A Season Brighter Than Before

by Guy Walker

I guess it wouldn’t have been long before he’d be found eventually. You can’t just wander off into the designated frontier, and never be seen again. I imagine this guy Rocco hoped to only be found by the right people, the people who would pity him and give him food…and somehow always elude the authorities who came out here every week on horseback looking for him. We just don’t live in that kind of frontier anymore. There’s no more wilderness that will sustain a man, at least not one that will nourish him the ways we now need to be nourished. There’s no more wilderness, no more mutated strata of stars and spectacle, no more cathedrals of ferns and bright tendrils. There is, at best, a pathway, winding its way through the long shadowy peaks, and you can ooo and aww at the highlighted things, the way runny-nosed children do while bobbing along a slow ride at an amusement park.

But this guy, you’d almost think, wanted to be caught. Sympathetic hikers left him whatever trail mix and instant-cook chili they had remaining on their return to the parking lot, and he just piled the enormous heap of the plastic packaging into a small mountain by the river. Rumor had it, he would join couples having a romantic night alone in the natural hot springs, and would always be naked, and made everyone uncomfortable. Anyways, he was probably going to be found eventually, but he sure didn’t make it any easier for himself.

……

Eloise finished packing the tent as the sun finally rose over the ridge of the mountain. Everything was in order. Breakfast was eaten, and the last of the coffee was poured, and Ernest was washing the dishes in the clear miniature waterfall that flowed from the edge of the hot springs. Pastures of moss melted like dessert over large stones, the whole coruscating arena of lichens and songbirds and wildflowers hummed under the weight of another morning. Four mountain goats walked delicately along the steep slope of the mountain, sending discarded shards of rock in small cascades down towards the stream.

They’d been out here three nights, and another two hiking out, but would hike back the entire thing in one day. It was their first camping trip together, and they both felt as good as they had in a long time. They must’ve had sex three times a day…in the tent, and on the beds of moss, and on the large flat stones circling the hot tub. And for both of them, it felt like what people mean when they say they made love instead. The man thought about this, and thought about how cheap words become, especially the older we get. What a shame, he thought. Even the most brilliant things go all lukewarm whenever we try to tell them to others. Even when we tell them to ourselves. He washed the last of the silverware, and piled them all together. She watched him stand up from the edge of the pool, his face entering the sunlight from its lower bed of shade, and she knew confidently for the first time that she could love him.

When they started hiking, they hiked briskly, wanting to get back before nightfall. They must have covered ten or eleven miles in a few short hours, chatting aimlessly and excitedly along the way. They had seen many people on their way out, but hadn’t seen anyone else during their days at the hot springs, and hadn’t seen anyone all morning while hiking back. “I guess that Rocco guy must’ve moved on. Gone to the city, or another lake or river…or maybe he died,” he said. “Don’t say that,” Eloise said. “That’s not nice.”

Just then he saw through the trees ahead of them a group of horses crowded together. He thought they were just riders enjoying themselves, but as the leaves cleared saw that they were all sheriffs, waiting near the pile of trash that Rocco had made. They were standing around the river’s edge, the horses’ necks depressed, drinking from the slow current passing through the long green reeds. Little tadpoles with legs sprouting miraculously swam haphazardly amongst the tangles of algae and rotting debris. The sheriffs all had bulletproof vests, and their full globular necks swelled like hams from out the tops of the vests. A few of the men had perfectly shaved heads, and although they all wore cowboy hats, the bald sides of their heads gleamed like a glossy porno against the sun. Two of the sheriffs were women, real thick and masculine like, overcompensating for some deserted manliness they lost forever ago. They’d seen Magnificent Seven too many times, convinced a cowboy hat and some long ruffled leather gloves that puffed out like bellbottoms out passed their forearms made them Teddy Roosevelt. As if they were purposefully reenacting this cinematic nostalgia in their own company, like those flamboyant cads who do those Civil War reenactments for children and their goading parents. They spoke amongst themselves, not yet seeing Ernest and Eloise.

“Yeah so we got these kumquat trees in the backyard that I planted six or seven years ago,” one of the sheriffs said to another.

“A what tree?” another asked.

“A kumquat tree.”

“That’s gross. What’s a kumquat tree?”

“Well, exactly. My wife hates the sound of the word kumquat. Says it makes her all squeamish, like the sound of the word ‘dangle’ or ‘panties’ or ‘discharge’ or something. She makes me refer to it as the ‘pom-pom tree’. So I got a bunch of jars of pom-pom marmalade for you and the family if you want any.”

“God no. Thanks, but that stuff gives me the runs.”

“Hogan, how you know it gives you the runs if you didn’t even know what a kumquat was?” a third sheriff remarked.

“Hey you guys,” the man named Hogan said suddenly, seeing Eloise and the man on the other side of the river. “We got a coupla…coupla people.”

“Where ya’ll from!” the leader of the group asked. He had a thick dark mustache, gold-rimmed aviators that dug into his fat temples, and a mouth full of chewing tobacco. He spat into the clear water, and the loogie of tobacco spit swirled and spread out and disappeared.

“Ojai. Couple hours down south, if you know it,” she said.

“Yeah we know it…Not much out here is there?”

“What do you mean?”

“Not many people. Rocks mostly. You come all the way out here for rocks? Ya’ll have great rocks down in Ojai, seen ‘em when I was a kid.”

“Uh, no not many people I guess. You’re the first ones we seen all day. We saw your horse shit on our way out, but it was old shit.”

“Yeah, that was our horses’ shit.”

“No animals allowed on these trails, except ours. So it musta been our shit,” Hogan repeated.

 “Thought it was from recreational riding, people just enjoying themselves, you know, but I guess you come out here every week huh?” Eloise replied.

“Yeah, we the only horses that ever come on this trail…Hey boy, you speak?” the leader said, pointing at the Ernest. The other deputies looked up from their reins or from each other, and all stared at the man.

“Yeah I speak, what’s the matter?”

“You see a cat in a purple robe, maybe asking around for food?”

“A cat in a purple robe?” Eloise asked.

“I’m talkin’ to him,” he said, raising his voice to almost a yell.

“You say a cat in a purple robe?” the man named Ernest asked.

“Yeah.”

“No offense officer, but are you talking about?”

“I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s a guy who’s been roaming around here for some time, stirring up trouble, bothering hikers, pulling out his willy in the hot tubs, makin’ all sorts a folk uncomfortable.”

“Ohh, a guy. A man. Sorry, you had me confused there for a second.”

“Well, have you?

“No, we haven’t seen a cat in a purple robe,” Ernest said, annoyed now.

“We haven’t seen a cat in any colored robe,” Eloise added with a tinge of sarcasm.

“Ya’ll being cheeky with me now?” the leader asked.

“No mister, just trying to get along with you,” Eloise replied.

“Okay well, you better get a move on. We got ourselves a great shark hunt out here. Can’t be too careful. You two have a great day.”

They reached the other side, hiked up the hill just a little further, looking for a rock or something to lay their packs on, and rest, and drink the last of their water before the next big climb until it came down into the tall grass pastures a couple miles ahead, where the river slowed and swelled into these deep and magnificent turquoise pools. They had already planned on stopping there before, while passing it in the other direction, on their way out. They made a point of it, citing that it was a quarter mile or so off the path, and so they could get naked comfortably, and wash themselves and make lunch and have sex again under one of those huge willows that shaded the grassy embankment and hung broadly over the pool.

The man’s lower back ached even more than his shoulders, but he knew he couldn’t complain more than once, or else he would draw attention to it…or rather draw attention to his tendency to complain, especially because she had never made a mention of her own discomfort. She remained so positive and upbeat, he thought, even through the most strenuous climbs. She often made stops by herself, just to admire desert flowers, or to watch the way an insect crawled up the long slender stem of a plant. He wished he did things like that more, for himself, without any of the usual pretense with which he typically did things. Because at home, where he lived in this old cabin amongst the oak trees and the eucalyptus trees, he spent a lot of time in his garden, reading and writing and gardening, and sometimes feeding four adolescent foxes; but he wasn’t sure that these private courtesies made him happier in any meaningful way. He wished they did. Who knows, maybe they did somewhat. And he watched her carry out these moments that she made for herself, and knew they were full and resplendent in their delivery. He watched her long golden legs in front of him, climbing the hill with an ease he never noticed before. Goddamnit I’m hungry, he complained to himself. Food will be so good, because she’s making it. I feel so much better when I eat her food. I need to take better care of myself, he thought for the thousandth time. I’ll cook for myself more when I get home. I’ll cook vegetables and fish, and stop eating cookies and light beer every time I’m alone. I’ll tend to the garden more, stop smoking, take the time to make myself a cup of tea in the evening. I’ll take the time to just enjoy the tea in the garden as the evening rolls into night, and do nothing else but think, because I haven’t just sat there and thought about nothing in as long as I can remember.

As he watched her long legs walk in front of him, he thought about the time he lived in Norway, many years ago, on this remote archipelago way up north…and during the summer months when the sun never went down, he fished for cod with a friend or friends, from the rocks on the edge of the ocean. And they would cook it and eat it right there. Or at low tide, they collected blue shells from the base of one of the smaller nearby bridges. Or they would hike up to one of the small cabins that belonged next to one of their many mountain lakes, and catch trout, and gather boletes and chanterelles, and stay up all night telling each other stories of old love affairs. And he thought that it was sad that he never did those things anymore, that the days he would really remember were mostly behind him. He thought that maybe this trip would change things, that he would come out of it more restored, more in love with the terminable days that collapsed like rubble behind him. But the daily mania was so compelling, and the preserved tediums piled in front of him, convinced of their own worth.

They stopped on a knoll of crumbling rock…a shrub with bright yellow flowers shaped like little teacups sprouted from the wreckage, and a honeybee moved from one flower to the next, crawling around inside, covering himself in pollen, completely unarmed against the plant pheromones. They set their packs down, and she prepared a cup of tea from his heavy thermos.

He looked back to see again where the sheriffs had interrogated them by the river, where Rocco’s camp of trash and turds he had collected over the past few months were. Dried-up clumps of leaves and grasses hung like bird nests onto the branches of the trees six feet above the existing flow of the river. They were gray and old, from many years ago, but still proved that the river used to gush through there at least six feet higher than it was flowing now. And he imagined how much of the terrain that would have covered. He imagined how many more foxes and bobcats and songbirds would have come through, how much more florescent the greens would have been through those parts, how the soaked chimeras and cannibalisms that covered themselves in turquoise and gold would behave themselves, how the stelliferous nightmares swirled overhead in invisible hues. He remembered those last three nights the two of them spent, wrapped in each others arms as they watched the maple and willow leaves shiver against the light of the nearly full moon. Coyotes howled in their capsules of eternity…a skunk wobbled through the rocky shallows, his tail waving high like a surrenderer’s flag…the bur-sage and mallow and lupin yawning heavily amongst each other in their groups. Night after night, after every successive season and year, the flowers went on as before, glittering against the tan and otherwise banal sceneries with their thimbles full of dyed tinctures. Maybe it’ll be like that again someday, he thought, when the hills are replenished with greens and wild colors, and never ruined again. Damn. He wiped the sweat from under his hat and then sipped the tea from the tin cup that Eloise had poured for him.

Right then, Rocco popped his head up like a meerkat out of the overgrown thicket of chaparral.

“Oh fuck!” Eloise gasped, seeing him first.

His hair was a thickly matted dirty blonde, and his face was smeared with ash and already leathered by the sun, but his eyes were healthy and lucid, and he could have been good looking if he was good at looking after himself. He wore that purple robe without blame, buttoned neatly down beginning at his navel, like he was Hugh Hefner’s starving duplicate, clad in this absurd velvet gown in the high desert. He waved gently with one hand, as if he too had heard all the rumors about him—all the schizophrenic breaks and screaming, all the willy waving, all the spontaneous crying in the night, all the stealing of food and supplies and women’s underwear when they left for day-hikes. Because, he probably knew those stories were based on all the whispered gossip that traveled through countless ears of hikers over the course of those several months he’d been there. It was an uncoordinated game of telephone, one hiker to the next, expanding and elaborating an already ridiculous tabloid of conversation. It was as if he had heard those rumors too, and wanted to resolve all of them and calm everyone’s nerves with one complete smile.

“Hi guys. You don’t have any leftover food you don’t want to carry back with you, do you?”

He spoke in a higher voice than Ernest expected, purposefully meek, but genuine still. The sheriffs were no more than fifty meters away, walking in a single-file cavalry procession. Eight white cowboy hats bobbing along obediently; eight horsetails cinched tight above the asshole, plumb in their very noble and attentive posture, their huge vascular and sinewed legs heaving forward flawlessly. You could see them all in the same picture frame: eight sheriffs on horseback, walking along the riverbank, about to disappear behind the dense canopy; and then Rocco, a hungry fugitive, carelessly outsmarting the authorities for another time. He was mostly innocent of course, hunted out of boredom, the sheriffs’ despondent gallantry shoving along as before.

“No, we don’t have any. Sorry,” Ernest said.

“No worries, thank you guys,” he said sweetly.

Eloise rustled through the top of her backpack, and pulled out a canvas bag full of several foods and snacks. “You can have this. It’s got lots of goodies.”

“Thank you,” he smiled shy and excited.

Eloise tossed the bag over the many coastal sage scrub and poison oak and creosote, and he caught it with both hands, thanked them again and ducked out of sight again.

“Oh my god,” she said more to herself than to Ernest. “I had something in that bag I was going to give you.”

“What was it?”

“I need that bag. Wait!” she then yelled across the thick shrubbery.

He popped up again. The velveteen robe shimmered against the sunlight. The last sheriff in the line of horses turned around at her exclamation. He first looked at Eloise, who stood there with huge and horrified eyes, and then to Rocco, who saw Eloise staring terrified in the direction of the sheriffs. Rocco then glanced in the direction of the sheriff, his casual insouciance barely acknowledging him.

“Hey Meatball! Hogan! Lance! You guys!” the last sheriff yelled. “There he is!” He gleamed, pointing eagerly in Rocco’s direction. 

