Thoughts On The Dead

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

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Beck And Will Call

This might be the only time I can say this: Bill Graham is adorable.

OR

That woman’s hair is crooked.

OR

Those are Ovation guitars, Young Enthusiasts. They were made of polymers and petroleum squeezings, and their backs were big salad bowls made of tacky, thick plastic. They were popular because they were (one of) the first acoustic-electric guitars, which meant they had built-in pickups and you could plug them right into the amp. Before this, you would hold your acoustic guitar in the vicinity of a microphone; this would produce a sound made of 90% feedback, 5% extraneous noise, and 5% music.

Any song you played on an Ovation sounded like Bon Jovi.

OR

That couch is mostly semen and marijuana seeds.

OR

Seven drinks for five people. Sounds like Grateful Dead math.

OR

“Um, excuse me.”

Oh, hey, Bobby. What’s up?

“You seen my beard?”

Look to your left.

“Okay.”

And twenty years in the future.

“Ah, there it is.”

OR

Hey, David Gans, author of This is all a Dream we Dreamed. Is that you next to Bobby?

This One Gets Weird, I Can’t Lie

“Amir, don’t look behind you.”

“Campires?”

“What?”

“Camel vampires.”

“Oh. No. We’re iterating.”

“Shit. Y’know, this little prick’s got some nerve.”

“Don’t talk too loud. He’ll hear, and Elvis will show up or something.”

“He’s not paying attention. He just types.”

“I enjoy some of it.”

“Are you just being polite?”

“Yes.”

“Dave–”

“David.”

“–it’s not right. I just wanted to make a 19-hour movie about a semi-defunct choogly-type band. I didn’t ask to be semi-fictionalized, and iterate into mirror universes. Which mirror universe is that, by the way? Are those the evil versions of us?”

“No. Cannibal versions.”

“Who’s eating who?”

“We’re eating each other.”

“That’s kinda sweet.”

“Yeah.”

“Dave–”

“David.”

“–the guy’s on my tits.”

“All of ’em?”

“Every one! Keeps sending me ideas, and each one’s worse than the last.”

“Like?”

“Musical about the Minotaur called Daddy was a Bull; Mommy was Amazed.

“That’s a non-starter.”

“Action movie where the bag guys steal a fuel pump and the gas station kills everybody trying to get it back. Like John Wick, but if Keanu Reeves were a gas station.”

“How would that even work?”

“I have no idea, but he sent me 2,000 words on it.”

“How are our cannibal universe doppelgangers doing?”

“They’ve cannibalized each other.”

“Sure. Now, how would a cannibal universe even work? Wouldn’t we both have been eaten long before reaching our present ages?”

“It was really just a throwaway joke, man.”

“What?”

“What?”

“Why are you defending him?”

“You’re being mean. TotD is awesome and shit, and they should’ve let him write the Amazon show, and he’s very handsome and suck my balls, yo.”

“What the fuck is going on?”

CANADIAN SKIN SLOUGHING-OFF SOUND

Don’t scream.

“AAAAAAAAAH!”

What did I tell you? Don’t make me get Elvis.

“What the fuck, man!?”

I was inhabiting David Lemieux. You familiar with skinwalkers?

“I did not consent to any of this.”

You think David did? He struggled!

“Is he okay?”

He will be. But until then, do you want to play with his flesh-suit?

“No.”

You could wear him!

“No.”

Let’s go scare Bobby.

“I want to go home.”

There’s no exit.

“You’re such a hack.”

That, too.

There’s Plenty Of Room At The Bottom

“Jenkins!”

“Yes, sir?”

“I’ve come to a decision.”

“About lunch?”

“I’ve come to two decisions.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Korean barbecue.”

“Was that the lunch decision, sir?”

“Bim bam bang on the money, Jenkins.”

“Thank you, sir. The second?”

“I’m going to blow my goddamned brains out if I have to spend one more second thinking about these posters.”

“Both are understandable decisions, sir.”

“I could have solved something with that time, Jenkins. World peace. Hunger. Rubik’s Cube.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Could have experimented with homosexuality.”

“Experimented, sir?”

“Lab coat, test tubes, that sort of thing. Goggles. Some of their activities require goggles.”

“I don’t know about that, sir.”

“And you can’t surface too quickly, Jenkins. When you’re down there, the nitrogen builds up in your blood. You can only rise as fast as your slowest boner.”

“You’re talking about scuba diving, sir.”

“Scuba diving, homosexuality: what’s the difference?”

“Quite a bit.”

“I’m trapped here, Jenkins! I could have been something great. I could have been president, Jenkins.”

“Sir, you’re a borderline-insane bigot with no control over your mouth whose mind wanders like a coked-up Border Collie.”

“And?”

“I was halfway through the sentence when I realized the irony, sir, but I didn’t want to trail off.”

“Work ethic. Good.”

