Thoughts On The Dead

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

Sidewalks Of Little Aleppo

Tiresias Richardson, who plays Draculette on KSOS’ Late Show, calls her dressing room Masada. Her cameraman had bought her a star for the door, but he got a six-pointed one by accident. She went with it.

This was the year 73 or 74 AD, somewhere around there. Rome ruled Jerusalem. Judea had been a province for a hundred years, and were sick of rendering unto Caesar, and so there was the First Roman-Jewish War. By 73 or 74, the Romans were furious: the Jews had won several early battles due to Imperial underestimation, and so the great general Vespasian was dispatched to kick Hebrew ass, and when he became Emperor his son Titus remained in Judea to finish the job. By 73 or 74, it was almost over and the winner was who you’d figure, and so was the loser: the Jews had the story of David and Goliath, but the Romans had the legions. Just dead-enders left, almost 1,000, called Sicarii after the daggers they favored.

The Sicarii were also called Zealots. That’s where that word comes from.

Romans never salted the ground at Carthage: salt was far too valuable, and they didn’t need to. You don’t need salt when you have Scipio Africanus. Fields won’t produce any food if you kill and enslave the entire population and burn every single building to the ground. Scipio Africanus was like Sherman in a toga. The thing about the salt was just a bit of fancy talking that got taken for fact over the course of several thousand years. Roman soldiers got paid in salt, and they were worth their salt. Million people died during the war, mostly Jews, and the rest were enslaved and the city burned and the Second Temple went the way of the First.

Just the dead-enders left, almost 1,000, called Sicarii after the daggers they favored. They holed up in a fortress atop a mountain; there was only one path up and it was so narrow that two men could not walk abreast. This was the hilltop that David hid from Saul upon. It was impregnable. The Romans impregnated it. They built a ramp up the cliffs–it took three months–and then hauled up a log tipped with a 200-pound brass fist. Knocked.

When the legionnaires entered the fortress, they found almost 1,000 Sicarii dead, and everything burned but the food. They had left the storehouses full and untouched to show the Romans that they were not desperate, that they were not hungry, that they made this decision with a clear mind. Jewish law prohibits suicide, so the Sicarii had killed one another until there was just one left and he sliced his throat and damned himself. Two women and five children remained; they hid in a cistern; water is the stuff of life.

The mountain’s name is Masada

We know this from Flavius Josephus, and him alone. He was a Jew, a soldier, captured by the Romans who gained favor with Vespasian and became a Roman citizen and a historian. Only one source for an entire war. Until recently, of course, when science got involved and started poking around and taking notes and arguing amongst itself. Turns out a lot of what Josephus wrote doesn’t quite hold water. Might have made up the mass suicide. Make the Jews look good, make the Romans look good, everybody wins. Sounds like something a Jew captured by the Romans might do.

But it doesn’t matter whether a story’s true if it’s good enough.

“What happened to the two women and the five children?” Big-Dicked Sheila asked.

“Enslaved if they were lucky, I guess,” Deacon Blue said.

“What if they were unlucky?”

“Raped to death? I don’t know. Something terrible. It was the past.”

“Well, here’s to modernity. AAAAAHahaha,” Tiresias Richardson said and raised her glass. Sheila did, too. CLINK. They were drinking Black Russians because Sheila had forgotten to buy milk. They were on the ratty blue couch: Tiresias in her soft black bathrobe with her legs stretched out in front of her; Sheila kneeling and half-facing Tiresias. Deacon Blue was in the chair by the makeup mirror. There was a monitor sitting on top of the mini-fridge showing the studio feed in black and white. Cakey Frankel was reading the news.

“Uh-huh. Yeah. So,” Deacon Blue did not know how to say what he was saying. “The thing is about the meeting–”

“I totally know what to do,” Tiresias said.

Sheila nodded.

“She does, she does.”

They both sipped their drinks.

“Right.”

Louis Blue had not always been a man of God; in fact, he used to be a roadie. Which is the opposite.

Hump the speakers up the ramp and hump teenagers at the hotel, and there is the local union to deal with or fight with, but to under no circumstances gamble with. (Deacon Blue was a slow learner, and had to be taught that lesson several times.) The bus all night in stacked coffins–you sleep with your feet forward so a sudden stop doesn’t concuss you–and then the load-in starts early and bright: hockey arena, vaudeville theater, football stadium, racetrack, state fair, it’s all the same and never the same: this venue can’t handle the trucks, so the equipment needs to be carted in one piece at a time; that venue is full of racist spiders. Life on the road.

He was happy, he thought, but one day Deacon Blue found Christ, specifically the Iterated Christ, and he left the rock and roll life. It’s an interesting story, but it’s not the one we’re in the middle of.

