Thoughts On The Dead

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

Author: Thoughts On The Dead (page 1 of 693)

Alternate Slogans For The Democratic Party

  • The Democratic Party! We’re Like Coke-Flavored Slurpees: Not Exactly What You Wanted, But Fine.
  • How About A Pity Fuck?
  • At Least 60% Less Treason!
  • Now Paying Attention To “Working-Class Voters” And Their “Cultural Anxiety.” Wink Wink.
  • The Only Party With A Favorite Althea!
  • Ten Bucks Says We Can Fuck This Up!
  • Begrudgingly Progressive On Social Issues, But Still Pro-Drone Strikes: The Democrats!
  • We’re Not Them.
  • Statistically, One Of Us Must Have Charisma.
  • We Promise To Keep The Clintons Out Of It From Now On.
  • Holy Fuck, Do We Really Need A Slogan This Time Around?

Breakfast In A Neighborhood In America

America was over there. Thataway. America got in here, too, got into Little Aleppo, but most of it was out yonder. Mount Lincoln to the north that sloped into the Pacific and created a natural harbor shaped like a crescent. Mounts Faith and Fortitude and Chastity. The highest of all the Segovian Hills, Pulaski Peak. Then Mount Charity, and then Mount Booth. The hills were the line marking here from there. You could get over them easy enough nowadays, and once you did: America. Highways, and cruelty, and cheeseburgers. All the Americas: the one from the songs, and the bloody one, and the one you’d been promised, and the one you’d settled for, and the one that respectable people pretended didn’t exist, and even the Mormons’ version that had Jesus in it.

Precarious Lee could smell America. Or at least he could smell breakfast, and breakfast is the most American of meals.

Imagine the plenty! Picture the colossal, overwhelming, stupefying surplus of food a society needs to have to demarcate certain dishes–entire protein sources!–as “breakfast.” To have so many carbohydrates available that specific configurations are designated as “breakfast!” And, of course, the most American part: you could have breakfast 24 hours a day. There were places in the world–hell, most of the damn world–where you could only eat the morning meal in the morning. This is abhorrent to a real American. Freedom means being able to eat waffles whenever you damn well please, Precarious thought.

Sure, it happened to be 8 in the morning, but it was the principle of the thing.

Good Morning with Mister Hamburger was playing on the teevee above the counter at the Victory Diner.

“Children, we speak today of time. Were I a sentimentalist, I would say you have a lot of it. Century, maybe. But you know I am not. Stickiness is for stamps, children. If I teach you nothing else: be cruel in your reasoning.

“You have no time, children. It has you. You’re swept along in a river you did not consent to enter.

“Time is a flash flood, children, and you can’t keep your head above the water forever. There are rocks and knives and betrayal along the bed of the river. Waterfalls. You will lose sight of God; waterfall. You will shovel dirt on your parents; waterfall. Ambition will prove empty; waterfall.

“Woody goes over the falls in a barrel. Yay.”

Precarious Lee liked his eggs runny, and he swirled a forkful around in a stain of ketchup on the oversized oval plate.

The Victory Diner was a 48-hour diner, which was just like a 24-hour diner, but double. It did not close for Christmas, nor Thanksgiving or New Year’s, and it had not closed for national tragedies or even for the Blackout of ’87. The enormous grill was gas-powered, and there was a generator in the basement that could run the refrigerator and the coffee machine, but not the lights. Locals brought in candles and flashlights, and ordered pancakes and bacon and eggs sunnyside-up, and got in just as many drunken brawls as usual.

It was on the Main Drag, across from The Tahitian. To the left, there were booths and the counter. Behind the counter was the passthrough window. To the right were rectangular tables with syrup already on them. Louie Bucca was behind the grill, except for when he had to come out and hit people with his metal spatula. It was embarrassing to get thrown out of bars in Little Aleppo, but it was understandable to get thrown out the Victory Diner. Everyone had done it. In the neighborhood’s defense, the coffee was very strong.

The sugar packets had pictures of tall ships on one side, and epigrams on the other.

He who has a thing to sell
And goes and whispers in a well
Is not as apt to make a dollar
As he who climbs a tree and hollers

Precarious didn’t take sugar in his coffee, nor milk from the dented metal creamer with the flip-up top that did not quite fit right anymore. His hair was shorter than it had been in many years, short enough not to need to be pulled back with a band. Big-Dicked Sheila said he looked very handsome, but she was the one who gave him the haircut, so Precarious didn’t trust her opinion. He didn’t mind, though. Took forever to dry, long hair, and he was getting less and less patient as he got older, at least with non-necessities. Some things everybody had to wait for equally, and there wasn’t nothing you could do about it. Love, wisdom, the bus. But your hair didn’t have to take a damn hour to dry.

He had grown a mustache. It was glorious. Thick as the hair on his head, but on the opposite side of his nose. Precarious was just about all gray, but his ‘stache still had generous flecks of the sandy-blond that he used to be. It was not a fu manchu–it did not descend past his lips–nor was it a neat and European styling: it was an eruption of bristles from nostrils to upper lip shaped like a speed bump. It was the kind of mustache that read as “working man” or “gay,” depending on the wearer’s posture.

There was a little bit of egg in it.

“You have egg in your mustache.”

The other side of Precarious’ booth was empty. He wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and muttered,

“Why are you here?’

“Penny’s asleep,” the empty side of the booth answered.

“Ghosts sleep?”

“She does. I think she’s depressed.”

“She’s not depressed. She’s just miserable. Why are you here?”

“I’m bored.”

Precarious Lee set his fork down on his plate and ran his hand over his face.

Little Aleppo had ghosts. The neighborhood held onto people who had died protecting her. Sometimes, the neighborhood held onto cat burglars and purveyors of shoddy jungle gyms. There was no telling what a neighborhood would do, especially one with so many ghosts.

Romeo Rodriguez had not grown up in Little Aleppo, but he had gotten a job there after coming out of the Marines. The LAPD (No, Not That One) were hiring and he had a sterling service jacket and was tall and strong and likable. Romeo could have been a cop in any town or city in America, but he became a cop in Little Aleppo and was shot in the face halfway through his first shift.

