Ship gets new captain, still sinks

July 16, 2015

I have studied the presidency carefully; I have seen that our best presidents were the do-nothing presidents: Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding. When you have a president who does things, we are all in serious trouble. If he does anything at all — if he gets up at night to go to the bathroom — somehow, mystically, trouble will ensue. I guarantee that if I am elected, I will take over the White House, hang out, shoot pool, scratch my ass, and not do a damn thing. Which is to say, if you want something done, don’t come to me to do it for you; you got to get together and figure out how to do it yourselves. Is that a deal? — Utah Phillips

I see and hear lots of liberals touting Bernie Sanders’ platform:

Bernie Sanders' platform

…and mine the fuck out of the arctic and continue breakign native treaties and killing unarmed black people and generally keep the destructive super-trawler that is US Society afloat a bit longer, delaying the inevitable and prolonging the damage, making it a bit better for a few others while we oppress the shit out of even more people and dismantle even more life support systems. We need to stop trying to save the ship. It belongs at the bottom of the ocean.

I agree, it’s better than Hillary Clinton’s.  Actually, I find it impressive.  And that concerns me.   I like Bernie Sanders.  I think he’s a nice guy and he’s make a great president of the US.  And that scares me.  Liberalism in general scares me, because it’s fundamentally dishonest.  <rant>Liberalism is really just conservative in disguise.  Liberals don’t want change.  They want things like stability (like conservatives), but they want everyone else to just be numb and happy and in denial (cue the Brave New World reference to soma), because that’s what they want, and that’s the only way they can get it (besides just killing themselves).  They want to keep Today’s Society pretty-much the way it is, with a few tweaks here and there.  Maybe add a bit more padding on those infamously hard, uncomfortable seats.  “Numb brains, not butts!” may be their rallying cry.  The most irritating thing I find while searching the sea of clenched boomer-age liberal assholes is the an entrenched, itchy and borderline-hemerrhoidal belief that, “Everything will be alright if just…”  The bitter red pill (of uncomfortable truths) may be nourishing but proves too tough to swallow, so they opt over and over again for the smooth blue pill (of convenient bullshit), even though it only comes in the form of a suppository.   No wonder why they want more padding on those seats…</rant>

what asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Notice the liberals at the Far Right.  What asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Now, I like that picture above.  I think it provides a useful analogy for thinking about social privilege and hierarchy.  And it’s sinking.  But a rowboat?  C’mon, cartoonists!  We live in a civilization.  Civilization does not pride itself on its rowboats!   Consider an even more accurate picture of Today’s Society, where the cute and innocent rowboat depicted above looks more like a hybrid of a USS Super Tanker carrying an ocean full of crude oil, or a USS Super Trawler picking and scraping the ocean clean of every last bit of life, all with the inevitable fate of the USS Titanic (The “USS” really stands for United Society of Sociopaths).  No matter who helms it, a Super Trawler will still dredge the ocean floor.  No matter who helms the Titanic, it will stay its charted course…and sink.  And liberals don’t want the ship to sink.  They think it’s a pretty OK ship.  Maybe it has a few holes to patch, or some seats to pad.

Regardless of what liberals think, even as the ship sinks, as long as it operates it will continue to subjugate and destroy its crew and its environment.  Given that, I can think of four questions more relevant for us to ask and discuss than “So, who’dja vote for?” (kang or kodos?  coke or pepsi?):

  • How soon will the ship sink?
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?
  • What do you want to do about it?

Electing Sanders doesn’t help.  He doesn’t sink the ship or lessen its destruction.  He hires and fires a few people, polishes the brass, and adds some padding to those infamously uncomfortable seats (cue cheers from hemerrhoidal liberals everywhere).  And the ship continues to operate, business as usual, maybe even better than ever! (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

We’re asking Sanders to become captain of the societal equivalent of a sociopathic Super Trawler.  Then we’re asking him to save us from that sociopath in two conflicting ways:  to keep from it sinking on one hand, and keep it from operating as normal on the other.  Neither do liberals want to abandon ship, nor do they want to sink with it.  So they resort to magical thinking, supported by their steady diet of bullshit blue-pill suppositories…Bernie will save us.  He’ll make things right.  He’ll… I don’t expect any miracles from Bernie. I do expect things to continue getting worse regardless of who gets elected. (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

You can dress a sociopath up in a smart new suit and expect him to behave less sociopathic, but all you will do is help him hide in plain sight.   You can give a sociopath a tool like a hammer, and he will find a way to use it as a weapon of control and misery.  You can educate him, and he will use his knowledge to manipulate others and consolidate his power.  We live in a society that behaves like a rampaging sociopath.  There exists no magical “tweak” or “reform” or “policy” or “political platform” that will make it less destructive, let alone turn it into an emotionally healthy being capable of relating in deep and meaningful ways with others.  When we try to reform, we settle for symbolic change, empower the destruction and blind ourselves to its continuation.

Is it actually any better that Sanders gets elected instead of Clinton or their Republican counterpart?  In other words, what impact does who gets elected president have on the four questions I ask above?  I repeat those questions here for your convenience (you’re welcome), along with some thoughts on them from me (I’m sorry):

  • How soon will the ship sink?  Will it sink sooner or later?  I tend to think later.  Electing a liberal is really electing an expert conservative who stabilizes society without fixing any of its fundamental ills.  We delay the inevitable.  We prolong the misery.
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?  The society keeps growing, so I tend to think that the longer we wait, the bigger the crash.  The higher the fall.  The less prepared we are, the more harm the crash and fall will do to its peoples and environments.   So how does electing Bernie slow the destruction and growth and empower the people?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?  Will electing someone like Bernie Sanders actually reign in the destruction, somehow?  How will Bernie change the classism, racism, sexism embedded into the fabric of our society?  Will Bernie slow down deforestation, help dismantle dams, protect our rivers from poisoning?  Will his policies thwart our industrial, commodity-based economy?   Or will his policies simply make a few people more comfortable existing within such a terrifying, destructive system…for a time?
  • What do you want to do about it?  Do you think voting is enough?

So go ahead and vote for Bernie.  Just go ahead and vote.  Or not.  I really don’t care who you vote for, or whether you vote.  Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Trump, or that other unsung ‘murrican fascist, Mickey Mouse.  But I do care about what you do with the rest of the hours in your day:  How are you helping to stop the destruction?   Study and practice permaculture? Join and support Black Lives Matter!?  Or do you want to do something more explicitly political?  Organize your community to adopt a Community Bill of Rights as we work to change the legal foundations of this country to something more fundamentally just. And men in particular, please, please join or support your local feminist organization, because the revolution really does start at home (but doesn’t end there).  And any number of other radical, transformative things, including those less constructive (rivers must flow free to support terrestrial ecosystems, super trawlers must sink to have sustainable fisheries, and those pretentious colonial marbled houses and engraved enscriptions of empire need to come down sometime…the sooner, the better!).

