If the Modern American is supposed to "find themself" after college, I spent my twenties doing exactly that. As I just turned thirty, like most of us kids from late '79, the decades line up around my life quite nicely. I don't even think of the New Year as the New Year. My years wrap around my birthday, on the 17th of December, and I think of my years starting and ending there.
Oh, I've done incredible things. I spent long stretches of those incredible things alone, finding out exactly who I am, and what I want out of life, and what I'm willing and unwilling to do to achieve those things that I want out of my short time on this nifty, little planet.
I've got a bright future, I think. Tomorrow is going to be better than today, which will be better than the day that came before it. I haven't felt that way at decade's end in quite some time.
Also, I usually get hammered on my birthday, all depressed and alone and miserable about being old and failing to meet the lofty goals I always set for myself.
This year, someone showed up at my door unexpectedly with champagne, even though I told them it was probably best no to interrupt my ceremony, to try and cheer me up. It was different. It was a good kind of different.
This year, things will be better then they've been in a long time. I just know it.
This year, I have some personal goals and some professional goals.
I have these books sitting on this hard drive that none of you have seen because publishing is mother fucking slow when your name is neither King nor Rowling. I want you folks to know that at least one of those books is en route, hopefully two or more.
I have these stories you've never seen - great stories - like "Death Mask and Eulogy" and "Eurydice" and "Desdemona on the Plains". I want to publish all the short stories that are currently unpublished. That's six major short stories getting kicked all over town, with at least as many smaller flash pieces and poems. I want them all out and in print and in the world.
In fact, having read a few short story anthologies, and having some familiarity with my own short stories, I would also really like to do an anthology of my own stuff. I don't think this goal is achievable this year, but it's something I'd like to do.
At work work, my daylight gig, where I work on video games? Well, our goals at work are pretty clear, there, and involve just going all out on this one game - making it the greatest game we can make it come heck or high water.
Also, as much as it pains me to say it when I've got four novels collecting electric dust in an electronic folder in this computer, I've got two novels in progress that both need finishing. The sooner the better.
Finally, I'd like to read more. One book a week is nice enough, I guess, but I can't help but feel like I should be reading more.
Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
If the Modern American is supposed to "find themself" after college, I spent my twenties doing exactly that. As I just turned thirty, like most of us kids from late '79, the decades line up around my life quite nicely. I don't even think of the New Year as the New Year. My years wrap around my birthday, on the 17th of December, and I think of my years starting and ending there.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
So, Happy Holidays, from the bad duck compound.
Earlier this year, I read the "Gotham City Writer's Workshop's Guide to Writing Fiction" for school. Not a bad guide, as guides go, and I actually love how different sections are by different writers and no one authorial voice is given the reins to thoroughly tell you what you must do to be like them. Especially for young writers, and beginners, I'd try to avoid any one source that could become an authority beyond the developing author's own voice. Young writers, especially, ought to be the biggest ego in the room for a while, when they're writing, I think.
But, they chose "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver as the big source material for their guide to fiction. What a weird story to choose for their guide, right? They tried to focus on "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver.
As a consistent example of how to write fiction in this practical guide, “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver is an odd choice. Carver's writing, back in his day, was groundbreaking and experimental for doing something beginning writers don't do - heck, most good fiction doesn't do it. He was reducing fiction down to its emotional core with subtle use of language, in prose that is so often called "Spare" that it seems the very definition of spare prose.
“Cathedral” is even stranger than most Carver stories, because it seems to go a little farther than the Hemingway roots of the style. "Cathedral" has some similarities with experimental fiction. The narrator is unreliable. The unnamed narrator smokes marijuana, and has an unexplained distaste for blind people. The pace of the story is long and full of the discomfort of two people who don’t really like each other making nice. It's like a scene from an Indie movie when we're being forced to watch two bad actors uncomfortably exchanging their lines.
Also, the drawing scene, when the narrator places the blind man’s hand in his and draws a cathedral to explain what a cathedral is, borderlines on the surreal. Is it sublime? Perhaps it is. But, it is, to me, more surreal than sublime, with that post-modern penchant for dissolving forms in frame after frame of artificial symbols and expressions. Minimalism, already, in its time, an experimental form of writing, was taken to the surreal edge of our modern post-modernism.
Why did they choose this story upon which to place the beginning writers of the world?
As it is such an odd story to choose, the rules of writing often don’t quite work. In the plot section, attempts to bring Cathedral into the form falter. “’Cathedral’ is unusual in that it has a long beginning and does provide a lot of exposition at the outset.” (p.81) The author of this chapter also mentions the exceptionally long middle of the story, as well. One would think the classic short story drags. Yet, the section on description does not mention “Cathedral” at all. Other sections have better luck with “Cathedral”. Dialogue is able to quote from it at length, and the character section is also able to pull from it extensively. Since the Minimalist movement was known for characters in sharp relief and lots of pregnant dialogue, the pieces that are present seem to be mere frames, missing places that other sections in the guide require. That's why the story works as well as it does, and also why it is a poor choice for a writer's guidebook that tries to cover everything.
When I’m reading writer’s guides, I often look for the edges of those guides, where the lines get fuzzy and rebels will think of every way they can to push and break the boundaries of the guidebook’s claims. What’s most interesting, to me, is that this guidebook chose an untraditional story, like “Cathedral” as their prime and recurring example of fiction form. As an aside to their own lessons, a lesson about experimental fiction resides in between the lines. Though “Cathedral” pushed the boundaries of plot, style, and character interaction, not everything in the story was pushing boundaries. Some things remained the same – dialogue, character, setting - and provided a framework upon which the experimental elements could grow without alienating readers.
Ergo, I have inferred a rule of writing from the corners of the writing guide.
Not a strange or obtuse one, but one that goes unmentioned in the text itself, that I recall: "Experimental fiction still needs to be 'Fiction'."
Unless, of course, it is not really fiction, in which case I now wonder where the hidden rule lies within the rules. Hm...
"Experimental fiction could be a disguise for something else entirely."
Now I have to wonder if the point of fiction is that it is a disguise for something else entirely, and the experimental writers are just more keyed in to that?
Or, perhaps, the mysterious thing that fiction, experimental or otherwise, disguises, and the disguise, are both the point together, because the universe is more beautiful when it has become a fractalized massacre of mirrors.
Anywho, here's a link to the book in question, for you to make up your own mind on it:
Most of you cats around here would get a lot more out of a different writer's book, entirely, which is required reading for me.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Drop me a line if so. Looking for road trippers to hitch with after work on Friday.
This list is actually very surprising to me.
1) Vokuro - Bjork, Medulla
2) Pleasure is All Mine - Bjork, Medulla
3) On The Radio - Begin to Hope, Regina Spektor
4) Cancion Mixteca - Lila Downs, La Sandunga
5) One Day - Bjork, Debut
7) Ethnosphere - Shiva in Exile, Ethnic
8) Let's Run - Le Tigre
9) Dirty Harry - Gorillaz, Demon Days
10) A Warm Place - Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral
11) Culling of the Fold - The Decemberists
12) Pinotepa - Liila Downs, Lla Sandunga
13) Tell Me Now - Mazzy Star, Batman Forever Soundtrack
14) Hurt - Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral
15) Daysleeper- REM, Best of REM 1988-2003
16) Hidden Place - Bjork, Vspertine
17) The Weight - The Band
18) Tengo Meido De Quererte - Lila Downs, La Sandunga
19) Road to the West - The Seatbelts - Blue (V.3 of Cowboy Bebop Soundtrack)
20) Ain't Misbehavin - Louis Armstrong
21) Breathing - Shiva in Exile, Ethnic
22) Psychopomp - The Tea Party, Transmission
23) Aldebaran - Shiva in Exile, Ethnic
24) Kill the Headlights - Nicole Atkins, Neptune City
25) Love Surreal - Nicole Atkins, Neptune City
I don't get this list at all. I rarely listen to Lila Downs and NIN, and I know there's really missing some serious Postal Service and Gjallarhorn. Also, the fact that this is not all entirely Bjork kind of surprises me, too. I listen to a lot of Bjork.
Well, you can't argue with science!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Kenneth Meade managed to snag about a minute of my reading.
Bits of a story coming from Weird Tales soon-like.
What I'd like to point out is that not only am I on a ladder, in a beer closet, but you'll notice that people followed us. There is actually a crowd in that beer closet.
Monday, December 14, 2009
(This story originally appeared in Atomjack Magazine)
Dave Jones and the Survivor
by J. M. McDermott
“I’m Dave Jones,” I said. I pulled out my ID.
“Me, too,” said the man, reaching for his own ID, “looks like we got the same seat and the same name.” He rolled his eyes. “Stupid error-checkers. This won’t be good. Play it cool.”
“What?” I said.
“Keep your cool,” he said, “We’ll sort this out.”
I nodded, confused.
I didn't know—right then—what had happened, but I knew what would happen because of this confusion. The Reconquista Vaqueros were going to catch me, and kill me.
I was in a small interrogation room, sitting at a plastic table in a cold, metal folding chair. One Vaquero sat on the other side of the table. Another Vaquero stood behind the first.
The Vaquero across from me dragged his jet black specs down his nose. He gave me the immortal cop stare. Cops did that in any language and any nation. Two thousand years ago Roman Centurions probably gave that look to Phoenician smugglers in Galilee. Today, Tejano Vaqueros gave that look to me, in an international airport in the Reconquista. Unlike the centurions, the vaqueros could read my vitals like a mood ring with their black specs when they were done. He gave me the evil eye to unnerve me. Then he pushed the goggles back over his eyes to read the results.
His partner, standing behind him, never moved. The partner just stood there like a yellow stone in a suit. That one was probably reading me the whole time for any fluctuations in my vitals.
The Vaquero across from me swiped my ID again. He scowled meaningfully at his monitors.
I don’t know what the other Dave Jones said to his Vaqueros, but I said, “So, can I go?”
The one sitting across from me looked up at the one pacing in the back of the room. The standing one shrugged.
I couldn’t really tell the two apart. They both had the same cowboy hat, and the same black handlebar moustache. They had their X-Ray specs on, like black swimmers' goggles, so I couldn’t see their eyes.
“You can go,” said the one behind me.
I reached across the table for my ID. The sitting one pulled it back and took another look at it. “The next flight to Pacifica leaves in three hours,” he said, “I’ll have a new boarding card printed for you in reception. Don’t leave the terminal. We’re still waiting for a picture clearance from Guadalajara. Our picture guy will get to it usually in about two hours. If you have a fake ID, it would be better for you to tell me now. Save us some trouble.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is that it?”
“For now, but don’t leave the international terminal until your next flight,” he said, “We’ll keep our hel-eyes on you.”
“Can I have my stuff, or do you need me to come get it later?”
The Tejano handed me my ID. “We’ve already completed our inspection,” he said.
“Where’s my briefcase?” I asked.
The Vaquero pointed at the door to reception.
At the reception desk, the other Dave Jones had his luggage out. He was going through it meticulously, like he was making mental notes about what was there and what the searchers had confiscated.
Reconquista Vaqueros had a reputation for sticky fingers. They rarely took money cards, or memory cards, but they might lift an iPen or a nice pair of pants. I watched the other Dave while the receptionist reached for my own briefcase. I figured if the other Dave was really missing something, I could expect some monkey business with mine, too.
He caught my eyes, shrugged, and zipped his bag shut. “At least our luggage is different,” he said.
He was older than I was by about ten years. He had a plain business suit like one of the business-class travelers from the old days. He had the salt and pepper hair and thick features of a new grandpa. He looked nothing like me.
My bag was on the reception desk, too. I opened it up and did a quick check. Paperback, check. Cellular bug, check. Change of clothes, check. A few iPens were missing, but it could’ve been worse. If they had lifted my cell bug, I’d have lost all the phone numbers that would save me in Pacifica.
Dave said to me, “They let you out, too?”
I zipped up my bag. “Yup. Did you get a new flight?”
