Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

A Never-Before Seen Publicity Photo Of The Grateful Dead In 1977

That look on Bobby’s face? That’s the look you get when Bono starts talking to you.


That’s Dick Durbin from Illinois on the left, and Patrick Leahy is next to Mickey, but does anyone know who the tall lady and the round man are?


“Bob. Can I call ya Bob?”

“Oh, yeah, sure. Otherwise, you know, I won’t know I’m part of the conversation.”

“Bob, what d’ya know about African debt?”

“Just what I hear on the radio.”

“Tremendous problem in th’ Third World.”

“Y’know, when I have money troubles, I do a tour and get a new business manager. Has, uh, Africa considered that?”

“I don’t believe so.”

“Always worked for me.”

“Bob, there’s one more wee matter.”


“Can you get John Mayer to stop trying to join U2?”


“Tall kid, wears clothes.”

“Oh, Josh. He doing that to you, too?”

“No, U2.”

“We’re both correct here.”

“Bob, it’s got to stop. The Edge is gonna punch him.”

“You really call him that?”

“The Edge? Of course.”


“Okee-doke. I’m gonna talk to anyone else.”


Durbin’s shitfaced.


Seriously, look at him. Schnockered. Trying to stand perfectly still, keep a neutral expression on his face: Durbin’s laced.


Is Bono just allowed to come and go from secure buildings at will? Can he wander into the Situation Room? Can he play basketball in the Supreme Court’s court? (The Supreme Court has a basketball court in it. The building, I mean. Not the nine people who we refer to collectively as the Supreme Court. You could not fit even part of a basketball court in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is tiny.)

I’ll Meet You At The Diamond Jubilee

Hunter has the exact same face as Warren Zevon. Never noticed before.


Rockin’ Ricky over there is John Cipollina, who was in Quicksilver Messenger Service and jammed with the Dead on many occasions, but even cooler is the fact that his mom gave Pigpen organ lessons.

This is ’68, right after the Least Effective Firing In History. (Second on the list is George Steinbrenner firing Billy Martin: yes, Billy always came back, but at least he left the stadium for a couple months or so. Bobby and Pig didn’t even miss a gig after they were fired, so the Dead–as always–win a contest that they didn’t know they were participating in.) Bobby buckled down and practiced, but Pig’s problem was more foundational: he had no clue how the band’s new Hammond B3 worked. The sucker’s got a dashboard like the space shuttle, and foot pedals and levers, and switches and sliders and two keyboards. Pig knew how to play the piano.

Luckily, John’s mom Evelyn was a concert pianist and an accomplished organist, and so she–semi-secretly, now: the Pig’s got his pride–taught him the intricacies of his new instrument. They probably sat there next to each other on the bench, and maybe Evelyn would whack Pig’s knuckles when he got something wrong, and give him a gold-star sticker when he did a good job.

I bet Pig called her “ma’am.”


A rare photo in which Mrs. Donna Jean not only doesn’t have the best hair, but also does not feature Bobby.


No, wait: Hunter looks like Elton John.


Lucky Strikes are foul, but the packs–especially the soft packs–are art.


Takes balls to start with an invocation to the gods. Homer did it, Virgil did it, Dante did it, and so did Hunter. All of them got away with it.

To Leahy Me Down

“Psst. Weir.”

“Yeah, Mick?”

“Who’s this?”

“Senator from Vermont.”


“No, no, no.”

“Oh, good. That guy shows up and white people start arguing.

“This is the one who likes to be in movies.”

“He’s got the looks.”

“Handsome devil, yeah.”

“Hey, Weir.”

“Yeah, Mick?”

“I think we made the right decision not tucking our shirts in.”

“We’re rockers, Mick.”

“Totally. This place have a Hostility Suite?”

“Yeah, but they call it the Cloakroom.”



“Does that mean–”

“It’s not a room full of cloaks you can yoink.”

“–that it’s…okay, just checking.”

“Try not to steal anything while we’re here, Mick.”

“I promise nothing.”

An Elephant And Her Dog

Congo was an elephant, and Pax was a good dog. Congo had had many dogs over her long and stifled life, but Pax was one of her favorites: he would clamber up her offered leg to the very top of her head, and then scratch his claws up and down the thick skin of her skull; it felt so good that Congo would let out a trumpet BAH-RAAAAAPPP in happiness, and then she would curl her trunk up over her head and poke it around until she felt Pax. The dog would wriggle atop her head as she tickled him.

