arrogant femaleness that rakes the room with blazing eyes and transmits her siren call to every man with the merest, subtlest twitch of leathered thighs and brazen naked breasts.
And if this is punk, I’m thinking with what’s left of my sousified mind, then I am punk and have always been punk since before I was born. This vision, this magnetic Lorelei, has entirely filled me with such Alice Hatefulness that I am rapt, hanging on her every word, not one word of which I hear.
The audience, too, is captured — no, subjugated — content to be crushed in her contemptuous hand, unwilling to let her go no matter how or why she screams out her abuse, and minutes after her leopard skinned body and bride of Frankenstein coiffeur have vanished from the stage, the Razor Cafe quivers under the beat of feet and the bray of drunks demanding “Alice! Alice! Alice! We want Alice!”
But then it’s time — if time exists in this vortex of unchained catharsis, where Boz nods and reels in his chair like a whipped fighter trying to keep from being sucked down into the canvas — for the man who is introduced as the Star of Punk City, that is, Ripp Starr, lead narratist and mace man of Ripp Starr and the Celebrities.
Boz tries to focus, glimpses a tall broad-shouldered shape, but the shape and the words that it utters dissolve almost immediately into a twisting smear of riotous red light. The world is tipping over, it occurs to Boz, sloughing into a chaos so complete that even the laws of physics are crumpling like plastic straws inside the fist of God. And with this semi-revelation, Boz knows, in the last lighted remnant of his brain, that he must leave the Razor Cafe at once. Thanks be to Jonathan, who takes no liberties with his hands as he helps Boz stagger to the door, steadies the slack body as it pukes its guts out on South Street, and holds the door for the cab which has been bribed into Punk City by the promise of one hundred dollars cash for the ride uptown.
“Come back,” says Jonathan. “I’ll show you more.”
He was as good as his word. The next morning, though, I was as good as dead.
I awaken in a suite at the Latham Hotel, confronted by convincing evidence that my body has been destroyed by debauchery. Swollen to four times its normal size, weighing six hundred pounds, despite the fact that it has become hollow as a dead tree, it retains only one of its former powers — the ability to hurt. Oh God, I’m sorry, I’ll never do that again, you cannot know how terribly, truly, completely sorry I...
And then the phone goes off like a shrill land mine. It is Jonathan, explaining that he had investigated my travel documents so that he could send me to the right hotel, was I feeling all right now, would I like to meet him for lunch at the Rattery, he’d like to show me around Punk City.
Oh God. “Okay, Jonathan. I’ll meet you in an hour.”
What I want is sleep, a gallon of ice water to sip from, an icepack for my head, a nurse to bathe my brow. I have become too old for youthful binges. My clothes don’t fit; they were made for someone else, for whoever it was that entered the razor cafe last night in a fit of insanity, and they hang like sacks about the torso of the ragged husk that is now compelled to continue its interrupted tour of Punkfictionland.
“You look lousy,” Jonathan said. “I ordered for you already. The chili will gas you up.”
I didn’t doubt it. I also didn’t eat the chili but rather expended my energies on exploring the new condition of consciousness I had fallen into. Still soaked in alcohol, my brain was numb as a novocained limb. It struggled with the simplest of tasks. There was a measurable delay between hearing and understanding, and time had somehow become discontinuous, seconds rolling silkily into minutes of unresponsive silence, then crowding into an irritating pileup that gave me the sense of too much happening at once. The Rattery was a prolonged streak of smelly young people, hard cheap punk clothes embroidered with circuit boards, abysmal food, and a general clamor of coarse, shouted conversations that are almost impossible for any outsider to understand. It is clear from my conversations with Jonathan that the punk lingo – called The Tung - is not their native dialect, but a deliberate invention designed to distance them from the world at large.
As I listen, I can recognize root words, but the punks have Cuisinarted all the rules governing prefixes and suffixes, so that the most familiar sounding word — its front and back diced, chopped, pureed, or sliced into a lexicographer’s nightmare — becomes a paradox, a mystery wrapped in maybe meanings that just might make some crazy kind of sense, although maybe not too, and there’s the teasing nastiness of it, the suspicion that it all collapses in the end to a single droll joke of nonconversation, carried out with nonwords that serve as mere provocations, stripped of every connotation and association that might tie its users to a world they loathe.
And there is something else about this language, some feature that is not a feature but a void, a blind spot that defies detection until...
“Jonathan,” I bark, too loudly for my eggshell cranium.
“Yo,” he smiles.
“Dirty words,” I whisper triumphantly. “Why aren’t there any dirty words?”
And suddenly it’s open sesame time at the Rattery. I have noticed something, and it proves to be a key, perhaps one of many, into the punks’ growing mythology about themselves. There is a story behind this observation of mine, and it seems that Jonathan now believes I’ve earned the right to hear it.
“There was a time, not so long ago,” Jonathan begins, and I feel like a child tucked in bed, thrilling all over with the soothing once upon a time sensation that has come over me so unexpectedly inside this greasy dive full of angry costumed children.
The tale starts with a handsome punk prince called St. Nuke, who was one of the first punk writers, one of the elect who seized on the promise of that first fateful collaboration between my friend Johnny Dodge and a “bitter” called the Sandman. St. Nuke had been a hopeful punk rocker, but he had already figured out that punk music was not enough. (Not enough what, I wonder in my aching head. Not enough hostility? Not enough noise?) And so he had organized a punk writer band called St. Nuke & the Minutemen. (Way back when, Jonathan makes clear, rolling his eyes back into the misty past of nearly double-digit months ago.) The Minutemen were good, a hell-rig band for sure, but all of them got “Jersified” in the great Winter War, all except St. Nuke that is, who was badly wounded in the ambush of his band by the Duke.
When the war was over and the biker gangs had been driven from Punk City, St. Nuke had become a feared streetfighter who was also an outspoken advocate for peace among punks. But it seemed that nothing could stop the punk writer bands from clashing in the streets, where according to Jonathan, they drew blood and lots of it over such earthshaking points of controversy as whether or not punk stories always had to end with the death of a boomer.
“It was ultralaughability time,” Jonathan concedes, with fights breaking out everywhere, so much so that the Punk City Shriek had a running front page report on the major torks that had occurred since the last issue. The situation was so bad that St. Nuke called together a bunch of lead narratists to share his concern that Punk City would be closed down if the torks couldn’t be controlled.
And it was also St. Nuke who came up with the idea of the weekly “debates,” in which the entire punk writer community could voice its disagreements and resolve them through a formal rite involving both rhetoric and single combat. The narratists grumbled and balked; they disapproved, it seems, of democracy and rule by the majority. But St. Nuke persisted, explaining that the debate was not a democratic process at all, as they would see if they tried it.
The first debate was held in the New Market courtyard, which had closed its doors as a business months before, and more than a thousand punks, dressed to the hilt in their colors and torkjacks, crowded into the brick plaza, exchanging confident looks to let one another know that they were ready for combat when the meeting inevitably broke down into violence. St. Nuke stood on a rough stage that he had had built, presiding from a stone podium with a “sacred hammer” (which Jonathan absolutely refused to explain further). He banged the hammer on the podium for order, and the bricks echoed its brutal beat repeatedly until silence finally reigned. He declared the debate open and explained that any band could put forward any proposition about anything as long as its designated champion was prepared to engage in single combat with anyone who disagreed.
A near riot ensued. Angry voices denounced the debate as “mocracy,” and it was with difficulty that St. Nuke managed to speak again. He vowed to prove that the debate was not democratic. Challenged to do so, he finally had his audience where he wanted it.
“I propose,” he said in a loud voice, “that punk pieces got no pornications or senities. At all.”
“Bullshit!” came the automatic reply, hundreds of fists upraised and shaking.
St. Nuke argued that the zeezer writers used so much pornication and senities that they were a kind of rule of modern writing. And, of course, everyone on South Street knew that punk writing had to break all the rules. Then he declared his intention to defend his proposition against all comers in single combat until there was no one left to oppose him.
It was, according to Jonathan, a dramatic and uneasy moment. There were murmurs as individual bands tried to decide how to respond. There may have been some movement toward the street, but it came to a halt when Max Murder of the Nasticators stepped forward to accept St. Nuke’s challenge.
As I waited to hear the climax, Jonathan suddenly interrupted himself and stood up from the table. “You got to glim it,” he said. “No good just to ear it. You got to glim the Metalkort.”
Now, at a dog trot, we’re en route to the Metalkort, the punk name for the New Market courtyard where all the important decisions affecting Punk City and punk fiction have been decided since the day of that first debate.
The motion activates the flow of blood to my brain, and I am — as punks of all sizes and descriptions stare unabashedly at me and my guide — mulling the pragmatic underside of the tale Jonathan has been spinning. How might a clever and ruthless tactician seize power in an anarchic vacuum such as the one that existed in Punk City after the Winter War? Tyrants of the past have tended to employ alliances, pulling together a nucleus of ambitious functionaries who, in exchange for promises of future power, will simply begin issuing orders and punishing all who disobey. Undertaken swiftly and viciously enough, such a maneuver can establish an unassailable power base before any opposing faction becomes strong enough to mount a serious challenge. Caesar, Napoleon, and Hitler all used variations of this tactic, which offers as its only disadvantage the need for a protracted second phase in which the most able allies in the power grab are done in, usually one at a time. Thus did Caesar dispense with the triumvirate and Hitler with Ernst Roehm and Hindenberg.
It was unlikely that St. Nuke cared very much, if at all, about the amount of obscenity in punk writing. In establishing the forum of the debate and a virtually unthinkable initial proposition, however, he had hit upon a bold and cunning strategy for seizing complete personal power at once, without complicating and compromising alliances. If successful, he would have created, in a single stroke, both a form of government and an authority so absolute that punk writer fears about “mocracy” would be laughable indeed. I thought I was beginning to discern the shape of the force that had molded the punk writers into the intimidating force they now represented. And then we arrived at the Metalkort.
The heart of the area known as Punk City lay in the short broad strip of street formed by the junction of Headhouse Square and South Street. Old and once imposing buildings look down on this antique square, whose centerpiece is a colonial arcade in which long-dead merchants once hawked their wares. A more recent capitalist had tried to convert the large brick buildings on the eastern edge of Headhouse into a pricey Galleria-style mall by adding modern steel and glass architecture behind the colonial facade and paving the area thus enclosed with several thousand square yards of herringbone brick.
Now the dreams of Galleria prosperity are dead, and the modern steel and glass — devoid of shoppers, boutique signs, and designer window displays — looks cold and militaristic, like some East German party headquarters. And at the center of the herringbone courtyard stands an atavistic addition of the punks — a grass and granite dagger, or so it seems, the handle formed by steps descending underground, the blade by a pointed wedge of grass and dirt, and the crosspiece by a dais and podium made of stone.
I am gawking. Jonathan points: “We call it the Blade. It’s where the debates are resolved.”
Having not yet laid eyes on St. Nuke, I am nevertheless seeing him, a lone figure on that rude, low platform, daring his potential thousand or more opponents to fight him to the death on that narrow strip of green. All thoughts of European power politics dissolve; I am being hurled into some warp of pagan, Celtic tribalism.
Jonathan is speaking, recounting the fantastic events which have become to him a commonplace milestone of his past.
“St. Nuke descended from the dais there, and walked around to stand in front of it, there.”
Of course. Standing there — where Jonathan had indicated — St. Nuke would have his back to a stout wall shaped like an arched tombstone. An eloquent symbolic statement, without words, of a man prepared to die without retreating.
“Max Murder entered there, at the far point of the Blade, walking at first, but with the crowd behind him, he launched himself without warning into a charge. You see how it was?”
O sweet Jesus, I do see. And I can hear, too — hear the punks urging Max Murder on to terminate this threat to their beloved lawlessness, this presumption that one among them was above them, armored in some kind of right.
“Max was big,” says Jonathan in a near whisper, as if in the retelling he is himself seeing a dimension of the scene which has eluded him till now. “Awful big. And strong as an ox. He had a long scriver in his right hand, and a boxcutting knife in his left. Whichever one St. Nuke reacted to, Max would strike with the other. He meant for the fight to be finished with that one charge.”
And it was. St. Nuke waited, holding his hammer at his side, refusing to lift it in self-protection. Max Murder hesitated, deprived of his cue, deciding which of his weapons to use. He decided on the scriver, too late. As he was drawing it backward for the puncturing coup de grace, St. Nuke at last moved the hammer, not to cock it, but to bring it up — in a short, underhand punch to the bottom of Max Murder’s jaw, breaking his neck with a crack that shut up the crowd as if their combined voices were a vessel made of glass, glass shattered by the snapping neck of their champion.
St. Nuke waved at the nearest punks in the crowd to drag Max Murder’s body from the Blade.
“Next,” he bawled, and Gruesome Gasher, also of the Nasticators, stepped in to face him.
Jonathan, still whispering, tells me, “It went on all afternoon and all evening. St. Nuke was wounded half a dozen times, and the ground beneath his boots was spotted with blood. He fought thirty-two times, and he won each bout. Seven died.”
Three times, I learned, Johnny Dodge had interceded, pleaded with St. Nuke to let him stand in and fight the rest, but St. Nuke refused every time.”
“And then?” I ask.
“And then...” Jonathan is reluctant. There is something I’m not supposed to know.
“And then?” I try again. “Come on, Jonathan, you can’t tell me this much and not the rest. You can’t.”
Jonathan looks at me. “If I tell you and you tell someone else, I swear I’ll kill you before they kill me.”
I gulp, aware that he means it. “Yes,” I agree, “but tell me.”
“And then,” says Jonathan, his voice no more audible than a rustle of paper, “the four of them arrived, just at sunset, and the one of them who speaks for all said that if St. Nuke fell in defense of the proposition, they — the four of them — would take his place.”
“That settled it?”
“Yes. The proposition was carried. By voice vote. It became the law.”
“But who were ‘the four’?”
Jonathan wags a finger at me. “I didn’t tell you this,” he informs me. “The Shuteye Train.”
It was as if he had said, “The End.” The story was over. Somehow all questions were answered by these three words. So simple a statement: The Shuteye Train. Why should it turn my every perspective on this wild world upside down? But it has, and now I am having my first major suspicion that this punk thing has spun out of the widening gyre altogether, into a realm where no assumption is valid, no common sense conclusion can be trusted, and no easy answers are to be had. Punk writing had laws, Punk City had a king, and in the kingdom of St. Nuke the will of the people was cheerfully surrendered to an entity called The Shuteye Train.
