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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A Few Thoughts On Death, And Kobe Bryant

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by Guy Walker

It’s hard to describe what Kobe meant to us without crumbling into barbarism. You sympathize with those who are all but required to make statements to the public—how they feel about it, what Kobe meant to them, and so forth—because you know that they face the cold and desolate realization that words are half-formed grunts, helpless ephemera twisting haphazardly through the storm. The moment one begins to describe him, calling him a great athlete, an amazing father, a real competitor, one knows they have already bastardized the cause. He was like a brother, many of his teammates and competitors have said. You know what they mean, and you know you couldn’t have done any better, but Kobe’s death proved the communicable radiance one person can have to so many others.

In his Oscar winning animated short film, Dear Basketball, Kobe begins with his childhood memory of rolling up his father’s tube socks into cotton mock-basketballs, and scoring the game winning shot in his bedroom. Millions of us did the same, and we did it because of Kobe. We tried our awkward best to emulate his chimeric temper, to celebrate alone or with our brother, arms raised to the invisible crowd, parents in the other room smiling at our budding innocence. And the point isn’t necessarily basketball. Virtually none of us grew up to be basketball stars, but it doesn’t diminish his impact on any of us, because heroes are never meant literally. He was the stuff of lore—like Hermes with his winged sandals, he flew almost horizontally through the air.

Regarding his death, I’ve heard so many others make rollover remarks about Kobe just being one more helpless victim caught under the rubble of an impartial world. It’s just collateral damage, so a few of the famous ones die from time to time. And yes, somewhere in the range of thirty-thousand people die every year in the United States by car accident. And none of us, besides the family and loved ones of the victims cared, much less even heard about any of them. I still don’t know the names of the other seven victims that were on board when the helicopter crashed. And if I did, they would sadly mean little more to me than prearranged Scrabble pieces that happened to form a name. I don’t tend to view death—including the cinematic and sudden kind—all that tragic. I’ve gotten into the unfortunate habit of promoting its meaninglessness, as if indifference was the unruffled and mature posture about these things.

But as usual, I’m wrong. When we mourn for one’s death, we do so because the vulnerabilities of our humanity have stepped out from their den. We’re forcefully reminded that the murderous days are impartial to our self-conscious esteems, and faced with the sudden truth we’ve know but necessarily ignored all this time that it could happen to you any moment of any day. Walking to the grocery store to get some eggs, and suddenly you’re gone, into the heap of eternity with all the others. All your anxieties, all your self-reverence and self-hatreds, all your tyrannical animal impulses and hypocrisies, all your stresses about the menial, vanished before you can appreciate this new perspective.

The closest I got was when sailing a twenty-six foot sail boat off some remote prehistoric islands in Norway, suddenly caught in a massive storm. There were five of us, all in our late teens and early twenties, with not nearly enough sailing experience between us all. We were on our way to a friend’s wedding on a further island, and I was already drunk. And in the initial moments of catastrophe, when the sails were torn to shreds and the cabin flooded and side railing ripped from its bolts, before the helicopter and the coast guard showed up to save us long haired and puking imbeciles, I privately shrugged at our own foolishness, with the resolute esteem that I had actually always been a part of the class of humans I loved to scoff at. I knew we deserved whatever miserable, frozen fate we got, that if our bobbing cork of a boat was finally swallowed by the sea, it wouldn’t have made much difference. I rolled my eyes at the prospect of my own death.

When we mourn for one’s death however, such as Kobe’s and Kobe’s daughter Gianna, we’re reminded that our chronic misanthropy and cynicism was a misunderstanding all this time. Sure, we humans are disposable beasts, but only in the statistical sense, which is not the complete sense. Kobe’s life, and his death, showed us not necessarily that life is worth living, but rather that it can be worth living. Our rambling days are grooves in the road we have paved. And beyond Kobe’s human shortcomings, he reminded us of the august decency worth achieving.