Sometimes she remembered her mother. In the summers, she remembered her mother. Where she knew her mother, it was hot. The place she lived in now was cooler than that, except in the summer, so in the summer she thought about her mother. Her aunts, too, and also the men with their guns. The next bit is a blur, and then she was in Harper Zoo and named Congo, which was simply wrong. There are elephants in the Congo basin, but they are forest elephants that rarely reach eight feet, and Congo was a bush elephant a dozen feet to the shoulder. Bush elephants don’t live anywhere near the Congo, but that was where Harper T. Harper, who paid for her, made his money and so that’s what she was called. Africa is Africa, Harper liked to say.

Zoo needs an elephant like a bookstore needs a cat, and so Harper Zoo got an elephant. Rhino was nice, and you should have some hippos. Alligators or crocodiles–didn’t matter which–and a big cat or two, but a zoo needs an elephant.

The keepers called it an enclosure, but it was a cage. By ratio, it was the size of a one-bedroom apartment, and lots of people live in those, but they were allowed to leave if they wanted. Congo could have killed any one of them in seconds, easily, but she didn’t. She hated them in principle, but they were individually kind. She thought her keepers were a credit to their species. The ground in her enclosure was concrete at first, and no animal is evolved to walk on concrete. Fucked up her feet, hips. In the 60’s, she was moved to her present home, and there is grass and dirt. The damage is done, and she walks gingerly and everything hurts when it rains.

She got her first dog, too. The 60’s were wild, man: men were burning their draft cards, and women were burning their bras, and elephants were getting dogs. The zookeepers were going through the same changes as the rest of the country–the white, middle-class, educated part of it–was going through, and they would stay in the zoo overnight eating acid and trying to communicate with anteaters.

“I’m talking to him, man.”

“What does he say?”

“He says, ‘Feed me some fucking ants.'”

“Anything else?”

“No. He’s obsessed.”

And the animals’ rights were for the first time discussed at Harper Zoo. The consensus arrived at was that, after years of close observation, 90% of animals are compete morons who don’t mind captivity as long as they’re being fed and taken care of. Giant tortoise? Giant tortoise had no idea it was even in a zoo. Yak? Yak stands there and chews. But the other ten percent, well, that was a problem if you’re even the slightest bit empathetic.

Couldn’t send Congo home. She didn’t even know how to be an elephant anymore, she didn’t speak elephant anymore other than grunts and groans and rumbles. Besides, she was on the tee-shirts.

They knew how smart she was, though. Even without the acid. Something in the eyes, those poky black eyes hidden in folds of gray skin, and the way she held a grudge. Pissed her off? She’d BAP her trunk against your shoulder like a bully’s finger for a few weeks until you brought her a present. Congo liked cantaloupe. Every animal in the zoo had a personality, and some didn’t like people and some did, but being angry with a specific person for a quantifiable reason is a sign of intelligence.

So the zookeepers relocated the hyenas that were next door to her and knocked down the wall, gave her more space. Grass instead of concrete. Congo got a little pond.

And a dog. A blue-tinged mutt called Shep that wasn’t even three months old. Floppy little guy that fell over as much as he ran, with pointed ears and a thin tail. One of the keepers had read an article in Life magazine about an elephant that befriended a dog, and so she went to the pound and got a mutt and brought it to the zoo. She was not sure Congo would not stamp the animal into a paste, but the elephant gently poked and examined the puppy with her trunk. The zookeeper left Shep with Congo, and by the next morning they were best friends for life.

Elephants live longer than dogs. When Shep died a decade later, Congo blasted a roar NAWHOOOOO into the sky and would not eat for three days, which is a very long time for an elephant. She would not allow her keepers in her enclosure until one of them arrived with Bailey, who was a reddish mutt with a curly coat and long muzzle. Congo felt guilty about having a new dog. Scientists try to avoid anthropomorphizing animals, and they would say that elephants are capable of guilt like humans understand it, but scientists gave us the atom bomb. They get things wrong all the time. Congo felt guilty about having a new dog, but Bailey was a feisty little guy and he bounced around and wanted to play, and Congo liked having a dog.

Bailey went the way of Shep, eventually, and Congo mourned again. She would not let the keepers–an entirely new generation of them since she had been given her first dog–near the body for hours. Congo stood over the dog and stroked his fur again and again. There was a eulogy, too, but subsonic, and so the keepers did not bow their heads.

Now she had Pax, and Pax was a good dog. Maybe the smartest one, Congo thought. Elephants judge intelligence in animals the same way humans do: how quickly does it do what I want it to do? By those standards, Pax was brilliant. When her enclosure was expanded back in the 60’s, the job was half-assed. The gate that kept her in was grated like an old-timey jail cell. The lever that opened and closed it was ten feet towards the human side of the equation. Too far for a trunk to reach.

But dogs and elephants have one weird thing in common: they can both understand pointing.

