The Physical Constants

The slightest alteration of the following physical constants would result in a universe incapable of supporting life -not just life of our kind, but life of any kind that involves complexity:

Gravitational Coupling Constant
Strong Nuclear Force Coupling Constant
Weak Nuclear Force Coupling Constant
Electromagnetic Coupling Constant
Ratio of Protons to Electrons
Ratio of Electron to Proton Mass
Expansion Rate of the Universe
Entropy Level of the Universe
Mass of the Universe
Uniformity of the Universe
Stability of Protons
Fine Structure Constants
Velocity of Light
Distance Between Stars
Rate of Luminosity of Stars
8Be, 12C, and 4He Nuclear Energy Levels.

“A Poetics for Bullies” By Stanley Elkin

Push the Bully

One of my favorite short stories ever. Of all time.

I’m Push the bully, and what I hate are new kids and sissies, dumb kids and smart, rich kids, poor kids, kids who wear glasses, talk funny, show off, patrol boys and wise guys and kids who pass pencils and water the plants — and cripples, especially cripples. I love nobody loved.

One time I was pushing this red-haired kid (I’m a pusher, no bitter, no belter; an aggressor of marginal violence, I hate real force) and his mother stuck her head out the window and shouted something I’ve never forgotten. “Push,” she yelled. “You, Push. You pick on him because you wish you had his red hair” It’s true; I did wish I had his red hair. I wish I were tall, or fat, or thin. I wish I had different eyes, different hands, a mother in the supermarket. I wish I were a man, a small boy, a girl in the choir. I’m a coveter, a Boston Blackie of the heart, casing the world. Endlessly I covet and case. (Do you know what makes me cry? The Declaration of Independence. “All men are created equal.” That’s beautiful.)

If you’re a bully like me, you use your head. Toughness isn’t enough. You beat them up, they report you. Then where are you? I’m not even particularly strong. (I used to be strong. I used to do exercise, work out, but strength implicates you, and often isn’t an advantage anyway — read the judo ads. Besides, your big bullies aren’t bullies at all — they’re athletes. With them, beating guys up is a sport.) But what I lose in size and strength I make up in courage. I’m very brave. That’s a lie about bullies being cowards underneath. If you’re a coward, get out of the business.

I’m best at torment.

A kid has a toy bow, toy arrows. “Let Push look,” I tell him.

He’s suspicious, he knows me. “Go way. Push,” he says, this mama-warned Push doubter.

“Come on,” I say, “come on.”

“No, Push. I can’t. My mother said I can’t.”

I raise my arms, I spread them. I’m a bird — slow, powerful, easy, free. I move my head offering profile like something beaked. I’m the Thunderbird. “In the school where I go I have a teacher who teaches me magic,” I say. “Arnold Salamancy, give Push your arrows. Give him one, he gives back two. Push is the God of the Neighborhood.”

“Go way. Push,” the kid says, uncertain.

“Right,” Push says, himself again. “Right. I’ll disappear. First the fingers.” My fingers ball into fists. “My forearms next.” They jackknife into my upper arms. “The arms.” Quick as bird-blink they snap behind my back, fit between my shoulder blades like a small knapsack. (I am double-jointed, protean.) “My head,” I say.

“No, Push,” the kid says, terrified. I shudder and everything comes back, falls into place from the stem of self like a shaken puppet.

“The arrow, the arrow. Two where was one.” He hands me an arrow.

Trouble, trouble, double rubble!” I snap it and give back the pieces.

Well, sure. There is no magic. If there were I would learn it. I would find out the words, the slow turns and strange passes, drain the bloods and get the herbs, do the fires like a vestal. I would look for the main chants. Then I’d change things. Push would!

But there’s only casuistical trick. Sleight-of-mouth, the bully’s poetics.

You know the formulas:

“Did you ever see a match burn twice?” you ask. Strike. Extinguish. Jab his flesh with the hot stub.

“Play ‘Gestapo’?

“How do you play?”

“What’s your name?”

“It’s Morton.”

I slap him. “You’re lying.”

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me Hard went down to the lake for a swim. Adam and Eve fell in. Who was left?”

“Pinch Me Hard.”

I do.

Physical puns, conundrums. Push the punisher, the conundrummer.

But there has to be more than tricks in a bag of tricks. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I think I’m the only new kid. In a room, the school, the playground, the neighborhood, I get the feeling I’ve just moved in, no one knows me. You know what I like? To stand in crowds. To wait with them at the airport to meet a plane. Someone asks what time it is. I’m the first to answer. Or at the ballpark when the vendor comes. He passes the hot dog down the long row. I wantmy hands on it, too. On the dollar going up, the change coming down.

I am ingenious, I am patient.

A kid is going downtown on the elevated train. He’s got his little suit on, his shoes are shined, be wears a cap. This is a kid going to the travel bureaus, the foreign tourist offices to get brochures, maps, pictures of the mountains for a unit at his school — a kid looking for extra credit. I follow him. He comes out of the Italian Tourist Information Center. His arms are full. I move from my place at the window. I follow for two blocks and bump into him as he steps from a curb. It’s a collision— The pamphlets fall from his arms. Pretending confusion, I walk on his paper Florence. I grind my heel in his Riviera. I climb Vesuvius and sack his Rome and dance on the Isle of Capri.

The Industrial Museum is a good place to find children. I cut somebody’s five or six year-old kid brother out of the herd of eleven- and twelve-year-olds he’s come with. “Quick,” I say. I pull him along the corridors, up the stairs, through the halls, down to a mezzanine landing. Breathless, I pause for a minute. “I’ve got some gum. Do you want a stick?” He nods; I stick him. I rush him into an auditorium and abandon him. He’ll be lost for hours.

I sidle up to a kid at the movies. “You smacked my brother,” I tell him. “After the show I’ll be outside.

“I break up games. I hold the ball above my head. “You want it? Take it.”

I go into barber shops. There’s a kid waiting. “I’m next,” I tell him, “understand?”

One day Eugene Kraft rang my bell. Eugene is afraid of me, so he helps me. He’s fifteen and there’s something wrong with his saliva glands and he drools. His chin is always chapped. I tell him he has to drink a lot because he loses so much water.

“Push? Push,” he says. He’s wiping his chin with his tissues. “Push, there’s this kid—”

“Better get a glass of water, Eugene.”

“No, Push, no fooling, there’s this new kid — he just moved in. You’ve got to see this kid.”

“Eugene, get some water, please. You’re drying up. I’ve never seen you so bad. There are deserts in you, Eugene.”

“All right. Push, but then you’ve got to see—”

“Swallow, Eugene. You better swallow.”

He gulps hard. “Push, this is a kid and a half. Wait, you’ll see.”

“I’m very concerned about you, Eugene. You’re dying of thirst, Eugene. Come into the kitchen with me.”

I push him through the door. He’s very excited. I’ve never seen him so excited. He talks at me over his shoulder, his mouth flooding, his teeth like the little stone pebbles at the bottom of a fishbowl. “He’s got this sport coat, with a patch over the heart. Like a king. Push. No kidding.”

“Be careful of the carpet, Eugene.”

I turn on the taps in the sink. I mix in hot water. “Use your tissues, Eugene. Wipe your chin.”

He wipes himself and puts the Kleenex’ in his pocket. All of Eugene’s pockets bulge. He looks, with his bulging pockets, like a clumsy smuggler.

“Wipe, Eugene. Swallow, you’re drowning.”

“He’s got this funny accent — you could die.” Excited, he tamps at his mouth like a diner, a tubercular.

“Drink some water, Eugene.”

“No, Push. I’m not thirsty — really.”

