Saturday, April 21, 2007

La Phoenix Rouge Se Levant

Dear Enchanted Listener,

In the past it has been my humble and honest pleasure to simply share with you, as plainly as possible, my thoughts and experiences as they actually occurred in the form of these simple and unambiguous essais.

While I very much intend to continue these unadorned efforts, not the least of which for their moral instruction, I would like to now venture upon a new experiment, hopefully no less enlightening and entertaining, but here, for the first time, through the modality of speculative fiction.

I would ask you to imagine a fantastic and unbelievable world, one that would stretch your imagination to the limit. A city in the middle of nowhere, where the weather is different from one moment to the next. A world with enormous science and knowledge that has turned it back on both. A people who pride themselves on freedom but have none. An implausible world of solitaires.

As in the work of philosophers, we might regard this world and in so doing, discover in its impossibility, the true and authentic features of this world we actually do inhabit.

This will be my method.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The End of the Curse and the Beginning

One day, the Minotaur awoke to find that his curse had been lifted: he first noticed that his head was lighter without the horns. Secondly, he was rather shocked by the complete and total absence of the Labyrinth. His peripheral vision made him dizzy. It was strange not walking at right angles: everywhere he seemed to arrive too quickly and by too direct a path. So it was indeed all of a sudden he found himself in a gigantic city, teeming with people, some of whom addressed him as an old friend, for he was old.

The city was grey and strangely beautiful, with random weather and food in very large portions.

And what became of him there? Was there ever a labyrinth -or nothing but? And what of I his encouraging voice? Had I led him out or astray? Could I be heard outside its infinite corners, or was I, too, simply a figure of speech? A way of talking, but not a thing that talked?

I will let you know. As I know, in at least one month's time, if not sooner. Until then, fellow citizen of this merciless city of turns, know that the Encouraging Voice is not silent, but pausing to admire you. That something that speaks at all times and all places, simultaneously, without interruption, perfectly equivocal on every point can never truly be said to be silent, just as the Minotaur was never alone, nor his voice, so long as you were there to hear it.

Van Choojitarom



20 APRIL 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Fat Kid

The Encouraging Voice of the Labyrinth: Parade Edition

for L.E.B.

It was bound to happen. For years they had been talking about the rising rates in child obesity and the melting of the ice caps. Now, some of Florida was back under water, but fat had overtaken flooding. Even as infants they were heavy. They didn’t want to learn to walk, or we didn’t want to teach them. They just sort of rolled around, like hungry fat worms. Their first words were foods. Before “ma-ma” and “pa-pa.” Food was their true parent. We should have spent more time with them, but as we both had to work, this was not possible. Perhaps the sitter watched the food channel a lot. Perhaps she just gave them treats to shut them up because we weren’t paying her much. Perhaps we should have hired someone more professional, or a least someone we could communicate with, shared some rudimentary common language. Perhaps we could have been more active ourselves, cooked our own food, made better choices. But the workday is long, and coming home none of us had the motivation to do anything, much less make healthy choices. We bought items labeled “healthy choices”; they had hearts and other salutary symbols on them. Weren’t they healthy choices? We didn’t really go over each line on the packaging and even if we did, how were we to know? Programming the TV was quite enough. Coming home was quite enough. Remembering everyone’s name was quite enough.

Perhaps if we had bought just less food. But it was cheaper this way, to load up at the wholesale club. It was something we used to do together, the kids would scout ahead on their scooters and come back with items. We manned the wagon, until it was too heavy to push. We were the carrier, the mothership, they the returning scout vessels bringing back treasures of Kosher hot dogs, Chicken Kiev Puffs, Microwave Yorkshire Puddings, pre-seasoned tenderloin, giant frozen Neapolitans and Yule logs you could eat all year long. We would all try the samples. We would stop together at the cafe and get pizza and another to go. It was easier.

Our house became something of a warren, drums of ranch dressing from COSTCO, pallets of Combos and Alfredo sauce. It looked like we were opening a restaurant. We were happy for awhile. I suppose.

Of his sister, our daughter, and the stupidity of the war she died in, I will say nothing, because it is still too sad. This is about my son. Though I cannot truly tell their stories separately, I will just pretend that I can, for now.

Troubled adolescence starts younger and younger, and my son’s began quite early on. I thought I was ready for all forms of rebellion, having been a black sheep myself, but I was not.

Being a large kid, he started hanging out with some of the bulkier kids at school. We thought this was pretty normal, but they really seemed to be into just eating, and with some sort of attitude.

On the door of my son’s bedroom: EAT CHIPS and die.

Soon they were getting into minor trouble, tagging trains with their favorite foods: Beef stroganoff, MC Salisbury steak. We were concerned that the acting out and constant weight gain were signs of some other conflict, but the only conflict we could really seem to identify were the acting out and the constant weight gain, both of which were really reinforced by the fact he started listening to Fatcore music.

I like the Nutter Butters
More than any motherfuckers
Buy a cake
And freeze it
Don’t you know it’s all Tastee-Freezee
And you know Iike my eats come eazy

put some chocklit’ on it!
put some chocklit’ on it!
put some chocklit’ on it!

Hey put some chocklit’ on it, bitch!

I tried to get behind his whole portly scene, but it always predictably backfired and I got little more than:

“You don’t get it. Eating is cool. Sleeping is cool. Fat is cool.”

Things were worse the quarter he dropped out of college and moved back home. He had gained a lot of weight on the meal plan. He was now the biggest person we had ever seen. He could not fit any of the clothes we sent him to school in. He needed special facilities, accommodations. They had these in every dorm at his school. They had special dorms. He wasn’t the biggest one at his school. Far from it. The schools had tried to adapt. It was driving tuition up, because the students could not get to class without special transportation and if they did, they couldn’t fit into the older buildings. They were using tractors to bus them around, and bulldozers as lifts. There were many lawsuits. We had to fix the toilet and redesign the shower and then fix the toilet again. This all part of plans we all had, hopes. My wife said she would cook; she thought that would solve everything. We thought we could help him. I don’t know what he thought then.

I know what other people thought: because they told me all the time. They were trying to help me I know. Saccharin is sweeter than sugar: I know. Whole grains have a lower glycemic index than processed: I know. Bananas make you feel full: I know. Thirty days to a new habit: I know. If you feed him, then you are in control: you are enabling him: I know. You cannot help someone if they are not willing to admit they have a problem: I know, I know, I know.

Eventually it went from our familiar, sullen, grotesque family ritual of trying to talk casually while he feasted like a mad hog at the dinner table (it was a nauseating sight: it took hours), to where we sometimes ate separately (if at all), to where we generally ate separately, to where it was impractical to plan a meal time anymore, because he was always eating. Our living room no longer merely looked like an entire obese frat lived there. It looked like a recycling center. If you threw something away, an open container of sour cream, or a dented and flat nearly empty 2 liters of squirt and backwash, or stale set of McDonaldland fries he would know, he would know, because it was his nest, his landscape, his journal, his world and he would get angry and there would be an argument. And when he was angry and there was an argument he would eat more.

Eventually there were nothing but arguments and he was angry all the time and we were angry, then sad, then disgusted. His mom cried every night. We both lost a lot of weight, which he took badly. Then one night she stopped. She moved out. I think I could have gone with her, but then who would take care of him? It was just me and the fridge. And him.

It was not surprising. It was hard for us to admit, for me to admit: he was just a monster to us now. He just ate and ate and that was it. He was disgusting. He hardly wore clothes, because nothing would fit him and he kept getting bigger. He smelled awful because it was impossible for him to bathe properly and he sweat a lot. His face was always moist. His mouth always had food in it. The TV was always on the food network. He cooked, but never cleaned. To be fair, he could barely get around. He was an addict, and like all addicts, he wasn’t happy. If anything, he was angry. About what I didn’t know. It didn’t matter anymore.

He had friends, though. People he knew from school, and from the local fast food places. They would come over for cookouts. I somewhat encouraged this, as I thought it was good for him. They stuffed themselves. They didn’t seem to be about much else besides food. They would come over with their own food, not share and then have a cookout. They talked about food stuff that I couldn’t follow. He even had a girl over a few times. She busted the couch. I said not to worry. I still said things like that. She just laughed. She had weird bruises and smelled bad. Asymmetrical piercings that looked terrible. Once I was over in that part of the house trying to unstuff the toilet. This is what I heard:

“Put the Big Mac wrapper over my face. Pour the milkshake on my clit. Lick it. Now hit me with the hammer.”

I never went to that part of the house again.

Eventually it came to a crisis. It had always been a crisis, but I just couldn’t stand it. It was on my mind all the time at the gym. I couldn’t go on this way much longer. I couldn’t afford it. He didn’t have a job. The walk-in cooler was full of junk food and he wanted another full-size for his bedroom. There were brownouts. I left notes. He ignored them. I could not talk to him. He was always eating. Or sleeping.

I did something I had promised I would never do, that it would never reach this point. True, I had only promised my wife, and she was in Barbados, I think. I put a lock on the walk-in cooler. That first night, I lay awake, listening. It was easy to tell what part of the house he was in, from the heavy breathing and creaking of the floor. I had planned out this confrontation, many, many times. I had rehearsed my speech. I would come out, not angry or confrontational and we would talk. The substance of the talk would be: I am your father. You are an adult, but I am your father. Etc. I would wait for another time to bring up the subject of food.

I waited a little too long. He called his friends and went out. The next day, I planned to speak to him, as though nothing had happened. I found he had a decent breakfast out of the cupboards. The day after, he had pried the lock off.