And now he was a ghost cop, but ghost cops are supposed to have missions–they are spirits of vengeance attached via tendrils of death and revenge to a place, and they have enemies and a goal. Officer Romeo Rodriguez supposed his mission was to solve his own murder, but the killer had turned himself in that day, and then he thought his mission was to save Harper Observatory, and he kind of did and he kind of didn’t, which is a terrible resolution for a ghost cop. Romeo figured he would win and go to Heaven, or fail and go to Hell.

But nobody won and nobody lost. Some people died, and some people got paid, and other people got drunk and weren’t aware of the situation. Winning and losing depends on where you’re standing, and ghosts don’t stand so much as float. Officer Romeo Rodriguez had not been welcomed to Heaven, not cast down to Hell. He was still in Little Aleppo.

And he was bored.

“Road trip.”

“Shit, no.”

“Graceland.”

“Seen it,” Precarious said, and sopped up some oozing egg with his white toast. “It’s just a rich hick’s house.”

“Grand Canyon.”

“Hole in the ground.”

“I never saw New York.”

“It’s tall and dirty.”

The waitress walked by and topped off Precarious’ coffee without acknowledging the fact that he was having a conversation with an empty seat. The Victory Diner prides itself on professionalism.

The teevee was over the counter, and most of the restaurant watched it out of the corner of their eye. Mister Hamburger had removed his sport coat, and the sweat stains under his arms reached from his waist to his elbow. During the broadcast, he had picked at a cyst on his neck until it bled; his collar was stained red. Mister Hamburger’s left eye was noticeably larger than his right, and his frizzy brown hair was thin and sweaty.

“Time will not minister to you, children. Does the water stop for the rock? No. The water rips away the rock layer by layer until the rock no longer exists. Do you understand what I’m saying? The river steals the rock’s rockness. What it is made of. Molecule at a time.

“No such thing as an immovable object, children.

“Who you think you are is subject to the current. You say “soul,” and I laugh. HA! I laugh at you, children. Your soul will promenade away from you if the river wills it. You are who the river lets you be, and no more and no less and you have dick-all to say about it.

“Give up and float!

“Float with me, children!”

Mister Hamburger had a puppet on his right hand, a cow named Mister Flibber T. Gibbet, and they did pirouettes together as the cameraman keened and the set behind him collapsed slowly.

Everyone in the Victory Diner, including the waitresses and Louie Bucca behind the grill, was silent and watching the Mister Hamburger show. Then, they went back to their food.

“I don’t get that show, man.”

“Don’t ask me,” Precarious said. “I didn’t grow up here.”

“Off-putting.”

“Downright fucking unsettling.”

Officer Romeo Rodriguez was still invisible. It was a neat trick, and a terrible one. He could go anywhere without being seen, but people are themselves when they think they’re alone. Ghosts see a lot of crying and punching, and only the very occasional miracle.

Precarious was still pretending he was by himself. He had a paperback collection of Westerns in his left hand: Dime Novels from the old days, overwritten and purple and fallacious. He had been stuck on the same line since Romeo showed up.

“Whaddya want?”

“Road trip.”

“Fuck off.”

Romeo Rodriguez vivasperated, but just slightly. He was a suggestion in the air across the table. He stole a piece of Precarious’ bacon and ate it.

“I’m stuck here. I’ve tried going out through the pass. I’ve tried the harbor. I get deposited back in that asshole’s bookstore. Christy Canyon? I walked. I didn’t even fly. I walked. And as I was just about halfway to C—–a City, I blinked and I was back in that asshole’s bookstore. I’m stuck here. I can’t leave Little Aleppo.”

“Huh.”

“Except when I hitched a ride with you on that weirdo fucking road of yours.”

“Yeah, you fucked that up good.”

Officer Romero Rodriguez turned another ten percent visible, and stole another piece of bacon.

“Not good enough, I guess. I’m still here.”

“Good for you. Stop eating my bacon.”

“Road trip.”

“Shit, no.”

A roadie and a ghost cop, having nothing better to do, argued in a 48-hour diner along the Main Drag. The Victory Diner did not close for Christmas, nor for Thanksgiving, and it had remained open through all national tragedies. It was 8 in the morning, and people were working or hiding or floating, and you could order breakfast in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

Don’t Say I Never Did Anything For You

Ned Lagin posted this recently (or maybe a while ago, but it’s only come to everyone’s attention now): silent footage from the disastrous ’74 tour of Europe that saw the Grateful Dead dragging the Wall through customs once every couple of days until they ran out of money, cocaine, and patience; then they went home and broke up. Steve Brown, who worked for Grateful Dead Records, shot it and now you can watch it in the comfort of your own mansion or abandoned canoe or wherever the fuck you live.

Download it here if you want a permanent copy, or just stream it like a lazy piece of shit.

Why so hostile?

Dunno.

Stop it.

Aw.

He Read The News Today, Oh Boy

“Jenkins!”

“Yes, President Putin?”

“You see this shit?”

“You could be referring to so many things, sir.”

“Dummy talked to the New York Times again.”

“I know, sir. We took turns reading it out loud at lunch.”

“How’s your borscht sitting?'”

“Honestly? Not well.”

“Me, neither. Have the cook poisoned.”

“Yes, sir.”

“This is the transcript. It’s so much better. This shit is bananas.”

“B-a-n-a-n-a-s, sir?”

“That song was a banger, Jenkins.”

“Yes , sir.”

“C’mere and read this to me. I wanna make sure my eyes haven’t lost their mind. This paragraph can’t have come out of the mouth of someone who controls nuclear weapons.”

“I don’t have my reading glasses, sir.”

“I do. You know why?”

“The leash.”

“Best invention ever. Glasses are always there. Do I have to buy you one?”

“No, sir.”

“Here. Last time I’m lending you mine.”

“Thank you, sir. Ahem.”

