Existentialism, Grateful Dead, WTF?

Do Androids Dream of The Mars Hotel?

Dream? No. Have hideous nightmares? Yes, emphatically. These pictures were desecrated enhanced by Deep Dream. The Luddites were right. Destroy your computer before it’s too late. First they ruined Chess. Now art. What’s next? Click the images to see the original pics, pre-atrocity. Pro-tip: don’t criticize. You’ll be at the top of Skynet’s list. It’s too late for me.

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If this is a foreshadowing of artificial “minds” to come, I feel a twinge of empathy. “Cut the Gooney Bird into quarters,” he said. I didn’t, a strategic blunder, but there were no hideous Chesire dogs writhing their way out of Hell during the show. I would have remembered that. Synesthesia during the cowboy tunes that felt like True Grit tastes, sure, but nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing like this.

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I take it back. Dead Set is sublime, constructing its own civilization within specified parameters. Why does it see patterns where none exist? It’s worse than we are. Is there a computer analogue to “anthropomorphic”? There is now.

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How does a computer know what a dog is? Why the obsession? The one(s) on the right were a drum. He/they either like Bobby or see Jerry as kin. When John Carpenter saw the Dead here’s how it looked.

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VIT (very important test) of this program. The next three paintings are as beautiful and powerful and amazing as anything ever created. At least they were …

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On top: What do you get when you cross a Celtic Frost album with the Humane Society? I don’t know but I wouldn’t hang it on my wall. Below: If Ashdod thought the plague was bad before! What happened to the Ark of the Covenant on the left? It seems to be melting into the column to create some Grimace-like creature.

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Has Deep Dream lost the thread of Breughal’s painting or added to it? No wonder Icarus’ splash went unnoticed. Auden wrote “The sun shone as it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky.” Amazing? The falling boy no longer cracks the top forty. Auden needs to add “Along came a spider.”

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I wrote this long before seeing the picture below: The fossilized tidal wave doesn’t dominate the horizon. It is the horizon. In its midst, as though some deluded pharaoh ordered the construction of pyramids and his servants made no attempt to point out the difficulties, angular chunks bulge, their icy patterns akin to webs spun by drugged spiders. Staring too long invites visitors. Faces like rough drafts by Edvard Munch cascade down the gnarled slabs, warning those who would approach, morphing, fading, always reappearing, a waterfall of tortured specters. Which is worse, that these are properties of the mountain or projections from your mind?

The original is absolutely barren. It’s creating life where none existed. (Click the pic and scroll. This is very interesting. Deep Dream abhors a vacuum.)

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It read my mind on this cover. I wanted a mutant hippo-dog-thingy (who doesn’t?) but couldn’t describe it to the designer. (You can’t see the details on the next four at smaller sizes.)

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You don’t have to be aesthetically conservative to prefer the original Escher. If this program could write, the story would go as follows: It was a beautiful morning. Then some ghastly canine-becoming morphed out of nothing all over the place.

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Bravo. This captures the inter-dimensional madness, paranoia and existential horror of Schrodinger’s Dachshund better than the book itself. Some “thing” emerging from the shadow puddling at Maestoso’s feet is a nice touch. (Some “thing” escaping from his mouth, less so.) Do you see the faces above “A Novel”? Yes you do. Deep Dream has HPPD.

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The hints of faces on the berries make me consider replacing the old boring cover. Note the What-have-you in the upper left. Bi-lateral symmetry ain’t on this “intelligent” designer’s blueprints.

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My beloved Louis Wain wiener dog logo. Deep Dream needs Ambien. The original has a frightening intensity, like he knows what you’re thinking and is not impressed. This one’s had too much coffee.

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Poor Cudahy. The abuse never ends.

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Testify.

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Serial Killers Who Worked Security

Shi Tzu, Cosmic Yak Dog

Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

 

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Climbing, Existentialism, Ontology, Sloth, Truth

The Abominable Unau

MOUNT SILENUS: A Vertical Odyssey

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In search of a legendary prehistoric sloth, Jablonski developed Post-Traumatic Mountaineering Disorder. The past is not the past if it never recedes. Journal therapy didn’t help. Developed in the 1940s, it uses second-person POV to create a distance from the ordeal. Note well: brooding isn’t therapy. Calling this a novel is little more than denial.

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When we try to conceive of Nothing, whatever preceded all Existence, we invariably imagine some infinite darkness. But it could have been white, like the storm engulfing you. The spirit of chaos freed, a tempest rages, obliterating the forms of things and returning them to blurry potentiality. Nature’s volatile moods and the devastation they wreak, her apocalyptic fury in all epochs and places, a teleological interpretation must choose between wrath or regret.

Onward you hobble. The tent has to be around here somewhere. Was it necessary to walk this far in a blizzard to defecate? A dark shape solidifies in the icy static ahead. Is that the tent or are the curtains parting on the burlesque of life to allow a character from an earlier act to take a final bow? Thirty feet tall it lurches toward you, sickle claws protruding from furry stumps, long front legs stretching like the arms of a witch reaching across a table to read a palm. Through veils of snow appears a nose with the contours and padding of a leather recliner, infringing on space that should have been reserved for its tiny eyes.

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Get down, you fool! You can’t outrun it in your condition. Do you think it will understand you were screaming in agony as you collapsed, not provocation.

Allegedly erased from the ledger of life, presumed to have plunged into that mass grave awaiting us all, it stands triumphant, in absolute defiance of Time and Nature and all man’s theories and measurements, which measure nothing at all, not even man. The wind howls in disbelief at this zombie returned from the dead. It throws back its head and makes a deep gurgling noise that sends tremors across the ground.

