[Just when we thought we'd wrung a commitment out of him, Brizoni's on the road again. Lord knows what he thinks he'll find. In lieu of real writing, he FedExed us some pages from one of his ever-present notebooks, along with a 5 1/2" floppy (a subtle jab at our ages, no doubt) with an audio file. We've done our best to cull the material into a legit post, given the many other demands on our time and interest.-- ED]
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.]
The Obama Mystery
WITH DUCKING. 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
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:
Democrats 'baffled' by president's health care stance
From CNN Senior Congressional
Correspondent Dana Bash
WASHINGTON (CNN) – As the prospects for passing health reform by the
time Congress leaves for its August recess look bleaker, Democratic
grumbling about President Obama is growing louder. One Democratic
senator tells CNN congressional Democrats are “baffled,” and another
senior Democratic source tells CNN members of the president’s own party
are still “frustrated” that they’re not getting more specific direction
from him on health care. “We appreciate the rhetoric and his
willingness to ratchet up the pressure but what most Democrats on the
Hill are looking for is for the president to weigh in and make
decisions on outstanding issues. Instead of sending out his people and
saying the president isn’t ruling anything out, members would like a
little bit of clarity on what he would support – especially on how to
pay for his health reform bill,” a senior Democratic congressional
source tells CNN.
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:
says talking time over, but has no clue what’s in ObamaCare; Update: Obama admits bill needs more work
“The time for talking is through,” sayeth the man who apparently
doesn’t realize that Congress exists to debate legislation and not to
muzzle itself and rubber-stamp executive initiatives. Of course,
Barack Obama might be able to make that argument a little better if
this particular executive took any sort of responsibility for the
executive initiative in question. Real Clear Politics has this
quote from the President who wants Congress to pass the health-care
reform bill by the end of the month without debate, but who apparently
has no clue as to what it says or how it works.
During the call, a blogger from Maine
said he kept running into an Investors Business Daily article that
claimed Section 102 of the House health legislation would outlaw
private insurance. He asked: “Is this true? Will people be able to keep
their insurance and will insurers be able to write new policies even
though H.R. 3200 is passed?” President Obama replied: “You know, I have
to say that I am not familiar with the provision you are talking about.”
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:
An Ideologue in a Hurry
When the work product is indefensible,
deliberation is dangerous.
By Rich Lowry
When Barack Obama pilfered Martin Luther King Jr.’s line about the
“fierce urgency of now,” he wasn’t kidding. The line has come to define
his presidency. His legislative strategy moves in two gears —
heedlessly fast and recklessly faster.
As with the stimulus package, Obama’s health-care plan depends on
speed. More important than any given provision, more important than any
principle, more important than sound legislating is the urgent
imperative to Do It Now....
Ramming through legislation without any assurance that it will work
doesn’t seem pragmatic or farsighted. But for Obama’s purposes, it is. His goal is nothing short of an ideological
reorientation of American government. Putting in place the structures
to achieve this change in the power and role of government is more
important than how precisely it is accomplished.
The stimulus might not do much to stimulate the economy during the
recession, but its massive spending creates a new baseline for all
future spending. The cap-and-trade bill might not reduce carbon
emissions during the next decade, but it creates a mechanism for
exerting government control over a huge swath of the economy. Obamacare
might not work as advertised, but it will tip more people into
government care and create the predicate for rationing and price
controls. [emphasis mine]
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...)
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:
Voters scared of Obama’s rushed
By Byron York
July 21, 2009: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele
blasted President Barack Obama's plans for the economy and health care
in a speech at the National Press Club on Monday. (Seth Wenig/AP file)
With one word Monday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael
Steele helped the GOP get back in the fight over health care and the
entire Obama agenda. The word was “experiment.”
“Candidate Obama promised change,” Steele said in a speech at the
National Press Club. “President Obama is conducting an experiment.”
Steele went on to accuse Barack Obama of carrying out dangerous
experiments with the nation’s health care, with the economy, with
“Experiment” didn’t come from nowhere. “The term bubbled up from a set
of focus groups we did with swing voters, independents, soft
Republicans and soft Democrats,” says one strategist involved in an
extensive RNC research effort nationwide and in key states like
Virginia, Colorado and Florida. “It’s something that a vast majority of
voters believe is true, that Obama is running what amounts to an
experiment with our future.”
The RNC researchers came away convinced that Americans are scared.
Certainly voters expected Obama to do things. But they are frightened
by the sheer scope of the president’s proposals, the fiscal dangers
they present and, perhaps most of all, the astonishing speed with which
the administration is trying to enact such fundamental and far-reaching
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
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.
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...)
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
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:
about death is subtle. Don't expect it to happen all at once. You'll get the hang of it. Learn from
the prison stripes. When he asks, "What about death?" she says, "I like
your ashtray." Study this clip.
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.
picturesque, ain't it? Can't you just see yourself expiring in lovely
Just remember the words of the poet:
Go gentle into that good night.
It's so politically right.
You'll be fine. Death doesn't hurt. It's just the blissful end of
feeling so f___ing sorry for yourself.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
WRITING PART OF TBB. 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:
Flourish of Razors
by Boz Baker
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
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 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 bigger of the two roadies (as I
thought of them) was turned roughly in my direction and it was to him I
“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,
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
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
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.
“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
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
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
“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...
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“...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
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
Oh God. “Okay, Jonathan. I’ll meet you in
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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,
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
– 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 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
Jonathan Pus edges away from me. Not a
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
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
Six Degrees of
Mike Castle (R-DE) getting an earful about Cap-and-Trade.
. 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
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
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
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
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 ..."
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.
has that sweet but scary dottiness that just might be onto something.
. 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:
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“That’s right,” I said.
“What are you looking for there?”
“A nightmare somebody had once,” Al told
“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.
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.
"I'm going to be
at my post."
chance to hear the audio file: Click here.
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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’
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
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
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
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
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.
Yes, I know it’s all
I’m prepared to make certain predictions based on my theory about
what’s going on. And I’ve taken steps to do what I can to make things
happen more quickly
3. The Truth... Today and Tomorrow
If I am right, the feds are all over this case, and they are so
confused they can’t figure anything out for sure. The closer you get to
punk reality, the more likely you are to be affected by it. By this I
mean that somewhere inside the gigantic intelligence bureaucracy, men
in dark suits are investigating the possibility that an illegal black
operation committed an atrocity on South Street a dozen years ago.
Other men in dark suits are investigating the possibility that an
illegal black operation was itself exterminated on South Street. Still
others have proof that no black operation existed, and yet others have
proof the punks never existed. But the decisions are being made by the
men who suspect that quantum computers exist. They will not stop. And
they will move more overtly as they catch the scent of their prey.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
beginning of the end of the pretense of objectivity
. 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:
I will leave it to military historians
to debate whether a full-scale surge of troops in the wake of Tet would
have secured the defeat of North Vietnam. For myself, I think it highly
likely. We’ll never know, because the age of modern terrorism – tactics
designed to sap civilian will and destroy political support for a
powerful military – began when Walter Cronkite took to the air on
February 27, 1968, and informed the American public it should not “have
faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds.”
Walter Cronkite was not an active agent of the North Vietnamese, in the
sense Jane Fonda was. He spend the rest of his life steadfastly
insisting his editorial judgment on Vietnam represented his honest and
heartfelt opinion. When measuring an event of such enormous importance,
it hardly matters what his deeply felt personal reasons were. What he
did not do was simply and clearly report on the outcome of the Tet
offensive, and allow his viewers to decide what they made of it.
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.
Finally, some information about
the proposed health care bills
want to trade what you've got for what's behind Door No. 1?
. 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:
Obama promises that "if you like your
health plan, you can keep it," even after he reforms our health-care
system. That's untrue. The bills now before Congress would force you to
switch to a managed-care plan with limits on your access to specialists
When you file your taxes, if you can't prove to the IRS that you are in
a qualified plan, you'll be fined thousands of dollars -- as much as
the average cost of a health plan for your family size -- and then
automatically enrolled in a randomly selected plan (House bill, p.
The price tag for this legislation is a whopping $1.04 trillion to $1.6
trillion (Congressional Budget Office estimates). Half of the tab comes
from tax increases on individuals earning $280,000 or more, and these
new taxes will double in 2012 unless savings exceed predicted costs
(House bill, p. 199). The rest of the cost is paid for by cutting
seniors' health benefits under Medicare...
One troubling provision of the House bill compels seniors to submit to
a counseling session every five years (and more often if they become
sick or go into a nursing home) about alternatives for end-of-life care
(House bill, p. 425-430). The sessions cover highly sensitive matters
such as whether to receive antibiotics and "the use of artificially
administered nutrition and hydration."
This mandate invites abuse, and seniors could easily be pushed to
Shockingly, only a portion of the money accumulated from slashing
senior benefits and raising taxes goes to pay for covering the
uninsured. The Senate bill allocates huge sums to "community
transformation grants," home visits for expectant families, services
for migrant workers -- and the creation of dozens of new government
councils, programs and advisory boards slipped into the last 500 pages.
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.
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
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
“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.
<>This was the nightmare that
me when I started dreaming again, and I had it every night for two
weeks, so that I never slept well during any part of the war. I guess
my fatigue started to show, because late one afternoon Loco took me
aside and asked me if I was having trouble sleeping. I told him about
the dream and he listened patiently. Then he spoke to me in Stingle for
the first time.
“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
“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
“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
“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
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.
“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
“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.
the Oval Office?
got it in mind to quit. Nobody's ever there to smell
the polish. Of course, she also misses W. who shared her views
on amnesty for all the illegals in her huge extended family.
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
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!"
Talk less and pick your spots. You are outdoing even Johnson and Mr.
Clinton with your daily speeches
in the capital and around the country.
Applause and adulation are gratifying. But the more you talk, the less
weight your words will hold. Let
voters see you at your desk, conferring with serious people about
serious matters. When you do choose to talk, people will
understand that it's important and they should listen. [emphasis mine]
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.
of Punk City
by Gypsy Jackknife
My room has a window, a flat picture of trees and a parking lot and,
across the highway, a billboard advertising sleeping tablets. There is
a bottle with a pale blue label, and it is full of dreamless slumber,
the deeps of rest and peace that I have never known. I no longer go
outside. They will not let me go out, because I have spells when I
cannot remember who or where I am. Several months ago, they tell me, I
wandered out of my room and the building. Had it not been for some kind
stranger, who took me by the hand and brought me back, I might have
finished anywhere, well before the Indian summer of semi-sanity I now
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
His name was Kassander, a young man full
O Kassander! What have they done to you?
He was a star, he had a guitar, and he
thought there was something
Kassander, I recall, brought me back
when I got lost.
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
The Duke threw down his bullhorn and
roared back at the punk who had
“Shut up, you clown! It’s my turn to
“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
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
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
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
“You took someone of value from me. Now
I’m taking someone of value
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
Kassander looked crumpled and half
asleep. The punks stared at him,
lost without his presence.
“Boomer balls!” screamed Slash Frazzle at
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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,”
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
“They’ll be needing a machine shop,” he
mused, “and probably some
“What is blue?” I asked.
“I told you last night. It clears the
“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
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
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?
Thursday, July 16, 2009
OFFICIAL TRUTH HAS ITS SHADES OF GRAY. Steve might be right. Maybe
the punk story should be
moved to another website. But, then again, maybe it shouldn't. Maybe
it's more about today than anything else is. Some of you responded to
the Gypsy narrative, his belief, his fortitude, his ability to deal
with the vicissitudes of fate and fortune. I feel compelled to
acknowledge that he didn't make it. He died. Was his life worth it?
