Sunday, April 25, 2004

Day 7 in the Great Tea Experiment rolls along. Not a drop of coffee, though, again, I miss it.

I like tea. It's a low-maintenance drink, satisfying in a strange way - not a pick-me-up-out-of-the-dumpster-way like coffee but more a nudge towards clarity. Been going to sleep earlier and that's a good thing, more time for the ever-persistent homework.

Still working on my 9/11-based story. Unfortunately. It'll either be awesome or the most over-worked, meandering, mess I've yet to concoct. It's been like the kind of roller-coaster ride that has a long line and then once you're on the ride, it's great, but brief. So then you get back on the line and wait, and wait, and then ride it again, and again. It's satisfying and not at the same time. Know what I mean?

Till next time.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Decemberists Stuff, Part 2.

So, new Big D record. It didn't really sink in this morning. But, I took a walk through the park in the one of most gloriously blue days in months, listening to Her Majesty The Decemberists and I was overtaken, once again, by that record. Before I heard this album, I was causal Decemberists fan, maybe a little more. I had the first full-length and the following (brilliant) EP on mp3 for a long time. I liked them a lot but I was enjoying a huge palette of music at the time thanks to the wonders of Soulseek and a DSL connection.

Then, last summer, a good three months before release, I got my virtual hands on an advance of Her Majesty. To say, "it blew me away" would be a cliche, because it's used to much. But, what the hell, that's what happened. Every time one of those orchestra sections would erupt at the tail end of songs, I would jump! I listened to it a lot, for a looong time, to the point of burn-out. But it was my come-home-from-school-and-relax-with-a-bowl-record for four or five months, straight. I don't think I'll ever forget a lyric, a transition, or a melody from that record. It made that big of an impact on me.

Anyway. So, new record. Doesn't surprise me. This is a band so full of creativity and endless inspiration (case in point: The Tain), that I expect them to come out with a steady stream of material for their entire career. But, honestly, I didn't expect another full-length so soon after Her Majesty. If it comes out in 2004, I'll be shocked. My guess is early 2005. Either way, I'm delighted.


From today's Pitchfork NewsWire:

The Decemberists Gear Up to Record Next Album, Premiere Songs on Newly Announced Tour Dates

A tale of 26 cities
Chris Rediske reports:
I tell you, it's getting so you can't swing a dead cat without hitting The Decemberists! Colin Meloy and his merry band are heading out on their umpteenth swing through these here United States, proving once and for all how much they really like their tour bus (and you!). However, this time around, they do have an ulterior motive-- one that should give you a reason to turn off the TV, hit the club, and see them again: They'll be previewing some of the songs to be featured on their upcoming album.

Pitchfork contacted Meloy and confirmed that The Decemberists are planning to head into the studio this summer to record their third full-length for Kill Rock Stars. If you're keeping count, that'll make three albums and two EPs in the same time that The Cure have released... well, basically nothing.

This latest round of dates is actually the second leg of the "Never Send to Know With Whom the Van Rolls, It Rolls With Thee" tour, and if you think we're kidding, you can head on over to The Decemberists' website and buy a t-shirt to that effect. And several other effects. They'll be supported by The Long Winters and The Places (but not The The) on all dates, except May 19th and June 18th, both of which are festival shows. Insert obligatory list of dates, cities and clubs here:

04-30 Seattle, WA - Crocodile Cafe
05-01 Seattle, WA - Crocodile Cafe
05-27 Portland, OR - Aladdin
05-28 Vancouver, British Columbia - Richards on Richard
05-29 George, WA - Sasquatch Festival
05-31 Salt Lake City, UT - Lo Fi Café
06-01 Denver, CO - Gothic Theater
06-03 Minneapolis, MN - 400 Bar
06-04 Chicago, IL - Metro
06-05 Detroit, MI - Shelter
06-06 Toronto, Ontario - Lees Palace
06-07 Montreal, Quebec - El Salon
06-08 Hoboken, NJ - Maxwell's
06-10 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
06-11 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
06-12 Boston, MA - Paradise
06-14 Washington, D.C. - 9:30 Club
06-15 Philadelphia, PA - TLA
06-16 Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle
06-17 Atlanta, GA - Echo Lounge
06-18 Birmingham, AL - City Stages Festival
06-19 Nashville, TN - Exit/In
06-21 Dallas, TX - Trees
06-22 Austin, TX - The Parish
06-24 Tucson, AZ - Plush
06-25 San Diego, CA - Casbah
06-26 Los Angeles, CA - El Rey
06-27 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall
06-28 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall

Damn! You see my problem. I'm not going to be in San Francisco for their June shows. Not that I haven't seen The Decemberists a few times in the last year - but, yo, new songs! New album! I love those guys. I'm going to try to go to one of those NYC shows.

(yeah. i'm crazy.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Day 3.

I miss coffee. A lot. But I'm sticking with it. I have been feeling better.

In other news, I need to work my ass off for the next three weeks if I want to graduate.

In musical news, I've been listening to these albums a lot lately:

TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
The Beta Band - Heroes to Zeroes
Wilco - A Ghost is Born
The Decemberists - (entire catalog)
Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn, Country Hymn, Secret Hymn (among others)
Mogwai - Happy Songs for Happy People / Rock Action / CODY
The One AM Radio - A Name Writ in Water
Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
The American Analog Set - The Golden Band

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Great Tea Experiment, Day 1.

In an attempt to put an end to my crippling stomach problems, I've decided to cut out coffee. After about a decade of multiple, daily, coffee hits, it's not going to be easy. I love coffee. But I believe in change. And change, from almost any perspective, is good.

So, wish me luck.

Friday, April 16, 2004

If you've made this far, I love you. :)

Enjoy the ending(s).

Excerpts from a War in Progress by Elad Haber (Part 4 of 4)

J-man had said come alone, but didn’t say anything about coming armed. Don’t worry, I didn’t have a gun, but I wasn’t unprepared. The sun was out and brilliant; it was around two o’clock in the afternoon.
I smoked a cigarette across the street from the strip-club used as a ‘front’ for the organization. The neon sign was off and the whole block was half-empty, a hobo pushing a cart full of tin cans making the only noise. I walked to the club. My stomach jumped on itself a few times. I was scared for what might be, and nervous about how I’ll perform.
Remember what I said about Luck? And how I didn’t believe it wanted to help people like me. I hope I was wrong. I needed some luck today.
I knocked at the door. It opened quickly.
“Wha?” said a big gangsta-type, squinting in the daylight. He recognized me and let me through without another word.
Dim artificial twilight, inside. At night, the main lights are off, a prevailing darkness fills the place, with only neon lights, spotlights on the girls, and lamps around the bar, so you could see what you’re drinking. In the daytime, the club looked depressed, as if it missed its people and music. Two cleaning guys swept the floor with the sound of scraping straw on wood.
I walked down lanes of barstools and tables that I’d sat at many times (free drinks and lap-dances to members of the crew) and remembered some times I’d spent here with friends, fellow members. There were good friends of mine working for the Bosses, had been for years and years. This thing isn’t like the Italian mob, where you grow up in a neighborhood, join the crew in that neighborhood (or make your own and take down the bigger one), and your partners in crime are your life-long buddies. Things get complicated like that. Here, they switched you around a lot. Me, I did a little of everything. I had many friends in the organization, but I worked with only a few of them. As for the bosses, they had been good to me.
It’s the War that was getting to me. The destructive tug-of-war between dealers and cops, dealers and other dealers, and the internal struggles of any business. But this was a business where everyone was armed. A disagreement could turn into a gunbattle at any moment, meanwhile, the cops are just around the corner, filming you, waiting to snatch you up. I was sick of all of it.
I walked into G-Man’s office after only a slight knock. He wasn’t alone. Half a dozen black faces stared at me, insulted, not-trusting. I saw it in their eyes. They were very unhappy with me for some reason.
“Yo, kid,” said J-man, standing near a large desk. “Sit or stand if you want.” He indicated a chair behind me. I didn’t turn my back.
I looked at the large desk and G-Man sitting behind it. The Boss-Man wore small reading glasses, not very gangster-like, more intellectual. He had a goatee, jet black hair against cream skin, and he looked like he used some greasy jell. Oddly, he was wearing a suit. I decided to stand.
“Special occasion?” I asked him.
G-Man nodded. “Court.”
“Anything serious?”
A little laugh from the peanut gallery. G-Man shook his head. “Never.” He stood up, patted his jacket down. “But don’t worry, it has nothing to do with you, MC.” He began to walk around his people and the large desk towards me. “We are concerned about you, though, little-man. First, you get picked up by Five-Oh. A random drug thing, yeah, and no big shit, but, it shows a certain lack of ill-responsibility, you-get-what-I’m-saying-here?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” He was right beside me now and was speaking in a lower voice. He was a foot and a head taller than me.
“And then, there’s this incident in police custody. Three random niggas jumped you, a few feet away from the cops? This I don’t believe.”
J-man, still leaning behind the desk, said, “What if it was set up? An assault on us, beginning with you.”
“But the cops …”
G-Man interjected, “The cops can be bought for pennies, kiddo. We found that out long-ago.”
I shook my head at them. I was sweating a little. “I don’t know, man. These fools seemed wacked. Talking about the Devil and fuckin’ Darkness coming for my soul. I don’t think they were working for anybody we know.”
Laughter again, from the background characters.
“You don’t THINK?” said G-Man, mock-insulted. “We don’t pay your ass to think, MC.” He went down to a whisper, “You’ve been one of my best recruiters for the last five years. Now you tell J you want out. What the fuck, man?”
I had that uncomfortable feeling you get sometimes when talking to the father of a girl you’re sleeping with. I said quietly, “It’s getting to be too much, G. Too much hiding and being careful and being scared. There’s someone trying to fuck with me every time I walk down a corner. I can’t take it.”
He put his arm around my shoulder and led me to the far side of the room, where we conversed at a whisper.
“I know, man,” he said. “I know. I remember when I was alone out there, in the trenches. It’s hard to keep focused on your future when the present is out to fuck with you.”
“That’s it, G! I don’t want to be a solider, part of a war. I just want to have a job like normal people. I want to come home at night, eat dinner, smoke a joint, fuck my girlfriend, and then watch Letterman before going to sleep. Without looking over my shoulder or sleeping with a gun nearby.”
“You want a normal life?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
G-Man paused. He shook his head, squeezed my neck a little more. “It don’t work that way. This life takes balls. You had them up until I couple days ago. Did some Aryan rape you in lock-up? Or is it just that bitch, with her fingernails in your balls?”
“G-Man, what are you talkin’ about?”
“Your buddy Nate sold you out, said you sounded like you were all ‘in love’-n’shit. That’s where your fuckin’ heart is, down that bitch’s pants.” He turned to the rest of the room and spoke in such a loud volume, people in the club could have heard. “Yo!” he half-shouted. “MC here has found a proper woman good enough to marry and he wants no more of our roughneck company. What do we say that, boys?”
All the ganstas in the room gave me a look that they were waiting for the word to take me out. Then they shouted, “FUCKIN’ PUSSY.” G-Man laughed, satisfied. He took a few steps into the center of the room and then turned to me.
“Look, here, MC. I understand wanting to reexamine your life, after jail, and meeting some (hopefully) damn fine piece of ass. But this is a Man’s job and if you want to act like a Bitch, we will have to terminate you.” A little laughter from one of the gangsta’s. “I don’t want to have to force you out of the crew. I hope you believe that. There’s enough shit going on out there that I don’t need to lose someone like you, so, think about it. Before you make any rash decisions that you will regret. Believe me. I speak only the truth to you, MC, because I respect you.”
I nodded like a chastised child, “I understand.”
G-Man nodded, feeling victorious. “Good. Now go home, smoke a blunt or something, and think about how long you want the rest of your life to be. We’ll call you tomorrow. Walk away now.”
I did as told, feeling my heart pumping, maybe suddenly afraid they were gonna stab me in the back, literally.
They didn’t. I closed the door to G’s office behind me and walked slowly down some dark stairs. G-Man had pulled the show off almost perfectly, till the end. He wanted me to come back to them with an answer, but whatever it would be, my days were numbered. I showed weakness and they had to eliminate me.
I remember my early days in the organization well. They put me in the basement of the kitchen here at the club, cleaning dishes in front of the high-powered dishwasher, two nights a week. Every other night and day, I was out with the crew, dealing. Everyone starts out like that. I knew that it wasn’t really for me, then, but I was always with well-experienced others who took care of me. I learned a lot. They use to tell me, “Just remember the rules. There’s no escape once you're in. You want to stay alive, see twenty-one, then twenty-five, then twenty-eight, if you’re lucky, just remember the rules.
“Rule Number One: Killed or be killed. Most important of all. On the street, there ain’t no second chances. You hear someone’s got their eye on you, you cap that motherfucker quick, before he has a chance to hit you from behind. You remember that shit, aiight, little MC?”
They named me that, the veterans on the corner. They had the rookies entertain them in the slow periods and I use to do a killer MC Hammer impersonation. It stuck.
Over the years, I had to defend myself more than a few times and I did a few preemptive attacks, never killing, but wounding severely a few motherfuckers. I wasn’t proud of that. I wasn’t proud of anything I’d done as a member of the crew. But I did respect them, and I believed the things they told me.
I walked down to the kitchen of the strip club. Some of the best spicy buffalo wings in the world were created right here, in this kitchen. At the moment, it was empty. I walked silently through it, to a side door, down some steps to the freezers and dishwashing/pot-and-pan cleaning area. There were two bulky machines here, bought in the mid-90’s. They ran on gas. I started them up and waited until the water was audibly bubbling. Beneath them, large pipes ran up from the generator. Using my feet I kicked them out of their alignment. Small leaks of gas peaked out, I smelled it. I walked back upstairs.
Besides the gas stoves were a line of meat steamers, large open flames underneath hotboxs. With my lighter (the one weapon I managed to smuggle behind enemy lines) I lit the steamers quickly. I put them on one of the lower settings and got the fuck out of there, through the kitchen entrance.
I walked away from the club, through the cold afternoon, at a quick pace. When I was a few blocks away, my heart stopped pounding so fast, for just a moment. Then a loud explosion rocked five city blocks. The rumbling felt like a subway train was approaching. I hesitated to look behind me.
Kill or be killed, that’s what they taught me.
I looked back, at the flaming facade of the stripclub. The squeal of cop cars and firetrucks converging on the building. I escaped. That’s what they taught me.