There are too many of us, packed too closely together, to notice each other hurting or in need. We are just ants, wishing everyone would get out of our fucking way. When my friends and I made the front page of the local paper for being saved in the storm, I could already hear the predictably defeatist puns being made about us, because I would have made them myself—that the aspiring hippies deserved to drown in the frozen sea. Let Darwinism work its magic; population control; skim off the dumb ones. That type of thing. Or, if I suffer through crawling traffic on the freeway and finally pass the cause—some mangled twisted body of a car, the passenger clearly dead, I too often see it as a totem of drama, something to gawk as we crawl by, see if we can catch a glimpse of a severed head. Or, I just curse, call them an asshole for making me late.

I’ve been told that when my grandfather died when I was four or five years old, I didn’t make much noise about it. But a couple weeks later, my cat was hit and killed by a car, and I cried for weeks. Rational preference didn’t tell us to mourn Kobe’s loss to the degree we are. It feels much more devastating than just one more death, because it is, for whatever reason. The death of our heroes is not just a saying. It’s not merely a concept in a movie we’ve been long ago jaded by. We have our individual and collective heroes because they make the drudgery of life more redeemable. They excite and compel the gods of lore to come down from behind their mythic clouds, and grace us with their greatest spectacle. However soft or invisible, they nudge us towards the direction of our dreams, and forces us to meditate on the unfurling events of our own days.

Stupidly, most of my heroes are writers. I haven’t cared about the Lakers since high school, and always considered professional national sports leagues as some residual sickly phlegm from our colonial days, where a fat white male owner collects his riches as the mostly black players battle it out like bond servants. But the truly great ones supersede even the most devoted cynicism. I loathe the temptation to make comparisons to Roman gladiators, but it’s in our blood to cheer for our favorite sinewed and sweat-drenched cavalier. To root for something so handsome in a world void of meaning. People get in the habit of saying that great spectacle—the movies, sporting events, the circus—are all just fugitive amusements, something to delight ourselves with to forget about our terminable days. Like a nursery chandelier of staggered accruements to awe at with wide-open eyes. But the animated puissance of an athlete as great as Kobe reminded us to push ourselves to live better than we are presently. His work ethic was unparalleled, and he was adamant about the notional truth that born talent only gets one so far. He would wake up at four in the morning to start training, every day. Now, here, it’s ten in the morning, and I’m still in my underwear.

Most of us are barely surviving. And regarding who achieves their wildest dreams, and who has to work three miserable jobs to pay rent on a dusty drywall cube, it’s sad and simply wrong that there’s a carrying capacity for such excellence. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In his last years, Kobe spoke a great deal about the importance of love, in allowing it to cast its net in broadly affecting ways. He did so in a way that meant something—you didn’t roll your eyes when hearing him talk about it; you knew he was being genuine, that he had actually felt and been humbled by the overwhelming subterranean ocean of whatever love is, the kind you feel on occasion when on powerful psychedelics. You saw it resonate, in the way he carried himself, in the way he spoke with and hung out with Gianna, courtside. You could see how positively affected by it she was, the way she laughed and smiled comfortably at his side. That whatever other matters of trivial importance fall to the wayside.

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The Words We Utter Beneath This New Flesh

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by Guy Walker

Tumbling through black space, naked and shivering, I grope awkwardly at the aimless hologramic fog. Something is terribly wrong here. The sky is littered with digitized two-dimensional sparkles; bouncing hearts and doggy noses and ears gone astray, they scatter across the empty void like tumbleweeds; erratic and gruesome gifs bob and float like plumes of glitter. I soon realize these are only the mockings of stars—not light from millions of years away through their boiling tumors of nuclear fusion, but immediate and shallow, outlined with a crude magic marker. The doggy noses are fat and not cute, and mimicking a huge ass with a ribbon of warts on top. This is awful. I look up—or wherever up seems to be from my dispassioned and boorish summersault—and see two thick thumbs the size of skyscrapers tap and swipe randomly, smearing grease like a slug across some invisible barrier. Then, a jolt. And suddenly my formless arena is engulfed with an incomprehensible horror of Youtube makeup tutorials and high definition porn and presidential campaign ads and tsunamis of indecipherable Reddit posts. The entirety of the internet floods over me in the flash of a few minutes, a DMT-like cascade of an entire species’ desperation pleading to be heard.