“We Eat Mean People” — a modest proposal

July 8, 2015

“We have a firm rule here, we eat mean people.”

Do the myriad sociopathic elite who structure and run civil society live low-stress lives?  In the scheme of things, their meat might prove quite good.  In the least, we know they are very well-fed…such a rule, applied more widely, might make for a fantastic form of nutritional forage and self-defense.  First, let’s distinguish between the vampiric sociopathic elite and the zombified non-sociopathic hordes who mimic them because they’ve been brainwashed into believing that

“If a man has an apartment stacked to the ceiling with newspapers we call him crazy. If a woman has a trailer house full of cats we call her nuts. But when people pathologically hoard so much cash that they impoverish the entire nation, we put them on the cover of Fortune magazine and pretend that they are role models.”

— B. Lester

The sociopathic elite sit at the top of the shit mountain we call civilization, and shit roles downhill.  Sociopaths tend not to stress out about either the harms they do to others or the harms done to others, which in this society, are myriad.  They do, however, stress out about the harms they perceive others doing to them.  Barring prevalent paranoia amongst the sociopathic elite, they might prove quite succulent and tender.    Even including the possibility of prevalent paranoia, they still suffer from only one of three potential forms of social stress.

Perhaps we should just start culling such people to the freezer.   But they mustn’t know they are being hunted.  Apart from ethical questions and sporting conduct, it might spoil the meat.

Happy hunting!

An intimate elbow brush with epidemic pathology

June 18, 2015

Wednesday night.  We planned to head over to the fairgrounds to pick some ripe bing cherries from volunteer trees.  We heard a man shouting outside.  I went out to get mail and investigate.  Middle-aged white dude cussing out two teenagers at the top of his lungs, and shouting at one to get in the truck.    Cussing and shouting escalated and continued.  I walked toward the truck.  He saw me, pulled back and into parkign lot across way and stopped for a minute.  Truck windows rolled up, still heard him shouting and cussing.  I started walking toward them again. Driving aggressively, he pulled out of parking lot and started heading south by my house again.  I shouted at him as he passed something like, “Please show show people more respect!” The best I could muster.

He slammed on breaks, squeaked tires at intersection.  Burned some serious rubber backing up to me.  I readied myself for confrontation and thought briefly about my safety, the safety of the woman and girl in the car with him. “Does he have a gun?”

What happened next sent surreal chills down my spine:  He immediately calmed down and rationally explained away his behavior to me, like someone flipped a switch on the back of his neck.  Then after telling me everything he thought i needed to know about the situation, he said, without a hint of irony, that it’s really “none of my business.”

“Yeah, well, when I hear you out in the street yelling at the top of your lungs and cussing at people you supposedly love from inside my house, you make it my business.”

He launched again into all the rationalizations. He “didn’t know where his daughter was,” and “was concerned for her safety” and “found her with a boy he’d never met.”  Ok, those sound like reasonable things to be upset about as a parent, and decent excuses for a man to exhibit angry, controlling behavior. Any port in a storm, and the long, slow burn of persistent patriarchy provides one hell of a 20,000 year old storm for us to weather.

“I’m allowed to get angry and fly off the handle.”

“And there’ll be consequences when you do that.  Is that really how you want to show your love?  Is that what you want the people around you to think love is?”

“You know what, fine.  Call the cops on me.  I don’t care.”

“I’m not concerned about you being angry.  I’m concerned about the reasons why.  I’m concerned that if you treat the people you say you love this way in pubilc, how do you behave in private?” (yes i know that many abusers present with perfect angelic behavior in public).

“Then call the cops on me,” he said again, and drove off.

Neighbors (one of whom is a mandatory reporter) heard him shouting, and came out to see the confrontation.  And, unknown to him, they fulfilled his request without ever hearing it.  “Yeah, that’s not love he was expressing,” they said, “when you can hear it pretty clearly from inside over an AC unit running on full blast.”  They called cops, who tracked him down (apparently lives on a street a few blocks south of me).  I have no idea what happened from there.

I went back inside and cried out my own anger and frustration and tried to calm my own fight or flight response. I wanted desparately to sleep that night. I hoped and begged my body, mind and spirit to cooperate.

And for some reason, I was reminded of my next door neighbor, who, shortly after I moved into my house several years ago, asked me to cut down “my” tree so he could get better television reception. A casual request for the destruction an entire biome — thousands of lives — for the sake of the quality of his chosen method of consumer entertainment…Do we need to talk through the insanely corrupt entitlement and value systems embodied in such requests?

I think of how I know it’s spring, not because plants leaf out again and flowers bloom, but because I pass rows of zombies mindlessly spraying poisons on land they believe they “own” in droning acts of biotic cleansing to purge the landscape of edible and medicinal plants they call “weeds” (again, without a hint of irony) as they scramble to maintain the stunted monocotic symbol of socioeconomic desperation they call “lawns.”

I think of the people who I see walk within feet of destroyers openly preying on the destroyed, only to ignore and pray it away like an errant thought.

I think of how 99% of the perpetrators of public violence seem to be men, and, how most of those men have reputations or history of giving (and sometimes receiving) abuse in their private life. I think of how often men stalk women and white people profile black people.

The term kyriarchy comes to mind. Civilization requires slavery of any and every kind. It requires domestic slavery and wage slavery and chattel slavery.

I, increasingly, see these diverse pathologies of civilization, the alienation, the abject psychopathy, narcissism, entitlement, chronic fear, as varied symptoms of the same underlying problem.  It’s not so far fetched. Consider, for instance, that three people can have celiac disease diagnostically manifesting with a non-overlapping display of a range of hundreds of various symptoms in each person.  They can eat similar diets and live simlar lives, even have similar genetics.  Yet, one will exhibit no clear or overt symptoms, or maybe occasional stiff joints and headaches.  One will exhibit primarily gastro-intestinal symptoms.  The other will feel primarily neurological symptoms of anxiety, depression and brain fog.  Some unlucky, extra-sensitive few may suffer through all these symptoms and more. The condition underneath remains the same: a destroyed gut interacting with a socially and physically and chemically toxic environment.

In the same way, civilization throws these pathologies at us like a game of whack-a-mole, and our symptoms vary massively.  In refusing to play that game, we call into question the foundations of our existence and our motivations in life.  It requires going deeper and looking, first and foremost, at our own pathologies and addictions to the processes and substances threatening to make zombies of us all, even as we continue our agonizing participation. Waking up is painful.  I meet few people who seem willing to give it up their slumber, who wish truly for the embodied spiritual ecstasy of liberation (I have caught only fleeting glimpses of it myself), who have no desire to bring any of the pathologies with them on they paths they walk with increasing mindfulness into a life worth living.  But we exist.  And we become more numerous and more bold, more desparate and courageous with each new day we learn to tell the difference between life and psychopathy.