Congo would push the dog through the bars of the gate, trunk on the butt, and once they were out she would point THERE THERE THERE at the lever. Some got it quicker than others. Pax caught on right away, and he walked himself right under the lever and looked back at Congo. She made an exaggerated DOWN motion with her trunk, and then pointed at the lever, and Pax got it on the first try: he leapt up and caught the switch in his teeth and his weight brought it down and then CHACK the gate opened and Congo was free.

Every night, except for every 18th night when it was raining, Congo and Pax would make the rounds of Harper Zoo. The pathways were blacktop and paving stone, and they hurt her feet and hips, but she did not care and she did not let her body language reveal the fact. Elephants can lie, too.

Passing the lions, two females, and she went BRAPH at them; they pretended not to notice. Her footsteps had woken the peacock, Ethelred the Unsteady, and now he limped next to her massive leg like a courtier. Pax enjoyed barking at the wolves. They’d growl, every single night, and he’d hold his ground while Congo stood over him. There were prairie dogs in an octohedral enclosure, open at the top, and she would reach her trunk and the rodents crowded around and chirped, and everyone smelled each other. Congo did not acknowledge the condors. Long story.

You can buy popcorn right inside the front gate of Harper Zoo, from a teenager in a red-and-white striped shirt and a straw hat. A genuine authentic faux-vintage popcorn cart, with the kettle bursting and erupting inside glass, and a vast reservoir for the birthed kernels below. A new teenager mans the cart every few months or so, and they are given instructions: before you leave for the day, make one last batch. Leave it there. Congo loved popcorn. She grabbed big trunkfuls and shoved it salty into her mouth, and then she searched the corners for pieces she had missed.

Congo was right by the front gate. It would have come down had she leaned on it.

She never did, but she did always close the door to the popcorn enclosure in the cart. Then she continued on her rounds; she had tapirs to see. Pax darted in and out of her lumbering and tender feet. When she was done, she would go back into her enclosure. Pax would bang the lever back up with his snout, locking her back in, and then he would wriggle through the gate and Congo would stroke him with her trunk and then they would sleep soundly knowing everything in their universe was as it should be in Harper Zoo, which is in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

A Partial Transcript Of Donald Trump’s Remarks From Cedar Rapids, IA – 6/21/17

“Yes, great, we’re great. Look at us all here, wonderful, the best. Love being in Iowa. My favorite state, great state. I won Iowa. Great, great state. Best wrestlers in the world. I did some wrestling. Took down Vince McMahon. Gave him the suplex, duplex, shmuplex, whatever. Champion of wrestling.”


“See? See? This is the violence of the left and the Deep State. They’re very violent people, so it’s okay to hit them. Attack the violent people. Great, really great. All of those so-called protestors, who are being paid by James Comey, were probably about to go shoot a Congressman. Stan Scalia, great guy, great. Went by the hospital to see him. Sat in on one of the surgeries. Many of the nurses told me that he was only alive because of my visit.

“Otto Whatever isn’t doing as well. Dead. Very nasty business. He was so beuatiful, a beautiful young man with blond hair, and Kim over there killed him. Bad guy, that Kim guy over there. China won’t deal with him, so I will. We’re gonna deal with Kim and Korea and we’re gonna have the most phenomenal deal. No more dead kids. Why did Obama ask Kim to kill Otto Whatever? Maybe Robert Mueller should look into that.

“Democrats can’t win fair, so they cheat. Since my great, wonderful election victory, there have been 25 or 40 special elections, and we’ve won them all. Most of that was me, but the candidates are great, too. Karen Handel, great. Not a looker, but a smart cookie. We’d be doing even better if we started running babes.

“When I came down that escalator in Trump Tower, do you remember that? When we started this wonderful journey before the lying, failing media began to attack me so viciously? It was the best, very famous, me and Melania, who is regarded as one of the world’s greatest beauties and almost gotten all the black-person smell out of the White House. Very famous escalator ride. Longest escalator in the word, whole world. First time Mike Pence saw it, he got scared. Cried, started praying, whole deal. He’s from some hick state, they don’t have escalators.

“They said Paris was binding, but I unbinded us. Now we’re free, and we’re going to open up so many coal mines. What made America great was her coal mines, and that’s what we’re gonna bring back. Maybe I’ll send Nancy Pelosi to work in one. President is allowed to do that, absolutely.

“I got the best team. Wilbur Ross. You’re on Wall Street, you don’t even need his last name. Just Wilbur. Huge money guy, and he’s gonna work for you. Gary Cohn. That’s a real Jewish name, best name for money. He took a pay cut of $800 million to work for you. Out of patriotism! The Democrats are obstructing me and wiretpping the Oval Office, but I’m getting you the best guys. Neil Gorsuch. He said to me, ‘Mr. President, I’m gonna use the Supreme Court to build America’s military.’ Isn’t that great?

