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Field Work

The front door was open, but you could have heard these two bitches coming up the street all the same.  It was late.  The after-bar traffic had petered out hours ago.  Crickets one minute, and then a crescendo of hiccoughing laughter.  The screen door creaked.  My beautiful friend, Amelia, was dumping what smelled like a bag of shit soaked in old cooking sherry onto the rug in the living room.  It’s my ex-girlfriend.  There she lie, rumpled, seething.  Amelia’s eyes were whisky rheumy, but there was her trademark twinkle of amusement balanced by some kind of shame.  As if she had squandered some of my trust just pouring drink down the hole in Tabby’s face all night.  ‘Well done.”   She twinkles anew.  “You know you didn’t have to bring her here …’  No apologies.  As we spoke, the stinking pile began inching its way along the carpet toward the bedroom.  ‘I’ll send your sweatshirt around tomorrow.’  I wanted to hug her goodbye.  Couldn’t risk a hard-on.  Then I walked down the hall, checked that Tabby was breathing.  I could smell the rasp of her body desperately processing the poison out of her, immediately pulled the door shut.  Then I lie down on the rough nap of the couch and slept with the television going to cover up the sound of her snoring.  It took most of the next day to air out the bedroom.

David Stephenson photo credit

feeling peckish… ? (img credit David Stephenson)

That was six years ago.  I remember it sharply as I wake up and realise that it is my tangy bag of organs fouling up someone else’s room.  My laboured attempt to clear out whatever it was I dumped in there last night.  I’ve come across two continents to the heartland of the Midwest to teach American History at the middle school in some depressing backwater where my brother has been raising his family.  The previous teacher was hit by a bus last week and lay in some condition or another in a special nearly-dead middle-aged women’s unit of the regional hospital, seventy miles away in what the locals refer to as ‘the city,’ presumably because there are more than two stoplights.  Nonetheless, I was eager to leave the depressing backwater where I had been ensconced doing field work on ancient burial myths of some long forgotten indigenous people around Karwar, Goa.  The grant money that had taken me there was nearly gone when out of nowhere the local school corporation shot me a phone call and offered to pay the plane fare.  My little brother, bless his heart, had put my name into the hat and I fit the qualifications.  After several layovers and lots of airplane sized bottles of Jamesons, he picked me up and we drove home via the honky-tonk and about twelve pitchers of watery American beer, various grain-based liquors, scores of calloused handshakes with people named Dale, Berta.  Now I’m hungover as fuck and maybe late for school.  The more things change.

This is what they mean when they say ‘slate grey morning.’  Everything looks dead.  There’s a dust of ice covering everything.  I can see my breath.  I scrape a couple peepholes into the windshield of my brother’s pickup truck.  Chuck my leather satchel into the cab and shiver.  I wonder how soon until we get a snow delay.  The thought cracks a thin smile on my face.  Sink the key into the drive shaft, the sawing sound of the engine block turning over and rattling in its rusted housing.  Watch out for the deer, I remind myself in my brother’s voice.

The bristles of the wintering cornfields are poking up through the snow, like those hedgehog-shaped shoe cleaners you find on old people’s front porches.  So much unbroken space, you can see the horizon curve with the earth.  The sun is barely lighting up the eastern edge of the inky henna nothing where the Sunday school teaches kids that God lives with their dead grandparents and hamsters.  There are three times as many stars as I remember ever seeing in Karwar.  Too many stars.  I am glad I don’t have to guide myself by them.  The roads all lead to the gas station, the court house, the cluster of cement block buildings where the rote socialisation of the rural youth happens under the ever-watchful eyes of the US Department of Education.  Gospel music on the radio.  It’s the kind of drive that happens by itself.

I’m suddenly conscious that I’ve pulled into a parking lot, taken the key from the ignition.  Swing the door open and whisps of fast food wrappers, cigarette packets follow me out.  Animal tracks dot the snow of the parking lot – that one’s a squirrel, that’s a rabbit, those two are from deer; that set is from whoever walked from and to this space yesterday.  They crunch under my steps, icy memorials to an egress now destroyed.  I pop another Altoid.  I’m going to need some ibuprofen or something to get out of this terrible mindset.

I go through the motions of meeting some ruddy faced administrators, wizened secretaries, the principal – Missus something – shaking hands, making good impressions, being jovial.  Their coffee is fucking horrible.  Little unmarked silver body bags piled up by the drip-filter machine.  I rub my jaw and realise I have forgotten to shave the stubble from half my left cheek.  This is still better than combing through dirt mounds under a tarpaulin in the rain, sifting animal shit from sea shells.  At least I speak the language.  Enough to make small talk.  Clawing open a paper sachet of aspirin.  I toss my head back, open my eyes and she’s standing there in the doorway of the lounge.  A girl.  I hate all five feet of her.  Pale blue eyes dusted in the same ice as the cornfields.  Lank hair just like a pile of dead corn stalks.  Just shaking her head.  The principal, she addresses her, ‘Pamela, this here’s the fresh meat we got on emergency loan from the university.  Gabriel’s brother.  Can you do something right today and show him to his classroom?’  ‘Well then I’m telling the kids what really happened to the Japanese,’ and she turns to leave.  Over her shoulder in a stage-whisper of mock confidence, ‘I suggest you stop in at the gas station if you want coffee.  What they brew around here will probably make your asshole fall out.’  I wave goodbye to the people whose names I have already forgotten as I follow her down the hallway.  Mug in front of my lolling head.  Pamela.  She does Literature.  Or Language Arts.  Something.  She’s not from around here either.

I’m sure there is something here I am not recalling well.  Some kind of look that she gives me where I know she’s not the tight-kneed, church-going girl her colleagues think she is.  Something about the way she delivers the straight dope on the superintendent’s drinking habits, some hidden secret regarding the mathematics faculty; something subtle but definite that tells me sexual congress is, if not a certainty, at least within driving distance.  She shows me to the bland little orange-coloured classroom where I slowly die for the next forty minutes while I prepare my lesson plan.  She pokes her head in the door before the bell and my first set of students.  “Jesus.  You can open a window in here.”  Why hadn’t I thought of it already.  Shuffle about.  “Where did you say your brother had you out drinking?  Four Trees?  Real redneck bar.”  I hadn’t.  Good guess.  She knows my brother.  Small fucking county.  “Find me after school.  I’ll take you somewhere a bit more civilised.”  That was quick.  Whatever I say to her, the smile in her chilly dishwater eyes is genuine although the rest of her expression looks like she’s holding her nose.  Well.  All roads lead to the center of town.

The day is forgettable if only because the whole regimented world of a middle school demands that it be so.  I am sure if I think about it, I had a good time.  All five periods of kids I will be teaching for the next six to eight weeks are great – bright eyed, innocent, in the flush of early adolescence.  A few are even intelligent, asking questions, getting involved.  No muck abouts, no bullies, no bullshit artists like I was at their age.  At least none that I can tell.  I eat the cafeteria lunch in my classroom.  It tastes so fucking amazing I go back for a second tray, my body starved of nutrients.  I think we had some pork rinds and peanuts last night.  Most of my calories were liquid.  In any case, the last bell comes out of nowhere, too quickly.  I promise myself that tomorrow I will try to savour the experience, get some mindful joy out of my day.  I didn’t come here just to survive, I came to live.  Pack up the satchel.  Return the mug to the lounge.  Parting shot to the secretaries, the principal what’s-her-name.

Halfway through the parking lot, a snowball cracks me in the back of the head.  There’s a nostalgic kind of pain.  About face, unsurprisingly I see Pamela with a big dumb smirk on her face.  “You don’t follow directions real well, do you.  I’m flunking you out, dude.”  The ball is in my court.  I crank my head around; nobody is going to hear what I’m about to say.  I’m honestly kind of angry at first, then it fades and I notice something else.  The libido, the id, call it what you want.  It’s been about six months since it’s had an excuse to attack.  ‘Well who’s the attention starved, aggressive piece of ass around here?’  Very bold.  I continue, ‘I feel like being pushed around by a perfect stranger.  Know anyone?’  ‘You’re a horrible flirt.  And presumptuous.  I’ll pick you up at seven.’  She’s turned to her car door.  ‘Shave that cheek.  You look ridiculous.’  I don’t even consider to tell her where I’m staying and how to get there.  Of course she would know.  Things are so simple here, everything seems natural.