“Reception had a boarding pass for me. I’m lifting off in about two hours. They want to check the picture somewhere.”
“Me, too,” I said, “I guess we aren’t terrorists.”
He laughed. “I could’ve told ‘em that.”
The receptionist didn’t speak a lick of English. She handed me a boarding card, and mumbled something in a very brusque Spanish. I noticed that my boarding card listed me as ‘David M Jones’, which, I assumed, was for my middle name.
Thank God the Tejano Vaqueros didn’t ask for my middle name. I had never thought to find out what it was.
Over our heads, hel-eyes transmitted to monitoring stations in Guadalajara. They looked like robot heads with flying beanies. They tumbled over the filtered air like gusts of winds were blowing them around, but it was just the cameras trying to stay focused on all the people moving around down below. I didn't know where the microphones were, but I know we shared our words with an eavesdropper.
David Jones and I had both arrived at D/FW airport at the same time, in two different taxis.
I stood ahead of him in line in the parking lot. We went through the first security check outside the terminal right next to each other. The same proboscis that sniffed me for radiation, also sniffed him. The same Vaquero patted us down with the same pair of x-ray gloves. Dave might have felt some of my body heat in the gloves, mixed with all the rest. We both tested undangerous, then.
In the terminal, I stopped to get a can of juice from a vendor before I got in line, and that gave the real Dave the edge to pull ahead. He stood ahead of me for twenty minutes while we waited for the ticketing counter. I nonchalantly studied the intricate weave on his suit jacket – looked like nano up close, to me -- so I could focus on staying calm and avoiding eye contact. I wanted to be unnoticeable.
I cleared my head and studied the nano-filters eating microscopic bacterials in the herringbone nano-weave. Not a lot of people wore nice suit jackets with nano in the Reconquista.
That Dave Jones was probably exactly what he looked like. He was a businessman from Pacifica that had come down for a meeting about something boring like fruits or textiles, and now he was flying home to his third wife and his two teenage step-kids.
More importantly, at the front of the line, two separate agents opened up at the same moment. We walked simultaneously from the line to our ticket counters. As soon as he bought his ticket, I did. We had the same destination. We had the same name. Neither one of us had a reservation.
And, when the two ticketing ladies pushed the button with near-simultaneous strokes, the computer system’s error-checker made an incorrect assumption.
We passed our luggage through the X-Ray. We stood in the men’s line for the IR full-body scan. We were in the same tunnel when the nanobots washed over us, eating any Fuego Flu that might be hidden in our clothes. Dave and I stepped into the terminal side by side, dusting the purple-white dust cloud of counterbugs out of our pockets and hair.
We picked up our carry-on at the same moment. He even helped me with a strap that had fallen on my shoulder. David Jones—the real one—reached out a hand, and pulled the strap up to my shoulder. A simple gesture of Pacifica helpfulness, and I thought nothing of it. I didn’t even say thanks, because I’m a rude bastard from New Mexico.
We waited at the terminal for an hour and a half while the plane unloaded. People walked swiftly out of the airlock. I wondered what we were doing at an airlock for a four hour 747 jaunt to Vancouver, but I figured the route was popular right now, and they needed to use the larger spacejets to get everyone northwest. The Fuego Flu scared every white person left out of the former Confederate States before the cold weather awakened the bad enzymes in the air. White people stayed indoors and kept themselves hot all winter if they planned on staying in the Reconquista. Most didn’t want to stay. The government had made it clear when they released the Fuego: the native blood will have revenge for the land stolen by all the wicked Anglos.
I was pureblooded Caucasoid. I had no pigment in my family history to protect me. The Fuego Flu would’ve killed me years ago if the UN Army hadn’t inoculated all of the soldiers that survived the first wave of infection.
Looking around, all the passengers on the plane were white. Some of them had nothing. Some of them had everything they owned in one tiny piece of luggage – like me. Some of them had oversized carryon with far too many things bursting at the seams.
Most of them would be lucky to get onto Pacifican soil for twenty minutes before asylum got denied, and they got a free injection for the Fuego Flu. Then, these desperate passengers’d get tagged in the system. They’d have six months to find a lawyer to take their case to court (which they can’t get, unless they’re rich or know the right people). Then, they’d best find a new nation before a warrant’s issued for their deportation back to the Reconquista, where being white can kill you.
And on my cellular bug, I had the number of a lawyer that was supposed to meet me in the terminal before I even got to customs, to get me asylum under a new name, with a new history that protected me forever from the lost war. I had a few friends’ numbers, too, who had fought with me since Juarez and were up in Pacifica now.
I had fought against the Reconquista ever since the UN drafted my college class in Albuquerque. I fought in pitched battles for three years until the Fuego ate any Caucasian skin and our ranks became a mess of blood one bad winter. I stayed alive because the tank I was in had a busted AC unit that had never gotten fixed. When the thermometer dropped below freezing, I was driving the tank to Flagstaff for repairs. I bitched and moaned about the AC problem for months, but when winter came that fried AC and the engine heat kept me alive when almost every other white soldier died. A few weeks later, I got an inoculation against the Fuego Flu, and what was left of our army did the best we could for a few more months until there wasn't a UN anymore.
Then, I spent four years underground, setting bombs in inconvenient places and tearing up rail lines and landing pads near the Llano Estacado. I planted bad signals on Mexican airwaves to subvert the masses.
After the resistance mostly folded, I wandered through Fuego lands. I hid from the Mexican resettlements, scavenging old tech and canned goods in the small towns that got the worst of the Fuego. I hunted through rotting corpses every day until I found an ID close enough to call my own.
The Tejano Vaqueros would shoot me against a wall if they knew my real name.
Dave Jones—the dead one—had been sitting on his bed when the Fuego turned his white skin into a bunch of bleeding gaps. I snagged his ID from a jacket pocket. The fellow had a Texas Instruments jacket, and electrical tools and wires all over the place. I figured he was an electrician before he died. This was in Buffalo, Texas, where everyone had died.
Vaqueros can track IDs back to the very printer and laminator that spit them out with just their black specs. They find fakes. With my limited resources, I needed a real ID, with a real name on it.
All a good fraud could accomplish these days, out in the empty cities, was to use a light writer to alter the picture beneath the lamination. And light writers weren’t cheap. Fortunately, many abandoned tattoo parlors had one for tough guys with prosthetics.
I borrowed a light writer from a black market contact. I cleaned up Dave Jones’s nose. I cleaned up the shadow in his eyes. I gathered up some old money cards and put my tech together to locate my old war buddies that had made it out of the Reconquista, to Pacifica.
They got me a lawyer’s number. They said he’d be there, in the terminal when I landed, waiting for my call, ready to take me underground.
I stole a motorbike and rode north to what was left of Dallas. I pretended I was exactly what I was: just another refugee looking for a new place to call home.
Dave Jones and I—now also Dave Jones—walked side-by-side down the tunnel to the spacejet. We walked down opposite sides of the twin-aisles to the same center seat. We almost ran into each other trying to get to the same seat.
“Excuse me,” I said, “this is my seat.”
He double-checked his own ticket. “That’s actually my seat,” he said. He showed me his boarding pass.
“Hey,” I said, “I think you picked up my boarding pass…” I reached for mine. I held it out to him.
“That’s mine. They must have accidentally copied mine or something. See the name? I’m Dave Jones.”
I cocked my head. “I’m Dave Jones,” I said. I pulled out my ID.
“Me, too,” said Dave, reaching for his own ID, “looks like we got the same seat and the same name.” He rolled his eyes. “Stupid error-checkers. This won’t be good. Play it cool.”
“What?” I said.
“Keep your cool,” he said, “We’ll sort this out.”
I nodded, confused.
A steward asked us if something was wrong. He had his hand on his taser. We showed our two boarding passes, and our two IDs. He asked us to step off the plane.
The Tejano Vaqueros knew most of the people on these planes were running away. Some of them were wanted criminals and former combatants that had slipped through the system after the war—like me. Everyone on this plane was going to ask for asylum in Pacifica. Fake IDs and fake passports were everywhere.
Security was tight.
We were taken off the plane fast and dragged elsewhere in the terminal. We assured the Vaqueros that our names were common, like Juan Rodriguez or Jose Garcia. They still wanted to check. They said that common names meant that a good counterfeiter would use a common name like that. They confiscated our carryon, and separated us into two different rooms for questions.
“Who are you?”
“Where are you going?”
“What will you do when you get there?”
“Who are you, again?”
I told them my name was Dave Jones, and I was going to Pacifica because the Fuego Flu was going to kill me in the wintertime if I didn’t get out of this awful place, and the sooner those Spics let me go, the sooner another white guy got out of their ancestral land for good.
My ID checked out, and I got a new boarding pass from the receptionist. They were going to check my ID with their picture specialist to see if the picture matched the records, or showed any sign of alteration.
The picture guy was going to catch me. He'd compare the pictures against the records and realize that the picture was wrong. He'd tag the ID. Then, when we swiped our IDs on the way onto the next spacejet, mine'd blip red, and I'd be clamped down by Tejano Vaqueros, and I'd be tortured until I confessed my heroic actions during the war, as well as my continued heroism during the resistance.
Then, I'd be driven out to a field. I'd dig a ditch. I'd be shot. They'd shove the dirt over me until they got tired. They’d leave me for the wild dogs and coyotes to dig out.
But, this other Dave’s ID would check out, because he’s a nice businessman from Pacifica, going home with his herringbone nano-jacket and his salt and pepper hair. He’d be on the plane and off the ground before the Vaqueros tore my teeth out with pliers.
I grabbed the real Dave Jones’s sleeve in the terminal. “Well, we got two hours to kill, Mr. Jones. You want a drink?” I said, “My treat.”
“Call me ‘Dave’,” he said. “I’ve been sober for twelve years. How about some coffee, instead? And I bet you’re a refugee, so I should pay for it.”
“I’ve been clean of repro for four years,” I said, “New Coffee’ll kill you.”
He nodded. “I couldn’t stand the headaches.”
“They pass after a few weeks, but the smell never stops getting to you. How about ice cream?”
He smirked. “I’m lactose intolerant,” he said, “But, they should have sorbet.”
I looked up and down the terminal, looking for ice cream. “I hope it’s not kiwi,” I said, “I’m allergic to kiwi.”
I saw an ice cream kiosk at a corner of the international terminal. I pointed. The two Dave Joneses walked side-by-side, no doubt causing our dedicated hel-eyes to bump into each other above our heads. No doubt, a microphone followed us and recorded our small talk and checked it against the public record.
The international terminal wrapped like a giant glass conch shell. Each layer packed with refugees in heaps and bundles. Broken chairs and blankets and pillows and too many shoes stuck out of the corners of every heap of luggage and carryon. Here we were in the mouth of the leviathan, and these were all the passengers living in its guts. Someone had opened a bar. Someone had opened a newsstand. Someone was selling Italian gelato while wearing a crisp paper hat.
In line for blood orange sorbet, I tried not to appear to be paying close attention to where Dave Jones’ hands moved, but I was.
When he reached for his wallet, it was in his back left pocket. His slacks had a Velcro clasp that made lots of noise.
I don’t know where he kept his boarding pass. His boarding pass could be in his bag. It could be in his jacket. It could be in some hidden place designed to prevent pickpockets.
I ordered my orange sorbet. I sat down next to Dave Jones at a small table. We were next to a small glass partition like a curved cubicle in the terminal.
“So,” I said, “How long have you been Dave Jones?”
He smiled. He had teeth like a white picket fence. “You sound like the Vaqueros.”
“I’ve been Dave Jones for thirty-six years. I’m not the only Dave Jones I’ve ever known. I was named after my uncle, David Jones. He died when I was a kid. I don’t remember much about him.”
“My dad was an only child. My family are all Canucks. My father was a Quebecois with an English last name. We've been in Vancouver since I was born.”
“My family’s from Pasadena. I don’t know what my father was. Nothing English about him. He had a big hat, a big truck, and he figured all music ended when Nashville burned.”
