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Tuesday, June 20, 2006
HAD ME GOING, THERE, FOR A MINUTE
posted
4:08 PM
The character in this novel review is obviously the author of The Miracle Worker.

"With an annoying L. Ron Hubbard in tow, Gibson sets out for H. P. Lovecraft's funeral only to discover that the horror writer may have been murdered while working on an antidote to a military nerve gas prized by a vengeful Chinese warlord." Dang.

Monday, June 19, 2006
THE BOSS
posted
3:54 PM
It reminded her of the time their soundman, Ritchie Nagel, had dragged a militantly disinterested Inchmale to see Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. Inchmale had returned with his shoulders hunched in thought, deeply impressed by what he’d witnessed but uncharacteristically unwilling to talk about it. Pressed, he would only say that Springsteen, on stage, had channeled a combination of Apollo and Bugs Bunny, a highly complex act of physical possession. P.T. had subsequently waited, uneasily, for Inchmale to manifest anything at all Boss-like on stage, but that had never happened.

Sunday, June 11, 2006
GRAY'S PAPAYA
posted
11:35 PM
Sometimes, if Brown was hungry at the end of the day, and in a certain mood, they’d go to Gray’s Papaya for the recession special. Milgrim always got the orangeade with his, because it seemed more honestly a drink, less juice-like. You could get actual juices there, but not with the recession special, and juice didn’t seem like part of the Gray’s experience, which was about grilled beef franks, soft white buns, and watery, sugary drinks, consumed standing up, under brilliant, buzzing fluorescent light.

When they were staying at the New Yorker, as it seemed they were again tonight, Gray’s was only two blocks up 8th Avenue. Milgrim was comforted by Gray’s Papaya. He remembered when the two franks and drink that was the recession special had been $1.95.

Milgrim doubted that Brown was comforted by Gray’s Papaya, but he could become relatively talkative there. He’d have the non-alcoholic piña colada with his franks and lay out the origins of cultural Marxism in America. Cultural Marxism was what other people called political correctness, according to Brown, but it was really cultural Marxism, and had come to the United States from Germany, after World War II, in the cunning skulls of a clutch of youngish professors from Frankfurt. The Frankfurt School, as they’d called themselves, had wasted no time in plunging their intellectual ovipositors repeatedly into the unsuspecting body of old school American academia. Brown always enjoyed this part; it had an appealing vintage sci-fi creepiness to it, staccato and exciting, with grainy monochrome Euro-commie star-spawn in tweed jackets and knit ties, breeding like Starbucks. But he’d always be brought down, as the rant rolled to a close, by Brown’s point that the Frankfurt School had been Jewish, all of them. “Every. Last. One.” Dabbing mustard from the corners of his mouth with a precisely-folded paper napkin. “Look it up.” Which was a different kind of creepy.

SUNSET PARK
posted
12:19 AM
Vianca sat cross-legged on Tito’s floor, wearing a disposable hairnet and white knit cotton gloves, with his Sony plasma screen across her knees, going over it with an Armor All wipe. When she’d wiped it completely down, it would go back into its factory packaging, which in turn would be wiped down. Tito, in his own hairnet and gloves, sat opposite her, wiping the keys of his Casio. A carton of cleaning supplies had been waiting for them in the hall, beside a new and expensive-looking vacuum-cleaner Vianca said was German. Nothing came out of this vacuum but air, she said, so there would no stray hairs or other traces left behind. Tito had helped his cousin Eusebio with exactly this procedure, though Eusebio had mainly had books, each of which had needed, according to protocol, to be flipped through for forgotten insertions and then wiped. The reasons for Eusebio’s departure had never been made clear to him. That too was protocol.

He looked up at the symmetrically spaced holes in the wall, where the Sony had been mounted. “Do you know where Eusebio is?”

Vianca raised her eyes from her wiping, eyes narrowing beneath the white paper band of the hairnet. “Doctores,” she said.

“Pardon?”

“Doctores. In the Federal District. A neighborhood. Or maybe not.” She shrugged, and went back to wiping.

Tito hoped he wouldn’t have to go to Mexico, to Mexico City. He had not left the United States since being brought here, and he had no desire to. These days, returning might be more difficult still. There were family members in Los Angeles. That would be his choice, not that he would have one. “We used to practice systema, Eusebio and I” he said, turning the Casio over and continuing to wipe.

“He was my first boyfriend,” Vianca said, which seemed impossible until he remembered that she wasn’t really a teenager.

“You don’t know where he is?”

She shrugged. “Guessing, Doctores. But better not to be sure.”

“How do they decide, where you go?”

She put her wipe down, on top of the Armor All container, and picked up a foam packing segment. It fit perfectly over one end of the Sony. “It depends on who they think might be looking for you.” She picked up the segment for the other end.
Tito looked over at the blue vase. He’d forgotten about that. He’d have to find a place for it. He thought he knew where.

“Where did you go, after 9-11,” she asked, “before you moved here?”

He had been living below Canal, with two older cousins. “We went to Sunset Park. With Antulio. We rented a house, red brick, with very small rooms. Smaller than this. We ate Dominican food. We walked in the old cemetery. Antulio showed us Joey Gallo’s grave.” He put the Casio aside and stood, removing the hairnet. “I’m going up to the roof,” he said, “I have something to do there.”

Vianca nodded, sliding his foam-braced Sony into its carton.

He put on his coat, picked up the blue vase, and put it, still wearing the white cotton gloves, into his side pocket. He went out, closing the door behind him.

He stopped in the hallway, unable to give a name to what he felt. Fear, but that was in its place. Something else. Edges, territories, a blind vastness? He went on, through the fire door and up the stairs. When he reached the sixth floor, he climbed a final flight to the roof.

