Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Brief Autobiography

I break it down to decades: my first ten years I am a child, and spend them in Prospect Park, Pennsylvania, a deeply urban bedroom community ten minutes from Philadelphia. I am born; I grow a lonely, fatherless boy, raised by a disaffected mother, foreboding grandmother and a vacuum-tube television set; I learn very quickly which one of the three to trust most. School comes, and I make friends -- Steven Weatherill being my best one, after a blackout during a rainstorm forces us together -- but I am quite obviously different. I am programming computers by age 7. I am bullied frequently, cast as a freak. Even my teachers hate me; Mr. Lewis physically abuses me in 4th grade, and Mrs. Neff emotionally abuses me in 5th grade.

In 1985 we sell our house and move to neighboring Glenolden. I have almost no friends; only my art teacher takes pity on me, and I spend many after-school hours in her classroom. I test at college level on that year’s aptitude tests; meanwhile, the school’s gifted program literally runs out of things to teach me. The decision is made to send me to Milton Hershey School, where I spend six more years in a place which also has nothing to teach me, and I am beaten by drunken dorm fathers and sexually molested by upperclassmen. During my time there, my family moves to rural Nottingham, Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, I am left to nurse after my ailing, increasingly delusional grandmother for three years, with no prospects for college or other continuing education. That's decade number two.

My third decade begins with my discovery of electronic music, specifically the artist Aphex Twin, and I decide to pursue music. Simultaneously, I make new friends at nearby radio station WVUD in Newark, Delaware, and within a year I've moved to that town. I work at the now-defunct East End Cafe, becoming a raging alcoholic mess squatting in a room on 18 Ritter Lane. I take LSD for the first time. I release albums under a female sockpuppet and make thousands of dollars. I move to North Carolina, and back, and New Jersey, and back. I form a band, and we record the two best electronic albums of all time. I fall in love so hard I take a train to California to lose my virginity, and I fall out of love so hard it takes me two years to recover. Everyone betrays me, or maybe I betray everyone -- details are fuzzy. I leave Delaware in disgust. I move to Arizona.

This is decade number four. I'm six years in, and it's drastically different from the previous three. I've signed into a domestic partnership. I've cut off most of my friends and family from the East Coast. I've become financially stable (more or less) and emotionally stable (more or less) -- or is that, too, just a failure of perspective? Will I look back on this decade as a horrible mess, as I have the three before it? In truth, all the decades before certainly seemed to be the important ones while they were happening. Is that the lesson of this life: to remember that now is the only important-seeming moment, a moment that is fleeting and detestable in retrospect?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Can you feel it?

June 25, 2009, 2:15 AM MST

Dr. Rhythm blinked repeatedly. "Chisa, what the Hell am I looking at?"

"Don't you start," I said, adjusting the volume on the store stereo, which I had jerry-rigged into my laptop along with the advertising monitor from the lottery machine. "This is one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever made, and anyone who speaks ill of it will require a crowbar to extract my foot from their asshole." The screen, facing outwards towards the customers, was awash with colorful rainbow sparkles over footage of an adoring throng.

Kupo walked in, fresh from the plane trip, and grinned like a maniac as soon as he saw the screen. "Holy shit," he said, "where did you get a copy of this?"

"Had the missus torrent it for me," I replied. "Welcome to Tucson."

A regular customer, one of the hip kids that works at the local video store, came in behind Kupo, pausing and gawking as his eyes fell on the images. "I haven't seen this in ages!"

"Blame this guy," I said, pointing at Kupo. "He came all the way down from Baltimore to drive back with Dr. Rhythm. I figured the least I could do was make him feel at home."

"I do love me some Michael Jackson," said Kupo, still grinning.