“Crooked Hillary wants to take away your children and your healthcare and your motorcycles. All they got is witch hunts. Fake witch hunts. I’m gonna let ICE poke illegal aliens’ eyes out. These brave, beautiful men who deport so many criminals are so wonderful. Why don’t we build the wall out of the illegal aliens? As a warning? MS-13 is coming here, and they are worse than ISIS. Not as bad as Hillary Clinton, but very bad.

“You all know Charles Schumer? I call him Charles Jew-mer. Not in front of Jared, but I do. Jew-mer. You like that? Great.

“Jobs are booming. Jobs are doing phenomenally, so many jobs, and American jobs for Americans. Even blacks, that’s how many jobs there are. We are rebuilding America that Barack Hussein set on fire. The most racist president in our country’s history, many historians I follow on Twitter say that. Hated whites, even though he was half-white. I guess that’s the half that went to college. Right? You like that? I love you, Iowa.

“You are the special people. So special. We’re straightening up the mess left by years of weakness. Healthcare is fixed. Afghanistan is over, done, we won. Everyone has a job mining coal and there’s no Russia. No Russia.

“Okay, I gotta go.”

High Level Meeting

Frankenflesh, baby. That little sliver o’ calf? Sexiest part of an aging white man. It’s dad-cleavage.


Mickey is drunk, thinks he’s at the hotel, and has been sticking that keycard into the door latches of Senators’ offices all day. Mitch McConnell had Capitol Police place Mickey into a wheelchair, and then drag him out of it.


The frame/art ratio is off, isn’t it? Shouldn’t the art be bigger than the frame? I’m not exactly Robert Hughes, so I’m not to be trusted on matters of art, but I always thought the art should be bigger.


Goddammit, Bobby, you couldn’t even put on your socks?


“Psst, Weir.”

“Yeah, Mick?”

“He really loves that fucking song.”

“What’s it been?”

“Twenty minutes straight.”

“He doesn’t even know we’re here. He’s just talking.”

“Well, yeah. He’s a Senator. That’s what they do.”

“You think they told him who killed JFK?”

“His co-worker’s dad did it.”



That Calhoun fellow’s got a flash haircut, man. Dunno where I’ve seen it before. (Okay, fine: would someone PLEASE ‘shop a beard onto John Calhoun?)

Playing In The Paisley Park

Reading time, Enthusiasts, but also looking. Reading is lovely, but exhausting, and sometimes you’d rather just look.

Let’s see what we’ve got in the sack: there’s the indispensable Lost Live Dead with a chronology of the Dead’s free shows, but not just a dry recap, no: Corry wouldn’t do that to us. There’s stories and subtle sarcasm, and as always a grounded reading of the Dead’s actions, rather than any airy-fairy “the music should be free” bullshit: the Dead certainly enjoyed playing surprise shows in the park as a goof, but they mostly did it to build a fanbase, and the moment they realized that broadcasting their shows on FM radio was even more efficacious and required less effort, they did that.

Dressing up in spangled clothing and rehearsing your dance moves is the opposite of the Grateful Dead, but pretty much everything Prince did was the opposite of the Dead. (Prince did not allow a Taper’s Section, and if some hippies had named an ice cream flavor after him without his permission he would have had his lawyers firebomb Vermont.) The Purple Rain tour was massive–stadiums only–and FoTotD David Browne has assembled the recollections of all involved and shared them with us. Lucky us.

For your looking pleasure, there are photos included in both of the articles. Did you think I was going to find things for you to look at? Jesus, you’re lazy.

You Got To Tear Down All The Buildings And Rub Out All The Laws

Hey, Bobby. Whatcha doing?

“Waiting for soundcheck. This is the weirdest venue on the tour.”

That’s the Capitol Building, Bobby.

“No, that’s a tall, round building in Los Angeles.”

Not the Capital Records Building. The Capitol.

“Where bills become laws?”


“Billy became a law once. Well, he put on a Judge Dredd helmet and ran around shaking his dick at people screaming, ‘I AM THE LAW,’ but you get my drift.”

Not really.

“Thought about running for Congress a couple times.”

What happened?

“Sobered up.”


Death Makes Debtors Of Us All

Deacon Blue had a puppy in his lap and a pistol in his boot. He was a Man of God.

St. Agatha’s was quiet; it was late. Precarious Lee had called him, filled him in. Well, not completely filled. He knew the broad outline The meeting with Tommy Amici didn’t go well, and then Tommy got kidnapped and the Reverend Arcade Jones got hit by a van. Amazing how many things can go wrong in just one sentence, Deacon Blue thought.

