Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grinning, Shivering, At The Intertwingling

A goal you once thought was unreasonable is now seeming quite within your reach. You may have to break one of your bad habits in order to get there, but this is not as hard as it would have been last week.

Scorpio for May 28

Horoscopes by Holiday Mathis

Before I moved out of my house a few weeks back, I’d start almost every morning by going for a walk and buying a local paper, the Chicago Sun-Times.

On my morning walk I’d see a woman named Susan and I’d usually spend a few minutes every day talking to Susan. Susan is a Pisces and every day I’d read her what the Sun-Times astrologer Holiday Mathis had to say about her sign.

We’d talk about whether the horoscopes seemed just random or just generically meaningful or strangely connected to the particular things going on in our lives.

Some mornings Susan’s daughter, Kimberly, a Libra, would play along. That was always fun because Susan is just about my age and Kimberly is twenty so our morning talks would have not just a male and female perspective but also a young person’s take on the whole business of astrology.

More often than not the three of us agreed that although many of the daily horoscopes did seem just random or just generically meaningful, sometimes the horoscopes offered by Holiday Mathis appeared to be strangely particular and strangely—weirdly—right in tune with events unfolding in our lives.

We had lots of conversations about the interconnectedness of all things.

It was a fun way to start the day. And even if—in the cosmic scheme of things—there is no nuts-and-bolts basis underpinning astrology, the three of us got to spend a few moments every day thinking about our lives, weighing various issues, imagining possible outcomes. Any thinking is better than no thinking.

Since the start of the month, since I moved out of my house, I haven’t seen Susan or Kimberly every day. I see them once or twice a week, but we no longer share any time together talking about our horoscopes, talking about our lives.

And at the start of this week, the local paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, fired Holiday Mathis and replaced her with some new astrologer.

The interconnectedness of all things.

Holiday Mathis is still syndicated in many other papers and I can get her horoscopes off the internet.

But right after Susan and Kimberly and I stopped beginning our days by reviewing her forecasts in the Sun-Times, the Sun-Times dropped her forecasts.

I talked to Susan about it yesterday. We both agreed: That was pretty weird.

It was pretty weird the way Holiday Mathis would often get details and specific elements of our lives incorporated into her daily forecasts and it was pretty weird that as soon as we were no longer checking out the paper for her daily forecasts the paper stopped printing her forecasts.

The interconnectedness of all things.

It’s the weird, little things that can make you suspect there is a plan, an order, a design at work in the universe around us.

It’s the weird, little things that give us glimpses into the Goblin Universe.

It makes you smile, grin even.

But sometimes, too, it makes you shiver . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ted Nelson created
a very cool portmanteau word
about something like this
decades ago when he wrote:

In an important sense there are no "subjects"
at all; there is only all knowledge,
since the cross-connections
among the myriad topics of this world
simply cannot be divided up neatly.
... Hierarchical and sequential structures,
especially popular since Gutenberg,
are usually forced and artificial.
is not generally acknowledged—
people keep pretending
they can make things hierarchical,
categorizable and sequential
when they can't.”

Now Intertwingularity
has its own Wikipedia page!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quasi Una Fantasia

Musicians have been writing music notation for hundreds of years.

But in addition to “lines and dots” almost every music manuscript—from simple lead sheets to symphonic scores—contains words and phrases designed to convey to the performer how the music should be performed and also something of the emotional impact the composer intended to elicit from listeners.

Musical directions are typically in Italian or Latin and can be straightforward instructions for how fast or slow to play—words like presto or adagio—to more involved phrases like, “diminuendo poi subito fortissimo”—conveying the request to play more restrained, softly and then, quickly, become bold and louder. [That one’s under “poi.”]

My favorite such musical direction is, quasi una fantasia.

Traditionally the phrase is used on an instrumental score to indicate that the piece should be played freely, the musicians should try to convey the feeling of a fantasy. Like a fantasy. Fantasia.

I don’t think I’ve ever played anything well enough, lightly enough, relaxed enough, to convey the feeling of a fantasy.

Someday I will.

Not today. But I will play something today.

[You may have to crank your volume a little to hear the click-track and amplifier. I’ll get better setting mixing levels for these asides, I promise.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hypnotized By Advertising

Over the weekend I was flipping through a music magazine and I saw a full page ad for a new Tascam digital accessory for guitar players. This ad:

The product is that little red thing on the girl’s leg.

It’s a digital recorder that also functions as an amp, tuner and metronome/drum machine. It can do overdubs onto a recorded track. And it can manipulate sound files, like looping and slowing down a section without altering the pitch. Cool stuff.

The ad worked. It made me want to buy the product.

But I didn’t immediately run out and buy a Tascam GT-R1, because I can do most of those things with stuff I’ve already got lying around. And, when I was younger, I once owned a Tascam PortaStudio. It was a great product. Fun to use. Well made. But I never really got into sound recording. It’s so easy these days to record video and manipulate video that I can’t get too excited about plain old sound recording.

