Paradise of Storm

Category: Short Stories

On the Stupidity of Reza Aslan

Reza-Aslan-on-The-Daily-Show-Screenshot-800x430

by Guy Walker

When Reza Aslan wakes in the morning, he laughs one cold slithering laugh. The dull profanity of the morning sun spills through the soiled linen curtains and across his eyes, and he opens them to a shaven clawless cat licking his earlobe. He pets the thing with only his fingertips, in short painful strokes that cause the old imbecilic feline to erect his backside and wheeze a muted cry. “Good boy, Mohammed, my bald little prophet,” he sneers prudishly. Aslan heaves himself up from his cot, white padding spilling from a tear in the corner, and pours a bowl of curdled milk, and kneels to all fours, lapping up the bits of fermented solids as the cat stares patiently on. “Did you know I’m a professor? A scholar!” he stammers in between selfish gulps. “I’ve been on CNN!!” He slams his fist on the corner of the bowl, sending the watery cottage cheese through the air, and begins sobbing, little ponds of tears and drool pooling on the checkered floor. The cat turns away indifferently, Aslan’s incoherent exclamations fading into the distance, into soft brittle anthems of self-pity as the cat curls into a ball in a dim sun spot on the red hirsute rug.

There are only three books on his only book shelf: The No Cussing Club, by McKay Hatch, A Shore Thing, by Snooki, and the Quran, the latter of which is embroidered in gold leaf and plastic gems, with a small fan blowing on it at all times. He holds the book up close to his face, and flips through its entirety with the edge of his thumb like it were a flip book. “Ahhh, the prose and subtle paean of God’s last revelation. This book gets me every time,” he says gazing wonderingly at the peeling linoleum wall, as a gang of ants drag a dead cockroach across the floor.

As Aslan saunters off to the rusting ivy-ridden gates of UC Riverside, where he teaches creative writing to a decaying group of toothless meth addicts, a tattered white king pigeon defecates on a passing wagon pulled by hyenas below. Reza’s lips tighten into a churlish aristocratic pose of disgust, and he repositions his spectacles as he notes in his notepad about the eminent whiteness of the pigeon. Clearly, it’s not just the dark colored pigeons who shit on things. Down the crumbling avenues of swollen rubble, the braided petrified trees all lay fallen across their horrible patches of ashen grey earth, all usable soil blown off in the storms a decade ago. A gaunt hairless dog with violet skin limps across the road, and Aslan swings around light poles, skipping in a haphazard menacing sort of way. He obsesses never to step on a crack on the sidewalk, because as a child, he heard from someone who heard from someone that if he did it would break his mother’s back, and he never grew out of the belief. Hopping from cement parcel to cement parcel, his professor-edition leather satchel embroidered with “Yes, I actually AM a professor,” swings aimlessly around his neck, as he sings, “Cracks on the sidewalk! Cracks on the asphalt! Crack in the ghettos, crack in my butt! Violence is here, and violence is there! But if a Muslim kills you, it’s not Islam’s fault!” He wipes the frothing saliva off his chin with a baby blue bib, and stops next to a tumbleweed to take a shit.

At this point, a Smerdyakov-looking mujahideen runs by wielding an AK-47, his beige and heavily soiled shalwar kameez fluttering in the coruscating morning air, but his chronic steatopygia slows his fanatic religious momentum to a gross and lonely stagger. There’s not many people left to kill in the world, but still, the man is chased by a gang of bailiffs, their scintillating armor blinding the few people around. Aslan moves quickly and intersects the gun-gilded officers, and like Moses parting the Red Sea, he throws both hands into the air, erect as a giraffe dick, and declares “BEHOLD!! FEAR NOT! THIS MAN IS NOT DOING IT IN THE NAME OF ISLAM! Also, Christians do the same.” But the mujahideen stops, turns around, and replies, “No, I’m definitely doing this in the name of Islam. It says right here, ‘And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory—We will bestow upon him a great reward.’ Or here: ‘And fight them until there is no fitnah and the religious, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease—then indeed, Allah is seeing of what they do.’ Or here: ‘If they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.’” Aslan responds sharply, “I don’t think you know this yet, but I’m a professor of religions. I know things other people don’t. You’re not doing this in the name of Islam.”

The truth is, Reza Aslan is a passive-aggressive apologist who manipulates the truth through his own denial. In a 2007 debate with neuroscientist Sam Harris, Harris postured that it is the role of Aslan and other moderate Muslims in the public eye to steer Islam more towards being a religion of peace, rather than the predominant opinion at the time to prosecute those who draw cartoons of Mohammed, or hacking off the genitalia of their girls en masse. Aslan responded by turning away from this offer, and repeating his qualifications as a public figure. “[T]here’s a reason I don’t write books on neuroscience. I write books about what’s going on in the Muslim world because I have an expertise about what’s going on in the Muslim world.” It’s a pubescent puerile argument to try to win a debate by declaring how smart and qualified you are. It doesn’t argue anything substantial or meaningful; it’s a crude fuliginous declaration of “Trust me, I’m an expert,” which, fittingly, is actually the name of a book that Aslan has essays published in. “Trust me, I’m an expert.” It’s such a pandering offensive idiom, something akin to Trump’s pasted together lexicon of entropic elitism. It admits that the person didn’t get a degree for the supposed purpose of a degree—to think critically and argue constructively—but rather for the sole and shallow purpose of saying they have a degree.

In a viral Youtube video titled “The Stupidest Interview Ever,” when a Fox News anchor tried to argue that Aslan didn’t have the right to write a book about Jesus because Aslan himself is a Muslim, Aslan kept repeating over and over, “I am an expert with a PhD in the history of religions.” “I am a historian.” “I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament.” The truth is, not a single one of these claims is true. He only has one PhD, which is in sociology. He is not a professor of religion, but rather of creative writing, at the University of California, Riverside, that barren wasteland of meth addicts, tract houses, bros, and dust storms. Yet he continues to posture himself as a scholar and historian of religions.

While on CNN, he argued that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not a Muslim problem but a central African problem. But David Pakman from The David Pakman Show refuted this vague claim with specific global numbers: seven of the top eight countries listed by UNICEF with the highest rates of FGM in Africa were predominately Muslim countries. Egypt has a 91% FGM rate, Sudan 88%, Somalia 96%, Guinea 96%, Sierra Leone 88%, Mali 89%. And beyond Africa, Pakman shows, Kurdish Iraq has a 72% FGM rate, Indian Shia Bohras have a 90% rate.

Aslan went on to say in the CNN interview that countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Turkey are free and open societies. But in Malaysia, 93% of Muslim women had their clitorises hacked off. In Indonesia, 98% of women. These astounding rates of barbarism are not some fringe ineffectual minority as Aslan tries to argue by using Saudi Arabia as the most extreme example because they don’t let their women drive cars. Numbers as high as these require serious reevaluation of our tolerance for certain aspects of certain ideologies. In a Vice article publish in 2015 about female genital mutilation being on the rise in Malaysia, a 19-year-old Muslim girl openly shares that she is “circumcised because it is required by Islam.” In the Quran, circumcision is described as a tradition for men, but a duty for women. The delights of uncontrollable pleasure, of our only refuge from this desert twirling hell, has been hacked away in the name of an invisible deity. This mass violent insanity should be reason enough to disprove the existence of any benevolent higher power.

According to a 2013 Pew poll, 68% of the world’s Muslims believe governments should abide by Sharia law (chopping off the hands of thieves, death to apostates, beating of wives, death to homosexuals, the stoning of adulterers, and an assortment of other savory tenants of obedience).

Aslan has many times proclaimed that “a Muslim is whoever says he’s a Muslim,” which leaves us to doubt those who say Islamic terrorists are not Muslim. If a Muslim is whomever he or she declares themselves to be, then, by Aslan’s own definition, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, and other such terrorist groups are very much Muslim. Extremely fringe populations admittedly, yet nonetheless Muslim. And to Aslan’s credit, in a speech he gave at the University of Toledo in 2015, he admits that if ISIS says they are Muslim then they are Muslim. But then he continues: “If you want to blame religion for all of the bad things that religion does, fine. As long as you are willing to credit religion for all the good things religion does.” He credits the thousands of Muslims fighting ISIS as one of the notable virtues of Islam, as coruscating evidence that Islam is also a force for peace. The flaw he makes here is ISIS is killing in the name of Islam, while the thousands of people who also happen to be Muslim are simply resisting against these insane goat-fucking men who are ransacking their homeland and raping mothers and daughters. These resisters are doing so not in the name of Islam, but by necessity, by a survivalist’s instinct to protect where one lives.

At the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April 2016, Aslan made the baseless claim that “right-wing terrorists have killed far, far more Americans since the attacks of 9/11 than Islamic terrorists have. You are more likely in this country to be shot by a toddler than you are to be killed by an Islamic terrorist […] So yes, we are under threat of terrorism in this country, it’s just not Islamic terrorism.” But according to the International Security Program, in the United States 94 people have been killed by Islamic terrorists since 9/11, and 48 people have been killed by far right wing attacks. The toddler fact is seemingly true, which, if a gun advocate gets killed by his own toothless newborn whilst shitting in his diaper, then Darwinism has worked again and nature has necessarily thinned its herd.

In all his prudish passive aggression, Aslan declares he writes books about the Muslim world because he has “an expertise in the Muslim world.” But he doesn’t. He hurls himself into his classroom at UC Riverside, constructed with glued chunks of plaster and horse hair, and opens his three-ringed binder, pushing his glasses up to the top of his nose with one finger. He clears his throat of all its phlegm, and begins a lecture on punctuation. Because after all, he has an expertise in creative writing.


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Notes on Eternal Recurrence

Salvador Dali - Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory - 1954

by Guy Walker

“Death created time to grow the things that it would kill, and you are reborn into the same life that you’ve always been born into.” Detective Rustin Cohle

Then they fantasize gleefully about what they would do if given one week to live, what perverse finale of drugs and hookers and assholes they’d engrave their last memories with. But it’s a useless and banal notion, revealing nothing of the human condition except for the desperate grunts of splendor we prefer to indulge in. A better question is how would we continue from this day forward if we were to learn that we’ll be reborn into this same life again and again, for eternity?

Eternal recurrence. It’s an old notion, discussed at length by the ancient Egyptians and Indians, eventually passed on to the Pythagoreans and the Stoics. But it was lonely frail Nietzsche, the same man who contracted syphilis from the only woman he fucked, a whore, who postured the notion of eternal recurrence best: one should live every day as if they will relive every detail of every second of their lives over and over and over again. Every laughter and despair and lonely insecurity, every drunken orgasm and rotten boredom will have to be repeated innumerable times, and with the knowledge that you will relive this innumerable times. So I looked around my own shuffling regimen to see if it was true, if reliving all this ephemeral dank theatre would be a heaven or a hell.

Today, like all the others, I pulled out the guts of three thousand fish, shoving them along the next step of the hallucinatory journey. Their liver and egg sacks separated into different containers, the rest of their guts eventually swept into the harbor, their heads into another container, their bodies packed neatly into styrofoam boxes, eventually shipped off to Spain or Italy or the south of Norway. The enormous machines rattling, the conveyer belt itself is a blue plastic mockery of the eternal return, the literal form of the phenomenology of nihilism—the last five seconds repeated over and over for fourteen hours, every day repeated for as many months or years as you can stand before hurling yourself into the frozen sea. Beyond the harbor where I work, the mountains erupt a thousand meters straight into the sky, and the coruscating morning fjords carve endlessly into the crust of the world. A bright wind howls against all the little red houses hoisted on their stilts in the village, and a seagull flies madly against the gusts, not gaining an inch. The sun is always low, so it’s always a sunrise or a sunset (depending on your outlook of course), and on the clear nights the northern lights rip and gnaw at the stars. They are green and violet violins, the infinity of gods amid their dazzling sinusoidal chorale. At night I get drunk alone, read Adorno and Benjamin for the company, eat a pack of soft-baked cookies and fall asleep to the hazy beautiful defeat, the intermezzo of freedom circling back on itself.