“Don’t be foolish, kid. That’s because your mouth’s so wet. Inside where it counts you’re drying up. It stands to reason. Drink some water.”

“He has this crazy haircut.”

Drink” I command. I shake him. “Drink!

“Push, I’ve got no glass. Give me a glass at least.”

“I can’t do that, Eugene. You’ve got a terrible sickness. How could I let you use our drinking glasses? Lean under the tap and open your mouth.”

He knows he’ll have to do it, that I won’t listen to him until he does. He bends into the sink.

“Push, it’s hot,” he complains. The water splashes into his nose, it gets on his glasses and for a moment his eyes are magnified, enormous. He pulls away and scrapes his forehead on the faucet.

“Eugene, you touched it. Watch out, please. You’re too close to the tap. Lean your head deeper into the sink.”

“It’s hot, Push.”

“Warm water evaporates better. With your affliction you’ve got to evaporate fluids before they get into your glands.”

He feeds again from the tap.

“Do you think that’s enough?” I ask after a while.

“I do. Push, I really do,” he says. He is breathless.

“Eugene,” I say seriously, “I think you’d better get yourself a canteen.”

“A canteen, Push?”

“That’s right. Then you’ll always have water when you need it. Get one of those Boy Scout models. The two quart kind with a canvas strap.”

“But you hate the Boy Scouts, Push.”

“They make very good canteens, Eugene. And wear it! I never want to see you without it. Buy it today.”

“All right, Push.”

“Promise!”

“All right, Push.”

“Say it out.”

He made the formal promise that I like to hear.

“Well, then,” I said, “let’s go see this new kid of yours.”

He took me to the schoolyard. “Wait,” he said, “you’ll see.” He skipped ahead.

“Eugene,” I said, calling him back. “Let’s understand something. No matter what this new kid is like, nothing changes as far as you and I are concerned.”

“Aw, Push,” he said.

“Nothing, Eugene. I mean it. You don’t get out from under me.”

“Sure, Push, I know that.” There were some kids in the far corner of the yard, sitting on the ground, leaning up against the wire fence. Bats and gloves and balls lay scattered around them. (It was where they told dirty jokes. Sometimes I’d come by during the little kids’ recess and tell them all about what their daddies do to their mommies.)

“There. See? Do you see him?” Eugene, despite himself, seemed hoarse.

“Be quiet,” I said, checking him, freezing as a hunter might.
I stared.

He was a prince, I tell you.

He was tall, even sitting down. His long legs comfortable in expensive wool, the trousers of a boy who had been on ships, jets; who owned a horse, perhaps; who knew Latin — what didn’t he know? Somebody made up, like a kid in a play with a beautiful mother and a handsome father; who took his breakfast from a sideboard, and picked, even at fourteen and fifteen and sixteen, his mail from a silver plate. He would have hobbies — stamps, stars, things lovely dead. He wore a sport coat, brown as wood, thick as heavy bark. The buttons were leather buds. His shoes seemed carved from horses’ saddles, gunstocks. His clothes had once grown in nature. What it must feel like inside those clothes, I thought.

I looked at his face, his clear skin, and guessed at the bones, white as beached wood. His eyes had skies in than. His yellow hair swirled on his head like a crayoned sun.

“Look, look at him,” Eugene said. “The sissy. Get him, Push.”

He was talking to them and I moved closer to hear his voice. It was clear, beautiful, but faintly foreign like herb-seasoned meat.

When he saw me he paused, smiling. He waved. The others didn’t look at me.

“Hello there,” he called. “Come over if you’d like. I’ve been telling the boys about tigers.”

“Tigers,” I said.

“Give him the ‘match burn twice,’ Push,” Eugene whispered.

‘Tigers, is it?” I said. “What do you know about tigers?” My voice was high.

The ‘match burn twice,’ Push.

“Not so much as a Master Tugjah. I was telling the boys. In India there are men of high caste — Tugjahs, they’re called. I was apprenticed to one once in the Southern Plains and might perhaps have earned my mastership, but the Red Chinese attacked the northern frontier and . . . well, let’s just say I had to leave. At any rate, these Tugjahs are as intimate with the tiger as you are with dogs. I mean they don’t keep them as pets. The relationship goes deeper. Your dog is a service animal, as is your elephant.”

“Did you ever see a match bum twice?” I asked suddenly.

“Why no, can you do that? Is it a special match you use?”

“No,” Eugene said, “it’s an ordinary match. He used an ordinary match.”

“Can you do it with one of mine, do you think?”

He took a matchbook from his pocket and handed it to me. The cover was exactly the material of his jacket, and in the center was a patch with a coat-of-arms identical to the one he wore over his heart.

I held the matchbook for a moment and then gave it back to him. “I don’t feel like it,” I said.

“Then some other time, perhaps,” he said.

Eugene whispered to me. “His accent. Push, his funny accent.”

“Some other time, perhaps,” I said. I am a good mimic. I can duplicate a particular kid’s lisp, his stutter, a thickness in his throat. There were two or three here whom I had brought close to tears by holding up my mirror to their voices. I can parody their limps, their waddles, their girlish runs, their clumsy jumps. I can throw as they throw, catch as they catch. I looked around. “Some other time, perhaps,” I said again. No one would look at me.

“I’m so sorry,” the new one said, “we don’t know each other’s names. You are?”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You are?”

He seemed puzzled. Then he looked sad, disappointed. No one said anything.

“It don’t sound the same,” Eugene whispered.

It was true. I sounded nothing like him. I could imitate only defects, only flaws.

A kid giggled.

“Shh,” the prince said. He put one finger to his lips.

“Look at that,” Eugene said under his breath. “He’s a sissy.”

He had begun to talk to them again. I squatted, a few feet away. I ran gravel through my loose fists, one bowl in an hourglass feeding another.

He spoke of jungles, of deserts. He told of ancient trade routes traveled by strange beasts. He described lost cities and a lake deeper than the deepest level of the sea. There was a story about a boy who had been captured by bandits. A woman in the story, it wasn’t clear whether she was the boy’s mother, had been tortured. His eyes clouded for a moment when he came to this part and he had to pause before continuing. Then he told how the boy escaped, it was cleverly done, and found help, mountain tribesmen riding elephants. The elephants charged the cave in which the mo — the woman — was still a prisoner. It might have collapsed and killed her, but one old bull rushed in and, shielding her with his body, took the weight of the crashing rocks. Your elephant is a service animal.

I let a piece of gravel rest on my thumb and flicked it in a high arc above his head. Some of the others who had seen me stared, but the boy kept on talking. Gradually I reduced the range, allowing the chunks of gravel to come closer to his head.

“You see?” Eugene said quietly. “He’s afraid. He pretends not to notice.”

The arcs continued to diminish. The gravel went faster, straighter. No one was listening to him now, but he kept talking.

“—of magic,” he said, “what occidentals call ‘a witch doctor.’” There are spices that induce these effects. The Bogdovii was actually able to stimulate the growth of rocks with the powder. The Dutch traders were ready to go to war for the formula. Well, you can .see what it could mean for the Low Countries. Without accessible quarries they’ve never been able to construct a permanent system of dikes. But with the Bogdovii‘s powder” he reached out and casually caught the speeding chip as if it had been a Ping-Pong ball. “They could turn a grain of sand into a pebble, use the pebbles to grow stones, the stones to grow rocks. This little piece of gravel, for example, could be changed into a mountain.” He dipped his thumb into his palm as I had and balanced the gravel on his nail. He flicked it; it rose from his nail like a missile, and climbed an impossible arc. It disappeared. “TheBogdovii never revealed how it was done.”

I stood up. Eugene tried to follow me.

“Listen,” he said, “you’ll get him.”