On the drive along the ‘B’ roads back to Country Breeze Drive, I wonder how hungry for company this woman can possibly be.  After all, ‘the city’ is just over an hour away.  Gasoline prices don’t seem high enough to make a booty call there prohibitively expensive, even on a teacher’s pay grade.  Is there some taint to her?  I pull up to the snow bank of a driveway.  Speak to my screaming nephews,  nieces.  The sister-in-law is already putting their supper on the table.  I shower, finish shaving, and change into some civvies.  Gabe asks what I’m up to this evening.  I fish around in the refrigerator for a beer – a plate of sliced onions in there give off a sweaty crotch smell anytime the door’s open, so I close my fist around the first bottle I smack into.  Interested in what he has to say about her, I tell him who’s taking me out, and he laughs that old man laugh of his.  He sounds just like our big, working man uncles used to.  ‘Watch out you don’t get recruited for some Sunday school bake sale.’  She’s playing up quite a convincing ‘good girl’ front, I guess to fend off all the redneck dick thumping around.  I relax.  She’s not expecting anything from me.  I’m just one among what must be a happy string of interlopers.  I guess I’m cool with it.  I swig my beer and ask my brother if he’s got any condoms.  He shoots a pop-eyed look over at his brood slopping down hamburger helper and green bean casserole; I guess I already knew the answer.

A few bottles of light beer later, I hear her Dodge crumple into the frozen driveway right on time.  We make our way up across county lines, up near the edge of the old Miami Indian reservation.  There are some closed-up gift shops and the office for the ‘Trail of Tears’ tours that will start running in late Spring.  Right now, the only thing lighted up among the looming tree line is the saloon, The Sandhill Crane, renowned, Pamela explains, for its locally-made draft lager, buffalo burgers and the well-kept felt on the billiards tables.  The air surrounding the simple wooden structure of the place is electric, the forest behind a pitch black vacuum.  ‘My buddies will be by later on.  You can tell me about your field work in Goa while we eat.’  ‘Only if you promise to tell me how I can trade softball coaching for crossing guard duty.’  We order.

After about twenty minutes, we’ve shared about as much about ourselves as you might want to when you are trying to look attractive.  She grew up in Michigan.  Rode horses as a girl, learned to hunt with a compound bow, likes line dancing.  I told her about my brother, the travel my post-doctorate work has afforded me.  When I mention the apocryphal burial cults of the Karwar Anshi, she shoots me a real weird face, so I quickly change the subject.  How horrible would it be to screw up a sure thing by being pedantic, I think.  To my credit, I leave out the “exciting” story of the time I spent a week in jail in Arizona waiting for creditor-dodging relatives to answer the telephone two time zones away, as well as any mention of my string of monogamous train wrecks during my early twenties that led to an interest in the solitary world of anthropological archaeology.  I keep discussion focused on sports and other ephemera.  Our buffalo meat appears between two buns along with heaps of coleslaw and a second pitcher of heady, yeasty tasting home brew.  Then we are playing nine ball, dancing to country tunes on the jukebox.  I’m pretty loosened up by the time her friends join us, maybe about nine thirty, two or three couples, something very dark about their complexions, their thick, inky black hair, and Pam tells me they live on the reservation.  Suddenly we’ve gone around the back of the saloon for what I assume will be a marijuana cigarette, and instead we’re all drinking tea steeped from peyote cactus out of a big, red Nalgene bottle.

I’ve gone and started to trip my balls off with some real, live Indians, the in dios of Colombe’s diary.  They’re all really friendly.  A lot of questions about how I’m finding the weather.  What Goa was like.  I steer clear of the burial cult stuff.  Then they say we’ll tromp through the forest for a bit.  Share the smell of our blood with one another.  Whatever that means.  It sounds awesome, but I realise I’m more drunk than I had thought I was.  Thoughts begin to somersault through my mind about the moon cults, the sun gods of the Karwar Anshi, how similar they must have been to these guys’ ancestors.  I make a note to ask them later when the trip slows down a bit.  Pamela’s pulling me by my hand through the shadows of the bare forest, the knotted roots and crunching of the frozen layers of leaves.  ‘Listen to the trees whisper in their sleep,’ says Paul.  He’s the one with the beads in his long hair.  We come into a clearing.  There’s no snow on the ground.

‘Where’s the snow and the ice, man?’  Nobody answers me.  I can’t see anyone’s breath anymore.  It feels kind of like there’s a bonfire somewhere close, but it’s just dark but for the stars and the yellow bull’s horns of the crescent moon.  I feel a tingle on my scalp, little icy fingers, and the deeply sexual feeling like a woman putting her tongue in my ear.  I’m all gooseflesh, and I hear a voice:  These are the remaining tribesmen of the Atchatchakangouen people, who ranged this land for a thousand years, tending to her and ministering the fauna all around you.  … the who?, I think to myself.

Paul finally answers me, his voice smacks me right in the face not just because of its assertive clarity, but mainly because it makes me aware of how hard I’m tripping right now.  Like, I just heard a fucking disembodied voice!  Two seconds ago!   ‘The rain came and took all of the snow away.  We needed her to be mud though.  So it’s all good, brother.’  Needed the mud… Her …?  I can’t manage to say anything.  My tongue is rolling around.  ‘Alalia,’ is how they refer to it.  Temporary loss of meaningful vocalisation.  I look around, but wild, neon paisley patterns cover everything, I’m disoriented.  Dizzy.  I’m stepping forward in halting, drunken movements that I’m not in control of.  That big voice starts up again – it sounds shockingly a lot like my own.  It says to me, tickling my ears, the folds in my brain filling with that orgasmic, frozen metal:

This mud contains the sins of the devil who came and cheated the very ground away from us.  The same ground we tilled our hopes and countless sacrifices down into, buried the ashes of our esteemed ancestors, and once every solstice aerated and allowed the evil spirits to flow up and into the skies; the very ground that bore all of our fruits and the life that allowed us to stop migrating and take root ourselves, to give our people a place and a culture and a history; that ground has always been full of our blood, and all the hatred it now carries.  I continue to stagger towards the middle of the ovoid clearing.  I can’t help thinking during this monologue how hokey the whole thing sounds.  My other, Sam Raimi-film voice goes on:

The white devil’s poison.  His agricultural subsidies and poisonous corn-based products and cattle feed.  A disease of his own making.  They will slurp it up until their bloated bodies burst.  And the slimy mud will pour out of their ruptured corporeal selves.  The spirit of evil will rise out of them, acrid steam floating into the heavens, the corruption of the earth, dissipated.  We will live to see this consummation of their own curse, and we will smile for a moment, by the fires, and we will dance and sing and ask her rightful gods to re-bless the earth, sanctified and once again pure.

Paul is suddenly in front of me.  His hand falls on my shoulder, and I to my knees.  The ground gives a wet smack and I feel the mud soaking through my new blue jeans.  I’m in a euphoria as I tip backwards and spread out on my back.  The heads of the couples look down on me.  The stars are swirling around.  Too many stars.  Pamela sweeps back the dead cornstalk hair from her forehead with one hand.  I swear there’s a crackle of fire.  So many things draw my attention to the vastness of everything here.

The rape of our daughters, the murder of our mothers; that is the most beautiful, truest sense of  “life” …  a struggle, a battle.  Pamela is smiling above me.  A certain prurience is in her cheeks.  It is already won.  We must simply experience the fight.  But victory is here for us. The glint of a dagger in her hand.  That familiar coital flush.  It is already here.

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Julian Assange Saves Christmas… !

SAINT NICHOLAS

He’s been doing this for like, seven or eight months now.  I thought I would get him out of the house.  His room is kind of starting to smell like feet, you know?

JULIAN ASSANGE

I get out plenty!  That Nick is just kidding around.  He’s only teasing when he says I’m hopeless.  Calls me his favourite first-world refugee when we’re shooting snooker.  He’s a big fan of brandy, him.  Yeah, but it was his idea to do the break in across the street.

SAINT NICHOLAS

I’ve been doing this Santa shit for ages – always pro bono, of course, eh, for over like, five or six hundred years, whatever.  First in the hinterlands, then ‘old Europe,’ and then Western culture swallowed the world and now me and the golden arches are the two most well-recognised symbols of the sacrificial calf.  So my territory has expanded, my labour costs are gigantic, and so on; obviously, no government believes in me, so I don’t have to pay taxes, but I do need to generate income to make the machine work.  We used to sell drugs, really early on we were trading spices and gold, slaves; but the last forty years, we’ve been producing pornography.

norf pole y'all

it’s all about the red felt uniform…

JULIAN ASSANGE

The US last year spent more on adult entertainment than they did on sport.  Like, all of it put together.  Nick is in the safest sector ever.  He’s always going to be able to do what he wants, because he’s invested in a guaranteed return; and luckily for children everywhere, what he wants to do is hand out presents once a year.  It’s a triple-win situation, really.

SAINT NICHOLAS

So, we were asked over by some of Julie’s people, and we thought, why not, hardly ever get lay-over time in London anymore… went in through the back door, and wouldn’t you know the kitchen and dining area were just choc-a-block with well-wishers!  We didn’t mind it at the time, everybody was well happy to see us, but later on we were wondering how many people are actually out on Christmas day itself, battling rails of coke, pumping their fists in the air to dance and house and grime and grinding against strangers?  I don’t want to sound like a stick in the mud, but I had no idea.