Every moment there’s a looming suggestion that you should simply scrap it all, head to the desert in your underwear, throw rocks at snakes, eat a huge portion of peyote and dive into permanent psychosis, never returning. I’ve often considered moving to some miserable dusty town on the outskirts of Las Vegas, loiter suspiciously around dank acheronian bars, meet a nice desert girl with cut off jean shorts and pink hair and three porcine children with ice cream cones melting over their fat little hands, and settle down  .  .  .  maybe start chewing tobacco. But it’s too late for any of that now. We’ve been shoved into this carnivorous orbit again and again and again, without our consent.

Here we are. We’ve been launched like a cannonball into the future, everything turning into blurs and specks of dust. Many generations go by, but they are all our own generation  .  .  .  the same one cycled around itself. After ninety recurrences—not even a measurable mark of a fraction of my eternity—my work in the harbor has gradually contorted into something else. I’m still there, with a little hunch in my back, still smoking expensive cigarettes on the edge of the docks with the twenty-something year old Chileans, the old wind-torn fishermen wearing snowflake patterned sweaters their wives knitted them, still delivering tons of fish at a time; but the fish aren’t fish anymore. In my besotted hypnosis, they’ve morphed into miniature Donald Trumps, like Chucky dolls, their heads spinning around in hysterical laughter. Coming across the conveyer belt, I hit them over the head one by one, trying more to thrash myself out of the beige hyperreality. It’s no use. He’s ruined everything, branded his name and his little dick onto every vacant surface. There was clearly a flaw in the system, some sort of entropic detour on the main highway that Nietzsche and Schopenhauer never considered. Everything is cycling back on itself, trees into mushrooms into soil and back into trees again. That’s how it always used to be. But humans were a glitch in the system somewhere. The bright chaos of animals and moss and stars gave birth to humans, and the gods trembled at the horror.

With each cycle, cleanliness and normalcy degrades. I moved back to Los Angeles, the rusty homes are abandoned, the churches and bowling halls and porno studios of the San Fernando valley degrading further every time we pass through it. After the hundredth recurrence, there’s only something vaguely familiar about this world, the landscape completely lifeless. It’s now too hot to step outside for more than a few minutes, the sky is opaque and causes prurigo, and our politicians strangely enough, are porcupines, hundreds of them shuffling around in the ramshackled Capitol building, sweetly fidgeting about controversial bills, such as, ‘Should we bomb Antarctica for melting on us so quickly?’ and ‘What do we do with traffic lights, now that yellow is illegal?’

I begin watching porn just for the entertainment, if you can even call it that. No, for the nostalgia, for the high aesthetic appeal, the natural lighting and baby-blue duvet covers. A pornstar with big glossy tits is riding a completely shaven man, their naked bodies humping in crude geometric configurations. Thwak! Thwak! Thwak! Her gluey pink flesh slaps against his. Arrghhh! Uh! Uh! Roooo! the man grunts—this makes me smile sweetly, the way people used to watch films by Truffaut or Fellini or Kurosawa just for the black and white sentimentality. The Fury of Verschwindens was here all along. I lean back in my rocking chair, the floorboards creaking under me, the aleatory ennui sweeping by with the red wind.

Everyone stays indoors, trolling celebrities on the internet, binge-watching several seasons of television shows, taking pictures of our own asses and submitting them to purveying masses online, everyone hunched behind their own glowing screens. In other words, not that much has actually changed. The last remaining priests are scribing the antiethnologies of symparanekromenoi, a practice that brings us brilliantly graphic standup comedy. I finish my glass of milk, and sit up from my flower-printed vinyl couch, its sticky adhesive binding to my skin, slowly peeling off my back, and emerge from my gloomy track house, and across my lawn of dust. It’s two in the afternoon, so I head to the nightclub.

My entire generation meets in the air conditioned nightclub during the day, drinking expensive cocktails, sweating, dancing for hours. I see a few kids squatted on all fours, striking pieces of flint together. Another group is huddled around a dying campfire, trying to keep their fingers warm. A man who has dropped acid everyday for the last seven hundred years is dancing with a lady with one arm, dressed in pink linens, her bulging fat swishing from side to side. They shake and push violently, the floor of neon squares flickering sporadically under them.

‘This is all so absurd,’ I think to myself. And I pick up a stone and throw it at the DJ, everything stopping for the first time in eternity.

Baudrillard was right: ‘the masses themselves are caught up in a gigantic process of inertia through acceleration. They are this excrescent, devouring, process that annihilates all growth and all surplus meaning.’ Yes, eternal recurrence will shove us back into the squalid days and nights until there are no fond memories and no bad ones either. But the spectacle of hyperreality is degrading further and further until there is nothing left. Eventually it’s just a chimera of gold dust, a strange dream with the sounds of young laughter echoing in the background. Schopenhauer discussed the ultimate nature of reality as being driven and defined by the Will. We are trembling mannequins of meat, driven entirely by the need to satisfy desires. Our ephemeral fury to make something of ourselves, to attach some purpose to all of this, to build a little legacy—whether it’s a man raising his children or Trump erecting his coruscating phalluses—is a symptom of the Will, pushing everything further and further into the absurdity of existence.

What eternal recurrence fails at considering is the nature of the Will. Desires can never achieve their satisfactions  .  .  .  once the Will attains some momentary triumph, it gets bored with it, and banters off to some other colorful frontier. We humans are the only animal who will never attain true satisfaction  .  .  .  the restless torpid bodies of this recurring dream try again and again to achieve something tolerable, scratching at the sky to make all this worth it, until death finally swallows us, soothing all of our desires and illusory sense of purpose. This is why people have children—they want to destine their own blood to the endless cycle of suffering and defeat. We willfully orchestrate the eternal recurrence for ourselves.

Schopenhauer said the only reasonable response to the absurdity of existence was to denounce the Will everywhere possible, especially that of sexual desire, in order to not reproduce little replicas of ourselves that will have to carry on further into the absurd of the eternal. But denying yourself face-sitting, 69-ing, long spouts of ecstasy-induced fucking, is surely the most miserable and absurd of all existences, some sort of cruel illusory asceticism that will only cause you to hate sunsets and everything beautiful.

Eternal recurrence was beaten by the Will. There is nothing certain anymore.

At the end of it all, we’ll have a few rusted accruements above the fireplace. We’ll have our various degrees and conquests, like seashells of legacy that we can rub with our thumb. Most of all, we’ll have memories of our lovers. When we were young, and we loved without consequence—at least we’ll have that. One day, we’ll find a fresh bubbling spring, and we’ll bathe with the native choirs all around us. One day the vines will swallow everything. A cool breeze will move the grasses and we’ll smile with the sun on our faces.

Tits on Rattlesnakes: Oedipus and the chase for checkered demonoids in Mexico

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by Guy Walker

As usual, it fell apart all too quickly. Stuck in Mexico, having spent the last of my money on a cowboy hat and a bottle of tequila wrapped in a cow’s hide and hoof, my best friend stabbed four times at the strip club, and now in the hospital. And here we are, off a dirt road somewhere, in an abandoned lot next to a birthday party, the waves crashing beyond the cliffs, the whole love-maddened spectacle not that far off anymore. This thin little veil, where the deranged landscape meets the ocean, is the best place on earth. It’s a marvelously somber and defiant strip of world, a place where we could all die laughing. Bring me here. Let the dogs take me. Let everything be a desert again. All that water smashing against the earth, the little pebbles rolling down again and again, and the tide swelling up once more, about to swallow everything.

I used to travel quite a bit when I was younger. But I got a serious case of staph infection on my penis when farming in Thailand, and almost had to have it cut off. And I nearly died sailing in a storm in Norway. So I’ve stayed put in Los Angeles for a couple years now, not getting staph, running along the auto-iterative treadmill of work and sleep and driving, drinking lattes, masturbating into socks, watching Youtube videos of bears attacking eagles, surfing at sunrise or sunset, and all the quotidian lethargy of making the time pass smoothly, that which we call ‘hobbies’. Hobbies are the vital and obvious condiments of our peasantry that make life tolerable. There are those who start families, which Adorno calls ‘the fatal germ-cell of society’; and although families still serve as a perfectly acceptable and effective way to help pass the many years we have left plodding around these parts, starting a family today, in the epoch of new-age fascism and fuckery, is no longer a physiological necessity, but more of a nostalgic pastime, like knitting and laughter. Baudrillard postured our postmodern condition as a fascination with neutral, indifferent forms. We are passionate about the luster of nihilism, the methodological realism of our day to day, everything slowly passing away into this beautiful ‘era of involuntary transparency.’ Everyone says humans are obsessed with fame, that our vainglorious motivations are trite and insecure, but the truth is we are all trying to vanish. Every minute of the day we’re yearning to disappear behind the high waves, lost in the fields, the journeywork of stars reaching from end to end, ablaze all around, lost in the bottle, in the smoke and glamour of toxicity, in Mexico, off a dirt road where only an old lady stares with her chickens.

The night before I left, the cops killed another kid, leaving him outside an after-hours Korean club, the stink of gun smoke and a late-night donut shop wafting down Hollywood Boulevard, and a Korean lady whimpering at her storefront. I rolled myself a cigarette and walked passed the neon karaoke bar, next to the burlesque bar, next to the store selling gold Byzantine costumes; two of the dancers from the burlesque place were hurrying along, wrapped in their furs, their long blonde legs fastened in eight inch heels, their cosmopolitan laughter echoing down the quiet side streets. A homeless man limped down the sidewalk, wrapped in a soiled baby blanket, texting on his iPhone. A dog with matted fur sniffed an escort magazine dispensary, then lifted one gaunt quivering leg and peed on it. I exhaled a huge cloud of smoke. It was going to rain tonight. You could already see it coming.

I got into my car and drove down to Monte Carlo’s. Only one other person there, Gregory, the old Hell’s Angel who’s always there, wearing his Santa Anita racehorse hat, hunched over his buffet of beer, whiskey, water, and a great pile of peanut shells. He slowly creaked his neck around to identify me, and barely nodded in his wasted saloon.

“The cowboy’s back!” he snarled at me. “Where the pretty lady?”

“I’ll have a whiskey on ice,” I asked to bartender, but she was cutting up some chicken on a blue china plate for her toddler, and didn’t hear me.

“I asked you a question cowboy!” Gregory was permanently hunched over the counter. He would die here, churlish and ugly. “There didn’t used to be so many goddamn white boys around here, especially you kids strolling in here in your cowboy boots. My family has a hundred years in these parts, did you know that? And they actually ranched, boy!”

“I don’t really care about your family’s ranching habits. You have a temper tantrum about what shoes somebody wears  .  .  .  A whiskey please,” I asked the bartender again, a little filipino lady who barely spoke any english. “Besides, I’ve worked on ranches, and my grandparents grew up here. And I don’t spend my last tragic days at the track, screaming at the horses, spit flying everywhere like a rabid animal. You’re drunk Greg. Don’t yell at me because your woman left you.”

“TITS ON RATTLESNAKES!! I’ll eat the porcupine faster than you, you goddamn kook!” his eyes popped out of his head, veins bulging from his short little determined neck. “Strolling in here in your hawaiian shirt like this, your hair like a jamboree faggot. I would snake you every fucking time in the water before you had time to stand up!”