The other sheriffs’ necks bulged with blood like enormous cocks. They all turned around in unison, and tugged on their reins to the right, pulling their horses’ necks erratically. Rocco ducked behind and under the line of creosote, and disappeared into the thicket. The sheriffs all left the delicate order of the trail, and started galloping their miniature stampede through the grasses and into the shallow riverbed like they had always wanted to, like it was their cinematic fantasy to finally be able to do this, amongst some doughty dream that never existed in reality. This is what it was all about. This galloping climax is the ephemeral flurry of why they hoisted themselves up on horseback day after day in the first place. Ernest could see the top of Rocco’s head darting through the gaps in the shrubbery as the sheriffs closed in almost immediately. Eloise gasped, and screamed one desperate No! as the last sheriff (who was now the first sheriff) grabbed the collar of Rocco’s robe with one hand and yanked back the reins with the other. The horse skidded to a stop, and the sheriff rolled off the horse with all his weight, collapsing onto the poor transient, the two of them just a heap of bodies on the edge of the riverbank. The other sheriffs arrived in a second, surrounding the mass of wrestling tumble beneath them, like some profane order of fraternity. Rocco tried to escape, pushing the sheriff’s lips and nose up with the bottom of his palm. The sheriff punched him in the face, breaking his nose, sending it into a gurgling spring of blood. Rocco miraculously stayed conscious, and kicked the sheriff in the testicles, and tried to scramble away on all fours between two of the horses, frightening one, it frantically rearing on its hind legs, throwing off the fattest sheriff. The horse landed back down with one hoof on Rocco’s head, crushing it against a rock in the riverbed, killing him instantly.

Eloise screamed, the masticated gore of the man’s head and hair crushed into the pomaded uniform of the purple robe. Bits of bone speckled against the glossy colorful nebulae of the crimsons and violets that crowded together in their puddle. “Git outa here!” one of the sheriffs yelled to the man and woman; and then he heaved himself off the horse awkwardly, swinging a pudgy leg around in order to inspect the crushed head of the stranger they just killed. Ernest and Eloise didn’t move, speechless at what just took place in front of them. One of the female sheriffs started walking up the trail on her horse towards them. “Come on Eloise. Let’s go, or she’s going to stomp on our heads too.” “But they just killed him!” she cried. He grabbed her arm and pulled it up the trail. “That horse is on steroids. And she probably is too. Come on.” They turned away, walking up the rest of the hill to where it crested amongst the scraggly rubble of an already deteriorating mountain. They looked back as they walked up, and the lady had stopped but was watching them to make sure they fully left the scene. Eloise cried as the body of Rocco lay there completely limp, and the sheriffs stood around staring down at him, not yet sure what to do.

They stood at the top of the hill, and watched two of the sheriffs lift the dead body of the man, flipping him over onto his back, as another sheriff gathered the reins of a few of the horses to tie them securely to a tree.

“What are we supposed to do,” Eloise asked. And the man didn’t say anything. He stood there, staring down on one side of the mountain at the turquoise pools a thousand feet below. A red tailed hawk soared by without a sound, without flapping its wings. All that sky beneath him, searching for an isolated tremble amongst the many exits and entrances of where gofers thatched in the vast expanse around him. And Ernest turned and looked on the other side, where the man lay dead. He didn’t say anything. The hawk landed in front of them, on a dead scrub bush that had once grown from a crack in a rock jutting out from the furthest edge of the cliff. It looked down at the scene that had just taken place. It waited there for a minute, and then looked down at the mountain beneath him, and then out across the enormous valley sprawled out. One of its eyes was a bright rusty brown, with a large pupil, staring attentively and without blinking. The other was blind, covered over as a milky pearl. He stared at the couple for a few moments with its good eye, and then spread its wings again and flew away. “Come on,” the man said, “There’s nothing we’re supposed to do.”

“What do you mean,” she said. “Our phones are dead, but at least we can make an official complaint or something.”

“Yeah, I suppose. May as well.”

But he knew it wouldn’t matter. He knew, just as I know, and just as you know, that man will do everything he can to leave us nothing. He was probably going to be found eventually, but it didn’t matter. They’ll take everything they can, and then disappear at last.

Tragedy, Here We Come!

by Guy Walker

On May 21st, 2020, just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, with incredible economic devastation still to come, the Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill to give Israel a minimum of $38 billion over the next ten years, about $10 million per day, shuffled out of our coffers like piñata confetti. Most of us were still hiding behind drawn curtains, mixing antidepressants with wine, holding Lysol cans with both hands, ready to spray anything that came near us. It didn’t matter though, there was a conflict to fund. In the 1948 expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs — about half their population at the time — and the destruction of between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages, their Nakba (“disaster” or “catastrophe” in Arabaic) was solidified and ensured. So, when news came out that the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million of precision-guided weapons to Israel, and Netanyahu has continued this bombing campaign that’s killed more than 200 Palestinians this current round, more than a quarter of which have been children, trying to take control of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, it was no wonder people lost their minds.

The broad conversation about the conflict has come a long way. Even the most recent major escalation, in 2014, didn’t garner nearly this much public support for the Palestinian people. People have taken to the streets, marching in solidarity, in numbers never before seen. A hundred thousand marched in London; twenty thousand marched in Chicago; ten thousand in D.C. They’re doing it all over the world, with obvious cultural parallels to the George Floyd protests, and it might just help nudge the tone and tenor of international diplomacy, perhaps even how much military aid the US is willing to give Israel in the future. But you can almost hear the stammering replies wherever you go. But what about the rockets? Are you willing to condemn Hamas? Doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself? Some iterations of these have been repeated into the echoing eternity, with vast cauldrons of dead Palestinian children all stamped and numbered and categorized that they were killed in self-defense. Excusing an apartheid state in the shoal depths of disbelief. If you hear someone explain why it’s both sides that are fault, why both sides need to come to the table for peace, why both sides have attacked and killed innocent civilians, be wary of what they’re trying to accomplish. Of course we don’t support Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately at centers of large civilian populations. Of course we don’t support the deafening nescience of antisemitism that has materialized. Even having to say this is the fault of political speak, an obligatory platitude that produces squeamishness in all who are around to hear it. Of course both sides have committed unconscionable acts of horror, and dismantled families forever. But the clean and convenient determination of both sides, as if you can now dust your hands clean of the confrontation, and not have to pick a side, as if you were perfectly balancing horror on one of those antique brass balance scales, looked at it through your pince-nez glasses, and determined yes, yes, both sides are indeed at fault. It just isn’t that kind of scale.

As Jeremy Scahill notes in his piece in The Intercept, this is an “asymmetric campaign of terror waged by a nuclear power against a people who have no state, no army, no air force, no navy, and an almost nonexistent civilian infrastructure.” They live in what amounts to an open air prison, as Scahill notes, continuously bombarded and encroached upon, in an eight decade long Nabka. Stories have been published about families in Gaza coming together under the same roof, simply so they can die together. Ethno-nationalist mobs are storming through the streets of Israel, terrorizing and beating Arab civilians, organizing themselves in over a hundred WhatsApp groups. So, when Hamas fires rockets, it is a desperate ditch effort of bringing a stone to a gunfight. In addition, Hamas’ rockets are virtually ineffective. The Iron Dome air defense system intercepts almost all rocket attempts from Hamas. During the Operation Pillar of Defense, in November of 2012, Iron Dome determined two-thirds of the rockets fired were not a threat, and intercepted ninety percent of the remaining 300. Only three Israelis were killed in this attack, due to what was determined a malfunction in the Iron Dome system. So, this is not a balancing-act-of-blame when one side is backed by a blank check military apparatus from the United States, a policy that has long been the status quo by both Democrats and Republicans. From 1995 to 2005, for example, Israel and the United States developed the Nautilus laser defense system, spending $600 million, only to scrap it altogether, concluding it wasn’t feasible after all. This is what the people of Palestine are up against, trapped in their claustrophobic cage of death and sodden misery as a nuclear power is funded from the other end. So while Hamas is far from a gleaming, functioning democracy, it’s unfortunately the only armed resistance that’s willing to fight back. The shimmering horrors of desperation breeds madness, and madness breeds more desperation, like an entropic feedback loop that only produces more misery.

Both the Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capitol. Israel took control of the eastern end of the city in 1967, after the Six Day War, formally annexing it in the 80’s. In the Old City of Jerusalem is the Temple Mount, a holy site to both Muslims and Jews. Known to Muslims as Haram ash-Sharif, it’s one of three of the holiest sites, the third holiest amongst Sunni Muslims, as the place where Muhammed ascended to heaven. According to Jewish theology, the third and final Temple will be built when the Messiah comes. The first was built by King Solomon in 957 BCE, and destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire nearly four hundred years later. Zerubbabel, governor of the Achaemenid Empire’s province Yehud Medinata, built the second, which was then destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. And so they’re waiting around for the Messiah to come and build the final one. So, if it’s the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf who controls it, the Israeli police or military, or some combination of the two, banning one another access or open prayer at the site, the clashing will continue into its disarray. The Israeli settlements are about ensuring dominance in the area, and therefore exclusivity to their holy site.

In one sense, the absurdity of these ancient cartoon horrors seem like just another footnote in our never-ending lineage of tribal and religious wars. Different broods of antiquated beliefs throwing war-bloated tantrums over who control the shiny dome. There’s an impulse to scoff the whole thing away, the way Christopher Hitchens did in his later years, and say if religions want to bomb each other for having such stupid beliefs, let them do what they want. But Hitchens became insipid and callous in his later years. It’s too important and heart-wrenching to follow that impulse, to lose our empathy across nations, to lose that a priori understanding of ourselves as a product of one another. Too many innocent people are dying and losing their homes, and everything they know. I grew up religious, in a pious and reserved Christian Science family. I went to a Christian Science liberal arts college, and read enough Nietzsche and Baudrillard, Foucault and Derrida, Dawkins and Sagan, to quickly turn me into a predictably pompous, intellectually-entitled atheist. I don’t know what I am now, but I do know there is a danger in monocultures of vast secularism — it breeds religious ignorance, and therefore historical ignorance. And civilizations that don’t know their history are doomed. There’s probably never going to be a happy medium, never going to be a common plateau of scientific literacy that just replaces the void where the stories of religion once dominated. I sense that Dawkins and other famous atheists believed it would. But we do what we can, to be tolerable of the truths that tend to waver.

Or, maybe Hobbes was correct, in that this is the hell we’ve created for ourselves by realizing the truth all too late. The oppressed become the oppressors. All too often this is the cyclical pattern of our bilious hellscape. Torch and torture the Other, corral them into bitter opprobriums, tighten the paddocks of rubble and chewed rebar, see how pathetic and barbarous they’ll become, what profanities they’ll stoop to. Why do we do this? Are we not less brutes than when we crawled from the muck of sulphuric pits? Has our wealth and modernity only succeeded in distancing ourselves from the scorched perdition we send elsewhere? Years ago, I would just quote something by Schopenhauer or someone, who said religions are like fireflies because they need darkness to shine. But it’s not satisfying to blame religion anymore. If you blame the banners of strange belief, you again dust your hands clean of anything further; you say, it’s tribal warfare way over there, and you move on. Chomsky has spent the better part of his life criticizing American foreign policy not because it’s a voguish contrarian thing to do; but because we are, in effect, partly responsible for it, and have the obligation to try to change it in whatever infinitesimally small way we can. So you stand on the streets with others, in solidarity protests, you donate to the causes you see fit, because it’s adding in some way to the collective psyche that our legacy of death and colonization needs to end.

And things are changing in some ways. It’s daunting to imagine a collective response from our ill-equipped peasantry against a $38 billion siphon into a rightwing colonial apartheid state, and then an additional $735 million military bonus like is was a casual gift basket; but mass movements operate like an immune system within our defective species, pushing like pleading armies for things to autocorrect. Will things get worse before they get better? Almost certainly. But I feel like people have been saying that for centuries. I do believe we’re caught in a cyclone of self-made entropy, our ejaculatory ennui smearing the whole world with an unraveling foment like it was a slug trail of despair, most of our wealth going to more advanced ways of killing ourselves and the planet. But we still try to nudge our quaint and adorable hopes forward. Because maybe, against all odds, we’ll win once or twice. And those will start to add up.

Trump’s Final Farewell

DUSTY: What does that mean, “in-famous”?

NED: Ohh Dusty. “In-famous” is when you’re more than famous. This man, El Guapo, is not just famous, he’s in-famous.

-Three Amigos!

What would it be like to be rich and famous, you wonder. Or rather, what does it mean? If in their final fleeting moments of life, what if the richest amongst us thought soberly and somberly for the first time about all the vacuous horrors they committed? If during those last short and punctured breaths through their dry gaping anus of a mouth, and that dormant tongue of perverse fortune, if they saw the light, as it were, even for the shortest of moments. When David Koch died in the summer of 2019, he had successfully corralled unnumbered billions of dollars for himself and his brother, and funded so much deliberate junk science and misinformation around environmental and climate science. He did his damndest to singularly kill the planet for the rest of us. And I wonder if he died confidently, convinced that his cause was righteous, or in quiet unacknowledged despair. Or when the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson slowly rotted down that final stretch of his miserable life, was there any deeper reflection into what it was all actually for in the end? I would like to imagine some well-dressed ushers of the Utilitarian Theatre greet you moments before you die, and ask you bluntly how well you achieved the task of delivering the greatest good for the greatest quantity. They greet you politely, and reach out with one of their white cotton gloves, and you take each of their hands, and see the fortune of your meandering decisions that constituted your life. And then you step forward, and then you die.

There is Donald Trump. It’s the first days after his presidency, and he is laying down slouched on a kingsize bed, the ironed and neatly folded white sheets tucked under his ass and arms. He breathes heavily, and looks out the window of his residential suite at Mar-a-Lago, the long lace curtains blowing softly in the Palm Beach breeze. A storm front is coming. The neatly scattered palm trees gently sway like slender poems, and a seagull screams, shitting a little shit as it flies by. He stares indifferently at the few golf carts that roam the low hills of the course. There’s some shredded iceberg lettuce caught in his chest hair like seaweed, and a half-eaten BigMac discarded on the hardwood floor. His toes are long and pale, like two bundles of miniature penises sprouting from his flat rectangles of feet. He’s never had a drink in his life, but this hangover is excruciating. He can’t move. He can’t imagine speaking another word.