JULIAN ASSANGE

The old man fucking loved it, don’t let him act modest around you.  He is a dirty old puss, he is!

SAINT NICHOLAS

Yeah, I was the one who said, let’s go break in to the Harrods and shoot a porn scene in “Santa’s Grotto.”  We carry the film equipment all the time, you know it doesn’t take up as much space as it used to say, twenty, even five years ago.  Mainly just use it for podcasting really.  Anyway, I was out of my head on the blow, so much of that flying about, all these fucking Ecuadorans, man!  The ideas were coming at ninety miles an hour and I thought, let’s take some of these Latina girls across and make some fucking art tonight?!  Don’t let that Julie try and snow you, he was practically clapping like a seal and barking when he heard the idea, he was roaring out in front of the pack to get across the street!

JULIAN ASSANGE

We snuck over to Harrods with some pry-bars and slid in without much fuss.  Of course Nick would be adept at breaking and entering, what was I thinking… my old friend Monalina was having loads of fun with the mission, having gone so far as to smear on some face paint, ‘ziss is my war paint!’ she kept telling everyone in her provincial Swiss accent.  We were all pretty high.  We hunted around in the emergency lighting and found the Santa’s Grotto.  To be fair, it looked just like one you might find in any mall in middle America.  PVC pipe frames holding up scenes printed on backdrops, foil wrapped cubes to add depth and, hanging over everything, that semi-sheer cottony sheet that could be snow or cobwebs.  Nothing special.  One of the elves or production crewmember or whoever he was kept raving about the height of the plastic reindeer.  After a while, Nick’s phone rang, and he directed two girls in to the grotto, which he was calling ‘the set.’  He called these girls ‘the talent’  I remember Mona saying they had a contagious enthusiasm.

SAINT NICHOLAS

We filmed the scene, no problems, the lighting had a bit of a spotty, home-made feel to it, but everything went without incident.  We wiped the reindeer down and retrieved panties and whatever else had been flinged around the grotto.  Spirits were high and Julie was skinning up a blunt on the way out when it happened.  Someone was feeling a bit too gangster, got a bit larcenous and broke the window in front of a jewellers, which set off all the alarms in the whole fucking world from the sound of it.  Some asshole kid.

JULIAN ASSANGE

Could have been, I was completely fucked.  Knicked.  Processed.  Hanged in Guantanamo.  All because some asshole kid from the Embassy detail got a bit too full of wind.  After the half second of shock and paralysis brought on by the helplessness of the scene, I grabbed the cunt by his hair and held him down, screaming at him.  Monalina reminded me this wouldn’t solve anything, so I let him go.  These milk-teeth staffers, wet behind the ears, straight out of some graduate uptake scheme; these whelps can’t handle their vodka redbull at all.  Once again, Nick knew what to do and took charge.

SAINT NICHOLAS

We went right out the front doors.  Pretended to be a band of wino street musicians out much too late.  Nevermind we had only a harmonica and someone’s key ring between the lot of us; the cops blew past without too much scrutiny.  We were fucking wrecked, and the combination of appearing well-heeled and smelling like a brewery is a powerful suggestion in this part of town.  We limped off in the opposite direction of the blockade’s flickering blue lights.  A few blocks down, there was an off-license near Sloane Square where we got some more Courvoisier and a bag of ginger snaps.  Finally remembered to fire up the blunt Julie had rolled up.  When we got back up near the embassy, we realised the Metropolitan Police had knicked the sleigh while we were out tramping around waiting for them to clear off so we could get Julie back inside.  The missus just kept swearing at me on the phone when I told her.

JULIAN ASSANGE

I felt horrible, of course.  I was the one who had told him just put it on the pay-and-display parking ticket.  I had said, it’s Christmas, what fucking parking warden is out looking to bang-up a big rusty sled at this time of night.  How wrong I was.  It was only right that we take off across the rainy streets of London to rescue her from the impound; as it happened, Monalina had put some of her face-paint on me by this point, the yah-yeh was doing funny things to my head and she was calling me Caesar instead of my real name; I was consumed by the dramatic need to get “Santa,” and his leggy “Helpers,” home safely and soundly.

SAINT NICHOLAS

Helpers, they’re adult models for chrissakes!  Anyway, Julie was going on like it was some kind of heroic effort, but I think all the drugs had stilted his sense of self-importance; all he did was pay for the black cab and offer to cover half of the impound fee.  The important thing was, we managed to get him to agree to let us use the introduction scene we shot outside the Grotto.  He’s announcing the names of the talent one by one, the kids from the embassy are clapping and hollering.  It was just a joke at the time, but now it seems only fitting we take advantage of the participation of such a celebrity.  That should cover a bit of expenses, selling that content around!  Thanks, Julie!  Best of luck to you in the new year, and we’re never hanging around with your friends ever again!

Max Hardcore: Pornographer in Flames

I am a man on fire. The heart and fuel of a crackling blaze, about two and a half times taller than me.  Surrounding me like a bulb radiates outwards around its filament.  Setting papers – entire newsagents! – on fire.  Singeing hallways and burning ivy off the sides of buildings.  Anything plastic, synthetic or petrochemical within about a yard’s distance melts, smokes.  The smell following me around is ridiculous.  Like burnt hair, real gross.  Especially when it’s someone’s shirt or trousers turning to hot sludge.  And the noise – people scream louder once they realise it’s their own clothing what’s causing the pain.  I’m not hurt.  But it’s been a pretty fucking annoying afternoon.

Wish You Were Here

if you’re feeling burnt out, take some personal time

I’m used to catching blame from irritated stupid people.  You may have heard of my adult video series or read about my time in prison for pedalling obscenity a few years back.  Some so-called ‘moralist’ bible-thumpers didn’t like my female talent claiming on film to be as young as twelve, seeing them get peed on, hit in the face, all the other ‘gonzo’ stuff my videos are famous for.  Hell, that’s why the fucking God Squad have watched this stuff, these scenes I produce.  Everyone knows that if you want to witness a fresh-faced twenty-year old participate in her own sexual brutalisation, you go for a Max Hardcore title.  All those rigid, repressed pew warmers, they don’t have the cajones to go and do it themselves.  They do have the $34.99 to spend on watching someone else do it, and they call it smut while they’re coughing up the change from the adult book store into the collection tin on Sunday.  They also do have wives with a bad habit of finding the magazines, the DVDs, the poorly-named file folders.   Then it’s some good, old public repenting done.  It’s just lust driving shame driving guilt driving persecution.  A masturbatory ouroburos.  Those self-righteous fucking pedophiles.

At least in Max Hardcore’s world, girls have signed contracts, know exactly what they are being paid to perform.  Studies show that pornography actually lowers rape, too, so who’s got the better moral argument here, right?

So when this mom on Berwick Street shouts at me that I’ve set her baby-stroller alight  and might have melted half her child’s face off, I kind of take it with a grain of salt.  Thanks for at least noticing that your pram was on fucking fire.  Couldn’t you see me coming for blocks by now?  Wouldn’t you cross the fucking street?  Geez.  Fucking breeders.

I had been down here in Soho for business.  We’re putting a larger brand-campaign in place in our European markets, and this was kind of the start of the tour.  We flew in two nights ago, did the usual dinners and meetings, and then the press yesterday.  Today was supposed to be our easy afternoon – drop into some vendors’ warehouses, do photo-ops with some of the girls at a few of the fine retail outlets on Craven Passage.  I went out for a cigarette and some air around 3:30, took out a smoke and my lighter.  Just watching the pedestrians, thinking of getting some amyl nitrate, and that’s when I realised I was a halo of flames.  This would happen in Soho, the six streets where you can’t swing your left arm without smacking into someone who’s absolutely flaming.  A few of the canvas awnings over the top of the shop doors burst into ash and smoke.  Hookers hold up their arms in front of their faces, move back up the stairs of their corner cat houses.  Pigeons disembark.  My cigarette is understandably gone.  I move out into the street.  My hand goes up reflexively to rub my forehead – my signature leather rancher’s hat is somehow still there.  I look down and see my satin-and-denim Urban Cowboy get-up is intact.  Some quick-thinker throws her coffee at me, startled look on her face.  It does nothing.  She drops the orphaned lid and the empty waxed paper cup and staggers away.  This is obviously going to carry on for a while.  Better go get a drink, I think.

I nip around the corner into Gerry’s Wines on Old Compton.  Fetch a few bottles of pear cider from the fridge.  Paw a few sterling coins out of my pocket.  I drop them on the counter and they kind of singe the tissue paper that they use to wrap the wines and spirits.  The clerk hasn’t even looked at me yet, even while he’s handing me my change.