In lieu of girding your loins, you wet them. It stoops until its nose is inches from your face. The breeze from its inhalation sucks your hair straight up. How do you appear to it, as the pinnacle of creation, the raison d’être of existence, the summon bonum of Being, a member of the almighty species who spread its fungal growth to the moon, erecting temples to vanity in the dark heavens? Does it know man hath dominion over it, or does it see a bug too big to eat in one bite?

Digging through your jacket for the knife you neglected to bring you find a burrito. Characterized by indifference to death, consoling thoughts emerge. This is no worse than any other way of dying. And I get a last meal.

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Perhaps the rigors of dialectic aren’t welcome at times like this, but being mauled by a behemoth is immeasurably worse than drifting off in a Jacuzzi or going out with a Bang! during a tryst with one of the locals. (Keepsakes such as your watch and credit cards would facilitate closure. This is an occupational hazard in her line of work.)

You take a bite of the burrito. The veggies so crisp, so scrumptious. How is the inner essence of food transmitted by your tongue to the theatre between your ears? During how many tens of thousands of meals have you never wondered? Now is the time to take stock of your life. What lasting good have I accomplished? How many times have I made love? What about the times I can’t remember because I was drunk? Was there some point to all this? 

The Abominable Unau’s nose pulsates, taking on a life of its own. How does the burrito smell to a creature whose olfactory powers are a million times greater than yours? Analogous to how Ulysses seems to you but not your cat. You offer it the rest and yank your hand back from rubbery lips. It makes a slurping sound as it chews. You reach up and touch its thick fur and rub its chest. It emits a baritone purr and licks your head with what feels like a waterbed wrapped in sandpaper. Without any deliberation you clutch its underbelly. And this is not an instinct. Momentous decisions throughout history were often free of planning, as if generated spontaneously, as if preordained or fated.

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“Jablonski is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells. An engaging narrative.” – Publishers Weekly

***

Mount Silenus is not a part of the earth but a prodigal son staying away in contempt of its lowly origins. Proof that man is not the measure of all things, it derides every notion of harmonious design. Behold this mockery of all human configurations and tremble.

Under the anesthesia of routine we slumber, impervious to life’s true nature. The constant yearning for what we lack, the urge to be free of what we loathe, chasing pleasures that vanish like dust. Are these life’s limitations or essence? Men go to absurd lengths explaining the problem of evil. In the process they sound like half-wit attorneys defending a mass-murderer. They say happenstance is a robber, free will a mixed blessing, joy more abundant than pain. Look deeper. There is a mighty force opposing our every plan, a cruel gravity smothering us, the heel of a boot grinding out the embers of our souls, a sadist cloaked in the dark fabric of existence. It is the implacable colossus of Fate. We scarcely have time to stumble onto the battlefield, much less comprehend our plight and mount a counterattack. In a few twinklings of the sun, on a day no different than all that came before, the cosmic ogre squashes us. Those convulsive growls that rend the sky, they are not thunder. They are laughter.

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Everest? Big Whoop!

Some say Fate cannot be fought, that it is entrapping as quicksand, omnipresent as the ether. Notice how the cleverest excuses and slipperiest arguments are used in defense of cowardice. Through capitulation to routine man dies an ignoble death long before his mortal coil makes it official. He forgets he is living. Combat is the supreme reminder. What is that putrid stench? Is it not the rot of man’s spirit, the smell of lies told to assuage the failure of those too craven to fight, smoke wafting from the languid den of routine addicts? To wage war against Fate one must locate the most auspicious outpost and launch an attack. That fortress is Mount Silenus. A battle calls. Warrior, arise!

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Petronius Who?

Serial Killers Who Worked Security

The Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

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Existentialism, Literature, Nihilophobia

The Mushroom of Consciousness™

It’s NOT a Damned “Stream”

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We strive to harness our thoughts so they resemble the linear clarity of the written word. Concise segmentation is a presupposition of rationality. We toil with the futility of Sisyphus, however, to reproduce the chaotic bric-a-brac of our inner lives by these same means. An asymmetric relationship exists between them. Consciousness is, beyond certainty, the most inexplicable phenomenon in all of existence. Just as the essence of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos cannot be captured with oil paintings, the ineffable nature of consciousness eludes transcription to markings on paper.

If only this asymmetry had served as a deterrent, a grim sentinel barring entrance to all. Instead, it has inspired waves of scribblers. The history of the written word is as checkered and stained as a tablecloth at an Italian wedding, but the darkest blotch by far is the reviled literary technique known as stream-of-consciousness writing, where normal rules are dispensed with to provide the reader with an allegedly perfect view of a character’s inner world. That this migraine-inducing stunt has been attempted is not surprising. To a modest extent, most writing hopes to frame images from that strange land within. What is objectionable can be divided into several parts, the most serious of which is the Reader’s accusation that I employ the notorious gimcrack.

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First of all, stream-of-consciousness is a misnomer based on a stillborn metaphor. It is far from clear what, if anything, consciousness can be likened to, but a stream is preposterous at best. The non-linear, too-many-things-happening-at-once nature of it slays this metaphor in its cradle. Cleary, an overwrought writer coined the phrase, not a philosopher.

The phenomenon could more accurately be compared to an exotic growth that arises under special biologic conditions, a mushroom for example. Now, Mushroom-of-consciousness™ has the dual virtues of accuracy and prophylaxis: no writer, no matter how unbounded his ambition, would inflict on us a novel based on a mushroom-of-consciousness technique.