Here's a secondhand account of his end. The kind of end a lot of us will be facing in the new
socialist paradise planned for us by our president. The narrator is a
private detective hired to find him in a totally fictional place called
Hightstown, New Jersey. But like everyone else who bumped up against
the punk writer phenomenon, nothing turned out quite like he expected.
Could be that's the real punk legacy. Stay tuned. You, too, Obama.
The Shuteye Train
Janet played it light with her parents.
There had been a break-in, nothing serious, but Jimmy had scared them
she wanted to keep him.
“Oh my," Mrs.
Sharp exclaimed, fluttering like a perturbed hen. Her house was pink
inside, every surface protected by a doily, antimacassar, or some kind
plastic cover. Jimmy’s ears drooped, as if he knew he’d be hectored and
in here. But Mr. Sharp put aside his newspaper and adjusted his
bifocals to take
a closer look at Janet’s new pet.
he announced. "And a damned big one at that. Had one when I was a kid. Nothing like as big as this one. Toughest damn dogs alive. Mine
eat steel wool he found in the cellar. Never seemed to bother him any,
He looked around the parlor, at the china and baubles his wife had on
then grinned at me. "I like Airedales,” he confided with evident
Jimmy sat on
his haunches, leaning hard against Janet’s leg. When Mr. Sharp reached
pat his head, he opened his mouth in what looked like a smile and began
noisily, as if he’d been holding his breath till now.
leave you all to get better acquainted,” I said. "Sorry about the
the office. But please don’t worry. We’ll be careful to see that
this happens again.”
me out to the car, Jimmy at her heels like a tall, fuzzy shadow. "Don’t leave
of this,” she said in a low voice.
I opened the
door, got behind the wheel.
listening to me, Bill?” she asked.
course,” I told her.
said when I went to close the door. She leaned down into the car, out
of the house. A freckled hand grabbed the neckline of her cotton jersey
yanked it down a good six inches, exposing the top of her bra.
thinking."What the...” until I saw the tattoo, a tidy little eagle
across the upper slope of her right breast.
another one, too,” she said heatedly.
figure in?” I asked.
exactly an innocent little girl,” she went on in her hot whisper. "I’m
afraid of what’s happening, and you’re a jerk if you waste any time
guilty about me being involved. I think I can help. This case isn’t
Rumsen crowd, you know.”
"What is it about?” I asked.
real,” she said. "something real enough to get you killed if you aren’t
careful. I don’t want that to happen.”
She bent and
kissed my cheek like a bird, a quick light peck of dry lips. Before I
react, she turned and trotted back to the house, with Jimmy flowing
I parked the
car one building over from my apartment block. It had occurred to me
might be getting some unexpected callers. I climbed the stairs and
the second-floor entrance to my place, looking for anything out of
the curtains were drawn, the lights were out, and the doormat was still
against the sill from where I had tripped over it this morning.
beginning to understand the twilight world of paranoia, see-sawing from
they waiting?” to "am I crazy?” with loads of unease in between.
the lights and saw an empty bachelor’s barracks, the ordinary clutter
ordinary man residing in a prefab hive made of sheetrock and reinforced
For maybe the hundredth time the thought came to me that I was getting
long in the tooth to be living like a college kid. The dining table was
under camera equipment, the remains of last night’s lasagna sat on the
table, soiling the dull gleam of partitionedSwanson aluminum, and my one wall hanging—a black and white
poster—seemed infinitely sad, like some youthful promise I couldn’t
remembered the brief brush of Janet’s lips and Jimmy holding his breath
pink and cream parlor. I had a little more than an hour before I’d have
pick up Al. Mrs. Al probably had a pink and cream parlor too. I was
about why that irritated me when the phone rang.
I waited for
the answering machine to pick up. It was Al, asking if I was there.
him, grabbing the handset and wondering if anyone else was listening.
thinking you might have company or something.”
“Just me and
some dirty dishes.”
later.” He hung up abruptly.
So Al was
paranoid too. I couldn’t tell if that made feel better or worse. I was
didn’t own a gun. Otherwise I’d be agonizing over whether or not to
with me tonight. I hoped Al was bringing his.
next to the couch has a powerful three-way bulb that comes in handy for
inspecting photographic negatives. I turned it to the brightest setting
hauled out the picture Janet had given me.
electric light dowsed the magic I had seen in the car. It was just a
photo of a
painting of a woman. Could it be that its initial power was somehow
from Janet? But why had it affected her so strongly?
I got out a
magnifying glass and examined the print a square inch at a time,
anything that might connect the image to Frelinger’s errand. It was so
when I found it that I wondered how I’d missed it. The woman’s hair was
away from her face by a headdress that looked familiar. Perhaps it had
faithfully from the original. I’d have to get an art book from the
be sure. But I was confident that the original didn’t feature a
embossed with a circle bisected by a vertical stroke. It sat at her
plain silver ornament that didn’t quite fit with the eastern opulence
because it was so close to the woman’s right eye. I looked into it
felt a tiny pulse in my groin. Disgusted at my own runaway imagination,
repocketed the photo and picked up the phone.
at Frelinger’s hotel sounded weary. No, he hadn’t returned to his room.
hadn’t paid his bill. No, there hadn’t been anyone else asking for him.
I took down the Ansel Adams poster, rolled it up and stuck it in the
wouldn’t want any hitmen to get the wrong idea.
Al had a
at the waist of his baseball jacket that wasn’t just belly, but he
enough as we drove out of his development onto Route 130. We exchanged
pleasantries. He wanted to know if Janet had gotten home okay. I told
had, then raised a ticklish point about our investigation.
to have to wait in the car, you know.”
businessman from Ohio
looking for my dying father’s long lost illegitimate son. I can’t
why I’d be bringing a cop along.”
about being a cop is, you don’t usually need an excuse.” He wasn’t
argumentative, just pushing me for more explanation.
on the memory and cooperation of an old orderly who’s got nothing to
nothing to gain. If he wants he can clam up or just not remember
he knows anything to begin with, which is a long shot.”
me what happens?” At least it was almost a question.
the light-stained blackness of 130 toward Trenton,
the tires beating the tar strips as if keeping count of the miles.
us made a move for the radio. It was a night for thinking, not for easy
hand?” I asked as we turned toward the mall strips outside Trenton.
I felt Al
in the darkness. “They’ll know something tomorrow maybe.”
the tangle of ramps and more-or-less permanent construction that
entry into the city of Trenton.
Behind us a pair of motorcycles grew impatient at my hesitant
roared past, raking us with the razz of their exhaust.
“What do you
think they meant, ‘before it starts’?” Al asked.
“It makes no
sense,” I said.
hard to explain the dog’s attack. Maybe he’s seen guns before. He could
been reacting to Janet’s fear. But it’s hard to see how this would be a
situation they were used to. A situation they were actually expecting.”
“I know,” I
“Did I tell
you all the hospitals came up empty? No emergency room in a hundred
miles recorded a complaint about a missing limb.”
me,” I said.
Al’s voice was instantaneous. “Reminds you of what? The part Janet
tell me?” He was even better at reading people than I’d thought.
like that,” I conceded, feeling like a schoolboy who’s just realized
teacher knows everything.
be referring to the government plates on the car, would you?”
“How did you
small town,” Al said. “Not much going on. Just a few thousand people
live in peace, raise their kids, that kind of thing. Nothing to
kind of sharpies who have files on them in Washington. DC plates stick out.
sleazeballs who don’t belong.”
what you think, why are you here? Shouldn’t you be interrogating me
bunch of cops watching through a one-way mirror?”
his gun, checked the safety, stuck it back in its holster. “Call it a
have a pretty good nose for slime and that’s not the smell I get from
Which surprises me, to tell you the truth. And I’m not enough of a boy
believe there’s no such thing as dirty feds.”
turning onto the street where the nursing home was located. “It’s got to be
than a hunch,” I told him. “I’m getting to know you a little better
You’ve got a full-fledged reason.”
lying about the sequence of events. If they were feds, they were
outside of procedure. She didn’t give them any probable cause for
polite questioning to drawing a weapon on an unarmed civilian. Just
haven’t given me any probable cause for thinking you’re connected to
the feds would take an interest in.”
take that as a compliment.”
always a Hightstown cop,” I said, wanting to show him I could read
“Where were you before?”
Al gave me
amused smile, his teeth glinting in the streetlights. “NYPD. The South Bronx. Ten years. Till I thought my soul
take that as a compliment.”
I parked the
car. I had an appointment with an orderly named George. Al said he’d
It was five
minutes past twelve when I walked into the reception area. Miss
waiting there with a skinny old black man in a snow white uniform. He
have been as ancient as Methuselah or only half that old.
George, Mr. Woolard,” she said.
“Don’t mention it,” she cooed. “I hope you find what you’re looking
down a twisting stairway to the employee break area, a gray-walled cell
with vending machines. The room stank of cooked coffee and cigarettes.
at a table in the corner, George pulled out a Pall
unfiltered and lit up.
you looking to use my memory,” he said in a voice that seemed to smile
his expressionless mahogany face.
right,” I said.
Dorty was all hogwash.”
“It was?” I
peered into his black eyes. They were warm but shrewd. Lately it seemed
everybody was seeing right through me. This must be what it felt like
stupid, I thought.
right,” he said. “Hogwash.” He drew out the two syllables to make sure
mean you know Gypsy?”
he said, taking a drag on the Pall mall.
“Maybe it don’t. Maybe it mean you better tell old George why you be
for a somebody called Gypsy.”
time. “The files here don’t have anybody that meets Gypsy’s
chuckled without moving his mouth. A neat trick. “When I get old,” he
“I’m thinking I’ll cut me back to just one job. Maybe just days. Maybe
“So you know
Gypsy from another nursing home?”
“And you be
knowing Gypsy from where exactly?” George asked. His emphasis made it
would have to answer this time.
Gypsy,” I told him. “But I’m in the middle of something all of a
George. A girl who works for me almost got killed today. A dog attacked
who was expecting it. I’m a private investigator who gets evidence for
cases. Nothing like this has happened to me before. Everything’s gone
me. And Gypsy is somehow the reason or connected to the reason. Stuff
happening right after a guy hired me to look for a dwarf in a nursing
now my client’s disappeared too. That’s all I know.”
at me for a long moment. “Got fifty cent?” he asked. He had to repeat
I understood him. I fished two quarters from my pocket and watched as
fed four into the coffee machine. He brought back two cups of black
“You say the
dog attacked and the man was suspecting it?”
apparently to himself.
“Jack had a
dog. They wouldn’t never let him in, though. He use to set on the
Like a statue he was. Guarding. There was other dogs too. Sometime,
dogs setting there.”
George had a
way of losing me with his transitions, but I was working hard to follow
through the curves. “You called him Jack?”
Alerted by the sudden hoarseness in his voice, I sought out George’s
There were tears in them.
As softly as
could, I said, “He died, didn’t he?”
coffee, not wanting me to see his emotion. “He had the brainrot. Born
“He was a
dw—he was small?”
he said. “In the heart he was a giant. Like nobody I ever see.He fight the brainrot every day with all he
gots. Working on that book he had. Somedays he couldn’t write no more.
scribbles on the paper. He beat on the paper trying to make it write.
mind come back and he work a while. Little less all the time. Till he
work no more. Can’t do nothing no more. Then he die.”
he say anything? At the end, I mean.”
back there with Gypsy, seeing the small body in the bed taking its
breaths. His eyes were full.
