Thursday, August 21, 2008

Who Would Have Thought That a Girl Like Me Would Double as a Superstar? - By Quentin Isis and Justin S. Crisp

In the glowing lozenge of blue were inscribed the words, “Singing with the Stars”. The invisible consciousness of the camera, soulless, nameless, all-knowing, benevolent, pulled back, as if with purpose both mystical and specific. Two human figures emerged from a background of coloured squares, like the environment of a neon planet. The arm of one of these figures was around the shoulder of the other, and between them was apparent an uncommon camaraderie, as if they were intoxicated without ingesting anything more than the colours of the lights around them, hyperactive with the fizz of pink, yellow, harlequin, cyan.

“Well, there you have it America.” It was a voice accustomed to addressing America, from one who knew what it meant to live by the microphone. “Tonight we saw Ethan Williams sing his heart out with Shakira!”

Here he elbowed Ethan teasingly. Ethan, wordless, grinned. It was true. He had sung his heart out, and now, it was almost as if his heart had been dribbled down the front of his clothes like food down a baby’s bib, but he was happy, as happy as a baby. He could hear laughter, like a thousand rising helium balloons.

“…and win his own recording contract,” concluded the host of the show. “Give him a hand.”

The collective hand was forthcoming, and in its shattering thunder, Ethan was lifted up. He had come directly, at that time of youth when hairstyles are at their most vulnerable and most precious, like the full bloom of cherry blossoms before they scatter, into the land of dreams, by what, it seemed to him, was the only route possible – the direct route, without the detour of disappointment in which so many lost their entire lives. For the detour of disappointment was a permanent detour. Ethan was a little giddy as if realising for the first time that things might have been different. He might not have made it. But he had. He had sung his heart out. With Shakira.

“Congratulations, Ethan!”

The giddy dream was formalised as Brian, the host of the microphone and beige jacket, shook Ethan’s hand.

“I’ll see you after the show.” And here the words that Ethan had heard Brian speak before to others, took on special significance, spoken, as they were, almost in an undertone, an aside not to the audience, but to the insider that Ethan had become.

In anticipation of “after the show”, Ethan made his exit. Before him was the real show, of his own life, behind him was the world that wished it could come with him.

Still with business to clear up, still on camera, Brian continued:

“Which means we have to say goodbye to these two adorable kids who really have a fine career ahead of them…”

The camera, for an instant, allowed all witnessing consciousness to access that limbo in which there stood the two runners-up, a black youth dressed in green, who seemed smarting with the reality in which he had been brought up short, and a thin white girl, eyes downcast, struggling for dignity in failure.

“…as long as it doesn’t involve singing.”

The sentence had been handed down, and it was for life. There was nothing to be done; they had come to the final authority on singing and on future, and there was no higher authority to whom they might appeal. All that was left to them was to be imprisoned in themselves, till the end of their days, without song.

“And I mean it, guys. Not even ‘Happy Birthday’.” Here Brian made a dismissive gesture towards them, as if to brush them away.

The girl was beginning to cry, but there could be no mercy now. The boy, beside her, seemed to know this, but his steadfastness would no more save him than her tears would save her. Both knew that they must turn and go, as Ethan before them had gone; unlike Ethan, however, they would go not into some greater show that was their own life, but only into their own lives, a show to no one, not even themselves. They would go, and be gone forever, and yet, for themselves, they would forever, in the dolour that comes when dread’s promise is fulfilled, remain.

This was their exit.

But Brian swung immediately back to the camera with a pointing forefinger, as used to such decisions as some arbiter of souls, necessarily consigning the dead to heaven or to hell. Was there somewhere, in the very speed of his swing, a suggestion that he knew of the weight of the hammer he let fall in judgement, knew, and thought it hypocritical to excuse himself, and kept close always to the dignity of mere role, the dignity of consistent vulgarity, making appeals to no one?

“Next week on Singing with the Stars, three new hopefuls…”

Yes, next week, always new hopefuls. Next week.

“…get their shot at a record deal… and a chance to sing with this teen pop SENSATION!”

In the weird hinterland of coloured squares from which Brian and Ethan had emerged, a silhouette was thrown upon the semi-opacity of a screen. One arm of the silhouette was upraised heroically, and the other held a microphone to the shadow that was a head.

“Who is she?”

The silhouette itself seemed to ask the question, as if it were the question mark at the heart of all humanity, ready to be answered in a moment.

Brian raised his eyebrow with a narrator’s sense of drama, seeming to know that the narrator is the true hero – a hero in his very knowing. He made a gesture of speed, dynamism and introduction towards the screen, which was a door, and the door began to rise as a voice also rose, a voice like that of a hundred valkyries about to storm the hearts of humankind with a joy so thunderous it bordered upon terror. Revealed, the question mark became its own answer. Its clear, blue eyes were open, and its voice at last spoke:

“Me! Hannah Montana!”

No emphasis, no art was needed now to elevate the one who had appeared, the one who had called herself, ‘Hannah Montana’. Her presence was lightning itself, slicing through the hearts of all who witnessed. The lightning strode forward, as lightning strides, and took her place next to Brian.

“See y’all next week! And your reality will be like a hopped-up hog at a party.”