“I need a drink,” I told Jonathan, aware that my grip on reality was sliding out of my hands into a chaotic jumble of riddles. Eventually it slid away into a too bright afternoon at the bottom end of South Street, where the decaying blocks of commercial buildings suddenly merge into the gracious colonial brickwork of Society Hill. I am walking carefully, putting my stone feet down with care, one after the other, and Jonathan is talking, talking.
“I publish the paper,” he is telling me, afraid I have forgotten this vital fact from the evening before. “We do reviews, we cover what’s happening in Punk City, and we do a lot of classifieds. Bands looking for an axman. Freelance Dbasers advertising custom work. Bands that are breaking up looking to sell used guns and maces. Bands starting up that are looking for low end graffitizers. Lot of glimmers too. I do the glim for a lot of bands myself. Took a mail-order course, and I peak out at 1,000 words a minute.”
Tuning in from a great distance, I ask a question: “You mean you read books and explain them to the bands?”
“Yeah,” nods Jonathan. “You don’t think we’re complete zeezers do you? It’s for the BB.”
“The Boomer Bible,” he explains, still trying to be patient with me.
Yeah. Of course. Absolutely. Whatever that is. Do I even want to know about something called ‘The Boomer Bible’? Maybe later. “Do you think we could sit down for a while, Jonathan? I’m whipped.”
He looks up South Street, and I follow his eyes from one garish hand-painted sign to another, seeking a respite from the omnipresence of punk. But it is not to be had, not on South Street. Gross drawings stud the signs like jet-age gargoyles, obliterating any possible figurative element from such names as the Dead Fish, Gutshooters, the Dry Hump, and the Whoreshop. It is clear that St. Nuke’s proposition applies only to words, not images. Between the scarred building facades, I can hear the battering echo of Wendy O and the Plasmatics. The music is as hard and featureless as the bricks of the Metalkort.
“That’s KWO Radio,” Jonathan informs me with pride. “It’s a underground station, unlicensed you know, and you can only get it in Punk City. I do a show for KWO every Tuesday night called The Classic Writers.”
“And who are the classic writers?” I ask, steering Jonathan toward the Headhouse side of the square, where I have spotted a low brick wall adjacent to the Arcade. It looks perfect to me, out of earshot of KWO and out of eyesore of South Street.
“I don’t have to tell you,” replies Jonathan.
“Well, people do have different opinions about what’s classic and what isn’t.” I sit down on the wall. Nearby, on the median that divides most of Headhouse Square in half, a dwarf scuttles about drawing pictures in chalk on the concrete, oblivious to the jingle of coins in his begging box as passersby reward his industry, if not his art.
About ten yards from the dwarf, on the opposite sidewalk, a tall black magician is performing for a handful of female punks. He is, I notice with surprise, quite good. In fact, as I watch him pull buckets of live flowers from his top hat, damned good.
“Who’s that?” I ask Jonathan, who is still pondering my question about the classics.
“Mr. Magic,” he says. “He’s a magician.”
Do tell, I think waspishly. Just because he wears a tailcoat and a top hat and does tricks with flowers and doves and scarves, I couldn’t possibly have figured out that he’s a magician without Jonathan’s identification. Unless...
“What do you mean, a magician?”
“Have you ever seen your ka?” asks Jonathan with sudden intensity.
“What’s a ka?”
“Guess not then. Would you like to do some blue?”
Blue? Exotic drugs are all I need in my current condition. I thought I had heard most if not all the street names for drugs, but it is clear that Punk City has its own argot for everything else, so why not drugs? I begin to frame my polite refusal, but Jonathan has already left my side to conduct a transaction with the black man and soon returns with something concealed in a handkerchief.
Turning away from the street, he shows me what he has acquired — a test tube vial full of pale blue liquid.
“You just drink it,” he tells me.
Sure. You just drink it and then you freak out all over the street in broad daylight. “No. Thank you very much, Jonathan, but no.”
Jonathan laughs pleasantly. “It won’t hurt you. It’ll make you feel better. Never had anything better for a hangover.”
Of all the millions of words available in the English language, how could this young man possibly have known the only seven that had the power to change my sodden, aching mind? I hold my breath, say a silent prayer to the gods who protect foolish writers, and swallow the contents of the vial in a single gulp.
They call it blue. A simple name. A name that makes you think of the sky or the ocean on a nice day. What a monstrous, damnable, fucking lie! Blue is nothing less than a ticket to the abyss, and in drinking the proffered vial, I have swallowed myself whole and entered an inside out world made entirely of fear.
The calamity did not reveal itself immediately, but with an accelerating gradualism that started as slow as the ticking of a clock, then changed in successive waves that washed over me gently, briskly, violently, savagely. We were in Headhouse Square. A dwarf was drawing pictures. A magician was doing tricks with flowers. He had the blue concealed in his costume. Jonathan got it and gave it to me. I drank it. We walked some more.
“Like to see the Bitterbox?” said Jonathan.
“Sure,” I told him, feeling the first flecks of blue spume spattering across my vision.
We crossed the street. I felt a tendril of fear, a fear that someone would run around the corner and cut my throat. Boz is no stranger to fear. He has felt the whump whump of his heart keep time with the stertorous start of a chopper about to take off from the last helipad in Saigon. The badlands of panic were all around. People in suits and uniforms held out their arms to the pilot beseeching him with white warped faces that made them look like bodies-in-waiting. But Boz walked to the chopper, one foot in front of the other, protected by the power of his own prophecy that this day would inevitably arrive — and by faith that he would be allowed to see it recede into the past from the height of his perception.
No stranger to fear, but then why does Headhouse feel so suddenly like a war zone, and no way out? A shell will scream across the rooftops and do murder with jagged scraps of steel. A truckful of pre-teen commandos will screech to a stop on the cobbles and spray bloody holes in the surface of reality. I can see my face, blown loose from my skull, floating like a jellyfish in the gutter in front of the Bitterbox. Its expression is empty, leaking the last of its terror into the blue blue sky.
Get hold of yourself, old man. You’ve had some blue, some screaming asshole wonder drug for whatever it is that ails Punk City. It will pass. It will pass and take the fear with it. Jonathan and I are entering the Bitterbox, the high tech heart of the kingdom of St. Nuke. No room for dirty deadly dreams in the realm of the silicon god. And then, mercifully, the blue rush abates, and I am enabled to walk calmly at Jonathan’s side, fervently hoping it will not return.
And now behold the awesome splendor of punk writer bands at work. Stripped of its milk processing equipment long ago, the Cream King Dairy Building resembles nothing so much as a tremendous warehouse made of brick and concrete. Afternoon sun streams in through the anachronistic mullioned windows and mingles, like a slumming angel, with the harsh fluorescence of a hundred jury-rigged lamps the punks have hung from the high ceiling. In this weird white-yellow light, the scene that confronts my eyes is frankly unreal. It is impossible to take a step without treading on the cables that cover the floor with a thousand yards of spaghetti. And just above the fluorescent lamps, there is a similar jumbled network of orange power cables looped through lamp stanchions, supported here and there by rotted fishermen’s nets, and otherwise suspended in frozen chaos above our heads. To stand in the Bitterbox is to feel like a fly trapped between two great spider webs, a sensation so vivid that it leads to a kind of vertigo, and it takes constant effort to remember that there is a concrete floor beneath your feet and not just empty air.
Besides, there is a spider, a giant graceless gray arachnid – with huge blue tanks for eyes - occupying the very center of the web, connected by thick clumps of cable to smaller processors in every part of the Bitterbox.
“The mainframe,” breathes Jonathan.
“Nice,” I tell him, for want of anything more intelligent to say.
“Quiet,” he warns me urgently. “It’s a BB session. Allabody’s bereadying to datafy the masterfile.”
“Excuse me?” I whisper.
Allabody is a lot of people, maybe three or four hundred punks grumbling and scowling and blinking at CRTs, torkgloved hands gently playing the keyboards of their input devices. The dry chittery sound of all those thousands of keys under punk fingertips merges to create a loud, continuous buzz, not unlike the throbbing monotone of insects in a field of tall grass.
And why did they have to wear their torkmasks in here? The heat alone should have been sufficient to cool their ardor for concealment, but nine out of every ten faces were covered at least from forehead to mouth by the gargoyle creations that gave the bands their identity. The smell of rank human sweat was almost intolerable, and so I knew that they were suffering for their vanity, but since that smell was the most human element of the scene before me, I clung to it as a familiar and earthy reminder that the punks were not the robots they so resembled.
We were still standing near the entrance, and both of us were startled by a sudden crash as the double doors swung open and a corps of about two dozen punks began filing past us toward the mainframe.
“Uh oh,” said Jonathan.
“What?” I asked, feeling the hairs rise on the back of my neck.
“It’s closer to the megagrind than I thought. The demortals are here.”
“What?” I repeated, now fully aware that a second wave of blue is washing over me, filling my bowels with a churning froth of terror. Jonathan puts his hand on my shoulder and identifies the “demortals” of Punk City as they stride past us without a glance.
At last I am going to see the face of St.
And here he comes. There’s a punk-praetorian guard around him as he marches into the Bitterbox. His minions are the Epissiles, dressed in black with white collars and bristling with arms, including the first guns I have seen in Punk City. The main man is like the nucleus of a cell, a lone figure inside the lozenge of his protectors, dressed in the fabled blue coat of St. Nuke and the blue mask – or is it? – of his official face. As they pass me, I am assailed with the smell of what? Old paper? Ancient rot? No. By God, it’s the familiar, still old aroma of library. Jesus. Who and what is this man? In a trice he is gone. He outdistances the guards and mounts immediately up a circular staircase to his seat at the center of the spider, high above the throngs of clicking punk writers. He has his own stage atop the masses, and it encompasses enough room before his keyboard to enable him to remove that blue coat and his weapons and hang them them on a hook, stripping him to the waist.
Jesus, again. Look at that upper torso. I’ve been in veterans hospitals galore, and I have never in my life seen so many scars, so startling, so obviously alive in their continuing pain. But he is not showing off. It’s hot in here. And he is 'bereadying' himself for the work. His platform – I’m loath to say ‘throne’ because its base is iron grate and his workspace features as humble a keyboard as anyone else – has a railing over which he leans to scrutinize all that is occurring below. His eyes, invisible inside that ravaged blue face, take all of us in. Then the unthinkable happens. He notices ME.
“We have a visitor,” he announces. The
voice is a kind of squawk,
hoarse and powered by effort rather than native volume. Like the rest
of him, even his voicebox is damaged. Lord, how is this man even alive?
He’s looking at me. He points. That long scarred white white arm, strong but channelled with wounds whose flesh never filled back in.
“MISTER Boz Baker. The voice of the Boomers. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”
It’s a whisper and a bark. How does he do that? I want to run away. To be noticed by this man is to die, of that I’m convinced.
I begin my answer. I have words in mind. I’m in a royal court. I'm no fool. I know what to say and how to say it. But no words escape my mouth.
“Speak up, MISTER Baker.”
There is no more typing. I stare at the vats of blue liquid, at the knot of heavily armed Epissiles grouped underneath the platform of the king, which is what he is, let’s face it. And I try to speak up.
“I have come to pay tribute to the punks of Punk City,” I say. “The newest, the only new voices in American literature.”
Jonathan Pus edges away from me. Not a good sign.
St. Nuke contemplates me from his high-tech perch. For a year that lasted probably fifteen seconds.
“Detain him,” he said at last. “Arrest him. He’s Jack Kerouac with an education. Nothing to interest us. And we certainly don’t need him writing” – and it’s impossible to convey the amount of hateful revulsion his gasping shout packed into this word – “about us.”
Without being aware of the instincts at work, I knelt on the concrete floor. Terror, submission, acceptance of what would come.
St. Nuke cocked his painful head. “MISTER Baker. You will get your opportunity to report. But only on our terms. Do not fear for your life. Fear for your ka.”
And then they hauled me away. The actual sentence would come later. But I took him at his word. He was not going to kill me. I was in. Inside Punk City. With my eyes and ears and nose and brain intact. With any luck I’d get a glimpse of the Shuteye Train. But what if they were more frightening than St. Nuke? I hated to think of it, so I stopped thinking about everything.
You can discount Frank
Frelinger all you want, but he's the one who located this Boz Baker
manuscript behind the radiator in his estranged wife's apartment. I'm
. Are you all familiar with the concept of "Six Degrees
of Separation"? It first gained publicity as a kind of stunt involving
the actor Kevin Bacon. A clever mathematician posited that it was
possible to link Kevin Bacon with any other Hollywood actor through a
process of association -- Bacon was in Film 'A' with Actor 'X,' who was
in Film 'B' with Actor 'Y,' who was in Film 'C' with Target Actor 'Z'.
It turned out that this process of association invariably worked with no more than six removes from the
original Bacon film. Serious scientists have since taken up this
phenomenon and are using it to develop a new science of networks that
has profound implications about the way communication works in our
I'm proposing that we exploit this principle in our "What to Do" formulations. Theoretically, each and every one of us is only six handshakes -- or emails -- away from the President of the United States based on our own existing networks of friendship and acquaintance. I'm not proposing that we try to reach the president himself; rather I'm suggesting that a corollary of the Six Degrees model is that one person has access to an enormous number of people without an unacceptably huge effort. The practical demonstration of this corollary is chain letters and pyramid schemes, which though they inevitably break down eventually can still affect a very large number of people and move a lot of money around.
I'm proposing this for everyone who wants to make a difference and can't manage to leverage our prior suggestions about "What to Do" -- The 'When' Question, Fighting Back, Questions for Your "Liberal" Friends, etc (thanks Apotheosis). Here's the idea. Once a week, starting vitally with this week, pick the single most persuasive counter-Obama video, op-ed, blog post, or news story you've encountered during the prior seven days and make a point of emailing it to at least six other people, not always the same ones btw, with a request that they do the same. Each such communication should also include a call to action with regard to contacting the recipient's congressman or U.S. Senator on a specific topic. You should also post the email and link on your Facebook page if you have one, with the same call to action.