“But we really do need to get to the poster, sir.”

“Poster! Oh, God, the poster. I’m going to make a sound now, Jenkins.”

“Thank you for the warning.”

“HARABlarbleblarbleblarble.”

“Wonderful sound, sir.”

“I was improvising.”

“I couldn’t tell.”

“It was the sound of my soul leaving my body, Jenkins. I stand by my earlier decision.”

“That you want Korean barbecue for lunch?”

“I stand by both of my previous decisions.”

“That you’ll blow your brains out if you have to spend one more second thinking about the posters?”

“That’s the one.

“Well, sir, what if we created a poster BUT but absolutely no thought into it at all?”

“Half-ass it?’

“Sir we’ve been half-assing the whole tour. I say we cut the percentage of ass dramatically.”

“Quarter-ass?”

“Farther.”

“Deka-ass?”

“Farther, sir.”

“Do we dare?’

“I believe in you, sir.”

“So do I. Deci-ass? A hundredth of an ass?”

“Sir, sit down.”

FLUMP

BLAAAAAAAPHH

“Did you fart when you sat down, sir?”

“Quite robustly.”

“Excellent, sir.”

“I’m prepared for your statement, Jenkins.”

“Micro-ass, sir.”

“A millionth of an ass? My sweet Lord.”

“Hallelujah.”

“Ballsy, Jenkins. Ballsier than a man with elephantiasis of the testicles in a sporting goods store.”

“Are you ready, sir?”

“Will I need my goggles?”

“No.”

“Then, I’m ready. Let’s make a poster.”

“Bears and tie-dye.”

“DONE! And put no effort into it beyond that.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now let’s go try Korean homosexuality.”

“Why not?”

The Team-Up No One Was Expecting, But Can’t Be Completely Surprised By

“How are the kids?”

“Gordie, Girl Gordie, Jean-Luc, Fleece, Northstar, and the twins, Billie and Mickie?”

“Yeah. Your kids.”

“Good. They’re good. Growing, man. You wouldn’t believe how many bags of milk we go through a week. How are yours?”

“Rivka, Shmuley, and Hummus?”

“Yeah. Your kids.”

“Also good.”

“Amir, lemme ask you one question.”

“Oh, not you, too.”

“Why’d you leave out the Radio City shows?”

“You were a producer of the film, David.”

“I know, yeah, but I never quite understood what a film producer does.”

“No one knows. Well, wait, not exactly. The Executive Producer procures the money. The Line Producer writes the checks. But the kind of producer you were? No one knows.”

“It was swell to be one, though.”

“You’re chipper.”

“I’m Canadian.”

“What’s the next Dave’s Pick?”

“Cornell.”

“You just released Cornell.”

“I know. Every release from now on is going to be Cornell. We’re going the same way that Disney is going with Star Wars.”

“Taking something enjoyable and jamming it everyone’s ass until they burst?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s working for them.”

“That was my argument. Plus, this is a lot less work.”

“I would imagine.”

“What’s next for Amir Bar-Lev?”

“Thinking about becoming a YouTuber.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Vlogging about my life. Maybe reacting to stuff.”

“Interesting.”

“What about you, David?”

“I’ve always wanted to be an exterior decorator.”

“Fascinating. Tell me about your posture.”

“Canadians all learn posture in the prairie schools we’re assigned to at whelping. From age five until fifteen, we were forced to play hockey while balancing Margaret Atwood books on her heads.”

“How much hockey did you play?”

“Normal amount. Nine or ten hours a day.”

“I’m learning a lot here.

Possible Jobs For Sean Spicer

  • Boy Scout leader whose entire troop gets eaten by a bear his first day.
  • Crash test dummy.
  • Crash Test Dummy. (Sean Spicer plays bass, and he would fit in with the Canadian group quite well.)
  • Lyft Shuttle spokesperson. (“Lyft Shuttle: Just like a bus, but without all the ‘bus people’ if you know who we’re talking about.”)
  • Human urinal.
  • Contestant on reality show that pulls some bullshit that gets the whole production shut down.
  • Fire fighter who, while driving to the fire, runs over three or four children.
  • Local wrestling promoter.
  • Squirrel poisoner.
  • Maybe Sean could dissemble in the public sector?
  • Maitre d’ at Terrapin Crossroads. (“Phil? Phil who? Never heard of him.”)
  • Speed bump.
  • Hey, there’s always the Easter Bunny gig to fall back on.

Childhood’s End

Hey.

Psst.

You. The one with the beard and the bills. And you, the one with the lady-beard and also the bills. Can I talk to you over here?

By the bar. We’re grown-ups, so let’s talk by the bar.

Great. This is comfy and cozy. You want a drink? I’m buying.

No, you can’t have a Singapore Sling.

A Bahama Mama? Is that even a thing? No. You cannot have that. Would you like clear ethanol with some ice cubes or brown ethanol with some ice cubes?