To feel the gravitational weight of anything, my entire conception is ravaged by a global pandemic. I wake, but the clear distinction between the hallucination of dream and this fleshy terrain here and now is unclear. A cold wind howls outside, rattling my weighted single-pane window, a stale feverish condensation dripping on the inside glass from behind the curtains. Finally, I emerge from my room for the first time in months, perhaps years, realizing that this solitary confinement has been self-imposed all this time. I open my phone. Nothing. A dreary haze waits ahead outside, as two English robins bathe themselves in the birdbath. But all of a sudden one of the birds flickers with television static and vanishes. But static comes from electromagnetic waves from supernova explosions, or the sun, which makes this hallucination all the more confusing. Oh god, I remember that all my exes hate me, and I deserve most of it. Probably all of it. What the hell. I’ll go back to bed. A new season of Earth Planet is out, advertised as extremely bingeworthy.

This is much better. Our sense of nature’s operative machinery is perplexed by another outlandish documentary blockbuster, narrated by a crumbling erudite Englishman.You watch a tiger clamp into the neck of a gazelle at the bank of a river. The HD pictures sold to us as being sharper than real life—the thirty-thousand frames per second capturing every single water droplet mirroring the scenic barbarism on its glossy spheres. Don’t go outside—this is better than real life. Don’t let your children turn over stones and prod curiously at grubs and earwigs—teach them Pokémon Go, where they can chase illusory toy monsters into oncoming traffic or changing rooms at the mall, the hopping neon fragments titillating the masses the way a porch light does for all the country moths. How could we have possibly strayed this far? The coastal redwoods drenched in moss and chandeliers of a dew-soaked spider’s web, and the underground mycelial circuitry that entangles young vulnerable saplings in with the many-century-old torso of healthy forest—this is meant to serve our self-hating narcissism in some way, surely.

I’ve never had a difficult time of tending to the punctuated throes of social responsibility. Most of us are hallmarks of highly educated insouciance, witnessing our major natural habitats burn to a few last smoldering remnants, or the oceans churn and bake into reservoirs of plastic debris. There’s a spray-tanned gameshow host with severe brain damage running my country, tossing bundles of dynamite into the gears of international diplomacy. I’ll watch this all happen through my phone, my neck propped up by three pillows and molding itself into a permanent swollen nodule and double chin. I’ll wake up with all the lights on, an expensive cocktail glass spilled across the goose feather duvet, my willowy legs naturally awkward as they stick out of my Christmas underwear like two pointless roots. My eyes are starting to hold a permanent festering squint, unattractive and more serious by the day as they register the bohemian death drive of our species. I switch on my camera’s selfie mode, and study the slow rot passing across my face. Magnified enough, our skin is an abandoned agricultural field, spoiled of its terraqueous innocence with poisons and perfumes like they were crop-dusters.

There’s no use in trying to deny the neon spectacle just waiting there in its quiet rectangular blackness. It’s there, in your hand now, but when it’s not, it’s waiting, whispering from its depths for you to pick it up again and stuff yourself with the mildest intoxication yet again, your bloated edges spilling out onto the floor. You’ll do this, on average, one hundred and fifty times today. That’s about once every six minutes, if you’re awake for sixteen hours a day. I remember reading Guns, Germs, and Steel many years ago, where Jared Diamond quoted research that stated the average American household watches seven hours of television a day. Published in 1997, we’ve come a long way.