Something in this avatar of electricity seemed to leap always into the exhilaration of inspiration, so that she chose words at once simple and elusive, puzzling and understood. Her words served to remind those who heard that they possessed faculties of understanding that were beyond their understanding, and illuminated the far skies of their souls, so that, even if they tried not to, they could not help but understand.

And then the lightning was dancing, with Brian dancing at her side, dancing as if he had been struck by lightning, and was frazzled. Before long he was nudging Hannah Montana rhythmically from the centre of the stage with his posterior, the teasing spirit of this rhythm the same he had used in elbowing Ethan moments before.


No one knew. No one seemed to realise, but suddenly two capital letters, H and M, the former pale yellow and the latter pale lavender blue, zoomed out of some corner of nowhere and blotted all from consciousness. Then they were gone.


Consciousness now occupied an aerial view of a school, where a number of pupils were making their way across the bland, sandy-grey of the playground to the school building. Whether now this was the consciousness of camera or not, perhaps even the consciousness itself could not know. In moments, however, that consciousness became so inconspicuous as to be invisible. There was a school cafeteria, and in this place, thick with individual consciousnesses, the consciousness of panorama was as if drowned out in din.

Two girls entered through the double, open doors, carrying trays holding the food they had chosen – yoghurt, fruit, muesli bars, and other such specimens, which serve to make the experience of eating an embarrassment, as if one were eating hand-me-downs. The girls were Lilly Truscott and Miley Stewart, best of friends, and two of the very few people on Earth who knew the truth of Hannah Montana’s secret identity. How was it possible that an unassuming schoolgirl like Miley (special, it seemed, only in the calm and wise adult eyes of her father, her uncles, and her aunt), and her vulnerable, sidekicky friend with the pink baseball hat, could know such a secret? The answer is easily told, though not so easily believed. Miley Stewart and Hannah Montana were one. The lightning that danced with a mane of gold at night, was by day a gentle breeze that merely shook the heads of the violets in the secret, shady dell of girlhood.

Turning towards the object of her untold adoration so that she seemed to back into the area as she spoke, Lilly expressed herself with a voice full of shuddering excitement.

“I can’t believe you’re going to be the celebrity singer on Singing with the Stars. That makes Hannah Montana just about the coolest person ever.”

As they placed their trays upon a table and slid themselves into the green plastic seats, the other occupants of that table, their movements synchronised as if through long rehearsal, slid out of their seats and swiftly departed. Seeming to catch this infection of synchronised movement from those who had so lately been here, almost sharing the table for a second, both Miley and Lilly raised one arm and then the other, sniffing beneath them diagnostically, then putting palms to their mouths, breathing upon them and again sniffing the deflected breath. Seeming to discover in armpits and in mouths no cause for the sudden exodus, the two friends turned to each other, pointed, and in unison said, “Must be you!”

Then their hands moved towards the food upon their trays.

At this moment the floppy-haired Oliver Oscar Oken (“Triple O” to his friends) came sidling up to the table, a document of some kind in his grasp, and, checking furtively to left and right, addressed the girls in an undertone.

“Guys, bad news. Amber and Ashley’s annual ‘Cool List’ is out again.”

Lilly gave an exasperated huff and snatched the sheets from Oliver’s hands.

“Well, that explains it,” said Miley, lifting her palms up in a shrug of helplessness. Hierarchies, it seems, were always to be enforced, and those who were at their apex would not let life grow into a sweet tangle of flowering weeds. Order would not be forgotten, and blooming heads that had grown too high would be snipped.

“How far down have they put us this year?” asked Lilly, her voice sinking to a querulous whine. She turned the first page.

“Keep going,” Oliver instructed, laconically. “Keep going. Keep—just skip to the last page.”

The expressions on the faces of the girls were masks of disappointment and dismay as they finally located their names.

“Oh, we’re tying for dead last with Dandruff Danny.” Miley’s voice had already taken on the suffering tone of resignation that comes from knowledge of inescapable slavery and hard labour.

By the vending machine, close at hand, a diminutive figure in a blue, short-sleeved shirt, turned, revealing a freckled face with rodent-bright eyes. His hair was dark and shiny with youth, and yet there appeared to be a streak of premature grey along the right side of his scalp. As he turned, his right hand worked incessantly at the back of his skull, as if he were long unconscious in his habit of antagonising a chronic itch. He tottered forward, dazedly and searchingly, a look of unearthly optimism upon his face, amidst the bodies of those to whom he was as the dead walking… and speaking:

“Is someone actually talking to me?”

None but Lilly and Miley seemed to hear. Miley turned her head, and Lilly, as if to caution against laying eyes upon a ghost, gently and repeatedly tapped her on the upper arm. Softly she spoke:

“Look away! Look away!”

“Okay, see you later,” said the owlish Oliver.

“Where are you going?” Miley held out supplicating arms, caught his wrist, brought him back from his escape.

Oliver bent forward as if in conspiracy.

“Look, I finally cracked the top one hundred and… and…” He seemed to take fright at their proximity and stood up straight again, looking around himself. He raised his voice the better to be heard by passers-by. “And there’s no way I’m talking to people from the last page. Stop begging!”

He gestured to Lilly and Miley derisively with his thumb, for his new, oblivious audience. Lilly and Miley recoiled, expressions of disgust upon their faces. Oliver turned to them one last time, his voice lowered again, “I’ll see you after dark.” And with that he was gone.

The disgust on her face curdling into something wry, penetrating, and yet quizzical, Miley spoke again.