We watched Moonwalker. It is, to put it mildly, an unusual work. The first third of the film is a retrospective of Jackson's early years, leading up through Thriller and Bad. At the second third, it becomes a compilation, with a new video remix of "Bad", the Claymation rendered "Speed Demon" and the collage art cum social critique of "Leave Me Alone." But it's the final third of the film that most people remember: a ridiculous, cinematographic epic wherein a mythological MJ archetype fights a Joe Pesci led laser-armed drug cartel by transforming into a panther, a car, a huge robot and finally a spaceship. And then he performs a cover of the Beatles' "Come Together" in a raunchy nightclub and Ladysmith Black Mambazo sings over the credits.

A large number of people cite this movie as the exact point that Michael Jackson lost his damned mind.


A recent article from BBC News cites scientific proof that there is a correlation between genius and schizophrenia. I hold all scientific studies in contempt as a general rule. Often the declarations should simply read: Study confirms that funder of study was correct; could be more correct with more money, say scientists. As I've noted at length elsewhere on this blog: if you want to change reality, paying for it is the easiest method.

Not all geniuses are insane, and not all insane people are geniuses -- unless you're willing to make the counterarguments that John Wayne Gacy was some sort of artistic visionary or that Stephen Hawking ought to be confined to a rubber room for his crazy-ass ideas about aliens and time travel. (Full disclosure: I actually do believe the latter one.) Nature doles out benefits as she may. Sometimes you get to be a genius; sometimes you die in childbirth. It's not fair, but we insist that it be, somehow, to salve our psychological inability to deal with existentialism. I'm pretty sure this is the evolutionary reason we have religion, too, but that's a subject for another time.


What is a subject for now, however, is the belief that Michael Jackson was a child molester. First of all -- let's not mince any words here -- no one, absolutely no one has made that charge stick. If we are a nation that believes in and even prides itself on the fairness of our justice system, then we shall not have the luxury of perjurious scandal in the wake of its verdicts. If anything, the lingering doubt we hold in regards to Jackson shows how vile and sordid we prefer our bias to be, damn the facts to the contrary.

We crave sensationalism and the breaking of scruples for the same reason we need mad geniuses: we, the public, are quite simply unable to take anything at face value. Consider the hoax that surrounded Fred Rogers during his life. Nefarious rumors spread that he always wore long-sleeved sweaters to hide the tattoos he got as a Navy SEAL sniper in Vietnam. Nevermind that Rogers, a nigh saintly man by all accounts, never served in the military in any capacity. We need Fred Rogers to be a bloodthirsty killing machine, because if there's one thing we can't stand, it's someone who doesn't have any vices.

That's why we need Michael to be a child fucker, too, but it goes deeper than that for Michael. He gets away with all the things we wish we could. He's weird, and cool, and effortless all at once. His innocence appeals to the child in us and his sexuality seduces the animal in us; to wit, he owns a zoo for the latter and an amusement park for the former. He's rich -- obscenely, distastefully rich on a level that nobody else in the world gets without brutally assfucking someone or another on the way up. He breaks the rules, then rewrites them, then breaks them again. He is a god among mortals. That's why we hate him so; that's why he must be destroyed.

We're a culture of victimization. We relish our horrible fuckups like badges of honor in an arena of pain and misery, and what we despise more than anything is to be reminded that we have the capacity to be better. If Michael Jackson isn't a monster, our whole matrix of defense mechanisms gets thrown into disarray -- because we'd be monsters in his position.

You want proof? How about the entire hierarchy of the Catholic church, who cover time and again for real child molesters? How about all those news stories of tragic fools who finally win the lottery after a lifetime of playing, only to blow the whole wad on hookers and cocaine within eighteen months? People say that power corrupts, but that's just another popular delusion to allow us to shuck our responsibilities. The maxim actually only works in reverse; we are born corrupt, and it's only our lack of power that keeps us from doing far more damage than we do already.


June 25, 2009, 3:30 PM MST

I called Dr. Rhythm. "How is Kupo taking this?"

"Considering, fairly well," he answered. "He's mostly in shock. He's been crying some."

"Get him back here immediately," I ordered. "He needs to be near someone who understands."

Kupo looked drained as he stumbled in, like he'd been without sleep for days. Bleary-eyed, he gazed at me with a quiet confusion. "How did you know? How did you know to have me out to Arizona on today of all days, to show me the Moonwalker video last night... how?"