“It tooks me
by surprise,” he whispered. “Long time he hadn’t say nothing. Weeks
brainrot had took him away. But just before he die, he grab my shirt—“
demonstrated on his starched white orderly’s blouse “—and he say, real
be ready to settle this thing for good right now. One on one, the best
against me.’ Then he gasps for air and his eyes roll up, and he say, so
pitiful, like he seeing something awful, ‘Angel. Help us, Angel.’ He
no more after that. I close his eyes for him, and just sit there in the
So empty, like a big man walk out of the room.”
asked. I didn’t even know what the right questions were.
his eyes, a quick flick as if I wouldn’t see it. “They wants to just
away. Twisty yellow pine coffin, truck to the graveyard. No words from
Book. But that ain’t what happen this time. They don’t know what
black man’s voice held a grave delight.
though.” I drank coffee, in no hurry.
were smiling again. “The dogs, they know. They disappears that night.
he die. Before morning, thems come. I was suspecting it, so I stay,
here to work at all. I suspected thems be coming, and still I almost
Like shadows, through the basement window, gathers up Mr. Jackknife
cold room, then out again. Not a sound. Makes me shiver just to think
there. In the room?”
into his coffee. “Thought he should ought to have his book with him. So
it to him.”
it was took his book along too?”
“Do you know
what they did with him?”
proper,” the old man said with conviction.
I tried to
catch his eyes. He didn’t want to look at me but I made him. “You were
for the burial, weren’t you, George?”
“I won’t say
no more about that.”
and tried another tack. “Does this picture mean
you?” I showed him the photo that had been accumulating so much weight
pocket. He took it, studied it, glanced at me, then studied it again.
for sure,” he said. “Just a guess.”
than I’ve got right now.”
saw her name in the book. There was one called Alice. Alice Hate. She would have
that.” He didn’t have to explain what he meant.
about her in the book? What did he say?”
“He said she
was beautiful, but I don’t remember what else there was,” George said.
with a sudden burst of generosity, he volunteered more. “I think Gypsy
that. He loved that Alice Hate. Before his mind go, he was a painter.
have paint her. He was a great painter. One of the things he was.”
things was he? I mean, who was he, really?”
nothing to you if I tell you,” George said, taking another drink of his
his chair, not wanting to utter the words, probably aware of how they
“Come on,” I
prompted him. “Tell me.”
Jackknife, he was the last king of PunkCity.
I don’t know no
more about it than that.”
It didn’t mean a thing to me. “PunkCity?
What’s that?” My
pleading look was genuine.
the last of his coffee, deciding.
“I need your
help,” I told him. “I wish I knew what I was looking for, but I don’t.
it seems important or not, it might be. Please, George.”
looked at me. His wise old eyes bored into mine. Then he said, “PunkCity
was in Philly. It ain’t no more. But it could be they left behind
some kind of treasure.”
that much, he clammed up. In response to my flood of questions, he
his head and smiled. “Let me think on it,” he offered at last. “Come
tomorrow. Maybe my old memory won’t be so bad after I think on it.”
I asked him
he could at least tell me the name of the nursing home Gypsy had stayed
he wouldn’t. I didn’t push because I knew I could find it now. Besides,
I had one
last question that I did want an immediate answer to, just so I’d be
his coffee cup and stood up to go. I thought he was just going to walk
so did he. But at the door he turned and smiled., not just with his
with his whole face. He looked angelic.
“I can tell
you that,” he said, “’cause you won’t ever find them.”
Al said. “Never heard of it.”
We were in a
donut shop on the edge of Trenton.
I suggested it and Al agreed with no apparent sense of irony. We drank
coffee than George had given me and Al worked half-heartedly on a
danish. Between bites, he grilled me about my conversation with George.
irate about the questions I hadn’t asked. Had George heard of
George know of anything illegal in Gypsy’s past that would have
feds? Where in Philly was PunkCity? When had
died? What else did George know about the Shuteye Train?
that it wouldn’t be hard to find the other place where George worked,
bound to have Gypsy’s case file and dates of admission and death. And
man had agreed to talk to me again. Next time, I wouldn’t be such a
“Could be,” Al mused. “Maybe sometime before
then you’ll show me that picture you’ve been concealing.”
said, handing it over. “I just didn’t want you to take it away from me
could show it to George.”
I showed him
the symbol on the medallion.
that,” he said. “It matches up with the tattoo Frelinger told you
Still think I’m holding out on you?”
his brow at me. “No,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure some other people
your pal George. And your now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t client.” He
staring at the picture. “If this is a real woman, she’s a pip.”
imagining the effect”
I told him
about Janet’s reaction. It didn’t seem to surprise him. “That’s why I
haven’t seen her before. But there’s something here that’s familiar.”
“It is a
of a famous painting.”
it,” he said. “I don’t know shit about art. Something else.” After a
said, “Never mind. It’ll come to me. It always does.”
in near silence. There was nothing solid to go on. Nothing but a
and a fading photograph. I think we both knew that to talk anymore
accumulated some facts would be to risk making giant fools of ourselves.
tomorrow,” Al said when he climbed out of the car at his house.
“If I don’t
call you first.”
dream, but if I did I don’t remember it. Falling asleep, though, I do
wishing I had a dog like Janet’s. They say you should be careful about
wish for. They’re right about that.
Do you still dream? If so, what about?
are enough Rolex watches in that crowd to pay off the national debt.
When Ayn Rand wrote Atlas
Shrugged, she never envisioned the response of Manhattan and Los
Angeles liberals to an outright burst of totalitarian conquest. She was
thinking about a rebellion of people who had actually done something to
generate their wealth -- innovators, industrialists, neurosurgeons,
technologists. She wasn't thinking about advertising executives, PR
flacks, boob doctors, brokers with suspenders, or even (shudder)
investment bankers. These
aren't people who are prepared to make either a principled stand or
mount a political counteroffensive. What do they do? They RUN. Either
they flee to states with lower tax rates, or they run to Washington,
DC, for the purpose of protesting the hardship of wives who can't have
their roots done while they're being fitted for whole-body transplants
and total head rebuilds.
The rich aren't quietly withdrawing. They're refugees in full flight.
From New York City, from Los Angeles, California, from everywhere there
are people who just can't believe that their savior Obama really does
want to take all their money away.
is at a standstill on the Taconic Parkway...
Who knows where they're going? Are there cotillions in West Virginia?
Country clubs in Missouri? Debutantes in Iowa? THEY DON'T KNOW. A kind
of panic has set in. Can cellphone contact with attorneys and
accountants acquaint them in time with the tax advantages of states
like Forida, New Hampshire, and Nevada? No one knows. And what's more,
no one is listening.
Already, their terrified flight has resulted in the sad phenomenon of
"Obamavilles," pitiful ad-hoc communities where tired millionaires
accumulate in spaces without even decent Internet service or Michelin
Obamavilles. There's no one who can
diagnose their unique limo ailments, fetch
caviar, differentiate local
wine from what's potable, or procure adequate pate.
Yet such is their desperation that they continue to flee -- from
Beverly Hills, from Manhattan, and from, uh, Manhattan and Beverly
Hills, seeking the better life they told everyone else would flow from
Obama even while they denied it came, in fact, from Reagan and the
Bushes. Can you imagine how thoroughly pissed they are? They gave that
creep Obama every cent of the money they were allowed to write off in
order to make him president and NOW he wants to double their tax
Which is why they're headed to Washington, DC, for the Million
But even the rest of us should be upset (a little, anyway) about the
millionaire internment camps the administration is smoothly rolling
into place to prevent them from reaching the capital.
no botox, no champagne, no masseurs, no nips and tucks.
And they're even being hunted down in their native lairs, before they
can get on the road and flee.
something out of '30s Berlin. They give up without a struggle.
Tragic, and yet the plight of millionaires proceeds, on and on and on,
as if it actually mattered.
They gather in hopes of convincing
the One they care like crazy.
As if people like this have anything
whatsoever to do with the real businesspeople who create two
thirds of the jobs in this country -- the owners of hardware stores and
John Deere dealerships and electricians and plumbers and the fuel oil
suppliers and the gas stations and the garden stores and all the other
entrepreneurs who make the wheels turn and the gears grind. You know,
the ones who really are going
to pay for Obama's nightmare vision.
There ought to be a
Millionaire March on Washington, DC. There won't be. The people who do
all the real work can never get it through their thick heads that if
they stand up and finally say, "NO!," things really would have to
change. They're too busy working.
Unlike the Obamas of this world. Who are always too busy scheming how
to wring more bucks from the people who do the work they're too lazy or
entitled or ignorant to do.
We never had a grifter president before. How does it feel, oh you
shiftless, guilty, parasitic, fake-me-out urban millionaires? Pretty
damn fine, eh?
out from the bail-out economy. At maximum speed.
Yes, I know Sotomayor's a lock. Yes, I know she's just filling Souter's already unregenerate liberal seat. Yes, I know her appointment changes nothing. Yes, I know it's solely an exercise in tantrum-throwing to pay any attention.
I know all that. The only reason I am paying attention is for the few stark reminders of how bad things are this latest circus offers.
1. The MSM's liberal bias is inescapable and undeniable. Find me one major news outlet (no, Newsmax, and the Washington Times don't count) that didn't portray Sotomayor's repeated "I rely on the law, and only the law" claims as unassailably genuine, Democratic softballl questions and kid-gloving her as anything but appropriate geniality, or any opposition to her appointment as spiteful, futile poo-flinging from the now 100% irrelevant Republicans. Find me one.
3. I Guess There's Just The Two. I guess there's just the two. Should have said "a couple stark reminders" instead of "a few." Too bad there's no way to go back and edit text once it's been typed. As a kid, I thought we would have that by 2009. Along with flying cars and jetpacks, and seven-course meals in pill form, and cities on the moon. And a reliably sane Supreme Court. Ah, the folly of youth.
NASA still laboring
to refute moon "hoax"
who believe the moon landing was faked point to several "flaws" in this original footage. First,
Buzz Aldrin doesn't look "quite right." Second, there's no sign of actual Apollo
logos and stuff. Third, what's that crawler thingy all about that says
"Argentina"? And finally, yeah, there is a pretty convincing takeoff, but where's the
actual landing on the moon? What's up?
. Most of you know we take our science
pretty seriously here at InstaPunk, so we feel obligated to break into
the fascinating ongoing display of prevarication by Sonia
DeSoto on the
floor of the Senate to alert you to what may be a climactic moment in
the long-lived controversy about the Apollo moon landings. First,
there's this bit of explanation from the New
Forty years after men first touched the
lifeless dirt of the Moon — and they did. Really. Honest. — polling
consistently suggests that some 6 percent of Americans believe the
landings were faked and could not have happened. The series of
landings, one of the greatest gambles of the human race, was an
elaborate hoax developed to raise national pride, many among them
They examine photos from the missions for signs of studio fakery, and
claim to be able to tell that the American flag was waving in what was
supposed to be the vacuum of space. They overstate the health risks of
traveling through the radiation belts that girdle our planet; they
understate the technological prowess of the American space program; and
they cry murder behind every death in the program, linking them to an
And while there is no credible evidence to support such views, and the
sheer unlikelihood of being able to pull off such an immense plot and
keep it secret for four decades staggers the imagination, the deniers
continue to amass accusations to this day. They are bolstered by films
like a documentary shown on Fox television in 2001 and “A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way to the Moon” by Bart Sibrel, a filmmaker in
Of course, those who believe in the hoax theory point out that the New
York Times believes the World Trade Center was brought down by
commercial airliners under the control of Islamic terrorists (sheesh),
refuse even to cover such well established conspiracies as the conquest
of earth by shapeshifting lizard people (scroll down).