“Swallow,” I told him. “Swallow, you pig!”

* * *

I have lived my life in pursuit of the vulnerable: Push the chink seeker, wheeler dealer in the flawed cement of the personality, a collapse maker. But what isn’t vulnerable, who isn’t? There is that which is unspeakable, so I speak it, that which is unthinkable, which I think. Me and the devil, we do God’s dirty work, after all.

I went home after I left him. I turned once at the gate, and the boys were around him still. The useless Eugene had moved closer. He made room for him against the fence.

I ran into Frank the fat boy. He made a move to cross the street, but I had seen him and he went through a clumsy retractive motion. I could tell he thought I would get him for that, but I moved by, indifferent to a grossness in which I had once delighted. As I passed he seemed puzzled, a little hurt, a little — this was astonishing — guilty. Sureguilty. Why not guilty? The forgiven tire of their exemption. Nothing could ever be forgiven, and I forgave nothing. I held them to the mark. Who else cared about the fatties, about the dummies and slobs and clowns, about the gimps and squares and oafs and fools, the kids with a mouthful of mush, all those shut-ins of the mind and heart, all those losers? Frank the fat boy knew, and passed me shyly. His wide, fat body, stiffened, forced jokeishly martial when he saw me, had already become flaccid as he moved by, had already made one more forgiven surrender. Who cared?

The streets were full of failure. Let them. Let them be. There was a paragon, a paragon loose. What could he be doing here, why had he come, what did he want? It was impossible that this hero from India and everywhere had made his home here; that he lived, as Frank the fat boy did, as Eugene did, as I did, in an apartment; that he shared our lives.

In the afternoon I looked for Eugene. He was in the park, in a tree. There was a book in his lap. He leaned against the thick trunk.

“Eugene,” I called up to him.

“Push, they’re closed. It’s Sunday, Push. The stores are closed. I looked for the canteen. The stores are closed.”

“Where is he?”

“Who, Push? What do you want. Push?”

Him. Your pal. The prince. Where? Tell me, Eugene, or I’ll shake you out of that tree. I’ll burn you down. I swear it. Where is he?”

“No, Push. I was wrong about that guy. He’s nice. He’s really nice. Push, he told me about a doctor who could help me. Leave him alone. Push.”

“Where, Eugene? Where? I count to three.”

Eugene shrugged and came down from the tree.

I found the name Eugene gave me — funny, foreign — over the bell in the outer hall. The buzzer sounded and I pushed open the door. I stood inside and looked up the carpeted stairs, the angled banisters.

“What is it?” She sounded old, worried.

“The new kid,” I called, “the new kid.”

“It’s for you,” I heard her say.

“Yes?” His voice, the one I couldn’t mimic. I mounted the first stair. I leaned back against the wall and looked up through the high, boxy banister poles. It was like standing inside a pipe organ.

“Yes?”

From where I stood at the bottom of the stairs I could see only a boot. He was wearing boots.

“Yes? What is it, please?”

“You.” I roared. “Glass of fashion, model of form, it’s me! It’s Push the bully!”

I heard his soft, rapid footsteps coming down the stairs — a springy, spongy urgency. He jingled, the bastard. He had coins — I could see them: rough, golden, imperfectly round; raised, massively gowned goddesses, their heads fingered smooth, their arms gone — and keys to strange boxes, thick doors. I saw his boots. I backed away.

“I brought you down,” I said.

“Be quiet, please. There’s a woman who’s ill. A. boy who must study. There’s a man with bad bones. An old man needs sleep.”

“He’ll get it,” I said.

“We’ll go outside,” he said.

“No. Do you live here? What do you do? Will you be in our school? Were you telling the truth?”

“Shh. Please. You’re very excited.”

‘Tell me your name,” I said. It could be my campaign, I thought. Hisname. Scratched in new sidewalk, chalked onto walls, written on papers dropped in the street. To leave it behind like so many clues, to give him a fame, to take it away, to slash and cross out, to erase and to smear — my kid’s witchcraft.

“Tell me your name.”

“It’s John,” he said softly.

“What?”

“It’s John.”

“John what? Come on now. I’m Push the bully.”

“John Williams,” he said.

“John Williams? John Williams? Only that? Only John Williams?”

He smiled.

“Who’s that on the bell? The name on the box?”

“She needs me,” he said.

“Cut it out.”

“I help her,” he said.

“You stop that.”

“There’s a man that’s in pain. A woman who’s old. A husband that’s worried. A wife that despairs.”

“You’re the bully,” I said. “Your John Williams is a service animal,” I yelled in the hall.

He turned and began to climb the stairs. His calves bloomed in their leather sheathing.

Lover,” I whispered to him.

He turned to me at the landing. He shook his head sadly.

“We’ll see,” I said.

“We’ll see what we’ll see,” he said.

That night I painted his name on the side of the gymnasium in enormous letters. In the morning it was still there, but it wasn’t what I meant. There was nothing incantatory in the huge letters, no scream, no curse. I had never traveled with a gang, there had been no togetherness in my tearing, but this thing on the wall seemed the act of vandals, the low production of ruffians. When you looked at it you were surprised they had gotten the spelling right.

Astonishingly, it was allowed to remain. And each day there was something more celebrational in the giant name, something of increased hospitality, lavish welcome. John Williams might have been a football hero, or someone back from the kidnapers. Finally I had to take it off myself.

Something had changed.

Eugene was not wearing his canteen. Boys didn’t break off their conversations when I came up to them. One afternoon a girl winked at me. (Push has never picked on girls. Their submissiveness is part of their nature. They are ornamental. Don’t get me wrong, please. There is a way in which they function as part of the landscape, like flowers at a funeral. They have a strange cheerfulness. They are the organizers of pep rallies and dances. They put out the Year Book. They are born Gray Ladies. I can’t bully them.)

John Williams was in the school, but except for brief glimpses in the hall I never saw him. Teachers would repeat the things he had said in their other classes. They read from his papers. In the gym the coach described plays he had made, set shots he had taken. Everyone talked about him, and girls made a reference to him a sort of love signal. If it was suggested that he had smiled at one of them, the girl referred to would blush or, what was worse, look aloofly mysterious. (Then I could have punished her, then I could.) Gradually his name began to appear on all their notebooks, in the margins of their texts. (It annoyed me to remember what I had done on the wall.) The big canvas books, with their careful, elaborate J’s and W’s, took on the appearance of ancient, illuminated fables. It was the unconscious embroidery of love, hope’s bright doodle. Even the administration was aware of him. In Assembly the principal announced that John Williams had broken all existing records in the school’s charity drives. She had never seen good citizenship like his before, she said.

It’s one thing to live with a bully, another to live with a hero. Everyone’s hatred I understand, no one’s love; everyone’s grievance, no one’s content.

I saw Mimmer.

Mimmer should have graduated years ago. I saw Mimmer the dummy.

“Mimmer,” I said, “you’re in his class.”

“He’s very smart.”

“Yes, but is it fair? You work harder. I’ve seen you study. You spend hours. Nothing comes. He was born knowing. You could have used just a little of what he’s got so much of. It’s not fair.”

“He’s very clever. It’s wonderful,” Mimmer says.

Slud is crippled. He wears a shoe with a built-up heel to balance himself.

“Ah, Slud,” I say, “I’ve seen him run.”

“He has beaten the horses in the park. It’s very beautiful,” Slud says.

“He’s handsome, isn’t he, Clob?” Clob looks contagious, radioactive. He has severe acne. He is ugly under his acne.

“He gets the girls,” Clob says.

He gets everything, I think. But I’m alone in my envy, awash in my lust. It’s as if I were a prophet to the deaf. Schnooks, schnooks, I want to scream, dopes and settlers. What good does his smite do you, of what use is his good heart?