Yes, it's a chain letter. Expressly so. For this reason, you should also try to say whatever you can to make them follow the included link or read the included text. There's a premium on basing your communications on products that are both amusing and relevant. We have a sample for you to try. It's about healthcare, which could not be any more relevant this week of all weeks, and though long, it is also funny, captivating and genuinely informative once you make the decision to watch it.
Here it is:
And here's the link
to the YouTube video if you'd rather send or post a link than an
Feel free to pick your own healthcare-related internet product if you find one you like better. But send it out ASAP and do whatever you can to follow up its eventual distribution. Wouldn't it be great to play some part in expanding the size of the angry audience shown up top so that those of our elected officials who participate in this systematic destruction of our country are called immediately to account or, better yet, prevented by tidal waves of angry voter communications?
The key -- the thing that makes it different from viral videos, internet jokes, and urban legends -- is the discipline. Keep doing it. Always target a group of recipients, and always explain the value of their doing the same thing. That's a formula for rapid saturation of any network.
Give it a try. Please. IT IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO.
. We did a post the other day about Walter
Cronkite. It inspired
one of our commenters, and we always like to take credit for our
commenters, who are the best in the blogosphere, to sound off. Here's
what Maggie had to say:
I was too young to have an honest gauge on "journalism/reportage" during the prime of Unka Walt (or to give a damn), I can say that after actually being part of the media during the 1980s, and using that as my starting point to the news media today some 20+ odd yrs later, it's completely in the shitter ... and in some cases (see: Olbermann/Mathews/MSNBC) completely flushed. Even Matthews was caught on mic/camera saying "We're putting out shit here ..."
Having said that much, I recall an episode on HBO's series Deadwood, where the towns 'ruling' thug (Al Swearengen) was dictating to the editor of the town's small newspaper (A.W. Merrick) as to how to phrase things and which words to use in his article in order to manipulate the readers view on the subject. The editor had to bring the story to Al before taking it to press ... and this was before the town/state were even part of the government controlled Union.
Oh, I know it was writer's license to craft such a supposition in the episode ... but you really think it wasn't happening even way back then? I mean, even the Catholic Church during medieval times manipulated what and how much the masses were to know. It's been known, he who controls the information controls the masses ... which is why LBJ put such cred in having "lost Cronkite ... lost the American people"
And this is why the Left hates the alternative media (talk radio/blogs) because they are fields and fields of information either the lazy/lame MSM refuses to look to for facts ... or completely ignores in an attempt to keep it from said masses.
I don't suppose 'journalism' was ever completely objective or without bias ... ever. But it became even worse a couple decades or so back when you would ask a young college student why they wanted to be a "journalist" ... and their answer would be ,"To make a difference in the world."
THAT is NOT the purpose of a journalist/reporter ... IF one is 'making a difference in the world' one is actually part of the story ... not objectively viewing and therein providing facts on the story. It seems Vietnam was the virtual lab for the then media where that was actually 'cultured', if you will.
But we have even gone beyond that today, a deadly virus mutating and out of control, as you can note in especially the Iraq War coverage of the last 8 years. No longer is it the goal to 'make a difference', but to choose the opposing side and craft full and complete outcomes in the public's perception ... but mostly in the outcome of the war itself. However, if it is the media's guy(s) in power the government war coverage is quiet and positive. It's a fucking game to the media with the viewing masses as stooges and the lives of our troops as pawns and bonus tallies as their 'death count' mounts. Does anyone really believe reporters/journalists/news agencies would have gotten away with half the shit they pulled off in this war were it WWII or the Civil War?
And then there was the election campaign of 2008 with the "news media" ... Shit and horse shoes, it continues today ... just ask Gov. Sarah Palin. They are still feeding off her in order to "make a difference" in her political career. That bitch and her damn used tanning bed and retard kid (hey, I have a Down Syndrome daughter so back-off about my word usage for effect) ... Obama, the second coming of God's only begotten son. Dare not question or doubt his excellence ... dare not expose him for the Marxist fake he is. You WILL be destroyed.
Unka Walt was a good and professional news reporter/anchor, especially by today's editorializing/opinion-vomiting standards ... but let's be real. He'd be spat upon as 'biased' and a GOP mouthpiece, pretty much as Fox News is, were he doing now what he did then ...
As to his reporting from Vietnam ... I heard a caller on a radio broadcast today say Cronkite had cost possibly tens of thousands of American lives with that report. Maybe, maybe not ... but who can deny today's media not only prolonged the Iraq War (with the tireless help of the Dems in Congress) but aided the enemy, fueled them ... and cost thousands of US military lives and innocent Iraqi lives too. Their hands are quite stained with blood ...
Yes, they are accomplishing their journalism school goals ... They ARE making a difference in the world.
Be very afraid.
Cool graphic, eh? Maggie cool.
. So we were guessing about commenters and we had a guess
Penny, too. Sorry, Penny. But no worse than you've said about us.
. No, not our Loco. The original one. The
one mentioned here
The Lead Narratist of this.
But Lake mentioned him as a 'superposition' in his comment on this
post, and I felt obligated to show that there's nothing else about
Loco Dantes that corresponds with the notion of 'nice guy' (any more
Dodge was). The following excerpt is the chapter after this
one from one of the acounts of events that occurred well after
after the end of Punk City, near the place
where Gypsy died and disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Don't
know what it means, but here it is:
THE SHUTEYE TRAIN
Something hard in my pillow. Hard and heavy against my head. Less than half awake, my mind grumbled, irked at the mystery. I shifted position, but the pressure didn’t change. It was sharp against my temple. Then a quiet voice, almost a whisper.
“Traylor. Wake up.”
I rolled, tried to sit up, felt sudden pain in my arms just above the elbows, and a thin line of fire across my belly and back. When I opened my mouth to protest, a fistlike ball of fabric rushed between my teeth, flattening my tongue. I was wide awake and helpless.
The bedside lamp switched on. The room was filled by a huge, ugly handgun. Holding on to it was a blocky man in a gray suit. He had the kind of face you can never quite remember when you’re not looking at it. At the supermarket it would be packaged in a plain white wrapper labeled ‘generic.’ He was a fed all right.
The handgun dipped in my direction. “I’ll shoot if yell,” the fed told me matter-of-factly. “The silencer’s very good. Like me. Do we understand one another? Nod once for yes.”
I nodded. The rope around my chest was so tight that every breath hurt. He hadn’t bothered to tie my feet. I was obviously someone he felt able to handle. He plucked the wadded up handkerchief from my mouth.
“Come on out to the living room,” he said. He and the gun stood aside and let me pass. I felt relieved that I had, for once, decided to sleep in my boxer shorts, just in case. Following direc-tions, I perched on the edge of my sofa. My visitor and his gun sat down com-fortably on my one easy chair.
According to the kitchen clock, it was four-thirty in the morning. The window behind the blinds was still black with night.
“What did Frelinger tell you?” he asked.
To lie or not to lie. That was the question. The interior debate had nothing to do with principle. It had to do with survival. If I told him every-thing, it might meet his definition of ‘too much to know and live.’ If I held out on him or clammed up, he’d almost certainly hurt me and maybe kill me anyway. Not to mention Janet. I sure hoped Jimmy was on duty.
“What did Frelinger tell you?” The repetition was exact, as if he had a recording of the question in his mouth. It sent a chill through me, communicating whole paragraphs of information. He was a pro. He was going to get answers. He knew what to do if I played any games.
I took as deep a breath as the rope around my gut would permit. “Enough,” I said. My mind was searching desperately for a lie that would meet the definition of ‘too much to know and die prematurely.’
He made a sound like a chuckle, except without the humor. “Nice try,” he said, “but I doubt it. What did Frelinger tell you?”
“He hired me to run down a lead,” I told him. “That’s why I wasn’t there when you and your buddy pissed off my dog. Where is your partner by the way? The cops have something of his if he wants it back.”
I saw him take a step but I didn’t see his hand move. The back of it crashed into my cheekbone, toppling me sideways on the sofa. I tasted blood inside my mouth. My ear was singing like a tropical storm.
“What was the lead?” he asked, using exactly the same flat tone of voice he had before.
“A lucky shot,” I said. My tongue dabbed at the cut in my mouth. “It told me more than Frelinger thought it would.”
His eyes processed me through the fed computer. “Such as?”
“An important clue to the whereabouts of the missing treasure of Punk City.”
There was a silence. My heart was beating so hard that it echoed in my pummeled ear, my bruised cheekbone, the puncture in my mouth. If I’d picked the right lie, I had a chance. If I hadn’t, I was going to have a very short career.
“You don’t know shit,” he said.
Hope surged. He hadn’t hit me again or shot me. That was a very good sign. “Wrong,” I said. “I know about Alice Hate. I know about feds who got involved in certain affairs of Punk City a few years back.” I looked straight at him. His eyes had widened almost imperceptibly. “And,” I said, “I know about the Shuteye Train.”
I had him. His voice sounded hoarse when he spoke again. “Go on. Keep talking. What about the Shuteye Train?” He stumbled on the name, as if he were afraid of being overheard saying it.
So far so good, but now I had come to the trickiest part of all. Staying alive. I spread my hands in a placating gesture that further tightened the rope around my chest. “You’ve got to understand something,” I told him. “I’m not a brave man, and I’m not a cowboy. But I’m smart enough to realize that if I tell you everything I know, you’ll kill me right here. Yours is not a memorable face, but I am a private investigator. I can describe you in detail, doing things feds don’t do unless they’re freelancing illegally. You aren’t worried about me recognizing you again. Which tells me that my only chance is to make a deal. We have to arrange it so that you get the information you want after I am safe from the threat of extermination.”
“There’s always torture,” he said, as if we were discussing where to order takeout pizza.
“No,” I replied. “There isn’t. If you torture me, I give you my word I’ll change the truth just enough to steer you hopelessly wrong. You see, I know something you really do want to know. And that’s how I know it’s important enough that you’ll need to keep me alive. So you’ll be able to make sure you got it right.”
“Sodium pentethol,” he announced.
“Okay,” I agreed. “That’ll work. Haul it out and let’s get the show on the road.”
He was rattled. Of course he hadn’t brought the stuff with him. The plan had been for me to spill my guts at the sight of his gun. I ventured a grin, willing to risk another shot to the head if it would bolster my bluff.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“What’s what?” I cocked my head. My apartment was on the second floor, and the walkway consisted of a cheap grating material so slippery when wet that every tenant had to sign a paper barring legal action in the event of a fall. Now the grating was resonating faintly with a kind of steady clicking sound that grew louder as it approached.
The fed’s gray face blanched. “Do you have a dog?”
Paws thumped high against the front door, scrabbled harshly against the metal like fingernails on slate.
“That would be Rover,” I said. “He usually likes to come home about now. He enjoys a pretty active nightlife. Would you let him in for me?”
The fed uttered a curseword and fired three quick shots through the door. They sounded like blows in a heavyweight pillow fight. We listened. The scrabbling stopped, then resumed at a higher pitch on the plate glass of the front window. But the blinds were still drawn and the fed had to guess where to aim his next shots. He fired twice more through the door, then twice through the window next to the doorframe. It was only when he broke into a gallop that I realized he’d been trying to buy some running room. His foot crashed the door open and he bounded through it and over the railing of the walkway. Moments later I heard an automobile engine and the squeal of tires.
I ran to the door, anxious to meet Rover. But there was no trace of him. I was so disappointed that I leaned over the railing and threw up.
I was on my fourth cup of coffee and my third donut when Al arrived at the station.
“Your tie is looped over your collar,” he told me affably.
“Thanks everybody,” I muttered to the other officers who hadn’t bothered to inform me. They smirked and giggled as I fixed my neckwear.
Al steered me into a vacant office and closed the door. “Bad news,” he said. “The lab had a breakin last night. The evidence has been removed without a trace.”
“Great. So we’ve got nothing.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Al told me.
“Does that mean you’ve been holding out on me?”
The cop in him laughed. “You going to bring me up on charges? Frelinger’s car was a Hertz rental. According to them, the contract was signed by one Herbert Lorz, possessor of a valid California driver’s license. So, either your client was lying to you, or he’s involved in something that makes him think it’s a good idea to create phony alternate identities.”
“I see. But you should be able to check out Herbert Lorz.”
“Yes. Just like I can run the fingerprints from the hand through the fed computer. If I decide it’s a smart thing to do.”
“I take it you have some doubts.”
Al grunted. “Janet okay?”
“Yeah,” I told him. I called her at six-thirty. Her mom said everything was fine. I said I’d pick her up later and run her to work myself.”
“Which brings us to why you’re here so bright and early with a brand new mouse on your cheek.”
“I had a visitor early this morning.”
“But you survived to tell the tale. That’s good. Let’s have it.”
He listened quietly to the short version, then led me step by step through the long version. He lifted a brow when I got to the part about Rover but stifled whatever it was he’d been about to say. I held nothing back, not even my stomach spasm at the railing.
“Come on,” he said when I had finished. “Let’s get out of here. We’ll go pick up Janet.”
But Al didn’t drive directly to Janet’s house. Instead he made a few quick turns and parked on a side street a half dozen blocks from the station. It was a bright blue morning that made Hightstown look like the kind of place where nothing ever happens.
“We’ve got some decisions to make,” Al said, staring straight ahead through the windshield. Two small boys were kicking a ball in the street. Ordinarily, he would have warned them to stay on the sidewalk. But I’m not sure he saw them at all.
“You’re not anxious to pursue this officially,” I suggested.
Al snorted. “Are you?”
“You’re just jealous because you don’t have a dog,” I said.
“I heard a story once,” he said, still staring forward. “This happened about fifteen years ago. One of the things cops tell each other when they’ve guzzled enough booze at the bar. I heard it from a guy I went to the academy with. We were in different precincts but he had a rep as a good cop."
Al fell silent for maybe half a minute. I knew he was reconsidering his decision to tell me.
When his fingers started tapping the steering wheel, I spoke up in the most casual voice I could muster. “I understand,” I said. “I mean if you can’t top the one about being rescued from an outlaw fed by an invisible dog, then it’s probably better to say nothing at all.”