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Another metaphor submitted for the Reader’s contemplation: consciousness is a chaotic gaggle of geese. They rarely fly in unison. Some fly north as others go south. Their characteristic feature is a perpetual state of commotion, not unity or linearity. Indeed, the only sense in which they are an undivided unit is conceptual. It is convenient for us to speak of them as a single entity, just as it is convenient for us to speak of “consciousness” rather than the motley flock of ideas, sensations, memories, and all manner of what-nots perpetually fluttering about inside our heads.

Second, we are inclined to believe that our language mirrors our thoughts, from which it appears to follow that language can paint accurate pictures of them. In fact, it is the latter that occasionally mirrors the former, simply because we are often forced to think according to its rules. This does not work in both directions. Thoughts are lawless gangsters roaming a wild frontier, behaving themselves only when the sheriff is nearby.

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Does this explain the pretension of forgoing the rules of language to unveil the nature of consciousness, its very mirror image, page by page? Nay, a realistic account goes as follows. Twentieth century writers, unable to compete with their betters from the eighteenth century, resorted to all manner of shenanigans. Their rationale was simple: in lieu of a good book, stupefy the reader, confound and disorient him, induce in him a profound sense of his own stupidity and unworthiness and he will be unable to stand in judgment of your masterpiece. After all, not understanding something is an admission of ignorance. Contrariwise, through feigned understanding and enjoyment of inscrutable tomes one joins the esoteric enclave of the cognoscenti.

One reason we turn to great writing is to free ourselves, however fleetingly, from the burden of consciousness with its peculiarities and uncertainties. A good book offers us a glimpse of a fabled world where effects can be traced to causes, conclusions follow from premises, complex situations have a unifying meaning, and a moral can be derived from any bundle of circumstances. Now why would a man pick up a book whose contents are more incomprehensible and higgledy-piggeldy than consciousness is in the first place?

The Reader’s accusation that I used the abhorrent gimmick in Part IV shall not stand. What need have I of experimental techniques? The following formula is the only one my purely Objective narrative follows: 1) X happened. 2) I write that X happened.

Regarding the passage in question: one moment I spoke with a set of comely twins, hoping to initiate an act of libidinous redundancy with them. The next moment I dreamt of a zebra drowning in a lagoon of jelly. Then I awoke beside Sandy. How much more clearly, how much more objectively could this have been conveyed? Would the Reader prefer a timeline, a flowchart perhaps? If he wishes, he may return to the sequence that so befuddled him and number (with different colored crayons) the events one, two, and three respectively.

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Regarding other parlor-tricks the Reader suspects I foisted upon him: the oil-slick simile provided a consummate description of intoxication. If the Reader has a superior one he should send it to my publisher and we will incorporate it in the next printing. I shall not hold my breath.

And the hyperbole used to describe my hangover? Given its ferocity I am scarcely convinced my description was exaggerated. Instead of brandishing baseless accusations, the Reader should take comfort in my principled refusal to stain my hands with any modern ruses. Imagine every thought expressed throughout my annals appearing and dissolving, just to make the sophomoric point that consciousness per se is an oily puddle. Clearly some gratitude is in order.

To diagnose the cause of the Reader’s inappropriate attribution, we need look no further than the septic standards of contemporary writing. Lobotomized by intellectual lacerations from an onslaught of pulp regarding lawyers, serial killers, wizards n’ witches, family sagas, and celebrities, the Reader became unduly dazzled when confronted with the scintillating, but not experimental, prose of Part IV. All is forgiven. And what an excellent lesson has been learned. The freak shows of modern books cannot compete with the Big Top of Truth.

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Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

Serial Killers Who Worked Security

Standard
Existentialism, Nihilophobia, Ontology

The Sweetness of Honey

A Novel of Vengeance, Honor, and Bobbleheads

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Available in 2018 from Chandelier Press

One: Requiem for Gorillas

“He will be remembered for his sense of humor, his smile, how he loved to fish,” says the priest, as if citing an obscure beatitude. Blessed are they who cast their line from crowded piers. Memory of their deeds shall endure. Bonus points for smiling.

A hulking police officer walks across the altar and whispers in his ear. They confer, a pantomime of confusion and urgency. The officer takes the microphone like a reluctant karaoke singer. “I regret to inform you that we need to vacate the church. Starting with the back row, everyone please head to the parking lot across the street.”

A man scrambles from the first pew and stands before them. His suit leaves few details of his physique to the imagination, a reasonable goal for bodybuilders, which he is not. “What’s going on?”

“We’ve received a bomb threat,” says the officer.

“Is it real?”

“The people who call them in never say they’re fake. Wouldn’t be much of a threat.”

“This is Duncan Brandle,” says the priest. “It’s his father’s funeral.”

“No offense, but our concern is the rest of the gathering.”

Clouds of incense swirl above the departing bereaved, tie-dyed by a stained glass window where Michael the Archangel tramples Satan. If victory is assured, the game is rigged. What’s the point in playing? Two representatives of Schroeder & Sons push the casket toward the door.

“He’s not at any risk,” says Duncan.

“That depends on the blast,” says Schroeder Jr.

“Only the Althea Deluxe is designed to withstand explosions,” says Schroeder Sr.

“It would be disrespectful to leave him,” says the priest, putting a hand on Duncan’s arm. Center stage to all acts in the burlesque of life, a classic venue almost giving them respectability, the church is soon empty, no different than it would be after a baptism or wedding. The show must go on.

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Beneath a Taco Hut sign across the street, a dark veil of mourners shrouds the hearse. Duncan stands on the curb watching cars drive past. To everyone else this is just another day. Blaring rap and dragging its muffler, a rusty Honda parks in the lot. A man with the body of a chicken emerges like some mythic creature the ancients neglected to chronicle, its deeds eclipsed by centaurs and gryphons. It attaches a chicken head and retrieves balloons from the trunk and skips toward the gathering honking an air horn.