"I don't know, Steve," I admitted. "Things like this happen to me occasionally. Four years ago I had a dream I killed Hunter Thompson, and he died three days later. Last year at this time I dreamed I had an argument with George Carlin that was so vicious I made him cry, and he died two days later. Synchronicity uses me as a focal point; I don't know why."

The answer seemed to satisfy him; he nodded simply, and sat down in the easy chair to watch the coverage on CNN. Dr. Rhythm, unsure of how to proceed, looked on apologetically.


Two things are interesting about Jacksons' death date. First, it happened on the date of the 25th anniversary of Purple Rain. I can only imagine Prince waking up to that on Thursday morning.

More interesting is the second coincidence: June 25th would be on the opposite side of the calendar from Christmas. Is it possible Jackson was the realization of the Second Coming? He exhibited many of the same characteristics as Christ. His flagrant defiance of gravity certainly made it appear that he could walk on water. Jackson implored us to look at the Man in the Mirror; Christ told us to take the logs out of our own eyes before criticizing the specks in others'. Obvious jokes aside, Michael did suffer the little children to come unto him. And both were men of peace whom you would never want to get into a brawl with, particularly if you happened to be a banker.

Some of Jesus's last words were "I will return as a thief in the night." You have to admit, when asked to envision what a robber looks like, most Americans would probably think of a black man.


I owe at least two things to Michael Jackson. First, he made it okay for me to want to collect mannequins. "I imagine talking to them," he revealed to a Rolling Stone interviewer in 1982, describing the planned room in his new house that would be filled with showroom dummies. "I think I'm accompanying myself with friends I never had." The eccentric often compensates for a longing in the real world, a missing element that, for whatever reason, they are unable to adapt to socially. Even with millions of dollars and the respect and admiration of everyone from Andy Warhol to Ronald Reagan, Michael had to invent his best friends.

I could certainly relate as a child. I was no social butterfly; I preferred Encyclopedia Brown books and typing long, arduous lists of esoteric text into a new machine known as an "Apple IIe". I took apart tape recorders and tried to figure out how they worked, and recorded sounds backwards. I was fascinated by the birthing artform of rap music, and one of my most vivid childhood memories is my first attempt to "scratch" using my mother's copy of Thriller on my measly Fisher Price turntable.

That brings me to the second thing I owe Michael: he made it okay to want to be an artist. President Obama would have our children believe that thankless hard work and sucking up to the boss are the preferred methods of spending your time on Planet Earth. Michael, like Fred Rogers before him, told me that I was okay just the way I was. If I wanted to spend my days pecking out computer programs that made weird, bleepy noises, that wasn't merely not wrong; I was compelled to do so. Who I am and what I do are not separate entities.

If we take nothing else from Michael Jackson's life, let us for God's sake take that: it is your world. If it's miserable, you have no one to blame but you.


Today marks the one year anniversary of Jackson's death. I've been poking at this post since then, trying to get the words right, trying to explain how a man I never met could have such a profound impact on my small and measured life. The words do not come easy. As with many things esoteric, reason is only the beginning of wisdom; that which goes beyond is not explainable, not definable, not recordable.

But do I even need to? You were there in 1982; you wanted one of those damn ridiculous red zipper jackets so bad, because we all did. We wanted a piece of Michael because Michael was a piece of us; the unapologetic, empowered part we'd learned to push down so we could get through the day at school without being sent to the principal's office.

Don't push it down, said Michael. Let go of it. Let it run wild and free and touch the world with its beauty and joy. Let it shine like a beacon to the shore, showing the way to others who've become lost in the vast gray seas of mediocrity and hopelessness. Let them come to you and share in the joy; you are not alone; you are not alone.

If you look around
The whole world is coming together now
Feel it in the air
The wind is taking it everywhere
Can you feel it
Can you feel it
Can you feel it

Yes, God, yes, I can feel it. I can see inside the light that burns with the heat of a thousand suns. I see the grace and the beauty stirring, emanating from the deepest cockle of my breast, from the vantage point of my homunculus, and I will live in the light, I will know the light, and it will shine in glory for all the worlds.