But the ad made me want to buy a GT-R1.

The ad was so effective that I still feel the urge to buy a GT-R1.

I’m thinking it’s the image of the hot young rock and roll girl sprawled in a chair chording on a Strat.

Interestingly, you can see specifically it’s a Fender Strat she’s playing, not a copy. And you can see the whammy bar is unscrewed. You can see the hole where the whammy bar gets screwed in. Did the art director do that on purpose?

Jerry Mander, a famous ad guy who left the field, once wrote that it’s fun to try to recreate an ad in real life, or at least imagine doing so, because it can help you see into the manipulations at work.

If you recreated a girl sprawled in a chair like that with the recorder balanced on her thigh, would the recorder actually stay on her thigh, or would it slide off and fall to the floor? The art director certainly did that on purpose.

It’s a good ad!

I don’t really need the product. But I want the product. And before the week is out I’ll probably own one. A Tascam GT-R1, I mean. Not a rock and roll girl.

No one gets to own them.

Rock and roll girls.

[Sighs. Tomorrow’s post is going to be called, “Quasi Una Fantasia.” Yep!]

Friday, May 22, 2009

UFO Movie

I’ve made another little movie.

Since my favorite genres are science fiction and horror, I decided to stick with what I know and love.

This is an eighteen second science fiction thing I call: “UFO Movie” *

* ‘UFO’ stands for unidentified flushing object

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Me, Happy

As I type this post, I am happy.

I am not, by my nature, generally a happy person. My theory is that life is long and if you’re happy all the time you become less appreciative of the feeling. I try to stay something like neutral in general, and then experience brief excursions down into sadness and up into happiness.

But right now I am happy.

I am so happy right now, in fact, that I am going to pause for a long aside to describe the last time I was almost this happy.

The Last Time I Was Almost This Happy

I used to spend a lot of time at our local library. My personal pick for the prettiest, coolest girl at the library was a young woman who worked in the audio-visual area named Tricia. (Or Trisha—I never knew her well enough to learn how she spelled her name.)

Tricia was very pretty—seemingly in a rock and roll sort of way—and also she seemed to have a very laid back, relaxed personality. By my nature I’m kind of a tense guy and it relaxed me just to see and now and then chat with a girl who at least seemed to be as laid back and relaxed as Tricia always seemed to be.

So I liked Tricia.

One afternoon the library got in DVDs of two of my favorite old science fiction movies. As I was taking them to check-out, Tricia was working at the AV desk. I said, “Look, Tricia, the library just got in ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ and ‘Earth Versus The Flying Saucers.’ For a guy like me, right now I am as happy as if Anna Kournikova were taking me out to lunch.”

Tricia laughed and said, “Have a nice afternoon.”

So I was doubly happy—I was happy getting to re-watch two great old movies and I was happy seeing Tricia laugh.

That was me, happy.

But I’m even happier right now.

I’m happy right now because for as long as I’ve been doing Impossible Kisses, I’ve always talked about music. I’ve put up lyrics for songs I’ve written. I’ve talked about arrangements of other songs. At one point I even put up some music notation describing a melody I enjoyed playing. [Remember, from This Makes Me Think Of “The Swan” from December 07?] But I’ve never been able to include me making music myself.

I don’t like talking about something when readers don’t have the option of judging my own ability, when readers can’t judge whether I know what I’m talking about or just have my head up my butt. I was very happy, for instance, when I got access to a scanner so I could upload my sketches and drawings so that when I talk about art and images readers could have an idea of what weight my words should carry.

Well, now I can include music too!

I’ll be talking more about this in the future. Right now I want to get right to it.

One note: The guitar you see me playing below is not a PRS SE One. The Paul Reed Smith SE One is sort of the official guitar of Impossible Kisses. [Remember, from Knobs, back in September 07?] However, none of the guitar stores around here stock the guitar. Damn it. The guitar in the video clip below is just kind of a gypsy guitar that I picked up and talked into moving in with me until I meet a Paul Reed Smith SE One in real life that I can settle into a long-term relationship with. This guitar is just a friendly guitar that lets me have my way with it for the moment until we both decide to go our separate ways.

Okay. Just click on the play button below to see—and hear!—the new kind of thing that will be popping up here from time to time. [P.S. I’m not left-handed! My webcam reverses the image. There’s a software option to flip the image correctly but I never even noticed that I needed to do that. I’ll get that right, so to speak, in the future. But it’s kind of cool looking at me as a lefty—the Paul McCartney-webcam version of me!]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Me By The Numbers

This morning when I woke up my resting heart rate was 56 bpm. My fasting blood glucose was 91 mg/dl. My weight was 169.5 lbs. For a guy who’s 48 years old and 5 feet 8 inches tall, those aren’t bad numbers.

But I’m not completely happy with them.