David Foster Wallace wrote endlessly about being raised by television. He would lead his own tv watching marathons, getting drunk and high as he obsessed over his own hypnosis of the thing, the shampoo commercials and applause-track sitcoms and real-crime dramas all blurring together into a mass rotating circus act. The marijuana binges in Infinite Jest are clearly autobiographical; the years that Hal Incandenza wades through have been replaced by sponsored advertisements—Year of the Whopper, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar. You can imagine Wallace, stoned out of his mind, slouched in an antique loveseat torn along the seams, watching hours of grainy television, suddenly jolted by the epiphany that this orgiastic circus of commercials will eventually manifest into a dystopic branding of everything, even the Gregorian calendar. His short story, “My Apprentice” is about the swirling anxieties of a fictional female celebrity entering David Letterman’s formidable arena. “Little Expressionless Animals”, a short story in his 1989 collection Girl With Curious Hair, uses Jeopardy! as the platform to write a tale of lesbian romance. For Wallace, television was the new and compulsory chamber around which our dramas are told. Tolstoy used the ballroom or the battlefield; Melville, the sea; Hemingway, the African plains; Beckett, indeterminate locales in Ireland, or perhaps just the rambling mind; where virtually every other writer used the obvious landmarks of this miserable sodden frontier, Wallace knew there was no more frontier to be had. The illuminated screen is where we are born now. It’s where we copulate, argue, fall in love, and apparently now where we declare war.

In a 1996 interview with Charlie Rose, Wallace said he was “raised to view television as, more or less, my main artistic snorkel.” It’s what bonds us as humans, like a monotheistic tribe of bland rituals, our coruscating angst impressed beneath the fuzzy glow. At the time of the interview, the television set had long taken the position of the fireplace as the centerpiece of a home—the fireplace, of which, was always intended less as a device to heat the home, and more to mimic our ancestral storytelling origins—to gather the family around, in their holiday-themed onesies, sipping hot cocoa with both hands, dissembling their semi-glossed happiness into feigned resistance.

Chomsky said something about the television show being the filler that stations jammed within the real programming—the advertisements. Whatever real meat is in a hotdog. Television, Netflix, Instagram, Twitter, fucking TikTok—this is what we do. It’s the interface in which the flowering stink of spring is fully realized. We still have to occasionally make our brief little forays into the shallows of the outside world—afraid and vulnerable, glancing at others from behind our sunglasses, with the same obvious terror advertised across our face that a dog has when taking a shit on a crowded sidewalk, knowing full well we are now prey. Or when we go get drunk with friends, the conversation is often about what we watch when back in our curtain-drawn dens, with the insufferable veneer of any of it being artistically beneficial. This isn’t a cynical move. We just don’t have conversations to the maintained stature as in My Dinner With Andre. Our enviable dramas are on the other side of the screen. And today, we have the means to puppeteer ourselves as some clumsily drawn hero—we’ve become our own miniaturized Lawrence of Arabia’s on wherever our localized online universe exists.

The great French literary titan, Louise Ferdinand Céline, understood well that of all our drooling spluttering orifices, the mouth was the most unredeemable and profane. “When you stop to examine the way in which words are formed and uttered,” he wrote, “our sentences are hard put to survive the disaster of their slobbery origins. The mechanical effort of conversation is nastier and more complicated than defecation.” Everybody knows this, whether they realize it or not; it’s why most people prefer to send text messages than listen to each other speak on the phone. It’s why the laughing-crying emoji was awarded Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year a few years back. The belching profundity of the mouth suffers more through its chronic aching and throbbing, through the discolored leakage of so much exclaimed barbarism. We are perspiring with libidinal fatigue—better to lay in bed with our head supported by a gallery of pillows, with an episode of Golden Girls playing on the telly, and hammer something barely coherent with our thumbs. Better to sit hunched over on the toilet until your legs fall asleep, the pigment from your turds long ago leaking into the toilet water like a rotten teabag. (I receive a text from my boss: “lmk if da shit gatorade , coo? Honey pot too chill.” Fo sho. I got you, boo.) You sit at a series of missed traffic light on the Sunset strip with forty cars behind you, every one of them staring down at their phones—these pulsating factories of imprisoned aurora—doing that selfie-wheel-of-fortune thing, looking cute or ironically disappointed when they find out what Disney princess they are, or what squiggle they are, or what insect they are, or what hole they are. Whatever. Plato’s cave got a renovation. We throw pebbles at jetliners thirty-thousand feet high. We sell pictures of our feet on the internet to pay off student loans.