When my superiors laid out this mission for me, they talked vaguely of the ultimate goal. Finally, I asked, “And when I meet the Devil Himself, what shall I do?” They looked at each other as if the answer was obvious. One said, “Well, kill him, of course.”

The prayer session was, in a word, disturbing. Their religion was a mocking jumble of Judeo-Chritisan pomp and ceremony. Whole lines of prayer were copied out of the Holy Bible but then capped off with a Hebrew-accented AMEN. And there appeared to be a large influence from the Rastafari religion. The colors were all green and yellow and black and there was singing in slow-paced rhythms. When it was all over, the Priest unveiled a large joint, lit it, and began passing it around to the whole congregation, starting with The Man. When it came time to come to me, the teenage girl sitting next to me handed it over like a tasty lollipop she was sharing with her friends. I refused at first, but she didn’t understand and forced the little flaming thing into my hand. I didn’t know what to do with it. I was about to throw it on the floor when the whole room gasped in horror.
There were a few of them around me in seconds, two gargoyle creatures casting cold shadows and two strong-looking men, personal guards to The Man. He appeared before me then, calm, as if thinking of him summoned him. He said, “You must not destroy it. It is the body of Christ.”
I looked at him in shock. “This?” I said. “This is… sin.”
“It’s a symbol,” he said, “a metaphor. We use Holy ashes mixed with marijuana to symbolize the ashes of Christ. We smoke in his honor.”
Still burning, I raised it to give to him. “I cannot.”
After a long moment, he nodded. “I understand,” he said, but did not reach for it. “Tell me, how is this different than the drinking of wine to toast his Lord?”
I stammered. “There is a morality limit. Government and laws that we must follow…”
“Lies,” he said. “All lies. The very essence of faith is questioning rules and laws made on this world. I don’t know about you, but I answer to a higher authority.” He grinned demon-like. Someone retrieved the joint from me while most of the congregation began to file out of the room. “I want to show you something,” he said and led me to the front of the Temple, the altar.
He opened the ornate case, inside, a television set. He smiled at my look of digust. “Everyone prays to it, why can’t we?” He turned the TV set on.
Dark, fuzzy, violent images filled the screen. Hand-held camera shots and far-away images of burning cars and running bodies.
The Man spoke over my shoulder. “Have you heard of the rashes of pre-Halloween violence throughout The City? Maybe fear, maybe scare tactics. And now this, an epidemic of violence.” He breath was now heavy against my ear. “The people are already feeling the effects. Can you feel it too, Hayden?”
“Effects of what?”
He laughed. “What else? The End of the World, baby! You religious types have been predicting it for ages, well, here’s some inside info, it’s coming. Maybe even tonight. Maybe next year. Either way, it’s coming. Nothing can stop it now. The mess you’ve made has opened the door.”
I looked at him, trying to break his poker-face, trying to see through to the lie beneath his fast talking. All I felt was fear, and it was all coming from me. But I spoke, not with fear, but with conviction. Damned if I’m going to look cowardly in front of the Devil.
“We still have Hope,” I said.
“Hope?” he spat back, pointing at the TV. “Let’s see where your hope is after this. And then the next wave, and then the next.”
When he felt like he had enough privacy (guards and gargoyles still wandered the room), the Man mocked me. He said, “The Pope.” His face creased to show a disgusted grin. “The Pope says this, the Pope says that. The fuckin’ Pope pisses holy water. Ya-know-what? Fuck the Pope! Him and his whole Catholic corporation are going to hell. Trust me. I’ve seen Hell! Its walls are lined with Priests, Bishops and Popes.” He spat that last word. Anger-lines pumped in his forehead and neck. He seethed like a demon and took some steps closer to me. I smelled sweat.
“Does that disturb you, Hayden? Me dissin’ the Pope; does that piss you off?”
“Yes!” I admitted.
He grinned. He had caught me. “I thought you said you weren’t Catholic. How much else did you lie about?” Stone/flesh arms gripped my shoulders and legs. I was frozen in my pew. “Who sent you!” He shouted, coming very close to me, threatening. “What’s your mission! What did you come here to do!”
Salvia flew into my face and hair. I felt like I was getting physically abused under the verbal assault. I said nothing, just breathed loudly right back into his face.
He calmed, just a little. “I can just as easily torture you and get my answers like that. But I don’t want to do that. I see potential in you. Hope, for a better world. We share that Hope in common, you and me.” He laid a comforting hand on mine. “We accept all converts here.”
I could come up with only one answer to him, even though I knew what it would mean. My lips were moving before I even finished deciding to say it.
“I’ll be Heaven,” I said, “and you’ll be rotting in Hell for all eternity.”
He sighed, straightened up. He shook his head at me. “Wrong answer,” he said.
A second later, the gargoyles pulled me roughly to my feet. They didn’t let me stand on my own, but cradled my legs and chest, carrying me like a cripple.
“The problem with you, Hayden,” said the Man very loudly, “is you don’t listen. You never learn anything. You gotta look around everyonce in a while. Because that book you’ve devoted your life too is exactly the same as it was two-thousand years ago, while the whole world has changed around it… and around you. Why can’t people like you see that?”
I just stared at him. He shrugged, suddenly lost interest in me and began to walk out of the Church. “Crucify him,” he said to his minions.
The gargoyles let out a little laugh of delight and easily started pulling me towards the large wooden cross. Human guards ran up, also excited, with spikes and a ladder. I screamed.
The Man shouted at me, “Oh, shush, now. I know that this how all Catholics secretly wish to die. What an honor. The ultimate homage to Your Savior, The Original Man.” I cursed him and his family. “You’re welcome,” he said and disappeared through the massive door back into the foyer. He had one last statement for me, though.
He peeked half his body back into the church and yelled out to me, “Hey, Hayden. If you get to Heaven and meet God, ask him what wrong with the World? And then get back to me on that.”
They strung me up onto the cross with ropes and tied my arms to the posts with more ropes. The nail and chisel came, just like I knew it would, immediately after. The process was known to me since I was very young. I always felt it was gratuitous to explain and show so much to a child, but now I thanked my long-lost teachers. They had prepared me for this.
Both my wrists were punctured at about the same time, an explosion of pain and a incredible loss of blood. My body sagged, held by the nails. My breathing came in heavy, choked spurts. My vision became blurry, my head dizzy. I saw clouds everywhere, and moving behind and in front of the clouds, translucent faces from my past. They all stared at me.
My last words were, “I have failed. I am very sorry.”