I can’t make the age number get any smaller and I can’t make the height number get any larger, but I can improve all the other numbers.

I don’t know a lot about average resting heart rates but I believe lower is better. Generally I think the best measure of a heart number is how well you recover, how quickly you get back to normal after exercising. But the simplest measure is simply to count your pulse for fifteen seconds and then multiply by four to get an approximate beats per minute. If I remember right, Bjorn Borg, my pick for the greatest tennis play ever, had a resting heart rate of something wildly low, like 35 bpm. I’m guessing that was to a large extent genetics, but I notice that when I avoid sugar and keep my meals very “zone-aware” with healthy proteins, healthy fats and healthy carbs my resting heart rate can be as low as 44 bpm. I believe lower is better and I have been indulging lately in too many snacks. I can get better.

Unlike a lot of people who worry about chronic high blood sugar, I generally worry about chronically low blood sugar. I often suffer from what’s called “reactive hypoglycemia”—that is, if I eat a meal with a high sugar content my blood sugar will quickly get very high, sometimes into numbers like 180 mg/dl, and then quickly crash into 60 mg/dl type numbers. If I don’t watch what I eat my morning blood glucose numbers get low, I get mood swings and odd little illnesses. So, 91 mg/dl is in the “normal” range, typically considered as 90-120, but 91 mg/dl is just barely normal and given the range-of-error for glucose meters, may in fact be low. I need to be more careful about what I eat and stay away from high sugar snacks. I can get better.

My target weight range is 155-160. I am like ten pounds up. If I remember right, Jimmy Connors in his prime played at 155. I’m fitting comfortably into my 32/32 pants right now—I exercise regularly—but even though my waist isn’t bulging I feel fat. Ten pounds is ten pounds. I always feel better both physically and psychologically when I win the sugar temptation battle, avoid the snacks and get rid of the last ten pounds of fat. I can do it. I can fit comfortably into the 31/32 pants I have off to the side in my closet. I can get better.

Numbers are our friends.

At some point over the next few weeks, I may want to point my web cam at me and record some video (and audio!) for Impossible Kisses. I have one or two loose ends I very much want to tie up once and for all. So I want to look my best.

I can get better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Umbrella Button: The Movie

Lately I’ve been making little movies.

I’ve made four little movies. Three of them were kind of wasted, but I will put the fourth to good use, posting it here on Impossible Kisses.

So here is my video debut!

It’s a fifteen second thriller I call: “Umbrella Button”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Video Cuddles Gently Weeping

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Completely unrelated in any way
to the above cartoon [coughs]
check out this phenomenal—
something like real magic—
video clip of Jake Shimabukuro
playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
on his ukulele. (Every time I think
of abandoning guitar and buying
a microKORG XL I see something
like this!)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Zombie Flowers

I’ve never read a horror story
about flowers that come back from the dead.

Zombie flowers. Ugly flowers. They’ll eat you.

In the Disney version zombie flowers
sing songs that teach lessons about life.

In the graphic novels zombie flowers
eat the pretty girl, and her boyfriend
goes on a rampage with a flame thrower
burning all plants not just zombie flowers
until the military shoots him.

The Wikipedia article
on zombie flowers turns out to be full
of odd mistakes placed there on purpose
by some French student researching memes.

People Twitter their zombie flower fears.

Zombie flowers. Ugly flowers. They’ll eat you.

One guy somewhere with an obscure blog
writes a verse novel he posts on-line
about zombie flowers and gets it right,
the perfect blend of romance and gore,
of post-modern distance and cell phones.
But nobody reads verse any more
and all the poetry the guy writes

        But then it comes back from the dead.
Ugly zombie verse that’ll eat you . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Zombie Flowers the Tote Bag

Zombie Flowers music on MySpace

Zombie Flowers the Pattern

Zombie Flowers from Angie Chan:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Forgot To Buy Soap (Distracted By Fantasy)

I went shopping yesterday and I forgot to buy soap.

When I showered this morning I took the thin, flat sliver of soap that remained in my soap dish and broke it into thirds, stacked them on top of each other and then squished them in my fist. I shaped the scrunched up soap into a rough rectangle.

It looked like one of those little ornamental pieces of soap you get when you stay at a cool hotel.

The little art-work soap I made got me showered this morning, but now there isn’t much left at all. Today I have to remember to stop at Walgreen’s for a three-pack of Coast.

When I went grocery shopping yesterday I was a little distracted because I knew that on the way home I would be stopping at an office supply store to make one of my fantasies come true.

Not a big fantasy. I have little fantasies and big fantasies.

Yesterday I made a little fantasy come true.

On the way home from grocery shopping—on the way home from forgetting to buy soap—I stopped at Office Depot. I didn’t buy a Flair pen. And I didn’t buy a couple of cool colors of Flair pen.

I bought the package of twelve Flair pens that costs like fifteen dollars.