Two other writers joined Wallace in his interview with Charlie Rose: Jonathan Franzen and Mark Leyner, both of whom are sad Cimmerian men, but not in any desirable way, not in the way Wallace was. They are awful writers. And solemn men who write about trite things are openly denying their grotesque and balmy impotence. That’s what makes suicide so heartbreaking: those who should, never do, and those who do, never should. They complained together that the ubiquity of television has eaten away at the role of their timid fortune. They are writers, you see, painfully straining to articulate the psychic mess of being awake in a world of romance and betrayal and loss—and they have taken up the noble task of peppering their stories with relatable women and men, where allegorical lessons can be learned along the way. And it’s not fair, you see, that the screen has robbed them of their prophecy.

It’s not difficult to see where this is headed. This isn’t a cynical move that judges the degradation of the mind into illuminated bits of data, the maze of pneumatic tubes whizzing in and out of the atomic hard drive. Quite the opposite. We are being unified into a complete whole, gradually being sucked back into the other side of the screen, where the lyricism of our conversational prose spills from our mouths like expensive fondue. And glossy men in capes and suits conquer smoke-filled arenas like it was an expensive game of laser tag. The conspired fortitude of our heroes overcoming conflict—we will finally be together.

….Long live the new flesh. David Cronenberg’s 1983 classic Videodrome delivered it best. “The television screen,” a mysterious television operator, played by Brian O’Blivion, tells us through another television framed within our own television, “is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain.” He was right, and I guess still is, but the artful horror of today is far more advanced than a simple television screen. And yet, at over three-and-a-half decades old, the film hits the important marks of technological morphology that we’re dealing with today. By the visual consumption of a plotless television show featuring torture porn and eventual murder, our hero, played by James Woods, gradually transforms into the pulsating machines behind the screen. His hand holding a gun transfigures into a grotesque mass of flesh and gun, unified together into a viscous mess of veins and entrails. His stomach opens up as a vaginal wound, gripping onto video cassettes, guns, and hands, like a cannibalizing anemone. And finally, he gets sucked back into the television screen where he belonged all this time. Where we have all belonged all this time. “You’re reality is already half hallucination.” This is indeed the new flesh, an embryonic culmination of ones and zeroes colliding into a red-stained chamber of gore and ecstasy.

I was infected by the transcendental optimism of Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman at a young age. And I still want to follow their direction. But take the naiveté of Henry Thoreau, for example. He was forever enamored with the soft hymns of the country, and wrote about how we are all born with the same impulses of exploring the outdoors, observable by whatever unwavering spur of children to explore caves and climb trees; and adulthood is merely the ruinous hangover we suffer through, wandering around stupidly, gorging ourselves on expensive dinners, shooing away an ever-expanding list of annoying disturbances, like a cow using its tail to bat away the flies from her eyes. But look at any child today. They are hunched over and commanding the screen like a master conductor. They know home is inside there, somewhere, and they’re trying to figure it out, the secret exchange of passwords to get back in. We were never meant to climb trees and explore caves. Thoreau naively anticipated a Rousseauian-branded return to the unique barbarism of walking on all fours. We are manifesting Voltaire’s Enlightenment. We’ll find a door to the other side.

This is it. We are Nature’s victorious ejaculation, the fermented glob on the crest of a sulphuric pit that has somehow crawled its way into these molds of human flesh. We have committed ourselves to lives that are the equivalent of accosting strangers on the street, shoving our walnut and goat cheese salad directly under their face, asking them for comment. Maybe Wallace and Cronenberg saw it coming, that we would all be self-quarantined in our studio apartments, hunched over our own miniaturized television screens, our eyes bloodshot and eventually rotting. But maybe they were too shrouded by the swirling delirium of the present day to see where it was all headed. Thirty or forty years from now, we won’t be reading Walden from a moss-covered boulder in the evening sun. We won’t be scouring the footnotes in Infinite Jest next to our naked lover. Whatever it is, it’ll be far more fragmented and cloistered than this doggy-eared frenzy here.


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Why Stephen Miller Hates the World

by Guy Walker

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Stephen Miller has an obsession he knows he’ll never be able to satisfy. It’s not his contorting hatred of immigrants—leading him to send around nine hundred emails to a Breitbart editor containing stories from the white-supremacist publication American Renaissance and the anti-immigrant website VDARE, promoting the narrative of a white genocide. It’s not his cinematic gloating of villainry, casting himself as some sort of advocate of cruelty. It’s not gaining the political power he has worked tirelessly to achieve.

