Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
July 30, 2009 - July 23, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009


So you wanna talk Sci-Fi?

And she's only the second hottest female in sci-fi history.

SPILLOVER. All right. You all like Sci-fi. Got it. Just wondering if it's possible to get past the favorite shows, favorite episodes discussion to something deeper. Let me try. I admit I'm at a disadvantage here, even though a lot of the punk writing oeuvre could be considered science fiction, too. Irony? I'll leave you all to wrestle with that if you want to. Feel free.

I think the thing for me to do here, though, is explain why a lot of science fiction icons leave me cold, and what I did like about the few works I've enjoyed. Then you can fiill me in on where I've missed the boat or why my own experience and criteria are deficient. Sound fair?

First, a sort of honest inventory of my likes and dislikes. I loved the original Star Trek, despite the cheesy sets and effects, because of Shatner. Period. He filled that captain's chair. He had a real taste for combat. When he went to work against the Romulans or Klingons with photon torpedoes, etc, I believed it. The worse the odds, the more he seemed to be alive and in command. None of the endless other Star Trek spin-offs ever convinced me, and perversely, the more they tried to upgrade their makeup and special effects, the more bored I got. Turns out, one of my biggest hangups about all science fiction is plastic faces and bizarrely eccentric body forms, which from the very beginning seemed to me to be a kind of cartoon multi-culti statement intended as propaganda for dumbasses. I also think the few plots I saw of the Star Trek Next Generation series  reinforced all that in a big way. The last thing in the world Piccard ever wanted to do was use the awesome firepower of the Enterprise. And since these shows really are space operas (i.e., high tech horse operas featuring the U.S. Cavalry against the Indians IN SPACE), what on earth (pun intended) is the point if nothing ever really happens?

I have truly loathed every single episode of the endless Star Wars saga. Too cute by half, fake mythological, and increasingly self-important. I remember Bill Moyers conducting an interminable series of interviews with Joseph Campbell, whom I actually liked when he lectured us at my school. But his repeated references to Star Wars in the Moyers series set my teeth on edge. The beginning of pop intellectualism, which is no doubt responsible for the fact that it's now possible to take courses in comic books at major universities. Suck.

[My only other personal brush with icons in this realm -- the day a publisher bought The Boomer Bible I saw Isaac Asimov hailing a cab in New York. I thought his muttonchop sideburns looked ridiculous, and he looked sour. But no one's at his best hailing a cab in the Big Apple.]

I didn't read the science fiction classics as a boy. No Heinlein. No Arthur Clarke. Like everybody else in the known universe I was required to read Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man. A Hitchcock/O'Henry trick ending sort of piece. Yawn. I once saw Harlan Ellison interviewed on the old Tom Snyder Show, the one with the blacked out set and lots of cigarette smoking going on. Ellison explained -- this was way back in the days when people were wondering if Star Trek would ever rise from the dead -- that he had submitted a movie script in which the entire universe is destroyed and the Enterprise has to bring it back, but the producers told him his story "wasn't big enough." He was clever, but he was also fondest of one of the -- to my mind worst and shallowest -- Star Trek scripts ever, the gruelingly obvious allegory about a half-black-half-white man chasing a half-white-half-black man through the universe in perpetual hatred. He was proud of that effort. Phooey.

Which is a big big part of my whole problem with science fiction. I actually began my professional writing career at a company called Datapro that did technical reviews of every kind of computer product. Everyone who interviewed there was told of the constant dilemma of the hiring bosses: hire a technical whiz who could learn to write or a writer who could learn about digital technology. (The best of us all was a Wesleyan music major who learned datacom by "hearing" the bit stream in her mind. Genius.) Science fiction writers always struck me as scientific types who fancied themselves as writers. Their technical inventions were formidable, but their characterizations, their themes, their philosophical musings were, well, superficial. And in the rare cases when they weren't superficial, they were decidedly lacking in passion. 

I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey the year it came out, in Cinerama, which was stupendous. But in human terms, it was as dry as one of those ancient inert craters on the moon. A function of admittedly admirable intellect entirely divorced from human experience. How much wisdom could it possibly contain? One could admire it as some sort of intricate puzzle, but one could not feel anything for anyone in it. Is that even a movie?

What else? I liked the first Alien, but it wasn't really a science fiction movie. It was a horror movie set in space. Every sequel has gotten worse. I liked the first two Terminator movies, but chiefly because they were action movies, science fiction as prop warehouse rather than perspective-changing premise. The more they grapple with time travel, the more incoherent they get. (Really hated the TV series about Sarah Connor; I'm as fond of gratuitous nudity as the next guy but the female terminator was creepy, the putative savior of mankind was a hopelessly immature chump, and mom was borderline incestuous in the way that only network television can intimate without ever committing to.)

I liked the Stargate movie, which is to me one of the few science fiction movies that resonates past the end credits. Why? Because it did not amputate itself from human history, the ultimately fascinating mystery of human origins, that to me is the only real topic of art and literature. An absurd take on it, perhaps, but still one that allows us to consider and reconsider our own unexamined assumptions about where we come from and what that means.

Does it seem like I'm not getting anywhere? That's where you're wrong. I have a litmus test for science fiction that is closely analogous to my litmus test for religions. The latter is a simple one: if your religion discourages you from asking questions and seeking illumination from the possibly surprising answers to those questions, your religion is a death cult, not a path to salvation or spiritual enlightenment. Sci-Fi? If your premise separates itself entirely from earthly human experience, any allegory it attempts is cheap, and there's absolutely nothing remotely worthwhile about it. No exceptions. No human imagination can make up an entire civilization from scratch. Every such attempt is chock full of cheating, hidden assumptions, and most often, downright propaganda. (There goes Dune, including all past imperfect and future perfect versions of the same failed vision.)

That's why I got taken in, as I admit I did, by Battlestar Galactica a year ago. I thought they were converging on a human experience. Table lamps. Whiskey. Anglo-European military ranks. Pet dogs. In the end it was the most fraudulent piece of sci-fi crap I have ever endured. Corrupt and empty from start to finish. A talky, muddled, self-indulgent soap opera that resembled Twin Peaks more than it did Star Wars, of which the original series was a blatant ripoff.

To my mind, sci-fi is mostly junk. The few examples I like are movies that succeed on traditional virtues like character, clever plot, and action fun. I like Riddick. It's exciting. I like the first Predator movie -- simple and exciting.. I like -- and I'm surprised no one mentioned -- FarScape, which I like because of Claudia Black, Claudia Black, and, of course, Claudia Black. I like Soldier starring Kurt Russell. I liked the old  Doctor Who starring Tom Baker, not because it was sci-fi or moving in any way, but because it was classically mordant British comedy, which they no longer do now that they're a dying nation. And I liked the cheesy sets and the music one of the commenters finds unsettling. Loved it, in fact.

As a kid I read an Edgar Rice Burroughs book, one, about some hero on the moon. Enjoyed it a lot without understanding a word of it; I think it was part of some saga I never found the beginning or end of. Only science fiction I actually remember. Well, I remember reading Fahrenheit 451, but nothing in it. No Claudia Black.

Now. Do your worst. You started it. I invited you to continue. Have fun.

Did I say fun? I'm sure I did. Which is spelled C-L-A-U-D-I-A  B-L-A-C-K.

Who the hell else is actually having fun these days? You see what I do for you, my children?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


You know what you know. Stop being afraid. Ian isn't.

LIKE WE SAID BEFORE...  AND AGAIN... Fear is in the air. It's now more than a suspicious speculation that what Obama is building in Washington, DC -- with his congressionally bypassed appointments of 'czars,' the peremptory removal of inconvenient Inspectors-General, his  behind-closed-doors deals with financial, automotive, energy, and healthcare execs and lobbyists -- is a newstyle Chicago mob empire. But most are afraid to stick their heads above the crowd and say it.

Here's the real M.O. of this outfit. They've given Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the illusion of being in control on legislation in order to distract them from the fact that they are creating a shadow executive, via czars and a hidden infrastructure of extra-governmental organizations like ACORN and the SEIU, that  will ultimately make both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives irrelevant. Think about healthcare, for instance. The current chaos and controversy is actually part of the administration's plan. All they need is for both houses of congress to pass -- eventually -- their own bills, the more discrepant with each other the better. The House, under Pelosi, will go as far left as possible, the Senate will go more centrist, and then the administration enforcers will finally involve themselves during the most vulnerable part of the whole congressional process -- the "conference" in which differences between the two bills are negotiated into something final and binding that neither chamber voted on. And then the huge new executive structure over which Congress has no meaningfuul or informed oversight will implement the result as they see fit. And if anything should go wrong, Congress is still visibly on the hook for what everyone knows was their legislation, only guided and cheer-led by our idealistic president.

Of course, if senators and congressmen want to be reelected, they're going to need the help of the massive "community organization" that's been funded in the billions by the stimulus to work over the administration of election law, voter registration, and census-driven gerrymandering of districts. This way, folks, to congress as rubber stamp for whatever the administration wants. They will learn, in time, that their own coverups of their epidemic financial and corruption scandals are impotent against the meticulously maintained files of the White House's Chicago "organization." How sad will be the day when President Obama reluctantly announces at a press conference that "This is not the Christopher Dodd I knew..."

That's why there's a growing corps of conservatives who are not only impatient but angry with the traditional "bend over backwards to be fair" contingent of otherwise sound-thinking members of the rightosphere. None of what is happening right now is "politics as usual." It's a new and virulent strain of Total Political Warfare in which there are no rules, no traditional conceptions of right and wrong, no conceivable benefit to giving the other side the benefit of the doubt. Every attempt to be open-minded, to reserve judgment, to soft-peddle criticism in hopes of being wrong about your darkest suspicions will be used ruthlessly against you and eventually transformed into an instrument of your (and our) destruction.

Paranoia? As the saying goes, even paranoids have enemies. Tell me if this is paranoia. For a couple of months now, I have been astonished by the fact that every single charge which could be levelled with perfect justice against the infant Obama administration was levelled so repeatedly and monotonously against the Bush administration that the charges themselves have become essentially meaningless in the current political debate. Obama lies every time he opens his mouth. Obama is deliberately building a fascist state, an unholy and malevolent alliance between corrupt power brokers of big business and big government. Obama is actively conspiring to increase the power of the executive branch in a way never anticipated or sanctioned by the constitution. Obama is moving very directly against the personal liberties of average Americans, seeking to regulate even your donut intake and life expectancy in the name of saving you from yourselves. Obama is unilaterally remaking U.S. foreign policy for his own purposes, supporting leftist dictators and muslim theocracies in preference to both historical and aspiring democracies the world over. Obama is engaged in a vast energy conspiracy designed to achieve his own economic objectives at the expense of average American citizens. In his arrogance and transformative private (and, yes, racial) ambitions, Obama is closer to Hitler than anything yet seen in American history. There is almost certainly enough evidence in existence already to impeach President Obama for high crimes against the constitution, but almost zero chance of being able to bring any of it to light.