McCabe’s wife. She got $700,000, and he’s at the F.B.I. I mean, how do you think that? But when you say that — and think about this for a second. I don’t think — you could give me a whole string of new information. I don’t think I could really have — there’s only so much. You know, you can only say many things. After that it gets boring, O.K.? How can it be better than deleting emails after you get a subpoena from the United States Congress? Guys go to jail for that, when they delete an email from a civil case. Here, she gets an email from the United States Congress —

“Yeah, that’s what I thought he said.”

“I have no idea what he means here, sir.”

“The general thrust is that he’s picking a fight with the FBI.”

“Hachi-machi, that’s a terrible idea.”

“Right up there with writing an expose on me.”

“Oh, speaking of which: I solved that problem for you.”

“The tall problem or the problem with the beard?”

“Tall one.”

“Good, thank you. Solve the beard problem, too.”

“Wheels are in motion, sir.”

“See, this is how a government works.”

“Efficiency above all, sir. You see the new Spider-Man movie yet?”

“Aspirational filth, Jenkins.”

“Aunt May’s hot now. Marisa Tomei.”

“Ooh, Marisa Tomei. Maybe we’ll go later. Now read this part.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And do the voice. You do the voice good.”

“I do the voice the best, no one does the voice better than me, many people have told me this.”

“That! I love that! Read it like that.”

“Yes, sir. Ahem.”

And nothing was changed other than Richard Nixon came along. And when Nixon came along [inaudible] was pretty brutal, and out of courtesy, the F.B.I. started reporting to the Department of Justice. But there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress. There was nothing — anything. But the F.B.I. person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting. And I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director.

“Fuck me with a maryushka dildo.”

“Is that a dildo with multiple smaller dildos inside it, sir?”

“Obviously. Keep up.”

“Yes, sir. President Putin, I am not a scholar of American history, but I do not believe the part about Watergate is true.”

“Jenkins, surely you’re not suggesting that the President of the United States doesn’t know how his own government works.”

“Noooooo.”

“Dude, I’m having the best fucking year.”

“It’s like you’ve hit every green light for a thousand blocks in a row.”

“Right? But, hey: a lot of people contributed to this.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have them all murdered.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ooh, ooh, read this part. It’s just the tits.”

“Ahem.”

“And do the hand thing.”

“Yes, sir.”

No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. And actually, when I do my filings, people say, “Man.” People have no idea how successful this is. It’s a great company. But I don’t even think about the company anymore. I think about this. ’Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial. O.K.? I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son, two nice people. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn’t Moscow, it was outside of Moscow.

“What?”

“No idea, sir.”

“I mean: what?”

“Something about Russia.”

“Well, that’s everything lately.”

“Seems like it, sir.”

“Jenkins, I might come to regret saying this, but I am getting tired of all this winning.”

“I see what you did there, sir.”

“You saw that?”

“I did.”

“Sir, there’s nothing actually linking you to him, is there?”

“What, like evidence?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Jenkins, he’s the moron, not me. There’s nothing connecting us at all.”

“Oh, good.”

“Just every single person surrounding him.”

“That’s what I thought. Just checking.”

“Curiosity can be an unhealthy impulse to indulge.”

“Yes, President Putin.”

“Now let’s go see Spider-Man.”

“Yay.”

Red West Has Left The Building

Red West died today. He was the first among equals in the Memphis Mafia; he had defended the King from bullies in grade school. Red’s father died the same day that Elvis’ mother died, and they were best friends until Vernon fired half the Mafia in ’75. Red wrote a book, and Elvis never forgave him.

Red also wrote this song.

Sometimes, Decisions Are Made For You In Little Aleppo

Cannot Swim was a Pulaski boy. We would call him a teenager, but the Pulaski didn’t have that concept in their culture, so they didn’t. The Pulaski were all tall and the same color as the redwood trees they stripped bark from to make their homes, which were shaped like teepees and called kotchas. Several dozen of varying size surrounded a communal hearth and a store-house. To the east of the village were the Segovian Hills, and to the west was the harbor, but right besides the village was a lake fed by three streams.

The Pulaski women fished with nets that they wove from dried dogbane cords. The lake had a gentle slope filled with rushes and littorals and waving cattails, and the women would wade in totally naked and chase the trout and steelhead and kingback into channels made from redwood bark that they’d laid, and they’d go right into the nets. To the northeast, in the oval-shaped plot where everything grows that would later be a park named the Verdance, the Pulaski men were tending to the gardens, also naked.

The tribe wore tunics made from animal hides. The Pulaski were skilled tanners and tailors, and the clothes were soft and comfortable, but still: leather doesn’t breathe. Thus, the naked labor. However, the Pulaski–like every other culture before and since–had all sorts of arbitrary rules about nudity. Men could be naked around men, women could be naked around women, families could be naked around each other. And that was it. The young people of the tribe are taught that these rules were passed down by The Turtle Who Was And Will Be Again. (Pulaski cosmogony is too complicated to get into here.) The elders were mostly sure that no good could come from everyone walking around dangling their bits at one another. Hence, the segregation of labor.

The men gardened because they used to fish, but soon became competitive with one another and started organizing contests and weigh-ins, even though the Pulaski did not have scales. When the men began to build a pontoon boat so they could go after the bigger fish, the women realized that if something were not done, the lake would be empty in months. The men were forced into the garden, where they immediately began growing giant pumpkins and cucumbers at one another.

Hunting was done while clothed, so both men and women participated.

The valley in between the hills and the harbor was temperate, but it was warm enough in the summers to make a dip in the lake a necessary adjunct to a sticky afternoon. The women would go first, then the men. The grown-ups would lounge and chat, but the boys and girls would roughhouse and dare each other into danger. Who’d go out the farthest, down the deepest, hold their breath longest. But not Cannot Swim. He just couldn’t figure it out: he’d manage a jerky dog-paddle for a few strokes, and then he’d sink. It didn’t make sense: Cannot Swim could run the second-fastest of all the boys in the village, and was the best shot with a rifle, and he could do a standing backflip. No one else could do a standing backflip, and yet none of them were named Cannot Do A Standing Backflip.