No. Stephen Miller’s obsession is his own self-hatred. People like him come around every now and then—spluttering fuckless teenagers who are breastfed on slurries of American cheese and Froot Loops, who despise their localized worlds for reasons indiscernible to ordinary people. It’s not difficult to spot. You meet these people all the time. They’re usually just mildly grotesque against the humdrum of other forgettable personalities. Their contrarian evocations are contrived, as you can predict exactly what they’re going to say under each topic of discussion. But Stephen Miller has to campaign for others to hate him. His lifelong mission is to get mobs of people so terrified and enraged that he’ll finally be taken seriously.

Before being Trump’s primary speech writer and senior policy advisor—where he helped design the child-separation policy, as well as pressed to shut down the government in order to force Congress to pay for southern border wall—before he worked for Jeff Sessions when still a Senator, before being a spokesman for Michele Bachmann, before fundraising alongside Richard Spencer at Duke University (or, according to Spencer, being mentored by him), before flailing in a high school speech that janitors should pick up his garbage, there was the pale paralyzed slime of Stephen Miller. Wheezing like the thing in Eraserhead, he drags his tail netted with exterior veins across the cold concrete floor. Bubbling out of the sulphuric pits where the first microbes of life formed, he was there, with contempt for that first form of life. Because, similarly to the Bret Easton Ellis character of cultish lore, there is an idea of a Stephen Miller, some kind of abstraction that behaves willfully on its own. You can shake his hand, and stare into his cold gaze, but he doesn’t really exist in the way you think.

He knows he doesn’t have the countenance to be in front of the public. His leaden scowl is not patronizing enough to hold our attention. So he fashions himself as the hemorrhaging brains of the operation—writing the speeches, designing the policy—the champion ideologue who will set the agenda. But he’s not smart enough to be even notably controversial. His speeches for the President read like an alcoholic paranoid’s Letter to the Editor of some remote Town Crier newspaper. He wants to be viewed, more than anything, as a serious ideologue.

There’s a general public fear around Miller’s nobbled ideology—of kicking all the brown people out, of separating their families, of leaving infants in soiled diapers in frigid chainlinked paddocks, of banning Muslims—in that, he’s often viewed as being serious about what he purports to believe. In what reads like a congratulatory think piece on political villainry, The Atlantic described it a difficult task to outsmart “a provocateur as skilled as Miller.” The consensus seems to be that he’s not just some ordinary troll, that he is elevated from the squabbling carnies inside the White House, and severely focused on spreading his vitriol like it was the diseased gravy poured from a punctured tumor. The New Yorker reported officials describing him as a “savvy operator” who was cunning enough to manipulate a broken system to his advantage. Perhaps. But this determined ‘seriousness’ is wrong. Whatever ulcers of psychopathy slowly ooze from his various holes, he doesn’t believe any of it.

When the story emerged that Stephen Miller’s girlfriend is Mike Pence’s press secretary, and that they are in fact engaged, there was a momentary flurry of callow gossip at how gross it must be that Miller participates in any sort of act that could be called sexual, however balmy and profane it must be. And I guess there’s point there. It seems more likely he greases himself up in a full-body mask of Crisco, and watches hours of grainy 1970’s porn reels in the dark without doing anything himself—just sitting stone still and staring straight ahead until his eyes bleed. But none of it is right.

It’s not that it’s unfair to want to pry into the private life of someone so cretinous; rather, Stephen Miller conducts his fetishes and kinks out in the open for everyone to see. His normal self-flagellation as a teenager curdled like spoiled milk into what makes him a man today, getting off at the sight of mothers crying over their kidnapped children, climaxing to the horror stories of families fleeing gang violence in Honduras, punching the air with victory at the prospect of some poor kid stumbling up to an impenetrable thirty foot wall after crossing the desert. But most of all, his fetish is being hated by anybody. At least he’s something. Some men get off by going to a dungeon to get whipped by a dominatrix; Stephen Miller entered politics.