It’s the full spectrum of Flair colors, from light and dark red-purple to light and dark blue-violet.

I don’t use Flair pens all that much, but I enjoy knowing they’re there if I ever do have a use for them. And I enjoy having the full set. Normally I’m so short of cash that I think twice about buying even one Flair pen. It was cool to get the twelve set.

Little fantasy.

(It’s a little fantasy that’s tinged with sadness. There are actually sixteen Flair colors but no stores around here sell the complete set of sixteen. The sixteen are: pink, black, blue, red, green, purple, magenta, plum, lime, marigold, navy, yellow, olive, tangerine, lilac and sky blue. They don’t print the colors on the pens, but I believe I am missing olive, marigold, navy and plum. I’m not sure I could see the difference between magenta and plum, but I suspect I’m missing one of those.)

I have big fantasies, too.

But big fantasies are harder to make come true than little fantasies because big fantasies are not just an issue of getting enough money or setting aside enough time. Big fantasies always involve stuff that’s outside of your own control.

Stuff that’s in the lap of the Gods.

My three big fantasies are:

1—I’d like to get published for money. I’ve done my part. I’ve written lots of manuscripts, I keep them at market and I keep writing more. I’ve done my part, the rest is in the lap of the Gods.

2—I’d like to win the lottery. I’ve done my part. I’ve written lots of little computer programs to familiarize myself with the statistics and probability of the drawings. I pick reasonable numbers and I don’t over-do it by wasting too much money. I’ve done my part, the rest is in the lap of the Gods.

3—I’d like to take a girl up to Evanston for a quiet weekend get-away. I’ve done my part. I can afford the trip. My life doesn’t have a lot of baggage that would prevent me from getting away. Now I’ve just got to meet the right girl. I’ve done my part, the rest is in the lap of the Gods.

The little fantasies are getting done, one by one. I’m checking them off the list. And now I can make the check marks in twelve cool colors!

The big fantasies are out of my hands.

They’re in the lap of the Gods.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Breaking Things

Yesterday I wrote about fixing things, but lately I’ve been doing my share of breaking things.

A few nights back I brushed my teeth, rinsed out my mouth and when I washed out the glass I used to get water from the sink the glass fell from my hand and shattered against the hard floor.

A few mornings back I took a long hot shower and when I opened the utility window in the bathroom to clear out the steam the plastic latch on the right side of the window cracked off and came away in my hand.

Monday morning after I took my jacket to the dry cleaners I went to the neighborhood grocery store and walking past the very first aisle I brushed against a pickle jar, knocked it from the shelf and watched it tumble down against the hard floor and shatter—an explosion of pickles, glass and pickle juice all over the place.

Just a few days ago I broke breakfast. I was making hard boiled eggs and fresh vegetables—I just put a couple of cups of water into a big pot, bring the water to a boil, add the eggs and chopped veggies and let it cook for twenty minutes. Pretty simple. But after I put everything in the boiling water I decided to re-install the printer software on my computer. Somehow I lost track of time. As I was finishing with the computer, I smelled something awful. Then I remembered there was water boiling in the kitchen. Well, there used to be water boiling in the kitchen. Because while I worked at the computer the water had completely boiled away and the veggies and eggs had burned up against the bottom of the pot.

Now, none of these events caused a lot of trouble. I picked up the broken pieces of my tooth-brushing glass. The broken window fitting could be unscrewed and replaced. The stock boys cleaned up the pickle mess. My big breakfast pot is non-stick and the burned up eggs and veggies just scrapped off.

But I wonder and worry about this kind of thing.

Just yesterday I quoted Michael Crichton saying that behavior is not random, behavior can be evaluated from the standpoint of purpose, even if the purpose is unacknowledged.

Is my sub-conscious trying to tell me something?!

Do I have some kind of inner rage that’s bubbling to the surface, manifesting itself by these “inadvertent” mishaps?

Do I have some kind of inner contempt for my life right now, manifesting itself by this wreckage? Is this my inner self telling me to get out of here and go to Los Angeles or San Diego or something?

Or is this mental stuff just random speculation and is there a physical issue involved—am I coming down with a cold or the flu or something and is my body just getting a little disconnected from my mind?

This kind of stuff worries me. Some aspects of my life are kind of fragile. They won’t stand up to me flailing around making a mess of things. Making more of a mess of things.

I’ve broken my peace of mind.

And my peace of mind was kind of glued up, taped together and held in place by rubber bands to begin with.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fixing Things

Terry is one of the smartest people I have ever met, but when it suits her, she can be utterly obtuse. ... She looks at me as if I am crazy. Slowly it dawns on her. “You think I did that on purpose?”

Well, of course I did think so. And we had another furious argument about that—about whether she had.

But I consider behavior purposeful, whether the purpose is acknowledged or not. Behavior is not random; it can be analyzed from the standpoint of purpose; it can be understood from the standpoint of purpose.