I can feel it. I can hear the sound rumbling under the materia, the deepest bass of earthquakes and microwave bursts from quasars. I can hear the sound of the stars and the galaxies vibrating and spinning in their places like a giant watch, like the transmission of a humongous engine, and the sound comes bursting out of me.

I can feel it. I can feel the intense and all-pervading sincerity of compassion, of nonjudgmental caring, and it swarms over me like a sandstorm, like a hurricane of locusts. I can feel the warm winds of the scirocco eroding away the sarcasm and malice, time's steadfast chisel whittling away the impurities. I can feel the heat of the athenor, the alchemical furnace of searing light, burning away the hatred and the rage, reducing this bloated, sluggish body in fire and empathy like succulent broth from the blood of ruminants, until only the most beautiful, the most elegant parts remain, so forged in the blazes of love's relentless fire to serve forever, to offer myself for any and all uses, without precondition or complaint, to be one with the will of all, of every person, until I am nothing but an extension of every man and woman and child, until I have become all of their dreams, until I dissolve into the void of the universe, the fifth ring of Miyamoto Musashi, to see the Void as the Way, to see the Way as the Void.

I can feel it.

I can feel it.

I can feel it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Hurricane

There is no companionship with a fool; let a man walk alone, let him commit no sin, having few wishes, like an elephant in the forest.
-- the Dhammapada

I reached Tucson, Arizona on November 21st, 2004. A few days before my arrival, it began to rain. It rained for two whole months following; for the first time in decades, the water table broke even in the desert.

This would not be the first time I was introduced by precipitation. Almost a decade prior, I'd moved to Newark, Delaware on December 23rd, 1995. Three days later, the infamous Blizzard of '96 hit the town. A thousand stories have been told about this snowstorm; I could compile just the ones I've heard into a very successful book which would make Northern Exposure look like a sensible vacation slide show.

In the Book of the Subgenius, it says many times: the only way to get what you truly want is to give up entirely. I gave up on Newark. I took a train to Tucson, to live with some friends for a while. My new roommates were past generous; they were damn near saintly. In return, I shared what I had: Millennium Actress, Chrono Trigger, Threads. One weekend I told them of the genius of Crispin Glover, whose career they knew nothing of outside of Back to the Future. "You mean he sued Steven Spielberg and WON? That's AWESOME!"

"Yes, he's quite the self-made man. I'm eager to see his full-length film, What Is It, but it's extremely difficult to come by."

I began to acclimate to the desert. I spent time looking up venues in Arizona, ready to get on with performing music. In my various web searches I discovered Centennial Hall, an immense campus auditorium, and thought absently how great it would be to play such a large space, to cause an actual concert hall to resonate with my music.

Something was still missing.

I tried hanging out at local cafes; both Ike's and Safehouse were within walking distance. I ended up becoming more enamored with the free wifi than the local patrons, overhearing the same 'original ideas' again and again with each passing. This was no different from Newark; a glory-hole of self-deluded children, fashionably dressed, with a database of cultural inferences and not-too-weird tastes, lest the facade of faux nerdism pass into the genuine article.

With no small degree of despair, I realized I was getting too old for this shit.


Kupo's girlfriend popped on. "Do you have any interest in meeting people in Tucson?"

"Do I ever. What's up?"

"There's a friend on MOO who lives quite near you, by name of Kali. She's quite an interesting person, someone I think you'd get along with well. Would you like me to introduce you?"

"It certainly couldn't hurt. How do I get on this MOO? Is it like a MUD?"

"Same general principle. I'll help you through the registration process, but you can log on as a guest for now." She gave me the server address.

I set up a coffee date with Kali, at Ike's; she claimed she hated Safehouse, citing too much smoke and youth culture nonsense, which I could hardly argue. We talked for hours about music and art; it was evident that we would become fast friends. "I should introduce you to my friend Paul Miller sometime," she said at one point. "I think you'd both benefit from the mutual brain-picking."