“As I said,” Al went on, as if the pause hadn’t happened, “this was about fifteen years ago. The cop’s name was Davis. He was working in Manhattan at the time. Answered an alarm at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the guards reported seeing a guy—this was around midnight—taking in the armory exhibit all by his lonesome. He wasn’t trying to hide. When the guard challenged him, he just sauntered away in the direction of one of the Asian exhibits. By now the guard is nervous as hell, because nobody taught him how to deal with the real loons. So he draws his gun and yells ‘freeze.’ Like an idiot, he follows where he thinks the guy went. Then he hears breaking glass, which sets off the alarm and turns on all the lights, so it’s bright as day. He’s standing there, blinking in the light, when he hears a whoosh right behind him, so close he can feel a breeze at his ear. He whirls around, and there’s the intruder, holding a fourth century Ninja sword, swinging it around, kind of playing with it. The guard gets a good look at him—average height, slender build, mohawk haircut, long black coat, red bandanna—and orders him to drop the sword or get shot. The perp just laughs and flicks the sword in the guard’s direction, taking his hand off at the wrist. It bangs on the floor, still holding the gun, which is how it was when Davis arrived a few minutes later.”
“The hand motif,” I remarked.
Al said, “There’s more to it than that. The reason Davis told me about it was to find out if I was involved in any of the incidents that happened later the same night.”
“Such as the murder of a pair of drug dealers in the South Bronx. Actually, it was a pretty big buy and Narcotics had the whole thing staked out, ready to make the bust after money had changed hands. They had the scene buttoned up, completely surrounded and under surveillance. But they didn’t see anything amiss until a guy with a sword suddenly appears in the middle of the action, decapitates the buyer and the seller, then makes off with both the drugs and the cash.”
“Never to be heard from again?”
“Hardly. Maybe forty minutes later, someone calls in a gang fight at a subway station four miles deeper into the South Bronx. Says about twenty of the local thugs are attacking a single trespasser on their turf.”
“A guy with a sword?”
“And a red bandanna. When the cops arrived, there were fifteen badly injured enough to require hospitalization. The leader, who kept screaming that he’d cut the bastard in the eye, had had both his legs taken off in retaliation. But once again, the guy with the sword got away.”
“Pretty tough hombre. Just out for a night of kicks?”
“Apparently what started it was, the gang members came across him in the station painting over their sacred graffiti with his own. Davis was curious enough to go see what he’d painted. Not long before I left the force, I went to take a look myself, not really expecting it to be there, but curious anyway. It was there. Intact. This was years later, but nobody had dared to paint over it. It was a single symbol, plus a name. The symbol was a circle with a vertical line through it.”
“Like the one in the painting.”
“And the name?”
Al finally turned to look me in the face and said, “The Shuteye Train.”
We were both getting nervous about Janet, so Al pulled away from the curb, made a U-turn, and headed toward her house.
“I take it they never caught the guy,” I said.
“So that’s it then. A mysterious fragment of cop mythology to add to the other incomprehensible craziness.”
Al coughed. “Actually, there is a little more.”
“Yeah. I’ll tell you later. After we pick up your girl and figure out where to stash her for a while.”
“She’s not my girl,” I protested. We parked alongside the curb in front of her parents’ house. She and Jimmy were waiting for us in the front yard.
“No?” returned Al with a smile. “Then why does she always look so damn glad to see you?”
“Hi,” said Janet, clambering into the squad car behind Jimmy. “Are we under arrest or what?”
She was a little more dressed up and a little more made up than she usually was. I hadn’t seen the gray flannel slacks before, and the sweater was a silky cardigan she’d worn the time I took her to a photography trade show in Philadelphia. It was a shade of green that went well with her redhead complexion, which looked perfectly normal except that her freckles were barely detectable.
“Your hair looks nice like that,” Al said, squinting at her in the rear view mirror. “You look good with it up.”
Janet smiled like an ingenue and turned her head so that Al could see her coiffeur in profile. “It’s a French twist,” she said. “Fun, isn’t it?”
“Beautiful,” Al told her.
“Where are we going?” Janet asked. “Out hunting?”
“You’re going to the library, right next to the police station,” I told her. “I have some research for you to do while Al and I are in the Big Apple.”
“You’re going to New York, and you’re not taking me along?” She was outraged, her upper lip set in a hard, cute line.
“That’s right,” I said.
“What are you looking for there?”
“A nightmare somebody had once,” Al told her.
“You don’t have to talk in code,” Janet complained. “I was just asking.”
“And I was just telling you,” Al said. “It’s my nightmare. I’ve had it every so often for years. And now it’s back. Time to go see.”
“Please be careful, guys,” Janet said. “Please.”
We left her and Jimmy at the library,
both looking brave and nonchalant. I wished I had that knack. But, like
Al said, it was time to go see, even if I wasn’t feeling very brave or
nonchalant about it. So that’s what we did. And it wasn’t as bad as I
thought it might be. It was worse.
uh, here's your chance. There are more chapters of this story, even
if they weren't published in Shuteye
Town 1999. But there has to be a demand.
This won't make a lot of sense if you can't hear the audio
file, so those of you who have thought over the years that it doesn't
matter if you can't hear
Instapunk should fess up and ask for help. The audio files
have always been important, but especially today. Why?
I'm not the biggest fan of Glenn Beck, but this morning he explained his sense of personal mission about what he does. In doing so he touched upon some articles of faith that I also believe in. (He references fighter pilots, for example. My dad was one and told me his mechanic owned the aircraft. "If you damage MY airplane, you'll have ME to answer to." Beck isn't completely a fool.) We ARE at a crossroads and what we do, each and every one of us, matters, whether we think we're too small to make a difference or not.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to remind everyone of the "What to Do" posts I've already posted. Only, the search function at the site doesn't find them. So I'm asking you to find them. First step toward doing something. Apart from thrilling to Instapunk's high dudgeon.
Well, let me know. My wife has at least a little something in common with Glenn Beck's wife. Enough said. But I intend to be at my post also.
He may not be right about specifics, but Glenn Beck is correct that there will be a new paradigm. Are you a spectator or a member of the resistance? Time to decide.
The Frelinger Factor
LYNN DOESN'T TRUST HIM. Yes, he seems to be a big component of the mystery. Is he? Yes. Well, here's his key contribution (and the first setup chapter plus the final giveaway chapter. Don't read them if you think he's something other than a con-man, which all the legitimate scholars do...). Does he have the final lowdown on Punk City? Absolutely not. Not if you're half educated anyway.
A Philadelphia Story
2. Assembling the Pieces
The most efficient way to solve a mystery is to find its roots and trace from them the twists and turns of its growth. The root of the perplexing events and circumstances surrounding the Cream King Trove is the vanished punk writers of South Street. If we can figure out what happened to them, we might also learn why they are still important to someone in a position of power and why secrecy is still important to that person or persons.
I do not have direct access to the Cream King Trove. Therefore I cannot read from the materials they left behind what might have been underway on South Street at the time of their mysterious vanishing. I am left with the public record and all the bits and pieces I have been able to uncover about what has happened in the years since.
There is no point in pretending that I am completely objective about this story. My own experience convinces me that—notwithstanding the glossy denials of Philly PD—the punk writers of South Street did exist. This perspective is not available to many of the researchers, and so they cannot hope to see the most interesting of all angles on the punk mystery, which is surely this: How does an entire community manage to disappear so completely that there is objective reason to doubt it existed in the first place? This is an accomplishment that corresponds, quite literally, to escaping into a hole and then pulling the hole in after you.
There are only two possible ways of effecting such a result. First and most obviously, there may be a party (or parties) who sees to it that your existence is terminated and then engages in an exhaustive effort to eliminate all traces of both the existence and the termination.
Second and far more improbably, there may be parties who have invented a heretofore unknown way of pulling the hole in after them.
Let’s consider the obvious way first. Who on earth has the power to make people disappear as if they had never existed? Well, if it can be done, only the federal government of the United States has such power. And it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that federal fingerprints are all over the history of the Cream King Trove. I cannot prove that the research effort is federally funded, but I have not been able to find, in any public documentation, a private source for the financing of whatever is going on in Agley Hall, including Eberhard College, which won’t admit that there is any ongoing research. I cannot prove that there is anything odd about the deaths of William Glass and Eliot Naughton, but both died—without a hint of official suspicion—as they approached the threshold of sharing their knowledge about the South Street punks. Who has the ruthless know-how to remove inconvenient people without raising a hue and cry of murder? Even if we feel obliged to whisper the answer, we all know it’s the feds. And who would think to employ the tactic of publishing a serious book about a serious subject in order to prevent the public from taking the subject seriously? Private individuals don’t have the means or the experience to engage in systematic disinformation campaigns, but (again in a whisper) the feds do. What, though, could the feds have to gain from either the research or the coverup?
As it happens, I stumbled onto a possible answer to this question by accident. I had been trying, in the spring of 1994, to obtain information about the content of punk manuscripts from inside sources who wanted to make it a kind of game. If I asked the right question, they would give me a helpful answer. I was on the phone with such a contact on May 13, 1995, when the television in my apartment began to fill with images of the MOVE incident which had shocked Philadelphia and the nation exactly ten years before. On a hunch I asked my contact if there was a punk manuscript that highlighted the date of May 13, 1985.
He paused, and then he said, “Yes. There is. Or there was. A verse fragment called Fadeaway. When we got it, we had the title and a subhead—that date—but now it’s a fragment without an end or a beginning. How did you know to ask that? Is it a significant date?”
Yes. It was a significant date. While the whole city watched on television, the Philadelphia Police Department attempted to evict the community which called itself MOVE from the garbage- and rat-filled house they occupied in West Philadelphia. As the situation escalated, the members of MOVE demonstrated that they were well armed and determined to resist even a frontal SWAT team assault. The mayor of Philadelphia, Wilson Goode, ordered use of a device that was supposed to incapacitate the gunmen without causing serious injury. The device did not perform as advertised but rather as an incendiary bomb that burned down an entire residential block and killed numerous people, including MOVE members and innocent civilians. A big event.
As I pondered the new, secret significance of the date, a terrible thought came to me. What if some contingent of feds—black operatives or whatever they call themselves—had seized on, or even planned, the MOVE showdown as a cover for an even more shocking event: the extermination of an entire subversive community which, unlike MOVE, had excellent skills for defending itself from attack.
Everything I’d been able to learn about the South Street punks suggested that they were as well organized, disciplined, and skilled as a formal military unit. At their peak they may have had as many as 1500 or 2000 combat-trained fighters. What would it have taken in the way of manpower and weapons to kill them all without attracting attention?
It would have taken a small army of the intelligence agencies’ best covert assassins, fully equipped with automatic weapons and silencers, and the advantage of surprise.
Even the thought of an operation like this scared me and I poked at it hesitantly, from the greatest distance and cover I could contrive. I knew a crime journalist who had been granted interviews inside the federal witness protection program, and I met with him pretending to be accumulating information for a crime novel. I asked him if records would be kept about the amassing, at a given moment in time, of an undercover army of assassins. He said yes, and asked if I had anything specific in mind.
I told him I’d been doing research with a Philly drug dealer from the days of the Pagans and Salvatore Testa and that he had alluded to the presence of a federal “army” in Philly during the MOVE affair. I told him I was playing with the idea of retelling the MOVE story with a sinister federal involvement, but I didn’t want to do it if there was any real truth to it.
He accused me of being chickenshit and said he’d tried to confirm a negative. But then he called me back a month later and asked if I was still playing with the MOVE idea. I said I was.
“Don’t,” he told me. “And remember, you didn’t hear it from me. Don’t ever call me again.”
Why am I telling this now? Because I am living under surveillance now, and something will happen to me or it won’t, and my chances may be better if I dare to report some of the possible reasons.
Back then, though, the call frightened me plenty. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about what motive the feds could have had for such a bold and risky step. There seemed to be only two possibilities. First, that the punks knew more about certain federal activities than the feds would want made public in the foreseeable future. Second, that the punks had something the feds wanted and were preventing them from getting it.
Superficially, the first possibility seemed more plausible. The intelligence outfits are relatively well known for forming alliances with dubious characters and allowing them to continue all sorts of unsavory activities in exchange for information. But, the fact that this is known to some extent about the feds reduces the chance that it would catalyze a mass murder. Who succeeds in accusing the government of crimes? No one. The public believes or disbelieves, shakes its head, and forgets about the fact we all prefer not to see, that our government can do pretty much whatever it wants in this free country of ours. So what if some disreputable ex-punk should one day claim that federal intelligence agencies were bankrolling and profiting from illegal drug sales in Philadelphia? His credibility would be vaporized in the mass media within twenty-four hours of his first interview. Who needs assassins when the networks and print press will do the job for you without bloodshed?
That left me with the second possibility, which—the more I thought about it—seemed to be bending back in a circle toward my second, highly improbable explanation of the punks’ disappearance.
What if—and I know how crazy this sounds—the punks had something, something that wasn’t drugs or money, which the feds wanted desperately? Wanted desperately enough to kill everyone involved.
What could that be?
It would have to be something that related to national security. That’s where the government pulls out all the stops and automatically gets away with everything, no questions asked. Who hasn’t seen the video footage of Area 51 and the perimeter signs that say, "Use of Deadly Force Authorized," while the government blandly denies that the base exists. What’s the big secret at Area 51? Discounting captured alien spaceships, the answer is still in the same category. Technology.
I remembered a term whispered by one of my Cream King Trove contacts. It hadn’t meant much to me at the time. But it clearly impressed him. I had asked him what the big problem was about deciphering the punk computer disks. He told me I wouldn’t understand. I said, “Try me.”
He took a deep breath over the phone. I could tell that he had to confide the secret to someone. He was bursting with it. “These are the wildest computers anyone here has ever seen,” he said at last in a rush of words. “There are some ordinary chips in some of the boxes, but it’s as if they’re just a front end, a kind of translator for a new type of central processor which contains no chips, no circuit boards. It seems to have a biological basis. The main memory—if we’ve got the architecture doped out right—consists of tanks filled with some sort of organic blue jell. Unheard of. You can watch it processing data, which appears as patterns of light. And the patterns are bizarre. The top guy here is one of those Cal Tech super-brains, and he’s convinced that what we’ve got are quantum computers. A bunch of them. And if they are, then every other computer in the world is junk. Or—“ He stopped.
“Never mind. It’s too farfetched.”
“Or what?” I knew he wanted to tell me.
“Or everything else in the world is junk, and you can forget about ever knowing what reality is again.”