The other day I did something stupid. I went to the cafeteria and shoved a boy out of the way and took his place in the line. It was foolish, but their fear is almost all gone and I felt I had to show the flag. The boy only grinned and let me pass. Then someone called my name. It was him. I turned to face him. “Push,” he said, “you forgot your silver.” He handed it to a girl in front of him and she gave it to the boy in front of her and it came to me down the long line.

I plot, I scheme. Snares, I think; tricks and traps. I remember the old days when there were ways to snap fingers, crush toes, ways to pull noses, twist heads and punch arms — for the old-timey Flinch Law I used to impose, the gone bully magic of deceit. But nothing works against him, I think. How does he know so much? He is bully — prepared, that one, not to be trusted.

* * *

It is worse and worse.

In the cafeteria he eats with Frank. “You don’t want those potatoes,” he tells him. “Not the ice cream, Frank. One sandwich, remember. You lost three pounds last week.” The fat boy smiles his fat love at him. John Williams puts his arm around him. He seems to squeeze him thin.

He’s helping Mimmer to study. He goes over his lessons and teaches him tricks, short cuts.

“I want you up there with me on the Honor Roll, Mimmer.”

I see him with Slud the cripple. They go to the gyro. I watch from the balcony. “Let’s develop those arms, my friend.” They work out with weights. Slud’s muscles grow, they bloom from his bones.

I lean over the rail. I shout down, “He can bend iron bars. Can he pedal a bike? Can he walk on rough ground? Can he climb up a hill? Can he wait on a line? Can he dance with a girl? Can he go up a ladder or jump from a chair?”

Beneath me the rapt Slud sits on a bench and raises a weight. He holds it at arm’s length, level with his chest. He moves it high, higher. It rises above his shoulders, his throat, his head. He bends back his neck to see what he’s done. If the weight should fall now it would crush his throat. I stare down into his smile.

I see Eugene in the halls. I stop him. “Eugene, what’s he done for you?” I ask. He smiles — he never did this — and I see his mouth’s flood. “High tide,” I say with satisfaction. Williams has introduced Clob to a girl. They have double-dated.

* * *

A week ago John Williams came to my house to see me! I wouldn’t let him in.

“Please open the door. Push. I’d like to chat with you. Will you open the door? Push? I think we ought to talk. I think I can help you to be happier.”

I was furious. I didn’t know what to say to him. “I don’t want to be happier. Go way.” It was what little kids used to say to me.

Please let me help you.”

Please let me,” I begin to echo. “Please let me alone.”

“We ought to be friends Push.”

“No deals.” I am choking, I am close to tears. What can I do? What? I want to kill him.

I double-lock the door and retreat to my room. He is still out there. I have tried to live my life so that I could keep always the lamb from my door.

He has gone too far this time; and I think sadly, I will have to fight him, I will have to fight him. Push pushed. I think sadly of the pain. Push pushed. I will have to fight him. Not to preserve honor but its opposite. Each time I see him I will have to fight him. And then I think — of course. And I smile. He has done me a favor. I know it at once. If he fights me he fails. He fails if he fights me. Push pushed pushes! It’s physics! Natural law! I know he’ll beat me, but I won’t prepare, I won’t train, I won’t use the tricks I know. It’s strength against strength, and my strength is as the strength of ten because my jaw is glass! He doesn’t know everything, not everything he doesn’t.And I think, I could go out now, he’s still there, I could hit him in the hall, but I think. No, I want them to see, I want them to see!

The next day I am very excited. I look for Williams. He’s not in the halls. I miss him in the cafeteria. Afterward I look for ‘him in the schoolyard where I first saw him. (He has them organized now. He teaches them games of Tibet, games of Japan; he gets them to play lost sports of the dead.) He does not disappoint me. He is there in the yard, a circle around him, a ring of the loyal.

I join the ring. I shove in between two kids I have known. They try to change places; they murmur and fret.

Williams sees me and waves. His smile could grow flowers. “Boys,” he says, “boys, make room for Push. Join hands, boys.” They welcome me to the circle. One takes my hand, then another. I give to each calmly.

I wait. He doesn’t know everything.

“Boys,” he begins, “today we’re going to learn a game that the knights of the lords and kings of old France used to play in another century. Now you may not realize it, boys, because today when we think of a knight we think, too, of his fine charger, but the fact is that a horse was a rare animal — not a domestic European animal at all, but Asian. In western Europe, for example, there was no such thing as a workhorse until the eighth century. Your horse was just too expensive to be put to heavy labor in the fields. (This explains, incidentally, the prevalence of famine in western Europe, whereas famine is unrecorded in Asia until the ninth century, when Euro-Asian horse trading was at its height.) It wasn’t only expensive to purchase a horse, it was expensive to keep one. A cheap fodder wasn’t developed in Europe until the tenth century. Then, of course, when you consider the terrific risks that the warrior horse of a knight naturally had to run, you begin to appreciate how expensive it would have been for the lord — unless be was extremely rich — to provide all his knights with horses. He’d want to make pretty certain that the knights who got them knew how to handle a horse. (Only your knights errant — an elite, crack corps — ever had horses. We don’t realize that roost knights were home knights; chevalier chez they were called.)

“This game, then, was devised to let the lord, or king, see which of his knights had the skill and strength in his hands to control a horse. Without moving your feet, you must try to jerk the one next to you off balance. Each man has two opponents, so it’s very difficult. If a man falls, or if his knee touches the ground, he’s out. The circle is diminished but must close up again immediately. Now, once for practice only”

“Just a minute,” I interrupt.

“Yes, Push?”

I leave the circle and walk forward and hit him as hard as I can in the face.

He stumbles backward. The boys groan. He recovers. He rubs his jaw and smiles. I think he is going to let me hit him again. I am prepared for this. He knows what I’m up to and will use his passivity. Either way I win, but I am determined he shall hit me. I am ready to kick him, but as my foot comes up he grabs my ankle and turns it forcefully. I spin in the air. He lets go and I fall heavily on my back. I am surprised at how easy it was, but am content if they understand. I get up and am walking away, but there is an arm on my shoulder. He pulls me around roughly. He hits me.

Sic semper tyrannus,” he exults.

“Where’s your other cheek?” I ask, falling backward.

“One cheek for tyrants,” he shouts. He pounces on me and raises his fist and I cringe. His anger is terrific. I do not want to be hit again.

“You see? You see?” I scream at the kids, but I have lost the train of my former reasoning. I have in no way beaten him. I can’t remember now what I had intended.

He lowers his fist and gets off my chest and they cheer. “Hurrah,” they yell. “Hurrah, hurrah.” The word seems funny to me.

He offers his hand when I try to rise. It is so difficult to know what to do. Oh God, it is so difficult to know which gesture is the right one. I don’t even know this. He knows everything, and I don’t even know this. I am a fool on the ground, one hand behind me pushing up, the other not yet extended but itching in the palm where the need is. It is better to give than receive, surely. It is best not to need at all.

Appalled, guessing what I miss, I rise alone.

“Friends?” he asks. He offers to shake.

“Take it. Push.” It’s Eugene’s voice.

“Go ahead. Push.” Slud limps forward.

“Push, hatred’s so ugly,” Clob says, his face shining.

“You’ll feel better. Push,” Frank, thinner, taller, urges softly.

“Push, don’t be foolish,” Mimmer says.