I never really got around to my speech. My strength and resolve were gone. I had just enough wherewithal to put locks on everything. He had just enough wherewithal to bust or break them: he cut through the cupboards once. Another time, he unscrewed the compressor and fished food out of the walk in cooler. We had a silent nightly contest: it was like trying to trap a rat. Only it was my son.

Then, one day, I decided that this was the answer. I would poison him.

I cleared out all my accounts. The house was paid for. I had made good money as a gym instructor and nutritionist. I made one last trip to COSTCO. I left a pallet of Slimfast, Hungry Man Edition, in the living room. He would have the Food Channel for another month. Then he was on his own.

The first thing I noticed in my hotel room is how everything I had brought with me smelled, like the dumpster to a fast food restaurant. Like him. I retched. And cried.

It was a few weeks later I got a call. He was angrier than ever. I was angry too, this time. There was no new content, only all the gloves were off. I told him I wished he had never been born. On this, we seemed to agree.

The next day, I woke up early and ordered breakfast. On the terrace I called the wife: we had a nice conversation: she had learned a lot of things while traveling, done a lot of things she had always wanted to do and some other things as well. It was good catching up. We promised to get together sometime, someplace in Europe.

I started a third career. I realized I always wanted to help people, so I worked at a clinic. There was always plenty to do: they needed help. And they were always sincerely grateful. I liked them all very much and the work, though endless, was not very hard. I lived pretty simply and rode my bike to the clinic.

The city sent me a letter, a year later: I was still the owner of the house. Apparently, it had become something of a nuisance, with gangs of fat people camping out in the yard and having cookouts at all hours. It was impossible to say who was living there, but it was a cited as a sanitation hazard and an undesirable slum of obesity. The police had been by many times: gangs had taken to jumping pizza deliveries (which had blacklisted them) and holding up chicken joints and all-you-can-eat-buffets.

It was becoming a global phenomena: the vastly, morbidly and incredibly obese were forming gangs and associations with an unclear political platform. Supposedly, they opposed the Federal government and the World Health Organization for their health initiatives, which they viewed as “genocide.” They threatened to blow up health clubs if the FDA moved to ban trans fats. Reports described mobile task forces roaming the country in special modified school buses that ran on deep fryer fats, sustained on a cell network of mirrors that worked out of fast food windows.

Tags such as “FATSO,” “AYCE”, “DONUT”, “TRANSFAT-KLF” and “The 88 OREOS” started showing up scrawled all over Applebee’s and neighborhood Chili’s. In South America, they started taking over whole grocery stores as squats. As the FATSO movement became International, the FBI began cracking down. They were looking for their leaders “Pizza the Hutt,” “Darth Eater”, “Mistah Kurtz” and “Lard Humongous” Now that nearly 90% of the population was certainly obese (the definition having been stretched, many, many times), it was very hard to identify the fat activists, or “Fatscists” as the media had labeled them (also “Blimpists” “Phatlangists”). Expert alarmists on the news channels labeled our greatest fear as “a superhumongous suicide bomber”: able to carry more weight and explosives, and, for practical reasons, nearly impossible to seriously search, they estimated that the increase in explosive payload more than compensated for the proportional dampening effect. The only hopeful note was the fact that the general increase in obesity in the general population, meant that crowds were, in fact, less dense in terms of number, and effectively self-sandbagged: only the largest of ordinance could be expected to create multiple casualties.

You would not know that the world was fat from our advertising and TV. The elites were scared: they had circled their wagons and stayed skinny. In fact, the fatter the general populace became, the skinnier the models, despite many claims to the contrary. Photos of models and stars eating pizza later turned out to have been photoshopped.

I knew the real state of the world from the gym, because I couldn’t use the newer equipment, designed, like the new planes, hospital and prison beds, for a whole new class of person. But the giant stairclimbers were never used anyway. I had to drive my new car with the seat moved all the way forward. It had a built in tray for supersized fast food. I was living in a world of giants.

More letters came: special laws had been enacted to deal with the growing crisis: I was probably far from the only parent who had simply abandoned his home so it became a campground for fat people. I knew I would have to go back someday. I was just biding my time, gaining strength and information.

The old neighborhood had changed. It was nothing but burnt-out fast food restaurants and discount groceries. The convenience stores had led the way in a new era of suburban fortification, but now to protect their Nutter Butters as much as cash. There was garbage everywhere, Whopper wrappers, chip bags, giant things of mayo. Most disturbingly, the dumpsters were reinforced like safes, and Blackwater Security rode shotgun on garbage trucks as well as delivery trucks.

My house was the center of it. It was literally, a mountain of garbage, pizza boxes, split sweatpants, broken chairs, and Stouffer’s boxes. It was surrounded by a still smoldering chain of barbecue pits and grills that dripped evil smelling grease. It was something much cruder than primitive, more grotesque than decadent, full of more malicious waste than neglect, an orgy fueled by something worse than any hunger. The atmosphere was a sickening mixture of the feculent and the savory, but choking with the smell of a herd of overweight humans. Which were nowhere to be seen.

Instead I saw their indiscriminate waste and refuse, and several new slogans that I did not recognize: “AYCE 4EVR,” “FATSO HQ,” “XXXXXXXXL AND IN CHARGE” “ONE DOLLAR, ONE BIG MAC, ONE VOTE, ONE BULLET,” “NO PIZZA, NO PEACE.” “NOBODY DOESN’T LIKE SARA LEE.” My head spun. I was suddenly quite tired. They had come like locusts and left only White Castle wrappers. I kept walking through my old house, cheeze puffs crunching underfoot. Every room was the same crawling pile of grease stained cardboard, clotted spaghetti sauce and ranch dressing. I came to his room. The floor had given way. Here, as throughout, the corners and doorways were busted and dented from the egress of titanic beings and the walls and furniture showed the tremendous wear and stress of an enormous struggle, like they had been in the den of an elephant: the enormous daily struggle of my son getting around. At points, the dented hand prints and elbow marks showed the first layer of paint in the room: the paint we had chosen for his room as a baby.

This is where our baby lived. This is where he slept and played. This where he had his first Hostess Ding-Dong. I sat on the crumbling edge of the bed and cried. I fell into that stinking pounded mattress, quite literally spilling into it’s cup, so full of that wretched sweaty stench, the stench of my child. I pulled the sheets and KFC containers on top of me. I wept. In a pile of stale Cheetos, I wept.

I did not move, a long, long time. I thought I could escape this, but how could I? I wished his mother was here. Then, no. If she had somehow escaped this nightmare, the better for her. Somehow, it belonged to me, and me only. I had another life. I had several other lives. I helped others. Why must I live here? Why was this my true fate? Why could I not deny it? It was surely not the example of my own father. He had gone from being a tyrant to being an old, frightened man and then merely invisible. Fathers were disposable. They taught you some practical matters, but in the end, they were simply other men, older men of another generation.

I suppose I slept.

It was not hard to hear them coming: the whole house creaked. I would they rather appeared to me like a dream, but they arrived like dump trucks. I did not need to hide. It is not easy to be surprised or snuck up upon by the hugely obese. I suppose I let them capture me. I had no where to go. They wrapped me up in my son’s blanket and dumped me in the back of a vehicle.

-Where are you taking me? I asked, from the back of the Krispy Kreme truck.

“To see Jabba” they said, and they threw milk duds at me.

With the sheet around my head I could not see. I was sure they were taking false routes to confuse me, that is, until I heard them bickering about directions. They also stopped for snacks I few times. And at least at one Big Boy’s, because I heard them at the take out window. Fortunately, I was well provided for inside of the sheet: I couldn’t even finish the slice of Chicago style pizza that I had been inadvertently wrapped up with.

When the sheet was finally removed, I was, of all places, in a Japanese restaurant. It was a clean arrangement of lines and forms and: empty. I walked forward on the silent bamboo matting. Some green tea sat waiting for me on a little tray. As I sat to drink the tea, I regarded a brilliant silk mural hung in the dim distance, showing the face of an enormous Japanese Ogre; only upon closer inspection, the ogre was composed of cheese, Italian sausage and pepperoni. Then it began to rotate, and I realized that it was the back of an enormous kimono.

Even before the figure had completed its ponderous rotation, its voice reached me. It was deep and thoughtful, and I recognized it, though it was so much older.

“Are you hungry, father?”

I replied that no, I was fine.

He said that the fare here was really not so heavy, that he admired Japanese food for its sparseness, its emphasis on preparation, freshness and presentation.

He was, of course, enormous.

He then looked at me gravely, with heavy lidded eyes and yet a face so like my own, and like his mothers.

“I want to apologize to you father. For many years now I must have appeared ungrateful, angry and wretched. And I was. I know you tried very hard in your own way to be the best father you knew how to be and I respect you enormously for it. I know I caused you and mother a great deal of hardship, unhappiness and heartbreak. Forgive me, if you can, for I am truly sorry. You were great and noble people for trying so hard and long to love something like myself. And this was the tragedy.”

“I did not understand myself for the longest time: I thought I was like you, like Mom and I hated myself, oh so deeply, for not being able to be like you and Mom. An anger and hatred and loathing so great nothing else could reach me. I spent most of my life hating myself and my body and everything I was and the world. And I grew larger and larger.
“But I did not realize I was creating something. I was building my own mountain to overcome. It was a long fearsomely dark struggle: please do not think you could have changed it. No one could have changed it or helped.”

Perhaps I looked puzzled.

“Let me try and explain. There is a wise experiment they ask you in the fat clinics as to what kind of body you would choose if you had a choice before you were born. Whatever you answer, they ask you to consider the possibility that this has already happened.”

“Our world is dying, father. It is dying simultaneously, of obesity and starvation. It is dying of waste and greed. It is dying of selfishness. Our bodies were the first sign of this process. The body is always the first wisdom. My anger and hopelessness, were that I could not understand what I was or was becoming.”