In fact, the Times goes out of its way to say nasty, venomous things
about the few people who are wise to such crimes against humanity:
Mark Fenster, a professor at the
University of Florida Levin College of Law who has written extensively
on conspiracy theories, said he sees similarities between people who
argue that the Moon landings never happened and those who insist that
the 9/11 attacks were planned by the government and that President
Obama’s birth certificate is fake: at the core, he said, is a
polarization so profound that people end up with an unshakable belief
that those in power “simply can’t be trusted.”
The emergence of the Internet as a communications medium, he noted,
makes it possible for once-scattered believers to find one another. “It
allows the theory to continue to exist, to continue to be available —
it’s not just some old dusty books on the half-price shelf.”
Adam Savage, the co-star of the television show “MythBusters,” spent an
episode last year taking apart Moon hoax theories bit by bit,
entertainingly and convincingly. The theorists, he noted, never give
up. “They’ll say you have to keep an open mind,” he said, “but they
reject every single piece of evidence that doesn’t adhere to their
Lizards, all of them. Starting with that evil extraterrestrial
W. Bush, who....
Well, back on topic. This moon landing thingdoes happen to be wrong and
ridiculous, as the Times notes only fifteen or twenty times in passing.
And thankfully, NASA has bellied up to the table for once and exerted
itself to find the actual, honest-to-goodness real footage of the Apollo 11
Moon Landing that had been suspiciously "lost" for, lo, these many
looks like NASA has found the missing moon-landing videotapes.
A carefully worded media advisory note issued Monday promised that
"greatly improved video imagery from the July 1969 live broadcast of
the Apollo 11 moonwalk" would be made public Thursday.
Rumors have been flying around the Internet for weeks that NASA, after
years of searching, had discovered the original recordings of Neil
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's lunar excursion — which the space agency
once feared had been accidentally destroyed.
The story, as summarized by Britain's Sunday Express newspaper in late
June, was that the tapes had been found in a storage facility in the
basement of a building on a university campus in Perth, ArgentinaAustralia.
This is doubly embarrassing. Embarrassing personally
because I have to admit I am still watching this perpetual train wreck
of a morning show. Also embarrassing in the much broader sense that the
Fox News Channel, supposedly the sole island of sanity in the Obama
worship that has made all mass media nauseating for the past year or
so, is not just amateurishly silly at times, but glaringly,
ludicrously, horrifyingly incompetent.
But I cannot keep silent. I get up early. Usually before 6 am. I watch F&F because if the Phillies are losing or not playing, THERE'S NOTHING ELSE ON THAT ISN'T AN OBAMA COMMERCIAL. Today
was no exception. But when I settled down with my first cup of
microwaved coffee from yesterday's pot (boiled pencils, anyone?) to
begin the morning with the usual rerun of Bill O'Reilly's
self-aggrandizing crop of Factor emails, the Fox & Friends were
already on the air. Gretchen Carlson was yammering about a plane crash
in Iran for which all the known facts were neatly captured (for once)
in the headline and caption of the 20 seconds of footage available of a
hole in the ground near Tehran. All right. Too bad. For everyone who
really cares about the death of 168 strangers from a country that hates
our guts regardless of which side they're on in the current political
Not trying to sound callous here. Don't know those folks or anyone who
does. And there was no
information about the event itself or its cause or specific
circumstances, and the ad-libbing Carlson and Doocy were attempting was
singularly off-putting. Doocy kept repeating that this would be blamed
on us because of the sanctions and their denial of "spare parts" to
Iran. Come again? One of the few facts they did have was that it was a
Russian airliner, and the
Russians have never observed the sanctions of the U.S. or the U.N. If
the Russians can't get spare parts for their incredibly disaster-prone
airliners to the Iranians (even if that would have helped), it's hardly
our concern, and any Iranian government attempt to blame us is just the punchline for jokes
it's too early to devise the setups for at 5:55 am.
Blessedly, Gretchen seemed about to move on when a graphic popped on
screen about the DeSoto hearings, but she speedily backtracked to the
plane crash story -- apparently, the producers wanted her to repeat all
her misinformation and airhead speculations one or two (or three) more
times before letting her, and us, off the hook. So she blundered on while the
technicians continued to rerun their same twenty seconds of video over
and over and over again. And one more time, just to be sure.
Which was all only a warmup for the absolutely unbelievable outrage of
the morning -- the false report that the
House of Representatives had passed a healthcare bill. I knew
this was not true. I had read the night before that the bill had been
introduced and that Nancy Pelosi had bravely, rashly declared that it
would be passed before the August recess. But it was early, and I was
still numb with sleep, and I watched incredulously as Doocy, Carlson,
and "The Judge" (substituting for the Kilmead clown I cannot, alas,
blame any of this on) railed
against congress for passing yet another 1,000 page bill no one had
read. Mind you, they had no vote count, no footage of Dem leaders
crowing about their accomplishment, nothing whatever to verify the
completely false item of information it didn't occur to any of them to
question. In fact, the footage they were running of the stacks of pages
the bill comprised was from the senate, not the house, and most likely
of the stimulus bill, not the healthcare abomination the senate is
conspicuously not bringing to the floor...
I expected, confidently, that they would come back from commercial to
concede their mistake. No. They didn't. In fact, they repeated it almost an hour later,
shortly before I switched off the set to go to work.
It's barely worth mentioning the additional flourishes on their worst day ever that
transpired subsequently. But I will. Because they're so typical, in one
case, and so elementally Fox News, in another.
There was, in the first instance, the Gretchen Carlson interview with
two sluggish academics from the University of North Southwest Alabama
who had conducted some preliminary study about the most important
political controversy in the known universe, the disposition of
American auto dealers, of which Gretchen's family is -- as she
repeatedly reminds us -- a disgracefully dispossessed victim. F&F
loves to schedule short interviews with articulate experts who barely
get to utter a topic sentence before being dispatched in the name of
time constraints and looooong interviews with ordinary folks who saved
a puppy or sued a school district and have absolutely no memory of the
event once the cameras are turned on. This interview turned out to be a
combination of both -- loooong interview, theoretically competent
interview subjects, and no ability whatsoever to get to the point.
Gretchen tried with all her might to get them to say what she wanted them to
say, that the decision about which dealers would be deep-sixed was a
political calculation based on the geography of Obama support, but her
pitiful guests weren't even able to describe the study, let alone
characterize any results. Not just classic F&F, but archetypal
We moved from there into the street, where a pseudo-diner franchise had
miraculously built a whole diner counter in honor of their 45th (45th?!
The Cubic Zirconium Jamboree?) anniversary. Of course it featured the
barstools traditional diners always have, and Doocy speedily camped his
bony ass on one of them while Gretchen began to take on the
deer-in-the-headlights look of her previous guests. She's dumb about
some things -- well, a lot of things -- but not about camera angles as
they relate to a woman in a skirt trying to sit modestly opposite lenses
aimed directly at crotch-level. She edged herself onto one of the
stools and immediately swung to her left, hoping to avoid the (at least
implied) beaver shot, but that's exactly where the secretly stern Mr.
Doocy intervened. He was
talking and Gretchen's wiggling was a distraction, so he clamped a hand
on her seatback and swung her directly into optimum beaver shot range.
And, no, there was nothing truly scandalous to be seen, because
Carlson's thighs were clamped so tightly together that it was clear to
one and all the triangle of shadow at the juncture of her hem and
thighs was only shadow, but
her suit was blue and her face was green and the triangle of shadow was
inescapable. As I said, elemental Fox: if it spreads, it leads.
It was shortly after this that we returned to the studio and Doocy
repeated the fiction that the house of representatives had passed a
trillion-dollar healthcare bill. Click.
MEMO TO ROGER AILES: We all deserve better. Isn't it bad enough that
the goofy dimwit interns you trust to type captions and other chyron
input can't spell worth a damn, so that every day we see major stories
rendered ridiculous by Howdy Doody alphabetics like "clandestun" and
"budgetery"? Isn't it enough that you force us to sit still for a
grinning chimp of a host who cannot read any name -- be it of person or
place -- without mangling it repeatedly and evincing evident
self-satisfaction about his dyslexic illiteracy? Isn't it enough that all
the real news on your first broadcast of the day is swiped from wire
services and rarely even mentioned in what is passed off as news during
the show itself? Isn't it enough that your two principal female hosts
remain perpetually convinced that the program is actually about them
and their ability to make every story a mere teleprompter lead-in to
their personal anecdotes about breastfeeding, beauty pageants, food obsessions, and their tedious family lives? Or are we now really ALSO expected to put up with the fact that
they are more unprepared and unprofessional than they are opinionated
We need a news outlet that is what Fox News claims to be: "fair and
balanced," fine. But also f___ing "news."
Should I put that in all-caps?
No. But I will repeat it.
top of all that, a big THANK YOU to Fox Sports for covering up the
Pres's miserable first pitch, which was a twofer: 1) a sissy airball
that 2) dropped like a Texas League blooper onto the dirt a foot in
front of home plate. If Albert Pujols weren't one of the greatest
players of his generation, no way he could have scooped it up the way
he did. But you didn't seen this if you were watching the All-Star game
on the media conglomerate Obama hates more than any other. Fox Sports
chose a camera
angle so artful we didn't get to see where his NBA-caliber pitch
Fiddle Faddle. Here was a presidential pitch.
Why You Have Never
Heard of Punk Writing
Thomas Naughton, brother of the first scholar who deigned to dissect punk writing. They're both
dead now, but the silence continues.
IS SLEEPING. So you've had a chance to read some of their stuff,
but people who actually count did too. They weren't impressed. Here's
the introduction to the only scholarly treatment they ever received.
And, yes, it's completely unreadable, as Lynn
Wyler said. But if you could struggle through it, or read at it, or
use it as a reference, it does
contain some information nobody else ever bothered to collect, all
biases aside. There are footnotes in the original, a lot of them, but
we figured you wouldn't care. Sorry. If that's presumptuous, we can
make them available upon request.
Needless to say, perhaps, if Dr. Naughton sees no merit in a body of
manuscripts, the buyers at Borders and Barnes & Noble make it clear
to publishers that there's no point in publishing. It's the way things
are done in the world of the liberal intelligentsia. You know. The New
Yorker talks, bullshit walks.
A Post-Mortem on
In the case of most literary movements, straightforward research and
relatively elementary textual analysis suffice to provide the scholar
with a basis for interpretation of the corpus of work in question. The
sine qua non for such a basis consists of assumptive parameters by
which the scholar can gauge the relative importance or unimportance of
the contradictions, incongruities, and unknowns that inevitably arise
during any detailed investigation into the origins and intentions of a
particular literary tradition. But in approaching the lives and works
of punk writers, one is almost immediately faced with such an
unprecedented profusion of obtrusive and potentially primal elements of
all kinds—seminal, definitional, conformational, and
transformational—that the task of distinguishing significant from
merely incidental influences requires an extraordinarily meticulous and
It is for this reason that a much more than cursory knowledge of punk’s
formative milieu must serve as a prerequisite to the study of punk
works. Any reader not mindful of the myriad circumstances attendant on
the emergence of this phenomenon runs a double risk: first, of
misreading its confused but all too literal fragments of self-history
as profound but difficult literary inventions; and second, of inferring
from this quite spurious aura of profundity a wholly erroneous schema
of punk intent, in which ineptitude is interpreted as technique,
confession as metaphor, and brutality as philosophy.