Every Pulaski had three names. Your parents gave you one when you were born, and that was your family name. It rained every 18 days in valley that would become Little Aleppo, and Cannot Swim was born in the morning  of that 18th day, and so his family name was Morning Waters. It sounds pretty in English, but it was a poem in Pulaski when his mother would say it. She died in the last sickness. His father, Shoots With Wrong Hand, still called him by his family name, but it didn’t sound as nice. Your peers give you your village name, and his peers had named him Cannot Swim.

The third name is your secret name, and you may never learn it. All Pulaski had a secret name, the elders told the children around a campfire well away from the village and towards the Segovian Hills. Every nine days, the elders would bring the children out to the Learning Fire and there they would be allowed to chew the leaf of the Peregrine maria tree. Only adults are permitted to chew the leaf in the village, but the rules did not reach out here. The Learning Fire was in the exact same place as it had been when the oldest elder was a young girl.

Someone else knew your name. Or maybe something else. A bush might have it, or it might be far out in the harbor. The fox-god who is called Sees With His Teeth may know your secret name, or the heat that came unpredictably in the summer and baked the village for three days. It is possible the Whites on the other side of the hills have possession of your secret name. The gods could hold your secret name dear and refuse to turn it loose, or you might trip over it on the way back to the village tonight.

When you learned your secret name–if you did–you could announce it to the tribe. Or you could not. It was up to you.

Cannot Swim’s head was both lighter and heavier than it had ever been, and he laid back under the stars that were wheeling above him and wondered which of them had his name.

WHANGWHANGWHANG went the alarm at the firehouse, a heavy metal bell with a just-as-heavy metal clanger inside that was above the garage doors. Flower Childs was making chili in an ancient and stained ten-gallon pot. Chili was about the beans, she thought. Gotta simmer, sure. And must have the right seasoning, obviously. Ground chuck is ground chuck, but the beans? The beans made the chili. Otherwise, you just got stew. Two parts pink bean to one part navy bean. A fuckload of bay leaves, too, in a little pouch like a teabag. Easier than dicing ’em up, Flower figured.

Pep Oneida was the lowest ranking man on duty, so he was on the desk and he had taken the call from the 911 dispatcher. There was a fresh 312 in front of him and he pressed down with his blue ballpoint pen hard so it would come through on the triplicate form. He wrote down in carefully-legible capital letters MAN STUCK IN PIPE and then the address under that. Then he affixed the 312 to a clipboard and made sure he had two blue ballpoint pens in the breast pocket of his white, short-sleeved shirt. Then he readied himself to be yelled at. Then he hit the red button that set off the alarm.

“I’m making chili, you little motherfucker!”

“There’s a guy stuck in a pipe,” Pep called upstairs.

“Fuck him!” Flower Childs had already shut off the stove and was moving towards the pole that connected the second-floor living quarters to the garage and staging area on the first floor. There were stairs, too, and they were to be used for everything other than alarms. The pole was to be respected, Flower thought, and it was only used on calls. It was a perk of the job, and not to be treated lightly. God help the probie found sliding down because it was quicker.

The living quarters were set up like a shotgun shack: all in a row. The kitchen was at the front, and then the dining room, and then the lounge with the teevee and couches, and then the bedroom with two bunk beds and also the bathroom.

“We shoot 10,000 psi of compressed air into the pipe and shoot the fat fuck out past Boone’s Docks,” Dwayne McGlory yelled out as he bounded out of the lower bunk of one of the beds.

The pole was in the lounge, and Flower and Dwayne got there at the same time. Fire Chief went first, and Dwayne followed.

“Shitbag that you are, you do not realize the heating requirements of a proper batch of chili.”

“Which she only makes on occasion,” Dwayne added as all three headed towards the open lockers alongside the garage.

“Constant heat!”

“Can’t be playing around with that shit, probie! Affects the integrity of the chili!”

It was not a fire, so they did not need their full turn-down gear, but they got their hats. Firemen wore hats in Little Aleppo. Flower Childs also put two large tubes of industrial lube into her pack; she had been on man-stuck-in-pipe calls before. A white dog with black spots named Ash-Nine was barking and leaping in excitement.

The ladder truck had two rows of bench seats. Dwayne McGlory slid in behind the wheel as the garage doors opened, and Flower Childs rode shotgun. The dog was between them, and Pep Oneida sat in the back. As they pulled out and turned right onto Alfalfa Street, Flower reached back with her hand open and Pep put the clipboard containing the 312 in it. She checked the time he had written down against her watch.

210 seconds.

“Too fucking slow! Too fucking slow! Too FUCKING slow!”

Dwayne McGlory was the strongest man in the LAFD; he may have been the strongest man in the neighborhood. At parties, he would rip tennis balls in half and shatter wine bottles with one hand and blow up hot-water bottles until they popped. At work, he would rip doors off their hinges and fling king-sized mattresses across the room like they were playing cards. Dwayne McGlory had three medals just for lifting cars off of people. He was still scared of Flower Childs.

Pep Oneida wasn’t scared of anything, because he was young and stupid. He wasn’t a complete moron, though, and so he knew enough to keep his mouth shut.

Ash-Nine was a dog, and so didn’t quite understand what was going on. All she knew was that it was time to do the thing. She also didn’t quite know what the thing was, but she was very excited. The first Ash had slalomed between the legs of fire-horses on the dirt streets that surrounded the Main Drag. She would lunge ahead of the wagon and bite anyone in the way. She was a mean little motherfucker. Nine generations of dalmatians later, Ash-Nine no longer bit anyone, but she was dumb as shit and 80% deaf.

A plumbing supply store on Hopper Street. The dumb fuck had gotten himself stuck in a display model. His ass was sticking out into the air. Jesus fucking Marimba. Flower Childs was professional, and Dwayne McGlory rolled his eyes.

“Sir, we’re the fire department. We’re here to help. How did, uh, how did you get yourself stuck in the pipe?”