Incredible brilliance of colors. Lights like the Borealis, but larger, and brighter. And the rest… oh… unexplainable…
I don’t regret anything.

There’s a kind of spirituality in the act of making love. There’s minds and bodies linking together. Sometimes, there’s music. Last night, there was a symphony.

After lunch, Maria led me to her apartment in a very quiet, sober demeanor. In the elevator, we stayed completely silent and stared at the floor. Old people in the elevators stared at our clothes. The walls breathed. I wanted to scream and shout and sinnnnnnggggg…
Inside her apartment in a flash. There was ringing somewhere. My phone? Maria held my arm and led me forward. She kept saying, “Close your eyes, close your eyes.” I did and felt an uneasy sense of disembodied movement, like being blind. I felt myself swaying and being led like a child to a bed. She told me to lie down and I did. A comfortable blanket and a comfortable mattress; (I peeked), she had red sheets. I smiled and asked Maria to come lie down with me.
And then I fell asleep.
I know, because when I woke up, the sun was gone, and dark moonlight shone through her white curtains. I still heard the music from the café and some part of me was stuck earlier in the day. I closed my eyes and asked it to come back. Whatever it is. I could use it.
“Good morning!” someone said loudly. A little steel-fingered pinch on my forehead.
“Ouch,” I said, but then attempted a smile for Maria.
She looked beautiful, bathed in the moonlight, her hair gleaming like a snow-covered mountain at night. She hid her face within shadows, but her wily-like nose peeked out. She made my headache go away. Especially when I saw she had coffee. A full jug, with a little cream. She made me drink it very dark and so was harsh going down. It perked me up, reality returning back to the present, slowly, like a high-speed train pulling into station-stop.
“Thank you, angel,” I said.
She did a mock-offended look and pointed at herself. “Maria. Ma-RE-A. Did you forget already?”
I laughed. “How much did I have to drink?”
She laughed a little, but forced. “For that, actually, I must apologize. True, the couple glasses of wine and other drinks we had at lunch contributed to you getting pretty wasted, but it was the mindspeaking we did that drained your mental chi.” I gave her a questioning glance. “The mind-reading, I did, I guess you could say. It’s like a muscle, this ‘sense’, or whatever you want to call it, you have to work it to make it strong. Otherwise it’s weak and drains your body for energy, and time.”
“It makes you sleep. For hours and hours.” She massaged the top of one of my hands with her fingers. “I am sorry, though, H. I shouldn’t have spent so long inside your mind. I didn’t think about what it might do to you. I was just… fascinated, you know? We have a lot in common,” she said, but didn’t continue. She could sometimes be very vague, when she chose too. Finally, she said, “It won’t happen again.”
“It’s okay,” I said, almost automatically. It was, it really was. I petted her cheek and she pressed against my hand like a loving pet. I looked into her oval-shaped hazel-tinted eyes. “I don’t know what it is about you,” I said.
She purred, a little. “It’s the mindspeech,” she whispered in a lover’s tone, close to my ear. “It’s brought us together at an intimate level.” She approached me. “It’s meant to be.”
“Is this ethical?” I asked her
She shook her head and grabbed my cheeks in her warm hands. “Who gives a damn,” she said and kissed me. She threw our cups of coffee onto the floor, where they spilled or shattered, and ravaged me on the bed.
I’d been with more than my share of partners in the past, male and female. None had the veracity of Maria. I tried to match her, and there was much competition and one-up-(woman)ship over the night. By three or four o’clock in the morning, we lay beside each other, our legs crossed, the bed stripped of blankets or pillows, and shared a cigarette, then a joint, then another cigarette.
We talked in whispers and she spoke words of praise and love in my mind. I felt utterly satisfied.
The nighttime hours waned. Sleep was not an option and both of us were a little sore for another round (yet), so we talked. She told me more about witches and spells. It turned it she was raised by gypsies, Turkish mystic ones, with more spells and ceremony than the Native Americans. She confirmed things I had always wanted to believe: That there was more to this life than these fragile bodies. There are souls, there is magic, there is a God.
“But that also means there is a Devil,” she said, “And there is eternal damnation. And penalties for magics done wrong. It’s not all pretty, H.”
“I can imagine.” I spent a while trying to convince her to share something with me. To let me participate in some “ritual.” At first we debated whether to spell up some kind of sexual drug, for fun. We decided maybe another time. Then I said, “What about talking to somebody who’s dead? Can you do that?”
She didn’t look too happy when I said that. “Well… it’s possible, yes, but frowned upon. The dead are kind of like sleeping children, they do not like to be woken up.”
“But you can actually do that?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “You don’t want to, like, contact your dead mother or something and ask her why she abandoned you? Cause that might be a little too depressing right now.”
“No, no,” I said. “Nothing like that.” I thought about it for a moment. Something about my childhood creeped up. All those hours in the rehab cell. I did have questions. Finally, I said, “I wanna talk to Jesus.”
Maria sat up. “Hmm,” he murmured. “That could be fun.” She smiled at me. “I’m sure he gets a lot of calls, he probably won’t mind another one.”
“Are you serious, or are you fuckin’ with me?”
“Hey, if you don’t want to do it…” She started to get out of bed. I pulled her back down.
“No, no, no. I wanna do it!”
“All right, then,” she nodded. “I do need to get some supplies though.”
“Oh,” I said and let go of her arm. She smiled at me and went into one of her walk-in closets and didn’t come out for two whole minutes. When she stepped back onto the bed, I noticed she had a little rogue on her cheek and liner on her eyelid.
“You’re crazy,” I mocked her.
She grinned.. “What?”
Onto the bed, she laid out a chessboard and then flipped it. A circle pained in white surrounded a pentagram painted in red.
I asked Maria, “Is this… black magic?”
She hesitated, then said, “Kind-of, but not really. We’ll be pulling on some dark energy, but not much. Don’t worry, I can handle it.” She looked at my expression and feigned unhappiness. “It’s not like you asked to conjure up the Easter bunny or something. Talking to the dead falls slightly in the realm of Fucked-Up and therefore requires some bite. I thought you knew that.”
“I do know that. I didn’t say stop what you’re doing.”
She sprinkled some green powder on the white line and then grabbed my arm and held it over the pentagram. She pulled some kind of mini-dagger out of her shirt and pricked a vein at the base of my hand. “The blood of an Honest woman,” she said.
Maria hung her head over the board. Her eyes went downtrodden and her lip sagged like in depression. A single tear crawled itself out of her eye, sobbing itself and quietly skied down her face, slowly. “The tears of a sad daughter, mourning her lost father.”
She whispered at me, “We’ll skip the virgin’s semen tonight.” We both laughed.
She extended her two arms, hands first, palms up, and beckoned for me to do the same. I laid my hands down on her palms, my fingers gripping her lower arm. She squeezed, I squeezed. We grinned at each other.
She spoke to the spirit world: “Keepers of the Gates, we beg of you. Grant us passage. We seek … conversation only.”
There was a flash of dark clouds in my mind. I felt like I was being scanned. Memories flashed, like a film montage in fast forward: a jumbled, hazy, scream past my childhood; my wild teenage years, a colorful tripped-out MTV video (parties and dark rooms and drugs and sex); my “hahahaha” college years (more of the same); “adult” life, depressed me, sitting at home, broke, smoking; more recent years, stripping, modeling, clubbing, a smile every once in awhile on my face, beautiful people, money, powerful men, attractive women, Maria, the cappuccinos, the drinks, the dumb waitress, the comfortable bed and beautiful red sheets, the way Maria’s hair smelled, the smoothness of her skin, her playfully rough touch, the music two bodies make, her body exhausted above mine. Satisfaction. Love.
The gates opened. Maria and I found ourselves in a dark place with a weak cone of vision around us. Occasionally, we would feel the presence of other beings but saw nothing. She grabbed my arm and we stepped out of the cone of light. In the darkness, echoes were loud, and distant-forming. A scream, a shout, a call for mercy. At first, I saw nothing, but then my eyes adjusted and I saw many shadow forms, lounging around.
I couldn’t describe it any other way. Some leaned on the walls and stared at the ceiling, some walked in random patterns, a few in the shadows even appeared to be playing pool.
I said to Maria, “How do we find Him in all this?”
She shrugged, looking lost. “Maybe we just call out his name.”
“What if some Mexican dude comes out?”
We stared at each other for a few seconds and then, as one, yelled out, “JESUS.”
All the shadow forms stopped, looked at us aghast. I swear one of them did the “No talking” gesture with his finger to his lips. It didn’t matter anyway. A second later, we were suddenly transported again, to a place of very limited reality.
Clouds of varying grays and stalks of lightning were all around. Emptiness and nothingness surrounded us.
“Where are we?” I shouted at Maria over the sound of thunder. My shout echoed.
“Some kind of sub-dimension.” She suddenly looked to her side. “We’re not alone here.”
“Is it... Him?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m getting a lot of negative energy.” She shot a look at me with a bang. “Do you feel that?”
“I feel… Warm.” Then I felt hot, and then suddenly I was sweating. My breath shortened. “What is..”
“Something bad,” Maria replied, signs of real worry on her beautiful face. “Something real bad.” She started to make choking sounds. “Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s not my day with this stuff.”
My body felt draped in humidity, like a Florida summer heat wave. “It’s okay,” I said, between heaving breathes “You gave me an adventure. Thank you.”
She laughed. “You’re strange, H, that’s why I-“
A loud growl. The heat intensified. A shape emerged from the clouds. I wanted to scream, but didn’t have the energy. The thing was large and buff, with red hued skin, huge bulky arms, and claws for hands and feet. It looked down at us with inquisitive eyes, like a dinosaur eyeing its dinner. But this beast didn’t like what he saw.
He made a spitting sound and waved a dismissing claw. Just as suddenly as it came, the shadow world of clouds and lightning disappeared. We were back in bed, in the simple apartment, in simple New York City.
Maria was curled into a ball, frightened. “Baby,” I said, “wake up. It’s okay. The monster’s gone now.”
She was shivering, her teeth chattering. I hugged her and tried to give her my body heat. She latched onto me like a spooked child, and she didn’t let go. We slept side by side, her holding onto me for comfort. She had nightmares most of the night, but at least she slept.