And for those who would approach the subject despite
these risks, there is yet another obstacle to surmount, one of such
magnitude that any scholar who encounters it could almost be pardoned
for concluding that punk’s manifold mysteries are beyond hope of
resolution. The nature of this formidable stumbling block was ably
described by Clausen in one of the first (and only) essays written on
the punk writer phenomenon:
The punks do not publish their works.
They may perform them on stage, paint them on the walls of public
buildings, or force them on pedestrians at knifepoint, but it is
anathema to their code to submit them to publishing houses for
dissemination to the world at large. Nor are they in the least disposed
to discuss themselves or their work, insisting that whatever reasons
they have for writing, the desire to communicate is not one of them.
These are primary anomalies, and the demise of the punk writing
movement has altered the situation only for the worse. The writings
that were difficult for Clausen to acquire in 1982 are still not widely
available, and present evidence indicates that a high percentage of
them may have been lost altogether in the fifteen years since the
movement’s end. Moreover, the rigid code of silence observed by most of
punk’s principals and followers when punk writing was in its ascendancy
has not been abandoned but has rather been fiercely retained, almost as
if it had become a kind of sacred relic to those who mourn punk’s
In the face of such daunting obstacles, the question inevitably arises:
Are the potential benefits of scholarly inquiry into the punk movement
worth the labors that will undoubtedly be involved in penetrating its
mysteries? Assuredly, any scholar who did not pose this question would
be derelict in his/her duty to both his/her profession and his/her
peers, notwithstanding the generous latitude society at large has
traditionally granted the academic community in the matter of deciding
which subjects are worthy of investigation and which are not. Simple
pragmatism demands that members of the academic community concur,
willingly or regretfully, with the opinion expressed by Lieberman in
his celebrated Treatise on Modern Criticism that “There is more of
wistfulness than wisdom in the credo Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum
Thus, we confront the task of determining whether or not there is prima
facie evidence that punk writing does not merit serious study. And some
would argue—indeed, some have already argued—that such evidence
abounds. It must be admitted at the outset, for example, that punk
writing is, almost without exception, bad writing. No less tolerant and
distinguished a critic than Jameson wrote the following indictment:
Even at its putative best, punk prose is repetitive, strident,
deliberately offensive in tone and technique, and quite devoid of that
most vital prerequisite of literature, the writer’s interest in—and
sympathy for—his or her characters. At its worst, punk prose is beneath
contempt, consisting of little more than illiterate and incoherent
diatribes full of mixed metaphors, fragmented constructs of plot and
thought, and irrational unregenerate hostility.
What can there be in all this to attract serious scholarly interest?
This is a vital question and one that must be addressed at some length,
but having posed it in its proper place, I must at once beg leave to
defer discussion of it until such time as the groundwork has been laid
for a satisfactory answer, whose referent elements would necessarily at
present include facts and conclusions not yet available—for
confirmation or disputation—to my readers. Precipitate consideration of
such issues could have no reasonable prospect of allaying an only too
prudent skepticism. I therefore propose, with apologies to the
ordinally minded among you, to lay the foundation for an informed
decision by describing some of the punk writing movement’s background
and history. Much of the information that follows was obtained from
secondary sources, but this is an unfortunate necessity whose potential
ill effects I have attempted to minimize by using only that material
for which at least circumstantial supporting evidence could be
obtained. In those few instances here included for which no such
supporting evidence could be found, I have provided the identity of my
source so that others can verify or disprove their testimony
independently. All speculations in the following summary have been, I
believe, expressly identified as such.
Herewith, I offer a brief overview of the punk writing movement,
beginning with what is known of its origins.
In the fall of 1978 an unemployed auto mechanic named Samuel Dealey
moved from the small town in southern New Jersey where he had been born
to the South Street section of Philadelphia. A week later he wrote a
letter to his sister describing his new home and his reasons for moving
...there’s plenty of kids & nobody
to mes with you’s, if I want to gets boozed up I do, theres plenty
places for that. Nobody saying hey you, do this, do that where was you
yestiday. Its all free here I can dress how I like and I got a place
with some other guys who know some of the realy cool bands here, a guy
called Eddy Pig is learning me the gitar, so dont worry I’ll be making
some good bread soon...
Dealey’s characterization of the South Street atmosphere was not an
exaggeration, but a fairly accurate description of what had lately
become a Mecca for culturally and economically dispossessed young
people. The “realy cool bands,” moreover, were such a presence in the
area that in May 1979, residents in neighboring Society Hill twice
petitioned the Philadelphia Police Department to enforce the local
noise ordinances more strictly, citing “repeated late night
disturbances by punk rock bands whose exceptionally loud music and
riotous behavior have become an intolerable nuisance to everyone in the
Despite these pleas, however, the police were apparently unable to
impose order on the burgeoning population of South Street rebels.
According to some contemporary accounts, the police were actually
afraid of the punks, and by the fall of 1979, a de facto state of
anarchy gave young people the freedom to do whatever they wished as
long as they remained within the confines of a ten-block strip known as
Punk City. Dealey, meanwhile, had joined a band called ‘The V-8s’ and,
having changed his name to Johnny Dodge, was struggling to attain some
kind of renown in the punk hierarchy. “I’m going to be somebody,” he
wrote his sister. “I’m more punk than anybody here ever thought of.”
As confident as Dealey may have been about his prospects for punk
stardom, the slightly defensive tone of the latter statement suggests
that he was already finding it difficult to attract attention in what
was essentially a leaderless, standardless culture. Too, he may have
been discovering that the music itself was too lacking in substance to
provide him with a platform for his ego. From its inception, punk music
in the U.S. had been suffering from a debilitating identity crisis, as
music scholar Roy Keller observed in a 1981 essay on the subject:
(It was) an offshoot of traditional
rock and roll that if clear about the sartorial requirements it imposed
on its adherents was hopelessly unclear about either its purpose or
direction. Unable to agree on so simple a matter as whether punk music
represented a reaction against, or a fulfillment of, the cultural
imperatives of rock and roll, punk musicians took refuge in mere
outrage, competing with one another on and off stage for top honors in
boorishness and hostility.
It was at this juncture that a wholly unexpected element intruded on
the heretofore closed world of Punk City. What direction Dealey might
have taken had he never met Percy Gale, we can only surmise; what is
certain is that in November 1979, Dealey formed a brief alliance with
Gale that resulted in a cross-pollination between punk and computer
technology, which in turn gave birth to the entire punk writing
To comprehend the significance of the event, we must extend our scope
of interest twenty miles northwest, to a region near the Pennsylvania
Turnpike nicknamed Semi-Conductor Strip, where numerous high technology
firms were competing for survival in the volatile market for computer
hardware and software.. It was here that a brilliant electronics
engineer named Percy Gale had been employed for three years by Neodata
Corporation, a firm that produced word processing systems for the
Gale’s career was progressing well, by all accounts, and he had
recently been promoted to vice president in charge of new product
development when Neodata’s founder, a young enfant terrible named Tod
Mercado, launched a lengthy campaign to acquire Monomax Corporation,
then the fourth largest computer company in the world. The takeover
fight was one of the bloodiest on record and when the dust had settled
in late 1979, Mercado assumed nominal control of a consolidated NeoMax
Corporation which was so deeply in debt and so divided in its top ranks
that Wall Street analysts doubted its ability to make prudent business
decisions. Accusations and law suits were rife, and dethroned Monomax
executives insisted in print that Mercado had completed the acquisition
through the use of illegal tactics and unsavory sources of funding.
Soon after finalization of the acquisition, Gale resigned from the new
corporation and moved to South Street, allegedly to escape the stress
of corporate life. It is impossible to prove that Gale had any purpose
other than curing a case of burnout. But there is plenty of anecdotal
evidence that Gale was, in fact, a close personal friend of Tod
Mercado, and in light of subsequent events, it seems possible that he
resigned from NeoMax either to escape questioning about his knowledge
of acquisition-related events or, more intriguingly, to pursue some
secret project he had dreamt up with his wunderkind boss.
I hasten to add that there is no documentation of any such
project. There is, however, a mass of hearsay evidence that there
existed some connection between Mercado and the punk writers of South
Street. Almost all contemporary accounts confirm this directly or by
implication, which represents an interesting exception to the norm
among chroniclers of Punk City, who seem to differ sharply on many of
the most basic ‘facts’ they report on. But whether Percy Gale’s
presence on South Street was the by-product or the source of Mercado’s
punk connection, we may never learn to a certainty. For example, the
very same accounts which verify Mercado’s communications with punk
writers tend to characterize Gale in starkly different ways. Under the
sobriquet ‘The Sandman,’ he is in various accounts lionized as a major
figure, depicted as a gifted though narrow technological guru, and
dismissed as a minor supporting player, a kind of informed onlooker.
The perspective on Gale adopted by any given chronicler of punk history
seems to hinge on the very same issues that confront the scholar, which
is to say that one’s view of Gale’s role and importance is determined
by the particular assumptions one makes about what punk writing was and
what it may have meant, if anything.
All we can say with confidence is that for whatever reason, Gale left a
well paying corporate position, as well as an opulent suburban
townhouse in King of Prussia, to move into a decaying urban
neighborhood, where he participated in founding the phenomenon known as
Boz Baker’s highly personal—and somewhat questionable—memoir, The
Razor-Slashing Hate-Screaming De-Zeezing Ka-Killing, Doctor-Dreaming
Kountdown, contains a passing mention of the first meeting between
Dealey and Gale, but the only authentic record I have been able to
locate is a reference in another of Dealey’s letters to his sister, in
which he writes:
...Met a computer guy at Gobb’s said he
could fix some hi teck effects for the band. Sounded like too much
bread to me but he says unless I wanted to learn the gitar for real (I
never claimed I was no Hendricks did I) I should give it a try, don’t
worry about the bread til we get to it. Said I’d see him around mabe
we’d talk later. Mabe he’s crazy but mabe not too, who knows.
Dealey must have overcome his doubts about Gale because he began
collaborating with him almost immediately and soon departed from the
V-8s to form his own band, Johnny Dodge & the 440s, which gave its
first performance on November 27, 1979, at a South Street bar called
the Slaughtered Pig. Contrary to the legend that grew up around this
event, Dealey and his new group performed a routine set of punk rock
songs, many of them borrowed from the defunct Eddy Pig Band, and
confined its Gale-inspired experimentation to just one ‘number’ near
the beginning of the show. In a piece called “Bloody Chiclets,” the
band laid down its guitars and surprised the audience by typing its
lyrics into several decrepit computer keyboards that were centrally
wired to a cathode ray tube. As the words appeared on the CRT, they
were also displayed on a small motion picture screen by means of a
standard television projection device. Sound was still the predominant
medium of communication, however; as the words flashed on the screen,
Dealey screamed them into the microphone, and the other band members
also used microphones to amplify the sound of typing to a menacing
pitch. The lyrics themselves barely qualify as the first example of
punk writing by including the term ‘boomer,’ the punks’
all-purpose descriptor for anyone older than a teenager and younger
than their parents.