Then there is the issue of looking presentable. A year ago on Face the Nation, he didn’t even attempt to get a decent hairpiece. His hairline returned one day, sprayed on from an aerosol canister. Whatever the method—polluting his glistening bald head with a crop duster, crude oil thrown at his it through a window screen—it doesn’t matter. You can imagine in the beaming despair of Stephen Miller’s subjectivity as he performed this task himself, in the bathroom mirror, the way a five-year old cuts their own bangs with the kitchen scissors, or a teenager bleaches their hair in the middle of the night, realizing after it’s too late that they seriously fucked it up. So Miller revoked the stenciled blotch of graffiti on his head, and returned to being bald. But it’s in this strangely unskilled attempt to look normal that Miller’s paralyzing insecurity is exposed.

Through his smirks and half-attempts at looking relatably human, he can’t lift his eyelids above the threshold of indifference. He adds hair from a spray can; he gets engaged; he writes speeches; he performs the ordinary tasks of normal politicians and their chronic banality. But he’s so bad at trying to come across as a wicked mastermind. The whole act is a poorly groomed deflection of one’s self-hating idiocy, keenly aware that this routine won’t work much longer, trying desperately to appoint himself the patron saint of an intellectual famine before he’s thrown to the gallows.

Because there is something even more miserable ahead, and he knows it: in a couple years’ time when his tenure of wretchedness is over, and he disappears into the void of history like a background movie extra, he’ll do his anticipated episode of Dancing With the Stars. He’ll pirouette in a permed neon predator’s frill, sweating under the spotlights, smiling with feigned cinematic desperation, and twirl and twirl until the crescendo hits and his act is finally over. After the obligatory smattering applause, he will crawl away to join the other discarded Trump officials, left only to gloat about how serious people used to take him.


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When Kings Become Cartoons

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Before his death, a distinctly outlined orange sun sets behind President Xi Jinping, his ears flopping forward like a toddler’s mittens, his tiny red shirt riding up and sticking into the damp fold of flesh between his belly and his tits. He’s not wearing any pants. He never has; but there appears to be just a smooth golden fuzz where his genitals are supposed to be. The smoldering cartoon audience seems unimpressed, so he makes a wimpish attempt to cheer them up, the kind only the doodle of a bear’s gruesome acumen can muster. “Nobody,” he softly exclaims to the benevolent hues of green, and the many other countryside animals of opaque neons, “nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.”

It didn’t take long after images of Winnie the Pooh were banned in China because of his uncanny resemblance to their human leader, for other rulers of other countries to preemptively ban their self-declared animated body doubles.

Amid whizzing gunfire between the rocky throats of canyon, and across some indistinct expanse of desert where Syrian rebels bounce along in their military-retrofitted pickup trucks, the roads just rotted into boiling moats of asphalt and debris, not much other life exists. Perhaps a lizard or two, gasping under the shade of pulverized rubble and rebar; perhaps a lone mushroom, plunging upward in the center of an abandoned city, displaying the phallic victory of nature and her promised resilience. The bombed-out cavern of world echoes the muffled cries from babies, their mothers sifting through the spread-out hunks of concrete with antiqued gold miners pans. This part of the Middle East somehow turned into an awful proxy war, the final realization of Mad Max, with Turkey now invading northern Syria, completing the last orgy of death before the upper atmosphere converts permanently to sulphuric farts, and tendril-strings of superbugs rain down into our cereal bowls of gruel.

But there’s important issues to discuss. And so Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Erdoğan convene in a dark alley, the walls fortified with garlands of rusted barbed wire and shards of glass. A distant organ player has passed out with his head fallen on three keys out of tune that only produces an excruciating barely audible dog whistle. It’s not peace talks their discussing. It’s not a plan to pull millions out from the charred misery. It’s both an allied and adversarial pact to ban all images of their closest cartoon doppelgängers.