I have a red and black jacket that I like a lot.

A long time ago, something like two years ago, the lining of the jacket got caught on a hook and ripped. One afternoon someone I knew noticed the ripped lining. I explained that I liked the jacket a lot and was going to take it to a dry cleaners and have them sew up the ripped lining properly with strong thread.

That night, after that jacket conversation, I heard the person talking and they recounted how a friend of theirs thought that red and black jackets like mine, that particular brand, were “retarded.”

I’m not a hip or fashionable person and I’m certainly not in touch with current trends. I liked my red and black jacket, but I didn’t want people to consider me “retarded,” didn’t want people to think I was posturing, being an asshole, for wearing this-or-that brand of clothing.

So I put my red and black jacket off to the side in my closet. I still wore it now and then, but I didn’t wear it often. And I never took it to the dry cleaners to get repaired.

Something like two years have gone by. For the life of me, now, I can’t remember why I worried so much about being considered cool by someone who would indirectly—what neurolinguistic programmers call “quoting”—call me retarded.

I’m a very slow learner but in my own way at my own pace I get better.

Yesterday I took my red and black jacket that I still like a lot to a dry cleaners and paid $14 for them to repair the lining and clean it. Saturday I’ll pick up my jacket and it will be good as new.

The dry cleaners are fixing the rip in my jacket. I’m fixing the rip in me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Second Death Of Dean Martin

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Lindsay Lohan really did go surfing in Maui.

Check it out. She’s the kind of a girl
who makes the News of the World
or at least the Daily Mail:

Hawaii-LiLo: Single girl Lohan
rides the crest of a wave on her surfboard

Friday, May 08, 2009

Someday: The Last Expedition

I’m guessing there will come a day
when the shoreline around Loch Ness
will be just shoreline and without
people desperate for monsters.

One time I sat in a prairie
at night on the grass with no tent
and I had no fear of spiders
and I didn’t look at the stars.

There is a world without monsters
and nobody needs a spaceship
to break free of Earth’s gravity
and then land or crash-land out there.

I’ve been there. I want to go back.
If I were at Loch Ness right now
I know I’d look at the water.
But I would try to look away.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

... And if you can just keep yourself alive
through the boredom between expeditions
if the terror of imagining
what the monsters might do if they caught you
finally doesn’t become too much for you
that’s what makes monster hunting so much fun...


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Pris: The End Of A Philip K. Dick Romance

Today’s post is a few different things all rolled up into one.

This is an excerpt from near the end of the book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick. It’s a great book that was made into a popular but very changed movie called, “Blade Runner.”

This excerpt is also a companion piece to a post from last month, “The End Of A Barry Malzberg Romance.” Barry Malzberg and Philip K. Dick were contemporaries, both part of the New Wave movement in science fiction. Both were very poetic writers. But Malzberg wrote with weird, ironic humor. Dick almost always avoided blunt humor and let the narrative simply narrate and it was up to the reader to step back and react to the content one way or another.

This excerpt is also a loose end. Possibly the longest loose end I’ve ever tied up here at Impossible Kisses.

A long time ago, after a Halloween, I mentioned the character of Pris. I never went back and explored why or elaborated on the reference at all. But since the character of Pris is so different in the book than in the movie, I’ve always wanted to do a post that would showcase Pris as she is in the book, rather than the character in the movie. For one reason or another I’ve kept putting off doing the post. But here it is.

I’m still not going to explore or elaborate on the reference but I will set up the excerpt.

This excerpt is the climax of two long arcs within the novel. In one arc a lonely middle age man named John Isidore has become friends with a beautiful young android named Pris. He’s lonely, and even though he has nagging doubts about Pris and her ‘friend’ Roy, John befriends Pris. In the other arc, the androids, including Pris, have been working to reveal to human beings that one of mankind’s deeply held beliefs about religion is a bogus fraud. In this scene, the androids’s hoped for revelation becomes real, and John Isidore experiences a personal revelation of his own that is much more real.

"Fine," Pris said remotely.

Isidore started off once more. I think, he thought, they're exploiting me sort of. But he did not care. They're still good friends to have, he said to himself.

Downstairs again, he gathered the girl's clothing together, stuffed every piece into the suitcases, then labored back down the hall once again and up the stairs.

On a step ahead of him something small moved in the dust.

Instantly he dropped the suitcases; he whipped out a plastic medicine bottle, which, like everyone else, he carried for just this. A spider, undistinguished but alive. Shakily he eased it into the bottle and snapped the cap — perforated by means of a needle — shut tight. Upstairs, at the door of his apartment, he paused to get his breath.

" — yes sir, folks; the time is now. This is Buster Friendly, who hopes and trusts you're as eager as I am to share the discovery which I've made and by the way had verified by top trained research workers working extra hours over the past weeks. Ho ho, folks; this is it!"

John Isidore said, "I found a spider."