His teeth were stained from years of grotesque occupation. His face was burned and tanned, layer upon layer, after so many endless years of cursing at his betted horse, sick with alcohol, like a longtime Vegas veteran who went to die in the sun. You always see the racehorse guys in bars alone, licking their edges of denial, icing their cursory failures again and again. The round little man just challenged me to a paltry surf contest, a hodad puffing for a duel, floundering in his glory days. “I’m leaving tomorrow. But I’ll gladly meet you in the water next week,” I responded.

“No I don’t think so pal! That’s not how this works. We don’t go meet there, we’ll just find each other there when we find each other there.”

I was done. I paid for my whiskey, pulled out a large bar of dark chocolate, and went over to the bar’s computer screen to play a brain game. You stare at two nearly identical pictures, side by side, of a naked porno man or woman, and try to find the five or six subtle differences before the timer runs out. It’s very fun. Maybe a strand of her hair curls differently. Maybe there’s a small palm tree in the background of the left one. Maybe his foreskin is uncut in the right one. I shoved some quarters into the jukebox and queued a bunch of Waylon Jennings just to stab Gregory a little deeper, and racked the billiard balls on the old mangled pool table, its faded light green cloth ripped at the ends, and a small marionette skeleton hanging on the wall. I chalked up and broke up the balls with a loud crack that shook Gregory’s head right up. It was beginning to rain outside, at first lightly, the utopian wash of headlights reflecting off the wet streets, the splash of tires driving through puddles, thousands of young single women rushing to their windowsills in their pajamas, holding a mug of steaming chai tea with both hands, pondering their existence, still hopeful that life can be like a Godard film. Maybe we all wish the same. The rain is our favorite spurious muse. I finished my whiskey and walked out of there, leaving the billiard balls all spread out, leaving Gregory crushing his peanut shells, and went for another walk. I popped my jacket collar, stuffed my hands in my pockets, and smoked a cigarette from the corner of my mouth, the way Clint Eastwood did in the spaghetti westerns.

The rain strengthened into a loud melanoid dramaturgy, momentarily ending our three years of drought, washing out the gutters and storm drains from all their built-up pigeon shit and oil and cigarette butts, torrents of filth headed for the oceans. A friend of a friend died a few years back surfing at Third Point, Malibu, with a cut in his foot after a big rain like this one. Los Angeles is a stink of perversity, a fetid vesicle with a $400 hat. I walked passed a storm drain and saw a live raccoon wash down the river, scrambling at the concrete walls, unable to cling on to anything. Women and men scurrying into their doorways like cockroaches. The perfumes of vice and revelry all washing away, the miasmic haze will blush blue-green in the morning. I came back to my car, and a leak was beginning through my sunroof, dripping on my blanket of rabbit furs that my dad sewed together as a boy scout. I headed home, roaring down the 101 in my old pearl-colored Mercedes-Benz at ninety miles an hour, the diesel chewing through the concrete night, the rain flooding the windshield faster than I could wipe it away, water now constantly streaming through my sunroof, Herbie Hancock as loud as he could go, barely making it over the engine. Another lone freeway vampire passed me, his bright red mustang rubbing his dick behind tinted windows. I kicked the gas as hard as I could, the whole car beginning to rattle, and realized I wasn’t going to die for the phantom racer, and so I cooled it off. I exited at De Soto, and someone’s blinding headlights came up behind me, and it’s a customary gesture to flip off the greasy offender behind you by raising your finger in front of your rearview mirror where they will certainly see. I stopped at the red light at the bottom of the offramp, and a rusty dented F-250 pulled up next to me, with his window down, another soiled degenerate who’s father left him as a child. “FUCK YOU CUNT!!” he screamed, wild-eyed, spitting on my car, his German Shepard barking and spitting violently halfway out the window. This city is so desperately mad. Locked and safely belted in our metal carriages, cursing at the world, hernias almost erupting, white saliva pooling in the corners of our mouths. I rolled down my passenger window. “EAT MY SHIT YOU FAGGOT!!!” I screamed back, certain that would get him. “Pull over, let’s work this out on the street!!” he yelled again. The whole despondent brutish noumena of our grunts and farts will break free one day. The Democritean flash of science will save us. Why are we so mad? Where are our tender women to ease the shattering despair? Let us just run in the canyons, drenched in the warm rain, drinking a gallon of wine, wrapped in a beautiful woman. I got out of my car right there, and walked around to the truck, but he skidded away, screaming a chorus of ‘fuck you’s’ behind him. I went home, drank a glass of water from the tap, watered my orchids, and went to sleep with my kitten curled under my neck, purring loudly against the rain.

Getting out of Los Angeles always feels like a miracle. It’s a last minute escape, running away from the coming election, from cops in body armor, from bad ecstasy, from fedoras, from the encroaching white race and their eight-million-page flipbook of airbrushed headshots. Getting out of the U.S. is even that much more remarkable. From the troglodytic buffoonery of guns and muffin tops and light beer. Or as Sarah Palin described the smooth-bottomed penetralia of good Americans when she endorsed Donald Trump in Iowa: the “right-wingin’ bitter-clingin’ proud-clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion  .  .  .  and our Constitution.”

I didn’t know what a bitter-clingin’ proud-clinger was, but she was grinning puckishly when she said it, shaking her fist at the same time, so it must have been good. At the event, she spoke ravenously about her God, eventually throwing both hands up in the air, and rolling her eyes back so just the whites could be seen, and began speaking in tongues, shaking violently. The crowd cheered. “I like poodles!!” one lady in a woolen turtleneck with the sleeves cut off screamed. “I ate my entire breakfast!” another man hollered, lifting up his shirt to show Trump his pink porcine belly. After Palin finished shaking, she waved and thanked the crowd normally, and Trump returned to the podium. “THANK YOUUUU IOWAIANS!! Cat emoji, lmfao, We Can Make America Great Again! Poop with smiley face emoji, laughing crying emoj. Mexicans are dirty, and so can you!” The crowd went nuts, seizuring and foaming at the mouth, some of the women fainting and then being dragged away into cold isolated cells, the blue florescent lights flickering absurdly.

I knew I had to get out for a while. Mexico was the fastest and easiest from here. For one, I wanted to verify if everybody was a rapist and a criminal there, as Trump had asserted before. For another, there is good surf and not too many people  .  .  .  maybe a stray dog sniffing around the tide pools, maybe a boy selling cheap tequila  .  .  .  but not the smutty glazed pungency of our cities. There’s a wild innocence to Mexico  .  .  .  yes, it has the cartel, and yes, it’s police will take your money, but at least it’s corruption is honest. The United States has bankers and weapons manufacturers who rob trillions from the American people, who steal old ladies’ retirement funds and blow up foreign hospitals so they can snort cocaine from a stripper’s asshole. They are somewhat rotten and prudish about it all, like wearing silk-lined leather opera gloves when they throw a dog shit at your chest. The Mexican cartels and police are at least upfront and reliable about their larceny. They don’t hide behind a veneer of exceptionalism. They don’t wave a flag when protesting at a bird sanctuary, asking their supporters to send them free snacks. They just put a gun to your head and ask you for your money.

I left my house in the morning. The scaturient air was bright and delicate, and the clouds were pushing themselves out of the way. From my patio, up in the hills, overlooking the sodden corpses of our buildings and neighborhoods, a hawk dropped from a tree, plummeting to the ground, to some unsuspecting rodent, his whiskers twitching in the cool morning air, the hawk eventually disappearing behind the next hill. The vines and flowers weighed down in the garden, morning robins bathing in the two bird baths we have next to spreading rosemary and poppies and marijuana plants. My landlord, Sal, a stout Falstaffian man who looks more like Danny DeVito, was already on the roof, drinking a beer while cleaning out the gutters, his little legs hanging over the edge.

“I’m gonna FUCK YOU UP, man!! Ha! ha! ha!” Sal laughed. “I’ll see you later. Hey WYATT! Take me with you! I don’t have a passport though  .  .  .  maybe you can just wrap me in a blanket and tie me to the roof.”

“Ha! ha! ha! I wish. I’ll see you in a week or so. You’re good to take care of Huckleberry? I left food in the closet!”

“Sure ma-an! We’re gonna miss you.” There are two other men who live there, both divorced, both alcoholics. But Sal gardens all day during his days home, stumbling out of his forest of vines and succulents, high on Vicodins and cocaine, his hands and polo shirt covered in wet earth. He’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.

I ran down to my car, strapped two boards on the roof, and soaked up as much water from the back seat with a towel, wringing it out on the street. There was a bottle and a half of whiskey left, half an ounce of mushrooms, and a vile of GHB Sal had given me earlier, and I was meeting Axel and Raul down in Baja, at a bungalow that Axel had rented for a week. He was a trust fund kid who was always smiling about something, who voted for Mitt Romney four years ago only because he liked the sound of his name, who could have been a world-class rock climber if he stuck with it. He had been down there for a couple days already.

I howled down the freeway, rolling down my passenger window as far as it would go, as it was the only window left that sort of worked, the cool coruscating air flooding the inside, a bath of religion and samphire pouring over everything. I stopped at San Onofre to surf alone once more. Surfers are like dogs who will chase a ball again and again, returning loyally to receive a few more seconds of their excitement. A squadron of pelicans flew by, edging just in front of a wave, the tips of their wings almost skimming the surface, completely poised. We can’t fly, so we surf. I pulled in, and everything was clean and handsome again.

……..

……..

I continued to Mexico, arriving late at night, meeting Axel and Raul at some strip club, the gross peeling linoleum wallpaper touching you as you walked by. I ate a handful of mushrooms in the bathroom, drank half the flask of whiskey, and went out and ordered a beer.

Cowboys, or old men with cowboy hats, crowded their corners against the walls, hunched over their glasses of tequila, occasionally looking up at the stripper on the stage as she humped the squalid air, or stuck her ass out, pointing it at all the drunken nodding men like her asshole was shooting an invisible laser. The good strippers do exactly that: the crease in their panties is some sort of hypnotic beam, some sort of vaguely nostalgic origin; like staring at the womb from which we came. We can’t turn away.

The other strippers strutted around the floor in their high heels, stopping at a man’s table every now and then, shoving the man’s knees between her legs, rubbing it against her pussy, trying to make a dollar for a feel. There wasn’t a bill on the stage, so I threw a dollar out of sympathy. The poor fat woman strutted awkwardly in her stilettos, her enormous tits weighing under all that gravity, those darkened nipples gnawed on by however many children she had waiting back at home. She couldn’t even lift herself onto the pole, couldn’t spin or twirl like the young scarlet dancers I occasionally visit on the Sunset strip—she just thrusted about, shoving her artless soporific pirouette around and around, all that neon light flashing against her sweat. Night after night she came here to fuck the air. Night after night she pressed her ass against the pole, rubbed her tits together in some sort of swollen massage of despair, hoping to feed her children, as men sat silently in their dark corners, their heads nodding softly as the night pushed on.

No one sat in front. Just one man, his head collapsed on the little round table, his hand still gripped to a bottle of tequila, completely gone. The somber Mexican melodies rolling softly on, the bartender filling another glass, the foam rolling over the rim, and she wiping off the nozzle with a sullied rag, rubbing it down more than necessary. The stripper laid on the ground, spread her legs, and began rolling around, from corner to corner like a human roller, the blot of period stain in the middle of her panties growing larger and larger. No one noticed it at first. The spot grew to the size of a quarter, then a pepperoni. She was on all fours, crawling around from one end to the other in the most degrading human frolic, the most starless display of adventure, the Freudian phenomenology of prurient jouissance and ecstasy and motherhood in one regaling lunge, like a wasted overgrown Eden, everything bright and poisonous. How did we get here? More than that, what are we still doing here? This depraved circus hoisted on a stage. And we are worse than the main act. We are the one’s who drove hundreds of miles to pay for this, as if there were some sort of exotic novelty to this. This is what it’s come to. “All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. We are the momentary actors, entering and exiting at our fortuitous times, grasping for a bit of elegance, or even a moment of it, dancing in the spotlight. Here we are. Sitting on our stools, getting drunk and high and wasted, staring at strange women moving around in their grotesque fashion, waiting for the night to end. Getting drunker and madder the more we try to escape.