And that’s all he would say. I had tabled his portentous hint in the way most of us table ideas we don’t know enough to understand or evaluate. I had a brief comforting rationalization that he was talking about advanced virtual reality games that would allow us to take Caribbean vacations without leaving our apartments, and I stopped thinking about it. I wanted to know what was on the disks, not the technology that was used to put it there.
Yet as I imagined the specter of federal kill squads trooping down South Street under the cover of MOVE and national security, I was compelled to reopen the subject. I went to the library and looked up the term ‘quantum computing,’ about which some academic scientist had written an article in Scientific American magazine.
The principle behind quantum computing seems to be that while an ordinary computer uses a stored algorithm (problem solving formula) to do its computations and other work, the quantum computer would use some of the deepest and weirdest principles in physics to execute all possible algorithms simultaneously.
This didn’t mean much to me. So I checked out some books on quantum physics looking for the deeply weird principles of physics that would drive such a computer. It turns out that quantum physics is, as well as anyone can figure out, a kind of scientific magic. It says that the world doesn’t work the way we think it does. For example, the little solar system model of the atom we all learned in school—the one where the electron orbits the nucleus like the earth orbits the sun—is a lie. The electron isn’t really there at all. What is there instead is a cloud made up of all the probabilities that the electron will be somewhere in particular if we look for it, and it won’t really be anywhere until we do look for it. Which is to say that it will come into existence only when we look for it—suggesting that maybe we create it in the first place by consciously focusing attention on it.
Well, okay, I thought. Maybe that’s how the math is, and maybe that’s how the physicists want to represent it, but it doesn’t have anything to do with reality. That is, my reality, the reality of the solid physical world. And then I read that this is also wrong. When a person—you or me or anybody—knocks on the hard surface of a table, the thing that stops our knuckles from passing all the way through it is not the parts of the atom that are really there, like the neutrons and protons of the nucleus, but the part that isn’t there. What makes matter solid, say the quantum physicists, is that cloud of probable electrons, the ones that aren’t there until we look for one of them in particular.
I don’t pretend that I understood it all. What struck me, though, was all this talk about being there and not being there, and what difference it makes if you look for it or don’t. And then there was the idea of executing all possible algorithms at once, and I started feeling echoes of all the mysterious elements of the punk writer phenomenon.
The word had always been that they had a history but you couldn’t really know what it was because there were so many contradictory versions of it. And you couldn’t ever really get back to the events themselves because the punks were gone and nobody knew if they even existed, and yet here were all these people in Eberhard, Pennsylvania, looking for them like maniacs without even fully believing that they existed.
And so I thought, what if the punks did have quantum computers, and what if quantum computers—with all those simultaneous algorithms—somehow do have the power to change the fabric of reality, even the nature of reality, so that the punks exist and they don’t exist; they have no history and they have every possible history; they disappeared completely and they never left at all. While we argue over irrelevant and obsolete things called facts, they are hovering around South Street in a probability cloud that will come into existence only when we figure out how to look for them.
It turns out that this is not a fantasy interpretation of quantum physics as I initially supposed it must be. The co-existence of mutually exclusive states of being is real enough (if the word still means anything in this discussion) to have a name. It’s called a superposition of states. And there’s a famous paradox that illustrates it called Schroedinger’s Cat. The cat is in this box in a physics laboratory, and it is simultaneously dead and alive. Nobody really likes Schroedinger’s Cat very much, but they’re obsessed with it. Some physicist or other writes a new book about this cat just about every year. Some say he’s really dead. Some say he’s really alive. Some say he’s just a trick. Some say, let’s face facts: he’s dead and alive, just like quantum physics says he is. And if we went to that laboratory and actually opened up the box, my bet is there’d be a note inside saying he’s hanging out with the punks of South Street—Be Back Later.
Would the feds want a technology like that? You bet your ass they would. And maybe you are betting your ass, if you think about it.
I also predict that no answers will come easily in the punk mystery. The computer disks will continue to baffle the experts, and it will slowly become known that the existing manuscripts in the Cream King Trove are as baffling as punk technology. Because if the punks are occupying a superposition of reality, they may still be changing and developing in response to the people who are trying to study them. Therefore, I’m convinced that we’ll see no definitive endings in the Cream King Trove; more likely there will be a proliferation of beginnings, with both middles and endings in dismaying profusion to be uncovered in additional troves that are still concealed (to be concealed?) under South Street.
If and when the disks are decoded, the current confusion may be amplified by the discovery that there are multiple conflicting versions of the very same writings—remember, the punks used their computers in their writing and quantum computers simultaneously generate all possible solutions.
In short, I believe that punk writing will become decipherable only as individual readers and researchers choose to participate in the “measuring” or “watching” event that causes quantum events to declare themselves one way or the other. Each of us has to open the box in which Shroedinger’s cat is alive or dead and see (decide?) for ourselves what the state of the cat may be.
If all this seems too fantastic to consider, I suggest that this may be the punk writers’ real purpose. Their biggest story is their own story, and if they choose to call attention to that story by generating clouds of doubt about their relation to reality as you and I think we know it, perhaps what they are really asking us to do is reexamine our convictions about reality.
As I have continued to pursue the punk phenomenon over the years, people have asked me repeatedly about the nature of my interest. Why should I care about a bunch of street barbarians who thought they could write better fiction than the contributors to The New Yorker? And what were they so angry about anyway? What good does anger do?
I have read and reread The Boomer Bible over the years, and as I search for the real foundation of punk rage against the Baby Boom generation and the cultural heritage of the twentieth century, I think it can be distilled to the question of reality—reality and its relation to truth.
Underneath all the vainglory of modern science, there seems to be a new proposition that scientists have been smuggling into the public awareness, a proposition that runs counter to the consensus of all human history before it. The proposition is that—contrary to the teachings of the great religions—there is not truth, but there is reality, which is good enough to take the place of truth.
Reality, in this sense, consists of the models and schemes and accepted theories of science, which agree on the general premise that absolutely everything is at base a manifestation of very physical phenomena. The Big Bang postulated by cosmologists didn’t just blow up a speck of super-condensed matter; it blew up everything we used to conceive in terms of meaning, morality, and purpose. The Big Bang declares—without removing its loincloth to display all its implications—that we are simply the current chemical by-products of an ongoing chemical reaction that got started a few billion years ago. This is the reality we are taught. We are not taught—not expressly anyway—that such a reality is mutually exclusive with the spiritual and moral cosmology represented by religion.
Science in this respect has usurped religion without acknowledging or addressing the responsibilities of religion. The great religions tell us a story of who we are and where we came from and what our identity and origin say about how we should live our lives. Science also tells us a story about who we are and where we come from, but it says nothing about how we should live our lives. The missing part of the message is the part we might call truth. Religions tell us that the story of who we are and where we come from matters, that the content of this story tells us everything important about how we should interpret the events in our lives and how we should make decisions in response to, or anticipation of, those events.
In this context, the position of scientists with regard to religion is criminal. They say, on the one hand, the story on which your whole religion is based is idiotic, untrue, mere superstition. Then they say, on the other hand, we have no quarrel with the philosophical lessons embedded in the story told by your religion, and we see no inconsistency between our story and your religious philosophy (sans story). This is pernicious nonsense.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, art and literature began to grapple with the real (irony intended) implications of reality as a substitute for truth. The result was existentialism, which tried to straddle the paradox of scientific reality and a civilization whose consensus morality was rooted in a false story. God would not be coming to the rescue of the virtuous. The deciding factor in the human drama was not divine justice, however conceived, but the actuarial tables of the insurance industry. There was no meaning in any absolute sense; there was only—paltry substitute—the chance of appreciation by others similarly disposed, the opportunity for dignity, which is to say a self satisfaction consistent with the standards one has arbitrarily adopted for one’s own conduct. In this cosmology, morality is not a truth of any kind; it is a faintly absurd act of individual heroism.
All this is a game played out in a hall of mirrors. The inevitable result, seen first in art and literature, and then in the culture as a whole, is increasing solipsism, alienation, despair, self-indulgence, and ultimately, flight toward the relief of reduced consciousness.
The literary exercise can be seen quite transparently in the writings of Hemingway, who writes more and more pompously about ‘writing,’ about his ‘one true sentence,’ about the ‘it’ he is seeking in Death in the Afternoon. But truth is not what he is after; his ‘it’ is an entirely subjective choice, blessed only by his sense of its rightness, which is, after all, the sense of Hemingway. But Hemingway, lest we forget, is a combination of household chemicals, including a gene set that may carry its own biochemical predispositions about ‘it’, and a set of early environmental conditioning experiences that half a dozen eminent scientists would be willing to explain “the sense of Hemingway” in terms of, none of which contain any shred of something we would call meaning. And Hemingway knows this—knows it as he strands Robert Jordan in a hopeless situation in a doomed cause for which he must sacrifice everything because he told himself he would, despite the fact that God isn’t watching.
The loss of truth has been obscured to a degree because the more we mean ‘reality,’ the more we talk about ‘truth,’ and the more we mean ‘factual,’ the more we say ‘true.’ These confusions are errors; we cannot freely switch words that are not synonyms. Truth carries with it the requirement of meaning. Reality merely is. And the word ‘factual’ is usually a lie.
Would Picasso have maundered on about one true painting in the way Hemingway does about his one true sentence? Probably not. It’s much harder to conceal what Picasso is doing with art because you can see it; you don’t even have to interpret it. He is taking art apart—now that there is no meaning in the representational symphony of subject and materials and brushstrokes, there’s nothing to stop the painter from copying the cosmologists. If they can take it all down to atoms and quarks, then he can reduce the image to shapes, to angles, to dazzling, funny decorations. And the ‘artists’ who follow can reduce art to a joke or to nothing.
Like car-jackings and school shootings, the annihilation of cultural forms is a twentieth-century invention. The artist of genius breaks old rules—always his privilege—but sets precedents that are uniquely exploitable by empty mediocrities. Picasso transcends representationalism, Eliot dispenses with versification, Joyce disdains comprehensibility, and Hemingway guns down imagination. When the masters die, the fakers move into the vacuum and carpet-bomb the field. Picasso did not intend to destroy art, any more than Eliot intended to destroy poetry or Joyce to destroy fiction.
But Hemingway was more ambitious. He wanted disciples, or he wouldn’t have worked so hard to make writing into a religion. When he teaches a generation (and, as it turns out, every successor generation to date) that what they write must be ‘true,’ he is abusing language and he is preparing the way for the demolition of literature. If the writer must be only an accurate reporter, then he is automatically excused—if not prohibited—from imagining illumination. For as soon as he goes beyond the—dare we say it?—reality of experience as he knows it, he is probably guilty of the ‘cheating’ that Hemingway talks about so endlessly without ever actually defining.
But why would one seek illumination anyway? Illumination also implies meaning, in human terms, which anchors us to the false stories exposed by science. Hence the increasing dreariness of what has come to be called serious fiction. Serious? Hardly. It’s become a joke, perhaps the longest decadent phase in the history of literature, empty of content and obsessed with the phantom virtue called transparency of style. We’re not supposed to know that a writer wrote it—as if books should seem self-written (and babies should have no navels). It aspires to nothing but personal catharsis for the writer who wrote it. It refuses to illuminate. It affects ever finer and prettier language to tell the same nonstory, which is such old news that even plot has been banned from the most celebrated literary fiction, and it seeks to persuade us that a clever enough retelling of its one routine about the combination of luck, personality, and the good old grapple with relativism is enough—consolation enough to know that others are in the same boat.
Even the writers who hate Hemingway and spit on his memory are his disciples; he is to modern fiction what Freud is to psychologists. He made up the terrain of their whole endeavor, and if they are ungrateful and myopic enough to think they are rebelling against his legacy, so be it. They are still obeying his commandments: they feel no obligation to make us think about anything loftier than politics. They do not aim us at any destination grander than coping with the reality of modern life and its tiresome quandaries of social and political etiquette.
So why should the punk writers be angry? In the world they’ve been born into, the consensus among sophisticates is that God is an embarrassingly patriarchal archaism, the salvation offered by Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection is but a metaphoric parable of the need to be nice to others, and the only (real? true?) mission in life is to get through it with as few hardships, pains, and hurtful screwups as possible, for as l-o-o-o-o-o-ng as possible. Art is a hobby, literature is a luxury for people who have time to read, philosophy is a singularly unpromising college major, history is a show on cable TV, justice is a matter decided by litigation, and freedom is a word we say a lot and never think about. This is the wisdom to which reality as a substitute for truth has brought us.
Now, as I obsess on the punks of South Street and their uneasy (non)existence on the line between (un)reality and (un)reality, I find myself contemplating the possibility that what they are proposing is a total reversal of the twentieth century’s grand proposition. Maybe they are proposing instead that reality is not, but truth is.
Reality is not? Is this tenable? A curious phenomenon of our mass media age is that it has become possible for millions upon millions of people to focus on a single event or situation, which is laid out on a microscope slide for all to examine in excruciating detail, and the more we examine it, the more we disagree on what happened.
What historical event has been more closely studied than the assassination of JFK? And yet there is still no single ‘story’ on which everyone can agree. Rather, the opposite is the case. With each passing year there are new and persuasive theories, fundamentally at odds with others. The story may eventually come to an end when we agree enough on one version of the story to stop examining it further, but there is no evidence that there is such a thing as enough information to decide the matter.
Is this ambivalence of ‘reality’ confined to big events? Or is it rather that a big enough event exposes the degree to which we are all simply agreeing on some set of ‘facts’ (assumptions) that we can call reality. If we studied the most recent social gathering we attended the way we’ve studied the Kennedy assassination, would we ever be able to pin down the absolute ‘reality’ of what happened? Or would we discover that everyone is and was experiencing a different reality, many of them mutually exclusive and none of them definitive? Would we discover that the event itself seemed to be changing as we continued to look at it, that what we were thinking and seeking in the present had some reciprocal power to remold the ‘facts’ we believed to be locked in the past?
For if reality is not as simple and preemptive as the scientists of the twentieth century would have it, then we might very well have to fall back on the possibility that what binds us together in human experience is not reality, but truth.
The dishonesty of scientists and of believers in reality as a substitute for truth lies in their refusal to acknowledge that reality is every bit as dependent on story as is truth. The story always comes first, the definition of reality second. The Big Bang is a story. In pursuit of the story, scientists dig up confirming facts. They believe they are observing strictly objective rules in doing so, but the rules set is determined by—what else?—the story. Science begins by saying that science must be concerned only with what can be measured and observed. When they reach the point of believing their own story, they insist that those things which cannot be measured or observed by science do not exist. The result? Their precious ‘reality’ is simply another story, but one which refuses to test its validity in terms of truth.