There are six bulky box televisions stacked three across and two levels high on the mantle of other assorted accruements. One is tuned predictably to CNN—Don Lemon is anchoring, in the middle of his show, but something is wrong. He has unbuttoned his shirt, and is sticking his tummy out so it looks like he’s pregnant, then sucks it back in again. He repeats this over and over, and is laughing enthusiastically at the success of this trick. Another television is turned to Fox and Friends—Brian Kilmeade is drunk, staggering aimlessly on the sound stage with a Louisiana Slugger thrown over one shoulder. He starts swinging in every direction, and hits one of the cameras, smashing it to pieces, and screams more menacingly than when Howard Dean did in 2004. Another television is turned to a late night infomercial of hands wearing jewelry, the man and woman enthusiastically conversing about the diamonds. Another to an 80’s porno of a man with a dark mustache and a woman with frizzy bleach blonde hair and plastic tits fucking to disco. Another television is turned to the movie Top Gun, in the middle of a dog fight scene. And the last television is just the blizzard static. They are all turned up to full volume, a deafening chorus of incoherence. The CIA used to use that Meow Mix song from the commercials to break terrorists at black sites—this geometric aberration would have been far more effective, as the line between the real and the dismally chimeric is truly at a crossroads these days. But Trump watches them all at the same time, including the television static, taking it all in as one screen, one grand narrative of the current condition of the world beaming itself through invisible space. He could fall asleep at any moment and the sound wouldn’t bother him.

For a second, his hand moves impulsively to get his phone, but remembers he is forever locked out of his Twitter. And so his hand just hangs off the edge of the bed, its limp slumber without any further autonomous desire to move. There’s no point anyways, he thinks to himself, they’re all imbeciles on there anyways, dueling it out in the imaginary squalor of that online arena. Parlor is even worse—the only residents of its platform were shivering loners, seething at the worst of reactionary politics. Good riddance, he assures himself.

Twitter is, by definition, a massive middle-school chorus of mental illness. And Trump was the conductor, waving his arms frantically with no musical direction. There’s already an obvious void of the usually gleeful madness on Twitter, as everyone tries to carry on as before, but their central magnifying force has abandoned them; the most convenient and amusing villain has left the stage, and very soon his most outspoken opponents and critics will be lost at sea, illiterate destitutes unsure of what to say about anything. If your political identity is summarily being for or against the dementia gameshow host, and he suddenly disappears, where do you wander now? They are like scattered fans hanging around the sprawling parking lot after a concert, the tumbleweeds of red beer cups and other trash slowly blows by, as they’re all left standing there in speechless stupor, their brains so clogged with bong resin that they’re still laughing mutedly at their own farts.

So Trump just drops his head back into his pillow. Don Junior and Eric Trump come stumbling in. Eric looks somehow even more inbred and grotesque than usual. His gum-to-teeth ratio is further out of balance. In fact, his gums have almost entirely enveloped his teeth, so they are just mustard-stained pearls gleaming at the tips of his glossy baboon mouth. He tries to speak, but saliva drips down from the corners of his mouth like a newly tapped spring. He smiles nervously at his father for no apparent reason. Don Junior is wearing one of those Statue of Liberty crowns from a gift shop. He’s pissed himself again. His face is shaped like a melted globe—he has no jawline, but has carved himself one through his bearded stubble with a nine-inch hunting knife that he keeps tied under his trousers. “Daddy,” he blurts out, “daddy, what are we going to do?” “….Yahhh,” Eric somehow manages to say through his complication of lips and boney gums. Trump stares at them both with heavy eyelids, and tries to say something but it just emits as a wordless exhale. “Daddy?” Don Junior says again, “It’s okay, what are you trying to say?” Trump wets his lips with his tongue the way very old people do when about to eat pie, and closes his eyes for a moment to collect himself. “You’re disgusting,” he whispers, barely audibly, with eyes still closed. “You’re filth.”

A songbird smacks into the double-pane window, and drops dead like a fly. “Wh-Wh-Wha do you mean?” Don Junior splutters through quivering lips. Trump ignores his whimpers. “Have I ever had a pet?” he says now with eyes open. “Like a doggy.” “Do you have a doggy?” Don Junior repeats. “What do you mean? You’ve never had a dog.” Trump exhales, annoyed. He moves now, trying to shimmy his legs off the bed so they can fall to the floor—the first step of many as he gets up from bed. The movements of his body make the viscous glugging sound of warm jelly being stirred on the stovetop. His legs hang off the edge. “Get your daddy a doggy,” Trump says menacingly. “I’m going for a walk.” He puts on his robe, and slips on his slippers, and manages to stand up. Going out the back way, he wouldn’t have to interact with any of the guests or supporters who painfully stalked him.

Trump has always hated his supporters. At least the ones who always showed up to his rallies, maniacal and wild-eyed, dressed in burlaps of American flags and Trump-branded costumes, raving lunatics chanting “U-S-A-!!! I’m not gay!!” at pigeons sitting peacefully on telephone wires. A manatee was discovered swimming with TRUMP carved into its back. Henry Thoreau was sadly naive when he declared, “Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Because Trump would paint his name permanently across the sky if he could. He would smear all myriad constellations of stars with his turds if he could, and his most frenzied fans would carry each other on their shoulders, trying desperately to touch the Trump-turd stars. Where back in mainstream politics, ten thousand op-eds were written about how fashionable and chic Biden’s inauguration was. Everyone posted a meme about Bernie and his mittens. I guess we’re back to normal. Nothing changed.

Trump pulls open a sliding glass door that opens straight out to the golf course, a delirium of oblong deserts under a patchwork of heavy clouds. This weather system has smothered the entire country, and everyone has stepped out into their front or back yards to watch it. The brooding thunderclouds across the American plains, a faint lightning bolt off in the distance as the tall prairie grasses sway in unison to one side, and then stammer, sending them all into opposing directions. The red rock arches of Utah are cast in deep shadow, as a peregrine folds back its wings for the evening under the branches of a dead tree, and a ground squirrel stands watch on its back two legs. The first heavy snowflakes begin to fall in the high desert of California. The skies are full, like an unadulterated aura of calm and storm all at once. And back in Palm Beach, circling above Trump and his expensive sprawl of grass lawn like it was beard stubble, seagulls roam, looking down in search of a discarded bag of potato chips, or a French fry, some debris in this pristine and custodial wasteland. Trump is staggering across the seventeenth green now, in his underwear and a long untied robe. A gust billows under his gown like a parachute, and sends his long neon-tubed hair twirling like a wild predator’s frill in the wind, he could almost be mistaken for a monstrous Marilyn Monroe. The gusts turn to gales. He staggers forward now, leaning forward with all his might, headed straight for the white sand beach as umbrellas toss like tumbleweeds across the dimpled plateau, and clumps of sea foam burst along the edges of the sea. He’s been without social media for some weeks now, and while we proudly scoff at his dismay, we deny in wonder if we could do the same. The waves crash in every direction, breaking like the white manes of stampeding horses, the boundary between sea and sky is a blur with mist and storm.

Eric and Don Junior can be seen squinting through the sliding glass doors. Mexican maids and landscapers stand with feathered dusters and lawn clippers in hand, and mouths agape, watching the ex-President fight the storm with his entombed fantasy of replete squalor. A child stands in the hotel lobby, holding his mother’s hand with one hand, and a melting ice cream cone with another, with a frozen stare ahead. Donald Trump has unleashed his robe, and it flies like a tattered flag, soon indecipherable from all the white seagulls clamoring for a hold in the storm. Winds are only visible when there’s an object that shows their currents and direction and strength. Without an object—even a single leaf—they are unprojectable holograms. Trump’s cheeks and bovine tits were just that object, rippling under the commands from invisible gods. He leans full steam into the glaring fangs of the storm, scaling the last green dune of the golf course, and steps onto the soggy white sand like it were a doormat before entering the next frontier of vast ocean.

At this, the winds erupt with their angriest force yet, sending shock waves inland, shattering car windows. Dogs that were once barking madly at the sky are now huddled, whimpering under bedsheets. The frothing edges where sea meets lands sinks lower into the depths of the ocean, pulling everything into one violently colossal wave moving in slow motion at the helpless outcropping of marbled grandiosity cowering in its shadow. Whatever great empires man has built, they last like an erection in the cold and drunk winds of winter. Nature will devour us, is the motto of all our lives. The wave peaks at over a hundred stories high, making Trump and his castle of grass lawns nearly invisible. Trump throws his arms up one last time, screaming one last scream. Probably the most famous word in film history is Charles Kane whispering “Rosebud” on his deathbed. Not Trump. His face contorts to his usual menacing way as he speaks. “Vic-tory!!!” he screams, stabbing his pointing finger forward like he enjoys doing. And the ocean hurls over him. And just like that, he is gone.

New Year, New You

by Guy Walker

It’s a new year, you remind yourself. New beginnings, not just for you, but for the country, the world, the hapless gentry of mediocrity that weighs down on you every second of the day. A Democrat is going to be president again, you tell yourself, and although he’s not perfect, and his brain may be rotting like a cauldron of ferment, and he’s maniacally supported every war and measure of incarceration imaginable, he and his historic pick for Vice President are going to get us back to the sweeping indifference of normalcy. There were historic fires last year, as there were the year before that, and the year before that; but we’ll be rejoining the Paris Agreement, so all will soon be well again. And Covid happened, sending us all scurrying back into our dwellings, like meerkats who just saw a hawk pass overhead, huddling behind rotting drywall and crumbling brick, letting the Netflix’s autoplay feature run its numbing course as we simultaneously scroll through this eternal pixelated flip book of tweets and memes and tiktoks and snaps, our necks slouched into these sickly double chins. But the vaccine is on its way.

Let the wet markets continue, as long as we have a vaccine. A 2012 New York Times article, entitled The Ecology of Disease disposed that everything from AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, and Lyme disease haven’t happened on their own accord—they happen as a result of our tampering with nature. What will come in the following years will be left to the sanguinary gore of our imaginations. There’ll be another vaccine for that. Then the George Floyd killing happened, amongst countless others that have since been swept away from our memories. But we protested for those following days and weeks, and posted black squares on Instagram. There’s mass unemployment. Countless small businesses are closing their doors for good. And we’ve only delayed the inevitable looming tragedy of the economic fallout from the pandemic. And Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in a race to rocket themselves to the stars, like an ejaculatory falling star of impossible wealth. Soon we’ll all be living in tents, under the freeway overpass, selling baggies of brake dust to drunken foreign tourists to get high. None of it is going to get better. But still, the general consensus is that 2020 was an awful year.

Everywhere you look you’re reminded that 2020 was the worst year in recent history, as if a year were a real thing, a measurable unit of a calendar’s inventory. It seems obligatory to mention in conversation that 2020 was dreadful, as if this mention were part of the usual ailing phlegm of smalltalk, filling the beautiful emptiness with our saliva and noise, blaring through the chorus of trees and tall grasses with our cruel and coarse stanzas about how everything sucked. Can we take a year, like a ball of useless clay, and make something of it? Can we take our events of the year, and improve that, through resolutions and commitments to good habits? Can we be good again, and bathe with frank decency under the quiet stars? I went for a long run on Christmas Day through these remote mountain trails near where my parents live, and sat for awhile somewhere amongst the wild sage covered in frozen dew as it thawed with the eager bits of sun that passed through the soft green pastels of its thicket, and watched the chickadees and towhees flutter purposefully amongst its copses of old growth. This will always be here in a million corners, I assured myself, the unfathomable beneficence of nature in bloom wherever it is. Don’t complicate the serene, because it’s already there. Because once we’re all gone, they will just carry on as normal, in bigger and better numbers, tilting their heads back as they drink single droplets, dragging each side of their miniature beaks across the thin and heavy branches. Commit more time to this sort of thing, I told myself. Spend all our time purposefully, because we’ll be dead soon. Make love on the thick beds of moss, and feel something familiar in each other. But then on New Years Eve night, I was at a repulsively overwrought resort in Mexico, without the woman I should have been with, drinking a bottle of $400 lukewarm and flat champagne alone in the bathtub, jacking off into the squalid froth of a contaminated bubblebath, my own ego-dystonicity at the crossroads of some vague and formless heartache. This was the beginning of a new year, a new me—at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s the common sentiment anyways. What is the triumph of the stars, that this is what we’ve made? Jacking off alone to an image on a glowing screen. 

Look at your own resolutions: drink less, read more, learn how to say no, exercise dutifully and joyfully, write longhand, spend less time on social media, finally get your career started now that you’re in your mid-thirties, find love and don’t fuck it up as you have all the others. Because the older you get, the more a dizzying fury it becomes, as the weight of gravity and disappointment and the mulish insensibility of yourself becomes as obvious as the enormous tits of an old lady who never wore a bra in her life. At this point, if you’re old enough to still be reading a blog on the internet, you’re already rotting with the suddenness of each passing day, trying to hold it together a little longer, moisturizing your glaring shortcomings with whatever feckless new ritual you hear about. Our habits are now engrained as the permanent highways we now travel. I never fully ridded myself of my childhood stutter, and now say ‘uh’ and ‘fuck’ between difficult words to try to mask an embarrassing stumble. I’m likely never going to fix this, because it’s too much work after thirty-three years of hammering this habit into its callow perfection. Lacan’s insistence that there was a jouissance beyond the pleasure principle is the hallmark of why we’ll go nowhere—we’re seeking miniature degrees of orgasm everywhere we go—whether it’s the bright colors on our phones, music and televisions series in the background in order to drown out the hauntingly true thoughts that arise in silence, or the tyranny of our cocks and cunts wiggling between our legs. We’re all alcoholics in some or other way, passively stumbling in and out of AA meetings, dumping several heaping spoonfuls of sugar into your coffee, wiping the reeking perspiration from your forehead with the same old handkerchief you’ve been using during Covid. A couple tumbles off the wagon and you walk off the road for good. A few inevitable mishaps, and your list of resolutions is discarded into the heap of others from every previous year, your notions of self-betterment now just swept up in the gutters of wet confetti from last week’s New Years party, your own soggy nightmare is now a hallmark of masticated glee you wear with enthusiasm. Are we so fortunate to play chess with death?