“Hey WYATT!!” Raul waved at me from the back corner. I stood up and walked over to him and Oscar, some other Argentinian who was much smaller of a man, who smiled and talked a lot, but all of it was unintelligible, because his voice had been curdled and destroyed by cigarettes and coal mining.

“I couldn’t find you, I been over there with Monica,” Raul said. “Put your hand out.” And he dusted out a clump of coke onto the back of my hand. But the mushrooms were really starting to kicking in, and the clump of white powder was a bright odorous poison, a neon white dog shit that my body wanted very little to do with. Raul himself was beginning to degrade into a body of dark smoke, with snarling wolverine-like teeth. His long curly ponytail was now a bundle of leather whips, bouncing and sliding from side to side, slithering off his shoulders and clawing at me inches from my face. Every bead of sweat on his face was a heaving dam about to burst, running down his cheek, breaking free the others below it.

“I don’t want it,” I grinned, unable to keep a serious face, but terrified as hell.

“Hurry up with it, we don’t have all fucking night.”

“No I’m serious. I just need a glass of soda water.”

“What the fuck are you mumbling about cowboy? You want, you don’t want. You fucking gringos are the strangest things.” He stuck a house key into his baggie and pulled out a sizable bump of the glowing uranium, and lifted it into his huge flaring nostrils. It was now shining bright enough for anyone in the club to see, and was probably reflecting off our faces like we were staring into a suitcase of florescent lightbulbs. The only way to ensure we wouldn’t be caught was to get rid of the awful stuff. I snorted it way back, as far as I could, and felt it shatter into the back of my brain—a cold stinging wet surge, the bottom half of my brain now a soaked sponge, slowly dripping down my throat.

“Agghh!! Christ almighty” Raul snarled, smiling with crazy-eyes, dusting out another bump onto the back of Oscar’s hand. Oscar grunted something incoherent, it looked like he was trying to make a joke, the corners of his mouth twitching like an animals; he was just a fiend of the arenaceous homeless frontier, another destitute who wandered the desert for fifty years, finally ending up here. All of us are the same. “Come back on Wednesday and we all go down to Crazy Girls,” Raul said, “There’re rock bands on a stage there, and the girls are always much friendlier and more generous. Better than this fat shit.” He was pointing at the woman still rolling around on the stage. There was a second of hesitation in his voice. I knew he was double-checking that what he saw was real. I looked up and by this point, she had turned into a huge amorphous bleeding thing, the visible scent of a wounded animal following her around the stage. Her entire vaginal area was soaked, and the psychedelic exceptionality of it was more terrifying than being a wounded rabbit yourself, being chased down the desert plain.

“O JESUS CHRIST!! YOU’RE FUCKING BLEEDING LADY!” Está sangrando!! Está sangrando!! Ha! ha! ha! ha!” Raul began cackling like a preying hyena. He was the godforsaken thing attacking her, gnawing at her heels, and he wasn’t going to let go until she quit, until he had her by the throat and she lay limp for him to feast on her. She looked down at herself, and with a shock of realizing her misfortune she scurried off the stage, pointlessly covering her parts with both hands, Raul booming with laughter every step of the way.

The stage just laid there abandoned, the soft Mexican love song rolling on, “recordar de qu color son los cerezos,” the stage left only with a huge baby-blue bra and a single dollar bill crumpled up. The other men barely noticed, everyone still hunched over their glasses, more and more of them turning into wild boars, orange heat flaring from their nostrils. I knew we had to get out of here before they all jolted up, kicking over the tables, smashing every last bottle behind the counter, and some gross orgy of bristling death would ensue. I could see Axel across the room, drinking a bottle of rum with a gangbanger with tattoos all over his face.

“Take the bottle!” Raul shoved the bottle of tequila into my chest. Pure distilled poison. You can intellectually discuss that tequila and cocaine are bad for you, but you don’t know its reality until you’re swimming in the depths of psychedelics, seeing the twisted stinking venoms flooding your bloodstream, the ornery héautontimorouménos soaking into your flesh from the inside out.

A stripper in a flashing red bra that was hoisting up her glossy silicone tits approached us. The scars above her bra line were white hot, with wrinkles visibly gripping her tighter as she walked closer. She smiled wide, and it was clear: this was the first definite vampire I’d ever seen, her fangs poking way out from the rest of her teeth. I carefully leaned my head down to hers, to check again, to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. “Are those real fangs?” I asked, reaching to touch them. But she stepped back and stared at me, obviously offended. She started yelling at me, something in Spanish. I didn’t mean to offend her, but they were definitely real, no doubt about it. You can re-check yourself, like when you think you might be in a dream, and so you look at certain details to confirm this is real. “I’m sorry,” I said, “You just have really nice teeth.” And I began laughing hysterically, unable to hold it in. I looked to Raul, but he didn’t seem to notice. He just looked at me with wide eyes, his prurient facial contortions getting worse, the Francis Bacon squirming advances too ugly to look at.

“I’m sorry mother, but I MUST confess my sins,” Raul said, shoving his face into her scarred ashen cleavage. She leaned her head back and began laughing, grabbing the back of his head and rubbing his face in deeper. This was obviously how she was planning to murder us, shoving our faces into her deep venus flytrap of tits, and then grab our neck and bite it.

“I’m gonna step out for a cigarette” I mumbled, and slowly backed away, then turning around and walking briskly for the door. And then all I heard was someone yell, and then a bottle smash. I turned around and Axel was on the floor, completely limp, blood all over his shirt.

[to be continued..]

The Fire in the Night

bacon

“Or else I’d try to force myself to fall in love; in fact, I did it twice. And I suffered, gentlemen, I assure you I did. Deep down in your heart you don’t believe in your suffering, there is a stirring of mockery, and yet you suffer—in the most genuine, honest-to-goodness way.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The girl with the long red hair and the amber woolen dress looked up just in time. She was riding up the escalator from the underground train platform as I was riding down, and she looked directly at me and maybe smiled a little. It was only two or three seconds, but that is enough to flood the mind with ornate frenzies of love and laughter and all the bright candid idealism. At least there’s a recognition of it, and you know that she knows, and that she feels the same. Because the primary animal sense is always at work, our peripheral vision is always scanning for a fragment of beauty, pleading for a bit of decency. For all our purposeless brutish humping, all our desperate gaping orgasms, all our drunken theater, all our regret and tremendous heartbreak, we keep panting through the hallways, seeking one more moment of validation.

The girl and I passed each other and never saw each other again. She, into the brisk gold autumn in Stockholm, into the buoyant avenues, the routine loveliness that pretty women know so well. So many Holly Golightly’s, so pristine in their warm laissez-faire. I, into the fuss of the underground railways, the clamoring bodies pushing like rodents into their various compartments and holes.

Train platforms have no season, no variety or color or gaiety  .  .  .  there is only the constant stink of suffering, only the gross antipathy of machinery and neglect. It is all so stupid, the frantic banality of finding your right seat and shuffling passed all the men and women crowding the narrow hallways inside the train cars. An especially fat one was coming my way—he turned and pressed up against the wall, allowing still only a few inches for me to pass. I turned to my side, side-stepping passed him, my penis rubbing across his huge ass, the whole flaccid arrangement barely successful.

It was six in the evening, and this first train ride was headed eighteen hours north, so we packed ourselves like a thousand swollen sausages in our cars and cabins and beds, six people to a cabin, everyone’s shoes and socks airing out in their cramped chambers, everyone breathing heavily against the night, the moon no longer full but it looked like it could have been. I sold a number of surfboards in Stockholm, and had a best friend on a faint island in Norway who I hadn’t seen in two years.

I was the last one to reach my cabin, with two remaining vacancies. The other three men were merely boys, dark-skinned teenagers, or at most, in their early twenties.

“Yo! Man!” one of the boys lying on the top bunk called out, “you join us, there is room.” Subways are typically pageants of cynicism, everyone glaring down at their glowing rectangles, but these kids were warm and welcoming for some reason.

They were all from Afghanistan—all friends from home, traveling together as one. There were two sets of three bunk beds, the middle of each pulled down to turn the bottom beds into couches. The kid on the top bunk slid down immediately and I sat down next to him. He had a thin mustache, probably the only facial hair he could grow, and knew by far the most English of the three of them.

“Where you guys headed?” I asked.

“Finland. We are going to freeze ourselves, I already know this. The more north we go, the smaller my dick gets. This is not good for me,” he laughed, slapping me on the leg. The other boys laughed, but didn’t say anything. “Yeah, they understand some,” Saed continued, “He is the funniest,” pointing to the youngest looking one. “I wish you two could talk. It’s because of his jokes that we ever made it this far. Went through Iran, Turkey, Macedonia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and maybe others, and now we have to go straight to the cold. As far away as we can get.”

“Looks like most this train is Syrian though. The cap just blew off down there.”

“The Syrians follow us though. This one big thing, and all Syrians are accepted. We from Afghanistan and it took us so long to leave. The Syrians, all over, on this train, they are everywhere. And they smell so bad, worse than my mother.”

“How do you know English so well?” I asked.

“I know seven languages. English is not my best though. I know English from American movies, I love movies, I watch them for eight years now. I just teach myself, I know nothing before. Let me ask you, why everyone in America always say ‘fuck,’” he smiled, “this is a good word, but everyone says it all the time.”

The other boys laughed, talking and joking to each other and Saed in Dari. Saed ate another chocolate, his ultra-thin mustache almost laughing, his hair styled with the precision of childlike vanity, trimmed short on the sides, then his long hair on top was flipped upwards and back, held perfect in the slickness of modernity that you knew you mustn’t touch it. “It’s your most descriptive word,” he continued. “If you are happy, sad, angry, ‘fuck’ is what you can say for everything. ‘I fucking love you.’ ‘What the fuck.’ ‘Get the fuck outa my house.’ What a great fucking language you have, American. Ha! ha! ha! ha!”

“Ha! ha! I guess it is,” I said. “We have over a million words in the English language, but we prefer such beauties as ‘fuck’ ‘stuff’ ‘man’ and a few other solid details of the world. How has the road been? Fucked in it’s own way, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, of course it’s fucked up. They shoot at us. They chase us ’til we hide all night. But we not pussies, American? We are the fastest in the country. Everyone knows Afghanistan only for being at war. My whole life they shoot at me. They hate us because we are going to be beautiful. Because I’m the most handsome, because he’s faster than all us, and because he is sleeping with all their women, that is why they shoot at us.”

“Ha! ha! let’s race then at the next stop.”

“Race me across eight countries. Race me through all that war.” He threw his arm around my shoulder, and smiled big and bright. “How many Syrians on this train are still virgins, you think? I know he is,” pointing to the quiet overweight kid. “He went to the hookers every night in Istanbul that I never saw him,” pointing to the youngest one. “But the Syrians, I bet they’re all virgins.” he said to me. “I lost mine a month ago, in Istanbul when he took me to see a hooker, and ever since I been a lion.”

We joked a while longer about women and war and men, in that order for another hour or so as the others drifted off to sleep. I pulled up the middle bunk and crawled into bed, and read from Dostoyevsky before falling asleep. Raskolnikov murdered the old pawn-broker and then Lizaveta, her half-sister, with an axe, a meticulously orchestrated murder, then barely escaped the police. The whole thing he almost couldn’t believe, then to be haunted only by his own mind. Because man is a marvelous sufferer—he chooses his suffering as an escape from Reason and Beauty and all the adroit restlessness in man. This breed of sabotage itself is a mockery, an able-bodied nightmare. Because suffering is meant merely to provoke the mania of love and color in between.