The liberal cancer syllogism would have us believe that humans are destroying the planet:  humans are to the earth as cancer is to the body.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The earth will survive long after civilized humans demonstrate once and for all our final incapacity to participate in and support life and love.   The war against civilization is purely a war against the spiritual devastation of humanity.  We are no grand saviors of the planet, because cancer is to the body as civilization is to humanity.  In a few thousand years — a blink in the eye of human’s existence — it has infiltrated and spread to epidemic proportions, supplanting nearly everything we know about life, replacing experience and feeling with pale parodies meant to contain and divide and distract us and keep us mired in crisis.

Leaving civilization does not mean flipping a switch.  It does not mean moving out into the woods (or else we might just bring it with us like a smokestack of trouble strapped to our backs).  It means depopulating the planet of humans and technology.  Depopulation means fighting patriarchy and supporting the empowerment of women and queers and other minorities in society. It means purging ourselves — inside and out — of the opulent minority ruling class.  It means supporting biomass as it asserts and protects itself against the expansive technomassive onslaught.  It means, increasingly, ignoring and outright-defying the institutions and laws and corporate mandates of empire and colonizing states.   It means disrupting the imperial flow of resources and other IV drips that slow civilization’s demise nad prolong its destructiveness.  It means purging the earth of the giant factories that dredge and scrape and squeeze and siphon the life from the land. It means prioritizing things like food, family, love, clean water and breathable air above money and social prestige.

It means an absolute refusal to martyr ourselves on the altar of pathology.  It means eating nourishing rather than poisonous foods, whatever that means for each person.  It means refusing to set our lives aside to come save civilization when it whimpers and calls out to us like a hurt child, and then spits in our face and stabs us in the stomach as we stoop in compassion to help.

It means any of these things, and all these things, and more.  For how pervasive civilization has become inside and outside of us, it remains extremely fragile to disruption.  When only a few dare to shed their internalized colonization, first and foremost, it will create an economic, physical disruption of oppression that civilization will fail to contain and suppress.  The only question in my mind is how bad we zombies will allow things to get before we wake up and fight for our right to live and die.

And I think about the purslane and wild lettuce and pineapple weed and sow thistle growing up through cracks in the middle of the intersection, how they resist and persist, day after day, year after year…the two-plus ton crush of metal beasts. The desertifying bake of the blacktop and urban heat islands…to create more life, more biomass, to displace, if only for a few months (or longer, barring civil intervention) the technomass that overruns and consumes and replaces earth’s life support systems as the immediate foundation of human existence.

The next day, we picked a half gallon of low-hanging bing cherries from feral trees. I thanked the trees, knowing that the timing isn’t always this perfect, and apologized for the small amount of damage I did. I wondered how long these trees will survive the endless hunger for energy when the urban fossil subsidies stop.

Blender Foundation Movies: A structural mission with substance

May 8, 2015

People made these animated short films with completely free software on normal computers.  “Elephants Dream” explores the pathological inner complexities of a human psyche; “Big Buck Bunny” demonstrates a warrior’s gentle spirit in the face of ruthless sociopathy; “Sintel” questions our definition of courage and justice in the face of love and loss; “Tears of Steel” (conspicuously absent from the foundation’s list) is kind of stupid; “Caminandes” humorously critiques the controlling, domesticating violence that civilization perpetrates on the wilderness without and within (see for episode 1).

Supposedly, these movies serve primarily as technology demonstrations — proof of concept that free, open-source software (such as Blender, GIMP and Inkscape, among others) and collaborative projects can compete with commoditized solutions.  Proof that we can behave better toward one-another and still make really cool art.  They accomplish this mission through the production of provocative, entertaining, thoughtful and engaging animated masterpieces.


Gosling vs Soup: A lesson in wild courage

April 8, 2015
A real-life event as told by the primary witness:
Dad and I were going over to your sister’s to bring dinner tonite. Dad had made a yummy soup, I made a salad. Dad wrapped the pot of soup in a towel and put it in the back of the car, same with the salad and salad dressing. Dad was driving down Hwy 224 when both he and I spotted three tiny new goslings trying to cross the road. Dad slammed on his brakes (The driver in the car behind him slammed on his horn). Dad jumped out and, despite stupid drivers whizzing by, assisted the goslings out of the travel lanes and then up the curb, to their waiting and freaked out goose parents. In the meantime, back at the car….from slamming on the brakes, the pot of soup slid all the way forward (by the way, we had the seats down in the back), up against the front seat, then tipped over and spilled all over the back of the front driver seat and floor….

We spent the next hour at your sister’s mopping up soup…..the dogs helped lots….

Zombies don’t stop their car for others (especially nonhumans), let alone get out of the car to help them navigate the ridiculous and unnecessary dangers of the toxic concrete death strips scarring we call roads scarring and bifurcating the world’s life support systems.  As microcosms of the rest of civilization, zombies run down life, perhaps only wondering in passing why “those stupid animals get in the way.”  Here’s a toast to the wild courage of uncivilized folk (humans and nonhumans alike), and perhaps many more pots of spilled soup (ok, maybe that part is avoidable)!

I encourage readers to prep for the zombie apocalypse, because it’s here.  It’s now.  And it is us.

Allegory of Fire

January 21, 2015


I painted a room the other day.  Brightened it up.  The previous inhabitant used the room as his personal home theater.  He painted the walls a hasty, dark purple (eggplant?) color, ostensibly to absorb and block rather than reflect the ambient light.  Along with heavy shades on all the windows, the darkness of the room maximized the draw of and focus on the lights and sounds emanating from his entertainment shrine.  Maybe less a shrine than an altar.  It certainly involved sacrifice.  Either way, the room clearly served as a place of worship to the gods of the commoditized, commercial entertainment industry.  Until we painted it, and in spite of its large window area and south-facing position, the room seemed so dark that I called it “the dungeon.”  By painting it, we restored its warm, welcoming functionality and returned the space to the land of the living present.

While painting the final coat around the windows, my partner noticed a ladybug crawling on the window.

“it needs to go outside,”  she said.
“it’s just hibernating,” i replied.
“no, it’s not,” she said.  “it’s moving.”
“of course it’s moving — it’s like 95 degrees in here!” (i had stoked the fire once already that morning on top of a fairly warm day to create a warm, fast-drying painting environment, since we had limited time for the second coat of paint).

a few minutes later, in between paint refills, i asked, “did you take the ladybug outside?”
“no, i didn’t, i thought you were going to,” she said.

i put down my paint roller and walked over to the window, looking for the ladybug.  it rested in stillness on the sill, and refused to climb onto my finger.  having gone through such scenarios before, i fetched a piece of paper, and bugged the beetle until it felt bothered enough to start scurrying again.  It climbed onto the paper readily and immediately came to rest.