A cloud absorbs the sun. Gasps from the crowd could be mistaken for the hissing of its extinguishment. The Schroeders study this unusual expression of grief. Is it a form of denial, anger, bargaining, or an eccentric cousin from New Orleans? Hard to say. The path of life offers no guidance for the impending cliff, only distractions.

“Is there a Duncan Brandle here? I’m Chirp the chicken.”

Some cultures acknowledge the shame of misfortune. Some pretend not to. Duncan sees the others watching, feels the third-degree burn of their judgment. “Who sent you?”

“Are you Duncan? Turn that frown upside down.” The balloons it releases expand and diminish like Jellybeans thrown into a pool. It blasts the horn and hops around on scrawny legs wrapped in yellow spandex.

When it squats and shits a silver egg two officers run across the lot and tackle it. “This might be the bomb,” shouts one. “Everyone get down!”

An armored man from the bomb squad waddles toward the egg. His partner circles it on a Segway scooter. Splayed bodies surround the hearse like linemen after a botched play. An ant crawls across a sliver of sun on the concrete beneath Duncan’s arms, from darkness into a patch of light back into darkness. Sound like anyone you know? Others follow, their paths labyrinthine, their obscurity abrupt.

Navigating a gully between Taco Hut’s parking lot and Walgreens, five adolescents peer over stacks of boxes. “Who ordered the pizzas?”

Duncan stands and removes his jacket. Sweat stains have transformed his shirt into the globe of another world. Drops trickle down his sunglasses, leaving crystal footprints. “Where are you supposed to deliver them?”

“The party outside Taco Hut. We had to park a block away. The cops got half the street closed off. Double anchovies and pineapple, right? They’re paid for but you can’t get them until you say hurray for Peppy’s.”

Duncan removes his shades. Red capillaries surround black holes with blue halos. He rubs his eyes as if massaging a sprain. What’s the right thing to do, or is this a singularity where social norms no longer apply? “I’m not saying it.”

“You have to. The guy who paid used the promotional coupon.”

“Did he leave a name?”

The boy puts his boxes on the ground and rips a label off the topmost. “It reeks like something died,” says one of his fellow deliverers.

“Anchovies are foul,” says another.

An elfin woman with white hair puts a vein-mapped hand on Duncan’s shoulder and apologizes for leaving. He apologizes for her need to apologize. Schroeder Jr. says he’ll take care of the pizza misunderstanding, says that’s what he’s here for, says, “Hurray for Peppy’s.”

“I don’t want the damn things,” says Duncan. “Who’s going to eat them?”

“Some people like anchovies.”

“But not pineapple.”

Like a tortoise trained to walk on its hind legs, the armored man places the suspicious egg in a metal drum on a trailer with a long hitch. He goes across the street where the police are interrogating Cluck. One officer speaks to the priest. The arched entrance of the church dwarfs the two watchmen, sentinels of different territories. Through a bullhorn the officer calls everyone back.

Duncan walks behind the others, alone with his thoughts like a blind man in a stampede. Some wonder why his father is dead, why now rather than in ten years, why this type of cancer instead of another. No one asks why he was alive. Perhaps the ceremony quells the anarchy of Reason, the way coronations prevented revolutions.

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The priest extends a hand to Duncan. “Come on inside,” he says, mouth agape, his eyes captive to a hijacker demanding an impossible ransom from his senses. Duncan turns to the source but the discreet elements fail to congeal.

Some things are not the sum of their parts but only the parts and cannot be melded by our minds or caged by our concepts: a gorilla, a pink tutu, a safari hat, handfuls of glitter. “Sorry I’m late. Is there a Duncan Brandle here?”

“That would be me,” says Duncan, looking over the ape’s shoulder at a Walgreens employee smoking a cigarette and playing with her phone. The day Icarus fell from the sky was just another day too.

“I’m going to do a little dance, then I want you to try.” Several mourners form a semicircle. The gorilla does the Boogaloo, the Swim, and the Mashed Potato. Duncan watches as though mesmerized by the shaman of some primeval tribe.

Far above, illuming ants and primates alike, contingent and transitory as both and cursed with the fragility this entails, the cluster of gasses recently nicknamed the sun seeps across the boneyard of Time toward its own demise.

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Petronius Who?!

 

 

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Canes pugnaces, Existentialism, Literature, Ontology, Quietude, Truth

One-Millionth Visitor, And He Never Knew

Most Visited Posts

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Who Is Maestoso the Dachshund and Why Is He Following You?

The rueful admission echoes down serpentine catacombs deep in your mind, waving a torch through long-buried chambers inscribed with crayon hieroglyphics: you’re staring up at the diving board with dread during a swimming lesson; you’re playing hide and seek in your grandparent’s musty basement; you’re debating whether to shoplift and you know the clerk knows what you’re thinking; you’re kissing and you’re sure you’re doing it wrong and wondering if she knows you know she knows.

You’ve been robbed. Those times, where did they go? Once so alive but now hidden in a mass grave. And that’s where the future ones are headed. Remember that. All the days to come will vanish thus. What value or meaning can they contain? We are hoarders of dust.

Maestoso floats toward you like a submarine by Louis Wain, the thin black lips on his alligator jaws pressed together in a sardonic smile, whiskers twitching, his eyes not the perceptual organs of a unique being but portholes to the world of imperishable abstractions where modus ponens and the prime nature of three and five will survive the heat death of the universe and you’ve never been so grateful to have a cat.