I started to drift away, when Saed poked his head up from below. “Let’s walk around the train together and try to pick up girls,” he whispered, not wanting to wake the others.

“Nah Saed,” I said with my eyes closed. “I’m too tired for women. They’re all sleeping anyways.”

In the morning, we came to my stop, somewhere in the sweeping desolation of northern Sweden, where I would switch to a train that was headed over to Norway. I walked out of the cabin, and turned to see if anyone had their eyes open. Saed was rolled up in a huge blanket, the other two also sleeping soundly, headed somewhere in Finland, somewhere in the naked homeless autumn, the tremendous expanse of birch trees and their golden hymns of leaves and a thin frost covering all the mosses. The sun pushed up over the horizon and through the trees, gently warming the faces of the millions of modest sleeping things. A morning bird flew across and landed on the bench on the train platform, pushing out his little breast, then hopping down to eat a crumb. There were only two train cars. I boarded and sat down at a small table, across from another dark-skinned man, this time not a boy.

“No. They don’t let you walk, because you can make the police know the place  .  .  .  the men have guns, so they make you get on the boat from Turkey, from Baharam to Greece.” We were drinking coffees, talking about the highly-publicized smuggling of refugees passing through Turkey, of which Ahmid, a Syrian refugee himself, was forced through just a couple weeks earlier. “We stay together as a group, the boat has sixty-five people, children and families, way too much people for this boat. We tell the men, they can keep the money but we don’t want on the boat. They tell us, ‘if you don’t want to get on boat, we kill all you, all the group.’ So we don’t have choice.”

“And you don’t have a choice because you now you know the place, and could maybe tell the police?” I repeated what he just said, wanting him to continue.

“Yes, this is exactly so.” He stopped there.

I just wanted to lightly probe this hell. “I’ve heard this again and again, almost exactly. The other day I heard of a smuggler bringing forty people onto a boat much too small for them all, and about a hundred meter out he jumps off the boat, and tells them to keep the motor on and head in the same direction, but he knows it’s not gonna make it the whole way  .  .  .  he tells them to handle it themselves, and he swims back. Have you been through Hungary?” I finally asked.

“Mmm, yes, yes I have. But the way is not so easy. It is up and down, up and down. From Matanini, we go to Athenia. Matanini is not a nice place, there is fighting everywhere, so you have to go with a big group, so no one attacks you. There is safety in a group.”

“And your family, where are they?”

“My father is in Australia, not my mother, she stay in Syria, she must stay months, then she go to meet my father. But in Syria, this is not good. Very difficult.”

“Why is no other country in the Middle East opening their borders?” I felt guilty for asking so many vapidly political questions, so many dead-ends and redundancies. There would never be enough time on this train to get beyond any of this, to share a smoke and a drink, and laugh about something plain.

“They don’t want anyone from Syria. They have no good relationship—Sunni and Shia relationship. Saudi and Qatar are terrorist countries. They want you killed and go far away, and want your oil, they will kill everyone of us if they could. So we go through all the countries. We have to sell everything before. Your car, your house, leave everything, all into cash. So you have to cross the sea, or they kill you. But when the boat sinks, we lose everything we have.”

I stood up to buy chocolate and another coffee, and asked Ahmid if he wanted anything. He shook his head, saying he just ate before getting on the train. Three people in front of me in line  .  .  .  even the Scandinavians are getting fat, their huge asses waiting for some cookies. I sat back down and asked him if he’d ever been married.

“Not married, no. Have you?”

“No. You been in love though.” This was obvious  .  .  .  no one phrases it “not married, no” without nudging the edge a little, without confessing to a bit of benevolent insanity. But more importantly, he looked amused and sad at the same time—the permanent look of those who have been in love and heartbroken. I suppose it’s more of a jovial skepticism, a tit of melancholy that makes us crave the suffering of heartbreak.

“Yes, in love. True love, you know this. We were together three years but her family doesn’t like me because I am Sunni, and so we are no longer together. We were ready to marry. She has no problem with me being Sunni, and my family has no problem with her being Shia, but her family has problem. So she married another man.”

“Son of a bitch.”

“But when she is married, she does not love this man as much, so she wrote me before and wants to see me, but I know this is a bad idea so I block her from all. This is the most difficult thing to do. I love this woman very much. I turn into a little boy with this woman. But this is no good to thing, because she is not mine, so I make myself not love her. She lives just four or five streets beside me, with her husband is very rich.” He laughed to himself, in a sad beautiful way. “So you want to marry in the future?” he asked me.

“Ah, maybe maybe not. I don’t know. I never want to be heartbroken again, so maybe not.”

“I know what you feel. I know this exactly.”

“You?” I asked

“We will see. If I meet the right woman, then of course. But we will see. It is difficult to love someone too much.”

“Yes of course. And this is the most difficult thing, to not love anyone too much. I liked my woman too much. No, I showed her that I liked her too much. When you show anyone too much affection, they draw away, instinctually, it is the law of the land, I don’t know exactly why, but this is always how it is. The trick is to not show too much. This is crude and in a way dishonest, but if she loves you too much, you do not love her as much. The trick is to present yourself as more complicated and interesting than loving one woman, than loving just her. Because we know ourselves the most. And if a woman loves me more than all else, but I know that I am merely a simple man of hunger and loneliness, then I do not think much of her for liking me. The same is true of her. A rockstar is desirable only on the stage. A dancer is perfect only while performing. All other times they are all too human, too regular for the great facade of beauty. We want to deny normalcy, but that is all there is.”

“Ha! ha! Yes. Exactly. Relationship is a bond, and that is it. You cannot let her see how much you love her. If she knows she will leave you. The girl loves the difficult man, because he is always searching his inside, what he feels and so on. She likes a complicated man. An easy man is a man she can easily leave. Yes, my friend loves this girl so much. He tell her one day how much he loves her, and next day she leave him.” He looked only at his hands and at me when he spoke. When he finished, he looked out to the pretentious haunted autumn, to the fat birch trees growing in their packs. Every now and then we traveled past an enormous lake with one or two cabins at its edge, someone’s quiet home, like a strange love affair with loneliness. The images of such places are universally romantic, clichéd postcard material, but the reality of their romance is so phenomenally rare, so completely desolate that no one dare try them. Romance itself is a storm behind the painting. It is a brutal peasantry of doubts, tears, and private infidelities.

“It happened twice on separate occasions,” I said, “in which I told her too much. I ate a bunch of MDMA and told her I would have married her. We are all so stupid. We show too much. So I can never show this, and maybe it means that I will never feel this. Maybe one causes the other, it’s hard to know which is which.”

He looked at me as if questioning me. “All women, if you tell her you want to marry her, she gets scared. Why this is? Because if you tell Arab woman you want marry her, she will not let you go, you can never get away. You must die for her to let you go.” He paused a moment. “You have gift from the woman?”

“No gift. Gifts, yes, but nothing like that to keep with you.”

“I have. This necklace from her. I give her as well, but it is gold. This is silver. You need to throw away that photograph of her, it only makes it more difficult. Give me your phone, I’ll do it for you.”

We sat there a while together, in silence, staring out the window at the endless scenery of  go by, and he started laughing to himself, at first trying to hide his laughter under his hand, then just laughing uncontrollably. “I remember you say to me before when a girl asks you if you love her, and she is laying on your bed almost naked, you say yes, of course you do. But you don’t really love her at all, you only say this to get her clothes off. You only want to see her naked. Ha! ha! That is the truest thing ever hear.”

We carried on a while, in our laughters and our silences, agreeing on the vice of love. Because love is never the complete freedom that they say it is. There is always a squeamish suffering, always a brutish strain of slavery within its body. Either it burns off in a gorgeous mania, into smoke and ash, or it fades out into gross antipathy. One is beautiful in its suffering, and all the more terrible.

It was still four hours by car until the islands. I bundled into the corner of a bus stop, thinking I’d wait here ’til morning, and rolled a cigarette that went crooked on me, and smoked half of it hoping the night would pass in one great swoop, that it would be halfway through by the end of this smoke. But I was cold and dizzy from eating only chocolate and coffee all day. I heard footsteps draw nearer—this is the worst sound in these places because you know you’re going to frighten whoever it is. It was a young woman with long magnetic legs in tight black jeans  .  .  .  she walked by and saw me hunched over on the ground waving at her, and she began walking faster. I let her think what she wanted, and when she was far enough away, I got up and began walking through the flickering night, out of the town to the other side, the houses trembling like speckled flames, slowly fading away behind all that night. A band of northern lights cut into the sky like a mad green poem, a sudden rage of violins, my little stub of cigarette burning nicely in the breeze. I would have loved to sleep here, in a nice patch of dry grass, in a sleeping bag with my shirt off, feeling the cool air creep in. But I had no such sleeping bag, and it was far too cold to sleep anywhere outside.

It took me at least an hour to hitch my first ride. A woman with a child in a carseat took me to the next town thirty miles away, through the sometimes-single-lane road winding in and out along the coastline. The second ride was fairly quick—the man drove me the rest of the way, blasting through the straightaways and five-mile-long tunnels that go under the ocean, talking about his times in prison. He dropped me at my old home, a lonely antique fishing village in the Lofoten Islands, where I met Paavo, my long time best friend from Finland who works as a fisherman in these parts, and reads more Chekov than anyone I know. I hadn’t seen him in two years, and it was only a little passed midnight, so we got drunk together and talked about our conquests, and Russian writers, and places we could climb in the mountains in the following days. I went to bed with an overweight girl with long shining red hair and an almost beautiful face, and we fucked on a narrow cot, its creaking springs straining under all that gravity, her overweight pussy swelling in the cramped room.

The morning was bright and clear, but my head was swollen. The little space heater was on all night, the thick airless room so stifled in the heat. I flicked it off, pushed open the window, and the cool morning flooded into the room, waking the skin like bathing in a cold spring. I left immediately, dressing in the living room, packing a fishing pole and lures and an extra jacket, and making a sandwich mostly of bread, and a thermos of coffee, and went bicycling out of town, up a path around the lakes. Occasionally there is a red house seen between the trees, and once or twice even the chimney is smoking in its usual warm loneliness.

The walking path began at the far end of the second lake, where I hid the bicycle behind some trees, and began hiking up the steep mountains, through the thick packs of birch trees, where the massive show of color and autumn haunts the sky in hunger, where the mushrooms and the lichens and the wild berries grow in their indulgent theatre, like highbrow wilderness, smug with its beauty and morning dew. There was another lake behind the first range of peaks a few hundred meters high. I would fish and camp here on my way back down, but the early afternoon had time to meander, so I continued up along the steepening ridge, eventually into the thickening snowpack, another few hundred meters high, the view always reaching further beyond the fjords, slipping on the icy faces of rocks, my fingers losing most of their feeling. Nine-hundred meters high, but the last peak was too steep. There was absolutely no way.

It didn’t really matter. None of it did  .  .  .  this was high enough. In every direction there was ocean or fjord or mountain. A raven the size of a hawk flew directly over me, I could hear his wings lifting in the wind  .  .  .  he screamed at me as he flew by, calling out once more but never looking back at me, finally disappearing in the distance behind a ridge of snow and rock.