“Sounds like quite a character.”
“He was. Fuego.”
“Me and everybody else on that plane,” I said, “except you.” I leaned back. I looked into the people at the terminal shuffling off to their planes. Used to be international travel meant business suits, and vacations. Now it meant a sea of white people trying to get out before the Reconquista came up with something nastier than their Fuego Flu to avenge the Native Americans and the African slaves.
The real Dave Jones ate his blood orange sorbet quietly. He didn’t seem to enjoy it.
I took a bite of mine. It wasn’t bad. I took another bite. I put the spoon down.
“What was it like in Pacifica?” I asked him.
“Pacifica’s beautiful,” he said.
“No, I mean, during the bad soup. What was Pacifica like during the bad soup?”
“The same. It was beautiful. Our soldiers didn’t go to war. We went to work, went on vacation locally. Lots of refugees showed up.”
“Huh,” I said, “I wonder what that’s like, to watch a war in peace.”
“I came down now and then. I work for a pharmaceutical company. War means soldiers and nasty nano. Nasty, nasty nano. I was carrying antidote samples to both sides. I’d get off the plane in Kansas City for the Confederate Coalition, and then I’d land in Guadalajara for the Reconquista.”
“You helped those spic bastards?”
“For a while there, people wouldn’t go out if they saw a cloud because it could’ve been nano—didn’t matter what side you were on. First time in history El Paso prayed for no rain.”
I snorted. “It wasn’t your war,” I said, making peace with the man, “You weren’t selling weapons, right? You were selling cures.”
“For the record, our company lost millions giving our samples to the Confederate Coalition for UN war bonds.”
“Yeah, but if the Reconquista lost, you’d be saying the same thing about them.”
“Probably,” he said. He took another bite of his sorbet. “What did you do during the war?”
“I was an electrician in Buffalo, Texas. I kept the skygrid up, so I wasn’t called up to fight. When the Fuego hit bad, and the lights went out, I was able to build stuff to keep me warm until the dust settled. I didn’t have enough juice for the whole town, though. I didn’t have enough of anything.”
“That’s rough,” he said.
“That’s the way the ice cream melts,” I said. I took one more bite of my sorbet. I stood up, leaning over the table to keep my spoon over the sorbet.
I let the spoon slip from my hands, and land on the edge of my sorbet. My hands jumped after the spoon. I slammed the edge of my cup of sorbet, flinging melted sorbet at Dave. It splattered his herringbone jacket like a paintball.
I reached for him with my napkin. I apologized while I patted down his jacket. (I felt for a boarding pass hiding on the other side of the suit. I couldn't get the latch open. Nano-jackets meant tech latches. I only had a moment to make it happen, and I failed.)
He pushed back in his chair, holding his hands up.
“Oh, no!” he shouted.
I grabbed for a new napkin and went around the table to him. Nano burned out underneath the sorbet, struggling microscopic gears exploded trying to eat all that biological matter. I patted at the jacket to minimize the burn-out and keep the sorbet from spreading. He did the same, and he wasn't paying attention to where my hands moved.
I slipped my hand into his jacket pockets. No sign of a passport. All he had was a black iPen. Even in the brushing of my index finger, the iPen felt expensive, with layers of jagged microchip all over the tip. If he had left that in his luggage, the Vaqueros would have taken it, and who knows how much data was stored inside.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I was just…I’m sorry.”
He shrugged me off of him. He patted at himself with a napkin. “Well, that’ll need drycleaning and some repairs,” he said, “You don’t happen to have an address in Pacifica where I can send you the bill, do you? Of course you don’t.”
“You didn’t have any nano on that, did you?”
“I do,” he said, “Do you have any idea how expensive drycleaning nano is? Repairing it will cost almost as much as a new jacket.”
Those hel-eyes bounced around in the sky over the population. They seemed playful, until you figured what they were doing. They couldn’t monitor everything. I needed a shadow to fall between me and Dave. I needed us to be close. One of his pockets wasn't tech-latched. If I couldn't steal his ID, I'd have to give him mine.
I offered to get Dave some clean bottled water, and meet him in a bathroom.
He shrugged. “Let it stain. You know how dirty airport bathrooms are? If my bio-filter isn’t working, I don’t want to go in there.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, “I’ll get it drycleaned and repaired when I land. I bitch, but I can afford it. It’s nothing.”
“It must have been expensive,” I said.
“It’s the company’s suit,” he said, "It's not even mine."
“I’m really sorry.”
He shrugged. “Look, I’ll see you on the plane, Dave Jones,” he said, “In the meantime, I have to make some calls and let people know I’m being held back here. Crazy thing, wasn’t it, us with the same name? When you land, don’t go far. I’ll see what I can do to help you, okay? For all I know we’re cousins.”
“Yeah,” I said.
I stuck my hand out. He took it. I shook and reached a hand over to pat him on the shoulder. I pulled him in close, hard. I let desperation leak onto my face. I whispered to him as if I was just another refugee. "Anything you can do to help," I said, frantically, "Please." I used our proximity to slip my ID into his open lapel pocket next to the expensive iPen.
I threw my sorbet into a trash can. I hid my wallet under the used napkin. I tossed my wallet into the trash, too, with all my money cards.
I had to pray a hel-eye couldn’t make out the details of what I had done.
Dave Jones had his cell bug on in his ear when I left him. I don't know who he was calling, but it wasn't me.
I returned to the security office. I knocked on the door. The receptionist buzzed me in. I told her that I needed to speak with the Vaqueros. She seemed to speak English this time.
The Vaqueros put me back in the same room. They had their black specs on, reading my vitals while I spoke. With their specs on, they could read a lie with 65% accuracy. With my army training I could lower the odds about 20%, but that was still too close to fake it unnecessarily. I had to tell as much truth as I could, and save my lies as long as I could.
Just like last time, one Vaquero sat in a chair, and another Vaquero stood behind the first. They could have been clones with the same mirror glasses and the same handlebar moustache, and the same sculpted bodies in the same suits.
“What would you like to share with us, Senor Jones?” said the one in the chair. The guy in the chair is usually good cop. The one standing is usually bad cop. Today was going to be no different.
I said nothing. I leaned forward. I placed my hands on the table. I raised my eyebrows.
“What?” said the Vaquero.
“First, promise me immunity,” I said, "so I can get on that plane."
They both laughed.
“Immunity?” said the one in the chair, “Guano Gringos don’t get immunity in the Reconquista. You get Fuego Flu, not immunity. You get tagged in the system until the resettlement arrives this far north for your lands and your property. You gringos get on planes and go away forever if you’re smart.”
“I would like to get on a plane, but I want to make sure you’ll let me leave before I tell you anything. I want to know that I’m going to be allowed onto a plane. You’ve already checked my ID, and you’ve given me a boarding pass. I just want on that plane.”
“You have four seconds and then I’m going to break your nose,” said the standing Vaquero.
I put my hands up. “Break my nose?” I said, “I’ve done nothing, and I want to leave. I just want to make sure that after I tell you, you don’t keep me around. I’ll happily work through your embassy in Pacifica with any depositions.”
The one standing stepped across the room. He clenched his fist casually, his wrist loose. He moved behind me.
The sitting one raised a hand. “Wait,” he said, “Tell you what, Gringo,” he said, “If you are found blameless, we’ll allow you to leave in twenty-four hours.”
“24 hours?” I laughed, “If you had any idea what I’m about to give you, you’d be begging me to tell you. Tell you what,” I said, “I’m going to stand up and walk out of here, and you can kiss my white ass. If you don’t want to know, it’s not my problem. You can hold me for two hours or twenty-four hours, but if you don’t listen to me this hour, it won’t matter because what I’ve discovered will be on a spacejet. You can beat the hell out of me for an hour or two. After that, it won’t matter.”
The fist came down hard on the side of my neck. I groaned. I held my hands up. I tried to cover up, to protect my head. The Vaquero didn’t strike me again.
The one who had hit me leaned close to my ear. “So, Gringo,” he said, “you think you play tough with us?”
“Tell you what,” I said, “Why don’t you take a look back on everything I’ve done since I walked out on you last time, and you figure it out for yourselves. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll figure this one out in time.”
I looked up at the guy leaning into my ear. I stared right into his mirror eyes from centimeters away. “If you think you can break me in an hour, you give yourself too much credit. I’ve lived on Fuego grounds since before the bad soup.”
The one behind me stood up. I didn’t turn around to watch him. Instead, I turned around again to face the one across from me.
The one across from me shook his head at his partner. He took off his glasses. He had blue eyes. Not many pure-blooded Mixtecas had blue eyes, and you had to be pure Mixteca to be a Vaquero.
Then I looked closer, and saw the gears in the pupils like little cameras. He and I had probably glared down rifle barrels before, during the bad soup. Seeing the bastard badly wounded made me feel good. I hoped I was the one that had shot out his eyes.
“David Jones,” said the one with blue eyes, “Do not pretend to be what you are not.”
“You’ve got one hour. I want immunity, or else it won’t matter, and I’ll just leave when you let me go. You can’t blame me for looking out for my own ass.”
“No, Mr. Jones,” he said, “I cannot blame you for looking out for your own ass. If what you say is good enough, I will let you get on that plane even if your ID returns to us bad.”
Part of me wanted to laugh. My ID was going to be returning, and it was going to be all bad. And, I didn’t believe the Vaquero for a minute about letting me on with a bad ID. My only hope was giving them someone else to play with while I slipped through the cracks.
“The other Dave Jones,” I said, “his story’s full of holes.”
“Were you listening when we got ice cream?”
“Of course. And you got sorbet, not ice cream.”
“Well, put this one together for me, then. He’s wearing more nano in his jacket than you’ve got in this whole facility. How can he afford that?”
“I do not explain things to you, but I will tell you that his story checks out.”
“Seriously?” I said, “Just think about it a minute. He’s openly admitting that he ran big pharma and counter-nano from one side of the war to the other. Who does that? Companies don’t do that. Companies don’t give anything away. Nobody made a profit off that, because the losing side would’ve eaten the profit. And what’s he doing here now? What does a pharmaceutical rep do in a place like this where nobody has a peso unless they’re spending it on plane tickets? Your cops are here, and your armies aren’t far, but your resettlement hasn’t made it this far north, yet. This is dead ground. Nothing's here but empty buildings and refugees.”
“He was probably just talking politely to you, and hiding his true business.”
“Exactly, " I said, "He is hiding his true business. He stole my wallet. Did you see that happen? Did you hear that in your stupid bugs?”
The two vaqueros sat very still. The blue-eyed one blinked twice.
“Stand up,” said blue-eyes. I stood up. The standing one patted down my pockets. My luggage had been on the floor beside me. The blue-eyed vaquero picked it up, and walked to the door with it.
The one behind me grabbed my arm. He shoved it behind me, and threw me against the wall. “You did something!” he snarled.
I laughed. “I want to get on that plane,” I said, “I need my ID back. That’s the only reason I came to you at all. I don’t care if you catch him or not, but I want on that plane and I need my ID for that.”
I didn’t have to tell them anything special, or connect any dots. I just had to open the door. They’d do the rest. I’d sit here, and they’d be so busy enjoying their new target, they’d let me quietly slip away into the sky.
I did not feel remorse for David Jones right then, even though I knew I had just killed an innocent man. During the war, I had won no medals. I had done no great act of bravery. I had merely been drafted into combat with my sophomore class and survived the war. I had survived during the resistance. I had survived the end of the resistance. And, I was determined to survive now, too.
This was one more decision about surviving.
I'd try to tell that to my old war buddies, later on, in Pacifica, if any of them would stay on the line long enough to hear my side of the story. They had won medals, and performed acts of bravery, and a few had even volunteered for the fight. They’d never understand.
I sat alone in the room for about twenty minutes. The door behind me opened, and a Vaquero came back in, holding my ID in his hand. It was blue eyes. I could tell because he didn’t threaten me with his body language.