These are, of course, things no reasonable, responsible Republican or conservative can even bring himself to articulate because we've just spent seven years hearing such charges screamed idiotically, hysterically, and falsely against George W. Bush.

Except that now they're true. And we are rendered mute because the right words to describe what is going on have all been preemptively stripped of their meaning. An ironic coincidence? Or a synchronous by-product of a plan so old that even its useful idiots never understood the part they were playing in the presently unfolding victory of their fondest totalitarian dreams?

What we need now are heretics. People who are completely unafraid to speak and write the truth, regardless of consequences. One example. Glenn Beck this morning defended himself against the distancing by Fox News management from his statement that "Obama is a racist." He knows that by defending and specifying his statement he has crossed a Rubicon of sorts. That takes guts.

Another example, the one we were going to lead with until we saw that Maggie's site,, had already called it out. It concerns an Australian scientist named Ian Pilmer who's not only willing to contest the hypothesis of man-made Global Warming but is going out of his way to piss all over it.  Here's the post from Maggie's site. And here's a news article about it.

Want something to do? Find the heretic in yourself. And give it voice. Consequences be damned.

And, btw, stop making excuses for the ones who are still trying to be, uh, fair.


Note the implied many-facedness of the Necromonger Lord.
Do I have to draw a picture? No, I don't think so, faith clowns.

INFIDEL COMMENTER. Well. Something Maggie and Mrs. IP can absolutely agree on. From Maggie's comment on the AARP:

The country is under the control of Necromongers.

I truly HATE these evil people.

The Necromongers figure in The Chronicles of Riddick, probably Mrs. IP's favorite sci-fi movie, bless her heart. She's never told me, though I would like to think so, that she's responding to the implication that Riddick's doomed and dooming planet of origin is really a metaphor for f___ing Scotland. The damnedest, cussedest, most warlike set of misanthropic rebel a__holes ever bred on the face of God's good green earth. "Not my fight" says Riddick, walking away from the desperate Resistance movement. Of course he'll be back, but never on anyone's behalf but his own. That's how I feel. I am absolutely outraged that the Obama Administration would ever seek to control me. They'll have to kill me first, and probably will, but don't ever think there will be no cost. As you may have gathered, I am a simple Scot. Without any particular saving graces. Hurting them a lot while they're killing you seems enough sometimes.

Or... think of it in milder terms. I and the Missus like movies. Some more than others.

For me it's On the Waterfront. For Mrs. IP it's Chronicles of Riddick, the movie that if it comes on and you pass it in channel-hopping is a magnet that draws you back ineluctably to see its end. I can wait all the way through for the scene where Terry Malloy takes Lee J. Cobb apart before they beat him mostly to death. Mrs. IP can wait just as long for the scene where Riddick plants the dagger in the Necromonger's skull, over the dead body of his never-to-be true love. I think Eva Marie Saint should be there with a damp cloth wiping the brow; my better half not so much. Of course, Mrs. IP is Irish, which is why she's content with the emotional awfulness of Riddick's fate, but if Ireland had had more like her, the green people would have conquered England and exterminated the enitire breed of old Etonians to the last man and girlie-boy. I'm just saying. She tolerates me for putting Michael Collins on my list of Top Ten movies ever, and I just smile to myself when she locks herself in for another go-round of Riddick killing people who deserve killing.

The really good news? There will be a Riddick 2 and a Riddick 3. Can we say the same for our imperiled nation? Stay tuned.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Change of Plans

DECISION TIME. I appreciate all the interest you've shown in the punk writings I've been posting here recently. But last night Mrs. IP talked some sense into me. She objects to seeing this work ripped out of context and, well, dumped into InstaPunk this way. She accused me of "just showing off," and the truth is, she's right. After several years of aiming my thoughts elsewhere, I had largely forgotten this stuff -- my error -- and reproducing a chunk of it here was more about me remembering it than anything you'd call publishing. If you like what you've read, the good news is that  I do remember it now and know that I have to go back to work on the punk story and related works like Shuteye Town and Shuteye Nation, which are much closer to being accessible than you might think.

Of course, there's more to the "showing off" accusation than a raw display of ego. I was forgetting the punk story because I had got it in my head that it wasn't very good when all was said and done. Despite my references to it, I was feeling the same way about The Boomer Bible, too. That's probably why Mrs. IP also pointed out that this whole website is about showing off, putting on a pundit hat the same way in years past I put on the torkjack and scriver of the South Street punks.

I'd like to think that the regular readers here are well aware that this site is as much a fiction as all my other works, that it's all part of the same sum, an act of "playing" with identities and ideas made real through words, images, hyperlinks and other multimedia concoctions. Which is to say that it really is, at some level, about "showing off." But I'm the only one who has to remember that. I promise I will.

If you have any additional thoughts about the punk writer content, let me know. Your positive response has been a tremendous tonic to date, so the exercise has not been at all in vain. In the interim, congratulate me for having a wife who knows me better than I know myself. That's the best thing that could ever happen to the writing I hope you like as much as I am bound to it. I'll see to it that you'll get the chance to read it in its proper context. But you're also free to tell me what you want included that you haven't yet seen, whether you believe it's already written or not. I will pay attention to your "wish lists" if you have any. Is that a deal?

Now go back to whatever it is you were doing before.

Quit the AARP

She's waiting for her meeting with the DeathEnd of Life Coordinator.

WHY GET INVOLVED? Why would the AARP endorse eugenics and euthanasia? Because they think their members are fools, and there's more grant money for the AARP in the process of lobbying a well disposed Democrat congress than in opposing nightmare legislation for their members. Courtesy of the aptly named "Daily Dose":

The House bill was endorsed by the American Medical Association and won backing from the AARP, and aims to cover 97 percent of Americans by 2015. But it has drawn strong opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats because it would raise $544 billion over the next decade through a surtax on household incomes above $350,000. The rate would begin at 1 percent and rise to 5.4 percent on household incomes over $1 million. [EMPHASIS MINE]

Let this be a lesson to you all. You join organizations like AARP in the belief that they really are on your side. They aren't. They're on their own side. Don't give them any of your money. The healthcare bill they've endorsed will slash Medicare/Medicaid funds for seniors and can have only one inevitable outcome: old people will be told when and how to die, for this many dollars. The AARP will become the friendly greeter at the hospice, assuring you that death is nothing but comfortable transit to the Nothing that awaits us all.

That's all you need to know.


Captain Ed, new star of the Internet.

WHOSE WATERLOO? Yesterday I wrote Captain Ed at Hotair with some well intentioned advice. He didn't respond, although he'd been quick to respond previously. So I emailed him again to tell him I was disappointed. That got a very quick response:

I get about two thousand emails a day, and at least as many comments. Itry to read all the email and as many comments as i can, but i cant respond to all of them. If that disappoints you, i apologize, but the suggestion that i Ginsu read comments on your blog because i don't get enough feedback is laughable.

Not so fast. Captain Celebrity: You're way off base on this:

"the suggestion that i Ginsu read comments on your blog because i don't get enough feedback is laughable."

No such charge was made. What are you smoking? If I even understand what you were saying. Which I actually don't. I'm trying to be your friend, with no strings attached. Sorry if I assumed from previous correspondence that you read your email. I won't make that miistake again. But don't put words in my mouth, either.

I sent you an email, one man to another, with a request that you read my commenters. (No idea where 'ginsu' comes from.) Here's what I said about my post and its commenters

I'm going to tell you a truth you may not like, but please read to the end anyway. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but to give you feedback I don't think you're getting elsewhere. I have enormous respect for you, and I'm not asking for any link with this, only your temporarily undivided attention.

I had the temerity, a day after you linked to Instapunk, to post an entry criticizing you for your analysis of Limbaugh's "Waterloo" comment. (I was going to add an audio file of Jagger's 'Memo from Turner' including the line "Bite the hand that feeds," but that line's been changed in the iTunes file. Sorry.)  I believe you should read the post, of course, but much more importantly the comments it received.

I don't have nearly as many readers as you, obviously, but I interact extensively with my (unscreened) commenters and over the years they have risen to the challenge. (They're the best in the rightosphere, MUCH better than your selectively chosen ones.) They actually write their comments, knowing that if they're an ass I'll skewer them and if they're articulate (even if they disagree), they'll wind up as an actual Instapunk post. (Did this long before your Green Room btw). I believe it would benefit you to read all the comments on my Waterloo post. I'll give you two excerpts, one from my post and one (partial) from among several eloquent comments.


"As for the reduction in softball questions, surely that's a relative improvement, maybe akin to the change from whiffleball to slow-pitch Sunday softball. Nobody asked him why the American people should trust a third consecutive House bill none of the members had time to read before passing it. Nobody had the nerve to ask him the obvious followup to his saccharine assertion that he's in a hurry because people are losing their health insurance every day of the current recession: "uh, Mr. President, the 'reforms' in this bill won't even start taking effect till 2013; how does immediate passage of a slapped together mountain of federal power grabs and mandates whose unintended consequences won't be felt for years alleviate present hardships in any way?"  Nobody had the guts to pursue him on his prior astonishing admission that he hasn't even bothered to read all the variations of ObamaCare that he insists be pulled together into a permanent government infrastructure revolution in just eight days."


"The problem with the squish conservatives is that they misrepresent the brand, do half of the stuff liberal Democrats want to do to show how they can "reach across the aisle", and they still get demonized by libs for everything they do anyway. The only time they are spoken of favorably is when they are being useful idiots. However, put them in a race against a Democrat and all of those good feelings disappear pretty quick...just like happened with McCain.The current state of things reminds me of the movie Braveheart, where the lowly peasants march out, fight & die for their nobles, who are only playing the game to fill their own wallets."

Was it last week that Hotair bragged about being praised by Media Matters because you trashed the Birthers? Fine. The Birthers deserve to be trashed. But don't take credit for lib praise, even ironically, because it makes people believe that 'media legitimacy' is what you're really after.

I know we're (Instapunk and others like us) small fry to you. But one of the reasons we're small fry is that I am an aging, reclusive writer-type writer (; read post AND comments) who has no desire to make guest appearances on Fox News, aspire to podcast celebrity, or have a booth at CPAC. I don't solicit advertising, I don't ask for money (except in jest), and I never run for Internet "This or That of the Year." I'm not indicting you for wanting all these things. But your podcasts and Michelle's burgeoning Fox media career make you suspect with a much larger body of conservatives than you realize. My readers are not monolithic -- they're not kneejerk fundamentalists or one-issue ideologues or ignorant namecallers." They're the NEW Silent Majority. They're smart. well educated, definitely out there in the realm of real life combat against the Obamatopian state and they're getting pissed off.

I just want you to know that we're here, and my read is that you're slowly losing them. There are probably a thousand Instapunks for every Hotair, so don't dismiss the comments you read based on their number. Several of my commenters are also bloggers ( see Maggie, a.k.a. For example, I always figured you a cut (sorry, two cuts) above Ace of Spades, but Hotair is referencing Ace more and more often these days. Why? Because he's a "Conservative Blogger of the Year"? Is a new media elite being born that uses SiteMeter ratings the way Nielsen uses overnights and Hollywood uses box office? If you fall into that trap, you WILL fall behind the curve.