“Obesity is a disease. But only those who have been exposed to the disease have resistance to it. Our bodies are the cure for this entire planet. This was my awakening. Our obesity is not a simple personal failing: it is the attempt of a whole system to respond to a crisis we have created. It is our species’ response. It is our planet’s response.”

“The body begins storing fat in response to cortisol, a hormone released in times of stress. Human life has become more and more stressful, the planet more and more distressed. We eat more in response to cold weather, darkness -we gain weight to prepare for leaner, darker times, for hibernation.”

“Did you ever wonder what the letters in “FATSO” stood for?

Wikipedia said it stood for “Food All the Time, Snacks Occasionally.”

“It does not. But you weren’t to know. It stands for ‘Fit for the Apocalypse Tomorrow, Someday, One Day.’”

So it was true. They were overweight millennialists. My son continued:

“In the coming cold and darkness, only the greatest will survive. There will be no food. Starvation will become rampant. The most efficient way of storing food is the body’s own tissues.

“We were born as we are so that mankind might survive and have a second chance. We were born to protect humanity. We will sleep in the earth as giants and hibernate. When we emerge, the Earth will have recovered and we will start again.”

This was madness and sad rationalization, I thought. These people were sick, my son was sick, sick and mad with fat and leading them lord knows where into what kind of cave.

It all flooded out of me. The talk about how obesity was a disease, of how he was killing himself, about how study after study had shown that it was lifestyle, eating choices and the industrialization and processing of food that has led to the worldwide outbreak of obesity and wasn’t it obvious?

“No, that was a study on the data from the old study. They just did a new study. It turns out there weren’t enough fat people in the previous study. And they weren’t fat enough. As it turns out we may be the first human generation to really be able to study obesity properly. Obesity is almost certainly linked to a virus. And that’s not all. Sadness, is also a virus. And hopelessness. This is why you should always wash your hands after talking to complete losers. Hate is a virus. Ignorance is a virus. Sexual addiction is a sexually transmitted virus. The virus that causes obesity has a message. And that message is the future.”

But the polar caps have melted, world temperatures are rising, not falling.

“Yes. And they will continue to rise until the caps are gone and thermohaline circulation shuts down. The Northern Hemisphere will freeze. The cloud cover will increase. Our world will become one long, cold, dark blizzard.”

As I looked in his eyes, I realized the nature of his organization.

My son, my son, what have you done?

“Nothing, yet. But there is a coming struggle that cannot be avoided. The end of this world of ours will not be pleasant and those in charge care nothing for whether humanity lives or dies as a whole. They only care about holding on the power they have. the power given to them by the idea of ‘fat’, the myth of ‘obesity.’

“They are not content to let us exist, father. They will not allow us to coexist.”

In his robes, he was magnificent, a mountain. And here, he spoke as a general, without doubt or hesitation, with command:

“They’re going to take us away and put us in camps. Fat camps. If humanity is to survive, we must resist them.”

What will you do?

“The world has already seen what one ‘Fat Boy’ can do.”

My son, my son, they just want to help you, like I wanted to help you.

“Your intentions were good, but you still do not understand. This is not about “fat people” or “skinny people.” Those are their words: that is how they control us. Everyone is going to be fat, one way or the other, by fact or fiat, or in their own minds. Everyone. The fat have no rights. The fat are slaves. We will all be slave labor.”

“Fat is the future. Their “fat” is a prison, but true fat will set you free. This is the true
‘good’ fat.”

“As long as there is fat and skinny, there will be struggle and shame and eating disorders. Only by embracing fat, the most extreme fat, can we be free.”

Behind the screen, I knew, was an army. His army. The biggest and largest and greatest ever assembled. He was their general and their prophet, in a holy war to save all mankind. He did not show them to me. He did not need to.

Instead he drew himself a simple cup of tea and quietly sat down beside me.

“The body is the picture of the soul. I am large: I contain multitudes. I did not know I contained such goodness.”

And for the first time, I was proud. So very proud.

TURN #105: WEEK 91; WORDS: 109,610; NEXT BY 21 MARCH 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lost Dog

In the warmthless dusk of the red giant sun, a top a mountain range on the boiled away ocean sea floor, on Earth at the end of days, is a vast stone tablet, stolen from a bible movie, used by time travelers as a kind of message board. The scripts are extremely varied and palimpsest, ranging from neat Hangul to obscenities in scratched Volapuk, to an indecipherable and giant alien hand that seems to crawl up the sides and around the back, that is often a cause of wonder and concern among travelers. It is so huge it is usually taken for a meteorite strike, increasingly common through the thinning atmosphere, only upon closer inspection, it has an unmistakable, but distinctly inhuman regularity to it. By some trick of the light, it seems to writhe as you walk around the tablet, and no traveler traces the strange tentacle like marks without something of a shudder as to their meaning.

Even stranger is the presence of ancient languages predating the era of known time travel, Sumerian, Old English and French.

Here are some selections from when I was there last:

"I taught love to a race of filthy cave people that only knew fucking. All I got was a pleasant summer of spoiled fruit, a way to stay warm in the winter, and an ill-made spear in my back. Perish Albion."


"Polymath Frenchman and open-minded Englishman seek well-hung sailor for good times across time. We saw it all coming, now you can, too"


"There is a fire
In your Mother's house I know
Because I set that fire
And she ran
To save your baby pictures
But the fire ran fast
Because I used gasoline

And how she tried
To keep your dollies and ribbons
And awards
That you won in the Tenth grade
But they burned
In her arms
And her hair

And as I watched it burn
And made sure your mother never came out
I thought of you
And your delightful baby pictures
Like a bug
In your little blankies
What a shame
What an awful, awful shame

Now we sit
In a restaurant by the river
And we laugh
Because champagne makes you laugh
And because I say
Time, time you know is like a river
And, not, not like a
A burning house"

"Lost: Tin Dog. Answers to whistle and polite address."

I looked for my friend, but he was not there.

TURN #104: WEEK 90; WORDS: 104,851; NEXT BY 14 MARCH 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Understanding Advertising

for DMS

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?

Melville, Moby Dick, Ch. XXVI

Unable and powerless to circumvent my miseries, daunted, discouraged and unable to face reality, I thought it prudent to seek the help of a professional, and yet the traditional forms of therapy and the conventional efforts of psychiatrists having failed, I realized I needed to invest my faith in some higher power, something greater than myself or even science.

Fortunately, we live in an age already Enlightened and one that has successfully found the true faith, and what is better, true force, its proof.

The office was quite modest, but in excellent taste, contemporary, but relaxed. The receptionist evinced a kind interest without being invasive, asking if I needed help with my plastic bags or if I needed more kleenex.

At the appointed hour I was scooted into the conference room as smoothly as a new vacuum cleaner and greeted with an friendly informal air upon two quick pinstriped strides by a young smart professional, as though I were visiting a colleague or an old friend: she had that air, of an old towheaded friend from college who hadn’t aged discernibly, but still come into her own, only having to weather the receipt of a better watch, a decent hairstylist and a private tailor in the process.

After some brief introductions I was made quite comfortable in the nicest chair I had ever sat in and before I could quite situate the box of kleenex I had taken with me, the lights dimmed like a closing lid and, equally soundlessly, screens and speakers slid out in a style that would have suited any number of Bond antagonists. Suddenly I was kayaking down rapids with young athletic people, to a swirl of the skies and wash of the rocks, whose merry excited cries were (through some arrangement of speakers) as my own. Their sunlit backs, beneath the bright livery of life vests were beautiful. I wanted to masturbate. Suddenly we wiped out and we were gliding above an infinite plain of perfect ebony chocolate, upon which a deluge of caramel and cookie crumbs came thundering with apocalyptic intensity. Then a crying child and a talking sunflower, more helicopter shots of mighty trucks and enormous burgers: it was a phantasmagoria, especially for someone who had no television and spent a lot of time in the dark listening to disaffected rats lose their way. Gradually I came to understand that this was their demo reel and that many of these spots were famous in their own right: at least two had been made into movies or television, though I was not sure if it was movies or television that featured a super-absorbent lumberjack.

When the lights came back on, one was tempted to applaud, as though at an awards show, for it was with such a gratifying and sure smile she stepped forward. For there were to be noticed, surely enough, ensconced in tasteful angles at modest intervals, an array of shiny and wholly unfamiliar awards, most in dazzling lucite, presenting a glacial appearance, much like Superman’s home.

With the ease of a talk show host welcoming an old friend who has a new movie coming out, she slid into the couch opposite me and drew up a look of positive interest. This is all well and good, she said modestly, by way of introduction, but the important question is: what can we do for you today? She said this extraordinarily, somehow putting the stress and accent distinctly on every word, making each seem like a revelation.

Every campaign we do, she continued, is unique, because each of our client's needs are unique -because (and this rolled out gnomically): each of our clients is: unique.

I meditated on this in silence.

She resumed the lesson: For instance, I see you are wearing slippers, she observed. This was not, strictly speaking true. I was wearing half a slipper, the half that had survived. The sole had simply turned black and scraped off like a scab sometime ago. I remember touching it and feeling how cold and fleshy it was, black and soft like a piece of discarded gum. It was not an affectation that I had only the worried wooly socks and the strained upper deck of a slipper. I had meant to put on shoes for this meeting, but I couldn’t find one, or found one, but not the other, or found both, but not at the same time. There was a nap in between, you see, a few naps, actually. The naps made me feel somewhat better, at least until I woke up. I had, however, managed to hold on to a bold tie, whose casual deployment went far in terms of covering my misbuttoned shirt.