“That boy flip-flops more than a catfish in a moon-bouncer.”

Just then, through the open double doors, there entered two girls at the head of a small, mixed-gender gang of pupils. On the left, in a pink top, was Ashley, and on the right, in a blue top, was Amber. The latter, seeing Miley and Lilly at their table, spoke:

“Hey look, everyone, it’s a couple of last-page losers… in their native habitat.”

Her voice was syrup-thick with sarcastic sympathy.

“Ah, so sad,” Ashley took up the same tone, clasping her hands to her chest, “still eating, as if they had a reason to live.”

“Oooh,” came Amber’s mock-sympathy once more.

Ashley being ethnically Asian, and Amber being black, from the perspective of a parallel universe, they might have been regarded, at this school, as members of minorities. But such was not the case in the present universe. The almost preternatural popularity of this pair, and the fear which they commanded throughout the school as a result, had been achieved neither because of minority status nor in the teeth of it. In short, their ethnicity was invisible. Had anyone at the school been asked to guess the ethnicity of either Ashley or Amber, they would have scratched their heads, unable to understand the question. There was, in this sense, something peculiarly noble in their bullying; it signified the irrelevance of race. However, this noble quality was itself puzzling to any who stopped for a moment to examine it, since it relied precisely on what it eliminated. It relied on that parallel universe in which ethnicity was, sadly, relevant.

Lilly and Miley swapped the long-suffering glances of the oppressed. Unable to endure the role of victim any longer, Miley reached over to the Cool List, which still lay upon the table, next to Lilly’s tray.

“Okay, that’s it,” she said, picking up the coloured sheets. “Listen, this list is as bogus as the people who wrote it.”

Miley stood now, with the momentum of her defiance.

“Come on, everyone! Let’s show Amber and Ashley that they can’t tell us who’s cool and who’s not! Let’s rip up these lists, right now!”

And now the same momentum had carried her upwards so that she was standing on her chair. Here on her dizzy perch, she began to tear the sheets of paper into shreds. So intent was she, the pent-up emotions of months and even years of frustration showing upon her face in curious, tic-like expressions, that she did not notice an uncanny thing; the entire room emptied swiftly, with only a ghostly, shuffling stir, as if it had been inhabited by phantoms. This was how confrontation was dealt with here.

“Errr… Miley!” It was Lilly. She tugged at Miley’s skirt.

Still looking down at the scrunched mass of paper, Miley said, “I’m the only one doing it, aren’t I?”

Slowly, she turned to look at the room. Only one other person remained. Sitting at a table in the corner, was the rodent-eyed Dandruff Danny. He raised an arm, and his voice echoed across the room with the same hollow optimism as before.

“I’m with ya, sister!”

He took up the pages of the Cool List from the table at which he sat, and, his face a mask of deformed but heroic effort, growling with the strain of it, he set his fists to the task of tearing them in twain. It was hard to believe that there was not something in this performance intended for comic effect, and yet, if so, then all of Dandruff Danny’s life must have been intended similarly, since there was something in his manner entirely consistent with his behaviour at all other times. Still, the incredible fact remained that, try as he might, he was unable to tear that slender list of perhaps a dozen sheets.

In a shrug of amazement, Miley turned to Lilly.

“How is he not below us?”

She threw the shreds of her own list on the table. Lilly’s face took on an expression of miserable resignation, as it sank to rest upon her hand.

It was at this moment of despair and ennui that an extraordinary thing happened. Miley had known this thing before. It had come upon her like a dream that swallowed her waking life, but at any time of the day, she might remember it. A certain strain of music might remind her, or the sight of a familiar street corner, coming to which she seems to hear laughter, as if there were unknown souls watching her life and joining in with the wondrous adventure of it. At such times she would remember the great revolving door, as she thought of it. This revolving door, in its spinning, was a kind of whirlwind. It lifted her up to heights that made her heart quiver. And with each flash of the glass in its revolving panes, there were images from her life, either from the past, or the future, she could hardly tell. She fully believed that it was this revolving door that allowed her that astounding double identity which defined her life. She was Miley Stewart, and she was also Hannah Montana. And there was a sense, too, of another, greater identity, encompassing both, perhaps an identity that was the axis on which the door revolved.

As the shreds of paper fell on the surface of the table beneath Lilly’s sickened eyes, Miley felt that spinning come again. She felt thin, and faint, and nauseas, but at the same time, was stirred by the intimation of something wonderful. She could hear a familiar song, and familiar, thrilling images seemed blowing her way on some god-wind. Yes, it was the revolving door. She remembered clearly now. This was the centre of it all. It had happened before, and it would happen again. She wondered if, this time, when she was shunted out of the spinning and back into some single moment of her life, she would keep a firm grasp on the memory of the door. She must try to remember. Must try. But it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter. Now, all she had to do was surrender to the great, golden, sugary fountain of the upsurging song. She could see lights. She could hear drums. The drums were a joyous concussion, and the lights dazzled to blindness, but now she could read a name that they spelt: “Hannah Montana”.

She was there, in front of those lights, upon some phantasmagorical stage. Full of an unearthly confidence, striding forward in pale denim jeans, pumping the air downwards with arms encased in the black sleeves of a tight jacket, she smiled a bursting smile to remember the song that made the doors revolve:

Come on!