You could tell me I've poisoned my own readership because I've never shrunk from blasting Ace for his careless bad writing, Protein WIsdom for his pompous pseudo-intellectualizing, InstaPundit for loving "Serenity" without understanding one word of it, and Allah for his clicheed reliance on "beta male," "Dude," and easy Christian-bashing headlines, but I ask you to accord me some credibility as the true amateur on the scene in the pursuit of liberty.

I've been at this at least as long as you, I have never asked dollar one for doing it, and if you can spare a few hours to browse my archives, I think you'll find that when I say I'm offering un-self-interested advice, I'm telling the truth.

And even though he ignored the first email, he was quick again to respond to my riposte:

Lol! Ginsu comes from the fact that i'm incompetent at sending e-mail from my t-mobile Dash, esp when walking thru airports. I seriously have no idea what that meant.

Your e-mail assumed i didn't respond because i'm full of myself. That's pretty presumptuous, and i didn't appreciate it. Your previous e-mail suggested that i should read your cimment section for enlightenment, when i don't have time to read all of ours. I read your e-mails, so if you have something to say, just say it.

So I said:

Okay. You're losing your audience. You make excuses for Obama where there are no excuses to make. I was trying to show you the difference between unselected intelligent commenters and the obedient ones your own selection process generates. I wasn't the only one who got washed away in your last "open" signup. Some of my commenters, who used to like you, also tried to sign up to no avail. They don't like you so much any more.

I do. But you're making it hard. The "I'm way too busy to talk to average people" approach may seem cool to you now. Remember, you jumped on me because I actually expected you to respond, as you HAD done several times before. Now you're too important, with your 2000 emails a day?

Disappointed, yeah. Won't bother you again. I apologize for wasting your time with the idea that I could pose mere commenters as a buttress for my own concerns about where your career was heading. Way too democratic.

Wish you well still, but look out for that fall off the charts,


Ah well. See the AARP entry below. They're not on our side. They're on their own side. Never forget it. I think I've been about as polite as I need to be. What do you think?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Death of St. Nuke

Yeah, the whole of Punk City went to Cape May Point to send him off.
The odds are, no more than two of the whole throng actually loved him.

This part isn't a secret. His own subjects, or one of them, killed St. Nuke. Who?

Jesus. Who and what is this man? In a trice he is gone. He outdistances the guards and mounts immediately up a circular staircase to his seat at the center of the spider, high above the throngs of clicking punk writers. He has his own stage atop the masses, and it encompasses enough room before his keyboard to enable him to remove that blue coat and his weapons and hang them them on a hook, stripping him to the waist.

Jesus, again. Look at that upper torso. I’ve been in veterans hospitals galore, and I have never in my life seen so many scars, so startling, so obviously alive in their continuing pain. But he is not showing off. It’s hot in here. And he is 'bereadying' himself for the work. His platform – I’m loath to say ‘throne’ because its base is iron grate and his workspace features as humble a keyboard as anyone else – has a railing over which he leans to scrutinize all that is occurring below. His eyes, invisible inside that ravaged blue face, take all of us in. Then the unthinkable happens. He notices ME.

“We have a visitor,” he announces. The voice is a kind of squawk, hoarse and powered by effort rather than native volume. Like the rest of him, even his voicebox is damaged. Lord, how is this man even alive?

He’s looking at me. He points. That long scarred white white arm, strong but channelled with wounds whose flesh never filled back in.

“MISTER Boz Baker. The voice of the Boomers. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”

It’s a whisper and a bark. How does he do that? I want to run away. To be noticed by this man is to die, of that I’m convinced.

I begin my answer. I have words in mind. I’m in a royal court. I'm no fool. I know what to say and how to say it. But no words escape my mouth.

“Speak up, MISTER Baker.”

There is no more typing. I stare at the vats of blue liquid, at the knot of heavily armed Epissiles grouped underneath the platform of the king, which is what he is, let’s face it. And I try to speak up.

“I have come to pay tribute to the punks of Punk City,” I say. “The newest, the only new voices in American literature.”

Jonathan Pus edges away from me. Not a good sign.

St. Nuke contemplates me from his high-tech perch. For a year that lasted probably fifteen seconds.

“Detain him,” he said at last. “Arrest him. He’s Jack Kerouac with an education. Nothing to interest us. And we certainly don’t need him writing” – and it’s impossible to convey the amount of hateful revulsion his gasping shout packed into this word – “about us.”

Without being aware of the instincts at work, I knelt on the concrete floor. Terror, submission, acceptance of what would come.

Why did they kill him? And why couldn't Johnny Dodge, the greatest warrior of not only Punk City but the whole of Philadelphia, save him? What do the political blogs like to say, "Open Thread"?

Earn your way to more punk fiction. (Yes, I'm stalling, but I have an exceptionally good reason.)  Make me proud. Document your arguments with quotes and facts. And don't waste our time with a lot of conspiracy theories about Tod Mercado -- what's the operative cliche? Last In, First Out. LIFO. That's called 'accounting' where I come from.

Hell. Has anybody heard of any scars on Johnny Dodge? Was there anybody else who survived the entire seven years? (Answer: No.) He certainly seems to be the Wyatt Earp of Punk City, unscathed through years of unrelenting combat. It doesn't compute. Sure, we've heard about Nuke's suffering in the Blade. And Gypsy is more eloquent than anyone about suffering. But does this sound like suffering? (Hadn't you discovered that "Snake Man" was Johnny Dodge"? The more fool you.)

Against the mounting mountain of suspicion, we have only two works to post, one complete and one fragment: Here's the 'High Punk' autobiographical statement of a punk who was never even wounded in the wars of South Street:

Country Punk


Across the river they live in cars.
2  That’s where Sam Dealey grew up, and that’s what he did.
3  What kind of a way is that to live?
4  Sam Dealey got up in the morning, black grease under his fingernails. There was a crankshaft in his future, a case of beer in his past. Saturday nights, they went to Greaves Tavern and heard that southern rock and roll. Plenty of cars in the parking lot, revving, oil smoke, the deafening emptiness of beer cans rocking on asphalt.
5  The band sounded like electrified bourbon and smoke. Was that Sally Boyle dancing alone by the cash register?
6  Yes, she lives in a trailer now, her husband drove the Century to Florida and died in jail. She drinks too much, and the boys all say the roof leaks over her bed and you can hear her son rustling under the covers a few feet away. Maybe she misses the century, its velour seats, the radio and driving through the pines wrapped in the comfort of guinea-teed muscle.
7  Now she’s just a typist dancing all alone by the cash register, and Dealey hungers for the drip drip drip over her moist body in the trailer.
8  He could drink all the beer in the world tonight and he feels young like high school and high hopes, so let’s all pile in the car after last call and speed out to Malaga for two more hours at the place where the B-girls dance badly on the counter.
9  But did you hear about Mack Riley and his new 1100 Cow? About Mack Riley and the semi? Both his legs above the knee. On Sunday morning you can feel that above the knee feeling. Steel is colder, more permanent on a morning after beer. Your teeth are getting bad, your name is Sam Dealey, and what happened in the trailer wasn’t love was it?
10  This is South Jersey, though, and we live in cars. It’s motors we love, and we may be stupid to you, but under the hood we deal in the niceties, machine work to the last thousandth of an inch, and who knows what we know about Holley metering pins?  Talk about hearing, there'’ not one of us can'’ do the ninety miler per hour diagnosis—it’s sucking for air, too lean by a hair.
11  Who could leave all this, and what for anyway? But Dealey was a restless soul, the Tavern gets small on a Saturday night, and when you drive in the pines you think maybe there’s something bigger you could do, bigger than your old man and bigger than you.
12  When you were a kid, your room was smaller than the back seat of a Fleetwood, it was television and the pros, you had hands like nobody, and A.J. Foyt couldn’t drive a bike like you. There was no time for the pines. The old man carried a lunch box, he wore a funny hat, he was a fool.
13  Dealey bragged that his father could lick the doctor’s son’s old man, and they squared off as if it was a matter of honor. The doctor’s son didn’t know about fighting to the death against a chain link fence under the smell of burning leaves. Maybe he’d been too many places, Florida and skiing in Colorado, too many toys shining under the tree.
14  Dealey had scraped his knuckles on the Dodge alternator, felt the vivid mistake of twelve volts coursing through his body, and the world is a real live place where they fire your old man for getting drunk on his shift.
15  And maybe some blood on the chain links doesn’t do a damned thing to erase the distance between you and a doctor’s son, but he’ll remember this, and you, and not to laugh.

What is that feeling in the pines?
2  Some sense of the denseness of ten billion trillion dead interwoven needles, and more falling all the time. Nothing they talk about in the Social Studies books, all those trees looking bent but important under the moon.
3  V-8s are a small world, loud, fine, and in their way important, but there are gaps you can’t measure with the calipers, can’t tighten up with a wrench, can’t close with more gas.
4  Above the knees. What would you do if it happened to you?
5  Dealey was afraid to go to the hospital. What can you say to half a buddy? You’ve got no scars to compare. There’s no wheelchair ramp at the Tavern, and the southern rockers don’t sing about just sitting there for forty years.
6  But listen, it could happen to any of them, that’s what you learned from the night of a summer morning under the trans. Let the jack slip once, and you and me we’d be the same, useless bloody meat and a check every month from Uncle Sam.
7  When Sally’s Mike lit out for the south, it was pretty much of a joke. Everyone knew he’d knocked her up. Her old man, he had a heart condition and a ten gauge, and it was darned near a dead heat. They went to Wildwood with their wedding rings and sixty-eight dollars and change. And the old man went home and died in front of the Three Stooges.
8  So when they got back from riding the rides and the rest of the boardwalk kicks, Mike took the second chance he thought he had and left her alone for good.
9  There had to be more, he probably thought, than a wife and a life in a trailer park. And Dealey thought he was probably right, only you’d better be sure there’s nothing following you.

Then, almost unaccountably, there was Gobb’s.
2  Children ran away to die here.
3  They came by bus or by thumb and they came through this door, which was always open.
4  The door was always open and always thirsty for new blood.
5  On a November day in 1978, you walked through the door and sauntered up to the bar.
6  You were seventeen years old, underweight, and your hair stood up in spikes all over your head.
7  You were ready for a new world, your memories jammed into one corner of your largely unused mind, and you felt the merciless present crowding in to further separate you from your past.
8  On this night, you were to have an unremembered dream in which your friends from home pleaded for you to return. As you stood in an unlandscaped foreground, they appeared to you, joined hands and took flight with you over the terrain of your youth.
9  There is an infertile sameness to these scenes. There’s the school, there’s the backyard, there’s the reservoir where you floated trial balloons that sank like rocks, there’s the parking lot where you puked up too much Southern Comfort for the very first time, there’s the main street of your hopeless dead-eyed town, there’s the junkyard where Mike’s old Caddy keeps the rain off the backseat stain of Mandy’s and your lost virginity, there’s the bar where your dad had his stroke, there’s the ditch where the hit-and-run nailed Rick, and this is the sink your mother cried into when you told her you were leaving.
10  “Come back, Sammy,” the chorus cries. “Come home and die with us, not with strangers in some city that when it kills you means nothing personal.”
11  But nothing personal is the point. In the dream you fly away, all by yourself, headed for the bright lights of Philadelphia, where the flat finality of things is not all neatly arranged on the surface, but buried deep under layer upon layer of colors and curiosities.