I shake my head. I may be wrong. I am probably wrong. All I know at last is what feels good. “Nothing doing,” I growl. “No deals.” I begin to talk, to spray my hatred at them. They are not an easy target even now. “Only your knights errant — your crack corps — have horses. Slud may dance and Clob may kiss, but they’ll never be good at it. Push is no service animal. No. No. Can you hear that, Williams? There isn’t any magic, but your no is still stronger than your yes, and distrust is where I put my faith.” I turn to the boys. “What have you settled for? Only your knights errant ever have horses. What have you settled for!Will Mimmer do sums in his head? How do you like your lousy hunger, thin boy? Slud, you can break me but you can’t catch me. And Clob will never shave without pain, and ugly, let me tell you, is still in the eye of the beholder!”

John Williams mourns for me. He grieves his gamy grief. No one has everything — not even John Williams. He doesn’t have me. He’ll never have me, I think. If my life were only to deny him that, it would almost be enough. I could do his voice now if I wanted. His corruption began when he lost me. “You,” I shout, rubbing it in, “indulger, dispense me no dispensations. Push the bully hates your heart!”

“Shut him up, somebody,” Eugene cries. His saliva spills from his mouth when he speaks.

“Swallow! Pig, swallow!

He rushes toward me.

Suddenly I raise my arms and he stops. I feel a power in me. I am Push, Push the bully, God of the Neighborhood, its incarnation of envy and jealousy and need. I vie, strive, emulate, compete, a contender in every event there is. I didn’t make myself. I probably can’t save myself, but maybe that’s the only need I don’t have! I taste my lack and that’s how I win — by having nothing to lose. It’s not good enough! I want and I want and I will die wanting, but first I will have something. This time I will have something. I say it aloud. “This time I will have something!” I step toward them. The power makes me dizzy. It is enormous. They feel it. They back away. They crouch in the shadow of my outstretched wings. It isn’t deceit this time but the real magic at last, the genuine thing: the cabala of my hate, of my irreconcilableness.

Logic is nothing. Desire is stronger.

I move toward Eugene. “I will have something,” I roar.

“Stand back,” he shrieks, “I’ll spit in your eye.”

I will have something. I will have terror. I will have drought. I bring the dearth. Famine’s contagious. Also is thirst. Privation, privation, bareness, void. I dry up your glands, I poison your well.”

He is choking, gasping, chewing furiously. He opens his mouth. It is dry. His throat is parched. There is sand on his tongue.

They moan. They are terrified, but they move up to see. We are thrown together. Slud, Frank, Clob, Mimmer, the others, John Williams, myself. I will not be reconciled, or halve my hate. It’s what I have, all I can keep. My bully’s sour solace. It’s enough, I’ll make do.

I can’t stand them near me. I move against them. I shove them away. I force them off. I press them, thrust them aside. I push through.

INFINITE PARKING LOT & THE EMPTY SPACES

In the end, finally, I arrived at an infinite parking lot.  I found myself alone, decisively alone at last.  I’d lost all connection finally, could find no phone numbers in my pocket, no addresses, no map to show me how to get home.  It was just me & this parking lot that went on and on forever.

There was no one around.  No one was sitting in their car listening to the radio.  No one was walking from their car to wherever it was they were trying to get to.  The reason they had come and parked in the parking lot.  No one was driving around and looking for a space.  No one was pulling out of a space and driving toward the exit, wherever that was.  All of the lots seemed to exit into other lots or into brief aisles of asphalt that fed into other lots before they even got going properly.  There were medians of grass, niggardly trees that looked recently planted by landscapers, raised beds of flowers in tastefully brick-rimmed troughs of soil and cement.  The beds and the medians were well tended, but I don’t know by whom because I saw no one mowing the lawn, no one weeding.  The timed sprinklers occasionally surged to life, spraying their arcs of water over the vegetation which was everywhere and always encased in curbs.

It took—I don’t know—maybe days?  It seemed like it must have taken days of walking to get out past the point where all of the lots were densely packed if not filled with cars to capacity.  I noticed when the lots—some of them larger than several football fields stacked horizontally next to one another, some of them just slender corridors with two rows of parked cars and a single aisle to enter and exit from these spaces, and every area and design and layout in between those two extremes—started to get gap-toothed.  I’d be walking through a parking lot big-enough to build an airport onto, with no nice grassy medians to punctuate the endless rows and rows of cars,  combed with parking spaces diagonal in relation to the parking lots’ axes and almost right angled in relationship to each other across the central dividing line that created a border between bumpers.  And I would notice, that it would be only 3/4 full or so.  Or half capacity.  And so on.  Further out, spots started showing up even in the smaller lots, scattered like archipelagos interjecting themselves between the vast, oceanic planes of the larger parking lots.

Finally it got so there would only be a handful of cars in each parking lot.  And then parking lots started being empty.  And there were only empty parking lots stretching out endlessly between myself and the point of intersection between the ground and the horizon’s distant blue bell curve.

I have this memory of stopping somewhere in Kansas.  And either Karl or Jack got out of the car and ran out into a soybean field.  We’d been traveling for hundreds of miles across which the green flatness of shin high soybean fields was only interrupted once every twenty miles or so by an exit ramp leading to a McDonalds and a Shell Gas Station.

The mantric repetition of McDonald’s and Shell Gas Stations at the end of exit ramps had gotten us to the point where we were starting to wonder if we were trapped in a time loop or something.  Or if the road weren’t imperceptibly bending in one direction, leading us in a long loop.

And he ran out there—he must have run at least two or three-hundred feet out into the soybean fields—and he stopped, spread his feet shoulder width apart, and he generally assumed the posture of a man who has unzipped his pants and is taking a piss, which, with his back turned towards us is—I’m sure—exactly what he was doing.  I have no doubt.

There is no doubt in my mind.

The landscape out there in Kansas though, had started playing tricks with my depth perception.  And even though I technically knew he was hundreds of feet away, because there was nothing between myself and him and nothing at all whatsoever except the abyss of a Kansas wide sky, light years away, beyond him—because of this lack of punctuation in the landscape, it seemed almost as if I could have reached out my hand and touched him between the shoulderblades.  Even though he was hundreds of feet away.

My depth perception had been warped by hours of exposure to the Kansas landscape so that it seemed like this.  It seemed like, in this kind of flatness, the gutted reality of distance became meaningless, collapsing space in on itself.  The way time must look from eternity, like a creekbed in a painting, flowing from one perimeter of the frame to another and then cut off. Clipped.  Just like that right there.

That was what the endless empty parking lots going out to the sky felt like.

I got down on my knees like a wood block print of Abraham, and I clasped my hands to each other, held them to my chest. I said, in a whisper addressed to no one in particular, “I just want to thank my sponsors, because I wouldn’t be here without your support…”

I got up and looked out at the expanse, boundless and perpetual, veined with grassy medians and stippled with arc lights whose bulbs hung dormant in the dumb light of brainless blue day.

I wondered why didn’t they build a parking garage?  But as soon as that thought entered my head, I knew the answer.  It would have been like the Tower of Babylon, climbing—level after level after level—to find a parking space, until the air blew in over the chest-high concrete perimeter at the sub-zero temperatures of the stratosphere.  And who were we to go looking for places to park up above the carpet of cumulus clouds drifting fuzzily below?

I wondered:  Where was everyone?  All these cars, all of them empty, like some Biblical Flood-type event had emptied the parking lot of all flesh.  Only the cars had been left behind, bearing mute witness to the mass-exodus of humanity from the parking lot.

What were we all coming to see?  And who were all these people who were still on their way, still driving across who knew what distances to fill in the empty spaces?

