A Season Brighter Than Before

by Guy Walker

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

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

……

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

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

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

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

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

“A what tree?” another asked.

“A kumquat tree.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

“Yeah, that was our horses’ shit.”

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

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

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

“Yeah I speak, what’s the matter?”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

“Well, have you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” he smiled shy and excited.

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

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

“What was it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I suppose. May as well.”

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

Trump’s Final Farewell

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

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

-Three Amigos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journey to WAP: A Love Story With Ben Shapiro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Let The Sons Debate

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by Guy Walker

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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On the Stupidity of Reza Aslan

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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

GDK619776

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

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“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.