What did you want?
2  You stretched out your hand with a grimy ten, but you used it to buy a row of empty glasses.
3  What was different in the dark depths of the mirror behind the bottles? Perhaps some altered angle of refraction that might reveal your hidden powers, disclose the umbilicus that links you to the inner fire.
4  But here, in this instant in time, at Gobb’s, at the beginning, you can’t quite grasp the meaning of the night.
5  You are distracted, deceived, dulled by mere events.
6  In the back of your head sentences form, each word a revelation.
7  Lips fail you, you are failing in mysterious and probably fatal everydayness. You know the history of your own shirt, and it inspires no wonder.
8  There must be a vocabulary, a grammar of penetration, and yet you are compelled to crawl inside the gray ruts that always return you to the same gray room, where even your nightmares won't let you in.
9  You do not think to travel, though you suspect the existence of vehicles. The smear of shine that sinks so deep into the bar at Gobb’s is a slide, down which you might escape into the heights of vision.
10  You have forgotten the crystal joy of altitude. You shudder at pieces of the pattern.
11  Do you want to see it whole? You do, you do not, you do. And you add another empty cannon to the outside of your bunker.
12  You could choose any place, any moment, for your departure. You could start from here, you could set out on your journey, determined to remember.
13  Do you want to find the ticket agent? You have a ticket in your pocket, you want to go, you do not want to go, you are afraid.
14  You know who you are. Do you know who you are? You know who you are.
15  You are the boy who sits at the bar. You are the boy who lives in the gray room over the ECCE Theater. You are the boy who set fire to a cat in the third grade. It ran beyond your expectations. Its screams carried you for an instant into the pure terror of power, and you put your hands to your ears.
16  You are the boy who was afraid of the dark, the boy who wet the bed, the boy who had bad dreams, the boy who fell in love with weapons of escape.
17  You are the boy who had dreadful dreams, who woke up in clouds of panic that never quite cleared away.
18  You are the boy who dreamed of dying, who left the bed through the ceiling into the inside of the sky.
19  You are the boy who was transformed, the dead hero with wings of light, reborn to battle every night.
20  You are the boy who sits at the bar, probing the fractures, afraid of healing.
21  Do you know who you are? You know who you are. Do you know what you want? You know what you want.
22  You are the boy who wants to remember. Something has been forgotten. You are the boy who wants to forget.

Do you know what you want to remember? Do you know what you want to forget?
2  You know what you want to forget. You want to forget the boy who you are. You are the boy who never lighted the lantern for fear of the darkness.  
3  Here is the lantern. Do you want to light it?
4  You want to light the lantern, you do not want to light the lantern. In the light of the lantern you might remember, but what you want is to forget.
5  Do you want to forget? Do you?
6  Here is the lantern. Light it.

Here is the lantern.
2  You are the boy who lighted the lantern.
3  You are the boy who lives in its light. You are the boy who will die in its light, who will die from its light.
4  Lantern light and lantern fire. It burns and spreads and glows like flame, consuming illumination.

Candlelight. Huddled interiors at night, the meek forays of little people’s little words, darting into dark and back, needing escape and fearing the blanks on the map.

Torchlight. Pine knots and smoke and painful flying embers. Sometimes the bearer catches fire and falls, rolling into blackened ruin.
2  All you see is flicker, red shadows, shapes of your deepest fears, roaming round you outside the cone of orange protection.
3  Friends erupt and fall, friends fall and disappear into the field of answers outside the light.

Electric light. Light enough at last and light too much.
2  A human chain of links electrified, pulsed into a stream of bits, harsh river of naked white exposure without shadows to hide in.
3  In too much light there is suspicion, fear that the truth is ugly beyond belief. Are we just this? Pallid pretenders unmasked in our creeping, crawling scavenger hunt?
4  Light alone is beautiful and mocks whatever dares to share its stage. Or:  We are but reflections of the horrors concealed within, the dirty folds inside the bright white mantle of creation.
5  Light of knowing, light of doubt, light of shame, it’s all the same, a bleaching, draining dryness of the mind.

Blue light. Light of movement, the sadness of falling night.
2  We are shifted, playing with time, and traveling inside the crystal facets of the beam.
3  Death and birth await us there, our own, grand and belittled, my blood-stained chain link fence here guards the plains of Troy, where Achaeans roar and whisper rumors of the Metalkort.
4  There, beyond the blue-lighted Coliseum I saw the one who set the tale in motion.
5  He was gleaming, sweaty, radiant, bleeding, blessing and cursing, perfect, shattered, and the armature spun inside his polar hands, feeding the world with sharp blue current.
6  I caught a spark and lost it, or so I thought, but saw that it had borne me all along, bit player in the streaming blue that swept through time to the barren beds of drought in which I’d picked my role.
7  Blue light. Not a shade away from white as I had thought, but whiter than the eye can see, the blue-white whole of divinity.

Red light.
2  Why can’t we have the blue, forever and always?
3  Who took it? Who defiled it? Who screened it from our sight?
4  Raging, screaming, warring light. The rampage and the flood. Destructive creation, like forest fire and eye of hungry vulture.
5  Yes, I am the scavenger. The boy who lighted this cruel cruel light.
6  Forgive me if you can, if I can I will forgive you, but I am past forgetting, past hiding from harsh light.

Fire light.
2  I am the boy who came to Gobb’s and sat at the bar, the boy who played with fire.
3  If you dare explore the blue of night, the night will explore you too.
4  For the heights you steal, the price you pay is loss, and a pain to equal your pride.
5  I am the boy who took the blue oath of loyalty, to the blue king who carried a blood red light.
6  And I watched as they doused him, in envy and fear and hate.
7  I laid him in a shroud, a bright white mirror of our shame, and I rode beside him through the pines to a gray-blue sea, where a ship was waiting for his other journey.
8  Had I been given the choice, I’d have taken his place, but instead I lit the fire.
9  His woman wept, for what and who I never knew, except that the fire soared and singed us all, a cathedral of sorrowing flame, asking one question and demanding an answer.
10  What price for light is worth the light?
11  I am the boy who presumed. I am the boy who lit the light and presumed I could pay the price.
12  But the price is paid by everyone,
13  And the current flows,
14  And the lantern glows,
15  And the fire goes on and on,
16  And the mirror shows us why.

Across the river they live in cars, in a wasteland of dirty dark.
2  Here we live in a rainbow of loss, where we learn by seeing ourselves burn.
3  I beat myself into the doctor’s son, and I burned myself into Kain.
4  I am the boy who set fire to the king, and I’ll burn my way through to the end.
5  The price of light is pain,
6  And I pay, will pay,
7  Would pay again—
8  I am the boy with a spark of blue.

And here's the tiny 'Late Punk' fragment of dubious origin usually cited to rehabilitate his suspect image:


These being the last verses of the greatwing Johnny Dodge, left behind in the solo archives of his rig:

April is the bravest month, breathing
2  Torks into dead lungs, voxing
3  Mummery and mayhem, spurring
4  Dull mimes with paschal rowels.
5  Winter gave us birth, rending
6  Worms from the placent ice, imitating
7  Life, with blind crawlers.
8  Summer inflamed us, storming in on the Shuteye Train
9  With a promise of wings; we warred before the Metalkort,
10 And worked in silicon, the gray cells of Headhouse,
11  And quaffed the black, and glimmed blue for a season.
12  And when we were zeezers, lab rats of Old Zack,
13  St. Nuke took me to the Rodent Zeum
14  And promised me a rosebud. He said, Johnny,
15  Johnny, don’t mind the thorns. And off we went.
16  In the Wasteland, there I felt fear.
17  I burned, much of the time, on South Street, in winter.

What are the chips that fall, what pieces bawl
19  Out of this unplugged rig? St. Nuke,
20  You cannot do the livegrind, you left only
21  Your august confession, where Harry grins,
22  And the Dulmud gives no answer, the Raptor no belief,
23  The Testaments no healing laughter. Only
24  There is a solo sung by this red ka,
25  (Come hear the solo of this red ka)
26  And I will sing you something different from either
27  Your solo at daybreak calling us after
28  Or your solo at sunset foretelling disaster;
29  I will sing you hymns of the conquest of Eden.
    Come with me
    I know the way
    Through these chrome and
yellow corridors
That end in cul de sackcloth and ashes
Of the blueprints you plagiarized...

The implication being that Johnny Dodge had some special relationship with Harry and the Raptor Ka and Doctor Dream. While everyone else died. As I said. Open thread.

Friday, July 24, 2009


ROADS NOT TAKEN. Yesterday I pointed out that Ed Morrissey at Hotair is a fair-minded man, which he is, but sometimes it's to a fault. He posted (to his credit) the above clip of Rush Limbaugh today, which reminded us of a warning to the MSM delivered here way back in July of 2008:

Continue being the same adoring cheerleaders you've been so far -- through the inevitable crises and missteps and blunders and failures -- and the already tottering structure of the MSM will collapse in cataclysmic ruin. You will bore your dwindling audience absolutely to death, and they will begin seeking honest news reporting elsewhere. (As they have been, btw, for some time now; how's NYT stock doing these days, kemo sabe?)

The nature of your bet thus far is idiotic -- that Obama really is the absolute answer to everyone's prayers you so want him to be. He isn't. He's a flesh-and-blood man who will stumble and err and make some truly awful decisions. When that happens, your extravagantly uncritical support for his rise to power will make you accountable to many Americans before you cover the first act of his administration. And when he does take office, the fact that you have let him rewrite all the rules of what is and is not fair coverage in political reporting will do you in no matter what course you choose. Criticize him and be branded with some of the worst labels available in these United States. (The New Yorker is anti-muslim? Anyone? Please.) Suck up to him and go rapidly out of business -- not to mention lose all the power you have so jealously acquired and used so self-righteously in the last hundred years.

Take your pick.

Ed allows the possibility that this catastrophe is underway, but he is guardedly optimistic that the tide is turning:

US News said that the print media would turn more adversarial in this press conference, though, and that may have been true.  None of the questions were softballs of the Jeff Zeleny “what do you find most enchanting about being you” type from just three months ago.  Lynn Sweet knew what she was doing when she offered Obama enough bait to make a foolish tactical and political mistake in giving his confessed ignorant opinion of a incident in Cambridge, which overwhelmed his health-care message and had the White House backpedaling the next day.  In that instant, Sweet gave Obama enough room to implode, and Obama naively obliged.