Magic’s not for me. I’m just an ordinary girl. Maria asked if she could be an ordinary girl too, then laughed, sadly.

Soldiers die. That’s what they do best. One soldier isn’t much help in a battle, one hundred can really throw the odds in your favor. One thousand usually means victory.
I had a few hundred, bordering on a thousand, but about three hundred pairs of fangs too small. When I said this was a War I was fighting, I was being truthful: The war is against everybody else. Heaven, humans, even the Lords of Hell don’t tell me what to do. I answer to one voice, one power. Until he tells me otherwise, everyone dies.
The clock struck midnight and bell towers around the city began to lay down a 6/6 rhythm. Bang, bang, bang, and so forth. The clangs echoed in the empty streets. If anybody was sleeping in this city, it’s time to wake the fuck up.
While only a few of my soldiers manned the bells, the other hundreds began to emerge, from underground, from attics and cellars of buildings. Manhattan became a scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
I watched it all unfold from a tall perch, atop the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building. No windows obscured my view. The slashing wind and the sound of approaching thunderstorms shared the space with me. My special vision allowed me to zoom like a telescope on certain blocks.
Key areas overflowed with members of the Dark. They sliced apart homeless people and shoved whole groups of people into stores, locked the doors, and used science-created bombs to blow the stores up.
A few minutes apart from each other, explosions rang out from many of the sections of the city I had been watching. Flash points in the operation. Another blast, a big one, in the center of all the others, around the Upper West Side. A massive burst of flame, like a bonfire gone wrong, flamed from that spot and stayed there. That had been the special bomb. Stolen from a military headquarters in upstate New York. A little dash of naplam and complex computers inside the bomb itself made the flame settle and rise up like a memorial, or a statue.
Surrounding the large explosion, five stalks of fire and smoke from the still burning storefronts created pictures in the sky. Invisible to human eyes, but very clear to me: Lines. Between each explosion was a dark red line connecting them in a starshape, three lines coming from each point. The red was blood red, and it was mixed with all kinds of dark hues of purple and pink: Death, violence, and pain. My soldiers were wreaking havoc exactly in the right places. I was painting with death.
The pentagram shape was almost complete. I pulled a thin book from my jacket and opened up to the spell I wanted, for I was not proficient at these Earth magics. The skill can be learned, though, and I had spent decades in study.
I was human, once, in fact. I remember I found the occult in my teenage years. Probably what led me to be killed by a vampire pretending to be a street-punk. In Heaven, or whatever you want to call it, I began to talk to God. He told me I had great things in my future. He asked me to join his quest for Eternal Purity in all worlds. I, of course, agreed.
But then God forgot about me. He put me at a desk with a simple job which I did, simply, for what-felt-like millennia. I watched the human world wither and decay in a mere hundred years. World Wars, famine, depression, disease. Violence and bloodshed.
I went to God’s representatives and begged them to give me something to do. I want to help humanity, I said. But they turned their back on me, said I was proving “unstable.”
I’ll show them.
The lines were complete, the pentagram had been formed. I closed my human host’s eyes and recanted the spell, giving life to the image I saw before me. I opened my eyes. Hovering over four of the boroughs of New York City, a massive, burning pentagram shape would be visible now by all watching. The streets below were alive with panic and fear.
All the negative emotions filling the air came to me, like a magnet. I fed off the energy, feeling stronger with every murderous jolt.
I flipped some pages in the book. The summoning spell now. I read the Latin aloud and added: “Hear me! God of Heaven, creator of this world, giver of life. Send your firstborn to me! Send him here for all humanity’s sake. They need him.”
For you see, I was after something very simple. But it’s something that doesn’t let you sleep at night, or think straight until it’s done and over. Revenge. Revenge on The Lord himself for abandoning me and his Children on Earth. I’m going to hurt him in every way I can imagine.
The pentagram shape that came from the blackness of my demon heart will be hidden in shadows. The Messiah will not see it coming. A portal began to form above the Dark five-pointed star.
After leaving Heaven, spending some timeless time in Purgatory, I arrived to Hell, and they greeted me with arms wide-open. They said they’d been expecting me. They turned me into a demon and granted me special powers to exist for long periods of time on Earth. They also gave me a special assignment: a Message. From me, to be delivered personally to all humanity, something to the effect of “Time’s up, motherfuckers. Start praying now.” If for nothing else than to scare humanity into another World War. They also said, “Be as creative as you like.”
I looked at the beautiful pentagram and the swirling vortex of magical energy forming above it.
“SON OF CHRIST!” I shouted. “Come forth!”
The vortex was large enough. All he had to do was step out and the dark energy I had created will destroy him. Humanity can watch their would-be savior die, again. I thought it was pretty creative.
But he didn’t step out. The vortex stayed open and long minutes passed of silence. My soldiers were waiting below, staring up at me. I growled and leapt into the vortex.
I stood on a solid cloud. Around me, thunder and lightning like a New York storm. I felt no large holy presence. Jesus was nowhere to be found.
However, I wasn’t alone in the clouds. Two small creatures lingered in darkness. My demon eyes saw weak signals. My human eyes, adjusting to the dim, saw two pretty girls, looking lost, confused, and scared. I stepped closer to them, not believing either set of my eyes.
Barely any magical energy emitted from the two. They were just … girls. How had they gotten here? What did they want?
I hovered above them, angry. I already felt the cloud-room disintegrating, the magical energy of the spell dissipating. My whole life’s work, destroyed … by accident.
I turned my anger to the females. Their stupidity had cost me my revenge. They will pay. I raised my huge demon arms to smite them both in one blow, but then stopped. One cried on the floor and the other cradled her, not looking at me, staring at the floor, praying.
Somewhere inside me, a heart that once belonged to a boy named Matthew, beat once, loudly. I lowered my arms, compassion filling me. I walked out of the cloud-room, through the vortex I had come through, back to New York City and Reality.
Above me, the flaming pentagram disappeared and calm night sky returned. I hit the floor, knees first, and would have sobbed, if I had the humanity for it.

My powers were gone after that. So much so, many of the spells I had done in the last days reversed themselves. My soldiers became ordinary human beings again, or ordinary demons again.
I went into hiding, alone, lost like a city-boy in the suburbs, with no direction or purpose to follow. Most nights, now, I stay up and stare at the ceiling, hoping for an answer.

5. (Epilogue)
Liz and I never stopped being in love… well, at least not so far.
We jumped from city to city for awhile, paranoid and scared. Years passed, and we found ourselves in Europe, Canada, back in the West Coast of the US. We married. We settled down on the coast of Northern California with a sincere air of hope. Our past fears and worries were exactly where they should be, in the past.
We bought ourselves a beautiful wooden house, made over a decade by a long-dead, loving father. Hand carved wood beams supported the light, white house, on stilts; half of the house over the beach, the other on grass. It was the type of place you find, fall in love with, and never want to leave.
Most nights, now, we sit on our moonlit patio and watch the waves crash down onto the beach, one after the other, endlessly returning, trying again and again, hopeful.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Chapter 3. To use Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey," this is Act II on the journey: "The Road of Trials," "The Meeting with the Goddess," and the "Apotheosis." (or deification).

Excerpts from a War in Progress by Elad Haber (part 3 of 4)