Fine, tequila.

TIRO DE TEQUILA SONIDO

Ahh. Now you listen to me, you swaddled little puke, and listen fucking good because I’m only going to say this once: GROWN-UPS DON’T FUCKING COLOR. You wanna paint? Paint a house, paint a picture, paint a naked person. Paint until the fumes make you dizzy and sterile. But you can’t color. This is the kind of pantswettingly childish nonsense that brought down the Roman Empire. Also, over-expanding and stocking the Legions with barbarians, but mostly the coloring.

How about Colorforms? Do you wanna do some Colorforms, too, after you’re done coloring in your coloring book? Ooh, how about a Sit-N-Spin?

Or maybe I put you up on the table, wipe your ass, and change your poopy diapies. Is that what you want? Because if you color, then TotD is coming to your house and changing your poopy diapies against your will.

Okay, finish your drink. We’re done here.

P.S. I was going to link to whatever entrepreneurial soul is selling this bullshit, but then I scrolled down the page and saw this…

…and I’m not linking to shit.

Father’s Day In Little Aleppo

“I was going to tell you these things, but I didn’t have a chance. I wrote it all down.”

Enrich held up three pages from a yellow legal pad.

“Don’t smoke. Whatever you do, don’t smoke. Worse than drinking, or pot, or whatever. Worse than everything. I did. Eleven years? Twelve? Something like that. Quit when your grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. You never met him. He would’ve loved you. He’s right over there.

“Your grandfather sold bonds. When a town or a city wants to build something, a bridge or whatever, then they issue a bond. It’s like asking for a loan. Investors buy pieces of the bond, and they get paid back with interest. The rates are set. You know how much money you’ll make ahead of time. There are investments you can make that will pay off better, but they’re riskier. Stocks, or real estate, or currency or whatever. You can make more investing in those things, but you can also lose a lot. With a bond, you know you’re getting paid. They’re safe.

“He wore a suit to work every day. Grey, usually. Three-piece. He was skinny, and when he got older he had a pot belly.

“I’ve been thinking about Abraham and Isaac. I didn’t write this down.”

Enrich held up three pages from a yellow legal pad.

“But, I’ve been thinking about it.

“So.

“Yeah.

“It’s not about faith. It’s about being fucked with.

“God said to Abraham, kill me a son. Abe said: God, you must be putting me on. That’s from a song, I didn’t think that up. Somebody else’s words. I was gonna play that song for you.

“Abraham was the first Jew. God picked him all special-like. Lucky Abraham. God came to Abraham in dreams and burning bushes and all sorts of signs. Never came down and talked to him like a reasonable person. Mysterious ways, and all that.

“God told Abraham that there was only one God, and that it was Him. People thought there were a lot of gods back then, but apparently there was only the one. And He was jealous. He was needy.

“He was a mean little asshole.

“God appears to Abraham in a dream, and tells him to take Isaac up Mt. Moriah. There’s an altar up there where animals are sacrificed. Take Isaac to the altar, God says, and he will be your ultimate sacrifice.

“Prove you love Me, Abraham.

“Put Me before all things, Abraham

“And he did. Abraham. He led Isaac up the path to the altar, and they did not speak. Bible stories don’t have a lot of detail, but that part’s in there. They didn’t speak on the way up.

“But once you have that detail, you want more of them. Did Abraham lead, or did they walk side-by-side? Was it pink dawn, or blue noon, or purple dusk? Did they see any animals? Maybe one of them stopped, sat on a rock, crossed his leg over his knee and adjusted the straps of his sandals.

“That’s the thing about stories: the details are important.

“When they got to the altar, Abraham bound Isaac to it just like he would a goat or sheep. Abraham had a sharp knife. Sacrificial rites were made with a slice across the neck, but an angel grabbed Abraham’s wrist.

“We are not told the angel’s name.

“The angel explains that God has seen Abraham’s faith, and seen that it was good, and said that it was good, and it was good. And that Abraham should release Isaac from his bonds, and substitute a goat instead. The angel gestured, and there was a goat where before there was no goat.

“Nothing grew in a large circle around the altar in a giant, weeping circle. Blood is not fertilizer. Just dusty ground.

“Abraham sliced the goat’s neck open, and first the blood was light red, but quickly it was dark and almost black.

“Abraham and Isaac walked back down the path. They didn’t speak coming down, either.

“Everyone else spoke. Everyone else had an opinion.

“I went to the library, Spants Library at the college, and I read some books about the story. Lot of different viewpoints.

“The Jews argued that God was testing Abraham. Some of them, at least. God is Just, they say, and therefore Isaac’s murder was not even a possibility. Other Jews said that Abraham was testing God. That he was, in essence, daring God to let him kill Isaac. Abraham had to find out whether God was Just. Still other Jews thought that God was teaching Abraham a lesson about how human sacrifice was unacceptable.