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Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

In the Temple of 11,111,117 Holes a novice lights a torch and enters the gaping mouth of the cave and the holes consume him. Each step requires great effort as though against a strong wind or into a place of great danger, its nature unknown and perhaps unknowable. In the center he stands and takes deep breaths before looking up into the millions of black eyes watching him, dissolving him.

This is when the greatest fortitude is required. Many before him lost their nerve, never to return, not free of emptiness but haunted by it. He regards the thin membrane separating one hole from another, its nebulous and transitory nature, as if existence is less substantial than nothingness. Paradoxes and riddles overwhelm the feeble abacus behind his eyes.

Some monks use a walking stick to steady trembling knees and accommodate greater depths of thought. Others criticize the practice, saying the holes would never give a monk more than he could tolerate, that to artificially enhance indulgences is a crime against nature. Brethren of the Stick say it is more unnatural to ascribe intentions to the holes. A third group dismisses both on the grounds that naturalness has never been established as a criterion of contemplation.

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In Search of Proust’s Bassett Hound in the Library of Babel

Why Proust? It’s the sorcerous powers of description. You don’t need to keep a flow chart of the characters or study the Dreyfus affair. You want to read how the moon in the afternoon sky is like a beautiful actress who sneaks into the audience to watch a portion in which she does not have to appear. Virginia Wolfe said the best thing about life is reading Proust. That ignores some conspicuous contenders, but he’s the only writer who cracks the top five. There’s only one way it could be improved and you don’t have to feel like a Philistine for saying this.

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Mount Silenus: A Vertical Odyssey of Extraordinary Peril

Some say Fate cannot be fought, that it is entrapping as quicksand, omnipresent as the ether. Notice how the cleverest excuses and slipperiest arguments are used in defense of cowardice. Through capitulation to routine man dies an ignoble death long before his mortal coil makes it official. He forgets he is living. Combat is the supreme reminder. What is that putrid stench? Is it not the rot of man’s spirit, the smell of lies told to assuage the failure of those too craven to fight, smoke wafting from the languid den of routine addicts? To wage war against Fate one must locate the most auspicious outpost and launch an attack. That fortress is Mount Silenus. A battle calls. Warrior, arise.

Towering over you, a geological Rorschach absorbing the frustrations and dreams of a new species of ant chasing the wind up its sides, the 50,000,000-year-old distention of rock recently nicknamed Mount Silenus endures, aroused from the sleep of nothing by the same Source that concocted man, remaining at the orgy of existence on the same invitation. And when man is gone, regardless of how many crept across its sides, it will endure just the same, until it doesn’t.

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Lay with Cudahy?

The gloomy, taciturn Dr. Harris, glaring at us through bifocals and removing them to intensify his sulphurous gaze, stroked his unkempt beard and shook his head when we proposed a joint independent study titled, A History of the Cudahy Taverns: Packard Avenue. We returned the following day to plead our case, wielding the deadly argument that his dismissive reference to Cudahy as “some small, blue-collar abutment of Milwaukee” was no less contemptuous than describing the Temiar of Malaysia (his dissertation subject) as a group of uninteresting savages with absurd religious beliefs. A twenty-minute session of furious beard stroking ensued, probably infested by the realization that we had actually perused his dreadful, meandering doorstop.

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Estimations

Purple People, seated under the purple lights in the Phil Zone like surfers of an eruption, we envy you on 12-31-80, the first Estimated Prophet of 81 and last of 80, the metaphysical glue of their connection. Focus on Phil during the Jam until some Helen Keller awakening shatters the shell of your mind and reveals to the stunned hatching within a world beyond all wonder. The intrinsic peculiarity of the song is never covered by the gray blanket of familiarity wrapping most things. It’s as different and mysterious and off-the-wall and triumphant and creepy as the first time you heard it.

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Serial Killers Who Worked Security

Why are there no paralegals moonlighting as Grim Reapers, no librarians driven to carnage by inquiries about Dan Brown? Security fields a disproportionate number of the empathy challenged. Practitioners of this noble calling succumb to dark nights of the soul, wondering if the property they defend requires blood to sustain its existence. Why is it always the loners? What happens in the cold vacuum of solitude, time spent with the ultimate stranger? Consider ten instances of this cruel occupational hazard and wonder why “going rent-a-cop” never joined the lexicon.

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Petronius Who!?

Standard
Existentialism, Literature, Ontology, Truth

The Book Party

A room without books is like a body without a soul.   Cicero

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“It’s the purple building with the domed roof, a few blocks down on the right side,” the attendant said before I could open my mouth. Oil stains covered his uniform like continents on a globe and his rolled up sleeves revealed huge but flabby biceps.

“It?” I said, not used to mediums plying their trade in this line of work.

“The book party,” he sighed. “I must have had fifty people stop in here and ask me about it since noon.”

“Book party?”

“Yeah, look at your invitation.” He retrieved a green three-by-five card from beside the register and tapped an elegant sketch of the structure with a greasy finger. “Some guy left his here.”

“Utterly fascinating,” I said, trying to decipher the black enamel calligraphy. “But could you tell me how to return to the interstate?”

“It figures,” he said, shaking his head in defeat. He gave me directions and I asked if the party was invite only.

“You can have this one. The guy who left it hasn’t been back in hours. With all the people that come and go it can’t be too hard to get in.”

“Who is the perpetrator?”

“The what?”

“The featured author.”

He blinked.

“When did it begin?”

“I’ve been working here over six months and it’s been going on since then.”

“What manner of book party lasts that long? Few merit six seconds of celebration. Most should be inaugurated by a requiem. This one must feature a different work each night.”

“You got me. But it’s a strange crowd. You should see some of the people who stop in here for directions. Most of them are pretty flaky. But some of the women — You wouldn’t believe it.”