This says to me that you are comfortable, that you are at home, as it were, ready to rest, she concluded.

This was indeed very perceptive. I felt very much like napping, as I did most of the time I was awake.

You are: casual. We speak: casually. America is a casual country. “Welcome to Casual Country.” You see?

Someone did indeed see. Someone wrote it down, while others taped it.

I like to think: aloud. But even more: I love to listen.

Now: what can we help you with: today?

My voice came at a great distance, with something of a delay, as though from a distance place, stuffed with cotton and dampened inside a sunken diving suit made of bell jars. It was with such leaded effort that I spoke, I did not recognize my words, or my voice:

I want to ...want to live

She blinked thoughtfully and said with a confident smile:

I am sure that we can sell that

And who is your target audience, who is the end consumer?

I am. I have to want to live my own life.

These happy active people in kayaks, I wanted to say, they were no good to me because I was not happy and active and I did not have a kayak. I wanted to be sold on my life, on my living. I had no argument with other people and their happiness. But I did not share it. But what I said was “kayaks...” and then trailed off.

Well, she said, in your own words, tell me about your product and your target audience: tell me about this life of yours

I told them that I lived in my old ancestral home, that it was rather dark and overgrown and was slowly, but certainly sinking into the dank tarn and suffered from a rather prominent central fissure that threatened to divide it. I told them that I lived alone, which was again, not strictly true, but it was hard enough to go into and I could see them straining to meet me halfway already. I went on a bit about the mold and the miasma and the mildew, too much really, for it was hard to select among the details of my misery and I had not spoken at length (or briefly) to anyone for some time and so nothing had any criteria of relevance, or the contemporary, but came out all at once in a way that was difficult to understand, like an old book. They listened, though, bright, attentive and patient, more so than any mental health professional I had ever consulted.

You were right to come to us, she almost whispered. Your problem is a familiar one. You might say that it is as old as humanity itself. You might call it the human problem: supply and demand. You have a life. From the looks of things, at least twenty more years of it. You don’t want it. You cannot make your existence much cheaper as, from the looks of things, you aren’t spending much to invest or maintain it. If you could change it or where you found it, you no doubt would have already.

This is a classic problem, then, of promotion.

With an air that was thematic, yet natural, she gestured and clear, ice cold refreshing water appeared. She motioned for me to take a water bottle and to keep it with their compliments.

I have a lot of old water bottles. Some with still some water in them. All over the house, but mainly the kitchen, the bath and piled near the bedside.

This is different, she said, this is a Nalgene. It is used by sports and health professionals. See how it makes ordinary filtered tap water appear like a magic elixir of strength and vitality. It is the holy water of our times. It is a genie in the bottle. It is never half-empty or half-full: it is always halfway through your workout: halfway to triumph and achieving your personal goals, your personal best: you are always finishing, arriving, on the go, coming from the gym or going to the gym. This is what success looks like: it is transparent and simple. People who are struggling, that is, unsuccessful, drink coffee in stained and puckered cups. People who are successful drink water.

-Plain water?

-There is no such thing as “plain water.”

In the fancy stage quality lighting of the room, the water did indeed appear like a special effect.

-You see, don’t you? But let me clarify what it is that you see. Before I continue any further you must understand: This is not: an illusion. This is not: a misrepresentation or a deception. We do not present things in a false light to promote or sell them. We do not approximate an ideal through an imperfect medium. We do not sell dreams. We do not manipulate or persuade.

The empty screen slid aside to reveal a panoramic wall of glass opening upon the splintery expanse of the city and the ball of the sun, a view much like from the bridge of a starship.

The world, she said, is not the totality of facts, or things, for neither facts nor things exist by themselves, but only as phenomena for a subject, a consumer, at a particular time and a particular place. The present, what is now, is only intelligible through what is now not: the past and even what may never be: the future. The universe is, for us, as it must be for living organisms, a universe of desires, knowable and discoverable only through our needs and wants.

Her hair shone in the sunlight. Little wisps of hair escaped her stylist and danced around in it.

Goods and services, she clarified. We are creatures given hope to meet with present needs and wants.

With a casual playful gesture, she spun and rearranged the pillows on the couch, inadvertently revealing a trim and athletic figure, much suited to the smart young professional.

After all, all currency is simply a promise to pay and nothing more, she concluded.

She came in to a conspiratorial distance. I noticed the brown of her eyebrows and, for the first time realized that, for such a formidable presence, she was a little shorter than me.

The universe is unintelligible without desire: it’s like watching a porno film before you know or care what sex is: you will ask: why do Pizza guys keep arriving? Robots will get nothing out of watching the Food Channel.

She knotted herself in a girlish way, but her features took on an adult look of concern and compassion.

-This is what has happened to you: you have fallen into some eddy, some cut-off cul-de-sac from the greater universal current of desire.

Life has always had its own advertisement, its own promotion, she breathed. This is why it is so popular.

She smiled, differently this time. Then she looked uncertain. Then she leaned in and kissed me. She then ran a series of saturated spots that gained interest and built considerable excitement and buzz without tiring out her target demographic.

Oh dear, I said.

It is sometimes the case, she said evenly, that an ad campaign can be wildly popular and even enter into the popular culture without actually serving its purpose and promoting its product. She had this adorable way she bit her lip. She also seemed to work muscles swaying back and forth when she rode her bike that other people did not seem to engage when they rode theirs.

She continued: an effective ad campaign is like Brawny and his companion, Babe the Super-Absorbent Blue Ox. Together, there is no stretch of the wild Yukon they can’t clean. After the second movie, (not as good as the first, I know, but it wasn’t my idea to send them to Australia) parents would just buy their kids rolls of paper towels so their kids could play in the bathroom (or if they were smart, the kitchen).

I knew how she liked her grapefruit. Her apartment was remarkably complimentary to her office. They invited the same set of exposures. Her place, if anything, was somehow even more relaxed, contemporary and smartly professional. She had one of those toasters that worked like a CAT scan machine.

In contrast to this, she said, biting off the stem of a strawberry, demonstrating that painfully cute overbite, consider the Burrito Bat. Everyone loves the Burrito Bat, hanging upside down, all wrapped in its wings like a burrito. People buy t-shirts and air fresheners to hang from their rearview mirrors that look like Burrito Bat. People come by the restaurant to buy Burrito Bat merchandise. But they do not buy “Transylvania-Style” Burritos, possibly because they are vile, but also because the iconic Burrito Bat gained popularity without attaching any value to it’s product or transferring any interest.

I made for her hair. She pulled away.

This sort of failed cathexis is technically known as failed transference.

She turned and looked at me. It was my big chance to show her that I had nibbled “I love you” into my toast. This wasn’t easy.

Go home, she said. Go home. We will try again.

As I crawled out of her place I heard her remark that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

I soon discovered that she was right: I was no more in love with life than before. If anything, I was really against it now. Of the various coupons and fliers she sent, I totally lost interest once I had scrutinized them and seen that they held no secret message of affection, or rather, I gave up looking. I also got her bill.

On her advice I had gotten a TV, a huge one. This did, indeed, relocate the center of my operations from my unmade bed to the couch. Otherwise, no change, other than that I viewed each and every ad that poured forth every hour of every day as a perhaps some secret communication of love: was she somehow the girl in the Valtrex ad? Did she want me to get a better rest with Ambien? Was the fluffy deodorant bear intended to comfort me?

I lived then, in some alternation between total fantasy and complete withdrawal. It was with some inspired disbelief, then, that I answered the phone to hear her voice.

How are you? she asked, not leaving the appropriate interval for an answer. Listen, we have something really big for your product. It doesn’t get bigger than this. It’s going to be totally underground, ambient, stealth and viral, but its also going to be the biggest, most spectacular production with the biggest upfront audience.

What is it?

The Super Bowl, she said, we have a Super Bowl Ad for you that will make history.

I’ll mark my calendar, I said, having no actual idea where my calendar or a pen might be.

Okay, she said, but it’s today. She was gone.

I stumbled through the channels until I found men in ties talking about nothing. As half-time came up, the most dazzling efforts of her peers came on, but I could recognize nothing that resembled an ad for my life. There was an ad for nachos, that was surely part of my life, but this made me want to have nachos, not to live, and not to live for nachos, either. Disappointingly, the game resumed. Had I missed it? Men in ties commented on the actions of men in helmets. Rules and laws were cited. People yelled. It rained briefly. There were some more ads, but these did not even make me want to drive off road in the Great American West.

I awoke to the buzzing of the phone.

Did you see it? she asked.


The rain, the rain. Millions and millions saw it rain.

She paused.

You made it rain. And thousands of people felt in on their faces.

Tomorrow morning, she said, you will make the sun rise. After that, who knows?

And for the first time, I understood advertising.

-Do you love me?


-Do you give yourself to me?


-Do you belong to me?


-Do you understand advertising now?

I did: “Plain water” “mineral water” -People speak of there being a “code” to objects, as though what we did was some application of psychology and persuasion. It is not. It is the other way around.

The world is the code. It is, at its core, for human beings, symbolic, meaningful. That is to say, it is, in reality, transcendental. The world is all that is the pitch, because only the pitch captures what can be and our agency and relation to the world.

-Tell me what you understand.

The world is like a yard sale, I said. What creates value is exchange. What is the past, junk, refuse, a thing with no purpose, becomes beautiful and valuable through the occult of another’s desire. What is heavy, dusty and obstructive, becomes light, clean and mobile. Exchange and flow are life: meeting people in your neighborhood, taking, giving, learning people’s names. Without exchange, where things are hoarded and squandered, where there is no circulation, death follows.

The world we live in is a world of commodity and desire.

-Are you mine?