Work to be done, work to be done…
In any war, there are the spies, the soldiers, the dead and the living dead; the Generals, the victims, the bystanders, the good guys, the bad guys - and the peacemakers. In human affairs, the peacemaker is usually an idealist, a dreamer. He has to be, because he knows once he crosses enemy lines, he’s probably going to die.
Back in humanity’s medieval time, Kings sent their daughters or wives on these suicide missions because, at the time, a woman’s life was worth less than a man’s. Today, military negotiators are psychologists with guns. No wonder you’ve never heard of them.
In my world of demons and devils and things beyond the human realm, peacemakers are long-dead Angels, resurrected to play the part. In this war, peacemakers come in the form of ghosts.
A white homeless man began walking through a darkened section of buildings in Upper Manhattan. The GW Projects; a newly deemed “curfew” zone, after two nights of my soldiers murdering and stabbing innocents and not-so-innocents, while in the form of gang members. Police in two-car parties patrolled the area.
The two-block area was a major launch point for the Resurrection. My soldiers had started chaos in this area before any other. Tonight, all the soldiers are resting and regenerating. My spies are out, though, and altered me to the white man’s presence. They insisted on investigating themselves, but I told them to Hold. This was my responsibility.
I started walking my human body to the nearest subway entrance. Underground, through the turnstiles, at the end of the long station platform. The midtown station was crowded full on this Thursday night. I made myself invisible to human eyes and jumped onto the track. If you were standing nearby, you may have heard something strange, nothing more. In the comfort of invisibly, I ran through the train tracks in a blinding speed. My demon-vision allowed me to see trains a hundred feet in front of me and I moved accordingly. At one point, enjoying the ride too much, I stopped suddenly. I felt the white man’s “aura” directly above me. I looked up with my demon eyes through the tunnel ceiling, the ground itself, covered by cement, and saw a very powerful, very red, ghost.
I felt the familiar taste of blood on human lips. An exhilarating feeling. My heart pumped and my veins appeared to move around my hands and arms. I smelled human sweat. I smelled myself. I growled (just a little), and then leapt up with powerful demon-legs, through the brick and concrete, and up into air.
If you were nearby you’d, feel a small earthquake then see a large explosion of air and little chunks of former street. An eruption of sorts would appear as if out nowhere and a massive flush of heat like out of a jet engine would shake the air. You may have heard a growl or two, and then, walking from nothing to something, a human man, very much normal, standing beside the hole in the ground as if it was a harmless post.
I spotted the homeless man, sifting through garbage at the end of the block. I walked to him in my full human form but leaving behind claw-shape footsteps in the street: signs of my lingering “high.”
I approached the vagabond noisily but he did not turn or give any indication he sensed me. I tapped on his shoulder. He turned, half a piece of turkey stuck in his shaggy gray beard. He looked at me with mad, moonlit eyes, not processing anything. Not at first. Soon, he either felt my supernatural energy or discovered his own. His face morphed to resemble a cherub mask, (badly) mimicking a real-life human baby. The only thing that moved was the mouth, the bright blue eyes and rosy cheeks were locked in place.
“I know you,” he said in a deranged whisper.
“And I know you.”
His eyes were cold and lifeless but his body betrayed his trust. He took a step towards me. He mouthed a word, silently, then said, “Matthew.” A pause. “My son.”
For the record, I am no man’s son, but the human name stirred something inside this body I occupied. Recognition, a spark of life. Eyes not my own remembered the body frame of his distant father. He had died when this body was only eleven years old.
Oh, Heaven, how clever you can be.
The cherub mask went opaque and the man’s human visage returned. Sunken eyes and veiny flesh. It was definitely this body’s father. I felt another new emotion: sadness.
A voice not my own spoke, “But you died, father.” A child-like alto.
“No, son. That’s just what your mother told you. I lived, for many years, like this. A vagabond, a leech on society. I couldn’t bear anyone see me as I was, only now, I come to you in truth; with a message: Not all life is worth preserving.”
“What do you mean, father? What should I do?”
“You must end your own life, son, for there is a Devil living inside you!”
“You must, son! You must. The two of us are already dead, the rest of humanity is at stake now. Listen to me! Sacrifices must be made.”
I got my voice back: “I’m done listening to you, old man.”
And my body: I balled my fist until it morphed to become a spike. I plunged my spike-arm into the homeless man’s chest. He screamed and spat blood. I pulled my arm back and then tilted it horizontally, a blood-stained knife, slicing the man’s head off. The body crumpled to the floor. I spat on it and spoke to the Heavens.
“Nice try.”
An answer: “End this.”
The voice came from the ground. The severed head, back to the cherub mask form, spoke in a deep baritone, only a few words at a time.
“End… the war.”
“No!” I shouted at it. “Not until all the humans are gone and the Gods can inherit the earth. Once again.”
“You… must not…"
I laughed. “You’re wrong, fool. I will, because I must. Humanity doesn’t deserve a messiah. They’ve made a mess of their world and it’s not getting any better.”
“Hope. They… have … hope. And a will to…to, live. They can be… saved.”
I smiled a devilish grin. “Don’t hate me, I’m just the Messenger.” Tucked behind my back, underneath my black undershirt, I had a gun. A short black automatic. I pulled it out and aimed it at the cherub head. I could have just left it to wither and die on its own, but I was trying to help it.
Really I was.
“You’ll excuse me,” I said, “I don’t have much time left. And you just wasted enough of it.” I fired, twice, so that the blood splattered on my pants, shoes, and the bottom of my shirt. I felt extremely satisfied.
Work to be done, work to be done…

So I definitely deserved a break.
My night in jail, complete with cramped walls, rough inmates, and angry stares, was very, very unpleasant. The incident in the bathroom bonded the cops and I in sheer inexplicability. It was as if the three of us had seen a UFO and decided never to talk about it. One of them stayed by my side through the long, dreary, “booking” process but didn’t say much. In fact, the whole police station had felt “zombie-like”, like the cops forgot how to do their jobs. There was a lot tense whispering and every time a phone would ring, someone would cringe. I heard someone say, “The whole city’s gone crazy.”
Ah. But that was all behind me. I was free now and I tried to burn the memories away with the hot rays of the sun. It worked, for the most part. I spent the day roaming the city, not doing drugs, appreciating the simple things in life. Parks, couples, dogs, babies, little pieces of art for sale on the street. The smell of fresh-baked pizza, reminding you of childhood. The smell of fresh horse manure making you want throw up your newly eaten pizza.
Oh, what a glorious life. What a wonderful thing, this freedom. No one watched me or handcuffed me and, free of illegal substances, I felt a strange, new, sense of security. It was nice.
So, “high” on life itself, I developed a slight bit of what you might call a ‘backbone.’ Passing a little Italian bistro in Chelsea, I noticed a gorgeous, tall, waitress moving between the tables like a dancer. She smiled and exchanged laughs with customers. A song by Portishead was coming out of the bistro: downbeat and sexy. The girl looked like a performer in an opera, silky movements accentuating the music. She looked like she belonged on some stage, somewhere. I stepped into the restaurant.
She was a female of exquisite design. Straw-like blond hair tied back in a ponytail exposed her charming face. Curving pool-ball cheeks and round, wide, eyes gave her a very doe-eyed-look. Behind the counter, she barked orders in the high, teeny, Italian language. I stared at her for long minutes while she was, thankfully, distracted across the room. I was fascinated by her body: rounded hips and large breasts were the first thing I noticed, but there was more elsewhere, if you cared to look.
Finally, she came to my table. She wore a nametag that said, ‘Hey, I’m Liz.’ She smiled at me.
“Hi there,” she said. “Can I help you with something?”
I felt like I wanted to be completely honest with this girl. I opened my heart. I said, “I need a way out. Out of this mess, this pit of a life I’m in.”
Confused, she said, “Um… excuse me?”
“I was a solider.. or, I am a solider. In a silent war. A very dangerous war.” She probably thought I was crazy by this point. A dose of reality was needed: “I was arrested last night.”
She nodded a little, understanding. “First time?” she asked. I nodded, ashamed. She said, “Something with vodka in it, perhaps?”
I smiled at her and she returned it with a wide smile and a wink of her own. “Surprise me,” I said.
This girl, Liz, had found my answer. At least for now.

I didn’t lose my backbone. I stayed in the bistro till long past closing, talking to her. We went to her house, talked some more, and then slept together.
It wasn’t a horny jump-into-bed and attack each other type of thing. Neither of us had a one-night-stand in our minds. It just felt natural and ‘right.’ Whatever that means.

I was never good at the morning after’ Too awkward and too often full of guilt. What was this girl’s name again? I just met her, what if she’s got a boyfriend ready to kick my ass when he comes home in an hour? With my recent streak of bad luck, maybe I should have just stayed at home.
But then she turned, stirring in her sleep. Her wild hair covered some of her face. I pushed aside the strands of silk and felt my heart swell with … allright; with love. I forgot the questions I had and now debated whether to wake her up or let her sleep, maybe go find a Dunkin Donuts, surprise her with the sweet smell of fresh coffee and bagels.
I released one leg out of her very comfortable bed, instantly regretting it. I reached for my pants, somewhere on the floor. I picked them and realized they were vibrating. With a heavy sigh, I reached for my cellphone. 15 Missed Calls, emblazoned on the LCD screen, not including the call coming in right now. I took a few large steps to the bathroom, naked from the waist down, and put a towel over my private parts, only then did I answer the phone.
“YO? Fuck MC. Where ya been?” One of my oldschool hommies, Nate.
“Lay off my back. I found a little lady friend and was ‘occupied.’ I don’t answer to your punk ass anyway!” That last part was said with a smile heard on both sides.
“True, true, boy, but you do answer to J-man, and he wanted to see you last night. You know he don’t like being fronted on by anyone. He probably left you one or two pissed-off voicemails.”
“I haven’t checked.”
“Oh, I would. And then I would take my dick out of whatever pussy it’s in and go down to see the Boss, and play nice and apologize a lot. If you wanna keep those balls, that is.” Nate laughed like a schoolboy.
I said, “Maybe he’ll fire me.”
More laughter, Arsenio-style this time. “Shit, MC, what do you think this is, McDonalds?” He laughed a whole bunch more, called me a “stupid motherfucker,” and then hung up.
I almost went back to Liz then. Almost. I dialed a cellphone number. J-man’s.
“Sup,” he said, calmly.
“Yo. It’s MC.”
Suddenly angry: “Where the fuck you been since you got out of lock-up?”
“J. Chill. I wasn’t with no cops or detectives or nothing like that. I hooked up with a girl at a bar and we just, I guess, hit it off. She’s a great gir-“
“Fuck that,” J-man said. “You need to get your ass here, A-SAP, nigga. Your bags are already packed and a room in Atlantic City booked.”
“Da fuck, man!” He sounded angry. “You dumb or deaf, or both? This isn’t a suggestion. This is a fucking order. It’s too hot in this city for you at the moment. I doubt that gangsta attack last night was random. We need to get you to some safety.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I want out.”
“Out? Out of what, nigga?”
“The whole thing: The Game. I’m finished, I’m done, I beat it.”
He laughed for a full minute. “Son, there ain’t no winning or losing in this game. Just crying and dying.”
I said, “Then consider me dead.”
“I may have too.”
A brief silence.
I said, “Just tell the Big Man I’m out, aiight? I’ll come visit today. We’ll talk.”
“Come alone.” Click.