“I dropped my sandwich,” came a voice.

Dwayne eased up right next to Flower and said into her ear,

“20,000 psi. We’ll shoot him to Hawaii.”

She quarter-smiled and Pep Oneida had a moment of bravery and said,

“Sir? Sir? What kind of sandwich was it?”

Flower Childs stood up bolt-tall and glared at the probie for a second, but could not help herself and smiled almost halfway, which was a lot for her while she was working, and Pep’s heart shifted down three gears at once.

“Chicken salad,” came a voice from inside the pipe.

Dwayne McGlory grimly shook his head.

“Chicken salad!? You’re stuck because of chicken salad? I can see getting stuck because of a BLT,” Pep said. “But chicken salad?”

“Chicken salad is an outstanding sandwich,” came the voice.

“What kind of bread?”

“White.”

All three firemen, one of whom was a woman, threw up their hands and walked away from the man stuck in the pipe.

There are no teenagers in the Pulaski village. There were boys and girls, and men and women, and the difference was the Assignment. The Pulaski had many static rituals, but the Assignment was a moving target. When a baby was born, there were songs to be sung and an elk to kill; the village would eat the elk, and the antlers would be given to the child who would keep it for life. When a particularly beloved elder died, the communal hearth would be extinguished for one day. They knew the skies and the stars and the seasons, and so marked the equinoxes and the solstices with feasts and music. The Pulaski reset their calendars not in January, but on Midsummer, and they celebrated with a drink brewed from the psilocybin cybelenis mushroom, which only grew on the Segovian Hills; they danced and sang and worshiped the sun and the moon and each other and every god they could think of.

Static rituals.

The Assignment was not that. In each Pulaski child’s fifteenth year, their parents and family and an elder or two would gather to chew the leaf of the Peregrine maria tree and discuss what the proper task should be. Long ago, the tribe had a brutal ceremony that sent boys and girls out into the Low Desert with very little water looking for visions. Maybe 40% made it back. After not too many years, the ritual was changed, and the boys and girls were sent into the Segovian Hills. There was improvement–about 70% came home–but the results were still sub-optimal.

The elders held a council out at the Learning Fire. Out in the darkness, the boys and girls of the village listened in silently. They thought the elders didn’t know they were there.

“We need to stop sending the children off to die,” a woman named Crooked Toes said.

“We are sending them off to become adults,” Seabird Who Dives answered her.

“How can they be adults when they’re dead?”

“One state does not preclude the other,” he said, and looked around in vain for agreement. “Should we be a tribe of cowards?”

“All tribes have cowards, Seabird Who Dives. Some of whom do not know they are cowards until it is too late. Shall we put them to all to death?”

“We do not sentence death, Crooked Toes. The gods do that, or they do not.”

“Do not blame the gods for your attachment to detrimental behavior. Free will is a gift that was given to the Pulaski by The Turtle Who Was And Will Be Again.”

“Don’t bring The Turtle into this.”

“The Turtle ruled once before, and we were his puppets. When he returns, he will once again control us all. For now, we are responsible for our decisions. The ritual must be changed.”

“I cannot believe what I’m hearing. This is blasphemy.”

Kindest Smile was sitting next to Seabird Who Dives, and she put her hand on his forearm and said,

“You know, we did change the ritual once before.”

“That was blasphemous, too!”

And the council of elders all turned away from him so that they could chuckle.

“Seabird Who Dives,” Kindest Smile said, “we all know which boys and girls are not coming back. They are our grandchildren and great-nephews and nieces. They are our blood. We have raised them. Held their hands as they took their first toddling steps. We have taught them how to fish and farm and hunt. They are transparent to us. There is nothing that they do which is a surprise to us, because we made them as they are.”

She kept her hand on his forearm and continued,

“Do you remember the girl called Beautiful Song? Her family name was Night’s Darkest Moment. Do you remember her?”

The Pulaski did not discuss the dead. To do so was to give the spirits of the other world a reason to stop paying attention to the dead, and focus on you. The Pulaski never said the names of the dead. Kindest Smile was a goddamned blasphemer.

“Do you remember her?”

Seabird Who Dives remembered his granddaughter.

“See her arms. Skinny. Listen to her cough. You held her all night. Never quite healthy. Did she complain? Did she spread the sadness that must have filled her heart? No. She sang to us. Hear her sing, Seabird Who Dives.”

She still had her hand on his forearm, and now he put his other hand atop hers.

“She should not have been sent into the hills. Some people are hard and some people are soft, and all people are valuable.”

Seabird Who Dives choked back tears and said,

“Then what should we do? How do we know when a child is an adult? Is there to be no trial at all?”

Crooked Nose cleared her throat and said,

“Well, there’s not that many of us.”

And so the Assignment. Some Pulaski boys and girls were vicious and strong, and thought well under pressure; they were sent to the Low Desert or to the Segovian Hills. Some Pulaski boys and girls were smart and charming; they were sent to learn about the world, or tasked to figure out how to catch more fish with less effort. Some Pulaski boys and girls were misfits and mutants and weirdos who walked into trees; they were given Assignments that they could not fuck up.

“They’re sending me into the hills.”

“Yup.”

“You heard ’em.”

Cannot Swim’s parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and family friends and an elder or two had walked out to the Learning Fire to discuss what his Assignment should be. He laid in the grass outside the radius of the fire’s light listening, next to his cousin that was born in the same month.

“Hills.”

“Seems like it.”

The Pulaski name for the Segovian Hills was There are squatch up there; Jesus fucking Christ never, ever go up there. It sounded a lot prettier in Pulaski.

“I’m gonna fucking die up there.”

“No. Maybe. Yeah, probably.”

Cannot Swim and Talks To Whites had walked around to the far side of the lake and were laying under the early evening stars. They were cousins, born the same month.

“They’re gonna send you to buy some rifles or something.”

“Probably.”