The three androids glanced up, momentarily moving their attention from the TV screen to him.

"Let's see it," Pris said. She held out her hand.

Roy Baty said, "Don't talk while Buster is on."

"I've never seen a spider," Pris said. She cupped the medicine bottle in her palms, surveying the creature within. "All those legs. Why's it need so many legs, J.R.?"

"That's the way spiders are," Isidore said, his heart pounding; he had difficulty breathing. "Eight legs."

Rising to her feet, Pris said, "You know what I think, J.R.? I think it doesn't need all those legs."

"Eight?" Irmgard Baty said. "Why couldn't it get by on four!' Cut four off and see." Impulsively opening her purse she produced a pair of clean, sharp cuticle scissors, which she passed to Pris.

A weird terror struck at J. R. Isidore.

Carrying the medicine bottle into the kitchen Pris seated herself at J. R. Isidore's breakfast table. She removed the lid from the bottle and dumped the spider out. "It probably won't be able to run as fast," she said, "but there's nothing for it to catch around here anyhow. It'll die anyway." She reached for the scissors.

"Please," Isidore said.

Pris glanced up inquiringly. "Is it worth something?"

"Don't mutilate it," he said wheezingly. Imploringly.

With the scissors Pris snipped off one of the spider's legs.

In the living room Buster Friendly on the TV screen said, "Take a look at this enlargement of a section of background. This is the sky you usually see. Wait, I'll have Earl Parameter, head of my research staff, explain their virtually world-shaking discovery to you."

Pris clipped off another leg, restraining the spider with the edge of her hand. She was smiling.

"Blowups of the video pictures," a new voice from the TV said, "when subjected to rigorous laboratory scrutiny, reveal that the gray backdrop of sky and daytime moon against which Mercer moves is not only not Terran — it is artificial."

"You're missing it!" Irmgard called anxiously to Pris; she rushed to the kitchen door, saw what Pris had begun doing. "Oh, do that afterward," she said coaxingly. This is so important, what they're saying; it proves that everything we believed — "

"Be quiet," Roy Baty said.

" — is true," Irmgard finished.

The TV set continued, "The 'moon' is painted; in the enlargements, one of which you see now on your screen, brushstrokes show. And there is even some evidence that the scraggly weeds and dismal, sterile soil — perhaps even the stones hurled at Mercer by unseen alleged parties — are equally faked. It is quite possible in fact that the 'stones' are made of soft plastic, causing no authentic wounds."

"In other words," Buster Friendly broke in, "Wilbur Mercer is not suffering at all."

The research chief said, "We've at last managed, Mr. Friendly, to track down a former Hollywood special-effects man, a Mr. Wade Cortot, who flatly states, from his years of experience, that the figure of 'Mercer' could well be merely some bit player marching across a sound stage. Cortot has gone so far as to declare that he recognizes the stage as one used by a now out-of-business minor moviemaker with whom Cortot had various dealings several decades ago."

"So according to Cortot," Buster Friendly said, "there can be virtually no doubt."

Pris had now cut three legs from the spider, which crept about miserably on the kitchen table, seeking a way out, a path to freedom. It found none.

"Quite frankly we believed Cortot," the research chief said in his dry, pedantic voice, "and we spent a good deal of time examining publicity pictures of bit players once employed by the now defunct Hollywood movie industry."

"And you found — "

"Listen to this," Roy Baty said. Irmgard gazed fixedly at the TV screen and Pris had ceased her mutilation of the spider.

"We located, by means of thousands upon thousands of photographs, a very old man now, named Al Jarry, who played a number of bit parts in pre-war films. From our lab we sent a team to Jarry's home in East Harmony, Indiana. I'll let one of the members of that team describe what he found." Silence, then a new voice, equally pedestrian. "The house on Lark Avenue in East Harmony is tottering and shabby and at the edge of town, where no one, except Al Jarry, still lives. Invited amiably in, and seated in the stale-smelling, moldering, kipple-filled living room, I scanned by telepathic means the blurred, debris-cluttered, and hazy mind of Al Jarry seated across from me."

"Listen," Roy Baty said, on the edge of his seat, poised as if to pounce.

"I found," the technician continued, "that the old man did in actuality make a series of short fifteen minute video films, for an employer whom he never met. And, as we had theorized, the 'rocks' did consist of rubber-like plastic. The 'blood' shed was catsup, and," — the technician chuckled — "the only suffering Mr. Jarry underwent was having to go an entire day without a shot of whisky."

"Al Jarry," Buster Friendly said, his face returning to the screen. "Well, well. An old man who even in his prime never amounted to anything which either he or ourselves could respect. Al Jarry made a repetitious and dull film, a series of them in fact, for whom he knew not — and does not to this day. It has often been said by adherents of the experience of Mercerism that Wilbur Mercer is not a human being, that he is in fact an archetypal superior entity perhaps from another star. Well, in a sense this contention has proven correct. Wilbur Mercer is not human, does not in fact exist. The world in which he climbs is a cheap, Hollywood, commonplace sound stage which vanished into kipple years ago. And who, then, has spawned this hoax on the Sol System? Think about that for a time, folks."