What will this year bring? And the next. And every year after that until you give up and lay down to die, perhaps thinking your last pointless thoughts about how you spent all that precious time. Most of us try to get through the day so we can just go to bed again, letting a movie or tv show rock us back to sleep. And so collectively, most of us just spend our lives getting by so we can die without much consequence. What do the days’ wordless screams really mean? We are unavoidably and wisely solipsistic beings, and so we think in ways of our year, and how to improve our routines of attention and immersion. The gratifying mirth of spectacle is sometimes all we give ourselves—a few grunts of self-improvement perhaps, a deluded crawl up some nondescript Everest of career and achievement. But mostly just binging and gorging our way through the ephemeral jubilance of youth and old age. This was a bad year for everyone, even if it wasn’t. But it is the best year compared to every year ahead of us. This is a real life tragedy of the absurd—no writer, not even Beckett, could write such a sadly absurd tale as the one we are all living.

Antonin Artaud, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht—they all saw enough worth in the absurd that perhaps a Theodore Adorno or a Nietzsche would not have. Congenitally, by the works they committed themselves to, they glorified the sometimes awful and mundane, transcending the nihilistic tendency that catapults us to the callous phlegm of apathy. So there is worth in that. Bob Dylan said something about life not being a mission to find yourself, but rather one of creating yourself. So amidst the glamorous torture of last year, and what this year and every following year will bring, we’ll have to create ourselves into each one, the collective years compiling into an archival book of our private selves that will fill the library of our united madness. We are stammering at the brink of collapse; we are somewhere between the midnight rave of unbridled joy and the reality show of our undiagnosed rabies.

I am tired and hungry. We all are. I’m hungover, and my heart still aches from nothing in particular. But the chimera of gardens shining in their morning dew is like the lost archipelagos I read about when I was young. If last year is any indicator whatsoever, we are all losing this race together. And there’s no end in sight. I flew on a loaded plane last evening back to Los Angeles, and as I returned to my seat from the bathroom in the very back, I saw every single person’s screen was turned on to some forgettable dithering thing, some movie that made no sense, some actor in a costume saving the world. At the same time, Trump supporters were storming the Capitol building; a man dressed as Conan the Barbarian and red, white, and blue face paint was trying to take over the capitol of our nation. Because we are a Miltonian tragedy, an epic failure that is somehow still surviving in our torrential wake of waste. 

We have always been a mad species, devoted to self-immolation and torment. Beckett said, “That’s the mistake I made…to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.” Maybe that’s the mistake all of us are making—because it’s part of our programming—in that, we’re trying to create some legacy or monument of ourselves that doesn’t need to be built. Maybe we’ve been worthy all along, and just lost sight of it for awhile. Maybe it’s just so hard to be human in an increasingly inhuman world. I don’t know. 

I don’t know what I want to achieve this year. I don’t know why that even matters. I can make things up for answers: I want to be in more high end art galleries this year. For reasons that are purely vain. I want to finish and publish all these incomplete stories and plays and poems I’ve only begun and never completed. I want to buy some land, and start building myself a house. I want to drink less, and study more, work on achieving these things now. But it’s ten in the morning now and I’m already working on my third White Russian, so who am I kidding. My fingers are so cold as I write out here in the garden. There are finches and woodpeckers hanging upside down from slender and bowed branches, eating seeds from bursted pomegranates. There is an old retired Indian chief who walks with a cane up the hundred stairs to his house above mine. We talk, and smile, and he tells me stories of Charlie Manson and those equally strange old days. There’s a cluster of huge coastal redwoods in front of his house that he planted from a small pot so many years ago. Is life not enough for them? Or did they all have to write their own story? Or are these trees and these birds and this old Indian chief already enough for themselves? I don’t know.

I’ll make myself some coffee, and hopefully turn things around, start moving in the right direction again. Maybe tidy up the garden, and plant some new things, even though it’s winter. It’ll be easy because things will be silent more. Yes. I’ll make sure there is more silence, and therefore more purposeful thought and action. I see honeybees land ceremoniously on the edges of lily pads in my miniature pond. They drink, and fly away, and others come again. And I sit up from my chair, take a sip from my water glass for the first time all morning, and water the garden for the first time in ten days. After all, it’s a new year.

Paris, Texas, and the Frontier of Heartbreak

by Guy Walker

Some years ago, I roared off in the middle of the night, driving the thousand miles from Los Angeles to Aspen in order to catch the ballet in time. I would have to drive fast to make it, in this very old Mercedes that was barely hanging onto life. Because this ballet dancer had broken up with me weeks earlier, and my friend and a shared bottle of whiskey convinced me it was a great idea for me alone to drive out there and surprise her. I had to ask my boss for a couple days’ pay in advance—three hundred dollars for gas and whatever else. Snacks, I guess.

It was my first time doing this—being in love, and being so busted up over our sudden split. And you don’t think straight when you’re still in love with someone who has totally vanished from your life. You become possessed somehow, completely deranged in the florescent midnight all around, the howling moon itself coursing through your veins and lungs. One would think driving seventeen hours would give you the time and momentum to think things over, to return even the semblance of your usual easygoing rationale. But that wasn’t the case. The hypnotic glow of the heart’s intoxication was thorough—there was no attempt to veer off course.

I hadn’t thought about this drive in a while. But all of it came back recently, the events played over like an old film reel you find in the garage behind bags of Christmas tinsel. When the pandemic first arrived, and scores of us were fired from our jobs, and told to huddle in place, barracked behind mildewed drywall and crumbling brick, watching house flies pester the confused space between the curtains and the window, some friends and I started a book club. This quickly and predictably turned into a movie club. We watched Kurosawa, and Truffaut, and Bergman, and all the usual ones you watch in that kind of group.

I had the group watch Paris, Texas, the 1984 western masterpiece directed by Wim Wenders, written by Sam Shepard. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and is arguably one of the best most redemptive love stories written for the screen. Wenders is a major figure in New German Cinema, who often tells stories of men who can’t touch the people they love. Wings of Desire is about guardian angels who crave real physical touch amidst their duty of quelling despair in humans. The American Friend is about a terminally sick man who commits a crime to leave money for his family. As a photographer, Wenders captures the grand desolate landscapes, places where humans have stepped back from and left abandoned, left in overgrown tumults of weeds and crumbling ruins. His documentaries, Pina, Buena Vista Social Club, and Salt of the Earth feature bright, mysterious worlds we as viewers will most likely never touch. And yet still, Paris, Texas is his greatest accomplishment, one of cinema’s greatest accomplishments. Because we are all trying to be in love in a world void of meaning; and the sumptuous materiality of this world is saturated in opaque dreams propped up against the wide open frontier.

I’ve seen this film countless times, and, until discussing it the other day with my friends, didn’t know why it continually left me crushed, wiping my eyes into my Covid-issued handkerchief, sitting there transfixed after the credits roll, reminiscing about life and love and the frontier of heartbreak. It’s arguable to claim that film criticism is too innately shallow and irreverent to be an actual legitimate vocation. We come away from a film, in passing discussion, saying if it was a good film or a bad film. I liked it. Or I really liked it. Or, it sucked. But from time to time a film comes around that fills you with all of life’s flourishing virtue, that stave off a crippling cynicism one more day.

The film begins with our hero, Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), in a tattered unbuttoned suit, a red baseball cap, and a bristling beard. He’s walking through the desert, not aimlessly, but purposefully, looking forward determinedly as he marches across asphalt roads to continue in the infinite nowhere ahead. He doesn’t speak for the first thirty minutes of the film, but his face is saying too much for words. Shepard says that Harry Dean Stanton’s face is one of those that already tells a story. Stanton is a quiet, incredibly reserved man, much like my own father who was also an actor, who trained mightily in Chekhov and Shakespeare, as did Stanton. Shepard had written the script, and him and Stanton were drinking tequila in a part of New Mexico where my ex, the ballet dancer, now lives coincidentally. And Stanton mentioned that he wanted to play a role with some sensitivity and intelligence. And so that was Paris, Texas, the western of all westerns.

There is of course the sun blinded squint of Clint Eastwood in all those spaghetti westerns, a cigarillo gripped permanently in the corner of his mouth. Film critic, Pauline Kael, agreed, noting that the range of Clint Eastwood as an actor is severely limited as some kind of contrived seriousness. No one is really that cartoonishly cowboy. Or John Wayne’s sneering bravado as he punches the sordid air like an invisible bean bag. Harry Dean Stanton on the other hand, stares into the distance with a relatable brokenness and sad paralyzed gaze. He has been pushed to the edge, and by most judgment, been pushed over. A writer like Shepard is magically able to commit to sharp and immediate dialogue, unburdened by the usual bouquets of self-worship so many of us feel compelled to write, intoxicated by our own presumed wit and wisdom.

There’s an audio of Tarantino reviewing Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, in which he notes that the opening scene, when Daniel Plainview breaks his leg falling down the mineshaft, only to drag himself across the unbounded desert—that alone could be an entire film. Where others would have mercilessly died, dragging their bloody and broken selves under the bitter boiling sun, our hero, a soon-to-be oilman, a modern-day vampire, sucking at the throat of the earth—succeeds somehow. The same is true of course for Travis Henderson walking through the desert of the American southwest, stumbling upon a German doctor in the middle of nowhere. Who are these lonesome cowboys, and how did we get to our privatized states of desperation? Travis is the redemptive spiritual triumph of our ubiquitous quest for love. He is not the obvious hero, because he has a zen-like aesthetic to his beauty instead of being young and chiseled and handsome. He was in love. And he still is in love. But he does the impossibly difficult and noble order of not falling for a temptation so pretty and so pleading to be reunited with at the end of the film. It always and only makes the inevitable worse; the next breakup even more chaotic and cruel.

I didn’t know why this movie meant so much to me over the years. I’ve always idolized Shepard as a playwright and storyteller, for his own tender masculinity and stalwart elegance of the American man. For his fury and squall; for his accuracy of the mania of being alive. Similar to my worship of Walt Whitman, how I keep Whitman’s portrait framed above my writing desk. To write something so western, so American, to plunge a vile full of the hallmark American psyche through your veins, and see what comes out the other side. In writers such as these, there’s a redemptive quality to being a white man in America these days. At least, nothing is more western than to walk through the magnificent red archways of the American southwest, hawks and peregrines buzzing overhead, as you don’t know what’s ahead.

And then I remembered why it stands in another realm of importance to me. Some years ago, a ballet dancer and I were in love. She too was adorned with the shoulder-length bright blonde hair much like Nastassja Kinski’s character, Jane. We lived in this quiet beach canyon, and were foolish and fast in our love. We did everything together, and even the mundane became a feast of laughter and good trouble. One day—in the middle of the night—she broke up with me, right before driving off to a scheduled performance to dance in a ballet in Aspen a few weeks later. So a few weeks passed, and I got in my car, and roared off drunk into the abysmal cosmic night. My front window was broken, stuck halfway down; the sunroof wouldn’t fully close; no heater, no radio; just the dull caustic rumbling of my 1980 diesel Mercedes, joggling my testicles for seventeen hours into the dull and petrified seat cushion. The rain literally pouring through the cracked sunroof and onto my head; the higher altitude blizzard billowing through my open and broken window. I fell asleep so many times, jolted awake by the grated sides of the highway, I started to rely on it, getting sleep a couple seconds at a time. I carried on entire conversations with hallucinated ghosts sitting in my passenger seats, laughing hysterically at their jokes.

Much like Travis, entranced as he walked dutifully across the desert, I was possessed by the dreary aftermath of love, the stain of heartache I didn’t know was possible. I have always before and always since determined myself an impenetrable pessimist—this sorta thing doesn’t happen to men like me. For whatever contrived insecurity, I’ve barricaded my vulnerabilities behind dams of fury, trying in my own flailing and quiet mania to convince myself that it would be easier for everyone if I played no role in the rambling maudlin theater. It’s because of this selfish idiocy, I have unwittingly hurt many women along the way. I’ve gone silent and withdrawn when the trouble returns to the surface.

Travis went walking through the desert for four years; Jane moved to Houston, and made a living flirting with men in a peep show styled sex club. Men who couldn’t touch her through the glass; men, who she couldn’t see, or rather, wouldn’t have to see from her side of the one-way mirror. Day after day, she would give men what they wanted, barricaded behind the glass of anonymity, and she would presumably talk or flirt or give a striptease, the whole time staring at herself in the one-way mirror, confessing relishing details to no one but herself.

When Travis enters the establishment, he enters one of the curtained-off rooms at random, picks up the telephone and asks for a blonde woman. The wrong blonde woman enters, in a nurse’s costume, smudged lipstick and heavy eyeshadow, strung out and intoxicated. Thank god this isn’t the Jane that Travis and his son Hunter drove across multiple states to find. Because in every sense of the real world, it could have been. It’s been four years, and we are just bugs skittering about a stage of random, painstaking rot and decay. For most of us, it’s our once gorgeous and pulsating innocence that gets mopped up in the years of drink and drugs and sordid antipathy. But these are the movies, and this is a sad and beautiful movie, and Jane is still very beautiful and very sad, and perfectly worthy to drive across the country for.

In one of the greatest monologues ever written for the screen, Travis replays the story of his and Jane’s love and eventual loss. Stanton gives a movingly calm and stoic performance of it, an Aurelian deliberateness that seems so enviably out of reach to me. He is on one side of the glass, Jane on the other, unable to see him. At first, for her, he is just another pitiful customer who wants to talk, until the unraveling details of these “two people in love” reveal to her who exactly this man on the other side of the glass is, and who he is talking about. “He was kind of raggedy and wild,” he tells, “she was very beautiful, you know? And together they turned everything into a kind of an adventure. And she liked that. Just an ordinary trip down to the grocery store was full of adventure. And they were always laughing at stupid things.” Upon falling in love this first time, I had just returned after years of strange and deliberate lawlessness, having farmed in Thailand for many months and almost losing my dick in a terrible staph infection, having sailed to France with no money with some older family man who tried to fuck me, having been homeless in England for a time until finally I sold some paintings that allowed me to hitchhike above the Arctic circle, where I made surfboards in an abandoned fish factory in the fjords of northern Norway for some years. Which is to say, I fit the mold of being a bit raggedy at the time of falling in love. “He loved her more than he ever felt possible,” Travis continued. I was previously certain that what people called love was merely a compromise for loneliness. Whether they knew it or not, in a world void of meaning, they all just self-prescribed having a buddy around. Walking through a few decades of meaningless turmoil would somehow make it more palatable. But once again, my own dogmatism of negativity is wrong.