“There used to be a lot more human sacrifice than there is now.

“Christian thinkers had a different interpretation. Weird, right? They said that Abraham’s faith in God was such that he believed that He would resurrect Isaac. They saw a lot of Christ parallels in the Isaac story.

“Weird, right?

“It’s in the Koran, too. The story with Abraham and Isaac, it’s in the Koran, too. Muslim scholars say that Abraham received the dream, told it to Isaac, and they both accepted the will of Allah. Walked up the mountain with no muss, and no fuss.

“You should remember that a translation of a thing is not the thing.”

Enrich held up three pages from a yellow legal pad.

“I wrote that down. I wanted to tell you that. It all fits into each other, eventually.

“But, uh, I don’t think any of them are right. I’m not smarter than Maimonides, but I still think he’s wrong. I think the story’s about weakness. I think the story’s about caprice. I think the story’s about a God who likes fucking with people. I think God’s a bully.

“Abraham doesn’t have faith. He has fear. If he doesn’t kill his son, then God will kill him and his son and everyone he loves. God’s a blackmailer. God’s a goddamned terrorist, and if Abraham had any balls at all, he would have told God to go fuck Himself.

“It’s a story about cowardice.

“It’s a warning, I think. That’s why it’s so close to the beginning of the book. It’s a warning.

“Your faith will never be enough.

“Your deeds will never enough.

“Not if God takes an interest.”

Enrich held up three pages from a yellow legal pad.

“I got off track. I wanted to tell you some things. Next time.

“Next time.”

Enrich Blitzstein laid three pages from a yellow legal pad on the grass that had grown over his daughter; when he straightened up, he fished in his coat pocket for the stone he had brought, found it, balanced it on the tombstone. He walked to his car without looking back, and did not notice the wind snatch up the three pages from a yellow legal pad. When he got home to the three-bedroom split-level on Crater Road, he took out a pistol and did not kill himself.

And then he did not kill himself for the rest of the night.

The sun will rise, it always fucking does, and there will be chirping and joggers and life going on even if it has broken you and left you behind. The sun rises on the Lord and losers alike in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

The Bus Came By And I Threw Up

“Jenkins!”

“I’m sitting on your lap, sir.”

“Oh, yes. Why are you doing that?”

“You call it ‘Santa Practice,’ sir.”

“Ah. How am I doing?”

“You have an erection, sir.”

“Well you must have been naughty.”

“I’m going to stand up.”

“I’m not. I’ve got a boner.”

“Yes, sir. What did you want to discuss?”

“I had a dream last night, Jenkins. I dreamt that I ate an entire box of crayons and then projectile vomited onto some glossy paper. What do you think that means?”

“No idea, sir.”

“So many colors that nothing at all made sense. Have you heard of minimalism, Jenkins?”

“Of course, sir.”

“This was the opposite.”

“Maximilism.”

“Stop making up words, Jenkins.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And there were bears and skeletons and buses and roses and flying eyeballs and you were there, Jenkins. And you two farmhands.”

“Who are you talking to, sir?”

“The farmhands.”

“Hello.”

“Howdy.”

BANG!

BANG!

“You shot the farmhands, sir.”

“Their existence was only required for that one joke, Jenkins. Let’s get back to the poster.”

“Is that what we were talking about?”

“Let’s see: first, I sexually harassed you, then I told you my dreams, and then I shot two farmhands. Yes, we’re talking about the poster.”

“Excellent, sir.”

“Bring me some paper, a box of crayons, and a bottle of Ipecac.”

“What if we just let an artist do it?”

“But then I wouldn’t get to vomit up rainbows.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sometimes Wrong, But Never In Doubt In Little Aleppo

Ceder Rapids sounded nice. Quiet. Get a job managing the sanitation department for the city. Cottage on the outskirts of town, and a barbecue and a backyard. Rake leaves. Man, I could rake the fuck out of some leaves.

Buy a boat. Be one of those assholes. Put Little Aleppo sternward and aim for the second star to the right. Go to Tahiti, hope that the visit went better than Captain Cook’s. Already know a shitload of knots. Skim across the water when the wind blows, and sit there when it didn’t. Man can find himself on the water. Maybe write a book. Not enough books about middle-aged white people having realizations about themselves. Middle-aged? Shit. That was pushing it. Maybe for one of those big turtles.

Still had friends in England. Some of them were dead, but not all. Lady Erin was still alive. Best part of 1972. And ’74. And ’81. 1990, too. Go on back, woo some nobility, live in a castle. Carry an umbrella everywhere, a long black one with a curved handle. Was it still as easy to get laid in England with an American accent as it was to get laid in America with an English accent? Used to be simple, but a lot of things used to be simple.

Used to be easier.