I blinked twice. "The Paul Miller? As in, DJ Spooky?"

"The same. We've been friends for years; I met him through an afrofuturism forum. In fact, it's interesting that you both use afrofuturism in your art in distinct ways. With Team Techno, you and your bandmates have constructed a very African way of working -- call and response, chorus, syncopation and polyrhythms all play integral parts in the way you construct and perform music -- but of course you all have very European traditions, being of Caucasian heritage. With Spooky, the opposite is true: he forwards an African agenda using very European techniques." She paused, perhaps to let the ideas sink into me, or to herself. "Actually, I'd be interested in writing an academic piece about your band sometime."

I shrugged. "That's a flattering notion, but I'm not sure there's a band to write about anymore."


"What the fuck is this 'third Team Techno album' bullshit Bill is spouting?"

"Come on, Chisa. You know Bill: the eternal optimist. 'Where there's a will, there's a way...'"

"Where was that maxim when I was spending two years in Delaware, living with clinically insane roommates, in the middle of severe depression without medication, in a dead-end job, slugging through the worst post-breakup drama of my life? Would you care to show me where the fucking 'way' was that my Schopenhauer-like dedication of will was not able to produce? The notion of me ever coming back there to record an album with you two is so goddamn laughable, I ought to patent TCP-to-bitchslap technology in case you ever suggest something that idiotic again; it'd save me the hassle of all this typing, and let me cut to the chase of knocking some goddamn sense into your ass."

"Whatever, man. If you feel such a need to solder that door shut, that's your deal. I prefer to leave options open."

"Is that why, when I asked if you'd let me move into one of the five bedrooms in your house in Philly, three of which were unoccupied and rented for the specific purpose of having friends live with you, because I wanted to be near you and Bill and retain my sanity, you told me no, because your girlfriend wouldn't approve? Is that what you call 'leaving options open'?"

"Look, I'm sorry I can't perpetually bail you out, but sometimes I just can't accommodate your lifestyle choice. Here's a thought: how's about nigga gets a fucking job and his own place?"

"You've got a lot of damn nerve, son. Who held your sorry ass up when that same girlfriend dropped you on a whim? Bill, that's who -- you slept in his annex for a month! In contrast, I went through Hell with the Ex, and the nonsense with Baker being AWOL in New Orleans, and the heroin junkies and all the other fuckups in the Madison house, and I held a third shift job and did Team Techno. How about 'nigga' stops being a fucking hypocrite?"

"You did indeed have a tough time in Delaware that last year, and I did indeed move into that house with the intention of having friends live there, but it just didn't work out, for many different reasons. And now, I'm practically married..."

"Bill was literally married when you moved in with him! What kind of two-faced bullshit is this?"

"Call me what you will; I'm not responsible for anyone else's living situation but my own."

"That's a peculiar moralistic view from someone who's about to give birth to a child."

"You are not my son."

"No, but I did think I was your brother."

"I'm not your fucking keeper. Take care of your own shit, man!"

I paused, gazing at the words on the screen, mulling them over. "So that's how it is now? Are you sure you want to go down that road with me?"

"I can't deal with this shit right now. You are annoying the piss out of me." He logged off.


Time passed. Now-distant friends were tried and found wanting. Some left, never to return. Some just needed time to cool off.

I moved into Kali's studio for a bit, sensing my previous roommates needed their space back, in deference to their claims that I was not a burden. Kali essentially became my agent, helping me to set up shows and network with local contacts. Within a few months, I was standing on the stage at Centennial Hall. A few weeks after that, I was speaking directly to Crispin Glover, having just viewed What Is It in the Loft Cinema.

There was a noticeable turbulence to the air. I could sense the oncoming storm at the horizon.


"Hey," I said, peering over the 32-channel Behringer, "this is identical to the board I used to run for EIDE, at the East End back in Delaware."