Truth is? Yes. We have two kinds of evidence that truth is. First, every human civilization is imbued at a very deep level with a sense of the sacred, that is, of ideas and principles and symbols which are surpassingly important, so much so that it is acceptable to individual human beings to give up their lives for them.
Science has repeatedly tried to explain away this deep human sensibility—either by lumping it into the general sickness that constitutes their definition of human personality or by finding a brain location in which it is possible to depict a trickster process that secretes a spurious feeling of meaning in the form of chemicals. But since scientists are mute on the state of affairs prior to the Big Bang—which is to say they don’t know what put the incredibly dense speck there in the first place, they are, in effect, postulating the absence of meaning (as required by a story from which the all-important beginning has been amputated) and then arguing backward from that postulate to discount the perceived experience of meaning as an accident of Evolution.
But does the experience of meaning necessitate the existence of meaning? Not in every case, certainly. One can experience hunger without being in need of eating, or else there would be no overweight people. One can experience fear without being in danger. Yet the matter cannot be explained away by such trivialities. The appropriate analogy to what science is arguing about the perception of meaning is at a more general level. It is like saying that the brain can experience hunger, but there is no such thing as food; that the brain is designed to experience fear, but there is no such thing as danger; the brain has faculties of seeing, hearing, and smelling, but there is no such thing as sight, sound, or odor. Common sense must be allowed in existential matters. If the human mind can perceive deep meaning, then there is such a thing as deep meaning to be perceived.
The second kind of evidence for truth consists of human experience. The twentieth century has—at least in its leadership ranks—accepted the story science tells of our origins and identity. During this century we have seen the end of all forms of high culture, the end of religion , the end of the professions as anything but economic clubs, the end of the family as an institution that guards the culture at large from organizational amorality, and the end of individual consciousness as it was created by Christianity two thousand years ago.
And though we refuse to see it, civilization itself has been done in by the reality story; it has been replaced by a technocratic system without human values. We call it humanistic but its compassions are only the self-interest of an efficient machine which avoids waste of resources to the extent possible. Neutral about such human concerns as freedom, contentment, and spiritual fulfillment, it zealously protects human bodies from harm and seeks to keep those bodies alive for the full span of their usefulness. If they expire shortly thereafter—from loneliness, despair, and boredom—then at least no human will perceive an effect of direct cruelty. And the ones who live on and on and on are the last possible human inspiration in a world without truth, for in a life without meaning or an afterlife, the only remaining aspiration is to live to extreme old age.
The reality story doesn’t work. As a culture, we are dying of it. This dying I speak of is not figurative, not metaphorical. It is there to see in the eyes of the vacant youngsters we call the X-generation. We have given them nothing to build their lives with. They are the final product of the twentieth century and its determination to live in reality, in denial of the existence of truth. And they are already dead at the starting gate.
The truth is, despite a full, largely wasted century of masturbating with ‘facts’ and reality,’ that it is and remains our duty to pursue the truth of an existence whose origin and meaning have still not been finally understood by anyone.
I think that’s the arena the punks of South Street were (and are) exploring. And I think they are laughing right now at the feebleness of the analytical powers that have been brought to bear thus far on their identity and import.
My own purpose in pursuing their story is
to help them, to the extent I can, emerge alive from their
superpositional box into our ‘reality,’ where we sorely need their
passion, their conviction, and their willingness to fight for truth.
btw, if you political junkies don't think any of this relates to the
current political climate, you have my sincere condolences about the
appalling degree of stupidity in which you live your day to day lives.
. I was going to ignore the death of Walter
Cronkite under the principle of saying nothing if you can't say
something nice. But at 8 o'clock this morning I was astonished to see a
filmed, scripted obituary of Cronkite by President Obama; clearly, this
was a product completed well ahead of time, and it strongly suggested
that our president, who now seems to see himself in the role of
national arbiter of great dead Americans, has determined that Cronkite
should be lionized as a saintly example of all that's supposed to be
best about our mass media journalists.
I disagree strongly with that and was preparing to record my thoughts on the subject when I discovered that the fine writer Doctor Zero at HotAir had already posted exactly what I would have said, in more historical detail than I would have included. Every word of his post is worth reading, and the excerpt below is not intended as a synopsis but a teaser:
Now go read the rest of it. The conclusions are far more important than
most of our younger readers will have realized. Doc Zero is the year's
best new addition to the blogosphere.
. Today's New York Post contains a no-nonsense
description of some key provisions in the two health care bills working
their way through the senate and the house. It's written by Betsy
McGaughey, "founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and
a former lieutenant governor of New York." Here
are some lowlights:
Raise your hand if you've found anything else in the mass media stew
that contains as many facts as this brief op-ed. No? Obviously you need
to read the whole thing, copy the link, and send it to absolutely
everyone on your email or Facebook contact list. No kidding. It's even
worse than the excerpts.
Logan's Run, here we come.
It's just a fragment, but it's Johnny Dodge remembering more than
writing, a unique event in his complicated history. The first part is,
thus far, missing, but what's there tells us more about him than we
from any other source, including his famous autobiographical piece
"Country Punk." Here's where the Cream King Trove manuscript becomes
...death of Greedy Sperm.” He looked at my sleeve. There were eleven stitches on it, ten from the Winter War. “I know you don’t like killing. I’m sorry.”
I just looked at him. The last time I’d counted Loco’s stitches, there were thirty-eight of them. Very fine, very small black stitches, leaving lots of room on his black sleeve for more. It looked like there were more than thirty-eight now.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m not catching up very fast.”
“Don’t get callous,” Loco said sharply.
“Then why do we wear our kills like fighter planes?” I asked. “Isn’t it all just turning into a dirty game?”
“No,” said Loco. “The stitches are to remind us, not to brag.”
“Tell that to Cadillac Mope,” I said. “He’s started sewing his in dayglo orange.”
Loco scowled. His jagged white face was growing deep lines, which turned black when he got angry. “I heard about that,” he said. “And he’s not the only one.”
The night before, Priscilla Screw had sat at the front table in the Slaughtered Pig, sewing stitches for half a dozen punks. Spools of bright-colored thread were spread out in front of her like the makings of party favors. Even Kobra Jones had had her do one for him.
Loco caught me looking at his sleeve.
“I’ve never killed one of us,” he stated grimly.
I was stung by what that implied about me and what had happened with Greedy. “Who taught us how?” I asked him.
He fixed me with his good eye and stared me down. “Someone had to,” he said. “Or you wouldn’t be here whining about it.”
“I apologize,” I said. “But it seems like years ago that we wanted to do something worthwhile. And then there was the war, and it’s like fever. Everybody’s changed. We don’t even know each other anymore. It’s like something wiped the slate and everything we were before is gone. I saw Piss Pink yesterday at the Sandman’s and I swear she didn’t recognize me. She’s started carrying a whip. And then Basil Shroud tried to pick a tork with me. Basil Shroud! I saved his life at least three times in the war. And now he’s got a four-foot scriver with an icepick point and a razor edge. And you should see his band mask. It’s a green boar’s head, with tusks dipped in real blood. Of course, his band isn’t spending any time doing pieces. They’re too busy trying to get themselves killed.”
Loco sighed. “And what about you? I can see that you are troubled. Are you still having nightmares?”
“There was only one,” I reminded him. He nodded and I knew then that he had not forgotten.
During the war I had quit drinking and other drugs, thinking it would improve my reflexes. I found out that one of the reasons for going to bed in a stupor is that it stops you from dreaming. On practically my first night of sober sleep, I had the most terrible nightmare I’d ever had. I was on a motorcycle, trying to get back to Punk City in time. In time for what I didn’t know. It was night, or at least it was dark, as if there was nothing outside the motorcycle and I was riding through it, the engine noise disappearing into the darkness behind. As I rode, I could feel a weight pressing against my back, bearing down more and more, so that it was all I could do to keep my head above the handlebars. I somehow knew the weight was my brother, his body leaning against mine, full grown, heavy, and dead. I looked down to my waist and saw his dead hands gripping my middle, not grabbing, but locked together and dead heavy like pale stone. He was suffocating me, and I also felt myself getting smaller, turning back into a boy, almost unable to reach the handlebars, while his increasing weight slowed down the bike until I could feel that we weren’t getting there, would never get there in time. I couldn’t call out to him because he was dead, and so I begged him to let me go, almost screaming the words, even though no sound came out. And then I saw the lights of Philadelphia appearing in the darkness ahead, not like I was seeing them through the night, but as if they had just come on, were just all of a sudden there. I tried to straighten my back, but my brother’s weight was there, and I felt us stopping short, just as the Duke loomed out of the darkness in our path. I shrieked “Rick, Rick, help me!” a scared kid calling for his big brother, but the words froze in my throat and as the Duke bent down toward me with his hammer, I struggled against complete paralysis to get away, which was the moment when I woke up.
“You must remember you are Johnny Dodge,” he said in his solemn way. “You must wake up in the dream and remember that, so when you meet the Duke he will have to face Johnny Dodge instead of a small boy. When you do that, the dream will change. And then it will go away.”
“Johnny Dodge is a name,” I told him. “A made-up name. Nothing else.”
We were standing in a doorway on Third Street. All around us, punks were arming themselves for the fight to come. The bricks echoed with the clank of metal against metal as punks sharpened, tested their blades. People we knew in spite of their whiteface and coal black eyesockets paused in their preparations to look at us and smile through tight lips. Kobra Jones looked directly at me and winked, then drew his scriver down one cheek, drawing blood. When he confirmed the sharpness of the scriver blade with his index finger, seeing the red wetness on his glove, he smiled and whispered, so low I had to read his lips to understand what he was saying: “Johnny Dodge. Johnny Dodge. You and me. We'll kick some biker ass tonight.”
Loco closed his hand around my shoulder. “When they look at you, they don't see a made-up name. They see Johnny Dodge, the fearless one, the fast finisher, with four hundred and forty ways to send you to hell.”
“Sure,” I said. But Kobra and I did kick ass that night, and when I went to bed in my department the next morning, I tried to remember Loco’s advice. When the nightmare came, though, I did not wake up any more than I ever had, and it was playing itself out the way it always did, with the bike slowing down and my brother’s dead weight almost breaking me in half, and my body collapsing back to childhood in the emptying darkness. And then something different happened. I heard the voice of Loco Dantes speaking calmly in my ear.
“Johnny Dodge,” it said. “You are Johnny Dodge. Take your brother home. Take your brother home, Johnny Dodge.”
I still did not wake up, still had no sense that the dream was a dream, but inside the dream I remembered that I was a warrior, and as I remembered, I felt my scriver at my side, the comforting bulk of my torkjack, the iron clamp of my mask. I was indestructible, immortal, and I felt the tender weight of my brother’s body clinging to my back like a leaf.
“Hang on, Rick,” I called to him. “I won’t let them stop us. I’ll take you home.”
And then we were on a long straight road, screaming through the marshland of south Jersey. The front wheel ate the pavement like a shark, but I felt the need to go faster, faster, faster, or we would never make it in time. And then I discovered that I could not remember the way home at all. The road we were on was the wrong one, and Rick was becoming lighter and smaller and fainter behind me as I worked desperately to suck more speed out of the bike. This was when I woke up, relieved that the Duke had not appeared, but confused and unhappy about the direction the dream had taken.
Still, this nightmare seemed a paler, less terrifying one than the other had been, and I had it less often. Sleep made me feel less tired, and I survived through the end of the Winter War and into the bleak aftermath of senseless band duels which Loco and I had been discussing over coffee.
"It’s come back, hasn’t it?” Loco asked. “Your dream about your brother.”
“Yes,” I told him. “It has.” Lately, the changed dream had become as regular and exhausting as the original, and I seemed to spend hours every night looking for the way home through the marshland, with my dead brother evaporating behind me.
Loco fingered his eyepatch. “Have you told yourself to wake up in the dream?”
“Every night before I go to sleep,” I said. “But I never do.”
“But I see you are still drinking coffee.” Loco was smiling at me.
“Yes. Still drinking coffee.”
Our talk turned to other things, and Loco got very insistent about the need for me to keep the 440s together, to keep them working on our pieces, no matter how discouraging things seemed in Punk City.
“We’re bringing in some new equipment,” he said as I finished up my last cup of coffee. Through the window we could see bands emerging onto the broad black ell of South and Headhouse, conversations starting, dogs frisking and leaping with morning fun, the occasional flash of blades in the spring sun. The music was beginning too, a tinny rolling drone that would build in volume until shortly after sunset. No fights yet, though, and Loco seemed pleased about the new gear. “A large central processing unit,” he explained, “with over twelve hundred ports. Plus the software to run it all. Can you imagine what we could do with that?”
“No,” I said honestly. “I can’t.”
“Think about it,” he said. Then he got up and left without saying goodbye. I didn’t see him all that day or the next, but the night after that I rolled out of bed at three in the morning, wakened by a knock at the door. None of the boys stirred, so I opened the door and found Loco waiting quietly in the hall outside.
“We have to hurry,” he said. “The truck’s downstairs.”
“Where are we going?” I asked him. “Should I tell the boys?”
“No time,” he said in a hoarse whisper, sprinting down the stairs ahead of me.
The truck was waiting as he had said. I had driven it many times, hauling our dead across the bridge into the back road marshes where it sometimes seemed that all of us would come to rest. It was an ancient olive drab Dodge with dented fenders, and I hated it, the dirt and hay smell of its rotted interior, the marsh mud permanently caked on its tires, the sick rattle of its exhaust. Nothing reminded me so much of the ugliness and waste of the violence that clung to Punk City like a disease.
“You drive,” Loco ordered, clambering onto the passenger seat.
I started the truck and turned toward Headhouse.
“Which way?” I asked. We were approaching the entrance to New Market Mall, where a lot of torks had taken place in the last few weeks.
“Turn right,” Loco barked. “Here.”
I had no time for a questioning look. I obediently horsed the truck right, up the steps into the mall’s first enclosure, and then somehow we were bounding through the inner courtyard, heading toward a break in the surrounding buildings, through which I could see the lights of the river.