And then Precarious Lee stopped feeling sorry for himself. Nothing was ever fucking easier. It’s just that you were younger, he told himself. Wasn’t like he was going anywhere, anyway. Precarious had never run from a problem in his life. The cops, debt collectors, marriages: yes, he had fairly sprinted from these, but problems? Never. He’d be damned if he would stop daydreaming about it, though.

Florida. Yes, Florida, yes. A real retirement. Planned development with a shitload of rules, and surly security guards watching the gate. Trash on Tuesdays, and recycling on Thursdays. Learn how to play canasta. Vote Republican and drive with the windows up.

“Are you paying attention?”

Precarious was not, so he said,

“Yes.”

Augusta O. Incandescente-Ponui, whom everyone called Gussy, pursed her lips at him and she was about to say something when she had a terrible realization: there were no grown-ups.

Maybe it was the movies. Someone always knew what to do; someone always saved the day. Gussy had seen a million movies, even before she owned The Tahitian. When she was a kid, she would go to the theater with her father, David O. Incandescente-Ponui, who was an asshole. It was a shitstain of a place back then, seats sprung and carpets stained, and the worst schlock on the stained screen. It didn’t matter to Gussy; she sat there in love with a world full of heroes and villains.

She watched them all: B-movies on the KSOS Late Show, and art films at the C—–a City Film Festival, and VHS tapes rented from the Video Drome. Silent one-reelers, and experimental Polish films that lasted 36 hours. Brazilian horror, and Canadian animation (Canimation), and Australian porn. Amateurish genre pictures with explosions and tits, and studio blockbusters with explosions and tits. When Gussy got to Harper College, she got to Trauffaut and Eisenstein and Cassevetes; none of them told their stories the same, and sometimes there wasn’t a hero and there wasn’t a villain, but there was always a protagonist and an antagonist.

Guy wants to do something. Somebody else wants to stop the guy. Sometimes, the “somebody” was nature, or man’s inhumanity to man, or war, or whatever. Guy wants to do something. Somebody else wants to stop the guy. That’s what movies are.

Maybe she was optimistic. Maybe she was naive. Gussy believed she was a character in a story, and that structural rules applied, but now she didn’t all of a sudden. She knew that there were no heroes, but now she did not think that there were any protagonists, either, and she now believed that none of this made any fucking sense. There was no story, not in life, and there was no conflict: people bounced off one another, absorbed in their own bullshit. There was no one who knew what to do, and no one to save the day.

Gussy remembered something Mr. Venable had said to her a long time ago. “Little Aleppo fails with forward momentum, lurching from one catastrophe to the next,” he said; she did not pay him mind then, but now his words were tattooed on the inside of her forehead. There were no grown-ups, she thought. Life was just a series of moments, and all of us hanging on for dear life.

And Gussy thought, fuck that. There weren’t any grown-ups because no one stepped the fuck up to be one. Randomness was cowardice, she thought, and it took a hero in this godforsaken town. Someone who cared about the greater good, the general welfare, all that bullshit, and if it had to be her, then it had to be her.

She said in a confident voice,

“We need a plan.”

“Okay,” Precarious said. “Got any ideas?’

“No.”

Penny Arrabbiata snorted out her nose. It was all fucked. Her work, her home, her purpose. Person’s got to have a purpose, and Penny’s was in the 100-inch telescope that stuck out of Harper Observatory like a nipple in winter. Fucked, now. Gone and behind her and it was too late to start over, she didn’t have it in her and just wished everyone would leave her the fuck alone to do what she was intended to do.

You study things. After a while, they get to be yours. Life flakes off and shatters, and your hair turns gray. World gets wired for power, and the forests burn, and the tides corrode the land where they are tangent. Continents kiss, withdraw, come back together and give birth to mountain ranges. What remains is what’s in your head.

“We need to handle this gently.”

“You need to knock off the fucking floating,” Precarious said.

Officer Romeo Rodriguez was about a foot or so off the ground.

“Didn’t notice I was doing it.”

When he glided down to the ground, he did not stand on it. He was on top of the grass, but not on it. Ghosts look like the actors in old driving scenes, the lighting on them was off, somehow, and they didn’t match their surroundings. Officer Rodriguez did not mind the floating, not at all, even though he had imagined it would be more exhilarating. Flying like Superman probably would be, but either ghosts couldn’t do that or he hadn’t figured it out yet, and all he could manage was a gentle, directional weightlessness. He also didn’t mind not having to iron his uniform anymore. Since he had returned to the neighborhood, the green trousers and white short-sleeve shirt of his LAPD (No, Not That One) uniform had remained perfectly creased where they should be, and perfectly smooth where they should be, no matter how many cliff faces he drilled explosives into or vans he rode on top of.

“Like I was saying, we need to handle this gently.”

WHAP!

“You hit like a girl.”

“I am a girl, asshole.”

“You hit like a little girl.”

“Listen to me–”

“Why?”

“–you’re gonna…what?”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why should I listen to you?”

“Because I’m the one with the knife and you’re the one who’s tied up.”