What Is It Like to Be Kim Davis?

by Guy Walker

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“Most of the neobehaviorism of recent philosophical psychology results from the effort to substitute an objective concept of mind or the real thing, in order to have nothing left over which cannot be reduced.” Kim Davis, equal rights advocate

When Kim Davis woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, she found herself changed in her bed into a monstrous woman. A coruscating morning beam shown through the far window, like a signal from God, into the humid grey cloud that swelled through her house. A dank effluvium filled her room, a heaven of stink in which she prayed and cooked and fucked—if what that was could be called fucking. There were many half-emptied glasses of sour milk, pizza crusts, a library only of Regency Romance novels, no plants whatsoever, and a tub of K.Y. sat open on the kitchen counter, gross little pubic hairs caught in the vaseline-like substance. A fly was caught behind the faded window curtain, trying to get out, flying into the windowpane again and again, the stale air too awful even for the fly. Did the fly lack the cognitive capacity to ever learn this was not the way out? Or was this blatant suicide? Kim opened her eyes in a cold jolt, a sudden contempt for everything alive and florid and beautiful. Her current husband—or was this the third husband? or her future husband? she couldn’t remember—laid next to her, above the sheets, in soiled overalls and a straw hat, his wrists and ankles shackled to the bed. He pretended to sleep, peaking out between his eyelashes, as her huge amorphous body pushed itself to her feet. The floor creaked. A flock of white king pigeons outside her house erupted from their tree, flying away in a mad ivory dramaturgy. An oak tree made a sudden deafening crack, falling across the road. A car crashes. All in the same moment, a cop kills a black 6-year-old for playing hopscotch without a permit. Donald Trump booms in a speech, “I love Mexicans. [he squints down at his podium] I love Mexican, the Mexican language I mean. I mean, in addition to loving Mexicans. I love women. [he turns the page] And they love me.”

Kim Davis barely eats. She doesn’t spend time in the sun. She only reads from the Bible. She opens to Ezekiel 23:20, one of her daily favorites, and reads aloud. “She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” She glances out the window like a daydreamer in love, into a Wal-Mart parking lot across from where she lives. “Ahhhh,” she sighs, smiling, as an obese family shuffles across the lot, the youngest of the children strapped in a vest and a leash, chasing a butterfly with both of his little arms reaching towards the sky. Kim plays with her hair, curling it between her fingers, and says to herself, “It never ceases to amaze me, the poetry of this text. Such sinners in this world, God. Why do they not all see you as I see you.” She turns to another. Deuteronomy 25:11-12. “When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand.” At this utterance, she came a little, just a quick pretty orgasm. “O God!!” She read it again, this time faster and louder. “O Jesus Christ!!!!” Her libidinal scarlet thrusts grew almost to full convulsion. She bent over, closing her eyes, reached for the empty air, and knocked a glass of milk off the counter, smashing it to the ground. Once she collected herself, breathing deeply, she returned to the Holy Book, opening it to her all-time favorite. Exodus 23:19. “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” Kim’s face contorted, her eyes squinted like someone waking up to a bright summer sun on the beach. Her mouth opened and made violent inaudible chokings, until her cheeks flushed bright red, her blooming complexion then gasping for air. “O FUCK!!!! O GOD!! O GOD, FUCK ME!!!!! JESUS CHRIST, FUCK MY TITS!!!!”

She fell to the ground, and fell asleep immediately.

When she awoke, she was still laying on her side on the cold kitchen floor. She saw a terrible dark vermin scurry across the floor. It stopped and looked at her, blinked rapidly, Kim thought, almost with human eyes. The monstrous bug, with all its grotesque features, its hundred threadlike legs, tried to signal something to Kim, with its front legs. It wiggled them frantically in mid-air, then tapped the floor, then back again. “Git away from here you terrible monster!! I don’t want anymore of your kind!” she yelled, spitting at every syllable, the vermin taking a few steps back, but still holding its ground. “Git! Git!! This be God’s country!!” And she heaved towards it on her belly, like a walrus trying to lurch itself across the awkward land. The bug then scurried away as fast as it could, back to the room it spent most of its time, and died alone, quietly, actually feeling free for the first time as everything faded away.

Kim’s heart was beating furiously, rubbing her arms as her formications crept all over. Still on the floor, she looked up and saw the clumped white silk of a cocoon just beginning to open up under the kitchen table. She had never seen the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, but in the pneumatic threads of her more ecstatic buoyant dreams, she always wanted one. No, she always wanted to be one. What was it like to be a butterfly? Not as a woman projecting herself into the body of a butterfly, not merely to fly and love flowers, but actually to have the subjective experience, away from the human mind. She laid on her back, breathing heavily from her nose, like a fat girl with a cold who still tries to breathe from her nose. The butterfly pushed its antennas through the seal, the first true beams of light shining through into its cramped world. It emerged slowly at first, getting only part of its wings out, and then suddenly in one final swoop, it opened its wings for the first time. Huge, bright, iridescent blue wings, countless microscopic blue scales on the backs of its wings, reflecting the scintillating orchestral hues even in such a dingy home. The Blue Morpho Butterfly, not at all native to Kentucky, emerging from its mystery. It opened and closed its wings, the learning curve for flight was immediate—no one taught it anything, and it couldn’t allow to fuck up. Kim Davis grunted, and tried to roll closer. The husband, still shackled in his bed, looked up in amazement, like a blind man seeing the world for the first time. The butterfly then lifted off as if in slow motion, its great blue wings lifting it higher and higher. Kim reached for it to pull it down, but only just missed it. It flew directly for the side entryway, the door cracked open, and it disappeared forever into the wide open sky.

The Swan

Of whoever has lost that which is never found
Again! Never! Of those who deeply drink of tears
And suckle Pain as they would suck the good she-wolf!
Of the puny orphans withering like flowers!

Charles Baudelaire

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Elisa opened her eyes to an overweight cleaning lady standing over her, nudging her, saying “Excuse me miss, very late now.” Elisa jolted immediately, as all people do when woken by a stranger, and then seeing that the middle-aged Guatemalan lady was of no obvious threat, Elisa leaned back with relief and glanced around the hotel room, still unsure of it all. The sixty-inch flatscreen was still on, an infomercial with a man screaming about a vacuum cleaner with ten free attachments. The windows were open, and the tops of perfectly manicured palm trees could be seen blowing gently just outside the window. A seagull flew by without flapping its wings, and the long white window curtains blew inward, in their stiff polyester sort of way. Elisa felt a pain in both feet, looked down and saw she was still wearing Louboutins, and then she grimaced, as if to confirm to herself that her feet actually did hurt, having worn them since the shoot the day before. It was a different pain than in her ballet years, when the pain was a distinct effort of height and poise, when it brought a modish pleasure to ache with one’s own athleticism. The overweight cleaning lady bent over to plug in the vacuum cleaner. Elisa grabbed her purse and sunglasses, thanked Juanita, and hurried out the door.

The throbbing dreamless heat of Los Angeles has not let up for over a month, and the drought is worse. In the hills, bobcats panted during the day, and they are not supposed to pant. Flowers died, or just never grew in the first place. Couples generally had less sex in the summer, not on purpose, but because people don’t like the sweating agglutinative automation of their humping, and so it just works out that way. But the singles slept around even more, almost in a confused frenzy, like trying to get one last fuck out before the end  .  .  .  strangers’ pudenda sticking together when they fell asleep, their dreams plodding along like ephemeral dehydrated farts, trying to pass the restless scenery of dreams.

Songbirds wished they could groan, but in the mornings they open their tired eyes and know they must sing. Heat does not come to a place to be enjoyed  .  .  .  it comes to repulse, to make everyone sweat, it’s a mode of lethargy, a starless drunkenness that hangs from all your body parts. People have different ways of dealing with the heat in Los Angeles: many stay indoors drinking blended margaritas, watching new episodes of The Price is Right on mute as a rotating fan no longer rotates but points directly at a man or woman’s bare chest; others stalk the cafes where there is air-conditioning and other people to sit next to, thus evoking a sense of commonality through association (most people don’t actually talk to the others sitting around them, but they would not typically sit comfortably alone in a largely vacant café either  .  .  .  it’s a declared but unspoken trade: sitting near to one another gives each other an attestation of one’s life, but to speak out of context would be uncouth); others snort cocaine in bathrooms and sweat and talk about future business ventures for hours; others watch Netflix as they munch on summer-themed cookies and milk and wait for the sun to go down, when they can finally come out, like hyenas of rage tempted at the fall of dusk. Elisa was different  .  .  .  she thrived in the heat. She grew up on a ranch in New South Wales, Australia, herding cattle from a young age, One summer when she was thirteen, she castrated several bulls, and could ride a horse better than any of the boys in town, and though her hands were firm and confident they were still slim and gentle. Tough work does not certainly turn one’s hands tough  .  .  .  there are those who cannot callus-over elegance, who cannot make one’s tendencies hard. By fourteen, she moved to New York to dance at Juilliard, and by seventeen she was discovered by a young fashion company in Venice Beach, California, while on a family vacation, while she was playing basketball on the outdoor courts near Muscle Beach, her long red hair tossed in the bright jovial rage of competition; and her fame as one of the prominent models in the world has risen ever since for the last one-and-a-half decades. Women from all over the world sought to have her figure  .  .  .  they drank coconut water and did yoga and rubbed themselves in facial creams, even though Elisa herself did not do any of these things, because men and women alike draw out huge proportions of their leaders  .  .  .  a large-breasted Dziwozona alluring in the fog, Anna Karina smoking cigarettes in Technicolor, Hillary Clinton wide-eyed and cackling about a newborn  .  .  .   it is the brittle tautological nature of the idol that makes it so. The rose-cheeked inamorata convulsing in heat, then lunging at a star. The very static nature of a picture of a man or woman in a magazine is the ontological pseudo-world that we lust and crave. Because the whole physical thing, beyond the representation, beyond the quixotic undergarments and the saturated dawn, is too much. The entirety of a human is too much to remain sane and sober.

Elisa canceled her Uber, and waved down a taxi. “Apollo Studios,” she said to the driver, “It’s down on Main. I’ll tip you well if you can make it quick.” And the driver hit the gas faster than she was expecting. She fell back into her seat, pulled out her phone and texted the photographer: “Traffic is terrible. I’ll be there in 10. Frustrated face emoji.” She looked up and saw one of her billboards: a black and white advertisement for a perfume  .  .  .  in it, she’s shifted most of her weight onto one leg, is wearing only panties and a faded white spaghetti strap, and her thumb hangs candidly from her panties, and with her other hand she lightly bites her index finger, touching the tip with her tongue, staring at the camera, and therefore at everyone who looks at the advertisement, as if to say, “What might be under these panties of mine  .  .  .  and, I thought this finger was food.” The spectacle of the desired is a positively active phenomena, an intenerate dynamism that is held in place for eternity. The picture of Elisa is not a picture, not a pixelated representation to be jaded by in the thrusts of stardom—the picture, or simulacrum, is the active being frozen for eternity. Like a single point on a multidimensional plane. The Knossosian remains are carried in the dust. The Beatles play in outer space. And man trembles to a photograph of a woman in her panties.

She looked to the cars and people shoving amongst each other on the streets of Los Angeles. A lady in pink spandex rode by on one of those bicycles you stand up on and ride like it was an elliptical. Her ass retracted and bulged with each motion, like a physiognomic pulse of weight, you could tell everything from its countenance, enough ass for King Zhou of Shang, a neon envy, a celebrated lodestar in the fog. A girl was sitting on her father’s shoulders, holding an ice-cream cone, staring with her mouth open at the lady ride by, the strawberry swirl melting all over her miniature fingers, the first drips plummeting onto her dad’s balding head. Tourists from Minnesota and Idaho and Japan, wearing large sunglasses, extending their smartphones onto selfie-sticks, posting their photos on the internet with #relaxingwithmygirls and #winning, brief forays from the beige tedium of regular life. Couples drank cocktails under yellow umbrellas, laughing, and smoking long cigarettes. They do this over and over, for months, years, making the nihility of idleness—of life itself—intoxicated just enough to make it bearable.