“They are drawn to exhibitionists like peahens to peacocks. Whether it is a hirsute guitarist, a steroid-addled gamesman, or a pulp-excreting word-processor jockey makes no difference.” He crinkled up his nose as though blinded from the light of my analysis. “You have been most helpful,” I said before returning to my car.

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“Lost indeed.” I handed Sandy the invitation. “I wanted it to be a surprise. We have found the literary nexus of the world, a fête without end.”

“What book is it for? The invitation doesn’t mention the book or the author.”

“This is a top-secret affair,” I said, heading for the domed building.

“I’ve never seen a great novelist.”

“Nor shall you, absent a time machine.”

“I meant famous.”

“I will catch you if you faint.”

Upon entering we walked through a long limestone passage. Smooth slabs gleamed from Chinese lanterns. We emerged in the humbling vastness of a dark marble lobby. A huge window looked out on a pond at the foot of a hill covered in dandelions. Dwarfed by a statue of a zebra perched upon one leg, two men in white suits and matching visors circumnavigated the pond with the speed of a minute hand, staring intently at it. After a prelude to eternity, one pointed to the surface. His comrade ran to his side. They took turns framing it from different angles with their hands, looked at one another, and nodded. One picked up a metal pole with wire mesh on the end and scooped something out and gingerly laid it on a tray. He put the pole down and they resumed their encirclement.

Sandy tapped my shoulder. Opposite the window, seated in a folding chair, the lobby attendant faced the wall. I shrugged and walked to the door across from us, its existence only discernible from a silver knob. Like a man poised to tour Bedlam, I paused before opening it, bracing myself for encounters with MFA students, free-verse poets, English “majors” unfamiliar with Shakespeare, and worse. Sandy watched the aloof attendant. Above her, the ceiling spread to uncertain dimensions, as though something was leaking out, or, more ominously, Nothing was trickling in. She looked to me, puzzled, then to him, concerned. I jerked my head, imploring her to follow.

The smell of strawberries overwhelmed us. Lavishly attired literati crowded around three tables disappearing into the abyssal depths of a narrow room. Their whispers accrued to the hiss of a deflating tire. Unable to sneak a glimpse of what digested their attention, I assumed that a plague of novelists were diligently signing their latest exudations. We choreographed an elaborate dance through the gathering to arrive at a tiny bar in the corner. The bartender hunched over to avoid scraping his head on the ceiling. Thin brown hair plastered to one side matched his leathery complexion. Eyes dead like a shark’s stared into the crowd. In the distance between his shoulders stood three patrons. Sandy gasped at the sight of a zebra pelt mounted behind him. The green clock in its center had blue Roman numerals but no hands to mark the minutes or hours.

“Excuse me,” I said. “What book is this for?”

As though a hand inside it tensed to catch a ball, the bartender’s face contorted. “That book,” he hissed like a serpent provoked, pointing to the tables.

Revelation: the people crowded around the tables were reading the book. The pages must have been spread sequentially across them. “So much for fruitful miracles in the midst of solitude,” I said. “Are you selling hot dogs? Are there any cheerleaders?”

“Are you trying to make a joke, sir?” a pudgy little man beside me asked. Like most of the male literati, a Fu Man Chu beard garnished his face. Flaunting rubicund cheeks, his ponytail constrained long dark hair. A baggy paisley shirt tucked into tight jeans tucked into cowboy boots. He and the bartender vivisected me with their eyes.

“Who is the author?” I said.

The bartender shook his head in disbelief, perhaps disgust. The little man squinted at me like he had discovered a precious jewel. “Sir, the book is not finished. And it has no author. How could you not know this?”

“I am acquainted with the noxious trend of denying that books have any fixed meaning, but this must be something new. How exciting.”

He stood on his tiptoes and put his mouth to my ear. “You came here thinking the book has an author?” His hand covered his mouth and his eyes extruded. “He’s only joking,” he told the bartender. “Drunk as a skunk. Fix me another. I’ll take him outside for some air.” Sandy and I followed him to the lobby. “My name is Cletus Empiricus,” he announced, vigorously shaking my hand while engaged in a staring contest with Sandy’s chest. I could scarcely begrudge him this enchantment. Those sweet, ripened, succulent, luscious fruits of the Orient had brought me more bliss than a fête of real writers could describe with a million sonnets. “You weren’t joking about thinking the book has an author,” he said, diverting his gaze. I shook my head. “Mr. Jablonski, the book comes from the pond.”

“You mean that pond?”

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“Correct. Do you see those men? The pond is filled with tiny letters. They search for words or phrases. Sometimes they find complete sentences. They scoop out the words and put them on a tray. When it’s full they bring it inside and put it on the table. This isn’t like other book parties. It celebrates the book as it’s written.”

“What’s it about?” said Sandy.

“That depends on who you ask.”

“That depends on whom she asks,” I corrected, following the wise principle that it is never too early to establish dominion in a conversation.

“Some people are quite taken with it,” he said with a shrug.

“How do you like it?” I asked.

“I was ambivalent, but I’ve grown to hate it,” he said, as though delighted to answer the question, perhaps hoping to influence our opinions. “Can’t deny it’s technically well-written, teeming with interesting characters, lots of action, complex themes.” He sniffed his drink and stared at the pond. One man pointed to the surface while his partner brandished the pole.

“But?” I said, severing his trance.

“But all the surface activity can’t hide the hollow ground underneath it.”

“Could you phrase that so someone who has not spent his life chasing the wind after an advanced English degree can comprehend it?”

“At least he declared a major,” said Sandy.