“Taped.”

“What?”

“I’m not tied to the chair. I’m taped to the chair.”

“Whatever!”

“You want me to listen to you, but you’re confused about basic facts.”

“I’m not confused about shit. Now, listen to me.”

“No. Fuck you.”

“Listen to me!”

“Fuck you, pantyhose head.”

“How’d you even know it was her?”

“We went to high school together,” Romeo said. Precarious had forgotten how young he was; he looked away, took out his pack of Camels, lipped a cigarette out of the soft pack, offered it down the bench. Gussy took one, and Penny, too. Precarious flipped the top of his Zippo and FFT lit Penny’s, and then Gussy’s smokes. Closed the lighter, then opened it again FFT and lit his own. Three on a match was bad luck, so three on a Zippo must be catastrophic.

PHWOO.

PWHOO.

PWHOO.

“This whole neighborhood smokes too much,” Romeo said.

“And drinks too much,” Penny said.

“Don’t forget the drugs,” Gussy added.

“The cockfighting,” Precarious said, and Romeo snapped his head towards him and asked,

“Is there really cockfighting going on?”

“Every Tuesday night at Mister Slammer’s.”

Penny managed a smile, and Gussy laughed and put her hand on Precarious’ shoulder and said,

“That’s a different thing, honey.”

“No chickens?”

“No.”

“Can you still wager?”

“Hell, yeah. I won a hundred bucks there one night.”

When they looked up, Officer Romeo Rodriguez was floating there in the posture universally acknowledged to mean “I can’t believe you fucking idiots are fucking around.” It is a posture common to high school music teachers. Arms out, and hands splayed, and forehead beetled down into the eye sockets.

“You wanna be serious?”

WHY NOT JUST CALL THE AUTHORITIES?

In between Precarious and Gussy was a matte-black object made of metal with no seams. It was the size and shape of a mailbox on its side, and there was a glass outbubbling five inches in diameter on what could be considered its face.

“Cops go in, save Tommy, and what? What does that get us? Besides,” Romeo said, “the Boones own half the neighborhood.”

“It’s politics, Wally,” Precarious said.

DO NOT CALL ME THAT. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW THIS IS A POLITICAL MATTER.

“When you’re rich enough, everything’s political,” Gussy said.

“This Boone girl…what’s her name?”

“Melisandre,” Romeo said.

“Melisandre. Her family owns half the town and controls half the Town Fathers.”

THERE ARE FIVE. THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE.

Gussy pointed at Precarious accusingly and said,

“This is the shit I have to put up with all the time. You didn’t tell me what a pain in the ass he is.”

“Would you have let me install him in your theater if you knew?”

“No!”

“There you go.”

Penny coughed into her hand, and then she stubbed out her cigarette on the cement under the bench and said,

“Police will arrest Melissa–”

“Melisandre,” Romeo corrected her.

“–whatever her name is, and then all hell will break loose and Tommy will be even more pissed.”

“You know anything about Julius Caesar, sweetheart?”

“Don’t call me sweetheart. You’re a big talker for someone taped to a chair.”

“Taped. Right. You got it right. Good. Now, answer my question.”

“Ask it again.”

“You know anything about Julius Caesar?”

“Invented salad.”

“Funny. You’re funny. See, before Caesar was Emperor, he got kidnapped. 25 years old. Around your age, huh?

“You have a point?”

“Sicilian pirates. They set the ransom at 20 talents of silver.”

“What’s a talent?”

“An amount. May I continue?”

“Sure.”

“Caesar laughs at them. They got no idea who he is, he tells the pirates. Makes them demand 50 talents. Now, that’s a lot of silver, so it took his friends a month to come up with it. Caesar’s stuck there with these assholes, right? But, he’s Caesar. Won’t take being treated like a prisoner. Asserts his natural right of authority. By the end of the month, the pirates are taking orders from him.”

“You think you’re gonna wind up in charge here?”

“Ha. No. That’s not the point of the story. Didn’t get to that because you interrupted me so rudely. See, the whole time Caesar is with the pirates–getting to know them and making friends with them–he keeps telling them, ‘I’m gonna crucify all of you.’ Every day. And he’d say it like a joke, and the pirates would laugh and he would laugh. Ha ha ha.”

“Okay.”

“And his friends came with the silver, so he was let go. Caesar went back to Rome and raised a navy. You were allowed to do that back then if you were rich and powerful enough. Guess what happened.”

“He crucified the pirates.”

“No. He didn’t. Caesar was not a cruel man. He slit their throats.”

It is called the surgical theater for a reason: originally, it was a show. Just like the Roman games, you had the savagery in the center and civilization surrounding it. Early surgeries were communal affairs, with the whole hospital invited in to sit on the pews that cirlcled the bed and the blades and the blood. Doctors were called doctor, but surgeons were called mister, and they killed almost everyone they touched. Surgery was invented before antiseptics were invented, and before anesthetics were invented. It was a terrible idea to need surgery back then.