Earlier, while stoking the fire, I noticed another beetlebug of a different sort on a piece of wood.  A bug of a type unfamiliar to me, rounded in body and spritely in movement.  I figure it had enough trauma today already by virtue of hanging out inside a piece of wood I split open with the maul.  Cutting to the chase, I set up the same paper platform I gave the ladybug and used my hand to get the second bug moving.  It moved immediately.  But it didn’t intend to run away.  Instead, it hopped onto a piece of kindling and buried itself deeper inside the wood underneath the bark.

I took the paper with the ladybug outside and set the paper down in some dirt and walked away.  Plenty of ladybugs make their way inside my house, only to die there for want of food and water.  It had a better chance of finding food and shelter anywhere outside.

Later, I stoked the fire again, using the kindling that held the bug somewhere in its core.  I thought of that bug’s traumatic experience, first, from my rending its home in two with a metallic wedge in flash of weighted momentum approaching terminal velocity.  I thought of its attempt to escape from me, deeper into the wood.  Its refusal to leave the wood.  I thought of these things as I watched the wood burn. I thought of the bug feeling the steady temperature increase, first from outside to inside, then from ambient room to firebox.  Although it probably died from something else, I wondered which spark and pop represented the explosion of the boiling liquid from inside the shell of its body.

I assume every piece of wood I use to heat my home teems with levels of life that I cannot touch, see or even understand.  I wonder how many bugs on average I burn to heat my house every year.  I thank the wood — and the trees the wood comes from — for the heat, every time I start a burn.  But I burn more than wood.  I experience trees and bugs as people.  I burn people inside and outside my body to stay warm, and (among other conversations) I thank those people for the warmth they give.  Some people might consider this sadistic.  I consider it honest:  Every day, countless others die so that I can live.  Life works in no other way, and only death exempts us from this rule.  One of my greatest hopes in death?  That my body feeds wild and free spirits in turn.  Until then, I try to live in a way worthy of such a death, worthy of the wild lives that sacrifice themselves to sustain me one more day.

I wonder to what extent either bug somehow represents my behavior in life.  Represents indominatable wildness or domesticated passivity.  Do we live to our fullest capacity, taking risks well-outside our comfort zones to pursue our passions toward a life worth living?  Or do we seek to burrow more deeply inside the womb of comfort?  Do we have the wisdom and courage from life well-lived to recognize when a hand seeks to help and support us, and act accordingly?  Or do we, so traumatized already, run blind and senseless from every helping hand as a potential source of trauma straight into the firepit of trauma itself?  Do we have the wisdom and courage to stay and fight for our homes when others conspire to appropriate, colonize, and destroy?  Or do we run blind and senseless from every aggression, living a reactive life on the run from fear?  When we run from fear in search of peace, we bring our fear with us and destroy any peace we actually encounter.

We cannot avoid death.  When it wants us, it will have us, however it wants.  Quick or slow.  Painless or agonizing.  It may sneak upon us and rest at our side with a gentle whisper, or it may hunt us and rip out our throats.  Until then, trauma will have its way with us throughout our lives.  I don’t fault either bug for its behavior.  I have seen my life through theirs.  I have seen myself towering, nine miles tall, over them.  I have felt their willingness to fight and live in a world bent to the whims of psychopathic and narcissistic giants incapable of care, love and respect.  I incorporate the lives and behaviors of these bugs as mentors, guideposts and guardians of my own.  They remind me of my giant status, that I need not adopt the narcissism dominating and poisoning my species at the moment.  I ready myself for when either helping hand or fire comes for me and my home:  Will I act with with wisdom in acceptance of past and future trauma, and courage in the face of fear?

092513 no escape

January 10, 2015


my partner and i were escaping from a vast industrial complex.  another nightmare, and we wanted out.  that much was clear.  the rest was a fuzzy blur.

our partnership was an artifact of our shared understanding and intent to be free from everything we knew to be true about life up to this point. slowly. methodically. over time, through careful communication, making sure we did not raise any suspicions that could jeopardize our freedom.  through knowing glances and hidden notes we planned our escape.

the time came, and we made a break for it.  we knew when and where the guards patrolled.  who was on shift.  the employees who would suspect something was wrong.  how much time we had before someone would discover us missing.  how to maximize that time.  calm and methodical, the process was surprisingly unexciting and matter-of-factly.  sneaking down the long, windowless hallways bathed in waves of flickering flourescent light. passing through locked doors while security guards who were supposed to be monitoring the cameras watched porn. crawling through maintenance ducts.  hiding in containers as they moved from one end of the complex to the next.

at some point, something we did tripped an alarm.  they were on alert, looking for us. it was ok, though — we never expected a clean break, and weighed the risks.  almost there, almost to freedom.  we just had to avoid getting caught for a few more minutes.  pounding hearts and hot sweats belied our fight or flight circumstance.

the container we hid in stopped moving.  voices.  footsteps.  getting fainter.  minutes passed.  no noise.  time to get out. i opened the container carefully, and a blast of cold, moist air hit me before giving way to a clear fall night.  outside.  we’d never been outside before.  the chill and the darkness frightened us.  we peaked around the corners to make sure no one was watching, and left the last sanctuary of the container.

a full view of the industrial complex from which we had escaped greeted us.  gigantic, smooth, angular concrete. non-descript save for the uniform placement of floodlights on the walls to illuminate the surrounding grounds, giving the complex a halo of light by the hands of human industry surrounded by darkness.  our bare feet struck softly on hard asphalt.  another new sensation, leaving us in awe of what it feels like…on the outside?  a chill wind blew past us.

in the distance, we could make out the dim shadow of a jagged treeline resting ominously against the night sky.  except we didn’t know them as trees.  we had never seen trees before, and stumbled like frightened ghosts through the darkness.  light is good, they taught us.  the darkness presented us with a disturbing image of the unknown.  food?  clothes?  shelter?  we had no idea when, where or how we would come across these things.  still, desperation drove us on, toward the treeline.  we ran toward their jagged shapes, entranced.

shouting behind us.  lights, dogs plunging into the darkness after us, tracking us by our scent.  radio signals.  they know our location and our direction of travel.  afraid, we ran as fast as we could toward the treeline.  our legs pumped acid and our lungs burned.  not much time left.  each desperate footstep seemed to take weeks to fall, never fast enough.  they closed in.

i didn’t look back.  i was too focused on the treeline and too afraid to know how closely our pursuers followed.  i was determined to fight defeat until the very end, even if the only weapon i had to weild was ignorance of the ultimate futility of all my struggles.  i wanted to feel surprised when they caught me.  i refused to know when the dogs would nip and tear at my feet.  i didn’t want to see how they outflanked us, closing in on every side.  i didn’t care about the accuracy of the snipers setting their sites on me while i waited for the sting and shock of the bullet entering my back and exiting out the front of my chest with an aching explosion.