You get the limo out front.
Hottest styles! Every shoe! Every colour!
Yeah, when you’re famous it can be kinda fun.
It’s really you, but no one ever discovers.

Who would have thought that a girl like me would double as a superstar?

You get the best of both worlds.
Chillin’ out, take it slow.
Then you rock out the show.
You get the best of both worlds.

Mix it all together and you know that it’s the best of both worlds.

While these words whirled around her, she felt herself kaleidoscoped with the flurry of images in a Montana montage. There was Lilly, her smiling face emerging from a cake in which it had just been buried. There was Oliver, dancing wildly, and her brother Jackson. An unknown hand slapped her upon the forehead, and she made a stunned face. She was coughing, pleadingly, with unconvincing spots of illness upon her cheeks. She was high-fiving with friends. Her father took sliding dance steps across the golden sands of a beach in comfortable jogging clothes. Someone was giving her a piggyback. Someone else threw flowers at her through the window of the limousine in which she rode. And she was twirling, twirling, the skirt of Miley transforming itself into the jeans of Hannah Montana. And she was singing to thousands of upraised hands.

Names came to her, too. Strange names, with the flavour of dream about them: Emily Osment. Mitchel Musso. Jason Earles. Billy Ray Cyrus.

Finally, full up with the bubbling secret of it all, she put her finger to her lips as if jokingly to hush that glory that never could be hushed, though it escaped the notice of all those it enfolded in its tender, golden embrace. Weak with the joy of it, she let some bubbles of laughter escape her, and stumbled away drunkenly. Stumbled away…


Consciousness lingered awhile outside the school entrance, timelessly.


What had happened? Miley found herself outside the cafeteria talking persuadingly to Lilly.

“So maybe some people care about the list, but there are plenty of other decent people strong enough to think for themselves. And those are the people I want for my friends anyways… Like Sarah!” And she gestured towards a rather slight girl putting something in her locker nearby.

Miley and Lilly instinctively rushed over to her.

“Hey Sarah!” said Miley, standing tall with the brightness of her salutations.

Bespectacled Sarah turned. She was a rosy-cheeked girl with long, wavy hair, and an overall manner of bookish sensitivity.

“Oh, er, hi guys.”

For some reason she seemed uncomfortable, and it was not simply the habitual self-consciousness that, torturing Sarah, so grew to torture her more, though her friends silently loved her for this tender self-torture. No, there was a different kind of unease here – an unease that had about it a tinge of shame that made the usual sadness an almost tearful thing.

“Listen, Miley, I’m really sorry, but I can’t be your lab partner.”

Her hands were gesturing with an excess of awkwardness.

“Today after school,” she continued, “I have to read to the blind, er, serve punch at the blood drive, and… hose down cages at the animal shelter.”

She suddenly made as if to escape, but Miley slid across the slippery floor in time and blocked her way, Lilly cutting off the rear escape in the same manner.

“Wait a minute,” said Miley, her arms folded in obvious suspicion, “you read to the blind yesterday.”

“I… er… took an extra shift.”

And once again she tried to slip away, and once again Miley and Lilly blocked her.

With the same, cross-armed scepticism, Miley spoke again:

“Extra shift, my Aunt Petunia! You’re just bailing on me because I’m last on Amber and Ashley’s list, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not,” said Sarah, pleadingly. Suddenly she seemed to catch sight of something that alarmed her. “Oh no, here comes Amber! Sorry,” her tone now that of pity, “I’m charitable, not stupid!” And now her tone brightened into shrill superficiality: “Okay, bye!” And she fled.

Lilly looked after her in amazement, and turned to Miley.

“Great! Even Saint Sarah’s freezing us out.”


Friday, August 15, 2008

Justin Isis - Cockblocked By H.P. Lovecraft

Look, Philip! It's Jeon Ji-Hyun and Kim Hee Sun! Let's try to impress them with our abstruse mathematical knowledge!


Do you guys have Nobel Prizes? Or the Fields Medal?


Well, not yet, but

We've written a number of papers on topology.

And we played a significant role in the 1950's British poetry scene known as "The Movement."

"The Movement"? I just had a "Movement" a few hours ago. But then I flushed the toilet!


H.P. Lovecraft, you're making my pussy wet.

Come on girls, let's go look at historical buildings in the Providence area.

You had me at "Come."

Damn that H.P. Lovecraft.

Damn him to HELL.

I bet he can't even factor quadratic equations without recourse to a digital calculator!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Justin Isis - Residual Bourgeois Manners Were the Only Thing That Saved Me From Total Ruin

It was raining that morning, and still very dark. When the boy reached the streetcar café he had almost finished his route and he went in for a cup of coffee. The place was an all-night café owned by a bitter and stingy man called Wong. After the raw, empty street, the café seemed friendly and bright: along the counter there were a couple of actors, three spinners from the cotton mill, and in a corner a man who sat hunched over with his nose and half his face down in a beer mug. The boy wore a helmet such as aviators wear. When he went into the café he unbuckled the chin strap and raised the right flap up over his pink little ear; often as he drank his coffee someone would speak to him in a friendly way. But this morning Wong did not look into his face and none of the men were talking. He paid and was leaving the café when a voice called out to him:

"Son! Hey Son!"

He turned back and the man in the corner was crooking his finger and nodding to him. He had brought his face out of the beer mug and he seemed suddenly very happy. The man was long and pale, with a big nose and faded black hair.