There are a couple of large dropper bottles on the counter in front of him, marked something-something Elixir… being naturally curious, especially when involving liquors or young women’s sexual boundaries, I ask him what kind of medicine comes in a bottle that large.  The guy finally looks over at me, and freezes.  His eyebrows go up just a half of a half inch on his head, and then he looks down at the bottles, unfreezes, unscrews the rubber top of one of them, fills and withdraws the glass dropper, and holds it up level with his chest.  He tilts his head back, looks down his nose through wire-rimmed spectacles, and the fluorescent lighting behind his graying, greasy head makes the whole scene feel somehow clinical.  Greasy yet aseptic.  Kind of how the casting office must feel for those girls their first time.  “Put out your tongue,” his tone indifferent.  The look in his eyes becomes blank again, but something there like enjoyment,  nonetheless.  I try to put my tongue out far enough, he depresses the rubber ball, and a dram or so of greenish treacle dribbles into my mouth.  It’s like a chartreuse, or an absinthe… no, more like a Benedictine syrup.  “How was it?”  I tell the clerk about the bitter aftertaste, and he laughs.  “Not the first time that’s been heard in Soho.”   I chuckle at his bedside manner and ask for a bottle opener.

“Aren’t you that pornographer who does the handcuffs and the pissing?”  Yep, I sure am.  “Cool.  How long you been burning like that?” he asks me, applying his own dosage via the dropper.  Dunno, I tell him.  Maybe ten minutes.  Doesn’t hurt.  “Have you tried a fire extinguisher?”  Tried a latte.  Stained my shirt.  He obligingly grabs the red canister off the wall behind him, gives me a good dusting with the white smoke.  Hasn’t even moved, just swivelling around on his fat waist behind the till.  I’m still blazing.   “Gutted.  Well, worth the try, I suppose.  Sorry, Mr. Hardcore, you’re starting to singe the ceiling, and I’m’a hafta ask you to be on your way, now.”  No bother, thanks for the drink, see ya’gain.  “Hope you get yourself put out.  Cheers.”

Back out on the street, I’m just sat at the curb, necking my bottles of cider.  Where the fuck is the law, I’m thinking.  Back in the States, I’d have been interred at Gitmo already.  They’d have flushed an issue of Penthouse Forum down the toilet.  Just then, a real queen leans over, his hand holding a cell phone through the straps of his shopping bags.  “Should I phone emergency services for you, darling?”  I jolt back in dismay.  Get fucked, you fucking queer-bait!  I scream reflexively, him all in wool and cotton.  “Yeah, yeah, I’m a homosexual, and you’re on fire, yes –  are we going to point out more obvieties to each other, or shall we phone up the fire brigade before you become an arsonist too?”  He’s talking sense.  I relax.  Sorry, force of habit.  I had a rocky childhood relationship with a family friend, an itinerant carpenter named Shep who said he liked my long, strong legs.  He used to massage them.  Hold me down.  Occasionally it got, er, gruesome.  Still get jumpy around the pud-pullers.

I’ll be alright, I tell him.  It doesn’t hurt.  The fire, I mean.  “No dramas, deary.  If you’re ever looking for someone to be your Uncle again, you’re only a few blocks from my bar, the Shadow Box.  You know, work those issues out.  Just make sure you don’t come in like that,” making a wave towards me like this was a wardrobe decision, “unless you plan on helping with a lengthy insurance claim.”

He’s already skipping away.  I told you, it wasn’t my Uncle, I mutter after him.  It was just a family friend.  I can see I’ve spilled my cider down the pavement, and the guttering flames surrounding my person crackle with shame.

Let me state this to you clearly: I wouldn’t have had my life any other way.  Yeah, it was hard work scrambling out of the chicken-shit gutter of the South to the very pinnacles of a porn empire.  Getting away from the degradation of physical molestation – those psychologists would call it abuse.  Bullshit.  I look at it as a crucial part of my education.  It opened my eyes to my true path.  People need help in our societies, they crave a specific kind of sexual entertainment that might be perhaps shunned and even damaging to other’s well-being.  But in the end, they’re only sex acts.  Just as one guy would be too lilly-livered to jump out of planes, there are others without that sticky response who strap it on and take the plunge without a second thought.  So why not let the one live vicariously through the other – that what entertainment is all about.  That primitive part of every person is otherwise, right or wrong, repressed by polite society.  Nobody except kings and cult-leaders can satisfy the violent bodily need to propagate our genes as far and wide as commanded.  Male and female, we are wired for new mates, variety, the exotic: who knows how much damage we do to ourselves keeping it chocked up… but adult entertainment, well, it releases that drive in a productive kind of way.  People get to fantasize at their leisure, other people get to earn a livelihood, nobody gets hurt…  much.  Call it filthy, I call it necessary.

Not to say it hasn’t been rough going at times.  Maybe the entire first decade was just trolling through strip clubs and seedy streets in Florida, Atlanta, paying talent in cash, releasing titles to mailing-lists, C.O.D.  After the first big distribution deals with retailers got our product out of the postal system and into shop fronts, the business model became very lucrative.  Of course, then you had the internet come in, and although I will admit that we never had high production values to begin with, the medium was changed.  Companies had to get talent to do filthier acts at the same time as they trimmed budgets, sunk smaller investments.  But Max Hardcore made it when others didn’t.  And now here I am on fire in Soho getting hit on by middle aged businessmen and solicited for rough trade.  I feel just like any one of the talent hopefuls that come through the agency doors every day of the week out in the Valley.

Each one squidging through the steel and plate glass swinging door, already slippery with lubricants, intoxicants.  They are the embodiment of Diana.  Athene.  Woman is the priestess, her sacramental cunt full of red wine.  Men supplicate themselves to her magic.  Even the fairies idealise that image of woman, of life.  We give these nubiles their first sullying, their first drubbing, until we knock the goddess out of them and send them back to work at TGIFridays and the Starbucks.  And then the next wave comes through, ready for us to steal their glow, absorb their blessed, true natural energy.  And let me tell you, they ain’t none of them been fucked that way before.

Just then, some Japanese guy snaps a photo of me.  All exposed.  Feeling low.  The role reversal is complete.  The camera flash drags me back into the moment.  The reality of feeling equally self-righteous and confused for three or four minutes now.  A lot of unwanted attention.  So I push back towards the bookstore where I left my people.  A few steps from the place, it dawns on me that I can’t go inside without setting the thing ablaze.  Old Gerry’s has got those lofty high ceilings and bare cement walls, but this is all bookshelves and oak paneling   I am going to have to either wait for someone to come find me outside or ask to use someone’s cell.  I still can’t believe the fire brigade hasn’t shown up yet, but I guess no one has bothered to phone it in.  These Brits are just too polite.  Stare in the shop windows, down at their broadsheets and phone screens.  Anywhere but at the crackling pyre of a porn kingpin out here in the street.  Like cocksman’s wood on the set: a vital piece of property, yet ultimately superfluous to the action.

And just like that, my assistant Timothy pops out of the building.  Holding two flutes of champagne, he scans around, sets eyes on me, and then there are suds and broken glass all over his shoes, the sidewalk.  I know, is all I can say to him, my voice closing the distance.  Fucked up, right?  Like those monks in Tibet or wherever.  It doesn’t hurt, don’t worry.  “How do you want to play this, boss?” he asks me.  He’s a good boy, Timothy.  His hands still up where they were holding the champs.  I’m just going to wait it out, I tell him.  I figure it will go away on its own, like a herpes flare up.  Can you go fetch another bit of bubbly, though?  And try not to break it this time.  People could cut themselves on that shit.

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Dec. 21st, 2012

We will never be alright, nothing will ever be safe again.  It happens like this:

She is in her bath robe.  She had showered with her hair up so it wouldn’t get wet and bothersome, and the smell of sex still wafts from the auburn frizz cascading about the smother of terry cloth on her shoulders.  I’ve got coffee on the table and some eggs are soft-boiling in the kitchen; I’m smoking out the veranda on the balcony, looking towards the river over the back of some neighbourhood.  She lives on the sixth floor.  I think we’re near Vauxhall.

There’s an angry, disquieting rumble.

Down behind a few of the tract-houses below, the ground splits open with a crack and a geyser of boiling tar leaps up, arcs over to one side and then collapses with a wet slap over the tops of six or seven back gardens, taking down fences, flattening conservatories, melting play equipment, strangling any and all flora under a blanket of slick black death.  This river then contracts slightly back towards the split in the ground for a moment, and the chasm proceeds to belch out another thick oily tongue of sick, then another.  Each one rises level with the fag ash growing at the end of the B&H in my frozen hand.  Each one pausing for a moment; then falling mirthfully in any direction it is pleased to.  The neighbourhood sizzles underneath pools of hot black magma.  At the edges of the pool, fire begins to spread.  It dawns on me to move.  I cannot.  Then I am screaming.  It doesn’t solve anything.

if you can't stand the heat...