“Which way?” I yelled, almost chanting it, while Loco merely pointed straight ahead, directly at the Delaware.
I braced myself for the lurching descent over steps to the sidewalk, gritting my teeth against my fear of breaking the old leaf springs. But we didn’t bounce once. I looked out the window of the truck and saw the river below us, a shimmer of cool black streaked with silver moonlight.
“Loco, you sonofabitch,” I shouted. “This is a dream. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was the only way to make you wake up,” he said.
We were gaining altitude, soaring past the eastern bank of the river, cruising over the dirty nightlights of Camden.
“Where are we going?”
“Where’s Rick?” I asked, aware of the dream but still caught in its illogic.
“In back,” said Loco, pointing with his thumb.
I looked through the grimy, round-edged back window of the cab and saw a small form under a blanket, curled into the fetal position.
“He’s dead,” I said, feeling a sob rise in my throat like a bunched fist.
“Get going,” said Loco. “We’ve got to get there in time.”
Camden was gone, the moon was full, and we sailed serenely across the gentle swell of Jersey farmland. I could smell the salt of the marsh, the cool full bite of the night air, and I felt rather than saw the hedgerows between fields, the aged barns with their mourning doves and dense old hay, houses nodding in sleep among the woods and streams and ribbed green squares of crops, the junkyards teeming with metal carcasses inside their fences, the struggling towns tethered together by miles of looping asphalt, the wooden boats riding sadly at anchor against arthritic docks that rubbed and rubbed at their paint, willows whispering to the hunkered feathers of owls, dogs lifting their muzzles to the moon, and everywhere the sleep and dreams of the people who breathed this land, in and out, so that it might live on for another age. I felt the love of this place holding us up as we swept through my dream toward home, and when I looked for Loco to my right he was gone. Then, when I looked out again through the windshield, we were there, resting on the lawn of our house, which was dark in every window, with no sign of anyone home.
I jumped from the truck, not thinking to look in the back, because my brother would be lying in the ditch by the mailbox, with a face like hardening wax.
He was there, of course, dressed in that awful corduroy sack of a sportcoat, fifteen years old and still as a bag of trash tossed onto the roadside. I pulled him into my arms, but I could not think what to do except carry him into the house and lay him on the couch in our unused living room, which is exactly where I found him the day he died.
The cushions seemed to pull him in, as if they had been waiting, remembering the scene the way I had, and I felt the dream freezing into the cold reality of how it had been, unable to wrench it in another direction.
Then I heard Loco’s voice at my ear. “Johnny Dodge!” it commanded. “Don’t let him die. Make him breathe. Don’t let him die, Johnny Dodge!”
Of course. Of course. He had stopped breathing. I thumped his chest, felt like a beast beating a corpse.
“Don’t let him die, Johnny Dodge.”
And then I felt Sam Dealey turn to water in my bones and drain away. There was only Johnny Dodge now, going to war against the still chest that was taking Rick’s life. I hammered on the boy’s ribs, again, again, screaming like a madman in his cooling ear, then blew the contents of my lungs into his, still pounding, fighting the way I would have then if I had only known how.
“You can stop now,” Loco said, peering over my shoulder into Rick’s face.
I stopped and stared at the face. The eyelids fluttered, once, twice, and drifted open.
“Hi Sammy,” he said and smiled as he lapsed into sleep.
I woke up in my bed with his two words ringing in my ears, so charged with energy that I was upright and dressed before I was even aware of having gotten out of bed.
My one thought was of finding Loco, which turned out to be easy. He was having coffee in the Rattery with a punk I had seen before but never met.
“Loco!” I said explosively, bracing myself to use the Stingle.
But Loco greeted me in the Tung and seemed not to notice anything out of the ordinary in my mood.
“I’ve been having a conversation with your friend St. Nuke. He’s got some very interesting ideas about how to solve some of the problems we were discussing the other day.
“I don’t think I’ve met you,” I told St. Nuke.
“I always wanted to meet Johnny Dodge,” said St. Nuke with a confident grin.
Loco acted astonished, a rare happening. “The two greatest warriors in Punk City, and they don’t know each other?” Loco shook his head. “Nuke, meet Johnny Dodge. Johnny, meet the man who killed the Duke.”
I stared at Loco in shock. “But that was—“
“St. Nuke,” Loco told me firmly. “I saw him do it.”
I never finished the sentence. St. Nuke, grinning, waved a hand in my face as if to remind me that Loco and I weren’t alone. I turned toward him.
“Hi, Sammy,” said St. Nuke.
“That’s Johnny,” corrected Loco, coolly dismissing a slip of the tongue. “You two need to talk about the project.”
“What project?” I asked, sensing that I was not to voice my thoughts on other matters.
“The Boomer Bible,” said St. Nuke.
The rest is history. Unless it isn't.
I never much cared for the whole "open landscape" trend in office
architecture. Privacy's a great boon when it comes to getting work
done, and all those open cubicles are both a plague with respect to
distracting ambient noise and an invitation to unwelcome visits from
all and sundry (usually people with no real work to do). People who
have thoughtful work to do should be able to do it without hearing
horselaughs in the hallway and mailcarts colliding with itinerant latte
I object to it especially with regard to bosses. They should absolutely have their own offices, and regardless of what they always say, their doors should remain closed. (There is such a thing as a knock, after all). I appreciate that there are tasks they have to do which require concentration and solitude, and I would sincerely hope they could appreciate that we peons absolutely do not need to see and hear them all the time to know that they're there. We get it. We know who's in charge. And it's actually counterproductive to have a constant view of him with his feet up on the desk flinging darts at a photo of George W. Bush.
Oops. Did I give something away? Well, you knew where I was going with this. What's interesting -- to me anyway -- is that today an estimable veteran Democrat is actually seconding my opinion about this. Ted Van Dyk, an official in the long ago Johnson administration has written an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal politely suggesting that Obama should "reset" his presidency. He has a number of recommendations, but this is the one brought me to my feet shouting "Hear, hear!"
The rest of his ideas don't carry as much weight with me because
I'm not expecting Obama to do anything but continue his single-minded
crusade to demolish my country beyond repair, so Ted and I have very
different hopes and dreams. But this does seem to be a very reasonable
request, an area in which less
transparency is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Besides, I really
hate the symbolism of an empty, decaying Oval Office. Yes, I know he's
not really our president (whose he is I leave to you to ponder), but I don't need my nose rubbed in the dusty
carpet of my nation's murdered corpse.
How can I put this delicately? GO BACK TO YOUR GODDAM OFFICE AND STAY
THERE UNTIL WE TELL YOU CAN COME OUT, YOU OVEREXPOSED CAMERA HOG, YOU!
EVEN TED BUNDY KNEW THAT WHAT HE WAS DOING WAS MONSTROUSLY SICKENING TO
ANY WHO WITNESSED HIM IN ACTION. HAVE THE COMMON DECENCY TO DO YOUR
DIRTY WORK BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.
Maybe I need to work some more on my tone. What do you think?
. Not chapter and verse. Probably because he could no longer
count. This is purportedly part of the manuscript described as taken
away by the Shuteye
Train after Gypsy's death. According to Frank Frelinger. Can we
trust him? Well, we'll hear more about him later.
“The good Lord must have been watching over you that day,” my nurse has told me since.
“Why?” I asked her.
“You were somewhere else,” she said. “You didn’t know us, couldn’t recognize your room.”
“SO?” I inquired, growing angry at her brute candor.
“Don’t you see?” she asked triumphantly. “It’s pure dumb luck you got back here at all. How did he know to bring you here? You sure didn’t tell him, sweetie.”
“I’m not your sweetie. Leave me alone.”
“He found you down by the river, he said. You were staring up at that dumb sign on the bridge. TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES. Of course, who knows?” She sniffed. “He looked like a back street thug.”
“Us minnows stick together,” I retorted, but it frightened me that I could not remember enough of what happened to refute her slanders. But that has become the story of my life. Things I cannot change are changing me, day by day, an accelerating loss I cannot reverse.
I sit here in my room, writing in longhand. Once I was a calligrapher. I had pens and parchment and paints that imbued my dead characters with life. Now I can hardly read my own script. The letters stagger across lines of notebook paper like sick and broken soldiers who no longer recall the order of the march. How can they be trusted, this pathetic army of my memories?
I was called Gypsy. I was born in Trenton, the half-pint lamebrain child of parents who failed and fled away. I lived with Lilith, who taught me to endure, and when she died I moved on, to the City of Brotherly Love and thence to South Street, where I lived inside a world of passion, pain, and ferocious light. There were momentous events, of which I seemed to be a witness and a pivot.
It may be that all of this is lost already, a song that sang in an empty room, an impossible tree that grew in an imaginary wood. When I read my own words, I can no longer be certain. Each life is a string of possibilities, from which we weave the fabric of our days. But what is merely possible does not always come to pass. Have I remembered? Or have I merely dreamed?
For it often seems a dream, the days of South Street. The children came like sleepers into a maelstrom, unmindful of the wind and rain that tore at their hair. They moved through it as if their storm were as ordinary as life itself. They had no sense of the fantastical, the wondrous urgent spinning of their world, which grabbed some of us in passing and dashed our minds to bits.
And mine was always dying anyway, bit by rotten bit, no less then than now, when I awake in the gray terror of dawn, awaiting the final antiseptic sun that will burn away the last of me—in a month, or two, or maybe three. I am resigned to cindered darkness, but not to the betrayal of the colors that yet remain. There was, there must have been a war on South Street, after all the soldiers had already died and only children stooped to pick up stones and swords and the banners left behind. They fought like heroes, died like dogs. Impossible. Some things that never happen happen, but never things some protomoron minnow dreams.
And yet it must have been. There are too many memories, too rich and ripe with color. I have my rope, which spreads its wings and flies into the rainbow, where all colors begin and end. And there, in the supernal curve of binding light I behold the truth of time, which does not sleep or die, but shimmers and writhes like a great vivid serpent, suffocating some, terrifying many, swallowing all. Inside its endless belly, the living and the dying both live on. Inside I still am working on my median, and my friends have never gone away.
Stoplight and the Snake Man, and Angel, and Mr. Magic, and Aurora, and all of the many warriors who took up arms in the name of the Raptor are still with me now, behind the torkmasks that hid for so long the features of their minds. And I feel, like the pain of birth, the slow removal of their masks, which cost them everything in time but unveiled my vision and steeped it in brilliant light before the clouds at last returned to close my sight.
And if I could but recollect that light, just once, I would be content to lay down my pen and crawl into the waiting shroud. But somewhere I have lost the source, the center, and the carousel spins round and round, demanding that I pluck out memories one by one, piece them back together on my own. I have my rope, but it twists through my vision strangely anymore. Today, just now, I know this bloody rag, which contains a memory of the Duke. I feel his granite strength, the chiseled malice of his voice. And here is a swatch of Stoplight’s coat, before he put away his drink and tracked a nightmare across the asphalt desert of his fears. And my Aurora, dawn of light, her coronation muslin in my ugly little hand, not quite lost, though not quite somehow home. But my rope twists through my vision, and on a misty afternoon or slablike night I cannot summon recollection from the knots. Whose canvas scrap is this? Whose silver shred? Whose dead blood on this once white scarf? Whose fine black woolen rag is this? And I grope, a distant dwarf feeling through the fog for slivers of clear light.
Whose black woolen rag?
Whose black woolen rag?
Whose black woolen rag?
Mr. Magic’s or must have been.
He lived with me once, after Lilith and after my time in the cliffs of steel, when the siege was done, and the king had made himself known.
There was a king, his name was St. Nuke, and he ruled on South Street for a time.
This was before—no, after—the coming of the Raptor to my median, when I joined the world of the punks, and Mr. Magic went to work.
He was a magician, a tall black visitor who shared my place with me.
I had a loft, a place to paint, and I let him stay with me.
He kept doves or pigeons, I don’t recall which, and there was a constant bubbling murmur from the birds that always told me when I was home.
He had come to help them see, he said, the children who lived on every side of us, and he started with the cards.
I remember the cards.
I do remember the cards.
The cards are clear somehow, some kind of crossroads in my mind, leading me to places which seem familiar, which seem to live along my rope.
Carefully, carefully, I find my way through the tangles of the past.
He had a deck of cards that never looked the same. He laid them out in patterns on the hardwood floor.
There was a constant murmur from the birds.
The punks came to learn their mission from the cards.
There was a punk star named Kassander, who played the guitar, and the others followed him.
Mr. Magic read him the cards, I seem to remember, I think that’s how it was.
His name was Kassander, a young man full of promise.
O Kassander! What have they done to you?
He was a star, he had a guitar, and he thought there was something in words.
I remember now.
After the Raptor, Kassander made a visit to our loft.
He came looking for Mr. Magic, though he nodded and smiled at me.
Night. Night had fallen, cool and crisp, and the bars were screaming across the street, under the burble of the birds.
“Something is happening,” Kassander told the black man. “Something is building.”
“Don’t laugh,” he went on, “but the words are starting to count. Don’t ask me why. They never did before.”
It was then that the cards first appeared.
Mr. Magic fished them out and handed them to me. He made me shuffle them, made Kassander cut them, and gestured for me to deal.
I laid them out the way he told me, four rows of four cards each.
“The bottom row’s what was,” he said. “The middle rows are what is and will be.”
“And the top row?” I asked.
“That is,” he said, “what might be.”
“What is?” Kassander asked.
Mr. Magic smiled. “One single moment is,” he said, “in which what was, will be, and might be are all enclosed. A moment to seize, no matter how much it costs.”
“How much will it cost?” Kassander asked.
The building shook with the music from the bars. The three of us sat throbbing on the floor.
“And what’s to be gained?” Kassander asked, his eyes gleaming bright inside circles of black and blue.
“One life, one mind, one dream, one moment of understanding.”
“I don’t understand,” Kassander said.
“Precisely,” Mr. Magic replied. “So let us look into the cards.”
They talked far into the night, long after I had gone to bed.
I remember waking with a sense of dread, as if some point of no return had been passed without remark.
And so it had.
They came to call it “The Change.”
But it wasn’t just one change. It was many.
The punks retreated back into the darkness. Even my regulars no longer visited my median.
Instead, they hid themselves until the bikers grew weary of waiting each night and roared angrily away.