"Hey Son!"

The boy went toward him. He was an undersized boy of about twelve, with one shoulder drawn higher than the other because of the weight of the paper sack. His face was shallow, freckled, and his eyes were round child eyes.

"Yeah Mister?"

The man laid one hand on the paper boy's shoulders, then grasped the boy's chin and turned his face slowly from one side to the other. The boy shrank back uneasily.

"Say! What's the big idea?"

The boy's voice was shrill; inside the café it was suddenly very quiet.

The man said slowly: "I can't stop thinking about vaginas."

All along the counter the men laughed. The boy, who had scowled and sidled away, did not know what to do. He looked over the counter at Wong, and Wong watched him with a weary, brittle jeer. The boy tried to laugh also. But the man was serious and sad.

"I did not mean to tease you, Son," he said. "Sit down and have a beer with me. There is something I have to explain."

Cautiously, out of the corner of his eye, the paper boy questioned the men along the counter to see what he should do. But they had gone back to their beer or their breakfast and did not notice him. Wong put a cup of coffee on the counter and a little jug of cream.

"He is a minor," Wong said.

The paper boy slid himself up onto the stool. His ear beneath the upturned flap of the helmet was very small and red. The man was nodding at him soberly. "It is important," he said. Then he reached in his hip pocket and brought out something which he held up in the palm of his hand for the boy to see.

"Look very carefully," he said.

The boy stared, but there was nothing to look at very carefully. The man held in his big, grimy palm a photograph. It was a desert landscape, and in the air, suspended by itself, was a soft pink vulva, its labial lips emitting a steady radiance.

"See?" the man asked.

The boy nodded and the man placed another picture in his palm. The vulva was floating above a beach now, and its glow seemed stronger, causing the picture to look overexposed.

"Got a good look?" He leaned over closer and finally asked: "You ever seen that before?"

The boy sat motionless, staring slantwise at the man. "Not so I know of."

"Very well." The man blew on the photographs and put them back into his pocket. "That was a vulva."

"Your wife's?" the boy asked.

Slowly the man shook his head. He pursed his lips as though about to whistle and answered in a long-drawn way: "Nuuu -" he said. "I will explain."

The beer on the counter before the man was in a large brown mug. He did not pick it up to drink. Instead he bent down and, putting his face over the rim, he rested there for a moment. Then with both hands he tilted the mug and sipped.

"Some night you'll go to sleep with your big nose in a mug and drown," said Wong. "Prominent transient drowns in beer. That would be a nice death."

The paper boy tried to signal to Wong. While the man was not looking he screwed up his face and worked his mouth to question soundlessly: "Drunk?" But Wong only raised his eyebrows and turned away to put some pink strips of bacon on the grill.

The man pushed the mug away from him, straightened himself, and folded his loose crooked hands on the counter. His face was sad as he looked at the paper boy. He did not blink, but from time to time the lids closed down with delicate gravity over his dark brown eyes. It was nearing dawn and the boy shifted the weight of the paper sack.

"I am talking about vaginas," the man said. "With me they are a science."

The boy half slid down from the stool. But the man raised his forefinger, and there was something about him that held the boy and would not let him go away.

"Twelve years ago, I was travelling in outer Mongolia. At that time I was a DJ at one of China's hottest nightclubs, but my life wasn't satisfying. I had everything you're supposed to want: money, women, influence. But it wasn't enough. Spiritually, I was empty. There was a hole, an absence in me, which craved God. Are you listening to me, Son? Without God, we are nothing. But at that time I knew nothing, only that something was wrong. So I retreated to the desert. For days I walked alone, wandering with no destination in mind, hoping that the universe would take care of me. As my supplies dwindled, I faced the sun and prayed to God for enlightenment. When I looked down again, a vulva was floating in the air above me, the same one you saw in the picture, emitting waves of calm. I asked it what was the meaning of my life. And then a voice sounded from within the labia. 'All time and space is slowly moving towards the Absolute,' the vulva told me, 'In the name of thrice-great Hermes, I proclaim the Aquarian Age...'"

The man paused.

"There is no time, every instant is proof of divinity. We are all parts of God - capillaries, perhaps. I realized that was what the vulva was trying to tell me."

He tightened his blurred, rambling voice and said:

"I took care of that vulva. I loved it. Yes...I loved it. I thought also that it loved me. It had all home comforts and luxuries. It never crept into my brain that it was not satisfied. But do you know what happened?"

"Mgneeow!" said Wong.

The man did not take his eyes from the boy's face. "The vulva disappeared. I came in one night and the house was empty and it was gone. It left me."

"With a fellow?" the boy asked.

Gently the man placed his palm down on the counter. "Why naturally, Son. A vulva does not vanish like that alone."

The café was quiet, the soft rain black and endless in the street outside. Wong pressed down the frying bacon with the prongs of his long fork. "So you have been chasing the vulva for eleven years. You frazzled old rascal!"

For the first time the man glanced at Wong. "Please don't be vulgar. Besides, I was not speaking to you." He turned back to the boy and said in a trusting and secretive undertone: "Let's not pay any attention to him. O.K.?"

The paper boy nodded doubtfully.