He placed my ID on the table in front of me. He sat down across from me.
“Dave Jones does not know how this came into his possession, and neither do we. We have found your ID, but we have not found your wallet. We are reviewing the tapes. You seem to know exactly when he picked your pocket.”
“It happened right after I paid for the ice cream. He seemed to bump me a little, and I felt his fingers in my pocket.”
“You didn’t say anything at the time?”
“He wasn’t running for it,” I said, “and I wondered what a white guy in a nano suit in the Reconquista was doing picking pockets.”
“You suggested that you figured something out that we didn’t.”
“Right, well I figure he was expecting to get on the plane, no trouble. But, if his picture was bad, he was going to need a new ID, fast. He wanted to swipe my ID, and use it to check in with my boarding pass.”
He smirked at me, pulling his black specs down his nose to look me in the eye. “Little does he know, your picture is also bad,” he said.
“If my ID was bad,” I said, “I wouldn’t come to you to get it back.”
“Wait here,” said the Vaquero. He stood up. He took my ID with him.
“Don’t forget our deal,” I said, “I’ve got a plane to catch, and soon.”
He didn’t say anything.
I sat in the room alone for twenty more minutes. I looked around, wondering if anyone had bled to death here. I looked into the crevices where tiles touched grout. Not even a good mop could get all the blood cleaned up, and the Vaqueros didn’t like to let people forget their techniques.
I’ve seen the videos on the wires.
When blue eyes came back in, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking for the blood of people I might have known.
He laughed. He told me I’d see my own if I wasn’t careful.
He didn’t need to tell me that.
He handed me my ID. He told me the picture was bad. I told him that if I thought my picture was bad, I’d have stolen the other Dave Jones’s ID. Something was wrong, and it wasn’t me.
Blue eyes nodded. “You know,” he said, “if you knew your ID was bad, and believed his was good, and you couldn’t get his, you’d probably come here spouting that same line.”
I took a deep breath. I kept my vitals cool enough. Now was time to mix the truth with some lies, and see if I could escape alive. “Look, I just want out of your country,” I said, “That’s all I want. You ask me who did more to end your armies. Was it some guy like me—some nobody out on Fuego ground—or was it some guy who was selling counter-nano to your enemies for war bonds?”
He took off his glasses. He looked me in the eye with his blue prosthetics. He could probably read my vitals fine with those prosthetics. “Who are you?” he said.
“We entered the records of your cell bug into our databases, and got back some preliminary results. We know you have the phone number of a few war criminals that might actually get you permanent asylum in Pacifica. Who are you?”
“I am not your enemy,” I said, “If I was, once, I’m not your enemy anymore.”
“You should know that we are going to kill you, no matter what you tell us. You and the other Dave Jones are both doomed. The real question now is how quickly you will die. Do you wish to linger for days, until we break you? Do you wish to die quickly with one gunshot?”
“I’m the real Dave Jones,” I said, “and we made a deal. I gave you your enemy. What the heck is a pharma rep doing here in Dallas? If he was legit, he’d be in Guadalajara!”
Blue eyes gave me the cop stare again. I stared right back with the soldier’s thousand-yards. I didn't flinch. Blue eyes got up, walked out the door and disappeared. I never saw him again.
After a few very long minutes, a different Vaquero came in, one I had never seen before, his neck thick with fat and his body heavy and soft. He was older, probably the boss. This one yawned. He did not sit down. He picked up my ID off the table and looked at it carefully. Then, he looked at me. He tossed the ID at me. “Your luggage is at the reception desk,” he said, "along with your new boarding pass. You'd better hurry if you want to make your flight."
When I got off the plane in Pacifica, I planted the cell bug to call the lawyer that was supposed to be waiting for me here. The phone rang and rang. I stood there, looking at all these people getting off the plane, waiting for the cell to pick up.
I stood there, watching all the people pouring out of the plane, lining up for their shot, and begging customs to let them speak with someone who could help.
I was scared out of my mind when the cell kept ringing. If a Vaquero had been looking at me right then, he'd have read me like a book.
When the answering machine clicked, I heard a voice speak a name.
I recognized the voice, but not the name.
And right then, I knew that nobody would come to help me after what I had done. All of my former friends and allies would turn their backs on me after what I had done.
The line moved forward. I got my Fuego shot, but I didn’t need it. I waited for my turn at the counter.
I handed over my luggage. The stern woman with white gloves and a mask over her mouth said, “Business, pleasure, or asylum?”
I probably looked very pale.
“Sir?” she said, “please, just hand me your ID.”
I gave it to her.
“What is your name, please?”
“David Jones,” I said, “but the IDs a fake. Another fellow, a real citizen of yours, got stopped in the Reconquista. You have to call someone. Please, call someone. He was traveling with the name David Jones, but it’s not his real name. I have his cell number with me. They’re going to kill him!”
“Sir, please control yourself,” she said, “Business, pleasure, or asylum?”
I threw up on the counter. Pacifica police came for me, then. I was quarantined. I’d be there until a doctor cleared me. Then, I’d have six months to find a new country before they’d deport me back to the Reconquista.
I joined the rest of the refugees, shipwrecked between borders.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
*cough* I don't know if I'll get in trouble for this later...
But if you didn't meet Angie last night, and you wondered who that person was sitting next to me, well I only had the one photo of her piece in a gallery on my iPhone, but here's a link to her FlickR stream with lots more of her pieces in various states of creation.
She's very talented, with a distinctive sense of style that, I think, really stands out.
Also, she's gorgeous, and nice, and a joy to be around.
Nothing I say will compare to the pictures that will be appearing to communicate exactly how amazing/surreal the reading was. It felt like we were characters in one of our own stories. I suspect everyone present with aspirations of authorship and all authors present will be writing something about all that transpired there.
The pictures are already popping up on Facebook, and will be appearing here, there, and everywhere.
People who were there will carry with them forever the knowledge that they were there. People who weren't there, years from now, will try to pretend like they were. It's the sort of amazing, surreal experience you go out every Friday Night to try and find and only once every couple years actually experience.
If you were there, thank you for coming. We'll see each other elsewhere and say "Remember the beer closet? Remember the moustache band?" and we will never forget.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I posted this as a comment at SFSignal, and realized I ought to just post it here, as it is basically a blog entry about this game.
This looks a lot like some game designers really wanted to make God of War without getting sued, and decided to make a travesty not only of God of War, but also of a terrifically inappropriate literary classic that ought never to have been turned into Game IP.
This is coming from someone who loves spilling ideas into new mediums. You didn't need to actually tie it to Dante's Inferno, a classic where the hero never touches a single weapon, weeps, passes out a lot, and never, ever touches a single weapon, nor faces any meaningful peril beyond mere insanity. You could have just made original IP. Why play up this utterly inappropriate epic poem that will really not translate well into the medium of an Action Game. Does the X button weep? Does the Y button rely on Virgil to tell the demon to stop being a dick? Does the A button, held down, power up your awesome passing-out power?
I can just hear the hamsters in the producers mind planning Dante III: DANTE VERSUS GOD!!!! Where Dante slices his way all the way through heaven to fight the ultimate boss battle, with frikkin' GOD!!!!
This title makes me embarassed for my industry.
Monday, December 7, 2009
"You look at the men that founded it — the Bowies and the Travises, even Sam Houston, in my opinion possibly the greatest leader this country’s ever developed. . . ." said Rick Perry in "The New York Times"
People didn't come to Texas back then because they had clean pasts. It's where you fled to after you killed a rival in a duel, or wanted to go to build a gigantic plantation where all you could grow fat on the labor of your slaves.
Travis was suicidal. That's why he stayed in the Alamo. It wasn't courage. He had lost the woman he loved, and decided to fight like hell against impossible odds so he could die with some sense of honor. Instead of choosing to try and make the best of his life, he wanted to die with the blood on his hands of brown-skinned Indians up from Mexico to liberate slaves and maintain the legal boundaries of a once-great nation. Travis wasn't a leader, he was a psycho-ward patient.
Bowie? He was in a bar fight that escalated to become a full-scale riot. He killed the sheriff of his little town, and like most murderers in the American South, hopped across the border instead of facing justice. Leader, my ass. He died at the Alamo to fight for the right of a bunch of white people to own slaves instead of hiring a lawyer and facing the consequences of his actions back in Louisiana. He was a land speculator, of all things, which is not exactly a reputable, upstanding profession.
And that leaves us with Sam Houston. I applaud Sam Houston's failed efforts advocating the Native American rights of his first wife's family - a full-blooded Cherokee. But, in the years following the massacre of his wife's entire tribe while he was off in Washington negotiating treaties to try and protect them, Sam Houston was struggling with alcoholism. He was famous for getting blitzed, then tearing off his clothes and burning them in the middle of the street. He'd do this in broad daylight. The governer, completely drunk, rips off his clothes in the middle of the street, and lights fire to them. I feel sorry for him. I wish he had been able to do right by his first wife and their culture. I also can't help but think of him more as a pathetic figure out of a Gabriel Garcia-Marquez novel instead of a great model for leadership.
Anyway, the thing I always hated about Texas was this blind hero-worship of very un-heroic people. I find it hard to respect the Republic of Texas when it was born out of the desire to keep people in bondage. Call me crazy, Rick Perry.
The first and great Texas leader I can think of was Lyndon B. Johnson. Before that? I can't think of a single one. (Of course, we have to point out Lyndon's failure in Vietnam... But he's the one who got Kennedy's civil rights legislation through, and I will always think highly of him for that.)
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
First, I had to get organized. I moved my entire to-read pile into one place (except my school reading list, which isn't in, yet.)
Then, I cleaned the apartment before going off to work. I saw something strange when I took the trash out.
Ah, work... Straight from work, I met up with friends downtown for a concert.
Today, there will be more cleeaning, more working, and more hanging with friends. Truly, life is good.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
No one ever tells the truth about the Buddha
He was a prince from the east, of course
He sat under a tree, of course
He saw suffering in the world, of course
His father rose to power with a magic lamp
Three wishes... the third for a mighty son,
a cunning son, a brave son, a glorious leader of men
So mighty was the son, that he slipped away in the night with
the concubine that had spent all her wishes on youth and beauty
and the magic lamp. Under trees, they went, because
the mangroves shadowed them from the harem guards
the water at the feet of the mangroves hid their sandals.
They would not waste his wishes upon escape.
Once liberated, and hiding in the woods
He and I had the papyrus with the careful wording of wishes,
They read over and over what we would wish for.
Night fell, and he was still adjusting the wording
Sunrise, and we was exhausted.
He touched the concubines nose to wake her.
She was disguised as a begger.
She stepped out into the world to distract from the prince hiding in the shadow, with the lamp
the Djinni would be a flash of white light. Long har. Lustrous, bearded, gaunt.
I admit the Djinni looked very much like Jesus Christ.
I admit, as well, that the man who kicked the concubine into the mud
He looked very much like a young Mohammed.
Anyway, Buddha sat there, looking at the concubine disguised as a beggar.
All he had to do was rub the lamp, make a wish, and
everything would be
He just sat there, under the tree, holding the lamp, the papyrus.
The concubine waited for days, until the beggar clothes and mud smeared away her beauty.
She waited and waited for him.
The wishes she had made became like a curse.
He was looking at his lover, his immortal beloved,
She was filthy, kneeling in mud and ox dung.
She help up her hands and begged for coin.
There, he had his enlightenment, without any help from the lamp.
I admit that I was the beggar, and the concubine that inspired the Buddha.
I still have the lamp, but it does nothing for me, who exhausted my wishes on vanities.
I could paint his face from memory.
I have given this lamp to thousands upon thousands of lovers.
None but the Buddha rejected the miracles contained inside.
Still, I give them the lamp.
Always, I give them the lamp.
Make a wish, my love, I always say.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Whilst driving home from work, my phone rang. It was my sister. She sounded somewhat excited about something, but I told her I was driving and I'd call her back when I got to my apartment. She said she'd call Mom, and call me back. She called me again when I was almost home, and I said, "Hey, almost home, still driving, call you back!"