It all started in Vauxhall… (img: keepwalking07.deviantart.com)

And there’s Annalina in her bathrobe.  One moment, she’s inside, head tilted, eyes closed, she’s rubbing her neck exultantly with her arm crossed over her chest, asking me if I like the view; I turn back to the river… the next moment she is diving for the Nikon sat atop a tripod in the corner.  Repeating, “holy shit, holyshitholy…”  I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed this before; it is an amazingly sophisticated-looking piece of gear.  We never did get too in-depth into our personal biographies with each other last night.  I guess we never even got as far as what we do for our living.  I’m here in my pants with a stranger.  This realisation coming on top of the shock from the explosions outside doubles my confusion.  What a dissonant fucking morning.  In any case, she is yelling at me to get out of the way, “ shut your mouth and get off the fucking balcony!”  Now I’m in double shock as well.  Mercifully, she closes the distance and slaps me across the face hard enough to move me.  “Get my phone!” she orders me while she starts shooting the first images, zooming and focusing while she does so.  I kind of give a scramble and look for last night’s jeans, her purse, anywhere a phone might hide.  My cheek stings.

We met last night while leaving the same restaurant.  Our bodies knew at a short distance that we would eventually be thrown together in violent sexual congress.  I could hear the tune being struck between the atoms in her meaty person harmonising with mine as we got closer.  Adenosine triphosphate molecules cleaving hydrolytically at the same percussive frequency as my own.  We both slowed down.  I held the door for her.  After you.  Chemical antecedents leapt through the air from gland to receptor.  Cheeks flushed.  Judging from the look of appraisal in her eyes then, I was merely an object to her.  I was perfectly at ease with that.  Pressed against a locked door in the darkness of a winter’s night, I am the hooked iron key and there are duties to discharge.  Wills collapsed.  We fell into a black cab.  She spoke an address to the driver, I think we may have exchanged names; fell back into a more meaningful conversation.

And now here I am, fearing for my soft and tender little life in the midst of what appears to be an apocalyptic disaster, pawing around someone else’s flat looking for her phone.  And she bravely, valiantly documenting the expurgation with her camera.  I find it on top of one of the work surfaces in the kitchen; I take it to her, she holds her hand out but does not take the phone.  “Dial star one, and turn on speaker,” she instructs me with her hand shaped like a gun.  The voice that picks up doesn’t sound chipper.  “Dan, it’s Annalina – there’s some kind of fucking volcano erupting beneath Vauxhall, and I’ve already got fifty photos of the very beginning of the whole thing!  Call every single paper you can think of and start the bidding war.  There’s an extra ten percent if you get someone to quote six figures.  Bye, bye bye!”  Now, to me, “hang up, and dial star three.  Quick, quick!”  The whole time snapping photographs.  This woman, so supine in the first half hour of this day, was now a little dynamo of a tyrant, and we phone her overseas agent and two television news rooms before I regain any sense of autonomy.

I guess she’s in photojournalism.  I’m about to shit myself.

There’s an immediate and intractable rift between the two lives that have been commingling these last thirteen hours or so, first lustfully and until lately lazily; namely, my will is focused on fleeing from whatever terrible phenomenon is swallowing SW8 outside, and this bitch wants to stay and take photos of it.

I have to get out of here.  “You what … ?” she begins, “you are… what a pussy!  I can’t believe I fucked you.”  Pride wounded, I have to think for a moment before I can answer.  I have a life to get back to!  is all I can come up with.  “Oh.  You’re so afraid of death this morning.  Last night you put life to one side.  Accepted the void, the familiar union of everything into one undifferentiated potential.  Gave yourself up to some kind of fate.  And here you are now, snivelling in your shorts.

“What do you think you are going back to do?  Tell people how you left the scene, how you don’t know what happened that day, how you had to leave?  If you even get to tell anyone anything, this could be the end of the bloody world after all, according to the Mayan whatchacallit!  Anyway, sir: people don’t want to hear that story!  People don’t want to know whether you are rational or a coward, they want information on what they did not get a chance to witness.  You have a chance to be a witness, here!”  She turns to me.  Her eyes are a clear blue million.  She’s hypnotized me.

She tells me I can get lost, go get dead somewhere alone.  Or I could stay, and watch her work, help and support another human being in what may be the last few moments, however long, of toil that person might ever again endeavour to sustain.  It’s up to you, she says to me.  She turns her face back to the viewfinder and I realize that she had actually stopped taking photos for the first time since she picked up the Nikon and its tripod.

And I’m thinking to myself, I have certainly had stormier relationships.  How about the Russian pianist?  I had to call the police on her.  I remember when I first realized she was batshit crazy.  It was that early September in Spezia, we were in the library off the esplanade, and I found a book of classical Italian poetry.  The sea was still warm, and we were covered in salt.  Each poem was dedicated to, or had as its subject, a woman’s name.  They were arranged alphabetically.  Mainly because it was our first holiday alone, I was making naïve romantic gestures the entire trip.  I located the poem of her namesake and copied it into my notebook.  As I transcribed, I made a rough little translation.  Something about daisies in a field.  I am sure I still have that bit of paper somewhere, packed away in a box or folded between two pages in some book.

She read the note, folded it without looking up, and then briefly stuffed it into my pocket.  She stared me in the eyes, little red veins threading in from their edges, this glow coming into her cheeks.  ‘How dare you wave this, this agrarian bullshit in front of my face,’ she spat at me then.  ‘Nobody needs to be reminded of the deleterious effects of the Great Leap Forward, you sick sonofabitch – my great-grandfather died on the fucking gulag!’  She ran across to the beach, and wept there.  We continued sleeping together for two more days, until the airplane touched back down at Heathrow.

Four months later, she was banging on the door of my flat on Great Cumberland Street, demanding to have the satisfaction of an exit interview.  How she got past the concierge and up to the fifth floor, I didn’t even have the time to guess.  I had just got out of the bath, in fact, and had a train to the Midlands in half an hour, so I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything except plead with her to get out of my house before I was forced to call the Metropolitan Police.  I do not recall exactly how I managed to extract her, but she had surely collapsed to her knees and grabbed at my ankles at one point.  The whole time I was clutching my towel about my waist in some kind of enraged sense of modesty that could only come from witnessing the utterly pathetic.  Fucking artists.  Or how about the actress who left me in the middle of a country lane she had parked us on to lay me in the front seat of her car? – she chucked me out simply because I complained when she had used my shorts to clean the come from her belly.  This was well before cell phones.  I had to hitchhike in to some village and wake up the pub landlord to call a taxi home.  They are always crazy, the ones I end up attracting.  So if this one must be as well, at least she has something resembling a productive, positive devotion.

And just then, it clicks.  I will stay.  We are always falling on our own sword.

If Annalina is certain that she has a journalistic duty to document, to essay, to record; well, I think to myself, in the least I’m going to assist someone else’s quest for truth.  If I perish, I may not have the protection of my own purity of heart, but perhaps I help some other soul find her way through the breach… Perhaps there’s some honour in that.

Where’s your video camera, then, I ask her.  I can get some proper coverage?  She looks impressed.  A hard, tiny smile on her face.  The split in the ground has lengthened, by now there are two or three jets of magma sending tendrils slapping about, destroying everything they caress.  The fires are turning the wintry morning a few degrees noticeably warmer.  “Go into my closet, and there’s a handheld on the top shelf next to the corsets.”  She turns to me once more.  “If this flaming cavern of shit out there doesn’t pull the whole building down, there may be a chance to show you some of them.”  She takes a snap of me standing there looking dazed, nearly naked, full of admiration for her.

Fur and Loathing with Noam Chomsky

Noam and I are eating twinkies in front of a giant plasma screen.  On it is a sprawl of limbs in a scene from this dirty Asa Akira gonzo title we’ve rented, and he’s showing me how to work his new vaporiser.  “The cannabis from Syria is probably the best on the planet, you know,” he instructs me in his off-handed way.  “It’s one of the greatest legacies of Hassan al Sabha.  Now twist this here until it locks.  Good.”  Outside in Gaza City, the IAF is making womp rats out of the locals.  In our 15th-floor suite, we’re well-appointed and blasting Cyprus Hill on the speaker system.  Noam is wearing Dr. Thompson shades and a card hat with a translucent green bill.  “This man is my doctor,” he has been pointing at me, telling anyone he sees.  We’re here to cover the genocide, I’ve been repeating after him.