I arrived fifteen minutes before the ballet began, wiping my long nightmarishly windblown hair back into an unkempt ponytail, trying to contain my chronic bone-chilled delirium under my grandfather’s Pendelton wool coat. No amount of hot fluids could warm my insides again—disjointed popsicles for bones, viscous glugging of chilled blood just barely thawed in their veins. I hadn’t eaten much in the previous weeks, and felt my gaunt knobs of bone knocking against themselves while sitting there in the dark doom of the audience. And then there she was, the pristine heiress of dance itself, twirling under the spotlights of a preposterously ornate stage. This marbled athleticism, this animated and refined worship of the female form—this is what it’s all about, you tell yourself. A very beautiful ballerina is a goddess I’ll never know how to fully quantify. They have everything to do with sex and true mastery of an impossible vocation, and yet they have somehow transcended the meek mortality of us drunken peasants, as we collectively stammer in their awe and aura like pigeons.

There you are. An audience member, stuck like a mute and a prisoner in the dark, as she performs night after night, doing the same skillful routine, unable to see who’s watching her there on the other side of the lights. But just as in the one-way mirror at the peep show, there are moments throughout any ballet in which you’re convinced she’s looking straight at you, smiling, thrilled in the moment. Ah, this is no longer a vacuous performance, you tell yourself, she’s actually having a good time. She’s happy I’m here. The beauty pageant smile is a sad painful smile, like pornstars badly faking an orgasm; but the ballet dancer performs something righteously beautiful and redemptive, a protest of form that careens beyond any tiara and tutu.

Wender’s contemporary dance documentary, Pina, opens with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring performed on a square parcel of dirt on the stage. The first performance of this ballet was famously met with riots, or at the very least, critical and popular uproar for the ungentle stamping of dancers like they were untethered brutes, flailing tantrums of drama and horror. Because it broke conventions before breaking conventions was cool. It’s too bad that the dance I had to see was The Nutcracker, which is now just an obligatory ritual of nightmarish proportions—year after year, dance halls put on their reliable moneymaker season performance of it, and convince another generation of girls and boys that The Ballet is simply an orgiastic circus of cartoonishly horrifying costumes and faces lacquered in cement-thick makeup. Maybe I was just exhausted, but aside from seeing her dance and her smile, and seeing again those star-spangled turquoise eyes—besides that, the ballet was just about awful.

My drunken mania wasn’t wise after all. She was caught off guard by my sudden appearance, and was polite enough to hear my stammering admissions of love or whatever the hell I was trying to tell her. I had finally been snapped out of the sleepless delirium, and realized how mad and idiotic this all was. This wasn’t any knotted-up gallantry; it was embarrassing to finally be the crazy and trembling ex I had scoffed at so many others about. My god, I have become such an ass. Too bad. So she hugged me goodbye, and I slept in a dusty motel down the road that night. I checked behind the shower curtain for a hiding serial killer, ate Taco Bell in bed, watched Cheech and Chong in my underwear as the farts escaped without a sound. 

In Paris, Texas, Shepard keeps us in the dark about what exactly went on between Travis and Jane.  In Travis’ final monologue, we hear that he got increasingly drunk and paranoid with jealousy, thinking she was seeing another man. But why do they both abandon their four-year-old child? Why do they both abandon such a seemingly cherishable love of romance and friendship? Whatever the case, it was terrible and seemingly irreparable, an angelic innocence that burned off as quickly as summer’s morning fog. Shepard of course does this deliberately, demanding we imagine how those boiling and gasping remnants of love died at last. I too, under the given circumstances, can’t say why we broke up; it’s not mine to tell. And so, the reality of a world, in all its carnal and flourishing bursts, became just a memory package the size of a movie trailer where you can play the best parts over and over again until the memory is just a grainy Super 8 reel. Or, you just block it out. You delete all the pictures of you together from your phone, block them from your social medias, altogether banish them from the gates of your rose-clutching psyche. Because eventually, we all become heartbroken castaways shuffling through the sun-scorched frontier.

I remember driving back to Los Angeles, too forlorn and broke to do something reasonable like get drunk at Woody Creek Tavern since I was already in town. If I had money and the mindset, I could have kept driving, taken a trip somewhere, gotten to know what’s beyond all those wild unbridled sunsets, and seen if there was love or purpose beyond our broken starlit dreams, the cloistered avenues of delirium and decay here at home.

But I didn’t. I drove straight home, tailgating eighteen-wheelers best I could to save on gas, as they drove into the emergency lane to kick up gravel on my windshield, and threw their food scraps back at me, shredded lettuce and lumps of ketchup smeared with my wipers. Even some months later, I wrote idiotic blabbering messages to her when drunk and high on cocaine, and that all too familiar audible pain of waking up the next morning, and checking your phone to confirm that you indeed did send those messages. Not quite the calm warmheartedness that Travis performed.

When I eventually did run out of gas, I got out of my car and just started walking out into that same red frontier as Travis did, the impossible architecture of iron and rust-choked rock arching their way across the sky, a peregrine resting on the branch of a dead tree somewhere. I didn’t see Paris, Texas until long after my drive to Aspen, but there is a familiarity in heartbreak that goes beyond just the metaphor of being lost in a desert, something that Shepard surely knew firsthand. You can only write what you know, and then the writing will be as honest and true as it is. I didn’t go as far as Travis—a couple hundred meters rather than four years—but I wandered in other ways. Stories for another time.

Instead of the ballet, I soon became a regular at many of Hollywood’s burlesque bars, the sense of erotic familiarity as you stand there holding a whiskey, talking casually with an elegant woman in lingerie and an open kimono and eight inch heels. I knew most of them by name; they always let me cut the line or through the side or back door; I went to their birthday parties, and sometimes dated them or their friends. And as was the case with the peep show establishment in Paris, Texas, there were of course a few straggling ones that seemed sad and rundown, the currency of their moneymaking talents shambling under the decay of gravity and cigarettes. But far more often was the case that they prospered under a reeling fortune of faculty and flair—singers and playwrights and actresses, coquetting with those prodding chins of men to chuck their entire month’s savings at the stage like a snowball of confetti. In a way, strip clubs and burlesque bars are more honest than the ballet. Because expensive ballet dance halls are usually funded by oil tycoons like the Koch brothers, so we can lather ourselves in some cosmopolitan salad dressing, and rehearse how agreeable the libidinal twirls of parading-in-place was over a glass of white wine.

That’s what I told myself anyways. Who knows how I really felt. In reality, there’s no point to compare two dance forms—one doesn’t debate Bacon to Renoir, because they’re doing different things. But we are looking at ourselves through all of this. And watching a film as good as Paris, Texas is more than just a metaphorical reflection of your own experience of heartbreak. There’s an element of the literal.

The psychoanalytic theory of the mirror stage, as promoted by Lacan, says that an infant’s development from six to eighteen months is encouraged by their recognizing themselves in the mirror. Their obsession with standing hand-in-hand with themselves, dragging their cheeks and open mouths and tongue across the mirror is a realtime development of gaining a sense of self-identity. Who knows how long Jane has stared at herself on her side of the one-way mirror. Each day, she collects herself as a bouquet of starlit garnishes, not yet withered by life’s lonely fatigue. It’s what we all do, brushing our teeth in the morning as we stand in front of the bathroom mirror sometimes naked, herding ourselves back to ourselves. This is probably what selfies are all about. We never really leave the mirror stage entirely, because it’s all one sprawling recollection, trying to remember who we were all along.

Looking back, it seems like a movie. I imagine most of our memories work this way—the grainy retelling of important scenes in our lives, a kind of fractured storybook of pictures and cascading diatribes. You weave these in and out of the framework of your biases, your judgements, your contrivances, forming the resemblance of a very-long-but-hopefully-interesting-film. Your childhood is a cemetery of innocence and replenished naiveté. Your adolescence, a bombardment of libidinal angst and worship. But it’s the love affairs especially that crumble into the ruins of a bombed-out city. When there was love and friendship, and the sun was always coming low through the trees. We dismiss these memories because we have to, because we’ll drive ourselves insane, and drive our friends away if we keep at it, keep telling about how good it once was, how you had your ear pressed firmly against the heart of the universe, even for a few moments.

Even as I write this, I’m living in the same remote beach canyon, drinking a beer, eating a pile of plums I just picked from my tree, feeding three baby foxes some hunks of bagel on this completely private patio smothered in oak trees and flush succulents. I can surf anytime I want, and this entire canyon is populated with beautiful women who seem to live permanently in yoga pants. It’s not so bad. And yet I’ll still never be able to quell the general haunting delirium, the deafening strata of obscenity and glut. I can stamp it down pretty good, but the all too familiar voice of the insane babbling man still whispers in the shadows of your ears. 

How do any of these things end? In the 1990 documentary on Paris, Texas, Wenders admits that for anything to be called a story, it needs a beginning, middle, and end; and he’s “never been able to imagine the end of any story.” There’s almost a spiritual transcendental admission of this truth, in that there is no end to any of it—it’s all one cascading series of love and loss and longing, whether it’s very good cinema or our own lives impressing upon the others ahead of us, not yet born. Stanton was livid about the ending in Paris, Texas, admitting he “fucking wanted to kill [Wim]” for not letting his character end up with Jane and Hunter. For a time, I was livid about the ending of my own story. But it is the right ending—the most appropriate and challenging ending, in both cases. I suppose it’s one of those Marilyn-Monroe-is-still-beautiful-because-she-died-young type of things. If I carried on with the ballet dancer, or if Travis carried on with Jane, they would probably blur with the general mass of indifference. All our other relationships that went on too long, and became terrible in unspoken ways.

Things seem to mean more—for me at least—when they are bright and vivid for a time, like a fire raging embers into the big empty night, until almost all at once it’s gone. The warmth is gone, and all you’re left with is yourself. And somehow, that’s more beautiful than anything else in the world.

Journey to WAP: A Love Story With Ben Shapiro

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Something terrible happened to Ben Shapiro last night. It was a dream, a vivid mirage puppeteering against his eyelids, a nightmare so realistic and awful that it jolted him awake. He was trapped in Cardi B’s new hit single, WAP (Wet Ass Pussy), trapped in the music video version that he watched too many times in preparation for his show of conservative male punditry, until it crept into his fluttering subconscious. Like Freddy Kreuger dressed as an unindividuated series of black women unfurling their curves in glossy leather lingerie. “Yeah, you fuckin’ with some wet-ass pussy, Bring a bucket and a mop for this wet-ass pussy…” Shapiro clambers through random doors along an eery and brightly hued hallway, opening and slamming them closed again. Cheetahs licking their upper lips clean; cartoonish renderings of bedizened door knockers unwrapping themselves as serpents opening their jaws; the floor rushing with a clear pungent fluid that’s clearly not water. Ben runs, stumbling over himself as he splashes his way down the hall, but he trips and falls, skidding to a halt. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion stand over him, blocking the exit, singing in their hypnotic gaze. The walls seem to close in. “…In the food chain, I’m the one that eat ya, If he ate my ass, he’s a bottom-feeder.” Shapiro screams. “Macaroni in a pot, that’s some wet-ass pussy.” The pornographic and predatory grotesquerie sends a sleeping Shapiro into wide-eyed convulsions. He’s awake, trembling, whimpering like a beaten dog. It’s okay. It was just a nightmare.

But what’s this? He looks down and sees that his penis is erect, warm with blood, like a chihuahua that perks his head up because he has heard a creak in the walls. But it’s not erect with arousal—certainly not sexual arousal at least—he is absolutely certain of this. He does not get aroused, and has devoted his entire life to a sexless devotion of political monogamy. Yes, surely it’s just an anatomical glitch of cellular walls filling with blood because he was sleeping. And the woman sleeping next to him (his “doctor wife” as he refers to her) is laying there peacefully like a frozen plank, arms locked at her sides, breathing heavily, as she always does. He slips out of bed, and steps onto the cold marble floor, sending a shivering rush up his legs. His legs of course are just pale tree trunks stripped of their bark—knobby sun-deficient rods of hairless death. His toes resemble more a deck of miniature penises, sprouting mangled weeds atop. He stares down at them, wiggling them, giggling in his iconoclastic squeaky way. In fact, his toes are not miniature penises at all—he has dressed them up to look exactly like those talking bullets in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, each one unique from the others, with a cowboy hat and a fake mustache different from the next. He murmurs something to his toes under his breath, and checks to make sure his doctor wife hasn’t stirred. He looks back to his toes, and smirks. Then frowns. This is unusual—this whole “erect penis” thing—unusual and unwanted.

The cold floor hasn’t subsided his erection, and it still prods awkwardly from his silken pajamas with patterns of Spongebob and cartoon bananas littered across them. “Hmm,” he thinks softly, staring at this strange edifying protuberance in his pants. “This doesn’t seem right. No. No, not right at all,” he whispers. He walks across the floor and into the hallway and then into the kitchen, where he dips his genitals into a cereal bowl of yoghurt and ice cubes, his penis cresting out of the surface like a submarine breaking through the Antarctic ice sheets. It’s no use. His erection is sturdy and everlasting. He begins spiraling into panic, his lips quivering, bubbles of snot glugging with volcanic slurry. “Wha-wha-what is this?” he asks nobody. “Wh-why is my pee-pee hard? I don’t want a hard pee-pee!” He scurries back to the bedroom in short, rapid steps, yoghurt splattered on the bullseye of his crotch like the residual fog of a huge firework. He reaches his doctor wife still sleeping like she was in a cryogenic chamber, and violently shakes her awake. “Wife! Hey wife!! Wake up woman, I have an erection!!!” Her eyes open with a thud—immediate and callous, her pupils instantly sharpening into pinpricks against hazel circular tapestries.

“What did you say?” she declares coldly, not moving an inch.

“You know, a boner. Why do I have a boner? These things are for sin. ‘The skin of sin’ as I like to call it.”

“It’s not a boner, you idiot. As a doctor, conventional wisdom tells us this is a penile tumescence, or being the early morning, happening in your sleep, nocturnal penile tumescence, something that occasionally happens in young men, as yourself.” She begins to close her eyes again, but is interrupted.