In the Day of Our Lord, All the Ronald Reagans Will Be Counted

Walt Disney’s head, they said, is on ice.  Waiting for a time it can be attached to a new body.  He believed in the resurrection in the most literal sense, apparently.  Old Walt Disney did.  He was very fond of Nazis, and of making money, and of children, and he brought joy to the hearts of men.  For a price.  Now his head, waits to be unthawed, and suture back on to a body that will carry into the bright, widening horizon of the future of all mankind.  On that day, his Nazi sympathies will be tallied against his cartoon characters.  Mickey Mouse will sit in Judgment.  Pluto the Dog, in the witness box, will wordlessly make himself clearly understood to all of those present, just as he always does.  “It was Hollywood.  Picasso read Nietzsche.  It was just the sort of—you know.  I mean it was a fashion.  It was Hollywood, for crying out loud!  Did you guys do this with Picasso?  Did Picasso have to go through all of this?” 

 

Ronald Reagan playing an airforce pilot in a tin-roofed studio during the Great War.  The studio, itself, like an airplane hangar.  Ronald Reagan denouncing and blacklisting his fellow thespians in the time of McCarthy.  Ronald Reagan playing President.  Strange to think that by the end, he’d forgotten all of his lines, and shed every role.  Like a man undressing himself and undressing himself until—like an onion—he’s not there anymore.  Tossed into the stew.  A dirty trick that makes you cry, this peeling away without any center.  Why?  Why did I start taking my clothes off in the first place, he asks himself, in a hospital gown, his feet floating above the white tile, as the attendants wheel him back on a gurney to his room.  Like a book set back on the shelf in a library, they put him away, and he sits there, a jumble of words and stories with the door closed on them.  Tenantless as a coat closet. 

 

It was in Alexandria, when all the books in the libraries were burned, that everything was forgotten for the first time.  In the morning after the sacrilege, men moved about the courtyards paving stones, murmuring and gibbering, like lost and brain-damaged men, cut off from words, cut off from the story they had clothed themselves in, and naked.  Storyless. 

 

Eratosthenes, in Alexandria, heard of a city named Cyrene where there was a well.  And this well, when the sun was at it’s zenith, became perfectly filled with light the water at the bottom of the well as bright as the ground round and about, and the slimy walls of the well painted in all the sun’s brightness.  And taking the distance between his own position on the surface of the Earth, Eratosthenes was able to draw up an equation, and plug-in that value, that distance, in order to calculate the circumference of the Earth.  The figure he came up with was remarkably accurate, as scientists of later centuries are still testifying. 

 

In the same way, we sometimes come to know ourselves, on the telephone with people whose voices, thrumming out of the earpiece, come to us like ghosts out of the bottom of a well, underwater on the other side of a tunnel, in a city far from where we are.  They come to us, gliding like birds on a jetstream. Like birds without wings or feathers of bird-skeletons.  Like birds without bodies.

 

There is something there, that isn’t there.  There is something here, that isn’t here. 

 

I spent that year shitting myself in a cage, chewing on a rubber nub.  Peter the Rabbit hopped across the wallpaper, a plane of butter yellow, populated with members of the family Leporidae, of the order Lagomorpha, dressed in the costume of the 19th century bourgeoisie.  On television before the backdrop of an American flag, the voice of our President addressing the nation, MTV bleeding in across the windy emptiness, the barren plain that the screen looked out upon, where he held court like a cored ectoplasm, transparent, through which strains of Prince singing 1999, which toppe the charts that week:   Over the course *  bzzzzt  * Over the course *  bzzzzt  * Over the course *  bzzzzt  * of these discussions I’ve become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit *  bzzzzt  * the human spirit *  bzzzzt  *  I was dreaming when I wrote this / Forgive if it goes astray / but when I woke up this morning /Coulda sworn it was judgment day *  bzzzzt  * the human spirit *  bzzzzt  *   must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence.  *  bzzzzt  *   The sky was all purple, there were people runnin’ everywhere / Tryin 2 run from the destruction / U know I didnn’t even care  *  bzzzzt  *   the human spirit *  bzzzzt  *   we must thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on both sides.

 

The first nation to establish a lunar military outpost will rule the earth. The projector starting making noises sputtering to life and then it opened its mouth.  The cave shelter will be sealed off by an airlock, a set of two airtight doors with a space between them. In this way, only the air in the space between the two doors will be lost each time someone enters or leaves… Light was on the screen, rolled down from its case, bolted to the ceiling.  Black and white.  And there was a sound out the garbled auditory primer-coat of mechanical spinning, and the scratchiness where the magnetic filings glued to the tape on which the voice was recorded, a sound of swelling music, and then the smooth, confident baritone, Anglo-Saxon, Eisenhower Era.  And when the voice spoke, it said: Many scientific men have speculated about the first beginnings of life and their speculations are often of great interest, but there is absolutely no definite knowledge and no convincing guess yet of the way in which life began.  But nearly all authorities are agreed that it probably began upon mud or sand in warm sunlit shallow brackish water, and that it spread up the beaches to the interidal and out into the open water.

 

Nearly all authorities are agreed. The sound of a man talking in the 1950′s out of a time of solidity, gravity, wholeness, and healthiness—of a time of black of white things, parents loving their children, the enemy defeated, etcetera, etcetera.  Certainties, tendernesses and sweetnesses of which colored world that I lived in, like a juiced orange, had been drained.  Nearly all authorities are agreed.  The Atomic Age. The Edenic Age.  The Age of the Rocket Ship.  Of the Time Machine.  Back when the expansion of the Empire of Mankind was just reaching out into the darkness and emptiness of outer-space.  Most of this fast flying would take place at very high altitudes where there is not too much air to interfere.  And since the ramjet, the rocket, and the rocket airplane can be improved more than the pilot, the pilotless missile is bound to be the final result in many cases.  Destiny lifting her poodle-skirt, to reveal the religious mystery of her milky, midwestern thighs.  The pilotless missile is bound to be the final result.  A blouse whose top button was buttoned, in the hollow between her collarbones, came unclasped.  The man in the moon may plot the attack that will open World War III.  Soon after a 20th century Columbus pilots his rocket to the moon the nation that sent him there will a have a lunar base that will expose any spot on earth to celestial spying and sudden rocket invasion.  And so we began the process of denuding her, which continued even after she was entirely undressed: off came the skin, and the muscle in red flaps was removed.  Organs jarred in preservative fluids, and lids sealed over them.  The skeleton disassembled.  Where?  Where the satisfaction that was sought, in unbuttoning that first button? 

 

There is no definite knowledge and no convincing guess yet of the way in which life began. 

 

There is no definite knowledge.  Eisenhower, with the sound cut out, mouthing the shape of his own silence on mute, ribbons of bright white flowering bands scrolling across the screen like rain falling upside down, rain falling into the ancient sky outside of the camera’s field of vision, bleached bands of interference patterns where the skin of image started stripping away.   There is no definite knowledge. 

 

And so they silently glide by above our heads, in the silence, in the airlessness and the dark–machines that are watching us.

 

In bed last night, my hands on my chest were drained of agency like gloves discarded and left at the bottom of the umbrella stand.   Hidden beneath the retracted black wings of those machines, their wooden handles hanging out of the top of the cylinder like caudal appendages in paralyzed readiness, flexed stock-still, begging for absent figures grab them by the tail to bring them back to life in a gray world of rainy days.  My hands on my chest were like someone else’s hands, a dead man’s hands.  As if I were looking down on myself out of anesthesia.  But in my dream, I dreamed of rising, of rising out of myself, my arms upraised towards the lamp burning at the ceiling fans axis.  And at the end of these dreams, I would realized I hadn’t moved.  Hadn’t moved a muscle.  I would rise out of my prone body, again and again, like a ghost leaving its shell but falling back again. 