"We may never know," Irmgard murmured.

Buster Friendly said, "We may never know. Nor can we fathom the peculiar purpose behind this swindle. Yes, folks, swindle. Mercerism is a swindle!"

"I think we know," Roy Baty said. "It's obvious. Mercerism came into existence — "

"But ponder this," Buster Friendly continued. "Ask yourselves what is it that Mercerism does. Well, if we're to believe its many practitioners, the experience fuses — "

"It's that empathy that humans have," Irmgard said " — men and women throughout the Sol System into a single entity. But an entity which is manageable by the so called telepathic voice of 'Mercer.' Mark that. An ambitious politically minded would-be Hitler could — "

"No, it's that empathy," Irmgard said vigorously. Fists clenched, she roved into the kitchen, up to Isidore. "Isn't it a way of proving that humans can do something we can't do? Because without the Mercer experience we just have your word that you feel this empathy business, this shared, group thing. How's the spider?" She bent over Pris's shoulder.

With the scissors Pris snipped off another of the spider's legs. "Four now," she said. She nudged the spider. "He won't go. But he can."

Roy Baty appeared at the doorway, inhaling deeply an expression of accomplishment on his face. "It's done. Buster said it out loud, and nearly every human in the system heard him say it. 'Mercerism is a swindle.' The whole experience of empathy is a swindle." He came over to look curiously at the spider.

"It won't try to walk," Irmgard said.

"I can make it walk." Roy Baty got out a book of matches, lit a match; he held it near the spider, closer and closer, until at last it crept feebly away.

"I was right," Irmgard said. "Didn't I say it could walk with only four legs?" She peered up expectantly at Isidore. "What's the matter?" Touching his arm she said, "You didn't lose anything; we'll pay you what that — what's it called?— that Sidney's catalogue says. Don't look so grim. Isn't that something about Mercer, what they discovered? All that research? Hey, answer." She prodded him anxiously.

"He's upset," Pris said. "Because he has an empathy box. In the other room. Do you use it, J.R.?" she asked Isidore.

Roy Baty said, "Of course he uses it. They — all do — or did. Maybe now they'll start wondering."

"I don't think this will end the cult of Mercer," Pris said. "But right this minute there're a lot of unhappy human beings." To Isidore she said, "We've waited for months; we all knew it was coming, this pitch of Buster's." She hesitated and then said, "Well, why not. Buster is one of us."

"An android," Irmgard explained. "And nobody knows. No humans, I mean."

Pris, with the scissors, cut yet another leg from the spider. All at once John Isidore pushed her away and lifted up the mutilated creature. He carried it to the sink and there he drowned it. In his mind his hopes drowned, too. As swiftly as the spider.

"He's really upset," Irmgard said nervously. "Don't look like that, J.R. And why don't you say anything?" To Pris and to her husband she said, "It makes me terribly upset, him just standing there by the sink and not speaking; he hasn't said anything since we turned on the TV."

"It's not the TV," Pris said. "It's the spider. Isn't it, John R. Isidore? He'll get over it," she said to Irmgard...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Zombies Are Not The New Vampires

Time magazine no less has noticed that zombie movies sometimes do big business.

Time thinks zombies are the new vampires. Time treats the topic tongue-in-cheek—“It was the beginning of the end for vampires when Lehman Brothers went under, those bloodsucking parasites. Down with vampires. Long live (or is it die?) the zombie: the official monster of the recession”—but it’s very intriguing that they even noticed a difference between zombies and vampires.

The difference between zombies and vampires may be an opportunity for some cheap laughs at Time, but for Goblin Universe fans, the difference is something like a comment on the whole modern world.

The real difference between zombies and vampires—the conceptual, defining difference—is that zombies are blunt, visible and obvious monsters while vampires are subtle, hidden and masked monsters. Zombies don’t attempt to disguise their monstrous nature. Vampires mask their true, monstrous nature behind a human image.

Pop culture is interesting in that more often than not it glorifies vampires by focusing on the human mask and ignoring the hidden evil. So, for instance in the movie “Innocent Blood” the beautiful vampire is a good vampire because she only bites bad gangsters and she always destroys them so they don’t become undead themselves.

Pop culture typically presents the mask as the reality.

Pop culture adds to this odd desensitization by presenting images of zombies, creatures which have nothing at all hidden.

Monster hunting, then, becomes not a process of trying to see beneath the surface, not a complex process of observation and discernment, but simply a matter of looking.

The ugly creatures engaging in cannibalistic behavior are bad because they’re ugly and we see them doing bad things. The attractive, human-looking creatures who do some good things are good because they are attractive and do some good things.