suddenly i arrived.  a dark, somber wall of trees stood stoicly before me, at once beckoning and guarding the entrance to the forest.  the dogs and others pursuing us sounded somehow more distant now.  i’d never seen trees before, let alone the specimens growing up amdist a thicket of brambles at the edge of civilization, like a wall separating us from the wilderness, from wildness itself. us? gasping for air, suddenly, i grew cold, hesitated and looked back.

a wave of relief washed over me to see how she followed close behind, how they followed further behind her.  no turning back, i thought. we can make it, i waved to her and smiled.  naked.  barefoot. i reached back behind me to start my way into the embrace of the brambled woods, knowing she would soon do the same.

a giant claw scraped my chest and tossed me aside like confetti.  in a flash, several large, dark objects shot out of the treeline toward the compound.  i rose to my feet, aching, in a daze, my chest burning and bleeding, just as another salvo of these fearsome four-legged creatures bounded past me without so much as a threatening glance.

stay out of this, they warned as they moved effortlessly toward their query and their kill.  toward her.  toward them. us.  a frozen wind wafted gently from trees out toward the complex.

i couldn’t see her.  i ignored the warning.  it was too late. it all went wrong. my desperation escalated to impossible levels as i ran clumsily after them, toward her, back toward the compound, shouting.  threats. epithets. anything. noise.  my ears rang over the muffled sounds of humans screaming.  dogs yelping. blood-curdling roars and firearms as blood dripped down my face into my eyes. i couldn’t see into  the chaotic orgy of violence unfolding like shadows in the silhouette of the compound flood lights, another alarm. in the space between civilization and wilderness.

they had used us like bait.  i cried and sank with limp knees into the futility of my rescue attempt. one of the beasts, hearing my pursuit, slowed and turned toward me, bounding back in a flash with the taste of blood already on its tongue.  we locked eyes, and i understood without mistake as i stared dazed into the giant sharp-toothed maw closing in on me, and met it awake in a cold sweat, gasping for air and crying out to the darkness.   at them. for her.  my heart beat like an angry sledge hammer against its fragile cage, demanding freedom.  but there is no escape.

101612 out of water

January 3, 2015


The second hand on the clock in the waiting room ticked as time slipped away with mechanical reliability and precision.  His mouth was dry with the thirst of vague anxieties.  He looked around.  Everyone engrossed themselves in a complimentary magazine, flipping desperately through the pages.  People.  Vogue.  Cosmo.  Maxim and Popular Mechanics for the men who couldn’t stand the thought of some stranger questioning their sexual orientation.  Futile attempts at self-medication through the absorption of content-starved desperation.  He noted that the Reader’s Digest went untouched.  What the hell is that about? he thought.

Self-conscious meta-humor was his Cosmo.  He grew physically ill while thumbing through product catalogs filled with people he was supposed to find pretty modeling things that he was supposed to buy in order to attain a state of numbing contentedness that was supposed to allow him to live in blissful ignorance of every little thing that was wrong around him.  Not wrong as in, “this book is out of order on the bookshelf,” or “that picture is crooked on the wall,” or “you put too much salt in the food.”  Wrong as in, “This is insane.”

We poison the air, water and soil.  Insane.
We pave over the earth and decimate entire ecosystems.  Insane.
We grow to population densities in vast excess of Dunbar’s number and sustainable carrying capacity.  Insane.
We work jobs doing things we hate for people we don’t know to pay rent and buy food and go to sleep and get up the next day just to do it all over again.  Insane.

How many people know that “mortgage” means “death grip” in French? he wondered.

Indoors, outdoors, it didn’t matter. His mind was constantly trained to hone in on the insane minutae and gargantuae that dominate the everyday realities of civilization — life inside the hungry maw of empire.

We self-medicate so we don’t have to think about the nature of the insanity that underlies most of our modern lives.  Insane.

Especially the God-damned post-modernists.  How do they escape the ironic gravity of their own existence? he mused.  Most modernists merely have their heads buried in the sand, or alternatively, shoved far up their own asses.  Somehow, post-modernists managed to contort themselves in ways that allowed them to attain both of these states simultaneously:  a head shoved far up one’s own ass, while buried in the sand, like a metaphysical holiday turducken.  The self-medicated equivalent of enlightenment.  He sighed and watched the waves roll in with the rising tide.

The zen of coping.  It infuriated him that people could spend so much energy — mental, kinetic, electro-chemical, whatever — finding ways to deny, distract and delay the inevitable and ultimately cyclical onslaught of sanity.  His spirit cried for relief:  Apathy is so exhausting!  Then why do so many people do it?  Don’t go there, he thought.  It’ll just remind you of how lonely you are.  Isolated, alienated, suffocating.  Much like the experience that dentist patients share in the waiting room.

The stress of such socially alienated exposure to advertisements took years off his life.  As much as he loved to “forest bathe,” he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge how a quick visit beyond the fully-domesticated landscape of sociopathy had been reduced to little more than a passing fad, alongside exercise, meditation and nutrition.  He didn’t want to wash off the filth of his civilized savagery in the healing waters of an environment built by phenomena far more advanced than anything humans would ever acheive.  He left a bit of himself behind everytime he returned to his normal life.

Fuck forest bathing, he thought.  I want to forest breathe.

The assistant propped open the door and called a name.  The woman next to him put down her People magazine, grabbed her purse, got up and walked toward the door.  Her face beamed with a fake smile and an overly-enthusiastic greeting to show off the teeth she had just brushed that morning in hopes that she could scrub away any cavities appearing from her poor diet and other dental sins.  He looked down at the cover of the magazine.  He didn’t recognize the celebrity.  “Not a celebrity to me,” he thought.  Connecting to one thing means disconnecting from something else.

He was getting excited by the cynical direction of his internal monologue.  If entering the forest is akin to a baptism, we’re supposed to be breathing underwater, he mused.  Perhaps we’ve forgotten that we have gills.  As it stands, most of humankind now comprises an uncomfortable motely crue of fish flopping awkwardly in the acrid atmosphere on the jetty, beneath a brilliantly offensive neon sign reading, “Welcome to civilization!”

And here he was, flopping with them.  The Girl from Ipanema blared quietly in the background from expensive Bose speakers.  He wondered how many others actually understood this uncomfortable fact.  How many have succumbed to self-medication?  Dosing dying fish with tranquilizers doesn’t lessen the reality of their plight. Iraq was heavily forested.  The middle east was heavily forested.  The fertile crescent…the dust bowl?  Oak savannah.