 

In fact I was at that a border.  The intertidal place.   I was in shallow, warm, sunlit water.  I diffused down the shoreline.  I spread out into the open water.  I can remember it, even now, a billion years later, pared, and shaved and squeezed back into a nub of finitude.  You were there for me.  I am here.  I am still here.  I am here for you.  Who are you? 

In the Day of Our Lord, All the Ronald Reagans Will Be Counted

 

Walt Disney’s head, they said, is on ice.  Waiting for a time it can be attached to a new body.  He believed in the resurrection in the most literal sense, apparently.  Old Walt Disney did.  He was very fond of Nazis, and of making money, and of children, and he brought joy to the hearts of men.  For a price.  Now his head, waits to be unthawed, and suture back on to a body that will carry into the bright, widening horizon of the future of all mankind.  On that day, his Nazi sympathies will be tallied against his cartoon characters.  Mickey Mouse will sit in Judgment.  Pluto the Dog, in the witness box, will wordlessly make himself clearly understood to all of those present, just as he always does.  “It was Hollywood.  Picasso read Nietzsche.  It was just the sort of—you know.  I mean it was a fashion.  It was Hollywood, for crying out loud!  Did you guys do this with Picasso?  Did Picasso have to go through all of this?” 

 

Ronald Reagan playing an airforce pilot in a tin-roofed studio during the Great War.  The studio, itself, like an airplane hangar.  Ronald Reagan denouncing and blacklisting his fellow thespians in the time of McCarthy.  Ronald Reagan playing President.  Strange to think that by the end, he’d forgotten all of his lines, and shed every role.  Like a man undressing himself and undressing himself until—like an onion—he’s not there anymore.  Tossed into the stew.  A dirty trick that makes you cry, this peeling away without any center.  Why?  Why did I start taking my clothes off in the first place, he asks himself, in a hospital gown, his feet floating above the white tile, as the attendants wheel him back on a gurney to his room.  Like a book set back on the shelf in a library, they put him away, and he sits there, a jumble of words and stories with the door closed on them.  Tenantless as a coat closet. 

 

It was in Alexandria, when all the books in the libraries were burned, that everything was forgotten for the first time.  In the morning after the sacrilege, men moved about the courtyards paving stones, murmuring and gibbering, like lost and brain-damaged men, cut off from words, cut off from the story they had clothed themselves in, and naked.  Storyless. 

 

Eratosthenes, in Alexandria, heard of a city named Cyrene where there was a well.  And this well, when the sun was at it’s zenith, became perfectly filled with light the water at the bottom of the well as bright as the ground round and about, and the slimy walls of the well painted in all the sun’s brightness.  And taking the distance between his own position on the surface of the Earth, Eratosthenes was able to draw up an equation, and plug-in that value, that distance, in order to calculate the circumference of the Earth.  The figure he came up with was remarkably accurate, as scientists of later centuries are still testifying. 

 

In the same way, we sometimes come to know ourselves, on the telephone with people whose voices, thrumming out of the earpiece, come to us like ghosts out of the bottom of a well, underwater on the other side of a tunnel, in a city far from where we are.  They come to us, gliding like birds on a jetstream. Like birds without wings or feathers of bird-skeletons.  Like birds without bodies.

 

There is something there, that isn’t there.  There is something here, that isn’t here. 

 

I spent that year shitting myself in a cage, chewing on a rubber nub.  Peter the Rabbit hopped across the wallpaper, a plane of butter yellow, populated with members of the family Leporidae, of the order Lagomorpha, dressed in the costume of the 19th century bourgeoisie.  On television before the backdrop of an American flag, the voice of our President addressing the nation, MTV bleeding in across the windy emptiness, the barren plain that the screen looked out upon, where he held court like a cored ectoplasm, transparent, through which strains of Prince singing 1999, which toppe the charts that week:   Over the course *  bzzzzt  * Over the course *  bzzzzt  * Over the course *  bzzzzt  * of these discussions I’ve become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit *  bzzzzt  * the human spirit *  bzzzzt  *  I was dreaming when I wrote this / Forgive if it goes astray / but when I woke up this morning /Coulda sworn it was judgment day *  bzzzzt  * the human spirit *  bzzzzt  *   must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence.  *  bzzzzt  *   The sky was all purple, there were people runnin’ everywhere / Tryin 2 run from the destruction / U know I didnn’t even care  *  bzzzzt  *   the human spirit *  bzzzzt  *   we must thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on both sides.

 

The first nation to establish a lunar military outpost will rule the earth. The projector starting making noises sputtering to life and then it opened its mouth.  The cave shelter will be sealed off by an airlock, a set of two airtight doors with a space between them. In this way, only the air in the space between the two doors will be lost each time someone enters or leaves… Light was on the screen, rolled down from its case, bolted to the ceiling.  Black and white.  And there was a sound out the garbled auditory primer-coat of mechanical spinning, and the scratchiness where the magnetic filings glued to the tape on which the voice was recorded, a sound of swelling music, and then the smooth, confident baritone, Anglo-Saxon, Eisenhower Era.  And when the voice spoke, it said: Many scientific men have speculated about the first beginnings of life and their speculations are often of great interest, but there is absolutely no definite knowledge and no convincing guess yet of the way in which life began.  But nearly all authorities are agreed that it probably began upon mud or sand in warm sunlit shallow brackish water, and that it spread up the beaches to the interidal and out into the open water.

 

Nearly all authorities are agreed. The sound of a man talking in the 1950′s out of a time of solidity, gravity, wholeness, and healthiness—of a time of black of white things, parents loving their children, the enemy defeated, etcetera, etcetera.  Certainties, tendernesses and sweetnesses of which colored world that I lived in, like a juiced orange, had been drained.  Nearly all authorities are agreed.  The Atomic Age. The Edenic Age.  The Age of the Rocket Ship.  Of the Time Machine.  Back when the expansion of the Empire of Mankind was just reaching out into the darkness and emptiness of outer-space.  Most of this fast flying would take place at very high altitudes where there is not too much air to interfere.  And since the ramjet, the rocket, and the rocket airplane can be improved more than the pilot, the pilotless missile is bound to be the final result in many cases.  Destiny lifting her poodle-skirt, to reveal the religious mystery of her milky, midwestern thighs.  The pilotless missile is bound to be the final result.  A blouse whose top button was buttoned, in the hollow between her collarbones, came unclasped.  The man in the moon may plot the attack that will open World War III.  Soon after a 20th century Columbus pilots his rocket to the moon the nation that sent him there will a have a lunar base that will expose any spot on earth to celestial spying and sudden rocket invasion.  And so we began the process of denuding her, which continued even after she was entirely undressed: off came the skin, and the muscle in red flaps was removed.  Organs jarred in preservative fluids, and lids sealed over them.  The skeleton disassembled.  Where?  Where the satisfaction that was sought, in unbuttoning that first button? 

 

There is no definite knowledge and no convincing guess yet of the way in which life began. 

 

There is no definite knowledge.  Eisenhower, with the sound cut out, mouthing the shape of his own silence on mute, ribbons of bright white flowering bands scrolling across the screen like rain falling upside down, rain falling into the ancient sky outside of the camera’s field of vision, bleached bands of interference patterns where the skin of image started stripping away.   There is no definite knowledge. 

 

And so they silently glide by above our heads, in the silence, in the airlessness and the dark–machines that are watching us.

 

In bed last night, my hands on my chest were drained of agency like gloves discarded and left at the bottom of the umbrella stand.   Hidden beneath the retracted black wings of those machines, their wooden handles hanging out of the top of the cylinder like caudal appendages in paralyzed readiness, flexed stock-still, begging for absent figures grab them by the tail to bring them back to life in a gray world of rainy days.  My hands on my chest were like someone else’s hands, a dead man’s hands.  As if I were looking down on myself out of anesthesia.  But in my dream, I dreamed of rising, of rising out of myself, my arms upraised towards the lamp burning at the ceiling fans axis.  And at the end of these dreams, I would realized I hadn’t moved.  Hadn’t moved a muscle.  I would rise out of my prone body, again and again, like a ghost leaving its shell but falling back again. 