"Really?" replied Gene. "You know, we don't exactly have a dedicated soundman. Would you be interested?"

I thought about it. "Hmm, maybe. I've got plenty of spare time on my hands; a hobby might be just what I need. And the notion of being the straight soundman in a nearly-all-queer choir tickles my irony bone."

Gene snickered. "Believe you me, I can relate. Well, I'll put a bug in the director's ear, see if we can't get you two chatting..."

A young black man approached cautiously, seeming a little shy. "And who might this be, Gene?"

"Oh! Jamal, this is Chisa, a friend who came out to watch us perform."

"Pleased to meet you," I said, shaking Jamal's hand.

"Did I hear you say something about Delaware? I wasn't trying to pry, but... I'm originally from Southeast Pennsylvania."

"Really! That's where I'm originally from as well. Whereabouts?"

"Oh, I grew up in I'd really like to fuck you, just South of Allentown."

I shook myself. Huh? "Er... Allentown, you say? I know that area. I was considering going to Lincoln Tech for electronics when I got out of high school."

"Well, isn't it a small world?" He smiled. "So what brings I hope you're gay like me to Arizona?"

Kali came up from behind me. "I'm sorry if I'm interrupting, but were we going to get lunch together, Chisa? We'd better go now or we'll miss the start of the concert."

"Ah, yes," I said. "It was nice meeting you, Jamal." I nodded politely to he and Gene, then walked off with Kali.


"I think that guy was hitting on me," I concluded, finally.

"What do you mean, 'you think?' He most certain was." Kali sipped at her chai.

"Well, I've never really received a signal like that before."

"Ever?" She looked astonished.

"I'm sure that sounds weird, but yes, I can honestly say I've never been able to tell the difference between my own wishful thinking and someone actually making a pass at me. Rather than risk the misinterpretation, I gave up trying and just assumed no one ever was, but just then, it was damn near like telepathy."

Kali shook her head. "Unfathomable," she said, reaching for the ketchup, a brassy glint of sunlight catching her ring.

"Hey," I said, leaning closer, "that's neat. Where'd you get that?"

Kali blinked, then smiled. "Ah, now it makes sense. You've never seen this before, have you?"

"It's the first time I've ever seen it."

"Well, it's been on my finger since I've met you. I've been wearing this ring for years; I never take it off." She extended her finger; the Medusa-head emblem radiated ancient power. It looked like a molding from the Roman Empire, and may very well have been. "It's old -- older than I care to think about. It reveals itself to people when it wants to. Today was apparently a very special day."

I sighed. "You know, your mystical artifacts are really beginning to piss me off. Bad enough that you left that voodoo blood ritual nonsense going in your studio when you went out hiking the Grand Canyon. I was shaken for weeks after that dream where I killed Hunter Thompson."

"It was only a dream."

"He died three days later."

She laughed. "New topic, then: when are you going to start deejaying on the MOO?"

"I can't very well stream audio with a dead laptop." My beloved Toshiba had shit the bed a few weeks prior, the power connector on its motherboard blown out from capacitor plague.

"You could always use my iBook."

"You know I despise Macs. As soon as Kupo ships my desktop from Baltimore, I'll get on. Who'd you say I'd have to talk to?"

"Her name is Muggy."


I was familiar with text-based environments like the MOO, having spent quite a lot of time on MUSHes and MUCKs in the mid-90s. It didn't take me long to learn both the basics of its system syntax and the peculiarities of its social lattice.

Muggy ran a room on the MOO, which was fairly popular for that server. I logged on and teleported my character there. "Kali says you're the one I need to talk to about doing the radio stream?"

"Wheee!" said Muggy. "Yeah, it's this new thing I've just set up recently. You know how to do Icecast?"

"Most of my streaming experience is with Shoutcast, but as I understand it's the same basic principal, and uses the same tools."

"Let me set you up with a login," she said. As she worked on allowing me access in another window, I typed a look command on her character, curious as to how she'd described herself:

Spawn of William S Burroughs, naked, sucking translucent, colored syrups through Welcome, Chisa of Team Techno. purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of I have been waiting for one such as you for a very long time now. secretes an addicting fluid from her Listen carefully: here are the songs you must play for me...