Well I’m here on a journalistic assignment anyway.  Some online paper.  Something like Baffler, or Tatler, or The Singapore Worker’s Daily.  Some liberal toss.  4,000 words, photos on the site’s main page, and they retain an option on a follow-up segment.  The important thing is they’re paying expenses.  I’m still waiting on the photographer to arrive.  We joke to each other that he’s probably died out there somewhere, the first in a line of dying photographers we’ll be dealing with, just like the drummers in Spinal Tap.  Noam happened to be here on his very first visit to the Strip when both sides ramped up the back and forth.  What a real pisser of a time to be taking his first trip here.  Dumb luck, really.  He’s getting the full experience now.  Welcome to the ghetto.

wrong kind of spinal tap

wrong kind of spinal tap, dude. (image: ummc.edu)

I met him at this grab-a-granny singles’ dive around the corner.  You don’t really want to leave the hotel room in a town like this, but then you’ve got urges, don’t you, and not everything’s available on the room service tab.  Good thing I got curious.  As soon as I walked in, I saw this snowy haired guy in glasses.  Across at the bar ordering cocktails, wearing his familiar sweater and oxford combo.  Even while on the make between two horny, middle-aged housewives at an Arab discotheque.  I’m like, hey, that’s the famous linguist and activist, Noam Chomsky.  I’m going to get him fucking wasted, and we’re both going to get laid.

Turns out, at forty years or so my senior, he parties harder than I do.  Had me snorting pure crystal MDMA out of this little bottle-vial thing and shooting tequila into my eyeball within like, thirty seconds from our introductions.  This guy is hysterical for fun.  We ended up bringing the bar trash back up to my suite, earned a few noise complaints from the floor below us, and he’s been my guest here since.  Four or five days of wall to wall bullshit sessions, punctuated by the sound of bombs bursting in air, rockets’ red glare, and visits from Palestinian intellectuals who leave bleary-eyed and slurring.  We’ve been recording the whole thing from a few devices streaming live onto the old inter-web.  Noam’s toting around a handheld dictaphone and a few miniature tapes.

One afternoon, of all fucking people, Natalie Portman shows up at the front door of the suite.  She gives Noam a fist-bump and asks, “who’s this awkward prick.”  I can infer she means me.  I get the sense that Noam and her are quite well acquainted when she hands him a bag of pills and he hands her a roll of notes.  I tell her I’m a big fan of what she’s been doing with Audrey Hepburn’s career.  We get into a bit of a fight over whose turn is next on the snooker table, and then she nonchalantly asks about the piece I’m writing on the murder of innocents in Gaza.

How’d you know what I was writing about?  She says she heard from Noam’s security heavy out in the hallway.  I was astonished; Noam has a security heavy?  He responds in the affirmative as he blows out a cloud of smoke surprisingly milky for a vaporiser, “one of many… my security detail is pretty necessary anywhere I go, but for Palestine I thought it might be best if I brought a small army with me.”  Then he quips, deadpan as you like, “everyone else is doing it.”

Read it to me, Natalie demands.  “I want to see if you’re an anti-Semite like Noam.”  I won’t, I say.  It probably sounds better in your voice.  “Well give it to me then, and I’ll read it to you,” she decides.  No.  Don’t do that.  Suddenly she’s querying me in a distant yet intense tone, “are you sure.”  As sternly a matron as there could ever be, bubbling with the will to discipline, as if she might sprout a khaki uniform and a bristled ‘tache in an instant.  I suddenly think of spanking her bottom with a riding crop.  It’ll be better for both of us if you just read it to yourself.  There’s another moment.  She grabs a lead crystal highball and a bottle of Courvoisier and takes my manuscript to the toilet.

The article at that point was just this scene in Beit Lehia, this kind of surreal moment I had looking at the aftermath of a missile strike.  This house had been turned into a hole in the middle of the neighbourhood.  But like, whatever had been in that hole before had been ripped out and turned into shrapnel that chewed through everything around it.  And in the middle of this hole, spreading out from it, are all of these elephant figurines.  Broken, but not enough you don’t know it’s someone’s shitty collection.  Years of making the same obsessive decision to buy this crap figurine.  That crap figurine.  Arranged and put on display, a dense pocket of tusks, trunks.  Now, inside-out.  Belched out on top of this mess of plaster, cinder blocks; rent, burnt muscle and tissue; rags, splinters, pipes and glass.  Hundreds of elephants.  Crawling over an Alps buckled out of what was a neighbourhood street.  All those figurines.  Anyway.  Reminded me of the bric a brac piled up at my old babysitter’s trailer home back in Nashville.  Same collection of shit.  Small ceramic ones, slender crystal creatures, gargantuan glass painted pachyderms with beaded parade dress: some on stands, in glass cases, some in pairs or sets.  The first time I fantasized about a woman, felt that little flutter of sex for the first time, I was staring at those floor-to-ceiling shelves full of elephant figurines; the initial paranoid shame of the thoughts dissipating at the realisation that no one else could ever have access to what was in my mind.  My reverie alone, between the elephants and me.  And now here they are in the middle east in a hole that was a few houses that were underneath heavy munitions.  Dropped by metal wings suspended on the currents of the status quo and built by hand out of the same stuff what goes into shitty bric a brac elephants.

So this is the story that Natalie is reading while she takes a shit and drinks my VSOP.  Meanwhile, the porn film rages on in the background, Noam begins talking to me about the history of the DuPont-led hemp prohibition in 1930’s US, and smoke is rising past our window from the lives smoldering fifteen floors below us in the Arab street.  Hope she loves it.  Hope at least she doesn’t wipe her ass with it.  Hope she lights a fucking match – those skinny chicks will drop bombs.  Reading my story.

The bodily narrative on the plasma screen is telling a story.  A coarse one, but it’s got all the elements.  Story-telling.  When DuPont wanted to promote their expensive Nylon products, they paid story-tellers to grab the public by the elbow and whisper in their ears.  Print ads.  Product placement.  Disinformation.  Cooked up studies.  Hell, the whole institution of science is only just telling stories, at the end of it.  Good people will put a lot of stock in the conclusions drawn from those tales:  avoid this, take that, optimism, defeat.  All of this before we even get to journalism.  The wildcard stories.  Too much potential in them.  The IAF bombers have been targeting the local media the last few days.  Explode the story tellers, you control the story.  Somebody said once, truth isn’t important, victory is.  Great minds, and all that.  Nat comes out of the restroom, addresses us declaring she’s “going out to find some ketamine” in the hotel bar, and tells me the manuscript is on the back of the toilet.

Noam’s dictaphone replays her voice from this exchange.  “Don’t wait up, Hadrian.”  The hiss of air from the uncovered microphone.  The door closing.  The clatter of the table in the hall being pulled over, the vase of flowers breaking.  “She’s a real hard-headed girl, isn’t she.”  He changes the tape.  The same three tapes keep going in the little hatch, getting filled up, and come back out.  Over and over again.  It’s probably the third or fourth time this one has been recorded over.  He insists on having a hand in the documentary record – “I’m going to be a tad more, eh, old school about it, but I’m perfectly capable of participating in some Gonzo journalism” – even though there are two tablet computers in their desk stands live-streaming the goings-on from two angles.  I call him out on it.  Why not just use your smartphone’s voice recorder?  Why call it documentation when you’re copying over the tapes?

“The nature of this atrocity is on-going, iteratively flaring up, becoming over-looked; I feel this is a fitting way to document this cycle.   Tape it.  Tape over it.”  I balk.  I am drunk and impulsive.  The fuck are you talking about.  Noam fixes his eye on me, and there’s something arresting, menacing there… he pushes up on the underside of his card hat’s green cellophane bill with his fingers in a gun shape.  “I can unpack that thought for you, if that’s what you need.”  I’m silent.  I’ve never imagined how stern and chilling this man could be – I’ve never felt more in mortal danger.  Like staring at a laser.  The laser begins:

“The fact of the conflict between these groups, irrespective of whether it stems from geography, property, or religion; the very fact has been with people for so long, they are now dealing more with the fact, and less and less with the conflict itself.  Nobody even asks the question of ‘why’ the fighting is going on, the siege of the territories, the retaliations. And so there can be no will to end it.  Cure the disease?  No, well, people just accept the symptoms.

“But even more perverse than this, my friend,” Noam is leaned on one elbow on the arm of the leather sofa and uncurls a forearm to grab his bottle of Becks, “is that this has resulted in an expectation of cyclical mass murder; the perception of which also happens to roll like a wave through the news media.  It has been like this for so long, the public has gotten used to the waves.  Their frequency.  Their period, their crests and troughs:  Something dirty happens.  People cringe, maybe donate.  People move on to the next news item.  Then when it doesn’t happen for a while, people start wondering when the next dirty happening will occur.”

He necks the bottle.  “What I’m saying is, most people now treat massive scale atrocities here as an item of ephemera.”  He seems to have forgotten about my outburst.  I relax.  “Everyone loves to report this stuff, but then the attention wanes while we wait for the next putsch.  Nobody seems to be interested in fixing whatever causes it.  It’s really an interesting development of modern society.”  I recall how this patent detachment compelled Charlie Rose in an interview to practically giggle like a little girl and start a tickle-match.  It’s like he’s omniscient and unimpressed, all the time.  I guess it’s all the pot.

…..