Concrete covered with asphalt, gravel, secret traces of the World Trade Center. Alejandro had suggested that last, once, when he’d been up here. Tito remembered the pale dust, thick on the ledges of his previous building, below Canal. He remembered fire escapes, far from the fallen towers, filled with office papers. He remembered the ugliness of the Gowanus Expressway. The tiny front yard of the house where he’d stayed with Antulio. The N train from Union Square.

The clouds were like an engraving in some ancient book. A light that robbed the world of color.

The door to the roof faced south, opening out of the slant-backed structure that supported its frame. Against this structure’s wedge-shaped east-facing wall had been constructed shelving of unpainted timber, long gone gray, and on this had been arranged, or abandoned, a variety of objects. A corroded bucket on casters, with a foot-powered mop-squeezing unit. Mops themselves, heads gone bald and gray, the peeling paint on their wooden handles faded to delicate pastels. White plastic kegs that warned with a black skeleton hand in a black-and-white diamond, but were empty. Several rusted iron hand-tools of so great an age as to be unidentifiable, at least by Tito. Rusted gallon paint cans whose paper labels had faded past reading.

He took the vase from his pocket and polished it between his cotton gloves. Ochun must have countless homes like this one, he thought, countless windows. He stood the vase on a shelf, shifted a can aside, put the vase against the wall, then moved the can back, leaving the vase concealed between two cans. In the way of these rooftops, it might be found tomorrow, or remain untouched for years.

She rules over the world’s sweet waters. Youngest of the female orishas, yet her title is Great Queen. Recognizing herself in the colors yellow and gold, in the number five. Peacocks are hers, and vultures.

Tia Juana’s voice. He nodded to the shelf, the hidden altar, then turned and descended the stairs.

Letting himself back into his room, he found Vianca removing the drive from his PC tower. She looked up at him. “You had copied what you wished to keep, hadn’t you?”

“Yes,” he said, touching the Nano around his neck. A charm. His music stored there.

He removed his coat, hung it on the rack, and put his hairnet back on. Settling himself opposite his cousin, he began again the ritual disassembly, this meticulous scrubbing out of traces, erasure. As Juana would say, the washing of the threshold of the new road.

Sunday, June 04, 2006
ENGINE, DIFFERENCE
posted
11:57 PM
World's oldest surviving mechanical computer: the Antikythera Mechanism .

Thursday, June 01, 2006
MOOR
posted
10:42 PM
Brown left Milgrim in the Korean’s laundry for a very long time. Eventually a younger Korean, perhaps the proprietor’s son, arrived with a brown-bagged Chinese meal, which he presented to Milgrim with no comment. Milgrim cleared a space among the magazines on the plywood coffee table and unpacked his lunch. Plain rice, boneless chicken nuggets in Red Dye No. 3, fluorescent green vegetable-segments, finely sliced brown mystery meat. Milgrim preferred the plastic fork to the chopsticks. If you were in prison, he encouraged himself, you’d find this food a treat. Unless you were in a Chinese prison, some less cooperative part of himself suggested, but he worked his way through it all, methodically. With Brown, it was best to eat what you could when the opportunity presented itself.

As he ate, he thought about the 12th-century heresy of the Free Spirit. Either God was everything, believed the brethren of the Free Spirit, or God was nothing. And God, to them, was very definitely everything. There was nothing that wasn’t God, and indeed how could there be? Milgrim had never been one for metaphysics, but now the combination of his captivity, medication on demand, and this text was starting to reveal the pleasure to be had from metaphysical contemplation. Particularly if you were contemplating these Free Spirit guys, who seemed to have been a combination of Charlie Manson and Hannibal Lecter.

Given that everything was equally of God, they taught, those who were most in touch with the Godness in every last thing would make it a point to do anything at all, particularly anything still forbidden by those who hadn’t yet gotten the Free Spirit message. To which end they went around having sex with anybody they could get to hold still for it, or not, as the case might be -- rape being viewed as particularly righteous, and murder equally so. It was like a secret religion of mutually empowered sociopaths, and Milgrim thought it was the gnarliest single example of human behavior he’d ever heard of. Someone like Manson, for instance, simply wouldn’t have been able to find any traction, had he landed among the brothers and sisters of the Free Spirit. Probably, Milgrim guessed, Manson would’ve hated it. What good would it be to be Charlie Manson in a whole society of serial killers and rapists, each one convinced that he or she was directly manifesting the Holy Spirit? Who’d have the time to pay you any attention?

But the other aspect of the Free Spirit that fascinated him, and this applied to the whole text, was how these heresies would get started, often spontaneously generating around some single medieval equivalent of your more outspoken homeless mumbler. Organized religion, he saw, back in the day, had been purely a signal-to-noise proposition, at once the medium and the message, a one-channel universe. For Europe, that channel was Christian, and broadcasting from Rome, but nothing could be broadcast faster than a man could travel on horseback. There was a hierarchy in place, and a highly organized methodology of top-down signal-dissemination, but the time lag enforced by tech-lack imposed a near-disastrous ratio, the noise of heresy constantly threatening to overwhelm the signal.

The rattle of the door distracted him from these thoughts. He looked up from the remains of his lunch and witnessed the entrance an extremely large black man, both very tall and very wide, who wore a stout thigh-length black leather coat, double-breasted and belted, and a black wool watch cap, pulled low around his ears. The watch cap put Milgrim in mind of the knitted woolen headgear crusaders wore beneath their helmets, and that in turn made the leather barnstormer resemble a sort of elongated cuirass. A black knight stepping into the laundry from the early evening cold.

Milgrim wasn’t sure that there had actually been black knights, but couldn’t a Moor have converted, some African giant, and been made a knight in the service of Christ? Compared to that Free Spirit business, it seemed the likeliest of scenarios.

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