I'm thinking something, like, serious must be up. I park the car. I turn off the engine. I immediately call my sister back, in the car.
It's not serious. She's just excited about something she's doing at law school.
I'm relieved it's nothing serious. I tell her all about the gay dwarf on elf action that my character in the video game Dragon Age: Origins is doing (Kudos to Bioware for letting players play gay heroes! It's about damn time we've got some gay heroes in mainstream games!)
I step out of the car. I lock the door. I close the door. I look up at my apartment.
My keys are in the car, not in my hand. I am locked out of my car, and my apartment.
I curse. I check to see if my front door is unlocked. I check to see if anyone's in the apartment complex office. Nope.
I have my iPhone. I call a locksmith to open my car door. I call the dispatcher. Fifteen minutes later a locksmith tells me he's twenty minutes away in traffic.
Great. I hang out. I play a game on my phone. I check my e-mail on my phone. Etc. I'm thinking how wonderful it would be to eat dinner right now. Dinner would be delicious. It was about 7:30, byb then, and I hadn't eaten anything since 11:45, when I had just a frozen burrito and a banana for lunch. Waiting... Waiting...
Twenty minutes passes. Nothing. I get another phone call a few minutes later.
The locksmith was in a car accident. No one was hurt, but a new locksmith is on his way. He's going to need 20-25 minutes to get there.
I call my sister to tell her what evil she has wrought, with her distracting phone call that sounded like something serious, initially, that causes me to buy a pizza despite my budget, and a car accident.
Then, I order the pizza. I expect the pizza to arrive before the locksmith. I order one of my favorite pizzas from a local chain, that includes Feta Cheese.
5-10 minutes later, I get a phone call from the pizza place, and they're out of Feta cheese, and they ask me if I want something else, or a different kind of cheese. I tell them "whatever cheese you think is best". I'm so hungry, I doubt I'll bother chewing. I'll swallow pizza slices like a loon eating minnows. I will open my throat and pour pizza down and choke it down whole.
New locksmith calls to tell me he's almost there! 13 miles away.
I wait around. Dum-de-dum... I've been locked out of everything for nearly an hour. the pizza arrives, at last! Hooray!
Locksmith, the new one, calls to tell me he's almost there! 13 miles away. (Ten minutes after he called prior.)
Finally, locksmith arrives. It takes him a good ten minutes to get the car open, where I can get my keys.
I try to pay with my check card, and he calls in and discovers that their credit card machine in the office is busted, and they want me to wait around for forty-five minutes while they get it serviced.
I go inside to my apartment, which I can unlock now, and write a damn check. While writing the check, the pen dies. I have to get a new pen to finish writing the check.
Once inside, I try to read and relax. A lightbulb dies. I change the lightbulb.
I try to play video games next (Halo 3) because at this point I need to shoot someone in the face. The batteries in my controller die. I have to recharge them.
While waiting for the batteries to charge at least enough to let me play Dragon Age: Origins, I check the mail. My next packet has arrived from grad school, and I will have no life until I get through it.
All in all, an exciting evening.
I blame my sister for everything. It's her fault, even, that the lightbulb died, and the pen died, and the batteries died, and the packet arrived at the apex of stress-level orange.
(The pizza was okay, but it really needed Feta Cheese.)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I had an eclectic reading year, with many books that are not current. (I'm measuring my year by November last year, by the way... Apparently the Book Year ends in January.)
In no particular order (don't believe the numbers!) my favorite books read this year were
1) Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
2) Drood by Dan Simmmons
3) Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
4) Getting to Know You by David Marusek
5) No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
6) Gears of the City by Felix Gilman
7) Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente
8) Returning My Sister's Face by Eugie Foster
9) Elegy on a Toy Piano by Dean Young
10) Cyberabad Days by Ian MacDonald
Literary Magazines I liked the Best
*) Conjunctions 52: Betwixt the Between
*) Weird Tales #352
*) Asimov's October-November 2009
**=I had one small contribution to these eclectic collections. LDBH is probably the quirkiest and strangest book of the year, which means, to me, you should buy it immediately and go forth upon your adventure! The Rhysling Anthology is a fabulous collection of current speculative poetry, of which I am a very small part. Still, I think it is necessary to separate these from the rest, though my mentioning has everything to do with everyone else inside and nothing to do with my tiny, little pieces. Both are fantastic little books, and two of the best I read this year.
**) 2009 Rhysling Awards Anthology
**) Last Drink Bird Head
I seemed heavy on Short Story Anthologies this year. I actually didn't read very many novels that blew me away. I admit, however, that I have a few likely candidates sitting in my "to read" pile, that I just haven't had time to get to yet.
In games? My favorites first played this year, where story/writing/narrative gameplay impressed the heck out of me:
1) Dragon Age: Origins <-Haven't completed it, yet, but boy howdy this is RPG Crack.
2) Mirror's Edge
3) Batman: Arkham Asylum
Monday, November 9, 2009
I may be a little late, but reading about all these retrospectives of walls falling and stuff tumbling down and what really happened, or what didn't really happen, etc., etc., I am left with just one thing to add.
When I was in East Berlin a couple years back, I met the military officer in charge in Berlin, at the Wall that night who - when faced with confusion and silence from his superiors - gave the command that changed history.
Do not shoot. Let the people through to West Berlin.
I wrote about it here:
I have his picture, with me in it, and the writer that wrote about the officer in question. I don't have it on this computer, alas, but I know I have it home. I don't have time on my lunch break at work to dig around my blog until the spot where the pictures were scanned into the wires.
I'll edit when I get home, if I can remember to do it.
(PS: When I was traveling in Germany, I went to web cafes and blogged basically the kind of stuff that would have otherwise gone into my journal - or came from my journal. At the time I had about four readers, whom I all knew personally, and I wasn't "Author J M McDermott", just some drifter by the name o' Joe that spoke enough German to get himself into tiny adventures. These days, I don't think I want to journal/blog quite like that. It's like giving away your stories before they're even written.
But, if you're curious, click around. It's a rawer look at worlds and art that hasn't been polished up into fiction.)
I am very happy that Cat Valente is safely on her honeymoon, but I am left with this depressing thought in the aftermath.
Is the only way to get honesty and appropriate customer service from large corporations through either luck, or the assistance of a large tribe?
I keep my little kerfluffles off the wires, for the most part. (If only because none of them escalate to the point of awful that Ms Valente experienced on her Honeymoon of all things! Goodness!)
Yet, I wonder if social media is the only way to hold these companies truly accountable if that isn't a sign that something is genuinely wrong in corporate culture.
(This, of course, assumes that most people can't really buy the lawyers and time necessary to do a lawsuit. If anything, suing large corporations, they generally do a Cost/Benefit Analysis and decide to fight or settle based on fiscal resources most of us commoners can't even imagine. Their decision to fight or not rarely takes into account the actual liability of the situations involved, to my knowledge.)
That is my thought balloon for the day. Feel free to discuss.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
I've been trying to get this really awesome anthology concept off the ground a while, with John Helfers of Tekno Books. We both want to do it. It's a great idea. It would be cool and popular among all the fans of Henson's non-Muppet work, which includes quite a lot of the readership of fantasy books, in general.
Yet, no traction anywhere.
Apparently the key to getting traction is getting a lot of Mythic Big Names behind the project.
So, I need people who want to be in an anthology who have names that can only be properly pronounced in an "outside" voice, and must be spelled with 16 pt font.
If you, or someone you know, fits this description, let me know!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
It is official blog policy here that we support whole-heartedly the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals.
I have been crossing my fingers for Maine all day, and I hope the voters push to support the state's correct marriage laws by popular vote.
I'm a grad student in Maine, after all, and I'd hate to travel out of the Bible belt in January for an education to a place that refuses to leave the dark ages.
Go Maine, Go! Go Maine, Go!
I slept in until 6:30 today, because I'm still recovering from the Absinthe and late nights (11:30 on the East Coast is, apparently, deadly for me). I couldn't make it to midnight to participate in the Weird Tales Midnight Invocation on Halloween, alas. I hope it went well.
Thoughts about World Fantasy...
Sharon Mock's husband, Zack, has an amazing beard that makes me feel like less of a man. In fact, when he was also wearing a T-Shirt with a burly bear on it, I actually shrank four inches, temporarily. As soon as we parted, I had to load up on Sharon's wonderful, homemade cookies to fuel my regrowth.
Shweta Narayan didn't have a reading? WTF? From now on, if Shweta is at a Con and she doesn't have a reading, someone should let her piggyback in their own time. I know I was reading such very short stories, if I had known ahead of time, I could have intervened with Shweta and the Con...
Will Ludwigsen's reading was astonishing, amazing, and wonderful. I was shocked at how few people there were in the room. Everyone, listen, this is really, really important. Will Ludwigsen is an amazing writer, and a fantastic reader, and you can be one of the cool people that's in the know on this one. Let me help. Here's a recent story from Strange Horizons: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2008/20080303/talk-f.shtml Here's his website: http://www.will-ludwigsen.com/wp/ Here's a link to a podcast from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, read... well, a little over-dramatically by some actor. Will's reading at WFC was pleasant and cheerful which suited the dark material better. Still... "http://ahmm.podomatic.com/entry/2009-09-02T10_02_27-07_00" Will's next story will be in Interfictions 2, about a very real house that travels across the country to find its family. Go forth and stalk, world.
Absinthe. My god. I never carried any cash (because I spent it all on books). I drank the absinthhe in the Con Suite, lots of it, and I need to find out how to donate to the Con Suite after the fact, because I never had any cash on me when I got there, and could not drop an appropriate donation into the box. And they had *fantastic* absinthe. Anyone know what brand that was? I forgot to ask. (Because I was drinking Absinthe). Someone tell me who was running the Con so I can send them a donation in honor of the Absinthe to their Con Suite.
Guy Gavriel Kay has a new book coming out, and he read some of it. I know, the words "Guy Gavriel Kay has a new book coming out" are enough to open the wallet and open the mind. However, hearing the reading confirms that this is going to be another fantastic book from the premiere historical fantasist. I can't wait!
Finally, at long last, met Ann and Jeff VanderMeer! Unsurprisingly, they're wonderful. Unsurprisingly, Jeff renounced squid during his reading, and I wish him all the best with it. I admit, I have my doubts that it will succeed. His fans have not renounced squid, and that's really the problem he faces. City of Saints and Madmen will likely be promoting Jeff's squidness for decades to come. There will be no escape. The reading from Finch is an excellent reminder that everyone should be picking up Finch right about now. Finch is one of the best books of the year. It is the perfect marriage of very dark fantasy, and very dark noir. It rewards Ambergris locals, who've been celebrating the freshwater squid festivals yearly, and it rewards newcomers who are only ready for a taste of the strange, surreal, city of secret histories. "Finch" is the real shit. Get thee to a bookstore.
Picked up Camille Alexa's short story collection, at last! It's been sitting in my wish list for a bit, and now it shall be removed. I shall read it shortly. Camille has blue hair, and writes speculative poetry. She hung out with me during the group signing and refused to sign my book until she was inspired to come up with something interesting to say. How often do you ask a writer, during the huge group signing event at WFC, to sign their book, and they say "Not yet! Wait! Let me think!" Camille was one hip cat. I think if she started hanging with Sharon, Zack, and Shweta all the cool of the room would become unbalanced and everyone at the edges of their vicinity would only be able to talk about uncool things, like peanut-based dioramas of Civil War battles, or yogurt.