On the tape, we hear an exchange from later at the hotel bar.  There is a dust up between two locals over what Nat’s first film role was.  One fellow was certain he was correct.  The other fellow was certain only of his interlocuter’s astonishing incorrectness.  Twenty years ago, this would have been an unfathomably impassioned argument raging on without end.   Now we have the IMDB smartphone application.  Wikipedia.  Dictionaries.  All at our fingertips.  If this isn’t the first awkward step towards humankind achieving peace, we never will.   Disagreements in bars, in living rooms, on car rides and walks in the park, we no longer need to escalate past a wager of some sort.  Once the tension surfaces, bang, the lancet strikes and the boil is drained off.  It was Page Turco, and it was 1986.  It was the clavicle, and he was out for three games.  We answer away each problem as easily and off-handedly as an alcoholic gambler in denial.  This instant ability to turn the other cheek.  To solve a problem, not by closing ourselves off by locking eyes and swords, but by looking for answers.  If we aren’t onto something here.   After they resolved their question, the two local guys watched videos of recent airstrikes  they had filmed on their phones.  Like they were trading concert footage.

Natalie is sitting with us in the corner near the front windows.  Astride the building’s security embankment and massive stone abutment, we overlook the darkened streets of Gaza City.  Flares going up here.  Search lamps beaming from there.  She says to me, “so you’re just another bleeding-heart, liberal prick, same as you look.  I did like the bit about  jerking off in your babysitter’s trailer, though.”  I reply that I do sometimes work for pay, which means I get paid to produce something my employers are willing to pay for.  “Yeah, yeah.  No one gets paid to have principles.  So, do us a favour, shit head: buy us a fur coat and a tiara’s worth of blood diamonds.  I’m feeling horny.”  The sound of Noam’s voice calling out for shots.

James Bond on the Election

On Friday night, you should be at home, cooking.  If you feed yourself on Friday night, if you’ve toiled and thought and washed some dishes and fed some animal, any animal, you’ve accomplished something huge.  Consider your week: ended.  Conclusions drawn.  Case closed.  All in your favour.  How exemplary you are for cooking at home on Friday night.  Mothers everywhere are proud and jealous.

when you're baked, you're baked

When You’re Baked, You’re BAKED

What happens next, you will not be proud of me for doing.  You won’t be jealous of the outcomes, either.  I am the worst son.  Just a son of a bitch.  Just like a million others, but set apart by circumstance, and here I am speaking with you.  Aren’t you less special now for it, too.

This concerns my latest trial.  A trial by fire is a test of character.  Of the immediate stress response to some conflagration.  Trial by water is arduous, an endurance, a test of the strength of that very character.  These are Herculean-order terms.  This tale is a bit of both.  This is about election night, when I had to choose between my life and my duty.  You’ve no doubt pieced together which one I protected.

My name, as you’ve also no doubt pieced together from the title, is James Bond.  No, not that one.  And no, I will not introduce myself to you that way, ever.  I’m in security, close protection, we call it, warming and shielding the fronts and sides of some of the more note-worthy people on the planet for the last seven years.  You grow up with a name, and you follow certain expected paths.  Like a Larry Butts who ends up selling pornography, or a Dave Burger running the local Dairy Queen.  I’ve never been better at anything else.  There’s a decent retirement package.  And you get to spend time with all kinds of neat people, making sure they don’t get stabbed, shot or strangled.

Some people you cover more than once.  I was with Clinton in London, back in April.  I don’t know the true reason for his visit.  He flew in with a small retinue, mostly female.  His holiday in Cambodia, he called it, which I guess was a bit of a jibe on his alleged draft-dodging as well as a sharp observation on the sticky sweet, hay coloured weather.  We had a heck of a time.  Lots of coke in the evening, lots of smoke through the days.  He was the one who requested me to be part of his detail in New York for election night.  So here I am, out raving with an ex-President again, rolling hard on MDMA and looking to bag some chocolate love during the course of his revelries, without being cock blocked or assassinated.  Only this time it’s through Manhattan.

The last time was a struggle even at three in the afternoon on a Sunday.  Here’s one illustrative anecdote for you: Billy wanted some sparkling water in a glass bottle.  Insisting he could run this errand on his own, he grabs a handful of spliffs and my elbow, and we leave the Saint Martens hotel.  To get water.  He hunted through every shitty corner shop, all the way through ChinaTown.  Up Wardour Street, past the titty bars and the skin mag parlours.  Back down ‘round Rupert, Gerard, large painted dragons.  Back up to Seven Dials.  Asking every clerk the same question after a poke around in their coolers.  Do you have sparkling water in a glass bottle?  Always back out in the street with that, oh shucks, we’ll just have to check when we come to the next one.  Meanwhile, no one’s dying of thirst.  It’s just the principal impulse he found himself able to maintain, the two of us being as stoned as we were.  Apparently, the plastic bottles are bad for you.  Ketons.  So we continued to bump and float around as human balloons, reacting to lights, movements, until he or I saw the next shop; another one.  This went on for what felt like hours.  So stoned.  He eventually found the fucking water.  Bought it.  And bought one for me to drink, he was so happy to find them and buy them.  I was at first resistant; but being as stoned as I was, I got cotton mouth, so I had a cautious quaff of the stuff.  I was shocked when I found it so enjoyable.  It was … refreshing.

That was five years ago.  I may be getting older, but the rules remain the same.  Don’t compromise, don’t retreat.  I still masturbate, I just might not remember to do it every day.  And I’ll never give up my mark while on detail.  Or I thought I wouldn’t.  It’s just that robots had never tried to blow me up before.

On Tuesday nights, as a rule, you should try not to get blown up.  Especially by robots.  I am currently on a twelve-day streak.  They say it takes doing something twenty-eight days in a row in order to make it a habit.  Two more weeks and I’ll be invincible.

We drive out to the first press junket of the night, everyone’s dry as salt flats except for Clinton, who’s necking a bottle of Chivas and has this Puerto Rican girl with him that I think acts in some sitcom.  Everyone is smoking the hash pipe.  Midway through the drive to the Astoria, we get the call: the machines have fucked up.  The Diebold machines are malfunctioning.  “Isn’t that exemplary of how short mankind’s inventiveness falls when compared to the perfection of creatures like Sophia, here?”  But she’s not turned on anymore.  She’s buckled her safety belt.  The news has rattled her.  She repeats it to Bill.  “He says, the MACHINES are malfunctioning, Guillermo!  THE MACHINES!” she pronounces it like ‘ma cheen,’ it’s so cute.  And then I realize what she’s on about: we’re all headed toward a squadron of armed, malfunctioning drones.

It had been some pencil-jockey’s idea when budget cuts for the Secret Service were proposed after their escort scandal earlier in the year.  Why not hover some really expensive, automated killing machines over high-priority marks when they were not on official state business?  You get the added bonus of having justification for otherwise unwarranted surveillance in an area.  Slim down the personnel presence, and get a few eyes-in-the-sky, all on the same dime.

Then the election.  Aryan nationalist groups have hacked the drone detail.  They were code-named ‘Diebold’ on account of the occasion.  The hackers took the robotic killers off-line from Norad, and then spoofed their controllers, authorised their arming sequences.  And then flew them into the conference room at the Waldorf, where they murdered everything with a heat signature and were now no doubt lying in wait for the mark we’re protecting.  Fuck me, this is better than a movie.  God, I’m stoned.

When I start to vibrate the way I should, it warms the air and worries certain people.  Being the man I am.  Just a trained killer, really, pack and a half of problems in a sack on my shoulder.  The pleasure is yours, and hers, and the Messieurs over there; get to know me, and I’m class, a real plum sweetheart.  I’m always armed, so I don’t mind speaking with strangers in dark establishments over a few drinks and some drugs.  But on first blush, I can be taken as a bit of a cunt.  Just a bit too brusque.

I explain to Clinton what it means that the Diebold machines are malfunctioning.  He gets wide-eyed and asks why we haven’t changed our course away from the threat.  I tell him calmly and plainly that I am not going to be made a fool of.  We are going to pacify the threat.  He tries to argue.  I tell him to shut his puling, vegan, pussy-eating mouth.  This is going to happen, one way or another.

There are no huge revelations in what happens next.  There’s no squealing tires.  The ex-Pres and the Puerto Rican starlet stay in the van.  Yes, there is bloodshed.  There is an element of shooting at robots.  Not the satisfying “Bew!  Bew!” of those Star Wars fights, but we shoot at them in sporadic bursts of shells.  Throw their equipment off track with flash munitions, propeller-ed darts, and good old fashioned water balloons.  Out of a detail of nine, two were cooked by the damned machines before we laid them to waste.  It doesn’t feel good that we took no lives in turn, no like-for-like exchange.  So we may never achieve a sense of closure over the gun battle.