We went to coffee after, me and the blonde. I didn’t think of her as a bitch anymore. We got to talking before the auditions and then were among the five girls asked to stay for the second round of judging. She was a cool person to be around. She had little sayings and weird ways of rolling her eyes to show her emotions.
During the second round, Maria and I were brought in at the same time. The panel of judges was mostly men. They had us put on fancy tight clothes and walk up and down a fake catwalk. Over cappuccinos, later, we didn’t speak of it.
I asked her about her heritage. It turns out her Latin name comes from her Cuban mother, the blonde locks from her white, American, father.
“And I was raised by gypsies,” she said.
She smiled, whispered, “Of course not, but it sounds real cool when you say it. What about you? Any work in you?” She was wondering if I’d had plastic surgery, and where.
“Nothing,” I said, “except for my nose.” Which, in ‘industry’ code, means my nose and my breasts.
“That’s it?” she prodded. “You sure?”
I got mock-angry. “Does it look like I’ve had anything done, bitch?”
She smiled back at me and then sized me up, a quick glance above the side of the table. “No, of course not,” she said, “but I wanted to show you a little bit of the treatment I get.”
I was intrigued. “Why?”
She shrugged, like a little girl dismissing one of life’s Big questions. “Maybe to make you pity me, or maybe just out of habit.” She changed moods quickly. I wondered if she was on drugs. She said, suddenly, “So tell me all about your world. Am I wrong in assuming you’re a stripper?”
I nodded. I felt like I could be honest and sincere with this woman and she wouldn’t judge me. “Yes. Only two nights a week, though.”
She closed her eyes. “And you have other careers, nude modeling, acting. You’ve published some poems. Not even two hundred dollars combined, but it was worth it just for the experience.”
The little tiny hairs on my arms pricked up. “How do you know that?”
“I can read you like a poem.”
“But, my thoughts…”
“Are open to the public, if you know how to listen to them. But not everyone can hear everyone else. Only certain people, to certain people. There’s no explanation. It just takes practice.” Easy-going shrug, again.
There was a pause. I looked her in the eye. “Are you playing a Halloween trick on me, Maria?”
She smiled. “I would never lower myself to something like that. Halloween or not, what I’ve told you is totally true.”
Little kid in a chocolate store: That’s me. “Tell me more,” I begged her. “Tell me everything.”
She laughed. “That may take awhile.”
I ordered two glasses of wine. An hour and a half later, a few glasses of various alcohols put away between us, we were still talking. The ashtray on the table was filled up with thin white stalks, the ends painted auburn (me) or dark pink (her). A quick nasty glance from me to our waitress and the ashtray was removed, replaced by another one very quickly. I was pleased. Whenever two women sit at a table and their server is a woman, the customers become like Mom, or Mom’s two pissed-off sisters. We had her bringing us new drinks because we didn’t like the saltiness of the margaritas. Every time she was out of earshot of our table, we laughed or giggled a bit, as if in her expense. We were evil; I had fun.
And we talked of interesting things. She told me about a world I didn’t know existed. A supernatural one, of mind, thought, and real evil. She proved it.
“I see a secret, in the back of your mind. You want to tell me but you’ve never told anyone and you don’t know the words. You were in Rehab. Your parents found a stash of drugs and threw you across country to a clinic.”
I was already crying at this early stage, little gumdrops of bad memories washing away. “More like a prison,” I said.
“I see that. Uniforms and bars. Bad meals and broken hearts.”
Tears fell; my voice was scratchy. “It was a new experiment in rehabilitation, a sort of prison/military approach. My parents thought it was just what I needed.”
“But it was all wrong. You needed real human connections, from your friends and family. Not strangers and prison guards.”
“Yes! It was awful. I was stripped of everything. My whole life, sitting there being unlived on the other side of the bars, while I watched hours become days.”
I had a feeling she knew what that was like. There was a comfortable silence for a minute.
Maria said, “Your brain shuts itself down, if you let it, you know?”
I thought she was joking. “I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Suurre, it’s one of the many puzzles of the brain. You gotta keep it moving, keep it occupied with something. There’s a reason people in prison go insane: lack of input.” She started to laugh but I wasn’t in the mood. My tears had ceased for the moment, but I sniffled a little still.
Maria said, “I know what it was like in there for you. I can live your memories. I can go inside your brain and become you, of the past.”
Amazed again, I said, “You did that?”
She nodded. “I know you counted the days in your memory. It’s a number you’ll never forget.”
Together, we said, “Six Thirty One.”
I started to cry again. Maria got up out of her chair and knelt beside me; a knee planted on the floor and hugged me. I squeezed back. I felt like I was five years old, sick and scared, and being comforted by my mother.
I got the back of Maria’s blouse quite wet and when I was done sobbing, I promised her I’d buy her a new one or at least wash it for her. She just laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “tears are like stains, they wash away, and then you forget about them.” She stood up. “Come now, Miss H, I want to show you my secrets.”

The dark section of the city-state held one major structure, a Mansion, carved of brick and granite and a kind of shining black substance I couldn't recognize. This mansion was my destination. The Hitmen led me to it, but I would have walked on my own.
Inside the first room of the Mansion, in a hallway-like foray, was The Man Himself. He was obvious in his expensive clothing, sparkling jewelry, and clique of important-looking people surrounding him. The whole room’s attention was focused on him, dozens of pairs of eyes always aware of his presence and location. The hall was packed full of enough people to worship more than just one holy man: servants, friends of his, mistresses and their children (babysitters for the children), a few advisor-like “hanger-on’s”, and two large statue-like Gargoyle creatures, standing guard (fully alive), in front of the doors to the rest of the Mansion.
When the remaining Hitmen and I entered the room, four, large, dark, fatigued shapes exerting a force, many of the children and bystanders began to clear out of the room. The Man himself, though, rose from a plush couch and walked towards us. He looked at each of his men in the eye for a moment. When those eyes fell upon me, I stared back, bewildered.
He was a dozen men in one. Different colored eyes, various-colored patches of skin, arms and legs that didn’t match. He looked … constructed, by some retarded child. He was nothing like I expected. His bald, black scalp reflected lamp light and gave the top of his head a halo-effect. He looked a little like an Angel, his eyes oddly cherub-like. White eyes and white teeth like shining diamonds in a cave. His smile scared me; and impressed me by its subtlety. I didn’t know if he meant to kill me or befriend me in the next minute.
The Man nodded at his each of his men once and, at that they turned and left. I watched them go, envious. I had come to think of the group of us as “all in this together,” but I guess that was just a delusion. I felt suddenly lonely, like someone had kidnapped all my best friends on my birthday.
He spoke to me: “Hayden,” he said in a deep but not overwhelming baritone of a voice.
“That’s me,” I said, nervous. “And you are…”
“The Man who called for you. I won’t bother with a list of credentials, since I know you’ve read a lot about me. All lies or half-truths, bullshit built by governments to hide the truth. Don’t believe all the bullshit you hear, read, or see.”
As he spoke more, he adapted a slang-filled ‘street’ dialect and tone. “See, Hayden, I know who sent your holier-than-thou-ass to find me. My God-like powers allow me to see through time and motherfuckin’ space and find people who seek to hurt me and my family. Even now, I’m tempted to send you off to visit your namesake at the beginning of the 19th century.” He sucked in a breathe, released it slowly. “You like classical music?”
I was thrown by the question and so answered truthfully. “No. Never have the time to look into it.”
The villain walked towards another side of the room, admiring his fine polished walls and furniture as he did. “I’m surprised. Especially since Hayden, the original, did a lot of music for the Church. Your church.”
I was surprised. “I am not a catholic,” I insisted.
“Sure you’re not,” he said. He pulled another one of those long white stalks from his jacket packet. “Care to join me? This would be like breaking bread together back in Jesus’ time.”
I shook my head. “I don’t do drugs.”
“You sure? You may need them right now.”
“I don’t want to indulge in your sins.”
“Sins!” he shouted. The room erupted in laughter.
I didn’t let them phase me. “You deal drugs to children to earn money to blackmail politicians in giving you more money for stuff like this. You’re the Devil, come down to Earth. This is a war and you are the ultimate villain.” I was proud of myself for standing up to him. “I won’t participate in your games.”
He came very close to me, not in anger, but intensity. When he looked just about ready to scream and yell, he paused and just shook his head slowly. “How wrong you are, little man. True, I am a drug dealer, but I have a “higher” purpose, if you’ll excuse the pun. I am a religious man. My followers and I do not want to pollute humanity, but to save it from itself.”
I pointed with a shaking finger at the Gargoyle-creatures. “Satanism. Your God is blasphemy.”
“No. Wrong again, Hayden. Your superiors lied to you. That’s what they do best: Lie. The truth about the gargoyles is they are almost exactly what they appear to be, just as I told the geneticists to make them.”
I couldn’t hide the shock in my face.
“Yes!” The Man shouted. “I see the look of amazement on your face. Your eyes are finally opening, brother; stepping out of the darkness into the light. ” He pointed a waving hand at the creatures at the far side of the room. “They were constructed in a lab, in the basement of this castle, many years ago. Once, they were men. Now they are soldiers.”
“So you’re building an army?”
The Man grinned at my cunning. “I prefer to think of them as a defense force. For all I know you’re the first in a group of an army to come to attack my home.”
“I can guarantee you I am not part of any invasion force.”
Some of the others in the room snickered at that, but The Man shushed them with a glance. “I like you, Hayden, you’re direct.” He smiled, said, “I want to show you something.”
He simply looked at the gargoyle creatures by the large door and they opened it into the next room. “Things are almost never what they are appear to be, the first time.” The Man indicated I walk through first.
I did, feeling curious. There was a bright white light coming from the room and I couldn’t make out any shapes until I was inside the room, feeling cold air like in a cave. A familiar smell of wood greeted me and, around the long hall, I recognized more things: pews, fake-glass-mosaics, and altars. At the center of the huge dome-like church was a massive cross. Dried blood was visible in points reminiscent of the holy trinity.
What I had thought was a mansion was not, it was a gothic-style Catholic Church.
The family moved in to the pews for an afternoon prayer session. The Man whispered in my ear, “We’re more like each other than you ever imagined, Hayden.”
I felt pinpricks of doubt stabbing my heart, their ends covered in questions.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

(ps. as you can see, i changed up the colors of the site to make reading easier. hope you like it.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Little break from the story... to talk about the story.

I wrote this 18k word monster while living back home in NYC during 2002. I was working in the dull job as counterman in a coffeeshop then a deli and I couldn't help but think. A lot. And write, a lot. Then, bam, like a magic trick, the longest story I ever wrote appeared.

I like the characters, I hope you do, too. "H." was similar to hundreds of models I saw wandering around during that half-year. My work was right next to the Fasion Institute of Techonolgy in the Chelsea district of Manhattan and I would get off a stop or two early to walk past the school. It was the summer.

"Hayden" is my character lost in an Angela Carter novel. I was starting to read her at this point and his character and voice were totally steeped in her kind of reality. The religious stuff was mostly me, though.

"M.C" is very much like me. Kid from the Bronx - skewed perspective on life. You get that in a big city like NYC. You're always surrounded by all these different kind of realities that it's hard to fit in anywhere. He's a loner - but he's open to others, whether to love or admire to hate. These are all very easily accessible emotions for him. Violence, drugs, they aren't glamorous, they are the business of the day. His reality is based on HBO's "The Wire" series which I loved during this period of time. That show is a tough, real look at street life, cops, and drugs. I tried to do it justice.

And the less said, especially at this point, about "Messenger" the better. I'm just glad I never showed this story to anyone in the faculty of my school.


In Chapter 2, my characters go through the tough transitional period into a new kind of thinking or reality.