Talks To Whites’ father was also called Talks To Whites. Outside the protection of the hills were Americans and Mexicans and, before that, Spaniards. The Pulaski did not care what the Whites wanted to call themselves, only that they would trade rifles and ammunition for furs and also for the small, shiny nuggets that speckled the streams that fed the lake. The elders picked a well-suited man for the job and sent him to learn the White’s language, and he became known as Talks To Whites. He brought his son with him on his trading missions; the son learned the language, too, was called Little Talks To Whites.

His father did not come back from a trading mission, and the Little was removed from his name.

It was cool out, and there was a slight breeze that flicked lake mist towards them. Shooting stars interrupted the sky, and the boys raced to put up their fingers and say “MINE!” first. They were both chewing the Peregrine leaf, which was waxy and broad as a child’s hand. They rolled it up tight like they had seen their parents do, and smacked down wetly. There was sloppy spitting.

Children were not permitted to chew the leaf, but Talk To Whites got them from Stranger Who Hunts Well. Stranger Who Hunts Well had just shown up one day when Talks To Whites and Cannot Swim were 14. He was an Indian, but not Pulaski, and he had thick wrists and a buckskin suit with the fringes cut off. He walked out of the hills during the weekly feast, and asked to be fed; he was. When the village woke the next morning, the stranger was gone, but he was back before midday with a six-point buck around his shoulders. The elders decided that the stranger should be allowed to stay if he wanted–and if he kept contributing–and told Talks To Whites to show him around. They became friends, partly from necessity. Stranger Who Hunts Well could not speak any Pulaski at all, and had no one to talk to but Talks To Whites until the little White man missing a sleeve from his jacket wandered into the valley.

The Pulaski called the little man Stranger Who Hunts’ Useless Friend, and they knew he was no good.

“What’s up there?”

“Squatch.”

“I know how they smell,” Cannot Swim said. “I can avoid them.”

“Puma.”

“Shit.”

“It’s, like, fuckin’ Puma City up there, cuz,” Talks To Whites said.

“I know!”

“Bears.”

“I’m not worried about bears. They’re as scared of us as we are of them.”

“Pumas aren’t scared of us at all, dude.”

“Stop talking about the pumas,” Cannot Swim said.

“200 pounds of muscle and teeth.”

“You suck, man.”

“And claws. Don’t forget claws.”

Cannot Swim rolled over onto his left side to face Talks To Whites. He could feel the grass dried by the day beneath his shoulder, and a bit of green drool escaped his mouth.

“Could you not?”

Talks To Whites laughed, too loud. He enjoyed chewing the leaf.

“Dude, you’re gonna rock this shit so fucking hard.”

“How?”

“You know how to live out in the wilderness. Night or two outside won’t kill you. You know what plants not touch, and which to eat. Shit, you know what squatch smell like. I don’t.”

A third of the way up the hill that would one day be known as Pulaski Peak. That was as far as Shoots With Wrong Hand would take his son. They stood on a flat clearing that curved around the mountain, and he told Cannot Swim to breathe deeply and notice the scent that was foreign to him. He did. It was like a steak cut from hairy shit. It was a sharp smell even in small increments, and Cannot Swim did not want to experience it any more purely. He could conjure it up whole and fresh in his mind just like he could his mother singing his family name.

He can still remember asking,

“Is that squatch?”

“Yep. Remember it,” his father said.

Talks To Whites’ father had not brought his son up into the hills at all, just told him to never go up there. Talks To Whites’ father had much more dangerous creatures to introduce his son to.

“They’re sending me up there for those fucking mushrooms.”

“Well, you know: someone’s gotta get them.”

“Why me?”

“Why not you?”

“Why can’t you do it?’

“I’d die,” Talks To White said.

“So might I!”

“Might! Right, might. I would die. You might die. Clearly, you should go. Besides, it’s not my Assignment.”

“What if I just refuse?”

“You can’t do that.”

“Of course I can. The Turtle Who Was And Will Be Again is not here right now, and so I make my own decisions,” Cannot Swim said.

“Okay. So you can decide to be an asshole.”

“What?”

“The elders aren’t sending you to die. Those were the old days. Whatever the Assignment is, it’s something they believe you capable of. Are you smarter than your father?”

“No.”

Talks To Whites did not mention Cannot Swim’s mother because the Pulaski did not speak about the dead.

“Your grandparents? And your aunts and uncles? And the elders who killed an elk to honor your birth? Do you know more than all these people? Are you wiser than them?”

“No.”

“They know who you are better than you do. So do I. And I say you’re gonna rock this shit so fucking hard, dude.”

There was a full moon, and they could see the Segovian Hills beyond the lake and beyond the village. They were like teeth in the black-and-white night.

Cannot Swim was taller than Talks To Whites, and wider, too. Stronger and faster and had a better eye. He did not know why he deferred to his cousin, but he did.

“Yeah?”

“Fuck, yeah.”

“I don’t know. Going up into the hills unarmed.”

Talks To Whites sat up and said,

“What?”

Cannot Swim did not sit up, just laid there in pity of himself and sighed,

“Which part did you miss?”

“Unarmed? My wrinkly ballsack, unarmed. You don’t go into the hills unarmed.”

“When the elders send you into the hills, they send you in unarmed.”

Talks To Whites loved his cousin, but sometimes he was a dipshit.

“Uh-huh. They send you in unarmed. You wave goodbye to the village unarmed. And then once you’re out of sight, your fucking cousin hiding behind a fucking tree hands you a fucking rifle!”

There was quiet for a moment, and both Pulaski boys could hear the lake burbling. They chewed their leaves noisily, thoughtfully.

“Is that cheating?”

“Depends,” Talks To Whites said.

“On what?”

“It’s cheating if the puma’s speed is cheating. It’s cheating if the squatch’s strength is cheating. They have their attributes, and humans have rifles and loyal cousins.”

“What you’re saying is that it would be wrong not to take the rifle into the hills.”

“Yeah, sure, why not?”

There were no more shooting stars–perhaps the sky had tired–and the cousins chewed their leaves under a static sky.

“Who is the Jack of Instance?”

“What?”