The media have a long way to go before they can regain enough credibility to become Obama’s Waterloo, but that’s a start.  When the networks start refusing to carry Obama live in prime time, put away the countdown clocks promoting him, and increase their pressure for real answers, then perhaps they can adopt the mantle of independence.

"Lynn Sweet knew what she was doing"? I don't think so. I don't think Obama knew what he was doing, either. They both suffer from the same kind of liberal tunnel vision. As do all the network media who have happily given Obama a platform for digging the hole deeper on Nightline and elsewhere. They thought they were giving him a dead-cert unassailable distraction from the political defeat his heedless push for healthcare is encountering. They thought reminding the voters of Obama's identity as a black man in a racist culture would rally skeptical Democrats to his side. I'm sure it never occurred to them that there was more than one side of a confrontation between a white cop and a black Harvard professor being hassled in his own home. They wanted us to get a glimpse of the bleeding palms of our savior president. It must have shocked the s__t out of them when the cops and the F.O.P. fought back and Bill Cosby weighed in on their side. Against Harvard?! Blasphemy.

The question was obviously a plant. Obama knew it was coming and had more clever things to say about it than any of the other topics he responded to with the uhs, ums, and ad-libbed slanders/gaffes he uttered in the press conference itself. The press is still carrying his water. The last possible area where they will ever seek to confront and ensnare him is race. We warned about that, too:

[N]ot even a left-leaning (I'm being charitable here) publication like The New Yorker is permitted to make the tiniest allusion to the topics that have been decreed off-limits. (And there are a lot of them.) All such infractions will be immediately denounced as disgraceful, personal, mean-spirited, disgusting, and, uh, racist.

That's the giant-sized stick the meticulously mild-mannered Obama carries with him wherever he goes. Venture past persiflage into substantive criticism or mockery and the stick will be applied to your noggin in a jiffy. That's the lesson no one seems to have learned from the primaries. The two most ultimately invincible figures in recent American history -- Hillary and Bill Clinton -- have both felt that stick and been knocked repeatedly to the canvas as suspected racists. Just this week, an eerily similar fate befell Jesse Jackson. He dared to criticize the perfect Obama in colorful vernacular and now he has been forced to apologize so many times that he will utter no criticism of the anointed one again.

Maybe stick isn't the right metaphor. How about brush-chipper?

All of which makes me wonder big-time if the MSM understands how huge a catastrophe for themselves all the salaaming before the Obamessiah is bringing down on their own thoughtless heads.

The New Yorker has already suffered negative financial consequences for its poor judgment. What awaits the rest of their elite brethren? If the man is elected, it's clear you can't criticize him with impunity, even with the best intentions. Start nitpicking his cabinet appointments, legislative agenda or policy decisions, and you will perish in a wave of hurt euphemisms which will make it clear to the most extreme sycophants and true believers that you are, ahem, probably a resentful racist. Watch as, one by one, the most illustrious and invulnerable of your number are disgraced into retirement for having dared to use their verbal talents against the new pharaoh. If it can happen to Geraldine Ferraro, it can happen to you, too.

As for the reduction in softball questions, surely that's a relative improvement, maybe akin to the change from whiffleball to slow-pitch Sunday softball. Nobody asked him why the American people should trust a third consecutive House bill none of the members had time to read before passing it. Nobody had the nerve to ask him the obvious followup to his saccharine assertion that he's in a hurry because people are losing their health insurance every day of the current recession: "uh, Mr. President, the 'reforms' in this bill won't even start taking effect till 2013; how does immediate passage of a slapped together mountain of federal power grabs and mandates whose unintended consequences won't be felt for years alleviate present hardships in any way?"  Nobody had the guts to pursue him on his prior astonishing admission that he hasn't even bothered to read all the variations of ObamaCare that he insists be pulled together into a permanent government infrastructure revolution in just eight days.

Give me a break, Ed. The mainstream media aren't getting tough. They're still a hundred miles away from tough. And there's no real sign they're actually making any move in that direction. If they're scrambling to cover their misstep on the Gates story, that's just panic, not professionalism.

The clincher? You said in your post:

Rush has this dead-on correct, especially in the weird promotion of the press conference.  Perhaps they did the same thing for George Bush, who held very few prime-time press conferences in eight years, but I don’t recall it. [emphasis mine]

uh, no, Ed, they didn't. I don't need total recall to know that. And neither does anyone else. Hell, they were pretty ostentatious about refusing to cover Bush pressers in primtetime (does the phrase "not newsworthy" ring a bell?). He gave up trying to schedule them. He was only the President of the United States, not the Second Coming of Jesus MLK Mohammed.

Measured and even-handed is fine. We applaud it. But take the scales from your eyes on the MSM issue. Please. They're still in the tank.

Reality Check

ERRATA. One of the very few leaks from the Cream King Study at Eberhard College. This wasn't one of the parchment manuscripts included in the Trove. It comes from one of very few readable disks from the punk computers. The text was captured from screen shots of a file that almost immediately self-destructed into a stream of commas. Scholars are still divided over whether it was "meant" to be read off the screen or was simply improperly coded into the unique (quantum?) punk archive. When it appeared, they took it as a directly defiant challenge: Are you getting it? But they are academics and know better than that. So it's obviously an anomalous fragment, but it's also a glimpse of another potentially key player on the early South Street scene:

Basil Shroud: Fear Is Life

What do you think? By now you must be hip deep in our little time bomb. Step right up. See the mortal remains of Punk City, USA, and judge for yourself whether it pays to rock the boat. Judge fairly, judge harshly, judge any which way you will, but judge. Put on your black robes, climb onto the bench, and grip that gavel in your hand. The prosecuting attorney is making his summation now.

“O wise and honest jurors, we have shown you the ruins of a lost world, artifacts, writings, scraps of art and lore, enough in our opinion to warrant a verdict of guilty, a sentence of oblivion. The punks came, the punks went, and nothing they hoped for happened, which is about what you’d expect. Along the way, they spilled blood recklessly, until even the tomb of their world stank like a charnel house, which is about what you’d expect. The record is not complete to be sure, but it is clear in its import. Our response should be equally clear. Let us build a bonfire and consign these relics to the flames. Let us burn the evidence and turn away from the face of horror. Let us continue as we were and leave the punks to rot in peace.”

Now, do wish to hear from the defense? Do you? Do you? It will not be pretty. It may not even be safe. But come, take my hand, and we will go to Punk City, as it was then, in the beginning, and take our chances.

Afterwards, you may have your bonfire, and taste the charred sweetness of marshmallows fired over the pyre of Punk City, and there will be an end to it. Unless there is no end. Unless there will never be an end. Unless there was a Doctor Dream, who answered the prayers of Punk City, and came at last, and forever changed the landscape of unlifeland, in ways that make it perilous to ignore.

But that never happened, of course. No, no, of course not. That couldn’t have happened. Our expedition is only archaeology, a kind of dream built upon the broken and eroded facts at your disposal. Now, if you will just give me your hand... GIVE ME YOUR HAND... we will descend through scales into the arena of South Street, where something happened or it didn’t, where you must be the judge of your own experience.

We are moving now, well above it all, safely over that map of the United States you carry with you in your mind. Are you comfortable? See the flaming dot on the extreme right hand side, somewhere below New England and somewhere above the south. That is Philadelphia, our destination. The dot burns, its flames devouring the surface of the map, which peels away to show us a vast modern cityscape, and now we can hear the music starting, a perpetual squall of drums and electric guitars that will direct us to the center of the storm.

Do you know of Philadelphia? Have you imagined the spire of City hall, turning grandly into the mind’s eye of our approach? The spire is the ornate and mighty pinnacle of an ornate and mighty building that stands at the intersection of Philadelphia’s greatest streets. The man in the funny hat on top is William Penn, the peace loving Quaker who founded this city and still bears witness to all that occurs within the purview of his granite eyes.

Let us join him for a moment. Grab a granite arm and plant your feet next to Billy Penn’s. Welcome to the City of Brotherly Love. I see you cannot take your eyes off the river, which looks, even to me, like a dirty steel mirror. Its surface holds a blurred and tarnished image of city life, the gray industrial breath of three million Americans who work and sleep and die, a little of each every day, in the valley built by this very river so many aeons ago. On the far side of the river is New Jersey, an infected wound called Camden, and through the incision made by the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges, a sclerotic system of asphalt arteries and veins and capillaries that carry the most modern of urban diseases into and beyond Camden, perhaps as far as Atlantic City by the sea. Breathe the air. Can you smell salt, the tang of spray from waves drumming the sandy shore? Not at all. You smell cars and trucks. You taste the bite of billions of complex and synthetic grime molecules, the same ones you see beneath your feet on the woodwork of City Hall, the same ones that sting your eyes, the same ones that are coating your fingertips with soot as you cling to the blind stone statue of this city’s father.

It is like the fine dust of our own decay, this grime, which fills the air and falls onto every surface as far as the eye can see. It falls on North Broad Street, which leads straight as a black arrow into the heart of the Philadelphia ghetto, where you would die if we took you there. It falls on Chestnut Street, for its entire length, from the murderous halls of academe in West Philadelphia to the simulated restoration of the city’s birthplace by the river’s edge. Yes, there is an eternal frost of soot on the University of Pennsylvania, on the plastic bubble housing the Liberty Bell, on Independence Hall, on Penn’s Landing, and on all the imposing monuments in between, including the glass and stone and steel of Philadelphia’s center city, as high or higher than the brim of Billy Penn’s hat.

All that’s left is south, and there is soot in the south too. The Schuylkill River winds like liquid soot along the same course as the Schuylkill Expressway, which is made of petrified soot and leads from the southern edge of South Philadelphia, with its soot-covered Italian vegetable markets, past the southern border of center city’s mountainous towers of soot, and then on by the soot hill called Manayunk, to its ultimate destination in Valley Forge, where the snow is still white when it falls, or was in the when you’re in now—which is the days of the earliest punks.

Are you comfortable with your flight of fancy so far? These should be familiar images, a burning map followed by snapshots of creeping petro-chemical death in the northeast, with a heavy metal soundtrack of your own devise, the carnivorous riffs of Hendrix’s Purple Haze perhaps, or the desperate loneliness of Morrison voicing the final organ chords of The End. But have you thought of me, who has you by the hand? I don’t wish to disturb you, but I am there beside you, and will be with you for as long as it takes, no matter how long it takes.

Beside you. I am beside you. I am the punk beside you. Not the punk of your tepid imaginings, which cannot yet see the city as it was and is, but the punk who lives in your darkest and most unconfronted fears, the one who picks you out of the crowd, and fastens his hatred upon you for no conceivable reason, and follows you home, not quite seen, and into your bedroom, where...

But you do not quite believe it yet, and these are — I am — only words buried ina yellowing page that was found in a tomb, if there was ever really a tomb at all. For it is always easier not to believe. Easier not to think that somewhere, somehow, some dead-end blur of faceless zeroes might make a stand. Impossible to believe, really. Impossible to think that some row of zeroes might go looking for some one to hang onto, become a number to be reckoned with. Impossible to think that someone would grow tired of you, and react against you, because they know you better than you think.