There followed a few short hours of furious activity. South Street filled with punks, Kassander prominent among them, and they all worked hard at tasks that seemed to make no sense.
They did what looked like dancing, calisthenics, and leaps and spins and shouts in unison.
They carried things—boxes and pieces of metal equipment and reels of cable—back and forth across the street.
On one of the first cold nights, the punks had a bonfire on South Street, and for hours I heard the sound of breaking glass as dozens of syringes shattered on the white hot asphalt.
After that, I heard no more music. They had put away their guitars and drums and microphones, and the bars were quiet as tombs.
South Street began to take on a rich new odor, which I finally recognized as coffee, strong and black and steaming hot.
The character of the dancing and calisthenics evolved, as did the fashions of the dancers. There was no longer one mass of identical punks, but dozens of smaller groups who danced as one and wore the same bright-colored coats and cloaks and full-face masks.
And although I didn’t notice it right away, the place called Punk City was becoming a magnet for stray dogs.
They didn’t bark, they didn’t foul the street, they didn’t make a nuisance of themselves, but they came and stayed, as if drawn by some instinct that tied them to the punks.
I asked Mr. Magic to tell me what he knew, but he deflected my questions while insisting that I put off my plans to leave.
He had quietly taken over the responsibility for paying the rent, and our larder was never short of food. Yet he had ceased performing at the same time I had, when the punks slipped back into night. Now he slept all day and spent his waking hours among the punks, for whom he read the cards in private.
Among his clients I recognized Ripp Starr, the Snake Man, Zero Daze, and dozens of others I knew by sight or by name, including more than a few women.
They were kind and friendly when they came to the loft, but they didn’t volunteer any information about their sessions with Mr. Magic.
I could learn little by eavesdropping, though I tried, of course. They all spoke now in a slang so elaborate that it sounded foreign to my ears.
When I tried to converse with them, even my friends acted as if they couldn’t understand me.
Alone with my speculations, I couldn’t find a good explanation for what I was observing.
It seemed like some large theatrical production for which the actors were learning and practicing their lines while the stagehands worked feverishly to prepare the sets and costumes and props that would be needed on opening night.
I should have suspected, but didn’t, that the production they were planning was a war.
When it came, it was like a thunderstorm that beats its drums and flies its dark flags long before it smashes the windows.
The punks were no longer buying drugs from the bikers.
They had begun patrolling a perimeter around South Street through which they permitted no drugs to be carried or sold.
They were daring the enemy to strike at Punk City.
These facts I learned from Mr. Magic the night the Duke made his first appearance on South Street.
Kassander had been in to see Mr. Magic early that evening, shortly after sunset.
He had his own deck of cards now, like most of the punks, and he was so agitated that he couldn’t keep his voice below a shout.
I saw him at the far end of the loft, waving a quartet of cards in Mr. Magic’s face. He was yelling and stamping his feet.
“Treacherosity,” he raged. “That’s in mine. Whysn’t it in yours? Glim the lay! The Dice, The Boss, The Piece, The Wedding! S’what will be. S’traitoration! Whysn’t it in yours?”
Mr. Magic murmured in response, tapped his own array of cards.
Kassander turned to go, looked back and almost spat his final words. “I be frighted. S’more, I be right!”
“What’s the matter?” I asked the black man when Kassander had stomped down the stairs.
He sighed. “Too many cards,” he said. “They all have their own now. Mine was the same as his by the numbers, but the names are different, and he sees disaster looming.”
He pointed at the cards on the floor. I read their numbers and their names. Number Ten, Volos. Number Four, The Star. Number Two, The Wand. Number Twenty, The Voyage.
“Does that look like disaster to you?” Mr. Magic asked.
“Maybe,” I said, recalling that I had never seen Kassander so angry and frightened.
“Perhaps you and Kassander are both right,” Mr. Magic said. “Necessary events are not always welcome when they occur.”
At midnight, Mr. Magic pulled a chair to the window. I did the same.
South Street looked clear, brittle, and unreal under the December moon.
The silence seemed to be waiting for its own end, which came shortly after the stroke of one.
A distant growl of motors crept toward us, like the sound of an angry shadow falling across South Street.
It rose and fell infinitesimally for a time, as if circling, then suddenly stood up like a wave and broke over us.
Powerful blades of light stabbed the doorway of the ECCE, the Whoreshop, the Slaughtered Pig.
A low train of motorcycles thundered down the street, followed by a long black convertible with the top down and a redheaded man standing in the back seat.
The searchlights were mounted on the car, and a biker stood on the trunklid aiming them like cannons.
The man in the back seat held a bullhorn to his mouth.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he croaked into the mouthpiece. “The Duke has come to deliver his final warning.”
I turned to Mr. Magic. “It looks like disaster to me,” I told him.
“Behold The Boss,” he replied and turned back to the window.
Then, from every doorway came the punks, masked and cloaked and quiet.
Almost everyone I knew was there, Ripp Starr, Slash Frazzle, The Snake Man, Piss Pink, Trixie Slit, Muck Smell, Eddy Rat, Dead Letter, Zero Daze, and many more.
I recognized Kassander, tall behind his blue death’s head mask, followed by the members of his band, the Doomslayers.
At his side was Liz Smack.
She was dressed in skintight white, her hair red as the Duke’s, and her legs were long and beautiful in the moonlight.
Kassander tried to push her back but she gazed at the searchlight like a fascinated bird.
At last he gave her an angry shove and stepped forward into the beams of the car’s headlights.
“Gitout of Punk City,” he shouted at the Duke.
The Duke threw down his bullhorn and roared back at the punk who had challenged him.
“Shut up, you clown! It’s my turn to talk!”
“I am called the Duke,” he said, addressing the assembled punks. “When you partied with nose candy, it was at my pleasure. I’ve been patient with you children and your silly games. When you dared to pick fistfights with my little band of Angels, I overlooked it. Parties get out of hand sometimes, I thought. When one of your morons killed one of mine with a tire iron, I took out my hammer and looked at it for a long time, but I didn’t bring it down.”
The Duke held out the hammer he had drawn from his belt, a wicked sledge that shone coldly in his hand. The glare of the searchlight was so strong I couldn’t see his face, but I could feel the hardness of his voice as it continued.
“And when a cowardly little band of punks slaughtered someone who was actually of value to me, I still kept the peace, because I am a businessman and many of you were my customers. But it seems you have decided to stop being my customers...” Here he paused to look all the way around the car, as if he could see into the eyes of every punk there. “...And it is this which has caused me to lose my temper at last.”
I saw no movement. There was a flash, a crash, and a sparkling cascade of glass as the Duke buried his hammer in the windshield of the car.
Involuntarily, every punk but Kassander took a half step backward, recoiling from the shock of the hammer blow.
“I am done with your insolence,” the Duke said. “There will be no more interference with my business on South Street or anywhere else. The next time I come here, I will turn my Angels loose to kill as many of you as they want. If you think I can’t do that, think again. My authority comes from a source so high that the police will hold our coats while we cut your throats and help us hose your blood down the storm drains. You are alone in this. All alone. Have I made myself understood?"
Throughout the Duke’s speech, Kassander had kept his eyes fixed on the figure in the car.
Now he stepped forward and prepared to answer the ultimatum. But as he opened his mouth to speak, the Duke turned completely away from him and gestured into the mute crowd of punks.
“You,” he commanded. “Come here.”
It was Liz Smack he was addressing. She came forward, smiling like a child pleased to have been noticed.
The Duke beckoned with his hand, opened the door of the car. She climbed in obediently and averted her eyes as he pulled her close to him.
“You took someone of value from me. Now I’m taking someone of value from you.”
Finally, he looked down at the stricken figure of Kassander, who could not believe what had occurred.
“Now, Mr. Punk Leader,” snarled the Duke, “Was there something you wanted to say to me?”
The convertible lurched into motion. The Snake man grabbed Kassander and pulled him out of the way just in time. The punks simply stood and watched as the entire procession moved slowly up South Street, toward Center City.
Kassander looked crumpled and half asleep. The punks stared at him, lost without his presence.
“Boomer balls!” screamed Slash Frazzle at his leader.
“A disaster,” I said to Mr. Magic. “Kassander was right.”
“The end of childhood always seems like a disaster,” Mr. Magic told me. “And some of us don’t survive it.”
I marveled at the cunning of the Duke. He had known just where to strike at the punks and their pride. One moment of uncertainty by Kassander had been enough to defeat them.
Days and nights went by. South Street was a sepulcher. There was no nightly practice for war. No punk ventured onto the street. Even the dogs seemed to have disappeared.
A week after the Duke’s visit, there was a knock at the door of the loft. It was three in the morning.
I let Kassander in with a nervous glance at Mr. Magic, but he smiled to comfort me, and the two of them greeted one another without apparent emotion.
“Allabody be going to git her back,” the young punk said. He was made up but wearing no mask. Yet the death’s head seemed to have left a lasting impression, as if his blue-painted skin had gone translucent to show the skull beneath.
Mr. Magic seemed not to be listening. He had turned his back and was fiddling with a set of glass tubes he kept on a high shelf near his bed.
When he faced Kassander again, he held out a tube full of clear blue liquid. “Drink this,” he said.
Kassander stared at him with dull suspicion, then shrugged and drained it at a gulp.
Within ten seconds he put a hand to his eyes as if to rub them, shook his head, then focused slowly on Mr. Magic.
“Whatsit?” he asked, then more slowly, “What... is... that... stuff?”
Mr. Magic took the empty tube and put it back in its rack. “Blue,” he said. “It clears the head.”
Kassander gazed at the rack then back at Mr. Magic, When he resumed speaking, his words were slow and carefully chosen.
“We have to get her back,” he said. “She was mine and he took her. Punk City can’t survive if we don’t take back our own. And there is something else. During the big showdown, some of the Angels broke into the Bitterbox and took some of our gear. They bloodil—busted up Muck and Toe Lint pretty bad. We have to strike at the Angels.”
“But you’ve looked at the cards,” Mr. Magic said. “You know the price of getting her back.”
“Yes,” Kassander replied. “I know the price. I’ve got no problem with the price. What I have a problem with is how we do it. We can defend South Street, but how can we attack the Duke’s turf and have any hope of winning?”
“That is a problem,” Mr. Magic conceded. “What do the cards say?” He was smiling.
“The Machine,” Kassander replied, “and the Razor, the Sandman, and the Safety Pin. What might be.”
“And what will be?”
It was Kassander’s turn to smile. “South Street, The Punk, and Philadelphia.”
“What else?” prompted Mr. Magic.
Kassander frowned, thought, finally remembered. “The Man,” he said.
“Go home and sleep,” Mr. Magic advised. “The ‘how’ will seem easier in the morning.”
Kassander looked at both of us, unsure about what he wanted to say. “I loved her,” he confessed at last.
“I don’t know anymore. It’s like I died when she got into the car with him. It’s like I’m outside of my time now. I think that makes me dangerous. And—“ He broke off, not wanting to say more.
“And?” insisted Mr. Magic.
“Cold as he is.”
“Go home and sleep,” repeated Mr. Magic.
I had fallen into the same schedule as the punks, sleeping until sunset every day. When I was shaken roughly awake the next morning, it was the first time I had seen the sun in months.
“What’s wrong?” I cried, seeing Kassander and the Snake Man looking sternly at me.
“We need you to do a drawing,” the Snake Man said.
“Now,” added Kassander.
Grumbling, I pulled on my clothes, ashamed at having them see my stumps of legs and bent back. I demanded that Kassander carry my chalks, and I kicked the Snake Man when he accidentally trod on my bare toe.
He jumped away in surprise and I heard the clink of glass in his khaki coat. I suspected that Mr. Magic’s tubes of blue were somehow involved in this expedition.
My median seemed both familiar and strange, like a house I’d moved out of long ago. The sun was very bright, a cold December light that made my bones seem hollow, filled with the ache of snows to come.
Kassander described what they wanted me to draw. I started tentatively, not used to the demanding geometry of machinery.
“That’s right,” the Snake Man said, growing excited at the bare outline I had drawn. I looked up and saw that in his enthusiasm he had rubbed his whiteface thin, so that the pink skin underneath was shining through.
I thought of the blood that would be shed. Maybe even his. I understood what it was they were asking me to draw.
The Snake man described all the detail parts—the mounts and swivels and racks and pivots.
“Don’t forget the most important part,” Kassander laughed, overflowing with glee.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A socket for the blue.”
When I got back to the loft, I woke up Mr. Magic and told him what had happened.
“They’ll be needing a machine shop,” he mused, “and probably some money, too.”
“What is blue?” I asked.
“I told you last night. It clears the head.”
“They finally stop taking drugs, and you give them something else to swill. Is that what they need?”
“That is what they need,” Mr. Magic said firmly.
For the next few days, I couldn’t make out what was happening. There was activity again after dark, not like before, but I saw small groups leave the ECCE at intervals, silent as mist, and return very late, sometimes just before dawn.
The junk shop two doors down from the ECCE burst into noisy prominence a few nights later with the whine and screech of power tools working on metal.
Two nights after that, a small squad of bikers rode into Punk City on the heels of the returning bands of punks.
They drew guns but didn’t get to use them. Their chests sprouted sudden flowers, red blooms that grew from short black shafts, and they toppled off the bikes onto the pavement.
The Snake Man fetched an ancient pickup truck from a side street and the bodies were loaded into the back under a tarpaulin.
Punk City had gone to war, and I was the only one who hadn’t quite figured it out.
The suspense continued to build for another week, and another, and another.
The punks were marking time, buying their war materiel, building their weapons of assault, making trouble outside Punk City.
They all exhibited a fevered urgency, aware that they had to act before the Duke returned, a moment which drew closer with every foray they made into other parts of the city.
I dreaded the prospect of the punks’ invading the Duke’s turf, but I was still almost relieved when the time came for their mass assault.
It was the night of the new moon, so dark that I could barely see what was happening on South Street.
The ECCE was just a looming shadow, but there were other shadows shifting and building in front of it, the shapes of dogs and punks and their new weapons of destruction, motorcycles of a kind the Duke and his minions had never seen before.
They rolled out at two in the morning, their concerted movement making no more sound than the whir of birdwings.
And I... to my lasting shame... I stayed
We want to trust it. Because there's almost no other account of this
formative period in punk history. But Gypsy suffered grievously from
Alzheimer's at this point in his life. What to do?