The Reverend had refused to give up the puppy until he was sedated and on his way into surgery, and the nurses handed him off to the deacon. They did not know his name, so Deacon Blue sat there with a dog he had not been introduced to, a short-haired mutt the color of rusty gold with floppy ears, and soon the puppy fell asleep because all puppies do is sleep and trust humans. Arcade had been taken to surgery by the time the deacon arrived, so he went into the Emergency Room, through the OSHA-mandated sliding glass doors Death  into the artistically-mandated ornate marble entrance. Inscribed into the stone above was the hospital’s motto, Quid hoc fecisti, ut tibi?

Deacon Blue knew everyone there. Rufus Mantooth, the security guard, and Andrea Edmonton, the woman he had in a headlock. (Rufus was an equal-opportunity headlocker.) Alsace Lorraine in the corner with the broken nose, waiting for his name to be called. Charlee Browne had a bruised vagina. Two monks from St. Sebastian’s waiting to hear if their brother’s suicide took. He knew Fancy Delaware, too, the Chief of the ER at St. Agatha’s. Clergy got to know the staff at the local hospital in most places, but in Little Aleppo they got to know the ER docs real well.

Always need for a preacher in a hospital. Last rites, or sometimes a dying atheist wanted to tell you off for the last time: always need for a preacher. There were people who needed a hand to hold while they came to terms with things. Others were utterly shocked to find themselves where they were. Cynics say you die alone, but clergy disagree.

Deacon Blue knew Fancy Delaware well, and when she came out to meet him in the ER’s waiting room, she nodded at him, and she did not shake his hand or kiss him hello.

“He’s in surgery.”

“Jesus. For what?”

Privacy laws prevented Fancy from saying precisely what was wrong the Reverend, so she said,

“He ruptured his een-splay.”

“Well, he didn’t rupture it: the van did.”

“Don’t be pedantic. Third floor. There’s a dog.”


“Third floor. There’s a dog.”

Fancy Delaware walked out of the waiting room and back into her ER, where she was supervising the treatment of a gaggle of teenagers with hysterical psychosomatic rabies. (Basically, one of the little bastards got so high that he thought he had rabies, and then the rest were all, “Cool, rabies, let’s do that,” and now there’s a half-dozen teens growling and frothing in Fancy’s ER.) Deacon Blue went to the third floor, where there was a dog.

The seats were black metal with brown padding. Thin legs and armrests. There were tables with magazines from three months ago. On the wall, a poster advised how not to get chlamydia. Old lady knitting. Young couple leaning into one another. A cop awaiting an outcome. There was a teevee suspended in the corner, and it was tuned to KSOS. The Late Movie was on, and Draculette was the Horror Host.

“Quintana was the bad guy the whole time, boogers! How about that?”

That night’s movie was Swordbeast of Dagger Island, and it was about a haunted tent. Tiresias Richardson, the woman jammed into the Draculette getup, spent the first hour of the film yelling at the main characters during her spots…


…until she got so fed up that she began improvising her own, better, movie. A cheesy action flick with explosions (Tiresias did the sound effects SPLOMSH! and BRAKOOOOM!) and one-liners (she ad-libbed them) and gratuitous boobage (she provided the boobs). The hero’s name was Detective Strutter O’Day, and he was a cop on the edge. You could place Strutter O’Day on a giant sphere: he would still find the edge, and then endeavor to be upon it. Quintana was the captain, or lieutenant, or chief–his rank changed several times as she told the story–and he yelled at O’Day, and demanded his badge. Tiresias acted out both sides of the very dramatic confrontation:

“Dammit, O’Day, gimme your badge!”

“I forgot it at home.”

“Oh. Well. Tomorrow, then.”

“Yes, sir.”

(Tiresias made the captain-who-yells Hispanic instead of black, and congratulated herself for being diverse.)

Five minutes of movie, five minutes of commercials, five minutes of Draculette. Repeat that twelve times, and you’ve got yourself the KSOS Late Movie: three tracks of competing agendas and interlinking narrative nonsense; they commented on each other incidentally and on purpose, and there was synchronicity, accidental symmetry, simultaneous soliloquy. Rivers of content doing the three-man weave. The movie was there to get you to watch the commercials, and Draculette was there to get you to watch the movie, and the commercials were there because they were paying for everything.

Quintana assigned Strutter O’Day a partner, a rookie, named Sissy Bump; she was murdered immediately, and Strutter swore revenge. Quintana then assigned another him another rookie partner, Camera Doughnuts. (Tiresias had reached her personal capacity for comedic names, and was now just looking around the room.) Camera was blown up. Another rookie partner named Sheila Penny. (And now she was using names of people she knew.) Detective O’Day had a new partner in every scene, and they were always killed instantly.