“Tiresias,” he said. “Are you gonna be okay? The meeting. You gonna be okay?”

She straightened up her back and widened her shoulders. This was, after all, her dressing room.

“And why would I not be?”

“Honestly?”

“No, lie to me.”

“Every time I see you, you’re a mess.”

She took a big hit off her Black Russian.

“Coincidental.”

On the monitor, Cakey Frankel’s eyes shined like counterfeit pennies.

“The Harper Zoo has issued a statement saying, and I quote, ‘We have not lost any ostriches.’ What an odd statement to release.”

A hand reached in from off-camera with a sheet of paper.

“Breaking news, Little Aleppo. There’s an angry ostrich on the Main Drag. Oh, well, now the statement makes sense.”

Deacon Blue, Tiresias, and Sheila rose as one. To the door, and then the hallway where station owner Paul Loomis, Jr., joined them, and down the stairs, and out the front door of KSOS which was on the Main Drag. Sheila took out her cigarettes, offered the pack around–no, thank you from all three–and FFT with a brand-new yellow lighter PHWOO as windows opened up and down the street and Little Aleppians poked their heads outside like vertical prairie dogs.

“AAAAAAAHHHH!”

The Poet Laureate ran south down the Main Drag.

“OOOOMackackackOOOOMackackack!”

Ostrich.

“WOOOOOooooooOOOOOOOooooo!”

Cop car.

The two men and two women in front of KSOS watched the spontaneous parade of bird terror pass. Sheila scrunched up her nose in thought, scratched her lip, PHWOO, said,

“So, is the zoo lying or is that a random ostrich?”

“I was just wondering that,” Deacon Blue said.

“And which is worse?”

“I was wondering that, too.”

“Gorgeous feathers,” Paul Loomis, Jr., said dreamily.

The other three agreed.

“Tiresias, you understand my point, right?”

“No, Deacon, I do not.” She turned to face him; he was a few inches shorter than she was, but her height advantage was partially negated by the fact that she was wearing a bathrobe on the sidewalk. “State it clearly, please.”

“Please do not fuck this up.”

“That was clear.”

“They don’t bury their heads in the and when they’re scared, you know. Ostriches,” Paul Loomis, Jr., said. “Pliny the Elder wrote that they did, and everyone just believed him.”

“What do they do when they’re scared?” Sheila asked.

“Slice your guts open with their six-inch talons.”

“Huh. That’s, like, the opposite of burying your head in the sand.”

“Conceptually, yeah.”

Tiresias’ hands were on her hips.

“You’re very judgemental for a man of the cloth,” she said.

“Shit, I’m not judging anything or anyone.”

“You should tell your tone of voice.”

“Tiresias. Please. I’m just trying to get everybody on the same page,” he said.

“The page with the 12 Steps on it?”

Deacon Blue reached into his suit-colored suit jacket, came out with a sliver flask with an inscription that read You know what this is for –  EP. Tilted it to the sky for a two-count and then flung a breath out through his nose and made a noise like HOO and then offered the flask to Tiresias, who was smiling: she was an actress, and therefore appreciated a dramatic gesture. Took the flask, drank–whiskey–and handed it back.

“We don’t need to fight,” she said.

“Well, no,” he said and took another slug and returned the flask to its hidey-hole. “We do need to fight. But just not each other.”

They both smiled.

“AAAAAAAHHHH!”

The Poet Laureate ran north up the Main Drag.

“OOOOMackackackOOOOMackackack!”

Ostrich.

“WOOOOOooooooOOOOOOOooooo!”

Cop car.

Night had arrived at the Jeremiad in the Low Desert. It was cold. The desert has no soil that has warmed all day under the spoiling sun, and little vegetation to hold in the heat, and so it is cold when it is dark: the temperature drops 40 degrees in the hour encompassing sunset, quick enough to blast-chill the sweat off your chest and set you to spastic shivering, chattering teeth and all.

If you’re going to spend the night in the Low Desert, you should know how to start a fire.

The horses had blankets, thick and canvas and faded, and they stood sleeping tethered to the cottonwood trees that had all day provided shade for the two men by the springs, which emptied and bubbled into a pool the shape of the top two segments of a snowman. They had blankets, too, the men, and they sat curled into themselves against the cold.

“Time has oddened, Peter.”

“Time’ll juke and jive on ya, Preacher.”

“It goes faster in some places. Not here. I believe we are in some sort of sink. A temporal well. Slower. More…more…”

“Gloopy?”

“Precisely. There are places where time is mercury, and there are places where time is pitch. Time is the Christ, Peter, but a transient Christ. It’s not always the same. It’s slower here. I do not know why, but it is.”

“Desert pace out here. See the mountains? See the stars? We’re breathing at their rate now, and our hearts need as little blood as cactuses need water.”