“So it just fills with blood, and there’s nothing I can do except wait it out?!” He’s sobbing now. His eyebrows are making violent undulations, his lips curling and uncurling themselves.

“It doesn’t just become engorged with blood. It’s not a balloon animal. When nitric oxide is increased in the trabecular arteries, causing them to dilate and then fill the corpora cavernous to fill with blood. But you also want the blood to stay there, so at the same time of dilation—”

“—No! No!!! I don’t want it to stay filled with blood, you psycho.”

“Well it’s quite interesting, because both the ischiocavernosus and bulbospongiosus muscles constrict the veins, which permits only the blood to only stay in the vicinity of the penis. Like beavers building a dam, if you will…Speaking of beavers…”

“What the f word is wrong with you? Have you gone completely mad? Next you’re going to tell me vaginas get wet when aroused.”

“Well, in simple terms, yes, yes they do.”

His voice squeaks. “That joint where a woman’s legs meet, you know, that indiscernible mold like on a Barbie doll. It allegedly gets…what’s the word? Ugh. The M word. You know, it rhymes with foist [he shudders with revulsion], but it starts with an M, hence the M word. Is that what you’re telling me?”

 

What makes Ben Shapiro truly horrific, is you know his prudeness is real. You know confidently that he has never even thought about the writhing ecstasy you can give a woman by going down on her. He has children, but you know there’s at least a notable chance that his wife’s eggs were fertilized in vitro—that there was no sexual intercourse whatsoever. I grew up very religious, and my father was something equivalent to a church pastor; but when I found my parents’ Kama sutra booklet in their dresser when I was six or seven years old, I remember feeling some indiscernible relief. Maybe some muted respect, or understanding, as much as a runny-nosed six year old is able to feel. Even in my childish naiveté, it humanized my own parents, doing their acrobatic 69’s or whatever they did back then. Other republican lunatics who get caught getting blowjobs through public bathroom glory holes, or Jerry Falwell Junior who watches his wife get plowed by the pool boy—there’s a redemptive quality in these stories. We mock them for their religious hypocrisy, but at least we find a glimmer of humanity in their perversions. Because the sweaty blood-choked limbs of our libidinal fatigue always wins in the end. The religious folk are at war with the flesh, and when the armies of nipples and scrotums and oddly shaped cocks and pussies come marching over the the grassy knoll, singing their war songs with trumpets and drums, you know they will always win. The scrawny trembling lines of Bibles and holy books and discarded cassette tapes of church hymns gets mauled by bludgeoning cocks and big hairy pussies with studs around their cartoon wrists.

And although Shapiro has undoubtedly never seen his wife’s own asshole, and probably takes pride in not being able to locate the clitoris—he is a one man show, a quivering and banal theater of prudeness—his outrage is obvious and performative. He was never actually angry about Cardi B’s WAP single. It’s a gleeful performative anger, like a parent who gets mad at their child for drawing a dick in their schoolbook, but then laughs about it with their spouse in private. Shapiro is snickering through all of this, because he gets to read dirty poems and pretend he is losing his mind over it all. It’s great entertainment. You want to send in requests: have Ben read James Joyce’s love letters to his wife, the ones about how much he loves her spluttering farts. (If you haven’t read these yourself, do it at once.) Have Ben read the dirtier scenes from Tropic of Cancer. Have Ben read Couples by Updike, someone who David Foster Wallace once described as a “penis with a thesaurus.” Even after all these, you come away thinking that Cardi B is better at writing about the erotic. Updike’s description of sex goes as follows: “Her slick firm body was shameless yet did not reveal, as her more virginal intercourse once had done, the inner petals once drenched in helpless nectar.” This is awful writing, and is laboriously painful to get through.

Shapiro behaves as if WAP is the first of its kind to sing poems about sex. He tweeted that his doctor wife diagnosed a wet ass pussy as either “bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, or trichomonis.” His wife surely knows this, and he made the whole thing up. He later tweeted that he doesn’t mind being mocked for never making his wife wet because him and his wife know there’s more to a happy marriage than sexual satisfaction.

I often leave my phone on black and white so I don’t look at it so much, and my speaker on it is broken. So the other day I was watching muted black-and-white porn with subtitles, jacking off in silence to things like “[moaning] Oh yeah, baby, lick that pussy. Ugh.” It was pretty awful, but the thought of Ben Shapiro reading the transcripts of porn for the deaf could be a whole subgenera on Pornhub. Many would finally pay premium. A woman started following me on Instagram who reads classic literature in her lingerie for money. Ben Shapiro basically does the same. But he doesn’t really know the affluent luster of what’s possible. What if he familiarized himself with George Bataille’s Eroticism, reading the philosopher’s lyrically mad rejection of the orgy as an agrarian ritual, he might realize what he’s doing. Bataille committed himself to the dialectic of denial and embrace of the orgy as any semblance of the sacred.

Bataille compares these libidinal torrents of climaxes and orgies under the contextual framework of Christianity specifically. But all religion works the same—Ben’s orthodox Judaism banishes the orgy as part of the profane, and the quotidian piety of the religious experience as key features of the sacred. Rather than a sordid commitment to the non-erotic love of agápē, orthodox religion is an attempted banishment of all unmediated materiality. Women mustn’t only present themselves as sexless beasts, their physical modesty not simply encouraged by the barbarized progeny—but they will actually become these things through and through. When Shapiro refers to a woman’s pussy as her “p word,” it is in reference to Bataille’s nod to a more Nietzschean critical materiality of Christianity, in that sex and the orgy ritual are one step away from violence and war. “A kiss is the beginning of cannibalism,” Bataille famously stated. If Ben says “pussy” he risks a domino blunder of profanity and perversions. He will collapse into a puddle of self-flagellation, crying and trembling as he did in his nightmare.

As Dostoyevsky writes at the beginning of Notes from the Underground, “I am a sick man. …I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased.” It’s almost as though it’s a ventriloquist’s dictation of Shapiro himself. If he get’s his wife’s pussy wet, he risks even the momentary elimination of the suffering and pain that he and the Underground Man in Dostoyevsky’s book crave so much.


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George Floyd: Bringing the War Home

All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being, goddammit. My life has value.” So I want you to get up now…I want you to go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell. I want you to yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” -Howard Beale (Network)

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by Guy Walker

Finally, people are angry enough to do something about it. Amid the swirling chaos of the peremptory and prompt revolt against the murder of George Floyd and so many countless others within the black community, they’ve deployed the National Guard to protect the mall. And doctors are still wearing trash bags to perform surgeries and save those dying from the virus. So what are we supposed to do? The divide of power has long been slipping away, including during this pandemic, especially during this pandemic, which Naomi Klein has long described as the shock doctrine of power. America’s billionaire class has profited insurmountably in the last couple months, as we’re left to steal dresses from Forever 21. So, now what?

 

Look at you, now, reading this. Hunched over your phone, tapping away with your greasy fingers, smearing the virus across the void like a slug. Or are you still laying in bed with your laptop pulled up to your chest, your eyeballs scrolling, competing against thirty other tabs littering the top of the screen? In reality, you pendulum madly between early Chomsky interviews or this great documentary you just found on James Baldwin, and a Riley Reid POV video, passively wondering what the vertical Japanese tattoo down her spine actually says. You want to share with the world this really great quote from Desmond Tutu. You want others to know that you have Malcom X’s autobiography sitting on your bookshelf. It’s waiting there, like a deactivated bomb, and now a tombstone of brittle dust, that you rearrange with other books from time to time. You found this cool meme. (Actually, you found a hundred and fifty.) It’s ever so revolutionary—or, it’s in solidarity with the revolution. You are on the right side of history. And by the right side, you mean the left; and by his story, you mean her story. This is your baby Simba you will hold proudly over the virtual masses, the beaming chorus of enlightenment shining down through our hapless skulls.

 

In the midst of the protests here where I live in Los Angeles, where the raw wounds of the Rodney King beating and consequential riots still pervade, the scenes are almost identical. Maybe worse. It’s worse because people are getting angrier, because it’s been nearly three decades since Rodney King, and nothing’s gotten better. So, the looting is everywhere. It is of course impossible to have a democratized board of protest in regard to looting: it’s good to loot the Gucci stores, the Supreme stores, Louis Vuitton, Apple, Target. (And why aren’t there more fucking Amazon stores we can rob and then burn? Send a cackling Jeff Bezos and his gleaming bald head like a botched circumcision straddling his rocket to Mars. Get off our rock. Join Richard Branson and Elon Musk to burn faraway astral bonfires of hundred dollar bills. Let your ejaculate spread like glitter amongst the stars.) But how do you tell the mob to be shrewd and act in accordance to barracked nuance? There’s a resurrected video from the 1992 LA riots that has since gone viral: a black man is screaming on the street to straggling protestors, crying, pleading that he too came from the ghetto, and now his whole store and business that he built is looted down to the empty shelves. His life, to him in that moment, was over.

 

A mob has its own autonomy, its own desperate volition, tantamount to the individuals who comprise the mob. Like a school of fish or flock of birds that buzz around uniformly like a swarm of gnats. It’s tickling the dirty taint of our collective consciousness. So mobs aren’t sensible enough to work with—they muddy the starlit sky of our crying innocence. And yet, we humans are scrotum-wrapped mobs of conflict and autonomy, our being humming along on its own volition. You, there, are an animated civil war of peace and contradiction.

 

So where does violence fit in, in all of this? Without violence, power runs amuck. Journalist activist, Chris Hedges, often uses this adage of history as an example: in Henry Kissinger’s memoirs he recounts a terrified President Nixon during the monumental Vietnam War protests outside the White House gates. Nixon pleaded for reassurance from Kissinger, that the protestors wouldn’t hurdle the iron gates and hang him upside like Mussolini, as they should have. And this wasn’t even a credible threat of violence; it was merely Nixon, a petrified goon, peering from behind his lace curtains at the teenagers tossing t.p. in his oak trees, screaming for the police to save his life. Now, juxtapose this with the Iraq War protests of 2003. They were, in a way, distinctively historic because of their size and energy without an impending draft; but where they failed was inducing even the slightest filament of fear into the minds of the death cult that is the US government. When George W. Bush was asked what he thought about them, he tactfully smirked that the protests demonstrated exactly why they were invading Iraq—to give the people the same freedoms of expression and assembly as we enjoy here. Of course, today, seeing so many peaceful protestors get mauled with batons and rubber bullets from the police for protesting the public execution of George Floyd, it’s easy to scoff at the brash ineptitude of such a position.

 

Freedom of expression isn’t enough when all you’re given is a dirty rectangular paddock to stomp your feet and punch at the sun. Here you go, they say, throw your tantrum in this parcel, in this park. Get it out of your system, and then get back in line. Burning cop cars and their stations is not simply the opening-night-Broadway-play of justified rage; it’s also a celebration of our humanity. It says we are indeed brothers, and we reject your incrimination of the black and brown communities; we reject your surveillance and your evangelical frenzy to protect the banks and the malls and the corporate establishments. It says, we need opportunities for the poor and homeless; we need to end the for-profit industry of incarceration; we need to decarbonize our economy rather than militarize those who are supposed to protect and serve the community at large. And beyond the burning down of the bad and broken, we need to know what we want, drawing a map of our newer better world with your finger through the beds of ash.

 

We are running frantically on the rat wheel of history, churning out landmark events as we go. Today is its own textbook. But the sixties flagged a few stories of its own. The Weather Underground, for example, was a militarized faction that was birthed from the chaotic 1969 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) convention. They acted in alliance with the Black Panther Party, vowing to “bring the war home” by bombing the US Capitol and Pentagon buildings, amongst myriad other targeted attacks against the implements of American imperialism. The LSD surf gang, Brotherhood of Eternal Love, enlisted them to break Timothy Leary out of prison, and snuck him into Algeria. And although they rooted themselves in a sort of purist naiveté that only the young can bolster, it never transfused into the political revolution they sought. A few of the founding members incidentally blew themselves up and their entire Greenwich apartment up while making a stockpile of incendiary devices.

 

Or in the nineties, the Earth Liberation Front burned down a Hummer dealership just down the road from where I grew up. Environmental activist and writer, Derrick Jensen, often notes that only two percent of those active in the Underground Railroad actually carried munitions. The vast majority involved were the very critical mass that made the operation run so effectively. Because peaceful protest only works in one of two ways: if the opposition is sensible enough to hear your cries, or if there is a violent drumbeat beneath its genteel hand.

 

When the FBI assassinated Black Panther Party chairman, Fred Hampton, they knew they could get away with it. Many of the founding members of Black Lives Matters activists that came out of Ferguson, Missouri, have died under similarly scandalous circumstances. On the day of my writing this, it is the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre that left up to three hundred dead and ten thousand black Oklahomans homeless. And it wasn’t just a white mob who did this; it was the National Guard. The same National Guard who killed protestors at Kent State. The same National Guard who has now been deployed across the country to keep the peace and enforce curfew. So, the effectiveness of violence isn’t disputed; it’s the evidentiary tenor of who is now at risk.

 

The United States is a big festering dumpster of rot and disease. But I’m in love with it now more than ever. The abolishment of our passivity is enough for celebration. Sure, Trump is barracked behind his fortress, jacking off into heavily bleached and ironed socks, covering his sweaty dew-dropped chest hairs in a tangle of shredded Big Mac lettuce. He’s slurping Diet Cokes with more contempt than when Jules Winnfield drank the rest of the Sprite in Pulp Fiction before killing all the scared and stammering bastards. But the emperor has no clothes, and he is the four-hundred pound troll he warned the world about, trolling from the fortified gates, seeing if he can get a rise out of the oh so politically correct left.

 

Because this has little to nothing to do with him, and he wants to bring the attention back, back from the swirling infernos of heartache. But it’s already progressed so far beyond. Out there, amidst the foreboding storm clouds of tear gas and sirens is an atmosphere of pervading idealism. There’s a collective consciousness buzzing into some banners of materiality. And it’s designated forever in the throes of justice.

Let The Sons Debate

johann-eleazar-schenau-peasants-fighting

by Guy Walker

If this world could be only a little more perfect, Hunter Biden would join the debate stage, opposing the awkward tandem of Eric Trump and Donald Junior. Let us dream.