Still, it would be an egregious error to understate the impact this
primitive novelty act was to have on Punk City. Overnight, a dozen or
more new ‘punk writer’ bands were formed, and although most of them
consisted of would-be punk musicians who had never learned to play
three-chord rock and roll, there were also several who were attracted
by the opportunity to call themselves ‘writers’ and who saw unlimited
possibilities in what had become known as Johnny’s Mean Machine.
Thus was the phenomenon born. For close to five years, Punk City was
dominated by hordes of punk writer bands, a small army of technical
support personnel, and numerous camp followers and groupies. The punk
writing movement, as it has come to be called by its few fans,
generated hundreds of fictional works, from short stories to
book-length pieces, in a wide variety of media, including computer
printouts, live performances (called ‘livegrinds’) and graffiti, which
swarmed over the outside of every building in Punk City and, according
to eyewitnesses, over most of the interior walls as well. And despite
the extraordinary number of contradictions to be seen in the accounts
of actual events, all sources confirm that the punk writing movement
developed and maintained its own unique culture, which means that we
can understand punk writing as a whole only by examining its major
contributing factors: the capacities and imperatives of punk writing
technology, the nature of membership in punk writer bands, the social
structure and environment of Punk City, the underlying principles of
punk fiction, the pervasive impact of the mass effort to write the work
known as The Boomer Bible, and the pervasive and ultimately fatal
influence of the Cult of the Ka.
We shall deal with each of these topics briefly but separately below in
hopes of providing readers with a basic context within which to assess
the individual works that constitute the focus of this book.
As we have already seen, the presence of Percy Gale in Punk City was an
important catalyst for the discovery that computers could be used to
create fiction, however primitive. From this humble beginning, computer
technology was to play an increasingly powerful role in the development
of the punk writing culture. Indeed, it can be stated quite positively
that without the technology provided by NeoMax Corporation, there would
never have been a punk writing movement at all.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, NeoMax enjoyed an undisputed lead in
the technology of computer-assisted writing. Even today, few other
companies can equal the software-based capabilities developed by NeoMax
to correct and collate text input from multiple sources into a single
document. It was this ‘mass input’ capability which drew the early
bands, possibly through Percy Gale, to the hardware and software
components that were then available from NeoMax. Although these had
been designed to help corporate staffers contribute literate content to
large and important business documents, the punks speedily discovered
that NeoMax text correction utilities were extensive, sufficient even
to the task of making sense out of barely literate input.
There remains a mystery about how the punks financed the enormous
infusion of computer technology to South Street, but the gang-oriented
society that predominated in Punk City suggests one obvious answer to
this problem. For, as we shall see shortly, the punk writer bands
engaged in violent combat to capture their chosen ‘turf’ from the South
Philly and Camden gangs which had infiltrated the area during the punk
music fad, and with their new territorial sovereignty it is not
unreasonable to suppose that they also acquired the right to the
lucrative drug traffic normally conducted by street gangs.
But however it was financed, computer equipment and software were
imported to Punk City in prodigious quantities. NeoMax files reveal
that dozens of orders were placed by punk writer bands every week,
starting in December 1979, and that they were usually paid for in cash.
According to the conventions of the culture, each band needed its own
system or ‘rig,’ which through time became a highly customized
configuration consisting of basic NeoMax components augmented with
homegrown software and specialized input devices created by technical
mavens like Percy Gale.
The NeoMax system that normally formed the nucleus of a band’s
writing’s system comprised a power central processor equipped with
multiple software packages incorporating one of the earliest known
implementations of artificial intelligence (AI). The NeoMax Distributed
Writing System included programs for entering text from multiple
intelligent input devices, correcting text for grammatical and
syntactic errors, collating text contributed by multiple sources into a
single non-redundant document, and performing additional stylistic
revisions to the unified file. Such functions could be performed very
rapidly when processors were configured with massive amounts of memory
and hard disk storage. NeoMax input devices were similar to personal
computers; each input station had its own keyboard, video display tube,
and magnetic storage, so that individual band members could preview
their own input before transmitting it to the Stylizer for correction
Thus a basic NeoMax Distributed Writing System could have enabled the
most poorly educated of the punks to produce a reasonably literate
written document. The sense of authorship that came with this purely
technological exercise must have been overwhelming to those who were
experiencing it for the first time.
The subsequent development of specialized input devices set the seal on
the punks’ fascination with their new technology. With stunning
rapidity, punk writing systems were outfitted with exotic software and
numerous jury-rigged devices that vastly extended their ability to
compose works of fiction. And it must be admitted that a high
percentage of these were genuine innovations, many of which are still
not widely available from computer companies. If, as seems likely,
these innovations were developed by Percy Gale and others of his ilk,
it may well be that the punk era should be regarded as a golden age—a
technological golden age sired by unacknowledged computer geniuses
whose greatness can only be guessed at through the concealing static of
the punk movement.
NeoMax ‘Stylizer’ software was originally developed for use, as we have
said, in corporate organizations. Its stylistic capabilities were
therefore intended to produce a uniform no-nonsense prose that failed
to satisfy the punks’ appetite for the sensational and bizarre. Thus,
it was probably inevitable that considerable energy went into the task
of developing new Stylizer applications that could edit NeoMax
‘corporate’ output into the melodramatic and excessively rhythmic
styles favored by the punks. Very little of this custom software has
survived, however, and the best evidence of the technological
innovations developed for use with NeoMax systems is the plethora of
specialized input devices that soon replaced the generic devices sold
One of the most exceptional of these custom input devices was the
macrophone (or ‘mace’), which employed chip hardware programmed with
voice recognition capability. This made it possible for the system to
translate oral input into electronic text that could be edited and
collated with keyed text. The extraordinary power of this machine has
led numerous computer experts to believe that, by whatever means, the
punks of South Street must have had access to the NeoMax research and
development laboratory, which was the nearest credible source for
technological innovation of such a high order. It is in this context
that that there remains so much residual interest in the nature and
extent of the relationship between Percy Gale and Tod Mercado, Chief
Executive Officer of NeoMax.
Another breakthrough design was the parallaxophone (or ‘ax’), which
used AI technology to initiate computer generated inquiries against
databases stored on magnetic disks. This made it possible for an
operator who possessed some knowledge of what a stored database
contained to enter a single key word and receive in return a sizable
list of additional information that could be subsequently edited and
collated by an upstream Stylizer. In short, the parallaxophone allowed
punks to break one of the most basic of all writing rules: they could
write about subjects they knew nothing about as long as they had the
right database loaded on hard disk. The need for many databases that
could augment the punks’ deficient knowledge on myriad topics spawned a
secondary profession in Punk City, that of the paid ‘Dbaser,’ who was
willing to create customized parallaxophone databases in return for a
The Stereotypewriter (or ‘gun’) was a third key development for the
punk writing movement. Actually consisting of a subset of
parallaxophone technology, the stereotypewriter featured ROM (Read-Only
memory) cartridges containing generic ‘character’ databases which could
be used to invent fictional characters and give them distinguishing
attributes, including names. This device was aptly named: in operation,
the lists of character attributes summoned by special keys on the
machine’s keyboard did not create individual characters of the sort
considered indispensable for readable fiction; instead they produced
utter clichés, categories of superficial socio-economic
attributes which virtually ensured that all punk characters created
thereby would indeed be stereotypes.
A similar principle gave rise to the device known as the plot
synthesizer (or ‘splatbox’). Making use of the notion that all plots
can be regarded as variants of no more than a handful of masterplots,
the plot synthesizer allowed its operator (or ‘killer’) to build a map
of key events in a story which could then be used as a template by the
collation software resident on the Stylizer. This entire function was
driven by function keys and menu options that allowed ‘killers’ to
program plot twists, complications, and subplots without ever having to
learn the basic dynamics of fiction.
Punk City also generated primitive prototype technologies in the areas
of image and sound. System peripherals that came to be known as
‘glimboxes’ and ‘voxboxes’ allowed punks to store images and sounds and
cue them for output at pre-designated points in text documents. These
technologies did not materially contribute to the punk stories (at
least during the Early Punk era) but helped satisfy the requirement for
theatrics in live performances. Glimboxes and voxboxes also provided
another means of making a living for punks who were unable to secure
positions with bands; for fairly modest payment, such hangers-on would
do the menial work of collecting photos and sound recordings for
incorporation into punk performances.
While numerous other variations on these basic devices were developed
throughout the history of the punk movement, it was these innovations
which built the foundation of punk writing and established the
structure of punk writer bands. Individual punks specialized in the
technical skills required to operate a stereotypewriter or
parallaxophone and acquired renown based on the respect accorded them
for their expertise. And after the first few months of the Early Punk
Era, every band had to have its own ‘axman,’ its own ‘gunner,’
‘killer,’ and ‘styman.’ The ‘mace’ was normally used by the leader of
the group (‘Lead Narratist’), who frequently operated either the plot
synthesizer or Stylizer as well.
Thus, the structure of punk writer bands was in large part determined
by the technical requirements of operating powerful computer-based
writing systems. But the behaviors and customs of these bands were to
become a significant cultural factor in the course of the movement,
quite independently from the technology. Indeed, they led to a cult of
personality that persists to this day in the minds of the people who
The Punk Writer
Those who remember the punks of Great Britain or the music punks of the
U.S. might believe they can visualize the punk writer bands of South
Street. In all probability, they would be shocked and terrified if they
were to meet one in person. For though the bands did affect all the
essential punk habiliments—outlandish haircuts, abundant use of hair
dyes, makeup, and suitably bizarre stage costumes, as well as such de
rigeur accessories as safety pins, black lipstick, chains, and razor
blades—these represented only the starting point for a dress code that
entailed some additional requirements.
Every band member was also a technician, required to be adept at a
variety of hardware and software-related chores. For this reason,
his/her everyday costume included a heavy utility belt, containing
screwdrivers of various kinds, and numerous patch pockets on sleeves,
legs, and torso, in which he/she could carry small tools, test devices,
and items of computer equipment. Additionally, most band members wore
‘armreels,’ purportedly for the purpose of having constant access to
adequate lengths of the very expensive coaxial cable needed to connect
input devices to the Stylizer.
The actual conformation of the armreel, however, suggests that its true
purpose was multi-functional, to say the least. To the uninitiated
observer, the armreel would appear to be a shield, a small one to be
sure, but strategically positioned on the forearm or elbow at the
correct angle to fend off blows. Moreover, there is ample evidence that
the device was used in just this capacity, as well as for more
offensive purposes. It is reported, for example, that Slash Frazzle of
the band Hate Mail was a master at choking his opponents with a length
of coaxial cable drawn swiftly from the armreel and wrapped deftly
around the neck of the victim. This more martial aspect of armreels is
also confirmed by the band custom of painting them with their ‘colors’
(‘colors’ being the time-honored gang medium of identification with the
There is even less ambiguity about the purpose of the most unique
articles of punk writer attire, the chipjack (also ‘torkjack’) and the
torkmask. The chipjack usually consisted of a long, dark-colored duster
or topcoat made of tough canvas on which were sewn multiple circuit
boards. Not only did these boards make for a spectacular and colorful
appearance evocative of the wearer’s profession, but they also provided
good, if not complete, protection against piercing weapons such as
knives and long screwdrivers (‘scrivers’). The torkmask was often
adapted from the plastic headgear worn by hockey goalies, but many
bands developed their own designs that served to provide all band
members with a (hopefully) frightening threat display and a common
identity that could easily be recognized in gang fights or band duels
The final critical items of punk apparel were gloves, boots, and
helmets, although the more prominent bands sometimes combined the
torkmask and helmet into custom pieces of headgear symbolic of band
identity. The gloves were usually adapted from cold-weather motorcycle
gauntlets, selected for the heavy padding on the back of the hand. To
these, the punks sewed additional circuit boards, which, in a fight,
could rip and tear like brass knuckles. The fingers, however, had to be
truncated at the second knuckle, to afford their wearer the freedom to
feel input keys with his/her fingertips.