She smiled a sweet sad smile and cut the clothes from my shoulders.

-And so?

Animals negate directly, but it is most human to want what others want.

-And so?

By your selling me into slavery, my life becomes valued and owned by another, so that I might also come to value and own it.

-Yes. Also there is some evidence that flogging raises serotonin levels, at least temporarily.

The whole thing was a little too Hegelian, but the master calls.

The yoke pulled my shoulder and I followed on bare feet. It did not allow me to turn my head to look back.

Words repeated, we believe: for it is advertising and not death that shows us that we are not gods.

TURN #103: WEEK 89; WORDS: 104,434; NEXT BY 7 MARCH 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

I Love Babies! With Some Reservations

Charles Ray, Family Romance, 1992

It's a good thing you skipped town this weekend, because there was some king of arts thing downtown and I'm pretty sure we would have gotten in trouble because it was perfectly horrible: it was like those little kiosks that grow in the barren retail scrub land of the center of dying malls with various things in crystal that should not be in crystal and paintings that seem to have been inspired by the vivid Impressionist colors on Kleenex boxes.

The only cute part was the babies, and that's awkward, because one never knows how and when to make eye contact, talk to or pick up a baby. There is no casual form of baby address, no non-committal "Hey, how's it going?". No, once you have decided to engage a baby, you're committed, you're stuck and usually in a declining social situation where the baby has every advantage.

Worse still, once you've gone all out and decided to pick up a baby, there is still potential awkwardness, particularly if the mother will not let go. "Let go of the baby." you say, clearly and firmly, but they don't let go and instead you see this look in their eyes that you have arguably never seen in another human face before. "My baby!" they cry, or something like it (like that settles the matter) and soon you are in a sort of tug of war over the baby that really does no one credit. "Somebody help me please, he's trying to take my baby!" they yell, and soon there is a crowd of people, apparently not busy enough on their own buying crystal narwhales and unicorns -and who do you think they side with?

You try and reason with them: "I'll kill you -I'll kill all of you", you constructively offer "now give me that baby." I mean, you just want to hold the baby, like a human being and is that such a crime? The baby is cute, it has little winky eyes and tiny fingers and wispy hair and now, now they've all upset the baby, and the baby is crying and it is all their fault.

"Please," you appeal, "think of the baby" and at this point you brandish either a can of gasoline or a bomb or whatever it is you use to deal with irrational people who will not listen to reason. If you don't have a can of gasoline or a bomb, then you are clearly not thinking this whole thing through.

This is why, if you really like babies, you should always just snatch them up out of their cribs a night and immediately get airborne on some sort of broom.

Of course, if you ever see parts of this published somewhere, you might think: what a perfectly awful person. And that's not really fair. What I am is lazy. And I sent it to you first.

Hope you are feeling better, Julio


TURN #102: WEEK 88; WORDS: 101,237; NEXT BY 28 FEBRUARY 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On The Ultimate Pleasure

People ask me how I do it. I tell them it’s because I care. That it’s not me, but themselves. I tell them it is a matter of a simple diet of oats and barley, reading Marcus Aurelius and regular exercise. At most, I tell them that it is a matter of training one’s pubococcygeus muscle, until one’s sexual response is as under one’s voluntary control as a sly wink.

All this is true, but I must hide the greater truth for the initiate. Love is universal, which is to say that it is wholly empty. The universe, of which it is composed, is equally empty. As we grow toward enlightenment, love is a painful illusion that must be destroyed to make room for the practice and discipline of sexuality.

In these intimate acts I seek to destroy all intimacy and am no one. This is my general project and the project of this civilization as a whole.

This is what the Master taught me, but could not teach me, so long as I lived as a human being.

So this is my message, that I have wrapped in these blankets. I have sent them to the mountains with my ashes, for if returned, they would return as fire to the valley.

Among the Quadi at the Granua.

If you should wish to experience the ultimate pleasure and share it with your partner, know this: the ultimate pleasure comes with ultimate risk and is for those who would overcome themselves entirely.

There are 44 paths to the Ultimate Pleasure.

This is one path:

Our sexuality is reflected in how we talk, how we eat, how we defecate -in short, our whole being. Our being is caught up with time. Time is most simply: regularity and the possibility of regularity: in short, rhythm.

Sex is a matter of this rhythm.

Rhythm has it’s most human expression in music. Therefore, if you would perfect the act of love, study music, motion and dancing.

Further, you must practice music. Once you have, achieved some mastery of both lovemaking and music, independently, if you would have the ultimate pleasure for yourself and your partners, you may begin to combine the two.

Begin by gently singing to your partner during the act of love something simple and regular, like:

Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon
You come and go
You come and go
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dream
Red, gold and green
Red, gold and green

If you do not know the words, do not make them up, as this will confuse and distract both of you. If there are many present, this could easily lead to an argument. And do not mispronounce “chameleon.”

You may begin with recorded music, but ultimately best of all is the music you make yourself during the act of love, particularly if you are some sort of one man band.

As women love musicians and men love women who think they are talented, so it is natural that one try to accent the moment of love with one’s own creations. If they ask you: What the hell are you doing? Simply reply: I’m blowing on my jug, baby.” You will then generally be free to go on an extended solo serenade while the other person gets dressed.

Air guitar during sex is a whole genre of action and deserves a separate address.

Another similar path is to approach the bedroom as one would approach a sporting event, to be highly and loudly spirited and bring and consume a lot of the same things, particularly the air horn.

From another master: call and response: “Take me to the bridge, baby. Take me to the bridge. Ow! Good God! I gotta kiss myself!”

Approach the body of your beloved as a sculptor approaches his sculpture: a little drunk and stoned with four years of useless education wearing a welder’s mask.

Speak to your lover as though they were a lost child in a department store and you a big policeman helping that child; but act as though that policeman has a lot of dark, serious problems and should be taken off the force immediately.

Do not dress as a pirate. At this point, everyone has made love to a pirate. Usually, it has not been so good.

The essence of sexuality is mystery and imagination. Preface the act with some sort of brainteaser. If you are both proficient, you may both reach the answer simultaneously. Be mindful to choose a question that is stimulating, but not distracting. Avoid such questions as: “What is the rotation of my ceiling fan in hertz” ‘What did I have for lunch?” and “What do you suppose this rash is?”

Lube the bear.

Inexperienced people, young people, may not know what to say during the act of love. Encourage them by suddenly calling out what you think they should say:
“Oh baby, so good. You do it so good. [Your Name] is the best ever. Lick my face like a puppy again. This is incredible. I wish my mother was here.”

Don’t fear the reaper. Similarly, don’t pay the ferryman until he takes you the other side.

Dedicate at least five years to the study of the Erotic Chess Story

To stir up a man to the contempt of death this among other things, is of good power and efficacy, that even they who esteemed pleasure to be happiness, and pain misery, did nevertheless many of them contemn death as much as any. And can death be terrible to him, to whom that only seems good, which in the ordinary course of nature is seasonable? to him, to whom, where his actions be many or few, so they be all good, is all one; and who where he behold the things of the world being always the same either for many years, or for few years only, is altogether indifferent? O man! as a citizen you have lived, and conversed in this great city the world. Where just for so many years, or no, what is it unto you? You have lived (you may be sure) as long as the laws and orders of the city required; which may be the common comfort of all. Why then should it be grievous unto you, if (not a tyrant, nor an unjust judge, but) the same nature that brought you in, does now send you out of the world? As if the praetor should fairly dismiss him from the stage, whom he had taken in to act a while. Oh, but the play is not yet at an end, there are but three acts yet acted of it? You have well said: for in matter of life, three acts is the whole play. Now to set a certain time to every man's acting, belongs unto him only, who as first he was of thy composition, so is now the cause of thy dissolution. As for thyself; you have to do with neither. Go thy ways then well pleased and contented: for so is He that dismiss you.

from fragments signed: "from THE MASTER OF SEX"

TURN #101: WEEK 87; WORDS: 100,730; NEXT BY 21 FEBRUARY 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My Florida Job On A Pale Horse

The Author On His Way To Work

One of the most persistent mistaken beliefs about my stay in Florida, so persistent that I myself have been caught believing it, is that I have no occupation, no fixed mode of living and wake up sometime in the afternoon with barely enough time to get out to the beach in time to scrape myself up an appetite for the cocktail hour. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I have, in fact, risen as early as ten o’clock on several occasions and sometimes not even gone back to bed.

More to the point, I do, in fact, have a quite regular and respectable job nude modeling (actually, a little more than simple modeling is involved, so it is really like nude role-playing with a lot of running and screaming thrown in). In addition to this, I am gainfully employed, as needed, by a local tour company that caters to seniors, where I can even say that I was chosen for my philosophical training, for as the Phaedo has it: philosophy is training for death. I work as a tour guide on Pale Horse Tours, a Florida based company whose luxury day cruises are designed to emphasize the fleeting beauty of life, the impermanence of all things and the ultimate desirability of death, in a fully handicap accessible fashion via air-conditioned tour buses with three gourmet (yet ultimately cloying) meals at local restaurants and two between meal snacks included: “the beautiful ride to the place topside.”

The tour begins early: a lot of older people wake up before dawn and we see no reason to keep them waiting. No matter how early we get the bus to the hotel, there is always some older person who is well waiting: this is good. This person is almost ready. If he is having a smoke, so much the better.

The morning introductions are by far my favorite part. Everyone climbs aboard the cold still bus and there are the chirpy friendly sounds of senior ladies saying hello and being polite and kind in a way you fear no humans ever will be again. It is still quite dark out. It is like those winter morning rides on the school bus, perhaps when you are going on a field trip somewhere special. Very special. This is what we want people to experience, it is an integral part of the service we offer.