Excerpts from a War in Progress by Elad Haber (part 2 of 4)

The oddest smell filled the cramped car. Among all the cigarettes and fart smells, something incredibly distinctive woke up the car. Conversation was louder, quicker, more injected with humor and therefore followed by waves of laughter. And for the first time since the one brute beside me slapped me, they acknowledged my presence, made some jokes at my expense (mostly about my mother), and then offered me a drag off a strangely-rolled cigarette. I gasped in the heathen’s face. The four of them shook their head as one and laughed some more.
The tension that had built up earlier was now gone, replaced by a calm indifference. As we approached the Castle gates in the bright sun of daylight, the Hitmen grinned but, my heart, feeling pings of dread like splinters in my soul, attempted to sink back to the bottom of my stomach and this massive mountain we had climbed.
No such luck. Everything stayed where it was. The front gate of the Castle, complete with drawbridge, plunging mote, and large gargoyles statues at the top, was open and half-crowded with people. Workers, from the look of their hunched shoulders and vacant expressions; I recognized the type from my years in a ghetto Church in Baltimore. The car rolled over the bridge quickly.
Even to call it a Castle now feels wrong; ‘city-state’ would be more accurate. On the tight “street” lanes, beneath curved swathes of open air, streets were divided by rows of small shops, one almost on top of the other. On the ‘street’, cars, people, and bicycles somehow moved as one. When one of the passing shoppers saw something of interest, they would take two or three steps to the left or right and step right inside one of the shops. If it was a tiny shop with a crowd waiting to get in, the street itself would not slow down, the customers and waiting-customers would get shoved into adjoining shops, where they would wait, “pretend” to shop, and finally enter the store they want. I’m sure much merchandise was lost each year due to accidental breakage.
Occasionally, a skateboarder would slice about through the street full of single-lane movement and disrupt the whole flow of traffic. A lot of shouting and cursing (and sometimes violence) would follow. As you can imagine, the intense traffic of people cars, and wheeled-forms of transportation was slow-going. The Hitmen rolled and smoked another joint while I tried to make sense of this crazy juxtaposition of realities being played out before me. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones film, that scene in one of the movies where he’s being chased through a bazaar by black-cloaked assassins. Except my assassins hadn’t made their appearance yet; they were hiding just around the corner.
The goods sold at the Castle bazaar were varied. Every third booth appeared to be selling marijuana or hash, while all the ones in between had old fat men shouting about their Flowers! or Fish! or their remarkably sturdy china! Or their amazingly useful slaves!
I was becoming more than a little disgusted by the place, with its sins topped with sins, sprinkled with sin, when the car finally stopped. Looking around, I was a drunkard coming off a day-long binge. The sky had stopped moving, my heart stopped skipping, and now dreadful reality was going to step in. Soon, anyway. This stalling was nerve-wracking, for sure.
The Hitmen opened their doors and began to pull themselves out of the car. I realized we weren’t in a crowded, “tourist”-friendly part of the city-state anymore. Not a human soul walked anywhere in this dark block. Windows were boarded up shut and doorways were green with rust, shadows everywhere. The Hitmen stretched their fat bodies, lit cigarettes, and leaned against the car, waiting.
For what? I didn’t know. No one motioned for me to get out, but after ten or fifteen minutes (I think), I stepped out, slowly, fearing punishment. The Hitmen didn’t try to stop/hit me. My legs felt like rubber and, still in my shackles of shame, I collapsed onto the back of the car immediately upon stepping out. They laughed, pointed, and then helped me up.
They cradled my numb body between them like a defensive line in American football, then they all looked up and smiled as if for a photograph. A moment or two later, another gate revealed itself from the shadows, began to open with a loud screeching of chains, revealing darkness beyond. One of the Hitmen went back to the car but the other three grabbed me and shoved me forward. As an afterthought, almost, one of them released me from my shackles and then threw them into the car. My joints and wrists and ankles were numb with pain.
One of the Hitmen said to me, “Behave.”
This area of the city burned with endless fires. Many smelled of flesh but some of iron and copper. Dark variations of the bazaar from the rest of the city were here, similar shops but with carcasses and demon-meat for sale. Humans were in the majority, but, towering above even the tallest ones, were gargoyle-like demons. Creatures with wings and legs and ugly, ugly faces. They all had muscles protruding out of thin slashes of clothing. When they passed near me, I smelled a mixture of sweat and animal-blood. In a way, seeing these creatures, I was relieved. I always believed that the True Evil from the Holy Bible was real and personified in some way on Earth. This was it; the root of all evil. Hell on Earth.
Exactly where I wanted to be.

‘Twas the time of night.
You know, when all the “good” people lock their doors. The daytime is pure, you see, a time when you can hear schoolchildren and babies on the street; people with jobs going about their business or on their lunchbreaks, some in uniforms. Random, clean-looking people are out, jogging. At night, you see bums and prostitutes and slowly-moving police cars.
And trouble-maker kids.
Like me, I guess you could say. I was 22, last April, but my roughneck gear, shaved head, and baby-blue eyes made me look like a high-school dealer. I was anything but… But, on this night, I was on a mission to find a dealer. I should have known to do it in the day; when things are “pure.”
I didn’t get far, on my mission, not even through the turnstile. I was walking towards the subway station, a flash and rumble from above indicating the beginning of my bad luck. I was just about to grab a door and pull it when I heard two voices from behind me yell, “Hey!” and “You!” I froze, for a millisecond, and then rushed inside. Loud footsteps and cursing from outside.
Three steps in, and they were on me. A slap to the back of my head brought me to my knees and two rough sets of hands grabbed my arms and pulled them, hard, to the small of my back. Someone used their foot to push me onto the floor.
Some white man’s voice said, “You run from the cops? You dumb fuck!”
“Say something, you turd! So we can slap the shit out of you.”
I said nothing. I knew cops in this city, in this neighborhood. Always out to prove they’re tough. There’s nothing they love more than a punk with a big mouth. I wasn’t afraid of a beating, just so you know, I just wanted this whole ordeal to be over with.
My body went numb, like it was ready for bed. I would have liked to be in my bed.
“Allright,” said one of the cops, “be a fuckin’ mute! Search his bag.”
My stomach dropped, like on a rollercoaster.
The big fat cop (there’s always one) picked up my bag, ripped open the zipper, and dropped all my junk onto the dirty concrete. He picked up books: Chaucer, Nobokov, Saligner; threw them away lik coffee-stained napkins. A journal pad that I kept for the last year, opened, nosed-through, and then discarded into a puddle. My heart broke in halves, quarters, then thirds.
I waited for the twist in the scene. Like in a movie, you know?, when the hero shows up just in the right moment. I waited for someone to come help me. But, as the police officer unrolled (what-looked-like) a bulging sock, I realized, this was Real Life, not the movies. Films only mock reality and its drab-like gloominess in hopes of “jazzing”-it-up.
Said a cop, “What have we here!”
The other answered, “That looks like a little … paraphernalia!”
The fat cop held up a little bag full of a green substance in one hand, and then a small dark-colored glass pipe in the other. The one holding me whispered in my ear: “Do you know the word busted, kid?”
I nodded.
“Hey! Lookee, Chuck, he understands English. Thought you were one those of NoHablaEnglisssh motherfuckers. I really hate that. You live in this country and you don’t know the fuckin’ language?”
The fat cop stood in front of me, dangling the drugs like a toy on a string. A small crowd had formed, on the other side of the turnstile, watching the show. I sighed and wanted to put some sort of mask on my face. “You’ll have to excuse my verbose and longwinded partner,” said the cop. “He’s a life-long bachelor.”
The guy holding me got a little angry at that and shoved me towards the doors. “Come on, kiddo, it’s time for you to take a ride.”
Outside, it had started to rain. Black raindrops in a black night, for my black mood. They led me through thankfully deserted streets to a van. Three other hoodie kids from the ghetto sat, handcuffed, like zombies in the back. The cops put me towards the front, a sort of “special” case. They said they liked “talking” to me.
I had the image of two lonely grand-aunts, talking and talking and talking just cause someone other than the two of them were there.
Occasionally, I would glance back and see the kids in the back staring angrily up at the front. Probably, not at me, but something told me I was in danger. Maybe not here, but, later tonight, somewhere. I sighed audibly. What’s left of my broken heart fell to the floor of that fucked-up-mobile, rattling around with all the empty soda cans and pieces of crumpled-up paper.
The cops drove us around for about an hour. They listened to their radio for the first couple minutes, but then turned it off and turned on the chatter. Back and forth they went, like chirping birds, one voice trying to eclipse the other in decibel level. Finally, they pulled in somewhere and turned off the engine.
“Come on, you moops, time for a bathroom break.”
“Yeah, you won’t be able to tell anyone we mistreated your sorry asses.”
We filed out like Holocaust-refugees in the rain, in a warehouse district of the city. Although I was just in handcuffs, the other three were in full shackles and connected, like a chain gang. I pitied them. We walked through an industrial size door into a ghost-image of an office. Cobwebs and shadows and broken glass. Doors with hinges missing, doors on the floor, doors painted red.
One of the cops said to me, “About a year back, some kids like you threw one of those “raves” here at the warehouse. After the “party”, some high kids stormed in here and wrecked the place, been deserted ever since.”
The other one added, “Fuckin’ kids.” They both laughed.
We reached a wide, dark hall. The doors to the Men’s and Women’s bathrooms were nowhere to be found, only the faded box-cutter image of a man and a man with a dress on differentiated the two. The fat cop started talking while the other one slowly released all of us.
“Allright, kids, we’re gonna give you a little taste of freedom. Play NICE, aight?, or you’re going to get your ass kicked. It’s getting late.” He pointed at the Ladies Room. “You little Ladies are in there. No way we’re gonna hold your dicks while you piss, so you guys just go in there, do your shit, and come the fuck out. No stupid shit.” He nodded at the Men’s Room. “We’ll be in here.”
The three hoodies started walking into the bathroom. I followed them, hesitantly. Immediately, the three shuffled into the three first, doorless stalls. I stepped quickly behind them to the last stall, the only one with a door. It was a cripple’s toilet and very large.
I closed the door and debated whether to lock it or not. I did, but only made a show of pissing. I flushed the toilet and stepped out.
They were ready for me, around the stall entrance like a U.
“White boy,” said one in a deep voice, “Wanna purge your sins? Pledge your loyalty to the Darkness, now. Or die.”
Like I said before, I’m not afraid of getting my ass kicked. I said, “Fuck you, weirdo.”
The two on my side lunged for me. I tried to dodge, but couldn’t, ended up backing up. The cripple’s bathroom was my epilogue, my deciding vote, there was no room to maneuver and I was out-numbered. They kicked at my knees until they buckled and I found myself on the floor again. The punk with the deep voice took a step near me and readied himself to kick me.
“Repent, sinner!” He attempted the kick. I grabbed his foot and with the strength of despair, I pulled at it as hard as I could. There was a loud snap! and the kid fell back on his ass.
I lunged forward, towards the exit. The familiar smell of smoked marijuana and the sound of giggling from the Men’s Room made me angry. Instead of fleeing, I turned back to the two standing punks, gaining on me with a little hint of fear in their eyes.
One of them said, “Why don’t you shout for help? The police will come protect your pale pampered ass.”
I’m not a violent person, but, living in this world, in my world, I learned long ago: A Man not willing to stand up and fight when the time calls is not a Man, but a child.
(“Are you a boy, or a man?” they used to ask me on the street. “A man,” I would say, “A man.” “Then, prove it, kid.”)
The punks attacked me like Ends coming in for a sack. I lifted up my arms and slammed my elbows and knees into their sensitive areas (gut, crotch, legs). With balled fists, I cracked their jaws and fractured ribs. It felt like long, long, minutes before the cops returned and pulled me off them. They threw me out of the bathroom into the hall, strange expressions of disbelief on their stoned faces.
“We told you fuckers about behaving.”
“We told you fuckers the price for misbehaving.”
Even high, the cops looked ready for action at any moment. They pulled out their clubs and snickered. The fat one said, “Stand up, punk. Come on.”
I didn’t. I couldn’t.
“No more fight left in you, pussy?”
The truth: No. I was all fought out. My heart was empty. I regret, I have no more blood to give for my country.
I said, after a pause of silence, “I’m just brokenhearted, man.”
They looked at each other, gave a knowing nod, like they could put themselves in my shoes and know, you know? They put away their clubs and led me away to the van. They left the hoodie-punks in the dirt and grime of the Ladies Room.