A fire burned in his gut, kindling a sense of rage that threatened to consume him. Regrow the forest.  Restore the top soil.  Eliminate the ever-expanding threat of empire.  Repair the tattered threads of our social fabric.  There’s a tapestry of life and community somewhere in this tangled mess.  What can I do about it, though?

As fast as it came, his feeling of hope faded back into the normal state of desparate indignation.  He longed for a different time and place.  Just like a fish out of water, flopping with futility on the jetty a few feet from its native environment.  Polluted, but certainly still serviceable.  The torturousness of the predicament at hand was not wrapped up in the deliberately slow and steady decimation of his ancestral habitat, but in the knowledge that its condition would continue to worsen under the increasing onslaught long after his passing, in plain view, and, as always, just out of reach.  He felt like a spectator at a state-sanctioned execution.

The assistant opened the door and called his name.  He put his thoughts down on the coffee table.  His knees cracked as he stood up out of his waiting room chair and followed her back into the exam room.

She asked how he was doing. He said he was doing OK while wondering how long it might take for him to awkwardly flop his way off the jetty.

112814 Homecoming

November 28, 2014


the dull roar of the diesel engine banged and echoed with futility against the soft fog-enclosed silence on the ascent.  we both glanced nervously at the gas gauge as it neared empty.  we had one reserve can of fuel left.  after that, nothing.

we’ll make it.  we’ll never make it.  we had to try. thoughts chugged around like a compression engine in our own heads.  the light on the bus guage came on.  about a half-hour left of fuel in the tank.

We both felt very tense.  Did we make the right choice?  Our decision came from days of intense discussions about our next steps.  We had each-other.

“How close do you think we are?”  I asked.

“I don’t know…” she said, eyes steady on the rocky, rutted road, to prevent any further mishap.  The condition of the road didn’t help our emotional state.  It looked more like a widened dirt path.  We spent most of our time chugging along at less than 20 miles per hour in second gear while carefully navigating hazards such a large rocks and downed trees.  Some of the rocks seemed like inherent features of the landscape.

On occasion, we stopped the bus, pulled out the pry bar and chainsaw and set about moving and then replacing downed trees covering the entire width of the road.  Each fallen tree took about a half-hour of hard damned work to pass, even with the help of the chainsaw.  We assumed nothing, and left everything as we found it.  We had no way to tell the story and intentions behind their fall, so approached each soldier with the same blanket respect.  Thank you on the approach.  Apologies for the disturbance.  Thank you for letting us pass.

“Do you think we’re headed in the right direction?”  I asked for both of us.

“I don’t know…” she said, replying for both of us.  The dense treeline appeared and disappeared out of the fog like a ghostly line of thousands of silent sentinels, watching our approach.  Watching us while we walked the thin line, waiting to see which way we would fall: with, or against them.  They were getting larger.  Heavier.  More difficult to move.

I felt hunger swell and burn in my gut.  “How much food do we have?”

“Why don’t you go check?”  she said.  I carefully made my way back to the food storage area, looking through and updating our inventory.  Two gallons of water left.  Dried beans and rice.  About a gallon of fermented vegetables.  Three pounds of cheese.  About the same in salami.  A few heads of garlic and onions.  The root cellar contained a few carrots and beets.  A couple of bags of dehydrated veggies left.

I made my report.  Without saying anything, we both thought the same thing:  Plenty.  Not enough.

The engine sputtered and died.  We got out to refuel, and took the opportunity to eat a little snack.  We had no clock, no way to tell time apart from the vague cycles of light and dark that made their way to us through the dense fog.  We took turns sleeping and driving or watching.   We measured time and distance in snacks and cans, watching our provisions dwindle, hoping we had made it far enough into the void between civilization and wilderness to avoid our pursuers.  Hoping we had kept enough distance and respect for wilderness to avoid attack from our hosts.

We looked at each-other in knowing silence, and made our way back onto the bus.  Our last push.  She got back into the drivesr seat, and turned the engine.  It sputtered at first, then chugged back to life.  I breathed, and for some reason, the Wallflower’s One Headlight started playing in my head as we made our way forward again.

It happened all so long ago, I don’t remember when
That’s when they say I lost my only friend
They say she died easy of a broken heart disease
As I looked up through the cemetary trees…

Come on, try a little
Nothing is forever
There’s got to be something better than
In the middle
Me and Cinderella
Will put it all together
We can drive it home
With one headlight…

Daylight waned into dusk as we passed the last barrier of fallen trees.  We didn’t know it was the last barrier until pulled up in front of the next:  a tangle of fallen old growth.  It would take days, maybe even weeks, to clear something like this.  The end of the road.  She turned the engine off.  Headlights off, dimming the road in front of us only slightly in the early dusk.

We looked at each-other with the same question.  What now?  Get out, take a look around.

We climbed the barrier.  It stood about twenty feet tall.  It looked like there might be ways to go through it somehow, but we didn’t want to risk it, danger enough that climbed on top of it.  Reverence grounded us.  Thank you.  Sorry.  Thank you.  Right or wrong, we also believed it offered us some protection.  From the top I could just barely make out the road as it continued again on the other side, about fifty feet back and another twenty feet down from the approach.  We suspected as much with the past barriers.  We started to see more design, more intention.  More warning.  This pile of debris made its message quite clear to anyone who cared to listen:  keep out.

We descended from our pensive perch in the dwindling light, as two dark figures with rifles materialized out of the fog.  We stood there, watching each-other for a couple of minutes.  With faces covered in shrouds, hiding all features but their hardened eyes.  Stupidly, I had left our weapons on the bus.  Our host/pursuers might have already confiscated them.  Sudden moves will get us killed.  On the other hand, if we didn’t make it far enough, we might die anyway.

Three more figures materialized, flanking us.  All clearly armed.  I grabbed her hand and squeezed.  This is it.

I remembered weapons training.  “Never point your gun at something you don’t intend to shoot.”  They didn’t intend to shoot us, yet.  But the muzzles did point menacingly in our general direction.

One of the two original figures stepped forward.  Movement out of the corner of my eye.  Someone in our bus.  Shit.  I raised my free hand, palm open, facing outward.  No point in trying to make enemies yet.  The figure approached us.

“You came alone,” she said. A female voice. Strong.

We both nodded.

“We typically disable vehicles before they make it this far.  Sometimes we shoot the people inside,” she told us in a steady, dry tone.  “We did exactly that to a couple of vehicles following you.”

I felt a wave of relief wash over me.  Tears welled in my eyes.  I squeezed my partner’s hand and we both relaxed our grip.  She knew.  I knew.  We all knew.  Our actions had kept us safe.  For now.  I took a deep breath.  The air underneath the dissipating diesel fumes felt cool, clean, thick, moist.  It reminded me of how bad things have gotten.  Breathing didn’t come so easy elsewhere…

“Why did you come?” she asked us.  My partner spoke this time.  She told them in brief terms,  bullet points.  Just like we had talked about doing should we ever make it this far.  Life.  Asylum.  Aid.  Death.  She did better than I did with unfamiliar faces, alien voices.  We don’t know whether the Others understood how we tell each-other apart, or whether they ever would.  We hoped they had grown fat and complacent, but did not expect or assume it.  They sent two vehicles.  How many did they usually send after liabilities?

