she's only the second hottest female in sci-fi history.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
I say fun? I'm sure I did. Which is spelled C-L-A-U-D-I-A
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.
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
Another example, the one we were going to lead with until we saw that
Maggie's site, InfidelsParadise.com, 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,
the implied many-facedness of the Necromonger Lord. Do I have to draw a picture? No, I
don't think so, faith clowns.
COMMENTER. Well. Something Maggie and Mrs. IP can absolutely agree
Maggie's comment on the AARP:
The country is under the control of
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
InfidelsParadise.com). 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
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
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.
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.
Jesus. Who and what is this man? In a
trice he is gone. He outdistances
the guards and mounts immediately up a circular staircase to his seat
at the center of the
spider, high above the throngs of clicking punk writers. He has his own
stage atop the masses, and it encompasses enough room before his
keyboard to enable him to remove that blue coat and his weapons and
hang them them on a hook, stripping him to the
Look at that upper torso. I’ve been in veterans hospitals
galore, and I have never in my life seen so many scars, so startling,
obviously alive in their continuing pain. But he is not showing off.
It’s hot in here. And he is 'bereadying' himself for the work. His
– I’m loath to say ‘throne’ because its base is iron grate and his
workspace features as humble a keyboard as anyone else – has a railing
over which he leans to scrutinize all that is occurring below. His
eyes, invisible inside that ravaged blue face, take all of us in. Then
the unthinkable happens. He notices ME.
“We have a visitor,” he announces. The
voice is a kind of squawk,
hoarse and powered by effort rather than native volume. Like the rest
of him, even his voicebox is damaged. Lord, how is this man even alive?
He’s looking at me. He points. That long
scarred white white arm,
strong but channelled with wounds whose flesh never filled back in.
“MISTER Boz Baker. The voice of the
Boomers. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”
It’s a whisper and a bark. How does he do
that? I want to run away. To be noticed by this man is to die, of that
I begin my answer. I have words in mind.
I’m in a royal court. I'm no fool. I know
what to say and how to say it. But no words escape my mouth.
“Speak up, MISTER Baker.”
There is no more typing. I stare at the
vats of blue liquid, at the
knot of heavily armed Epissiles grouped underneath the platform of the
king, which is
what he is, let’s face it. And I try to speak up.
“I have come to pay tribute to the punks
of Punk City,” I say. “The newest, the only new voices in American
Jonathan Pus edges away from me. Not a
St. Nuke contemplates me from his
high-tech perch. For a year that lasted probably fifteen seconds.
“Detain him,” he said at last. “Arrest
him. He’s Jack Kerouac with an
education. Nothing to interest us. And we certainly don’t need him
writing” – and it’s impossible
to convey the amount of hateful
revulsion his gasping shout packed into this word – “about us.”
Without being aware of the instincts at
work, I knelt on the concrete floor. Terror, submission, acceptance of
what would come.
did they kill him? And why
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
6 Forgive me if you can, if I can I will forgive you, but I am
past forgetting, past hiding from harsh 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
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
3 I beat myself into the doctor’s son, and I burned myself into
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:
FUNERAL OF THE KING
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
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.
. Yesterday I pointed out that Ed Morrissey at Hotair is a
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
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?!
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
man,” one of them says to our young hero. “We got a question to ax you.”
have any bread on me, man,” retorts Prince Hamlet. “I’m just a student.”
want your graves, man,” the other punk explains.
agrees his companion. “We’re looking for somebody who knows about sword
fighting. What d’you call it? Fencing?”
help you,” Hamlet answers, starting to walk as if he had somewhere to
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
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.
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.
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.
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 ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
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
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
Now, at a dog trot, we’re en
route to the Metalkort, the punk name for
New Market courtyard where all the important decisions affecting
City and punk fiction have been decided since the day of that
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
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, BoomerBible.com 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.
. 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...)
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.”
“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
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
the 8 p.m. slot. ABC scored the biggest 18-49 rating in the
1.5. Final ratings, plus a tally for broadcast and cable coverage of
the speech, will be out later today. [emphasis
Maybe he needs to show us his stigmata. Or stop lecturing us like he's
"all that." He isn't.
The Gatz File
the Bulletin columnist
wouldn't tell you: Her name was Piss Pink.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
He made the cover of Business
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
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
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
Cutting myself off in
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.
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
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
Gatz smiled but Mercado
“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
Most of his free time, he says.
More screens. Mercado, not surprisingly,
inside their computer, eavesdropping on their files, their writing.
The brute is writing his autobiography.
Can I see it? Later maybe.
Got to see this thing closer. Like trying
to feel a riot by seeing it on a TV across the alley. And Mercado isn't
talking. What is he doing? Gloating maybe. He’s patronizing me. This is
his fiction, his novel, played out with flesh and blood characters.
Who’s more the monster here? The brute
with the hammer or Mercado? Or me?
He’ll take me there, won’t come along
himself. God doesn’t walk among the peons. He’ll send a limo later—then
we can talk.
I ask if there’s danger. He smiles. What
do I think? He suggests a place called the Razor Cafe.
Like an infiltrator, I enter “Punk City.’
Do they know I’m coming? No one stops me. The streets small,
tree-lined, everything seems only three-quarter scale, except the
punks. The doorways and windows are breathing coffee fumes.
No cars in motion. The streetlights are
dimmed down, some rheostat somewhere? A black shape whirs right by me
before I feel it rather than see it. One of those motorcycles—silent as
the video picture. God. Eerie.
Razor Cafe. Three-quarter scale ex-movie
theater. Now a nightclub full of punks and coffee urns. Armed guards.
Now I get the onceover. Weird. An
experience without a correlative. Don’t know what to think, hard to
place myself in solid reality. Like a dream you wake up in, but
everything solid, sharp, smells and tastes but the transitions are
still dreamlike. Got to have a drink. Been on the wagon for months, but
something has to jump start my head. I’m stalled out.
Drinks. They have them. I drink them.
What does Mercado think he’s doing?
Playing with me like he plays with these punks? I’ll show the fucker...
God. Here’s the brute. A blue face. Eyes
like... shit, I’m stalled... but not the eyes of some punk teenager.
Did he quote Swinburne at me? Did he?
Fuck. And now Shakespeare? Showing off? Don’t think so. He’s so in
control. In control. Who does Mercado think he’s fucking with here?
This blue brute is nobody to fuck with.
Gatz is nobody to fuck with. Somebody
gots to blow the lid on this scam. It’s fucking dangerous.
The Piss Pink debacle. Shit what an
asshole, Gatz. Can’t even see a book in this. Or I’m not the one to
write it. Maybe the Mercado part. I asked him if any of this punk thing
frightened him. He said, only one thing. I asked what. He said, The
The Shuteye Train?
Home again. Damn computer won't work. All
it does is flash. That damned name. The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
The Shuteye Train.
And a warning.
The Shuteye Train, The Shuteye Train,
you’ll try and die in the Shuteye Train.