The overall picture that emerges from this clothing list is of the band
as a high tech work group cum military squad. And this seems to be the
way the bands regarded themselves. Like the motorcycle gangs whose
behavior they emulated in so many respects, each band had its own
colors and insigne, and all members were expected to retaliate if one
were injured or provoked by another band. Yet they were expected to
function smoothly in combat alongside other bands during both offensive
and defensive missions outside Punk City. For this reason, band members
trained together in military exercises in which they became adept as a
species of military cavalry, and they also lived together, sharing
quarters called ‘departments,’ which were located in the basements and
lofts of South Street’s decaying commercial buildings. They therefore
formed a single economic unit, almost like a family, in which the Lead
Narratist served as decision maker and battle sergeant. He/she made
work assignments, including the finding of part-time work when money
was scarce, and served as the band’s designated champion during the
ritual ‘debates’ that played a central role in the conduct of community
affairs and mass writing projects.
Given their role as warrior-artists, the bands and especially their
leaders became ‘stars,’ attracting their own retinues and groupies and
serving as the inspiration for legends about their deeds and misdeeds.
The annals of punk City are full of the tales that grew around such
stars as St. Nuke, Johnny Dodge, Ripp Starr, Slash Frazzle, and Kobra
Jones. Oddly for a culture with such a self-conscious macho
orientation, star status was accorded to a few women as well, most
notably Alice Hate, Liz Smack, and Piss Pink.
Only a select few of the bands stayed together for any length of
time. Internal wrangles, defections to other bands, and combat deaths
shattered bands on a regular basis. Despite the nearly universal punk
dream of becoming part of a legendary, long-running band, most spent
their months or years in Punk City joining one band after another,
painting the newest colors on their armreels and hoping to survive for
And survival was never assured. This is key to understanding the nature
of punk culture. For the combat attire worn by the punks was not an
affectation but a necessity. Rarely in modern times has there been a
community which confronted such a continuous external threat and
engaged so often in organized combat. In this context, it should not be
surprising that superstition also came to be a major element of the
Punk City culture.
When the punk writing movement first got underway, the punk musicians
had yielded much of the real authority over South Street to gangs, who
ruled the street corners and protected turf lines based on the division
of drug trafficking territories. But gang control became unacceptable
as punk music groups gave way to punk writer bands. The punks needed
freedom of movement in order to transport their equipment from place to
place and, it may be speculated, to secure a source of income for the
financing of further equipment acquisitions. As a result, the earliest
months of the Early Punk period became a bloodbath, as punk bands
squared off against street gangs to fight for territorial rights in the
infamous ‘Winter War.’
This may have been the period when punks discovered the Ouija board and
the Tarot deck, props that that have been used by occultists to fleece
the unwary in every walk of life. Exactly who introduced them to South
Street and how they spread so rapidly cannot yet be determined from
available sources (although there are some likely candidates, as we
shall see), but it seems that within a matter of weeks, almost every
punk owned a fortunetelling device of his/her own and used it to divine
the outcome of fights, the advisability of joining or departing from a
band, and even in some cases the outcome of a story (or ‘piece’) in
progress. Once introduced, the tarot deck in particular became
increasingly important in punk decision-making of all kinds. While we
may regard this as a debilitating dependency, it does not seem to have
damaged their fighting spirit, which was by all accounts truly
The ferocity of these early punk writer bands can be estimated in some
measure by the speed with which they drove out the gangs. By April
1980, the invaders from Camden and Philly’s inner cities were in full
retreat and fighting them had become the punk equivalent of sport.
Indeed, the denizens of Punk City soon became the aggressors themselves
and, for as yet undefined reasons, deliberately provoked occasional
wars against the gangs who lived in nearby Camden, even though they had
ceased to be a threat to the security of South Street.
Despite their demonstrated ability to unite in the face of armed
opposition, the punk writer bands found it virtually impossible to live
peaceably together in the same community. In this respect, they were
perhaps hoist by their own petard. Their military prowess had been
achieved by creating what was, in effect, a well organized gang of
gangs, but each of the little gang units called bands maintained its
sharpness and preparedness by finding any and every excuse to fight on
a regular basis. Thus, after a brief victory celebration at the
conclusion of the Winter War, the punk writer bands turned quickly to
fighting one another, quarreling and battling—sometimes to the
death—over petty differences of opinion, including such ‘literary
issues’ as the quality of a band’s latest composition and even Tarot
interpretations, which caused such animus that rival band factions
began to create their own versions of the cards and acquired a
quasi-religious fervor about the divinatory meanings they conjured from
By June 1980, daily street combat had become such a constant that a
nucleus of powerful band leaders became alarmed about the possibility
that the police would finally intervene. As punks armed themselves more
heavily with long scrivers (sharpened screwdrivers up to two feet long)
and even army surplus machetes, intramural combat began to result in
dead bodies, which had to be disposed of clandestinely in the marshes
of southern New Jersey. This was a matter that almost no one spoke of
openly, although the term ‘Jersified’ became a punk synonym for death.
The leaders knew they had to act, but they had very little room in
which to maneuver. Combat could not be removed from Punk City. Violence
was an intrinsic part of the punk social code that was no longer
separable from the perceived mandates of punk fiction. It was commonly
believed that punk ‘pieces’ had to be born in blood if they were to
retain the merciless savagery that characterized all of punk fiction.
Having established a collective (if subconscious) consensus that
violence was the creative wellspring of their ‘art,’ the punk writers
had to devise a means of preventing the violent implosion of their
community without surrendering the barbaric belief system that had made
them a community in the first place.
A solution was found, one that would perpetuate the punk writing
movement for several more years, at a terrible cost. It worked because
it had a strong champion to accept the burden of leading the
transition and because it was born out of the realm in which the punks
had the most invested—their growing sense of themselves as writers.
There was one band that stood above all others in the eyes of the
overwhelming majority of punks. The Shuteye Train was one of the first
bands to emerge from anonymity, and it was the first to be recognized
as an official public menace. The real names of its members were not
known by either the authorities or the punks, but the Philadelphia
Police Department engaged for years in an ongoing manhunt for the four
punks who called themselves Loco Dantes, Pig Millions, Reedy Weeks, and
Joe Kay. Implicated in the brutal and senseless murder of a young
attorney whose bullet-riddled body was found nailed to the side of a
building on South Street, the Shuteye train went into hiding in March
1980 and was rarely seen in public afterwards. Only a handful of punk
writers living on South Street at the end of the Early Punk era could
have recognized members of the Shuteye Train on sight, and yet this is
the band that has been given credit for inventing the punk writing
style and producing its most important individual works.
In a variety of early stories (all but one short fragment lost as of
this date), the Shuteye Train hammered out a vicious style of
storytelling that deliberately smashed every accepted rule of fiction
writing. The Shuteye Train verbally assaulted its readers, refused to
write dialogue, refused to create any characters but stereotypes,
shamelessly manipulated plot elements, systematically inserted
themselves into their own story lines, and invariably brutalized their
principal characters for unnamed violations of Shuteye Train standards.
South Street punks were convinced that the Shuteye Train, having
written a story, would proceed to act it out in real life, as if intent
on forcing life to imitate their ‘art.’
With this band as the dominant punk writer role model, Punk City became
a vortex of hatred and fear as punks dedicated themselves to achieving
an adrenalin high equal to the challenge of ‘writing up to the Shuteye
Train.’ This is evident in the stories included in this volume, which
are representative of the larger body of works contained in the Cream
But the exceptional viciousness of the Shuteye Train’s fictional ideal
carried the seeds of the movement’s destruction. Not every band could
be the Shuteye Train, and the leaders of Punk City were shrewd enough
to understand that the movement could not survive for long on a mass
adrenalin overdose and the savagery necessary to sustain it. Only one
of the punks on South Street, however, had the vision to understand how
the passion for writing could be employed for the purpose of yanking
Punk City off its collision course with the Shuteye Train. The punk was
a charismatic leader who called himself St. Nuke. His vision was of a
mass writing project he named The Boomer Bible.
The Boomer Bible
For months, the writers of South Street had been performing literary
executions of the affluent professionals whom they seemed to regard as
responsible for everything they disapproved of in the society at large.
They maintained the single-minded fury they poured into their fiction
by engaging in combat with one another. St. Nuke appears to have
realized that the real object of punk fury was their own ignorance.
Aided by the advice of a street performer named Mr. Magic, St. Nuke
arrived at the conclusion that the future development of punk writing
(if there was to be any) depended on the punks’ ability to understand
how and why the boomers were to blame for everything that seemed so
wrong. This obviously meant that an educational process of sorts had to
occur, since by their own admission, the punks simply knew too little
to diagnose underlying causes of cultural phenomena.
St. Nuke therefore devised a writing project that would require the
participation of every punk on South Street. The objective was to write
down in one volume what the ‘Boomers’ believed about everything. Naive
and hopelessly unrealistic as it was, this project was to become the
shared obsession of the entire population of Punk City for close to a
year. In effect, St. Nuke drafted all his punk writer colleagues into
his own band and became the Lead Narratist of a 2,000-person punk
writing orchestra. He provided the inspiration and the direction. He
laid down the rules, which eventually became the basis for whatever law
existed in Punk City (later named in his honor the NukeLaw). He
designed and supervised the research process to generate the content
that had been missing from punk fiction since its inception. He drove
the daily writing effort—advising, instructing, bullying, and
punishing, as necessary—with ruthless determination. Yet he was careful
to accomplish his intentions without destroying the essential
ingredients of the Punk City culture. He did not dispense with
individual bands, but parceled out assignments to all of them and then
praised them for the collated draft in which, perhaps, no single
band could have recognized its own input. He did not terminate
all dueling, but rather channeled it into the writing process, so that
there was at least once a week a ‘BB Debate’ in the courtyard of the
failed New Market Mall which adjoined Headhouse Square.
Here, surrounded by a couple of thousand armed killers, St. Nuke turned
Punk City’s bloodlust to his own purposes. He allowed open debates
about the names of books, the identity of the Boomer Bible’s ‘messiah,’
and the very grave matter of which ‘books’ had to be excluded from the
whole. And he allowed the debates to be settled by combat between
designated champions of individual bands— who usually drew blood and
sometimes suffered mortal wounds before the disputed point was
At the end of it all, St. Nuke presented Punk City with a book that all
could claim to have written. The ‘Epistle Dedicatory’ was signed by the
participating bands on April 19, 1981. The punk who had led the effort
was rewarded not with their love, but with their respect, their
admiration, and their trust. He was made King of Punk City by
acclamation at the next scheduled Debate. St. Nuke accepted the office,
but he had no illusions about what he had done and how he had done it.
He wrote—in an otherwise unenlightening work titled Konfessions—a frank
description of his methods, addressed with consummate irony to ‘Harry,’
the hated Boomer messiah the punks had created in their Bible:
Punk City is a colony of ants. But not
so easy to kill. I have pulled them underground. Not to save them but
to use them. This I could only tell you.
I know most of their names, the insides of their infant minds, and yet
I spend them like handfuls of pennies.