“I dreamt about it last night,” Cannot Swim said. “And the night before. It’s vivid while I’m asleep, but when I wake up, all I remember is the name. The Jack of Instance. Do you know what that is?”

“No. You know who you should talk to about your dreams.”

“I know.”

The two cousins laid there under the sky, and under the stars, and they chewed the leaf that they were not permitted to chew. They were not teenagers, because the Pulaski culture did not contain that concept, but they were teenagers and thought that they could kick the world in the dick. They still thought the world had fairness in it, and their stomachs were taut and they were hungry all the time. They had met death but not lived with death, and so were still children who clung to each other and the stories that they had been told. Because they were young and stupid, Cannot Swim and Talks To Whites were not scared of anything. They did not know the world enough to fear it, and so the two cousins laid there, and chewed their leaves and watched the stars shine, and made plans.

Where now there is a lake, there will one day be a firehouse, and where there are kotchas would be one day be tamped down and trampled by horses and Whites in hard shoes and bearing currency. The Learning Fire will be replaced by a failing hardware store, and there will be nothing at all left of the Pulaski except one White’s diary, and an ignored treaty moldering in the archives of the bookstore with no title, and a mound in the southwestern corner of the plot where the Pulaski grow their crops which would one day be a park called the Verdance in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

Transcript Of Donald Trump’s Private Meeting With Vladimir Putin (And Translator) At The G20

“So glad we could talk alone, President Putin. Everyone here is a loser and a hater and very fake. Not you, though. Strong and great. Cologne? You wearing cologne or is that your natural scent? Very strong and fragrant. Beautiful smell on you, President Putin.”

“Vhen ve are in private, you may call me Vladimir.”

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. You can call me Donald.”

“I have been calling you Donald.”

“Right, sure, great, yes.”

“English is nyet so good. Putin bring translator. Is Jenkins.”

“Good evening, Mister President.”

“Jenkins, great, wonderful. You have a wonderful translator. Very fit. I’m like you, Vladimir, all man. Love the ladies. Big pussy man. Tits are great, but pussy? No one loves pussy like me with maybe the exception of you, sir. But this translator? Very fit. Good choice you made.”

I have no idea how to translate what he just said, sir.

“I got most of it. I think Dummy wants to fuck you. Or me.”

Jesus, sir, what color is he? Up close, it’s inhuman.

You’re telling me. First time I met him, I nearly did a spit-take. Okay, tell him that I thank him for his compliment or some bullshit like that.”

“Mr. Putin thanks you for the kind words, President Trump.”

“Wonderful, great, beautiful words.”

“And would like the two houses in Maryland that President Obama illegally seized returned to Russia.

Jenkins, stop free-lancing.”

Hundred rubles says he goes for it.”

You’re on.”

“Absolutely! Obama was very unfair to you and also very black. Two bad things! Either one is bad, but both is disgusting. The worst president we’ve ever had, and probably tried to have you murdered many times. They’re yours. Done, boom. Next?”

Jenkins, I owe you a hundred.”

Had a hunch.”

See what else he’ll go for.”

“President Trump, there is also issue of sanctions. Perhaps meeting could be scheduled to discuss a path forward in friendship.”

“We can do this. It’ll be easy, we could do it quick. Can you lift sanctions by a tweet? I could do it right now.”

Did you just say ‘path forward in friendship?'”

Yes, sir.”

“Jenkins, you’re a funny motherfucker.”

Watch this.”

“President Trump, Mr. Putin admires your necktie.”

“Here you go. It’s yours.”

OVERLY-LONG NECKTIE REMOVAL NOISE

“Spaceeba, Donald.”

“That means ‘Thank you,’ Mr. President.”

“Great, fine, wonderful language. Long history, the Russian language, which many people don’t know. Didn’t show up last week. You’ve got a whole history there.”

What the fuck is he talking about?”

No idea, sir.”

We both speak English, right?”

Quite well, Mr. Putin.”

Well, that’s not fucking English.”

“No, sir.”

“Mr. Putin appreciates your interest in Russian culture.”

“Very interested, yes. This is great, much better than Washington. Nothing gets done there, zip, nothing at all. Slow place, but that’s not why I won the greatest election of all time. I go fast, get it done, look what I’ve accomplished, so much more than any other president in the world. I do it like this, negotiating one-on-one. We can get things done, Vladimir. We can make deals.”

My mind wandered. What did he say?”

He thinks he is your peer.”

Jenkins, I’m having the best fucking year.”

“Everything’s coming up Putin. You want me to make him give you his pants?”

No. His phone.”

Gotcha, boss.”

“So, Vladimir, can we make a deal?”

“Ve already have, Donald.”

“Wonderful.”

“Da.”

Don’t Ever Talk To Me Or My Son Ever Again

Fun fact: the Russian rock show that Bill Graham was telling stories about yesterday? It really happened. Look:

And read.

Steve Wozniak really did pay for it, too, at least the first half-a-million. (The subsequent cash infusions were just Bill Graham embellishing the story.)

Funner fact: If the Woz wants a shoulder-pocket, then the Woz gets a fucking shoulder-pocket.

Jerry, Phil, and Pigpen Sitting On A Fence

Jesus. Precarious?

“Yo.”

What the fuck?

“The picket fence?”

The picket fence.

“Security.”

How?

“40,000 volts running through it.”

40,000? Isn’t that a bit of overkill?

“Hey, man. I don’t work for the fuckin’ Eagles.”

True.

Back In The U.S.S.R.

You look like Chico Marx.

“Shut up, putz. This is how you open up the conversation? With insults and little jokes? I’ll throw your ass out of here, buster.”

I’m in my own house.

“You think this matters to Bill Graham? I’ve thrown people out of their own houses before. I knew they would cause trouble at the show that night, so I swung by their pads in the afternoon and 86’ed ’em. Never saw it coming. Most thanked me for the professional manner in which I tossed them out a window.”

Why would they thank you?

“I opened the window first. Most promoters wouldn’t do that. John Scher used to buy orphans just so he could hurl them through plate-glass. A real schmendrick, that guy. Not Bill Graham. I go the extra mile The crowd needs? I provide. The artist wants? I get. Carlos Santana needs cocaine in Moscow during the Cold War? I get.