I did not believe it either. I was not always a punk, did not start out as Basil Shroud. Way down there, just a few blocks from City Hall, you can see me standing on the sidewalk, a dot on the pavement taking the afternoon  air. If you hang on, we’ll swoop down and take a closer look, down past the sealed windows of skyscrapers, past the big city pigeons creating their defecatory art, and down to street level, where the growl of buses surges over the soundtrack and puts us in real time.

There am I then, a teenage artiste, a larval sophisticate who pictures himself as Hamlet, uttering the one true soliloquy in a stage Brit accent perfected in the shower. The building behind me is the Pennsylvania Academy of the Dramatic Arts, and you can see that I like to stand there with it gazing impassively at the street over my shoulder. My overcoat, my too long muffler, my stylish throwaway hat, my Brit umbrella have all been chosen to complement my sensitive gray eyes and the stone of the building where I do my best posing. Someday, some young lady will see me standing there, the distinctive but succinct grace of my body language, and come closer for a casual onceover. She will glimpse those gray eyes of mine and find her heart wounded by their oxymoronically remote, unfocused, piercing quality. She will be mine from that moment on, the helpless admirer of my presence onstage and off, and will know—before I even tell her—that I am born to play Hamlet as no man ever was.

But the boy was wrong. He did not play Hamlet, not then, not later. Through the window of the academy, we can glimpse him auditioning for the play of his dreams, “To be or not to be,” he pontificates, in the manner of a boy declaiming in the shower, while all of us, including you and me and the director, blush and look away in embarrassment. He too is scarlet with shame but anxious to be accepted in some way, and he boasts of his attainments in a strategic skill, the feint and parry of swordplay.

“I’m a trained fencer,” he declares. “I was number one on the varsity epee and saber teams. I can make the duels a work of art.”

But no one is paying attention. The director and his staff have tasted all the flavors of desperation and they have work to do. To whom would it matter that an actor who cannot act is gifted in the use of weapons? The answer is: it would matter to no one but a punk. So how on earth did two punks manage to sneak into the back row of the theater, and why would they be there anyway? Did you see them, see the way they exchanged glances when young Hamlet made his boast, the way they slithered like snakes for the exit immediately thereafter?

And now our poseur is back at his usual spot, looking more remote and less piercing than usual, in fact somewhat crushed, as if the panache he needed to carry off that absurd hat had had been left inadvertently behind in his apartment this morning. He does not want to think about Hamlet just now. He wants to envision his own vindication, radiant reviews of performances he doesn’t know how to give and can just barely glimpse by squinting in a certain way into the realm of maybe somehow land, where he is perfectly at home.

But there is another maybe somehow land, just ten or twelve long blocks away. This other land is the birthplace of Punk City, which may be annihilated before it ever gets to be at all. Is this too hard to imagine? One set of city scum is being decimated by another set of city scum, and the stakes are dominion over the territory known as South Street and Headhouse Square. Of course, this never happens, but our young protagonist is ignorant of many things, including this, and he is in a dangerously vulnerable frame of mind just now. If he should be approached by a pair of punks who are prepared to admire him, he might not be able to to restrain his ego from impelling him headlong toward disaster.

And surprise! He is approached. The punks shuffle toward him, aware of being far from home. They are aliens in need. In fact, they look like aliens. One has green hair, one has striped hair. The ears of both bear multiple punctures, multiple dangles of of sharp-edged objects, including razor blades and safety pins and industrial copper staples. Their coats are olive drab, slashed and tattered and maybe not just for appearance’s sake.

“S’cuse me, man,” one of them says to our young hero. “We got a question to ax you.”

“I don’t have any bread on me, man,” retorts Prince Hamlet. “I’m just a student.”

“We don’t want your graves, man,” the other punk explains.

“Yeah,” agrees his companion. “We’re looking for somebody who knows about sword fighting. What d’you call it? Fencing?”

“I can’t help you,” Hamlet answers, starting to walk as if he had somewhere to go.

“You know about sword fighting, don’t you?” challenges the punk with green hair, falling into step beside Hamlet. “We heard you inside. We was watching the actors and we heard you say about being number one at fencing.”

“I’m sorry I can’t help you.” Hamlet is walking faster now, wishing he could see a cop on the next block or the next.

But the punk with striped hair stops him with one firm hand and speaks with sudden, vehement emotion. “Hey, man. We need you. We’re dying every night, for real, man, down on South Street.”

“We need an edge,” barks the other.

“Got to find an edge. D’you understand?” The two punks regard the actor in mute supplication.

They have come to a halt in front of Horn & hardardt. The smell of coffee cuts through the chill of a November afternoon. Hamlet risks eye contact with his molesters. In their eyes he sees a familiar emotion, one he can relate to. It is fear.

“We can talk for five minutes inside,” he tells them.

Three hours later, Hamlet enters the besieged realm of Punk City for the first time since the police stopped patrolling it. If you listen closely, you can hear the five sets of footsteps on concrete, approaching the barricade at Tenth Street. Three sets belong to Hamlet and his new friends, Armpit Smell and Vox Rot of the Great Unwashed. The other two belong to you and me, treading behind them into the mists of legend.

We are dressed like the others, you and I, and you must stick close to me. I warn you that not everyone leaves this place alive, and as evening falls tonight, tempers are short and ugly. You must forget who you are, if you are anyone, and be with me a punk on the edge of extinction. Forget your clothes, your shoes, the part in your hair. The legs you see walking below you are covered in coarse olive drab duck. Your boots are heavy, black, a half size too large, and a blister is already forming on your heel. Inside your coat, you carry weapons; the handle of a long scriver digs unyieldingly into your ribs. Like the rest of us, you wear a layer of thick white pancake on your face. Anonymity is a blessing and a charm against the terrors of the night. For you are, in spite of all of us, alone in a place where people dressed like you, and armed like you, will die tonight on a nameless Tuesday.

Inside the shell of metal music, you will be hearing from the maybe’s yet to be. Have you ever feared for your life? For weeks and months at a time? If so, you know the maybe game. Maybe they will not come tonight, the bikers and their Harleys and their hard ass kick ass glee for mayhem. Maybe they will come, and lose, and go away again, trailing plumes of undigested city sky from their tailpipes. Maybe you will live to see the red of their taillights one more time, the bloody periods that end each night’s sentence of combat. Maybe they will kill someone else, not you, and you will wake again tomorrow morning for a quick one-two-three with the cards, to start another string of maybe’s and maybe nots.

Up ahead of us, Hamlet's sense is that all is not as he had thought. Until now, the idea of combat has not been real to him — no more real than the five thousand dollars he has been promised for teaching the punks to fence. Now he is beginning to feel a curious elation. Here on South Street, walking from Eighth to Seventh, he believes in the possibility of war and sudden death, and in the possibility of honest-to-God payment for services rendered, five grand in crisp small bills, an incredible bonanza that just might be worth a few hours on the dark underside of fear ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
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The more we learn, the greater the mysteries become.

BUT. This is also a good place to restate Basil's question:

What do you think? By now you must be hip deep in our little time bomb. Step right up. See the mortal remains of Punk City, USA, and judge for yourself whether it pays to rock the boat.

We can stop here. No need to continue with the punk writer story. I'm content to wait and publish it in some other venue. I know it's a distraction from the political combat we all live for. Don't be shy. It's only fiction. Let me know. We can definitely go back to the old days of essay, humor, satire, and pure attitude. I know some of you would be the happier for it. How about the rest of you? "What do you think?"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rumors of the Metalkort

Now, at a dog trot, we’re en route to the Metalkort, the punk name for the
New Market courtyard where all the important decisions affecting Punk
City and punk fiction have been decided since the day of that first debate.
-- Boz Baker, A Flourish of Razors

PROVENANCE. I think Taylor's last comment was complaining that the length of the punk writer entries is making it harder to find the action items of the Obama Resistance. He may have a point, although when the authorities come looking they might have the same difficulty. Word camo. With any luck.

Still, today's look back at the punks of Philadelphia's South Street area is designed to take up very little room on the InstaPunk page, although hopefully there's still much to dig through for those who are interested. As most of you know, has been down for over a year now, but courtesy of the Wayback Machine, a somewhat damaged and partial version still survives, including Harry's 'psongs'  about himself on the occasion of his 60th birthday, as well as the startling claim that The Boomer Bible predicted 9/11 in specific detail (search the name Elders). Here's the link to The Boomer Bible site.

And for our punk writer afficionados, here's a long-lost look at the real locations in which Punk City existed if it did: Rumours of the Metalkort. (and, no, the photographer is none of us; he was a member of the old forum, which appears to be returning to life. More about that later...) Only a few of the photographs are missing, which is kind of a miracle. Be patient with the loading.


Tired of the Messiah?

Are you still eating cupcakes? We do not approve.

NOT SO GOOD, SELAH. Our national know-it-all commanded the majority of the nation's airwaves last night. Mrs. CP and I were reduced to watching the second episode of "Drop Dead Diva.." (Not bad, all things considered. She's sweet, though not as sweet as Penny...)

Nielsen had a different view of the proceedings:

Fox’s decision not to show President Barack Obama’s primetime news conference last night paid off with a ratings bump for “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The two-hour “Dance” saw its adults 18-49 average rise 8 percent week to week, from a 2.6 to a 2.8, according to Nielsen overnights, giving Fox an easy victory on the night.

At 8 p.m., the two-hour “Dance” averaged a 2.8, up 8 percent from last week’s 2.6. It likely gained some viewers airing against the Big Three networks’ coverage of Obama’s chat.

Ratings for that hour are approximate for ABC, CBS and NBC, because these early numbers are based on timeslot and not actual program performance.

According to the overnights, the Big Three combined for 16.5 million total viewers during the one-hour press conference.

But it looks as though all three will be down from the previous week in the 8 p.m. slot. ABC scored the biggest 18-49 rating in the hour, a 1.5. Final ratings, plus a tally for broadcast and cable coverage of the speech, will be out later today. [emphasis mine]


Maybe he needs to show us his stigmata. Or stop lecturing us like he's "all that." He isn't. Feedback welcome.

The Gatz File

What the Bulletin columnist wouldn't tell you: Her name was Piss Pink.

ANOTHER GLIMPSE OF HER. Another unpublished manuscript located by the indefatigable Frank Frelinger. How much credence can we place in it? Don't know. However, there's little sign that Frelinger can write sentences as long as Conrad Gatz used to spin out of his Brooklyn mansion. Nobody since Victor Hugo has had that particular, er, bent. Most interesting, perhaps, is the brevity of the message that persuaded the great spewer of books to hold his tongue on this particular story.

Our Journey Begun

Tom Eckinger

Philly Punks Give Gatz Poetic Justice

It is a rare occasion when we little people are privileged to be witnesses to justice. Most of the time, we are forced to endure the antics of celebrities with the frustrating certainty that however low or disgusting their behavior, they will pay no real penalty.