Moonlit rooftops, in an urban sprawl. A good lookout point for the battle to come. One night to go.
My soldiers are positioning right now. Setting up camp/shop. They won’t move till midnight tomorrow night. Halloween Night; (I figured I’d do what your God never had the courtesy to do: be on time.) I shall deliver my own version of the Apocalypse, in full display of any cameras or passersby’s. I want the world to see what’s coming.
Only a handful of my elite soldiers are out on the hunt tonight, planting the seeds of discontent and unrest. The previews before the film.
I look down the street and I feel like weeping. The poor people here live in a frightening state of squalor. The decadence overwhelms me, causes me to look away. Homeless beggars, dirty children in broken strollers, police smoking cigarettes while kids are getting chased by other kids across the street. Buses and cars fighting for space, spewing death through little black clouds, choking anybody nearby. This is my neighborhood.
A few dozen blocks downtown, my spies see bars and restaurants overflowing with cocaine addicts and drunks and sex-fiends and money, money, money; everywhere. Clubs and parties and “upscale” engagements. Limos and cabs.
Cabs to the bar, cabs to his place. Tips to the cabbie, tips to the doorman. Wine, weed. Late night trip to the 24hour Pakistani place for condoms and rolling paper. The grocer is worried about his children in a war-torn village near Kashmir. The rich man buys some cigarettes to go with his condoms and the two smile at each other. The Pakstani curses him under his breath.
The man goes back to his building, into a crowded elevator. He is a little worried, because it is very late, and the men in the elevator look (and smell) like they’ve been sleeping in gutters. The man never leaves the elevator alive.
Further downtown, a State Senator and his family are staying at a suite at the Ritz-Carlton. His children spend the day shopping at F.A.O Shwartz or doing drugs in dark, smoky rooms. The youngest one spends all day on his laptop consuming can after can of caffeine. In the evening, the State Senator and his wife are arguing. Same old fight; mistresses, girlfriends. Not one or two, but quite a few. There’s lots of shouting, cursing, some shoving, and other hints of further violence. The Senator’s wife, in a fit of rage, runs into the little Kitchen with the intention of getting a knife. In the hall, she passes the faces of her children, sitting on couches, staring at her with shattered eyes and wet cheeks. She decides against the knife, returns to the master bedroom. The next morning, they are photographed smiling and kissing at their son’s birthday party. Sometime, in the early morning, they decided on a deal. Their married life, from now, would be a show. The senator decided he would run only more term, another six years; by then all the children but one will be out of the house, in college or beyond. They could save money, and then, divorce. Go their separate ways.
They cried as they said goodnight.
I didn’t choose to come here. I didn’t choose to do this. You people brought me here. Your greed and selfishness is my inspiration. Your despair is my fuel. Your deaths will be my sweet dessert.

The lobby of the major multi-billion dollar studio had a huge, silver, work of art in the center of the wide atrium. Fenced in by trees, bushes, and rising flower stalks, a string of silver went up a few dozen stories, to the top of wide and tall lobby. A seeming thousand hollow globes were placed one atop the other, stratosphere upon stratosphere upon stratosphere, their string of thin lines mimicking our Earth in its many thousands of years of evolution. The globes were in motion, too, some moving on a tilt in a clockwise fashion, like the real Earth, others spinning aimlessly on their center, some randomly. The globes continued into the cross-hatched ceiling, disappearing through the plaster.
“Does it continue into the next floor?” I asked no one in particular.
“Yes!” said a Uniformed Man. “All the way to the top floor, through the roof! The building was actually built around and above the Mobile.” The man wore a bright, multi-colored uniform, like a ticket-taker at a movie theatre, an ugly hat that had the letter I on it (for Information or Idiot, I assume), and a nametag that said, “Hi. I’m Charlie. I’m here to help!”
I only half-listened to what he said. He smiled at me and gave me those ‘I think you’re cute’-eyes. Too bad (for him) I didn’t date men who worked bullshit jobs. He babbled some more.
“The globes represent people and our company slogan, ‘Every person is a world onto themselves!’ [This guy loved exclamation points.] None of the globes intersect but they all share common features, textures, and rotations. You’ll notice, some of the globes rotate in opposite directions from the one below or above them, symbolizing our company’s continued respect for all styles of individuality. We know Life can be hard, and many times you find yourself lost among strangers, but that’s why we have something for everyone. Like our many TV channels, clothing lines, and car accessories.”
He cleared his throat. “Are you for looking for something, or someone, Miss?”
‘Not you,’ I thought, but said, “The photo office for Fashion DO’s magazine.”
“Ah! The new ‘hip’ rag, huh?” He laughed at his own joke. “Of course; third floor. (All of the third floor!) Take the C elevators.” I nodded a Thank You and walked slow-and-sexy-like to the elevators. (I was thankful for the information, you understand.)
The brightly lit and circular platform hummed when I stepped onto it. “Hello,” said a female computer voice, startling me. “Which floor, please?”
I looked around for a camera or a microphone or something, but saw nothing. I sighed and said, “Three.”
“Thank you,” said the voice in computer-generated enthusiasm. “Have a nice day!”
One of the silver doors slid open with a little whoosh like something out of Star Trek. The elevator itself was mostly opaque, except the floor and ceiling. In panorama, I saw the massive lobby, with the globes statue, all the trees and bushes glowing with green light (both natural and artificial). Little human-being-toys walked around, pretending to do something interesting. Finally, dozens of stories up at the top of the lobby, the little elevator was plunged into darkness for a moment.
Then, calm, artificial yellow light. I heard music: Classical; violins, pianos. Quartet and Trio stuff, nothing too dramatic. A calm atmosphere. The door to the elevator slid open.
The music got louder, the muffle gone, and the sound of very clear speakers in clever places. The room I stepped into was long and tall. Almost no echo came from the music. A musician plucked at his violin slowly, like a bass guitar. I walked with the rhythm, my footsteps falling quietly on soft red carpeting. Marble columns lined the room, with small chandeliers every few feet. Very impressive.
At the end of the room, sitting behind a massive security-style desk two beautiful women, in pantsuits, with their hair pulled way back, locked their eyes on me. Above them, in a simple but memorable font, the single word ‘VOGUE’ decorated the wall and gave it the aura of a Holy wall in a Temple.
I stepped into conversation-range with the desk. Before I could say anything, as one, the two women pointed at a simple-looking side door. One of them (with a bit of an attitude) said, “Models. In there.”
“Am I in the right place? I’m here for-“
The other female said: “Fashion DO’s. We know. Vogue owns them.”
The first woman pointed again, dismissing me. “Models. In there.”
I stood there for another full minute and then left. Bitches. Through the little door (that even had a scratched up sign that said “Models”) and into a backstage-looking hall. The place was littered floor to ceiling with random equipment, curtains, used clothes, and tripods (lots of tripods). Either the photography department was really large or the whole place was small.
It didn’t take long to find where I was supposed to be. In, what could only be described as an alcove, standing around a water cooler or sitting in little steel chairs, a dozen or so beautiful women in a range of beautiful colors greeted the newest arrival with indifferent stares. I returned the same stares, all down the line, until I reached the last one, a tall tanned blonde sitting by herself, staring back at me and shaking her head: her.
Beside her, the only open chair was left. There was no room on the other side of the alcove to stand. I sighed (so she could hear) and approached her. I sat down without a word exchanged, until …
After a minute or so of uncomfortable silence, she said, “Hey.”
I looked back at her. I remembered the flash of kinship I felt with her yesterday, on the street in front of FIT. “Hey.”
“…Small world.”
I said, “Small city.” We laughed, together.
“My name’s Maria,” she said, a Spanish accent peeking through beneath the blondeness. I looked her over again. “And you are..”
I smiled at her as if I forgot my own name. “Everyone just calls me H.”
She stifled the urge to laugh, but then said, sweetly, “H. It’s nice to meet you… again.”
There was a comfortable silence this time. I stared at all the equipment and the dirty floor. Maria saw my expression and grinned. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Things are not usually what they appear to be. I would think you would have learned that by now.”
“I am learning,” I said.

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