Elisa made it to the studio almost an hour late. “I’m so sorry,” she said, taking off her sunglasses, “Strange morning.” During the photo shoot, Guy (pronounced the French way of course) asks Elisa to stare into the camera, asks her to, as he puts it, “look sexy.” She shifts her weight, points her chin up in order to pull her jaw line back, and smiles flirtatiously. The camera shutter clicks rapidly. “Yeah. Oh. Yesss. More of that,” Guy says behind the camera. “Oh. Oh yeah. Uh-huh.” She turns around, sticking her ass out a little more than seemed natural, and looks back to Guy, her hair tossed from the large fan blowing in her direction, blowing her up and down. Her smiles straightens into a face of mysterious sophistication. Guy loves this: “Oh baby, you’re so good,” as he clicks away. André Breton ended his book with “Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or it will not be at all.”

It was almost a year later. Elisa tied her bootstraps and pushed open the barn door, and could begin to make out the darker silhouettes of fences and trees against the dim horizon, like a little flame was barely lit behind all that sky. Her fingers were cold, and every movement she made she could feel her joints rub in the stiff winter morning, and her own body heat had not rubbed against the inside of the jacket long enough yet to make it warm. She walked past the stall where two-hundred chicks huddled together under a heat lamp, a couple more of them dead, because, as Jim says, the cold pushes out the weak. Jim has farmed and ranched this same land all his life, but his back is old now, and he cannot do the amount of work he did just a couple years prior, and so Elisa has taken over much of the work, and they have dinner together a few nights during the week. Fyodor, the Queensland Heeler, the most compassionate of all the dogs Jim has had on the farm, came trotting up beside Elisa, as he does every morning. His light fur contrasted against the dark air, his tag lightly jingled against his collar, so Elisa always knew it was old Fyodor coming up behind her. He accompanied Elisa through her morning routine, and seated himself politely as she fed the goats and the turkeys and the chickens. The two of them walked to the next pasture in a gorgeous silence together, side by side, the sky still perfectly at rest, and she looked up as she often did and felt satisfied by seeing all the stars again. She could see her breath now, and made a point of exhaling deeply in order to see how much of her breath she could see at once. The many piglets heard their footsteps and came running up to her, snorting in unison, lining up against the other side of the electric fence, one of them getting shocked on its nose, and squealing sharply. Elisa stepped over the wire and set out several large plastic pans in the grass, the little pigs rubbing their wet noses against her legs, drawing a mess of glistening snail-trails on her rubber boots. She poured them their food, and they all fought over each other, as they always have, since they fought for a drop from a nipple, stepping on each other and shoving each other for more room. From the beginning, all animals, including man, must shove away the others and grab hold of the huge leaking tit, and never let go. If he does not follow this rule, the others will, and he will die alone in the cold.

The sun was just now coming over the furthest ridge, the bright love-maddened ribbons shooting across the sky, bringing with it the slightest edge of warmth to Elisa’s face and fingers  .  .  .  the grasses hanging heavily with frozen dew, like limpid coruscating lanterns, the grasshoppers hushing off their frigid bulk. The lethargy of the world was waking up again  .  .  .  no amount of nihilism can stop the grasshoppers from rubbing their legs. “Good Morning Ferdinand!” Elisa said cheerily to the dark sinewed thoroughbred as she entered the stable. Ferdinand looked up and nodded with a gentle excitement. He liked the sound of her voice, and she liked talking to him, and she sometimes thought it looked like Ferdinand knew what she was talking about. “Have you been waiting for me? Look at you.” And he cocked his head and blew air from out of his nostrils playfully. She brushed him down until his hair was smooth and glistened under the lights hissing overhead, and he stood there patiently, his big dark wet eyes watching her. She scraped under his shoes, put on his blanket and then his saddle, and tightened the belt under his belly, his long veins permanently bulging. She hoisted herself onto the saddle, and didn’t say anything because she didn’t need to say anything, and they walked out of the barn and into the pneumatic plain. The flirtish Australian desert gnawing with a million tiny antagonists, long shadows of the dawn stretched beyond the edge of the grasses  .  .  .  the gentle madness stirring from its slumber. They walked beyond the ranch land, where the birds were singing and beginning their flights out from the tall grasses, and they walked up the mountain along the narrow trail. A snake crossed the trail directly in front of them, but neither Elisa nor the horse were afraid. Ferdinand simply held back, watched the snake slither by in the sand, her large pixelated diamonds across her back, her cool loneliness breathing again, as she disappeared into the sagebrush.

The line of sun was a little further up the mountain. They were still in the shadow, but would be there soon. Elisa looked back, and the barn looked so small, and the cows and pastures like little toys, and she smiled.

50 Shades of Grey and the Attack of the Throbbing Penis

by Guy Walker

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The sun finally rose just enough to push through the beige tellurian blinds, the first ray of morning light shining through the dusty soiled bedroom, shining on the huge heaving butt cheek of the fat woman sleeping. Her breasts weighing down the bed, the blue veins beating slowly and tired, like each heartbeat was a victory. A fan in the corner oscillating over and over, blowing the long draping fern, then moving towards the sleeping woman, blowing all her starless sordid hair like she were really resting under a coastal breeze. A kitten was still waiting by its empty bowl, as it had waited there for most of the night, just waiting for the fat woman to stir, then wake, then feed him, then he could finally eat. But she didn’t stir  .  .  .  she just groaned as all the little robins sung outside.

Lots of time had passed. The room was now full of steaming light, and the woman rolled over onto her back, naked, little heads of sweat pushing from their pores. She opened her eyes finally, her eyelids encrusted with all that grossly golden night, and she was staring up at a huge and absurd paper mache of a dragon hanging from the ceiling. It just hung there, completely lifeless, the blowing fan not even making it stir. Like it were some recoiled memory of life, just hanging there in the middle of the room. The woman shoved that whole body of hers onto her feet, picked up these old enormous panties, and slipped her legs into them one by one. And then those great breasts into a bra, trying to contain the impossible. She stood up and walked towards her desk, making the antique floorboards creak. She didn’t eat, didn’t wash her face, didn’t piss, and didn’t feed the little kitten. She just sat into the deep cracking leather chair, opened her laptop, and began writing instantly, her fingers burning furious, page after page written. Outside, the wet temporal English countryside buzzing and spreading, but the fat woman never once looked out the window  .  .  .  her words were just too magnificent. She can’t stop, she is so inspired. Words and love and scenic delirium devour her. Her heart beats with more nerve and adventure than she has felt from all the real wanton intrigue she’s had in the bedroom. She writes her next sentence: “Holy crap! He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and tray flannel pants that hang from his hips.” She feels the poetry flood over her. It’s all too much. She’ll need a glass of water soon.

She is Erika James, EL James, and she is halfway through her life epic, 50 Shades of Grey. No one knows it yet, but Erika will excite and satisfy tens of millions of desirous desperate women seeking something far from their pallid arid landscape empty of any romance. In other words, Erika is going to sell books.

In its primitive and immature stage, it started as a Twilight fan fiction series named Master of the Universe, and her pen name was the extraordinary Snowqueen’s Icedragon. Unfortunate for us, He-Man, Prince of Eternia was cut from the original, and Master of the Universe was renamed to its current title, 50 Shades of Grey, a title of great enigma and enthusiasm. The book is nothing less than exceptional. Its prose is something that edges close to masterful, something that Tolstoy and Melville and Thoreau and Nietzsche and Joyce all writhe under envious graves that they did not come up with her words, or her bold original characters, or her complexly enraptured storyline: an average-looking young woman falls in love with a hot billionaire. And they have really hot sex together. In fact, our hero, Christian Grey, spanks the young woman, Ana. And she likes it. Then he whips her with a belt. Ana doesn’t like to be beaten that hard, so it doesn’t work out in the end. But in the midst of her libidinous appetite for abuse, we are graced with Erika’s natural talent for words, something that we as readers are forever in debt: “I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.” As an aspiring writer, I can’t focus on my own words anymore. I am completely aroused. My fully erect penis throbs for the next page. I read further and further, almost as fast as when Erika wrote the thing. This is as dangerous as Mozart’s Requiem. It’s something that has been sold to 90 million readers, in 52 languages, and read also by all the screaming shopping girlfriends who have borrowed the book from them. They’re all women of course. But the sorts of women who buy and read this shit come from all sorts of chivalrous conditions: single, divorced, widowed, married, prostitute, suicidal. All sorts. None of them have actually ever been in love, and none of them have ever even had reasonable sex, but they all read and dream and fantasize about being spanked on the ass. They like thinking about naughty stuff like penises but they would never dare to do anything about it. Quite seriously, women who join book clubs, and discuss over tea and biscuits the allure of being bitch-slapped is something akin to men watching hours of hazy porn as their eyes turn red under all that languid hopeless heat, their penises sweaty and tired and flaccid again. In other words, everyone is too coward to realize out their fantasies. Rather than having great sex with a great partner, the women who buy this kind of shit prefer to read a book in their sweatpants and drink green tea sweetened with three packets of Stevia as they text their girlfriends how much they hate their ex’s.

J.D Salinger may have forbidden any film adaptation of Catcher in the Rye, but E.L. James is smarter; she knows that her story is too important to keep from the masses of moviegoers, and so she sold the rights for $5 million. Hollywood makes great films about our most exigent ponderous heroes–American Sniper for example, about the smarmy brittle character of a man, casting his Châtiment de l’Orgueil across the deserted landscape by killing any brown male between the ages of 16 and 65. 50 Shades of Grey is opening on Valentines, which is just perfect timing if you and your date like watching sadomasochism but not actually taking part in it. You can watch a girl being tied up and beaten, and eat more popcorn while holding your girl’s hand. It’s something that hits right at the heart of a serious philosophic inquiry, something that Gilles Deleuze argued didn’t even exist as a real term. Sadomasochism is of course the combination of one’s desire to be bear pain through sexual acts, and another’s desire to inflict the pain. For Deleuze it’s something else. In his essay Coldness and Cruelty, Deleuze argues that the sadist actually attempts to destroy the ego in order to unify the id (the human’s basic instinctual forces) and the super-ego, while masochism alone is the desire that intensifies because of a delay of sexual gratification; its sexual frustration is ‘rewarded’ as ‘unwavering coldness.’ This is known as The Contract: the process of controlling another, and turning them into someone cold and cruel and callous. In other words, because a man is sexually insecure or unsatisfied, he will be more prone to tying up girls and whipping them in order to feel a little better about himself. This is something every sex-related serial killer has in common with Christian Grey—they all need to assert their dominance over their named inferiors. Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, for example, had an insatiable sexual appetite; he would charm women (mostly prostitutes) with a picture of his son, then he would have sex them, then he would strangle them—seventy-one of them in fact—and then he would dump their dead bodies in the river. Or David Berkowitz, Son of Sam, a New York serial killer in the late seventies who shot and killed several couples; whether they were kissing in their car, or having a picnic in the park, David didn’t enjoy seeing couples in love while he had nobody to share romantic company. The most exemplary failed masochist of all is Elliot Roger, the 22-year-old who couldn’t get laid so he decided to kill six people, targeting young women. Elliot Roger was Christian Grey’s imperial predecessor: wealthy, the son of a movie director, somewhat good looking, and sexually frustrated. In his last video before his killing rampage, he says, “I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because… I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.” Elliot was as much of a gentleman masochist as Christian Grey, the only problem was that he didn’t have anybody to turn cold and callous, so he just killed them instead. His masochism was so confidently intact as he waited outside a Dominos for hours and hours waiting for a girl to walk by and smile at him so they could start talking and eventually fuck in a glorious fashion. The only difference between Christian Grey and Elliot Roger is Christian actually fucked. In the masterpiece 50 Shades, Christian Grey loves a gentlemanly dominance as much as Elliot: “I don’t make love, I fuck…hard.” In other words, Christian is empty of any human empathy. He feels absolutely nothing except for his throbbing aching penis and his alpha carnality for dominance. He is basically a complete vacuous fuckwit. Again to Ana, he says, “I don’t know whether to worship at your feet or spank the living shit out of you.” According to Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Christian Grey is probably just an incredibly guilty piece of shit who wasn’t breastfed enough. Freud argued that inflicting pain on another during sexual intercourse is “the most common and important of all perversions,” and that masochism is a form of sadism against the Self. Guilt, he continues, is very much a part of masochistic sexual tendencies, originating from an incorrect development of the child.