The rock superstar smuggles heroin to Canada and winds up doing free concerts for penance. The all-pro football player rapes a teenage fan and receives a suspended sentence in exchange for some term of community service. In a fit of drunken rage, the big-time writer breaks the arm of a photographer and, in return, gets his wrist slapped with a fine and a year’s probation.

Normally, we read of such outrages and wait in vain for some sign that that the official mercy reserved for the rich and famous is ever tempered with true justice. But the other night, in our very own town, the tables got turned on one of the most legendary celebrity boors.

It seems that Mr. Conrad Gatz, familiar to most of us as the self-anointed “Heavyweight Champion of American Writers,” carried his reputation for pomposity and drunken brawling into the wrong bar. It was a Tuesday night in Punk City, and Mr. Gatz (as he later told the desk sergeant) had decided to drop in at the Razor Cafe, which enjoys a strictly local notoriety at the headquarters of Philly’s “punk writers.”

Having been told about this bit of local color, Mr. Gatz reported that he was anxious to see for himself what it might consist of. He observed several performances, “sitting quietly in a corner with a drink,” and then was “assaulted by a female punk,” whose name we cannot fully reveal in these pages for reasons of decorum. P___ Pink (as we shall call her) allegedly slugged it out toe to toe with  the self-ordained 'champ and successor to the title of Ernest Hemingway.'  Mr. Gatz, who has been known to boast that he “never hits women because they take their revenge in the dark,” apparently hit the canvas like a ton of bricks and stayed down for the ten count.

When he staggered into the nearest precinct at one a.m. that morning, he was bleeding from a badly broken nose, whimpering about two loosened teeth, and had to sign the complaint against Ms. Pink with his left hand.

Of course, we can only imagine what really happened. But surely it is not too far-fetched to suppose that Mr. Gatz proclaimed his identity to the assembled crowd at the Razor Cafe and then proceeded to deliver his review of their work. And then—just maybe—Ms. Pink, who is probably unaware of the infinite right of the famous to be obnoxious, decided that Mr. Gatz was not up to the standards of behavior expected of guests in Punk City and took it upon herself to perform a public service by ejecting him.

When the high and mighty receive their comeuppance from the low and downtrodden, it appears to me that we can be excused for cheering just a little. So, with hopes that the court will be as lenient with Ms. Pink as it has with Mr. Gatz on multiple occasions past, I salute her for a job well done.

The September 16, 1980, edition of the Philadelphia Bulletin carried the above column by Tom Eckinger, who affects the sobriquet Man About Town.

One gets used to such slings and arrows after living for decades in a spotlight that changes hue with each shift, for better or worse, in the price of one’s stock in the market of public opinion. The fact is, I bear Mr. Eckinger no malice: the life of a newspaper columnist is difficult indeed, each day dawning as it does with its own mandate for 600 words of provocative, interesting, or piquant chatter on subjects that can be understood by housewives and second shift foremen over a second cup of coffee; one can only imagine the fevered scrambling that must occur each day at around three o’clock when the deadline is shaping itself once again into a noose, for all the detritus of anecdote, rumor, innuendo, and intimation that lies on the floor of the newsroom, having been adjudged “not news” by those whose job it is to exercise judgment; and one can also imagine the glee of the columnist, whose job it is to exercise not judgment but voyeurism, upon finding a steaming pile of gossip excreted fresh from the bowels of the news factory. Here is Something, we can hear him exclaim, that is just right, Something that will titillate the most basic of human emotions—our universal delight in the humiliation of those we regard as morefortunate than ourselves.

But questions of malice and humiliation aside, this minuscule grain of “news” makes a fitting beginning for our journey. (“What journey is that?” importunes the anxious reader. “Patience. Patience,” replies the reporter. We’ll explain it all as we go.”) For it raises a question of another sort that skulks mysteriously under the hard distorting mask of Eckinger’s ridicule, around and about the sequence of events known as the punk writer movement, which began and ended in Philadelphia some years ago without exciting much remark by anyone.

And for all his many acknowledged faults, Gatz is addicted to questions, particularly questions of the kind no one else has bothered to ask, and perhaps most intriguing, questions that are sunk so deep into the fabric of our social context that they become part of the weave and cannot be discerned at all except by plucking out individual threads and following them wherever they lead. Yes, it was only a thread that tickled Gatz’s subconscious as he lay painfully in an offwhite cubicle of Jefferson Hospital, but with an effort he found he was just able to grasp the end of it (with his uninjured hand) and begin in earnest a journey he had embarked on somewhat thoughtlessly, having stumbled into the weave from an oblique angle that obscured the extent of the question.

In point of fact, Gatz had been suckered. He had been solicited to write a magazine piece on a fairly spectacular Horatio Alger theme, flattered (his susceptibility in this regard was well known) by the suggestion that only his “unique perspective” could lend new vigor to the story of the South Philly street kid who had risen to become CEO of the world’s third largest computer company at the age of thirty-two. Obviously, Gatz rose to the bait. Despite his often vainglorious allegiance to the world’s dispossessed and persecuted, Gatz was irresistibly drawn to the spectacle of immense wealth. Born the son of an immigrant, he had through the force of his brain power inveigled his way into Yale University, where he never forgave the aristocratic scions their manners, their money, their intolerable certainty about the way of things, and their refusal to regard Gatz as anything but a social climber of undisputed, though not quite seemly, brilliance. But it was their brilliance rather than his own he lusted for: the incandescent glow of boat brass illuminated by Japanese lanterns; the untarnishable chrome gleam of family fortunes that spanned generations, depressions, wars, and individual infamies. And so in being set upon the trail of Tod Mercado, wunderkind of Ameria’s sprawling technological empire, Gatz fell victim to a double envelopment: the lure of writing about a possessor of fabulous wealth, with its manifold opportunities for the bashing of superficiality andostentation; and the lure of ventilating his secret envy of the fellow immigrant son who had catapulted past Gatz’s own middling financial success into the stratosphere of wretched excess. Held—nay, trussed up tight—in such an embrace, he consented, to the story, to the deadline, to the offered price for his insights, and set out for Philadelphia in a zeppelin of hubris, stockpiling in the course of the flight and hiscab ride to the hotel an arsenal of scathing pre-judgments that awaited only a brief meeting betwixt Gatz and Mercado before landing in icy scorn on paper

Thus prepared to loathe and detest his quarry, Gatz was infuriated to discover that Theodore R. Mercado was affable (“call me Tod”), hospitable, and unsuspecting of the injury a jealous reporter could do him.

“So glad you could come,”

he said, greeting me with the mighty handshake of the self-made man. “What do you think?”

His gesture took in the entire estate, but contrary to Gatz’s expectation, the tone of his question was not prideful (“Oh, just look at what I own”) but ingenuous, charming in fact, at once an acknowledgment that the scene was out of the ordinary and a sincere request for a reaction from someone whose opinion would be interesting, even fascinating, to hear.
Oh, but it wasn’t. Gatz was stupefied, for once not with drink but with awe and astonishment. He knew something of the dimensions of Mercado’s wealth. As a teenager, Mercado had begun building computers out of mail-order components. While his peers were lifting crates of asparagus in the Italian market, spending their passions on the peppery nymphs of South Philly, Mercado was plighting his troth to the vision of inexhaustible potential represented by computer technology. He won, he will tell with some satisfaction, a scholarship to Drexel University, which churns out engineers by the hundreds to serve as cogs in Ameria’s corporate machinery, but he found it necessary to drop out in his junior year because business was too good.

Neodata Corporation, headquartered in the corner of a vegetable warehouse half a mile from the Walt Whitman Bridge, was reaping huge profits from the sale of software developed by the son of a truckdriver. Somehow, Mercado had located and filled a niche no one else had discovered, software that had some automated capability to detect and correct errors in the programs written for use on giant mainframes. While other products could identify programming errors, even point at them, Mercado’s was unique in its ability to “debug” code while the programmer was off having a cup of coffee.

On the day he resigned from Drexel, Mercado did two things. He bought a Corvette (“red as a plum tomato”) and moved into a new building in King of Prussia, where a large chromium sign announced that Neodata Corporation would from now on be a force in the computer industry. King of Prussia was on the other side of town from the Italian market, and the move changed Mercado’s world view. In the deep Mediterranean pocket of South Philadelphia, he had lived as a solitary and somewhat esoteric dreamer in an intense and earthy climate where everything smelled of food, the streets, the houses, the women, all steeped in thebrown tang of garlic, the white exhalations of simmering spaghetti pots, the rich pulpy musk of cabbage stewing in crowded kitchens. He had grown up under a sky in which the flights of human emotion were as palpable as balloons, inflated with the purest and brightest colors imaginable, proudly parading the romances, tantrums, and sorrows of an entire neighborhood for all to see and share. He had never learned the Anglo-Saxon masochism which requires thesuffocation of both rage and joy, and conversely, what might he have come to believe about enthusiasm and collective energy from the fact that Veteran’s Stadium, home to the baseball Phillies and football Eagles, was within earshot of his father’s rowhouse? A boy who is capable of dreaming great dreams and who can also hear, on a baking summernight, the bronze voice of the crowd rising majestically from the crack of a single bat can become a man to be reckoned with.

In King of Prussia, Mercado found himself the newest resident of a buttoned-down commercial suburb in which manhood was not measured by romantic feats in arms, but by one’s capacity to be exempt from the claims of emotion. Others in the same situation have perished swiftly, but Mercado survived and came to flourish. Unwilling to repudiate his upbringing or heritage, he affected the cool ruthlessness of the barracuda with rivals but engendered in those who worked for him an old world loyalty that grew strong on the pasta and hot Italian sausage he carried into the office fresh from his mother’s kitchen. He refused to trade in the Corvette but leased a gray Oldsmobile for use as his company car and, camouflaging his fire with corporate flannel, moved into one new software market after another, leaving competitors with the glassy eyed stare of those whose last ride is a tour of the Jersey marsh.

His first stupendous victory, the one that landed him on the cover of half a dozen computer industry magazines, was PPROC, a software product that was capable of correcting grammatical errors in text documents. Neodata sales doubled, trebled, quadrupled, and still disguised as a barracuda, Mercado proceeded apace into the world of high finance and executed a stunningly Machiavellian leveraged buyout of MonoMax, the fourth largest computer company in the United States.

He made the cover of Business Week; he drew a mention as an unconfirmed candidate for inclusion on the Forbes list of the richest men in Ameria; he appeared in the pages of People magazine as an identified escort of one of Hollywood’s reigning queens. Interviewed by the business press, he sounded like a businessman, rattling off facts and figures, dissecting the mistakes of adversaries, fearlessly speculating about the prospects for success of the plans of his own company and his competitors. Of the fierce passions and loyalties that had carried him from South Philly to an enormous estate on the outskirts of Chestnut Hill he said nothing. But now he had asked a visiting reporter to comment on what he had bought or built with his prize money, and Gatz could think of nothing to say.