The microphone comes on very low and deep and at first you are not sure who is talking. It is like you are still asleep. Sometimes we begin in a foreign language that no one present speaks. The engine makes a subliminal hum, powerful and enveloping, regular like a heart beat. They are waiting. They are ready.

“This is how it all begins,” we say “in the dark, in the cold. In confusion and ignorance. In the youth of youths. A blank slate: tabula rasa. Before “Ma-ma” and “Da-da.” Before words. We are naked, but we do not know we are naked. We do not know Good and Evil, our name: it cannot be said we know we exist. But we do. We have wanted nothing and have asked for nothing. But the world exists and it does not ask for us. It takes us THERE.”

At this, the bus shoots out of the parking garage into the now bright morning sunlight. A few ladies (and sometimes men) yell.

“Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. Pale Horse Tours welcomes you to sunny Sarasota. We hope you enjoy your stay here with us and the pleasant but all-too fleeting wonderful day we have planned for you. Local time is 8:00. Today should be an absolutely gorgeous day with a high about 68. You should hold onto those sweaters, though, for as the sun rises, he surely sets and tonight’s overnight low will be a cool 45. Now that we’ve all been born, who’s ready for breakfast!?”

Their first meal is a simple one, with a preponderance of dairy and soft foods: this is really what many are accustomed to anyway, but we go the extra distance and provide them with rubber spoons and applesauce in Gerber jars. There is zwieback and an assortment of porridges. They are all of the finest quality and no one ever complains, they are usually quite pleased at their fresh squeezed juices in sippy cups. There is coffee, for those who wish it, but we much prefer them to have a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary: these are more conducive to our overall message.

The mornings are very pleasant: we tour the neo-natal ward of Sarasota Memorial Hospital: every Grandparent loves babies, especially someone else’s. Our next stop is the exclusive Happy Times Day Care (slogan: “Mommy and I are One”). The entrance always gets oohs and ahhs as the furniture is done to scale from a toddler’s perspective, with giant chairs and blocks. The seniors are fitted with cumbersome padded suits, which make them very clumsy and prone to fall down, but are designed to protect them when they do. We spent a lot of money and research into the rug. The easiest way to get around in the suits, which are deliberately top heavy, is to crawl or scoot. People giggle a lot during this part, it’s silly.

The greatest amount of research, specific to the group, was in the maternal pheromone extracts that pervade the room and blankies. Period hair care and perfumes are also present, as indicated by our clients' demographic profile and questionnaire. For some, this is the second most beautiful and relaxing part of the trip.

Once they have negotiated the giant living room, the suits come off and they are ushered in to observe the little tots being taken care of. Home cooking boils in a nearby kitchen. The whole set-up is very home-like and, again, accurately tailored to the period, including the dress of the daycare workers who have that tired, but beautiful young mother look. This always makes us smile, but tour policy forbids us to remove our sunglasses at any time.

Local schools take up the rest of the morning, as we cruise through playgrounds, treehouses, secret hideaways and sports fields: the whole K-12 experience. The classes are chosen for their compatibility for this tour by their catalogue of ideal types: crybabies, spazes, cut-ups and proto-drop outs: a wide and familiar cast our guests are sure to identify with. Our guests are further encouraged to seek out their favorite subjects and activities, put on athletic gear or pick up a musical instrument to “get the feel of it again.” Around 11:00 the seniors get their choice of pizza, burgers, or hot dogs. They often eat with an unexpected gusto, for the morning porridge is designed to be famishing and we have been running them pretty quickly since middle school.

We serve this snack because the primary meal of the day is meant to be eaten with more appreciation than this snack, which is all appetite. Lunch is a somewhat sophisticated affair, and very much tailored to the profession of the individual: box lunches for some, table service for others. This is one of the most exquisitely researched and specific of meals. They all share one thing in common, however: whether it be beer, or wine, or several martinis, drinks are served and are the true focus. The seniors get back to themselves, they loosen up and not a little serious flirting goes on, regardless of status, aided by a well researched mix of oldies. There is a lot of classic cuisine at lunch: Salisbury Steak, Shepard’s Pie, Chicken and Dumplings.

After a tour of the professions, from the banking district to the docks, the early afternoon is spent with noisy newborns and troubled teens from local programs. This is when a lot of our guests start to nod off a little, and who can blame them? This is the time of day when one’s frustrations have either been overcome or accommodated (usually quite a bit of both) where one is either glad to be a little tired or feels betrayed: there is nothing new under the sun, and this is either a relief or a vast disappointment. So we make our way to the beaches, and stop for ice cream on St. Armand’s.

The ice cream is soft, it is milky and palliative, but cold. It is the warmest part of the day, but it’s not hard to feel a little chill before the end of the cone. Those who opt for bowls are all ready quite ready; they are not here to mess around and they know childhood is over. We pass out newspapers, a mix of new and old: how little and how much has changed. Here on St. Armand’s they are among their peers in silly hats and tiny dogs. They have reached their present.

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright!
The bridal of the earth and sky—
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
For thou must die.
I sing, as I collect up the napkins and water bottles.

The beach is beautiful, but because so little is there: just sea and sand, the sun and the wind: the four elements. It is too cold for many swimmers or sunbathers. We encourage our guests to take a handful of the fine powdery, glittery, pure white sand. We tell them the history of the beach, where the sand was 100 years ago and the water 10,000 years ago. We tell of the middens and the piles of shells the first people left. We give a reasonable estimate of the age of the transition from seashell to sand. We talk of the first univalves and bivalves in the sea. The first algae, and the primordial sky that made the waters salty. We compare the number of grains of sand on this beach to stars in the sky: the number of grains of this beach are infinitesimally small in comparison. As the sun begins to set and turn huge and red, we tell of the future death of that star and its child, the earth.

“Think of this beautiful sunset as somehow last. Last for you, or last for the species or all species. The last for the sun itself. All these things will surely come, but across a gulf of time so great, it is as distant to us as it’s birth. At the end of the universe, black holes will swarm around like these gulls, snatching up scraps. As this warming sun takes it’s leave, all falls cold and dark. The universe, too, will go dark and cold, with every point so far away from another and with so little energy no message could be communicated, were there beings to communicate and anything to be communicated. Such a universe cannot be said to hold foolishness or wisdom, good or evil: it is universally tepid and inert: its battery extinguished. The fundamental forces no longer have meaning, gravity is overcome. God is not dead, but unconscious, never to be revived.”

“But all this is so distant and vast, it is not even a prophecy we can truly hear. In the history of mankind, our lives have been little more than a day cruise, and in the universe, immeasurably less than a grain of sand.”

We now ask our guests to open their palms and see how much sand they have been able to hold onto.

Dinner is a fine affair at the best restaurant. Everything is gratis and comped. There is music and dancing and a sumptuous feast. It is cool, but bright. People, on the whole, really look around to see who they’ve been with. No one exchanges numbers, though. Photos of grandkids are pulled out passed around, but if our work has been done right, they are left on the table. Here is where you see people at their best, their most free: lovers are still lovers, idiots idiots, and skeptics try and chat us up like we could somehow make a bargain for them. Others buy lottery tickets or cigars. Everyone dances, though not everyone sings. There is cake for some reason.

The coffee service is exquisite. We make a big show of bringing it out: it is the finest, darkest roast. We only serve it black. Some ask us if we have decaf, for fear it will keep them up. We smile beneath our cowls (put up against the evening chill) and tell them not to worry. People are as happy as they are like to be, on this tour, anyway. We have printed everyone’s photos, and they are strewn about the tables in no particular order: people laugh at themselves, each other. We give out prizes, and usually they give prizes and toasts to each other. We stay late, very late for a senior day cruise. The check never comes, but soon enough, each of their own accord, they step onto the bus. Some went on the bus to an early rest just after dinner. No one ever stays behind or leaves the tour at this point. Instead, they thank us. They wave to the restaurant and the world. They don’t have to, but they tip us and, more often than not, call us by the names of their children, or even grandchildren.

On the night ride to the facility, they are all soon asleep and perfectly quiet. They look beautiful and peaceful under the stretching shadows cast by passing lights. I often wish we could wake them as we go over the bridge at night, because it is something everyone should see, but no one does, but, of course, it is quite impossible at this point. This is the most tender and difficult part of the tour and we touch their cheeks as they lay there. We guides don’t look at each other, but we know we are all crying in our oxygen masks, standing in the sway of the bus, as we go up and down the aisles cloudy with the bitter air of diverted exhaust, checking our cargo. It is so sad and beautiful and we have yet such a long hard night ahead of us.

TURN #100: WEEK 86; WORDS: 99,850 NEXT BY 14 FEBRUARY 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nonexistent and Forbidden Paintings You May Have Missed

Christ Rotting in His Tomb
Supposed Date: c. 1650
Purported Medium: Oil on Canvas

This apocryphal painting supposedly depicts the Savior entering a near liquid state of putrefaction sometime after the crucifixion. The artist’s blasphemous Gnostic conceit was supposedly that rather than having made a positive discovery of Jesus' triumphant ressurection and the salvation of mankind, the apostles simply neglected to find Jesus’ corpse, which remained in the tomb the whole time. The expressions of nightmarish dismay and outright nausea on the part of Mary and Joseph were described as inappropriately comical and grotesque. Christ himself is to have been depicted with derogatory and disgusting detail, his swollen belly having apparently exploded just prior to his discovery.

This purported abomination is a frequent inclusion in the list of suppressed and forbidden paintings supposedly in the vaults of the Vatican. It goes without saying that no such collection exists (for what purpose could it serve?) and certainly not any such blasphemous composition, whose existence is most likely the fabrication of Satanists and Protestants.