"It was like this," the man continued. "I am a person who feels many things. All my life one thing after another has impressed me. Moonlight. Sausages. The leg of a pretty girl. One thing after another. But the point is that when I had enjoyed anything there was a peculiar sensation as though it was laying around loose in me. Nothing seemed to finish itself up or fit in with the other things. Women? I had my portion of them. The same. Afterwards laying around loose in me. I was a man who had never loved."

Very slowly he closed his eyelids, and the gesture was like a curtain drawn at the end of a scene in a play. When he spoke again his voice was excited and the words came fast - the lobes of his large, loose ears seemed to tremble.

"Then I found the vulva. And you know what it was like? I just can't tell you. All I had ever felt was gathered together around this vulva. Nothing lay around loose in me any more but was finished up by it, by the vaginal canal."

The man stopped suddenly and stroked his long nose. His voice sank down to a steady and reproachful under-tone: "I'm not explaining this right. What happened was this. There were these beautiful feelings and loose little pleasures inside me. And this vagina was something like an assembly line for my soul. I run these little pieces of myself through it and I come out complete. Now do you follow me?"

"Did you try to make it come back?"

The man did not seem to hear. "Under the circumstances you can imagine how I felt when it left me."

Wong took the bacon from the grill and folded two strips of it between a bun. He had a gray face with a pinched nose saddled by faint blue shadows. One of the mill workers signaled for more coffee and Wong poured it. He did not give refills on coffee free. The spinner ate breakfast there every morning, but the better Wong knew his customers the stingier he treated them. He nibbled his own bun as though he grudged it to himself.

"And you never got hold of it again?"

The boy did not know what to think of the man, and his child's face was uncertain with mingled curiosity and doubt. He was new on the paper route; it was still strange to him to be out in the town in the black, queer early morning.

"Yes," the man said. "I took a number of steps to get it back. I went around trying to locate it. I went back to outer Mongolia. I went to every province it had ever mentioned to me, and I hunted down every man it had formerly been connected with. Sichuan, Shanxi, Hunan, Gansu, Fujian.. .. For the better part of two years I chased around the country trying to lay hold of it."

"But the vulva had vanished from the face of the earth!" said Wong.

"Don't listen to him," the man said confidentially. "And also just forget those two years. They are not important. What matters is that around the third year a curious thing begun to happen to me."

"What?" the boy asked.

The man leaned down and tilted his mug to take a sip of beer. But as he hovered over the mug his nostrils fluttered slightly; he sniffed the staleness of the beer and did not drink. "Love is a curious thing to begin with. At first I thought only of getting the vulva back. It was a kind of mania. But then as time went on I tried to remember it. But do you know what happened?"

"No," the boy said.

"When I laid myself down on a bed and tried to think about the vulva, my mind became a blank. I couldn't see it. I would take out its pictures and look. No good. Nothing doing. A blank. Can you imagine it?"

"Say Mac!" Wong called down the counter. "Can you imagine this bozo's mind a blank!"

Slowly, as though fanning away flies, the man waved his hand. His brown eyes were concentrated and fixed on the shallow little face of the paper boy.

"But a sudden piece of glass on a sidewalk. Or a nickel tune in a music box. A shadow on a wall at night. And I would remember. It might happen in a street and I would cry or bang my head against a lamppost. You follow me?"

"A piece of glass . . ." the boy said.

"Anything. I would walk around and I had no power of how and when to remember the vulva. You think you can put up a kind of shield. But remembering don't come to a man face forward - it corners around sideways. I was at the mercy of everything I saw and heard. Suddenly instead of me combing the countryside to find it, it begun to chase me around in my very soul. The vulva begun chasing me mind you! And in my soul."

The boy asked finally: "What part of the country were you in then?"

"Shanxi," the man groaned. "I was a sick mortal. It was like smallpox. I confess, Son, that I boozed. I fornicated. I committed any sin that suddenly appealed to me. I am loath to confess it but I will do so. When I recall that period it is all curdled in my mind, it was so terrible."

The man leaned his head down and tapped his forehead on the counter. For a few seconds he stayed bowed over in this position, his hands with their long warped fingers held palm to palm in an attitude of prayer. Then the man straightened himself; he was smiling and suddenly his face was bright and tremulous and old.

"It was in the fifth year that it happened," he said. "And with it I started my science."

Wong's mouth jerked with a pale, quick grin. "Well none of we boys are getting any younger," he said. Then with sudden anger he balled up a dishcloth he was holding and threw it down hard on the floor. "You draggletailed old Romeo!"

"What happened?" the boy asked.

The old man's voice was high and clear: "Peace," he answered.


"It is hard to explain scientifically, Son," he said. "I guess the logical explanation is that I had chased the vulva for so long that finally I just lay down and quit. Peace. A queer and beautiful blankness. It was spring in Sichuan and the rain came every afternoon. All evening I just stayed there on my bed in the dark. And that is how the science come to me."

The windows in the streetcar were pale blue with light. The two actors paid for their beers and opened the door - one of the actors combed his hair and wiped off his muddy puttees before they went outside. The three mill workers bent silently over their breakfasts. Wong's clock was ticking on the wall.

"It is this. And listen carefully. I meditated on love and reasoned it out. I realized what is wrong with us. Men fall in love for the first time. And what do they fall in love with?"

The boy's soft mouth was partly open and he did not answer.

"Vaginas," the old man said. "Without science, with nothing to go by, they undertake the most dangerous and sacred experience in God's earth. They can't stop thinking about vaginas. Is that correct, Son?"