 

It won’t be long now before the undeniable perfumes from Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s rotting corpses billow from their basements. Joe Biden is an undead mummy, injected with enough emulsified glue to hold him together just long enough. He mistakes his wife for his sister, reads directly from his staff-written notes while giving television interviews, and still stumbles through it, forgetting most of what he was supposed to say, hacking his way through a simple point about FDR’s New Deal with a weed wacker, tangled in a thicket of lost words. The Democratic Party dragged its corpse across the finish line, so give us his son—the direct bloodline of Biden’s diplomatic wit and charisma—a chance at saving the world.

 

While many tens of thousands of Americans are now dying from the virus, Trump is advocating for armed riots. His external decay resembles more a clumpy scab, breaded chicken singed lightly with a military-grade flame thrower. He’s telling people to inject bleach.

 

Happily for us, these three failed sons are teeming , their blistered progeny summoning the call for redemption. Hunter Biden crawls out of a ramshackled fortress of blue tarps, wood crates, and shopping carts, and a webwork of gnarled twine. He was held at gunpoint to his head in order to score more crack—the self conscious embodiment of the American condition, as we are trying our best to kill the planet to drag on the muted high just a little longer. But he was also appointed an enormously high paying job on a Ukrainian gas company he had no qualification for—another personified metaphor for the upper crusts of the world, and their brooding nepotistic glee only mocking us from their mother-of-pearl thrones. In effect, he is the perfect all-American candidate, squabbling in the cascading limelight for our attention.

 

Eric Trump, the foulest inbred mistake, lurches from his customized leaden trunk, wrapped in garlands of heavy chains like a gimp. His lips are pulled back, exposing his gluey lacquered teeth and gums like a baboon, the glistening fangs shivering in moonlight. But his ugliness—this considerable repulsive complexion—is the rot of familial neglect. It’s merely a symptom of his self-hatred, the years self-immolation and abuse rotting his skin into a tundra of unrecovered acne scars, the red scars traveling like a map of slow moving locusts across the globe of his misshapen head.

 

Donald Junior has grown a beard, and manufactured a jawline with scissors and an entire pack of razors, carving his way through a charred field of needle-sized cabbages, like trying to perform some credible landscaping, mowing the lawn of a recently burned town. His legs flap when he walks, wearing his pants the way only a slobbering drunk would, riding awkwardly up the crack of his ass, as he stares aimlessly at the squirrels in the courtyard, tripping on Baron’s discarded toys.

 

The three of them meet across stage, the plateau of a bombed out city lays between them, the charred ruins smoking against the semblance of a Charles Dickens misery. A gaunt and shivering silhouette of a coyote or feral dog tramples across the frontier, as dust devils made entirely of pulverized concrete and newspapers soiled in grease churn pointlessly under a low and brooding sky.

 

Don Junior opens his mouth first, but he only mimics the moanings of a pregnant cow. He’s drunk again. He was known as Diaper Don through college because he often pissed himself when drunk. These days, he wears a suit, and kills big animals for fun. We mock those Chinese tales of men buying rhino horns to get their dicks hard; but then there’s the Don Junior types, who blunder their way through barren wastelands in their safari-beige jumpsuits, to kill a rhino from behind a fortified steel barrier, his cock now like a blood sausage at the sight of so much butchered charismatic megafauna strewn across the bespectacled plains, everything warmly saturated with evening sun and the spilled guts of a giraffe.

 

Eric Trump leans into the microphone, drool and encrusted pudding scaling the corners of his mouth; it is impossible to tell if he is smiling, as in happy, or just deformed. He spits when he speaks: “Uh yes, hi, haha, what my brother is trying to say is he has always believed in this country, you know, he’s always believed if you vote for us—my brother and I, I mean—we will make this country better for everybody, you know, [nervous laughter]…look, my dad is not a sexual deviant okay? He’s a warrior. Okay, sorry, can I start over? Fuck.”

 

Don Junior moans again. A circle darkens on his pinstriped trousers around his crotch. “Daw-dee,” he drools, looking desperately to his father who’s sitting in the front row, pouting over his dropped ice cream cone. “Daw-dee,” Don Junior repeats, pointing at the puddle forming around his feet. And Father Trump just swears under his breath, and sinks lower into his seat, his polished shoes paralyzed in its own puddle of melted ice cream.

 

Hunter Biden dusts off lint from his shoulder that was never there, and clears his throat. He wears a wrinkled brown suede blazer, like something directly off the rack at Goodwill, and a Hermés Nantucket rose gold watch. He traded the last one—a Jaeger LeCoultre—for a baggie of crack cocaine last week, and got this one in the mail from an anonymous admirer. He is mildly handsome, roughened by the storms of private agony, resembling something akin to a well-dressed and trimmed Iggy Pop. He checks the time. “Look, I can’t be here long, I have many pressing appointments,” he admits, wiping a line of sweat from his brow.

 

“Pressing appointments?” Eric interrupts, stammering through spittle. “This is the debate for the presidency of the United States, Kids Edition. What pressing appointments you have are more urgent than debating my brother and I? Daddy got you running errands in Ukraine again?” At this absolute bodyslam of a remark, a posse of MAGA chuds in the audience with uniform bowl haircuts and bucked teeth victoriously yelp like elephant seals, their tits like heavy waterskins filled with curdled milk under a windless sky.

 

Hunter rolls up the sleeves of his blazer into awkwardly bunched scrunchies around his forearms. ”You know why the two of you are imbeciles? Huh? Do you? I’ll tell you why. From an obvious marketing strategy, KAG doesn’t have the same ring as MAGA. MAGA sounds so similar to Mega, and therefore to the hallmark American phenomenons of Big Gulps and Supersized Happy Meals, the heart and soul of the grotesque American psyche, a psychoanalytical anchor to Donald Trump’s support. This is it actually, the fucking ineptitude of your fucking illiterate acronym might just actually lose you the election. That matters more than all the other volcanoes of raw-dog insanity your father has committed—a fucking advertising mistake. And besides which, killing big animals is so passé. I have seen the two of you jack off over the corpses of animals, thinking you’re the progeny of Hemingway or something, and not that human-sized fried chicken mascot of a father. Fuck off! Now listen, I’m late for a very important appointment, but I wish you all adieu [he gestures charismatically with a bow.]

 

Hunter then looks to the crowd for acknowledgement, a customary glance that tells his supporters it’s their turn to roar in victorious applause. But there’s nobody there—no popular support anyways. Some discarded Cracker Jack boxes, and a toddler walking astray still in his harness and leash. Jill Biden is spoon-feeding her husband applesauce, mimicking a train choo-chooing its way into his warm gaping hole of a mouth, like an inactive volcano steaming at the edges. She dips the spoon back into the trough of his bib to try again after the liquid gruel falls from his mouth. Tom Perez and Hillary Clinton are at the merchandise booth, accosting children to buy “It’s Muller Time” t-shirts. Clinton does that thing she used to do on stage when she was a contender, where points and smiles insanely at somebody who isn’t there. But she does this over and over rapidly, a glitch in her programing until a circuit breaks and wires and sparks explode from her neck.

 

At this, a moderator jumps up on the stage. He has slicked his hair back with Crisco—giant clumps of white grease cook under the dark sulfuric sky. He lights a match, and puts it to his hair, setting it ablaze. With this final theatrical act, the jiggling mass of Trump supporters, and the handful of Democratic establishment figures watch ghoulishly as the man’s head burns. “We’ll see you all back here in four years,” he gleefully screams under flames, “with Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton in an MTV sponsored Celebrity Death Match series event! Now stay safe everyone.”

 

“Stay safe.” “Hey, stay safe.” “Good to see you. Stay safe.” Everyone utters the obligatory gesture in the time of the coronavirus as they exit the scenes of rubble and decay, back to their cubbies of claustrophobia and burnt out dreams, waiting drearily until they can post their “I Voted” sticker selfies on Instagram. Soon enough, the area clears. Hunter ducks under the blue tarp of a homeless tent encampment; and the Trump sons are seen pulling their noses up with Scotch tape, and laughing with their mouths agape. And all that’s left is a heap of smoldering ashes in the middle of the stage; and the first drops of rain begin to patter the ground.


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Coronavirus Against the Day

Egon Schiele Photo 1

by Guy Walker

There’s a famous photo of a man mowing his lawn with an enormous tornado looming in the background. It’s inanity in its rawest form, but also a biblical representation of our own broader calamity as a species. I went surfing a couple mornings ago, fraternizing with friends on the bluff’s edge, smoking weed together, laughing about the skyrocketing divorce rates now that couples have to spend time with one another amidst this global lockdown from coronavirus. But our collective scenery was hued with the grim residue of history’s past epidemics. We all knew, without acknowledging it seriously, that everything was up in the air.

 

Slavoj Žižek called the panic surrounding coronavirus a “Kill Bill”-esque blow to capitalism. Populations are now realizing directly that insurmountable debt, rent payments, and meaningless jobs were just made-up hobbies for the rich and powerful to keep us dithering in the sludge of tomorrow. And it might be more difficult to pack us all back into the paddocks of servitude once this blows over. Suddenly all of Bernie’s ideas and Andrew Yang’s ideas aren’t so crazy after all, and the economic survival of a people is tantamount to global riots. At least for a shotgun-fart of a moment, some politicians seem to be prioritizing the decency and welfare of its electorate over the riches of war. I’m not being cynical. There are real fragments of governance that deliver the morning fog of optimism.

 

But the universal hope now seems to be for things to go back to normal as quickly as possible. We’ve seen it in the Democratic primary race that has all but dwindled into the rearview of reality tv reruns. Joe Biden’s entire presidential campaign is resting on the belief of the return to normalcy. He doesn’t believe in anything—except for immaculate gleaming fangs for dentures, and pocketed hair plugs that camouflages the emulsified rot of his skull, and aviator sunglasses that promote some vague sense of youth, he has never shown us through policy that he cares about the betterment of the people. Now this fiendish poetry of hell actually makes Joe Biden the best candidate for president: we can all return to normal, whatever our pallid impression of that is.

 

The implication of this taxpayer bailout, mortgage and eviction suspension, free medical treatment, etcetera, is that this is only temporary. Those of us who survive the virus (and more concerning, the panic around the virus), will have to return to our obligatory suffering once this is all over, scrambling to collect money to pay rent on time, stressing into our own cauldrons of disease because the banks are demanding their loans back. A return to normalcy is a return to self-immolating idiocy. Wading knee-deep through the binary fusion of human filth, our excrement killing everything in its frothy wake. Most certainly, things should not go back to normal. This experiment of killing the planet for a fucking smashing good party wasn’t a good one.

 

Rahm Emanuel, in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, is credited with saying you shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste. (Obviously he did let it go to waste. Or whatever. The bankers never went to jail, they only got richer.) But he didn’t coin the phrase anyways. It was Winston Churchill amid the second World War, and the collective mobilization for a greater good. Franklin Roosevelt used the Great Depression to deliver a massive overhaul of our economic and social systems for the better. It may sound trite, but this is indeed our opportunity to rework so much that has been broken for so long.

 

There will always be a humanity, a decency, out there in the streets, however feral it becomes. I walked by a homeless man early this morning standing in the same place that I walked by him last night. It was still dark and he was shivering uncontrollably, and still had the decency to say “How’s it goin’ brother.” I went back to my apartment and gave him a huge warm coat and a thermos of tea. And for one reason or another, his bedraggled state made me emotional. There’s sixty thousand homeless people here in Los Angeles, and this guy moved me. But now I ask myself if I unwittingly gave him the virus that will eventually kill him in the cold. I surely didn’t, but the pandemic of fear has seeded that thought.

 

I am a young single healthy male living at the base of the Hollywood hills, so I inadvertently speak about this arrogantly. But this is good for us Americans. The terrible swine flu that swept through China months ago; the charred blizzard of locusts ravaging many parts of Africa; the flooding of distant island nations—these are all things that happen to strange people in stranger lands. Our gaudy celebration of rose-scented farts was make-believe all this time. It’s good for us to remember firsthand we are bags of rotting infectious meat scurrying frantically on this flooded rock, spiraling around an enormous fireball.

 

Someone on the Internet tweeted something about the need to eat some peyote and speak to the pangolin in these strange times. This is that time, for all of us. Eat peyote, and speak to the pangolin will become my mantra. This isn’t working for any of us. I don’t believe we have to always be the saboteurs of all life. There’s something beautiful inside us somewhere. When we are free from our quarantine, we should have sex in the tall prairies, drink whiskey by the bottle with our grandmother, kiss one another’s cheeks like the French do, swim in the sea, rub ourselves with handfuls of moss and soil, drive motorcycles out to the desert, fall madly and briefly in love.

 

For now though, Žižek believes we should look to the five stages of trauma while dealing with this crisis: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. But in the final stage of acceptance, he notes, we should look to the social uprisings in France and Hong Kong for a more conclusive trajectory: “they don’t explode and then pass away; rather, they stay here and just persist, bringing permanent fear and fragility to our lives.” This, I believe, is most necessary. We should accept we are being presently dragged through the mud into this new reality, and move forward with collective solidarity. Not the fear, but the new reality. Žižek continued that when we are being ravaged by one of nature’s vast reservoir of viruses, it’s “sending our own message back to us.” A virus just reproduces itself stupidly, without reason, identical to the way we humans do. We have barbecued the green terrariums and waterfalls and loamy beds of mushrooms and mosses into a bubbling scab, like a frat party that left half the town dead. It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Charles Baudelaire wrote a great deal about the existential gore of our species. Flowers of Evil is a masterpiece of our collective sin of being bored amid this blaze of life.

 

At my side the Demon writhes forever,

Swimming around me like impalpable air;

As I breathe, he burns my lungs like fever

And fills me with an eternal guilty desire.

 

After all this panic, we might compulsively return to the “wilderness of Ennui”. Because we’ll think that’s how it always was—we had a few good years in this viral circle jerk of modernity, driven by a maniacal lust for more bricks and concrete and plastic toys, our swollen genitals releasing like the last rains of winter. But we believed this movie was the sharply bordered tapestry of life, that this is just how the whole fucking thing hummed along and would continue to hum along. Baudelaire said he wanted to write poetry that would fire a cannonball into the future; and somewhere under our panoply of barbarism, we’re all poets, and can do the same.