The woman nodded, and pulled down the shroud covering her face.  Her eyes softened.  “We can use the extra help,” she said, nodding toward the bus.   “You can stay, too,” she smirked.

i broke from my partner and hugged her, buried my head in her shoulders and cried.  i said, “thank you.”  To her, to the trees, to my partner.  The bus.  She hugged me back, then pulled away.  Her eyes and voice hardened again.  “We need to get moving, lots of work to do.  Time to disappear.”

We spent the next several hours working together, covering and erasing tracks, constructing new barriers, putting everything back the way we found it.  Making every sign of our presence disappear.  Finally, we followed them, together melting and dissolving back into the treeline and all-encompassing fog, turning from solid to shadow.

112014 friendsgiving

November 27, 2014


“三猿…they came separately and stood separately…Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil.  They taught us the quite common and fragile conditions for slavery and liberation.

“We ignored them.  At least, the vast majority of us did, and most of the rest of us might as well have, considering the damage that our ignorant meddling did, like someone stuck in quicksand, struggling in a way that only makes the situation worse.  Only a handful of us took it upon ourselves to explore something closer to the entire spectrum of meaning and possibility they presented us, and only some of those people and their progeny will survive to read passages such as this — assuming these words survive.  All in all, a fraction of a percentage of the human race.  I wish sometimes that I were one of them…

“Sometimes freedom comes at the expense of sanity, just as often as connection and grounding require targeted alienation.” — JFF, memories of the Fall.

The drive was uneventful.  Wet, warm, windy weather — the type of fall he had grown used to over the course of his years in the valley.

He felt nervous.  He didn’t want to go.  But he went anyway, for the two hosts — a good friend since the 2nd grade and his friend’s significant other — and then for himself.  But by way of her, a friend of the hosts.  He needed to know.  He wanted to know.  So he forced himself to go.

He hated feeling nervous.  He rarely did, these days, learning to relax into the performance and have fun with it.  Can’t please everyone all the time, so he might as well play for himself.  Feeling nervous threw him off his rhythm, though.  It made it about them:  their opinion of his performance, and by way of that, their perception of him.  Nervousness enslaved performance.

He had started feeling nervous about the event early in the day, and that feeling grew and doubled back on itself, making nervous sweat inevitable.  Several hours later, he found himself airing out his armpits during the entire drive, hoping for some magic remedy.  Divine intervention sometimes comes in the simple form of substances known to lower inhibitions.  Careful, measured doses.  He identified with alcohol, in a lot of ways, on a very personal level.  It explained his near-constant feeling of loneliness.  Careful, measured doses.

He parked his car, now spending nearly all his mental energy like a slave, trying not to appear nervous.  Something in him doubted his efforts.  Car parked.  Straight?  Check.  Close to curb?  Check.  He unfailingly felt weak playing by other people’s rules, and reminded himself that he chose to enter this situation.

I’m only doing what’s necessary to maintain the delicate balance of safety and integrity, he told himself.  Breathe.  Stay grounded and focused.

Out of the car, dish in hand for the gathering, he walked to the door.  He heard voices inside.  It fed his nervousness.  He disliked gatherings.  People hanging out awkwardly around food.  Trying to find things to talk about despite living in circumstancse of near-complete alienation.  Conversation tended to fall toward common consumption habits:  TV, movies, sports, establishment politics, and their desperate fallback: the weather.

People don’t overeat during the holidays because the food’s so good.  People overeat, first and foremost, because it’s the easiest thing to do whenever the conversation flounders and falls through.  In those situations, the food tastes pretty darn good, and it rests comfortably in its place as a powerful player in the manipulation of emotional states.  He wondered what sort of food would exist in a society based upon functional and healthy relationships.  Different food?  Same food?

Deep breath.  He saw the doorbell.  He didn’t like doorbells, so he didn’t use it.  If he chose to use it, he would make sure to do so in the most annoying way possible.  Sometimes the newer ones with printed circuitboards didn’t allow that.  He didn’t know what type of doorbell they had. So he knocked, making a note to confirm the doorbell before leaving.

He heard someone coming to the door.  A woman’s voice.  The door opened, and his heart nearly jumped out of his throat onto the threshold, where she stood.

She was beautiful.

Well, at least that justifies my nervousness, he thought…and then realized that she stood there with an expectant look on her face, waiting for him to introduce himself instead of just standing there in the weather with a stupid-looking half-open grin on his own face.

Snapping out of his momentary stupor, he said, “I’m, uh, a friend of Vince and Debbie’s…I’m here for the get-together…”  He’d visited them several times and knew where they lived.  Still, several voices over his shoulder laughed at him for getting the address wrong.  How groundless he felt, wishing for any sign at this point that he had knocked on the correct door.  Of course he had…hadn’t he?

She smiled and relaxed.  “My name’s Pinaz!”  He had prepared himself for this moment, and strangled an immature giggle before it left his throat.   She seemed quite bubbly and eager to get to know people.

“I see.”  He cleared his throat, speaking loudly and clearly:  “IS THAT A COMMON NAME IN YOUR PEOPLE’S CULTURE?”

Her expression darkened noticeably.

“I’m just kidding,” he said, dropping the rude tourist voice before she could say something reproachful.  He held out his hand.  “Pinaz, nice to meet you.  My name’s stephen.”  She looked at his hand, then shook it.

“Nice to meet you.  So, is ‘stephen’ a common name in your people’s culture?” she shot back as she leaned against the door jam with her arms folded.  Testing each-other…good.  His nervousness melted and went the way of last week’s snow.

“Um, the WASP culture?  Yes, it’s been trending fairly positive for the last decade or so.  Though I doubt many people know what it actually means…such is life in the midst of the zombie apocalypse, ha ha!”  The “I’m half-joking” laugh.  He examined her expression but couldn’t tell what she made of his comment.  Something, obviously.  He broke the silence, again.  “So, would you like to invite me in?”

His question snapped her out of her own momentary stupor.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I–”  She felt part guilty, part embarassed, which confused and fluster her even further.  Zombie apocalypse?  He took the opportunity to continue.

“I promise I’m neither vampire nor zombie,” he said for further encouragement.  “And I brought a beet salad.  It has beets, dill, dressing, and cheese in it.”  He held out the dish for her to inspect, as if she had reason to disbelieve him.  No, he wanted to show her he was following all the rules.  She humored him and looked.  The beets were shredded.  Curious.  It did kind of look like blood and guts, but it also looked and smelled appetizing.  He tried to follow all the rules, at any rate.