As much as people love discussing whether a pernicious chewing individual was born that way or the society they grew up in molded them that way—the old stupid debate about nature or nurture—it doesn’t really matter for Christian Grey. Christian was one lonely fantasy of one lonely woman. What is impressive is that 90 million women are desperate enough to go out and buy a book to quench their muted doloric utopias of being tied up and beaten by a hot rich guy. Master of the Universewas the perfect title. Its only problem is that its meaning is too straight forward. People love their subtleties.

Across the road from where Erika is writing her epic, there is a cherry blossom where a nest is shaking and the mother bird is peering down. Beyond that there is a garden, full of pretty flowers, still covered in morning dew. And beyond that there is another tall house. Inside, a fat man in a stained white wife-beater is sitting back in his sad porcine couch, his hand wrapped around his sweaty throbbing penis, tugging on it madly as the man on the television gets whipped and whipped again, naked, screaming for more. The fat man is almost there, he’s so close. His face contorts and freezes. Everything is silent for a second. Erika pauses for the first time in hours, thinking of her next word. She looks out the window. Outside, a group of pheasants erupt from the tall grasses. The fat man leans forward in the dim opaque room, coming all over his coffee table. Erika smiles, and then writes, “Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”

 

From Here to Eternity

by Guy Walker

19326392

Three oysters for twenty-four dollars. Every time I sucked in the erotic phlegmy growth, I paid the waiter my half-hour working wage. I have a habit of counting ten dollars in hits of ecstasy—an appetizer at a fancy restaurant in Hollywood on a three-course Christmas eve dinner for the price of two and a half hits of ecstasy. Not bad. I couldn’t help remember when I lived in a spare closet in a house on an island in Norway, and in the evenings we’d bicycle out to the river mouth and collect hundreds of blue shells, and the pretty girl with the long red hair would cook them in garlic and butter, and we’d drink a jug of cooking wine together and make love until the seagulls screamed their vile obscenities—it was mating season for them too, and the sun never slept, and neither did we.

“Sounds like this is clearly a pattern for her,” my uncle said, sitting across from me, always slightly smiling in his jovial penetrative old age, “to just run out on someone who loves her.” He was speaking about the ballet dancer who broke up with me and then drove off in the middle of the night, leaving Los Angeles altogether.

“Another Pellegrino please,” I called to the waiter. He wore an ironed black collared shirt, his hands folded behind his back, and he bowed obediently at my request. I craved a martini, but my aunt and uncle don’t drink, and I respect them because they are rare and gentle and good enough to be respected, so this arrogant magisterial form of water was the best I could do. I don’t remember what I replied to my uncle—something about the loss of innocence—all I remember was the girl with the long tan legs and the good posture and the gorgeous face walk into the restaurant. It’s easy to automate any conversation—I do it with everybody as I think about the ocean, or how I would like to throw rocks at sand dunes, or how it would feel to hold an ice-cream cone until it melts completely over my hand. Anything. We live in playgrounds. So I automated the rest of the conversation with my relatives, and stared at all the strutting pullulating romance ahead. The girl sensed I was still looking at her, and her eyes turned to mine, and she smiled a little, I’m pretty sure.

She then turned away and headed to the other room of the restaurant with her family, to go suck oysters in their buttered cream.

“Any special plans for New Years?” my aunt asked. She sipped her raspberry Izze from a champagne glass and then wiped the corners of her mouth with a crudely neoteric purple cloth napkin. My aunt is one of those extremely beautiful women who could probably heal the world if given the right chance. But we’re all chewing on the last morsels of innocence, and I knew not many of her kind are around any more.

“Well, a friend from college invited me to Vegas,” I replied, “It’s all very random and unexpected how it happened, but she was always just the sweetest person in school.” And we all smiled and agreed that it would be a very lovely time indeed. The waiter returned to our table and poured my Pellegrino like it was a choice Italian wine.

On arriving here, I parked my car around the corner, and walked past the sick miasmal backdoor of the restaurant, where the cooks took out dripping bags of food scraps and wasted meat and coffee grounds and crumpled blotted toilet paper all spun and sprinkled with used tampons. Who knows what else. My lonely cheap appetite for ruin wanted the overloaded bags to burst from their bottoms, for all their contents to spill into heaps of trash, as piñatas of misery, and the pigeons and the homeless and I could all scurry into a frenzy, sorting through the garbage and picking out little morsels of red velvet cake and hunks of fat cut from the steaks. But it didn’t happen. The trash boy just heaved the bags over the edge of the dumpster, and that was that. The sidewalk was stained forever from years of heaving kitchen waste over the edge. A homeless man walked by me, his head down, muttering his obscure lucid rituals to himself. A pigeon limped on her peg leg. A rose bush grew from its square-foot portal, cut back for the winter, but still pushing madly for a bud.

“O darling!” a lady across from our table touched her breast and smiled, and her apparent man-crush or husband leaned back and laughed approvingly. “O darling,” she said again, “you shouldn’t have.” And she set her nearly empty wine glass down and leaned across the table and he leaned across the table and they kissed—just a peck, if that even qualifies as a kiss. If no bodily fluids are exchanged whatsoever, then it is usually something else—a tepid grunt in the animalistic heap of conversation. They smiled more and said a lot more blushing reassuring things to each other, and then he excused himself, either to piss or to shit, or to jerk off or clean under the rim of his penis. Bathrooms are the last deserted refuges for us to go. Whenever I go out to bars or clubs, I go to the bathroom so many times when I don’t need to—it’s the only place you can breathe, the only place you don’t have to keep bluffing, where you can sigh in the comfort of yourself. The lady kept tapping her bright red fingernails against the edge of the glass, and she kept pressing her very listicked lips together, staring down at her glowing phone, scrolling through various doddering archives of the young and the famous.

I wanted to see the girl with the good posture and the gorgeous face, and make her smile and lean forward. I know it’s pretty much everywhere—the brief consorting episodes that help us make it through the squalid nights—a little hope and intrigue that keep our pulse quietly surging. Lacan was right—desire itself is what we have to chase but never catch—it’s what keeps us running towards the light again and again. When it comes to romance, we are all dogs, running again and again after the ball that was thrown, retrieving with little scraps of optimism, panting, gasping for more. Somehow we all believe getting laid helps, as if for just a moment it actually relieves us from the immortality of quarantine. Anyways, I looked down and ate my fish and velvet cake, and sipped my espresso. Before leaving, I asked the waiter for a pen, and wrote my phone number on a scrap of paper, and walked into the other room of the restaurant and gave it to the girl, and she smiled and told me her name was Lily. I would have kissed her right then and there because she was so damn pretty, and I know she could have too, but there are rules to these sorts of things—we would need a very tailored context to actually do what we desire. So I just told her to call me sometime.

I hugged my relatives, drove home to my little house in Topanga beach, collected my kitten, tent, coffee, stove, two huge blankets of many sewn together rabbit furs, firewood, and many other odds and ends for the next week. After Christmas in the mountains at my parents’ huge secluded home, I kissed my kitten on the head and he bit my finger and sucked on it, and he kneaded my chest with his paws and purred loudly, and I hugged him again, leaving him at my parents home, and then drove a hundred-and-ten miles an hour through the desert where all the Joshua trees grow and the spiny creatures hide in their corners of shade. The wind blew hard and burned my lips, and I went hiking and got lost amongst the huge swirling red rocks during the day, and huddled around my fire drinking box wine from a tin can. It was so cold, I couldn’t feel my fingers. Sometime that night, there in the middle of the desert, I received a text message from Lily. She wanted to meet up, sometime tomorrow evening, but I’d be out here a few more days in the desert before heading to Vegas before heading back to Los Angeles. So we wrote back and forth a while and made plans to meet up as soon as I returned. I set the phone down and stoked the florid embers until the flame returned.

Vegas on New Years Eve happened with the other beautiful girl who normally lives in Amsterdam. I could die just seeing her smile. We drank and danced and snuck into the parties, and did everything you’re meant to do in Vegas. I like strolling the casino floors early in the morning the best. Somehow you feel the same lonely confidence on the crowded casino floor as you do in the desert. The winds howl through the red canyons, biting you around your neck, and all the cacti shiver in the wind, and a pack of coyotes scream and convulse in the middle of the night, and you get a glimpse of Eternity, as if this here is the state of the Universe forever and everywhere—nothing but wind kicking sand into the overcast sky, and only you’re there to see it. Crowded casinos are much the same. Obese men hunched over their wheelchairs, pressing the buttons of slot machines again and again, trying to win back their happiness and youth, and the ubiquitous ringing of bells and chatter and coughing. Blonde women strutting around with cigarette trays, smiling at everyone, their panties sweating and aching from all that endless roaming around. Vietnamese ladies dressed in uniform, just standing there with unused aging faces behind their blackjack tables, waiting for any random half-drunken stranger to sit down and play cards with them. Every casino has its own distinct fragrance, but really they’re all the same miserable pheromone of a free America. A thousand bartenders pour their ten-thousandth drink at the same time, and a girl in a tight little white dress sips one from a miniature straw. I was with the beautiful girl, standing in line for a crepe at the Bellagio, staring at the chocolate fountain, staring at the parts that flow freely and the stagnant chocolate pool that had formed a thick film with a stray hair on top. A large Chinese lady in a long green and white striped penguin coat is behind me, and she smiles at me with big wide-open eyes.

“Helloo honey,” she says, “you having a fine time?”

“Very fine,” I reply. Her smile is contagious and honest, and I can’t stop grinning. “Sure is the happiest place I’ve ever been.”

“Oh yes honey. I’ve been coming here for twenty-nine years. My mother is waiting for me, she just loves it so much too. Oh you and your girlfriend are just so pretty. You are very lucky, you both are.”

“Ah, thank you. You been lucky tonight?”

“Oh yes, I started in the morning by losing thirty-two hundred. But I went to eat my lunch, and I came back, and I said, ‘Betty, you’re going to make it all back,’ and I’ve won everything back so far. Very lucky.”

We talked a while longer, and she told me of all her big winnings over the last three decades, and then told me not to eat the pastries in this front window. They are old and I will die if I eat them, she says. She eventually leaves without buying anything, and I never saw her again. But the beautiful girl and I danced more and drank many more Old Fashions, and kissed beautifully when the New Years exploded, and in the morning I dropped her off at the airport to fly back to Amsterdam, and I guess that was that.

Driving home I knew I would miss the desert—everything constantly roaring and exhausting inside your head is quieted when you are in the desert. The cities are just a perishing thunder. All that empty squalid paradise passing by—there was an abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere with huge overgrown palm trees towering over its crumbling walls. I was writing a lot with Lily during my drive, and then she told me during “a photo shoot in Malibu” her car got broken into. Just terrible. “And now I have a lovely cardboard box on the window haha,” she wrote. I told her not to worry, that my front window has been stuck rolled up halfway for the last several months. That was the last I heard from her, she never wrote again. I wanted to tell her I didn’t like the window in the first place, or I can do eighteen pull-ups, or I can beat everybody else on the freeway. But I didn’t, I just turned up Giorgio’s From Here to Eternity as loud as I could, and drove with only one hand on the steering wheel.

From the road, I could see above me a flock of birds flying in formation. I pulled over and ate a hotdog at a remote dusty gas station, and watched the sun set across the enormous old desert. The wind had calmed, and everything was quiet once more. For the first time in months, I finally felt happy again.

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