“Cacti.”

“Them, too.”

The Reverend Busybody Tyndale and Peter, who was not a Pulaski, jittered under their blankets and their mouths vibrated with steam and theories: they had each eaten a dozen or so of the Jeremiad cactus’ flowers, which were dark-green and shaped like aspirin tablets.

“It speeds along out there. In our home. Not here.”

“We don’t live here,” Peter said.

“I know that.”

“You can’t live here. There’s no food.”

“I meant back at the village.”

“Tons of food there.”

Busybody stretched an arm out of his blanket and put his hand as close to the fire as he was able.

“It speeds along because it’s the time of the future. It all happens at once, Peter, except the rate is different. This is why we cannot talk to the future. They’re here, but they’re going too fast for us to see. Like water in a rushing river. You can’t see the drops. Just a blur. Maybe a week or two has gone by in their world while we’ve sat here.”

Peter thought that over for a second. Then, he said,

“Your blanket’s on fire.”

“Shit!”

The Reverend Busybody Tyndale panicked, tried to extricate himself from his blanket–just a tiny corner of it was on fire–but tripped and fell on his face; unfortunately, this was towards the fire and the blanket flipped up over his back and into the flames and now more of it was on fire.

“Stop moving,” Peter said as he tried to slap out the flames with his hands.

“Stop hitting me!”

“I’m not hitting you, jackass.”

Busybody tried to get up again, fell again, more fire, and now Peter started laughing (he did not mean to) and could not stop: huge weeping hurks and haws, and he wiped his eyes of tears and kept slapping at the burning blanket.

“This is not funny.”

The Reverend was wrapped up in the flames, and so Peter–still laughing–picked his up and threw him into the springs of the Jeremiad; Busybody bobbed to the surface sputtering as Peter went to one knee in hysterics and then the other. His stomach was cramping and there was snot coming out of his nose.

Floating in the Jeremiad, the universe above him and the desert around him, the Reverend Busybody Tyndale was no longer on fire and if he had known of the concept of a third eye, he would have said that his had opened. Nothing is more important than not being on fire, he thought. It was a very important thought, he thought. Later, he would try to explain this thought to Peter, but find that he did not have the words. It was a personal thought. People had those when they ate a dozen or so of the Jeremiad cactus’ flowers.

He felt like Jonah, like he was inside of something large enough to be unknowable.

“AAAAAAAHHHH!”

The Poet Laureate ran south down the Main Drag.

“OOOOMackackackOOOOMackackack!”

Ostrich.

“WOOOOOooooooOOOOOOOoooo”

Cop car.

“I could watch this all day,” Sheila said and passed a joint to Deacon Blue, who looked up and down the Main Drag before accepting it, hitting it quickly, passing it to Tiresias.

“It’s oddly calming,” he said.

“Well, not for the Poet Laureate,” Tiresias said.

“No, guess not. You’ll be good for the meeting?”

“Absofuckinglutely.”

Nature would out. Even on the Main Drag, nature would out, and then you were left to sprint for your life from giant semi-dinosaurs with no sense of humor. News would break, and fire would catch, and if you were lucky you could maintain a bit of perspective, but only if it was not happening to you. Easy to get lucky. Tough to stay lucky. Hang around long enough and it would be your turn to get chased down the Main Drag, which is in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

3 Comments

  1. My daughter’s inside-the-family nickname (e.g. what I actually call her when I speak to her, and have for 20+ years) is Kakey (Kake for short), so she always gets a link when Miss Frankel appears.

  2. for those interested in masala and zealots and history and such i would highly recommend ‘the cartoon history of the universe vol 1 and 2) Larry Gonick’s hilariously informative history of the planet is a great addition to the growing field of comics trade books. Starting with the Big Bang theory and moving on to the “evolution of everything,” he manages to cover three billion years–from the origins of cellular life to the fossil and dinosaur periods that followed, right up to the first appearance of hominids–all with casual erudition, silly humor and delightfully cartoony black-and-white drawings. But Gonick doesn’t stop there. He reinstates the record of women (their theoretical role in the development of agriculture and the matrilineal clans of the neolithic era) as well as accurately restoring black racial characteristics to the Egyptian dynasties. He also surveys other highly evolved ancient civilizations: the Sumerians, the Hittites, the Assyrians and the Israelites. Gonick cheerfully conjures rulers, warriors and slaves alike, many stumbling around in the desert, as they form the foundations for Western civilization. This is Gonick’s first book.

  3. I have been to Masada twice.

    It is pretty crazy, really one of the highlights of places I have been.

    You stop at a rest area and a bedouin has a fancy camel you can take your picture with.

    I could go on, it is really neat.

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