I strongly suspect this aspect of pop culture is bad, bad, bad.

I strongly suspect that over the centuries the, so to speak, evolutionary benefits of the horror genre have been that it provided a powerful and entertaining metaphor for life’s complexities—sometimes attractive people who seem to be doing some good are, in a larger reality, awful people doing awful things: monsters.

In fact, I strongly suspect that our awareness of falsity, our awareness of base duplicity, our awareness of the business of masking a true self, of posturing, of presenting an image rather than a reality, is at the heart of our natural human response of fear, in the sense of horrified terror.

I’m going to post more about this in the future because it’s fun to speculate about where the difference becomes real between the natural desire to present oneself in the best light possible, to put one’s best foot forward, and, to use Hervey Cleckley’s wonderful phrase, the mask of sanity rises up as a diverting facade for the horrifying monster, the psychopathic true self raging in someone’s deepest secret soul.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“…We Hadn’t Gathered Them From Aliens…”

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Waves Over Stone

Boulders tumble down
a mountainside to the edge
of a rising tide.

Ocean and mountain
caress as waves over stone.
The wind is music.

Does heat from the Sun
drive this endless passion or
does romance itself

cause the stars to burn,
galaxies to scatter and
the cosmos to grow?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Today’s Post Is Not Called “Coupling”

“Is that a cell phone in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”


I had planned on calling today’s post “Coupling.” I had planned on opening with a long excerpt from a Barry Malzberg novel called “Beyond Apollo” about a mad astronaut desperately trying to get intimate with a woman before they both crash onto Venus and get eaten by imaginary animals. He dies—he imagines he dies—not knowing if he ever ‘established contact’ with the woman. Then I was going to discuss acoustic couplers—because ‘coupling’ is a euphemism for sex and also a term used about establishing contact between two computers or other entities. Finally I was going to talk about ‘coupling’ in the sense of a person becoming current, ‘coupling’ with the modern world.

But this has been a really hectic week and I never got around to writing anything for today or even jotting down an outline for what specifically I would say. (This week I did write Pyramids In Marigold Space even though a lot was going on around me.)


So I’m just going to ramble a bit about these kinds of things.

First of all, let me explain acoustic couplers since I’m guessing most people have never even heard of them, let alone worked with them and heard them in action.

An acoustic coupler is a kind of modem. Acoustic couplers were the very first way computers linked up with each other over long distances. They worked with old fashioned phones. A phone headset was physically inserted into the rubber holes of an acoustic coupler [!] and in one hole there was a speaker and in the other hole a microphone. Data from one computer was converted into screeching sound patterns that the speaker in the acoustic coupler played into the phone’s microphone. Screeching sound patterns from the phone’s speaker were picked up by the acoustic coupler’s microphone and converted into data for the computer. The whole thing operated at a speed something like 1200 baud, which means something like 1200 bits per second, which means something like 9,000 characters per minute. And, for what it’s worth, there was a time when 300 baud was standard and 1200 baud felt kind of fast.

I wrote my first novel using three or four different machines, some at home and some at work. I shuttled chapters around from machine to machine at 1200 baud and simply sending a text chapter of about 3,000 words took three or four minutes. [!]

And that was cutting edge stuff.

I thought about this kind of stuff because a few days ago I was standing around one of those omnipresent telecommunications stores and a clerk was writing up my order and activating my accounts, giving me unlimited monthly cell phone/internet service on a phone and unlimited monthly mobile broadband for my laptop. In the palm of my left hand I held the little phone that could call anyone in the world, access any internet computer in the world, and in the palm of my right hand I held the little USB modem/phone that would connect my laptop to any internet computer in the world and transmit megabytes of information in minutes.

I couldn’t believe the differences between how I used to work and how I’m working now.


And I couldn’t believe how ‘de-coupled’ I’d become from the modern world.

Back in the days of acoustic couplers, among the people I knew and worked with I was generally on the bleeding edge of technology. I was the first person I knew or worked with to have a laptop. I had three or four computers in my apartment—including two Heathkit machines I’d built myself. Those were the days before things called ‘browsers’ existed and to do what was then called ‘telecommunication’ you used what were called ‘terminal emulation’ programs. And those were pretty rough-and-ready things too. The program I used was a program someone else had written that I typed into my computer myself, compiled myself and then run on my machine to get online.

Then, over a series of years, one by one my computers died and I didn’t repair or replace them. I was satisfied with a landline phone. I left my job to take care of my sick parents. And the next thing I knew I was living in horse-and-buggy days and everyone else in the world seemed cutting-edge compared to me.

But fuck that!

I’m getting back into the high life!

I’m re-coupling with reality around me!

I’ve got a cool phone. I’ve got a cool laptop. I’ve got cool unlimited everything plans for both.

Look out Skye Sweetnam!

That is a cell phone in my pocket and I’m happy to see you!