 

In fact I was at that a border.  The intertidal place.   I was in shallow, warm, sunlit water.  I diffused down the shoreline.  I spread out into the open water.  I can remember it, even now, a billion years later, pared, and shaved and squeezed back into a nub of finitude.  You were there for me.  I am here.  I am still here.  I am here for you.  Who are you? 

Evil: It Might Not Be What You Were Hoping It Was

the question of evil

[A friend of mine–a libertarian–shared this on his wall.]  

The question we must first address is do you believe in evil? Is evil only a psychological disorder that consists of bad choices; something that can be managed, studied by psychologists, and medicated away. Something we can screen out through “tougher laws” Or is there a choice involved for some people to chose selfishly the dark side over the light?
The question we must first address is do you believe in evil? Is evil only a psychological disorder that consists of bad choices; something that can be managed, studied by psychologists, and medicated away. Something we can screen out through “tougher laws” Or is there a choice involved for some people to chose selfishly the dark side over the light?
[I responded somewhat overzealously by writing an epistle. Almost all of my comments below are more or less directly cribbed from the work of an author whose name I would rather not mention, since it might cause some to dismiss the argument prior to considering it.]
Thomas DoaneThe dichotomy you describe–is evil psychological, a series of bad choices, able to be medicated, or is there a ‘deeper choice’–is not actually a dichotomy. The two situations are redundant, the one describing a continuity and the other describing a discrete point within that continuity.
  • Thomas Doane Our sense of free will results from a failure to appreciate this: we do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that we generally suppose.
    55 minutes ago · LikeThomas Doane Of course insigth does not make social and political freedom any less important. The freedom to do what one intends and not to do otherwise is no less valuable than it ever was. Having a gun to your head is still a problem worth rectifying, wherever your intentions come from. But the idea that we, as conscious beings, are deeply responsible for the character of our mental lives and subsequent behavior is simply impossible to map onto reality.
  • 53 minutes ago · Like
  •  THERE is a distinction between voluntary and involuntary action actions of course but it does nothing to support the common idea of free will (nor does it depend upon it). A voluntary action is accompanied by the felt intention to carry it out, where as an involuntary action isn’t. Needless to say this difference is reflected at the level of the brain. And what a person consciously intends to do say a lot about him. It makes sense to treat a man who enjoys murdering children differently from one who accidentally hit and killed a child with his car–because the conscious intentions of of the former give us a lot of information about how he is likely to behave in the future. But where intentions themselves come from, and what determines their character in every instance, remains perfectly mysterious in subjective terms. Our sense of free will results from a failure to appreciate this: We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand that is to realize that we are not the conscious authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose. Of course, that insight does not make social and political freedom any less important. The freedom do what one intends and not to do otherwise is no less valuable than it ever was. Having a gun to your head is still a problem worth rectifying, wherever intentions come from. But the idea that we, as conscious beings, are deeply responsible for the character of our mental lives and subsequent behavior is simply impossible to map onto reality.
  • Thomas Doane What does it mean to say that rapists and murderers commit crimes of their own free will? If this statement means anything, it must be that they could have behaved differently–not on the basis of random influences over which they have no control but because they as conscious agents were free to think and act in other ways. To say that they were free NOT to rape and murder is to say that they could have resisted the impulse to do so (or could have avoided feeling such an impulse altogether)–with the universe, including their brains, in precisely the same state as it was in at the moment they commited their crimes.
    43 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane The fact is that if “you” were in their position, same genetic history, same physical history, same exact physical and social context brainchemistry etc., molecule for molecule, atom for atom, “you” would be “them” and you would do exactly the same thing that they did.
    42 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane There is just no vantage point from which you can deny this unless you resort to some kind of Platonism.
    41 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane Just a sidenote: As far as I can understand it this view of human behavior is in accord with the gospel, though it is not in accord with later 2nd, 3rd and 4th century neo-platonic readings of the gospel.
    39 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane People will say that whachamacallit Aspberger’s loner killed the kids in Conneticut and not the guns he had in his possession.
    38 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane It would be possible to make some kind of metaphysical argument that “Evil” possessed Aspberger’s loner guy just as he held the guns, and that he was only one part of a larger process, just like the guns.
    37 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane Regardless of whether the former or the latter is a better description of what happened
    36 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane that if guns & gun-ownership were the province of local militias–which would be in line with the constitution I think–and if those militias were at least in some way–not in loco parentis but at least to some extent to be determined–accountable for the actions of their members
    35 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane what happened
    35 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane would have been far less likely to happen
    34 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane barring other macro-circumstances shifting (say if all these militias started smoking crystal meth)
    34 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane it still could have happened, no doubt
    29 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane but due to layers upon layers of circumstances that would have been slightly different, that context would have made what happened less likely to happen
    28 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane “Evil” is an edifice, a mental & linguistic construct, referring to real phenomena
    28 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane It behooves us, to make sure that we stay more focused on the actual phenomena, rather than the linguistic construct & ideological voltages around that construct
    27 minutes ago · Like · 1
  • Thomas Doane Would we rather maintain an object to punish, to project our grief & rage upon, self-righteously? Would we prefer this to taking actions which would obviously defuse and help to prevent specific situations from developing?
    23 minutes ago · Like · 1
  • Thomas Doane You and I, and people like ourselves will have to work together, now and in days that are to come in order to keep fighting against the evil whose ugly face we saw on Friday.
    13 minutes ago · Like
  • Jeremy John The real systemic question in the free will debate is whether the human system can reflect on itself. This would break determinism in the way Godel’s proof breaks formal systems. Human self reflection breaks our flat notions of “materialism” not by inv…See More
    11 minutes ago via mobile · Like
  • Thomas Doane Please explain how self-reflection is a “ground” to which free-will can anchor itself, rather than being merely the radioactive half-life of mental processes in continuuity with biological and physical contexts that we have no control over.
    7 minutes ago · Like
  • Thomas Doane An echo of the interpenetrative patterns of interference between brain-chemistry and physical/socio-biological contexts
  • 6 minutes ago · Like

That Trilobite Time

“I still…” -Anne Frank

trilobite archaean era trilobite wallpaper

I guess I should have given up hope a long time ago
Yet I still cling to it because I still believe, deep down
In spite of everything, that people are basically like Anne Frank:
Dead

Wish I could go back to that special time in all of our lives
that never happened. Mattel Ads & Sat. morning cartoons
I wish I could go back to that time of trilobite wallpaper
beyond the crib’s childproof bars. Just like a bottle of pills,
they had to fish me out at the end of a shiny silver hook. 2
that old time Archaean eon, of dark green forest floors shut
out from the sky by a thick canopy of trees that were never
named, to those ferns on the forest floor that are coming out
of our smokes stacks a billion years down the road.  I want
to be just like a Triceratops when I grow up, working full time
at being unemployed, always one step ahead of the slaughter.
Chomping on ferns in the medieval jungle of the ancient
animal death matrix. Scrubbed head to toe with trilobites.
Free as only the mindless can be.

Simulacrum/The Succesive Phases of the Image

The simulacrum is never what hides the truth – it is truth that hides the fact that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.

Such would be the successive phases of the image:
it is the reflection of a profound reality;
it masks and denatures a profound reality;
it masks the absence of a profound reality;
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever;
it is its own pure simulacrum.