"Yeah," the boy said faintly.

"They start at the wrong end of love. They begin at the climax. Can you wonder it is so miserable? Do you know how men should love?"

The old man reached over and grasped the boy by the collar of his leather jacket. He gave him a gentle little shake and his brown eyes gazed down unblinking and grave.

"Son, do you know how love should be begun?"

The boy sat small and listening and still. Slowly he shook his head. The old man leaned closer and whispered:

"Vaginas. Vaginas. Vaginas."

It was still raining outside in the street: a mild, gray, endless rain. The mill whistle blew for the six o'clock shift and the three spinners paid and went away. There was no one in the café but Wong, the old man, and the little paper boy.

"The weather was like this in Sichuan," he said. "At the time my science was begun. I meditated and I started very cautious. I would pick up something from the street and take it home with me. I bought a foam rubber vagina and I concentrated on the foam rubber vagina and I loved it. I graduated from one thing to another. Day by day I was getting this technique. On the road from Sichuan to Fujian-"

"Aw shut up!" screamed Wong suddenly. "Shut up! Shut up!"

The old man still held the collar of the boy's jacket; he was trembling and his face was earnest and bright and wild. "For six years now I have gone around by myself and built up my science. And now I am a master. Son. I can't stop thinking about vaginas. No longer do I have to think about it even. I see a street full of people and a beautiful light comes in me. I watch a bird in the sky. Or I meet a traveler on the road. Everything, Son. And anybody. Do you realize what a science like mine can mean?"

The boy held himself stiffly, his hands curled tight around the counter edge. Finally he asked: "Did you ever really find that vulva?"

"What? What say, Son?"

"I mean," the boy asked timidly. "Did you make your peace with God?"

The old man loosened his grasp on the boy's collar. He turned away and for the first time his brown eyes had a vague and scattered look. He lifted the mug from the counter, drank down the yellow beer. His head was shaking slowly from side to side. Then finally he answered: "No, Son. You see that is the last step in my science. I go cautious. And I am not quite ready yet."

"Well!" said Wong. "Well well well!"

The old man stood in the open doorway. "Remember," he said. Framed there in the gray damp light of the early morning he looked shrunken and seedy and frail. But his smile was bright. "Remember the vulva," he said with a last nod. And the door closed quietly behind him.

The boy did not speak for a long time. He pulled down the bangs on his forehead and slid his grimy little forefinger around the rim of his empty cup. Then without looking at Wong he finally asked:

"Was he drunk?"

"No," said Wong shortly.

The boy raised his clear voice higher. "Then was he a dope fiend?"


The boy looked up at Wong, and his flat little face was desperate, his voice urgent and shrill. "Was he crazy? Do you think he was a lunatic?" The paper boy's voice dropped suddenly with doubt. "Wong? Or not?"

But Wong would not answer him. Wong had run a night café for fourteen years, and he held himself to be a critic of craziness. There were the town characters and also the transients who roamed in from the night. He knew the manias of all of them. But he did not want to satisfy the questions of the waiting child. He tightened his pale face and was silent.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Scramble City (Part I)

Chomu and Patchwork Earth have been friends since the site's inception, so I'm grateful to caretakers Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp for not only allowing me to contribute from time to rare time, but also for sponsoring this little project - "Scramble City" will be a novella simulcast at both websites, This today is the first three segments of the novella, with more to follow at a likely irregular schedule.


Scramble City
A Mash'Em Up


The usual spot, beneath the passing 'rail. The setting sun cast the spires in fading gold. Rocky kicked aside an old packing crate, a translucent garbage bag. The tape around his forearms was shredded, hung in loose ribbons. Beneath one foot, an octet of failed Polaroids; purplish and bubbled. Beneath a cracked and tar-papered skateboard, he found it: the familiar weight, the curve of the chamber, the key with its chain wound about the trigger guard like a rosary. The monorail roared above, eclipsing the whole alley.


The story is known to most: once, there was a great wolf, a fierce and brave hunter, who fell in love with the sun. But wolves cannot court the sun, for they are all promised to the moon, pay tribute in song every time the moon waxes. And indeed, this wolf bore over one ear a white patch of fur in the shape of a crescent moon, signaling his betrothal. Wolves are creatures of the shadows, and disappear as the sun rises. The warmth of the sun was saved for the children of Bastet, who could curl in slices of the sun that fell upon the ground and purr to their heart's content. Such a love should never be, and yet it was so.

This wolf was cunning, as all wolves are, and so he hatched a plan to stay tethered to his love for all his life. He went to the Forger, a dirty man who was the source of all the world's watered steel, and weapons of great power. This wolf entreated the Forger to make a chain that could not be broken, that he could chain himself to the sun.

The Forger was cunning, though, as well, and even the fangs of a wolf paled before the ferocity of the weapons of man, and so he who formed them of the earth. What use have I for your love, he sneered, and taunted the wolf with figures in the coin of the realm – for wolves had no use for money. And so the wolf offered his song in trade instead, for he'd have no cause to serenade the moon anon. The Forger accepted this boon, and he got to work.

It was dangerous work indeed, for to make a chain that would stand the heat of the sun itself, it would have to be struck against the Anvil of Dawn, which existed only at the border of the sun's and the moon's domains.