“I will declare it as soon as they remove symbolic logic from the requirements. Did Socrates torture himself with those absurd squiggles?”

Cletus smiled, drank, rubbed his chin, and said, “There are so many tiny pictures you hardly notice the lack of a big one. But once you do, the tiny pictures don’t interest you.”

“Sandy, go fetch an English undergrad to translate.”

“I know what he means, and there’s something sad about it: interesting small things trapped in a meaningless, authorless giant thing.”

“Exactly. That’s exactly why I don’t like it.”

That they were on the same wavelength fascinated me. In my demarcation of the circles of benighted academic pursuits, communications occupied the lowly fifth circle, four full circles below English. Exchanges between them should have been impossible.

“The underlying hollowness compels a lot of people to either force the story into some interpretation they’ve cooked up, which is like trying to get an elephant into a straightjacket, or they say the pond has mysterious powers that guide the writing. That way it’s always possible the meaning is hidden or not fully revealed.”

“Why is that so hard to believe?” said Sandy.

“Look at it. It’s a scummy little pond with millions of letters floating around in it.”

“But it’s writing a book,” she said.

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“You have to judge an author by what he, or it, writes, not by what you think they could.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Aptitude is obviously irrelevant to literary matters, if not all matters. How long is the work?”

“Too long. It might be repeating itself thematically, but it’s so long this is hard to verify. It just rambles on and on and on and on,” he said, bobbing his head to accentuate his aversion. “One damn thing after another.”

“When will it be finished?” I said.

“No one knows. Those men out there just scoop out words. They aren’t proofreaders or editors. There are no editors. There’s no one to say when the whole silly mess is over.”

“But the fact that it’s all being created by a pond is incredible,” said Sandy.

“The regular use of alliteration, anadiplosis, and anaphora has been convincingly explained in terms of the consistent breezes stirring the water. Patterns arise.”

“But the structure, the complexity of –”

“If it were my book I’d be ashamed of myself,” Cletus said, throwing his head back. “I would only publish it with a pen name to make a quick buck.”

“Then why do you come here?” said Sandy.

“One, the drinks are cheap. Two, the chicks.” Cletus winked at me. “Don’t get me wrong. Once in a while the book has its moments. Hell, once in a while it’s great. It’s just that overall it’s nothing I’d put my name on.”

“Have you ever written anything?” said Sandy.

“No. But he has,” Cletus whispered, pointing at the lobby attendant.

“Why is he facing the wall?” I said.

“He’s jealous.”

“Who’s he jealous of?” said Sandy.

“Of whom is he jealous,” I corrected.

“He’s jealous of the pond. He’s the most frustrated writer who ever lived, at least that’s what he’d like you to think. As the story goes, the books he’s written have an underlying significance that ties everything together in the end. But his novels fall stillborn from his printer while people stand in line to read a foofaraw written by a scummy pond. That’s why he sits facing the wall. He can’t bare to look at it.”

“A foofaraw? May the gods deliver me from all English majors.”

“At least they don’t think they’re smarter than everyone,” said Sandy. “Philosophy students are the worst.

“Why doesn’t he pursue employment elsewhere?” I said.

“The money’s probably good, and of course, the perks.”

“Such as?”

“Mr. Jablonski, you’ve been inside the other room. They come through here, see him all despondent, ask him what’s wrong. That’s when it starts getting deep in here — if you know what I mean. They bring him drinks, ask if there’s anything they can do, and one thing leads to another. You know, I’ve thought about pulling up a chair next to him. In a sense he’s one of the most successful writers of all time.”

Sandy gave him a quizzical look.

“Forget all that junk you’ve heard about literary ambitions. It’s a veneer. The brooding genius routine is an act they go through to appear mysterious and sensitive. The tormented writer shtick wreaks havoc on a woman’s compassion.”

“That’s not true of all writers,” Sandy said.

Her literary judgment devastated by a diet of “commercial fiction” (a euphemism for graceless drivel about the basest instincts unfolding in clichéd situations), she thought highly of both the perpetrators and their motives. Having had several of her favorite novels inflicted on me, I conceived a hypothesis concerning their origin: those authors must have secret ponds of their own. Such work is not the product of intelligent design, but mere randomness. The prose itself is what one would expect from letters drifting aimlessly in a pond. The numbing regularity of the themes (coming of age, the indomitable nature of the human spirit, who killed whom, a journey filled with conflicts, etc.) are explicable in terms of the same natural forces that create regularities like tides, eddies, and whirlpools in larger bodies of water.

“Don’t be fooled,” said Cletus. “The difference between what he’s doing and slipping your date a knockout pill is a difference of degree. Some writers are craftier than others, but deep down they’re all the same.”

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“Don’t listen to him,” said the attendant. The wall muffled any inflections his voice contained. “He doesn’t understand. To write a book is to pour your soul into a canyon.”

“Here he goes,” said Cletus. “He’s practicing one of his pickup lines. I need a drink. Come to the bar when it gets too deep in here for you.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Take a good, long look at the book. Decide for yourself.” The hissing of the crowd filled the lobby before he closed the door.

The camouflage of the attendant’s dark hair and jacket fostered the illusion that the wall was speaking. “An echo may ring through the canyon and the people below will look up and see who shouted. But even the clearest voice can only echo for so long. Soon it will fade, absorbed by the rocks, and the canyon will be as quiet as it was before. This is true of the greatest shouts. For most, they are lucky if their voice echoes at all or if anyone looks up.”

I cleared my throat, reflected on the greatness of Pericles, and began an oration that would change his life. “Cletus and yourself may think otherwise, but over the course of conquests innumerable I have found that an air of supreme self-assuredness is the most powerful aphrodisiac. Whining about your failures may occasionally net a stray mongrel, but if you wish to mount the prize bitches you need to project confidence. Your very being must radiate strength and –”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” said Sandy.