Had a holy shit moment when Jeffrey Ford said hello to me in the hallway. I almost fell over. Yes, I am a writer. But, more importantly, I am a fanboy. I come to this field as a reader, first, and a writer second. Holy shit, Jeffrey Ford said hello to me in the hallway, after we had been drinking with Chris Roberson, Jetse de Vries, Neil Williamson (all fantastic people, by the way). Jeffrey Ford sat across the table from me. I leaned over to Neil to speak quietly in the crowded room, "Hey, uh... Is that... Jeffrey Ford over there?" Neil said, "Yeah, isn't this Con awesome?" "Yes," I said, "This is an awesome con". I never really had the courage to say hello, because I knew I'd be a trembling, over-excited fanboy. Like, for instance, what I was when I said hello to Connie Willis, and also Nalo Hopkinson. Later on, Jeffrey Ford said hello to me in the hallway and I almost fell over.
(This is very similar to my reaction when Jeff VanderMeer first e-mailed me to say he was going to be writing a review of my first novel. Holy Shit, Jeff frikkin' VanderMeer just e-mailed me!?)
I was so glad I got to catch up with my Texas friends, Chris Roberson, Alison Roberson, John Picacio, Gerald Warfield, AlleyPat, Tricia! Jesus, I hadn't seen y'all in, like, forever! I miss you folks!
TANGO! The lovely Melinda Thielbar and J. C. Hay were at the con, and I haven't seen them since Saratoga Springs! I wish I had more time with everyone I haven't seen in so long! Goddammit, the con really needs to be about six weeks to catch up with everyone! Melinda introduced me to one of her fellow Clarion graduates, who teaches Tango, and we learned to dance just a little in the huge hallway of the Fairmont. Okay, John Hay wasn't around when we got around to the tango, but he missed out. My only regret is that Melinda's husband wasn't around. Richard Dansky deserves some accolades and beer, as I know the paperback rights to Mr. Dansky's excellent novel FIREFLY RAIN were recently picked up. I'll be sure to let everyone know again closer to April. Don't forget, now, party people.
Books! I have so many books! Where will I put them all? Everyone who blogs about WFC will blog about the books. I was most pleased to get a free copy of MADNESS OF FLOWERS by Jay Lake, at his reading. (THANKS JAY!) I enjoyed Trial of Flowers the most out of Jay's books, because New Weird is aesthetically more fun to me than Clockpunk (though I did enjoy the Clockpunk). Now I have the new freaky-deaky chapter in a weird city with unforgettable magic and gods. My favorite scene in Trial of Flowers was the roulette table, and the surprising appearance of the color white. *wink* No spoilers, here, folks! I wonder what will happen next...
I could go on and on and on and on. Look, if you're a writer, and you got the scratch, this is the Con for you to go to go to go to.
And, I've got to go to go to go to work, party people.
Oh, I did a reading Friday, and I was very pleased that people I didn't know showed up! Naturally, I was more pleased that people I knew showed up! I read three completely different stories under the assumption that I want everyone to have something they like. "Speaking of Butterflies", from Brain Harvest, "The End of Her World" from Dark Recesses Press, and "Dedalus and the Labyrinth" forthcoming from Weird Tales. Everyone told me I looked really nervous (which I was), but also that they loved the second story. Having read a similar line-up at a Con, I happen to know that most con audiences fall asleep during "The End of Her World", which is a very dense and depressing sort of story. I was surprised it was the most popular one of the day. Hm. Next year, if I do a reading, I may read "Death's Shed" forthcoming from LCRW...
Anyhow, have a fantastic day, everyone. I have a fantastic amount of work to do, so I must leave you with that.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Any of you a teenager with aspirations of greatness in the realms of speculative literature?
Shared Worlds is for you, and they are open for registration.
The thing about writing classes isn't that you can learn "how" to write. It's that an experienced writer can guide your own self-taught writing style down a path that will help you find your next level of written quality.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I am... disappointed in my church.
I thought about blogging about it, but discovered my concerns already addressed eloquently elsewhere in the blog-o-sphere.
Basically, it seems like the wrong sorts of fights to be fighting. It seems like the wrong way to increase membership. It seems like we haven't had a strong female role model for faith since Mother Theresa passed on.
It's getting harder and harder to be a Catholic. I hope things turn around. It's gotten so I feel somewhat embarrassed to mention that I'm Catholic in polite company.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
the air is always antiseptic
roses, things never hurricane
everyone is smiling
my beloved and i share
a bed, the healthcare is fabulous
the food is fabulous
the castles are fabulous
still, i want to wear a red hood i want to scream into the
phone i want to punch for blood i want to crash
through trees tooth and claw and bone die alone
Friday, October 23, 2009
The program has been officially announced, and I really will have to, like, practice reading this weekend. I haven't done a reading since Outlantacon, where I actually ran a lot over despite all my practice before the event.
I know I'll be reading "Dedalus and the Labyrinth" forthcoming from Weird Tales Magazine. I'll see if I can squeeze "Death's Shed" or "I Am Nature" or something into the time slow.
Will practice this weekend, for sure.
First, the video:
2 Comments about the video on the YouTube page:
Every once in a while I get this uneasy/confused/bewildered/hum ble feeling when I look at old pictures..Especially ones taken from Europe.. But what I think I'm feeling for that split second is the enormity of human existence..I feel how special it really is..How lucky I am to have been able to be part of it..I feel the invisible threads between us, connecting us.. I feel as one with the world.. I'm not usually this inflective. But sometimes I just get that 'feeling' and I know Im not alone.
I missed my bus twice today, was walking home and pissed off, then saw this golden red leaf twirl down from it's branch to the ground and I felt still suddenly. This very moment is totally unique. This second and the things happening are happening only now and will never ever happen exactly the same again. And you think of all the people that came before us and their lives and worries and love, and it hits you that we're all the same. Makes you want to live a long life. No, am not on drugs =p
J M McD says:
It's stuff like this - little moments where you can see how ordinary people are leading thoughtful, meaningful, lives in celebration of life - that make me happy to make art.
Somebody cut together their own music video to a song they liked with old photographs, just for the enjoyment of the creative act. Some people watched it, and it spurred their imaginations.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
[Author's Note: Still swamped with work and grad school after recovering from illness, and with prepping for World Fantasy Con. There will be this awesome eBook giveaway courtesy of Apex Book Publishing, as long as I put all 100 of the CDs into their little paper case, and print up the stickers to seal them... Anyhow, in the mean time, here's a short story of mine from SPACE SQUID! #8]
Dragon Came to Galveston to Die
The hurricane had stripped away most of the dead dragon's scales. The giant dead thing looked like an oversized art project in the middle of Galveston Island. The powerful winds of the storm had smothered the corpse with lost signs, ruined automobiles, and smashed building pieces.
The smell of the ruined sea beast was ferocious, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Hurricane winds would return when the eye of the storm passed.
Then, every scavenger left alive on the island would followed the stink. Dogs and flies and sea gulls had already found a place in the mountain of meat to gnaw. After them, the other scavengers would come: people.
I could already see the news feeds coming. Journalists all over the world were going to rush right here to take pictures soon of this mountain of dead flesh, with all the island city destroyed around its footfalls like bombs had been dropping. Scientists would pick it all apart, and preserve all the little remaining pieces in scentless tubes of formaldehyde.
I was just another scavenger. I had to hurry. The eye of the hurricane was going to pass beyond me soon. When the storm was over, I knew nobody like me would be allowed so close to the amazing cadaver of the dragon that had walked ashore with the hurricane.
I should have been taking care of my ex-wife, right then. I should have been pulling her out of my ruined bomb shelter and scrubbing her cuts with anti-bacterial soap and Neosporin.
She was counting on me, and I had ditched her for the dragon.
A couple hours before the hurricane had made landfall, I walked on the beach. I watched the massive waves like wrestlers jumping off the high ropes. I looked across the water at the distant edge of storm, where the hardest rain came in like wet hellfire that’d be here soon. I was smiling because I had never imagined I'd get to ride out a category five.
Then, I saw what I thought was a capsized boat. I looked away. I didn’t want to see any dead bodies. I thought it would be exhilarating to walk along the beach with nobody but me and some Jack Daniels snaking through my liver and all the idiotic weather vans that rush to bad weather.
Later on I’d find out that it wasn’t a boat. It was the rising head of a dragon walking up the shelf at the front edge of the hurricane, coming to shore to get hit by lightning and die.
I shrugged. “I’ll wait here,” I said, “Somebody has to keep the looters away from my 401(k). I think my ex-wife will be sticking around, too. I haven’t seen her in a while.”
My sister had found me at a bar with three fat, old bikers from Arizona that had ridden over just to experience the storm. The bikers had made a deal with the owner to let them drink all they wanted during the storm if they chased off looters.
I liked them because they were riding out the hurricane like me. We were throwing back hurricanes in honor of the end of the world. They were my friends until my sister showed up.
I didn't like how they were looking at my sister, drunk and dangerous like they were.<--this paragraph seems comprised of unconnected sentences>
My sister drove me back to her place.
We had the talk we usually had right before she left.
When the storms came, I liked to sit in the bomb shelter in my basement and drink whiskey. I read comic books with flashlights. I alternated between whiskey and bottled water. I wandered the empty streets as much as I could, even after the bad winds hit, with all the windows boarded up and the rising tide and the electricity in the air from the storms and tornadoes flung from the spiraling fingers of the greater storm.
Sure I’ve been injured and cut up and I even broke some bones, but I rode out the hurricanes anyway. I loved doing it.
I had met my ex-wife that way, when we were both walking around in a deadly storm.
I was helping my sister’s husband board up windows. The clouds looked bad, but nothing rained on us, yet.
My ex-wife drove up to my sister’s house in her Japanese pickup with a case of wine coolers in the passenger seat.
My sister didn’t wave at my ex-wife. My sister gave me that look. She’s here.
“Hey, Jimmy!” shouted my ex-wife. My name’s not Jimmy, but my ex-wife always called me that. “Jimmy, I thought you’d be over here.”
“Just boarding up some windows,” I said. “You already got yours?”
She sipped a purple wine cooler. She drove with her windows down because her AC had been busted for years. Sweat pooled in the rolls of fat below her chin. Her clothes were damp with it over her wide body. She disgusted me when she was all sweaty like that. She shrugged. I had to think a moment to remember that I had asked her a question.
“That a yes?” I asked.
She said, “I guess I got those windows boarded up.”
“You guess?” I asked.
“A guy friend said he’d do it while I was going to the liquor store up past Friendswood. Galveston’s all dried out. No booze left to buy. Maybe the guy didn’t get the windows, though. I got insurance. I don’t give a shit.”
“Who’d you get?”
She waved her hand at me with a limp wrist like a gay guy. She did that sometimes when she was talking about guys that weren’t bastards to her like me. She did it, mostly, when she had too much to drink to drive safely. “Some guy you don’t know,” she said. “He lives on the corner. Big guy. School teacher. He wanted me to come with him.”
“You ain’t leaving?”
Her voice dropped the affectations. “You ain’t leaving, either, Jimmy,” she said, “You going to your basement?”
It was my turn to shrug.
“I don’t want to be alone. If something happens, I want to have somebody there to help me. I may not like you, but I still trust you.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t want to be alone, either. You want to come to the bomb shelter?”
She smirked at me. “Thought you’d never ask.” She knew I’d let her come down with me.
My ex-wife and I had that same talk before we were married. When we were in trial separation we had that talk, again. Our divorce was nasty, but even in the middle of the seventh week, we hunkered down together, fucked and fought and loved every stinking, dangerous minute of it during the storm.
My sister grabbed my shoulders hard and pulled me in close for a hug. She whispered awful things in my ear about my ex-wife that were mostly true. I shook her husband’s hand. Her husband didn’t seem to get the tension in the air between those two women. I said good-bye to my nieces and nephews, ruffled their hair because they hated it when I ruffled their hair, and I got into my ex-wife’s nasty Japanese truck.
We balanced the case of wine coolers on the arm rest between the seats. It fit, but I had to press against the door and hold onto the big box with both hands.
We went to my ex-wife’s place first for the rest of her supplies. We loaded everything in the cabin of her pickup because the rain was going to be here any minute now, and the wind was already strong enough to push cars around.
We passed some weather vans while driving to my place, and no one else.