“How can I know you’re not a werewolf, though?” she asked as she looked up from the beets.  Rules, after all, are rules, which led her to develop tendencies to escalate challenges and hang out close to the door at parties.

“I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep,” he said with an earnest tone and pursed lips she found disturbing, frustrating and funny.

She ignored him in her response.  “Sorry for taking so long to get the door.  You know there’s a doorbell, right?”

“Oh, is there?  What’s it sound like?”  He pressed the button.  A melody played somewhere inside the house.  He pressed it again.  The melody continued playing uninterrupted.  Printed circuit board.  No go.

She saw the furrowed frustration on his face and smiled.  He seemd harmless enough.  “Ok, well, come on in, stephen.  Vince and Debbie mentioned you were coming.”  She stepped aside to permit his entry and closed the door as he entered. He followed her down the short hall into the living room, where she made her brief announcement to the others.

“Everyone, this is stephen.  He’s not a zombie or a vampire, but he might be a werewolf, and he brought a beet salad.”

He held out his dish toward everyone.  “Beet salad,” he confirmed.  A couple of people waved hi.  He recognized a couple of more people.  They gave each-other nods of acknowledgment.  She noticed him trying to smile without forcing it, and felt a wave of pity for him.  Poor fellow.

She offered to take his coat.  He accepted, reluctantly, leading her to think that maybe he had something of value in the coat.  She insisted the coat would stay safe as she helped him out of it. He said his friends probably appreciated having an entry closet to put their friends’ coats in.

She returned from the closet to find him where she left him, like a lost puppy dog.  She felt some sort of responsibility to get him settled.  “You can put the salad over here,” she said, leading him toward the buffet spread on the dining room table.  Tucking her hair behind her ear, she helped him make room for the dish.  Someone else had brought another beet dish.  Roasted, cubed and drizzled in creme fraiche.  His looked less appetizing than the competing, established dish.  Hopefully someone will eat it.  Nothing worse than bringing something to a potluck that no one else likes.  She felt embarrassed for him, and tried to put the two dishes as far apart as possible.

“Thanks,” he said.

“No problem.”  She didn’t want to discuss the salad issue, and changed the subject.  “So, what does stephen mean, anyway?”

“It’s, uhh, Aramaic for ‘firm and unwavering,'” he said.

“Does that describe you?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.  Sometimes.”

“Sometimes?” she laughed with a little frustration, feeling conversation getting a little thin and he didn’t seem to be reciprocating much.  “How can you be firm and unwavering only some of the time?”

“Because of irony, I guess…” he said as he glanced at something behind her, attention clearly elsewhere.

Her gaze followed his and fell on Dick as he lumbered over to them with a giant, comedic grin on his giant, comedic face.  He seldom moved without some sort of mischeivous purpose driving his sizeable frame.  To that effect, he positioned himself most of the way between the two smaller figures, so he could pretend he was talking to both while denying them the ability to continue their conversation with one-another.

Whatever, she sighed.  She was starting to get bored with the conversation, anyway.  Maybe she’d pick it up later, if nothing better came along.  Maybe he’ll be less nervous then.  Dick probably did him a favor.

He saw it coming.  Dick turned to him.  “So, neither vampire nor zombie,” he said.  “What the fuck are you doing here, then?” he asked with layers of sincerity and mock hostility while extending his hand in greeting.

She threw him a quick glance as if to say “see you later” and then wandered off before he could respond.  Damnit.  Dick’s grin widened.

He answered Dick, eyes still following her as she walked away.  Their hands met in the middle for a shake.  Dick made his shake deliberately limp, for effect — as limp as his grin was wide.  Both hands were cold and clammy, one limp and lifeless, the other tense and rigid like rigor mortis.  “Not sure, Dick.  You?”

“Oh, the usual,” he said.

“Is that zombie or vampire?  I often have a hard time telling the difference.”

Dick laughed without breaking his grin.  “Oh, snap.  Here’s a question for you:  Does it matter?”

He looked at Dick and smirked with respect.  “Wow, a comedian and a philosopher, huh?”

“That’s me,” Dick said, his face configured proudly in that complex layering of desert-dry irony and simple earnestness that some comedians seem to love so much.

As he thought about Dick’s simple yes or no question, he remembered something his mother had once said to him, to all her kids, just as he really started paying attention to the subcurrents, subtexts and externalities of civilized existence:

“All I want for my children is that they become neither the destroyers nor the destroyed.”

He saw her, in his minds eye, crying with frustration.  He heard her voice, sad and strong.  He wished he could turn back time and do things differently.  The Others had groomed him, despite his mother’s intentions.  Somehow, he broke Oath.  An unforgivable offense among offenses.  They made his Awakening a suitably painful and drawn out process — one without any obvious end or purpose other than punitive intent.

He turned back to Dick with his answer.  “Yes, it matters.”

“Great!” Dick beamed even more widely like a banner declaring “mission accomplished,” and lumbered off, making his own opinion on the subject clear in the process.

At least, it matters to me, he sighed as he stood there alone.  To my family — the one I know, and the ones I have yet to find.

He leaned against the nearest wall, folded his arms and looked at the spread on the table:  Turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, veggies in cream sauces, various desserts.  Mostly made in home kitchens in private, presented in public with artifice and pride.  Food’s so easy these days.  Domesticated prey.  They didn’t know any better, like cattle in the feedlot.  Too busy stuffing faces in isolated misery to notice something awry in taste, color, nutrition, origin, inputs, process.  A few promising acolytes emerge from the meat farm out of the many.  He thought about his own history.  How early they’d started shaping his thoughts and beliefs.  How quickly collective consumption turns from plague to way of life among vampires, zombies and their food.  A few thousand years, a few hundred generations.  A drop in the bucket with a hole in the bottom.

He started to wonder whether the Others had more tricks up their sleeve.  They must have.  Even though the boring status of their food threatened to lull them into complacency, something else always threatened the status of their comfort and control.  They must know, he thought, and he wondered how long they would last on this diet, and what would happen when that time came…Garbage in, garbage out.  He thought of worms.  Digesters and detritus feeders.  The only known exception to that rule.  He needed to find their Order.  They might help restore balance.

His best friend had noticed him standing alone and came over to investigate, offering his hand and a brief hug.  “How you doing, buddy?  So glad you could come.”

“Thanks, man.”  They both meant it.  He appreciated the interruption before he went too far down that path and made anyone else either suspicious or uncomfortable.  Even the self-styled anarchists in the meat farm had their own version of re-education camps.  All substance, no structure, like a sack of flesh without bones.  No wonder why this all happ–

He caught himself again, packed his thoughts away for safe-keeping and turned his concentration to the task at hand, following his friend back to the feast.  For now, focus and food would keep him safe.