He was confronted by a sight he had never expected to see: everything. Everything one could possibly imagine, in one place, at one single moment in time. There was a fabulous and intricate Gothic mansion, its turrets and spires climbing all over one another in the attempt to be the tallest and most ornate. There was a swimming pool a hundred yards long, in which the most beautiful women in the world were cavorting in string bikinis whose weight could be measured in fractions of an ounce and whose cost must have been inthe neighborhood of a thousand dollars apiece. There was a twenty car garage and, through the open doors, Gatz could see a dozen glittering and evocative emblems—Lamborghini, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Bugatti, Hispano Suiza—as well as a tomato red Corvette. There was a helipad with a bright blue helicopter perched on it like a leviathan hummingbird. There was, visible past the interminable south wing of the mansion, a mesmerizing topiary garden, in which life-sized elephants grazed next to life-sized giraffes made of boxwood. There was a vast terra cotta veranda on which a party of fabulous excess was underway, festooned with ice sculptures, several tons of shrimp, a gross or three of Dom Perrignon bottles, dozens of famous faces, lovely bodies, gorgeous clothes and jewelry, liveried servants dipping and flashing the silver of trays as they offered up to Mercado’s guests every conceivable variety of food and drink.

“It’s beyond belief,” Gatz finally sputtered, unequal to the task of framing some glib insider remark.

“Beats a sixth floor walkup,” Mercado agreed. “Let me get you a drink and introduce you to some people.

We strolled toward the great veranda, our roles momentarily reversed by my  paralysis in the face of so much wealth. It was Mercado who asked the questions, and I who helplessly pontificated like a billionaire egomaniac. He asked me about my inspiration for my latest novel, which he had read, and nodded respectfully at my explanation. He asked me what makes a writer, as if I knew, and I answered him, as if I knew. He asked me if I was interested in writing generally or whether I was so committed to my own themes and projects that writing and writers offered little fascination as a subject. “Both,” I told him, and on the verge of a long-winded peroration, some anesthetized reportorial instinct returned flickering to life, suggesting that Mercado was not just making small talk but testing the waters for a conversation he wished to have with Conrad Gatz.

Cutting myself off in mid-sentence, I turned and looked Mercado squarely in the eyes. They were good eyes, direct and bright with intelligence. “You’re thinking about telling me something, aren’t you?” I asked. “But you haven’t decided if you want to talk with me about it.”

The tycoon laughed. “Gatz, you’re okay,” he announced. “Come on. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

He led me through a sequined forest of gowns, which opened before him like a zipper, so symmetrically that when the object of our search came into view, it was like the staged revelation of a vision.

She was tall, a magnificent and intensely sensual presence rather than a beauty, and she was not of this world. Her dress was made entirely of black leather, tattered bat wings from the hips down and dominatrix corset from the waist up—all the way to her leather-framed and stupendously bared breasts. Lifting my eyes with an effort, I found myself gazing up into a leonine face with a strong broad nose and a rainbow mane of teased pink, purple, green and blue hair. She regarded me without smiling.

Mercado performed introductions. Her name was Alice Hate, and she recognized my name with a distinct but slight show of distaste.

“Alice Hate is a writer, Conrad,” Mercado said, his executive eyes revealing nothing now. “She’s part of a community in South Philly that uses some of my systems to write fiction.”

And what, pray tell, was Gatz supposed to say to this young woman? If Mercado had told me she was a movie queen or a rock star or the world’s greatest courtesan, I would have believed him. But he had said she was a writer.

There followed an interminable few seconds of groping and rummaging in the back closets of Gatz’s treasury of small talk, a vain search for something unpatronizing or inoffensive to say, but the silence stretched on to its limit and broke.

“We have nothing in common,” said Alice Hate and turned completely away from me.

Mercado steered me back across the lawn, assuring me that no damage had been done. “She’s a punk writer,” he explained. “Part of a movement that’s determined to destroy the philosophical and literary foundations of the whole twentieth century. Since you’re obviously part of the literary establishment, you’re the enemy.”

Gatz smiled but Mercado insisted. “I’m not kidding. It’s the damnedest thing you ever saw. There’s a couple thousand of them altogether, and I swear they’re using my company’s prose upgrade software to write stories in groups. In groups, for God’s sake. And right now, I’ve been trying to get confirmation that they’ve started work on a Bible. Here, come with me.”

With a quick coded gesture, he awakened the helicopter pilot to action. The great bent blades of the monstrous blue hummingbird snorted into motion and spun rapidly into a hurricane idle that felt capable of removing the few hairs remaining on my head. Mercado leapt into the tiny cockpit to take charge of the controls, displacing his pilot, and waved me in beside him. We were going somewhere by helicopter, just like that. Not for the first time, Gatz found himself overawed by the most extraordinary power money provides, one that is so little remarked upon and yet so intrinsic to the state of being rich that he invariably forgot it until forcibly confronted. And now, once again, he was confronted—by the incredible liberating power of money to change one’s perspective on the physical world.

Most of us live in a confined two-dimensional universe (two and a half maybe if we work in a Manhattan highrise) whose boundaries are so rarely exceeded that they become a condition of life rather than a mere aspect of life, and hence serve to define us. Mercado had alluded earlier to a sixth floor walkup, and Gatz had experience of his reference. The small rooms, the constantly repeated, unvarying lines of vision transform such a world into a blank wall, the exact degree of blankness determined by the length of time we have been compelled to perceive it without change. In time under such circumstances, we lose our perspective altogether. The small and mean becomes large and boundless in its importance. The same bird in the same dowdy little cage, for years, is empowered to become a symbol of our own helplessness, our own confinement, the deterioration of our native imagination and freedom.

The rich man is not so encumbered, except by deliberate premeditated choice. At a moment’s notice he can board the Concorde and flee to Paris, away from the resonating,.captivating symbols of his desk, his toadies, his toys. He can contemplate urban blight in the paradise of Jamaica. He can surmount the sixth floor walkup view of Soviet Russia with guided tours of the Kremlin and overflights of Siberia. He can dispense with an imprisoning home by having it torn down and rebuilt to face a different direction, at a different elevation, in whatever shapes and textures suit him at the moment. He can plunge through the apparently impenetrable surface of reality with a microscope, or extend his vision to the edges of the universe with a telescope that costs more than the median family income. For the hundredth time, Gatz reminded himself that this is the only real incentive for acquiring uncountable wealth, and wondered why so many tycoons of his acquaintance seemed nevertheless to exhibit all the symptoms of imprisonment in a ken whose boundaries encompassed nothing but money and power. But Mercado did not appear to be of this ilk, and Gatz found himself peering out the fishbowl window of his host’s helicopter with the emotions of a child who believes he has learned to appreciate the grownup privilege being accorded him.

We were thrashing our way noisily across the City of Philadelphia, toward a rendezvous that Mercado had shouted indecipherably at me through the racket of the blades. Our course was south southeast, flanked on the right by a spectacular chemical sunset that smeared the sky with mother of pearl clouds so intense they seemed to be vibrating. Below us lay the vast dish of the Delaware Valley and the lights and geometry of mankind’s civilizing efforts.


The descent—shrinking into the microscope slide... but not quite. Trip to the eyepiece instead? Landing on top of Society Hill Tower. Penthouse apartment. Ultimate bachelor pad or voyeur paradise? Maybe not. More like CIA.

Banks of monitors. Black and white live video of South Street-Headhouse area. How does he do this? Not saying.

Courtyard scene. Something called the Debate? Brute at a lectern, waving a hammer. Shades of Hitler? Formal combat? Is this the middle ages? What the hell. Someone goes down, doesn’t get up. Hauled away with a least a little ceremony.

Mercado grins, keeps grinning. Like he’s got a train set run by trained mice. Liking him less.

Interiors too. A big computer room. No hint of corporate in its looks. Thugs in costumes at the controls, typing, typing, typing? Punks. Punk writers.

Bars. Apartments. Doorways. Barracks? Underground chambers filled with motorcycles.

Can’t find the right metaphor for this. Sinister, scary. That brute at the lectern. Mercado watching from his penthouse, as if the ‘jousts’ are arranged for his benefit.

Activity in the motorcycle chamber. What is that? A gang? More like cavalry. Light hussars with motorized steeds. Discipline. Obedience.

All these grainy fuzzy pictures—not enough resolution in the microscope. How much time does Mercado spend watching?

Most of his free time, he says.

More screens. Mercado, not surprisingly, inside their computer, eavesdropping on their files, their writing.

The brute is writing his autobiography. Can I see it? Later maybe.

Got to see this thing closer. Like trying to feel a riot by seeing it on a TV across the alley. And Mercado isn't talking. What is he doing? Gloating maybe. He’s patronizing me. This is his fiction, his novel, played out with flesh and blood characters.

Who’s more the monster here? The brute with the hammer or Mercado? Or me?

He’ll take me there, won’t come along himself. God doesn’t walk among the peons. He’ll send a limo later—then we can talk.

I ask if there’s danger. He smiles. What do I think? He suggests a place called the Razor Cafe.

Like an infiltrator, I enter “Punk City.’ Do they know I’m coming? No one stops me. The streets small, tree-lined, everything seems only three-quarter scale, except the punks. The doorways and windows are breathing coffee fumes.

No cars in motion. The streetlights are dimmed down, some rheostat somewhere? A black shape whirs right by me before I feel it rather than see it. One of those motorcycles—silent as the video picture. God. Eerie.

Razor Cafe. Three-quarter scale ex-movie theater. Now a nightclub full of punks and coffee urns. Armed guards.

Now I get the onceover. Weird. An experience without a correlative. Don’t know what to think, hard to place myself in solid reality. Like a dream you wake up in, but everything solid, sharp, smells and tastes but the transitions are still dreamlike. Got to have a drink. Been on the wagon for months, but something has to jump start my head. I’m stalled out.

Drinks. They have them. I drink them.

What does Mercado think he’s doing? Playing with me like he plays with these punks? I’ll show the fucker...

God. Here’s the brute. A blue face. Eyes like... shit, I’m stalled... but not the eyes of some punk teenager.

Did he quote Swinburne at me? Did he? Fuck. And now Shakespeare? Showing off? Don’t think so. He’s so in control. In control. Who does Mercado think he’s fucking with here? This blue brute is nobody to fuck with.

Gatz is nobody to fuck with. Somebody gots to blow the lid on this scam. It’s fucking dangerous.

The Piss Pink debacle. Shit what an asshole, Gatz. Can’t even see a book in this. Or I’m not the one to write it. Maybe the Mercado part. I asked him if any of this punk thing frightened him. He said, only one thing. I asked what. He said, The Shuteye Train.

The Shuteye Train?

Home again. Damn computer won't work. All it does is flash. That damned name. The Shuteye Train.

The Shuteye Train.

The Shuteye Train.

The Shuteye Train.

The Shuteye Train.

The Shuteye Train.

The Shuteye Train.

And a warning.

The Shuteye Train, The Shuteye Train, you’ll try and die in the Shuteye Train.

Shit, Gatz, what did you get yourself into now?

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