The words on the screen may as well have been invisible; the true message was hidden inside them, like a television signal in a carrier wave. I shook myself, dazed by their power. It was a far more potent signal than I'd gotten from Jamal, a directive akin to those heard by Elijah and Abraham.

"Okay," she said, "You're ready to go, check your MOOmail for the password."

"Solid," I said. "When would you like me to go?"

"No time like the present," she said.

"Right now? I thought you were on."

"Oh, that's just an automated playlist. I can kick it off whenever. Saddle up!"

I nodded, logging my Winamp plugin into the server and routing the audio from Virtual Turntables to the input. After a brief perusal of my mp3s, I opened with something from a DJ Spooky album:

I've got two turntables and Coltrane
And not just blue Coltrane
And not just Monk, and not just Miles
I got a million musicians playin' over my head
A band of angels responding to the percussion of stomps and hollers
Heads don't even know what's happening to 'em
They just know something's happening to 'em

Song blended into song without audible break, each addition to the setlist crafting a new chapter in the story. Boards of Canada morphed into Steve Miller; Future Sound of London gave way to Palace Brothers; Tears For Fears engaged Telefon Tel Aviv. Faraway, in Chattanooga, the atmospheric disturbance charged the air with its haunting sound.

"I ain't never seen nothin' like you before," said Muggy, her Southern drawl coming clearly through the text, punctuated by an equally clear eyebrow raise.


"I found a place to live."

"Splendid!" Kali smiled. "Where?"


The smile gave way to incredulous shock. "Okay," she said after a moment of self-composure, "because I'm your friend, I have to tell you I think this is a bad idea. You're moving way too fast with Muggy, and this is an incredibly rash decision."

I nodded. "Opinion noted and filed. You are pre-approved for one 'I told you so' should anything go horribly wrong."

"When do you leave?"

"Independence Day. Assuming everything goes without a hitch -- which it won't, seeing as I'll have to go through New Orleans, and something always goes awry whenever I have to deal with New Orleans -- she'll be picking me up in Atlanta on my birthday, since there's no Amtrak line to Chattanooga.

"Interesting. There is in fact no such thing as a Chattanooga choo-choo." There was a knock at the door. Kali got up to answer it; the UPS man was on the other side. "It's for you," she said, perusing the label on the package.

"Ah, that must be the laptop. An online friend had an extra lying around, and generously donated it so I could check in with wifi at the terminals on the trip." I took an exacto to the seals, digging through the styrofoam peanuts until the contents were revealed. A grimace overtook my face.

"What's the matter?" asked Kali.

I reached into the box and pulled out a Mac. Kali burst into laughter.


"I'm very sorry, sir, but all routes have been annulled for today due to Tropical Storm Cindy. You see, the dam is currently open, to keep the river from back-flowing into the city, and the wash goes straight over the tracks."

"So I'm stuck here for a day, then?"

"It appears that way. The next available train is tomorrow, same time as the one you would have been on today."

I was exhausted from two days of sleeplessness. On the Silver Meteor, I was plagued by a little shit whose mother obviously never give him enough attention. He could only talk in a loud bark, and made it his personal mission to wake me up wherever I decided to catch a nap; the demon even found me when I hid behind stacks of suitcases in the baggage car. The Ambien and Ultracet I'd acquired only compounded matters; I was like a zombie on the sleep aids and painkillers, a drained corpse deprived of its final rest. It took all my remaining strength not to take my frustration out on the poor ticketer. "Fine, then. Swap me out, I'll take tomorrow's train."

"Very good, sir." He took my old ticket and presented me with a near-identical one, the only difference being the departure date: July 7.