To give the doctors credit, they knew that they didn’t know what they were doing, and so they did not operate on people that mattered. Only bums and whores.

Human nature is stagnant, and culture is cyclical, but technology goes in one direction (at least since the Renaissance) and that is upwards and betterwards. A scalpel is technology, but one that is free of germs is a more advanced technology. Dulling pain with opiates or blotting it out with alcohol is an inferior technology to disconnecting the consciousness from the nerve endings.

The spleen is an wedge-shaped organ. It is in between the ninth and 11th ribs, located in the left hypochondrium and partly in the epigastrium; it can be removed laproscopically, but open surgery is recommended for trauma cases. Xiphoid process to the umbilicus, which means the bottom of the breastbone to the bellybutton: that is an upper midline incision, and it is recommended in trauma cases.

You can lose one of anything you have two of–kidneys, lungs, balls–and keep on choogling down the road, but of the singular organs, the spleen was in an exclusive club alongside the appendix: you could live without it.

Surgery is not performed on human beings. You can’t do that, cut into another human, it’s uncouth and unholy and even surgeons–who are assholes, every single one–could not do that, no, so they drape the body with sterile blue gowning, and there is a window to the organs inside. The surgeon operates on organs, not on humans.

The anesthesiologist sat on a stool by the patient’s head. Surgeon stood at his waist. Nurse next to the surgeon.

Tie off the veins, then sever them.

Lavage.

Slice through the ligaments.

Lavage.

The spleen connects to the stomach through gastric vessels; these must be ligated, and cut.

Lavage.

The anatomy was easy, and the technique could be acquired; the trick was keeping infection out. It wasn’t the hands poking around in the chest cavity that were the danger, it was the shit under the fingernails. Also helpful was not leaving surgical instruments in the patient, or operating on the wrong limb.

“Harper Observatory.”

“I own it.”

“You don’t.”

“Yeah? Says who?”

“The people.”

“Ha! The people. Fuck the people. I got a receipt. Bought it fair and square.”

“That’s what the lawyers say.”

“What the lawyers say is what matters.”

“The law is not the truth.”

“Oh, Christ, you’re in college, aren’t you?”

“Harper Observatory stays like it is.”

“College. Jesus, nothing good ever comes from college. Pampered little fucks.”

“You’re talking about being pampered?”

“I earned my life, sweetheart. I’ve succeeded in everything I’ve ever done. Singing? I sold out the biggest rooms. Dozens of hit singles. Acting? I got an Oscar, and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Fucked the most beautiful women on the planet. What have you done except go along with bad ideas?”

“I’m not going along with anything.”

“Yeah? You’re the brains of the outfit? Ha! Yeah, no. I don’t get that feeling.”

A MAN’S LIFE IS IN DANGER, AND YOU ARE CALCULATING THE BENEFIT OF VARIOUS RESPONSES.

“Well, you know, he is a real prick.”

AND BECAUSE TOMMY AMICI IS A PRICK, HE IS LESS WORTHY OF RESCUE?

Precarious lit another joint FFT and inhaled PHWOO and handed it to Gussy. She knew that the glass outbubbling of Wally’s technoproxy wasn’t technically his face, but she still avoided looking at it. Penny had her head back and stared at the stars.

“It’s complicated,” Gussy said.

ARE YOU CURRENTLY CALCULATING THE POTENTIALITIES OF HIS DEATH, AND HOW IT MIGHT AID OR HARM YOU?

“A little.”

I HAVE NOTHING FURTHER TO SAY.

Gussy handed the joint to Penny, and Precarious looked at Romeo, even though it felt like overclocking his eyeballs. A stopped watch was right twice a day, but an artificial mondo-intelligence in the physical form of a sound system was right more than that. Precarious didn’t want to admit it, though. Wally was prone to smugness.

“That gun do anything?”

Office Romeo Rodriguez was caught up in the question. It was a good question, and so he said,

“That’s a good question.”

“You’ve never fired it,” Precarious said.

“Of course I have.”

“Since you’re a ghost.”

“No.”

“So, your pistol could fire, like, zippity-zaps instead of bullets?”

“Maybe?”

“Unacceptable, Marine.”

“Kiss my ass.”

“I’m wrong?”

If Romeo Rodriguez had been a cop longer than a day, he would have learned how to win arguments through yelling, implied violence, and outright violence, but he had been murdered his first day on the job, and so was still able to be persuaded.

“I could go let off a couple rounds.”

Penny’s head snapped up.

“Do not fucking do that,” she said.