But by who?

Or whom?



The puppy in Deacon Blue’s lap woke up and got on his feet, paws on either thigh, and growled at the empty chair across from him. The deacon followed the dog’s eyeline and said,

“You must be Officer Rodriguez.”

The empty chair said,

“Nice to meet you, Deacon.”

Precarious was sitting next to the deacon, and he reached for the cigarettes in his tee-shirt pocket, realized where he was, nuzzled the puppy.

“Emergency,” Precarious said.

“Does he always do this?”

“The invisible bullshit?”

“Yeah. What’s an emergency?”

“He’s a pain-in-the-ass. Don’t worry about him. The dog’s name is Emergency.”

Deacon Blue stared into the dog’s beige eyes, and scratched under his chin.


“The Reverend thought so. Love at first sight. How’s he doing?”

“They’re taking out his spleen.”



“What”s the spleen do again?”

“Bile,” the deacon said.

“Nah. That’s the gall bladder.”

“The spleen is basically a big lymph node. It filters blood,” said the empty chair across from Precarious and Deacon Blue. The old lady looked up from her knitting. The young couple searched the room for the voice’s origin. The cop didn’t give a shit about anything but his job. Precarious leaned forward and whispered,

“Shut the fuck up.”

And though Romeo was invisible, Precarious still somehow knew where his eyes were for the purposes of glaring.

Precarious sat back in his chair, and he and the deacon affected casual airs. The old lady went back to her knitting. The couple went back to each other. The cop continued not giving a shit.

“I need your help.”

“It’s a bad time,” Deacon Blue said.

“It’s worse than you think.”

“Tommy Amici got kidnapped and Arcade got hit by a van, man. How much worse can it be?”

“He got kidnapped by the heiress to Boone’s Docks.”

Deacon Blue was wearing a suit-colored suit. White shirt. Green-and-yellow striped tie with a fat Windsor knot, loosened and his collar button undone. He had escaped from jails in two countries. He had robbed a bank. (He was technically stealing back his own money, but still: robbed a bank. It’s a long story.) He had never sold drugs, but he had trafficked some. The deacon used to be a roadie; just like Precarious, but not: Precarious worked for one group his whole life, and Deacon Blue went from band to band as a freelancer.

It wasn’t like he had much of a choice. He had met Precarious many years before, and always thought that his job–Deacon Blue had never said this to his face–was damn close to a cult. There were a million rock and roll bands, and some of them making good money, but none of them acted like that band of weirdos, windowlickers, and Oregonians that Precarious hooked up with. A vote! Precarious used to get a damned vote! Deacon Blue was made mad by this fact; it was not the way the world was supposed to work. Band was up here, and crew was down here. If everyone’s in charge, then no one is.

Piss off the bass player, fired. Catch on with another act. Fuck the guitarist’s old lady, fired. Find another job. Fail upwards. Rock and fucking roll.

But he was a Man of God now, and all that was behind him. The hotels, and the naked strangers, and the bribery, and the sudden nighttime violence.

“You got your pistol?” Precarious asked.

Maybe not all the sudden nighttime violence.

“Why? Yes, but why?”

“Let’s go rescue Tommy. Officer Ghost Dipshit says they don’t have guns.”


“Three of ’em.”

Deacon Blue had long hair that was receding at the temples that he wore tied back. He said,

“We save Tommy, he owes us.”

“You put your finger on it.”

He poked his index finger under the elastic, unlooped it, unlooped it again, and then he pulled the band free and his hair, which was hair-colored, was loose. Shook it out. Ran it back under his palm, and then gathered it and retied the hank.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” Precarious answered.

“Okay,” the empty chair added. The old lady looked up again, and so did the young couple. The cop had nodded off.

“Harper Observatory belongs to Little Aleppo.”

“No, it doesn’t. It’s a building that sits on land that belongs to me.”

“What about the people?”

“What about ’em?”

“Don’t they get a say?”

“They wanted a say, they should’ve had more money.”

“That’s crass.”

“Reality so often is.”

“And it’s reductive.”

“I don’t know what that means. Explain it.”

“To…to…to try to explain something by too crude a measure.”



“I’m still assuming you’re a college girl. They still call you co-eds?”

“Not for a while.”

“I always liked that. ‘Co-eds.’ Very sexy.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“College girl, yeah. Harper? Let’s say Harper. School ain’t free. You got the money to buy an education, and so you do. I got the money to buy Pulaski Peak, and so I can’t?”

“Some things aren’t for sale.”