I trudged back to the Meteor; it was docked there for a day, unable to return to its home, and the conductors had left it open for the stranded travelers to use. I retired to the cafe car; no one was there, and only a few remaining stragglers slumbered in the observation deck above. I set up an impromptu apartment in the unused space, washing myself in the lavatory. I tried to write for a bit on the iBook, but could not; I tried to sleep, but could not. Outside the station, Cindy raged against New Orleans, mocking me, keeping me from my destination on my own damn birthday.

I donned my Gore-Tex jacket, which had been nearly useless in Arizona, and packed up my belongings. Inside Union Station, I chose a terminal locker and secured my bags. Then I went outside, to the emptied night city, to confront Cindy.

She whined like a thousand-foot organ grinder through the darkened skyscrapers of Poydras and Loyola. Blankets of rain came at me like fishing nets, the likes of which I hadn't seen since my summer on Long Beach Island. I persisted through, nigh-crazed on sleeplessness and adrenaline.

Above me, a gust so fierce that it appeared solid broke away a tree branch the size of a car bumper. It soared through the air, sailing two feet above my head.

"I am the True Hurricane!" I declared defiantly to the sky. "Disperse your false ass right now!"

I stood my ground. Slowly, the winds died down, defeated.

I walked back to Union Station and slept soundly on a Greyhound bench.


It was an instant message long coming, and worth the wait: "I need your help."

"Oho! Cain summons his brother back from the dead! How fares the land of Nod, old pal o' mine?"

"Look, Bill and I have been working on the art for the second album, but you know neither one of us is the Photoshop Senior that you are..."

I stopped him in mid-sentence. "You know, my inbox is full of a LOT of spam today. And it appears to me, that most of it is being auto-forwarded from a particular array of addresses that YOU set up. And if memory serves, I asked you to turn said auto-forwarding off something like a year and a half ago."


"I'm just not sure I can free up any time to take care of your shit, man. You know how it is."

Ten minutes passed.

"Alright, it's fixed."

"Splendid. Now what was it you needed me to do? I seem to have an opening in my schedule this afternoon."


"Everything seems to have turned out right in the end."

"Except for Hologram," I said. "I would have liked to make it up to Philly for that. Can you imagine their faces? I can just hear Chronkite now: '...and would you believe after all this shit, the bastard shows up with a fucking Mac and just plugs right in! The absolute audacity.'" I paused. "It would have been been perfect, you know? Just perfect."

She leaned towards me, the cold of tarnished brass hitting my chest.

I looked down, surprised. "Where did you get that?"

Muggy smiled. "It's from the cuckoo clock, up there on the mantle. I think it's an appropriate talisman." She held it up for me to see; a simple chain harnessed the key around her neck.

"You've been researching my fetish," I mused. I grasped it between my fingers, rubbed it like a good luck coin, felt the history of clocks and mechanisms in it's metal, felt the excitement of sex in the promises of its presence.

I twirl it around in my fingers, winding an imaginary shaft in the air. The key dances under my fingers, turns and keeps things moving. Outside the door I hear the ambiance of Front Street, a short walk from the East End Cafe, where I am holding EIDE every Monday night. Outside the window I hear the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay, mere blocks from my third story bedroom on Long Beach Island. I hear Kupo composing in his Baltimore basement, dark and cold and full of memory; the loft above Safehouse, fog-smoky and resonating with the frequency of overlapping conversation; my childhood room in Prospect Park, with my old Timex Sinclair 1000 running 2K BASIC programs.

I'm walking station to station like David Bowie, at once in Emeryville, in Chicago, at 30th Street in Philly (twice), at Union Station in New Orleans (twice), in the possible fractal futures of Cape Cod and San Diego and Detroit separated by the thinnest quantum membrane, space guitars rippling through time like caramel in a sundae:

I went from Phoenix, Arizona
All the way to Tacoma
Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.
Northern California, where the girls are warm
So I could hear my sweet baby say

Keep on rockin' me, baby
Keep on rockin' me, baby

I turn the key, winding the clockwork tension to full, and then release, the mainspring spiraling slowly outwards like a hurricane.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wings' "Let 'Em In," Translated for Literature Majors

Here is a list of people attempting entry to our abode.
Allow them.