Nevertheless, in uniting Punk City for the composition of The Boomer
Bible, St. Nuke unquestionably saved the punk writing movement from
self-destruction and made the period that would be known as High Punk
possible. The sheer technical challenge of collating the input of
several thousand semi-literate ‘writers’ into one piece of prose
(however flawed) resulted in brilliant new software and hardware
innovations that increased system capabilities by an order of magnitude.
Indeed, it has been argued that the next release of NeoMax’s
Distributed Writing System software incorporated dozens of features and
capabilities that were originated by the punks of South Street. In the
absence of tangible evidence concerning the link between punk
technicians and NeoMax system developers, though, this claim can
neither be affirmed nor refuted.
More to the point for the punks, it would appear that the technological
breakthroughs associated with the writing of The Boomer Bible
contributed mightily to the establishment of Punk City’s next great
quest—the one that would hold the community together for the remainder
of its bizarre and violent history. The curious figure known as Mr.
Magic would also play a role in identifying this quest, as would St.
Nuke, Loco Dantes of the Shuteye Train, and a mysterious drug
Doctor Dream and
the Cult of the Ka
As early as the initial planning of The Boomer Bible, an inner circle
of punks (called ‘the demortals’) had come to believe in a mythology
focusing on events in some parallel or mirror world ruled by a winged
entity called the Raptor Ka. There is very strong circumstantial
evidence to support the hypothesis that Mr. Magic was heavily involved
in the dissemination of this mythology, which made extensive
use—coincidentally or conveniently—of the Tarot deck.
Both St. Nuke and Loco Dantes became strong advocates of the ka
mythology, which made its way into the concluding section of The Boomer
Bible and began appearing in the published pieces attributed to the
Shuteye Train. In approximately the same timeframe a new, somehow
definitive Tarot deck, The Karot, was adopted as the most sacred of the
five sets of divinatory cards used in Punk City.
All subsequent kings of Punk City—Kobra Jones, Cadillac Mope, and Gypsy
Jackknife—claimed experiences with the ka world in their writings,
usually after imbibing a dose of ‘Blue,’ and wrote accounts of
quasi-metaphysical journeys that are not clearly labeled as either
fiction or autobiography. Such accounts may well have been a ritual
requirement of kings, akin to the ceremonial opening of the mouth
engaged in by the pharaohs of Egypt. They cannot therefore be
considered historical, but only as relics of an opaque belief system.
These are the only facts that can be discovered in the innumerable
writings of the punks about their process of conversion. Sadly for
scholars, when mythology invades history, history is the loser. Legends
about various punks and their encounters with the ka world abound, but
it is impossible to link them with dates or any other concrete
milestones of Punk City chronology. One can but repeat the stories and
continue to remind the reader that they cannot be proven to be anything
more. They can be analyzed in the context of what is known about other
parts of punk culture, but as it comes to represent the dominant force
in punk culture, the pretense that such analysis can be in any sense
objectively meaningful diminishes and finally disappears.
It was said and believed, for example, that the Shuteye Train
represented Punk City’s closest link to the world of the ka, and that
this band which never appeared in Punk City would nevertheless serve as
the means for entry into our world of the ‘Son of the Raptor,’ a
human-ka hybrid who would bear the name Doctor Dream and carry out a
mission not unlike that foretold for Jesus Christ in Revelations. The
mission of the punks in this ka drama was to create, through the force
of their shared passion, the doorway through which Doctor Dream could
enter our world. The location of this doorway, the punks believed, lay
inside their own shared computer system, along the boundary between
physical and conceptual reality represented by the ones and zeroes of
computer bits which are transformed to ideas by the power of human
thought and emotion.
Thus, the punks came to conceive of their purpose as the invocation of
Doctor Dream, which they could bring about by concentrating enough
energy in the writing they fed into the central computer that had been
built for the Boomer Bible writing effort. At the appropriate time,
catalyzed by the fury and passion and understanding of the punks,
Doctor Dream would emerge into our world from the computer by way of a
story authored by the Shuteye Train.
Now, as mentioned above, one can attempt to analyze such beliefs in the
context of known events. One can point out, for example, that the
Shuteye Train was an established part of the punk belief system well
before any mention of ‘the Raptor Ka’ appears in punk writings. One can
draw attention to the fact that widespread acceptance of the notion of
a vengeful ka messiah seems to follow hard on the heels of the
community’s fictional encounter with an Antichrist-inspired messiah who
must be defeated. One can speculate that this kind of fictional
encounter may have led to encounters with the original book of
Revelations and that its dramatic appeal was so great that... well,
imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as the saying goes.
One could go on from there to theorize that a mythology which ascribed
spiritual power to the inanimate device that had prevented their
dissolution as a community might have offered a universal appeal.
One could resort for explanation to common sense wisdom about the
nature of human beings. The punks wanted to believe they were
important. They wanted to go on believing they were important even
after they completed the improbable and not-to-be-duplicated feat of
writing a Bible. One could suggest that they were the perfect seedbed
for a cult belief system of this sort.
But there is a grave difficulty with such analysis. When the cult
belief system becomes the all-consuming center of the culture that
spawns it, to explain that belief system away is also to explain away
the entire culture. If its very center is a lie and a mistake then
everything built around it is also a lie and a mistake—devoid in any
absolute sense of value and truth.
That is the problem we face with the punks. As they retreat from the
objective reality we live in and cease to maintain connections with
that reality, they fade before us into the mist of ancient maps marked
‘here there be dragons.’ We know there are no dragons there, or here,
and the rest of the map is not to be relied on for illumination.
The Case for
Investigating the Punk Writing Movement
And now, at last, we return to the question that was deferred at the
beginning of this discussion. What is there in punk writing to that can
or should attract serious literary interest? And more specifically, why
do we need to examine the compilation of admittedly bad writing that
has been put together in this volume?
The answer to these questions is threefold. The first and simplest
reason for such compilation is that punk writing exists, in quantity,
and its very unattractiveness constitutes the kind of unifying element
that signifies a literary movement. It would therefore be an act of
carelessness for scholars to dismiss punk writing without having first
consulted the material in question and amassed defensible arguments for
such a dismissal. Otherwise, we leave the door open for groundless but
conceivable lionization of punk writers by opportunistic critics. It
isn’t difficult to imagine the outraged assertion that punk writing has
been excluded from consideration for the canon because of mere
prejudice and that such an act of exclusion, by its very existence,
requires us to validate our judgment with published argumentation. Far
better to examine the material now, in an atmosphere of open-minded
objectivity, than to run a gauntlet later. Too, the material here
compiled is far shorter than The Boomer Bible, yet more diverse in form
and style and, at the same time, untainted by the ignorant praise of
ill educated newspaper critics. The real scholarship can start—and just
possibly end—right here.
Another raison d’etre for this volume is that punk writing may be
regarded as the first occurrence of an intrusion into the literary
world by high technology. In this case, we may easily adjudge the
intrusion innocuous, since it has resulted in a product of small merit,
but we would do wrong to ignore it altogether. For it may well happen
that at some future time, technology of the kind used to create punk
fiction will give rise to work which, but for its mechanistic origin,
could be considered art. What critical tools shall we then have at our
disposal for the task of separating man from machine, imagination from
mathematical induction, art from fakery at the speed of light?
It may be suggested by some that this is a straw issue. After all, have
not painters and sculptors availed themselves for years of the fruits
of technology without having to surrender their claim to artistry? And
do I mean to imply that the sculptor’s welding torch or the painter’s
gasoline-powered compressor interposes an element of fraud between
creator and creation? Not at all is my hasty and unequivocal
reply. But I do contend that there is something very substantially
different about language and the nature of writing that should persuade
us to view the writer’s use of technological aids with care and
concern. For unlike a painter or a sculptor, a writer is not creating a
physical product, but a mental one. The importance of this distinction
becomes obvious if we consider that while a painting cannot be
reproduced and still convey the totality of the artist’s intent, a book
can remain intact in virtually any physical incarnation so long as the
writer’s words are not changed. In short, words and paint differ
fundamentally as artistic tools, and the constraints imposed upon their
uses by artistic integrity are similarly and unalterably different. One
more analogy should effectively demonstrate the nature of the
constraints we must be concerned with here.
If a painter or sculptor were to permit some hand other than his/her
own to direct the use of his/her tools, then the legitimacy of the end
product would be open to question. And this is the question we must ask
with regard to punk writing. Whose hand directed the choice and
placement of words? By their own repeated admissions, punk writers are
illiterate. To what extent are we to attribute to them alone the
sentiments and styles of their prose? Are they handicapped artists
hobbling forward on prosthetic limbs? Or are they merely the unwitting
catalysts of a soulless binary exercise? Careful analysis of this issue
may provide invaluable practice to the critic who undertakes it,
especially in view of the increasing abstraction of modern prose. By
what criteria, for example, could an untutored critic distinguish the
works of such present day giants as Barth, Barthelme, and Gass from
computer simulations of their styles? The relationships between their
writings and the known physical world are so tangential, allusive, and
elusive that a sufficiently sophisticated computer could be programmed
to produce stylized gibberish closely resembling their work. If we are
to prevent the success of such duplicities, and their possible
catastrophic impact on serious literature, we must begin developing our
critical skills in this field at once. Punk writing may serve as an
elementary exercise in the nascent science of fraud detection in
There is a third and final reason for examining punk writing. Until
now, we have spoken little about the actual content of punk fiction. It
may be that little will need to be said when an educated reader
confronts the works collected in this book. However, it cannot be
denied that punk writers purport to understand the philosophical and
literary foundations of the current era. In their total hostility to
the writings produced by that era, they imply that they have developed
an alternate foundation for their own writing that is superior to the
collective achievements of the greatest minds of our century. Why is
this noteworthy, let alone a cause for concern? Because as we have seen
in the lives of the punk writers themselves, rumor can become myth can
become gospel without any intercession by logic or intelligence. It
would be sad indeed if rumors of a punk movement, never fully
documented or investigated, were to overturn in the minds of our
children the best philosophy and art produced by the twentieth century.
At present, it may seem unthinkable that the outstanding intellectual
achievements of our century should be equated with nihilism, as the
punks have sought to do. But without some kind of objective response to
punk writings, we face the possibility that future generations will
seize upon punk writings as an excuse to repudiate their cultural
heritage. Instead of honoring the twentieth century intelligentsia’s
opposition to nuclear war, its concern with rectifying the social
injustices of centuries past, and its confrontation of the grave
implications of this century’s psychological and anthropological
discoveries, they may choose to adopt the thoughtless and ignorant
perspective of the punks, which would have it that we are moral and
spiritual bankrupts who have contributed nothing to the world but
self-pitying rationalizations for our ever-increasing bondage to
And this is not a completely remote possibility. Given current levels
of illiteracy in the population at large, it is not unreasonable to
suppose that the academic, philosophical, and literary works which have
sustained our society for so long will fall into disrepute as the
number of people who can understand them declines. And if the most
perfect expressions of our troubled species should become completely
inaccessible to the people who must be informed by them, then how shall
society itself proceed? It may indeed revert to the primitive and
barbaric conditions that characterized Punk City in the early 1980s.
Thus, it behooves us to confront punk’s philosophical pretensions now,
to dissect its half-truths, and to expose its fabrications and
unwarranted assumptions. There is no better means of defusing its
long-term potential for harm.
- Thomas Naughton, PhD.
Princeton, New Jersey
Hard to read? Absolutely. But it's a whole generation behind the
unreadability of today's literary scholars. Think about that.