And so it was, that now Rocky was dressed in the leather breeches of The Forger; with children's delight in his every snarl, as he pulled the lever that sent their carriages through the doors into the Anvil of Dawn. There was a squeal from a little girl, quickly stifled by her mother, as the doors closed in preparation for the next group. Another carriage rolled into place, as a pair of lovers disembarked. The summer heat was soaked into every ground-laid brick, and the light splayed across the labyrinth of metal cordons. At the far end of the line, a dancing performer in a thick felt tanooki suit looked woozy.

The weapon was tucked into his waistband, the key dancing awkwardly against his member.

He helped strap in a pair of twins, who wrestling over a one tangle of cotton candy between them, and when he turned back to regard the crowd, he saw a figure slumped against a tree. The sun was in Rocky's eyes, and he couldn't be sure until the figure turned slightly and he saw that it was indeed a man with his arm in a sling; a man who was now regarding a black squirrel who'd come down the tree to beg for popcorn scraps.

The man was waiting for something, and Rocky closed his eyes, twitched his lips a bit, and then took an unscheduled break.


Another day passed, and Rocky was passing through Little Lyons, in the hopes of seeing Naomi stroll through the Promise Garden which lay beyond its borders. Each storefront in Little Lyons was connected from the inside, with the varied buildings displayed on the exterior as a sort of façade, and the entrances more like turnstiles. Everything was wooden, and that thick, browned wood at that. The displays and shelving looked hewn from ancient, impressive furniture. A cashier in Baroque stylings was ringing up a brace of plastic missiles and an appliqué t-shirt.

“Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings?” A man was beside him, flipping through a book. Rocky started, but this was a man that he had never met before. “But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?”

“I don't understand.” He was allowed to speak, within the city, unlike the tanooki or the kappa, but this was as much a weakness as a strength. Rocky tended not to speak much at all, if he could avoid it. The man smoothed out his scarf, which bore the repeated emblem of Britannia, and smiled.

“I've heard it said that one who knows nothing can understand nothing. Which I suppose is a poetic way of saying 'if you don't know, don't ask.' Personally, I always encourage the asking of questions.”

“Okay, sure.” His hands were sweating. “Did you want an autograph or something, then?”

“So quick to sign your name! What sort of devil are you, pray tell?”

There was a shriek, and they both turned. A young babe was bawling into her mother's shoulder, shaking her head over and over. The woman's shirt was changing color. “Sorry! She's just a little... 'You' were very scary in your movie.”

“Right. I'll just be heading on.” Before the other man could address him further, Rocky was out a back exit, which (owing to the ambiance of the store's thematic conceit) was perhaps the only exit to backstage which was labeled “employees only.”

There was a snake's width of space between the borders of the Capitalized Lands, and he slipped through that space until he felt he'd gotten sufficient distance, and then realized that he was holding the book that the man had been reading. He placed it under his arm. He'd be sent to the White Room if they believed him a thief.

He'd missed his chance to see Naomi. He tried to picture the folds of her crinoline dress, tried to calm down. But he'd been expected.

“You've been avoiding me.” The man in the sling was waiting there. His undamaged arm was flexing around a tourniquet. The man didn't look up, but they knew each other's faces well enough by now.

“What do you want, Nick?”

Nick just shook his head, held open his palm. A trio of chalky pills lay flat in his hand. At least one of them bore a familiar sprite. “You using?”

“Naw. Naw, I'm clean.” Nick shrugged, popped all three of the one-ups into his mouth, mumbled “for the blood,” and then fished out the leather case with the syringe. For a junkie, Nick was a well-supplied and orderly sort. It begged the sort of questions that Rocky did not want to answer.

“They can see us,” he hissed, and grabbed Nick's arm – the needle-target, not the broken one – and hauled him up to his feet. “You can't do this here.”

“What happened to you, Rocky?” Nick lolled his head. “Don't you remember who you are?”

The snake's width was obscured from the Lands beyond with fencework, tall hedges, trees, pitch tarp, and whatever else would obscure the infrastructure. The design, however, was such that there were many viewing ports available, only visible from the interior. Through one of these, now, Rocky saw a figure that could only be a lawman, far out of his jurisdiction if he was patrolling the Capitalized Lands. He was searching for something, or someone. Rocky looked at Nick, who wasn't noticing a lot – the tube of the syringe bounced against his forearm from where it was stuck.

When Rocky closed his eyes this time, it was as if he could hear the thousand thousand eyes of The Architect watching him.

He left Nick behind, walking the length of the borderground as The Forger once had in the legend, the wolf at his heels, approaching the Anvil.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Justin Isis - Philip Larkin Debuts Princess Style™

I'm tired of writing poems about masturbating.

I wish I'd been born a girl.

They told me only girls could wear pretty clothes.

Why can't I be a fucking princess too?

I want to wear Jesus Diamante clothes and stand outside a hostess bar.

I'd have to give up my investigations into topological vector spaces, but that's okay.

Philip, want to do a photoshoot with me?



Philip, what the fuck are you doing!

Get your ass back to the research center and finish your paper on Cauchy-Riemann equations.

Can't I do my photoshoot first?


Dammit, Kingsley

I'm sick of you pressuring me to finish my research.

No one cares about the Fields Medal, only the Nobel Prize. And there is no Nobel Prize for mathematics.

That's because Alfred Nobel was a wanker who couldn't INTEGRATE.