I lived near the northeastern shore. My house was one block behind an overpriced motel, and two blocks from the beach. I never saw a sunrise from there because that beach-front tourist trap blocked my view. Beyond the eyesore, the stairway down the high surge wall led directly to the water's edge.
My house had a bomb shelter built by a crazy ex-military engineer back in the seventies. I wasn’t convinced it would work for a nuke, but it worked for hurricanes.
I kept the shelter well-stocked with comic books and manga. I called my comic book collection my 401(k) because it was worth more than the house.
I wasn’t big on canned goods, but I had some of those. I had more alcohol than food. I had a bed. I had a couch. I had a TV with cable for the weather channel. I had a battery-powered shortwave for when the TV died. I had a record player with a hand crank and a bunch of awful old records that I had picked up at a garage sale.
My ex-wife kept things here, too. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom was full of her old make-up and pills. The dresser had bits of clothing that she never bothered to take home.
She rummaged through the medicine cabinet until she found some valium. She smiled at me. She shook the bottle. “I'm glad you don't spring clean, Jimmy,” she said, “Want some?”
“I’ll stick to the whiskey.”
“Hey, Jimmy, you need help?”
“Help with what?”
“Boarding up your windows.”
“Oh,” I said. I frowned. “Glad you reminded me. Damn near forgot.”
I wandered off. Just like her to go digging for ancient valium before she even sat down.
I boarded up my windows. The motel usually caught the worst of the wind, but there was no harm in being careful.
Back in my basement, my wife was flipping channels on the TV, but all of the stations were white static.
We didn’t know this, but one of the things the dragon had done below the waves was tear through all the phone lines and TV cables that ran under the water from the mainland. We weren’t going to get anything but radio for weeks and weeks.
If we had a decent signal, we’d be hearing all about how something in this storm was causing all kinds of problems underwater and how a Navy submarine that should have been fine was simply gone and a few oil rigs that had been evacuated for the storm had their legs knocked out from under them. We didn’t see that, though. We heard from the shortwave how the hurricane had reached category five and was aiming at us on Galveston Island like a laser-guided missile.
The shortwave didn’t talk about any of that. They just talked about weather conditions and evacuation points. Shortwaves don’t speculate during emergencies. That’s what cable news is for.
That gulf water had gotten hot, hot. That’s what they talked about on the radio. Water as hot as this caused big, muscular hurricanes crawling at 14 miles per hour like a lumbering, fat biker in a drunken rage.
My ex-wife smiled at me with lazy eyes and a white gloss in her eyes. She was stoned. “Hey, Jimmy,” she said.
“Shut up,” I said, “I’m trying to listen to the shortwave.”
“Fuck the weather. I want to talk. We haven’t seen each other since the last one. I want to catch up. I want to know what’s been going on since the last hurricane.”
“You remember the last time there was a category five coming right at us like this? I mean right, straight at us?”
“Jimmy, do you know why I always get wasted when I’m down here? Listen, I’m trying to talk to you. Do you know why I get wasted?”
“You don’t like my comic books?”
“Because you never liked to fuck me when I was fucked up. I like this thing we do, but I don’t want to fuck you again. I don’t love you anymore. I did once, but I don’t anymore. We’re just old friends, and that’s it. I've got my school teacher, now.”
“Darling, where did you hide those wine coolers?”
“Not man enough for whiskey, yet?”
“If you get some alcohol in you, you’ll sleep like a baby with the valium and I won’t have to talk to you, you crazy weirdo. Don't talk all serious, all right?”
“I love you, too, Jimmy. You need a drink more than I do.”
“I do,” I said, “Do you remember any category fives?”
“Remember the time the cathedral tower got knocked in half?”
“That was a three, or it was aimed somewhere else and we caught a little finger of it,” I said, “We’ll see what’s left of the city when everything’s over. If we’re still here, I’ll be happy to escort you around town. Walk’d be good for you, honey.”
“That’s so mean, Jimmy,” she said. “You used to like me just like I was. Carmen Garcia at church told me you were dating some black lady with kids.”
“Yeah, my new lady lives in Friendswood. She cleared out days ago for her mom’s place with her boys. Kansas City, I think. Her boys are trouble. Every time I show up they break eggs in my car.”
“Good for you, Jimmy,” she said, “You always were good with bad kids.”
I dug around a bit until I found my whiskey. I turned down the short wave so we wouldn’t be listening to it constantly in our skulls when we were trying to relax and enjoy the hurricane. I pulled out a comic book I hadn’t read, yet, that I had been saving for just this kind of a hurricane. It was an old one I picked up off eBay, an early Maxx I had never read before.
My ex-wife lay back in the bed and loosened her clothes. She took off her shirt. She had on a sports bra underneath, holding back a flood of sweaty, flabby flesh. pools of sweat can’t hold flesh She put her shirt in the dresser that devoured all her clothes.
After a while- I guess she was bored- she rolled over and said. “Hey, Jimmy.”
I grunted at her.
“Do you really think I’m getting too fat?” She touched her stomach.
“Yes,” I said, “Why do you ask?”
“Really? I thought you liked it.” she said. She played with her belly, sensuously kneading the flabby tissue like it was supposed to seduce me. I admit, it had worked once upon a time. “You’re not supposed to tell a woman she’s getting fat, Jimmy.”
“Don’t even joke about that,” she said, “You know I would.”
“And I’ll win because you’re fat and anyone can see it and if you ask me a question in a court of law I’ll have to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the goddamn truth. You’re fat.”
“Don’t be such a son of a bitch, Jimmy.”
“And you shouldn’t ask me questions when you don’t want me to tell you the truth. We ain’t married no more,” I said. “Your nose is still cute.”
“Thank you, Jimmy.”
We stopped talking a while. She rolled over onto her other side, and her mountainous rear was looking at me with the two back pockets of her jeans like hippopotamus eyes.
After I finished half the bottle of whiskey and two more comic books I’d been saving for a hurricane, I grabbed my rain coat and galoshes and told my ex-wife I was going for a walk before the worst hit.
I got out on the sidewalk along the wall that separated the city from the beach. I walked down the empty streets, avoiding all the weather reporters that seemed to think I wanted to give them a statement. I flipped them all off. I slurred something foul at them because the whiskey had hit me and I couldn’t keep it out of my speech. They let me pass on in peace. I took the stairs down to the dirty sand, but I didn’t make it halfway down the steps before I had to run back up to the road. The waves were pushing all the way up to the wall, splashing up all over the road.
There, I saw that capsized boat out in the distance.
It wasn’t a boat. It was the eye ridge of a dragon, looking above the water at the island in front of the hurricane.
I sickened me, because I thought it was a boat. I turned back towards home.
The clouds started to drizzle.
I hurried back to my basement and my whiskey and my comic books and my ex-wife.
When I got down, she had her pants off and sat on the edge of the bed in her sports bra and granny panties folding up some of my comic books into origami cranes.
I was pissed at first, but then she showed me how she was taking the pages from the piece of shit comics that weren’t worth a dime, and I didn’t mind. She had torn into a couple of Archies I had gotten as a gift from my brother-in-law. He knew I liked comic books and those were his favorite when he was a kid. I didn’t mind losing those. I kept them around in case I needed to start a fire.
I sat down with my wife, and sipped the other half of the bottle of whiskey and folded sailor hats because I couldn’t do cranes. I put a hat on me. I put a hat on her. I put a hat on the busted television and the radio. I put a hat on each bedpost. I put hats on our canned goods and each individual bottle of whiskey. My ex-wife kept at cranes. I didn’t think anyone could make cranes with rectangular paper, but she had been an art major before she dropped out of college.
She asked me about the weather like it was a normal thing to do.
“It’s just starting to get nasty out there,” I said. “Saw a capsized boat out in the water, where it’s raining. Maybe when the storm really hits we’ll get rid of those fucking weather men and then we can walk around in peace.”
“Fucking weathermen. It’s weather porn is what it is.”
Outside, where we couldn’t see it, the dragon’s head had popped over the edge of the water. He was walking up the shelf like coming in out of the rain. He was at the leading edge of the worst of the hurricane, smoke leaking out of his nostrils like two exhaust pipes.
The weathermen couldn’t quite make out what that thing was in the distance. Helicopters thought it was some kind of debris from one of the destroyed oil tankers washing in to shore. The scales were black and glossy like they were covered in oil. The eye ridges looked like the briny hulls of wrecked sailboats, each one as big as a large yacht. The eyes were black, too, all pupil. I don’t know if its eyes could see up on shore. Its huge eyes were made for the bottom of the ocean, where light that filtered down to the bottom had to be collected like flecks of invisible gold just to see a few inches.
I drank some more whiskey. I read some more comic books. I had trouble figuring out how to get one page separated from the other because the whiskey sank deep into my fingers.
“You drunk enough to tell me I’m thin and pretty?”
“Not yet,” I said, slowly, “Gimme a minute.”
“Remember when a van got rolled and a couple had to beg a ride with some other weather guys?”
“I think they bring extra vans now so they can get that shot of one getting knocked around.”
In our room with the short wave turned way down, and cheerful origami cranes covered in colors and bad jokes, and goofy sailor hats all over everything, we were completely unaware of the real news outside.
The dragon’s head had risen completely from the water, as big as a battleship, and covered in black scales. The head of the creature was clearly above the high waves. The giant neck like a living skyscraper, held the pendulous skull of the creature above the waves. There was no mistaking what it was.
With eye-ridges and black scales and the distinctive curves of the maw and the face like an evil iguana's it had to be a dragon. They were already calling it a dragon on the news.
Helicopters and airplanes brave enough to risk the storm brought cameras close. The dragon didn’t notice them. The head moved with the loping rock and bob of something with legs way down below the water, not like something swimming. It was walking across the ocean floor. The neck kept growing and growing up out of the water like it would never stop. The huge nostrils puffed bursts of steam that briefly obscured the dragon’s head behind the rippling atmospheric distortions of extreme heat.
After a long while, shoulders emerged, and a four-legged creature's spiny back. The shoulders and hips rotated in each hulking stomp. Black scales glistened from the searchlights of helicopters and film crews, braving the storm just to get a shot of the dragon.
The bottom of the sea is still a mystery. We didn’t know giant squid existed until somebody started pointing at the injuries on whales that hunted way down deep. Whole colonies of living organisms thrive and die in a vast, dark desert. We have never truly shined our lights long enough to see the down deep world.
I can only imagine it climbing up from the rift between tectonic plates. The dragon marched to shore. It warmed the waters before it. And this hurricane came for us in the dragon’s steaming hot wake, strong enough to have washed all life off Galveston Island.
My ex-wife and I fucked like drunks in my bomb shelter. Both of us were calling out the names of the other person we were supposed to be fucking right now. We weren’t making love. We were fucking. We were using each other’s bodies. We were leaving bruises and bite marks. We’d probably start hitting each other if I lasted that long. I didn’t last long. I didn’t care about getting her off, and I didn't care if she whined about it, resorting to her own two fingers.
After I was done, I wiped myself off with my discarded shirt, and threw the cloth on the vibrant origami cranes that had been watching us like curious fairies. My ex-wife still had her sailor hat on, and when I was fucking her, I was staring at the picture of some blonde bombshell that was about to get saved from certain death from a cheap, ruined Batman comic. I imagined the bombshell about thirty-six and brown-skinned with luxurious black hair, like my girlfriend. I didn’t want to think about the fat, effeminate walrus my wife was trying to imagine.
“I want to go up and see the fucking storm,” I said.
She didn’t say anything. She was still trying to get herself off.
“Do you want to come with me?”
She gave up. “Sure, Jimmy,” she said, “If I can walk.” She reached around for her clothes.
I put my pants on, and pulled my rain coat over that. It was sticky and humid with just the rain coat on, but this wasn’t really the time to worry about being sweaty.
The wind howled up above us. I heard it screaming. I heard the clatter of wooden and metal things ripped down the road. I couldn’t see out any of the windows, so I couldn’t see what was happening outside.