“Phone rings. This is ’86. That schmuck with the splotch, whatshisname, he’s in charge over there. Gorbachev! Gorby, right, Gorby. This guy’s no Kruschev. Wants to open up the Soviet Union a little bit. Not too much. Just a bit. Economy’s terrible and the kids are getting ansty. Figures a rock concert might mellow them out. There’s no bread in the country, so he’ll import a circus.

“I pick up. It’s Gorby. I scream at him in Yiddish for ten minutes and hang up.

“Phone rings again. Gorby again. Now I got him on the ropes! Little nudnik thought he was talking to some moron like Reagan, may he rot in Hell that bastard. Who’s this asshole ever negotiated with? I could get 80% of the door and all the tee-shirt revenue from him with my dick tied behind my back, never mind broadcast fees. Putz.

“At this point, I still do not know why he’s calling.

“He tells me about his idea. Rock concert in Moscow. My mind starts racing. Bill Graham presents The Wall behind the Iron Curtain! Bill Graham presents Bruce Springsteen in Red Square! The Stones. Baruch hashem, the Stones. I might just end the Cold War myself through the power of my promoting.

“Then he tells me about his budget. I end up begging Steve Wozniak for half-a-mil and hiring the Doobie Brothers, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne. I didn’t have to pay Jackson because of a favor he owed me about a thing I didn’t tell anyone about.

“We fly in. I got 40, 50 people with me. Lights, production, lawyers, a couple CIA guys I knew through the Dead. Every one of us is wearing at least a dozen pairs of Levi’s, and we peel them off throughout the day in exchange for drinks and Communist blowjobs. Go to the stadium. Dynamo, it’s called. DEE-nah-mo. Place looks like if concrete could take a shit. Gloomiest fuckin’ stadium you’ve ever seen. We ask to see the power supply: it’s a babushka holding an extension cord. We’re gonna have to bring in everything.

“When I get back, I ask Steve Wozniak for another half-a-mil.

“He says yes, but only under one condition.

“What, Steve? Anything, I say.

“I wanna meet the Doobie Brothers, he tells me.

“So I stare at the phone for about a minute wondering if I’m being fucked with. I’ve met the Doobie Brothers a million times. Never that fun. Who am I to judge? Woz wants an audience with the Doobies, then he gets one.

“The show! We’re going to Moscow! I got two passenger planes and a cargo plane for the equipment. Carlos Santana talks to a stewardess about Jesus for the entire flight. The Doobies are drunk and crawling under seats to bite ankles. That one with the hair like a girl and a mustache does it hard, too. Bonnie Raitt has talked one of the pilots into letting her fly. Jackson Browne has accidentally been loaded into the cargo plane. Rock and roll, baby.

“Upon landing, all of the equipment and Jackson Browne are confiscated by the Red Army and held for ransom. I call Woz and ask him if he’d like to meet Santana. He wires me another half-a-mil.

“You thought the stadium was bad before; it’s worse now. Soldiers everywhere, but they’re not in uniform. Track suits and army boots and AK47’s. I start to wonder if maybe a week before I had a psychotic break. Maybe I’m in the booby hatch imagining all this. Because it can’t be happening. It can’t be real. The one thing–the ONE THING–Bill Graham had INSISTED on was that there be no soldiers. How can the kids groove and get loose with all that heat? I’m screaming at the top of my lungs.

“I want to see Fedesov. He’s the big megilla. He’s the macher. Supreme Soviet, this guy. It’s July, and he’s wearing a giant overcoat. I never saw a hat this fuzzy. He’s not used to being yelled at. Well, they called me, motherfucker. ‘Please, Bill Graham, come help our shitty country with no lettuce.’ I didn’t call them.

“I’m serious about that. Didn’t see a piece of lettuce the entire trip.

“So I’m screaming at Fedesov really letting him have it, and the translator’s frozen in fear. You don’t talk to a Supreme Soviet like this!

“But this guy’s tough. He smiles. Says in English,

“Is no soldiers. Is security.

“I start screaming again. Ten full minutes. I WILL PUT MY ACTS BACK ON MY PLANES AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF YOUR NO-LETTUCE-HAVING SHITHOLE, that sort of thing. I’m giving him the full shpritz.

“He says, no can do. Is security.

“This is gonna kill my show. Guys with rifles all around. Something bad’s gonna happen. What if the kids get rambunctious? The Doobies get the party started. Drunken anklebiters that they are, they can turn any floor into a dance floor. It’s a dangerous situation. I play my hole card, which was seeing if Steve Wozniak wanted to meet Bonnie Raitt.

“It turns out he did, and I bribed Fedesov with half of the half-million. I kept the rest in overhead and assorted fees.

“The soldiers marched out of the stadium, and the kids came in. Jackson Browne, who had been bought back from the Russians, played his songs about California. Bonnie Raitt came out and did her thing in a pair of remarkable trousers. These little Commies had never seen pants like this before. Everybody danced to the Doobies, and then Santana closed. There was no politics, no mishegos, nothing. These kids lost their mind for Santana. Rapture. That’s what it was. The whole place was in rapture. This was something new. They’d never heard anything like it, and Santana felt it and so did the band and everyone backstage. It was a magical moment.

“Santana came offstage, demanded cocaine, and threw his sweaty do-rag at me. The magical moment was over.

“Shocking as this may sound, it wasn’t easy to find rock star-grade cocaine in Moscow in 1986. The Doobies and I had to break into a hospital. I got the cocaine for Santana, but all the Doobies were arrested.

“I call Steve Wozniak and ask him if he wants to meet the Grateful Dead.

“He tells me that he’s met them.

“I ask if he wants to meet them again.

“He sends me a half-million dollars, I get the Doobies out of jail, and we fly home. Three years later, the Soviet Union would collapse. Funny story: Fedesov was executed.”

For what?

“Caught him taking bribes.”

Sure.

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