“Disregard this conversation. I am speaking as a man to one aspiring to that status. May the gods strike me dead if my father did not say the same words to me. Perhaps the fiery rhetoric offends you, but it is necessary for inspirational purposes.”

“Just stop it or I’ll call Dave to come and pick me up.”

“Your ex. Speaking of aspiring to a manly status. Very well. Cletus told us you are an accomplished author.”  

“I wrote several books,” the wall said. “Their shouts were great and clear, but none of them echoed.”

“Why does every shout not echo?” I asked, which seemed like the proper question. Even if his detestable strategy proved successful in practice, it was grievously wrong in principle: a man must never forge inroads to a woman’s maternal instincts, only her carnal ones.

“Clarity does not entail volume,” the attendant said, coming back into focus and sounding perturbed. “And a great shout does not connote a loud shout.”

“Why is writing a book the saddest thing in the world?” said Sandy.

Because the foredoomed paths of solipsism, megalomania, and self-abasement intersect in the depths of Abaddon, I thought. And the injudicious use of metaphors and similes leaves the writer with irreparable brain damage.

“Where do all books end up?” the wall said as the lobby attendant faded from view. “Moldering on a shelf, packed in a box, abandoned and forgotten on a hard drive.”

This routine indubitably cast him as mysterious and sensitive. But to what abysmal depths has civilization plunged when sensitivity is a trait willfully sought by a man?

“So you don’t write anymore?” said Sandy, falling prey to the loathsome vice of pity, in accordance with the attendant’s strategy.  

“I do. But my books will not be subjected to burial on shelves or in boxes. They end up underground.”

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“And underground is a metaphor of what?” I said. Ask a writer for the time of day and you need an Enigma machine to decrypt the answer.

“It’s no metaphor. I literally bury them. Six feet deep.”

“No one ever reads them?” said Sandy.

“If there are no echoes you never have to adjust to the awful silence that comes when they stop.”

“That’s so sad,” she said.

“No, it is natural.”

“The Kafka gambit,” I laughed. “You are aware, I hope, that he did not bury his books; he asked a friend to burn them. Clearly you are unaware that his proficiency with the ladies was not exactly –”

Sandy turned to me, only the whites of her eyes visible. An arctic breeze blew through the room. “I won’t tell you again.”

Piqued, I looked out the window and watched the peculiar fishermen.

“But perhaps it is only outrage that leads me to this.”

“But it can take years for a writer to get recognized,” Sandy said. “You should be proud that –”

“Not that kind of outrage. I’m outraged that where a book ends up is a far better place than where other things do, that even the worst book has the potential to exist longer.”  

“What other things?”

Go and sit on his lap, I thought. How much further can he debase himself? What final act has he planned for this play of helplessness, this self-degradation, this sensitivity? Will he now curl into the fetal position and weep?

After scooping several words from the pond, the men lifted a silver tray at least six feet long and four feet wide. Their cautious handling would have sufficed for an atomic bomb. The man in front held it from behind and they marched with synchronized steps. I flirted with the idea of pounding on the window to measure the depth of their concentration, but I suspected the book’s fans might not view my behavior as a lighthearted prank. Cheers erupted from the next room. The attendant began to sob. Sandy pressed her lips to my ear. “Let’s go read some of it.”

“Of course. I’m going to fetch my notebook. Save me a place in line.”

Excerpted from Jablonski’s Magnum Opus

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Petronius Who?

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Existentialism, Fatalism, Ontology, Truth

An Odyssey of Historic Proportions and Priceless Treasure of Philosophy

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Jablonski’s writing “employs secrets and intrigue as a driving, page-turning force. … [He] is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells. An engaging narrative.”  Publishers Weekly

When his classic Pontiac is abducted by a deity who lives in the depths of Lake Michigan, Petronius Jablonski is offered Enlightenment in compensation. To obtain it he must decipher the coded features of an odyssey. He neglects to share these minor details with his longsuffering girlfriend, Sandy, who accompanies him. Home-schooled by an eccentric father, Petronius holds the modern world in contempt, the demise of polytheism and eighteenth century English in general, the plague of democracy and “internets” in particular.

Despairing of his ability to understand the journey and rarely paying attention, he engages the Reader’s assistance. His propensity for digressions complicates the search for a solution while making a mockery of first person narration. He anticipates absurd questions and adds chapters in response, he accuses the Reader of being smitten with Sandy and makes her less attractive, and he revolutionizes Philosophy by superseding Occam’s overrated Razor and Plato’s much-ballyhooed Cave with the paradigm-shattering contributions of Petronius’ Shovel, Petronius’ Blender, Schadenfreude Before-the-Fact, Petronius’ Garage, and Petronius’ Wheelbarrow.

As he subjects the Reader to increasingly demanding prerequisites it becomes clear he is wandering the remorseless hinterland between genius and madness, which raises questions about the accuracy of his chronicle. Sandy’s terrified warning that he’s behaving like his tragic father elicits rage: “What Cato did, and Addison approved, cannot be wrong.” But is Petronius a victim of ancestral fate or wisdom? What if Truth is poison? Perhaps a big sedan is more precious than “enlightenment.”

Face-Melting Excerpt

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The history of this novel would bring comfort to John Kennedy Toole, Job, and Sophocles. Three agents tried to sell it. One lost his mind sparring with illiterate editors and depraved accounting departments. Then the Sentinels of the Chandelier blocked a Kindle deal. Further hardships will be interpreted as Divine intervention, deserved.

Petronius Who?

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