The Three Muses of the Depraved Arts
Not Given
Supposed Date:
Purported Medium: Oil on Canvas

This indescribably filthy painting has hopefully been destroyed, if, indeed, it ever existed: the censored descriptions cannot be repeated here. The “three muses” depicted are described as the very inversions of every possible classical canon of beauty, proportion and even humanness in all it’s nakedness, and so grossly engaged in the venereal and bestial practices that they are the allegories of, that scholars of the perverse and abnormal are highly at odds to say what exactly the depraved arts supposedly depicted actually were supposed to be. This has led to much unpleasant speculation, obscenity, criminality and suicide, as so minded initiates of such things have attempted to recreate the unnatural and hallucinatory things allegedly depicted in the hopes of coming to know what they three depraved arts actually are. The accounts of the third figure, in particular, has sponsored some dreadful flights of fancy and at least one series of shocking domestic crimes.

The story of such a painting most likely originates in the unsavory company of art dealers specializing in the forbidden and profane. Whether goaded into such grotesque and septic rhapsodies by an overdose of laudanum, or by the natural ravages of the spirochete, the subject of “The Three Muses of the Depraved Arts” was probably an occasion for lurid and pornographic improvisation, or a faithful account of delirium tremens.

Very little is said about the purported artist except that he was supposed to be one of the last such offending figures to be mercifully and appropriately dealt with in the last acts of the Inquisition, a melodramatic detail, making the whole incredibly unlikely.

The Dragon (Ben-Levi in his study)
Supposed Date: ca. 1528
Purported Medium: Oil on Panel

This spurious alleged painting actually made it into an early edition of Bellum’s:

This painting is, for the most part, unobjectionable, save that it’s subject is the questionable occult scholar Ben-Levi, called Archimagus. Though Ben-Levi’s contributions in many legitimate fields of scholarship are unquestioned, his occult work is justly proscribed and his murder by a family of identical gypsies a boon to mankind and Christendom. The painting is poorly executed; it is believed that the figure in the left corner is a poor rendering of the industrious beaver and not an anomalous monotreme platypus as some have claimed. In addition to poor draftsmanship, the painting also suffers from illiteracy, as many of the conspicuous titles of the books displayed are grossly misspelled and nonsensical (“ignotius per ignotium” for “ignotum per ignotius”).

No doubt the fabrication of the existence of this painting comes out the desire for some representation of Ben-Levi, about whom little certain is known, and who various texts are merely attributed to. The particular mania for this painting can be attributed to Roman Ruiz, contributor to the discontinued journal Fiat Lux. Upon coming upon a detailed description of the supposed painting, after puzzling over it for a sleepless night, Ruiz became convinced that the misspellings were deliberate as the whole the titles were as series of anagrams, or some other such code.

Unfortunately, Ruiz’s attempts to actually acquire the painting and unravel the code seem to have signaled some personal decision on that poor author’s part to sink even lower than his previous researches had guided him. Prison and destitution soon followed, and it is in this light, the penury and regular addictive and dipsomaniacal needs, that we view his sad, last fraudulent claims to have found the painting at last, offering to show it to his former editors for a few hundred sou.

Ruiz claimed to have solved the riddle of the painting, but in reality, he had slid into madness, often referring to it as though it were a living thing and making up ludicrous excuses of why (the hundred sous having been paid) the painting could not now be seen (“it ran away”; “it’s with a lady”; “it’s in my father’s house.”).

Whether or not the pitable Ruiz was responsible for the arson that consumed him, it is that cleansing fire that has given an aura of intrigue an interest to a story with very little basis in fact, but only too much in human frailty.

Subsequent editions of Bellum’s correct this error.

Self-Portrait in the Dreams of the Minotaur
Jacques Debierue
Supposed Date: 1910, 1920
Purported Medium: Unknown

A spurious legend circulates around art history undergrads that there exists a supremely phantasmagoric decadent symbolist painting that functions as a kind of Ur-painting for the history of Surrealism, and, by extension, Modern Art. Its creator is supposedly some mysterious Montevidian, who arranges a private showing, so the legend goes, with this or that Surrealist, or combination thereof, immediately prior to the Armory show, or some other historical turning point. In every telling, however, the doubtful protean painter arranges to meet the Surrealist the following night to show him a still more modern work and introduce him to his model. The following night at their rendez-vous the Surrealist always discovers a scene of some disorder with a conspicuous number of hard-boiled eggs and the apparently suicided corpse of the artist, the methods of death varying according to account, but invariably quite lurid and complicated, often involving some mechanism for sawing off one’s own head.

The Surrealist who is supposed to have glimpsed this originary painting varies with the telling, but it is usually told as one or more than the following: Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst, Andre Breton or Salvador Dali. Schwitters supposedly looked at the wrong side, De Chirico from the side and Ernst from behind De Chirico. Duchamp is supposed to have seen the whole from the front and laughed, but only through cracked glasses. Breton never saw the painting at all, but claimed that he did. Breton told Dali about the painting and supposedly the latter went mad.

The supposition of this missing painting is highly unnecessary, for the history of Surrealism is well-established, documented and known in the present, whose scholarship is able, without an evolutionary gap, to fully trace, detail and explain the development of Surrealist art. The legend is probably promulgated by mischievous TA’s disillusioned by their programs to deceive undergrads and no scholarly authority takes it seriously. The absence of any of the Dadaists from the anecdote, suggests, if anything, the whole event may be, if anything, some sort of Dadaist joke.

TURN #99: WEEK 85; WORDS: 97,582 NEXT BY 7 FEBRUARY 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

To My Thoughtful and Invisible Readers

And especially to you, my Invisible Man, I thought I would tender this briefest of introductions to preclude any possible misunderstanding about the nature of my writing.

It has been manifestly my intention, in these pages to entertain you with nothing other than the most accurate, most unadorned, most truthful possible account of my life and opinions, much after the fashion of Descartes' Meditations, or the author of Tristam Shandy. It is paramount to me that the truth and accuracy of these experiences and insights reach you unadorned, unembellished and uncontaminated with any foreign meaning that might be imbued by the simplest literary device. Indeed, like Socrates, I have affected no style, but presented myself to you in the simplest language possible, even eschewing the device of the philosophical dialog for fear of the rhetorical distortions inherent even in that limited dialectical drama.

Rather, I have hoped to present something with the integrity of journalism and the clarity of mathematics, something with no riddles, no mysteries, no hidden allusions. All the words, thought and situations presented here are wholly my own and wholly original; nothing has been borrowed or transposed from another's work, ever. There is no magic and no trickery to this honest enterprise: the events happen exactly as human language will allow me to describe and the opinions presented are wholly owned by me and are my true thoughts. Everything is spoken in properia persona and no other. There is no hidden homuncular author who manipulates me as some unreliable narrator, no "trick" or "catch" to anything expressed here, and everything expressed here is done so clearly and univocally: opinions presented here always mean themselves and never their opposite, nor is there trecherous game where one sincere complement is followed by a fraudlent narrative, some difficult and indeterminate mix of real and false experiences and opinion: my narratives are simple, they are made of one single unitary substance: the truth. All the pertinent facts relating to a story are presented in them. Finally, and above all, there is no insidious, vitiating irony, dissolving away the apparent true meaning as water does sugar. For nothing is invisible here, but rather perfectly transparent: please rest assured, dear reader, I am no actor upon a stage whose words are written for him to some unknown purpose that you must riddle out and phantom meanings do not haunt us by speaking just out of earshot or between the lines.

Thus given you my word and reassurances, I might clap you on the shoulder and I might now relate to you my most recent meditation, not wholly occasioned, but surely made more excellent by the thoughtful response of one of my readers who recently posted a comment to a previous excursion. I am honestly grateful for all responses, so much so that I have, without fail, responded substantively to all of them, in the comment section, or in personal correspondence and once by riding my horse to that person's house: if you leave a comment, or email me, I thank you and will always promptly and courteously respond. The "Invisible Man"'s thoughtful comments occasioned some discussion among my friends and peers, which I try to treat of truthfully and accurately below. As always

your humble,


In Defense of Beauty

It is a piece of received wisdom today to say that “beauty is only skin deep”, but few realize exactly how much hatred of life and goodness is contained in this simple statement. In criticizing beauty one is expressing cruel and unwarranted skepticism in something one already loves and desires. The popularity or even commonsensicality of such a point of view points to how depraved, Platonic, Christian and Konigisbergian our sensibilities have become, it defines our embrace of hatred and self loathing. The beautiful, like pleasant weather, tasty food, or sexual release, is pleasure and virtue itself, and our suspicion and denial of it shows only how far we have been cozened form our original innocent enjoyment of existence and excellence itself.

How can the beautiful be other than good? This is the question I often ask among my fellow super models and beautiful people at parties or during sex, as we share cigarettes and amazement -horror and sadness, really, at the hatred and bigotry, the prejudice that the less attractive seem to feel for us. Just the other day Izabella was saying to me that they probably want to hold us down and make us eat nachos; they want us to hate ourselves and the beautiful. It’s true said Famke, rolling over with a treatment of Atlas Shrugged. Gillian played with something on Famke’s lip: they also hate our intelligence and learning, said she. Izabella began to tremble and weep inhumanly beautiful tears with an expression not seen outside the great masters or cat calendars. It would have made a supreme photograph, so it was beneficial that there were several photographers. My friends, my friends, I asked, how long before we all must wear veils or stuff Ralph Lauren pillows beneath our CK tees?

This was about the time I started shopping in the women’s department with my girlfriends: because I couldn’t bear to be away from them, because everything was more beautiful there, had a better cut and everything else made me look fat.