 

The internet isn’t real. A whole culture industry structured around going viral, groping at the melancholy storm above to magically deliver our drooling, spluttering ego across the globe. We want to be seen; we want strangers we didn’t even know existed to catch the disease of our personalities. Now, some bat in some market in some village in China, gave this virus to another animal, and then to a human, and then to all of us, killing scores of the old and weak, sending the stock market into free fall, directing everyone home to sit behind their screens to make ironic quarantine-themed Tik Tok videos that will go viral. The toilet paper hysteria is purely viral, snowballing on its own momentum.

 

Richard Dawkins popularized the word “meme,” to mean “viruses of the mind,” in which cultural frames inhabit themselves in our minds, only to infest on the emulsified rot of our habits. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer wrote at length about what they termed the culture industry, in Dialectic of Enlightenment. The factory production of popular culture is now facing a burden in this virus. Normal popular culture will survive, of course, but hopefully morph into something more meaningful.

 

As far as social isolation is concerned, the virus hasn’t really achieved anything out of the ordinary. Quarantine, self-isolation, a chronic loneliness that has blanketed the frontier. British journalist, Sam Kriss, notes that it’s only amplified what we were already practicing en masse anyways. Stay home; binge watch made-for-television series until your eyeballs rot from their stems; post clever memes on the internet, and then scroll frantically to tally who saw it, who might be impressed now by your isolated wit and sheltered charisma during these dark times; watch porn; smoke weed, eat edibles, eat food; shelter yourself behind childhood forts of toilet paper, lather your genitals in Purell disinfectant; buy things from Amazon you don’t need. Young people who say they love to read, but the only writers they can name are Bukowski and Hunter Thompson.

 

Adorno wrote elsewhere that “Distance is not a safety-zone but a field of tension. It is manifested not in relaxing the claim of ideas to truth, but in delicacy and fragility of thinking.” The technology of today allows us to not really reap the benefits of this isolation. I want to believe we are collectively introspecting on the acute parochialism of this haphazard arena-of-gore we’ve made for ourselves, and how we will design a better one. But until the power and wifi goes out on all of us, and we can’t take refuge in Youtube self-help tutorials, or FaceTime our ex-girlfriends from a decade ago, we won’t be joining any mass meditations. “Only at a remove from life can the mental life exist, and truly engage the empirical.” We have tethered ourselves to life with evangelical fury. There’s no escape.

 

What about the prisons? The homeless? The nursing homes? More people are dying by the day from climate change, and yet something about the immediacy of coronavirus makes it more of a threat than the growing severity of flood and fire, or storm clouds of locusts ravaging through entire continents. And as bad as this pandemic is, it’s going to be remembered as incredibly tame compared to the next one. Many public intellectuals have called it a dress rehearsal for the next one. Or, what it could be, what another pandemic inevitably will be at one time or another. There is already a great deal of concern when some super-predatory anthrax melts out of the carcass of a woolly mammoth from under the permafrost. This will happen. And coronavirus will be remembered as another era of quaint naiveté.

 

I couldn’t imagine having children who are dependent on me, with bills to pay, and no money coming in sight. Yet still, things aren’t that bad comparatively to what could be. Imagine the so-called Big One—the earthquake, not the frozen pizza company—hits Los Angeles tomorrow. Or up in the Pacific Northwest. It’s entirely possible—we’re something like a hundred years overdue. Or, this panic and virus carries on through to fire season, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing from their homes like diseased roaches.

 

The canals in Venice, Italy have already been returned with swans, dolphins, and fish, as the murky death-blended smoothie of canal has cleansed itself to a pristine shimmering postcard; reports estimate the lockdown in China likely saved 77,000 lives just from the reduction in pollution alone; oil stocks have plummeted to possible unrecoverable lows. An invisible lifeless bug did in a few days what us environmentalists have been trying to achieve for decades. There’s part of me that wants to believe this is only one of a multitude of nature’s self-correcting mechanisms to get back on course. SARS, like corona, came from the wild animal trade—from a civet, the enigmatic wild quadruped. AIDS came from eating wild bushmeat. Lyme disease comes from our disruption of New England forests. Maybe it’s only metaphor, and therefore not real, but sometimes I think nature’s trying to say something. English scientist James Lovelock introduced his Gaia hypothesis to the scientific and popular world, in that the earth functions like a single living organism. Or rather, more mundanely, like a self-regulating system. It was initially mocked as hippie science, but it’s since evolved into widely accepted scientific theories, now known as earth systems science.

 

Whatever the case, this will of course go far beyond coronavirus. When we open our curtains and unlock the deadbolt from our doors for the first time since this quarantine, pale and naked, squinting into the feral daybreak, we’ll scan if everything’s back to normal. The clouds will darken. A butterfly will land on a man’s balls. Stock markets will crawl upwards. And we’ll drink whiskey with our grandmothers.


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The Bloomberg and Trump Debate

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by Guy Walker

[MICHAEL BLOOMBERG and DONALD TRUMP lumber onto a sprawl of twenty asphalt basketball courts all packed neatly together, the summer sun rotting into its lava crest until black tumors split open and hiss like miniature volcanoes. Hundreds of folding chairs tossed haphazardly on the ground. The supporters of DONALD TRUMP are only furries without their costumes; they stand around in their underwear, the festering scars of their deep belly-buttons throb in the heat. MICHAEL BLOOMBERG’s supporters consist of a few rodents rummaging through a garbage heap of fast food to-go bags. A opossum waddles by with a slice of pickle still on its forehead. BLOOMBERG has wrapped his face in Saran Wrap in an attempted facelift, and wears a hammer in his trousers, displaying an uncomfortable outline to all who look at his crotch. TRUMP is wearing his long trademark red tie that hangs like a dog’s tongue dead from exhaustion. But no shirt, and no blazer. His meaty, porcine tits and face are painted in some indecipherable team colors like he was a drunken fan at a football game. They are both sweating profusely.]

MODERATOR: Thank you. Yes, thank you, please take your seats everyone, this isn’t a casual gathering. I’m very pleased to announce this debate between two distinguished professionals. On my right is Donald Trump, famed celebrity host of the game shows How Many Turds Is Too Many, Do These Pants Make Me Look Like A Man, and of course, The All-You-Can-Eat Mac ’n Cheese Eating Contest. And Michael Bloomberg, who narrowly won the Democratic nomination after Bernie Sanders was stopped and frisked, and discovered to not have marbles in his coat pocket, thus proving that the old geezer really lost his marbles this time. Congratulations Mr. Bloomberg.

[BLOOMBERG flashes some gang signs with his hands, and forces a smile.]

MODERATOR: We’ll begin with you, Mr. Trump. This election has been criticized as being too absurd, as a kind of malevolent degeneration of American politics. How do you respond?

TRUMP: I simply don’t agree.

[At this, one of the human furries has started humping a raccoon, rubbing the length of its prickly unconditioned fur across his genitals.}

BLOOMBERG: [pointing to the profane bestiality] This is what I’m talking about. My opponent just attacks, attacks, attacks. We need to unite the American people as these two magnificent beings have. Because we are all Americans, in need of the same thing.

TRUMP: Sir, my supporters are literally fucking yours to death. You are roadkill. This is what Adorno meant in Minima Moralia, when he wrote, “Domination delegates the physical violence on which it rests to the dominated.” You should no longer resist this obvious truth.

BLOOMBERG: Now look, let’s not get carried away with this who’s-fucking-who business. I’m a business man, and this is no business for us to get tangled up in. I started the practice young, raised by my father, taught me how to write my first check. And so forth. You see, my very first business, I sold cheese balls. I rolled up these little balls, and you would have about fifteen or twenty of these white cheese balls floating around in a bag of water, you see, and the water gets almost a milky hue to it, from the balls. It’s just amazing the things a kid learns. My opponent here, has he ever made cheese balls? I bet you he couldn’t tell you the first thing about cheese balls. I do. You roll them around between the palms of your hands, very gently like this, you see.

TRUMP: What Mr. Bloomberg is trying to insinuate, is that he’s a pervert. Now, as we all know, Kierkegaard wrote a great deal about the Absurd, especially in his journals. You have asked about the absurdity of a game show host being your president. This is not at all the point, and completely robs the Danish philosopher and his successors of their original intent. But this is of course a truly sisyphian nightmare, is it not? To explain the point of something in a meaningless world? Kierkegaard, as you all know, believed the interpretable pre-Socratic paganism was as correct as Jewish idolatry, in that, we are all indistinguishable beings brought into form by the eternal truth. We act in accordance to the absurd, meaning we act upon faith. When Kierkegaard correctly noted the example in the Old Testament, when Abraham is told by God to kill his son Isaac, and he did not because an angel interfered, this action of inaction was by virtue of the absurd. Now I ask you, when the Son of Sam was told by his neighbor’s dog to kill all those people in New York in that scalding hot summer, where the heck was his angel? I’ll tell you where: there was no angel, because it was hotter than hell! Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! Oh boy, I really crack myself up. Excuse me, really. But no, seriously folks, this is exactly why, when you get to the voting booth, and have to decide between that monstrous scoundrel and I, you could very well choose one or the other, it doesn’t at all matter. But you will be at a standstill if you reflect upon it too much. We are the same. But it is in this godly bestowed faith, by virtue of the absurd, that you will vote for me. It’s not the reasonable choice because this is a completely unreasonable world, and therein lies the beauty.

BLOOMBERG: Now wait just a minute. We are not the same, and that is completely unfair to assert we are. He only had two phone numbers in Jeffery Epstein’s black book. You know how many I had? Four. When he hires a prostitute, he invites them over to watch Shark Week in his bathrobe. Like a fucking eight-year-old. When I hire a prosty, I tie a chain around her neck and toss it over the rafters. I have eaten the corpses of children. When he watches porn, he only watches the initial build-up storyline—plumber-coming-over-to-fix-the-pipes type of thing. And then he closes his laptop before their clothes come off, and cums into a dirty sock. Don’t believe his dithering crap about Kierkegaard and the absurd. I have eaten hot dogs from street vendors in order to look relatable, goddamnit! You want some fucking philosophy? R.L. Stine, in his esteemed classic Say Cheese and Die!, wrote, “The next day, Greg is so large that he cannot even ride the car to school because he can’t fit in the car.” Close quote. I would drop the mic if there was one. But there’s just these bendable antenna ones. But you get the idea.

[TRUMP has started eating a taco bowl. Strands of shredded iceberg lettuce are getting caught in his blonde chest hairs. A few granules of burger meat sprinkle the melting crust of asphalt, and the naked furries and rodents scramble on all fours, snarling for their share. Trump smiles, and gives the deserted tarmac a thumbs up.]

TRUMP: Look at them. They love me, I can’t help it. This is exactly what Beckett had intentioned when writing Endgame and Waiting For Godot. His servant characters, Clov and Lucky, in their respective plays, symbolize the inevitable and irrational devotion we have for others. These are, of course, absurdist plays. But now we are speaking of a different kind of absurd. When Lucky is writhing in the tangle of an imaginary net, it is of course a nod at Vladimir and Estragon who are trapped in their own imaginations of the Godot character. Godot is not coming. He’s not going to save them of their own boredom. We know that, but it wouldn’t be a play if they suddenly realized it on the first page of dialogue. Is this not analogous to our own situation here? Between Bloomberg and I saving this present hellscape? Are you not all writhing in invisible mania, hoping some fictional savior will lift you from your daily peasantry.

BLOOMBERG: Oh fuck off. I’ve seen you play tennis in shorts.

TRUMP: Look, in Godot, Lucky cannot think or speak without his bowler hat. Estragon keeps taking on and off his shoes, and Vladimir his hat. The point is, we are condemned to our meaningless props. It’s why people smoke cigarettes outside of bars—they don’t know what to do with their hands. You have turned Mr. Bloomberg and I into props, like dirty siphons for your chronic turrets, because you’re all animals, you don’t know what to do with yourselves. You’ve committed yourselves to this delirium where you simply cannot speak about anything unless you’re speaking about us.

BLOOMBERG: Let me be frank. Well, let me be Michael, but as the expression goes, let me be frank. I’m still a pretty hip guy. I still put potato chips in my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because as I like to say, “it provides a little crunch in my lunch.” Ha ha! You should try it. In fact, within my first one hundred days in office, I will pass a mandate that all sandwiches will have potato chips in them. It will be fun, and we are fun goddamnit! I will get all you fucking bloodsuckers—I mean, excuse me, my apologies, I mean, I will bestow the good fortune of crunchier Wednesdays for everyone.

MODERATOR: We have just a couple minutes for closing remarks.

TRUMP: What do you think my red tie is all about? It’s not a sexual noose, I promise you. I swear to god, it’s not. I use props just like all of you imbeciles. You disgust me. Vote for me, Donald Trump, and your problems will dry out like a scab in this heat.

MODERATOR: Thank you Mr. Trump. Mr. Bloomberg, any closing remarks?

BLOOMBERG: Look, I would never brag. But I have a Coachella sticker on my Jeep Wrangler. I started an Instagram account for my cat, Mr. Fickle Feet. Because sometimes they run, but sometimes they sleep. My opponent on the other hand, is a coward. You can see it, it’s written all over his loose baggy face. Ned Beatty has more of a jawline than him. His face looks like the fried chicken he eats straight from the bucket. How can you trust a man who eats fried chicken? I’ve always said we should lock up anyone and everyone who eats fried chicken. And watermelon of course. Is that too much? Nevermind. But a man who has turned into a fried chicken, my god, what do we do? We elect him as our Commander in Chief? I make the promise to you today, if you elect me as your president, I’ll lock all of you up and brush my teeth with your blood. Bloomberg: fight for me and die!

[BLOOMBERG’s face is melting under the wrapped plastic. TRUMP’s face and body paint drip from his nipples. His neck sags like a blood-packed gizzard. Visible steam rises from the garbage heap, where the entire audience is now spreading it about with their snouts, looking for the last edible crumbs. TRUMP and BLOOMBERG join in, snarling on all fours, the sun burning their skin to a boiling crisp. At last in unison, under the same sky, after the same dream.]


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