This was only the beginning of the real storm, when the mighty winds ripped the roofs off houses and buildings and any car out of a garage ended up rolled through a wall or a house or even out into the Gulf. The beach was going to shrink all around the island. Chaos and erosion ruled the streets.
My ex-wife touched my door knob. “Sounds like a real fucking hurricane out there,” she said.
Sirens wailed in the distance. We heard the wind like fire all around us. We felt the wind rattling at our walls like banshees in chains.
I said, “So open the goddamn door, already.”
“Stand back, baby,” she said.
She turned the knob and gave the door a push against the wind. She couldn’t open it. I took over. I turned the knob. I pushed hard with my shoulder. The wind caught the crack of the door and tore it straight open. It slammed hard against the side of my house. I winced at that. Then, the door bounced back into my face and pounded me in the face.
My nose broke like eggshells. I crumbled onto my foyer floor. All this blood gushed on my linoleum.
My ex-wife flipped me over. I looked up at her, and the wind tore at her hair and her clothes, but she was calm and helping me. She ran to my kitchen and came back with a roll of paper towels, and ice in a damp dishrag. She pressed the ice against my face. She cleaned me up, and my floor.
I didn’t say anything. I sat up, dazed. I looked out at the doorway. Just after I’d been hit, the wind tore my door off and down the street. I was looking directly at the house across the street, and the motel behind that, obscured by the sweeping rains.
The dragon’s first step on solid ground was on top of that motel. A giant lizard foot, at least as big as the motel, crushed the structure like it was just a sandcastle held together with Elmer’s glue. The impact rippled through the ground like an earthquake. The destructive crush pushed soundwaves through the hard rains loud enough to make my fillings rattle. My ex-wife, committed to my injury, and more than a little intoxicated on valium and wine coolers, didn’t seem to notice the end of the world.
The glistening black scales and those talons as large as tractor trailers rippled in the rain. I saw the gigantic ankles of the creature angling and bending because the huge and terrible body was overhead, moving: walking over us.
I gasped. I dropped the ice pack.
“Honey, it’s going to be okay,” said my ex-wife. She reached for the icepack.
I tapped her shoulder and pointed at the doorway.
She turned briefly, and then turned back to the ice pack. Then, she turned back to the leg in the motel. She screamed.
I stood up, and tried to grab her arm. She hit me and ran for the bomb shelter. I shouted at her. “I have to see this!” I said.
I heard my basement door slam shut. I heard the short wave turned up louder. I heard human voices describing Galveston’s own Godzilla emerging from the waves and walking ashore, destroying everything the hurricane didn’t.
Anyone left on the island was told to get into basements and wait for the military response.
My ex-wife screamed at me through the basement door to get back down there.
I ran into my front yard fast. The wind picked me up and put me down where I wasn’t trying to be. I snagged the trunk of an old, craggy tree and I jammed my foot into a solid fork in the branches that withstood the storm enough to keep me alive.
I looked up at the dragon walking over my head with huge, lumbering feet. I had to squint on account of the rain, and I could barely see the body of the thing where the hurricane clouds swallowed the top of the creature. Mostly I saw its legs, like demon redwoods. I saw these big, fucking claws. I heard the sirens and the screaming winds. Trucks and cars rolled down the street with no driver to catch in the monster's toes. A piece of roof was tangled up in a sailboat’s mast and inched along the beach past the leg that had smashed the motel.
Shattered bits of motel concrete and steel had mangled the side of my neighbor’s house across the street.
I hung on for my life. Brittle raindrops jammed into my busted nose like porcupine needles. The winds tore at my clothes. My raincoat was a yellow flag on a tree trunk. I hung on for dear life. I watched the dragon up above my head.
He had gotten pretty far by now. He was most of the way up the island. Two of his other feet had landed on the shore, and only his back left foot was still in the water. His paddle-like tail wagged with the winds like the dragon was trying to use his tail to keep the hurricane alive.
Lightning crashed and lightning crashed. The thing kept coming. The foot through the motel lifted off like some kind of lumbering rocket ship. I saw someone’s dead body in the crushed motel, but I couldn’t see much else in all that rain. I couldn’t make out if it was a man or a woman, just that I knew that particular curve of the shadowy rubble was once human and alive.
The third foot came soaring through the air from the black horizon. I watched it rise up into the sky from the waves in the shrouded, stormy, awful horizon. The big woosh of water rushing into the empty space rose over the storm sounds.
The foot swept through the air towards me, towards my little street and my house with my boarded up windows and my comic book 401(k) in the basement with my terrified ex-wife. I clung to that bent-up old tree for dear life just a yard or two away.
The last foot came down around me. Between two of the three front claws, my tree remained alive with me in it. The wind stopped while I was nestled between the black, sea-stinking, steaming-hot claws of the dragon. The ponderous steps of the giant creature meant that I got to sit there, nestled in the shelter of the monster’s foot for a very long time.
My house had been smashed open. The old bomb shelter, under the basement, was probably the only thing left. I heard my ex-wife screaming a little while. Then it stopped when the dragon’s giant foot took off again. The wind came back for me. I had managed to really wedge myself in good to the forks in that old tree.
My ex-wife called out my real name into the wind. I could barely hear her. I didn’t have the strength to call hers back.
The beast didn’t live very long out of the water. It walked up, and got all four feet on the island, towering over the whole city like an elephant over ant mounds. The dragon turned around as if it wanted to go back into the water, its head swinging around like it was completely confused.
Then, before the dragon got anywhere, it collapsed into a heap across the city of Galveston. The snout destroyed the famous aquariums shaped like glass pyramids. The paddle tail smashed the streets where the Mardi Gras parade rivaled New Orleans for carnal sin.
I was still clinging to that tree hard, all through the first wave of the hurricane. I couldn’t do anything else but hang on. The wind was pushing at my back hard, and tried to take me away with my rain coat. I had a good spot on that old tree, right in a solid fork where I could jam a foot in, and let the wind push me into the split trunk. It hurt like crazy, but I didn’t let go. I was there for hours until the eye landed..
By the time the eye had come to look at the wreckage the hurricane had wrought, I had no feeling from my shoulders down to my hands, and my ankle was probably sprained. I had killed a few nerves in my palms and arms, and I’d never really get feeling back in a few places. My leg’s still scarred from where the tree bit into me for hours. But I was still alive in the eye of the storm.
The hurricane winds had stripped the scales of the dead dragon, each of them like a tinted car windshield ripped up and away. Red-pink flesh and a puddle of organs were left inside the bones, with the debris that blew through the rib cage..
When the eye of the storm came, I let go of my tree. I heard my ex-wife screaming for help. I shouted at her that the fucking thing was dead, and that I had to see it, to get right up to it and touch it if I could. She cursed me and my mother and my sister and shouted that she was going to drown if I didn’t save her.
I didn’t hesitate a moment.
I loped on my bum ankle as fast as I could down the ravished city streets hopping over tree limbs and cars and pieces of buildings until I got right up to the massive body of the dragon that had come here to die.
I saw it like a new mountain in front of me, most of the scales already blown off, and the giant, wet bones and flesh catching all that debris. The awful stench was already there. The boiling saltwater that it had used for blood (if the scientists that came much later were right) had seeped out of the ruined skin and the torn scales. That steaming water cooked whole neighborhoods. All the grass was limp and dead. All the tree trunks had fallen over with roots cooked like noodles. I saw dead bodies (the three fat bikers, dead because they were just like me) steaming in the streets, empty eye sockets leaking fluids where the eyeballs had burst in the heat. I felt that dragon heat rise up my shoes. I took a moment to see if my rubber soles were going to melt.
The boiling brine had cooled enough in the storm winds and the rains for me to walk over to the dragon.
I was there before the scientists came. I was there before the National Guard could put up the yellow tape. I was there, alone, in the eye of the hurricane with the dragon. I touched the wet, pink flesh that felt like a steaming sponge.
I touched it again, on the exposed bone, where it was hard, yet rubbery like a shark’s cartilage.
I felt the first winds rising up at the edge of the hurricane’s eye. I looked around for shelter, and saw something large and black and beautiful and I knew what it was immediately. I went for it as fast as I could over the broken glass and the rising winds.
I pulled a dragon scale from the inside of an empty, upside-down news van that had caught one through the cracked windshield. I could barely hold the scale with my wounded hands after I had clung to a tree for hours on the windy side of a category five hurricane.
I took the scale into the first decent shelter I could find on that destroyed street, inside half of a coffee shop the dragon had destroyed. I hustled into the back rooms, and got a first aid kit from off the wall, along with some bottles of designer tea and water.
I heard the rain coming and the thunder belching deadly winds across the island. The hurricane was far from over. I waited it out, there, popping aspirin pills and doing what I could for all my scrapes and cuts and bruises with that first aid kit.
I wondered if my ex-wife had drowned. I wondered what she’d say to me if she hadn’t drowned.
After the hurricane, I wandered out again with my scale to see this dragon’s ruined corpse covered in debris. Billboards and auto parts and black rooftops and tree limbs and millions of leaves of lost paper and all the stinking things that had been picked up and thrown from the industrial buildings along the harbors was like monster paper mache.
Already, the first responders were there, cordoning off the flesh of the dragon. They asked me if I needed help. I ran off before any of them could take the dragon scale from me.
When the scientists rushed in to the destroyed city, they said that this dragon had died because of all the lightning. The dragon had been like a giant conductor pushing through all the storm clouds, and every ounce of lightning hit it on the head and neck, and even though the creature was hot with boiling saltwater instead of blood, steaming from its nose, the thing was not built for lightning. It didn’t take too many hits to the face before the creature collapsed into a dead, twitching heap, its flesh cooked off, and those gorgeous black scales torn away like a roof with no nails to hold the shingles down.
After that, I didn’t have my home anymore, or my 401(k). I moved in with my beautiful black woman Trailer trash from Galveston will *never* live post-Obama in this lifetime and her two wicked boys on the mainland in Friendswood.
My ex-wife left her school teacher, and her house, for San Antonio, where hurricanes are only a rainstorm at the end of a bad reputation.
When the eye of the storm came, I had run to the wall of melted dragon flesh, and not to her trapped in that ruined bomb shelter, with the rainwater filling up the floor at her feet with help from a busted pipe and filling up and filling up a little bit by a little bit until it was up to her waist and she didn’t know if she was going to live or die when the eye arrived and I wasn’t there to pull her free from the black water and floating cranes and sailor hats like capsized ships.
Then the eye passed and the water started to rise again and I was gone and she watched this water slowly swallow her until she was able to swim to the top of the flooded shelter, and the wind tore at her clothes and she pulled herself up into the neighborhood that had been completely destroyed and all the winds were still blowing at the back end of that hurricane, and she had nowhere to go, and all that debris was flying everywhere and she didn’t know if I was alive or dead.
She didn’t know what to do, how to survive.
After the worst of the storm, I strolled down the street with this big, beautiful dragon scale like I had just achieved victory and this was my trophy from another world.
I saw her sitting on the curb in front of my ruin. She stood up. She turned her back to me. She walked away.
I knew she and I would never speak to each other again about anything.
When the hurricanes come next summer, I’ll get into my lady’s car with her boys, and we’ll drive inland. I’ll carry that beautiful, black dragon scale – which is all of my worldly possessions right now - all the way to Kansas City. I’ll watch the weather men shouting like fools into microphones sandwiched between a news ticker and satellite photos of the hurricane from space. Sonar will spin away in the corners of the screens in case another dragon walks to shore.
At night, when everyone else is asleep, I’ll sneak away to the garage in Kansas City.
I’ll polish my scale until I can see my warped reflection in the black.
The scale, when it’s all polished up, looks like the surface of the Gulf. I can take it with me wherever I go: the deep water, the terrible wind and rain, the destruction, and the end of the world, and me right there flipping off newsmen, and cursing the national guard, right at the edge of all that shit, polishing my black dragon scale.