“I can’t believe you are leaving me!” she said.

She was always saying things like that.

“I am leaving” I said, bravely, and with that I lifted my newest and favorite suit off the cluttered closet door, where things, too many things, too many unnew and unfavorite things had been wont to hang. I say I lifted it, but it was as light as a kite, a new kite in its complimentary sleeve. It was beautiful. The sleeve was as beautiful as a new car. I wanted to be alone with it, to get a good look at it in the sunlight. This line of conversation was discomfiting.

“After all I’ve done for you, now that you’re successful, rich and in fantastic shape -you’re just going to throw me away?”

This was factually true. I wasn’t doing well when she found me. In fact, I wasn’t doing anything. I was desperate. I was dying. She helped me. She taught me to believe in myself. Etc.

Yet the whole appeal of becoming strong and beautiful was to be loved by someone strong and beautiful and where I was coming from was neither strong nor beautiful.

“You are evil” she said, “you’re like The Great Gatsby as written by H.P. Lovecraft.”

“But what about the children?” she screamed. She screamed things like that. The places I took her, too.

The children of want and misery, I mused, could never be beautiful, especially with no father and such an unhappy mother.

I have always wanted my hopes to float above me like a kite.

I know, said Michael, practicing practicing his putt. It’s a write-off, but you should totally get your deposit back from that bitch, because it is yours. Getting what is yours is the essence of morality. That’s not nice, but fuck nice, what has nice ever done? Has it ever occurred to anyone that being nice is easy and therefore stupid? Being nice is cop-out, it’s for mediocre people with no drive, no special ability, with nothing to not be nice about. Humans are social creatures: nice is our default setting when we are confronted with something bigger stronger and better: to appease them, to not get your ass kicked. As long as you’re nice, you know you are nobody. That chumpola who parks my car: he’s nice. The escort that lets me decide what her name is for the weekend: she’s nice. That loser who keeps things clean in my toilet: he’s real nice. If a cockroach could fucking talk, it'd probably be real nice. Whoever calls you sir three times in the same sentence unless they got a rag and they’re begging you for change? When you can be a real asshole, brother, that’s when you know you have something going on. You’re done wiping asses. You don’t even wipe your own ass.

We both did a little bump.

I know it’s easy to be nice, but being a asshole is hard work. And thankless. I get home sometimes and I think to myself: I wish to god someone would thank me for all the good work I did today being an asshole. You think it’s easy yelling in traffic? You think I want to send things back? I am not nice. I am a producer: I produce things. If I could be nice, don’t you think I would? If things got done by lying in bed jerking off all day and saying “please” and “thank you” to the fuckin’ trees, I would do it, just to save on my phone bill. But if not for my phone and my asshole nothing worthwhile would ever get done. When you go overseas you realize this. I don’t care where you go, Africa, Egypt, fucking Iraq. You know what their problem is? They got too many nice people. They're too fuckin' nice. Everyone is polite. There are customs. There is community. Everybody takes time to know their fucking neighbor and looks out for them: nothing fucking gets done, ever. And the mothers who are running those places? They are the most savage bad-assed motherfuckers on the planet. They own the place and all the people in it. You ever talk to a police inspector in one of these places? They’ll get you the fucker who dinged your car, their whole family and a case of Hennessy.

He gave thanks to the four corners and made a namaste.

It’s hard work, I tell you. And what thanks do I get? 99% of humanity doesn’t get it because we’re the 1% that owns the other 99%. All I want is just someday, someday for some fucker to say to me: thank you: thank you for yelling at me for that half-hour: you have raised my perceptions of excellence and from now on, I will be a more excellent person. It’s been and education, sir. And so help me God, one night you’re going to be asleep and I’m going to be there standing over you with a tire iron. Is there anything else this ice cream stand can do for you or your child at this time?

He was back on his headset for few minutes, then his helicopter arrived and he waved and ducked into it, like the doctors in the opening credits of M*A*S*H*.


To the despisers of the body will I speak my word. I wish them neither to learn afresh, nor teach anew, but only to bid farewell to their own bodies,--and thus be dumb.

"Body am I, and soul"--so says the child. And why should one not speak like children?

But the awakened one, the knowing one, says: "Body am I entirely, and nothing more; and soul is only the name of something in the body."

...An instrument of your body is also your little sagacity, my brother, which you call "spirit"--a little instrument and plaything of your big sagacity.

"Ego," say you, and are proud of that word. But the greater thing- -in which you art unwilling to believe--is your body with its big sagacity; it says not "ego," but does it.

What the senses feel, what the spirit discerns, has never its end in itself. But sense and spirit would fain persuade you that they are the end of all things: so vain are they.

Instruments and playthings are sense and spirit: behind them there is still the Self. The Self seeks with the eyes of the senses, it hears also with the ears of the spirit.

Ever hearken the Self, and seek; it compares, masters, conquers, and destroys. It rules, and is also the ego's ruler.

Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage--it is called Self; it dwells in your body, it is your body.

There is more sagacity in your body than in your best wisdom. And who then
knows why your body requires just your best wisdom?

Your Self laugh at your ego, and its proud prancings. "What are these prancings and flights of thought unto me?" it says to itself. "A by-way to my purpose. I am the leading-string of the ego, and the prompter of its notions."

The Self says unto the ego: "Feel pain!" And thereupon it suffers, and think how it may put an end thereto--and for that very purpose it IS MEANT to think.

The Self says unto the ego: "Feel pleasure!" Thereupon it rejoices, and think how it may ofttimes rejoice--and for that very purpose it IS MEANT to think.

To the despisers of the body will I speak a word. That they despise iscaused by their esteem. What is it that created esteeming and despising and worth and will?

The creating Self created for itself esteeming and despising, it created for itself joy and woe. The creating body created for itself spirit, as a hand to its will.

Even in your folly and despising you each serve your Self, you despisers of the body. I tell you, your very Self want to die, and turn away from life.

No longer can your Self do that which it desires most:--create beyond itself. That is what it desires most; that is all its fervour.

But it is now too late to do so:--so your Self wish to succumb, you despisers of the body.

To succumb--so wish your Self; and therefore have you become despisers of the body. For you can no longer create beyond yourselves.

And therefore are you now angry with life and with the earth. And unconscious envy is in the sidelong look of your contempt.

I go not your way, you despisers of the body! You are no bridges for me to the Superman!

-Thus spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche understood this. His only prayer was that mankind be delivered from revenge and ressentiment from the despisers of the body and the passions, from the strange mistrust of the senses and the sensual.

When I was younger I wondered just what it was that made the body of the beloved so desirable. As though it required explanation, as though there was something to explain and that explanation might satisfy something.

The truth is something between Baudrillard and Berkeley. The other people are here to make it more real. When you make love and there is only one person, who can really say that it happened at all?

The muscles fed by narcissism and exercise are totally different from those fed by hard work. They are smoother and more symmetrical. They have a kind of inner glow. Hard labor creates weird freakish hypertrophies and a gut that looks tired. Look at a racehorse; now look at an old nag. Beauty only comes out of itself, out of careful gazing and preparation to become beautiful. It is never a side effect, because beauty is always itself, can only come into being where it is welcomed by itself. We could say it is Art, if Beauty were not the condition of the former’s possibility.

The inner glow of the well-trained, well-cared for body is spiritual contentment. This is why crucifixes and statues of the Buddha appear beautiful and why those two always appear in such good shape.

I met Tom at the gym. He has his own personal trainer and his own personal gym. He likes to come to the gym afterwards. I understand this. I learned a lot of this from Tom, the perfect pre-gym work out. Your workout must be done with ease and yet focused, showing determined effort and competitiveness, yet smooth, agreeable. You must never clank the weights or grunt like Howard Dean. You must workout like you were born working out, just as you take the wine list or tip the valet. You are in a place, a holy place and your mien must reflect this, like a monk: at once, solemn, serious, but friendly, restful and merry as a boy.

You look great, he says.

I know this. It is one of the most honest and kindest things a person can say. It is a greeting: walaikum as sala'am.

We are here, of course, to blast our lats and to discuss something. I had been retained to do some rethink of a very different project of Tom’s: Tom Cruise -the Ride, (formerly titled Tom Cruise: The Experience). But it is never just business with Tom. Tom is a people person. Tom is an emotional person. Tom is a spiritual person. He’ll do a few reps, and then he’ll say something profound. Then we’ll drink water together.

Tom is also a listener. As we do the circuit together he wants to know about my journey. This is because: he is a teacher. I tried to explain how it was. The people in my life. Now that I was with people they had seen on TV and movies. How they really couldn’t stand it. How they hungered to bring you down with their own stories. How they never really accepted you. How awkward and uncomfortable it was. Like you owed them something. Like they knew “the real you.” How this was blackmail and you couldn’t keep paying off blackmail. Just how awful they seemed. Their petty victories. Their little joys. Their pathetic vacations. How they never really did anything. How they just let themselves go. How they couldn’t wait to see you fuck up. How they wanted you back, just so they could spit on you all over again.

How much kinder everyone else in Hollywood was. How they made the transition easy. How they were like true friends that one had known one’s whole life long. How they understood everything.

Tom took this all in, lighting quick, like a cold read. He gave a practiced look of concern, the one he had in War of the Worlds. Then he was up on the treadmill and for a second goofed around, sliding to the side, petending to sing like in the underwear scene in Risky Business. I knew that was for me. We finished the circuit and over Vittel he solved it all for me:

Look at me: I love this kid. And. I really. Love: Katie.

Now let’s watch Vanilla Sky. And hold me, hold me.

TURN #98: WEEK 84; WORDS: 96,342 (not including F.W. Nietzsche’s)