“Land is.”

“Some things shouldn’t be for sale.”

Should? Fuck should. You don’t live in the should world. There’s no such thing as the should world. This is the is world. Better get used to it, kid.”

Plucky was not getting up.

There was a pock on the trail, a gopher hole, a deep step in the ground about two feet down, just perfectly sized for a horse’s foot and WHAMP her right front leg went into the hole, and all of her shuddered and fell and the Reverend Busybody Tyndale was thrown to the leafy earth; behind him was a sound like CHTCHACK from the horse’s fetlock.

There was blood, and the animal was screaming.

Peter pulled up on his horse, dismounted, ran to Busybody.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t think anything’s broken.”

Peter looked back at Plucky.

“Speak for yourself.”

The horse is lying on her side, half her leg still trapped in the gopher hole, and seeping blood escaping onto the trail.

“Oh, no.”

Plucky has stopped screaming and now making low noises like URRRRRHH, and they were terrible noises.

“She’s your horse.”

“I can’t.”

And so Peter did.


It was very quiet after that, after the reverberations had cleared from the trail and stopped bouncing in between redwoods. Even the insects shut the fuck up, which was very unlike them.

Peter, who was not a Pulaski, rotated out the cylinder of his Colt revolver and, holding the five live bullets in with his fingers, turned the gun upside-down and shook the casing from the chamber. He took a new round from his gunbelt, loaded it, snapped the cylinder back into place and holstered the pistol. Picked the casing from the dirt at his feet, placed it in his satchel.

Then he helped Busybody up, who said,

“Thank you.”


Peter’s horse, a paint which he had not named, was bucking and whinnying and Peter went to her and took her reins and jerked them down fiercely; the horse quieted, and he led her to a tree and tied her to it. They were in a wood, and had been making their way by the sun. Moss and creeping lilandras crowded the trunks. The light was speckly and strong, and the two men stood by the dead horse whom had been named Plucky. Half of Plucky’s skull was missing.

“We owe the livery now,” Peter said.

“Death turns us all into debtors.”

They dressed the body. Removed the saddle, and took out the bit. There were still wolves in California in 18–, and the horse would not lay there for long. Bears, too. Smell of blood propagates in a wood. Peter and the Reverend did not delay. Plucky’s saddle got tied to the paint, and Busybody sat behind Peter, and they cantered away.

“You have no leverage here, sweetie.”

“Fuck off with your ‘sweetie’ bullshit.”


“Fuck you.”

“You have no leverage. You are weak, and I am strong.”

“You’re taped to a chair.”

“Your eyes are clouded by those stupid fucking pantyhose. Take ’em off.”


“Lemme see your face.”




“There’s nothing you can do here. Your only option is to save yourself.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“You’re hoping. Hope is an expensive commodity. Are you willing to pay for your hope? The reality that lies before you is in contradiction to your hope. Which one will you stake your future on? Reality or hope? I’m gonna fucking crucify you if you keep me here any longer. That’s reality. Don’t choose hope.”

St. Agatha’s was on the Downside of Little Aleppo, and Big-Dicked Sheila was walking towards. As she passed her shop, she rattled the doors to make sure they were locked, and then she slapped one little foot in front of the other down the sidewalk of the Main Drag. KSOS behind her, she had helped Tiresias into her Draculette costume but they were not really talking, and then the phone call from Precarious. Reverend was worse off than it seemed, and Sheila started crying because she knew that Precarious was not a liar. Then he said that he and Deacon Blue were taking care of things, and she stopped crying because she knew that Precarious was not a liar.

The Downside. Sheila was in the same clingy black dress she’d been wearing for 36 hours, and her hair was spiky and short and ketchup-red, and she was wearing green Converse sneakers with brand-new, bright-white laces. She lit a cigarette with a yellow plastic lighter, and her shoulders went forward with momentum, and she looked at the Downside from under raised eyebrows and dared it to fuck with her. She had friends down here, and temporary lovers, and one-time fucks, and sworn enemies, too; the Downside was just like the Upside, but shittier.

Doo-wop groups protected their turf with harmonies, and stabbing. It was deep into the night, and not hot at all, but there were still ethnic children doing cartwheels in the spray of an opened fire hydrant. There was urban blight everywhere, plus some rural blight that had come on vacation. There were muggers.

One leapt out in front of her.


Right into the sidewalk, and the mugger ran; no one on the Downside who had just watched what happened saw anything. A .380 doesn’t have the power of a 9 mm, but it also doesn’t have the kick; Sheila had skinny arms, and the .380 was the most she could handle. She liked the Sig Sauer. It had a wooden grip, and she thought that was very fancy. If you had to shoot someone, Sheila thought, you should be fancy about it. Pistol back into her purse next to the prescription bottles of varying fullness, and her cigarettes and makeup.