But what’s for certain is that at some point, Clinton and company, along with two vehicles from our convoy, were spirited away during the ordeal inside the Waldorf.  CCTV footage shows four men approaching the vehicles, trying to look either befuddled or nonchalant while pivoting on one foot, looking out for possible witnesses, and they jump in the vans and speed off after a few moments of hot-wiring manoeuvres.  We figure between the bags of drugs and the television bombshell, Bill’s probably capable of holding court with four black guys from New York.  He’ll phone us from one of the vehicles when he’s hungry and ready to come home.

Wait a minute, I can hear you saying, hadn’t I announced this tale as a moral tale?  One where I forgot Marcus Catullus Cicero’s admonition that there is no separation between what is just and what is expedient?  One where I sold out my duty to protect my life?   The first 180 or so characters before the fold are so crucial, aren’t they;  the most space and effort we can bother to give a shit about when searching for an author, a lost friend, an article of faith, or just when we’re expressing ourselves…  distilling the complex pap of squidgy emotions and perceptions into a few bits of text… using some grey-tupperware template to capture the mood.  Adding cat shit to the cosmic conversation.  I hate writing this way, but it must be done.

I can offer you this much:  earlier in the day, I voted for Mitt Romney.  My mark had backed the other guy.  Not exactly the conflict that you had imagined, eh?  I’m going to be getting a high-five from the Secret Service for what I’ve done, AND four dudes from wherever get to say they partied with the ex-President, too.  Sorry.  I know it’s a let down.  Just like always.  I had to get you bastards reading somehow, now didn’t I?  Wait for the sequel, sucker!

Banging Claire Danes & Killing Zombie Rebels

That red hair will put fire in your belly.  Every time.  Just a bad idea.  A poor decision.  Waiting to happen.  To phone in the police.  To tear your heart away from its cruel captor.  Every time, the same trial.  All the same excitement.  I try to push the thought of her out of mind, to focus on the task at hand.  We have to expel these rioting Wal-Mart employees from the district by five o’clock, after that we operate these armoured assault vehicles for free.  There’s no over-time this month.  Fucking stingy Uncle Sam for you.

hiding from zombies

I say we just need to hunker down for a minute

I strike a middle-aged, screaming white guy at about twenty mph, and he disappears under the headlights.  When the tractor treads crunch his bones up, the sound is just like Osiris being scattered about the banks of the Nile.  My gunner begins operating the ammunition belt.  Obese people wearing poly-cotton t-shirts over their faces like bandanas scatter, red blooms indiscriminately appearing across the backs of many.  There are so many of these fuckers, their cheap clothes in tatters, teeth rotted by a diet of fizzy drinks, potted meat and crystal meth: it looks like a zombie horde.  The rebellion has been going on for nearly a month.  Some cities are being wrestled back to order.  Most aren’t.

But this is only one reality; I should know, because I “walked-in” to this one a week ago, on Halloween.  In my old reality-stream, the Wal-Mart strikers were disorganised and non-militarised, too disjointed to be looked at as a cohesive movement.  But then, in my old reality-stream, Cheney hadn’t seized control of the Executive branch and suspended the Constitution.  Rumour has it his corporation is showing ambitions towards subsuming the Judicial branch soon as well.  And I hadn’t been drafted in 2007 during the joint invasion of Korea, Japan, and Siberia.  And that’s only one reality as well.

But this redheaded bitch’s scent is everywhere on me, mixing with the urine, the gunpowder.  I don’t know what I’m thinking half the time, I feel manic, out of control.  It’s been great.  I sense it can’t turn out well.

I am in no way qualified to tell how it happened, my displacement from one reality or dimension or whatever, into another.  But I can see the exact when, the circumstances leading up to that displacement.  It was Tom, an old friend; it happened when he “added” me to his contact list on the social network.  I confirmed with the user interface that I did indeed recognize this person.  We hadn’t spoken in at least a decade, probably were on our mutual paths to forgetting each other.  And then the social network’s programming algorithm picked us both out from among the data.  Arranged a few signals and Tom saw my face rendered before him on a laptop screen, and half a moment later, his appeared in front of me.  A withered circuit, reconnected just at the apogee of decay.  A transmission unforetold.

I clicked the avatar of Tom; I suddenly felt a fierce need to piss.  It actually moved me.  As I stood up, my vision was like from ten feet in the air or down a tunnel; I picked my way to the downstairs toilet with some difficulty.  Relaxed.  Released.  And then I had this like, epiphany: I realised that if it’s always only left or right for us, up or down; back and forth, on and off, you and me; I and you, I and everything else; then the wall in front of me, the water in the toilet bowl, the atoms comprising the urine running through the middle of the flesh of my very own cock – they are all experiencing me the same as I, at the same basic, uncomplicated binary level, am experiencing it.  We truly are only the mirrored inside of a sphere, looking at itself always, the observer being none other than that which is observed.  Upon this realisation: I felt whole.  My perspective suddenly went back to normal.

But when I left the bathroom, when I opened that door, I walked-in to a kitchen that was off kilter.  Too dingy.  My clothes had changed.  I felt in much better shape.  I noticed, too, that I was on some kind of very strong amphetamine and I smelled horrible.  Tattoos on my knuckles.  I turned around to the bathroom mirror, and fired my pistol at the person looking back.  Suddenly I have a killer’s instinct.  And a side-arm.  Fuck me, I thought.  This is happening.  I dropped the weapon in the kitchen sink basin.  Then I picked it up and collected it back in its holster.  This is happening one way or another.  Might as well be locked and loaded.

It only took a day before I had been completely absorbed into this alternative me.  First a mile in his shoes, then his schedule.  His job.  Where is this ‘he?’  Well, if he’s meeting my world, he’s pissed off and making a mess, to be sure.  Shit, that’s all I had been doing there anyway.  I’ve never been very gracious with my own belongings, but here I am being careful about everything.  Chain of command: respected.  The car parked outside my place: serviced on Tuesday.  The bank account filled with the spoils of doubtlessly heinous acts like the errand I’m currently undertaking: countenanced and appreciated, but otherwise untouched.  The fiery-headed playmate who has been showing up since that first night, when she made me wad her panties into a ball, stuff them into her mouth and take her in rough fashion… well, actually I have been finding it quite easy to take her in a rough fashion.  I was in the middle of something of a sexual drought back home.  Has me calling her Emily.  Just a few days ago, I would have told you she was a famous actress named Claire, had played that middle class teenager in a coming-of-age cable drama in the early ‘nineties.  Here, she’s a chanteuse and sometimes prostitute in a vice club run by the Midwest’s biggest gangsters, the Obama-Emanuel cartel.  Apparently I’m also on their graft.  Can’t wait to meet them.  We are all employees.

But back to the task at hand.  Pacifying the rebellion.

You really cannot help but sympathise with the movement.  Basically the slave-labourers of the western world, deliberately under-educated, poorly nourished, and jacked into credit schemes to kill any latent ambitions among them.  The only non-munitions jobs left in this country that hadn’t been moved to special trade zones.  Then, when a few among them had risen up to unionise, were murdered as an example of the company’s power, a group of charismatic rednecks laid out a plan to the rest that was straight out of the ultra-violent Hollywood entertainment they’d been steeped in for decades.  Once the rhetoric and the blood-shed reached the meth-belts in the country… thus burst the proverbial powder keg.  Equal parts common-sense justice and brutal, animalistic stupidity.  But then, I have to earn my pay-check as well.

After three hours or so of mowing down this patch of rioters, the universal ‘oh, shit’ light blinks at me from out of the dashboard.  We’re going to run out of gas.  We’ll be stationary.  Is there ample ammunition to dispatch our seething redneck audience?  What then?  As I ponder this, the engine clunkles, misfires a few times, rattles dead.  My machine gunner tosses a few grenades over the side and closes his hatch.  “Time to radio for air support – thank God it’s still four-thirty!” he deadpans.

The flash just enrages the swarm, already bloodied with their friends’ or family members’ syrupy vitality.  They pound the assault vehicle’s brushed carbon-fibre exterior panels until their fists explode and whither.  Another wave of angry faces and hungry mouths take the last one’s place.  Their shouts and war-cries become one din.  Until the vehicle is flipped over onto its side.  The ejector-mechanism is triggered somehow.  A moment to unhook my safety harness.  As I push at the ground to roll over, there’s a sharp crack on the back of my head.  I am suddenly aware of millions of claws tearing at me, I’m pulled in several directions.  Vox populi smells even worse than I do.

Fuck me.  I’m worm’s meat.

Oh, but for Emily.  I can still hear her departing words from this morning.  ‘Don’t tell me you love me.  Just tell me you had fun.’  The way her eyelashes splay out like wings, and match the crowsfeet, those laughlines we call them alternating things.  We get older, we get old.  We get kicked about by rebel meth-heads.  And then we are all carpet-bombed back to the hell of potential from whence we all spring.