Assad asks sheepishly if they agree to ban Mister Geppetto, Pinocchio’s father. “Oh, and both Super Mario Brothers. They all haunt me, and I’m not even Italian.” The others nod their heads as if this were obvious. Putin demands they agree to ban Porky the Pig. But he won’t even say his name. “Ze pinky,” he says over and over, as the other two make hundreds of random guesses until they finally stumble upon the correct answer, and Putin just closes his eyes slowly, and exhales silently. Erdoğan writes his on a piece of paper, and passes it to them. It reads, “Angelica Pickles, from Rugrats.” Putin and Assad grunt with amusement, the closest thing they’ve come to laughter since Assad dropped nerve gas in Damascus, killing hundreds of his own people. The beams of morning span the horizon as the rapid gunfire draws nearer, and the teeming nostalgia for the wild life becomes unbearable.

Then there’s Donald Trump. He sits hunched over in the Situation Room, the hump of his neck sprouting meaty beds of bleach-blonde hair, his earlobes flopping like sails in the windless sea, the glossy sheen of the lacquered oak table reflecting like a private bowling lane. He leans over the smooth reflecting wood, mimicking Narcissus staring into the still pond, trying to decipher his own resemblance. His pointed and sculpted tufts of eyebrows whipped into miniature waves, his scalded marshmallow face bubbling with hapless glee, crusted mounds of oatmeal coated the edges of his flared nostrils. And the awful trademarked hair woven into a spider’s Halloween thicket, with buzzards and carrion feasting on scraps of flesh inside somewhere. He wouldn’t give the trolls what they wanted. The casino-loser peasantry who only wanted to make him look bad, to subtract from his coruscating flex that swelled like the blood-packed erection of an Aryan wet dream. He would turn the task on its head, and make the people willfully not disperse the images of cartoon’s masculine heroes like Simba from The Lion King, Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, John Smith from Pocahontas. “Etc.,” he wrote at the end.

What purpose is there for any effective resistance? In the 2016 election, it was initially reported that 11,000 people voted for Harambe, the dead gorilla. Although later proven an exaggeration (these types of votes are never actually tallied), Mickey Mouse is famous for being a favorite protest vote each election cycle. But the famed authoritarians of the modern world know better than to call it a protest vote amongst themselves. The literal manifestation of a cartoon hellworld is upon us, the squeaking and yapping laughter of episodic delirium, simply drawn animals with drooping snouts and eyeballs the size of frisbees, mocking its citizenry who are trapped in an overly saturated nightmare, running between a maze of galloping pianos the size of a city block, rugs heaving into tidal waves that are only trying to toss us by the bum into an empty flower vase the relative size of a skyscraper, so amidst this profane and formulaic squalor, some likable fanged beast can snatch us up by the tail and drop us into his mouth whole.

In the end, in a last ditch effort to bring peace, President Xi Jinping staggers aimlessly under his Winnie-the-Pooh costume. He came to the bombed-out streets of Hong Kong to greet throngs of protestors, clouds of lethal tear gas drifting low in their multi-colored sherbet flavors, another attempt to convince the kids that tear gas is fun and flavorful. All of the protestors were waving banners of their honey-loving god, riding the tops of huge automated floats of Tigger and Piglet and others. If he could actually become the buoyant and lighthearted protagonist of the celebrated bedtime story, maybe he could settle their unrest once and for all. At least, that is what he thought, stupidly. Because they weren’t here to protest the Chinese judicial system, or its encroaching mangled edifice of legislated doom; rather, they wanted the impostor to unzip himself, to step out from his sweaty and awkward disguise.

“Ooo whooo,” Xi Jinping muttered with fake jubilance from behind his Pooh costume, patting his belly of stained and rotten polyester fur. It was of no use. The throngs pressed in, beating him with sticks, pulling him from that panoply of failed innocence, naked and hog-tied by comic irony, his plump adorability now backfired without any chance of its reversal. Before everything went pitch-black and silent forever, before he could feel his gurgling lungs get drowned by the slow motion stomping of boots, a pure white butterfly balanced delicately on his wet nose, opening and closing its wings in the serene beauty of a cartoon. And Trump and the others gathered round, their makeup and costumes half finished, peering down at his limp body wasted away in the mud.

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