In the parking lot, teenagers fucked in the way back of their parents’ Volvo station wagons: the shock absorbers got a short, but intense, workout. Two cats, both black with yellow eyes and mean as hell, patrolled the ten-acre park atop the mountain. A junkie in a Toyota was getting clean tomorrow, but getting high now; she had the window cracked just a bit, and tried to ash her cigarette out but missed and now the glass was stained and smeary. There were post-docs from Harper College in the Observatory, and members of the Astronomy Club from Paul Bunyan High (Go Blue Oxen!).

The moon was a crescent, and to the northeast, and Precarious said,

“Okay, yeah.”

And he stood up, fixed his tee-shirt.

“I’m going,” Gussy said. She stood up, too.

“Got a gun?”

“I have pepper spray.”

“You’re not coming.”

“You have a gun?”

“Several.”

“Why?”

“Shit like this.”

I AM GOING, TOO.

Precarious nodded at Officer Rodriguez, and he kissed Gussy on the cheek, and then Penny. He walked off towards the parking lot, and Romeo floated.

“Could you walk like a fucking person, please?”

“I don’t even realize I’m doing it.”

“Pay attention.”

WHY ARE YOU LEAVING WITHOUT ME? I SAID THAT I WAS GOING.

Next to a bouncing Volvo, there was a 1977 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. It was Jennifer Blue and had doors the size of washing machines; Precarious opened his, and Romeo phased through the passenger door.

“Just open the fucking door, please.”

“It’s easier this way.”

“It’s fucking creepier that way.”

Precarious thumbed the electric locks, and all the doors except the passenger’s went CHUNK.

“And you fucked up the electrical system.”

“Oh. I didn’t know I did that.”

“Seems to be a running theme with you.”

Cadillacs don’t roar to life: they clear their throats, and take the road as if it had been promised to them. Precarious pointed the massive hood out of the parking lot and towards the single lane access that led to Skyway Drive.

“You wanna know where the warehouse is?”

“We’re picking someone up first.”

Gussy sat in between Penny and the metal object Wally was projecting his consciousness through on a bench above her home. She had been born in St. Agatha’s, which was there, and gone to high school at Paul Bunyan, which was there, and then Harper College, which was there, and The Tahitian was there. Her whole life, right in front of her and beneath her, and her grave, too. Gussy’s father left her brothers the money; she got the theater; they all got plots in Foole’s Yard, so the family could be together in death the way they chose not to be in life. Her whole life, right below and above her, and once again everything was out of her hands and lost to the whims of imbeciles and bad actors and men. Men were the problem, Gussy thought, but we let them get away with it, so fuck us, too.

Penny said,

“You want to look through the telescope?”

And Gussy answered,

“Fuck, yeah, I do.”

The two women got up off the bench and walked towards the Observatory.

EXCUSE ME.

Gussy went back to the bench and picked up Wally, and then the two women and the sound system walked towards the Observatory. It was rotating, so slowly that you could not see it unless you looked away, and the stars wheeled around above Pulaski Peak, which is high atop Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

Help On The Fenway

“Jenkins!”

“Yes, sir?”

“Boston, Jenkins.”

“Beantown, sir.”

“Oliver Wendell Holmes called it the Hub. Do you know why?”

“No, sir.”

“Terrible speech impediment. Couldn’t pronounce ‘Boston.'”

“Ah.”

“I am excited, Jenkins! Let’s get in the Boston spirit.”

“How, sir?”

“Segregate the office.”

“No, sir.”

“Sell off Babe Ruth.”

“We can’t, sir.”

“Strangle someone.”

“Lots of towns have had stranglers, sir.”

“Yes, but the Tulsa Strangler didn’t get a Rolling Stones song written about him, did he?”

“No, sir.”

“Bring me your neck, Jenkins.”

“Absolutely not, sir.”

“They say it’s the most intimate way to murder someone.”

“The poster, sir.”

“Poster!”

“Any ideas, sir?’

“What about a toothbrush for your asshole? That’d stick it to Big Toilet Paper.”

“Let’s table that, sir.”

“You don’t get to table anything, Jenkins. I’m the chair.”

“Perhaps I didn’t couch my statement properly.”

“Floor.”

“Yes, sir. Floor. Now, the poster?”

“Bear.”

“Bear, check.”

“One of those tank-lizards.”

“Turtles, sir. They’re called turtles.”

“They wear their ribs on the outside, Jenkins! Preposterous rib placement.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Jenkins?”

“Do you want ribs for lunch, sir?”

“You read my mind.”

“Anything else for the poster?”

“Bucky Dent refusing to make way for ducklings.”

“No, sir.”

“Whitey Bulger running over Tom Brady in a duck boat.”

“No, sir. No duck-related trolling at all.”

“What? We can’t make fun of Boston? Next, you’ll tell me we can’t make fun of homosexuals or the poor!”

“I shouldn’t need to tell you that, sir.”

“Oh, fine. Just throw the bear and the turtle and some skulls and whatnot in there.”

“So, same as usual?”

“Precisely. Rib time?”

“Rack ’em up, sir.”

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