That was an overreaction, she thought. Which was needed every once in a while, she further thought. Psychotic overreaction saved time. Being reasonable was the moral thing to do, but shooting at people who bothered you was far more expedient.

Mount Charity was off to Sheila’s left. The bankers lived there, and they were awake; they turned math into money. Mount Booth, too, which was the last of the Segovian Hills. Stray dog in the street. Alligator in the sewer. Sneakers on the telephone wire. There were two men sitting on a stoop drinking tallboys of Arrow in paper bags, and one of them called out to her,

“Hey, baby I like that ass!”


That was probably an overreaction, too, but Sheila was in no fucking mood anymore and goddammit everyone was a fucking idiot. Tiresias was blitzed, Penny was a lone wolf, Precarious thought he was Steve McQueen, and she was the worst of them all for not taking charge.

Sheila passed the Zweitel Footwear factory, which wasn’t there anymore. It caught fire and 162 workers, mostly women, burned. She passed the spot where the Pulaski laid their village next to a lake which also no longer existed, but was still there.

She had not expected this much death.

St. Agatha’s was ahead, lit up like a Christmas tree on the Fourth of July, and Sheila slapped one green sneaker in front of another towards. She tried to muster up hope, but she was on the Downside and there was just reality, so she kept her hand on a pistol concealed in her purse as she walked down the Main Drag in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

Thoughts For My Nephew

You’re not done yet. Humans have to give birth too early, and so you’re not quite finished. Can’t see well, and totally immobile, and your skull isn’t even through fusing together. But you can walk upright, or you can have a pelvis large enough to make giving birth easy; can’t do both, and so you only got nine months to cook. Any longer and you’d be stuck in there like a Chilean miner.

I got off-topic. Your uncle does that.

Nephew, I wanted to write something spectacular for you. Something lasting and beautiful. Nephew, I will not lie: I wanted to beat that asshole Vonnegut. But what’s the use in trying?

You were born on an island called Manhattan; your father was not born there, but your grandfather and great-grandfather were. Your great-grandfather was named William, but went by Hutch. Your grandfather’s name was Steve, and now that is your middle name. He’s not using it anymore.

A billion things had to happen for you to be here, Nephew, and none of it by design. Moses didn’t lead the Jews from Egypt just so you could be born, nor did the Illuminati invent the internet so your parents could meet. Your great-grandfather Jack was not sent to Europe in World War II. He was a gentle and deeply lazy man, and he would not have made it home. That decision was not made with you in mind, but here you are anyway. You are the child of accidents and close calls.

Your ancestors are called Jews, but the story is more complicated than that. You will see this to be a theme, Nephew: stories are always more complicated than they let on. Beware those who speak of simple fixes. The Jews moved around a lot, and no one wrote anything down back then, so you’ve probably got half of Europe and the Middle East floating around in your DNA. This makes you an American.

To put it simply.

Nephew. I will not lie: you showed up at a weird time. People are building barricades to stop others from building walls. The weather is frightful, but the world has been ending ever since it began. Time has always been weird.

You’re going to learn to read, and then you’re going to be too busy to read; you’ll learn to share, and then you’ll find someone to share with. Nephew, you will have moments when your whole body is made out of your heart. You’re going to laugh so hard that you can’t stop, that you’re scared you’ll never stop. You’ll change flat tires. You’ll bury friends.

Nephew, you will bury me.

Make mistakes, just not permanent ones. Fall in love too easy. Don’t smoke, and don’t stop at South of the Border on I-95. Trust me on both of those things.

I’m sorry my generation didn’t do enough for you. Your father and your mother and I, we’re part of what’s called Generation X, and we didn’t do right by you. We always settled. We were self-aware, and uncomfortable in the fact. We beatified apathy. Nephew, we did not rock the boat.

There is already a record of you. Photos and markers and identifiers floating through the cloud and flying through tubes: you will live a fully digital and recorded life, Nephew, and I cannot tell you whether that is good or bad. We have decided on this experiment without thinking about it, we have subsumed our lives onto the internet with no forethought and now you are there, too, even though you got no vote in the matter. Already, your parents are deciding how much of you to share online. These are problems your father did not have, and your mother did not have, and your uncle did not have. Nephew, you’re gonna have some brand-new bullshit to deal with.

May your lungs be strong, and your asshole tight, and may the Lord either favor you or not notice you at all. May your vision be perfect, and your back be straight. Kid, I hope you have a big dick; failing that, powerful friends.

Nephew, welcome to earth. I hope it is not too tough for you here.

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